sábado, 31 de janeiro de 2009

And now for some (welcome) comic relief

Parsing the inaugural address

What a difference 10 days make

Isaiah J. Poole, The Campaign for America's Future: "Consider how far we've come since January 20. On Thursday, the Senate followed the House in passing a reauthorization of a child health insurance bill that will mean 4 million more children will have access to health insurance. When the Congress passed similar legislation last year, then-President Bush vetoed the legislation - twice. This time, President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law next week. Increasing the number of working-class families who have health insurance for their children is just one of the significant victories progressives can lay claim to in just the first 10 days of the Obama administration."

"It's not just English, it's communication"

An even better idea

COMING ATTRACTION, from the President's radio address: 'Soon my Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner, will announce a new strategy for reviving our financial system that gets credit flowing to businesses and families. We'll help lower mortgage costs and extend loans to small businesses so they can create jobs. We'll ensure that CEOs are not draining funds that should be advancing our recovery. And we will insist on unprecedented transparency, rigorous oversight, and clear accountability -- so taxpayers know how their money is being spent and whether it is achieving results.'

Source: Mike Allen's Politico Playbook Daily Udate

Now here's a good idea

SCOOP – Bloomberg, 'White House Lawyers Look to Limit Commercial Use of President,' By Julianna Goldman: 'Barack Obama's popularity makes him a marketer's dream. Now, the honeymoon may be over for those trying to profit from his appeal. White House lawyers want to control the use of the president's image, recognizing the worldwide fascination about Obama's election, First Amendment free-speech rights and easy access to videos and photos on the Web. 'Our lawyers are working on developing a policy that will protect the presidential image while being careful not to squelch the overwhelming enthusiasm that the public has for the president,' White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.'

Source: Mike Allen's Politico Playbook Daily Update

sexta-feira, 30 de janeiro de 2009

Obama is a two-faced liar. Aw-RIGHT!

(Photo: Reuters)

by: Greg Palast, t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Republicans are right. President Barack Obama treated them like dirt, didn't give a damn what they thought about his stimulus package, loaded it with a bunch of programs that will last for years and will never leave the budget, is giving away money disguised as "tax refunds," and is sneaking in huge changes in policy, from schools to health care, using the pretext of an economic emergency.

Way to go, Mr. O! Mr. Down-and-Dirty Chicago pol. Street-fightin' man. Covering over his break-your-face power play with a "we're all post-partisan friends" BS.

And it's about time.

Frankly, I was worried about this guy. Obama's appointing Clinton-droids to the Cabinet, bloated incompetents like Larry Summers as "Economics Czar," made me fear for my country, that we'd gotten another Democrat who wished he were a Republican.

Then came Obama's money bomb. The House bill included $125 billion for schools (TRIPLING federal spending on education), expanding insurance coverage to the unemployed, making the most progressive change in the tax code in four decades by creating a $500 credit against social security payroll deductions, and so on.

It's as if Obama dug up Ronald Reagan's carcass and put a stake through The Gipper's anti-government heart. Aw-RIGHT!

About the only concession Obama threw to the right-wing trogs was to remove the subsidy for condoms, leaving hooker-happy GOP Senators, like David Vitter, to pay for their own protection. S'OK with me.

And here's the proof that Bam is The Man: Not one single Republican congressman voted for the bill. And that means that Obama didn't compromise, the way Clinton and Carter would have, to win the love of these condom-less jerks.

And we didn't need'm. Nyah! Nyah! Nyah!

Now I understand Obama's weird moves: dinner with those creepy conservative columnists, earnest meetings at the White House with the Republican leaders, a dramatic begging foray into Senate offices. Just as the Republicans say, it was all a fraud. Obama was pure Chicago, Boss Daley in a slim skin, putting his arms around his enemies, pretending to listen and care and compromise, then slowly, quietly, slipping in the knife. All while the media praises Obama's "post-partisanship." Heh heh heh.

Love it. Now we know why Obama picked that vindictive little viper Rahm Emanuel as staff chief: everyone visiting the Oval office will be greeted by the Windy City hit man who would hack up your grandma if you mess with the Godfather-in-Chief.

I don't know about you, but THIS is the change I've been waiting for.

Will it last? We'll see if Obama caves in to more tax cuts to investment bankers. We'll see if he stops the sub-prime scum-bags from foreclosing on frightened families. We'll see if he stands up to the whining, gormless generals who don't know how to get our troops out of Iraq. (In SHIPS, you doofuses!)

Look, don't get your hopes up. But it may turn out the new president's ... a Democrat!


Greg Palast's investigative reports for BBC and Rolling Stone can be seen at www.GregPalast.com. Palast is the author of New York Times bestsellers "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy" and "Armed Madhouse."

Jon Stewart to CEOs: "Do you live in Bizarro world?"

Colbert Report: Obama's New Science Policy

Colbert Report: Al Arabiya Kidnaps Obama

The Daily Show: John Oliver Blames Barack Obama for Winter

Obama: "I'm not a plates kind of guy"

From Charles M. Blow's blog By the Numbers: The Selling of Obama
Am I the only person who finds the glut of Obama merchandise, well, gross? It has moved from memorializing his victory to trivializing it. There are commemorative newspaper front pages and magazine specials and plates and coins. There are also condoms and cake molds and gym shoes and dolls and comic books and a thousand schlocky t-shirts. (His Senate seat may even have been for sale.)

I’m visually and emotionally spent. What’s the cure for Obama-overload?

See also: President "not a plates kind of guy"

Fidel Castro demands Obama return Guantanamo base

By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) - Ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro demanded on Thursday that President Barack Obama return the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo to Cuba without conditions, and he accused the new U.S. leader of supporting "Israeli genocide" against Palestinians.

Castro, who had recently praised Obama as "honest" and "noble", lashed out at his administration for stating that Washington will not return Guantanamo if it has any military use for the United States and without concessions in return.

