Is Gov. Chris Christie running for president? Clearly. And the New Jersey Republican is also clearly using the playbook of a famous Democratic friend.
Like President Obama before him, Governor Christie “slow jammed" the news Wednesday on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.” The news in question was Christie’s controversial and expensive decision last week to call his state’s special Senate election for Oct. 16, just three weeks before the already-scheduled gubernatorial election this November.
Christie deadpanned it beautifully – bobbing his head to the R&B rhythms of the "Late Night" house band, The Roots, as he wonkily explained his decision. And he didn’t crack when Mr. Fallon and the band “analyzed” the move with sexually suggestive language.
But alas, if you’re a Christie fan, he may not have done himself any favors. Yes, he probably impressed a few young voters, an important demographic for a Republican Party desperately trying to get out of its old-white-guy ghetto. But he added life to a story that gives fuel to his eventual opponents for the 2016 GOP nomination.
Republicans roundly rejected his decision to call an election for this fall, rather than appoint a Republican to the seat of the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) until the November 2014 midterm elections, which Christie had the right to do. Last Thursday, Christie appointed the state’s Republican attorney general, Jeff Chiesa, to the seat until the special election.
Now, there’s a strong possibility that a Democrat – Newark Mayor Cory Booker – will retake the seat in October. Critics say Christie opted for the separate special election to avoid being on the same ballot with Mayor Booker, even though Christie has a massive lead over his Democratic opponent, state Sen. Barbara Buono.
So it appears he went for the separate election to protect his point spread. And by calling the special election for Oct. 16, instead of Nov. 5, he is costing the state millions of dollars – an affront to fiscal conservatives.
But maybe his biggest sin on “Late Night” was all the sexual innuendo, which we’ll leave to the imagination (and the video). To win the GOP nomination in 2016, Christie needs a decent number of religious conservatives to back him. But he has done little to reach out to them.
On Friday, the annual Faith & Freedom Coalition conference will take place in Washington, and Christie won’t be there. Instead, he’ll be in Chicago, speaking at another event – one with a Democratic hue: a conference of the Clinton Global Initiative.
In the interest of revealing what he saw as the privacy violations of millions of Americans by their own government, Edward Snowden, 29, has likely forfeited his future at an age when most young adults are still shaping the arc of their lives.
A high school dropout turned analyst with high-level security clearance, he’s now a wanted man whose name is Googled around the globe and face flashed on airport television screens from Washington to Hong Kong, where he fled before he identified himself as the source of leaks revealing the National Security Administration’s programs to electronically monitor citizens.
Bespectacled and serious in the videotaped interview with the journalists who broke his story, Mr. Snowden is now a hot topic of debate: Whistleblower or traitor? Will he be extradited? Face jail time?
So who is he? What life does he leave behind?
Before embarking for Hong Kong, Snowden was living in Hawaii – “paradise,” he called it – with a girlfriend, Lindsay Mills. Together, they rented a three-bedroom home in the Waipahu community on the island of Oahu, according to USA Today.
As for Ms. Mills, news outlets reported Tuesday, she is “an acrobatic pole performer” who blogged about her peripatetic life with Snowden, whom she called “E.” She aired her heartache publicly on a blog that has since been dismantled. Her comments suggested – and Snowden similarly told The Guardian – that she didn’t know of his plans.
“Surely there will be villainous pirates, distracting mermaids, and tides of change in this new open water chapter of my journey,” she wrote, according to ABC News. “But at the moment all I can feel is alone. And for the first time in my life I feel strong enough to be on my own. Though I never imagined my hand would be so forced.”
Snowden, who was born in North Carolina, spent much of his childhood in Maryland, where his mother, Elizabeth Snowden, is chief deputy clerk for administration and information technology for US District Court in Baltimore.
She filed for divorce from his father, Lonnie Glenn Snowden Jr., in February 2001. Neighbors told The Baltimore Sun that she is “lovely” and that her son was “a quiet young man who spent a lot of time on his computer.”
Ms. Snowden is avoiding reporters outside her Maryland subdivision. Her ex-husband, now living in the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania, is a former Coast Guard official who told ABC that he was still "digesting and processing" the news about his son.
Snowden dropped out of high school after a year and a half, and an individual with his name took classes at Anne Arundel Community College for six years, from 1999 to 2005, but failed to receive a degree or certificate, The Sun reports.
