Issa & the FCIC

Via Paul Krugman, it looks like Rep. Darrell Issa is seeking to investigate the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission for corruption, citing high staff turnover and conflict of interest.

Monday is the deadline set by Darrell Issa, the Republican chairman of the House oversight committee, for Phil Angelides, chairman of the commission, to provide financial information and e-mail records to allow a congressional investigation of the investigators.

Mr Issa says he wants to check that taxpayers got value for money in the investigation and to examine any potential conflicts of interest, the high staff turnover, requests for more funding and the breakdown in relations between Republicans and Democrats

But if there’s any value in Issa looking into the FCIC, minority member Peter Wallison seems actually like a valid target. Mike Konczal writes:

This report is exactly what he believed in 2009. Think about this. We paid this guy at a level IV of the Executive Schedule, which is a juicy six-figure salary, for the days he worked. He had a staff, subpoena power, researchers, documents, access, interviewers. And he ultimately had a responsibility to be an investigator. And his final product is a handful of AEI white papers from 2009 stapled together. If there is new evidence from his investigations I didn’t see it on the first pass. He could have not been on the FCIC, we could have put in a conservative who was serious about getting to the bottom of what’s broken with our financial system, and Wallison could have written the same exact thing on his own.

I don’t presume that there’s nothing for Issa to investigate about the FCIC. But if he’s honest, he’d start with this glaring report from Wallison. Somehow, though, I doubt that this Republican attack dog will sink his teeth into the actions of Republican members of the FCIC.

Mid-East Protests & The Internet Kill Switch

As the world watches massive demonstrations in Egypt, the Egyptian government has shut down the internet. There are also reports that Syria has done the same. These are desperate acts from governments that are terrified of their citizenry. Killing the internet is an effort to silence their citizens.

With that as a background, let’s take a look at Joe Lieberman, who is still pushing for an internet kill switch under control of the President in the United States. CNet reports:

A controversial bill handing President Obama power over privately owned computer systems during a “national cyberemergency,” and prohibiting any review by the court system, will return this year.

Internet companies should not be alarmed by the legislation, first introduced last summer by Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), a Senate aide said last week. Lieberman, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, is chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

In the pantheon of bad ideas that Joe Lieberman has pushed over the last 20 years, this has got to be one of the worst.

Senate Rules Reform

Not terribly surprising, but there won’t be major Senate rules reform, let alone filibuster reform, this session. David Dayen has a post up about the deal, which can only be viewed as an early sign of the sort of fecklessness we’ll see from Democrats in the 112th Congress.

Sen. Reid thanked his colleagues in the GOP for coming to this agreement. He also said the Senate “runs on a fuel made of comity and trust” in his speech on the floor, and that the chamber has “the ability to debate and to deliberate without the restraints of time limits.” He said that’s encoded into the Senate DNA. I watch far too much C-SPAN, and I can tell you pretty clearly that I’ve seen almost no debate or deliberation in the United States Senate. The “encoding” in the DNA is a nonsensical statement of exceptionalism that merely invites obstruction. Make no mistake – the Senate, and all its members, are getting precisely what they deserve. Any future whining about how difficult it is to break a filibuster will go in one ear and out the other. They had their chance to fix this, and they punted. I don’t believe Republicans will be as generous.

Reid closed with this:

Senator McConnell and I both believe our reverance for this institution must always be more important than our respective political parties. As part of this compromise, we’ve agreed that I won’t force a majority vote to fundamentally change the Senate. That is the so-called Constitutional option. And he won’t in the future.

Good luck with that one. [Emphasis added]

I really wish Dayen’s assessment was wrong, but I’m right there with him. The Senate doesn’t debate and Republicans will not feel bound to this gentleman’s agreement. Expect the 60 vote filibuster to be repealed at the start of the next Senate, under the constitutional option.

Civil Resistance in Tibet

Matteo Pistono has a good piece in the Washington Post about the subtle acts of civil resistance Tibetans inside of Tibet have been taking. Pistono writes:

While authorities and security personnel in Lhasa on July 6, and other dates, keep a keen eye open and the detention cells ready for use, a quiet event occurs every Wednesday. On that day, Tibetans across Tibet and in particular in Lhasa carry out intensive popular religious practices, more than on any other day of the week. These include devotional practices such as circumambulating and prostrating in front of the Potala and Jokhang temples, making offerings of burning juniper incense, pouring libations in traditional vessels in front of the Tibet’s protector deity, Palden Lhamo, and tossing barley flour into the air. Why Wednesday? According to the complex Tibetan astrological calendar, the Dalai Lama’s birth sign falls on that day. As with many days in the Tibetan calendar that are deemed to be auspicious, pious and devoted behavior is believed to carry special weight on these days.

This unorganized yet massive expression of devotion to the Dalai Lama that is evident on Wednesdays took place in a similar fashion before the Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959. But because of the political climate now and the volatility that surrounds the figure of the Dalai Lama in Tibet, according to elderly Lhasa residents, the Wednesday observances are carried out with even more vigor than before 1959. When asked about the possibility of police questioning prompted by these observances a 65-year-old Tibetan man responded, “What do you think, will they ban Wednesdays?”

Though he doesn’t cite it by name, this civil resistance and identity strengthening campaign is called Lhakar.  A simple definition is:

Lhakar is a homegrown people’s movement that has emerged in Tibet. In spite of China’s intensified crackdown, Tibetans have embraced the power of strategic nonviolent resistance. Every Wednesday, a growing number of Tibetans are making special effort to wear traditional clothes, speak Tibetan, eat in Tibetan restaurants and buy from Tibetan-owned businesses.

This activism has happened organically, originating inside of Tibet. Exiled Tibetans are taking part too and Lhakar is becoming a major nexus for activism for Tibetans inside and outside of Tibet.

A Night of Contrast

Jonathan Singer is right to say that last night’s State of the Union did the job for President Obama, in that it laid out clear contrast between him and the Republican Party.

If I was struck by anything, it was that Barack Obama set the stage to come off as unreasonable [sic] as his political adversaries look unreasonable. From healthcare to spending to education, the President appeared willing to deal with Republicans unwilling to deal. This not only makes it easier for the President to win reelection — generally, the reasonable candidate is going to win over the unreasonable one — it will also make it easier for him to win the political battles that are almost assured to arise over the next two years out of the Congress, starting with a government shutdown that many expect to occur.

I think this is right. While the speech didn’t do a whole lot to energize me as a progressive activist, I think it really helped make the President stand apart from what the Republicans are selling: divisiveness, conflict, obstruction. If the lame duck session was any indication, the President will be able to paint Republicans into a corner that they do not want to be in and move his agenda as a result. The drawback is that this agenda will be more determined by political optics than policy necessity or ideology. If the President’s primary goal is reelection, he’s well positioned to beat the midgets of the Republican Party. The question is, will political maneuvering result in enough getting done to make optics and posture instructive in voters minds? Or will the net result of this maneuvering have to be an improved economy with more jobs and lower unemployment, which will likely be even more palatable to voters than mere contrast? Drawing contrast is critical to winning elections, but I don’t know if it is enough in itself. Unless, that is, the GOP nominates someone like Sarah Palin.

The Right’s Field

In 2006 I started a site called The Right’s Field (now offline) with my friends Kombiz Lavasany and Matt Ortega. We wanted to have a place that was dedicated solely to covering the 2008 Republican presidential primary. While many liberal blogs covered the 2008 Democratic primary in full or had the occasional post about Republicans, no one was working exclusively on blogging the GOP race. We filled that role and along the way had other great writers contribute to it, including David Dayen, Todd Beeton, Michael Roston and others.

Kombiz, Matt and I recently decided that we should start up The Right’s Field again. We approached John Amato and Joe Sudbay of AMERICAblog and they offered to give us our own space on their site. It’s been in soft launch for the last week or so, but is now public today. You can check out AMERICAblog Elections: The Right’s Field at My first post is here.

I’ll likely cross-post some content from The Right’s Field here, but probably won’t do everything, so stay tuned over at <a href=";.

Bai Hates the Internet

Matt Bai has always held a special hatred for the online left, from bloggers to the politicians who appeal to voters through blogs. As such, it’s not shocking that he writes a misleading and factually inaccurate column like the one today titled, “For Obama, Getting Message Out Online Is a Challenge.”

No, it’s not. Obama has maintained incredibly high approval ratings among Democrats through his ability to talk with them directly. His presidential campaign built a list of 13-15 million hardcore Democrats. Obama has been able to use this list to talk directly with them about his agenda, his successes, and what the opposition is saying about him. The email list – and to a lesser extent, friendly political blogs and – have enabled Obama to talk directly to Democrats, without having to rely on media filters like, say, Matt Bai. It’s no surprise that Bai is upset that he doesn’t get to be the first one to tell Democrats what they should think about Obama (note he still uses an opinion voice in his columns, so he clearly still tries to tell Dems what to think – he’s just irrelevant to the actual formation of opinions outside of the Beltway).

Take a look at Bai’s opening salvo against Obama:

Yet there’s also something oddly retro about the State of the Union address that President Obama will deliver on Tuesday — something that belongs to the last century, like compact discs and appointment television. While the speech will give Mr. Obama an opportunity to extol his record on health care and financial regulation, it may also serve to remind us of how surprisingly little he has accomplished when it comes to bringing presidential communication into the broadband age.

That’s not to say the White House isn’t trying. In fact, the president distributed a video preview of his speech to supporters over the weekend. And Mr. Obama’s advisers have scheduled a series of interactive online events for the days after the speech, his second State of the Union, highlighted by a presidential interview with questioners on YouTube.

As proof that Obama hasn’t accomplished anything online, Bai puts forward the actually new  and revolutionary use of the internet to augment the quality of presentation of the State of the Union. The White House presentation will include both additional graphics and information about the points President Obama is making in real time, as well as providing for a direct interaction between the President and the American people. How this proves Obama has “surprisingly little…accomplished” in online communication is a mystery.

