Kevin Drum

McCain and the Internets

| Mon Jun. 29, 2009 9:25 AM EDT

Kevin is on a break until tomorrow. I'm filling in until he returns to the helm.

Remember that delicious story last year about John McCain's admission that he could not use a computer on his own? It seemed to symbolize his out-of-touchness--especially when he had to run against a candidate who seemed to have the Internet in his DNA. At the annual Personal Democracy Forum conference, which began this morning in New York, the first panel discussion included Mark McKinnon, who was an adviser to the McCain campaign (until Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination) and Joe Rospars, who handled new media for the Obama campaign. Andrew Rasiej, the founder of PDF, opened the chat with what he thought was a quasi-provocative question: Mark, did McCain really not understand or use the Internet?

McKinnon should have had an answer to this obvious question. Something like:

Well, he was not the most ardent user of email and computers, but he quickly became one and certainly understood the signficance of the Internet in commerce, communication, and democracy. Look, he's actively Twittering these days. And his Twitters about Iran even get attention from reporters who then ask the White House about them. So he's fully engaged with this stuff.

But McKinnon said none of this. In fact, the GOP consultant didn't even try to answer the question. He went on about how the digital revolution has changed politics, journalism, and the music business. (McKinnon is a failed professional songwriter.) He talked about how the Internet has made it so much easier for campaigns to harnass the enthusiasm of volunteers. (Duh.) He praised Obama--whom he had told McCain he could not work against--for his campaign's innovation. (Duh, again.) He took a shot at Al Gore for claiming to have invented the Internet. (Which Gore did not claim.)

But McKinnon didn't say anything about McCain and the Internet. He totally ducked the question. I would take that silence as confirmation of that 2008 meme. Any other explanation?

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

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Iran: What's Next?

| Sun Jun. 28, 2009 11:38 PM EDT

Kevin is still away. He'll be back on Tuesday. I'm filling in until then and will be blogging from the Personal Democracy Forum conference on Monday.

On Sunday, thousands of Iranians protested against the government, gathering at the Goba mosque in Tehran. Mir Hossein Mousvai's wife and presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi, were part of the demonstration. Mousvai, according to some reports, addressed the crowd via a cellphone. But this rally, smaller than previous demonstrations, will likely not cause the headline writers of The New York Times to reconsider the title on Sunday's dispatch from Iran: "In Tehran, a Mood of Melancholy Descends."

It does seem that the opposition might have lost steam--though we ought to recall that it took the last Iranian revolution two years to take hold and take power. On Sunday, a Tehran  filmmaker I've met via email sent me the below dispatch. This person is a Karroubi supporter and wants those of us in the West to realize that not all the opposition Iranians are Mousavi fans. It's a good point, since conventional media coverage often does turn complicated, full-of-nuance situations into binary, easy-to-shorthand episodes. S/he believes the opposition could regain momentum in the days ahead and writes:

It's been said both Mousavi and Karroubi are under house arrest, but every once in a while they are allowed to appear in public. Karroubi stayed in the Goba mosque just half an hour while he joined protesters and walked away with them. I think he couldn't stay more.

Well it's like new wave of demonstrations gonna start in next days, people talk about making a long human chain tomorrow. New faces coming up, just like [cleric] Hadi Ghaffari and some Ayattollahs. There is video and audio file of Ghaffari's speech against Khamenei on the Internet. It's just released today and I think in couple of days the whole country know about it and it may encourage people to go on.

People were waiting for Hashemi Rafsanjani's speech. They counted on him to stand in front of Khamenei. But after two weeks he spoke today and in a very moderate way supported Khamenei. Now it's like the waiting is over and there is no middle path to go.

You know , I think the government also enjoys this situation! I mean if they wanted to steal votes they could do it in a more convincing way. They could simply say Ahmadinejad has 500,000 more votes than Mousavi. They want to make the people angry. Ahmadinejad calls people who voted for other candidates "dust." Khamenei threathens the nation while he could have made a more cautious speech.They attack ordinary people. I don't know what the hell is going on behind the scenes, but pieces of puzzle just don't match.

