Saturday, January 31, 2009

And his mom wasn't white: Take THAT, DNC!

GOP Elects Its First Black Chairman

Joe Gandelman over at The Moderate Voice applauds the choice of former Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele as the new Chairman of the Republican National Committee. Read more about the Steele choice here.


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Friday, January 30, 2009

Forget Rush Limbaugh, Maybe Google Needs Its Own Fairness Doctrine

Unlike Bush's 'Google Bomb,' Google Quickly Defuses Obama's

It took four years for Google to address the "Google bomb" that was lobbed at former President Bush.

But it took the Internet behemoth only a few days to defuse the same attack on President Obama.

Four years versus a few days ... Some Googlers are asking why.

In 2003, President Bush's detractors successfully gamed the Google search engine by arranging to have countless Web sites link the words "miserable failure" to Bush's official biography on the White House Web site.

The result was that when someone typed the search term "miserable failure" into the Google search box, Bush's bio rose to the top of the search results.

And that's how it stayed until 2007, when Google developed an algorithm to detect what became known as "Google bombs" and re-directed the term "miserable failure" to non-political pages.

Unfortunately for Obama, "miserable failure" reverted back to his bio when he moved into the White House. The new president was also Google-bombed with the phrase "cheerful achievement."

But this time, Google stepped in quickly, rectifying the situation in a few days, instead of four years.

The difference in time did not go unnoticed.

"You let this go on for the entire Bush administration," a reader named w3bgrrl wrote on a Google blog. "But since you bought the White House for Obama, you don't want your candidates harmed ... And your claims not withstanding, even liberals know you're liberal."

But another writer, Mikkel deMib Svendsen, gave Google the benefit of the doubt.

"I do think many of [Google employees] are liberals but I am also 100% confident that the large majority of them are also very professional people that take the job of creating a good and unbiased search engine very, very seriously," he wrote.

Google said the reason it took only a few days to redirect Obama's Google bomb was that, this time, it already had the algorithm in place.

"Though the spirit of change may be in the air in Washington, some things apparently stay the same," Google software engineer Matt Cutts wrote on a Google blog. "After we became aware of this latest Googlebomb, we re-ran our algorithm and it detected the Googlebomb for [cheerful achievement] as well as for [failure]. As a result, those search queries now return discussion about the Google bombs, rather than the original pages that were returned."

In another company blog, Google software engineers Ryan Moulton and Kendre Carattini wrote that the "pranks" aren't a very high priority for the company.

"But over time, we've seen more people assume that they are Google's opinion, or that Google has hand-coded the results for these Googlebombed queries," they wrote. "That's not true, and it seemed like it was worth trying to correct that misperception."

Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of Search Engine Land, says Google could have acted even faster in Obama's case, and that he was "disappointed" that the Internet giant did not act preemptively last week.

"They knew this was an issue before the inauguration, but it wasn't until after it happened that [Google] finally got to it and said, 'We better re-run our system,'" Sullivan told

"I know there are bigger issues to worry about," he said. "But then again, people turn to search engines to try and find information and this is the kind of thing you want them to be paying attention to as part of an overall communication strategy."

Sullivan likened Google bombing to a "neighborhood kid spray-painting on your wall," and he said he expects these kinds of digital antics to continue.

"It's probably going to be an inevitable fact of life for politicians moving forward to see themselves involved in these types of pranks," he said. "But you don't want to go around reacting too much, either."

Asked if he thought Google's reaction to the Bush and Obama Google bombs appeared to be biased, Sullivan replied, "I give them the benefit of the doubt. If you're an Obama friend at Google, waiting until after he's in office is not being a good friend."

According to an article by CNET News, the Obama "cheerful achievement" Google bomb was created by Montreal blogger Eric Baillargeon, who did not return requests for comment.

Obama spokesman Nicholas Shapiro declined to comment Thursday.

A Yahoo! search of "miserable failure," however, returns the official White House biographies of Obama and Bush, respectively. Company officials did not return a request for comment Friday.

Fox News
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Pres: "Hey, Dammit, I won. I say I WON! I get to decide!"


A military judge has refused the Obama administration's request for a 120-day continuance in the case of Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri. The judge called Obama's argument for a delay "unpersuasive."

