quarta-feira, 31 de dezembro de 2008

Obama Dismisses Bush Pentagon Appointees

Sam Youngman, The Hill: "Despite keeping Defense Secretary Robert Gates in the Pentagon, President-elect Obama's transition team informed 90 Bush appointees their services will not be needed after Inauguration Day. Scott Gration, a senior official on Obama's transition team, called and emailed several of President Bush's Pentagon appointees about 10 days ago to inform them they were being dismissed."

terça-feira, 30 de dezembro de 2008

Obama should end Cuba embargo...

...after all, the Castro regime has survived 10 US presidents. Isn't it time for a change of tack?

Teo Ballve, The Progressive: "This week marks the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, an opportune time for President-elect Obama to signal an end to the Cuban embargo. During the campaign, Obama promised to 'turn the page and begin to write a new chapter in U.S.-Cuba policy.' Contrary to the Bush administration's policies, Obama said he would give Cuban-Americans 'unrestricted rights' to visit family and send cash remittances to the island."

segunda-feira, 29 de dezembro de 2008

Lessons for Other Smokers in Obama’s Efforts to Quit

Will one of President-elect Barack Obama’s New Year’s resolutions be to quit smoking once and for all?

His good-humored waffling in various interviews about smoking made it plain that Mr. Obama, like many who have vowed to quit at this time of year, had not truly done so.

He told Tom Brokaw of NBC several weeks ago, for example, that he “had stopped” but that “there are times where I’ve fallen off the wagon.” He promised to obey the no-smoking rules in the White House, but whether that meant he would be ducking out the back door for a smoke is not known. His transition team declined to answer any questions about his smoking, past or present, or his efforts to quit.

Antismoking activists would love to see him use his bully pulpit to inspire others to join him in trying to kick the habit, but he has not yet taken up their cause.

The last president to smoke more than occasionally was Gerald R. Ford, who was quite fond of his pipes. Jimmy Carter and both Presidents George Bush were reportedly abstainers, but Bill Clinton liked cigars from time to time, though he may have chewed more than he smoked.

Mr. Obama’s heaviest smoking was seven or eight cigarettes a day, but three was more typical, according to an interview published in the November issue of Men’s Health magazine. In a letter given to reporters before the election, Mr. Obama’s doctor described his smoking history as “intermittent,” and said he had quit several times and was using Nicorette gum, a form of nicotine replacement, “with success.” Mr. Obama was often seen chewing gum during the campaign.

His pattern matches that of millions of other people who have resolved but stumbled in their efforts to give up cigarettes. Today, 21 percent of Americans smoke, down from 28 percent in 1988. Off-again-on-again smoking and serial quitting are common, as is the long-term use of nicotine gum and patches.

“It takes the average smoker 8 to 10 times before he is able to quit successfully,” said Dr. Steven A. Schroeder, director of the Smoking Cessation Leadership Center at the University of California, San Francisco.

Dr. Schroeder said that counseling was helpful, and that if Mr. Obama were his patient, he would urge him to try it, even if only by telephone, toll free at 1-800-QUITNOW (1-800-784-8669). With nicotine replacements and counseling, quit rates at one year are 15 percent to 30 percent, Dr. Schroeder said, about twice that of those who try without help.

But Mr. Obama has apparently been chewing nicotine gum for quite a while. Is it safe? Dr. Neal L. Benowitz, another expert on nicotine addiction from the University of California, San Francisco, said that long-term use of the gum or patches, “if it keeps you off cigarettes, is O.K.”

He said people had the best chances of quitting if they used more than one type of nicotine replacement at the same time — like wearing a patch every day, but also using the gum when cravings took hold.

Studies have found that 5 percent to 10 percent of people who try nicotine replacements were still using them a year later, and nicotine itself appears not to be harmful, except possibly during pregnancy and for people at risk for diabetes, Dr. Benowitz said. The risks of cancer, other lung disease and heart problems come from other chemicals in tobacco smoke.

“If nicotine is harmful, it is a minuscule risk compared to cigarette smoking,” he said. “If people want to continue using gum or patches, and not cigarettes, their health will be enhanced.”

Nicotine can speed up the heart rate somewhat, he said, and it may raise blood pressure slightly. More important, it can reduce the body’s sensitivity to insulin and may aggravate diabetes or prediabetic conditions. It also constricts blood vessels in the skin and may interfere with wound healing.

But still, Dr. Benowitz emphasized, “if the choice is between taking nicotine or smoking, nicotine is far, far better.”

Falling off the wagon is typical. Three months, six months and a year are major milestones, and most people who can quit for a year will be able to stay off cigarettes for good, Dr. Benowitz said. But about 10 percent relapse even after a year or more.

“It’s generally prompted by a stressful situation, when they’re fatigued and they need to concentrate and focus,” Dr. Benowitz said. “Obama talked about that. People are used to having a cigarette in that situation.”

Nicotine is strongly addictive for many people, and withdrawal can leave them irritable, restless, sleepless, depressed and struggling to concentrate. Some experts say it is harder to give up than cocaine or heroin.

“Then there is something called hedonic dysregulation,” Dr. Benowitz said. “It involves pleasure. Nicotine involves dopamine release, which is key in signaling pleasure. When people quit smoking, they don’t experience things they used to like as pleasure. Things are not as much fun as they used to be. It’s something you get over in time.”

People become hooked on nicotine in part because, like alcohol and other addicting drugs, it alters the brain. Some of the changes are long-lasting, and the younger people are when they take up smoking, the stronger their addiction.

“There is increasing evidence that you lay down new neural circuits related to smoking, sort of memory tracks,” Dr. Benowitz said. “Nicotine does it, and other aspects of smoke do, too. Your brain is forever changed.”

Those memory tracks could be hindering Mr. Obama’s efforts to quit. Dr. Schroeder also noted that for someone who smoked fewer than 10 cigarettes a day, as Mr. Obama reportedly did, nicotine replacements may be less helpful because the addiction may be more to the habit than to nicotine.

One of the best things that President-elect Obama has going for him is that he is a jogger.

“There is increasing evidence that if you can exercise, it’s often helpful” in quitting, Dr. Benowitz said. “I hope Obama can still find time to play basketball on a regular basis.”

View source article

60 Minutes covers Obama's 2-year journey to the White House

Watch CBS Videos Online

Obama Defers to Bush, for Now, on Gaza Crisis

NY Times Published: December 28, 2008

WASHINGTON — When President-elect Barack Obama went to Israel in July — to the very town, in fact, whose repeated shelling culminated in this weekend’s new fighting in Gaza — he all but endorsed the punishing Israeli attacks now unfolding.

