At the time, my then colleague (and current business partner) Mark Fabiani and I were working at the White House as lawyers in the counsel’s office and began to receive calls from mainstream media outlets asking us to respond to various bizarre items related to the late Vince Foster, a fellow White House lawyer who had tragically taken his own life in the summer of 1993. At first, we ignored the calls, as there was nothing to the story beyond the terrible loss of one of the president and first lady’s friends. However, as the calls continued without letup, and the nature of the questions became even more bizarre—to the point where we were asked to comment on alleged eyewitness sightings of Foster—we knew we had to get to the heart of the matter and began asking the reporters the basis for their questions.
All roads led to a mysterious source—the newly exploding Internet.
One Saturday morning in the midst of an oppressively hot D.C. summer weekend, Mark and I found ourselves squirreled away in a stuffy room on the fourth floor of the Old Executive Office Building, where there was a bank of computers from which you could access the “World Wide Web.” Remember—this was the pre-Blackberry, pre-Google, dial-up world of 1995, when only around 10 percent of the public had Internet access and the White House had just barely launched its own web page.
Eight hours later, we emerged from our warren of cubicles having seemingly been transported to a parallel universe. Online we found early versions of chat rooms, postings and other information showing there was an entire cottage industry devoted to discussing conspiracy theories relating to Foster’s death, including numerous online reports of people claiming to have seen him. Those reports would be picked up by so-called news sources that most Americans at the time had never heard of—conservative outlets such as Eagle Publishing’s Human Events or Richard Mellon Scaife’s the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. From there, the story would migrate to right-leaning outlets we were familiar with, such as the New York Post, the Washington Times and the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal—all before eventually ending up in the mainstream press.
What we learned in those eight hours became the basis for our 332-page report, written so that those of us in Clinton White House responsible for fielding questions about these bizarre rumors could apprise mainstream reporters of what we called the “media food chain”—basically, so that we could show them how such a wacky conspiracy theory like the supposed murder of Vince Foster had even become a news “story” at all. We would simply hand the memo to the reporter asking questions, tell him to review it and to come back to us with any remaining questions. Few did.
But we also realized that this was just the beginning. Like the scene in Bugsy where Warren Beatty, playing the mobster Bugsy Siegel, arrives in the Nevada desert and the sees the future of gambling (modern Las Vegas), those eight hours in the White House computer room were our eureka moment about the future of media and politics. We saw the transition from an electorate that passively consumed the information put before it (a joke at the time was that a political rally was a family watching a political commercial on television) to an electorate that could use technology to actively engage in the creation, distribution and self-selection of information.
(Of course, had we been just a little more business-savvy, we would have immediately relocated to Silicon Valley instead of writing that report.)
According to documents tabled in the House of Commons, Flaherty’s office billed taxpayers nearly $130 for Maybelline, Cover Girl and Smashbox makeup to ensure Flaherty looks his best when selling his financial plans to Canadians.
The document, signed off by Flaherty’s parliamentary secretary Shelly Glover, says the finance minister’s staff had to scramble at the last minute to buy makeup for Flaherty in November 2008.
“Please note that the cosmetics were purchased on the day of the 2008 Economic and Fiscal Statement (November 27, 2008) to prepare the Minister of Finance for the numerous television interviews conducted with media outlets from across Canada,” the department wrote. “This was necessitated as the cosmetician arranged to provide the service had abruptly cancelled that day, requiring that it be done by the Minister’s office staff.”
“The cosmetics purchased were subsequently used by ministerial staff to prepare the Minister, when required, for television interviews in 2008 and the years following.”
Finance spent $119.15 on cosmetics and $9.99 on beauty supplies. Among the products on the shopping list were Cover Girl loose powder, Maybelline loose powder, Maybelline concealer, Maybelline “Min Blush”, Maybelline LMU, Smashbox concealer, cosmetic wedges, a powder brush, a foundation brush and SBM Top Zip Shave.
Flaherty’s office was the only minister’s office to report charging makeup, hair or beauty supplies to taxpayers, in response to an order paper question posed by Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis.
I am sure that many politicians use makeup but you don’t submit the expenses because at the end of the day, stories like this come out and they tend to stick. Someone, anyone in his political office should have looked at this expense report and burned it and given the bill back to Flaherty and clicked in their that boss is the one that preaches austerity and cuts programs and jobs for thousands of programs. This kind of reminds of me of John Edwards $400 haircuts or Clinton’s haircut on Air Force One on the tarmac of LAX.
Politics is a contest, limited by certain unwritten rules. And over the past two decades, old rules have broken down.
Under the old rules, there were certain things that political parties did not do — even though theoretically they could. If one party controlled the Senate and another party controlled the presidency, the Senate party did not reject all the president’s nominees. The party that controlled the House did not refuse to schedule votes on the president’s budgets. Individual senators did not use secret holds to sway national policy. The filibuster was reserved for rare circumstances — not as a routine 60-vote requirement on every Senate vote.
It’s incredible to look back now on how the Reagan tax cut passed the Democratic House in 1981. The Democratic House leaderships could have refused to schedule votes on Reagan’s tax plans. Instead, they not only allowed the tax plan to proceed — but they allowed 48 of 243 Democrats to break ranks on the key procedural vote without negative consequences to their careers in the Democratic party. (Rep. Dan Glickman of Kansas, for example, who voted for the tax cuts would rise to become Secretary of Agriculture under President Clinton.)
Mr. Rae is touring the country and consulting what political types like to call the grassroots, though Alykhan Velshi, a former aide to Conservative Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, astutely calls them the grasstops. The grasstops are the riding executives, policy wonks, activists and other need-to-get-a-life types who make up the infrastructure of a political party. They’re not the grassroots. You’re the grassroots, and you wouldn’t be caught dead at a Liberal (or Conservative or NDP) barbecue.
Many grasstops belong to one or more of the special interests that weigh down the Liberal Party. The youth commission, the seniors commission, the aboriginal commission, the women’s commission. You can’t swing a dead cat in that party without hitting a commission.
Toss them all out, party executive, and toss yourselves out while you’re at it. But before you go, put forward this proposal for the January convention. Have the next leader chosen through a series of primary contests across the country, in which any Canadian who wants to can cast a ballot.
Right now, the Liberal leader is directly chosen by party members. But it costs money to join and who would want to? People who belong to political parties aren’t entirely normal.
In the United States, you have to register to vote. Everyone who registers as a Democrat or a Republican has a say in that party’s leadership contest through the primaries and caucuses.
This weakens the party elite because outsiders such as Barack Obama (or Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan or Jimmy Carter) can do an end run around the establishment by appealing directly to voters. Because the weaker a party gets, the more powerful its few surviving poobahs become; a strong party will have a broad base and a weak elite, the very opposite of today’s Liberal Party.
Renewal could come for the Liberals if a leadership contest galvanized hundreds of thousands of people to, say, take out a free one-day party membership so they could vote in the New Brunswick primary, which everyone would be watching because the Northern Ontario primary the week before had vaulted an unknown but charismatic minority candidate into the front ranks of the contest.
2. CASH FOR STARTUPS
If you start a business tomorrow, I can give you all the tax credits in the world, but since you haven’t made a nickel yet, they’re of no use to you. President Obama came in with a really good energy policy, including an idea to provide both a tax credit for new green jobs and for startup companies, to allow the conversion of the tax credit into its cash equivalent for every employee hired. Then last December, in the tax-cut compromise, the Republicans in Congress wouldn’t agree to extend this benefit because they said, “This is a spending program, not a tax cut. We’re only for tax cuts.” It was a mistake. The cash incentive worked. On the day President Obama took office, the U.S. had less than 2 percent of the world market in manufacturing the high-powered batteries for hybrid or all-electric cars. On the day of the congressional elections in 2010, thanks in large part to the cash—incentive policy, we had 20 percent of global capacity, with 30 new battery plants built or under construction, 16 of them in Michigan, which had America’s second—highest unemployment rate. We have to convince the Republican Congress that this is a good thing. If this incentive structure can be maintained, it’s estimated that by 2015 we’ll have 40 percent of the world’s capacity for these batteries. We could get lots of manufacturing jobs in the same way. I could write about this until the cows come home.
3. JOBS GALORE IN ENERGY
When I was president, the economy benefited because information technology penetrated every aspect of American life. More than one quarter of our job growth and one third of our income growth came from that. Now the obvious candidate for that role today is changing the way we produce and use energy. The U.S. didn’t ratify the Kyoto accords, of course, because Al Gore and I left office, and the next government wasn’t for it. They were all wrong. Before the financial meltdown, the four countries that will meet their Kyoto greenhouse-gas emission targets were outperforming America with lower unemployment, more new business formation, and less income inequality.
4. COPY THE EMPIRE STATE BUILDING
Just look at the Empire State Building—I can see it from my office window. Our climate-change people worked on their retrofit project. They cleared off a whole floor for a small factory to change the heating and air conditioning, put in new lighting and insulation, and cut energy-efficient glass for the windows. Johnson Controls, the energy-service company overseeing the project, guaranteed the building owners their electricity usage would go down 38 percent—a massive saving, which will enable the costs of the retrofits to be recovered through lower utility bills in less than five years. Meanwhile, the project created hundreds of jobs and cut greenhouse-gas emissions substantially. We could put a million people to work retrofitting buildings all over America.
So many of these ideas could be implemented in Canada (and Saskatchewan) that it would make your head spin. Of course Canada would actually need an energy and environmental policy framework that was based on reality.
He compares it to the Mexican financial crisis in 1995
The year 2010 is the 15th anniversary of the Mexican peso crisis — the financial crisis in Mexico. And Bob Rubin said, you know, Mexico’s got two hours to live and if we don’t give them a loan guarantee, they’re going to go belly-up tomorrow.
