US politics

Rahm Zips It

February 11th, 2009 | No Comments | Source: NY Times

When the Big O tapped Rahm Emanuel to be chief of staff, people thought it was because he’s good with a shiv.

IgotyourbackBigOSince then, the Clinton White House staffer and 3-term House member hasn’t exactly renounced his kneecapping style, but maybe he has toned it down a smidge.

Emanuel’s the guy who once said “the untainted Republican has not yet been invented” and that Republicans were “bad people who deserve a two-by-four upside their heads,” according to the New York Times.

But both colleagues and friends acknowledge the guy is trying to cool his jets, maybe even use less profanity.

That may be out of necessity because, as the Big O recounted during a 2005 Rahm roast, Emanuel lost some middle finger as a teenager while slicing beef at Arby’s, and it “rendered him practically mute.”

Regarding his demeanor in his new gig, Emanuel insists to the Times, “I’m not yelling at people; I’m not jumping on tables…that’s a campaign. Being the chief of staff…is different. You have different tools in your toolbox.”

No doubt he’s been busy. He helped select and court almost all members of the Big O’s cabinet and White House staff, and he’s in constant contact with Republicans, especially Top Gun.

Last week during a particularly hectic moment for Emanuel, Steny Hoyer claimed he was unable to get through to Emanuel so he called the president directly.

To which the Big O claimed he “was always happy to take calls for his chief of staff.”

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Do we need a Privacy Czar?

February 2nd, 2009 | No Comments | Source: Washington Post

For years privacy advocates have urged regulators to set standards regarding the scope of personal information collected by Internet companies, the time they’re allowed to keep it, and the use of such data to serve ads.

In the Big O administration, these groups see a new opportunity to press their cause.

The Future of Privacy Forum has asked the Big O to task a chief privacy officer who could formulate such policies, while the Center for Digital Democracy and US PIRG want the FTC to examine consumer privacy-threatening mobile marketing practices.

Then there’s the matter of how the government should handle data falling into its lap from people trying to friend the Big O on Facebook and government Web site visitors.

According to Jules Polonetsky of the Future of Privacy Forum, many government agencies appoint officials to oversee their Web sites’ use of cookies that track visitors, for example. But protocols governing search engines, video players and other online tools on these sites vary across agencies.

Polonetsky told the Washington Post that many countries in the EU as well as Canada and Argentina have appointed privacy czars, but the US doesn’t “have someone in charge.”

During the campaign, the Big O said he’d appoint a Cyber Czar, but that was in the context of discussions regarding cyber attacks and national security. It’s not clear this person will oversee Internet privacy.

And Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, scoffed at the notion of a privacy czar.

“We don’t need someone at the White House urging the industry to behave better,” he said. “Obama has called for a new era of regulatory scrutiny. Does that include online advertising and data collection?”

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Jazz, Civil Rights and the Big O, Take II

January 20th, 2009 | No Comments | Source: Wall Street Journal

On the occasion of Barack Obama’s inauguration as the 44th president of the United States of America, Pizaazz presents additional excerpts from Nat Hentoff’s article on the interplay between jazz and the civil rights movement:

“In his touring all-star tournament, Jazz at the Philharmonic, Norman Granz by the 1950s was conducting a war against segregated seating. Capitalizing on the large audiences JATP attracted, Granz insisted on a guarantee from promoters that there would be no “Colored” signs in the auditoriums.

After renting an auditorium in Houston in the 1950s…Granz personally, before the concert, removed the signs that said WHITE TOILETS and NEGRO TOILETS. When the musicians — Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Buddy Rich, Lester Young — arrived, Granz watched as some white Texans objected to sitting alongside black Texans.

Said the impresario: “You sit where I sit you. You don’t want to sit next to a black, here’s your money back.”

As this music reached deeply into more white Americans, their sensitivity to segregation, affecting not only jazz musicians, increased.

A dramatic illustration is the story told by Charles Black, a valuable member of Thurgood Marshall’s team of lawyers during the long journey to Brown v. Board of Education.

In 1931, growing up white in racist Austin, Texas, Black at age 16 heard Louis Armstrong in a hotel there.

