Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Obama Officials Tell Citibank To Ditch Plans For $50 Million Private Jet

According to a report from ABC News, President Obama is not taking kindly to corporate greed, especially when it's funded by taxpayer money.

The high-flying execs at Citigroup caved under pressure from President Obama and decided today to abandon plans for a luxurious new $50 million corporate jet from France...

ABC News has learned that Monday officials of the Obama administration called Citigroup about the company's new $50 million corporate jet and told execs to "fix it."

On Monday, the news broke that bailed out bank was going through with its $50 million private jet purchase even though it had recieved $45 billion in government funds:

The New York Post's Jennifer Keil and Chuck Bennett reported in Monday's paper that Citigroup, which has received $45 billion in government bailout funds, is about to upgrade to a new $50 million, twelve-seat corporate jet.

The plane, the Dassault Falcon 7X, is a luxurious jet with a range of 5,950 nautical miles (meaning it can fly from New York to all of Europe and South America, as far east as Riyadh, and as far west as Honolulu or Petropavlovsk, Russia). The Post reports it has "plush interior with leather seats, sofas and a customizable entertainment center."

Nice huh?

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Al-Arabiya's Game Changing Interview with Barack Obama: A New Punctuation Point in US Foreign Policy

Warch the interview here:

Hisham Melhem, Washington Bureau Chief for Al Arabiya, was trying to chase down an interview with former U.S. Senator and new presidential envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell. Pounding all of his channels, friends, networks, Melhem was informed Sunday that "something" might be in the works -- but keep expectations modest.

By Monday morning (yesterday), Melhem was told that he'd likely get Mitchell, and then later in the morning, he received a call telling him that he'd "either be very happy, or made miserable" by what the White House was planning. And then Melhem was asked if he would like to interview President Barack Obama at 5 pm Monday -- but that the bureau would have to keep the interview secret until it happened.

The Al Arabiya Bureau Chief said that was not a problem and that he'd adjust his schedule -- with enormous grin accompanying his response.

Al Arabiya is part of a major Arabic news network, considered second in global coverage to Al Jazeera, which may yet see a nod from the Obama administration down the road -- but seeing that George W. Bush may have joked and/or been serious about bombing an Al Jazeera office in Baghdad, Al Jazeera may still be too much of a leap for the bounding forward new US President.

Obama's exchange with the Al Arabiya journalist (here is transcript), which was only supposed to last about six or seven minutes got extended a bit as press secretary Robert Gibbs saw how well it was going.

This interview is the initial punctuation point in Obama's global public diplomacy. By most accounts, Obama's decision -- shocking to some, refreshing to others -- to talk to the Muslim world in his first formal, sit down press interview hit the ball out of the park.

While Al Arabiya's Bureau Chief did query Obama on which Muslim capital he would first go to in the world (I think it will be Jakarta), Obama's interview -- which Al Arabiya quickly got up on YouTube and also broadcast all around the world through their own networks -- is consistent with Obama-style Facebook political networking and activism. He is using social networks and a hybrid of new media and old media to change the diplomatic game.

It doesn't matter which Muslim capital Obama goes to now because he just reached out to the hearts and minds of Muslims in every capital and frankly, Muslims everywhere -- including inside the United States.

Obama stood by America's alliance with Israel, but said also that Israel and others would have to make sacrifices to achieve stable peace.

He is telegraphing to the Muslim world that the lives of those who live in the Middle East and who are Muslim, wherever they are, matter -- and can't be discounted. Former Ambassador to the UN John Bolton used to decry any effort at talking about the moral equivalency of a death of an innocent in Palestine or in Lebanon when compared to the death or maiming of an Israeli innocent.

Obama talked about the needs and tragedies that have befallen Palestinians and Israelis. And he offered hope to Arab citizens and talked of health care and education -- a vision of the future, that could challenge more rigid groups that have been resisting engagement with the US and Europe and who have been strident in their opposition to Israel.

