Monday, November 24, 2008

Obama unveils team for stimulus, jobs

As expected, president-elect names Geithner as his treasury secretary

CHICAGO - President-elect Barack Obama on Monday unveiled his economic team amid expectations that he would urge the next Congress to quickly pass a massive stimulus plan that would dwarf even his campaign proposals to salvage the country's financial wreckage.

"I've sought leaders who could offer both sound judgment and fresh thinking, both a depth of experience and a wealth of bold new ideas — and most of all, who share my fundamental belief that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers," Obama said at the start of a Chicago press conference. "That in this country, we rise and fall as one nation, as one people."

As expected, the president-elect named Timothy Geithner, the New York Federal Reserve president, as his treasury secretary. Wall Street stocks jumped on Friday when word of Geithner's appointment began to leak.

Geithner, 47, will team with Lawrence Summers, a treasury secretary under former President Bill Clinton and former Harvard University president, who will take over the National Economic Council.

Obama also named three others on his economic team:

Christina Romer as director of the Council of Economic Advisers. Romer is a U.C. Berkeley professor of economics, and co-director of the Program in Monetary Economics at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Melody Barnes as director of the Domestic Policy Council. Co-director of the Agency Review Working Group for the Obama transition team, she also served as the senior domestic policy advisor to Obama during the campaign. Barnes previously worked at the Center for American Progress and as chief counsel to Senator Ted Kennedy.
Heather Higginbottom as deputy director of the Domestic Policy Council. She was Obama's policy director during the campaign and earlier served as Sen. John Kerry's legislative director.

Democratic officials also said Obama plans to name New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson as commerce secretary, adding a prominent Hispanic and one-time Democratic presidential rival to his Cabinet. Richardson served as U.N. ambassador in the Clinton administration and later as energy secretary.

Obama was speaking against a backdrop of increasing calls for him to assert himself well before he takes office Jan. 20 in the midst of the most severe U.S. financial crisis in eight decades.

In the latest bailout, the U.S. government announced late Sunday it had agreed to shoulder hundreds of billions of dollars in possible losses at the banking giant Citigroup, and to put a fresh $20 billion into the stricken company.

Obama's team will confront an economic crisis that continues to deepen in spite of hundreds of billions of dollars in federal emergency spending in recent weeks.

"The stakes are high," said Julian Zelizer, professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. "This is a really dangerous moment ... for the economy. It’s almost as if no one’s in control. Now people are looking to (Obama) to find out at least what’s going to happen in the next few months, if not the next few weeks."

Except for one short news conference, Obama has kept a low public profile since his November 4 victory over Republican John McCain, remaining in Chicago to pick his Cabinet but not formally announcing any of his choices.

Other members of Obama’s team are likely to include:

Peter Orszag, a former Clinton administration economic aide, as the White House budget director. Orszag has been director of the Congressional Budget Office since January 2007.

Jason Furman, Obama’s top economic policy coordinator during the presidential campaign, is likely to get a senior role, probably as the No. 2 official at the National Economic Council.

Tax cut/stimulus package

Top aides said Sunday that Obama wants Congress to use its large Democratic majority when it convenes Jan. 6 to prepare tax cuts for low- and middle-income earners as part of the massive government intervention designed to pull the country out of its frightening economic nosedive.

Some economists have endorsed spending up to $600 billion to revive the economy. Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, and Clinton-era Labor Secretary Robert Reich, a member of Obama's economic advisory board, both suggested $500 billion to $700 billion.

Before winning the presidency Nov. 4, Obama had said he looked to create a $175 billion stimulus package. While the new plan will be significantly larger, it was expected to incorporate his campaign ideas for tax cuts and new jobs in energy technologies to lessen dependence on foreign oil and to reduce carbon emissions.

"I don't know what the number is going to be, but it's going to be a big number," Goolsbee said on Sunday. "It has to be. The point is to, kind of, get people back on track and startle the thing into submission."

Over the weekend, Obama directed his team to erect a plan to create 2.5 million new jobs by the end of 2010, and aides said his broader economic program was designed to quickly offer tax relief to lower- and middle-income earners.

No tax hike on wealthiest for now

Significantly the plan would not offer an immediate tax increase on wealthy taxpayers. During the campaign, Obama said he would raise taxes on people making more than $250,000.

"There won’t be any tax increases in the January package," said one Obama aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the details of the Obama package have not been fleshed out.

Obama could delay any tax increase to 2011, when current Bush administration tax cuts expire.

