The Obama/Clinton State Department: Diplomatic Strength is Essential

Hillary Clinton's State Department is expected to place a major emphasis on public diplomacy, but that promise has been made before and it will be difficult to fulfill in an era of declining budgets.

Hillary Clinton's State Department is expected to place a major emphasis on public diplomacy, but that promise has been made before and it will be difficult to fulfill in an era of declining budgets.


President-elect Barack Obama is expected to announce his new national security team on Monday at a press conference in Chicago. The highlight will be the appointment of Hillary Rodham Clinton as Secretary of State. The decision to keep Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the Pentagon and to name retired General James Jones as the new National Security Adviser has already proven to be popular with the national security community. The Republican leadership has publicly promised not to be obstructionist, and this is essential at a time when the nation faces so many foreign policy and international economic challenges.

Thankfully, in the years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the vast majority of Americans have understood the importance of military strength. The United States steadily increased its defense budget throughout the Bush Administration, and very few lawmakers vote against the annual defense appropriations bill. Unlike the presidential campaigns of the 1970s and 1980s, defense spending was never an issue in 2008.

Progress has been made in both Afghanistan and Iraq, where casualty rates have declined by 90%. The new team is already committed to the deployment of two additional combat brigades in Afghanistan, and our next Commander-in-Chief will find united support for this on Capitol Hill. As of now, it certainly appears our military will continue to be the world’s best trained, best equipped and best led. The transformation to a lighter and more mobile military is not complete, but there is no indication the Obama team is planning to make any radical changes.

President Bush will leave his successor with a strong military but a lack of strength in diplomacy. The American cause is misunderstood in many parts of the world, and our efforts in recent years to appeal to global hearts and minds have not been successful. Our communication failure is especially ironic, because America invented both Hollywood and Madison Avenue.

The Bush Administration failed to effectively promote acceptance of America’s mission and goals overseas. Then Senators Obama and Clinton made this criticism during the campaign. Their accusations were supported by a blistering report issued last July by the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy. The report was requested by the U.S. Congress, and it emphasized that there were no State Department employee overseas whose only focus involved public diplomacy outreach efforts. According to the report, the State Department “makes no special effort to recruit individuals into the [public-diplomacy] career track who would bring into the Foreign Service experience or skills specifically relevant to the work of communicating with and influencing foreign public opinion.”

Developing public opinion obviously involves many factors. But in retrospect it now appears the Clinton administration made a mistake in 1999 when it terminated our major public arm, the United States Information Agency (USIA). USIA was merged with the State Department that year, and the post of undersecretary of state for public diplomacy was created.

The new Administration now confronts an extremely daunting task. During the Bush Administration, four people served in the position of Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy. Margaret Tutwiler, Charlotte Beers, Karen Hughes and James Glassman all had an excellent relationship with the President, and they were dedicated professionals. They all spoke of constant frustrations in coping with the Foreign Service bureaucracy, and the office was vacant for 25 months.

According to the Heritage Foundation, the office “is in disarray, in a department that doesn’t want it. … In 1999, State devoured and scattered USIA’s personnel and bureaus. Next, senior managers created the undersecretariat as an advisory position with no significant budget and no authority over public diplomacy personnel.”

America’s most troublesome security problems are in predominantly Muslim countries. The United States is certainly not against the Islamic faith, and since 1990 has fought in six wars to protect Muslims. The United States liberated Kuwait, as well as 25 million people in Afghanistan and another 25 million in Iraq. America saved 250,000 people in Somalia and it stopped the “ethnic cleansing” and massive human-rights violations in Bosnia and Kosovo.

Unfortunately, this message has not been relayed to many parts of the Middle East. America does not dictate to any nation, but is keenly interested in promoting democracy, good governance, the rule of law, an independent media, religious freedom, the rights of women and strengthened institutions of civil society.

America’s message is not getting across largely because there is little coordination of overall strategy. I hope the Obama Administration will name an individual who will not confine themselves to the State Department corridors but act as a public diplomacy czar in coordinating many divergent programs. At present, there is too much overlap and many vital outreach efforts are ignored.

This will be one of the new administration’s most difficult tasks, and they must provide the necessary tools. The task is so important that the new Undersecretary should be a member of the National Security Council. In addition, Clinton administration personnel decisions should be reversed.

The new team must ensure our government always proclaims the universal values America espouses — democracy, free markets, human rights and equal justice under law. They represent the strongest weapons in America’s arsenal and are the ultimate guarantors of our freedom and national security. The way to prevail in this struggle is through the power of our ideas, and the task will be difficult because perceptions do not change quickly or easily.

