“People are depressed, and they feel they have been lied to, robbed of their rights and now are being insulted,” said Nassim, a 56-year-old hairdresser. “It is not just a lie; it’s a huge one. And it doesn’t end.”
Pat Buchanan does it again, answering the neocon warmongering gobbledygook with a good, sensible column on the president's response to Iran in Town Hall. His opening:
The Obama policy of extending an open hand to Iran is working and ought not be abandoned because of the grim events in Tehran.
For the Iranian theocracy has just administered a body blow to its legitimacy in the eyes of the Iranian people and the world.
Before Saturday, the regime could credibly posture as defender of the nation, defiant in the face of the threats from Israel, faithful to the cause of the Palestinians, standing firm for Iran's right to enrich uranium for peaceful nuclear power.
Today, the regime, including the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is under a cloud of suspicion that they are but another gang of corrupt politicians who brazenly stole a presidential election to keep themselves and their clerical cronies in power.
More GOP crazy: Mark Kirkorian of the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies says the way to Stop.That.Judge is to mispronounce her name ... on purpose!!! You know, just the way we won the Iraq war by calling that country "Eye-RAAAK" instead of "Ih-Rahk," the way the Eye-RAAAK-ees do.
Yeah. That'll teach her to be so damned ... Hispanic!
UPDATE: We can now look forward to the strongest, most decisive argument sure to be leveled against Sotomayor at her confirmation hearings: the "patitas de cerdo con garbanzo" (y much arroz) challenge:
Sotomayor also claimed: “For me, a very special part of my being Latina is the mucho platos de arroz, gandoles y pernir — rice, beans and pork — that I have eaten at countless family holidays and special events.”
This has prompted some Republicans to muse privately about whether Sotomayor is suggesting that distinctive Puerto Rican cuisine such as patitas de cerdo con garbanzo — pigs’ feet with chickpeas — would somehow, in some small way influence her verdicts from the bench.
No surprises from No Drama Obama. Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor, who hails from the Bronx, and whose educational credentials include Princeton and Yale, will be his SupCo pick. Latino vote in 2012: check. Women? Check. Catholics? Check. Good pick? Definitely. Judge Sotomayor is more than qualified, and she is an historic nominee with a down to earth background. Per the ABA journal:
A political centrist, the Bronx-born Sotomayor has been regarded as a potential high court nominee by several presidents, both Republican and Democrat. Reared by her widowed mother after the death of her father, a tool-and-die worker, she has an attractive life narrative and an even more attractive resumé.
She was an editor of the Yale Law Review, did heavy lifting as a prosecutor under legendary New York County District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, and worked in private practice as an intellectual property litigator.
She was first appointed to the federal bench by President George H.W. Bush, then to the appeals court by President Clinton. In 1995, she won the gratitude of baseball fans by issuing an injunction against team owners, setting the stage for the end of the eight-month strike that led to the cancellation of the 1994 World Series.
Interestingly enough, all of the final four on the short list were women, according to the NY Times:
If confirmed by the Democratic-controlled Senate, Judge Sotomayor, 54, would replace Justice David H. Souter to become the second woman on the court and only the third female justice in the history of the Supreme Court. She also would be the first Hispanic justice to serve on the Supreme Court.
The president reached his decision over the long Memorial Day weekend, aides said, but it was not disclosed until Tuesday morning when he informed his advisers of his choice less than three hours before the announcement was scheduled to take place.
The president narrowed his list to four, according to people close to the selection process, including Federal Appeals Judge Diane P. Wood of Chicago, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Solicitor General Elena Kagan.
BTW, did you notice how quickly Joe Scarborough warmed up to Judge Sotomayor when he was reminded, I suppose by his producers, that she was originally put on the federal bench by Poppy Bush?
Sotomayor spent five years as a prosecutor with the Manhattan District Attorney before going into private practice as a commercial litigator. During that time she also served on the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, the New York City Campaign Finance Board, and State of New York Mortgage Agency, where she helped provide mortgage insurance coverage to low-income housing and AIDS hospices.
She left for the U.S. District Court in 1992. At the time, Sotomayor told the New York Times that she was inspired to become a judge by an episode of "Perry Mason."
BTW, how wrong could Ben Smith possibly be? He has obliterated the post as of today, but not long ago, Hispanic Business Magazine busted him writing this:
"There's some basically vacuous, but plausible, conventional wisdom saying that Judge Sonia Sotomayor is a likely pick," he wrote. "I'd suspect, though, that Obama will be tempted to pick one of the prominent legal minds whom he knows personally, and whose philosophy he likes, given his own engagement with legal theory."
It's almost obligatory that everyone comment on the president's first 100 days in office, so here goes. I agree with Joe Klein that so far, President Obama has done an admirable job, and set himself on a course to be a more than consequential president. He hit the ground running, quickly reversed several bad Bush policies on the environment, stem cell research, Gitmo and Iraq, passed a massive stimulus bill which, while it could have packed more punch, clearly packed enough to get both consumer confidence and the stock market growing again, and to call a halt to the once precipitous slide in the U.S. economy. Things haven't turned around yet, but the fall is much less steep, and most people at least believe we're on the right track. His poll numbers are outstanding, 8 in 10 Americans just plain like the guy (even more like his wife,) and he has quickly and deftly set aside the opposition party as a serious player in the game in Washington.
Showing an ability to use both charm and forcefulness as needed, Obama beat back the pirate debacle, turned around our image around the world, wowed Europe (with a lot of help from Michelle) and set the table for a new start in relations with the Middle East and Latin America. He returned home to a country that is more hopeful now than it has been in nearly half a dozen years. Obama has been helped by the weakness and increasing derangement of his opponents, who have gone so far off the cliff that it's not clear they can be pulled back (even after losing Arlen Specter, and with it, their Senate fillibuster.) Most important, he has been a man of action, and that in the end, is what the country needs and wants. Whether on swine flu, or Gitmo, Iraq, Pakistan, hemispheric relations or the economy, the president has tackled the problems that President Bush left for him quickly and assertively, and made Americans feel that someone is actually at the helm of the ship again.
The biggest disappointment so far has been on the subject of torture and secrecy, where the president has seemed to prefer to either prop up or sweep past the crimes of the Bush administration, and simply "move on." And while I think Amnesty International is being a bit too harsh when it says that the administration has sent a mixed message on human rights, there will be no moving on when it comes to torture, or the detainees at Gitmo and other U.S. prison facilities, and I suspect Obama will have to face the past, and deal with what was done by his predecessor, like it or not. Another disappointment has been on Wall Street, where the president's team seems so stacked with Goldman Sachs alum, that they can't bear to really take on the Big Boys in NYC.
Remarkably, one of the things that hasn't confronted Obama as yet, is race, which has faded so quickly from the conversation that you've almost got to remind yourself from time to time that he is the "first Black president." Whether it's through his own force of personality, America's cultural maturing, or the myriad crises that have taken precedence, race has been a surprisingly neutral factor in Obama's first 100 days as president. I think that's a good thing. Many black leaders probably do not.
Overall, I give him an A for strong effort, a B for execution, and an A- for message. And I give him an A+ for bringing on Rahm Emanuel, who has proved to be an effective operator on the Hill.
The Washington Post yesterday went inside the debate within the Obama administration over whether to release the torture memos. A salient clip starts with remarks from former Democratic Senator David Boren of Oklahoma:
Boren, who chaired the Senate intelligence committee from 1987 to 1993 and is now president of the University of Oklahoma, said that attending the briefings was "one of the most deeply disturbing experiences I have had" and that "I wanted to take a bath when I heard it. I was ashamed of it." He said he concluded that "fear was used to justify the use of techniques that violate our values and weaken our intelligence" and that the agency did not prove those methods "are particularly effective at getting the truth."
One of those present said that when asked, the CIA officers acknowledged that some foreign intelligence agencies had refused, for example, to share information about the location of terrorism suspects for fear of becoming implicated in any eventual torture of those suspects. Sources said that Jones shared these concerns and that, as a former military officer, he worried that any use of harsh interrogations by the United States could make it more likely that American soldiers in captivity would be subjected to similar tactics.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration will release more information, in the form of photos of widespread torture and abuse of detainees, not just at Abu Ghraib, but at U.S.-run detention facilities around the world. From Reuters:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Pentagon said on Friday it will release hundreds of photographs from investigations into prisoner abuse but insisted they did not reveal a policy of mistreatment.
The Obama administration's commitment to release the pictures by May 28 could fan the flames of a political firestorm over the treatment of terrorism suspects and other detainees during George W. Bush's presidency.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates voiced concern this week that publicizing details of U.S. interrogation practices and photographs of prisoner treatment could trigger a backlash against U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The American Civil Liberties Union has spent years suing the government for the release of the pictures, which came from military investigations. The group said they showed prisoner abuse went far beyond well-known cases in Iraq and elsewhere.
Meanwhile, yet another pro-torture GOP straw man falls, as the former FBI agent who interrogated Abu Zubaydah before the CIA took over and began torturing him up to 83 times in one month, says the salient information he provided to the U.S. came during HIS interrogations, before the torture began. NPR catches Michael Hayden in a lie as he claims Zubaydah gave up Khalid Shaikh Muhammad after we started torturing him, when in fact, Zubaydah was tortured AFTER giving up the most important information he had:
one of Zubaydah's FBI interrogators, Ali Soufan, remembers it differently. Soufan wrote in The New York Times that Zubaydah talked without being coerced.
Two high-ranking former FBI sources remember it that way, too. They say that intelligence breakthroughs came before Zubaydah was subjected to harsh techniques, not after. Another person close to the interrogation, Rohan Gunaratna, has similar recollections. He is an al-Qaida expert who has worked with U.S. government agencies on terrorism issues.
"Gen. Hayden is dead wrong" about harsh techniques getting information from Zubaydah, he says. "I have tremendous respect for Gen. Hayden, but he is wrong in this case."
Tending To The Prisoner
Gunaratna and FBI agents familiar with the Zubaydah case say he was shot and near death when he was captured. FBI agents, including Soufan, tended to Zubaydah during his convalescence. The idea was partly to bond with him.
When he was well enough, the agents began showing Zubaydah pictures of suspected members of al-Qaida. When he saw a photograph of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, Zubaydah apparently asked, "How do you know about Muktar?"
"We know all about Muktar," the agent said, without missing a beat. He flipped through several other photos and then went back to the picture of Mohammed.
Zubaydah looked up and added, "How did you know he was the mastermind of 9/11?"
Gunaratna says that was a critical revelation — and there were others. "In fact, most of the information that was exceptionally useful to the fight against al-Qaida came from Abu Zubaydah," he says, "and it came before the U.S. government decided to use enhanced techniques."
The reiterations of the Obama policy on the Sunday shows this morning do not convince. On this one, the administration is dead wrong. Well, let me back up a bit. I suppose I can understand the practical reasons for granting immunity to those in the CIA who carried out torture policies "under the color of law" due to the advice issued by the then- Justice Department. The Obama administration doesn't want to incite a wholesale rebellion at Langley, or make the CIA the scapegoat for what were clearly Bush administration -- not intelligence community -- policies. However, three points from the Sundays that slap down the argument that immunity should be anything more than immunity to testify against those higher officials who ARE being prosecuted:
1. As Katty Kay pointed out on the "CMS," the Nuremberg trials, conducted by American prosecutors, didn't distinguish between those who committed war crimes out of pure depravity, and those who did it under color of law. They said they were following the laws of Germany (or Japan); we prosecuted them anyway.
... in an interview with the Austrian newspaper Der Standard, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Professor Manfred Nowak, explained that Obama’s grant of immunity is likely a violation of international law. As a party to the UN Convention Against Torture, the U.S. is obligated to investigate and prosecute U.S. citizens that are believed to have engaged in torture:
STANDARD: CIA torturers are according to U.S. President Obama not to be prosecuted. Is that decision supportable?
NOWAK: Absolutely not. The United States has, like all other Contracting Parties to the UN Convention Against Torture, committed itself to investigate instances of torture and to prosecute all cases in which credible evidence of torture is found.
3. Indeed, there is no legal argument that the administration can point to that would get them out of their obligation to pursue these torture allegations. Dick Cheney has admitted to authorizing torture, and many of the details of what was done during the Bush administration are already publicly known, as Rahm Emanuel pointed out on "This Week." The memos have people's names and signatures on them, including the name of Jay Bybee, who now occupies the dual role of probable war criminal and sitting federal judge (though hopefully, he's soon to be an impeached one, as the NYT called for in an editorial yesterday.) At a minimum, the lawyers who concocted the torture memos should be disbarred, and in the case of Bybee, "disbenched." And the people who put the policies in place, at the Pentagon, Justice Department and yes, the Bush White House, should, as Andrew Sullivan eloquently pointed out, be held to account.
As the Times points out in its editorial, the intent behind thememos makes what should be done clear enough:
These memos are not an honest attempt to set the legal limits on interrogations, which was the authors’ statutory obligation. They were written to provide legal immunity for acts that are clearly illegal, immoral and a violation of this country’s most basic values.
And as the Times further points out:
It sounds like the plot of a mob film, except the lawyers asking how much their clients can get away with are from the C.I.A. and the lawyers coaching them on how to commit the abuses are from the Justice Department. And it all played out with the blessing of the defense secretary, the attorney general, the intelligence director and, most likely, President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
Except that mobsters don't generally brag on television about the horse's heads they've laid to rest on victims' pillows.
The Bush administration went to great lengths to impose Soviet-style eavesdropping, gulags and torture on the American experiment. Shouldn't America repay them by imposing a little constitutional law on them?
What you can do:
To get more info and to get involved in the push to impeach Jay Bybee, click here.
For more on the push to have John Yoo removed from his professorship over his role in the torture memos, click here.
To sign the ACLU petition to call on the Justice Department to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate torture during the Bush administration, click here.
