Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Rev. Wright does Obama a solid

(Thin gruel for the rest of us)

To start, I can’t believe I am even writing about this. Senator Barack Obama’s relationship with his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, ranks about 127th on my list of important issues this election season. Don’t get me wrong, some of the things Rev. Wright has said are worthy of discussion, but not so much in the way it “relates” to Obama (because it pretty much doesn’t).

God damn America? Now that was an interesting speech. Have you read the whole thing, or maybe heard more than a nine-second clip? Here’s the run-up to the “offending” phrase:

When it came to putting the citizens of African descent fairly, America failed. She put them in chains. The government put them on slave quarters. Put them on auction blocks. Put them in cotton fields. Put them in inferior schools. Put them in substandard housing. Put them [in] scientific experiments. Put them in the lower paying jobs. Put them outside the equal protection of the law. Kept them out of their racist bastions of higher education, and locked them into positions of hopelessness and helplessness.

The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three strike law and then wants us to sing God Bless America. Naw, naw, naw. Not God Bless America. God Damn America! That’s in the Bible. For killing innocent people. God Damn America for treating us citizens as less than human. God Damn America as long as she tries to act like she is God and she is Supreme.

I don’t know about you, but I think that there is stuff in there to talk about—and I don’t mean just talk about it as it relates to Barack Obama’s white grandmother, either.

Sure there are other parts of that same sermon that flirt with what I would categorize as baseless, pointless conspiracy mongering (“The government lied about Pearl Harbor,” said Wright. “They knew the Japanese were going to attack,” to give one glaring example), but the point about damning rather than blessing America for all of the wrongs it has perpetrated against its African American citizenry—I can see talking about that. I might even go so far as to say that I agree with it. At the very least, that, to me, is good place to join the conversation about why a man like Jeremiah Wright inspires so many in his flock.

Which brings us to this week’s doings. Reverend Jeremiah Wright started his comeback tour with a rather subdued and sensible appearance on Bill Moyers last Friday (though even there, Wright snuck in a swipe at the “sin” of sodomy—a swipe that Moyers either missed or chose to ignore), but rounded out the long weekend with a performance at the National Press Club that included some rude put downs of the event’s female moderator and the allegation that the US government could have unleashed the AIDS virus on minority communities as a form of genocide.

I have a few thoughts:

First off, I think that Wright did Obama a big favor on Monday. Much to the chagrin of the Obama campaign and intelligent voters everywhere, the Wright-Obama “controversy” (no, please don’t let me get away with that—it is not a controversy—let’s just call it a “gab fest”) was not really going away. It was ebbing and flowing, but in the end, the people (and when I say “people,” I mean a handful of establishment media icons and members of the punditocracy) wanted blood. Even after Obama took it to kowtowed to Fox News this weekend, the screaming hordes would not be appeased. Why wouldn’t Obama engage in something more ratings-savvy than a 40-minute discussion of race? Why was he being so selfish? America demanded a smackdown!

And now, because Rev. Wright pushed the envelope, the “people” have what they wanted. Senator Obama has had to repudiate the angry black man. In the words of various media outlets, Obama has “cut the cord” and “made a clean break.” He has not only renounced the words, he has disavowed the man.

(Shall we wait to see if the establishment demands similar actions from John McCain vis-à-vis Rod Parsley and John Hagee?

I thought not.)

With his strong, un-nuanced, perhaps even angry renunciation of his former pastor, Obama has now been deemed “presidential.”

Secondly, what is up with all the old guys making a scene?

This political season seems like it has been dominated by post-middle-aged men trying desperately to cling to relevance: Jeremiah Wright. . . Bill Clinton. . . John McCain. All in denial about their best days being behind them, all still begging for attention, all refusing to get out of the way of progress (or whatever passes for progress these days). It’s all a little tawdry, a little hard to watch, a little embarrassing.

And, finally, rather than get all righteous about Wright’s “outrageous remarks” (to use Obama’s words), why not think a bit about why his words have resonance with a not insignificant portion of America’s populace. This is certainly not the first time I’ve heard the allegations about the government and the AIDS virus—and I doubt it’s the first time Obama has heard them, either. Surely the distinguished members of the establishment press have come across such stories. Why, years after the science of HIV has been integrated into our culture, does the myth of government-sponsored genocide waged against its own still have legs?