“He was the first genius I had ever seen,” Black wrote long after in the Yale Law Journal. “It is impossible,” he added, “to overstate the significance of a sixteen-year-old southern boy’s seeing genius, for the first time, in a black. We literally never saw a black then in any but a servant’s capacity. It was just then that I started toward the Brown case where I belonged.”

Armstrong himself, in a September 1941 letter to jazz critic Leonard Feather, wrote: “I’d like to recall one of my most inspiring moments. I was playing a concert date in a Miami auditorium. I walked on stage and there I saw something I’d never seen. I saw thousands of people, colored and white, on the main floor. Not segregated in one row of whites and another row of Negroes. Just all together — naturally…when you see things like that, you know you’re going forward.”

As Stanley Crouch, a keenly perceptive jazz historian and critic, wrote recently in the New York Daily News: “Once the whites who played it and the listeners who loved it began to balk at the limitations imposed by segregation, jazz became a futuristic social force in which one was finally judged purely on the basis of one’s individual ability. Jazz predicted the civil rights movement more than any other art in America.”

During the 1950s and early ’60s…I wrote of the civil-rights surge among jazz creators: Sonny Rollins’s “Freedom Suite”; “Alabama” recorded by John Coltrane; and an album I produced for Candid Records that was soon banned in South Africa — Max Roach’s “Freedom Now Suite.”

If I’d been asked about the music to be played (on the occasion of Barack Obama’s inauguration), I’d have suggested…that the orchestra swing into a song I often heard during an Ellington set, “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be.”

Clark Terry, long an Ellington sideman, told me: “Duke wants life and music to be always in a state of becoming. He doesn’t even like to write definitive endings of a piece. He always likes to make the end of a song sound like it’s still going somewhere.”

So we will be on Martin Luther King’s Birthday and Inauguration Day.”

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Jazz, Civil Rights and the Big O

January 19th, 2009 | No Comments | Source: Wall Street Journal

It’s a big, beautiful, bittersweet coincidence that Barack Obama’s inauguration takes place the day after Martin Luther King Day.

To honor Dr. King and acknowledge the extraordinary day to follow, Pizaazz will reprint excerpts today and tomorrow from a brilliant article in the Wall Street Journal by American historian, novelist and jazz critic Nat Hentoff. Enjoy!

“On…Martin Luther King’s Birthday, Jazz at Lincoln Center and the Rockefeller Foundation, also focusing on the next day’s presidential inauguration, will present at Kennedy Center “A Celebration of America.”

This focus on jazz as well as President-elect Barack Obama (who, I’m told, has John Coltrane on his iPod) should help make Americans aware of the largely untold story of the key role of jazz in helping to shape and quicken the arrival of the civil-rights movement.

For a long time, black and white jazz musicians were not allowed to perform together publicly. It was only at after-hours sessions that they jammed together, as Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke did in Chicago in the 1920s.

In the early 1940s, before I could vote, I often lied my way into Boston’s Savoy Café, where I first came to know jazz musicians. It was the only place in town where blacks and whites were regularly on the stand and in the audience. This led police occasionally to go into the men’s room, confiscate the soap, and hand the manager a ticket for unsanitary conditions.

There was no law in Boston against mixing the races, but it was frowned on in official circles.

Jim Crow was so accepted in the land that when Benny Goodman, during the 1930s, brought Teddy Wilson, and then Lionel Hampton, into his trio and quartets, it was briefly national news. And Artie Shaw later hired Billie Holiday and Roy Eldridge, both of whom often met Mr. Crow when having to find accommodations separate from the white musicians when on the road.

In a 1944 New Yorker profile of Duke Ellington, Richard Boyer told of a white St. Louis policeman enthusiastically greeting Ellington after a performance, saying: “If you’d been a white man, Duke, you’d have been a great musician.”

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Obama’s Green Team

January 7th, 2009 | No Comments | Source: NY Times

Two Mondays ago the Big O introduced his energy and environment squad. Then he warned that climate change and the nation’s dependence on foreign sources of energy are tough problems even in good economic times.

Acknowledging that previous administrations failed to make a dent in these areas, the president-elect said “this time must be different.”

