Saturday, February 28, 2009

Obama's Budget and the Fight Ahead (excerpts)

"The New and Improved "Us vs. Them" Narrative" (Al Giordano):
Okay, here's what I think just happened: The President has reframed the narrative from the stale dysfunction of Democrats demonizing Republicans and Republicans demonizing Democrats and stepped over that puddle of slime to create a more authentic narrative: The American people vs. the special interests (and note that the ones he mentions are universally from the corporate sector).

And let's keep in mind that the interests he mentions - "the insurance industry... the banks and big student lenders... the oil and gas companies..." - have their hooks and donations just as deeply into Congressional Democrats as they do for Congressional Republicans. They've all just been put on notice: oppose the reforms he's pushing and be portrayed as siding with those corporate interests against the American people.

This is is quite huge. It hasn't been done by a president since FDR. And the populist campaign rhetoric by Edwards, Clinton and even Obama in 2008 aside did not rise to this level of clarity by a longshot. Really, it hasn't been done this way by any Democratic presidential candidate since Oklahoma Senator Fred Harris ran in 1976.
"Battle Lines Quickly Set Over Planned Policy Shifts--Massive Budget Marks Largest Ideological Swing Since the Reagan Era" (WaPo, page one):
Battle lines are rapidly hardening over the broad policy shifts, massive deficits and tax increases President Obama unveiled last week in his first budget request, a 10-year spending plan thick with political friction points.

Yesterday, the president used his weekly radio and Internet address to declare his budget plan a fundamental reordering of federal priorities that would deliver "the sweeping change that this country demanded when it went to the polls in November."

The budget proposal "reflects the stark reality of what we've inherited: a trillion-dollar deficit, a financial crisis and a costly recession," Obama said. He warned off lobbyists and other critics, who, he said, "are gearing up for a fight as we speak."

"My message to them is this: So am I," he said. "The system we have now might work for the powerful and well-connected interests that have run Washington for far too long, but I don't."
"Flailing Republicans pray for meltdown" (Andrew Sullivan-Sunday London Times):
Although Obama clearly signaled early on in the transition that he wanted to tackle entitlements that will cripple the US fiscally in the future, his budget showed none of it. The only marginally credible spending cuts were tied to withdrawal from Iraq (an iffy proposition) and the only attempt to rein in the mounting costs of healthcare for the elderly was an increase in premiums for the very rich and . . . cost controls for an expanded public sector in health.

Many fiscal conservatives, prepared to give Obama a pass on short-term spending, felt gobsmacked by this insouciance. No wonder Hillary Clinton was dispatched as her first duty to placate the Chinese. If Obama breaks the bank the way he is intending to, they’d better keep lending the US money or the dollar will fall into an abyss.

Hence the one sliver of Republican hope. They need an epic failure from Obama to give them some chance of regaining power. They need a second Great Depression, intensified by a long-term fiscal failure. It’s just tragic – for both right and left – that the only serious path back from the brink for the Republicans is the implosion of their own country.
"Paul Krugman praises President Obama's new budget proposal" (via CROOKS AND LIARS):
Elections have consequences. President Obama’s new budget represents a huge break, not just with the policies of the past eight years, but with policy trends over the past 30 years. If he can get anything like the plan he announced on Thursday through Congress, he will set America on a fundamentally new course.

The budget will, among other things, come as a huge relief to Democrats who were starting to feel a bit of postpartisan depression. The stimulus bill that Congress passed may have been too weak and too focused on tax cuts. The administration’s refusal to get tough on the banks may be deeply disappointing. But fears that Mr. Obama would sacrifice progressive priorities in his budget plans, and satisfy himself with fiddling around the edges of the tax system, have now been banished.

"Behind the Get-Out-of-Iraq Plan"

The Daily Beast:
During the campaign, President Barack Obama discussed a 16-month withdrawal from Iraq, but yesterday he revealed a 19-month plan. Where’d those three extra months come from? According to the Associated Press, he added them at the request of field commanders in Iraq. Obama chose the 19-month plan over 16-month and 23-month alternatives after a dozen working groups and 10 interagency meetings. Obama’s plan also backloads the withdrawals, rather than removing one brigade a month as he had discussed during the campaign. Politico says “one reason [for the changes] was that presidential advisers calculated that whatever option Obama chose, even the most passionate in the anti-war camp would most remember that he ended the war — not when.”

David Horsey: "Obama's tax plan is nothing but Class Warfare!"

David Horsey, (Seattle P-I).

"Obama Outlines Goals for Afghanistan, Iraq" (with video)

PBS "NewsHour," with video (18:58):
MR. LEHRER: Mr. President, welcome.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Thank you so much for having me, Jim.

JIM LEHRER: You have just been with 2,000 U.S. Marines. Some have been in harm's way, some are about to go in harm's way, Iraq or Afghanistan, under orders from you as the commander in chief. Was this difficult for you this morning?
BARACK OBAMA: Well, it wasn't difficult because my main message was, number one, thank you. And the easiest thing for me to do is to express the extraordinary gratitude that I think all Americans feel for young men and women who are serving in our armed forces. And the second was to be very clear about our plans in Iraq, and that we are going to bring this war to an end.

But I will tell you that the most sobering things that I do as president relate to the deployment of these young men and women. Signing letters of those who have fallen in battle, it is a constant reminder of how critical these decisions are and the importance of the Commander in Chief, Congress, all of us who are in positions of power to make sure that we have thought through these decisions free of politics and we are doing what's necessary for the safety and security of the American people.

JIM LEHRER: These specific Marines that were in this hall that you were talking to, as you said, you said in your speech that some of these kids are going to be going to Afghanistan soon as part of the...

BARACK OBAMA: That's exactly right.

JIM LEHRER: And you also said in your speech that it's - one of the lessons of Iraq is that there are clearly defined goals. What are the goals for Afghanistan right now?

BARACK OBAMA: Well, I don't think that they're clear enough, that's part of the problem. We've seen a sense of drift in the mission in Afghanistan, and that's why I've ordered a head-to-toe, soup-to-nuts review of our approach in Afghanistan.

Now, I can articulate some very clear, minimal goals in Afghanistan, and that is that we make sure that it's not a safe haven for al-Qaida, they are not able to launch attacks of the sort that happened on 9/11 against the American homeland or American interest. How we achieve that initial goal, what kinds of strategies and tactics we need to put in place, I don't think that we've thought it through, and we haven't used the entire arsenal of American power.

We've been thinking very militarily, but we haven't been as effective in thinking diplomatically, we haven't been thinking effectively around the development side of the equation, you know, what are we doing to replace poppy crops for Afghans that allow them to support themselves. Obviously, we haven't been thinking regionally, recognizing that Afghanistan is actually an Afghanistan/Pakistan problem, because right now the militants, the extremists who are attacking U.S. troops are often times coming over the border from Pakistan.

So that's why we've assigned an envoy, Richard Holbrooke, to work comprehensively in the region, and this review that we're talking about should be completed by the middle of next month. I will then be reporting to the American people and Congress about how exactly we are going to be moving forward in Afghanistan.

We now have to move forward. It's my job to come up with the best possible approach given some of these mistakes that have been made, and the fact that the situation right now has deteriorated badly in Afghanistan.

JIM LEHRER: As you know, Mr. President, there's a traditional language for these kinds of conflicts, and its victory, or its loss, you win a war or you lose a war. Is there a victory definition for Afghanistan now or is that part of your thinking at this moment?

BARACK OBAMA: I think there are achievable goals in Afghanistan, and the achievable goal is to make sure it's not a safe haven for terrorists, to make sure that the Afghan people are able to determine their own fate. One of the things that I think we have to communicate in Afghanistan is that we have no interest or aspiration to be there over the long term. There's a long history, as you know, in Afghanistan of rebuffing what is seen as an occupying force, and we have to be mindful of that history as we think about our strategy.

Our goal in the region is to keep the American people safe. And I think that the more we can accomplish that through diplomacy, and the more we can accomplish that by partnering with actors in the region, rather than simply applying U.S. military forces, the better off we're going to be.

But I don't want to pre-judge this review. That's why I've asked - we're looking at a wide range of view points that are being brought together, and a set of recommendations will be provided to me shortly.

JIM LEHRER: But in a kind of non-policy, public point of view, this all came about, we're in Afghanistan because of 9/11.

BARACK OBAMA: That's exactly right.

JIM LEHRER: And that was almost eight years ago.


JIM LEHRER: So why are we still there?

BARACK OBAMA: Well, my assessment is that we took our eye off the ball. I mean Iraq was an, obviously, enormous diversion of resources and attention. Now, we've had a long debate about the wisdom of having gone into Iraq in the first place, I don't want to relitigate that. But just objectively, there's no doubt that had we stayed more focused on Afghanistan and the problems there, and had we thought through more effectively Pakistan and its role in this whole process of dealing with extremists, that we would probably be further along now than we are, but, you know, that's history.

We now have to move forward. It's my job to come up with the best possible approach given some of these mistakes that have been made, and the fact that the situation right now has deteriorated badly in Afghanistan.

JIM LEHRER: But unlike what you talked about today, of course, is that a, quote, "exit" from Iraq, you're not even there yet in terms of when - if and when and how - we might exit from Afghanistan, if I hear you correctly?

BARACK OBAMA: I think until we have a clear strategy, we're not going to have a clear exit strategy. And my goal is to get U.S. troops home as quickly as possible without leaving a situation that allows for potential terrorist attacks against the United States.

Keep in mind something that is important, and that is, Afghanistan is not a U.S. mission, it's a NATO mission, and one of the things that I think has been lost is the sense of international partnership in dealing with the problem of international terrorism.

Part of our goal is, when I go to the NATO summit in April, to have a conversation with our NATO allies, many of whom have put troops into Afghanistan, have made enormous sacrifices, have lost their own young men and women in the battle there, to figure out how do we coordinate more effectively to move the ball forward.

JIM LEHRER: On Iraq specifically, you drew applause and shouts from some of the Marines when you went through what was accomplished in Iraq, particularly Saddam Hussein, you went through a couple of other things. In general, should the Iraq mission now be seen as, quote,"successful?"

BARACK OBAMA: Well, I think what we can say unequivocally is that our military succeeded in every mission that was given to them. They consistently performed above and beyond expectations under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. I don't think that we can rightly say that the strategy cooked up by our civilian leadership, with respect to either going in in the first place or how the war was managed, was a success. But I think that we can say without equivocation that our military was successful, and if we get it right over the next few months and years, that there is the strong possibility that we can leave Iraq as a stable, peaceful partner in the region.

A lot of the ultimate outcome in Iraq now is going to depend on how the political issues that have dogged Iraq for a very long time get resolved, and frankly we have not made the kind of progress over the last year to two years despite the surge.

JIM LEHRER: Bottom line question, of course, Mr. President is, what was accomplished, has it been worth the 4,200 American lives, 35,000 wounded, maybe 100,000 Iraqis who have been killed, to accomplish what has been accomplished?

BARACK OBAMA: Well, you know, I don't want to look backwards. As you know, I opposed this war, I did not think it was the right decision, but I don't want to in any way diminish the enormous sacrifices that have been made by our men and women in uniform.

I think the fact that Saddam Hussein is gone is a good thing. I think the fact that Iraq has now carried out a series of successful elections with diminished violence each time, I think that's a good thing. A lot of the ultimate outcome in Iraq now is going to depend on how the political issues that have dogged Iraq for a very long time get resolved, and frankly we have not made the kind of progress over the last year to two years despite the surge - we have not made the progress that needs to be made on the hydrocarbons law, the oil law, on making determinations about central government versus provincial government power.

There are a whole host of political issues between the various factions and between Sunni, Shia and Kurd in Iraq that still have to be worked on and that's why I emphasized it in the speech. We've got to redouble our efforts when it comes to the diplomatic side if we're going to be successful.

JIM LEHRER: You've caught some heat as you know, Mr. President, today from some of your Democratic colleagues in Congress saying wait a minute, we're not supposed to have 50,000 troops still there or whatever. What is your -- the criticism being that the withdrawal is too slow and it isn't as dramatic as they had expected, your colleagues, your supporters had expected. How do you answer that?

BARACK OBAMA: Well, what I would say that is that they maybe weren't paying attention to what I said during the campaign. I said that we were going to take 16 months to withdraw our combat troops from Iraq. We are now taking 18 months rather than 16. I said that we would have a residual force, a transition force that could continue to stand up Iraqi security forces, provide them logistical support and training and also make sure that we are protecting U.S. civilian and military personnel.

I said that we would have a counterterrorism capacity to make sure that al-Qaida or other extremist organizations did not try to take advantage of a diminished U.S. presence there. So everything that I said I would do during the campaign I am now doing.

Obviously because of consultation with commanders on the ground, something I also said we would do, there are some modifications to the plan. But this is basically the thrust that I have been talking about for several years and I think it is a responsible solution. It arrives at -- it was arrived at out of close consultation with commanders on the ground, the CENTCOM Commander David Petraeus, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary Gates, but also my secretary of state, my national security adviser, individuals who like me opposed the idea of going into Iraq in the first place, and yet we were able to arrive at a very strong consensus that has the support of our military brass, the folks on the ground as well as our diplomats and our analysts. I think it is the right way to go.

President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama

I feel an enormous obligation to get it right, which is why I say the last thing I'm thinking about is either applause or cat calls from the public or, you know, the cable stations as I'm making these decisions.

Obligation to the troops

JIM LEHRER: You're not the least bit uneasy over the fact as John McCain and John Boehner, the Republican leader of the House, have praised your plan while the Democrats are criticizing it?

BARACK OBAMA: You know, I don't - I don't make these decisions based on polls or popularity. I make the decisions based on what I think is best. This is consistent with what I said during the campaign. The fact - if anything I think people should be interested in the fact that there's been a movement in the direction of what I thought was going to be the right plan in the first place.

JIM LEHRER: Go back to the first - to where we began, Mr. President, where you are, the setting here. You're with some young people and some older people as well who...

BARACK OBAMA: One thing that's always striking when you talk to these extraordinary young people, they are awfully young, and they look younger to me every year.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Yeah, but the issue of making the decision to put them in harm's way, and when you ran for president it was discussed off and on all the time of course during the campaign, but now you're actually having to do it. How difficult is it? I don't mean - I asked it in a different way to begin with, but just as - in general, how difficult is it for you so far?

BARACK OBAMA: You know, it will keep you up at night. I feel an enormous obligation to get it right, which is why I say the last thing I'm thinking about is either applause or cat calls from the public or, you know, the cable stations as I'm making these decisions. I feel a profound obligation to these troops and their families to make sure that the decisions I'm making are the best possible decisions given the best possible information that I have, having canvassed the widest range of viewpoints in order to keep the American people safe.

And I think that's what we've done with respect to our Iraq decision. I think that's what we're aiming for with respect to our strategy in Afghanistan. And I hope that I never start feeling as if these decisions are easy. They should never be easy. I should always lose a little sleep when I'm making these decisions.

JIM LEHRER: In a more general way, it's slightly more than five weeks now that you've been President of the United States, and we've been talking about Iraq and Afghanistan. We could go on and on and also talk about a lot of other things.

BARACK OBAMA: I've got a full plate.

JIM LEHRER: You got a full plate.

BARACK OBAMA: Yeah.I am invigorated by the challenges. But look, we've got a lot of big stuff ahead of us. Not every decision we're going to make is going to be perfect. Not every plan that we lay out is going to work out exactly as we intended.

JIM LEHRER: Do you feel burdened by the full plate?

BARACK OBAMA: I think that we are at an extraordinary moment that is full of peril but full of possibility and I think that's the time you want to be president. I think there's a sense that right now we are having to make some very big decisions that will help determine the direction of this country - and in ways large and small the direction of the world - for the next generation. And I won't lie to you. I wish that they weren't all having to be made at once. It would nice to be able to stage them on one another.


BARACK OBAMA: Let's - you know, we'll take, you know, the economy first and then we'll take Afghanistan after that and then Iraq after that and Iran after that and, you know, the banking system somewhere out there, autos, you know. It would be wonderful if we didn't have all the planes in the air at the same time.

But having said that, I meant what I said in my joint address to Congress. I think that there's - there's something about this country where hard times, big challenges bring out the best in us. This is when the political system starts to move effectively. This is when people start getting out of the petty and the trivial debates. This is when the public starts paying attention in ways that they - you know, when things are going well, you know, they've got better things to do than to think about public policy, you know.

So I am - I am invigorated by the challenges. But look, we've got a lot of big stuff ahead of us. Not every decision we're going to make is going to be perfect. Not every plan that we lay out is going to work out exactly as we intended. But if we get the big stuff right then, you know, the ship of state is a - is a big tanker and, you know, you can't simply reverse direction on the economy or any of these things overnight, but you can start moving in a better trajectory so that five years, 10 years down the road you can say, you know, what, because of good decisions now our kids are safer, more secure, more prosperous, more unified than they were before.

JIM LEHRER: And in a word, you feel like you're clicking now?

BARACK OBAMA: Well, I - I feel like our team is making very good decisions based on the best possible information we have and the - and the best options available to us. And that's all I can ask of myself or of them is that we're making the best decisions based on what is good for the American people. And this is a human enterprise, it's not going to be flawless, but - but I think that - I think it's fair to say that you haven't seen an administration who's had to come in and juggle this much stuff of such large import this quickly and we're getting a lot of stuff done under that kind of pressure and, and I'm very proud of the team and what we've done so far.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. President, thank you very much.

BARACK OBAMA: Thank you. Great to talk to you, Jim.
Howie P.S.: Using these remarks today, Al Giordano defends Obama from the charge by Chris Bowers, Matt Stoller and Christina Siun O'Connell during the campaign that he would leave troops in Iraq indefinitely.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Amy Goodman: "Too many troops left in Iraq?" (video)

MSNBC, video (04:35).

Howie P.S.: Amy Goodman applies her own "stress test" to Obama's proposals for Iraq and Afganhistan.

Obama's Budget: Left, Right or Center? (audio)

Banner image: President Obama makes his point to Lawrence Summers (L), head of the National Economic Council, and Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag (2nd L), during a Saturday budget meeting in the President's first week in office. Rahm Emanuel, White House Chief of Staff, is seated to Obama's left.

"Left, Right and Center" (KCRW, audio-29:00):
Hosts: Arianna Huffington,Tony Blankley, Matt Miller and Robert Scheer. Is Obama's budget the most ambitious economic plan in decades? Does it lay out the building blocks for the 21st century economy? Could it do more to reduce defense spending? Also, Citibank's latest bailout. Could the banks be Obama's Achilles heel? Plus, Jindal's stunning debut and the future of the GOP.
Howie P.S.: The panelists apply their own "stress tests" to Obama's budget, as well to his other proposals. They can't agree whether Obama's policies put him to the "left," the "right" or to the "center."

Live video of "Obama announces end of Iraq combat mission"

MSNBC, video (28:48).

Howie P.S.: Now that the live feed is over, video above is the archived version.

"New MoveOn Director Backs The President, For a Change"

Ari Melber (The Nation):
Justin Ruben had a good meeting with President Obama last week.

As the new executive director of, the 35-year-old Texan was invited to a small White House gathering for allies on February 18, where he brought a message from his five million members to the new President. "This is a moment to go big," he said, citing daily conversations with MoveOn activists. "We understand that's not going to be easy, but people are mobilized and willing to fight to make it happen. That's really what I carried with me into that room," he said. Ruben outlined MoveOn's goals, its Obama strategy and its mechanisms for grassroots accountability in an exclusive interview with The Nation this week, his first extensive discussion with the media since taking the helm of one of the largest progressive organizations in the country.
As executive director, Ruben must now take a network that has long battled bad ideas – impeaching Clinton, invading Iraq, gutting Social Security – and adapt it to supporting and broadening the administration's agenda. "We're in this amazing position now where we get to fight for stuff," he says. MoveOn's four "core" policy areas, decided by members during December house meetings, are economic recovery, universal health care, climate change and ending the Iraq war. "Finally our top priority," he enthused, "is winning real substantive changes that will make a difference in the lives of everyday Americans."

That change agenda tracks closely Obama's, obviously, and excludes some popular liberal issues that the administration has sidestepped. Politico's Andie Coller noted, for example, that MoveOn's new agenda does not address "holding the Bush administration accountable; fighting for gay rights and LGBT equality; and reforming campaigns and elections." And while MoveOn loudly led the battle against the Iraq "surge," Ruben said he not expect ending the war Afghanistan, where Obama is deploying additional troops, to make the priority list. The "overwhelming priority" is still Iraq, Ruben explains, and while his members are concerned about Afghanistan, they tend to "differ on what ought to be done about it."