I have some ideas (the Tuskegee experiments, government foot-dragging during the early days of the pandemic, poverty, lack of access to affordable healthcare, lack of a modern science curriculum in our schools, to name several possibilities), but I don’t have the time to start dissecting them right now. Rather, I want to suggest that we at some point try. Instead of just writing off Wright, or continuing to act scandalized by his very existence, I think it would make for a better campaign and a better country if we could talk about why what Wright says affects us the way it does.

Of course, doing that in the context of a presidential campaign is probably asking much too much of a candidate or our current corporate media construct. The poor substitute of having Barack Obama simply and clearly distance himself from Rev. Wright will have to do for now. It is certainly preferable to the “all Wright, all the time” alternative.

Meanwhile, as we all focus like a laser on Jeremiah Wright, a second US carrier group has moved into the Persian Gulf, the recession that Bush refuses to acknowledge continues to deepen, the Iraqi occupation slogs along at over $341 million per day, suicide bombers kill in Kabul, Pakistanis struggle to restore an independent judiciary, a real genocide is happening in Sudan, our government continues to justify torture—the list goes on. Take a moment to compare how much time and space your favorite media outlet is giving to these stories. . . now compare that to today’s coverage of Obama’s remarks about Wright. . . .

Thought so.

God damn America.

*Please see my May 1 follow-up to this post.*

(cross-posted on The Seminal)

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Sup’ Nazis: No Rights for You!

Reading through reports on yesterday’s Supreme Court decision upholding an Indiana voter ID law, and reading about the rules imposed by Indiana’s Republican legislature on potential voters—most notably presentation of a valid, unexpired, Indiana state or US federal government-issued photo ID at the polls before voting—my mind quickly leapt to the image of Seinfeld’s infamous Soup Nazi. That character (based on real-life New York soup-maker and martinet Al Yaganeh) was famous for offering the most coveted cup of soup in the city, but to deal with the long lines that formed at lunchtime, the soup man imposed a set of strictures—know what you want in advance, no questions, substitutions, or special requests, move to the left after ordering, cash only, have your money ready—that it struck fear in the hearts of many customers. If the sense of intimidation lead to hesitation or an inadvertent violation of a rule, the chef would deny service with the shouted admonition, “No soup for you!”

In Indiana (where the demand for $15-a-cup lobster bisque just isn’t as great as it is in Manhattan) the soup in this case is the ballot—and the rules make it very easy for poll workers to tell thousands of aspiring voters, “No vote for you.” Thousands more will be too intimidated or discouraged to even go to the polls and ask for their “soup.”

And Indiana is not alone in its quest to deny service to some of democracy’s most important customers. Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Michigan, and South Dakota also require photo identification before casting a ballot, and two-dozen other states have similar laws pending.

With all this activity, clearly there must be a problem—I mean, the Soup Nazi felt the need to be so strict in order to speed up long lines, so there must be some wrong that photo IDs are meant to right. . . right?


Though Republicans (and it is Republicans that are behind the majority of these vote constricting efforts) claim that there is some sort of voter impersonation scam going on—“voter fraud,” they call it—there is no evidence of rampant abuse. In Indiana, in fact, there is no evidence of any fraud at all. None. Not one case.

When arguing before the Supreme Court, lawyers defending the Indiana law dredged up one example from a different state, and made references to past irregularities committed during the era of Boss Tweed.

That would be William M. Tweed, the New York City politician who died on April 12. . . 1878!

No doubt the 19th Century reference was necessary because there is just not that much to cite that is more recent. In 2006, a bipartisan study showed that, nationwide, there is little evidence of this sort of fraud at the polls. If there is a problem with forgery, the study found, it comes with absentee ballots, and not where people vote in person.

But even the absentee problem is not the problem with voting. The biggest problem in 21st Century America is disenfranchisement—laws and practices that make it harder for citizens to participate in the electoral process. The Indiana law not only does nothing to fix this problem, it exacerbates it.

Which, if the truth were allowed to be stated plainly, is the real intent of the Indiana photo ID law—and the Supreme Court and everyone that is reporting on this decision should know that.

They all should know that because there is now a clear history of coordinated voter suppression and intimidation, perpetrated almost exclusively by Republicans, and dating back (at least) to the presidential election of 2000.

