Tag Archives: President Barack Obama

President-Elect Obama Promises 2.5 Million Jobs

Barack Obama has outlined his plan to create 2.5m jobs in his first two years in office with an ambitious spending programme on roads, schools and and renewable energy.

In his weekly internet address the United States president-elect warned that the US was “facing an economic crisis of historic proportions”.

But he suggested he was keen to launch a major two-year spending programme, to “jumpstart job-creation in America and lay the foundation for a strong and growing economy”. He pledged the programme would create 2.5 million jobs by January 2011.

That goal has led to speculation that Obama will try to launch a spending package larger than the $175bn (£118bn) plan he outlined in his election campaign.

(Source)

Very interesting. I wonder what sort of effect new Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will have in calming the markets which were a) responsible for this mess and b) are continuing to go wild. The second question of course is whether the initial signs of greater calm are actually what’s really desirable here:

Geithner was also closely involved in the design and execution of the Bush administration’s $700bn banking bailout, which has proven less than popular with Congress and could become an issue during his confirmation hearing.

Apparently it was a toss-up between Geithner and former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, Summers now rumoured to be the behind-the-scenes brains of the new Treasury team. But Naomi Klein is alarmed by the prospect of the latter (and by implication the former?):

Larry Summers, who held the post under Clinton, is the man “the Street would like most”. Let’s be clear why. “The Street” would cheer a Summers appointment for the same reason the rest of us should fear it: because traders will assume that this champion of deregulation will offer a transition from Henry Paulson so smooth that we will barely know it happened.

One thing we know for certain is that the market will react violently to anyone likely to impose serious regulation, invest in people, and cut off the free money. In short, the markets can be relied on to vote in precisely the opposite way that Americans have just voted. (A recent poll found 60% strongly favour “stricter regulations on financial institutions”, while just 21% support aid to financial companies.)

There is no way to reconcile the public’s vote for change with the market’s foot-stomping for more of the same. Any moves to change course will be met with market shocks.

Reading between the lines, unless another factor is added to this mix, I’m not sure then what change Obama will truly then be able to enact, other than the most superficial. Good news that he’s promising a move towards energy independence (as per the Phoenix Initiative report), good too that he’s promising massive investment in long-neglected infrastructure. Bill Clinton was right when he labelled the American economy as post-industrial, identifying a huge, untapped market in alternative energy and energy conservation technologies (which if invested in would achieve multiple Phoenix Initiative objectives). But I don’t see any of these policies, and particularly not the Geithner appointment, tackling the structural, regulatory, managerial and behavioural problems in the markets which caused this mess in the first place. Neoliberalism is broken – putting it back together again will only get us back in the same mess, and probably sooner rather than later.

President-Elect Obama Discusses Climate Change

“My presidency will mark a new chapter in America’s leadership on climate change,” Obama said in a video message to governors and others attending a Los Angeles summit on the issue.

In the roughly four-minute message, Obama reiterated his support for a cap-and-trade system approach to cutting green house gases. He would establish annual targets to reduce emissions to their 1990 levels by 2020 and reduce them another 80 percent by 2050. Obama also promoted anew his proposal to invest $15 billion each year to support private sector efforts toward clean energy.

(source)

Is anyone else quite as excited as I am to hear him talking this way? I know it’s a little strange, considering it’s not novel thinking or behaviour – it’s a resumption of the way things should have been all along – but it feels like this great weight has been lifted. After 8 years of denial by the Bush White House and right-wing in general, Obama’s out and out saying there’s no room for debate or discussion about whether we need to do something to combate climate change, it’s now down to what’s to be done, how much, by whom and when.

“My presidency will mark a new chapter in America’s leadership on climate change that will strengthen our security, and create millions of new jobs in the process.”

