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History > 2009 > USA > Politics > White House / President (I)





President Barack Obama's Inaugural Address

The White House > YouTube > HD version


January 20, 2009

President Barack Obama

was sworn in as 44th President of the United States

and delivered his Inaugural Address.

(This video is public domain

per White House copyright policy)




Full text


















After the inaugural ceremonies at the Capitol,

Barack and Michelle Obama

walked part of the way down Pennsylvania Avenue

to the White House.


Doug Mills/The New York Times


After a Day of Crowds and Celebration,

Obama Turns to Sober List of Challenges


21 January 2009


















Obama waits in the wings

at the US capitol

before becoming the 44th president.

20 January 2009

Washington DC.


Intimate portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama – in pictures

Barack Obama gives a press interview in Rhode Island.

Photographer Callie Shell

documented the Obamas at home in Chicago,

on the campaign trail and in the White House.

Her new book shares candid images

from the 10 years she spent photographing the family.

Hope, Never Fear is published by Chronicle Books


Tue 3 Sep 2019        09.59 BST

















Melding Obama’s Web

to a YouTube Presidency


January 26, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Lyle McIntosh gave everything he could to Barack Obama’s Iowa campaign. He helped oversee an army that knocked on doors, distributed fliers and held neighborhood meetings to rally support for Mr. Obama, all the while juggling the demands of his soybean and corn farm.

Asked last week if he and others like him were ready to go all-out again, this time to help President Obama push his White House agenda, Mr. McIntosh paused.

“It’s almost like a football season or a basketball season — you go as hard as you can and then you’ve got to take a breather between the seasons,” he said, noting he found it hard to go full-bore during the general election.

Mr. McIntosh’s uncertainty suggests just one of the many obstacles the White House faces as it tries to accomplish what aides say is one of their most important goals: transforming the YouTubing-Facebooking-texting-Twittering grass-roots organization that put Mr. Obama in the White House into an instrument of government. That is something that Mr. Obama, who began his career as a community organizer, told aides was a top priority, even before he was elected.

His aides — including his campaign manager — have created a group, Organizing for America, to redirect the campaign machinery in the service of broad changes in health care and environmental and fiscal policy. They envision an army of supporters talking, sending e-mail and texting to friends and neighbors as they try to mold public opinion.

The organization will be housed in the Democratic National Committee, rather than at the White House. But the idea behind it — that the traditional ways of communicating with and motivating voters are giving way to new channels built around social networking — is also very evident in the White House’s media strategy.

Like George W. Bush before him, Mr. Obama is trying to bypass the mainstream news media and take messages straight to the public.

The most prominent example of the new strategy is his weekly address to the nation — what under previous presidents was a speech recorded for and released to radio stations on Saturday mornings. Mr. Obama instead records a video, which on Saturday he posted on the White House Web site and on YouTube; in it, he explained what he wanted to accomplish with the $825 billion economic stimulus plan working its way through Congress. By late Sunday afternoon, it had been viewed more than 600,000 times on YouTube.

The White House also faces legal limitations in terms of what it can do. Perhaps most notably, it cannot use a 13-million-person e-mail list that Mr. Obama’s team developed because it was compiled for political purposes. That is an important reason Mr. Obama has decided to build a new organization within the Democratic Party, which does not have similar restrictions.

Still, after months of discussion, aides said the whole approach remained a work in progress, even after Friday, when the organizers e-mailed a link to a video to those 13 million people announcing the creation of Organizing for America. Mr. Obama’s aides know they have a huge resource to harness, but fundamental questions remain about how it will run and precisely what organizers are hoping to accomplish.

“This has obviously never been undertaken before,” David Plouffe, Mr. Obama’s campaign manager and one of the organizers of this effort, said in the video sent to supporters. “So it’s going to be a little trial and error.”

Even with that video, in addition to one sent earlier in the president’s name, the organization does not have a fully developed Web site, evidence, some of Mr. Obama’s advisers said, of just how murky the mission is.

Mr. Plouffe said the group had not settled on a budget or begun serious fund-raising. The goal is to have a relatively small staff, with representatives in most, if not every, state, and to make up any shortfall in personnel with the use of technology.

There is a clear interest in keeping the Internet-based political machinery that made Mr. Obama’s brand so iconic and that helped him raise record amounts. The new group’s initials, O.F.A., conveniently also apply to his Obama for America campaign. And the desire for the Obama organization to live on was voiced in a meeting of organizers in Chicago after Election Day, and echoed at 4,800 house meetings in December and in a survey completed by 500,000 Obama supporters.

Still, sensitive to ruffling feathers even among fellow Democrats wary of Mr. Obama’s huge political support, Mr. Obama’s aides emphasized that the effort was not created to lobby directly or pressure members of Congress to support Mr. Obama’s programs.

“This is not a political campaign,” Mr. Plouffe said. “This is not a ‘call or e-mail your member of Congress’ organization.”

Instead, Mr. Plouffe said the aim was to work through influential people in various communities as a way of building public opinion.

“So it’s: ‘Here’s the president’s speech today on the economy. Here are some talking points,’ ” he said. “This was a very under-appreciated part of our campaign. If someone who has never been involved in politics before — or is an independent or a Republican — makes this case with their circle of people, that has more impact.”

The operation is being run from borrowed desks on the third floor of the D.N.C. headquarters on Capitol Hill, led by organizers chosen, Mr. Plouffe said, because of skills they demonstrated during the campaign. The head of the group is Mitch Stewart, a low-key operative who helped run Mr. Obama’s effort in three critical states — Iowa and Indiana in the primary season and Virginia in the general election. Another important person in the operation is Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, the new executive director of the Democratic National Committee, who was the battleground states director for Mr. Obama in his campaign.

And there will be clear coordination between this independent operation at the Democratic National Committee and a communications arm being set up at the White House, under Macon Phillips, the “new media” director for Mr. Obama’s administration.

Mr. Phillips was an Internet strategist with Blue State Digital, a private firm closely tied to Mr. Obama’s campaign. His team signaled the new direction Mr. Obama is bringing with a redesigned White House Web site that was introduced shortly after Mr. Obama was sworn in and is modeled after his campaign site. It will be continually updated to add presidential orders and blog postings that make the case for administration policy, often echoed by talking points that Organizing for America is sending to supporters.

In an interview, Mr. Phillips, 30, said the site would give the White House another way to reach the public without having to rely on the mainstream news media.

“Historically the media has been able to draw out a lot of information and characterize it for people,” he said. “And there’s a growing appetite from people to do it themselves.”

The approach is causing some concern among news media advocates, who express discomfort with what effectively could become an informational network reaching 13 million people, or more, with an unchallenged, governmental point of view.

“They’re beginning to create their own journalism, their own description of events of the day, but it’s not an independent voice making that description,” said Bill Kovach, the chairman of the Committee of Concerned Journalists. “It’s troublesome until we know how it’s going to be used and the degree to which it can be used on behalf of the people, and not on behalf of only one point of view.”

The undertaking will require Mr. Obama’s aides to wedge technology that worked for them in the campaign into the infrastructure of the White House, with its relatively older technology and security restrictions. Where Mr. Obama’s campaign was free to use Facebook, instant messaging and Twitter, among other forms of communication, the White House faces more constraints. With every note part of the historical record, and new scrutiny on every communication, staff members are unable to access public instant messaging accounts and social networking sites from their desks.

The administration’s Web team has a YouTube channel, but it is already exhibiting the dangers for a White House in the Wild West of the Internet: a page showing Mr. Obama’s inauguration address is littered with offensive commentary from users.

In campaigns, candidates control multimillion-dollar advertising budgets and organizations in 50 states. When they take office, they have had to put their own stamp on existing party organizations, and to rely largely on the news media to communicate with the public. Though he comes to the task with the advantage of a team that proved innovative in using technology and communications advances to reshape electoral politics, Mr. Obama’s challenge is not totally different from the one that faced his predecessors.

“The problem that you have is, you come off a campaign — where there is an infrastructure and a director in every state — and then you have nothing,” said Sara Taylor, a White House political director for Mr. Bush. “You have allied organizations, but they don’t report to you, so you’re relying on allies to be supportive when you don’t have control of those organizations.”

Mr. Obama’s aides acknowledged that after two long years there were also some concerns about “list fatigue.” Mr. Obama, the party and the inaugural committee have reached out to his supporters on the e-mail list so frequently — for money, for input, for help in persuading their neighbors to vote — that some want to give it a rest before cranking it up again.

Even some of Mr. Obama’s most enthusiastic foot soldiers understand the sentiment.

“It’s kind of like we’re spent right now,” said Dr. Robert Gitchell, who campaigned for Mr. Obama in Ames, Iowa. But, “once that fire is lit” in supporters, he said, “it’s easy to trigger them all again.”

    Melding Obama’s Web to a YouTube Presidency, NYT, 26.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/26/us/politics/26grassroots.html







Issue of Terrorists' Rights

to Test Obama's Pledge


January 25, 2009
Filed at 8:47 a.m. ET
The New York Times


WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama's pledge of bipartisan cooperation with Congress will be tested as he tries to fulfill a campaign promise to close Guantanamo Bay and establish a new system for prosecuting suspected terrorists.

The undertaking is an ambitious one. Fraught with legal complexities, it gives Republicans ample opportunity to score political points if he doesn't get it right. There's also the liklihood of a run-in with his former rival, Sen. John McCain, a former prisoner of war who before running for president staked his career on overhauling the nation's detainee policies.

''We look forward to working with the president and his administration on these issues, keeping in mind that the first priority of the U.S. government is to guarantee the security of the American people,'' McCain, R-Ariz., said in a joint statement with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

The statement seemed aimed at putting Obama on notice that he must deal with Congress on the matter.

In his first week in office, Obama ordered Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba to be closed within a year, CIA secret prisons shuttered and abusive interrogations ended.

So far, Obama's team has given every indication it will engage lawmakers, including Republicans, on the issue. Graham and McCain were among several Republicans briefed last week by White House counsel Greg Craig and handed drafts of the executive orders.

But once the two sides begin delving into details, there will be ample room for dispute.

Among the unknowns is how many of the 245 detainees now at Guantanamo Bay will be prosecuted.

Administration officials said that, pending an internal review, federal and military courts may be used. But, the officials added, a version of the secretive military tribunals, as established under President George W. Bush with the help of McCain, remains an option, too.

Officials say the tribunals may be needed to prosecute suspected terrorists who are too dangerous to release but whose cases would otherwise fail, either because evidence was coerced or trying them in a less secretive court would expose classified information.

Obama could take a page from the Bush administration and try to revamp the system on his own, through executive order. But that approach failed for Bush, who angered members of his own party and wound up seeking congressional approval anyway after the Supreme Court in June 2006 ruled his tribunal system was unconstitutional.

Obama's other option is to seek legislation on the issue, potentially exposing his administration to a bruising fight with Republicans on how to handle the most dangerous of terrorism suspects.

A narrow majority of Americans supports shutting down Guantanamo Bay on a priority basis. But people are likely to become much less sympathetic to detainee rights if there is another terrorism attack inside the United States or if the new system is portrayed as too lenient on suspected al-Qaida members.

Republicans already are trying to portray Obama's review of detainee rights as soft on terrorism. House Republicans on Friday mobilized a ''rapid response team'' of lawmakers to speak out against the president's plans.

''The Guantanamo Bay prison is filled with the worst of the worst -- terrorists and killers bent on murdering Americans and other friends of freedom around the world,'' said House GOP leader John Boehner of Ohio. ''If it is closed, where will they go, will they be brought to the United States and how will they be secured?''

Democrats have suggested they expect to be important players in the debate.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who heads the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said the panel planned to hold back on legislation ''for a time'' to allow the administration to complete its own assessment. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he would like ''to at least have an advisory role'' on the final plan.

In 2006, the question of detainee trials and interrogations enveloped Congress and exposed Republican infighting. McCain, Graham and now retired Sen. John Warner, R-Va., sharply challenged Bush's handling of detainees. In the end, the two sides emerged with complex legislation that outlined the inner workings of military tribunals and defined what constitutes a war crime, effectively banning specific interrogation techniques seen as too harsh.

Human rights groups and Democrats said the system still gave too much power to the president. But now, Republicans are worried Obama will swing too far in the other direction.

Graham, a colonel in the Air Force Reserves assigned to the service's Judge Advocate General School, said he is concerned that Obama will wind up giving civilian courts too heavy a hand in dealing with terrorists handled by the military and CIA.

''Federal judges in my opinion should not be making battlefield decisions. ... I don't want to lose sight of the fact that we are at war,'' he said.

    Issue of Terrorists' Rights to Test Obama's Pledge, NYT, 25.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/01/25/washington/AP-Guantanamo-Politics.html






White House Memo

Great Limits Come With Great Power,

Ex-Candidate Finds


January 25, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President Obama showed up for his first full day at work on Wednesday determined, as he later told the nation, to make “a clean break from business as usual.” But it did not take long for the new president to discover that there were limits to his power to turn his campaign rhetoric into reality.

Mr. Obama spent his first few days in office rolling out an orchestrated series of executive orders intended to signal that he would take the nation in a very different direction from his predecessor, George W. Bush. Yet he wrestled with fresh challenges at every turn, found some principles hard to consistently apply and showed himself willing to be pragmatic — at the risk of irking some supporters who had their hearts set on idealism.

When Mr. Obama wandered into the White House briefing room Thursday afternoon hoping to make small talk with reporters, he was instantly confronted by an unwelcome question: Why was he waiving his tough restrictions on lobbying for a Pentagon nominee? The president brushed it off, saying he would not return “if I’m going to get grilled every time I come.”

His plan to build bipartisan consensus around an economic package ran smack into discontented House Republicans. When he ordered the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to be shut down, Mr. Obama put off the tough decision of what to do with the terrorism suspects there, a delay that his senior adviser, David Axelrod, attributed to the complexity of the issue — the same argument Mr. Bush used to keep the prison open.

“That is an enormously complicated situation,” Mr. Axelrod said Friday afternoon in an interview in his West Wing office, adding: “Obviously, you can’t solve problems overnight. But what you can do is signal a sense of motion, a sense of ferment and activity and direction. And I think that he is doing that.”

All around Mr. Axelrod, there were signs of a new White House coming to life. The senior adviser’s name was tacked onto his door on an 8-by-10 inch computer printout — Obama aides are still learning where to find one another in the West Wing — and Mr. Axelrod was waiting in vain for the White House Mess to send over the salad he had ordered for lunch.

In the Oval Office next door, Mr. Obama was receiving a briefing from his chief economics adviser, Lawrence H. Summers. When the meeting was over, the vice president, Joseph R. Biden Jr., wandered by, happily chatting up people in the hall. There was an obvious buzz in the place, yet Mr. Axelrod insisted Mr. Obama had experienced no flush of presidential newness.

“There has not been a kind of ‘Oh my God’ moment where he said, ‘Now I’m the president,’ ” Mr. Axelrod said.

Throughout the campaign, Mr. Obama was something of a political Rorschach test; he was not required to make tough executive decisions, and so people could see in him what they wanted. His first few days as president, though, have given the first hints of how he will run his administration.

“I think you will see a presidency that’s less about hard-core ideology, and more about setting bold strategic objectives and setting out how we are going to get there,” said John D. Podesta, who ran Mr. Obama’s transition.

Already, that has given rise to some contradictions.

On his first full day in office, Mr. Obama declared that his administration would place a high priority on openness and transparency. Yet the first official White House briefing was given by two senior aides who, in the time-honored way of Washington, demanded anonymity.

At the same time, the Obama team made no apologies for the president’s willingness to make an exception to his tough anti-lobbying rules for William J. Lynn III, a military industry lobbyist who is the president’s pick for deputy secretary of defense. That exception drew sharp questions late Friday from Senator John McCain, Mr. Obama’s opponent in the general election and someone the president has sought to make an ally.

Senator Richard J. Durbin, an Illinois Democrat and a close friend of Mr. Obama’s, said the move suggested the president was willing to take a few lumps if he thought he was right.

“He obviously needed and wanted this man,” Mr. Durbin said, “because he knew the critics would say, ‘What are you doing here? You established a rule and you changed it.’ ”

And while as a candidate Mr. Obama had tough criticism for the Bush administration’s use of harsh interrogation tactics, President Obama left himself some wiggle room in overturning that policy, by deferring a decision on whether some techniques should remain secret to keep Al Qaeda from training to resist them.

“I think it emphasizes a realist, a pragmatist, someone who is not on a strictly political or ideological exercise,” said Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island, who is close to the president. “It underscores what I think is part of his leadership style, which is that there has to be some flexibility — a firm principle but a flexible application.”

Yet one man’s flexibility is another man’s wishy-washiness, and Mr. Obama’s willingness to adapt carries the risk that he will either alienate his liberal base or fail to convert Republicans whose support he hopes to win. During his transition, Mr. Obama managed to charm conservatives; he wooed them at one dinner honoring Mr. McCain, and at another at the home of the columnist George F. Will.

But just days into the Obama presidency, some conservatives sound wary.

“I thought he did very well during the transition on things like the dinner with George Will, and all the words sounded good,” said Newt Gingrich, the Republican former speaker of the House. “But I think they are right at the cusp of either sliding down into a world where their words have no meaning or having to follow up their words with real behavior.”

Mr. Obama came into office with a clear set of objectives for his first week, advisers said. He wanted to convey a sense that he was moving quickly to make good on campaign pledges, while at the same time establishing realistic expectations for what he could achieve. “He wanted to show that an activist president could get the ball rolling right away,” Mr. Podesta said.

Many Democrats, and even some Republicans, say he succeeded. “He is creating an image that he is making something happen,” said Scott Reed, a Republican strategist.

But in the coming weeks, Mr. Obama will have to do more than create an image; he will in fact have to make something happen — most immediately, an economic stimulus package with bipartisan support, as promised. His ability to bring Democrats and Republicans together will be the first major test of his presidency.

That test began Friday, in the White House Roosevelt Room, where Mr. Obama tried to bring House Republicans on board, despite their fundamental differences on tax policy for low-wage workers.

“I said to him straight up, ‘I think your electoral success was largely based on the hope that you could deliver change to the way Washington works,’ ” said Representative Eric Cantor, the Republican whip. He said he had told Mr. Obama pointedly that he would lose Republican support unless House Democrats were willing to make some changes in the bill.

The president listened intently, Mr. Cantor said, giving little hint of how he planned to square that circle.

    Great Limits Come With Great Power, Ex-Candidate Finds, NYT, 25.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/25/us/politics/25agenda.html?hp






In Effort to Build Support,

Obama Details Stimulus Plan


January 25, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President Obama, seeking to broaden the appeal of his signature initiative, said Saturday that a proposed $825 billion package of spending programs and tax breaks was crucial not only to turn around the economy but also to rebuild the nation for a new era.

In his first weekly video address as president, Mr. Obama made the case that the package would help students go to college, protect workers from losing health care, lower energy bills and modernize schools, roads and utilities.

“This is not just a short-term program to boost employment,” Mr. Obama said. “It’s one that will invest in our most important priorities like energy and education, health care and a new infrastructure that are necessary to keep us strong and competitive in the 21st century.”

The speech was part of a developing campaign by the White House to build momentum behind the plan and propel it to passage by mid-February. The White House released a report Saturday revealing details about the package, which would pay for a variety of projects, like laying 3,000 miles of transmission lines for a national electric grid, securing 90 major ports and guaranteeing health insurance for 8.5 million Americans in danger of losing coverage.

The administration plans to press the lobbying effort in coming days. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. will appear Sunday on “Face the Nation” on CBS, and Mr. Obama’s chief economic adviser, Lawrence H. Summers, will appear on “Meet the Press” on NBC. Mr. Obama, who hosted Congressional leaders from both parties on Friday and met with his economic team on Saturday, will visit Capitol Hill in the coming week to talk with Republican lawmakers on their home turf.

But House Republicans are stiffening their resistance to the magnitude of spending in the plan developed by House Democrats on Mr. Obama’s behalf to create or save more than three million jobs. About two-thirds of the $825 billion is reserved for spending and the rest for tax breaks. In the Republican response to the president’s address, Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House minority leader, called for deeper tax cuts instead.

Mr. Boehner, who will also be on “Meet the Press,” pushed a Republican plan to lower federal income tax rates in the two lowest brackets rather than provide a $500 per worker tax credit, as Mr. Obama wants to do. The Republican plan would also give tax breaks to small businesses, home buyers and the unemployed.

“Our plan is rooted in the philosophy that we cannot borrow and spend our way back to prosperity,” Mr. Boehner said. “Unfortunately, the trillion-dollar spending plan authored by Congressional Democrats is chock-full of government programs and projects, most of which won’t provide immediate relief to our ailing economy.”

Mr. Boehner cited numbers to counter Mr. Obama’s, saying the House Democratic plan included $600 million for the federal government to buy new cars, $650 million for digital television coupons and $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts. “All told,” he said, “the plan would spend a whopping $275,000 in taxpayer dollars for every new job it aims to create.”

The White House report offered more detail about how Mr. Obama intended the money to be spent and was released to “put meat on the bones,” as one White House National Economic Council official put it. The targets are consistent with the House Democratic legislation, the official said.

According to the report, the Obama plan would double the generating capacity of renewable energy over three years, enough to power six million American homes. It would retrofit two million homes and 75 percent of all federal buildings to better protect against the weather, saving low-income homeowners an average of $350 a year in utility costs and the government $2 billion a year.

The White House also envisions using loan guarantees and other financial support to leverage $100 billion in private sector investment in so-called clean energy projects over three years. The plan would lay 3,000 miles of new or upgraded transmission wires for a new electric grid.

The plan would help 8.5 million Americans keep health care coverage by providing workers who lose insurance with tax credits to pay for continuing coverage under the federal law known as Cobra, and by expanding Medicaid coverage for low-income Americans who lack access to Cobra. The Medicaid formula would be adjusted to protect 20 million Americans whose coverage might be in jeopardy because of state budget shortfalls.

The plan would modernize 10,000 schools, improve security at 90 ports and build 1,300 wastewater projects. It would bolster Pell Grants to help seven million students and offer a new tax credit for four million college students. And it would increase food stamp benefits for 30 million Americans and increase Social Security benefits $450 for 7.5 million disabled and elderly people.

In his speech, Mr. Obama said he knew that some worried about the size of his plan. “I understand that skepticism,” he said, “which is why this recovery plan must and will include unprecedented measures that will allow the American people to hold my administration accountable for these results.

“We won’t just throw money at our problems; we’ll invest in what works.”

David M. Herszenhorn, Michael Falcone and Sheryl Gay Stolberg contributed reporting.

    In Effort to Build Support, Obama Details Stimulus Plan, NYT, 25.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/25/us/politics/25obama.html?hp






Obama’s Partisan, Profane Confidant Reins It In


January 25, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Early this month, Barack Obama was meeting with the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and other lawmakers when Rahm Emanuel, his chief of staff, began nervously cracking a knuckle.

Mr. Obama then turned to complain to Mr. Emanuel about his noisy habit.

At which point, Mr. Emanuel held the offending knuckle up to Mr. Obama’s left ear and, like an annoying little brother, snapped off a few special cracks.

The episode, confirmed by Mr. Emanuel’s office, underscores some essential truths about Mr. Emanuel: He is brash, has a deep comfort level with his new boss, and has been ever-present at Mr. Obama’s side of late, in meetings, on podiums and in photographs.

There he was, standing at President Obama’s desk in one of the first Oval Office pictures; and again, playfully thumbing his nose at his former House colleagues during the inauguration; there he was, accompanying the president to a meeting with Congressional leaders on Friday.

Mr. Emanuel is arguably the second most powerful man in the country and, just a few days into his tenure, already one of the highest-profile chiefs of staff in recent memory. He starred in his own Mad magazine cartoon, won the “Your New Obama Hottie” contest on Gawker.com and has become something of a paparazzi icon around Washington.

In recent months, he has played a crucial role in the selection and courtship of nearly every cabinet member and key White House staff member.

Renowned as a fierce partisan, he has been an ardent ambassador to Republicans, including Mr. Obama’s defeated rival, Senator John McCain of Arizona. He has exerted influence on countless decisions; in meetings, administration officials say, Mr. Obama often allows him to speak first and last.

“You can see how he listens and reacts to Rahm,” said Ron Klain, the chief of staff to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. “You can see that his opinion is being shaped.”

A reason Mr. Emanuel, 49, has drawn so much attention is that he seems to be in a kind of recalibration mode.

How will the feisty, bombastic and at times impulsive former congressman blend with the cool, collegial and deliberate culture of Obama World? And one that is trying to foster bipartisanship? This is someone who once wrote in Campaign and Elections magazine that “the untainted Republican has not yet been invented” and who two years ago — according to a book about Mr. Emanuel (“The Thumpin’ ” by Naftali Bendavid) — announced to his staff that Republicans are “bad people who deserve a two-by-four upside their heads.”

Efforts at a New Aura

It is clear to friends and colleagues that Mr. Emanuel is trying to rein himself in, lower his voice, even cut down on his use of profanity.

“As chief of staff, you take on the aura and image and, in some instance, the political values of the person you work for,” said former Representative Ray LaHood, an Illinois Republican who is now transportation secretary. “I think he’s beginning to morph himself into the Obama image.”

Mr. Emanuel acknowledged in an interview Friday that a stereotype of him as a relentless hothead has some factual basis. But it is an exaggerated or outdated picture, he said.

“I’m not yelling at people; I’m not jumping on tables,” he said. “That’s a campaign. Being the chief of staff of a government is different. You have different tools in your toolbox.”

Still, his high profile and temperament are at odds with that of some past White House chiefs of staff: they were often low-key types who put the “staff” part of their job titles before “chief” — as Andrew H. Card Jr., the longtime chief of staff to former President George W. Bush, suggested to Mr. Emanuel last month.

Mr. Emanuel, who had hopes of becoming House speaker, has stepped into a job characterized by short tenures — just under two and a half years, on average — high burnout rates and the need to subjugate personal ambitions to the service of the president.

He is not accustomed to fading discreetly into the background. As a staff member in the Clinton White House, a three-term House member from Chicago and the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, he was viewed by many as a consummate purveyor of a crass, kneecapping brand of politics.

Mr. Obama acknowledged as much at a 2005 roast for Mr. Emanuel, who is a former ballet dancer, during which Mr. Obama credited him with being “the first to adopt Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’ for dance” (a number that included “a lot of kicks below the waist”). When Mr. Emanuel lost part of his middle finger while cutting meat at an Arby’s as a teenager, Mr. Obama joked, the accident “rendered him practically mute.”

The video of that roast has become a recent sensation on the Internet and buttressed a view among some Republicans that Mr. Emanuel’s appointment was, in the words of the House minority leader, Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, “an ironic choice for a president-elect who has promised to change Washington, make politics more civil.”

While acknowledging that he can be something of a showman, friends say Mr. Emanuel has calmed considerably.

“He’s more temperate now,” said David Axelrod, a senior White House adviser and longtime Emanuel friend who dismissed much of his flamboyant reputation as “pure myth.” Mr. Axelrod added, “A lot of it is a reputation he earned as a younger guy.”

On the Go Before Sunrise

Late Friday afternoon, at the end of his first week in the White House, Mr. Emanuel was sitting in his corner office, sick with a cold, baggy-eyed and looking tired. “Everyone keeps saying, ‘Are you having fun?’ ” he said. “Fun is not the first adjective that comes to mind.”

He woke as usual at 5 a.m., swam a mile at the Y, read papers and was in the office at 7 for the senior staff meeting at 7:30. There was a meeting in the Situation Room about Afghanistan; a leadership meeting; a conversation with the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada; a meeting with Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah; budget meetings; several conversations with the president.

Mr. Emanuel, in the interview, rejected any notion that he was reinventing himself for his new job. But he is mindful, he said, that he must fit into a culture that was forged over two years on a campaign, “a group that was part of a journey together.”

Mr. Obama had settled on his fellow Chicagoan to be his chief of staff well before he was elected. He was drawn to Mr. Emanuel’s experience in both the White House and Congress and called him “the whole package” of political acumen, policy chops and pragmatism. He is also a skilled compromiser. “He knows there is a time in this business to drop the switchblades and make a deal,” said Representative Adam H. Putnam, Republican of Florida.

Mr. Emanuel initially resisted taking the job. He came around after Mr. Obama insisted, saying these were momentous times and that the awesome tasks he faced required Mr. Emanuel’s help. The president-elect also assured Mr. Emanuel that the position would be the functional equivalent of “a No. 2” or “right-hand man,” according to a person familiar with their exchanges.

After taking the job, Mr. Emanuel spent endless hours reaching out to lawmakers. Mr. Reid gave out Mr. Emanuel’s personal cellphone number, with Mr. Emanuel’s blessing, at a caucus meeting of about 40 Senate Democrats this month. (“He seems to speak to every senator every day,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York.)

Mr. Emanuel has been equally solicitous of Republicans in Congress (who also have been given access to Mr. Emanuel’s private contact information). On days he does not swim, he works out, and conducts business, at the House gym: 25 minutes on the bike, 20 minutes on the elliptical, 120 situps, 55 push-ups and many sweaty conversations with his former colleagues. In a recent encounter there, for instance, with Representative Peter Hoekstra, Republican of Michigan, Mr. Emanuel secured his support for Leon E. Panetta to head the Central Intelligence Agency.

Mr. Emanuel has endured, or caused, some early distractions — his conversations with Gov. Rod R. Blogojevich of Illinois about Mr. Obama’s then-vacant Senate seat; his failure to alert Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who is chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to Mr. Panetta’s appointment.

So far, Mr. Emanuel has been more chief than staff in performing his job, according to several officials. He advocated fiercely for posts for fellow Clinton administration alums like Hillary Rodham Clinton and Mr. Panetta; not so much for the outgoing Democratic National Committee chairman, Howard Dean, with whom he had clashed while at the Congressional Campaign Committee. (“He was never negative about Dean,” said the Obama transition head, John D. Podesta, who added, “I wouldn’t characterize it as the other way, either.”)

Mr. Emanuel has also served as the administration’s chief headhunter. When the Office of Management and Budget director, Peter R. Orszag, had doubts about taking the job, Mr. Emanuel went into his default mode — jackhammering away at him, tracking him down in Hong Kong. “You can’t sit on the sidelines; you’ve got to come inside,” Mr. Emanuel told him.

Asked if “relentless” would be a fair characterization of Mr. Emanuel’s recruitment method, Mr. Orszag said, simply: “He’s Rahm. Come on.”

The selection of Mr. LaHood demonstrates Mr. Emanuel’s sway with Mr. Obama. After Mr. Emanuel sounded out Mr. LaHood about his interest in joining the administration, he was summoned to a meeting in Chicago with the president-elect.

The interview lasted 30 minutes, just Mr. Obama and Mr. LaHood.

“Look, Rahm Emanuel loves you,” Mr. Obama told Mr. LaHood as he prepared to leave. “He is really pressing me and pushing me. And it’s not that I don’t want to do it, but. ...”

A few days later, Mr. LaHood was selected to be transportation secretary.

Banter With the Boss

At a White House gathering with Mr. Obama and a bipartisan team of lawmakers on Friday, the House majority leader, Steny H. Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland, joked that Mr. Emanuel was too busy to talk to him, so he called the president instead. Mr. Obama said he was always happy to take calls for his chief of staff — a reference to an incident a few weeks ago when Mr. Hoyer called Mr. Emanuel, who was in the back of a car and claimed he was too busy to talk, so he handed the phone to Mr. Obama.

In meetings, it is not uncommon for Mr. Obama and Mr. Emanuel to engage in teasing banter. One White House official recalls an exchange last week in which Mr. Obama said something to the effect of, “Well, I was going to do that, but I didn’t want Rahm to mope for a half-hour.”

But it will not always be so pleasant for Mr. Emanuel. “He’s going to be blamed for a lot of things,” Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma, said of his former colleague.

Saying no is a big part of being chief of staff. Infighting is inevitable; so are enemies and rivalries.

In addition to cabinet officials — and the vice president — a cadre of “senior advisers” who have long and varied histories with Mr. Obama will be seeking his attention. They include Pete Rouse (Mr. Obama’s chief of staff in the Senate), Valerie Jarrett (a close Obama family friend) and Mr. Axelrod, whose office is a few feet closer to the Oval Office than is Mr. Emanuel’s. The White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs, one of the Mr. Obama’s closest Senate and campaign aides, will also enjoy walk-in access to the president.

Mr. Emanuel has been in the job four days — and, by day’s end Friday, it looked more like four years.

He is slumped deep in his couch, periodically swatting at a giant fly that keeps orbiting his office. He is hoping to get out of the office to meet some friends for the Jewish Sabbath dinner. He has a physical therapy appointment for a pinched nerve in his neck. He missed his children — 8, 10 and 11 — who are visiting this week but are soon headed back to Chicago, where they are remaining for now. “For me to be the parent I want to be, I think it’s very hard,” he said, referring to the demands of his current job.

Just then, Mr. Orszag arrived at his door.

“Orz, what’s wrong?” Mr. Emanuel said. “Can you give me a minute, or do you need something?”

He needed something.

Mr. Emanuel left, returned and started talking about how his staffs tended to be loyal. “I drive people as hard as I drive myself,” he said.

Then Mr. Obama came to his door.

“Mr. President!” Mr. Emanuel said, jumping from his couch to his feet in something that resembled a dance move, and they walked out together.

    Obama’s Partisan, Profane Confidant Reins It In, NYT, 25.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/25/us/politics/25emanuel.html?hp






Obama Plans Fast Action

to Tighten Financial Rules


January 25, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The Obama administration plans to move quickly to tighten the nation’s financial regulatory system.

Officials say they will make wide-ranging changes, including stricter federal rules for hedge funds, credit rating agencies and mortgage brokers, and greater oversight of the complex financial instruments that contributed to the economic crisis.

Broad new outlines of the administration’s agenda have begun to emerge in recent interviews with officials, in confirmation proceedings of senior appointees and in a recent report by an international committee led by Paul A. Volcker, a senior member of President Obama’s economic team.

A theme of that report, that many major companies and financial instruments now mostly unsupervised must be swept back under a larger regulatory umbrella, has been embraced as a guiding principle by the administration, officials said.

Some of these actions will require legislation, while others should be achievable through regulations adopted by several federal agencies.

Officials said they want rules to eliminate conflicts of interest at credit rating agencies that gave top investment grades to the exotic and ultimately shaky financial instruments that have been a source of market turmoil. The core problem, they said, is that the agencies are paid by companies to help them structure financial instruments, which the agencies then grade.

“Until we deal with the compensation model, we’re not going to deal with the conflict of interest, and people are not going to have confidence that the ratings are worth relying on, worth the paper they’re printed on,” Mary L. Schapiro said in testimony earlier this month before being confirmed by the Senate to head the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Timothy F. Geithner, the nominee for Treasury secretary, made similar comments in written and oral testimony before the Senate Finance Committee.

Aides said they would propose new federal standards for mortgage brokers who issued many unsuitable loans and are largely regulated by state officials. They are considering proposals to have the S.E.C. become more involved in supervising the underwriting standards of securities that are backed by mortgages.

The administration is also preparing to require that derivatives like credit default swaps, a type of insurance against loan defaults that were at the center of the financial meltdown last year, be traded through a central clearinghouse and possibly on one or more exchanges. That would make it significantly easier for regulators to supervise their use.

Officials said that the proposals were aimed at the core regulatory problems and gaps that have been highlighted by the market crisis. They include lax government oversight of financial institutions and lenders, poor risk management efforts by banks and other financial companies, the creation of exotic financial instruments that were not adequately supported by their issuing companies, and risky and ill-considered borrowing habits of many homeowners whose homes are now worth significantly less than their mortgages.

“I believe that our regulatory system failed to adapt to the emergence of new risks,” Mr. Geithner said in a written response to questions that was made public on Friday by Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan. “The current financial crisis has exposed a number of serious deficiencies in our federal regulatory system.”

The regulatory changes are a major piece of a broader package being prepared by the new administration to address the market crisis. Another piece to be issued soon will provide the strategy for how the government will go about repairing the declining banking industry. Congress recently approved the second $350 billion in spending from the Troubled Assets Relief Program.

The White House has come under increasing political and market pressure to disclose how it intends to manage the program, and there is nervous expectation on Capitol Hill that the administration will need to spend more than $350 billion. That plan is expected to focus on reducing foreclosures, revising the bank bailout program, and buying or issuing guarantees for the rapidly deteriorating assets that have been discouraging more private investment in the banks.

Senior aides have vowed to move quickly on the administration’s financial regulatory agenda. The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, approved last fall, requires the White House to make regulatory recommendations to Congress by April 30, although the administration is preparing to make legislative and regulatory proposals sooner.

Mr. Obama is expected to make one of his first foreign trips to a summit of the leaders of the Group of 20 nations in London on April 2, and officials said the administration will have outlined the details of its proposed regulatory overhaul by then.

Officials have been grappling for nearly a year to figure out how to better oversee the financial system, particularly as a number of large and inadequately supervised companies have encountered problems. In a sweeping regulatory blueprint unveiled last March, Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. proposed a broad consolidation of banking and financial agencies, including merging the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. That proposal is not included in the current plans.

Other elements of the regulatory overhaul, such as the requirement that hedge funds register with and be more closely supervised by the S.E.C., would mark a sharp departure from the policies of the Bush administration. Many hedge funds now voluntarily register and subject themselves to some regulation, but the Bush administration opposed attempts to make registration and tighter oversight mandatory, even though that was proposed by William H. Donaldson, a chairman of the commission appointed by President George W. Bush.

But other proposals the Obama administration is preparing to make, like tighter federal regulation of mortgage brokers, had been recommended in Mr. Paulson’s blueprint.

Officials said some credit default swaps with unique characteristics negotiated between companies might not be able to trade on exchanges or through clearinghouses. But standardized or uniform ones could.

“We want to make sure that the standardized part of those markets move into a central clearinghouse and onto exchanges as quickly as possible,” Mr. Geithner testified. “I think that’s really important for the system. It will help reduce risk and the system as a whole.”

The new trading procedures for derivatives could also enable regulators to impose capital and collateral requirements on companies that issue credit default swaps that would make them safer investments. American International Group, one of the largest issuer of such swaps, never had to post collateral and nearly collapsed as a result of issuing a huge volume of such instruments that it was unable to support.

Officials said the plan may include a broader role for the Federal Reserve in protecting the economy from companies whose troubles pose systemwide risks, as the report issued under the leadership of Mr. Volcker, a former Fed chairman, has proposed. The report was issued this month by a subcommittee of the Group of 30, a not-for-profit body of senior representatives from various governments and the private sector. The group’s members include Mr. Geithner and Lawrence H. Summers, the director of the White House National Economic Council.

Administration officials have begun to study ways to control executive compensation.

For example, they are preparing proposals to limit executive pay at companies that receive money under the bank bailout program. In response to written questions by Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, Mr. Geithner said that in such circumstances the administration was planning to set a limit and that any compensation over that amount would “be paid in restricted stock or similar form that cannot be liquidated or sold until government assistance has been repaid.”

“Excessive executive compensation that provides inappropriate incentives,” Mr. Geithner said, “has played a role in exacerbating the financial crisis.”

    Obama Plans Fast Action to Tighten Financial Rules, NYT, 25.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/25/us/politics/25regulate.html?hp






Dolls Resembling Daughters Displease First Lady


January 25, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The company that makes Beanie Babies has introduced two new dolls, named Sweet Sasha and Marvelous Malia.

Hey, wait a minute, aren’t Sasha and Malia the names of the Obama daughters? Yes.

Coincidence? Ty Inc., the company in Oak Brook, Ill., that makes the dolls, said yes and no.

“They are beautiful names,” Tania Lundeen, a spokeswoman for Ty, said in an interview with The Associated Press. But, “there’s nothing on the girls that refers to the Obama girls,” she said.

But what about the fact that in addition to sharing unusual names, Sweet Sasha and Marvelous Malia are slender brown-skinned and brown-eyed dolls that bear a resemblance to the 7- and 10-year-old darlings who just moved into the White House?

“It would not be fair to say they are exact replications of these girls,” Ms. Lundeen told The A.P.

But the first lady, Michelle Obama, who has publicly described her role as “mom in chief,” apparently was not amused. “We feel it is inappropriate to use young, private citizens for marketing purposes,” Katie McCormick Lelyveld, Mrs. Obama’s press secretary, said in a statement on Saturday.

The first lady’s office declined to comment further. A representative for Ty could not be reached late Saturday.

Ty released the foot-tall dolls as part of its TyGirlz Collection, and they are featured prominently on the company’s Web site. Sweet Sasha’s dark brown doll hair is twisted in braids, while Marvelous Malia’s is of similar length but pulled into a long ponytail over one shoulder.

Other dolls in the TyGirlz Collection include Jammin’ Jenna, Happy Hillary, Precious Paris and Bubbly Britney.

    Dolls Resembling Daughters Displease First Lady, NYT, 25.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/25/us/politics/25dolls.html?hp






Obama Acts Fast on Mideast, But Substance Familiar


January 23, 2009
Filed at 8:06 a.m. ET
The New York Times


CAIRO (Reuters) - President Barack Obama has taken the Middle East by surprise with the speed of his diplomacy but his first statement on the conflict between Arabs and Israelis was strikingly similar to old U.S. policies.

Arab leaders in the meantime are jumping in with their own proposals in the hope of helping to shape U.S. policy before the new administration sets it in stone.

Arab governments and commentators had expected Obama to take his time before turning his attention to the Middle East, concentrating instead on the U.S. economy and domestic concerns.

But the new president, only two days into office, appointed on Thursday a special envoy for the region, veteran mediator and former Senator George Mitchell, and said Mitchell would go to the Middle East as soon as possible.

Mitchell will try to ensure that an informal ceasefire between Israel and the Islamist movement Hamas in the Gaza Strip becomes durable and sustainable, Obama added.

One day earlier, Obama made telephone calls to Washington's long-standing allies in the Middle East - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and King Abdullah of Jordan.

The conservative Arab governments saw the calls as an affirmation of their privileged status -- another sign that Obama is sticking to traditional approaches.

"It took two longs days before Obama dispelled any notions of a change in U.S. Middle East policy," said As'ad Abu Khalil, Lebanese-born and pro-Palestinian professor of political science at California State University.

"Obama's speech was quite something. It was like sprinkling sulphuric acid on the wounds of the children in Gaza," he added.

But Obama's diplomatic activism and promises of engagement on Arab-Israeli conflicts does at least address one of the conservatives' main grievances about former President George W. Bush -- that he ignored the conflict for too long and never put his full weight behind any Middle East peace plan.

A senior member of the Saudi ruling family, Prince Turki al-Faisal, said Bush had left "a sickening legacy" in the Middle East and had contributed through arrogance to Israel's slaughter of innocent people in Gaza over the past month.

"If the United States wants to continue playing a leadership role in the Middle East and keep its strategic alliances intact ... it will have to revise drastically its policies vis a vis Israel and Palestine," he added.

Jamal Khashoggi, editor of the Saudi newspaper al-Watan, said the Saudi government was still optimistic about Obama, whom it sees as a possible friend to the Muslim world.

"Even the few Saudi officials who liked Bush were disappointed with him in the last two years," he added.

Maverick Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi took the opportunity of Obama's advent to refloat his own pet proposal -- that Israelis and Palestinians live together in one state.


Prince Turki, a nephew of King Abdullah and a former ambassador to Washington, said Washington should back the Arab peace initiative of 2002, which offers Israel peace and normal relations in return for withdrawal to its 1967 borders.

In his policy statement on Thursday, Obama said the Arab peace offer contained what he called constructive elements.

But he then called on Arab governments to carry out their half of the bargain -- "taking steps toward normalizing relations with Israel" -- without suggesting that Israel should meet the parallel Arab demand for territorial withdrawal.

Obama gave full backing to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his Western-backed prime minister, ignoring the political weight of Hamas and other groups opposed to Abbas.

He repeated the controversial conditions which the Quartet of external powers in 2006 for dealing with Hamas -- recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and accepting previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

Some analysts had speculated that Obama might bring a new approach to dealings with Hamas and other Middle East forces which retain the right to armed struggle against Israel.

Obama even linked ending the Israeli and Egyptian blockade of Gaza -- one of the roots of the recent fighting -- to restoring Abbas's control of Gaza's borders. That could perpetuate the present blockade for months or years to come.

U.S. reconstruction aid for Gaza will also be channeled exclusively through Abbas, who has no control over Gaza.

The new president followed the traditional U.S. approach of relying on Egypt to mediate between Israel and Hamas and to stop Hamas in Gaza receiving weapons through smuggling.

But Egypt failed to bring Hamas and Israel together on an agreed ceasefire and Israel says that Cairo's anti-smuggling efforts along the Gaza-Egypt border fall far short.

Hamas dismissed Obama's first venture into Middle East policy making as more of the same failed U.S. strategy.

"It seems Obama is trying to repeat the same mistakes that George Bush made without taking into consideration Bush's experience that resulted in the explosion of the region," the Hamas representative in Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, told Al Jazeera.

The pro-Syrian Lebanese newspaper As-Safir added: "The new American President inspired by Bush's positions ... Obama continues the Israeli war on the Palestinian people."

"(Obama) disappointed many hopes set on his balance and moderate views toward the Arab-Israeli conflict, since his positions allows Israel to continue what it began in its last war on Gaza," the newspaper added.

(Additional reporting by Yara Bayoumy in Beirut and Riyadh newsroom; Editing by Samia Nakhoul)

    Obama Acts Fast on Mideast, But Substance Familiar, NYT, 23.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2009/01/23/washington/politics-us-obama-arabs.html






The Frigid Fingers Were Live, but the Music Wasn’t


January 23, 2009
The New York Times


It was not precisely lip-synching, but pretty close.

The somber, elegiac tones before President Obama’s oath of office at the inauguration on Tuesday came from the instruments of Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman and two colleagues. But what the millions on the Mall and watching on television heard was in fact a recording, made two days earlier by the quartet and matched tone for tone by the musicians playing along.

The players and the inauguration organizing committee said the arrangement was necessary because of the extreme cold and wind during Tuesday’s ceremony. The conditions raised the possibility of broken piano strings, cracked instruments and wacky intonation minutes before the president’s swearing in (which had problems of its own).

“Truly, weather just made it impossible,” Carole Florman, a spokeswoman for the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, said on Thursday. “No one’s trying to fool anybody. This isn’t a matter of Milli Vanilli,” Ms. Florman added, referring to the pop band that was stripped of a 1989 Grammy because the duo did not sing on their album and lip-synched in concerts.

Ms. Florman said that the use of a recording was not disclosed beforehand but that the NBC producers handling the television pool were told of its likelihood the day before.

The network said it sent a note to pool members saying that the use of recordings in the musical numbers was possible. Inaugural musical performances are routinely recorded ahead of time for just such an eventuality, Ms. Florman said. The Marine Band and choruses, which performed throughout the ceremony, did not use a recording, she said.

“It’s not something we would announce, but it’s not something we would try to hide,” Ms. Florman said. “Frankly, it would never have occurred to me to announce it. The fact they were forced to perform to tape because of the weather did not seem relevant, nor would we want to draw attention away from what we believed the news is, that we were having a peaceful transition of power from one administration to the next.”

Anthony McGill, a principal clarinetist of the Metropolitan Opera, and the pianist Gabriela Montero joined Mr. Ma and Mr. Perlman in “Air and Simple Gifts,” a piece written for the occasion by John Williams. While not all music critics agreed about the quality of the piece, some took note of the frigid circumstances for the performers. And the classical music world was heartened by the prominent place given to its field.

Mr. Perlman said the recording, which was made Sunday at the Marine Barracks in Washington, was used as a last resort.

“It would have been a disaster if we had done it any other way,” he said Thursday in a telephone interview. “This occasion’s got to be perfect. You can’t have any slip-ups.”

The musicians wore earpieces to hear the playback.

Performing along to recordings of oneself is a venerable practice, and it is usually accompanied by a whiff of critical disapproval. Famous practitioners since the Milli Vanilli affair include Ashlee Simpson, caught doing it on “Saturday Night Live,” and Luciano Pavarotti, discovered lip-synching during a concert in Modena, Italy. More recently, Chinese organizers superimposed the voice of a sweeter-singing little girl on that of a 9-year-old performer featured at the opening ceremony of last summer’s Olympic Games.

In the case of the inauguration, the musicians argued that the magnitude of the occasion and the harsh weather made the dubbing necessary and that there was no shame in it.

“I really wanted to do something that was absolutely physically and emotionally and, timing-wise, genuine,” Mr. Ma said. “We also knew we couldn’t have any technical or instrumental malfunction on that occasion. A broken string was not an option. It was wicked cold.”

Along with admiration for the musicians’ yeoman work in the cold, questions had swirled in the classical music world about whether Mr. Ma and Mr. Perlman would use their valuable cello and violin in the subfreezing weather. Both used modern instruments. Mr. Ma said he had considered using a hardy carbon-fiber cello, but rejected the idea to avoid distracting viewers with its unorthodox appearance.

“What we were there for,” he said, “was to really serve the moment.”