There was the “purging” of Florida’s voter rolls in that year by Republican Governor Jeb Bush and his Secretary of State, Katharine Harris; the illegal robo-calls and phone-jamming in the 2002 New Hampshire Senate race that were traced back to the state and national Republican parties, and the White House; the misallocation of voting machines by Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State in 2004; and the interference in 2006 that just earned Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) an ethics panel rebuke for trying to move US Attorney David Iglesias toward bringing a voter fraud prosecution—to name but a few examples.

There was also the 2003 advice offered by former DoJ Civil Rights Division lawyer Hans von Spakovsky that state governments use the Help America Vote Act to knock voters off the rolls if the information on their registration forms did not exactly match other statewide databases. Von Spakovsky is now at the center of a fight to fill vacant seats on the Federal Election Commission, with the Bush administration and Senate Republicans insisting that this architect of voter disenfranchisement be given one of the empty slots.

And there is the 2004 case of vote caging organized by former Karl Rove aid Tim Griffin. Working through the Republican National Committee, Griffin actually sent an e-mail titled “caging” to Florida Republican operatives with a list of Duval County voters the RNC thought should be challenged at the polls after the voters’ residency was thrown into question through a targeted “do not forward” mailing. The targets of that mailing were predominantly Democratic and predominantly African American. Such behavior is now known as “caging,” and when it is done with the intent to disenfranchise a specific population, it is illegal.

The White House was reportedly aware of Griffin’s involvement in the Duval caging when it tapped him to be a US Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas (after the sitting USA was purged by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales). Tim Griffin lasted only six months in that job before the caging and US Attorney scandals caught up with him and he resigned.

Griffin’s story shares a common theme with all the others listed: Republicans trying to restrict access to the polls and disenfranchise voters.

There is something extremely unsettling about a purportedly “small ‘d’” democratic party that expends so much energy on suppressing the vote. It is a contradiction in terms, the height of hypocrisy, and practically the definition of elitism. It is a different kind of prima facie argument that finds the Republican Party to be not only cynical, but flat-out un-American. And without even a soupcon of evidence of so-called voter fraud, it is the facial argument that Justices Stevens, Kennedy, and Roberts should have recognized even while denying the argument that the Indiana law was inherently discriminatory.

The behavior of this administration and the RNC with regard to voters has mimicked the attitude of the Soup Nazi, and Monday’s Supreme Court Decision only echoes his denial of sustenance. But if the pattern of disenfranchisement is allowed to continue, if the rights of the citizenry are selectively abrogated by a partisan elite, and if the judiciary and Justice Department are to serve as little more than rubberstamp enforcement for a unitary executive, then no soup is necessary for the analogy.

(cross-posted on The Seminal and Daily Kos. . . and a big welcome to Air America readers—thanks for stopping by!)

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Friday, April 25, 2008

Obama on Fox: drinking the Kool-Aid or making lemonade?

Shorter me:

I just don’t see what Obama could accomplish on Fox that couldn’t be done better somewhere else.

Longer me:

As most are by now aware, Barack Obama has agreed to tape an interview with Fox News’s Chris Wallace for air this weekend on Fox News Sunday. Good idea? Bad idea? What will he accomplish—for his campaign and for progressive causes, at large? First, take into account. . .

  • Fox’s audience is dwindling in general, and their campaign coverage is lagging behind CNN and MSNBC.
  • Of the Fox audience that’s left, a large chunk of them are doing the political equivalent of covering their ears and going “la la la la, not listening.”
  • Even unedited, Obama on Fox does not control the horizontal, does not control the vertical. The initial interview might air unedited, but it will be cut up and excerpted on other Fox shows as best suits their narrative. Clips will also be distributed among Fox fellow travelers to further perpetuate the nonsense issues that will no doubt be the red meat of Wallace’s questioning.
  • Obama can’t “go to the video tape.” It’s not his show—he can’t cut to examples of where he’s right and Bush/McCain/Fox is wrong. Alas, on a Fox show, Fox can plug in their own “gotcha” clips.
  • Other news organizations will be less likely to pick up large pieces of Obama since they will have to credit Fox for the clip.
  • Even if he says otherwise, Obama’s appearance on Fox undercuts roots efforts to delegitimize FNC, if for no other reason than his positive brand halo is extended over the Fox brand by having his face/voice/presence coupled with the Fox bug.
  • The Obama appearance will likely be a ratings boost that can be used by Fox to increase ad revenue.