Some critics complain that the organization has already swapped its independence for incumbent boosterism. "Clearly MoveOn has completed its morph into an Obama Cheerleading Squad" said John Stauber, a liberal critic of the group and longtime corporate gadfly.

Ruben, who has organized for labor, trade and environmental groups, thinks people have the ability to back incumbents and hold them accountable.

"Having spent a lot of time with MoveOn members, I think folks are loyal first and foremost to their vision of the country. They are tremendously hopeful about Obama," he acknowledged, while stressing how netroots activists gather a rich range of views on policy debates. "In the end they will come to their own judgment, and it will be informed by what he says, and what we say, and what they read in the New York Times and blogs -- and certainly Moveon members are pretty independent. They're not going to believe it just because we said it, or because the president said it."

While MoveOn is more democratic and member-driven than many liberal interest groups and virtually all foundations, the decision to tap Ruben was still made by five people, without any input from the group's millions of members. The board, made up of MoveOn's founders and the group's popular outgoing executive director, Eli Pariser, simply tapped Ruben from his post as organizing director. In our interview, Ruben was sympathetic to the idea that the members who provide the labor and money that fuels MoveOn should have more influence, but he argued that they control important decisions in other ways. It is worth quoting at length:

Ruben: The thing that's so interesting that a lot of folks don't get -- it wasn't obvious to me until I came work for MoveOn – [is that] you can only work on the stuff that is right on the tip of people's tounges, right on the forefront of their consciousness -- the things that people are looking for a way to have an impact on. As an organization, a huge part of our focus is just oriented on just trying to figure out what those things are -- what people want to work on and how we can give them opportunity to make biggest impact, much more so than any other organization I've ever been a part of. That's our DNA. It's our whole core operating model. In that sense, I've found MoveOn to be more member-driven than formally democratic institutions that I've been part of.

The Nation: Like unions?

Ruben: Yes, or other more local grassroots groups that work by consensus. Because there are always power dynamics in situations -- things are formally democratic but you can heave leaders who aren't seeking out what the great majority of folks are most passionate about. That said, technology is a powerful tool for aggregating opinions and allowing people to make decisions together. I am really interested in how we can keep using technology to make MoveOn more member-driven….When I think about role that members play in the organizaiton, I want to see more ways we can tap into ingenuity, skills -- a lot of them are smarter than me and know lots of stuff that I don't know. The question is more than just allowing people to click and sign a petition, make phone calls or organizing a rally… Can they be formulating policy? Finding opportunities for other MoveOn members to get involved? We have a small staff, [so] we tended to not be very process intensive. Historically, that's something that people like about us: "I don't have to do lots of meetings; I can do it right from my house; Let me know exactly when there's something to do." [We want] to do more, but without the trappings of process that an end up excluding folks.

In a blog post last August, Ruben wrote that he could envision MoveOn adding "more formal democratic mechanisms," noting that members could not "vote for the board" or "fire the staff" or "frame the questions" in emails, and such reforms might make the group stronger. For now, the focus is on trying to "devolve more responsibility to shape our campaigns on the ground," Ruben said, though he doesn't know if members will vote on the next executive director.
In the end, it is hard to balance moderated grassroots energy with coordinated national campaigns, or to toggle from White House meetings with the President to hammering the administration with independent pressure. But for a relatively young, self-organized political organization, these are good problems to have.

Friday Roundup (excerpts, with video)

"President Obama's 2010 Budget" (MSNBC, video-08:13).

"President Obama Releases Budget" (NY Times video-02:26):

Reporter Peter Baker on President Obama's new budget blueprint, which estimates a stunning deficit of $1.75 trillion for the current fiscal year.
"Obama's budget upsets oil and gas industries" (Dallas Morning News):
President Barack Obama's first budget wallops the oil and gas industry by eliminating $31.5 billion in tax breaks while blaming the administration of former President George W. Bush for perpetuating the nation's dependence on fossil fuels.

If Congress agrees to Obama's proposals, the long list of tax breaks that would disappear would affect both big and small oil and natural gas producers.

Both reacted strongly against the proposals.
"What’s on the Chopping Block?" (Washington Wire-WSJ):
President Barack Obama’s budget outline includes a variety of pledges to cut spending, some more narrowly targeted than others.
The Department of Education figures it will save about $4 billion a year with direct loans to students, rather than subsidizing loans made by banks and other lenders. It also promises to end federal education programs that can’t prove their effectiveness in a new review – specifically, programs with “narrowly focused curricula, staffing choices or school choices.”
"Senate to investigate CIA's actions under Bush" (LA Times):
The Senate Intelligence Committee is preparing to launch an investigation of the CIA's detention and interrogation programs under President George W. Bush, setting the stage for a sweeping examination of some of most secretive and controversial operations in recent agency history.
"Watch Live: Conservative Political Action Conference"(TPM video).

Howie P.S.:
My favorite quote this morning from the Conservative Political Action Conference was a gentleman saying that Sarah Palin had him at "Lock and load!"

"Anger and Aggregation The P-I's Online Plan and Its Discontents"

Eli Sanders (The Stranger):
The view from the executive conference room at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer looks westward, out over the train tracks that run behind the newspaper's headquarters on Elliott Avenue, over Puget Sound and the ferries and freighters and sailboats that traverse it, over islands and foothills and, finally, at the wall of white-and-blue peaks that make up the Olympic Mountains.

If you turn away from this quintessential Seattle view, you will see, on the wall opposite, a giant map of the world. It's the kind of newspaper office space, filled with a sense of dominion far beyond its confines, that harks back to an earlier time, when big-city dailies were, indeed, masters of all they surveyed. Powerful, barely challenged conduits of information and commerce, they were regarded much like those railway tracks once were: essential pieces of American life, impossible to do without.
On February 18, beginning at 9:00 a.m., Ken Riddick, the vice president for digital media at the Hearst Corporation, took up residence in this seductive space and held a series of 25 meetings with P-I journalists, each lasting about 20 minutes. The topic: What to do with the P-I's website now that Seattle's oldest daily newspaper—founded in 1863 and currently the longest-operating business in Washington State—is all but certain to meet its end in mid-March.

Riddick is a former photojournalist with a well-trimmed beard, balding head, and slight accent that struck some as Southern, or maybe Texan; he came to these conversations wearing a suit and black cowboy boots. His shirt and tie—well, they are remembered in different ways by the P-I reporters who met with him, and this may be because these reporters, accustomed to asking questions and taking note of everything, found themselves on this day in the opposite position. They were there to pitch Riddick their ideas for an online-only P-I, even though it was far from guaranteed that they would be part of such a venture.

Assuming Hearst continues with the process of closing down the print edition by mid-March, it's easy to imagine an online-only P-I staffed with as few as 20 people. Or even fewer. As a result, at this point nearly all of the paper's roughly 170 employees expect to be out of a job. No surprise, then, that there had been considerable ambivalence among the reporters when an e-mail went out on February 12 offering them the opportunity to sign up to meet "Ken Riddick from corporate."

"There are people with plenty of ideas here," said Athima Chansanchai, who has been at the paper four years and writes for the Arts & Entertainment section. But, she added, "What makes [Riddick] think people are going to give them away for free?"

This sentiment may have accounted for the fact that the afternoon before Riddick's arrival, the sign-up sheet to meet with him was far from full. However, fear of unemployment is a powerful thing. By the next morning, there wasn't an open slot to be had—and even Chansanchai, who, in the end, would prefer to keep working in Seattle as a journalist, had put herself on the list. "I was like, 'What the hell could it hurt?'" she explained.

"You feel a bit like it's an audition," said Mike Lewis, who has been at the paper eight years and writes the Under the Needle column. He signed up to meet with Riddick in the hopes of staying in journalism at a time when there are few jobs to be had in the industry. "You know that if they do keep an online publication—and my suspicion is that they will—that they're going to keep many fewer people."

Regina Hackett, the P-I's art critic for 27 years, described the tension this way: "He was sitting at the big table. The big Mussolini table. There's the view of the water. I'm taking in the waves. And then I turn around and see this warm open face... But he's a reporter. We all have that warm and open face, when we're working... And so I know I gotta be on my game. It's match, set, point."

O fficially, both inside and outside the P-I headquarters, all plans for the online-only P-I are discussed in purely hypothetical terms—if at all. But it's increasingly hard to imagine that an online-only launch isn't going to happen. "[Riddick] told me that they're operating as if we're going to go forward," said Andrea James, a business reporter who has been at the P-I since 2006. "So I didn't get the feeling that Hearst has a big question mark over its head and doesn't know what it's doing."

Hearst did not respond to a request to make Riddick available for an interview. But according to more than a half-dozen P-I reporters who participated in meetings with him that day, he was resolutely cagey.

"He was mainly receiving my ideas and input," said political columnist Joel Connelly, who has worked at the P-I since the summer of 1973 and is one of the paper's more loquacious storehouses of Northwest knowledge. True to form, Connelly used some of his 20 minutes with Riddick to take the man from corporate over to the window and tick off the names of every single one of the Olympic peaks in the distance. Later, Connelly regaled Riddick with tales of flush times when, at the P-I's expense, he traveled the entire length of the United States-Canada border with a photographer and reported back from the journey.

Connelly did not ask Riddick what the future holds. "Since you can't forecast the future, I wouldn't ask him to," he explained. James, the business reporter, recounted: "Ken was really clear that he wasn't going to tell me what the strategy was."

But even if Riddick didn't explicitly talk strategy, he did share some interesting information during the meetings. In addition, some important, highly visible changes to the website are happening already, without fanfare or broad internal discussion. Based on those changes, as well as on the accounts of Riddick's meetings and accounts of the planning currently under way at the P-I, it's possible to get a sense of what an online-only P-I will probably look like.

In a significant departure from longstanding P-I practice, the new website, as currently conceived, will become, in part, an aggregator of links to interesting stories and blog posts elsewhere. If that sounds familiar, it should. The model has been pioneered by sites like, which takes an eclectic, opinionated, and often celebrity-focused approach to information gathering, mixing reports from its tiny staff with blog posts by notable actors and politicos, photo albums of fabulous people, and a constant stream of links to the hot news stories of the day (almost all originally reported by other publications).

"I do think that they are trying to implement some things that Huffington Post and other online sites are implementing," said one P-I reporter who had a meeting with Riddick.

