Archive for: November, 2008

Obama’s Centrist Cabinet

Nov 25 2008 Published by under Featured News

With the latest news that Robert Gates has agreed to stay on as Secretary of Defense, should liberals be getting concerned that so far President Elect Obama’s cabinet has the look of governing from the center? I think Obama is right where he needs to be.

So far, the major posts in the Obama administration will be filled by centrists. Rahm Emanuel, Tom Daschle, Eric Holder, Bill Richardson, and Hillary Clinton are ideologically in the center of the Democratic Party. For many liberals Obama’s choices look like a return to the days of Bill Clinton, but there are a few points that must be understood before one criticizes the makeup of the Obama administration. First, Obama seems made his selections based on experience. The next president seems to have a practical and pragmatic approach that is focused on results not ideology. Obama picked people who have both Washington experience, and experience in their policy areas.

It appears that he has learned from the mistakes of the two previous transitions. Clinton tried to bring a new crowd into Washington, which struggled mightily early on due to their lack of experience. In contrast, George W. Bush came to Washington with loyalists and ideologues. He rewarded personal loyalty, and was left with quite possibly the most inept administration of the past 100 years. Bush and company had no idea how to govern, which led to disaster after disaster culminating in their bungled response to Hurricane Katrina.

I think it is a wise move to keep Gates on at Defense, while the country is in the middle of two wars, but I would be amazed if Gates lasted more than a year. He is sticking around to provide some continuity to the military while the Obama administration takes office. Gates has done a very good job cleaning up the mess that Rumsfeld left behind, and the reality is that now is not the time to overhaul the Defense Department. My hunch is that after Gates departs, Chuck Hagel will be the next Secretary of Defense.

If Obama’s choices seem centrist, it is because he is a centrist. Obama isn’t the liberal that some of his supporters and critics make him out to be. Quite frankly, the United States is still not a liberal country. We are still a center leaning nation, whose presidents succeed when they are able to govern from the middle. George W. Bush has been viewed as taking the nation too far to the right, and John McCain lost the election because most voters saw him as too far to the right. Obama appears poised to govern from the middle, which to me is right where he needs to be.

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The History of the Presidential Pardon for a Thanksgiving Turkey

Nov 25 2008 Published by under Featured News

The pardoning of the turkey given to the President of the United States of America is a fairly modern tradition. In fact, it isn’t even 20 years old yet. Contrary to popular myth, it wasn’t Harry Truman or Abe Lincoln who pardoned the first turkey. It was George H.W. Bush in 1989.

The most popular misconception is that President Harry Truman started the tradition in 1947. However, according to the Truman Museum and Presidential Library, “The Library’s staff has found no documents, speeches, newspaper clippings, photographs, or other contemporary records in our holdings which refer to Truman pardoning a turkey that he received as a gift in 1947, or at any other time during his Presidency. Truman sometimes indicated to reporters that the turkeys he received were destined for the family dinner table. In any event, the Library has been unable to determine when the tradition of pardoning the turkey actually began.”

Since 1947, the National Turkey Federation has been presenting the president with a live turkey and two dressed ones to mark the traditional start of the holiday season. With the exception of President Kennedy in 1961, most of these birds, until 1989, were eaten. Ronald Reagan was the first to joke about a presidential pardon for the bird, but it was his successor that began the tradition. President George H.W. Bush said in 1989, “This fine tom turkey has been granted a presidential pardon as of right now.”

The Lincoln story is a bit of interesting folklore. The story goes that President Lincoln’s son Tad became attached to a Christmas turkey in 1863. Instead of eating the turkey, it was kept as a pet, which Tad named Jack. There is no evidence to confirm the truth of this story, and even if it is true, Lincoln didn’t pardon the turkey, he decided to let his son keep it. However, like many of the stories about Lincoln it may be true, or it might not. It is another story about the humanity of one of our mythic presidents.

After the turkey has been pardoned, it gets a trip to Disneyland where it gets to be an honorary grand marshal in Disneyland’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. In the past the pardoned turkeys had been sent to a petting zoo in Virginia, but all of the pardoned turkeys are allowed to retire live out their lives without becoming someone’s dinner on Thanksgiving Day. I thought that this tradition when back longer than 19 years. At any rate, it is fun, and certainly the least controversial pardon that a president will grant during their term

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Press Conference: Obama Plans Immediate Action on the Economy

Nov 24 2008 Published by under Featured News

During his press conference announcing his economic team today, President Elect Obama stress that he is developing an economic plan, and will act on it immediately after taking office.

