Obama Policy On Lobbyists Raising Civil Liberties Concerns

The Politico reports on questions of violations of free speech in the Obama administration’s attempts to reduce the influence of lobbyists:

Free speech advocates from across the political spectrum are accusing President Barack Obama of impinging on First Amendment rights and are gearing up to take their case public.

At issue is an unprecedented directive that Obama — who has long railed against lobbyists as the personification of a corrupt Washington culture — issued last week barring officials charged with doling out stimulus funds from talking to registered lobbyists about specific projects or applicants for stimulus cash.

Under the directive, which began going into effect this week, agency officials are required to begin meetings about stimulus funding for projects by asking whether any party to the conversation is a lobbyist.

“If so, the lobbyist may not attend or participate in the telephonic or in-person contact, but may submit a communication in writing,” reads Obama’s memo, which requires the agencies to post lobbyists’ written communications online.

The rule is intended to prevent stimulus funds from being “distributed on the basis of factors other than the merits of proposed projects or in response to improper influence or pressure,” according to the memo.

While applauding that goal, Michael Macleod-Ball, chief legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union and himself a lobbyist, questioned the means, saying, “The question is whether this restriction, as it’s drafted, is the best way to achieve that end with the narrowest amount of limitation on an individual’s rights possible.

“From our perspective, the pretty clear answer is ‘no, it’s not.’”

Next week, the left-leaning ACLU will join with the nonprofit watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the trade group the American League of Lobbyists in sending a letter to the White House protesting the policy, said League President Dave Wenhold.

The article proceedes to describe a defense of this policy given by the Obama adminstration.

Lean Left disagrees that this is a violation of free speech:

How is this a restriction on free speech? Nobody is preventing lobbyists from saying anything they want. But as far as I understand, the First Amendment doesn’t require that anyone has to listen to them. It’s not even a restriction of the rights of the government employees being targeted by the lobbyists: they can talk to lobbyists if they want, also – just not while working in the administration.

This sounds to me like a perfectly ordinary workplace-rules issue. Nobody is guaranteed access to government officials, still less a privileged place in policy-making that affects the entire country, nor are government employees privileged to grant such access if the President says no. Certainly, nobody has a right to demand that they be given such influence just because their employer pays them to do so.

From the right, Ed Morrissey at Hot Air has a different view:

This procedure sounds a lot like the kinds of questions hookers ask johns to keep from getting busted, under the mistaken notion that a cop has to admit his identity if asked directly to avoid entrapment.  In this case, with loads of cash going to little use, the situation is reversed but still ironically applicable.  The johns now have to ask the hookers whether they’re professionals or amateurs…

I made this point repeatedly during the campaign: lobbying is a Constitutionally protected activity.  Obama (and to an almost equal amount John McCain) made lobbyists a fetish over the last two years.  Hillary Clinton actually made the most sense during that time, noting that most lobbyists perform a necessary task well and without corruption.  People hire lobbyists to pursue their political agendas, a task made more and more necessary the larger and more powerful the federal government becomes.

It is not often writers at Hot Air praise a comment from Hillary Clinton. In doing so I think Ed would realize that it is possible for those on one side of the left/right divide to agree with others from time to time. This should have been kept in mind when he concluded, “When Obama loses the ACLU, well, that should speak volumes.”

It isn’t a case of Obama having or losing the ACLU but that the ACLU supports what they see as the correct position on civil liberties regardless of partisan concerns. I’m sure most ACLU members agree that Obama is far preferable to the Republicans on civil liberties issues but will not blindly follow him when they believe he is wrong. This is not the first time the ACLU has opposed an action of the Obama administration (as in this case) and I suspect it won’t be the last. To say that the Obama lost the ACLU for their disagreement on some cases is like saying that Hillary Clinton has won over Hot Air as a result of  Ed’s post. (This, of course, is really just a way to make this post flow into the discussion in the previous post.)