“If somebody was sending rockets into my house, where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that,” he told reporters in Sderot, a small city on the edge of Gaza that has been hit repeatedly by rocket fire. “And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.”

Now, Mr. Obama’s presidency will begin facing the consequences of just such a counterattack, one of Israel’s deadliest against Palestinians in decades, presenting him with yet another foreign crisis to deal with the moment he steps into the White House on Jan. 20, even as he and his advisers have struggled mightily to focus on the country’s economic problems.

Since his election, Mr. Obama has said little specific about his foreign policy — in contrast to more expansive remarks about the economy. He and his advisers have deferred questions — critics could say, ducked them — by saying that until Jan. 20, only President Bush would speak for the nation as president and commander in chief. “The fact is that there is only one president at a time,” David Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday, reiterating a phrase that has become a mantra of the transition. “And that president now is George Bush.”

Mr. Obama, vacationing in Hawaii, talked to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Saturday. “But the Bush administration has to speak for America now,” Mr. Axelrod said. “And it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to opine on these matters.” As the fighting in Gaza shows, however, events in the world do not necessarily wait for Inauguration Day in the United States.

Even before the conflict flared again, India and Pakistan announced troop movements that have raised fears of a military confrontation following the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. North Korea scuttled a final agreement on verifying its nuclear dismantlement earlier this month, while Iran continues to stall the international effort to stop its nuclear programs. And there are still two American wars churning in Iraq and Afghanistan. All demand his immediate attention.

Mr. Obama’s election has raised expectations, among allies and enemies alike, that new American policies are forthcoming, putting more pressure on him to signal more quickly what he intends to do. In the case of Israel and the Palestinians, Mr. Obama has not suggested he has any better ideas than President Bush had to resolve the existential conflict between the Israelis and Hamas, the Palestinian group that controls Gaza.

“What this does is present the incoming administration with the urgency of a crisis without the capacity to do much about it,” said Aaron David Miller, a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington and author of “The Much Too Promised Land,” a history of the Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. “That’s the worst outcome of what’s happening right now.”

The renewed fighting — and the international condemnation of the scope of Israel’s response — has dashed already limited hopes for quick progress on the peace process that Mr. Bush began in Annapolis, Md., in November 2007. The omission of Hamas from any talks between the Israelis and President Mahmoud Abbas, who controls only the West Bank, had always been a landmine that risked blowing up a difficult and delicate peace process, but so have Israel’s own internal political divisions.

Mr. Obama might have little to gain from setting out an ambitious agenda for an issue as intractable as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But the conflict in Gaza, like the building tensions between India and Pakistan, suggests that he may have no choice. “You can ignore it, you can put it on the back burner, but it will always come up to bite you,” said Ghaith al-Omari, a former Palestinian peace negotiator.

For Mr. Obama, the conundrum is particularly intense since he won election in part on promises of restoring America’s image around the world. He will assume office with high expectations, particularly among Muslims around the world, that he will make an effort at dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Early on as a candidate, Mr. Obama suggested that he did not necessarily oppose negotiations with groups like Hamas, though he spent much of the campaign retreating from that position under fire from critics.

By the time he arrived in Israel in July, he suggested he would not even consider talks without a fundamental shift in Hamas and its behavior, effectively moving his policy much closer to President Bush’s. “In terms of negotiations with Hamas, it is very hard to negotiate with a group that is not representative of a nation-state, does not recognize your right to exist, has consistently used terror as a weapon, and is deeply influenced by other countries,” he said then.

Mr. Obama received an intelligence briefing on Sunday and planned to talk late on Sunday to his nominee for secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and his choice as national security adviser, James L. Jones, according to a spokeswoman, Brooke Anderson.

One option would be for an Obama administration to respond much more harshly to Israel’s policies, from settlements to strikes like those this weekend, as many in the Arab world and beyond have long urged. On Sunday, though, Mr. Axelrod said the president-elect stood by the remarks he made in the summer and, when asked, noted the “special relationship” between the United States and Israel.

Otherwise, Mr. Obama could try to pressure surrogates to lean on Hamas, including Egypt, which shares a border with Gaza. He can try to build international pressure on Hamas to stop the rocket attacks into Israel. He can try to nurture a peace between Israel and Mr. Abbas on the West Bank, hoping that somehow it spreads to Hamas. All have been tried, and all have failed to avoid new fighting.

“The reality is, what options do we have?” Mr. Miller said.

Jackie Calmes contributed reporting from Honolulu.

View source article

Be careful what you wish for...

Obama bristles as the bubble closes in
By Politico's Carol E. Lee

HONOLULU – The media glare, the constant security appendage and the sheer production that has become a morning jog or a hankering for an ice cream cone – it’s been closing in on Barack Obama for some time.

Now the president-elect appears increasingly conscious of the confines of his new position, bristling at the routine demands of press coverage and beginning to chafe at boundaries that are only going to get smaller.

Obama even took the unusual step Friday morning of leaving behind the pool of reporters assigned to follow him, taking his daughters to a nearby water park without them. It was a breach of longstanding protocol between presidents (or presidents-elect) and the media, that a gaggle of reporters representing television, print and wire services is with his motorcade at all times.

Then when reporters finally caught up with Obama at Koko Marina Paradise Deli and he acknowledged them for one of few times since arriving in Hawaii last Saturday, he sounded resigned.

After ordering a tuna melt on 12-grain bread, Obama approached reporters and placed his hand on the shoulder of pool reporter Philip Rucker of The Washington Post, who was scribbling away in his notebook.

“You don't really need to write all that down,” Obama said.

All presidents and would-be presidents struggle with “the bubble” – the security detail and the always-there reporters that impose barriers to any spontaneous interaction with the outside world.

But Obama seems to be struggling particularly hard, particularly early.

As rapid as Obama’s political rise has been, so too has his family’s introduction to the bubble.

Four years ago Obama was an Illinois state senator who was on his way to the U.S. Senate. Next month, he will become one of only a handful of modern presidents who has not endured a similar bubble as a governor or top U.S. official before taking office.

Already, Obama no longer gets out for an impromptu lunch or a haircut. The barber he’s gone to for 15 years now comes to him, and he mostly orders out. Soon Obama likely will be forced to give up the BlackBerry he often kept attached to his hip during the campaign.

“There's still some things we're not adjusted to," Obama said in a “60 Minutes” interview after the election. “You know, the small routines of life that keep you connected, I think some of those are being lost.”

