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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — The legislative committee considering impeachment of Gov. Rod Blagojevich could be at the beginning of its work or nearing the end, depending on the wishes of federal prosecutors.
If prosecutors give the OK, the Illinois House committee will explore the federal criminal charges against Blagojevich by interviewing his aides, reviewing documents and questioning witnesses to the actions that led to Blagojevich’s arrest.
However, some committee members say they expect U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald will steer them away from anything related to his investigation.
If that happens, the panel has little left on its agenda.
”I think we could wrap up our work within two days, maybe three,” the committee’s top Republican, Rep. Jim Durkin, said Sunday.
Chairwoman Barbara Flynn Currie, a Democrat like the governor, wouldn’t go quite so far. She said new issues could still come up and prolong the committee’s work, which began Tuesday.
The committee, which is supposed to produce a recommendation on whether lawmakers should pursue impeachment, hopes to hear Monday what limits prosecutors will suggest. Members have repeatedly said they will do nothing that prosecutors say would interfere the Blagojevich investigation.
Lawmakers said they’ll also hear testimony Monday on state jobs and contracts that Blagojevich gave to major campaign donors and on how prosecutors obtain permission to eavesdrop on their targets. Federal wiretaps are an important part of the case against Blagojevich, and his attorney has questioned their validity.
The governor was arrested Dec. 9 on a variety of federal corruption charges — including scheming to benefit from his power to name President-elect Barack Obama’s replacement in the U.S. Senate.
The arrest, after years of questions about Blagojevich’s honesty and clashes with other state officials, prompted an avalanche of calls for his resignation.
Blagojevich declared Friday that he is innocent and will stay in office to fight the charges. ”I’m not going to quit a job that people hired me to do because of false accusations and a political lynch mob,” he said.
So far, the committee has heard overviews of several complaints about the governor’s six years in office: Defying the Legislature by launching a health program that had been rejected, refusing to cooperate with government reviews, wasting money and withholding public information.
The committee has not delved into the details of each allegation. Members may seek more detail in a couple of areas, but generally they say an overview will be enough to come up with a recommendation on whether the full House should impeach.
”We’ve pretty well got to the bottom of complaints that the governor has abused his authority here, there or some place else,” Currie said.
The criminal complaint includes a sworn affidavit laying out some of the evidence. In addition, guilty pleas by others caught in the investigation contain other allegations against Blagojevich.
That might not be enough for a criminal conviction of the governor, lawmakers say, but it’s plenty for deciding whether to go forward with impeachment.
If the House approves impeaching Blagojevich, the Senate would hold a trial. It would take a two-thirds vote to remove him from office.
KAILUA, Hawaii – He’s not the commander in chief yet, but was President-elect Barack Obama briefly practicing his salute on Sunday?
On the first morning of his vacation here, Mr. Obama arrived at the Marine Corps Base Hawaii for his daily workout. As he walked out of the Semper Fit Center, his gray T-shirt soaked in sweat, he lifted his right hand and gave a quick salute to two Marines in fatigues who were standing in the distance.
The brief moment was not captured by cameras. Photographs and video were not permitted to be taken on the military base, according to campaign aides.
Mr. Obama and his wife, Michelle Obama, opened their day with a 45-minute workout inside a large gymnasium at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, which is located on the Mokapu Penninsula on the windward side of Oahu, about 30 minutes outside Honolulu. It is sunny and warm here, a world away, at least in terms of the weather, from Chicago.
The Marine base seemed sleepy when the motorcade rolled through shortly after 7 a.m. Home to the 3rd Marine Regiment, Marine Aircraft Group 24 and the 3rd Radio Battalion, the base is located only a few minutes from where the Obamas are staying, a rented home at the end of a series of cul-de-sacs (and security barricades) along Kailuana Place.
Mr. Obama, who arrived to his native Hawaii on Saturday afternoon, is taking a 13-day holiday vacation with his family and a few friends from Chicago. At least some work, though, followed him to Hawaii.
He is receiving his daily national security briefing and his transition team is scheduled on Monday or Tuesday to release an internal review of any contacts between his advisers and the Illinois governor’s office over filling his vacant Senate seat. That is the subject of a corruption case and federal investigation into Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich.
Mr. Obama is not expected to address the inquiry, but rather have it released through a written statement from Washington.
The president-elect, after filling his Cabinet in record-setting pace, is taking a break. On tap for the rest of his Sunday? An afternoon tee-time and 18 holes of golf.
Evangelical pastor says he loves ‘gays and straights,’ met Melissa Ethridge
LONG BEACH, Calif. – The first openly gay member of Congress said Sunday it was a mistake for President-elect Barack Obama to invite evangelical pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration.
“Mr. Warren compared same-sex couples to incest. I found that deeply offensive and unfair,” Rep. Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat, said in a broadcast interview.
“If he was inviting the Rev. Warren to participate in a forum and to make a speech, that would be a good thing,” Frank said. “But being singled out to give the prayer at the inauguration is a high honor. It has traditionally given as a mark of great respect. And, yes, I think it was wrong to single him out for this mark of respect.”
Under fire for opposing gay marriage, influential evangelical pastor Warren said Saturday that he loves Muslims, people of other religions, Republicans and Democrats, and he also loves “gays and straights.”
Says it’s OK to disagree
The 54-year-old pastor and founder of Saddleback Church in Southern California told the crowd of 500 that it’s unrealistic to expect everyone to agree on everything all the time.
“You don’t have to see eye to eye to walk hand in hand,” said Warren.
Warren also defended President-elect Barack Obama’s invitation that he give the invocation at the Jan. 20 inauguration in the keynote speech he delivered at the Muslim Public Affairs Council’s annual convention in Long Beach.
Obama’s choice of Warren earlier this week sparked outcry from gay rights and other liberal groups, who said choosing such an outspoken opponent of gay marriage was tantamount to endorsing bigotry.
“Three years ago I took enormous heat for inviting Barack Obama to my church because some of his views don’t agree (with mine),” he said. “Now he’s invited me.”
Warren said he prays for the same things for Obama that he prays for himself: integrity, humility and generosity.
Obama defends ‘wide range of view points’
Obama defended his choice on Thursday, saying that he has also invited Joseph Lowery, a Methodist minister and civil rights leader who supports same-sex marriage and gay rights, to deliver the benediction.
Read more …
Cigarette clamped between thumb and finger, a louche Barack Obama leans back with smouldering eyes and draws smoke deep into his lungs.
When he agreed to model for an aspiring photographer’s portfolio, the prospect of this image reemerging 28 years later as he prepared to enter the White House probably never crossed his mind.
Back then he was a student at Occidental College in Los Angeles struggling with his racial identity and, by his own admission, experimenting with drugs. These days he can claim to be the fittest President-elect in history, working out six days a week with a gym regime that some suspect borders on the obsessive. But he is still trying to kick cigarettes.
Time magazine, naming Mr Obama as its Person of the Year, yesterday published the long-lost pictures with the photographer, Lisa Jack, saying that they showed a “spirit of fun and thoughtfulness” in the President-elect.
The film, she said, was kept locked in a safe during the election campaign so that it could not be used for political purposes. Some polls have suggested that his smoking habit was a bigger barrier to him getting elected than the colour of his skin.
Although Mr Obama was careful to avoid being photographed smoking on the campaign trail, he has acknowledged in recent interviews that despite promising to quit “there were times where I have fallen off the wagon”.
Under pressure from his wife, Michelle, Mr Obama claims that his daily intake has fallen from a peak of seven or eight to rare occasions when he has “bummed one” from an aide.
His battle with cigarettes is facing another deadline – January 20, Inauguration Day – because smoking is banned in the White House. Asked if he would be able to cope, Mr Obama said: “What I would say is that I have done a terrific job under the circumstances of making myself much healthier, and I think that you will not see any violations of these rules.”
His daily routine now begins with a Secret Service convoy escorting him from his Chicago home to the Regents Park apartment building five blocks away to use the gym. Some suggest that his priority is physical, rather than spiritual, health. Mr Obama reportedly has not been to church since the election campaign ended, but he still finds time to exercise on Sundays.
In an interview with Men’s Health magazine last month, he complained that the average 45 minutes a day he had spent working out during the campaign had been insufficient. In the past month Mr Obama has usually been in the gym for well over an hour. “The main reason I do it is just to clear my head and relieve me of stress. It’s a great way to stay focused,” he said.
Those who have seen the 47-year-old President-elect in action say that there is not an ounce of fat on him and that runners on adjacent treadmills have been unable to keep up. There have also been five-a-side basketball games with some of his closest aides.
Michael Lowe, Professor of Psychology at Drexel University in Philadelphia, who studies eating disorders, has said that although “it’s hazardous to draw wide-ranging conclusions about someone’s personality”, exercising for more than an hour a day could be regarded as compulsive.
The website Gawker.com suggested that the incoming President’s slender physique put him at odds with a nation where obesity has become widespread. “Barack Obama Shames Americans With His Elitist Body” read the headline.
Mr Obama has described pictures of his torso taken on the beach in Hawaii as embarrassing. But he may still prefer that image to one of him smoking while wearing a hat.
It’s official. Tomorrow, former Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan will file his paperwork, and throw his hat in the ring as a candidate for the Anchorage mayoral seat about to be vacated by current Mayor Mark Begich.
Begich will head to Washington D.C. as Alaskas Junior Senator and leave the Chair of the Anchorage Assembly, Matt Claman in the role of Acting Mayor until the election in the spring.
Matt Claman has been unwilling to say whether he will run for the seat he will temporarily occupy between January and April, or not. My guess is that he will not. His wishy-washiness to date has been aggravating, and the fact that there are already two strong progressive candidates in Croft and Selkregg means that the addition of Claman and the potential splitting of the vote could feasibly result in Dan Sullivan being elected, which many would consider disastrous.
The mayoral field is crowded. Monegan will be running against Anchorage Assembly member Sheila Selkregg, former legislator Eric Croft, former Assembly member Dan Sullivan, and former police spokesman Paul Honeman.
Monegan has recently spoken at the Bartlett Democratic Club Luncheon, and also at the University of Alaska. The theme for his talks was “ethics in government.” Alaskans are generally not familiar with that term.
And what does he have to say about the ethics of our current Governor?
“I think there could be improvement. Let me put it that way.”
Monegan is not giving details of his campaign until the paperwork is filed tomorrow.
His ouster at the hands of Sarah Palin, and the ensuing ethics investigation which found her guilty of abuse of power had the effect of catapulting Monegan into the national spotlight. His support in Anchorage is widespread both among law enforcement personnel and the public at large. He will be a formidable opponent.
Let the games begin!
You’ve seen him assaulted with a shoe, but care to see President Bush “hung?” That’s a scenario Mr. Bush decided was worthy of a joke this morning in Washington.
“I suspected there would be a good-size crowd once the word got out about my hanging,” the president said at the unveiling of his portrait at the National Portrait Gallery. The portrait by Robert Anderson – a classmate of Mr. Bush at Yale – will be hung in the exhibition “America’s Presidents,” and is available for viewing starting tomorrow.
CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller writes: “Since the gallery now has portraits dating back to George Washington, he noted the symmetry – from George W. to George W.”
Mr. Bush also noted that the artist said he had a lot of trouble with the president’s mouth. “And I told him that makes two of us,” Mr. Bush said.
One more crack: President Bush said the artist had to use alot more gray paint that in a previous portrait of a slightly younger Mr. Bush for the Yale Club.
First Lady Laura Bush’s portrait, by Aleksander Titovets, a Russian painter who now lives in El Paso, Texas. The portrait of Mrs. Bush won’t hang near her husband’s – it will be on display on the first floor in the north hall of the gallery.
Despite being allotted less desirable portrait real-estate, Mrs. Bush was all smiles and joviality, too. According to the official transcript of the unveiling, she said:
- Sasha [Titovets, the Russian painter] said that he postponed telling his mother when his work was chosen for this portrait. He thought the news might be “too big” for her. (Laughter.) And history shows us that these assignments can sometime turn out poorly. Years ago, Peter Hurd was commissioned to paint Lyndon B. Johnson’s portrait for the official White House collection. President Johnson took one look at the final portrait and declared it the “ugliest thing he’d ever seen.” (Laughter.) Across Washington, the joke spread at Hurd’s expense that artists should be seen, but not Hurd, at the White House. Peter Hurd’s portrait of President Johnson now hangs here in the National Portrait Gallery.
The first family wasn’t (quite) all jokes. As Mr. Bush reflected on being custodian of the presidency these last eight years, Knoller reports, tears welled in his eyes.
President-elect Barack Obama named his picks for new transportation and labor secretaries Friday, capping off a flurry of Cabinet appointments in the lead-up to the Christmas holiday.
Obama tapped Ill. Rep. Ray LaHood, a moderate Republican lawmaker, for transportation secretary, California Rep. Hilda Solis for labor secretary, former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk for U.S. trade representative and venture capitalist Karen Mills to head the Small Business Administration.
“Daunting as the challenges we are inheriting may be, I am convinced that our team and the American people are prepared to meet them,”Mr. Obama said. “It will take longer than anybody of us would like — years, not months. It will get worse before it gets better.”
Mr. Obama also fielded questions on the Bush administration’s newly unveiled plan to assist the ailing U.S. auto industry, saying it’s “absolutely necessary” to restructure the companies to save the industry, while also working toward creating “fuel-efficient cars of tomorrow.”
Democratic contender for the Minnesota Senate seat Al Franken took a 250-vote lead over Republican incumbent Norm Coleman in the still undecided Senate race Friday, but thousands of ballot challenges remain unresolved.
Coleman led Franken in election night returns and held a 188-vote lead before the board decided to review challenged ballots. However, both sides acknowledged that the lead could flip a few times before the long recount ends.
About 5,000 challenges were withdrawn after election officials asked that both camps pull back on unnecessary or frivolous claims in the interest of a faster recount.
The five-member Minnesota State Canvassing Board denied Coleman’s proposal to reject 150 duplicate ballots that weren’t run through a ballot machine and couldn’t be matched to their originals, the Minnesota Star Tribune reported.
