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History > 2008 > USA > Politics (IXb)





Gary Markstein


Copley News Service

















Ahead for Obama: How to Define Terror


November 30, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Early last Tuesday morning, a military charter plane left the airstrip at Guantánamo Bay for Sana, Yemen, carrying Osama bin Laden’s former driver, Salim Hamdan. Once the Bush administration’s poster boy for the war on terror — the first defendant in America’s first military tribunals since World War II — Mr. Hamdan will spend less than a month in a Yemeni prison before returning to his family in Sana, having been acquitted by a jury of United States military officers of the most serious charge brought against him, conspiracy to support terrorism.

The turn of events underscores the central challenge President Obama will face as he begins to define his own approach to fighting terrorism — and the imperative for him to adopt a new, hybrid plan, one that blends elements of both traditional military conflict and criminal justice.

Until now, much of the debate over how best to battle terrorism has centered on the two prevailing — and conflicting — paradigms: Is it a war or a criminal action? The Hamdan case highlights the limitations of such binary thinking. As the verdict in his tribunal this summer made clear, Mr. Hamdan was not a criminal conspirator in the classic sense. Yet, as an aide to the world’s most dangerous terrorist, neither was he a conventional prisoner of war who had simply been captured in the act of defending his nation and was therefore essentially free of guilt.

So how should Americans think about Mr. Hamdan? More broadly, how should they think about the fight against terrorism?

The problems with the war paradigm are by now familiar. Because the war on terror is unlike any other the United States has waged, traditional wartime policies and mechanisms have made for an awkward fit, in some instances undermining efforts to defeat terrorism. The traditional approach to dealing with captured combatants — holding them until the end of hostilities to prevent them from returning to the battlefield — is untenable in a war that could last for generations.

If you treat the fight against terrorism as a war, it’s hard to get around the argument that it’s a war without boundaries; a terrorist could be hiding anywhere. Yet by asserting the right to scoop up suspected terrorists in other sovereign nations and indefinitely detain and interrogate them without hearings or trials, the administration complicated its efforts to build an international coalition against terrorism.

“The war-against-Al-Qaeda paradigm put us in a position where our legal authorities to detain and interrogate didn’t match up with those of our allies, so we ended up building a system that’s often rejected as strategically unsound and legally suspect by even our closest allies,” says Matthew Waxman, a law professor at Columbia who worked on detainee issues in the Bush administration.

Perhaps the most problematic consequence of the war paradigm, though, is that it gave the president enormous powers — as commander in chief — to determine how to detain and interrogate captured combatants. It was the use, or abuse, of those powers that produced the Bush administration’s string of historic rebukes at the Supreme Court, starting in 2004 when the justices ruled in Rasul v. Bush that the president had to afford the Guantánamo detainees some due process.

Some critics of President Bush are now urging President-elect Obama to abandon the war paradigm in favor of a pure criminal-justice approach, which is to say, either subject captured combatants to criminal trials or let them go. This will almost certainly not happen.

Mr. Obama may be more inclined to prosecute suspected terrorists in the federal courts than Mr. Bush has been, and he may even avoid referring to the battle against terrorism as a “war.” But ceding the military paradigm altogether would severely limit his ability to fight terrorism. On a practical level, it would prevent him from operating in a zone like the tribal areas of Pakistan, where American law does not reach.

“If you seriously dialed it back to the criminal-justice apparatus you will paralyze the executive branch’s ability to go where they believe the bad guys are,” says Benjamin Wittes, a fellow at the Brookings Institution. “When people talk about a return to the criminal-justice system, they’re ignoring the geographical limits of that system.”

In fact, the military approach to fighting terrorism predates the Bush administration. After Al Qaeda attacked two American embassies in Africa in 1998, President Clinton launched cruise missiles against terrorist camps in Afghanistan and a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan thought to be making chemical weapons. During the presidential campaign, Mr. Obama said he would not hesitate to take out terrorist targets in Pakistan — an act of war — if that country’s government was unwilling to do so itself.

Going forward, the fight against terrorism will have to be something of a hybrid. This is a novel idea, as the Constitution lays out only two distinct options: the country is at war, or it is not. Such a strategy may require building new legal systems and institutions for detaining, interrogating and trying detainees.

There has already been talk of creating a national security court within the federal judiciary that would presumably give more flexibility on matters like, say, the standard of proof for evidence collected on an Afghan battlefield. Similarly, it may be necessary to set clear legal guidelines for when the government can detain enemy combatants, and how far C.I.A. agents can go when interrogating terror suspects.

This won’t be easy. It will require striking a balance between the need to preserve and promote America’s rule-of-law values, protect its intelligence gathering and ensure that no one who poses a serious threat is set free.

Such an infrastructure is not likely to survive unchallenged, let alone win popular support, if the executive branch builds it alone. Its chances would be far better with input from Congress, acting as the elected representatives of the people to ensure that any new systems protect both the public and America’s values. And direct advice from the courts could ensure that they are found to be constitutional.

Paradoxically, such an approach might ultimately enhance a president’s power. “We need a strong president to fight this war,” says Jack Goldsmith, a law professor at Harvard who worked in the Bush Justice Department, “and the way to ensure that there’s a strong president is to have the other institutions on board for the actions he feels he needs to take.”

Jonathan Mahler, a contributing writer for The Times Magazine, is the author, most recently, of “The Challenge: Hamdan v. Rumsfeld and the Fight Over Presidential Power.”

Ahead for Obama: How to Define Terror, NYT, 30.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/30/weekinreview/30mahler.html






Obama Unveils Team to Tackle ‘Historic’

Crisis in Economy


November 25, 2008
The New York Times


CHICAGO — With the financial crisis looming as a priority of his term, President-elect Barack Obama sought to put his imprint on efforts to stem the turmoil as he introduced his economic team on Monday, nominating Timothy F. Geithner as Treasury secretary and Lawrence H. Summers to head the White House Economic Council.

By naming a team deeply experienced in dealing with financial crises — Mr. Geithner was heavily involved over the weekend in the efforts to stabilize Citigroup — Mr. Obama underscored his determination to assure Americans and foreign investors that he would aggressively step into a leadership vacuum in Washington during the transition.

Moreover, by pledging that his economic team would begin work “today” on recommendations to help middle-class families as well as the financial markets, the president-elect sought to convey an impression of continuity and coordination, so that his administration can “hit the ground running.”

The president-elect also announced that he had chosen Christina D. Romer to head his Council of Economic Advisers and Melody Barnes as director of his White House Domestic Policy Council. Ms. Romer is an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, while Ms. Barnes is a longtime aide to Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts.

The recent economic news, capped by the Citigroup effort, “has made it even more clear that we are facing an economic crisis of historic proportions,” Mr. Obama said at a news conference. He listed the drop in new home purchases, the surge in unemployment claims to an 18-year high and the likelihood of up to a million further job losses in the coming year.

“While we can’t underestimate the challenges we face,” he said, “we also can’t underestimate our capacity to overcome them to summon that spirit of determination and optimism that has always defined us, and move forward in a new direction to create new jobs, reform our financial system, and fuel long-term economic growth.”

Responding to questions, Mr. Obama said that the struggling automobile industry could not be allowed “simply to vanish,” but that the companies should not get “a blank check” from taxpayers. And he said he was “surprised” that the auto companies’ chief executives were not better prepared with specific recovery proposals in their appearances last week on Capitol Hill. And he all but promised that the tax cuts pushed through Congress by President Bush would be repealed, or at least not renewed when they are scheduled to expire in 2010.

In an effort to inject confidence into the quavering financial markets, Mr. Obama made certain that his first formal cabinet announcement dealt with the economy, not, as is often the case with national security or diplomacy.

In announcing the nominations of Mr. Geithner, president of the Federal Reserve Bank in New York, and Mr. Summers, a Harvard economist, Mr. Obama sent a signal that he was set to pursue aggressive, yet centrist policies, in crafting moves to help jump-start the economy. He was stretching his economic announcement into a two-day affair, planning another news conference Tuesday to present the rest of his team.

The televised news conference, which came shortly after President Bush made brief remarks at the Treasury Department with Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., created a stark image of the transfer of power that is under way in Washington. Mr. Obama and his new team arrived in a room of dozens of reporters, while Mr. Bush stood nearly alone on the steps of the Treasury Department.

“This is a tough situation for America,” Mr. Bush said, adding that he had spoken to Mr. Paulson by phone Sunday while returning from an economic summit meeting in Peru. He said that he would keep Mr. Obama and his team informed of any major decisions, and added that Mr. Paulson was working in “close cooperation” with the Obama team.

Mr. Bush spoke to Mr. Obama on Monday about the rescue plan for Citigroup. Mr. Obama said he had also spoken Monday to Ben S. Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve.

Mr. Geithner worked through the weekend on the plan to stabilize Citigroup. Earlier, he was deeply involved in the bailout of American International Group. So he is intimately familiar with the developing crisis — and the controversial efforts so far to stanch it.

Mr. Obama has said repeatedly that there is “only one president at a time,” but the markets’ apparent concerns at the specter of a do-nothing transition — with neither President nor Mr. Obama seeming to be aggressively steer recovery efforts — has forced him into a more active role.

The Dow Jones industrial average soared Friday by nearly 500 points on word of the Geithner appointment and markets were up again by more than 200 points at midday Monday.

David Stout in Washington contributed reporting.

    Obama Unveils Team to Tackle ‘Historic’ Crisis in Economy, NYT, 25.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/25/us/politics/25obama.html?hp






An Old Hometown Mentor,

Still at Obama’s Side


November 24, 2008
The New York Times


CHICAGO — On a dark afternoon last week, the road to Jerusalem and Beijing momentarily veered through the office of a real estate company here.

Valerie Jarrett, the company’s chief executive, had signed her resignation letter an hour earlier, and now she was taking phone calls from potential top diplomatic appointees.

“You don’t need to thank me,” she said soothingly to a booming male voice on her cellphone. “I just wanted you to have a chance to make your case.”

If someone were to rank the long list of people who helped Barack and Michelle Obama get where they are today, Ms. Jarrett would be close to the top. Nearly two decades ago, Ms. Jarrett swept the young lawyers under her wing, introduced them to a wealthier and better-connected Chicago than their own, and eventually secured contacts and money essential to Mr. Obama’s long-shot Senate victory.