"Maintaining a military base in Cuba against the will of the people violates the most elemental principles of international law," Castro wrote in a column posted on the government-run website www.cubadebate.cu.

"Not respecting Cuba's will is an arrogant act and an abuse of immense power against a little country," Castro said, resorting to a charge he has leveled against the 10 previous U.S. presidents since he came to power in a 1959 revolution.

Cuba indefinitely leased Guantanamo to the United States in 1903 after the United States occupied the country during the 1898 Spanish-American War. Castro charges that the base at the south-eastern tip of Cuba was taken over illegally.

Earlier on Thursday, Washington's loudest critic in Latin America, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, also urged Obama to return the Guantanamo base, after applauding his decision to close the prison camp for terrorism suspects there.

"Now he should return Guantanamo and Guantanamo Bay to the Cubans because that is Cuban territory," Chavez, Cuba's closest ally, said in a speech in Brazil.

Fidel Castro has been seen only in a few videos and photos since undergoing intestinal surgery in July 2006 from which he never fully recovered.

But he has maintained a public profile through his writings and meetings with visiting foreign leaders, and he is believed to retain an important political role behind the scenes.

His brother Raul Castro provisionally took power after the surgery, then officially became president in February.

Obama has said he wants to move toward normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations but would not eliminate the 46-year-old U.S. trade embargo against the communist-led island without political reforms.

Until Thursday's column, the Castro brothers had praised Obama and held back direct criticism of his administration.

Fidel Castro on Thursday also attacked Obama for supporting Israel's invasion of Gaza.

"It is the way our friend Obama has fallen into sharing Israel's genocide against Palestinians," Castro wrote in his column called "Deciphering the thought of the new U.S. president."

(Editing by Anthony Boadle)

View source article

Now for some bad news

Poor Women Are Not "Pork"


by: Ruth Rosen, Talking Points Memo

Responding to President Obama's request, House Democrats cut a provision from the stimulus package that would expand contraceptive family planning for Medicaid patients - usually poor women and girls. He, in turn, was responding to Republicans' opposition to expanding Medicaid family planning for poor women and girls.

Why did this happen?

For years, reproductive justice activists have argued that the religious right's real agenda is not just to eliminate abortion, but to end the historic rupture between sex and reproduction that took place in the 20th century.

I understand why that rupture is unsettling. Ironically, I was on my way to lecture about Margaret Sanger in my history course at U.C. Berkeley when I heard the news. Sanger was vilified for wanting to give women the choice of when or whether to bear children. In short, she challenged all of human history by proposing an historic rupture between sexuality and the goal of reproduction. If reproduction ceased to be the goal, sexuality might become yoked to pleasure and that is quite unsettling to many Americans.

That is the legacy the religious right has fought against, and it's that agenda that cut funding for family planning.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) said, "How can you spend hundreds of millions of dollars on contraceptives? How does that stimulate the economy?"

Well, here's the answer. First, the package is filled with health care services, many of which will help uninsured citizens, but not stimulate the economy. Family planning services for poor women and girls is also health care. So those who argue it's no big deal should realize that the package is filled with health care services, with the exception of family planning.

Secondly, family planning actually does save the government money. The Congressional Budget Office reported that by the third year of implementation, the measure would actually save $ 200 million over five years by preventing unwanted pregnancies and avoiding the Medicaid cost of delivering and then caring for these babies. The same CBO report found the House version of the stimulus would have a "noticeable impact on economic growth and employment in the next few years, with much of the mandatory spending for Medicaid and other programs likely to occur in the next 19 to 20 months." During the first three years, the CBO report said, the cost and savings are negligible.

Finally, think about the women and girls we are discussing. Consider the teenage girl who's sexually active. What happens to the economy when she bears a child without the means to support it? Conversely, what happens when she finishes her education, enters the labor force, earns a salary, and pays taxes? Do we want an unemployed poor woman to have more children than she can already feed, or do we want her to have access to contraception, get her life back on track, and hopefully find work, instead of raising another child she cannot afford at this time?

This decision was an unnecessary political capitulation to Republicans. According to the AP and the Austin American-Statesman, the president was "courting Republican critics of the legislation" who had argued that contraception is not about stimulus or growth. Unfortunately, too many people have uncritically accepted that argument. But many others have noted that the package is filled with provisions for health care, which certainly includes family planning. Many other provisions, moreover, are also not growth-oriented, and yet it was poor women's bodies that Democrats bartered for the approval and votes from Republicans that they don't need and will seldom get.

That same morning, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert asked "Why anyone listens to [Republicans]?" Why, indeed. They want the Democrats to fail. They want the new president to fail. And so they described women's bodies as "pork" and asked that the funding be cut for contraception.

Women's groups are legitimately outraged at what has happened. The Planned Parenthood Federation of America called the measure a "victim of misleading attacks and partisan politics." Mary Jane Gallagher, president of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, said: "Family planners are devastated that President Obama and Congress have decided to take funding for critical family planning services out of the stimulus. Their willingness to abandon the millions of families across the country who are in need is devastating."

"The Medicaid Family Planning State Option fully belonged in the economic recovery package," said Marcia D. Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center. "The Republican leadership opposition to the provision shows how out of touch they are with what it takes to ensure the economic survival of working women and their families."

While Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) defended the measure as recently as last Sunday, President Barack Obama and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, bowed to Republican pressure and agreed to drop the measure. And although the Senate has not yet voted, it's unlikely that funding for expanded family planning will be approved. In short, the Democrats decided it just wasn't worth fighting about. According to the Washington Wire, one House Democratic aide said, "It ended up being a distraction and it will be removed."

So, poor women who want reproductive health care and contraception are both "pork" and a "distraction." Is this the change we have dreamed about?

President Obama certainly believes in contraception for poor women and girls on Medicaid. He won the election, as he recently pointed out. He doesn't have to cave in to Republican demands to restrict women's choices and health care.

