Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Supreme Court declines to block provision covering contraceptives in health care law

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Supreme Court declined Wednesday to put a temporary hold on a controversial provision in the new health care law requiring employers to provide health insurance coverage for contraceptives.

Two businesses challenging the act -- the nationwide chain of 500 Hobby Lobby Stores and Mardel, a chain of Christian bookstores -- contended that the law violates their religious freedom. Their legal battle is continuing over the merits of their claim. In the meantime, they asked the US Supreme Court to put a temporary hold on the law, which takes effect January 1, 2013.

On Wednesday, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who handles emergency appeals from the courts where the companies are based, declined to grant an injunction.

In a brief written opinion, she said the Supreme Court has never addressed similar freedom-of-religion claims brought by for-profit corporations objecting to mandatory provisions of employment benefit laws.

"Lower courts have diverged on whether to grant temporary injunctive relief to similarly situated plaintiffs," she said, "and no court has issued a final decision granting permanent relief with respect to such claims."

If the two companies ultimately lose in the lower courts, the justice said, they can still appeal to the Supreme Court.

Lawyers for members of the family that owns the two businesses, based in Oklahoma, told the court that the law will expose them to "draconian fines unless they abandon their religious convictions."

While they do not object to the provision of insurance coverage for all contraceptives, they do object to coverage for "certain drugs and devices that they believe can cause abortions," their lawyers said.

Dozens of similar lawsuits over the contraceptive provision are working their way through the federal courts.  The Obama administration has delayed enforcement of the requirement until August for qualified religious institutions, and some will be eligible for a permanent exemption.

But no such delays have been granted to businesses that object to the law's requirements on religious grounds.

Superstorm Sandy: Residents consider future as demolitions begin in Breezy Point

David Friedman / NBC News
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers oversees the demolition on Saturday of a home in Breezy Point, N.Y. The house floated off its foundation during Superstorm Sandy and came to rest in the middle of Beach 215th Street.

BREEZY POINT, N.Y. -- The bulldozing of homes ruined by Superstorm Sandy has begun in this seaside enclave, but residents are only beginning to come to terms with the costly and complicated process of rebuilding.

Neatly dividing what was from what will be, an excavator on Saturday methodically tore down the first badly-damaged Breezy Point home -- a one-story, white home that floated between 150 and 200 feet into the middle of Beach 215th Street during the Oct. 29 storm, apparently stopping only when it slid up against a light pole.
While the beginning of demolitions is an important milestone on the road to rebuilding, it left resident Tom Ryan, 64, a neighbor of the homeowner, feeling melancholy.

“It’s a sad day for Breezy Point, but it’s been a lot of sad days lately for Breezy Point, a lot of sad days,” he said as he walked away from the detritus of the home. “Sixty-one years (here) all year round, and I’ve never seen anything like this.”

What Ryan has been seeing is a period of uncertainty in Breezy Point, a private cooperative founded more than a century ago by Irish immigrants. Sandy’s flooding is believed to have triggered a devastating fire that burned down 111 homes in one of the older areas,  known as “The Wedge.” And the storm surge damaged more than 2,000 other residences, some of which also are not salvageable and are now about to be removed.

Overall, the storm destroyed 200 buildings and left another 200 unsafe for habitation in the New York City boroughs of Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island, Department of Buildings spokesman Tony Sclafani said Friday. Many of those structures, which are tagged by “red cards,” will ultimately be demolished in the coming months, he said.

Buildings blocking public rights of the way are the first structures being cleared in New York City, an operation being run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The removal of these roaming residences will soon be followed by the demolition of the badly damaged structures on private property, a process that the city will oversee.

(Coastal communities in New Jersey are going through a similar procedure, though the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs cannot say how many building have been slated for demolition. Gov. Chris Christie has said that more than 22,000 homes were rendered uninhabitable by the storm.)

Like other storm victims, residents of Breezy Point focused on salvaging possessions and cleaning up in the first days after Sandy hit. But some soon learned that they might not be able to save their homes, including many bungalows dating back decades when the area was more of a summer getaway known as the “Irish Riviera.”

Some hired structural engineers, hoping that their homes could be saved. But in many instances, the answers were not what they had hoped to hear.

Among those getting the news that their home would have to be torn down were Jerome Hoffman, 62, and his wife, Madeline DiLorenzo-Coscia, 63, who had hoped to put the bungalow back on its foundation but found out that wouldn’t be possible.

Miranda Leitsinger / NBC News
Madeline DiLorenzo-Coscia, 63, and her husband, Jerome Hoffman, 62, look at their 'little frame shack' in Breezy Point on Dec. 8.

DiLorenzo-Coscia said her family had owned the doomed “little frame shack,” which was shoved off of its pilings and bombarded with other debris, for more than 50 years.

“If you look at it, it’s just a little shack … but it’s a lifetime full of memories,” she said.  “It’s like the Wizard of Oz. … I just wish we could click three times and get back home.” 

Those memories include playing hide and seek under the bungalows as kids, singing tunes like “Johnny Angel” on the lifeguard stands down on the beach and going on long walks to the point, where she and her friends would read poems they’d written, then tear them up and throw them into the water.

“I guess we thought that we were, you know, we were grownups or something, that we were heroines in our own novels,” she said.

The couple would like to rebuild, but they’re struggling with the financial equation. Since it’s a second residence, they’re not eligible for much of the emergency financial aid available to those whose primary residences were damaged by the storm. That means they’d have to refinance their home in Brooklyn to do it and take the same sort of leap of faith that her parents did when they joined the nascent Breezy Point Co-op in 1960 as residents battled to keep their homes after a developer quietly sold the land beneath them.

“They never regretted it. They never looked back and … I'm sure that, you know, I’ll feel the same because it’s an investment in our children’s future and family being together, family sharing good times,” she said, adding that she wants her 18-month-old grandson, Michael, “to be able to enjoy this.”

The co-op board said late last week that the removal of houses deemed unsafe for occupancy or unable to be repaired was expected to begin in the second week of January.

The city will oversee destruction of homes on private property, while the Army Corps of Engineers takes down homes that no longer have four walls or are in the right of way, in addition to collecting debris from the city-led demolitions, said Patrick Moes, a spokesman for the corps’ New York field recovery office.

The process was demonstrated on Saturday, as contractors sprayed the home that floated off its foundation with water in an effort to prevent asbestos particles from going airborne. The debris, which will be tested for asbestos, was then piled into large dumpsters lined with white tarps. Federal environmental and safety officials were onsite, and appliances were separated out so they could be disposed of properly.

Workers try to retrieve any mementos that they come across during a demolition, Moes said, and on this day they saved a military-style trunk for the homeowner.  NBC News was unable to contact the homeowner.
“It’s a part of the grieving process,” Moes said of the work. “Whether it is a pile of debris or a house … that’s someone’s home.”

Residents whose homes that stayed put on their property but are beyond saving are racing to complete forms needed for demolition. The co-op board informed them that the city, under the auspices of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, would pay for the demolition of those homes deemed to be a public safety hazard by the buildings department, but only if homeowners complete the paperwork by Dec. 31.

As the demolition process beings, residents are eager to begin laying plans for rebuilding. But they must wait for anticipated new building requirements. The co-op said Saturday it is awaiting the release of new FEMA flood zone maps, which will help determine construction criteria.

