Obama Administration – January 2009

Cabinet

Regulatory Czar: Cass Sunstein

“Professor Sunstein’s long track record on regulatory issues is decidedly conservative. As longtime colleagues of Professor Sunstein who have debated him numerous times in a variety of settings, we write this paper to explain those concerns,” said an 18 page report by the Center for Progressive Reform on the Obama-nominated regulatory czar, Cass Sunstein.

Sunstein has previously questioned the constitutionality of such programs as workplace safety laws and the Clean Air Act.  He also supports a scheme of cost-benefit analysis that includes a borderline macabre “senior death discount,” that, according to the Los Angeles Times, “calculates the lives of younger people as having a greater value than those of the elderly.”

Sunstein is married to famed cruise-missile leftist, Samantha Power, and has expressed his belief in “defending a strong regulatory state,” a resounding consensus among Washington elites since the financial crisis began in September last year.

Sunstein’s nomination drew applause from business lobbyists, though it left labor and environmental activists slightly cold.  “If a Republican nominee had these views, the environmental community would be screaming for his scalp,” explained Frank O’Donnell, the president of Clean Air Watch.

Political director of the AFL-CIO, Bill Samuel, while offering some praise, expressed “concerns” over some of Sunstein’s “academic writings regarding his approach to regulatory policy and regulatory review.”

Sunstein supported the Bush administrations nomination of John Graham to regulatory czar, calling him among the “most promising public servants in the nation,” breaking with Democratic opponents of Graham’s appointment.

“Professor Sunstein would seem to represent more of the same,” the report from the Center for Progressive Reform said. [Los Angeles Times, Jan 26th, 2009]

Ethics

Immediately after proposing new ethics rules in Washington, the Obama administration claimed an exemption for their nominee for deputy Defense secretary, William Lynn III, who had previously lobbied on behalf of defense contractor Raytheon Co. [Los Angeles Times, Jan 26th, 2009]

Darfur
On Monday, January 26th, 2009, US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan E. Rice, meeting with Ban ki-moon and other top UN diplomats, said the Obama administration supported reinforcing the UN peacekeeping mission designed to protect civilians.  Rice said the administration did not support allowing International Criminal Court to issue arrest warrants on charges of genocide for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, because she said the administration feared the Sudanese government would retaliate by attacking aid workers and international peacekeepers.  Rice described the situation in Darfur as an “ongoing genocide.” [Washington Post, Jan 26th, 2009]
Iran
On Monday, January 26th, 2009, Susan E. Rice, the Obama administration’s US ambassador to the United Nations, told Ban Ki-moon and other top UN ambassadors that, “We look forward to engaging in vigorous diplomacy, that includes direct diplomacy with Iran as well as continued collaboration and partnership with the P-5 plus one,” she said, meaning Britain, France, Germany, Russia, Chinda and the US.  “And we will look at what is necessary and appropriate with respect to maintaining pressure towards that goal of ending Iran’s nuclear program.”  White House press secretary Robert Gibbs assured the press however that “there are no specific initiatives” with respect to talks with Iran as of yet.  Gibbs reiterated the administration’s position on Iran: “this administration is going to use all elements of our national power to address the concerns that we have with Iran.” [Washington Post, Jan 26th, 2009]
Israel/Palestine

 

On Thursday, January 22nd, in remarks to an audience at the State Department, Obama outlined his position on the Israeli massacre in Gaza, which claimed the lives 1,300 Gazans, including 400 children, and 14 Israelis.

Let me be clear: America is committed to Israel’s security. And we will always support Israel’s right to defend itself against legitimate threats.

For years, Hamas has launched thousands of rockets at innocent Israeli citizens. No democracy can tolerate such danger to its people, nor should the international community, and neither should the Palestinian people themselves, whose interests are only set back by acts of terror.

No mention of Gazan’s right to defend themselves from far more legitimate threats.  The ratio of death between Israelis and Palestinians was nearly 100 to 1.  Undoubtedly the rockets attacks are not only criminal but stupid, but what of the dozens of far deadlier attacks that have been occuring for over 40 years, through today with Israeli gunboats firing on Palestians?

