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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Boehner, Where Is, "Where Are the Jobs?"?

| Thu Mar. 10, 2011 11:47 AM EST

Before the 2010 congressional elections, Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his fellow GOPers developed and implemented a simple campaign strategy: say "where are the jobs?" over and over and over. Even though the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office had declared thst President Barack Obama's stimulus package had created or saved about 3 million jobs and a recovery (albeit weak) was under way, the Republicans blamed Obama for screwing up the economy (not Wall Street or the Bush-Cheney administration). In politics, an attack doesn't have to be fair or accurate to work—and this one did.

Since then, have you heard Boehner screaming about jobs? No. He and his comrades have focused on one thing: cutting government spending, which will undoubtedly lead to job loss in the short run (if not the long run). Wait—that's not fair. They've also focused on abortion (with legislation that would make it harder for a woman who was raped to obtain federal assistance for an abortion), Planned Parenthood (with legislation that would defund the outfit), NPR (ditto), and American Muslims (with today's hearings on radicalization among Muslim Americans). There's not been much talk of jobs.

Consequently, this new poll from Bloomberg is hardly a surprise:

Americans say President Barack Obama lacks an effective strategy for improving the U.S. economy. They have much less confidence in the Republican vision for success.

By a margin of 51 percent to 40 percent, a Bloomberg National Poll shows Americans say Obama lacks the right formula for long-term growth, a goal he presented in his State of the Union address with the phrase “win the future.”

The Democratic president still does better than Republicans: When asked who has a better vision for the years ahead, 45 percent of poll respondents chose Obama and 33 percent picked the Republicans.

Four months ago, the GOPers shellacked the Democrats. They became the new kids on the block and claimed they were eager to refurnish their image with the American public. Yet once in power, they have reverted to their old ways—culture war and spending cuts. Meet the new boss, same as the...

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Obama's Transparent Recovery?

| Wed Mar. 9, 2011 7:00 AM EST

My friend of many years, author/thinker/activist Micah Sifry, who is co-founder and editor of the Personal Democracy Forum and TechPresident.com, has a new book out on the WikiLeaks affair. It's not a dig-up-the-dirt-on-Julian-Assange volume. Entitled WikiLeaks and the Age of Transparency, this book, as Sifry puts it, is "a report from the trenches where a wide array of small-d democracy and transparency activists are hard at work using new tools and methods to open up powerful institutions and make them more accountable, and to situate WikiLeaks in that movement." In this work, Sifry examines other fronts in the battle for openness.

One telling case study from the book—which was excerpted on TechPresident.com—involves the Obama White House's effort (that is, promise) to make the stimulus a model of transparent government. Sifry writes:

Two years ago, Barack Obama promised the public that he was going to run government in a more transparent and interactive way. Indeed, at public rallies meant to build public support for the signature initiative of his fledgling administration, the $787 billion "Economic Recovery" stimulus spending program, he told audiences that he would "enlist all of you" to help watchdog the spending. The centerpiece was going to a new dynamic and interactive website, Recovery.gov.


Here’s what actually happened with Recovery.gov. According to a White House insider, during the transition planning, Obama was indeed shown a mock-up of an interactive site that would allow citizens to track all federal spending, not just the stimulus. But that vision was whittled down rather quickly, hobbled by a board made of up of the various agency Inspectors General, all of whom come from the old-school way of doing things. The "clay layer" of government bureaucracy, through which no light travels, was in charge.

At first, Earl Devaney, a former Secret Service agent who was appointed as the inspector general to run the stimulus program’s Recovery and Transparency Accountability Board, seemed to embrace Obama's stated vision. He promised that the site would invite Americans to be “citizens inspectors general,” helping track whether the money was indeed being used properly. “The website will unleash a million citizen IGs [inspectors general],” Devaney said in August 2009. “After getting a taste of this, people will not want to go back to the old ways,” he said.

No such thing has happened. First of all, the Recovery.gov site doesn’t really engage the public as “eyes and ears” apart from offering a way for people to report fraud, waste, or abuse via a standard electronic complaint form. In other words, all the real information processing about possible problems with government spending is hidden from the public; people have no way of seeing each other’s complaints or tracking whether something has been addressed. This isn't "Yelp for Government." All the real work is done by a sophisticated “Recovery Operations Center” where traditional law enforcement authorities use data-mining tools to uncover potential fraud. In no way has a community of citizen inspectors general been formed, and it’s not surprising that Recovery.gov has had no discernible effect on public trust in Obama.

