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U.S. President Barack Obama listens to applause before speaking at the Summit on Climate Change at the United Nations headquarters in New York in this September 22, 2009 file photo. Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize on October 9, 2009 for giving the world “hope for a better future” with his work for peace and calls to reduce the global stockpile of nuclear weapons.
OSLO — In a stunning surprise, the Nobel Committee announced Friday that it had awarded its annual peace prize to President Obama “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”
“He has created a new international climate,” the committee said in its announcement. President Obama’s name had not figured in speculation about the likely winner until minutes before the prize was announced here.
Likely candidates had been seen here as including human rights activists in China and Afghanistan and political figures in Africa.
The committee said it wanted to enhance Mr. Obama’s diplomatic efforts. “We are awarding Obama for what he has done,” the committee said. “Many other people and leaders and nations have to respond in a positive way” to President Obama’s diplomacy. Read the rest of this entry »
President Barack Obama, joined by Washington-area middle school students and members of Congress, held a video conference call with astronauts from the space station and from the shuttle Discovery in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.
“We’ve got a crew of wonderful schoolchildren here, who are all interested in space, and we’ve got some members of Congress, who are like big kids when it comes to talking to astronauts,” President Obama said, according to a transcript from the White House.
The students and the president quizzed the 10 astronauts on what they eat, how fast they are traveling, how they exercise in space, the number of stars in the sky, what they do besides working on experiments and how weightlessness affects their sleep.
“Can you play video games in space?” one student asked.
“What things did you have to study to be a astronaut?” asked another.
“Do you guys still drink Tang up there?” asked President Obama to laughter. “I’ve got Bill Nelson here, and he says that’s been taken off the menu. That’s, by the way, before the time of you young people. We used to drink Tang.”
Source: The New York Times
Those who’ve feared that President Obama will be a soft touch for tyrants and terrorists can take comfort in his Inaugural Address, in which he declared:
We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.
For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus–and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.
To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West–know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.
Here is George W. Bush, four years ago today:
From the day of our Founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the Maker of Heaven and earth. Across the generations we have proclaimed the imperative of self-government, because no one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave. Advancing these ideals is the mission that created our Nation. It is the honorable achievement of our fathers. Now it is the urgent requirement of our nation’s security, and the calling of our time.
So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.
This is not primarily the task of arms, though we will defend ourselves and our friends by force of arms when necessary. Freedom, by its nature, must be chosen, and defended by citizens, and sustained by the rule of law and the protection of minorities. And when the soul of a nation finally speaks, the institutions that arise may reflect customs and traditions very different from our own. America will not impose our own style of government on the unwilling. Our goal instead is to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom, and make their own way.
To be sure, there are differences of emphasis. But Obama’s “new era of peace” is not all that different from Bush’s “ultimate goal of ending tyranny in this world.” Both presidents proclaimed the universality of America’s ideals: Just as Bush said that “every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value,” so Obama asserts that “we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve”–as they have in America, a nation that once enslaved blacks and has now inaugurated a black president.
There were differences of substance, too. Obama included the requisite sops to hair-shirt liberalism: “roll back the specter of a warming planet . . . nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect.” He also said, in what was surely meant as a rebuke to his predecessor, “We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.” But our guess is that George W. Bush, too, rejects that choice as false, and that Obama will find many Bush national-security policies are consistent with our ideals after all.
This is not to suggest that there will be no changes in foreign policy under President Obama. The rap against Bush has been that he is too eager to use military force, and Obama opposed the use of force to liberate Iraq from Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime. But in his Inaugural Address today, the president said, “We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan.” Without the Bush-led intervention in these nations, this is a promise President Obama would be in no position to make.
President Bush’s opponents on the Angry Left often succumbed to a blind hatred for the man and ended up mocking America’s ideals because they loathed the man who was speaking up for them. The Angry Right is susceptible to the same error now. An inauguration is a good opportunity to remember that those ideals belong to all of us, and that they endure regardless of party and personnel.
Some inauguration viewers were fascinated by the historical tidbit that President Barack Obama took the oath of office on Abraham Lincoln’s Bible.
