February 2009 Archives

Letters to the President

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Jake Tapper has an interesting post up about President Obama's 10 letters a day from the public at large which are a part of his daily briefing material.

The letter to President Obama came from a woman in Arizona whose husband lost his job. He was able to find work, but the new gig came with one-third the pay; the family is struggling to make their mortgage payments.

The letter from the Arizona woman illustrated a policy conundrum, recalled senior adviser David Axelrod. President Obama read it, and absorbed the lesson.

"She said they had made all their mortgage payments, but were running out of money," Axelrod said. "And they were told they could not renegotiate unless they were delinquent in their payments."

Before President Obama's housing speech last week, he'd made copies of his letter and "sent it to his financial team and said, 'This is the kind of person our housing plan should help," Axelrod recalled.

The president had other copies made of that letter. He had it distributed to staff on Air Force One.

"He had been struck by how powerful the story was," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said. "He wanted us as we were creating policy to make sure that we were listening and hearing these examples as well."


Monday through Friday the head of White House Correspondence delivers ten letters to be read by the President, choosing among letters that are broadly representative of the day's news and issues; ones that are broadly representative of President's intake of current mail, phone calls to the comment line, and faxes from citizens; and messages that are particularly compelling.

Some of these, maybe two or three each day, the President responds to in his own hand.

Gibbs says that before two different economic speeches, the President "pulled letters he has gotten and distributed them to staff, to understand what people were going through."

The vast majority of the calls coming into the White House, and over a third of the faxes have been on the stimulus package and the economy, so up to half of the letters the President sees are on that broad subject. Aides say that many of these correspondents also have other complications: bankruptcy due to health care, lost job, lost opportunities for their children.

A smaller number of the letters address other issues, such as the environment, health care, education, foreign affairs, or nuclear proliferation.

And a handful, usually no more than five a week, are from people who have a simple supportive message or inspirational story to tell.

The head of correspondence also includes letters to the President from smaller children who ask questions or give advice.

FDR historian Robert McElvaine wrote at Huffington Post that Obama has modeled his reading after FDR. Evidently we Americans are a loquacious bunch when it comes to writing letters.

In the week following FDR's inauguration, 450,000 letters poured into the White House. For years the average remained at 5,000 to 8,000 communications each day. Under Roosevelt the White House staff for answering such letters quickly increased from one person, who had been adequate in past administrations, to fifty.

Letters from the public were very important to Roosevelt, who saw the mail as a way to gauge fluctuations in public sentiment. According to his aide Louis Howe, FDR "always maintained that a personal letter from a farmer or a miner or little shopkeeper or clerk who honestly expresses his conviction, is the most perfect index to the state of the public mind." The president therefore had the mail analyzed on a regular basis and sometimes read a random sampling of letters himself "to renew his sense of contact with raw opinion."

It's good to know that he's found another way to increase the porous nature of the White House bubble and that it's making a difference in his policy.

Items of Interest

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~ This post is "big gulp", "sick to my stomach" scary. Now we know why the congressional people looked so damn scared coming out of those meetings. And it illustrates just how ridiculous John McCain's campaign shenanigans and more recent GOP rhetoric is. What is it that these people don't get about this crisis?

~ This is obscene. Can't someone somewhere kidnap this man and relieve Zimbabwe from his dictatorial, ruinous excesses? [via @joetrippi]

~ Digby makes an excellent point.

In the current political world, I believe that Obama and the Democrats need a strong left wing that is out there agitating in order that we can continue to build popular support and also give them a political excuse to do things that the political establishment finds too liberal. Being cheerleaders all the time, however enjoyable that is, is not going to help them. Leaving them out there with no left wing cripples them.

~ Here's a side-by-side comparison of the Senate and House versions of the stimulus bill from govtrack.us.

~ This is good news.

If Joe Lieberman decides to run for a fifth term in 2012, a new Quinnipiac poll suggests that it may be a lost cause. The new poll tests Lieberman as an independent against Democratic Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. The numbers: Blumenthal 58%, Lieberman 30%. Yikes.

Obama's First Press Conference

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Barack Obama's first press conference was a new experience for me or at the least, one that I haven't had for a long while: listening without cringing or suppressing the desire to throw things at the TV. Listening to someone who can deliver complete and well-thought-out sentences on a wide range of topics extemporaneously, someone who understands the material about which he is speaking as opposed to someone who is parroting memorized phrases that he thinks have something to do with the topic at hand, was such a pleasure.

Here's the video. If for some reason you had to miss it, you'll find his opening statement of interest.

