2009 - %3, June

Mark Fiore Cartoon: What to Give the Iranian Regime

Wed Jun. 24, 2009 6:30 PM EDT

Satirist Mark Fiore has dreamed up a device perfect for Iranian mullahs: The power-cling.

See how it works here.

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Sanford Nixed from Values Voter Summit

| Wed Jun. 24, 2009 3:31 PM EDT

People for the American Way points out Mark Sanford has already been scratched from the list of confirmed and invited speakers at the 2009 Values Voter Summit. That was fast.

Obviously Sanford's affair didn't sit well with the Family Research Council, the conservative think tank that "champions marriage and family" and sponsors the summit. But, hey, even with Sanford gone you'll still be able to get your fair share of values voter inspiration—in the form of Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly and Pat Buchanan.

Journos Whine, Sanford Cries, and Ensign Sighs (with Relief)

| Wed Jun. 24, 2009 2:23 PM EDT

Boy, did I pick wrong. The Gibbs presser was damn tame compared to the Sanford meltdown. The hottest issue—or non-issue—at the White House was HuffPo's Nico Pitney's question at Tuesday's presidential press conference. This topic did lead to a somewhat interesting display. The front-row journos—who usually get called on during presidential news conference—complained that the Pitney set-up created the impression that reporters (like themselves) are in cahoots with the White House. Robert Gibbs pushed back by noting that he believed that CBS and other Big Media are certainly in the position to disabuse viewers of that notion. He then called on practically every reporter in the first two rows and asked each one if he or she had ever told the White House what he or she intended to ask at a press conference. Each one dutifully said no. Still, they were upset by the HuffPo episode.

At the same time, reporters in the lesser rows—those who don't tend to be called on by the president and who are not always afforded questioning opportunities during Gibbs' briefings—tried to exploit Nico-gate to raise another issue: how does the White House decide who makes it on to the prepared list of journalists President Obama will call on at a news conference. Gibbs ducked that query. For my money, that's the more important matter—but, not surprisingly, not for the guys and gals in the front rows. (You can read my Twitter feed for the details.)

Back to Mark Sanford. After his sad, wife-less press conference, during which he admitted an extramarital affair and stated he would resign as chair of the Republican Governors Association (not from his governor's post), Senator John Ensign, no doubt, said, "Thank you, Governor."

And that's no joke. Two hours before Sanford cried on TV, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a public interest group that chases after government wrongdoing, sent out a notice that it has filed complaints against Ensign with the Senate ethics committee and the Federal Elections Committee.

The group explains that Ensign's actions during his own extramarital escapade might have violated Senate ethics rules and campaign law:

First, Mr. Hampton has alleged Sen. Ensign terminated him and his wife for reasons related to the affair. If true, the senator likely engaged in discrimination on the basis of sex in violation of Title VII, and Senate Rule 42, which incorporates the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to Senate employees and prohibits discrimination based on sex. At least two members of Congress previously have been investigated for sexual harassment, including former Sen. Bob Packwood (R-OR) and former Rep. Jim Bates (D-CA).

Second, Ms. Hampton apparently received a severance payment directly from Sen. Ensign when she was terminated from the campaign committee and PAC, but neither committee reported any in-kind contribution by the senator. In addition, if Sen. Ensign paid Ms. Hampton more than $5,000 he may have made an illegal excessive contribution to the PAC. Knowingly failing to report a contribution of over $25,000 is a violation of criminal law.

Mr. Hampton apparently was paid $6,000 upon his departure, purportedly for vacation time. If this actually was some sort of severance payment, Sen. Ensign’s office may have misused official funds.

CREW has alleged Sen. Ensign violated the rules prohibiting improper conduct that reflects upon the Senate by abusing his authority as the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) to hire and pay the Hampton’s son as an intern at the NRSC and by claiming to have been blackmailed by Mr. Hampton, without reporting the alleged crime to law enforcement authorities.

Remember what the Republicans used to say. It's not about the sex, it's about the deceit. Does that hold true for Ensign? Will GOPers support an investigation of these allegations?

