Leon Panetta To Head CIA

President-elect Obama today chose former Californian Congressman and Clinton OMB director and Chief of Staff Leon Panetta to head the beleaguered Central Intelligence Agency. While Panetta is the ultimate Washington insider, he has no direct intelligence experience and thus an outsider to the labyrinth that is the CIA. Panetta is primarily known as tough (and partisan) negotiator and highly regarded as a competent manager, an unusual trait in the outgoing Administration. He does boast significant foreign policy experience from his days in the White House and his participation on the Iraq Study Group. The pick, however, is meeting less than rave reviews on Capitol Hill.

Yet the choice encountered early opposition on Capitol Hill, with some senior Democrats questioning why the president-elect would pick a C.I.A. chief without a deep reservoir of intelligence or counterterrorism experience.

"My position has consistently been that I believe the agency is best-served by having an intelligence professional in charge at this time," said Senator Dianne Feinstein who, as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, would be in charge of Mr. Panetta's confirmation.

The President has made his choice. Leon Panetta is a dedicated public servant with an impeccable record. And it should be noted that several previous CIA Directors had no intelligence experience when appointed. These include Stansfield M. Turner, John M. Deutch, John McCone and George H.W. Bush.

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Swiftly and Boldly

"If we don't act swiftly and boldly, we could see a much deeper economic downturn that could lead to double-digit unemployment," President-elect Obama on Saturday in his weekly radio address.

As if clairvoyant in separate statements released last Friday afternoon, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio voiced their concerns on passing what is likely to be the largest spending bill in the the nation's history without extended committee and floor debate.

"We agree with President-elect Obama that taking action to turn the economy around is job one. We also agree, though, that every dollar needs to be spent wisely and not wasted in the rush to get it spent," Senator McConnell said. "And we hope that Democrats in Congress don't attempt to shut the American taxpayer out of this process by trying to pass a bill that hasn't been the subject of bipartisan review and that hasn't been available for public inspection."

"Let's be clear," said Congressman Boehner, "it is essential that this legislation be debated in a fair, open, and honest way. Congress should have public hearings in the appropriate committees, the text of the measure should be made available online for the American people to review for at least one week, and it should be free from special-interest earmarks."

That the GOP is dragging its feet on the economic recovery stimulus package isn't shocking but to hear House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer suggest that the House of Representatives isn't likely to pass an economic stimulus bill by President-elect Barack Obama's first day in office is a tad disconcerting.

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Susan Daggett

Susan Daggett is an independent environmental consultant who currently sits on the Denver Water Board. In the past, she has worked with conservation groups to address the impact associated with oil and gas development in the Mountain West. Prior to her consulting work, Susan Daggett was the lead attorney for the Denver office of Earthjustice, a non-profit public interest law firm, (formerly the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund) where she represented nonprofit environmental groups in litigation under the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act and a variety of other environmental statutes. Ms. Daggett has more than 13 years of experience serving as an attorney for various organizations, including the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council. She currently serves on the Board of Trustees and as Policy Committee Chair for The Nature Conservancy of Colorado and is also a member of Greenprint Denver, an initiative of the Denver Mayor's Office to promote the importance of sustainable development and ecologically-friendly practices.

One more thing about Susan Daggett . . .

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Dr. James Hansen Appeals to Obama on Climate Change

Dr. James Hansen, head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and of one of the world's most prominent and vocal advocates of tackling global climate change head-on, has written jointly with his wife a lenghty letter addressed to both Barack and Michelle Obama. The letter is a personal appeal that warns the President-elect of the "profound disconnect between actions that policy circles are considering and what the science demands for preservation of the planet". The introduction of letter notes that Dr. Hansen has advised governments previously through regular channels but the urgency of the situation now dictates a "personal appeal."

The letter was released to The Guardian and published as well on Dr. Hansen's website at Columbia University.

Calling climate change "the most important matter of our times," Dr. Hansen encourages the President-elect to undertake three policy directives to address climatic change. First, Dr. Hansen calls for a moratorium and phasing out of coal-fired power stations that do not incorporate carbon capture adding that this step is "the sine qua non for solving the climate problem." Continuing to build coal-fired power plants, which he calls "factories of death," would "raise atmospheric carbon dioxide to a level at least approaching 500 ppm (parts per million)" and lead to "the extinction of perhaps a million species." Current carbon dioxide levels are 385 ppm up from 280 ppm in the pre-industrial period. Dr. Hansen concludes that an urgent geophysical fact has become clear: "burning all the fossil fuels will destroy the planet we know."

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PM Brown Calls For A "New Progressive Era Across the World"

In his annual New Year's Message, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown delivered a fiery though tempered speech. Cognizant that dark days do indeed lie ahead, the Prime Minister was also quick to assign the blame. Brown noted the "the failure of previous governments in previous global downturns was to succumb to political expediency and to cut back investment across the board, thereby stunting our ability to grow and strangling hope during the upturn." The Prime Minister added that 2008 would be remembered as the year in which "the old era of unbridled free market dogma was finally ushered out". Let's hope so but let's also realize that the conservative ideology of unfettered free markets, limited government and low taxes is far from defeated on both sides of the Atlantic. The fight goes on.