“This will be a leading priority of my presidency and a defining test of our time,” he added. “We cannot accept complacency, nor accept any more broken promises.”

Obama has asked Carol Browner, his newly minted White House coordinator for energy and climate, to take the lead on policy development for global warming and energy security. Browner had been President Clinton’s chief at the EPA.

Until the US gets a grip on its fossil fuel emissions, developing countries will never take the matter seriously. This includes China and India.

The Big O also tapped Nobel laureate Steven Chu to head Energy and tasked him to execute on his campaign promises including a cap-and-trade scheme to curb greenhouse emissions and investment in energy technology innovation.

That investment is likely to be dwarfed by energy infrastructure projects ticketed for the Big O’s stimulus package, meaning that Chu must have been quite busy over the holidays.

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Gulf War Syndrome

November 26th, 2008 | No Comments | Source: Reuters

Gulf War syndrome is legit and 175,000 US veterans of the first Gulf War suffer its effects.

That’s the conclusion of the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses, a group of scientists and veterans appointed in 2002 by Congress to evaluate the cornucopia of neurological and other symptoms that have struck our soldiers in the years since the war.

Several earlier studies concluded that combat stress had caused the syndrome.

“Scientific evidence leaves no question that Gulf War illness is a real condition with real causes and serious consequences for affected veterans,” committee spokespeople told Reuters.

The committee added that Congress should increase research funding on Gulf War syndrome to $60 million per year.

“This is a national obligation, made especially urgent by the many years that Gulf War veterans have waited for answers and assistance,” the committee said.

The veterans that contracted Gulf War syndrome represent one quarter of all US troops that served in the effort to repel Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. The most common symptoms include diffuse pain, memory and concentration problems, fatigue, headaches, diarrhea, skin rashes and respiratory difficulties. Few vets report that their symptoms have improved since initial onset.

“Today’s report brings to a close one of the darkest chapters of the 1991 Gulf War, and that is the legacy of Gulf War illness. For those who ever doubted that Gulf War veterans are ill, this report is definitive and exhaustive,” said Anthony Hardie, who was a 23-year-old sergeant during the war.

The panel was unable to determine what causes the syndrome, but it suggested the 2 most likely factors were pyridostigmine, a drug given to the troops to protect against nerve gas, and pesticides that were used against sand flies and other bugs during the war.

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Did Obama Invent the Internet?

November 13th, 2008 | No Comments | Source: Washington Post

Heck no, everybody knows Al Gore did that but the Big O’s presidential campaign did leverage the Internet to an unprecedented degree, and he will continue to do so as President.

Obama’s Internet strategy promises to be the biggest change in presidential communications since JFK began using television to take his message to the public half a century ago. In reaching directly to supporters using the Internet, the Big O can bypass the mainstream media any time he wants.

Already the Big O’s www.change.gov  Web site incorporates suggestion forms and a blog, harbingers of the sort of immediate feedback his administration will encourage.

But the centerpiece of Obama’s communication strategy will be his email database, which contains 10 million names. 3.1 million people in that database gave money to his campaign. Millions more volunteered to register new voters, organize those scintillating rallies, garner support from wavering voters and generally help the man become President.

The Big O will be banking on those supporters to lobby congress in support of his initiatives, provide feedback on his policies, and get out the vote for his preferred candidates come the 2010 midterm elections.

Smelling a goldmine, Peter Greenberger, Google’s manager of political advertising suggested that the Big O could combine an ad strategy with his database to recruit support for his policies. “If there’s an article in the New York Times or the Washington Post about health-care legislation,” Greenberger told the Post, “the administration or a pro-Obama advocacy organization could run an ad right alongside it.”

Thanks Pete.

Even some Republicans have taken note.  Recently, several members launched www.rebuildtheparty.com which implores the next party chairman to start an Internet-based organization like the one that helped oust them last week.

“Online organizing is by far the most efficient way to transform our party structures to be able to compete against what is likely to be a $1 billion Obama re-election campaign in 2012,” according to the site.

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Russian Bluster a Dose of Reality

November 7th, 2008 | 1 Comment | Source: Washington Post

Lots of people woke up with headaches the day after Barack Obama’s historic victory, including the Big O himself. Had Malia upped her negotiation stance to a Great Dane?

