David Corn

David Corn

Washington Bureau Chief

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.

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Before Colbert, There was Twain

| Fri Sep. 24, 2010 5:47 PM EDT

Long before Stephen Colbert added congressional witness to his resumé, Samuel L. Clemens—better known as Mark Twain—testified before a congressional committee. He did so in 1906 not within character, but as an author, for the topic at hand was copyright legislation. And as one of the most successful best-sellers of his day, he (and his heirs) had a direct interest in this bill. Clemens played it straight, noting his fondness for copyright and contending that ideas are property. But he could not help but be witty and amusing, and the lawmakers reportedly roared with laughter when he veered from the serious to the comic. Here are his  remarks. By the way, congressional testimony is not covered by copyright laws.

I have read this bill. At least I have read such portions as I could understand. Nobody but a practised legislator can read the bill and thoroughly understand it, and I am not a practised legislator.

I am interested particularly and especially in the part of the bill which concerns my trade. I like that extension of copyright life to the author's life and fifty years afterward. I think that would satisfy any reasonable author, because it would take care of his children. Let the grand-children take care of themselves. That would take care of my daughters, and after that I am not particular. I shall then have long been out of this struggle, independent of it, indifferent to it.

It isn't objectionable to me that all the trades and professions in the United States are protected by the bill. I like that. They are all important and worthy, and if we can take care of them under the Copyright law I should like to see it done. I should like to see oyster culture added, and anything else.

I am aware that copyright must have a limit, because that is required by the Constitution of the United States, which sets aside the earlier Constitution, which we call the decalogue. The decalogue says you shall not take away from any man his profit. I don't like to be obliged to use the harsh term. What the decalogue really says is, "Thou shalt not steal," but I am trying to use more polite language.

The laws of England and America do take it away, do select but one class, the people who create the literature of the land. They always talk handsomely about the literature of the land, always what a fine, great, monumental thing a great literature is, and in the midst of their enthusiasm they turn around and do what they can to discourage it.

I know we must have a limit, but forty-two years is too much of a limit. I am quite unable to guess why there should be a limit at all to the possession of the product of a man's labor. There is no limit to real estate.

Doctor Hale has suggested that a man might just as well, after discovering a coal-mine and working it forty-two years, have the Government step in and take it away.

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The GOP "Pledge": What's Not In It

| Thu Sep. 23, 2010 1:06 PM EDT

The House Republicans on Thursday released a manifesto outlining what they intend to do should they triumph in the coming congressional elections. The glossy document, which is adorned with photographs of the Statue of Liberty, Mt. Rushmore, and cowboys, is high-mindedly titled "A Pledge to America: A New Governing Agenda Built on the Priorities of Our Nation, the Principles We Stand For & America's Founding Values." And it offers few surprises: tax cuts for all (including the super-rich), slashing federal spending (without specifying actual targets), downsizing government, more money for the military (especially missile defense), and repealing the health care bill. It decries deficits—though it advocates proposals that will add trillions of dollars to the deficit. It calls for reforming Congress—but in non-significant ways (such as forcing legislators to place a sentence in every bill attesting that the legislation is connected to a principle in the Constitution). It's full of Hallmark-style patriotism: "America is more than a country." It's infused with tea party anger: Washington has plotted "to thwart the will of the people and overturn their votes and their values." It is likely to have little impact on the elections.

You can read it yourself. Or peruse the reviews: liberal Ezra Klein dissects its internal contradictions; tea partier Erick Erickson decries the "Pledge" as a sell-out of the tea party movement; Republican curmudgeon David Frum finds it retro and short on "modern" and "affirmative" ideas for governing during a recessionary year. But here's a short-cut for you. Below is a list of words and phrases and the number of times they are each mentioned in the 45-page "Pledge."

Wall Street: 0
Bank: 0
Finance: 0
Mortgage crisis: 0
Derivative: 0
Subprime: 0
Lobbying: 0
Lobbyist: 0
K Street: 0
Campaign finance: 0
Campaign contribution: 0
Campaign donation: 0
Disclosure: 0
Climate change: 0
Environment: 1 ("political environment")
Alternative energy: 0
Renewable: 0
Green: 0
Transportation: 0
Infrastructure: 0
Poverty: 0
Food: 0
Food safety: 0
Housing: 0
Internet: 0
Education: 0
College: 0
Reading: 0
Science: 0
Research: 0
Technology: 0
Bush administration: 0

That list is as telling as the actual contents.

Is Lady Gaga a Better Politician Than Barack Obama?

| Tue Sep. 21, 2010 5:19 PM EDT

On Tuesday afternoon, Senate Republicans successfully filibustered a military spending bill that would have repealed the military's Don't Ask/Don't Tell policy on gay servicemen and women. More than half of the Senate—54 Democrats and two independents—supported the measure (as did Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, who voted no purely for procedural purposes); all the GOPers opposed it. But because breaking a filibuster requires 60 votes, the decisions of moderate Sens. Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, and Scott Brown to join their obstructionist GOP colleagues ensured that gay people would still be unable to serve openly in the military.

The repeal of DADT was one of President Barack Obama's key campaign promises—one that he repeated in his first State of the Union address earlier this year. Now it's a promise that may well wither, especially if Republicans gain control of the House in November. But as usual, the White House did little to publicly pressure Collins, Snowe, or Brown. Obama spent the day before the vote at a fundraiser in Pennsylvania and did little to draw attention to the upcoming vote and the GOP's intrasingence. The White House wouldn't even answer the New York Times' questions about the bill. Vice President Joe Biden, according to the White House, did call Snowe. But Obama did no lobbying of his own. Instead, the pressure politics were left to someone who's never been elected to public office: a 24-year-old New Yorker named Stefani Germanotta—a.k.a. Lady Gaga. 

While Obama was raising money for Democratic Pennsylvania Senate candidate Joe Sestak, who trails in the polls, Gaga was in Maine, crusading for DADT repeal. The previous week, she had created a YouTube video addressed to the whole Senate that urged repeal. At the time of the vote on Tuesday, it had nearly 1.7 million views. In the days prior to the vote, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs couldn't manage even a single tweet about the fight at hand. And the White House did not use Obama's Twitter feed or the White House blog to highlight the vote. (Organizing for America, the Obama campaign offshoot that works within the Democratic Party, did zap out one email to its millions of grassroots supporters asking them to call Sen. John McCain, a leading opponent of DADT repeal.)

After the vote failed, Gibbs criticized the Republicans for the fillibuster, but hardly in an aggressive manner. At the daily White House press briefing, he voiced frustration with the GOPers and groused that "60 is the new 50" in the Senate. He affirmed Obama's support for ending DADT, noting the president has long opposed the policy. "We're frustrated," he said, vowing the White House will continue to work with the Pentagon to find a way to repeal DADT. (The president cannot undo it totally on his own, given that the policy is enshrined in law, though he could weaken enforcement of it via an executive order.) Asked if Lady Gaga had done more to pass DADT repeal than the White House, Gibbs said no: "We wouldn't be taking on this issue, if not for the president." And he again complained that it is "not healthy" for the nation if it takes a three-fifths vote in the Senate to fund the Pentagon. Yet Gibbs did not display much indignation or passion. He could have angrily accused the Senate Republicans of holding up funding for the troops. But he kept a measured tone. It was as if the White House, in defeat, didn't want to call out the Republicans—and didn't want to make it on to the nightly news shows.

All this suggests the White House isn't particularly enthusiastic about DADT repeal—at least not at the moment (even though large percentages of Americans, including majorities of conservatives and Republicans, support repeal). After all, the administration demonstrated no interest in engaging in the kind of tough, on-the-ground combat mounted by Lady Gaga. This was reminiscent of health care reform battle. The White House spent months courting the support of supposed moderate Republicans like Snowe, Collins, and Iowa's Chuck Grassley. But when Obama hit the road to stump for health care reform, he didn't spend much time in Maine and Iowa. He went to places like Maryland and Minnesota, where the Democratic senators were already solid votes for reform. Adam Green, the cofounder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a liberal pressure group, regards that as a significant miscalculation. If Obama had aggressively stumped in Iowa or Maine—or spent more time in North Carolina, where unpopular GOP incumbent Sen. Richard Burr is facing reelection—he could have applied more pressure on recalcitrant Republicans, says Green. Even if such tactics didn't win over hesitant Senate GOPers, Obama would have at least been conveying a message to Republicans that he was a fighter who would do what he could to punish obstrutionism. (If such a strategy had not succeeded, it would have fared no worse than what actually transpired: the White House wasting months courting Republicans behind the scenes, only to end up with no actual Republican votes for the final bill.)

The Obama administration has not yet figured out how to make Republicans pay a political cost for obstructionism. But the White House has rarely tried to slam Republicans. (When Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a liberal Democrat from Ohio, said he was a solid no vote on the health care bill, Obama was in his district that week to pressure him, and Kucinich flipped.) This week, Lady Gaga did her best with the ladies from Maine. She didn't turn them, but she did succeed in putting them on the hot seat. And after all, she's just a pop star, not the president. But the next time the White House wants to break a filibuster, it might consider going Gaga.

O'Donnell: She's a Witccccchhhhhh!

| Mon Sep. 20, 2010 12:38 PM EDT

Okay, cue the laugh track. The latest dispatch from the bizarro Planet O'Donnell is that the tea party sweetheart who won last's week GOP Senate primary in Delaware said she had dabbled in witchcraft. During a 1990s appearance on Bill Maher's Politically Incorrect, she spilled this nugget and noted that she had once had a date on a satanic altar. (She didn't explain what happened on this date.) This is just one more weird fact from Christine O'Donnell's off-beat bio. And Maher says he has other footage of O'Donnell he'll be releasing in the weeks ahead—unless O'Donnell agress to come on his HBO show.

The reference to witchcraft did seem to come out of the blue. But there is a family connection. As we reported last week, O'Donnell has a sister who is quite different from her. Christine O'Donnell is a fundamentalist Christian who has denounced homosexuality. Her sister Jennie is a Los-Angeles-based actor/director/spiritual healer who supports lesbian rights and who says she lives with her girlfriend. Jennie also has pursued many—that is, many—different spiritual pathways. On her LinkedIn page, Jennie writes:

I have studied and practiced many therapeutic methods, as well as many different spiritual practices, such as; The Eastern Philosophies of Buddhism, Taoism, Sidha yoga with Brahma khumaris and other yoga practices for self realization. Western philosophies of Christianity, Science of mind, Course in miracles, Catholicism, Native American Spiritualities, Judaism, Muslim, Sufi, Ancient Alchemy of the Emerald Tablet, Metaphysics, Wicca, Pagan and many other world spiritualities.

Did the sisters share their mutual interests in Wicca? These days, Jennie has been working on her sister's Senate campaign and insisting Christine is not "homophobic." But if Maher wants an interesting show and cannot get Christine, he ought to try to book Jennie.

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