The best way he and Democrats can handle this terribly misguided decision is to pass legislation to fund expanded family planning as soon as possible, before half the population wakes up and realizes that once again, women have been treated as expendable, and that their bodies have been bartered for political expediency.


This article first appeared on Religious Dispatches.


Family Planning Cuts Irk Activists


by: Josh Gerstein and Lisa Lerer, The Politico

President Barack Obama has been in office for just over a week, but already he has managed to upset some top leaders in a key constituency - women's groups - after he personally intervened to get family planning funds stripped from the House stimulus package.

Planned Parenthood led the charge, with President Cecile Richards sending an "urgent" e-mail to supporters on Wednesday decrying the deletion - calling it a "betrayal of millions of low-income women, and it will place an even greater burden on state budgets that are already strained to the breaking point."

"I'm stunned," she wrote, urging supporters to call the White House.

Other prominent women leaders joined in expressing their disappointment at Obama's move - which came after Republicans turned up the heat on Obama by highlighting the family planning proposal in the House bill to spur conservative opposition.

Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, said she met with Democratic leaders in Congress Tuesday and received repeated assurances that the money will be restored in another way - but she made clear she's watching.

"I think the [Obama administration] should have kept it in there," Gandy said Wednesday in an interview. "But in their political calculus they felt this was something that would pass Congress rather easily as a stand-alone measure and didn't think was worth fighting for in the stimulus."

"I think that poor women's lives are worth fighting for," Gandy said.

Mary Jane Gallagher, president and CEO of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, said she was "devastated" by Obama's decision.

But she added, "He's made commitments to fund family planning and do it quickly. ... The president had a tough choice, and he told us he was going to make them and we have to stick with him, and I'm sticking with him because I fully expect really quick action on this," said Gallagher.

Obama's spokesman Robert Gibbs confirmed that Obama personally called Rep. Henry A. Waxman, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and asked him to drop the provision, just a day after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi defended it on national television Sunday morning.

The president "believed that the policy of increased funding for family planning was the right one," Gibbs said. "He didn't believe that this bill was the vehicle to make that happen."

All of the women's leaders stopped well short of blasting the new White House over the move - appearing not to want to split with the Obama administration so quickly out of the gate and also confident that Obama stands by them in the long run on the issues they care about most.

As Gandy said, "We were definitely told that the Obama administration has a strong commitment to women's reproductive rights and family planning. This should not be seen as a lessening of that commitment, only as a change of the vehicle."

But Obama also made clear in recent days that he's willing to disappoint some of his most ardent supporters in the abortion rights movement to win what in his mind amount to larger political victories.

Last week, Obama seemingly did his best to downplay his decision to reverse U.S. policy that prevented international organizations that offer abortions from receiving American aid money.

At first, women's groups hailed Obama for overturning the policy. However, the same groups privately grumbled over Obama's decision not to issue his new order on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in the U.S. Obama waited a day, apparently out of deference to abortion opponents who rally in the capital on the anniversary.

In addition, he signed the order away from cameras, late in the afternoon on a Friday, traditionally the time when newsmakers try to keep news out of the headlines.

At the time, Obama also said he wants to reshape the polarized political debate over abortion by highlighting the need to reduce the number of abortions, not the old political fights over the right to choose.

The political reality is that the family planning funding - as much as hundreds of millions in dollars in aid to states to provide those services to poor families - was becoming a too-perfect talking point that Republicans were using to rally conservative opposition to his stimulus plan.

The proposal would have relieved states of the need to seek a waiver from the federal government before spending Medicaid money on family planning services for women who don't qualify for the ordinary Medicaid program. Women's health advocates say such services include not only contraception but cancer screenings and regular checkups for low-income women.

And if there was any doubt about the political dangers in the bill, the House Republican campaign committee sent out news releases Wednesday asking if newly elected Democrats in conservative districts backed what Republicans said was a second provision in the legislation - to provide $335 million in funding to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.

Any serious breach with women's groups has the potential to reopen lingering wounds from the Democratic primary campaign. Many women's organizations and prominent feminists backed Hillary Clinton in the primary and came aboard Obama's campaign only after it became clear he would be the nominee. There were also complaints from some women that Obama and his backers had not paid enough respect to the struggles American women have faced over the years.

In a statement released to Politico on Wednesday afternoon, Richards tempered her words, saying that although the group was "disappointed" the family planning funds were stripped out, "we are confident that ... we have [Obama's] support on this and other critical women's issues."

But Planned Parenthood's e-mailed protest was not well received by Democrats on Capitol Hill, said one Democratic Senate aide who asked to remain anonymous. "That newsletter was completely inappropriate," said the aide, adding that the action made "zero political sense."

"There are plenty of opportunities to plus up family planning funds," the aide said. "A lot of Democratic members and female members felt that didn't belong in the [stimulus] bill."

Leaders of women's groups have one of their own in White House communications director Ellen Moran. She served as executive director of EMILY's List, an organization that raises money for female candidates who support abortion rights. Moran declined an interview request, referring comment to the White House press office.




The Great Emancipator II

President Barack Obama signs his first piece of legislation, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act. (Photo: Ron Edmonds / AP)

Obama Signs First Piece of Legislation Into Law


by: Debbi Wilgoren, Rich Leiby and DeNeen L. Brown, The Washington Post

Lilly Ledbetter Act makes it easier for workers to sue for pay discrimination.

President Obama this morning signed a law that expands the time frame in which workers can sue for discrimination they have experienced based on gender, race, national origin or religion.

The legislation - the first Obama has signed since becoming president nine days ago - makes clear that workers may bring a lawsuit for up to six months after they receive any paycheck that they allege is discriminatory. It is named for Lilly Ledbetter, who after years as a manager at Goodyear Tire & Rubber discovered she was being paid less than her male counterparts. She filed suit and won a jury verdict in 2003. But the lawsuit was deemed invalid because it wasn't filed within six months of when the discrimination - unknown to Ledbetter at the time - began.

