Getting To and From the Inauguration

Posted by Katherine | January 22, 2009 – 8:49 am

People walked, biked, and took the metro to the inauguration. Very slowly. Some were out and about at 5:00 am or earlier. Some inched slowly for hours on foot through tunnels. Some got to the Mall early and took a nap.

Cheerful volunteers in red hats were directing the flow of people all morning. Dreamsmall, originally from DC but now living in London, was probably wearing one of those hats:

i volunteered for the 56th quadrennial Presidential Inauguration. i was between 12th and 14th streets on jefferson drive, near the smithsonian castle. incredible.

Hat or no hat, s/he was out there steering the crowd at dawn:

[dreamsmall / Flickr]

Dreamsmall says the experience was “one of the most insane things i will ever see in my life. they just kept coming & coming & coming. our job was just to point them in the right direction & welcome them. everyone was so happy & excited.”

Others, like Dalyn Montgomery, a chess-, rugby-, and Bob Marley-loving artist, were a bit more frustrated. He couldn’t get through security even though he had a ticket:

[brohammas / Flickr]

It’s seems that Dalyn never did get through but was able to hear the ceremony on someone’s portable TV. One big positive: new friends from all over the country!

After the inauguration, people turned around and flooded the metro again and walked out along highways.


Check Out the Whole Inauguration Collection

Posted by Katherine | January 21, 2009 – 1:31 pm

Our inauguration archive is piling up on delicious. Check it out! It’s easy to scroll through or search using tags. I’ll feature a bunch of selections on the blog over the next several days (just as soon as I untangle myself from Flickr, etc.), so stay tuned.


Two Million Strong

Posted by Katherine | January 21, 2009 – 1:27 pm

If you were anywhere near DC or a TV or the web yesterday, you couldn’t have missed the monumental inaugural crowd. (One of the coolest shots from the MSM: this 360 from the NYT.) If for some reason you had your head in a paper bag, here’s a hint of the masses.

Barry S says he and everyone else “formed an orderly line behind the security checkpoint” that gave access to the parade route:

Inauguration-day checkpoint
[xtol7 / Flickr]

Jqblue (featured previously here) got an atmospheric shot — complete with flags, dome, and TV-camera crane — down at the Capitol end of the Mall:

Capitol at inauguration
[jqblue / Flickr]

Sarah Mick (also featured here) was embedded somewhere middlish(?) on the Mall. Looking back towards the Lincoln Memorial, she saw bundled people all the way to the horizon:

People stretching to horizon
[sarahmick / Flickr]

Sarah says that, after the inauguration, the crowd wedged its way down 18th St. because everything else was blocked off for the parade.


US Marine Reacts to Obama’s Inaugural Address

Posted by Katherine | January 20, 2009 – 2:48 pm

Jayel Aheram (a ballotvoxregular featured here and here) just filmed Isaac, a friend and fellow Marine, reacting to his new Commander-in-Chief’s inaugural speech. Isaac’s favorite line: “As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.”

Bknittingagain gives Isaac a thumbs up, saying, “CNN analysts? CNN analysts? we don’t need no stinkin CNN analysts!”


President Barack Obama

Posted by Katherine | January 20, 2009 – 1:28 pm

Barack Obama is the 44th president of the United States.

About two million people watched the inauguration from the Mall, and just as soon as they unfreeze their fingers, they’ll surely be posting their photos and videos and thoughts.

Those watching at home or work are already uploading.

Mmmmarshall of Evanston, Illinois, watched on TV as Obama (or was it Chief Justice Roberts?) broke the tension by fumbling the oath ever so slightly. [Update 20 Jan 09: They both flubbed a bit.] [Update 21 Jan 09: Or perhaps it was all Roberts.] [Update 21 Jan 09: Roberts and Obama officially redid the oath of office today just to be 100% sure that Obama is actually president!]

Obama swearing in
[mmmmarshall / Flickr]

Tony Lynch from Edmonton in Canada stayed home from work to watch the inaugural address.

Watching inaugural address
[odeamon / Flickr]

Tony felt it was “wonderful speech and such an amazing moment in American history.”


MLK Day of Service

Posted by Katherine | January 20, 2009 – 12:06 pm

We are the ones we’ve been waiting for
[rhondawinter / Flickr]

The homemade sign above inspired volunteers at a neighborhood work party in the Bayview District of San Francisco — photographed by rhondawinter.

Since the election, Obama has been trying to figure out how to transform the volunteerism that propelled his campaign into national service to “rebuild America.” And, as in the campaign, he wants to use the web to do it. For MLK Day, his team organized an internet-driven Day of Service. Today’s imminent inaugural address will likely expand on the theme.

Yesterday, people across the country took all sorts of steps — from crafting a homemade PSA to picking up trash — to make life in their communities a little better.

