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NAIROBI — If the election of Barack Obama has been greeted with glee across much of Africa, there is at least one spot where the mood is decidedly different.
In the Sudanese capital of Khartoum these days, political elites are bracing for what they expect will be a major shift in U.S. policy toward a government the United States has blamed for orchestrating a violent campaign against civilians in the western Darfur region.
“Compared to the Republicans, the Democrats, I think they are hawks,” said Ghazi Suleiman, a human rights lawyer and member of the Southern People’s Liberation Movement, which has a fragile power-sharing agreement with the ruling party. “I know Obama’s appointees. And I know their policy towards Sudan. Everybody here knows it. The policy is very aggressive and very harsh. I think we really will miss the judgments of George W. Bush.”
While the Bush administration most recently advocated the idea of “normalizing” relations with Sudan as a carrot approach to ending a crisis it labeled a genocide, Obama’s foreign policy appointees have pushed for sticks.
Hillary Rodham Clinton, the nominee for secretary of state, has called for a NATO-enforced no-fly zone to “blanket” Darfur in order to prevent Sudanese bombing of villages. The appointee for U.N. ambassador, Susan E. Rice — a key Africa adviser to the Clinton administration during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, when President Bill Clinton was sharply criticized for failing to act — has pushed for U.S. or NATO airstrikes and a naval blockade of Sudan’s major port to prevent lucrative oil exports. Rice has vowed to “go down in flames” advocating tough measures.
Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., who was chosen for his foreign policy experience and pressed early for U.S. intervention to stop the fighting in the Balkans, was blunt during a hearing last year: “I would use American force now,” he said.
But it remains unclear how those pre-election views will square with the president-elect, who has outlined a pragmatic, coalition-based approach to foreign policy, while also speaking of America’s “moral obligation” in the face of humanitarian catastrophes of the sort that are plentiful in Africa.
Heading off potential genocide is the focus of a task force report to be released today in Washington. The group recommends, among other things, that the Obama administration create a high-level forum in the White House to direct the government’s response to threats of mass violence.
So far, Obama has been more cautious on Darfur than some of his appointees, advocating tougher sanctions against Khartoum and a no-fly zone that might be enforced with U.S. “help.” He has not called for direct U.S. intervention.
Obama intends to keep Bush’s defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, who has already suggested that the United States will not provide much-needed helicopters to a struggling peacekeeping mission in Darfur because U.S. forces are stretched too thin in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama has also nominated as national security adviser retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones, a former NATO supreme allied commander who has suggested that NATO’s role in Darfur should be training and support to the current peacekeeping mission rather than direct intervention.
And specialists close to Obama’s presidential campaign said that more generally, the new administration sees a need for diplomatic approaches to security crises across the continent.
“We don’t have the capacity to pacify these places militarily,” said John Prendergast, a Darfur activist and former White House aide during the Clinton administration, citing Sudan and the worsening conflicts in Congo and Somalia. “We need political solutions.”
Sudan’s U.N. ambassador, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad, dismissed the calls for military action as “only election slogans.”
“You cannot claim to be disengaging from disasters like Iraq but creating a new disaster in one of Africa’s biggest countries,” he said.
The crisis is in many ways a far more complex conflict than the one the Bush administration confronted. The violence in Darfur began in February 2003 when two rebel groups attacked Sudan’s Islamic government, claiming a pattern of bias against the region’s black African tribes. Khartoum organized a local Arab militia, known as the Janjaweed, to wage a scorched-earth campaign against the three ethnic groups — mostly farmers and traders — thought to be the rebels’ political base.
Some analysts estimate that as many as 450,000 people have died from disease and violence in the conflict. About half the population of the Darfur region — about 2.5 million people — are now displaced.
Even Without That Task, Huge Agency Poses Challenges
Under the best of circumstances, overseeing the Department of Health and Human Services is an enormous undertaking. With 65,000 employees and a budget of $707.7 billion, it accounts for nearly one-quarter of all federal spending, second only to the Defense Department.
But in the Obama administration the job is taking on a second, perhaps more daunting, responsibility: shepherding health-care reform legislation through Congress.
Unlike his predecessors, Thomas A. Daschle, President-elect Barack Obama’s choice for HHS secretary, will be given an expanded role, leading administration efforts to overhaul the U.S. health system.
“This really creates a new type of secretary,” said Charles N. “Chip” Kahn III, president of the Federation of American Hospitals. In the past, “HHS was more or less a service organization to the White House,” while White House advisers drove policy initiatives.
