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Monday, January 26, 2009


LOOKIN' SHARP, DAD: President Obama strikes a pose for daughter Malia, who snaps a photo of her dad in his tux before he and Michelle head to the inaugural balls Tuesday night, and daughter Sasha jumps for joy.


George Packer on the inauguration speech:

There were echoes of Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt, but President Obama uttered no words today that will be quoted in a hundred years. He has never been a real stem-winder or a coiner of unforgettable phrases; what he's always been is a great explainer, who pays the rest of us the highest compliment—the appeal to reason. Today he explained why Americans need to grow up, and the tone and vision of his speech—sober, realistic, clear-minded, undaunted—were absolutely equal to the occasion and the times, down to his requisite scriptural passage: "The time has come to set aside childish things."

He delivered something better than rhetorical excitement—he spoke the truth, which makes its own history and carries its own poetry.


PRESIDENT Obama did not offer his patented poetry in his Inaugural Address. He did not add to his cache of quotations in Bartlett's. He did not recreate J.F.K.'s inaugural, or Lincoln's second, or F.D.R.'s first. The great orator was mainly at his best when taking shots at Bush and Cheney, who, in black hat and wheelchair, looked like the misbegotten spawn of the evil Mr. Potter in "It's a Wonderful Life" and the Wicked Witch of the West.

Such was the judgment of many Washington drama critics. But there's a reason that this speech was austere, not pretty. Form followed content. Obama wasn't just rebuking the outgoing administration. He was delicately but unmistakably calling out the rest of us who went along for the ride as America swerved into the dangerous place we find ourselves now.

Feckless as it was for Bush to ask Americans to go shopping after 9/11, we all too enthusiastically followed his lead, whether we were wealthy, working-class or in between. We spent a decade feasting on easy money, don't-pay-as-you-go consumerism and a metastasizing celebrity culture. We did so while a supposedly cost-free, off-the-books war, usually out of sight and out of mind, helped break the bank along with our nation's spirit and reputation.

We can't keep blaming 43 for everything, especially now that we don't have him to kick around anymore. On Tuesday the new president pointedly widened his indictment beyond the sins of his predecessor. He spoke of those at the economic pinnacle who embraced greed and irresponsibility as well as the rest of us who collaborated in our "collective failure to make hard choices." He branded as sub-American those who "prefer leisure over work or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame." And he wasn't just asking Paris Hilton "to set aside childish things." As Linda Hirshman astutely pointed out on The New Republic's Web site, even Obama's opening salutation — "My fellow citizens," not "fellow Americans" — invoked the civic responsibilities we've misplaced en masse.

The austerity of Obama's Inaugural Address seemed a tonal corrective to the glitz and the glut. The speech was, as my friend Jack Viertel, a theater producer, put it, "stoic, stern, crafted in slabs of granite, a slimmed-down sinewy thing entirely evolved away from the kind of Pre-Raphaelite style of his earlier oration." Some of the same critics who once accused Obama of sounding too much like a wimpy purveyor of Kumbaya now faulted him for not rebooting those golden oldies of the campaign trail as he took his oath. But he is no longer campaigning, and the moment for stadium cheers has passed.

Last weekend, Bob Woodward wrote an article for The Washington Post listing all the lessons the new president can learn from his predecessor's many blunders. But what have we learned from our huge mistakes during the Bush years? While it's become a Beltway cliché that America's new young president has yet to be tested, it is past time for us to realize that our own test is also about to begin.


Chart One


This is insane:

President Obama's plans to expeditiously determine the fates of about 245 terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and quickly close the military prison there were set back last week when incoming legal and national security officials -- barred until the inauguration from examining classified material on the detainees -- discovered that there were no comprehensive case files on many of them.

Instead, they found that information on individual prisoners is "scattered throughout the executive branch," a senior administration official said. The executive order Obama signed Thursday orders the prison closed within one year, and a Cabinet-level panel named to review each case separately will have to spend its initial weeks and perhaps months scouring the corners of the federal government in search of relevant material.

Several former Bush administration officials agreed that the files are incomplete and that no single government entity was charged with pulling together all the facts and the range of options for each prisoner. They said that the CIA and other intelligence agencies were reluctant to share information, and that the Bush administration's focus on detention and interrogation made preparation of viable prosecutions a far lower priority.