Barack Obama's first moves have been utterly brilliant. And in his interview, most of it focused on the importance of ending the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. He acknowledged the interconnectedness of the problems in the region, but he noted how important the Middle East Peace process and crisis is.

And I think he was responding personally and sincerely to Prince Turki al-Faisal's warning in the Financial Times this week that the Arab Peace Proposal offered by King Abdullah would not remain on the table indefinitely, and that the window could be closing in the wake of the Gaza crisis. Obama was asking Prince Turki, who previously served as head of Saudi intelligence for more than two decades and as Saudi Ambassador to the US, and the King of Saudi Arabia to hang in there a bit more. Obama's messenging was subtle but clear.

Some will argue that this is not much. That this is optics -- not substantive change.

I totally disagree. Ron Suskind was on target when he reported several years ago that Bush administration officials believed that they could "make their own reality."

Presidents -- in the right period of their presidencies -- can make and shape their own reality. They do so at their peril because someone could eventually demonstrate a gap between the fiction the President is creating and the reality everyone else is grounded in.

But Obama gets to make his own reality at the moment -- and is imposing it -- in a respectful, humble, and powerful way.

His style matters -- just like Bush's swagger did -- and it is this act of humility towards the Muslim world which may animate hope in the nations around the world and in the Middle East specifically.

Everyone will have to adjust now. The Saudis will leave the peace deal on the table. The Israelis have to remake themselves -- even if Netanyahu succeeds Olmert. Hamas will have to find a way to become differently postured -- if not on Israel, then at least on some level of international acceptability with American partners. Arab stakeholders are going to have to snap out of positions shaped more by status quo thinking and inertia that things will never change and get with the Obama program.

What Obama did has provided a new punctuation point in American foreign policy, and it is not "continuous" foreign policy at all. This is a new game and a very impressive new leader.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Two-Thirds Approve of Obama's Start

The Obama PresidencyPrintShareText SizeAAAWASHINGTON (Jan. 25) - Barack Obama is enjoying about a two-thirds approval rating for his first days as president, a poll released Saturday found.

The Gallup Organization survey found 68 percent of Americans approve of Obama's performance as the nation's chief executive. That's a number near the high end for new presidents, but short of President John F. Kennedy's 72 percent in 1961.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

President Obama’s first 100 days

The first 100 days

The following 2008 article discusses Obama’s first 100 days and what problems and issues should first be addressed under Obama’s presidency:

Good article!

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

President Obama's Inauguration: Hits and Misses

U.S. President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle examine the bible used for his swearing-in ceremony.

* We've all talked about now-President Barack Obama's historic inauguration for months. From momentous moments to little flubs, there was a lot to see on Inauguration Day. Here's our list of hits and misses from today:

Hit: The Speech

The jury (aka, pundit spin) is still out, but the initial reaction is that Obama's speech was both pragmatic and hopeful. He acknowledged the nation's grim economic problems, but assured the crowd he would quickly get to work. As the New York Times reports:

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."

Miss: First-timers

As first-timers on the inaugural stage, no one can blame President Obama and Chief Justice John Roberts for being nervous. Debate initially swirled around who actually messed up the oath, but MSNBC's play-by-play clears it up.

First, Obama jumped in before the "do solemnly swear" phrase, which seemed to throw the chief justice off his stride. Roberts rendered the next phrase as "that I will execute the office of President to the United States faithfully."

"That I will execute," Obama repeated, then paused like a school teacher prompting his student with a slight nod. Roberts took another shot at it: "The off ... faithfully the pres ... the office of President of the United States."

While it's technically a flub, it was also nice to see a little levity during a serious moment. AP explains that Roberts will most certainly get another chance to get it right.

Roberts is the youngest chief justice in more than 200 years. He easily could still be in his role a quarter century from now, long after Obama has left office.

