adviser

For a while there, it was looking like we were going to spend the next four years arguing whether Barack Obama’s foreign policy was actually different than George W. Bush’s. As I noted the other day, Robert Kagan, the neoconservative foreign policy adviser to the McCain campaign, has been arguing that “the pretense of radical change has required some sleight of hand.” A few former Bush officials have made similar points.

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Stayin' Alive

In early January, most of Barack Obama's senior staff assembled with the president-elect for a meeting inside a windowless, eighth-floor office at the transition headquarters in Washington. It was a pivotal moment in Obama's transformation from candidate to commander-in-chief. Obama's advisers had taken all of his campaign pledges, factored in his promise to reduce the deficit, and put together a provisional blueprint for governing.

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On Wednesday, Barack Obama appointed retired Air Force Major General J. Scott Gration as his special envoy to Sudan. In 2001, when the envoy position was first created, the job entailed brokering a peace deal between Khartoum and rebel groups in the south. It subsequently mutated to include halting Darfur's genocide and reversing President Bashir's expulsion of humanitarian aid workers. So, what does Gration's appointment mean for Darfur policy now? The Sudan experts I spoke to were cautiously optimistic.

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If the government wants to stimulate the economy, it's generally better off spending that money directly--on infrastructure projects, unrestricted aid to the states, or direct assistance to the financially needy--than it would be cutting taxes. That's led writers like me to question Obama's decision to include as much as $300 billion in tax cuts as part of a stimulus package that will ultimately be worth $675 to $775* total. But those doubts are misplaced, according to a senior economic adviser who just spoke with me.

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Charles Fried, a professor at Harvard Law School, has long been one of the most important conservative thinkers in the United States. Under President Reagan, he served, with great distinction, as Solicitor General of the United States. Since then, he has been prominently associated with several Republican leaders and candidates, most recently John McCain, for whom he expressed his enthusiastic support in January. This week, Fried announced that he has voted for Obama-Biden by absentee ballot.

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Uh, about that McCain ad that isn't a lie. Well, it looks like it is. From the AP: Obama's campaign says Raines is not an Obama adviser and that McCain's campaign knows it because Raines said so in an e-mail earlier this week to Carly Fiorina, a top McCain adviser. Obama's campaign provided The Associated Press with a copy of the e-mail. "Carly: Is this true?" Raines asks above a forwarded note informing him that Fiorina was on television saying he was an Obama housing adviser. "I am not an adviser to the Obama campaign. Frank." Obama's campaign says Fiorina did not respond.

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Insiders

Earlier this summer, when the Obama campaign announced that Jason Furman was joining its staff as director of economic policy, the storyline seemed to write itself: Centrist adviser will pull Obama to the right. Furman had first made a name for himself as a wonky twentysomething wunderkind in the later years of the Clinton administration--a period when, to the consternation of many liberals, Clinton emphasized balanced budgets, free trade, and welfare reform.

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At 6 P.M. on Tuesday night, Crystal Viagran is standing on a street corner in East Austin, Texas, holding an Obama sign above her head. In less than an hour, she ditches the sign and walks toward Govalle Elementary School, the primary voting and caucus site for Precinct 426, and picks up a manila packet containing all the instructions for conducting that night's precinct convention. Crystal, 32, who works as a student adviser at the University of Texas, her alma mater, was elected precinct convention chair in 2006 by a total of three votes. That's how many people showed up to caucus.

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Failed State

Can any governor succeed in California?

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The Last Hundred Days

John F. Kennedy and the raising of the Berlin Wall.

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