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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.
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.
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.
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Voters in Louisiana ousted indicted Democratic Rep. William Jefferson on Saturday, instead electing a Republican attorney who will be the first Vietnamese-American in Congress.
Unofficial results showed Anh “Joseph” Cao denying Jefferson a 10th term. Republicans made an aggressive push to take the seat from the 61-year-old incumbent, who has pleaded not guilty to charges of bribery, laundering money and misusing his congressional office.
Cao, 41, won a predominantly black and heavily Democratic district that covers most of New Orleans.
A barrage of election-day automated telephone calls on Cao’s behalf flooded the district, including a pitch from the national Republican Party.
New Orleans voters had long been loyal to Jefferson, re-electing him in 2006 even after news of the bribery scandal broke. Late-night TV comics made him the butt of jokes after federal agents said they found $90,000 in alleged bribe money hidden in his freezer.
“People are innocent until proven guilty,” said Faye Leggins, 54, an educator and Democrat who moved back to the city six months ago and still has fresh memories of Hurricane Katrina. She voted for Jefferson on Saturday. “He has enough seniority, so he can do a lot to redevelop this city.”
But Republicans argued the scandal had cost Jefferson his clout in Congress. Election Day brought excitement to the state’s usually low-key Vietnamese-American community, said David Nguyen, 45, a store manager and Cao supporter.
“The Vietnamese aren’t much into politics,” he said.
Turnout appeared light in the district, where two-thirds of voters are Democrats and 11 percent are Republicans. More than 60 percent are black.
Though he was the underdog, Cao received endorsements from some Democrat and green-conscious groups as well as the area’s Vietnamese-American community. Cao came to the United States as a child after the fall of Saigon in 1975 and went on to earn degrees in philosophy, physics and law.
The election was one of two in Louisiana postponed because of Hurricane Gustav.
In western Louisiana’s 4th Congressional District, Republican physician John Fleming defeated Democratic district attorney Paul Carmouche in a very close race to replace U.S. Rep. Jim McCrery, a 10-term Republican who is retiring. Fleming had 48 percent of the vote to Carmouche’s 47 percent. Two minor candidates split the remaining vote.
Both candidates had help from national heavyweights. President-elect Barack Obama recorded a radio ad for Carmouche, while Vice President Dick Cheney helped Fleming with fundraising.
The national GOP also backed Cao, an immigration lawyer, with a barrage of advertising portraying Jefferson as corrupt.
Prosecutors contend Jefferson used his influence as chairman of the congressional Africa Investment and Trade Caucus to broker deals in Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon and other African nations on behalf of those who bribed him.
The 2007 indictment claims Jefferson received more than $500,000 in bribes and demanded millions more between 2000 and 2005, including the $90,000 found in the freezer of his Washington home.
No trial date has been set for Jefferson, who became Louisiana’s first black congressman since Reconstruction when he took office in 1991.
He also faced the Green Party candidate Malik Rahim and Libertarian Gregory W. Kahn in the race.
Source: Washington Times
Even Without That Task, Huge Agency Poses Challenges
Under the best of circumstances, overseeing the Department of Health and Human Services is an enormous undertaking. With 65,000 employees and a budget of $707.7 billion, it accounts for nearly one-quarter of all federal spending, second only to the Defense Department.
But in the Obama administration the job is taking on a second, perhaps more daunting, responsibility: shepherding health-care reform legislation through Congress.
Unlike his predecessors, Thomas A. Daschle, President-elect Barack Obama’s choice for HHS secretary, will be given an expanded role, leading administration efforts to overhaul the U.S. health system.
“This really creates a new type of secretary,” said Charles N. “Chip” Kahn III, president of the Federation of American Hospitals. In the past, “HHS was more or less a service organization to the White House,” while White House advisers drove policy initiatives.
In broad terms, Obama campaigned on the idea of reducing medical costs, improving quality and eventually achieving universal insurance coverage. He promised to cover every child and to reduce the average family’s medical bill by $2,500 a year. He advocated a greater emphasis on prevention and expanding participation in the government-subsidized Medicare and Medicaid programs.
“There are two aspects to the challenge of pushing for health reform,” said Dan Mendelson, a budget and health adviser in the Clinton administration. “One is to get the right concepts together with what Congress wants to do, and the other is managing the disparate concepts and generous egos.”