“Right now, our economy is trapped in a vicious cycle: the turmoil on Wall Street means a new round of belt-tightening for families and businesses on Main Street – and as folks produce less and consume less, that just deepens the problems in our financial markets. These extraordinary stresses on our financial system require extraordinary policy responses. And my Administration will honor the public commitments made by the current Administration to address this crisis,” Obama said.

Obama is going to be hands on when it comes to the economy, “I have asked my economic team to develop recommendations for this plan, and to consult with Congress, the current Administration and the Federal Reserve on immediate economic developments over the next two months. I have requested that they brief me on these matters on a daily basis, and in the coming weeks, I will provide the American people and the incoming Congress with an overview of their initial recommendations. It is my hope that the new Congress will begin work on an aggressive economic recovery plan when they convene in early January so that our Administration can hit the ground running.”

I believe that Obama wants more than the new Congress to work on a plan. He wants his plan passed so that he can sign it shortly after he takes office. Obama is facing a multi-dimensional crisis, so it isn’t a surprise that he is not forthcoming with details today. His plan is focused on stabilizing the markets, home foreclosures, putting money back into people’s pockets, and creating 2.5 million new jobs. Obama believes that job creation is the key to turning this economy around, so this will likely be the primary focus of the plan.

Two things are very clear. The government is going to have to deficit spend, and Obama is going to have to delay his repeal of the Bush tax cuts. No matter what some ideologues may think, we can’t cut our way out of this economic downturn. The fact is that there is an indirect relationship between the demand for government assistance, and economic conditions. In other words, as the economy goes down, demand for programs like food stamps and unemployment goes up. Unless the goal is to have a prolonged recession or even a depression, the government must spend right now.

Obama was not ready to discuss the cost of his stimulus package today, but it is likely to start with another $300-$500 billion on top of the $350 billion leftover from the initial $700 billion bailout. The cost of the entire package will get close to a trillion dollars, but without it government revenue will continue to decline, and the United States would be running the risk of not being able to pay for entitlements for people who desperately need them now more than ever. Once the economy is revived, government revenues will increase, and the deficit will drop. Obama was clear today that putting people back to work is his short term concern, and budget deficits are a long term issue.

Obama’s Press Conference

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Democrats Tell Automakers No Money without a Plan

Nov 20 2008 Published by under U.S. Supreme Court

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid held a joint news conference today where they made it clear that the auto industry has to come up with a viable plan to reorganize or they will not get a dime of federal money.

“It is all about accountability and about viability. Until we can see a plan where the auto industry is held accountable and a plan for viability on how they go into the future, until they show us the plan, we cannot show them the money… So, for reasons of our national security, for reasons that relate to the health of our financial community, and for reasons that relate to the needs of the workers who will be affected by this, it is essential that we see some restructuring, some path to viability, from the auto industry.” Pelosi said.

Reid stressed that currently there is no plan that could pass Congress and be signed by President Bush, “Unfortunately, the sad reality is that no one has come up with a plan that can pass the House and Senate and get signed by President Bush. And the main reason is what we have all witnessed in congressional hearings this week: The executives of the auto companies have not been able to convince the Congress or the American people that this government bailout will be its last. And they have not provided a plan that will ensure accountability from and viability for the industry.”

Pelosi said that Democrats reject the idea of bankruptcy for these companies, “The Leader addressed what that meant in a timetable. I know Leader Hoyer will adjust that as well so I won’t go into that. But again, we reject those who are advocating bankruptcy for the industry. We reject that. But we do want to work together, and I don’t think we saw very much in the hearings of the last few days that gave us the confidence that we can act upon it legislatively.”

It was an insult for CEOs to come to the Hill with hats in hands, asking for a blank check while taking no responsibility and offering no concessions. Judging from what I heard during the hearing yesterday, Democrats and Republicans agree that there is no chance that Congress is going to blindly throw taxpayer money at the auto industry. They only agreed to the first bailout because the financial system was on the verge of collapse.

Even if Congress does pass a bill, the odds of President Bush signing it are slim. His administration is firmly opposed to an auto industry bailout. It makes no sense to use taxpayer money to keep the industry a float if they are going to stick with the same business practices that have them getting pummeled by foreign competition now. I think something will get done for the auto industry after Obama takes office, because the nation can’t afford to lose 1-4 million more jobs.

The plan that will probably pass will follow the blueprint of the plan used to bail out Chrysler in 1979 when government loan guarantees and corporate restructuring was used. The taxpayers ended up making a profit in that deal, and any future will be looking to protect any public sector investment.

The automakers need to come to Congress and take responsibility for their own greed and shortsightedness which led to their current situation. Another issue is that the auto industry has been lobbying against fuel efficiency and technological mandates for years. This will have to change before they get any government help.

