Monday, February 25, 2008

George Bush Attacks John McCain On Lobbyist Ties In 2000

Crooks and Liars » George Bush Attacks John McCain On Lobbyist Ties In 2000

TPM in the NYT

Blogger, Sans Pajamas, Rakes Muck and a Prize -- New York Times

Of the many landmarks along a journalist’s career, two are among those that stand out: winning an award and making the government back down. Last week, Joshua Micah Marshall achieved both.


Friday, February 22, 2008

Obama Substance

Obsidian Wings
by hilzoy

I, too, endorse Obama for President, to no one's surprise. Since Katherine has already written a lot of what I would have wanted to say about his rhetoric, and since I've already talked about one of my most important reasons for supporting him, namely the fact that he got Iraq right from the outset, I'll say something about the peculiar idea that Barack Obama is all style and no substance.

I came to Obama by an unusual route: as I explained here, I follow some issues pretty closely, and over and over again, Barack Obama kept popping up, doing really good substantive things. There he was, working for nuclear non-proliferation and securing loose stockpiles of conventional weapons, like shoulder-fired missiles. There he was again, passing what the Washington Post called "the strongest ethics legislation to emerge from Congress yet" -- though not as strong as Obama would have liked. Look -- he's over there, passing a bill that created a searchable database of recipients of federal contracts and grants, proposing legislation on avian flu back when most people hadn't even heard of it, working to make sure that soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan were screened for traumatic brain injury and to prevent homelessness among veterans, successfully fighting a proposal by the VA to reexamine all PTSD cases in which full benefits had been awarded, working to ban no-bid contracts in Katrina reconstruction, and introducing legislation to criminalize deceptive political tactics and voter intimidation. And there he was again, introducing a tech plan of which Lawrence Lessig wrote:

"Obama has committed himself to a technology policy for government that could radically change how government works. The small part of that is simple efficiency -- the appointment with broad power of a CTO for the government, making the insanely backwards technology systems of government actually work.

But the big part of this is a commitment to making data about the government (as well as government data) publicly available in standard machine readable formats. The promise isn't just the naive promise that government websites will work better and reveal more. It is the really powerful promise to feed the data necessary for the Sunlights and the Maplights of the world to make government work better. Atomize (or RSS-ify) government data (votes, contributions, Members of Congress's calendars) and you enable the rest of us to make clear the economy of influence that is Washington.

After the debacle that is the last 7 years, the duty is upon the Democrats to be something different. I've been wildly critical of their sameness (remember "Dems to the Net: Go to hell" which earned me lots of friends in the Democratic party). I would give my left arm to be able to celebrate their difference. This man, Mr. Obama, would be that difference. He has as much support as I can give."

Imagine my surprise, then, when I heard people saying that Obama wasn't "substantive". It was exactly like my experience in 2004 when, after hearing Wes Clark for the first time, I went and looked up his positions on a whole host of issues of concern to me, and only then started reading media accounts of him in which I "learned" that no one knew what his positions were.

As some of my students would say: I was like, wtf?

I was also surprised ...

... by the number of people who said: well, all this bipartisanship stuff sounds very nice, but how do we know it actually works? Isn't this just happy talk that will evaporate in the face of reality? Or, alternately: doesn't this sort of thing involve selling our souls to our supposed partners in compromise? Curiously, Obama has an actual legislative record, and so it is possible for us to see both how he approaches bipartisan cooperation and what results it yields. And it turns out that Obama does achieve results by working with Republicans, and doesn't tend to compromise on core principles.

Last year, I considered some of his bipartisan initiatives in the Senate -- notably on nonproliferation and ethics reform -- and concluded that what Obama actually does has nothing to do with the sort of bipartisanship that people rightly object to:

"According to me, bad bipartisanship is the kind practiced by Joe Lieberman. Bad bipartisans are so eager to establish credentials for moderation and reasonableness that they go out of their way to criticize their (supposed) ideological allies and praise their (supposed) opponents. They also compromise on principle, and when their opponents don't reciprocate, they compromise some more, until over time their positions become indistinguishable from those on the other side.

This isn't what Obama does. Obama tries to find people, both Democrats and Republicans, who actually care about a particular issue enough to try to get the policy right, and then he works with them. This does not involve compromising on principle. It does, however, involve preferring getting legislation passed to having a spectacular battle. (This is especially true when one is in the minority party, especially in this Senate: the chances that Obama's bills will actually become law increase dramatically when he has Republican co-sponsors.)"

Consider a different example:

"Consider a bill into which Obama clearly put his heart and soul. The problem he wanted to address was that too many confessions, rather than being voluntary, were coerced -- by beating the daylights out of the accused.

Obama proposed requiring that interrogations and confessions be videotaped.

This seemed likely to stop the beatings, but the bill itself aroused immediate opposition. There were Republicans who were automatically tough on crime and Democrats who feared being thought soft on crime. There were death penalty abolitionists, some of whom worried that Obama's bill, by preventing the execution of innocents, would deprive them of their best argument. Vigorous opposition came from the police, too many of whom had become accustomed to using muscle to "solve" crimes. And the incoming governor, Rod Blagojevich, announced that he was against it.

Obama had his work cut out for him.

He responded with an all-out campaign of cajolery. It had not been easy for a Harvard man to become a regular guy to his colleagues. Obama had managed to do so by playing basketball and poker with them and, most of all, by listening to their concerns. Even Republicans came to respect him. One Republican state senator, Kirk Dillard, has said that "Barack had a way both intellectually and in demeanor that defused skeptics."

The police proved to be Obama's toughest opponent. Legislators tend to quail when cops say things like, "This means we won't be able to protect your children." The police tried to limit the videotaping to confessions, but Obama, knowing that the beatings were most likely to occur during questioning, fought -- successfully -- to keep interrogations included in the required videotaping.

By showing officers that he shared many of their concerns, even going so far as to help pass other legislation they wanted, he was able to quiet the fears of many.

Obama proved persuasive enough that the bill passed both houses of the legislature, the Senate by an incredible 35 to 0. Then he talked Blagojevich into signing the bill, making Illinois the first state to require such videotaping."

Getting legislation like this passed is a real achievement. Getting it passed unanimously is nothing short of astonishing. Mark Kleiman, who knows this stuff extremely well, put it best:

"1. Obama was completely right, and on an issue directly relevant to the more recent debates about torture. Taping interrogations is an issue that really only has one legitimate side, since there's no reason to think it prevents any true confessions, while it certainly prevents false confessions (over and above the legal and moral reasons for disapproving of police use of "enhanced interrogation methods").

2. Pursuing it had very little political payoff, as evidenced by the fact that Obama has not (as far as I know) so much as mentioned this on the campaign. Standing up for the rights of accused criminals in a contemporary American legislature requires brass balls.

3. Getting it through required both courage and skill. The notion that Obama is "too nice" to get things done can hardly survive this story: he won't face tougher or less scrupulous political opponents than the self-proclaimed forces of law and order. Yes, in this case the change was helpful to the cause of crime control, since every innocent person imprisoned displaces a guilty person. But that didn't make the politics of it any easier."


Similarly, people often wonder whether Obama's call for a new kind of politics is just empty words. Here again, I think he has a real record to point to. He has consistently worked for ethics reform. In Illinois, where he helped pass what the WaPo called "the most ambitious campaign reform in nearly 25 years, making Illinois one of the best in the nation on campaign finance disclosure." In the US Senate, he was the Democrats' point man on ethics, and was deeply involved in the ethics legislation passed this year. He didn't get all he wanted -- for instance, he and Russ Feingold couldn't get a bill establishing an Office of Public Integrity to deal with Congressional scandals. But he accomplished a lot, and wants to accomplish more.

Moreover, he is very interested in open government. The searchable database of government grant and contract recipients that I mentioned above is part of that. But Obama's proposals (pdf) go further. For instance, consider these proposals:

* Centralize Ethics and Lobbying Information for Voters: Obama will create a centralized Internet database of lobbying reports, ethics records, and campaign finance filings in a searchable, sortable and downloadable format.

* Create a Public “Contracts and Influence” Database: As president, Obama will create a "contracts and influence" database that will disclose how much federal contractors spend on lobbying, and what contracts they are getting and how well they complete them.

* Expose Special Interest Tax Breaks to Public Scrutiny: Barack Obama will ensure that any tax breaks for corporate recipients — or tax earmarks — are also publicly available on the Internet in an easily searchable format.

* End Abuse of No-Bid Contracts: Barack Obama will end abuse of no-bid contracts by requiring that nearly all contract orders over $25,000 be competitively awarded.

* Sunlight Before Signing: Too often bills are rushed through Congress and to the president before the public has the opportunity to review them. As president, Obama will not sign any non-emergency bill without giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House website for five days.

* Make White House Communications Public: Obama will amend executive orders to ensure that communications about regulatory policymaking between persons outside government and all White House staff are disclosed to the public.

* Conduct Regulatory Agency Business in Public: Obama will require his appointees who lead the executive branch departments and rulemaking agencies to conduct the significant business of the agency in public, so that any citizen can see in person or watch on the Internet these debates.

These are all proposals designed to allow public scrutiny of the business of government. As I read it, one of Obama's goals in introducing them is to permanently alter the incentives politicians have. As long as legislators did not have to disclose their earmarks, there was no way of finding out that the person who stuck a favor for an obscure casino in one state into an appropriations bill was from another state entirely. There was therefore no way for that person's constituents to wonder why s/he was expending political capital on people outside the district, and no way for reporters to see just who was doing that casino favors. Once legislators have to own up to their earmarks, however, that changes. It won't make abuse go away, of course, but it does make it a lot easier for people to notice and object to the fact that their representatives are doing inexplicable favors for people they have no obvious reason for caring about.

Likewise, if all bills had to be posted to the internet five days before they were voted on signed (oops), it would be much, much more difficult for Congress to sneak some appalling provision through in the dead of night. If all contracts over $25,000 had to be competitively bid, certain sorts of corruption would be a lot more difficult to carry out. And if there were a database of tax breaks and tax earmarks, not to mention a database of lobbyists, it would, again, be much, much easier to track who was doing favors for whom, and why. (And I haven't even started on Obama's proposals (pdf, p. 5) to strengthen FOIA: "Barack Obama would restore the tradition of free information by issuing an Executive Order that information should be released unless an agency reasonably foresees harm to a protected interest.")

I think of these proposals, collectively, as a means of empowering journalists, bloggers, and random citizens to discover corruption and the abuse of power, and to bring the power of shame to bear on politicians who practice it. This clearly isn't all that Obama means when he talks about changing the way politics is practiced in this country. But it's part of it. And I think it's pretty powerful.


I sometimes wonder why, exactly, people go on saying all this stuff about Obama lacking substance. Sometimes, I suspect it's just laziness, as in the case of this dKos story in which mcjoan, who is usually much better than this, lists a whole lot of questions she wishes the candidates would answer, apparently unaware that Obama (and, for all I know, Clinton), has already answered most of them. I suspect, though, that part of it might be the assumption that idealism is necessarily woolly and misty-eyed and all about singing Kumbaya, while realism is necessarily cynical and disillusioned.

I have never believed this. There are certainly hard-bitten, cynical people who don't think particularly clearly about the world (Dick Cheney leaps to mind.) More to the point, I can't see any reason why there shouldn't also be people who are both genuinely idealistic and hardheaded at the same time. I suspect Obama is one of them. I do not for a moment imagine that he is perfect. (Cough, clean coal technology, cough cough.) But I do think that he's one of the best candidates I can remember, and that's good enough for me.

& Andrew Sullivan 2.20.2008

& Charles Peters WaPo 1.4.2008

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

YouTube - Candidates@Google: Barack Obama (64:31)

YouTube - Candidates@Google: Barack Obama

"I am a big believer in reason and facts and evidence and science and feedback."

Illinois Senator and 2008 Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama visits Google's Mountain View, CA, headquarters to deliver his innovation agenda, speak with Google CEO Eric Schmidt, and take questions from Google employees. This event took place on November 14, 2007, as part of the Candidates@Google series.

Friday, February 15, 2008

¿good spin?


.... Perhaps good spin is an oxymoron, moral if not linguistic. But good spin is clever and forward-leaning pitches of actual realities, facts. The word in the sense we use it today actually came into being in the early 90s and to a great degree around the '92 Clinton campaign, which had such mastery in its practice.
But this Clinton campaign has been doing it in a weird parody mode. Not sharp 'spins' on favorable realities, but aggressive pitches of complete nonsense.
So now you have Penn successively saying caucus wins don't really count, small state wins don't really count, medium state wins don't really count, states with large African-American populations don't really count, all building up to yesterday's gem: "Could we possibly have a nominee who hasn't won any of the significant states -- outside of Illinois? That raises some serious questions about Sen. Obama."

Clinton is ultimately responsible for putting her political fate in this fool's hands. But this is a guy who has basically one big political win under his belt and whose record in seriously contested races, particularly Democratic primary races is one of almost constant defeats. Much of Clinton's current predicament stems from Penn's disastrous, glass-jaw 'inevitability' strategy and the mind-boggling decision not even to contest a slew of states where Obama racked up huge victories and many delegates.

Campaigns are about winning votes not making excuses. There are plenty of delegates still out there for Clinton to win -- over a thousand left in the remaining primaries. But her efforts are being stymied by a campaign apparatus rooted in the belief that any new reality can be overturned by pretending it away.

--Josh Marshall
more ... on TPM
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ed. this is Thrasymachus at the helm (Josh Marshall is calling him a "clown" and a "fool" [and a "goof"; and a "swaggering oaf"; and "an overrated incompetent excelling mainly in being a showboating buffoon"]; someone else might be [slightly less] derisive and choose a milder term like 'doofus'). But whatever you call it, this brand of 'leadership' or 'wisdom' is at the very heart of what needs to change.

Our institutions, our corporations, our political campaigns are often led not by skilled pilots, but by ace rhetoricians. The 'Change' we need in this election is precisely a change away from leaders driven by 'the belief that any new reality can be overturned by pretending it away.' And more perniciously, the belief that every selfish advantage may be pursued by means of rhetorical or other trickery, notwithstanding the merits.

That's not integrity: that's a Rovean race to the bottom. We need a change to leaders with integrity. With intellectual honesty. Clear, substantive communicators; not spin doctors.
[Thrasymachus] is so convinced of the power of art, and of his art in particular, to accomplish whatever one wants that he does not feel compelled to look for the permanent limits and ends which cannot be altered by art.
The Republic of Plato (A. Bloom trans.), Basic Books, Second Edition (Paris 1991), pp. 340-41
[alibris / amazon]

In this networked information age, reality is no longer such a diffuse gas or formless liquid. There is a certain viscosity to reality, in this new age. A certain ability for information to hang together across dimensions. I perceive this viscosity to be increasing, rapidly. Firm factual footholds are everywhere to be found.
Here Thrasymachus might interrupt me mid-sentence to object that reality has not been (nor could ever be) fully specified or ascertained. Thrasymachus would likely expect that this observation would entirely counter my notion of the increasing viscosity of reality (a species of the rhetorical ploy I call 'multiplying by zero', which blends Schopenhauer's strategems 14, 20 & 25, among others). In other words, if the substance (reality) is not a 'solid,' then it's as good as a gas?

Well, Thrasymachus, I would reply, that does not stand to reason. A viscous substance is very different from a gas, and the fact that it is not a 'solid' does not nullify this difference. And in any event, it does not obviate an honest investigation of the properties of the substance (including its alleged viscosity) or its potential applications.
Something is different in the world today that is driving a change to a politics of integrity, of rigorous attention to the merits, of clear and substantive communication.

Lawrence Lessig articulates this concern with the Clinton campaign's use of Rovean tactics in his short film explaining why he is supporting Obama over Clinton.

Update 2.25.2008: Hillary campaign self-exemplifies its Rovean tactics by accusing Obama of engaging in Rovean tactics.

Update 3.6.2008: Huff Po: "After her New Hampshire comeback, Clinton famously declared: 'I found my own voice.' For this latest comeback, she found Karl Rove's voice."

Update: 3.7.2008: David Corn
How can the Clintonites justify tossing questions about Rezko at Obama but decrying his questions about her tax returns, equating his queries with Ken Starr's inquisition into Whitewater and Monicagate? Well, they don't have to justify this absurd contradiction. They can just keep spinning, throwing what they can at Obama and crying foul when anything is tossed their way. Presenting an honest, logical, fair, and consistent argument is not their aim; winning is.
Update: 3.28.2008: ¿Details Matter? look who's talking.

Update: 4.4.2008: ¿uth?

& Andrew Sullivan 4.23.2008

& Robert Reich & Glenn Loury 4.28.2008& Mike Allen Politico 8.10.2008

& TPM 8.11.2008

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Olbermann Special Comment

Passing Contempt

TPM Muckraker

Well, after all that -- after seven months, it's done. The House passed the contempt resolution against White House chief of staff Josh Bolten and Harriet Miers, 223-32. Most Republicans, having staged their walk out, did not vote.

So now the ball's in Attorney General Michael Mukasey's court. He's expected to decline to enforce the citation of contempt, since both Bolten and Miers declined to testify as a result of an assertion of executive privilege.

The resolution included both a criminal contempt citation and the authorization for the House Judiciary Committee to sue the White House if Mukasey refuses to enforce the citation. You can read those here.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Thinking Man's Madrassa Smear


If things continue on their current trajectory and Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee we should get used to much more of the still largely subterranean effort to scare Jews and broader portions of the electorate into believing that Obama is anti-Israel. The truth is that there's little apparent difference between Obama's position and Hillary's or, for that matter, anyone else in the mainstream of the Democratic party or most of the non-Taliban wing of Republican party. Here's a mild example of the effort -- a story in the New York Sun about how Obama supporter Zbigniew Brzezinski (the article calls him an 'advisor' -- he's probably something between a supporter and advisor) is leading a delegation to Syria sponsored by the ... Rand Corporation.

On another front, here is a recent post at The Politico about emails sent out by a member of Clinton's finance committee asking friends and acquaintances to 'read the attached important and very disturbing article on Barack Obama.' The enclosed article is this one by the neanderthal American Thinker blog by Ed Lasky.

There's much more of this going on than you realize. And it may be prepping to expand dramatically.

--Josh Marshall

see also: CNN calls Bush out for distorting Obama’s postions on Iraq and Pakistan when he appeared with Chris Wallace on FNS. (via C&L)

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Cards on Table

Mark This Day


Attorney General Michael Mukasey is back on the Hill today, testifying to the House Judiciary Committee. Paul Kiel is covering it at TPMmuckraker.

So far, he's dropped two big bombshells. DOJ will not be investigating:

(1) whether the waterboarding, now admitted to by the White House, was a crime; or

(2) whether the Administration's warrantless wiretapping was illegal.

His rationale? Both programs had been signed off on in advance as legal by the Justice Department.

Cynics may argue that those aren't bombshells at all, that the Bush Administration would never investigate itself in these matters. Perhaps so. But this is a case where cynicism is itself dangerous.

We have now the Attorney General of the United States telling Congress that it's not against the law for the President to violate the law if his own Department of Justice says it's not.

It is as brazen a defense of the unitary executive as anything put forward by the Administration in the last seven years, and it comes from an attorney general who was supposed to be not just a more professional, but a more moderate, version of Alberto Gonzales (Thanks to Democrats like Dianne Feinstein and Chuck Schumer for caving on the Mukasey nomination.).

President Bush has now laid down his most aggressive challenge to the very constitutional authority of Congress. It is a naked assertion of executive power. The founders would have called it tyrannical. His cards are now all on the table. This is no bluff.

--David Kurtz

Larry Lessig: 20 minutes or so about why I am 4Barack

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Catalog of Falsehoods

Center for Public Integrity

via Talking Points Memo

The Bush Administration's 935 false statements in the two years following September 11, 2001, about the national security threat posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq, are finally cataloged [by the Center for Public Integrity].

click to enlarge

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Over the past two and a half years, researchers at the Fund for Independence in Journalism have sought to document every public statement made by eight top Bush administration officials from September 11, 2001, to September 11, 2003, regarding (1) Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction and (2) Iraq's links to Al Qaeda. Although both had been frequently cited as rationales for the U.S. war in Iraq, by 2005 it was known that these assertions had not, in fact, been true.
The centerpiece of this project is an exhaustive, searchable, and robustly indexed database of all public statements on the two topics by President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and White House Press Secretaries Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan. These statements were painstakingly collected from the websites of the White House, State Department, and Defense Department as well as from transcripts of interviews and briefings, texts of speeches and testimony, prepared statements, and the like.
Also included are statements in the same two categories that appeared in major newspapers and on television programs, were part of public statements by other officials, or were contained in government studies or reports, books, and the like from September 11, 2001, to December 31, 2007. Secondary material from reports and books was included in the two-year database only in cases where specific dates were available. Other noteworthy material was included for context and completeness.
As a general rule, only the relevant excerpts of public statements have been included in the database; deleted material is marked "[text omitted]." (In a case of a lengthy press conference in which Iraq is mentioned only briefly, for example, only the relevant passage is included.) Where deleting text might have rendered the remaining material misleading or difficult to understand, longer passages were left intact. And in some cases public pronouncements of Bush administration officials that did not include direct statements were included if they provided useful context.
Wherever possible, hyperlinks are provided.
"False Statements" — Definitions
In press briefings, interviews, and other question-and-answer venues, each answer was categorized for purposes of this study as a distinct statement. In speeches or briefings, only when one statement clearly ends was the next statement considered, and then only if a "buffer" of at least 50 words separated the statements.
Direct false statements. False statements by the eight Bush administration officials were counted as "direct"—and included in the total count of false statements—when they specifically linked Iraq to Al Qaeda or referenced Iraq's contemporaneous possession, possible possession, or efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction (chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons). In addition, any use of the verb "disarm" was categorized as a direct statement because of the literal meaning of the word. (Example: "Saddam Hussein has got a choice, and that is, he can disarm.") These false statements can be found within the passages that are highlighted in yellow in the project database.
Indirect false statements. Statements were classified as "indirect" if they did not specifically link Iraq to Al Qaeda but alleged, for example, that Iraq supported or sponsored terrorism or terrorist organizations, or if they referred to Iraq's former possession of weapons of mass destruction or used such general phrases, for example, as "dangerous weapons." These indirect false statements are not included in the total count of 935.

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& Scott McClellan's memoir politico 5.27.2008

& Senate Intel Phase II report:

McClatchy, 6.5.2008
A long-awaited Senate Select Intelligence Committee report made public Thursday concludes that President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney made public statements to promote an invasion of Iraq that they knew at the time were not supported by available intelligence.
& TPM 6.5.2008

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& Harry Shearer 5.24.2008

& interview with CPI founder Charles Lewis mediashift 6.18.2008

& flash forward 8.25.2011

Friday, February 01, 2008

CNN Dem Debate Most Watched in Cable History

Media Bistro via Crooks and Liars

Last night’s Democratic debate on CNN drew 8,324,000 total viewers, making it the most-watched primary debate in cable news history, and the second-most watched on TV this election cycle (ABC’s Democratic debate on Jan. 5 drew 9,360,000) .

The debate gives CNN the top five highest rated cable debates this cycle in total viewers.

> Update: In the A25-54 demo, the debate finished with 3,257,000 viewers, the #1 take in cable news history as well.