Stipulating that the various, clackety strains of "conservatives," including the folks over at the Wall Street Journal op-ed desk (who published a piece by Bush's CIA director and second round A.G., decrying the Obama administration's release of the torture memos, and of course, the chickenhawk neocons) are very much in for torture. Non-conservatives, including the Washington Post editorial board, are against it, calling it what it is: a disgrace. But on the question of whether torture is even worth the shame, I came across this post, from the NYT's The Lede blog, back in January:
In the days after Saddam Hussein’s capture, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was tossing wisecracks on subjects serious and trivial. The cab that the former Iraqi leader hid inside? “He didn’t have the meter running.” Who’s going to be responsible for interrogation? “It was a three-minute decision, and the first two were for coffee.”
But Mr. Hussein’s fate would be much different than Abu Zubaydeh and Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, two members of Al Qaeda who endured harsh interrogation techniques while in C.I.A. custody.
Mr. Rumsfeld and other senior officials quickly pledged that he would be treated as a prisoner of war, although it took a month to make it official. And the three-minute decision was reassessed within weeks as the Federal Bureau of Investigation took the interrogation reins for the reason described in a January 2004 article:
The F.B.I. involvement reflects C.I.A. reluctance to allow covert officers to take part in interrogations that could force them to appear as court witnesses. In contrast, F.B.I. agents are trained to interview suspects in preparation for prosecutions.
What was the rivalry about? FBI agents were apparently shocked, and not happy, to discover that CIA agents were using torure, approved we now know, by the Justice Department and presumably the president and vice president/president's boss, on terrorism suspect Abu Zubayda, the low level jihadist we got all that false information from by illegal waterboarding. The then-FBI director, Robert Meuller, wound up pulling his agents, who were more skilled at interrogation, having been the ones to query Saddam Hussein himself, for example, out of the theater entirely, rather than allow them to continue to witness war crimes.
A rift nonetheless swiftly developed between FBI agents, who were largely pleased with the progress of the questioning, and CIA officers, who felt Abu Zubaida was holding out on them and providing disinformation. Tensions came to a head after FBI agents witnessed the use of some harsh tactics on Abu Zubaida, including keeping him naked in his cell, subjecting him to extreme cold and bombarding him with loud rock music.
“They said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’ ” said [Retired FBI agent Daniel Coleman], recalling accounts from FBI employees who were there. ” ‘This guy’s a Muslim. That’s not going to win his confidence. Are you trying to get information out of him or just belittle him?’ “
F.B.I. Director Robert S. Mueller III pulled his personnel over the disagreement, and former officials in the agency continue to make the case that Mr. Zubaydeh gave up his most important information before, not after, the harsh techniques commenced.
As David Johnston of The New York Times reported earlier this month, both agencies say the rivalry is over. Still, some officials said privately that the F.B.I. was looking for a payback moment in its investigation into the C.I.A. tape destruction.
Clearly, we've been operating with some sadists in our midst, at the CIA, in the Justice Department, in the neocon think tanks, and in the Bush White House. So why not prosecute them? Probably because the current president has decided that, as a political matter, it can't be done without a circus-like spectacle (and it might not be done in Spain, either...)
But it seems to me that there are people who should be prosecuted, starting with the men who wrote, authorized and approved the memos.
Related: Experts debate whether prosecutions should commence. Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights sums it up succintly:
Torture is torture and all the legal window dressing in the world cannot hide its essence: the infliction of pain and suffering on human beings. If legal advice can protect torturers, no official anywhere can ever be prosecuted. Legal advice then becomes a get out-of-jail free card and will be employed by every petty dictatorship to protect its abusers.
As President Obama heads to the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, his administration finally releases the last (we hope) of the torture memos. (Curious that the wingers have no problem with things like torture, secret detentions, sneak and peak searches, forcing librarians to divulge customer reading habits, infiltration of Quaker peace groups etc., but they're all a-teabaggin' over a 4 percent increase in rich people's taxes... but I digress...)
Meanwhile, here in Florida, Cuban-Americans are needled by the fact that several Latin American presidents, including Lula of Brazil, Hugo of Venezuela and Evo of Bolivia, among others, will likely push for an end to Cuba's exclusion from the Organization of American States, which forms the attendance base of the summit. Writes the Miami Herald's Myriam Marquez:
Cuba's not invited to the big party in Trinidad and Tobago, but it will crash it anyway.
It'll be the pesky ghost at the table, pushing, shoving and booing -- all in an effort to derail President Barack Obama's first foray Friday into Latin America's often messy love-hate relationship with the United States.
With the help of Hugo, Lula, Evo, Daniel, Michelle, Cristina and many other Latin American presidents who learned how to play leftie politics -- and win -- virtually at Fidel Castro's knee, the ghost is demanding a clean slate and collective amnesia.
Forget 50 years of an atrocious human-rights record. Never mind that there are no property rights, labor unions or free speech.
Forget multiparty elections, the ghost thunders, it's tiny Cuba vs. the bad Imperialist Goliath.
Obama would rather forget, too, but he's not ready to deliver more freebies like the end of the U.S. embargo or the tourist ban -- yet. But as first steps, he has opened the door wide for Cuban-American travel and unlimited remittances to Cuba.
He figures that's enough to get the ghost off his back at the summit, where Brazil's Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has vowed to press for the island's membership in the Organization of American States.
OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza told Herald reporter Frances Robles at the summit Thursday that he agrees. Obama counters that Cuba needs to first show it belongs back in the organization that kicked it out in 1962.
Fidel Castro rails against any such inclusion in the OAS, calling it a tool of U.S. will. One reason he won't give: Cuba doesn't begin to meet the principle of the OAS charter -- democracy.
Ironically enough, the "Inter-American Democracy Charter"was adopted by the OAS on September 11, 2001 during a special session in Peru, hours after the 9/11 attacks in New York. The charter lays out the essentials of regional cooperation, democracy, the need to fight poverty and improve education and the environment, and of course human rights -- which brings us back to Cuba, which has got some issues on that front. And yet, as Marquez points out, over the last eight years the U.S. hasn't exactly been a champion of human rights, either (see "torture memos" above...) So Obama goes into the summit borne on the winds of change, but still refusing, as of yesterday, to hold the previous administration accountable for the human rights abuses that, if we were, say, applying for membership to the OAS today, would likely make us as ineligible as Fidel's Cuba.
Related: Raul says he's willing to talk to the U.S., including about human rights.
Cuban President Raul Castro has said he is willing to talk to Washington about everything, including human rights, political prisoners and press freedom.
His comments came hours after US President Barack Obama said Cuba needed to make the next move if there was to be further improvement in relations.
Mr Castro was speaking in Venezuela ahead of a Summit of the Americas.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said he will veto any final declaration as Cuba is excluded from the meeting.
The summit, due to start in Trinidad, includes 34 Latin American and Caribbean countries.
The US has said the gathering is reserved for democratic nations.
Which brings us back to our checkered recent past:
Speaking to Latin American leaders in Venezuela, President Castro said he had sent word to the US government "in private and in public" that he is open to negotiations as long as it is "on equal terms".
Alas, amigos, we're pretty much already on equal terms. More on the potential thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations here.
President Obama's first speech in a Muslim country took place this morning (our time) in Turkey.
President Barack Obama sought Monday to make American amends with the Islamic world after eight years of tension, declaring in a speech to the Turkish parliament that he is determined to have a “partnership with the Muslim world.”
“Let me say this as clearly as I can: the United States is not – and will never be — at war with Islam,” Obama said in remarks delivered in Ankara. “In fact, our partnership with the Muslim world is critical not just in rolling back the violent ideologies that people of all faiths reject but also to strengthen opportunities for all people.”
Obama’s declaration that the U.S. is not at war with Islam is certain to get huge play throughout the Arab world. ...
... Obama, seeking to mend strains with a critical ally that bridges Europe and the Middle East, acknowledged “difficulties these last few years.”
Turkey, the only majority Muslim country in NATO, refused use of its territory as an invasion route to Iraq.
WASHINGTON — The House and Senate approved budgets of about $3.5 trillion for the government on Thursday with no Republican support, a sign of deep partisan tensions likely to color Congressional efforts to enact major policy initiatives sought by President Obama.
On the heels of House approval of its spending plan for 2010, the Senate voted 55 to 43 shortly before midnight to adopt a similar budget after a day spent laboring over politically tinged amendments that did little to change a fiscal blueprint generally in keeping with Mr. Obama’s ambitious agenda.
Democrats said the two budgets, which will have to be reconciled after a two-week Congressional recess, cleared the way for health care, energy and education overhauls pushed by the new president. The Democrats said the budgets reversed what they portrayed as the failed economic approach of the Bush administration and Republican-led Congresses.
The House version passed 233-196, with 20 House Dems voting no, along with all the Republicans. Two Senate Dems opposed their version (Evan Bayh (IN) and Ben Nelson (NE)...) which went through on a straight up or down vote. Lieberman, still on his best behavior, voted with the majority of Dems.
Dennis Kucinich voted "no" in the House, because the bill includes funding for what he sees as an expansion of the wars.
Said Kucinich: This budget is a statement of principles for the upcoming year, and I cannot accept it in its entirety. I will not vote for a budget that ties military spending to the operational funding of our government. This year, the budget includes $130 billion for war funding. The Washington Post reports today another 10,000 troops may be sent to Afghanistan, bringing our total number of troops there to as much as 78,000 by 2010 –- a more than 100% increase from today's troop levels. This budget is a plan that authorizes the expansion of the war. I simply cannot endorse a budget or a plan that sends more of our brave men and women to Afghanistan, a conflict which has the potential to become this generation's Vietnam."
What's interesting is that after all the sturm and drang, the budget whizzed through in the dead of night. Quietly, while Michelle and Barack were off courting the Queen. But Obama got pretty much everything he wanted, and it's hard to imagine the reconciliation version being much different than what he proposed.
John McCain's spending freeze went down in flames, as did the GOP Fudge-it. Go figure. But Republicans, by voting universally against the budget, have placed all of the consequences of it, good or not, in the hands of the party in power. It's one heck of a roll of the dice, and most likely, not a smart one. Remember Clinton's 93 budget? No GOPers voted for that one, either, and the party is still trying to convince Americans that Clinton's roaring economy was something they did. But in their delusions, Congressional Republicans see these votes, along with public anger over bailouts, as a way to take back the House.
By the way, it wouldn't be Congress if they didn't tuck in something for the rich, and here it is:
Among the amendments that won Senate approval was a bipartisan proposal that would raise the estate tax exemption by $1.5 million, to a total of $5 million, and reduce the tax’s maximum rate by 10 percentage points, to 35 percent.
I mean, we wouldn't want Biff not to be able to give his little Muffy's his all...
Sy Hersh says Dick Cheney left "stay behinds" inside the NSA and Pentagon, and perhaps elsewhere in government, to inform him, and possibly undermine President Obama, on matters Cheney deems important. Per ThinkP:
In an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air yesterday, host Terry Gross asked investigative journalist Seymour Hersh if, as he continues to investigate the Bush administration, “more people” were “coming forward” to talk to him now that “the president and vice president are no longer in power.” Hersh replied that though “a lot of people that had told me in the last year of Bush, ‘call me next, next February,’ not many people had talked to him. He implied that they were still scared of Cheney.
“Are you saying that you think Vice President Cheney is still having a chilling effect on people who might otherwise be coming forward,” asked Gross. “I’ll make it worse,” answered Hersh, adding that he believes Cheney “put people back” in government to “stay behind” in order to “tell him what’s going on” and perhaps even “do sabotage...”
Cheney, who we already know held unprecedented power in the Baby Bush administration, apparently is also strangely unafraid of being indicted for war crimes, or even investigated by the Obama Justice Department. One wonders why...
Benjamin Netanyahu is in the final stages of putting together Israel's next government, which will be opposed to a two-state solution. Most importantly, the new prime minister and his Likud Party are firmly against a Palestinian state. The Labor Party, which will be part of the governing coalition and which has been identified with the two-state solution for the past two decades, did not insist that Likud support that policy as a condition for joining the government. Its leader, Ehud Barak, merely asked for and got a vague statement saying that Israel was committed to promoting regional peace. Avigdor Lieberman, who heads Yisrael Beiteinu, the other major party in the ruling coalition, is not likely to push to give the Palestinians a viable state of their own. His main concern is "transferring" the Palestinians out of Israel so that it can be an almost purely Jewish state.
So Israel will continue expanding its settlements in the West Bank. In fact, the Israeli press is reporting that Netanyahu and Lieberman agreed in their negotiations to form a government that Israel would build 3,000 housing units in an area between Jerusalem and Maale Adumim (a huge settlement bloc) known as E-1. Once that is accomplished, Israel will have effectively cut the West Bank in half, making it almost impossible to create a viable Palestinian state. This deal was supposed to be secret, because the United States is opposed to Israel building in the E-1 area.
The Palestinians, of course, will remain locked up in Gaza and a handful of enclaves on the West Bank. In essence, Netanyahu and his two key ministers -- Ehud Barak (Defense) and Avigdor Lieberman (Foreign Affairs) -- are committed to creating a Greater Israel, which will cover all of the territory that was once Mandate Palestine. ...
The author's conclusion is even more tragic:
The Obama administration will surely try to push Netanyahu to change his thinking about a two-state solution and work to give the Palestinians a real state of their own. The Israel lobby, however, will adamantly defend Israel's right to do whatever it wants in the Occupied Territories and make it impossible for the president to put significant pressure on Israel. Netanyahu, like all Israeli leaders, understands this basic fact of life. He knows that he will just have to say a few nice words about the "peace process" and blame the whole thing on the Palestinians, who he believes are a bunch of terrorists anyway, and he will be pretty much free to do whatever he wants in Gaza and the West Bank.