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Rental Housing for the 4 Day Historic Obama Inaugural



Basement bedroom

Basement bedroom


Second Basement Bedroom

Second Basement Bedroom


I have two fully furnished and upscale properties available for all four days of the Obama Inaugural. I can also include tickets to some of the most exclusive events. The first property is a five bedroom home in suburban Fairfax Station which is one mile from the Metro subway system. The second property is a two bedroom townhouse close to the U.S. Capitol.

PROPERTIES INCLUDE
— Jacuzzi bathtub
— flat screen TVs with expanded cable and DVD player
— Both DSL and Wireless Internet accessibility
— Linens and cooking accessories

EVENTS
I unfortunately have no tickets to the swearing in ceremony, but I do have tickets to some of the most desirable events of the week. I am offering two tickets to the pre-Inaugural “Black Tie and Boots” Party on January 19th. This event is regularly referred to as “the hottest ticket in town.” I also have two tickets to the Creative Coalition Gala featuring Anne Hathaway, Spike Lee, Susan Sarandon, Ellen Burstyn, Matthew Modine, and Rachael Leigh Cook. The includes passes to an after the Ball party. Furthermore, I also have two tickets to the official Inaugural Ball at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. This event has already been sold out.

HOUSING COST
• $250/night for each room for 3 nights
• Non-refundable deposit due within 48 hours of verbal agreement. Remaining balance due upon arrival.
• Refundable security deposit that will be returned 7 days after your departure.
• $250 per night for additional nights.
• *MINIMUM 3 nights stay.

DETAILS
• Only cash, cashier’s check and money orders will be accepted.
• Rental requires advance validation of renter’s current address and contact information (copies of a valid driver’s license with a major utility bill suggested).
• No-smoking or pets.

From the West Wing to the Real Thing

Jimmy Smits, who played the West Wing's Matthew Santos, with Barack Obama in September 2005.

Jimmy Smits, who played the West Wing's Matthew Santos, with Barack Obama in September 2005.


We often hear about the decline of network TV programing, and I still regret the cancellation of “The West Wing.” I am one of the many people the show consulted and they did an excellent job because the writers were evenly balanced between Republicans and Democrats. Both parties were portrayed in a positive light. The program was both entertaining and educational. The article below tells how Obama was sued as a role model for the shows final election campaign.

From West Wing to the real thing: Scriptwriters modelled TV’s ethnic minority candidate on young Barack Obama By Jonathan Freedland, Thursday February 21 2008, The Guardian

Devotees of the West Wing have been talking about it for weeks: the uncanny similarity between the fictional presidential contest that dominated the final seasons of the acclaimed TV show and the real-life drama of this year’s election. Both the real and imagined campaigns have centred on a young, charismatic candidate from an ethnic minority, daring to take on an establishment workhorse with a promise to transcend race and heal America’s partisan divide. But there’s a twist.

For what those West Wing fans stunned by the similarity between the fictitious Matthew Santos and the real-life Barack Obama have not known is that the resemblance is no coincidence. When the West Wing scriptwriters first devised their fictitious presidential candidate in the late summer of 2004, they modelled him in part on a young Illinois politician – not yet even a US senator – by the name of Barack Obama. “I drew inspiration from him in drawing this character,” West Wing writer and producer Eli Attie told the Guardian. “When I had to write, Obama was just appearing on the national scene. He had done a great speech at the convention [which nominated John Kerry] and people were beginning to talk about him.”

Attie, who served as chief speechwriter to Al Gore during the ill-fated 2000 campaign and who wrote many of the key Santos episodes of the West Wing, put in a call to Obama aide David Axelrod. “I said, ‘Tell me about this guy Barack Obama.'”

With the Latino actor Jimmy Smits already cast for the show, Attie was especially keen to know how rising star Obama approached the question of his race. Axelrod’s answers helped inform Santos’s approach to his own Hispanic identity. “Some of Santos’s insistence on not being defined by his race, his pride in it even as he rises above it, came from that,” Attie said. The scriptwriter also borrowed from Obama’s life the notion of a superstar candidate. “After that convention speech, Obama’s life changed. He was mobbed wherever he went. He was more than a candidate seeking votes: people were seeking him. Some of Santos’s celebrity aura came from that.”

The result is a bizarre case of art imitating life – only for life to imitate art back again. In the TV show, Santos begins as the rank outsider up against a national figure famous for standing at the side of a popular Democratic president. There are doubts about Santos’s inexperience, having served just a few years in Congress, and about his ability to persuade voters to back an ethnic minority candidate – even as his own ethnic group harbour suspicions that he might not identify with them sufficiently.