Pelosi Statement

Reid Statement

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McCain Endorses Obama’s Homeland Security Pick

Nov 20 2008 Published by under Featured News

In a bit political symmetry, John McCain put out a statement today, endorsing the Democratic governor of his home state of Arizona, Janet Napolitano to be Barack Obama’s head of the Department of Homeland Security.

The statement said that McCain commended the announcement, and called the governor to congratulate her. Governor Napolitano’s experience as the former U.S. Attorney for Arizona, Arizona’s Attorney General and as Governor warrants her rapid confirmation by the Senate and I hope she is quickly confirmed,” McCain said. He also added that he is looking forward to working with her during the confirmation process.

As McCain’s statement points out, Napolitano has a wealth of experience prosecuting cases, which provides some clues into what could be the changing role Obama sees for Homeland Security. Currently, Homeland Security is a department without a clear jurisdiction. It is more of figurehead organization without any real power or authority over the intelligence agencies and the Justice Department. It doesn’t have any budgetary authority, and technically its role is to prevent and respond to domestic emergencies.

Its primary mission was originally supposed to be the prevention and the response to a domestic terrorist attack, but most of the department’s duties have been focused on responses to natural disasters through FEMA, which was absorbed into Homeland Security. The Department also absorbed the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Since is the Department itself was created through the merging of 22 different agencies, it has been rough sailing in terms of leadership and function.

One of the things that Democrats have long sought to do is remove FEMA from Homeland Security and return to being a standalone agency. I think the selection of Napolitano is a signal that Obama is looking to give Homeland Security more leadership, direction, and a clear mission. Being from a border state, Napolitano understands the immigration issue. She has nice blend of experiences that should fit this position well.

There is a growing trend in these Obama appointments that might not bode well for those who want see Hillary Clinton become Secretary of State. Thus far, Obama has chosen people who played a critical role in his campaign. Napolitano was frequent campaign surrogate. Daschle and Holder both played critical roles on the campaign, and Emanuel is fellow Chicago politician. All of these people have ties to Obama, and experience in their fields. These are two qualities that Hillary Clinton lacks. Napolitano is a solid choice, and it is easy to see why John McCain would endorse her.

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Lieberman: I Feel Closer to the Democrats Now

Nov 19 2008 Published by under Featured News

In an interview with Katie Couric on the CBS Evening News Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman said that he feels closer to the Democrats now than he has since the 2006 election. He also backed off of the Obama is a Marxist line, and defended his speech at the Republican convention.

Here is the video:


Watch CBS Videos Online

Couric asked Lieberman if he realized how inappropriate speaking at the Republican convention might seem to some Democrats. Lieberman answered, “I understood that I was doing something different as an Independent Democrat supporting a Republican candidate. But I did it not only because I felt so strongly on behalf of my friend John McCain, but because there is so much partisanship in our politics today that really stops us from getting things done for the American people. And in a speech that I would guess went 15 or 20 minutes, I spoke three sentences, which I believe were respectful, about Sen. Obama.”

He did bring up an interesting point in the video above about feeling close to the party for the first time since 2006, because that is the year that many liberals ditched Lieberman and supported anti-war candidate Ned Lamont in the primary campaign for his seat. I have always had a hunch that Lieberman’s support was driven in part by his friendship with McCain, and also by anger over the 2006 Democratic primary. Lieberman’s ego was bruised when the Party mounted a challenge to him, and he had been going around with a chip on his shoulder since.

Perhaps, Obama’s election can be a turning point where we can start to bury some of the bad feelings and old feuds within the party. Lieberman did say that he never thought that Obama was a Marxist, but he wishes today that he would have expressed himself more clearly. He has earned the scorn of the left, and I don’t believe that Joe Lieberman will ever be completely forgiven for his actions of the last few years, until he casts a critical vote to pass a bill, but even then, I think his name will always leave a bitter taste in some mouths.

Excerpts from the CBS interview

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Alaska Senator Elect Begich Disagrees With Obama on ANWR

Nov 19 2008 Published by under Featured News

Mark Begich’s victory over Republican Ted Stevens has brought the Democrats closer to the magic number of 60 Senate seats, but his win also points out that there are some major policy differences in the Democratic caucus. In Begich’s case, the disagreement involves energy and ANWR, but those looking looking for liberal legislation might be disappointed by Obama and this Congress.

Begich was interviewed late last night for NPR’s Morning Edition. This is what he had to say about the speculation that Obama is interested in imposing a total ban on drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), “Well, I would totally disagree. And I think you know that for him to make that statement this early would be a mistake. I think that we should first take a look at what’s the energy policy of this country. How are we going to become more independent, as a country, from foreign oil?”