It seems clear to me and to many smart people I know that this story does not have a happy ending. Indeed, it looks like a disastrous ending. Greater Israel cannot be a democratic state, because there will soon be -- if there aren't already -- more Palestinians between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea than there are Israeli Jews. So, if you give each person one vote, Israel becomes Palestine. That is not going to happen anytime soon, if ever, which leaves two possible outcomes: apartheid and expelling the Palestinians -- and there are more than 5 million of them -- from Greater Israel. Talk about repulsive options. It is worth remembering that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said that if there is no two-state solution, Israel will end up in a South Africa-like situation and that will mean the end of the Jewish state. In effect, he is saying that Israel is turning itself into an apartheid state.
...I would appreciate it greatly if Israel's American backers would explain what I am missing here.
Spoiler alert: it doesn't appear to be an escalation, but we're not leaving, either. In short, there's going to be more money (60 percent more), 4,000 more troops on top of the 17,000 fresh combat troops greenlighted earlier, and more training for a much larger Afghan Army. But this, I think, is the key point, from the WaPo:
Obama plans to announce a "simple, clear, concise goal -- to disrupt, dismantle and eventually destroy al-Qaeda in Pakistan," said the official, one of three authorized to anonymously discuss the strategy.
That's "Pakistan..." with a "P." The president is speaking now.
Under the Republican plan, the top marginal tax rate would be slashed from 35 to 25 percent, facilitating a dramatic transfer of wealth up the economic scale. Anyone making more than a $100,000 would pay the top rate; those under would pay 10 percent.
"Two nights ago, the president said, 'We haven't seen a budget yet out of Republicans.' Well, it's just not true, because here it is, Mr. President," said House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), waving a blue document in the air.
Surprise! BTW the document Boner ... I mean Boehner ... was waving around? It contained no numbers, no details, no nothing. Eric Cantor skipped out on most of the press conference. I guess he had to catch up on his Britney Spears, thus taking yet another one for the team. Or maybe, just maybe, he no likey:
House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) objected to an abbreviated alternative budget "blueprint" released today -- but were told by House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) they needed to back the plan, according to several Republican sources.
... Ryan, the ranking Republican on the budget committee, plans to introduce a detailed substitute amendment for the Democrats' spending plan next Tuesday or Wednesday -- and still intends to do so.
But he and Cantor were reportedly told by Boehner and Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) they needed to move more quickly to counter Democrats' charge they were becoming the "Party of No," according to House GOP staffers.
“In his egocentric rush to get on camera, Mike Pence threw the rest of the Conference under the bus, specifically Paul Ryan, whose staff has been working night and day for weeks to develop a substantive budget plan," said a GOP aide heavily involved in budget strategy.
"I hope his camera time was gratifying enough to justify erasing the weeks of hard work by dozens of Republicans to put forth serious ideas," the person added.
And what was Robert Gibbs' assessment of the "blueprint"?
"It took me several minutes to read it," he quipped, saying Obama was "absolutely" disappointed it didn't include more details.
"I think the 'party of no' has become the party of no new ideas," he added.
Tim Geithner hasn't had a single good day since becoming Treasury Secretary. He's faced multiple theoretical votes of "no confidence," from Congress, from the financial media (a/k/a Wall Street's public relations A-team) and from the general press. He's looking more and more like the administration fall guy in the AIG bonus mess, as defensive Senators point the finger at the White House for stripping bonus caps out of the stimulus bill (AIG's hapless new president is now seeking to get back at least half the money.) And it doesn't help that the guy just looks goofy, has no eyebrows, and doesn't explain himself very well. Unfortunate, since apparently he's a very smart man.
So the question is: does Team Obama have to throw him overboard in order to regain control of the message? Firing someone is usually a good way to send a strong message, but of course, if they were to show him the door, Republicans will pounce on the president for having nominated him in the first place. A nasty dilemma...
The AIG story has been percolating all weekend, and while I haven't watched my TiVo of "60 Minutes" yet, and I'm not overly conversant with it, apparently Ben Bernanke is PISSED! Well, take a number, brother. My only real thoughts on the subject are that I thought the Bushies didn't like Europeans! Apparently they liked them enough to shovel tens of billions of money to European banks via AIG. And guess who else got money? Our old friends (and Treasury/Fed revolving door company) Goldman Sachs:
(Politico) In all, AIG disclosed payments of $105.3 billion between September and December 2008. And some of the biggest recipients were European banks. Societe Generale, based in France, was the top foreign recipient at $11.9 billion, Deutsche Bank of Germany got $11.8 billion and Barclays, based in England, was paid $8.5 billion.
Here in the U.S., Goldman Sachs received $12.9 billion. Edward Liddy, the government-installed CEO of AIG, sat on the board of directors of Goldman Sachs until he joined AIG.
He took the position while President George W. Bush's Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulson — who until joining the administration had served as Goldman's chairman and CEO — arranged the insurance company's initial government bailout.
Back to the bonuses. Larry Summers and AIG execs said they had to pay them by contract, even though they went to the same London unit that the company blames for its financial collapse, and even though the federal government is in the process, right now, of trying to get Detroit to bust its contracts with American labor.
Separation of powers: is the Obama administration pulling a Bushie?
The Obama administration helped secure the passage of the $400 billion omnibus bill (which the president will sign today,) in a most creative way: by promising not to enforce parts of it. From the Miami Herald today:
Facing strong opposition from lawmakers with large Cuban-American constituencies, the Obama administration pledged -- in writing -- that changes to U.S.-Cuba policy tucked into the giant 2009 spending bill will have no teeth.
The promise worked: Lawmakers Tuesday night approved the $410 billion spending bill, which included the controversial provisions that make travel and trade to Cuba easier by cutting off the funding for enforcement of restrictions.
It cleared the Senate by a voice vote, after senators voted 62 to 35 to end debate.
In a quest to secure two of the votes from senators who had vowed to block the entire budget bill, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner assured Democratic Sens. Bill Nelson of Florida and Bob Menendez of New Jersey that the government would interpret the new law so strictly that it will be ineffective.
What? Can he do that? A newly balsy Congress (with Bush and his spy gear safely out of town,) says no:
Geithner's letter to the two senators persuaded them to change their votes and approve the spending package. Rep. José E. Serrano, the New York Democrat who wrote the Cuba amendments in the bill, warned that the law is not subject to ''creative interpretation'' and vowed ``a showdown.''
''The Treasury Department is going to try [to find loopholes], and the [House] appropriations committee will have to remind them who Congress is,'' Serrano told The Miami Herald. ``Treasury will be in violation of the law. There will be a showdown. The bigger issue will not be Congressman Serrano. It will be that they are behaving just like the Bush administration did.''
Technically speaking ... uh ... yeah.
The budget bill, which already passed the House, creates a general travel license for Americans who want to travel to Cuba to cut agricultural and medical sales deals with the communist government. It also lets Cuba pay for goods on arrival -- instead of before the products leave U.S. ports -- and removes funding for enforcement of family travel restrictions enacted by former President George W. Bush.
Geithner wrote that the agricultural travel license would be limited to ''only a narrow class of businesses,'' which would have to report back on their trips. By law, he said, Cuba would still have to pay up front.
Left intact in the bill, which expires in October, is a measure that suspends enforcement of rules that say Cuban Americans can only visit immediate relatives once every three years. Travel to the island would still be illegal, but the department wouldn't be allowed to spend money trying to catch anyone doing it.
This strikes me as no way to run the executive branch, at least not if you care about the separation of powers. If the administration opposes the Cuba provisions in the bill, President Obama ought to veto it. Otherwise, pandering to the Castro derangement syndrome that exists in part of our Congress just strikes me as wrong. Either sign the bill, and enforce it, or veto it. Doesn't seem to be much ambiguity there.
The Herald has Geithner's letters to the Senators (Nelson letter here).
Meanwhile, the view from Steve Clemons' room in Miami, where he's hanging out this week was pretty good. And his findings not all that surprising:
I have been discussing US-Cuba relations with quite a number of Cuban-Americans who live here. I have been telling them about the work that Senator Richard Lugar and his Latin America senior policy advisor Carl Meacham have recently done.
A couple of big surprises. Most want the embargo to end and are indifferent to the political issues that have kept a failed embargo in place for so long.
Secondly, many want to be entrepreneurs in a restarted US-Cuba relationship.
The other nice surprise is that when I put the issue of a relaxation of travel for Cuban-Americans to move back and forth from the US to Cuba, about half of them have the same reaction I do. Why should we create "categories of Americans"? They think we should not be excluding other Americans when legislating about relaxation of travel.
So why is Team Obama still pandering to the Cuba lobby?
Of all the people on Fox News, I've always suspected that Shep Smith is the one guy who purses his lips and only pretends to drink the Kool-Aid. Whether it's his exasperated response to Hurricane Katrina, or his actually coherent news take, Smith really doesn't belong on that channel. The latest Shep: ThinkProgress catches him sounding like a pro-Constitution American on the subject of holding people indefinitely without charges -- something the Bush administration made de regeur for the Republican Party (though some righties managed to figure out out that it was a bad idea.)
SMITH: He has been held in a military prison for more than five years — not Chris Wallace — this next person. And he wasn’t ever charged. Think about that. I mean just think about it fundamentally. You are held for five years in prison, and you’re never charged! Oh well it was an al-Qaeda suspect, suspected al-Qaeda operative. Who cares who it is?! You don’t get to — this is America; you do not get to hold people for five years without — actually, you do. But he’s getting its day in court now.
Way to go, Shep. For more on the charging of America's last (we hope) enemy combatant, Saleh al-Marri, click here. The indictment itself, which was filed in Illinois, can be found here.
While Obama's proposed budget will hit Bush hard in the wallet, just like other wealthy Americans, the main blow may be aimed at his reputation.
The 134-page spending plan opens with a 10-page preamble entitled "Inheriting a Legacy of Misplaced Priorities" that lays blame for many of today's problems at the doorstep of the former president.
"It is no coincidence that the policy failures of the past eight years have been accompanied by unprecedented Governmental secrecy and unprecedented access by lobbyists and the well-connected to policymakers in Washington. Consequently, the needs of those in the room trump those of their fellow citizens," the plan says.
But others get blamed in a broad-brush condemnation: "For the better part of three decades, a disproportionate share of the Nation's wealth has been accumulated by the very wealthy," the budget says. It blasts "a legacy of irresponsibility," adding, "It's our responsibility to change it."
The return of a Binyam Mohamed, a four-year Gitmo detainee, to Great Britain raises new questions about the Bush-era "war on terror," and the complicity of the U.K. in what are by all accounts illegal detentions in an American gulag. From the Guardian:
Senior MPs said they intended to pursue ministers and officials over what they knew of his ill-treatment and why Britain helped the CIA interrogate him.
In a statement released shortly after he arrived in a US Gulfstream jet at RAF Northolt in west London, Mohamed said: "For myself, the very worst moment came when I realised in Morocco that the people who were torturing me were receiving questions and materials from British intelligence."
Once inside the terminal building he met his sister for the fist time in more than seven years and in the most emotionally charged moment of the day they both cried and hugged.
Mohamed, a British resident, was released after several hours of questioning by police and immigration officials and was last night being looked after by his legal team.
Clive Stafford Smith, his lawyer, spoke of a "fantastic day" after the long campaign to free his client, who spent weeks on hunger strike being force-fed at Guantánamo and looked "incredibly skinny and very emaciated". Binyam was "extraordinarily grateful to be back in Britain", said Stafford Smith, who said he had "zero doubt" Britain was complicit in his client's ill-treatment.
"Britain knew he was being abused and left him," he said, referring to his secret abduction to Morocco where Mohamed says he was tortured. The lawyer also said his client was subjected to "very serious abuse" in Guantánamo.
Stafford Smith said that while his family was not vindictive they wanted the truth to be known. Mohamed hoped to be allowed to remain in the UK. "What we in Britain need to do is to make up for some of the things in the past and if the British government was, as I contend, deeply involved in the torture that Binyam had to go through, the least we can do is offer him his homeland," Stafford Smith said.
The Guardian Editorial team tackles the potential damage to U.S.-U.K. relations.
The Beeb reports on U.S. Defense Department plans to "ease conditions" at Gitmo.
And the Independent delves deeper into Binyam's claims that he was the victim of "Medieval torture" at Guantanamo.
Ideology first: Jindal fires the first shot for 2012
Per ThinkP - Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal just says no to $100 million in stimulus money for unemployed residents of his state. Now THERE's a great way to improve his changes of getting the 2012 GOP presidential nomination by ... ensuring he is not re-elected governor of Louisiana???
And other Republican governors are preparing to follow suit, even as the White House goes around their colleages in Congress, dealing directly with more amenable governors and mayors. But can someone explain how punishing the people of one's state improves a politician's political fortunes? The GOP has caught itself in a hell of a trap: they can either be hypocrites and beg for the money they voted against, or be ideologues and hurt their own constituents.
Robert Gibbs fires back at the Bourgeois Baron (Rick Santelli)
Rick Santelli thinks the guys on Wall Street and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange are the "real America" (as opposed to the "losers" who are out here getting themselves unemployed, getting sick, losing their healthcare and losing their homes ... losers...) Well, just watched Robert Gibbs' presser and apparently, the Obama White House begs to differ...
I’ve watched Mr. Santelli on cable the past 24 hours or so. I’m not entirely sure where Mr. Santelli lives or in what house he lives but the American people are struggling every day to meet their mortgages, stay in their jobs, pay their bills, send their kids to school,” Gibbs said. “I think we left a few months ago the adage that if it was good for a derivatives trader that it was good for Main Street. I think the verdict is in on that,” the press secretary said, poking directly at the cable journalist, who reports from the trading floor at the Chicago Board of Trade.
Gibbs insisted Santelli was misinformed when he said Obama’s program would amount to a transfer of money from prudent taxpayers to those who had taken reckless risks.
