Earl Ofari Hutchinson
President elect Barack Obama almost certainly knew that he'd take some heavy flack from gay rights and abortion rights groups for picking mega preacher Rick Warren to give his inaugural invocation. Warren backed the anti gay marriage Prop 8 in California to the hilt and rails against abortion. But Obama picked Warren for shrewd political and apparently heartfelt personal reasons. A tip of that came back in mid-August when he traipsed to Warren's Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California to talk to his evangelical flock.
At the time Warren reportedly had to arm twist some of his more recalcitrant members into accepting Obama's appearance. But accept they did. Or at least they didn't publicly grouse about it. But Obama also did his part to make the sell. He flatly said that he'd do more than any other presumed liberal Democrat had done in recent times to get an ear from evangelicals even if that meant breaking bread with preachers who were hardnosed opponents of gay rights and abortion.
The Wall Street Journal
As he organizes his presidency, Barack Obama continues to receive glowing reviews. Three out of four Americans approve of how he's handling his transition.
But organizing and operating the White House will be a much bigger challenge than he can possibly yet understand.
Consider national security. Mr. Obama's team has the advantage of inheriting procedures and structures that stretch back to President Harry Truman's 1947 reforms, which created the National Security Council. But there's historically been tension over the roles of the national security adviser and secretary of state. How that tension is resolved depends largely on the able National Security Adviser-designate, James Jones.
Editor's Note: The leading voice of the American conservative movement, Paul Weyrich, died this morning. Weyrich was the first leader of the Heritage Foundation. His commentary below.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/12/18/art.weyrich1218.hf.jpg caption="Conservative activist Paul Weyrich helped found the Heritage Foundation."]
Paul M. Weyrich
Free Congress Foundation Commentary
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It is the worst of times because millions of Americans are unemployed this Christmas. It is the worst of years because we have mortgaged the future of our children and grandchildren for decades to come. It is the worst of years because many good friends have left us. It is the best of times because we still live in the greatest nation on earth. It is the best of years because we have the freedom to speak our minds. It is the best of years because we can organize as we see fit to support the political candidates of our choice.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/12/18/art.gaspump.jpg caption="Gas prices are up 0.3 cents to $1.670 a gallon, but the national average is still well below where it was this summer."]
CNN Financial News Producer
The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell last week to 554,000. That’s a decline of 21,000 from the 26-year high of 575,000 claims the previous week. Another slight improvement was seen in the number of people who continue to receive jobless benefits, which declined to 4.38 million from 4.43 million the prior week. Claims climbed the most in Tennessee, up 12,170, due to layoffs in the manufacturing industry. Wisconsin saw jobless claims fall the most, by 8,593, due to fewer layoffs in the construction, manufacturing and service industries.
New rules to shield credit card holders from increases in interest rates on existing account balances are expected to be approved today by the Federal Reserve and other banking regulators. The changes - part of the most sweeping clampdown on the industry in decades - will allow credit card companies to raise interest rates only on new credit cards and future purchases or advances, rather than on current balances.
Chrysler is shutting down all vehicle production in the United States starting tomorrow for at least a month – a move that will affect some 46,000 workers. All 30 of the carmaker's plants will close after the last shift on Friday, and employees will not be asked to return to work before Jan. 19. Chrysler blamed the "continued lack of consumer credit for the American car buyer" for the slow-down in sales that forced the move. Chrysler is the last of the Big Three to suspend operations for January. Last week, General Motors said it was idling 30% of its North American manufacturing capacity during the first quarter of 2009. And Ford is adding a week to its normal two-week seasonal shutdown at a number of its plants.
FedEx - a company considered a barometer for the overall economy - says it’s instituting a hiring freeze and will cut salaries as part of a plan to reduce costs. Effective Jan. 1, FedEx CEO Frederick Smith will receive a 20% pay cut. Other senior execs will get 7.5%-10% cuts. And as a number of other companies have done in recent weeks, FedEx will also suspend company matching of 401(k) plan contributions.