When told that it seems the P-I website will become some sort of aggregator-blog hybrid, much like the small, Seattle-focused website—which itself is partly modeled on Huffington Post—Connelly made an affirmative sound, a sort of high-pitched, throaty "Mmmmhmmm." It was unclear whether he was confirming the new direction or merely endorsing the concept. "I don't want to jinx what I hope happens by making a prediction of what will happen," he explained.

In any case, some of it is happening far sooner than most people thought it would. On February 20, just two days after the Riddick meetings, the P-I home page prominently linked, in a style usually reserved for its own top stories, a post by the West Seattle Blog about the costs of this winter's big snowstorm. When readers clicked this link, they ended up on a separate blog whose content the P-I does not control, rather than a story by the P-I's own staff. Within a few hours, the P-I's home page also featured links to,, and Slog, The Stranger's news and arts blog.

Some P-I reporters were furious; they hadn't been warned in advance that this was coming—yet another sign that a small core of online decision makers is parting ways with the rest of the paper. "This is a HUGE change," wrote one P-I reporter via e-mail. Another P-I reporter, also via e-mail, wrote: "Sheesh. What's next? Linking to the [Seattle] Times?" And from a third: "This is the first time the P-I has given away its position of authority in such a clear way." It is, in fact, hard to overstate how big a transition this aggregation of outside links represents for a daily newspaper that, until now, has operated on the belief that local news should be conveyed only through its own trusted reporters.

But the change fits with something else that's been becoming more and more clear lately: Hearst wants to hold on to the P-I brand, and the online traffic that comes with it, but it's ready to jettison a lot of old notions about what makes a newspaper work. It will likely retain some of the P-I's more popular blogs (like the Microsoft blog, the crime-focused Seattle 911 blog, and the catchall Big Blog), and perhaps some of its expensive but popular talent (like Pulitzer Prize–winning cartoonist David Horsey and sports columnist Art Thiel). And it will probably keep a small group of reporters who will focus on core local beats and breaking news, as well as hold on to its user-generated content (like the frequently less-than-insightful—but free!—reader blogs and story "Sound Offs").

When all is redesigned and reoriented, the online-only P-I probably won't feel like the website of a traditional, midsize-city newspaper. One P-I reporter said that Riddick talked favorably about how Yahoo!, the massive search engine and portal, links only a few news stories on its home page. The lesson: It doesn't take much staff to run a high-traffic online publication. (On February 23, Hearst named a former Yahoo! vice president as its new special assistant to the CEO for digital media.)

W hat would be the point of moving the P-I's website in this direction? Increased traffic, for one. The online P-I already draws a considerable number of readers—more than 2.8 million page views for its blogs alone in January, and half a billion hits overall last year—but if it can transform itself into a "sticky" entry point into the online universe of Northwest news and opinion (in the sense that people tend to come there and stay a while before moving on, which advertisers like), then it has a chance to draw even more readers and, presumably, revenue.

In other words, by unmooring itself from the idea that its own content is king, drastically lightening its staff load, and mixing up its presentation, the new online P-I is going to try to float to the top of the Northwest link heap. Many of the small, local news blogs linked by the P-I home page will love the traffic and will therefore solicit links from the P-I, creating a nice positive feedback loop for the online-only staff. Larger blogs (such as Slog, which had 1.58 million page views in January) will also benefit, though to a lesser degree.

One big unanswered question is whether the new, aggregating P-I will ever link its former print rival, the Seattle Times. (According to one P-I reporter who met with Riddick, he said it probably would.) But if enough Northwest readers choose to always begin their online information-gathering journeys at the P-I—even though the links there may quickly take them to Lifehacker or West Seattle Blog or Slog or even the Times—the publication could return, in an online way, to the role that traditional newspapers used to enjoy: powerful gatekeeper.

Could Hearst actually make money this way? Probably not—at least initially. The Huffington Post, launched in May of 2005, still relies on venture capital to operate. On top of that, the P-I currently lacks something that the Huffington Post has had from the beginning: a clear identity as a tech-savvy and left-leaning virtual commons. The P-I's identity is more muddled: oldest newspaper in town, more left-leaning of the two dailies, scrappy but still somewhat stodgy, ward of the giant Hearst corporation since 1921, relative online neophyte. Hearst would essentially be playing the role of venture capitalist behind this work-in-progress, losing money for now on a product that might provide significant returns in the future.

In a way, this would make sense; whatever Hearst stands to lose by running a slimmed-down, online-only P-I, it is likely to be far less than the $14 million Hearst lost on the print and online P-I last year alone.

But the inevitable try-it-and-see dynamic of the effort also has its drawbacks, particularly for journalists looking for stability in an unsettled economy. "I'm not saying I would even take the job, frankly," said Chansanchai. "They would have to give me much more security than, 'Oh, we'll just try this out for a couple of months.'" Hackett, noting that she stands to get a full year's severance pay if she's laid off from the P-I in March, said: "I'm going to forego that and work for free for a year? No... I'm not sure I need them. I mean, I'm sure I don't need them. Do I want to be part of this? It depends on what form it takes." After all, with a year's severance, she could make a run at launching her own blog.

In fact, the low cost of starting up online ventures has inspired a number of conversations among P-I employees about websites they might launch together. "It's a contingency plan," said Kery Murakami, who has been at the P-I nine years and is helping lead one of the efforts. "The reality is we can't wait until they formally decide not to do anything, because then it's too late." However, in the event that Hearst launches an online-only P-I but doesn't hire some or all of the contingency planners like Murakami—well, they can easily turn their "contingency" plans into blueprints for a rival site.

The problem is funding, even for a "nonprofit" online business model (such as the model Crosscut just implemented after operating as a for-profit didn't work). The world is not exactly bursting with people wanting to donate to online journalism, and severance checks only go so far when there are still bills and mortgages to pay. Kathy George, of the Committee for a Two-Newspaper Town, guesses that some of the city's high-paid investigative reporters might end up working out of the University of Washington, operating on money from the Knight Foundation. But other than that, discussions of independent staff start-ups don't seem to be going anywhere yet. "They're very circular conversations at a certain point," Lewis said. "The way you break that circle is you have money." Right now, few have it—except, apparently, Hearst.

W hich gets right back to the anxiety that P-I reporters are feeling. "I'm scared and I'm eager and I desperately want to keep a job in journalism," Lewis said. He brought an audio recorder to his meeting with Riddick, hoping to use the tape for a public-radio series he's doing on the end of his newspaper. He wasn't allowed to record the conversation, but he stayed anyway, trying to make his case. "Of course I'm going to play this game," Lewis said. "I don't know that I have any choice."

All the eye-blurring tension can make it hard to concentrate. Lewis thinks the color of Riddick's tie might have been bright red, though he can't remember for sure now. Murakami doesn't remember, either. Neither does James, though she did remember the black cowboy boots. ("He's based in Houston," she explained.) Another P-I reporter said: "Something was red." Still another P-I reporter recalled a loud, patterned tie and a "maroonish" shirt. Hackett, whose summation of her pitch—"I think I made a good case: I told him he doesn't need me"—underlined the general oddness and uneasiness of the whole affair, reported this about sartorial aesthetics: "I got a red-tie feeling. I have a ruddy feeling on the guy. I mean, he's in the warm tones. He's not in the cadaverous tones. I didn't get the sense of uptight suit."

Riddick told several of the nervous reporters that ultimately he's not the one making the decision about whether the online-only P-I goes forward. Who is making the call if not the vice president for digital media? Connelly, naturally, offered a mountain metaphor to explain the Hearst hierarchy: "Strange things occur when you get near the summit."
So, like everyone else, Lewis awaits the official answer (even as it becomes more and more apparent what it will be). Meanwhile, having made his best case to Riddick, he's now working on a nostalgic story slated to run in the P-I's final print edition. Recently, he asked his bosses what day the story would run. They said they didn't know.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Geithner won't say the "N" word on NPR (audio)

NPR-'Planet Money', audio (28:48):
If any single human being stands at the center of the global economic crisis, it's U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. This afternoon, Geithner took his hands off the intricate machinery long enough for an interview with Adam Davidson.

As you'll hear in the podcast, the pairing of titan and reporter made for quite a dance.

Bonus: Producer Katia Dunn describes the scene in Geithner's office, where an aide helped to keep the Treasury secretary on message.
H/t to Ben Smith, who shares the NPR producer's sketch of the scene:
a press aide "madly running around the room for the entire interview," "scribbling" and waving talking points, and "reaching more and more frantic levels of craziness."

Pelz: Appoint "a strong leader"

Dwight Pelz:
Last year a group of "political reformers" (financed by Republican business leaders) successfully passed a measure making county government non-partisan. Today that reform is just three months old, but already poised to fail its first major test. Ron Sims has just completed 12 magnificent years of service as our County Executive and has announced that he will leave to join the Obama Administration. Rather than pick a strong leader to succeed Ron, there is talk of choosing a "caretaker."
Succession of office is an important test of our democracy. When a government official resigns or passes away, provisions are made for that position to be filled and for government to continue.

For partisan offices, state law assigns the political parties a role which has allowed vacancies to be filled in an orderly, timely, and predictable fashion. The Precinct Committee Officers (PCOs) from the affected jurisdiction meet and choose three member of the party of the departed official, and forward that list to the County Council or County Commissioners, who pick one person.

Last month I traveled to Walla Walla to chair the meeting at which the PCOs convened to fill the vacancy left by the passing of Bill Grant. The PCOs designated three Democrats as suitable replacements, and forwarded that list to the 12 County Commissioners from the four counties in the 16th Legislative District. On February 21st Laura Grant-Herriott, Bill Grant's daughter, was chosen for the position and immediately sworn in.

A similar meeting took place 12 years ago when the PCOs met at the gym of Nathan Hale High School to designate a list of three Democrats to fill the last year of the term of then-County Executive Gary Locke, who was departing to be Governor. On that day, an impassioned Ron Sims stood up and gave a compelling speech about the challenges facing King County - and his ability as a leader to meet them. On that day no one called for a "caretaker" or a "placeholder." Ron was the choice of the PCOs and served for 10 months as the appointed Executive, then was elected to the post three times.

The PCOs and the Democratic Party will play no role in 2009 in filling this most recent vacancy. By state law governing vacancies in a non-partisan office, the nine members of the King County Council are charged with the responsibility of naming the next County Executive. But with some of the Council members vying for the job themselves, the Council appears unable to assemble five votes for a strong successor.