John Duke (aka mikecousy?) is a night owl from New Jersey. He did a solo service project:

I couldn’t do anything with any organization since I acted too late so I had to go rogue and do something myself. So I went up to the elementary school up the road to clean up some of the graffiti on the playground. With an eraser (thanks google for that info on how to clean) here is what I did…

A pottery enthusiast — Potter’s Journal — took Michelle Obama’s advice and checked but could only find blood drives nearby. Since he’s “needle phobic to the max,” he and his daughter Zina, also figured out their own plan. They spent the day with two kids:

I called Zina and we decided to have our own private day of service. I took Gabriel and she took his older sister Juniper for the day. Their single mom didn’t get the day off but had to take a bunch of mentally ill folks on a field trip to Provo so we took her kids and spent the day playing with them. Zina and Jun went out to Zina’s place to clean house and make stuff like cookies and cross stitch. Gaabriel and I went to the museum to see the mammoth bones there. It was a blast. After the museum we dropped by Jock Jones place and watched him work on chairs. After a bit Jock finished the chair he was working on and made a small baseball bat on the lathe for Gabe. He was like to be the grandest tiger in the jungle. Jock’s wife Bonnie came in with fresh hot bread, butter and local honey. We about popped because we ate so much.

After that we went sledding on the flat road going up to Canal Canyon. It was a great MLK day.

Dorothy.baker was at RFK stadium in DC, where people put together packages for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Putting together packages for troops
[dorothy.baker / Flickr]

Joanne was at RFK, too, with her friend Theresa:

The real volunteers, who were organizing all of us, kept thanking us over and over again for coming, yet we felt like we barely did anything! They deserved the thanks! We showed up for our designated 1 hr. shift to make repeated passes through an assembly line like trick or treaters on Halloween, acquiring the designated contents from volunteers, sealing our bags shut, and returning to the end of the line to do it again. Our volunteer leaders asked us each to do at least 5 bags so that they could meet the goal of 75,000 bags by the end of the day. After we filled 5 bags, we headed over to the letter writing station to write thank you notes to the soldiers.

It was nice not only to be helping in a small way, but to be involved with a volunteer effort that recognizes the sacrifices our service men and women are making on behalf of all of us. These wars have been going on for years, and I’m ashamed to say that this is the first time I’ve done anything aside from donate money to help support the troops. It’s nice to see the President-Elect calling for everyone to take responsibility and participate in making this country a better place. He may have Messiah status, but he can’t do it alone.

Lartemis seems to have, in a frenzy of knitting, made hats for three lucky people:

Homemade hats
[lartemis / Flickr]

Iberostar from Albuquerque volunteered at a local food bank.

I have to say I’ve never seen so many cans of green beans in my life. I volunteered for food sorting at a location of Storewest - a food distribution center and office. I joined a group of people who were sorting bags and boxes of donated food. There were about six adults and a mom with three kids in a big garage with labeled boxes.

When people donate food, they just put everything in a box and turn it in. All the food needs to be sorted so that other volunteers can use those foods to fill a box for a local hungry family who needs assistance.

I’ve been there myself in the late 60s getting free food from the state of Arizona to feed myself and my son. […] I was happily able to get a job and get off the food program, but I’ll never forget the time I needed it. […]

The kids who were working there were enthusiastic and happy to sort foods. They also labeled boxes and took the finsihed boxes to the holding area. They offered to take items and find a place for them - their energy was awesome - they were still there when I left after four hours. It was so good to see them participate.

In a land of so much food, no one should go hungry.

Some people painted. DG-rad, who blogs about Anacostia in DC, recorded these young women transforming lockers.

Painting lockers
[DG-rad / Flickr]

An interfaith group in San Diego cleared brush in Balboa Park. Matthew Parker caught the volunteers working together:

Cleaning up park
[Matthew San Diego / Flickr]

Massage therapist Larry Swanson in Seattle served by thinking about how to serve all year:

I don’t have all of the details worked out yet, but here’s the basic idea.

I am committing two hours a week this year to helping activists, non-profits, and charities promote themselves online. I may also offer my services to artisans, artists, and musicians, but for now I’ll focus on the non-profit world.

I plan to spend one hour a week for the next month or two listening to directors of, and marketing and outreach staff for, small, Seattle-based non-profits to assess what they need and learn how I can best serve them.

The other hour each week will be for implementation (e.g., I just registered domain names for Seattle Empty Bowls).

Osstvocations recorded a bunch of young men explaining what community service has meant to them:

By the sound of it, some of them may continue their service over the next year, too.