But the soaring power of his rhetoric, his declaration that the old divisions belong in the past and his sheer magnetism, ensure that he comes from behind in a fiercely close primary campaign and draws level with his once all-commanding opponent. Every aspect of that storyline has come true for Barack Obama. Axelrod, now chief strategist for the Obama campaign, recently joked in an email to Attie: “We’re living your scripts!” What’s more, the West Wing had the Republicans choose between a Christian preacher – a pre-echo of Mike Huckabee – and an older, maverick senator from the American west whose liberal positions on some issues had earned the distrust of the party’s conservative base: a dead ringer for John McCain.

In the West Wing, the McCain figure emerges comfortably as the party’s choice. Apparently the character was not based on the current Republican frontrunner, but was simply a function of the casting of Alan Alda. “It was always an inside joke on the West Wing that the show had a prophetic quality,” recalls Attie, now a writer and producer of House, starring Hugh Laurie. Various political scenarios sketched out on the programme would often materialise within weeks of airing. But the 2008 campaign, Attie concedes, is in an entirely different league.

There are small differences of course. Santos had a white wife – stressing, says Attie, Santos’s standing as a “post-racial figure” – while Michelle Obama is African-American. Ms Obama is the more outspoken, but with two young children each, both are equally photogenic. Obama aides will be hoping that the West Wing’s prophetic streak holds: Santos eventually emerged as the Democratic nominee from a brokered convention – and went on to win the presidency.
Barack Obama v Matt Santos

Barack Obama — Young, handsome and charismatic member of Congress, attempts to become America’s first non-white president. Began political career as a community organiser in a big city (Chicago) before winning first election at local level. Married, with two young children. Faced stiff opposition in Democratic primary against occupant of the White House during previous Democratic administration (first lady Hillary Clinton) Rivals attack him as inexperienced after just four years in Congress, but triumphs through grassroots support, inspiring speeches and message of change. Republican opponent is veteran moderate senator from a western state, unpopular with conservative base (John McCain of Arizona).

Matt Santos — Young, handsome and charismatic member of Congress, attempts to become America’s first non-white president. Began political career as a community organiser in a big city (Houston) before winning first election at local level. Married, with two young children. Faced stiff opposition in Democratic primary against occupant of the White House during previous Democratic administration (vice president Bob Russell). Rivals attack him as inexperienced after just six years in Congress, but triumphs through grassroots support, inspiring speeches and message of change. Republican opponent was veteran moderate senator from a western state, unpopular with conservative base (Arnie Vinick of California).

Lawmakers Grill Kashkari on Changes in TARP Plan

Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Neel Kashkari

Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Neel Kashkari


I just sent this e-mail to Neel Kashkari, the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury. He is the guy in charge of the $700 billion bailout. They really beat him up badly this morning. You can read all about Neel in the “Pages” section of my profile.
Dear Neel:
Please be assured that your many supporters are thinking of you during this difficult time. I was at the entire hearing this morning and it was brutal. I did not bother you because you were so busy coping with lawmakers and the press.
Kucinich’s conduct was to be expected, but the hostility of some of our fellow Republicans was a surprise. It is difficult to image what you must be going through now, and I know you made a tremendous sacrifice to serve in government. Along with everyone who knows you, we are grateful to have a statesman of your caliber leading us through the global financial crisis.
Greg

Lawmakers Grill Kashkari on Changes in TARP Plan
By MICHAEL R. CRITTENDEN, November 15, 2008

WASHINGTON — U.S. lawmakers kept up the criticism of the Treasury Department’s management of the $700 billion financial rescue plan on Friday, accusing officials of being disingenuous in the way they sold the program to Congress.

“I don’t know whether to call this ‘fire, ready, aim’ or something more pejorative,” Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) said at a U.S. House subcommittee hearing. Treasury Assistant Secretary Neel Kashkari, who is heading up the government’s implementation of the rescue plan, defended the department’s actions, saying that no one should expect the plan to solve all of the nation’s economic problems. “It’s not a stimulus, it’s not an economic growth plan,” Mr. Kashkari told lawmakers. “It’s an economic stabilization plan.”

He also declined to say whether Treasury planned to request access to the second $350 billion before President-elect Barack Obama takes office. Treasury officials, Mr. Kashkari said, have “not made any determination” on when or if such a request could occur. Kashkari defended the Treasury Department’s actions. Lawmakers were especially critical of Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s announcement earlier this week that the $700 billion rescue plan likely wouldn’t be used to purchase troubled assets from financial institutions. When conceived during negotiations between Treasury and lawmakers, the plan originally was to have the federal government buy up the assets in order to unfreeze credit markets.

