Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year 2009!

"A Room With a View" (with video)

Peter Baker (The Caucus-New York Times):
At least he’ll have a good view of the White House. When President-elect Barack Obama moves to town this weekend, he will be staying in the famed Hay Adams Hotel just across Lafayette Park from his new digs.
Mr. Obama is bringing his family to Washington a couple weeks before his inauguration so his daughters can start school on Monday, but since Blair House, the government’s official guest residence, is booked until Jan. 15, the Obamas will be staying for a while in the presidential suite at the Hay Adams.

The transition office confirmed Tuesday that the Obamas were moving this weekend but declined to identify the hotel. But the Secret Service has begun notifying neighbors of the hotel that it will be tightening security around the building through the 15th because of its prominent new guests.

“We have just been advised that the Hay Adams hotel will be hosting a very high level delegation from Saturday, January 3 through Thursday, January 15,” Shannon DiBari, the senior vice president for administration at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, located next to the hotel, told staff members in an e-mail Wednesday morning. “As a result, there will be a significant Secret Service presence in the area surrounding the hotel and our building.”

Other sources familiar with the planning confirmed that the “very high level delegation” referred to Mr. Obama, his wife, Michelle, and their daughters, Malia and Sasha. Mr. Obama’s transition office declined to comment Wednesday. Hans Bruland, the general manager of the Hay Adams, said he could not discuss guests because of confidentiality policies.

The Hay Adams is one of Washington’s premier addresses. It was built on the site where John Hay, who was Abraham Lincoln’s personal secretary and Theodore Roosevelt’s secretary of state, and Henry Adams, who was a prominent author and the grandson and great grandson of presidents, once lived. The Italian Renaissance-style hotel opened in 1928 and is a favorite destination for visiting dignitaries, Saudi princes and famous celebrities.

The presidential suite in the penthouse normally goes for $2,500 to $5,000 a night and has a virtually unparalleled view of the White House and Lafayette Park from the master bedroom. With one-and-a-half bathrooms and a gas-lit corner fireplace in the living room, it is large enough for a family of four to stay for 12 days until the Obamas move into Blair House on Pennsylvania Avenue just across from the White House.
Howie P.S.: Imagine "The West Wing" tv show with President Barack Obama, video (00:46). H/t to Mr. Smith.

"Obama plans to campaign for economic stimulus package"

Peter Nicholas (LA Times):
Reporting from Washington — President-elect Barack Obama is preparing to lead a full-scale marketing blitz to pass the massive new stimulus package that he says is needed to revive the slumping economy and put the nation on the course he laid out during his campaign.
Obama will move to Washington this weekend, checking into a hotel with his family. In the remaining weeks of the transition, and after he is sworn in, he will use the bully pulpit to make the case for passage of a stimulus package of up to $775 billion, an aide said.

Obama, now in Hawaii on vacation, may travel outside Washington after Inauguration Day on Jan. 20, while others in the new administration scatter across the country to explain in minute detail the scope and purpose of the stimulus plan, said David Axelrod, a senior advisor to the president-elect.

"We'll fan out, and this will be a public process," Axelrod said in an interview. "We'll make clear to people why we need to do what we're doing, why it's the size it is, what the individual component parts are, and why they are an important part of the equation in terms of short-term recovery."

Obama, he said, "wants the American people involved in this discussion."

But his stratagem of mobilizing grass-roots support and using his popularity to sway public opinion could inflame partisan tensions.

By mounting an aggressive public relations campaign, Obama may be seen as bypassing the GOP en route to a major legislative victory. For a new president who promised bipartisanship, Obama's methods could leave Republicans feeling isolated and marginalized.

Republicans, who seem convinced that the stimulus bill will ultimately pass, want it steered onto a slower track so they have more time to evaluate it with a view toward rooting out pork-barrel projects. That can't happen if a bill is sent to Obama for his signature on Jan. 20 or shortly thereafter, Republican leaders cautioned.

Republicans also want Obama to consult them in crafting the bill -- something they contend hasn't happened yet.

"They've not contacted us about putting together this package," said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).

Obama doesn't want to see his first legislative initiative bog down in partisan infighting. So he will quickly strive to shape public opinion, casting the substantial stimulus package as crucial to the nation's recovery.

"There shouldn't be endless debate about it," Axelrod said. "People want this done right. And we want it to be done right. But they also want it to be done, and it shouldn't devolve into one of those protracted Washington posturing situations that people have little patience for.

"They want transparency and oversight and to know that the stuff that's being invested in is a wise investment," he said. "They should have that, and that's what we want. But it shouldn't take so long as to allow the economy to continue to slide down."

Axelrod said that the slumping economy and other domestic concerns were "front and center because it's what the American people are living with every day."

Even with Israel locked in an escalating battle with Hamas, Obama doesn't want foreign policy considerations to intrude on an ambitious domestic agenda, advisors say.

"Not that anyone is unconcerned about the situation in the Middle East," Axelrod said, "but when you're struggling because you've lost your job or are concerned about losing your job, or you can't get a loan for your business or send your kid to college, it's pretty hard to look past that."

Obama is to leave Honolulu on Thursday, stopping in Chicago before his move to Washington this weekend. He is arriving in the capital early to accommodate his two young daughters, who will start at the private Sidwell Friends School early next week.

Obama will probably stay in a Washington hotel at least until Jan. 15, when he moves into Blair House, the official residence for visiting dignitaries, across the street from the White House. Obama had wanted to check into Blair House sooner, but he was told by the Bush White House that receptions booked in advance prevented that.

Housing difficulties are the least of Obama's worries in Washington. He has called for a new, bipartisan approach to politics, but a classic partisan standoff is developing over his stimulus package.

The president-elect wants a two-year stimulus plan that includes a middle-class tax cut, along with money to rebuild roads, bridges and schools.

Obama touts the stimulus as a necessary step toward economic recovery. A report released Tuesday showed that home prices fell 18% in October compared with the year before -- the latest measure of the economic downturn.

Republicans are seeking certain guarantees: enough time for committee hearings and public review.

Members of Obama's transition team aren't setting a hard deadline for passage of the measure, but they want it signed soon after Inauguration Day. They say they won't tolerate delays.

Aides would not discuss certain aspects of the package, including the tax cut, saying the details were still being worked out.

But a House leadership aide said the tax cut may come in the form of a payroll tax reduction so that "there'd be more in your paycheck." The cut would potentially apply to people earning as much as $250,000 a year, the aide said.
A House vote on the bill may come the week of Jan. 12, the leadership aide said. A Senate timetable is less certain.

By invoking the threat of a filibuster, the Senate could delay passage. So for Obama to win swift adoption, a Senate aide said, Republican collaboration is essential.

"We expect to move as quickly as possible, but in the end it depends on what kind of cooperation we get from Republicans," said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

"President-elect visits Punahou, tours zoo" (with video)

Honolulu Star-Bulletin, with video (02:18) from KITV:
President-elect Barack Obama packed his day with activities yesterday as his vacation in Hawaii nears its end.

Obama played basketball at his alma mater, went to the Honolulu Zoo with his daughters and also visited the apartment of his late grandmother, Madelyn Dunham.

He went to his alma mater Punahou to play basketball, took his daughters to the Hononlulu Zoo and visited his late grandmother's Makiki apartment.
His day began yesterday with a small group of pro-Palestinian demonstrators who showed up outside the $9 million Kailua vacation rental where Obama and his family are staying.

About a dozen people representing various groups peacefully set up at the security checkpoint fronting the Kailuana Place residence.

Ann Wright, a retired Army colonel who protested with peace activist Cindy Sheehan outside of President Bush's Texas ranch, was among the demonstrators.

She wore a T-shirt that read: "We will not be silent" and carried a sign that read: "Change U.S. foreign policy. Yes we can."

Other signs read "War is Terror," "Free Palestine" and "No U.S. support for Israel."

Wright, 62, of Honolulu, said the demonstrators represented various groups, including her organization, Veterans for Peace.

The groups issued a news release that stated in part: "We call on President-elect Obama to place the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the top of his list of priorities of his new administration."

As his motorcade left the Kailua compound, Obama sat in the rear on the passenger side of his black sport utility vehicle and was not visible to the protesters, who were on the left side of the vehicle. Obama sipped from a bottle of water and looked straight ahead as the vehicle passed.

The motorcade then made the drive over the Pali Highway to Punahou School, where it was met by about 200 students, parents and administrators at the private school, which is on its winter break.

