Obama also properly pointed toward the 9/11 attacks as the motivating force behind the American mission in Afghanistan, and the President deserves credit for strongly stating these pro-American positions in front of our nation’s troops in Afghanistan and for saying “thank you” on behalf of Americans to our troops.
“We face a determined enemy, but we also know this. The United States of America does not quit once it starts on something. You don’t quit, the American armed services does not quit, we keep at it, we persevere, and together with our partners, we will prevail, I am absolutely confident of that.”
Obama here sounds an awful lot like President George W. Bush in 2006, 2007 and 2008 when discussing the need to “stay the course” and win the war in Iraq. Indeed, Obama’s comment about how America “does not quit” once the country engages in a battle overseas is quite jarring when compared to candidate Obama’s campaigning throughout America for two years calling for a quick withdrawal from Iraq without a military victory there over Al-Queda and the insurgents. Here is a portion of Obama’s January 2007 speech, which kicked off his campaign for President, advocating a military withdrawal from Iraq by March 2008, which of course did not occur:
But all of this cannot come to pass until we bring an end to this war in Iraq. Most of you know I opposed this war from the start. I thought it was a tragic mistake. Today we grieve for the families who have lost loved ones, the hearts that have been broken, and the young lives that could have been. America, it’s time to start bringing our troops home. It’s time to admit that no amount of American lives can resolve the political disagreement that lies at the heart of someone else’s civil war. That’s why I have a plan that will bring our combat troops home by March of 2008. Letting the Iraqis know that we will not be there forever is our last, best hope to pressure the Sunni and Shia to come to the table and find peace.
I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse.
Ironically, despite his above-referenced political attacks in 2007-8 upon President Bush for ordering the surge and his active opposition to then-President Bush’s surge plan, today Obama stated that while “politics at home may look a little messy” there is “no daylight [between Democrats and Republicans] when it comes to support of all of you” and “no daylight when it comes to supporting our troops“. While these sentiments are indeed correct, the GOP strongly supports the Afghanistani mission to eliminate the Al-Queda threat, his comments today are quite jarring when compared to the President’s own actions and statements in 2007 where he created a giant shaft of daylight between himself and President Bush regarding the American troops in the field in Iraq at the time.
In a startling review issued today by the Associated Press regarding Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) requests, it was revealed that the Obama Administration substantially increased the use of so-called “exemptions” to disclosure under FOIA, effectively undermining the many rhetorical claims by President Barack Obama that his administration will be the “most open and transparent in history.” The AP explains the findings of its review:
WASHINGTON — The government’s use of legal exemptions to keep records secret rose during President Barack Obama’s first year in office, despite promises of increased openness, an Associated Press review found.
The review of annual Freedom of Information Act reports filed by 17 major agencies found that overall, the use of nearly every one of the open-records law’s nine exemptions to withhold information rose in fiscal year 2009, which ended last October.
Among the most frequently used exemptions: one that lets the government hold back records that detail its internal decision-making. Obama had directed agencies to stop using that exemption so frequently, but that directive appears to have been widely ignored.
Major agencies cited that exemption to refuse records at least 70,779 times during the 2009 budget year, compared with 47,395 times during President George W. Bush’s final full budget year, according to annual FOIA reports filed by federal agencies.
As Sunshine Week begins, I want to applaud everyone who has worked to increase transparency in government and recommit my administration to be the most open and transparent ever, an effort that will strengthen our democracy and ensure the public’s trust in their government.
We are proud of these accomplishments, but our work is not done. We will continue to work toward an unmatched level of transparency, participation and accountability across the entire Administration.
Perhaps the establishment media will report upon this clearly misleading Obama statement, especially in relation to the unmentioned 50% increase in FOIA exemption claims by his Administration, in the days to come and bring some level of honesty to the media’s reporting on the transparency issue. Obama’s statement, on his first full day in office as President, claiming that broadly granted FOIA requests are the key to an open government is a timely reminder of how far removed the first year of Obama’s government has been from the rhetoric used by President Obama on the issue of open and transparent government:
The prolific use of FOIA exemptions is one measure of how far the federal government has yet to go to carry out Obama’s promise of openness. His first full day in office, Obama told agencies the Freedom of Information Act, “which encourages accountability through transparency, is the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open government.”
Hugo Chavez, the socialist strongman leader of Venezuela, has turned his rhetorical fire today on his favorite target: the United States of America. Despite the hopes of many on the American left who publicly aligned with Hugo Chavez during the Bush years, the Venezuelan President has continued to virulently attack the United States during Obama’s tenure. The latest Chavez outburst was directed at Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, stating “To me, she’s like Condoleezza Rice … a blond Condoleezza” as reported an hour ago by Reuters:
CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela’s President Hugo mocked U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday as a “blond” version of her predecessor, and said a row with Spain over alleged links with rebel groups was over.
Visiting Latin America this week, Clinton said the Obama administration’s policies towards the region were helping blunt the criticism of the United States by leftist leaders like Chavez.