A stint with the CIA as a “senior adviser” – his words to The Guardian – ended after two years, according to The Sun. But the job helped him leverage his experience in the consulting world. Enter Booz Allen.
But now, no job, no girl, no paradise. And no country. Snowden is on the run.
"I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded," he said in his interview with The Guardian.
His every move to date is likely under intense scrutiny, however, as officials weigh criminal charges against him – the first step in getting Snowden either extradited or deported.
Awaiting him is a hero’s welcome in some quarters – 22,000 people have already signed an electronic petition asking that Snowden be pardoned – as well as a major legal battle.
“I hope we follow Mr. Snowden to the ends of the earth to bring him to justice,” tweeted Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina.
House Speaker John Boehner has also weighed in, calling Snowden "a traitor."
White House press secretary Jay Carney suggested that while he couldn’t remark on the specifics of the Snowden situation because it is under investigation, "leaks of sensitive, classified information that cause harm to our national security interests are a problem, a serious problem."
Information is "classified for a reason," Carney said.
A warm public homecoming is unlikely, and mercy, it appears, is not on the minds of government officials.
She describes herself as: “Wife, mom, lawyer, women & kids advocate, FLOAR, FLOTUS, US Senator, SecState, author, dog owner, hair icon, pantsuit aficionado, glass ceiling cracker, TBD ...”
Let the image crafting commence anew. Ms. Clinton touts her extensive professional credentials with a dash of humor, a splash of the self-deprecating. And look, she even loves dogs!
Her first tweet:
“Thanks for the inspiration @ASmith83 & @Sllambe – I’ll take it from here ... #tweetsfromhillary.”
Clinton is referring to Adam Smith and Stacy Lambe, who created the popular meme, “Texts from Hillary.” Her avatar is the Diana Walker shot that accompanied the Smith-Lambe site; in it, she is sunglasses-clad and texting from her seat on an airplane.
It’s that “TBD” – to be determined – that has prompted the flurry of interest in her debut on the social networking site, a must for public figures, journalists, students, authors, and anyone who wants to be anyone in the modern technological age. A person probably can’t run for president, for example, without a Twitter handle.
Clinton was welcomed to Twitter by everyone from Ben Affleck to Patti Solis Doyle (Clinton’s effectively ousted 2008 campaign manager) to UN Women to a real person with the handle: @sarahwbolton: “How in the world was I not already following @hillaryclinton?!?! I need more #tweetsfromhillary in my life.”
And that’s likely what Clinton and her handlers are hoping. That more of her is better: This is the Twitter essence, after all. It allows an unfiltered direct-from-the-source commentary on all things.
Word of Clinton’s Twitter arrival – a 2016 tease for all those handicapping the race not even five months after President Obama was sworn in for a second term – was headline-making. “Playful Hillary Clinton Joins Twitter,” ABC News reports. “Twitterati warmly welcome Hillary Clinton,” the New York Daily News writes.
She’s “playful” and her reception was warm. This is so not the congressional hearings on Benghazi. Twitter allows politicians to cut out the middle men and women, the elected officials, reporters, and pundits who tell voters what to think about a public figure.
A Gallup poll released Monday shows Clinton’s favorability slipping this spring, perhaps a result of sustained questions about how the State Department under her leadership handled the security situation in Benghazi, Libya. Her unfavorable rating is up to 39 percent, from 31 percent in April. Her favorability rating, though still solid, is down to 58 percent from 64 percent in the previous survey.
Republican strategist Kevin Madden says Twitter has “become such an essential way to communicate with audiences in today’s digital age.” The frenzy over “its latest high-profile member was bound to happen,” he adds.
“Joining Twitter isn't a sure sign that a decision has been made about a 2016 race,” Mr. Madden tells the Monitor. “It's just a sure sign that Twitter is now standard operating procedure as a communications tool for public figures interested in staying in touch with public audiences.”
Margie Omero, a Democratic strategist, says Twitter will allow Clinton, forbidden in her role as secretary of State from discussing overtly political matters, to newly engage with her supporters "in a political and grass-roots way."
Is the move the surest sign yet that Clinton will launch a White House bid?
"She doesn't want to close any doors," Ms. Omero says. "This is the first step, but the fact that she's taking it doesn't mean [a presidential run] is a fait accompli."
