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Tea Baggers to Picket Detroit Auto Show

January 10th, 2010 admin No comments

What do you do if you’re upset that the government had to bail out the auto industry? If you’re a tea bagger, your first thought it to stamp your feet and whine about how the socialist government is taking over private industry, by picketing the Detroit Auto Show.

The anti-tax group National Tax Day Tea Party has called on supporters from southeast Michigan to “make a peaceful yet clear statement against government takeover of America,” namely the Obama administration’s 61% stake in General Motors.

The auto companies owe the government too much money, so picket them so that they… uh… can’t pay back that money! But hey, this means that the Tea Baggers will be marching beneath Joe Louis’ upraised fist, which should be highly photogenic.

Start lettering those signs, guys, and remember GOD HATES JAGS.


Categories: Politics Tags: , ,

White House Backing Away from Net Neutrality? Not So Much

January 10th, 2010 admin No comments

An opinion column at CNET News suggests that the White House is backing away from the strong Net Neutrality position taken by FCC Chairman Genachowski. Larry Downes, “nonresident fellow at the Stanford Law School Center for Internet & Society,” writes:

The Obama administration and its allies at the Federal Communications Commission are retreating from a militant version of Net neutrality regulations first outlined by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski in September.

That’s my reading of a number of recent developments, underscored by comments made by government speakers on a panel on the first day of a Tech Policy Summit at CES in Las Vegas….

The administration is clearly backtracking. But why?

Part of the reason is some unexpected political pressure, including a letter signed by 72 congressional Democrats opposing the FCC’s proposed rules soon after they were announced.

But the bigger explanation is the growing priority within the administration for nationwide, affordable broadband service. In the course of preparing the national broadband plan, mandated by the 2009 stimulus bill, universal high-speed access has taken on increased significance in the government’s hopes for a rapid economic recovery. Beyond the current financial woes, Congress, the FCC and the White House all recognize the importance of improving the communications infrastructure to maintain U.S. competitiveness in technology innovation….

The major carriers are making the investments, and have every business reason to make more. But the Net neutrality rules, depending on how the FCC defines key terms, could hamstring their efforts to make their money back. Net neutrality is making Wall Street uncomfortable about financing broadband deployment. That in turn is making the White House nervous.

Net neutrality is turning out to be a noisy side show and a growing distraction from the real priority for both the White House and the FCC: getting the country wired for recovery.

The argument that somehow the administration had completely changed position on the criticality of Net Neutrality as a key component of expanding broadband deployment and the recovery plan was a new one to me. I asked Tim Karr, campaign director for Free Press and the smartest Net Neutrality expert I know, for his take on this interpretation:

Downes offers a series of loose assumptions and scant evidence to support his idea that the White House is backing away from Net Neutrality.

The notion that Net Neutrality is a “sideshow” when it comes to the “real priority” of using the Internet for our recovery blithely ignores the role an open Internet plays to fuel innovation and economic growth in the country.

I gather Downes was too busy conjuring conclusions to have read yesterday’s report from several NYU legal scholars and economists who find that Net Neutrality fosters an essential “open and entrepreneurial dynamic” that “creates billions of dollars in value for American public.” (http://policyintegrity.org/documents/Free_to_Invest.pdf)

The idea that Net Neutrality thwarts investment in network improvements has been thoroughly debunked by real market data. And connecting more people to a non-Neutral (and therefore value-less) Internet is not a sound economic solution.

There has been a concerted effort by AT&T to undermine Genachowski’s strong NN position, including a massive astroturfing campaign with progressive bloggers and organizations (of which I’ve been a target, receiving a handful of e-mails from USIIA, a proxy for AT&T and the phone and cable industry) in an attempt to convince us that strong NN means massive job loss and thus Democratic losses. That effort did get 72 Congressional Dems (all but two of whom received “received campaign donations this year from Internet service providers, the companies most likely to be impacted by new regulations”). But there’s no evidence, outside of Downes’ interpretation, that the administration is wavering.

The FCC is still taking public comments on its strong NN proposed rule-making. Save the Internet has an easy-to-use online tool that you can use to add your support for the proposed rule. But you have to act soon–the comment period closes next Thursday, Jan. 14.


Millions of Jobs Between Now and November. Or Else.

January 10th, 2010 admin No comments

One of the chief responses to the continuing disaster that is America’s unemployment situation runs along the lines of: It’s a lot better than it was last year at this time. That depends on how you look at it.

In terms of the number of jobs the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported lost in the Decembers of 2008 and 2009, the situation is a lot better. Jobs aren’t being slashed in anywhere near the same numbers they were a year ago, 681,000 vs. 85,000. Layoffs are way down and, on average, people who still have jobs are more secure that they’ll keep them than they were just a few months ago. Various indicators of a slowly improving economy can be seen everywhere. No doubt, thanks to government intervention, however imperfect, there have been innumerable sighs of relief.


Click here for larger image.

But looked at from the standpoint of accumulated job losses, with no real hiring in sight, the situation looks far worse than it did a year ago. Back then, “only” 3.1 million jobs had been lost since the recession began in December 2007. Today, 5.0 million more Americans are officially out of work. And 6.1 million of them have been out of work for at least six months. Altogether, those counted as jobless number 15.3 million. That, says the BLS, is 10% of the work force, the “U3″ number. Add in the part-timers who want full time work and people too discouraged to keep looking for a job and this “U6″ measurement rises to 26.5 million and 17.3%.

The numbers, however, are actually worse than they first appear. Because, as BLS statistics show, 661,000 people left the labor force last month. We don’t know where they all went. Retired, enrolled in school, left the job market to raise a child, took time off to write a book, sank into despair. What we do know is that if they had stayed in the labor force and kept looking for one of those jobs that isn’t yet available, today we’d be looking at a 10.4% unemployment rate, with 16 million officially out of work. Maybe 27 million when the underemployed and discouraged get tallied.