Punahou spokeswoman Laurel Bowers Husain said the students were members of various sports teams who had finished practice and began milling about amid the tight security. Many waved at the 1979 Punahou graduate as his motorcade made its way onto the campus.

Aides said Obama was accompanied by friends Martin Nesbitt, Eric Whitaker, Greg Orme and another high school friend, Mike Ramos.

Obama spent about an hour in the gym, emerging in a fresh white T-shirt, Bermuda shorts and sandals. He then made his way over to the throng of people, exchanging pleasantries, posing for photographs and signing a few autographs before leaving.

The entourage then made its way to the Honolulu Zoo, where he and his daughters, Malia and Sasha, were joined by the children of his other friends. No wives were spotted entering the zoo with the group of about 15 adults and children.

Obama visited the new tiger cub exhibit and was greeted by Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann.

Obama capped off his day with a visit to the Punahou-area apartment where he grew up, and where Dunham, his grandmother, lived until her death Nov. 2. The apartment had been a frequent stop for Obama on previous trips.

An aide said she did not immediately know why Obama was visiting the residence. He entered the building out of public view and did not stop to greet the dozen or so people who had gathered on the sidewalk outside the building after word of his arrival got out.
He returned to his vacation residence shortly before 6 p.m.

"10 Phrases That Will Shape Politics In '09"

Jeffrey Feldman:
In 2008, perhaps more than any year in history, words made a huge difference in politics. If I had to pick one word that caused the biggest stir, my choice would be: 'lipstick.' Yes, ma'am. Sarah Palin's 'lipstick-on-a-pit-bull' moment at the 2008 Republican Convention rocketed her to the center of American life faster than Tesla Roadster, and will likely keep her there longer than most people would prefer.
Of course, more important than 'lipstick,' Barack Obama built the most significant election campaign in history out of the simple phrase: 'yes we can'--three little words whose iconic status will take up a well-deserved spot for posterity alongside 'I have a dream' and 'Nothing to fear, but fear itself.' Yep, 2008 was a big year. But what can we expect in 2009?

Without further ado, here are the predictions from Frameshop of 10 words and phrases that will shape politics in 2009.

"Phased Withdrawal"
With so many voters believing they elected Barack Obama to get the U.S. out of Iraq, one of the first political phrases to be rolled out by the new administration will try to control expectations at home while setting in motion policy change abroad. Already, the Obama-Biden transition team is using the word 'phased' to describe their gradual approach on a variety of policy areas, but the most prominent example is their proposal for Iraq. 'Phased Withdrawal,' will no doubt be presented to the American public early and often in 2009 and, as one might expect, will not satisfy very many people anywhere in the political spectrum. Right-wing pundits will seize upon the phrase to attack Obama for being weak on defense. Left-wing pundits will focus on the phrase to critique Obama for moving too slowly to end the U.S. occupation. Oh, what a mess this debate will be.

Health insurance is probably the influenza-stricken elephant in the room that nobody in American politics really wants to acknowledge, but this year the problem will grow too great to ignore. With so many layoffs, the number of Americans without insurance will spike to even more shameful heights. And yet, the real issue that will drive this discussion is not the un-insured, but the 'under-insured.' This phrase will seize public attention because it will describe the rising panic amongst middle class families and retirees who have insurance, but are discovering at alarming rate that their coverage does not meet their needs. The realization that most people are 'under-insured' will sweep through America this year, leading to the first big moment of anxiety and impatience with Congress. While politicians have been able to hold the 'un-insured' at arms length, the 'under-insured' are increasingly organized and far more adept at making their concerns heard by politicians.

With President Obama promising to invest massive amounts of money in public works projects, the big question on every state contractor's mind will be: Where's mine? In an effort to explain to the public why some projects will get money sooner than others, the new administration and Congress will inject 'shovel-ready' into the media. 'Shovel-ready' is a great political phrase because it turns a very abstract concept--funding priority--into a very concrete image: a steam shovel dropping its blade into the ground. Moreover, by prioritizing projects that are 'shovel-ready,' the Obama administration will be able to re-frame economic investment in relatively non-political terms. Despite having spoken about investing in 'green jobs,' the real test will be readiness, not environment--pragmatism, not ideology. As one might expect, some green projects will be funded right away, but many will be not. Hence the phrase 'shovel-ready' will make environmental policy wonks (ehem...) hot under the collar.

"Civil Rights"
No matter how much Barack Obama says he supports civil unions for same sex couples, his inclusion of Rick Warren in the inauguration ceremony guarantees the the phrase 'civil rights' will dominate political debate for at least the first few months of 2009. The terms of this debate have already been put in place by the 'Prop-8' campaign in California, and the fire will continue to spread. On on side, politically invested church group call for the 'definition of marriage to be protected,' claiming ( it happens) that 'marriage' has had the same meaning for 5,000 years (which, of course, it has not). On the other side, activists for marriage equality call for the elimination of any barriers to civil rights. This debate has an unexpected, if not very uncomfortable, aspect to it. Many people who see their own identities through the lens of the Civil Rights Movement in the South, are offended by efforts to frame marriage quality in terms of 'civil rights.' Given this situation, it is not difficult to predict many talking-head debates on the meaning of 'civil rights' to come in 2009.

"Bottled Water"
Believe it or not, one of the biggest trends of 2009 could be: drinking fountains. The reason is that the phrase 'bottled water' is set to explode in the media as the environmental target for the year. Driven by activists in the Great Lakes region and by environmental policy groups in DC, the anti-bottled water movement already has great momentum, but will take off big for summer. Want to be cool at school this year? Better get yourself an custom-printed, eco-friendly SIGG bottle. Just like Exxon became the enemy of the clean energy movement, companies like Perrier will be the new environmental enemy of 2009. It is likely that by the end of 2009, the White House and Congress will be pressured to eliminate bottled water altogether and return to water in sweaty pitchers and dripping glasses. Why? Because the critique of 'bottled water' is straightforward and the solution is easy as pouring a glass of water. Actually, the solution is pouring a glass of water.

With credit card debt rising and credit card companies increasingly clamping down on delinquent accounts, a big story for consumer politics in 2009 will be 'layaway' programs at retailers. 'Layaway' is a ready made media feeding trough for a few reasons. First, it harkens back to days of yore when, instead of charging them to credit cards, Americans saved money to buy the things they could not afford ("Tell us another story, Grandpa!"). Second, while layaway works great for small retail items like toasters and TV, it is breeding ground for scams on large items like new cars. Third, talking about layaway programs opens onto all kinds of political topics: middle class struggle, Depression-era conditions, bailout failure, and so forth. By the end of 2009, the media-watching public can at least one high-profile story where a major retailer saved themselves from bankruptcy by promoting layaway on merchandise. Politicians will not be able to resist talking about 'layaway' in this environment, because it provides a way to talk about 'responsibility' that is both new and old at the same time.

"Digital Delivery"
Given all the hoopla over print newspapers failing in the economic downturn, the phrase 'digital delivery' will likely get lots of play in 2009. Telling your readers that the paper that has always been tossed on their lawn by a pimply 13 year-old will now switch to 'digital delivery' is a way of saying, "We're bankrupt, but we're not giving up!" But the larger discussion, here, is a topic that makes for good media banter: citizen journalists stealing market share from brick-and-mortar news outfits. Moreover, Barack Obama is likely to be the most tech-savvy President of all time, and will no doubt be spotted in 2009 carrying a Kindle as he crosses the White House lawn en route to Camp David. This incident will spark a whole series of media reports on the future of printed news and the rise of---'digital delivery.' It may not seem like a big political story at first, but the coverage will lead to discussions between bloggers and print journalists about the future of political journalism, and likely open up the can of worms about the credentialing of bloggers at the White House and other high-profile venue.

Americans already weary from trying to learn the names of foreign leaders and towns will need to swot up on Afghanistan once Barack Obama takes office. Switching the focus of U.S. foreign policy from Iraq to Afghanistan is a slow moving freight-train that Democrats have been riding for several years, but it will finally happen in 2009. As a result, the White House will need to inform the public on the new details of their policy, thereby pushing a host of names and places into the media. Inevitably, there will be some setbacks and scandals as well. As in any new military focus, Afghanistan is destined to create controversy in 2009. Stay tuned, and keep your phonetic dictionary close at hand.