In the crush of his presidential campaign, Ms. Jarrett could have fallen by the wayside, as old mentors often do. But the opposite happened: Using her intimacy with the Obamas, two BlackBerrys and a cellphone, Ms. Jarrett, a real estate executive and civic leader with no national campaign experience, became an internal mediator and external diplomat who secured the trust of black leaders, forged peace with Clintonites and helped talk Mr. Obama through major decisions.

She “automatically understands your values and your vision,” Michelle Obama said in a telephone interview Friday, and is “somebody never afraid to tell you the truth.” Mrs. Obama added: “She knows the buttons, the soft spots, the history, the context.”

In January, Ms. Jarrett will go to the White House as a senior adviser to Mr. Obama, where she will be “one of the four or five people in the room with him when decisions get made,” as Anita Dunn, a Democratic strategist close to Mr. Obama, put it. Ms. Jarrett, who is a co-chairwoman of Mr. Obama’s transition effort, will also serve as the White House contact for local and state officials across the nation and the point person for Mr. Obama’s effort to build a channel between his White House and ordinary Americans.

Less formally, she intends to help Mr. Obama preserve his essential self as he becomes president, even as she becomes the type of person who chats with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, mingles with Warren Buffett and is now sometimes greeted by strangers.

Washingtonians who assess the new White House crew sometimes cast Ms. Jarrett in parochial terms: she is the hometown buddy, they say, or the one who will hear out the concerns of black leaders. They note that presidential friends do not always fare well in the capital, that confidants from Arkansas and Texas have stumbled in the corridors of the West Wing.

Asked what was her biggest worry about the job, which is a major leap from anything she has undertaken before, Ms. Jarrett said she sometimes feared she did not know enough. “I will try to do my homework,” she said.

Ms. Jarrett, 52, has often been underestimated: perhaps because she is often the only black woman at the boardroom tables where she sits, or perhaps because she can seem girlish, with a pixie haircut, singsong voice and suits that earned her a recent profile in Vogue.

A protégée of Mayor Richard M. Daley of Chicago, Ms. Jarrett served as his planning commissioner, ran a real estate company, the Habitat Company — whose management of public housing projects has come under scrutiny with Ms. Jarrett’s rise — and sits on too many boards to count. She is an expert in urban affairs, particularly housing and transportation, in an administration expected to lavish more money and attention on cities than its predecessors.

And she has something no other adviser in the Obama White House ever will: ties to the president-elect and future first lady that go deeper than a political alliance. Ms. Jarrett is only a few years older than the Obamas, but her relationship with them can seem almost maternal. “I can count on someone like Valerie to take my hand and say, You need to think about these three things,” Mrs. Obama said. “Like a mom, a big sister, I trust her implicitly.”

During big speeches, Ms. Jarrett watched Mr. Obama with a gaze of such intensity that he and their other friends laugh about it. “Barack always jokes, You can’t look Valerie in the eye, she’s going to make you cry,” said Martin Nesbitt, the treasurer of the campaign.

Early Lessons on Race

Ms. Jarrett plans to arrive at the White House with her list of “life lessons,” 21 aphorisms she ticks off in speeches and keeps on her computer hard drive. (“All leaders are passionate about their beliefs, even the ones you don’t like.” “Put yourself in the path of lightning.”)

The life lessons started in Shiraz, Iran, where Valerie Bowman Jarrett was born in 1956. Her parents moved there after her father, a physician, was offered less pay in Chicago than his white peers. When the Bowmans tried to teach their young daughter about race, the lessons made no sense to her: Valerie, who has light skin, would protest that the Iranians around her had darker skin, so why was she the black one?

When her family returned to Chicago via England, she showed up in public school speaking Farsi, French and English with a British accent. “It was a rude awakening,” she said. Decades later, at the dinner that started their friendship, Ms. Jarrett and Mr. Obama bonded over their far-flung childhoods and initial confusion about race. “I wasn’t burdened by a personal history of prejudice,” she said. “It’s part of why I thought Barack could win.”

Ms. Jarrett, a lawyer with degrees from Stanford and the University of Michigan, first met Mr. Obama during her successful courtship of his fiancée, Michelle Robinson, for a job at City Hall, and from that night onward, she was someone with whom the young lawyers could discuss their ambitions. “They could talk openly about desires, wishes, dreams,” said Desiree Rogers, a friend.

The Obamas were from modest backgrounds, and Ms. Jarrett represented the sophistication and intellectual polish of Hyde Park, the Chicago neighborhood they shared. Her mother, Barbara Bowman, is a child psychologist, and through the generations her family had consistently broken barriers: her great-grandfather was the first black graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, her father the first black tenured professor in his department at the University of Chicago.

The Obamas were not her only protégés — Ms. Jarrett kept a database of them, in case a prospective employer called — but she drew them deep into her world, taking them to Sunday dinners at her parents’ house, where Hyde Park’s leading lights gathered over green beans and tomatoes from the garden. Eventually, she even invited the Obamas to vacation with her in the elite black enclaves of Martha’s Vineyard, introducing them to others in her high-achieving family, including a cousin, Ann Jordan, the wife of the Washington lawyer Vernon Jordan, to whom Ms. Jarrett has frequently turned for advice.

In her years at City Hall, Ms. Jarrett absorbed several Daley leadership precepts: tough negotiation, pragmatism and block-by-block attention to the city’s fabric. She developed a specialty in dealing with extremely angry people. After a flood swept through the basements of downtown offices in 1992, Ms. Jarrett had the unenviable task of talking to the building owners. A few years later, as chairwoman of the Chicago Transit Authority, Ms. Jarrett had to defend service cuts before irate residents.

Her rule became, Never argue back. “She almost refuses to react,” said MarySue Barrett, a former colleague, adding that Ms. Jarrett often surprises opponents by agreeing with them and then suggesting concrete measures to help.

Ms. Jarrett, who was briefly married to a physician who died a few years after their divorce, is a single mother of a daughter, Laura, a Harvard Law student. She jokes about how hard it is for a successful black woman in her 50s to find a suitable date. For years, she has thrown herself into work, civic commitments and supporting Mr. Obama’s career. She held a book party in 1995 for the publication of his memoir, “Dreams From My Father.” (Twenty people came, her mother recalled.) From then she never stopped introducing him, eventually signing on as the finance chairwoman of his Senate campaign.

“Her approach would be, I have somebody I think is really fantastic, and he’s a dear friend, and would you take the time to meet him?” said Linda Johnson Rice, the head of the publishing company that owns Ebony and Jet magazines.

A Campaign Ombudsman

In July 2007, Mr. Obama gathered his top campaign advisers around Ms. Jarrett’s dining table, where the group ticked off their problems. Mrs. Clinton, then the front-runner in the Democratic primary, had far more extensive relationships with local officials and ethnic leaders across the country, and David Plouffe, Mr. Obama’s campaign manager, did not have the time or chatty temperament to create them. “We had gone though this arid summer in which our national poll numbers were dropping,” said David Axelrod, the chief strategist.

Soon the Obamas visited Ms. Jarrett on Martha’s Vineyard. “I need all hands on deck, and that’s you,” Mr. Obama told Ms. Jarrett as the three sat on a deck, staring at the waves, she recalled.

“She brought a perspective that was slightly removed from the maelstrom,” Mr. Axelrod said. During the campaign’s many tricky discussions about race and strategy, Ms. Jarrett was often the only black person at the table. And while her lack of campaign experience sometimes frustrated political operatives, they dared not protest, because of her relationship with the Obamas.

Ms. Jarrett took on two roles, one internal and the other external. The Obama campaign has often been described as so harmonious that, as one blogger joked, its members e-mailed hug-o-grams to one another all day. In fact, the campaign had the usual share of conflict, but also the ability to resolve the tensions before they became public or disabling. Ms. Jarrett served as a kind of ombudsman.

“People who had an issue could raise it with somebody at the highest level in a safe way,” said Michael Strautmanis, who will be one of Ms. Jarrett’s White House deputies. “They’re able to move on and do their job.”

To the outside world, Ms. Jarrett became an all-purpose ambassador. Before the Iowa caucuses, Ms. Jarrett tried to persuade black leaders that Mr. Obama could prevail; afterwards, she had to deal with their jitters. At one nerve-racking meeting last summer, Ms. Jarrett met in New York with black leaders, including the hip-hop moguls Sean Combs and Russell Simmons; Mr. Simmons grew so anxious that he had to leave the room, Ms. Jarrett said. They were worried that Mr. Obama was failing to fight back against attempts to stereotype him in racial terms.

“She could have told the room, You’re right, I will talk to Senator Obama,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton. Instead, Ms. Jarrett was blunt. “There are those who are going to fight the race gap, but that’s not our role,” she said, telling the leaders to channel their energy into concrete tasks like voter registration.

“Miss Reality herself,” Mr. Sharpton now calls Ms. Jarrett. “There are unrealistic expectations of African-Americans about Barack Obama,” he said. “The one person who I think could come to the White House and say to African-Americans, Now get real, is Valerie Jarrett.”

Ms. Jarrett also led the Obama campaign’s diplomatic missions to disappointed supporters of Mrs. Clinton. Like any skillful envoy, she alternated between speaking for the candidate, giving her audience assurances about how he would treat Mrs. Clinton, and refusing to speak for him, declining to make specific promises because she was not the candidate and could make no guarantees.

“What Valerie developed is the art of telling people to go to hell and making them look forward to the trip,” said Mr. Jordan, who advised his wife’s cousin throughout the campaign.

A Transition of Her Own

Ms. Jarrett’s life now is a strange amalgam of Chicago and Washington: she is shutting down business at home, dining with Bush administration officials who quietly offer advice, and wondering where to live and eat and shop in the capital. (Her personal shopper at Nordstrom in Chicago, Ms. Jarrett says, “sends the store” to her.)

In recent weeks, she has been helping Mr. Obama choose his cabinet in long meetings at his transition office, a process she likens to putting a jigsaw puzzle together. Some candidates call her before and after they see the president-elect, seeking a sense of what to expect and, afterward, a clue as to how the session went.

She has not yet figured out how to accomplish her new role as emissary in the White House, somehow making sure that state and local officials, interest groups and individual citizens “have a place to go.” “You can’t just leave it to meetings and telephone calls, because the base is so broad,” she said.

Already, she trades calls with leaders across the country: Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa of Los Angeles, whom she befriended on the campaign trail; Mr. Schwarzenegger offered an update on the wildfires and an idea for an energy conference.