All of that said, I guess Barack Obama is going to tape a show for Murdoch & Co., so I hope he’s got something special in the tank.

And, by “special,” I am not so much thinking about “taking it to Fox” (as much as I would like to hear that stuff myself—preferably from people speaking on networks other than Fox). Slamming Fox on Fox can just as easily appear angry or whiny to their viewers. I can even imagine the Clinton camp getting on him for not being able to “take it,” blah, blah, blah.

Sure, tell Fox that they are neither fair nor balanced, but then move on to tell America why.

Screw flag pins and “bittergate,” and elevate the dialogue to explain why the Fox take on the economy, on Iraq, on torture, on privatization, on healthcare, on global warming, etc. is dead wrong. Instead of spending a lot of face time with Fox’s loyal viewership going after Fox, spend that time going after Bush, McCain, and Republican Congressmen and Congresswomen. If there is some perception that Obama needs to talk to Fox’s audience, then he should talk to them about why they should vote for Democrats in November.

That’s the closest I can come to making a sweet citrus beverage out of this truckload of sour lemons.

Anything less will likely leave me parched and bitter.

(cross-posted on The Seminal and Daily Kos)

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Accountability alphabet: NYC DoB EPA WTC. . . wtf?

That little cheer you heard on Tuesday afternoon, rising above the noxious symphony of a thousand backhoes and jackhammers that serves as the soundtrack for lower Manhattan these days, well, that was me, celebrating the news that the embattled head of New York City’s Department of Buildings, Pat “Splat” Lancaster, had finally stepped up and stepped down.

Lancaster, who has served as Commissioner for the entire reign of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, was originally tasked with modernizing the DoB. . . which, under Bloody Mike, meant making it run more smoothly so that developers (don’t call them greedy, just call them Mike’s “base”) could demolish old New York, build their banal office towers, super-luxury high-rises, and boondoggle developments, and cash out before term limits forced a change at City Hall.

And to that end, I’d have to say Lancaster’s tenure has been an, er, um, smashing success.

Bloomberg continued to make it clear that in his idea of New York, you have to break some eggs to make Mike’s “revitalized” breakfast (construction work is “complicated,” he said on Tuesday), but, much to his chagrin, Lancaster used these “raw materials” to make a garbage omelet.

Ms. Lancaster not only presided over increases in construction-related deaths and injuries for most of this decade, several high-profile disasters like last year’s Deutsche Bank fire and last month’s crane collapse revealed an agency that consistently failed to perform some of its most basic tasks. Safety inspections were not done, complaints of unsafe conditions were not taken seriously, building violations were allowed to mount with little consequence, and zoning restrictions were ignored. This year’s thirteen construction deaths have already surpassed 2007’s dirty dozen, but Lancaster’s position remained safe until she made an absolute idiot of herself at a public hearing of the City Council last Thursday. (She not only fessed up—sort of—to ignoring zoning restrictions on the building that spawned the crane collapse, she was unable to identify any other dangerous sites that she and her agency had previously been asked to find and fix.)

Well, doing bad is one thing, but, to media mogul Mike, looking bad is another—so, on Monday, the mayor distanced himself from Lancaster, and, on Tuesday, he “accepted her resignation” (at least he thinks that’s how it went down—he really didn’t sound too sure).

It remains to be seen what Lancaster has to say for herself now that she has been set adrift from the Good Ship Gracie Mansion, but if she were feeling the strain of tiny budgets and untoward influences while she held a position of power, then she owed it to the citizens of New York to stand up and say something. Her relative silence in the face of years of construction disasters was all I needed to, uh, hear to know that Splat wasn’t doing her job. . .

. . . though paragraphs like the following also make that pretty damn clear:

Her defenders, including a number of developers, said that Ms. Lancaster, 54, had been unfairly blamed for the failings of an antiquated and underfinanced department with a long history of corruption, inefficiency and missing records.

“She did a terrific job in getting the department back on track,” the developer Douglas Durst said.

. . . .

She built a considerable following in the industry she helped regulate.