Happy to Be at Inauguration

Posted by Katherine | January 20, 2009 – 12:26 am

Michael Foley hails from Dublin but currently lives in DC. He works in educational technology, travels frequently to South Asia, and likes virtually every kind of music. The point of taking pictures, he feels, is to let other people in on what he’s seen. Last night, after the inauguration concert, that was two festive Obama fans on 15th St.:

Two Obama fans with t-shirts and flags
[Michael Foley Photography / Flickr]

I love the way the blurred colors of the background pick out the same crisp ones of the foreground.


Two Girls at “We Are One”

Posted by Katherine | January 20, 2009 – 12:05 am

These two girls stood out in the images from yesterday’s concert on the Mall.

In his Flickr mugshot, ae! from Arlington (presumably Virginia) gives himself a blindfold, yet clearly he has a sharp eye:

Girl holding Obama poster
[ae! / Flickr]

Mike Lynch, also from Arlington (definitely Virginia), works in radio marketing and production. His lens caught a high-altitude stare:

Girl on shoulders
[mjlynch / Flickr]

Will they remember Sunday the 18th of January, 2009?


Lincoln Was at the Concert, Too

Posted by Katherine | January 19, 2009 – 11:37 pm

Jqblue, just featured here, saw at least one familiar face among the masses at the inauguration concert yesterday: Abe Lincoln.

Large Lincoln picture
[jqblue / Flickr]

He looks bemused.


The Crowd at the Inauguration Concert

Posted by Katherine | January 19, 2009 – 11:27 pm

Some 400,000+ people squeezed onto the Mall for yesterday’s inauguration-kick-off concert. They stretched close to a mile from the base of the Washington Monument all the way to the president-elect’s VIP box at the Lincoln Memorial. By this morning, those many people had put up roughly a gazillion photos of what it looked like from inside the crowd.

Software engineer Ryan Guthridge took a wonderfully layered (in meaning and depth of focus) black-and-white:

Crowd at Inauguration Concert
[mister r / Flickr]

Victor Guerrero from Centerville, Virginia — also a software engineer — said, “Never seen so many people in my life in one place.” He “tried to capture” the crowd at the far end of the Mall but feels his picture “is nothing compared to being there.”

Crowd at Washington Monument
[cerotio / Flickr]

RRCarroll, also near the Monument, turned the other way to catch the sweep of the crowd down towards the stage.

View from Washington Monument
[RRCarroll / Flickr]

Jqblue, somewhere in the middle of the pack along the reflecting pool, looked back at the Monument:

Looking back at Washington Monument
[jqblue / Flickr]

Sarah Mick is taking a break from making music to study advertising and graphic design in Milwaukee. She says she arrived at the concert “several hours early” but only got this close to the stage:

Looking towards the stage
[sarahmick / Flickr]

One real advantage to being in the thick of it on an icy day: body heat.


Last Days of the Bush Administration

Posted by Katherine | January 16, 2009 – 10:54 pm
Bush’s farewell address
[**** j a z z z i *** / Flickr]

Yesterday, President Bush bid farewell to a nation that apparently is largely glad to see him go yet mostly feels he’s a good person.

A few end-of-administration reflections on his speech, his legacy, and some burdens he passes to Obama:

Miranda, a stay-at-home mother of three, feels many of Bush’s critics have the advantage of hindsight. The speech got her thinking about why she likes him so much.

I have to say, I’ve always really liked the guy. He seems so honest to me. I found his words comforting and reassuring, his eyes always kind. I could trust him. His mispronunciations and bad grammar, came across, to me, as him being real. I like that about him. […]

I guess, I just want to say…President Bush I think you are an awesome man. I admire your strength to stand on the choices you made, your courage to lead our country and I am thankful for the honor in which you served the United States of America. May God bless you!

Sublog was somewhat distracted during the speech because his daughters were acting up, but what he saw “reaffirmed” his “belief that while Bush has been an imperfect president, he is a decent man.”

One thing I’ve been especially impressed by is his refusal to engage in the sort of pettiness that marked the final week of Bill Clinton’s presidency. Clinton signed off on hundreds of new rules on everything from ergonomics to arsenic standards, setting numerous regulatory stink bombs that Bush would have to defuse. Clinton also put the political ‘no taxation without representation’ DC license plates on the presidential limo, making Bush the bad guy when he removed the inappropriate statement.

Bush has done none of that. Quite the opposite. Even Obama aides are saying the White House has helped made this a very smooth and orderly transition.

Alan Pavlik lives “one block north of the Sunset Strip.” He felt Bush’s speech sounded like a triumph at the end of a red carpet.

Out here in Hollywood, just after the Golden Globe Awards and a few weeks before the Oscars, many of us thought it had the ring of an acceptance speech, even if there was no award. He was explaining to a stunned and grateful audience how he achieved greatness.

Joanne Bamberger is a probutcool progressive mom and political analyst in the DC area. She had trouble wrapping her mind around what Bush was saying.