I think Mousavi was not the man this nation needed, All he talked about before election was that "I have these plans because Khomeini wanted this for this society". It's sad the people who were pissed off at religion suddenly started repeating his religious slogans. People wanted a secular government but since Mousavi came everybody just forgot that aim.

What really upsets me is that we were 13 million voted for Karroubi. We protest the election results. Most of the politician arrested in past days were supporters of Karroubi, but the whole world consider us in the opposition as Mousavi's supporters!

Those of us watching from far away cannot easily suss out what is happening in Iran, and alas, the same applies to the nation's own citizens.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

Meanwhile, in Iraq and Afghanistan....

| Fri Jun. 26, 2009 4:42 PM EDT

Kevin is off for a few days--and not in Argentina. He'll be back and ready to blog on Tuesday. In the meantime, I will be your pilot.

Under usual circumstances, the withdrawal of US troops from a theater of war would be considered a big deal.

Not these days.

The United States has begun to pull troops out of Iraq, and there's not much attention being paid--even with the explosion of violence in Iraq this week. (Insert gratuitous Michael Jackson reference here.) And there are other milestones to look ahead to within Iraq. Reuters notes:

Many observers see Iraq's most crucial milestone being the parliamentary election next January, rather than the withdrawal of U.S. soldiers from town and cities by the end of this month.

That vote will be a defining test of whether the country's feuding factions can live together after the years of sectarian bloodshed unleashed by the 2003 U.S. invasion.

"Security gains in a narrow sense will be of limited value unless the ... election is turned into a thoroughly inclusive affair where Iraqis get the opportunity to discuss fundamental issues of national reconciliation in an open atmosphere," said Reidar Visser of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs and editor of Iraq-focused website www.historiae.org

This is something else to look forward to being insufficiently covered within the American media.

Just like the Afghanistan presidential election campaign now in process. From Politico:

Without strong preemptive action by the Obama administration and the international community, Afghanistan’s impending elections could be just as suspect — and have just as dire consequences — as Iran’s, a top opponent to Afghan President Hamid Karzai claimed on Tuesday.

“The possibility of a Kenya or a Zimbabwe or an Iran looms large,” said Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, a former World Bank official and Karzai adviser now challenging him for president in the Aug. 20 election.

Well, what would you expect a Karzai challenger to say? But what if he's right? A bad election in Afghanistan would truly undermine the US operation there. The International Crisis Group, a savvy NGO, has put out a report outlining the election challenges in Afghanistan. The group's South Asia project director, Samina Ahmed, notes: 

Ultimately, it is the perception of the Afghan population that will measure electoral success. If they are to be encouraged to vote, they must be confident that their ballots will count. But if perceived to be unfairly conducted, elections could provide a potential flashpoint.

Isn't Afghanistan already a flashpoint? Ugh.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

 

Has Obama Done Enough?

| Fri Jun. 26, 2009 3:49 PM EDT

Despite that cat blog posting you see below this one, Kevin is on vacation. At least, he's suposed to be on vacation. Expect him back with non-cat blogs on Tuesday. I'm subbing until then.

Okay, I know that Michael Jackson died, but there's a bill heading to a vote in the House this afternoon that's billed by President Barack Obama as a "historic first step" toward dealing with the threat of climate change. As I type, it looks like a nail-biter.

At the daily White House press briefing, press secretary Robert Gibbs was asked what Obama was doing today to help pass this legislation. Gibbs said that the president had made "a few" calls to House members. A few? Does that sound like a big push? We weren't given many more details. But it certainly didn't seem as if Obama is pulling an all-out LBJ. Was the White House trying not to attach Obama's prestige to a cap and trade bill that might crash and burn? Hard to know what's going on behind the scenes. But I certainly wouldn't mind being a fly on the wall in Rahm Emanuel's office—unless, of course, Obama is there. (Smack!)

I wonder if Obama and his team have made efficient use of Obama Nation—that is, those millions of people who supported his campaign. Yesterday Organizing for America—the offshoot of the Obama presidentical campaign, which is housed within the Democratic National Committee—sent out an email to its list (of presumably millions), asking followers to visit a website page that shows how to call your representatives and what to say in support of the energy bill. It's a pretty spiffy and sophisticated web operation. Was it kicked into gear too late? Obama's millions were not fully mobilized prior to this late stage.