    The Frigid Fingers Were Live, but the Music Wasn’t, NYT, 23.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/23/arts/music/23band.html?hp






Obama Issues Directive to Shut Down Guantánamo


January 22, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President Obama signed executive orders Thursday directing the Central Intelligence Agency to shut what remains of its network of secret prisons and ordering the closing of the Guantánamo detention camp within a year, government officials said.

The orders, which are the first steps in undoing detention policies of former President George W. Bush, rewrite American rules for the detention of terrorism suspects. They require an immediate review of the 245 detainees still held at the naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to determine if they should be transferred, released or prosecuted.

And the orders bring to an end a Central Intelligence Agency program that kept terrorism suspects in secret custody for months or years, a practice that has brought fierce criticism from foreign governments and human rights activists. They will also prohibit the C.I.A. from using coercive interrogation methods, requiring the agency to follow the same rules used by the military in interrogating terrorism suspects, government officials said.

But the orders leave unresolved complex questions surrounding the closing of the Guantánamo prison, including whether, where and how many of the detainees are to be prosecuted. They could also allow Mr. Obama to reinstate the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation operations in the future, by presidential order, as some have argued would be appropriate if Osama bin Laden or another top-level leader of Al Qaeda were captured.

The new White House counsel, Gregory B. Craig, briefed lawmakers about some elements of the orders on Wednesday evening. A Congressional official who attended the session said Mr. Craig acknowledged concerns from intelligence officials that new restrictions on C.I.A. methods might be unwise and indicated that the White House might be open to allowing the use of methods other than the 19 techniques allowed for the military.

Details of the directive involving the C.I.A. were described by government officials who insisted on anonymity so they could not be blamed for pre-empting a White House announcement. Copies of the draft order on Guantánamo were provided by people who have consulted with Mr. Obama’s transition team and requested anonymity for the same reason.

In remarks prepared for delivery at his confirmation hearings to become director of national intelligence in the Obama administration, Dennis C. Blair, a retired admiral with a long background in intelligence, endorsed the new approach and promised to enforce it rigorously. “It is not enough to set a standard and announce it,” he said.

“I believe strongly that torture is not moral, legal or effective,” he told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “Any program of detention and interrogation must comply with the Geneva Conventions, the Conventions on Torture, and the Constitution. There must be clear standards for humane treatment that apply to all agencies of U.S. Government, including the Intelligence Community,” his written statement said.

As for closing Guantanamo, he said that would take time but must be done because it has become “a damaging symbol to the world.”

“It is a rallyingcry for terrorist recruitment and harmful to our national security, so closing it is important for our national security,” Admiral Blair’s statement said.

“The guiding principles for closing the center should beprotecting our national security, respecting the Geneva Conventions and the rule of law, and respecting the existing institutions of justice in this country. I also believe we should revitalize efforts to transfer detainees to their countries of origin or other countries whenever that would be consistent with these principles. Closing this center and satisfying these principles will take time, and is the work of many departments and agencies.”

The executive order on interrogations is certain to be received with some skepticism at the C.I.A., which for years has maintained that the military’s interrogation rules are insufficient to get information from senior Qaeda figures like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The Bush administration asserted that the harsh interrogation methods were instrumental in gaining valuable intelligence on Qaeda operations.

The intelligence agency built a network of secret prisons in 2002 to house and interrogate senior Qaeda figures captured overseas. The exact number of suspects to have moved through the prisons is unknown, although Michael V. Hayden, the departing director of the agency, has in the past put the number at “fewer than 100.”

The secret detentions brought international condemnation, and in September 2006, President Bush ordered that the remaining 14 detainees in C.I.A. custody be transferred to Guantánamo Bay and tried by military tribunals.

But Mr. Bush made clear then that he was not shutting down the C.I.A. detention system, and in the last two years, two Qaeda operatives are believed to have been detained in agency prisons for several months each before being sent to Guantánamo.

A government official said Mr. Obama’s order on the C.I.A. would still allow its officers abroad to temporarily detain terrorism suspects and transfer them to other agencies, but would no longer allow the agency to carry out long-term detentions.

Since the early days after the 2001 attacks, the intelligence agency’s role in detaining terrorism suspects has been significantly scaled back, as has the severity of interrogation methods the agency is permitted to use. The most controversial practice, the simulated drowning technique known as water-boarding, was used on three suspects but has not been used since 2003, C.I.A. officials said.

But at the urging of the Bush administration, Congress in 2006 authorized the agency to continue using harsher interrogation methods than those permitted for use by other agencies, including the military. Those exact methods remain classified. The order on Guantánamo says that the camp, which received its first hooded and chained detainees seven years ago this month, “shall be closed as soon as practicable, and no later than one year from the date of this order.”

The order calls for a cabinet-level panel to grapple with issues including where in the United States prisoners might be moved and what courts they could be tried in. It also provides for a new diplomatic effort to transfer some of the remaining men, including more than 60 that the Bush administration had cleared for release.

The order also directs an immediate assessment of the prison itself to ensure that the men are held in conditions that meet the humanitarian requirements of the Geneva Convention. That provision appeared to be a pointed embrace of the international treaties that the Bush administration often argued did not apply to detainees captured in the war against terrorism.

The seven years of the detention camp have included four suicides, hunger strikes by scores of detainees, and accusations of extensive use of solitary confinement and abusive interrogations, which the Department of Defense has long denied. Last week a senior Pentagon official said she had concluded that interrogators at Guantánamo had tortured one detainee, who officials have said was a would-be “20th hijacker” in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The report of Thursday’s announcement came after the new administration late Tuesday night ordered an immediate halt to the military commission proceedings for prosecuting detainees at Guantánamo and filed a request in Federal District Court in Washington to stay habeas corpus proceedings there. Government lawyers described both delays as necessary for the administration to make a broad assessment of detention policy.

The cases immediately affected include those of five detainees charged as the coordinators of the 2001 attacks, including the case against Mr. Mohammed, the self-described mastermind.

The decision to stop the commissions was described by the military prosecutors as a pause in the war-crimes system “to permit the newly inaugurated president and his administration time to review the military commission process generally and the cases currently pending before the military commissions, specifically.”

More than 200 detainees’ habeas corpus cases have been filed in federal court, and lawyers said they expected that all of the cases would be stayed.

Mr. Obama had suggested in the campaign that, in place of military commissions, he would prefer prosecutions in federal courts or, perhaps, in the existing military justice system, which provides legal guarantees similar to those of American civilian courts.

Some human rights groups and lawyers for detainees said they were concerned about the one-year timetable. “It only took days to put these men in Guantánamo; it shouldn’t take a year to get them out,” said Vincent Warren, the executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, which has coordinated detainees’ lawyers.

But several groups that had criticized the Bush administration’s policies applauded the rapid moves by the new administration. Mr. Obama’s actions “reaffirmed American values and are a ray of light after eight long, dark years,” said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.


Mark Mazzetti reported from Washington, and William Glaberson from New York. Carl Hulse contributed reporting from Washington.

    Obama Issues Directive to Shut Down Guantánamo, NYT, 22.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/22/us/politics/22gitmo.html






After a Day of Crowds and Celebration, Obama Turns to Sober List of Challenges


January 21, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Barack Hussein Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States on Tuesday and promised to “begin again the work of remaking America” on a day of celebration that climaxed a once-inconceivable journey for the man and his country.

Mr. Obama, the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas, inherited a White House built partly by slaves and a nation in crisis at home and abroad. The moment captured the imagination of much of the world as more than a million flag-waving people bore witness while Mr. Obama recited the oath with his hand on the same Bible that Abraham Lincoln used at his inauguration 148 years ago.

Beyond the politics of the occasion, the sight of a black man climbing the highest peak electrified people across racial, generational and partisan lines. Mr. Obama largely left it to others to mark the history explicitly, making only passing reference to his own barrier-breaking role in his 18-minute Inaugural Address, noting how improbable it might seem that “a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.”

But confronted by the worst economic situation in decades, two overseas wars and the continuing threat of Islamic terrorism, Mr. Obama sobered the celebration with a grim assessment of the state of a nation rocked by home foreclosures, shuttered businesses, lost jobs, costly health care, failing schools, energy dependence and the threat of climate change. Signaling a sharp and immediate break with the presidency of George W. Bush, he vowed to usher in a “new era of responsibility” and restore tarnished American ideals.

“Today, I say to you that the challenges we face are real,” Mr. Obama said in the address, delivered from the west front of the Capitol. “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.”

The vast crowd that thronged the Mall on a frigid but bright winter day was the largest to attend an inauguration in decades, if not ever. Many then lined Pennsylvania Avenue for a parade that continued well past nightfall on a day that was not expected to end for Mr. Obama until late in the night with the last of 10 inaugural balls.

Mr. Bush left the national stage quietly, doing nothing to upstage his successor. After hosting the Obamas for coffee at the White House and attending the ceremony at the Capitol, Mr. Bush hugged Mr. Obama, then left through the Rotunda to head back to Texas. “Come on, Laura, we’re going home,” he was overheard telling Mrs. Bush.

The inauguration coincided with more bad news from Wall Street, with the Dow Jones industrial average down more than 300 points on indications of further trouble for banks.

The spirit of the day was also marred by the hospitalization of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, whose endorsement helped propel Mr. Obama to the Democratic nomination last year. Mr. Kennedy, who has been fighting a malignant brain tumor, suffered a seizure at a Capitol luncheon after the ceremony and was wheeled out on a stretcher.

The pageantry included some serious business. Shortly after he and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. were sworn in, Mr. Obama ordered all pending Bush regulations frozen for a legal and policy review. He also signed formal nomination papers for his cabinet, and the Senate quickly confirmed seven nominees: the secretaries of homeland security, energy, agriculture, interior, education and veterans’ affairs and the director of the Office of Management and Budget.

When he arrives in the Oval Office on Wednesday, aides said, Mr. Obama will get to work on some of his priorities. He plans to convene his national security team and senior military commanders to discuss his plans to pull combat troops out of Iraq and bolster those in Afghanistan. He also plans to sign executive orders to start closing the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and could reverse Mr. Bush’s restrictions on financing for groups that promote or provide information about abortion.

Delays in the confirmation process have left both the State Department and the Treasury Department in the hands of caretakers. But Hillary Rodham Clinton was expected to win Senate confirmation as secretary of state on Wednesday, and the Pentagon remains under the control of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who was kept on from the Bush administration and did not attend the inauguration so someone in the line of succession would survive in case of terrorist attack.

In his address, Mr. Obama praised Mr. Bush “for his service to our nation as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.” But he also offered implicit criticism, condemning what he called “our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.”

He went on to assure the rest of the world that change had come. “To all other peoples and governments who are watching today,” Mr. Obama said, “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.”

Some of Mr. Obama’s supporters booed and taunted Mr. Bush when he emerged from the Capitol to take his place on stage, at one point singing, “Nah, nah, nah, nah, hey, hey, hey, goodbye.” By day’s end, Mr. Bush had landed in Texas, where he defended his presidency and declared that he was “coming home with my head held high.”

The departing vice president, Dick Cheney, appeared at the ceremony in a wheelchair after suffering a back injury moving the day before and was also booed.

The nation’s 56th inauguration drew waves of people from all corners and filled the expanse between the Capitol and the Washington Monument. For the first transition in power since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, much of the capital was under exceptionally tight security, with a two-square-mile swath under the strictest control. Bridges from Virginia were closed to regular traffic and more than 35,000 civilian and military personnel were on duty.

Mr. Obama secured at least part of his legacy the moment he walked into the White House on Tuesday, 146 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, 108 years after the first black man dined in the mansion with a president and 46 years after the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. declared his dream of equality.

Mr. Obama, just 47 years old and four years out of the Illinois State Senate, arrived at this moment on the unlikeliest of paths, vaulted to the forefront of national politics on the strength of stirring speeches, early opposition to the Iraq war and public disenchantment with the Bush era. His scant record of achievement at the national level proved less important to voters than his embodiment of change.

His foreign-sounding name, his childhood in Hawaii and Indonesia and his skin color made him a unique figure in the annals of presidential campaigns, yet he toppled two of the best brand names in American politics — Mrs. Clinton in the primaries and Senator John McCain in the general election.

Mr. Obama himself is descended on his mother’s side from ancestors who owned slaves and he can trace his family tree to Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy. The power of the moment was lost on no one as the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, one of the towering figures of the civil rights movement, gave the benediction and called for “inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance.”

The Rev. Rick Warren, a conservative minister selected by Mr. Obama to give the invocation despite protests from liberals, told the crowd, “We know today that Dr. King and a great cloud of witnesses are shouting in heaven.”

For all that, Mr. Obama used the occasion to address “this winter of our hardship” and promote his plan for vast federal spending accompanied by tax cuts to stimulate the economy and begin addressing energy, environmental and infrastructure needs.

“Now there are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans,” he said. “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.”

He also essentially renounced the curtailment of liberties in the name of security, saying he would “reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.” He struck a stiff note on terrorism, saying Americans “will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense.”

“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,” he said. “You cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.”

But Mr. Obama also added a message to Islamic nations, a first from the inaugural lectern. “To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect,” Mr. Obama said. “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.”

Mr. Obama’s public day started at 8:45 a.m. when he and his wife, Michelle, left Blair House for a service at St. John’s Church, then joined the Bushes, Cheneys and Bidens for coffee at the White House.

The Obamas’ daughters, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, joined them at the Capitol, as did Mrs. Clinton and Mr. McCain, as well as former Presidents Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and the elder George Bush.

While emotional for many, the ceremony did not go entirely according to plan. Mr. Biden was sworn in by Justice John Paul Stevens behind schedule at 11:57 a.m., and Mr. Obama did not take the oath until 12:05 p.m., five minutes past the constitutionally prescribed transfer of power.

Moreover, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. stumbled over the 35-word oath, causing Mr. Obama to repeat it out of the constitutional order. Instead of swearing that he “will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States,” Mr. Obama swore that he “will execute the office of president of the United States faithfully.”

Following time-honored rituals, the Obamas attended lunch with lawmakers in Statuary Hall at the Capitol, then rode and walked to the White House, where they watched the parade from a bulletproof reviewing stand. They planned to attend all 10 official inaugural balls before spending their first night in the White House.

In his Inaugural Address, Mr. Obama seemed at times to be having a virtual dialogue with his predecessors. “What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility,” he said, “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.” Mr. Bush and Mr. Clinton likewise called for responsibility at their inaugurations, but Mr. Obama offered little sense of what exactly he wanted Americans to do.

Mr. Obama also seemed to take issue with Ronald Reagan, who declared when he took office in 1981 that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” Mr. Clinton rebutted that in 1997, saying, “government is not the problem and government is not the solution.”

Mr. Obama offered a new formulation: “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.”

Mr. Clinton, at least, applauded the message. In a brief interview afterward, he said Mr. Obama’s installation could change the way America was viewed.

“It’s obviously historic because President Obama is the first African-American president, but it’s more than that,” Mr. Clinton said. “This is a time when we’re clearly making a new beginning. It’s a country of repeated second-chances and new beginnings.”

    After a Day of Crowds and Celebration, Obama Turns to Sober List of Challenges, NYT, 21.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/21/us/politics/21inaug.html?hp






Obama Seeks Halt to Guantanamo Trials


January 21, 2009
Filed at 7:37 a.m. ET
The New York Times


GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - Hours after taking office on Tuesday, U.S. President Barack Obama ordered military prosecutors in the Guantanamo war crimes tribunals to ask for a 120-day halt in all pending cases.

Military judges were expected to rule on the request on Wednesday at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, an official involved in the trials said.

The request would halt proceedings in 21 pending cases, including the death penalty case against five Guantanamo prisoners accused of plotting the September 11 hijacked plane attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.

Prosecutors said in their written request that the halt was "in the interests of justice."

Obama has pledged to shut down the Guantanamo prison camp that was widely seen as a stain on the United States' human rights record and a symbol of detainee abuse and detention without charge under the administration of his predecessor, former President George W. Bush.

Human rights activists and military defense lawyers had urged him to halt the special tribunals that are formally known as military commissions and urged him to move the prosecutions into the regular U.S. courts for trial under long-established rules.

"In order to permit the newly inaugurated president and his administration time to review the military commission process, generally, and the cases currently pending before the military commissions, specifically, the secretary of defense has, by order of the president directed the chief prosecutor to seek continuances of 120 days in all pending case," prosecutor Clay Trivett said in the written request to the judges.

The request said freezing the trials until May 20 would give the new administration time to evaluate the cases and decide what forum best suits any future prosecution.

About 245 foreign captives are still held at the detention center that opened in January 2002. The Bush administration had said it planned to try 80 prisoners on war crimes charges, but only three cases have been completed.

Defense lawyers expected and supported a freeze of the tribunals, which have moved in fits and spurts amid numerous legal challenges. They had complained that the tribunals allowed hearsay evidence and coerced testimony and were subject of so much political interference that fairness was impossible.

Obama's order was widely anticipated. Jamil Dakwar, who is monitoring the tribunals for the American Civil Liberties Union, had said earlier Tuesday that waiting for the order was comparable to a death watch for a patient whose demise was certain.

"We're just waiting for the reading of the will," Dakwar said.

(Editing by Doina Chiacu)

    Obama Seeks Halt to Guantanamo Trials, NYT, 21.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2009/01/21/washington/news-us-guantanamo-trials.html






Obama to Begin Workaday Task of Governing Nation


January 21, 2009
Filed at 7:34 a.m. ET
The New York Times


WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama is turning from the star-studded, crowd-pleasing pomp of his inauguration to the workaday task of governing a hurting nation of 304 million and meeting the soaring expectations that he and others have put on his shoulders.

Twin crises of the economy and Iraq figured to take center stage Wednesday, Day One for the new administration.

''Tonight, we celebrate. Tomorrow, the work begins,'' Obama declared Tuesday night at the Commander in Chief Ball, one of 10 official black-tie celebrations that kept him up late into the night.

The first full day of the Obama presidency promised to be packed, at the White House and on Capitol Hill. It also promised to reveal much about how Obama intends to govern for the next four years, in style and substance.

Both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue now are controlled by Democrats, providing a chance for the Obama administration to succeed if he and fellow lawmakers of the same party can work in concert effectively and if divergent Democratic interest groups don't pull the new president in too many directions.

The capstone to four days of inaugural festivities takes place at the Washington National Cathedral on Wednesday morning, with a national prayer service that is a tradition dating to George Washington's time. Obama and his wife, Michelle, were to welcome hundreds of members of the public to a White House open house, part of his pledge to make government and those who govern more accessible.

A meeting with his economic team was planned to assess his approach and plot the way forward. Taking over the White House with 11 million Americans out of work and trillions of dollars in stock market savings lost, Obama said turning around the limping economy is his first and greatest priority.

Congress already has given him a second installment of financial-industry bailout money, worth $350 billion, and is fast-tracking a massive economic stimulus bill of $825 billion or more. Even those bold measures, on top of hundreds of billions in other federal spending over recent months, may not be enough to prevent the recession from growing deeper.

''Fortunately, we've seen Congress immediately start working on the economic recovery package, getting that passed and putting people back to work,'' Obama said in an ABC News interview. ''That's going to be the thing we'll be most focused on.''

The war in Iraq that he has promised to end was featuring prominently in Obama's first day as well.

He was convening senior commanders and top national security aides -- including holdover Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen -- to begin to make good on his pledge to, as he put it in his inaugural address, ''responsibly leave Iraq to its people and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan.''

The two unfinished wars are twinned for Obama. He has promised to bring U.S. combat troops home from Iraq within 16 months of taking office, as long as doing so wouldn't endanger either the Americans left behind for training and terrorism-fighting nor the security gains in Iraq. And he has said he would use that drawdown to bolster the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, where U.S.-backed fighters are losing ground against a resurgent Taliban.

While Obama gets to work in earnest at the White House, Congress planned to do its part.

A Senate committee was going over a huge portion of Obama's economic revival package. On the other side of the Capitol, the House planned a vote on legislation setting conditions on Obama's use of the new infusion of financial bailout money.

Work on getting the Obama administration fully staffed was also proceeding.

Within hours of Obama assuming the presidency, the Senate approved six members of his Cabinet. His choice of Hillary Rodham Clinton to be secretary of state awaited Senate action Wednesday, her confirmation held up for a day by Republican concern over the foundation fundraising of her husband, the former president.

Also left unconfirmed was Timothy Geithner, the nominee to head the Treasury Department. He faces the Senate Finance Committee, also Wednesday, where he will have to explain his initial failure to pay payroll taxes he owed while working for the International Monetary Fund.

The Senate Judiciary Committee could take up the question of Eric Holder for Obama's attorney general.

The new president signaled that a flurry of executive actions, studied and prepared during his two-month-plus transition, will come quickly too.

Among the possibilities for the first day was the naming of a Middle East envoy, critical at a time of renewed hostilities between Israelis and the Palestinians; an order closing the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a move that will take considerable time to execute and comes on the heels of a suspension of war crimes trials there pending a review; prohibiting -- in most cases -- the harsh interrogation techniques for suspected terrorists that have damaged the U.S. image around the globe; overturning the so-called Mexico City policy that forbids U.S. funding for family planning programs that offer abortion; and lifting President George W. Bush's limit on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

Preventative action was taken Tuesday already. New White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel ordered all federal agencies to put the brakes on any pending regulations that the Bush administration tried to push through in its waning days.

On the slightly more distant horizon, but part of the immediate workload, were the early February due date for sending the outlines of Obama's first budget request to Capitol Hill and plans for a State of the Union-like speech within weeks to a joint session of Congress.

    Obama to Begin Workaday Task of Governing Nation, NYT, 21.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/01/21/washington/AP-Obama-Day-One.html?_r=1






Crisis May Force Geithner's Approval


January 21, 2009
Filed at 7:23 a.m. ET
The New York Times


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama's nominee for U.S. Treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, though tarnished by disclosures of his failure to pay taxes, is likely too uniquely qualified for Congress to reject amid hopes to contain the worst economic downturn in decades.

A red-faced Geithner will undoubtedly be grilled at his Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday about his failure as an International Monetary Fund official to pay tens of thousands of dollars in U.S. taxes, and how that squares with taking the job that includes responsibility for U.S. tax collection.

But barring a glaring slip at the hearing, Geithner, the president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank and a key participant in government efforts to prop up financial markets, looks on track to be confirmed as Treasury secretary.

The White House said on Tuesday it expected the Senate Finance Committee to vote on Thursday on Geithner's nomination.

"As I understand it, the committee, the Finance Committee votes Thursday on Geithner," new White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters shortly after Obama's inauguration.

While large crowds cheered Obama's transition to the presidency on Wednesday, financial markets provided a stark reminder of the bleak economic climate the new president and his economic team inherit. The Dow Jones industrial average tumbled 332 points, or more than 4 percent, on worries about bank losses.

In 2008, the Dow fell 33.8 percent, its weakest performance since 1931.

Geithner's confirmation at one point seemed assured. As president of the New York Fed, he was central to decisions to organize an orderly sale of failing investment bank Bear Stearns with Fed backing and to shield insurer American International Group from collapse. Geithner, a protege of former Treasury Secretaries Robert Rubin and Larry Summers, had earned trouble-shooting credentials dealing with international debt crises in 1990s.

He might have expected that his main confirmation challenge would be to explain thinking behind the decision to let Lehman fail, a choice that some critics say aggravated market turmoil toward the end of the year.

He is seen by many as an effective intermediary between the U.S. central bank and Wall Street. His nomination reassured markets that there would be continuity in efforts to revive the economy and protect the banking system from collapsing under shaky credits.

But revelation that he had to pay $42,702 in back taxes and interest to settle omissions put his nomination in doubt and drew criticism and ridicule. Members of the Senate Finance Committee, which has control over his confirmation, have persistently urged Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service to be more aggressive in collecting unpaid taxes.

"The new Treasury secretary nominee, Timothy Geithner, has come up with a plan to lower taxes. Don't pay them!" joked comic Jay Leno on NBC television's popular "The Tonight Show."

Obama has stood by his nominee, and several senators have expressed their support.

But Geithner's nomination is not a done deal and his support is no longer universal.

"The Geithner affair has become an embarrassment to the Federal Reserve," wrote David Kotok, chairman of Cumberland Advisors, in a note to clients.

(Additional reporting by Tabassum Zakaria in Washington and Kristina Cooke in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler)

    Crisis May Force Geithner's Approval, NYT, 21.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2009/01/21/washington/politics-us-usa-geithner.html






Michelle Obama Picks Inaugural Fashion Mix


January 21, 2009
Filed at 7:46 a.m. ET
The New York Times


WASHINGTON (AP) -- Michelle Obama mixed her wardrobe choices on her first day as first lady, showing that she is indeed that modern style icon who embraces new designers as well as retail standbys, high fashion and mass market.

The white, one-shouldered gown, covered in fabric petals and dotted with beads, that she wore to the rounds of balls Tuesday night was by 26-year-old Jason Wu, a rising star in the fashion world but otherwise not well known.

''Her support means so much to designers who can't afford to advertise,'' said Nicole Phelps, executive editor at Style.com.

The fitted-bodice, gathered-skirt gown was a departure for Obama, who has made a sleek sheath her signature silhouette. She also has shown a fondness for jewel tones. The Isabel Toledo lemongrass-yellow ensemble she wore to the inaugural ceremony and parade was much more what the public has come to expect from Obama.

But the ball gown, worn with red-carpet-worthy dangling diamond earrings by Loree Rodkin, still felt fresh and different.

''It's soft, feminine, but powerful; I wanted to convey all that in a dress,'' Wu said. ''I wanted it to look like a sign of hope.''

Hamish Bowles, Vogue magazine's European editor-at-large, who curated the Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute exhibit on Jackie Kennedy in 2001, called the gown ''supreme modern elegance. A pitch-perfect choice: appropriately formal but romantic and imaginative.''

Clearly President Barack Obama approved. ''First of all, how good-looking is my wife?'' he asked a cheering crowd just before their first dance at the Neighborhood Ball at Washington's Convention Center.

He wore a single-vent, notch-collar tuxedo with a white bow tie and an American flag pinned to its lapel.

The gown's slight train swirled pleasingly and the new first lady's shoulder-sweeping earrings picked up the gown's sparkle.

It caused a stir on the Web, as devoted fans debated whether it best suited Obama's figure -- and their high expectations.

Regardless, the gown will be donated to the Smithsonian, according to tradition, the first lady's spokeswoman said. Surely it will be noted that fellow first ladies Jackie Kennedy and Nancy Reagan also wore white inaugural gowns.

The fashion industry has anxiously looked to the election of Obama for months, embracing his wife as an ambassador, along the lines of Kennedy.

Long loved for her willingness to confidently mix high and mass fashion, Michelle Obama didn't disappoint in accessorizing her day look: green gloves by J. Crew and green patent leather pumps by Jimmy Choo.

''What's so powerful about Michelle Obama is we all see ourselves in her,'' said red-carpet and magazine stylist Mary Alice Stephenson. ''She's a modern woman who is fashionable and even flamboyant in her style and she is still taken seriously.''

Toledo, too, said she wanted her outfit to convey optimism.

''I didn't want a traditional blue or red,'' Toledo said. ''That color has sunshine in it. I fell in love with it. So did she.''

Whether or not everyone loved the looks, that message clearly came through.

''What I recognized more than anything from our new first lady and Hillary (Rodham Clinton) and everyone else is that everyone was fresh,'' said fashion designer Kai Milla, wife of Stevie Wonder and an invited guest to the swearing-in ceremony.

    Michelle Obama Picks Inaugural Fashion Mix, NYT, 21.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/01/21/arts/AP-Obamas-Fashion.html






Bushes Have a Warm Homecoming in Texas


January 21, 2009
The New York Times


MIDLAND, Tex. — Taking the stage in front of a sea of red, white and blue “W” signs and more than 20,000 supporters, George W. Bush traded a cold and uninviting Washington on Tuesday for the warm embrace of this West Texas oil town.

There was no talk here about historically low poll ratings, disappointment, regret or change — just a hero’s return to the place where it all began for Mr. Bush and the opportunity for him to offer a mild rebuttal to his critics.

“I never took an opinion poll to tell me what to think,” Mr. Bush said to roaring cheers in Centennial Plaza, where he began his first inaugural journey in 2001.

“When I walked out of the Oval Office this morning, I left with the same values that I took to Washington eight years ago; when I go home tonight and I look into the mirror, I’m not going to regret what I see.”

If the wild celebration of President Barack Obama’s swearing-in contained an implicit rebuke of Mr. Bush’s presidency, there was no acknowledgment of it here — and no bitterness about it, either.

“Today was a great day for America and a good man took the oath of office, and we all offer our prayers for his success,” Mr. Bush said, receiving more-than-polite applause.

Nearly 1,700 miles from Washington, Mr. Bush’s reception could be taken as a trip to another time in his presidency, when his style of politics, and his Republican Party, were in the ascendance. In that vein, there were signs of concern among his admirers about what his leaving office might mean for the causes he promoted.

Following a night in which local talk radio focused on Mr. Obama’s support for abortion rights, for example, Larry Gatlin, the country singer, said of Mr. Bush, “He believes it’s O.K. to kill terrorists, not unborn children.” (He went on to tell the crowd, “We’re not warmongers” and that the ultimate goal has always been to bring the troops home safely.)

For Mr. Bush, it was a return to the place where his immediate family’s political dynasty got its start.

It was here that a young George Bush, a Connecticut native drawn by the allure of oil money nearly 50 years ago, had his first taste for politics. It was here where his son George W. returned to try his own hand at oil and politics, losing a bid for Congress, but finding God, his wife, Laura, and a new sense of purpose.

And it was here that Mr. Bush began his own inaugural journey eight years ago, telling a crowd of 15,000, “I leave here really upbeat about getting some things done for the people,” and promising to do so “by putting aside all the partisan bickering and name calling and anger.”

He got less done than he and his aides had hoped. And the boos that met his appearance on the Jumbotrons spread along the Mall in Washington on Tuesday served as evidence of the hot partisan anger that marked much of his term.

Still, Mr. Bush told the ardent supporters here that he was proud of his record, declaring, “We’ve removed threatening regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq and liberated 50 million people from tyranny.”

Mr. Bush’s trip home was the mirror image of his trip to Washington in January 2001, when he started out from his vacation home in Crawford, Tex., then stopped here on his way to the Capitol. Watching a specially made highlight video with Mr. Bush aboard the 747 he once knew as Air Force One — after Mr. Bush relinquished the presidency it was designated Special Air Mission 28000 — were many of the aides who helped place him in office to begin with: among them Karen Hughes, Karl Rove and Dan Bartlett.

This year, the crowd was even larger than it was on that much-colder day eight years ago and just as enthusiastic.

As the blue and white 747 streaked overhead to wild cheers, a local man reminisced about how Mr. Bush could regularly be seen about town when he was here as a young adult pursuing riches in oil, showing a level of comfort that he never did in Washington.

Remaining true to an eight-year pattern of staying mostly within the gates of the White House whenever in the capital, Mr. Bush made no last rounds there this week; he spent his last night having a quiet family dinner at home with his daughters and parents.

Mr. Bush began the last day at the White House waking early and visiting the Oval Office shortly before 7 a.m., when he began calling some of his closest aides, among them the outgoing secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, and the outgoing national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley. (He had already left a friendly note for Mr. Obama in the top drawer of his desk on Monday, a presidential tradition.)

Before the new occupants of the White House arrived for a traditional coffee, Mr. Bush took a solitary stroll around the South Lawn, where he had frequently walked to clear his head during the toughest moments of the Iraq war.

Mr. Bush’s face betrayed neither sorrow nor chagrin when he buoyantly greeted his successor. When Michelle Obama bounded out of the motorcade in the White House driveway, she handed Laura Bush a white package with a red ribbon that aides later said was a journal and pen for use in the writing of Mrs. Bush’s planned memoir. As the incoming and outgoing first couples walked into the presidential manse Mr. Bush patted his successor on the back.

Mr. Bush’s aides said the outgoing president shared the bipartisan buoyancy at the sight of an African-American for the first time arriving at the White House to call it home. At a goodbye ceremony in a vast hangar at Andrews Air Force Base, Mr. Bush told a gathering of 2,000 former administration officials and supporters that he was proud to have had a “front-row seat to history” for Mr. Obama’s swearing-in, according to an aide who was there.

Mr. Bush showed little sentimentality in public, though his press secretary, Dana Perino, told reporters he had gently kissed her on the forehead by way of goodbye, and he was spotted blowing a kiss back to the White House as he left for the Capitol in the presidential limousine with Mr. Obama.

And as Mr. and Mrs. Obama shepherded the Bushes to their awaiting Marine helicopter at the Capitol, the four continued to smile and exchange pleasantries before Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama gave a final embrace.

Toward the end of his remarks here, Mr. Bush, who flew to Crawford, relayed that a fellow former president recently told him, “It’s bittersweet to leave Washington.”

“For me, there’s nothing to be bitter about,” he said. “Today is some kind of sweet; we are glad to be home.”

    Bushes Have a Warm Homecoming in Texas, NYT, 21.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/21/us/politics/21bush.html?hp






Kennedy ‘Feeling Well’ After Seizure


January 21, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — In a frightening moment on a day of celebration, Senator Edward M. Kennedy suffered a seizure Tuesday at a Congressional luncheon honoring President Barack Obama after his inauguration.

Mr. Kennedy, 76, Democrat of Massachusetts, who had surgery for a brain tumor in June, was taken by ambulance to Washington Hospital Center, where he was reported to be recovering well. Medical experts said a seizure in a brain cancer patient was not unusual and ordinarily had no serious consequences.

“He’s awake and answering questions,” said So Young Pak, a spokeswoman for the hospital. She said Mr. Kennedy was with his wife, Victoria, and son Patrick, a Democratic congressman from Rhode Island.

Dr. Edward F. Aulisi, the hospital’s chairman of neurosurgery, later confirmed in a statement that Mr. Kennedy had had a seizure, which he said had probably been brought on by “simple fatigue” after a long morning in the cold at the inaugural ceremony.

Dr. Aulisi said Mr. Kennedy was “feeling well” and would rest in the hospital overnight before being discharged in the morning.

Mr. Kennedy’s sudden convulsions near the end of the luncheon, held in the Statuary Hall of the Capitol, alarmed his colleagues and many who followed the news on television. Mr. Kennedy’s hands started shaking, witnesses said, and then his body rocked back and forth uncontrollably. Doctors rushed to his side, and he was removed from the room in a wheelchair lowered to a reclining position.

His collapse drew somber remarks from Mr. Obama, whose presidential campaign benefited from Mr. Kennedy’s timely endorsement a year ago.

Speaking with emotion, Mr. Obama called Mr. Kennedy a “warrior for justice,” adding, “I’d be lying to you if I did not say, right now a part of me is with him, and I think that’s true for all of us.”

One of Mr. Kennedy’s closest friends in the Senate, Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, said Mr. Kennedy was speaking and lucid before he was wheeled out.

Mr. Dodd said Mr. Kennedy had had other seizures since his surgery. He added that he had spoken with doctors and that “the good news is he is going to be fine.”

The only current senator to have served longer than Mr. Kennedy, Robert C. Byrd, 91, who was seated in a wheelchair next to him, grew emotional and left the room after his colleague was wheeled out, aides said. That led to rumors that Mr. Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, might have suffered some kind of health problem, but staff members said he was fine.

Mr. Kennedy, who began serving in the Senate in 1962, disclosed last May 20 that he was suffering from a brain tumor, later identified as a glioblastoma, the deadliest form of brain cancer. Less than two weeks later, he flew to Duke University, where he underwent surgery.

David M. Herszenhorn contributed reporting.

    Kennedy ‘Feeling Well’ After Seizure, NYT, 21.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/21/us/politics/21kennedy.html?hp






As Bank Crisis Deepens, Obama Has No Quick Fix


January 21, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON —Even before they have settled into their new jobs, President Obama’s economic team faces an acute crisis in the nation’s banking system that has no easy answers and that they are not yet prepared to address.

The president’s advisers watched most banking shares fall sharply on Tuesday, reinforcing what Obama officials have known for weeks: that their most urgent financial problem is an immense new wave of losses at banks and other lending institutions that threatens to further cripple their ability to resume normal lending.

But when Timothy F. Geithner, the president’s nominee to be the Treasury secretary, appears before the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday for his confirmation hearing, he is not expected to have a detailed plan ready.

While Mr. Obama’s top advisers view the black hole in bank balance sheets as one of their most pressing problems, they cautioned that they would not be pressured into announcing a plan before they had carefully thought through all the options. Instead, they are scrutinizing an array of solutions, each of which has pitfalls and poses its own risks and dangers.

Obama officials are almost certain to intertwine help to the banks with Mr. Obama’s goal of providing up to $100 billion for reducing home foreclosures. The two goals are not necessarily in conflict. Subsidizing loan modifications so that people can keep their homes could relieve banks of the steep losses associated with foreclosures and also prevent further erosions in bank asset values by putting a floor under home prices. “Mortgages are still the underlying problem, and I really think we need to address that problem head-on,” said Christopher Mayer, vice dean at the Columbia University School of Business. “The foreclosure stuff is just trying not to have even bigger losses in mortgages than we have so far.”

Administration officials said they were determined not to repeat the mistakes of former President George W. Bush’s Treasury secretary, Henry M. Paulson Jr., who sold Congress on an elaborate strategy for shoring up banks and then shifted to an entirely different approach before he even got started.

Industry analysts said the Obama administration’s challenge would be to help banks get rid of severely devalued mortgage assets on their balance sheets — from nonperforming subprime mortgages to pools of mortgages and derivatives — without wasting taxpayer money or rewarding banks for bad practices.

If policy makers were even remotely honest, analysts said, they would force banks to take huge write-downs and insist on a high price in return for taking bailout money. For practical purposes, that could mean nationalization or partial nationalization for many banks.

One main difference between the options under consideration is how transparent the government would be about the ultimate costs to taxpayers and whether banks would be required to reveal the true magnitude of their likely losses.

The ultimate taxpayer cost could be very high. A new analysis from the Congressional Budget Office suggests that the taxpayer costs are highest when the government’s asset purchases involve opaque transactions that are difficult to understand.

When Mr. Paulson first pleaded with Congress to approve the $700 billion bailout program, known officially as the Troubled Asset Relief Program, he argued that the government might eventually recoup its entire investment because it would be able to resell its holdings when financial markets recovered.

But the Congressional Budget Office, analyzing the program’s $247 billion in bailout payments through December, estimated that taxpayers would end up absorbing $64 billion or 26 percent of that bill.

The nonpartisan Congressional agency estimated that taxpayers had already lost 53 percent of the government’s $40 billion investment in American International Group, the giant insurance company that had been insuring tens of billions of dollars in junk mortgage-backed securities against default. As part of the rescue, the government helped A.I.G. buy back billions in mortgage securities that it had insured.

As the new Obama economic team pondered a new approach, one alternative, though an unlikely one, would be to revive Mr. Paulson’s original idea of buying troubled assets through an auction process. The potential virtue of auctions is that they could get closer to establishing a true market value for the assets.

But the drawback is that many of the securities are so arcane and complex that they are unlikely to generate the volume of bidding needed to establish a real market price.

A second approach, which Mr. Paulson had already used in a second round of bailouts for Citigroup and Bank of America, is to “ring-fence” the bad assets by providing federal guarantees against losses, and separating the assets from the rest of a bank’s balance sheet.

The virtue of that approach is that it costs relatively little money up front, because the government is essentially providing insurance coverage.

The danger is that the potential cost to taxpayers of federal guarantees can be even less transparent than other approaches. As a result, the final costs to taxpayers could be huge. Indeed, the guarantees would put the government in the same business that led to immense losses from mortgage-backed securities: credit-default swaps.

In its recent report, the Congressional Budget Office estimated the $20 billion that the Treasury spent in November to guarantee $306 billion of toxic assets by Citigroup will cost taxpayers $5 billion — a 26 percent subsidy.

William Seidman, a former chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation who was closely involved with the bailout of savings-and-loan institutions in the 1990s, said the government should simply take control of the banks it tries to rescue. “When we did things like this, we took the banks over,” Mr. Seidman. “This is a huge, undeserved gift to the present shareholders.”

One big difference between today and the 1990s is that the government back then was seizing entire failed institutions. On paper, at least, the banks in trouble today are still viable.

That leaves the third and increasingly talked-about approach — have the government buy up the toxic assets and put them into a government-financed “bad bank” or an “aggregator bank.”

The immediate virtue of the bad bank is that the remaining “good bank” would have a clean balance sheet, unburdened by the uncertainty of future losses from bad loans and securities.

Richard Berner, chief economist at Morgan Stanley, described the “bad bank” strategy as the “least bad” of available options. The main advantage, Mr. Berner said, was that the government would have to decide how much it was willing to pay for the toxic assets. In turn, that would make it easier for the public to figure out whether the government was overpaying.

Banks may not want that kind of openness, because accurately valuing the toxic assets could force many to book big losses, admit their insolvency and shut down.

Stephen Labaton contributed reporting.

    As Bank Crisis Deepens, Obama Has No Quick Fix, NYT, 21.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/21/business/economy/21bailout.html?hp







President Obama: A Day of Uplift


January 21, 2009
The New York Times


To the Editor:

On Tuesday, Barack Obama became the 44th president of the United States. That he is the first African-American president of a country that only a handful of generations ago fought a bloody civil war that abolished slavery, and only 50 years ago struggled in the streets to bring civil rights to all citizens whatever their color, is a testament to something very good going on in America.

The grip of fear, cultural tyranny and bigotry itself has weakened and loosened to a point where, truly, the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. take on a new and powerful meaning, “Let freedom ring.”

These are hard times for people and our country. War, economic faltering and collapse in some areas, the threat of terrorism — these and more can bring fear and uncertainty to every citizen of this country.

There is much to be learned, much to be improved, there is hardship ahead as there was years ago and always will be. And in this struggle the Lord continues to work to bring us opportunities to strive for Him and do the right thing, to grow, to reach for a better life not just without, but a spiritual life within, which honors God, one another and strives to bring good will, respect and honor to all human beings, because they are human beings.

Take a moment this week to reflect on this historic inauguration of our 44th president. Perhaps this is a moment in history, within a time of uncertainty, to see a light shine, brighter than before, reflecting in the faces of all people, of all backgrounds and colors, bringing just a little more hope and faith and genuine charity to this world.

Grant Schnarr
Bryn Athyn, Pa., Jan. 20, 2009

The writer is an author and a minister.

To the Editor:

To the world — President Obama promised a return to the power of our values from this unseemly focus on the value of our power. To us at home — President Obama said the celebration is over and we must get down to “the work of remaking America.” He expects all of us to sacrifice, sweat and serve.

For when he said, “All this we can do. All this we will do,” he was really commanding us, “All of this we must do!”

Jack Nargundkar
Germantown, Md., Jan.
20, 2009

To the Editor:

I was a strong supporter of John McCain. I believed that his record of service to the nation and willingness to pursue bipartisan solutions to our problems made him uniquely suited to be president. Naturally, I was disappointed with the election results. But I can honestly say I was not depressed.

While I might not agree with him on every issue, Barack Obama is honest, extremely intelligent and very capable. He has inspired a groundswell of enthusiasm and optimism greater than any I can recall in my lifetime.

In these times of financial meltdown and international turmoil, all Americans of good will — Republicans, Democrats, independents, blacks, whites, Asians, Latinos, Jews, Christians, Muslims — share a common wish for President Obama and our nation to succeed.

Godspeed, Barack Obama.

Joel M. Zinberg
New York, Jan.
20, 2009

To the Editor:

My entire office just watched the inauguration ceremony in our boardroom here in Ottawa, and there were very few dry eyes in the room.

Sincerest congratulations on the occasion of the inauguration of your new president, Barack Obama.

Welcome back, dear America! We have missed you!

Sharon Griffin
Ottawa, Jan. 20, 2009

To the Editor:

Re “From Books, New President Found Voice” (front page, Jan. 19): Forget Oprah’s Book Club — let’s make President Obama’s reading list part of the national curriculum. Can you imagine? Shakespeare, Melville, Lincoln and Gandhi harbored at the core of America’s consciousness.

Their writings are sitting and waiting, right now, in public libraries, public schools and online. They are available to everyone. This could be an opportunity to build America’s intellectual and spiritual infrastructure. And it doesn’t have to cost a dime.

Ainslie Jones Uhl
San Diego, Jan. 19, 2009

To the Editor:

Re “I Wish You Were Here” (column, Jan. 20):

Three cheers for Bob Herbert’s recognition of Lyndon B. Johnson’s “herculean effort” in leading the way to passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which opened the way for Barack Obama to become the nation’s first African-American president.

Moreover, L.B.J.’s food stamp program helped Mr. Obama’s mother during some difficult times, and the extension of his 1965 college grant and loan programs helped both Barack and Michelle Obama get their first-class education.

It’s refreshing to have at least one member of the news media point out how “shamefully” the Democratic Party and nation (including the rest of the media) have neglected L.B.J.’s “monumental” achievements for social justice.

Joseph A. Califano Jr.
New York, Jan.
20, 2009

The writer, the chairman and president of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, was President Johnson’s White House assistant for domestic affairs.

To the Editor:

Re “Obama Reaches Out for McCain’s Counsel” (news article, Jan. 19):

There is, in fact, a precedent for President Obama’s seeking Senator John McCain’s counsel.

After Franklin D. Roosevelt won the 1940 election, he invited his opponent, the Republican Wendell L. Willkie, to meet with him in the White House. “You know, he is a very good fellow,” F.D.R. said afterward to his secretary of labor, Frances Perkins. “He has lots of talent. I want to use him somehow.”

When Roosevelt learned that Willkie was going to England in January 1941, he asked him to be his personal representative, giving him a letter for Prime Minister Winston Churchill. After his return, Willkie testified in Congress as a strong proponent of the Lend-Lease Act and more aid to Britain.

F.D.R. and Willkie continued to meet, and in the late summer of 1942, with F.D.R.’s approval and cooperation, Willkie again embarked on a fact-finding mission around the world. The two men even began talks on joining hands to realign the two political parties, a project cut short by Willkie’s death in 1944.

“You know, Willkie would have made a good Democrat,” F.D.R. once said to Perkins. “Too bad we lost him.”

Susan Dunn
Williamstown, Mass., Jan.
20, 2009

The writer teaches leadership studies at Williams College and is co-author, with James MacGregor Burns, of “The Three Roosevelts.”

To the Editor:

The Jan. 20 front-page photo of the Obamas and the baby is iconic and should take its place in the history of the glorious day of Jan. 20, 2009. It expresses, beyond what words can convey, the joy, hope and love felt by so many in the United States and throughout the world.

Ree Adler
Pompton Plains, N.J., Jan.
20, 2009

    President Obama: A Day of Uplift, NYT, 21.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/21/opinion/l21obama.html






Op-Ed Columnist

Radical in the White House


January 21, 2009
The New York Times


For one day, for one hour, let us take a bow as a country. Nearly 233 years after our founding, 144 years after the close of our Civil War and 46 years after Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, this crazy quilt of immigrants called Americans finally elected a black man, Barack Hussein Obama, as president. Walking back from the inauguration, I saw an African-American street vendor wearing a home-stenciled T-shirt that pretty well captured the moment — and then some. It said: “Mission Accomplished.”

But we cannot let this be the last mold we break, let alone the last big mission we accomplish. Now that we have overcome biography, we need to write some new history — one that will reboot, revive and reinvigorate America. That, for me, was the essence of Obama’s inaugural speech and I hope we — and he — are really up to it.

Indeed, dare I say, I hope Obama really has been palling around all these years with that old Chicago radical Bill Ayers. I hope Obama really is a closet radical.

Not radical left or right, just a radical, because this is a radical moment. It is a moment for radical departures from business as usual in so many areas. We can’t thrive as a country any longer by coasting on our reputation, by postponing solutions to every big problem that might involve some pain and by telling ourselves that dramatic new initiatives — like a gasoline tax, national health care or banking reform — are too hard or “off the table.” So my most fervent hope about President Obama is that he will be as radical as this moment — that he will put everything on the table.

Opportunities for bold initiatives and truly new beginnings are rare in our system — in part because of the sheer inertia and stalemate designed into our Constitution, with its deliberate separation of powers, and in part because of the way lobbying money, a 24-hour news cycle and a permanent presidential campaign all conspire to paralyze big changes.

“The system is built for stalemate,” said Michael J. Sandel, the Harvard University political theorist. “In ordinary times, the energy and dynamism of American life reside in the economy and society, and people view government with suspicion or indifference. But in times of national crisis, Americans look to government to solve fundamental problems that affect them directly. These are the times when presidents can do big things. These moments are rare. But they offer the occasion for the kind of leadership that can recast the political landscape, and redefine the terms of political argument for a generation.”

In the 1930s, the Great Depression enabled Franklin Roosevelt to launch the New Deal and redefine the role of the federal government, he added, while in the 1960s, the assassination of John F. Kennedy and “the moral ferment of the civil rights movement” enabled Lyndon Johnson to enact his Great Society agenda, including Medicare, the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.

