Blogs

Jumpstarting the Obama Administration's Web Functionality

| Thu Nov. 13, 2008 1:25 PM EST

Obama has made a lot of promises about using technology and the web to make government more transparent. Today, the founder of PoliticsTV.com put forward a number of ways the President-Elect can make good on those promises right away, using a tool as simple as web video. Here's his shorthand list:

(1) WhiteHouse.gov/TV; (2) Weekly Obama Webcast; (3) GovTube; (4) Video Content on Non-Governmental sites; (5) in every executive branch agency, create New Media, Transparency, and Technology offices; (6) have cabinet members/agency heads give monthly Webcasts; (7) Webcast the Inauguration; (8) make the State of the Union an interactive, multimedia event; (9) make the President's annual budget a digital, multimedia document; (10) enact all of this and more first by executive order, then through legislation, so future Administrations can't just hard reboot your digital legacy.

You can read about each of these ideas in detail over at the Huffington Post. Among relatively pedestrian (but useful!) ideas like streaming White House press conferences online and hosting executive department webcasts, there are some innovative ones, like turning the federal budget into a "multimedia, dynamic document with web apps, widgets, and appendices applying Quicken-style functionalities, dynamic charts, etc." Definitely worth checking out.

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Blackwater To Be Fined For Illegal Weapons Shipments to Iraq

| Thu Nov. 13, 2008 12:50 PM EST

Blackwater Worldwide is facing a "multimillion-dollar" fine from the State Department for allegedly shipping illegal weapons to its contractors in Iraq, McClatchy reports. The fine could be levied in the next few days. State officials charge that Blackwater, which holds a lucrative personnel-protection contract for US diplomats in Iraq, hid the arms inside shrink-wrapped pallets that were shipped directly from the company's sprawling Moyock, North Carolina, headquarters. About 900 weapons were sent to Iraq without permits, 119 of which were especially "erroneous," says a State Department official familiar with the shipments. Some of the weapons are thought to have wound up on Iraq's thriving black market.

The illegal weapons were first discussed publicly at a September 2007 congressional hearing about State Department inspector general Howard Krongard's alleged obstruction of a Justice Department investigation of Blackwater's activities in Iraq. It was revealed at the hearing that Krongard's brother "Buzzy," a former CIA official, had recently been recruited to Blackwater's board of advisors. Since then, former Blackwater contractors Kenneth Wayne Cashwell and William Ellsworth (Max) Grumiaux have plead guilty to illegal weapons charges and are now cooperating with federal investigators.

For its part, Blackwater says its cooperating with the investigation and has even hired a "vice president of export compliance" and appointed a three-member independent oversight panel, including former Republican congressman Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas. "Our work for the US government around the world, and the nature of teh services we offer have created compliance challenges," Blackwater founder and president Erik Prince said in a statement.

Begich Opens Substanial Lead in Alaska Senate Race

| Thu Nov. 13, 2008 12:27 PM EST

"Substantial" is relative, of course. Here's Bloomberg:

Democratic challenger Mark Begich leads by 814 votes in his bid to oust incumbent Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, according to the state's elections division.
Alaska is still counting absentee ballots from the Nov. 4 election. Anchorage Mayor Begich had been trailing Stevens by 3,257 votes until state officials started counting approximately 90,000 absentee ballots yesterday... Officials counted approximately 50,000 ballots yesterday and may finish counting the remaining 40,000 tomorrow.

The upshot? The Dems could be up to 58 Senate seats as early as tomorrow.

Update: More info from AKMuckraker:

As we move forward, Alaska's "reddest" areas have already been counted. Those outstanding districts are mainly rural and tend to go Democratic. Friday will see more than 20,000 "question ballots" (provisional ballots) counted, and the remaining absentee ballots are slated to be counted Monday.
So nothing is final yet, but the news is definitely good.

Does That Make McCain Emperor Palpatine?

| Thu Nov. 13, 2008 12:19 PM EST

yoda.jpg Noam Scheiber highlights the familiar locution of a recent Sarah Palin sentence:

"But not me personally were those cheers for."

I always felt like the woman was something out of fiction. Turns out, she's Yoda.