Others were more interested in the J. Crew sage green leather gloves that Michelle Obama wore to hold the Bible for her husband — not to mention the pale pink and royal blue wool coats the Obamas’ daughters wore, also from J. Crew.
Indeed, a lot of viewers apparently decided that they must own the gloves and coats themselves. In an interview with my colleague Liz Robbins at The Caucus blog, Jenna Lyons of J. Crew said, “It’s an incredible validation to have the First Family like what you’re doing.”
Maybe too much of a validation.
By Tuesday afternoon, the Web page on J. Crew’s site that features women’s gloves had crashed. By Wednesday morning, the whole women’s section of the site had crashed. Later in the day, the entire site was down, with a note that said, “Stay tuned…Sorry, we’re experiencing some technical difficulties right now (even the best sites aren’t perfect). Check back with us in a little while.”
J. Crew’s Web site joins the many media sites that could not keep up with the surge of inauguration Web traffic. Many of the sites that promised to stream live video of the inauguration struggled or failed to provide a steady stream because of the influx of traffic.
Early Tuesday, J. Crew, which designed the children’s coats and velvet ribbon belts especially for the Obama girls, posted a note — “Congratulations to the first family” — on its home page.
Later, the company added another note — “Yes, they wore Crewcuts” — with a link to shop the brand’s Crewcuts children’s collection.
The outfits were designed exclusively for the Obamas and are not available from J. Crew, though “highlights” from the inaugural outfits may appear in the fall 2009 collection, the company said. Still, all that promotion apparently swamped the site.
“It’s just the sheer number of users coming on,” said Matthew Poepsel, vice president of performance strategy at Gomez, a firm that tracks Web site performance. “It can swamp an application’s infrastructure and lead to poor user experience at exactly the wrong time.”
If a Web company expects a surge in traffic, it can prepare by building up capacity, Mr. Poepsel said. If the traffic is unexpected, though, it can be hard to fix the problem after the fact. More and more often, “with the pace of the Web and how information gets out, no one can predict when this will happen,” he said.
Of all the brands the Obamas wore, J. Crew’s site showed the most impact. But other brands also got some benefit.
Michelle Obama’s day and evening dresses were the talk of the town, and on Tuesday, the names of the designers of those dresses, Isabel Toledo and Jason Wu, were the 70th- and 11th-most-searched terms on Google, according to Google Trends. On Wednesday, though, Isabel Toledo fell off the list and Jason Wu had sunk to 55, while J. Crew came in at 33. (Mr. Wu’s Web site and the site of Ikram, the Chicago boutique where Mrs. Obama shops, appear to be having no troubles.)
Perhaps fans of the Obamas’ style are seeking a more affordable way to imitate the new first family. “Michelle Obama has proved that high fashion can be affordable,” J. Crew said in a statement.
Update | 12:45 a.m.
The Obamas have been zooming through their 10 official balls and are now running more than an hour ahead of schedule.
The whole ball tour was supposed to end at 2:55 a.m., but they’re wrapping it up before 12:45. And who can blame them? By the fifth and sixth of these things, the first couple were clearly operating on fumes.
All night they’ve been leaning back and forth in lieu of dancing, and stepping on Mrs. Obama’s dress; he’s been saying he wants to dance with “the one that brung me,” and he tells the crowds that his wife is doing everything he does except backwards and in heels. The difference is that for the last few balls, they have actually looked exhausted.
Still, the point of going to all these balls is to thank the campaign workers and donors — and keep them energized for future fights.
By now, Mr. Obama has boiled down his thank-you speech to less than a minute. At their last ball, for Eastern states, held at Union Station, he lapsed into a bit of campaign-speak.
“Today was your day,” he said. “Today was a day that represented all your efforts, all your faith, all your confidence in what’s possible in America. They said it couldn’t be done. And you did it.”
He called on his supporters to apply the same energy to governing and to rebuilding communities that they did to the campaign. “Yes we can,” the crowd cheered.
He also ended with some indirect criticism of the Bush era. “There is something in the spirit of the American people that insists on recreating this country when we get a little bit off course,” he said. “That’s what powered this election, it’s what’s given our team the kind of energy that has allowed us to overcome extraordinary obstacles and given me so much confidence that our better days are ahead.”
