Mojo - April 2009

Leave Harold Koh Alone!! No, Seriously, Leave Him Alone

| Thu Apr. 2, 2009 11:46 AM EDT
Dahlia Lithwick says that the conservative attacks on the Yale Law School dean, who is slated to become the legal adviser to Obama's State Department, are unfounded and that is is high time for some lefty pushback. Koh, she argues, is exactly the sort of person who ought to be staffing State at times like these. I agree. Give her a read.

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Poll: Obama-Muslim Misinformation Continues

| Thu Apr. 2, 2009 11:21 AM EDT

We all know that there are some people who are so entrenched in their political views, and get their news from such incredibly partisan sources, than they can never be convinced to change their minds on anything. And yet, I'm stunned by this. Pew:

More than two months into Barack Obama's presidency, as many people incorrectly identify him as a Muslim as did so during the 2008 campaign. When asked about Obama's religious beliefs, 11% say he is a Muslim. In October, 12% said Obama is a Muslim, which was unchanged from earlier in the campaign.

In the current survey, 35% say they do not know Obama's religion, either because they do not know enough about him (22%), or because they have heard different things about his religion (13%); another 6% refused to answer.

As was the case last fall, white evangelical Protestants (19%) and Republicans (17%) are among the most likely to view Obama as a Muslim. Fewer than half in each group -- 38% of white evangelicals and 46% of Republicans -- correctly identify Obama as a Christian.

Jesus.

Glenn Beck Takes Godwin's Law to New Heights

| Thu Apr. 2, 2009 10:42 AM EDT

The contemporary version of Godwin's Law states that as an argument on the Internet grows longer, the odds that someone compares someone else to Hitler or the Nazis approaches one. The corollary is that whoever mentions Hitler first usually loses. Godwin's Law and Reductio ad Hitlerum are sly ways that the Internet and its denizens shame/lampoon needless hyperbole and its overheated practitioners.

Glenn Beck either doesn't get it or doesn't care. The man does not understand shame, good taste, or, frankly, how journalism works. Wednesday night, he accompanied his rantings about how America is descending into fascism under President Obama (which sound nutty and militia-ish, but were aired on Fox News) with over a minute of full screen images of Nazi foot soldiers marching in lockstep. It is completely over the top and completely unacceptable. Watch below (via Think Progress):

I say we rename it Beck's Law. Godwin's Law has been blown to pieces.

US Deaths in Iraq at All-Time Low

| Thu Apr. 2, 2009 10:26 AM EDT

Back when the Iraq War was in its worst stages, we would mention high casualty numbers here on the blog (i.e. July's 350 deaths represent the second highest monthly total since the war began). So it's only fair that I mention that there were just nine American soldiers killed in March, the lowest monthly number for the entire war. That's great news. No info is available on civilian casualties, but let's hope those numbers are low, too, and that they stay that way as the Pentagon draws down forces.

And just FYI: I'll be the first to admit that giving credit to Obama for this -- something that so clearly has its origins before his ascent to office -- would be absurd. You won't find any lefty bloggers praising Obama for this development. Which is why the Right's attempts to pin the recession on Barack Obama ("the Obama recession") is so despicable and says so much.

Sorry to get political on an issue that shouldn't be.

With Money Flying Around, Lobbying Registrations Soar

| Wed Apr. 1, 2009 3:21 PM EDT

Bill Allison at the Sunlight Foundation did some digging:

Lobbying firms and special interests have filed nearly 1,700 new registration forms so far in the first quarter of 2009, a review of lobbying disclosure forms available online at the Senate Office of Public Records shows. As the federal government pumps up spending and intervenes in the troubled financial markets, K Street firms appear to have had no shortage of new business....

Governments are also scrambling for a piece of the action: 134 state, municipal, county and local government entities--ranging from the Office of Policy Management of the state of Connecticut to the Duneland School System in Chesterton, Ind....

President Obama has tried to make Washington more hostile to lobbyists, but with all the money flying around these days, it looks like it's still a good time to be on K Street.

Obama's Message to Netanyahu

| Wed Apr. 1, 2009 2:54 PM EDT

From President Barack Obama's March 24 press conference:

Question: Mr. President, you came to office pledging to work for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. How realistic do you think those hopes are now, given the likelihood of a prime minister [Benyamin Netanyahu] who is not fully signed up to a two-state solution and a foreign minister who has been accused of insulting Arabs?

Obama: It's not easier than it was, but I think it's just as necessary.

A statement put out by the White House on April 1:

The President spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu today. The President congratulated the Prime Minister after his swearing-in yesterday, and reaffirmed the United States' steadfast commitment to Israel and its security. The President said he looked forward to working closely with Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government to address issues of mutual concern, including Iran and Arab-Israeli peace.

A slight change in tone, isn't it? But that's to be expected. Official pronouncments often do not match less-guarded statements. But I wonder if two discussed Obama's press conference comment--and whether Obama sent Netanyahu a message any more pointed than the congrats described above.

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Taking Sides on the Death of Expertise

| Wed Apr. 1, 2009 11:50 AM EDT

I've written before about the death of real expertise in Washington -- this nagging sense that if every learned person is pushing an agenda, and if every lawmaker listens exclusively to those learned persons that he or she already agrees with, policy debates will never seek out best solutions but instead necessarily devolve into partisan bickering matches. I'm not saying everyone must embrace bipartisanship and trend to the middle to find solutions that partially satisfy everyone (i.e. High Broderism). I'm saying that every once in a while, conservatives ought to be able to look at hard data and discern that what has typically been considered a Democratic policy solution to a particular problem works best to resolve that problem, and thus accept and vote for it. Liberals ought to do the same. And experts ought to be able to guide lawmakers to these conclusions, instead of always entrenching them further in their beliefs.

Now, all of that said, it is clear that Republicans have done more to bastardize the idea of expertise than Democrats. The most obvious example of this is global warming, where conservatives have spent over a decade not just ignoring a scientific consensus, but manufacturing scientific uncertainty in order to muddle public opinion on the issue. Scientific expertise -- from truly unbiased government institutions like NASA, NOAA, the EPA, etc. -- has long been ignored by a conservative movement that sees science at odds with business.

But it goes further. Conservatives have a built-in ideological reason for opposing expertise on all subjects, not just science and the environment. They fundamentally do not believe government should play an active role in Americans' lives. That has ramifications everywhere. If you believe that, you don't look for a way to manage the financial sector that protects investors, homeowners, and others who have a stake in Wall Street; you promote deregulation. You don't listen to career FDA employees who doubt the efficacy or safety of certain drugs; you push pharmaceuticals to market. And you slash budgets at places where federal employees develop expertise so that they can study the atmosphere, or keep our water clean, or prevent fraud in federal contracts and grants.

David Frum, who is emerging as the conservative movement's most prominent internal critic, understands this. A hands-off approach to government necessarily entails a denigration and depreciation of expertise. From the National Post:

No Effective Oversight for $3 Trillion in Bailout Funds

| Wed Apr. 1, 2009 11:40 AM EDT
On Tueday, three government watchdogs testified about TARP and other government bailout programs before the Senate finance committee. They offered some profoundly troubling observations about the government's inability to monitor and oversee effectively the spending (and lending) of nearly $3 trillion in bailout funds. It's a bit surprising that their testimony received about 1 percent of the media attention given to those AIG bonuses (a paltry $165 million) and sparked about 1 percent (or less) of the public outrage generated by those same bonuses. But I was invited to talk about the testimony with David Shuster on MSNBC:
You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter by clicking here.

More Contracts, More Fraud, Less Scrutiny

| Wed Apr. 1, 2009 11:20 AM EDT
The Bush administration presided over explosive growth in defense-related contracting. Part of it was the natural result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; part of it was ideology and a deeply held belief that anything government can do the private sector can do better and cheaper. And maybe so. I won't argue it here. But whatever your views on the role of private companies in military operations, there's little question that the flurry of Pentagon contracts issued since 9/11 has, in numerous instances, led to gross abuse and corruption by companies that took advantage of weak regulation and a Congress that, despite much breathless posturing, has still failed to do much to bring things under control. The numbers speak for themselves. As the Pentagon doubled its contracting budget, the number of criminal investigations for contract fraud declined dramatically. According to a report released today by the Center for Public Integrity:
Defense contracting grew from about $200 billion in fiscal year 1993 at the start of the Clinton presidency to nearly $400 billion in FY 2008 at the end of President George W. Bush’s administration (1993 dollars adjusted for inflation to 2008 dollars). But Defense Department investigators during the Bush administration sent 76 percent fewer contracting fraud and corruption cases to the Justice Department for potential criminal prosecution than were referred under Clinton, according to Justice Department data analyzed by the Center for Public Integrity.
“No one is minding the store,” said William G. Dupree, a former director of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS), which investigates contracting fraud. “Someone needs to address that.”
The FBI, which is also involved in such probes, sent 55 percent fewer government-wide contracting fraud and corruption cases to prosecutors for the same time periods reviewed. These cases cut across all agencies, but the Defense Department was responsible for more than 65 percent of federal contracting during the Bush administration. And FBI statistics requested by the Center focusing just on the Pentagon document a similar trend. In 2001, the Bureau referred 213 Defense Department procurement fraud cases to Justice Department prosecutors; by 2008, the total had fallen to 86.

This Just In: Bush Justice Department Incompetent

| Wed Apr. 1, 2009 10:50 AM EDT

The withdrawal of charges against former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens serves as more proof of what we already knew: the Bush DOJ couldn't do anything right. Attorney General Eric Holder has decided that "it is in the interest of justice to dismiss the indictment and not proceed with a new trial," according to a statement he released this morning. Why drop the charges? Because the Bush Justice Department, which handled the prosecution, couldn't, well, handle the prosecution. DOJ lawyers were accused (rightly, according to Holder) of withholding crucial information from the defense, and the trial subsequently degenerated into a series of embarrassments for an already-demoralized department. At one point, the DOJ lawyers were even held in contempt of court. Holder has asked the DOJ's Office of Professional Responsibility to look into the matter. Thankfully, the one thing the DOJ has been good at recently is releasing damning OPR reports (PDF, PDF, PDF) about how corrupt, incompetent, and politicized it became during the Bush years.