Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
On Thursday afternoon, as the White House summit on health care reform was ending, a parade of Washington pooh-bahs moved from the Old Executive Office Building, past the outside of the West Wing, to the front entrance of the White House for a final meeting, where President Barack Obama would hold a seminar-like session. ("Senator Mitch McConnell, got any thoughts to share?") As I watched Sen. Chris Dodd, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, Rep. Henry Waxman and others strolling along, I spotted a senior administration official who handles economic issues. He, too, was heading to the East Wing, and he was holding a collection of thick briefing books.
"Having fun?" I asked.
"Any time I'm not working on AIG and Citibank, it's a good day," he said. "Health care is fun compared to that. Believe me, I'm glad to be out of the office doing this."
Have you ever wanted to see Rush Limbaugh bounce? If so, Americans United for Change has made your dream come true. Trying to exploit the recent news story about GOP chairman Michael Steele apologizing to the radio host after calling his broadcasts "ugly" and "incendiary," this progressive advocacy group has put out another ad targeting the conservative kingpin of the airwaves, who has said he would like to see President Obama fail. And in this spot, Limbaugh jiggles at the end.
By the way, the White House seems delighted by the Rush-Steele dust-up. At the very end of Tuesday's press briefing, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs quipped, "I was a little surprised [at] the speed with which Mr. Steele, the head of the RNC, apologized to the head of the Republican Party." Meow.
On Tuesday morning, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met with a bunch of journalists and bloggers from assorted progressive media outlets. As they asked her about the stimulus package, health care, and her relationship with the White House, she mainly stuck to talking points and hailed President Barack Obama, his budget, the stimulus legislation, and the policy agenda she enthusiastically shares with the White House. She declined to bash Rush Limbaugh (or even talk about him), and said she had no plans to apply pressure on Republican legislators from districts that Obama had won in November.
But what was intriguing was how she foreshadowed the health care reform fight to come. With the White House holding a health care summit this week, the Democrats in Congress are gearing up for the titanic legislative challenge of passing a major health care reform package. In years past, the champions of health care reform have relied on a simple slogan: There are 40 million Americans without health care coverage, and they deserve it. (Now, it's 48 million.) Yet Pelosi noted that delivering insurance to this group of Americans will not be the political or rhetorical centerpiece of the latest health care reform effort.
First Blackwater lost its big State Department contract to do security work in Iraq. Then it changed its name to Xe. Now the controversial firm is replacing its head man. On Monday, Erik Prince, who founded the company, announced that he was bailing out as chief executive office and was appointing a new CEO and a new president. From AP:
The management shake up, he said, was part of the company's "continued reorganization and self-improvement."
Prince founded Blackwater in 1997 and last month the company changed its name to Xe, pronounced like the letter "z," in an effort to repair its severely tarnished name and reputation.
The company has had a contract to protect U.S. diplomats in Iraq, but the State Department announced it would not rehire Blackwater after its current contract with the company expires in May. The company has one other major security contract, details of which are classified.
A report by a House committee in October 2007 called Blackwater an out-of-control outfit indifferent to Iraqi civilian casualties. It said that Blackwater had been involved in nearly 200 shooting incidents since 2005.
In January, five Blackwater security guards pleaded not guilty to federal manslaughter and gun charges. A federal judge in Washington on Feb. 17 denied motions to dismiss the case against the guards, accused in a September 2007 shooting that left 17 Iraqis dead and another 20 wounded in a Baghdad's busy Nisoor Square.
Could it be that by renaming the company and removing himself as its frontman, Prince is hoping to keep the firm-formerly-known-as-Blackwater afloat and in line for big-ticket US government contracts? That might explain all these changes. But Blackwater's baggage is so heavy that these moves still might not allow it to escape its past.
But there's a more important question: who will do Blackwater's work once it is gone from Iraq? That has not yet been announced by the State Department. There are some obvious candidates, other private security firms. But one former CIA officer now working in Iraq in a private capacity tells me that these companies may not be up to the task and that a precipitous shift from Blackwater could cause problems of its own. In other words, in the Blackwater tale, there still may be no good exit strategy.
Jonathan Stein has been covering the Conservative Political Action Conference for us: John Bolton's bad joke about nuking Chicago, Sarah Palin blaming the media for her own failure; Newt's extreme rhetoric, and Mitt Romney's love-in with the crowd. And I had the chance to go on Hardball to discuss the overall theme of the conference: there's nuthin' wrong with conservative ideas: