Not All Lobbyists Are Created Equally

The New York Times has an article today on the emergence of a problem area in the Obama administration’s nearly-blanket exclusion of lobbyists from holding positions in the administration. Essentially while President Obama’s campaign promise to shut out lobbyists has largely worked, it has also meant many uniquely talented individuals who have spent their career lobbying for non-profits, charities, and human rights groups are ineligible to roles they would be excessively well suited for. At issue is the simple reality that not all lobbyists are created equally. It is fairly nonsensical for administration officials to contend that someone who has spent a career working for Human Rights Watch is indistinguishable from someone who has spent their career lobbying for Philip Morris, Pfizer, or Wal-Mart.

The article reminded me of the exchange during the 2007 Yearly Kos Presidential Forum, where Hillary Clinton was heavily booed for saying she would continue to accept lobbyist contributions to her campaign.

While Clinton’s answer was politically problematic in front of a very progressive audience that largely, at that time, backed Obama and John Edwards, in hindsight the point she’s making should be quite clear. Lobbyists fighting for nurses, firefighters, child care workers, or victims of genocide simply are not the same as lobbyists for major corporations. Unfortunately for Clinton, while she was making a true assertion about different types of lobbyists, she would not extend that distinction to her finance department’s guidelines for accepting donations. That is, she used nurses to cover for pharmaceutical lobbyists and was largely punished for it politically.

Making exceptions to this policy wouldn’t be hard. An easy guideline would be to limit acceptable lobbyists to those that have worked in social services, human rights, labor unions, and environmental organizations. Or, on the other hand, you could exclude anyone who has lobbied on behalf of a Fortune 500 company or industry lobbying group. This would work because the problem isn’t constitutionally protected lobbying activities, but the influence of money on politics. I’ve never heard of Human Rights Watch being associated with someone like Jack Abramoff, though I can’t say the same for many business lobbies. Those are the areas whose influence the Obama administration should seek to reduce in their house, not people working honorably for human rights and charitable purposes.

Our Nation on Clinton’s Visit to China

SFT Deputy Director Tenzin Dorjee talks about the current state of affairs in Tibet as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits China for the first time.

Tendor was also quoted today on the Clinton visit by AFP:

Students for a Free Tibet said Clinton’s remarks sent the wrong signal to China at a sensitive time.

“The US government cannot afford to let Beijing set the agenda,” said Tenzin Dorjee, deputy director of the New York-based advocacy group.

China has been pouring troops into the Himalayan territory ahead of next month’s 50th anniversary of the uprising that sent Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama into exile in India.

“Leaders really need to step up and pressure China. It’s often easy to wonder whether pressure makes a difference. It may not make a difference in one day or one month, but it would be visible after some years,” Dorjee said.

You can donate to SFT’s Rangzen Circle by clicking here.

Blue Dog Dem Trumps Liberal Aristocrat

I’d posted a few times on the outrage that would have been the appointment of aristocrat Caroline Kennedy to fill Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat in New York. The idea of someone who has never ran for office or been a public servant to be handed on of the most important exclusive jobs in the land was repugnant to me. Seeing Kennedy step aside from the seat hunt was satisfying, but I can’t say that Kirsten Gillibrand is a better pick, even if she has actually won her office a few times.

Gillibrand is a conservative Democrat – a Blue Dog with little understanding of the rule of law. She voted for the FISA Amendments Act, which included retroactive immunity for telecoms who helped the Bush administration spy on Americans. She is an opponent of comprehensive immigration reform. That said, she also voted against TARP and will be a support of worker rights legislation like the Employee Free Choice Act.

How does the conservative Gillibrand represent New York, one of the most progressive states in the country? How will her views evolve in the Senate, where she won’t have to appeal to fairly conservative voters in upstate New York’s 20th Congressional District? It’s certainly possible that she will become as liberal as her constituents, but I can’t think of a single Democratic Senator who became more liberal after attaining office. It’s much more common for senators to become less liberal as the enter the collegial, risk-averse Democratic Senate caucus.

There were many better candidates to represent New York in the Senate — Jerry Nadler, Carolyn Maloney, Andrew Cuomo, Tom Suozzi, Nydia Velazquez, Steve Israel, and the list goes on. Paterson picked a conservative Blue Dog, a rarity in New York federal politics. I just don’t get it.

The most likely (and cynical) answer is that Paterson wants up-state political credibility and he believes Gillibrand will be a strong advocate for Paterson’s first campaign for governor. Unfortunately while this move may help keep Paterson in office, it doesn’t serve the citizens of New York as well as it serves New York’s Governor. As is so often the case in Democratic politics, the best liberals can do is hold their breath and hope centrists and conservatives will end up being more liberal than they’ve ever been before while entering the conservative legislative bodies in Washington.

Hillary Clinton on US-Tibet Policy

Hillary Clinton was not asked any questions about Tibet during her confirmation hearings earlier this month. This marked the first time in sixteen years that a nominee for Secretary of State was not verbally asked about Tibet in their hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, an ominous sign for how the Committee is thinking about America’s relationship to Tibet and its impact on Sin0-American policy.

The Boston Globe has published the written questions posed by Senator John Kerry to Senator Clinton, as well as her responses (PDF link). Here is the question and answer on Tibet.

98. The government of China and the Dalai Lama of Tibet disagree on the issue of greater autonomy for the Tibetan Autonomous Region, which has been a stumbling block in their ongoing dialogue.  Meanwhile, many Tibetans have lost faith in the possibility of a negotiated compromise, while Chinese leaders have expressed a deep distrust of the Dalai Lama’s intentions and foreign contacts.  What options may be acceptable to both sides?  What kinds of international pressure, if any, would be helpful in promoting a resolution?

The Obama Administration will speak out for the human rights and religious freedom of the people of Tibet.  If Tibetans are to live in harmony with the rest of China’s people, their religion and culture must be respected and protected.  Tibet should enjoy genuine and meaningful autonomy.  The Dalai Lama should be invited to visit China, as part of a process leading to his return.  We will condemn the use of violence to put down peaceful protests, and call on the Chinese government to respect the basic human rights of the people of Tibet, and to account for the whereabouts of detained Buddhist monks.  We will also continue to press China on our concerns about human rights issues at every opportunity and at all levels, publicly and privately, both through our mission in China and in Washington.

This is a very solid statement, though it does not support Tibetan independence nor explicitly call for the end of China’s 50 year old military occupation. It would have been great to see an explicit call for the release of political prisoners or ending population transfer of Han Chinese into Tibet or Tibetan nomads into concrete villages.

That said, this is a written policy response and it is a jumping off point. It’s my hope that Senator Clinton and her staff at the State Department will push for President Obama to meet with the Dalai Lama in the Oval Office. That would be meaningful change that I could believe in.

Clinton Confirmation & Tibet

Over the last week or so Students for a Free Tibet has been conducting an advocacy campaign on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, calling on the Committee to verbally ask Senator Clinton about Tibet. Today, the New York Times published a list of questions from foreign policy experts they hoped the FRC would ask Clinton. Shi Yinhong, “a professor of international relations and the director of the Center for American Studies at Renmin University in Beijing,” asks:

Tibet may prove to be the most divisive issue between China and the West. There is a real possibility that China and the Obama administration will have friction or even a temporary diplomatic clash over Tibet. How will you treat this possibility? If Barack Obama is inclined to meet with the Dalai Lama, what will be your attitude? Might you or other senior members in the State Department meet with the Dalai Lama or other leaders of the Tibetan exile government?

This is a great question. I have personally been asking a number of Senate staffers ask:

“What concrete steps will you commit your office to take to support the Tibetan people’s right to self-determination, including steps to press the Chinese government to negotiate substantively with the Dalai Lama and concrete steps that the US government can take of its own accord?”

Either of these questions would be a great step forward in the treatment of Tibet as a critical issue for US-Sino relations.

Stop Projecting

Alessandra Stanley of the New York Times does some serious drama-projection in this piece on the nomination of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Here’s a snippet of the wankery:

Presentations of presidential appointees can be important, but they are rarely interesting. Usually, the men and women chosen for top cabinet roles are not well known to the public; if there is drama behind the scenes, most in the audience are blind to it.

That was hardly the case on Monday when President-elect Barack Obama introduced his national security team. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s speech was no ordinary public-service pledge; for plenty of viewers, it was the moment when Mrs. Clinton finally conceded the election for real.

The occasion was solemn, but like a wedding where the parents are divorced, the ceremony was carefully choreographed to avert awkward moments and camouflage past unpleasantness.

When Mr. Obama unveiled his economic team last week, he alone made a speech. In this more delicate selection, it was decided that Mrs. Clinton, his pick for secretary of state, should also speak. But that might look suspect — or too political — unless the five other appointees also said a word, and that, in turn, required a few words from Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., who had yet to make public statements of any consequence since the election. (He spoke last, spiritedly, and at some length.)

Not all the staging was designed to address Mrs. Clinton’s sensibilities. She and the five other appointees walked out on stage and stood in line, almost as if at attention, waiting for the president-elect to walk in. He did so briskly, with Mr. Biden at his heels. [Emphasis added]

Look, it’s clear that the press wants there to be Obama-Clinton drama. They love the old storylines and they love creating a storyline that wedges Democrats apart. This is exactly that sort of story: Clinton v. Obama, Can He Trust Her? Will She Go Rogue???

But it’s 100% B.S. Nowhere in the press conference is it apparent that any of it was “designed to address Mrs. Clinton’s sensibilities.” Stanley is projecting, plain and simple. Moreover, at no point in the time since June 7, 2008, has Hillary Clinton ever suggested that her concession of the Democratic nomination for the presidency was not “for real.” Again, Stanley is making things up.

I have no doubt that the good people of the Obama Transition Team carefully choreographed yesterday’s press conference. It was likely on par with the roll-out of the Obama administration’s economic team for importance. So yes, there was surely a schedule of who spoke when and who stood next to whom. It’s even conceivable that the speeches of all of President-Elect Obama’s appointments were written and/or vetted by members of the transition team. This is not news. The professionalism and orderliness seen in the Obama press conference yesterday was not done out of a desire “to avert awkward moments and camouflage past unpleasantness.” It was “carefully choreographed” to be presidential.

Alessandra Stanley and her editors need to stop projecting their desired story lines onto the Obama administration (viz. making things up) and start reporting the news like professionals. Unfortunately, my guess is that as long as Hillary Clinton (let alone Bill) is in the picture, this will not happen. This is no fault of Senator and soon-to-be Secretary of State Clinton; the blame lies with petty and trite fiction writers like Alessandra Stanley.