“The scale of it will be bracing,” Mr. Axelrod said of the requests and demands Ms. Jarrett will hear.

The potentially precarious thing about Ms. Jarrett’s role, said some Washington veterans, is that it is based on a friendship that will be transformed when Mr. Obama becomes the president and Ms. Jarrett his employee.

“The thing you have to be careful about,” said Steven A. Elmendorf, a Democratic strategist, “is moving from having a friendship with someone to working for them, in a structure where there are other people between you and the president.”

And Ms. Jarrett can no longer talk idly, cautioned Kenneth M. Duberstein, chief of staff to President Ronald Reagan, because no one will interpret her words as her own.

When hometown friends accompany the president to the White House, they “know the president, his habits, his likes and dislikes, and when they talk, people hear the president’s voice,” Mr. Duberstein said.

But Ms. Jarrett seems to have little desire or need to stand apart from Mr. Obama. During the campaign, Representative James E. Clyburn, Democrat of South Carolina, spent hours speaking with her but barely heard her mention herself or her own views. “It was all about Barack and Michelle, Barack and Michelle,” Mr. Clyburn said.

After the election, speculation that Ms. Jarrett might seek Mr. Obama’s Senate seat coursed through Chicago. After a career of helping formidable men, she could finally “be the sun,” as Marilyn Katz, a friend, put it. But the Obamas saw her place in Washington.

“I told her,” Mrs. Obama said, “that I wanted her there, in that position, that it would give me a sense of comfort to know that he had somebody like her there by his side.”

After several long conversations with Mr. Obama, Ms. Jarrett took herself out of the running for the Senate seat. Or, rather, Mr. Obama did: she let him make the call.

“He knows the Senate, he knows me, and he knows what he was looking for in the White House,” she said. “I trusted him to make the decision.”

Kitty Bennett contributed research.

    An Old Hometown Mentor, Still at Obama’s Side, NYT, 24.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/24/us/politics/24jarrett.html?hp







Obama’s Small Donors Really Weren’t


November 24, 2008
1:34 pm
The New York Times > The Caucus
By Michael Luo


A new analysis of President-elect Barack Obama’s campaign fund-raising punctures one of the most enduring pieces of conventional wisdom from his presidential run — that small donors powered his record-breaking money machine.

The study, released today by the Campaign Finance Institute, a non-partisan group, goes deeper than previous analyses of Mr. Obama’s fund-raising by calculating how many of his donors who made discrete contributions of $200 or less actually cumulatively made contributions of much more than that by donating multiple times.

The institute found that while nearly 50 percent of Mr. Obama’s donations came in individual contributions of $200 or less, in reality, only 26 percent of the money he collected through Aug. 31 during the primary and 24 percent of his money through Oct. 15 came from contributors whose total donations added up to $200 or less. The data is the most recent available.

Those figures are actually in the same range as the 25 percent President Bush raised in 2004 from donors whose contributions aggregated to $200 or less, the 20 percent Senator John F. Kerry collected from such donors and Senator John McCain’s 21 percent from the same group. Meanwhile, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton collected just 13 percent from such donors during her run but former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean brought in 38 percent of his donations from small donors fitting this description.

“They myth is that money from small donors dominated Barack Obama’s finances,” said Michael J. Malbin, the institute’s executive director in a statement. “The reality of Obama’s fund-raising was impressive, but the reality does not match the myth.”

Nevertheless, when it comes to large donors who gave $1,000 or more in aggregate to Mr. Obama, they still accounted for a smaller proportion of his total money haul than others. Contributions from such large donors accounted for 47 percent of his money through August 31, compared to 56 percent for Mr. Kerry, 60 percent for President Bush and 59 percent for Senator John McCain.

Other interesting findings by the institute: about 403,000 people out of the three million donors announced by the Obama campaign gave $200 or more, forcing the campaign to disclose them in Federal Election Commission records; 212,000 started off by giving $200 or less but only about 13,000 wound up giving $1,000 or more; Mr. Obama received about 80 percent money from large donors, defined as those who gave $1,000 or more, than from small donors who gave $200 or less.

    Study: Obama’s Small Donors Really Weren’t, NYT, 24.11.2008, http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/11/24/study-obamas-small-donors-really-werent/






Obama Adviser

Issues Warning to Automakers


November 23, 2008
Filed at 9:14 a.m. ET
The New York Times


WASHINGTON (AP) -- President-elect Barack Obama's top adviser has a warning for U.S. automakers: Without a plan to retool and restructure, there is very little taxpayers can do to help.

Congress last week refused to act on a bailout plan for the Big Three auto companies. Lawmakers are demanding that company executives first explain how they would reorganize themselves and make the industry viable.

Obama adviser David Axelrod says Congress is sending the right signal to the industry.

The automakers had asked for at least a $25 billion rescue. Obama has supported giving the industry a hand, but has said he would not support a ''blank check.''

    Obama Adviser Issues Warning to Automakers, NYT, 23.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/washington/AP-Obama-Autos.html







The Price of Our Good Name


November 23, 2008
The New York Times

Americans have watched in horror as President Bush has trampled on the Bill of Rights and the balance of power. The list of abuses that President-elect Barack Obama must address is long: once again require the government to get warrants to eavesdrop on Americans; undo scores of executive orders and bill-signing statements that have undermined the powers of Congress; strip out the unnecessary invasions of privacy embedded in the Patriot Act; block new F.B.I. investigative guidelines straight out of J. Edgar Hoover’s playbook.

Those are not the only disasters Mr. Obama will inherit. He will have to rescue a drowning economy, restore regulatory sanity to the financial markets and extricate the country from an unnecessary war in Iraq so it can focus on a necessary war in Afghanistan.

Even with all those demands, there is one thing Mr. Obama must do quickly to begin to repair this nation’s image and restore its self-respect: announce a plan for closing Mr. Bush’s outlaw prison at Guantánamo Bay.

The prison is the premier example of the disdain shown by Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for the Constitution, federal law and international treaties. Most sensible governments cannot see past Guantánamo to even recall America’s long history as a defender of human rights and democratic values.

We are under no illusions. Closing the prison will not be easy, or quick, but it can be done. It does not mean that the United States will set free heinous terrorists. But it may mean that these prisoners will have to be tried on other very serious charges than the ones supposedly for which they were sent to Guantánamo.

That is Mr. Bush’s fault. His decision to authorize the torture of detainees has made it highly unlikely that the evidence collected at Gitmo and the C.I.A.’s illegal prisons around the world would stand up in a real court.

In closing down Guantánamo, there are some basic requirements: The prisoners must be dealt with as openly as possible. Those who are charged here must stand trial in federal courts, not the tribunals created by the disastrous Military Commissions Act of 2006.

It would compound the disaster if, as some suggest, Congress tried to create a new system combining military and civilian justice. We have seen what happens when the government creates special systems to deal with special classes of prisoners.

Human Rights Watch has offered a good template for closing Guantánamo. It includes:

SET A DATE TO CLOSE THE PRISON That announcement would send a powerful signal that the new administration has rejected Mr. Bush’s abusive and unlawful policies. It would make other countries more likely to cooperate. The taint of Guantánamo is so great that right now even close allies will not consider resettling prisoners who should be set free because they committed no crimes of any kind. There may be at least 60 of these detainees at Gitmo. Selected countries might also be willing to take back their own nationals to stand trial.

BEGIN A TRANSPARENT REVIEW OF DETAINEES There are about 250 detainees at Guantánamo Bay. Human Rights Watch sensibly proposes creating a task force run by the Justice Department with input from the Departments of State and Defense and the director of national intelligence to separate out those who may be truly guilty of terrorist acts — a minority — from the larger population who either committed much more minor crimes or no crimes at all.

REPATRIATE DETAINEES WHO ARE NOT TO BE TRIED This must be done carefully. There are believed to be 30 to 50 detainees from places like Algeria and Libya who have justified fears of being abused or tortured if they are sent home. The Obama administration should provide these prisoners with advance notice of plans to repatriate them and give them a chance to contest those plans.

Prisoners with a credible fear of abuse cannot be sent to that fate. They will have to be sent to other countries to live. The best way for the United States to get other governments to cooperate is to accept some detainees for settlement in this country.

TRY THE REST IN FEDERAL COURTS Americans will hear from former members of the Bush administration and supporters of its system of injustice that the federal courts cannot handle these cases because they involve sensitive secrets, or that terrorism is not appropriately handled as a law-enforcement issue.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the federal courts have successfully prosecuted about 100 terrorism cases, and the courts deal routinely with national secrets. The real reason Mr. Bush and his team avoided the federal courts for the Gitmo detainees was that the evidence in so many of these cases is wafer-thin or unusable because it was obtained through coercion and torture.

The world saw more proof of that last week, when Col. Stephen Henley, a military judge at Guantánamo, refused to admit evidence obtained through torture or coercion at the trial of Mohammed Jawad, an Afghan national who is one of the few prisoners at Guantánamo who has been charged and put on trial. Evidence that cannot pass muster in Guantánamo’s kangaroo courts is certainly not going to be admitted by a civilian judge in a duly constituted court of law.

The Jawad case has become emblematic of everything that is wrong with Guantánamo Bay: he was captured in Afghanistan at the age of 16 or 17 and thrown into indefinite detention without hope of eventual release because he allegedly threw a grenade at two American servicemen and an Afghan interpreter. The prosecutor resigned in September, saying he could not ethically proceed, and the judge threw out Mr. Jawad’s confession because it had been tortured out of him by Afghan interrogators.

Does this mean that truly dangerous men will be set free, to go back to plotting more attacks against America? No. But it will require smart legal thinking by the new administration.

Take the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. It is obvious that the confession he made to plotting the 9/11 bombings will not hold up in court. It was obtained through torture. But this prisoner is a suspect in numerous other terrorist attacks, including the murder of the journalist Daniel Pearl and the attack on the U.S.S. Cole. There is an existing 1996 indictment against him for a plot to blow up 12 United States-bound commercial airliners. The evidence in that case was obtained, we presume, legally.

It may be that compromises of this kind will have to be made in other cases as well. It is understandable that some Americans will find that less than satisfying. But it is important to remember that this is the price of Mr. Bush’s incompetent and lawless conduct of the war against terrorism. It is a price worth paying to restore the rule of law and this country’s good name.