Ledbetter, now 70, became an icon for Obama during his campaign for the White House and was escorted into the East Room by the president this morning for the signing ceremony. Obama led a prolonged round of applause for her as they stood together at the podium before a room full of legislators and fair-pay advocates.

"We are upholding one of this nation's first principles: that we are all created equal and each deserve a chance to pursue our own version of happiness," Obama said before signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, which effectively nullifies the 2007 Supreme Court decision.

"While this bill bears her name, Lilly knows this story isn't just about her," Obama said. "It's the story of women across this country still earning just 78 cents for every dollar men earn - women of color even less - which means that today, in the year 2009, countless women are still losing thousands of dollars in salary, income and retirement savings over the course of a lifetime."

The bill will not allow Ledbetter to claim lost wages or the $360,000 she was awarded by a U.S. District Court. But at a reception in the State Dining Room hosted by first lady Michelle Obama after the signing, Ledbetter said she was "honored and humbled" by her role in its creation and passage.

"Goodyear will never have to pay me what it cheated me out of. In fact, I will never see a cent from my case," she said. "But with the president's signature today, I have an even richer reward" - that future generations of women will have a better chance at fair pay.

"That's what makes this fight worth fighting," said Ledbetter, of Jacksonville, Ala. "That's what made this fight one we had to win."

Michelle Obama, a Harvard-trained lawyer who has said she will focus on work-family balance as first lady, praised Ledbetter's courage in waging her 10-year legal battle. "She knew unfairness when she saw it, and was willing to do something about it because it was the right thing to do - plain and simple," Obama said.

The law is an early emblem of the more liberal tilt the federal government is likely to take now that Democrats control both houses of Congress as well as the White House.

Among those enthusiastically looking on as the bill was signed were the first lady; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), whom Obama praised for leading passage of the bill in the House; Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose historic bid to become the first U.S. female president ended when Obama secured the Democratic nomination; Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine); and D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D).

Snowe, the lead Republican sponsor of the bill in the Senate, said in a statement its passage "recognized an issue that is fundamental to America - to the way we see ourselves ... to the standards by which our country abides: equality, fairness, and justice."

Ledbetter endorsed Obama's candidacy and spoke at the Democratic National Convention in August. She was one of 16 guests on the train that carried the president-elect from Philadelphia to Washington before his swearing-in. Hours after becoming president, Obama danced with her at the Neighborhood Ball.

Obama gave her one of the pens he used to sign the bill as a keepsake. "This one's for Lilly," he said.

Ledbetter worked for Goodyear Tire & Rubber in Gadsden, Ala., for 19 years. Several months before she retired in 1998 as an area manager, Ledbetter found an anonymous note in her mailbox at work, tipping her off that she was being paid less than the men who held the same job. That year, she filed an EEOC complaint and received a letter from the commission saying that she had grounds to sue.

She won a jury verdict in U.S. district court in 2003, but Goodyear appealed. Two years later, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, in a ruling that departed from those of nine other federal appellate courts, sided with Goodyear, saying Ledbetter's lawsuit was filed years too late.

She took the case to the Supreme Court, which upheld the appellate court's view in a 5 to 4 opinion written by its newest member, Justice Samuel A. Alito, a Bush appointee. At the time, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was appointed by President Clinton, gave a rare oral dissent, saying she hoped Congress would reverse what the court had done.

The House passed a bill that year to do just that. But Senate Republicans blocked the legislation last spring on a close procedural vote.

Obama said he was signing the bill this morning not only in honor of Ledbetter, "but in honor of those who came before her. Women like my grandmother who worked in a bank all her life, and even after she hit that glass ceiling, kept getting up and giving her best every day....

"And I sign this bill for my daughters, and all those who will come after us," Obama added, "because I want them to grow up in a nation that values their contributions, where there are no limits to their dreams and they have opportunities their mothers and grandmothers never could have imagined."


Staff writer Amy Goldstein contributed to this report.

quinta-feira, 29 de janeiro de 2009

Judge rejects Obama delay request

Leg shackles at Guantanamo Bay, 21 January 2009
The treatment of inmates at the prison has outraged human rights groups

A military judge at the Guanatanamo Bay detention facility has rejected a request by US President Barack Obama to suspend the trial of a detainee.

Correspondents say this could be a setback to Mr Obama's plans to close the facility.

Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi citizen, is accused of planning the USS Cole attack of October 2000.

Judge James Pohl said the request to halt the trial to allow a review by the new administration was "unpersuasive".

Judge Pohl said that the trial of Mr Nashiri would go ahead.

Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (archive image)
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri has said he was tortured into confessing

In one of its first actions, the Obama administration instructed prosecutors to ask for the trials of 21 detainees who had been charged to be delayed by 120 days.

In some cases, the request was quickly granted.

The attack on the USS Cole while it was moored off Yemen left 17 US service personnel dead and 50 injured.

Mr Nashiri was arrested in the United Arab Emirates in 2002 and eventually transferred to Guantanamo.

He allegedly conspired to help two Islamic militants who steered an explosives-laden barge alongside the ship.

Trials halted

The new administration will now have to decide how to proceed, correspondents say.

Mr Obama ordered the review of military trials for terrorism suspects last week. He also ordered the closure, within one year, of the Guantanamo detention centre.

He said the US would continue to fight terrorism but would maintain its "values and ideals" as well.

Some 250 inmates accused of having links to terrorism remain in the facility.

The legal process for these prisoners has been widely criticised because the US military acts as jailer, judge and jury.

A judge has already suspended for 120 days the trial of five men accused over the 9/11 attacks.

These include alleged mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who opposed the suspension, saying he wanted to confess to his role in the attacks.