[I]f there was any value in the speech it was this: it should remind us of the importance of refusing to allow this delusional revisionism to stand.

I was genuinely shocked by what he said in those few minutes, but I’m not sure why I continue to be. What would make me think that all of a sudden he would realize that maybe he ought to apologize to the nation? Maybe ‘fess up that he made some mistakes? I suppose when you’re a president whose world view is so narrow and simplistic, it’s easy to think you’ve done a great job and nearly impossible to acknowledge that your actions were anything other than pure.

Faithful Progressive had a similar feeling of disorientation watching the address.

Talk about a truly surreal disconnect–I watched the farewell speech of President Bush and the Iraq War documentary No End in Sight on the same night. […] During his Presidency, he absolutely did not do what he claimed to have done […]

He did not “do what he could to keep the US safe.” Instead, he lied about the reasons for the Iraq War and falsely used 9/11 to invade Iraq. It is hard to imagine something more disgraceful than using September 11th for false purposes. But President Bush did exactly that. In so doing, he allowed the real criminals who attacked the US to escape and re-group.

Then he failed to listen to numerous people who tried to make him understand the implications of what he had done and how to make things better for our troops and the Iraqi people. He ignored them all for over three years.

Observations on America’s APSJ also resists the idea that Bush kept America safe.

There seems to be a general consensus in the mainstream media that, whatever one thinks of his presidency overall, President George W. Bush indisputably kept us safe from terrorism after 9/11. […]

Whenever I hear these claims, I think of an old joke, whose details I can’t recall, but which goes something like this: Two friends are walking down a city street talking. One of them stops on every corner and spins around three times. Finally, his friend asks him “Why are you doing that?” “To prevent tiger attacks” he responds. “But there are no tigers in the city!” the friend says, to which he replies “Works pretty well doesn’t it?”

The joke illustrates the often blurred, but highly significant, distinction between correlation (I use the term in the common sense) and causation.

Observations on America goes on to spell out why s/he’s willing to grant Bush some degree of correlation but not causation.

Mooglar works in emergency management in Raleigh, North Carolina. He believes Obama should investigate whether the Bush administration committed war crimes.

The fact that it is easier to prosecute the powerless for trivial crimes than the powerful for heinous ones is not an excuse to give the powerful a pass. In the overall scheme of things, it doesn’t matter that much if a given 7-11 clerk shoplifting a DVD player from Wal-Mart gets tried and punished or not. It matters a hell of a lot if a President who presided over war crimes walks away scot free or not. […]

[L]ook at what the nation gains for the risk Obama takes: a break with and an utter repudiation of the foreign policy of the Bush regime that even Obama’s own election cannot completely make, including Abu Ghraib, extraordinary rendition, Gitmo, the invasion of Iraq, the “axis of evil” speech, US failure to respect the Geneva Conventions and International Law, the whole “enemy combatants” farce, and disrespecting habeus. Bush’s foreign policy would become an aberration, his acts once and for all judged illegal and thus unrepeatable, a corrupt regime acting outside its authority and thus illegitimate.

Mooglar understands that looking into war crimes might not “help us deal with our current problems,” but he feels the long-term benefits would outweigh any immediate costs.


Obamas Visit Lincoln Memorial

Posted by Katherine | January 15, 2009 – 2:20 pm

Obama named Abraham Lincoln as a source of inspiration throughout the campaign, and as his cabinet took shape after November 4th, the “Team of Rivals” meme became hard to escape. The senators-from-Illinois connection continues: The president-elect has been reading Lincoln to prepare for his inaugural address, and he’ll be taking the oath of office with his hand on Lincoln’s inaugural Bible — after a train ride from Philly to DC emulating a Lincoln journey and before an inaugural luncheon inspired by Lincoln. All of which probably explains the Obamas’ visit, during their first days in DC, to the Lincoln Memorial.

Scottbphilp (just featured here) has been travelling coast to coast the last couple of months. He apparently happened to be at the Memorial — and in possession of a zoom lens — at the same time as the Obamas.

Obamas visit Lincoln Memorial
[scottbphilp / Flickr]

The text partially visible is Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address — visible in full here. It includes the phrase “a new birth of freedom,” which, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Honest Abe’s birth, will be the official theme of the inauguration.


Rehearsing the Inauguration

Posted by Katherine | January 14, 2009 – 11:12 am

DC primped for the inauguration with a full-blown dress rehearsal on Sunday. People swept the streets. Military personnel marched with flags. Portapotties were set up and sealed with zip ties. When faux Obamas and Bidens practiced the swearing-in at the Capitol, Army Staff Sergeant Derrick Brooks stood in for Barack.

Two girls decided to take in the Capitol view, and local Gene Bonventre, who likes travelling even more than he likes photography, caught them in matching folding chairs.