According to Peter Finn at the Washington Post, Gitmo's chief military judge, Col. James Pohl, wrote that the government, sought a delay because if cases went ahead, the administration's review could "render moot any proceedings conducted during the review"; "necessitate re-litigation of issues"; or "produce legal consequences affecting options available to the Administration after completion of the review."

"The Commission is unaware of how conducting an arraignment would preclude any option by the administration," said Pohl in his written opinion. "Congress passed the military commissions act, which remains in effect. The Commission is bound by the law as it currently exists, not as it may change in the future."

However, the law as it currently exists holds that the Secretary of Defense, "or by any officer or official of the
United States designated by the Secretary for that purpose," is the convening authority for the commissions. So it's not clear that the judge has the authority to refuse Section 7 of Obama's executive order, which states that:

"The Secretary of Defense shall immediately take steps sufficient to ensure that during the pendency of the Review described in section 4 of this order, no charges are sworn, or referred to a military commission under the Military Commissions Act of 2006 and the Rules for Military Commissions, and that all proceedings of such military commissions to which charges have been referred but in which no judgment has been rendered, and all proceedings pending in the United States Court of Military Commission Review, are halted."

Thus, Judge Pohl can refuse the request, but the law appears to state that if the SecDef says the process is halted, it is halted. “It’s not like a regular Article III court, it’s in the executive branch, it’s controlled by the president,” according to the Center for American Progress' Ken Gude. “The judges aren’t independent.”

Still, the Brennan Center's Emily Berman isn't so sure that Judge Pohl doesn't have the authority to do what he's doing. She says it's strange that the Obama administration would direct prosecutors to "file the request with the judge if it wasn’t up to him to decide." But she adds that "even if he has discretion on whether or not to suspend the proceedings, the [Obama administration] has other ways of stopping them," namely by temporarily dropping the charges. But doing so doesn't mean Nashiri will be released, since he's still defined as an "enemy combatant" pending the administration's announced "review" of the Gitmo cases.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Make sure they don't order in Mexican for lunch...

Obama Nearly Triples West Wing Staff

Karl Rove writes in today's Wall Street Journal of a coming "crowded mess" outside the Oval Office: President Obama has increased the number of staff in the West Wing from Bush's 60 to 160 -- and for one of those new spots, Obama has become the first President to give his director of political affairs -- who coordinates the president's involvement with his party and other campaign related activities -- a West Wing office.

Read more about this part of the President's "stimulus" here.


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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Moscow on the Potomac?

Putin Disavows Militarization Amid Reports of Softening Stance on Missile Threats

Is Russia getting caught up in Obamamania?

It would seem so, according to reports out of Moscow and Davos, Switzerland, where the World Economic Forum is under way.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin — after a sometimes tense relationship with President Bush, particularly over the United States' plans for a missile shield in Eastern Europe — appeared to soften his stance on Tuesday.

Putin, who as president oversaw a major increase in defense spending, said in Davos that militarization was no solution, the Times of London reported, and he called on Obama to "co-operate constructively" in international affairs.

“We wish the new team success,” Putin said. “Militarization does not help solve problems. We are against spending more money on military efforts."

The comments came on the heels of a report Tuesday that Russia was backing off a threat to deploy missiles near Poland, a report that may have been aimed at testing President Obama's intent to follow through on Bush's plan for a European missile shield.

And on Monday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev spoke to Obama for the first time by telephone.

"The presidents agreed that, as they were both new leaders from a post-Cold War generation, they have a unique opportunity to establish a fundamentally different kind of relationship between our two countries,” the White House said in a statement released after the phone conversation.

The report on the missile threat came from the private Interfax news agency, which cited an unidentified armed forces general staff official as saying Russia has suspended implementation of plans to deploy Iskander missiles in the Kaliningrad enclave because the Obama administration is not pushing hard to build an interceptor site next door in Poland.

A Kremlin official told The Associated Press that the Interfax report erroneously implied that Russia had been taking action, now suspended, to place missiles in Kaliningrad. The official reiterated that Medvedev has said Russia would only send Iskanders there if the U.S. presses ahead with plans for missile interceptors in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic.

That policy has not changed, the Kremlin official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the matter on record.

Defense Ministry officials made similar statements to the state-run ITAR-Tass and RIA-Novosti news agencies.