View source article

Behind the executive orders

Jane Mayer, The New Yorker: "On Thursday, President Barack Obama consigned to history the worst excesses of the Bush Administration's 'war on terror.' One of the four executive orders that Obama signed effectively cancelled seven years of controversial Justice Department legal opinions authorizing methods of treating terror suspects so brutal that even a top Bush administration official overseeing prosecutions at Guantanamo, Susan Crawford, recently admitted that they amounted to torture. According to some of those opinions, many of which remain classified, President Bush could authorize US officials to capture, interrogate, and indefinitely imprison terror suspects all around the globe, outside of any legal process."

Politico: The power of Obama's hand

See video here

By: Andie Coller
January 29, 2009 06:41 AM EST

Joe Lieberman has felt it. So has Joe the Plumber.

It’s the Obama Touch — the squeeze on the biceps, the pat on the shoulder or the tap on the back that signals the displeasure of the commander in chief. Let others turn on the deep freeze or lose their cool when they’re annoyed. Obama prefers to deal with problems by taking them in hand — literally.

Just ask Vice President Joe Biden, who made a joke about Chief Justice John Roberts flubbing the oath of office last week and immediately felt his boss’s disapproval, in the form of Obama’s fingers on his back.

“[Obama] was castigating him. There’s no other way to put it,” says Joe Navarro, a former FBI special agent specializing in nonverbal communication. “Biden got it immediately,” he adds. “It looked like a little, subtle touch, but you could immediately see that Vice President Biden was contrite after that.”

In Biden’s case, Obama’s touch was itself a message, but in other cases, the Touch serves to underscore a spoken point — as reporters both on and off the campaign trail have learned.

During his visit to the White House press room last week, Obama responded to a Politico reporter’s unwanted question with a verbal rebuke — and a series of shoulder pats so emphatic as to be audible.

“We use touch to create effective communications, so if you’re not getting the message through my words, this is how we can establish better communication, with that touch,” explains Navarro.

Although Obama was clearly annoyed, Navarro adds, the gesture was conciliatory, rather than aggressive. “You didn’t see a closed fist or a pointed finger,” he says. “It was what we call full palmartouch.”

A scribe who personally received a hand-on-shoulder talking-to from the then-senator on the campaign trail says that the message was mixed. He says he knew Obama was irritated but that the Touch felt “confidential” and that he also had the sense that Obama was trying to connect with him.

The contact, he said, “seemed to have a twofold purpose — to express his annoyance and also to convince you that you were wrong.”

Another member of the press, who witnessed a similar moment with a colleague during the campaign, recalls thinking the gesture seemed intended to regain control over the conversation — friendly on the surface but also a little intimidating.

This dual experience is no accident; in sensitive situations, Obama typically uses touch to control and console simultaneously. An extreme example of this arose in June of last year, when Obama was approached in Philadelphia by an aggressive fan who wanted a photo with the candidate.

The man came close enough to pose a physical threat, and yet instead of backing away or pushing past him, Obama paused to grasp the man’s arm as he explained that he couldn’t stop for a picture.

“That was a way of placating, making him feel that ‘I’m here, I’m listening to you,’” says Maxine Lucille Fiel, a behavioral analyst and body language expert.

Navarro agrees, adding that the Touch is part of a larger skill set. “We establish empathetic channels of communication through touch. Very good social people will often touch on the shoulder, touch on the arm. It releases the chemical oxytocin. If you touch people, they perceive you as friendlier. Studies have shown that if a waiter or waitress touches you, they get a bigger tip.”

Obama, of course, is a fairly hands-on president in general, a frequent employer of the handshake-plus-upper-arm-grab and the friendly hand-on-back. He is less physical than the notorious LBJ, perhaps, but more so than his predecessor, who himself wound up under Obama’s guiding hand when the soon-to-be first couple came to visit the White House in November.

The move rankled some who saw it as usurping President Bush’s authority, yet the impulse was not atypical: Indeed, Obama himself recalls in “The Audacity of Hope” that he realized only after the fact that he had probably unnerved the Secret Service, and some of his colleagues, by unconsciously putting his arm around Bush during a White House gathering for new senators in 2005.

Obama’s admonishing touch can be almost as nuanced as his oratory. Take for example his infamous meeting with Joe “the Plumber” Wurzelbacher in Toledo, Ohio, last year. Joe got a friendly, encouraging slap on the side of the shoulder from Obama as he began to ask whether his company would have to pay higher taxes under Obama’s plan. But when Joe tried to interrupt Obama’s lengthy response, Obama subdued him with a gentle pat on the top of the shoulder, explaining, “I just want to answer your question.” The gesture read, “Please don’t interrupt me,” but it also said, “Hear me out, friend.”

Sometimes, however, the meaning of the Touch is not subtle at all. After Lieberman implied that Obama was soft on Iran last June, the two men met on the Senate floor later that day, and Obama greeted Lieberman with a pat on the shoulder and a handshake. But instead of letting go, Obama held on to Lieberman’s hand — and pulled him off to a corner to continue the discussion. (See video here)

Their subsequent conversation was reportedly lengthy and animated — but if they failed to resolve their differences, Obama will surely be in touch.

View source article

After the War on Terror


In his first White House televised interview, with the Al Arabiya news network based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, President Obama buried the lead: The war on terror is over.

Yes, the with-us-or-against-us global struggle — the so-called Long War — in which a freedom-loving West confronts the undifferentiated forces of darkness comprising everything from Al Qaeda to elements of the Palestinian national struggle under the banner of “Islamofascism” has been terminated.

What’s left is what matters: defeating terrorist organizations. That’s not a war. It’s a strategic challenge.

The new president’s abandonment of post-9/11 Bush doctrine is a critical breakthrough. It resolves nothing but opens the way for a rapprochement with a Muslim world long cast into the “against-us” camp. Nothing good in Israel-Palestine, Afghanistan or Iran could happen with that Manichean chasm.