Girls watching inauguration rehearsal
[Travlr / Flickr]

Along Obama’s parade route, Gene saw servicemen (and women?) saluting and parading.

Military rehearsing inauguration
[Travlr / Flickr]

He also met Army Master Sergeant William Gabbard and his awesome hat. Gabbard is apparently a drum major who will be participating in his fifth inaugural. He’s grinning because, as he said, “I won’t get to smile in the real inauguration parade.”

Drum major in hat
[Travlr / Flickr]

Phil (aka philliefan99 born in, yup, Philadelphia) lives in Arlington, Virginia, and enjoys “seeing the world without traveling.” He spotted a little piece of that world — a marching band — reflected in a tuba.

Marching band reflected in tuba
[philliefan99 / Flickr]

Scottbphilp captured the geometry of a rehearsing motorcade.

[scottbphilp / Flickr]

He also zoomed in on some of the red, white, and blue that will festoon the capital.

Setting up bunting
[scottbphilp / Flickr]

Better views than most people can hope to have next Tuesday.


Rewind: Election Day in 53 Seconds

Posted by Katherine | January 13, 2009 – 12:06 pm

[We will occasionally be posting cool stuff (under the heading “Rewind”) that dates back to the campaign itself — things we didn’t have enough time to write up before the election.]

One week until the inauguration. Maybe the right time to reminisce about election day with this brief video by mattymatt (hat tip to Sue Salinger). It touches on voter turnout, marijuana, McCain’s graceful concession, holograms, and more — all in 53 humorous seconds.

[mattymatt / Vimeo]

He even squeezes in Mr. Lucas, Mr. Peanut, Mr. Smith, and the telephone book.


A Few Reasons for the Economic Stimulus Package

Posted by Katherine | January 9, 2009 – 7:02 pm

Yesterday, in his first big policy speech since November 4th, Obama waded in forcefully on the economy, pressing Congress to hop to it on economic-stimulus legislation.

The context is grim. The holiday shopping season was dismal-to-possibly-bankrupting for many retailers. Obama will inherit a record-breaking $1.2 trillion budget deficit for the year (pre-stimulus package). China seems less enthusiastic than it has been about buying US debt — with potentially bad consequences for US borrowers. And unemployment hit a 16-year high in December.

Here’s what some of that looks like outside the headlines.

Jared Razzano just got laid off after nearly four years in his job. This letter seems to be how he found out:

Dear Jared…
[rknrll / Flickr]

Grant Davis in Columbus, Ohio, is a divorced father of two. Until this week, he was a Traffic Manager for a scale manufacturer. He’d had his job for “just 25 days short of 20 years.”

[M]y boss came to my office and asked me to come with him. We went to his office where the HR Manager was waiting for us. He shut the door and I was given the news that my position was being eliminated and I was losing my job. […]

We were told before Christmas at a plant meeting there was going to be a work force reduction in early January. I never dreamed at the time I would have anything to worry about. However as time progressed over the holidays I could see the writing on the wall, I was intentionally held out of meetings I would normally be a part of with the other supervisors and my boss started giving me the cold shoulder. I’m finding out that all together they got rid of 9 people today.

Mike hasn’t been thrilled with working life (doing tech support for a software company), so he sees his layoff this week at least partly as a “blessing in disguise.” Still, as it was happening, he fought an instinct to run and hide.

The manager was in his glass office on his computer. Every time he stood up I would stare out of the corner of my eye to see if he was going to approach me. I’m sure EVERYONE was doing the same. Normally, our manager is a very chill guy. […] But today was different. Today he was transformed into the Angel of Death. Sickle in hand. Ready to give the bad news to his next victim. But it wasn’t his doing. The company as a whole was going through a 20% reduction worldwide. About 170 people cut! Just like that!

I worked. I sent out emails to clients. I was doing some research and investigation. Something to keep me from thinking I would be next. […]

But then I heard…

“Mike, can we go talk somewhere?”

It was my manager. And that was that.

Katjs11 has a government job in DC and is pretty confident he’ll get to keep it, but he can’t believe his “brilliant and talented” brother got laid off yesterday.

I know the economy is in the toilet and many people are worried about their jobs, but it amazes me some of the people it effects. I mean, for goodness sakes he is a director of a division of Fox. Meaning the TELEVISION company. It’s freaking HOLLYWOOD!!! How can HOLLYWOOD be crapping out???

Let’s hope, despite the brewing fights, that Congress rolls up its sleeves and gets to work — so that the rest of America can work, too.