But you can't call this an error until the votes are counted. If the bill passes, the White House played it right. If not....

Meanwhile, Al Gore stayed away from the House today—there was some talk in Washington that he would parachute in—and posted a blog item explaining his support of the bill:

There is no back-up plan.  There is not a stronger bill waiting to pass the House of Representatives.  It’s time to get started on a plan that will create jobs, increase our national security, and build the clean energy economy that will Repower America.

Please contact your Member of Congress today.

Gore has not been a major presence in the debate on this bill. Democratic strategists must assume that he doesn't help much with those Ds or Rs on the fence. That's probably an accurate assessment. But if the bill flops, media commentators will be consumed with second-guessing how the White House and Speaker Pelosi handled it—if they're not busy pondering the Michael Jackson autopsy results.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

 

 

 

Friday Cat Blogging - 26 June 2009

| Fri Jun. 26, 2009 3:00 PM EDT

Sure, I might be on vacation, but that doesn't mean there's no Friday Catblogging this week.  What kind of monster do you think I am?

But if I'm on vacation, then Inkblot and Domino get a vacation too.  So this week, courtesy of reader Randy G., we have some guest catblogging.  The pile of furballs on the right are Lennie and Louie, and as you can guess, they're littermates.  Sigh.  I want a pair of littermates some day.  They'll be 14 years old next month, but if you'd like to see pictures of them as kittens, along with their mentors Ralph and Alice, just click here.  It's bonus historical kitten blogging!

Friday Cat Blogging - 26 June 2009

| Fri Jun. 26, 2009 12:59 PM EDT

I'm subbing for Kevin until Tuesday. He's probably not leaving his room, so he can watch all the Michael Jackson coverage.

Okay, I don't like cats. I'm allergic to cats. They make me sneeze. Once, a tabby clawed me and my arm swelled up. I looked like The Hulk. Or, part of The Hulk. Two years back, I did rescue a cat, and now it lives in the house across the street and visits our yard regularly. I named it Miles. Why? Just seemed to fit. But that was an exception. Whatcha gonna do when a living creature gets caught in brush behind a fence? Just listen it to it yelp while you're lying in a hammock swatting mosquitos? Nah, you gotta do something, right? So I did. But don't get the wrong impression. I don't like cats. Dogs are jake with me--but some make me wheeze. Which is why my kids want a Portuguese Water Dog. Hypo-allergenic, they say. Yeah, right. It sure doesn't hurt that Sasha and Malia got one--which, I'm betting, raised the price of a PWD pup by a factor of twelve. Can't wait to go shopping for one of those.

But I'm off-topic. Cats. Cat blogging. Just. Don't. Get. It. But tradition--that I understand. Keeping customers satisfied--that I really understand. Don't want to lose no eyeballs. So if the cables can go wacko over Jacko, I can go bats over cats. That is, with the help of longtime Kevin Drum reader BH, who foreseeing my dilemma emailed me pics of his kitties. At least, he says they're his cats. On the Internet, who knows? Names: Walter and Milo. And I don't know nothing else about them. So here's your cat blog.

Milo sitting in an IKEA chair. I hope he didn't have to assemble it.

Walter and Milo after a fight. If only Angelina and Megan could make up so easily

 

 

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Merkel Plays Hard

| Fri Jun. 26, 2009 12:25 PM EDT

Kevin has hit the road for a few days. He'll be back on Tuesday. I'm sitting in his cyber-chair until then.

After President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had a sit-down at the White House this morning, the two held a joint press conference at the White House. There were a few questions about Iran, and Merkel talked tough on the subject without causing ruptures. She declared, "we will not forget" what has happened to participants in the Iranian oppoosition who have been suppressed, beaten, and killed. "We will do everything to identify the exact number of victims," she said, and who they were. "Iran cannot count on the world community turning a blind eye," she said. Merkel noted that it's "so important" for dissidents "to know that people somewhere else in the world" are watching what they are doing. By speaking in such terms, she went--for good or bad--further than Obama, who did again condemn the Iranian crackdown on the opposition. Merkel referred to concrete steps that can be taken, at least in retrospect. And I wonder if Obama will feel compelled at some point to do likewise. Then again, that will probably depend on what happens with the opposition in Iran. If things quiet down, such pressure will ease.