Obama said, “The language we use matters.” It does. He said he would be “very clear in distinguishing between organizations like Al Qaeda — that espouse violence, espouse terror and act on it — and people who may disagree with my administration and certain actions, or may have a particular viewpoint in terms of how their countries should develop. We can have legitimate disagreements but still be respectful.”

Bush liked to distinguish between terrorists and the moderate, freedom-loving Muslims of his imagination. Obama makes a much more important distinction here: between those bent on the violent destruction of America and those who merely dislike, differ from or have been disappointed by America.

These days the great majority of the world’s Muslims fall into the latter category. Obama is right to take his case to them through the Arabic-language Al Arabiya network.

His tone represented a startling departure. He was subtle, respectful, self-critical and balanced where the Bush administration had been blunt, offensive, bombastic and one-sided in its embrace of an Israel-can-do-no-wrong policy.

Speaking as his Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, began an eight-day visit to the region, Obama described the mission as one of listening “because all too often the United States starts by dictating.”

Obama went further. Citing Muslim members of his own family and his experience of life in a Muslim country (Indonesia), he repositioned the national interest and his own role.

He defined his task as convincing Muslims that “Americans are not your enemy” and persuading Americans that respect for a Muslim world is essential. His objective, he said, was to promote not only American interests but those of ordinary people — read Muslims — suffering from “poverty and a lack of opportunity.”

That’s a significant ideological leap for an American leader, from the post-cold-war doctrine of supremacy to a new doctrine of inclusiveness dictated by globalization — from “the decider” to something close to “mediator-in-chief.” I applaud this shift because it is based in realism; a changed world is susceptible to American persuasion, not to American diktat.

Still, words do not alter the fact that the post-Gaza challenge facing Obama is immense. Here in Iran, where anti-American rhetoric is too significant a pillar of the 30-year-old Islamic Revolution to be lightly sacrificed, the response to the president’s interview was cool. It came as the government, citing the Israeli assault on Gaza, approved a bill to investigate and prosecute alleged war crimes anywhere in the world.

President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad said change under Obama was good but would only be credible if America apologized to Iran for its role in the 1953 coup, among other things. The hard-line daily Kayhan said: “Obama follows Bush’s footsteps.”

In fact, Obama said he would pursue dialogue with Iran and praised the greatness of Persian civilization even as he deplored Iranian threats against Israel, its nuclear program and “support of terrorist organizations in the past.”

Any U.S.-Iranian dialogue will have to be rooted in a word Obama favors: respect. The United States has underestimated Iranian pride and the fierce attachment to its independence of a nation that has known its share of Western meddling.

Carrots and sticks will lead nowhere. Nor will an exclusive focus on the nuclear issue that fails to examine the whole range of American and Iranian interests, some shared, some hotly contested.

What is certain, with Iran as with the rest of the Middle East, is that there will be setbacks. Terrorists will attack. Obama will be denounced. But as Mitchell knows from his experience of bringing peace to Northern Ireland, the critical thing is perseverance.

Tony Blair, now also a Middle East envoy and Mitchell’s partner in Belfast, once put it to me this way: “The only reason we got the breakthrough in Northern Ireland was we did in the end focus on it with such intensity over such a period that every little thing that went wrong — and everything that could go wrong did at some point — was all the time being managed and rectified.” He described the approach as: “Any time we can’t solve it, we have to manage it, until we can start to solve it again.”

Bush had the ideological framework wrong. Obama has righted it by ending the war on terror. Now comes the hard Middle Eastern slog of solve-manage-solve. It will need the president’s unswerving focus.

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Obama: An "Aloha Zen" Prez

WASHINGTON — The capital flew into a bit of a tizzy when, on his first full day in the White House, President Obama was photographed in the Oval Office without his suit jacket. There was, however, a logical explanation: Mr. Obama, who hates the cold, had cranked up the thermostat.

“He’s from Hawaii, O.K.?” said Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, David Axelrod, who occupies the small but strategically located office next door to his boss. “He likes it warm. You could grow orchids in there.”

Thus did a rule of the George W. Bush administration — coat and tie in the Oval Office at all times — fall by the wayside, only the first of many signs that a more informal culture is growing up in the White House under new management. Mr. Obama promised to bring change to Washington and he has — not just in substance, but in presidential style.

Although his presidency is barely a week old, some of Mr. Obama’s work habits are already becoming clear. He shows up at the Oval Office shortly before 9 in the morning, roughly two hours later than his early-to-bed, early-to-rise predecessor. Mr. Obama likes to have his workout — weights and cardio — first thing in the morning, at 6:45. (Mr. Bush slipped away to exercise midday.)

He reads several papers, eats breakfast with his family and helps pack his daughters, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, off to school before making the 30-second commute downstairs — a definite perk for a man trying to balance work and family life. He eats dinner with his family, then often returns to work; aides have seen him in the Oval Office as late as 10 p.m., reading briefing papers for the next day.

“Even as he is sober about these challenges, I have never seen him happier,” Mr. Axelrod said. “The chance to be under the same roof with his kids, essentially to live over the store, to be able to see them whenever he wants, to wake up with them, have breakfast and dinner with them — that has made him a very happy man.”

In the West Wing, Mr. Obama is a bit of a wanderer. When Mr. Bush wanted to see a member of his staff, the aide was summoned to the Oval Office. But Mr. Obama tends to roam the halls; one day last week, he turned up in the office of his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, who was in the unfortunate position of having his feet up on the desk when the boss walked in.

“Wow, Gibbs,” the press secretary recalls the president saying. “Just got here and you already have your feet up.” Mr. Gibbs scrambled to stand up, surprising Mr. Obama, who is not yet accustomed to having people rise when he enters a room.

