In recent days, RNC chairman Michael Steele has been “getting ripped apart” by conservative commenters on his blog, in response to his comments originally criticizing Rush Limbaugh. (He has since backed away from them.) Andrew Perez on The New Argument notes that in the past few days, Steele’s blog has been disabled, and now just redirects to the RNC homepage. Perez writes, “One has to wonder if the RNC has taken the site down in response to the attacks being launched there by the conservative base.” According to the Google cache version of the site, the last post on Steele’s blog was published on March 1. (HT: Americablog)
Ryan Grim has an excellent story in The Huffington Post spelling out in some detail what’s been a mounting problem with the Obama administration—the ban on lobbyists is having perverse consequences for staffing:
Lobbyists who for years have fought for workers’ rights, environmental protection, human rights, pay-equity for women, consumer protection and other items on the Obama agenda have found the doors to the White House HR department slammed shut. In the past, several progressive lobbyists explained, there was no reason not to register if there was a slim chance that the law might require it. Obama’s new policy changes the calculus, leading folks to deregister as federal lobbyists or consider other employment while they wait out the policy’s required two-year separation from lobbying.
Way back in August 2007 I criticized Obama’s lobbyist pledge as “meaningless grandstanding.” That turns out to have been too optimistic as Tom Malinowski and other well-qualified individuals who registered as lobbyists while working for progressive non-profits find themselves shut out of jobs, and the administration finds itself understaffed.
The problem here has always been that the lobbyist/non-lobbyist distinction doesn’t track any meaningful goals. Goldman Sachs’ lawyer, for example, is not a lobbyist, and therefore not banned from office. A “lobbyist” is just someone who talks to members of congress about legislation. You can be a corrupt special interest and not be a lobbyist, and you can be a lobbyist who only works for good causes.
But dumb as the pledge was, it’s dumber still to stick with it. Flip-flopping will look bad, but nobody will care in 2012 about an old flip-flop. By contrast, lots of people will care by 2012 if we’re in the midst of a prolonged depression. The premium has to be on getting smart, effective people in place in order to frame and implement smart, effective policy. At the moment, Obama is still floating on a positive image and the fact that people rightly blame his predecessor for the current situation being so bad. But that brand isn’t going to be worth anything in a couple of years unless he brings back growth. He should admit that the initial pledge was ill-considered and a bit cynical and that it would be even more cynical to stick with a mistaken promise merely in order to avoid the need to admit a mistake.
EPA administrator “Lisa Jackson has ordered the Great Lakes office of EPA to stop negotiations with the Dow Chemical company — begun in the last days of the Bush administration — over controversial dioxin cleanup in the Saginaw Bay watershed.” The Wonk Room reported in May 2008 how regional EPA administrator Mary Gade, in a scandal reminiscent of Alberto Gonzales’s firing of U.S. Attorneys, was pushed out by Bush appointees for her efforts to make Dow Chemical clean up its century-old toxic waste. Center for American Progress senior fellow Robert Sussman called her firing “highly irregular“:
If her only sin was zeal in protecting the public, firing her was wrong and will send a troubling message to EPA employees all across the country who are trying to do their jobs. Clearly, it’s up to Steve Johnson to explain why he fired Mary and up to Congress to investigate the circumstances.
Despite Congressional inquiries, Administrator Johnson never explained the firing, and only left his post when Bush left office. Now, however, Sussman — who supervised Obama’s EPA transition team — is the EPA’s senior policy counsel. According to the Michigan Messenger’s Eartha Jane Melzer, “Jackson also stated that newly appointed advisor, Robert Sussman, would provide oversight on the matter.”
Cleaning up the toxic Bush legacy will take years, but this is an welcome start, especially for the residents of Saginaw Bay.
Last night on Fox News, the Special Report “All-Star Panel” discussed a new Washington Institute for Near East Policy report calling for tougher sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program. Panel regulars Charles Krauthammer and Fred Barnes naturally argued that the U.S. should instead attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.
But disgraced New York Times reporter turned Fox News analyst Judith Miller — a rare “All-Star” panelist — briefly broke ranks. “I’m with the president on this one,” she said. “I think that we had eight years of calling the Iranians names. … What we really need to do is give it the good college try to see if there is a deal to be done.” Yet, Miller quickly sank back into her neoconservative comfort zone, arguing that if all else fails, “military action” will be necessary:
MILLER: And let’s say it doesn’t succeed, and the Iranians continue on their merry way, trying to have a bomb and trying to have relations with the world. At least then America will be able to say we have tried negotiations without preconditions. We have done everything we can. And it will set the stage for really tough sanctions. And, if that fails, unfortunately, military action.
It appears that old habits die hard when you’re hanging around the neoconservative crowd. As New York Magazine noted in 2004, “During the winter of 2001 and throughout 2002, Miller produced a series of stunning stories about Saddam Hussein’s ambition and capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction…almost all of which have turned out to be stunningly inaccurate.”
Miller’s neocon friends in the Bush administration (as well as Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi) fed her that false information, and she hung onto every word. In late 2002, citing unnamed officials, she co-wrote a New York Times article reporting that Iraq had “stepped up its quest for nuclear weapons and has embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb.” Senior Bush officials then pointed to Miller’s story as justification for war with Iraq. Miller even claimed shortly after the invasion that WMD had been found in Iraq.
In 2005, Miller went to jail for refusing to testify in the Valerie Plame leak scandal (Plame ironically worked on countering Iran’s nuclear program). While Miller was in jail, Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff Scooter Libby — a staunch neocon in his own right — wrote to her about how much he admired her and urged her to “come back to work — and life.”
Bingaman said any Congressionally developed system capping and trading emissions probably will include carbon allowances given to polluters like cement factories and coal-burning power plants, along with permits that are sold. [...] “I think it’s unlikely we will pass a cap-and-trade bill with 100 percent auction,” Bingaman told reporters at the Platts Energy Podium. He said such a system has the risk of substantially increasing the burden on some utilities and major emitters.
When you’re a Democratic Senator, you often face a conflict of interests. On the one hand, you would really like to sell out to anti-reform special interests. On the other hand, you can’t openly portray yourself as someone who wants to sell out. One appealing option is to do what Bingaman does here and just cite unspecified political obstacles. Not that the obstacles aren’t real. But in the U.S. Senate they’re also people, with names. But instead of naming names, Bingaman’s just offering the vagueness play. He’d love to do the right thing, but it’s “unlikely” to happen. And everyone can do this. Nobody needs to be the Senator who’s against a public plan in health care, or who’s against a 100 percent auction. Instead, everyone’s just being practical for the sake of someone else.
Another member of congress, this time Rep Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), wants us to know that he’s getting his policy ideas from a crank novelist. This time we learn via Twitter:
Still reading Atlas Shrugged – its quite the read. #TCOT #sgp #books
Something I think most liberals don’t understand is exactly how stupid many conservative leaders are. There is, yes, a condescending tendency to believe that no smart person could be on the right ideologically at all. That’s dead wrong. Plenty of bright people on the right. But the way their movement works, intelligence or understanding of politics and policy has no meaningful role in advancement. If anything, there’s something of a negative correlation between knowing what you’re talking about and being able to get ahead in right-wing politics.
So you get stuff like this. He’s not cocooning by reading Milton Friedman, he’s cocooning by reading Ayn Rand. It’s nuts, but it’s the way things work.
James Fallows has a characteristically judicious take on the Chas Freeman situation:
Again, I don’t know Freeman personally. I don’t know whether the Saudi funding for his organization has been entirely seemly (like that for most Presidential libraries), which is now the subject of inspector-general investigation. If there’s a problem there, there’s a problem. [...] So to the extent this argument is shaping up as a banishment of Freeman for rash or unorthodox views, I instinctively take Freeman’s side — even when I disagree with him on specifics. This job calls for originality, and originality brings risks. Chas Freeman is not going to have his finger on any button. He is going to help raise all the questions that the person with his finger on the button should be aware of.
To offer another word, I think it’s fair that people who don’t like Freeman’s views on Israel are going after him with the kitchen sink—comments about China, vague allegations of financial improprieties, etc. Politics ain’t beanbag and you go after your enemies with what you can find. But the habit of turning around and acting indignant when people point out that what’s motivating this fight is Freeman’s views on Israel is really pretty silly. When you hear that indicted former AIPAC director Steve Rosen, The New Republic, Commentary, Eli Lake, and Chuck Schumer are spearheading opposition to something you don’t say to yourself “they must be concerned about the human rights situation in China!” This is an organization dedicated to human rights in China and this is a good government group, and they don’t seem very interested one way or another in Freeman. You don’t need to read the minds of the individual members of the anti-Freeman coalition, or question the sincerity of any individual person’s statements on any particular issue, to see that Israel is what’s driving and uniting the coalition as a whole.
I should note in fairness than in one of his articles on this, Eli Lake did get a quote from Tom Malinowki from Human Rights Watch criticizing Freeman. Still, it remains the case that the driving force both in that particular instance and throughout the controversy more generally, is coming from the Israel hawk community and not from the human rights advocacy community.
Coming off his trip to the United States this past week, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown took the unusual step of commenting on California’s same-sex marriage ban today. At a Downing Street reception for LGBT leaders, Brown said that Prop. 8 was an “unacceptable” attempt to “undo good that has been done”:
I was in America yesterday and I know you will be sorry I didn’t bring Barack Obama back. He is coming soon. But what I saw in America told me what we have to do. This Proposition 8, this attempt to undo the good that has been done. This attempt to create divorces among 18,000 people who were perfectly legally brought together in partnerships, this is unacceptable and shows me why we always have to be vigilant, why we have always got to fight homophobic behaviour and any form of discrimination.
In 2005, the UK legalized same-sex civil partnerships. According to the site LGBT History Month UK, today’s event was “the first ever reception at Number 10 for LGBT campaigners.” With his comments today, Brown has arguably gone even further than President Obama, who has called Prop. 8 “unnecessary.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called today for forgiveness for former allies of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, saying “We must reconcile with those who committed mistakes, who were obliged in that difficult era to side with the past regime.”
“Today they are again sons of Iraq,” Maliki told a meeting of tribal leaders in Baghdad.
“We will reconcile with them, but on the condition they come back to us and turn the page on that dark part of Iraq’s history … What happened, happened,” he said.
The call for forgiveness comes five weeks after January’s provincial polls in which allies of Maliki, a Shi’ite and former opposition member who fled Iraq under Saddam and was sentenced to death in absentia, swept much of central and southern Iraq.
This is a welcome sentiment, but it remains to be seen whether it will be followed by real action on Maliki’s part. It’s also a reminder of the real challenges that remain for Iraq, the most immediate of which is the status of Kirkuk, and the deepening rift between Iraq’s Arab and Kurd population. I don’t think it’s overly cynical to see Maliki’s moves toward Sunni-Shia Arab reconciliation as girding up for an eventual Arab-Kurd confrontation.
Regarding the broader questions of Iraqi reconciliation, on Tuesday I attended a presentation at the U.S. Institute of Peace on a new report by the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI),entitled More than Shiites and Sunnis: How a Post-Sectarian Strategy Can Change the Logic and Facilitate Sustainable Political Reform in Iraq. The report, which represents the consensus view of a number of distinguished Iraqi academics and professionals brought together by NUPI, maintains — as have I and others here at the Center — that the surge has created greater security but no genuine political accommodation in Iraq.
Moreover, the report asserts that Iraqi political reform continues to be stymied by legal processes that give inappropriate weight to ethnic-sectarian representation, at the expense of Iraqi nationalist currents. The report argues that this is a result of U.S. policymakers having empowered some of the most communitarian groups in Iraq — the two main Kurdish parties (the Kurdish Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) and the Shiite Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq — as the main U.S. partners in post-invasion Iraq. In my view, this is also supported by the accounts of both Paul Bremer and Larry Diamond.
This system, the report asserts, works primarily to the benefit of neighboring Iran by preventing the empowerment of genuinely nationalist Iraqi political voices. The report advocates a kind of “political surge,” wherein the U.S. uses its remaining leverage in Iraq toward making the 2009 parliamentary elections “a center-piece of a drive for reform” by ensuring their inclusiveness. Specifically, the report suggests that the U.S. “threaten sanctions against authoritarian practices by the Iraqi government” in the period leading up to the parliamentary elections. It also recommends that the U.S. “sharpen focus on the democratic nature of the election “by critically re-examining the Iraqi government’s designation of ‘terrorists,’” providing support for anti-terrorist activities “only on a case-by-case basis.”
On Monday, President Obama will “hold an event at the White House in which he signs an executive order overturning the ban on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. Obama’s signature will reverse an order that former President Bush signed in August 2001, which banned federal funds from going to embryonic stem cell research except for a few dozen lines that were grandfathered in. An administration official tells ABC News that Obama’s announcement will focus on “restoring scientific integrity to health care policy.”