“These presidencies did more than enact new laws and programs,” concluded Sandel. “They rewrote the social contract, and redefined what it means to be a citizen. Obama’s moment, and his presidency, could be that consequential.”

George W. Bush completely squandered his post-9/11 moment to summon the country to a dramatic new rebuilding at home. This has left us in some very deep holes. These holes — and the broad awareness that we are at the bottom of them — is what makes this a radical moment, calling for radical departures from business as usual, led by Washington.

That is why this voter is hoping Obama will swing for the fences. But he also has to remember to run the bases. George Bush swung for some fences, but he often failed at the most basic element of leadership — competent management and follow-through.

President Obama will have to decide just how many fences he can swing for at one time: grand bargains on entitlement and immigration reform? A national health care system? A new clean-energy infrastructure? The nationalization and repair of our banking system? Will it be all or one? Some now and some later? It is too soon to say.

But I do know this: while a crisis is a terrible thing to waste, so too is a great politician, with a natural gift for oratory, a rare knack for bringing people together, and a nation, particularly its youth, ready to be summoned and to serve.

So, in sum, while it is impossible to exaggerate what a radical departure it is from our past that we have inaugurated a black man as president, it is equally impossible to exaggerate how much our future depends on a radical departure from our present. As Obama himself declared from the Capitol steps: “Our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed.”

We need to get back to work on our country and our planet in wholly new ways. The hour is late, the project couldn’t be harder, the stakes couldn’t be higher, the payoff couldn’t be greater.

    Radical in the White House, NYT, 21.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/21/opinion/21friedman.html







President Obama


January 21, 2009
The New York Times


There was no shortage of powerful imagery on Barack Obama’s Inauguration Day, starting with the confident man who defied all political conventions — that he was too young, too inexperienced, too black or not black enough — to stand on the steps of the Capitol and take the oath of office in a city and a country that are still racially divided in many shameful ways.

And there was the crowd that for a day, and we hope much longer, defied those divisions. By the hundreds of thousands they came from every part of a nation that has rarely been in such peril and yet is so optimistic about its new leader.

In his Inaugural Address, President Obama gave them the clarity and the respect for which all Americans have hungered. In about 20 minutes, he swept away eight years of President George Bush’s false choices and failed policies and promised to recommit to America’s most cherished ideals.

With Mr. Bush looking on (and we’d like to think feeling some remorse), President Obama declared: “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.”

The speech was not programmatic, nor was it filled with as much soaring language as F.D.R.’s first Inaugural Address or John Kennedy’s only one. But it left no doubt how Mr. Obama sees the nation’s problems and how he intends to fix them and, unlike Mr. Bush, the necessary sacrifices he will ask of all Americans.

The American story “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,” he said.

Just as he reshaped the Democratic Party to win its nomination, and the American electorate to defeat John McCain, Mr. Obama said he intended to reshape government so it will truly serve its citizens.

“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,” he said.

Mr. Obama was unsparing in condemning the failed ideology of uncontrolled markets. He said the current economic crisis showed how “without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control” and that the nation has to extend the reach of prosperity to “every willing heart, not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.”

Mr. Obama also did not shrink from the early criticism of his ambitious economic recovery plan. Rather, he said the “state of our economy calls for action, bold and swift,” to build roads and bridges and electrical power and digital networks, to transform schools, and “harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.”

After more than seven years of Mr. Bush’s using fear and xenophobia to justify a disastrous and unnecessary war, and undermine the most fundamental American rights, it was exhilarating to hear Mr. Obama reject “as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.”

Instead of Mr. Bush’s unilateralism, Mr. Obama said the United States is “ready to lead once more,” by making itself a “friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity.” He said “our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please.” Mr. Obama told the Muslim world that he wants “a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”

Mr. Obama was steely toward those “who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents.” He warned them that “our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.” But where Mr. Bush painted this as an epochal, almost biblical battle between America and those who hate us and “who hate freedom,” Mr. Obama also offered to “extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

As the day continued with a parade and parties and balls, the image that stayed with us was the way the 44th president managed to embrace the symbolism and rise above it. It filled us with hope that with Mr. Obama’s help, this battered nation will be able to draw together and mend itself.

    President Obama, NYT, 21.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/21/opinion/21wed1.html






A Call for Change

Rejecting Bush Era, Reclaiming Values


January 21, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address on Tuesday was a stark repudiation of the era of George W. Bush and the ideological certainties that surrounded it, wrapped in his pledge to drive the United States into “a new age” by reclaiming the values of an older one.

It was a delicate task, with Mr. Bush and Dick Cheney sitting feet from him as Mr. Obama, only minutes into his term as president, described the false turns and the roads not taken.

To read his words literally, Mr. Obama blamed no one other than the country itself, critiquing “our collective failure to make hard choices” and a willingness to suspend national ideals “for expedience’s sake” — a clear reference to the cascade of decisions ranging from interrogation policies to wiretapping to the invasion of Iraq.

Yet not since 1933, when Franklin D. Roosevelt called for a “restoration” of American ethics and “action, and action now” as Herbert Hoover sat and seethed, has a new president so publicly rejected the essence of his predecessor’s path.

When Mr. Obama looked forward, however, he was far less specific about how he would combine his lofty vision and his passion for pragmatism into urgently needed solutions.

Mr. Obama spoke eloquently of the need to “restore science to its rightful place” and to “harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.” But he never acknowledged that his agenda would eventually have to be reconciled with towering budget deficits or spelled out what “unpleasant decisions” he would be willing to make in the service of a renewed America.

At times, Mr. Obama seemed to chastise the nation, quoting Scripture to caution that “the time has come to set aside childish things.” It seemed a call to end an age of overconsumption and the presumption that America had a right to lead the world, a right that he reminded “must be earned.”

The chiding, if most resonant of the last eight years, also harked back to an argument he advanced early in his run for the White House: that the nation had been ill-served by the social, cultural and political divisions of the generation that included Bill Clinton as well as Mr. Bush.

Every time Mr. Obama urged Americans to “choose our better history,” to reject a “false choice” between safety and American ideals and to recognize that American military power does not “entitle us to do as we please,” he was clearly signaling a commitment to remake America’s approach to the world and to embrace pragmatism, not just as a governing strategy but also as a basic value.

It was, in many ways, exactly what one might have expected from a man who propelled himself to the highest office in the land by denouncing how an excess of ideological zeal had taken the nation on a disastrous detour. But what was surprising about the speech was how much he dwelled on the choices America faces, rather than the momentousness of his ascension to the presidency.

Following the course Mr. Obama set during his campaign, he barely mentioned his race. He did not need to. The surroundings said it all as he stood on the steps of a Capitol built by the hands of slaves, and as he placed his own hand on the Bible last used by Abraham Lincoln.

Mr. Obama talked, with echoes of Churchill, of the challenges of taking command of a nation beset by what he called “gathering clouds and raging storms.” As a student of past Inaugural Addresses, he knew what he needed to accomplish. He had to evoke the clarion call for national unity that Lincoln made the centerpiece of his second Inaugural Address, in 1865, married with Franklin Roosevelt’s warning that the market had been allowed to go haywire thanks to the “stubbornness” and “incompetence” of business leaders. And he needed to recall the combination of national inspiration and resoluteness against new enemies that John F. Kennedy delivered in his Inaugural Address, just over six months before Mr. Obama was born.

As his voice and image resonated down the Mall, Mr. Obama spoke across many generations stretching to the Washington Monument and beyond.

Mixed in the crowd were the last remnants of the World War II generation, led by the all-black Tuskegee Airmen for whom Jim Crow was such a daily presence that the arrival of this day seemed unimaginable.

There were middle-aged veterans of the civil rights movement for whom this seemed the crowning achievement of a lifetime of struggles. And there were young Americans — and an overwhelming number of young African-Americans — with no memory of the civil rights movement or of the cold war, for whom Mr. Obama was a symbol of an age of instant messaging, constant networking and integration in every new meaning of the word.

For those three generations, for the veterans who arrived in wheelchairs and the teenagers wearing earphones and tapping on their iPhones, Mr. Obama’s speech was far less important than the moment itself. Many of those who braved the 17 degree chill to swarm onto the Mall at daybreak had said they would not believe America would install a black president until they witnessed him taking the oath of office, even if they had to see it on a Jumbotron a mile from the event.

By the time Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. administered that oath (and stumbling on a few of the words, leading the new president to do the same), Mr. Obama’s ascendance was so historic that the address became larger than its own language, more imbued with meaning than anything he could say.

And yet what he did say must have come as a bit of a shock to Mr. Bush. No stranger to criticism, over the past eight years he had rarely been forced to sit in silence listening to a speech about how America had gone off the rails on his watch.

Mr. Obama’s recitation of how much had gone wrong was particularly striking to anyone who had followed Mr. Bush around the country, especially during the re-election campaign of 2004, when he said it was his job “to confront problems, not to pass them on to future presidents and future generations.”

Yet Mr. Obama blamed America’s economic peril on an era “of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some,” and talked of how “the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.” It was an explicit critique of an administration that went to war in the Middle East but rejected the shared sacrifice of conservation, and reluctantly embraced the scientific evidence around global warming.

When Mr. Obama turned to foreign policy, he had a more difficult task: to signal to the world that America’s approach would change without appearing to acknowledge that America’s military was dangerously overstretched or that its will for victory would wane after Mr. Bush departed for Texas.

Mr. Obama never rose to the heights of Kennedy’s “pay any price, bear any burden.” Instead, he harked back to the concept that gave birth to the Peace Corps, noting that the cold war was won “not just with missiles and tanks,” but by leaders who understood “that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please.”

The new president skirted past the questions of how he would remake American detention policy, how he would set the rules for interrogation and how he would engage Iran and North Korea, beyond promising to “extend a hand” to those willing “to unclench your fist.” He simply promised to strike the balance differently, as America tries to hew to its ideals while pursuing a strategy of silent strength.

Whether he can execute that change is a test that begins Wednesday morning.

    Rejecting Bush Era, Reclaiming Values, NYT, 21.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/21/us/politics/21assess.html?hp






Left Feet, Long Lines and Loving Celebs at Balls


January 21, 2009
Filed at 1:03 a.m. ET
The New York Times


WASHINGTON (AP) -- Joe Biden wants to make one thing clear: He can't dance.

Biden joked about his two left feet at multiple balls Tuesday night.

''The thing that frightens me the most (is) I'm going to have to stand in that circle and dance in a minute,'' he said at the Commander in chief Ball. At that, he laughed and did a quick sign of the cross.

At the Western Ball, he said, ''Now you are going to see I can't dance.'' And at the Neighborhood Ball, he joked about killing time to avoid dancing.

''The last thing you need is to have a vice president sandwiched between a brand new president and all his star power up there. I learned a long time ago when to hush up. If you turn around and look at that screen, they've got me down to 22 seconds. The reason I want to keep talking is because I can't dance,'' he said.

But dance he did, stiffly, with wife Jill to ''Have I Told You Lately.''

''I may not be able to dance, but i sure like holding her,'' he said.


Tabloid speculation has focused on the status of Marc Anthony's relationship with Jennifer Lopez, but there was no sign of trouble at the Western Ball Tuesday night.

For his last number, Anthony thrilled the crowd by inviting ''my wife'' to sing with him.

Lopez appeared on stage in a white draped gown with flashes of gold and one shoulder bare.

They kissed on the lips before launching into an upbeat love ballad in Spanish, occasionally gazing into each other's eyes and caressing one another.

Earlier in the night he talked about her before singing a song for her.

''I wrote this next song about Jennifer. I must have been psychic,'' Anthony said. He said he wrote the song, ''You Sang to Me,'' about 10 years ago.

''She didn't get the point,'' Anthony said, ''but eventually it worked.''

At the end of the couple's duet, they kissed again.

''Man, she's cute,'' Anthony said after Lopez walked offstage. He then bid the crowd goodnight.

-- Erica Werner


After a morning of shivering in long lines, many Obama supporters braved an evening of more of the same.

At the Eastern States Ball, people were still waiting in line outside in the cold at 9:30 p.m. for the ball that started at 8 p.m.

''I think we have line fatigue from today,'' said Joshua Shiffrin, 30, of Washington, who was at the front of the line and waited about a half-hour to get in. ''We're here now, so we're happy.''

Justin Mendelsohn, 26, from New York City, said, ''We would not have been braving these lines for many candidates.''

And once inside, there was more standing, with few places to sit. At the Midwestern ball, groups of people gave up and sat on the floor.

''There's no chairs. There's nowhere to sit. And we've all got heels on,'' Kate McCarthy, 37, said as she sat on the floor with her legs outstretched. But she wasn't complaining. ''People joined us. It's actually quite fun.''

-- Marcy Gordon and Ann Sanner


So where's all this openness that Obama promised?

Certainly not at the Youth Inaugural Ball, where the media were welcome to cover the event -- sort of.

Reporters were penned in the back of the room, prohibited from mingling among the guests, and could only approach people for interviews with an escort, a practice also followed at the Obama Home States ball.

What's more, reporters were not even allowed to use the main bathrooms at the Washington Hilton; one media minder explained that organizers did not want reporters to interrogate the young-adult guests in the bathroom.

(The media could use a small bathroom near the back-hall entrance where they came into the event, again with an escort.)

-- Ben Feller


Members of the military and their families who were being celebrated at the Heroes Red White & Blue Ball, with performances by country artist Keni Thomas and Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul and Mary.

Though the ball's guests were plunging into the night's celebration, the reality that the country remains at war hung over the festivities.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reminded the crowd that while attendees celebrated ''dressed to the nines'' there are more than 280,000 troops on duty ''so we can enjoy this day.''

Cody Miranda, a Marine Corps veteran, beamed with excitement over the evening's activities. He said he wrestled with post-traumatic stress disorder and alcoholism and landed several times in military prison after returning from Iraq.

''It's great to be here to know I'm here after how I was in the military. I was downfallen,'' he said, adding that he is now in school. He is expecting much from President Barack Obama.

''I want my friends out of Iraq,'' Miranda said.

-- Suzanne Gamboa


The Southern Ball was held at an armory on the outskirts of Washington, and some of the ballgoers thought they knew why: Nine of the 11 states represented went to John McCain.

Adding to the feeling of second-rate status, the Obamas made it one of their last scheduled stops of the night.

''This is one of the times I wish when I made my donation I had used one of my friends' addresses,'' said Donna Vaughn of Nashville, a Democratic and inaugural donor who works as a district manager for a biotech company.

''I kept thinking because we're on the outskirts, we'll be one of the first ones,'' said one of Vaughn's companions, Cassandra Branch, a pharmaceutical sales representative from Nashville.

Tennessee and fellow Southern Ball states Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas all went to McCain. Only North Carolina and Florida went to Obama.

Still, there was a happy ending. The Obamas sped up their schedule and swept through the ball about two hours earlier than expected.

''Oh man. That's beautiful!'' Branch exclaimed as she and Vaughn feverishly took pictures of the Obamas dancing closely.

''To see them, they're so much in love,'' Branch said. ''It was very much worth it. Especially when you have a zoom lens.''

-- Sharon Theimer


At the Purple Ball at the Fairmont Hotel, a purple carpet replaced the Hollywood red version, but the scene brought a shot of glamour and fashion to otherwise staid Washington.

Actress Ashley Judd traded the mocha-colored Reem Acra chiffon gown she had worn the night before to the Kentucky Bluegrass Ball for a pearl gray Monique Lhullier frock on Tuesday.

The delicate gowns were a far cry from her ensemble a few hours earlier in the chilly stands below the podium where President Barack Obama took his oath, she said. Her secrets: Long underwear and a blanket wrapped around her.

''I did layer,'' Judd said. ''And I did get cold, but I expected that. It was all part of the experience.''

''I was wearing long underwear and sweats!'' reported ''Private Practice'' actress Amy Brenneman, who traded that look for a sleek metallic beige gown for the purple carpet.

Best ensemble of the night award goes to a purple 1960s jump suit, for thematics, practicality and glamour. Seriously.

The wearer: Kate Roberts, founder of YouthAIDS.

-- Laurie Kellman


Barricaded streets? Police detours? They can't stop singer Ashanti when she lays on the charm.

''We've been getting around pretty good. Sometimes we have to roll the window down and I have to bat my eyes a little bit, but it works,'' she said at the BET Inaugural Ball.

She's been getting away with it for years and it's nearly infallible. ''About 95 percent of the time'' it works, she said.

Ashanti didn't brave the cold to watch the inauguration. ''My mom, my dad, my sister, we were all inside glued to the television, watching this monumental moment,'' she said. ''The cold was too cold for me.''

But temperatures around freezing were no match for former Secretary of State Colin Powell's special inauguration coat.

''I had a nice heavy coat on that I bought almost 40 years ago for a trip to Siberia,'' Powell said at the ball, which promoted his group, America's Promise Alliance, which helps young people. ''It comes in handy at an inauguration, which is the only time I wear it.

Besides, Powell said, he can handle colder weather than that. ''Remember, I'm an infantry officer, so I'm used to cold.''

Watching Barack Obama sworn in as president was a ''deeply emotional'' experience for Powell. But, he said, Obama is ''a man, he's not Superman, so tomorrow, we all got to help him.''

-- Michael Weinfeld


Stars aren't immune from being star-struck. Many of them were awed by Obama's inauguration and the promise of a new direction for the country.

''This is not an American election,'' said boxing promoter Don King at the Huffington Post Preinaugural Party Monday. ''This is a global inauguration because people are looking for that beacon of hope and light called freedom from this country as their leadership.''

M.C. Hammer, also participating in the weekend's whirl of parties and events, said Obama's election was an important moment in the nation's history that all American's could share.

''It's not a moment for any individual group, but an American moment,'' said Hammer. ''And it can only happen with the participation of many ethnicities throughout America saying this is what we want. I understood the progress that has been made as a people. It brought tears to my face.''

But the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s, put Obama's inauguration the day after the King holiday in perspective.

''The work of the prophet made the president possible,'' Jackson said, referring to King and Obama. ''We've overcome a very sordid and often ugly past. And yet here we are, making a statement to the world. It's really a night of boundless joy, you know?''

-- Michelle Salcedo

    Left Feet, Long Lines and Loving Celebs at Balls, NYT, 21.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/01/21/washington/AP-Inauguration-Balls-Vignettes.html






At Inaugural Balls, Only One Couple Mattered


January 21, 2009
The New York Ties


WASHINGTON — Moments before the first dance at the first inaugural ball, President Obama emerged onstage Tuesday hand in hand with his wife, Michelle, who glittered in a floor-length ivory one-shoulder gown.

“How good-looking is my wife?” Mr. Obama asked the crowd at the Neighborhood Ball. During the Beyoncé rendition of “At Last,” Mr. Obama accidentally stepped on Mrs. Obama’s hem, revealing that the new president might be better on the basketball court than on the dance floor.

So began a nearly seven-hour marathon of ball-going for the first couple that was not scheduled to end until 3 a.m.

The balls capped off a seemingly endless day of photographs, speeches, parades and handshakes for the new president and first lady.

Both the Obamas and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his wife, Jill, vowed to attend all 10 official balls, and they began just after 8:30 on a frigid Washington evening. The parties were scattered across the city, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center downtown, the Washington Hilton in Dupont Circle, the National Building Museum, the National Guard Armory and Union Station. The Obamas’ daughters, Malia and Sasha, did not show up at any of the balls, but their mother told ABC News that they would not go back to school until Thursday.

After the Neighborhood Ball, a $25-a-head party that was meant to make the evening accessible to just about anyone, the Obamas walked upstairs at the convention center to the Obama Home States Ball, a party for residents of Illinois and Hawaii.

Hours before the Obamas appeared, the Don Cagen Orchestra, a band from Chicago, began warming up with songs from the 1950s and ’60s, including “A Change Is Gonna Come.”

But most of the partygoers ignored the music and clustered in front of the center stage, waiting for the stars of the evening.

“The ultimate is seeing the president and the first lady,” said Susan Peevy, 45, a postal worker from Rockville, Md. “I don’t know who’s performing, and I don’t care. Just so they show up.”

They finally did, just after 9 p.m., emerging from backstage hand in hand.

“Aloha!” Mr. Obama hollered into the microphone. “What’s going on?”

“This is a special ball,” he continued. “Because it represents our roots: Hawaii, Illinois. And together you’ve given us so much.”

The Obamas walked onstage after a dramatic introduction by eight uniformed officers, and began dancing while the crowd cheered them on, clapping.

“Step, Barack!” one 50ish woman in the audience shouted helpfully.

Men wore black tie, and women wore beaded dresses, swishy chiffon and the occasional fur. In honor of Lincoln, a few black top hats peeked out above the crowd.

Of course, the glamour days of the Reagan inaugural balls are long gone, and the crowds Tuesday did not come for the music, the pasta buffet or the $12 glasses of Champagne. (Accordingly, the cost of a ticket has inched up only to $150 from $100 in 1981.)

“I figured it would be like the black-tie opening of an auto show,” said Carolyn Grisko of Chicago, who declared herself an authority on political soirees.

Yet tens of thousands of the Democratic Party faithful gathered throughout the city in cavernous, drafty ballrooms that held more than 5,000 people.

At the Biden Home States Ball, Delaware’s elected officials basked in the glow of the new vice president, Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has instantly elevated their small state — know more for its status as a corporate tax haven than its political might — to national prominence.

“I won’t say this is what we have always waited for, but we are sure glad it finally happened,” said Senator Thomas R. Carper, who arrived wearing a red bow tie with his wife, Martha, who wore a lavender gown.

For much of the evening, guests mingled uneasily across a ballroom the length of a football field, vast expanses of which remained empty two hours into the evening. An unknown band played “We Are Family” and exhorted guests to dance. By 8 p.m., about 20 people obliged.

Many groused about the food: tortellini, stuffed baked chicken and raw vegetables. “Cafeteria food,” one guest sniffed.

At the Mid-Atlantic Ball, attended by Gov. David A. Paterson of New York and Gov. Tim Kaine of Virginia, the crowd moved from the bar and the food tables and approached the stage, waving their arms and cheering when Wyclef Jean played the national anthem on his guitar.

Across town in Dupont Circle, thousands of young volunteers to the Obama campaign lined up for two hours to get inside the Youth Ball, a $75-a-head event intended for partygoers ages 18 to 35.

Security was tight, and even some invited MTV guests, which included Leonardo DiCaprio, Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, were asked to endure some of the cold outside before gaining admission.

Tickets were highly prized, but friends of Obama volunteers sometimes got lucky. Cameron Coffey, 25, said a “friend of a friend” who was a volunteer called her three hours before the ball with an offer of a ticket.

“I had a dress, so I just came on down,” Ms. Coffey said.

Kanye West, the rapper, said he was privileged to be performing at the ball. “And I’m really glad I’m not singing outdoors,” he added.

Michael Barbaro, Bill Carter and Fernanda Santos contributed reporting.

    At Inaugural Balls, Only One Couple Mattered, NYT, 21.1.009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/21/us/politics/21celebrate.html?hp






The First Lady Tells a Story With Fashion


January 21, 2009
The New York Times


No one gets the fascination with Michelle Obama, fashion plate, more than her husband.

Invoking another president with a glamorous wife—that would be, maybe, John F. Kennedy? — President Obama told military guests at the Commander in Chief Ball last night, “I have the special honor of being the guy who accompanied Michelle Obama to the ball.”

That got a big laugh, but it would be a few minutes before the first lady made her entrance, in an ivory chiffon dress. But when she did, oh, what a roar.

It was an amazing day for Mrs. Obama — chic and bone-chilling, and maybe at times her feet hurt. For Tuesday night’s round of balls, she chose a fluffy, many-layered gown by a 26-year-old designer named Jason Wu. The dress had a one-shoulder strap and was flecked with organza flowers and crystals.

If Mrs. Obama is a different and more stylish first lady than the country has seen in a while, she proved it Tuesday with some striking fashion choices. The Wu gown was perhaps not as sophisticated as the coat-and-dress ensemble she wore for the swearing-in, but it still made a statement.

As for her vivid yellow inaugural outfit, it seemed designed to stand out against the traditional red and somber black coats on the Capitol steps.

Here is a bolder woman, a serious woman from Chicago and Harvard who is not afraid to express herself with fashion, and it is the kind of confidence that many women will recognize in themselves. Her clothes tell us that she has an adventurous spirit, as well as a sense of humor, and if some of these garments have almost an old-fashioned womanly quality, then they tell us that she is indeed not your average fashionista.

Her inaugural outfit, designed by Isabel Toledo, was made of Swiss wool lace, backed with netting for warmth, and lined in French silk. Mrs. Obama also wore a cardigan over the sleeveless dress, as a buffer to the cold. She had on pale green leather gloves and a flat, latticelike necklace with clear stones.

Long considered a designer’s designer because of her attention to craft and her sensitivity to unusual detail, Ms. Toledo said she made the yellow outfit especially for Mrs. Obama. But until she saw the new first lady on television leaving Blair House for the trip to the Capitol with her husband, she did not know positively whether Mrs. Obama would wear the clothes or something from another designer. There has been a fair amount of secrecy around Mrs. Obama’s inaugural wardrobe, and even the designers who were asked to make clothes for her said they were not told in advance which outfits she would choose.

“I wanted to pick a very optimistic color, that had sunshine,” Ms. Toledo said in a telephone interview from her studio in New York. “I wanted her to feel charmed, and in that way would charm everybody else.”

Ms. Toledo, a native of Cuba who has been making clothes for 25 years, often without attracting the attention of big-name designers, seemed overwhelmed. “This is so wonderful,” she said.

Another distinguishing aspect of the Toledo outfit was that Mrs. Obama’s dress and the small details, like the necklace, were plainly visible. The other women on the steps were bundled up, with scarves and raised collars. The only other woman on the steps who might have outshone Mrs. Obama was Aretha Franklin, who wore a spectacular gray felt hat studded with crystals.

There was a huge element of stage value in their clothes, but also a kind of graciousness. Both women were dressing to please the crowd. By contrast, Jill Biden seemed to have chosen something — a red Fleurette coat and a belted glen plaid dress by Milly — that she might have worn any day.

The Obamas’ daughters, Malia and Sasha, wore royal blue and pink coats, respectively, from J. Crew. Their mother’s green gloves were also a J. Crew item.

In one sense, Mrs. Obama’s inaugural wardrobe was not a real departure for her. She has worn Ms. Toledo’s designs before. And on Sunday, she wore a plum silk and wool dress in the morning and a camel suit with a metal-studded black shell for the “We Are One” concert. Both outfits were designed by Narciso Rodriguez, who made the black and red dress she wore on election night to the rally in Grant Park in Chicago.

Maria Cornejo, another favorite, designed the purple jacket she wore on Saturday.

On Monday, Women’s Wear Daily speculated that Mrs. Obama might have chosen Mr. Rodriguez because of President Obama’s desire to improve relations with Cuba; the designer has Cuban roots. A more likely connecting thread is Ikram Goldman, the owner of a boutique in Chicago called Ikram, where Mrs. Obama has shopped. Ikram carries those labels and Mr. Wu’s, and Ms. Goldman, according to people in the industry, played a key role in helping Mrs. Obama coordinate her wardrobe.

“She’s been a very big part of this,” Ms. Toledo said.

Certainly Mrs. Obama picked designers who are not only skillful but also independent. With the economy putting many designers under pressure, the excitement generated by her will help.

As Ms. Cornejo said, “I don’t know if it will be reflected in sales, but there’s an amazing amount of energy around.”

    The First Lady Tells a Story With Fashion, NYT, 21.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/21/us/politics/21fashion.html?hp






Out of Many Televisions, One Common Experience


January 21, 2009
The New York Times


BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — While the notable and celebrated sat in the bright cold of Washington to hear President Obama pay homage to the “men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom,” many of those very men and women were sitting here on folding chairs in an enormous, darkened concert hall.

A trip to Washington had been the plan for Robbie Revis Smith, 73, twice jailed in the 1960s for her part in the civil rights struggle. But she can barely stand up now because of a bad back. So she took the bus at 7 on an atypically frigid morning to get a front row seat at the inauguration-watching event at the Boutwell Auditorium in Birmingham.

The Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth, the 86-year-old survivor of bombing, beatings and multiple imprisonments, is as much a part of civil rights royalty as anyone. But he had only recently gotten out of the hospital. He sat upright in his wheelchair a few feet from the stage.

And there was Colonel Stone Johnson, 90, sitting quietly in his brown pinstriped suit, his hat on his knee. He said he had done Washington anyway, many times.

“I been so much,” Mr. Johnson said. “All the marches, I didn’t miss none.”

Across the country, at half-filled lunch counters and in Las Vegas showrooms, in break rooms and backrooms, Americans gathered to watch the rare sight of a dusty old cliché — that anyone, even a little black child, could some day be president — actually squaring up to reality. For many who continued to doubt up to the last minute that this was truly going to happen, the sight of a black man taking the oath of office seemed to be breaking news even if, technically, it was not.

And nobody, even Mr. Shuttlesworth, who was wheeled out as soon as Mr. Obama’s speech was concluded, wanted to be alone as they watched this moment — which in large part began in the churches and living rooms of Birmingham.

“I started to stay at home and watch this and drink a cold beer or some champagne,” said Willie Clements Sr., a burly 53-year-old former postal worker who grew up in a world of separate drinking fountains and Jim Crow. “But I got to thinking: this may not happen in my lifetime.”

At that moment, Mr. Obama was preparing to be sworn in. “Excuse me, I got to make a call,” Mr. Clements said. “My twin brother’s watching this in Vegas.”

Everywhere, people gathered. Store owners in the Bronx stole glances at television sets in backrooms in between helping customers. About a dozen Latinos stood in the lobby of a Los Angeles Y.M.C.A. watching the event.

The cars had been moved outside at the Uptown Body and Fender shop in Oakland, Calif., to make room for a projector, helium balloons, a life-size cutout of Mr. Obama and a crowd of about a hundred.

Among them was Leon Cross, a black carpet cleaner and janitor from nearby Hayward, Calif., who a couple of months ago had cast a vote for president for the first time in his 52 years. Now his Crosstown Carpet Care is offering a 44th president carpet-cleaning sale: forty-four dollars per room, which, he said, was practically giving it away.

“I’m happy to do what I can,” said Mr. Cross, whose face was lined with tears by the end of Mr. Obama’s speech.

All the swivel chairs at the Silver Star Barber Shop in Atlanta were turned to the television mounted high on a wall and all of the normal barbershop conversation — football, whiskey, unrealized diets — yielded to quiet at the start of the invocation.

“How you going to ask if I’m watching?” Dione McCalla, a 33-year-old bookstore owner barked into his cellphone. “Of course I’m watching.”

The haircuts and trims continued throughout the ceremony, but at 12:06 pm, when Mr. Obama was introduced as “the 44th president of the United States of America,” the shop fell into an even deeper hush.

Willie Edwards, sitting in the corner eating a hot dog and wearing an Obama shirt, shook his head.

“Ain’t that something,” he said.

But the moment did not belong to only one group, as personal as it may have felt.

“Maybe this means that someday we might see another historic day — a Hispanic president,” said 27-year-old forklift driver Alex Gonzalez, one of several men gathered around a rabbit-eared television in a meeting room at a fire extinguisher plant in Elk Grove Village, Ill.

At a crowded viewing party of Inauguration Day hooky-players at the Royale, a popular bar on St. Louis’s south side, Will Roth, a 61-year-old retired department manager at a grocery store, remarked on the day’s meaning for gay men and lesbians “We’ll finally have an ally in the White House instead of an adversary.”

Even those who did not feel a personal stake in the inauguration or who opposed Mr. Obama on policy grounds remained in the company of others to watch one of the country’s occasional concessions to the pomp and circumstance of royalty.

At the sparsely populated Cross Keys Diner in Republican-heavy Adams County, Pa., 83-year-old Leo Lunger, who works for his son-in-law’s carwash and concrete businesses, expressed disgust for Mr. Obama’s bailout plan and what he sees as a continuation of Clinton-era policies.

“You can’t buy your way out of this,” Mr. Lunger said. “I knew he was going to spin us blind.”

But he stayed at the counter and watched the swearing-in, as the restaurant owner’s wife, Vickie Saltos, an ecstatic Obama supporter, sent text messages to her daughter in Washington.

Whatever the feeling was about Mr. Obama’s politics, most agreed that this one-hour ceremony marked a kind of new phase in the country’s 233-year history. Few would know about that better than Florence Beatrice Stevens Smith, 104, who lives at the Heartland Health Care Center in Kendall, Fla.

The community room was already packed, with residents peeking behind walkers, when Ms. Smith entered, with a red, white and blue lei around her neck. The ceremony had begun. Although several in the room dozed peacefully, the television was turned up loud enough for people down the hall to hear it from their beds.

Ms. Smith did not say much. But an employee at the home confirmed what stories in the newspaper had said: Ms. Smith had been a typing teacher at Tuskegee University in Alabama, and her father, a former slave, had served in the Union Army.

When Mr. Obama appeared on screen and began his oath, she moved forward in her wheelchair and adjusted her glasses.

“He is really president,” Ms. Smith whispered, as others in the room applauded. “That’s nice.”

Reporting was contributed by Yolanne Almanzar in Kendall, Fla.; Robbie Brown in Atlanta; Ana Facio Contreras in Los Angeles; Karen Ann Cullotta in Elk Grove Village, Ill.; Doug Donovan in Adams County, Pa.; Malcolm Gay in St. Louis; and Malia Wollan in Oakland, Calif.

    Out of Many Televisions, One Common Experience, NYT, 21.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/21/us/politics/21voices.html?hp






This Land

At a School in Kansas, a Moment Resonates


January 21, 2009
The New York Times



Shortly before lunchtime on Tuesday, a strange quiet settled over Junction City Middle School. Strange because quiet does not come naturally to a collection of 875 students in the full throes of adolescence. But this clearly was a moment, a time to set aside childish things.

The sixth and eighth graders had shuffled into the auditorium of the year-old school, past the signs saying no gum, drinks or food, while the seventh graders took seats in the adjacent cafeteria, redolent of chicken patties frying. All were silent, and not only because the expressions of the adults hovering about signaled the need for communal reverence.

They gazed up at large screens to watch the presidential inauguration in Washington, nearly 1,100 miles away, though the distance sometimes seemed even farther. While the audio feed remained steady, the video stream stopped and stuttered, like old NASA images from space, so much so that Aretha Franklin seemed to start singing “My Country ’Tis of Thee” before opening her mouth.

But this glitch only added to the moment’s import, as if to echo other firsts — sending a man to the moon, say — along the American continuum. And these YouTube-era students never snickered; they only watched, some wide-eyed, some sleepy-eyed, the flickering images of power’s formal transfer.

Also watching, also looking up, was Ronald P. Walker, 55, the schools superintendent, from a cafeteria table he was sharing with six seventh-grade girls. He wore a dark suit, a white shirt and a red tie — the same attire as the president-elect now striding across the screen above.

Mr. Walker grew up in an all-black town in Oklahoma, worked his way through the ranks of education, and is now the only black schools superintendent in Kansas. He worries about budget cutbacks as a result of the economic crisis throttling his state and his country, but he saw in the man appearing above him a thinker, a statesman, the embodiment of hope.

“And his emphasis on education is critical for all of us,” Mr. Walker said.

One could argue that many of the students in Mr. Walker’s charge have more at stake in this far-off Washington ceremony than most. Junction City may be a place of about 20,000 in the flat plains of Kansas, but it is as diverse as any place in the country, mostly because in many ways it serves at the pleasure of Fort Riley, a major military base a few miles away.

Slightly fewer than half the students are white, more than half receive free or discounted lunches — and a full third have some connection to Fort Riley, which adds both a cultural richness and an uncommon kind of stress.

School officials say the students worry less about grades and friends than about when a parent will be deployed, when a parent will return, whether a parent will survive combat.

These are not daydream worries, what with 3,400 soldiers from Fort Riley now in Iraq, and the knowledge that 159 soldiers and airmen from the base had been killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by the end of last year.

Not too long ago, there was a report of graffiti in the bathroom at the high school. The culprit was a girl, and what she had written, over and over, was: I Miss My Dad.

So here they were, the children of a place called Junction City — a community proud of its distinctive Kansas limestone buildings, struggling still with its honky-tonk, “Junk Town” reputation of long ago — looking up at screens, waiting for a new and different show. Gazing up, too, were many adults, most of whom had thought they would never see the day.

Here was Ferrell Miller, 63, the school’s principal, whose father used to say the “N” word as if it were just any other word. Dr. Miller came to Junction City more than 40 years ago as a soldier, met and married a young woman from the Philippines, return to his Ohio hometown — and then moved back to Junction City because that place in Ohio “didn’t have the diversity we were looking for.” But Junction City did.

And here were the cafeteria workers, white, Hispanic, black, most of them wearing hairnets, taking a break from food prep to share in the moment. Margaret Langley, 73, a German woman who married a G.I. in the mid-1950s, is proud to be a naturalized citizen; Nellie Vargas, 29, from Houston, married to a soldier stationed at Fort Riley; Phyllis Edwards, 46, of North Carolina, married to a retired soldier and with a son in the eighth grade here.

“I’m just so nervous,” said Ms. Edwards, failing to find the words to match her emotions.

Finally, the moment. The announcer asked people in Washington to please stand; the students of Junction City remained seated. The chief justice of the United States said, “Congratulations, Mr. President”; those students burst into applause.

As President Obama began his Inaugural Address, the seventh-grade students began their lunch. They filed into the kitchen to collect their trays of chicken-patty sandwiches, fries and chocolate milk. Few opted for the peas.

Kimberlee Muñoz set down her tray and rendered her review of the Inaugural Address — “It was the bomb!” — while at a table nearby, Reggie Campbell ate his lunch in forced exile, having gotten into it with another student who was making fun of him. He said he lived with an uncle who was in Iraq at the moment, and he said he enjoyed watching the inauguration.

“I think it’s nice to have a black president for once,” he said.

Meanwhile, the adults at the middle school began the orderly transition from historic to mundane. Ms. Edwards took her place behind the buffet table, wishing all the while that she was in Washington. Ms. Vargas left her cafeteria work early to drive her husband to the airport; an emergency leave had ended, and he was returning to Iraq.

And Mr. Walker, in his dark suit, white shirt and red tie, set off for another meeting in another building in Junction City, leaving in his wake one word: Wow.

    At a School in Kansas, a Moment Resonates, NYT, 21.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/21/us/politics/21barry.html?hp






In His Moment, Many Feel Echoes Of Their Own Stories


Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Washington Post
By David Maraniss
Staff Writer


In taking the oath of office as the first African American president in the nation's nearly 233 years, one man reached a singular achievement. But at four minutes after noon yesterday, Barack Hussein Obama was inevitably transformed -- no matter what happens during his administration -- from an individual, a politician, to an icon and a symbol. Here was history at its most sweeping and yet intimate.

An essential theme of his presidential campaign was that his candidacy was less about him than it was about the coming together of the people of the United States of America, as Obama ritually called it in his rolling cadence. We are the change we have been waiting for, he would proclaim, repeating the mantra so often that he left himself open to sardonic mocking. Yet that idea, more than anything he said or did, became the dominant sensibility of an extraordinary day.

With the inauguration witnessed by perhaps the largest audience ever to assemble in Washington, and with the fit young leader and his wife striding confidently down part of the Pennsylvania Avenue parade route, the day, of course, was about him.

But more than that, it was about everyone out there in the crowds that stretched from the west side of the Capitol all the way to the Lincoln Memorial: every person with an individual story, a set of meanings and reference points for a moment that many thought would never happen in their lifetimes.

In his inaugural address, Obama concentrated mostly on the difficult trials to come. Drawing more on the metaphors of George Washington than of Abraham Lincoln, he evoked a figurative winter of hardship that the nation must and will endure, harking back to the uncertain revolutionary winter of 1776. The crowds, meanwhile, seemed ready and willing to stand for as many hours as it took in the literal winter, in the whipping cold of a January day, to celebrate the meaning of the moment rather than focus explicitly on the tasks ahead.

Obama's message was somber, serious and forceful, with several graceful rhetorical riffs but no attempt at lyrical exaltation. It was as though he understood that the crowd would have enough hope and joy on its own, without need of more from him. "We must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin again," he said at one point, but his celebrators already seemed picked up about as straight and high as they could get.

On a weekend train down from New Jersey, an older black man wearing presidential cuff links, stooped with arthritis but in good voice, kept saying to the people in his car: There are all these stories. Everyone has a story. We all have stories.

And so they did yesterday. The stories were not about Obama and his own unlikely saga as the 47-year-old son of a white mother from Kansas and a black father from Kenya, no more than his speech was. What preoccupied people, on this day, was the connection of his reality to their own.

Patricia Lother and her childhood friend Naomi McDowell Bryant said they started crying, eyes closed, rocking in prayer, as soon as Obama opened his mouth. They are in their 70s now, one living in New York City, the other in suburban Virginia, but they grew up together in Aiken, S.C., during the era of Jim Crow segregation.

Lother carried underneath her winter bundling a folded piece of paper that held copied photos of her great-grandmother, her grandfather and her mother. From slavery through segregation to this moment on a lone page, which she clutched close, whispering to their memories as if she could tell her ancestors about what to them might have seemed like an unimaginable event.

Lillian Winrow, after taking a cross-country trip to Washington with her husband and two children from Sacramento, was overwhelmed by thoughts of her late father, Obed Rhodes, who grew up in Alabama, in Tuskegee and Mobile, and kept a single artifact of his early life as a reminder to his children of what used to be.

It was another piece of paper, crammed with small, almost illegible writing, inscrutable phrases, that represented the poll tax imposed on voters as a means of discouraging African Americans from participating in American democracy. Winrow, 42, had never dreamed of coming to an inauguration before, had never felt connected to the official history of her country, yet here she stood, looking up at a giant screen showing Obama becoming president in his black suit and red tie, that scrap of paper in her pocket linking past to present in a way that nothing else could.

The first thought that flitted through the mind of Julie Springwater when Obama became president was also of her father, she said, though for a far different reason, and from the other side of America's difficult racial history.

Springwater, 52, a white civic activist from Providence, R.I., thought of the long-ago day in her Pittsburgh childhood when, after playing in the nearby woods with a band of young boys, she walked into her house and called her father, the social worker Harry Foreman, a "nigger." She was too young to realize what she was saying, Springwater recalled, but not too young to feel her father's wrath: Never, ever, ever say that word again, he told her.

That memory did not reflect the sheer exhilaration Springwater felt because of Obama's inauguration, but it was nonetheless her first unbidden thought. "That moment made an impression on me that I've talked about ever since," she said, framed by her young daughters, Mia and Sachie, adopted Cambodians who had helped form a BOG -- Barack Obama Group -- at the Gordon School in East Providence.

The very mention of that racial slur seemed somewhat incongruous in this setting, but Springwater was not the only white American willing to confront an ugly legacy as if this were an opportunity for cleansing. Ed Baxter, who runs a center for homeless children in San Antonio with his wife, Lenna, said the reality of President Obama made him think back to a moment when he was 10, living at the Whitaker State Orphanage in Pryor, Okla., and traveled with the orphanage's boxing team to fight an all-black squad from a nearby city.

Baxter was accustomed to boxing Native Americans; he had seen people with red skin, but not black. When he asked his coach what tribe they were, the answer was that one awful word. Baxter, now 64, never forgot it, and it came back to him again yesterday. "There was a lot of prejudice then," Baxter said. "We were taught prejudice."

Mark Smith, 46, a black tractor-trailer driver who organized a busload of postal workers to come down from northern New Jersey, was another in the crowd who thought of his father as Obama took the oath of office. His dad, Russell Smith, a retired Army sergeant major who fought in Korea and Vietnam, lied about his age back in the late 1940s and enlisted at 16 so he could "escape from the oppressive racism of Mississippi," his son said.

Russell Smith, mostly confined to the Armed Forces Retirement Home off North Capitol Street, could not make the inauguration, so Mark planned to skip the parade and visit briefly with his father before heading back north.

Smith's bus had rolled into the capital in the pre-dawn darkness, joining the masses congregating in the vicinity of the Mall. "Let us in!" a crowd started chanting outside one of the gates to the parade route shortly after 7 yesterday morning, expressing a can't-wait mood that began long before sunrise. Metro trains overflowed at 4, parking lots at many outer stations were filled by 5.

Thousands upon thousands of early arrivers moved as friendly tribes toward their places of witness, the way illuminated by the slivered moon, the high-tech glistening of huge screens stationed along the vastness of the Mall and, there in the far distance, the bright white lighting of the Capitol, facing west.

Hours before the action, in a sense, and yet the assemblage was its own piece of history, not just perhaps the largest but the most diverse as well. In the morning chill around 8, an hour before the standing-room sections for the swearing-in were opened, thick lines stretched three blocks from the security gates and grew by the minute. At the same time, the no-ticket-required grass and dirt fields at the western end of the Mall filled like a humongous sea of full-color humanity. Parkas, sleeping bags, blankets, American flags, Obama hats, Obama sweat shirts.

The crowds kept coming as the president-to-be went through his traditional inaugural-morning stations of the cross. Hours flitted past, and then Obama was president.

Betsy Tomlinson, 59, a lawyer from Doylestown, Pa., had been wrapped in a sleeping bag since 7, stationed with friends directly in front of a screen near the Washington Monument. Everything had been festive, "cold but happy" for more than five hours. And then Obama appeared, Tomlinson said, and the mood began to change. She thought he looked "so royal, so presidential, in charge" and serious. And as he started to speak, she sensed a shift in disposition coming over her and the crowd around her.

"It was like, time to get serious," Tomlinson said. "The mood change was noticeable, though not in a bad way. Just, there is a lot of work to do. Let's get to work. It was sort of a reality check."

    In His Moment, Many Feel Echoes Of Their Own Stories, WP, 21.1.2009, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/20/AR2009012004466.html?sid=ST2009012004509&s_pos=list






'I, Barack Hussein Obama . . .'


Tuesday, January 20, 2009
10:14 PM
Washington Post
By Laura Blumenfeld
Staff Writer

Left hand resting on an ancient, sacred text, right hand raised to write a new chapter of the American story, Barack Obama stood on a platform at the Capitol, poised to recite the presidential oath of office. He turned his face toward the slanting, winter sun.

It was 12:04 p.m., the moment of Obama's promise. The promise that people saw in him mingled with the promise he would make to the people. Over the next 31 seconds, swearing on Abraham Lincoln's Bible before Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., Obama would transform himself from potential to president.

He took an icy breath. He warmed it into words that rushed, eager, tumbling over Roberts's slightly off-script prompts, his declaration echoing off the monuments on the Mall, reverberating across the country and the world. From Los Angeles to Mathare, a group of slums in Nairobi, people witnessed the ceremony as it was broadcast live, and they reflected on Obama's words.

'I, Barack Hussein Obama . . .'

In Chicago, Nancy MacLean, an American history professor, passed out tissues for the tears that would come. She sat in a roomful of progressives in Rogers Park who had knocked on doors for Obama and worked so hard for this moment.

The big screen stood in the living room where Barack Obama once sat, years ago, a Chicago pol raising money for a quixotic U.S. Senate run. Now, as Obama began to recite the oath, the room fell silent.

"do solemnly swear . . ."

In New York's Times Square, Susan Jacks covered her face with a red-mittened hand and wept. A stranger standing beside her, Nils Folke Anderson, put a large arm around her.

"I'm a mess in a dress," Jacks said.

Jacks and Anderson were among the estimated 3,000 who could have stayed indoors, to watch the events in warm homes or offices, but didn't. Giant screens in Times Square that show underwear and Coke advertisements tuned in to history.

Uptown, in the Harlem Armory on 142nd Street, about 3,000 schoolchildren and residents watched on three large screens. Mbayang Kasse and Amina Niass, both 11 and in sixth grade, rose, staring at Obama's face. As other kids screamed and waved flags, they were solemn. Both little girls placed their right hands over their hearts and repeated the oath along with Obama.

"that I will execute the office . . ."

In Los Angeles, at Pizza Italia in a tough section of the city's downtown, Khatchik Tachtchian stood at the stove, chopping green peppers wearing clear plastic gloves, beneath a television picture of Obama raising his right hand.

A customer, Jerry Guzman, set his coffee on the counter, watching the little TV above the cash register. Guzman's nephew, Carlos, who has less seniority than his uncle in a company that laid off 20 people last week, sent him a text message:


"of president of the United States faithfully . . ."

In Anjuna, India, standing in front of a television set up in an elegant, seaside restaurant especially for Obama's inauguration, Diogo Pinto, a waiter, said he had heard of Obama but wasn't especially interested in politics until this moment. Then customers asked him to pour shots of vodka, whiskey and Bailey's. He heard a cheer go up when Obama's face flashed on the screen.

"Wow," Pinto said, watching the television in between serving exuberant diners. "Let's see what he does for India. We need some help fighting terrorism. We need peace with Pakistan."

"and will to the best of my ability . . ."

In Nairobi, it was a clear night full of stars when the moment came. In a sprawling slum, people gathered wherever there was a TV -- inside tiny butcher shops and hair salons and ramshackle cinemas such as the battered, iron-sheet shed called the Alabama.