At the same time, Merkel said, she "completely agreed" with Obama that the United States and Germany had to work with Russia and China to find productive ways of engaging with Iran regarding the Iranian nuclear program.

Now, Germany ain't the United States, and it certainly doesn't have the same bad history with Iran. Merkel has far more latitude to express outrage and to propose responses. Obama is probably still getting the balance right. Sometimes it just doesn't look pretty.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

Best in Blog: 26 June 2009

| Fri Jun. 26, 2009 11:28 AM EDT

Sure, Michael Jackson's brilliance changed music, as everyone who's ever moonwalked, breakdanced, or lugged a boom box to school to play "Thriller" during recess knows. But now the recently departed King of Pop is also changing the weekend news arc. Will this be the last we hear of Iran from the MSM?

Our Friday faves:

1) Guess Who's Selling Wall Street's Bull?

Hint: He was a Bush aide who cooked up a phony pitch for the Iraq War. Read more.

 

2) The Biofuel Boondoogle

Midwestern Congressman Collin Peterson introduces the week's worst amendment to the Waxman-Markey climate bill. Read more.

 

3) BK's New BJ Ad, Now With More Ick Factor

Have you seen the burger-as-blow-job Burger King ad just that burst onto the scene? Here it is.

A Greenpeace & GOP Alliance?

| Fri Jun. 26, 2009 10:46 AM EDT

As noted earlier, I am filling in for Kevin for a few days. He'll be back on Tuesday.

As the House gets closer today to a vote on the cap and trade climate change bill—or as President Barack Obama calls it, the energy jobs bill—Republican opponents of the legislation are finding cover from what is for them an unlikely source: Greenpeace. This morning, the office of House minority whip Eric Cantor sent to reporters an email containing a press release from Greenpeace that urges a vote against the measure:

Since the Waxman-Markey bill left the Energy and Commerce committee, yet another fleet of industry lobbysists has weakened the bill even more, and further widened the gap between what Waxman-Markey does and what science demands. As a result, Greenpeace opposes this bill in its current form. We are calling upon Congress to vote against this bill unless substantial measures are taken to strengthen it. Despite President Obama’s assurance that he would enact strong, science-based legislation, we are now watching him put his full support behind a bill that chooses politics over science, elevates industry interests over national interest, and shows the significant limitations of what this Congress believes is possible.

As it comes to the floor, the Waxman-Markey bill sets emission reduction targets far lower than science demands, then undermines even those targets with massive offsets. The giveaways and preferences in the bill will actually spur a new generation of nuclear and coal-fired power plants to the detriment of real energy solutions. To support such a bill is to abandon the real leadership that is called for at this pivotal moment in history.  We simply no longer have the time for legislation this weak.

Of this, a spinner for Cantor says: "Didn’t see this one coming… Greenpeace urges Congress to vote against Waxman-Markey.  Who is it that actually likes this bill?"

Of course, Cantor and other Republican foes of the legislation do not share any of Greenpeace's arguments. They're not upset about industry lobbyists weakening the measure. They're not offended by the give-aways to polluters. They're not worried that the bill doesn't reduce emissions to the levels called for by scientists. Nor are they aware that there has long been a debate within the enviro community about the merits of this bill and the entire cap and trade approach. They just see a cheap and easy talking point, and even though House Dems are unlikely to bring the bill to a vote if they don't have a majority, the GOPers smell blood.