He and Obama are similar in many ways. Both are late baby boomers. Roberts is 53, Obama 47. And both got their law degrees from Harvard and made rapid ascents to power. But their politics diverge sharply.

Hit: Huge crowds

According to the AP, more than 1 million people squeezed into the National Mall to see Barack Obama sworn-in as the first African American president of the United States. Despite the crush and long hours on their feet, the crowds were filled with enthusiasm, hope and a little reality.

Cleveland Wesley, 56, Texas: "Houston didn't desegregate until 1967. Our formative years were in segregation...This situation is so emotional, it's basically an unreal experience."

Jackie Applewhite, 48, Illinois: "It's something I can share with my students...I can encourage my students to study and tell them that education is the key to success."

Larry Stroschien, 69, S.D.: "President-elect Obama is just walking into a shipwreck ... I think this man has more challenges in front of him than any since FDR."

Miss: Clinton confirmation

Several members of Obama's Cabinet and high-level appointees were confirmed in the Senate after Obama's swearing-in. One person who will be hanging back: Hillary Clinton. AP reports that Sen. John Cornyn of Texas is blocking her confirmation:

Cornyn's spokesman says the senator has concerns about foreign donations to Bill Clinton's foundation:

"Senator Cornyn is a strong proponent of complete transparency and has fought for as much throughout his time in office. He is keeping all of his options on the table."

His objection could delay Clinton's confirmation by a day or two, but barring any extraordinary circumstances, she is widely expected to win approval from the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Hit: First Fashion

No, not Barack. We're talking about the Obama women: First lady Michelle Obama wowed the crowds in a sparkly yellow-gold sheath dress with a matching coat by Isabel Toledo. Always the practical shopper, she topped her outfit with olive-green gloves from J.Crew and green shoes. First daughters Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, strutted their fashion feet in colorful pink and blue coats, also from J. Crew.

Stylists like red-carpet and editorial stylist Mary Alice Stephenson swooned as well. From AP:

"What's so powerful about Michelle Obama is we all see ourselves in her. She's a modern woman who is fashionable and even flamboyant in her style and she is still taken seriously," she said. "The dress is elegant, appropriate and has the individual style stamp of Michelle Obama and is timely for a woman in her 40s — and she wears embellishment during the day. Hallelujah!"

Ruben Toledo, husband of designer Isabel, revealed to Women's Wear Daily that they didn't even know that Mrs. Obama had picked one of her outfits:

"We're levitating - we really are," Ruben Toledo said minutes after watching Michelle Obama on CNN in an ensemble by his wife Isabel. 'We had no idea. We hoped she would wear something because she has bought Isabel's clothes before. We never know what's going to happen," he said. "'It's just another shock, but a great shock.'"

Miss: Troubled Wall Street

But not even the historic inauguration could lift Wall Street out of the doldrums. As AP reports, immediately following Obama's speech, the major indexes fell more than two percent:

Traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange paused at times to watch the inauguration ceremony and Obama's remarks, but the transition of power didn't erase investors' concerns about the struggling economy.

At the closing bell, major indexes were down more than four percent and the Dow Jones Industrials tumbled 332 points.

Inauguration Day isn't even over yet, but the clock has already started counting down Obama's First 100 Days.

Lili Ladaga

God Bless President Obama!

2009-01-20 12:09:47

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Text of President Obama's Inaugural Address

OBAMA: My fellow citizens:

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because we the people have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land — a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. 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.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted — for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act — not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions — who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

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. 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. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account — to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day — because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control — and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort — even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. 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.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment — a moment that will define a generation — it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence — the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed — why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

"Let it be told to the future world ... that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet (it)."

America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

2009-01-20 12:09:47

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Monday, January 19, 2009

One Nation, After All

How Obama is changing racial politics in America.

WHAT OBAMA MEANS - For Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Future

(A review by Richard Thompson Ford of the book written by Jabari Asim.)