What the hell have they been doing for the last 6+ years?


Al Qaeda is worried:

Soon after the November election, al-Qaeda's No. 2 leader took stock of America's new president-elect and dismissed him with an insulting epithet. "A house Negro," Ayman al-Zawahiri said.

That was just a warm-up. In the weeks since, the terrorist group has unleashed a stream of verbal tirades against Barack Obama, each more venomous than the last. Obama has been called a "hypocrite," a "killer" of innocents, an "enemy of Muslims." He was even blamed for the Israeli military assault on Gaza, which began and ended before he took office.

"He kills your brothers and sisters in Gaza mercilessly and without affection," an al-Qaeda spokesman declared in a grainy Internet video this month.

The torrent of hateful words is part of what terrorism experts now believe is a deliberate, even desperate, propaganda campaign against a president who appears to have gotten under al-Qaeda's skin. The departure of George W. Bush deprived al-Qaeda of a polarizing American leader who reliably drove recruits and donations to the terrorist group.

With Obama, al-Qaeda faces an entirely new challenge, experts say: a U.S. president who campaigned to end the Iraq war and to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and who polls show is well liked throughout the Muslim world.


If you haven't read the short story "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" do yourself a favor and read it ASAP. It's just four pages, but it packs a punch. I just found out about it via this DKos entry (that is also worth reading) that draws parallels between the story and Guantanamo Bay.


(Bebeto Matthews/AP/File)

George Mitchell is a renowned negotiator, having brought peace to Northern Ireland. Now he's been tapped to resolve the most intractable conflict of all: Israel/Palestine. He may be just the man for the job.

(not everyone's happy though: there's a concern Mitchell will be "even-handed," rather than reflexively supportive of Israel. How politicians can say shit like that and not get howled off the stage is beyond me.)


You New Yorkers should keep an eye out for this guy's subway art:


Saturday, January 24, 2009

saturday night music blogging


"I won."


The top congressional leaders from both parties gathered at the White House for a working discussion over the shape and size of President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus plan. The meeting was designed to promote bipartisanship.

But Obama showed that in an ideological debate, he’s not averse to using a jab.

Challenged by one Republican senator over the contents of the package, the new president, according to participants, replied: “I won.”

The statement was prompted by Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona , who challenged the president and the Democratic leaders over the balance between the package’s spending and tax cuts, bringing up the traditional Republican notion that a tax credit for people who do not earn enough to pay income taxes is not a tax cut but a government check.

Obama noted that such workers pay Social Security and Medicare taxes, property taxes and sales taxes. The issue was widely debated during the presidential campaign, when Sen. John McCain, the Republican nominee, challenged Obama’s tax plan as “welfare.”

With those two words — “I won” — the Democratic president let the Republicans know that debate has been put to rest Nov. 4 .

DKos provides an apt video from the campaign:

At the same meeting Obama advised his Republican colleagues that:

"You can't just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done."


Obama's Weekly Address:


Bob Herbert:

We’ve been watching that something this week, and it’s called leadership. Mr. Obama has been feeding the almost desperate hunger in this country formature leadership, for someone who is not reckless and clownish, shortsighted and self-absorbed.

However you feel about his policies, and there are people grumbling on the right and on the left, Mr. Obama has signaled loudly and clearly that the era of irresponsible behavior in public office is over.

No more crazy wars. No more torture, and no more throwing people in prison without even the semblance of due process. No more napping while critical problems like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, global warming, and economic inequality in the United States grow steadily worse.

“We remain a young nation,” Mr. Obama said in his Inaugural Address, “but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.”


Michael Hirsh:

on Wednesday, Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the appointment of two permanent envoys to major trouble spots—George Mitchell to the Mideast and Richard Holbrooke to Afghanistan and Pakistan. It was perhaps the surest sign of all that Obama intends a 180-degree reversal from the ultimatum-heavy approach of the Bush administration, which saw diplomacy mainly as an exercise in stating terms for surrender, whether to Iran, Hamas or North Korea (except over the last couple of years). "Anything short of relentless diplomatic efforts will fail," Clinton said, making it clear that Holbrooke and Mitchell would each be spending much of the next four years away from home. Both men, Holbrooke and Mitchell, gained fame by ending what seemed to be intractable conflicts, Bosnia (Holbrooke) and Northern Ireland (Mitchell). "There is no such thing as a conflict that can't be ended," Mitchell said.