In broad terms, Obama campaigned on the idea of reducing medical costs, improving quality and eventually achieving universal insurance coverage. He promised to cover every child and to reduce the average family’s medical bill by $2,500 a year. He advocated a greater emphasis on prevention and expanding participation in the government-subsidized Medicare and Medicaid programs.
“There are two aspects to the challenge of pushing for health reform,” said Dan Mendelson, a budget and health adviser in the Clinton administration. “One is to get the right concepts together with what Congress wants to do, and the other is managing the disparate concepts and generous egos.”
A serious restructuring of the health system will require extensive data and analytic capabilities to dissect the proposed changes and the impact they might have, said Karen Davis, president of the Commonwealth Fund, a private, nonpartisan research foundation. “Right now, there’s nothing other than the Office of the Actuary to do back-of-the-envelope estimates,” she said.
With the expectation that Daschle, a former Senate majority leader, will focus heavily on crafting and pushing legislation, there will be an even greater need for a strong No. 2. HHS is a collection of 11 agencies including the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“He’ll need to have deputies who are well-versed in the agency as a whole and who can manage the ongoing operation of HHS while he leads the health reform discussions,” said Len Nichols, director of health policy at the New America Foundation. One of those will likely be Jeanne Lambrew, a veteran of the Clinton administration and a co-author of Daschle’s book “Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis.”
Lambrew, in a chapter of a book published by the liberal Center for American Progress outlining a proposed agenda for the incoming president, agreed that fixing the health system is a top priority. However, she noted, “these urgent problems overshadow persistent, neglected and potentially deadly infrastructure gaps in the system.”
According to her assessment, the nation’s ability to respond to natural or man-made crises is weak, as evidenced by the poor response to Hurricane Katrina. Chronic illnesses such as diabetes have been given short shrift, and little has been done to prepare for the long-term health needs of an aging population.
The Commonwealth Fund, after interviewing two dozen health leaders, issued its own set of recommendations. It urged the next administration to make a “real focus on what it takes to improve health outcomes,” as opposed to secondary issues related to insurance markets, Davis said. That means tackling childhood obesity, racial disparities and preventable illnesses.
Moscow, Russia (AHN) – Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Thursday Moscow has received positive signals from U.S. president-elect Barack Obama’s circle and his government can respond accordingly to improve Russia-U.S. relations.
In a televised question-and-answer meeting with Russian citizens in Moscow, Putin referred to the positive signals as the indications made by people close to Obama about two main issues that have strained relations between the two countries: the U.S. missile defense shield to be based in Poland and the Czech Republic and the NATO expansion in Europe
Citing the circle, Putin said the incoming president is considering re-evaluating the Bush administration’s plan to deploy anti-missile batteries in Europe near the Russia border.
Another positive signal, according to Putin, is Obama’s apparent position not to hurry in admitting Georgia and Ukraine into NATO.
“If these are not just words and translate into real actions, we will respond in kind and our American partners will immediately feel this,” Putin said, according to Agence France-Presse. “We hope very much there will be positive changes.”.
President-elect Obama made official the worst-kept secret in Washington this morning: that his national security team will be headlined by a bitter political rival (Clinton) and a member of President Bush’s war cabinet (Gates).
Beyond the obvious symbolism, however, Monday’s moves also offer some important evidence on the best-kept secret of the past two years: how will a President Obama actually govern in these troubled times?
The parlor game of who gets what job is largely over, save a few of the less prestigious cabinet gigs. Here is what today’s announcement – combined with the unveiling of his top White House staff and economic team – tell us about the 44th president as he prepares to take over.
• He is an intellectual, who is more impressed by academic and governing credentials than familiarity and loyalty.
New York Times columnist David Brooks nailed it recently when he called the emerging cabinet a “valedictocracy”: a team of the nation’s first-in-class Ivy League elites. He meant it as a compliment. He’s not alone: it’s hard to find Republicans who don’t express admiration (at least in private) for the emerging Obama team.
Of the 18 top appointments announced so far, 12 have degrees from Ivy League institutions, Stanford or MIT. Susan Rice was a Rhodes Scholar; Larry Summers was the youngest tenured professor in Harvard history and Greg Craig, the top White House lawyer, attended Exeter, Harvard, Cambridge and Yale.
Few of the early picks could be considered Obama loyalists. Hillary Rodham Clinton thought she would be banished to the outer reaches of Obama’s world. Now, she’s secretary of state. Robert Gates thought he was headed for retirement. Now, he will run war policy for anti-war Obama. The victor has proved to be anything but vindictive.