Under Mr. Bush, punctuality was a virtue. Meetings started early — the former president once locked Secretary of State Colin L. Powell out of the Cabinet Room when Mr. Powell showed up a few minutes late — and ended on time. In the Obama White House, meetings start on time and often finish late.

When the president invited Congressional leaders to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue last week to talk about his economic stimulus package, the session ran so long that Mr. Obama wound up apologizing to the lawmakers — even as he kept them talking, engaging them in the details of the legislation far more than was customary for Mr. Bush.

“He was concerned that he was keeping us,” said Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the Republican whip. “He said, ‘I know we need to get you all out of here at a certain time.’ But we continued the discussion. What are you going to say? It’s the president.”

If Mr. Obama’s clock is looser than Mr. Bush’s, so too are his sartorial standards. Over the weekend, Mr. Obama’s first in office, his aides did not quite know how to dress. Some showed up in jeans (another no-no under Mr. Bush), some in coats and ties.

So the president issued an informal edict for “business casual” on weekends — and set his own example. He showed up Saturday for a briefing with his chief economic adviser, Lawrence H. Summers, dressed in slacks and a gray sweater over a white buttoned-down shirt. Veterans of the Bush White House are shocked.

“I’ll never forget going to work on a Saturday morning, getting called down to the Oval Office because there was something he was mad about,” said Dan Bartlett, who was counselor to Mr. Bush. “I had on khakis and a buttoned-down shirt, and I had to stand by the door and get chewed out for about 15 minutes. He wouldn’t even let me cross the threshold.”

Mr. Obama has also brought a more relaxed sensibility to his public appearances. David Gergen, an adviser to both Republican and Democratic presidents, said Mr. Obama seemed to exude an “Aloha Zen,” a kind of comfortable calm that, Mr. Gergen said, reflects a man who “seems easygoing, not so full of himself.”

At the Capitol on Tuesday, Mr. Obama startled lawmakers by walking up to the microphones in a Senate corridor to talk to reporters, as if he were still a senator. Twice, during formal White House ceremonies, Mr. Obama called out to aides as television cameras rolled, as he did on Monday when the director of the Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa P. Jackson, asked for a presidential pen.

“Hey, Lisa,” Mr. Obama called out to his staff secretary, Lisa Brown, “does she get this pen?”

Mr. Obama’s daily schedule seems flexible. Mr. Bush began each day, Monday through Saturday, with a top-secret intelligence briefing on security threats against the United States. Mr. Obama gets the “president’s daily brief” on Sundays as well, though unlike his predecessor, he does not necessarily put it first on his agenda.

Sometimes Mr. Obama’s economic briefing, a new addition to the presidential schedule, comes first. Its attendees vary depending on the day, aides said. On Tuesday, the newly sworn-in Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, joined Mr. Summers to talk about financial and credit markets. On Wednesday, Paul A. Volcker, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve and informal Obama adviser, was on hand to discuss regulatory reform.

Mr. Obama has also maintained the longstanding presidential tradition of weekly lunches with his vice president. For Mr. Obama, lunch generally means a cheeseburger, chicken or fish in his small dining room off the Oval Office. There is also a new addition to White House cuisine: the refrigerators are stocked with the president’s favorite organic brew, Honest Tea, in Mr. Obama’s preferred flavors of Black Forest Berry and Green Dragon.

If there is one thing Mr. Obama has not gotten around to changing, it is the Oval Office décor.

When Mr. Bush moved in, he exercised his presidential decorating prerogatives and asked his wife, Laura, to supervise the design of a new rug. Mr. Bush loved to regale visitors with the story of the rug, whose sunburst design, he liked to say, was intended to evoke a feeling of optimism.

The rug is still there, as are the presidential portraits Mr. Bush selected — one of Washington, one of Lincoln — and a collection of decorative green and white plates. During a meeting last week with retired military officials, before he signed an executive order shutting down the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, Mr. Obama surveyed his new environs with a critical eye.

“He looked around,” said one of his guests, retired Rear Adm. John D. Hutson, “and said, ‘I’ve got to do something about these plates. I’m not really a plates kind of guy.’ ”

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quarta-feira, 28 de janeiro de 2009

Revealed: the letter Obama team hope will heal Iran rift

Symbolic gesture gives assurances that US does not want to topple Islamic regime

Obama administration officials have drafted a letter to Iran from the president aimed at unfreezing US-Iranian relations and opening the way for face-to-face talks, the Guardian has learned.

The US state department has been working on drafts of the letter since Obama was elected on 4 November. It would be in reply to a lengthy letter of congratulations sent by the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on 6 November.

Diplomats say Obama's letter would be a symbolic gesture to mark a change in tone from the hostile one adopted by the Bush administration, which portrayed Iran as part of an "axis of evil".

It would be intended to allay the suspicions of Iran's leaders and pave the way for Obama to engage them directly, a break with past policy.

State department officials have written at least three drafts of the letter, which gives assurances that Washington does not want to overthrow the Islamic regime but merely seeks a change in its behaviour. The letter would be addressed to the Iranian people and sent directly to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, or released as an open letter.

One draft proposal suggests Iran should compare its relatively low standard of living with that of some of its more prosperous neighbours and contemplate the benefits of losing its pariah status in the west. Although the tone is conciliatory, it also calls on Iran to end what the US calls state sponsorship of terrorism.

The letter is being considered by the new secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, as part of a sweeping review of US policy on Iran. A decision on sending it is not expected until the review is complete.

In an interview on Monday with al-Arabiya television network, Obama hinted at a more friendly approach towards Iran.

The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said yesterday that he was waiting patiently to see what the Obama administration would come up with. "We will listen to the statements closely, we will carefully study their actions and if there are real changes, we will welcome it," he said.

Ahmadinejad, who confirmed he would stand for election again in June, said it was unclear whether the Obama administration was intent on just a shift in tactics or seeking fundamental change. He called on the US to apologise for its actions against Iran over the past 60 years, including US support for a 1953 coup that ousted the democratically elected government and the US shooting down of an Iranian passenger plane in 1988.