A hand-chalked plywood sign outside the Alabama advertised the day's attraction: "Con Air" at 6 and 7 p.m. "History in the Making -- Obama Swearing In." At least 60 young men, tailors, plumbers, electricians and street mechanics among them, paid the special 7 cent entry fee, and settled inside on dirt floors and wooden benches facing a 20-inch TV.

As Obama spoke, men who had been slouching straightened their postures.

"Preserve, protect and defend . . ."

In Paris, in City Hall's Party Room beneath a vaulted ceiling, glittering chandeliers and fleshy women in Greco-Roman frescoes, everybody looked straight ahead, unsmiling and solemn, at the giant television screen showing a live CNN broadcast.

They listened as the words spoken in Washington bounced around the cavernous room. Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, who had invited Americans to celebrate the inauguration, hosted the reception as part of a wave of enthusiasm in France for the new leader.

"This evening I say: Long live American democracy," the mayor said. "Long live Barack Obama."

"the Constitution of the United States . . ."

In Baghdad, the streets were dark, save for the eerie glow of a refinery across the Tigris.

The family of Ayad Abdel-Sittar huddled around a space heater, near the television. Concrete from the roof had fallen, revealing rusted iron. A car bomb in 2006 -- no one could remember the month, there were too many blasts back then -- had chiseled it away. Electricity, provided by the state, cut off five minutes before Obama was sworn in. The family had an alternative; they'd run a wire from a military intelligence headquarters across the street.

By the time the lights blinked on again, Obama was halfway through his oath. No one paid attention. Fifteen-year-old Nour stared at the ground. Seif looked blankly at the screen. Ayad spoke to his wife about the upcoming provincial elections: Which party was bribing its followers to vote? Which party would try to kill its opponents? Ali played with the neighbor's baby, 8-month-old Noura. Animated, only Noura seemed to watch.

The baby let out cries that were not yet words, then pointed to the screen.

"So help me God."

Staff writers Peter Slevin in Chicago, Keith B. Richburg and Robin Shulman in New York, Karl Vick in Los Angeles, Emily Wax in India, Stephanie McCrummen in Kenya, Edward Cody in Paris, Anthony Shadid in Baghdad and Valerie Strauss in Washington contributed to this report.

    'I, Barack Hussein Obama . . .', WP, 20.1.2009, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/20/AR2009012004160.html?sid=ST2009012004509&s_pos=list






Obama Takes Oath, and Nation in Crisis Embraces the Moment


January 21, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Barack Hussein Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States on Tuesday and promised to “begin again the work of remaking America” on a day of celebration that climaxed a once-inconceivable journey for the man and his country.

Mr. Obama, the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas, inherited a White House built partly by slaves and a nation in crisis at home and abroad. The moment captured the imagination of much of the world as more than a million flag-waving people bore witness while Mr. Obama recited the oath with his hand on the same Bible that Abraham Lincoln used at his inauguration 148 years ago.

Beyond the politics of the occasion, the sight of a black man climbing the highest peak electrified people across racial, generational and partisan lines. Mr. Obama largely left it to others to mark the history explicitly, making only passing reference to his own barrier-breaking role in his 18-minute Inaugural Address, noting how improbable it might seem that “a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.”

But confronted by the worst economic situation in decades, two overseas wars and the continuing threat of Islamic terrorism, Mr. Obama sobered the celebration with a grim assessment of the state of a nation rocked by home foreclosures, shuttered businesses, lost jobs, costly health care, failing schools, energy dependence and the threat of climate change. Signaling a sharp and immediate break with the presidency of George W. Bush, he vowed to usher in a “new era of responsibility” and restore tarnished American ideals.

“Today, I say to you that the challenges we face are real,” Mr. Obama said in the address, delivered from the west front of the Capitol. “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.”

The vast crowd that thronged the Mall on a frigid but bright winter day was the largest to attend an inauguration in decades, if not ever. Many then lined Pennsylvania Avenue for a parade that continued well past nightfall on a day that was not expected to end for Mr. Obama until late in the night with the last of 10 inaugural balls.

Mr. Bush left the national stage quietly, doing nothing to upstage his successor. After hosting the Obamas for coffee at the White House and attending the ceremony at the Capitol, Mr. Bush hugged Mr. Obama, then left through the Rotunda to head back to Texas. “Come on, Laura, we’re going home,” he was overheard telling Mrs. Bush.

The inauguration coincided with more bad news from Wall Street, with the Dow Jones industrial average down more than 300 points on indications of further trouble for banks.

The spirit of the day was also marred by the hospitalization of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, whose endorsement helped propel Mr. Obama to the Democratic nomination last year. Mr. Kennedy, who has been fighting a malignant brain tumor, suffered a seizure at a Capitol luncheon after the ceremony and was wheeled out on a stretcher.

The pageantry included some serious business. Shortly after he and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. were sworn in, Mr. Obama ordered all pending Bush regulations frozen for a legal and policy review. He also signed formal nomination papers for his cabinet, and the Senate quickly confirmed seven nominees: the secretaries of homeland security, energy, agriculture, interior, education and veterans’ affairs and the director of the Office of Management and Budget.

When he arrives in the Oval Office on Wednesday, aides said, Mr. Obama will get to work on some of his priorities. He plans to convene his national security team and senior military commanders to discuss his plans to pull combat troops out of Iraq and bolster those in Afghanistan. He also plans to sign executive orders to start closing the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and could reverse Mr. Bush’s restrictions on financing for groups that promote or provide information about abortion.

Delays in the confirmation process have left both the State Department and the Treasury Department in the hands of caretakers. But Hillary Rodham Clinton was expected to win Senate confirmation as secretary of state on Wednesday, and the Pentagon remains under the control of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who was kept on from the Bush administration and did not attend the inauguration so someone in the line of succession would survive in case of terrorist attack.

In his address, Mr. Obama praised Mr. Bush “for his service to our nation as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.” But he also offered implicit criticism, condemning what he called “our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.”

He went on to assure the rest of the world that change had come. “To all other peoples and governments who are watching today,” Mr. Obama said, “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.”

Some of Mr. Obama’s supporters booed and taunted Mr. Bush when he emerged from the Capitol to take his place on stage, at one point singing, “Nah, nah, nah, nah, hey, hey, hey, goodbye.” By day’s end, Mr. Bush had landed in Texas, where he defended his presidency and declared that he was “coming home with my head held high.”

The departing vice president, Dick Cheney, appeared at the ceremony in a wheelchair after suffering a back injury moving the day before and was also booed.

The nation’s 56th inauguration drew waves of people from all corners and filled the expanse between the Capitol and the Washington Monument. For the first transition in power since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, much of the capital was under exceptionally tight security, with a two-square-mile swath under the strictest control. Bridges from Virginia were closed to regular traffic and more than 35,000 civilian and military personnel were on duty.

Mr. Obama secured at least part of his legacy the moment he walked into the White House on Tuesday, 146 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, 108 years after the first black man dined in the mansion with a president and 46 years after the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. declared his dream of equality.

Mr. Obama, just 47 years old and four years out of the Illinois State Senate, arrived at this moment on the unlikeliest of paths, vaulted to the forefront of national politics on the strength of stirring speeches, early opposition to the Iraq war and public disenchantment with the Bush era. His scant record of achievement at the national level proved less important to voters than his embodiment of change.

His foreign-sounding name, his childhood in Hawaii and Indonesia and his skin color made him a unique figure in the annals of presidential campaigns, yet he toppled two of the best brand names in American politics — Mrs. Clinton in the primaries and Senator John McCain in the general election.

Mr. Obama himself is descended on his mother’s side from ancestors who owned slaves and he can trace his family tree to Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy. The power of the moment was lost on no one as the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, one of the towering figures of the civil rights movement, gave the benediction and called for “inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance.”

The Rev. Rick Warren, a conservative minister selected by Mr. Obama to give the invocation despite protests from liberals, told the crowd, “We know today that Dr. King and a great cloud of witnesses are shouting in heaven.”

For all that, Mr. Obama used the occasion to address “this winter of our hardship” and promote his plan for vast federal spending accompanied by tax cuts to stimulate the economy and begin addressing energy, environmental and infrastructure needs.

“Now there are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans,” he said. “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.”

He also essentially renounced the curtailment of liberties in the name of security, saying he would “reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.” He struck a stiff note on terrorism, saying Americans “will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense.”

“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,” he said. “You cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.”

But Mr. Obama also added a message to Islamic nations, a first from the inaugural lectern. “To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect,” Mr. Obama said. “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.”

Mr. Obama’s public day started at 8:45 a.m. when he and his wife, Michelle, left Blair House for a service at St. John’s Church, then joined the Bushes, Cheneys and Bidens for coffee at the White House.

The Obamas’ daughters, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, joined them at the Capitol, as did Mrs. Clinton and Mr. McCain, as well as former Presidents Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and the elder George Bush.

While emotional for many, the ceremony did not go entirely according to plan. Mr. Biden was sworn in by Justice John Paul Stevens behind schedule at 11:57 a.m., and Mr. Obama did not take the oath until 12:05 p.m., five minutes past the constitutionally proscribed transfer of power.

Moreover, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. stumbled over the 35-word oath, causing Mr. Obama to repeat it out of the constitutional order. Instead of swearing that he “will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States,” Mr. Obama swore that he “will execute the office of president of the United States faithfully.”

Following time-honored rituals, the Obamas attended lunch with lawmakers in Statuary Hall at the Capitol, then rode and walked to the White House, where they watched the parade from a bulletproof reviewing stand. They planned to attend all 10 official inaugural balls before spending their first night in the White House.

In his Inaugural Address, Mr. Obama seemed at times to be having a virtual dialogue with his predecessors. “What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility,” he said, “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.” Mr. Bush and Mr. Clinton likewise called for responsibility at their inaugurations, but Mr. Obama offered little sense of what exactly he wanted Americans to do.

Mr. Obama also seemed to take issue with Ronald Reagan, who declared when he took office in 1981 that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” Mr. Clinton rebutted that in 1997, saying, “government is not the problem and government is not the solution.”

Mr. Obama offered a new formulation: “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.”

Mr. Clinton, at least, applauded the message. In a brief interview afterward, he said Mr. Obama’s installation could change the way America was viewed.

“It’s obviously historic because President Obama is the first African-American president, but it’s more than that,” Mr. Clinton said. “This is a time when we’re clearly making a new beginning. It’s a country of repeated second-chances and new beginnings.”

    Obama Takes Oath, and Nation in Crisis Embraces the Moment, NYT, 21.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/21/us/politics/21inaug.html?hp






Obama Promises the World a Renewed America


January 21, 2009
The New York Times


LONDON — President Obama used his Inaugural Address to promise the regeneration of an America many in recent years had feared lost.

Speaking directly to the millions who crowded around televisions across the world as much as to Americans, Mr. Obama said the United States was “ready to lead once more” despite the ravages of protracted wars and a depleted economy.

But he coupled that with a vision of an America that exercises its power with a sense of justice, humility and restraint, and an America that, while believing its values still light the world, pledges to promote them through cooperation and understanding as much as military might.

With a steel never so pronounced in his campaign, he challenged America’s adversaries — and, recently, some of its oldest friends — who have spied an America diminished by economic distress and war, and heralded a new world order in which America would give up much of its power.

That hesitant, regretful America was nowhere to be seen in Mr. Obama’s address, which called on Americans to rally against “a nagging fear” that decline is inevitable. While offering a “new way forward to the Muslim world,” and warning dictators that they are “on the wrong side of history,” he sounded not unlike George W. Bush in his challenges to those who spread terror and destruction. “You cannot outlast us; we will defeat you,” he said.

Some abroad bridled and some were reassured by the recurring foreign policy motif of Mr. Obama’s address — his resolve that the United States, as it rebuilds at home, will not give up its long-established role as the leader of the free world. And while many hailed the change of tone, others were uncertain that real change was coming, given the realities of American politics and the world that has not altered with the transition in Washington.

In Cairo and Lebanon, while some hailed Mr. Obama’s outreach to the Muslim world, most remained skeptical about his ability to change the basic direction of American policy and what many Arabs regard as a strong bias toward Israel. For many, the war in Gaza, which caused tremendous anger throughout the Arab world, overshadowed the inauguration; Mr. Obama did not refer to it in his address.

“Why should I be optimistic about what he said?” said Hassan Abdel Rahman, 25, a salesman in a flower shop in Cairo. “If there was reason to be optimistic, then we would have felt it during the war on Gaza, and if he was just, then he would have said something then — but he said nothing!”

Some old adversaries suggested that they would keep an open mind. “We salute the people of the United States,” said Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez, emphasizing that he hoped that Mr. Obama’s presidency would “mark a change in the relations of the United States with the countries of the third world.”

In some capitals, Mr. Obama’s renewed claim to foreign leadership and the prospect of an American president with the kind of aura not seen since John F. Kennedy have provoked stirrings of jealousy, even animosity. In Russia and France, notably, there have been high-level calls that Mr. Obama accept that America’s days as the dominant superpower are over, especially in the face of the retreat from the free-market capitalism the United States has championed.

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei V. Lavrov, published an essay last month saying, in language that was almost pitying, that Russia had “returned to the world stage” and would not accept the United States any longer as an imperial power. “America has to recognize the reality of a ‘post-American’ world,” he said.

More surprising, perhaps, has been the changed tone of France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who took office in 2007 with a reputation as France’s most pro-American president in memory but has tempered that as he has sought to establish himself as Europe’s most powerful voice. “I have always been in favor of a very close alliance with the United States of America,” Mr. Sarkozy said two weeks ago. “But let us make things clear: in the 21st century, there is no longer one nation that can tell what must be done or what one must think.”

The tone of Mr. Obama’s address, especially his emphasis on greater cooperation, and his vow to combat poverty, climate change and nuclear threats, scarcely presaged a new era of American bullying. But even with a radical new tone, he may find the partners he seeks may be reluctant to share burdens that have until now been America’s main responsibility to bear.

“We have entered a period of historical transition in which the United States will become first among equals, rather than simply top dog, hyperpower and unquestioned hegemon,” said Timothy Garton Ash, a professor of European studies at Oxford. “But for Europeans, it may be a case of being careful what you wish for, because the Obama administration is likely to say, ‘Good, then put your money where your mouth is, and in the first place, put more troops in Afghanistan.’ ”

In the days leading up to the inauguration, many politicians, academics, opinion leaders and others spoke to correspondents of The New York Times around the world about Mr. Obama in terms verging on euphoria. But they also sounded warnings that the expectations were too high and that the world might discover that Mr. Obama is hemmed in by some of the unyielding realities that had frustrated his predecessor, compounded now by the worldwide recession and what it has done to diminish America’s reputation as a model of free-market prosperity.

“Obviously, there is a risk that we will expect too much of this president — that we will learn that however hugely talented he is, he isn’t a global miracle worker,” said Christopher Patten, a former European commissioner for foreign affairs who is now chancellor of Oxford.

Moves that Mr. Obama has signaled, like a plan to close the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and to align the United States with international law on the use of torture, are certain to be greeted with relief and celebration around the world. But on Iran’s suspected bid to acquire nuclear weapons, on his pledge to step up the allied military commitment in Afghanistan, on climate change and a host of other issues, he may find personal popularity one thing, achieving his goals through partnership and negotiation quite another.

As he prepared to leave office, Mr. Bush admonished Mr. Obama to remember that a president’s first priority is to keep America safe, a challenge the new president addressed.

But his pledges to “leave Iraq to its people” and push for a “hard-earned peace” in Afghanistan may yet jar with reality, military analysts have warned. His plan to increase American and allied troop strength in Afghanistan has met with a chilling riposte from Osama bin Laden, who, by eluding capture since 9/11, has embodied the limits of Mr. Bush’s “great war on terror.”

Last week, Mr. bin Laden, Al Qaeda’s leader, challenged Mr. Obama in an audio message. Referring to Afghanistan and Iraq, he said Mr. Obama was “like one who swallows a double-edged dagger — whichever way he moves it, it will wound him.” Iraq could be just as tricky, confronting Mr. Obama, should trends toward less violence there reverse, with a challenge to his campaign commitment to a 16-month troop withdrawal timetable.

Jorge Montaño, a former Mexican ambassador to the United States, said that Mr. Bush had been too focused on Afghanistan and Iraq to notice that Latin America was drifting away from the United States, and that Mr. Obama might prove little different. “Right now, the people of the United States are worried about their credit cards, their mortgages,” he said. “These will be Obama’s priorities, and this region will have to wait.”

But as Mr. Obama took office, practical calculations were largely set aside. Commentaries praising him found much more to admire than the fact that he is the first African-American president, significant though that is in a world whose population of 6.5 billion is overwhelmingly nonwhite.

Even before his solemn and measured address, Mr. Obama had drawn widespread plaudits for his character and judgment. “Obama acts like a kind of antacid to the American stomach,” Andrew Sullivan, a columnist for The Sunday Times of London, wrote last weekend, one of a raft of adulatory articles in Europe’s major newspapers. Rather than seeing the world in black and white terms, he wrote, Mr. Obama “sees it as a series of interconnected conflicts that can be managed by pragmatic solutions, combined with a little rhetorical fairy dust and willingness to offer respect where Bush provided merely contempt.”

“This is not a panacea,” he added. “But it is not nothing either.”

Reporting was contributed by Simon Romero from Caracas, Venezuela; Mona el-Naggar from Cairo; Ellen Barry from Moscow; Marc Lacey from Mexico City; and Daphné Anglès from Paris.

    Obama Promises the World a Renewed America, NYT, 21.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/21/us/politics/21abroad.html?hp






Another first: Obama acknowledges 'non-believers'


21 January 2009
USA Today
By Cathy Lynn Grossman


On a morning of countless firsts in U.S. history, add this: Barack Obama's inaugural speech is the first time a president has ever explicitly acknowledged not only "Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus" but non-believers as well.
"This inclusiveness is a signature moment in American inaugural history," says David Domke, professor of communications at the University of Washington in Seattle, who has analyzed religious language in seven decades of inaugural and State of the Union addresses.

Obama's speech was "right in the middle" of recent presidents in the number of references to God — more than Reagan, fewer than George W. Bush — according to Domke's tally.

Even so, "You could hear beneath it all references to God-given promise, God's calls on us, God's grace on us, and the frequent use of 'shall' in that King James-ian English of the Bible and early translations of Jewish prayer books," adds Marvin Kranz, an American history expert at the Library of Congress before his retirement.

Yet in its rhetoric and references, and in Obama's "almost musical delivery," it was thoroughly expressive of a black and Christian man, even as it stretched wide to cover all Americans, says Eddie Glaude, professor of religion and African-American studies at Princeton University in Princeton, N.J.

Obama stood on Scripture, paraphrasing Paul's words in I Corinthians 13:11 that the time has come to "put away childish things."

"He spoke in the grandest of the black church tradition when he talked about how, in the darkest of hours, you have to find the strength to see past the opacity of your condition, to have vision when there's no light. I was moved by his facial expressions, too: the biting of the lip, the furrow of the brow, the momentary pauses so you have a sense of the gravitas of the situation," says Glaude.

Glaude also notes that Obama's "refutation of the Bush era, right in front of Bush," was firm but gracefully done, serving as "a wonderful model of civil disagreement. (He was saying) we are all in need of the grace and the love of God because these are some difficult days ahead indeed."

Obama also selected two powerful pastors to open and close Tuesday's ceremony, and 19 clergy and religious leaders will speak at the National Prayer Service at the National Cathedral.

California mega-church pastor Rick Warren, under fire from gay rights activists for his stand against same-sex marriage, gave an inaugural invocation that began with the Hebrew Shema, ("Hear, oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One,") and concluded with the Lord's Prayer. While Warren dedicated his own words to Jesus, he didn't ask the millions of viewers to signify to evangelical faith with an "amen."

    Another first: Obama acknowledges 'non-believers' , UT, 21.1.2009, http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2009-01-20-obama-non-believers_N.htm







Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address


January 20, 2009
The New York Times


Following is the transcript of President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address, as transcribed by CQ Transcriptions:


PRESIDENT BARACK Thank you. Thank you.

CROWD: Obama! Obama! Obama! 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 forbearers, 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, 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 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 our 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 costs.

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. 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.

MR. 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. The 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 the 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 that 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 we are ready to lead once more.


Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with the 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'll begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people and forge a hard- earned peace in Afghanistan.

With old friends and former foes, we'll 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 nonbelievers. 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...


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 the 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, 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, honesty and hard work, 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 60 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 in 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 nine 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.

Thank you. God bless you.


And God bless the United States of America.


    Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address, NYT, 21.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/20/us/politics/20text-obama.html






A Long Day Steeped in Pomp, History and Emotion


January 21, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — As President Obama stood on the east steps of the Capitol, waiting to review the troops in his new role as commander in chief, he discreetly moved the American flag pin from the lapel of his suit to his black wool overcoat and proceeded onto one of his first ceremonial acts of office.

He listened to “Stars and Stripes Forever.” He watched stoically as representatives from each branch of the armed services passed before him. And before he climbed into his limousine to set off for the parade, he turned to the military officer in charge of the festivities and offered a handshake of gratitude.

The two-star Army general traded the handshake for a sharp salute.

When Mr. Obama returned it, as protocol demanded, he delivered his first salute of his presidency with a crisp precision that looked as though he had been practicing. (Yes, one friend said, in fact he has.) By nightfall, Mr. Obama had gotten considerably more practice, offering salutes to soldiers every few minutes from his spot on the reviewing stand at the parade and on the stage at a military ball. For Mr. Obama, Inauguration Day on Tuesday kept going and going. His schedule was so crowded, aides said, he didn’t even peek into the Oval Office.

A day that began with a solitary workout in his temporary quarters at the Blair House, followed by a quiet breakfast with his family, ended with far greater fanfare. He delivered brief speeches, followed by quick dances, at a series of balls across Washington, with his schedule not calling for a return to the White House until the small hours of the morning on Wednesday.

“Hit it, band!” Mr. Obama said, acting as though he was playing the role of maestro at the Youth Inaugural Ball, the fourth on his tour of 10.

The day was steeped in emotion, history and a dash of disbelief — all three of which, friends said, Mr. Obama experienced himself as he formally became the nation’s 44th president.

At a morning prayer service, he heard a lesson from the book of Daniel, 3:19, “In the time of crisis, good men must stand up.” He placed his hand on the burgundy Bible used by Abraham Lincoln in 1861 as he swore his oath of office. And he left his armored limousine not once, but twice, on a frigid day, as he and his wife, Michelle, walked along a heavily fortified Pennsylvania Avenue. He overruled advisers who suggested that he should stay in his car during the parade, which lasted until well after sundown. After arriving at the end of the route, Mr. Obama sat in the stands for nearly two hours as he watched bands and other entries that featured 10,000 marchers from all 50 states.

It was one of the first moments of the day for President Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to catch up as they chatted from their seats in the glass-enclosed reviewing stand across from the White House. At one point, Mr. Obama flashed a pinkie and thumb salute, known as a shaka sign, to the band from the Punahou School in Hawaii, his alma mater.

Mr. Obama, the first president since John F. Kennedy who came directly from the Senate to the White House, first savored his inauguration over a lunch inside the Capitol. A hearty seafood stew, served topped with puff pastry, helped to counter the day’s chill.

The president had only a few spoonfuls before he left the table to greet his 237 guests, but he turned to a waiter and said, “Don’t let them take my soup.”

The celebratory mood inside Statuary Hall, which sits between the House and Senate chambers, quickly turned as Senator Edward M. Kennedy suffered a seizure just as the apple cinnamon sponge cake was being served for dessert. Mr. Obama was among those who rushed over to lend aid and comfort to Mr. Kennedy as paramedics arrived. The luncheon continued and the president called for prayers.

“I would be lying to you if I did not say that right now, a part of me is with him,” said Mr. Obama to the other guests; he has grown close to Mr. Kennedy after he endorsed his presidential candidacy one year ago. “This is a joyous time, but it’s also a sobering time.”

The passing of the torch was marked in myriad ways and venues on Tuesday, including when “Hail to the Chief” was played for Mr. Obama as he walked into the Congressional luncheon. Only a few moments earlier, he and his wife waved goodbye to George W. Bush and Laura Bush outside the Capitol, with the 43rd and the 44th presidents hugging one another for several seconds, followed by another handshake, before the helicopter carried them away.

In the Old Senate Chamber, where Mr. Obama stood only four years ago at a far less formal ceremony for his arrival as the junior senator from Illinois, Mr. Obama signed the documents that formally nominated the members of his cabinet. (By day’s end, seven of his nominees were confirmed.) Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who presided over the inaugural proceedings, smiled as she noted that the new president was left-handed. He joked, wondering whether he had to give back the pen.

While Mr. Obama was the center of attention throughout the day, his daughters, Malia and Sasha, were seldom far from his side, with the television cameras trained closely on their movements. Whispers could be heard, including Sasha’s commentary on her father’s 18-minute Inaugural Address.

“That was a pretty good speech, Dad,” she could be seen telling her father.

Mr. Obama, who grew accustomed to seeing unusually large crowds during his presidential campaign, had never seen anything like the scene before him as he walked to the podium shortly after noon on Tuesday. A rippling sea of waving flags stretched for nearly a mile, from the Capitol to the Washington Monument and beyond.

Presidents may have slogans, but perhaps none have had a chant as universally known as the “Obama! Obama! Obama!” that echoed back from the crowd, many of whom were dressed in some sort of apparel bearing his name. He thanked the crowd before quieting them to deliver a sobering message of challenge and responsibility, his voice quavering at the beginning of the address, but soon returning to a fuller boom.

His breath could be seen like puffs of smoke in the chilly afternoon air.

Everywhere that Mr. Obama went on Tuesday, crowds soon seemed to follow. Just across from the White House at St. John’s Church, where Mr. Obama went before being sworn into office, crowds lined up in the afternoon to take photographs in front of the sign that says: “Every president of the United States since President James Madison has attended occasional services here.”

While a handful of senior advisers spent the afternoon in the West Wing, the Obamas popped into the White House once to freshen up and did not return to their new home from the parade until shortly after 7 p.m., giving them time to do little more than change into their formal attire. He traded his red necktie for a white bow tie — and a new tuxedo — and they headed off to make appearances at 10 balls across the city.

“First of all, how good-looking is my wife?” the president asked the crowd at one of their stops, as they danced to “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours).”

His next date — the one with the Oval Office — would arrive in a few hours.

Marian Burros contributed reporting.

    A Long Day Steeped in Pomp, History and Emotion, NYT, 21.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/21/us/politics/21obama.html?hp






Obamas Take a Walking Tour, Electrifying Parade Crowd

Onlookers Who'd Lined Up on Route Starting at 4:30 A.M. Finally Get Their Picture-Perfect Moment to Remember


Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Washington Post
By Nikita Stewart
Staff Writer


Shivering parade spectators squealed their delight when President Obama hopped out of his bulletproof limousine on Pennsylvania Avenue yesterday despite security concerns and walked six blocks on the way to the White House.

In an intimate touch along the 1 1/2 -mile route, the new president and first lady Michelle Obama exited the black limousine with the blue USA1 license plate at Seventh Street NW. They walked five blocks to 12th Street and then thrilled the throngs when they emerged at 15th and G streets. They were accompanied by Vice President Biden and his wife, Jill. The Bidens sauntered for another block before returning to the vehicle on the home stretch toward the presidential review stand.

The crowd erupted rapturously each time.

"Oh, my God!" a woman shrieked at Seventh Street. "Obama is getting out of his car!"

At 12th Street, people shouted, "He's walking! He's walking!"

Up to that moment, the parade spectators had seemed like they were on the losing end of the inauguration sweepstakes. Hours after people on the Mall had already decamped for someplace warmer, parade spectators were still waiting for the first military bands to shove off. The parade was delayed because Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) collapsed at a congressional luncheon Obama attended.

But seeing the Obamas stroll down Pennsylvania Avenue, he with a jaunty red scarf around his neck and she waving her green-gloved hands, made the locale seem far preferable to viewing events on a Jumbotron.

"We got what we came for," said Kenneth Armstrong, who drove with his family from Birmingham, Ala., and had arrived at a parade security checkpoint at 4:30 a.m. to get their prime spot on the route.

"We were right up front when he walked by. What more could you ask for?"

The first inaugural parade honored the presidency of Thomas Jefferson. But security and safety have loomed large as a concern in the decades since President John F. Kennedy's assassination in 1963.

Since then, only Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, have walked the entire route, during his 1977 inauguration. Ronald Reagan rode in an open car, while George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush all walked short distances. In 2005, the first inauguration after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, George W. Bush walked only the last block.

Yesterday, hundreds of people tried to keep up with the Obamas by running along the sidewalk at the same pace, but they were stopped by a barricade at 10th Street.

Excitement rose as the presidential motorcade approached.

At the bleachers across from the White House, an announcer informed spectators: "Ladies and gentlemen, it appears the president is getting a ride as far as 15th and Pennsylvania. That means he's walking the rest of the way to here."

"Oh, my goodness! Oh, my goodness!" said a woman in a leopard-skin coat, her breath a stream of vapor in the air. "This makes it all worthwhile."

Even those who did not see his stride were happy to see the car. "He waved to me!" 9-year-old Margaret Gocha screamed.

Although authorities had threatened to turn people away from the parade if the crowd grew too large, Malcolm Wiley, a Secret Service spokesman, said that the parade route never filled to capacity and was never shut down. He said that one of the 13 checkpoints closed because the crowd had filled that area but that the rest remained open all day.

The crowd had already started to thin by the time the parade started, and most of the remaining spectators rushed away in search of warmth and a Metro station within seconds of the Obamas' passing them. Few lingered to watch the 10,000 marchers who made up the bands, Boy Scout troops and drill teams that had competed to be in the parade.

"I don't care about seeing those other people," said Ryan Simms, 23, of New Jersey, disposable camera in hand at Pennsylvania Avenue and 14th Street. "I only wanted to get Barack's picture so I can go back to the hotel. I have to get back so I can get to work in the morning."

By the time Biden got to 12th and Pennsylvania, the masses had dwindled to half of what was there when the Obamas passed. Two minutes later, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) were announced, only a few stragglers lingered.

"I almost feel sorry for him," muttered one eager escapee of Fenty.

Chanting had broken out at 11th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue when word carried that Obama was out of his car several blocks away. As the Obamas strode past the intersection hand in hand, spectators jumped up and down, waving and yelling with a fervor.

And then, he was gone. For a few minutes after he stepped back into the limo, the crowd was still giddy.

"Did you see it?"

"Did you get it?"

"I just saw Obama with my own eyes!"

But they had seen what they had waited for.

"It was so worth it!" shouted one woman in the front. "Seven seconds, and it was so worth it!"

That he had walked for several bocks in such cold weather, where many people had been waiting since before dawn, was a big point in his favor for Deborah Payne and Bettye Mack, who both took trains to town.

"It was so impressive," said Payne, 53, of Miami. "While we're freezing and he's freezing, to see him take that opportunity and show the people . . ."

She paused, and Mack, 55, of Rocky Hill, Conn., finished the thought:

"That he's the people's president."

    Obamas Take a Walking Tour, Electrifying Parade Crowd, WP, 21.1.2009, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/20/AR2009012003653.html?hpid=topnews?hpid=topnews






A Day of New Beginnings for Michelle Obama and Her Daughters


January 21, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — On Inauguration Day, President Obama, his wife, Michelle, and their daughters, Malia and Sasha, became the first black family to move into the White House.

As the television cameras rolled, Americans caught their first glimpses of the Obamas as the new first family. In intimate moments and evocative scenes, they laughed and celebrated in a day full of history and larger-than-life imagery.

There was Sasha, the bright-eyed 7-year-old daughter of the newly minted president, smiling into her father’s face and giving him an emphatic, orange-gloved thumbs up.

There was Mrs. Obama, in a lemongrass-yellow dress and matching jacket designed by Isabel Toledo, smiling and holding hands with her husband as they started their day at a prayer service at St. John’s Episcopal Church.

And there were both Obama girls, grinning and clapping and fidgeting as they sat in the shadow of the Capitol, waiting for their father to take the oath of office.

Malia, 10, wearing a blue coat and black scarf, snapped photos for posterity. Sasha, in a pink coat and orange scarf, stuffed her hands into her pockets. The girls sat between their mother and grandmother, Marian Robinson, as history unfolded before their eyes. And what resonated for many people watching was the sheer ordinariness of a happy family in extraordinary times.

“A part of what this family is going to do is to show that families of color are not so different,” said Nikki Brown, an assistant professor of history at the University of New Orleans.

“That’s what I see, when I see them on TV: a working father, a working mother, a grandmother that cares for the babies, children that are doing well in school,” Ms. Brown said. “That’s a narrative that the country is still trying to create a language for, normal families of color.”

These days, of course, the Obamas are far from ordinary.

Movers carried their belongings into the Executive Mansion on Tuesday — mostly toys, clothing and mementos from Chicago. Friends and relatives came from across the country to celebrate.

Senators, former presidents and other dignitaries greeted the family with kisses, hugs and tears. A cheering, flag-waving crowd of more than a million offered a rapturous reception.

And high school bands marched through the streets in their honor, drums pounding, trumpets blaring as the Obama family clapped and danced.

“She’s on top of the world, my goodness, ecstatic,” said Valerie Jarrett, a close friend, who described the incoming first lady’s emotions in the days before the inauguration.

“Of course, there’s a certain nervous anticipation,” Ms. Jarrett said. “The first lady is one of the most watched women in the world. It’s an awesome responsibility.

“But Michelle is Michelle,” she said. “She’s comfortable in her own skin. She’s as grounded as ever.”

The Obama girls, for instance, were dressed in outfits from J. Crew, a moderately priced retailer favored by Mrs. Obama, her aides said. Mrs. Obama’s olive green gloves also came from J. Crew.

On Monday, the girls sang and danced with their mother to live performances by Miley Cyrus and other performers, including the Jonas Brothers, at an inaugural concert for military families and their children.

Patrons at a local bar, who watched the inaugural festivities on television Tuesday, said they were pleased to see the Obamas trying to instill a sense of normality in the girls’ lives.

“Michelle said the kids are still going to make their beds,” a woman working in the kitchen said, referring to Mrs. Obama’s comments in a recent television interview. “She wants them to grow up normal.”

Yet the Obamas also seemed comfortable in their powerful new roles.

Mrs. Obama, who consulted with Mrs. Bush about raising children in the White House, presented Mrs. Bush with a parting gift and the two shared a limousine to the Capitol.

Mrs. Bush is planning to write her memoirs, and Mrs. Obama gave her a pen engraved with Tuesday’s date and a leather-bound journal inscribed with a quotation that read: “There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. Yet that will be the beginning.”

For the Obama family, of course, Tuesday was all about new beginnings.

    A Day of New Beginnings for Michelle Obama and Her Daughters, NYT, 21.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/21/us/politics/21michelle.html






A Portrait of Change

In First Family, a Nation’s Many Faces


January 21, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The president’s elderly stepgrandmother brought him an oxtail fly whisk, a mark of power at home in Kenya. Cousins journeyed from the South Carolina town where the first lady’s great-great-grandfather was born into slavery, while the rabbi in the family came from the synagogue where he had been commemorating Martin Luther King’s Birthday. The president and first lady’s siblings were there, too, of course: his Indonesian-American half-sister, who brought her Chinese-Canadian husband, and her brother, a black man with a white wife.

When President Barack Obama was sworn in on Tuesday, he was surrounded by an extended clan that would have shocked past generations of Americans and instantly redrew the image of a first family for future ones.

As they convened to take their family’s final step in its journey from Africa and into the White House, the group seemed as if it had stepped out of the pages of Mr. Obama’s memoir — no longer the disparate kin of a young man wondering how he fit in, but the embodiment of a new president’s promise of change.

For well over two centuries, the United States has been vastly more diverse than its ruling families. Now the Obama family has flipped that around, with a Technicolor cast that looks almost nothing like their overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly Protestant predecessors in the role. The family that produced Barack and Michelle Obama is black and white and Asian, Christian, Muslim and Jewish. They speak English; Indonesian; French; Cantonese; German; Hebrew; African languages including Swahili, Luo and Igbo; and even a few phrases of Gullah, the Creole dialect of the South Carolina Lowcountry. Very few are wealthy, and some — like Sarah Obama, the stepgrandmother who only recently got electricity and running water in her metal-roofed shack — are quite poor.

“Our family is new in terms of the White House, but I don’t think it’s new in terms of the country,” Maya Soetoro-Ng, the president’s younger half-sister, said last week. “I don’t think the White House has always reflected the textures and flavors of this country.”

Though the world is recognizing the inauguration of the first African-American president, the story is a more complex narrative, about immigration, social mobility and the desegregation of one of the last divided institutions in American life: the family. It is a tale of self-determination, full of refusals to follow the tracks laid by history or religion or parentage.

Mr. Obama follows the second President Bush, who had a presidential son’s self-assured grip on power. Aside from a top-quality education, the new president came to politics with none of his predecessor’s advantages: no famous last name, no deep-pocketed parents to finance early forays into politics and, in fact, not much of a father at all. So Mr. Obama built his political career from scratch, with best-selling books and long-shot runs for office, leaving his relatives astonished at where he has brought them.

“It is so mind-boggling that there is a black president,” Craig Robinson, Mrs. Obama’s brother, said in an interview. “Then you layer on top of it that I am related to him? And then you layer on top of that that it’s my brother-in-law? That is so overwhelming, I can’t hardly think about it.”

Though Mr. Obama is the son of a black Kenyan, he has some conventionally presidential roots on his white mother’s side: abolitionists who, according to family legend, were chased out of Missouri, a slave state; Midwesterners who weathered the Depression; even a handful of distant ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War. (Ever since he became a United States senator, the Sons of the American Revolution has tried to recruit him. )

But far less has been known about Mrs. Obama’s roots — even by the first lady herself. Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, “it was sort of passed-down folklore that so-and-so was related to so-and-so and their mother and father was a slave,” Mr. Robinson said.

Drawing on old census data, family records and interviews, it is clear that Mrs. Obama is indeed the descendant of slaves and a daughter of the Great Migration, the mass movement of African-Americans northward in the first half of the 20th century in search of opportunity. Mrs. Obama’s family found it, but not without outsize measures of adversity and disappointment along the way.

Tracing Family Roots

Only five generations ago, the first lady’s great-great-grandfather, Jim Robinson, was born a slave on Friendfield Plantation in Georgetown, S.C., where he almost certainly drained swamps, harvested rice and was buried in an unmarked grave. As a child, Mrs. Obama used to visit her Georgetown relatives, but she only learned during the campaign that her forebears had been enslaved in the same town where she and her cousins had played.

According to Megan Smolenyak, a genealogist who has uncovered the roots of many political figures, Mrs. Obama has ancestors with similar backgrounds across the South. The public records they left behind give only the briefest glimpses of their lives: Fanny Laws Humphrey, one of Mrs. Obama’s great-great-grandmothers, was a cook in Birmingham, Ala., born before the end of the Civil War. Another set of great-great-grandparents, Mary and Nelson Moten, seem to have left Kentucky for Chicago in the early 1860s, a hint they might have been free before the end of the Civil War. And in 1910, some of Mrs. Obama’s ancestors are listed in a census as mulatto, adding some support to family whispers of a white ancestor.

The jobs that her relatives held in the early 20th century — domestic servant, coal sorter, dressmaker — suggest an escape from sharecropping, the system that trapped many former slaves and their children in penury for generations.

Still, the family’s progress has a two steps forward, one step back quality. Jim Robinson was born into slavery, but his son, Fraser, ran a lunch truck in Georgetown. In turn, his son, Fraser Jr., struck out for Chicago in search of something better. But he was unable to find work, and left his wife and children for 14 years, according to his son Nomenee Robinson. As a result, Mrs. Obama’s father was on welfare as a boy and started working on a milk truck at 11.

After serving in the Army in World War II and finally securing a job as a postal clerk, Fraser Robinson Jr. rejoined his family. He was so thrifty that he would bring home chemicals to do the family dry cleaning in the bathtub. But his son — Mrs. Obama’s father, Fraser Robinson III — became overwhelmed with debt and dropped out of college after a year. He worked in a city boiler room for the rest of his life, helping to send his four younger siblings to college, then his two children, Mrs. Obama and her brother, to Princeton.

Classroom Values

For all of the vast differences in the Obama and Robinson histories, a few common threads run through. Education is one of them. As a young man, Mr. Obama’s father herded goats, then won a scholarship to study in the Kenyan capital. When Mr. Obama lived in Indonesia as a child, his mother woke him up for at 4 a.m. for English lessons; meanwhile, in Chicago, Mrs. Obama’s mother was bringing home math and reading workbooks so her children would always be a few lessons ahead in school.

Only through education, generations of Robinsons taught their children, would they ever succeed in a racist society, relatives said. “My mother would say, ‘When you acquire knowledge, you acquire something no one could take away from you,’ ” Craig Robinson said.

The families also share a kind of adventurous self-determination. In the standard telling, the Obama side is the one that bent the rules of geography and ethnicity. Yet the first lady’s family, the supposed South Side traditionalists, includes several members who literally or figuratively ventured far from home. Nomenee Robinson was an early participant in the Peace Corps, serving in India for two years; later, he moved to Nigeria, where he met his wife; the couple now live in Chicago. Capers Funnye Jr., a cousin of Mrs. Obama’s and a rabbi, was brought up in the black church, he said, but as a young man, he felt a calling to Judaism he could not ignore.

In daring cross-cultural leaps, no figure quite matches Stanley Ann Dunham Soetoro, Mr. Obama’s mother. As a university student in Honolulu, she hung out at the East-West Center, a cultural exchange organization, meeting two successive husbands there: Barack Obama, an economics student from Kenya, and later, Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian. Decades later, her daughter Maya Soetoro was picking up fliers at the same East-West Center when she noticed Konrad Ng, a Chinese-Canadian student, now her husband.

Now the Obama-Robinson family’s move to the White House seems like a symbolic end point for the once-firm idea that people of different backgrounds should not date, marry or bear children. In Mr. Obama’s lifetime, racial intermarriage not only became legal everywhere in the United States, but has started to flourish. As many as a quarter of white Americans and nearly half of black Americans belong to a multiracial family, estimates Joshua R. Goldstein of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research.

Diversity inside families, said Michael J. Rosenfeld, a sociologist at Stanford University, is “the most interesting kind of diversity there is, because it brings people together cheek by jowl in a way that they never were before.”

“There’s nothing as powerful as family relationships,” Mr. Rosenfeld said, “and that’s why interracial marriage was illegal for so long in the U.S.”

Initially, some of the unions in the Obama family caused consternation. “What can you say when your son announces he’s going to marry a Mzungu?” said Sarah Obama in an interview, using the Swahili term for “white person.” But it was too late, she said, because the couple was deeply in love.

Now, the relatives say, their family feels natural and right to them, that they think of each other as individuals, not as members of groups. Ms. Soetoro-Ng said she was not “the Indonesian sister,” but just Maya.

A Special Reunion

On Monday, some of Mr. Obama’s Kenyan relatives milled around the lobby of the Mayflower Hotel here, their colorful headscarves earning them more curious glances than even the sports and pop music stars in the room. Zeituni Onyango, the president’s aunt, explained that their family had always been able to absorb newcomers.

Pointing out that her male relatives used to take on multiple wives, she said, “My daddy said anyone coming into my family is my family.” (Ms. Onyango, who lives in Boston, recently faced deportation charges, but those orders have been stayed and she is pursuing a green card.)

At holidays and celebrations, “you get a whole lot of people who are happy to be around family,” Craig Robinson said. “They happen to be from different cultures, but the common thing is that they are all family.”

“Like the inauguration, those celebrations draw on a happy mishmash of traditions and histories. Take the Obamas’ 1992 wedding, which included Kenyan family in traditional dress, a cloth-binding ceremony in which the bride and groom’s hands were symbolically tied, and blues, jazz and classical music at the reception (held at a cultural center that was once a country club where black and Jewish Chicagoans were denied admission).

White House events may now take on some of the same feel. Four years ago, when the family descended on Washington for Mr. Obama’s Senate swearing-in, Mr. Ng strolled over to the White House gates and took a picture of his then-infant daughter, Suhaila — “gentle” in Swahili — sleeping in her stroller.

Days before leaving Hawaii for the inauguration, Mr. Ng stared at the picture and wondered how much had changed since it was taken. After Tuesday’s ceremony, he said, “folks like me will have a chance to be on the other side.”

Jeffrey Gettleman contributed reporting from Kenya. Kitty Bennett contributed research.

    In First Family, a Nation’s Many Faces, NYT, 21.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/21/us/politics/21family.html?hp






Op-Ed Columnist

I Wish You Were Here


January 20, 2009
The New York Times


And so it has happened, this very strange convergence. The holiday celebrating the birth of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. became, in the midnight hour, the day that America inaugurates its first black president.

It’s a day on which smiles will give way to tears and then return quickly to smiles again, a day of celebration and reflection.

Dr. King would have been 80 years old now. He came to national prominence not trying to elect an African-American president, but just trying to get us past the depraved practice of blacks being forced to endure the humiliation of standing up and giving their seat on a bus to a white person, some man or woman or child.

Get up, girl. Get up, boy.

Dr. King was just 26 at the time, a national treasure in a stylish, broad-brimmed hat. He was only 39 when he was killed, eight years younger than Mr. Obama is now.

There are so many, like Dr. King, who I wish could have stayed around to see this day. Some were famous. Most were not.

I remember talking several years ago with James Farmer, one of the big four civil rights leaders of the mid-20th century. (The others were Dr. King, Roy Wilkins and Whitney Young.) Farmer enraged authorities in Plaquemine, La., in 1963 by organizing demonstrations demanding that blacks be allowed to vote. Tired of this affront, a mob of state troopers began hunting Farmer door to door.

The southern night trembled once again with the cries of abused blacks. As Farmer described it: “I was meant to die that night. They were kicking open doors, beating up blacks in the streets, interrogating them with electric cattle prods.”

A funeral director saved Farmer by having him “play dead” in the back of a hearse, which carried him along back roads and out of town.

Farmer died in 1999. Imagine if he could somehow be seated in a place of honor at the inauguration alongside Dr. King and Mr. Wilkins and Mr. Young. Imagine the stories and the mutual teasing and the laughter, and the deep emotion that would accompany their attempts to rise above their collective disbelief at the astonishing changes they did so much to bring about.

And then imagine a tall white man being ushered into their presence, and the warm smiles of recognition from the big four — and probably tears — for someone who has been shamefully neglected by his nation and his party, Lyndon Johnson.

Johnson’s contributions to the betterment of American life were nothing short of monumental. For blacks, he opened the door to the American mainstream with a herculean effort that resulted in the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He followed up that bit of mastery with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“Once the black man’s voice could be translated into ballots,” Johnson would say, “many other breakthroughs would follow.”

Without Lyndon Johnson, Barack Obama and so many others would have traveled a much more circumscribed path.

I wish Johnson could be there, his commitment to civil rights so publicly vindicated, his eyes no doubt misting as the oath of office is administered.

It’s so easy, now that the moronic face of racism is so seldom openly displayed, to forget how far we’ve really come. When Dr. King delivered his “I Have a Dream Speech” at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, it was illegal, just a stone’s throw away in Virginia, for whites and blacks to marry. Illegal! Just as it is illegal now for gays to marry.

Less than a month after the speech, members of the Ku Klux Klan bombed a black church in Birmingham, Ala., where children had gathered for a prayer service. Four girls were killed. Three were 14 years old, and one was 11.

My sister, Sandy, and I, growing up in Montclair, N.J., a suburb of New York City, were protected from the harshest rays of racism by a family that would let nothing, least of all some crazy notion of genetic superiority, soil our view of the world or ourselves.

My grandparents, who struggled through the Depression and World War II, and my parents, who worked tirelessly to give Sandy and me a wonderful upbringing in the postwar decades, seemed always to have believed that all good things were possible.

Even if the doors of opportunity were closed, they didn’t believe they were locked. Hard work, in their eyes, was always the key.

Still, the idea of a black president of the United States never came up. Perhaps even for them that was too much to imagine. I wish they could have stayed around long enough to see it.

    I Wish You Were Here, NYT, 20.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/20/opinion/20herbert.html?ref=opinion







Government’s Promise


January 20, 2009
The New York Times


When he accepted his party’s nomination last year, Barack Obama repudiated the “you’re on your own” ethos that had come to define the government’s relationship to the people. He said government cannot do everything, but he promised one that would do what individuals cannot do for themselves: “protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education; keep our water clean and our toys safe; invest in new schools and new roads and new science and technology.”

Today he takes the oath of office before a nation that has placed an extraordinary amount of trust — and an extraordinary amount of hope — on the idea that this promise will be kept by a 47-year-old from Illinois who defied all conventional wisdom to become the first African-American president of the United States.

The country’s 44th chief executive already is on track to fulfill his pledge. The House last week unveiled an $825 billion economic recovery plan — developed in partnership with Mr. Obama — that includes money for education, infrastructure, energy investments and basic research, as well as emergency spending for unemployment benefits, health care and food aid.

The details are likely to change as the package moves through Congress; lawmakers and Mr. Obama would be wise, for instance, to settle on less money for low-yielding tax cuts and more for high-return public spending. But to the credit of Mr. Obama and House leaders, the overall package is well timed and well aimed.