"Zero To Five"
Although it may sound like a performance description for a new GM hybrid, 'zero to five' will be the heading used by the Obama-Biden administration for a bunch of education policy proposals aimed at boosting pre-pre-school programs for American toddlers. By increasing funding for Head Start programs, day care, the new administration hopes to increase the number of working class children who succeed in school right out of the gate. What could be controversial about this, you ask? Shrinking the federal government's role in the education of America's children is a rallying cry for right-wing pundits, who will no doubt find a way to attack the new administration's 'zero to five' policies as being some sinister effort to 'indoctrinate' kids into communism (e.g.). Pre-school children at the center of a right-wing media storm in 2009? Stranger things have happened.

Global warming will continue to be a big issue in 2009, but the word 'sunlight' will take on a new meaning as a result of the massive effort by the Obama administration to include the public in the process of turning proposals into policy and law. Already, the administration has set up an interactive website that allows citizens to ask questions about current issue, but the term 'sunlight' generally means 'secrecy and mystery begone.' Federal contracts, corporate tax loopholes, lobbying influence, public spending, and the crafting of legislation are among the many things the Obama administration plans to expose to 'sunlight.' Time will tell exactly how the process of governing will or will not change as a result of this new openness to and engagement with the public. Meanwhile, including voters in the process of governing and shining 'light' on the scampering special interests who live in the dark corners of Washington--all that will make for plenty of good news copy in the months ahead, particularly on the Sunday talk shows.
If you close your eyes, you can almost hear the likes of Wolf Blitzer asking a White House spokesperson the ill-informed, but inevitable question, "Are you really going to hand over governing decisions to members of the general public?" Ah, yes. In 2009, the mainstream media will be roughly the same as it was in 2008. Such is life.


Rabbi Burt Visotzky, a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary, the flagship institution of Conservative Judaism, said he invokes "God" for interfaith prayer.

"I know that for Christians, Jesus is part of their Trinity," said Visotzky, who has taught at Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and at Protestant seminaries in the U.S. "For me as a Jew, hearing the name of a first-century rabbi isn't the worst thing in the world, but it's not my God."
--from the AP story, "Warren’s inauguration prayer could draw ire," that discusses the possibility of Warren offering the prayer "in the name of Jesus" and the reaction that might follow.

"Top Censored Stories" (with audio)

Free Speech Radio News, audio (04:35):
We're closing out 2008, and the New Year brings, as always, top ten lists of the bests and worst and what's in and what's out. Our look back at the year comes from Project Censored, a media research program that bridges advocacy and academia to shine a light on the 25 most underreported, ignored, misrepresented, or censored stories from the year. FSRN's Tanya Snyder has more.
Howie P.S.: The #1 story is an eye-popper. Here's the list, with the details and the sources.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

"Obama's online backers key to pushing his agenda"

Philip Elliot (AP pool reporter):
HONOLULU – President-elect Barack Obama's top asset in pushing his agenda will not be his Cabinet secretaries or aides, but rather his online network. Obama's political e-mail list tops 13 million names, a digital force that the incoming White House can tap to push for his legislation, tamp down critics or bolster popular support. It's also a way for Obama to reach into every state, every city, and every neighborhood.
A study released Tuesday found that a quarter of Obama voters said they would continue to work online to support the new administration. The nonpartisan Pew Internet and American Life Project also found 62 percent of Obama's voters say they would ask others to support Obama's policies.

Welcome to the Democrats' new permanent campaign, one planned online and executed on Main Street.

If it works the way Obama's top lieutenants plan, the White House would marshal hundreds of thousands of phone calls within hours if it looked as if the president-elect were losing a policy battle. With the click of a keyboard, Obama's aides could ask supporters to flood the phone lines of Congress, making it untenable to ignore the clamor.

That, at least, is the idea.

Obama's unmatched database gives his incoming administration a clear advantage over its Republican rivals, who have seen decades of datamining overcome in the matter of months. GOP leaders, though, insist they are not deterred.

"I'm impressed with what Obama did, but did they do anything innovative? No," said Cyrus Krohn, the Republican National Committee's online director. "They did things creatively."

During past election cycles, campaign Web sites were little more than digital versions of their campaign pamphlets. But during the last few elections, campaign strategists have turned to the Internet as a way to reach more voters — typically, the uninvolved or youth — and their donations. Now, Obama's team is turning that strategy into governance.

Howard Dean's primary campaign in 2004 brought together massive first-time online support and donors, but that did not translate to real-world votes. Similarly, John Edwards tried to mobilize his supporters in the name of national service ahead of his second presidential campaign; those single-issue voters were not there, however, when Activist Edwards became Candidate Edwards.

Obama, though, has been the most successful so far. Obama's online supporters raised some $500 million for him, created 2 million online profiles at and used his database to make phone calls during the campaign's final days.

According to the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, 59 percent of all voters took part in the campaign online, whether it was sending e-mail, reading political blogs or researching candidates. Obama clearly had the advantage.

The Pew survey asked 2,254 adults about their Internet usage and politics from Nov. 20 to Dec. 4. The margin of error in the overall sample is plus or minus 2 percentage points. Among the 1,591 Internet users, the margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

It's been a careful dance between Obama and his supporters. His aides have avoided bulk e-mail and have tailored each message to its intended audience. For instance, Latinos and Hispanics who supported Obama received an e-mail announcing Linda Sanchez would be a co-chairman of Obama's inauguration committee.

It's the only way to break through bulk e-mails that flood voters' inboxes, consultants say.

"I think we've seen them think critically about every single e-mail that they send," said Tracy Russo, a Democratic consultant who worked with Dean's and Edwards' online campaigns.

For decades, politicians have sought ways to harness public sentiment to outflank troublesome opponents, news organizations and rival interest groups. Obama's vast network can be a powerful weapon if he can control it, or a dangerous and unpredictable force if he cannot.

Liberal groups in recent weeks have joined the plan. MoveOn in recent weeks sent an e-mail to some of its 4.2 million supporters asking them to get involved, for example.

If Obama and his allies play this right, they could send phone lines crashing within minutes of a declared protest. Similarly, the instant communication of the Internet and cellular phone text messages could end it just by typing one word: "Stop."

That power gives Obama's online advisers a potentially bigger role than many of his Cabinet picks and major hires in pushing through an agenda. A Cabinet secretary stumping for a new bill has been rendered less powerful than a million e-mails crashing the Capitol; a visit to the Hill from top aides is unmatched to online petitions that clog legislative offices.

Since the election, 27 percent of wired Obama voters have visited Obama's Web site to discuss the transition, according to Pew. Even 10 percent of those who supported Republican nominee John McCain have visited the transition Web site,
The RNC, however, is not ceding the Internet.

Engineers and political hands have collaborated to identify 40 million GOP voters online, using commercial databases and their internal voter files.

"It doesn't take a lot to inspire movement and community online," said Krohn, the RNC's top Internet operative. "The notion that we can't catch up, I don't buy that premise because change happens so quickly on the Internet."

"No ordinary time for Obama" (video)

MSNBC, video (06:46).
Howie Intro: Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin ("Team of Rivals") is interviewed on "Morning Joe" about the historical context of the Obama presidency.

"BREAKING: Ask Obama For a Torture Special Prosecutor"

Ari Melber (The Nation):
The Obama transition team is taking questions again at, throwing open the site this week for citizen input. The first run of this experiment was a mixed bag. The platform was open and transparent, but the official answers felt more like old boilerplate than new responses. When the submitted questions parrot toics in the traditional media, of course, the exchange can feel like a dated press conference. But here's a vital question that few reporters have ever presented to Obama:

Will you appoint a Special Prosecutor (ideally Patrick Fitzgerald) to independently investigate the gravest crimes of the Bush Administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping?

That question ranked sixth in voting last time -- out of over 10,000 submissions -- but the transition team only answered the top five questions. Now that Vice President Cheney confessed his support for waterboarding on national television, flouting the rule of law, the issue is even more urgent. Activist Bob Fertik, who has submitted the question twice, explains how you can vote to press this issue on the transition team:

Sign in at

Search for "Fitzgerald" [...and] find our question

Look right for the checkbox, mouseover it so it goes from white to dark, then click to cast your vote

While the press has fixated on the criminal allegations against Gov. Blagojevich, for some reason, the (even more serious) allegations of torture by officials in the current administration receive scant attention. I have not heard one question about this during Obama's transition press conferences, and the traveling press corps almost never pressed Obama on the issue during the general election campaign.