    The Price of Our Good Name, NYT, 23.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/23/opinion/23sun1-1.html






If They Can

Change Is Landing in Old Hands


November 23, 2008
The New York Times


AS he sought the presidency for the last two years, Barack Obama liked to say that “change doesn’t come from Washington — change comes to Washington.”

Nearly three weeks after his election, he is testing voters’ understanding of that assertion as he assembles a government whose early selections lean heavily on veterans of the political era he ran to supplant. He showed that in breathtaking fashion by turning to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, his bitter primary rival and the wife of the last Democratic president, for the post of secretary of state.

Mr. Obama will bring pieces of Chicago to the White House in the form of longtime advisers like Valerie Jarrett and David Axelrod. But even after vowing to turn the page on the polarized politics of the baby boom generation, he’s made clear that service in the Beltway wars of the last 20 years is not only acceptable, but in some cases necessary for his purposes.

At the same time, it raises a question: Could the 47-year-old president-elect ultimately find himself pulled toward the Washington folkways he has vowed to surmount?

In Mrs. Clinton’s case, the president-elect was bringing a formidable former rival into his camp, evidently calculating that her political constituency, brains and experience in the White House and Senate outweighed the fact that she had been on what he considered the wrong side in voting to authorize the Iraq war. In office, he would rely on her toughness to execute his diplomatic initiatives — some of which, she argued during the Democratic primaries, would be naïve and ill advised.

The same preference for battle-tested stature was evident in his selection of Tom Daschle to lead the charge for health care reform as health and human services secretary. As the second-ranking Senate Democrat, Mr. Daschle had an up-close look at how President Bill Clinton’s drive for universal coverage fell apart in the early 1990s.

Mr. Obama’s top candidate for attorney general, Eric Holder, lived through the turbulence at the Clinton Justice Department; his leading prospect for budget director, Peter Orszag, now in the Congressional Budget Office, has seen the partisan budget skirmishes of the Clinton and Bush years. His chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, worked in the Clinton White House to achieve passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement that Mr. Obama, as a candidate, criticized. His choice for Treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, is seen as a new-generation choice over Larry Summers, Treasury secretary under Mr. Clinton; still, Mr. Geithner worked at Treasury under three presidents, including Mr. Clinton.

But advisers to Mr. Obama say he is not undercutting his vision of change. Instead, they say, he has concluded that those experiences can be marshaled to improve his odds of achieving his own goals.

“He’s not looking for people to give him a vision,” said Mr. Axelrod, who will be a senior White House adviser. “He’s going to put together an administration of people who can effectuate his vision.”

That breezy formulation disregards the received wisdom of Pennsylvania Avenue. For years, Washington insiders have used the phrase “personnel is policy” for the assumption that the prior loyalties and political tastes of a president’s cabinet and White House staff heavily influence what those appointees are eager, or able, to get done.

Because he personally embodies historic change, Mr. Obama has considerable latitude to eschew symbolic gestures in choosing subordinates. But he also has little choice but to lean on the Clinton presidency’s infrastructure.

In winning 7 of 10 presidential elections from 1968 to 2004, Republicans accumulated and continually replenished a cadre of experienced executive branch officials. Even reform-minded Democrats acknowledge the need for such expertise in a government that has grown increasingly complex, and especially in managing America’s role in the global economy of the 21st century. In the last generation, the only Democratic administration aside from Mr. Clinton’s was that of Jimmy Carter, whom some still fault for relying on an inexperienced inner circle from Georgia.

“You have to be either very young or naïve to believe change begins with erasing the slate,” said William Galston, a top Clinton domestic policy aide who remains outside Mr. Obama’s circle. “The world doesn’t work that way. The way to ensure that nothing changes is to place people in positions of authority who are incapable of effecting change — whatever their good intentions may be.”

Mr. Obama, he added, is “placing an extremely high premium on actually getting the job done.”

That doesn’t answer the question of what the job actually is. Using the “personnel is policy” formulation, some Republicans hope that the combination of Clinton veterans and Mr. Obama’s pledge of bipartisan comity foreshadows centrist compromise on national problems that have long appeared intractable.

“The next couple of years are going to go to the pragmatists,” said Senator Mel Martinez of Florida, a former Republican Party chairman. “The problems we are facing are not amenable to ideological solutions.”

In his health care proposal, to take one notable example, Mr. Obama has opened the door to a cross-party conversation by omitting a government mandate for universal coverage. That earned him attacks from Mrs. Clinton and John Edwards during the Democratic primaries, but avoids one ideological poison pill that Republicans would otherwise target.

Yet some Obama advisers and allies caution against projecting outcomes from the president-elect’s style or appointments — which include transition team members with ties to the lobbying industry that Mr. Obama condemned on the campaign trail. Just as a new manager can improve the won-loss record of a baseball team with familiar players, an Obama spokesman, Robert Gibbs, argued, a new chief executive can produce different results on Pennsylvania Avenue.

In that view, Mr. Obama could adopt Clintonites without Clintonism — at least the incremental Clintonism that marked the former president’s second term.

“Barack Obama never offered himself as an ideologue — he’s a pragmatist and a problem solver,” Mr. Axelrod explained. But he added: “We are not living in a time that allows for incrementalism. His goal is to form bipartisan consensus. I don’t think that goal is more important than achieving a result.”

That mindset helps explain the distinction between Mr. Obama’s post-election phase, so far at least, and Mr. Clinton’s after he defeated the first President Bush in 1992.

In response to federal deficits, President-elect Clinton sidetracked plans for a middle-class tax cut and disappointed some liberal supporters. As the journalist John Harris recounts in “The Survivor,” the “bells of hope” that Mr. Clinton’s team called for across the land on the eve of his inauguration drew a sour response from the columnist Mary McGrory: “The bell-ringing seemed a little pretentious to hail great change — when the evidence mounts that there will be precious little.”

Notwithstanding the economic crisis and the unplanned $700 billion federal bailout this fall, Mr. Obama has given no indication yet that he’s scaling back his plans for expanding health coverage, cutting taxes for the middle class and raising them for investors, or investing in alternative energy and infrastructure.

“We are at a moment that is not familiar to Washington, of learning the difference between a transactional president and a transformational one,” said Andy Stern, a labor leader who in recent years helped fracture the A.F.L.-C.I.O. to create a breakaway “Change to Win” union federation. “What Barack Obama has created by this campaign was not only the idea that we can do big things — but we have to do big things.”

To that end, Mr. Obama aims to mobilize his army of donors and volunteers to sustain political pressure and prevent either the administration or the Democratic Congress from faltering. Aides acknowledge the potential for disappointment if backers conclude that Washington’s version of change becomes “Not so fast” or “No, we can’t.”

“There’s certainly going to be consternation about a lot of decisions that he makes, and understandably so,” said Mr. Obama’s deputy campaign manager, Steve Hildebrand, who’s expected to play a role in mobilizing the Obama forces. “They’re not just going to roll over and do whatever Barack Obama tells them.”

At the same time, allies say, Mr. Obama and his new team don’t plan to roll over for conventional notions of what’s possible in Washington — whatever they’ve done in the past.

“It’s not just the left that demands real change — it’s the average middle-class American,” concluded Senator Charles Schumer of New York, who has led the effort to swell the ranks of Senate Democrats in the last two elections. “Rahm Emanuel knows how much change is needed.”

John Harwood is co-author with Gerald F. Seib of “Pennsylvania Avenue: Profiles in Backroom Power,” published this year by Random House.

    Change Is Landing in Old Hands, NYT, 23.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/23/weekinreview/23harwood.html?hp






Clinton-Obama Détente: From Top Rival to Top Aide


November 23, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The thaw in the resentful relationship between the most powerful woman in the Democratic Party and her younger male rival began at the party’s convention this summer, when Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton gave such a passionate speech supporting Senator Barack Obama that his top aides leapt out of their chairs backstage to give her a standing ovation as she swept past.

Mr. Obama, who was in the first steps of what would become a strategic courtship, called afterward to thank her. By then, close aides to Mrs. Clinton said, she had come to respect the campaign Mr. Obama had run against her. At the least, she knew he understood like no one else the brutal strains of their epic primary battle.

By this past Thursday, when Mr. Obama reassured Mrs. Clinton that as secretary of state she would have direct access to him and could select her own staff, the wooing was complete.

“She feels like she’s been treated very well in the way she’s been asked,” said a close associate of Mrs. Clinton, who like others interviewed asked for anonymity because the nomination will not be formally announced until after Thanksgiving.

Few are predicting that this new relationship born of mutual respect and self-interest will grow into a tight bond between the new president and the woman who will be the public face of his foreign policy, though some say it is not impossible. They argue that a close friendship between the two powerful officials is useful but not essential, and is not a predictor of the success of the nation’s chief diplomat.

While James A. Baker III was extraordinarily close to the first President George Bush and is widely considered one of the most successful recent secretaries of state, Dean Acheson was not a friend of Harry S. Truman and Henry A. Kissinger did not particularly like Richard M. Nixon.

“Two of the nation’s greatest secretaries of state in the modern period, Dean Acheson and Henry Kissinger, were not personally close but were intellectually bonded to their presidents,” said Walter Isaacson, the author of a biography of Mr. Kissinger and the co-author, with Evan Thomas, of “The Wise Men,” a book about America’s postwar foreign policy establishment. “I think that Obama and Clinton could form a perfect partnership based on respect for each other’s view of the world.”

Colin L. Powell, who was President Bush’s first-term celebrity secretary of state, would appear to be a cautionary tale for Mrs. Clinton since his relationship with the president was strained, and he left office an unhappy man. But Mr. Bush’s second-term secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, is generally not viewed as having the success her unusually tight bond with the president might have engendered.

In the Obama-Clinton relationship, advisers say, the relatively smooth nature of their talks about the secretary of state job indicate that both, for now, have a working chemistry. The advisers say that Mr. Obama was clearly interested in bringing a rival under his wing, and that he also recognized that Mrs. Clinton had far more discipline and focus than her husband.

At the same time, Mr. Obama’s advisers said, he had the self-confidence to name a global brand as his emissary to the world. He recognizes, they said, that after Jan. 20, he will have to build the kind of relationship that ensures that foreign leaders know that when Mrs. Clinton speaks, she is speaking directly for him.

“It helps to have a relationship that Bush had with Baker, that’s no doubt true,” said Martin Indyk, a former American ambassador to Israel, who was a supporter of Mrs. Clinton in the primary battles. “But if they are seen as working together effectively, I think that can be easily overcome. I don’t think he would have decided to appoint her if he didn’t want her to be effective.”