Such concerns are weighing on Pat and Cam Livingstone, whose small oceanfront one-story home will have to be torn down after the floodwaters raced through and thrust a neighbor’s deck against one side of it.

John Makely / NBC News
Pat and Cam Livingstone stand outside their home at 220 Oceanside in Breezy Point, which was floated off of its foundation by Superstorm Sandy.

Pat Livingstone, 74, said the couple would like to rebuild.

“But you just don't know with the storms that are coming every year, it seems to be,” she said earlier this month, as she and her husband retrieved a few items from the home, including a decades-old top hat and some collector coins. “We'll have to see, that's where we're at. We have to see. What are they going to let us do? What are the restrictions? Are we going to get insurance?”

Sandy-struck Breezy Point facing 'greatest historical challenge'

“They want to go up,” she said, referring to the expectation that authorities will require homes to be elevated several feet. “Can we walk up? Are there going to be ramps? We're pushing 80 now,” she said with a small chuckle.

Cam Livingstone, 76, said the 20 years that the couple lived full time in Breezy Point were some of the best years of their lives.

“We had good times here,” he said, his hand resting on the roof of their badly damaged home. “We threw some big parties.”

But now, he said, they wonder if the effort to rebuild would be worth it.

It “wouldn't be the money so much,” he said of the possibility of returning, but “do we want to take another chance at this stage of our life?”

Down the promenade from the Livingstones, Bob Hauck, a 58-year-old plumber, has decided it is a risk worth taking.

The storm scooped his oceanfront single-story home off its foundation and plopped it down 100 feet straight back, in a sandy area. He joked that the address of his home should now be 210 Sand Lane instead of 210 Oceanside.

John Makely / NBC News
Bob Hauck looks over what is left of his home at 210 Oceanside in the Breezy Point neighborhood of Queens, NY.

“It’s just mind boggling,” he said of the house he owned for 25 years. “I’m just trying to picture how it lifted and got pushed back and actually came down, you know, pretty intact.”

Gone are the picture window with a double sash that once offered a full panorama of the Atlantic Ocean, as well as the big front deck where Hauck would smoke a cigar and visitors would drop by to say hello. Water warped the floor, in places shoving it up two feet, and pushed in the kitchen wall.

“Melancholy's an understatement. It’s suppressed grief, it’s suppressed grief,” he said of the state of his home. “There are no options, you know, in regard to this home. … the cards are dealt, and we have to play our hand.”

Hauck, a father of four adult children who started coming to this shoreline community with his parents decades ago, said he has “Breezy sands in my shoes.” It will take all of his financial resources to come back, he said, but he will do it.

“The beach was our home, and it was a special home because it was a home of a bygone era,” he said, calling it “a piece of heaven on Earth.”

Hauck said he has been motivated by his neighbors, who have been quick to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives, with some even moving back in though water only just became available in one section of the community on Saturday.

He’s ready to do the same.

“It’s like a dream I know I am not going to wake up from. … It wasn’t the long term plan, but we’ve got to take what we’re given,” he said, adding that he told his family, “We had a great run and we’ll have another great one.”
Madeline DiLorenzo-Coscia's "little frame shack" is just one of the homes that will be demolished in Breezy Point. (John Makely / NBC News)

Human remains found at home of gunman who ambushed firefighters

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Police say they recovered a rambling typewritten note from 62-year-old William Spengler, who lured New York firefighters into a deadly ambush. NBC's Ron Mott reports.

Police investigating the ambush Monday in upstate New York in which two firefighters were killed said Tuesday that they had found what appeared to be human remains at the gunman's home. Authorities said they believed the remains were those of the gunman's 67-year-old sister, who lived with him.

William Spengler, 62, opened fire on the volunteer firefighters as they responded to a blaze in Webster just before 6 a.m. ET Monday in a small cluster of homes near Lake Ontario, police said. The firefighters — Michael Chiapperini, 43, a lieutenant with the Webster police, and Tomasz Kaczowka, 19 — were shot dead, and Spengler killed himself as seven houses burned around him.
Earlier, police said Spengler had left a three-page typewritten note saying he wanted to burn down the neighborhood and "do what I like doing best, killing people."
At a second briefing Tuesday, Webster Police Chief Gerald Pickering said police believed the probable human remains were those of Cheryl Spengler, 67, who had been missing since the ambush.

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Officials provide the latest details on the ambush that killed two firefighters while responding to a blaze in Webster, N.Y.
Pickering said two other firefighters shot during the ambush, Joseph Hofstetter and Theodore Scardino, were recovering at a hospital in Rochester. A spokeswoman at Strong Memorial Hospital said the two were in guarded condition and were alert and oriented, but she didn't expect them to be released for a few more days.
An off-duty police officer also was hit by gunfire as he drove past the scene Monday morning. No information on his condition was immediately available Tuesday.
Pickering said Spengler armed himself with three weapons and set his house afire to lure first responders into a death trap.
Spengler's note didn't appear to offer a motive, Pickering said, but "he was equipped to go to war and kill innocent people."
"I'm not sure we'll never really know what was going through his mind," the chief said.
Despite being shot, one of the injured firefighters was able to flee from the scene under his own power. But the others remained pinned down on the narrow strip of land near Lake Ontario until a SWAT team arrived.
As police closed in, Spengler took his own life with a gunshot wound to the head, Pickering said.

Monroe County Sheriff's Office
William Spengler, 62, in an undated booking photo. 
Spengler had lived in the house with his sister and mother, Arline, who died in October at 91. Arline Spengler's obituary asked that memorial donations be made to the West Webster Fireman's Association.
A former neighbor told The Associated Press that Spengler "loved his mama to death" and that he "couldn't stand" his sister. The neighbor said he thought Spengler "went crazy" after his mother died.
Spengler was convicted of manslaughter in 1981 after the death of his grandmother, Rose Spengler, 92, and was paroled in 1998. He remained under parole supervision until 2006, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported. Before Monday's shooting, Webster police hadn't had any run-ins with Spengler since he was paroled, they said.
Although Spengler couldn't legally own firearms as a convicted felon, police said he was armed with a Smith & Wesson .38 revolver, a 12-gauge pump shotgun and a Bushmaster .223 caliber rifle.
At least 33 people were displaced by the fire, which engulfed at least seven homes and a motor vehicle.
"These firemen are part of our family. You go into a fire with these guys. To see them go down with something like this is totally unexpected. We are in shock," Billy Gross, fire commissioner for West Webster, told the Democrat and Chronicle.
Dozens of area residents were evacuated, with police searching them as they left, the newspaper reported.
"Miserable thing to happen this time of year," Mark Johns, a state assemblyman who represents the area, told local NBC station WHEC. Johns said he knew some of the firefighters who were shot.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a statement offering his "deepest condolences."
"All of our thoughts and prayers go to the families and friends of those who were killed in this senseless act of violence," Cuomo said. "New York's first responders are true heroes as they time and again selflessly rush toward danger in order to keep our families and communities safe."
Tom Winter, Ranjani Chakraborty and Rosanna Arlia of NBC News contributed to this report.

DC’s Night Before Christmas

Missed this, but thought, why not
With Christmas mere hours away, I’ve been thinking a lot about what we’ve been subjected to the last month. Threats, stalling, fear-mongering, rumors of deals, offers, counter offers, and more – have been whirring around our heads… and yet we’ve nothing to show for it. And after all that, Congress packed it’s bags and went home for the holidays. Where’s the Christmas cheer? Where’s the joyfulness?
Where’s my winter whimsy, damnit?
So instead of waiting for the President and Congress to do the right thing, I went ahead and dreamt it up for them… After all, the night before Christmas is supposed to be most magical of all, right?
AP Photo/Carolyn KasterAP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
* * *
Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house,
The hopes of Plan B, had been thoroughly doused…
It would have only raised taxes, on the most richest and rare,
But for Tea Party congressmen, it was too much to bear…
Now Congress is home. And we’re snug in our beds,
As visions of Grand Bargains dance through our heads.

When out in the capitol, there arose such a clatter,
As Democrats and Republicans realized what matters.
Away to the TV, I flew like a flash,
Hitting the channels for cable news on my remote as I mashed.

The lights as they shined on the congressional aisles,
shined with the lustre of a John Boehner smile…
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But the Speaker and President, spreading good cheer.

I looked to the podium, and noticed the seal…
And new in a moment that there must be a deal!
They came to the mic, holding hands without shame,
And whistled and shouted out the members by name!

“Now Cantor, McCarthy, Demint and Paul Ryan,
Harry, and Nancy, and the Liberal Lions…
We’ve altered tax brackets, and raised revenue,
This bill cuts government spending, and funds from the military to-boot!”

Their faces were gleaming, and their voices did soar,
Telling the world of their true bi-partisan reforms…
Out came the Gavel, and Out came the pen,
and out came the “Aye” votes, from DC’s women and men.

John’s eyes, how they twinkled! Barack’s dimples, how merry!
Their cheeks were like roses, their noses were cherries!
Their ages rolled back 30 years on this day,
Gone now were the scowls, jowls, and hair that turned gray.

These fine stacks of paper, clutched tight in their hands,
The crowds cheered them like Rock Stars, like their favorite bands…
They smiled and waved, and drank in the scene…
And then the President sang-backup, as Boehner belted out “Queen.”

Then they exchanged a fist-bump, and walked off the stage,
And we knew at that moment, they were on the same page.
Gone were the days of sham votes, and fake smiles,
And pretending to do public good all the while…

They sprang to their steps, and gave their drivers a whistle
and away they flew, like the down of a thistle…
But I heard them exclaim, as they drove out of sight.
“Happy Christmas to all, we finally got it right!”
The Nature of John Boehner's Problem

DECEMBER 21, 2012
It's not just that his caucus is made up of ideological extremists, it's that they can't think strategically and don't care about legislating.

So last night, John Boehner suffered a particularly humiliating defeat. Attempting to pass "Plan B," a fiscal plan that would go nowhere in the Senate, and even if it did it would get vetoed by the President, Boehner was hoping that if nothing else he'd be able to say in the face of rising criticism, "We passed a plan!" But he couldn't accomplish even that; realizing that he couldn't muster the votes within his caucus for Plan B, he cancelled the vote. Boehner is the weakest Speaker in memory. I picture Nancy Pelosi, who can corral more votes before her morning coffee than Boehner can in a week of begging, smiling a wicked little smile at her opposite number's bumbling failure.

So just why is it that Boehner finds even a symbolic vote like this one so impossible to win? I don't think it's that he's ineffectual, and a more skilled dealmaker would be able to accomplish more. The problem is in his troops. Ed Kilgore offers his explanation:

This raises a question that has been at the back of my mind for awhile now: just whyis Boehner just a weak Speaker? To think of him and Sam Rayburn holding the same post is jarring. We are in a new era of very partisan and ideologically homogeneous parties, but that didn’t stop Nancy Pelosi from being an extraordinarily effective leader just in a purely mechanical sense. Whatever else you think about her, she clearly knows how to get bills through her caucus. Dennis Hastert was weaker, but he and Tom Delay didn’t faceplant like this all the time.

My gut instinct is that it’s the obvious answer: Republican extremism. If keeping taxes low on millionaires takes a backseat to every other political calculation to such an extent that the caucus won't even give their ostensible leader a meaningless fig leaf with no chance of becoming law, then a Speaker will be powerless. There's also the grand vizier problem—Eric Cantor is famously just waiting for the chance to knife Boehner and claim the Speakership for himself.

Ideological extremism is a multi-layered thing. It's substantive, in the content of the policy views these Members hold. It also has to do with their personal political calculations—most of them come from safe Republican districts, where the only threat they'll ever get is a primary challenge from the right, so they don't need to worry that there will be a consequence for recalcitrance. But it's more than just extremism; I think it also has to do with the particular kind of politician who now dominates the House Republican caucus.

The Republicans who got elected in the last two cycles—and there are more than enough of them to scuttle anything Boehner wants to pass—don't have particularly long views, and they don't care much about legislating. They came to Washington to say "No!" to things. They aren't sophisticated about policy, and they didn't spend years working their way up by navigating tricky political situations in state houses. They're bomb throwers, and they got elected by being the most angrily conservative person in whatever district they were running in. The idea of making the best of a bad situation, or voting yes on one bill you don't like as part of a strategy to set the stage to win a partial victory on another bill you won't like, makes no sense to them. They don't particularly care about the usual carrots that party leaders can dangle before junior members, like plum committee assignments or future opportunities for home-district pork. They don't really care whether John Boehner keeps his job. They see themselves as lone wolves, fighting for a cause whose eventual victory won't come through the boring work of legislation, but through being strong and resolute, and fighting government and Democrats at every step. This obviously doesn't apply to all of the House GOP caucus, or maybe even most. But there are enough of them to whom the description applies, enough to make Boehner's life miserable.

So it isn't enough to say they're ideological extremists. You can be highly ideological but still have a strategic sense and a desire to take incremental steps toward your ultimate goals. Ted Kennedy was extremely liberal, but he shepherded more legislation through the Senate than nearly anyone in American history, and most of those laws involved compromises. That's because he saw legislating as the way to accomplish his ideological goals. Today's House Republicans don't. If Boehner comes to them and says, "Here's the best three-part strategy to minimize the damage from the situation we're in," they just don't want to hear it. I'll repeat a question I asked in yesterday's "Ringside Seat" (sign up for our newsletters, by the way!): If you were John Boehner, would you even want this job anymore?
Robert Bork: All Brain, No Heart


DECEMBER 20, 2012
Despite his intellect, the former Supreme Court nominee lacked one quality any good judge must have: empathy.

The country dodged a bullet in 1987 when Robert Bork, nominated by President Ronald Reagan for a seat on the Supreme Court, lost his Senate confirmation by a vote of 58-42. If he had been confirmed, he would have likely served on the Court for the past 25 years, until his death yesterday at the age of 85.

The right’s eulogies have begun—the National Review has called him “one of the best legal minds that America has ever produced, probably the best in the postwar world.” That’s hyperbole, but he was indeed no slouch in the smarts department. He did important scholarly work in anti-trust law, and many point to him as the most persuasive advocate of interpreting the Constitution according to its “original intent.” (Antonin Scalia will surely be annoyed when he reads that.)

I have no desire to speak ill of him as a man. I will assume that he loved his family, gave candy to children on Halloween, and rescued cats stranded in trees. But we are fortunate indeed that he did not make it to the Supreme Court. We are fortunate not because he was dumb (he wasn’t) or conservative (he was). The real reason we are fortunate he never made it to the Court is that he seemed to lack a fundamental quality of a good judge: the realization that the law has massive implications for real people, and the ability to imagine oneself in another’s situation in order to measure those implications. One might call this empathy.
Bork thought 
  • Roe v Wade was a travesty, 
  • civil-rights laws were a violation of the freedom of businesses, and 
  • the Court’s imposition of the one-person-one-vote rule a judicial overreach. 

When Bork’s nomination failed, Reagan eventually nominated Anthony Kennedy, who has been somewhat to the left of where Bork would have been. While that nudge leftward made a difference less often than you might expect, the handful of cases in which it did were significant: 

  1. Planned Parenthood v Casey, which upheld Roe v Wade; 
  2. Gonzales v Raich, which halted the Rehnquist Court’s narrowing of the commerce clause;
  3. Roper v Simmons, which ended capital punishment for juveniles; and
  4. Boumediene v Bush, which subjected the Guantanamo detention camps to judicial oversight. 

But his conservatism is not the main reason we dodged a bullet. Conservatives come and go. Bork certainly would not have been out of the conservative mainstream on a Court providing leather-bound seats for Scalia, who compares sodomy to murder, and Clarence Thomas, who thinks minimum-wage laws are unconstitutional. Bork’s originalism might have encouraged the other two to be even more brash, but that might have made them less influential with Sandra Day O’Connor, the swing vote during the 1980s and 90s.

Honestly, it’s not his conservatism that bothered me. It’s the pompous intellectualism that made him see the job as one best performed by a detached theorist, unconnected to the reality of what the Court decides. This defect was illustrated by an exchange near the end of his confirmation hearings. One of his Senate allies, Alan Simpson of Wyoming, tossed him a softball: “Why do you want to be an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court?”

During Watergate, Bork carried out the president’s order to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox after the attorney general and his deputy had resigned rather than dismiss Cox.

A nominee with any sense could use this as an opportunity to talk about the ideals of public service, the importance of liberty to the nation’s identity, and how important it is for the Supreme Court to look after those who are shut out by the political process.

That’s not where he went. Instead, he answered: “I think it would be an intellectual feast just to be there.” It was the response of an egghead, and it doomed his nomination.

If he had served, this intellectual pomposity would have made it virtually impossible for him to do the things that good judges do: maintain openness to influence and argument, question one’s own biases, and guard against overconfidence. Such intellectual qualities are important any time, but especially so when making decisions in a group as homogeneous and stodgy as the Supreme Court. (At the time of Bork’s nomination, the Court had seen only one female justice and one African-American justice in over 200 years.) In the last quarter century, when cases reached the Court asking questions about abortion, the right to die, affirmative action, free speech, and gay rights, Bork would have seen these not as cases affecting millions of Americans but as an intellectual exercise.

Since Bork’s flame-out, nominees and presidents have learned their lesson, making clear that they understand the importance of the Court’s impacts on regular Joes and Josephines. Or at least they say they do.

But Bork never learned to rise above hard-headedness. A few years after his failed nomination to the Court, he decided to resign his seat on the Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. to take advantage of lucrative opportunities in think tanks and on the speaking circuit. As he voluntarily left his life-tenured job on the second most prestigious court in the country, he felt so oppressed that he apparently thought the situation called for a good quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Free at last, free at last, Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last.” 

Robert Bork helped develop and popularize the theory of “originalism,” which requires justices to be guided by the original understanding of the U.S. Constitution
It makes one shutter to think that someone that obtuse might have been on the Court for the last 25 years. Thank God Almighty, indeed.

By Mona Charen
December 21, 2012 12:00 A.M.

His influence may have been greater off the Court than it would have been on.

The last time I saw Bob Bork was the Sunday before Election Day. His familiar baritone was faint. You had to sit close to hear him, and he seemed to have a little difficulty following the conversation.

At one point, his son Bob directed his attention to an Obama ad that was running on the Internet. It warned darkly that if Romney were elected, he would nominate Robert Bork for the Supreme Court! Bob, who has inherited his father’s wry sense of humor (as well as his intellect), played the ad on an iPad. Bob Sr. didn’t react at first and we wondered whether he’d even gotten the drift. But then, eyeing it with the mischievous look he so often wore, he gestured toward the 25-year-old photo of himself, “Awful picture, as you’d expect.” That was the Bob we knew and loved!

Robert Heron Bork was born in Pittsburgh, Pa. He entered the Marine Corps at the age of 17 and served in World War II. He then blazed through the University of Chicago in two years (students were then able to get credit for courses by taking an exam). He pocketed a law degree, fulfilled his obligations to the Marine Corps a second time when the Korean War erupted, and then settled into a career in law.

Bork was blessed with two wonderful marriages. His first wife, Claire, and he met in college and had three children together. She was diagnosed with cancer in 1971. Her doctor told Bob that there was nothing to be done, that her case was terminal, and that he should keep this from her. He got her another doctor, and she lived nine and a half more years. Two years after her death, Bob married the second warm, intelligent, and beautiful woman who would grace his life, Mary Ellen Pohl, a former nun. “Her parents were worried that she wasn’t worldly enough to get married,” he once recalled. “I reassured them that I was worldly enough for both of us.”

The name Bork has become a verb because he endured the first of the vicious, libelous, character-assassinating campaigns that have come to characterize judicial nominations and other contests in which liberals feel justified in “lying for justice.”

The passage of time has not diminished the outrage one feels on revisiting that campaign. Senator Ted Kennedy, who had through criminal negligence caused the death of a young woman, warned the nation that Judge Bork was dangerous to women. The ACLU, People for the American Way, and the Alliance for Justice, along with their compliant agents at the major networks, newspapers, and magazines, floated a series of lies and distortions that left all standards of decency and fair play behind. Bork supported “literacy tests” for black voters; he opposed the teaching of evolution in schools; he favored the poll tax; opposed equal accommodations for black Americans; denied the principle of one-man, one-vote; would overturn 30 years of civil-rights legislation; would prevent married couples from using contraception; and supported mandatory sterilization of women in certain circumstances. Not a syllable was true.

Bork did support overturning Roe v. Wade — and that was probably the nub of it. If there was one thing liberals were determined to prevent, no matter what tactics were required, it was the free votes of Americans in their 50 states regulating abortion. No lie was too low for that sacred project.

Bork’s nomination was defeated. President Reagan might have saved it had he waded in more energetically. But he was still reeling after the Iran/Contra imbroglio and had retreated to his ranch during the thick of it.

While the nation was deprived of Bork’s service on the Supreme Court, where he would certainly have shed illumination in all directions, it did gain a powerful public intellectual. He published two bestsellers (The Tempting of America and Slouching Towards Gomorrah) as well as a number of other books and essays. He lectured, traveled, and argued cases before the Supreme Court. His influence on American life may in fact have been greater off the Court than it would have been on it.

He was never bitter, though often mordant. Once freed of the constraints of a judge or nominee, he had his say fully and persuasively on law, culture, and other matters. The Metzenbaums, Bidens, and Kennedys of this world were elegantly filleted by the Bork pen. During the hearings, he was at the mercy of their lies. Afterwards, they were at the mercy of his intellect. The second contest may have been even more lopsided than the first.


— Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist.

Hillary's Burden


DECEMBER 14, 2012

Other female politicians might be able to run for president and be the victim of a limited amount of sexist vitriol, but not her.

Hillary Clinton is basking in the warm glow of public affection. Her approval ratings have risen steadily since the 2008 campaign ended, and now stand at around 65 percent. She has gotten high marks from members of both parties for her work as Secretary of State. So naturally, since she'll be stepping down soon, speculation has begun about whether she'll run for president. I could add one more uninformed guess about whether she'll run, but what's the point? Nobody knows right now, maybe not even Clinton herself. One thing's for sure: 2016 is her last chance. She'll be 69 on election day, as old as Reagan was when he was first elected. But she's smart enough to know that the current esteem she enjoys will be cut back severely the instant she becomes a candidate. As Nate Silver has detailed, over the years her approval ratings have gone up and down in direct relation to how close she has been to the battle of partisan politics.

It's also tempting to forget, when looking at her today, just how much ugly sexist vitriol was aimed at her during her time as First Lady and, to a slightly lesser but still significant degree, in her 2008 campaign. If she runs again, and especially if she becomes the Democratic nominee, it will come back in greater force than ever. Ann Friedman laments Clinton's Catch-22:
Herein lies one of the most useful, but also saddest, lessons of Hillary Clinton's career: The best defense against being labeled a raging bitch is to convince people you're an underdog. The ability to eat shit, to suck it up and earn the affection of skeptical voters or older male colleagues or your cheating husband, again and again, is an essential skill for successful women of Hillary's generation. A skill that is becoming less essential, sure, but one that few women would declare irrelevant.

To say that Clinton was the victim of sexism is too simple, true though it is. There was what can only be described as a tornado of male sexual panic directed at her. It sometimes seemed that decades of resentment and insecurity over the attacks on patriarchal privilege was poured into a cauldron, simmered down to a thick sauce, and then poured on Clinton's head. It came in the form of angry screeds, and it came in the form of jokes, all far more revealing about the sender than the target. Much of the humor, like the Spy magazine cover with which I illustrated this post, was premised on the hilarious idea that Clinton was not a woman at all but a man, because after all, how could she be FIrst Lady, work on policy, and still be a woman? (This continued into 2008;here's Amy Poehler as Clinton in a Saturday Night Live skit, saying "I invite the media to grow a pair. And if you can't, I will lend you mine.")

When she wasn't portrayed as male, Clinton was described as a castrating harpy; to take just one example, Tucker Carlson said multiple times during the 2008 campaign that whenever he saw Clinton on television, "I involuntarily cross my legs." I suppose Carlson was being refreshingly frank about his own sexual insecurity; his manhood apparently hangs by such a thin thread that just seeing a powerful woman on television was enough for him to fear that she would come through the screen and steal his testicles. But he was hardly the only one who saw in Clinton such a threat to their masculinity. The examples are too numerous to go through, but I'd just mention one of my favorites, when U.S. News complimented Clinton for a speech she gave, saying, "Her presentation was devoid of hard edges, contrary to her longtime image among critics as a harridan and a polarizer." That's right, a "harridan." That was written not in 1907, but in 2007.

As I said, I have no idea whether Clinton is going to run for president again. But if she does, all that stuff is going to come roaring back. There are many more women in politics today than there were 20 years ago when Hillary Clinton first became a national figure, and I'm sure that before long one of them will run for president and be faced with only a fraction of the kind of sexist venom that Clinton has been the target of (particularly if she's a Republican). But Clinton herself will never be able to escape it.
This Is a .223-Caliber RifleDEC 14 2012, 3:38 PM ET

Today a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School allegedly used a .223 caliber rifle to kill at least 27 people, including many children. The video below, courtesy of YouTube user KENFL74, shows aBushmaster AR-15 shooting .223 ammunition. Many different kinds of guns use this caliber, of course; this is just one example. CNN, however, reports that a .223 Bushmaster was found on the scene. Guns and Ammo has made the case for why AR-15 guns are ideal "home defense" weapons, saying that military-style guns like the AR-15 have always been popular in the U.S. The guns are certainly popular on YouTube, where children of various ages can be seen firing them. For more information on the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, see the Atlantic Wire's live updates

Update 9:50am, December 17, 2012: The New York Times reports that Adam Lanza used a .223 caliber AR-15 style rifle manufactured by Bushmaster to kill students and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Why We Chose Obama

By Richard Stengel

Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2008


TIME's Editor-In-Chief, John Huey, left, Assistant Managing Editor Michael Duffy, and Managing Editor, Richard Stengel, interview President-elect Barack Obama at his transition office in Chicago.

His shirtsleeves were rolled up, and he flipped me a dog-eared basketball autographed by Lenny Wilkens. Should I pass it back, like it's a give-and-go? Or does one not do that with a President-elect? I decided simply to hand it back. We then sat down for our Person of the Year interview at Obama's modest transition headquarters in Chicago. Like a skilled point guard, Obama stayed focused, concentrating on the big issues confronting him and the American people.

David Von Drehle's masterly story on our Person of the Year not only sketches out what's on Obama's mind but also reveals new details about how and when he realized that his first 100 days had to start on Nov. 5, the day after voters elected him to become the 44th President of the United States and the first African American to hold the office. Von Drehle also tells us — with Obama's help — how we should hold the new President accountable. Beyond his mastery of the issues, Obama revealed a more personal note: a slightly rueful sense that the world was tightening around him, that he would no longer be able to take a walk or shop for groceries. He seemed to be girding himself for the loss of being simply a regular citizen.

Our cover portrait is by the street artist Shepard Fairey, whose roots are in the skateboarding world and whose early poster of then Senator Obama became the great populist image of the campaign. With this cover, Fairey has now created a new iconic image of the President-elect — a rich, multilayered poster that echoes but then expands on his original.

In keeping with the theme of citizen art, we open our Person of the Year package with a dazzling array of images culled from those created by thousands of individuals from around the world and posted on the image-sharing site Flickr. Obama always said his candidacy was not about him, but "you," and now, along with Flickr, we're helping give "you" a voice. The presentation of these images in the magazine reflects the extraordinary work of Time deputy picture editor Dietmar Liz-Lepiorz, deputy art director D.W. Pine, reporter Jeninne Lee-St. John and picture-desk assistant Diana Suryakusuma. I also want to thank assistant managing editor Michael Duffy and deputy managing editor Adi Ignatius for doing the heavy lifting on this issue.

The pictures of Barack Obama, from when he was a freshman at Occidental College, are far from street art. In fact, the negatives sat in a binder for nearly 30 years in the home of Lisa Jack, who took the photos of her then classmate Barry Obama. They are striking images of the young man who, as Obama says in Dreams from My Father, was still finding himself at Occidental.

Finally, make sure you read Craig Robinson's delightful memoir about his brother-in-law's skills on the basketball court. Robinson's sister Michelle asked him to vet her new boyfriend in a pickup game nearly 20 years ago. Robinson, now the head basketball coach at Oregon State University, was a star at Princeton under the great Pete Carril (I played for Pete too, but much earlier and rode the bench), who believed you could tell a person's character by how he played on the court. Robinson was relieved to discover that his future brother-in-law was a team player.

The Long-Lost Negatives

By Laura Fitzpatrick
Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2008

Pose Jack and Obama would see each other only a few more times while students. But in 2005, while on a tour, she spotted Obama on Capitol Hill and yelled hello. "He knew exactly who I was after all this time," Jack says. "I was amazed."

If Facebook had existed back in 1980, when Barack Obama was a freshman at Occidental College in Los Angeles, we'd all be familiar with photos of him arcing a jump shot on the basketball court or giving an early speech at a student rally.

If only. Instead, 28 years later, a series of 36 photographs taken in 1980 by his fellow student Lisa Jack gives a sense of the 20-year-old Barry Obama in search of self. Jack, now a psychologist, never realized her dream of becoming a photographer. But she recently unearthed the cellophane-wrapped negatives in her basement and dusted them off for publication. "I'm not political," Jack says. "[But] these are historical photos, and they should be shared."

Jack met Obama, she recalls, through a friend of a friend who thought he'd make a good subject for her black-and-white portraits. She doesn't remember much about first encountering him at the Cooler, a campus snack shop. "He was really cute," she says. "What else does a 20-year-old girl remember?" But they soon set a date for a shoot at Jack's apartment, a "decrepit old place" a block from campus.

Obama showed up with a cigarette in his hand and a leather jacket on his back, a look common in the crowd he hung with at the time — described in his autobiography Dreams from My Father as politically minded black students, internationals, Chicanos, "Marxist professors and structural feminists and punk-rock performance poets." With his friends, Obama discussed neocolonialism and patriarchy in late-night bull sessions, but at the photo shoot, Obama and Jack stuck to small talk about where they grew up — Hawaii and New York, respectively — and how they liked school. If Obama was already thinking of the move he would soon make to Jack's home state to study at Columbia University, he didn't let on.

But through the photos, Jack recalls, her subject revealed more of himself. "He was a little nervous," she says. "You can see he's just posing, initially, and as the shoot goes on, he starts to come out." Even in Jack's apartment, amid the trappings of scrappy college-student squalor — a nylon plaid love seat hauled from the side of the road, an overturned shopping cart instead of an end table and a lime green shag carpet badly in need of cleaning — the future pol added a touch of glamour. "He was very charismatic even then," says Jack.

Outside of a few chance encounters on campus and one after graduation, the photographer and the future President lost touch. But on a sightseeing tour of the Capitol in 2005, Jack spotted him emerging from a legislative session and yelled hello. "He knew exactly who I was, even after all this time," she says. "I was amazed."

A few more years passed, however, before Jack dug up the negatives. Talking politics with friends in her living room in early 2008, Jack mentioned knowing Obama in college. Finding them skeptical, Jack decided to track down the photos and "prove them wrong." "If I hadn't been dared, I'd have never gone to look for them," says Jack. "They just sat there to be discovered after I died."

After descending the stairs to the "junk room," chockablock with bank statements, old softball mitts, New Year's 2000 paraphernalia and her college record collection — Benatar, Bowie, Dylan — Jack pulled out a blue binder she had saved through nine moves to new homes. It contained all her negatives from college. The images of Obama "blew me away," she says. "I had no idea I'd taken a full roll of film." Jack eventually put the negatives in a safety-deposit box, planning to sit on them until after the election, when there would be no chance they could be used for political purposes.

Today, Jack says, she hopes the photos reveal a "spirit of fun and thoughtfulness" in a man who can seem to some like an enigma. Still, she says she never thought they would have much life outside her darkroom. "Certainly," she says, "I didn't expect this."

B-Ball with Barack
By Craig RobinsonWednesday, Dec. 17, 2008


CALLIE SHELL / AURORA FOR TIMEMy father Fraser Robinson and my basketball coach at Princeton, Hall of Famer Pete Carril, used to say the same thing: "On the court, you can tell who's a selfish jerk." And let's just say they used a less printable word than jerk.

When Michelle started dating Barack Obama, she finally had someone serious enough to bring home to meet the family. As it turned out, he had played basketball in high school and kind of thought he was pretty good. My sister said, "I want you to take him to play, to see what type of guy he is when he's not around me." So I invited Barack to play pickup hoops with a few friends of mine in Chicago. Some of these guys played in college, some didn't, but they were all pretty good players. I like to think I was the first guy to vet him.

I was very nervous because I had already met Barack a few times and liked him a lot. My sister didn't have many long-term boyfriends. So I was thinking, This guy seems like a pretty good guy; I hope he makes it. I was rooting for him. But here I am with this responsibility: if he turns out to be a, er, jerk, I've got to be the one to tell her.

He handled everything perfectly. We played a hard five-on-five, so there were definitely potholes for him to fall into. He wasn't the best guy out there, but he wasn't the worst guy. I liked the fact that he was confident but wasn't cocky or talking trash. Barack was very team-oriented, very unselfish. He fit in like he was one of us — he wasn't trying to be president of the Harvard Law Review. But the best part about it was that when we were on the same team, he did not pass me the ball every single time. He wasn't trying to suck up to my sister through me. I thought, You know, I like that. I was relieved to give my sister the good news: "Your boy is straight, and he can ball."

People always ask me to describe my brother-in-law's game. Well, he has a very nice outside shot that has gotten better over the years, because as we get older, we can't go to the basket as easily. He's very thin, but he's not weak. You can tell the guy has played. He is extremely left-handed. Most left-handed guys are quicker going to their right. Well, he's better going to his left. I'll have to work on that with him.

Basketball is very therapeutic for Barack. He's always in a great mood before and after he's played. He looks forward to it. About 40 of us played on Election Day in Chicago, and there was an unspoken nonaggression pact. Not only was everyone afraid of giving Barack a fat lip before a possible victory speech to the entire world, but also, no one there wanted to sprain an ankle or something. We all wanted to participate, pain-free, in whatever might take place later that night. We set up four teams and played a round-robin tournament. Let's just say Barack fared better on election night than he did in hoops earlier that day.

What does Barack's game say about the man, about the way he's going to lead this country through these very trying times? Well, he's competitive yet inclusive. He's unselfish, which, where I come from, is the greatest compliment you can give both a player and a leader. And he's consistent. You've got a guy at the top who ran a campaign — and who is going to run a government — in a classy, efficient and considerate manner. That's the same guy I got to know playing hoops when he was dating my sister.

There's been a lot of talk about Barack's building a basketball court somewhere in his new home. I sure hope he does. I'd love to tell people I played hoops in the White House. Plus it would be great, from a national health-care perspective, to see the President working out on a regular basis. People may say, Look, if the President is playing ball three times a week — or however much he ends up playing; I know he'll be pretty busy — maybe I can go out there and do something for my health too. And how cool would it be to hear about some piece of legislation that was sealed after a pickup game between Democrats and Republicans? That would really make me proud as a ballplayer, a coach and a U.S. citizen. You can tell I'm lobbying for it.

Your ball, Mr. President. I know you're going to drain the big shots.

Robinson, Obama's brother-in-law, was a two-time Ivy League Player of the Year at Princeton in the early 1980s. He is now the head men's basketball coach at Oregon State University

The Interview: Person Of the Year Barack Obama

Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2008

On Friday, Dec. 5, the President-elect sat down with TIME managing editor Richard Stengel, editor-at-large David Von Drehle and Time Inc. editor-in-chief John Huey in Obama's spartan transition offices in Chicago to discuss his plans for the coming months, the improbability of his victory and how he's fighting to stay in touch with the real world from inside the presidential bubble. Excerpts from their conversation:

What kind of mandate do you have?
Well, I think we won a decisive victory. Forty-seven percent of the American people still voted for John McCain. And so I don't think that Americans want hubris from their next President. I do think we received a strong mandate for change ... It means a government that is not ideologically driven. It means a government that is competent. It means a government, most importantly, that is focused day in, day out on the needs and struggles, the hopes and dreams, of ordinary people. And I think there is a strong mandate for Washington as a whole to be responsive to ordinary Americans in a way that it has not been for quite some time.

When voters look at your Administration two years from now, in the off-year election, how will they know whether you're succeeding?
I think there are a couple of benchmarks we've set for ourselves during the course of this campaign. On [domestic] policy, have we helped this economy recover from what is the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression? Have we instituted financial regulations and rules of the road that assure this kind of crisis doesn't occur again? Have we created jobs that pay well and allow families to support themselves? Have we made significant progress on reducing the cost of health care and expanding coverage? Have we begun what will probably be a decade-long project to shift America to a new energy economy? Have we begun what may be an even longer project of revitalizing our public-school systems so we can compete in the 21st century? That's on the domestic front.

On foreign policy, have we closed down Guantánamo in a responsible way, put a clear end to torture and restored a balance between the demands of our security and our Constitution? Have we rebuilt alliances around the world effectively? Have I drawn down U.S. troops out of Iraq, and have we strengthened our approach in Afghanistan — not just militarily but also diplomatically and in terms of development? And have we been able to reinvigorate international institutions to deal with transnational threats, like climate change, that we can't solve on our own?

And outside of specific policy measures, two years from now, I want the American people to be able to say, "Government's not perfect; there are some things Obama does that get on my nerves. But you know what? I feel like the government's working for me. I feel like it's accountable. I feel like it's transparent. I feel that I am well informed about what government actions are being taken. I feel that this is a President and an Administration that admits when it makes mistakes and adapts itself to new information, that believes in making decisions based on facts and on science as opposed to what is politically expedient." Those are some of the intangibles that I hope people two years from now can claim.

When you look at the economic issues that you ran on in the campaign, does [all the bad financial news] change your priorities about how quickly you've got to act on, say, jobs vs. energy?
Fortunately, most of the proposals that we made apply not only to our long-term economic growth but also fit well into what we need to do short term to get the economy back on track. I have talked during the campaign about the need to rebuild our infrastructure, and that obviously gives us an opportunity to create jobs and drive demand at a time when the economy desperately needs jobs and demand. I've talked about a tax cut for 95% of working families, and that fits into a stimulus package, and we can get that money out into people's pockets fairly quickly. I've talked about the need for us to contain health-care costs, and it turns out there's some spending that has to be done on information technology, for example, that we can do fairly swiftly. So there's no doubt that most of the priorities that I had are ones that will serve our short-term economic needs as well as our long-term economic needs.

The drop in oil prices, I do think, makes the conversation about energy more difficult, not less necessary. More than ever, I think, a wholesale investment in transforming our economy — from retrofitting buildings so that they're energy-efficient to changing our transportation patterns and thinking about how to rebuild our electricity grid — those are all things that we're going to need now more than ever. But with people not paying $4 a gallon for gas, it means it drops on their priority list. And that makes the politics of it tougher than it might have been six months ago.

So how long and how deep a recession should the American public be ready for?
I don't have a crystal ball, and economists are all over the map on this. I think we should anticipate that 2009 is going to be a tough year. And if we make some good choices, I'm confident that we can limit some of the damage in 2009 and that in 2010 we can start seeing an upward trajectory on the economy. But this is a difficult hole that we've dug ourselves into. You know, Japan found itself in a somewhat similar situation in the '90s, made some poor decisions, didn't squarely face some of the problems in its banking system and, despite significant stimulus, still saw this thing drag on for almost a decade. On the other hand, you've got countries like Sweden that went through this and acted forcefully and boldly and in two years were back on track and were growing at a really healthy clip. So the decisions we make are going to have an impact on it. But next year's going to be tough.
You made a very bold choice for Secretary of State. If she were sitting here with you now and you were to say, "Madame Secretary, here are the three stops I want you to make on your itinerary once you get in the job," what would those three places be?
Well, since we're literally having that conversation, I think, a day or two after this publication comes out, I'm not going to have her read it in TIME magazine. But I mentioned to you earlier some of our key priorities. There's no doubt that managing the transition in Iraq is going to be a top priority. Managing a more effective strategy in Afghanistan will be a top priority. Recognizing that it is not simply an Afghanistan problem but it's an Afghanistan-Pakistan-India-Kashmir-Iran problem is going to be a priority. Sorting through our policy with respect to Iran effectively — that will be a priority. Dealing with our transatlantic alliance in a more constructive way and trying to build a more effective relationship with the newly assertive and, I believe, inappropriately aggressive Russia, when it comes to the invasion of Georgia — that is going to be a priority. And seeing if we can build on some of the progress, at least in conversation, that's been made around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be a priority.

Now, I mention those things, but keep in mind that some of the long-term priorities I identified in the campaign remain just as urgent today. I already mentioned nuclear proliferation. I already mentioned climate change. I think dealing with development and poverty around the world is going to be a critical component of our foreign policy. It's good for our security and not just charity. And so, part of the goal that Senator [Hillary] Clinton and I both share — as do [Defense] Secretary [Robert] Gates and [National Security Adviser nominee] General [James] Jones — is moving our foreign-assistance agenda to the center of our national-security conversations as opposed to the periphery. Paying more attention to Latin America. You know, we have neglected our neighbors in our own hemisphere, and there is an enormous potential for us to work with other countries — Brazil, for example, which is in some ways ahead of us on energy strategies. That, I think, would be very important. And finally, managing our relationship with China and the entire Pacific Rim, I think, is something that will keep not just me busy but my successor busy.

Was there ever a point in the election when you thought you were going to lose?

When was it?
Well, let me say it this way: There were multiple points throughout the election when I thought I could lose. Including the day I announced. And honestly, you know, we had a bunch of ups and downs in the campaign. I'll tell you what, though: the way Michelle and I talked about it before we made the decision to get in this race was, if we run the kind of race that I wanted to run, if we were engaging people and exciting people and bringing new people into the process, if I was speaking honestly and truthfully about what I thought my priorities were, then I always thought we had a good chance of winning. And if we lost, that wouldn't be such a terrible thing. And that's why I think I stayed pretty steady throughout this race, despite the ups and downs.

There weren't that many occasions during this campaign — there were a few, but not that many — where I wasn't proud of what we were doing or felt somehow that I was making compromises of my core principles. Michelle and I pledged that whatever happened, we'd come out of this thing whole. And there wasn't any point in this campaign where I thought we were in danger of losing who we were.

You went through a long and grueling campaign, and you won. At what point after your victory did you realize, "I can't do a traditional kind of transition."
It was about a month before the election. Not that I assumed that I was going to win. We had a healthy fear up until election day. But what I was absolutely convinced of was that, whether it was me or John McCain, the next President-elect was going to have to move swiftly. And so we've tried to accelerate all of our timetables: in appointments, not just on the Cabinet but also our White House team; in structuring economic plans so that we can start getting them to Congress and hopefully begin work, even before I'm sworn in, on some of our key priorities around the economy; on laying the groundwork for a national security team can take the baton in a wartime transition. We've been busy, and that's why I have not taken the traditional post-election holiday.

Does that bother your wife?
No, no, I think she wants me to take care of business. We'll take a little bit of a break over the Christmas holidays, but we want to make sure that I've got a team in place and that we've got a clear sense of direction.

Now that you're faced with the enormity of it, is there any one thing that really weighs on you as being perhaps an intractable problem?
I don't think there are problems that are intractable. But there are a couple of problems that are extraordinarily difficult.

It is not clear that the economy's bottomed out. So even if we take a whole host of the right steps in terms of the economy, two years from now it may not have fully recovered. I'm confident about our ability to get the economy back on track, but we've got a big hole to dig ourselves out of. And I will be inheriting at least a trillion-dollar deficit even before you start talking about a significant stimulus. And you've got a structural deficit that is in place that will require some very difficult decisions. So managing jump-starting the economy in the short term and setting up a responsible fiscal policy over the long term, at a time when families are hurting and we've got all these unmet needs-that is a huge problem. And I don't think there's some magic trick to dealing with it. It's going to require a careful balancing of priorities and we'll probably make some mistakes along the way. Because some of those choices will engender political resistance, from not just Republicans but also members of my own party.

I'll just lay out some of the other things that keep me up at night. I think Afghanistan is going to be a challenge. I'm confident that it's the right thing to do to draw down our troops in Iraq. I think we can do so in a responsible way and stabilize the situation there. We're going to have to make a series of not just military but also diplomatic moves that fully enlist Pakistan as an ally in that region, that lessen tensions between India and Pakistan, and then get everybody focused on rooting out militancy in a terrain, a territory, that is very tough — and in an enormous country that is one of the poorest and least developed in the world. So that, I think, is going to be a very tough situation.

And then the third thing that keeps me up at night is the issue of nuclear proliferation. We are going to have to take leadership in stitching back together a nonproliferation regime that has been frayed. We're going to have to do it at the same time as the Internet has made technology for the creation of weapons of mass destruction more accessible than ever before, and at a time when more countries are going to be pursuing nuclear power. That, I think, is going to be a great challenge.

And then the final thing, just to round out my Happy List, is climate change. All the indicators are that this is happening faster than even the most pessimistic scientists were anticipating a couple of years ago. It is going to require an enormous effort on the part of the global community to deal with it. And it is not going to come without cost. Trying to bring about that transformation — which I think offers huge opportunities for economic growth and job creation over the long term, but will entail some costs in the short term — you know, that's the hardest thing to do in politics, right? To make big investments in things that have long-term payoffs. I'll stop there.

What's the best piece of advice that you've gotten from someone about being President, about how to go about it, about how that feels?
Well, precisely because it's sui generis, the only people that really know are the collection of ex-Presidents that we have. And I want to protect the confidentiality of those conversations since I expect to go back to them for advice, and I want to feel that they can give me unvarnished advice. I can tell you that all of them have said that it is important to carve out time to think and not spend your entire day reactive. Because there's always a crisis coming at you, there's always a meeting you could be doing, there's always a press conference or a group of supporters that you could be responding to. And so I think maintaining that kind of discipline is important.

Something that I have already experienced, and I have not fully solved, is how to break out of the bubble, which is extraordinarily powerful ... As a consequence of the security concerns surrounding this office, it is very hard for me to do what ordinary people do. That is the biggest adjustment, and that is not an adjustment I've made yet. And I'm not sure I'll want to make it entirely. The inability to go to the gas station and pump your own gas. Or go to the store and buy groceries. Or take your kids to the park. Those are experiences that aren't just intrinsically good, but they also keep me in touch with what Americans are going through. And so I'm trying to negotiate more space and do so in a way that doesn't put Secret Service members in more jeopardy. I'm trying to negotiate hanging on to some sort of electronic communication with the outside world. And so far, between the lawyers and the Secret Service and the bureaucrats, I'm not sure I'm winning that battle.

Given the economic situation, the picture you've painted of '09, are there any taxes that can be raised in this environment?
Well, I have said that I will be providing a net tax cut. Ninety-five percent of working Americans will be getting a tax cut. In part to pay for the tax cut for people who desperately need it, I've proposed that people who are making more than a quarter-million dollars a year lose the tax cuts they received from George [W.] Bush and that we go back to the rates they had in the 1990s. And that is a pledge I intend to keep.

But is that by letting them expire in '10 or by repealing them in '09?
Well, one way or another, they are going to lose those tax breaks under my Administration. My economic team is reviewing right now what the best option is.

Considering the economic hole we're in, and particularly the joblessness crisis right now, does that move health care up or down on the agenda in terms of real structural reform of providing health care?
I think it keeps it right where it is, which is one of my top three domestic priorities. How we sequence a movement toward affordable, accessible health care may vary because of the current economic situation.

What is it about your executive style that makes you good at standing up to big organizations to meet unprecedented challenges — whether it's the way you ran your campaign or now — so quickly?
I don't think there's some magic trick here. I think I've got a good nose for talent, so I hire really good people. And I've got a pretty healthy ego, so I'm not scared of hiring the smartest people, even when they're smarter than me. And I have a low tolerance of nonsense and turf battles and game-playing, and I send that message very clearly. And so over time, I think, people start trusting each other, and they stay focused on mission, as opposed to personal ambition or grievance. If you've got really smart people who are all focused on the same mission, then usually you can get some things done.

Do you ever get angry, and if you do, how would we know it?
If you want to tail me and [spokesman Robert] Gibbs for a few days, I could tell you, we've had it out a couple times. You know, my staff knows when I get angry. I'm not a shouter. I find that what was always effective with me as a kid, and Michelle and I find it effective with our kids, is just making people feel really guilty. Like "Boy, I am disappointed in you. I expected so much more." And I think people generally want to do the right thing, and if you're clear to them about what that right thing is, and if they see you doing the right thing, then that gives you some leverage. Hollering at people isn't usually that effective. Now, there are exceptions. There are times where guilt doesn't work, and then you have to use fear.

Now for a deeply personal question, which you may not feel comfortable answering. Did your grandmother die confident that you were going to be President?
You know, I don't know. But I know she voted for me. The last week of her life, she was in and out of consciousness. But I'd say three weeks before the election — or was it two weeks? About two weeks before the election, I think at that point, you know, the signs were that I might pull this off.

She was incredulous, I think, until the very end. I mentioned this in another interview. My grandmother would not have believed that this was possible. Not because of the race issues but because she was just a very Midwestern, steady person who generally was skeptical of these kinds of things and would have preferred I'd never gone into politics and done something sensible like try to become a judge or something after law school. My mother, on the other hand, I think would've never had a doubt because she was absolutely convinced that her son and her daughter were perfect. So it's a reflection more on their personalities.

But you think about my grandmother's life. I mean, here's a woman who was born in, let's see, 1912 or '22 — I've got to do my math — she was 86, so '22, rather. She really grew up in the Depression, in a small town in Kansas, and never got a college degree. Somehow found herself in Hawaii. Somehow found her daughter marrying an African guy. Raised this mixed kid who got in all kinds of trouble during his teenage years. You know, the likelihood of that little boy ending up President of the United States was pretty low.

So in some ways her life tracks this American — this remarkable American journey, where all of these different forces and cultures can come together and the possibility of upward mobility and opportunity for successive generations is a reality. Maybe not as much as we'd like it to be. Maybe not as fast as we'd like it to be. But it's there nonetheless.

All right?