The leadership of the Republican and Democratic parties had previously promised to support me in Congress. But they came and said, we can’t deliver any votes because there had been a poll in the paper that morning which said that by 79 to 18, the American people were against — strongly against — my giving financial assistance to Mexico.
And so they came in and we had a little debate. Bob Rubin made the case. Somebody made the arguments against it. I said, this is not close. Give them the loan.
And all the younger people there in the room literally thought I should be given immediate psychiatric care. They said, look, we just lost the majority in the Congress after the mid-term elections.
You just got your brains beat out once. Now you’re doing something that 79% of the people are against. Are you out of your mind?
I said, okay, let’s not do it. Let’s tell him, sorry.
Then, a year from now when Mexico is still reeling, when people have been hurt south of Mexico, when we have another million illegal immigrants, when there are more narcotics coming across the border, when every Mexican hates our guts because they think we’re greedy and selfish and uncaring about our neighbors, people in the United States will ask me what in the daylights are you doing letting this mess develop.
And my answer is going to be, well, on the day I could have stopped it, there was a poll saying 79% of you were against it? And it quieted all the opposition.
We spent an early Christmas dinner with the Reimers and Kristy before the the Reimers head south to California for Christmas with their kids. It’s our family Christmas dinner and it is a really nice evening.
The food is always good and during dinner I was having my second helping of a bean and mushroom casserole when I realized that this was almost every food I hated as a kid. Jerry quipped that my mom should have just combined everything today and then I would like it. I am not sure if scalloped potatoes would have made the casserole any better.
After dinner we went downstairs, sat around the fire and exchanged Christmas gifts.
Gloria is quite easy to shop for as she is someone who likes to read widely. This is the first year we didn’t give her a book but rather we gave both Jerry and Gloria a mini DV camera so they could take some video of their trip and hopefully post it to YouTube. On top of the camera we found a rather excellent camera bag at XS Cargo which we tossed in some batteries and a tripod. Gloria is an Apple person and it instantly recognized both the internal memory and the 2 gig memory card in the camera. Wendy and I are rather particular about camera bags and were quite thrilled with the one that we found. Of course I didn’t do PC people proud when it took me about 5 minutes to get the batteries in correctly to the camera, the + and – on the batteries is apparently a little too complex for me. Maybe I am a Mac after all.
We also gave Gloria a fondue set. It actually has a Lazy Susan built into it because we all know how tiring eating fondue can be. Jerry can be a lot harder to shop for but over the may long weekend, I read Liar’s Poker and I knew right then that it would be perfect for Jerry. Just giving it to Jerry last night I realized that I should read it again.
We gave Kristy a lap desk and some external speakers for her new laptop computer. Of course it wasn’t the ideal gift as an ideal gift for Kristy would have been a lap desk with a personal heater built into it.
Kristy surprised both Mark and Oliver with some Calgary Flames gear. Some Flames pajamas for Ollie and a Flames shirt for Mark. She gave me a wonderful time wasting book, while she got Wendy a sweater along with a gift certificate for a photo shoot. I was given a gift card in my love language, Starbucks.
I was tossed into turmoil when the Reimers gave me The Clinton Tapes for Christmas. They knew I spend my summer vacation reading The Kennedys by Peter Collier at the cabin. I had planned to read a substantial book on each presidency each holiday at the lake but now I am torn. Do I wait until we return to the lake in April to read it or read it over Christmas and then maybe read Conrad Black’s biography on Nixon this spring. Decisions, decisions, decisions.
Wendy was tossed into turmoil when the Reimers gave her a birthday gift that she can’t open till Christmas. It’s Wendy’s 40th birthday next week and we celebrated last night. I actually gave her gift to her a little early. I blame Darren Friesen for this outlay in gifts as he got an iPod for his 40th and Wendy has never let me forget it. She was also given an anti-aging kit (Mark and I have been biting our tongues all day over that one), and a Josh Groban Christmas CD.
Mark was given a Halo Mega Bloks tank kit. He was a little excited by it as at 7:00 a.m. this morning he was waking us up to see if we could help him find a piece. I am sure Bill Cosby would have handles this differently but we just him back downstairs.
I am sure Wendy will have some thoughts on the evening later but for right now, she is chasing Oliver through the house.
Well next up on the Christmas agenda is the Salvation Army Christmas Dinner. Mark and I are helping serve 1000 people in three settings tonight at White Buffalo Youth Lodge. I am bringing my camera and will post some photos later tonight.
For some reason, super-strivers have a need to sell what is secretly weakest about themselves, as if they yearn for unmasking. Edwards’s decency and concern for the weak in society — except for his own wife. Bill Clinton’s intellect and love of community — except for his stupidity and destructiveness about Monica. Bush the Younger’s jocular, I’m-in-charge self-confidence — except for turning over his presidency, as no president ever has, to his Veep. Eliot Spitzer’s crusade for truth, justice and the American way — except at home.