Why Obama Tapped Sanjay Gupta

Posted by Katherine | January 9, 2009 – 1:10 pm

Celebrity and transition-team gossip overlapped this week. Obama, it appears, offered the Surgeon General post to media-savvy neurosurgeon Sanjay Gupta. There seems to be some dissent within the public-health community over this pick, and some commentators (like Paul Krugman) are disappointed. But if in fact it’s true that Obama wants a Surgeon General with the popular eminence needed to “drive a public message,” Gupta may be a smart choice. Or so these photos suggest.

Amit Gupta — no apparent relation — lives in San Francisco, where he’s a webby entrepreneur. (If you’re a photo addict, check out his Photojojo.) Amit took this shot in NYC. He titled it “I don’t often get to see my name (or even part of it) up on a billboard, so I had to take a pic.” The other relevant point is this: Our likely Surgeon General was on a huge billboard. He was a contender for Sexiest Man. People know who he is.

Gupta on billboard in NYC
[Amit Gupta / Flickr]

Jennifer is an engineer in DC who got married last summer in her home state of Georgia. On the day after her wedding, she and her family wandered around Atlanta. At the CNN Center, her sister posed with (and like) “Sanjay.”

Gupta cutout at CNN Center
[absentmindedprof / Flickr]

Another amusing Gupta-related find on Flickr: Sanjay as Star Trek star.


Change at Justice?

Posted by Katherine | January 8, 2009 – 2:05 pm
[thephotoholic / Flickr]

Obama fleshed out his Justice Department team on Monday: David Ogden for deputy AG, Elena Kagan for solicitor general, Thomas Perrelli for associate AG, and Dawn Johnsen for head of OLC. They suggest a sharp turn away from President Bush’s view of executive power and the kinds of actions that followed from John Yoo’s “torture memos.”

There must be lots of Americans who are unhappy with Obama’s choices, but they don’t seem to be vocal online outside the high-profile political blogosphere; Google Blog Search isn’t turning up much. (Send links if you find good posts!) So here’s opinion from happy citizens.

Jake of Jake Today is wondering, with a dash of hope, whether a 180-degree turn might actually be in the works.

With Obama’s nominations to Justice and White House Counsel, maybe we can hope for a sharp break with Bush. A return to the Constitution? I hope he gets all the Bush out of Justice and the White House.

A nation of law? Is it possible? Is it too late? For eight years we forgot that the ends never justify the means.

Michael L. Westmoreland-White, former soldier turned peace activist in Louisville, Kentucky, believes the nominees epitomize the “change” Obama has promised.

The part of the last 8 years I hated the most was the absolute disregard for the rule of law (domestic, Constitutional, and International) by the Bush administration. […]

Obama made several key appointments (some requiring Senate confirmation) yesterday that show what a dramatic break with the last 8 years Obama will be in this key area […] They are all on record opposing the Bush administration’s torture policies and violations of the rule of law. Some, like Dawn Johnson, have been very public in their opposition and have demanded public outrage […] Progressives–we need to have Obama’s back on this. We may criticize him elsewhere (and should), but this was some of what we wanted most.

Douglas Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University, also feels the “‘change’ mantra” may be poised to become reality — but for a different reason. He’s interested in solutions to the exploded prison population and notes that Dawn Johnsen is on record saying “incarceration in the United States is an issue crying out for DOJ attention.”

I sincerely hope that AAG-nominee Johnsen sustains a fierce commitment to deal with mass incarceration in the new Administration, and I also hope these other nominees share this perspective.

[…] I am starting to become (dangerously?) optimistic that we could be on the verge of a new criminal justice era in the United States.

Lawyer Terry Klein from Boston mentions two articles written by Johnsen that criticize Bush-administration views on executive power. Then, Jeopardy-style, s/he offers several relevant questions.

Acceptable Question No. 2: What is yet another ex post rejoinder to all the people (including some pretty smart folks) who said that there wasn’t a big difference between Al Gore and George W. Bush. One hopes that commentators will now keep in mind that regardless of how moderate a candidate for president may seem, he or she’s going to be appointing people to a lot of momentous positions a couple of steps down the ladder. That is, the people who actually govern and do things like write torture memos.

Terry makes it clear in his/her third possible question that s/he’s not sorry to say goodbye to the John Yoo era.


Obama’s Senate Seat

Posted by Katherine | January 7, 2009 – 10:38 pm
Do not sit
[Leo Reynolds / Flickr]

You’re familiar with Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, yes? And the corruption charges resulting from the way he tried to fill Obama’s Senate seat? And the ensuing hoopla surrounding his Senate appointee, Roland Burris? Good.

So a new Gallup poll says 51% of Americans favor blocking Burris from the Senate and only 27% feel he should be seated. This just as Harry Reid and other Democratic leaders in the Senate are warming up to Burris — a significant thaw since their statement last week that no one appointed by Blagojevich would be accepted.

Nate Silver, a probutcool baseball-stat whiz turned political-poll genius, defends — or at least understands — Reid’s about-face.