Recovery.com yielded no revolution in citizen e-oversight of government.

You can read the rest of Sifry's account of this lost opportunity for government transparency here and find his new book here.

Monitor Group and Qaddafi: Still Spinning?

| Thu Mar. 3, 2011 6:38 PM EST

Earlier today, Siddhartha Mahanta and I broke the story that the Monitor Group, a Harvard-tied consulting firm in Boston, recruited (and on some occasions) paid prominent academics to visit Libya in 2006 and 2007 and meet with dictator Muammar Qaddafi as part of a campaign to rehabilitate the autocrat's image. (At the time, Qaddafi was signaling he might be interested in reforming his rogue-ish ways.) The Monitor's $3 million project, as we reported, yielded pro-Qaddafi stories in The New Republic, The Guardian, Newsweek International, The Washington Post, and other publications. (The firm also proposed writing a pro-Qaddafi book for a $1.65 million fee.)

We also reported several days ago that Monitor conducted research for a PhD dissetation written for the London School of Economics by Saif Qaddafi, a son of the Libyan autocrat. Initially, Monitor would not discuss the specifics of its work for Libya, and it released a brief statement saying, "Our work was focused on helping the Libyan people work towards an improved economy and more open governmental institutions."

After our latest Monitor story was published this morning, the firm sent out a more elaborate statement:

Our work was aimed at two primary outcomes—substantive improvement of the country's economic performance in the global economy, and therefore the prosperity of its citizens; and accelerated modernization and increased openness of government institutions and governance models.

The vast majority of our paid work related to the provision of two main services. First, a detailed and comprehensive analysis of the Libyan economy and identification of and plans for potential sources of competitive and comparative advantage for the country's future. Second, in-depth training in management and leadershp for several hundred high-potential leaders, drawn from many sectors. We undertook these efforts in good conscience within the then climate of optimisim for the country's future, and firmly believe that this was responsible and appropriate activity at that time.

During the same period Monitor also accessed its extensive network of political and social thought leaders representing a broad array of perspectives (some of them well known figures whose names have been mentioned in multiple media sources recently) and oversaw their introduction to the leaders of Libya, including Muammar Gaddafi.

The purpose of these visits and conversations was to facilitate, inform and speed up the processes of reform and modernization which were so clearly required—and, we believed at the time, possible. We also believed that these visits could boost global receptivity for Mr. Gaddafi's stated intention to move the country more towards the West and open up to the rest of the world. Sadly, it is now clear that we, along with many others, misjudged that possibility.

In the course of our work in Libya, and in the spirit of enabling the country's reintegration with the global community, we at one point proposed to help write a book representing the views of Mr. Gaddafi. During subsequent discussions regarding this proposal it became clear to us that it was a serious mistake on our part, and the work did not proceed. We sincerely regret having initiated this suggestion, and readily acknowledge it was a poor decision.

As acknowledged in his final thesis, Monitor also provided research support to Saif Gaddafi in the production of his London School of Economics PhD dissertation. We now regret our involvement in this work which we acknowledge was ill-considered.

The statement does contain what appears to be genuine regret. But it sidesteps a key part of the story: the group's PR campaign for Qaddafi. The consulting firm may well have devoted much time to economic-related projects in Libya, but it also mounted projects specifically designed to clean up Qaddafi's image. As we reported, the firm's goal, according to its own internal documents, was

to produce a makeover for Libya and to introduce Qaddafi "as a thinker and intellectual, independent of his more widely-known and very public persona as the Leader of the Revolution in Libya." In a July 3, 2006, letter to its contact in the Libyan government, Mark Fuller, the CEO of Monitor, and Rajeev Singh-Molares, a director of the firm, wrote,

Libya has suffered from a deficit of positive public relations and adequate contact with a wide range of opnion-leaders and contemporary thinkers. This program aims to redress the balance in Libya's favor.

The key strategy for achieving these aims, the operation summary said, "involves introducing to Libya important international figures that will influence other nations' policies towards the country."...[O]ne primary outcome of Monitor's pro-Qaddafi endeavors, the operation summary said, was an increase in media coverage "broadly positive and increasingly sensitive to the Libyan point of view."

Monitor's mea culpa is limited, with the group trying to depict its Libyan endeavor as geared toward economic development and reform. Its latest statement says, "Monitor believes that the vast majority of our work in and for Libya was appropriate and responsible; but we did make mistakes." Perhaps another one is not fully acknowledging that it pocketed millions of dollars for selling Qaddafi to the West.

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