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.
News outfits are reporting that Leon Panetta has been tapped by President-elect Barack Obama to take over the Central Intelligence Agency.
It's an unusual choice, for Panetta, a former Democratic congressman who became President Bill Clinton's budget chief and then his White House chief of staff, has no direct intelligence experience, and the CIA in previous decades has been rather unwelcoming to outsiders. (Obama's first pick for the spy chief slot, John Brennan, a career CIA officer, withdrew his name, after bloggers and others raised questions about his involvement in the agency's post-9/11 detention and interrogation programs.) Panetta, if confirmed, will work closely with retired Admiral Dennis Blair, Obama's choice to be director of national intelligence.
Panetta is an even-tempered and highly regarded Washington player--kind of a Mr. Fixit in a nice suit. He is also a zero-tolerance critic of the use of torture, and he considers waterboarding--a tactic used by the CIA--to be torture. A year ago, he wrote in The Washington Monthly:
The Israelis appear to have learned from the Bush-Cheney administration.
On Monday morning, NPR ran an interview with Michael Oren, an American-Israeli best-selling military historian and Israeli reservist who is a spokesperson for the Israeli military. (He has also been a contributing editor for The New Republic.) Asked if the goal of the current Israeli operation in Gaza is regime change--that is, the expulsion of Hamas from power--he replied that Israelis "do not want to see continuation of Hamas rule in Gaza," but added, "It is not Israel's explicit goal to topple the Hamas government....That is not the stated goal of this operation. If it happens...there will be many people happy about it...The stated goal is to restore security to the southern part of Israel."
This line echoes the rhetoric used by Bush-Cheney officials in 2002 and 2003. They repeatedly noted that the United States officially favored regime change in Iraq but that the invasion to come was about WMDs and security. If it took regime change to neutralize that supposed dire WMD threat posed by Saddam Hussein, so be it.
Newshour asked me to join a panel discussion on Monday night's program to ponder this issue: when it comes to foreign policy, does President-elect Barack Obama have too much on his plate, and should he get started now by, say, involving himself in the Gaza crisis? Here's a slice:
RAY SUAREZ: So, David Corn, what's President Obama's role beyond simply waiting until January 20th?
DAVID CORN, Mother Jones Magazine: You know, there are some times when political rhetoric is useful because it's true and convenient. His camp keeps saying over and over again, "We have one president at a time." And they are not saying anything at all about this foreign policy matter or basically any other.
It's true that President Obama has, you know, received calls from leaders from around the world, but he insists -- or his people insist -- they've talked about nothing substantive in these calls. It's all just been congratulatory.
And so right now I think he's kind of just waiting. And I assume that he's hoping that whatever is going on now, whatever Israel is intending to do, that they have a two-, three-week timeline on it so, when he comes into office three weeks from tomorrow, that maybe the shooting end of this aspect of the crisis will have passed and, you know, we'll be back to having the Middle East as a problem, but at least not with this type of imagery that you have now, because it's, indeed, true that I think the rest of the world will be turning to him rather soon, if not even before January 20th, to do something about this, whether he's in power to do so or not.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, you just heard Trudy Rubin suggest that this inevitably pushes up Israel and the Palestinians on the lists of Obama administration priorities. Do you agree?
You know who Bernie Madoff is. But what about Dwight Schar, Patrick Soon-Shiong, or Richard Baker? These three men have the dubious distinction of winning spots on the America's Greediest 2008 Top Ten compiled by the Too Much online newsletter.
Madoff didn't make the list. (He doesn't need the publicity--or exposing--these days.) But what's interesting is that most of the honorees are not household names. Schar is head of NVR, a giant homebuilding firm. In the past six years, he has collected $625 million in compensation, and his company's stock has plummeted. Soon-Shiong sold a pharmaceutical company to a German company for $3.7 billion; the company, the only source of much-in-demand blood thinner, was attractive because in 2007 it had made $253 million on merely $647 million in sales. (Talk about mark-up!) Baker is a Louisiana congressman who gave up his House seat to become CEO of the trade association for the hedge fund industry. In Congress--no coincidence--he had chaired a subcommittee that had overseen the hedgers. And, by the way, jumping from watchdog to pitchman, Baker boosted his annual compensation from $163,000 to $1 million.
As one reads the list, a natural reaction would be: who are these people? (Steve Jobs does make the cut.) And the larger point is this: our economy is controlled--and we are held hostage--by a host of CEOs, money-managers, and assorted masters-of-the-universe who are not so masterful. They screw up--and they still get to keep the mansions and the yachts. But many of the rest of us pay. GM's top execs have to fly commercial--boo-hoo-hoo; their workers lose their livelihoods. And because the high-fliers on Wall Street thought they could spin debt and swaps into gold (for themselves) by creating all sorts of new financial products that would be free of pesky regulations, American taxpayers have to bail out Big Finance institutions deemed too big to fail.
On Friday morning, I was on the CBS' The Early Show to talk about the Rick Warren controversy. Opposite me (via satellite hookup) was Robert Jeffress, a Baptist pastor from Dallas, who was billed as a friend of Warren.
Asked by Harry Smith to explain why gay and lesbian outfits and progressives were upset by Barack Obama's decision to hand Warren the invocation slot at the presidential inauguration, I noted that it was good that Obama has an inclusive approach toward political and policy debates, that he should make common cause with Warren on issues like poverty and climate change, and that it was wrong for him to grant Warren this high-profile platform because Warren's anti-gay remarks--he recently compared homosexuality to incest and pedophilia--are insulting to a large number of Americans, particularly many who worked long and hard to bring Obama to the White House. It's one thing to sit at the table with Warren and discuss how best to alleviate poverty; it's another to enhance his status.
When Jeffress had his chance, he went on about how it was unfair to slam Warren as a hate-monger because of his fervent opposition to gay marriage.
Gay marriage? Who said anything about gay marriage? Not me. I had pointed out that Warren's big sin had been to equate gays and lesbians with loathsome pedophiles. Is that hate-mongering? Some people might see it that way. But I was not going to judge Warren on that front. His words speak for themselves--and for him.