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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Obama offers ethics reform plan

Democrat Barack Obama on Friday vowed to institute ethics reforms if elected president, including tough restrictions on lobbying by former political appointees.

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Obama makes his budget requests public

Democrat Barack Obama on Thursday revealed the 113 budget items he has requested in the Senate — known as "pet projects" or "pork" in the language of budget reform — and challenged his fellow presidential candidates to do the same.

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Saturday, June 2, 2007

Obama, A Consistent Uniter

One of the main themes of the Barack Obama's political campaign is that Obama has the special ability to find the areas of common interest, unite this county, and implement practical policy.

Below I have compiled a list of quotes from various news articles that illustrate the unique background that prepares Obama for this challenging task. These quotes from friends, collaborators, teachers, and journalists also show that Obama's message isn't an invention for a political campaign, but a natural progression of a lifetime filled with listening to others and finding areas of agreement.

Keep in mind: he compromises, but not on principle.
Hawaii (Age 0-6, 10-18);
• It was a good melting pot. There were people from all different races," said Eric Smith, a friend and classmate of Obama's in the 1970s. "Everyone seemed to meld together." (Washington Post 2/8 )
Indonesia (Age 6-10)
• "As a boy in Indonesia, Barack Obama crisscrossed the religious divide. At the local primary school, he prayed in thanks to a Catholic saint. In the neighborhood mosque, he bowed to Allah." (L.A. Times 3/15 )
• Instead of using his fists, Obama gained respect — and friends — by using his imposing stature to protect weaker children against the strong, Israella Dharmawan, 63, his first-grade teacher said. (L.A. Times 3/15 )
• Obama's Indonesian teachers all said he was a leader at a young age. Fermina Katarina Sinaga, Obama's third-grade teacher, didn't have to quiet her pupils before class because Obama did it for her."When the kids lined up before entering the class, he would step forward and lead the whole class," said Sinaga, 57. "He inspected the line, and he was acting like a teacher. I could see his sense of leadership back then." (L.A. Times 3/15 )
Occidental College in Los Angeles
• Dorm neighbor Ken Sulzer, now a lawyer in Century City, remembers Haines Hall's loud soundtrack of New Wave bands like the Flying Lizards. Hallway debates tackled the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and President Carter's subsequent revival of draft registration. Obama "did not impose his personality but certainly was well-respected among his peers and always had that great voice, even when he was 17, 18," Sulzer said. (L.A. Times 1/29 )
• Kenneth Sulzer, who lived in the same dormitory as Obama, remembered long discussions about politics, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and a possible reinstitution of the draft. Obama was "relatively quiet. But when he spoke, his opinion was respected," said Sulzer, now an attorney in Los Angeles. (Chicago Tribune 3/30 )
• John Boyer, a skin cancer surgeon in Honolulu, fondly recalled evenings driving around L.A. and sharing pizza near campus. Boyer described himself as conservative politically and opposed to some of Obama's positions, but added, "What I admired about him then and now is that he is a very principled person in how he formulated his views." (L.A. Times 1/29 )
Columbia University in New York
• Seeking a fresh start, he transferred to Columbia University in New York City. Classmates and teachers from those days remember him as studious and serious, someone who hit the library in his off hours instead of the bars.
"If I had to give one adjective to describe him, it is mature," said William Araiza, who took an international politics class with Obama. "He was our age, but seemed older because of his poise." (Chicago Tribune 3/30 )
Work as a community organizer on the southside of Chicago, as a civil rights lawyer, and as a lecturer on constitutional law at the University of Chicago;
• But Obama, the youthful outsider, brought a decidedly practical view of the Washington-Vrdolyak bouts to the Far South Side community he was organizing.
"They're not enemies, he used to tell us. They're both working for their constituents, and they have to do this," recalled Loretta Augustine Herron, a founding member of Obama's Developing Communities Project. "Whoever can help you reach your goal, that's who you work with. . . . There are no permanent friends, no permanent enemies." (Chicago Tribune 3/30)
• Obama's hallmark at DCP [Developing Communities Project] was meticulous planning. Before encounters with public officials, Obama would have members rehearse possible scenarios over and over to minimize surprises. DCP board meetings dragged on for hours. There was a meeting before the meeting to map out what was to be discussed. Then there was the meeting. Then there was the meeting after the meeting to critique how it all went. (Chicago Tribune 3/30)
• Johnnie Owens [who worked with Obama at the DCP] was fascinated by Obama's eclectic library. Volumes on black power were stuffed next to books on Karl Marx, the writings of conservative economist Milton Friedman, and a biography of Robert Moses, a ruthless developer who relied on organizer-like motivating tactics to build public works projects in New York. (Chicago Tribune 3/30 )
• "What I liked about Barack immediately is that he brought a certain level of sophistication and intelligence to community work," Owens says. "He had a reasonable, focused approach that I hadn't seen much of. A lot of organizers you meet these days are these self-anointed leaders with this strange, way-out approach and unrealistic, eccentric way of pursuing things from the very beginning. Not Barack. He's not about calling attention to himself. He's concerned with the work. It's as if it's his mission in life, his calling, to work for social justice. (Chicago Reader 12/8/95 )
• "Anyone who knows me knows that I'm one of the most cynical people you want to see, always looking for somebody's angle or personal interest," Owens added. "I've lived in Chicago all my life. I've known some of the most ruthless and biggest bullshitters out there, but I see nothing but integrity in this guy." (Chicago Reader 12/8/95 )
• Jean Rudd, executive director of the Woods Fund, is another person on guard against self-appointed, self-promoting community leaders. She admires not only Obama's intelligence but his honesty. "He is one of the most articulate people I have ever met, but he doesn't use his gift with language to promote himself. He uses it to clarify the difficult job before him and before all of us. He's not a promoter; from the very beginning, he always makes it clear what his difficulties are. His honesty is refreshing." (Chicago Reader 12/8/95 )
• Another strong supporter of Obama's work--as an organizer, as a lawyer, and now as a candidate--is Madeline Talbott, lead organizer of the feisty ACORN community organization, a group that's a thorn in the side of most elected officials. "I can't repeat what most ACORN members think and say about politicians. But Barack has proven himself among our members. He is committed to organizing, to building a democracy. Above all else, he is a good listener, and we accept and respect him as a kindred spirit, a fellow organizer." (Chicago Reader 12/8/95 )
His education at Harvard Law School, where he became the first black president of the Harvard Law Review;
• "A lot of people at the time were just talking past each other, very committed to their opinions, their point of view, and not particularly interested in what other people had to say," said Crystal Nix Hines, a classmate who is now a television writer. "Barack transcended that." (Boston Globe 1/28)
• "If anybody had walked by, they would have assumed he was a professor," said Thomas J. Perrelli, a classmate and former counsel to Attorney General Janet Reno. "He was leading the discussion but he wasn't trying to impose his own perspective on it. He was much more mediating." (Boston Globe 1/28)
• Obama was so evenhanded and solicitous in his interactions that fellow students would do impressions of his Socratic chin-stroking approach to everything, even seeking a consensus on popcorn preferences at the movies. "Do you want salt on your popcorn?" one classmate, Nancy L. McCullough, recalled, mimicking his sensitive bass voice. "Do you even want popcorn?" (Boston Globe 1/28)
• Even in his first year, students saw Obama as a peacemaker. When his class needed someone to present an end-of-the-year gift to one stuffy contracts professor, the students chose Obama, who delivered a brief, gracious tribute. "It was a moment of diffused tension and levity," said Kenneth W. Mack, a Harvard Law School professor who was in Obama's class. "He pulled it off."(Boston Globe 1/28)
• “He was committed to speaking a language that went across political bounds,” said Professor of Law Kenneth W. Mack, who was one of Obama’s Harvard classmates. “We need that common language of progressive politics.” (The Crimson 3/9)
• "Barack was a stabilizing influence in that he would absolutely support those efforts, but was also someone who could discuss and debate them with students or faculty who had different views," said Professor Charles J. Ogletree Jr., who became Harvard's seventh tenured black professor in 1993. (Boston Globe 1/28 )
• "You should not underestimate the significance of him being the first black president of the Harvard Law Review because that was and remains a very elite group," said Bell, now a law professor at New York University. "These were some tough folks. . . . It's almost as impressive that he was elected president of the Harvard Law Review as him being elected senator of Illinois. (Boston Globe 1/28 )