To be a genuine party to peace, the quartet has made it clear that Hamas must meet clear conditions: recognize Israel’s right to exist; renounce violence; and abide by past agreements.

Going forward, the outline for a durable cease-fire is clear: Hamas must end its rocket fire; Israel will complete the withdrawal of its forces from Gaza; the United States and our partners will support a credible anti-smuggling and interdiction regime, so that Hamas cannot rearm. 

Does Israel recognize the right of a Palestinian state to exist?  Not only do they say they do not, they act in ways that prevent it from existing.  Does Israel need to renounce violence?  Does Israel need to abide by past agreements, including the overwhelming international consensus on UN Resolution 242?  Obama is silent on these issues.  Does he insist on a credible anti-smuggling and interdiction regime, so that Isael cannot rearm?  Not only does Israel not have to disarm its nuclear arsenel or its massive military, it will continue to have it crimes paid for in part by US tax payers.

Notice Obama’s complete disregard for the elected government of Gaza, instead continually referring to the kleptocratic and colonial colaborationist Palestianian Authority.

As part of a lasting cease-fire, Gaza’s border crossings should be open to allow the flow of aid and commerce, with an appropriate monitoring regime, with the international and Palestinian Authority participating.

Humanitarian aid and reconstruction, Obama added, “will be provided to and guided by the Palestinian Authority.” [Washington Post, Jan 22nd, 2009]  

Pakistan

On Friday, January 23rd, the President authorized missile strikes from unmanned predator drones in Pakistani tribal areas, killing at least 18 people, and maybe up to 22.   The Guardian reported:

The first attack . . . was on the village of Zharki, in Waziristan; three [Hellfire] missiles destroyed two houses and killed 10 people. One villager told Reuters . . . . that of nine bodies pulled from the rubble of one house, six were its owner and his relatives; Reuters added that intelligence officials said some foreign militants were also killed. A second attack hours later also in Warizistan killed eight people. [Guardian, Jan 25th, 2009]

Religious scholars, including Maulana Deendar, Maulana Muhammad Alam and others claimed the attacks were on innocent civlians who had no connection to militancy or the Taliban.  Residents of the village denied that any foreign nationals were killed. [TheNews]

The attack was only four days after he had assumed the Presidency.  The attack continued into the new year a policy that had resulted in 30 strikes and the death of more than 200 people the year before.  The attack was consistent with Obama’s pre-election vow to maintain US policy of disregarding international law and insisting on the right to use force unilaterally.  The attack shattered previous hopes of the Pakistani government that the change of administration in Washington would cease such attacks.

Afghanistan

On Sunday, January 25th, the Afghan government and tribal elders criticized the administration for a military raid which killed 22, including two women and three children.  The US military claimed all those killed were militants, stating US forces had been attacked by an armed men and one women firing guns and rocket-propelled grenades during an operation ostensibly aimed at rooting out a prominent Taliban commander.  

The Afghan government confirmed that day that it had recently proposed a new agreement to Washington and other Nato officials that would ban foreign military raids on houses and transfer greater sovereignty to the government over decisions relating to foreign troops in Afghanistan.  The Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, warned that attacks on civilians only served to “weaken government rule and empower the terrorists.”  The US government retorted that it was the Karzai government’s weakness and corruption that was the real culprit in strengthening terrorists.  [Financial Times, Jan 25th, 2009]

Vice President Biden anticipated an “uptick” in violence and death as a result of an increase in US troops in Afghanistan.  “We’re about to go in and try to essentially reclaim territory that’s been effectively lost. . . . All of this means we’re going to be engaging the enemy more now.”  The administration plans to send 20,000 troops in addition to the 32,000 already stationed there as part of a campaign pledge to surge in Afghanistan.  Biden refused to comment on the killing of 22 people by US missile strikes last week, though he reiterated the administrations vow to disregard international law provided there was “actionable intelligence.” [Los Angeles Times, Jan 26th, 2009]