Information Overload

| Thu Nov. 13, 2008 11:37 AM EST

INFORMATION OVERLOAD... The New York Times has gotten its ink-stained hands on the seven-page application form for high-level Obama Administration job seekers. (You can download the PDF at the NYT site.) The phrase "application form" is misleading. The document isn't seven pages of questions and their corresponding answer fields. It's seven straight pages of highly invasive questions/demands for information about the applicant's past. No figurative stone is left unturned. Here's a sample.

obama_admin_application.jpg

I wonder if the Obama folks leaked this intentionally, to demonstrate how committed they are to keeping conflicts of interests out of their White House and how adamant they are about avoiding drama (letting an appointee suck up news-space because of a nanny problem is definitely not the Obama Way). Alternatively, an applicant leaked this because he or she was aghast at how over-the-top it is. If that's the case, it's another teachable moment in a lesson Obama is quickly coming to learn: preventing leaks in a campaign is infinitely easier than preventing them in an administration.

Honor

| Thu Nov. 13, 2008 11:10 AM EST

HONOR... I don't have anything to add to this, other than it makes me sick to my stomach. The UN Dispatch on an honor killing in Somalia:

Last week, 13-year old Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow was stoned to death in Somalia by insurgents because she was raped.
Reports indicate that was raped by three men while traveling by foot to visit her grandmother in conflict capital, Mogadishu. When she went to the authorities to report the crime, they accused her of adultery and sentenced her to death. Aisha was forced into a hole in a stadium of 1,000 onlookers as 50 men buried her up to the neck and cast stones at her until she died.
When some of the people at the stadium tried to save her, militia opened fire on the crowd, killing a boy who was a bystander.

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Guestblogging for Drum

| Thu Nov. 13, 2008 11:02 AM EST

Howdy folks. I'll be guest-blogging for Kevin Drum today, so make sure to check this space and the one next door. (Of course, you should be doing that everyday!) We're off and running with a post about investigations of the Bush Administration and how President Obama will treat them.

Disappointment Watch

| Thu Nov. 13, 2008 10:28 AM EST

DISAPPOINTMENT WATCH... If you're looking for an indication of what the first schism between the Obama Administration and the Democratic Congress will be, consider the question of investigations.

Congressional Democrats are gearing up for a season of post-Bush inquiries (at least that's what they're saying — remember this?), but Obama has indicated in the past that he isn't excited about the possibility. Earlier this year, he told the press that there needs to be a distinction between "really dumb policies and policies that rise to the level of criminal activity." The latter should be investigated, Obama said, but "I would not want my first term consumed by what was perceived on the part of Republicans as a partisan witch hunt, because I think we've got too many problems we've got to solve."

I side with Congress on this. There is enough evidence to suggest that the Bush Administration may have broken the law and violated the Constitution — investigations, with subpoena power, are the only way to know for sure. No one is suggesting that Congress grill Department of Education bureaucrats about the implementation of No Child Left Behind. Democrats on the Hill aim to examine our torture and detention policies, the wiretapping of American citizens, and the improper firing of US Attorneys — areas where legal experts have already suggested the Bush Administration crossed lines.

Don't get your hopes up, though. Presidents in the past have gone easy on their predecessors. President Bush, for example, blocked a 2001 subpoena by Congressional Republicans seeking to investigate the Clinton administration. I fully expect Obama to embrace the amity that exists between presidents and ex-presidents. And even if Obama gives Pelosi and Co. the green light, history suggests that ex-presidents take with them certain lingering powers that allow them to block investigations. The precedent, established by Truman and outlined by the always excellent Charlie Savage, is flimsy. But if there is one president and vice-president who can be counted upon to stretch executive privilege using dubious legal reasoning, it's our departing duo.

Guest Blogging

| Thu Nov. 13, 2008 2:33 AM EST

GUEST BLOGGING....Having done my national civic duty last week (was it really only last week?), today I'm scheduled to do my local civic duty. The Superior Court of Orange County has requested the pleasure of my company in their jury room for the day, so that's where I'll be. Blogging in my place today will be Jonathan Stein, a reporter and blogger in our Washington bureau who normally writes over at the mother blog.

I'll be back on Friday. Don't let Wall Street collapse again while I'm gone.

One More for the Dems

| Thu Nov. 13, 2008 2:24 AM EST

ONE MORE FOR THE DEMS....It looks like Mark Begich is going to beat Ted Stevens in the Alaska senatorial race after all. Which begs the question: Is there anything that Nate Silver isn't right about?