Barack Obama's historic struggle to become the nation's first black president is over, but the fight over the meaning of his victory has only begun.

Obama's victory is the culmination of decades of black political struggle, social advancement and cultural achievement. Obama promises to continue this cultural transformation with a new style of racial politics: more productive and less antagonistic than that of the "charlatans and camera hogs with whom we are all too familiar" (a group in which the Reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson figure prominently) but no less committed to social justice. Asim, editor of the NAACP's journal the Crisis and former deputy editor of Book World, insists that Obama is the latest and most inspiring of a long line of "dedicated champions of black advancement."

Because of Obama "it's becoming cool to be thoughtful, temperate and monogamous," writes Asim, and Americans "may come to associate blackness with brilliance, thoughtfulness, confidence, and radical optimism."

By contrast, Obama's detractors, left and right, have suggested that the new president inevitably will be limited by the racial politics of the past. Last year the conservative commentator Shelby Steele argued in A Bound Man that Obama was tethered, by his liberal ideology and racial loyalty, to a counterproductive politics of grievance that exaggerates white racism and denies the need for individual responsibility among blacks.

By contrast, left-leaning black social commentators such as Cornel West, Tavis Smiley and Jesse Jackson have complained that, to win elections, Obama pandered to white voters, ignoring his responsibility to blacks.

Asim has the better argument: Black politics is undergoing a healthy transformation away from the confrontations of the culture wars and toward a new maturity. This change means that black politicians can faithfully and effectively serve multi-racial constituencies without being seen as sellouts, Americans of all races can grow comfortable with black role models and authority figures, and blacks can acknowledge their internal divisions without fear of disintegration.

As Asim argues, "Obama's rise doesn't spell the end of oppression, but it exposes the fallacy of referring to all black Americans as particularly oppressed or oppressed specifically because of their blackness."

What Obama Means dispatches a formidable battery of references to pop and high culture with the machine-gun pacing of a music video. Often, the results are both entertaining and insightful. Asim's enthusiasm for his subject keeps the reader engaged, and the strength of his underlying thesis about changing race relations usually grounds his heavily anecdotal exposition.

But the rapid fire can turn scattershot. For example, in a scant four paragraphs, W.E.B. Du Bois competes for attention with Booker T. Washington, Amiri Baraka, Haki Madhubuti, Malcolm X, Ida B. Wells, Paul Robeson, Langston Hughes, Fannie Lou Hamer, James Baldwin and Edward Said -- not to mention Barack Obama. In such tight space Asim can't develop that crowd of examples or explain their relevance to his larger thesis; he can do little more than refer to them and race on.

The book is most persuasive when Asim's examples stick closely to Obama's distinctive strengths: The chapters on politics and oratory are far stronger than those that compare Obama to professional athletes and popular musicians. In the weaker passages, the attempts to connect pop cultural figures to Obama occasionally misfire. For instance, Asim argues that Obama's biography parallels that of the musician Prince as told in the film "Purple Rain."

But the connections are superficial (both men are of mixed parentage, each struggled with his identity before finding his voice), and although Asim clearly doesn't intend to insult either one, the comparison to an artist infamous for his eccentricity, emotional volatility and narcissism trivializes Obama.

What Obama Means makes a compelling case for optimism about Obama's presidency and the coming changes in U.S. race relations. But Asim lacks critical distance, a quality that, perhaps, can come only with greater historical distance. Obama is a walking Rorschach test, a reflection of our racial aspirations and anxieties. Steele thought Obama was bound by the politics of racial grievance because Steele believes that that is the defining weakness of modern racial politics.

West and Smiley worry that Obama will sell out the black poor because they think the black elite is riddled with sellouts. Similarly, Asim sees Obama as the harbinger of the type of racial politics that Asim himself thinks we need. Such reactions, whether critical or adulatory, don't do justice to Obama because they treat him as an avatar of his race, rather than as an individual with his own character and ideas.