Meanwhile, former President Bill Clinton, coaxed onto Twitter recently by the comedian Stephen Colbert, welcomed his wife: “Does @Twitter have a family share plan? Great to be here with @HillaryClinton & @ChelseaClinton. Looking forward to #tweetsfromhillary.”
He has 757,727 followers as of midday Tuesday. With Ms. Clinton’s feed boasting 371,173 followers by late morning, how long before the former first lady’s number rivals that of her husband?
Perhaps that’s another contest we should all be watching.
The person who leaked classified US documents on sweeping surveillance programs to the press has now leaked his own identity. Edward Snowden, a young computer system professional for a National Security Agency contractor, revealed on Sunday that he provided information on two NSA programs to The Guardian and Washington Post newspapers. He said his motive was to expose the extent of US electronic snooping and that he’s clear-eyed about the consequences to come.
“I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong,” Mr. Snowden told The Guardian in a story published at his request.
Now that he’s gone public, how much trouble is Snowden in? That depends on a number of factors, including how long he can stay in his current location of Hong Kong, and what the US decides to charge him with if he returns home.
RECOMMENDED: Quiz: How much do you know about terrorism?
He himself told the Post reporter he worked with that his disclosure of the NSA information “marks my end.” That may be an exaggeration, but the quick answer to the “how much trouble” question starts with “quite a bit,” and then possibly slides up the scale to “tons” and “almost as much as Bradley Manning.”
At trial in the US, prosecutors would certainly pursue mishandling of intelligence and possibly espionage charges that could result in decades of prison time. Each individual document leaked would be considered a separate charge, national security lawyer Mark Zaid told the Associated Press.
Given the number of documents leaked, the Justice Department could probably threaten Snowden with the equivalent of a life sentence, just to start.
Furthermore, prosecutors could pursue a charge of aiding and abetting the enemy, as they have with Bradley Manning, the Army soldier who passed vast amounts of information to WikiLeaks.
The basis for this charge would be that Snowden’s leaks have provided information to terrorists that will allow them to change their behavior and avoid US surveillance.
“Aiding the enemy” is a capital charge. Prosecutors have indicated that they would not seek a death sentence if Manning is convicted, but would ask for life imprisonment.
All this presupposes that Snowden faces trial, of course. Right now that appears to be something he would like to avoid. He has publicly requested asylum from any country willing to give, mentioning Iceland as a possibility. He has spent the past several weeks in a hotel room in Hong Kong, according to Guardian and Post reports, but he checked out Monday and his whereabouts are now unknown. While the US has an extradition treaty with Hong Kong, there may be a legal situation in the former British colony that could help him.
If Snowden requests political asylum in Hong Kong, “he is going nowhere” in the forseeable future, Hong Kong legal expert Simon Young tells The Christian Science Monitor’s Peter Ford.
Hong Kong’s asylum law currently is a “black hole,” according to Mr. Young. It requires the local government to independently investigate asylum claims, but Hong Kong has yet to set up procedures to do so. Doing so now could take months, if not years.
Furthermore, from a public relations standpoint, Snowden has taken steps that could shape the legal environment to his advantage. He has voluntarily identified himself, and asserted that he leaked information that public has a right to know, in the tradition of government whistle-blowers such as Daniel Ellsburg, who made public the secret Pentagon Papers detailing the history of US involvement in Vietnam.
Given this, the Obama administration might want to seek more moderate charges so as not to appear to be overreacting in this case.
It’s also possible that in a legal sense Snowden might be better off just to come home and allow the wheels of justice to start rolling.
In 2009 a federal judge said there are occasions when leaking classified information could be necessary and appropriate, notes government secrecy expert Steven Aftergood on his Secrecy News blog.
But the leaker in question should have the courage of their convictions and argue their case within the legal system, said Judge T.S. Ellis III of the Eastern District of Virginia during a 2009 sentencing hearing for Lawrence Franklin, a Defense Department employee who pleaded guilty to leaking information to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
“One might hope that, for example, someone might have the courage to do something that would break the law if it meant they’re the savior of the country; but then one has to take the consequences because the rule of law is so important,” said Judge Ellis, according to Secrecy News.
Mr. Franklin was initially sentenced to 13 years in prison for his infractions, but the sentence was later reduced to 10 months' house imprisonment.
RECOMMENDED: Quiz: How much do you know about terrorism?
Is Michele Bachmann back already?
No, this question does not mean she’s undoing her retirement. If you remember, last week Representative Bachmann (R) of Minnesota announced that she would not run for reelection to her House seat. This was kind of a surprise and led to lots of pundit speculation that she was stepping down because she feared losing next time around, or due to federal investigations into her campaign finances.
But don’t cry for her, Anoka County! In her first extended interview since the announcement, Bachmann pointed out the obvious: Her current term does not expire until January 2015. So all those stories headlined “Bachmann Bows Out” and so forth were premature.
So the chairman of the House Tea Party Caucus will still be on the job, talking about the IRS scandal, repealing ObamaCare, and what she termed the “serial lawlessness” of the Obama administration.
“I’m not going away. I’m not leaving Washington,” said Bachmann.
She did say she was looking for a “different perch” from which to carry on her various crusades after her term ended. Nothing like launching a job search on national TV, is there? Especially if you’re talking on a national TV network that itself might be a future employer.
But that does not mean she’ll never seek office again, apparently. She said in the interview that she might engage in another campaign. Mr. Hannity waited until the end to ask her the big question: Does that mean she’s gearing up for 2016 and a presidential run?
“I’m not taking anything off the table but ... that’s not the No. 1 item I’m looking at right now,” said Bachmann. “I’m in the game for the long haul.”
So, buck up, James Carville. Last week the raging Cajun Democratic consultant expressed remorse that Bachmann was leaving the national stage, calling it a “sad day.” Her inflammatory and sometimes inaccurate comments have in the past made her a favorite foil for left-leaning pundits.
And sorry about that, Karl Rove. The longtime Republican political operative has been dismissive of Bachmann in the past for the same reasons that Mr. Carville embraced her. Earlier this week, Mr. Rove told ABC News host George Stephanopoulos that her impending retirement would make it easier for Republicans to hold her Minnesota seat, and complained that she “did nothing” in her positions as Tea Party Caucus chairman.
“Now the position has opened, someone next year will accept the chairmanship of it. And they may do something with it,” Rove said.
The fallout from Michelle Obama’s heckling incident continued Thursday, as some defenders of the first lady charge that the heckler used coded racial language, and in general spoke from a perspective of “white privilege.”
These folks point to a comment protester Ellen Sturtz made after she interrupted the first lady during a fundraiser and challenged President Obama to fulfill a campaign promise and sign an order banning federal contractors from discriminating against gays and lesbians.
Rather than speak over Ms. Sturtz, Mrs. Obama left the podium and confronted the heckler in person, saying she’d leave if the heckling didn’t stop.
“She came right down in my face. I was taken aback,” said Sturtz after the incident.
What, did Sturtz think the first lady was just going to let the interruption go on, or hand her the mike?
Sturtz’s description of the encounter was a “breathtaking bit of projection and entitlement that also tiptoed dangerously close to the ‘angry black woman’ stereotype that Mrs. Obama has been dogged by for years,” writes Anna Holmes, founding editor of the feminist blog “Jezebel,” in a Time Magazine column.
Over at “Mediaite,” columnist Tommy Christopher writes that Sturtz and her supporters have taken lots of heat for “their perceived sense that interrupting Michelle Obama is not only something they’re entitled to do, but that Mrs. Obama somehow should have welcomed. The source of that sense of entitlement, the theory goes, is white privilege.”
And at “Black Enterprise,” columnist Janell Hazelwood writes that “In 2014, that tired prevalent notion that any time a black woman speaks up – and it’s not to coddle, coo or sweet talk – she’s ‘angry’ or ‘aggressive’ is getting old.”
Ouch. We’ll echo Mr. Christopher here and say that it’s also possible that Ellen Sturtz was simply an inept protester. She picked one of the most popular women in the world to interrupt. Also, a woman who’s been viciously attacked by extremist critics in racial terms in the past, and who supports gay rights generally.
Did GetEQUAL consider that might not end well?
“We value the first lady’s leadership and invite her to lead the charge within the Democratic Party to end employment discrimination,” said the group in a press release following the incident.
And might some of the charges of implicit racism be something of an overreaction?