Answering questions online, however, really just amounts to the same kind of televised town hall that presidents have been doing since the dawn of the broadcast era, except that now you watch it on a different kind of screen.

Both computers and TVs have screens, so obviously talking to people through a computer is just like a televised townhall.

Like his predecessors, Mr. Obama interacts from time to time with a few highly motivated voters at such events, but he has yet to find a new way to make himself accessible or compelling to the wider electorate online.

Sure, you might have only a couple hundred people in a televised townhall, but this post-SOTU broadcast online might only reach a few hundred thousand people. With both televised townhalls and internet Q&A sessions, hundreds of millions of Americans aren’t watching. Both fail in equal measures!

Bai goes on to make an assertion with absolutely zero basis in fact about the White House’s use of new media:

Even without creative steps by the White House to harness social media and other technology-driven changes in the way people receive and share information, Twitter and its ilk have come to occupy an important place in political communications.

Wrong. The White House has used Twitter to field questions from the public to be answered by the White House Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, as well as used “Open for Questions” peer submission and voting to do the same with the President and other senior administration officials. Beyond that, the administration has used government websites like and to provide information to the American public in easy-to-digest ways that have received voluminous traffic.

Truly taking the presidency online would not only enable Mr. Obama to get his message to some voters without passing through the traditional news media, but it would also reinforce the idea of him as a generational bridge, a politician pulling American government toward modernity.

And yet, so far, Mr. Obama’s greatest online innovation as president has been to upload a lot of video (like clips of his delivering the weekly radio address, a custom that goes back to Ronald Reagan), as if the iPad were mostly just a television without the knobs.

In my work in internet politics, I’ve found that there are a lot of people who think that innovation means creating new means for humans to perceive the world. Blogging is based on the written word. Audio content can be relayed through podcasts and mp3s. Photo sites like Flickr are based on still pictures. YouTube and other web video sites are all about moving pictures. A relatively small portion of internet users even use avatar based sites like Second Life.  But short of some brilliant web developers coming up for a way for humans to interact on the web through ESP or mental telepathy, there actually isn’t some big avenue for interpersonal human communication that isn’t yet present online. Sorry Mr. Bai, but the President using web video, delivered through multiple platforms, in multiple formats, on a regular basis actually is innovative, even if Obama hasn’t beamed his weekly presidential address directly into our brains.

Bai intermittently attacks Obama for not innovating, and deftly follows it with anger at the administration realizing new ways to reach people through the internet. We saw it above with the line, “as if the iPad were mostly just a television without the knobs,” but Bai continues on.

Perhaps, though, the president’s team is over-thinking the challenge, putting too much emphasis on how to use the trendiest applications or on how to interact with voters, when what really matters is creating an authentic narrative.

There’s a nice bit of moving the goal posts going on here. Bai doesn’t actually want Obama to “[bring] presidential communication into the broadband age,” as he first wrote. He instead wants “authentic narrative,” which undoubtedly would make for better fodder for political pundits like himself. While this, at first blush, seems like a ludicrous thing for the leader of the free world to be responsible for deciphering, Bai is helpful and tells us what it means:

You can easily imagine Mr. Obama sitting in front of a keyboard at the end of a long day, briefly reflecting on the oddity of a personal encounter or on the meaning of some overlooked event, or perhaps describing what it is like to stand in the well of Congress and deliver the State of the Union address. It could be that in order to expand the reach and persuasiveness of the modern presidency, Mr. Obama simply needs to be his online self — not so much a blogger as a memoirist in chief, walking us through history in real time.

As much as I am a denizen of the internet, notably one who came to politics through blogging first and foremost, I find it hard to believe there would be a less useful use of the President’s time than maintaining a personally written blog every night, for consumption by Matt Bai and the American public. Seriously, Bai’s great idea for “authentic narrative” is the President of the United States sitting at his laptop, live blogging how he used part of his day to solve America’s problem, and the other part to blog about it. I’m sorry, but I voted for Barack Obama so he could lead the country as our President, not so he could tell me in his own voice what it was like to have a 60 minute meeting with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. For chrissakes, the man is the President of the United States and he has more important things to do than blog.

And it goes without saying, were Bai’s batshit insane vision for Presidential time allotment be realized, the moment the President was blogging while some natural disaster or terrorist attack took place, it would be fodder for both pundit and Republican assaults on the President and his irrelevant and dangerous blogging habit.

Matt Bai clearly is both unaware of what he actually thinks the President should be doing to reach Americans through the internet and unaware of what the White House is actually doing to reach Americans through the internet. If the coming bells and whistles stand out ahead of tonight’s State of the Union address, it’s because they are new and innovative, which at one point in this column was what Matt Bai said he wanted the President to be doing. In the end, beyond being an incredibly insulting assault on the hard work of the people who do new media at the White House and DNC, Bai’s piece is little more than a statement about how uncomfortable he is with the notion that powerful politicians, including the President, can talk to voters without going through pundits like Matt Bai.