Seeing Obama as a symbol, not a man, makes it easy to criticize him for imagined or projected defects; it can also make it easy to celebrate him for virtues he has to yet to exhibit. Much about him remains unknown. It is unclear, for instance, how much emphasis Obama will place on past discrimination. While his background as a community organizer suggests he has a deep commitment to racial justice, there's little doubt that some of his supporters think their willingness to back a black candidate for president relieves them (and perhaps the nation as a whole) of responsibility to redress the many persistent effects of America's history of racism.

Asim makes a plausible case that Obama's inauguration will usher in a renewed commitment to social justice tempered by a cool-headed pragmatism -- an end to the divisive and counterproductive racial politics that has come to dominate civil rights activism since the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. But we may be too close to the Obama phenomenon, both psychologically and historically, to get a good read on what Obama means. ·

Richard Thompson Ford is a professor at Stanford Law School and author of "The Race Card: How Bluffing About Bias Makes Race Relations Worse."

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

How Exactly Will Obama Get All His Stuff into the White House?

By Christopher Beam

The "First Movers"?

A moving van is parked outside the White HouseAfter Barack Obama is sworn in on Jan. 20, he and his family will move into the White House. But how exactly will the president-elect get all his belongings into his new home?

Will he hire movers?

Yes. The president-elect is responsible for arranging transportation for his furniture, clothes, and personal effects from Chicago to a White House storage facility in Maryland (where they also keep antiques, Easter decorations, paintings, etc.). The Secret Service oversees the whole process, which usually happens the week before the inauguration. It provides an escort for the moving vehicles and screens all items—books, desks, chairs—before they enter the facility. But Obama has to cover the transportation costs, either with personal funds or money raised for his campaign or transition.

Once the incoming president's stuff is on White House grounds, the residence staff takes custody of his possessions. The chief usher, who coordinates move-in day, provides the staff with White House floor plans and photos that indicate where each item goes.* (The first time Obama visited the White House post-election, he and the chief usher discussed furniture arrangements, food preferences, and other logistical issues.)

The Inauguration Day move-in takes about six hours. It starts at 10:30 a.m., when the sitting president and the first lady have a traditional tea with the president-elect before heading over to Capitol Hill for the swearing-in. Once they leave, the 93-person staff shifts into high gear. (They don't hire outside help for security reasons as well as privacy.)

The operations personnel does the heavy lifting while a housekeeping detail helps prepare the bedrooms, curators make sure the furnishings and d├ęcor are just so, florists worry about bouquet arrangements, and the chefs prepare the post-inauguration dinner. At the same time, the staff moves the ex-president out. Items get loaded into boxes, which get loaded into vans and then military cargo planes that carry everything to the former president's new residence. With only two elevators, it's organized chaos.

Who pays for all this? Congress draws up an annual executive residence budget, which gets a little extra funding every four years to cover move-in costs, such as packing equipment and overtime for staff members. The first family also gets a redecoration fund to cover draperies, carpets, paintings, and other costs.

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Obama will gain from honouring McCain

By James Forsyth

In a classy gesture, Barack Obama is holding an inaugural eve dinner to honour John McCain. (There are other dinners that night for Colin Powell and Joe Biden). But it is also smart politics, as it costs Obama little and gains him much.

McCain is a genuine American hero and the evening will be seen, and is presumably intended to be seen, as a sign that Obama is moving from being the candidate of one party to the president of the whole country. McCain isn’t going to run for president again and his support for various initiatives—think immigration reform and climate change legislation—would give them a pleasing bi-partisan sheen.

The dinner will make Obama’s administration appear bi-partisan without actually having to compromise on policy.

The soft-focus side of bi-partisanship is something that Obama has excelled at throughout his career. His 2004 convention address, which put such rocket boosters under his rise, was an exercise in it. Now, that he is president we can expect much more of it. I suspect that, for example, the meetings with all previous Secretaries of State and Defense that the Bush administration instituted in its second term will become major events. Last week’s lunch for all living presidents was, after all, the idea of Obama’s chief of staff.