“Mr. Santelli has argued, I think quite wrongly, that this plan won’t help everyone,” Gibbs said. “This plan helps people who have been playing by the rules….I would encouraged him to read the president’s plan….I’d be more than happy to have him come here to read it. I’d be happy to buy him a cup of coffee—decaf."
I wonder if Santelli has talked to Michelle Bachman. If not, he should. His band of brothers will soon be running low, since apparently we're running out of rich people. He may have to throw those derivatives into the Chicago River himself...
Meanwhile, Balloon Juice offers a sound rebuttal to Mr. Storm the Bastille (on behalf of Marie Antoinette...)
The most amusing thing to me about this Rick Santelli faux populist broker revolt is not his invocation of the Nixonian silent majority, but the utter lack of perspective it displays. Yes, there is a simmering discontent and anger out there, and clearly the Republicans are going to try to tap into it, but the problem for Santelli and his crowd is that the anger is not directed at the people who are losing their homes, but at the people Santelli spends every day rubbing shoulders with at the trendy Chicago restaurants the brokers go to these days.
The audacity of Santelli’s “revolt” is that a mere 75 billion is being spent to help struggling families repackage loans- a pittance in the terms of the gargantuan amount of money being thrown at the banks, the Wall Street wizards, and the rest of the rocket scientists who are the root of this problem.
Hello Santelli? The guys on that trading floor already got their bailout. And where were you when that happened?
The Obama homeowner plan will be unveiled today. Per the leaks, it's likely to contain substantial help for homeowners in trouble, which is great news for the economy (and the banks that got them there...) Says the WaPo:
President Obama will unveil today a $75 billion foreclosure prevention program, which the administration expects to reach up to 9 million homeowners.
"The plan I'm announcing focuses on rescuing families who have played by the rules and acted responsibly: by refinancing loans for millions of families in traditional mortgages who are underwater or close to it," Obama will say at a speech in Mesa, Ariz., according to an advance text released by the White House.
The Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan includes measures to allow homeowners to refinance into loans with cheaper payments, according to a summary of the plan. For example, if a lender agrees to lower a borrower's payment so that it comprises no more than 38 percent of his income, the government would pay to lower the payments further to 31 percent of income. The aim would be to make the payments affordable.
The plan offers incentives for lenders that modify troubled loans, with up to $1,000 for each modification and then another monthly "pay for success" fee as long as the borrower stays current, according to the summary. If the lender reaches an at-risk homeowner before they miss a payment and modifies their loan, the lender would be eligible for another incentive payment.
Homeowners will also be eligible for incentive payments. Those that stay current on their loans could qualify for a "monthly balance reduction payment that goes straight towards reducing the principal balance of the mortgage loan," according to the summary. The homeowner could receive up to $1,000 a year for five years.
The Obama plan does not include provisions to help investors and is focused solely on owner-occupied homes. Officials said the administration is trying to provide enough help to stem foreclosures while not rewarding borrowers who purposefully stop paying. At the same time, Obama's team wanted to risk only as much taxpayer money as absolutely necessary.
The plan "will not rescue the unscrupulous or irresponsible by throwing good taxpayer money after bad loans," Obama will say, according to the text of his speech.
The administration estimates that the plan could stop the slide in home prices by up to $6,000 per home, simply by reducing foreclosures. "The effects of this crisis have also reverberated across the financial markets. When the housing market collapsed, so did the availability of credit on which our economy depends," Obama says in the prepared text. "As that credit has dried up, it has been harder for families to find affordable loans to purchase a car or pay tuition and harder for businesses to secure the capital they need to expand and create jobs."
And from WhiteHouse.gov, some of the fine print in the form of a Frequently Asked Questions thread:
Borrowers Who Are Current on Their Mortgage Are Asking:
What help is available for borrowers who stay current on their mortgage payments but have seen their homes decrease in value?
Under the Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan, eligible borrowers who stay current on their mortgages but have been unable to refinance to lower their interest rates because their homes have decreased in value, may now have the opportunity to refinance into a 30 or 15 year, fixed rate loan. Through the program, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will allow the refinancing of mortgage loans that they hold in their portfolios or that they placed in mortgage backed securities.
I owe more than my property is worth, do I still qualify to refinance under the Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan?
Eligible loans will now include those where the new first mortgage (including any refinancing costs) will not exceed 105% of the current market value of the property. For example, if your property is worth $200,000 but you owe $210,000 or less you may qualify. The current value of your property will be determined after you apply to refinance.
How do I know if I am eligible?
Complete eligibility details will be announced on March 4th when the program starts. The criteria for eligibility will include having sufficient income to make the new payment and an acceptable mortgage payment history. The program is limited to loans held or securitized by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.
Question: what is the point of helping homeowners who have an acceptable mortgage payment history? Doesn't that mean they aren't behind on their loans? Just asking. More fine print, and a seeming contradiction:
Borrowers Who Are at Risk of Foreclosure Are Asking:
What help is available for borrowers who are at risk of foreclosure either because they are behind on their mortgage or are struggling to make the payments?
The Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan offers help to borrowers who are already behind on their mortgage payments or who are struggling to keep their loans current. By providing mortgage lenders with financial incentives to modify existing first mortgages, the Treasury hopes to help as many as 3 to 4 million homeowners avoid foreclosure regardless of who owns or services the mortgage.
Do I need to be behind on my mortgage payments to be eligible for a modification?
No. Borrowers who are struggling to stay current on their mortgage payments may be eligible if their income is not sufficient to continue to make their mortgage payments and they are at risk of imminent default. This may be due to several factors, such as a loss of income, a significant increase in expenses, or an interest rate that will reset to an unaffordable level.
Hm. I guess I'll just wait for the announce.
UPDATE: President Obama is presenting the plan now. It sounds much better somehow in his speech than it did in the WaPo. The plan is clear and straightforward: refinancing Fannie and Freddie backed mortgages to market value, reducing mortgage payments for those in trouble to one-third of their income, allowing homeowners who are "upside down" on their mortgages to refinance at lower interest rates, and he plans to move forward on allowing bankruptcy judges to reduce mortgage payments so that they reflect the fair market value of homes. Perhaps anticipating GOP objections to that provision, Obama pointed out that "that's already the rule for people who own 2, 3 and 4 houses, so it should also be the rule for people who own just one home."
Gregg tries to explain his sudden exit, not just from Commerce, but also from the Senate (he suddenly won't be running for re-election...)
It's "not his personality"??? That's the explanation? Come on, Judd. What's this really about? Some options:
Gregg withdrew because he discovered he could no longer use the position to blow up the Census... Actually this is a serious issue that came up almost immediately upon Gregg's nomination (or self-nomination, depending on whom you believe...) The issue is about Congressional apportionment after 2010:
In addition to not being a fan of the Commerce Department in the past, President Obama’s Commerce Secretary nominee, New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg, wasn’t a fan of spending a lot of money on the 2000 Census.
Especially given than Census undercounts tend to favor the GOP, The New York Times editorializes about whether or not Obama has thought through all the political ramifications of the Gregg nomination.
Good example. Texas is expected to gain as many as three House seats.
What if undercounts cost the D/FW Metroplex, or Houston, a seat, and a Democratic one at that?
Barack can't buy a commerce secretary ... Judd Gregg jumps ship, and he does it in true GOP style:
Republican Sen. Judd Gregg abruptly withdrew his nomination as President Barack Obama’s commerce secretary Thursday, telling Politico that he “couldn’t be Judd Gregg" and serve in the Cabinet.
The harsh response from a White House caught off guard: Gregg was the one who asked for the job – and he repeatedly promised that, “despite past disagreements about policies, he would support, embrace, and move forward with the president’s agenda.”
White House aides described themselves as “blindsided” by what White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs described as Gregg’s change of heart.”
Change of heart my ass. So what gives?
In an interview with Politico Thursday afternoon, Gregg said he “should have faced up” to the conflicts he felt earlier.
“I’ve been my own person, and I began to wonder if I could be an effective team player,” the New Hampshire Republican said. “The president deserves someone who can block for his policies. As a practical matter I can contribute to his agenda better—where we agree—as a senator and I hope to do that.”
“The fault lies with me,” Gregg continued. He refused to discuss any conversations he had with Obama, saying, “I may have embarrassed myself but hopefully not him.”
In a separate statement, Gregg cited his problems with the economic stimulus bill, as well as partisan disagreements over how to run the Census as reasons for pulling his nomination. He was quick to point out that there was nothing in the vetting process that made him yank his own nomination – steering clear of the controversies that killed the Health and Human Services nominee Tom Daschle and chief performance officer nominee Nancy Kileffer, who both withdrew after tax problems.
Ultimately, Gregg said he and Obama “are functioning from a different set of views on many critical items of policy.”
I'm guessing Gregg was getting slapped around by the wingerati, including this guy:
“Sen. Gregg made a principled decision to return and we’re glad to have him,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “He is among the smartest, most effective legislators to serve in the Senate—Democrat or Republican—and a key advisor to me and to the Republican Conference. It’s great to have him back.”
Poll: Most Americans say, 'investigate the bastard'
Dubya flipped off the Constitution, too...
A new poll shows that Americans want at least for there to be an investigation of torture under the Bush regime.
Even as Americans struggle with two wars and an economy in tatters, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds majorities in favor of investigating some of the thorniest unfinished business from the Bush administration: Whether its tactics in the "war on terror" broke the law.
Close to two-thirds of those surveyed said there should be investigations into allegations that the Bush team used torture to interrogate terrorism suspects and its program of wiretapping U.S. citizens without getting warrants. Almost four in 10 favor criminal investigations and about a quarter want investigations without criminal charges. One-third said they want nothing to be done.
The breakdown is as follows:
Regarding possible use of torture in terror interrogations:
Criminal investigation: 38%
Independent panel: 24%
Not sure: 2%
Meanwhile, when it comes to politicizing the Justice Department, even more of those polled want a probe:
Re possible attempts to use the Justice Department for political purposes:
Criminal investigation: 41%
Independent panel: 30%
And finally, regarding the "possible use of wiretaps without a warrant":
Criminal investigation: 438%
Independent panel: 25%
Read more of the Gallup poll here. Meanwhile, when it comes to torture prosecutions, civil libertarians like Jonathan Turley are not backing down:
Politico reports that our friends the "Do Nothing" Republicans will attempt to turn their economic recovery lemons into lemonade by airing anti-legislation ads in 30 Democratic districts. Fair enough. But then, the online mag commits the cardinal old media sin: writing the narrative, instead of the facts. And usually, the MSM narrative favors the Republican position, whatever it happens to be (remember the "is it spending or stimulus" debate?) Politico's Patrick O'Connor writes:
The party’s campaign arm will start airing radio ads Friday in approximately 30 Democratic districts to argue that the bill violates the lawmakers’ campaign pledge to restore fiscal responsibility to Washington.
Public opinion, though slipping, currently favors President Barack Obama and his package of spending and tax cuts to bolster the retreating economy. So Republicans are making a long-term gamble that opposition to the package will look prescient two years from now if the economy is still struggling.
Slipping? Really? No, not really. Actually, public opinion favoring the economic recovery package is growing. Per Gallup:
Obama Has Upper Hand in Stimulus Fight Obama’s 67% approval rating on the stimulus is more than twice that of Republicans
PRINCETON, NJ -- The American public gives President Barack Obama a strong 67% approval rating for the way in which he is handling the government's efforts to pass an economic stimulus bill, while the Democrats and, in particular, the Republicans in Congress receive much lower approval ratings of 48% and 31%, respectively.
And more Gallup, which finds today that support for the plan is up among all party groups:
Public support for an $800 billion economic stimulus package has increased to 59% in a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted Tuesday night, up from 52% in Gallup polling a week ago, as well as in late January.
Over the same period, support for the stimulus package held steady among independents, with a slight majority in favor of it. The percentage of Republicans favoring the package rose slightly from 24% to 28%, but remains below the 34% support received in early January, before Congress began its formal consideration of the package.
The problem for the GOP is that because they spent eight years repudiating these core principles, they have no credibility now embracing said principles. Without the protection of those principles, the GOP simply looks like it wants to oppose for the sake of opposition at a time when the country is crumbling.
Paul Krugman feels about the same way I do about the Senate "compromise" wrought by newly emboldened "centrist" Mafiosa Susan Collins of Maine. It sucks:
What do you call someone who eliminates hundreds of thousands of American jobs, deprives millions of adequate health care and nutrition, undermines schools, but offers a $15,000 bonus to affluent people who flip their houses?
A proud centrist. For that is what the senators who ended up calling the tune on the stimulus bill just accomplished.
Even if the original Obama plan — around $800 billion in stimulus, with a substantial fraction of that total given over to ineffective tax cuts — had been enacted, it wouldn’t have been enough to fill the looming hole in the U.S. economy, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates will amount to $2.9 trillion over the next three years.
Yet the centrists did their best to make the plan weaker and worse.
One of the best features of the original plan was aid to cash-strapped state governments, which would have provided a quick boost to the economy while preserving essential services. But the centrists insisted on a $40 billion cut in that spending.
The original plan also included badly needed spending on school construction; $16 billion of that spending was cut. It included aid to the unemployed, especially help in maintaining health care — cut. Food stamps — cut. All in all, more than $80 billion was cut from the plan, with the great bulk of those cuts falling on precisely the measures that would do the most to reduce the depth and pain of this slump.
On the other hand, the centrists were apparently just fine with one of the worst provisions in the Senate bill, a tax credit for home buyers. Dean Baker of the Center for Economic Policy Research calls this the “flip your house to your brother” provision: it will cost a lot of money while doing nothing to help the economy.
All in all, the centrists’ insistence on comforting the comfortable while afflicting the afflicted will, if reflected in the final bill, lead to substantially lower employment and substantially more suffering.
Krugman blames the Obama administration's seeming obsession with bipartisanship for the worsening of the bill, and I agree. It's time to stop trying to coddle the opposition and start recognizing that there's a reason they are where they are. Giving Susan Collins a veto over the proposal so that she can play Cruella de Ville, demanding that no more money be given to those awful poor people and children, is a hell of a rotten negotiating position for the White House to be in.