House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio urged Obama to make that explicit. "Why wouldn’t we have the president-elect say, 'I am not going to raise taxes on any American in my first two years in office?'"

'Want to hit the ground running'

Obama senior adviser David Axelrod earlier unambiguously voiced Obama's overall expectations.

"Our hope is that the new Congress begins work on this as soon as they take office in early January, because we don't have time to waste here, " he said on Sunday. "We want to hit the ground running on January 20th."

Congress will have two weeks to hold hearings and write legislation between its return to Washington in early January and Obama's inauguration.

Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the second-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, acknowledged a readiness for quick action.

"We expect to have during the first couple of weeks of January a package for the president's consideration when he takes office."

Axelrod also warned executives of the U.S. auto industry to draw up plans to retool and restructure their industry if they want the billions of dollars they are seeking from Congress. Otherwise, Axelrod said, "there is very little taxpayers can do to help them."

Fighting terrorism

Obama also delved into one of the most pressing foreign policy issues facing his presidency, calling Afghan President Hamid Karzai by telephone and telling him that fighting terrorism there and in the region would be a top priority, Karzai's office said on Sunday.

The Saturday conversation between Obama and Karzai was the first reported contact between the two since the Nov. 4 election. The United States has some 32,000 American troops in Afghanistan, a number that will be increased by thousands next year.

Fighting terrorism and the insurgency "in Afghanistan, the region and the world is a top priority," Karzai's office quoted Obama as saying during the conversation.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Great expectations: Obama will have to deliver

Over and over, Barack Obama told voters if they stuck with him "we will change this country and change the world." They did, and now their expectations for him to deliver are firmly planted on his shoulders. Many supporters greeted his victory with euphoria.

Impatient for a new American era and overcome by a black man's historic ascension to the White House, they took his achievement for their own — weeping, dancing in the streets, blaring happy horns into Wednesday morning.

But campaign rhetoric soon collides with the gritty duties of governing, and hard realities stand in Obama's way.

The youthful president-elect appears to know this. His victory speech emphasized humility far more than his fabled confidence, with remarks heavily leavened by references to the difficulties before the nation.

He declared "change has come to America" and closed with his "yes we can" campaign slogan, but not before speaking of the certainty of setbacks. "The road ahead will be long," Obama warned. "We may not get there in one year or even one term."

Atop Obama's challenge list is the global and domestic turmoil that he inherits. None of it is his own making, but it will shape his presidency before he lifts one finger.

The worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Two wars in unstable, hostile lands. Other foreign hot spots such as Pakistan and Congo, nuclear standoffs with North Korea and Iran. A warming planet.

Then there are high health care and energy costs, sunken home values, wiped-out retirement and investment accounts. A federal deficit that is exploding as the nation throws money at its economic problems, sure to crimp Obama's ability to spend his way to solutions.

He also faces challenging political realities.

Obama has a largely liberal voting record and owes a debt to the left wing of the Democratic Party, which mobilized millions on his behalf. These folks embraced his promises to end the Iraq war, move toward universal health care coverage and address harsh terrorist interrogation practices.

But Obama also appealed to the broader electorate as a pragmatist who pledged virtually party-blind government. He will have to decide whether it is better to disappoint the more liberal troops out of the gate or wait until later.

"A lot of people are not going to be happy in the first two years," said Democratic strategist Joe Trippi.

Matt Bennett of the center-left group Third Way said that Obama is for centrist ideas such as middle-class tax cuts and seems likely to wait on contentious goals such as overhauling the U.S. health care system.

"We do believe him when he says he's a moderate," Bennett said. "We think that's how he's going to govern."

Once the changeover happens, those who believed his "change we can believe in" slogan will want things to move quickly.

How might he go about it?

Even after nearly two years in the spotlight, little is understood about the 47-year-old first-term senator's approach to leadership. His resume: community organizer, eight years as state legislator, and less than four as U.S. senator.

As a lawmaker, he has displayed a knack for working with Republicans on a handful of favorite issues. But he has devoted most of his time in the Senate to running for president. Unlike the past seven presidents, he was never a governor or vice president. And unlike John F. Kennedy, the last senator to move directly to the presidency, Obama has not commanded troops in wartime.

Personally, he's a bit of an enigma, too.

He did lead his campaign, a huge, nearly billion-dollar operation. Throughout, he showed himself to have a detached, cerebral decision-making style that can sometimes seems out of sync with his natural charisma.