There is, however, one serious omission that falls squarely into the area that Mr. Obama defined, where government must help the individual. There is nothing in the plan, as yet, to stop foreclosures on Americans’ homes.

Such an omission was understandable when the package was conceived mainly as stimulus, which implies short-term action to jolt the economy. But it has clearly become more than that — and correctly so, given the dire economic outlook. To be credible and successful as an economic recovery plan, foreclosure relief is essential. Without it, the housing bust, the financial crisis and the recession will only continue to feed on each other.

The first step toward providing the relief is to include in the package a measure to allow hard-pressed homeowners to have the terms of the mortgages modified under bankruptcy court protection, an avenue currently denied them by an outdated and anti-consumer bent to the law. Mr. Obama supported such a bankruptcy amendment during his campaign. Committees in both the House and Senate each passed a bankruptcy amendment last year. Now Senate leaders have vowed to pursue a change in the bankruptcy code in their version of the recovery package, which is expected this week. In a push forward for the solution, Citigroup recently endorsed the Senate’s proposed amendment — recognition, at last, that the financial crisis will not end until defaults and foreclosures abate.

The fear is that including the bankruptcy provision in the recovery package will cost votes among Republican senators who oppose the measure, largely out of solidarity with the lending industry. But given the importance of the package, Senate leaders are confident it will safely pass, even with a bankruptcy measure.

Mr. Obama can build support for the measure, too, by explaining to the American people that it is a way to begin to solve the foreclosure problem that costs taxpayers nothing. In fact, it would be unconscionable to move forward with taxpayer-financed solutions before putting in place a measure that could help to achieve the desired result without involving taxpayers.

The bankruptcy amendment cannot stop all foreclosures. But it is the starting point. And it would be a prime example of government doing for individuals what they cannot do for themselves — opening a courthouse door that is closed to them by law.

    Government’s Promise, NYT, 19.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/20/opinion/20tue1.html






On First Full Day, Obama Will Dive Into Foreign Policy


Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Washington Post
Staff Writers
By Michael D. Shear and Karen DeYoung


President-elect Barack Obama will plunge into foreign policy on his first full day in office tomorrow, finally freed from the constraints of tradition that has forced him and his staff to remain muzzled about world affairs during the 78-day transition.

As one of his first actions, Obama plans to name former senator George J. Mitchell (D-Maine) as his Middle East envoy, aides said, sending a signal that the new administration intends to move quickly to engage warring Israelis and Palestinians in efforts to secure the peace.

Mitchell's appointment will follow this afternoon's expected Senate vote to confirm Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state. And tomorrow afternoon, aides said, Obama will convene a meeting of his National Security Council to launch a reassessment of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

By the end of the week, Obama plans to issue an executive order to eventually shut down the military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and to lay out a new process for dealing with about 250 detainees remaining at the prison.

The actions -- to be taken before the entire White House staff has found their desks -- reflect the frenetic activity among Obama's national security advisers that has been taking place behind the scenes since Election Day.

Following his noon inauguration, Obama will spend a brief time at the White House before heading to a series of dinners and inaugural balls. Aides said the work of being president will begin in earnest tomorrow morning.

That work has already been in full view with regard to the economic crisis and other domestic issues. Obama has not been bashful, giving speeches and dispatching aides to work with Congress on an $825 billion stimulus package. He will meet with economic advisers tomorrow and is expected to quickly issue an executive order demanding a new level of transparency and ethics in government.

But the new president will for the first time assume the responsibility for an Iraq war that he opposed from its inception and a series of international crises that will quickly test his mettle as commander in chief.

Publicly, the president-elect has deferred to President Bush and has declined to comment on the recent fighting in the Gaza Strip and the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. But privately, he and his aides have been preparing to dramatically reshape the country's foreign policy, starting with the broad conflict zone from Israel to Pakistan.

Last Thursday, in an interview with Washington Post editors and reporters, Obama criticized Bush for treating Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan as "discrete" problems. Under his watch, Obama said, policy in that region will be treated as a single, unified one.

"One of the principles that we'll be operating under is that these things are very much related and that if we have got an integrated approach, we're going to be more effective," he said.

Incoming officials were still debating yesterday how involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian crisis should proceed during the first week. With a fragile Gaza cease-fire in place, the new administration plans to tread gingerly, working behind the scenes while allowing Egyptian and European initiatives to play out before taking a highly visible role.

Obama transition officials are acutely aware that the world -- and especially the Israelis and Palestinians -- will be watching to see what tone the new president takes. Sources said the initial emphasis will likely be on stepped-up presidential engagement rather than the specifics of a U.S. role, and empathy and aid toward humanitarian suffering.

The first concrete evidence of a new foreign policy approach will begin with the meeting tomorrow. Obama will instruct the Pentagon to prepare for a stepped-up withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq, to be completed within 16 months, and will hear proposals for turning around the deteriorating war in Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen, will attend, and Gen. David H. Petraeus, head of Central Command, and Gen. Raymond Odierno, U.S. commander in Iraq, will weigh in via live video connection.

Senior officers began late last year to prepare options for withdrawing from Iraq. Obama has said he will listen carefully to their recommendations before approving a plan that meets his specifications. He has said he expects to maintain a "residual force" in Iraq but has not indicated how many troops will remain over what period.

He has also indicated he will move ahead with existing plans for deployment of as many as 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan this year.

After returning to the White House following his swearing-in today, Obama is expected to visit the Oval Office, aides said.

A handful of senior staff members will ride in Obama's motorcade to the White House today and enter their offices for the first time as they brace to confront the economy, the Middle East, overseas wars and a raft of domestic policy controversies.

Aides said only about 15 White House staffers were pre-screened to enter the West Wing today. The rest will arrive tomorrow morning, after partying at inaugural balls.

Gates will not attend inaugural festivities, having been designated to stay away from the president and other national leaders in case of a catastrophic event.

Mitchell, who led a Middle East peace commission in 2000, is highly regarded as a negotiator for his work in the successful Northern Ireland peace process. An Obama adviser said the exact timing of Mitchell's appointment will depend on Clinton's confirmation vote, which is scheduled to take place by "unanimous consent" and so cannot be stopped by filibuster.

But a Republican senator could demand a voice vote, thus delaying Clinton's confirmation by another day. "If any Republican holds her over, they are stalling the entire administration from hitting this problem," the adviser said.

The Guantanamo order is being crafted by Obama White House Counsel Gregory B. Craig. Its timing is expected to preempt a Guantanamo trial scheduled to begin Monday under the current "military commission" proceedings.

Staff writer Anne E. Kornblut contributed to this report.

    On First Full Day, Obama Will Dive Into Foreign Policy, WP, 20.1.2009, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/19/AR2009011902726.html?hpid=topnews






Obama Looks to Future With a Nod to His Past


Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Washington Post
Staff Writers
By Eli Saslow and Philip Rucker


To help him celebrate his imminent move into the White House, Barack Obama invited more than 100 of his closest friends and relatives to gather here over the weekend. Everywhere he turned the past few days, he has been surrounded by high school classmates from Hawaii and former college professors, basketball buddies and political mentors -- a tableau of the people, places and moments that delivered him to the presidency.

They were drawn here to commemorate what Obama will become. But, like all good reunions, they spent more time talking about the past.

Members of his class at Honolulu's Punahou School met in Arlington to reminisce about their chubby, basketball-obsessed peer. Relatives from Chicago relaxed at Blair House on furniture donated by Dwight D. Eisenhower and recalled the humble second-story apartment where Michelle Obama was raised. Political allies from the Illinois Senate told stories about the rookie politician who sought incessant advice.

Obama himself paused yesterday to consider the magnitude of assuming office as the nation's 44th president. He spoke about his connection to the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on the holiday that celebrates his birth and, while taking part in community service, fondly remembered his summer job as a 17-year-old painter working for $4 an hour. Then, in the middle of his day, Obama took a two-hour break to visit with his guests at Blair House.

"There's a comfort that comes from having all of us around and experiencing this with them," said Kaye Wilson, a close friend from Chicago and godmother to Obama's two daughters. "They are the kind of people who know how to step back and enjoy a moment like this, and we're enjoying it right along with them."

Obama invited about 10 friends to ride the train with his family from Philadelphia into Washington on Saturday, and they threw a 45th-birthday party for Michelle while en route from Baltimore to Union Station. On Sunday, the Obama family hosted about 100 friends at Blair House for a casual buffet-and-cocktails party. The couple specifically requested that nobody make a formal speech, friends said. Instead, they gave tours of the house and mingled with an eclectic group of relatives, some of whom they had not seen since the Democratic National Convention in August.

"You could tell they just wanted to see everybody and relax," said Steve Shields, Michelle Obama's uncle, who traveled from Chicago.

Several of Obama's friends, a few of whom had never been to Washington until this weekend, described their inaugural visits as surreal. About a dozen family members are staying with the Obamas at Blair House, including one guest who is assigned to a room where Abraham Lincoln liked to take naps. More friends are stationed in a block of rooms at the Mayflower Hotel on Connecticut Avenue NW.

Yesterday, a bus filled with friends Obama made while working as a community organizer departed the South Side of Chicago for the drive to Washington. The group will arrive early this morning, watch the inauguration and then turn around.

A small army of Obama's staffers tends to his guests, providing security, daily itineraries and transportation around the city in three private buses. The members of Obama's entourage have VIP passes to the swearing-in ceremony today and tickets to the Obama Home States Inaugural Ball at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center tonight. Most of them plan to leave Thursday, but Obama has said he hopes to rendezvous again before then.

For many of the visitors, the mere experience of traveling here reinforced Obama's transition into a different realm. Gerald Kellman, Obama's boss as a community organizer, had to purchase a new black suit. The in-laws from Chicago -- many of whom still live near Michelle Obama's childhood home on the South Side -- joked that they would feel uncomfortable being treated like honored guests. "We're usually more like do-it-yourself people," Shields said.

"The staff is really doing everything for us. It's wonderful," said Wilson, who is staying with her husband in a room at Blair House where fresh flowers are placed on her table each morning. "You have to pinch yourself. It might be hard to go home."

The Obama family, meanwhile, continues to adjust to the idea that they are home, friends said. Yesterday, Obama took his most extensive tour of Washington since moving here, departing Blair House in a new Cadillac limousine early in the morning to start his day of service. The motorcade sped by portraits of Obama and Ronald Reagan draped over the Corcoran Gallery of Art, then twisted along a quiet Rock Creek Parkway as snow flurries started to fall.

Obama visited 14 wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and then whisked to the Sasha Bruce Youthwork shelter for homeless teenagers near Capitol Hill. Wearing a casual shirt and jeans, he rolled up his sleeves and started painting a wall "laguna blue."

"This is practice," Obama said, "because I'm moving into a new house, and I may have to do a few touch-ups here and there."

Later, Obama visited Calvin Coolidge Senior High School in Northwest, where the school's Colts cheerleading squad erupted into an impromptu cheer. Obama and Michelle clapped and danced to the beat of the cheer. Then Obama delivered a brief speech to 300 volunteers from local service organizations over lunch before heading back to Blair House. At various points during the drive, thousands of spectators lined the route to wave signs and take pictures.

Last night, Obama attended a dinner honoring Sen. John McCain of Arizona, his Republican opponent in the November election, and then planned to proceed to dinners for retired Gen. Colin L. Powell and Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. At the McCain event, at the Washington Hilton, Obama embraced his former rival, hailing him as "an American hero" with a willingness to cross the political aisle.

"We may not always agree on everything in the months to come," Obama said. "We will have our share of arguments and debates. John is not known to bite his tongue, and if I'm screwing up, he's going to let me know. And that's how it should be, because the presidency is just one branch of a broader government by and for the people."

Obama appeared to be having fun, and friends who spent time with him yesterday said he seemed at ease on the eve of his inauguration. He long ago helped write the speech he will give today and then edited it for an hour each of the past several nights with Jon Favreau, his chief speechwriter. Obama is satisfied with it, friends said, but he continued to tinker yesterday.

After he delivers the speech and formally takes office, the Obama family will move into the White House.

And, for a night, some of their visitors plan to move with them.

"They said for anybody staying in the Blair House, they'll just move our stuff over into the White House," Wilson said. "We get to keep them company in there. . . . It's really unbelievable."

    Obama Looks to Future With a Nod to His Past, WP, 20.1.2009, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/19/AR2009011903273.html?hpid=topnews






Despite Snarled Traffic and Cold, City Is Already Celebrating


Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Washington Post
Staff Writers
By Paul Duggan and Lena H. Sun

Tens of thousands of festive visitors crowded the Mall and the city yesterday, counting down the hours to today's historic inauguration, while authorities prepared to welcome -- and control -- what could be the largest crowd in Washington's history.

Today's the day. The swearing-in of Barack Obama as the nation's 44th president on the west steps of the Capitol at noon is expected to draw between 1 million and 3 million spectators. They'll bundle themselves against below-freezing temperatures, ride crowded Metro trains and buses, and wait at security checkpoints for a chance to witness the inauguration of the nation's first African American chief executive.

After the oath, they will crane for views of the new president and his family as he rides in an inaugural parade along Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House between 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. They will then celebrate into the night at 10 official inaugural balls.

As final preparations went forward yesterday, temperatures hovered in the low 30s and a light snow swirled from time to time, yet the atmosphere on the Mall felt warm. Thousands upon thousands of people, smiling and snapping photos, were aglow in the moment in their heavy coats and gloves, thrilled to be in Washington for the big event.

They wore Obama hats and Obama scarves and Obama buttons.

Meanwhile, hundreds of three-ton concrete barriers were lowered into place at intersections throughout downtown, blocking traffic, as camouflage-clad soldiers and an army of police officers geared up for the biggest security operation ever seen in the nation's capital. Even 600 Boy Scouts have been enlisted in the effort to help visitors find their way around.

More than 4,000 police officers from across the country were sworn in as temporary deputies to help with crowd control. Officials prepared to close scores of roads and for the first time planned to shut the four Potomac River bridges from Virginia to the District to private vehicles to help control traffic.

By 10 p.m. yesterday, some downtown streets were shut down as police began installing barricades, causing traffic to barely inch along the clogged thoroughfares that remained open.

Authorities urged the public to walk or use public transportation to reach today's events.

"We're as ready as we're going to be in terms of our preparations," Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said. "What concerns us are the unknowns: Will our buses be able to run on the [special] corridors due to traffic? Will people be understanding of the long waits to get into our stations both before and after the events?"

There were large-scale preparations: Washington Dulles International Airport transformed a 9,400-foot runway into a parking lot for visitors with their own aircraft. By 1:30 p.m. yesterday, 119 private planes were lined up, said Courtney Mickalonis, a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. That number could reach 500 today.

There were smaller preparations, too: Late yesterday afternoon, Marsha Folsom, wife of Alabama Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr. (D), emerged from Filene's Basement at 14th and F streets NW.

"Tell Jim that Filene's was sold out," she said on a cellphone.

The lieutenant governor had left his thermal underwear at home. Outside the store, his wife turned to a bystander and asked for suggestions on where to go. "He's a big guy," she said. "2X."

As day turned to evening, out-of-town visitors prepared their final plans. Carol and Irene Smith, sisters from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., were in Lafayette Square just after 9 p.m. scouting out the route they would take today with their mother, who uses a wheelchair: from their Foggy Bottom hotel, to Metro, to parade route. Attending an inauguration "is on my bucket list," Carol Smith said.

Security officials' dry runs are completed and "we're ready for game day," said Joseph Persichini Jr., special agent in charge of the FBI's Washington field office.

The FBI has stationed 500 to 700 agents, many in plainclothes, across the region at strategic locations, he said. The bureau's tactical operations command post went "live" late Friday and will remain on guard until as late as 4 a.m. tomorrow, when the new president returns to the White House after visiting inauguration parties.

As security needs evolved, sometimes hour by hour, inaugural planners were forced to adjust yesterday.

For instance, with little notice, the Secret Service ordered Metro to close one of two entrances at the Judiciary Square Station at 4 p.m. because of an event at the nearby National Building Museum. That was three hours earlier than planned.

"This is an example of something we cannot control that could impact us on Tuesday -- when streets or stations are closed [or] blocked for security that we were not able to share in advance with our customers," Farbstein said.

The National Guard had to scramble for new housing arrangements for 1,000 troops after a contractor failed to pitch a tent in time for the soldiers to settle on a patch of grass between the Lincoln Memorial and Constitution Avenue. They moved bunks into the basement of the red sandstone Smithsonian Castle on the Mall.

Yesterday, unarmed Guardsmen from many of the 25 states that volunteered troops walked the Mall, snapping pictures and acting more like tourists than special police with arrest powers.

Maryland State Police, meanwhile, conducted safety stops of trucks heading into the District, said spokeswoman Elena Russo. State troopers checked rigs to make sure they were not carrying hazardous cargo, she said.

Metro officials said the bus and rail system was ready for record crowds. Trains will be running an unprecedented 17 straight hours of rush-hour service, from 4 a.m. to 9 p.m., and then offer off-peak service until 2 a.m. Metro is also adding rapid-bus service on 23 special corridors to help people get to and from the Mall.

Gridlock crippled much of downtown last night as traffic grew steadily. Outside the vehicles, at least, the mood remained upbeat.

Near the White House at 8 p.m., Kyndall Freer, 20, a student at Texas Tech, and Gary Trubl, 20, a University of Arizona student, were checking out the reviewing stand. It was growing colder, but they planned to spend the night wandering around the monuments until the Mall opened this morning. Trubl had hand warmers, and Freer said the temperatures were bearable given the occasion. "It is a historical moment for everybody, and we want to be part of it," she said.

Across town on U Street NW, people poured into such landmarks as the Lincoln Theatre and the African-American Civil War Memorial. But the real mob was at Ben's Chili Bowl, where the line wrapped around the block and the wait was 90 minutes. Once inside, tourists tasted the half-smokes, chili cheese fries and brusque counter service that have made Ben's legendary.

"NEXT!" the woman at the register shouted over James Brown and the hiss of the grill.

A security guard at the door blessed passage to a few at a time.

"Where you from, dog?" he asked a tourist.

"Indiana," the man said.

"Okay, it's gonna be a while," the guard answered playfully.

The crossroads of 14th and U streets burned in the riots after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination in 1968. But now the multiracial and multiethnic society preached about by Obama was on full display: black PhD students in Malcolm X glasses next to white suburban kids taking photos of Angela Davis afro graffiti.

Jamechia Hoyle, a graduate student at Georgetown University, said she came to U Street to "be in the midst of all this history." Her father had called from their home in rural East Texas to tell her to mind the weight of the moment.

"My dad actually sent me a photo of Obama and told me to look at it anytime I was discouraged about something," she said.

Staff writers Ruben Castaneda, Aaron C. Davis, Annie Gowen, Hamil R. Harris, Anne Hull, Carrie Johnson, Jenna Johnson, Ian Shapira and Bill Turque contributed to this report.

    Despite Snarled Traffic and Cold, City Is Already Celebrating, WP, 20.1.2009, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/story/2009/01/20/ST2009012000033.html?sid=ST2009012000033&s_pos=list






Native American Family To See Adopted Son Sworn In


Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Washington Post
Staff Writer
By Michael Laris

Back home in Lodge Grass, Mont., they keep talking about Hartford Black Eagle's luck.

"People around here, even the white people, say, 'You're the luckiest the person in the world. You adopted the president of the United States!' " he said.

"Thank you," is his usual response.

But Black Eagle doesn't see his role in today's inauguration in terms of good fortune. He sees something sacred. He and Mary, his wife of 57 years, were set to be whisked to the Capitol by inauguration organizers early today for the swearing-in, where they will be seated near the center of American power.

The couple adopted Barack Obama in a traditional Native American ceremony in May, when the candidate made a campaign stop at the vast Crow reservation.

The adoption marked an unusually intimate intertwining of politics, history and family -- but one that perhaps seems less jarring in the case of a president who reached today's swearing-in, at least in part, on the power of his personal story and its broader appeal.

Obama's outreach to Native Americans was part of a political strategy during critical primary battles in Western states. Native American leaders, too, want more power to control their lands and lives, seeking policy influence on such issues as coal mining, the environment, and the economic stimulus package.

But an adoption is no slapdash honorary degree or campaign prop. It's a revered compact that has linked the first family with five generations of First Americans. Obama's daughters, Sasha and Malia, beamed as they met their adoptive grandparents over the summer.

Four of those generations of Black Eagles came to Washington to witness their new relative's elevation. Hartford and Mary will have prime viewing seats for the ceremony. She will wear a traditional elk tooth coat, made of deep-pink wool. (The teeth and sinews have gone plastic.) Hartford will don a buckskin vest he's saving for the occasion, with six elegant rows of blue and red beads.

Yesterday, they took a moment to see the sights.

"That's where your son lives," Mary, 74, told her husband yesterday as they glimpsed the White House on their first trip to Washington.

"There are a lot of ghosts in there," Hartford, 75, responded.

Mary first learned that her family was about to grow as she was on a long drive to Arizona. Her son, Cedric, vice chairman of the tribe, was on the cellphone.

"I was already around Wyoming someplace. He called me and said we're going to have to rush right back," Mary said. "He said, 'You're going to have to adopt Barack Obama.' "

They were tentative about taking on the sudden responsibility. "I couldn't comprehend it for a while," Mary said.

On the day Obama arrived at the reservation, she froze.

"When my alarm came on, I didn't want to go through with it. 'I would like to go sleep another eight hours,' I said. 'Not me. I don't want to go,' " she recalled telling Hartford. But, "my husband got after me."

She couldn't eat. Waiting for Obama in the Secret Service's security area, "we were so nervous my mouth dried up," she said. No purses were allowed. "I needed ChapStick so bad."

Then Obama walked in and greeted the dignitaries, before the room was mostly cleared out.

"He started walking toward me. Oh man, I was kind of tongue-tied, and he said, 'Are you my new mother, Mary?' And I said 'Yes.' He just gave me a hug."

At the private adoption, Hartford waved smoke from burning cedar needles over Obama, twice in the front and twice in the back, with a bald eagle fan. Afterward, Obama told reporters he was deeply moved by the ceremony, and he vowed that if he won, he would have his new parents come to the White House.

Hartford is a spiritual healer and had been given the crucial, sacred responsibility of christening Obama with a Crow name.

The act of naming is supposed to reflect the past of the person bestowing the name and the future of the person receiving it, Hartford said.

The request for Obama's name came with an added sensitivity: the possibility of a pre-presidential veto. Obama's people were on the lookout for potential embarrassment, said Aubrey Black Eagle, Mary and Hartford's grandson.

As it happened, "Awe Kooda Bilaxpak Kuxshish" was the name Hartford chose. It reflected Hartford's own travels as a healer, and translates as: "One Who Helps People Throughout This Land."

    Native American Family To See Adopted Son Sworn In, WP, 20.1.2009, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/19/AR2009011903235.html?sid=ST2009012000033&s_pos=list






A 44-Year Journey Ends on a Bus to D.C.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Washington Post
Staff Writer
By Robert E. Pierre

The charter bus rolled all night, through the cities of Montgomery, Atlanta and Richmond, stopping only for bathroom breaks and an IHOP breakfast. A few riders watched movies and listened to music. Most slept the entire way.

But yesterday afternoon, as the weary travelers rolled onto 14th Street, past the Holocaust Museum, the Washington Monument and the Mall, 18-year-old Darianne Allen began to cry.

She stared at all the buses, cars and people in the streets as her classmates pulled out cameras and pressed their faces to the glass.

"The moment just hit me," Allen said, looking at her mother and wiping away tears. "It's really real."

It was the culmination of a 16-hour journey, a grinding two-year campaign and at least four decades of struggle to turn the voting rights earned 44 years ago into something few thought imaginable. Fittingly, the journey for the students, parents and educators began with this simple prayer: "Jesus, we thank you for having the 44th president of the United States as a black African American."

Theirs was one of thousands of buses that have converged on Washington from across the nation to mark the start of Barack Obama's presidency. They all came for their own reasons, bringing their stories and their hopes to the nation's capital.

Selma, Ala., sent at least three buses. The city's name is seared in the American psyche because of what happened when peaceful marchers were brutally attacked on Bloody Sunday in 1965. The head wounds of John Lewis, now a Democratic congressman from Georgia, are still visible today.

It was Lewis who led more than 600 protesters across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma on March 7, 1965. The marchers were headed to Montgomery, the state capital, in their campaign for voting rights. Footage of Alabama state troopers attacking the peaceful march helped quicken the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Today in Selma, the inauguration of Obama stands as a testament to what's possible when little people stand up. Locals contend that without the struggle for voting rights centered in their small city, there would be no Barack Obama.

The 40 students, parents and educators who left Selma High on the bus Sunday night carried with them the soaring hopes from Obama's election and the hard realities of their lives. Selma still wrestles with issues of equality, education and jobs. So much unfinished business remains from the civil rights years.

Denise Roy, who works at Alabama State University in Montgomery, says progress at home has been stalled by a lack of unity of purpose among black residents, who make up 70 percent of Selma's population.

"We are too easy to get complacent with the little bit we have," said Roy, 43, who is planning an anti-violence campaign in Selma.

Selma High's bookkeeper, Nadine Sturdivant, understands Roy's frustration. She was 2 years old on Bloody Sunday when mounted police stormed into her parents' back yard chasing protesters. But now her concerns are black-on-black violence in her home town. A school dance last weekend ended in a brawl, and six students were suspended. Some of the kids on the bus had felt the sting of pepper spray when police were subduing the other students.

She and her daughter, the homecoming queen, got on the bus to be a part of this historical moment.

It's not just violence locally that concerns her; it's what's going on in Iraq. "People want to see us come out of this war," she said. "What are we fighting for? Why are all these people getting killed? We need change."

A friend of hers, Lesia James, a Selma High administrator, planned the Washington trip. Last summer, the two were on different sides in the city's mayoral race -- itself a symbol of progress: Both candidates were black. Sturdivant's pick came out on top, defeating James Perkins Jr., who became the city's first black mayor in 2000.

"I beat her," Sturdivant said, playfully.

"She got me this time," James said, brushing off the loss.

It's good to be able to fight about electoral politics and not have to worry -- as their parents did -- about just having the right to vote, the women acknowledge.

Whatever political differences they have, the women are dedicated to the students. Both want them to have a sense of history and a foundation for success. But the challenges are significant.

Selma High has until recently struggled to meet statewide academic standards, and the school is nearly as segregated now as it was 50 years ago.

"I don't really have white friends," said 11th-grader Roneika Deloach. "I do have one white friend at Selma High. I think she is the only" white student.

"It's two at the school," a classmate chimed in.

Deloach is a member of the National Honor Society and student government. She's looking for a way out of Selma.

"Selma is a good place to live if you are retired, but for the children, it's not a lot to do," said Deloach, who plans to move to Huntsville.

Maya Rudolph, 16, agreed.

"It's not a good city for youth. It's a good city for the old people."

The chaperons, most in their 40s, cringed at being thought of as old but did not protest her basic point.

The sour economy is shuttering Selma's businesses and forcing furloughs, and African Americans make up the majority of those who live in entrenched poverty.

Obama's populist message, however, trumped Selma's problems for mothers such as Donna Allen, 39, who trekked to Washington with her daughter, Darianne.

Donna Allen has two younger sons, ages 12 and 7, and works for a youth development program. She often meets students with serious problems inflicted by adults: bad marriages, situations of abuse.

But hers is a journey of hope.

"He gave us something different to look forward to," she said of Obama. "I want my daughter to have a sense of feeling that even though people struggle, there is always a chance that you could be someone great."

    A 44-Year Journey Ends on a Bus to D.C., WP, 20.1.2009, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/19/AR2009011903243.html?hpid%3Dtopnews&sub=new






Obama's Moment Arrives

Historians Say He Could Redefine the Presidency


Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Washington Post
Staff Writer
By Barton Gellman

Barack Obama takes office today with a realistic prospect of joining the ranks of history's most powerful presidents.

The more familiar observation, that he confronts daunting trials, enhances that prospect. Emergencies have always brought commensurate new authority for the presidents who faced them, not only because the public demanded action but also because rival branches of government went along.

Obama arrives with a rare convergence of additional strengths, some of them inherited and some of his own making. Predicting a presidency, to be sure, is hazardous business, and much will depend on Obama's choices and fortune. But historians, recent White House officials and senior members of the incoming team expressed broad agreement that Obama begins his term in command of an office that is at or near its historic zenith.

"The opportunity is there for Obama to recast the very nature of the presidency," said Sean Wilentz, a presidential historian at Princeton. "Not since Reagan have we had as capable a persuader as Obama, and not since FDR has a president come in with quite the configuration of foreign and domestic crises that open up such a possibility for the reconstruction of the executive."

No president has begun his term with so broad a wave of public confidence -- 78 percent approval in the most recent Gallup poll. There are precedents for single-party control of the White House and Congress, but the early signs suggest that House and Senate Democrats will be far more united in loyalty to Obama than their counterparts were to President Jimmy Carter. The Republican opposition, by contrast, appears to be as fractured as at any time since Barry Goldwater's landslide defeat in 1964. If Obama keeps the loyalty of the online social networks he used to win election, with unprecedented success in fundraising and recruiting, his White House could be the first to harness a meaningful grass-roots movement as an ongoing tool of governance.

The federal government itself is a far more potent instrument, in its breadth and depth of command over national life, than it has ever been before. Largely in response to the threat of terrorism, the Bush years and President Bill Clinton's two terms saw "an incredible period of state-building that's unrivaled in American history except by the creation of the national security state in the 1940s and '50s," said Jack Balkin, a professor of constitutional law at Yale whose blog, Balkinization, is often cited by members of the Obama team.

By necessity or design, and most often by passive acquiescence, Congress and the courts have let presidents do most of the steering of the new and expanded institutions that govern finance, commerce, communications, travel, energy production and especially intelligence gathering. When there were struggles for dominance among the three branches, most of them ended with lopsided victories for the executive.

The legislative power to declare war and ratify treaties, for example, has been deeply eroded by the practice of presidents to launch military operations on their own and to make major international commitments -- such as December's "status of forces" pact with Iraq -- by "executive agreement" rather than by treaty requiring a two-thirds Senate vote. After lengthy controversy over warrantless domestic surveillance in the Bush administration, Congress authorized the program without obtaining any details about what, exactly, is collected and how it is used.

"Really, in the last 80 years we've seen a gradual, and at times not gradual, concentration of power in the executive office," said William P. Marshall, who served as deputy White House counsel under Clinton.

Obama's style of governance will not be President George W. Bush's, but it may not differ quite as much as some supporters expect.

Bush defined his power as supremacy over Congress and courts, adopting Vice President Cheney's doctrine of unbounded freedom of action for the commander in chief and chief law enforcement officer. Eight years of legal and political combat have dealt setbacks to those claims, primarily regarding the detention and treatment of suspected terrorists.

Some Bush administration lawyers now maintain that the president's power has suffered because of it.

"The president's executive authority has been diminished as a result of the national security legal controversies over the last eight years," State Department legal adviser John B. Bellinger III said in an interview. "I don't think the courts and Congress are just going to back off completely because the Obama administration is in office."

Jack L. Goldsmith, who held a senior post in the Justice Department, said White House overreaching brought a backlash in which "judicial power has increased at the expense of presidential war power."

Even so, Bellinger and Goldsmith acknowledged that the president usually emerged the victor in practice.

The Supreme Court and Congress insisted, for example, that Bush comply with the Geneva Conventions' ban on "cruel" and "inhuman" interrogations, but thus far they have left it up to the president to interpret those terms. No case or statute impaired the Bush administration's assertion that waterboarding -- a form of controlled suffocation that mimics drowning -- is lawful even now.

Geoffrey Stone, a scholar of executive authority at the University of Chicago Law School, said of Bush: "By overstating something, sometimes you may lose 90 percent of what you overstate, but you wind up moving the residual center line. . . . The limits that have been placed have not come close to the powers that have been concentrated."

Obama disagrees with Bush on waterboarding, and he has pledged to take greater heed of Congress, but he has not disowned the broader assertion that a president may disregard a statute or judge's ruling. Dawn E. Johnsen, Obama's nominee to lead the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, is best known for vigorous critiques of overreaching by Bush and Cheney. But her popular commentaries in Slate and elsewhere have diverted attention from scholarly writings that make a subtler point. Just last year, in the Boston Law Review, she affirmed that "in many circumstances, Presidents may develop, declare, and act upon distinctive, principled constitutional views that do not track those of the Supreme Court or Congress." The trouble with Bush was not that he asserted the power, she wrote, but that he used it wrongly.

A parallel point of view applies to legislation, and to the division of labor between statutes and executive orders.

John D. Podesta, a former White House chief of staff who led the new administration's transition team, was careful to distinguish between Obama's promise to "keep the dialogue with Congress" and his willingness to compromise on core objectives.

"He certainly comes into office with a very powerful set of executive authorities, and I suspect that he will use those authorities in order to get the key policy goals accomplished that he's set for the people," Podesta said in an interview Sunday, referring explicitly to inherent constitutional powers as well as legislation. "Political power gives him the capacity, I suppose, to kind of roll over his opposition, but what he's shown is a keen understanding that lots of change comes when you have dialogue, reach out to Congress and take account of it. That's not to say he'll adjust the goals that he laid before the public in the election."

At the same time, the Obama team is keenly aware, as one top-ranking member of the incoming White House staff said, that "how he chooses to lead, and the kind of choices he makes, will dictate how it all comes out." He added: "Presidential leadership is an ephemeral thing if it's not exercised well or not focused on the right objectives."

Information technology, and the executive's control of its fruits, are widely cited in explaining presidential dominance over Congress. Every recent president has regarded himself as the primary judge of what information to share and what to withhold on grounds of executive privilege or national security.

Here Obama inherits a battle from Bush and Cheney. The Bush administration resisted demands from the House Judiciary Committee, under chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), for testimony and records that might expose improper political motives for firing U.S. attorneys. When the committee subpoenaed former White House counsel Harriet E. Miers and Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten, the administration asserted a startling new claim that "the president and his advisers are absolutely immune from testimonial compulsion by a Congressional committee," meaning that Miers and Bolten not only could decline to answer specific questions but need not even show up.

U.S. District Judge John D. Bates ruled last July that the argument was "without any support in the case law," and he ordered Miers to testify. But her successor, Fred Fielding, restated on Friday, in a letter made available to The Washington Post, that "the president directs her . . . not to appear."

Briefs in the Bush administration's appeal are due on Feb. 18, and it will be up to Obama to choose the next step. In a July campaign appearance, Obama called the Bush position "completely misguided," but now he faces the prospect that a future committee might subpoena his own staff.

"It's in everybody's interest to have a negotiated settlement," said Perry Apelbaum, the House committee's chief of staff, and sources close to the incoming Justice team predicted that Obama would find a way to finesse the conflict.

The very ambition of Obama's program, which has grown in proportion to the scale of the global economic collapse, augurs a potentially transformative term in office. Bush's agenda was aggressively expansionist when it came to national security and to his own autonomy as president, but in many spheres he aimed to diminish government's role. There were exceptions, with the No Child Left Behind Act and the Medicare drug benefit, but the central plank of Bush's domestic program called for reducing the government's share of national income and its role as regulator of the environment, free markets and civil rights.

Now there is broad acceptance of a rescue package that comes close to nationalizing large swaths of the private economy. Even in its first iteration, the government's $700 billion expenditure to shore up U.S. financial systems will rival the roughly $1 trillion a year in "discretionary" federal spending -- the portion of the budget, not including interest on loans and mandatory benefits such as Social Security, that is negotiated each year between the White House and Congress. Obama, who told The Post last week that he must "go big" in response to "the biggest emergency since World War II," has spoken elliptically of the prospect that the cost could double.

Congress, the principal power of which is thought to be control of the national purse, has made little pretense of managing these vast expenditures. It will fall to Obama and his subordinates to decide winners and losers in the banking, financial services, automobile and other major industries, a span of control that dwarfs President Harry S. Truman's attempt to seize control of steel production.

The scale of the rescue package undoubtedly means far less money available for other spending priorities, which at first glance may seem to spell doom for expensive campaign promises such as universal health insurance. But the incoming president and his staff appear to be sidestepping that obstacle with a very broad definition of economic rescue.

Obama is arguing, in public and private, that a stable recovery will require fundamental changes in the nation's health-care system and energy infrastructure. Aides said he is signaling that he will try to pay for those changes, in part, with the vast sums authorized for economic recovery.

Beyond even that, Obama is citing the crisis as a moment of opportunity -- in fact, of obligation -- to address the structural imbalance between the defined benefits of Medicare and Social Security and the resources available to meet them. That imbalance has been well known for many years, but several presidents, including Bush, have broken their swords on the strong political resistance to anything that smacks of increased taxes or reduced benefits. Obama told The Post that he will seek a new "bargain" with Americans that would bring the costs of those programs under control.

Obama advisers are aware of the risks of taking on too many tasks at once or of provoking a backlash with too muscular a claim of authority.

"Obviously you want to avoid squandering power, and you want to avoid any sense that you're abusing power," said a top-ranking member of the new White House staff who spoke on the condition of anonymity. He and others cited Obama's promises to include Republicans in consultations and to increase the transparency of White House deliberations.

But the greatest risk, as the new team sees it, is not in tackling too much.

Said Podesta: "The danger is in undershooting rather than overreaching, given the problems the country is facing."

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

    Obama's Moment Arrives, WP, 20.1.2009, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/19/AR2009011903100.html?hpid=topnews






On Moving Day for 2 First Families, a Bit of Magic by 93 Pairs of Hands


January 20, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The peaceful transfer of power that will take place at the Capitol on Inauguration Day is, to many, a miracle of American democracy. But down at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, another sort of miracle will occur: Moving Day.

President Bush and his wife, Laura, will wake up at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue on Tuesday morning, just as they have the last eight years. But by the time the new president, Barack Obama, returns from the inaugural parade with his family in late afternoon, there will be nary a box of theirs left to unpack. Clothes will be neatly folded in drawers, pictures will rest on dresser tops and walls, stuffed animals will lie on beds, as if the Obamas had always lived there.

The highly orchestrated quick-change operation, conducted by the 93-member White House residence staff, has no parallel in the outside world. The entire affair is over and done with in a matter of hours, without a single moving man setting foot inside the Executive Mansion.

“It’s controlled chaos,” said Ann Stock, who was social secretary in the Clinton White House. “They have about four to five hours to completely unpack, put everything away in the closets, put the family pictures up and to really make the house the Obamas’ home by the time they come in from the parade. It’s really quite an extraordinary switchover.”

And a poignant one for the White House staff, said Gary Walters, who retired in 2007 as the White House chief usher, the official responsible for overseeing the executive residence. Mr. Walters served seven presidents, and moving day, he said, is invariably a wistful time.

“In the morning, the president and first lady are saying their goodbyes to the White House and to the residence staff; there’s a very emotional meeting and a goodbye,” he said. “Then the staff has to turn right around and become the staff of the Obamas by the afternoon. It’s not an easy task.”

True to form, the Bushes, who prided themselves on running an efficient White House, have not left their packing until the last minute. Preparations have been going on for weeks, both on the business side of the mansion, the West Wing, and in the residence.

In the West Wing, boxes of documents are already being shipped to a storage center in Lewisville, Tex., outside Dallas. The National Archives, responsible for maintaining Mr. Bush’s records until they go to his library at Southern Methodist University, has set up the 60,000-square-foot warehouse.

In the residence, Mr. and Mrs. Bush have already packed and moved many of their books, as well as out-of-season clothing and Mrs. Bush’s collection of ball gowns, back to Texas, said Sally McDonough, Mrs. Bush’s press secretary.

Ms. McDonogh said the first lady had been packing boxes herself, adding, “She knows she’s going to unpack them on the other end.”

If the past is any guide, Tuesday’s move will begin about 10:45 a.m., right after the Bushes, who will have hosted the Obamas for the traditional Inauguration Day coffee, leave for the swearing-in at the Capitol. Veterans of previous White House moves say that typically, a moving van arrives to deliver the new first family’s belongings to the waiting residence staff. Each member of the staff will have a task, assigned well in advance. If all goes well, the exercise will unfold with the precision of an orchestral piece.

It helps, of course, that there is little, if any, furniture to move; the White House maintains a warehouse of antiques and furnishings for presidents to choose from. When the Bushes arrived in 2001, they brought with them just one piece, “a special chest of drawers” that had belonged to the president’s grandmother, Ms. McDonough said.

The Obamas are leaving all their furniture at their house in Chicago.

“That is their home base — their Crawford, if you will,” said Katie McCormick Lelyveld, press secretary to Michelle Obama. “They are bringing their clothes, pictures, creature comforts for their 10- and 7-year-olds, stuffed animals and games, those little touches that make a new house feel like home.”

While the move may look seamless from the outside, there have been glitches over the years.

In 1989, when George H. W. Bush was inaugurated, some of his grandchildren, including Barbara and Jenna, the now-grown daughters of the current President Bush, grew cold and tired at the parade and arrived at the White House hours ahead of schedule. A quick-thinking Mr. Walters, the chief usher, sent the girls to the White House floral shop for a fast lesson in flower arranging and then showed them the White House bowling alley.

And when Bill Clinton was inaugurated in 1993, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s personal assistant decided to hand-carry Mrs. Clinton’s inaugural ball gown from Blair House to the Executive Mansion for safekeeping. Mrs. Clinton’s mother, Dorothy Rodham, put it away — unbeknownst to the residence staff. When Mrs. Clinton went to get dressed, the gown was nowhere to be found.

“It was found in a matter of 15 minutes,” Mr. Walters said, “but it was 15 minutes of sheer panic.”

    On Moving Day for 2 First Families, a Bit of Magic by 93 Pairs of Hands, NYT, 20.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/20/us/politics/20move.html?hp






Bush Commutes 2 Border Agents’ Sentences


January 20, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President Bush on Monday commuted the sentences of two former Border Patrol agents imprisoned for shooting a Mexican drug smuggler, but he was preparing to leave office without granting clemency to any better-known figures or government officials who could face liability over administration policies.

The former agents, Jose A. Compean and Ignacio Ramos, will be freed from federal prison in less than two months as a result of Mr. Bush’s commutation, cutting short prison terms that were due to run at least eight more years.

The two men, both of El Paso, were convicted on assault charges for shooting the unarmed, fleeing drug smuggler in the buttocks in 2005 and then trying to cover up the episode.

The case energized debate on border policies, and appeals for leniency for the two men had become a cause célèbre among some politicians, law enforcement officials and anti-immigration advocates.

The decision to commute their sentences appeared to represent a relatively safe yet high-impact action for Mr. Bush, who has been especially sparing in his use of his constitutional pardon power.

Still, the decision came as something of a surprise not only to the agents’ supporters, who had believed their chances for clemency were fading, but also for lawyers in other criminal cases who had been lobbying hard at the White House and the Justice Department on behalf of dozens of people seeking clemency.

A senior White House official said that the commutations announced on Monday would be Mr. Bush’s last acts of clemency before he leaves office.

There had been speculation that Mr. Bush might act in a number of high-profile cases, including those of I. Lewis Libby Jr., the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, and the financier Michael R. Milken, both of whom were convicted on felony charges.

Mr. Bush was also said to have been considering pre-emptive action that could have shielded Alberto R. Gonzales, the former attorney general, and other government officials or intelligence officers who could face legal liability over their roles in interrogations, surveillance or other Bush administration policies.

Hundreds of other defendants convicted of garden-variety crimes have petitioned for leniency, seeking to shorten prison sentences their advocates see as excessive. But in the end, Mr. Bush used his clemency power to aid only Mr. Ramos and Mr. Compean. He leaves office having granted 200 pardons and commutations, the fewest of any two-term president in modern times.

“I was shocked when I heard this was the only one,” said Margaret Colgate Love, a former Justice Department pardon lawyer who represents about 20 imprisoned clients who were seeking clemency. “There are a lot of disappointed lawyers in this town today.”

In the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Mr. Bush issued 33 clemency orders, an unusually fast clip for him. But he withdrew one pardon in December, for Isaac Toussie, a Brooklyn developer, after it was disclosed that Mr. Toussie was at the center of a Long Island real estate fraud case and that his family had given substantial donations to Republicans.

“The whole Toussie thing may very well have shot down any thoughts that Bush had of granting many routine pardons,” said P. S. Ruckman Jr., a political scientist who has studied presidential pardons.

In the case of the Border Patrol agents, Mr. Bush granted clemency without a formal recommendation from the Justice Department, which had not yet completed its review, officials said. It was the latest in a string of clemency decisions in which the White House did not rely on the formal process at the Justice Department for weighing the merits of clemency petitions.

Mr. Bush, who rarely speaks out on pardon issues, had voiced personal interest in the case two years ago, telling a television station in Texas that he planned to review all the facts to see if a pardon was warranted.

“I just want people to take a sober look at the case,” Mr. Bush said at the time. He noted that the case had generated “a lot of emotions” and added that “Border Patrol and law enforcement have no stronger supporter than me.”

Mr. Bush made no comment Monday as the Justice Department announced the commutations. A senior White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the president “thinks they were fairly tried and received a just verdict” but that the punishment was “excessive, especially given the harsh conditions in which they have to serve their sentences.” Both men had been held in solitary confinement for their own protection since they were imprisoned about two and a half years ago.

Mr. Ramos, 39, received an 11-year sentence, while Mr. Compean, 32, got 12 years. The sentences were driven by a mandatory 10-year prison sentence for the use of a firearm in the assault, a condition that irked supporters who said the men were required to carry a gun in their border duties.

Federal prosecutors in Texas mounted a vigorous and unusual defense of the convictions, saying that they could not “look the other way” after the agents shot an unarmed man and then lied to their supervisors about it.

But the agents’ defenders criticized the prosecution as overzealous, rallying support around the country and in Washington. Many supporters of clemency were anti-immigration advocates who had lined up against Mr. Bush over his failed proposal for a temporary guest worker program.

“This is great news,” Representative Brian P. Bilbray, a California Republican who met with Mr. Bush several months ago to lobby for clemency, said in an interview. Mr. Bilbray said he had become so concerned that Mr. Bush would not grant the petition that he was working Monday on a plan to take the petition to President-elect Barack Obama.

“This never should have been the criminal case that it was,” he said. “This thing was blown out of proportion because, frankly, I think these men were crucified on the altar of people who were anti-Border Patrol” and advocates of immigration reform.

For supporters of the two men, the president’s decision was blunted by the fact that they were not given a full pardon, which would have cleared their records and restored some legal rights.

“This is something that we’d been hoping for and praying for a long time,” said T. J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, which represents about 15,000 agents. “But it’s kind of a bittersweet victory, and we’re wondering what took so long. The sad thing is he waited until the last minute.”

Jim Rutenberg and David Stout contributed reporting.

    Bush Commutes 2 Border Agents’ Sentences, NYT, 20.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/20/washington/20sentence.html?hp






Transition Holds Clues to Obama Governance


January 20, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — On the day before moving into the nation’s most storied house, Barack Obama visited a shelter for teenagers with no home. With sleeves rolled up, he spent a few minutes painting for the benefit of the cameras that trail him everywhere now.

Cara Fuller, a shelter worker, asked if he was sweating.

“Nah, I don’t sweat,” he told her. “You ever see me sweat?”

Not yet. But then again, it is still early.

Mr. Obama arrives at the presidency Tuesday after a transition that betrayed little if any perspiration and no hint of nervousness. Throughout the 77 days since his election, he has been a font of cool confidence, never too hot, never too cold, seemingly undaunted by the magnitude of troubles awaiting him and unbothered by the few setbacks that have tripped him up.

He remains hard to read or label — centrist in his appointments and bipartisan in his style, yet also pushing the broadest expansion of government in generations. He has reached across old boundaries to build the foundation of an administration that will be charged with hauling the country out of crisis, but for all the outreach he has made it clear he is centralizing policy making in the White House.

He will eventually have to choose between competing advice and priorities, risking the disappointment or anger of constituencies that for the moment can still see in him what they hope to see.

What the country has seen of his leadership style so far evokes the discipline of George W. Bush and the curiosity of Bill Clinton. Mr. Obama is not shy about making decisions and making them expeditiously — he assembled his team in record time — but he has also sought to tap into the nation’s intellectual dialogue at a time of great ferment.

He has set out ideas for governance even before taking office, but he has also adapted the details as conditions changed.

More than any president since he was an infant, Mr. Obama has taken a place in society that extends beyond political leadership. He is as much symbol as substance, an icon for the young and a sign of deliverance for an older generation that never believed a man with his skin color would ascend those steps to vow to preserve, protect and defend a Constitution that originally counted a black man as three-fifths of a person.

He is a celebrity president in a celebrity culture, cooed over for his shirtless physique on the beach and splashed on the cover of every magazine from Foreign Policy to People. What his political opponents sought to portray in the campaign as arrogance is now presented by his aides as comfort with power and the responsibilities that go along with it.

“He sort of lives in a grudge-free zone,” said John D. Podesta, a co-chairman of his transition team. “He’s capable of taking on board a lot of information and making good decisions. He knows he’s going to make mistakes. But he also knows that you’ve got to do the best you can, make tough decisions and move on.”

