Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Curious Case Chosen By Joe Lieberman

The style book says elected politicians be identified by abbreviations of their political party and state after their names which is why I find it rather amusing that Sen. Joe Lieberman is (I-Conn).

That Lieberman is conning progressive Democrats is paramount in their frustration directed at the man selected as their party's vice presidential candidate in 2000. They overlooked a quirk in Lieberman's cover-all-bases political style because he simultaneously ran for reelection of his senate seat that same election. And won. When Lieberman lost his senate nomination bid in the 2006 Democratic primary, no problem. He won the general as an independent. With zero seniority, the Democratic leadership awarded him chairmanship of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

We now refer you to an article in The New Yorker written in 2006 about Lieberman's switch to an independent candidate.

Now, in the heat of the health reform debate, Lieberman befuddled his leadership by saying he would join Republicans in a filibuster because he opposes the public option as now written.

Not to worry, countered Alfred E. Neuman (aka) Harry Reid, the senate majority leader, who opined Joe is the least of his worries. Said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Ia.) “I do not believe that Joe Lieberman would want to be the one person who caucuses with the Democrats … to bring this bill down. I don’t think he wants to go down in history like that,” he said, noting that he got to keep his gavel “because of the indulgence of the Democratic Caucus.”

For sheer annoyance of Lieberman's role, we refer you now to this column in Slate.

That was tame compared to Lincoln Mitchell's sour grapes article in the Huffington Post.

The last straw for liberals in the media was when Lieberman told ABC News he probably would be supporting some Republicans in the 2010 midterm elections. "I’m going to call them as I see them,” he said, adding that “sometimes, the better choice is not somebody who’s not a Democrat.”

Double negative or not, Lieberman doesn't carry much weight in my mind. He backed John McCain for president and addressed the Republican National Convention. Lot of good that did.

Critics complain Lieberman is a pawn of the insurance industry which employs 60,000 or more people in his home state of Connecticut. Published reports say the $2.6 million he received from the insurance lobbies since 1989, ranks 10th among contributions to senators. Chris Dodd, his fellow senator from the nutmeg state has received the most but critics worry Lieberman will strip Dodd's title as Sen. Aetna since the former is a strong proponent of the public option.

You owe us, party leaders have said. Screw you, Lieberman might as well responded.

I don't discern Joe Lieberman as an enigma. He's a hawk on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a faithful supporter of Israel, and until the health reform snag on the public option, a dove and reliable advocate for domestic social issues the Democratic Party endorses while at the same time swearing he's a fiscal conservative.

Thing is, Joe is not a Democrat any longer. He's in it for himself. The conjecture he will split and join the Republican Party is total nonsense because 1) it is entrenched as the minority party and 2) he could unlikely be elected as a Republican in his home state which is solid blue.

Long gone is Lieberman's reputation as a voice of reason which he earned during the late 1990s when President Clinton was impeached. Essentially, Lieberman said Clinton was a jerk and desecrated the Oval Office in the Monica Lewinsky farce but refused to support the House findings when the senate voted on the matter and exonerated the president.

Progressives have grown to hate Lieberman because they cannot rely on him in the close vote that will decide the fate of health reform in this session of Congress. They wish for him to be loyal and appreciative for being installed as chairman of a senate committee.

As a result, we see Lieberman joined by Democrats Ben Nelson, Blanche Lincoln, Mary Landrieu and Republican Olympia Snowe -- all minor players on the national scene -- as the major power brokers in the debate.

It's a role Lieberman cherishes. I'm not so sure about the others.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Ethics Probe of 33 Lawmakers A Yawner

The Washington Post breathlessly tells us today that 33 lawmakers are being investigated for questionable conduct that includes defense lobbying and corporate influence peddling.

Granted, this is a legitimate story in Washington. But for the rest of the nation, it most likely will produce a collective yawn. "What else is new?" they might ask.