He also showed himself to be a highly disciplined, CEO-style manager. The leak-proof, tightly managed and orderly Obama operation mimics the Bush White House, and flows from "No Drama Obama" himself — a man so focused that he didn't give himself a day off from working out, even the morning after winning the presidency.

In keeping with his measured demeanor, Obama did nothing flashy his first day as president-elect, keeping to breakfast with his family and a thank-you visit to campaign workers.

All that said, he's got plenty of things in his favor.

First and foremost, he was elected exactly the way he wanted to be — in an electoral landslide. He took not only traditionally Democratic states, but once-solid Republican territory too. That allows him to claim, credibly, a broad mandate for his ideas.

So the Democrats who run Capitol Hill, for all their savvy in the ways of Washington and potential disagreements with their president, might think twice about clashing too aggressively with him. On a more practical level, they will not want to risk missing out during the midterm election cycle two years from now on Obama's eye-popping fundraising skills.

Further, the much-vaunted technological side of Obama's campaign means he could appeal directly to voters around recalcitrant lawmakers, using e-mail, text messages, Facebook and other tools.

Said Trippi, "I would not like to be a member of Congress standing in the way of passing his energy bill."

Still, Obama's honeymoon with the public — both anxious and hopeful — could be fragile.

One of the many revelers who spontaneously flocked to the White House after Obama's win, chanting, screaming and waving signs like, "Why Wait? Evict Bush Now," summed it up.

"I came down here to make a prayer ... that we'll be able to change the nation and the world," said Hollis Gentry.

Associated Press writers Deb Riechmann and Charles Babington contributed to this story.

Link to Source Article:

Obama Is Elected President as Racial Barrier Falls

By Damon Winter/The New York Times

Senator Barack Obama with his wife, Michelle, and Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. with his wife, Jill, in Chicago on Tuesday night.

Barack Hussein Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States on Tuesday, sweeping away the last racial barrier in American politics with ease as the country chose him as its first black chief executive.

"Now comes the tough part, of course. But the symbolism of this magnificent choice by the American people cannot but illuminate the world."

The election of Mr. Obama amounted to a national catharsis — a repudiation of a historically unpopular Republican president and his economic and foreign policies, and an embrace of Mr. Obama’s call for a change in the direction and the tone of the country.

But it was just as much a strikingly symbolic moment in the evolution of the nation’s fraught racial history, a breakthrough that would have seemed unthinkable just two years ago.

Mr. Obama, 47, a first-term senator from Illinois, defeated Senator John McCain of Arizona, 72, a former prisoner of war who was making his second bid for the presidency.

To the very end, Mr. McCain’s campaign was eclipsed by an opponent who was nothing short of a phenomenon, drawing huge crowds epitomized by the tens of thousands of people who turned out to hear Mr. Obama’s victory speech in Grant Park in Chicago.

Mr. McCain also fought the headwinds of a relentlessly hostile political environment, weighted down with the baggage left to him by President Bush and an economic collapse that took place in the middle of the general election campaign.

“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer,” said Mr. Obama, standing before a huge wooden lectern with a row of American flags at his back, casting his eyes to a crowd that stretched far into the Chicago night.

“It’s been a long time coming,” the president-elect added, “but tonight, because of what we did on this date in this election at this defining moment, change has come to America.”

The focus shifted quickly on Wednesday to the daunting challenges facing the president-elect, with his supporters offering sober reflections of what lies ahead.

“We’re in deep trouble,” said Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat and leader in the civil rights movement, on the Today show on NBC.

“We’ve got to get our economy out of the ditch, end the war in Iraq and bring our young men and women home, provide health care for all our citizens,” Mr. Lewis said. “And he’s going to call on us, I believe, to sacrifice. We all must give up something.”

Mr. McCain delivered his concession speech under clear skies on the lush lawn of the Arizona Biltmore, in Phoenix, where he and his wife had held their wedding reception. The crowd reacted with scattered boos as he offered his congratulations to Mr. Obama and saluted the historical significance of the moment.

“This is a historic election, and I recognize the significance it has for African-Americans and for the special pride that must be theirs tonight,” Mr. McCain said, adding, “We both realize that we have come a long way from the injustices that once stained our nation’s reputation.”

Not only did Mr. Obama capture the presidency, but he led his party to sharp gains in Congress. This puts Democrats in control of the House, the Senate and the White House for the first time since 1995, when Bill Clinton was in office.

The day shimmered with history as voters began lining up before dawn, hours before polls opened, to take part in the culmination of a campaign that over the course of two years commanded an extraordinary amount of attention from the American public.