One close adviser to Mr. Obama said the president-elect also saw that Mrs. Clinton’s political skills would serve her well in the job, as happened with Mr. Baker and Mr. Kissinger. “They understood that statecraft is politics by another name,” the adviser said.

Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton first spoke after their primary fight on a flight in June to Unity, N.H., their first stage-managed appearance after he won the nomination. As they settled into their seats on his plane, the conversation, according to people on both sides, was far less awkward than they had feared. Over the passing weeks, the relationship gradually improved.

“They got past this long before their supporters and the party activists did,” said one Democrat who is close to both Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton.

After Mrs. Clinton’s speech in support of Mr. Obama at the Democratic convention, she crisscrossed the country tirelessly to campaign for him — so much so that he told aides he was impressed by the sheer number of events she was doing on his behalf.

Mrs. Clinton, it should be said, was herself diligent in advertising how hard she was working for the man who defeated her. When announcing her appearances, her press office included tallies of how many events she had held for Mr. Obama, and in how many states. At some rallies, organizers would distribute “Hillary Sent Me” buttons, as if Mrs. Clinton was being magnanimous by “sending” her followers to vote for Mr. Obama.

But Mr. Obama began calling Mrs. Clinton after some of the events — he dialed directly from his cellphone to hers one day in Michigan and another day in Florida — to check in and thank her for helping. By then, their intense primary fights over policy, which both sides now insist was more about heat than substance, had long receded.

“The reality at the end of the day was, whether it was Iran or health care or some of these other issues, we were always fighting big battles over small differences,” said a senior aide to Mr. Obama, adding that “in a campaign, conflict is what you go to.”

Substantively, the two were at odds over the Iraq war — Mrs. Clinton voted to authorize it and Mr. Obama said he would have opposed it had he been in the Senate then — and to a lesser extent over negotiations with Iran. But although Mrs. Clinton criticized Mr. Obama for being willing to sit down and talk to dictators, he has said he would have a lower-level envoy do preparatory work for a meeting with Iran’s leaders first. Mrs. Clinton has said she favors robust diplomacy with Iran and lower-level contacts as well.

In the weeks just before the election, the relationship between Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton further mellowed, even as she found herself in a startling role reversal with her younger rival. As a celebrity senator and powerhouse on Capitol Hill, she had helped Mr. Obama in his Senate race and offered advice when he first came to Washington; now she was the workhorse for a political phenomenon.

Since the election, Mrs. Clinton has talked to Mr. Obama only a handful of times, even as two close advisers to Mr. Obama who held top positions in the Clinton administration — Rahm Emanuel and John D. Podesta — have served as key negotiators between her and the president-elect on the secretary of state position.

But Mrs. Clinton has talked several times to Michelle Obama about raising a family in the White House and private schools in Washington. On Friday, Mrs. Obama said the two Obama girls, Malia and Sasha, would attend the Sidwell Friends School, just as Chelsea Clinton did.

Jeff Zeleny contributed reporting from Chicago, and Mark Leibovich from Washington.

    Clinton-Obama Détente: From Top Rival to Top Aide, NYT, 23.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/23/us/politics/23hillary.html?hp






Obama Vows Swift Action on Vast Economic Stimulus Plan


November 23, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama signaled on Saturday that he would pursue a far more ambitious plan of spending and tax cuts than anything he outlined on the campaign trail, setting the tone for a recovery effort that could absorb and define much of his term.

In the Democrats’ weekly radio address, Mr. Obama said he would direct his economic team to craft a two-year stimulus plan with the goal of saving or creating 2.5 million jobs. He said it would be “a plan big enough to meet the challenges we face.”

Mr. Obama said he hoped to sign the stimulus package into law soon after taking office on Jan. 20. He is already coordinating efforts with Democratic leaders in Congress, who have said they will begin work next month.

Advisers to Mr. Obama say they want to use the economic crisis as an opportunity to act on many of the issues he emphasized in his campaign, including cutting taxes for lower- and middle-class workers, addressing neglected public infrastructure projects like roads and schools, and creating “green jobs” through business incentives for energy alternatives and environmentally friendly technologies.

In light of the downturn, Mr. Obama is also said to be reconsidering a key campaign pledge: his proposal to repeal the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. According to several people familiar with the discussions, he might instead let those tax cuts expire as scheduled in 2011, effectively delaying any tax increase while he gives his stimulus plan a chance to work.

“The news this week has only reinforced the fact that we are facing an economic crisis of historic proportions,” Mr. Obama said in his address. “We now risk falling into a deflationary spiral that could increase our massive debt even further.”

His address, a video of which was made available on YouTube, was part of an effort to calm financial markets roiled by the failure of an outgoing president and a lame-duck Congress to come up with a plan to lift the economy and restore investor confidence.

On Monday, Mr. Obama plans to introduce his economic team, starting with his Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner. News that Mr. Geithner, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, would get the job helped send the stock market up by nearly 500 points on Friday after days of sharp losses.

Former Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers is to be the director of the National Economic Council in the White House, the president’s principal economic adviser and policy coordinator, according to an Obama aide.

The economic team will also include Peter R. Orszag, the head of the Congressional Budget Office, who will be the next White House budget director.

Mr. Summers, who served as a campaign adviser to Mr. Obama, has advocated for a forceful stimulus plan in recent newspaper columns, saying the federal government should be doing more, not less, in areas like health care, energy, education and tax relief. Mr. Obama seemed to echo those thoughts in his radio address.

“We’ll be working out the details in the weeks ahead,” Mr. Obama said, “but it will be a two-year, nationwide effort to jumpstart job creation in America and lay the foundation for a strong and growing economy. We’ll put people back to work rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, modernizing schools that are failing our children, and building wind farms and solar panels, fuel-efficient cars and the alternative energy technologies that can free us from our dependence on foreign oil and keep our economy competitive in the years ahead.”

Mr. Obama’s announcement came after market declines and the prospect of a collapse by automakers and other storied companies had sparked growing criticism last week that he was sitting on the sidelines.

Although advisers say they have not begun to fill in the details, Mr. Obama’s proposal would go beyond the $175 billion stimulus plan he proposed in October. That included a $3,000 tax credit to employers for each new hire above their current work force and billions in aid to states and cities.

Separately, Democratic leaders in Congress have been calling for a robust economic recovery initiative of up to $300 billion, including major investments in infrastructure to create jobs. President Bush has refused to consider a package so large, but even some conservative economists have said $300 billion is the minimum needed to spur the economy.

“There are no quick or easy fixes to this crisis, which has been many years in the making,” Mr. Obama said Saturday. “And it’s likely to get worse before it gets better.

“But January 20th is our chance to begin anew, with a new direction, new ideas and new reforms that will create jobs and fuel long-term economic growth.”

Some Republicans might be won over should Mr. Obama decide not to repeal the Bush tax cuts for those making more than $250,000. By simply letting the cuts expire after 2010, as the law now provides, Mr. Obama would in effect delay the tax increase that high-income taxpayers would have faced in the next year or two under his original plan.

That could have economic and political benefits. Mr. Obama would not be open to the charge from Republicans and other critics that he is raising taxes in a recession, which many believe is counterproductive. His Republican presidential rival, Senator John McCain of Arizona, had raised that argument during the campaign.

By letting the tax cuts expire, Mr. Obama would get the benefit of higher revenues in 2011 and beyond to help finance his promised health care plans without having to propose raising taxes on the affluent and without the Democratic majority in Congress having to take a vote on a tax increase.

Also, Mr. Obama is under far less pressure in the short term to raise revenues to help finance campaign promises because the seriousness of the economic crisis has brought bipartisan agreement that the government must do whatever it can to spur economic growth.

Mr. Bush and the Republicans who controlled Congress in 2001 agreed that his tax cuts would expire after 10 years as a way of minimizing the projected revenue losses in future years, to comply with Congressional budget rules and to help pass the legislation. The president repeatedly called for making the tax cuts permanent, but no action was taken.

The 2.5 million jobs that Mr. Obama promises to save or create over two years is a gross number. With about 1.2 million jobs lost this year, and more projected to be lost in 2009, Obama advisers expect that job losses will outnumber new jobs next year. For 2010, the advisers are projecting the reverse if Mr. Obama’s plans become law.

Nearly every spending program and tax cut that Mr. Obama proposed during the campaign could well end up in the stimulus package, advisers indicated. For example, Mr. Obama’s proposals to invest in energy alternatives and advanced “green” technologies will most likely be part of the package, rather than proposed later in his administration.

In effect, the stimulus will be seen by the Obama administration as “a down payment,” as one adviser put it, on Mr. Obama’s entire domestic platform, allowing him to try to take maximum advantage of the first year of his presidency. Traditionally, the first year is the one in which modern presidents have achieved most of their major victories.

Some economists welcomed Mr. Obama’s plan, though they said it was difficult to assess without full details. The focus on creating and saving jobs made sense, they said, given the deterioration of the job market.

“The unemployment rate is soaring,” possibly into the double digits, said Kenneth S. Rogoff, an economics professor at Harvard.

The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, said in a statement, “We will soon finally have a leader and partner in the White House who recognizes the urgency with which we must turn around our economy, and I look forward to working with him and the new Congress to do so.”

Republicans in the next Congress could still block a big stimulus package in the Senate, as Mr. Obama seemed to recognize.

“I know that passing this plan won’t be easy,” Mr. Obama said. “I will need and seek support from Republicans and Democrats, and I’ll be welcome to ideas and suggestions from both sides of the aisle.

“But what is not negotiable is the need for immediate action.”

Carl Hulse and Mark Landler contributed reporting.

    Obama Vows Swift Action on Vast Economic Stimulus Plan, NYT, 23.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/23/us/politics/23obama.html?_r=1&hp






Qaeda Deputy Notes Obama Victory, With Insult


November 20, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — In a propaganda salvo by Al Qaeda aimed at undercutting the enthusiastic response of Muslims worldwide to the recent American election, Osama bin Laden’s top deputy condemned President-elect Barack Obama as a “house Negro” who would continue a campaign against Islam begun by President Bush.

Appealing to the “weak and oppressed” around the world, the Qaeda deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, sought to dampen enthusiasm for Mr. Obama’s election around the globe by saying that the “new face” of America only masked a “heart full of hate.”

