New RNC Chair Michael Steele's Hypocrisy on Barack Obama (Video)

| Fri Jan. 30, 2009 4:36 PM EST

michael_steele250x200.jpg It turns out that Michael Steele — elected the first African-American chair of the Republican National Committee earlier this afternoon — has a situational opinion of Barack Obama and what his accomplishments mean for race in America. How else to explain the fact that when Steele talks about Obama, his thoughts change depending on his audience?

Here's Steele fielding a question about Obama from Tavis Smiley at the Black State of the Union conference, held in New Orleans in February 2008. Steele is speaking to a predominantly black audience. Video to your right.

I'm very proud to see Barack Obama do what Barack Obama has done and is doing. I am philosophically polar opposites with the man. But it doesn't change the fact that we are from the same community. And it doesn't diminish nor weaken my pride in what he's done. I would hope that all of us would be just as proud of an African-American Republican achieving such success.

Now here is Steele discussing Obama with, a conservative online news outlet, at the Republican National Convention. Video to your right, again.

Q: I wanted to get your take on the media coverage of Obama…
MS: It's been a joke, quite frankly. To put it bluntly. There's been no coverage. There's been coronation, there's been facilitation of his agenda….

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Ken Salazar: The Interior Department's New Sheriff

| Fri Jan. 30, 2009 3:25 PM EST

salazar.jpg Remember the Interior Department's sex, drugs, and oil scandal? After investigating, the Interior Department released a September 2008 report that concluded Minerals Management Service (MMS) employees "frequently consumed alcohol at industry functions, had used cocaine and marijuana, and had sexual relationships with oil and gas company representatives." Several employees were terminated, but only there were only two subsequent convictions. (Read more about MMS corruption here and here.)

Well, the new Interior Secretary Ken Salazar plans to reopen the MMS investigations. From the Denver Post:

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Thursday that he has ordered a re-examination of the scandalized Interior Department division based in Lakewood, including why the U.S. Justice Department did not pursue more criminal prosecutions....

Salazar stressed that he wants to examine why Bush administration prosecutors in the public-integrity unit didn't pursue criminal cases against others.

"There's a new sheriff in town," Salazar said during a news conference at the MMS complex. "We will be visiting with the new U.S. attorney general and take a new look at it."

As TPMMuckraker notes, Salazar also mentioned re-opening investigations into the Steven Griles affair, in which the Interior Department's No. 2 was convicted in connection to the Jack Abramoff scandal.

Salazar's Wild West bluster, complete with bolo tie and cowboy hat, is certainly a welcome change to the industry sweetheart deals of the Bush years. But let's be honest: the Interior Department is a bureaucratic beast and old habits die hard, especially with the Bushies digging in.

Photo used under Creative Commons license.

Video: 1981 Report About "Reading News on Your Computer"

| Fri Jan. 30, 2009 3:16 PM EST

Just imagine! Someday, far in the future, before you jet off in your hovercar to your job on the moon, your robot maid will bring you your morning paper on a computer, where you can read about universal health care! Okay, only one of those things actually ended up happening, although I do pay my house cleaners extra to talk like Twiki. But back in 1981, anything seemed possible, as evidenced by this news report from KRON-TV right here in San Francisco. They describe how, um, the San Francisco Chronicle "programmed" their paper into a computer in Columbus, Ohio (?!!) which one guy in North Beach could access via a gigantic red rotary phone to look at on his TV, "with the exception of pictures, ads, and the comics," after spending two hours to download it, at $5/hour. It's almost too good to be true.

Friday Cat Blogging - 30 January 2009

| Fri Jan. 30, 2009 3:04 PM EST

FRIDAY CATBLOGGING....Last week I promised guest catblogging, and guest catblogging we shall have! This week's episode comes via my sister, who's doing some long-term catsitting for a friend and now has two new companions. That's Azrael on the left, examining that perennial cat favorite, a cardboard box, and Jasper on the right. Azrael is a cute little lap cat who (apparently) demands attention at all times and all places. Jasper is more the economy size, and my sister complains that he keeps her up at night by sleeping next to her and purring loudly. This sounds absurd to me, since purring is a well known tranquillizer, but there you have it. Welcome to catblogging, A&J. The usual suspects will return next week.

Seniors and Children First: The Future of Health Care Policy Begins with Medicare and SCHIP

| Fri Jan. 30, 2009 2:53 PM EST

When it comes to health care policy, the old and the young serve as the canaries in the coal mine, testing the political air for the rest of the population. If the new government isn't able to muster the guts--and the Congressional majorities--to improve access to health care for these vulnerable segments of the population, there isn't much hope for anyone else. On the other hand, if long-overdue changes to Medicare and the State Childrens Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) move forward swiftly, it could be a good omen for health care reform in general.

Some early signs give cause for cautious optimism: The new Congress has acted quickly on SCHIP, which gives states federal funds to help cover uninsured children who belong to relatively low-income families that nonetheless earn too much to qualify for Medicaid. Some 80 percent of Americans support legislation to expand funding and eligibility for SCHIP. In the past, such legislation has been twice passed by a bipartisan majority in Congress--and twice vetoed by George W. Bush.

Yesterday, the Senate succeeded in passing a bill increasing annual SCHIP funding by $32.8 billion, and expanding the program to cover 11 million children, rather than the current 7 million. The expansion will be paid for largely by a rise in the cigarette tax. The Senate earlier rejected two harsh amendments introduced by Republicans: one that would force some of the less impoverished families to contribute to plans costs "to stop the people moving from private plans … to a government-sponsored plan"; and one that would have limited states' ability to enroll documented immigrant children in the program. The Washington Post described the Senate debate as "rancorous"--but in the end, nine Republicans joined Democrats in voting for the bill.