“I think the world of Patricia Lancaster,” said Richard T. Anderson, president of the New York Building Congress, a trade group. “I think she accomplished an enormous amount.”

Calling her “a shining star,” he added, “If you look at her six-year record, it’s overwhelmingly positive.”

It is very worth noting that the only quotes singing Lancaster’s praises came from the industry that she was supposed to regulate—the Times had none to offer from the people that she was supposed to protect.

It kind of gives new substance to six years of accusations that Lancaster was too cozy with developers and contractors.

Lie down with dogs, and you get a dog’s dinner.

And while we’re on the subject of lying, let’s take a moment to address yesterday’s ruling in the case of former Environmental Protection Agency chief Christine Todd Whitman.

In February of 2006, I wrote with more than a little personal interest about the ruling by Manhattan Federal Judge Deborah Batts that residents of the neighborhoods surrounding the World Trade Center could sue Whitman for lying about air quality in the aftermath of the Twin Towers’ collapse.

“Whitman's deliberate and misleading statements to the press, where she reassured the public that the air was safe to breathe around lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, and that there would be no health risk presented to those returning to those areas, shocks the conscience,” Judge Batts wrote.

“By these actions,” Batts added, Mrs. Whitman “increased, and may have in fact created, the danger” to people living and working near the trade center.

About 50,000 personal computers, 424,000 tons of concrete, 2,000 tons of asbestos, and untold tons of other toxic junk were turned to dust when the towers fell. I was walking around in a stupid surgical mask for days afterwards—I’d gag and cough when I took it off. That’s not a scientific assessment, but, apparently, neither was Christie’s.

Now, more than two years and several WTC Syndrome fatalities later, a federal appeals court has overturned Judge Batts.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals said that Mrs. Whitman, a former governor of New Jersey, was forced to balance competing interests after the attack. The court found that complying with instructions from the White House to hasten the return of financial workers to Wall Street as soon as possible after the World Trade Center was destroyed conflicted with Mrs. Whitman’s obligation to highlight the health risks facing people who lived, worked or went to school in Lower Manhattan.

“Whether or not Whitman’s resolution of such competing considerations was wise,” the court said, “she has not engaged in conduct that ‘shocks the conscience’ in the sense necessary to create constitutional liability for damages to thousands of people.”

The competing interests of. . . wait, let me get this straight. . . the interest of lying to cover for the president’s lies is competing with the interest of protecting the health and well-being of the citizenry. I am almost speechless (almost). If Christie Whitman’s conduct doesn’t shock the conscience, the idea that there was a balance to be struck between these “interests” most certainly does.

Well, if the head of the government agency tasked with testing the air quality isn’t accountable for her lies because she had to consider the interests of the White House, then surely someone higher up in the Bush Administration must be accountable, right?


Where does the buck stop around here—in the country, in New York City—where? Is any public servant ever going to be held responsible for what they do (as opposed to being held responsible for whom they do. . . well, at least if that official is a Democrat) while entrusted with the care of the people that pay their salaries?

Be it buildings falling down or building going up, it seems increasingly clear that the answer is “no.” If you are not rich, powerful, of a friend thereof, if you need the protection of the NYC DoB or the US EPA, well then, I’m afraid that you are SOL.

(cross-posted on guy2k, The Seminal, and Daily Kos)

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Dear Mr. Hoyt. . .

Mr. Clark Hoyt
Public Editor
The New York Times
620 Eighth Avenue
New York, NY 10018

Dear Mr. Hoyt,

It has now been nine days since reporters at ABC News told us of “dozens of top-secret talks and meetings” held in the White House by senior Bush Administration officials to discuss in fine detail the interrogation techniques to be used on so-called “high value al Qaeda suspects,” and it has been one week since ABC told us that President Bush knew about these meetings and approved of the result—namely, the torture of certain detainees by CIA interrogators.

I make note of this timeline because, as of this writing, I am still waiting for the New York Times to report on these revelations.

