Mojo - January 2009

Elections Have Consequences, Global Health and Family Planning Edition

| Fri Jan. 23, 2009 10:57 AM EST

A good week continues:

President Barack Obama on Friday will lift restrictions on U.S. government funding for groups that provide abortion services or counseling abroad, reversing a policy of his Republican predecessor George W. Bush, an administration official said.
"It will be today. He's going to make an executive order (lifting the global gag rule)," the official said...
When the ban was in place, no U.S. government funding for family planning services could be given to clinics or groups that offer abortion services or counseling in other countries even if the funds for those activities come from non-U.S. government sources.

Excellent public health groups working in the world's neediest countries were denied funding under the Bush Administration because they handed out condoms or provided family planning counseling. It was an example of rigid conservative ideology trumping simple pragmatism. And it's a thing of the past. (For 4-8 years, at least.)

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Elections Have Consequences, Fair Pay Edition

| Fri Jan. 23, 2009 10:32 AM EST

Kevin has already noted that gender-based pay discrimination will get much, much harder now that the Senate has passed the long-awaited Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. I just wanted to mention something, overly earnest as it may be: to all of you out there who donated or worked on Senate campaigns — folks who were committed enough to progressive candidates and progressive ideals to get past the excitement of the presidential race and look for ways to help down-ticket — this is your reward. This bill had failed on Capitol Hill in 2008 and its central principles had been rejected in a widely criticized Supreme Court ruling. But yesterday's passage puts that shameful history behind us. By insisting that employers treat their hard-working female employees on par with their male counterparts, this bill — made possible only through larger congressional majorities, hard-won by activist folks like you — is a key step in building a more just and more equal America.

The Good and Bad About New York's New Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand

| Fri Jan. 23, 2009 9:39 AM EST

kirsten_gillibrand.jpg Now that Caroline Kennedy is no longer part of the deliberations, New York Gov. David Paterson seems ready to name one-term upstate congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand to New York's vacant senate seat. Born in 1966, Gillibrand becomes the youngest United States senator. Eve Fairbanks over at TNR runs down the merits of the pick. Here are the highlights.

The bad:

[Gillibrand] was the only New York Democrat to support the May 2007 war-funding bill; the others voted against it because it did not contain a troop-withdrawal timetable. She also voted for H.R. 6304, the FISA Amendments Act, which extended immunity to telecoms that spied on U.S. citizens at the behest of the Bush administration.
During this year's campaign, she described her voting record as "one of the most conservative in the state" of New York.

The good:

Norm Coleman's Heart Isn't Into His Legal Challenges

| Thu Jan. 22, 2009 5:24 PM EST

He's disputing Al Franken's victory in Minnesota, but here's a pretty good sign he's just going through the motions: he's taken another job.

Just swear in Senator Al, already!

One Wonders if These Men Will Be Friends....

| Thu Jan. 22, 2009 5:15 PM EST

Dick Cheney is ticked at former president Bush for not pardoning Scooter Libby, who was Cheney's right-hand man for many years. He tells the Weekly Standard:

"Scooter Libby is one of the most capable and honorable men I've ever known. He's been an outstanding public servant throughout his career. He was the victim of a serious miscarriage of justice, and I strongly believe that he deserved a presidential pardon. Obviously, I disagree with President Bush's decision."

Cheney was marginalized on a number of topics late in the Bush years. They may not have been friendly for some time...

Obama "Slams Tight" Door on Bush-Era Detention, Interrogation Practices

| Thu Jan. 22, 2009 3:21 PM EST

1gitmo-graffiti-250x200.jpg

In the Oval Office, surrounded by military officers and with Vice President Biden at his side, President Obama this morning signed several executive orders effectively reversing some of the most controversial Bush administration policies propagated during its "war on terrorism." (Even that well-worn phrase was absent from the executive orders and, in a welcome change, has yet to be uttered by the new president...though White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs today denied to Mother Jones' Washington Bureau Chief David Corn that the omission reflects an official change in rhetoric.)

Obama signed three executive orders, (1) mandating that Guantanamo be closed within one year; (2) ordering that all interrogations be conducted in accordance with the Army Field Manual, even those conducted by the CIA, which had previously enjoyed greater latitude to pursue "harsh interrogation tactics" during the Bush years; and (3) establishing a special inter-agency task force to "provide me with information in terms of how we are able to deal with the disposition of some of the detainees that may be currently at Guantanamo that we cannot transfer to other countries," Obama said at the signing ceremony. The new president also signed a memorandum asking that the Supreme Court delay proceedings related to detainee Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a legal US resident, until the administration has time to review his case.

Before entering the Oval Office for the signing ceremony, Obama and Biden met in the Roosevelt Room with several retired military leaders, who had advised the administration on how to deal with the contentious issues covered in today's executive orders. Former Army Major General Paul Eaton and retired Navy admirals John Hutson and Lee Gunn spoke in a conference call this afternoon about their encounter with the new president and shared their thoughts on the impact of today's event. They were joined by Elisa Massimino, executive director of Human Rights First, which organized the call.

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Has Obama Ended the "War on Terror"?

| Thu Jan. 22, 2009 2:50 PM EST

Has President Barack Obama ended the "war on terror"?