Today, instead of the terms "executive" and "leader," we hear talk of choosing a "caretaker" or a "placeholder." We hear cliches about "letting the voters decide the next County Executive, not the Council members." This is not the time for a placeholder. This is the time for the nine members of the King County Council to provide leadership. They need to take a hard vote and appoint a leader, not a caretaker.

King County faces enormous challenges. The County's economic model was in tatters before this current economic crisis began. 2009 will require real leadership in the Executive's office to maintain our courts, our public defenders and prosecuting attorneys, our jails, the Sheriff's office, environmental protection, and basic services.

Voters who chose to make the County government non-partisan were promised that government would work better because party loyalties disrupt decision-making. What we see instead is this decision being postponed because of personalities, not parties.

Political parties make our democracy function better. Congress could not make basic decisions without majority and minority caucuses. Our State Legislature would never adjourn on time without the discipline and structure provided by the parties. It is time to hold the refomers accountable for their reform and ask whether non-partisan government has improved or hindered decision making in King County?

In the past the role of the PCOs and the parties allowed us to fill the vacancy in the County Executive position with a strong leader. The five Democrats on the County Council can continue that tradition by appointing a strong Democrat as our next County Executive.

"Afghanistan + More Troops = Catastrophe" (Trailer)

bravenewfilms, with video (01:42):
Sign the petition:

President Obama has committed 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan. This decision raises serious questions about troops, costs, overall mission, and exit strategy. Historically, it has been Congress' duty to ask questions in the form of oversight hearings that challenge policymakers, examine military spending, and educate the public. After witnessing the absence of oversight regarding the Iraq war, we must insist Congress hold hearings on Afghanistan.

Watch the first part from our full-length documentary that will serve as a driving force to help make oversight hearings a reality. Sign the petition urging oversight and tell us what questions you would ask.

Sign the petition:

"Michelle Obama introducing Stevie Wonder at the White House" (Video)

CBS, video (01:40).

Fineman: "Reagan redux: Like the Gipper, Obama offers hope — and wishful thinking"

MSNBC, with video:
Pundits are declaring Barack Obama’s speech to Congress was “Reaganesque” in style and tone.

And it’s true: He is a “Great Communicator.”

But Obama is channeling Ronald Reagan in a more profound sense. Like Reagan, his promises are grand – and his budget is wishful thinking. Like Reagan, he’s betting that arithmetic matters less than inspiration.

At a similar spot in a different time – a deep recession in the twilight of the Cold War, 1981 – Reagan promised to double defense spending, cut taxes sharply and balance the budget. The plan was an impossible pipe dream. And yet Reagan’s optimism helped lift the country out of its funk and restart the economy.

But there was a cost.
We began the process of uncoupling federal spending from a sense of responsibility to future generations.

I’m wondering if the same thing is about to happen now.

The president is vowing to reform and vastly expand health care, to renew education, to remake the energy and auto industries, and to save the banking system. Oh, and let’s not forget: to end the recession.

He’s going to do all this and, at the same time, cut the deficit in half by 2013. He says, his budget will be a new model of candid “transparency” – unlike all of those fiction-filled budgets of the past.

I don’t think I’m being unduly cynical to wonder if it’s possible.

I believe that he believes he can make “hard choices” and root out “waste, fraud and abuse” and eliminate all those “unnecessary” programs and abolish the profligate use of congressional earmarks. I believe he believes that there will be enough peace in Mesopotamia and what used to be Persia to save much of the tens of billions we have spent in fighting wars there.

I also believe that the Washington Nationals will win the pennant.

Obama has a rationale for what he is proposing: that we need to spend heavily now to produce expanding wealth for the next “American Century.”

In that sense, his refusal to furl the flag of American ambition is not only laudable but also necessary. Hope is who we are and what we do. We need to believe – indeed, the world needs to believe – that “We will emerge stronger than before.”

So rather than curtailing our goals in the midst of a crisis, Obama insists on expanding them. He is a striking mix of the cautious and the bold, a personally conservative family man, wary of sweeping ideologies, yet convinced that the most pragmatic thing he can do for the country is to aim for and promise the moon.

But try to enumerate those promises as we wait for the new budget he is about to release.

We are going to get serious about “health care reform” – a process that initially, his budget director told me, is going to cost money before it has a chance (but not a certainty) of saving any. We are going to get our college-graduation rates back up to world-leading levels by 2020. We are going to find a cure for cancer.

And more. We will “double the supply of renewable energy in the next three years.” Soon we will lay “thousands of miles of new power lines.” We will make sure “every child has access to a complete and competitive education from the day they are born to the day they begin a career.” We are going to create a “retooled, re-imagined auto industry that can compete and win.” Government will “save or create” 3.5 million jobs in the next two years.

And then there is the ever-growing economic rescue plan.

Almost in passing, Obama dropped some news into the speech on the bank-rescue front. Even though Congress already has voted $700 billion to shore up the credit system, the rescue “probably” will require “more than we have already set aside.” Given the continued deterioration of global banks and bad actors such as AIG, we could be talking hundreds of billions more.

We will soon find out how President Obama proposes to do all of this without making theoretical national bankruptcy a reality.

The fact is, our indebtedness is reaching levels unseen since World War II, but unlike then, we are not the sole manufacturing and marketing power in the free world. We have competition.

We are the world’s “reserve” trading currency, the rise of the euro and the yen notwithstanding. The experts that I talk to say the basic problem is not that there are too many dollars in the world, but that no one in the private sector is willing to invest them — so Washington has to print more and spend them on its own.

Can that process continue indefinitely? I don’t think so.

And I bet that Barack Obama doesn’t really think so either.

Raw Video: Obamas Honor Stevie Wonder

President Barack Obama on Wednesday thanked musician Stevie Wonder for creating 'a style that's uniquely American' as he presented the singer-songwriter the nation's highest award for pop music.
Howie P.S.: PBS will broadcast "Stevie Wonder In Performance at the White House: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize" tonight @ 8pm.

"Obama nominates Locke as commerce secretary" (with video)

Chicago Tribune with video from AP (02:11):
President Barack Obama today nominated Gary Locke, former governor of Washington, to serve as secretary of commerce.

The former two-term Democratic governor who left office in 2005 holds experience in international trade and was an early supporter of Obama's main rival in the 2008 Democratic primary campaign, Hillary Clinton. He was the nation's first Chinese-American governor when he took office in 1997.
The pick marks the president's third attempt at seating a commerce secretary, filling in the membership of his Cabinet.

His first two picks -- New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, and New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg, a Republican -- withdrew. Richardson cited an investigation of state contracting in New Mexico, and Gregg irreconcilable political differences with the president.

Locke is charged with promoting the nation's economic development at home while serving as an ambassador for American industry abroad.

"Our nation's economic success is tied directly to America continuing to lead in technology and innovation, and in exporting those products, services and ideas to nations around the globe,'' Locke said, joining Obama in the announcement of his nomination today. "The Department of Commerce plays a critical role in nurturing innovation, expanding global markets, protecting and managing our ocean fisheries and fostering economic growth."

In a statement issued by the White House, Obama said: "Gary will be a trusted voice in my cabinet, a tireless advocate for our economic competitiveness, and an influential ambassador for American industry who will help us do everything we can -- especially now -- to promote it around the world.

"I'm grateful he's agreed to leave one Washington for another,'' the president said, "and I look forward to having him on my team as we continue the work of turning our economy around and bringing about a stronger, more prosperous future for all Americans."

After attempting to assemble a more bipartisan Cabinet, settling on a Democratic former governor will leave the president's Cabinet with one registered Republican, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Locke has experience in trade matters. He is a partner in the Seattle office of the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine. The firm's Web site lists his specialties as China, energy, government relations and corporate diversity counseling.

The firm has offices in eight other cities, including Washington, where several dozen lawyers and lobbyists specialize in media, technology, energy and other fields. The Washington office advises several Fortune 500 companies.

Between 2005 and 2008, Locke served on the board of directors of Safeco, a Seattle-based insurance company taken over last year by Liberty Mutual Insurance.

The White House says that "Locke broke down trade barriers around the world to advance American products. Locke has worked closely with business, labor and government at all levels to successfully negotiate complex issues."

Locke, a son of Chinese immigrants, was elected governor in 1996, becoming the first Asian-American governor on the mainland. In 2000, he was overwhelmingly re-elected to a second term.

"Gary didn't learn English until he was five, but he earned the rank of Eagle Scout, worked his way through Yale University with the help of scholarships and student loans, and got a law degree,'' Obama said. "So Gary knows the American Dream. He's lived it. And that's why he shares my commitment to do whatever it takes to keep it alive in our time.''

Locke served as chairman of the Democratic Governors Association and delivered the Democratic response to the State of the Union address in 2003.

The White House credits Locke with leading 10 "productive trade missions to Asia, Mexico and Europe, significantly expanding the sales of Washington products and services. He successfully fostered economic relations between China and Washington State."

Locke holds a bachelor's degree in political science from Yale University, and a law degree from Boston University.

The president should have an easy time winning Senate confirmation of the former governor. However, questions surrounding the Obama administration's intentions with the 2010 Census have raised concern among Republican critics.

Gregg had cited the White House's planned involvement in the Census, which is run by the Commerce Department, as one of his concerns.

"The first question for Governor Locke is whether he will block the brazen attempt by the White House to take over the traditionally nonpartisan census,'' Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R- Ohio), has said. "To be more than a figurehead, Governor Locke must promise to keep politics out of the Census by keeping control of it in the Commerce Department."
Howie P.S.: The Seattle P-I runs the AP story by "Donuts" Sidoti, "Locke's the 'right man' for Commerce":
If confirmed by the Senate, Locke would assume control of a large agency with a broad portfolio that includes overseeing many aspects of international trade, oceans policy and the 2010 Census.

Prompting outcry from Republicans, the administration recently took steps to assert greater control over the national head count. It has deep political implications because it is used to redraw congressional districts and distribute federal money.

"Who oversees the census won't change," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said, adding that the director of it always reports to the Commerce secretary. "I think members of Congress and the White House both have an interest in a fair and accurate census count."
The Seattle Times story, "Locke's clout with China may have helped him land Commerce nomination," takes a different approach.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Rahm stands tall for "bi-part" (video)

MSNBC, video (05:55).