This further comment in his address to the opening session of the Global Climate Summit was quite telling, pairing climate change and national security, echoing the Phoenix Initiative’s approach to foreign policy. There seems little doubt now that his approach as president to issues such as climate change, oil dependence, nuclear proliferation and counterterrorism will be rooted in this post-Cold War and post-War on Terror perspective. That’s sure change I can believe in.

President-Elect Obama’s First Weekly Address

It’ll be interesting seeing him not just continue the weekly radio address as President, but also what the reaction will be to them being videoed and released to YouTube.

Until 20th January 2009 the Office of the President-Elect’s YouTube channel is here.

Maybe Not Hillary?

There’s no doubt she’d know what she was talking about, and I’m not sure I agree with Michael Tomasky’s pre-requisite of a close relationship with the president. Although the logic of keeping your friends close and enemies closer might seem apt for Hillary, who was Obama’s only truly effective nemesis in the election process, I’m not sure I buy the rumours either that she and Bill are already preparing the groundwork to attack Obama within the next two years; it’s just too fanciful. I suspect he’s going to have political capital which will last for a considerable time, and doesn’t need to placate her. She may be owed a great deal from the campaigning which by many accounts affected the outcomes in the Appalachian states, but to give her State as a reward?

For me the nagging question is would she actually be a good Secretary of State? I’m not convinced she would be, unless of course you buy the argument that Obama intends to be far more hawkish in his foreign policy than many on the left would wish. His wish may be to exit Iraq quickly, but has declared a desire to redeploy to Afghanistan – the usual neoconservative nonsense, or for other reasons? Remember it was Hillary who advocated nuking Iran, with Obama declaring a desire to talk to and perhaps use America’s enemies strategically. We have moves, backed up by chief hypocrite Tony Blair, for Obama to repair the damage caused to America’s relationship with the EU, and despite an initially aggressive Russian response to his election, a soft line on the so-called ‘missile defence shield’ which so soured the US’ relationship with Putin’s Russia. Hillary may support these positions, she may not, but what I can’t get past is her near-unquestioning support of the Bush administration in voting for the war in Iraq. She was either hoodwinked (in which case her judgment is as dreadful as McCain’s) or actually agreed with it; I don’t want a Secretary of State in the Obama administration who did.

The other problem isn’t so much the Clinton psychodrama, which would no doubt continue to play out in and around the White House just at a time when Obama and the country need it the least, but the question of probity. Bill’s pre- and post-presidential business dealings have a shady reputation at best, and at a time when the Obama transition team is priding itself on being the most ethical in history, bringing the Clintons back into the fold would undermine the new team’s reputation before it even began. Obama’s ‘change’ surely must involve a departure from connections such as this, although this is an issue with Bill rather than Hillary.

Nancy Cohen identifies where Obama’s foreign policy thinking is coming from, and argues that Hillary’s appointment could indeed be revolutionary if it were to enact Obama’s belief that foreign policy itself needed to be rethought for the 21st century, to deliver change on the international issues which he’s already called for bipartisan engagement with. One of his top foreign policy advisers – Susan Rice, wrote the preface to a report in 2007 by the Phoenix Initiative, a group of foreign policy Democrats who got together in 2005 to come up with a strategy to wrest control of the foreign policy narrative from the GOP once and for all. Nicholas Lemann quotes Rice that the report:

“breaks away from such traditional concepts as containment, engagement, and enlargement and rejects standard dichotomies of realist power politics versus liberal idealism.” It “offers bold and genuinely new thinking about America’s role.” The report lists five top “strategic priorities” for the United States. The first three are issues that governments, or even international organizations, can’t handle on their own: counterterrorism, nuclear proliferation, and, taken together, climate change and oil dependence. The other two are regional: the Middle East and East Asia. The report barely mentions great-power diplomacy, the traditional core concept of statecraft. It is not just post-Cold War but post-war on terror and, arguably, post-American hegemony.

Cohen believes:

Obama will not choose Hillary to make party peace, nor to bring warmed-over Clintonism into the inner sanctums of the new administration. He will not choose her because she is a woman. If Hillary is the one, she will have been chosen because she has shown visionary leadership on two of the critical international (and moral) questions of our age: climate change and the human rights of women.