At the time the Blagojevich scandal broke, did Reid and the Democrats really have any choice but to distance themselves as much as possible, and assert flatly that they wouldn’t seat anyone that he nominated? Did they really have any reason to expect that a quasi-credible candidate like Roland Burris would actually accept Blagojevich’s nomination (as opposed to someone like, say, Patti Blagojevich?)

I think Reid can be criticized for one thing — for failing to advocate for a special election. But even if the Democrats had made a more earnest push to hold a special election, that would still have provided for the possibility that Blagojevich would attempt to nominate someone in the meantime. What were they supposed to have said? “You know Rod, we really have no legal grounds to block your nominee, so please pretty please with a cherry on top don’t do it?

Scott Lemieux teaches political science at Hunter College in NYC and argues that the Dems really have no choice but to seat Burris.

[M]issed in many discussions about the Burris appointment is the fact that the Senate is probably unable to prevent him from being seated as a matter of constitutional law. The Supreme Court ruled 8-1 (and 8-0 among justices deciding on the merits) in Powell v. McCormack that “in judging the qualifications of its members, Congress is limited to the standing qualifications prescribed in the Constitution.” […] [T]he bottom line of Warren’s majority opinion is unequivocal and directly on point; if Burris were to litigate an exclusion a lower court would almost certainly rule in his favor, and I doubt that the Supreme Court would overrule. The Senate could expel him after seating with a 2/3 majority, but (absent strong evidence that Burris obtained the appointment illegitimately) this seems unlikely. Reid’s remedy is likely to be to prevent him from joining the Democratic caucus.

Sandy Levinson is a law and government prof at the University of Texas. Although he thinks some of the legal arguments made against seating Burris are plausible, he is, overall, unpersuaded.

I suppose it’s true that the Senate could/should consider the bona fides of a gubernatorial appointment if there is good evidence that it was procured by criminal means, including bribery. The problem is that there is not a scintilla of such evidence in this case. Governor B. might well be guilty of “attempted sale of the Senate seat,” but it’s clear that it didn’t work, and that he, clever politician that he is, reached out to strengthen himself with a key constituency and, an added bonus, to discomfort many of his erstwhile Democratic Party allies. I don’t see how one can mount a good-faith argument against seating Burris unless one is willing to open each and every gubernatorial appointment to some kind of “good-government” scrutiny.

For an anti-seating argument, try this post from Yale Law School’s Jack Balkin, one of Levinson’s co-bloggers (the post didn’t lend itself to a short excerpt). Or try this MSM piece from Slate.


Message for Obama: Michelle is Cool

Posted by Katherine | January 5, 2009 – 2:04 pm

[This post is part of a Message for Obama series.]

On Saturday, Michelle Obama flew early to DC with Malia and Sasha so that the girls could get ready for their first day at Sidwell Friends School; Barack followed yesterday on a presidential Air Force plane. In his election-night speech, Obama described his wife as “the rock of our family.” Michelle herself, highly educated and professionally successful, has said that her primary aim at the moment is to be “mom-in-chief.” A clear-headed goal, perhaps, in light of Cherie Blair’s assertion that Michelle will have to pick up the slack in the Obamas’ private lives.

However Michelle negotiates the mommy wars as First Lady, citizens have been expressing how much they admire her — and prompting Barack to listen to Michelle and not to forget his family.

Adam Fagen, a science-policy wonk in Arlington, Virginia, recorded this group message to the Obamas. It appeared in front of the Lincoln Memorial in DC a couple of days after the election. An anonymous fan wanted to affirm Michelle’s awesomeness:

Michelle is an inspiration
[afagen / Flickr]

San Franciscan Laura Brunow was a spelling-bee champ in seventh grade. As she grew up, she applied her savvy to the web and became an early adopter of Flickr, Twitter, et al. She tells Barack that he made a fantastic choice in marrying Michelle — and in treating her well.

I love the way you treat your wife
[Laura Brunow Miner / Flickr]

In the comment thread for Laura’s photo, Omid Tavallai from Paris says, “The Obamas make me want to be a better husband.”


Obama’s Science Picks

Posted by Katherine | December 30, 2008 – 7:28 pm
Support science
A Message for Obama
[ideonexus / Flickr]

Before the holidays, Obama picked his science and science-related team. The nominees include Tom Vilsack for Agriculture, Steven Chu for Energy, Ken Salazar for Interior, Jane Lubchenco for NOAA, and Lisa Jackson for EPA. Also John Holdren, Harold Varmus, Eric Lander, and Carol Browner as advisors.

The lefty blogosphere seems to be more vocal than the right on the science choices and reflects the general liberal/progressive happiness with all but Salazar and Vilsack.