A serious restructuring of the health system will require extensive data and analytic capabilities to dissect the proposed changes and the impact they might have, said Karen Davis, president of the Commonwealth Fund, a private, nonpartisan research foundation. “Right now, there’s nothing other than the Office of the Actuary to do back-of-the-envelope estimates,” she said.
With the expectation that Daschle, a former Senate majority leader, will focus heavily on crafting and pushing legislation, there will be an even greater need for a strong No. 2. HHS is a collection of 11 agencies including the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“He’ll need to have deputies who are well-versed in the agency as a whole and who can manage the ongoing operation of HHS while he leads the health reform discussions,” said Len Nichols, director of health policy at the New America Foundation. One of those will likely be Jeanne Lambrew, a veteran of the Clinton administration and a co-author of Daschle’s book “Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis.”
Lambrew, in a chapter of a book published by the liberal Center for American Progress outlining a proposed agenda for the incoming president, agreed that fixing the health system is a top priority. However, she noted, “these urgent problems overshadow persistent, neglected and potentially deadly infrastructure gaps in the system.”
According to her assessment, the nation’s ability to respond to natural or man-made crises is weak, as evidenced by the poor response to Hurricane Katrina. Chronic illnesses such as diabetes have been given short shrift, and little has been done to prepare for the long-term health needs of an aging population.
The Commonwealth Fund, after interviewing two dozen health leaders, issued its own set of recommendations. It urged the next administration to make a “real focus on what it takes to improve health outcomes,” as opposed to secondary issues related to insurance markets, Davis said. That means tackling childhood obesity, racial disparities and preventable illnesses.
GM CEO makes case at bailout hearing
Chrysler CEO lays out plan
Auto workers union fate tied to GM
Timothy Geithner is a seasoned crisis manager with a temperament to match that of Barack Obama
STOCKMARKETS soared on Friday November 21st when investors learned that Barack Obama would nominate Timothy Geithner as his Treasury Secretary. That might seem odd. The president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York was already a favourite for the post. And he brings no magical solution to the financial crisis: he has been battling it for over a year, with no end in sight.
The 494-point (6.5%) jump in the Dow Jones Industrial Average is more a statement about investors’ anxiety over the unsettled state of economic policymaking. News of the Treasury nominee holds out the prospect of a more coherent and forceful approach to the crisis. The current treasury secretary, Hank Paulson, is reworking the $700 billion bail-out plan on the fly, policymakers are struggling over a new approach to foreclosures, the status of the mortgage agencies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, is in limbo, and Congress has just sent the carmakers, teetering close to insolvency, home empty handed. The two months before Mr Obama is sworn in seem like an eternity.
Investors were also relieved that their darkest fears of a Sarah Palin-like shock announcement did not come to pass and that Mr Obama, as in his other important appointments, has chosen ability over connections. Mr Geithner does not know Mr Obama well and has no notable ties to the Democratic Party. But for this cabinet post more than any other, an overtly political appointment would have been corrosive to investor confidence.
Assuming he is nominated Mr Geithner brings two crucial qualities. First, he represents continuity. From the first days of the crisis last year, he has worked hand in glove with Ben Bernanke, the Fed chairman, and Mr Paulson. He can continue to do so while awaiting confirmation. If Citigroup, for example, needs federal help, Mr Geithner will be involved. An unknown when he joined the New York Fed in 2003, he is now a familiar face to the most senior executives on Wall Street and to central bankers and finance ministers overseas.
Second, he represents competence. He has spent more time on financial crises, from Mexico and Thailand to Brazil and Argentina, than probably any other policymaker in office today. Mr Geithner understands better than almost anyone that in crises you throw out the forecast and focus on avoiding low probability events with catastrophic consequences. Such judgments are excruciating: do too little, and you undermine confidence and generate a bigger crisis that needs even bigger policy action. Do too much, and you look panicked and invite blowback from Wall Street, Congress and the press. At times during the crisis Mr Geithner would counsel Mr Bernanke on the importance of the right “ratio of drama to effectiveness”.
Mr Geithner looks a lot younger than his 47 years. He skateboards and snowboards and exudes a sort of hipster-wonkiness, using “way” as a synonym for “very” as in “way consequential” and occasionally underlining his point with the word “fuck”.