Anyone who followed the campaign and the policy debates realizes that Clinton was stellar on climate change and energy independence. (Barring the one foolish gas-tax holiday delusion.) Obama and Clinton share views on the subject, and if anything, Clinton has rightly shown more skepticism than Obama on nuclear power and “clean coal.”

Less well known is the fact that Hillary Clinton was one of the pioneers of the principle that women’s rights are human rights and that women’s status in the world is one of the critical international issues.

If it’s to be Hillary, which Hillary is it going to be? Hawk Hillary? Or feminist Hillary, putting a new, 21st century international relations strategy into action for her former nemesis which just might deliver ‘change’? Lehmann believes not just that Obama’s own thinking mirrors the Phoenix Initiative’s, but that he’s been road testing the ideas for some time. If Hillary can see where hers and Obama’s thinking overlap, watch her snap the job up. Considering she’s good friends with foreign policy supremo, Vice-President-Elect Joe Biden, maybe she really is the right choice, despite the dangers.

Hillary for State Department?

An interesting move if the rumour becomes confirmed.

Two Obama advisers have told NBC News that Hillary Clinton is under consideration to be secretary of state. Would she be interested? Those who know Clinton say possibly. But her office says that any decisions about the transition are up to the president-elect and his team.

Great Machiavellian politics – keep your friends close, but your enemies closer – but would she be the right choice? By having her on the top table, if Obama’s first administration fails she’s then largely neutralised as a challenger in 2012, but do I not recall her foreign policy pronouncements on the primaries trail as pretty hawkish, if not occasionally neoconservative (and she did vote for the war)? Would this show Obama displaying bipartisanship in foreign policy, or admitting he’s more hawkish than many would wish (and as hawkish as everyone else has already commented on)? An interesting perspective on the president-elect’s possible thinking came:

in a January interview he gave to Katie Couric, anchor and managing editor of the “CBS Evening News.” As part of her “Primary Questions” series, she asked him what books besides the Bible he would considers essential if he were elected president.

“Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book ‘Team of Rivals,’” Obama replied. “It was a biography of Lincoln. And she talks about Lincoln’s capacity to bring opponents of his and people who have run against him in his cabinet. And he was confident enough to be willing to have these dissenting voices and confident enough to listen to the American people and push them outside of their comfort zone. And I think that part of what I want to do as president is push Americans a little bit outside of their comfort zone. It’s a remarkable study in leadership.”

One of the comments from the first article seems like another salient point – with Obama and Biden already about to depart, doesn’t moving stars like Clinton, maybe Kerry, maybe Lugar (GOP I know but it’s the same point) out of the Senate sort of cause problems there ? Still though the election has proven he needs female appointments aplenty in his team, although I was anticipating Kathleen Sebelius to be the most senior.

I like the idea of him actually using his political capital, unlike former president Clinton and particularly people like Tony Blair, both of whom pandered to the right rather than acting in a genuinely bipartisan manner. It would be a wise move too to push the electorate fractionally past its comfort zone, it’s having just voted to repudiate an administration which was wedded to the most cynical politics and ‘business as usual’, which on pretty much all policy fronts has been shown to have comprehensively failed the country.

Obama Rattles The Vatican

OMG you know something’s going right when the Vatican starts to brief against President-Elect Obama.

Aides to Mr Obama indicated this week that he will reverse Mr Bush’s stand on stem cell research. The US Senate voted in July to remove restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, but the President vetoed the legislation the following day.

Mr Obama has supported stem cell research to find cures for diseases such as Alzheimer’s. His views are supported by Joe Biden, the Vice-President-elect, who is a Roman Catholic.

Concerned at Obama’s stance on this issue, the Vatican replied:

Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan of Mexico, who acts as the Vatican health minister, said that stem cells taken from human embryos and involving the destruction of the embryos “serve no purpose”.