From the UK Guardian:

Gordon Brown today braces Britain for potentially its worst recession since the second world war by promising to work with Barack Obama to create a new progressive era across the world. He claims he can build "a global coalition for change" with the US president-elect.

The prime minister said 2008 would be remembered as the year in which "the old era of unbridled free market dogma was finally ushered out". In his traditional new year message, Brown struck a tone of tempered optimism, saying that Britain can this year build a better tomorrow through strategic investments while dealing with the dangerous challenges of today.

Hoping for a "new progressive era across the world," Mr Brown sees "purposeful and energetic governments giving real help to families and businesses when they need it the most; and through expanding through the downturn vital investments in our future."

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Governor Paterson May Opt for A Caretaker

As the year draws to a close, so too might Caroline Kennedy's chances to be selected as Senator Hillary Clinton's replacement in the US Senate. Instead, it seems that Governor David Paterson may opt for a "caretaker" to hold the seat until a special election can be held in November 2010. From WCBS-TV News:

The former president is among several boldface names being touted as possible "caretakers" for New York's Senate seat -- people who would serve until the 2010 elections but wouldn't be interested in running to keep the job.

As the process of picking Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's replacement gets messier, the option may become increasingly attractive to Gov. David Paterson, who has sole authority to name a successor.

A big name like Bill Clinton or Democratic former Gov. Mario Cuomo could have an immediate impact for New York in the Senate while letting the large field of hopefuls duke it out in 2010, according to three Democratic Party advisers in New York and Washington who are close to the discussion with Paterson's inner circle on this issue.

Two others in the party confirmed that Paterson is still considering the caretaker option. The advisers spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to comment.

So should Governor Paterson go the caretaker route? And if so, should it be Clinton or Cuomo? More on this story from the Associated Press.

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Towards A New Approach on Cuba

On Thursday, the Cuban Revolution turns fifty. I do not expect the out-going Bush Administration to waiver from its stated policy towards the island which has seen a tightening of the politically ineffective 46 year old US embargo, increased Radio Marti news broadcasts into Cuba, curtailed visits home by Cuban-Americans and limited the amount of money Cuban-Americans can send to relatives. I am, however, hopeful that the incoming Obama Administration will end the embargo and seek a new approach to US-Cuban relations.

In this, I am not alone. Two weeks ago at the Grupo de Río summit in Bahia, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva told the 33 member Latin American organization that he hoped the new Obama administration would bring " a change in US policy towards Latin America and the Caribbean". That included, President Lula said, an end to the embargo on Cuba "which no longer makes sense - neither economic nor political. In fact, there is no reason for it." The official joint communique called the embargo "unacceptable" and called on the Obama Administration to lift the embargo.

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Gaza - "War to the Bitter End"

I noticed a diary by Main Street on MyDD Missing in Action on Gaza. I know that Jonathan will be blogging on the topic once he gets to Israel. Speaking for myself, I'll say it's not easy to find the right words and when it comes to the Israel-Palestinian conflict a misplaced word can set off a minefield even on a progressive blog not to mention this is a subject seemingly beyond my comprehension at this point or at the very least my attention span. Haven't we seen this all before?

Instead of my own nebulous views, I'll offer the words of others who I think make points worth reflecting upon.

Here's Robert Fisk in The Independent:

We've got so used to the carnage of the Middle East that we don't care any more - providing we don't offend the Israelis. It's not clear how many of the Gaza dead are civilians, but the response of the Bush administration, not to mention the pusillanimous reaction of Gordon Brown, reaffirm for Arabs what they have known for decades: however they struggle against their antagonists, the West will take Israel's side. As usual, the bloodbath was the fault of the Arabs - who, as we all know, only understand force.

Ever since 1948, we've been hearing this balderdash from the Israelis - just as Arab nationalists and then Arab Islamists have been peddling their own lies: that the Zionist "death wagon" will be overthrown, that all Jerusalem will be "liberated". And always Mr Bush Snr or Mr Clinton or Mr Bush Jnr or Mr Blair or Mr Brown have called upon both sides to exercise "restraint" - as if the Palestinians and the Israelis both have F-18s and Merkava tanks and field artillery. Hamas's home-made rockets have killed just 20 Israelis in eight years, but a day-long blitz by Israeli aircraft that kills almost 300 Palestinians is just par for the course.

The blood-splattering has its own routine. Yes, Hamas provoked Israel's anger, just as Israel provoked Hamas's anger, which was provoked by Israel, which was provoked by Hamas, which ... See what I mean? Hamas fires rockets at Israel, Israel bombs Hamas, Hamas fires more rockets and Israel bombs again and ... Got it? And we demand security for Israel - rightly - but overlook this massive and utterly disproportionate slaughter by Israel. It was Madeleine Albright who once said that Israel was "under siege" - as if Palestinian tanks were in the streets of Tel Aviv.

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Skepticism or Obstructionism?

As of right now, Americans are left with more questions than answers about this unprecedented government spending . . .

As the ellipsis suggests that's not the full quote, though it should be. No, the questions that Americans have in their mind according to Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are not about the serious erosion of the nation's fiscal position that has added an unprecedented $5.7 trillion in deficit spending these past eight years, the questions the Senate Minority Leader believes that Americans are harbouring are about Obama's still undefined fiscal stimulus plan believed to be in the neighborhood of $675 billion to $850 billion.

From the Washington Post:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) voiced skepticism today about the emerging economic stimulus plan, applying a brake to Democratic plans to quickly pass up to $850 billion in spending and tax cuts soon after President-elect Barack Obama's Jan. 20 inauguration.

"As of right now, Americans are left with more questions than answers about this unprecedented government spending, and I believe the taxpayers deserve to know a lot more about where it will be spent before we consider passing it," McConnell said in a statement, which will be publicly issued later today.

Obama's advisers and congressional Democrats have been huddling in the Capitol trying to craft a massive stimulus plan that could cost anywhere from $675 billion to $850 billion, while some economists are pushing for a total package worth more than $1 trillion.

McConnell -- the most powerful Republican in Washington, based on the filibuster-proof level of 41 GOP Senate seats -- called for many congressional hearings on the stimulus plan and some undetermined safeguards to assure the money is being spent wisely.

Let's call it what it is. It's not skepticism, this is obstructionism.

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Secretary Rice's "Foundation for History's Judgment"

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gave an end-of-term interview this morning to Rita Braver of CBS Sunday Morning. There's a lot to chew on given the far-reaching nature of the interview that covered the image of the US abroad, the war in Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Sino-American relationship, North Korea and the Six-Party Talks, AIDS relief in Africa, the rise of authoritarianism in Russia and more. But early in the interview is a very telling exchange:

QUESTION: Looking at the big picture of what's the whole foreign policy of this Administration - you come out of the academic tradition so I think it's fair to ask, what kind of grade do you give yourself and this Administration on foreign policy?

SECRETARY RICE: Oh, I don't know. It depends on the subject. I'm sure that there are some that deserve an A-plus and some that deserve a lot less. But what I think this Administration has done is, in the most complicated circumstances after September 11th, to put the country on a course where we have built a different foundation for a different kind of Middle East, where Saddam Hussein is out of power, where that will bring -- where there's an Iraq that is multi-ethnic and multi-confessional democracy and a friend of the United States, rather than an Iraq that is invading its neighbors and using weapons of mass destruction and seeking weapons of mass destruction. We've left a lot of good foundations.

QUESTION: You know, you say that, but the Pew Global Attitudes Project released a new report very recently. On the very first page it says, "The U.S. image abroad is suffering almost everywhere." The most recent CBS News/New York Times poll shows that only 26 percent of Americans approve of the President's foreign policy. It has to be more than just a perception problem.

SECRETARY RICE: No. Rita, first of all, it depends on where you're talking about. In two of the most populous countries, China and India, the United States is not just well regarded for its policies, but well regarded. And -

QUESTION: This report says the only place the U.S. is really - you know, people are happy about the U.S. is in some of the southern African countries, but --

SECRETARY RICE: Well, that's no small fact either, that in Africa, the policies of AIDS relief and so forth have been so regarded. But you know, this isn't a popularity contest. I'm sorry, it isn't. What the Administration is responsible to do is to make good choices about Americans' interests and values in the long run, not for today's headlines, but for history's judgment.

And I am quite certain that when the final chapters are written and it's clear that Saddam Hussein's Iraq is gone in favor of an Iraq that is favorable to the future of the Middle East, when the history is written of a U.S.-China relationship that is better than it's ever been, an India relationship that is deeper and better than it's ever been, a relationship with Brazil and other countries of the left of Latin America better than it's ever been, a relationship that has given an umbrella to anti-terrorist activities so that this country is not yet safe, but clearly much, much safer. When one looks at what we've been able to do in terms of changing the conversation in the Middle East about democracy and values, this Administration will be judged well, and I'll wait for history's judgment and not today's headlines.

QUESTION: So you think that people are just short-sighted and they - that the pain that maybe we're going through now because of what's still going on in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places, is causing people to say, look, you know, we just don't think this Administration has done a very good job. I mean --

SECRETARY RICE: Rita, it's not a popularity contest. It is to lay a foundation for where this will all come out. Do you really think that in 1947 or 1948 or 1949, anybody thought we were going to win the Cold War, flat out, that Germany would unify on Western terms, that the Soviet Union would collapse, that Eastern Europe would be fully integrated, and that this President would welcome nine countries into NATO that are former captive nations? I know that your business is to report today's headlines, and I respect that, but my business is to lay a foundation for history's judgment.

Well she was always a popular professor winning the Walter J. Gores Award for Excellence in Teaching and she was an easy-grader at Stanford. Not sure if these two are correlated, but to be fair Professor Rice was a remarkable and engaging professor. It would be hard to describe her tenure as Secretary of State in such terms.

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