There could be a cost to having so many high achievers around the same table. Bush’s war Cabinet was also praised for its experience and gravitas, but wound up being a dysfunctional snake pit.
• He is willing to take big risks.
His economic and national-security teams are getting packed with huge personalities who see themselves as architects, not assembly-line workers. The potential for big clashes in tough times is high. But so is the potential for big results.
Hillary Clinton could be a fabulous world diplomat, considering her familiarity with leaders and global problems. She could also be a disaster if the Clinton family’s penchant for personal and political dramas distract the Obama presidency…
WASHINGTON–Representatives from industry, government, and advocacy groups agreed on Thursday that the Internet needs to be open and widely available throughout the United States. The question is how to get there.
A newly emboldened Democratic Congress is sure to have a long wish list, including new Internet regulations that corporations believe are unwise or unnecessary. Net neutrality regulations are one possibility, as is broadband and spectrum legislation. But it’s unclear where the money to pay for sweeping new projects will come from–neither tax increases nor deficit spending on tech seem that likely when a Wall Street and Detroit bailout are center stage–so today’s laws and regulations may end up being extended by default.
Save the internet
Arianna Huffington & Google’s CEO on the Internet Presidency
The next Congress is sure to introduce Net neutrality legislation, a Democratic congressional staffer said Thursday. “With the Obama administration being extremely supportive of Net neutrality, we’re quite excited we can actually get things done,” said Frannie Wellings, telecom counsel for Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.).
Speaking at a telecommunications law and policy conference hosted by the University of Nebraska College of Law, Wellings said, “We definitely feel legislation is necessary” in the area of Net neutrality. (On the other hand, the Democrats have controlled Congress for two years and have advanced precisely zero Net neutrality bills, even though House Speaker Nancy Pelosi once called it a tremendously important topic.)
Representatives from the telecommunications industry insisted they have a common interest in maintaining open networks since their revenues come from carrying bits–but say that they’re OK with the current state of the law. New legislation, they say, is not the way to achieve open access–and could even have adverse results.
The Federal Communications Commission’s ruling against Comcast proved the commission’s approach of reviewing possible Net neutrality violations on a case-by-case basis is effective, said James Cicconi, senior executive vice president of external and legislative affairs for AT&T.
“The essence of network management is some form of discrimination,” he said. “This really is about what’s reasonable and what isn’t. Discrimination that impacts consumers negatively is something unreasonable.”
Cicconi said Comcast’s appeal of the decision “was a mistake from many standpoints,” and that a ruling in Comcast’s favor would almost certainly lead to Net neutrality legislation, which would make the FCC’s review of telecom practices less flexible.
Replacing a flexible, case-by-case approach to Net neutrality enforcement with a common approach “would lead to more litigation, not less,” Cicconi said. (See a related CNET article about wireless Net neutrality.)
The threat of litigation against Net neutrality rules may be overblown, suggested Ben Scott, policy director of media advocacy group Free Press. He cited the news that the wireless trade association CTIA recently dropped its legal challenge to the open access conditions the FCC imposed on the C-Block spectrum Verizon purchased earlier this year. Verizon dropped its legal challenge in October.
The 111th Congress will also reintroduce legislation to promote universal broadband, Wellings said, though the need for that was also disputed.
“It’s probably the case the FCC, despite the uncertainties, can probably accomplish much of the Obama administration’s agenda without legislation,” said Richard Wiley, a former FCC chairman who now represents telecom companies as a partner at Wiley Rein.
There was a consensus among the panelists that one significant step the Obama administration could take would be to reallocate spectrum currently appropriated to government agencies.
“The biggest reason it’s a precious resource is because the government has appropriated half of it,” said Cicconi.
“If we’re serious about having wireless as a serious competitor to wired networks, we’re going to have to find more spectrum,” Scott added. “The best place I see is government allocations.”
The Obama administration will also have to revamp the FCC’s approach to establishing an public safety network on the D-Block, panelists said.
Cicconi called it “borderline scandalous” that Congress and the Bush administration “saddled the FCC with the conundrum of how to do it without appropriations.”
The situation was analogous to giving an agency land on which to build a highway system exclusively for police cars and ambulances but expecting the agency to get private sector funding, Scott said.
“This is a great opportunity and great challenge for the Obama administration,” Wiley said.
By DAVID BROOKS
Jan. 20, 2009, will be a historic day. Barack Obama (Columbia, Harvard Law) will take the oath of office as his wife, Michelle (Princeton, Harvard Law), looks on proudly. Nearby, his foreign policy advisers will stand beaming, including perhaps Hillary Clinton (Wellesley, Yale Law), Jim Steinberg (Harvard, Yale Law) and Susan Rice (Stanford, Oxford D. Phil.).