In temperament he seems similar to Mr Obama: he is suspicious of ideology, questions received wisdom
In normal times, risk aversion damps economic cycles; in a crisis, it accentuates them, leading to withdrawn credit, evaporating liquidity, margin calls, falling asset prices, and more risk aversion. “The brake becomes the accelerator,” as he puts it. Indeed, although he worked alongside Mr Paulson on the crisis, he has at times advocated a more aggressive approach. For example, news reports say that he was not comfortable with Mr Paulson’s decision to take public money off the table in the ultimately unsuccessful effort to save Lehman Brothers. He has not always got it right: he was the most important architect of the original bail-out of American International Group, an insurer, which in time has proved flawed, requiring significant amendment.
Mr Geithner looks a lot younger than his 47 years (though not as young as he did before the crisis began). He skateboards and snowboards and exudes a sort of hipster-wonkiness, using “way” as a synonym for “very” as in “way consequential” and occasionally underlining his point with the word “fuck”. In temperament he seems similar to Mr Obama: he is suspicious of ideology, questions received wisdom, likes a competition of ideas and is keenly aware of how uncertain the world is.
Mr Geithner learned about crisis management as an aide to Lawrence Summers who rose to Treasury Secretary under Bill Clinton. Mr Summers was the other candidate for the job under Mr Obama, and his appointment would probably also have been greeted enthusiastically. He will reportedly join the administration in a White House advisory role.
Mr Geithner leaves a big hole; the New York Fed president is by tradition the financial system’s go-to crisis manager, and that job has never been more important in the modern era than it is now. A probable candidate to succeed him is a Fed governor, Kevin Warsh. Though young (he is just 38) he has been a central player in the crisis thanks to his extensive contacts in the financial world and closeness to Mr Bernanke, who puts great store in Mr Warsh’s feel for politics and markets (see our recent blog post). That appointment will be made by the board of the New York Fed.
Mr Geithner faces a huge job. He will have critical decisions to make on whether to enlarge or alter the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Programme, what sort of firms will qualify for its money, whether and how to bail out the carmakers, what to do with the flailing mortgage agencies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and how to deal with countless other chapters in the continuing crisis. Unlike Mr Summers he is not an economist and brings no expertise to many of the big economic-policy questions that the Obama administration will confront such as health care, fiscal policy and taxes, even though he will be the primary spokesman on the administration’s economic policies.
He is a quick learner: within a year of joining the New York Fed he could debate the intricacies of monetary policy with academic experts. But he will join an administration rapidly filling up with heavyweights on economic policy, not least of them Mr Summers. Indeed, one of the big questions of the new team that Mr Obama is expected to unveil on Monday is just how Mr Summers, a brilliant but intimidating and sometimes abrasive figure, will fit in.
Mr Obama is assembling a formidable economic team. With the economy perhaps on the precipice of its worst recession since the Depression, he will need it.
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Just as Sen. Ted Stevens appeared set to return to Congress, felony conviction and all, his re-election bid has faltered. If he loses, it also closes a possible door into the Senate anytime soon for Gov. Sarah Palin.
As counting of early and absentee ballots continued in Stevens’ race against Democrat Mark Begich, the contest for Alaska’s only House seat was settled Wednesday, with the re-election of Republican incumbent Don Young for his 19th term.
In the Stevens race, Begich jumped to an 814-vote lead, after trailing by 3,200 when the day began. The tally late Wednesday was 132,196 to 131,382, with an estimated 30,000 ballots remaining to be counted, some on Friday and some next week.
“After watching the votes today, I remain cautiously optimistic,” Begich, a two-term Anchorage mayor, said in a news release. “We ran an aggressive campaign, especially when it came to early voting and absentee.”
Stevens’ campaign did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Last month, a federal jury in Washington convicted Stevens of lying on Senate disclosure forms to conceal more than $250,000 in gifts and home renovations from an oil field services company.
That might have spelled quick political doom for a lesser figure, but Stevens is revered here for his decades of public service — and especially for scoring the state enormous sums of federal money.
Begich would be the first Democrat to win a Senate race in Alaska since the mid-1970s, and a victory would put his party one step closer to a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority in the Senate. Democrats are also trying to unseat Republicans in unresolved contests in Georgia and Minnesota.
Fellow senators have called on Stevens to resign if he wins, and he could face expulsion if he declines to step down. In either case a special election would be held to determine his replacement. Palin, fresh from her failed run at the vice presidency, said Wednesday she’d be interested in serving in the Senate.