Howie P.S.: Rahmbo talks with Brian Williams.

“Getting to the Truth Through a Nonpartisan Commission of Inquiry”

U.S. Senate, Committee on Judiciary:
Senate Judiciary Committee
Full Committee
DATE: March 4, 2009
TIME: 10:00 AM
ROOM: Dirksen-226

February 25, 2009

The Senate Committee on the Judiciary has scheduled a hearing on "Getting to the Truth Through a Nonpartisan Commission of Inquiry" for Wednesday, March 4, 2009 at 10:00 a.m. in Room 226 of the Senate Dirksen Office Building.

By order of the Chairman.
Howie P.S.: March 4th is my birthday and I can't think of a better gift. Thanks, Senator Leahy! In the meantime, Sam Stein has this on HuffPo: "Leahy Takes Bush Truth Commission To Senate Floor." H/t to Ari Melber.

Obama: Early Wednesday Reax (excerpts, with audio and video)

"Nobel Prize-Winning Economist Joseph Stiglitz: Obama Has Confused Saving the Banks With Saving the Bankers" (Democracy Now with video and audio):
We get reaction to President Obama’s speech from Nobel Prize winner and former World Bank chief economist Joseph Stiglitz. Stiglitz says the Obama administration has failed to address the structural and regulatory flaws at the heart of the financial crisis and in the way of economic recovery.
"Obama’s Bipartisan Mentors: F.D.R. and Reagan" (Lou Cannon):
Barack Obama recognizes that bipartisanship must be more than a tactic. In “The Audacity of Hope,” he wrote that “genuine bipartisanship assumes an honest process of give-and-take,” and that the result must be measured by “some agreed-upon goal, whether better schools or lower deficits.” This is an eyes-wide-open bipartisanship. It has served Obama well in the opening weeks of his presidency, and will be much needed by him in the substantive battles that lie ahead.
"Getting Warmer" (Robert Scheer):
We are lucky to have Barack Obama as president. I write that even though I believe the content of his Tuesday evening speech deserved no more than a B+ / A-, for its failure to seriously address the origins of the banking crisis and for only hinting at the severe military budget cuts required to get close to his goal of reducing the federal deficit by the end of his first term.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Howard Dean schools Tweety on Health Care (video)

MSNBC-Countdown, video (05:17).

"Stop Flinching at Bipartisanship"

Booman Tribune:
Glenn Greenwald goes to great lengths this morning to demonstrate that the American people do not crave bipartisanship. He points out that a recent New York Times poll (.pdf) indicates that the people want (by a 56%-39% margin) Obama to stick to his campaign promises rather than diluting them with Republican ideas and that they would prefer it (by a 79%-17% margin) if the Republicans would drop their priorities and work with the president on his agenda.
In other words, the people want the Republicans to act in a bipartisan manner but don't want Obama to do so if it is going to water down the Change he promised.

So far, so good. Greenwald makes an important point and fairly criticizes the national press for failing to understand and report on the mood of the country. He also takes fair shots at Democrats that sometimes behave as if they don't understand the mood of the country either. But, what bothers me is the stridency with which Greenwald attacks the concept of bipartisanship, as if the Democrats are engaging in it in some self-destructive and self-defeating way. As far as I can tell, the only evidence for this is based in the theory that the stimulus package was watered down far beyond what was necessary to gain 60 votes in the Senate. And, even if we take this theory to be true (which I don't), it ignores the possibility of any tangential or delayed benefits from setting a tone of cooperation and respect in the context of a call for unity and setting petty bickering aside.

Obama's poll ratings remain stratospheric and it should be acknowledged that one likely reason for that is that people like his tone, temperament, and style. His 'bipartisanship' is all part of that brand. And one thing we should also acknowledge is that Obama will have an easier time getting 60 votes in the Senate if he retains his popularity. The less popularity he has, the more concessions he will have to make. At the same time, we make a mistake if we use the Republicans' near-unanimous opposition to the Economic Recovery Act as the baseline for future bills. Future bills will be worked through committees that Republicans serve on, and there will be ample opportunities to peel off votes in return for input. Treating the Republicans with a certain level of respect, even if unwarranted, allows them take down their defensive shield, if they are so inclined. And it also prevents them from finding easy rallying points around which to unify and do effective message opposition.

The fear that the Democrats will needlessly water down legislation is way overblown and ignores that a concession today can obviate the need for a concession tomorrow. I understand why after years in the minority many Democrats instinctively flinch at the idea of bipartisanship (capitulation), but we really need to get over it now that we're in the majority.

The real religion of the US press: "the keepers of realism" (video)

mediagrrl9, video (04:06):
Bill Moyers asks Jay Rosen and Glenn Greenwald, "Why will Amy Goodman of Democracy Now never show up on 'Meet The Press'? on Bill Moyers Journal, Feb. 6, 2009.
Howie P.S.: The money quote from Jay Rosen:
I think that the ideology of the press is not so much liberal or conservative. They think themselves the keepers of realism, of saviness. I think the real religion of the American press is saviness."

"Despite subpoena, Rove a no-show" (video)

MSNBC, video (06:11).

Howie P.S.:
Law professor Jonathan Turley reviews the case, and calls it a "flagrant example of contempt."

Monday, February 23, 2009


Evergreen Film, with video (03:32):
What’s NOT controversial about the new economic stimulus package is its extraordinary support for clean technologies and green jobs.
Howie P.S.: Jay Inslee narrates this video about the green energy funding in the stimulus bill that was signed into law last week.

Some news you may not need to know

"And now, some detail from the dinner. POTUS was seated between Midge Rendell, the first lady of Pennsylvania, and Carole Rome, the first lady of Florida, at a table directly to the left of the wood and gold podium he spoke from. At a table directly to the right, FLOTUS sat between Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-Calif.) -- who those of you watching the Oscars may recall was an actor before he had to start showing up at these NGA events -- and Gov. Christine Gregoire (D-Wash.)."-LA Times, from the post on their political blog, "Barack and Michelle Obama's first White House state dinner: Part II."

Sunday, February 22, 2009

"The Gatekeeper": Rahmbo helps make stim sausage

Ryan Lizza (The New Yorker):
Rahm Emanuel on the job--Rahm Emanuel’s office, which is no more than a three-second walk from the Oval Office, is as neat as a Marine barracks. On his desk, the files and documents, including leatherbound folders from the National Security Council, are precisely arranged, each one parallel with the desk’s edge. During a visit hours before Congress passed President Barack Obama’s stimulus package, on Friday, February 13th, I absently jostled one of Emanuel’s heavy wooden letter trays a few degrees off kilter. He glared at me disapprovingly. Next to his computer monitor is a smaller screen that looks like a handheld G.P.S. device and tells Emanuel where the President and senior White House officials are at all times. Over all, the office suggests the workspace of someone who, in a more psychologized realm than the West Wing of the White House and with a less exacting job than that of the President’s chief of staff, might be cited for “control issues.”
Because the atmosphere of crisis is now so thick at the White House, any moment of triumph has a fleeting half-life, but the impending passage of the seven-hundred-and-eighty-seven-billion-dollar stimulus bill provided, at least for an afternoon, a sense of satisfaction. As Emanuel spoke about the complications of the legislation, he was quick to credit colleagues for shepherding the bill to victory—Peter Orszag, the budget director; Phil Schiliro, the legislative-affairs director; Jason Furman, the deputy director of the National Economic Council––but, in fact, nearly everyone in official Washington acknowledges that, besides Obama himself, Emanuel had done the most to coax and bully the bill out of Congress and onto the President’s desk for signing.

That afternoon, Emanuel and his team were already concentrating on the next major project: the President’s budget, which will be released on February 26th. Emanuel had just come from a budget meeting in the Roosevelt Room with the President’s senior staff. (The President was downstairs in the Situation Room; coincidentally or not, hours later U.S. Predators attacked a Pakistani Taliban compound in South Waziristan.) After the budget meeting broke up, staffers hurried through the West Wing reception area: Carol Browner, who is in charge of energy policy; Larry Summers, Obama’s top economic adviser; Gene Sperling, an adviser to the Treasury Secretary; Orszag; Furman. Like Emanuel, all had worked in the Clinton Administration, all are strong-willed, and all know how to navigate the White House bureaucracy to advance their views. Emanuel personally recruited several of them, and it is now his job to manage their competing egos.

Hard copies of that morning’s issue of Politico were strewn across desks in the West Wing; the paper depicted Emanuel on its front page as a lordly giant ruling over the White House, Congress, and the rest of Washington’s political architecture. Not all the world’s commentators, however, were as awestruck by his achievements. In Granma, the Cuban government’s leading propaganda organ, Fidel Castro wrote of Emanuel, “Never in my life have I heard or read about any student or compatriot with that name, among tens of thousands.” After a rambling meditation on the similarities between the chief of staff and Immanuel Kant, the retired jefe concluded that “Obama, Emanuel and all of the brilliant politicians and economists who have come together would not suffice to solve the growing problems of U.S. capitalist society.”

Emanuel, for his part, seemed indifferent both to the praise in Washington and to the oddball critique from Havana. In a few hours, he would be leaving for a ski trip with his family to Park City, Utah, and he was anxious to get out of the White House and start the weekend. Asked about Castro’s article, he said, “Well, you know, ever since I stopped sending him my holiday card he’s been ticked off. I don’t know what to think about it. Do you know what I’m thinking about? I’m going to finally get to see my kids after a month. So that’s all I give a fuck about.”

Unlike recent chiefs of staff from the Bush and Clinton eras, who tended to be relatively quiet inside players, Emanuel is a former congressional leader, a Democratic Party power, and one of the more colorful Beltway celebrities. He is a political John McEnroe, known for both his mercurial temperament and his tactical brilliance. In the same conversation, he can be wonkish and thoughtful, blunt and profane. (When Emanuel was a teen-ager, he lost half of his right middle finger, after cutting it on a meat slicer—an accident, Obama once joked, that “rendered him practically mute.”) And, like McEnroe, Emanuel seems to employ his volcanic moments for effect, intimidating opponents and referees alike but never quite losing himself in the midst of battle. “I’ve seen Rahm scream at a candidate for office one moment and then quickly send him a cheesecake,” Chris Van Hollen, a Democratic representative from Maryland, and a friend of Emanuel’s, told me.