“I think it’s fairly obvious that Congress would have never passed the [rescue plan] had it known how Treasury would marshal the resources it was given,” Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D., Ohio) chairman of the subcommittee, said during his opening remarks.

Treasury’s actions to help homeowners were also a source of criticism. Kucinich accused Paulson of taking scissors to the legislation that authorized the $700 billion, cutting out the section that requires Treasury to use the program to achieve the goal of reducing foreclosures. Other lawmakers said Treasury is too focused on banks and not on cash-strapped consumers. “This administration wants to privatize Wall Street’s gains and socialize Wall Street’s losses,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D., Md.).

Mr. Kashkari said Treasury continues to focus on the foreclosure issue and said Mr. Paulson is “passionate” about preventing foreclosures. “We are using every tool at our disposal to get at this problem,” Kashkari told lawmakers. When asked directly by lawmakers how he would solve the housing crisis, Mr. Kashkari said lowering mortgage rates would be the best long-term solution. Lower rates, he said, would allow now-struggling homeowners to refinance into sustainable long-term loans.

Mr. Kucinich also grilled Mr. Kashkari on the Treasury’s role in fostering the acquisition of National City Corp. by PNC Financial Services Group Inc. Lawmakers have been critical of the deal because PNC Financial has received preliminary approval for billions in government funds, while National City was not chosen to take part in the capital injections.

Mr. Kashkari declined to speak about specific institutions, including PNC Financial and National City, but said federal banking regulators determine which banks are allowed to apply for the Treasury’s capital injection program. In a heated exchange with Mr. Kucinich, however, he said Treasury shouldn’t prop up struggling institutions. “I don’t think it’s a good use of taxpayer money to put taxpayer capital into a financial institution that is going to fail,” Mr. Kashkari said. Mr. Kucinich fired back to Mr. Kashkari, “That statement that you just made you will hear about for the rest of your career.”

The Prince of Darkness: 50 Years Reporting in Washington by Robert D. Novak

The best part is Novak's response of Ambassador Joseph Wilson

The best part is Novak's response of Ambassador Joseph Wilson


The Prince of Darkness: 50 Years Reporting in Washington by Robert D. Novak

The book has many entertaining stories about DC in the old days, and we are missing a lot from that era. The book’s original manuscript was 1,400 pages which was reduced to 672 pages. At the end I wanted to read more and I am now wondering what I missed.
The best part was Novak’s rebuttal of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who in 2004 published “The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife’s CIA Identity: A Diplomat’s Memoir.” In late February of 2002, Wilson was sent to Niger on behalf of the CIA to investigate the possibility that Saddam Hussein had a deal to buy enriched uranium yellowcake. Wilson’s July 6, 2003 New York Times op-ed article became one of the focal points for the 2004 president campaign. Wilson claimed President Bush lied because of the controversial “16 words” in his 2003 State of the Union Address: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”
Wilson said Iraq was never trying to acquire uranium from Niger, but Novak demonstrates that the person who was lying is Wilson. Wilson’s claims were rebutted by the Senate Intelligence Committee report, the British government’s Butler Committee report and by Wilson’s prior actions. The British Inquiry said “It is accepted by all parties that Iraqi officials visited Niger in 1999. The British Government had intelligence from several different sources indicating that this visit was for the purpose of acquiring uranium. Since uranium constitutes almost three-quarters of Niger’s exports, the intelligence was credible.”
A July 13, 2005 “Wall Street Journal” editorial also says Wilson lied in his “What I Didn’t Find in Africa” article. The Journal says Wilson lied about “what he’d discovered in Africa, how he’d discovered it, what he’d told the CIA about it, or even why he was sent on the mission.” An editorial headlined “A Good Leak” published in the April 9, 2006 “Washington Post” claims “Mr. Wilson was the one guilty of twisting the truth and that, in fact, his report [to the CIA] supported the conclusion that Iraq had sought uranium.”

Book Review: The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression by Amity Shlaes

A new and revised paperback edition has now been released.

A new and revised paperback edition has now been released.