Bill Clinton grew frustrated that he couldn’t go out any time he wanted, and once went Christmas shopping without the pool. After he became president, George W. Bush stopped sending e-mails to his daughters because he didn't want the personal notes to become public one day.

“It’s just hard to know that there’s somebody with you all the time,” said Steve Elmendorf, who was deputy campaign manager for John Kerry in 2004. “Being able to get up and go biking or go for a walk, or hold hands with your wife — everything you do is not just under the scrutiny of the press or the pool.”

For Obama, who received a Secret Service detail earlier than any presidential candidate since the practice began, the scrutiny is much more intense.

The glare on his family is shaping up to be unprecedented, both because Obama assumes the presidency amid a 24-hour, Web-dominated media age where many traditional boundaries don’t exist and because of what he represents. He’s the first African-American to be elected president. At 47, he’s a young guy – as presidents go. He also has a youthful, attractive family that is social and active.

During the first week in Hawaii, Obama has had to deal with paparazzi waiting in the distance, photographing him shirtless outside his beachfront vacation home and later while spreading his grandmother’s ashes at the Pacific coast.

And even though the pool photographers remained out of sight and without an image of these private moments, Obama seems to be tiring of the journalists who have followed him daily since the campaign.

“OK, guys, come on," Obama said last Sunday, looking toward photographers clicking away as he warmed up before a round of golf. “How many shots do you need?”

It’s been a progression. And Obama’s frustration shows in waves.

On Halloween, Obama grew testy with a Polish media crew as he took his daughter Sasha to a party at his campaign treasurer Marty Nesbitt’s Chicago home.

"All right guys. That's enough. You've got a shot. Leave us alone. Come on guys. Get back on the bus,” Obama said before breaking into a trot with Sasha still holding his hand.

The day before Thanksgiving, a sixth grader at a Chicago school asked Obama about his new life.

“You don't have a lot of privacy," Obama told some 200 children, adding that going to Walgreen's and riding a bicycle are now far more involved than before.

Those close to the Obamas have spoken to the media less and less since the election. Calls and e-mails to close friends and associates of the Obamas were not returned.

“My husband and I have been asked not to speak with the press about the Obamas,” one of them wrote in an e-mail. “They would prefer that we stay out of the papers for now.”

It seems the narrower the gap between transition and reality gets, the more private Obama has tried to become.

“You can see how he chafes at it,” Elmendorf said. “It’s hard for people who like to do outdoors things. It’s also hard for people with young kids. … You decide at 9 in the morning, I’m not going out anymore, then at 2 p.m. you decide, ‘Hey let’s get some ice cream.’”

“Normal people can do that. The president or president-elect can’t do that,” he said.

Friday was only the second time since the election that Obama has traveled without the press pool. Reporters also were left behind in Chicago once when they couldn’t gather fast enough after Obama decided to return home from his transition office.

Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt issued a statement Friday saying that because the president-elect had no further events scheduled as of 9:30 a.m., aides sent reporters back to their Waikiki Beach hotel 30 minutes away from his vacation home. But then Obama changed his mind.

“The president-elect decided to take the girls to a water park and we assembled the pool as quickly as possible,” the statement said.

Later, when paying attention to his press pool and ordering treats for his daughters and their friends at Kokonuts Shave Ice & Snacks, Obama went so far as to offer reporters some shave ice.

“Guys, here's your chance," Obama said. “No? I'm telling you, this is really good.”

“I don't think this is against policy,” he continued. “You want one, I can tell."

Reporters declined the president-elect's offer. But, perhaps in a sign of defiance, Obama made it while standing in one of his hometown spots with his BlackBerry clipped to his hip.

View source article

domingo, 28 de dezembro de 2008

RNC Chair race is all "Puff" and blow

Here's the latest:

--Chip Saltsman, one of the better-known candidates, again defends his decision to send RNC members a CD that includes the parody track, 'Barack the Magic Negro,' a reference to an op-ed headline in the L.A. Times in 2007: 'Liberal Democrats and their allies in the media didn't utter a word about David Ehrenstein's irresponsible column in the Los Angeles Times. ... But now, of course, they're shocked and appalled by its parody on the Rush Limbaugh Show. I firmly believe that we must welcome all Americans into our party and that the road to Republican resurgence begins with unity, not division. But I know that our party leaders should stand up against the media's double standards and refuse to pander to their desire for scandal.'

--Saltsman's e-mailed comment came shortly after RNC Chairman Mike Duncan, who's seeking reelection, issued this statement: 'The 2008 election was a wake-up call for Republicans to reach out and bring more people into our party. I am shocked and appalled that anyone would think this is appropriate as it clearly does not move us in the right direction.'

--Politico's Ben Smith – 'Blackwell defends Saltsman: Ken Blackwell, the former Ohio secretary of state who appears to be leading in the race to become the next chairman of the Republican National Committee, is defending ... Saltsman ... 'Unfortunately, there is hypersensitivity in the press regarding matters of race. This is in large measure due to President-Elect Obama being the first African-American elected president,' said Blackwell, who would be the first black RNC chairman, in a statement forwarded to Politico by an aide. 'I don't think any of the concerns that have been expressed in the media about any of the other candidates for RNC chairman should disqualify them. When looked at in the proper context, these concerns are minimal. All of my competitors for this leadership post are fine people.' The Republican Party is struggling to find support from non-white voters, and some of its leaders have called for a new sensitivity to race and racism, allegations of which have surfaced before in the insider-dominated contest to chair the GOP.'

-- J. Peter Freire, managing editor of The American Spectator, blogs: 'While Saltsman is defending the CD as just a joke, it doesn't quite stand up to his answer to question number 8 on the Republican committeeman Morton Blackwell's questionnaire: 'The fact is that Hispanics, African-Americans, Asian and Jewish voters and many other minorities have ideological bonds with Republicans but have often felt uncomfortable within the confines of our party.' ... This shows a level of tin-eared politicking that is surprising for a man who wants to head the Republican ship. ... Some [GOP operatives] tell me they've contacted Saltsman and asked him to make a public apology'

Source: Mike Allen's Politico Playbook Daily Update

MoveOn is moving on...

NEXT FOR MOVEON.ORG – Politico's Andie Collier: 'After more than a decade spent railing against the Republican machine, MoveOn wants to move on - even if it means leaving some of its high-minded ideals behind. Last week, the group's members chose their top four priorities for the organization, winnowed down from a top-10 list culled from 50,000 suggestions. ... What they chose: universal health care; economic recovery and job creation; building a green economy; stopping climate change; and end the war in Iraq. What they didn't: holding the Bush administration accountable; fighting for gay rights and LGBT equality; and reforming campaigns and elections. MoveOn Executive Director Eli Pariser says that this happy alignment with Barack Obama's agenda - and fortuitous absence of conflict with same - comes in part because 'the people he's listening to and the people we're listening to are the same people.' But it also may be a sign that MoveOn's members want to move ahead – and that they're willing to make some ideological sacrifices in exchange for real progress.'