Some of those mistakes may owe in part to that signature confidence. Mr. Obama knew and liked Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, initially overlooking an investigation into state contracts that later sank his nomination for commerce secretary. Likewise, Mr. Obama forged a personal connection with Timothy F. Geithner and picked him for Treasury secretary, choosing to disregard Mr. Geithner’s past failure to pay some of his taxes.

Little has emerged about the process behind those episodes, but aides described Mr. Obama’s decision making as crisp and efficient. When he sits down for meetings, they said, he starts by framing questions he wants answered, then gives each person a chance to talk, while also engaging them. At the end, he typically sums up what he has learned and where he is leaning. A late-night person, he often follows up with calls to aides at 10 p.m. or later, after he has put his daughters to bed.

Mr. Podesta would not describe how the decision had been made to pull Mr. Richardson’s nomination but said it had played out over just nine hours rather than days, which limited the damage. “We saw the problem, understood it, Bill understood it wasn’t viable, and we stopped it,” Mr. Podesta said.

That contrasts with Mr. Clinton, who liked free-ranging discussion and took time making decisions. Mr. Podesta, Mr. Clinton’s last White House chief of staff, described the former president as brilliant at “thinking laterally” across subject areas. “One thing that seemed not to have taken on Bill Clinton is law school,” he said. “I tend to think of the president-elect as approaching a problem in a more logical, more drill-down sort of way.”

Mr. Obama opted not to play it safe during the transition. He brought his Democratic rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton, into the cabinet, and angered gay and liberal supporters by inviting the Rev. Rick Warren, an opponent of abortion and same-sex marriage, to give the inaugural invocation. Although Mr. Obama deferred foreign affairs with his “one president at a time” rule, that did not apply to domestic policy, where he lobbied Congress to release $350 billion in financial bailout money and set about negotiating roughly $800 billion in spending programs and tax breaks.

“He’s got the political courage to look at things and be bold,” said Gov. Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania, a supporter of Mrs. Clinton’s who has spent time with Mr. Obama since the election. “The political wisdom is go slow, take the easy way first and build up some victories.”

Mr. Rendell said Mr. Obama did not mind taking risks. “He’s goal-oriented, not process-oriented,” he said. “If he does some things that are unorthodox or tick off his friends to achieve a goal, he’ll do that.”

But Mr. Obama made a point of engaging adversaries, dining with conservative columnists and talking with Republican congressmen. “He and his transition team have reached out to the Hill more than any transition team I’ve seen,” said Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader. “So far, so good. But running a campaign and running a transition are going to be different than governing, because governing is about making choices.”

Mr. Boehner noted that Mr. Obama had originally reserved 40 percent of his economic package for tax cuts but now seemed to be heeding Democrats pushing for more spending. “At some point he’s going to have to tell people what he’s for,” Mr. Boehner said, “and then we’ll see whether he really wants to govern from the middle or cave into the liberals in his party.”

Mr. Obama’s outreach to Republicans has paid dividends. He wooed enough Republican senators to release the bailout money. Even some he did not convince muted their opposition. For instance, he called Senator Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, who opposed more bailout money without a commitment that it be used only for the financial sector, not other industries.

“They didn’t want to shut the door, and if I were them maybe I wouldn’t either,” Mr. Coburn said. “But I wanted the door shut.” After Mr. Obama’s call, he said, “I was quiet as I voted against it.”

Mr. Obama has built a broader base of public support than many incoming presidents. Representative Artur Davis, Democrat of Alabama, said 53 percent of white voters in his conservative state now had favorable views of Mr. Obama, compared with 17 percent before the election. “He has been pragmatic,” Mr. Davis said, “and even many voters who voted against him see him as prepared to govern in a pragmatic, nonideological way.”

But Mr. Obama has been harder to peg than that, and the next few months should flesh out his governing philosophy.

“I don’t think it maps into traditional right-left, but nor is it Bill Clinton-like triangulation,” said Robert B. Reich, Mr. Clinton’s labor secretary and an economic adviser to Mr. Obama. “My sense is he genuinely believes that people can come to a rough consensus about big problems and work together effectively. I don’t really get a sense of ideological position. He’s obviously a man of strong convictions, but they don’t fall into the standard boxes.”

    Transition Holds Clues to Obama Governance, NYT, 20.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/20/us/politics/20transition.html?hp






For New First Lady, Hints of Agenda and Tone


January 20, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — She celebrated her 45th birthday in a vintage train car, amid balloons and crepe-paper streamers, and cheering crowds serenaded her by name.

She danced in front of the Lincoln Memorial to Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” with her husband and daughters clapping by her side. She assembled care packages for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, in this long, whirlwind weekend, marveled that she would soon be the public face of America’s first family.

On Inauguration Day, Michelle Obama will become the first African-American to assume the role of first lady, a woman with the power to influence the nation’s sense of identity, its fashion trends, its charitable causes and its perceptions of black women and their families. Already, the outlines of her style and public agenda have begun to emerge.

She has hired a politically seasoned team of advisers and an interior decorator committed to creating a family-friendly feel in her elegant new home. She has sketched out a vision of a White House brimming with children and ordinary Americans while suggesting she may delegate some traditional first lady duties to her staff: food tastings, china selection and the like.

She has decided to shape her public program with the help of a policy director who has raised concerns about instances of systemic employment bias against minorities and called for tougher enforcement of antidiscrimination laws, contentious issues in the workplace.

And she has highlighted the warm, informal tone that she hopes will characterize her time in the executive mansion by signing e-mail messages to supporters simply as “Michelle.”

Mrs. Obama, a Harvard-educated lawyer and a former hospital executive, has made it clear that her two young daughters will be her biggest priority. The causes she has promised to promote — expanding volunteerism and supporting military families and working parents — fall squarely into the realm of platforms traditionally championed by first ladies. But the staff she has assembled is also clearly prepared to tackle a tougher issues-oriented program.

“Her experience will guide the kinds of things she does, and her personal experience is unique for a first lady,” said Paul Schmitz, a longtime friend. “She understands the needs of low-income communities. She understands the needs of women. She has balanced raising a family with a career.”

“She’ll think deeply about how to use her own bully pulpit,” said Mr. Schmitz, who heads Public Allies, a nonprofit leadership-training network for young adults. “And I think that’s the challenge. You are now the most prominent woman in America. What does that mean? What do you do?”

It is a difficult question, particularly since Mrs. Obama is still grappling with how life in the grand house at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will transform her family’s existence.

She has grown accustomed to being in the spotlight — with Secret Service agents accompanying her to private lunches with her girlfriends — and has consulted with Laura Bush and former first ladies Hillary Rodham Clinton, Nancy Reagan and Rosalynn Carter. But she has no experience with the day-to-day details of life in the White House.

President Bush and his wife were old hands at White House living because they had visited often when Mr. Bush’s father, George Bush, was running the country.

Mrs. Obama visited the private residence in the White House for the first time in November after the election. She grew up in a tiny apartment and marveled recently when she and her close friend Valerie Jarrett pored over photographs of the 15 bedrooms in the presidential mansion.

“You have to pinch yourself to think that that’s home,” said Ms. Jarrett, who is also one of President-elect Barack Obama’s closest advisers.

Craig Robinson, Mrs. Obama’s brother, described the Obamas’ new reality as “mind-boggling.”

“Every time I talk to her, I’m like, ‘What are you doing now?’ ” said Mr. Robinson, who has delighted in his sister’s accounts of her days in Washington before the move to the White House. “We are such novices at this. I’m just trying to find out, How many bathrooms are in there?”

(The answer is 34, according to William Seale, a historian who has written about the White House.)

Mrs. Obama has the highest favorability ratings of any incoming first lady since 1980, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll completed Thursday. Forty-six percent of those surveyed had a favorable opinion of her. Seven percent had an unfavorable view.

Gossip magazines, cable networks and major newspapers vie for tiny details about her and her daughters, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7. The designer of Mrs. Obama’s inaugural gown? (Sorry, no word yet.) Her favorite musician of all time? (Yes, Stevie Wonder.) Where in the White House is Malia likely to gather her thoughts when she has a tough school assignment? (At Lincoln’s desk where he penned the Gettysburg Address.)

Mrs. Obama, who declined to be interviewed for this article, has reached out directly to supporters via e-mail and YouTube. And she has taken care in recent months to strike the right notes, emphasizing a preference for American fashion designers and announcing plans to use “affordable brands and products” as she redecorates the White House during this recession.

She knows that life under the microscope carries its perils.

After some rhetorical stumbles during the presidential campaign, Mrs. Obama was criticized by conservative columnists who accused her of being unpatriotic and bitter toward whites. Her approval ratings have soared since she refocused her image on her role as a wife and mother, but she still comes under periodic attack from conservative bloggers and others.

“There will be some people trying to pick holes,” Mr. Robinson said. “We’re used to that.”

Mrs. Obama’s diverse team, which includes former Congressional staff members and strategists from Democratic presidential campaigns, seems equally prepared to hone her message or deflect attack.

Jackie Norris, her chief of staff, served as a senior adviser in Iowa for the presidential campaigns of Mr. Obama and former Vice President Al Gore. Melissa Winter, her deputy chief of staff, spent 18 years on Capitol Hill.

Jocelyn Frye, her policy director, is general counsel for at the National Partnership for Women and Families in Washington, a nonprofit that advocates for workplace equity. Camille Johnston, her communications director, worked on Bill Clinton’s presidential campaigns and served as press secretary for two cabinet officials. And her press secretary, Katie McCormick Lelyveld, worked for Mrs. Clinton when she was first lady and was deputy communications director for Senator John Kerry’s presidential campaign.

By contrast, Laura Bush’s first chief of staff came straight from the Governor’s Mansion in Texas and knew little about national or Washington politics, and her press aides have typically lacked national media experience, according to a former Bush administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

While many of Mrs. Obama’s advisers do not have White House experience and may have initial difficulties navigating its bureaucracy, the official said the staff was far more politically seasoned than Mrs. Bush’s team. “She’s trying to get the best people, pulling in the cream of the crop,” the official said of Mrs. Obama.

The new first lady will also have clear channels to the West Wing, counting close friends among the president-elect’s advisers, including Ms. Jarrett and Susan Sher, who is associate counsel. They could be key allies should she choose to weigh in on policy issues she cares about. (She has said that she plans to leave the business of governing to her husband.)

Mrs. Obama has focused publicly in recent months on her self-described role of “mom in chief,” settling her daughters at Sidwell Friends School and persuading her mother to move into the White House. She has made a point of hiring a chief of staff and a chef who regularly wrestle with the challenges faced by working mothers.

But the disciplined, no-nonsense executive also comes through.

While Mrs. Bush often hand-picked the silver, china and tablecloths for White House dinners, Mrs. Obama is more likely to focus on the broad themes of such events, delegating the details, Ms. Jarrett said. (Mr. Robinson said that while his sister typically cooked for her girls, she might be happy to delegate that for a while, too.)

She wants a home that is gracious, with 20th-century art amid the antiques, but comfortable for children. As a former community organizer, she also wants the White House to be more accessible to ordinary Americans, envisioning picnics that might include local children as well as state dinners.

“She wants it to be fun and to bring a sense of youth and style,” said Ms. Sher, Mrs. Obama’s friend.

Mrs. Obama also wants the White House to feel like home. She has spent her entire life in Chicago, aside from her years in college and law school. And when her closest friends prepared to hold a goodbye lunch in her honor, she asked only for keepsakes and personal mementos.

So her friends brought snapshots in small frames, photographs of Mrs. Obama with her family, colleagues and friends in Chicago.

Ms. Sher, who attended the lunch, said she did not know if Mrs. Obama had settled on a place for the photos in her new house. But she is not worried.

“She said there’s a lot of room,” Ms. Sher said.

    For New First Lady, Hints of Agenda and Tone, NYT, 20.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/20/us/politics/20michelle.html?hp






A Role Model So Much Larger Than Life


Monday, January 19, 2009
6:27 PM
Washington Post
Staff Writer
By Paul Schwartzman


He could have chosen Frederick Douglass, whose fevered oratory he praised to his law school students. He could have evoked Martin Luther King Jr., whose dream of racial equality presaged his own historic election. Or Franklin D. Roosevelt, who inherited an economic crisis even more crippling than the one he will confront when he is sworn in Tuesday.

Instead, President-elect Barack Obama's inspiration is a brooding rail of a man whose election 148 years ago triggered scorn, ridicule and threats, one so severe he had to sneak into Washington to his own inauguration.

Abraham Lincoln's capacity to hurdle the many obstacles in his path, to journey from the unruly frontier to the apex of power, to conquer the greatest moral challenge of his time is evidence of "a fundamental element of the American character," Obama has said. "A belief that we can constantly remake ourselves to fit our larger dreams."

Obama's inauguration is America's moment to commemorate the election of its first African American president. Yet it is also the opportunity to indulge in an enduring American passion: honoring the 16th president, who salvaged a divided Union, liberated millions of slaves and, seven generations later, made Obama's rise possible.

Even before Obama's victory, Lincoln's symbolic presence at the inauguration was ensured because it is the 200th anniversary of his birth. But in any year, Lincoln remains a ubiquitous muse, inspiring more written words, by many estimates, than any historical figure except for Jesus Christ. Nearly 20,000 books have been written about him, according to one count.

His abiding influence is rooted in the folklore that attends his name. The Railsplitter. Honest Abe. The Great Emancipator. His prose is an indelible part of the American song: "Four score and seven years ago" . . . ''The mystic chords of memory" . . . "With malice toward none; with charity for all" . . .

But the allure of Lincoln also emanates from what is unknown: the inner Lincoln, the inscrutable Lincoln, the barest of clues suggested in those old black-and-white photos, the hooded eyes that convey torment, the tired, enigmatic smile.

"He's like the cliffhanger that never gets resolved," said Allen Guelzo, a Gettysburg College professor and a Lincoln biographer. "Here's the man who saved the Union, and we think, 'Boy, if we get into another crisis, we want to know the formula.' We want to discern another Lincoln. But they are elusive, which means we invent them. So we impute to Lincoln the qualities we hope will lead us through the wilderness. It's called myth. It's called legend."

The genesis of Obama's passion for Lincoln is a puzzle to his longtime friends and associates. They've seen the Lincoln photo in his Senate office, and they've seen him toting this or that Lincoln biography. But they struggle to explain how and when he adopted him as a spiritual guide. "A lot of stuff he thinks about, he keeps to himself," said Marty Nesbitt, a close friend who vacationed with Obama in Hawaii over the Christmas holiday. "He doesn't think out loud."

An essential part of Obama's immersion in Lincoln occurred when he was a state senator in Springfield, Ill., where the only house Lincoln ever owned still stands, where his desk and campaign poster are displayed in the Old State Capitol, the place he waited for election results on Nov. 6, 1860. On any given day, legions of visitors migrate to the president's tomb on the edge of town, rubbing the nose on the bronze Lincoln bust for luck.

"When you get to Springfield, there's almost a mystique about Lincoln," said former congressman Abner Mikva, an Obama mentor who served in the Illinois legislature for 10 years. "He sat there as a lowly state legislator, and you start to feel overwhelmed by it. His presence is there."

Dan Shomon, Obama's chief aide in Springfield, spent many days driving with his boss to appointments across the state, the two of them in Obama's Jeep. Inevitably, their path intersected with Lincoln's, whether in Vandalia, site of Illinois's first state capital, which Lincoln helped move to Springfield, or in towns that hosted the Lincoln-Douglas debates.

"Barack saw in Lincoln a figure who could be emulated," Shomon said. "He saw where Lincoln had lived, where he had walked, and was amazed that he had done such great things on a worldwide level."

A decade after Obama arrived in Springfield, he returned to declare his candidacy for president. He incorporated Lincoln into his vision for his inauguration: to retrace part of Lincoln's trip to his first swearing-in by riding a train from Philadelphia to Washington, to recite the oath of office while laying his hand on the red velvet-bound Bible that Lincoln used when he took power.

Inevitably, Obama's stagecraft has provoked a measure of snickering. After he drew parallels between his own struggles and Lincoln's in a 2005 Time magazine essay, conservative columnist Peggy Noonan envisioned the dead president asking, "Barack, why are you such an egomaniac?"

Historians question the wisdom of inviting comparisons to a legend, of raising hopes at a time of unprecedented global challenges. "I'd calm down if I were him," said Eric Foner, a Lincoln scholar who teaches at Columbia University. "The danger is you don't live up to it. Lincoln is the highest standard."

David Axelrod, Obama's adviser, acknowledged that "you can overdo" the associations to Lincoln, but he said their goal is "not to emulate but to honor."

"Every president has his own legacy, you can't appropriate someone else's," Axelrod said. "It's also the foolish president who doesn't read history and learn from the mistakes of others."

Latching on to Lincoln's frock coat is an American political tradition that dates back to his assassination. Herbert Hoover invoked Lincoln when he declared war on the Great Depression. Adlai Stevenson communed with Lincoln's rocking chair after sealing the Democratic nomination in 1952. At the height of the Watergate scandal, President Richard M. Nixon quoted Lincoln during an address from the Oval Office: "If the end brings me out all right, what is said against me won't amount to anything."

Perhaps the most dramatic expression of the country's devotion to Lincoln is the memorial on the Mall. A century ago, as civic leaders debated the proper way to salute Lincoln, one faction espoused a utilitarian gesture in keeping with the president as champion of the common man. But their idea of a Lincoln memorial highway from Washington to Gettysburg was dismissed as a way to enrich speculators buying property along the route.

Instead, Henry Bacon's Greek-style temple was chosen, its Doric columns and nearly 20-foot-tall sculpture of a seated Lincoln conveying a timeless majesty. Lincoln's only surviving son, Robert, then 82, attended the memorial's opening in 1922, a ceremony that drew more than 35,000 spectators, at that point the largest crowd ever assembled in Washington.

Like Lincoln, the memorial has acquired layers of meaning. The symbol of the preserved Union became an icon of civil rights in 1939 when Marian Anderson performed on the steps after she was barred from Constitution Hall because she was black. King's "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963 was another defining moment, infusing the memorial and the martyred president with a still-deeper relevance.

"Lincoln is our contemporary in a way that George Washington is not," Foner said. "We respect George Washington, but the issues of Washington seem remote. The issues of Lincoln are up there on the front page, whether it's race or civil liberties in war time."

For Obama, Lincoln's American roots are a way to establish his own, especially useful for a politician born in Hawaii, the farthest reaches of the United States, and raised for four years in Indonesia. "More than any other president, Obama has no long American lineage," said David Herbert Donald, a Harvard University professor emeritus whose "Lincoln" is among the preeminent biographies of the president. "He's a newcomer into our ranks; he needs to connect himself to a powerful tradition, probably more so than other politicians."

When he arrived in Washington, Lincoln was regarded as a political novice who rose on the power of his oratory, among the qualities that he and Obama share, a list that includes law backgrounds, slim physiques and pre-presidential résumés light on national experience.

Lincoln's intellect, aloofness and humor masked his emotions, just as Obama's professorial explanations and ironic asides suggest an almost impenetrable cool. Yet their greatest similarity might be that their easy dispositions conceal the raw ambition and cunning that made them the golden politicians of their time.

Their contrasts are equally striking, the most noteworthy perhaps being that Lincoln's stature is rooted in the results of his presidency, while Obama's is based largely on potential. Upon his election, Lincoln was derided as a "huckster" and a "first-rate second-rate man," wholly unprepared to save the Union. The expectations greeting Obama seem only to grow with each public appearance.

Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of the Lincoln history "Team of Rivals," recalls answering her phone in 2007 -- and there was Obama, inviting her to Washington to discuss her book. During their meeting, she recalled, Obama said he hoped that if he won the presidency, "at the end he would find that he was the same person, that the office had not fundamentally changed him."

His aspiration, Goodwin said, led her all the way back to Lincoln's wish that "if he lost all else, he would still retain the friend deep within."

    A Role Model So Much Larger Than Life, WP, 19.1.2009, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/19/AR2009011902442.html






Obama takes power amid daunting challenges, high expectations


19 January 2009
USA Today
By Richard Wolf


WASHINGTON — Barack Hussein Obama takes the oath of office as 44th president of the United States today facing twin challenges of war and recession and an electorate that believes he's up to the task.
The nation's first African-American president also will face something more immediately imposing: a crowd that could exceed the record 1.2 million from Lyndon Johnson's inauguration in 1965, dotting the National Mall and lining the Pennsylvania Avenue parade route to the White House.

Then there will be the ghosts of presidents and preachers past: Abraham Lincoln, whose Bible will be used for the first time since his presidency. Franklin Roosevelt, the last incoming president to face an economy in such disarray. John Kennedy, whose youth and relative inexperience Obama shares. And Martin Luther King Jr., whose 80th birthday was celebrated Monday; he was assassinated when Obama was 6.

Center stage will be Obama, the son of a Kenyan father and a mother from Kansas, who rose from the obscurity of the Illinois state Senate in 2004 to the most powerful job in the world.

"What an incredible testimony this is to both him and to the possibilities of America," says Yale political science professor Stephen Skowronek. "There is no historical parallel."

Obama, 47, will take the oath of office at noon from Chief Justice John Roberts, who at 53 also represents a new generation of American leadership. Vice President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn in by Justice John Paul Stevens, the court's senior member.

The inauguration simultaneously marks the end of George W. Bush's eight-year tenure at the White House and Obama's nearly two-year quest to take his place — one that moved from quixotic to complete as the man who came to be known as "No-drama Obama" methodically bested Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton and Republican John McCain.

Since winning about 67 million votes on Election Day for a 53% mandate, Obama has chosen a centrist Cabinet, paused briefly for a Hawaiian vacation and jumped with both feet into the two biggest economic issues facing the nation. Last week, he won congressional authority to use the second half of a $700 billion financial-industry rescue plan. Next month, he hopes to win $825 billion or more in spending increases and tax cuts.

Americans have high expectations. A majority of those surveyed in a USA TODAY/Gallup survey last week predicted that Obama will be able to achieve every one of 10 major campaign promises, from reducing health care costs and increasing coverage to withdrawing most U.S. combat troops from Iraq within 16 months.

On Monday, Obama spent his last day as president-elect visiting injured troops, performing community service projects and hosting three bipartisan dinners to honor Biden, McCain and former secretary of State Colin Powell. He switched from dark gray jeans, shirtsleeves and a paintbrush to a black tuxedo and long black tie.

"After the season of campaigning has ended, each of us in public life has a responsibility to usher in a new season of cooperation built on those things we hold in common — not as Democrats, not as Republicans, but as Americans," he said at the McCain event. "Let us strive always to find that common ground, and to defend together those common ideals, for it is the only way we can meet the very big and very serious challenges that we face right now."

Obama's relatively brief inauguration speech was ready for delivery. Today it goes into the history books, and the man known for being an eloquent speaker turns to governing.

"I am making a commitment to you as the next president that we are going to make government work," he said Monday. "But I can't do it by myself. ... We're going to have to take responsibility, all of us."

    Obama takes power amid daunting challenges, high expectations, UT, 19.1.2009, http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2009-01-19-obama_N.htm






For Obama, MLK Day of Service on Inauguration Eve


January 19, 2009
Filed at 12:03 p.m. ET
The New York Times


WASHINGTON (AP) -- On the eve of his inauguration, President-elect Barack Obama talked with wounded troops at a military hospital and then visited an emergency shelter for homeless teens. Grabbing a paint roller to help give the walls a fresh coat of blue, Obama said there can't be any ''idle hands'' at a time of national hardship.

Obama appealed to the nation he will soon lead to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. through service to others. ''It's not a day just to pause and reflect -- it's a day to act,'' Obama said on King's national holiday. ''I ask the American people to turn today's efforts into an ongoing commitment to enriching the lives of others in their communities, their cities, and their country.''

Ever-growing crowds thronged to the capital city on the eve of Obama's elevation to the presidency. ''Tomorrow, we will come together as one people on the same Mall where Dr. King's dream echoes still,'' Obama said.

A day away from becoming the nation's 44th president, Obama visited 14 injured vets from Iraq and Afghanistan at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Then he visited Sasha Bruce House, a shelter for homeless teens in the District of Columbia, chatting with volunteers who were helping to repaint rooms and then pitching in himself.

''We can't allow any idle hands. Everybody's got to be involved,'' Obama said. ''I think the American people are ready to do that.''

Obama, whose presidential campaign made extensive use of the Internet to rally support and gather contributions, said, ''The Internet is an amazing tool for us to be able to organize people together. We saw that in our campaign. But we don't just want to use if for winning elections; we want to use it for rebuilding America.''

''Don't underestimate the power for people to join together to accomplish amazing things,'' Obama said.

As to his own painting efforts, Obama said: ''I think I've got this wall covered.'' He once was immersed in such work as a community organizer in Chicago.

Michelle Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden's wife, Jill, were visiting RFK Stadium where people were at work wrapping care packages and writing letters to troops overseas.

On the National Mall, a party atmosphere was already evident by midday even though it had started snowing. Several of the large-screen televisions had begun rebroadcasting Sunday afternoon's concert, while in a corner near the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, the Boy's Choir of Kenya performed an impromptu selection for the crowd.

At the Capitol, hundreds of people pressed up against the blocked-off seating area in hopes of getting as close to the inaugural stage as possible.

''Everybody's excited,'' said Donald Butler, 20, a student at the University of Washington. ''There are smiling faces everywhere, and it's a nice, diverse crowd. It's history. I didn't think I would see a black president in my generation. I just had to be here.''

President George W. Bush, with just a day left in his term, made phone calls from the White House to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and a dozen other world leaders to thank them for their work with him over the last eight years. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, meanwhile, was designated by the Bush administration to stay away from Tuesday's inaugural festivities ''in order to ensure continuity of government,'' said Bush spokeswoman Dana Perino.

One official traditionally stays away when others in the line of presidential succession are gathered together, in case of a calamitous attack.

On the streets, live news broadcasts displayed on large-screen televisions attracted swarms of onlookers, and behind the scenes people made final preparations for a slew of parties, balls and other celebrations that will follow Obama's oath-taking and the inaugural parade.

Obama and Biden, fresh off a rollicking concert at the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday, were spending their final day before the inauguration with activities keyed to the celebration of King's life, cut short by an assassin's bullet in 1968.

''Today, we celebrate the life of a preacher who, more than 45 years ago, stood on our National Mall in the shadow of Lincoln and shared his dream for our nation. His was a vision that all Americans might share the freedom to make of our lives what we will; that our children might climb higher than we would,'' Obama said in a statement.

Obama said King's ''was a life lived in loving service to others.''

Meanwhile, two wreaths were erected at the future site of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the Tidal Basin between the Jefferson Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial. Groups of school children gathered around retired teacher Kirk Moses as he talked about King's legacy of nonviolence and the civil rights leader's connection to Obama.

''The cadence and syntax of Obama, it comes directly from Dr. King,'' said Moses, 60, as his group took pictures of the bronze plaque that sits where the memorial will be built.

The run-up to Obama's inauguration, like his election itself, has been defined by enormous public enthusiasm, carefully choreographed events and a lofty spirit of unity. What awaits, as Obama often reminds the nation, is many months, if not years, of tough work.

The weekend celebrations began Saturday with Obama's whistle-stop tour, from Philadelphia to Washington, along the path Abraham Lincoln took in 1861. Then came the roaring celebrity-filled concert where several hundred thousand people flanked the Reflecting Pool, hearing actors, singers and then Obama himself rally for national renewal.

The Presidential Inaugural Committee has launched a Web site, USAService.org, to help people find volunteer opportunities close to their homes.

The president-elect scheduled a busy Monday evening, too.

He was to attend three private dinners to honor former Secretary of State Colin Powell; Biden, a longtime senator from Delaware, and Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee.

Michelle Obama, the future first lady, was hosting a children's evening concert.

Runner Kim Person stopped in front of the Capitol to snap a few quick pictures of the reviewing stand during a break in her marathon training. Person doesn't have a ticket to the festivities, so she used the early morning lull to get close to the building.

''That's why I'm looking at it today, because I won't be able to see it tomorrow,'' said Person, 43, who plans to be near the Washington Monument on Tuesday.


Associated Press Writers Jesse Holland and Charles Babington contributed to this report.

    For Obama, MLK Day of Service on Inauguration Eve, NYT, 19.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/01/19/washington/AP-Inauguration-Rdp.html






Schedule of Events for Obama's Inaguration


January 19, 2009
The New York Times


Filed at 11:02 a.m. ET

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A schedule of some official and unofficial activities surrounding Barack Obama's inauguration on Jan. 20:



-- National Day of Community Service event: To honor Dr. King's legacy, Obama, Biden and their families, joined by Americans across the country, participate in activities dedicated to serving others in communities across the Washington, D.C. area.

-- Black Tie & Boots Inaugural Ball, sponsored by the Texas State Society, at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center.

-- Green Inaugural Ball at the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture. Ball hosted by former Vice President Al Gore.

-- Huffington Post preinaugural ball at the Newseum.

-- Hip-Hop Inaugural Ball at the Harman Center for the Arts. Hosted by the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, Russell Simmons, LL Cool J, among others.

-- A children's evening concert at the Verizon Center honoring military families. Event hosted by Michelle Obama, who will attend. Miley Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers are among the entertainers.

-- Obama to attend three private dinners to honor former secretary of State Colin Powell, Biden and Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, for their public service. Dinners at the Hilton Washington, National Building Museum and Union Station.



Gates to the Inaugural Ceremony open at 8 a.m. EST. The inaugural festivities are scheduled to start at 10 a.m. on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol. They will include:

-- Musical selections of The United States Marine Band, followed by the San Francisco Boys Chorus and the San Francisco Girls Chorus.

-- Sen. Dianne Feinstein provides call to order and welcoming remarks.

-- Invocation by the Rev. Rick Warren.

-- Musical selection of Aretha Franklin.

-- Biden will be sworn into office by Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.

-- Musical selection of John Williams, composer/arranger with Itzhak Perlman, (violin), Yo-Yo Ma (cello), Gabriela Montero (piano) and Anthony McGill (clarinet).

-- Obama will take the Oath of Office, using President Lincoln's Inaugural Bible, administered by Chief Justice John Roberts. Scheduled around noon.

-- Obama gives the inaugural address.

-- Poem by Elizabeth Alexander.

-- Benediction by Rev. Joseph E. Lowery.

-- The National Anthem by The United States Navy Band ''Sea Chanters.''

After Obama gives inaugural address, he will escort outgoing President George W. Bush to a departure ceremony before attending a luncheon in the Capitol's Statuary Hall.

The 56th Inaugural Parade will then make its way down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House.

Later that day, the Presidential Inaugural Committee will host 10 official inaugural balls:

-- Neighborhood Inaugural Ball at the Washington Convention Center.

-- Obama Home States (Illinois and Hawaii) Inaugural Ball at the Washington Convention Center.

-- Biden Home States (Pennsylvania and Delaware) Inaugural Ball at the Washington Convention Center.

-- Midwest Inaugural Ball at the Washington Convention Center.

-- Mid-Atlantic Inaugural Ball at the Washington Convention Center.

-- Western Inaugural Ball at the Washington Convention Center.

-- Commander in Chief's Ball at the National Building Museum.

-- Southern Inaugural Ball at the National Guard Armory.

-- Eastern Inaugural Ball at Union Station.

-- Youth Inaugural Ball at the Washington Hilton.

Unofficial balls include:

-- Congressional Black Caucus Inaugural Ball at the Capitol Hilton.

-- Creative Coalition Inaugural Ball at the Harman Center for the Arts.

-- Recording Industry Association of America's ball for Feeding America.

-- BET's Inaugural Ball at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.

-- Africa on the Potomac inaugural celebration at Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington, Va.

-- American Music Inaugural Ball at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel.

-- Inaugural Purple Ball at the Fairmont Hotel.

-- Human Rights Campaign's Equality Ball at the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel.

-- Inaugural Peace Ball at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum.

-- Impact Film Fund ball.



-- The president, vice president and their families will participate in a prayer service at the Washington National Cathedral.

    Schedule of Events for Obama's Inaguration, NYT, 19.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/01/19/washington/AP-Inauguration-Schedule.html






Reminiscences Fill a Bus From Chicago


January 19, 2009
The New York Times


CHICAGO — From a dismal parking lot on this city’s South Side, a bus is scheduled to pull out on Monday headed east, packed with people from the neighborhoods where President-elect Barack Obama first cut his teeth as an organizer hoping to make a difference in the world.

The riders on the Fellowship Bus, as they are calling it, are making a bare-bones 1,200-mile round trip to Washington to be present as Mr. Obama takes the oath of office. They are leaving without hotel reservations, an agenda of any kind or even much of a chance that they will get close enough to the Capitol to see the main event. Nor will they get much sleep, as the bus will turn around as soon as the inauguration is over.

But none of that matters much.

“We just had to be there for him,” said the Rev. David Bigsby, a Baptist preacher who has a seat on the bus. “He was such a blessing to our community and churches.”

The Rev. Len Dubi, a Roman Catholic priest who will also be on board, is already reminiscing about how he watched over Mr. Obama as a young community organizer trainee in the mid-1980s.

Yvonne Brookens, a retired phone company coin counter, is thinking about taking the cap Mr. Obama gave her while shaking hands on her block in his first campaign for state office.

And the Rev. Archie Graham, a former civil rights activist, said he was preparing to be overcome by the timing of it all, setting off to see the inauguration of the first black person to be elected president on nothing less than Martin Luther King’s Birthday.

Mr. Bigsby, whose memories of Mr. Obama include an appearance at his church in Mr. Obama’s first campaign for office, said: “It’s spine-chilling. Words cannot describe this feeling. To think what Dr. King would say.”

Of the millions of political pilgrims traveling from all corners of the country and, no doubt, the world, aching to get a glimpse of Mr. Obama’s inauguration, the people on the Fellowship Bus may be singular in the humble nature of their roots and the richness of their decades-old connection to the new president.

They are social justice advocates, members of the clergy, retired government workers, former civil rights leaders from the 1960s and younger idealists. They never left their neighborhoods. These days, they glow with something near paternal pride.

“We’re feeling that it’s our victory,” Mr. Dubi said. “It’s a very emotional experience.”

The bus riders are making the journey on a shoestring budget of $150 per person, as some of their simple lifestyles have not changed much since a young Mr. Obama pounded the pavement.

It was on their streets and in their churches where Mr. Obama, according to his memoir, said he took his first “awkward steps toward manhood.”

Mr. Obama arrived in Chicago in his 20s after growing up in Hawaii and Indonesia. He worked as a community organizer on the South Side for three years, roughly from 1983 to 1986, then left to attend Harvard Law School.

“Change won’t come from the top, I would say,” Mr. Obama wrote in the memoir “Dreams From My Father.” “Change will come from a mobilized grass roots.”

On the streets, Mr. Dubi, 66, and others said they remembered that “he proved himself.”

“One of the remarkable things I’ve learned from him, just observing him,” Mr. Dubi said, “is that you can’t move forward in a democracy without bringing in people who are opposed to you. I saw that in him. I just liked his friendliness, his approachability.”

After receiving a law degree, Mr. Obama returned to Chicago. He ran a voter registration drive, joined a law firm, taught constitutional law and was elected to the State Senate in 1996.

While he remained on the South Side, his world moved to Hyde Park — and to Trinity United Church of Christ — and was more rarefied than what he knew during his organizing days farther south. Hyde Park also became his base for a successful run for the United States Senate in 2004, and it remained his local stomping ground until he moved to Washington just days ago.

But the people in the more humble communities and smaller churches where he organized never forgot him, and they say he never forgot them either, in that many of their goals remain his, too — better education, housing and jobs for everyone.

“We’re all just community activists,” said Mr. Bigsby, 63. “We don’t need to engage him for a little trip or something of a selfish nature. What we’d rather is for him to focus on the collective needs of our community. And he’s said he believes in that, that change comes up from the people.”

The 55-seat Fellowship Bus will roll overnight to cut out the cost of accommodations, and passengers are packing food to save money. They will entertain themselves with hymns and stories about their old friend, “that lovely young man,” as Ms. Brookens put it, referring to Mr. Obama.

Even the $150 fare was a stretch for some. Ms. Brookens, 62, paid in installments.

“Anything that is a sacrifice is also a blessing,” she said. “I took the money out of my little funds, what I have. I hope to have a little change on me — emergency or souvenir money. It’s worth it. We want to show our support, to prayerfully give him a good ‘God Bless.’ ”

Some of the passengers are friends, members of a loosely bound interfaith association of churches on the South Side and the southern suburbs. Mr. Bigsby is the president of the group and is accompanying 11 members from his church, In the Upper Room Ministries.

Ms. Brookens is an assistant pastor at God’s Word Christian Center to Mr. Graham, 65, who is a friend of Mr. Bigsby. Mr. Dubi and Mr. Bigsby have worked on social justice causes for decades.

Once Mr. Obama began campaigning after his organizing days, the range of churches he knew, Mr. Bigsby said, “gave him great exposure, but he also blessed our parishioners to understand the real need to come out of the four walls of the church and really engage.”

“A cliché in the church is that we’d rather see a sermon than hear one,” Mr. Bigsby said. “He epitomized a living sermon.”

The group does not have much of a plan upon arrival in Washington, other than to park the bus and try to get as close as possible to the festivities by walking or using public transportation.

“We might not even get to the Capitol, but that’s O.K.,” said Vickie Perkins, the district manager of a coffee company and a member of Mr. Graham’s church who has become the unofficial trip coordinator. “I just want to be on the street, even if I can’t see the action. I want to be able to say I was there when Barack Obama became president.”

Mr. Graham said he felt the same way, that the journey was actually the destination itself.

“Dr. King said in one of his more famous speeches that he had been to the mountaintop and seen the promised land, and that he might not get there with us,” Mr. Graham said. “He said we’d get there as a people. I see our trip, very visibly, as exactly what he was saying.”

    Reminiscences Fill a Bus From Chicago, NYT, 19.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/19/us/politics/19journey.html?hp






For Obama, Rare Chance for Bold Start on Big Task


January 19, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama is well on his way to finding the silver lining in the economic storm he is inheriting.

The two-year, $825 billion economic recovery plan taking shape in Congress includes billions of dollars for renewable energy and a national electricity grid to distribute it, lower taxes for all Americans but the affluent, computerized medical records and modernized schools. These are all down payments on Mr. Obama’s ambitious campaign promises, affording him an opportunity few new presidents have had. Not since Franklin D. Roosevelt at the depths of the Great Depression has a president entered office with a bipartisan green light to spend and cut taxes so much.

The House and Senate are putting their stamp on the product — shaving the cost on some proposals like the power grid and rejecting a few, notably Mr. Obama’s call to give businesses a $3,000 tax credit for every new hire. But to a remarkable degree, the package reads like an Obama campaign checklist, though he never put a comprehensive stimulus blueprint on paper but instead publicly and privately promoted his priorities.

While intended for two years, the recovery plan, at $825 billion, is nearly the size of the federal government’s annual discretionary budget for almost everything other than Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

By comparison, Bill Clinton came into office in 1993 seeking just $16 billion for an economic stimulus. A Congress controlled by deficit-conscious Democrats refused to give it to him.

Mr. Obama is moving on other fronts to make good on promises quickly, aware that any president’s first year is typically the most productive, and that his popularity at his inaugural could well be at its peak.

Working with a Congress controlled by his party, he expects soon after taking office on Tuesday to sign laws expanding a program of health care for low-income children and taking aim at pay discrimination against women. Mr. Obama is also expected to use his executive authority to quickly revive federal financing for embryonic stem-cell research.

With new authority from Congress to spend the second half of a $700 billion bailout program, Mr. Obama plans to do more than the Bush administration to press financial institutions to help struggling homeowners avert foreclosure and rekindle credit to individuals and businesses.

“He is going to have a strong message for the bankers,” his senior adviser David Axelrod said Sunday on “This Week” on ABC. “We want to see credit flowing again. We don’t want them to sit on any money that they get from taxpayers.”

Democrats expect the stimulus package to be on Mr. Obama’s desk by Feb. 13. “First, it’s going to play a significant role in turning the economy around,” said Rahm Emanuel, who will be White House chief of staff and has been lobbying his former colleagues in Congress for the Obama agenda.

But beyond its stimulating effect, Mr. Emanuel said, the package will advance “every one of the policy goals” Mr. Obama laid out in his domestic agenda for change in the campaign: energy independence, reducing health care costs, improving education and helping low-wage and middle-income workers.

For example, he cited Mr. Obama’s promise to spur hospitals’ and doctors’ use of information technology to improve care and cut costs. The Obama team is expecting more than $20 billion in the final legislation toward the estimated $50 billion cost of wiring providers nationwide. “We’re halfway toward a goal that’s been debated for 10 to 15 years,” Mr. Emanuel said.

Yet challenges across the board threaten the big expectations Mr. Obama has stoked.

Money has not been the only hurdle for many of his priorities. The medical technology initiative, for instance, must overcome significant privacy concerns that civil libertarians, patients’ groups and others have.

Also, for all the attention to Mr. Obama’s initiatives, more than half of the roughly $550 billion in two-year spending — roughly $275 billion more is for tax cuts — would simply preserve the jobs of teachers, firefighters, public health workers and other local government employees by sending relief to the states, said Scott Lilly, a former senior Congressional aide who is now at the Center for American Progress, a liberal research group.

As big as the package will be, some liberals and conservative economists fear it is not enough, which would endanger what is now Mr. Obama’s foremost promise: to get the economy moving again. “One of the big problems is that the overall economy is weaker than a package of this size can adequately address,” Mr. Lilly said.

Once the economy does start to recover, long-term financing will be in question for Mr. Obama’s energy, education and health initiatives as he and Congress turn to reducing budget deficits.

Antipoverty groups are concerned about the future of proposals to expand tax breaks to workers who pay payroll taxes but are too poor to owe income taxes, and to extend Medicaid to workers without health care coverage who lose their jobs. Advocates worry that some of the proposals least likely to be made permanent are those that are most beneficial to low-income families.

Still, advocates say they are pleased that Mr. Obama is keeping a promise to help change Depression-era rules on unemployment compensation to provide aid to more low-wage and part-time workers who lose jobs. The relief to states gives them incentives to make the changes.

Environmental groups say they are thrilled by the initial subsidies for clean energy development and for jobs to weatherize homes and public buildings. “We’re looking at this as something to build on, instead of looking at it as we’ve had to do in the past as, What bad things do we have to stop?” said David Willett, national spokesman for the Sierra Club. “And that’s a good change.”

Dan Weiss, an environmentalist at the Center for American Progress predicted that the recovery plan “will turbocharge energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies.”

Assuming that the projected jobs are created, said Melinda Pierce, chief lobbyist for the Sierra Club, “there will be continued commitment” by private and public entities.

Even the more traditional stimulus spending, like that for job-providing road construction, has a twist reflecting the Obama agenda. The roughly $30 billion for road and bridge building will favor repairs over new construction, Democrats say. Repairs can be addressed faster, getting money into the economy quickly. But they are also the choice of environmentalists and the National Association of Realtors, which together oppose new roadways that promote urban sprawl and fuel consumption.

Education from preschool through college is also shaping up as a big winner, with $141.6 billion in the House bill. Supporters promote the job-creating potential of education spending not just for the short-term, insofar as it is a down payment on Mr. Obama’s promise to stem “the dropout crisis” and help young Americans become productive taxpayers.

“The down payment actually builds a lot of the proposed ‘education house,’ ” said Bob Wise, the former West Virginia governor who is now president of the Alliance for Excellent Education. “This economic stimulus package shows that as we shift from an industrial to an information economy, education is the new currency.”

Mr. Wise cited a recent study that said that cutting dropout rates in half, for about $5 billion a year, would produce $45 billion in new tax revenues and savings on expenses like welfare and incarcerations.

Similarly, Democrats are trumpeting the economic impact of other provisions that depart from standard stimulus spending on things like road construction and jobless aid.

For example, Mr. Obama is likely to get at least $6 billion of the $10 billion he sought toward his campaign promise of universal broadband service to extend Internet access to rural areas and other regions lacking high-speed service. Each $1 investment, Democrats say, returns $10 to the economy through increased productivity.

    For Obama, Rare Chance for Bold Start on Big Task, NYT, 19.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/19/us/politics/19stimulus.html






Op-Ed Contributor

Dr. King’s Last Birthday


January 19, 2009
The New York Times


FORTY-ONE years ago, I was blessed to spend the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s last birthday with him, along with Allard Lowenstein and staff members like Andy Young, Hosea Williams, Dorothy Cotton, James Bevel, James Orange and others. I recall vividly how he spent that day — and I mention it now because it’s instructive to all of us if we are to follow Dr. King’s example and not just admire him.

When Barack Obama is sworn in as the nation’s first African-American president, many will view that moment as the culmination of the modern civil rights movement, a struggle most often identified with Dr. King.

It is fitting that Mr. Obama will assume the nation’s highest office one day after we celebrate Dr. King’s birthday. What would Dr. King, who spent much of his life changing conditions so that African-Americans could vote without fear of death or intimidation, think of the rise of the nation’s 44th president?

I can say without reservation that he would be beaming. I am equally confident that he would not let the euphoria of the moment blind us to the unfinished business that lies ahead. And he would spell out those challenges in biblical terms: feed the hungry, clothe the naked and study war no more.

Dr. King spent his 39th birthday working. I remember him coming to the basement of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. He walked in that day around 9 a.m., after breakfast with his family, wearing blue jeans and a windbreaker. (I recall a bright, sunny day.) He convened the Southern Christian Leadership Conference staff and a rainbow coalition — blacks from the Deep South, whites from Appalachia, Jewish allies from New York, Latino farm worker organizers — to plan what would be his last campaign, the Poor People’s March to the nation’s capital. Though Dr. King had met with increasing hostility from the press and government, his mood was upbeat because we were energized by the vision of a new initiative to advance our movement.

Around noon Xernona Clayton, a friend of the King family, walked in with a birthday cake. She teased Dr. King, saying that he was “so busy you forgot to celebrate your own birthday.” Slightly embarrassed, Dr. King blew out the candles. We must have eaten the cake in record time because it seemed that within moments the plates were cleared and we were back in our meeting — with Al Lowenstein conducting a workshop about the march and how to step up pressure to end the Vietnam War.

That’s the model we should follow this week — and beyond. We should celebrate the election of our new president. And then we should get back to work to complete the unfinished business of making America a more perfect union.

Jesse L. Jackson Sr., a former aide to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is the president and founder of the RainbowPUSH Coalition.

    Dr. King’s Last Birthday, NYT, 19.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/19/opinion/19jackson.html?ref=opinion






Op-Ed Contributors

A Pragmatic Precedent


January 19, 2009
The New York Times


UNTIL a martyred John F. Kennedy replaced him, Abraham Lincoln was one of the two white men whose image most frequently graced even the most modest black home, second in popularity only to Jesus. Perhaps none of his heirs in the Oval Office has been as directly compared to Lincoln as will Barack Obama, in part because Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation began freeing the slaves descended from the continent on which Mr. Obama’s father was born, and in part because of Mr. Obama’s own fascination with Lincoln himself.

Much has been written about what Mr. Obama thinks about Lincoln; but not much has been said about what Lincoln would think of Barack Hussein Obama. If his marble statue at the Lincoln Memorial could become flesh and speak, like Galatea, what would the man who is remembered for freeing the slaves say about his first black successor?

It is difficult to say for sure, of course, but one thing we can be fairly certain about is that Lincoln would have been, um, surprised. Lincoln was thoroughly a man of his times, and while he staunchly opposed slavery — on moral grounds and because it made competition in the marketplace unfair for poor white men — for most of his life he harbored fixed and unfortunate ideas about race.

Lincoln had a very complex relationship with blacks. Abolition was a fundamental part of Lincoln’s moral compass, but equality was not. While he was an early, consistent and formidable foe of slavery, Lincoln had much more ambivalent feelings about blacks themselves, especially about whether they were, or could ever be, truly equal with whites.

For example, on Aug. 14, 1862, he invited five black men to the White House to convince them to become the founders of a new nation in Panama consisting of those slaves he was about to free. A month before emancipation became law, he proposed a constitutional amendment guaranteeing financing for blacks who wished to emigrate to Liberia or Haiti.

Degrading words, deplored by most white abolitionists, like “Sambo” and “Cuffee,” found their way into Lincoln’s descriptions of blacks; he even used “nigger” several times in speeches. He also liked to tell “darkie” jokes and had a penchant for black-faced minstrel shows. The Lincoln of pre-White House days was a long way from the Great Emancipator; “recovering racist” would be closer to the truth.

Except for his barber, William Florville, and William Johnson, a servant from Springfield, Ill., Lincoln didn’t know many of what he referred to as “very intelligent” black people before he moved to the White House. (In 1840, only 116 blacks lived in Springfield, and they were domestics, laborers or slaves.) In fact, if we add up the amount of time he spent with black people who were not servants even after he became president, it probably would not amount to 24 hours.

The truth is that successful blacks were almost total strangers to Lincoln, born as he was on the frontier and raised in a state settled by white Southerners. From this perspective, then, Lincoln most probably would have been shocked, perhaps horrified, by Mr. Obama’s election. Like the majority of Northern whites, Lincoln had a vision of America that was largely a white one.

Once in office, though, he met with more black leaders than any president before him, including Sojourner Truth (whom he unfortunately addressed as “Aunty”), Henry Highland Garnet and Martin R. Delany, even if he never invited one to a formal meal. But we also know that Lincoln could recognize exceptional people, regardless of race.

As president, he became quite taken with one black man, Frederick Douglass, who initially seems to bear much in common with Barack Obama. Both Mr. Obama and Douglass had one black and one white parent; both rose from humble origins to become famous before age 45; both are among the greatest writers and orators of their generations; and both learned early to use words as powerful weapons. Lincoln, seeing this masterly orator of mixed-race ancestry, would most likely first have been reminded of his exceptional friend, Douglass.

Lincoln’s respect for Douglass — the first, and perhaps only, black man he treated as an intellectual equal — was total. He met with him at the White House three times and once told a colleague that he considered Douglass among the nation’s “most meritorious men.” And just after delivering his second inaugural address, Lincoln asked Douglass what he thought of the speech, adding that “there is no man in the country whose opinion I value more than yours.”

The fact that Lincoln was no natural friend of the Negroes arguably makes his actions on their behalf all the more impressive, even if they were motivated by the urgent pragmatism of war. He and Douglass were unlikely allies: Douglass was a firebrand in the prophetic tradition, whereas Lincoln — like Barack Obama — spoke of pragmatism and post-partisanship. While Mr. Obama’s election may mark the triumph of Douglass’s grand historical project for American race relations, it doesn’t mark the ascent of another Douglass.

Lincoln’s great achievement, in the eyes of posterity, was really the outcome of his ingrained pragmatism. The Emancipation Proclamation was born of a certain opportunism (to win the war, Lincoln said, he needed freed slaves to defeat their former masters), and is not a lesser thing for it. Perhaps there is a lesson for Mr. Obama here: those who invoke high ideas and scorn compromise often bring themselves into disrepute. Those whose actions are conditioned by an exquisite sense of frailty, by an understanding that it’s more important to avoid the worst than to attain the best, may better serve those ideals in the end.

Is Barack Obama another Abraham Lincoln? Let’s hope not. Greatness — witness the presidencies of Lincoln, say, and Franklin D. Roosevelt — is forged in the crucible of disaster. It comes when character is equal to cataclysm. A peacetime Lincoln would have been no Lincoln at all. Let’s hope that Mr. Obama, for all of his considerable gifts, doesn’t get this particular chance to be great.

Barack Obama has written that Lincoln’s “humble beginnings ... often speak to our own.” Once Lincoln had recovered from his shock that a descendant of “amalgamation” (about which he once expressed reservations) had ascended to the presidency, one suspects their mutual embrace of economic independence and natural rights, their love and mastery of the English language, their shared desire to leave their mark on history, and their astonishing gift for pragmatic improvisation, would have drawn him to a man so fundamentally similar to himself.

Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the editor of “Lincoln on Race and Slavery” and the producer of the forthcoming PBS documentary “Looking for Lincoln.” John Stauffer is the author, most recently, of “Giants: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.”

    A Pragmatic Precedent, NYT, 19.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/19/opinion/19gates.html







From Books, New President Found Voice


January 19, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — In college, as he was getting involved in protests against the apartheid government in South Africa, Barack Obama noticed, he has written, “that people had begun to listen to my opinions.” Words, the young Mr. Obama realized, had the power “to transform”: “with the right words everything could change -— South Africa, the lives of ghetto kids just a few miles away, my own tenuous place in the world.”

Much has been made of Mr. Obama’s eloquence — his ability to use words in his speeches to persuade and uplift and inspire. But his appreciation of the magic of language and his ardent love of reading have not only endowed him with a rare ability to communicate his ideas to millions of Americans while contextualizing complex ideas about race and religion, they have also shaped his sense of who he is and his apprehension of the world.

Mr. Obama’s first book, “Dreams From My Father” (which surely stands as the most evocative, lyrical and candid autobiography written by a future president), suggests that throughout his life he has turned to books as a way of acquiring insights and information from others — as a means of breaking out of the bubble of self-hood and, more recently, the bubble of power and fame. He recalls that he read James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright and W. E. B. Du Bois when he was an adolescent in an effort to come to terms with his racial identity and that later, during an ascetic phase in college, he immersed himself in the works of thinkers like Nietzsche and St. Augustine in a spiritual-intellectual search to figure out what he truly believed.

As a boy growing up in Indonesia, Mr. Obama learned about the American civil rights movement through books his mother gave him. Later, as a fledgling community organizer in Chicago, he found inspiration in “Parting the Waters,” the first installment of Taylor Branch’s multivolume biography of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

More recently, books have supplied Mr. Obama with some concrete ideas about governance: it’s been widely reported that “Team of Rivals,” Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book about Abraham Lincoln’s decision to include former opponents in his cabinet, informed Mr. Obama’s decision to name his chief Democratic rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton, as Secretary of State. In other cases, books about F. D. R.’s first hundred days in office and Steve Coll’s “Ghost Wars,“ about Afghanistan and the C.I.A., have provided useful background material on some of the myriad challenges Mr. Obama will face upon taking office.

Mr. Obama tends to take a magpie approach to reading — ruminating upon writers’ ideas and picking and choosing those that flesh out his vision of the world or open promising new avenues of inquiry.

His predecessor, George W. Bush, in contrast, tended to race through books in competitions with Karl Rove (who recently boasted that he beat the president by reading 110 books to Mr. Bush’s 95 in 2006), or passionately embrace an author’s thesis as an idée fixe. Mr. Bush and many of his aides favored prescriptive books — Natan Sharansky’s “Case for Democracy,” which pressed the case for promoting democracy around the world, say, or Eliot A. Cohen’s “Supreme Command,” which argued that political strategy should drive military strategy. Mr. Obama, on the other hand, has tended to look to non-ideological histories and philosophical works that address complex problems without any easy solutions, like Reinhold Niebuhr’s writings, which emphasize the ambivalent nature of human beings and the dangers of willful innocence and infallibility.

What’s more, Mr. Obama’s love of fiction and poetry — Shakespeare’s plays, Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick” and Marilynne Robinson‘s “Gilead” are mentioned on his Facebook page, along with the Bible, Lincoln’s collected writings and Emerson’s “Self Reliance“ — has not only given him a heightened awareness of language. It has also imbued him with a tragic sense of history and a sense of the ambiguities of the human condition quite unlike the Manichean view of the world so often invoked by Mr. Bush.

Mr. Obama has said that he wrote “very bad poetry” in college and his biographer David Mendell suggests that he once “harbored some thoughts of writing fiction as an avocation.” For that matter, “Dreams From My Father” evinces an instinctive storytelling talent (which would later serve the author well on the campaign trail) and that odd combination of empathy and detachment gifted novelists possess. In that memoir, Mr. Obama seamlessly managed to convey points of view different from his own (a harbinger, perhaps, of his promises to bridge partisan divides and his ability to channel voters’ hopes and dreams) while conjuring the many places he lived during his peripatetic childhood. He is at once the solitary outsider who learns to stop pressing his nose to the glass and the coolly omniscient observer providing us with a choral view of his past.

As Baldwin once observed, language is both “a political instrument, means, and proof of power,” and “the most vivid and crucial key to identity: it reveals the private identity, and connects one with, or divorces one from, the larger, public, or communal identity.”

For Mr. Obama, whose improbable life story many voters regard as the embodiment of the American Dream, identity and the relationship between the personal and the public remain crucial issues. Indeed, “Dreams From My Father,” written before he entered politics, was both a searching bildungsroman and an autobiographical quest to understand his roots — a quest in which he cast himself as both a Telemachus in search of his father and an Odysseus in search of a home.

Like “Dreams From My Father,” many of the novels Mr. Obama reportedly admires deal with the question of identity: Toni Morrison’s “Song of Solomon” concerns a man’s efforts to discover his origins and come to terms with his roots; Doris Lessing’s “Golden Notebook” recounts a woman’s struggles to articulate her own sense of self; and Ellison’s “Invisible Man” grapples with the difficulty of self-definition in a race-conscious America and the possibility of transcendence. The poems of Elizabeth Alexander, whom Mr. Obama chose as his inaugural poet, probe the intersection between the private and the political, time present and time past, while the verse of Derek Walcott (a copy of whose collected poems was recently glimpsed in Mr. Obama’s hands) explores what it means to be a “divided child,” caught on the margins of different cultures, dislocated and rootless perhaps, but free to invent a new self.

This notion of self-creation is a deeply American one — a founding principle of this country, and a trope addressed by such classic works as “The Great Gatsby” — and it seems to exert a strong hold on Mr. Obama’s imagination.

In a 2005 essay in Time magazine, he wrote of the humble beginnings that he and Lincoln shared, adding that the 16th president reminded him of “a larger, fundamental element of American life — the enduring belief that we can constantly remake ourselves to fit our larger dreams.”

Though some critics have taken Mr. Obama to task for self-consciously italicizing parallels between himself and Lincoln, there are in fact a host of uncanny correspondences between these two former Illinois state legislators who had short stints in Congress under their belts before coming to national prominence with speeches showcasing their eloquence: two cool, self-contained men, who managed to stay calm and graceful under pressure; two stoics embracing the virtues of moderation and balance; two relatively new politicians who were initially criticized for their lack of experience and for questioning an invasion of a country that, in Lincoln’s words, was “in no way molesting, or menacing the U.S.”

As Fred Kaplan’s illuminating new biography (“Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer”) makes clear, Lincoln, like Mr. Obama, was a lifelong lover of books, indelibly shaped by his reading — most notably, in his case, the Bible and Shakespeare — which honed his poetic sense of language and his philosophical view of the world. Both men employ a densely allusive prose, richly embedded with the fruit of their reading, and both use language as a tool by which to explore and define themselves. Eventually in Lincoln’s case, Mr. Kaplan notes, “the tool, the toolmaker, and the tool user became inseparably one. He became what his language made him.”

The incandescent power of Lincoln’s language, its resonance and rhythmic cadences, as well as his ability to shift gears between the magisterial and the down-to-earth, has been a model for Mr. Obama — who has said he frequently rereads Lincoln for inspiration — and so, too, have been the uses to which Lincoln put his superior language skills: to goad Americans to complete the unfinished work of the founders, and to galvanize a nation reeling from hard times with a new vision of reconciliation and hope.

    From Books, New President Found Voice, NYT, 19.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/19/books/19read.html?hp






Obama Visiting Troops at Walter Reed


January 19, 2009
The New York Times
Filed at 9:16 a.m. ET


WASHINGTON (AP) -- President-elect Barack Obama is visiting wounded troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

A day after laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery, Obama began Tuesday with an unscheduled stop at Walter Reed, where he is meeting with those wounded during their military service.

Monday is the federal holiday commemorating the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., and Obama is leading a day of community service Tuesday, asking the nation to honor King's legacy by making a renewed commitment to service.

    Obama Visiting Troops at Walter Reed, NYT, 19.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/01/19/washington/AP-Inauguration-Obama-Walter-Reed.html






Inauguration Celebrations Begin in Washington


January 19, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — On Sunday, President-elect Barack Obama got Elizabeth Ross, a 57-year-old African-American woman from Lorman, Miss., to see Bruce Springsteen in concert. Clad in a floor-length black mink coat, matching hat and stunningly manicured nails, Mrs. Ross — and hundreds of thousands of others, their faces bright with both chill and expectation — converged on the Lincoln Memorial to kick off America’s three-day inauguration party.

Crammed together as far as the eye could see — from the seated statue of Abraham Lincoln all the way past the reflecting pool and up the hill to the Washington Monument — they danced, sang, shivered, cheered, hooted and hollered for the black man who will be America’s next president, in what seemed a cross between the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington and Woodstock.

Mr. Obama, looking into the mass of faces raised to him, seemed to feed off the crowd. The text of his speech was somber, noting the economic crisis and the two wars, and calling for a new spirit of sacrifice to overcome them. But his voice was upbeat.

“I stand here today as hopeful as ever that the United States of America will endure,” the president-elect said. “What gives me that hope is what I see when I look out across this mall.”

Looking back at him from across the Mall was an ocean of expectations, as people from Napa, Calif., to Detroit to Orlando, Fla., clad in Obama T-shirts, hats, jewelry and even face paint, hugged one another and swayed to the music from the array of heavy hitters from the entertainment world who were performing. “My father would have loved to have seen this,” Mrs. Ross said, gazing raptly at the stage.

In front of her, Mr. Springsteen was singing “The Rising,” the song he wrote after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that pays homage to the firefighters who lost their lives as they climbed the stairs of the burning Twin Towers.

Mrs. Ross had never seen Mr. Springsteen in concert. In fact, the last concert she went to was by the Manhattans in Atlanta in 2001.

And yet, there she was, along with three girlfriends — all in floor-length minks — huddled in the cold, tapping their feet to the beat. Four middle-age, African-American women, talking about the Selma-to-Montgomery march in 1965, about Dr. King, about the civil rights movement — and listening to Bruce.

“I’m so out of my comfort zone out here in the cold,” said Delphine Straughn-Tupper, one of Mrs. Ross’s friends. “But there was no way I was going to miss this.”

For Mr. Obama and his aides, finding a way to temper and manage all that emotion and optimism may be their biggest challenge in the next three days. The incoming White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, was on “Fox News Sunday” trying to remind everyone that the country will still be in a recession on Jan. 21.

“We did not get into the situation overnight,” Mr. Gibbs said. “The problems and the challenges that our country face didn’t happen all last week. It’s going to take us some time.”

Aides said that Mr. Obama’s inauguration speech would touch on individual responsibility, and would urge Americans to prepare for hard times ahead. Rahm Emanuel, his chief of staff, told NBC that the speech would declare an end to “the culture of anything goes” and demand a new era of responsibility from government, corporations and Americans in general.

Once he takes office, Mr. Obama will call in his top military commanders and ask them to figure out a withdrawal plan for Iraq, and will pledge more American troops to Afghanistan, his aides said. In Iraq, “we’re in an area where everyone agrees that we should be on a path to withdrawing those troops,” his senior adviser, David Axelrod, told “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” on ABC.

Mr. Obama may also issue executive orders in his first week that call for the closing of the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, though the process may take time, Mr. Gibbs said.

But on the Mall on Sunday, few people were talking about Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo or responsibility. Instead, they were talking about history.

“We’ve been up since 6 a.m.,” said Sarah Scheffer, 18, of Rumson, N.J., who showed up before the gates opened with a dozen other freshmen from American University to secure a spot close to the stage. “It’s going to be a long day, but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

People perched in the trees around the Lincoln Memorial and even sat on top of the portable toilets to get glimpses of the stage. Fire trucks parked on closed-off 17th Street in front of the World War II monument, but firefighters were not engaged in fire control. Instead, they stood on top of their trucks as people crowded around them, handing up digital cameras and begging them to take photographs of them in front of the crowds. The firefighters obliged, although one could be heard, grumbling, “O.K., we’ve got to wrap this up now.”

The temperature was 28 degrees, but wave after wave of people kept coming, cramming closer to Lincoln’s seated statue.

For his part, Mr. Obama, who started his day by laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery and trying out a potential new church for his family, the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in northwest Washington, appeared to enjoy the concert. When Mr. Springsteen and the folk singer Pete Seeger led a raucous foot-stomping version of “This Land Is Your Land,” Mr. Obama sang along with everyone else.

From the stage, Denzel Washington and Jamie Foxx appeared, almost in a competition for the role of Mr. Obama when Hollywood tries its first take on the 44th president.

Mr. Washington went first, striding confidently on stage — to the attendant shrieks from women in the audience — and delivering a speech that sounded like one of Mr. Obama’s, complete with references to the legacies of Lincoln and other forefathers.

But then came Mr. Foxx, who did Mr. Washington one better. “Change has come,” Mr. Foxx intoned, in a drop-dead impersonation of Mr. Obama’s speech election night in Grant Park in Chicago. In front of him, a delighted-looking Mr. Obama was grinning.

    Inauguration Celebrations Begin in Washington, NYT, 19.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/19/us/politics/19obama.html?hp






Obama Arrives in Washington After Train Trip


January 18, 2009
The New York Times


BALTIMORE — President-elect Barack Obama stepped onto a vintage train car, built at a time when a black man’s ascendancy to the presidency was impossible in America, and traveled Saturday to Washington in a three-day prelude to his inauguration as the nation’s 44th president.

As he did throughout his campaign, Mr. Obama evoked imagery of Abraham Lincoln, in word and deed, as he took an abridged version of Lincoln’s journey by rail to the capital before his own inaugural festivities in 1861. The trip offered Mr. Obama one more opportunity to savor his victory before he inherits the challenges that await him.

“While our problems may be new, what is required to overcome them is not,” Mr. Obama said before the train ride began. “What is required is the same perseverance and idealism that our founders displayed.

“What is required is a new declaration of independence, not just in our nation, but in our own lives — from ideology and small thinking, prejudice and bigotry — an appeal not to our easy instincts but to our better angels.”

The trip picked up momentum as it drew closer to Washington, with larger crowds gathering to wave, cheer and merely catch a glimpse of Mr. Obama, who on Tuesday will be the first African-American sworn in as president.

Mr. Obama opened his inauguration celebration at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, where a few hundred supporters gathered to send him off. He was joined on stage by his wife, Michelle; their two daughters, Malia and Sasha; and a contingent of friends from Chicago and beyond who have been by the family’s side on their two-year odyssey to the White House.

The train sounded its whistle and pulled from the station about 11:30 a.m., with the conductor booming, “Welcome aboard the 2009 inaugural train to D.C.”

Hundreds of people gathered alongside the track, at train crossings, in backyards and on rooftops, waving homemade signs and small American flags at the train. Those who came to witness the moment, even to catch only a peek of the train, stood in single-digit temperatures, with the wind chill below zero.

At one point, Mr. Obama stood on the outdoor platform of his private car, which was draped in red, white and blue bunting. He waved and smiled as he sounded the train’s whistle three times. (“You’re never too old to toot the horn,” he said later, talking to some of his guests on board.)

When Mr. Obama arrived at the first stop in Wilmington, Del., the crowd spilled from an outdoor plaza at the train station as Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his family climbed aboard after a rally. They held a rally in Baltimore before arriving by nightfall at Union Station in Washington, where a large crowd gathered along Pennsylvania Avenue to see Mr. Obama as he was taken to Blair House, the family’s temporary residence.

“Sometimes it’s hard to believe that we’ll see the spring again,” Mr. Biden said to shivering supporters in Delaware, his home state, who had been waiting for hours at the rally. “But I’ll tell you: spring is on the way with this new administration.”

As the train entered Maryland, about a dozen pickups and cars parked haphazardly in a harvested corn field. People stood outside their vehicles, capturing the moment with their cell phones or hand-held video cameras.

“We are praying for you,” said one sign, written with a shaky hand, which was held by a woman standing at Edgewood Station, not far from Baltimore.

The route was scripted with echoes of history in mind, with the trip beginning in Philadelphia, where the Constitution was written, and continuing to Delaware, where the Constitution was first ratified. At each stop, the 10-minute speeches from Mr. Obama were imbued with a sense of history, particularly as he called on Americans “to reach for the promise of a better day, and to do the hard work of perfecting our union once more.”

For all the pomp and celebration surrounding the slow-motion trek to Washington, a two-hour journey that stretched into more than seven, the underlying mood was a far more serious one than on most days of the presidential campaign. He has often delivered similar speeches with lofty tones, but the moment took on more gravity with the presidency less than three days from being his.

“We recognize that such enormous challenges will not be solved quickly,” Mr. Obama said to a crowd of about 40,000 people in a downtown Baltimore square. “There will be false starts and setbacks, frustrations and disappointments. I will make some mistakes, and we will be called to show patience even as we act with fierce urgency.”

While the day was choreographed with a Lincoln-era nostalgia in mind, the train ride was very much a modern-day affair, with cable television networks broadcasting live from a dining car and from satellite trucks parked along the route. It was an opportunity for Mr. Obama to turn the conversation, at least for now, away from the criticism of his economic stimulus plan and other stumbles in his transition, back to his victory in November.

Jacqueline Tinsley, 56, was among those who turned out to see Mr. Obama as he began his journey to Washington. She volunteered throughout the course of his campaign, well before even she believed that his quest would be a success, and said she could not miss this moment, which she believes will be etched in the nation’s history.

“In all my life, I never thought that there would be a black president,” Ms. Tinsley said, taking her seat in the hall of the train station in downtown Philadelphia. “When he first started, I didn’t know how much of a chance he had, but over time, you could see it within him. I know he can’t live up to every expectation, but he has something that we need at this time.”

Mr. Obama and his family were riding a private rail car called the Georgia 300, built in 1939, which has carried former Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton. At the time the car first went into service, getting a job as a railroad porter was among the highest aspirations for a black man in America.

It was the same blue vintage rail car that carried Mr. Obama on a tour through Pennsylvania during his primary campaign, a few days before losing that state to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

“It was actually one of my favorite times on the campaign,” Mr. Obama told his guests aboard the train on Saturday.

Although Lincoln provided the inspiration for the train trip to Washington, Mr. Obama did not mention him by name in his remarks, though he has referred to him again and again as a historical beacon for his own candidacy. But Mr. Obama filled his addresses with phrases associated with Lincoln, including the “better angels” call to action.

“We should never forget,” Mr. Obama said, “that we are the heirs of that first band of patriots, ordinary men and women who refused to give up when it all seemed so improbable; and who somehow believed that they had the power to make the world anew. That is the spirit that we must reclaim today.”

Mr. Obama invited a few dozen guests, most of whom he had met during the course of his presidential campaign, to join him on the symbolic last leg of his journey to the nation’s capital.

There was the Fischer family from Beech Grove, Ind., whose home Mr. Obama stopped by for lunch one day last spring as he sought to show his connection to working families. There were the Girardeaus, a family from Kansas City, Mo., whose living room he sat in to watch his wife deliver her speech at the Democratic convention. And there was Lilly Ledbetter, a woman for whom the Fair Pay Act was named, after her long struggle with Goodyear to receive equal wages with men.

“Theirs are the voices I will carry with me every day in the White House,” Mr. Obama said. “Theirs are the stories I will be thinking of when we deliver the changes you elected me to make.”

Jen A. Miller contributed reporting from Claymont, Del.

    Obama Arrives in Washington After Train Trip, NYT, 18.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/18/us/politics/18obama.html






A Civil Rights Victory Party on the Mall


January 18, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Joseph Burrucker, 82, was an air traffic controller with the Tuskegee Airmen in the 1940s. For the last few weeks, he has been working out at a gym near his home in Shaker Heights, Ohio, trying to get in shape so that when he comes to Barack Obama’s inauguration, he will be able to walk, albeit with a cane, to his seat.

The Tuskegee Airmen, the elite and segregated corps of black pilots and support crew from World War II, are among the few with inaugural tickets and seats. Their bravery during the war, on behalf of a country that actively discriminated against them, helped persuade President Harry S. Truman to desegregate the military; today, after being ignored for more than half a century, they are considered civil rights pioneers.

During the presidential campaign, Mr. Obama sparingly addressed matters of race. But as he prepares for his swearing-in on Tuesday, his inaugural is shaping up as a watershed event in the nation’s racial history — the culmination of the long struggle for civil rights.

Just over a generation ago, blacks in the South could not vote without restrictions. On Tuesday, more than 1.5 million people — among them about 200 former Tuskegee Airmen — are expected to pack the capital in honor of the nation’s first black president.

“It is a huge civil rights moment,” said the Rev. Jesse Jackson. “Barack Obama has run the last lap of a 54-year race for civil rights.”

The inaugural program and surrounding events will feature some of the nation’s most prominent black artists and public figures, including Tiger Woods, Colin L. Powell, Aretha Franklin, Denzel Washington and Beyoncé Knowles.

Adding to the inauguration’s significance is that it comes just one day after the celebration of the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., when Mr. Obama will participate in a day of community service in the District of Columbia, a largely black city often ignored by official Washington. Mr. Obama has already signaled his interest in the community.

The Tuskegee Airmen make up just a piece of the inaugural tapestry. Seats were also offered to the Little Rock Nine, who faced violent mobs when they tried to enter an all-white school in 1957 after schools were supposed to be integrated.

“People have a sense of ownership,” said Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia, a civil rights veteran. Mr. Lewis’s office received 14,000 requests for tickets, though he, like other members of the House, had just 193 to distribute. “People in the rural Deep South, in Greenwood, Miss., in Selma, they feel they helped bring this about, that they should be there.”

One of Mr. Obama’s guests, Dorothy Height, 96, will have a place of honor on the platform — in her wheelchair. Ms. Height, a longtime social activist, was accepted at Barnard College in 1929 but was turned away when she arrived because the school had met its quota of two black women.

“I never thought I would live to see this,” she said of the inauguration of a black president. “This is real recognition that civil rights was not just what Dr. King dreamed. But it took a lot of people a lot of work to make this happen, and they feel part of it.”

The inaugural itself will be at the Capitol, which was built by slaves who baked the bricks, sawed the timber and laid the stone for its foundation. When Mr. Obama delivers his Inaugural Address, he will be looking out across the National Mall, which was once a slave market, beyond the White House, also built by slaves, to the Lincoln Memorial, honoring the president who freed the slaves.

The outpouring is for a man who was rarely explicit about race in nearly two years on the campaign trail. He started out quoting Dr. King by name, but as his candidacy rolled toward the nomination, the words and cadences still reflected Dr. King, but the name vanished.

Mr. Obama made implicit references to race, as when he won the Iowa caucuses. “They said this day would never come,” he said in his victory speech.

It was only when confronted with controversy over his former pastor that Mr. Obama addressed the subject directly, with a well-received speech.

Ronald Walters, a professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland, said that many people, not just the Obama team, wanted to mute the issue of race during the campaign.

“There was this silent understanding on the part of a lot of blacks that you couldn’t surface things in this campaign because they would redound to the enemies of Barack Obama and be used against him,” Mr. Walters said.

But now, he said, with Mr. Obama’s election, many African-Americans feel safer expressing their pride. “Some African-Americans feel we can put forward our claim on the campaign and it’s not going to hurt Barack,” he said. “The campaign is bowing to this because this is part of what made his election possible.”

Roger Wilkins, a former journalist and history professor, said that during the campaign, Mr. Obama “had the task of presenting himself to a country in which it’s clear that being black was not, at least initially, a terrific asset, and being a niche candidate, as Jackson and Sharpton were, wasn’t going to work.”

David Axelrod, a senior Obama adviser, said of the emerging civil rights aura at the inauguration: “We have not stressed the historic nature of this, but it is hard to miss. However people voted, whatever their background, I think there is a pervasive sense of pride among Americans about another barrier broken. It’s an affirmation that we live our ideals.”

Representative James E. Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat who grew up under Jim Crow laws, said he had more than 11,000 requests for his 193 tickets and he gave most of them to people who had fought for civil rights.

Mr. Clyburn reserved tickets for a constituent, Lillian Martin, 73, who was determined to go despite having terminal cancer and regardless of whether she had a ticket.

Mrs. Martin died a few days ago. But her husband plans to go in her honor. In an interview shortly before she died, Mrs. Martin said her cancer was “growing by leaps and bounds but it can’t overtake me — there’s too much I’m looking forward to with the inauguration of a black president.”

    A Civil Rights Victory Party on the Mall, NYT, 18.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/18/us/politics/18civil.html?hp






Pilot Lands an Inaugural Invitation


January 18, 2009
Filed at 10:52 p.m. ET
The New York Times


DANVILLE, Calif. (AP) -- US Airways (NYSE:LCC) pilot Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger and his family are going to the presidential inauguration, the mayor of his California hometown said Sunday.

Mayor Newell Arnerich said the town of Danville is also planning a welcome home for the pilot who landed his crippled aircraft safely in the Hudson River last Thursday.

An aide to President-elect Barack Obama said Sunday evening that all five members of the Flight 1549 crew have been invited to the inauguration Tuesday. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity because details were still being worked out.

The Danville mayor said Lorraine Sullenberger told city officials that the family would leave for the East Coast on Sunday. The pilot's wife and daughters haven't seen Sullenberger since he's been hailed as a hero for saving the lives of all 155 on board.

Danville has scheduled a celebration Saturday for Sullenberger. Arnerich said the event is tentative because he is not sure when the pilot will return home.

The mayor said a U.S. Air Force Color Guard and flyover are expected. Sullenberger was named best aviator in his class at the Air Force Academy.


Associated Press Writers Lou Kesten in Washington and Jason Dearen in San Francisco contributed to this report.

    Pilot Lands an Inaugural Invitation, NYT, 18.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/01/18/us/AP-Plane-Splashdown-Pilots-Family.html?hp






His Way With Words: Cadence and Credibility


Saturday, January 17, 2009
1:20 PM
Washington Post
Staff Writer
By Henry Allen


Now we get to hear Barack Obama give an inaugural address: seen from the Mall, from bleachers, from a distant seat in a winter tree (weather permitting), he will be another in a long history of tiny humans up there, bustling around against the shoulder-y bulk of the Capitol.

Jumbo screens will relay images to the crowd, the way loudspeakers have relayed sound. Images rule now, wisdom has it, and Obama has a smooth, cool, minimalist image. But people are coming, in a way they haven't come in a while, not just to see him but to hear him, to listen to his words. Before he's halfway through those words, they'll be comparing his inaugural address with his victory speech in Iowa, his acceptance speech in Denver, on and on.

Supporters talk about Barack Obama's speeches as if they were rock concerts. Blew me away . . . I realized I was crying . . . They brag about having been in the hall to hear them the way they might brag about having been at Woodstock when Jimi Hendrix played "The Star-Spangled Banner" by the dawn's early light.

As much as anything else, Obama won the presidency with words.

Obama is an orator, a rare thing in a time when educated people, a lot of them Obama supporters, have been taught to distrust old-fashioned eloquence. They want text they can deconstruct, the verbal equivalent of spreadsheets; they say they want candidates who talk about "the issues."

That's not what they got from Obama. As the presidential race shaped up, Sen. John McCain saw what was happening. He warned Americans against being "deceived by an eloquent but empty call for change." Sen. Hillary Clinton, too: In the process of losing the nomination to Obama, she warned of "talk versus action."

As it happens, Obama can deliver deconstructible text, but in Denver, when he did it, accepting the Democratic nomination with a speech stacked with programs, policies, issues and specifics, he mildly disappointed those who hoped to be enthralled yet again. They didn't want to move into a rational, deliberate future; they wanted to stay with the ancient mojo of one human being talking to a crowd of other human beings.

This is an age of media hipness, when we're virtuosos of data bounced off satellites, when we get weird as wizards, talking on cellphones to electronic ghosts constructed of bandwidths and wavelengths. But Obama has reminded us that none of this modern science has the power of the human animal standing up on two feet and talking -- a sort of ritual shouting, actually, even chanting: oratory, probably not much different than the way it was done by the Old Ones in the forest primeval. We're not used to this. People call it "preternatural."

"The crowd was quiet now, watching me," Barack Obama has written of discovering this power in college. "Somebody started to clap. 'Go on with it, Barack,' somebody else shouted. 'Tell it like it is.' Then the others started in, clapping, cheering, and I knew that I had them, that the connection had been made."

Connect. Yes, we can.

Connect with repetition, cadences, attitude, rises and falls of tone. Yes, we can.

Obama's speech on Super Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2008: "We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek."

This is poetry.

WE are the ONES we've been WAITing for.

It's ancient English metrics: WE are the CHANGE that we SEEK, a chant of dactyls, DA-da-da, DA-da-da, as in Longfellow's "THIS is the FORest primEVal."

Rock it, Obama.

This stuff works. Franklin Roosevelt used iambs (da-DA, da-DA) that could have been lifted from Shakespeare ("To BE or NOT to BE") at the opening of his 1933 inaugural address: "The ONly THING we HAVE to FEAR is FEAR itSELF." (Though the crowd that day ignored the line -- later, newspapers made it the motto of the New Deal.)

Martin Luther King: "I HAVE a DREAM that ONE day DOWN in ALaBAMa . . . "

Analysts of Obama's oratory cite the influence of African American preaching tradition, but the influence is older, rooted like a mangrove in the swamp of the nervous system.

"It's about the tune, not the lyrics, with Obama," says Philip Collins, who wrote speeches for Tony Blair, the former British prime minister. In a BBC report, Collins cites "the way he slides down some words and hits others -- the intonation, the emphasis, the pauses and the silences."

Winston Churchill rocked it in a chant of anapests (da-da-DA): "We shall FIGHT on the BEACHes . . . we shall FIGHT in the FIELDS . . . we shall FIGHT in the HILLS . . . we shall NEVer surRENDer."

He knew about the ancient Greeks controlling and defending against the power of oratory by codifying it with labels you heard once in college and forgot: asyndeton, litotes, epistrophe. For instance, here Churchill is using the technique of anaphora, repeating phrases at the beginning of clauses. Note, too, that in defense of England he uses nothing but Old English words except for "surrender," which comes from the French.

Plato defined rhetoric as "winning the soul through discourse."

Ted Sorensen, who wrote John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address, said that great oratory required "speaking from the heart, to the heart, directly, not too complicated, relatively brief sentences, words that are clear to everyone."

Winning souls -- speaking to the heart, not the mind. It is a technology of sorts, a tool that can be used for good or evil, but has no morality in itself. Hitler was eloquent -- strange, though, almost no one can remember anything he said. Eloquence should be listened to with a cool head.

Aristotle said good rhetoric should consist of pathos, logos and ethos -- emotion, argument, and character or credibility. Obama has won souls mostly with pathos and ethos. He hasn't needed logos much because he's usually preaching to the choir, all those shining faces full of hope. In an ugly and dangerous moment in his campaign, however, he used logos to justify the complicated position he had taken on the incendiary racial remarks made by his former, longtime minister, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. It worked for him.

Usually, he is not trying to convince people who disagree with him -- he'll face that chore in the Oval Office. (As former New York governor Mario Cuomo has said: "You campaign in poetry, but you govern in prose.")

Here's an ethos riff from the Wright speech: "I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton's army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I've gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world's poorest nations."

In his review of "The Anti-Intellectual Presidency: The Decline of Presidential Rhetoric From George Washington to George W. Bush," John McWhorter quotes author Elvin T. Lim: "Presidential rhetoric should articulate programs to citizens in a manner that solicits their support only if its wisdom passes muster."

Wonderful, but America is a democracy. Legend has it that during one of Adlai Stevenson's campaigns against Dwight Eisenhower, a supporter told him that he was sure to "get the vote of every thinking man." Stevenson replied, "Thank you, but I need a majority to win." Hillary Clinton went Lim's route, and lost to Obama, who, McWhorter says, got the majority by electrifying "the electorate with touching autobiography and comfort-food proclamations about hope and unity -- that is, with ethos and pathos."

And there's the charisma factor in his oratory, the quality that powered Kennedy's stunning inaugural speech in the wild winter sunlight that day in 1961: "Pay any price, bear any burden" (alliteration: "pay"/"price," "bear"/"burden"); "Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country" (the Greeks called this chiasmus, meaning a reversal of terms -- "country"/"you," "you"/"country").

About a century ago, Max Weber, the sociologist, said charisma defined its bearers as "set apart from ordinary people and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman or at least specifically exceptional powers." Obama has it now. It's impossible to believe it could fade, but it could. After 9/11, George W. Bush seemed to have something like it for a while, speaking from a pile of rubble in New York, striding past troops -- a moment we've mostly forgotten.

With Obama's oratory there is also the factor of cool, which could be a subcategory of charisma. Cool has a history of its own. Renaissance Italians called it "sprezzatura," meaning nonchalance and effortless ease. The Yoruba word for it is "itutu," which literally means cool -- a calm and collected affect. It has universal appeal.

Hence Obama's demeanor at the lectern -- the face lifted as if with a casual curiosity; utterly unneedy, like an aristocrat or a minor god; eyes narrowed with knowing that you know he knows you know. He smothers the last syllables of a word sometimes, casual as a teenager. He drops g's in the rustic manner to be heard in both England and America, though he doesn't drop them as much as Sarah Palin did in her celebrated good ol' girl run for the vice presidency. He shifts accents -- an African American audience will bring a hint of street talk into his voice. It's all hints, nuances, sprezzatura.

He seems at ease with power. Recent presidents have hidden their personal power, their force, during their speeches. Maybe they were afraid of seeming like bullies, of offending political correctness by seeming macho. George H.W. Bush and Lyndon Johnson felt obliged to hide their aggressiveness behind forced smiles. They were men who acted like boys in futile hopes of reassuring their listeners. Obama has the charm of a boy acting like a man -- the magic of the boy king. His smile -- a big one -- is easy.

There is not much to say about Obama's gestures, because gesture has largely vanished from oratory. Aristotle said that only the words should matter, but because of the weakness of men, the tricks of voice and gesture were necessary.

A 19th-century speech manual listed rhetorical gestures: four positions for the feet, nine ways for the hands to show defiance, discrimination and adoration, and so on. Old film footage shows Teddy Roosevelt storming around and waving his fists. Huey "The Kingfish" Long would pound his fist into his hand, then circle his hands over his shoulders as if he were making a speech about helicopters.

Gesture of this sort began to die with film and radio, which brought politicians so close that they didn't need semaphore to reach the back of the crowd. Franklin Roosevelt kept his hands on the lectern during his inaugural address for another reason -- crippled by polio, he used them to hold himself up. At the same time, huge gesticulation came to be linked with such dictatorial crowd-rousers as Hitler and Mussolini.

Inaugural watchers are not apt to see Obama wave his hands much, except to point. He speaks more in the style of television anchormen, with their rituals of modesty and sincerity -- the raising of hands above the shoulders is almost unthinkable on the nightly news.

Speeches still have gestures, but they're more subtle. Ronald Reagan knew that in televised speeches he needed no more than a savvy eyebrow lift to make a point. Bill Clinton had a concerned frown that claimed he was, well, concerned. Obama has his smile, his thoughtful stare into the distance and his cool grace.

Radio, amplification and film also introduced a conversational tone into speeches. Roosevelt used it in his fireside chats on radio. Cuomo used it to fascinate the 1984 Democratic convention. It seems so sincere, so authentic. But the conversational tone is a trick in itself. Obama uses it to gain intimacy and trust, and to set off, by contrast, his higher-volume calls for belief and support. The sound and sight of a human being calling loudly to us still has force, maybe as much as it ever did.

Now Obama is working the magic that we thought was part of the past. How enthralling. Feels so good. We might do well to study the architecture of Greek rhetoric, so we know what's happening to us. Just because eloquence feels good doesn't mean it is good. In any case, we'll hear more of it. And cameras panning the crowd on the Mall will show shining faces. If all goes as expected, listeners waiting for hours in the winter weather, waiting for words from that tiny figure at the lectern, will be enthralled.

    His Way With Words: Cadence and Credibility, WP, 17.1.2009, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/17/AR2009011701429.html






Poll Finds Disapproval of Bush Unwavering


January 17, 2009
The New York Times


President Bush prepares to leave office with no evidence that public opinion toward him is softening during his final days in power, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

When asked about Mr. Bush’s performance over the last eight years, 22 percent of respondents said they approved. That matched Mr. Bush’s job-approval rating for much of last fall, the lowest of his presidency. In the current poll, 73 percent disapproved of his performance over the course of his two terms.

Disapproval cut across party lines, with Democrats, independents and even 34 percent of Republicans critical of Mr. Bush’s performance.

In contrast, Mr. Bush’s most recent predecessors left office with approval ratings ranging from 68 percent, for both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, to 44 percent, for Jimmy Carter. Mr. Bush’s father left with 54 percent.

When asked to assess Mr. Bush’s presidency more precisely, just 17 percent of those surveyed rated it very good or good, while 83 percent said it had been average or poor. Fifty-nine percent of Americans regarded Mr. Clinton’s presidency as very good or good when he left office, and 40 percent viewed the presidency of the elder Mr. Bush the same way.

The public’s assessment of the president’s handling of both the economy and the war in Iraq was markedly negative. Seventy-seven percent disapproved of Mr. Bush’s management of the economy, and 71 percent faulted his handling of the war.

In surveys that began with Gallup polling in the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Mr. Bush has the distinction of being the president with both the highest and lowest approval ratings. The highest, 90 percent, was recorded shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The campaign against terrorism is one area in which he continues to win a measure of support from the public, with 47 percent approving of his handling of the issue and 48 percent disapproving. Republicans were particularly supportive of him on the subject of terrorism: 87 percent approved of his administration’s actions to fight it.

Still, not only do Americans disapprove of the overall job Mr. Bush has done, but record numbers also have an unfavorable opinion of him personally. Six in 10 of those surveyed said they viewed him negatively, while about one-quarter viewed him favorably.

Americans’ historically negative assessment of the administration is not limited to the president. Vice President Dick Cheney’s favorability rating in the new poll is 13 percent, the lowest of his time in office.

The nationwide telephone poll was conducted from Sunday through Thursday with 1,112 adults, and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points. Complete results and methodology are at nytimes.com/polls.

    Poll Finds Disapproval of Bush Unwavering, NYT, 17.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/17/us/politics/17poll.html?hp







Bush Claims Economy on Track to Recovery


January 16, 2009
Filed at 12:52 p.m. ET


WASHINGTON (AP) -- President George W. Bush said Friday that while the current economic crisis has sent shock waves around the world, he believes steps taken by his administration have ''laid the groundwork for a return to economic growth and job creation'' early in the administration of President-elect Barack Obama.

''The American economy has consistently proven its strength and resilience'' Bush wrote in his final economic report to the nation.

He said this resilience has continued despite multiple blows to the economy.

Bush's statement came at the beginning of the annual report of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

Those advisers predicted ''a strong economic recovery early in the term of the next administration.''

Bush said that a combination of factors rose to ''threaten the entire financial system and generated a shock so large that its effects have been felt throughout the global economy.''

''Under ordinary circumstances, it would be preferable to allow the free market to take its course and correct over time,'' he said. But, Bush added, the potential financial damage to households and businesses was so severe that ''unprecedented government response was the only responsible policy option.''

''A measure of stability has returned to the financial system,'' Bush said.

He warned that ''temporary government programs'' established to deal with the crisis ''must remain temporary and be unwound in an orderly manner as soon as conditions warrant.''

In the underlying economic report, Bush's economic advisers said that while the economy had in fact proven itself '' remarkably resilient'' over Bush's two-term presidency, there is a ''risk that recent events may overshadow the many positive developments of the past eight years.''

The advisers suggested that the economic downturn, reflected in the half-percentage-point contraction in the gross domestic product in the final quarter of 2008, will likely continue in the first half of 2009. The White House panel noted that ''most market forecasts'' suggested a recovery beginning in the second half of 2009 ''that will gain momentum in 2010 and beyond.''

Looking ahead, the president's economic advisers said the global financial crisis presents several remaining challenges for the U.S. government: the need to modernize financial regulation, unwind temporary programs, and develop a long-term solution for dealing with mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, now essentially under control of the government.

And Bush's advisers didn't miss an opportunity to put in a final political plug for the president's unfinished agenda, just five days before he leaves office.

''There remains considerable opportunity to strengthen our economic position by eliminating the uncertainty surrounding tax relief that is scheduled to expire.''

It was a pitch to make permanent the Bush tax cuts that expire at the end of next year.

    Bush Claims Economy on Track to Recovery, NYT, 16.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/01/16/washington/AP-Meltdown-Bush-Economy.html






Op-Ed Columnist

Forgive and Forget?


January 16, 2009
The New York Times


Last Sunday President-elect Barack Obama was asked whether he would seek an investigation of possible crimes by the Bush administration. “I don’t believe that anybody is above the law,” he responded, but “we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.”

I’m sorry, but if we don’t have an inquest into what happened during the Bush years — and nearly everyone has taken Mr. Obama’s remarks to mean that we won’t — this means that those who hold power are indeed above the law because they don’t face any consequences if they abuse their power.

Let’s be clear what we’re talking about here. It’s not just torture and illegal wiretapping, whose perpetrators claim, however implausibly, that they were patriots acting to defend the nation’s security. The fact is that the Bush administration’s abuses extended from environmental policy to voting rights. And most of the abuses involved using the power of government to reward political friends and punish political enemies.

At the Justice Department, for example, political appointees illegally reserved nonpolitical positions for “right-thinking Americans” — their term, not mine — and there’s strong evidence that officials used their positions both to undermine the protection of minority voting rights and to persecute Democratic politicians.

The hiring process at Justice echoed the hiring process during the occupation of Iraq — an occupation whose success was supposedly essential to national security — in which applicants were judged by their politics, their personal loyalty to President Bush and, according to some reports, by their views on Roe v. Wade, rather than by their ability to do the job.

Speaking of Iraq, let’s also not forget that country’s failed reconstruction: the Bush administration handed billions of dollars in no-bid contracts to politically connected companies, companies that then failed to deliver. And why should they have bothered to do their jobs? Any government official who tried to enforce accountability on, say, Halliburton quickly found his or her career derailed.

There’s much, much more. By my count, at least six important government agencies experienced major scandals over the past eight years — in most cases, scandals that were never properly investigated. And then there was the biggest scandal of all: Does anyone seriously doubt that the Bush administration deliberately misled the nation into invading Iraq?

Why, then, shouldn’t we have an official inquiry into abuses during the Bush years?

One answer you hear is that pursuing the truth would be divisive, that it would exacerbate partisanship. But if partisanship is so terrible, shouldn’t there be some penalty for the Bush administration’s politicization of every aspect of government?

Alternatively, we’re told that we don’t have to dwell on past abuses, because we won’t repeat them. But no important figure in the Bush administration, or among that administration’s political allies, has expressed remorse for breaking the law. What makes anyone think that they or their political heirs won’t do it all over again, given the chance?

In fact, we’ve already seen this movie. During the Reagan years, the Iran-contra conspirators violated the Constitution in the name of national security. But the first President Bush pardoned the major malefactors, and when the White House finally changed hands the political and media establishment gave Bill Clinton the same advice it’s giving Mr. Obama: let sleeping scandals lie. Sure enough, the second Bush administration picked up right where the Iran-contra conspirators left off — which isn’t too surprising when you bear in mind that Mr. Bush actually hired some of those conspirators.

Now, it’s true that a serious investigation of Bush-era abuses would make Washington an uncomfortable place, both for those who abused power and those who acted as their enablers or apologists. And these people have a lot of friends. But the price of protecting their comfort would be high: If we whitewash the abuses of the past eight years, we’ll guarantee that they will happen again.

Meanwhile, about Mr. Obama: while it’s probably in his short-term political interests to forgive and forget, next week he’s going to swear to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” That’s not a conditional oath to be honored only when it’s convenient.

And to protect and defend the Constitution, a president must do more than obey the Constitution himself; he must hold those who violate the Constitution accountable. So Mr. Obama should reconsider his apparent decision to let the previous administration get away with crime. Consequences aside, that’s not a decision he has the right to make.

    Forgive and Forget?, NYT, 16.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/16/opinion/16krugman.html?em






Op-Ed Contributor

Dear Sir Obama: Presidential Advice


January 16, 2009
The New York Times


Every day after school about 65 children come to our center to get help with their homework. The place is always vibrant, but on Nov. 5, 2008, the 20 tutors in the room essentially played zone defense to keep things in order. For the students, the election of Barack Obama had overturned their world.

The children had been interested in the election all year but few of them, truth be told, really thought Mr. Obama would be elected. When he won, their talk quickly and excitedly turned to what would happen next.

We decided to channel this energy into a writing assignment. We asked our students — not just those in San Francisco, but ones in Ann Arbor, Mich.; Boston; Chicago; Los Angeles; New York; and Seattle — to offer their thoughts, hopes and advice to Mr. Obama in handwritten letters (many of which came with drawings). Here is the result of their work; some letters have been edited for space.

Dear Sir Obama,

These are the first 10 things you should do as president:

1. Make everyone read books.
2. Don’t let teachers give kids hard homework.
3. Make a law where kids only get one page of homework per week.
4. Kids can go visit you whenever they want.
5. Make volunteer tutors get paid.
6. Let the tutors do all the thinking.
7. Make universities free.
8. Make students get extra credit for everything.
9. Give teachers raises.
10. If No. 4 is approved, let kids visit the Oval Office, but don’t make it boring.

— Mireya Perez, age 8, San Francisco

Dear Obama,

If I were president I would have fun, because I could run fast.

— Kenja Zelaya, age 6, Los Angeles

Dear President/Mr. Obama,

The best thing about living in the White House would be running around like a maniac. The thing I would like least is the work.

— Holly Wong, age 9, San Francisco

Dear President Obama,

I am small, quiet, smart. I love to swim and play basketball. My mom and dad are from the Dominican Republic. I am going to the Dominican Republic next year. I think you should try to change the world by building shelters for the people who live in the streets. It’s the beginning of January, and it’s cold. Good luck being the president.