“My life is in God’s hands,” Palin said. “If he’s got doors open for me, that I believe are in our state’s best interest, the nation’s best interest, I’m going to go through those doors.”
In the House race, The Associated Press declared Young the winner with 50 percent of the vote compared with Democrat Ethan Berkowitz’s 45 percent.
Berkowitz campaign spokesman David Shurtleff said the Democrat was not ready to concede, although he acknowledged dim prospects.
Election officials Wednesday counted 57,000 of the estimated 90,000 outstanding ballots, which include absentee, early, questioned and provisional ballots.
Should the Senate results remain close a recount is possible. In Alaska, the losing candidate or a collection of 10 voters has three days to petition for a recount unless the vote was a tie, in which case it would be automatic.
If the difference between the candidates is within 0.5 percent of the total votes cast, the state pays for the recount, to be started within three days of the recount petition. The state Elections Division has 10 days to complete the recount.
If Stevens holds onto his seat, he might remain in the Senate for some time. As a practical matter, Stevens can’t be expelled by the full Senate until after an Ethics Committee investigation and a majority vote of that panel. That won’t happen until next year at the earliest.
Stevens also plans to appeal his conviction after he’s sentenced, in February at the earliest. The appeal could take months or years.
President George W. Bush could also pardon him.
Nov. 11, 2008 | Amid the fervid speculation over the identity of the next secretary of state or even the next assistant secretary of labor for administration and management, there is a truth that is galling to gossip-mongers — Barack Obama and his closest advisors know how to keep secrets. With nearly 10 percent of the transition period between administrations already gone, we know more about the factors that will dictate the selection of the White House puppy than we do about the reasoning behind the choice of a would-be Treasury secretary.
As Valerie Jarrett, co-chair of Obama’s transition team, put it with deliberate blandness on “Meet the Press” Sunday: “I think one of the real strengths of Sen. Obama’s campaign and now President-elect Obama’s transition is that he really does like to think this through thoroughly and not telecast what he’s going to do until he’s ready to make a decision.”
No one wants to read articles titled “Entire Obama Administration Shrouded in Mist and Mystery.” So to accentuate the positive, we do have a pretty reliable handle as to who will be in the room with Obama (and presumably Joe Biden) when the major personnel decisions are made. There will be Jarrett, an African-American Chicago real estate entrepreneur who has been close friends to the president-elect and the incoming first lady for two decades; Pete Rouse, the press-shy former chief of staff for Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who performed the same role for a newly elected Illinois senator named Obama; the Chicago-born John Podesta, Bill Clinton’s former White House chief of staff, who stealthily organized the Obama transition during the fall campaign from his Washington perch at the Center for American Progress; David Axelrod, the Chicago-based political strategist, who was the inspiration behind both Obama’s up-from-nowhere 2004 Senate victory and his 2008 run for the Rose Garden; and incoming White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, a sharp-elbowed veteran of the Clinton White House who was elected to Congress in 2002 (from Chicago, natch) with the help of Axelrod (double natch).
With all these Chicagoans (aside from Rouse) creating the Obama administration, it is time to drop the Second City urban inferiority complex. If there is an ideological orientation to this team, it seems to be Democratic centrism rather than full-throated liberalism. Bill Galston, a former top domestic advisor to Clinton now at the Brookings Institution, notes that Obama “has a great respect for expertise. His instinct is that in any field, gather the leading experts and go after them.” As Galston puts it, “This is not amateur hour — this is not crony time.” Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University and an expert on governmental organization, said admiringly, “Obama is extremely well-prepared. There is a lot of talk coming out of the Bush administration about a seamless transition. But in many instances, the Obama people know as much about what is happening in the Cabinet agencies as the Bush people do.”
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A few days before the election, a Democratic strategist privately worried that a Vice-President Joe Biden was destined for a White House career of dissatisfaction and idle-hands mischief.
“You can’t just have a guy like him at loose ends, he’d go crazy,” said a Democratic consultant who knows the affable, bright and mercilessly quotable soon-to-be ex-chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. “They need to keep him busy. Nobody over there wants him getting into the Secretary of State’s [business].”
Harnessing Biden’s considerable talents and containing his flaws will be an ongoing challenge for Obama. But Democratic insiders say the appointment of tough-guy Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff—and the administration’s need to forge a governing coalition that includes some Republicans—has brought Biden’s upcoming role more clearly into focus: He’ll play the good cop.