US concern about Iran mainly centres on its uranium enrichment programme, which Washington claims is intended to provide the country with a nuclear weapons capability. Diplomatic moves are given increased urgency by fears that Israel might take unilateral action to bomb ­Iranian nuclear facilities.

The state department refused to comment yesterday on the options under review.

John Sullivan, a state department spokesman, said Obama was taking the lead on Iran policy and that it was too early to say what that policy would be. "I cannot comment on policy planning stages. We are still looking at all the options on the table and figuring out the best way forward," Sullivan said.

But diplomatic sources said many options were under review about how to signal to the Iranians that there was a change in attitude in Washington, and that Obama was looking for direct talks.

One of the chief Iranian concerns revolves around suspicion that the US is engaged in covert actions aimed at regime change, including support for separatist groups in areas such as Kurdistan, Sistan-Baluchestan and Khuzestan. The state department has repeatedly denied there is any US support for such groups.

In its dying days, the Bush administration was planning to open a US interests section in the Iranian capital Tehran, one step down from an embassy. Bush's secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, said it never happened because attention was diverted by the Russian invasion of Georgia. Others say that rightwingers in the Bush administration mounted a rearguard action to block it.

The idea has resurfaced but if there are direct talks with Iran, it may be decided that a diplomatic presence would obviate the need for a diplomatic mission in Tehran, at least in the short term.

While Obama is taking the lead on Iran policy, the administration will shortly announce that Dennis Ross will become a special envoy to Iran, following the appointments last week of George Mitchell, the veteran US mediator, as special envoy to the Middle East and Richard Holbrooke, who helped broker the Bosnia peace agreement, as special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Ross, who took a leading role in the Middle East peace talks in the Clinton administration, will be responsible on a day-to-day basis for implementing policy towards Iran.

In a graphic sign of Iranian mistrust, the hardline newspaper Kayhan, which is considered close to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has denounced Ross as a "Zionist lobbyist".

Saeed Leylaz, a Tehran-based analyst, said a US letter would have to be accompanied by security guarantees and an agreement to drop economic sanctions. "If they send such a letter it will be a very significant step towards better ties but they should be careful in not thinking Tehran will respond immediately," he said.

"There will be disputes inside the system about such a letter. There are lot of radicals who don't want to see ordinary relations between Tehran and Washington. To convince Iran, they should send a very clear message that they are not going to try to destroy the regime."

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Commentary: Focus on First 100 Days is Absurd

Editor's note: A nationally syndicated columnist, Roland S. Martin is the author of "Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith" and "Speak, Brother! A Black Man's View of America." Visit his Web site for more information.

Roland S. Martin says it's wrong to judge a president based on what he can accomplish in the first 100 days.

Roland S. Martin says it's wrong to judge a president based on what he can accomplish in the first 100 days.

(CNN) -- The new president has been in office one week and already the clock is ticking as to whether or not he can get a lot accomplished in the first 100 days of his presidency.

Did I miss the memo? I thought the presidency is a four-year term.

If you turn on television or radio, commentators, correspondents and talk show hosts are speaking in breathless tones about the need for President Barack Obama to get off to a fast start and show all kinds of accomplishments in the first 100 days.

And we are given the sense that if he hasn't signed a lot of major bills into law and issued a slew of important executive orders, then he will have failed.

Oh stop it.

Lest you think this is about Obama, it isn't. I thought it was just as stupid to put Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush on some kind of silly shot clock.

This Washington, D.C., parlor game happens every four or eight years. It has gotten so silly that some folks actually analyzed Obama's first 100 hours. It took that long to figure out the quickest path from the presidential sleeping quarters to the Oval Office!

The problem with so much emphasis being placed on the first 100 days is that a premium is placed on speed as opposed to thoughtfulness.

Take the president's stimulus package.

We are looking at spending $900 billion, and Congress is proceeding so fast that I doubt most of the members have actually read the entire bill. We know from history that moving with lightning speed leads to all kinds of problems later on.

The Patriot Act was rushed through, and we didn't find out about some of the weird provisions until after it was already signed into law. Oops! Sorry, too late.

The same with the bailout of the banking industry. We didn't discover until after it was too late that there weren't enough provisions focused on accountability of the funds, as well as mandates to ensure banks didn't sit on the cash to buy other banks but instead used it to open up the credit lines.

These measures are too doggone important for us to act like we're watching the movie "The Fast and the Furious."

The fundamental problem with this approach is that every president operates as if he is President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who set the initial standard for decisive action in the first 100 days of his presidency. Ever since then, my media comrades have tried to hold each president to this same timetable, not realizing that times are different, and the needs of the nation are different.

I believe in taking action when necessary. But I also realize that doing something for the sake of doing something is dangerous, and sets a horrible precedent. And we are seeing this now with the stimulus package.

The House is scheduled to vote on the measure today with very little discussion about the nuances of the bill. Questions of oversight, how to manage the spending of billions of dollars, and whether the right programs will be funded initially all have gone by the wayside in order to, as some have suggested, give the president a quick victory out of the gate.

As a basketball player, President Obama knows that you can have a hot first quarter, hitting every shot and grabbing every rebound, and that could very well propel you to a decisive victory. But a basketball game is four quarters, and if you only play the first half well, you can blow the game in the second half.

We need thoughtful, measured political leaders who have studied all the angles and are making the right calls. Let's focus on our long-term future, and not be bogged down in meeting a ridiculous report card for the satisfaction of the media.

The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Roland S. Martin.

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CNN: The Arab reaction

CNN: How Muslims view Obama

terça-feira, 27 de janeiro de 2009

Jon Stewart on Inauguration Media Coverage

"If you love an administration, set it free. If it comes back, we're all moving to Canada."