william_lynn.png It looks like William J. Lynn III will be the first challenge to Obama's tough new restrictions on the revolving door culture in Washington.

As part of the executive orders President Obama issued Wednesday, all appointees in the Obama Administration will be forced to sign a pledge including the following language:

I will not for a period of 2 years from the date of my appointment participate in any particular matter involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to my former employer or former clients, including regulations and contracts....

Now that the euphoria of the election and inauguration are over, we will soon be reminded of the messy realities that come with having three branches of government. As much as the nation is pinning its desperate hopes on Obama, the new president's success or failure at advancing new policies and changing the way government works depends first and foremost on Congress.

The burning questions of the moment have to do with money--how much to spend, and when, and for what. The president will present his stimulus package to Congess, but it is just a recommendation: All spending measures must originate in the House through the Ways and Means Committee. While they receive none of the attention given to cabinet members, the leaders of this powerful committee are no less important than the secretary of the Treasury, or the other members of the administration who must go to it pleading for funds.

Right now Ways and Means is chaired by New York's Charles Rangel, still a formidable figure despite a growing collection of ethics scandals. In the front tier are Pete Stark of California, Sander Levin of Michigan, Jim McDermott of Washington, and John Lewis of Georgia. It's a solidly liberal lineup (most are members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus) that is likely to support big public works and jobs programs as well as improvements to the social safety net for the poor and the unemployed, the disabled and the elderly.

On the other side is the group of conservative Democrats in the House that calls itself the Blue Dogs. Their numbers and influence have increased in the last two elections, and they have already made it clear that in exchange for gritting their teeth and accepting a big stimulus package funded through Keynesian deficit spending, they'll be looking for concessions over the long term in other areas, including old-age entitlements. With 51 members, the Blue Dogs could monkey-wrench some of Obama's plans if they choose to vote with Republicans.

We learned just how far an uncooperative Congress can go to undermine a president back in 1994, when Newt Gingrich's Republican revolution emerged from the back benches and dedicated itself to opposing (and eventually impeaching) Bill Clinton. But it's been such a long time since we've had a strong, popular Democratic president along with a solid Democratic majority in Congress, it's hard to envision what it might be like.

Those of us old enough to remember them might harken back to the LBJ years. On the day of Obama's inauguration, Saul Friedman, the longtime reporter for major dailies and now a columnist, recalled that time, and the vital part played by a strong, committed Congress.

The murder of John F. Kennedy had given Johnson great power and new stature when I arrived in Washington in 1965 to cover the Congress for the Knight Newspapers and the Detroit Free Press....They were an odd couple; Johnson the southerner who grew up with segregation and Humphrey, the northern liberal who had driven Strom Thurmond out of the Democratic Party on the issue of race. But together, they gave the country activist, liberal government the like of which had not been seen since the New Deal.

On Wednesday night, MSNBC's 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue featured the recent Mother Jones piece on changes at the White House website. In the segment, I discussed President Barack Obama's first-day moves to make his administration more transparent and accountable, and I identified the money quote of the day, which was contained in a memo the president issued: "In the face of doubt, openness prevails."

Because I've written about such matters, MSNBC's David Shuster awarded me the highly coveted "Muckraker of the Day" award. Or is it more like a designation? No cash comes with it, but I was honored to be chosen on such a historic day.

You can follow my postings and media appearances via Twitter by clicking here.

mojo-razzie.jpgHow awesome are the Golden Raspberry Awards? They're like the conscience of Hollywood, with a healthy dose of alliterative, sarcastic wit thrown in. The Razzies have been awarded every year since 1980, and this year's nominations are out now, complete with a press release that compares the "plethora of putrid motion pictures" coming from Hollywood to the "disastrous" economic downturn. It helps to imagine the voice of Snagglepuss reading it. The Love Guru was the most-honored film this year, with seven total nominations; other "Worst Picture" nods include Disaster Movie, The Happening, The Hottie and the Nottie, Meet the Spartans and In the Name of the King. Uwe Boll, referred to as "Germany's answer to Ed Wood," will receive a special Worst Career Achievement award. Much deserved.

These Razzies are to be given out at a ceremony February 21 (the day before the Oscars, naturally), and you know, some people have actually turned up to accept their awards in the past: Tom Green, Tom Selleck, Halle Berry and Bill Cosby have all made appearances. If they had a blog version, or a mash-up Razzies, I would totally go. The full list of nominees is after the jump.

guantanamo-prisoners-250x200.jpg President Barack Obama began his first full day in office with a blockbuster move, ordering that military commissions currently ongoing at Guantanamo Bay be halted for 120 days. It is a dramatic first step toward reshaping the war on terror, and one that is being hailed by human rights groups that have spent recent years fighting the Bush Administration's detention and interrogation policies. "This is a giant step forward," Anthony Romero, the executive director of the ACLU, told me. "Had [Obama] not acted today, there was a chance of irretrievable harm occurring at Guantanamo and we would have lost the game before the Obama team hit the field."