Similar legislation had already passed in the House on January 14, and a final conference bill could be signed by President Obama as early as next week. Perhaps the most promising news is that the new SCHIP legislation is considerably better--more generous and more inclusive--than the two previous versions vetoed by Bush. A number of Republicans objected to this fact, accusing Democrats of double-crossing them on their earlier deals (as if that weren't what happened after every shift in party power).

SCHIP legislation has always enjoyed some bipartisan support. The same is not true of reforms to the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit–-Bush's signature piece of health care legislation, which is in effect a massive handout of taxpayer dollars to the insurance industry and Big Pharma. So what happens with Part D is perhaps a more useful predictor of things to come.

So How's That Working Out For You Guys?

| Fri Jan. 30, 2009 2:45 PM EST

SO HOW'S THAT WORKING OUT FOR YOU GUYS?....Lockstep opposition to all things Obama isn't working out too well for the GOP according to recent polling done by Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg. CQ's Balance of Power reports:

A survey of 1,200 voters in 40 traditionally Republican congressional districts now held by Democrats [] shows Obama's post-election honeymoon reaching a rapturous stage, with 44 percent of voters strongly supporting his policies. [Another 26% "somewhat support" his policies. –ed]

A full 64 percent favor his economic plan, compared to 27 percent against. And precisely that same proportion favors the stimulus in 13 states that are expected to have competitive Senate races in 2010: Kentucky, Florida, Missouri, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Colorado, Ohio, Kansas, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Illinois.

If DC Republicans continue to lash their fate to the SS Talk Radio, I think they can expect to see more and more of this.

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| Fri Jan. 30, 2009 2:34 PM EST

BROADBAND....Over at TPMCafe, Yochai Benkler provides a nice little summary of the broadband provisions in the stimulus bill:

The Senate proposal is better along two dimensions. First, it stands at 9 billion dollars instead of 6 billion dollars....Second, it is all to be administered through the NTIA, through a program that was set up during the Clinton Administration to support experimentation and deployment of public and non-profit efforts, and to study public networks.

....The House bill is, however, clearer on the access conditions imposed on those who receive funds. It requires grantees not only to adhere to the minimal net neutrality standards adopted by the FCC's Statement of Principles, but also to run both wired and wireless broadband networks on an "open access basis." The FCC is charged with defining what "open access" means within 45 days of the passage of the Act, but historically (that is, before the Bush-appointed FCC reversed course), open access was the loose term applied to the approach that typified the 1996 Telecommunications Act: that is, competition from new entrants would be the best check on incumbent abuses, and competition would be created by forcing the incumbents to let the new entrants use some pieces of the incumbents' network as leverage to overcome the very high startup costs associated with offering any useful service at all to customers.

There's more at the link, including this weird factlet about the House bill: it stipulates that half the broadband money would be under the control of the Secretary of Agriculture. Because, um, who else comes to mind when you think of high-speed telecommunications infrastructure policy?

Anyway, it would be nice if the final bill makes at least a start at reinstituting the principles of net neutrality as part of its language. I think this is a more complex issue than a lot of the blogosphere likes to admit, but it's fundamentally the right direction to go. This is a good sign that Barack Obama agrees.

GAO: Treasury's Vision for TARP is "Unclear"

| Fri Jan. 30, 2009 2:27 PM EST

The Government Accountability Office has just released its second report [PDF] on the Treasury Department's Troubled Asset Relief Program, and the troubling key takeaway is this: Treasury's "strategic vision for TARP remains unclear." Uh-oh. At present, TARP is the primary mechanism for ensuring the nation's economy doesn't entirely collapse. In other words, having more than an ad hoc plan for spending billions of taxpayer money needed to happen, like, yesterday.

With trademark understatedness, the GAO explains the problem:

[E]arly on Treasury outlined a strategy and approach to purchase whole loans and mortgage-backed securities from financial institutions, but changed direction to making capital investments in qualifying financial institutions as the global community opted to move in this direction. Moreover, once Treasury determined that capital infusions were preferable to purchasing whole mortgages and mortgage-backed securities, Treasury did not clearly articulate how the various programs (such CPP, SSFI, and TIP) would work collectively to help stabilize financial markets.

Virginia Could Finally Close Gun-Show Loophole

| Fri Jan. 30, 2009 2:22 PM EST


Get ready. There's a battle brewing in Virginia over gun rights, and if the comments to my recent piece on assault weapons are any indication, it's not going to be pretty. After years of trying, the Senate Courts of Justice Committee last week voted 8-7 to pass legislation closing the so-called "gun-show loophole."

While commercial sellers are already required to perform instant background checks before completing a sale, small-time, amateur dealers (who, according to the Washington Post, make up an estimated 35 percent of sellers are Virginia gun shows) are not. The fear is that this opens an opportunity for the mentally insane or criminally minded to bypass safeguards meant to keep weapons out of their hands.

The bill's provisions are modest at best. It does nothing more than extend the intent of the law to cover all gun transactions. Gun show operators would be required to ensure that all dealers, including amateurs, have the ability to conduct instant checks. In practice, this would amount to the small inconvenience of strolling across the aisle to use computers already maintained by professional dealers.

The law would not apply to black powder or antique weapons, nor would it affect buyers with permits to carry concealed firearms.

The bill must now pass the full Senate, before moving on to the House of Delegates, where Republicans are expected to fight fiercely to defeat it.

Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Michael (mx5tx).

The World's Most Famous Shoe

| Fri Jan. 30, 2009 2:07 PM EST

THE WORLD'S MOST FAMOUS SHOE....An orphanage in Tikrit has constructed a giant statue of a shoe to commemorate the "heroic action" of Muntadhar al-Zeidi, the journalist who threw his shoes at George Bush last month. Seriously. But then the government took it down. Spoilsports.