Board members ruled duplicates should be resolved by “another forum,” yet to be determined, as they focused on ballots where there “are questions about the intent of the voters who cast them,” according to the Star Tribune.
Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said Thursday the board’s goal of finishing the recount by Friday would not be met, the Washington Post reported.
“The only real concern is accuracy and transparency,” he said. “Our job is to make sure we are absolutely certain how Minnesotans voted.”
Franken’s 250-vote lead over Coleman marks the Democrat’s first lead since the disputed recount began, but Coleman’s spokesman Mark Drake said numbers are expected to change as the vote counting continues.
“Because of procedural reasons regarding the way the process has been playing out this week, you will likely see the numbers continue to flip flop around and go upside down as a good-sized chunk of withdrawn challenges from the Franken campaign have not yet been awarded back into Norm Colman’s column,” he said, according to TheHill.com.
The recount’s final result will be delayed by the outstanding issue of which rejected ballots will end up being counted.
More than 12,000 ballots that were originally rejected must be sorted through to determine which should be counted. Officials estimate more than 1,000 will be recounted, the Washington Post reported.
Also delaying the final decision will be the consideration of absentee ballots, which must be accounted for before Dec. 31.
Johnston is the father of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s future grandson
The mother of Levi Johnston, the 18-year-old boyfriend of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s teenage daughter, has been arrested on drug charges, the Anchorage Daily News reported Friday.
Sherry L. Johnston, 42, has been charged with six felony counts of misconduct, the newspaper reported.
Levi Johnston entered the national spotlight this autumn when it was revealed that 18-year-old Bristol Palin — the eldest daughter of Sarah Palin, who had just been tapped as then-Republican presidential nominee John McCain’s running mate — was pregnant with his child.
The baby is due Saturday, the Anchorage Daily News reported.
The paper said that Alaska State Troopers charged Sherry Johnston with second-degree misconduct involving a controlled substance and fourth-degree misconduct involving controlled substances, or possession.
Sherry Johnston has been released on a $5,000 bond, the newspaper reported.
Contacted by the Anchorage Daily News, Palin’s spokesman, Bill McAllister, issued this statement: “This is not a state government matter. Therefore the governor’s communications staff will not be providing comment or scheduling interview opportunities.”
CHICAGO – In an unwavering statement of innocence, Gov. Rod Blagojevich said Friday he will be vindicated of criminal corruption charges and has no intention of letting what he called a “political lynch mob” force him from his job.
“I will fight. I will fight. I will fight until I take my last breath. I have done nothing wrong,” Blagojevich said, speaking for about three minutes in his first substantial public comments since his arrest last week on federal corruption charges.
The Democrat is accused, among other things, of plotting to sell or trade President-elect Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat in secretly recorded phone conversations.
“I’m not going to quit a job the people hired me to do because of false accusations and a political lynch mob,” Blagojevich said.
Still, one of the governor’s attorneys said Blagojevich will take his constituents into account as the case moves forward.
“He told me if it doesn’t work, if it is too hard if the people of Illinois suffer, he will step aside,” attorney Sam Adam, Jr., after the governor finished speaking.
Itching to talk
Blagojevich had been itching to talk, saying he wanted to tell his side of the story even though his lead defense attorney, Ed Genson, didn’t like the idea. On Friday, Blagojevich asked Illinoisans to “sit back and take a deep breath, and please reserve judgment.”
“Afford me the same rights that you and your children have — the presumption of innocence, the right to defend yourself,” said the governor, who said he wants to “answer every allegation” in court.
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Dec. 19 (Bloomberg) — Harvard University Professor John P. Holdren will be named Barack Obama’s top science adviser in the White House, the school said.
Holdren, 64, a professor of environmental policy, will be named to the post in a radio address by Obama tomorrow, Harvard, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said in a statement today. His appointment to Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, as the position is formally known, depends on confirmation by the U.S. Senate. Obama assumes office on Jan. 20.
Holdren is a specialist in energy technology and policy, and global climate change. As president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, an advocacy group in Washington, in 2007, Holdren called on politicians to show stronger leadership on climate change, which the group called a “growing threat to society.”
“None of the great interlinked challenges of our time — the economy, energy, environment, health, security, and the particular vulnerabilities of the poor to shortfalls in all of these — can be solved without insights and advances from the physical sciences, the life sciences, and engineering,” Holdren said in today’s statement.
President-elect Barack Obama plans to name former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack as his choice for Secretary of Agriculture at a news conference Wednesday, transition aides said.
Vilsack served for two terms, from 1999 to 2007, in what is one of country’s leading hog and corn-producing states.
He briefly ran for president, but raised little money and endorsed Hillary Clinton soon after getting out, becoming one of her more prominent surrogates.
Obama’s selection of Vilsack brings to four the number of former Obama rivals from the Dem primary now in his administration, as the Iowan joins VP-elect Joe Biden, Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Commerce-designate Bill Richardson.
Also Wednesday, Obama is expected to name Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar to head the Interior department.
With the selections, Obama has two more cabinet posts to fill: Labor and Transportation.
A perplexing new chapter is unfolding in Barack Obama’s racial saga: Many people insist that “the first black president” is actually not black.
Debate over whether to call this son of a white Kansan and a black Kenyan biracial, African-American, mixed-race, half-and-half, multiracial _ or, in Obama’s own words, a “mutt” _ has reached a crescendo since Obama’s election shattered assumptions about race.
Obama has said, “I identify as African-American _ that’s how I’m treated and that’s how I’m viewed. I’m proud of it.”
In other words, the world gave Obama no choice but to be black, and he was happy to oblige.
But the world has changed since the young Obama found his place in it.
Intermarriage and the decline of racism are dissolving ancient definitions. The candidate Obama, in achieving what many thought impossible, was treated differently from previous black generations. And many white and mixed-race people now view President-elect Obama as something other than black.
So what now for racial categories born of a time when those from far-off lands were property rather than people, or enemy instead of family?
It seems McCain could see what we all saw – Palin is no where near qualified and some of her ideas are borderline reckless.
In an interview with ABC’s “This Week,” Senator John McCain refused to endorse his former running mate Governor Sarah Palin for the Republican nomination in 2012.
When the network’s George Stephanopoulos asked McCain whether he hoped that Palin would become the Republican Party’s standard bearer in 2012, he refused to endorse her. “I can say something like that,” McCain said.
Stephanopoulos then pushed McCain by asking whether it was not strange that he endorsed Palin for vice president.
“Now we’re in a whole new election cycle,” McCain said. “My corpse is still warm.”
He went on to explain that there are a lot of other Republican governors who could play a vital role in the party.
Stephanopoulos was right to point out that McCain’s answer was strange in so far that he only endorsed Palin for vp weeks ago. He wanted her to become America’s president if something would happen to him. As such, it would make sense for him to speak positively about Palin for 2012.
McCain supporters could, of course, argue that the senator is right in so far that 2012 is four years off, and that someone else may win the nomination of his party then. Who knows, perhaps Palin will fall off the national stage pretty soon.
True, but he should have praised her nonetheless and indicated full support for her no matter what career path she chooses nonetheless. His reaction gives many the impression that he does indeed blame Palin to a considerable degree for his defeat which hurts both him and Palin.
McCain’s refusal to truly stand by Palin is an indication of his attempt to recreate a centrist image for himself, an image he had for decades, but which was destroyed during the Republican primaries and, especially, the national election. The ‘Maverick’ Senator from Arizona realizes that he lost the election partially due to the destruction of his centrist image and is, it seems, determined to get back that which he lost. One also notices that he has spent considerable time recently defending president-elect Barack Obama on a wide range of issues, especially on the Blagojevich corruption scandal.
The above all fits perfectly into the notion that McCain is trying to salvage his reputation as a centrist Republican, willing to reach across the aisle. Endorsing Palin would hamper this attempt somewhat due to her reputation as a hardliner, a true card carrying member of the Republican Party’s Christian conservative base.
As such, his reaction to Stephanopoulous should be interpreted as nothing more, or less, than an attempt of a man who lost the presidential election to restore his image and to continue being relevant in Washington, D.C.
From the plains of North Dakota to the deep waters of Brazil, dozens of major oil and gas projects have been suspended or canceled in recent weeks as companies scramble to adjust to the collapse in energy markets.
It would be foolhardy to depend on today’s lower energy prices – in this stalled economy – to determine whether or not we should develop alternatives to oil – as within two years we are going to be faced with the same climbing energy prices and the same scarcity of oil.
In the short run, falling oil prices are leading to welcome relief at the pump for American families ahead of the holidays, with gasoline down from its summer record of just over $4 to an average of $1.66 a gallon, and still falling.
But the project delays are likely to reduce future energy supplies — and analysts believe they may set the stage for another surge in oil prices once the global economy recovers.
Oil markets have had their sharpest-ever spikes and their steepest drops this year, all within a few months. Now, with a global recession at hand and oil consumption falling, the market’s extreme volatility is making it harder for energy executives to plan ahead. As a result, exploration spending, which had risen to a record this year, is being slashed.
The precipitous drop in oil prices since the summer, coming on the heels of a dizzying seven-year rise, was a reminder that the oil business, like those of most commodities, is cyclical. When demand drops and prices fall, companies curb their investments, leading to lower supplies. When demand recovers, prices rise again and companies start to invest in new production, starting another cycle.
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President-elect Barack Obama will name Arne Duncan, the superintendent of schools in Chicago, to be his Secretary of Education, a senior Democratic official and a second person close to the decision said.
Mr. Duncan is a Harvard graduate whose friendship with Mr. Obama began on the basketball court and flowered into frequent discussions of education policy.
He has seven years’ experience as chief executive of the Chicago Public Schools, the nation’s third-largest school district, where he has earned a solid reputation for confronting pressing issues in public education, like how to raise teacher quality, how to transform weak schools and when to shutter those that are irredeemably failing.
Word of the selection comes as Mr. Obama’s transition team said Monday that he would make an important announcement on Tuesday morning at the Dodge Renaissance Academy, an elementary school that Mr. Duncan and Mr. Obama visited together in October 2005.
Source: The Caucus
Read transcript of President-Elect Barack Obama’s Energy and Environment team announcement
It’s a conspiracy…or has rationality won out?
WASHINGTON (CNN) — The Supreme Court has dismissed a second emergency appeal questioning Barack Obama’s eligibility to be president because he had dual British-American citizenship at birth.
The justices without comment on Monday refused to intervene in the November 4 presidential election, dismissing the claims of Cort Wrotnowski, a resident of Greenwich, Connecticut.
In his appeal, Wrotnowski claimed that because Obama’s father was a Kenyan-born British subject, the president-elect does meet the Constitution’s requirement that the president be a “natural born citizen” of the United States. Obama was born in Hawaii in 1961. His mother was a U.S. citizen, born in the United States.
Many legal analysts questioned Wrotnowski’s argument.
“The law has always been understood to be, if you are born here, you’re a natural born citizen,” said Thomas Goldstein, founder of the Scotusblog.com Web site and a lawyer who has argued numerous cases before the high court. “And that is particularly true in this case, when you have a U.S. citizen parent like Barack Obama’s mother.”
A similar appeal was rejected a week ago by the high court, from a retired lawyer in New Jersey.
In another lawsuit making its way through the courts, Philip Berg of Pennsylvania alleges the president-elect was actually born in Kenya. Berg claims Hawaiian officials will not let him see Obama’s original birth certificate, although the campaign posted a copy of it online this summer, following numerous blog postings over the citizenship question. That case had previously been dismissed by lower federal courts.
The appeal rejected Monday is Wrotnowski v. Bysiewicz (08A469).
CHICAGO – President-elect Barack Obama said Monday a review by his own lawyer shows he had no direct contact with Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich about the appointment of a Senate replacement, and transition aides “did nothing inappropriate.”
Obama said he is prepared to make the review public, but decided to hold off because prosecutors asked for a delay and “I don’t want to interfere with an ongoing investigation.”
Controversy has swirled around the president-elect and his incoming White House chief of staff, Rep. Rahm Emanuel, following Blagojevich’s arrest last week on charges he schemed to trade Obama’s Senate seat for personal gain.
Obama, fielding questions at a news conference, sidestepped when asked whether Emanuel had spoken with aides to the governor.
Emanuel was one of several aides who watched the news conference from the wings.
The president-elect pledged the results of the investigation by his incoming White House counsel, Gregory Craig, would be released “in due course.”
He said the probe was complete and thorough, but did not say which of his aides Craig interviewed, whether any of them was under oath at the time, or any other details.
ALBANY, N.Y – New York Gov. David Paterson says Caroline Kennedy has told him she’s interested in the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Hillary Rodham Clinton. The Democratic governor will choose the replacement. He says Kennedy talked to him about the job Monday afternoon.
Paterson says that “it’s not a campaign” and that Kennedy would like “at some point to sit down.”
The daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy is the highest-profile candidate to express interest in the job. Her uncle Robert F. Kennedy once held the Senate seat she wants.
Clinton is expected to be confirmed as President-elect Barack Obama’s secretary of state.
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – The speaker of the Illinois House took the first step Monday toward impeaching scandal-plagued Gov. Rod Blagojevich, appointing a committee to recommend whether he should be ousted after his arrest on federal corruption charges.
“We’re going to proceed with all due speed, but we’re going to make sure that what we do is done correctly,” said Speaker Michael Madigan, who often has clashed with fellow Democrat Blagojevich.
Once the committee makes a recommendation, the full House will formally decide whether to file impeachment charges. The Senate then would rule on the charges.
Blagojevich was arrested Tuesday on federal fraud and bribery charges, including allegations of a scheme to profit from his power to appoint a replacement for the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.
The state constitution gives lawmakers broad authority to impeach a governor for any reason they consider sufficient.
The governor, who remains defiant and returned to work Monday to sign a tax credit bill, had no immediate reaction to the impeachment committee, spokesman Lucio Guerrero said after Madigan’s announcement.
“Impeachment talk’s nothing new for this governor,” Guerrero said. “They’ve been talking about it for a long time.”
Indeed, Madigan said Monday his staff has been reviewing the legal possibilities for impeachment for about a year. His office produced a memo earlier this year outlining all the arguments legislative candidates could make in favor of impeachment.