His final reminder was this: to understand “that this is not the end, this is the beginning.”
He then asked his wife for “one last dance” and cued the band — for the same song, “At Last,” that they’ve been dancing to all night.
So that’s a wrap. And they headed home. At last.
At the Youth Ball | 10:47 p.m. Eastern Mr. and Mrs. Obama took the stage at the Youth Ball at the Washington Hilton around 10:35 p.m., where Mr. Obama gave extra hosannas to those who helped get win election.
“When you look at the history of this campaign, what started out as an improbable journey, where nobody gave us a chance, was carried forward by, was inspired by, was driven by, was energized by young people all across America,” Mr. Obama said.
The audience gave him huge applause and started chanting, “Yes we can!”
He went on to give them a campaign-style pep talk, which we’ve transcribed for you below. But he also commented on his dance moves, which have been creating some buzz all night, mostly because watching him dance was a surprise. Rather like seeing him bowl last year during the Pennsylvania primary, you expected it to be a little more polished, a little smoother.
Mr. Obama, it turns out, specializes in the slow sway of guys who aren’t super-comfortable on the dance floor. And he will occasionally throw in a twirl.
But what his style may have lacked in panache, it certainly made up in passion. He and his wife cuddle and coo and smooch and are very comfortable — they even look happy — in each other’s arms.
So all of this chatter about dancing prompted him to say after a turn on the floor at the Youth Ball, “That’s what’s called ‘Old School.’ ” Everyone laughed.
Anyway, back to his speech to the young folks.
Mr. Obama told them: “I can’t tell you how many people have come up to Michelle and myself and said, ‘You know, I was kind of skeptical, but then my daughter, she wouldn’t budge, she just told me I needed to vote for Obama.’ Or, ‘Suddenly I saw my son, he was out volunteering and knocking on doors and traveling and getting involved like never before.’ And so new generations inspired previous generations, and that’s how change happens in America.”
He said this applied not just to campaigns but to service, like teaching or joining the Peace Corps.
“And as this is broadcast all around the world,” he added, “we know that young people everywhere are in the process of imagining something different than what has come before. Where there is war, they imagine peace. Where there is hunger, they imagine people being able to feed themselves. Where there is disease, they imagine a public health system that works for everybody. Where there is bigotry, they imagine togetherness. The future will be in your hands if you are able to sustain the kind of energy and focus that you showed on this campaign. I promise you that America will get stronger and more united, more prosperous, more secure — you are going to make it happen, and Michelle and I thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”
And then this: “Hit it, band.”
Then it was on to Joe Biden’s “Home States” ball, for Pennsylvania and Delaware. And he was only halfway through his night of dancing.
Speaking to the Troops | 9:55 p.m. Mr. Obama speaks solemnly to service members at the Commander-in-Chief ball. “Every day that I’m in the White House, I’ll try to serve you as well as you serve America,” he says. And he promises that, together with the troops, “we will write the next great chapter in America’s story.” Then he talks by satellite video link with some soldiers from Illinois who are serving in Afghanistan.
There’s some friendly banter with the soldiers about their baseball preferences. Only one of the five tells the White-Sox-fan-in-chief that she is a Sox fan, too; the rest say they root for the Cubs.
More on the Ball Gown | 9:22 p.m. A few more details about the gown are filtering in. It’s made of ivory silk chiffon, embellished with organza and Swarovski crystal rhinestones and silver thread embroidery. It was custom designed and made exclusively for Mrs. Obama, said Gina Pepe, Mr. Wu’s spokeswoman.
Home States | 9:11 p.m. The First Couple’s next ball — the Home States ball (Hawaii and Illinois) — is just down the hallway from the Neighborhood ball at the Washington Convention Center. “Aloha,” Mr. Obama says to the crowd. “You’re not new friends, you’re old friends, and for that we’re grateful to you,” he says. His presidency is not just about him making the country better, he says, but “about all of you.” He asks the crowd to remember his motto, “Yes, we can.” They’re having a bit of trouble dancing because they keep stepping on her dress. But that doesn’t stop the president from giving his wife a twirl. Now the two have wrapped their arms around each other and are sloooow dancing. And after about two minutes, they’re off to the next event — the Commander in Chief ball at the National Building Museum.
Now Where’d They Go? | 9:01 p.m. Well, this set-up with exclusive deals for certain TV networks to broadcast means this is not the most accessible inauguration ever, as the inaugural planners keep saying. It’s frustrating for anyone who wants to follow the new president’s path tonight, although those who paid big bucks to attend the balls are probably quite happy.
We’re left to contemplate the mystery of Mrs. Obama’s dress. The designer, Jason Wu, is a young New York designer whom Mrs. Obama has worn before.
He’s 26 and from Taiwan and told The Wall Street Journal recently that he had never imagined that Mrs. Obama might wear one of his designs at the inaugural balls.
Signed, Sealed, Delivered | 8:44 p.m. We didn’t get to see much of the first dance, but we are watching Jamie Foxx tell the crowd at the Neighborhood ball: “You can tell that was a black president by the way he was moving.”
Mr. and Mrs. Obama are now group dancing to Stevie Wonder singing, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.” (And lots of other are joining them.)
At Last … | 8:37 p.m. It’s the first dance. And thwack! CNN cuts away as Beyonce is singing “At Last.”
The Dress | 8:37 p.m. Here it is! The dress is white, with one large sash over her right shoulder. Jason Wu is the designer. “How good lookin’ is my wife?” the new president asks the crowd at the Neighborhood ball, their first of the evening.
Party Time | 8:19 p.m. One of the biggest secrets of Inauguration Day is about to be revealed. Barack and Michelle Obama are on their way to their first ball, and the world will finally see what Mrs. Obama has chosen to wear. She apparently had a few options because she didn’t make up her mind until the final hours.
The new First Couple has left the White House, so the unveiling of the dress is just moments away!
Barack Hussein Obama became the 44th president of the United States Tuesday, and called on Americans to join him in confronting what he described as an economic crisis caused by greed but also “our collective failure to make hard choices.”
“Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real,” Mr. Obama said in his inaugural address minutes after he took the oath of office on the same bible used by Abraham Lincoln at his first inaugural in 1861. “They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America — they will be met.”
Mr. Obama, the first African American to serve as president, spoke to a sea of cheering people, hundreds of thousands of Americans packed on the National Mall from the Capitol to beyond the Washington monument. The multitude was filled with black Americans and Mr. Obama’s triumph was a special and emotional moment for them.
With his wife, Michelle, holding the Bible, Mr. Obama, the 47-year-old son of a white mother from Kansas and a black father from Africa, was sworn in just after noon, a little later than planned, and spoke immediately thereafter..
In his speech, Mr. Obama promised to take “bold and swift” action to restore the economy by creating jobs through public works projects, improving education, promoting alternative energy and relying on new technology.
“Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America,” Mr. Obama said in a prepared copy of his remarks.
The new president also noted the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the “far-reaching network of violence and hatred” that seeks to harm the country. He used strong language in pledging to confront terrorism, nuclear proliferation and other threats from abroad, saying to the nation’s enemies, “you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.”
But he also signaled a clean break from some of the Bush administration’s policies on national security. “As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals,” he said, adding that the United States is “ready to lead once more.”
He acknowledged that some are skeptical of his ability to fulfill the hope that many have in his ability to move the nation in a new direction.
“What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them – that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply,” said Mr. Obama, who ran for stressing a commitment to reduce partisanship. “The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works – whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.”
Hundreds of thousands of people packed the National Mall from the West Front of the Capitol to beyond the Washington monument, buttoned up against the freezing chill but projecting a palpable sense of hope as Mr. Obama becomes the first African American to hold the nation’s highest elected office. It was the largest inaugural crowd in decades, perhaps the largest ever; the throng and the anticipation began building even before the sun rose.
After his speech, following a carefully designed script that played out all morning, Mr. Obama was to head inside the Capitol and sign nomination papers for the Cabinet members he chose in the weeks following his Nov. 4 victory. The Senate is to confirm some of those new Cabinet secretaries this afternoon, but Republicans planned to delay the confirmation of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state for at least one day.