The Qaeda leader described the victory by Mr. Obama, who has called for a troop withdrawal from Iraq, as the American people’s “admission of defeat in Iraq.” But he warned Mr. Obama that United States risked a reprise of the Soviet Union’s failures in Afghanistan if the president-elect followed through on pledges o deploy thousands more troops to that country.

And in a blunt personal attack on the new president, Mr. Zawahri painted Mr. Obama as a hypocrite and traitor to his race, unfavorably comparing him to “honorable black Americans” like Malcolm X, the 1960s black Muslim leader.

The Qaeda video drew extensively on archival footage of Malcolm X, and much of the message juxtaposes a still picture of Mr. Obama wearing a yarmulke during a visit to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem with a photo of Malcolm X kneeling in prayer at a mosque.

The video shows Malcolm X speaking about the docile “house Negro,” who he said “always looked out for his master,” and the “field Negro,” who was abused by whites and was more rebellious. And the message sharply insults Mr. Obama, along with two prominent black diplomats, the former and current secretaries of state, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice.

“And in you and in Colin Powell, Rice and your likes, the worlds of Malcolm X (may Allah have mercy on him) concerning ‘House Negroes’ are concerned,” the voiceover says, in a English-language transcript that Site said was provided by As-Sabbah. In the original Arabic, Site said, the words used are “house slave.”

The video by Mr. Zawahri, an Egyptian physician who has long been Al Qaeda’s second ranking operative, contains no specific warning of an attack against the United States. But the Qaeda leader tells his followers that America “continues to be the same as ever, so we must continue to harm it, in order for it to come to its senses.”

American officials dismissed the new video as a desperate tactic by a terror group that suffered a defeat in the global war of ideas when the United States elected a black president with a Muslin name,

“Al Qaeda’s way of dealing with the change that the election of black American president represented is to insist that nothing has changed,” said one counterterrorism official in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The video bears the logo of As-Sahab, Al Qaeda’s media arm, and American officials said they believed that the video was authentic.

Lawrence Wright, the author of a book on Al Qaeda, “The Looming Tower,” called the tape an attempt by Al Qaeda at “spin control” as it struggles to assimilate an election that challenges its worldview.

Mr. Wright said both radical and mainstream Muslim commentators had predicted that Senator John McCain would win the presidential election and that little would change.

“I’m sure Al Qaeda has been struggling over how to react to the Obama election, and this is the result,” he said.

Mr. Wright said that for more than a year, messages from Qaeda leaders have included positive messages about Malcolm X in what he described as “a desperate and ineffective strategy” to appeal to African-American Muslims.

Mr. Wright, who has long followed the career of Mr. Zawahri, an Egyptian, said that Qaeda leaders closely followed Western news and polling, and that he believed they might be reacting to a Pew Research Center poll last year showing that African-American Muslims are the subset of American Muslims least hostile to Al Qaeda. The poll showed that 63 percent of foreign-born Muslims in this country had a “very unfavorable” view of Al Qaeda, compared to 36 percent of African-American Muslims.

The high quality of the English subtitles and the references to Malcolm X in the tape may reflect the influence of Adam Gadahn, an American-born Qaeda spokesman who has appeared in past productions of As-Sahab under the name “Azzam the American.”

Ronald Walters, a political scientist at the University of Maryland, said he wondered whether Al Qaeda was responding to the aggressive tone of Mr. Obama’s campaign pledges to go after the terrorist network and kill Mr. bin Laden.

Dr. Walters said that if the tape was an attempt to reach black Americans or the Third World, it was “ham-handed” and futile.

“You’re talking about someone who looks like the rest of the world, and that’s got to be threatening to them,” he said. “On 9/11, Al Qaeda didn’t make any racial distinctions in who it killed, and people remember that.”

    Qaeda Deputy Notes Obama Victory, With Insult, NYT, 20.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/20/world/middleeast/20qaeda.html






If Clinton Chosen, Campaign Debts Would Wait


November 20, 2008
The New York Times


Vendors still owed money from Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign could be out of luck for years should she become secretary of state.

Mrs. Clinton still had about $7.9 million in outstanding bills from her presidential campaign at the end of September, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Philippe Reines, a spokesman for Mrs. Clinton, said she has since whittled it to $7.6 million, not including the $13.2 million she loaned her campaign out of her own pocket, which officials have said she does not expect to be repaid.

“Senator Clinton has said that paying off her campaign vendors is a priority for her,” Mr. Reines said in a statement, “and she remains committed to that goal.”

But the Hatch Act, which governs the political activities of federal employees, including cabinet officials, normally prohibits the solicitation and receipt of political contributions.

Mrs. Clinton’s situation is unusual because she is collecting money not for an active campaign but an old one, her failed presidential bid.

Anthony Guglielmi, a spokesman for the United States Office of Special Counsel, which enforces the Hatch Act, cited a 2001 advisory opinion issued by the agency that stipulated a federal employee seeking to retire campaign debt incurred before federal employment would be barred from personally soliciting the donations, though the “campaign organization of a candidate who later becomes a federal employee may continue to organize and promote fundraising events to retire campaign debt.”

In other words, Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign committee could technically continue to raise money towards retiring her debt but with little involvement on her part — which could severely hamper those fund raising efforts.

The advisory opinion said that the former candidate cannot “assist in promoting the event and may not otherwise actively participate in such events.”

On the other hand, it said that the former candidate could attend the fund-raising events, “be recognized and briefly state his appreciation to all whose efforts contributed to the retirement of his campaign debt” but any participation beyond “this passive role” would violate the law.

There is the obvious question of appearances, however, which would complicate any efforts by Mrs. Clinton to continue to raise money.

“The problem might come in potential conflicts of interests,” said Jim Kahl, a former deputy general counsel of the F.E.C. and a former official in the Office of Special Counsel.

Campaign finance experts said if she joins the Obama cabinet, Mrs. Clinton would almost certainly shutter her Senate re-election fund-raising committee for 2012, as well as her political action committee, HillPac. They predicted her presidential campaign committee would be largely dormant.

Another outside possibility is that Mrs. Clinton could successfully petition the election commission to forgive her debts, citing the fund-raising restrictions facing her as secretary of state. The commission would have to evaluate whether Mrs. Clinton had exhausted all reasonable means to pay down her debt.

But Mr. Kahl said he believed it was “highly unlikely” that the commission would grant such a request, considering federal rules would still allow her campaign committee to continue to raise money, albeit under some constraints.

“These debt settlements can go on for years,” Mr. Kahl said.

Indeed, former Senator John Glenn, Ohio Democrat, struggled for more than two decades to pay off more than $3 million in debt he had left over from his 1984 presidential run until the F.E.C. finally granted him a reprieve.

Mrs. Clinton may also be able to negotiate down some of her debts, but campaign finance rules that limit her ability to do so to prevent vendors from being able to provide gifts to candidates that exceed donation limits.

Campaign finance experts were hard-pressed to recall any cabinet official facing a similar situation to what Mrs. Clinton would be confronting.

“There have been members of Congress appointed to cabinet positions,” said Lawrence H. Norton, a former general counsel to the F.E.C. “If they had campaign debt, it wasn’t as notorious as hers is and probably not as substantial.”

According to Bob Biersack, a commission. spokesman, former Gov. Bruce Babbitt of Arizona still had a debt of more than $128,000 from a presidential bid in 1988 when he was appointed to President Clinton’s cabinet as interior secretary in 1993.

Campaign finance records show he did not raise any money to pay down his presidential debt while he was in the administration until 2001. Mr. Babbitt’s presidential campaign was shuttered in 1998, but it is unclear from the records exactly what became of his debt.

At this point, most of the outstanding debts owed by Mrs. Clinton are to political consultants, as opposed to small businesses from primary and caucus states, whom campaign officials said they worked to pay back first.

The largest outstanding bill, according to the most recent campaign finance records, was $5.3 million owed to her pollster, Mark Penn.

The next biggest remaining debt was $831,414 to MSHC Partners, a direct mail firm.

Kenneth Gross, a campaign finance lawyer with Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, said there could easily be even less palatable scenarios for Mrs. Clinton’s creditors: “It’d be worse if she were on the Supreme Court.”

    If Clinton Chosen, Campaign Debts Would Wait, NYT, 20.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/20/us/politics/20clinton.html






Obama Reaffirms Targets on Climate Change


November 19, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama confirmed on Tuesday that he plans to stick to the aggressive targets he had set earlier for fighting climate change and for spurring the development of clean-energy technology, saying, “Delay is no longer an option.”

The remarks were striking for being made in what was billed as a “surprise taped statement,” before a bipartisan conference on climate change in Los Angeles that included governors who have battled the Bush administration by trying to pass stricter pollution standards than federal guidelines require.

Officials from at least 10 other countries were also present, and Mr. Obama addressed his comments to them when he said, “Solving this problem will require all of us working together.” He said he had asked lawmakers who will attend a climate-change conference next month in Poland to report back to him.

Mr. Obama’s remarks were sure to be welcomed by Europeans and others who have been urging the administration to take tougher measures ever since President turned his back on the Kyoto Protocol on climate change in 2001.

Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group, said the call for legislation to cap emissions, one of the first specific policy statements Mr. Obama has made since his election, was a particularly important signal that he will, as he promised during the campaign, make global warming a top priority.

“Now is the time to confront this challenge once and for all,” Mr. Obama said.

“Denial is no longer an acceptable response,” he added. “The stakes are too high. The consequences, too serious.”

It appeared significant that Mr. Obama, who has stayed largely out of sight at his offices in Chicago since being elected, chose to use such strong language on global warming so early in his transition period. Still, it remains unclear that the current financial crisis and grim economic outlook will allow him to move as quickly as he might like.

Perhaps with those considerations in mind, Mr. Obama cast his planned energy-development measures as vital to economic revival, by generating an estimated five million “green jobs,” as well as critical to national security, by reducing United States dependence on foreign oil.

Mr. Bush, early in his first term, had insisted that the science of climate change needed to be confirmed, and he then resisted global measures that would exempt big developing countries like China and India from making economically painful sacrifices like those being demanded of rich countries. But he later acknowledged that human actions were linked to climate change, and was host to an international conference on the issue.

“Few challenges facing America and the world are more urgent than combating climate change,” Mr. Obama said. “The science is beyond dispute and the facts are clear. Sea levels are rising. Coastlines are shrinking. We’ve seen record drought, spreading famine, and storms that are growing stronger with each passing hurricane season.”