Blagojevich’s administration has been under a federal corruption investigation for years.
Raw Video: Iraqi Journalist Throws Shoe at Bush
If you read on you’ll see that Gingrich gets put in his place in respect to Cao’s outreach to the Black community – but what it does show perhaps is the GOP Party’s eagerness to change and to adapt their message to a changing demographic. I mean ~ it is all real America. More strategically the GOP have to be eyeing up a way to break through the virtually solid support Obama did get from the African American community in time for the next election – the only way that is possible – if he for some reason doesn’t do a good job or reneges on too many of his campaign promises.
Earlier this week, the Times-Picayune profiled the district’s new congressman Joseph Cao (R-LA), who beat out the indicted Democratic incumbent William Jefferson. As the first Vietnamese-American in Congress — and the only non-Hispanic minority in the GOP caucus — Cao is generating considerable excitement within his party for being able to capture a Democratic district.
Before his victory, almost no Republicans were paying attention to Cao. None of the Republicans in Louisiana’s congressional delegation donated to his race. “They just ignored me,” said Cao. “The message was, ‘Why waste our time?’”
Now, however, he is a conservative hero. On Sunday, House Minority Leader John Boehner issued a memo titled, “The future is Cao.” Boehner wrote that the “Cao victory is a symbol of what can be achieved when we think big, present a positive alternative and win the trust of the American people.” Even former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has offered his services. According to a Times-Picayune report earlier this week, Gingrich has volunteered to be Cao’s liaison to the African-American community:
- By midmorning Cao was interrupting an interview to take a call from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who offered good wishes and, Cao said, counseled him “to reach out to the African-American community.” Cao said Gingrich offered to act as a go-between.
ThinkProgress spoke with Cao’s spokesman Murray Nelson, who wouldn’t confirm or deny the Times-Picayune report or the extent of Gingrich’s involvement. Nelson stressed that he personally has “great respect” for the former Speaker but said that it wasn’t necessary for Gingrich to “show” them how to do minority outreach, since they had been doing it for some time:
- Although it’s very nice and we appreciate and continue to work with the former Speaker in that regard, we already are reaching out to the African-American community. We’ve already attended an NAACP organizational meeting. We went to a Christmas party last night and had the best time. […]
- Within the district, we have plenty of people we partner with and work with to get into the community. … It’s not like the Speaker would be coming down here to show us how to do it. He’s done it.
The reason why Bush would say – we need to get off our oil addiction – is because as a man who drilled for oil unsuccessfully – he is in the best place to understand the addiction to finding and dealing in oil – he’s the biggest addict.
Al Gore sounded the warning back in 2000 for the environment – when he said we need to move away from the combustion engine – because the polutatants were causing climate change – then the media echoed the Republican charge that the car industry would fail. Then there is another cost – moving leaps and bounds in technology – we have smaller this and faster that – but when it comes to energy technology everything is frozen – just like these Saudi oil reps. stuck in a time warp.
How many calls have their been for a ‘Steve Jobs’ to take over the car industry – because we know what can be achieved. A lot of this backwardness – in energy technology – is almost certainly due to the oil lobby. But there’s even a problem with this – the oil fields used to be controlled by western nations – so although they still make lots of money – the oil industry is likely not as profitable as it once was when they controlled the wells. So now $700 billion from America alone – goes to the Middle East. A place which doesn’t see a whole range of individual freedoms as a priority – and who depend almost entirely on the west for technology. Now imagine our western oil lobby being replaced by theirs. In short we could be trading our freedoms for the oil.
What they are doing at the moment primarily is building mosques everywhere – so they can build a mosque here – but you can’t build a church there. Russia recently – has enough oil of its own – when approached by the Saudis to build a mosque in their capital – told the Saudis well let us kindly build a Russian Orthodox church in your capital. Russia found that 80% of the written material in their mosques was radical – in the US the numbers are similar and most of this radicalized information is coming directly from Saudi Arabia *what was the info. saying – pretty much don’t mix in – don’t make friends with westerns or don’t respect their costumes.
We need to get off the oil for a variety of reasons – and we should not let guys who know nothing about technology – tell us what is or is not possible.
President-elect Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates appear to differ on the nuclear weapons issue – realistically if countries like Iran and even Pakistan have nuclear weapons – it will be almost impossible for the US to relinquish its nuclear arsenal – for the time being.
It is worth mentioning that auto CEO’s did give Congress assurance that they would not use this bailout money to sue states over their emission standards. It is a big about turn for the auto industry – almost everything they have been against now they have to be – for, one of the auto CEO’s did say that they thought electric cars were the way forward – as everyone has a plug – hybrid-electric is a good step, until battery life improves – at the moment we have car batteries that can go 240 miles without recharging – but they are heavy – and they weigh a tonne literally – though there is car battery technology being developed in Japan (always Japan) that is half the weight 450 lbs – their car companies quite sensibly work with the battery companies – the Japanese are also working on bringing down recharging times to about a half an hour.
Environmental groups are disappointed that money put aside to aid automakers to produce more fuel-efficient cars is now going to fund their operations.
Although the bill promises the money for retooling plants will be replenished in the future, environmentalists are skeptical. And they’re also upset the bailout doesn’t ban automakers from suing states that set tougher emissions limits than federal rules.
“We know they need help retooling their factories, and we feel very strongly that if those funds are going to be diverted and not replenished, Congress is walking away from their own commitment to fuel efficiency,” says Phyllis Cuttino, head of the U.S. Global Warming Campaign for the Pew Environmental Group.
The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 called for increasing fuel efficiency to 35 miles per gallon by 2020. In exchange for agreeing, automakers would get $25 billion in loans to help revamp their plants. They waited over a year for Congress to allocate the money. Now, some will go to the bailout.
“The funding Congress is considering now is just a Band-Aid, and it diverts funds originally intended to help the Big Three and other companies produce more fuel-efficient vehicles,” says Michelle Robinson, director of the Clean Vehicles Program for the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Those funds should be replenished when the new Congress convenes in January.”
INTERACTIVE GRAPHIC: A state-by-state look at auto industry jobs
What particularly irks environmentalists is that the automakers will continue on their quest to stop individual states from enacting their own emissions rules.
Roland Hwang, vehicle policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, “The White House has decided they want to hold up this entire bailout bill in order to remove this litigation provision. We’re very disappointed.”
Still, even though they aren’t getting money to increase fuel efficiency, high gas prices have forced the automakers to revamp their lineups in favor of more fuel-efficient cars. As Congress debated the bailout bill Wednesday, Ford showed off its 2010 Ford Fusion hybrid in Marina del Rey, Calif., and said that at 39 miles per gallon, it will be the highest-mileage midsize car.
“We’re going squarely after the imports with this,” says Frank Davis, executive director for North American product. The goal: “not only to compete but lead.” It’s exactly the pitch that Detroit needs to win the hearts of a skeptical Congress and American public, and the environmental lobby. Ford has not asked for loans now. General Motors and Chrysler say they need loans to stave off bankruptcy filings.
While it makes a play for environmentalists, the new hybrid will also be aimed at being a commercial success for Ford. Davis says it should add up to 25,000 sales of Fusions a year. While pricing isn’t set, the hybrid system is 30% less expensive than the last generation, like that in the Ford Escape hybrid SUV.
Ford plans to spend $14 billion in the U.S. on advanced technologies and products to improve fuel economy in the next seven years, it told Congress in the business plan it submitted as part of the bailout consideration. It plans a pure electric sedan by 2011.
Source: USA Today
WASHINGTON (CNN) — The House of Representatives handily passed a bill Wednesday night that would provide up to $14 billion in bridge loans to automakers, but Republican opposition cast doubt about the bill’s fate in the Senate later this week.
The U.S. House approved an auto bailout package Wednesday, but it could hit a roadblock in the Senate.
The stopgap measure, approved by a vote of 237 to 170, is designed to let the new Congress and incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama craft a long-term solution. It would also give the companies time to negotiate with creditors and the United Auto Workers union on additional concessions needed to stem their ongoing losses.
Thirty-two GOP representatives voted with 205 Democrats in support of the bill while 20 Democrats and 150 Republicans opposed the bill.
In Michigan, the home of the three major U.S. automakers — Chrysler, Ford and General Motors — eight Republicans joined the six Democrats in the state’s delegation in voting for the measure. A ninth Michigan Republican, Timothy Walberg, did not vote.
Seven other Republicans that voted for the bill are from nearby Midwestern states that are also home to auto plants. However, outside of the auto belt, the bailout had little Republican support.
Even Democrats couldn’t come to complete agreement on the bill, with House and Senate Democrats going their separate ways on one of the criteria the “car czar” must consider in determining an auto company’s long-term viability plan.
House Democrats used language requiring that autos meet stricter “applicable” fuel efficiency and emissions standards — which would cover consideration of state standards such as those adopted in California and New York — while the Senate version of the bill calls for vehicles to meet “federal” standards, which are not as high as some state benchmarks.
A Senate Democratic leadership aide told CNN that Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell told Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Wednesday morning that the bill would never pass the Senate with the House language.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wanted the higher efficiency standard so that liberal Democrats who are not inclined to help the auto manufacturers would feel they had assurances that these companies would adopt and make more fuel-efficient cars, according to House Democratic aides.
However, even if language about the fuel efficiency standards is resolved, Senate Republicans still aren’t likely to flock behind the bill.
“I don’t think the votes are there on our side of the aisle,” reported Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio, one of few vocal Republican backers of the bill.
“It’s not gonna pass right now,” echoed Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, a fierce critic of the bill.
Voinovich and Shelby spoke after Senate Republicans huddled behind closed doors in the Capitol on Wednesday to weigh the merits of the bailout. Vice President Dick Cheney and White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten attended the meeting — called “spirited” by one senator — to sell the bill the White House negotiated with congressional Democrats.
Several senators said they were concerned the so-called “car czar,” created by the legislation, would not have enough power to force the troubled automakers to restructure to become profitable.
“I have concerns about the power of the czar,” said Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minnesota, a moderate who Democrats have hoped would vote for the bill, “that he actually has some real power. And I think that’s a concern a lot of my colleagues have right now.”
“The car czar needs the authority to create a de facto structured bankruptcy. Not consulting. Not calling meetings. He needs the capacity of a master of bankruptcy to force things to happen,” said Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah.
Some senators oppose any assistance to the automakers, saying they should file for bankruptcy, but White House spokeswoman Dana Perino pointed out that many lawmakers from both sides of the aisle believe that allowing “a disorderly bankruptcy could be fatal to U.S. automakers and have devastating impacts on jobs, families and our economy.”
“As a result, they also agree we should find a way to foster the companies’ restructuring so that they can become viable and profitable,” she said. “We believe the legislation developed in recent days is an effective and responsible approach to deal with troubled automakers and ensure the necessary restructuring occurs.”
Other senators said they were concerned that the carmakers might never pay taxpayers back for the loans, meant to keep General Motors and Chrysler afloat until they can finalize a long-term viability plan — by March 31, according to the legislation.
GM has said it needs $4 billion by the end of the month to continue operations, and believes it’ll need an additional $6 billion in the first three months of 2009. Chrysler has said it needs $4 billion by the end of the first quarter.
Ford, which has more cash on hand than its U.S. rivals, is not expected to tap into this bailout in the coming months.
Today, four former CEOs of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac testified before the on how their companies’ actions may have “contributed to the ongoing crisis.” Blaming Fannie, Freddie, the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), and low-income people is one of conservatives’ favorite talking points. In September, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) touted an article criticizing the CRA for pushing “Fannie and Freddie to aggressively lend to minority communities.”
But as the Wonk Room’s Pat Garofalo points out, at the beginning of today’s hearing, Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) said that 400,000 documents amassed by the committee showed that the right-wing claim is nothing more than a conservative myth. Later in the hearing, Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-NY) asked the four CEOs whether poor people caused the current financial crisis. All said “no”:
- Richard Syron, former Freddie CEO: “I would think that it wasn’t mostly trying to do things for poor people.”
- Daniel Mudd, former Fannie CEO: “[W]hen the market goes down, it’s the folks who are the closest to the margin who — who get hurt first and longest every time.”
- Leland Brendsel, former Freddie CEO: “I cannot recall ever being forced to make — or to purchase a mortgage loan that I didn’t feel, as a matter of policy at Freddie Mac, was a good mortgage loan, a sound mortgage loan, and an attractive mortgage loan for the homebuyer or the owner of an apartment building.”
- Franklin Raines, former Fannie CEO: “I do not believe that poor people are the cause of the current financial crisis. … Most of the losses, as I read the record, have come on mortgages that were made to middle-class and upper-middle-class people, not to poor people.”
Congress passed the Community Reinvestment Act in 1977, requiring banks “to lend throughout the communities they serve.” In the 1990s, greater mortgage lending to lower-income households by CRA-coveed banks increased the homeownership rate for lower-income and minority families. As CAP scholar Tim Westrich has written, “The real culprits in the mortgage mess are non-bank mortgage companies — not covered by CRA — that originated the lion’s share of bad mortgages at the heart of the crisis. They made an estimated 50 percent of subprime loans in 2005.”
Numerous other scholars, including Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman and Center for Economic and Policy Research co-director Dean Baker, have also explained that while Fannie and Freddie made many bad decisions, they weren’t primarily to blame for the financial crisis. At a hearing in September, former top government economic experts agreed that conservatives were pushing myths, rather than facts.
Source: Think Progress
Cameras capture Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on his way into work, one day after he was arrested on corruption charges, including conspiring to sell Barack Obama’s senate seat. (Dec. 10)
WASHINGTON (AP) — President-elect Barack Obama is calling for the Illinois governor to resign.
Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs says the president-elect agrees with other prominent politicians in Illinois and elsewhere that “under the current circumstances, it is difficult for the governor to effectively do his job and serve the people of Illinois.”
Illinois Gov. Rod Blagovich was arrested Tuesday, accused of scheming to enrich himself by selling Obama’s vacant Senate seat. The governor has authority to appoint the replacement.
Source: Washington Times
This is not the only talk coming from that region – I believe that it was Iran’s secretary/minister of defence who made similar jibes about Obama’s carrot and stick, tough diplomacy stance, truth be told Europe has attempted to negotiate with Iran, only to find, one; through a leaked document that they were taking them for a ride all along – where the Iranians were openly deceiving them and laughing about it and two; the nuclear watch dog IAEA has had little success in getting Iran to cooperate with inspections – all while Iran continues to make noises about wiping out Israel. Moving to the unthinkable – a nuclear attack on Israel would mean that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians would be able to make use of the land. In addition the world would have to form a coalition and go after Iran. When Ahmadinejad first stated publicly that Israel should be wiped from the map – top German military officials were saying that America may need to attack Iran. What Obama is saying quite clearly that in order for America not to appear as the aggressor – extend a diplomatic hand – albeit a tough one – tighten sanctions – and if war with Iran unavoidable then he has much of Europe and the free world behind him – support that will no doubt be useful.
Influential former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani on Tuesday accused US president-elect Barack Obama of mimicking his predecessor’s tough stance on Tehran’s nuclear drive.
“I don’t expect someone who considers himself to be originally from Africa and a member of the oppressed black race in America to repeat what (George W.) Bush has to say,” Rafsanjani said in a sermon on state radio.
In an interview broadcast on Sunday, Obama vowed “tough but direct diplomacy” with Iran, offering incentives along with the threat of tougher sanctions over its atomic programme.
During his term, Bush spearheaded the international campaign against Iran’s atomic drive which the United States fears could be a cover for ambitions to build nuclear weapons, allegations denied by Tehran.
The outgoing US president once famously branded Iran as part of an “axis of evil” and never ruled out military action over its nuclear work.
“I advise (Obama)… we don’t want your incentives and your punishments will not stop us either,” he said in a speech marking the Muslim Feast of the Sacrifice or Eid al-Adha.
“It’s better for you to be reasonable and not to deprive Iran of its rights.”
The UN Security Council has repeatedly demanded that Iran freeze its uranium enrichment work, the process which makes nuclear fuel as well as the fissile core of an atom bomb, but Tehran has refused.
In a sequence of events that neatly captures the contradictions of Barack Obama’s rise through Illinois politics, a phone call he made three months ago to urge passage of a state ethics bill indirectly contributed to the downfall of a fellow Democrat he twice supported, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich.
Mr. Obama placed the call to his political mentor, Emil Jones Jr., president of the Illinois Senate. Mr. Jones was a critic of the legislation, which sought to curb the influence of money in politics, as was Mr. Blagojevich, who had vetoed it. But after the call from Mr. Obama, the Senate overrode the veto, prompting the governor to press state contractors for campaign contributions before the law’s restrictions could take effect on Jan. 1, prosecutors say.
Tipped off to Mr. Blagojevich’s efforts, federal agents obtained wiretaps for his phones and eventually overheard what they say was scheming by the governor to profit from his appointment of a successor to the United States Senate seat being vacated by President-elect Obama. One official whose name has long been mentioned in Chicago political circles as a potential successor is Mr. Jones, a machine politician who was viewed as a roadblock to ethics reform but is friendly with Mr. Obama.
Beyond the irony of its outcome, Mr. Obama’s unusual decision to inject himself into a statewide issue during the height of his presidential campaign was a reminder that despite his historic ascendancy to the White House, he has never quite escaped the murky and insular world of Illinois politics. It is a world he has long navigated, to the consternation of his critics, by engaging in a kind of realpolitik, Chicago-style, which allowed him to draw strength from his relationships with important players without becoming compromised by their many weaknesses.
By the time Mr. Obama intervened on the ethics measure, his relationship with Mr. Blagojevich, always defined more by political proximity than by personal chemistry, had cooled as the governor became increasingly engulfed in legal troubles. There is nothing in the criminal complaint unsealed Tuesday to indicate that Mr. Obama knew anything about plans to seek money and favors in exchange for his Senate seat; he has never been implicated in any other “pay to play” cases that have emerged from the long-running investigation of the Blagojevich administration.
By David Horowitz
The continuing efforts of a fringe group of conservatives to deny Obama his victory and to lay the basis for the claim that he is not a legitimate president is embarrassing and destructive. The fact that these efforts are being led by Alan Keyes, a demagogue who lost a Senate election to the then-unknown Obama by 42 points, should be a warning in itself.
This tempest over whether Obama, the child of an American citizen, was born on American soil is tantamount to the Democrats’ seditious claim that Bush “stole” the election in Florida and hence was not the legitimate president. This delusion helped to create the Democrats’ Bush derangement syndrome and encouraged Democratic leaders to lie about the origins of the Iraq war, and regard it as illegitimate as Bush himself. It became “Bush’s War” rather than an American War — with destructive consequences for our troops and our cause.
The birth-certificate zealots are essentially arguing that 64 million voters should be disenfranchised because of a contested technicality as to whether Obama was born on U.S. soil. (McCain narrowly escaped the problem by being born in the Panama Canal zone, which is no longer American.)
What difference does it make to the future of this country whether Obama was born on U.S. soil? Advocates of this destructive campaign will argue that the constitutional principle regarding the qualifications for president trumps all others. But how viable will our Constitution be if five Supreme Court justices should decide to void 64 million ballots?
Conservatives are supposed to respect the organic nature of human societies. Ours has been riven by profound disagreements that have been deepening over many years. We are divided not only about political facts and social values, but also about what the Constitution itself means. The crusaders on this issue choose to ignore these problems and are proposing to deny the will of 64 million voters by appealing to five Supreme Court Justices (since no one is delusional enough to think that the four liberal justices are going to take the presidency away from Obama). What kind of conservatism is this?
It is not conservatism; it is sore loserism and quite radical in its intent. Respect for election results is one of the most durable bulwarks of our unity as a nation. Conservatives need to accept the fact that we lost the election, and get over it; and get on with the important business of reviving our country’s economy and defending its citizens, and — by the way — its Constitution.
Obama sought to reassure the nation that while he occasionally sneaked a cigarette during the rigorous presidential campaign, he won’t succumb to such temptations in the White House:
Obama was asked — as he occasionally is, most recently by ABC’s Barbara Walters — whether he still sneaks a cigarette now and then. He suggested he does, but said he won’t at his new address.
“What I said was that there were times where I have fallen off the wagon,” Obama said. “What I would say is that I have done a terrific job under the circumstances of making myself much healthier, and I think that you will not see any violations of these rules in the White House.”
Source: Huffington Post
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.
President George W. Bush got a look at how history will remember him, at least in one artist’s view. Bush presided over the unveiling of his portrait at The Union League. (Dec. 6)
As President Bush prepares to move into his new Dallas home at the end of his term, neighborhood residents worry about having him close by.
One woman shared her fears as she walked past Bush’s house carrying her King Charles cocker spaniel on Friday.
“I am afraid with all the negative press the president has been getting, the whole neighborhood is going to be a target,” said the woman, who refused to give her name.
Traffic has already begun to clog the narrow streets around the home, causing neighbors to call the police — who expect the hullabaloo to continue.
“When the Bushes are here full time, I imagine we’ll be here full time,” said Officer Michael Bratcher of the Dallas Police Department, who was directing traffic.
But the exclusive Dallas community the Bush family will soon join has a troubled history of its own.
Until 2000, the neighborhood association’s covenant said only white people were allowed to live there, though an exception was made for servants.
Enacted in 1956, part of the original document reads: “Said property shall be used and occupied by white persons except those shall not prevent occupancy by domestic servants of different race or nationality in the employ of a tenant.”
The entire covenant can be seen here.
When asked about his new home in an interview with The Dallas Morning News, Bush “played coy.”
“Mr. President — you excited about your house in Dallas?” Todd Gillman asked.
“Todd, why do you care?” Bush responded. “You live in Washington, D.C.”
The neighborhood is home to many famous people, including former presidential candidate Ross Perot and Mark Cuban, the billionaire businessman and Dallas Mavericks owner.
President Bush’s new house abuts the 14-acre lair of real-estate investor Gene Phillips, who just had a trout-filled lake installed on his property.
New York State Democratic Party sources tell NBC News that Caroline Kennedy has expressed interest in the New York Senate seat being vacated by Hillary Clinton.
She is known to have discussed the upcoming vacancy with New York Gov. David Paterson, who will be appointing the next senator to serve the remaining two years in Clinton’s term once she becomes Secretary of State.
Appointing Caroline Kennedy to the seat once held by her uncle Robert would be a very popular choice politically for Paterson, who is under pressure to replace Clinton with a woman.
The Kennedy name on the ballot could help Paterson’s 2010 reelection chances. Paterson became governor after Eliot Spitzer was forced to resign during a prostitution scandal.
Caroline Kennedy would also have an advantage in being able to raise money for the very expensive New York Senate contest.
Other contenders — if Kennedy is not chosen — include be congress members Kirsten Gillibrand (from an Upstate district) and Carolyn Maloney (NYC), Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi and New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is also a possible contender.
Kennedy’s cousin — Robert Jr., an environmentalist, has taken himself out of contention
Obama MTP Interview: Obama Big Three automakers ‘strategic mistakes’
(CNN) — President-elect Barack Obama formally announced Sunday that retired Army Gen. Eric Shinseki is his pick to be secretary of Veterans Affairs.
Retired Gen. Eric Shinseki Sunday promised to work for veterans “each and every day.”
“There is no one more distinguished, more determined, or more qualified to build this VA than the leader I am announcing as our next secretary of Veterans Affairs — General Eric Shinseki,” Obama said at a press conference. “No one will ever doubt that this former Army chief of staff has the courage to stand up for our troops and our veterans. No one will ever question whether he will fight hard enough to make sure they have the support they need.”
Obama said the nation must focus on helping troops who have served their country especially during bad economic times.
“We don’t just need to better serve veterans of today’s wars. We also need to build a 21st century VA that will better serve all who have answered our nation’s call,” Obama said. “That means cutting red tape and easing transition into civilian life. And it means eliminating shortfalls, fully funding VA health care, and providing the benefits our veterans have earned.
Shinseki, who spoke after Obama, made a vow to his fellow veterans. If confirmed, he said, he will “work each and every day” to ensure the nation is serving them “as well as you have served us.”
The official announcement took place in Chicago on Sunday, the anniversary of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
“When I reflect on the sacrifices that have been made by our veterans and I think about how so many veterans around the country are struggling even more than those who have not served — higher unemployment rates, higher homeless rates, higher substance abuse rates, medical care that is inadequate — it breaks my heart,” Obama said earlier in the day on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“And I think that General Shinseki is exactly the right person who’s going to be able to make sure that we honor our troops when they come home.”
“He has agreed that he is willing to be part of this administration because both he and I share a reverence for those who serve,” Obama said in the interview recorded Saturday and broadcast Sunday.
Host Tom Brokaw said Shinseki had lost his job in the Bush administration “because he said that we would need more troops in Iraq than the secretary of defense, Don Rumsfeld, thought that we would need at that time.”
“He was right,” Obama replied.
Veterans groups appeared to support the selection.
“I am excited. I don’t know him personally but this is a huge move,” said Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
For years, Shinseki, a highly decorated Vietnam veteran, has been cited as an example by Pentagon critics who say the former Army chief’s sage advice was ignored in 2003, resulting in too few U.S. troops being sent to Iraq after the invasion.
Shinseki testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee in February 2003 that “something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers would be required” to pacify the country. The comment infuriated some Bush administration officials, and he retired just a few months later.
Shinseki has never spoken publicly about his testimony, which has often been cited by critics as evidence that Rumsfeld ignored the advice of one of his key generals.
But as Army chief of staff, Shinseki was not in the chain of command, and played no direct role in drawing up the war plans.
Pentagon sources say that, in fact, Shinseki never advocated higher troop levels for Iraq, in part because it was not his job to do so. And sources say that just before the invasion, when asked by then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Richard Myers if he agreed with the war plans, Shinseki voiced no objections.
Still, Rieckhoff said, “Shinseki is a guy who had a career putting patriotism above politics. He is a wounded veteran so he understands the plight of veterans.”
He said Shinseki would have to make key connections with the veterans community, adding, “This is a big name and it shows that he (Obama) is not going to treat the Veterans Affairs secretary as a low priority.”
John Rowan, president of Vietnam Veterans of America, called the reported pick an “interesting choice.”
“I am satisfied with it,” Rowan told CNN on Saturday, adding that the choice seems to be in the Obama transition team’s pattern of “bringing in strong personalities into all the positions who aren’t going to ‘yes’ him to death.”
“When Shinseki had his disagreements with the administration, he wasn’t afraid to speak up,” Rowan said.
Veterans for Common Sense also weighed in, issuing a statement “strongly” supporting Shinseki.
“In February 2003, General Shinseki honestly and correctly assessed our nation’s military needs before the invasion of Iraq in March 2003,” the statement said. “This same level of candor and honesty will serve President-elect Obama well so he can quickly and accurately identify VA’s many challenges and then implement responsible solutions that take into consideration our veterans’ needs and concerns.”
OBAMA’S NEW LOOK: It’s been 15 years since President-elect Barack Obama has bought a new tux — and his inauguration is the perfect time to break that string. Obama, who during the campaign touted U.S. competitiveness and decried the plight of the American worker, plans to wear a union-made tuxedo by Hart Schaffner Marx to the inaugural balls on Jan. 20, said Bruce Raynor, general president of UNITE HERE, the main apparel union, which endorsed Obama early in the primary season.
Raynor told WWD that he was recently on a phone call with the President-elect and six other union presidents when the talk turned to what Obama would wear on the big day, which is expected to draw from 1 million to 4 million people to Washington. “As soon as he got on the phone, he told me he was working on his new tuxedo from Hart Schaffner Marx,” Raynor said. “He said after 15 years, it is time for a new one.” The Chicago-based men’s wear firm, founded in 1883, was one of the first clothing companies to enter into a collective bargaining agreement with a union in 1911. Homi Patel, president, chairman and chief executive officer of parent Hartmarx Corp. said he is working with the President-elect’s staff to determine whether Obama will wear a suit with a topcoat to the inauguration ceremony.