Emanuel has long since learned to balance his outsized personality, which has made him a subject of intrigue in Washington, with a compulsion for order, which makes him an effective manager. As a child, he attended a Jewish day school in Chicago, where students received written evaluations, instead of A’s and B’s. “My first-grade teacher,” he told me, “said two things that were very interesting: ‘Rahm likes to clean up after cleanup time is over.’ ” He pointed to his desk. “I am fastidious about it. In fact, this is messy today.” The second point was about Emanuel’s “personality being larger than life.” In the first grade.

By any measure, what Obama’s White House has achieved in passing the stimulus bill is historic. The last President to preside over a legislative victory of this magnitude so early in his Administration was Franklin Roosevelt, who on the sixth day of his Presidency persuaded Congress to enact a wholesale restructuring of the banking system. (That, too, is likely in the offing for the Obama team.) Yet praise for Obama was surprisingly grudging. Some liberal Democrats said that Emanuel and his team had made too many concessions to House Republicans, all of whom voted against the legislation. Meanwhile, conservatives complained that Obama had broken his pledge of bipartisan coöperation. Both arguments infuriated Emanuel, who spent hours on the Hill during the negotiations, arranged private meetings with Obama in the Oval Office for the Republican senators Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, and Arlen Specter, whose votes were critical to the bill’s passage, and personally haggled over the smallest spending details during a crucial evening of bargaining that lasted until the early morning.

“They have never worked the legislative process,” Emanuel said of critics like the Times columnist Paul Krugman, who argued that Obama’s concessions to Senate Republicans—in particular, the tax cuts, which will do little to stimulate the economy—produced a package that wasn’t large enough to respond to the magnitude of the recession. “How many bills has he passed?”

Emanuel has heard such complaints before. As a senior aide in the Clinton White House, he successfully fought a Republican Congress to pass the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP), which now provides health care for seven million kids. “I worked children’s health care,” he said. “President Clinton had pediatric care, eye, and dental, inside Medicaid. The Republicans had pediatric care, no eye and dental, outside of Medicaid. The deal Chris Jennings, Bruce Reed, and Rahm Emanuel cut for President Clinton was eye, dental, and pediatric, but the Republican way—outside of Medicaid. At that time, I was eviscerated by the left.” He slammed his fist on the desk, his voice rising. “I had sold out! Today, who are the greatest defenders of kids’ health care? The very people that opposed it when it passed,” Emanuel said. “Back then, you’d have thought I was a whore! How could we do this outside of Medicaid? They warned that it had to be in Medicaid—not that they gave a rat’s ass that the kid had eye or dental care. But, for getting it outside of Medicaid, we got kids’ eye and dental care. O.K.? That was the swap. Now, my view is that Krugman as an economist is not wrong. But in the art of the possible, of the deal, he is wrong. He couldn’t get his legislation.”

The stimulus bill was essentially held hostage to the whims of Collins, Snowe, and Specter, but if Al Franken, the apparent winner of the disputed Minnesota Senate race, had been seated in Washington, and if Ted Kennedy, who is battling brain cancer, had been regularly available to vote, the White House would have needed only one Republican to pass the measure. “No disrespect to Paul Krugman,” Emanuel went on, “but has he figured out how to seat the Minnesota senator?” (Franken’s victory is the subject of an ongoing court challenge by his opponent, Norm Coleman, which the national Republican Party has been happy to help finance.) “Write a fucking column on how to seat the son of a bitch. I would be fascinated with that column. O.K.?” Emanuel stood up theatrically and gestured toward his seat with open palms. “Anytime they want, they can have it,” he said of those who are critical of his legislative strategies. “I give them my chair.”

His task has been made no easier by Obama’s desire for bipartisanship, which Emanuel argues the press has misunderstood. “The public wants bipartisanship,” he said. “We just have to try. We don’t have to succeed.” Still, he insisted, they have been succeeding. All Obama’s other major accomplishments to date—winning approval for three hundred and fifty billion dollars in additional funding for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), passing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, expanding S-CHIP, signing an executive order to shutter the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay and a memorandum to increase the fuel efficiency of cars—were supported by at least some Republicans. The G.O.P., Emanuel said, decided that opposing the stimulus “was definitional, and I will make an argument to you, both on political and economic grounds: they will lose. I don’t think the onus is on us. We tried. The story is they failed.”

When Emanuel said this, I noticed that over his left shoulder, on the credenza behind him, was an official-looking name plate, which he said was a birthday present from his two brothers. It read, “Undersecretary for Go Fuck Yourself.”

The office of chief of staff was created by Dwight Eisenhower, who redesigned the working structure of the White House along the hierarchal staff system he had learned as supreme commander of Allied forces in the Second World War. His chief of staff—though he didn’t officially use the title, because Eisenhower worried that “politicians think it sounds too military”—was Sherman Adams, who accrued enormous influence, power, and enemies. Neither John F. Kennedy nor Lyndon Johnson had a chief of staff, and largely managed the White House themselves. Richard Nixon returned to Eisenhower’s system and delegated vast managerial authority to H. R. Haldeman, the Watergate conspirator whose ironfisted management of the White House abetted Nixon’s own self-destructive behavior in office. In reaction, both Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter tried to operate without chiefs of staff, but both men reversed course when the flat management structure of their respective White Houses produced staff disarray. Since Carter, every President has acknowledged the need for a strong chief of staff.

Over the years, some clear patterns about what kind of person succeeds in the job have emerged. James Pfiffner, a professor at George Mason University who has written extensively on the history of the office, cites four chiefs of staff as notable failures: Adams, Haldeman, Donald Regan, who was Ronald Reagan’s second chief of staff, and John Sununu, George H. W. Bush’s first chief of staff. “All of them got power-hungry, they alienated members of Congress, they alienated members of their own Administration, they had reputations for a lack of common civility, and they had hostile relations with the press. And each one of them resigned in disgrace and hurt their Presidents,” Pfiffner said. “Being able to be firm and tough without being obnoxious and overbearing is crucial.”

Emanuel’s début as chief of staff featured him on the Hill making deals with lawmakers—politely and with due deference, by all accounts—but a chief of staff’s primary job is to serve as the gatekeeper to the President, controlling the flow of information and people into the Oval Office. Constrict that flow too much and you deprive the President of opposing points of view; increase it too much and you drown him in extraneous detail and force him to arbitrate disputes better settled at a lower level. Emanuel saw both extremes in the Clinton White House. Clinton’s first chief of staff, Thomas (Mack) McLarty, a childhood friend from Arkansas, was known as Mack the Nice, and under his leadership the White House was chaotic. Leon Panetta, who is now Obama’s C.I.A. director and, like Emanuel, was a congressman, took over from McLarty. Arguably, he overcompensated for McLarty’s laxness, limiting access to the President so drastically that Clinton surreptitiously sought counsel outside the channels that Panetta controlled. “The President set up a parallel White House, led by Dick Morris, while Leon was chief of staff,” a former senior Clinton White House official told me. “If you clamp down too tight the principal says, ‘You’re not letting me have access to the people and the information I really want, so I’m just going to go build some other structure.’ ”

Obama’s managerial instincts tend toward a looser operation, with lots of staff and outside input. The fact that he will keep a BlackBerry to stay in touch with friends outside the West Wing fishbowl is one sign of this. (Emanuel grimaced when I mentioned his boss’s devotion to the device.) But early in his Senate career Obama also learned the perils of not having one strong manager in charge. When he arrived in Washington, in 2005, he told one of his senior aides, “My vision of this is having six smart people sitting around the table batting ideas around.” A month and a half later, tensions erupted between Obama’s Chicago staff and his Washington staff, making it difficult for them to agree on his schedule. Obama was frustrated that no single person was able to make decisions. The aide reminded him, “Don’t you remember: ‘six smart people sitting around the table’?” Obama replied, “Oh, that was six weeks ago. I’m not on that now.”

Emanuel’s task will be further complicated by what is a fairly top-heavy White House. David Axelrod, Obama’s longtime political strategist, Valerie Jarrett, a close friend and counsellor, and Pete Rouse, Obama’s Senate chief of staff, are “senior advisers,” a title that in the White House denotes a special place at the top of the hierarchy. Part of Emanuel’s job will be to stitch Obama’s old campaign hands together with powerful new figures on the policy side, such as Summers—“a dominating personality,” according to a senior White House official—and James L. Jones, a retired four-star general and Obama’s national-security adviser. In addition, Obama has created four new policy czars at the White House—for health care, energy, Native American affairs, and urban affairs—making the West Wing a more crowded place. Meanwhile, Vice-President Joseph Biden has been promised a high-level role in decision-making. Joshua Bolten, George W. Bush’s last chief of staff, told me that Emanuel has “the challenge of fitting a lot of large personalities and brains and portfolios into a relatively small space.”

Perhaps Emanuel’s greatest challenge, however, will be making the adjustment from being a prominent elected official to being a staffer. Bolten, who hosted Emanuel and eleven former chiefs of staff for breakfast at the White House in December, said, “One of the interesting bits of advice that emerged from the breakfast was that you probably shouldn’t be a political principal yourself. You need to put aside your own personality and profile and adopt one that serves your boss. I’m not saying you necessarily have to have a low profile, but it can’t really be your own independent profile. It’s got to be the profile your boss wants reflected, and it has to be a profile that does not compete with the rest of the Cabinet.” Emanuel said that he has thought about that advice. “There’s no doubt” that this is an issue, he told me. “There are pluses to who I was and what I was and there are perils to who I was and what I was, and you’ve got to be conscious of them.”

David Axelrod is one of Emanuel’s best friends. (When Emanuel got married, to Amy Rule, Axelrod signed the ketubah, the traditional Jewish marriage contract.) The two men met in 1982, when Emanuel was a spokesman for a Naderite group called the Illinois Public Action Council and Axelrod was a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. Emanuel’s organization had just helped elect Lane Evans as the first Democratic representative from western Illinois in many years, and Emanuel was eager to get Axelrod to write about it. “He was just relentless,” Axelrod told me recently. “Rahm chased me down to the recovery room after my second child was born. He says, ‘What is it, a boy or a girl?’ I said, ‘It’s a boy.’ He said, ‘Mazel tov,’ and then a little pause. Then he says, ‘When do you think you’ll be back at work?’ ”

Emanuel and Axelrod crossed paths again in 1984, when Axelrod left journalism to run Paul Simon’s Illinois Senate campaign and Emanuel worked as a junior fund-raiser and field organizer for Simon. By 1988, Emanuel was a top staffer at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, or D.C.C.C. (the same organization that he ran as a congressman seventeen years later). “I did campaigns in ’86 and ’88 for him and with him,” Axelrod said. “Including the famous dead-fish race.”