The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression by Amity Shlaes

I highly recommend this book because it has important lessons for policy makers in the Obama Administration who will address the current international economic downturn. The book is an excellent rebuttal to anyone who claims “FDR’s policies got us out of the Great Depression.”
The New Deal programs of the 1930’s such as the establishment of Social Security, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the FDIC were essential reforms. A significant number of President Franklin Roosevelt’s reforms were actually began during the Herbert Hoover Administration. A significant change was that FDR began the process of reversing the disastrous protectionism of Hoover’s Smoot-Hawley Tariff, which raised rates to 70% and resulted in trade barriers around the world. The tariff rates came down but they were still too high to generate global trade.
Other New Deal efforts to limit supply and control wages and prices were definitely not successful. In fact, the author demonstrates how the National Recovery Act and the Works Progress Administration were a hindrance to economic recovery. The Great Depression began at the end of October in 1929, but in 1938 another serious downturn occurred. This was called “a depression within a depression,” and it emphasized the failure of so many New Deal reforms. FDR’s attacks on the business community, his high tax rates and his class warfare rhetoric all resulted in a dramatic drop in the type of investment which was essential for recovery.
I have read many books on the causes and consequences of the Great Depression and I would rank this as one of the best. I saw many parallels to the increased tax and spend policies which are being advocated today.

Obama, Capital Gains and Economic Growth

The New Commander-in-Chief Can Be grateful that not one American died in Iraq last month.

The new Commander-in-Chief can be grateful that not one American soldier died in Iraq last month.

According to a front page analysis in yesterday’s “Washington Post,” many of the lawmakers I most admire are going to lose tomorrow. I will be especially saddened if Senators such as Norm Coleman (MN), Gordon Smith (OR), John Sununu (NH) and Elizabeth Dole (NC) are defeated. All of them are “work horses,” not “show horses,” and they were willing to compromise for the common good. My guess is that their successors will be intense partisans. Lets hope I am wrong.

I have been wrong in the past.  Several of the predictions I made about President-elect Bill Clinton in 1992 were not correct. Of course, it can be argued that a big part of his success was due to the GOP Congress which was in power for six of his eight years in office.  Nevertheless, I would not have predicted the Clinton Administration would have focused on deficit reduction, welfare reform, free trade agreements such as NAFTA, and capital gains reductions.
In 1997, in one of his best moments, President Clinton signed the law reducing capital gains rates from 28 to 20%.  One of the results was growth rates of 4% for the next three years, and Nasdaq quadrupled in value.  (George Bush later took the rate down to 15%).  Unlike today, Clinton’s advocacy of significant capital gains reductions was an integral part of the 1996 Democratic Platform. Clinton used this repeatedly to rebut Bob Dole’s tax cut arguments during his re-election campaign. In his memoirs, Clinton himself said he could have been described as a liberal Republican.
Today, my predictions about Senator Obama could be similarly incorrect.  Last month not one American solder died in Iraq, and similar to 1992, every survey indicates the economy is the dominant issue.  Obama has repeatedly said he will cut taxes on the middle class, but I believe just the opposite will happen. The capital gains rate is crucial to investment decisions and it is already scheduled to increase from 15% back to the 20% of the Clinton era. The dividend rate will go back to 30 or 38%.  Obama will not do anything to reverse that.
This is a major factor because over half of us own stocks and almost 80% own homes. Surprisingly, one of the few couples not investing in the stock market is Barack and Michelle Obama.  In 2005, 47% of all tax returns reporting capital gains were from households with incomes below $50,000, and 79% came from households with incomes below $100,000.  The increase will also put America at a great disadvantage when competing for global capital.
In addition, I really hope Obama will rethink his position regarding an additional raise beyond 20% in rates on capital gains.  He wants to do this out of sense of “fairness,” and Obama calls for elimination of “tax breaks for the rich.”  Obama would only be hurting low income workers. He would be reducing the amount of capital necessary to create jobs.
There is a great disparity in income in our nation, but the only way to help a blue collar worker earn more is through increased capital and training. As Jesse Jackson once said, “Capitalism without capital is just another ‘ism’.” The rate reductions made by Clinton and Bush both resulted in more income to the government, but the real benefit was for our nation’s economic growth.
American companies also have to endure the highest corporate tax rates in the industrialized world, and this will not change in an Obama Administration.  
Our current corporate rate is 39.3% and even Germany has a 25% rate.  Ireland cut its corporate rate to 12.5 percent and went from being the poor man of Europe to the second-richest on a per capita income basis.  Despite Senator Obama’s comments about spreading the wealth around, we already have an extremely progressive income tax system.  For 2006 (the latest year for which statistics are available), the share of the federal income tax paid by the top 1 percent of tax returns reached an all-time high — 40% of all federal income taxes.  The top 50% paid 97% of the tax.  The bottom 50% paid only 3% of it.
I was pleasantly surprised by several of Bill Clinton’s policies, and I hope I will be able to say the same thing about Barack Obama.