Click here for larger image

What these terrible numbers represent are persons with rent to pay, kids to feed, tuition to cover, loans to repay. Not abstractions. People. Which is why everyone – except for Republicans hoping to make political gains off of misery – eagerly hopes each new job report will announce that the numbers have begun to be reversed.

However, given the BLS’s tweaky application of seasonal adjustment formulas and calculations about new businesses arising and old ones folding (called the birth-death model), this focus on when positive job numbers will finally be announced is really a perverse waste of time.

I don’t say this with any malice toward anyone. I’ve watched for that crossover from negative to positive, too. Nor am I saying there’s anything wrong with following the job trends that appear over a period of a few or many months. It’s just that when the day the numbers finally appear to go positive for more than a one-month blip, it will be a maybe-yes, maybe-no affair.

And, more importantly, that breakthrough, such as it is, will only mark the beginning of what must be obvious to everyone by now will be a long, long trek back to the employment levels of December 2007 when there were 8.1 million more people working than there are now and millions more had full-time instead of part-time jobs.


Click for a larger version of this Calculated Risk chart.

Our attention instead ought to be focused on the problem of how long it’s going to take to return to the number of jobs there were when the recession started two years ago.

As many others and I have pointed out for months, and Robert Reich noted Friday, it normally takes the creation of about 100,000 jobs each month just to keep up with added new job seekers entering the labor market. So, add to that 8.1 million jobs we’ve lost another 2.5 million “never entereds.” That’s 10.6 million jobs that have to be made up.

To achieve that by the summer of 2012, in time to have a favorable effect on the presidential election, would mean, Reich says, 400,000 jobs created each month. During the Clinton boom, the best rate was 280,000 a month. If that could be matched, it would still take until early 2013 to cover those 10.6 million jobs. And, it should be remembered, each month going forward we will need yet another 100,000 jobs to handle people entering the market for the first time. So the actual number of needed jobs over the next three years is more like 13-14 million. A formidable task.

If there were at least program in place that was showing marked improvement in the unemployment situation, even if the jobless numbers were still high, it would be harder for Republicans to spin things in their direction for the election. But what kind of program?

The imperfect stimulus has helped stop the bleeding. But the only way for the administration to do a timely job of putting Americans back to work is with a dynamic and massive federally run jobs program, one that employs millions as quickly as possible. That means more government spending. Not only should it be done right away for all the obvious human reasons, but also because the already somewhat dicey political situation for Democrats in November is going to be far dicier if more jobs aren’t generated soon. Excuses won’t go over well.

It would be the toughest imaginable sell on Capitol Hill. Fought against tooth and nail by obstructionist Republicans, Democratic deficit hawks and assorted worry warts. It might very well go down to defeat. The only alternative then would be diverting some TARP repayments and unspent stimulus dollars. That’s legally problematic and, at any rate, wouldn’t produce enough money.

But the possibility of defeat should not be a deterrent to trying. The White House should bite the bullet on this, go all out, take the issue to the American people and fight like hell in Congress to make this happen. The next few months will offer the only chance, however slim, of accomplishing it. Marching into November with massive numbers of Americans still unemployed and no program for effectively reducing those numbers could make it a painful year at the polls.  

There is, as pointed out many times before, far more to do than merely try to get more Americans back to work. We need a frontal assault on deregulation, deunionization, privatization, unfettered globalization, wage stagnation and the outrageous transfer of wealth to the upper 20%, especially the top 1%. Fixing, even ameliorating, structural unemployment will require rejiggering out trade policy and establishing a progressive industrial policy.

Atrios makes an excellent point in that regard:

One of my longstanding pet peeves is that everyone in the US pretends we don’t have an “industrial policy” because that implies naughty state intervention in certain sectors. But of course we have lots of naughty state intervention in certain sectors, we just don’t do it even notionally for any good reason. We prop up the single family homebuilding industry and the automobile industry (even before the bailouts). We prop up certain agricultural sectors. We favor big business over small. Now we’re massively propping up one skimmer industry – the financial industry – and are about to prop up another skimmer industry – health insurance.

So, yes, by design or accident we have industry policy. We should recognize that and then decide what we should be doing instead of pretending we don’t have any.

Whatever we do in that regard, however, will have to wait until we solve the immediate crisis. For one thing, there aren’t anywhere near enough fighting progressives in Congress to deal effectively with these deeper problems with the economy. For now, Band-Aids will have to do.


Categories: Politics Tags: , , , ,

Midday open thread

January 10th, 2010 admin No comments
  • Baby, it is cold outside:

    By the end of the weekend, 180 million Americans may shiver through record-setting cold. Sixty percent of Americans will see and feel temperatures 15 to 30 degrees below normal.

  • Let’s talk creative gerrymandering.
  • Ken Burns is going to update his classic baseball documentary.
  • Motor City socialist activists mobilize inside the party to change it:

    Democratic socialists in southeastern Michigan can do something most of their counterparts across the nation cannot: they can boast of electoral victories. Moreover, they possess a level of influence within the Michigan Democratic Party of which many American leftists dream. And they’ve done it all without compromising their beliefs or values.

    Their success has come from working with, instead of against, local Democrats. …

    “As a small organization, how can we make a difference? We leverage our forces. We put our efforts towards a progressive Democrat challenging a Republican, or a progressive Democrat challenging a centrist Democrat [in a primary]. “

    “We don’t pick symbolic victories,” Green says, “We pick things we can win.”