One notable exception is The Philadelphia News' Will Bunch. Although he was not in the traveling press corps, Bunch did elicit Obama's April declaration that he would ask the Attorney General to "immediately review" evidence of potential crimes by the prior administration. (That response remains Obama's most thorough statement on the matter; it is still quoted in wire stories about the potential prosecution of Bush officials.) Given the sensitivity and gravity of potential prosecutions against a prior administration, however, an independent special prosecutor is better equipped to make the decision, as many legal experts has observed.

Law professor Jonathan Turley recently advocated a special prosecutor appointment, in order to investigate crimes regardless of whether the perpetrators were high-ranking officials. "Politicians merely have to get out of the way and allow a special prosecutor to take this investigation wherever it would lead," he told Legal Times. Turley added that he has "resisted" any emphasis on "how high up the ranks" prosecutions should go, because it "misses the point":

If there was a crime, we should not be concerned about where an investigation might lead. It will lead where criminal conduct is found. We do not ask that threshold questions for bankrobbers or purse snatchers. We leave the outcome to the criminal justice system.

Legal Times also asked Turley why his view has "not gained more currency in the public debate." The response is dead-on:

The mainstream media has bought into the concept that this is merely a political not a legal question. Indeed, media often leave the clearly misleading impression that there is an equal academic debate over whether waterboarding is torture or whether warrantless surveillance is legal. To this day, media refers to waterboarding as an 'interrogation technique' when courts have consistently defined it as torture.

Some journalists do approach torture and war crimes prosecution as a serious, legal issue -- attorneys Glenn Greenwald and Scott Horton have done extensive reporting; The New York Times recently editorialized for a special prosecutor; Jeremy Brecher and Brendan Smith have pressed for war crimes accountability in The Nation, and MSNBC's Rachel Maddow has interviewed senators and experts about the Bush administration's alleged crimes. (Fertik also has his own "scorecard".)

With so few journalists directly asking the President-Elect about these issues, however, it is up to the rest of us to put accountability and the rule of law on the agenda. is a fine place to start.

"Choice of Warren reflects Obama's intent to include evangelicals"

Peter S. Canellos (Boston Globe):
Many of the Obamaphiles streaming into Washington for the inauguration will be looking for one type of president - the dynamic agent of change, ready to end the pain of the Bush years and usher in a liberal reformation. But Barack Obama seems determined to give them another type of president - a figure of national consensus, wise and honorable and able to soar above the political fray.
Obama the candidate showed flashes of both approaches to leadership, and many voters were drawn to the idea that he might be the most liberal president in several generations. But it now seems clear that the vision of Obama as a liberal activist was the product of a handful of impressions that didn't make up a full picture.

The first was his early opposition to the Iraq war, which led both supporters and opponents to believe he was a dove on foreign policy. The second was his racial background, which he advertised as proof of his ability to change the story in Washington, which was true enough but led many to believe he would be a full-throated advocate for groups long excluded from power. The third was his criticism of Bill and Hillary Clinton's politics of "triangulation" - undermining conservative opponents by borrowing some of their positions - which led people to believe he would do no such thing.

All these were honest positions, and he hasn't backed away from them. But they managed to disguise that Obama's policies were no more progressive than Hillary Clinton's - and arguably less so on some issues such as healthcare. Moreover, his message of inclusion, which many liberals chose to read on their own terms - as an endorsement of gay rights and multiculturalism - was also aimed at red-state conservatives, whose religious values he mostly admired.

Now, Obama has nominated a Cabinet of highly familiar figures from a broad range of personal and political backgrounds, which most liberals have found acceptable, if not especially exciting. But his selection of Rick Warren, the evangelical minister and best-selling author of "The Purpose Driven Life," to deliver the invocation at his inauguration has served as a tip-off that Obama may not be exactly the type of change agent that many liberals have been expecting.

Though Warren has millions of followers, he's not especially well known on the national stage, and there is a blurriness about his politics. By some measures - such as his support for Proposition 8, which passed in November and blocked gay marriage in his native California - Warren is a figure of the religious right. But he has a more moderate tone than many evangelicals, and has emphasized some liberal concerns, such as the dangers of global warming, along with his conservative social message.

People who watched the nationally televised presidential forum at Warren's Saddleback Church in August got a hint of what was to come. Warren conducted separate interviews of Obama and John McCain before an audience of church members.

Obama seemed especially eager to win Warren's approval, repeatedly calling him "Pastor Rick" and offering detailed answers to questions about his spiritual views. Obama was also uncharacteristically tongue-tied at times, either because he was trying so hard to sound sincere or because he was straining to win over a skeptical audience.

McCain, by contrast, offered quick, simple answers and won the crowd's approval. Warren, for his part, seemed much more in tune with McCain, despite Obama's entreaties. Nonetheless, it was equally clear, even then, that Obama had identified Warren as someone he wanted to bring into the national discussion.

Inviting Warren to give the inaugural invocation is not necessarily an endorsement of his political views, as some liberals insist. But it is an endorsement of another sort, giving Warren the chance to play the role of national pastor formerly occupied by Billy Graham.

Obama is well aware of Warren's politics and the symbolism of his presence on the inaugural stand, and he is clearly signaling his determination to include evangelicals in his government of national unity.

Obama does not want an administration dedicated to vindicating long-excluded groups, but rather one that shows how those who have been excluded can, once invited inside, become just as mainstream in their skills, credentials, and opinions as any member of the East Coast establishment: He believes the same to be true of evangelicals.

The liberals who oppose Obama's choice of a pastor to offer the inaugural invocation may or may not have misjudged Warren, but it seems clear that they have misjudged Obama.
Howie P.S.: As Obama moves from the candidate seeking supporters to the president seeking a majority to govern, "change" is inevitable. For example, Obama is already facing opposition to his stimulus package from at least one Republican leader, and will be looking for as much support as possible to ensure its passage.

"Riding The Obama Wave In Hawaii" (with video)

CBS News with video (01:48):
A Cottage Industry Centered Around The Hometown Hero Has Emerged In The Aloha State--On his family vacation in Hawaii, just the sight of the President-elect trying to eat his tuna sandwich becomes a spectacle, reports CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy.
Those who can't capture a glimpse of the future president can now revisit his past.

Narrated tours of Obama's childhood, costing more than $40, are now big business in Honolulu. They stop at the apartment building he grew up in, a favorite lunch hangout and the local ice cream store.

Meanwhile, in the Waikiki Beach tourist shops, vendors are riding the Obama wave.

"We started off with one design, and it just was such a hit we decided to create another design," says Taylor Kwak of Crazy Shirts and T's.

It's all part of the growing Obama brand -- soon to be president but already global celebrity. His family's faces sell millions of magazines, and the paparazzi are making more than the bare minimum on their vacation photos.

And the attention is boosting his hometown of Honolulu. By body surfing at his favorite beach or going out for shaved ice, Obama is now the island's best ambassador.
"Since he is a local boy, he understands the islands and gets out and does the things locals do," says John Monahan of the Oahu Vistor's Bureau.

Honolulu already has a thriving tourist industry. The hope is that Obama will help people see the real Hawaii.
Howie P.S.: Day nine of Obama's "Holiday '08 Aloha Tour" featured a workout, golf and private time: "Another round for Obama," with video (00:30). The AP pool reporter teases with "Obama can't shake the bowling jokes." For comparison purposes, here's video (01:53) from the Western White House in Crawford, TX with an update on the current president's activities from Think Progress, "Gordon Johndroe on Bush's plans to deal with Middle East crisis."

Monday, December 29, 2008

"Encourage Obama to Appoint a Special Prosecutor for Bush Administration"
At, President-Elect Obama is inviting a second round of questions. At the end of the first round, our Special Prosecutor question was #6 but Obama's team only answered the first five. This time let's get our question to #1!

"Will you appoint a Special Prosecutor - ideally Patrick Fitzgerald - to independently investigate the gravest crimes of the Bush Administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping?"
-Bob Fertik, New York City

  1. Sign in at
  2. Search for "Fitzgerald" (it's an unusual word so it will produce few results)
  3. Find our question above
  4. Look right for the checkbox, mouseover it so it goes from white to dark, then click to cast your vote

"Obama for America 2.0?"