Source: Mike Allen's Politico Playbook Daily Update (emphasis mine)

A waste of political capital or a sign of things to come?

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.

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sábado, 27 de dezembro de 2008

For Some, ‘Puff’ Loses Its Magic

I debated a while before posting this, but outrage will out. Be sure to view this clip on an empty stomach
Inappropriate ain't innit!

"Barack the Magic Negro"

December 27, 2008, 4:37 pm

The party isn’t laughing.

In his campaign for chairman of the Republican National Committee, Chip Saltsman, a Tennessee political operative, distributed a song to potential supporters this week called “Barack the Magic Negro,” a parody that questions President-elect’s Barack Obama’s racial authenticity.

The song, by the political satirist Paul Shanklin, was first broadcast last year on the Rush Limbaugh radio show, and Mr. Limbaugh defended it then against accusations of racism. But after an election in which Republicans lost badly among minorities — spurring vows of new efforts to appeal to a broader swath of the electorate — party leaders were not amused.

“I am shocked and appalled,” said Mike Duncan, the current chairman of the Republican National Committee, who is seeking re-election.

And former Speaker Newt Gingrich said in an e-mail message, “This is so inappropriate that it should disqualify any Republican National Committee candidate who would use it.”

But commenting to The Hill, which on Friday disclosed the distribution of the CD containing the song, Mr. Saltsman defended it as “light-hearted” and said committee members would receive it with “good humor.”

As criticism intensified on Saturday, Mr. Saltsman could not be reached.

The song is sung to the tune of “Puff the Magic Dragon” by a character meant to be Al Sharpton, the civil rights advocate and sometime politician. In it, the Sharpton character criticizes Mr. Obama for being insufficiently black, and mocks his white supporters for embracing him to assuage guilty feelings about racial injustice. It was distributed as part of a collection of Mr. Shanklin’s parodies.

Saul Anuzis, a Michigan candidate for Republican chairman, called the song “in bad taste.”
“Just as important,” he added, “anything that paints the G.O.P. as being motivated in our criticism of President-elect Obama by anything other than a difference in philosophy does a disservice to our party.”

Mr. Saltsman, who was aide to former Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, was campaign manager for former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas during his 2008 presidential bid. He is also a former chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party.

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More on that egregious CD

TOP TALKER – 'Candidate For RNC Chair Sends Out CD With Song Called 'Barack, The Magic Negro,' By The Hill's Reid Wilson: 'If one of the Republican Party's challenges is how to effectively oppose the first black president without coming off as racist, one of the candidates for RNC chair is hardly off to a good start -- he is now distributing a CD that includes a racially-charged song called 'Barack, The Magic Negro.' Chip Saltsman, the former campaign manager for Mike Huckabee, has distributed a goodie bag to committee members that includes a CD by Paul Shanklin, a writer of right-wing parody tunes who is often featured on Rush Limbaugh. The 'Magic Negro' track, which first gathered controversy in the Spring of 2007, featured Shanklin portraying Al Sharpton as an Amos & Andy stereotype, ridiculing white liberals who support Obama. Saltsman defended the choice of the Shanklin CD, telling The Hill: 'Paul Shanklin is a long-time friend, and I think that RNC members have the good humor and good sense to recognize that his songs for the Rush Limbaugh show are light-hearted political parodies.'


Source: Mike Allen's Politico Playbook Daily Update

A last taste of real life for the Obama family?

Hawaii Island of Oahu Without Power

Filed at 8:11 a.m. ET

HONOLULU (AP) -- The island of Oahu lost power during heavy rain and lightning, blacking out the population of some 800,000 people and thousands of tourists including vacationing President-elect Barack Obama.

Residents were advised by the power company and civil authorities to stay home after the Friday evening outage and to conserve water. Several radio stations broadcast emergency information.

Gov. Linda Lingle said Hawaiian Electric Co. was taking an emergency generator to the compound on the east side of the island where Obama has been staying. Lingle said she had asked the utility to notify her when it had been delivered.

Lingle said she expected power to be restored during the morning. Hawaiian Electric had restored power to about 30,000 customers by 2:40 a.m., spokesman Jan Loose told The Honolulu Advertiser.

Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann told KSSK radio that Obama is in one of the ''most secure places, so he'll be OK.'' The mayor said he talked to Obama at 9:30 p.m., and that Obama said he was fine and planned to go to bed and sleep through the blackout, The Honolulu Advertiser reported on its Web site.

The cause of the outage was still being investigated.

Honolulu International Airport operated on an emergency generator, but Lingle said most outgoing mainland flights were postponed until daylight as airport officials struggled to process incoming flights. Some incoming flights were diverted to other Hawaiian islands, which have separate power grids.

Hawaiian Electric spokesman Peter Rosegg said the initial power outage hit at 6:45 p.m., affecting most of the island. The rest of Oahu lost power two hours later when a second generator failed.

Lingle said the utility asked the state to provide a helicopter at daylight so it can inspect power lines on a mountain ridge that it suspects were damaged.

The telephone provider Hawaiian Telcom had most of its system still in service on generator and battery backup, spokeswoman Ann Nishida told the Advertiser.

The newspaper said it was unable to put out its printed editions because of the outage.

Although the outage occurred during a thunderstorm, the weather cleared up quickly over most of the island.

The outage closed stores at major retail outlets just after sunset, halting post-Christmas shopping a couple of hours early.

Highways were clogged as everyone tried to get home at once without stoplights to control traffic.

''I would advise ... everyone to just go to sleep,'' Lingle said in a radio interview late Friday.

Several Christmas weekend events were scuttled by the blackout, including a show at the Blaisdell Concert Hall by comedian Howie Mandel.


Associated Press writer Audrey McAvoy contributed to this report.

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More on Obama and Rick Warren

Here come those 'we are not racists' again (heavy sigh)

Story Highlights
  • Chip Saltsman sent out the CD to committee members for Christmas
  • Saltsman: "I think most people recognize political satire when they see it"
  • Song to tune of "Puff the Magic Dragon" first played on Rush Limbaugh's show
  • Saltsman said song is satire of a Los Angeles Times article

RNC chairman candidate defends 'Barack the Magic Negro' song

(CNN) -- A candidate for the Republican National Committee chairmanship said Friday the CD he sent committee members for Christmas -- which included a song titled "Barack the Magic Negro" -- was clearly intended as a joke.