“To me, she’s like Condoleezza Rice … a blond Condoleezza,” said the Venezuelan, referring to former U.S. president George W. Bush’s secretary of state, with whom he exchanged frequent harsh words at long-distance.
Citing comments by Clinton in Brazil, Chavez said she was proving to be equally aggressive. “She comes to Brazil to provoke us, to try and divide us from our brothers.”
Regarding US-Venezuelan relations as a whole, Chavez’s warm feelings toward President Obama appear to have peaked in September 2009, when he lavishly praised Obama at the UN, favorably comparing him with the “devil” Bush:
UNITED NATIONS (CNN) — Drawing on 2006 remarks in which he compared former U.S. President George Bush to the devil, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, speaking at the United Nations Thursday, said, “It doesn’t smell like sulfur anymore.”
In a rambling speech at the U.N. General Assembly, Chavez spoke highly of current President Obama, saying he is an “intelligent man” and comparing him to President John F. Kennedy.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said he “still” smelled sulfur after President Obama made a keynote speech at the Copenhagen climate conference Friday, accusing the American president of carrying the same satanic scent that Chavez believes followed Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush.
At Copenhagen, Chavez applied his bizarre satanic scent metaphor to Obama, as Chavez had done to Bush in 2006 and thereafter Chavez and other socialist leaders in Latin America have been turning against the once-welcomed Obama. Chavez’s attack on Hillary Clinton today serves as yet another reminder that some foreign leaders (like Chavez) dislike all of America’s leaders, and Americans would be better served by a unified political stance towards foreign powers instead of the present, highly partisan American foreign policy.
The promotion of Julianna Smoot to White House Social Secretary is good news for wealthy donors to President Obama’s campaign, for whom Smoot — the chief campaign fundraiser — is friend and point of contact.
Smoot, who had been working in the relative obscurity of the U.S. Trade Representative’s office, will now be the key gatekeeper to the kind of social functions from which donors have complained that this administration, unlike President Clinton’s, has barred them.
But the choice to unite money and access in the person of Smoot — a career political fundraiser whose efforts were downplayed by a campaign eager to focus on small donors — cuts against both President Obama’s broader message of change and against the talking points of her departing predecessor, Desiree Rogers.
Rogers told Lynn Sweet that she saw her role as turning the White House into the “people’s house,” and Michelle Obama praised her in a statement for “welcoming scores of everyday Americans through its doors, from wounded warriors to local schoolchildren to NASCAR drivers.”
Smoot may have the same goal, but her credentials and relationships point in the opposite direction: To ensuring access and satisfaction for the ultra-wealthy elite who will, incidentally, be called on to finance President Obama’s next campaign.
A White House official says appointing a fundraising staffer Social Secretary isn’t “outside the norm” because one of President George W. Bush’s Social Secretaries, Lea Berman, had been such a staffer, though not one of Smoot’s centrality.
On a frigid day in early January, Barack Obama rode the three blocks from the Capitol to a nondescript, four-story, white-brick building where he had rented a spartan office suite.
Obama pulled out a folding chair and sat down with Julianna Smoot, the veteran Democratic fundraiser he had hired to raise the millions of dollars he would need for a presidential bid. Smoot thumbed through a thin list of potential donors that Obama had gathered during his 2004 Senate bid in Illinois and as he helped other politicians raise money for elections in 2006. She frowned.
“It wasn’t much to work with,” Smoot recalled. “But that was how we started. He asked me what he should do, and I said, ‘Start calling. And don’t forget to ask for their credit card numbers.’ “
That was the beginning of a fundraising juggernaut that, perhaps more than any other single factor, helped transform Obama into a serious contender for the presidency. By the end of September, the senator from Illinois had raised more money for his primary bid than any other candidate in either party — more than $75 million. He did it not simply by using the new possibilities of the Internet, for which he has received considerable attention, but by creating almost overnight a network of “bundlers” — a core group of motivated supporters with the Rolodexes to bring along friends and associates.
Obama’s campaign offices are spread across the entire 11th floor of a Chicago high-rise. The finance team’s desks are scattered around a Ping-Pong table. Tabloid headlines — “Record Haul for Obama,” “Run for the Money” — are taped to the walls.
As the summer wore on, Smoot sat in the middle, tracking dozens of events around the country on her laptop. In a rolling series of phone calls with her regional fundraisers, she pushed and prodded them to hit their goals, then updated her spreadsheets so she could keep tabs on the quarter’s target.
Smoot apparently has little problem with associating with unsavory characters, such as now-imprisoned Democratic fundraiser Norman Hsu. The two were quite close, has mutual “respect” for each other as Hsu served as one of Smoot’s “most reliable donors from her tenure as finance chair for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.” Smoot aggressively pursued Hsu on behalf of the Obama campaign, as noted by the 2007 WaPo “$75 Million Dollar Woman” piece:
Smoot knew Obama was not alone in pursuing potential fundraisers. Some were getting daily calls from presidential candidates. One potential bundler contacted by Smoot was Norman Hsu, one of the most reliable donors from her tenure as finance chair for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Hsu would later become mired in scandal as a top bundler for the Clinton campaign, but he was regarded at the time as a prime target because of his reputation for producing a steady flow of campaign cash.