Still, the initial report sounded like a peace offering in one of the prickliest disputes between Russia and the U.S. under former President Bush. It may have been aimed at eliciting a clear signal from Obama about whether he will press ahead with his predecessor's plans — and encouraging him to abandon them.

Obama has not been explicit in public about whether he would proceed with installations in Poland and the Czech Republic. More broadly he has said he supports missile defense but wants to ensure that it is proven to be a reliable system that does not detract from other security priorities.

U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood reiterated that position Wednesday, saying that "we'll support missile defense, if it's proven to work."

He said the reports from Russia were a "positive development," but that he could not confirm whether they were true and did not know if the United States had been directly contacted by Russia about the matter.

Click here for more on the story from the Times of London.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Sort of a queer way to treat a man during this new "post-partisan" Obama era, isn't it?

President Cans Bush Appointee Physician Who Pioneered AIDS Relief Program for Africa

Dr. Mark Dybul, an openly gay physician, was the architect of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) established under Bush, and his work garnered praise from all sides for the impact it has had on AIDS in Africa. After initially asking Dybul to stay on as the coordinator of the Program for several months (until a replacement could be found and confirmed), the Obama administration changed its mind and on the day after inauguration, instructed Dybul to have his resignation turned in by the end of the day.

Michael Gerson of the Washington Post has the full story here.

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BBC Edits Obama into Snappy Soundbite

Al Tompkins from Poynter reports on the edits made by BBC's Newsnight show, which stitched together pieces of Obama's inauguration speech to create a snappy show opening -- without letting viewers in on the edits.

Tompkins: "What sounded like a single soundbite, a sentence from Obama's first speech in office, was in fact the product of fancy editing."
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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

West Wing Time Machine

Team Obama rolled into the White House ready to be the first wired administration. But they found themselves in White House circa 1975, before e-mail, blogs and -- of course -- Twitter. Salon's Mike Madden has the story.

Madden: "Which is why, now that they've moved into the West Wing, Obama's aides are starting to feel as if they've stumbled into a time warp and are actually working for the Carter administration, technology-wise. The White House e-mail system was down for most of Monday, leaving the press office out of touch with the world except through an overloaded phone system (complete with a full voice-mail box) -- for at least the second prolonged stretch since Inauguration Day. The new blog on, which is supposed to be at the forefront of the Obama administration's new openness and transparency, still lags a day or two behind reality, in part because of trouble sending transcripts and messages around among the West Wing staff. (One of the few posts that have been published is essentially an apology for the slow start.) Memos Obama issued Monday morning were copied and distributed on paper in the White House press office, instead of being e-mailed out to far-flung reporters. Aides are privately grumbling about not having laptops, about delayed BlackBerry service and about the phones not working."
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Because when you subsidize something, you get more of it...

Six Figure Households to Get Free Kids' Health Insurance

Jim Geraghty of National Review reports that last Friday, the Department of Health and Human Services announced its calculation of the poverty level for 2009. As Geraghty points out, this is important because the House has passed legislation allowing states to offer government-funded health insurance (the "State Children's Health Insurance Program" or SCHIP") to children who live in families that have incomes up to 400 percent of the poverty level.

Under the new figures, this means that a family of four with an annual income of $88,200 can receive S-CHIP benefits. A family of five can have a six-figure household income—$103,160—and still qualify for this program originally designed to help the poor.

The Senate and the President are expected to sign onto the bill.

Read the full piece here.


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Monday, January 26, 2009

But Who Will Be Watching Him?

Senate Confirms Geithner as Treasury Secretary
A majority of the Senate voted Monday to approve Timothy Geithner's nomination to run the Treasury Department.

WASHINGTON -- The Senate on Monday confirmed New York Federal Reserve Bank chief Timothy Geithner as President Barack Obama's treasury secretary despite tax problems that might have sunk his nomination in less desperate times.

The 60-34 vote, in which handfuls of Republicans and Democrats voted against their party leaders, put Geithner at the helm of Obama's economic team as it races to halt the worst financial slide in generations.

In swift order reflecting the urgency, Obama was expected to attend Geithner's swearing in Monday evening at the Treasury Department. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Geithner has made amends -- he has paid the taxes and penalties -- and possesses the talent the nation needs to steer the nation out of the crisis.