The Democrats’ apparent failure to win the 60 Senate seats necessary to halt a GOP filibuster has created the need for inter-party ambassadors like Biden who are practiced at the art of aisle crossing. In his 36-year Senate career, Biden was never considered a bomb-throwing ideologue, and he still has plenty of chits to cash in with Republicans on the Hill.
“He’s probably got more friends among Senate Republicans than John McCain does, and that’s a huge plus for Barack Obama, who is committed to breaking the partisan roadblock of recent years,” said Biden spokesman David Wade shortly before Election Day.
And while Emanuel’s bad-cop reputation may be overstated, all those F-bombs and threats to pulverize GOP incumbents during his tenure of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee boss create an opening for Biden, who maxes out on the Mr. Nice Guy scale.
“I really have genuine relationships with Republican leaders in the House and the Senate. I mean, I—I hope this is not self serving, but I’ve gained the respect,” Biden told an Ohio campaign rally in late October. “I’ve been able to literally work with the Republican leaders, of the committees as well as, as well as the Senate,” he added. “And Barack knows that, Barack has served there and sees that… I’m confident that I’ll be spending a fair amount of time [in Congress].”
In an interview with the New Yorker last month, Biden selected a lofty, if somewhat dubious role model: Lyndon Johnson, who plunged into a deep depression when John F. Kennedy assigned him the role as emissary to a Senate he had bullied, cajoled and utterly dominated as majority leader in the 1950s.
Former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, a Democrat who’s fond of Biden, painted a different picture: “I can see Joe in his room [just off the Senate chamber], smiling, slapping people on the back, making his points, working the members.”
Indeed, Biden told the New Yorker that his style would be more honey than sting: “I have never ever, ever screwed another senator,” he said.
On top of that, Biden could not be more different than the outgoing vice president, who never visited the weekly Democratic caucus lunches in the Senate and had virtually no relationships with the other side of the aisle. It’s unlikely that Biden will ever be caught telling another senator to “Go [expletive] yourself” as Dick Cheney famously said to Sen. Patrick J. Leahy. Unless he’s kidding.
Biden’s best Republican friends in the Senate are centrists, including retiring Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel and the top Republican on the Foreign Relations committee, Indiana Sen. Dick Lugar, with whom he’s forged a close working partnership.
Biden is equally popular with some GOP staffers, drawing top-level Republican aides into free-ranging discussion on nettlesome policy problems, even setting up secure computer forums where aides can swap ideas without partisan recrimination, according to a person who participated in one of the chat groups.
The veep in waiting is not a favorite with Republicans hard-liners, though, who still hold grudges over his tough questioning of former Bush Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. The conservative bloc in the Senate remains unified, and could still engineer a filibuster of Obama priorities.
“Joe’s really well liked—and he can be a real stand-up guy—but it’s going to be tough for him,” said an aide to a top Senate Republican, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“We’re not in the mood to make deals. People like him, sure, but people are going to change their votes on defense or health care or taxes just because Joe Biden’s a great guy?”
Biden may find it even tougher with Democratic senators—thrilled to have one of their own in the White House again—who may want to simply bypass the vice president and forge a relationship directly with Obama.
“He will carve out a role for himself, the problem is that he’s going to have a lot of competition—and it’s competition that won’t be willing to step aside for him,” says Jennifer Duffy, who covers the Senate for the non-partisan Cook Political Report.
Obama hasn’t served a full term in the Senate but he’s got plenty of friends in the Democratic caucus: Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the number two Democrat in the Senate, up-and-coming Missouri freshman Claire McCaskill and an ailing but still powerful Ted Kennedy. Obama also has a unique relationship with one of the most conservative senators, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, with whom he shares a passion for government reform.
Then there’s former Majority Leader Tom Daschle—a well-connected kitchen-cabinet Obama adviser who is likely to play some kind of role in the administration.
But Biden’s biggest competition may come from the president-elect himself.
“Obama already has his own relationships in the Senate so, in a sense, he doesn’t need an emissary,” Duffy adds. “He’s his own go-to guy.”