Asked whether the Vatican was concerned about reports that Mr Obama might reverse the Bush Administration’s ban, the cardinal said that embryonic stem cell research had not resulted in any significant health cure so far and was “good for nothing”.

Good for nothing eh? Well the ‘science’ or ‘rational’ community, which once again is in charge after 8 years, completely disagrees with you oh ‘health minister’ (snigger). It’ll also be excellent for the economy, considering just how much research was forced to go overseas following the Bush administration’s ban. I echo Jon Stewart’s comment on last week’s Daily Show the day after the election – things are starting once again to look and feel the way I instinctively feel they should.

About bloody time too.

Hillary: Obama Has Failed to Deliver Change!

Obama’s only been president-elect for five days, but Hillary’s on the attack already!

“My fellow Americans, I admire Barack Obama, but in his first 20 minutes as president-elect, he has failed time and time again to deliver the change he promised,” the former Democratic presidential candidate said at a small rally in Harlem.

…continues…

The President-Elect’s Encouraging Start

He’s not starting out using ‘war on terror’ rhetoric:

‘Here in America we compete vigorously in elections and challenge each other’s ideas, yet come together in service of a common purpose once the voting is done.’

He cast America’s economic woes in a grim light. ‘Tens of millions of families are struggling to figure out how to pay the bills and stay in their homes,’ he said. Simple figures bear that out, especially after new figures on Friday showed that the economy had lost 240,000 jobs in October. That was the 10 successive month of losses and America has now shed 1.2 million jobs so far this year.

The tone of Obama’s words provided a contrast with Bush. Though he repeated a vow to help Obama in establishing a smooth transition, he also addressed the issue of foreign policy, using a familiar line about the threat from Islamic extremists. ‘This will also be America’s first wartime presidential transition in four decades. We’re in a struggle against violent extremists determined to attack us – and they would like nothing more than to exploit this period of change to harm the American people,’ Bush said.

Despite pressure from the Polish president, he’s not committing to proceeding with America’s missile defence shield, which has so angered Russia:

US President-elect Barack Obama has not given a commitment to go ahead with plans to build part of a US missile defence system in Poland, an aide says.

He was speaking after Polish President Lech Kaczynski’s office said a pledge had been made during a phone conversation between the two men.

But Mr Obama’s foreign policy adviser, Denis McDonough, denied this.

Two small, yet highly significant and welcome starts. I know very well that both positions might change, but the signal which is being sent at this stage I think is important. I can’t help but wonder if there was a misunderstanding with the Polish president, or if he was trying to blackmail Obama into a position he didn’t want, particularly following Russian President Medvedev’s confirmation in his aggressive State of the Union that he would deploy missiles on the border with NATO to counter the missile shield. Given how stupid the missile defence shield is, I hope that circumstances will allow for the project’s dismantling – I’d hate to see it become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The Election’s Over…Now What?

It’s a fun video from The Onion, but it’s true that normal service really will resume on this blog too. There have been many other concerns which have been pushed to one side in favour of Obama’s rise, such as the ongoing inquest into the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes by the Metropolitan Death Squad Police, which will now come back to the fore. At least until Inauguration Day…

What about Obama, do you think he’ll help these people?

No, absolutely not, in fact Obama has said that he finds his supporters “so irritating I can’t even deal with it.”

Do you see an end to all of this, Jane?

You know, Andrea, I think a lot of people just hope these people will die…

Yes, He Did

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our Founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

It’s the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen, by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different, that their voices could be that difference.

It’s the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled — Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of red states and blue states; we are and always will be the United States of America.

It’s the answer that — that led those who’ve been told for so long by so many to be cynical and fearful and doubtful about what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day. It’s been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America.

(full transcript here)

It’s fascinating to see the transformation in this man’s standing since my first blog post about him in January:

If Obama wins anyway, he’s at least going to have to give a convincing reason why, which is as it should be.