Geithner, 47, served as undersecretary of the treasury for international affairs during the Clinton administration. As president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, he's been a key player in the government's response to collapsing financial institutions and the housing and credit markets since last summer.

Many Republicans were willing to overlook Geithner's failure to pay all his taxes on income received from the International Monetary Fund in 2001 and in three subsequent years.

For most senators, the real reason for Geithner's likely confirmation appears to be less a matter of bipartisan cooperation than political survival. Lawmakers of all stripes are eager to set the economy in the right direction long before voters judge their progress in the 2010 midterm elections.

"People make mistakes and commit oversights," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. "Even the most intelligent and gifted -- two adjectives that certainly apply to Mr. Geithner -- make errors in their financial dealings."

Even so, not everyone was convinced that the need for a speedy confirmation should trump concerns about the candidate. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, didn't buy Geithner's contention that he skipped paying some taxes because he was confused by the complexities of the tax code.

"They were described by the nominee himself as 'careless mistakes,"' Collins said in prepared remarks. "It has become clear to me that this is not merely a matter of complexity leading to mistakes, but of inexcusable negligence."

Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., agreed and noted that his is one of the few voices of dissent.

"Nominees for positions that do not oversee tax reporting and collection have been forced to withdraw their nomination for more minor offenses. They have been ridden out of town on a verbal rail," Enzi told the Senate. "The fact that we're in a global economic crisis is not a reason to overlook these errors."

"The Senate," he scolded, "is not supposed to be a group of 'yes' men."

It wasn't. Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa lined up against the nominee, asking how someone of Geithner's "financial sophistication" could innocently not pay the taxes and then head up the agency that oversees the IRS.

"How can Mr. Geithner speak with any credibility or authority?" Harkin said.

The Senate Finance Committee approved Geithner's confirmation in an 18-5 vote last week. However ambivalent, some Senate Republicans were supporting him. Specter, for example, said he's not happy that Geithner didn't pay up all of the $42,702 in back taxes and interest until after he was nominated to become treasury secretary.

As such, Geithner will with directing the nation's economic recovery from the worst financial crisis in three generations, a task that could define the first two years of Obama's term. Specific duties include directing how $350 billion of already existing Wall Street bailout money is to be spent, then making the case to Congress and the public if more is needed.

In addition, Congress is working on an $825 billion economic recovery package that dedicates about two-thirds to new government spending and the rest to tax cuts. Geithner will be playing a big role in disbursing that money, too.

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But Nancy: Trojans are now manufactured in CHINA...


On the Sunday talk show circuit, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi boldly defended a move to add birth control funding to the new economic stimulus package, because it will "reduce government costs."

The revelation came during an exchange Sunday morning on ABC's THIS WEEK:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Hundreds of millions of dollars to expand family planning services. How is that stimulus?

PELOSI: Well, the family planning services reduce cost. They reduce cost. The states are in terrible fiscal budget crises now and part of what we do for children's health, education and some of those elements are to help the states meet their financial needs. One of those - one of the initiatives you mentioned, the contraception, will reduce costs to the states and to the federal government.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So no apologies for that?

PELOSI: No apologies. No. We have to deal with the consequences of the downturn in our economy.

But a question from The Rapier: If this part of the package is passed, will we be laying off elementary school lunch room ladies and school nurses in about 6 years, 9 months? And what would John Maynard Keynes say about that??

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WSJ: How to Buy American?

When it comes to cars, The Wall Street Journal tries to figure out how American American-made really is.

Quick: What's more American? The Jeep Patriot? Or the Toyota Sequoia?

The Sequoia is 80% domestic. The Jeep Patriot only 66%.

"So what should you buy if you want to buy a truly American-made car? For the 2008 model year, the government says the Ford Crown Victoria has the highest percentage of U.S./Canada content at 90%.

"The only hitch: It's assembled in Canada."
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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Aren't those terms redundant?

"A Liberal Wish List Disguised as a Stimulus Bill."

So say the editors at National Review.

The Congressional Budget Office reports that less than 40 percent of the discretionary spending in the proposed stimulus bill would be used in the first 18 months. A spokesman for Speaker Pelosi encourages us to see the post-recession expenditures as “down payments on crucial priorities for our economic future.” The question arises: Crucial priorities according to whom?

Read more here.


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