Who says these are bleak times? On one matter at least, designers are positively euphoric. That is the Obama presidency, a two-part point of light. While much of the glee centers around the President-elect and his policies, Michelle Obama radiates a powerful style all her own. So step aside, Angelina. You too, Madonna, not to mention the bevy of pop tarts, gossip girls, “High School Musical” grads and even potential Oscar divas, now all
suddenly second-tier. The American fashion industry hasn’t had a catch this big since, well, since another icon of Democratic chic took up residency on Pennsylvania Avenue in 1961.
For the big guns at least, dressing Michelle may prove even more of a challenge, since her chic is more lowercase democratic than was Jackie’s. Throughout the campaign, the first lady-to-be has avoided all major names save Narciso Rodriguez, while showing a proclivity for locals (Chicago’s Maria Pinto), young types (Thakoon; Jason Wu) and cost-conscious labels (Donna Ricco; J. Crew).
Nevertheless, just about everyone yearns to dress Michelle, who could raise the profile of American fashion around the world. Yet with the exception of Maria Cornejo, her current favorites, as well as a few majors, declined WWD’s request for sketches. Some are loath to presume to offer unsolicited advice, while others, it seems, are definitely in the Inaugural sweepstakes and prefer, or have been asked, to keep their participation low-pro.
But plenty more happily offered their visions for Michelle and her charming first daughters, for the big day and evening events of Jan. 20.
Barack Obama made news on “Meet the Press” this morning, but the NBC program made some news as well in the final moments.
Tom Brokaw, the interim moderator, confirmed what had already leaked out in recent days: the new host of the 60-year-old program will be David Gregory.
The network’s senior White House correspondent, now host of MSNBC’s “1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” had been considered the front-runner for the post, which became vacant when longtime moderator Tim Russert died in June. But NBC executives were still negotiating the final terms of the deal this past week.
Gregory will take the helm of the top-rated Sunday talk show, but his rivals at ABC’s “This Week,” CBS’s “Face the Nation,” CNN’s “Late Edition” and “Fox News Sunday” all see an opportunity to move up now that Brokaw, the veteran NBC anchor, is relinquishing the reins.
Other leading contenders had been Chuck Todd, NBC’s political director, and Gwen Ifill, host of PBS’s “Washington Week.” The final decision was made by Jeff Zucker, chief executive of NBC Universal, and NBC News President Steve Capus.
Gregory, 38, frequently clashed with President Bush’s spokesmen during his days as a White House reporter. But he also has a witty side, which he often displayed while filling in as a co-host on the “Today” show. MSNBC tapped the 6-foot-5 correspondent as moderator during the presidential debates and on Election Night.
Russert, a former Democratic operative, dominated the Sunday morning competition after taking over the program in 1991 and making his mark with aggressive interviews. Brokaw, the former “Nightly News” anchor, agreed to fill in after Russert’s death but made clear he wanted to leave after the election.
What remains to be seen is whether Gregory sticks with the Russert format or tries to change the show to suit his personal style.
Since joining NBC, Gregory has covered the O.J. Simpson trials, the trial of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, the Clinton impeachment and the death of Pope John Paul II.
Project Would Be the Largest Since the Interstate System
On the heels of more grim unemployment news, President-elect Barack Obama yesterday offered the first glimpse of what would be the largest public works program since President Dwight D. Eisenhower created the federal interstate system in the 1950s.
Obama said the massive government spending program he proposes to lift the country out of economic recession will include a renewed effort to make public buildings energy-efficient, rebuild the nation’s highways, renovate aging schools and install computers in classrooms, extend high-speed Internet to underserved areas and modernize hospitals by giving them access to electronic medical records.
“We need to act with the urgency this moment demands to save or create at least 2 1/2 million jobs so that the nearly 2 million Americans who’ve lost them know that they have a future,” Obama said in his weekly address, broadcast on the radio and the Internet.
Obama offered few details and no cost estimate for the investment in public infrastructure. But it is intended to be part of a broader effort to stimulate economic activity that will also include tax cuts for middle-class Americans and direct aid to state governments to forestall layoffs as programs shrink.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has called for spending between $400 billion and $500 billion on the overall package. Some Senate Democrats and other economists have suggested spending even more — potentially $1 trillion — in the hope of jolting the economy into shape more quickly.
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Voters in Louisiana ousted indicted Democratic Rep. William Jefferson on Saturday, instead electing a Republican attorney who will be the first Vietnamese-American in Congress.
Unofficial results showed Anh “Joseph” Cao denying Jefferson a 10th term. Republicans made an aggressive push to take the seat from the 61-year-old incumbent, who has pleaded not guilty to charges of bribery, laundering money and misusing his congressional office.
Cao, 41, won a predominantly black and heavily Democratic district that covers most of New Orleans.
A barrage of election-day automated telephone calls on Cao’s behalf flooded the district, including a pitch from the national Republican Party.
New Orleans voters had long been loyal to Jefferson, re-electing him in 2006 even after news of the bribery scandal broke. Late-night TV comics made him the butt of jokes after federal agents said they found $90,000 in alleged bribe money hidden in his freezer.
“People are innocent until proven guilty,” said Faye Leggins, 54, an educator and Democrat who moved back to the city six months ago and still has fresh memories of Hurricane Katrina. She voted for Jefferson on Saturday. “He has enough seniority, so he can do a lot to redevelop this city.”
But Republicans argued the scandal had cost Jefferson his clout in Congress. Election Day brought excitement to the state’s usually low-key Vietnamese-American community, said David Nguyen, 45, a store manager and Cao supporter.
“The Vietnamese aren’t much into politics,” he said.
Turnout appeared light in the district, where two-thirds of voters are Democrats and 11 percent are Republicans. More than 60 percent are black.
Though he was the underdog, Cao received endorsements from some Democrat and green-conscious groups as well as the area’s Vietnamese-American community. Cao came to the United States as a child after the fall of Saigon in 1975 and went on to earn degrees in philosophy, physics and law.
The election was one of two in Louisiana postponed because of Hurricane Gustav.
In western Louisiana’s 4th Congressional District, Republican physician John Fleming defeated Democratic district attorney Paul Carmouche in a very close race to replace U.S. Rep. Jim McCrery, a 10-term Republican who is retiring. Fleming had 48 percent of the vote to Carmouche’s 47 percent. Two minor candidates split the remaining vote.
Both candidates had help from national heavyweights. President-elect Barack Obama recorded a radio ad for Carmouche, while Vice President Dick Cheney helped Fleming with fundraising.
The national GOP also backed Cao, an immigration lawyer, with a barrage of advertising portraying Jefferson as corrupt.
Prosecutors contend Jefferson used his influence as chairman of the congressional Africa Investment and Trade Caucus to broker deals in Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon and other African nations on behalf of those who bribed him.
The 2007 indictment claims Jefferson received more than $500,000 in bribes and demanded millions more between 2000 and 2005, including the $90,000 found in the freezer of his Washington home.
No trial date has been set for Jefferson, who became Louisiana’s first black congressman since Reconstruction when he took office in 1991.
He also faced the Green Party candidate Malik Rahim and Libertarian Gregory W. Kahn in the race.
Source: Washington Times
We sat in on a meeting of the Transition’s Health Policy Team to introduce you to some of the team’s members and give you a feel for how they make decisions — and Senator Tom Daschle, the leader of the team, sat down to tell us how he plans to tackle health care.
We’re inviting the American public to take a seat at the table and discuss documents and materials provided during meetings between outside groups and our Transition team.
Nice background today! I wonder if that’s a view of Chicago out the window.
President-elect Barack Obama lays out key parts of Economic Recovery Plan >> Transcript here
The latest take on the ludicrous saga as to Obama’s true nationality. When everything else failed – in the effort to stop Obama from becoming president – the last straw to clutch – on the side of this rushing river to inauguration – seems to be various versions of the reason why Obama is not a natural born US citizen – though I hadn’t heard this particular version before. This is the British citizen version. And then there is the Indonesian version – which is usually combined with the born in Kenya mix. Never mind that Obama’s birth certificate was confirmed in Hawaii’s Department of Health director – for these guys the conspiracy will go on.
The director of Hawaii’s Department of Health confirmed on Friday what Barack Obama has been saying all along: the presidential candidate was born in Honolulu.
“There have been numerous requests for Sen. Barack Hussein Obama’s official birth certificate,” said Chiyome Fukino. “State law prohibits the release of a certified birth certificate to persons who do not have a tangible interest in the vital record.”
Citing her statutory authority to oversee and maintain Hawaii’s vital records, Fukino said she has “personally seen and verified that the Hawaii State Department of Health has Sen. Obama’s original birth certificate on record in accordance with state policies and procedures.
“No state official, including Gov. Linda Lingle, has ever instructed that this vital record be handled in a manner different from any other vital record in the possession of the State of Hawaii,” Fukino added.
Lingle, a Republican, has been campaigning on the Mainland for Obama’s opponent, Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
Obama, a Democratic senator from Illinois, was born Aug. 4, 1961, in Honolulu. He graduated high school at Punahou School in 1979.
Source: Pacific Business Journal
Worried – definitely! To many in the Islamic world Obama would be seen as one who has left Islam – or an apostate – simply because his father was a Muslim – under their laws – he would have no choice but to be a Muslim as well. The penalty for leaving Islam – in their eyes is harsh – there will undoubtedly be those who wish to act on this. It is therefore doubtful that Obama – if he does choose to address an Islamic Nation – at whatever time he chooses it is unlikely that he would be able to make the same kind of speech – made in Berlin. Perhaps if he were to address an Islamic nation it would be in a smaller more secure setting.
Yesterday The Times’s Helene Cooper had the scoop that Barack Obama is thinking of giving a speech from a major Muslim capital in his first 100 days in office.
Ben Smith of the Politico makes an educated guess:
- Barack Obama told a group of donors in California early last year that his first international trip would be to Muslim Indonesia, a supporter who was present recalled today.
- Obama promised during the campaign to convene a Muslim summit, and the New York Times speculated today on where he would deliver a major, early address to a Muslim audience, settling on Egypt as the likeliest.
- The Obama donor, Los Angeles real estate executive Ted Leary, recalled that Obama spoke of his plan to donors at a February 20, 2007 breakfast fundraiser at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, soon after announcing his run for president.
- “Obama told the 20 or so of us at breakfast that ‘his first trip as President would be to Indonesia – the world’s most populous Muslim country,’” Leary recalled.
Most the reaction has been from the right. Michael Goldfarb at the Weekly Standard’s Blog feels there’s only one good candidate:
- If one believes that there is some potential benefit to such a speech, and I’m skeptical but open to the possibility, is there a more compelling location for that speech to take place than in Baghdad? Who cares if it validates the war in Iraq? Obama is to be the President of the United States — and he’s already validated the war by packing his administration with those who supported it. In any event, doesn’t Obama now share President Bush’s objectives for Iraq, if not the same strategy for getting there. A speech in Baghdad would be a chance to make bipartisan this country’s commitment to a stable and democratic Iraq. It would be a chance for Obama to assure those Iraqis who were hostile to President Bush and those who fear a new approach. And most of all, if Obama believes that his words may win hearts and minds, a speech in Baghdad could have the effect of saving American lives by further reducing the strain in relations between U.S. forces and the Iraqi people.
Meanwhile, Abe Greenwald at Commentary thinks that no matter where it occurs, the speech is a bad idea:
- The global problems generating from within the Muslim world today are so odious and so obviously self-inflicted that any honest speech on the matter would offend and enrage Muslims the world over. At the same time, because of these very problems, a softball speech about Islam’s current role in global affairs would look like cowardly capitulation. If Obama splits the difference and mixes lukewarm praise with lukewarm condemnation, the stunt will be seen rightly as meaningless.
- Obama gives great speeches, and this has encouraged an unwarranted faith in the utility of the medium. No matter how dazzling, oratory is the least effective weapon in the counterterrorism arsenal. If anything, a foreign policy speech aimed at resolving the conflict between the West and radical Islam would give enemies hope that the U.S. is shifting to a less proactive stance, and returning to the more symbolic approach of the pre-Bush days.
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.
With the economy deteriorating rapidly, the nation’s employers shed 533,000 jobs in November, the 11th consecutive monthly decline, the government reported Friday morning, and the unemployment rate rose to 6.7 percent.
The decline, the largest since December 1974, was fresh evidence that the economic contraction accelerated in November, promising to make the current recession, already 12 months old, the longest since the Great Depression. The previous record was 16 months, in the severe recessions of the mid-1970s and early 1980s.
“We have recorded the largest decline in consumer confidence in our history,” said Richard T. Curtin, director of the Reuters/University of Michigan Survey of Consumers, which started its polling in the 1950s. “It is being driven down by a host of factors: falling home and stock prices, fewer work hours, smaller bonuses, less overtime and disappearing jobs.”
The employment report increased the likelihood that Congress, with the support of President-elect Barack Obama, will enact a stimulus package by late January that could exceed $500 billion over two years. More than half that money would probably be channeled into public infrastructure spending. Many economists consider such investments an effective way to counteract, through federally financed employment, the layoffs and hiring freezes spreading through the private sector.
“Basically $100 billion of public investment in such things as roads, bridges and levees would generate two million jobs,” Robert N. Pollin, an economist at the University of Massachusetts, said. “That would offset the two million jobs that we are now on track to lose by early next year.”
President-elect Barack Obama brought in nearly $750 million for his presidential campaign, a record amount that exceeds what all of the candidates combined collected in private donations in the previous race for the White House, according to a report filed Thursday with the Federal Election Commission.
Underscoring the success of his fund-raising, Mr. Obama reported that he had nearly $30 million in the bank as of Nov. 24, despite spending furiously at the end of his campaign.
Mr. Obama, who became the first major-party nominee to bypass public financing since the system began in the 1970s, spent more than $136 million from Oct. 16 to Nov. 24, the period covered in the report. By comparison, his Republican opponent, Senator John McCain, who was limited to the $84 million allotted to him from the Treasury under public financing, spent $26.5 million during that time, according to his latest campaign finance report. Although Mr. McCain had $4 million left over, he had $4.9 million in debt, the report said.
Mr. Obama reported taking in $104 million in contributions. Assuming most of that money came in before Election Day, Nov. 4, it appears his fund-raising stepped up significantly as the campaign drew to a close. In the first half of October, he raised just $36 million.
An exact figure is difficult to calculate because of vagaries in the way fund-raising numbers are reported. But it appears that Mr. Obama raised over $300 million for the general election alone — more than triple what Mr. McCain had at his disposal from public financing.
Thousands of people watched President Bush’s final Christmas tree lighting ceremony in the White House. The holiday tradition dates back to the 1920s. AP
A Florida Congresswoman has apologized to Barack Obama for hanging up on him twice after thinking she was being pranked. AP
President George Bush and First Lady Laura Bush have purchased a home in an affluent home north of Dallas. The couple will move their after the president’s second term ends in January. AP
The San Francisco Wax Museum has announced that a figure of President-elect Barack Obama will be among a collection of new celebrities to join the ranks at the San Francisco Wax Museum.
The new wax figure of Obama is expected to cost between $15,000 and $40,000 to produce, according to museum owner Rodney Fong.
Joining Barack Obama will be the winner of an online popularity contest, singer Justin Timberlake, who beat out Dale Earnhardt and Tupac Shakur to be one of hew wax figures in 2009.
The wax museum will also be adding figures of Queen Elizabeth II, Miley Cyrus, Mother Teresa, Prince William and Mariah Carey.
The museum, located at Fisherman’s Wharf, was first opened by Rodney Fong’s grandfather in 1963.
There are currently more than 200 figures and scenes on display in the wax museum.
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.”.
After President-elect Barack Obama announced the selection of Hispanic New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson into his cabinet, many Latinos are calling for more diversity.
President-Elect Barack Obama was named the most fascinating person of the year in “Barbara Walters Presents: The 10 Most Fascinating People of 2008.”
The list also included many actors, a broadcaster, an Olympic record holder, a second political figure, a singing superstar and a pregnant man.
10. Will Smith, actor
Smith was chosen because, according to Walters, “no one has created a string of blockbusters like him.” His last eight movies made more than $100 million, making him a huge success in Hollywood terms. Smith says that he is successful because he cares about people and always considers his audience. Another topic was marriage. Smith, who was divorced earlier in his life and career, believes that for him and his wife divorce is not an option so they better learn to have some fun together. Smith says his new character is “probably the darkest character I’ve ever played.” He wouldn’t give away too much about “Seven Pounds” though. We also learned that President-Elect Barack Obama has hand selected Will Smith to play him in a movie, should they ever make one, which we all know they will.
9. Michael Phelps, Olympic swimmer
In case you were a cave this summer, Phelps will forever be remembered as a super human and a swimming marvel. At the 2008 summer Olympics he took home a record 14 medals. Phelps said that he believes swimming helped him with his ADHD when he was younger and that his goal has always been to win an Olympic gold medal.
8. Miley Cyrus, singer & television star
Did anyone know that 16-year-old Miley Cyrus just signed a seven-figure book deal? Wow! Cyrus said sometimes it’s hard to be a role model, but she seems to be doing OK with it. Walters combated rumors of no more Hannah Montana and reminded everyone of the upcoming Hannah Montana. Cyrus said that sometimes she thinks about the fact that she could be just a phase, as so many young stars are, but right now she is just living in the moment.
7. Tina Fey, actress & writer
Fey calls the Sarah Palin situation a “strange storm” and “a stroke of luck.” She’s always been funny and a favorite, but this year’s political race really put her on the map. Not to mention the fact that she recently won multiple Emmys and had a huge movie come out. Fey said she never felt she was being mean because most of the time she was saying things Palin had actually said. In fact, the show even showed a perfect split screen showcasing the exact wording of both speeches.
6. Rush Limbaugh, broadcaster
He is called the most powerful conservative radio broadcaster, and he is probably most known for his argumentative nature. Walters started with the hard questions – In this economic recession, are you worth the millions of dollars you’re paid? Limbaugh’s answer – Of course I am, and I choose not to participate in the economic recession. Limbaugh said that Palin will be a great Republican candidate in four years. There was even a little argument between Walters and Limbaugh because he didn’t agree with her about a comment Limbaugh made about aging women in politics and on television. He ended the interview by saying, after being asked of course, that he hopes our new president is as sincere as he claims to be.
5. Thomas Beatie, pregnant man
While he isn’t the first pregnant man, he is the most public. His announcement has been one of the most controversial stories in the past decade. Beatie was born female and when he crossed over to being a man he kept his female parts, minus the breasts of course. Recently Walters did an hour-long special on the couple and was shocked to learn that the Beatie was pregnant again.
4. Frank Langella, actor
In 1979 he was Dracula, and even thought he has done a million things since then, he seems to have always been overlooked as a big star. Now stardom has finally hit for Langella as the role of Richard Nixon in “Frost/Nixon.” Walters said this the role of a lifetime for any actor. Langella said that at first he didn’t want to play Nixon, but after watching film after film after film of Nixon he began to feel connected to the former president.
3. Sarah Palin, Alaskan governor and former VP candidate
Sarah Palin seems to have really done it all. She started out as a beauty queen, then took on television, followed by PTA, city council, being mayor and finally being the governor. When she became the Republican running mate things seemed to be looking up, but things took a huge turn for the worse after Palin began speaking to the media. She was called “a drag” for her presidential candidate.
2. Tom Cruise, actor
Walters asked Cruise what he regrets since meeting with her three years ago, and although he admitted he could’ve done things differently, he didn’t seem to regret anything. Premiering soon will be “Valkyrie,” Cruise’s new movie about a man that plotted to kill Adolph Hitler. Cruise said he decided to do this movie because he found it inspiring. And even though he has already won the most prestigious German award for the movie, there was much controversy early on. Cruise said that there are probably more kids in he and wife Katie Holmes’ future, but right now they’re just enjoying the ones they have. He also said that he has definitely grown up and learned through all of the mistakes he has made and successes he has had over the years.
1. Barack Obama, president-elect
He is the first black president for the United States, and he signifies change and hope. He also seems to be one of the most popular presidential candidates in history. Obama said that even though the expectations are high he believes he can meet the expectations of an honest and confident government. Obama said that when he was a child he wanted to be everything from a judge, to an architect to a basketball player, but he never expected to be president of the United States.
Final Thoughts: This was very obvious, but what did you expect, it being an election year and all? Plus, who better to choose as the most fascinating person of the year than a person who literally made history. Hopefully, he will continue to make history.
The TV talk queen says Palin still hasn’t granted her an interview.
The TV talk queen is publicly saying she got dissed by the former Republican VP nominee, who chose to grant post-election interviews instead to Greta Van Susteren, Matt Lauer and Larry King.
It probably doesn’t help that Oprah is Barack Obama’s No. 1 fan. She even plans to take her show to Washington D.C. next month for the inauguration. And rumor has it she’s had her dress picked out since before the election.
But apparently there are no hard feelings. Oprah seems to have left the door open for Palin: “Maybe she’ll talk to me now that she has a book deal.”
GM CEO makes case at bailout hearing
Chrysler CEO lays out plan
Auto workers union fate tied to GM
Car execs grilled by Congress on transport to hearing
GM Volt technology allows a car to drive for 40 miles before switching over to gas/petrol – but we already have electric cars like the Tesla that can go 240 miles without recharging – plenty enough for everyday driving – at about 2 cents/mile to run.
It seems that the auto makers are stalling ~
US Auto makers roll out fuel efficient cars
Today, Bill Richardson accepted his safety cabinet position, Secretary of Commerce. The Latino community is predictably annoyed that their guy wasn’t given State, which went instead to Hillary Clinton. Ironically, Richardson stabbed Clinton in the back during the primaries, presumably so Obama would see he was ruthless enough to handle State. (If you can betray a Clinton, you can betray a continent.)
The President-elect tried to reassure jumpy Hispanics, saying “the notion that somehow the Commerce Secretary is not going to be central to everything we do is fundamentally mistaken.”
Riiight. Say your adioses to Bill Richardson. He will never be heard from again, along with whoever gets HUD, Labor and his former post in the Clinton administration, Energy.
Meanwhile, Chinese-Americans are furious at the Richardson appointment, citing his handling of the Wen Ho Lee. Said a California physician, “there was a feeling among many Chinese-Americans, particularly in Silicon Valley, that Bill Richardson did a lot to promote the notion that all Chinese-Americans are potential spies.” Particularly in Silicon Valley. As if to warn that the Richardson pick is pissing off rich Asians, not the dry cleaners.
Ahem, Hispanics and Asians. How are the rest of us supposed to be post-race if you two won’t play along? Can you be happy for us blacks and whites? Obama’s election tricked blacks into thinking that whites like them, and whites into thinking that blacks are over that slavery stuff. We’re finally able to pretend we’re not uncomfortable around each other, after all these years!
Clearly, you Hispanics and Asians need an Obama to call your own. Maybe you should stop arguing and start banging. Now is the time to create your very own Hispasian who can be president in forty-eight years.
But until that day comes, stop raining on our post-racial parade.
Obama-philes hoping to make the trek to Washington in January have been saying that it’s impossible to put a price on the value of being there to witness the swearing in of America’s first black president.
Want to bet?
A V.I.P. package for the 2009 Presidential Inauguration, including a handshake and photo opportunity with President-elect Barack Obama and a seat at an inaugural ball, is being auctioned on Charitybuzz.com. Its current price? The experience has fetched a top bid of $62,500 since being posted the day after the election, and bidding is still open until tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. E.S.T.
Founded in 2005, Charitybuzz.com administers online auctions on behalf of charities that run the gamut from vacation packages, to works of art, to “celebrity experiences” like the photo op with President-elect Obama.
Charitybuzz.com chief executive Coppy Holzman said it took him two months to persuade Obama campaign officials to donate their candidate’s time, the proceeds from which will benefit the Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation.
The Inauguration package is currently the highest priced item on Charitybuzz.com, and $62,500 might seem like a crazy sum of money to pay for a few precious moments of face time with the President-elect.
But after comparing to the bids drawn by some of the other experiences up for auction, it seems like a downright reasonable price.
A one-hour private soccer lesson with David Beckham doesn’t close until December 11 and has already attracted a top bid of $45,000. A private meeting with Clive Davis is going for $16,000.
A trip to Washington and photo op with Nancy Pelosi carries a top bid of $9,500, and wouldn’t we all agree that Obama is way more than 6.5 times as cool as Madame Speaker?
Dinner and a movie with Alec Baldwin is currently going for $2,750, and there are plenty of people who wouldn’t take him up on that offer for free.
The coup de grace, in terms of mind-boggling bids, would have to be the $860 top bid for a six week internship at web newsletter publisher Thrillest — yes, that would be someone paying Thrillest for the privilege of working for them.
If that isn’t the sounding of a death knell for anyone trying to make a living in journalism, we don’t know what is.
by Liz Gunnison
The Huffington Post has closed its third round of funding at $25 million — $10 million above previous estimates. The single investment from Oak Investment Partners was led by venture capitalist Fred Harman, who will now sit on the company’s board.
That will put the site’s valuation at just “south of $100 million,” according to a source of Kara Swisher’s at All Things D.
The money will be used to grow the site’s advertising capabilities, expand its local coverage and reporting capabilities as well as make strategic acquisitions.
The extra financial backing will also help HuffPo in the fight for dwindling ad dollars, which Harman, who is in Palo Alto, California, says has become more of a priority with the dwindling economy:
“Much of the news media business needs to be reassembled online around an ad-supported model and the timetable for this has been accelerated, not slowed, by this economic down cycle.
Dec. 3 (Bloomberg) — President-elect Barack Obama said Bill Richardson will be an “economic diplomat” for the U.S. as commerce secretary and a key member of a team that lays the groundwork for renewed growth.
Warning that a recovery from the recession that began last year “won’t happen overnight,” Obama said Richardson has a unique combination of national and international experience to be an “unyielding advocate” for American companies and workers at home and abroad.
“Bill has seen from just about every angle what makes our economy work and what keeps it from working better,” Obama said at a news conference today in Chicago at which he formally announced the New Mexico governor as his choice to lead the Commerce Department.
Richardson, 61, is one of the highest-profile Latinos to hold elective office in the U.S. Before winning his race for governor of New Mexico in 2002 and gaining a second term in 2006, he served in two Cabinet positions in President Bill Clinton’s administration and eight terms in the U.S. House.
He ended his own bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in January and later endorsed Obama, calling him a “once-in-a-lifetime leader” who can unite the country. That move was a rebuke to Hillary Clinton, who Obama has picked for secretary of state, and her husband publicly lashed out at Richardson at the time.
Richardson downplayed any suggestions that hard feelings lingered from the campaign.
“There are some who speak of a team of rivals,” he said. “But I’ve never seen it that way. Past competitors, yes.”
Richardson said that he would use his position to promote trade. “Boosting commerce between states and nations is not just a path to solvency and growth; it’s the only path,” he said.
He vowed to make the Commerce Department an integral part of Obama’s financial recovery plan. The “catchphrases of your economic plan” Richardson told Obama, are “investment, public/private partnerships, green jobs, technology, broadband, climate change and research.”
“That is the Department of Commerce,” he said.
Richardson would head a Cabinet agency with responsibilities that include compiling economic data, monitoring the weather and adjudicating trade complaints.
Companies such as General Electric Co., the world’s biggest maker of power-generation equipment, said they will be looking to Richardson for help reducing hurdles and tariffs to selling their goods overseas.
Richardson is “very smart on things like free-trade agreements,” said Peter O’Toole, a GE spokesman and former speechwriter for Richardson. “Hopefully we can work with Governor and future Secretary Richardson on making sure that free and fair trade is a two-way street.” …
CHICAGO – Bill Richardson is beardless and back in the cabinet. The governor of New Mexico and former presidential candidate appeared beside President-elect Barack Obama on Wednesday to accept his third cabinet-level post, this time as secretary of commerce.
Mr. Richardson, the first Hispanic chosen for Mr. Obama’s cabinet, made remarks in both English and Spanish as he took the assignment, signaling the importance of his selection for the new administration. Mr. Obama said he picked Mr. Richardson because of his deep experience and skills, not his ethnic heritage, but promised to produce a diverse senior team.
“When people look back and see the entire slate, what they will say is – not only in terms of my cabinet but in terms of my White House staff – I think people are going to say this is one of the most diverse cabinets and White House staffs of all time,” said Mr. Obama, who will be the first African American president. “But more importantly, they’re going to say these are all people of outstanding qualifications and excellence.”
Hispanic groups have lobbied strongly on behalf of Mr. Richardson, arguing that Hispanic voters in last month’s election helped deliver at least four states for Mr. Obama that voted for President Bush four years ago: Nevada, Colorado, Florida and Mr. Richardson’s New Mexico. Mr. Obama is also eyeing Rep. Xavier Becerra of California, a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, to become the United States trade representative, a position that has had cabinet status in the past.
Mr. Richardson has served in the cabinet twice before, first as President Bill Clinton’s ambassador to the United Nations and then as his secretary of energy. Mr. Richardson had his eye on secretary of state this time around but lost out to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. Although the commerce slot is generally seen as a second-tier position, Mr. Obama said it would play a pivotal role in setting and executing his economic recovery agenda.
“Well, commerce secretary is a pretty good job, you know,” Mr. Obama said to suggestions that it was a consolation prize for Mr. Richardson. “It’s a member of my key economic team that is going to be dealing with the most significant issue that America faces right now and that is how do we put people back to work and rejuvenate the economy?”
As for the beard that Mr. Richardson grew after dropping his own bid for the presidency earlier this year, it was gone by Wednesday morning’s news conference. Mr. Obama, tongue in cheek, declared that a mistake. “I thought that whole western rugged look was really working for him,” the president-elect said.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss wins the runoff in Georgia, denying the Dems a filibuster-proof majority. Saxby’s win reinforces McCain’s Georgia win and the GOP inroads into the South in the 2008 presidential election
All the time spent calling Obama a celebrity – it is a little amusing that the GOP ended up with one of their own – Sarah Palin – famous for being famous – over substance. Sarah as been quoted as saying she is ‘not doing this for nought’ – then we should expect 2012 is definitely on the cards. Trips to the library to study up on policy – well let’s hope these wont be nought!
Fresh off his runoff victory Tuesday night Georgia Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss credited Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin with firing up his base.
“I can’t overstate the impact she had down here,” Chambliss said during an interview Wednesday morning on Fox News.
“When she walks in a room, folks just explode,” he added. “And they really did pack the house everywhere we went. She’s a dynamic lady, a great administrator, and I think she’s got a great future in the Republican Party.”
Chambliss said that after watching her campaign on his behalf at several events Monday, he does not see her star status diminishing within the party.
The Republican also thanked John McCain and the other big name Republicans that came to Georgia, but said Palin made the biggest impact.
“We had John McCain and Mike Huckabee and Gov. Romney and Rudy Giuliani, but Sarah Palin came in on the last day, did a fly-around and, man, she was dynamite,” he said. “We packed the houses everywhere we went. And it really did allow us to peak and get our base fired up.”
But as Chambliss heaped praise on Palin and other big ticket Republicans that came to Georgia on his behalf, he questioned why President-elect Barack Obama would not use his star power to aid his Democratic opponent Jim Martin.
“I have no idea why he didn’t come down,” Chambliss said.
“His people were here. His organization was here,” he added. “They really did a good job in the general election of turning out people. And whatever their game plan was this time, if he had been here, I have no idea whether it would have worked better.”
Dec. 3 (Bloomberg) — Bill Richardson’s nomination as Commerce secretary won’t satisfy top Latino lawmakers, who sent President-elect Barack Obama’s transition office a letter yesterday afternoon recommending a slate of 14 Hispanics for the remaining eight Cabinet slots.
“We’d definitely be disappointed,” if Richardson, 61, a former energy secretary and United Nations ambassador, were the lone Latino in Obama’s Cabinet, said California Representative Joe Baca, the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. He warned that Obama’s legislative agenda could be jeopardized if the president-elect doesn’t nominate additional Hispanics.
“If it’s just one, he’s going to have to answer to a lot of the issues that come before us,” Baca said in an interview.
There could be one more appointment soon. Two Democrats close to Obama’s transition office said that Representative Xavier Becerra, a California Democrat, has been offered the job of U.S. trade representative. The two Democrats didn’t say Becerra, 50, will accept the post.
Obama’s victories in New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada, all states carried by President George W. Bush in 2004, was “in large measure because of Hispanic support,” said Representative Charles Gonzalez, a Texas Democrat. Election-day exit polls of Latinos gave Obama a 2-to-1 advantage on Nov. 4.
Obama is expected to announce Richardson’s selection today in Chicago, a Democratic official said.
Becerra, who once declared U.S. trade policy was “broken completely,” would take part in global trade talks, negotiate with China on product-safety issues and possibly renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The Hispanic Caucus letter recommends Colorado Representative John Salazar for agriculture secretary, Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion for Housing and Urban Development secretary and Texas Assemblyman Rick Noriega for veterans’ affairs secretary, among others.
Baca described the letter, sent to transition director John Podesta, as the “the beginning of demonstrating that we are ones to be reckoned with and not to be taken lightly.” Baca and Gonzalez signed the letter on behalf of the 21-member caucus.
Richardson is the highest-profile Latino elected official in the U.S. Before being elected as governor of New Mexico in 2002 and winning a second term in 2006, he served in two Cabinet positions in President Bill Clinton’s administration and eight terms in the U.S. House.
Richardson ended his own bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in January and later endorsed Obama, calling him a “once-in-a-lifetime leader” who can unite the country. That move was a rebuke to Hillary Clinton, and her husband publicly lashed out at Richardson at the time.
For several weeks, Baca and Gonzalez led a group of 10 lawmakers to create a list for Obama’s transition team, which was approved by a required two-thirds of the caucus members.
“We understand that the incoming administration will have a vast pool of talent from which to choose,” wrote Baca and Gonzalez. “The individuals we have endorsed constitute the best talent, while reflecting the diversity that is so valued by President-elect Obama.”
Baca expects Obama to improve upon the two Hispanics that Presidents Clinton and Bush had in their Cabinets. “We’ll start with two and then work for three,” he said. “But it’s got to be more than what we’ve had.”
Bush, Clinton Picks
Bush began his first term with Mel Martinez serving as Housing and Urban Development secretary and Alberto Gonzales as his White House counsel. In his second term, Bush promoted Gonzales to attorney general and had Carlos Gutierrez as his commerce secretary.
Clinton started off with Henry Cisneros at HUD and Federico Pena as transportation secretary and then later as his energy secretary, until Pena was replaced by Richardson.
Gonzalez said he was “confident” that Obama will select additional Hispanics for his Cabinet, insisting that “the process is still in play.” He cheered the choices of Louis Caldera to head the White House Military Affairs Office and Cecilia Munoz as White House director of intergovernmental affairs.
Other Latino lawmakers, while insisting that Hispanics deserved credit for the Democrats’ victory, said they weren’t focused on Obama’s final Cabinet tally. Representative Linda Sanchez, who left the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in 2006 but was still recommended the group as a potential labor secretary, said “for me it’s not a numbers game.”
She criticized Baca for “speaking a little hastily,” in setting down firm demands that Obama appoint more than two Hispanics. Baca is “very strident and he’s very passionate,” about wanting to ensconce Hispanics in influential positions.
Republicans, meanwhile, had their own criticism of the Richardson pick. “Nothing says change like picking the Clinton administration’s energy secretary and UN representative to be commerce secretary,” said Alex Conant, a spokesman at the Republican National Committee.
Obama already has tapped top officials from the Clinton administration, including former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers to be his White House economic director, former Treasury official Timothy Geithner as his Treasury secretary, and Illinois Representative Rahm Emanuel, who was a special adviser to Bill Clinton, as his chief of staff. Obama also picked Hillary Clinton to be his secretary of state.
“Obama’s Cabinet is starting to look like a Clinton administration reunion,” Conant said.
David Gregory – is actually very well suited to host Meet the Press, in place of Tim Russert. He has a mild temperament and he is very well versed in Washington politics. Thumbs up if he is chosen.
NBC News has settled on David Gregory as its choice to be the successor to Tim Russert in the role of moderator of its longtime Sunday discussion program “Meet the Press.” But the network has not finalized the deal, NBC executives said Tuesday.
Mr. Gregory is in negotiations with NBC to secure the position, however, and one reason he may get the job is his value to NBC’s most dominant property, the “Today” show. He has long been regarded as the network’s choice to one day succeed Matt Lauer as a “Today” host.
The news of Mr. Gregory’s appointment has been reported on several Web sites this week, including Politico.com and HuffingtonPost.com, though NBC has steadfastly denied that any deal is in place with this White House correspondent, who has most recently served as anchor of a 6 p.m. talk show on MSNBC, NBC’s cable news channel.
NBC executives said on Tuesday that the leaks of Mr. Gregory’s selection could be a potential impediment to concluding the deal.
But on Sunday NBC executives made calls to people who had been considered as potential hosts or panelists on “Meet the Press,” letting them know a decision had been made. The list of contenders had at one time been long, including two other NBC correspondents, Chuck Todd and Andrea Mitchell; the MSNBC host Chris Matthews; the PBS host Gwen Ifill; the CNN correspondent John King; and even the “CBS Evening News” anchor Katie Couric, who had been a longtime host of “Today.” [..]
The transition from Mr. Russert to the next permanent moderator has been less smooth, partly, NBC executives said, because Mr. Russert’s death was so sudden, and partly because his reputation was so big in both the television and political worlds. [..]
And while it had been assumed by many of the other competitors for the “Meet the Press” post that Mr. Gregory’s contract was ending soon, making a jump to another network a real threat, that is not the case. Mr. Gregory is under contract at NBC until January 2010.
Read it all
ATLANTA, Dec 2 (Reuters) – Republican U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss won a run-off election in Georgia on Tuesday, CNN said, denying Democrats the chance for a 60-seat “super majority” in the Senate that would have enabled them to pass legislation virtually at will.
Chambliss, the incumbent, defeated Democrat Jim Martin for the seat in a race that gained national significance because Democrats and their independent allies held 58 of the 100 seats in the Senate after the Nov. 4 election. One seat in Minnesota is subject to a recount.
The gun lobby has long intimidated politicians with its war chest and its trumpeted ability to deliver single-issue voters, especially in tight races. After this year’s election, those politicians should be far less afraid and far more willing to vote for sensible gun-control laws.
The National Rifle Association directed much money and bile against Barack Obama. In false, misleading and, fortunately, ineffective ads, fliers, mailers and Web postings, the group said that Mr. Obama posed a “clear and present danger” to Second Amendment rights and that his election would mean a gun ban.
Despite that harsh barrage, Mr. Obama won states with heavy gun ownership, including Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania. That success should send a signal to other politicians: consistency matters.
In fact, Mr. Obama has long been a supporter of the argument, disputed by this page, that the Second Amendment bestows an individual right to bear arms unrelated to raising a militia. But Mr. Obama did not abandon his support for reasonable gun-control laws. “Don’t tell me we can’t uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals,” he declared at the Democratic convention.
In Congressional races, the N.R.A. endorsed candidates in 20 of the 25 races where Democrats picked up seats from Republicans. We will not miss Florida’s Tom Feeney and Ric Keller, Idaho’s Bill Sali, Michigan’s Joe Knollenberg, Ohio’s Steve Chabot, Colorado’s Marilyn Musgrave and Pennsylvania’s Phil English — willing champions of an extreme agenda.
On the Senate side, the N.R.A. spent considerable sums to help Senator Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina and Bob Schaffer, the Republican Senate candidate in Colorado. Both were defeated.
And the N.R.A.’s poor showing was not just a single isolated event. A useful election analysis prepared by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence shows that its 2006 campaign effort also was a big flop.
We hope the trend continues. To fight crime and keep Americans safe, this country needs sound gun-control laws. To pass those laws as president, Mr. Obama will need strong Congressional support.
PHILADELPHIA – Vice President Cheney always seemed to relish working in the shadows. After all, he’s the one who popularized the term “undisclosed location.” But that doesn’t seem to suit his successor.
Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. appeared glad to be out in public on Tuesday when he joined President-elect Barack Obama in meeting with the nation’s governors here. In the month since the election, he has been the mostly silent sidekick, joining Mr. Obama in private meetings and standing behind him wordlessly during news conferences.
But this week, Mr. Biden looks to be unleashed, at least a little bit. He was given a speaking role both at the unveiling of the national security team in Chicago on Monday and then again during the meeting with the National Governors’ Association here on Tuesday. By word count, he even had somewhat more to say to the governors than Mr. Obama did.
And then there was that little moment that may or may not have been revealing. At one point during his remarks, Mr. Biden noted the presence of his former opponent, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, and greeted her warmly.
The poster that saw Barack Obama rise to fame has been altered to accommodate the beaky face of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and plastered around the streets of Paris. Nobody knows who’s behind the somewhat baffling idea; only that the mystery is attracting a lot of attention.
The image is a take-off of the poster designed by LA artist Shepard Fairey for Obama’s election campaign. There are various accompanying messages, like “Make polluting companies pay: Yes we can”, and “Save each household €1,000 a month: Yes we can”.
The poster-plasterers in action: “Who are they?” “What do they want?”
The Associated Press says that Sarkozy’s centre-right UMP party has denied being behind the campaign. Regrettably, according to a representative from the party’s youth movement, who said: “we would have liked it to have been us, because we like this message”. The Elysee has paid no heed to the campaign… Unlike the French media, which is tying itself in knots over the mystery. Young artists trying to be controversial? Subliminal messaging from industrialists? An anti-Sarko campaign in disguise? Whoever it is, they’re certainly enjoying themselves. Yesterday the group posted photos and videos of themselves prancing around Paris, hidden behind the very posters in question.