There's some interesting backstory on Holbrooke's portfolio.



In his last few months in office, former President George W. Bush's Administration pushed through over 150 "midnight regulations," many of them weakening existing environmental protections. Although Obama is now in charge, most of Bush's new rules are on the books, and changing them will take time and effort from an already burdened White House. "The Obama Administration will be saddled with reversing harmful Bush rules at the same time that Obama wants to enact his own agenda," says John Walke, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

That's no accident. In May 2008, then White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten issued a memo instructing federal agencies to finalize any new regulations by Nov. 1, 2008. At the time, the White House said the memo was meant to head off the rush of last-minute rulemaking that usually jams up the final months of any outgoing Administration. But it also had a tactical purpose: new regulations require 30 to 60 days from their official publication in the Federal Register to take effect. (Regulations that have an "insignificant" economic effect — less than $100 million — need 30 days; bigger rules need 60.) By finalizing midnight regulations at the beginning of November, the Bush Administration ensured that most of the rules would be in effect before Obama took the oath of office on Jan. 20 — in some cases, just before.

They include regulations that allow mountaintop-removal mining projects to pollute streambeds with leftover dirt, and a Bush move to begin to permit drilling for oil and gas on the Outer Continental Shelf. Worse, they also include a drastic weakening of the Endangered Species Act, allowing federal agencies to bypass expert advice from federal scientists on whether proposed projects would have an impact on endangered species, essentially cutting the heart out of the act.

With an economy in meltdown, two wars to fight and a need to find his feet quickly, Obama may not have the time to rewrite Bush's rulebook, even if it does hurt the planet. "It's a huge burden on a new presidency that already faces more than its fair share of burdens," says Vickie Patton, a senior attorney with the Environmental Defense Fund. Bush's messes won't be cleaned up easily.


Marc Ambinder considers what the first hundred days might look like.


A staffer reports that the mood at the Dept of Education has changed dramatically.




Wednesday, January 21, 2009


HRC arrived at the State Dept today and it sounds like they couldn't be happier to have her. Apparently Rice wasn't well liked:

One thing seems clear regarding Condoleezza Rice’s stewardship of the State Department: she did not command the admiration of many of those who worked with her. The reaction of State Department employees as Hillary Clinton arrived this morning apparently bears comparison to the liberation of Paris at the end of World War II.

There are great hopes for Hillary at State. I met last week with a number of career State Department employees and was surprised when one said she was looking forward to the “Glinda Party” next week. I asked her: if Hillary was Glinda, the Good Witch of the South from the Wizard of Oz, did that make Condoleezza Rice the Wicked Witch of the West?

“You’re on to it,” she said.

You can hear the enthusiasm, especially when she says she welcomes debate and original thinking:


a new day:

more on this here


You seriously can't make this shit up:

Former French President Chirac hospitalised after mauling by his clinically depressed poodle

Former French President Jacques Chirac pictured in his car with his pet, Sumo, the white Maltese Poodle (file photo)

Former French President Jacques Chirac pictured in his car with his pet, Sumo, the white Maltese Poodle (file photo). The president has been bitten by his dog.


The Freewheelin' Obamas:




I'm not sure America is ready for this:


My President is black:

99 problems but a Bush ain't one:

well that happened

newspapers around the world


Joan Walsh remembers the day


Obama took the oath a second time (just in case!)




(AP Photo/GeoEye Satellite Image)

(More inaugural pics here)

inaugural party photo-blogging

Here are a few pics from Nico's fabulous inauguration party:

who's bad?

and here's a leftover pic from the concert that I thought Nico or Rachel might want...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

inaugural photo-blogging

Today was too big for words, and certainly won't be captured by my photos, but here they are anyway:

the girl scout high-five tunnel was definitely a highlight:

yep, pretty much:

Obama's car: