Political Highlights December 6, 2010: Obama Attempts Bipartisanship with New Congressional Leaders & Tax Cuts Negotiations — Obama’s Surprise Visit to Afghanistan

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor / Features Editor at HNN. She has a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.


Pete Souza, 12/2/10

Speaking to newly-elected governors from around the country, the President discusses how not extending unemployment benefits will be a crushing blow not only to those hit hardest by the economy, but to the economy itself.


  • Palin gives over $500k to candidates, causes: Sarah Palin gave at least $507,000 to candidates and political causes in 2010 as she earned a reputation as kingmaker and raised her profile ahead of a possible presidential run. The biggest chunk of that money, about $306,500, was doled out in the month leading to the Nov. 2 general election by her political action committee, SarahPAC, filings with the Federal Election Commission show. Her latest filing Tuesday showed contributions of nearly $465,000 between Oct. 14 and Nov. 22. During that period, Palin gave $244,000 to conservative candidates, state Republican parties and ballot fights…. – AP, 11-30-10
  • WikiLeaks, Guardian UK
  • A Selection From the Cache of Diplomatic Dispatches: Below are a selection of the documents from a cache of a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables that WikiLeaks intends to make public starting on Nov. 28. A small number of names and passages in some of the cables have been removed by The New York Times to protect diplomats’ confidential sources, to keep from compromising American intelligence efforts or to protect the privacy of ordinary citizens…. – NYT
  • WikiLeaks embassy cables: the key points at a glance: There are no fewer than 251,287 cables from more than 250 US embassies around the world, obtained by WikiLeaks. We present a day-by-day guide to the revelations from the US embassy cables both from the Guardian and its international media partners in the story…. – Guardian UK
  • The WikiLeaks War Logs: On Oct. 22, Internet-based watchdog organization WikiLeaks posted 391,832 classified U.S. military documents on the war in Iraq, the largest such leak in history. As he did with the July release of 77,000 secret documents related to the war in Afghanistan, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange shared the documents with several newspapers — including the New York Times, the Guardian and Der Spiegel — in advance of making them public. Among the major revelations were many instances of the U.S. military deliberately ignoring detainee abuse by Iraqi allies and an increase of the civilian-casualty count by 15,000. The July Afghanistan papers consisted primarily of secret reports from troops in the field covering local intelligence and recounting clashes — including a number of missives that detailed civilian casualties at the hands of coalition forces. Another important (though not altogether surprising) revelation was that members of the U.S. military suspect what others have long assumed: that Pakistan’s military intelligence agency has secretly assisted the Afghan Taliban insurgency…. – Time


Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Obama greeted troops at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan with Gen. David H. Petraeus, right, on Friday.

  • Let’s Make a Deal: Obama Poised to Break Campaign Promise and Extend Tax Cuts In Exchange, Obama May Get Extension of Unemployment Benefits: The payback for the president: he will get an extension of unemployment benefits. “I think it’s pretty clear now taxes are not going up on anybody in the middle of this recession. We’re discussing how long we should maintain current tax rates,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said this morning on NBC’s Meet the Press. In exchange, McConnell said he could agree to an extension of jobless benefits as part of a tax cut package.
    “I think we will extend unemployment compensation,” he said. “We’ve had some very vigorous debates in the Senate. Not about whether to do it but whether to pay for it as opposed to adding it to the deficit. All of those discussions are still under way.” For Democrats, giving in on taxes to get unemployment benefits extended is a tough pill to swallow…. – ABC News, 12-5-10
  • Tax deal ‘recipe’ could mix in help for all Americans: Members of Congress said Sunday they are on track for a deal that would include a temporary extension of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts for all Americans. An extension of unemployment insurance — a demand of President Obama and many Democrats — would also be part of a potential agreement, lawmakers from both parties said on various talk shows.
    “Most folks believe that the recipe would include at least an extension of unemployment benefits … and an extension of all of the tax rates for all Americans for some period of time,” said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., who is involved in negotiations with the White House.
    Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who appeared with Kyl on CBS’ Face the Nation, said, “We’re moving in that direction,” though he opposes extending tax cuts for the wealthy because it would add $700 billion to the federal budget deficit over 10 years.
    Obama, meanwhile, said this weekend that he would be “rolling up my sleeves” to work with both parties on an agreement. “It will require some compromise, but I’m confident that we can get it done,” he said.
    Both sides are up against a tight deadline: The Bush tax cuts expire at the end of the year. Without an extension, Americans will be looking at a tax hike…. – USA Today, 12-5-10
  • Lawmakers upbeat on extension of tax cuts, unemployment benefits: Leaders from both parties see a compromise in the offing on renewing Bush-era tax cuts for all income levels and extending jobless aid.
    Top lawmakers predicted Sunday that a deal would be reached soon to renew the Bush-era tax cuts for all income levels and to extend unemployment benefits.
    “I’m optimistic we’ll be able to come together,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
    Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona, one of his party’s negotiators with the White House, said he was open to discussing making jobless aid, a Democratic priority, part of a bipartisan compromise that would extend the 2001 and 2003 tax rates for all Americans for some period of time, a GOP goal.
    “I think that most folks believe that the recipe would include at least an extension of unemployment benefits for those who are unemployed and an extension of all of the tax rates for all Americans for some period of time,” Kyl said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”…. – LAT, 12-5-10
  • Winfrey, McCartney in DC for Kennedy Center Honors: When The Beatles were storming America, Oprah Winfrey had the band’s poster on her bedroom wall, Merle Haggard was free from prison, Jerry Herman was making Broadway sing and Bill T. Jones was not yet a dancer but growing up in a migrant labor camp.
    On Sunday, these leading artists who followed divergent paths since the 1960s will join Paul McCartney to receive the Kennedy Center Honors. They’ll hear accolades from President Barack Obama and stars who will perform as part of the nation’s top prize for those who define U.S. culture through the arts.
    Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton hosted a dinner Saturday for the honorees, along with visiting celebrities, including Julia Roberts, Claire Danes, Steven Tyler from Aerosmith, and Gwen Stefani and her band, No Doubt. The guests also included veteran entertainers Carol Channing, Angela Lansbury and Sidney Poitier…. – AP, 12-5-10
  • Prop 8. gay marriage ban to be argued in federal appeals court: The long-running fight over gay marriage in California heads to a federal appeals court Monday. A panel of the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals must decide whether a federal judge was correct in ruling that the US Constitution protects the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry…. – CS Monitor, 12-5-10
  • Senate blocks extension of Bush-era tax cuts: The Senate on Saturday rejected two Democratic proposals to let tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans expire, a symbolic but bitter defeat that now forces the Democratic majority to compromise with Republicans or risk allowing tax breaks to lapse for virtually everyone at year’s end.
    Efforts quickly shifted to negotiations that would temporarily extend the Bush-era tax cuts for all Americans, an outcome that seemed increasingly likely. The pair of nearly party-line votes – one to preserve the tax cuts for only the first $250,000 of family income, and the other for the first $1 million of income – also represented a final stand for Democrats as the session winds down and political posturing gives way to pragmatic dealmaking.
    Congress has much to do before its self-imposed deadline of concluding the session by Dec. 17, including passing a funding resolution to keep the federal government operating into next year, renewing jobless benefits for millions of Americans and ratifying an arms treaty with Russia, a top priority for President Obama…. – WaPo, 12-4-10
  • Senate Rejects Obama’s Tax Plan, Setting Stage for Deal: The Senate on Saturday rejected President Obama’s proposal to extend the Bush-era tax breaks for all but the wealthiest taxpayers, a triumph for Republicans who have long called for continuing the income tax cuts for everyone. The Senate’s verdict set the stage for a possible deal in the coming days to extend the reduced tax rates even on high incomes temporarily, perhaps for up to two years. But with Senate Democrats and the White House badly splintered, and some lawmakers increasingly angry at the idea of sustaining President George W. Bush’s economic policies, the prospects of a compromise remain uncertain.
    If Congress does not act, the tax rates expire for everyone on Dec. 31, meaning an increase across the board. The rate in the lowest bracket would rise to 15 percent from 10 percent and in the highest bracket to 39.6 percent from 35 percent. The administration and Congressional leaders have been discussing a plan that would temporarily extend the income tax rates, and also include a one-year extension of jobless aid for the long-term unemployed, which has started to run out…. – NYT, 12-4-10
  • Biden turns up heat in U.S. tax debate: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden urged lawmakers on Saturday to extend middle-class tax cuts and aid for the jobless, fanning a political debate between Democrats and Republicans that is set to intensify next week. Biden, delivering the weekly White House radio and Internet address because President Barack Obama was flying home from Afghanistan, framed the issue as Democrats sticking up for the middle class while Republicans protected richer Americans.
    “I just don’t agree with the folks who’ve said we can’t afford a lifeline for Americans who lost their jobs during the worst recession in generations, but we can afford to borrow hundreds of billions of dollars to extend tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent,” he said…. – Reuters, 12-4-10
  • Military’s ‘Don’t Ask’ Testimony Won’t Be Final Word: It’s been an important week — but not a decisive one — in the debate over gays in the military. First, a Pentagon survey of troops found that more than two-thirds of them had little problem serving with gays and lesbians. Then, the secretary of Defense and the nation’s top military officer testified in favor of repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the law barring homosexuals from serving openly. But Friday, the top generals in the Marine Corps and Army told a Senate committee that they are not ready for change just yet…. – NPR, 12-4-10
  • Obama in Unannounced Afghan Visit: President Obama made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Friday as he sought to smooth over a troubled relationship with President Hamid Karzai and take stock of a nine-year-old American-led war that he hopes to begin winding down next summer. Mr. Obama arrived at Bagram Air Base after a secret overnight flight. Bad weather and high winds forced the White House to drop plans for Mr. Obama to fly by helicopter into Kabul to meet with Mr. Karzai, who has complained vocally about American military tactics in recent weeks. Technical difficulties then kept the two leaders from speaking by videoconference, officials said, but they later spoke by phone. Mr. Obama also consulted with his commanding general and visited American troops who are heading into another holiday season far from home. “As we begin this holiday season, there is no place I’d rather be than here with you,” Mr. Obama said, speaking to thousands of troops in a hangar at Bagram after awarding Purple Hearts to five injured service members. Many of those in the audience at the hangar were from the 101st Airborne Division — now on its fourth combat deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. “Thanks to your service, we are making important progress,” he said…. – NYT, 12-3-10
  • Bush tax cuts: why Democrats are planning two votes they know will fail: Senate Democrats are planning for two votes on the Bush tax cuts Saturday. But neither would extend all the Bush tax cuts, and Republicans have vowed to defeat any such proposals…. – CS Monitor, 12-3-10
  • US Stocks Edge Higher; Traders Hope Jobs Report Spurs Action: U.S. stocks closed higher Friday after a late rally erased the session’s wallowing over a disappointing jobs report. The Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 19.68 points, or 0.17%, to 11382.09 on Friday, extending its December rally to a third day. The measure climbed 2.6% this week, boosted by a dose of better-than-expected economic reports. The Nasdaq Composite gained 12.11, or 0.47%, to 2591.46, its highest close in nearly three years. The Standard ∓ Poor’s 500-stock index rose 3.18, or 0.26% to 1224.71. The market had lagged for much of the day Friday after the November jobs report … – Dow Jones, 12-3-10
  • Biden: Senate should extend middle class tax cuts: Vice President Joe Biden on Friday urged the Senate to extend tax cuts for middle-class Americans, following the example of a politically charged vote by the House of Representatives earlier this week. Biden addressed reporters at the White House during a meeting with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and budget director Jack Lew, who are leading talks with congressional leaders on a deal to extend Bush-era tax cuts that expire at the end of the year. He did not comment on the status of those talks…. – Reuters, 12-3-10
  • Biden: November Jobs Report ‘Disappointing’ Biden says jobs report is ‘disappointing,’ urges lawmakers to extend unemployment insurance: Vice President Joe Biden says a weak November jobs report is “disappointing” and a sign that the economic recovery is fragile. Biden says the uptick in the jobless rate to 9.8 percent means it is critical that Congress extend unemployment benefits before the end of the year. He also urged the Senate to follow the House in voting to continue tax cuts for the middle class. Biden spoke before being briefed by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and budget director Jacob Lew on the negotiations surrounding those tax cuts. A deal to extend the tax cuts for all taxpayers is starting to take shape, although it is not clear how quickly it might come together…. – ABC News, 12-3-10
  • Not so fast on ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ repeal, say top Pentagon brass: Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chair Adm. Mike Mullen have been strong backers of a repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ But the heads of the Army, Marines, and Air Force said Friday the repeal could cause problems and should be delayed…. – CS Monitor, 12-3-10
  • Obama visits Afghanistan to thank troops, rally support back home: President Obama’s visit to Afghanistan comes just as WikiLeaks cables are bringing fresh attention to grave problems on the war front. President Obama addressed US troops Friday on a surprise visit to Afghanistan to thank servicemen and women serving over the holidays and rally support for the war back home.
    “On behalf of more than 300 million Americans, we are here to say thank you for everything that you do,” Mr. Obama told a large gathering of uniformed troops at Bagram Airbase outside Kabul. He made note that nearly one year ago he ordered a surge of 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan: “We said we were going to break the Taliban’s momentum and that’s what you’re doing. You’re going on the offensive; [we are] tired of playing defense.” Obama emphasized that despite political divisions at home, the nation was united in support of the troops…. – CS Monitor, 12-3-10
  • GOP resolve dominates the agenda in Congress: Republicans’ confidence levels are so high that they are barreling over what might be considered standard political traps, assuming long-term risks along with their added clout now. LAT, 12-2-10
  • GOP resolve dominates the agenda in Congress: Republicans’ confidence levels are so high that they are barreling over what might be considered standard political traps, assuming long-term risks along with their added clout now…. – LAT, 12-2-10
  • U.S. House Passes Middle-Income Tax Cut Extension: The U.S. House passed a Democratic plan to extend Bush-era tax cuts for middle-income families over the objections of Republicans who say it would harm the economy by letting taxes go up on Jan. 1 for those with higher incomes. The vote was 234-188 for the measure, which would permanently extend lower rates and expanded tax credits on the first $200,000 of individuals’ income and the first $250,000 for married couples. Taxpayers with higher annual income would face increased taxes on wages, capital gains and dividends. Republicans say they plan to block the measure in the Senate.
    Republicans “are determined to take care of the rich,” said Representative Jim McDermott of Washington. “That political maneuvering by the Republicans brings uncertainty to the middle class when they really need certainty.” Republicans derided the vote as political theater, and House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio said it was “chicken crap.”… – Bloomberg, 12-2-10
  • House Votes Rare Censure of Rangel in Ethics Case: With his gaze steady and his hands clasped in front of him, Representative Charles B. Rangel stood silently on the floor of House of Representatives on Thursday afternoon as the House speaker read a formal resolution of censure rebuking him for an assortment of ethics violations said to have brought discredit to Congress. Representative Charles B. Rangel outside his office in the Rayburn House office building on Thursday. Despite impassioned last-minute pleas for mercy from Mr. Rangel and a half-dozen of his colleagues, the House voted 333-79 for censure, the sternest punishment it can administer short of expulsion. Moments after the vote, Mr. Rangel rose from his seat, walked to the well of the House, between the members and the speaker’s podium, where he stood alone as the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, seeming at times uncomfortable, read the one-paragraph resolution censuring him for 11 violations of Congressional ethics rules.
    Mr. Rangel asked for a minute to address his colleagues after the censure was read. “I know in my heart I am not going to be judged by this Congress,” he said. “I’ll be judged by my life in its entirety.” NYT, 12-2-10
  • With censure, Charles Rangel joins infamous list in history of Congress: Rep. Charles Rangel becomes the 23rd member of the House to be censured, Congress’s harshest punishment short of expulsion. The vote in favor of censure was 333 to 79….
    In a rare move, the House on Thursday voted, 333 to 79, to censure 15-term Rep. Charles Rangel (D) of New York for 11 ethics violations ranging from failure to disclose income to violating House gift bans. In a solemn moment, Mr. Rangel stood silently, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi, looking anguished, read out the 11-line censure resolution, the first delivered in this chamber in 27 years. Rangel became the 23rd congressman in the history of the House to be censured. The vote requires Rangel, former chair of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, to pay restitution for any unpaid estimated taxes on income from properties in the Dominican Republic and to provide proof of payment to the ethics panel…. – CS Monitor, 12-2-10
  • Reid “confident” Senate to consider START soon: Majority Leader Harry Reid expressed confidence on Thursday the U.S. Senate would debate the New START nuclear treaty with Russia this year, as he gave no sign of yielding to Republican pressure to scale back his agenda for the coming weeks. The treaty is one of President Barack Obama’s top priorities for the current Congress. Some leading Republicans have indicated a willingness to debate the treaty if Reid allowed ample time for discussion and first resolved outstanding tax and spending legislation. Reid is pushing Congress to do considerably more before it breaks for the holidays, including an immigration bill, legislation lifting the ban on gays serving openly in the military and ratifying New START. He also wants measures to fund the government and extend tax breaks due to expire soon.
    “I’m confident and hopeful that we can work our way through all these things. All those things are on my agenda,” Reid told reporters on Capitol Hill. “I think if we set our mind to it (START), we can get it done.”… – Reuters, 12-2-10
  • Geithner and lawmakers seek deal on Bush-era tax cuts: President Barack Obama’s top economic advisers sought to break a deadlock over taxes with congressional leaders on Wednesday, haggling over how to extend Bush-era rates while the country struggles with sky-high debt. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who is leading talks for the White House along with budget director Jack Lew, said congressional Republicans and Democrats held a “civil, constructive discussion,” but declined to give specifics. Obama expressed confidence a deal could be reached. “There are going to be ups and downs in this process but I’m confident that we’re going to be able to get it done,” he told reporters at the White House. Negotiators met again later in the day but emerged without a resolution. They were set to meet again on Thursday…. – Reuters, 12-1-10
  • Unemployment benefits: not until Bush tax cuts pass, Senate GOP says: Senate Republicans pledge not to take up any issues, including extending unemployment benefits, until the Bush tax cuts and federal spending bills are sorted out. The lame-duck Congress, mired in a partisan clash over taxes and spending and preoccupied with a battle over extending the Bush tax cuts, refused Wednesday to restore federal financing of extended unemployment benefits, which had lapsed overnight. The inaction means the imminent loss of unemployment compensation for some 800,000 out-of-work Americans, with nearly 2 million long-term unemployed expected to be affected by Jan. 1, according to the Labor Department. US Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, speaking Wednesday at a press conference organized by Democratic congressional leaders, said that by next spring, another 6 million unemployed workers will lose benefits if Congress does not act. “Millions of families are going to struggle to put food on the table or put gas in the gas tank,” she said…. – CS Monitor, 12-1-10
  • The secret life of Julian Assange: Julian Assange can be charming yet cagey about his private life and is rarely shaken by discussions of even the most controversial revelations on WikiLeaks. He grew up constantly on the move, the son of parents who were in the theater business in Australia. Now, Julian Assange, 39, finds himself on the move again, wanted in Sweden for alleged sex crimes and wanted by officials around the world for his website WikiLeaks’ publication of thousands of documents containing confidential information. If he has succeeded in creating a public firewall of sorts around himself, it is perhaps because he learned as a child to cope with solitude and exposed his mind to the machinery that would overtake his life. Assange has been described by his mother, Christine, as “highly intelligent.”… – CNN, 12-1-10
  • US embassy cables: US and Pakistan deny revelations of mutual mistrust: But security experts say leaks expose threat of terrorism that western governments have deliberately played down
    Pakistani and US officials presented a united front today against revelations in the WikiLeaks cables that portray a fragile relationship dogged by subterfuge, suspicion and worries over the safety of Pakistan’s expanding nuclear arsenal. The American ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, visited the prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, at his hilltop residence in Islamabad where the men played down the significance of the leaked dispatches. Gilani said Pakistan’s national interests “would not be compromised by such mischief in any manner”, while Munter said: “Working together, we will get past the WikiLeaks problems.” But outside Pakistan experts in nuclear counterproliferation said the leaked cables exposed a serious threat of nuclear terrorism that western governments have deliberately played down – until now…. – Guardian UK, 12-1-10
  • WikiLeaks disclosures highlight Russia as U.S. scrambles: The United States scrambled to contain the fallout from the slow-motion leak of cables from its embassies worldwide Wednesday as new documents showed American diplomats casting a jaundiced eye toward corruption’s grip on Russia. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton personally made “several dozen” calls to counterparts in other countries in an effort to mitigate the damage from WikiLeaks, a website that facilitates the anonymous leaking of secret information, a senior State Department official said. In a CNN interview Wednesday night, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley called WikiLeaks founder and editor-in-chief Julian Assange an “anarchist.” “He’s trying to undermine the collaboration, the cooperation, the system by which we engage with other governments, cooperate with other governments and solve regional challenges,” Crowley told CNN’s “John King USA.” But while Clinton is facing other world leaders, “trying to solve the world’s challenges,” Assange is in hiding, he said…. – m CNN, 12-1-10
  • Obama bans offshore oil drilling in Atlantic waters: In a policy reversal, President Obama’s administration announced Wednesday that it will not allow offshore oil drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico or off the Atlantic coast for at least seven more years. “The changes we’re making are based on the lessons we have learned,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told reporters, citing the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion that killed 11 workers and caused the release of an estimated 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf. He said drilling possibilities in the Arctic will proceed “with utmost caution.”… – USA Today, 12-1-10
  • No tax cut deal, as bipartisan meeting shows ‘sincere effort’: President Obama and congressional Republicans cast aside the sharp-tongued rhetoric of the fall campaign in their first post-election meeting on Tuesday, but they failed to breach an impasse over whether to extend tax cuts for top earners. The sides remained in opposition as a deadline looms: The George W. Bush-era cuts for all taxpayers will expire at the end of the year unless Congress and the White House act. Republicans want to extend the tax cuts for those at all income levels, arguing that’s the best way to boost the economy. Obama opposes extending the cuts to include taxable income for couples exceeding $250,000, saying the government can’t afford the $700 billion it would add to the nation’s debt over the next decade.
    OBAMA TO GOP: I haven’t reached out enough “Here we disagree,” Obama said at the end of the two-hour session. “I continue to believe that it would be unwise and unfair” to extend the tax cuts for those with higher incomes. Republicans sounded just as determined. “If President Obama and the Democratic leaders come up with a plan … to cut spending and stop all the tax hikes, they can expect a positive response from Republicans,” incoming House speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said after the meeting…. – USA Today, 11-30-10
  • Who will get Bush tax cuts? Congress can’t decide: Unable to agree on who should be eligible to continue to receive the Bush tax cuts, which expire Jan. 1, President Obama and congressional leaders decided to convene a panel Tuesday. President Obama and congressional leaders on Tuesday tasked a six-man panel with finding a compromise on extension of the Bush tax cuts. The president met with congressional leaders of both parties in a gathering Mr. Obama called “productive,” and Republican leaders called “frank.” There was no deal on the Bush-era tax cuts – which Republicans want to extend for all families and Obama wants to extend only for families making less than 250,000. But both sides committed to extending at least some of the Bush-era tax cuts before the 111th Congress winds down in December. Two Democrats and two Republicans – one each from the House and Senate – will join Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Jacob Lew, who directs the White House Office of Management and Budget, to “break the logjam,” Obama said…. – CS Monitor, 11-30-10
  • For Obama and GOP leaders, just meeting is a bipartisan accomplishment: President Obama met with GOP leaders at the White House Tuesday. The gathering appeared long enough for little else but pleasantries – though, in the current climate, that’s no small thing. The much anticipated White House meeting between President Obama and bipartisan congressional leaders has finally taken place. The president called it “productive.” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell called it “a useful and frank discussion.” Both Mr. Obama and likely new House speaker John Boehner (R) spoke of finding common ground. Over the hour, there seemed to be enough time just to air the various topics of concern, starting with the soon-to- expire Bush-era tax cuts and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia that Obama wants ratified before Congress adjourns…. – CS Monitor, 11-30-10
  • ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ report: Little risk to allowing gays to serve openly: The Pentagon’s long-awaited report on gays in the military concludes that repealing the 17-year-old “don’t ask, don’t tell” law would present only a low risk to the armed forces’ ability to carry out their mission and that 70 percent of service members believe it would have little or no effect on their units, according to sources briefed on the report’s findings. An extensive Pentagon report about the armed forces’ attitudes toward gays in the military gives a boost to the stalled push by President Obama to repeal the 17-year-old “don’t ask, don’t tell” law, undercutting arguments by Republicans and others that such a change would unduly strain the armed forces…. – WaPo, 11-30-10
  • Before Business Leaders, Bernanke Discusses Unemployment’s Toll on Americans: The Federal Reserve chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, found some respite on Tuesday from the second-guessing the central bank has faced since it announced a $600 billion effort to stimulate the slow recovery. During a 75-minute discussion here with five business leaders, including the chief executives of I.B.M. and Ford Motor, inflation and monetary policy were not even mentioned, much less debated. Mr. Bernanke did, however, emphasize the toll high unemployment was taking on families and on the share of the unemployed — more than 40 percent — who have been jobless for at least six months. “At the pace of growth that we’re seeing now, we’re not growing fast enough to materially reduce the unemployment rate,” he said. The economy needs to grow at an annualized rate of 2 to 2.5 percent just to accommodate new workers coming into the labor force, he said. Mr. Bernanke has made this point repeatedly this year…. – NYT, 11-30-10
  • WikiLeaks ‘attack’: How damaging to US foreign relations?: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemns the WikiLeaks ‘attack on the international community’ as harmful to US policy goals. But major geopolitical shifts are unlikely, analysts say. The US intensified its efforts at damage control on Monday following the publication by WikiLeaks of more than a quarter-million diplomatic cables, with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton calling the massive release not just a problem for American foreign policy but “an attack on the international community.” In a statement to journalists in the State Department’s Treaty Room before she was to leave on a four-country trip through Central Asia and the Persian Gulf, Secretary Clinton said that both the furthering of US national interests and the operation of the world’s international political system depend on thousands of confidential exchanges, assessments, and conversations every day…. – CS Monitor, 11-29-10
  • Federal Pay Freeze Planned Obama Proposes Two-Year Raise Pause in Bid to Seize Agenda in Deficit Talks: President Barack Obama on Monday proposed a two-year salary freeze for all federal civilian employees, signaling an apparent willingness to reach toward Republicans ahead of negotiations on deficit-cutting that are likely to dominate Washington next year. The freeze, which would require congressional approval, would affect about two million workers in 2011 and 2012 and save just $5 billion, a tiny fraction of the current $1.3 trillion annual budget deficit. The GOP has called for much bigger reductions in federal spending and has specifically targeted the federal work force. But the gesture could have broader political ramifications. It was seen by members of both parties as a sign that Mr. Obama, in the wake of what he called his electoral “shellacking,” might be willing to tack away from his liberal base in search of compromise with Republicans. “Going forward, we’re going to have to make some additional very tough decisions that this town has put off for a very long time,” Mr. Obama said. “And that’s what this upcoming week is really about. My hope is that, starting today, we can begin a bipartisan conversation about our future.”… – WSJ, 11-29-10


  • Incoming GOP freshmen rapidly embracing big-money fundraisers The Republicans have taken the House. Now, meet the new lawmakers: After winning election with an anti-Washington battle cry, Canseco and other incoming Republican freshmen have rapidly embraced the capital’s culture of big-money fundraisers, according to new campaign-finance reports and other records.
    Dozens of freshmen lawmakers have held receptions at Capitol Hill bistros and corporate townhouses in recent weeks, taking money from K Street lobbyists and other powerbrokers within days of their victories. Newly elected House members have raised at least $2 million since the election, according to preliminary Federal Election Commission records filed last week, and many more contributions have yet to be tallied.
    The aggressive fundraising efforts underscore the financial pressures facing new members of Congress even before they take their seats. The contributions also represent a symbolic challenge for the Republican class of 2010, many of whom gained office by running against the ways of official Washington and monied interests…. – WaPo, 12-5-10
  • State Lawmakers Bolt Democratic Party After Election Day: Adding insult to injury for their party, at least 13 Democratic state lawmakers have joined the Republican ranks since Election Day — deepening GOP gains and in one case handing the party the state House majority. Democrats in five states have switched parties since Nov. 2, citing concerns about the economy and the political leanings of their constituents. The defections are a troubling sign for state Democratic operations clinging to life following their election drubbing. Though Republicans’ congressional gains drew more attention, the party picked up more than 675 seats at the state level last month and in some cases took over entire state capitals…. – Fox News, 12-3-10
  • Republican Kirk formally takes over Obama seat: President Barack Obama’s old Senate seat formally came under control of his Republican adversaries on Monday, as former Representative Mark Kirk was sworn in as junior senator from Illinois. Kirk replaced Democratic Senator Roland Burris, who had been serving out the remainder of Obama’s term, and brought the number of Republicans in the Senate to 42, strengthening their ability to block the president’s agenda. Kirk, 51, is an intelligence officer in the US Naval Reserve and has been a voice in the US Congress for confronting Iran over its suspect nuclear program and for robust engagement with China…. – AFP, 11-29-10
  • Democrats to Test Republican Mettle With Tax-Cut Vote This Week: Congressional Democrats are ready to test Republican resolve on taxes this week by hastening votes on their proposal to extend middle-class tax cuts. U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will schedule a vote this week on legislation that would retain lower tax rates and increased credits that apply to the first $250,000 of a married couple’s gross income or $200,000 for a single person, said her assistant, Maryland Democrat Chris Van Hollen. The Senate will vote “by next week” on Democrats’ proposal to extend middle-income tax cuts, Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus told reporters yesterday. “There should be an early vote on middle-income tax cuts” before the Senate considers alternatives on Bush-era tax cuts set to expire on Dec. 31, said Baucus, a Montana Democrat. The vote’s timing will depend on the rest of the Senate’s agenda, he said…. – Business Week, 11-29-10