On his second day in office, he signed an executive order that would prevent any officer of the US government from engaging in torture. As he placed his name on the order--keeping a prominent campaign promise--he declared that this move "effectively ensures that anyone detained by the United States for now" will be interrogated in a fashion consistent with the Army field manual, which notes that the use of force, threats, or inhumane treatment is prohibited by law. "We can abide by a rule that says we don't torture," Obama maintained. In other words, good-bye to waterboarding.

Obama signed the order in the Oval Office, surrounded by a group of retired generals and flag officers who had advocated a torture ban. It was yet another historic moment in a series of such moments this week. Obama reiterated what he said during his inaugural address: that the United States need not be forced into the false choice between protecting its values and honoring its ideals.

What was intriguing was how Obama characterized the fight against terrorism. He said, "The message we are sending around the world is the United States intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism" vigilantly, effectively, and "in a manner consistent with our values and ideals." Notably, he did not use the term "war on terror." And moments later, he proclaimed, "We intend to win this fight and we're going to win it on our terms." Again, no "war."

Is this a purposeful shift in rhetoric? Has Obama decided to drop the war on terrorism metaphor that the Bush-Cheney administration used extensively?

At Robert Gibbs' first briefing as White House press secretary on Thursday afternoon, I asked if the president had booted the war metaphor. Gibbs replied that Obama had used language that was consistent with his inaugural address. In that speech, Obama had indeed said that "our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred." But he did not use the standard "war on terror" phrase. Instead he threw the word "war" against a specific target.

At the press conference, I followed up and inquired if Obama had decided not to deploy that phrase as president. "Not that I'm aware of," Gibbs answered.

De-emphasizing the war metaphor would be a significant change. But if it is a deliberate change, the White House does not want to acknowledge it.

UPDATE: Speaking at the State Department later in the day, Obama characterized the battle against terrorists as a "twilight struggle." But when listing the national security challenges the nation faces, he quickly ran through the line-up: "the war on terror, sectarian division, and the spread of deadly technology." He's obviously not allergic to the term. But it's not the description he reaches for first when he publicly discusses the matter. Not so far in his presidency.

Obama White House "Explains" Exception to New Revolving Door Regulations

| Thu Jan. 22, 2009 1:41 PM EST

CNN's Ed Henry just asked White House press secretary Robert Gibbs about DOD appointee William Lynn and his apparent violation of the newly unveiled revolving door regulations. Gibbs clearly didn't want to spend a lot of time at his very first press conference on the subject. He had this to say:

The ethics and lobbying regulations "exceed what any administration has done in the history of this country."
Together, they represent "the greatest ethical standard ever."
They are "the strongest ethical and transparency guidelines that any administration has ever lived under in the history of this country."

That's all excellent, and likely true. But it doesn't explain why it took only 24 hours for an exception to the guidelines to emerge. Pressed for an answer on why Lynn was getting a pass, Gibbs said, "any standard is not perfect" and that "a waiver process that allows people to serve their country is necessary." He called Lynn "uniquely qualified" and added that President Obama believes a "limited number of waivers" should be allowed.

It is unclear what the criteria are for receiving a waiver like Lynn's, and how frequently they will be granted. If they are granted too frequently, they will render the much-heralded regulations meaningless.

Update: Democratic Senator Carl Levin is starting to ask questions about Lynn. I wonder if he is going to make it through the confirmation process. That would be a real doozy. A bunch of senators would effectively derail a appointee because he fails to meet executive branch ethical standards they would never consider applying to the legislative.

If This Guy Is a Racist, He Isn't a Very Good One

| Thu Jan. 22, 2009 12:29 PM EST

I'm ashamed of myself.

Much as I've critiqued it, I fell into the easy trap of wailing about anti-black racism while ignoring racism from blacks.

I must have been taking a mental break when Rev. Joseph Lowery made his oh-so famous rhyme during his inaugural benediction; I didn't 'hear' it when he said it. But I've definitely read it repeatedly in the days since Obama's inauguration and, while, I did pause over "and when white will embrace right" (that schtick is one of our oldest) I wasn't bothered for more than a few seconds, certainly not enough to blog about it. That was wrong, especially on such a day. I didn't bother to reflect on the mean-spirited divisiveness of that line until one of the best undiscovered writers I know (his emails are better than most fancy pants columnists in the MSM) sent out a heartbroken email. Maybe Lowery just wanted to get a laugh. I do a lot of public speaking. I get that. But, had I used the joke, I'd have added (after my laughs, of course) something like, "now, we can drop that last line"—in the spirit of reconciliation and healing, if nothing else.

John Schwade is a prison psychologist (meaning he daily administers to the largely black huddled masses warehoused in our beastly prisons) as well as spouse to a black woman and father to a lovely and brilliant biracial daughter. As he sat weeping Tuesday, watching the beautiful reality unfold before his eyes on TV and contemplating what it meant for his daughter, Lowery came on and—how else to say it—pissed in his face, just because he's white.

I should have called Lowery out, but I couldn't be bothered standing up for justice, however miniscule the scale. Though it wasn't really miniscule, was it, on such a day?

So, I asked John to let me run his email to remind myself that Dr. King was talking to everyone, not just white folks.

Here's his plea for justice:

Coat Checker's Delight

| Thu Jan. 22, 2009 11:20 AM EST

Oh, how I was hoping this would happen!

TNR.com has re-run an inaugural classic: My old DC pal Jon Chait's hilarious piece on coat-checking at one of the Clinton Inaugural Balls. He ended up in a near-riot, manhandled by the police.