The title of the song about President-elect Barack Obama was drawn from a Los Angeles Times column.

The title of the song about President-elect Barack Obama was drawn from a Los Angeles Times column.

"I think most people recognize political satire when they see it," Tennessee Republican Chip Saltsman told CNN. "I think RNC members understand that."

The song, set to the tune of "Puff the Magic Dragon," was first played on conservative political commentator Rush Limbaugh's radio show in 2007.

Its title was drawn from a Los Angeles Times column that suggested President-elect Barack Obama appealed to those who feel guilty about the nation's history of mistreatment of African-Americans. Saltsman said the song, penned by his longtime friend Paul Shanklin, should be easily recognized as satire directed at the Times.

The CD sent to RNC members, first reported by The Hill on Friday, is titled "We Hate the USA" and also includes songs referencing former presidential candidate John Edwards and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, among other targets.

According to The Hill, other song titles, some of which were in bold font, were: "John Edwards' Poverty Tour," "Wright place, wrong pastor," "Love Client #9," "Ivory and Ebony" and "The Star Spanglish Banner."

Saltsman was national campaign manager for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's presidential bid in 2007 and 2008. Before that, he held a variety of posts, including a number of positions under former Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee.

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sexta-feira, 26 de dezembro de 2008

Basketball rules

Photo: Andrew Romero
Looks like POTUS 44 won't be alone on the court for long!

SPORTS BLINK -- WashTimes A1, 'Obama plays tough game: Loves shooting hoops,' By Bob Cohn: 'Several members of Mr. Obama's inner circle played basketball in college, including his personal assistant, Reggie Love, a member of Duke's 2001 national championship team. Gen. James L. Jones, the national security adviser nominee, played at Georgetown. When he nominated 6-foot-5 former Harvard captain Arne Duncan as his education secretary, Mr. Obama joked he might be putting together 'the best basketball-playing Cabinet in American history.' Mr. Duncan also played professionally in Australia. As for his own game, Mr. Obama, 6-2 and sturdy, plays with an ease and confidence inherent to most point guards.'

Source: Mike Allen's Politico Playbook Daily Update

quinta-feira, 25 de dezembro de 2008

Recharging the Aloha Spirit (in Bahia, we call it axé)

Obama’s Zen State, Well, It’s Hawaiian

KAILUA, Hawaii — Even at the end of his long journey to win the White House, one question about Barack Obama came up again and again: How did he appear to stay even-tempered and levelheaded while traveling such a grueling road?

At least part of the answer can be found here on the island of Oahu.

As Mr. Obama walks along the beaches while on vacation, returning to the place of his birth and his adolescence, he is relaxing after the most trying year of his life and recharging for the responsibilities that await. In both cases, friends say, he is doing it with an unexcitable steadiness that is a product of his Hawaiian upbringing.

The mood of Mr. Obama, to many observers here in Hawaii, embodies the Aloha Spirit, a peaceful state of mind and a friendly attitude of acceptance of a variety of ideas and cultures. More than simply a laid-back vibe, many Hawaiians believe in a divine and spiritual power that provides a sustaining life energy.

“When Obama gets on television, the national pulse goes down about 10 points,” said Representative Neil Abercrombie, Democrat of Hawaii, who was close friends with Mr. Obama’s parents. “He has this incredibly calming effect. There’s no question in my mind it comes from Hawaii.”

Mr. Abercrombie, who has known the president-elect since he was born, said Mr. Obama’s tranquil, even-keeled mannerisms resembled those of his grandfather, Stanley Dunham. As a child, Mr. Obama would follow Mr. Dunham everywhere, walking through the neighborhoods of Honolulu and beyond.

“He gives off a little oasis of calm,” said Mr. Abercrombie, who is spending the Christmas holidays in Hawaii. “He is peaceful water in the maelstrom, which will serve him very well in these circumstances when there happens to be a crisis.”

Only a year ago, many of his admirers fretted that Mr. Obama was too passive in his battle against Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. Later, some Democrats worried whether he had the tenacity to fight Senator John McCain and the Republican establishment.

It was only as the economic crisis deepened and a full-on recession was declared that Mr. Obama’s hard-to-ruffle demeanor came into focus as a valuable attribute — not only as a candidate but, presumably, as a president-elect.

Mr. Obama is spending Christmas secluded in a compound of rental houses that he and his family are sharing with a group of friends from Chicago along the handsome beaches of Kailua, on the windward coast of Oahu. It seems a world away from the hustle of Honolulu, which is the face of Hawaii for many residents of the continental United States who have never traveled to this part of the world.

For Mr. Obama, it is his first trip back since his grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, died in the hours before the election. He and his half-sister, who lives on the island, and other family members held a private memorial service on Tuesday at First Unitarian Church in Nuuanu for the woman who helped raise him.

“In recent weeks, I have had an opportunity to mourn our grandmother’s passing. However, Barack has not,” Maya Soetoro-Ng, Mr. Obama’s half-sister, said in a statement to reporters in Honolulu. “I also hope that Barack has an opportunity to wash off his stress in saltwater and re-energize for the long road ahead.”

As he traveled across the United States mainland during the presidential race, campaigning on a promise of a different kind of politics, Mr. Obama was repeatedly asked by voters and reporters whether he had the stomach to win the contest. His standard answer? He learned how — and when — to use his sharp elbows from navigating the thorny terrain of Chicago politics.

Left unsaid was that he learned his composure from Hawaii.

“He has more Hawaii in him than Chicago; he’s laid-back, cool and collected,” said Neil Kent, a professor of ethnic studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa who has lived on the island for three decades. “It’s hard to express anger here. It’s a very small, enclosed environment in which you have to live with other people.”

Mr. Kent, who traveled to Ohio to volunteer for the Obama campaign in the final weeks of the presidential contest, said that as he watched Mr. Obama deliver speeches at rallies, there was an unmistakable air of Hawaii in his mannerisms and demeanor.

That is not to say, of course, that Mr. Obama did not occasionally grow agitated at his advisers, grimace when he was asked to sign one more autograph or openly scowl at reporters who sought to ask him questions during the campaign.

Even on the first full day of his Hawaiian vacation, as he walked onto a golf course in Waimanalo, he turned to a group of photographers and declared: “O.K. guys, come on. How many shots do you need?” The next day, aides said he was furious when paparazzi took a shot with a long zoom lens, showing the president-elect’s buff pectorals.