Ari Melber (The Nation):
Barack Obama does not look like any other American president, but more important, his supporters look different from every other president's base. They are the most connected national constituency in history.
During the campaign, Obama's aides relentlessly recruited voters into several networks at a time. More than a million people asked for campaign text messages on their cellphones. Two million joined MyBO, a website fusing social networking with volunteer work, while more than 5 million supported Obama's profile on social sites like Facebook. Most famously, 13 million voters signed up for regular e-mails, fundraising pitches and other communications. On election day, a staggering 25 percent of Obama voters were already directly linked to him--and one another--through these networks. Campaigns largely dissolve after elections, but this infrastructure remains intact.

Presidents have always needed intermediaries to rally their base, from the press to party machinery. But Obama has a direct line--or several--to his most active supporters. "We've never seen anything like this," says Micah Sifry, who runs the Internet politics site Obama has "the ability to directly reach millions of people in a very targeted way [and to] activate support district by district." Since the election his aides have been experimenting with how to use the networks, for governance and for postcampaign politicking.

On the governance side, the transition team is recruiting people to monitor transition meetings, pose public questions to the staff and share input on selected policies, starting with healthcare. Twenty thousand people participated in the first user-generated press conference, which allowed the public to write and rank questions. The bailout, civil liberties and marijuana legalization were popular topics. The transition team's Internet director, Macon Phillips, said the queries "weren't only ones you'd expect from supporters, which is a good thing." Phillips did Internet outreach for the campaign, but he stressed that the objectives have shifted. "In the campaign we were organizing people. Now it's more conversational, trying to listen and engage people that weren't engaged in the campaign."

The political track is more complicated. A few people still gather at the old Chicago campaign headquarters to draft e-mails and plan volunteer events. The e-mail list could have used a break--7,000 messages went out during the campaign--but the focus is on maintaining momentum. E-mails with announcements, videos, events and donation requests keep pouring out of But what is now? So far, it feels like a campaign without an election. In December supporters met at 4,000 house parties and reported back on the top issues discussed. At one gathering in Brooklyn, the twenty middle-aged attendees were upbeat but unclear on the meeting's purpose. Volunteers posted hundreds of photos from the events on Obama's Flickr account, featuring diverse and enthusiastic gatherings that ranged from a handful of people to several hundred. Beyond volunteer labor, the postcampaign organization will have a budget and paid staff, according to a senior field operative who spoke at Rootscamp, an organizing conference in Washington. Some aides refer to this operation as "Obama for America 2.0," though the name has not yet stuck, and no one knows exactly what it will do.

Many Obama supporters want the network to turn from electoral politics to lobbying. After the election, half a million activists responded to an e-mail survey about the road ahead. The most popular goal was to help the administration "pass legislation," according to campaign manager David Plouffe. If Obama's initiatives stall in Congress, these activists will presumably back him instead of their local representatives. Combining the White House bully pulpit with constituent lobbying could have a dramatic effect on Obama's presidency. Previous presidents have gone over the heads of Congress by appealing to the public, of course, but never with a parallel whip operation targeting representatives in their backyards. If the pressure works, the experiment could even alter the conventional balance of power. After all, citizens typically lobby the legislature for their own policy goals--not on behalf of another branch of government. While George W. Bush boosted executive power by routing around Congress, Obama may fortify executive power by mobilizing citizens to roll right over Congress.

Top-down legislative advocacy, however, is not the only aspiration for members of Obama's network. The campaign thrived on bottom-up participation, with volunteers taking charge of projects, organizing themselves and sometimes challenging Obama's positions. "There's been a lot of hand-wringing about what Obama is going to do with his e-mail list, but that has it a bit backward," says David Dayen, who writes the progressive blog D-Day. "It's really, What is the list going to do with Obama?" Marshall Ganz, the famed United Farm Workers organizer who advised the Obama and Dean campaigns, also argues that the network should not be treated as a list to be managed. Obama won "through the creation of a movement," Ganz observed in a recent YouTube interview, but that does not mean its members can be directed from Washington. "Can he lead it from the presidency?" Ganz asked. "Probably not."

Yochai Benkler, who wrote the Internet bible The Wealth of Networks, is advocating an empowered civic activism for the Obama era. At a December summit for Internet politics at Harvard, where he and Ganz teach, Benkler warned the Obama staff in attendance to avoid focusing solely on "mobilization for the next battle." Now there is a special opportunity, he stressed, to serve the "core of democracy" by fostering relevant "participatory forums for people to set their own agenda."

This vision is more ambitious than responding to surveys or submitting questions to the administration. To shift presidential priorities, network activists must by definition reach beyond the boundaries of the incumbent agenda. Obama's supporters will have to decide whether fulfilling the movement sometimes means pushing the president, or if such efforts will always be degraded as "counterproductive" by the narrow metrics of tactical politics. In other words, are any issues bigger than Obama?

"Obama's technologically networked supporters are unlikely to desert him or pressure him very hard, wanting so much to believe that the 'change' mantra will mean something other than swapping Hillary for Condi," predicts John Stauber, a netroots activist and critic. "While Obama became the candidate of choice for most on the left, the fact that he is well to the right of his supporters remains a challenge to his base."

One precedent for more participatory agenda-setting occurred this past summer, when Obama backed Bush's domestic-spying bill. Supporters used Obama's social networking portal to protest the move. Thousands of activists discussed the issue through direct e-mails, thanks to the campaign's tools, and they developed goals together. The protest swiftly became the largest self-organized group on the site at the time. That growth, in turn, drew widespread attention and a direct response from Obama, sans media filter, to his critical supporters. While he did not change his vote, the effort clearly forced a civil liberties argument onto the agenda--a result that formal, funded organizations often fail to achieve. "Traditionally, unless a citizen group convinced the media to cover their events, a candidate or representative wouldn't necessarily know about them," notes Sam Graham-Felsen, the Obama campaign's official blogger. Based on visibility alone, Obama's network can play a significant role in pushing him to address issues beyond the choices presented by the media and formal interest groups.

The protest group's evolution, however, also shows how hard it is to maintain a decentralized pressure network. The campaign's top-down networks never stopped growing, but the protest group's e-mail list has fallen to one-third its original size. About thirty members are organizing a new push for the inauguration, but they have not regained traction with many supporters, blogs or the press. Jon Pincus, a social-network activist and early group leader, believes similar efforts can influence the administration if there are conflicts on core issues like Iraq or torture. "During the campaign these efforts could be centered primarily on MyBarackObama," he said. "But now you'd probably have to work across several other social networks, using MyBO as only one of the nodes in the network-of-networks."

Meanwhile, the self-organized groups that were built to elect Obama are still talking to one another. "A lot of the homemade groups on MyBarackObama are still updating and sending out e-mails about what's going on," says Kevin Flynn, who worked on the campaign's blogging team in Chicago. "I still get eight e-mails a day from grassroots groups," he told me in late December. While they were not created for protest, some of these networks could morph into hubs to pressure Obama. Take the student network, one of the largest groups on the site. During the campaign it held 19,633 grassroots events, raised more than $1.7 million and hosted a constant stream of many-to-many communication through more than 170,000 blog entries. As this article went to press, members were posting criticism of Obama for inviting Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the inauguration.
These networks should not be defined, however, only by whether they take orders or try to give them. Beyond their orientation toward Obama, millions of citizens are now more primed to activate and lead one another. A whopping 10 percent of the survey respondents even said they want to run for office. Now they have a good model for how to do it.
Howie P.S.: Meanwhile, far away on a tropical island in the Pacific Ocean, "Obama kicks back with North Shore pal." And Ben Smith points to "Though Obama Had to Leave to Find Himself, It Is Hawaii That Made His Rise Possible" for more on his aloha roots. Last night's "60 Minutes" was "Barack Obama: The Road To The White House" (video , 43:17). H/t to Jed Lewison.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

"Gibbs Prepares for His Starring Role"

Jake Tapper (ABC News):
Can the Former Political Knife-Fighter Adapt to the More Genteel White House Podium?--Looking back at the tumultuous, ultimately victorious year past, former Barack Obama campaign senior aide and incoming White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs didn't hesitate when he was asked to name his toughest political moment.