At first I thought I had just missed the story. Surely the paper of record finds it newsworthy that the Vice President of the United States, The Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the Attorney General, and the National Security Advisor (who is now, herself, Secretary of State) all gathered in the people’s house and there agreed to violate domestic law and international treaties—not to mention some of the principles most Americans consider central to what we are as a nation. Surely the Times thinks it noteworthy that a President that has repeatedly told your reporters and the American people that “we don’t torture” has now cavalierly admitted that we do, and did even while he claimed the contrary. Surely your paper, which only days earlier had reported on how one Justice Department Attorney had drafted a memo theoretically legitimizing torture for his bosses, came to realize with the reporting by ABC that the very highest ranking officials of the executive branch approved of torture and designed methods even before they obtained their legal “cover.”

Surely the New York Times could not have decided that none of this was worthy of some independent reporting or at least some prime space on their news pages.

At least that is what I thought.

But after a week of watchful waiting, it seems, I surely thought wrong.

A Times search of the terms “George Bush,” “George W. Bush,” and/or “President Bush” narrowed by “torture” turns up no entries after your April 2 news piece and April 4 editorial on the Yoo memorandum. Broadening the search to “Bush” and “interrogation” only adds an AP wire story about a DoJ probe of whether the advice in the March 2003 memo was even legal.

Honestly, this makes absolutely no sense to me. I cannot think of any rationale that would explain why the Times has chosen to ignore a story about a sitting President and his top officials discussing, designing, and approving methods by which to torture other human beings—no matter whether they are “high value suspects” or some other type of captive—especially when you have President Bush confirming on the record that these torture meetings took place. That is why I am now writing to you.

I would greatly appreciate an explanation from your point of view, and, of course, from the viewpoint of the editors in charge of delineating what are, to my mind, such skewed priorities.

I appreciate your attention, and look forward to your response.


New York City

This is the letter I sent this morning to New York Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt. While others have rightfully advocated for letters to the editor in order to protest what is a shameful silence by the establishment media in light of such grave revelations, I decided that it might also do us well to contact public editors, ombudsmen, and the like, since they are supposed to be our most direct link when we have questions about or problems with the choices made by the news organizations. They are also often tasked with investigating the errors and oversights of the reporters and editors.

I encourage all reading this to send their own questions to Clark Hoyt, and to similarly tasked people at other newspapers and television news divisions. If you have—and if you have had any response—please let me know in the comments section.


(cross-posted on guy2k, The Seminal, and Daily Kos)

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Monday, April 07, 2008

The companies they keep

Normally I hate kicking a guy when he’s down, but when it comes to Mark Penn, really, you just can’t kick hard enough. Penn, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s chief “strategist” (don’t you dare call him “pollster,” even though that’s about the nicest thing you can call him) throughout her long march from “inevitable” winner to inevitable loser, was forced to step down from his self-named post this weekend after it was revealed that he was taking money from the Colombian Government to help promote Central American free trade while gouging a Clinton campaign that now opposes such trade agreements.

It should not come as a surprise that Penn had a conflict of interest; Burson-Marsteller, the firm Penn heads, is a 24/7 conflict of interest machine. (Union busting and lobbying on behalf of subprime lenders and jackbooted Blackwater thugs are just a few of the highlights lowlights that should have made Penn persona non grata for any Democrat worthy of the name.) It should, however, come as a surprise that a) Penn was hired in the first place, b) Penn lasted as long as he did with the Clinton campaign, and c) that Penn will continue to siphon off vital Clinton campaign dollars in exchange for his particular (and particularly bad) brand of polling “data.”

Mark Penn “befriended” (not quite sure that is the right word) HRC as a protégé of the egregious Dick Morris during Bill Clinton’s sub 50% run at term number two, and since then has put together an historic run of election losses (DHinMI has a nice rundown of the string). Even in the world of consumer research, Penn’s signature “idea”—microtrends—is painfully old news. (I write from experience, but if you have doubts, just ask yourself: If Penn could still make big bucks hawking microtrends to private clients as his proprietary theory, would he now be selling his brainchild to anybody with $25.99?) This hiring of Penn because of his prior relationship with the Clintons or because he was a known quantity, in spite of what was known about that quantity, was a serious error in judgment by the Clinton team.

If Senator Clinton did not understand the flaws inherent in Penn’s strategic “thinking” prior to election season, the sad descent of Hillary ’08 despite a $100 million war chest and strong contacts with the party elite should have quickly signaled to HRC that she had not been getting the best advice. In fact, the situation that emerged, where Clinton was not able to see that Penn’s advice was so flawed, should also probably have served as a red flag for the Senator.

There is a reason why there are so many layers of consultants, pollsters, and opinion researchers in the consumer world. The guy/team/firm that develops a particular strategy/message/ad campaign has a vested interest in its success; entrusting that same guy/team/firm with the measuring of that success is a conflict of interest that would strain even the most rigorous researchers. It indeed was a very similar conflict of interest that lead to the breakup/downfall of consulting/accounting giant Arthur Andersen. After that scandal, Enron, and eight years of a President that believes his own PR, Hillary Clinton should have been especially sensitive to such conflicts.

And if not sensitive to such relatively intellectual conflicts, then HRC should have at least been more aware of the personal conflicts that Penn brought to practically every encounter within the Clinton campaign, and throughout the Democratic Party. As documented earlier, everybody hates Mark Penn.

Most amazing, at this point, however, is the revelation that Penn will continue to draw funds from the Clinton campaign for more of his so-called polling. Mark Penn, a man of considerable personal wealth with a sizeable salary from Burson, has taken millions of dollars from a campaign that has run into serious money problems the last few months. Penn never volunteered his help to the campaign, never offered to give back his salary, never offered to donate his firm’s services, and never stepped down or took a sabbatical from his post as head of Burson-Marsteller. He never recused himself from jobs with clients or interests that might have been contrary to the goals of the Clinton Campaign. Penn made it clear in actions (if nothing else) that he puts personal gain over the success of his candidate or the interests of his country.

By horrific contrast, it has been reported that back in 1999/2000, candidate George W. Bush asked consultant Karl Rove to give up all of his other clients before he could join the Bush campaign. Why was it that Hillary Clinton never asked the same of Penn?

That Mark Penn, or Penn’s polling firm, Penn, Schoen, and Berland, will continue as a source of data for Clinton, and will continue to consume vital Clinton campaign resources, is a remarkable turn on Sunday’s turn of events. In a campaign where the Republican, John W. McCain, is highly vulnerable because of his deep connections to corporate consultants and lobbyists—while he hypocritically holds himself up as the candidate without ties to such people—why would Clinton so visibly cede the moral and empirical high ground by continuing any relationship with the publicly shamed Penn? Hillary Clinton’s inability to swiftly and decisively cut all ties to Mark Penn is a signal example of a flaw in her ability to lead on “day one.”

That the likes of Penn and other similarly conflicted consultants permeate so may of our nation’s high-profile campaigns is an example of a larger problem. The national-level, multi-media, high-priced campaigns of our presidential candidates do require the expertise of a variety of consultants, strategists, researchers, and pollsters, but the use of such experts with ongoing ties to corporate or foreign governmental interests clearly has an undue and deleterious effect on presidential policy (and much the same can be said for other elected posts). Is there a solution?

Let me propose a first step. For obvious reasons, consultants and their firms closely guard their exact arrangements with private clients. It would be extremely difficult for any one reporter, blogger, or concerned citizen to chart all of the corporate ties of all the consultants who work for each campaign—but a good deal of information is out there. Campaigns list staff and have to report expenditures. Consulting firms post client lists, and in the case of publicly held firms, they have to report on the sources of their income. For instance, David Plouffe and David Axelrod, campaign manager and strategist, respectively, for Barack Obama, are both partners at AKP&D Message and Media, a firm that has done work for the AFL-CIO and AFSCME. Rick Davis, McCain’s campaign manager, has worked extensively for the telecommunications industry, as well as the Prime Minister of Ukraine. I do not intend to imply that there is any equivalency between labor unions, telecoms, or private security firms—quite the contrary—these and any of the other clients I have mentioned are simply examples of what we know about some key campaign consultants.

But I am sure that we could know more—and we should know more. Come the general election, I think it would be only right, and likely advantageous, to compare the clients and connections of McCain’s advisors with the interests of either Obama’s or Clinton’s senior staffers. . . and the time to amass this database is now. I am not an internet genius, but I would like to call on some of you that are to help me crowd-source this project and develop a go-to source for this kind of information.

If we can put this information out there, then we can all decide whom we want within earshot of our next president. . . rather than relying on the questionable judgment of any particular presidential candidate.

(cross-posted on The Seminal and Daily Kos)

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