Paranoia and the Parties

Yesterday I discussed an article which notes that Democrats are heavily influenced by moderates and even conservatives while the Republican Party is dominated by the extremes. This has been a common observation made by many political observers. George Packer recently expressed similar views, noting the paranoia often seen from the right. Packer was criticized by Jonah Goldberg who cited what might be comparable degrees of paranoia from some on the left.  Packer responded, pointing out the fact that those on the far left are outside the mainstream of the Democratic Party while the more paranoid views from the right are seen in mainstream conservative and Republican belief:P

There’s plenty of criticism of Klein, Moore, Nicholson Baker, and other paranoid stylists of the left in my book on Iraq, “The Assassins’ Gate.” I didn’t mention them in discussing Hofstadter and the current reaction to Obama for this reason: Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck have far more power in the Republican Party (it sometimes seems to include veto power) than Klein, Lee, and Moore have in the Democratic Party. The views of right-wing commentators in the grip of the paranoid style (Obama is a stealth radical, the Democrats are imposing socialism) are much closer to mainstream conservative and Republican belief than the views of their counterparts on the left (the levees in New Orleans were blown up by the government, the White House had something to do with 9/11) are to mainstream liberal and Democratic belief. The reasons are complex, but I would list these: the evangelical and occasionally messianic fervor that animates a part of the Republican base; the atmosphere of siege and the self-identification of conservatives as insurgents even when they monopolized political power; the influence of ideology over movement conservatives, and their deep hostility to compromise; the fact that modern conservatism has been a movement, which modern liberalism has not.

Non Marijuana Smokers For Legalization of Marijuana

Daniel Larison (via Andrew Sullivan) thinks that many proponents of marijuana are being counterproductive:

…it seems to me that legalization arguments will never gain much traction if advocates for it are constantly having to mention how they are not like the drug’s stereotypical users or regard the drug’s use as some grievous personal failing. Instead of coming across as a stronger argument, the standard “I’m in favor of legalization, and I’m the farthest thing in the world from a pot smoker!” argument ends up making the argument for legalization less compelling. This is because this kind of argument unintentionally reproduces the stigma against the drug and effectively endorses one of the key claims that supporters of criminalization make. While it is true that there are a great many practical and principled reasons why Americans of all stripes should oppose continued criminalization, for legalization to take hold as something more than a marginal issue that has the sympathies of more than relatively marginal political forces there would need to be a much larger constituency that regards criminalization as an intolerable imposition on one of their preferences.

A problem with this argument is that there really are plenty of us who do not smoke marijuana but who support legalization. This is largely for libertarian reasons of allowing others to make their own choices, even if different from the choices I have made. Nobody argues that all of us who support legalization of gay marriage must be gay. Similarly there is no reason that supporters of legalization of marijuana must be marijuana users.

There are also pragmatic reasons for opposing the drug war such as the increased violence it leads to and increased law enforcement costs. These are also reasons which those of us who don’t use marijuana could see as appealing reasons to support legalization.

I do concede that Larison does have a point. I’ve never felt compelled to preface a post supporting legalization of marijuana with the fact that I do not smoke marijuana (only mentioning it here as it is relevant to the discussion). Showing a need to stress this could be taken as stigmatization.

Sarah Palin Adviser’s Connections to Scientology

What is it about Sarah Palin that we keep finding stories associating her with such unusual groups? Previously I  noted how Sarah Palin said her run for governor of Alaska was aided by Pastor Muthee, who has experience in fighting demons. Palin was being far too modest. As a widely posted video demonstrated, Sarah Palin was also blessed to be free from witchcraft. It’s  been noted that Sarah Palin has had a Bircher publication on her desk. She’s also been associated with an Alaska separatist party through her husband.

Gawker has yet another strange association as they found that John Coale, who is advising Palin on a possible 2012 run, is a Scientologist. Coale had once tried to establish a Scientology Pac which would both solicit contributions from Scientologists and push the goals of Scientology.

These associations are certainly not the major reasons why I would oppose Sarah Palin for president, but the stories about her remain too irresistible to resist noting.