The report was prepared in July. It was accidentally leaked by a junior staffer who used software from his home computer known as "peer-to-peer" technology. "(It) has previously caused inadvertent breaches of sensitive financial, defense-related and personal data from government and commercial networks," the Post reported.

The breach scared the crap out of House committee members. Zoe Lofgen (D-Calif.) , its chairperson, interrupted a series of House votes to alert lawmakers, cautioning that some of the activities are preliminary and not a conclusive sign of inappropriate behavior. "No inference should be made as to any member," she said.

Rep. Jo Bonner (Ala.), the committee's ranking Republican, said the breach was an isolated incident. Right. The junior staffer was fired.

The Post explained:

The ethics committee is one of the most secretive panels in Congress, and its members and staff members sign oaths not to disclose any activities related to its past or present investigations. Watchdog groups have accused the committee of not actively pursuing inquiries; the newly disclosed document indicates the panel is conducting far more investigations than it had revealed...

The 22-page "Committee on Standards Weekly Summary Report" gives brief summaries of ethics panel investigations of the conduct of 19 lawmakers and a few staff members. It also outlines the work of the new Office of Congressional Ethics, a quasi-independent body that initiates investigations and provides recommendations to the ethics committee. The document indicated that the office was reviewing the activities of 14 other lawmakers. Some were under review by both ethics bodies.

Most of the inquiries already have been made public.

Lawmakers named in the July report include House Ways and Means Chairman Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.); Rep. Maxine Waters, (D-Calif.) a high-ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee in addition to Reps, Murtha (D-Pa.), Moran (D-Va.), Visclosky (D-Ind.), Shuler (D-N.C.), Graves (R-Mo.), Harman (D-Calif.), Barton, (R-Tex.), Kaptur (D-Ohio),Young (R-Fla.), Tiahrt (R-Kan.), Nunes (R-Calif.) and Mack (R-Calif.).

I am suspect of any organization that investigates itself. It's all and well that the investigative process is kept secret. But the findings should be a matter of public record, not as they are now which are leaked or by exonerated lawmakers showing their "Get Out Of Jail" free card.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Take La La Land ... Please

If there was ever any doubt why California is known as la la land, I offer these stories ripped off the wires.

1) -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was heckled recently when he crashed a Democratic Party fund raiser, vetoed a bill authored by one of his hecklers and despite the fact the Legislature approved the measure unanimously. Here's the veto message. Now follow the first letter in each sentence. Here's the set up as compiled by the Wall Street Journal. In Left Coast politics, this passes as Hollywood humor. You be the judge.

2) -- Alex Kozinski is an insatiable jokester even sitting as the chief judge of the U.S. 9th District Court of Appeals. He sent emails to fellow jurists, law clerks, prominent attorneys and journalists that the Los Angeles Times described as silly to politically oriented to raunchy. The Judicial Council of the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals took no action. Kozinski was admonished earlier this year in a separate case for being "judicially imprudent" and "exhibiting poor judgment" by placing sexually explicit photos and videos on an Internet server that could be accessed by the public. Kozinski "apologized for any embarrassment to the federal judiciary," said his lawyer Mark Holscher. No lame Polish jokes, please.

3) -- Paparazzi are blamed for a rash of burglaries at homes of Hollywood celebrities. No, not the photogs, but groupies who see the pictures and read the stars' Twitters, Facebooks and blogsites. Blair Berk, a well-known Hollywood attorney who represents some of the victims, blamed the paparazzi for "creating a very real danger in terms of mentally ill stalkers and criminals," she said. Nonsense, says Frank Griffin, the veteran paparazzo and head of the Bauer-Griffin photo agency. "You have to blame somebody, and you can't blame the ones who stole, can you?" he said. "You have to blame the villain." Don't jump to conclusions, folks.