Romero and multiple lawyers for Guantanamo detainees said in interviews Wednesday that though they applaud the 120-day moratorium on the military commissions, they are skeptical of the one-year deadline for closing Gitmo that the Obama administration is reportedly considering. "Closing Guantanamo Bay is not difficult" says Wells Dixon, a lawyer at the Center for Constitutional Rights. "It can be done in three months."

"We want to see what comes out," says Romero, noting that his organization seeks "a real plan that is more substantial than just a year, more than generalities."

Memorable Lines

MEMORABLE LINES....Steve Benen on Obama's inauguration speech:

I was talking to someone last night about Barack Obama's inaugural address, with my friend criticizing it while I defended it. He challenged me to recite, from memory, one sentence — a full sentence — from the speech, just eight hours after it had been delivered. I couldn't....

Hmmm. I can: the promise to overseas thugs and dictators that "we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist." Granted, that's not a whole sentence, but neither was "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself" or "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." There were some other nice lines in Obama's speech too, but that was the one that struck me as the most memorable phrase in real time, and it's still the one I remember today.

Will I still remember it in six months? No telling. I have a lousy memory. But it's still a pretty good line.

It may be the most memorable piece of campaign-trail propaganda in recent memory, but Shepard Fairey's Obama "Hope" poster also has been something of a graphic-design mystery since it was unveiled a year ago. Amazingly, until now, no one's known where the original image of Barack Obama that Fairey used came from. Fairey's been slammed for lifting images from other artists and photographers without adequate attribution or compensation, so it's not surprising that he didn't keep track of his source image. (For more on Fairey's response to criticism that he's a rip-off artist with mad Adobe Illustrator skills, see Mother Jones' recent interview with him.) Last week, a gallery owner claimed victory, saying he'd tracked down the original to a Reuters photographer. But now Philadelphia Inquirer photographer Tom Gralish has definitively solved the mystery of the missing headshot. He's located the true original, a photo shot by an AP freelancer at an April 2006 National Press Club meeting where then-senator Obama and George Clooney talked about Darfur.

Nationalize Me!

NATIONALIZE ME!....With all the talk of bank nationalization in the air, I'd just like to point out something directly that usually gets mentioned only in passing: we've already done a whole lot of nationalizing. Even if you don't count the forced takeover and sale of outfits like Wachovia, Washington Mutual, Countrywide, IndyMac, and Bear Stearns, the fact remains that we've already nationalized three enormous financial institutions: Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and AIG. We just don't like to call it that.

I don't really have a point to make here aside from the fact that, in many cases, we seem to be more allergic to the word "nationalization" than to the actual fact itself. Citi and BofA would be different animals because of their size and reach, and long-term government control of such large banks remains problematic, but still: taking them over would hardly be unprecedented, even here in the United States.

And one more thing while we're on the subject: Since you, the American taxpayers, are now the owner of AIG, you're also the main sponsor of the Manchester United football club. The last time I mentioned this, the season was young and our club was mired in 14th place. But I'm happy to report that since the U.S. takeover of AIG in September, our plucky lads have been playing well and Man U now leads the Premier League. Who says nationalization is bad for business?

mojo-u2-boots.jpgU2's new single, "Get on Your Boots," from their upcoming album with the weird cover, has made its debut, and it's okay. You can listen to a stream over here or at Last.fm, and you can even buy it, unexpectedly early, on iTunes. "Boots" is already a massive radio phenomenon, hitting No. 1 in Ireland and No. 4 in the U.K. on airplay-monitor charts and dominating radio playlists around the US. The track has a fuzzy, lo-fi vibe, and at the very least is a welcome break from the highly-produced pop of "Beautiful Day" or "City of Blinding Lights." More than anything, it evokes Southern California combo (and Party Ben faves) Queens of the Stone Age, with its rumbling guitars and vaguely Eastern half-step chord change. Unfortunately there really isn't a hook, other than the half-hearted exhortation to adorn one's feet with the aforementioned footwear. I'll be interested to see if the single has legs (ahem!) and if there's anything better on the album (out March 3).

Too Fair

TOO FAIR....Abe Foxman on the mooted appointment of former senator George Mitchell to be Barack Obama's top diplomatic envoy to the Middle East:

"Sen. Mitchell is fair. He's been meticulously even-handed....So I'm concerned. I'm not sure the situation requires that kind of approach in the Middle East."

Quite so. But Abe: you're not supposed to say this in public.