The domestic policy team will be there, too, including Jason Furman (Harvard, Harvard Ph.D.), Austan Goolsbee (Yale, M.I.T. Ph.D.), Blair Levin (Yale, Yale Law), Peter Orszag (Princeton, London School of Economics Ph.D.) and, of course, the White House Counsel Greg Craig (Harvard, Yale Law).
This truly will be an administration that looks like America, or at least that slice of America that got double 800s on their SATs. Even more than past administrations, this will be a valedictocracy — rule by those who graduate first in their high school classes. If a foreign enemy attacks the United States during the Harvard-Yale game any time over the next four years, we’re screwed.
Already the culture of the Obama administration is coming into focus. Its members are twice as smart as the poor reporters who have to cover them, three times if you include the columnists. They typically served in the Clinton administration and then, like Cincinnatus, retreated to the comforts of private life — that is, if Cincinnatus had worked at Goldman Sachs, Williams & Connolly or the Brookings Institution. So many of them send their kids to Georgetown Day School, the posh leftish private school in D.C. that they’ll be able to hold White House staff meetings in the carpool line.
And yet as much as I want to resent these overeducated Achievatrons (not to mention the incursion of a French-style government dominated by highly trained Enarchs), I find myself tremendously impressed by the Obama transition.
The fact that they can already leak one big appointee per day is testimony to an awful lot of expert staff work. Unlike past Democratic administrations, they are not just handing out jobs to the hacks approved by the favored interest groups. They’re thinking holistically — there’s a nice balance of policy wonks, governors and legislators. They’re also thinking strategically. As Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute notes, it was smart to name Tom Daschle both the head of Health and Human Services and the health czar. Splitting those duties up, as Bill Clinton did, leads to all sorts of conflicts.
Most of all, they are picking Washington insiders. Or to be more precise, they are picking the best of the Washington insiders.
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.
WASHINGTON (CNN) — Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle told CNN Thursday that he is excited about the possibility of heading Health and Human Services in an Obama administration where he would be a point person in helping to reform the nation’s healthcare system.
Daschle, a close advisor to President-elect Barack Obama, is expected to be nominated for this Cabinet-level position if he passes the vetting process. His top priority as HHS secretary would be healthcare, one of Obama’s signature policy issues during the campaign.
“I hope to have the plan enacted by next year, and then it will take several years to implement,” said Daschle, as he waited to board a plane in Washington, DC bound for Obama’s hometown of Chicago.
When asked if the U.S., in this current economic climate, could afford to reform the healthcare system, Daschle said it is imperative.
“We can’t afford not to do it,” he said. “If we do nothing, we’ll be paying twice as much on healthcare in 10 years as we do today.”
Daschle served as Democratic leader in the Senate from 1995 until he lost reelection in 2004. Representing South Dakota, Daschle was first elected as a congressman in 1978 and served in the House until he was elected to the Senate in 1986.
Daschle recently authored a book on healthcare titled “Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis.”
Source: CNN PoliticalTicker
WASHINGTON — Want a top job in the Obama administration? Only pack rats need apply, preferably those not packing controversy.
A seven-page questionnaire being sent by the office of President-elect Barack Obama to those seeking cabinet and other high-ranking posts may be the most extensive — some say invasive — application ever.
The questionnaire includes 63 requests for personal and professional records, some covering applicants’ spouses and grown children as well, that are forcing job-seekers to rummage from basements to attics, in shoe boxes, diaries and computer archives to document both their achievements and missteps.
Only the smallest details are excluded; traffic tickets carrying fines of less than $50 need not be reported, the application says. Applicants are asked whether they or anyone in their family owns a gun. They must include any e-mail that might embarrass the president-elect, along with any blog posts and links to their Facebook pages.
The application also asks applicants to “please list all aliases or ‘handles’ you have used to communicate on the Internet.”
The vetting process for executive branch jobs has been onerous for decades, with each incoming administration erecting new barriers in an effort to avoid the mistakes of the past, or the controversies of the present. It is typically updated to reflect technological change (there was no Facebook the last time a new president came to town).
But Mr. Obama has elevated the vetting even beyond what might have been expected, especially when it comes to applicants’ family members, in a reflection of his campaign rhetoric against lobbying and the back-scratching, self-serving ways of Washington.
“President-elect Obama made a commitment to change the way Washington does business, and the vetting process exemplifies that,” said Stephanie Cutter, chief spokeswoman for the Obama transition office.