There is, of course, little expectation of privacy for Mr. Obama and his family. But friends say he has no plans to discontinue vacations, to Hawaii and elsewhere, after he becomes president.

This summer, as Mr. Obama visited in London with David Cameron, the head of the British Conservative Party, he was overheard talking about how leaders need to take time away to think. Without downtime, Mr. Obama said, “you start making mistakes or you lose the big picture.”

So Mr. Obama intends to be here until Jan. 1, recharging the Aloha Spirit.

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President-elect Obama's holiday message

Just to show this is a "warts and all" blog

Obama's five rules of scandal response

By: Kenneth P. Vogel and Carrie Budoff Brown
December 24, 2008 10:44 AM EST

Tuesday's report from the transition, detailing contacts between members of Obama's inner circle and embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and concluding that "nothing at all inappropriate" was discussed, won't be the final word on the subject—but it did provide some telling insight into the way the White House's new occupant will operate.

Here are five rules of Obama scandal-management based on his team's handling of its first post-election crisis.

1 - Be transparent, to an extent

Obama's internal review was entirely voluntary and intended to demonstrate that his team had nothing to hide, and was committed to its pledge to run "the most open and transparent transition in history."

But after announcing the review, his team declined to reveal who would conduct it, who would be interviewed or whether the resulting release would include any transition e-mails or records to support its conclusions.

The review itself answered just one of those questions — we now know that White House Counsel Greg Craig led the review, which didn't include any documentation of what materials it went over — but it raised others, among them: Why did Obama confidante Valerie Jarrett communicate with Craig through her lawyer, whom the report does not name; how many conversations did incoming White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel have with Blagojevich; and why was Obama himself interviewed by prosecutors?

The report says Emanuel urged Blagojevich to tap Jarrett for the Senate seat during "one or two telephone calls." But in the next paragraph, it refers to "those early conversations with the governor," and in a conference call unveiling the report, Craig said Emanuel "had a couple of conversations with the governor."

Equally unclear is what exactly was reviewed in the report that concludes that nothing inappropriate occurs, and whether there were any transition e-mails or other records covering the Senate seat selection process.

"We asked each individual who we thought might have had some contact or some communication that would be meaningful" to reconstruct "any contacts or communications, and that would include checking cell phone records or e-mails, and we inquired about that," Craig said. He added that "we've got the information that is required," and said he didn't know of any written communications.

Also, the report revealed that prosecutors interviewed Obama, and did so after he had publicly declared he had been unaware of Blagojevich’s alleged plot to sell off the Senate seat Obama had vacated after winning the presidency, raising questions about why they took the unusual step of interviewing the president-elect, what they asked him and whether he was under oath.

2 - Don't let the news cycle dictate response

Freed from the rapid fire back-and-forth of the campaign, Obama, a stickler for preparation, resorted to his methodical instincts in trying to create order amidst the swirling scandal.

But in taking his time, he's let the story linger into a third week.

After drawing criticism for a listless initial response the day Blagojevich was arrested and accused of trying to sell the Senate seat vacated by the president-elect, Obama went a step further the next day by calling on the governor to resign. On the third day of the story, he announced the internal review. By the next week he acknowledged frustration over not being able to clear up inaccuracies about the case.

Still, Obama resisted the temptation to spout off and stuck to the original plan: He would allow a written report to speak for him.

When the transition released the five-page review Tuesday, the day before Christmas Eve, Obama was far removed from the action as he relaxed in Hawaii with his family. The physical distance served the same purpose as the report itself, separating Obama from the swirl of scandal

3 - No freelancing

The report suggested Obama wants his advisers to get his permission before even ostensibly private conservations with outsiders.

Longtime Obama family friend Eric Whitaker seemed to follow this rule when he was approached by Blagojevich deputy Louanner Peters asking who could speak for Obama's preferences for the Senate seat.

"Dr. Whitaker said he would find out," according to the report. After Whitaker was told by Obama that "no one was authorized to speak for him on the matter," the report states Whitaker "relayed that information to Deputy Governor Peters" and "had no other contacts with anyone from the governor's office."

On the other side of that ledger was Emanuel, a much newer member of Obama's inner circle, who broke the rule by calling Blagojevich and recommending he tap Jarrett for the seat.

"He did so before learning -- in further conversations with the president-elect -- that the president-elect had ruled out communicating a preference for any one candidate," according to the report. Later, when Emanuel chatted with Blagojevich's then-chief of staff, the report indicates it was "with the authorization of the president-elect."

4 - Aides take hits to protect the boss

Twice in handling the Blagojevich scandal, top Obama lieutenants were singled out for botching the message.

The report makes clear that Emanuel was the only person in Obama's transition who had any contact with Blagojevich about filling the Senate seat and that his contact wasn't authorized by Obama.

And Obama political guru David Axelrod made a public mea culpa after his boss contradicted a statement from an interview he gave last month, before the governor's arrest.

In it, Axelrod unambiguously described a conversation between Obama and Blagojevich about filling the seat, saying, "I know he's talked to the governor and there are a whole range of names, many of which have surfaced, and I think he has a fondness for a lot of them."

But after Obama declared he hadn't spoken to Blagojevich, Axelrod issued a statement saying, "I was mistaken when I told an interviewer last month that the president-elect has spoken directly to Governor Blagojevich about the Senate vacancy."

5 – Shy away from even justified fights

It seems only logical that Obama would want a say in picking his successor in the Senate, since the next junior senator from Illinois will represent the president-elect’s home and could be an important congressional ally.

But Obama, whose penchant for avoiding tough stands on controversial issues frustrated opponents trying to land a clear shot in the presidential race, also steered clear of the Senate-seat derby, according to the report and Craig’s teleconference.

Craig said Obama “was not engaging on this in any personal way and had no interest in dictating the result of the selection process.”

The report says Obama talked with his top aides about a range of prospective Senators, but never winnowed down the group, dispatching Emanuel to relay a list of acceptable candidates to Blagojevich’s office.

And according to the report, Obama was ambivalent about the Senate aspirations of Jarrett, contradicting the widely reported claim that she was his top choice for the Senate seat. Rather, the report says, Obama’s “preference (was) that Valerie Jarrett work with him in the White House." But it also states he made clear "he would neither stand in her way if she wanted to pursue the Senate seat nor actively seek to have her or any other particular candidate appointed to the vacancy."

To the extent that the report succeeds in its goal of establishing the distance between Obama and Blagojevich, it necessarily raises the question: Why was the president-elect and leader of the Democratic party playing no role in a key appointment to national office being made in his home state, and by a Democratic governor?