More than any other story about Emanuel’s tactics—and there are lots of them—the tale of the “dead-fish race” came to define his public persona as a Democratic operative. He and Axelrod were working for David Swarts, a Democratic official from Erie County, New York, running an underfunded campaign for a congressional seat long held by Republicans. “We were rolling the dice on the race, just spending the money we had as it came in to try and get these numbers up,” Axelrod said. Their plan was to take a poll at the end of the contest which they hoped would show a competitive race and then use the results to help raise last-minute funds and overtake their opponent.

“The poll came back a week or two before the end, and it said we were down by seventeen,” Axelrod said. “And that was it.” According to Axelrod, Swarts’s campaign manager later studied the poll’s findings and concluded that the pollster had botched the analysis: the survey showed that Swarts was just five or six points behind. (The pollster says that the error was actually minor and quickly caught.) Axelrod added, “Had we gotten that correct poll then, we would have put our foot to the pedal. But it was too late. So Rahm, being as invested as he was in the thing, expressed himself as only Rahm can.” After the election, Emanuel and his colleagues hired a Massachusetts company called Enough Is Enough, which specialized in “creative revenge,” to send the pollster a box with a dead fish inside. Emanuel laughed mischievously when I asked him about the prank. “We had our choice of animals,” he said.

When Emanuel is in Washington, he stays in the basement of the Capitol Hill home of Representative Rosa DeLauro, of Connecticut, and her husband, the pollster Stanley Greenberg, an old friend. (“It’s part of my workout room,” Greenberg said recently of the accommodations. “He walks out of his bedroom into where I work out.”) Greenberg argues that Emanuel’s antics have been integral to his success. “Understand that the caricature and the mythology have always been helpful,” Greenberg said. “Sending the fish to the pollster that he thought had failed sent a message about how public he can be about his displeasure, and showed that he’s willing to step beyond the normal bounds, that he’s willing to be outrageous and he doesn’t suffer fools. He doesn’t mind bad publicity. It’s part of his cachet, it’s part of why he’s able to be effective.”

Emanuel has succeeded in almost every professional endeavor he has undertaken. In Chicago, in 1989 and 1991, he raised money for the successful mayoral campaigns of Richard M. Daley, and this caught the attention of Bill Clinton’s campaign, which hired him. Emanuel then raised a record amount of money for Clinton, which kept his Presidential campaign from collapsing during the darkest days of the primaries, when he was fighting allegations of adultery and draft-dodging. In the Clinton White House, after a brief setback—he was demoted after clashing with Hillary Clinton—Emanuel rose to become a top adviser to Bill Clinton, securing for himself the small but coveted office next to the President’s private study, the office that Axelrod now occupies. When Emanuel left the Clinton Administration, in 1998, he moved back to Chicago, took a job as an investment banker, and in less than three years earned nearly twenty million dollars. In 2002, he won a congressional seat in the city on his first attempt. Three years later, he took over the D.C.C.C., and, more than anyone else, was responsible for restoring Democrats to power the following year. (Not a single Democratic incumbent lost in the general election.) By the time Obama came calling for a chief of staff, Emanuel was the Democratic Caucus chair, making him fourth in the House leadership, and on a path to becoming Speaker.

Obama settled on Emanuel as early as last August. “It was months before the election when Barack said to me, ‘You know, Rahm would make a great chief of staff,’ ” Axelrod said. “He spent six years in the White House, knows this place inside and out, spent four or five years in Congress, and became a leader in a short period of time. He really understands the legislative process, he’s a friend who the President has known for a long time from Chicago, and whose loyalty is beyond question, and who thinks like a Chicagoan.”

Emanuel did not want the job. A few months before Election Day, Obama sent him an e-mail, with a warning: “Heads up, I’m coming for you.” Emanuel was a key negotiator in moving the TARP legislation through Congress, in October. After the bill cleared Congress, Obama, who supported it, sent Emanuel another e-mail. “I told you we made a great team,” he said. Emanuel wrote back, “I look forward to being your floor leader in the House.”

While Obama was wooing Rahm, Rahm’s older brother, Ezekiel, an oncologist and a bioethicist, served as a sounding board. “I probably spent half an hour every day being screamed at on the telephone by him,” he said. “ ‘I don’t want to do this. Why do I have to do this? Tell me I don’t have to do this.’ All of which said to me he knew he had to do it.” (Ezekiel told me that the rivalry among himself, Rahm, and their third brother, Ariel, a Hollywood agent who is the basis for the Ari Gold character on HBO’s “Entourage,” was so intense that they had to pursue careers in different cities. “We couldn’t possibly be within a thousand miles of each other, because the force fields just wouldn’t let it happen,” Ezekiel said. Rahm is now his boss; he works at the White House as an adviser to the budget director on health policy.)

Over lunch two days before the Inauguration, Emanuel explained to me his decision to give up his congressional seat and return to the White House. We were in a brasserie in the lobby of a Washington hotel, and Emanuel, dressed in a black sweater over a white button-down, was frequently interrupted by people who wanted to wish him well or have their picture taken with him. “The main hesitation was family, because there’s no way you will convince me this is good for my family,” Emanuel, who has three children, ages eleven, ten, and eight, said. “No matter what every White House says—‘We’re going to be great, family-friendly’—well, the only family we’re going to be good for is the First Family. Everybody else is, like, really a distant second, O.K.?”

Then there was the issue of his congressional ambition. In 2005, when Obama first arrived in Washington, he and Emanuel had dinner and discussed their futures. “He knew what I wanted to do, I knew what he wanted to do,” Emanuel told me. “He was going to be President one day, and I was going to run for Speaker. It was not that he was deciding on 2008 but his course was one day he was going to run for President.” For Emanuel, being chief of staff meant abandoning his goal. “I was putting together the pieces of my puzzle for Speaker,” he said. “I’d been to the White House—that was a dream, but I’d been there. Now I was on to another dream and professional goal and career. And so I had to give that up.” He added, “I had my own personal desire of being the first Jewish Speaker. That’s why I took on the D.C.C.C. job, that’s why I ran for Caucus chair, that’s why I stayed involved.”

Emanuel grew up in a political family. His Israeli-born father, Benjamin, was a member of the Irgun, a militant Zionist group from which the modern Likud Party eventually emerged. His mother, Marsha, was a civil-rights activist who was arrested several times. “We were attacked because we were white Jews with African-Americans,” Ezekiel said. When Martin Luther King, Jr., marched in Chicago in 1966, and was pelted with eggs, Marsha and her children marched along with him. Ezekiel told me that he knew Rahm would take the job of chief of staff because of Marsha’s father, Herman Smulivitz, a boxer and a union organizer. It was Herman who instilled in Rahm a commitment to service, and Rahm was particularly close to him.

When I asked Rahm about his grandfather, his eyes welled up with tears. “I’m a little too tired, a little too stressed,” he said. “It’s too emotional about Gramp.” He poured himself a glass of water and took a sip. Earlier, he had explained his decision in pragmatic terms: “If you got into public life to affect policy, and to affect the direction of the country, where could you do that on the most immediate basis? Everybody knows: chief of staff.”

Obama’s decision to hire Emanuel says two things about his Presidency. First, like his decision to make Biden, an expert in foreign policy, his running mate, it shows that he is honest enough about what he doesn’t know to try to fill in the gaps in his own experience. There are people working for Obama who know as much as Emanuel does about the legislative process, and others who know as much as he does about running the White House, but there isn’t anybody who knows as much about both. Obama’s choice also says a great deal about the ethos of his White House. He recently characterized his team as a group of “mechanics,” which suggests an emphasis not on ideology but on details and problem-solving. In the Clinton White House, Emanuel’s specialty was helping to pass legislation that required centrist coalitions, like NAFTA, a crime bill, and welfare reform. “He’s a partisan in the sense that he’s a strong Democrat, but he’s not an ideological Democrat,” Stanley Greenberg said. “He’s not ideologically liberal. He comes out of Chicago politics, which is more transactional.”

During the Senate negotiations, Obama agreed to pare back his tax cut for workers, from five hundred dollars to four hundred dollars. It was Emanuel’s job to sell the decision to House Democrats. “Nancy was opposed to it,” he told me, referring to Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, who asked him why he would put the President’s tax cut on the table. “I said, ‘Because at the end of the day the President believes we have to get this done.’ ” Emanuel thinks that the stimulus bill speaks for itself: “It is the most progressive tax bill in the history of the United States, bar none, by a quotient of two.”

Emanuel laughed as he recounted the final sticking point in the negotiations. It was not, as many people have thought, an argument between the five centrist senators—Ben Nelson, Joe Lieberman, Collins, Snowe, and Specter—and the House but a debate among the centrists themselves. The dispute was over a formula for how Medicaid funds in the bill would be allocated to the states. In the House version of the legislation, fifty per cent of the funds would go to all states and fifty per cent would go to states with high unemployment. In the Senate, where rural interests are more dominant, the formula was 80-20. A deal had been reached between the two chambers to split the difference and make the formula 65-35. “Everybody signed except for Ben Nelson,” Emanuel said. “He wants 72-28, or seventy-two and a half, and he says, ‘I’m not signing this deal.’ Specter says, ‘Well, I am not agreeing with you.’ ” Without Nelson, Collins wasn’t likely to vote for the deal, either.

“Collins and Snowe are kind of like, at this point, looking at their shoes,” Emanuel went on, “because Specter says, ‘Well, why make it seventy-two? What do you mean? We all have it at sixty-five, in the middle.’ ” Emanuel politely declared that the formula would stay at 65-35. He then asked Nelson to step out of the room with him. After a brief conversation in the hallway, they returned, and Nelson agreed to the stimulus package.

Emanuel stood up and removed his tie as he finished the story, making it clear that he was ready to leave for the airport. He seemed more cheerful, knowing that he was that much closer to seeing his family. I asked him what he promised Nelson to persuade him to drop his objections. Emanuel just smiled. “Everything is going to be O.K.,” he said, in a mock-soothing voice. “America is going to be a great place.”
Howie P.S.: Rahmbo doesn't kiss and tell, so we don't learn how Sen. Nelson came to change his mind.