As the returns became known, and Mr. Obama passed milestone after milestone —Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Iowa and New Mexico — people rolled spontaneously into the streets to celebrate what many described, with perhaps overstated if understandable exhilaration, a new era in a country where just 143 years ago, Mr. Obama, as a black man, could have been owned as a slave.

For Republicans, especially the conservatives who have dominated the party for nearly three decades, the night represented a bitter setback and left them contemplating where they now stand in American politics.

Republican leaders began on Wednesday what will likely be a lengthy re-examination of their brand, as Democrats hope to shape a long-term realignment of the electoral map.

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Monday, November 3, 2008

If Obama Loses, Who Gets Blamed?

His loss would be disastrous for the media and political establishment.

By John Dickerson

If Barack Obama wins the election, it will be historic. And if he loses, it will be pretty historic, too: It would mark the biggest collective error in the history of the media and political establishment.

An Obama loss would mean the majority of pundits, reporters and analysts were wrong. Pollsters would have to find a new line of work, since Obama has been ahead in all 159 polls taken in the last six weeks. The massive crowds that have regularly turned out to see Obama would turn out to have meant nothing. This collective failure of elites would provide such a blast of schadenfreude that Republicans like Rush Limbaugh would be struck speechless (another historic first).

This situation lends a feeling of unreality to the proceedings as we begin to measure the time until Election Day in hours. It is the elephant on the campaign plane. No one is letting on. Journalists aren't supposed to. Plus, we've been wrong so often, and politics can be so unpredictable, it would be dumb to say that Obama is going to win big.

John McCain is still running hard, and Obama isn't doing any premature celebrating. Members of his staff are on a hair-trigger for any stories that might suggest he or they are displaying overconfidence. Aides said Obama was reacting to the apparent good news with trademark equilibrium though they did say he was happy to be at the end of his journey. "He's exhilarated," said David Axelrod. "He smells the finish line."

Despite Obama's even keel, there are a few small signs that suggest Obama is feeling good. He's flashing that magazine-cover smile, the one that takes over his face, a little more often. On the stump, where he's given nearly the exact same speech for a week, he's started to show some of the looseness of his earlier campaign. "Don't be hoodwinked," he said of McCain's claims, a standard line, to which he added a less regular filigree: "Don't be bamboozled, don't fall for the okey-doke."

In Columbus, Obama even gave a shout-out to McCain. Talking about the need to improve the political discourse, he said that also included the need for more humor. "John McCain was funny yesterday on Saturday Night Live," he said. "I didn't see it last night but I saw it on YouTube. That's what our politics should be about, the ability to laugh at ourselves."

Obama has had the most fun with Dick Cheney, who recently said he was "delighted" to endorse John McCain. "You've never seen Dick Cheney delighted, but he is," Obama told a crowd here, chucking to himself. "It's kinda hard to picture, but it's true." He went on to congratulate McCain. "He had to work hard for it!" The rain started pouring in the middle of his Cheney routine, but Obama didn't miss a beat. "Did you notice that it all started when I started talking about Dick Cheney? We've been through a nation of storms but sunshine is on the way."

In Cleveland, Bruce Springsteen opened for Obama. When he was finished, the Obama family joined him, and Springsteen brought up his wife Patty Scialfa and their three kids. Suddenly it was like we were all in the vestibule of a holiday party as The One and The Boss implored their children to step forward and shake the hands.

Share this article on DiggBuzz up!Share this article on BuzzWhen the rally in Cleveland concluded, Obama was drenched but lingered for a moment in front of the crowd, estimated at 80,000, and did a few tiny little dance steps to "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours," the Stevie Wonder song that plays after each rally the minute he stops speaking.

It's hard to guess at a candidate's inner feelings. It is particularly hard with Obama, whose emotions are as carefully constrained as a Bonsai tree and who keeps the press at a chilly distance. It could be that Obama is just happy to be with his family. Since Saturday, Obama's wife Michelle and children, Malia and Sasha, have been with him. The girls are clearly delighted to be in his company. At most stops, Michelle introduces her husband and implores the audience to help her husband finish the quest he started in their name 21 months ago. "I would love to give credit to my husband," she said, "but this race is not about him but all of us, all of you. He's taken us 85 percent of the way. The rest is on us."

Obama told the crowd in Cleveland that the family time is shaping his mood. "The last few days I've been feeling good," he said. "You start thinking that maybe we might win an election November 4."

Great: Now another American institution could be in peril: If Obama loses, we may have reason to doubt the power of family, too.

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