The Green Man at Irregular Times is hugely disappointed by Salazar and Obama.

This summer, Barack Obama joined Ken Salazar on the hypewagon to support offshore drilling. His appointment of Senator Salazar as Interior Secretary suggests that when it comes to management of our nation’s natural resources, we can expect the dominance of hype over rational planning and protection to continue.

It didn’t take Cathy McNeil long to become disillusioned with Obama, either. She’s a Colorado rancher who raises grass-fed beef, and she feels Vilsack is a “complete shill for the multinational, megalithic, agribusiness industry.”

Well, the honeymoon is over for my hope for change! With president elect Obama’s choice for Secretary of Agriculture it’s back to business as usual. And I do mean business as usual (as in agribusiness)! […] I had hoped for so much better! President elect Obama has delivered a catstrohpic blow to the local food and sustainable agriculture movement.

Jen, a probutcool blogger for Farm Aid, is more moderately skeptical of Vilsack. She recognizes that he’s a biotech fan who has “protected the interests of factory farms” but concedes that he has done some good things for family farmers and the environment. She’s willing to cut him some slack.

While his actions as governor leave much to be desired in terms of demonstrating a commitment to the kind of sustainable, family farm agriculture we’re working toward, in recent interviews Vilsack’s words have demonstrated that it is still possible for agricultural policy change at the cabinet level. Perhaps as a representative of US agriculture and not simply the agriculture of one state, Vilsack’s policies will be more encompassing of all of us — farmers and eaters alike.

Gene Bauer, who aims to change “hearts and minds about animals and food,” feels it’s worth hoping Vilsack will do right by sustainable food — and that citizens have a responsibility to remain engaged.

Obama has criticized government subsidies to “corporate megafarms.” Hopefully, Vilsack will share Obama’s concerns about unfair support for wealthy agribusinesses in U.S. farm policy. If Vilsack steps up to the plate and challenges the status quo in Washington, D.C., he has the potential to be one of the best Agriculture Secretaries ever. But he’ll need to serve a wider constituency than those traditionally supported by USDA, and he’ll face serious obstacles, ranging from institutional inertia to agribusiness’s entrenched influence. It will be absolutely critical for all of us to be engaged – to fight factory farming and support efforts to enact policies that are consistent with humane values, and that help bring about a just, sustainable, healthy food system.

Like Gene Bauer, pcrossfield, a group blogger at Civil Eats, is discouraged by Vilsack but not giving up on activism.

I encourage those of you who, like me, are fighting for a better food system not to be discouraged. It is our job to keep pushing and protesting until Washington understands how serious the issues surrounding our methods of food production in this country are. I take inspiration from the workers at the Chicago factory that was shut down earlier this month, and by Obama’s encouragement of their protest. We must insist that we be heard, and continue to ride the wave of hope, because we know that we have an incoming President who is at last receptive.

Joseph Romm (excerpted previously here) is a probutcool climate-change blogger in DC. Under Bill Clinton, he was acting assistant secretary of energy for energy efficiency. Romm has met Vilsack several times and feels he’s “nothing to lose sleep over.”

[H]e certainly understands that corn ethanol is not the future of biofuels. He also believes in strong action on greenhouse gas emissions.

He is a biotech guy […] And he isn’t the greenest Ag guy in the country […] But he is more green than not […]

Moving on to some of the nominees other than Salazar and Vilsack: Jesse Jenkins is an energy and climate activist in Berkeley. He’s bullish on Steven Chu for Energy but takes a wait-and-see attitude about his ultimate effectiveness.

Coming, as he does, from within the National Labs system itself, it will be interesting to see if Chu will advocate the sweeping reforms to America’s energy technology innovation system we need. It’s also unclear if Chu’s academic acumen will translate well to a more political stage. But what does seem to be clear is that in Dr. Chu, Obama has found an able technologist with a keen grasp on both the technical and political challenges of creating a new global energy economy.

Vonny, an Illinois educator and Lord of the Rings fan, gives the selection of Holdren, Lubchenco, Varmus, and Lander a “standing ovation.”

[T]his is an impressive team. It also tells us something that will be an ENORMOUS difference with the respect and role science plays at the top of government policy: there actually will be respect for science and a respect for open inquiry, and a goal of gathering facts, data and evidence for policy decisions. […] I suspect the world is breathing a collective sigh of relief as well with these appointments and the use of science Obama has in mind.

The blogger at Delightfully Unfocused Musings — a biomedical grad student who loves to travel — agrees. S/he “could not be happier” about Chu and Holdren.

I have every confidence that science will be restored to its pedestal over the next four years. Obama gets it.

For an entertaining tangent: click here for a probutcool video encouraging Obama to plant a global-warming-reducing vegetable garden at the White House. (Hat tip to Jones Franzel.)