Sturtz might have been taken aback by the first lady’s aggressive criticism because President Obama, like many experienced public speakers, takes a more relaxed approach with hecklers. He often plays along lest he be seen as overbearing, while waiting for security to arrive. That’s the technique the president used with Code Pink activist Medea Benjamin when she interrupted his speech at the National Defense University on May 23.
“Like it or not, Michelle Obama’s reaction to Sturtz was a Michelle moment, not a stereotypical black woman’s touchiness or a South Side time-out,” writes contributing editor Helena Andrews at “The Root,” a blog of African-American culture.
Samantha Power has the kind of credentials and contacts that spark envy among Washington peers. She’s a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, confidant to President Obama, and a well-known global human rights crusader. Ms. Power is also married to Cass Sunstein, the president’s former White House regulations czar, making her one half of a legal power couple.
But the Harvard Law graduate, nominated by Mr. Obama yesterday to be the next UN ambassador, is about to experience the greatest initiation of all into capital city culture – the congressional confirmation process. And given the coverage spawned by the Rose Garden announcement of Power’s appointment, it could be a doozy.
Conservative headlines and blogs are blaring Power’s biggest verbal gaffes and political missteps:
“Samantha Power’s Five Worst Statements,” crows The Washington Free Beacon, a right-wing website.
On Townhall.com: “A Look at Obama's New UN Ambassador: Radical Samantha Power.”
“Samantha Power’s promotion to U.N. ambassador is a major disappointment,” writes Richard Grenell on Foxnews.com.
“In a position of power and proximity to the president of the United States, from which she could meaningfully act against any unfolding injustice, Power was largely silent and completely ineffective,” Mr. Grenell, a former spokesman for Bush-era UN Ambassador John Bolton, among others, says of Power’s White House work on the human-rights crisis in Sudan. “The NGO community was left wondering which Samantha Power was getting to speak inside the Oval Office.”
During the confirmation process, Republicans are gunning these days for anyone whose weaknesses can be targeted in an attempt to, by extension, knock an already beleaguered White House.
Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel took a beating from his former Republican colleagues during his hearings to become Obama’s secretary of Defense. Mr. Hagel was, of course, ultimately successful, but he appeared weary and beaten down by the end of the process.
Power is no shrinking violet – and that’s sometimes gotten her into trouble. As an Obama loyalist during the bitter 2008 Democratic primary campaign, she famously called then-rival Hillary Rodham Clinton “a monster.” Power stepped down from her post with the campaign and apologized.
But, more importantly in the context of her UN assignment, she’s also made waves on the foreign-policy front.
In a well-circulated interview at the University of California at Berkeley more than a decade ago, Power said there are human-rights abuses occurring in Israel and that the US might need to intervene militarily. The remarks have prompted criticism of her as anti-Israel. She has struggled to walk back the comments, wooing influential pro-Israel rabbis, authors, and activists. It’s unlikely she’ll make it through the hearing without having to clarify her intentions where Israel is concerned.
Power has also slammed UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for not doing more to address genocide in Darfur. And in a 2003 New Republic piece, she urged a general policy of apology for the nation’s past foreign policy missteps:
“A country has to look back before it can move forward. Instituting a doctrine of the mea culpa would enhance our credibility by showing that American decision-makers do not endorse the sins of their predecessors.”
Or maybe all the brewing conservative outrage could amount to a whole lot of nothing. Perhaps in the wake of the 2012 presidential contest, which produced an overwhelming gender gap that favored the president, the GOP has considered the optics of going after Power after effectively blocking another woman, Susan Rice, in her quest to be secretary of State. Alongside Power, Rice was, of course, elevated yesterday to national security adviser, a post that does not require the Senate’s affirmation.
Already a leading Republican voice against the Hagel and Rice confirmations has weighed in for Power.
In the wake of Obama’s announcement, Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona issued his support, sending a signal to his cohorts that hers is likely no Hagel or Rice situation. The Israel questions will come, no doubt, but Power’s answers aren’t expected to derail the move to New York.
"I support President Obama's nomination of Samantha Power to become the next US ambassador to the United Nation," Senator McCain said in a statement. "I believe she is well qualified for this important position and hope the Senate will move forward on her nomination as soon as possible."
