Opening Day Jitters
When the White House was planning President Barack Obama's appearance at Nationals Stadium to throw out the first pitch of the 2010 baseball season, it was so concerned that he would be jeered that it inquired whether the Nats' PR team would be willing to pipe in applause or cheering over the stadium's sound system. But when it became clear that the sound effects would be too noticeable to the media in attendance, it spiked the plan.
In late March, the mainstream media made much of the fact that the Obama Administration and its Homeland Security Administration were essentially ending long-held profiling policies at airport security check points and other secure entry points, and instead using broader criteria to identify potential terrorist or criminal threats coming into or exiting the United States.
But the Obama Administration has for some time been attempting to create the impression among Muslim organizations that it is not targeting Muslims for greater attention at travel security points. For example, HSA officials quietly have targeted non-Muslim Lebanese citizens for closer scrutiny by the Transportation Security Administration.
"Last fall we met with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and let them know that we were expanding our reviews," says a Homeland Security staffer. "We were able to show that we had increased review of non-Muslim Middle Eastern and African residents, and highlighted the Maronite Christians from Lebanon we had been scrutinizing."
Maronite Christians belong to one of the eastern rites that remain in accord with the Roman Catholic Church. For centuries they were persecuted in the Middle East. CAIR is the leftist and radical apologist organization for Muslims that the Obama Administration has been working with to improve U.S.-Islamic relations in the U.S.
In the past, the United States has supported Maronite Christians, who have traditionally been pro-American in a country that has for decades been a hotbed for Syrian-backed terrorists and Muslim extremists. "It's more important that we be showing the Muslim community that we aren't just targeting them as potential threats," says the Homeland Security political appointee. "If we upset some other sensibilities, so be it."
Big Box Is Watching You
Buried in the Federal Communications Commission's National Broadband Plan was a proposal to mandate that all cable TV set-top boxes be "open" to all content, regardless of whether it's on a broadcast channel, a website, or some other content distributor. On the face of it, the suggestion seems harmless, and given the way people consume entertainment, might even be helpful to consumers who watch shows online and not over traditional cable television systems.
But FCC staffers say another byproduct of the plan would enable the federal government to have easier access to those set-top boxes due to the "open" nature of the systems.
"This goes to the legislation that would allow the president to declare a national emergency and control the Internet and broadband networks if he so chose," says a Senate Commerce Committee staffer. "I suppose if the government wanted to have access at other times, for other reasons, to a person's set-top box, to maybe determine what they are watching or to block content, that the government could do that."
Under the proposal, all set-top boxes would have a "gateway" that would be open to all content, including giving the government access to either provide content of its own, or under certain circumstances, perhaps access the set-top box. "There are huge privacy issues, obviously," says the Senate staffer. "But this administration hasn't shown much interest in those issues thus far."
Adding to the concern for privacy is the fact that a former senior Google executive, Andrew McLaughlin, who currently serves as the deputy chief technology officer in the White House, and who advises President Obama on Internet policy, is perceived to be pressing policy initiatives favorable to his former employer.
Recently, it was revealed that McLaughlin had been making efforts to hide his extensive Google contact lists from public view after they were accidentally made public online. Since then, the White House has been blocking requests for McLaughlin to reveal who he has been communicating with at his former place of work.
Google is one of the few companies that would profit from the FCC proposal for an "open" set-top box, due to its ownership of such video sites as YouTube.
With it clear that President Obama will have at least one more Supreme Court nomination to make, possibly before the 2010 election cycle kicks in, Republicans in the Senate are attempting to measure just how successful politically a long-term fight over that nomination would be for them.
"With health care already in the can and ready to go, a judicial fight might be what we need to align all of the grassroots for the election cycle," says a Republican Senate Judiciary committee staffer.
The nomination fight, believed to be over the replacement for Justice John Paul Stevens, would become more important for the 2010 cycle if the economy continues to improve, if only incrementally. "An improved economy, even if this administration had nothing to do with it, helps Democrats," says a staffer for Republican Senate leadership. "We need our base continually energized, so a fight over judges is a good one to have heading into next fall."
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is viewed by many conservatives as a more attractive candidate than GOP presidential retread and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, but the man from Minnesota underwhelmed at his appearance at the Susan B. Anthony List annual gala in Washington on March 24. His speech, while heavy on introducing himself to an audience perhaps unfamiliar with him, also made it clear he knew almost nothing about the group he was speaking before. "The one advantage he has is that his name's not Mitt, that may be good enough for me," said one attendee.
While Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele may think he's put his scandal-ridden leadership of the party back on track with the firing of chief of staff Ken McKay, it isn't stopping reporters from talking to RNC staff about Steele's actions over the past year that he's been most active as the head of the party. Staff at the Federal Election Commission, which houses the quarterly financial statements of candidates and the parties, report that they have been dealing with more requests for information about the RNC quarterly filings than usual, particularly for an off election year.