    — Meteor Blades

  • Here’s a story you don’t see every day: Cops are ordered to return marijuana to rightful owner.
  • Color me unconvinced:

    Jan. 8 (Bloomberg) — Timothy Geithner, the former Federal Reserve Bank of New York president, wasn’t aware of efforts to limit American International Group Inc.’s bailout disclosures because the regulator’s top lawyer didn’t think the issue merited his attention, according to a letter sent to lawmakers.

  • Business Week looks at the new importance of IMAX to contributing to Hollywood blockbuster status.
  • Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) has announced its Top Ten Science Stories of 2009, including:

    The changing conditions in the ocean due to increased acidity from increased CO2 is one of the unknowns in future climate change projections.  LANL’s Climate, Ocean, and Sea Ice Modeling effort for DOE and the National Science Foundation develops the highest-resolution dynamic models of the world’s oceans and polar icecaps.

    – Plutonium Page

  • The New York Times looks at how spending habits are changing due to the recession, and Newsweek looks at just how long those habits might last:

    The Recession Generation: Those entering the workforce now will likely make less and save more—not just in the short term but for the rest of their lives.

  • CBS polls Americans about their weekends:

    Sixty-three percent of those surveyed say they ask themselves “Where did the weekend go?” while only 34 percent say they feel relaxed and ready for Monday morning. Working Americans and parents of children under age 18 are even less likely to feel rested and relaxed at the end of a weekend.

    While the weekends fly by for many, fewer than half (42 percent) of working Americans say they would give up a day’s pay per week in exchange for a longer weekend to spend more time with family and friends. Fifty-three percent of Americans said they would rather keep their current hours and pay even it means less time with family.

  • Proof that not all big elections this year are legislative in nature–social conservatives are gunning to claim a bigger stake of the Texas State Board of Education. Their success or failure could say a great deal about the quality of education for a generation of kids in the second-largest state in the Union. What are the goals of the cons?

    Another far-reaching decision will come next week, when board members decide what students must learn in U.S. history, government and other social studies courses. The board is sharply divided on the topic; social conservatives, for example, want a greater role for religion in U.S. history classes and textbooks.

    “I see [the elections] as a referendum on what we’ve done the last few years,” said Republican board member Don McLeroy, an outspoken social conservative who served as chairman until last summer.

    The seven Republicans who make up the conservative bloc have made their influence felt in new curriculum standards for English and science – including much debated language that requires students to examine “all sides” of scientific evidence for evolution in biology classes.

    In a real way, this matters every bit as much as any singular House or Senate campaign. Worth keeping an eye on. –Steve Singiser

  • Katha Pollitt examines The Decade for Women: Forward, Backward, Sideways?:

    Women are still drastically underrepresented on op-ed pages, on Sunday chat-shows, as experts in news stories, and are scanted in literary prizes, awards and Best of the Year lists, as actresses and directors and playwrights. It seemed like 20,248 articles and 1,507 books were published explaining why women’s inequality is their own fault.

    — Meteor Blades


How’s that Name-Change Working Out?

January 9th, 2010 admin No comments

Back in 2007, Senator Bernie Sanders introduced Senate Bill S 2398, the Stop Outsourcing Security Act. It collected a single co-sponsor, Senator Hillary Clinton.

The crux of the bill:

The use of private security contractors for mission critical functions undermines the mission, jeopardizes the safety of American troops conducting military operations in Iraq and other combat zones, and should be phased out.

It went nowhere.

Back in the heat of the presidential campaign, in February 2008, Senator Clinton said that:

“…from this war’s very beginning, this administration has permitted thousands of heavily-armed military contractors to march through Iraq without any law or court to rein them in or hold them accountable. These private security contractors have been reckless and have compromised out mission in Iraq. The time to show these contractors the door is long past due.”

Indeed. And Clinton’s voice was not the only one raised against the damage done by mercenaries. A Congressional report found the same, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had tough words as well.

One of the main catalysts for those tough words was the company that now calls itself Xe but is still known to everyone as Blackwater. Although Blackwater’s contract for security work in Iraq was canceled after nearly five years of behavior that some might call scandalously reckless and I call bloodthirsty, the administration in which Clinton is now a key player has found itself unable to cut its ties to Blackwater. At a hearing last month of the Commission on Wartime Contracting, it was learned, as Justin Elliott reported at TPMuckracker, that Blackwater pre-qualified as one of the five companies to train Afghan police. It was learned too that Blackwater is the only company that handles security for State Department employees in Afghanistan. And it obviously has a security contract with the CIA for front line work in Afghanistan.

The question is why. Or, rather, what the hell? As if U.S. military interventions weren’t problematic enough, these cowboys still operate as if they were in some third-tier action movie. Not a low-budget one, however.  

As if all the sanguinary scandals and investigations of the past weren’t enough, all through December, the headlines fairly screamed “Blackwatergate.”

First came the news about Blackwater participating in CIA raids in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Then a more than mildly perturbed judge ruled that the five company employees who had killed 17 civilians in Iraq couldn’t be tried because federal prosecutors had botched what should have been an airtight case against them by violating their constitutional rights. Then it was learned that two of the seven CIA operatives killed December 30 by a double-agent suicide bomber in Khost, Afghanistan, were Blackwater employees. Then it turned out that a third Blackwater employee was injured in the Khost bombing. Then two Blackwater employees were indicted for murdering two Afghans last May.

The news about the deaths at Khost sent Illinois Democrat Jan Schakowsky, chair of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, over the edge. She was launching an investigation she told Jeremy Scahill, a reporter at The Nation who has been following Blackwater since he began research for his outstanding 2008 book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. Schakowsky said:
 

“The Intelligence Committees and the public were led to believe that the CIA was phasing out its contracts with Blackwater and now we find out that there is this ongoing presence. … Is the CIA once again deceiving us about the relationship with Blackwater?