When a CBS correspondent reported last month that Barack Obama’s campaign had a malodorous airplane and a dismissive attitude toward the media, Robert Gibbs, the candidate’s top spokesman, was not pleased.
“Robert wrote a rather tendentious note to me,” Dean Reynolds says. “He would get in your face, not in a very heated way, but he would question your stories.”
Gibbs, who transition officials say is in line to become White House press secretary, can be funny, gossipy and an invaluable source of information about his boss, journalists say. He also monitors coverage intensively, pushing back against the smallest blog post he considers inaccurate.
“This is not someone who stays above the fray,” Newsweek reporter Richard Wolffe says. “His manner allows him to do tough stuff in a softer way. He could deliver a harsh message, but do it with a little sense of humor, so you’d feel punched in the stomach but not in the face.”
Asked about complaints that he retaliated against reporters who were deemed unfair, Gibbs invokes the pressure of the campaign. “In hindsight, there are discussions I had in the heat of the moment that if I had to do over again, you would do differently,” he says. “I don’t doubt there’s countless episodes you would go back and do over again. I think you do better when you treat people with respect. There were a couple of times that I flew off the handle.”
Now the sparring will take place in the glare of televised briefings. After a career spent working for Democratic candidates and lawmakers, the 37-year-old Alabama native is about to become the public face of the Obama administration.
While he can be combative in private, Gibbs is affable and smooth-talking on camera, often deflecting uncomfortable questions with a quip. Colleagues say Gibbs channels the president-elect in a way that goes beyond their shared passion for college football. Obama had an initial tendency to overanswer questions, but Gibbs has taught him how to pivot back to his scripted point.
“He’s the last person Barack talks to when he’s thinking about how to handle reporters’ questions,” says Linda Douglass, a campaign spokeswoman. “We call him the Barack Whisperer. He completely understands his thinking and knows how Barack wants to come across.”
That quality was not lost on journalists covering the highly disciplined campaign. “A huge asset that Robert has is that he’s in the room with the president-elect,” says Jake Tapper, ABC’s senior White House correspondent. “He has his trust and his ear. He’s not just a press flunky who gets handed a piece of paper with talking points.”
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Nov. 11, 2008 | Amid the fervid speculation over the identity of the next secretary of state or even the next assistant secretary of labor for administration and management, there is a truth that is galling to gossip-mongers — Barack Obama and his closest advisors know how to keep secrets. With nearly 10 percent of the transition period between administrations already gone, we know more about the factors that will dictate the selection of the White House puppy than we do about the reasoning behind the choice of a would-be Treasury secretary.
As Valerie Jarrett, co-chair of Obama’s transition team, put it with deliberate blandness on “Meet the Press” Sunday: “I think one of the real strengths of Sen. Obama’s campaign and now President-elect Obama’s transition is that he really does like to think this through thoroughly and not telecast what he’s going to do until he’s ready to make a decision.”
No one wants to read articles titled “Entire Obama Administration Shrouded in Mist and Mystery.” So to accentuate the positive, we do have a pretty reliable handle as to who will be in the room with Obama (and presumably Joe Biden) when the major personnel decisions are made. There will be Jarrett, an African-American Chicago real estate entrepreneur who has been close friends to the president-elect and the incoming first lady for two decades; Pete Rouse, the press-shy former chief of staff for Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who performed the same role for a newly elected Illinois senator named Obama; the Chicago-born John Podesta, Bill Clinton’s former White House chief of staff, who stealthily organized the Obama transition during the fall campaign from his Washington perch at the Center for American Progress; David Axelrod, the Chicago-based political strategist, who was the inspiration behind both Obama’s up-from-nowhere 2004 Senate victory and his 2008 run for the Rose Garden; and incoming White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, a sharp-elbowed veteran of the Clinton White House who was elected to Congress in 2002 (from Chicago, natch) with the help of Axelrod (double natch).
With all these Chicagoans (aside from Rouse) creating the Obama administration, it is time to drop the Second City urban inferiority complex. If there is an ideological orientation to this team, it seems to be Democratic centrism rather than full-throated liberalism. Bill Galston, a former top domestic advisor to Clinton now at the Brookings Institution, notes that Obama “has a great respect for expertise. His instinct is that in any field, gather the leading experts and go after them.” As Galston puts it, “This is not amateur hour — this is not crony time.” Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University and an expert on governmental organization, said admiringly, “Obama is extremely well-prepared. There is a lot of talk coming out of the Bush administration about a seamless transition. But in many instances, the Obama people know as much about what is happening in the Cabinet agencies as the Bush people do.”
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