Posted in Sarah Palin. Tags: . 8 Comments »

Why Obama Looks Beyond The Left

Ronald Brownstein looks at the make up of Democratic voters and explains Why Obama Can’t Satisfy the Left:

Regardless of the merits of the left’s arguments on each of those individual debates, there’s a structural reason why Obama and Congressional Democrats may not prove as responsive to their demands as they hope. Liberals aren’t as big a component of the Democratic coalition as many of the Left’s leaders believe. Moderate voters are much more important to Democratic success than liberal voters. And liberals are also less important to Democrats than conservatives are to Republicans. That means liberals generally have less leverage than they recognize in these internal party arguments-and less leverage than conservatives can exert in internal struggles over the GOP’s direction. “Liberals are less central to the Democratic coalition than conservatives are to the Republican coalition,” says Andy Kohut, director of the non-partisan Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

That contrast is apparent from two different angles: identification and behavior. In cumulative Pew data for 2008, Kohut says, only one-third of self-identified Democrats described themselves as liberals; the rest identified as moderates or conservatives. For Republicans the proportions were reversed: two-thirds of Republicans considered themselves conservatives, while only one-third identified as moderates or liberals. Gallup’s findings are similar: in their cumulative 2008 data, just 39% of self-identified Democrats described themselves as liberals, while 70% of Republicans identified as conservatives.

Looking at Obama’s actual vote in 2008 reinforces the story. According to the Edison/Mitofsky Election Day exit polls, liberals provided only 37% of Obama’s total votes. Moderates (50%) and conservatives (13%) provided far more. By contrast, conservatives provided almost three-fifths of John McCain’s votes, with moderates contributing only about one-third and liberals a negligible 5%.

The bottom line is that, compared to Republicans, Democrats are operating with a much more diverse electoral coalition-and one in which the party’s ideological vanguard plays a smaller role. That’s one reason why in a Pew post-election survey, nearly three-fifths of Democrats said they wanted the party to move in a more moderate (rather than liberal) direction, while three-fifths of Republicans said they wanted the party to move right. The parties “have a difference in our bases,” says Jim Kessler, vice president of Third Way, a group that works with centrist Democratic Senators. “Certainly the most loyal part of the Democratic base is going to be self-identified liberals, but numerically moderates are a bigger portion of the coalition, so there is going to be some tension.

There are limitations to any poll based upon self-identification. Many polls have showed large numbers of people who 1) do not identify themselves as liberals and 2) support liberal positions on the issues. There are also a variety of views held by self-identified liberals, making it possible for some liberals to be dissatisfied while Obama pleases other liberals.

Despite these limitations, the general argument still holds. The extremists dominate the Republican Party while those with relatively more moderate views dominate the Democratic Party. This is also a reason why Obama repeatedly reaches out to Republicans even if he fails to receive hardly any Republican support in Congress. There are many moderate and conservative voters who are voting Democratic at present but have voted at times in the past. Obama is most likely concerned with retaining their support as opposed to expecting a tremendous amount of support from Congressional Republicans.

Even if Obama has displeased liberals on some issues, after the previous eight years we are still seeng a considerable improvement. Actions by Obama include ending the ban on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, planning to close Guantanamo, ending the raids on medicinal marijuana (giving him the benefit of the doubt until further information is available on today’s action), overturning the Bush conscience rules, overturning the Global Gag Order,  planning on leaving Iraq, and beginning work on expanding health care coverage. Hopefully as time goes on liberals can push Obama to reconsider some of his decisions regarding secrecy and terrorism.

DEA Raids Medical Marijuana Dispensary in San Francisco

This is certainly disappointing news coming so soon after we were assured the Obama administration was going to put an end to this:

Federal agents raided a medical marijuana dispensary in San Francisco Wednesday, a week after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder signaled that the Obama administration would not prosecute distributors of pot used for medicinal purposes that operate under sanction of state law.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents raided Emmalyn’s California Cannabis Clinic at 1597 Howard St. in San Francisco’s South of Market district mid-afternoon.