ELECTIONS 2010, 2012….

  • Sen. Murray agrees to lead Democratic fundraising for 2012 election: Sen. Patty Murray will once again spearhead the tough job of raising millions of dollars for Democrats for the 2012 general election. Girding for a tough fight to preserve their shrunken majority, U.S. Senate Democrats finally persuaded Sen. Patty Murray to once again spearhead the grunt work of raising millions of dollars for the 2012 general elections. In naming Murray as the chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada tapped an experienced — albeit reluctant — fundraiser who helped rake in $158 million for Democratic candidates a decade ago…. –
  • Pence says he hasn’t decided on White House bid: The third-ranking Republican in the U.S. House says he’ll decide after Jan. 1 whether to run for president. Indiana Rep. Mike Pence said Monday he and his family are “determined to take the next few months and pray about” a possible White House run. Pence won a sixth congressional term this month and then announced he would step down from his position as the House Republican conference chairman. The decision sparked talk that Pence might run for higher office…. – AP, 11-29-10


The President holds a bipartisan meeting

White House Photo, Pete Souza, 11/30/10

The President expresses optimism on working across the aisle after a meeting with bipartisan Congressional leaders on issues ranging from tax cuts to unemployment benefits to the New START treaty with Russia.

  • Weekly Address: Vice President Biden Calls on Congress to Preserve the Middle Class Tax Cuts and to Extend Unemployment Insurance This Year
    Remarks of Vice President Joe Biden As Prepared for Delivery Weekly Address December 4, 2010:

    Hi, this is Joe Biden. I’m filling in for President Obama this weekend because he’s on his way back from Afghanistan, where he was spending some time with the brave men and women of our Armed Forces.
    …One: we’ve got to extend the tax cuts for the middle class that are set to expire at the end of the month. If we don’t, millions of middle-class families will see a big bite out of their paychecks starting January 1. And that’s the last thing we should let happen. After a decade in which they lost ground, middle class families can ill-afford a tax hike – and our economy can’t afford the hit it will take if middle class families have less money to spend.
    And the second thing we’ve got to do is extend unemployment insurance for Americans who have lost their jobs in a tough economy. Without unemployment benefits, families can’t spend on basic necessities that are grown, made, and sold by other Americans.
    Together, the economic hit caused by raising taxes on the middle class, and denying two million Americans unemployment insurance, will wind up costing us hundreds of thousands of more jobs. It just isn’t smart.
    And, cutting unemployment insurance is not only not smart, it’s not right either. It would mean telling millions of our neighbors who are out of work today through no fault of their own, that they’re on their own.
    That’s no message to send in the season of hope. We all know someone who’s hit a rough patch. When that happens in America, we help him get back up on his feet. That’s who we are. That’s the American way.
    So I just don’t agree with the folks who’ve said we can’t afford a lifeline for Americans who lost their jobs during the worst recession in generations, but we can afford to borrow hundreds of billions of dollars to extend tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent of Americans. That’s bad economic policy, and it’s also just simply wrong.
    Congress must extend these needed unemployment benefits before it goes home for the year. And it must bolster economic growth by preserving tax cuts for our middle class. I’m glad that the House of Representatives voted to do that this week, and I call on the United States Senate to do the same.
    Look, there’s no doubt these are tough times. But we are slowly but surely fighting our way back, moving forward. And we’re going to keep fighting – to grow this economy, to strengthen our middle class, and to restore the American Dream. That’s my pledge to you.
    And hey, one last thing – since the President will be back to record this message next week, let me take this chance to say from my family to yours: Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, have a great Holiday season and an even better New Year. –
    WH, 12-4-10
  • Harry Reid rips John McCain over ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’: The majority leader likened McCain and other Republicans to the Peanuts cartoon character Lucy, who continues to pull the football away at the last second as Charlie Brown runs to kick it.
    “First, Sen. McCain said he would seriously consider repealing it if the military leadership thought we should, and [when] the military leadership said it should be repealed, he pulled away the football. Then Sen. McCain said he would need to see a study from the Pentagon. When the Pentagon produced the study saying repeal would have no negative effect at all, he pulled away the football again,” Reid said.
    “And his latest trick, he said yesterday that he opposed repealing ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ a proposal that would be a great stride forward for both equality and military readiness … because of the economy,” Reid added. “I repeat, the senior senator from Arizona said he couldn’t support repealing ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ because of the economy. “I have no idea what he’s talking about and no one else does either,” Reid said.
    McCain spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan responded in an e-mail: “Perhaps someone should inform the majority leader the election is over.”… – Politico, 12-4-10
  • A Surprise Visit to the Troops in Afghanistan: Remarks by the President to the Troops at Bagram Air Base:
    So on behalf of me, on behalf of Michelle, on behalf of Malia and Sasha, on behalf of more than 300 million Americans, we are here to say thank you. (Hooah!) We are here to say thank you for everything that you do.
    Now, I also want to say thank you to your families back home so that when you talk to them you know that they know. (Applause.) They’re serving here with you — in mind and spirit, if not in body.
    Millions of Americans give thanks this holiday season just as generations have before when they think about our armed services. You’re part of an unbroken line of Americans who have given up your comfort, your ease, your convenience for America’s security. — WH, 12-3-10Remarks
  • Text: Obama’s Remarks at Bagram Air Force Base: Following is the transcript of President Obama’s remarks to troops at Bagram Air Force Base on Friday, as released by the White House…. – NYT, 12-3-10
  • ‘Don’t ask’ repeal could hurt war effort, generals warn: “I cannot reconcile, nor turn my back, on the negative perceptions held by our Marines who are most engaged in the hard work of day-to-day operations in Afghanistan,” Marine commandant Gen. James Amos said, citing a Pentagon survey that found 58 percent of Marines and 48 percent of Army respondents think lifting the ban would have negative consequences. “Successfully integrating gays and lesbians into small Marine combat units has strong potential for disruption and will no doubt divert leadership attention away from an almost singular focus of preparing units for combat,” Amos said.
    Gen. George W. Casey, the chief of staff of the Army, and Gen. Norman Schwarz, Air Force chief of staff, agreed. “Implementation of the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ would be a major cultural and policy change in the middle of a war,” Casey said. “It would be implemented by a force and leaders that are already stretched by the cumulative impacts of almost a decade at war.”
    Said Schwartz, “It is difficult for me, as a member of the Joint Chiefs, to recommend placing any additional discretionary demands on our leadership cadres in Afghanistan at this particularly challenging time.” He recommended that any change not take effect until 2012.
    “I will not agree to have this bill go forward, and neither will, I believe, 41 of my colleagues, either, because our economy is in the tank,” said Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee and the leading opponent of an immediate repeal. “Our economy is in the tank, and the American people want that issue addressed. … So to somehow believe that this is some kind of compelling issue at a time we’re in two wars … is obviously not something that we shouldn’t be exercising a rush to judgment.”
    Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said he wonders if service members will ever be ready to accept openly gay colleagues. “I can’t imagine that that situation is going to be that different in 2012 for that Marine lieutenant or in 2013,” Wicker said. “I wonder if 2012 or 2013 is going to make that lieutenant or that type of lieutenant feel better about it.”
    Of special concern, said Adm. Gary Roughhead, the chief of naval operations, were the 24 percent of sailors who told Pentagon surveyors they were worried about sleeping and showering facilities aboard ships and submarines. “I believe these concerns can be effectively mitigated through leadership, effective communications, training and education, and clear and concise standards of conduct,” he said….. – Miami Herald, 12-3-10
  • Palin Accuses Media of Double Standard in Playing Up Korean Gaffe: Even on Thanksgiving Day, Sarah Palin found time to lash out at her political foes — in this case the media for blowing out of proportion her gaffe on the Korean crisis. In a Facebook posting, the combative Palin addressed a Thanksgiving message to “57 states” — mocking a mistake President Obama made in his 2008 campaign as a way of arguing that the news uses a double standard. “If you can’t remember hearing about them [Obama slip-ups), that’s because for the most part the media didn’t consider them newsworthy,” she wrote, according to ABC News. “I have no complaint about that. Everybody makes the occasional verbal gaffe — even news anchors.” Palin drew ridicule earlier this week when she said in a radio interview with Glenn Beck, “We gotta stand with our North Korean allies” during a discussion about the deadly attack by the North on a South Korean island. Beck quickly corrected her and she replied, “We’re bound by prudence to stand with our South Korean allies, yes.” Roughly 24 hours after reports of the incident, Palin was criticizing the Obama team’s response to the attack. “We’re not having a lot of faith that the White House is going to come out with a strong enough policy to sanction what it is that North Korea is going to do.” Of the media reports that followed her little mix-up, she said, “Obviously, I would have been even more impressed if the media showed some consistency on this issue. Unfortunately, it seems they couldn’t resist the temptation to turn a simple one word slip-of-the-tongue of mine into a major political headline.” And for her part, Palin couldn’t resist firing back…. – Politics Daily, 11-30-10
  • CNN Regrets Not Asking John McCain A Follow-Up Question: So, over the weekend, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) went on CNN’s “State Of The Union”, where he talked about the need for “regime change” in North Korea. John McCain is always doing things like this! During the 2008 campaign, he wanted to bomb Iran, liberate the teensy region of South Ossetia from the Russians, and was even angry at Spain for some reason. And one often wonders, “Where, exactly, are we going to get the troops and/or money to do these things? Or is the hope that somehow, the Green Lantern Corps will kit out McCain with a power ring?”
    In the case of North Korea, if you dial back the interview, you’ll see that in this instance, McCain puts the onus for changing the regime in Pyongyang on China. “They could bring the North Korean economy to its knees if they wanted to,” said McCain, who went on to muse, “And I cannot believe that the Chinese should, in a mature fashion, not find it in their interest to restrain North Korea. So far, they are not.”
    But if not China, where does this leave this dream of regime change in North Korea? As you might expect, CNN had to “leave it there.” And that sets up my favorite read out of the CNN-McCain tete-a-tete, courtesy of Evan McMorris- Santoro:
    Though [State Of The Union host Candy] Crowley moved the interview ahead to Afghanistan shortly after McCain’s “regime change” comments, in a CNN post-mortem webcast after the show she and State Of The Union producer Tom Bettag seemed to scratch their heads over just what it was McCain meant when he said “regime change” during the show.
    “That’s why you always want an hour and half with these guys,” Crowley said. “‘Cuz you want to say, ‘And, so, how would we go about doing that?'”…. – Huff Post, 11-29-10


President Obama and General Colin Powell

White House Photo, Pete Souza, 12/1/10
  • Melissa Harris-Perry: The Misunderestimation of Sarah Palin: ….Whatever her failings, Palin has successfully harnessed new media forms to engage and direct emotional reactions in ways that are surprisingly effective. Using Twitter, Facebook, corporate-news punditry, readable memoirs and reality television, Palin has managed to subvert traditional media. Rather than pay for advertising, she is getting paid to advertise her politics. Rather than wait for kingmakers to declare her a contender, she smirks while predicting her victories. Her reality show is a pinnacle of this new media-saturation strategy. The show’s producer, Mark Burnett of Survivor and The Apprentice, pioneered the infiltration of reality shows into network lineups. His ingenious use of product integration exploded the profitability and desirability of reality television. While highbrow critics mocked the lame, melodramatic obviousness of reality TV, the genre revolutionized American entertainment. Sarah Palin’s Alaska is the ultimate test of this form. Will product placement of a candidate prove to be the flattest, fastest, newest route to the American presidency?… – The Nation, 12-13-10
  • Ed Rollins: Palin, I knew Reagan. You’re no Reagan: And speaking of Obama and the election two years from now, Sarah Palin now says she thinks she can beat him.
    Maybe she can, but 2012 is a long way off, and there is a nominating process that is intense — and it takes more than selling a few hundred books in Iowa to win it. Several other serious political players think they can beat her and will wage full-scale political war against her if she tries. On November 4, I wrote a column under the headline: “Don’t underestimate Palin for 2012 run” (I write the columns, not the headlines). It was not a pro- or anti-Palin article but an analysis of the potential candidates for the Republican nomination in 2012. If I were to title this one, it would be “Sarah, don’t overestimate your chances!” And quit comparing yourself to Ronald Reagan. To paraphrase the late Sen. Lloyd Bentsen’s comments to Dan Quayle in the 1988 vice presidential debate: I knew Ronald Reagan, and you’re no Ronald Reagan…. – CNN, 12-1-10

JBuzz: Hanukkah Special, Party at the Obama White House



By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor of JBuzz. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Judaic Studies at Concordia University.

Menorah Lighting

Ben Retik lights the Menorah as President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and First Lady Michelle Obama take part in the Hanukkah Candle Lighting ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Dec. 2, 2010 (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)



  • The first night of Chanukah at the National Menorah Washington, DCLubavitch.com
  • The Festival of Lights: Hanukkah Stories From Across the Nation – PBS Newshour, 12-3-10