The conspicuous appearance of bipartisanship will make it harder for those within the Republican Party who argue that the party shouldn’t cooperate with the incoming president on the grounds that it should want clean hands if everything goes wrong.

McCain, who will be keen to restore his image as a bi-partisan figure after the election campaign, will be in the cooperation camp. It is to Obama’s benefit to boost his standing and isolate those who are reluctant to work with him.

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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Obama Hails an 'Extraordinary Gathering'

First White House reunion of all living former U.S. leaders since 1981

Presidents meet in Oval Office

Jan. 7: President George W. Bush hosts President-elect Obama as well as former Presidents Clinton, Bush Sr. and Carter at the White House for lunch.

President-elect Barack Obama hailed a rare Oval Office gathering of all U.S. presidents as an extraordinary event on Wednesday as the current occupant, President George W. Bush, reminded his predecessors and successor that the office "transcends the individual."

"I just want to thank the president for hosting us," the president-elect said, flanked by former President George H.W. Bush on one side and his son on the other.

Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, both smiling broadly, stood with them.

"All the gentlemen here understand both the pressures and possibilities of this office," Obama said. "For me to have the opportunity to get advice, good counsel and fellowship with these individuals is extraordinary."

In a swift photo opportunity, the current president wished Obama well before all five men headed to a private lunch that lasted about 90 minutes.

"I want to thank the president-elect for joining the ex-presidents for lunch," Bush said, even though he's not quite a member of that club yet.

"One message that I have and I think we all share is that we want you to succeed. Whether we're Democrat or Republican we care deeply about this country," Bush said. "All of us who have served in this office understand that the office itself transcends the individual."

He added: "We wish you all the very best, and so does the country."

Bush and Obama also met privately for roughly 30 minutes. That one-on-one meeting, coming just 13 days before Obama's inauguration, likely focused on grim current events, with war in the Gaza Strip and the economy in a recession.

It had been an entire generation since the nation last saw the tableau of every U.S. president together at the White House. The presidents have gathered at other locations over the years, most recently for the funeral of President Gerald Ford in Washington.

Obama suggested holding the gathering when he met Bush at the White House in November.

All parties seemed determined to keep details of what was discussed confidential.

Describing the lunch only in broad terms after it ended, Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs said: "The president and the former presidents had helpful advice on managing the office, as well as thoughts on the critical issues facing the country right now. The president-elect is anxious to stay in touch with all of them in the coming years."

Obama has sought to strike a balance as the power curve bends his way. Before taking office, he is publicly rallying Congress behind a massive economic stimulus plan. But he remains deferential to Bush on foreign affairs and will not comment on Israel's deadly conflict with Hamas on grounds that doing so would be dangerous for the United States.

"You can't have two administrations running foreign policy at the same time," Obama said at a news conference earlier in the day.

Vice President-elect Joe Biden also held a private meeting with former President Bush at the White House on Wednesday.

'We'll just share war stories'

Considering the bond they hold in history, U.S. presidents get together infrequently, particularly at the White House. And when they are in the same room, it is usually for a milestone or somber moment — a funeral of a world leader, an opening of a presidential library, a commemoration of history.

Not this time.

"It's going to be an interesting lunch," Bush told an interviewer recently. When asked what the five men would talk about, Bush said: "I don't know. I'm sure (Obama's) going to ask us all questions, I would guess. If not, we'll just share war stories."

They have plenty of those, political and otherwise. Their paths to power have long been entwined.

Carter lost the presidency to Ronald Reagan, whose running mate was George H.W. Bush. Bush later won election but lost after one term to Clinton. Then Bush's son, the current president, defeated Clinton's vice president, Al Gore. And this year Obama won after long linking his opponent, John McCain, to Bush.

Campaign rivalries

Those campaign rivalries tend to soften over time as presidents leave the White House and try to adopt the role of statesmen — although Carter, even as an ex-president, has had some critical public words for the current president's foreign policy.

All five men were to pose for a group photo in the Rose Garden, but a January rainstorm scrapped that plan. So the noontime photo opportunity — the media's only glimpse of them — was moved indoors to the Oval Office.

The presidents and Obama were having lunch in a private dining room off the Oval Office, where no one else was expected to join them.

"All of us would love to be flies on the wall and listening to that conversation," White House press secretary Dana Perino said.

The rare presidential joint appearance also offered Bush, who ends his two terms deeply unpopular, to again show he is rising above the fray.

The last White House event to draw the former presidents was a November 2000 celebration in honor of the White House's 200th anniversary. But one of the former presidents, Ronald Reagan, who was afflicted with Alzheimer's, was unable to attend.

All the presidents were last at the White House in 1981: Richard Nixon, Ford, Carter and Reagan, who was president then. The three former presidents were there before leaving as part of the U.S. delegation to the funeral of Egypt's Anwar Sadat, who had been assassinated.

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Monday, January 5, 2009

Obama Plan Includes $300 Billion in Tax Cuts

President-elect Barack Obama plans to include about $300 billion in tax cuts for workers and businesses in his economic recovery program, advisers said Sunday, as his team seeks to win over Congressional skeptics worried that he was too focused on government spending.

The legislation Mr. Obama is developing with Congressional Democrats will devote about 40 percent of the cost to tax cuts, including his centerpiece campaign promise to provide credits up to $500 for most workers, costing roughly $150 billion. The package will also include more than $100 billion in tax incentives for businesses to create jobs and invest in equipment or factories.

The overall economic package, of $675 billion to $775 billion, is taking shape as Mr. Obama arrived in Washington and planned to begin trying to build support in Congress and among the broader public for his approach to stimulating the economy. Mr. Obama, who flew to the capital on Sunday to join his family in a hotel suite while awaiting his inauguration, planned to meet with Congressional leaders on Monday and deliver a speech on Thursday laying the ground for his emerging economic program.

Although some tax cuts were always expected to be included in Mr. Obama’s economic package, his team disclosed the scope and some details of the plans on Sunday at a time when Republicans have begun voicing criticism of what they describe as an open-checkbook approach to spending. By focusing more attention on the tax cuts in the plan, Obama aides hope to frame it as a balanced, pragmatic approach.

Radical reforms

Mr. Obama will use his public events this week to promise what one adviser called “radical reforms” to impose more control over the regular federal budget down the road. Among other areas, the president-elect will focus on changing Pentagon contracting and aid to corporate America, advisers said. He will also designate a chief performance officer and a chief technology officer on Wednesday to help make government more efficient, they said.

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Sunday, January 4, 2009

Memo To Obama: Remember Promises of Humility

By RUSSELL A. MILLER Guest columnist at the Tampa Tribune

In the first year of his presidency George W. Bush was forced to confront the crisis of global terrorism. He responded by aggrandizing his power as president under the theory of a "unitary executive." The controversial and thoroughly repudiated policies that resulted, including warrantless surveillance of Americans' phone conversations, torture, and disregard for the basic constitutional rights of detainees, represented the most sweeping assertion of unchecked executive power in generations.

It was a credit to his campaign that Barak Obama strenuously rejected President Bush's vision of an all-powerful president and promised that, if elected, he would operate within constitutional and statutory restraints that had been flouted by the Bush administration.

That was before Obama won the election and acquired the powerful mantle of the presidency. And that was before it was clear that his first year in office also would be dominated by a crisis, albeit this time taking the form of a severe recession.

But what was worth criticizing with respect to the Bush administration goes equally for the Obama administration. The president-elect campaigned for a less robust presidency. It would be an unfortunate and ironic turn if he now invoked the faltering economy to justify an executive power grab.