Josh Marshall made this point after the press conference.

I think the power of President Obama's presentation tonight speaks for itself if you saw it. (Below I've included his answer to the first question on the economy, which was the essence of the press conference.) There's an important debate about the proper outlines of stimulus bill. But there's little serious debate over whether a large bill, predominantly focused on spending, is necessary. And yet that's what the Washington discussion has been about.

Yet the real key to understanding that press conference is in information that came out earlier today: two polls showing the public is overwhelming on Obama's side in this battle (see Gallup and CNN). According to Gallup, 67% of the public supports Obama on the Stimulus Bill versus 31% for congressional Republicans. 58% of Americans disapprove of the Hill GOP's stand on this issue.

What's most striking about these numbers is the continuing disconnect between the mood of the capital and that of the country. For me, a lot of that is a product of how Washington continues to be wired for Republican control. A president, and particularly one like Obama, is the one person who is in a position to cut through that.

Well, it's clear that the villagers and the chattering class haven't figured out what the people of Elkhart, Indiana (my parents live there) and the rest of the country know all too well. It's bad, really bad and getting worse. This is not the time to be screwing around scoring political points.

[Sidenote: Obama gave his speech in the gymnasium of the high school that a couple of my siblings graduated from. My brother's name is still on the wall along with the record he set in the mile in the 70's.]

On the other hand, the longer the Republicans do this to please the increasingly extreme right wing fringe that constitutes their base, the more irrelevant they become in US politics. Wonder when they'll figure it out.

Obama served warning last night. This is serious. Our nation gets it. 2009 is going to be tough. Let's move forward. Get this stimulus package passed now.

NY Times, WSJ and Washington Post Editors: Major FAIL

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The editors and reporters of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post should have a huge black mark on their performance review assessments this year.

David Fiderer has done your job for you.

Senator Chris Dodd has been slandered by your news articles and your editorials and you ought to be ashamed that a blogger has dug up the details on just how that happened rather than your own investigative reporters.

Go read and learn something.

Suicide is not painless

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I've written about this before on other blogs. Ilona Meagher's PTSD Combat blog and her subsequent book, 'Moving a Nation to Care', were among the notable earlier bloggers to take on PTSD and the suicide rate in our military.

NPR's two significant investigative report series by Daniel Zwerdling and Tom Bowen (1, 2) aired over the last few years, focused on PTSD, suicide and how it was being addressed or not being addressed in the military. Scroll to the bottom of each of the NPR links for links to all the related stories in each of the series and followup reporting.

All that just illustrates that this report by MSNBC on the latest stats in which the number of suicides exceeded the number of casualties due to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, should not be a surprise to anyone who's been paying attention.

This is a complete version of the MSNBC interview with General Peter Chiarelli, Army Vice Chief of Staff.

Ilona pointed out a blogpost by a vet named Scott Lee who explains what he struggled with in transitioning back to civilian life. It's powerful. Go read.

Then think about the news stories concerning Fort Drum and how the Army pressured the people there to delay or reject returning soldiers' paperwork for disability benefits. And of course, the stories from the Washington Post series on the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the complete fiasco there.

I expect a lot from the new administration but it's just as important that the current military command hierarchy steps up to the plate. This is not about proving how tough you are. It's about taking care of our soldiers and vets who fight with their minds and hearts as well as with their bodies in a war zone that has no front, a zone in which they are always on alert.

Items of Interest

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~ Here's a nice post on Biden's influence in policy making. It's good to know that Joe is watching out for the middle class. [via]

~ David Wade got a very nice profile from Politico after his return to Sen. Kerry's senate team in a new position as Chief of Staff. They did miss pointing out his deft skewering of opponents. "Porcine political operative" still brings a smile to my face.

~ This is truly disturbing. Someone has lifted the covers on the 401k scam and it does sound like scam is the right word. More of those wealth management people helping themselves to our money with the acquiescence of corporate executives looking for some way to get themselves out from under pension plans.

~ A site to watch for geeks who are interested in deployment of technology within government: www.nextgov.com. The big story today is on the pick for OMB's e-gov chief.

~ Fidel Castro lectures the US on the dangers of protectionism. Really.

~ And the moral of the story is: don't die if you owe any money on your credit cards. At least according to the Bank of America, you are responsible for the economic collapse of our country if you do so.

~ Via Joe Trippi on twitter (@JoeTrippi), comes this interview on The Real News Network with economist William Engdahl. It's scary as hell. Not sure I wanted to hear his analysis but I suppose that part of being reality-based is that you have to listen to the really dire stuff too.