  • White House hosts Hanukkah party: President Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden hosted a party Thursday marking the second day of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. Obama offered condolences to those who have died in a forest fire in northern Israel before recounting the story of the Maccabees fighting in the Temple in Jersualem watching a day’s worth of oil burn for eight.
    “That miracle gave hope to all those who had been struggling in despair,” Obama said. “As the Talmud teaches us, so long as a person has life, he should not abandon faith.”
    Among those attending was Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew, who replied, “we’re still talking,” when asked about the status of tax-cut legislation. When asked what night of Hanukkah a deal would be reached, Lew replied: “Aren’t we lucky to have a whole week?”
    The party featured a menorah from Congregation Beth Israel in New Orleans, which was found caked in dirt and mold after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Obama said. Its candles were lit by Susan Retik, whose husband died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and her family…. – Politico, 12-3-10
  • President Obama’s Hanukkah Celebration: The President and First Lady hosted a little gathering Thursday night in the East Room to celebrate Hanukkah. Included on the list of 500 guests, one-third of the Supreme Court justices- Breyer, Ginsburg, and Kagan. Several Jewish members of Congress and other elected officials and members of the military were there too. The menorah for the event was loaned to the White House by New Orleans’s Congregation Beth Israel. It was one of very few items to survive Hurricane Katrina. It was found by cleanup crews in horrible condition but was restored and re-lit for the first time three years ago…. – CNN, 12-3-10
  • Menorah retrieved from Hurricane Katrina muck in Lakeview is part of White House Hanukkah celebration: Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of Jewish survival, and on Thursday, President Barack Obama and some 500 notables, mostly Jewish, celebrated the second of the holiday’s eight nights by lighting a menorah fished from the muck of Congregation Beth Israel’s flooded synagogue in Lakeview after Hurricane Katrina.
    Describing the Hanukkah candles as tiny reminders of “the importance of faith and perseverance,” the president told the festive assemblage in the East Room that “the menorah we’re using tonight, and the family who is going to help us light it, both stand as powerful symbols of that faith.” “This beautiful menorah has been generously loaned to us by Congregation Beth Israel in New Orleans,” Obama said. “Five years ago, when Hurricane Katrina hit, the synagogue was covered in eight feet of water. Later, as the cleanup crew dug through the rubble, they discovered this menorah, caked in dirt and mold. And today it stands as a reminder of the tragedy and a source of inspiration for the future.”… – The candles were lit by Susan Retik and her family…. – Times-Picayune, 12-2-10
  • White House Hanukkah ceremony features menorah salvaged from Lakeview: President Barack Obama and dozens of guests tonight will celebrate the second night of Hanukkah by lighting a menorah fished from the muck of Congregation Beth Israel’s flooded synagogue in Lakeview. But for a few bits of ornamental silver that once decorated its ruined Torahs, the blackened menorah was the only sacred object in ritual use the congregation was able to save, said Rabbi Uri Topolosky, who will attend the ceremony with his wife, Dahlia.
    At Beth Israel, the restored menorah has become precious — the sign of their own ordeal and recovery, Topolosky said. The congregation also saved a display menorah, now at the Presbytere, Topolosky said. But the 53-year-old restored menorah at the White House — technically, it is a nine-branched “hanukiah” — is the one the congregation uses to commemorate ancient Jews’ recovery and reconsecration of their temple in Jerusalem…. – NOLA, 12-2-10
  • Gov. Schwarzenegger Joins Chanukah Celebration at Capitol Menorah Lighting Ceremony: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and local leaders of the Jewish community today joined Chabad of Sacramento to celebrate Chanukah at the 17th Annual Capitol Menorah Lighting Ceremony.
    “The message of Chanukah is ‘light’ and is about optimism and hope, even in the face of darkness and crisis. That is especially meaningful to me because I am a big believer in the spirit of optimism and hope,” said Governor Schwarzenegger. “We all know there is darkness in the world, especially in these challenging times, but one tiny candle can light a room, and one act of kindness can change a life. It is so important that we reach out and help each other through these tough times.”
    This year, guests at the Capitol Menorah Lighting Ceremony participated in a “reverse toy drive.” The Governor joined West Coast Chabad Director Rabbi Shlomo Cunin in passing the gifts out for the toy drive during today’s ceremony. Chabad has asked guests of the ceremony to present these gifts to children in need…. – Lubavitch, 12-3-10


  • President Obama Hosts A Hanukkah Celebration at the White House: Remarks by the President at a Hanukkah Reception:
    Now, tonight, we gather to celebrate a story as simple as it is timeless. It’s a story of ancient Israel, suffering under the yoke of empire, where Jews were forbidden to practice their religion openly, and the Holy Temple — including the holy of holies — had been desecrated.
    It was then that a small band of believers, led by Judah Maccabee, rose up to take back their city and free their people. And when the Maccabees entered the temple, the oil that should have lasted for a single night ended up burning for eight.
    That miracle gave hope to all those who had been struggling in despair. And in the 2,000 years since, in every corner of the world, the tiny candles of Hanukkah have reminded us of the importance of faith and perseverance. They have illuminated a path for us when the way forward was shrouded in darkness.
    And as we prepare to light another candle on the menorah, let us remember the sacrifices that others have made so that we may all be free. Let us pray for the members of our military who guard that freedom every day, and who may be spending this holiday far away from home.
    Let us also think of those for whom these candles represent not just a triumph of the past, but also hope for the future — the men, women and children of all faiths who still suffer under tyranny and oppression.
    That’s why families everywhere are taught to place the menorah in public view, so the entire world can see its light. Because, as the Talmud teaches us, “So long as a person still has life, they should never abandon faith.”
    This beautiful menorah has been generously loaned to us by Congregation Beth Israel in New Orleans. Five years ago, when Hurricane Katrina hit, the synagogue was covered in eight feet of water. Later, as the cleanup crew dug through the rubble, they discovered this menorah, caked in dirt and mold. And today it stands as a reminder of the tragedy and a source of inspiration for the future.
    And that feeling is shared by Susan Retik. It’s a feeling they know all too well. After her husband, David, was killed on September 11th, Susan could have easily lost herself in feelings of hopelessness and grief. But instead, she turned her personal loss into a humanitarian mission — co-founding “Beyond the 11th,” a group that reaches out to Afghan widows facing their own struggles.
    So on this second night of Hanukkah, let us give thanks to the blessings that all of us enjoy. Let us be mindful of those who need our prayers. And let us draw strength from the words of a great philosopher, who said that a miracle is “a confirmation of what is possible.” –
    WH, 12-2-10WH, 12-2-10