It came, he told ABC News in an exclusive interview, "right after we'd clinched the nomination and the president-elect is going to meet with Sen. [Hillary] Clinton."
Gibbs was part of a bit of Obama campaign misdirection in which the reporters covering the then-Illinois senator, flew on the Democrat's plane from Washington back to Chicago while the candidate stayed behind to secretly meet with his former opponent in the home of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

Replaying the incident in his mind, Gibbs recalled, "I know that the then-candidate Barack Obama is not going to be on our flight home to Chicago. But, the press doesn't know that. And I held in the car and I got on the plane and right when I got on the plane, we basically moved to taxi and about 15 seconds later, the press realized that the candidate wasn't on the plane. And I knew that was going to be a long ride home for an hour-and-a-half flight. And that we were going to have a lot of explaining to do."

Between the Obama team and the media sat a section of Secret Service agents. On his way back to tell the media why the candidate was not on the plane, Gibbs stopped to speak to them. He "told our detail leader that, 'If I'm not back in 15 minutes, get the guns out and come get me out of there.'"

Gibbs now says the campaign could "have handled it differently. I think we were in a very tough position either way. ... I understood the pitfalls of what were undertaking. The hardest part was, it was a decision that was made, but I was the one that had to implement."

The incident made for a contentious moment between the media and the Obama campaign, and it's one that Gibbs was clearly thinking about as he sat down to talk with ABC News about his new job as White House press secretary.

"A lot of the advice that I've gotten from former press secretaries," Gibbs said, is "you have to be seen as an honest broker that can discuss why this decision was made and how it was made. To explain it to a larger audience via the press. That's a role that a press secretary has to play."

In the briefing room, he said, a press secretary is seen as "a real honest broker."

Born to Auburn University library employees in 1971, the bespectacled Alabaman has worked for Obama since his Senate campaign in 2004.

Known as a bit of a political knife-fighter on Capitol Hill for his work as something of a rogue operative after he left Sen. John Kerry's campaign amid a staff shake-up, Gibbs became a close adviser to Obama in the Senate and took an even more prominent role in the senator's 2008 presidential campaign.

Now, however, he is preparing for the actual act of governing, which can be even tougher. Is he prepared for the intense scrutiny of his every word? Is he ready to serve as a media piƱata? And, given that he could likely have served as a senior adviser to the president-elect, why would he want the gig?

"I think it's a tremendously important time in our country's history," he said earnestly. "And if I can help the president through the role of a spokesperson that talks to the country every day in a briefing room or through the work of reporters, that doing that and furthering an agenda that will bring about change and move the country forward, that's a hard opportunity to say no to."

And is he ready?

"Look, I don't know if you ever become ready until you do it," he said.

Having recently rehearsed a few practice briefings in what his colleagues on the Obama transition team jokingly referred to as "press secretary school," Gibbs said, "becoming prepared for this and going through ... a little of the practice of this, it's really unlike anything you've ever done. You know, it's not like a cable interview that lasts four or five minutes. This is something that can last 45 minutes. And you could get questions on virtually any topic at any point.

"When you think about it, it's a little daunting, sure," he acknowledged.

Obama was recently asked by a reporter for the New York Times Magazine which character from Obama's favorite movie "The Godfather" Gibbs most reminds him of. Obama suggested the loyal, soft-spoken family lawyer, or consigliere, Tom Hagen, as played by Robert Duval.

"And I've seen a little bit of Sonny in him once in a while," Obama added, referring to the hot-tempered oldest Corleone son whose emotion got the best of him.

"There's no question that everybody has different styles," Gibbs said. "And I think the president-elect, in that article, said that, you know, there's times in which I can be combative for his point of view. And I don't doubt that that's at times going to happen."

ABC News solicited advice for Gibbs from three recent press secretaries Dana Perino and Scott McClellan from the Bush White House, and Joe Lockhart from Bill Clinton's White House. Gibbs then responded to some of their suggestions.

"I think the biggest challenge any press secretary faces if they've done the campaign is to transition out of the idea that every day is political combat, where you're trying to promote your candidate and by either covertly or overtly, denigrate the other candidate in the American public's mind, and really get to this idea of governing," Lockhart said.

Is that going to be tough for Gibbs?

"You assume different roles at different times," Gibbs said. "I think one of the things that Joe also talks about is, again, there's this range of issues that you're speaking on behalf of the president and the administration on each and every day. You know, it's a little bit less what's going on in the polls and maybe the one central argument that you may be having with a political opponent on any given day."

Suggested Perino: "I think one of the best pieces of advice I ever got from somebody -- I mean, Ari Fleischer, the first press secretary under the Bush administration -- was to not take the questions in the briefing room personally. And that can be hard sometimes, especially when you care deeply about your president. It can sometimes feel like they're coming after you or coming after him through you. And I think the most important thing to remember is to not take it personally."

Gibbs suggested that was a point well taken.

"You have to every day understand that everybody has a job to do," he said. "And anybody that questions the administration, if I'm standing at the podium, or vice versa, I think does that because they have a job to do in covering this administration, and then the workings of a real representative democracy. I do think it's important that you try not to take the questions personally."

It was pointed out that there may have been some times during the campaign when he probably took it personally a little bit.

"Sure," he said. "I don't think there's any doubt&.My guess is if you took every one of [the tough questions] personally, you probably wouldn't make it through a whole month without becoming so enraged that you didn't want to talk to anybody in the press. And I don't think that's probably a very good way of operating."

Scott McClellan suggested that Gibbs limit the number of briefings that he does personally within a week and bring in other senior administration officials, to do briefings so as to help the administration get its more substantive message out.

Gibbs said former White House press secretary Mike McCurry gave him similar advice and he agrees.

"The American people are obviously very, very smart," Gibbs said. "They're well ahead on virtually everything. They're well ahead of their representatives in Washington. They understand that the economy is bad, that it's likely to get worse before it gets better. And that this isn't going to get better overnight."

More substantive briefings might help "the American people understand where he or she, if it's a Cabinet official, where they want to take the country, what kinds of plans that they want to implement to help make the lives of average everyday voters a little bit better."

Gibbs suggested that the Bush administration -- "particularly as it relates to the economic recovery or the money that's been used to help banks and to relieve the stresses on our financial system -- if they could do it all over again, I bet one of the things that they might tell you is they probably needed a stronger communications strategy for letting people know and understand how this was going to work and what this money was going to be used for."

Gibbs said that in light of recent reports of insufficient oversight of the $700 billion allocated to help stabilize the nation's economic systems, and reports that some of that money might be spent on executive bonuses, the Obama administration will try to shed more light on the allocation of the funds after taking office.

"Absolutely," he said. "There's no question that this and many other economic problems are going to land on President-elect Obama's plate on Jan. 20. We're a little hamstrung because of the notion that there is only one president at a time."

Lockhart reminded Gibbs to be careful in his words.

"You know, one of the things is that there is tremendous power in everything you say," said the former Clinton spokesman. "As the White House press secretary you're speaking for the leader of the free world and the most powerful institution in the world, the U.S. government. I think I had had the job for a couple of days and someone had made some allegation against the president, I very casually told a reporter that this guy was a liar. It became a big headline and the next thing you know I was sued for $10 million. ...

"You can casually, again, walking down the hallway run into a reporter and make a remark that can set off World War III or tank the stock market."

"At least the expectations aren't that great," Gibbs joked.

Is he ready?

"I'm in the process of getting ready for it," he said. "I don't think I'd be here if people didn't have confidence in my ability to do this."

Can he watch his tongue?

"I think I can," Gibbs said. "I am sure there will be many that will test that premise. I sure there will be people who will keep this tape and play it back when I don't. But again, I look at this as a tremendous honor, what the president-elect has given to me. And I understand -- I think I understand what's at stake, and I understand that this isn't about me, that it's about something far bigger than that."

Perino also advised Gibbs that the toughest job is not defending "the president to the press. But an even tougher job sometimes is defending the press to the president, and speaking up for the press and making sure that they have access and get the answers that they need."

Gibbs insisted that the president-elect respects the job of the media, though he acknowledged there were times he thought reporters too focused on silly items.

"We were watching hundreds of thousands of people lose their jobs, and we were debating the meaning of the phrase 'lipstick on a pig,'" Gibbs recalled. "But let me use another sort of colloquialism. Hopefully this won't be maligned quite as much as that one is. But I think what Dana says there is, 'You get more flies than you do with vinegar.'"

McClellan, who famously complained about being misled by former senior Bush aides Lewis "Scooter" Libby and Karl Rove during the investigation into the leak of Valerie Plames' identity as a CIA operative, advised Gibbs: "You want to be able to vouch for yourself and for the president, but be careful about vouching for others.

"When you're not in that room when someone was maybe involved in something, you need to be very careful about trying to speak for them," McClellan said. "Let that person either speak for him or herself or make sure you carefully couch how you phrase something, saying that those individuals assured me that they were doing such and such or not doing such and such.

"You want to be very careful about that because when you're not there someone may tell you one thing but you can't know with absolute certainty and so you want to be careful about who you vouch for beyond yourself and the president."

But Gibbs seemed unworried.

"I believe that the people ... the president-elect has been able to assemble in a government that will take over on the 20th of January, I think we've put together a caliber of people that not only that I trust, but certainly have the trust of the president-elect, and I think that's extremely important," he said.

But isn't it inherent in what President-elect Obama has done with his Cabinet selecting so many strong personalities in his "Team of Rivals," including four former primary opponents that one will maybe occasionally wander off the reservation?

"I think the far greater risk is assembling a group of people that whenever the president opens their mouth they all nod their heads in agreement," Gibbs said. The president-elect "wants and expects there to be disagreement within that room."

But "there is one person in that room that is going to make the ultimate and final decision. That's going to be President-elect Barack Obama," he said. "And despite the arguments that you may have in the room about the direction or the decisions that you make on different issues, he expects each and every one of us to get behind the decision that's ultimately made, because he is the president of the United States."

"Axelrod says Warren prayer 'a good thing'" (with video)

Mike Allen (Politico), with video (04:34):
Top Obama adviser David Axelrod strongly defended the selection of evangelical pastor Rick Warren to deliver the opening prayer at the inauguration, telling moderator David Gregory on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the nation needs to get beyond “shaking our fists” across a political divide.

The selection of Warren, a Californian whose “The Purpose Driven Life” has sold 20 million copies, prompted a fierce backlash from some of Obama’s liberal supporters — especially gay activists, who were miffed at Warren’s support for the Golden State proposition outlawing same-sex marriage, which passed in November.

“You have a conservative evangelical pastor who’s coming to participate in the inauguration of a progressive president,” Axelrod said from Chicago. “This is a healthy thing and a good thing for our country. We have to find ways to work together on the things on which we do agree, even when we profoundly disagree on other things.”

Axelrod did not take the bait when Gregory read praise from televangelist Pat Robertson for Obama’s Cabinet selections.

“We gotta get beyond this sorta politics where … we’re each on the jagged edge of a great divide, shaking our fists at each other,” Axelrod said. “We do have a great Cabinet – we’re proud of that Cabinet.”
Axelrod also said that Obama plans to go through with his promised tax increase on the rich, but has not decided when. Obama aides have left the timing ambiguous since Election Day.

The increase could come quickly through repeal of Bush tax cuts. Or Obama could delay it by simply allowing those tax cuts to expire as scheduled at the end of 2010.

“He’s promised a middle-class tax cut – this [stimulus] package will include a portion of that tax cut that will become part of the permanent tax cut he’ll have in his upcoming budget,” Axelrod said.

Pressed on whether Obama will hold off on any tax increase, Axelrod said: “The question is on the Bush tax cuts for the very wealthiest Americans, and it’s something that we plainly can’t afford moving forward. And whether it expires or whether we repeal it a little bit early, we’ll determine later. But it’s going to go. It has to go.”

Gregory also asked Axelrod about Obama’s closed-door conversation with federal prosecutors investigating the corruption case against Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

“They wanted to know anything that he knew about it,” Axelrod said. “He had no contact with the governor or the governor’s staff. He had some conversations with his own staff. … They just wanted to probe and see if there was anything more he could add.”

Asked twice about releasing notes and transcripts from staff interviews in the case, Axelrod turned the idea aside.

“Obviously, he’s going to be holding press conferences and you guys are free to ask whatever you want to ask,” Axelrod said. “There’s nothing more, really, to release. … You’ve got the full narrative of what happened.”

Finally, Gregory asked Axelrod if he believes the governor was “attempting to sell his Senate seat, in effect, to the highest bidder.”

“Well, David, I’m not going to answer that question,” Axelrod replied.

Axelrod, a New York City native and former Chicago Tribune political reporter and columnist, also led Obama’s successful 2004 campaign for U.S. Senate.

On other topics, Axelrod:

—Said Obama had not been pushing for Valerie Jarrett, who will also have the White House title of senior adviser, to succeed him in the Senate: “My contact with president-elect never suggested that he was pushing one particular candidate over another. Valerie Jarrett … is a close friend and adviser to the president-elect. He wanted her in the White House. I never heard him express an interest in putting her in the Senate.”

—Said he does not plan to work on Obama’s reelection from the White House: “My job, David, is different than Mr. Rove’s job was. I see my job as simply helping disseminate the message of Barack Obama – working with the communications team, to make sure that we’re true to the ideals and the values and the programs that he wants to advance in this country. And that’s the extent of my involvement. We’ve got plenty of good, talented political people who are not coming into the administration, and – when the time comes – will run the campaign.”

—Declined to go beyond the president-elect’s previous statements about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict now raging in Gaza: “President Bush speaks for the United States of America until January 20th, and we’re going to honor that moving forward … We only have one government and one president at a time. … He’ll be prepared to take over on the 20th.”

"The Ongoing Torture Fight"

mcjoan (Kos-front page):
The CIA and establishment media push to soften the edges of torture keeps on ticking, in the form of ongoing outrage over the Brennan non-nomination and trying to turn the ire against bloggers.
Here's digby, as usual saying it as well as anyone could:

As hard as it is to believe, this story about liberal bloggers destroying the CIA by tanking the good soldier John Brennan's nomination just won't go away. CNN was running it all day....

First, I have never really bought the idea that bloggers actually tanked this nomination. (If we had that kind of power, do you think we'd be faced with Rick Warrens greasy visage on inauguration day?) So this insistence among the press, and presumably their sources at the agency, is a bit hard to swallow. Indeed, the report itself, which they teased with the headline "was Barack Obama's first choice to be CIA chief torpedoed by bloggers?" all day, pretty much says it's bs.

I would not be surprised if the Obama team told Brennan that was the reason. (They deny it, so there's no clear answer.) But frankly, this story just doesn't make sense no matter how you look at it. If the Obama team wanted to drop Brennan, let's hope they used a more believable excuse than "bloggers" made them do it. If Brennan believed them, then it shows that he is far too gullible to be the head of the CIA. And if people in the CIA are using this as a way to make Obama look weak or foolish, they are being unpatriotic asses.

And then there's the press. They get the story wrong over and over and over again. This is a Fox story which CNN has decided is juicy enough for them to flog with a Fox style misleading headline all day long. There's just no end to it, despite the fact that Glenn Greenwald and others have been very precise in their criticisms of Brennan, never once implying that anyone who was in the CIA during the Bush administration is disqualified.

I have to say that it's more than a little bit disconcerting if anonymous members of the CIA are focusing their ire on liberal bloggers. Considering the vast powers of the agency, it has a tinge of a threat to it. As I pointed out before, liberal bloggers have long defended the CIA's analyses and never held the torture and rendition regime against the rank and file, while the right wing was defaming them at every turn, blaming them for 9/11 and the failure of Iraq.

But Brennan was at the top of the food chain and he made statements after he left the agency indicating he supported some aspects of the program. To those of us who believe that torture, Guantanamo and rendition are serious threats to national security as well as an immoral degradation of American ideals, it's important that Obama not send the wrong signals to the world by appointing someone who has made such public statements.

So you've got the CIA doing their damnedest to intimidate the Obama team. Whether they are doing it to cover their asses and pre-emptively waylay potential investigations into their activities, or actually want to justify these programs to continue them, they've found a willling acomplice in the traditional media, which is spoiling for a fight between Obama and the left base. Unfortunatey, one anonymous Obama transition "observer" is willing to play the game, giving this ridiculous comment to WaPo:

The episode bothered a lot of Brennan fans in the Obama operation, where he still heads the CIA transition team. "If we’re afraid of bloggers," one transition observer quipped, "how can we take on al-Qaeda?" Various names have popped up since for the job, including Washington lawyer and former agency general counsel Jeff Smith

Is it really so hard for "Brennan fans in the Obama operation" to see how appointing a torture apologist to head the CIA is sending precisely the wrong message to the rest of the world? Do they not understand that running a campaign on "change" means, you know, changing things? Particularly the egregious lawlessness of the previous regime?