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Seasonal forgiveness has a limit. Bush and his cronies must face a reckoning

Should Bush and Blair be forgiven?

Heinous crimes are now synonymous with this US administration. If it isn't held to account, what does that say about us?

'Tis the night before Christmas and the season of goodwill. The mood is forgiving. Our faces warm with mulled wine, our tummies full, we're meant to slump in the armchair, look back on the year just gone and count our blessings - woozily agreeing to put our troubles behind us.

As in families, so in the realm of public and international affairs. And this December that feels especially true. The "war on terror" that dominated much of the decade seems to be heading towards a kind of conclusion. George Bush will leave office in a matter of weeks and British troops will leave Iraq a few months later. The first, defining phase of the conflict that began on 9/11 - the war of Bush, Tony Blair and Osama bin Laden - is about to slip from the present to the past tense. Bush and Blair will be gone, with only Bin Laden still in post. The urge to move on is palpable.

You can sense it in the valedictory interviews Bush and Dick Cheney are conducting on their way out. They're looking to the verdict of history now, Cheney telling the Washington Times last week: "I myself am personally persuaded that this president and this administration will look very good 20 or 30 years down the road." The once raging arguments of the current era are about to fade, the lead US protagonists heading off to their respective ranches in the west, the rights and wrongs of their decisions in office to be weighed not in the hot arena of politics, but in the cool seminar rooms of the academy.

Not so fast.

Yes, the new year would get off to a more soothing start if we could all agree to draw a line and move on. But it would be wrong. First, because we cannot hope to avoid repeating the errors of the last eight years unless they are subject to a full accounting. (It is for that reason Britain needs its own full, unconstrained inquiry into the Iraq war.) Second, because a crucial principle, one that goes to the very heart of the American creed, is at stake. And third, because this is not solely about the judgment of history. It may be about the judgment of the courts - specifically those charged with punishing war crimes.

Less than a fortnight ago, in the news graveyard of a Friday afternoon, the armed services committee of the US Senate released a bipartisan report - with none other than John McCain as its co-author - into the American use of torture against those held in the war on terror. It dismissed entirely the notion that the horrors of Abu Ghraib could be put down to "a few bad apples". Instead it laid bare, in forensic detail, the trail of memos and instructions that led directly to the then defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.

The report was the fruit of 18 months of work, involving some 70 interviews. Most of it is classified, but even the 29-page published summary makes horrifying reading. It shows how the most senior figures in the Bush administration discussed, and sought legal fig leaves for, practices that plainly amounted to torture. They were techniques devised in a training programme known as Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape or SERE, that aimed to teach elite American soldiers how to endure torture should they fall into the hands of pitiless enemies. The SERE techniques were partly modelled on the brutal methods used by the Chinese against US prisoners during the Korean war. Yet Rumsfeld ruled that these same techniques should be "reverse engineered", so that Americans would learn not how to endure them - but how to inflict them. Which they then did, at Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib and beyond.

The Senate report cites the memorandums requesting permission to use "stress positions, exploitation of detainee fears (such as fear of dogs), removal of clothing, hooding, deprivation of light and sound, and the so-called wet towel treatment or the waterboard". We read of Mohamed al Kahtani - against whom all charges were dropped earlier this year - who was "deprived of adequate sleep for weeks on end, stripped naked, subjected to loud music, and made to wear a leash and perform dog tricks". Approval for this kind of torture, hidden under the euphemism of "enhanced interrogation", was sought from and granted at the highest level.

And that doesn't mean Rumsfeld. The report's first conclusion is that, on "7 February 2002, President George W Bush made a written determination that Common Article 3 of the Geneva conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment, did not apply to al-Qaida or Taliban detainees". The result, it says, is that Bush "opened the door" to the use of a raft of techniques that the US had once branded barbaric and beyond the realm of human decency.

For this Bush should surely be held to account. And yet there is no sign that he will, and precious little agitation that he should. A still smiling Cheney denies the Bush administration did anything wrong. Note this breathtaking exchange with Fox News at the weekend. He was asked: "If the president during war decides to do something to protect the country, is it legal?" Cheney's answer: "General proposition, I'd say yes."

It takes a few seconds for the full horror of that remark to sink in. And then you remember where you last heard something like it. It was the now immortalised interview between David Frost and Richard Nixon. The disgraced ex-president was asked whether there were certain situations where the president can do something illegal, if he deems it in the national interest. Nixon's reply: "Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal."

It is no coincidence that Cheney began his career in the Nixon White House. He has the same Nixonian disregard for the US constitution, the same belief that executive power is absolute and unlimited - that those who wield it are above the law, domestic and international. It is the logic of dictatorship.

But Nixon was forced from office, his vision of an unrestrained presidency rejected. If Bush and Cheney are allowed to retire quietly, America will have failed to reassert that bedrock principle of the republic: the rule of law.

This is why there must be a reckoning. Bush will do all he can to avoid it: and it is wholly possible that one of his last acts as president will be to cover himself, his vice-president and all his henchmen with a blanket pardon. Even if that does not happen, Barack Obama is unlikely to want to spend precious capital pursuing his predecessor for war crimes.

But other prosecutors elsewhere in the world should weigh their responsibilities. In the end, it was a lone Spanish magistrate, not a Chilean court, who ensured the arrest of Augusto Pinochet. A pleasing, if uncharitable, thought this Christmas, is that Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush will hesitate before making plans to travel abroad in 2009. Or indeed at any time - ever again.


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quarta-feira, 24 de dezembro de 2008

Is a New Food Policy on Obama’s List?

FROM the moment it was clear that Barack Obama was going to be president, people who have dedicated their lives to changing how America eats thought they had found their St. Nicholas.

It wasn’t long before the letters to Santa began piling up.

Ruth Reichl, the editor of Gourmet magazine, wants a new high-profile White House chef who cooks delicious local food. Wayne Pacelle, head of the Humane Society of the United States, wants policies requiring better treatment for farm animals.

Parents want better public-school lunches. Consumer groups are dreaming of a new, stronger food safety system. Nutrition reformers want prisoners to be fed less soy. And a farmer in Maine is asking the president-elect to plow under an acre of White House lawn for an organic vegetable garden.

Although Mr. Obama has proposed changes in the nation’s farm and rural policies and emphasizes the connection between diet and health, there is nothing to indicate he has a special interest in a radical makeover of the way food is grown and sold.

Still, the dream endures. To advocates who have watched scattered calls for changes in food policy gather political and popular momentum, Mr. Obama looks like their kind of president.