  • Gil Troy: This Hanukka let’s celebrate Liberalism and Zionism: Let’s face it. Although Hanukka’s basic plot has not changed for 2,000 years, the Hanukka we know and love is a twentieth-century invention. Hanukka’s themes of heroism and power, both physical and spiritual, were Zionist ideas; traditionally, the Rabbis thanked God for the eight-day oil miracle. When the Zionist revolution reevaluated Judaism a century ago, the Maccabees’ story proved that Jewish history was not just about anti-Semites oppressing us and rabbis teaching us but our own warriors defending us. The Maccabees were hometown heroes, rooted in Israel’s ancient soil, willing to fight, if necessary, for their homeland, their beliefs, their freedom. At the same time, our festival of lights became our popular response to the seasonal malady of Christmas envy. Boasting eight nights, meaning eight gift-giving opportunities, Hanukka helped Jews trump their Christian neighbors.
    Considering that pedigree, this Hanukka we should celebrate the happy marriage of liberalism and Zionism. We can fight the trendy claim that liberalism and Zionism are increasingly incompatible without doing violence to the Maccabean story. Emphasizing a liberal-Zionist rift, in a world fighting the dark clouds of Islamic totalitarianism, ignores the shared enlightenment past of both Zionism and liberalism, as well as the light liberal Zionism can generate today….
    There is yet another added bonus that can result from rededicating our commitment to both liberalism and Zionism this Hanukka. Both modern liberalism and modern Zionism struggle with the tension between materialism and altruism, the selfishness of the “I” and the self-sacrifice of the “us,” the desire to take and the need to give. As Hanukka, like its seasonal partner Christmas, has degenerated into what the historian Daniel Boorstin called “festivals of consumption,” the question “what did you get” has eclipsed the more important holiday questions “what does this mean?” and “did you grow?”
    Traditionally, during Hanukka Jewish communities rededicated themselves to Jewish education. In that spirit, parents gave children “gelt” or coins to sweeten the experience of Torah study. In the early 1900s, many Jews used Hanukka as an opportunity to donate the modern equivalent of the “shekel,” the Biblical coin representing the power of responsibility, the importance of being counted, to the Zionist cause. This Hanukka let’s remember the best of both the liberal and Zionist traditions. This Hanukka, let’s look for opportunities to give not just get. This Hanukka, by doing that, we can redeem not just these two noble movements, but ourselves. – Jerusalem Post, 12-3-10
  • HOWARD JACOBSON: Hanukkah, Rekindled: TONIGHT, Hanukkah begins. The word — Hanukkah — is lovely, but what’s the festival itself for? What does it do? But Hanukkah?
    Everyone knows the bare bones of the story. At Hanukkah we celebrate the Maccabees, also known as the Hasmoneans, who defeated the might of the Syrian-Greek army in 165 B.C., recapturing the desecrated Temple and reconsecrating it with oil that ought to have run out in a day but lasted eight. Indeed, Hanukkah means “consecration,” and when we light those candles we are remembering the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.
    But how many Jews truly feel this narrative as their own? I’m not asking for contemporary relevance. History is history: whatever happens to a people is important to them. But Hanukkah — at least the way it’s told — struggles to find a path to Jewish hearts.
    Those Hasmoneans, for example …. The Maccabees are fair enough: they sound Jewish. Scottish Jewish but still Jewish. There was a sports and social club called the Maccabi round the corner from where I was brought up in North Manchester, and as a boy I imagined the Maccabees as stocky, short-legged, hairy men like the all-conquering Maccabi table tennis team. But “Hasmoneans” rang and rings no bells.
    Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that Hanukkah doesn’t draw on events described in the Hebrew Bible. The Book of Maccabees, from which the story comes, is in the Apocrypha, the non-canonical, more esoteric books of sacred scripture. There’s a reason it never made it out of there: I won’t say it’s spurious, but it doesn’t quite feel authentic…. – NYT, 12-1-10
  • Latke vs. Hamantaschen: An Age-Old Debate: It’s a debate that’s spanned the centuries – at least about half of one – and brought professors, writers and philosophers to the table to argue their cases on one of the most essential questions in modern scholarly discourse. Which one is better: the latke or the hamantaschen?
    The famed latke-hamantash debate first launched at the University of Chicago in 1946, and since then it’s been argued at such esteemed academic institutions as Harvard, MIT and Johns Hopkins. First conceived as a way to shore up a sense of Jewish community, nowadays the debate is as a way for scholars to blow off some steam, poke fun at academia and support their favorite potato- or flour-based foodstuff…. – Patch.com, 12-3-10
  • Hanukkah in public spaces: Although many people have come to identify public menorahs with Hanukkah itself, a recently published book argues that the holiday’s celebration today has been largely defined by just one slice of the Jewish population.
    “Whatever people associate with Hanukkah in the public space is Chabad,” says Maya Balakirsky Katz, associate professor of art history at Touro College in New York and author of The Visual Culture of Chabad. “In the last few decades, Chabad has provided the public image of Hanukkah in America, possibly in the world.” According to Katz, many Jews balk at Chabad’s conspicuous display of religion in the diaspora and consider it “embarrassing, if not also dangerous.” “They pushed religion into the public space and presented it as the Jewish image,” Katz says. “Before Jews even had a chance to react, it became the Jewish holiday image. I think the only people really invested in challenging Chabad’s right to light are other Jews.”
    “Chabad emissaries take comparisons between their giant menorahs and Christmas trees in stride,” Katz says. “Comparisons between their menorahs and the Israeli national symbol make them more nervous.” Katz’s book devotes an entire chapter to the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s decision to promote menorahs with diagonal branches in sharp contrast to the arced, half-moon branches of the menorah on the Israeli national emblem. The Rebbe claimed his inspiration was an argument by the medieval theologian and physician Maimonides that the original Temple menorah had diagonal branches.
    “For Houston Jews and Jews everywhere, I think the Rebbe initiated a rebirth to diasporist culture; you can proudly be a diaspora Jew and have a whole other material culture that’s not only connected to Israel,” Katz says. “That is definitely going to be part of his legacy. He gave birth to a very proud religious diaspora material culture.”
    Whereas Katz’s book addresses Chabad’s appropriation of Hanukkah as a means to forge an American-Jewish religious material culture, Zaklikofsky focuses on the mitzvah, commandment, of lighting the menorah as a testimony to what he considers a historically documented miracle…. – Houston Chronicle, 12-2-10
  • Southern Jews Put Their Spin On Soul Food: The eight-day Jewish holiday of Hannukah began earlier this week and with it comes culinary traditions of the season. A new book describes how Jews in the American south have blended traditional Jewish fare enjoyed around the holidays with southern cuisine. Host Michel Martin speaks with Marci Cohen Ferris, author of “Matzoh Ball Gumbo: Culinary Tales of the Jewish South”…. – NPR, 12-3-10 Download MP3
  • Dianne Ashton: American Hanukkah Traditions Focus on Children: Newswise — Hanukkah isn’t a hugely important holiday on the Jewish calendar, but modern day celebrations of the Festival of Lights do work to get today’s children–and adults–excited about Judaism, according to Dianne Ashton, a professor of religion studies at Rowan University. Author of a book on Hanukkah in America to be released next year by New York University Press, Ashton says two Cincinnati rabbis led a movement to “Americanize” Judaism in the 1860s. That movement included promoting the idea of a fun holiday festival for Jewish children.
    “One of the rabbis said Jewish children shall have a grand and glorious Hanukkah, a festival as nice as any Christmas, with songs, dramatics, candle lighting, ice cream and candy,” says Ashton, whose book examines Hanukkah from 1860-2000. “This really shifted Hanukkah from primarily an observance of Jewish adults to a festival seen as particularly important for Jewish children, a way to keep them interested in Judaism.”… – Newswise, 11-30-10
  • Rethinking the “Jewish Christmas”: Hanuka is back! Perhaps some wonder when it ever was gone. According to Jenna Weissman Joselit, the Charles E. Smith Professor of Judaic Studies and professor of history at George Washington University, “Well into the 1880s, Chanukah fared poorly in America, a victim of neglect.” She quotes the despairing voices of 19th century American rabbis, in an article for Reform Judaism magazine (Winter 2008): “‘The customary candles disappear more and more from Jewish homes,’ lamented Rabbi Gustav Gottheil in 1884. ‘Kindle the Chanukah lights anew, modern Israelite!’ declared Rabbi Kaufmann Kohler just a few years later. ‘Make the festival more than ever before radiant with the brightness and beauty of love and charity.’” Instead of kindling Hanuka candles, Americans “were adorning their homes with greenery and parlor illuminations and eagerly exchanging gifts in the spirit of Christmas. The purchase of Christmas gifts, commented the Jewish Daily Forward in 1904, ‘is one of the first things that proves one is no longer a greenhorn,’” the Jewish studies professor writes….
    The historian continues her survey of the festival’s rise, noting that in the 1950s, “American Jews no longer had to dread the ‘cruel month’ of December. Chanukah’s accoutrements had grown to include paper decorations, greeting cards, napkins, wrapping paper, ribbons, and phonograph records. And in the years following World War II, the outside world increasingly freighted Chanukah with the same cultural and social significance as Christmas, yoking the two together in demonstration of America’s ‘cultural oneness.’ Public school educators in particular convened a ‘holiday assembly’ on a ‘compromise date’ in December in which a Christmas tree and a ‘Menorah candle’ as well as the singing of Chanukah hymns and Christmas carols figured prominently.”… – American Jewish World, 11-26-10
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