Obama has gone to great lengths to establish personal relationships with legislators, creating direct lines of communication that will be handy even if he runs into problems with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
“Barack’s been seriously keeping touch with the [fiscally conservative Democratic] Blue Dogs and all the other foot soldiers—he’s intent on not making the same mistakes we did,” said a former aide to Bill Clinton, who worked his congressional transition team in the early 1990s. “We thought all we had to do was to keep in touch with the leaders and we left the members and committee chairs alone. That was a huge mistake and it killed us on the health care… Barack’s not making that mistake.”
Here’s the full Bachmann interview with Chris Matthews’ Hardball which almost cost Rep. Michele Bachmann her seat. But more frightening than this singular interview ~ was the overall direction that the Republican Party was preparing to take once elected. Dividing the country into pro-American and anti-American areas, its people into God and the Godless and advocating for McCarthy style checking of ‘liberal’ members of Congress for possible pro and anti-American leanings. Where was McCain planning to take the country if he were elected and how was he planning to control these elements of his Party?
Bachmann praises Obama’s win, now
After suggesting that Barack Obama had anti-American views in an exchange three weeks ago with MSNBC host Chris Matthews, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) told Politico Thursday that she was “extremely grateful that we have an African-American who has won this year.” She called his victory “a tremendous signal we sent.”
“I have not seen the United States as a racist nation,” said Bachmann, who represents Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District, in the east-central part of the state. “In my district, I don’t sense racism, and that’s why I’m thankful that hopefully this will send a national signal across our country that America is not a nation made up of racists. … On the same hand, I hope that the national media will not confuse disagreement with Obama’s policy positions with being consumed [by] racism.”
Some analysts had written off the linguistically intemperate Bachmann as a casualty of her calamitous “Hardball” interview, but she graduated to being a sophomore in the House of Representatives in Tuesday’s election.
In a telephone interview, Bachman said she was gratified that voters in her district didn’t “let the media intervene” in the race, which she ultimately won by three points over Democratic challenger Elwyn Tinklenberg. But in surveying the wreckage to her party that the election wrought, Bachmann was quick to acknowledge that, going forward, “clearly the views and opinions of conservatives won’t be prevailing.”
As she looks ahead to her next term in Congress, Bachmann, a former U.S. Treasury attorney who now sits on the Financial Services Committee, said she’s hoping for a spot on the House Ways and Means Committee, the panel charged with writing tax legislation and bills affecting Social Security, Medicare, and other entitlement programs. Minnesota Rep. Jim Ramstad, a nine-term Republican who is retiring, is currently the only Minnesotan on that committee.
“My husband and I were Joe the Plumbers,” said Bachmann, referring to the 42-employee Christian therapy business she and her husband started, as well as the ubiquitous plumber from Ohio who was elevated to the status of Everyman during the campaign. “I think my business background and tax background works very well on Ways and Means.”
Bachmann said that she had always expected her race to tighten toward the end, but she seemed willing to accept the connection between her gaffe on “Hardball” and the closeness of her race.
“My opponent did not do a stellar job fundraising,” Bachmann said, noting that it was only after her interview on MSNBC that “there was money coming from [the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] and outside money, and that significantly impacted race.” Fundraising records show that her challenger raised more than $1.3 million in a week.
“What that did is, it opened the door for a phenomenal outpouring of negative media coverage. It was the echo chamber of the left media, and it was overwhelming, and that was difficult to overcome that level of vitriol.”
Bachmann said that aggressive Democratic organizing in her district this year, combined with the “great resources they had in trying to defeat me in ’06” made reelection a breakneck climb.
“I had laid a strong foundation,” Bachmann said, explaining how she pulled out the win. “That is something we knew all along. For two years I worked enormously hard in the district.”
“People knew that I am a serious member of Congress, that I take issues seriously, and that I worked extremely hard. … They know I’m not a nuanced politician that waffles and changes my mind with whatever is popular at the moment.”
After raising her national profile in cable news interviews about the presidential race and energy issues, Bachmann said her primary focus going forward will be the concerns of her constituents. She said her party would have to wait to see the specifics of the Democratic agenda, then offer “positive” alternatives.
“It was a decisive win [for Democrats] on every level: presidency, House and Senate,” Bachmann said. “Even in Minnesota, we passed a state sales tax increase. That’s pretty phenomenal when you think about the difficult environment of the economy. The fact we could pass a tax increase and have such a strong Democratic showing … it just shows what an overpowering Democratic year this was, and that’s why I feel very gratified to have survived the storm.”