The Obama administration is secretly collecting all telephone records of Verizon business customers under a sweeping classified court order, according to government documents leaked to Britain’s Guardian newspaper.
This order may be just the tip of the US data-mining iceberg. Given the wide-ranging nature of the Verizon request, the US government probably has filed similar orders with AT&T and other communications firms, say national-security experts.
It’s important to note that this does not constitute wiretapping per se. The Federal Bureau of Investigation isn’t asking for the recorded contents of conversations. Instead, it is gathering phone number logs, call duration time, geographic location, and related communications “metadata,” as allowed under a controversial section of the Patriot Act.
“On its face, the order reprinted in the article does not allow the government to listen in on anyone’s telephone calls,” says an administration official quoted by the Associated Press.
But the indiscriminate nature of the request has startled many privacy experts and raises the question, why? What sort of investigation is the United States pursuing here?
“Was the motivation behind collecting these telephone records a current national-security threat? Or was it something like building a database – to be able to pursue future threats?” asks NBC’s First Read blog Thursday morning.
One possible answer is that it’s related to a cybersecurity probe.
“My extremely [wild] guess is that this is part of a hacking investigation, possibly even the alleged Iranian hacking of power companies in the US,” writes national-security expert Marcy Wheeler on her Emptywheel blog.
She bases her guess on the fact that the Verizon business-oriented enterprise targeted by the disclosed court order emphasizes cybersecurity when selling to customers, and that energy consumers are one of the enterprise's market strengths. At least one of its marketing case studies focuses on “Smart Grids,” power networks that use communication technology to run more efficiently – and that may be vulnerable to hacker sabotage.
“Precisely the kind of thing the government is most freaked out about right now,” Ms. Wheeler writes.
It’s also possible the court order is related to the Boston Marathon bombing investigation. It covers a period of time that began on the day of the bombing and ends in mid-July.
But if that’s the case, why does the court order cast such a wide net? It covers all Verizon business telephone metadata created in the US.
“[H]ow is it possible that all calls to, say, Dominos Pizza in Peoria, Illinois or all calls over a three-month period between two small businesses in Juno, Alaska would be ‘relevant’ to an investigation of events in Boston – even if we assume that the FBI did not know whom it was investigating in the Boston area and did not know whom that unknown person was communicating with?” writes Benjamin Wittes, senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, on the Lawfare national-security legal blog.
Mr. Wittes writes that the only explanation he can think of is that there are ways of analyzing big data sets with algorithms that produce lots of interesting things – but only if the data set has all possibly relevant material. That way it’s sure to include any communications by the bombers.
“The trouble is that if that constitutes relevance for purposes of [Patriot Act] Section 215 – or for purposes of grand jury subpoena, for that matter – then isn’t all data relevant to all investigations?” Wittes writes.
That’s the implication here that troubles privacy experts the most. It’s possible that this shows the FBI, via National Security Agency collection and analysis abilities, has begun vast data-mine efforts.
“As such, it would seem to exceed any reasonable presumption of what the consent of the governed would allow,” writes Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy, on Secrecy News.
Michelle Obama threatened to walk out of a Washington fundraiser Tuesday night after a heckler interrupted her speech.
It was a rare moment of unscripted anger from a first lady who has generally avoided direct political confrontation and has approval ratings higher than those of her husband.
“Heckling at fund-raisers is a fairly common practice, but it’s almost always directed at the president, which is why Michelle Obama must have been somewhat taken aback,” writes Adam Martin in New York Magazine’s Daily Intelligencer.
The incident occurred as Mrs. Obama was speaking at a Democratic National Committee event in a private home in Washington’s posh Kalorama neighborhood. She was already wound up, speaking urgently, even pointedly, about the children at a high school in a tough neighborhood of Chicago that she had recently visited.
“Right now, today, we have an obligation to stand up for those kids,” she said.
Then Ellen Sturtz, an activist from the gay rights group GetEQUAL, began yelling for President Obama to sign an executive order to protect gays and lesbians working for federal contractors from employment discrimination.
Mr. Obama promised to sign such an order as a candidate in 2008, but has yet to do so, pointed out GetEQUAL in a press release following the incident.
Still, the first lady was not pleased about the interruption.
“One of the things I don’t do well is this, do you understand?” Mrs. Obama said.
According to audio recordings of the event, she then threatened to leave if the heckler didn’t stop. The crowd was behind the first lady for the most part, chanting “stay!”