WASHINGTON — Tens of thousands thronged to the Capitol this morning preparing to witness the midday inauguration of Barack Obama of Illinois as the 44th president of the United States and the first African American to hold the nation’s highest elected office.
Even before the sun rose, people streamed from all directions to the West Front of the Capitol, making their way on foot and by mass transit since traffic was barred from a wide area around the grounds and the National Mall for security and to prevent gridlock due to the multitude expected to attend.
Given the historic nature of Mr. Obama’s election, black Americans appeared to be much more prevalent in the gathering crowd than at inaugurals of the recent past.
Mr. Obama and his wife, Michelle, were scheduled to meet the outgoing president, George W. Bush, and his wife, Laura, at the White House for a coffee at 10 a.m. before driving to the Capitol for a carefully choreographed ceremony that will climax with a peaceful transfer of executive authority to Mr. Obama shortly before noon. His inaugural address will follow.
But first, the Obamas went to church, followed by coffee with President Bush and his wife, Laura.
They left Blair House at 8:47 a.m. for the short drive in their new presidential Cadillac limousine to St. John’s Episcopal Church, just a few blocks away, for a prayer service. Mr. Obama wore a dark suit and red tie. Michelle Obama wore a sparkling golden dress and matching coat.
As the Obamas sat in the center of a front row pew, next to Vice President-elect Joseph Biden Jr. and his wife, Jill, the keynote speaker, Bishop T.D. Jakes of the Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, read a Biblical passage from Daniel 3:19. He then offered some lessons clearly aimed both to brace and hearten the president-elect: “In time of crisis, good men must stand up”; “You cannot change what you will not confront,” and “You cannot enjoy the light without enduring the heat.”
Shortly before 10 a.m., the Obamas arrived at the White House, accompanied by Mr. and Mrs. Biden. The Obamas were met at the door by the Bushes. The two men shook hands and with their wives posed for a picture before going inside for a traditional coffee and a final few moments for the Bushes in the home they have occupied the past eight years.
Aides said Mr. Obama was expected to emphasize personal responsibility in his speech.
“He is going to be counting on the American people to come together,” Colin Powell, the former military leader and secretary of state, said in an appearance on MSNBC on Tuesday morning. “We all have to do something to help the country move forward under the leadership of this new president.”
As a black American who grew up in a segregated nation, Mr. Powell said the inauguration was looming as a powerful and emotional moment for African Americans. “You almost start tearing up,” he said.
The crowd that stretched down the mall was festive and enthusiastic. They were bundled against the cold, with the temperature just above 20 degrees at 9 a.m., and the forecast calling for it to remain in the low 30s.
Mr. Obama’s assumption of the presidency caps a remarkable rise for a man first elected to national office in 2004, winning a Senate seat in a year when he also delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in Boston.
To win the presidency, he defeated Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, who will become his secretary of state, in a pitched presidential primary battle and then beat Senator John McCain of Arizona in a general election conducted against the backdrop of a national economic collapse.
Though Mr. Obama did not emphasize his African American heritage as a candidate, the symbolism was evident and was reinforced by the fact that the swearing in was taking place the day following the national holiday to mark the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King. He will take office less than a month before the bicentennial of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, another Illinoisan who took the office at a time of national turmoil and a man whom Mr. Obama clearly looks to as an inspiration for his own presidency.
“Today is about validation of the dream Dr. King enunciated 45 years ago on the steps on the Lincoln Memorial,” Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina, the No. 3 Democrat in the House and the highest ranking black lawmaker in Congress, said on Tuesday morning.
Responding to warnings that the huge crowd could cause long waits and security screen checkpoints, people packed Washington’s subway trains by 5:30 a.m., filling all the parking lots at the outer stations; the subways had carried more than 400,000 riders by 8 a.m. An accident halted service on one of the main lines around 10 a.m.
Shortly after 7 a.m., as the sun rose above the Capitol dome, there was a glittering burst of flash-bulbs as the teeming crowd collectively snapped thousands of photos of the dramatic moment. Around the Capitol, ticket gates opened for the long lines that were already waiting. Before long the Mall was packed with people for as far as the eye could see; by 9 a.m the eastern half of the Mall, closer to the Capitol, was completely full. Large crowds continued to stream in on foot from many blocks away, heading to the area near the Washington Monument. On the East Front, where the swearing in of the president used to occur, Marine One was parked in the plaza, ready to be re-designated for the flight taking President Bush and Mrs. Bush to the airport.