They hauled out large plastic bins overflowing with marijuana plants and loaded several pickup trucks parked out front with grow lights and related equipment used to farm the plants indoors.

The dispensary had been operating with a temporary permit issued by the Department of Public Health.

“Based on our investigation, we believe there are not only violations of federal law, but state law as well,” DEA Special Agent in Charge Anthony Williams said in a prepared statement.

Williams, who runs the San Francisco field office that covers a territory stretching from Bakersfield to Redding, would not specify the alleged violations. The information was under court seal.

“As of now, we are prohibited from releasing further details of the case. Items of evidentiary value were seized and no arrests have been made,” Williams said.

A source in San Francisco city government who was informed about the raid said the DEA’s action appeared to be prompted by alleged financial improprieties related to the payment of sales taxes. DEA Special Agent Casey McEnry, spokeswoman for the local office, would not comment on that information.

Perhaps further information will show that this was consistent with Holder’s previous statements but this is still not a good sign.

Incidentally, this came on a day in which Obama had an online town hall which was dominated by questions about marijuana. This could be a sign of how much national interest there is in the topic, or a sign that NORML was successful in getting people to ask desired questions. Obama continued to express opposition to legalization of marijuana.

Most Electronic Voting Isn’t Secure

Steve Stigall, a CIA cybersecurity expert, suggested that  Hugo Chavez fixed a 2004 election recount. He also argued that most electronic voting isn’t secure:

Stigall said that voting equipment connected to the Internet could be hacked, and machines that weren’t connected could be compromised wirelessly. Eleven U.S. states have banned or limited wireless capability in voting equipment, but Stigall said that election officials didn’t always know it when wireless cards were embedded in their machines.

While Stigall said that he wasn’t speaking for the CIA and wouldn’t address U.S. voting systems, his presentation appeared to undercut calls by some U.S. politicians to shift to Internet balloting, at least for military personnel and other American citizens living overseas. Stigall said that most Web-based ballot systems had proved to be insecure.

H.G. Wells on Obama?

Dani Rodrick (found via Andrew Sullivan) found a passage written by H.G. Wells about an international conference in London in 1933 organized to find a coordinated way out of the Great Depression engulfing the world economy. Much of it sounds like it could have been written about Obama and the planned G20 summit:

[For] some months at least before and after his election as American President and the holding of the London Conference there was again a whispering hope in the world that a real “Man” had arisen, who would see simply and clearly, who would speak plainly to all mankind and liberate the world from the dire obsessions and ineptitudes under which it suffered and to which it seemed magically enslaved. …

Everywhere as the Conference drew near men were enquiring about this possible new leader for them. “Is this at last the Messiah we seek, or shall we look for another?” Every bookshop in Europe proffered his newly published book of utterances, Looking Forward, to gauge what manner of mind they had to deal with. It proved rather disconcerting reading for their anxious minds. Plainly the man was firm, honest and amiable, as the frontispiece portrait with its clear frank eyes and large resolute face showed, but the text of the book was a politician’s text, saturated indeed with good will, seasoned with much vague modernity, but vague and wanting in intellectual grip. “He’s good,” they said, “but is this good enough?”

The full text of The Shape of Things to Come by H.G. Wells is available here.

Obama’s Press Conference

Last night’s press conference (transcript here) was not terrifically newsworthy. What was most significant was that Obama is already on his second press conference  in office. In comparison, both Bill Clinton and George Bush each only had four news conferences  during eight years in office.

Another aspect of significance is that Obama allowed follow up questions. Many politicians avoid this as it makes it much more difficult to avoid answering a question. A consequence of this (along with keeping the press conference on time to limit network protests) was that only thirteen reporters got to ask questions:

Here’s the list of reporters in order: Jennifer Loven (AP), Chuck Todd (NBC), Jake Tapper (ABC), Chip Reid (CBS), Lourdes Meluza (Univision), Kevin Baron (Stars and Stripes), Ed Henry (CNN), Major Garrett (Fox News), Mike Allen (POLITICO), Kevin Chappell (Ebony), Ann Compton (ABC Radio), Jon Ward (Washington Times) and Stephen Collinson (AFP).

In a year in which the print media is already having serious problems, it is notable that reporters from  major newspapers such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post did not get any questions. The most significant newspaper to get a question was the conservative Washington Times. Broadcast media did well, along with outlets which are often overlook such as Stars and Stripes and Ebony.

I might have to reconsider my support for Chuck Todd to take over as moderator of Meet the Press if he continues to ask questions as bad as the one he asked last night. Chuck Todd asked why Obama isn’t asking for more sacrifice from Americans as might be expected during a crisis such as a war. While it makes sense to question Bush’s attempt to pay for the Iraq war on credit and not have any sacrifices by Americans, this is hardly an analogous situation. The whole point of government action during difficult economic times is to try to reduce the suffering of those who are already suffering and making sacrifices.

Of course we cannot have Obama do anything without a repetition of some right wing memes. The Anonymous Liberal criticizes some of the questions along with the criticism of Obama for using a teleprompter his  prepared comments. Considering that Obama gave lengthy answers to unscreened questions, along with follow up questions, without a teleprompter, his use of a teleprompter to include a prepared statement is hardly an issue. Some opponents tried to make an issue of this during the campaign despite numerous appearances in which Obama  also did just fine without a teleprompter. I don’t think such attacks will get much traction. Most viewers are probably just happy to have a president who can answer questions intelligibly. James Fallows adds:

The important point with Obama is that the content, command of fact and concept, and overall intelligence of his extemporized answers matched that of the scripted presentation. That could not have been so if he were teleprompter-dependent. For example: by the end of his term, George W. Bush had become quite effective in delivering a formal speech. His interview- and press conference performance if anything deteriorated through his time in office.

The whole “Obama can’t talk on his own” concept is bizarre, given his performance through two years of stump speeches and debates during the campaign. But it seems to have gotten so much credence in the right-wing world that it is worth addressing head on.

Republicans Need Constitutional Amendment To Expand Presidential Choices

The Republicans have two problems with regards to finding someone who sounds rational to take the 2010 nomination. First the two Republicans who have made the most sense lately are unlikely to win the nomination and secondly neither is constitutionally eligible.

I”ve already noted sensible comments from Arnold Schwarzenegger in posts such as here. These ideas make it unlikely he could win the nomination. He might have a shot due to his celebrity status except he is note eligible due to not being a natural born American citizen.

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While I’m not seriously proposing her as a candidate, Meghan McCain is also making far more sense than most of the Republicans around. Even if the Republicans would nominate her, which is far less likely than Schwarzenegger, she is too young to be eligible. She was interviewed by Larry King. Here’s a portion:

King: Do you consider yourself a moderate? Are you moderate liberal?

McCain: I consider myself a progressive Republican. I am liberal on social issues. And I think that the party is at a place where social issues shouldn’t be the issues that define the party. And I have taken heat, but in fairness to me, I am a different generation than the people that are giving me heat. I’m 24 years old. I’m not in my 40s, I’m not in my 50s and older.

King: Therefore, you must, based on what you said, disagree with your father? … Do you discuss it?

McCain: We have a very big generation gap between me and my father. Yes, we discuss them. He’s very open-minded. I was raised in an open-minded home. I was raised a Christian, but I was raised open-minded Christian — one to accept people, love people, not pass judgment. …

I believe in gay marriage. … I personally am pro-life, but I’m not going to judge someone that’s pro-choice. It is not my place to judge other people and what they do with their body.

I do give Meghan some slack for her presidential vote in 2008. We really can’t expect her to have supported anyone other than her father, and she did back John Kerry in 2004. Still, I wish she hadn’t ended the interview by attributing some of her attitudes to “having a maverick as a father.”