He commended by name governors who had been particularly active on global warming — including those of Kansas, Florida, Illinois, California and Wisconsin — and said that many businesses were also “doing their part by investing in clean energy technologies.”

“But too often,” Mr. Obama said, “Washington has failed to show the same kind of leadership.”

“That will change when I take office,” he continued. “My presidency will mark a new chapter in America’s leadership on climate change that will strengthen our security and create millions of new jobs.”

A tougher line on global warming by the United States was virtually ensured in the new year; Mr. Obama’s Republican rival for the presidency, Senator John McCain, of Arizona, shared many of his views on the matter.

Both men, unlike President Bush, support a federal cap-and-trade system not unlike the approach taken by the European Union. In such a system, companies and industries are assigned emissions limits and must purchase ”carbon permits” to exceed those limits. Those permits typically come from investments in projects that reduce pollution, like planting trees.

Mr. Obama promised to set “strong annual targets that set us on a course to reduce emissions to their 1990 levels by 2020, and reduce them an additional 80 percent by 2050.”

That is a more aggressive target than Mr. McCain had set; he aimed for 60 percent reductions by 2050.

The European Union has said it will reduce its overall carbon dioxide emissions by at least 20 percent by 2020, and by half by 2050.

Mr. Obama vowed to invest $15 billion a year to support private clean-energy initiatives in solar and wind power, biofuels, clean coal technologies and nuclear power.

He also promised to work more closely with the states’ governors in fighting climate change. When California sought to set its own limits on automobile emissions of carbon dioxide, the main human-generated greenhouse gas, the Bush administration turned it down.

Both Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain had said they would grant the state a waiver allowing it to go ahead.

Mr. Obama concluded his remarks on Tuesday with this: “When I am president, any governor who’s willing to promote clean energy will have a partner in the White House. Any company that’s willing to invest in clean energy will have an ally in Washington. And any nation that’s willing to join the cause of combating climate change will have an ally in the United States of America.”

    Obama Reaffirms Targets on Climate Change, NYT, 19.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/19/us/politics/19climate.html






Obama Meeting With McCain in Chicago


November 18, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama was meeting on Monday with another former adversary, sitting down in Chicago with Senator John McCain to explore areas where the two might make common legislative cause.

The private meeting with the Republican senator, at the Obama transition offices in where the president-elect has been rapidly assembling a new team, comes four days after he met with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, sparking speculation that he might nominate her for secretary of state.

A day later, Mr. Obama met with another former Democratic rival for the presidential nomination, Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, a former ambassador to the United Nations who might now be in competition with Mrs. Clinton for the State Department post.

The meeting on Monday in Chicago, coming just under two weeks after the election, represented an unusually early effort at reconciliation after a sometimes bitterly fought campaign.

The president-elect and the Arizona senator hold relatively similar views on issues like climate change and ethics reform where cooperation might be fruitful. More urgently, Mr. Obama might be hoping for help in pushing for a new economic stimulus package that faces stiff Republican resistance.

Also taking part was to be Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a trusted McCain ally, and Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, who is to be Mr. Obama’s White House chief of staff.

Advisers to both men have said that they did not expect Mr. McCain to be offered a job in the new administration.

Mr. Obama said in an interview broadcast Sunday on CBS’s “60 Minutes” that there would be at least one Republican in his cabinet; he would not say when he might announce his first cabinet nominations, except to say “soon.”

While the Obama-McCain meeting came earlier than some past efforts at reconciliation between newly elected presidents and their vanquished foes, the president’s father, George H.W. Bush, met on almost exactly the same date — Nov. 18 — with Bill Clinton after losing to him in the 1992 election.

Mr. Clinton later called the meeting “very helpful,” though he found that his host wanted to talk almost exclusively about foreign affairs while he had hoped to pick the outgoing president’s brain on domestic affairs.

In 2000, it was not until Dec. 19 that President-elect George W. Bush called on Vice President Al Gore, though that was just a week after the Supreme Court resolved the Florida recount debacle; the two spent less than 20 minutes together at the Naval Observatory, the official vice-presidential residence, where the elder Bushes had once lived.

(President-elect Bush also called that day on Mr. Clinton at the White House. This time it was Mr. Clinton who guided the conversation to foreign affairs for most of a two-hour talk. It was unclear whether anyone brought up Mr. Bush’s vows, during the campaign, to “restore honor and dignity to the White House.”)

In Chicago, Mr. Obama might be mindful of the fact that former rivals can also be future foes. In 2005, Senator John Kerry did not wait even a week after the inauguration of President Bush before launching into barbed attacks on his health care plan as “window dressing.”

    Obama Meeting With McCain in Chicago, NYT, 18.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/18/us/politics/18transition.html?hp







Race and Place: How the South Voted


November 17, 2008
The New York Times


To the Editor:

Re “For South, a Waning Hold on National Politics” (front page, Nov. 11):

William Faulkner famously wrote: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” If so, we as a nation can rejoice in the fact that a secessionist state-of-revolt — politically waged against a strong federal government committed to the common good — has run its course in most of the country, with parts of the suburban South now breaking away from the Old Confederacy.

Having lived most of my life in the South, I have often felt like an alien in my own country. While the Southern political strategy of divide and conquer gained ground in recent decades by appealing to our fears, not to our hopes, the country lost its way and now faces spiraling declines.

Yet, with this most historic election, we as a people found the will to build upon and not to deny the fitful struggles of the past, so that this nation — one and indivisible — can rise again.

Barbara Allen Kenney
Santa Fe, N.M., Nov. 13, 2008

To the Editor:

I was raised in Lamar County, Ala., and have lived here most of my life. I voted for Senator John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin. I campaigned for them and prayed that they might win.

I made my decision not to vote for Senator Barack Obama not because of the color of his skin but because of the content of his character, the background of his politics, his ideas and his intentions.

I solemnly cling to God and fervently uphold my Second Amendment right to own a gun, believing that my faith is best placed first in Someone larger than myself and second in the ability to stop anyone who would reduce my freedom to naught. I am opposed to abortion, same-sex marriage, larger and socialist government, and “open minds” that are closed to common sense.

There are racists here in Lamar County, as in New York and every county in our nation. Most likely, by asking the same questions, you could have gotten the same responses you got here from any other location in America.

Ed White
Vernon, Ala., Nov. 11, 2008

To the Editor:

As a lifelong liberal Democrat from the deepest Deep South, I feel very qualified to comment on your article about the region and the role race played in its strong support for the McCain-Palin ticket. For years, the “Solid South” voted a straight Democratic ticket, because Republicans were Yankees, carpetbaggers and scalawags.

Richard M. Nixon, and later Ronald Reagan, made inroads, but the biggest switch has come through the extreme right wing of the party, with its links to fundamentalist churches and a lingering fear of intrusive government that dates back to Reconstruction.

I venture that if Colin Powell had been the Republican nominee running against a white Democratic opponent, he would have had numbers as strong as John McCain’s, because the only “R” factor that really matters here is the one that appears next to the name on the ballot.

Tara Moore Skelton
Ocean Springs, Miss., Nov. 12, 2008

To the Editor:

Your article from Vernon, Ala., about race and voting patterns begins, “Fear of the politician with the unusual name and look did not end with last Tuesday’s vote in this rural red swatch where buck heads and rifles hang on the wall.”

As a resident of Alabama, I am painfully aware of the abounding ignorance and racial strife here. While this, regrettably, is the view of the majority, I find it unfair to categorize all white citizens here under the banner of “buck heads and rifles.”

This is a damaging generalization that undercuts the efforts of those, including me, who are trying to escape the derogatory image. In future articles describing the South, I hope viewpoints besides those of the disillusioned majority are shown.

Zachari Swiecki
Tuscaloosa, Ala., Nov. 11, 2008

    Race and Place: How the South Voted, NYT, 17.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/17/opinion/l17south.html






Obama Resigns Senate Seat, Thanks Illinois


November 16, 2008
Filed at 10:43 a.m. ET
The New York Times


CHICAGO (Reuters) - President-elect Barack Obama resigned his seat in the Senate on Sunday to focus on his transition to the White House while thanking his home state of Illinois for launching his political career.

"Today, I am ending one journey to begin another," Obama said in a statement, describing his job representing Illinois as one of the highest honors of his life.

"I am stepping down as senator to prepare for the responsibilities I will assume as our nation's next president," he said. "But I will never forget, and will forever be grateful to, the men and women of this great state who made my life in public service possible."

Obama, who will be sworn in as president on January 20, grew up in Hawaii and spent part of his childhood in Indonesia. He moved to Illinois as an adult to work as a community organizer.

His resignation as senator means he will not participate in this week's post-election session on Capitol Hill that could address the ailing economy and struggling auto industry.

Obama's successor in the Senate will be appointed by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Anthony Boadle)

    Obama Resigns Senate Seat, Thanks Illinois, NYT, 16.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/washington/politics-us-usa-obama-senate.html






Parents’ Night With the President


November 16, 2008
The New York Times



IN a town abuzz about all things Barack Obama, the policy wonks and government insiders have been whispering and wondering about who will be who in his incoming cabinet. But among power parents in the nation’s capital, there is yet another burning question.

Where will the Obama girls go to school?

Michelle Obama toured at least two of Washington’s most prestigious private schools last week — Sidwell Friends School and Georgetown Day School — and touched off a frenzy of dreaming, gossiping and well-mannered jockeying among the Washington elite. Maret School, another exclusive academy, is also believed to be on the shortlist for the future first children, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7.

With annual tuitions that can exceed $28,000, these liberal-leaning schools have long brimmed with the scions of senators, representatives, financiers, diplomats, scholars, lawyers, journalists and even a few American presidents.

Notable parents currently include several Obama advisers. Eric H. Holder Jr., a top contender for attorney general, has children at Georgetown Day. Susan E. Rice, a foreign policy adviser, has a child at Maret. And Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., the vice president-elect, has grandchildren at Sidwell.

The school competition has transfixed a city where high-profile personalities and institutions often place a premium on access to political power. But the Obamas’ decision is also being closely watched for what it might reveal about the parental sensibilities of the president-elect and his wife.

Will the Obamas choose the Quaker-run Sidwell, established in 1883 and described by some as the Harvard of the three schools? (Sidwell has already educated children of two sitting presidents, Theodore Roosevelt and Bill Clinton.)