WRONG. ABOUT. EVERY. F***ING. THING. From holding back the economic development of the early nation, to slavery, to the Civil War, to Jim Crow, to Segregation, to the minimum wage, to maximum hours, to workplace safety, to workers compensation, to food safety, to child labor, to isolationism, to the FDIC, to Social Security, to the union movement, to Red Baiting, to woman's suffrage, to anti-intellectualism, to workplace discrimination, to State's Rights, to the Voting Rights Act, to equal pay, to religious fundamentalism, to loving guns more than life itself, to anti-Catholicism, to anti-Semitism, to Vietnam, to the War on Terror, to birth control, to not taxing while really spending, to homophobia, to clean water, to environmentalism, to making the rubble bounce on brown people, to supporting torture, to police abuse, to global warming, to outlawing precious and blessed foreplay between consenting adults, generation after generation, they've been the assholes of the nation.
Sunday best: Michael Steele says work is not a job
On "This Week" today, the RNC's new, black face, confused the hell out of the rest of us, telling George Stephanopoulos that a job created by the government isn't really a job at all. It's "work," and work is most definitely NOT ... a job ... Confused? Read on:
STEELE: You've got to look at what's going to create sustainable jobs. What this administration is talking about is making work. It is creating work.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But that's a job.
STEELE: No, it's not a job. A job is something that -- that a business owner creates. It's going to be long term. What he's creating...
STEPHANOPOULOS: So a job doesn't count if it's a government job?
STEELE: Hold on. No, let me -- let me -- let me finish. That is a contract. It ends at a certain point, George. You know that. These road projects that we're talking about have an end point.
As a small-business owner, I'm looking to grow my business, expand my business. I want to reach further. I want to be international. I want to be national. It's a whole different perspective on how you create a job versus how you create work. And I'm -- either way, the bottom line is...
STEPHANOPOULOS: I guess I don't really understand that distinction.
STEELE: Well, the difference -- the distinction is this. If a government -- if you've got a government contract that is a fixed period of time, it goes away. The work may go away. That's -- there's no guarantee that that -- that there's going to be more work when you're done in that job.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, but we've seen millions and millions of jobs going away in the private sector just in the last year.
STEELE: But they come -- yes, they -- and they come back, though, George. That's the point. When they go -- they've gone away before, and they come back.
Huh? Watch it and see if it makes more sense that way...
Now it appears what Steele was trying to say is that government-created infrastructure jobs, i.e., construction, road and bridge engineering and planning, etc., aren't "real jobs" because they're temporary, unlike the permanent, sustainable jobs created by the private sec...tor ... which just laid off 600,000 people last month... ohhhh.... hmmm.... problemo...
And just in case you think Steele just made that up on the fly, think again. He has said it before, and added that government has never ... EVER ... in the history of mankind... created a job. Seriously.
The GOP continues to fiddle while the country burns. Today, Barack Obama continued his "calling out the losers" tour:
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama decried as "inexcusable and irresponsible" the delay of his economic recovery legislation in Congress with an estimated 3.6 million Americans losing their jobs since the recession began.
Obama's remarks were some of his most direct and pointed in support of the massive economic package that the Senate considered Friday and tried to pare down below its $900-billion-plus price tag. Obama acknowledged it was not perfect and pledged to work with lawmakers to refine the measure, which he called "absolutely necessary."
"But broadly speaking, the package is the right size, it is the right scope, and it has the right priorities to create 3 to 4 million jobs, and to do it in a way that lays the groundwork for long-term growth," Obama said at a ceremony in the White House East Room.
The president named an outside economic team of advisers as the nation dealt with more bad news in the unemployment report for January. Employers slashed payrolls by 598,000, the most since the end of 1974, propelling the unemployment rate to 7.6 percent. The rate is the highest since September 1992.
"These numbers demand action. It is inexcusable and irresponsible for any of us to get bogged down in distraction, delay or politics as usual while millions of Americans are being put out of work," Obama said bluntly. "Now is the time for Congress to act."
Meanwhile, the staggering job losses that aren't phasing the GOPers, apparently, continue to bite the hell out of the rest of us.
Barack Obama today named 26-year-old Josh Dubois, his head of faith outreach during the campaign, to head his office of faith based initiatives, a relic of the Bush administration that will survive, apparently, though with revisions, including eliminating the green light on discriminatory hiring practices.
Dubois has a rich history of advocacy on civil and human rights that goes back to his college days, and did a great job during the campaign. I met him when he came to Miami toward the end of the campaign. Solid guy. More on the changes:
Joshua DuBois’ job as head of the Office for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships is expected to differ from that of his predecessor in the Bush administration. Obama has indicated that in addition to advising local religious leaders on how to get federal funding, the role will now also include working with them on social service outreach and tying their efforts into the administration’s fights against problems such as poverty.
Dubois is a Pentacostal minister, in case you're wondering.
Apparently, in addition to all the tax foul ups during the cabinet fill-out, Team O managed to dis General Tony Zinni... though the fault seems to lie in Hillaryland... The rub:
When retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinnitold the Washington Times that he was offered the job of U.S. ambassador to Iraq before being passed over in favor of diplomat Christopher Hill, he did not say that one of the outrages of the experience was that his friend of 30 years, fellow former Marine Corps commandant and now national security advisor James L. Jones, had offered him the job, and then failed to tell him when the decision was changed.
With Tom Daschle out as HHS chief, it's going to be tough to find someone with his unique skill set (knowledge of healthcare plight plus knowledge of buried bodies on the Hill...) Rumor has it Team Obama may be considering bringing back yet another Clinton administration figure: University of Miami President Donna Shalala. She surely deserves to be on the short list, and UM is a premier medical educational institution. Apparently, HoDo and B.O. are not tight, to say the least, so there will likely be no Dean scream in the Health and Human Services department, which might not be so bad, since I'm not sure how effective Dean would be at wrangling the Hill. Still, liberals would love to have him.
The bigger problem, however, will be replacing Daschle's potential Cap Hill mojo. As TIME's Karen Tumulty puts it:
it is probably more important to watch what happens with the second job that Daschle had been slated to hold — that of head of a new White House Office of Health Reform. Thus far, Administration officials have not been willing to say if that White House job will even exist in the wake of Daschle's decision to end his bid for health secretary amid reports that he had failed to pay $128,000 of income taxes on time. But that White House office was where Daschle's expertise and clout would have mattered the most. While his former deputy Jeanne Lambrew is widely respected for her policy knowledge, no one still there has Daschle's savvy and connections for shepherding legislation through the Senate, where the likes of Ted Kennedy and Max Baucus have their own strongly held notions of what reform should look like. His stature and close relationship with Obama also would have helped fight the impulses of some in the Administration — including chief economic adviser Larry Summers — to delay the push for health reform until after the economy gets fixed.
Score one for the fabulous Claire McCaskill. Obama has adopted her plan (which, to be fair, was first proposed by Bernie Sanders...) From the IHT:
The Obama administration is expected to impose a cap of $500,000 on the compensation of top executives at companies that receive large amounts of federal bailout money, according to people familiar with the plan.
Under new rules to be announced by the Treasury Department as early as Wednesday, executives would also be prohibited from receiving any bonuses above their base pay, except for normal stock dividends.
The new rules would be far tougher than any restrictions imposed during the Bush administration, and they could force executives in the months ahead to accept deep reductions in their current pay.
Executives at companies that have already received money from Treasury Department would not have to make any changes. But analysts and administration officials are bracing for a huge wave of new losses, largely because of the deepening recession, and many companies that have already received federal aid may be seeking more.
Under the Treasury's $700 billion rescue program, most companies that have received money so far have been considered "healthy" rather than on the brink of collapse.
But five of the biggest companies that got federal aid – Citigroup, Bank of America and American International Group, General Motors and Chrysler -- were all facing acute problems. And top executives at those companies made far more than $500,000 annually in recent years.
Kenneth Lewis, the chief executive of Bank of America, made more than $20 million in 2007. Of that, $5.75 million was in salary and bonuses.
Vikram Pandit, who became chief executive of Citigroup in December of 2007 and previously held other senior positions at the bank, made $3.1 million.
Richard Wagoner, the chief executive of General Motors, made $14.4 million, much of it in stock, options and other non-cash benefits. He earned a $1.6 million annual salary.
"That is pretty draconian — $500,000 is not a lot of money, particularly if there is no bonus," said James Reda, founder and managing director of James F. Reda & Associates, a compensation consulting firm. "And you know these companies that are in trouble are not going to pay much of an annual dividend."
Not a lot of money? Get over yourselves. If you want tax dollars, no more free lunch. By the way, the plan is $100,000 more generous than what McCaskill or Sanders proposed, which was to cap the salaries of the hat in hand crowd at what the president makes.
Call me a horrible person if you want, but these are the things I could do without, news-wise... 1. Tom Daschle's tax problems. Sure, he was forced to withdraw his name from the HHS nomination spot, but why? Whether or not he paid taxes for a car somebody loaned him, has much less to do with the job he sought than Tim Geithner's tax problems had to do with his new job; in fact, they had nothing to do with it. Besides, Daschle was uniquely qualified for the job, which will involve muscling a universal healthcare plan through a Congress where he knows where the bodies are buried. Now that he's gone, next stop, (Dr.) Howard Dean? And does the New York Times now hold the whip hand over Obama nominations?
2. Michael Phelps' drug use. Oooh, a 23-year-old guy who used pot? Knock me over with a feather. His endorsers are right to stick with him. There's a lot worse he could have done, given the state of professional athletics these days. Besides, the guy who caught the winning touchdown pass in the Superbowl? He sold drugs for a short time in the tough neighborhood of Belle Glade. Does that make him any less a football hero?
3. Bank failures. President Obama issued yet another dire warning this week about more possible bank failures. Well ... you know where I am right now? I'm at the "let them fail" stage. Americans forked out $350 billion to banks who spent the last two decades creating liars loans, worthless, overpriced derivatives, and ephemoral, paper "wealth" that sucked in scads of pensioners and 401K holders. Now that they have our money, the bastards are hoarding it, giving it out in bonuses and dividends, and even partying with it. So you know what? The next time a bank comes whining to Washington saying they're on the brink of failure, I think Congress and the president should tell them, "see ya. Wouldn't wanna be ya."
4. Ann Coulter. Why are major news outlets like NBC and CBS paying a whit of attention to her? She's obnoxious, not very smart, not very interesting, and damned if she's not a really skinny bitch...
5. Bipartisanship. What's the point? Barack Obama has done everything but buy wedding rings for the House and Senate GOP, and all he's gotten for his trouble has been a Super Bowl party dis from Arizona jerks John McCain and John Kyl, zero GOP votes for the stimulus bill in the House, and endless warbling for more and more and more tax cuts. Republicans need to learn a valuable lesson that they themselves taught Democrats for six years, from 2000 to 2006: he who wins the election rules the day. A majority of Americans voted AGAINST the endless tax cuts for the rich that the GOP is still hawking. They voted FOR Obama's and the Democrats' policies. So guess whose "ideas" should be implemented? Hm? Come on... you know which ones...! Bottom line: let it go, Barack. As Rachel Maddow said last night, they're just not that into you.
John Kerry did an outstanding job this morning on "Meet the Press," knocking down David Gregory's absurd "stipulation" that no one knows whether tax cuts or government spending make for superior stimulus (Kerry said "I won't stipulate to that at all," then pointed out that we've had eight years of Bush tax cuts plus neglect of our infrastructure and look what we've got to show for it...) and he slapped down Kay Bailey Hutchinson's talking points about the stimulus bill needing to incorporate Republican tax cut philosophy. Said Kerry: "we are not duty bound to accept something with which we fundamentally disagree." He added that when it comes to bipartisanship, President Obama has met with the GOP caucus, while he said he couldn't recall in eight years, President Bush meeting with Democrats on the Hill.
Waiting for the transcript to post.
Meanwhile, Gregory was true to form, quoting of all people, the right wing Heritage Foundation, for his facts on the deficit.
The economic stimulus plan passes with not a single Republican vote
Surprise! Bipartisanship doesn't exactly rule the day... but the package passes anyway:
With no Republican support, the House approved an $819 billion stimulus plan that will serve as the cornerstone of President Obama's efforts to resuscitate the economy, an early victory for the new president but still a disappointment because of the lack of Republican votes.
The measure passed 244 to 188, with 11 Democrats and 177 Republicans voting against it.
The two-year economic package includes $275 billion in tax cuts and more than $550 billion in domestic spending on roads and bridges, alternative-energy development, health-care technology, unemployment assistance, and aid to states and local governments. It would also provide up to $500 per year in tax relief for most workers and more than $300 billion in aid to states for funding to help rebuild schools, provide health-care to the poor and reconstruct highways and bridges.
Despite a last-minute lobbying campaign by Obama -- including coming to the Capitol yesterday for separate closed-door meetings with House and Senate Republicans -- Republicans opposed the measure and argued that it spent hundreds of billions of dollars on Democratic initiatives that would do little to stimulate the economy or create jobs.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) heralded the legislation as the first down payment on Obama's pledge, in his inaugural address, to provide "bold and swift" action to revive an economy that is losing more than 500,000 jobs a month, including 65,000 layoffs announced just this week.
"He said he wanted action, bold and swift, and that is exactly what we are doing," Pelosi told reporters before the vote.
A $475 billion Republican alternative, which focused heavily on reducing individual and business taxes, was rejected largely on party lines. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), a member of the GOP leadership team, ridiculed the Democratic plan as a "typical bill that is full of wasteful spending." ...
The GOP now has to hope that it doesn't work. Next up: the Senate debates their version (tomorrow) and then it's on to conference committee. What fun!