Economy

On Sunday, January 25th, Vice President Biden and House Speaker Pelosi announced that they were open to the idea of providing even more tax payers funds to bank, with some restrictions.  This was in addition to the original $700 billion in troubled assett relief programs (Tarp) already given to the banks, and the proposed $825 billion “recovery” bill.  “What we’re trying to do is get money out the door as rapidly as you can,” Biden said.  “And I think everyone in both parties is seized with the notion we must act quickly.”  [Washington Post, Jan 26th, 2009]

The details for the bill were in the press on Monday, January 26th, 2009.  According to the administration, the $825 American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan is set to modernize 10,000 schools, with a resulting improvement in the classroom settings of 5 million children.  The bill is also set to weatherize 2 million homes and 75% of all Federal buildings, plans for developing renewable energy sources for as many as 6 million homes, and add 3,000 miles of electric transmission lines as well as double the nation’s use renewable sources such as wind and solar power.  Obama initially wanted the package to be divided 60% spending, 40% tax cuts in order to appease Republicans.  He increased the ratio in spending’s favor after Democratic pressure. [Los Angeles TimesJan 26th, 2009]

The $850 billion stimulus package drew early criticism from Republicans for its wastefulness, including, among other items, $650 million in spending on digital television coupons, and $200 million to renovate the National Mall in Washington D. C., which set aside $21 million alone for sod.  Also, we the bill allocates $6 billion into wealthy colleges and universities, and it sets aside $600 million for the federal government to buy new cars. [Los Angeles TimesJan 26th, 2009]  The administration hoped to return to congress in a few weeks to collect perhaps $1 trillion more in additional funds to shore up the financial system. [Financial Times,  Jan 26th, 2009]  Robert Zoellick, President of the World Bank, warned that day that stimulus packages would not be enough to shore up the collapsing world economy, and that governments needed to coordinate globally to unfreeze credit markets.  “If you have fiscal stimulus without fixing the banking system, it will be like a sugar high,” said Zoellick. [Financial TimesJan 26th, 2009]

In the administration’s effort to pick up Republican votes, Obama:

“made phone calls not just to GOP leaders but also to rank-and-file members, among them conservative Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and moderate Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R- Maine). He named a Republican, former Rep. Ray LaHood of Illinois, to be secretary of Transportation. 

“Obama’s chief of staff, former Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), is a master of Capitol Hill politicking and was dispatched soon after the election to meet GOP leaders.

“Emanuel is hosting two moderate Pennsylvania Republicans — Reps. Charlie Dent and Jim Gerlach — along with several other Republicans at a White House dinner tonight.”

The bill, originally set by Obama at 40% tax cuts, was changed to 1/3 ($275 billion) tax cuts. [Los Angeles Times, Jan 26th, 2009]

Iraq

The Obama administration continued to falter on its promise to withdraw US Forces from Iraq in 16 months.  Secretary of Defense holdover from the Bush Administration Robert Gates toled reporters “”We have … been looking at several options, and obviously 16 months is one of them.”  Apparently a campaign pledge had morphed into one of several options.  This is consistent with what several leading foreign policy experts have said.  The US has a dramatic interest in the affairs of Iraq, in particular the fact that, as Paul Wolfowitz put it, it sits on a “sea of oil.”  As such, experts cited by the Christian Science Monitor predicted as many as 60,000 US troops would remain in Iraq in noncombat-related roles.  The US at the time had as many as “143,000 uniformed personnel, some 60,000 aircraft and vehicles, 120,000 trailer-sized containers, and 150,000 private contractors from nearly 50 bases and installations” in Iraq at the time.   “If Obama slides on his 16-month withdrawal plans,” wrote Gordon Lubold,  “he can use logistical and security concerns for political cover.”  Lubold believed the administration would likely use the logistical constraints of removing such a massive force, along with fear of terrorist attacks on withdrawing US troops, as excuses for delaying departure from Iraq. [Christian Science Monitor, Jan 26th, 2009]

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