President-elect Barack Obama turned from national security to domestic concerns on Tuesday, telling the country’s governors that his administration would not delay in pushing an economic recovery plan that would bring relief to the states, 41 of which are forecasting budget shortfalls this year or next.
Speaking at a conference of the National Governors Association in Philadelphia, Mr. Obama said his background in the Illinois state senate made him particularly sympathetic to the needs of state and local governments. And he declared himself open to good ideas that work, whether they come from Democrats or Republicans.
“We are not going to be hampered by ideology in trying to get this country back on track,” he told the governors, many of whom he met for the first time at the conference. “We want to figure out what works.” Vice President-elect Joseph Biden Jr. also attended the meeting.
Aides to Mr. Obama have suggested that a recovery plan, which the president-elect hopes to be able to sign not long after taking office on Jan. 20, might carry a price tag of as much as $700 billion.
But even as the president-elect spoke on Tuesday, the dimensions of the challenges facing him at home and abroad continued to grow more stark. The three American automakers were due to announce more weak results and detail their revamped requests for federal aid during the day, while overseas, the terror attack in Mumbai, renewed violence in Iraq and difficult conditions in Afghanistan further darkened the picture.
In dealing with the worsening climate that faces state governments, many of them now obliged to balance their budgets by cutting jobs and programs, Mr. Obama asked the governors not just for their support but for their input in drafting a national recovery plan.
“To solve this crisis and to ease the burden on our states, we need action, and action swiftly,” he said. “That means passing an economic recovery plan to help both Wall Street and Main Street, and this administration does not intend to delay in getting you the help that you need.”
The importance of the federal help Mr. Obama offered was underscored on Monday when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California declared a fiscal emergency in his state and urged lawmakers to “get off of their rigid ideologies” to close a $28 billion budget gap. He said the state could run out of cash within two months.
Picking the people was the easy part.
President-elect Obama and his new national security team will now turn to a world full of vexing, linked problems on every continent, and tricky, early choices. From the speed of withdrawal from Iraq to the speed of investment in Afghanistan, from Kashmir to Moscow, Obama will make some of his most important choices early. Here are some of the toughest.
The war in Iraq, and the promise of a radically different approach to it, helped make Obama president. But he will arrive in the White House with his predecessor having already negotiated a Status of Forces Agreement providing for a timeline for withdrawal from the country, the core of Obama’s campaign promise.
The agreement “points us in the right direction,” Obama told reporters in Chicago Monday.
The most rapid pace contemplated is Obama’s campaign plan to have all American combat troops out of Iraq 16 months after he was sworn-in — that is, by May of 2010. The U.S. agreement with the Iraqi government ensures American troops will be out by the end of 2011.
“The question is how much, if at all, do you deviate from the agreement that’s been negotiated and passed in Iraq,” said Anne Marie Slaughter, the dean of Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton. “Does that agreement supersede what President Obama said when he was candidate Obama?”
Slaughter pointed to Obama’s decision to retain the defense secretary who played a key role in negotiating the agreement as a sign that he’s likely to conform his own policy to its timeline.
But he’ll face pressure from both sides. Iraq remains a violent and unpredictable place, with suicide bombers killing at least 31 Iraqis in two attacks Monday.
And the Status of Forces Agreement likely means that as Obama takes office, American commanders will be adjusting to a new paradigm in which they shift more of the burden to Iraqi units, allowing them to take the lead and, at times, to fail in battles with insurgents. He’s likely to face intense internal debates over how involved the United State should be on a day-to-day basis, and pressure from the Iraqi government to help in some places, and step back in others.
But Obama said repeatedly during the campaign that his 16-month timeline was realistic, and many of his supporters seen no reason to dally. What’s more, the troops and materiel are needed elsewhere.
In Chicago Monday, Obama told reporters that the Status of Forces Agreement indicates that the United States is “now on a glide path to reduce our forces in Iraq.”
“The challenge for him is going to be determining the slope of that glide path,” said Shawn Brimley, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security.”
General James Jones, the president-elect’s National Security Advisor, drew attention recently for stating emphatically that international forces were “not winning in Afghanistan.”
Indeed, there’s a wide consensus that the situation in the country that launched the 9/11 terror attacks is a mess: The Taliban is resurgent on the ground, corruption is rampant, and opium is the national industry. Meanwhile, the multinational force patrolling the country opposing them is adrift.
“There been no unifying strategy,” said Steve Coll, president of the New America Foundation. “NATO operates its own way, every country operates its own way, the State Department and the Defense Department don’t agree.”
Part of the answer seems to be more Western troops. Obama’s advisors hope a new, pro-American mood will encourage European and other allies to send reinforcements to Afghanistan. And Obama has backed sending two or three more American brigades to the country, though the rate of that increase will be dictated by how fast Americans can leave Iraq.
Obama will also be briefed on a new Afghanistan strategy prepared by the military, the contours of which Gates outlined in a speech in Canada last week.
“All of us agree that one of our most important, and maybe the most important, objective for us in 2009 in Afghanistan is a successful election,” Gates said.
That likely means an urgent new focus on Afghanistan, to make it – at least – secure enough to hold an election at the end of next year.
But skeptics warn that Afghanistan has bled dry other occupiers, and that the U.S. should be realistic about its goals.
“Success is not going to be the creation of a secular, prosperous, and democratic Afghanistan,” said Coll, who said a new U.S. policy will likely include a massive investment in training the country’s army and police.
“That’s the ticket home – that’s the ticket to his reelection in 2012 and getting American troops out of direct action by then,” Coll said.
The potentially catastrophic aftermath of the terrorist siege in Mumbai last week could instantly jump to the top of Obama’s list of crises to deal with – depending on how India and Pakistan respond in the 50 days before he takes the oath of office.
It falls to the Bush administration – which sent Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the region Monday – to try to keep the two South Asian rivals from moving back to the brink of war. U.S. officials so far seem to be succeeding in persuading Pakistan to fully cooperate in tracking down those responsible for the attacks – and in restraining India from responding with provocative military gestures.
But both countries will be looking for Obama to signal how he will manage what will still be, at best, a perilously tense situation. And Obama’s options, as always in South Asia, are fraught with danger. Will he push a new and fragile Pakistani government – as he suggested in the campaign – to crack down further on terrorist groups? Will he back off the Bush administration’s increasingly aggressive use of military strikes against al-Qaeda and Taliban elements on Pakistani soil?
Even more important, given preliminary indications that the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba may be implicated in the Mumbai attacks, could Washington get more involved in pushing for a negotiated settlement to the long-held grievances of India and Pakistan over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir?
“In order to start to get Pakistanis to focus on the insurgent groups, you need to have them start to feel less paranoid about India, and the way to do that is to start dealing with the Kashmir issue,” said Caroline Wadhams, a national security analyst at the Center for American Progress.
“His team has talked about the need to start working on the Kashmir issue. There’s a big debate over whether the U.S. can even play a positive role in that. They will have to decide how hard they have to push that issue.”
Look for Vice President-elect Biden to play a key role on this one – he has significant and important contacts in both countries. And if Obama needs any reminding about the potential peril posed by a Kashmir-fueled conflict between the two nuclear-armed rivals, his nominee to be secretary of State should be able to attest. Hillary Clinton’s husband once called Kashmir, “the most dangerous place on earth.”
An easier decision for Obama is one that he widely talked about during the campaign and confirmed during his recent interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” – his intention to close the U.S. military detention center at Guantanamo Bay.
“I have said repeatedly that I intend to close Guantanamo, and I will follow through on that,” Obama said.
There is a wide bipartisan consensus that the Gitmo should be closed. And politics would be pushing Obama to make the move even if the merits of the decision were not completely compelling. Many of his initial foreign policy and national security appointments – Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State and the retention of Bob Gates at the Pentagon chief among them – have caused grumbling within Obama’s base of support on the Democratic left.
But closing Gitmo could very well open a Pandora’s Box that could overwhelm both the political and diplomatic benefits that the action would doubtless bring for the new administration.
As in – where do the roughly 250 prisoners being held at Guantanamo go?
Some could be repatriated – but that likely will mean intensive diplomacy by the young administration at a time when it is tending to a number of other foreign policy brushfires. And if some countries do accept detainees – China is one example – what kind of treatment awaits them when they return?
Furthermore, if some are kept in the U.S., as they most certainly will be, can they successfully be prosecuted, given the extreme and extraordinary circumstances surrounding their incarceration at Guantanamo?
The possibility that a future terrorist act could result from a current Guantanamo detainee being freed is truly the stuff of nightmares for the new Obama national security team.
Russian President Dmitri Medvedev put his country firmly on Obama’s agenda by attacking the president-elect the day after his election.
He and Vladimir Putin have also made a specific demand: That Obama scrap plans to set up a missile defense system based in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Obama has been a skeptic of missile defense, raising doubts primarily about whether the technology is ready. He’s also signaled that he would like to work more closely with Russia on a range of other issues, beginning with nuclear proliferation. However, he and his advisors are skeptical of Russia’s autocratic leaders.
Hawks want Obama to signal that he’s taking a tough line, and that he won’t be intimidated by Russia. Moscow would like him to put missile defense on a back burner before they arrive at the negotiating table.
Some arms control advocates see a middle ground: Obama can continue to question the system’s technical capacity, making space to negotiate.
“A decision on new deployments of strategic missile interceptors can be deferred until the system is proven effective through realistic tests and has the full support of U.S. allies,” Daryl Kimball, the president of the Arms Control Association, wrote in the Washington Times last month.
Jewish Rabbi Marvin Hier remembers Mumbai’s dead and Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and wife Rivka who were also killed in Mumbai at the Chabad House.
Well worth a listen to, the Rabbi goes on to make some pointed suggestions – on suicide attacks being dealt with at the UN. Part of the reason why it is not being dealt with there – is that world has gone out of its way to offer the Islamic religion special protection – but then if it continues to be used in this hateful and destructive way – Islam will inevitably lose some of its protection – as the world tries to deal with the phenomena of its teachings of death over life.
Freedom of religion – has to have its boundaries – if freedom of religion allows for other people to be harmed – then we must draw back some of that freedom.
With Islam there are two arguments – there is the politicly correct one that says there is the just a few terrorist – who are hijacking the Islamic religion’s good name. But this blatantly ignores history and ignores the teachings of the Koran and Islamic Holy books.
Then there is the more realist argument – which is stifled for the most part – which says whatever the Prophet did and what the Holy books say about jihad (97% Holy war), we live in the modern world and those kinds of practices – of killing mass amounts of people in order to convert them – through fear or terror – are no longer viable – are no longer useful.
When you look at the subject of Islamic terror realistically – then you can see the real problem that the Islamic world faces – on one side the Holy books issue commands to either convert or kill the infidel and on the other side they wish to live in the modern world and have the respect of others. The lesser option is to subjugate all of the non-Muslim world and make them pay a tax as penalty for not being Muslim.
I dare say that I have an inkling of suspicion that if these Islamic countries thought that they could win this battle – of jihad against the western world – then they would not only turn a blind eye to it – as they have been doing – they would encourage it – because if they won then that would put them in a dominant position. A kind of reverse colonialism.
Then you have the moderate verses in the Koran – which are used frequently in politically correct PR exercises mainly for the western audience. To save argument – in the west we get there is no compulsion to Islam – but in Egypt, Malaysia and Indonesia it is a crime to leave Islam – and if you wish to do so you have to apply to the court – you will be locked-up , tortured or sent to re-education camps – while in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan you would be put to death — as you can see there is a kind of glossy reality – versus the real one.
Two things can happen – the Islamic world can continue its control of it people – and hope that the world one day sees sense in what they are doing and joins them – or they loosen control – and allow freedom of religion. And the actions of the terrorist might make this choice stark. If you have half the country believing that the penalty for leaving Islam is death – so they have already dehumanized the person who has made a conscious choice – there must be a fine line between thinking death for the person who leaves Islam and death for the person who refuses to take it up – like the Hindu – like the Jew – like the American Christian – in the Islamic world any one who wants to leave Islam – would be tortured, arrested, hulled into court (for carrying bibles in Algeria), so there is already an accepted level of intolerance for the non-Muslims among them – within th confines of the Islamic world – that then becomes the room full of oxygen that the Imam – can then light the spark to say go after the non-believer/infidel outside of our group. On the whole most of the people who are being killed in Islamic suicide attacks are Muslims – and that is because these Muslims have been deemed infidel or non-believers – and in the attacker’s mind should attacked in a similar way as you would do a Jew or Hindu or other.
But if the Muslim world would free the people – by allowing them to choose their own religion – then you break a part of the terrorist support system – as the state no longer supports the killing, torturing, and imprisonment of infidel – what the terrorist wants is for these controls over the Islamic populations to be strengthened – and in some cases they have – for example after the terrorist bombing in Mauritius – instead of fully cracking down on the terrorists and those who promoted it – they decided to change the law so that no one could be a Mauritius citizen without being a Muslim – so if you changed your religion – you could no longer legally hold citizenship there. Robert Gates actually has told the leaders that they need to get rid of this policy.
I am sure that terrorism is a great embarrassment to the Islamic world – it makes their countries look bad and it makes the religion look bad – the western world might have to depend on their shame to deal with the problem. To the point – Pakistan has these outback areas – that are sometimes surprisingly close to large cities – where these Taliban like militants go in and set up a mosque – everyone would automatically think – well this is a mosque – these people have their religion – but once the mosque is set up – then they preach every kind of religious hatred from the minaret – the girls schools in the area are threatened – either if they don’t wear head scarves – we will kill the girls, or f the girls go to school- we will kill the girls. Next the Pakistani army is no longer allowed to enter the town /region without a fight. To make deals with these guys they offer them Islamic or Sharia law in their areas – if they will stop the violence – and of course out of these areas come the terrorist who go down to India and go across to Afghanistan and kill and maim innocents there. Clearly a source of emarrassment for Pakistan.
Believe me these guys are reading the Koran – mainly in these Madrasses. The Pakistani government is respecting their religion – but under their idea of religious freedom – people outside of their beliefs should be killed – and this is where freedom of religion comes up against its limits – and therefore some of the respect for the Islamic religion should be withdrawn.
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…