— Pamela Mejia, age 11, Boston

Dear President Obama,

Here is a list of the first 10 things you should do as president:

1. Fly to the White House in a helicopter.
2. Walk in.
3. Wipe feet.
4. Walk to the Oval Office.
5. Sit down in a chair.
6. Put hand-sanitizer on hands.
7. Enjoy moment.
8. Get up.
9. Get in car.
10. Go to the dog pound.

— Chandler Browne, age 12, Chicago

Dear President Obama,

If I were president, I would tell people to not talk too much. It wastes time. I’d also say to war: no more, no more, no more!

— Catherine Galvan, age 6, Chicago

Dear Obama,

I have grown up with a very liberal mom and a very conservative dad. Thank you for bringing my parents somewhat closer together. :) You are my idol Mr. Barack — I am partly African-American and I am very happy to see an African-American leading this country.

— Olivia Roper-Caldbeck, age 12, Seattle

Dear Pres. Obama,

Good job on winning. I heard about Area 51. I wanted to ask you if there are any U.F.O.’s there. I think that you should tell people in public the truth about Area 51. You would just maybe say, “That we will take care of it.” And do it.

— Edwin Jara, age 9, New York

Dear President Obama,

Could you help my family to get housecleaning jobs? I hope you will be a great president. If I were president, I would help all nations, even Hawaii. President Obama, I think you could help the world.

— Chad Timsing, age 9, Los Angeles

Jory John, program director at 826 Valencia, a nonprofit writing and tutoring center, is the editor of the forthcoming “Thanks and Have Fun Running the Country: A Collection of Kids’ Letters to President Obama,” from which some of these letters are drawn.

    Dear Sir Obama: Presidential Advice, NYT, 16.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/16/opinion/16lettersintro.html






Bush: Security America's biggest challenge


13 January 2009
USA Today
By Richard Wolf and Susan Page


WASHINGTON — President Bush has three words for Barack Obama to describe the biggest challenge facing America as they prepare to transfer power: "an enemy attack."

Bush, who plans to deliver an earnest yet optimistic farewell address Thursday night from the White House, told USA TODAY that Americans' ability to resume normal lives in the seven years since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks "does not diminish the threat that we face."

In one of his last interviews before leaving office, Bush cited as necessary all the tools used by his administration to fight terrorism, such as tough CIA interrogation techniques and the Guantanamo Bay detention camp for terror suspects. Obama has vowed to end torture and close the prison in Cuba.

"The biggest challenge is to protect the American people. And he'll find that that's a big challenge," Bush said Tuesday. "When you walk in this office as the newly sworn-in president … a responsibility just kind of envelops you."

Bush will cite the challenges that lie ahead in Thursday's address. He outlined several foreign and domestic challenges in the interview:

• Iran's nuclear program, the need for a Palestinian state in the Middle East, terrorism in Pakistan, India and Afghanistan, and drug wars in Mexico.

Bush wouldn't comment on details in The New York Times that he denied Israel bunker-busting bombs to attack Iran's main nuclear complex. "It just amazes me that people feel comfortable talking to the media about covert operations and/or presumed conversations," he said.

• The soaring costs of Medicare and Social Security. He called congressional proposals for a commission that would force up-or-down votes on solutions in Congress "an interesting idea."

• Stopping Congress from blocking Treasury Department access to the second $350 billion in financial industry rescue funds. Bush would not second-guess Obama's plan to spread the money to homeowners facing foreclosure. "He's going to have to decide how best to use resources to solve problems," the president said.

    Bush: Security America's biggest challenge, UT, 13.1.2009, http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2009-01-13-bush_N.htm






Obama’s Plan to Close Prison at Guantánamo May Take Year


January 13, 2009
The New York Times


President-elect Barack Obama plans to issue an executive order on his first full day in office directing the closing of the Guantánamo Bay detention camp in Cuba, people briefed by Obama transition officials said Monday.

But experts say it is likely to take many months, perhaps as long as a year, to empty the prison that has drawn international criticism since it received its first prisoners seven years ago this week. One transition official said the new administration expected that it would take several months to transfer some of the remaining 248 prisoners to other countries, decide how to try suspects and deal with the many other legal challenges posed by closing the camp.

People who have discussed the issues with transition officials in recent weeks said it appeared that the broad outlines of plans for the detention camp were taking shape. They said transition officials appeared committed to ordering an immediate suspension of the Bush administration’s military commissions system for trying detainees.

In addition, people who have conferred with transition officials said the incoming administration appeared to have rejected a proposal to seek a new law authorizing indefinite detention inside the United States. The Bush administration has insisted that such a measure is necessary to close the Guantánamo camp and bring some detainees to the United States.

Mr. Obama has repeatedly said he wants to close the camp. But in an interview on Sunday on ABC, he indicated that the process could take time, saying, “It is more difficult than I think a lot of people realize.” Closing it within the first 100 days of his administration, he said, would be “a challenge.”

The president-elect drew criticism from some human rights groups Monday who said his remarks suggested that closing Guantánamo was not among the new administration’s highest priorities. But even if the detention camp remains open for months, the decision to address Guantánamo on the day after his inauguration seemed intended to make a symbolic break with some of the most controversial policies of the Bush administration.

Several national security and legal analysts have argued in recent weeks that Mr. Obama is in a delicate political position after having committed himself to closing the prison. Sarah Mendelson, the author of a report for the Center for Strategic and International Studies on how to close the prison, said Mr. Obama’s remarks on Sunday appeared intended to indicate the difficulty of the task, which she said it could take a year to complete.

“I thought he was trying to manage expectations of how quickly those detainees who remain can be sorted into two categories: those who will be released and those who will be prosecuted,” Ms. Mendelson said.

Aside from analyzing intelligence and legal filings on each of the remaining detainees, diplomats and legal experts have said the new administration will need to begin an extensive new international effort to resettle as many as 150 or more of the remaining men. Portugal and other European countries have recently broken a long diplomatic standoff, saying they would work with the new administration and might accept some detainees who cannot be sent to their home countries because of concerns about their potential treatment.

The transition official, who asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the plans, said the administration expected to announce its Guantánamo plans next Wednesday.

Brooke Anderson, a transition spokeswoman, declined to comment on any plans, saying only, “President-elect Obama has repeatedly said that he believes that the legal framework at Guantánamo has failed to successfully and swiftly prosecute terrorists, and he shares the broad bipartisan belief that Guantánamo should be closed.”

In formulating their policy in recent weeks, Obama transition officials have consulted with a variety of authorities on legal and human rights and with military experts. Several of those experts said the officials had expressed great interest in alternatives to the military commission system, like trying detainees in federal courts, and appeared to have grown hostile to proposals like an indefinite detention law.

They also said the transition officials were intensely focused on new international efforts to transfer many of the detainees to other countries.

Several said the officials appeared concerned that a proposal for a new law authorizing indefinite detention would bring the new administration much of the criticism that has been directed at the Bush administration over Guantánamo. A former military official who was part of a series of briefings at the transition headquarters in Washington said the officials had spoken about the indefinite detention proposal as a way of creating a “new Guantanámo someplace else.”

“That is very much not the desire of the Obama team,” said the former military official, who insisted on anonymity because of his concerns about how the transition officials would react to public discussion of their comments.

Catherine Powell, an associate professor of law at Fordham, said transition officials appeared most interested at a meeting last month in showing international critics that they were returning to what they see as traditional American legal values.

“They are really looking for tools that we have in our existing system short of creating an indefinite detention system,” Ms. Powell said.

Mark P. Denbeaux, a Seton Hall law professor who has been a prominent lawyer for Guantánamo detainees, said that at a briefing he attended with senior officials of the transition last month the officials seemed to have decided to suspend the military commissions immediately.

“Their position is they’re a complete and utter failure,” Mr. Denbeaux said.

The Pentagon has been pressing ahead with plans to begin a trial on Jan. 26 of one of its high-profile suspects, a Canadian detainee named Omar Khadr. Mr. Khadr’s case has drawn wide attention, partly because he was 15 when he was first detained on charges of killing an American soldier in a firefight in Afghanistan in 2002.

Some human rights groups said Monday that they were alarmed by Mr. Obama’s vague timetable and lack of specifics in his remarks Sunday. They said they worried that the administration might yield to pressure to display its toughness in dealing with terrorism in its detention policies.

“The devil is in the details,” said Anthony D. Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, who has been pressing the new administration to publicly commit to immediately close Guantánamo.

Mr. Romero said he had grown concerned because transition officials had provided details of their plans for dealing with the economic crisis, but had yet to provide details for how they will close Guantánamo, which has brought worldwide criticism.

“Just like we need specifics on an economic recovery package,” Mr. Romero said, “we need specifics on a ‘justice recovery package.’ ”

    Obama’s Plan to Close Prison at Guantánamo May Take Year, NYT, 13.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/13/us/politics/13gitmo.html?hp






At Obama’s Urging, Bush to Seek Rest of Bailout Funds


January 13, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The White House on Monday said that President Bush, at the urging of President-elect Barack Obama, would formally ask a reluctant Congress to release the second half of the Treasury’s $700 billion financial system bailout fund, setting the stage for a potentially messy legislative battle straddling the incoming and outgoing administrations.

“This morning, President-elect Obama asked President Bush to formally notify Congress, on his behalf, of his intent to exercise the authority under the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act to access the last tranche of $350 billion in funding for Treasury programs addressing the financial crisis,” Dana Perino, the White House press secretary, said in a statement. “President Bush agree to the president-elect’s request.”

The decision to request the money now reflects the calculation by Mr. Obama and his aides that it would be better to have both the incoming and outgoing presidents urging lawmakers to release the money, given the high level of anger and frustration on Capitol Hill over how the Bush administration has managed the bailout program.

In addition, Lawrence H. Summers, who will be Mr. Obama’s top economic adviser at the White House, released a three-page letter on Monday addressed to the top Congressional leaders of both parties, asking for the authority to release the rest of the rescue plan. “With the first half of the rescue plan now committed,” Mr. Summers wrote, “President-elect Obama believes the need is imminent and urgent. We cannot afford to wait.”

Mr. Bush’s request is certain to spark furious debate in Congress and could lead to an unpredictable series of events. Under the bailout law approved in October, the House and Senate could vote to block the money. If they do so, the president could veto that disapproval, setting up a potential override vote.

But if Congress disapproves, it is not clear who will be president and in a position to issue the veto. And even if Mr. Bush vetoed the disapproval, it would almost certainly fall to Mr. Obama to fight against a veto override.

Congressional leaders said they expect the Senate, which seems more likely to approve the money, to vote by the end of this week. If either chamber in Congress approves the funds, the money will flow.

Even lawmakers who say they could be convinced to release the money are demanding written assurances from Mr. Obama that his administration will impose new oversight and controls on how the money is spent.

Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts and chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, has drafted legislation that would impose those controls and would also require at least $40 billion of the new money to be used for home foreclosure prevention efforts. The House is expected to vote to approve the bill this week.

Aides to Mr. Obama have already begun lobbying lawmakers to release the money. But some, including the House minority leader, Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, have already said that will try to block more money for the bailout.

Mr. Bush’s request comes as Mr. Obama and his team are also moving aggressively to hash out the details of a nearly $800 billion economic recovery plan.

Securing the remaining $350 billion now would put the money in place for use by the new administration shortly after Mr. Obama is inaugurated, and it would spare him a potentially messy legislative fight that could interfere with his agenda.

The first $350 billion in bailout money has been fully allocated and the Treasury says there is no urgent need for more, though officials have warned that further steps are likely to be needed to stabilize the financial system.

It remains unclear if there is a need to rush to release the money, or if the Obama transition team is just seeking to avoid what could become a major headache.

Mr. Boehner of Ohio, said on the CBS program “Face the Nation” on Sunday that he would oppose disbursing the money because there was no justification for doing so now.

“I think until there is a demonstrated need in our economy and a plan to address that need, I think it would be irresponsible of Congress to release the additional money,” Mr. Boehner said.

Mr. Bush’s request is expected to be accompanied by a forceful effort by Mr. Obama’s team to persuade lawmakers that the new administration will make better use of the bailout money, including new home foreclosure prevention efforts and restrictions on banks that get aid.

Mr. Summers made the case for the bailout funds on Sunday in a meeting with Senate Democrats on Capitol Hill. Though the meeting focused primarily on tax provisions of the economic recovery plan, Mr. Summers also argued that the new administration should have the bailout money on hand.

“They need it,” Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, said after the meeting. “Larry Summers made a very strong argument for why it’s important and critical to the overall recovery, and that’s an argument most of us understand.”

But Mr. Kerry said lawmakers were awaiting assurances from Mr. Obama and his aides on how the money would be used. “How about a legitimate accountability structure for what’s going to happen going forward?” he said. “And also there is a lot of interest up here in finding out what happened to the 350 that has already been spent.”

Officials said Mr. Bush was also willing to help try to persuade Congress to approve the money, but it was unclear what influence he would have with just days remaining in his term.

Many lawmakers who say they may be willing to release the money are still demanding tough new conditions on its use. Mr. Frank’s bill would require the new administration to develop a plan by March 15 to use at least $40 billion of the $350 billion to prevent home foreclosures.

The bill also seeks to require greater transparency and accountability, including quarterly reports from financial institutions that receive help to document how the bailout money is being used. It would also impose tougher limits on executive pay.

Some Congressional leaders said there did not seem to be enough time to approve new legislation if the bailout money is to be in place by the time Mr. Obama takes office. Others said Congress bore some responsibility for rushing the bailout legislation in the fall and not including sufficient safeguards.

Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, said there had been discussion of a formal letter, to be written by Mr. Obama or his aides, to Congress describing their plan for the additional $350 billion and promising safeguards. But he acknowledged that without new legislation there would be nothing to guarantee that those plans would be followed.

Lawmakers are angry about many aspects of the bailout, which they intended for the government purchase of troubled assets, particularly mortgage-backed securities, but instead has been used to recapitalize banks and even prop up failing Detroit automakers.

An oversight board recently issued a scathing report saying the Treasury had failed to track the money adequately.

Timothy F. Geithner, Mr. Obama’s nominee for Treasury secretary, has been working to restructure the bailout program. Senator Kent Conrad, Democrat of North Dakota, said lawmakers would need assurances of the new administration’s plans.

“It has got to be in writing,” Mr. Conrad said.

Mr. Dodd said, “The Obama administration wants to rebrand this process; they realize it has been terribly mismanaged.” He added, “But they also make the strong point that they need these resources to do that.”

Senate Democrats met with Mr. Summers, primarily about the larger economic recovery package, after a rare Sunday session, in which they voted to take up consideration of a package of public lands bills.

It was the first weekend of the new Congress, and Senate Democratic leaders insisted on a Sunday vote to signal that with their expanded majority they had less patience for efforts by Republicans to block their agenda.

Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, had sought to stall the public lands package because he said it included billions of dollars in wasteful spending. In the end, the Senate voted 66 to 12 to take up the bill.

The meeting with Mr. Summers was the second between Senate Democrats and the Obama team about the details of the recovery package. At a meeting on Thursday, several senators criticized some of the tax provisions in the plan and said they wanted a greater focus on job creation.

After the meeting, several senators praised Mr. Summers and said their concerns were being addressed.

Carl Hulse contributed reporting.

    At Obama’s Urging, Bush to Seek Rest of Bailout Funds, NYT, 13.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/13/washington/13cong.html?hp






At Final News Conference, Bush Strikes Elegiac Tone


January 13, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — In the final official news conference of his tenure, a sentimental and sometimes defiant President Bush indicated on Monday that he would ask Congress for the second half of the $700 billion financial bailout only if asked to do so by his successor, and he declined to say whether he was planning preemptive pardons for some members of his administration.

He suggested that the new Congress and the new president would most likely be dealing with the bailout question. “I don’t intend to make the request unless he specifically asks me to make it,” Mr. Bush said, speaking of President-elect Barack Obama.

When asked about speculation that, before stepping down on Jan. 20, he might move to protect officials in his administration who might be vulnerable to criminal charges for their roles in detainee treatment, dismissal of U.S. attorneys, or other matters by giving them presidential pardons, he simply declined to say.

The tone of the 45-minute session in the White House Briefing Room, which was often emotional, was in some ways just as striking as any news made by a president who, after eight years in office, after terror attacks and two wars, after devastating hurricanes and tough legislative battles, had reached his final 200 hours in office and was mulling the lessons he had learned, and that history would be drawing.

Mr. Bush opened by thanking the press corps for what he said were its professional efforts, even if they did not always please him — and engaged in the usual teasing interplay with reporters. But he also responded more candidly than before in acknwoledging errors during his two terms.

He mentioned the “Mission Accomplished” banner displayed on the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln where he spoke, prematurely as it turned out, when the Iraq war seemed won. “It sent the wrong message,” he said. “Obviously some of my rhetoric has been a mistake.”

“Abu Ghraib was a huge disappointment,” Mr. Bush said, referring to the detainee abuse scandal in Iraq that proved deeply damaging to the American image there and around the world. “Not having weapons of mass destruction was a significant disappointment.”

He did not say he had agonized, but did say he had thought and rethought over whether he should have touched flown in New Orleans or Baton Rouge in the days immediately after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf coast, rather than viewing the area only from the air. But he said he was concerned that a presidential visit on the ground would distract from the rescue and relief efforts, which he said were successful by many standards, such as by rescuing 30,000 people stranded on rooftops.

In what some have called his “legacy tour,” the president has been increasingly available in recent weeks to talk about his record, clearly seeking to soften the edges of history’s interpretation. But he insisted on Monday that he felt comfortable about its eventual verdict.

“I think historians will look back and they’ll be able to have a better look at mistakes after time has passed,” Mr. Bush said. “There is no such thing as short-term history.”

He became prickly at times, notably when he was asked whether the new president would have work to do in restoring damaged American moral standing in the world.

“I strongly disagree with the assessment that our moral standing has been damaged,” he said, though he allowed that that might be the case among some elites, particularly in Europe. People he had met in Africa, India and China did not share that judgment, he said.

While it might have increased his own popularity had he accepted the Kyoto treaty on global warming, or supported American membership in the International Criminal Court, he said that in each case he was looking for practical ways to protect American interests and Americans’ safety. “All these debates will matter not if there’s another attack on the homeland,” he said.

He was warm and supportive in his comments about the next president, and said it would be “an amazing moment” when Mr. Obama was sworn in as the first African American president.

The president was also asked about his own future.

He said he would not be sitting on his hands, but did intend to stay out of Mr. Obama’s way.

“I can’t envision myself in a big straw hat and a Hawaiian shirt sitting on a beach somewhere,” he joked, “particularly since I quit drinking.”

    At Final News Conference, Bush Strikes Elegiac Tone, NYT, 13.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/13/us/politics/13bush.html?hp






Bush Defends Presidency in Final News Conference


January 12, 2009
Filed at 1:03 p.m. ET
The New York Times


WASHINGTON (AP) -- By turns wistful, aggressive and joking in the final news conference of his presidency, President George W. Bush vigorously defended his record Monday but also offered an extraordinary listing of his mistakes -- including his optimistic Iraq speech before a giant ''Mission Accomplished'' banner in 2003.

After starting what he called ''the ultimate exit interview'' with a lengthy and personalized thank-you to the reporters in the room who have covered him over the eight years of his presidency, Bush showed anger at times when presented with some of the main criticisms of his time in office.

''I think it's a good, strong record,'' he said. ''You know, presidents can try to avoid hard decisions and therefore avoid controversy. That's just not my nature.''

He particularly became indignant when asked about America's bruised image overseas.

''I disagree with this assessment that, you know, that people view America in a dim light,'' he said. ''It may be damaged amongst some of the elite. But people still understand America stands for freedom.''

Bush said he realizes that some issues such as the prison for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have created controversy at home and around the world. But he defended his actions after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, including approving tough interrogation methods for suspected terrorists and information-gathering efforts at home in the name of protecting the country.

With the Iraq war in its sixth year, he most aggressively defended his decisions on that issue, which will define his presidency like no other. There have been over 4,000 U.S. deaths since the invasion and toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

But it was in that area that he also acknowledged mistakes. He said that ''not finding weapons of mass destruction was a significant disappointment.'' The accusation that Saddam had and was pursuing weapons of mass destruction was Bush's main initial justification for going to war.

He also cited the abuses found to have been committed by members of the U.S. military at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq as ''a huge disappointment.''

''I don't know if you want to call those mistakes or not, but they were -- things didn't go according to plan, let's put it that way,'' Bush said.

And he admitted another miscalculation: Eager to report quick progress after U.S. troops ousted Saddam's government, he declared less than two months after the war started that ''in the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed,'' a claim made under a ''Mission Accomplished'' banner that turned out to be wildly optimistic. ''Clearly, putting `Mission Accomplished' on an aircraft carrier was a mistake,'' he said Monday. ''It sent the wrong message.''

He also defended his decision in 2007 to send an additional 30,000 American troops to Iraq to knock down violence levels and stabilize life there.

''The question is, in the long run, will this democracy survive, and that's going to be a question for future presidents,'' he said.

On another issue destined to figure prominently in his legacy, Bush said he has ''thought long and hard about Katrina -- you know could I have done something differently, like land Air Force One either in New Orleans or Baton Rouge.'' Bush was criticized for flying over the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and waiting until four days after it hit to visit the scene.

But he also said he disagrees with those who say the federal response to the storm was slow.

''Don't tell me the federal response was slow when there were 30,000 people pulled off roofs right after the storm passed. ... Could things been done better? Absolutely. But when I hear people say the federal response was slow, what are they going to say to those chopper drivers or the 30,000 who got pulled off the roof?'' he said.

He also defended his record on Mideast peace.

A bruising offensive by Israel in the Gaza Strip has dashed any slight hopes for an accord soon that produces a Palestinian state. But Bush, asked why peace hasn't been achieved, said his administration had made progress. He said he had laid out the vision for ''what peace would look like'' and got all sides to agree on a two-state solution to the long-running Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

''It's been a long time since they've had peace in the Middle East,'' he said. ''The challenge, of course, has been to lay out the conditions so that a peaceful state can emerge. ... Will this ever happen? I think it will. And I know we've advanced the process.''

He called President-elect Barack Obama ''a very smart, engaging person'' and said he wishes his successor all the best. He hinted at the enormous responsibility Obama is about to assume, describing what it might feel like on Jan. 20 when, after taking the oath of office, he enters the Oval Office for the first time as president.

''There'll be a moment when the responsibility of the president lands squarely on his shoulders,'' Bush said.

He gave his view of the most urgent threat facing the incoming president: an attack on the United States. He chose that risk over the dire economic problems now facing the nation.

''I wish that I could report that's not the case, but there's still an enemy out there that would like to inflict damage on America -- on Americans.''

He said he would ask Congress to release the remaining $350 billion in Wall Street bailout money if Obama so desires. But, he said, Obama hadn't made that request of him yet.

That soon changed. Shortly after the news conference, the White House said Obama had asked for the request and Bush had agreed to make it.

That will take at least one burden off Obama's shoulders involving a program that is extraordinarily unpopular with many lawmakers and much of the public.

The last news conference of Bush's presidency lasted 46 minutes, and he took questions from more than a dozen reporters.

The last previous time the president had taken questions in a public setting was Dec. 14 in Baghdad, a session that hurtled to the top of the news when Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zeidi threw his shoes at Bush during a question-and-answer session with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Bush's last previous full-blown news conference was July 15. He refused to hold another during the final months of last year's presidential campaign, concerned that the questions would be mostly related to political events and determined to stay out of GOP nominee John McCain's spotlight as much as possible. But even though aides had suggested that would change after the election, Bush still declined to participate in a wide-ranging question-and-answer session until now, just eight days before leaving office.

He has been granting a flurry of legacy-focused interviews as he seeks to shape the view of his presidency on his way out the door.

He gave advice to both his Republican Party and his Democratic successor.

To the GOP, he said it must be ''compassionate and broad-minded'' to come back from the drubbing it received in last year's elections, in which Republicans lost the White House and sank deeper into the minority in Congress. He said the immigration debate of two years ago was harmful, because conservative opposition to broad reform made it appear that ''Republicans don't like immigrants.''

''This party will come back. But the party's message has got to be that different points of view are included in the party,'' he said.

Bush cautioned Obama not to listen to too much criticism -- including from ''your so-called friends'' -- and to focus on doing what he thinks is right. He also said to ignore talk of the isolation of the office.

''I have never felt isolated, and I don't think he will,'' Bush said. ''One reason he won't feel isolated is that he's got a fabulous family and he cares a lot about his family.''

He went on to mock the way some describe the job.

''I believe the phrase 'burdens of the office' is overstated,'' he said. ''You know, it's kind of like, `Why me? Oh, the burdens, you know. Why did the financial collapse have to happen on my watch?' It's just pathetic, isn't it, self-pity? And I don't believe that President-elect Obama will be full of self-pity.''

Bush seemed to struggle to envision himself on Jan. 21, his first day back at home and without a job.

''I'm a Type A personality. I just can't envision myself, you know, the big straw hat and a Hawaiian shirt sitting on some beach,'' he said. But, he added, it would probably be a pretty low-key day with him and his wife, Laura, at his ranch in Texas. ''I wake up in Crawford on Tuesday morning -- I mean, Wednesday morning, and I suspect I'll make Laura coffee and, you know, go get it for her.''

    Bush Defends Presidency in Final News Conference, NYT, 12.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/01/12/washington/AP-Bush-News-Conference.html







Mr. Bush’s Monument


January 7, 2009
The New York Times

Try this on a globe sometime, or Google Earth: Looking head-on at the planet, spin it until Hawaii is a little north and east of center. What you’ll see — besides the barest fringes of America and Asia up there, New Guinea and New Zealand down there, and lots of island dots — is all blue.

This is the vast stage on which President Bush is trying to salvage his environmental legacy.

It’s strange but true. Mr. Bush, who has been monumentally indifferent to the health of continents and the atmosphere, is going down in history as a protector of the oceans.

On Tuesday, he designated three huge areas of the western Pacific as national monuments, declaring that their fish, birds, reefs and other marine life were more important than commercial fishing, drilling and mineral extraction. The protected waters encircle the Northern Mariana Islands (including the Mariana Trench, the deepest canyon on Earth) and parts of a sprawling collection of reefs and atolls known as the Line Islands.

They are a dazzling world of undersea volcanoes, pristine reefs, endangered seals, turtles and whales and intact food chains ruled by sharks.

In protecting nearly 200,000 square miles of ocean, an area far bigger than California, Mr. Bush has outdone his decision in 2006 to set aside 140,000 square miles in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands.

That created a single monument larger than all the country’s national parks combined. If you judge the actions of presidential conservationists solely by the sheer size of planetary surface they protected during their time in office, Mr. Bush would outdo even Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt.

This record, though, has enormous asterisks:

*The new monuments are not nearly as big as they could have been. Mr. Bush could have set their boundaries anywhere from 3 miles from the shores of the territories they encircle to the full 200 miles under United States jurisdiction. He chose 50 miles, excluding huge expanses of deep ocean.

*The protections could have been more stringent. They don’t rule out recreational fishing, for example, and do not include waters above the Mariana Trench.

*Big as they are, the monuments are not nearly enough to offset eight years of Mr. Bush’s bad environmental policies, marked by inaction on climate change, the sacrifice of millions of acres of public lands to oil and gas exploration, and indifference bordering on hostility to endangered species and fragile ecosystems.

Given that record, why did he create these new ocean monuments over the reported objections of Vice President Dick Cheney and the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, a notorious enabler of reckless overfishing by commercial fleets?

We can take him at his word that it was the right thing to do, but we have to note as well that the areas protected are staggeringly far away and not notably prized by the corporate interests whose priorities the Bush administration has for so long made its own.

There was no fight involved. All it took was Mr. Bush’s signature under the Antiquities Act of 1906, which allows presidents to protect public lands by executive order. An environmental trophy was lying on the ground, and Mr. Bush, with just days left in his presidency, simply picked it up.

It will be up to President-elect Barack Obama to take it from here. He should expand the monuments to the 200-mile limit and give them full protection against fishing and other exploitation. His administration should also work to create and expand marine protected areas closer to our shores.

But those are just the easy lifts in a huge list of environmental tasks ahead, starting with the long-neglected fight against global warming. Melting ice caps and ocean acidification are an urgent threat to the very fish, reefs and islands that Mr. Bush lately has seen fit to protect.

    Mr. Bush’s Monument, NYT, 7.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/07/opinion/07wed1.html






Obama’s View on Power Over Detainees Will Be Tested Early


January 3, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Just a month after President-elect Barack Obama takes office, he must tell the Supreme Court where he stands on one of the most aggressive legal claims made by the Bush administration — that the president may order the military to seize legal residents of the United States and hold them indefinitely without charging them with a crime.

The new administration’s brief, which is due Feb. 20, has the potential to hearten or infuriate Mr. Obama’s supporters, many of whom are looking to him for stark disavowals of the Bush administration’s legal positions on the detention and interrogation of so-called enemy combatants held at Navy facilities on the American mainland or at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

During the campaign, Mr. Obama made broad statements criticizing the Bush administration’s assertions of executive power. But now he must address a specific case, that of Ali al-Marri, a Qatari student who was arrested in Peoria, Ill., in December 2001. The Bush administration says Mr. Marri is a sleeper agent for Al Qaeda, and it is holding him without charges at the Navy brig in Charleston, S.C. He is the only person currently held as an enemy combatant on the mainland, but the legal principles established in his case are likely to affect the roughly 250 prisoners at Guantánamo.

Many legal experts say that all of the new administration’s options in Mr. Marri’s case are perilous. Intelligence officials say he is exceptionally dangerous, making deportation problematic.

Trying him on criminal charges could be difficult, too, in part because some of the evidence against him may have been obtained through torture and would not be admissible.

And staying the course in the Marri case would outrage civil libertarians.

“If they adopt the Bush administration position, or some version of it,” said Brandt Goldstein, a professor at New York Law School, “it is going to be a moment of profound disappointment for everyone in the legal community and Americans generally who believe that the Bush administration has tried to turn the presidency into a monarchy.”

In a statement, a spokeswoman for Mr. Obama, Brooke Anderson, said he “will make decisions about how to handle detainees as president when his full national security and legal teams are in place.”

There are other significant cases on the Supreme Court’s docket — including ones concerning indecency on the airwaves, religious displays, voting rights and the possible pre-emption of state injury suits by federal law — but specialists say a midcourse correction is most likely in the enemy combatant case, Al-Marri v. Pucciarelli, No. 08-368.

Charles Fried, who was solicitor general in the Reagan administration, said such changes should be undertaken “reluctantly and rarely” and only “for sufficient reason in a sufficiently urgent case.”

From the new administration’s perspective, Mr. Marri’s case may meet that standard.

A year ago, Mr. Obama answered a detailed questionnaire concerning his views on presidential power from The Boston Globe. “I reject the Bush administration’s claim,” Mr. Obama said, “that the president has plenary authority under the Constitution to detain U.S. citizens without charges as unlawful enemy combatants.”

That sounds vigorous and categorical. But applying this view to Mr. Marri’s case is not that simple. Although he was in the United States legally, he was not an American citizen. In addition, a 2001 Congressional authorization to use military force arguably gave the president the authority that Mr. Obama has said is not conferred by the Constitution alone.

Still, Andrew C. McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor who has generally supported the Bush administration’s approach to fighting terrorism, said Mr. Obama’s hands are tied. He cannot, Mr. McCarthy said, continue to maintain that Mr. Marri’s detention is lawful.

“I don’t think politically for him that’s a viable option,” Mr. McCarthy said. “Legally, it’s perfectly viable.”

There is precedent for reversing course between campaign and courthouse. When Bill Clinton was running for president in 1992, he was vehement in his opposition to the first Bush administration’s policy of intercepting Haitian refugees at sea and returning them without asylum hearings.

By the time he took office, though, Mr. Clinton had changed his mind, instructing the Justice Department to defend the policy in the Supreme Court, which upheld it in 1993.

Mr. Obama’s supporters are hoping for a different approach, one that will ensure that the precedents set during the Bush administration do not take root.

“The agenda for the Obama administration in dealing with the Bush administration’s assault on the rule of law,” said Eric M. Freedman, a law professor at Hofstra University and a member of the Marri legal team, “should be to plow the site with both intellectual and political salt.”

In 1993, Mr. Clinton said that practical reality trumped legal theory. In the Marri case, too, the practical alternatives to military detention may strike the Obama administration as unpalatable.

One possibility is to deport Mr. Marri to Qatar, but Bush administration officials say that would be an enormous mistake.

“Al-Marri must be detained,” Jeffrey N. Rapp, a defense intelligence official wrote in a court filing in 2004, “to prevent him from aiding Al Qaeda in its efforts to attack the United States, its armed forces, other governmental personnel, or citizens.”

Mr. Marri’s lawyers would be delighted to see their client freed, but they are also eager to vacate a decision of the federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., in July upholding the president’s authority to detain Mr. Marri subject to a court hearing on whether he was properly designated an enemy combatant.

Jonathan Hafetz, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union who represents Mr. Marri, emphasized both points.

“If, as President-elect Obama has pledged, the rule of law in America is to be restored,” Mr. Hafetz said, “then Mr. al-Marri’s military detention must cease and the lower court’s ruling upholding the president’s power to order the military to seize legal residents and American citizens from their homes and imprison them without charge, must be overturned.”

Another alternative for the new administration is to prosecute Mr. Marri as a criminal. But it is not clear that there is admissible evidence against him.

When Mr. Marri was arrested, in December 2001, he was charged with garden-variety crimes: credit card fraud and, later, lying to federal agents and financial institutions, and identity theft. But when Mr. Bush moved Mr. Marri from the criminal system to military detention in June 2003, the government agreed to dismiss those charges with prejudice, meaning they cannot be refiled.

The more serious accusations recounted in Mr. Rapp’s statement are attributed partly to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who is believed to be the chief architect of the Sept. 11 attacks and who was captured in early 2003. The Central Intelligence Agency has said Mr. Mohammed was subjected to waterboarding, and information obtained from him may therefore not be admissible in court. Mr. McCarthy, the former prosecutor, said he hoped the new administration is sifting through its options with exceptional care.

“If they can’t try him in federal court and assuming he poses the severe risk the Bush administration suggests he poses, is there some room to detain him under the immigration system?” Mr. McCarthy asked. “If there is not a Plan B, we have a disaster that transcends al-Marri,” he added, referring to the larger question of what to do with the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay.

A second case concerning detainees is moving even faster than Mr. Marri’s. Last month, the Supreme Court ordered a federal appeals court to take a fresh look at a case brought by four former prisoners at Guantánamo Bay who say they were tortured. Acting fast, the appeals court initially ordered briefing to be completed by the Friday before Inauguration Day.

Depending on how you look at it, the appeals court was being exceptionally efficient, uninterested in the new administration’s views or doing it a favor by not forcing it to take an immediate position on whether provisions of the Bill of Rights and a federal law guaranteeing religious freedom apply to detainees held at Guantánamo Bay.

Eric L. Lewis, a lawyer for the former prisoners, asked the court to slow things down, a request the Bush Justice Department opposed. But the appeals court granted Mr. Lewis’s request on Friday, and the first filings are now due on Jan. 26 — the Monday after Inauguration Day.

    Obama’s View on Power Over Detainees Will Be Tested Early, NYT, 3.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/03/washington/03scotus.html?hp







Mr. Bush’s Health Care Legacy


January 3, 2009
The New York Times


This page has criticized the Bush administration’s weak performance on many important health care matters: its failure to address the problem of millions of uninsured Americans or stem the rising costs of health care, its refusal to expand eligibility for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, its devious maneuvers to cut Medicaid spending, its support of unjustified subsidies for private health plans, to name a few.

It is only fair to note that President Bush can also lay claim to some signal achievements in health care — achievements that we urge President-elect Barack Obama to continue and develop further.

As we have argued in the past, Mr. Bush deserves high praise for significantly increasing American support for the global effort to control AIDS. We were pleased that Congress has now authorized even more money than Mr. Bush proposed: almost $50 billion to fight AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis around the world over the next five years. But there is little doubt that the president has played a key role in providing drug treatments or supportive care to millions of patients who would otherwise have gone untended.

It is a remarkable record for the leader of a party that had been reluctant in the Reagan era to deal with a disease whose victims at the time in this country were primarily gay men and injection drug users.

Equally remarkable was Mr. Bush’s decision to push through a costly new prescription drug benefit under the Medicare program for older Americans despite stout opposition in his party to government-run health care. It was the largest expansion of Medicare in decades and it dragged the program, at long last, into the modern medical era, in which drugs are a cornerstone of treatment.

We have objected to many features of the program — the refusal to allow the government to negotiate with manufacturers for lower prices, shortfalls in providing subsidies to low-income Americans, a failure to protect many patients from high out-of-pocket costs. Still, it has achieved its main goal by reducing the percentage of older Americans who lack drug coverage, from 33 percent before the program started to only 8 percent in 2006.

Less heralded was the Bush administration’s willingness to grant Massachusetts a Medicaid waiver to redeploy federal funds to help start a universal health insurance program. The program took the controversial step of requiring all citizens to obtain health insurance or pay a penalty, precisely the sort of government mandate that drives many conservatives wild. By many measures it is off to a promising start and could become a model for other states or the federal government.

Another substantial health achievement came in the form of bricks and mortar, through the president’s vigorous support of community health clinics. As Kevin Sack reported in The Times last week, Mr. Bush has doubled direct federal financing for community health centers, enabling the expansion or creation of almost 1,300 clinics in areas short of other medical resources. For many residents of poor urban neighborhoods and isolated rural areas, this is the only source of care other than possibly a costly hospital emergency room.

The program has its blemishes. It still falls far short of its goal of doubling the number of patients served. Almost half of the country’s medically underserved areas still lack a health center site. Many clinics are short of staff members and do poorly at managing chronic diseases. And they typically find it difficult or impossible to refer uninsured patients, a large part of their clientele, to other health care providers for diagnostic tests like mammograms and colonoscopies or visits to cardiologists and other specialists.

And Mr. Bush has done almost nothing to shore up the public insurance programs, notably Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, that provide the bulk of the clinics’ funding through the patients they cover.

That is another reminder that despite these solid achievements, the country needs to do a lot more. It needs full-fledged health care reform that will improve the quality of medical care, reduce its overall cost and provide insurance for everyone, at affordable prices.

    Mr. Bush’s Health Care Legacy, NYT, 3.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/03/opinion/03sat1.html






Bush Stance on Cease-Fire Shows Support for Israel


January 1, 2009
Filed at 4:24 a.m. ET
The New York Times


WASHINGTON (AP) -- By insisting that Hamas go first in any cease-fire with Israel, the Bush administration is sticking to its support for the Jewish state's right of self-defense while stopping short of encouraging an Israeli ground assault aimed at fully reoccupying the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

The Bush administration on Wednesday asserted its desire for a halt to the fighting but also made clear its view that the first step in any cease-fire will require Hamas, the Islamic militant group that rejects Israel's right to exist, to agree to stop firing rockets from Gaza into Israel now and in the future.

From his ranch in Crawford, Texas, President George W. Bush telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for the first time since the conflict escalated last weekend. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice worked the phones with other leaders in the region.

''I think President Bush thinks that Hamas needs to stop firing rockets and that is what will be the first step in a cease-fire,'' White House deputy press secretary Gordon Johndroe told reporters. He said Hamas also needs to stop smuggling weapons into Gaza -- a move that would show they don't intend to continue to target Israel.

''So I think they're certainly on the same page on that,'' Johndroe said of Bush and Olmert, briefing reporters on their phone call.

Israel so far has resisted mounting international pressure to suspend its devastating air offensive in Gaza, which has enraged the Arab world. It sent more troops and tanks to the border as signs of an impending ground invasion multiplied.

The U.N. Security Council met Wednesday night to consider an Arab request for a legally binding resolution that would condemn Israel and halt the attacks. But the U.S. called a draft resolution ''unacceptable'' because it made no mention of halting the Hamas rockets. A vote on a resolution was not expected before Monday, Sudan's U.N. ambassador said.

Although the Bush administration has only three weeks left in office, the Gaza crisis could look considerably different by the time President-elect Barack Obama and his designated secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton, take office. And it is only one element of the broader challenges in the Middle East.

Two prominent Mideast analysts, Martin Indyk and Richard N. Haass, argued in an essay published this week by the Council on Foreign Affairs and the Brookings Institution that the Obama administration should push for a peace deal between Israel and Syria as a way of diminishing Iran's influence in the Palestinian territories and Lebanon.

The Israeli air offensive is a response to rockets fired by Hamas militants. At least four Israelis have been killed, including three civilians. Gaza officials put the death toll from the Israeli retaliatory strikes at more than 390 dead and 1,600 wounded.

France has urged Israel to halt its operation for 48 hours, but that proposal seemed to be overcome by events. Olmert discussed the idea with his defense and foreign ministers, but the trio decided to pursue the aerial bombing campaign.

Calls for an immediate cease-fire that would be fully respected by Hamas and by Israel have also come from the U.S., the European Union, the United Nations and Russia, the group known as the Quartet.

Asked if the president was disappointed that Israel hadn't accepted or responded to the international calls for a cease-fire, Johndroe put the onus squarely on Hamas.

''President Bush is disappointed that Hamas continues to fire rockets onto the innocent people of Israel,'' he said.

''I think, probably, from the prime minister's perspective, an end to the violence first means that Hamas stops firing rockets into Israel. And then Israel won't need to go after the rocket launchers.''

Johndroe blamed Iran and Syria for supplying weapons to Hamas and Hezbollah.

''I'm not going to get into any specifics on supplies from Iran and Syria that we've seen over the last few days,'' he said. ''But there is no doubt that Iran and Syria are the ones who have assisted Hamas with their weapons acquisition, and that's a problem.''

Rice, meanwhile, continued her telephone diplomacy with officials in the region, pressing them on the need for a ''durable and sustainable'' cease-fire.

Rice has said she plans a final diplomatic trip early next week to Beijing to celebrate the 30th anniversary of U.S-Chinese relations. U.S. officials say there will be other stops but have not disclosed them.

Rice spoke Wednesday with Jordanian Foreign Minister Salaheddine Al-Bashir, their third conversation since Tuesday, State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said. Rice spoke three times on Tuesday with the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates and once each with Olmert, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Ahmed Aboul Gheith, the foreign minister of Egypt, he said.


Associated Press writers Deb Riechmann in Crawford, Texas, Ibrahim Barzak and Matti Friedman in Gaza City, Gaza, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

    Bush Stance on Cease-Fire Shows Support for Israel, NYT, 1.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/01/01/washington/AP-US-Mideast.html






On Fast Track for Clemency, via Oval Office


January 1, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — In December 2007, the names of about 700 federal prisoners seeking commutations reached President Bush’s desk. He rejected all but one. Among the disappointed petitioners was Reed R. Prior, an Iowa man serving a life sentence for a drug conviction whose application had been pending for nearly five years.

Last month, Mr. Prior filed a new application with the Justice Department. Not much had changed. But this time, with help from the Iowa governor, Mr. Prior’s lawyer secured a face-to-face meeting with the White House counsel, Fred F. Fielding. A week later, Mr. Bush commuted Mr. Prior’s sentence.

Of the 20 felony offenders to whom Mr. Bush granted clemency on Dec. 23, most of the attention has focused on Isaac R. Toussie, the New York real estate swindler who had hired a lawyer with political connections and bypassed the normal review process. A day later, the White House took the unusual step of saying it was stopping his pardon.

But Mr. Toussie, who was represented by a former associate counsel to Mr. Bush, was just one of at least four people who gained special access. Two others were also represented by former associate counsels to Mr. Bush. And a White House meeting was devoted to Mr. Prior’s case in part because his lawyer knew the wife of Gov. Chet Culver of Iowa.

People with the wherewithal to do so have always tried to use special access to power to win clemency. And none of Mr. Bush’s decisions have been as controversial as President Bill Clinton’s last-minute pardon of the fugitive-financier Marc Rich.

But over the last few presidencies, the incentive to try to go around the normal process has increased, said P. S. Ruckman Jr., a political scientist who specializes in clemency.

A huge backlog at the Justice Department’s pardon review office combined with the relatively small number of clemency grants by recent presidents, Professor Ruckman said, “encourages people to try to end-run the process — to try to cheat, for lack of a better word, to gain access to the White House directly.”

Although the Bush administration has repeatedly said clemency-seekers should go through the Justice Department review, a White House spokesman, Tony Fratto, said anyone was free to send a petition directly to the White House, which “at a minimum requires the cost of a stamp.” Mr. Fratto added that “it is immaterial to us who delivers a petition for a pardon” because the president makes such decisions “on the merits.”

But Professor Ruckman said that people without connections could not walk into the White House, and that under ordinary circumstances, any letter would be forwarded to the Justice Department, where about half a dozen lawyers had 2,172 pending cases as of Dec. 4.

Going through the Justice Department did not work for Mr. Prior, despite widespread support. His judge said in an interview that he “fully supported” a commutation for the 1996 conviction for methamphetamine possession with intent to distribute. He said the sentence, required by mandatory guidelines, was unjust in that case. The prosecutor and prominent Iowa politicians supported Mr. Prior, too.

That was not enough the first time. So last month, when his volunteer lawyer, Robert M. Holliday of Des Moines, filed a new application, he decided to try to take Mr. Prior’s case directly to the White House.

Mr. Holliday happened to know Mari Culver, the wife of Iowa’s Democratic governor. So he asked if her husband would call Mr. Fielding and request a meeting. Mr. Culver, who supported Mr. Prior’s case, did so.

Mr. Holliday and other supporters of Mr. Prior met with Mr. Fielding on Dec. 17. They persuaded him to recommend granting the commutation.

Mr. Fratto declined to make Mr. Fielding available. But he said Mr. Fielding had met with other clemency advocates, and did not always agree with them.

There were signs that the three offenders represented by former White House lawyers might have received special treatment.

The applications for all three were filed less than a year before the pardons were granted. Margaret Colgate Love, who was the United States pardon attorney from 1990 to 1997, said it usually took significantly longer than that to undergo a complete review, which includes an F.B.I. background check.

Alan S. Maiss, once president of Bally Gaming Inc., was convicted in 1995 in a case related to a video-poker scandal in Louisiana. In seeking a pardon, Mr. Maiss was represented by H. Christopher Bartolomucci, an associate White House counsel from 2001 to 2003.

Mr. Maiss applied on Dec. 26, 2007, far later than most of the other pardon recipients. A Justice Department spokeswoman, Laura Sweeney, said Mr. Maiss did not get through quickly because of special treatment. Ms. Sweeney noted that two others who were granted pardons in December had applied recently — in August 2007 and February 2008.

But Douglas A. Berman, a criminal law professor at Ohio State University, and a clemency consultant, said “there’s no doubt” that Mr. Maiss had received fast-track treatment.

Mr. Bartolomucci, who has several other clemency clients, said he visited the White House in August 2008, “hand-delivered the materials that had already gone to the Justice Department,” and “took a few minutes” to talk with the associate counsel who handles pardons, Kenneth Lee, about Mr. Maiss’s case.

“His application was granted because of its considerable merits,” Mr. Bartolomucci said.

The applications for the other two represented by former White House lawyers were filed in June and July of 2008, respectively. For different reasons, each was ineligible for a positive Justice Department recommendation.

One case was that of the late Charles T. Winters, to whom Mr. Bush granted a posthumous pardon for a conviction stemming from illegally sending arms to Israel in 1948. The department normally does not process applications for deceased people.

Mr. Winters was represented by Reginald Brown, an associate White House counsel from 2001 to 2003. Mr. Brown said the volunteer team also included Frank Jimenez, the Navy general counsel and a friend of Mr. Winters’s son, and Noam Neusner, a former White House aide to Mr. Bush.

Mr. Brown said he sent e-mail messages and documents to Mr. Fielding and Mr. Lee, and answered their questions. He also argued that his client’s case was in a different category because it was symbolic and that there was no need for a background check.

“We certainly didn’t seek any special treatment for Charlie Winters,” said Mr. Brown, who declined to discuss any other clemency clients he or his firm might have.

The other case that was ineligible for a pardon under normal circumstances was that of Mr. Toussie. The Justice Department requires five years to have passed since the end of a sentence before it will consider a pardon application, and that time period was not yet up.

Mr. Toussie hired Bradford Berenson, an associate White House counsel from 2001 to 2003. Mr. Berenson declined to comment, but Mr. Fratto said that Mr. Berenson had visited the White House to discuss the case.

The announcement of a pardon for Mr. Toussie prompted furor, in part because it emerged that his father had recently donated $28,500 to the Republican National Committee. The White House said it was halting the pardon and sending the case to the Justice Department for review.

But several legal specialists said that it was not clear the pardon was nullified, and that the case might end up in court.

Justice Department officials say clemency should be rare. They say the review process is fair, but Karen Orehowsky, a volunteer clemency consultant who advised Mr. Prior’s commutation team, said that ordinary people going through the department process have virtually no chance.

“It takes a ‘Hail Mary’ from people who have a lot of connections and who are willing to put their neck out for people they care about, and it’s unfair to people who don’t have those connections,” Ms. Orehowsky said.

On Fast Track for Clemency, via Oval Office, NYT, 1.1.2009,