4) -- Los Angeles Police detectives arrested four teenagers in connection with burglaries at the homes of Paris Hilton, Orlando Bloom, Lindsay Lohan, Rachel Bilson and Audrina Patridge. The group studied television shows, celebrity magazines and websites picking out clothing and jewelry they wanted. Then they figured out where the celebrities lived and, after casing the homes, broke in and took what they wanted, detectives allege. "This is a no-brains caper. There's not a lot of self-awareness," LAPD Det. Brett Goodkin said. The Los Angeles Times interviewed students at Indian Hills High School where the teenagers attended. "I've heard them girls are rich now," said Alex Badolato, an 11th-grader. An administrator said one of the arrested teenagers was a "spectacular student" who had won scholarships. Them girls aren't the only ones making news.

5) -- An old white guy is on the 10 Most Wanted criminals list in the San Diego FBI office for robbing four banks since August. The geezer is described as white, 60 to 70 years old, about 5 feet 9 inches tall, weighing about 150 pounds, with a medium build and gray facial hair. He was wearing a gray tweed jacket, a dark shirt, dark pants with dark shoes and a black hat. Three cheers for the AARP candidate for its monthly publication "Modern Maturity."

6) -- Finally, The New York Times takes a lengthy look at the latest off-the-chart bill that would legalize marijuana -- not just for medicinal purposes but for everyone. We quote: "State lawmakers are holding a hearing on Wednesday on the effects of a bill that would legalize, tax and regulate the drug — in what would be the first such law in the United States. Tax officials estimate the legislation could bring the struggling state about $1.4 billion a year, and though the bill’s fate in the Legislature is uncertain, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has indicated he would be open to a “robust debate” on the issue." Said one San Francisco resident, “For a lot of people, it’s just another brand of beer.” Can't wait to read the governor's veto message on that one.

California may be broken, its teenagers and geezers taking the law in their own hands, its judges slipping dirty jokes to one another and the rest blowing smoke, but you have to admit, where else can one live on a daily diet of the absurd.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Expert Quits Afghan Mission And Rattles The Brass

For those of you who believe our mission in Afghanistan is a war of futility as I do then this article in today's Washington Post reaffirms that notion.

As you will learn, Matthew Hoh is no peacenik rabblerouser but a seasoned combat Marine, civil engineer and member of an elite Foreign Service team whose resignation shocked the top civilian foreign policy leaders in the Obama administration.

"I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States' presence in Afghanistan," he wrote Sept. 10 in a four-page letter to the department's head of personnel. "I have doubts and reservations about our current strategy and planned future strategy, but my resignation is based not upon how we are pursuing this war, but why and to what end."

The State Department thought so highly of Hoh that he was flown to Washington with a face-to face talk with Richard C. Holbrooke, the administration's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"We took his letter very seriously, because he was a good officer," Holbrooke said in an interview. "We all thought that given how serious his letter was, how much commitment there was, and his prior track record, we should pay close attention to him." While he did not share Hoh's view that the war "wasn't worth the fight, "Holbrooke said, "I agreed with much of his analysis."

He asked Hoh to join his team in Washington, saying that "if he really wanted to affect policy and help reduce the cost of the war on lives and treasure," why not be "inside the building, rather than outside, where you can get a lot of attention but you won't have the same political impact?" Hoh accepted the argument and the job, but changed his mind a week later. "I recognize the career implications, but it wasn't the right thing to do," he said in an interview Friday, two days after his resignation became final.

Many Afghans, he wrote in his resignation letter, are fighting the United States largely because its troops are there -- a growing military presence in villages and valleys where outsiders, including other Afghans, are not welcome and where the corrupt, U.S.-backed national government is rejected. While the Taliban is a malign presence, and Pakistan-based al-Qaeda needs to be confronted, he said, the United States is asking its troops to die in Afghanistan for what is essentially a far-off civil war between rural and urban rivals.

One of Hoh's last assignments was researching an answer for Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, asked during a visit last April. He wanted to know why the U.S. military was suffering casualties for years fighting in the Korengal Valley near the Pakistan border.