• "Even though he was clearly a liberal, he didn't appear to the conservatives in the review to be taking sides in the tribal warfare," said Bradford A. Berenson, a former Bush administration lawyer who was an editor at the review.
• "The politics of the Harvard Law Review were incredibly petty and incredibly vicious," Berenson said. "The editors of the review were constantly at each other's throats. And Barack tended to treat those disputes with a certain air of detachment and amusement. The feeling was almost, come on kids, can't we just behave here?" (Boston Globe 1/28)
• “Whatever his politics, we felt he would give us a fair shake,” said Bradford Berenson (NY Times 1/28)
• “I have worked in the Supreme Court and the White House and I never saw politics as bitter as at Harvard Law Review in the early ’90s,” Mr. Berenson said. “The law school was populated by a bunch of would-be Daniel Websters harnessed to extreme political ideologies.” They were so ardent that they would boo and hiss one another in class. (NY Times 1/28)
• Loeb University Professor Laurence H. Tribe ’62, who employed Obama as a research assistant when the senator was still a student, said that Obama had the potential to become one of the best presidents in United States history.
“We are dealing with someone who has a chance of being the greatest president since Franklin Roosevelt,” Tribe said.
He briefly paused, and then he added, “Well, maybe I could drop the Franklin Roosevelt part.” (The Crimson 3/9)
• Certainly, Barack and I [Carol Platt Liebau] were hardly best friends; he was a year ahead of me at Harvard Law School (and six years older) when we met the summer that I became a newly-minted editor of the Harvard Law Review. But we did work together for some time, and he reached out to advise me when I became the first female Managing Editor in the Review’s history. Barack is a deeply committed liberal, and I am a proud conservative. Even so, he possesses five qualities that are genuinely praiseworthy -- political ideology aside: He’s intelligent. He’s colorblind. He’s self-confident. He listens. He has a sense of humor. (Townhall 3/5 )
Seven years in the Illinois State Senate.
• "When you come in, especially as a freshman, and work on something like ethics reform, it's not necessarily a way to endear yourself to some of the veteran members of the Illinois General Assembly," said state Sen. Kirk W. Dillard, a Republican who became a friend. "And working on issues like racial profiling was contentious, but Barack had a way both intellectually and in demeanor that defused skeptics." (Washington Post 2/9 )
• "He wasn't a maverick," said Cynthia Canary, director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. "There were other legislators I would turn to if I just wanted to make a lot of noise. That wasn't his style." (Washington Post 2/9 )
• "He was very aggressive when he first came to the Senate," said Jones, now president of the state Senate. "We were in the minority, but he said, 'I'd like to work hard. Any tough assignments or things you'd like me to be involved in, don't hesitate to give it to me.' " (Washington Post 2/9 )
• What impressed me about him was his ability in working with people of the opposite party," said Mike Lawrence, director of the Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University. "He had definite ideas about what ought to be contained in a campaign finance reform measure, but he also was willing to recognize that he was probably not going to get everything he wanted." (Washington Post 2/9 )
• "Obviously, we didn't agree all the time, but he would always take suggestions when they were logical, and he was willing to listen to our point of view. And he offered his opinions in a lawyerly way," said Carl Hawkinson, the retired Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee. "When he spoke on the floor of the Senate, he spoke out of conviction. You knew that, whether you agreed with him or disagreed with him." (Washington Post 2/9)
• "He always wants to understand an issue and think it through," said Roberta Lynch, deputy director for Council 31 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. "You have to make your case no matter who you are." (Chicago Tribune 1/17)
• Todd Sieben is the state senator who serves an area where Ronald Reagan once lived and former House Speaker Dennis Hastert now rules. But even with those Republican roots, he's impressed with his former Senate colleague Barack Obama. "Is he capable of being president? Absolutely, no question about it," said Sieben inside his offices in Geneseo."He has the intelligence, he has the passion, he has the legislative and now congressional experience as a senator, to do the job." (America Votes 2008)
• For Illinois politicians, on both sides of the political aisle, an Obama candidacy means new possibilities for the state. And Republican Todd Sieben goes one step better. He can imagine a President Barack Obama who follows in the footsteps of other sons of Illinois: Ulysses S. Grant, Ronald Reagan, and Abraham Lincoln. "Those are three great presidents in history," said Sieben. "Is Barack Obama of that caliber, does he have the potential? I think he has that potential." (America Votes 2008)
