Saturday, July 24, 2010

The President surprises Netroots Nation 2010

I wasn't planning on doing anything in particular on Netroots, but when the President drops a surprise video at the thing, you bet I'm putting it up:

Who was Nancy? I'm betting Speaker Nancy Pelosi. I'll post her speech as soon as I find it.

He even used a cut of Rachel Maddow. Ha! Go figure.

The President signs the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act (VIDEO)

The most under-reported story of the year? The President signs a bill that allows the Government to get back lost money paid to dead people, to create a "do-not-pay" list, to go after deadbeat contractors and the like...and the Republicans (you know, the anti-deficit party) are against it?

And how much coverage did this get in the Media, even on Keith?

The Fireside chat for July 24, 2010 (VIDEO)

The framing begins...

Following the signing of historic Wall Street Reform legislation, the President contrasts his economic plan focused on the middle class and moving America forward with the Republican plan focused on the very wealthiest Americans and moving us backward.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Shirley Sherrod (Conclusion)

It’s pretty much impossible for even someone who defends the President night and day (that’s the mission of this blog, you know) to defend the Administration’s handling of the Shirley Sherrod affair. In the end, I’m willing to let things slide only because the Administration (at the very end of the day) stepped up, apologized profusely and tried to make things right. We’re still waiting to see if Mrs. Sherrod takes up that job offer.

Still, the notion of Rahmbo walking “the Sherrod situation” into the Oval Office, with the President clicking on the T.V., seeing the stories and saying: “My God, this is going to be on Glenn Beck. Get that Sherrod woman on the phone right now, and fire her” is laughable. This was handled by a few Administration Officials who thought they were serving the President well (they actually made things worse) by trying to get the jump on a story before it ballooned into something cancerous. It’s the Obama modus operandi. It’s been that way since the Campaign, and this time they got burned for it.

I watched Keith Olbermann’s Special Comment on the affair with a measure of trepidation because he spent a majority of the Comment going after the President for that good ol' Liberal meme of not being tough enough, while conveniently skipping one of the major villains of this affair. (We'll get to that in a minute).

Of course, Andrew Breitbart is a villian. He's a sociopath and a racist, and as I said before maintaining the ethics of a garter snake. This goes without saying.

The same goes for Fox News and the rest of the right wing media bullhorn, Sheppard Smith and apparently Eric Erickson excluded.

The USDA Official who fired Shirley also needs heaps of scorn, particularly in light of the racist history of that organization.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is also on my @#$% list, though he gave as good an apology as you can expect in these matters.

Still, I’m going to be watching Secretary Vilsack from now own (and not with a sympathetic eye), because in the middle of all this he doubled down on the firing.

But one of my big villains (and a villain in the eyes of the Administration, it turns out) is the Mainstream Media.

It's not that you fell for just for this, its that you keep falling for this crap time and time again.

Now, Keith did go after even his own network for propagating this nonsense, but he didn’t exactly linger on the concept. Huffington Post got its knickers in a twist over it, but they’re just as guilty, so I can give a rat’s @#$% what they think (which is the norm)

Meanwhile, a couple of people really nailed it.

Greg Sargent:

Less than two months ago, Andrew Breitbart was seen as such an important media figure that he merited a huge profile in The New Yorker magazine. He has been widely quoted by major news organizations on a whole host of topics and has received a great deal of press attention for his various pet crusades.

So here's my question: Has any news org done a stand-alone story on the damage the Shirley Sherrod mess has done -- or should do -- to his credibility?

Have any high profile traditional media figures come right out and said that Breitbart -- who admitted flat out that he received the Sherrod video unedited and posted it without tracking down the original -- has dealt himself a severe blow here?

These are sincere questions. How much of this have you all seen? Maybe I'm missing something, but I haven't seem much of it at all. Why not? News orgs love "winners and losers" stories. Reporters and editors love to talk about other media figures. It seems like a no-brainer that this would be the next angle on this story.

So why aren't we seeing more along these lines?

We’re not. And Politico just made him one of their stars to watch, this being after the Sherrod case.

Josh Marshall (who like Keith chimed in from vacation):

Still, you just have to back up from that and realize that as disappointing as Tom Vilsack's first crack at this was, the idea that he or Obama is the bad guy in this story is not only preposterous but verging on obscene. It's like the NYPD as the bad guy in the Son of Sam saga because they didn't catch David Berkowitz fast enough. Or perhaps that the real moral of the story is that the woman with the stalker should have been more focused on personal data security. Not for some time has something so captured the essential corruption of a big chunk of what passes as 'right wing media' (not all, by any means, but a sizable chunk along the Breitbart/Fox/Hannity continuum) and the corruption of the mainstream media itself as this episode.

Let's review what happened here. And for the sake of conversation, let's assume that Breitbart and his crew didn't edit this thing and hadn't seen any of the rest of the highly exculpatory video. (I'm willing to assume that for the sake of the conversation. And I think it may even be true as a matter of fact.) That's by far the most innocent explanation. And that means that Breitbart got a piece of video he knew nothing about and published it with a central claim (that it was about Sherrod's tenure at the USDA) that he either made up or made no attempt to verify. No vetting, no calls, no due diligence, not the slightest concern to confirm anything or find out what was true. Even setting aside the fact that, as Josh Green ably notes, most of Breitbart's scoops center on race and/or race-baiting, for anyone else practicing anything even vaguely resembling journalism, demonstrated recklessness and/or dishonesty on that scale would be a shattering if not necessarily fatal blow to reputation and credibility.

Yet most of the coverage has been along the lines of Breitbart sparks debate about racism or White House pratfall on prematurely canning Shirley Sherrod. Indeed, ABC tonight is sending out an exclusive on Breitbart, which is ... a puff piece about how he got his start in new media.

Oh, ABC News did a puff piece also? Thanks for reminding me, Josh.

Andrew Sullivan (I think his Journolist stuff is bull#$%, but still…):

I have not been immune to feeling frustrated and depressed by the sheer power and energy of the Fox News/Drudge/Breitbart media onslaught against anything to do with Obama. As in the campaign, I've longed in my gut for the administration to lash back with as much vehemence as Fox lashes forward. I've also winced when the Obamaites have appeared totally craven in responding to the context-free narrative many on the denialist, angry right have been pushing. (But at least Vilsack apologized which makes him much more of a man than Breitbart.)

But I've learned over time to respect the canniness of this president's restraint. His gift is patience and perseverance and allowing his enemies to destroy themselves. And I suspect this Breitbart racial smear may be a moment when, once again, you see how Obama outsmarts his opponents. I mean: when you examine it, you see that a woman who actually exemplifies honesty about race and overcomes prejudice was cynically and recklessly used to create a false notion that this administration is racist toward whites, an old and disgusting canard devised by the Becks and Hannitys and Limbaughs in the tradition of Wallace and Atwater and McCarthy.

But - and here's the thing - to the credit of many on the right (and, of course, good old Shep Smith of Fox News), this episode has led to the first real rift in the lock-step of the right-wing noise machine. I know this was so egregious a smear it was indefensible. And I know, as David Frum has noted, that many conservatives tried to deflect blame onto Obama, and the media - led by the cynic Lloyd Grove - has joined the pack. But nonetheless, many on the right took Breitbart on, from NRO outward. This great injustice has, to anyone with a fair mind, deeply damaged Fox News, deeply discredited the Breitbart noise machine, and will render every new soundbite and video issued by FNC more suspect.

It was, in other words, an over-reach from hubris. And I suspect that this over-reach is not just in the rightwing media but in what's left of conservative political activism.

Randi Rhodes:

Well, falsely vilified Agriculture Department employee Shirley Sherrod has a new job offer. If the Department of Agriculture can just falsely accuse another 15 million Americans and offer them new jobs as compensation, we will have solved the unemployment problem. Of course, we’re going to have a lot of people on the Department of Agriculture payroll. On the upside, we should be doing pretty good in terms of agriculture. Heck, for every struggling family farmer out there, we’ll have a few thousand USDA employees keeping tabs on each of them. All we have to do is get Andrew Breitbart and Fox News to manufacture fake videos to falsely incriminate 15 million Americans. I’m confident they can do it. Hell, do that and then there’s a few hundred thousand jobs for videotape editors too. This just keeps getting better for the economy.

Shirley Sherrod has received apologies from Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, the NAACP, and President Obama even called her personally today. She’s received apologies from everybody who fell for this scam, and nobody who perpetrated this scam (timeline). Both Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly aggressively pushed this story. Now they’re just as aggressively pushing this story away from themselves. Why hasn’t Fox News issued an apology for pushing the story? Because they’re too busy criticizing the White House for believing the story they were pushing. “How dare you believe what we were saying! Didn’t you stop to consider the source?”

Randi Rhodes said yesterday that she felt the Shirley Sherrod affair is a moment that should change everything for the media. She's right when she later said, she's afraid it's going to change nothing.

Tales from the Democratric "Supermajority"...

As Jonathan Chait of the New Republic notes, Senator Russ Feingold (alleged Liberal hero) helped weaken Financial Regulation.

The Wisconsin Democrat supported a filibuster, giving more leverage to Scott Brown, who used his position to weaken the bill.

This is where I become incensed at some of my fellow Liberals unflappable, and completely moronic stance of the good being the enemy of the perfect (it's supposed to be the other way around). Knuckleheads like Feingold have to get it through their heads that the opposite of good Legislation isn't perfect Legislation, it's no Legislation. Make all the arguments if you want, but are you really trying to sell the idea that we'd be better off with no Heath Care Reform, Pre-Existing Conditions still in the community lexicon, and 40 Million-plus Americans going without Health Insurance? If so, then you make about as much sense as Russ Feingold.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Ego run amok. (Dossier edition)

Seyward Darby (who I confess) I've never heard of, wrote a guest post for Jonathan Cohn over at the New Republic. Basically, it's West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin's (now a candidate for Robert Byrd's old Senate Seat) political resume, and it's a damn interesting read:

—Before becoming governor in 2005, Manchin served in the West Virginia state legislature and senate. He was also secretary of state from 2001-2005. He initially ran for governor in 1996 but lost in the Democratic primary.

—He polls sky-high: Earlier this month, Rasmussen found that Manchin had a 77 percent job approval rating.

—Coal mining has been a dominating issue during Manchin’s tenure as governor. According to The New York Times, more than 75 people have been killed in mining accidents since 2005, including the Upper Big Branch and Sago disasters. Soon after Sago, Manchin temporarily halted all mining so that safety checks could be performed.

—Manchin, a mining union ally, has been at odds with Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy, a giant coal producer and the owner of Upper Big Branch. Blankenship sued Manchin in 2005, accusing the governor of violating his First Amendment rights when Manchin said Massey and its CEO should be under stricter government scrutiny. The case was eventually dropped.

—Manchin is conservative on several hot-button issues. He’s pro-life, and, earlier this year, he endorsed a law requiring health care providers to give women the option of seeing an ultrasound before they have abortions. When he was running for governor in 2004, the National Rifle Association (NRA) endorsed him—and gave him an “A+” rating. However, this spring, Manchin also vetoed two NRA-backed laws.

—In 2008, Manchin was the one of only four governors—and the only Democrat—to receive an “A” rating from the conservative Cato Institute, which issues a report card for the nation’s state executives. He was praised for cutting business taxes, including the corporate income tax rate, and for recommending cuts to the “overall general fund budget” almost every year. (Now, of course, conservatives are desperate to tie him to liberal policies and the Obama administration. They’ve been harping on a video of him expressing support for health care reform.)

—Earlier this year, Manchin criticized the Obama administration’s environmental policies. He said that “[c]ap and trade will destroy the might of this nation,” and that White House officials “can't just be committed to vilifying the things they don't like”—namely, coal.

—Manchin, who went to West Virginia University on a football scholarship in 1965, bears a striking similarity to football fanatic, car salesman, and slick-talker Buddy Garrity on the (fantastic) NBC show “Friday Night Lights.”

I think he's gonna win, especially since his strongest possible opponent has dropped out of the race. But I'm not fooling myself, while he, like Charlie Crist will caucus with the Democrats, this guy could very well be another Ben Nelson.

It's Official.

Sec. Vilsack has offered Shirley Sherrod her job back (or working on an area that highlights her skills in Civil Rights), and accepted full responsibility for what happened. She's thinking about it. (My bet is, she takes it.

But Greg Sargent made a razor sharp analysis this morning:

It isn't enough for Vilsack to reinstate her. People should demand that his review include an explanation for his own decision to fire her. We need to hear his justification for the decision to ax this woman before all the facts were in, on the strength of nothing more than an Andrew Breitbart smear.

Did Vilsack make any effort to learn more about her speech before giving her the push? If not, why not? Sherrod says she told top USDA officials that the full speech would vindicate her. Did anyone at USDA give her protestations even a passing listen? Did anyone try to obtain video of the full speech? If not, why not? Why was Breitbart's word alone allowed to drive such a high-profile decision?

People should also demand that the White House weigh in publicly on what happened here. The White House has only discussed this via anonymous leaks, and this morning, officials are conveniently leaking word that the White House prodded Vilsack to reconsider Sherrod's firing. That's nice, but was the White House told in advance that the firing was about to happen, and if so, why did it allow the firing to proceed?

This effort to "distance" the White House from this mess is unsightly at best. This was a major, high-profile screw-up by a cabinet secretary, and as Ben Smith notes this morning, it highlights this White House's tendency to sidestep racial controversies and cede turf to the right's efforts to stoke racial resentment.

This is an opportunity for the White House to drive home the point that the Breitbart-Fox-Glenn Beck axis -- which is out to destroy this presidency -- should be accorded no credibility whatsoever by news organizations. People should demand that the White House issue clear, unequivocal condemnation of what happened here.

MSNBC: Fox News is at it again.

Though I am solidly liberal, I have never been the biggest Rachel Maddow fan. I find she let's her own personal fears guide her coverage too much. So when she covers the Obama Administration, and she determines that they're not being Liberal enough, she doesn't bother to explain to her audience, why there might be a reason for their actions, or that there's a reason in the first place. It's a taste thing. I don't think she's bad at her job. I think she's pretty funny, and does cover stories that otherwise get ignored. We probably agree 99.9% of the time, but I find her willing too often to be the perfect be the enemy of the good.

But, when she gets it right, she gets it right.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

And she has an interview with Benjamin Jealous of the NAACP:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

The President signs Financial Regulation into Law (VIDEO)

Just so you know, the Shirley Sherrod mess isn't the only thing happening in Washington. There was some good news out there, as the President signed the Financial Regulation today.

I don't know it if goes far enough, but its waay better than what we would have had under a Republican Administration. If you want to know what it does for you, here's a handy video:

The video wasn't bad. It's explanation of the history of the Panic of 2008 is pretty on target, though I prefer the salad metaphor instead of the casino metaphor. (Good mortgages were mixed in with bad mortgages. If you chop up 50 good heads of lettuce, and then add in one chopped up head of lettuce with Botulinum Toxin, guess what happens to the 50 good heads of lettuce.)

Shirley Sherrod (About damn time edition, Part II)

Sec. Vilsack is going to be holding a Press Conference at 4:45 Eastern (1:45 Pacific) about the Sherrod Matter.

This after he skipped a Rural Education Summit.

Shirley Sherrod: The Speech (VIDEO)

And at long last, the complete video of Ms. Sherrod's speech. The key stuff apparently begins at the 17 minute mark.

Shirley Sherrod (About damn time edition)

Finally. Gibbs apologized to Ms. Sherrod from the podium of the White House press room (he also mentioned that Vilsack's job is safe). And Sec. Vilsack is trying to reach Ms. Sherrod to apologize (and odds are, offer her job back.)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Shirley Sherrod

TPM has done a first class job on this story today.

The complete story from the Washington Post is here. The side stuff is where TPM stood out.

In short: USDA Worker, Shirley Sherrod gives speech on March 27 to the Freedom Fund of the NAACP. Speech is said to be racist, why just look at the video that Andrew Breitbart posted on his sucking hole of a website.

And then the problems started to add up.

First problem, the video was heavily edited...presumably by Breitbart, right?

Second problem, the turns out...wasn't racist at all, in fact, it was the very opposite of racist, in that it told a moving story of a black woman having to fight her own prejudices. It also happened to: A) happen 24 years prior, and B) been a regular story used in other speeches Ms. Sherrod has given.

Third problem, having fallen for Brietbart's bull@#$% video, both Sec. Vlisack and the NAACP call for Ms. Sherrod's resignation...which she unfortunately does.

Fourth problem, in a later interview, Ms. Sherrod is misquoted as saying that the White House forced her to resign. They deny it. It never made sense they'd get involved in such a low-level firing. And it turns out she was misquoted anyway.

Fifth problem, the people whom Ms. Sherrod is accused of being prejudiced against...well, they credit Ms. Sherrod with saving their farm, and they're close friends now.

Sixth problem, racist jackass extraordinaire Andrew Breitbart did not edit the video in question, he did not watch said video, he just posted it without asking any of those nasty questions, the ones actual journalists ask. He says that the thing speaks for itself. Apparently, it doesn't.

Seventh problem, Benjamin Jealous of the NAACP comes out and says that the they were wrong.

Eighth problem, Sec. Vlisack stands by the firing. Leading me to start asking, when is he going to get fired. Because if he's going to stand by this decision, I want his ass gone.

I will go to my grave saying that that Andrew Breitbart (the ACORN bull@#$% -- they've been cleared, you know, the break-in at Sen. Landrieu's office, he's been associated with it all) is a racist of the first order, possessing all the journalistic ethics of your average garter snake, Sec. Tom Vlisack hasn't covered himself in glory either. At least the NAACP had the cajones to admit that they'd been snookered.

All I want to know now is three things:

When is someone going to sue Breitbart? I think this counts as defamation.

When is Ms. Sherrod getting her job back?

When is Sec. Vlisack losing his?

Elizabeth Warren for Consumer Protection...if she wants it.

I'm generally of the mindset that Elizabeth Warren would make an excellent head for the forthcoming Consumer Protection Agency that's going to be inside the Fed. I first saw her in the Frontline episode, "the Secret History of the Credit Card". She stood out because she said this:

I teach contract law at Harvard Law School, and [also] commercial law and bankruptcy ... but if you put me under oath right now, I tell you, I don't know what the effective interest rate will be on my credit card next month, because I can't read it in my contract.

That told me a lot, and impressed the hell out of me. It laid the problem bare, and in its own small way, led us to where we are today.

Now, I'm glad that the Labor Unions are going to lobby on her behalf. I'm not sure what Geithner's problem is with her, and I don't really care, either. Though I remain a Geithner fan, he's not going to be making this appointment, is he?

Some of the dumber pundits on my side of the (Liberal) Aisle are drawing yet another line in the sand, demanding that she be appointed, whining that a failure to appoint Elizabeth Warren is yet another reason for them to be disappointed with the insufficient Liberalism of the Obama Administration.

Whatever. (Yawn).

Let me maintain the ever-constant position of this blog that Simon Johnson, Robert Kuttner, David Sirota and Amy Siskind can all stick it.

What fascinates me about these douchebag demands, is that I'm 99% certain that none of these guys have actually spoken with Warren. I know I haven't. (Have you?) Thus, none of these guys...let me repeat, none of even sure if she wants the job.

I'm not saying she doesn't. She may be chomping at the bit for the gig, but it'd be nice to hear the words from her lips before these morons start hemming and hawing. If she says she wants it, then at least their plaintive cries stand on firmer ground.

Even so, Erza Klein speculates that while Elizabeth Warren is well qualified, there may be even better (though less-known) people out there who could do the job:

My colleague Neil Irwin has a post this morning throwing some cold water on the heated advocacy for Elizabeth Warren to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. I'd group the objections into two buckets -- innovation and administration -- and both are fair.

Irwin's first concern is that an overzealous consumer regulator could, in his or her enthusiasm for ridding the market of trickery, also rid it of products that make credit available to the working class. Does keeping a small number of people from getting into serious debt justify keeping a large number of people from accessing credit instruments they could use effectively?

It's a legitimate concern, and only Warren can answer it. Of course, it's possible she's already explained the test she would apply to decide whether consumer financial instruments were legitimate, and I just haven't seen the speech.

Irwin's second concern actually worries me less. It's hard to predict who will and won't be good at building an agency. It's a task that's not quite like any other, and fairly few people have much of a track record at it. It's also not a task that's solely dependent on the director. Deputy directors and other high-level managers have a lot of influence over hiring and administering and creating a workplace culture. But only the person at the top can set the agency's vision and sensibility and appeal.

The question, to me, is whether Warren is the only person who can do that. I've made the argument that she will have a unique appeal to the sort of talented young lawyers and consumer advocates that we want working in the agency. She's also brilliant at working the media and acting as a public advocate, and she's clearly got an ambitious and restless vision for what this institution can become. But the other finalists aren't slouches.

Michael Barr is a Treasury official who deserves as much credit -- or, depending on your perspective -- bears as much blame -- as anyone in the country for shepherding the financial regulation bill to passage. He's good at working with legislators and the media, has excellent internal relationships that will be important for guaranteeing the agency's autonomy, and has the intellectual heft that his previous life as a law professor at Michigan and a Brookings scholar would suggest.

The third candidate, Gene Kimmelman, is the Justice Department's chief counsel for competition policy and intergovernmental relations, and was formerly a vice president at the Consumer's Union. The National Journal called him "one of the best known consumer advocates in Washington." He knows the field well, and probably already knows everyone he'd like to see working at the agency.

Moreover, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a much-hyped agency being built amidst a grim job market. It won't have trouble recruiting, even without Warren's star power at the top.

So in the end analysis, the question is whether you think Warren's unique prominence and pedigree as the person who created the idea for this agency and put the issues beneath it on the map is worth more than the managerial experience and administrative relationships Barr and Kimmelman have. I come down on Warren's side, but her nomination has achieved a level of symbolism on the left that's out of proportion to the merits of the different candidates.

For me, it's Elizabeth Warren's skill at communicating that makes her my favorite. There may be better administrators, but no one is going to be able to explain the myraid bull@#$% of the Banks and Credit Rating Agencies better. So the job should be hers...

...if she wants it.

Monday, July 19, 2010

President Obama: 'Partisan Minority' Must Stop 'Misguided' Blocking Of Unemployment Benefits (VIDEO)

And for a long time, there’s been a tradition –- under both Democratic and Republican Presidents –- to offer relief to the unemployed. That was certainly the case under my predecessor, when Republican senators voted several times to extend emergency unemployment benefits. But right now, these benefits –- benefits that are often the person’s sole source of income while they’re looking for work -– are in jeopardy.

And I have to say, after years of championing policies that turned a record surplus into a massive deficit, the same people who didn’t have any problem spending hundreds of billions of dollars on tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans are now saying we shouldn’t offer relief to middle-class Americans like Jim or Leslie or Denise, who really need help.

Over the past few weeks, a majority of senators have tried -– not once, not twice, but three times –- to extend emergency relief on a temporary basis. Each time, a partisan minority in the Senate has used parliamentary maneuvers to block a vote, denying millions of people who are out of work much-needed relief. These leaders in the Senate who are advancing a misguided notion that emergency relief somehow discourages people from looking for a job should talk to these folks.

That attitude I think reflects a lack of faith in the American people, because the Americans I hear from in letters and meet in town hall meetings –- Americans like Leslie and Jim and Denise -- they’re not looking for a handout. They desperately want to work. Just right now they can’t find a job. These are honest, decent, hardworking folks who’ve fallen on hard times through no fault of their own, and who have nowhere else to turn except unemployment benefits and who need emergency relief to help them weather this economic storm.

Now, tomorrow we will have another chance to offer them that relief, to do right by not just Jim and Leslie and Denise, but all the Americans who need a helping hand right now -- and I hope we seize it. It’s time to stop holding workers laid off in this recession hostage to Washington politics. It’s time to do what’s right -- not for the next election but for the middle class. We’ve got to stop blocking emergency relief for Americans who are out of work. We’ve got to extend unemployment insurance. We need to pass those tax cuts for small businesses and the lending for small businesses.

Times are hard right now. We are moving in the right direction. I know it’s getting close to an election, but there are times where you put elections aside. This is one of those times. And that’s what I hope members of Congress on both sides of the aisle will do tomorrow.

Thanks very much.