Not only does he seem to possess a more-sophisticated palate than some of his recent predecessors, but he will also take office in an age when organic food is mainstream, cooking competitions are among the top-rated TV shows and books calling for an overhaul in the American food system are best sellers.

“People are so interested in a massive change in food and agriculture that they are dining out on hope now. That is like the main ingredient,” said Eddie Gehman Kohan, a blogger from Los Angeles who started Obamafoodorama.com to document just about any conceivable link between Mr. Obama and food, whether it is a debate on agriculture policy or an image of Mr. Obama rendered in tiny cupcakes.

“He is the first president who might actually have eaten organic food, or at least eats out at great restaurants,” Ms. Gehman Kohan said.

Still, no one is sure just how serious Mr. Obama really is about the politics of food. So like mystery buffs studying the book jacket of “The Da Vinci Code,” interested eaters dissect every aspect of his life as it relates to the plate.

They look for clues in the lunch menus at Sidwell Friends School in Washington, where his two daughters will be eating items like herbes de Provence pita, local pears and organic chopped salad, served with unbleached napkins in a cafeteria with a serious recycling program. They point out that when Mr. Obama was a child, his family used food stamps and that in interviews he has referred to his appreciation of the philosophy put forth by Michael Pollan, the reform-minded food writer.

They note with approval that Rahm Emanuel, Mr. Obama’s chief of staff, belongs to a synagogue that runs a community supported agriculture program and that his social secretary, Desirée Rogers, is from the food-obsessed city of New Orleans. They also see promising signs in Mr. Obama’s fondness for some of Chicago’s better restaurants, like Spiaggia and Topolobampo.

As for Michelle Obama, she has said in interviews that she tries to buy organic food and watches the amount of high-fructose corn syrup in her family’s diet. And, as she confided on “The View” on ABC, “We’re bacon people.”

Add it all up and Mr. Obama looks like the first foodie president since Thomas Jefferson. For more recent comparisons, one could look at President Bush, who is a fitness buff but who aligned himself with large agricultural companies like Cargill and Monsanto that some advocates for sustainable agriculture and organic food fight against.

President Bill Clinton certainly seemed to love food, but in his White House years his tastes ran more toward Big Macs than grass-fed beef. Only after his presidency, and serious health problems, did he turn his attention to issues of obesity and diet.

The Obamas are a different kind of first family, said David Kamp, who traced the history of the modern gourmet-food movement in his book, “The United States of Arugula” (Broadway, 2006). “This time we have a Democrat in office that seems to live the dream and speak the language of both food progressivism and personal fitness,” Mr. Kamp said.

For many food activists, a shiny new secretary of agriculture was high on the Christmas wish list.

One of the first names to come up was Mr. Pollan, who in October wrote an open letter to the future president in The New York Times Magazine, explaining the ways in which he believes the food system needs fixing.

Even after Mr. Pollan repeatedly pointed out that he was unqualified and uninterested in the job of overseeing a $97-billion budget and more than 100,000 employees, his supporters kept pushing with more fanaticism than Clay Aiken’s Claymates.

A couple of longtime Iowans, the celebrity pig farmer Paul Willis and his neighbor Dave Murphy, started a more serious drive. They compiled a list of six candidates who they thought would have the best interests of farm-based rural America and sustainable agriculture at heart. More than 50,000 people signed their petition, the restaurateur Alice Waters and the writer Wendell Berry among them.

But Santa had other plans. Last week, Mr. Obama appointed Tom Vilsack, the former governor of Iowa, which grows much of the nation’s corn and soybeans. Mr. Vilsack has talked about reducing subsidies to some megafarms, supports better treatment of farm animals and wants healthier food in schools. But his selection drew criticism because he is a big fan of alternative fuels like corn-based ethanol and is a supporter of biotechnology, both anathema to people who want to shift government support from large-scale agricultural interests to smaller farms growing food that takes a more direct path to the table.

“Americans were promised ‘change,’ not just another shill for Monsanto and corporate agribusiness,” wrote Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association, which has promised to fight the confirmation of Mr. Vilsack. Mr. Willis and Mr. Murphy immediately shook off the blow and sent out a new petition to have someone more like-minded placed as undersecretary.

Food advocates aren’t the only ones whose hopes for the new administration received a quick kick to the curb. A coalition of more than 140 environmental groups and scientists sent letters supporting one candidate to lead the Department of the Interior. Mr. Obama chose someone else.

Multiply that by every special interest and it becomes clear that just because changing the food system is the first priority for some, it isn’t so for everyone. The pragmatists among the food reformers understand.

“This president is taking over when the economy is the worst it has been in our lifetime and we are in the middle of wars,” said Ann Cooper, the chef who transformed the school food program for the Berkeley Unified School District in California and is about to do the same in Boulder, Colo. “I think it’s somewhere between naïve and fairy tale to think his No. 1 focus is going to be on food.”

Still, she has her own little wish, which is that the new president will move responsibility for school food programs to the Department of Education or the Department of Health and Human Services from the Department of Agriculture. That way, the focus might shift away from the commodity foods that are the backbone of most school lunches and toward menus tailored to the health and development of children.

Some food-system reformers may have a better chance of getting what they want than others do. A coalition of community-based groups called the U.S. Working Group on the Food Crisis wrote to Mr. Obama asking him to make hunger and the global food crisis a top priority. Their optimism is based on Mr. Obama’s promise to abolish childhood hunger by 2015.

They are also banking on his desire to tackle climate change and overhaul energy and health care policies.

“If he’s serious about doing this, then he’ll have to address the current problems of our food system, which are inextricably linked to these other problems,” said Christina Schiavoni of World Hunger Year, which is part of the coalition. “There’s no getting around it.”

In her view and others’, diets filled with healthier food produced by less intrusive farming practices can reduce medical problems like obesity and diabetes and be easier on the environment.

And even if Mr. Obama can’t or won’t deliver the changes some are hoping for, maybe he’ll just leave a little something in their stockings.

A new White House chef, maybe? Cristeta Comerford, the first woman to hold the executive chef job, has been in the position since 2005, not long by White House standards. Still, some people think it’s time for a change. “What the president eats could have a major impact on everyone in the country,” said Ms. Reichl, who along with Ms. Waters and Danny Meyer, the restaurateur, sent a letter to Mr. Obama offering to help him select someone to head the White House kitchen.

A chef who cooks local and organic food and picks some of it from a presidential garden could change things faster than any cabinet appointment, Ms. Reichl said.

“It’s like the hat manufacturers being furious because J. F. K. didn’t wear a hat, and suddenly everyone in America stopped wearing hats,” she said. “It’s that simple.”

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