While Americans eagerly vote for the next president, here’s a sobering reminder: As of Tuesday, George W. Bush still has 77 days left in the White House — and he’s not wasting a minute.
President Bush’s aides have been scrambling to change rules and regulations on the environment, civil liberties and abortion rights, among others — few for the good. Most presidents put on a last-minute policy stamp, but in Mr. Bush’s case it is more like a wrecking ball. We fear it could take months, or years, for the next president to identify and then undo all of the damage.
Here is a look — by no means comprehensive — at some of Mr. Bush’s recent parting gifts and those we fear are yet to come.
CIVIL LIBERTIES We don’t know all of the ways that the administration has violated Americans’ rights in the name of fighting terrorism. Last month, Attorney General Michael Mukasey rushed out new guidelines for the F.B.I. that permit agents to use chillingly intrusive techniques to collect information on Americans even where there is no evidence of wrongdoing.
Agents will be allowed to use informants to infiltrate lawful groups, engage in prolonged physical surveillance and lie about their identity while questioning a subject’s neighbors, relatives, co-workers and friends. The changes also give the F.B.I. — which has a long history of spying on civil rights groups and others — expanded latitude to use these techniques on people identified by racial, ethnic and religious background.
The administration showed further disdain for Americans’ privacy rights and for Congress’s power by making clear that it will ignore a provision in the legislation that established the Department of Homeland Security. The law requires the department’s privacy officer to account annually for any activity that could affect Americans’ privacy — and clearly stipulates that the report cannot be edited by any other officials at the department or the White House.
The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel has now released a memo asserting that the law “does not prohibit” officials from homeland security or the White House from reviewing the report. The memo then argues that since the law allows the officials to review the report, it would be unconstitutional to stop them from changing it. George Orwell couldn’t have done better.
THE ENVIRONMENT The administration has been especially busy weakening regulations that promote clean air and clean water and protect endangered species.
Mr. Bush, or more to the point, Vice President Dick Cheney, came to office determined to dismantle Bill Clinton’s environmental legacy, undo decades of environmental law and keep their friends in industry happy. They have had less success than we feared, but only because of the determined opposition of environmental groups, courageous members of Congress and protests from citizens. But the White House keeps trying.
Mr. Bush’s secretary of the interior, Dirk Kempthorne, has recently carved out significant exceptions to regulations requiring expert scientific review of any federal project that might harm endangered or threatened species (one consequence will be to relieve the agency of the need to assess the impact of global warming on at-risk species). The department also is rushing to remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list — again. The wolves were re-listed after a federal judge ruled the government had not lived up to its own recovery plan.
In coming weeks, we expect the Environmental Protection Agency to issue a final rule that would weaken a program created by the Clean Air Act, which requires utilities to install modern pollution controls when they upgrade their plants to produce more power. The agency is also expected to issue a final rule that would make it easier for coal-fired power plants to locate near national parks in defiance of longstanding Congressional mandates to protect air quality in areas of special natural or recreational value.
Interior also is awaiting E.P.A.’s concurrence on a proposal that would make it easier for mining companies to dump toxic mine wastes in valleys and streams.
And while no rules changes are at issue, the interior department also has been rushing to open up millions of acres of pristine federal land to oil and gas exploration. We fear that, in coming weeks, Mr. Kempthorne will open up even more acreage to the commercial development of oil shale, a hugely expensive and environmentally risky process that even the oil companies seem in no hurry to begin. He should not.
Soon after the election, Michael Leavitt, the secretary of health and human services, is expected to issue new regulations aimed at further limiting women’s access to abortion, contraceptives and information about their reproductive health care options.
Existing law allows doctors and nurses to refuse to participate in an abortion. These changes would extend the so-called right to refuse to a wide range of health care workers and activities including abortion referrals, unbiased counseling and provision of birth control pills or emergency contraception, even for rape victims.
The administration has taken other disturbing steps in recent weeks. In late September, the I.R.S. restored tax breaks for banks that take big losses on bad loans inherited through acquisitions. Now we learn that JPMorgan Chase and others are planning to use their bailout funds for mergers and acquisitions, transactions that will be greatly enhanced by the new tax subsidy.
One last-minute change Mr. Bush won’t be making: He apparently has decided not to shut down the prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — the most shameful symbol of his administration’s disdain for the rule of law.