~ Jeremy Bingham, aka ct, DailyKos's resident tech whiz gets a really nice nod for his work in this Tech World article.

~ The Air Force has created a flowchart to help its people determine when and how to respond to a blog post. It's quite entertaining.

Obama speaks up

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Paul Krugman has a message for the Washington crowd: don't compromise our future.

It's time for Mr. Obama to go on the offensive. Above all, he must not shy away from pointing out that those who stand in the way of his plan, in the name of a discredited economic philosophy, are putting the nation's future at risk. The American economy is on the edge of catastrophe, and much of the Republican Party is trying to push it over that edge.

Well, Mr. Krugman, your wish is granted.

Obama had a few words to say at the Department of Energy yesterday. [via]

Then President Obama spoke to the House Dems last night at their retreat. He gets it.

Start at the 2:30 point to skip the opening thank yous.

Memorable points from his speech:

We can't embrace the losing formula that says only tax cuts will work for every problem we face; that ignores critical challenges like our addiction to foreign oil, or the soaring cost of health care, or falling schools and crumbling bridges and roads and levees. I don't care whether you're driving a hybrid or an SUV -- if you're headed for a cliff, you've got to change direction. (Applause.) That's what the American people called for in November, and that's what we intend to deliver.


If we do not move swiftly to sign the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act into law, an economy that is already in crisis will be faced with catastrophe. This is not my assessment. This is not Nancy Pelosi's assessment. This is the assessment of the best economists in the country. This is the assessment of some of the former advisors of some of the same folks who are making these criticisms right now.

Millions more Americans will lose their jobs. Homes will be lost. Families will go without health care. Our crippling dependence on foreign oil will continue. That is the price of inaction.

This isn't some abstract debate. Last week, we learned that many of America's largest corporations already laid off thousands and are planning to lay off tens of thousands of more workers. Today, we learned that in the previous week, the number of new unemployment claims jumped to 626,000. Tomorrow, we're expecting another dismal jobs report, on top of the half a million jobs that were lost last month, on top of the half a million jobs that were lost the month before that, on top of the 2.6 million jobs that were lost last year.

For you, these aren't just statistics. This is not a game. This is not a contest for who's in power and who's up and who's down. These are your constituents. These are families you know and you care about. I believe that it is important for us to set aside some of the gamesmanship in this town and get something done.


Understand the scale and the scope of this plan is right. And when you start hearing arguments on the cable chatter, just understand a couple of things. Number one, when they say, well, why are we spending $800 billion -- we've got this huge deficit? First of all, I found this deficit when I showed up. (Applause.) Number one. (Applause.) I found this national debt doubled, wrapped in a big bow waiting for me as I stepped into the Oval Office.

Number two, it is expected that we are going to lose about a trillion dollars worth of demand this year, a trillion dollars of demand next year because of the contraction in the economy. So the reason that this has to be big is to try to fill some of that lost demand. And as it is, there are many who think that we should be doing even more. (Applause.) So we are taking prudent steps.

It's worth it to listen for those points. His delivery says more than the words on the page.

It's time to put the whiny, impotent naysayers in their place, grasp the hands of those who are willing to put the country first, step up and get this bill passed ASAP. And just remember who was in charge of Congress from 1994 to 2006 and the White House from 2001 to 2008: the people who deregulated because government rules were getting in the way. Those rules that protected your hard-earned wealth were blown away or pushed to the side. That wonderful economy that everyone admired ... all smoke and mirrors and now we're seeing what happens when the mirrors are broken. So when those same people who ran our country and our future into the ground start objecting, just remember they don't have your best interests at heart. In fact, they don't give a damn.

A different kind of president

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Barack Obama adds one more tool to his arsenal of things he's doing differently as president. His op-ed in the Washington Post within the first two weeks of his inauguration indicates that he's choosing lots of different communication venues to make the case for his initiatives.

In recent days, there have been misguided criticisms of this plan that echo the failed theories that helped lead us into this crisis -- the notion that tax cuts alone will solve all our problems; that we can meet our enormous tests with half-steps and piecemeal measures; that we can ignore fundamental challenges such as energy independence and the high cost of health care and still expect our economy and our country to thrive.

I reject these theories, and so did the American people when they went to the polls in November and voted resoundingly for change. They know that we have tried it those ways for too long. And because we have, our health-care costs still rise faster than inflation. Our dependence on foreign oil still threatens our economy and our security. Our children still study in schools that put them at a disadvantage. We've seen the tragic consequences when our bridges crumble and our levees fail.