******

I don't have much to say about Michael Jackson's death. As I Twittered yesterday, I recall an 1980s parody of The New York Post that had a front page that went something like this: "NUCLEAR WAR. Millions Dead. Including Michael Jackson." The media obsession with Michael Jackson that the parodists were poking at back then has been much evident in the past 24 hours. Cable dumped all news of Iran, the cap and trade bill, Farrah Fawcett, Iraq, and everything else. This morning, cable news networks did cut to the proceedings of the House of Representatives: to show Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. calling for a moment of silence for Jackson. One person, no doubt, didn't object to the uber-coverage: Governor Mark Sanford.

Which reminds me. Before MJ's demise, I heard a cable news anchor describe the Sanford story as a "sex scandal." I beg to differ. Read his emails. It's a "love scandal."

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

When Is a Climate Bill Not a Climate Bill?

| Thu Jun. 25, 2009 6:27 PM EDT

As I noted earlier, I was at the White House for President Barack Obama's remarks on the pending energy bill. The fact that he held this event was widely seen as a sign that the White House is worried about tomorrow's vote in the House on this cap and trade measure. Actually, this wasn't really an event. Obama just came out to a podium set up in the Rose Garden and spoke into a television camera. There were a couple dozen reporters standing and watching. But we were not the audience. Viewers at home probably thought the president was speaking before an important group of legislators or citizens who had been assembled at the White House. But no, he was talking to those viewers themselves, trying to gin up support for the bill.

What was noticeable was the number of times he used the phrase "climate change": none. Or the number of times he referred to the bill as cap and trade legislation: none. He depicted the legislation as a jobs bill--using "jobs" nine times in the short statement. He was explicit:

Now, make no mistake -- this is a jobs bill.  We're already seeing why this is true in the clean energy investments we're making through the Recovery Act.  In California, 3,000 people will be employed to build a new solar plant that will create 1,000 jobs.  In Michigan, investments in wind turbines and wind technology is expected to create over, 2,600 jobs.  In Florida, three new solar projects are expected to employ 1,400 people.

The list goes on and on, but the point is this:  This legislation will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy.  That will lead to the creation of new businesses and entire new industries.  And that will lead to American jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced.

Everyone knows, I suppose, this is also a climate change bill, and that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is necessary. But in the face of opposition from GOPers and others who claim this "cap and tax" measure will wreck the economy, Obama stayed away from an overly enviro-ish argument for the legislation. It's not about saving the planet; it's about getting you or someone you know a job.

Perhaps this is a politically savvy tactic. It is worrisome a bit, since scientists say that greater reductions than prompted by this bill will be needed to redress climate change. Obama is hardly teeing up the ball for that sort of debate.

When the president was done, he quickly trotted off, without taking questions from the correspondents. ABC News' Jake Tapper did shout at him: Are you satisfied with a bill that auctions off only 15 percent of the carbon credits, not 100 percent? (On the campaign trail, Obama supported the 100 percent mark.) The president didn't acknowledge the question. He kept on walking back to the Oval Office.

******

Meanwhile, it was not all serious policy and political stuff at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue today. Tonight is the annual congressional picnic, which has been turned into a luau on the South Lawn. One feature at this party will be a dunk tank--with Rahm Emanuel as the to-be-dunked prize. Good marketing. Plenty of House members probably want to try to hit that target. But at the afternoon press briefing, Robert Gibbs managed to talk his way into being dunked by the press corps. presuming any of the reporters could throw a good pitch.

So at 5:30, before the official festivities were to begin, reporters were escorted to the backyard of the White House for the potential dunking. As we walked through the rear of the Rose Garden, I spotted Obama at the other end of the garden, sticking his head out a door to the West Wing. "Come on," I shouted at him. "Join us. Take a throw." He smiled, shook his head. "Just one pitch!" I said. "Show us your arm." He waved and said, "They won't let me take a shot at him."

We proceeded to the South Lawn, and there was Gibbs perched in the tank. Four reporters got the opportunity to dunk him. Bill Plante of CBS scored. So did an AP reporter. Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times threw hard but missed, as did a Fox News correspondent. Gibbs laughed his way through the ordeal, as TV camera people and photographers recorded the event. It was a great PR move for him: what a good sport.

Then our minders quickly rushed us away, as preparations for the luau continued--and White House aides, no doubt, went back to worrying about the pending vote on the cap and trade bill.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.