Mr. Bush has said it should be closed, and his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, and his secretary of defense, Robert Gates, pushed for it. Proposals were prepared, including a plan for sending the real bad guys to other countries for trial. But Mr. Cheney objected, and the president has refused even to review the memos. He will hand this mess off to his successor.
We suppose there is some good news in all of this. While Mr. Bush leaves office on Jan. 20, 2009, he has only until Nov. 20 to issue “economically significant” rule changes and until Dec. 20 to issue other changes. Anything after that is merely a draft and can be easily withdrawn by the next president.
Unfortunately, the White House is well aware of those deadlines.
The Republican National Committee has taken out a $5 million line of credit to help fund last minute efforts to keep Senate Democrats from winning a filibuster-proof 60 seat majority, according to an official with the committee.
Of the $5 million, $2 million is being directly transferred to the National Republican Senatorial Committee while $3 million is being devoted to coordinated expenditures that began over the last week.
“This effort not only helps fortify senators but it’s good for the whole Republican ticket,” said the RNC official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “This is an investment in the entire ticket in addition to an unprecedented get out the vote effort.”
With the White House apparently slipping away and House Republicans looking at losses of 20 or more seats, the Senate is being painted as the last, best chance for Republicans to hold some semblance of power within Congress.
Right now, three states are largely seen as near-certain Democratic pickups: Virginia, New Mexico, and Colorado.
The RNC line of credit is almost certain to be spent on a handful of vulnerable Republican incumbents who face varying levels of peril. That list includes North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole, Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith, Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman, Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens among others.
The decision by the RNC to help fund a series of Senate contest shows that national GOP strategists see the Senate as their firewall in next week’s election.
Will it change things? It’s very hard to know with so much volatility in the environment. But, it does show the RNC is willing to do everything it can to hold strong against the onrushing Democratic wave.
Here Karl Rove was left defending his own ethics ~ possibly evidence of a conscience?
Here’s when someone thought they would go up and arrest Rove – all on the same day!
This should be called trickle down voting – give more and more to the Dems – and the Republicans can wait for the trickle down effect to kick in !!
It would be just like the Republican’s plan for the country – give more and more and more to the wealthiest few – and the average Joe can then wait for the trickle down economic effect to bring benefits to their lives !![Fine print: At times those given more and more simply shift their funds overseas – which may mean that there could be less and less to trickle down to meet the everyday needs of the average Joe.]
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Kay Hagan for U.S. Senate (North Carolina)
|As a state Senator in North Carolina, Kay Hagan has been an effective leader in the fight for better public schools and fiscal responsibility. Hagan is taking on incumbent Sen. Elizabeth Dole. If elected, Hagan will fight for sustainable energy, access to health care and more in the Senate. Hagan is in a tight race with an opponent who knows how to raise a lot of money. However, it’s one of the most competitive Senate races for a Democratic challenger. Can you pitch in to help flip this seat? (FEC ID: C00440859)||
Jeff Merkley for U.S. Senate (Oregon)
|Jeff Merkley is running for Senate against Gordon Smith. Merkley is the Democratic Speaker of the House in Oregon. The Oregonian called Jeff’s session as Speaker, “Oregon’s most productive in a generation.” Merkley is pro-choice, pro-environment, pro-worker and supports an exit from Iraq. His opponent, Gordon Smith, was once known as the Senator with the “golden putter.” (FEC ID: C00437277)||
Jim Martin for U.S. Senate (Georgia)
|This is an exciting race that is tightening up as we speak. Martin is a Vietnam veteran running against conservative Republican, Saxby Chambliss. Chambliss won his seat by smearing another Vietnam veteran, Max Cleland in one of the ugliest races of the last eight years. Martin wants to cut taxes for the middle class, increase consumer protections and end corporate welfare. He also opposed the Wall Street bailout. Can you chip in to help him win? (FEC ID: C00447714)||
Betsy Markey for Congress (Colorado’s 4th District)
|Betsy Markey is running against one of the most conservative members of the House–Marilyn Musgrave. Musgrave is famous for leading the charge for a Constitutional amendment to bar any recognition of same-sex marriage or “legal incidents thereof.” Markey is unequivocal about the need to end the war in Iraq and wants to expand access to affordable healthcare for all Americans. Can you chip in to help her win? (FEC ID: C00436063)||