Though Dick Cheney would seem to have been at the epicenter of America's totalitarian torture, detention and domestic spying regimes, one man stands front and center as probably the most easily prosecutable "first case" in what should be a series of U.S. war crimes trials: Donald Rumsfeld. RawStory reports:
Monday, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak told CNN's Rick Sanchez that the US has an "obligation" to investigate whether Bush administration officials ordered torture, adding that he believes that there is already enough evidence to prosecute former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
"We have clear evidence," he said. "In our report that we sent to the United Nations, we made it clear that former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld clearly authorized torture methods and he was told at that time by Alberto Mora, the legal council of the Navy, 'Mr. Secretary, what you are actual ordering here amounts to torture.' So, there we have the clear evidence that Mr. Rumsfeld knew what he was doing but, nevertheless, he ordered torture."
With all the excitement on my side of the aisle over President Obama's order to close the Byzantine Guantanamo Bay prison camp, the American public, thanks to the media, has completely overlooked another American gulag operating at the behest of the former henchman of the Bush administration, which could be just as problematic.
ASHINGTON — For months, a national debate has raged over the fate of the 245 detainees at the United States military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
But what may be an equally difficult problem now confronts the Obama administration in the 600 prisoners packed into a cavernous, makeshift prison on the American air base at Bagram in Afghanistan.
Military personnel who know Bagram and Guantánamo describe the Afghan site as tougher and more spartan. The prisoners have fewer privileges and virtually no access to lawyers. The Bush administration never allowed journalists or human rights advocates inside.
Problems have also developed with efforts to rehabilitate former jihadists, some of whom had been imprisoned at Guantánamo. Nine graduates of a Saudi program have been arrested for rejoining terrorist groups, Saudi officials said Monday.
President Obama must now decide whether and how to continue holding the men at Bagram, most of them suspected of being Taliban fighters. Under the laws of war, they are being held indefinitely and without charge. He must also determine whether to go forward with the construction of a $60 million prison complex at Bagram that, while offering better conditions for the detainees, would also signal a longer-term commitment to the American detention mission.
Mr. Obama tried last week to buy some time in addressing the challenges Bagram poses even as he ordered Guantánamo closed. By a separate executive order, Mr. Obama directed a task force led by the attorney general and the defense secretary to study the government’s overall policy on detainees and to report to him in six months.
But human rights advocates and former government officials say that several factors — including expanding combat operations against the Taliban, the scheduled opening of the new prison at Bagram in the fall and a recent federal court order — will probably force the administration to deal with the vexing choices much sooner. ...
The truth of the matter is the Obama team are acting with as much "deliberate speed" as they probably can, but even the temptation to continue the most horrific policies of the Bush administration, given the difficult task of fighting an on-going 'war' with al-Qaida, which is based in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, must be something else.
The GOP is scrambling to find a clean way of opposing the coming economic stimulus plan, because they know that once implemented, it has the potential to cement Democrats in power for a very long time. To understand why, you have to look at what its priorities are. Per the White House:
Doubling the production of alternative energy in the next three years.
Modernizing more than 75% of federal buildings and improve the energy efficiency of two million American homes, saving consumers and taxpayers billions on our energy bills.
Making the immediate investments necessary to ensure that within five years, all of America’s medical records are computerized.
Equipping tens of thousands of schools, community colleges, and public universities with 21st century classrooms, labs, and libraries.
Expanding broadband across America, so that a small business in a rural town can connect and compete with their counterparts anywhere in the world.
Investing in the science, research, and technology that will lead to new medical breakthroughs, new discoveries, and entire new industries.
On education alone, we're talking about doubling the budget of the Bush-neglected Department of Education, and pumping $150 billion into the nation's schools and universities. That affects tens of millions of parents and potentially, nearly 100 million children and college students. That's not good news for the GOP. Nor is the significant shoring up in the stimulus plan for the jobless, and for troubled homeowners. Every dollar of individual aid to an American citizen is a potential vote lost for the GOP. That's what Rush and his fellow travelers fear most.
At the end of the day, most economists understand that with most people feeling too job insecure to spend money on non-necessities, and states in financial drought, the federal government is the only entity that can spend at the level needed to put a jolt into the economy. Spending is what we need now, and Republicans know it. But they also know that government spending is good politics, for Democrats.
Related: read the Congressional Budget Office's take on the stimulus package here. On interesting caveat is that the bill forbids spending stimulus dollars on such Miami-beloved things as horse and dog tracks. A good look, I'd say...
... or at least not since Jimmy Carter: an American president expressing sympathy for the Palestinians, and sorrow for the loss of Palestinian civilian lives. President Obama just did exactly that during his address regarding the selection of George Mitchell as Middle East envoy. Obama has called for an end to rocket fire into Israel, but also for an end to the "suffocating poverty" inflicted on the residents of Gaza. That, in and of itself, is the kind of sea change that comes from having a president who has had real, meaningful contact with the Muslim world, plus an international perspective that includes more than road trips to Mexico to score some blow. (Ahem)
Regarding the conflicts in Asia, he has said that there can be no lasting peace until we "expand the sphere of opportunity" to the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
A pay freeze for administration members earning over $100,000 a year and strict rules on lobbying, both before and after serving his White House.
Phone calls to top Middle Eastern leaders, and a nod to former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell as Mideast envoy. Mitchell did great things during the Clinton administration for peace in Northern Ireland, but he has special qualifications for this job, too, as Mother Jones points out:
At first glance, Mitchell may not seem the most obvious choice for the Middle East envoy job. Others have far more experience in the region, and Mitchell's success in Northern Ireland does not necessarily translate to the intractable conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. But what you may not know is that Mitchell is himself of Lebanese ancestry; his father, John Kilroy, was an Irishman adopted by a Lebanese family, and his mother was a Lebanese Maronite Christian.
More than that, Mitchell had a brief, albeit unsuccessful, run as Middle East envoy during President Bill Clinton's last-minute attempt to broker peace there before he left office. The so-called "Mitchell Commission" studied the conflict in detail for several months before releasing a report in April 2001 to the newly inaugurated Bush administration.
As with his work in Northern Ireland, Mitchell suggested in the 2001 report (available here) that no peace could come to the Middle East until both sides stopped the violence and steeled themselves for difficult negotiations. Beyond that, though, he affected a more balanced approach to the peace process, calling not only for the Palestinians to renounce terrorism, but for the Israelis to cease using economic blockades against the Palestinians and to halt the construction of new settlements in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Putting a Lebanese-American at the forefront of policy, along with the well known and widely trusted Secretary of State Clinton, is a great look, and Obama seems to be signaling that he will be as tough on settlement building as Bush was soft on it.
Meanwhile, on the newly de-tourested Capitol Hill:
Hillary is approved, and then greeted as a liberator by a weary Foggy Bottom, which made little attempt to show their relief that the new administration has arrived. BTW the two GOPers who voted against Hillary in the Senate were Jim DeMint (R, SC) and David Vitter (R, Whore House.) Geithner is approved, tax issues and all.
Eric Holder is held up by Bush lackeys on the Senate Judiciary Committee who are apparently seeking assurances that there will be no torture prosecutions emanating from the Obama Justice Department. (Meanwhile, the U.N.'s top torture investigator says the body doesn't really need the United States to act on the matter. They can move against top Bushies themselves, and Manfred Nowak, the U.N. "Special Raporteur on Toture," has at least two defendants in mind ...) Said Mr. Nowak:
“Judicially speaking, the United States has a clear obligation” to bring proceedings against Bush and Rumsfeld. […] He noted Washington had ratified the UN convention on torture which required “all means, particularly penal law” to be used to bring proceedings against those violating it.
“We have all these documents that are now publicly available that prove that these methods of interrogation were intentionally ordered by Rumsfeld,” against detainees at the US prison facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Nowak said.
Cheney should of course be added to the list, along with Bush and Don Rumsfeld, particularly since he has openly admitted to authorizing the torture of U.S. detainees.
BTW, check out the new Whitehouse.gov. It mirrors the previous Obama campaign and transition sites. Nice.
The Senate just says yes to giving Team Obama the second half of the TARP fund. The vote was 52-42, and it's counter-intuitive, but a "no" vote meant yes, give him the dough. (Lieberman Watch Update: Traitor Joe voted, as he should, with the Dems.) Meanwhile, the price tag for the economic stimulus bill tops $825 billion.
The right's self-immolation derby continues: they're bringing back Schiavo!
Okay, so I'm driving home the other night and happen to stop on the Michael Savage show. I know, I know, I really can't offer a coherent excuse. So anyway, he has on a guy who's promising that the right will not lie down while Barack Obama turns this county into a secular socialist hell hole. And how are the wingers going to demonstrate their resolve? By bringing back the Terri Schiavo case. No, seriously, they're bringing back the Schiavo case. From the Family Research Council, a manifesto on how to fight an upcoming Obama nominee. It's called, completely without irony, "Change Watch..."
Change Watch Backgrounder: Thomas J. Perrelli
POSTION: ASSOCIATE ATTORNEY GENERAL
NOMINEE: Thomas J. Perrelli
Born: March 12, 1966
Occupation: Managing Partner of Jenner & Block's Washington, DC office.
Education: graduated from Harvard Law School, magna cum laude, in 1991
Clinton White House: In 1997, served as counsel to Attorney General Janet Reno. He subsequently rose to Deputy Assistant Attorney General, supervising the Federal Programs Branch of the Civil Division, which represents virtually every federal agency in complex civil litigation. Perrelli also supervised the Justice Department's Tobacco Litigation Team in its litigation against the major cigarette manufacturers.
End of Life issues
"An attorney who won an award for representing Terri Schiavo's husband Michael in his efforts to kill his disabled wife is now an advisor to the transition team of incoming president Barack Obama.
Thomas Perrelli, who raised over $500,000 for the pro-abortion presidential candidate and is the managing partner of a Washington law firm, Jenner & Block LLP, is helping advise Obama on putting together a Justice Department team.
However, Perrelli provided Michael Schiavo with legal advice during his response to the Congressional bill that President Bush signed allowing the Schindler family to take their lawsuit seeking to prevent Terri's euthanasia death from state to federal courts.
Perrelli led the Jenner & Block team that developed the legal briefs opposing appeals for Michael and he ultimately received the Albert E. Jenner, Jr. Pro Bono Award in October 2006 for representing Terri's former husband at no cost.
On Michael's legal team, Perrelli worked with infamous pro-euthanasia attorney George Felos as well as lawyers from the Florida chapter of the ACLU."
They also don't like the fact that he supports redistricting under the Voting Rights Act. So there you have it. The fight is on, and it's about black people, and Terri Schiavo. Good move, FRC... please, please, keep it up.
America's most famous television surgeon, Sanjay Gupta, is poised to take his black bag and microphone to the White House as President-elect Barack Obama's choice for U.S. surgeon general.
A neurosurgeon who is also a correspondent for CNN and CBS, Gupta was chosen as much for his broadcasting skills as for his medical résumé, suggesting that the incoming administration values visible advisers who can drive a public message. He has also been offered a top post in the new White House Office of Health Reform, twin duties that could make him the most influential surgeon general in history.
A practicing physician and one of People magazine's "Sexiest Men Alive," Gupta met for more than two hours with Obama in Chicago on Nov. 25, according to two sources with knowledge of the talks. Gupta, 39, later spoke with several Obama advisers, including Thomas A. Daschle, who will run the new White House policy office and the Department of Health and Human Services.
The globetrotting doctor has told Obama aides he wants the job, which involves overseeing the 6,000-member Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service. When reached yesterday, Gupta did not deny that he plans to accept the offer but declined to comment.
Picking Gupta, who by the way, used to write speeches for Hillary Clinton, means Obama plans to use his public persona to push through what must be, or perhaps hopefully will be, a massive reorganization of the nation's healthcare system. The one, two punch of picking Gupta and Daschle signals that the Obama people are serious about getting the policy through Congress (Daschle), and explaining it credibly to the American people (Gupta).
"I have been contacted by both President-elect Obama and Vice President-elect Biden, and they have explained to me the reasons why they believe Leon Panetta is the best candidate for CIA Director," she said.
If indeed Barack Obama plans to nominate former Bill Clinton chief of staff Leon Panetta to be CIA director, over the apparent objections of people like Diane Feinstein, it will be an ... um ... interesting go. I'm not one who cares much what Ms. Feinstein thinks, she being one of the Senate's leading hawks, and thus an apologist for a rheem of Bush policies, including the Iraq war, domestic spying, and "enhanced interrogation." The fact that people like her, and fellow "gang of eight" member Jay Rockefellar have a problem with the pick is actually good news for me. Panetta is clearly not tainted by their Bush-like views.
On the other hand, looking through his resume, Panetta doesn't seem uniquely qualified for the post, and risks being undermined in the post if he is seen by career spooks and analysts as a political hack who doesn't understand the "culture."And he is yet another in the increasingly tiresome parade of Clinton vets packing the Obama administration. Then again, his long history as a manager (the CIA has like a multi- billion dollar budget) and organization leader might make him just the guy for the job, and his political experience would be most helpful in what is, in the end, a political job.
I kind of expected Obama to pick someone from someplace like the Center for American Progress, which has become the think tank of record for political progressives (without the icky neoconish views of places like Brookings.) He would have had a lot of good choices there, including former Reagan undersecretary of defense for manpower Larry Korb, who I know and very much respect. Korb is a Republican, which would have made the pick all the more useful. And CAP has other scholars on the ready, like P.J. Crowley and Brian Katulis. Who knows, maybe Obama feared they would be perceived as too ideological. I disagree with the idea that he could have picked Jane Harman, who may well be Feinstein's favorite, because Harman, too, is associated with the big, giant rubber stamp that's been slapped all over Bush security policy over the last six-plus years.
To be fair to Panetta, politicians have held the post before, including Florida Rep. Porter Goss (though he was a former CIA employee) and of course, George Bush Sr., who received the post as kind of a political gift. And Panetta did sit on the Iraq Study Group. (Not that that's necessarily a good thing; so was James "the fixer" Baker...)
There have been 20 CIA Directors (there is no more "Director of Central Intelligence" and now the position reports to the National Intelligence Director) since Harry Truman created the position in 1946. Most have been military men, with a heavy tilt toward the Navy, including the first four: Rear Admirals Sidney William Souers and Roscoe H. Hillenkoette, Hoyt Sandberg Vandenberg who served between the two, and Walter Bedel Smith (1950-53), plus Navy men William Raborn (1965-66, whom the office building in D.C. is named for,) Carter's CIA Director Stansfield Turner and Reagan's, William Casey, plus the current Michael Hayden (George H.W. Bush was himself a Navy pilot.) A handful, like Clinton top spook (and he is spooky) James Woolsey, had backgrounds in the Army. Others were former OSS spooks like Allen Dulles (who served Eisenhower and Kennedy, up to the Bay of Pigs debacle,) Richard Helms (1966-72, the guy at CIA who refused to put a stop to the Watergate probe,) and William Colby (1973-76). And there have been occasional political or managerial types like John McCone (1961-65), who like Panetta had no intelligence background, but succeeded Dulles and is considered one of the best directors the agency has had. So it's a gamble. (McCone is the guy who warned LBJ not to expand the war in Vietnam. You might call LBJ's response a gamble, too.) When Bush I was named in 1976 by Gerald Ford, he had been chairman of the Republican National Committee and pretty much everyone knew he wanted to be president. In fact, in order to be confirmed, Bush promised not to run in the up-coming election. So it's not exactly a post reserved for actual spies.
So let's take a moment to get comfortable with Leon Panetta. As the folks at McClatchy report, it is if nothing else, a single that change is coming.
So ... Bill Richardson has taken himself out of the running for commerce secretary. Well that's interesting. He says he wouldn't want to delay the important work of rebuilding the economy with his confirmation, which he now seems to believe would be "far from a sure thing" even with Democrats in firm control of Congress. Hm. What's the problem? It seems that, at least according to Mike Barnacle this morning on miserable Don Imus' show, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell has few cards to play, and planned to play the two jacks in his hand: attacking Richardson, and trying to upend Eric Holder for A.G. The Richardson plot is as follows:
The New Mexico investigation, which began last summer, focuses on whether Richardson's office urged a state agency to hire a California firm as a result of generous contributions from the company and its president to political action committees established by the governor.
Richardson insisted that he and his staff "have acted properly in all matters" and predicted that the investigation would exonerate him. But he said the probe could take weeks or months, potentially holding up his Senate approval. Instead, Richardson said he will remain "in the job I love as governor of New Mexico."
Hm. You know what two words stood out for me from the above paragraphs? "last summer." If Bill Richardson was under investigation last summer, why was he still running for president, last summer? Just asking, you know, in a "what if he had somehow won the nomination," John Edwards did the same crap, and WHAT IF HE HAD GOTTEN THAT SECRETARY OF STATE NOD??? (which of course, he never was going to... thankfully it turns out...) sort of way. A bit more on the probe:
A grand jury in Albuquerque is looking into whether CDR Financial Products received a contract with the New Mexico Finance Authority because of pressure from Richardson or other state employees. CDR made $1.48 million advising the authority on interest-rate swaps and refinancing of funds related to $1.6 billion in transportation bonds, state officials confirmed.
The Beverly Hills-based firm and its president, David Rubin, together gave $100,000 to Sí Se Puede and Moving America Forward, both PACs started by Richardson, shortly before winning the lucrative state contract, records show.
The federal probe heated up considerably last month, just around the time Obama announced Richardson as his choice for commerce secretary, according to sources familiar with the investigation. New subpoenas were issued, and testimony was scheduled from officials at J.P. Morgan Chase who worked for the state with CDR and from the director of Richardson's political action committees.
CDR's selection drew FBI interest because the firm did not make an initial list of the most qualified bidders. The bidding was reopened for review, and a state committee headed by one of Richardson's former top aides later helped select CDR.
A legal source familiar with the investigation said yesterday that FBI agents, working on the Senate's behalf and conducting a background check of Richardson for the Commerce job, conveyed to Obama's transition team the seriousness and significance of the Albuquerque grand jury probe.
The agents are said to have communicated that the governor's top aides -- and even Richardson's actions -- were under scrutiny. At least two sources familiar with the investigation said some evidence raises concern about the propriety of the Richardson administration's interactions with a donor.
Obama aides declined to comment on any conversations the transition team may have had with the FBI about the investigation.
The inquiry springs from a long-running nationwide investigation by the Justice Department into "pay-to-play" practices in local government bond markets. Federal investigators are questioning whether financial firms have lavished politicians with money and gifts in exchange for high fees on work advising municipal and local governments on investments.
Hm. And double 'hm.' And one wonders where the vaunted mainstream media was during all this FBI probing. Oh yeah, that's right. They were debating whether Barack Obama is a celebrity and playing endless loops of Jeremiah Wright. Ah, journalism.
Other questions I'd like answered include which governors the FBI is focused on. Given that this is still the Bush Justice Department we're talking about, overarching the FBI, I'd be interested to see if there are any Republican governors on the list. Of course, Richardson has not been accused of a crime, or indicted, or anything, so far, so he retains the presumption of innocence. But it certainly is interesting that an ongoing FBI probe of a sitting governor and presidential contender never became an issue during the Democratic primary.
Politico last week noticed something that my husband and I kicked around the other night. So far, Barack Obama has named lots of people: black people, white people (Hillary people...) lots of Senate people, governors, Westerners, lots of Chicagoans, New Yorkers and other northern folk, and even two Republicans (well, one Republican and one registered Independent who's staying on.) But he has yet to name a single person from the former Confederate states to his administration. Of course, it could be a lack of prospects. Per that Politco piece from December 14th:
"Who comes to mind immediately?" asked Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia. "No one, really."
"The leading politicians in the South at least for the last generation have been active as Republicans," Bullock added. "You just don't have Democrats that come to mind as the go-to person or the expert. It highlights the thinness of the Democratic bench in the South… The skill set is so depleted."
"Southerners are pretty sensitive to the stereotype that they are slow in mind as well as voice," the former aide said. "The risk to the president-elect is that if he doesn't appoint anyone from the South to top level policy positions, he is going to look like he is buying into the stereotype that there isn't anyone from the South smart enough to work for him."
For about a hot minute, I and many others thought that Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, who was a fixture at the Obama campaign office on Miami Beach, was in the running for HUD secretary. Apparently not. And there's also Alabama Congressman Artur Davis, who was rumored to be undergoing a vetting for some position or other in the cabinet (is there anything left?) But the cold, hard truth is that the South has been lost to the Democratic party since LBJ. Sure, Bill Clinton was able to win a few states in Dixie, but he was from there (as was Jimmy Carter.) And yes, Obama won his own Southern victories, in Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and damned near Georgia (though internally, the Obama people really didn't think they'd win there, but it was smart to draw McCain south, and make him spend money.)
In fact, why should the president-elect reward a region that has not only rejected Democratic politicians and politics, but which has, of late, rejected the rest of the country, in no small part, by aligning with foreign and multinational corporations against the interests of American workers (in Detroit, but also in the rest of the industrial northeast.) The South is the bulwark of anti-unionism, "right to work" laws that strip workers of basic protections, and raw, nasty, racist politics (yes, still.) And because Virginia really is no longer a truly southern state (and in many respects, neither is Florida,) Obama can likely hold them, along with the growing research bedrock of North Carolina, without appeasing the southerners outright.
So I say, hear-hear, Barack. We've been forced to endure eight years of Texas hegemony (and blatant theft on behalf of the multinationals,) along with un-American behavior (domestic spying, torture, unnecessary war...) that might even make old Jefferson Davis blush. Let's let the Yankees rule for awhile.
Barack Obama lays out an ambitious agenda for his presidency that can be summarized as "roads and schools and bridges and broadband" ... oh, my. The summary:
—ROADS AND BRIDGES: “[W]e will create millions of jobs by making the single largest new investment in our national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s. We’ll invest your precious tax dollars in new and smarter ways, and we’ll set a simple rule – use it or lose it. If a state doesn’t act quickly to invest in roads and bridges in their communities, they’ll lose the money.”
—SCHOOLS: “[M]y economic recovery plan will launch the most sweeping effort to modernize and upgrade school buildings that this country has ever seen. We will repair broken schools, make them energy-efficient, and put new computers in our classrooms. Because to help our children compete in a 21st century economy, we need to send them to 21st century schools.”
—BROADBAND: “As we renew our schools and highways, we’ll also renew our information superhighway. It is unacceptable that the United States ranks 15th in the world in broadband adoption. Here, in the country that invented the Internet, every child should have the chance to get online, and they’ll get that chance when I’m president – because that’s how we’ll strengthen America’s competitiveness in the world.”
(Incoming White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel had talked about expanding broadband access, but this is the first time the transition has formally proposed it.)
—ELECTRONIC MEDICAL RECORDS: “In addition to connecting our libraries and schools to the Internet, we must also ensure that our hospitals are connected to each other through the Internet. That is why the economic recovery plan I’m proposing will help modernize our health care system – and that won’t just save jobs, it will save lives. We will make sure that every doctor’s office and hospital in this country is using cutting edge technology and electronic medical records so that we can cut red tape, prevent medical mistakes, and help save billions of dollars each year.”
and the video:
Hopefully, Obama will also push right away for a universal healthcare system, since, as his incoming HHS Secretary, Tom Daschle has pointed out, health costs may be the single biggest killer of American competitiveness with companies from around the world.
... or did he really make out like a bandit? New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who endorsed Barack Obama at great political and personal risk (those Clintons are pretty scary, man) during a crucial moment in the campaign, went before the press to accept Obama's offer to become his commerce secretary. Only everybody -- and I mean everybody -- knows he really wanted State, the prize that went to his former boss' wife, and the woman whom he had jilted during the campaign.
So if you're Richardson, are you thinking to yourself, "man, did I shave off my cool beard and get called a Judas by James Carville for THIS crappy job?" Or ... you're asking yourself, what is going to be THE focus of the new administration's attention at the start ... foreign policy? Yeah, that'll be there. But the real answer is: it's the economy, stupid. So maybe being commerce secretary won't be so bad ... but I'll still bet he's thinking "damn, the bruja still got the better of me!"
President-elect Barack Obama named Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico as his choice for secretary of commerce on Wednesday, pointedly denying that the job was a “consolation prize” for the two-time cabinet officer who had been considered a candidate for secretary of state.
“Commerce secretary is a pretty good job,” Mr. Obama said, after being asked by a Hispanic reporter about the appointment of Mr. Richardson to a post not considered among the cabinet’s more prestigious or influential.
The president-elect said that his nominee would be dealing with the economy, the most significant issue facing the new administration, and added that “his mixture of diplomatic experience, hands-on experience as governor, experience in the cabinet, experience in Congress, means that he is going to be a key strategist on all the issues that we work on.”
“I think the notion that somehow commerce secretary is not going to be central to everything we do is fundamentally mistaken.”
In addition, Mr. Obama — who has filled about half of his cabinet and White House staff jobs — said that by the time he was done his administration would be seen as among the most diverse ever put together.
Mr. Richardson was the first cabinet nominee to be presented on his own by Mr. Obama rather than as part of a group, which some saw as a gesture of consolation.
And there was another nugget during the presser that hints at why Obama may have thought Richardson, who has been energy secretary, among many other things, right for the particular job he got:
With Mr. Richardson at his side, Mr. Obama underscored his nominee’s capabilities, saying that the governor had the background to help create “green” jobs, support U.S. exports and “start laying the groundwork for long-term prosperity.”
“Bill has seen from just about every angle what makes our economy work and what keeps it from working better,” Mr. Obama said as the two stood on the stage of a Chicago hotel ballroom where the president-elect has spent the last two weeks introducing members of his new team.
And there's the very real fact that the commerce department is going to have to work hand in hand with extranational governments and multinationals, including in the now long-neglected region to our south: Latin America. Richardson is uniquely positioned to get that done.
So maybe it's not such a boobie prize after all, but rather a strategic move on Obama's part, that makes more sense than just giving Richardson the ego boost of heading the State Department.
Next up: Obama will likely soothe the National Latino Congress by tapping Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, either for HUD or for an as-yet unformed "urban czar" position. Diaz spent a lot of time stumping for the campaign, and likely charmed his way into a decent job. Put money on it.
Secretary of State - Hillary Clinton Attorney General - Eric Holder Secretary of Defense - Robert Gates (staying on for at least a year) U.N. Ambassador - Dr. Susan Rice National Security Advisor - Gen. Jim Jones Homeland Security Secretary - Janet Napolitano
Says the WaPo:
Obama and Clinton had each claimed to be the best candidate to restore the nation's reputation abroad, end the Iraq war and engage the new global economy as president. Now, they will try to do that together, though under Obama's direction.
Aiding in the effort will be Bush cabinet member Robert Gates, who will continue as Defense Secretary despite having overseen a war policy that was the subject of withering criticism from both Obama and Clinton during the campaign.
To be successful, Gates and Clinton will have to forge a working relationship that often eludes the secretaries of State and Defense even when they are members of the same party. Gates and Clinton will each have their own power base and have each sought assurances of access to Obama.
But Obama clearly believes the pair can work together, especially on the difficult task of withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. To help in coordinating the competing views, Obama will turn to former Marine Gen. James Jones, who will serve as national security adviser.
Jones, who will operate inside the White House, will be charged with melding military and diplomatic policy and with helping Obama navigate the two bureaucracies.
The trio that Obama will introduce today represents a centrist team that has already angered some of the president-elect's most ardent liberal supporters, who had expected a foreign policy team with clear, left-leaning credentials.