It wasn’t that bad, but it was an Excedrin moment nonetheless when those intemperate Russians announced just hours after the polls closed that they’ll deploy Iskander tactical missiles close to the Polish border if the Obama administration proceeds with plans to build a missile defense system in Western Europe.

Talk about raining on the parade!

To an extent, we can cut Russian President Dmitry Medvedev a break here. The poor guy feels put-out because his nation’s 75% stock market tumble in the last 6 weeks has completely extinguished the adrenaline rush he got from his moment in the Georgian sun last summer.

But did he have to go on national TV and say that right then?

Whatever, it presents an early test for the Big O, who during the campaign provided lukewarm support for a US-built European missile defense system designed to protect Western Europe from rogue states like Iran.

Moscow believes the missile defense system threatens its national security, to which the lame duck US president responded that the system would be no match for an all-out Russian nuclear attack so why worry?

Oy vey! January 20th cannot come fast enough.

Meanwhile, Medvedev was quoted by the Washington Post as saying, “I want to stress that these are forced measures. We want positive cooperation…we want to act together against common threats. But they unfortunately, don’t want to listen to us.”

Obama had no comment on the matter. He’s got to deal with Puppygate first.

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One Giant Step for America

November 5th, 2008 | 1 Comment | Source: Commentary

On July 20, 1969, Camp Equinunk watched man land on the moon through an 11-inch black and white TV that was getting a lousy signal from Scranton.

No one cheered. There wasn’t much talk. It was personal experience, shared collectively. It was absurd, overwhelming. Could this be happening?

But Neil Armstrong had prepared for his moment. He must have practiced his line a hundred times before hopping off the LEM.

And yet there it was, unmistakable! An ever-so-slight hesitation after the first word that completely and totally humanized the moment, “That’s…one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” 

So the event happened. We did it! A moment of great pride!

Last night, the TV picture was large, crystal clear and in color, but that didn’t make it easier for the brain to believe what the eyes and ears said must be true.

It took a once-in-a-century economic crisis and a historically inept predecessor. It took a candidate who never got too high or low during a perfectly executed 2-year push. It took an entire generation of young voters and millions of others who voted for the first time and it took a lot more than all of that for Barack Obama to win a national election by 5 percentage points.

Five.

But win it he did. In years to come we’ll see replays of Obama’s confident stride towards 100,000 greeters in Chicago. We’ll hear the speech. We’ll watch him embrace his family, running mate and close friends. We’ll watch the group drift behind the curtains and flags, and we’ll find plenty of humanizing moments.

But right now what I remember is that the Big O didn’t flinch, not once. The smile, the wave, that angular posture of his, it was all so true. Barack Obama stood there as the President elect, and the moment was not too big for him.

It happened. We did it! We really, really did it.

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The Whole World is Watching

October 27th, 2008 | No Comments | Source: BBC, LA Times, NY Times

For 8 years, the Bush administration has systematically dismantled America’s reputation. People see us as arrogant and out of touch, as the country that brought you Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.

Colin Powell had this in mind when he endorsed the Big O last week. An Obama election, he said, “will not only electrify our country…it’ll electrify the world.”

The global impact of next week’s election will be huge no matter who wins, because “cooperation is essential to address 21st-century challenges,” according to NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. “You can’t fire cruise missiles at the global financial crisis.”

Indeed. So what do people in other countries think about the two candidates running for president of the United States of America?

It could not be clearer. Respondents in all 22 countries polled by the BBC World Service indicated they prefer Obama. Among those who expressed a preference, the average margin was four to one: 49% want the Big O, 12% favor Top Gun. The rest are undecided.

The biggest Obama backers were Kenya (87%), Italy (76%), France (69%), Australia (67%), Canada (66%), and Germany (65%).

People in 17 of the 22 countries think Obama can improve America’s international relations, whereas those in 19 of 22 countries believe things will remain unchanged during a McCain administration.

With respect to Obama’s African-American heritage, a majority in 15 countries indicated that his ascent to the presidency would fundamentally change their perception of America. 

For lots of people, next Tuesday can’t come soon enough.

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