“It’s just astonishing that given the track record of Blackwater, which is a repeat offender endangering our mission repeatedly, endangering the lives of our military and costing the lives of innocent civilians, that there would be any relationship,” Schakowsky said. “That we would continue to contract with them or any of Blackwater’s subsidiaries is completely unacceptable.”

Today, on Democracy Now, Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez interviewed Scahill and Schakowsky. You can watch it, read the transcript at the link, or read the excerpt below:

JEREMY SCAHILL: … Let’s remember here that this was the worst attack on a CIA base that we know about since the 1980s. And here you have three Blackwater guys in the center of this blast at the time. Now, we’re not sure what the role was of the Blackwater guys there. That’s what Representative Schakowsky is investigating right now. But let’s say for a moment that they were doing security, because Blackwater has, since 2002, had a contract with the CIA to do force protection in Afghanistan for the CIA. They not only guard static outposts of the CIA, but when CIA operatives move around the country, Blackwater guys travel with them as their security.

So if they were doing the security there, and you have, on their watch, this incredibly devastating attack, not just against some random CIA outpost in the middle of Canada or something, but against the epicenter of the forward operating maneuvers that the intelligence community of the US is engaged in to hunt down Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden, because this asset made it onto that base, we understand, claiming that he had just met with Ayman al-Zawahiri. So how is it that he walks in there with explosives? And then, I think that should be one of the things that’s investigated as Congresswoman Schakowsky takes this on.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Congresswoman Schakowsky, your concerns about this latest report and what you’re hoping to look into?

REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY: You know, regardless of what the role that the Blackwater operatives were playing in this incident, why is the CIA, why is any unit of the government, the State Department, the Department of Defense—why would anyone hire this company, which is a repeat offender, threatening the mission of the United States, threatening, endangering the lives of American, well, CIA and military, and then—and also known to threaten and kill innocent civilians? It is just amazing to me, astonishing to me, that we still find Blackwater anywhere in the employ of the United States government at any place around the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, during the primaries, Hillary Clinton supported a ban on Blackwater. President Obama didn’t. How does that relate to what you’re introducing now, the legislation that you’re introducing?

REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY: Look, I’m introducing legislation called Stop Outsourcing Our Security, and the idea of that is that when we have mission-sensitive activities, inherently governmental functions in battle zones around the world, that we should have only people that bear the stamp of the United States government. And that means that that would include no private military contractors at all in those operations.

Now, look, when we have a situation where you can question whether or not these contractors can get away with murder—after all, this case against those shooters at Nisoor Square has been dismissed—hopefully that there will be another effort by the Justice Department to go after these people, because it was dismissed for prosecutorial misconduct, which is true. I think there were many mistakes made. But right now, these contractors are in a legal limbo. And so, if these individuals can get away with murder, imagine—you don’t have to imagine, you know what it does to our relations with the Iraqi government and with governments around the world. And now you’ve got a situation where Germany is asking, what were Blackwater people doing in Germany?

Not just Blackwater. Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, chairperson of the Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, pointed out in mid-December that from June 2009 to September 2009, there was a 40% increase in Defense Department contractors in Afghanistan. In the same period, the number of armed private security contractors working for the Pentagon in Afghanistan doubled, to more than 10,000.

I suspect that the Stop Outsourcing Our Security legislation has no more chance of passing in 2010 than it did in 2007-08. That’s not merely troubling, it’s infuriating. Because whatever you think of U.S. policy in Afghanistan – and I think the White House is on the wrong track and we’ll all soon come to regret it – who can doubt that these private armies are a serious danger, and not just to U.S. “interests and image” abroad, but, quite possibly in the not-too-distant future, to citizens at home.  


Televising the conference

January 9th, 2010 admin No comments

I happened to catch Eric Boehlert of Media Matters on the “Montel Across America” radio show this morning, and wanted to address something that came up during the discussion interview.

Montel entered into the following exchange after playing clips of then-candidate Obama saying he’d opt for open, transparent and televised negotiations on the health care bill, including the conference committee on the bill:

WILLIAMS: How can you argue this? The President said it over and over and over again: this will be on C-SPAN. Now we get down to the short strokes, and it’s in the closed room.

BOEHLERT: Yeah, you know, I mean, Brian Lamb, the CEO of C-SPAN sent a letter over to the Congressional leaders asking that the reconciliation be televised, and things like that. And, you know, I think that’s an interesting and could be potentially a good idea. I don’t think it’s ever been done. We’ve never seen the reconciliation process between the House and Senate televised. And I guess the only point I’d make about what Obama was saying on the campaign — I don’t think he was talking about the reconciliation process. He was comparing the Clinton in ‘93, when sort of the White House, well, was accused of writing the legislation and leaving Congress out of it. I think, clearly, those comments from Obama on the campaign trail were talking about formulating the legislation. I certainly don’t think he was talking about when, you know, there’s a bill passed by the House and the Senate, they meet to sort of make ends meet — that that would be on C-SPAN. But he certainly opened the door to having a debate about a transparent process.

WILLIAMS: I mean, he opened that door, and you know, Igor Volsky was on a little earlier in the show today, from the Center for American Progress, and he made a good point about the fact that, yeah, you know, it’s good for the process in some ways. All it does though is help hamper the process and slow it down, because most of the politicians use it as a free opportunity to grandstand and politicize the process rather than actually utilize the process for what it was there for, which is to come up with a decent bill. But it does kind of, you know, come back and bite you. You’ve got to look at yourself in the mirror when you say eight times, I’m gonna be transparent, I’m gonna be transparent on health care, on health care, on health care, on health care. When you do it eight times, the public may expect you to follow through with what you said.