BTW, Jones happens to be a very close friend of John McCain's, and as Chuck Todd is saying on MSNBC, much closer to McCain personally, than to Obama. Meanwhile, says Steve Clemons:
I think that the Clinton we saw during the campaign will give herself, her views and approach to complex national security challenges a "makeover." She's going to push womens' rights, democracy, human rights, poverty reduction, and the like -- but I think she is going to be party of a realist-tilting, crafty Obama-led, Bob Gates-designed, Clinton-out front process to get a strategic shift in US foreign policy. We applaud that.
James Glassman, her Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, has some ideas on how to move her agenda forward -- and she should consider using a lot of the tools that Glassman and his team are developing.
And Politico suggests Clinton and Gates may be more like-minded than people think, at least on what the relationship between a president and his commanding generals should be. Truth be told, if you parse the Iraq posisitons of Clinton and Obama during the campaign, they're really not that different, if at all.
I'll reiterate that I think the choice of Hillary is smart on Obama's part, even if it produced an initial WTF??? reaction. Clinton's star power will give Obama a leg up overseas. She is a known quantity that world leaders can and will instantly respect, because they already know her, and frankly, because they know her husband. Men of the "old world" may not have the highest respect for women, but they do respect the politically powerful wives of powerful men. And of course, picking Hillary was a master stroke for Obama, who solves Hillary's biggest problem (not wanting to go back to being one of 100 Senators with no committee chairmanship) while simultaneously containing both her presidential ambitions, for now, and her potential to freelance from the dais on the arms services committee.
Brilliant move. Great team.
Meanwhile, Powerline grumbles about "honeymoon time" among the military brass.
President-elect Obama is assembling a governing team impressive enough to make David Brooks swoon:
... Obama seems to have dispensed with the romantic and failed notion that you need inexperienced “fresh faces” to change things. After all, it was L.B.J. who passed the Civil Rights Act. Moreover, because he is so young, Obama is not bringing along an insular coterie of lifelong aides who depend upon him for their well-being.
As a result, the team he has announced so far is more impressive than any other in recent memory. One may not agree with them on everything or even most things, but a few things are indisputably true.
First, these are open-minded individuals who are persuadable by evidence. Orszag, who will probably be budget director, is trusted by Republicans and Democrats for his honest presentation of the facts.
Second, they are admired professionals. Conservative legal experts have a high regard for the probable attorney general, Eric Holder, despite the business over the Marc Rich pardon.
Third, they are not excessively partisan. Obama signaled that he means to live up to his postpartisan rhetoric by letting Joe Lieberman keep his committee chairmanship.
Fourth, they are not ideological. The economic advisers, Furman and Goolsbee, are moderate and thoughtful Democrats. Hillary Clinton at State is problematic, mostly because nobody has a role for her husband. But, as she has demonstrated in the Senate, her foreign-policy views are hardheaded and pragmatic. (It would be great to see her set of interests complemented by Samantha Power’s set of interests at the U.N.)
Finally, there are many people on this team with practical creativity. Any think tanker can come up with broad doctrines, but it is rare to find people who can give the president a list of concrete steps he can do day by day to advance American interests. Dennis Ross, who advised Obama during the campaign, is the best I’ve ever seen at this, but Rahm Emanuel also has this capacity, as does Craig and legislative liaison Phil Schiliro.
Believe me, I’m trying not to join in the vast, heaving O-phoria now sweeping the coastal haute bourgeoisie. But the personnel decisions have been superb. The events of the past two weeks should be reassuring to anybody who feared that Obama would veer to the left or would suffer self-inflicted wounds because of his inexperience. He’s off to a start that nearly justifies the hype.
Updates today: Bill Richardson will get Commerce (not as sexy as State, and the scuttle is that Caroline Kennedy could be U.N. ambassador, but at least he gets rewarded for his crucial endorsement,) looks like Miami Mayor Manny Diaz will either get HUD or the Department of Transportation, and New York Federal Reserve president Tim Geithner (who speaks both Chinese/Mandarin and Japanese, btw) will be the Treasury Secretary (sorry, Larry Summers.)
Obama is expected to announce his economic team on Monday, to fill the void left by our out to lunch current president, and his national security team, including Sen. Clinton, after Thanksgiving.
He may live to regret it. She may try to upstage him, and run her own presidency on the side. The media obsession with her and her husband could dog his presidency. Bill could grandstand, or do something crazy. She might clash with Joe Biden over foreign policy influence with the president. Her bull in a china shop style and leaky entourage could prove to be a disaster.
Or ... he may breathe a sigh of relief that she's not taking pot shots at his foreign policy from her seat on the Senate Arms Services Committee, or from some as-yet undefined new leadership post. She may use her international street cred to advance his foreign policy goals. She may really be beholden to him now. Running against him in four years may be off the table. And she just might do a bloody good job.
(NYT) Days of back and forth followed the meeting between President-elect Barack Obama and Clinton last week in Chicago, when the two principals first discussed the post, with advisers to Clinton suggesting she might not want the job and questions persisting about the business work and international ties of her husband, former president Bill Clinton.
But the former president agreed to a thorough vetting, and Obama advisers did not back away from reports that the New York senator was the president-elect's top pick. On Thursday night, aides said that the vetting issues have been resolved, and the selection could occur soon, perhaps immediately after Thanksgiving.
The emerging shape of the Obama administration has some on the left up in arms. The problem: too many Clintonites, from Rahm Emanuel to Eric Holder to, well, Hillary (if she takes the State job.) Well, to those who are going over the edge, I'd say calm down. There are three reasons why Barack Obama's Clinton grabs are a damned good idea:
1. He doesn't want to be George w. Bush. Obama is avoiding the classic mistake made by George W. Bush, who brought with him a cloistered Texas crew that was loyal to him, but not loyal enough to the Constitution, or schooled enough in the ways of Washington to help Bush marshall lasting support on Capitol Hill. In fact, Bush is known both for policy tunnel vision and for having dissed even Republicans on the Hill in pursuit of total, ego-boosting power. Now, when he's down, they're not willing to stand up for him.
2. He wants to get things done. Besides, why bring a gaggle full of Washington newbies to the White House when you can choose experienced hands instead? Obama already signaled that he knows how tough his full agenda will be to get through congress, so he picked Biden, a 26-year Hill vet who knows whose coats to pull to get what the president wants. And by adding people who actually did the damned thing during the 1990s to his staff and Cabinet, he's giving his agenda the best possible chance at succeeding by bringing in people who know the game, know the players, and command instant respect. (The Tom Daschle pick for HHS is the latest example. Who better to push through complex healthcare legislation than a former majority leader with long experience at twisting arms? Once you get back the WTF factor, the Hillary pick is another. Why spend 6 months rolling out a new face at State when you can send someone around the world with 100 percent first-name only name ID? World leaders don't have to "get to know her" as they did with Condi Rice. And her respect level with them will be built in, as will her leverage, which is called Bill Clinton.)
3. He values creative dissonance. The Obama White House will clearly not be filled with yes-men. Obama is assembling a team that is a mix of Chicago-based loyalists, but with exterior ties (Emanel, Holder) and Washington thinkers who can challenge both him, and each other. That will help him avoid some of the tunnel vision that did poor Bush in, once he let his administration be overwhelmed by Cheney and the neocons.
Attention all Caribbean massive: Eric Holder could become the first Caribbean-American attorney general (following on the heels of first CaribAm secretary of state, Jamaican-American Collin Powell.) Still, if Holder gets the post (which signs seem to indicate he will,) he would also be yet another Clinton holdover (though in Holder's case, as in Rahm Emanuel's, one who is much more an FOB (friend of Barack) than an FOBB (friend of Big Bill)...
She'll take it: and why it's a good idea is she does
The Guardian reports that if (or more like "when") the secretary of state position is offered, Hillary Clinton will grab the brass ring.
Obama's advisers have begun looking into Bill Clinton's foundation, which distributes millions of dollars to Africa to help with development, to ensure there is no conflict of interest. But Democrats believe the vetting will be straightforward.
Clinton would be well placed to become the country's dominant voice in foreign affairs, replacing Condoleezza Rice. Since being elected senator for New York, she has specialised in foreign affairs and defence. Although she supported the war in Iraq, she and Obama basically agree on a withdrawal of American troops.
Clinton, who still harbours hopes of a future presidential run, had to weigh up whether she would be better placed by staying in the Senate, which offers a platform for life, or making the more uncertain career move to the state department.
With Ted Kennedy firmly in charge of healthcare, I suppose HRC felt this was her best play.
So what about Big Bill's big donors? Apparently, the Obama team has it handled:
The Obama team do not believe that Mr Clinton is a serious obstacle to appointing his wife. Yet if she were given the job she would face scrutiny over her husband’s connections with foreign governments – the same leaders that she would be dealing with on behalf of Mr Obama – and fresh calls for him to reveal the list of foreign donors to his presidential library in Little Rock, Arkansas, and his charitable foundation.
Mr Clinton is not required to reveal the list of donors, and has consistently refused to do so. Known foreign benefactors include the King of Morocco, the governments of Kuwait and Qatar, the Saudi Royal Family and the son-in-law of Leonid Kuchma, Ukraine’s deposed President.
Since founding the Clinton Global Initiative, Mr Clinton says that he has garnered $46 billion (£30.6 billion) that has improved more than 200 million lives in 150 countries.
And that final point may be the most important one. While some Obamaphiles may find the Clinton juxtoposition uncomfortable, I am starting to think it's a damned good idea, not least of which because of the tremendous popularity and good will -- and therefore leverage -- that the Clintons, both of them, have abroad. Bill Clinton's stature will only lend to Hillary's. And she is already a formidable international presence in her own right -- something Obama will need in order to play the major cards he seems destined to play: a serious bid for Israeli-Palestinian peace (the Clintons are trusted by the Israelis, and not an abomination to the Palestinians, and Bill Clinton came closer than any modern president to making peace); negotiations with Iran (HRC's tough rhetoric during the campaign will provide a hawkish shield for Obama's policies), nuclear proliferation and dealing with the fearsome actors of Pakistan and Russia. Hillary can handle the portfolio, she isn't seen as an "Arabist," like Dennis Ross or even James Baker, and she is a known quantity overseas.
Will Bill Clinton use his wife's would-be position to try and overshadow the president? Actually, I don't think so. Big Bill seems comfortable in his role as international statesman -- more so than he did as campaign hatchet man. That is his niche, and as he fills it, he can only help Obama shine.
And another thing: on the domestic front, allowing Hillary to exit the Senate will relieve that body of the "what to offer her" question, ease some tension about putting her into the leadership, and allow New York Gov. David Patterson to appoint a replacement, who would likely be to Hillary's left, adding another progressive voice to the 100-member club. Not bad for a day's work.
Hillary Clinton under consideration for Barack Obama's secretary of state? Believe it.
After an under-wraps meeting with President-elect Barack Obama in Chicago on Thursday, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is now considered a top contender for the role of Secretary of State in the Obama administration, several people involved in the process said on Friday.
Clinton, in an appearance televised live on Friday, said she would not speculate about Obama's Cabinet selections. Her aides have referred questions about the process to the Obama transition team, whose officials are not commenting. Advisers warn that only a small handful of officials know for certain where Clinton ranks on Obama's short list, which also includes Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts.
But one Clinton veteran who is in touch with the transition team called it a "real possibility." Another said she has a "very good chance" of getting the job. Most notably, Obama advisers have done nothing to tamp down speculation about Clinton, as they did when it became clear she would not be Obama's running mate -- even though letting her name hang in the air holds real risks for Obama if he ultimately does not select her, potentially reopening the Democratic primary's wounds.
The mere mention of Clinton's name has set off a frenzy of speculation about the advantages -- and disadvantages -- of selecting his former Democratic rival and former first lady, whom Obama passed over as his vice presidential running mate.
Obama's victory in the general election produced what his primary campaign couldn't: A swift merger of the Clinton Wing of the Democratic Party with the Illinois Senator's self-styled insurgency. The merger began, during the campaign, in the policy apparatus — which is now rapidly becoming the governing apparatus.
The absorption of the Clinton government in waiting represents Obama's choice not to repeat what he and his advisors see as an early mistake made by the last two presidents: Attempting to wield power in Washington through an insular campaign apparatus new to town.
Obama's first major appointments have been Democrats who worked for President Clinton and did not endorse him in the primary: Transition chief John Podesta and Rep. Rahm Emanuel, who will be White House chief of staff, stayed neutral, and Ron Klain, who will be Joe Biden's chief of staff, backed Biden. Obama, advisers told Politico, may even be weighing offering Hillary Rodham Clinton herself the Cabinet plum of Secretary of State.
"Obama is showing great good sense in making use of their experience," said William Galston, a former Clinton domestic policy adviser who’s now at the Brookings Institution. "You have an entire cadre of people in their 30s and 40s and early 50s who were either in senior jobs or second- and third-tier jobs in the Clinton administration, who really earned their spurs and know their way around — and know something about how the institutions in which they served actually function."
* Gravitas: Clinton is well-known and well respected in the international community. Is there any question that she could hold her own in delicate negotiations with our international friends or foes? The one thing that became indisputably clear during the Democratic primary race is that voters view Clinton as eminently qualified on nearly every issue. Putting her out as the administration's top diplomat would likely be received, nationally and internationally, as a solid choice.
Number one "con":
* A Free Lancer: As we noted above, the danger for Obama with regards to both Hillary and Bill Clinton is that they will pursue their own agenda -- political and policy-wise -- rather than advocate for the president-elect's preferred issues. While the chances of Clinton free-lancing are far less if she is a member of the Obama cabinet, there is absolutely no way of ensuring that her own views on matters of foreign policy would be subsumed in favor of those of the administration. Having Clinton on the world stage pursuing her own agenda would be potentially very problematic for Obama and, at that point, it would be impossible to put the toothpaste back into the tube.
And that's one hell of a con. Let's see how it all plays out.