I agree with digby that it's highly unlikely that pressure from bloggers torpedoed Brennan. It's far more likely that savvy Obama transition leaders recognized that Brennan's confirmation hearings would be ugly, because there are enough members of the Senate Intelligence Committee to oppose him. In fact, I wouldn't be at all surprise if Russ Feingold didn't have something to do with Brennan's withdrawl. I'd also like to hope that there's a modicum of moral principle behind the Brennan decision as well, that he was as opposed among members of the transition team because of his defense of torture.

Nonetheless, the intelligence community and their accomplices are going to do their damnedest to keep this story alive, and to make the bloggers the bad guys (as if we're running around waterboarding people). Fine, whatever. We can take the heat, just as long as it means the torture stops. It's a trade-off I can live with. But it would be nice if, just once, the traditional media could get the story right.

"You're Likable Enough, Gay People"

Frank Rich (NY Times):
In his first press conference after his re-election in 2004, President Bush memorably declared, “I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it.” We all know how that turned out.
Barack Obama has little in common with George W. Bush, thank God, his obsessive workouts and message control notwithstanding. At a time when very few Americans feel very good about very much, Obama is generating huge hopes even before he takes office. So much so that his name and face, affixed to any product, may be the last commodity left in the marketplace that can still move Americans to shop.

I share these high hopes. But for the first time a faint tinge of Bush crept into my Obama reveries this month.

As we saw during primary season, our president-elect is not free of his own brand of hubris and arrogance, and sometimes it comes before a fall: “You’re likable enough, Hillary” was the prelude to his defeat in New Hampshire. He has hit this same note again by assigning the invocation at his inauguration to the Rev. Rick Warren, the Orange County, Calif., megachurch preacher who has likened committed gay relationships to incest, polygamy and “an older guy marrying a child.” Bestowing this honor on Warren was a conscious — and glib — decision by Obama to spend political capital. It was made with the certitude that a leader with a mandate can do no wrong.

In this case, the capital spent is small change. Most Americans who have an opinion about Warren like him and his best-selling self-help tome, “The Purpose Driven Life.” His good deeds are plentiful on issues like human suffering in Africa, poverty and climate change. He is opposed to same-sex marriage, but so is almost every top-tier national politician, including Obama. Unlike such family-values ayatollahs as James Dobson and Tony Perkins, Warren is not obsessed with homosexuality and abortion. He was vociferously attacked by the Phyllis Schlafly gang when he invited Obama to speak about AIDS at his Saddleback Church two years ago.

There’s no reason why Obama shouldn’t return the favor by inviting him to Washington. But there’s a difference between including Warren among the cacophony of voices weighing in on policy and anointing him as the inaugural’s de facto pope. You can’t blame V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop and an early Obama booster, for feeling as if he’d been slapped in the face. “I’m all for Rick Warren being at the table,” he told The Times, but “we’re talking about putting someone up front and center at what will be the most-watched inauguration in history, and asking his blessing on the nation. And the God that he’s praying to is not the God that I know.”

Warren, whose ego is no less than Obama’s, likes to advertise his “commitment to model civility in America.” But as Rachel Maddow of MSNBC reminded her audience, “comparing gay relationships to child abuse” is a “strange model of civility.” Less strange but equally hard to take is Warren’s defensive insistence that some of his best friends are the gays: His boasts of having “eaten dinner in gay homes” and loving Melissa Etheridge records will not protect any gay families’ civil rights.

Equally lame is the argument mounted by an Obama spokeswoman, Linda Douglass, who talks of how Warren has fought for “people who have H.I.V./AIDS.” Shouldn’t that be the default position of any religious leader? Fighting AIDS is not a get-out-of-homophobia-free card. That Bush finally joined Bono in doing the right thing about AIDS in Africa does not mitigate the gay-baiting of his 2004 campaign, let alone his silence and utter inaction when the epidemic was killing Texans by the thousands, many of them gay men, during his term as governor.

Unlike Bush, Obama has been the vocal advocate of gay civil rights he claims to be. It is over the top to assert, as a gay writer at Time did, that the president-elect is “a very tolerant, very rational-sounding sort of bigot.” Much more to the point is the astute criticism leveled by the gay Democratic congressman Barney Frank, who, in dissenting from the Warren choice, said of Obama, “I think he overestimates his ability to get people to put aside fundamental differences.” That’s a polite way of describing the Obama cockiness. It will take more than the force of the new president’s personality and eloquence to turn our nation into the United States of America he and we all want it to be.

Obama may not only overestimate his ability to bridge some of our fundamental differences but also underestimate how persistent some of those differences are. The exhilaration of his decisive election victory and the deserved applause that has greeted his mostly glitch-free transition can’t entirely mask the tensions underneath. Before there is profound social change, there is always high anxiety.

The success of Proposition 8 in California was a serious shock to gay Americans and to all the rest of us who believe that all marriages should be equal under the law. The roles played by African-Americans (who voted 70 percent in favor of Proposition 8) and by white Mormons (who were accused of bankrolling the anti-same-sex-marriage campaign) only added to the morning-after recriminations. And that was in blue California. In Arkansas, voters went so far as to approve a measure forbidding gay couples to adopt.

There is comparable anger and fear on the right. David Brody, a political correspondent with the Christian Broadcasting Network, was flooded with e-mails from religious conservatives chastising Warren for accepting the invitation to the inaugural. They vilified Obama as “pro-death” and worse because of his support for abortion rights.

Stoking this rage, no doubt, is the dawning realization that the old religious right is crumbling — in part because Warren’s new generation of leaders departs from the Falwell-Robertson brand of zealots who have had a stranglehold on the G.O.P. It’s a sign of the old establishment’s panic that the Rev. Richard Cizik, known for his leadership in addressing global warming, was pushed out of his executive post at the National Association of Evangelicals this month. Cizik’s sin was to tell Terry Gross of NPR that he was starting to shift in favor of civil unions for gay couples.

Cizik’s ouster won’t halt the new wave he represents. As he also told Gross, young evangelicals care less and less about the old wedge issues and aren’t as likely to base their votes on them. On gay rights in particular, polls show that young evangelicals are moving in Cizik’s (and the country’s) direction and away from what John McCain once rightly called “the agents of intolerance.” It’s not a coincidence that Dobson’s Focus on the Family, which spent more than $500,000 promoting Proposition 8, has now had to lay off 20 percent of its work force in Colorado Springs.

But we’re not there yet. Warren’s defamation of gay people illustrates why, as does our president-elect’s rationalization of it. When Obama defends Warren’s words by calling them an example of the “wide range of viewpoints” in a “diverse and noisy and opinionated” America, he is being too cute by half. He knows full well that a “viewpoint” defaming any minority group by linking it to sexual crimes like pedophilia is unacceptable.

It is even more toxic in a year when that group has been marginalized and stripped of its rights by ballot initiatives fomenting precisely such fears. “You’ve got to give them hope” was the refrain of the pioneering 1970s gay politician Harvey Milk, so stunningly brought back to life by Sean Penn on screen this winter. Milk reminds us that hope has to mean action, not just words.

By the historical standards of presidential hubris, Obama’s disingenuous defense of his tone-deaf invitation to Warren is nonetheless a relatively tiny infraction. It’s no Bay of Pigs. But it does add an asterisk to the joyous inaugural of our first black president. It’s bizarre that Obama, of all people, would allow himself to be on the wrong side of this history.

Since he’s not about to rescind the invitation, what happens next? For perspective, I asked Timothy McCarthy, a historian who teaches at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and an unabashed Obama enthusiast who served on his campaign’s National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Leadership Council. He responded via e-mail on Christmas Eve.

After noting that Warren’s role at the inauguration is, in the end, symbolic, McCarthy concluded that “it’s now time to move from symbol to substance.” This means Warren should “recant his previous statements about gays and lesbians, and start acting like a Christian.”

McCarthy added that it’s also time “for President-elect Obama to start acting on the promises he made to the LGBT community during his campaign so that he doesn’t go down in history as another Bill Clinton, a sweet-talking swindler who would throw us under the bus for the sake of political expediency.” And “for LGBT folks to choose their battles wisely, to judge Obama on the content of his policy-making, not on the character of his ministers.”
Amen. Here’s to humility and equanimity everywhere in America, starting at the top, as we negotiate the fierce rapids of change awaiting us in the New Year.
Howie P.S.: Interesting comments here.

H/t to Linda Seltzer.