In an interview — before it was reported that Hsu was a fugitive trying to outrun a 15-year-old conviction for running a Ponzi scheme — he recalled his call from Smoot. She asked what he thought of Obama’s bid and whether he might consider helping. “I told her, ‘You’re asking for an unbiased opinion from someone who is very biased.’ She knew I was loyal to Senator Clinton. I told her she was asking the wrong person. We both respected each other well enough not to talk about it after that.”
The NY Daily News detailed the various campaign fundraising crimes that Hsu was convicted of after his May 2008 trial, and at his sentencing (he received 24 years in jail), presiding Judge Victor Marrero declared that “Hsu’s dishonest use of political campaigns to perpetuate his fraud strikes at the very core of our democracy.” CNN reports on the sentencing:
NEW YORK (CNN) – A former Democratic fund-raiser who contributed to the presidential campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama was sentenced Tuesday to 292 months, or more than 24 years, in prison for fraud including campaign finance violations, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara announced.
“Norman Hsu betrayed the trust of his victims by stealing their money with false promises of fake returns in order to finance a luxurious lifestyle…Today’s sentence underscores our commitment to stop swindlers like Hsu in their tracks and bring them to the bar of justice,” Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement.
The sentencing breakdown includes 240 months in prison for wire and mail fraud charges and 52 months in prison for charges of campaign finance fraud. Judge Victor Marrero, who issued the sentence Tuesday afternoon at a Manhattan federal court, said in a statement, “Hsu’s dishonest use of political campaigns to perpetuate his fraud strikes at the very core of our democracy.”
Hsu, 57, was convicted in May on four counts of campaign fraud – one for each year from 2004 to 2007.
Earlier this year, Hsu also was found guilty on 10 counts of mail and wire fraud surrounding his investment practices.
He was indicted in 2007 after an investigation into his two investment companies.
When he was convicted in May, prosecutors said that Hsu not only swindled investors out of at least $20 million but also told some investors to make campaign contributions to the candidates he supported, and suggested that their investments could be jeopardized if they didn’t do as he asked.
Hsu has pleaded guilty to orchestrating the Ponzi scheme.
Tuesday, Barack Obama’s spokesperson said the Senator would not give up the donations received from Norman Hsu.
… spokesman Jen Psaki said Obama, who has criticized Clinton for taking contributions that could undermine her independence, had no plans to return Hsu’s donations.
Today, he’s had a change of heart.
A spokesman for Senator Barack Obama, the Illinois Democrat who is a rival of Mrs. Clinton for the party’s presidential nomination, said Mr. Obama intended to give away $7,000 that Mr. Hsu contributed to his committees.
Interestingly, the Newsday story quoting Jen Psaki used by Talkleft above is no longer an available link. Considering the return of the money raised by Hsu after the explicit Obama campaign acknowledgment to the Washington Post in September 2007 that Hsu brought a “major fundraiser” to Obama in the mid-2000’s, Hsu’s links to Obama were not insubstantial, making the choice of Smoot, who herself is closely tied to Hsu, an odd choice by Obama. Hsu received the longest prison sentence for campaign finance crimes in recent history, according to our searches, between the time Obama’s campaign returned some Hsu money in September 2007 and the appointment of Julianna Smoot today. Indeed, as Obama has railed against the “broken” Washington lately over the stalling of his health care plan (and as that battle heats up), the appointment of this fundraiser Smoot, who made Obama into a “serious contender” by using her stellar insider connections in 2007, and considering her not so stellar insider connections folks like Hsu, must be disappointing to those who are true believers in Obama’s “hope and change” mantra as well to centrist fans of good governance.
Obama’s comment on the Smoot appointment touches these familiar claims, saying that Smoot shares the Obamas’ commitment “to creating an inclusive, dynamic and culturally vibrant White House.” In response to Ben Smith’s article, an anonymous White House official played the familiar “Bush did it” card by defending Smoot’s appointment as not “outside the norm” because a Bush social secretary, Lea Berman, had been a low-level fundraiser. Of course, Berman was a not the central, chief fundraiser for Bush, like Smoot was in for Obama and as Smoot apparently will be for Obama 2012. Further, the White House Social Secretary’s job has never been filled by the top fundraiser of the President’s campaign, creating another “unprecedented” development from the Obama White House. We can only hope that Obama is correct in his assessment of Smoot, and that Smoot’s appointment does not signal an increase special interest and wealthy donor influence in the Obama White House as we approach the 2010 and 2012 elections. If Smoot couldn’t sniff out an ongoing campaign finance criminal enterprise that Hsu was engaging in as he served as one of Smoot’s “most reliable donors from her tenure as finance chair” of the DSCC for the 2006 election cycle, a reasonable question can be asked as to whether Smoot should be in charge of access of other bundlers and everyone else to the Obama White House.