Inside the Capitol, staffers were scurrying about putting the final touches on the Inaugural Luncheon in Statuary Hall. The corridor leading to the House chamber had been transformed into staging grounds for the caterers, with huge serving tins of beets and green vegetables. Outside the House chamber, were dozens of cases of Korbel Champagne.
The tables were set with large centerpieces of red roses. And a lectern, fashioned from a brass statue of a bald eagle, was positioned behind the dais. Decorators were making final adjustments to the lighting of “View of Yosemite Valley” an 1885 painting by Thomas Hill that was positioned directly behind the President Obama’s seat at the center of the dais.
Framed by the marble memorial to Abraham Lincoln and facing a crowd of more than half a million people, Barack Obama delivered a message of hope last night declaring: ‘Anything is possible in America.’
The President-elect was speaking at last night’s conclusion to Washington’s star-studded ‘We Are One’ concert featuring a string of superstar supporters including Bruce Springsteen, U2, Beyonce and Stevie Wonder.
Two days before he takes office as the first black US president, Mr Obama underscored the challenge ahead, saying: ‘Only a handful of generations have been asked to confront challenges as serious as the ones we face right now.’
But despite an economy in crisis and a war being fought on two fronts in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said he is ‘as hopeful as ever’.
‘Despite the enormity of the task that lies ahead – I stand here today as hopeful as ever that the United States of America will endure – that the dream of our founders will live on in our time,’ he added.
The huge party on the National Mall – which also included Vice-President Joe Biden, actor Tom Hanks and golfer Tiger Woods as speakers – kicked off a dizzying round of lavish balls, concerts and celebrations to mark Tuesday’s swearing-in ceremony.
The inauguration has also seen the biggest security operation in history being mobilised.
Washington D.C. is being turned into a fortress city with a 45,000-strong force of police, soldiers and secret service officials.
As the first black President prepares to take office, security chiefs were planning for a range of potential assassination scenarios, from a lone gunman to a terrorist attack.
But for a few days at least, the nation’s worst economic slide since the Great Depression was being glossed over in a marathon of spectacle and tradition that dwarfs any past Inauguration Day festivities.
However there was growing unease last night that the estimated £100million bill for the array of events will be just as historic as Mr Obama’s ascent to the White House.
The grandeur of the presidential coronation has some senior Republicans suggesting the incoming Commander-in-Chief has misread the country’s mood.
While the capital came alive with excitement on the eve of the inauguration, the rest of the US remains weighed down with problems at home and abroad.
Mr Obama confronted those fears head-on in his rousing speech last night, saying: ‘Our nation is at war, our economy is in crisis. Millions of Americans are losing their jobs and their homes.
‘I won’t pretend that meeting any one of these challenges will be easy,’ he added. ‘It will take more than a month or a year, and it will likely take many. Along the way there will be setbacks and false starts and days that test our resolve as a nation.’
But he said he had faith in a nation that was at its best in times of trial.
The President-elect has been trying to walk a delicate line by mixing celebrity-studded parties like last night’s concert featuring superstar supporters like U2, Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen and Beyonce with more statesman-like appearances.
He kicked off with a train journey on Saturday from Philadelphia to Washington echoing George Washington’s ride from Mount Vernon to New York, where the US capital was then located.
Yesterday, a sombre Mr Obama laid a wreath at the Tomb Of The Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery on the Virginia side of the Potomac River before going with his family to the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Washington, where he and his family were greeted with an ovation.
Mr Obama plans to lead commemorations for slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King today, a national holiday in the US in memory of the iconic churchman who was assassinated in 1968, five years after his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.
It is a poignant anniversary for Mr Obama, who declared it a day of national service and he plans to visit residents living in some of Washington’s poorest suburbs.
Last night, wife, Michelle and daughters Malia, ten, and seven-year-old Sasha joined him at the free inauguration concert attended by a crowd of up to half a million people.