BOEHLERT: Yeah, and when you talk about C-SPAN a lot, and when C-SPAN comes up and says, oh by the way, we want to air the reconciliation process — so, yeah, there’s always things you say on the campaign trail which can come back to haunt you. I would argue that this is not as direct as some critics are trying to make it. Again, I don’t think anyone was ever discussing the reconciliation process. And again, I don’t think that has ever been televised in the history of C-SPAN. It certainly wasn’t televised when Republicans were running Congress. And I think there is something to be said for once you do televise it. This reconciliation process, in any bill it’s difficult and complicated. For health care, it’s even more difficult and complicated. And the idea that you’re going to televise it and then make the process somehow any better — there’s an argument to be made that that will just complicate things. Of course, there’s an argument to be made that all transparency is a good thing in government.

OK, I’ve got some issues with this. But because I’ve said a number of times now that when the question deals with Congressional procedure, the answer is almost always “yes and no,” you won’t be surprised to learn that the answer is the same in this case, too.

First of all, the minutia: the conference process is not the same thing as reconciliation. We’ve been over this. Though a conference reconciles competing versions of a bill, “reconciliation” also refers to a specific budgetary procedure that’s also come up a lot in the context of the health insurance reform bill, and it just confuses things needlessly to refer to the conference process as the reconciliation process.

With that out of the way, we could come to the question of whether or not candidate Obama meant to include the conference process in his definition of the “negotiations process.” On the one hand, I hope so, because it’s really not helpful in transparency terms to say that the preliminary stages of the process will be open, but the rewrite will be closed. Conference is often where the rubber meets the road, and to exclude it — without explicitly saying so — from your definition isn’t exactly fair.

On the other hand, I guess I hope that Obama didn’t include the conference process in his working mental definition of the negotiations process, because the President, while naturally a powerful player in the process, really has no business dictating legislative procedure to the Congress. One branch per person, please.

But to me, at least for the moment, that’s kind of a lesser point too. Basically, I’ve come to expect overpromising and blurring the lines on the campaign trail. That’s probably part of why I dislike the primary campaigns so much. It seems a waste of time to me to fight with one another so intensely over the contents of campaign position papers, when I know so much of it is going straight out the window when it gets to Congress, anyway.

That does, however, bring me to the other point, which is the one where I pivot to the “yes and no” answer.

Has there ever been a Congressional conference committee televised on C-SPAN? Yes there has. As a matter of fact, C-SPAN televised the February 2009 conference committee meeting on the stimulus bill, and you can watch it on the C-SPAN web site. And if you do, you’ll hear Harry Reid say that there hasn’t been an open conference like that for 15 years.

So, “yes and no.” Yes, there have been televised conferences before. And no, it doesn’t happen very often and never happened when Republicans were in charge, as Boehlert points out.

But there’s more. Go ahead and watch the whole conference, but you’ll never see any of the negotiations. Why not? Because they weren’t conducted in that room. They were conducted elsewhere, and then the conferees came into a nice conference room with a big, broad table and some TV cameras in it, and proceeded to read speeches to each other — Democrats praising the bill and the process, and Republicans condemning it.

What was in it? Oh, you heard a little about that. How did it get in there? Not so much about that.

So again, “yes and no.” Yes, you can put a conference committee on C-SPAN. But no, you can’t make them actually do their deals in front of the camera. And so you get the “steak sauce” answer: You asked for an open and transparent conference. We just showed you everything covered by the definition of “conference” on C-SPAN.

But you didn’t learn anything.

And that’s part of the value of learning about the process — and the gap between what the rules say and how things are actually done. Ask for a televised conference and you may very well get it. But you won’t necessarily get what you were after, and you’ll instead spend your time arguing with one another over something more akin to what the meaning of “is” is.


Categories: Politics Tags: , , , , , , ,

Midday Open Thread

January 9th, 2010 admin No comments
  • Portugal, which, by the way, is 84% Catholic, becomes the sixth European country to legalize same-sex marriage. As Joe Sudbay at Americablog points out, it’s refreshing to see a government that isn’t run by the Conference of Catholic Bishops.
  • President Obama will:

    … unveil a $2.3 billion tax credit on Friday to promote clean energy technology and boost job creation in the hard-hit manufacturing sector, the White House said.

    It said in a statement the credit, from funds earmarked under an emergency $787 billion stimulus package Obama signed in February 2009, would create 17,000 new U.S. jobs and would be matched by an additional $5 billion in private capital.

  • Fire up the tea kettles:

    In a National Journal survey of 109 Republican “party leaders, political professionals and pundits”, not a single one deemed Sarah Palin to be the most likely Republican nominee.

  • Tom Cole (R-OK), the only Native American in the House, calls RNC Chairman Michael Steele’s use of the phrase, “honest injun,” unacceptable and offensive. And maybe when Steele’s book tour is over, he’ll apologize.
  • Who knew? Bob Bennett (R-UT) just isn’t conservative enough:

    “Bob Bennett is out of touch with the times and with his state, and Utah Republicans have better choices for their candidate in November,” Club President Christ Chocola said.

    “Our extensive research into the race suggests Utah Republicans already understand this, as they have begun rallying around several viable and superior candidates,” he continued. “The Club for Growth PAC is committed to seeing one of them defeat Bennett either at the nominating convention in May or in a primary election in June.”

  • Read greendem’s diary and learn how dangerous it can be for a cartoonist in a teabagging world.
  • Can someone please light a fire under Martha Coakley?

    According to PPP’s Tom Jensen, Democratic candidate Martha Coakley’s sleepy campaign–which is increasingly starting to irritate party strategists who trusted her to lock the race down early–has resulted in an electorate that’s more Republican than usual and more anti-health care reform than the state as a whole. Brown, one of the few Republicans of stature in the state, has a 60 percent favorable rating–a result of his own ads and of being basically ignored by Coakley.