• Kirk Dillard, a leading Republican senator from the Chicago suburbs, looked chagrined when I asked him about Obama. “I knew from the day he walked into this chamber that he was destined for great things,” he said. “In Republican circles, we’ve always feared that Barack would become a rock star of American politics.” Still, Dillard was gracious. “Obama is an extraordinary man,” he said. “His intellect, his charisma. He’s to the left of me on gun control, abortion. But he can really work with Republicans.” (New Yorker 5/31/04)
• Go west to DuPage County, one of the most Republican in the nation, and you'll find a GOP county chairman, state Sen. Kirk W. Dillard, who relishes the opportunity to accompany Obama whenever he comes to town. "My constituency is enamored of him," Dillard said. That Obama registered approval ratings in DuPage above 60% in this fall's campaign season is an obvious reason to get next to him (L.A. Times 12/24/06)
• "I brag that before anybody knew who he was, I knew he had the gifts that have made him into the rock star he is — charm, intellect, hard worker, ability to relate," Dillard said. "I saw it all within the first couple of months when he came to the Legislature." (L.A. Times 12/24/06)
• "The biggest difference between then and now is he's been well-publicized," said state Sen. Terry Link. "A lot more people know him, but he's the same guy. I've spent a lot of quiet nights with him. This is not an act by any means. When we were in the state Senate together, you would get guys, real right-wingers, they would consider Barack a guy they wanted to work with." (L.A. Times 12/24/06 )
• He was a little off-putting at first -- that whole Harvard thing," says Rich Miller, a veteran observer of Illinois politics. "But the bottom line is pretty much everybody I know had a high opinion of him, Republican or Democrat. In this state it's hard for anyone to get along, and even though he was very liberal, he was able to pass a hell of a lot of bills." (Rolling Stone 2/7)
Two years (and counting) in the U.S. Senate.
• His legislation is often proposed with Republican co-sponsorship, which brings me to another point: he is bipartisan in a good way. According to me, bad bipartisanship is the kind practiced by Joe Lieberman. Bad bipartisans are so eager to establish credentials for moderation and reasonableness that they go out of their way to criticize their (supposed) ideological allies and praise their (supposed) opponents. They also compromise on principle, and when their opponents don't reciprocate, they compromise some more, until over time their positions become indistinguishable from those on the other side. This isn't what Obama does. Obama tries to find people, both Democrats and Republicans, who actually care about a particular issue enough to try to get the policy right, and then he works with them. This does not involve compromising on principle. It does, however, involve preferring getting legislation passed to having a spectacular battle. (This is especially true when one is in the minority party, especially in this Senate: the chances that Obama's bills will actually become law increase dramatically when he has Republican co-sponsors.) (Obsidian Wings 10/24/06)
• Old-school realist Richard Lugar, the five-term Republican senator from Indiana, has embraced new-school realist and rising star Barack Obama, the junior Democratic senator from Illinois. The relationship is admiring. "I very much feel like the novice and pupil," Obama has said of Lugar. And it's warm. Lugar praises Obama's "strong voice and creativity" and calls him "my good friend." In short, the two agree on much and seem to genuinely like each other. Rather unusual in hyper-partisan Washington, these days. (Washington Monthly 9/06)
• By most accounts, Obama and Lugar's working relationship began with nukes. On the campaign trail in 2004, Obama spoke passionately about the dangers of loose nukes and the legacy of the Nunn-Lugar nonproliferation program, a framework created by a 1991 law to provide the former Soviet republics assistance in securing and deactivating nuclear weapons. Lugar took note, as "nonproliferation" is about as common a campaign sound-bite for aspiring senators as "exchange-rate policy" or "export-import bank oversight." (Washington Monthly 9/06)
• "I am amazed by his sheer stamina," says Sen. Dick Lugar, a Republican from Indiana who has become something of a mentor to Obama. (Rolling Stone 2/7)
• "My comment is not meant to be unkind to mainstream Democrats," says Lugar, "but it seems to me that Barack is studying issues that are very important for the country and for the world."(Rolling Stone 2/7)
• The typical politician pushes himself on people to get them to pay attention," says Frank Luntz, the Republican campaign strategist. "Obama is quieter. He doesn't push -- he has a laid-back feel that pulls you in. That is so rare." (Rolling Stone 2/7)