Among the speakers was Martin Luther King III, the son of the civil rights hero, who introduced a video clip of President John F.Kennedy’s famous ‘ask not’ inauguration address.
Last night’s crowd is expected to grow to an unprecedented two million for the Inauguration Day events on the steps of the US Capitol building – more than double the number for any previous president taking the oath.
After a giant parade from the Capitol to the White House, the new president will attend at least ten glitzy official balls around the city, with all eyes on the First Lady’s fashions.
‘No-one is begrudging the president a celebration to mark this watershed event, but people struggling to keep their homes are going to be looking at this and wondering what is going on,’ said one senior Republican analyst.
After George Bush’s election victory in 2004, Democrats urged him to be frugal, pointing to President Roosevelt’s 1945 inauguration when he made a short speech and served guests ‘cold chicken salad and plain pound cake’.
During World War I, President Wilson cancelled all parties marking the beginning of his term in 1917, saying festivities would be ‘undignified’.
But Mr Obama’s inauguration committee says it doesn’t believe Americans will consider the celebrations excessive.
‘That is probably not the way the country is going to be looking at it,’ said committee spokeswoman Linda Douglass.
‘It is not a celebration of an election. It is a celebration of our common values.’
Stephen Hess, a fellow of the Brookings Institute in Washington, said Americans have always loved a party.
‘We broke away from the Brits and we had something to celebrate then, and we’ve really never stopped celebrating,’ he said.
‘If anything, Americans need reason to celebrate even more during tough times.
‘That’s why movies starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were so popular during the Great Depression, just to name one example. People need an escape, they deserve a good celebration, and Barack Obama’s inauguration more than any other gives people a great reason to celebrate,’ he added.
Adding to the price tag is the cost of a massive security operation.
More than 40,000 police, soldiers and Secret Service staff have been given the task of keeping the new president safe. While officials say they haven’t received any credible threats, they aren’t leaving anything to chance.
Organisers even have an army brigade ready to respond to a chemical and biological attack.
Mr Obama’s inaugural committee has raised about £30 million towards the cost of staging events like last night’s show and they were paid an additional £3 million for the exclusive TV rights to screen last night’s concert and another tonight starring teen stars Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers.
But most of the rest of the costs – including security and transportation – are being covered by the taxpayer.
Although he may not get to bed before 3am after the inaugural balls, Mr Obama plans to make Wednesday, his first full day as President.
He will start Wednesday at Washington’s National Cathedral for the National Prayer Service, which dates to George Washington’s time.
Then he will have to return to the serious business of running the country.
Source: Daily Mail
WASHINGTON (AP) — Promising to protect the United States while adhering to its core human values, President-elect Barack Obama formally unveiled his intelligence team Friday, praising their integrity, management skills and willingness to tell him the truth. “We must adhere to our values as diligently as we protect our safety with no exceptions,” Obama said.
Obama picked retired Adm. Dennis Blair as the national intelligence director and Leon Panetta to head the CIA.
He called them “public servants with unquestioned integrity, broad experience, and strong managers with the core pragmatism that we need in dangerous times.”
Obama said he has given the men the clear charge to restore the United States’ record on human rights.
“I was clear throughout this campaign and was clear throughout this transition that under my administration the United States does not torture. We will abide by the Geneva Conventions. We will uphold our highest ideals,” he said.
Obama said that the country learned “tough lessons” under the Bush administration, and he will demand intelligence assessments “grounded solely in the facts, and not seek information to suit any ideological agenda.”
Blair, a former head of the U.S. Pacific Command, pledged to uphold the standards that Obama articulated “and that the American people have a right to expect.”
Blair won high marks for countering terrorism in southeast Asia after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He worked closely with foreign partners in crafting offensives that crippled the Jemaah Islamiyah terror faction in Indonesia and the Abu Sayyaf group in the Philippines.
Obama Announces CIA and national intelligence directors (Full Press Conference)
Panetta, a former congressman, White House chief of staff and budget director with no direct intelligence experience, will have the president’s “complete trust and substantial clout,” Obama said.
“He has handled intelligence daily at the very highest levels, and time and again he has demonstrated sound judgment, grace under fire, and complete integrity,” he said.