  • From the you-can’t-make-this-shit-up files:

    Fed up with the mainstream media filter, Rep. Sue Myrick (R-NC) is taking her quest to inform Americans about the threat of jihad to the Internet — namely, YouTube — in a new weekly terror news video series that will be featured on her congressional Web site.

    Who is paying for Myrick’s little one-woman jihad?

  • A former GOP chairman says that a gubernatorial bid by Norm Coleman is a “bad idea both for Coleman and for Minnesota.”
  • Will anyone listen?

    Mountaintop coal mining — in which Appalachian peaks are blasted off and stream valleys buried under tons of rubble — is so destructive that the government should stop giving out new permits to do it, a group of scientists said in a paper released Thursday.

  • Geraldo Rivera flip-flops on racial profiling.
  • Elvis Presley would have been 75 years old today.


Christina Gagnier: CES–The Answer to Publishing Industry Woes: Mobility

January 9th, 2010 admin No comments

CES’ Super Session 7: Big Thinkers and Disruptive Technologies- Today’s Thought Leaders, Tomorrow’s Technologies presented a panel of big thinkers who addressed issues ranging from the impact of the explosion of E-Reader options all the way to technologies that will revolutionize healthcare. In the middle of the E-Reader discussion, an important segue was taken, a discussion of the publishing world and its transition into the digital world.

Decentralized media needs to react to the creation of the decentralized sources upon which users can access it. This was the core message of comments panelist Colin Crawford, Founder and CEO of Media7, made as he discussed how the publishing industry could accomplish its transition from print to new media. Crawford noted that the time is now for content producers, specifically the publishing industry, to seize this unique moment where no one seems to have determined how the mobile market will be tapped into.

When commenting on whether publishers should look to technologists to solve their own problems, Crawford remarked, “Publishers need to solve their own problems.” While many in the publishers industry are hanging their future on technology, there is a need for the industry to recognize that have to create different forms of content for different devices. The desktop reader of the New York Times and the iPhone application user are not one in the same. Content for those on the go needs to be quick to access and effectively communicated. As Colin Crawford puts it, “The right content needs to be with you at the right time.”

Mobile devices have yet to see their full potential realized, whether its publishers trying to share content or government agencies reacting to the needs of their constituents. Mobile penetration worldwide speaks to the need for content to be developed that is user-friendly on these devices. Yet, as more people look towards mobile as a source for information delivery, new challenges are presented: mobile phones demand that content is personal.

The decentralization of news delivery also demand that content providers catch up in a world of search and social networking, two obstacles that seem to stand in the way of online success for publishers. Users today are able to zone in on precisely what information they need, and communities of interest grow increasingly smaller. For the publishing industry to keep pace with technology, the publishers that will be most likely to succeed are those who excel at information delivery in a particular niche.

The continuing problem for the giants of print media is that content is becoming more personal, and everyman can be a content producer. Panelist Dr. Levy Gertzberg, President of the Zoran Corporation, pulled out his Flip Mino HD video camera to illustrate to the audience how personal content creation can be these days. Easy-to-use and fairly inexpensive (around $200 for the MinoHD), Flip illustrates the virtues of mobility: shoot a video, plug the camera into your laptop’s USB drive and upload it instantly. It is mentality that publishers must adopt.

As Colin Crawford reminded the audience, the print model used to work well both in terms of user experience and as a business model. The new model, the mobile model, also has this potential. Between branded applications and microtargeting with mobile ads, the industry has the opportunity to remain viable through this second decade of the 21st century.


Chris Weigant: Friday Talking Points [106] — Election Season Begins

January 9th, 2010 admin No comments

Before we begin our weekly talking points, we must sadly offer our condolences to Vice President Joe Biden, whose mother just passed away. No matter what side of the political divide you come from, or what you think of our Vice President, losing your mother is something everyone can sympathize with, so we offer our thoughts to the Biden family in this sad time for them.

Of course, in Washington, the craziness goes on as usual, forcing us once again to pay attention to various bits of lunacy. Topping the list of lunatics this week was a man arrested for jogging naked near the White House. Now, I’ve got to admit, although “streaking” is a fad we all wish would make a comeback, you’ve got to hand it to this guy for pulling such a stunt in January in Washington, rather than waiting until at least the cherry blossoms had peeked out. Jogging around The Ellipse naked in January? Brrr!

The media continues its ongoing lunacy, this week hitting their well-used chorus of: “everything is bad news for Democrats, all the time.” But we’ll get to that a bit later, in the actual talking points.

The final bit of lunacy is the breathlessness which awaits the decision of when to hold the State Of The Union speech, which was earlier rumored to possibly pre-empt the season-opening episode of Lost. This will likely go down in history as the first time the biggest speech the president makes each year had to worry about enraging fans of a television show. This is mostly due to the fact that previous presidents didn’t have to worry about such lunacy, and the fact that television used to actually have “seasons,” and the “season” started in the fall and went through uninterrupted to spring, after which time re-runs would air until the “season” started again. Nowadays, television has mini-seasons which start and end for no particular reason, at random times during the year, resulting in fewer actual new episodes for viewers. Don’t even get me started on that particular lunacy, please.

But we can all breathe a sigh of relief, as the White House is now reassuring everyone that Obama will not pre-empt Lost, but will instead pre-empt the last ten minutes of the Super Bowl.

Heh. Just kidding. Because that really would get some folks annoyed at the president. Hoo boy.

 

Most Impressive Democrat of the Week

The Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week was an easy choice. Senator Chris Dodd made an impressive announcement this week, that he would not be seeking re-election this year.

This is good news, because Dodd’s chances of winning weren’t good, and instead this virtually guarantees Democrats will hold this seat. Dodd, quite plainly, put his party’s interests ahead of his own self-interest. And that is a rare thing indeed in politics, even when you are faced with poll numbers which say you’re going to lose.

Senator Byron Dorgan decided to step down as well, but Democrats don’t have as good a chance in North Dakota of holding on to his seat. Dorgan was faced with the same bad polling news as Dodd, and decided one more run wasn’t worth it. To be fair, we’ll give him a Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week as well.

Because politicians who step down early from a losing race at least give some up-and-comer a shot at winning back the seat. The alternative is to run a campaign everyone knows you are going to lose, and by doing so, give the other party an easy pickup. At least this way, even if Democrats lose, they’ll at least have a better shot at winning than if Dorgan had tried to run again. The betting is that Republicans will pick up North Dakota anyway, I have to admit.

But for putting party ahead of ego, we congratulate Senators Byron Dorgan and Chris Dodd for winning Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. The award is Dodd’s ninth, putting him in third place on the all-time rankings, and Dorgan’s third, putting him in a nine-way tie for eighth place.

[Congratulate Senator Chris Dodd on his Senate contact page and Senator Byron Dorgan on his Senate contact page, to let them know you appreciate their efforts.]

 

Most Disappointing Democrat of the Week

I almost couldn’t think of a Democrat who disappointed me, which is remarkable since we’re really covering a three-week period this week (due to ourselves being pre-empted by our own annual McLaughlin Awards columns, of course).

But then Tim Geithner’s scandal sprang to mind.

Now, Geithner hasn’t been actually convicted of anything, but what leaked out this week was pretty damaging. Geithner, at the New York Federal Reserve, apparently was in the center of some hanky-panky involving AIG and the whole financial collapse last year (before Geithner was named Secretary of the Treasury). Geithner may have told AIG executives to keep quiet about some payments made (after AIG got billions of taxpayer bailout money), so the Securities and Exchange Commission wouldn’t find out about them.

This could be a big enough scandal to force Geithner to resign, although for now it seems he (and the White House) is hunkering down and hoping it will blow over.

Whatever comes of it, though, for telling a bailed-out company to essentially lie to a government regulatory agency, Geithner has more than earned Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week.

[Secretary Timothy Geithner has no contact info on the Treasury Department webpage, but you can always let the White House know what you think of his actions.]

 

Friday Talking Points

Volume 106 (1/8/10)

The usual talking point from the media, no matter the subject or circumstance, is how bad things are for Democrats, as I mentioned previously. This week, it reached a crescendo of fantastical proportions, as news headline after news headline screamed: “Democrats retiring — midterms will be Republican blowout!”

Democrats, as usual, appear befuddled by the whole thing. Democrats need to wake up, and start sounding a little more confident about their chances in the upcoming election. Not to the extent of appearing Pollyannaish, but still, they need to realize that doom-and-gloom can quickly become a self-fulfilling prophecy in the political world.

Democrats face the same conundrum that faces teenage boys everywhere — girls aren’t interested in guys who exude self-doubt, they are drawn instead to those who appear self-confident. The electorate, in this twisted metaphor, are the teenage girls (which actually isn’t that bad a comparison, considering the fickle nature of both).

So instead of individual talking points this week, I offer up instead one big talking point — how to talk about the upcoming elections, and Democrats’ prospects. This may be seen by some as sheer laziness on my part, which is probably a fair criticism, but in my defense, I am in the process of preparing to upgrade my ChrisWeigant.com website this weekend, and have been swamped with lots of details on this front. Next week, I promise, we’ll get back to a regular format here.

So, for Democrats everywhere, especially those about to be interviewed, let’s have a little rah-rah go-team talk for a change, because the Republican spin is solidifying in the media’s myopic eye, and will soon set as hard as concrete. Democrats need to counter this — soon — with some of their own spin. To wit:

 

“I see the media is obsessed over two Democratic senators announcing their retirement. But what goes completely unmentioned in these stories is the fact that six Republican senators have also announced they’re not running.

“Let’s do a little math, shall we? Two Democrats out of 58 is a little over three percent. Six Republicans out of forty is fifteen percent. So, the media’s focus on three percent of Democrats retiring, while completely ignoring the fifteen percent of Republicans retiring strikes me as a little one-sided in its reporting.

“Over in the House, much has been made over Democratic retirements as well, while ignoring the fact that more Republicans are retiring from House seats than Democrats. This is not exactly ‘fair and balanced’ reporting, guys.

“In actual fact, the two retirement announcements by Byron Dorgan and Chris Dodd were actually good news for Democrats. Before the retirement announcement, people were betting that both of them would lose their seats to Republicans. Net loss to Democrats, two seats, in other words. After the announcement, the smart money is that Democrats will hold onto the Connecticut seat. Net Democratic loss, one seat. By these announcements, Democrats’ chances in the Senate actually improved — but I must have missed all those news stories which examined this fact.

“History shows that a new president’s party will lose some seats in Congress in the midterm elections. But we Democrats do not see this as any sort of ‘landslide’ election, because we fully expect to start 2011 with a majority in both the House and Senate. We simply do not think that it is in the cards for Republicans to take control of either house of Congress this year.

“We’ve got some mighty good candidates running in some very competitive races, and if we ran the table, we even have an outside chance of picking up a few seats in the Senate. We do face some tough races to hold onto a few of our seats, it is true, but we also have some opportunities in other states of picking up a few seats as well. So I wouldn’t be writing the obituary of Democratic control of Congress quite yet, if I were you.

“Democrats have shown in the past year that we are willing to tackle the enormous challenges our country faces at the moment, and offer solid solutions for how to improve America in the future. Republicans have shown that they know how to say the word ‘no.’ Over and over and over again. It seems to be their entire party platform — stand in the way of progress, and obstruct everything rational adults know needs doing.

“We don’t think voters are ready to go back to the way Republicans ran things when they were in charge. We don’t think voters trust Republicans to be fiscally responsible, because when they were in power they refused to even pretend to pay for anything. Democrats have taken the lead in what is called ‘pay as you go’ legislation — making sure that things are paid for, and not just heaping on more spending.

“The voters are understandably annoyed over all the bailout money which President Bush had to ask Congress for, after the economy collapsed on his watch due to deregulation. But that money is starting to be paid back, and the taxpayers may even eventually turn a profit on the money, as the economy enters full recovery.

“Democrats are proud to run on our record, and will be making this case to voters everywhere this election season. And we are fairly confident that the voters are going to take a good hard look at both parties, and they’re going to see Democrats as the party that gets things done, and Republicans as the party of ‘no.’

“If the voters can even figure out who is a Republican and who is not, that is. It seems there is a gigantic intra-party struggle between Republicans and the insurgent Tea Party folks. The Republican Party is moving to a very radical, hard-right fringe position, and we don’t see that as a recipe for success in getting elected.

“Americans want to see their government work. Most of them aren’t interested in destroying government for some ideologically narrow viewpoint. But that, it seems, is what the Republican Party is offering them this year.

“Which is why I’m actually feeling pretty good about Democrats’ chances in the upcoming election. We think we can energize our base, and convince swing voters that we are the ones offering good ideas for moving the country forward. And, with Republicans offering nothing more than a vision of moving this country backwards, we think our chances are actually pretty good this year — especially since it looks like Republicans will be defending more open seats than Democrats.”

 

Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com

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Gina Glantz: Congress: Take the "Hanging Out" Challenge

January 9th, 2010 admin No comments

Driving across the country the last three weeks meant rarely hearing punditry. On occasion I scanned the New York Times and Washington Post on line. Small town papers became my news staple. Conversations along the way opened doors into lives outside the Beltway. Home now, I discover that pundit focus, beyond terrorism, is on how many Congressional seats the Democrats will lose. Clearly that also consumes Members of Congress.

Party changing and retirements signal re-election nervousness and job dissatisfaction. Not surprising since Congress seems to be all about who is doing what to whom in Washington and little about what is really happening back home.

It is time for Members to put aside pouring over poll results and resist town hall meetings that attract the most enraged constituents. It is time they sat down and read small town or city neighborhood papers and visit — unannounced – locally owned diners and the like. Members need to see first hand that decisions made in Washington are played out daily in difficult decisions made around kitchen tables. They need to be reminded that national statistics distort and what we all think about, we don’t necessarily know about.

Over the last three weeks, at locally owned establishments, we dined with a giant stuffed moose and a taxidermied buffalo that had appeared in “Dancing with Wolves.” (Sadly, we arrived at four diners with CLOSED signs in towns with as many closed stores as open ones.) We asked folks how they felt about health care reform. Almost everyone had a story to tell about someone they knew not having health care or about being so lucky that they had health care. Almost everyone said they couldn’t figure out what was going on but felt “something had to be done but Washington will probably get it wrong.”

We met a young family that had moved to a small town in fear that a potential economic collapse would happen in big cities first. They searched for a small town where there was good hunting, good schools and good neighbors. The father, a pig farmer, and his wife, a doctor, investigated Illinois but rejected it because “it has the highest rate of malpractice suits and therefore the highest malpractice insurance costs.” After four months in their new home, they decided to take their oldest out of public school because “No Child Left Behind really means every child left behind.” Hearing we were from San Francisco, the farmer said that we were probably ideological opposites. It didn’t matter because, in fact, his family concerns matched mine of years ago except I felt guilty about moving my oldest child out of public school while the farmer felt frustrated and vindicated in his view of government-run anything. If his two year old hadn’t gotten antsy, our engaging, civil conversation could have gone on and on.

Conversations become good anecdotes. The mainstream media often pick up on local stories as anecdotes. Reading about events where they happen transcends anecdotes. A county report indicated that town-by-town unemployment ranged from 9% to 25%. So much for national down ticks. A ninth grade class was featured because it collected 13,000 pencils to be sent to students in Appalachia. When was the last time a bi-partisan group in Congress thought about children in America without pencils? I learned about the Bennett Freeze, which fortunately the Obama administration reversed. Nevertheless, only 3% of Native Americans affected by the Bennett Freeze have electricity. When was the last time a bi-partisan group in Congress became enraged over Americans without electricity?

Over 30 years ago I was a District Administrator for a congressman who came home every weekend and went door to door. I am sure there are still Members of Congress who do some version of that. I suspect there are a lot more who don’t. Today, polls and demonstrations seem to drive Members’ impressions and that does a disservice to those they serve because the result is policy driven by partisanship not people.

I am not suggesting legislation by anecdote, though I prefer it to what we have now — legislation by angry mob and high profile lobbyists. I am suggesting “hanging out”, without fanfare, with constituents where they spend their time. And to do it right means to go without a trailing media. And why not have a district office staffer assigned to “hanging out” every week and reporting back to the Member. Maybe if Members shared stories, they would discover that a conservative family in Kentucky has the same desires and values as a liberal family in NY.

President Obama gets it. He obviously can’t “hang out” so from the start of his Presidency he insisted on reading ten letters a day from around the country. Maybe the White House should create a job for someone who travels around the country without fanfare and has conversations like I did. Someone who reports back to the 7:30 morning meeting to remind those in the middle of chaos that what they decide connects palpably to ordinary Americans. Such a job should be time limited because hanging out in the White House or in the halls of Congress for too long makes one beholden to the institution rather than to the people.

Who knows, maybe “hanging out” would result in civil conversations and legislative deliberations about people’s lives rather than all-consuming ideological screeching.


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