The new Alaska senator said that he favors drilling in ANWR, “I’ve said that through the campaign that I think that’s a reasonable approach based on the new technologies, the amount of footprint we would take up would be minimal. But I would put that into a long-term national energy policy. It would not be a project by itself. We have to look at the long-term energy requirements of our country and how we figure out how to get off foreign oil.”

He continued talking about reducing the demand for foreign oil, “That is the ultimate goal. Because we are dependent so much on foreign oil that we are really strapped in what we can do as a country. And we have to figure out new energy sources, as well as how do we reduce demand as a country, because that’s a huge impact. That’s why the oil prices have come from 140 down to 55 bucks a barrel is because we have reduced demand by almost five percent. That’s what we need to be focused on and that in the long term for our country will be a great benefit.”

It would almost be criminal for Begich to take any other position, because his state’s economy is dependent on oil and natural gas revenue, but his disagreement with Obama points out the challenge Democrats will be facing when it comes to passing legislation. In Alaska the disagreement in on energy, but in the South, Democrats tend to me much more conservative on social policy, and domestic spending. Republicans are hoping that Democrats reach too far to the left with their policy goals, but I think a more likely outcome is that left will be disappointed.

The composition of the Democratic majority in Congress almost requires moderation. The key votes on things like tax cuts and healthcare will come from moderates. Because of the simple majority rule in the House, Pelosi should be able to get through anything she wants, but I expect that the Senate will be consistently watering down House legislation. Then there is Obama, who comes from the Senate, and is himself a moderate Democrat.

Unlike the previous 15 years, there will be a lot of legislation passed by this Congress, but just may not be as liberal as many people are wishing for. I don’t for see Obama or the Senate moving to the far left. As the example of Mark Begich and the issue of energy demonstrate, I don’t think they have the votes to move too far to the left. If they try to go far left, the Democratic caucus could fracture, and we could see a return to inter party fighting that plagued the Democratic Congress at the beginning of President Clinton’s first term. If Congress of the last two years is any indication, look for Democrats to stick to the middle.

Listen to the Mark Begich interview with NPR

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Who Is Obama Attorney General Pick Eric Holder?

Nov 18 2008 Published by under Featured News

NBC News and Newsweek are reporting that Barack Obama’s senior legal advisor Eric Holder has been offered and accepted the position of United States Attorney General, so who is Eric Holder, and what can we expect out his Justice Department?

Eric Holder has spent much of his career in the Justice Department as a prosecutor. Holder spent 1976-1988 as trial attorney for the Justice. He next was appointed by President Reagan to serve as Associate Justice for the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. Holder was appointed as US Attorney to the District of Columbia by Bill Clinton in 1993. Clinton also appointed him as Deputy Attorney General in 1997. Holder served a brief time as Attorney General for a month at the end of the Clinton administration after Janet Reno left.

Holder is expected to be approved by the Senate, which means that he will be the first African American to head up the Justice Department. Holder is most recently well known as being the leader of Obama’s vice presidential search team along with Caroline Kennedy. Holder already had been the highest ranking black person in law enforcement in American history.

So what can we expect from Attorney General Holder? He has been a loud critic of the Bush administration’s conduct of the war on terror. In a speech this summer to the American Constitution Society, Holder said, “The notion that the Department of Justice would in essence sanction the use of torture as part of the President’s plenary power over military operations is as wrong as it is shortsighted. This position flies in the face of the entire history of American law, helping to create a climate in which unnecessarily abusive conduct can somehow be considered legitimate.”

Holder has also called GITMO an embarrassment that must be closed. Holder definitely is a progressive who believes in equal rights, “The nation must be reminded that the word liberal is more than a conservative slur. The nation must be reminded that it was the progressive, liberal tradition that brought about the social and economic changes that were necessary many years ago. The nation must be convinced that it is a progressive future that holds the greatest promise for equality and the continuation of those policies that serve to support the greatest number of our people.”

Holder caught a bit of heat for his involvement in President Clinton’s pardoning of Marc Rich, but he should fly through the confirmation process. Holder is a no brainer. He is a close friend of Obama’s, and has two decades of experience at the Justice Department. There is a trend here with these early Obama appointments. Obama is picking experienced people who are close to him. This selection along with Rham Emanuel shows that unlike Bush, Obama is looking for experienced people, not just loyal friends. Holder is a fine choice, who will be solid at Justice. He is another solid pick for Obama.