Then in March (after his defining speech on race):

Despite Obama’s inexperience (which would be far less of an issue with Richardson on the ticket), I can’t help but wonder if Richardson is right in saying that as the disasters of Bush’s economic policies start to bite America (as they and his foreign policies engulf the world), and people use race to start looking for scapegoats, if Obama isn’t the candidate needed to bring the country back to its senses.

And as his platform started to coalesce in May:

And by lumping Bush and McCain together, he paints McCain as the heir to Bush; noone but noone wants that.

But particularly after a highly successful Democratic National Convention in August:

He left the criticisms of the campaign fundamentally addressed and defused, and set up the general election on his terms, whilst attacking McCain without losing the dignity which has defined his campaign. He gave up power on national television to prove he hadn’t been consumed by his own celebrity, and demonstrated a Veep in the wings who can actually get his promise of change enacted. This is what it’s supposed to be about.

Right the way through to the presidential debates:

out of the two of them only Obama was behaving in a presidential manner. McCain was rude, aggressive, dismissive, and in an election dominated (even this week) by ‘change’ and the need for it, came across as a throwback almost to another era.

Was this in the bag for Obama from the start? No. But his, Dean’s, Axelrod’s and Plouffe’s 50 state strategy paid dividends, particularly with so much money, leaving them able to take the fight to cash-strapped McCain’s home turf, and keep him permanently on the defensive. The huge voter registration drives to fed off Hillary Clinton in the primaries also had a lasting impact in states like Nevada, as did learning lessons quickly and early (the Wright affair). And remaining calm in a crisis (the ‘lipstick on a pig’ incident with Palin, not to mention the economic meltdown) convinced wary voters his temperament was sound; his intellect never having been in doubt. Colin Powell calls him a ‘transformational figure’, and I think that became a view shared by a simple majority of the electorate too – particularly the young, who were also engaged by his use of the internet as a fundraising and campaign tool, as pioneered by party boss Howard Dean.

Now he’s president-elect, what do I think? I think there’ll be some re-running of the partisan battles which marred the first Clinton administration, although Obama’s pick of Rahm Emanuel as Chief-of-Staff suggests a pragmatic ruthlessness in developing a White House team to hit the ground running with in late January, which should have him in a much stronger position than Clinton in 1993. Will he disillusion core supporters by prioritising the economic crisis ahead of push-button issues like DOMA repeal? Will he piss off our allies by not abandoning the hated missile defence shield (Medvedev is making it very difficult for him to follow his likely instincts)? It’s too soon to to answer most of these questions, but his approach can already be gauged. In his first press conference as president-elect, when pressed for an opinion on Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s letter of congratulation (itself highly significant), he said:

Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon, I believe, is unacceptable. And we have to mount a international effort to prevent that from happening. Iran’s support of terrorist organizations, I think, is something that has to cease.

I will be reviewing the letter from President Ahmadinejad. And we will respond appropriately. It’s only been three days since the election. Obviously how we approach and deal with a country like Iran is not something that we should, you know, simply do in a kneejerk fashion.

I think we’ve got to think it through.

Obviously? That hasn’t been the conventional political wisdom for almost a decade, and it’s a relief to hear. And Gerard Baker reminds us:

It’s in danger of becoming a tired cliché even before it has happened, but the significance of an African-American in the White House can never be overstated. Even casual observers of America know the terrible history of the black man in this country and it’s no secret how much race still divides the US today. What happened this week will be remembered for ever.

As Obama himself points out, he’s proven that the ideals and political system of the United States remain, despite 8 years of evidence to the contrary, fully functional. That he also now embodies the greatest achievement of the Civil Rights movement is also staggering in its implications, both for race relations and for ethnic minority young people in the US. Whether or not he can manage the expectations that come with such a historic role remains to be seen. That he’s sensitive to them is one thing, but he’ll have to come up with a truly new politics not to risk being undermined by them.