The Republican Senator from Nevada—like Sanford, once a 2012 presidential propsect—did get a lucky break with the Sanford press conference. But he's now part of an even bigger narrative: what's with these guys who represent the party of family values? And what's next? Newt Gingrich leaving his wife for another woman? Oh yeah, been there, done that. Twice.

 

Obama's First Veto?

| Wed Jun. 24, 2009 2:18 PM EDT | Scheduled to publish Wed Jun. 24, 2009 4:56 PM EDT

In a rare move, the White House has threatened to veto the defense budget bill if it contains money for extra F-22s. From a letter released today (PDF):

The collective judgment of the Service Chiefs and Secretaries of the military departments suggests that a final program of record of 187 F-22s is sufficient to meet operational requirements.  If the final bill presented to the President contains this provision, the President's senior advisors would recommend a veto. 

(h/t: Travis Sharp)

Obama hasn't waved his veto pen around much yet. Before taking office, he vowed to veto any bill that would prevent him from releasing the second half of the bailout funds. But otherwise he's been circumspect about deploying the 'v' word, even on his top policy priorities. He hasn't, for instance, indicated that he'd refuse to sign a health care bill that lacks a public option. So this is definitely an interesting development.


Congress and Health Care Spouses

| Wed Jun. 24, 2009 2:05 PM EDT

With both Congress and the White House promising to overhaul health care, a variety of reform options are now on the table. So these options have all been rigorously researched and recommended by objective third parties, right? Notes CQ Politics:

Nearly four dozen members of Congress have spouses employed in the health care industry—ties that lawmakers acknowledge are influencing their thinking about how the health system should be overhauled.
Financial disclosure forms made public in mid-June showed that at least 39 members were tied to the industry by their spouses in 2008. In addition, 13 full-voting House members are medical doctors.

Let's hope our Reps listen to all their constituents on medical issues.

Friends of Angelo are No Friends of Issa

| Wed Jun. 24, 2009 1:55 PM EDT

If things get a bit uncomfortable for members of Congress and Obama administration officials, they'll have Darrell Issa to blame for that. Since news broke last June that federal lawmakers and other VIPs had received sweetheart loans through what Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo dubbed his "Friends of Angelo" program, the California Republican and ranking member of the House oversight committee has been leading the charge to investigate the matter. He says his investigation has "uncovered evidence that only a fraction of those who participated in Countrywide’s VIP program have come to light," and Issa has every intention of flipping on the floodlights of accountability.

But there's a hitch. While Bank of America, which acquired Countrywide in 2008, has agreed to provide Issa with documents that he's requested, it will only do so under subpoena. Obtaining that subpoena will require a full committee vote and the cooperation of oversight committee chariman Edolphus Towns, who has been seemingly reluctant to open this can of worms. In fact, Towns declined to sign his name to the letter [PDF] Issa sent to BofA CEO Ken Lewis in early June requesting the "Friends of Angelo"-related documents. Why? According to the Wall Street Journal:

A spokeswoman for Mr. Towns said the Friends of Angelo program wasn't on the chairman's priority list, which includes oversight of the nation's financial crisis, the financial bailout of banks and the giant federal financial stimulus package.

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The Sanford Affair

| Wed Jun. 24, 2009 1:45 PM EDT

Mark Sanford's latest adminssion in the saga renders moot all other theories about why he spent the last week in Argentina without telling anyone: He was having an affair.

"I've been unfaithful to my wife and I've developed a relationship with what stared as a dear, dear friend from Argentina," he finally said. The affair has been going on for a year, he later explained.

Sanford announced that he is resigning as head of the Republican Governors Association.

"I spent the past five days of my life crying in Argentina," he said, "so I could come back and cry here."

 

Britney Spears in Holocaust Movie?

| Wed Jun. 24, 2009 1:24 PM EDT

From the Department of Oh Noes: Britney Spears, whose pre-shaved-head acting debut in Crossroads blew us away, is now allegedly “in talks” to star in a movie involving the Holocaust. And time-travel. And, sigh, L'amour. Here's the reported deal: the movie is called The Yellow Rose of Sophia and Eton, and the protagonist is a young woman named Sophia LaMont who creates a time-machine and goes back to the 1940s. She meets an undoubtedly hot if skinny young man named Eton. The hitch? He’s a concentration camp prisoner! Oh no! And he’s Jewish, but that’s not as much of an issue as the whole “imprisoned by Nazis” thing. What will Sophia and Eton do? Will their love survive Hitler’s evil scourge? Well, no. See, the star-crossed lovers zip out of WWII, but when they get to the future (and this is where it gets weird) they are THEN killed by Nazis.

Predictably, Jewish advocates and organizations are not happy about the casting, or the film itself. "In films that deal with the Holocaust, the script should be carefully chosen and the cast picked with care," Charlotte Knobloch, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said in Der Spiegel. "It is reprehensible to combine the issue of the Holocaust with Britney Spears in an attempt to secure financing for the film…" Yes, it is reprehensible. It's also probably not a good idea to combine time-travel and the Holocaust in a film. Or if you do, at least get some appropriate talent (Natalie Portman?) and for goodness' sake, don't let the Nazis win.

Hulu to Steal 'Right' to Free Content

| Wed Jun. 24, 2009 12:41 PM EDT

I love TV, but don't have cable. So the news recently that Hulu, the free television website hosted by NBC and Fox, could soon charge for content hit me pretty hard. Asked earlier this month whether Hulu would charge customers, NewsCorp’s chief digital officer Jonathan Miller responded, "the answer could be yes. I don't see why over time that shouldn't happen."

Hulu's final move on charging for content could decide the future of online media. As the viability of print sources becomes more and more unrealistic, and advertising revenue continues to fall, online television channels, magazines, and newspapers will be faced with a similar question: Charge for content and risk losing customers and advertisers, or keep content free and suffer inadequate advertising revenue to maintain traffic.

Either way, I just can't stop thinking about all the quality (and not-so-quality) television that I will miss out on if I don't subscribe (which might not be realistic on an intern's paycheck). Below are some of the shows that I will miss the most, covering what I believe to be the spectrum of essential Hulu genres.

  1. Battlestar Galactica. Get your nerd on watching the 70s version of the best modern space-related show on Hulu. The site also has the most recent 5 episodes of the new and improved series. Watchable? Yes for 2004 series, absolutely not for 1978 series. Also Enjoy: Star Gate SG-1, Lost in Space
  2. Arrested Development. Hulu is the only site I know of with all three seasons of one of the oddest sitcoms in history. Watch to prepare for the upcoming movie. Watchable: Only if you don't die laughing. Also enjoy: The Office, 30 Rock.
  3. Late Night Comedy. Catch full episodes of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Watchable? Yes, but they aren't uploaded until the next day, which takes away from the late night charm. Best before work, at lunch, or around 4 pm, when quitting time is almost within reach. Also Enjoy: Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brian.
  4. WWE Monday Night Raw. No full episodes, but Hulu delivers with nearly 300 clips of action, all performed by hilariously bad, massively built actors. Watchable? No! Ridiculous question! Also Enjoy: Friday Night Smackdown. But, really?
  5. Miami Vice. Police were weird in the 80s. If things still ran this way in Miami, we'd have way bigger problems than potentially paying for online TV. Watchable? Undecided. Also Enjoy: The A Team, Airwolf.

At the end of the day, it's unrealistic to feel entitled to free online television. Somewhere along the line, though, internet users began to think that all content available online should be free. First came Napster, and music listeners all of a sudden felt entitled to free music, regardless of the economic impact it had on artists. Then newspapers and magazines transitioned online and universally struggled to find a working online business model. Finally, television channels and media organizations began providing their content online. And before we knew it, free TV felt like a universal right. Unfortunately, it's not. And if Hulu decides to charge its viewers, then newspapers, magazines, and online radio stations will likely follow close behind.

Mark Sanford or Robert Gibbs: What Would You Do?

| Wed Jun. 24, 2009 12:13 PM EDT

Robert Gibbs' daily press briefing is scheduled for 1:45 at the White House. Recently MIA South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford is holding a televised press conference at 2:00 pm. What to do? I usually attend the White House briefing, but....Okay, I'll stick to routine. I'm off to the White House to Twitter the briefing. I suppose any major Sanford meltdown will be on YouTube.