Will they pick Georgetown Day, which became Washington’s first integrated school in 1945 and is known for its informality (students call teachers by their first names) and its emphasis on diversity and social justice? Or will they select Maret, a smaller, more intimate academy founded in 1911 that would allow the first family to keep both children on one enclosed campus?

The Obamas and their aides declined to discuss the family’s inclinations, and no one knows how their choice may ultimately affect Washington’s social landscape. City officials say the Obamas have not visited any public schools here, and their daughters, who attend private school in Chicago, are not expected to switch course.

But those are only details. All across town, parents are already dreamily envisioning casual chats with the president and first lady at soccer practices and PTA meetings, while little girls are swooning over the prospect of White House sleepovers with the daughters of the nation’s first black president.

“With this particular president, there’s so much excitement,” said Natalie Wexler, a novelist whose daughter caught a glimpse of Mrs. Obama at Sidwell last Monday. “Anything or anyone connected to him is going to be exciting.”

History, of course, is not the only consideration.

Michael Kazin, a historian of American politics at Georgetown University, said some parents and administrators are focused on the prestige the Obamas would bring to any school and the students and families affiliated with it.

“No matter what the ideology of the president who is elected or what his party is, the privileged people in Washington always want to get a little more privileged,” said Mr. Kazin, who has a daughter at Maret.

“It’s clear that many parents who send their kids to these schools would want the Obamas to go there,” he said. “They want their particular niche of the community to be enhanced.”

School administrators, trustees and politically-connected parents bristle at the notion that they have done any hard-core lobbying for the Obama children, though some say they have offered the family some friendly counsel. Indeed, Mrs. Obama has already reached out to several prominent people with first-hand experience with the schools.

She called Senator Hillary Clinton the day after the election to discuss the joys and challenges of raising children in the White House, Clinton aides said.

And Beth Dozoretz, a prominent Democratic donor, said that Mrs. Obama asked her about Sidwell a couple of months ago. She said she encouraged Mrs. Obama to consider the school, but emphasized that the city has several excellent private institutions, including Georgetown Day.

Mrs. Dozoretz also passed along a note from her 10-year-old daughter, Melanne, who was thrilled about the prospect of an Obama presidency and the possibility that the girls might end up at her school. (“I love Sidwell because I learn so much there,” Melanne wrote in the note addressed to Mrs. Obama.)

“Of course, anybody would be happy to have that family in their school,” Mrs. Dozoretz said. “This is the first family. But I really feel they will do what’s right for their family. It’s a very personal decision.”

Aides to Mr. Obama and his wife declined to comment on whether Mr. Biden or any other Obama advisers linked to the three schools were quietly (or loudly) rooting for their favorites.

Carl Sferrazza Anthony, a historian who has written about first families, said that public fascination with the school decision-making process bloomed in the 1970s when President Jimmy Carter made a point of sending his daughter, Amy, to a public school in Washington. The Clintons drew enormous attention — and some criticism — when they enrolled Chelsea at Sidwell. (She was in public school before Mr. Clinton became president.)

“Those decisions are now often weighed with the thought of what kind of message they will send or what they will symbolize,” Mr. Anthony said. “But the truth of the matter is that most of the presidents’ families were from the elite ruling class. So their kids tended to go to private schools.”

The Obama girls attend the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, a progressive private institution that has about 1,700 students and is larger than any of the schools under consideration here. Annual tuition runs as high as $21,480.

That has not deterred Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and his education chancellor, Michelle Rhee, from lobbying for Washington’s public schools. The officials have presented several options to the Obama family, a city spokeswoman said.

“Our goal is to have D.C. public schools be as serious an option as any charter or private schools, not just for the Obamas but for any family making the decision," Mr. Fenty said last week on MSNBC.

Mr. Fenty, however, sends his children to private school, though not to Sidwell, Georgetown Day or Maret. (Chancellor Rhee’s children attend public school.)

And while the decision between public and private can sometimes be an agonizing one for some black professionals, who worry about isolating their children, it is not known to have been an issue for the Obamas.

Washington is typically a socially segregated city, but the schools the Obamas are considering appeal to the elite across color lines. (Mr. Holder and Ms. Rice, the two Obama advisers, are African-American.)

Sidwell administrators say its student body is 13 percent black. Georgetown Day and Maret officials say their schools are 20 percent African-American. (Officials at the Laboratory Schools in Chicago say the population there is about 10 percent black.)

And for many black parents and students, the buzz has been thrilling. Dylan McAfee, an African-American girl in second grade at Georgetown Day, met Mrs. Obama last Monday and has been star-struck ever since. “I touched her hand and she smelled like cherries,” she said.

Malia and Sasha Obama are the talk of the school and the town, said Dylan’s mother, Anita LaRue-McAfee, who is a lawyer.

It’s the first time, she said, that she has seen Washington’s power people utterly agog over two black schoolgirls.

“Here are two little girls that everyone is fawning over, and they look like my kid,” Ms. LaRue-McAfee said. “That’s why I’m excited.”

Caption research was provided by Ashley Parker.

    Parents’ Night With the President, NYT, 16.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/16/fashion/16school.html?hp






Lose the BlackBerry? Yes He Can, Maybe


November 16, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Sorry, Mr. President. Please surrender your BlackBerry.

Those are seven words President-elect Barack Obama is dreading but expecting to hear, friends and advisers say, when he takes office in 65 days.

For years, like legions of other professionals, Mr. Obama has been all but addicted to his BlackBerry. The device has rarely been far from his side — on most days, it was fastened to his belt — to provide a singular conduit to the outside world as the bubble around him grew tighter and tighter throughout his campaign.

“How about that?” Mr. Obama replied to a friend’s congratulatory e-mail message on the night of his victory.

But before he arrives at the White House, he will probably be forced to sign off. In addition to concerns about e-mail security, he faces the Presidential Records Act, which puts his correspondence in the official record and ultimately up for public review, and the threat of subpoenas. A decision has not been made on whether he could become the first e-mailing president, but aides said that seemed doubtful.

For all the perquisites and power afforded the president, the chief executive of the United States is essentially deprived by law and by culture of some of the very tools that other chief executives depend on to survive and to thrive. Mr. Obama, however, seems intent on pulling the office at least partly into the 21st century on that score; aides said he hopes to have a laptop computer on his desk in the Oval Office, making him the first American president to do so.

Mr. Obama has not sent a farewell dispatch from the personal e-mail account he uses — he has not changed his address in years — but friends say the frequency of correspondence has diminished. In recent days, though, he has been seen typing his thoughts on transition matters and other items on his BlackBerry, bypassing, at least temporarily, the bureaucracy that is quickly encircling him.

A year ago, when many Democratic contributors and other observers were worried about his prospects against Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, they reached out to him directly. Mr. Obama had changed his cellphone number, so e-mail remained the most reliable way of communicating directly with him.

“His BlackBerry was constantly crackling with e-mails,” said David Axelrod, the campaign’s chief strategist. “People were generous with their advice — much of it conflicting.”

Mr. Obama is the second president to grapple with the idea of this self-imposed isolation. Three days before his first inauguration, George W. Bush sent a message to 42 friends and relatives that explained his predicament.

“Since I do not want my private conversations looked at by those out to embarrass, the only course of action is not to correspond in cyberspace,” Mr. Bush wrote from his old address, G94B@aol.com. “This saddens me. I have enjoyed conversing with each of you.”

But in the interceding eight years, as BlackBerrys have become ubiquitous — and often less intrusive than a telephone, the volume of e-mail has multiplied and the role of technology has matured. Mr. Obama used e-mail to stay in constant touch with friends from the lonely confines of the road, often sending messages like “Sox!” when the Chicago White Sox won a game. He also relied on e-mail to keep abreast of the rapid whirl of events on a given campaign day.

Mr. Obama’s memorandums and briefing books were seldom printed out and delivered to his house or hotel room, aides said. They were simply sent to his BlackBerry for his review. If a document was too long, he would read and respond from his laptop computer, often putting his editing changes in red type.

His messages to advisers and friends, they say, are generally crisp, properly spelled and free of symbols or emoticons. The time stamps provided a window into how much he was sleeping on a given night, with messages often being sent to staff members at 1 a.m. or as late as 3 a.m. if he was working on an important speech.

He received a scaled-down list of news clippings, with his advisers wanting to keep him from reading blogs and news updates all day long, yet aides said he still seemed to hear about nearly everything in real time. A network of friends — some from college, others from Chicago and various chapters in his life — promised to keep him plugged in.

Not having such a ready line to that network, staff members who spent countless hours with him say, is likely to be a challenge.

“Given how important it is for him to get unfiltered information from as many sources as possible, I can imagine he will miss that freedom,” said Linda Douglass, a senior adviser who traveled with the campaign.

Mr. Obama has, for at least brief moments, been forced offline. As he sat down with a small circle of advisers to prepare for debates with Senator John McCain, one rule was quickly established: No BlackBerrys. Mr. Axelrod ordered everyone to put their devices in the center of a table during work sessions. Mr. Obama, who was known to sneak a peek at his, was no exception.

In the closing stages of the campaign, as exhaustion set in and the workload increased, aides said Mr. Obama spent more time reading than responding to messages. As his team prepares a final judgment on whether he can keep using e-mail, perhaps even in a read-only fashion, several authorities in presidential communication said they believed it was highly unlikely that he would be able to do so.

Diana Owen, who leads the American Studies program at Georgetown University, said presidents were not advised to use e-mail because of security risks and fear that messages could be intercepted.

“They could come up with some bulletproof way of protecting his e-mail and digital correspondence, but anything can be hacked,” said Ms. Owen, who has studied how presidents communicate in the Internet era. “The nature of the president’s job is that others can use e-mail for him.”

She added: “It’s a time burner. It might be easier for him to say, ‘I can’t be on e-mail.’ ”

Should Mr. Obama want to break ground and become the first president to fire off e-mail messages from the West Wing and wherever he travels, he could turn to Al Gore as a model. In the later years of his vice presidency, Democrats said, Mr. Gore used a government e-mail address and a campaign address in his race against Mr. Bush.

The president, though, faces far greater public scrutiny. And even if he does not wear a BlackBerry on his belt or carry a cellphone in his pocket, he almost certainly will not lack from a variety of new communication.

On Saturday, as Mr. Obama broadcast the weekly Democratic radio address, it came with a twist. For the first time, it was also videotaped and will be archived on YouTube.

Lose the BlackBerry? Yes He Can, Maybe, NYT, 16.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/16/us/politics/16blackberry.html



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