These are the actions Americans expect us to take without delay. They're patient enough to know that our economic recovery will be measured in years, not months. But they have no patience for the same old partisan gridlock that stands in the way of action while our economy continues to slide.

So we have a choice to make. We can once again let Washington's bad habits stand in the way of progress. Or we can pull together and say that in America, our destiny isn't written for us but by us. We can place good ideas ahead of old ideological battles, and a sense of purpose above the same narrow partisanship. We can act boldly to turn crisis into opportunity and, together, write the next great chapter in our history and meet the test of our time.

I think he's talking to you, Congress. The rest of us already get it as he acknowledges in his writing.

Stop it already

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with the gratuitous Kerry bashing.

I just read one more off-the-cuff putdown of John Kerry from a lefty blogger and I've had it with those who mouth the criticisms without bothering to find out what the truth of the matter is.

Senator Kerry been very eloquent on Obama's behalf.  His appearance on MTP on 11-2-2008 pulled no punches.  He was extremely clear.   His early and enthusiastic endorsement of Obama in South Carolina brought him much grief from supporters of other candidates. He did what he thought was right.

His speech at the DNC Convention was one of the 3 best given there.  From my blog:

Josh Marshall called it The Golden Speechand said "in its own way I think the speech I just saw John Kerry give is the best one I've heard at this convention.  And I do not have any doubt that it's the best I've ever heard from him."  Emphasis is his.  

It got rave reviews at/by Daily Kos, Steve Benen, Andrew Sullivan,  Ta-Nahisi Coates, BalloonJuice, The Jed Report, Al Giordano, Karen Tumulty, Jack & Jill Politics, OpenLeft, mydd, Huffington Post,  Crooks and Liars, Rod Dreher, Daily Intel, Reason Online, MalContends, and Democratic Underground.  This list coud be 5 times as long but you get the idea.  

Here's the video if you haven't seen it yet.  It's worth your time.

JK did what those of us who follow him closely know he can do and has done before.  Just watch his Dissent speech.  And as he has before, JK gave us a masterfully delivered speech yesterday.  It's hard for me to pick out my favorite excerpts.  I'd end up excerpting most of it so go see the full transcript of his remarks as delivered below the fold, courtesy of Lynn Sweet at the Sun Times, if you can't watch the video.  

A little more background: he also did a session for the New American Foundation in the morning which got rave reviews from publius.  

He didn't mince any words the other day when he said we should ignore the Republicans and do what we think we'll work in the stimulus package.

He was on Meet The Press Sunday morning pushing for the stimulus package.  

He declared climate change a central foreign policy focus and pulled Al Gore in to testify in his first full session as SFRC chair. From The Vine at TNR:

Right now, C-SPAN is showing Al Gore testify on climate change before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Significantly, committee chair John Kerry just declared that "climate change will be increasingly central to our foreign policy," citing warnings from top U.S. military leaders that a warming planet will put pressure on the earth's resources and lead to more conflicts and more security risks around the world.

Nor has he forgotten items like Blackwater and its criminal culpability in Iraq. Or items like high-speed rail which are so important to our public transportation network.  

As I said above, enough with the gratuitous Kerry-bashing. He's out there speaking out and doing it well. Just because a lefty blogger didn't happen to notice it doesn't mean it didn't happen.

Items of Interest

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~ DKos's resident food industry guru has the latest on the salmonella peanut butter distribution and some back history on story. The list of products is surprisingly extensive.

~ Another good writer is dying.

~ James Wolcott has an interesting review of the winners and losers in the 2008 campaign. Lots of interesting blog name dropping. Of course, what pulled me in was Joe Lieberman's name in the title. Anything that trashes Joe from the outset has got to be interesting, right? Wolcott lists him as the biggest loser. Yep. That's about right.

~ According to Peter Kafka, "Google product manager Katie Jacobs Stanton will be the new President's "director of citizen participation," starting in March, sources tell me." [via]

~ A small business that's sustainable and thriving in this economy. Its owner talks about his growth plan. Suggestion: read the post first and then watch the video that he included. Now to go look up my local providers.

~ This shouldn't happen. Hope Mike has a good month off.

CJR on Matt Cooper joining TPM

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Somehow I missed this in amongst all the inaugural folderol but CJR posted this item about Matt Cooper joining Josh Marshall at TalkingPointsMemo to create a DC outpost known as TPMDC.

Claire McCaskill is my hero

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