The Washington Post
It's easy to get depressed reading the news out of Afghanistan. The insurgents are getting stronger, the United States is sending another 20,000 troops there - and yet even Defense Secretary Bob Gates admits that American soldiers aren't a long-term solution. So what to do?
In sorting out these policy dilemmas, it helps to talk to Afghans such as Saad and Jahid Mohseni, who are struggling with these problems every day. The two entrepreneurial brothers are running a media business in the war zone of Kabul and, far from giving up, they keep thinking of innovative ways to adapt and survive.
I first met the Mohseni brothers in April at the offices of their Moby Media Group in Kabul. We met again in Washington last week, and their comments convinced me that many U.S. policymakers are misdiagnosing the real danger in Afghanistan. What will destroy that country's experiment in democracy isn't the Taliban or other insurgent groups, but the lawlessness and corruption that have been allowed to fester under the government of President Hamid Karzai.
The core issue is bad governance. The biggest threat the Mohseni brothers face right now isn't insurgent attacks from Taliban fighters. It's kidnappings by the criminal gangs that are destroying normal life in Kabul. "The resurgence of the Taliban is a result of the public's hunger for law and order," Saad Mohseni told me.
Rice on the last eight years.
Rice's best and worst moments.
Letting loose: Rice on her daily routine and how she likes to relax.
Read a full transcript of the interview here.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/POLITICS/12/15/kennedy.senate/art.kennedy.gi.jpg caption="Caroline Kennedy would like to be considered for the New York Senate seat."]
The New York Times
Caroline Kennedy wants Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat. And New York is taking her seriously. We are talking about this matter a lot when we aren’t otherwise engaged in attempting to string up rogue investment advisers.
A free United States Senate seat is a very fine thing, especially since Gov. David Paterson does not seem to be expecting a holiday envelope from the lucky winner, unlike some governors we could mention. However, Paterson does want someone who could come up with around $50 million for a statewide campaign in 2010, and Kennedy has been supersuccessful at raising money for New York City’s public schools and other good causes. Although it’s important to note that asking for money to buy books for poor children is not quite the same thing as asking for money to buy 60-second TV commercials about how great you are.
It is a tribute to the raging mediocrity of New York politics that while many people have expressed reservations about giving the Senate job to an untested, hitherto publicity-shy political novice, their protests often wind up with: “Why pick Caroline Kennedy when we could have — um ...”
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/WORLD/americas/12/15/eco.obamaenergyteam/art.browner.afp.jpg caption="Carol Browner was one of four key environmental nominees named by Obama."]
Arthur B. Laffer
The Wall Street Journal
This week in Chicago, President-elect Barack Obama introduced key members of his new energy and environmental team and gave a statement expressing his administration's ambitious goal to make America energy independent. While his desire to do so is sincere, such a strategy would be disastrous for our economy.
The platitude of "energy independence" makes zero economic sense. Yes, it's true that many nations that supply us with oil are run by anti-American governments. But unfortunately embargoes don't overturn despotic regimes. More often than not they harden them, as in Zimbabwe, North Korea and Cuba. Since the U.S. is so reliant on oil, embargoes will hurt the U.S. as much, if not more, than the countries of OPEC. The issue of how to handle the anti-American nature of oil-exporting nations is not for the Commerce Department, but for the White House, the State Department and perhaps the Department of Defense.
The U.S. currently imports some 60% of the oil we use. To imagine an energy-independent U.S. today is to envision gas at $20 or more per gallon and a true depression. President Dwight D. Eisenhower tried oil import tariffs in the 1950s, as has every president since. Yet never before has America's reliance on foreign oil been greater than it is now.
While energy independence for the U.S. would enormously increase the price of oil at home, it would have the exact opposite effect in the rest of the world. Cheap oil for countries like China would surely not benefit the U.S. or the world's environment. Businesses that use oil would move offshore, costing American jobs while still polluting the world's environment. Artificial energy independence is neither a good foreign policy nor a good domestic economic policy.