Panetta said he would work to assuage a Congress bruised from eight years of abrasive relations with the Bush administration and promised “to form the kind of partnership we need if we’re to win the war on terror.”
Obama praised the intelligence professionals working at 16 U.S. agencies even as he criticized the current administration for directing them in carrying out harsh interrogation and secret rendition policies.
“They have served in the shadows, saved American lives, advanced our interests, and earned the respect of a grateful nation,” Obama said.
Obama is also tapping John Brennan to head homeland security and counterterrorism on the National Security Council. Michael Leiter will remain on as the director of the national Counterterrorism Center. And outgoing National Intelligence Director Michael McConnell will serve on Obama’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. Obama has also asked the CIA’s current deputy, Steve Kappes, to remain at the agency.
Current CIA director Michael Hayden said in a message to employees Friday that he has been asked to remain at the agency until Panetta is confirmed by the Senate.
He said he and Kappes met with and are “deeply impressed with his candor and clear commitment to the welfare of the men and women of CIA.”
McConnell said in a statement Friday he was pleased with the selection of Blair.
Blair and Panetta are both garnering substantial support on Capitol Hill, although concerns exist about each. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., told The Associated Press on Thursday that he plans to question Blair about the role he played 10 years ago in U.S. efforts to rein in the Indonesian military as it brutally cracked down on civilians in East Timor. Staff aides to other members said they would be listening closely to the answers.
Paramilitary groups sponsored by the Indonesian military with U.S. financial and political patronage slaughtered more than 200,000 East Timorese over two decades. In 1999, as civilians were being massacred, Congress and the Clinton administration cut off all military ties.
Blair, then U.S. Pacific Command chief, pushed for renewing relations with the Indonesian army, reasoning that drawing it closer would give the U.S. more leverage. Obama spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said Blair was acting in accordance with U.S. policy.
“Admiral Blair condemned the conduct of Indonesian troops in East Timor, and he conveyed that if they behaved responsibly, the U.S. was prepared to resume normal relations. If they did not, they risked further negative consequences,” she said.
The East Timor and Indonesia Action Network, a human rights group, called Blair a poor choice for intelligence director this week.
Ed McWilliams, who was political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta at the time and is now with the human rights group, told the AP “the matter raises the larger question of our cooperation with militaries and intelligence agencies which abuse human rights, are unaccountable before their own justice systems and not subordinate to civilian control.”
But McWilliams credited Blair for trying to lead a human rights delegation to Indonesia’s province of West Papua where terrible abuses were occurring. He and his delegation were blocked by security forces.
Panetta faced resistance from the Hill earlier this week because of his lack of intelligence experience, but his prospects for an easy confirmation improved this week as key senators, including incoming Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein, pledged their support after discussions with Obama, Panetta and Vice President-elect Joe Biden.
It’s official: Marian Robinson, the 71-year-old mother-in-law of President-elect Barack Obama, will be moving into the White House, transition officials said on Friday.
In fact, Mrs. Robinson is already in town, helping to smooth the family’s personal transition as Mr. Obama, his wife, Michelle, and their two daughters prepare for new lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
“She is here to help them get up and running,’’ said Katie McCormick Lelyveld, a spokeswoman for Mrs. Obama. “She will determine in the coming months whether or not she wants to stay in D.C. permanently.”
In some ways, Mrs. Robinson’s decision to move – at least temporarily — is no real surprise. During the presidential campaign, Mrs. Robinson was a family mainstay, caring for the Obama girls, Sasha and Malia, while their parents were on the road.
She took them to school, to piano lesson and dance lessons, cooked their meals, ran their baths and got them to bed on time. She was a critical part of the family’s effort to keep the girls’ lives as normal as possible in the midst of extraordinary times.
But Mrs. Robinson is also deeply rooted in Chicago. She still lives in the house where Michelle Obama grew up. And she has often expressed ambivalence about the notion of moving to Washington.
“I’ve never lived outside of Chicago, so I don’t know,’’ said Mrs. Robinson, hesitating a bit as she considered last year whether she was willing to move into the White House. “In the end, in the end, I’ll do whatever. I might fuss a little, but I’ll be there.”
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.
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.”
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.
Read it all…
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?
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.
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
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
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.