A media pool report quoted Mrs. Obama as saying to Ms. Sturtz, “Listen to me or you can take the mike, but I’m leaving. You all decide. You have one choice.”
(This bit got left out of the official White House transcript of the event, though.)
The heckler – who had bought a ticket to the fundraiser and was thus entitled to attend – was then escorted from the room. Mrs. Obama stayed and finished her speech.
What can we tell from this? For one thing, for all her ease on “Ellen” and other shows, Mrs. Obama still has stuff to learn about public speaking.
Anger is much less effective than humor or a sort of rope-a-dope flexibility. Mr. Obama showed this in his May 23 speech on counterterrorism at the National Defense University. He was interrupted by Code Pink activist Medea Benjamin, whom he engaged in a bit of back-and-forth before saying, “This is part of free speech, is you being able to speak but also you listening and me being able to speak.”
He got applause for that. Of course, it was easy for him be relaxed: He was on a secure Defense Department installation.
Mrs. Obama might just have been channeling her inner parent. She sounded a bit like someone speaking to a teenager who’s neglected homework to watch “Arrested Development.” Perhaps this is why Sasha and Malia seem so well behaved.
And she has given some ammunition to critics who consider her a food scold and too nannylike. Some conservatives complain about Mrs. Obama’s push for kids to eat more vegetables and so on as an intrusion into parental prerogatives. Critics were quick to point out that the White House did not include most of Mrs. Obama’s response Tuesday night in its transcript. Coverup, anyone?
Maybe. It’s also possible it wasn’t included because she left the stage during the incident and it wasn’t recorded on the official mike.
Finally, we’ll note that this is not the first time the first lady has encountered audience animosity. She and second lady Jill Biden were booed at a NASCAR race in Florida in November 2011.
Mrs. Obama’s experience was mild compared to what Lady Bird Johnson went through in the fall of 1964 when she campaigned in the South for her husband. LBJ had just signed the Civil Rights Act, and many white Southerners were incensed. In Richmond, Va., Mrs. Johnson was greeted by a banner that read, “Fly Away Lady Bird.”
But she pressed on, giving 47 speeches to a total of half a million people.
“I am aware that there are those who would exploit [the South’s] past troubles to their own advantage," she said on Oct. 9, 1964, in New Orleans. "But I do not believe the majority of the South wants any part of the old bitterness.”
The theme for the IRS Small Business/Self-Employed Division meeting in question was “Leading into the Future,” so agency officials thought it was apropos to write a 6-minute scripted presentation that featured division leaders acting in a “tax-themed parody,” the inspector general audit said. The video was filmed on a mock set of the Starship Enterprise constructed at the agency’s New Carrollton, Md., audio-vision studio.
“Employees purchased the costumes using personal funds,” the IG report concluded.
Look, we’re reporting this as straight as we can, all right? So don’t go making jokes about going boldly where no deduction has gone before, or setting tax tables to “stun.”
The actual video featured a voyage to the planet NoTax, where “chaos rules over order,” according to the script. There’s also exploration of off-planet tax shelters.
The Small Business/Self-Employed Division did not break out the cost of making this epic, per se. But the IG figured that it took about 62 hours of staff time, at a total cost of $3,100. The set cost $2,400.
(By way of comparison, the latest installment in the actual movie series, “Star Trek: Into Darkness,” cost about $190 million. But it was longer.)
“No documentation was maintained to track any costs associated with the development of the other production costs, such as script development, makeup, lighting, and videotaping,” according to the IG report.
The division spent a total of about $50,000 on videos for the conference, which paid for the “Star Trek” effort and a 3 minute “SB/SE Shuffle” flick, which featured 15 executives and managers dancing on stage.
This was cheap at the price if you consider how much the IRS spent on speakers for the same meeting: $135,500.
Of this, $17,000 went to a keynote speaker who used painting to demonstrate “his message of unlearning the rules, breaking the boundaries, and freeing the thought process to find creative solutions to challenges,” according to the IRS contract for the appearance.
No Spock? No Captain Kirk? Looks like somebody missed an opportunity for entertainment synergy.
In total the IRS spent $4.1 million on this single 2010 conference, which included luxury suites for some officials and gifts for many of the 2,600 attendees.