Full Text of Holder’s Speech

Holder Bio

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Lieberman Acknowledges Owing Obama

Nov 18 2008 Published by under Featured News

After Democratic Senate Caucus voted 42-13 not to strip Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of his Homeland Security chairmanship, Lieberman admitted both that he owes Obama, and that he regrets some of the remarks he made about the president elect during the presidential campaign.

After the vote, Lieberman urged unity, “This is the beginning of a new chapter, and I know that my colleagues in the Senate Democratic Caucus were moved not only by the kind words that Senator Reid said about my longtime record, but by the appeal from President-elect Obama himself that the nation now unite to confront our very serious problems.” He also said that he regrets some of the statements made during the campaign, “There are some (statements) that I made that I wish I had not. In the heat of campaigns, that happens to all of us, but I regret that. And now it’s time to move on.”

Without Obama’s support, Lieberman would have been stripped of his committee chairmanship. Majority Leader Harry Reid went from making cryptic statements about Lieberman’s future after he met with him last Thursday, to today telling reporters that it is time to move on. It is obvious to all that Obama brought about this public change in position. If Lieberman would have been booted out of the Democratic caucus, he would have lost all of his power. The truth is that the Democrats need Lieberman’s vote, and Lieberman needs the Democrats.

What Lieberman should regret most was the questioning of Obama’s patriotism. In August, Lieberman said, “In my opinion, the choice could not be more clear: between one candidate, John McCain, who’s had experience, been tested in war and tried in peace, another candidate who has not. Between one candidate, John McCain, who has always put the country first, worked across party lines to get things done, and one candidate who has not. Between one candidate who’s a talker, and the other candidate who’s the leader America needs as our next candidate.”

Lieberman crossed the line in a big way, during the fall campaign. His speech at the Republican convention galled many Democrats, along with his constant criticism of Obama. If Obama would have lost the election, the wrath of Democrats would have come down on Lieberman, but winning is a fantastic tonic, so most Democrats see no need to punish Lieberman for a losing effort. The public remarks of many Senate Democrats have made it clear that he has a lot of bridges to mend on the Senate floor, but I think that Obama will now have little problem getting his legislation through Lieberman’s committee.

Quotes came from here

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Obama Saves Joe Lieberman

Nov 17 2008 Published by under Featured News

It is being reported tonight that Senate Democrats will vote tomorrow not to strip Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) of his powerful chairmanship of the Homeland Security Committee. Lieberman will lose his subcommittee chairmanship,and has Barack Obama to thank for his light punishment.

CNN is reporting that Lieberman can thank Barack Obama for saving his chairmanship, as Obama intervened in the discussions over what to do with Lieberman, and urged his fellow Democrats to let bygones be bygones. Things looked less clear for Lieberman last Thursday after he met with Majority Leader Harry Reid. Lieberman had threatened to caucus with the Republicans if he was stripped of his committee chairmanship.

In an interview with The Hill, Sen. Tom Carper said that their needs to be consequences for Lieberman’s criticism of Obama, “There need to be consequences, and they cannot be insignificant.” Carper also described the anger of several of his fellow Senate Democrats, “Many of my colleagues … are very angry with his criticism of Sen. Obama.” There are two issues here at the Lieberman has to get past tomorrow, his speaking at the Republican Convention and his open criticism of Obama during the campaign.

If Obama is willing to let Lieberman’s campaign rhetoric go, then so should Senate Democrats. The bigger issue is Lieberman’s speech at the Republican convention. It is difficult to accept Lieberman back into the caucus when he criticized the Democratic Party and virtually declared himself a Republican at McCain’s convention. There is some validity to the notion that Lieberman backed the wrong horse in the election, and should have to pay a price for his choice.

However, strongly punishing Lieberman would go against the new politics that Obama has been calling for. There is also a practical political side to consider. Except for issues of war and national defense, Joe Lieberman votes with the Democratic Party. Since the Democrats, probably won’t get to 60 votes in the Senate, having Lieberman in the caucus will help advance the domestic agenda. I personally feel that Lieberman had worn out his welcome with Democrats long ago.

I think the Senator was trying to exact a measure of political revenge against the party that he feels betrayed him in his last primary election against Ned Lamont.(Lieberman lost the primary, largely because of his hawkish support of the Iraq war. This led to his running as an Independent and defeating Lamont in the fall campaign).

Lieberman now owes Obama for saving his chairmanship, so it is doubtful that Joe will give him too much trouble on the Homeland Security Committee. If the Dems would have hit 60 votes, I think Lieberman was history, no matter what, but now they need him, so they are just going to have to swallow hard and forget about the fall campaign.

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