To keep his promise President-elect Obama should revisit the $700 billion bailout bill enacted by the lame-duck Congress in September and insist upon congressional oversight of the use of the rescue funds. He should refuse to sign any future legislation that seeks to respond to the economic crisis but fails to ensure the executive branch's political accountability through congressional oversight. He should refuse to follow President Bush's alarming example in awarding billions in emergency bailout dollars to the auto industry when Congress expressly had refused to do so.

In the face of the Bush administration's national security abuses I argued that Congress must restore the checks and balances within which our federal government was meant to operate. I won't change my tune because there is a different party in the White House or because the crisis this time is economic in nature.

Our finely wrought system of constitutional governance gives Congress the responsibility for formulating and enacting policy through deliberative and representative processes. This system makes us our own masters. Threats and crises always have been used to justify expansions of executive power, but doing so fosters unchecked and unaccountable power that often operates beyond our reach and against our interests.

This should have been established, once and for all, by the 1975 Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities. The "Church Committee," as it came to be known after its chairman, Idaho Sen. Frank Church, pursued a sweeping investigation of the executive branch's Cold War abuses in the secretive intelligence and security empire that successive presidents from both parties had built up beyond the reach of Congress.

The 14 volumes of reports the committee produced remain the most comprehensive public accounting of the workings of America's shadowy intelligence community. They reveal a confounding range of compromises and crimes that were justified as necessary to counter the nuclear-armed threat posed by the Soviet Union.

Americans were spied on. Foreign leaders were assassinated. Martin Luther King Jr. was blackmailed. In the words of Frederick A.O. Schwarz Jr., counsel to the Church Committee, these executive excesses did not make us safer and they certainly made us less free. We should have been consulted, via Congress' oversight of these activities, on these dreadful policies.

The parallels between the work of the Church Committee and the Bush administration's abuses in the war on terror are clear. The president again betrayed our highest principles in order to spy on Americans at home and to undertake human rights violations abroad. But the Church Committee stands for a more general lesson that is no less relevant for President-elect Obama as he responds to the worsening economic crisis.

The Church Committee's investigation stands as a monument to faith in constitutional governance and a stubborn commitment to the Founding Fathers' vision of limited and representative government secured by checks and balances, even in the face of serious national trials. Obama is being handed billions of dollars in discretionary authority to confront the economic crisis. He would be wise to wield that power humbly and with due deference to Congress, just like he promised he would.

Russell A. Miller is an associate professor of law at Washington & Lee University School of Law. Contact him at

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Friday, January 2, 2009

Not yet in office, Obama has full plate

by: Viviana Hurtado NECN/ABC

The Obama family left Hawaii, ready to face much colder weather in Chicago before heading to Washington this weekend. Beyond the frigid temperatures, the incoming President will face some of the most daunting international and domestic challenges.

On the top of the list, convincing Congress to support what some economists said could be a trillion-dollar stimulus package to shock the economy out of a deepening recession. But that will require a Presidential lobbying campaign of lawmakers, with the first formal approach scheduled for Monday, when the President-elect is expected to meet with Congressional leaders.

"The Congress is ready to spend money," Cokie Roberts said. "And he (Obama) can really do a great big series of economic measures, including he could do some important things on health care."

Other domestic challenges include reforming education and weaning the United States off of its dependence on foreign oil by developing green technologies.

Peace in the Middle East has skyrocketed to the top of the President-elect's agenda, as the fighting between Israel and Hamas continued to escalate. Not to be forgotten is the need to stamp out the seeds of extremism with roots in Pakistan, and the continuing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"He's got the Bush people that put the, were in the war at the end of the administration," ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd said. "He's got to get us out in some lengthy timetable that probably has to be 18 months or less."

Political watchers said the scope of the economic problems may require the President-elect to break some campaign promises right away, like raising taxes on those making more than $250,000 a year.

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