Hoh concluded that there was no good reason. The people of Korengal didn't want them; the insurgency appeared to have arrived in strength only after the Americans did, and the battle between the two forces had achieved only a bloody stalemate.

Korengal and other areas, he said, taught him "how localized the insurgency was. I didn't realize that a group in this valley here has no connection with an insurgent group two kilometers away." Hundreds, maybe thousands, of groups across Afghanistan, he decided, had few ideological ties to the Taliban but took its money to fight the foreign intruders and maintain their own local power bases.

Continues the Post article:

Hoh's doubts increased with Afghanistan's Aug. 20 presidential election, marked by low turnout and widespread fraud. He concluded, he said in his resignation letter, that the war "has violently and savagely pitted the urban, secular, educated and modern of Afghanistan against the rural, religious, illiterate and traditional. It is this latter group that composes and supports the Pashtun insurgency."

With "multiple, seemingly infinite, local groups," he wrote, the insurgency "is fed by what is perceived by the Pashtun people as a continued and sustained assault, going back centuries, on Pashtun land, culture, traditions and religion by internal and external enemies. The U.S. and NATO presence in Pashtun valleys and villages, as well as Afghan army and police units that are led and composed of non-Pashtun soldiers and police, provide an occupation force against which the insurgency is justified."

Hoh said the United States needs to reduce its combat troop level now at 68,000. "We want to have some kind of governance there, and we have some obligation for it not to be a bloodbath," Hoh said. "But you have to draw the line somewhere, and say this is their problem to solve."

On Monday, Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, told the Council on Foreign Relations that he is urging the administration to redefine its strategy that would focus “on what is achievable as well as critical, and empower the Afghans to take control of their own future.”

The senator said the United States must be both patient and realistic, and that “a sustained, long-term commitment to the Afghan people,” on civilian as well as military fronts, is essential to avoid a failure that would have enormous implications.

At the same time, Kerry said the United States need not create “a flawless democracy” in Afghanistan, nor vanquish the Taliban “in every corner of the country, or create a modern economy.

“We don’t have to control every hamlet and village,” Kerry said, using language reminiscent of America’s futile war in Vietnam. But Kerry asserted that, unlike the Viet Cong, the Taliban did not have broad, deep support among the common people, which he said portended well for eventual success in Afghanistan.

It's not that I agree with Hoh's assessment of the Afghan mission, but a notion that he speaks from first-hand knowledge unclouded by politics as is the case of our generals. Hoh's letter of resignation struck hard at the soft underbelly of our foreign policy leaders or they wouldn't have given him a second thought.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

60 Lashes For Female Reporter Doing WHAT?

A Saudi Arabian court sentenced a female journalist to 60 lashes because she worked for a television station that aired the sexual confessions of a Saudi man, she and her attorney said today.

The Reuters news agency said the woman, who requested only her first name used, was unaware her Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. did not have proper authorization to operate in the Islamic kingdom. "The verdict was just because I cooperated with LBC," Rosana, 22, the female journalist, told Reuters.

By Western standards, the verdict is outrageous if the story is true. Reuters said the LBC is popular in Saudi Arabia because the station airs popular Western customs in one of the world's most religiously conservative nations.

"I was not aware (that LBC was unlicensed) but in the end this is the verdict and I accept it. I don't want to appeal," Rosana said. The court could not be reached, while a spokesman for the information ministry in Riyadh declined to comment.

"This is the first case in which a journalist was tried at a court of summary jurisdiction for an offense relating to the nature of his or her profession," said Sulaiman al-Jumaie, a lawyer who defended Abdul-Jawad, who told of his pre-marital sexual exploits on LBC in August and was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and five years in jail.

The Reuters story concludes:

Judges, who are clerics of Saudi Arabia's strict Wahhabi school of Islam, have wide powers of discretion and can issue sentences according to their interpretation of Islamic law, which critics said has led to some arbitrary rulings.

The questions I have is if LBC is broadcast regularly in the Saudi kingdom, are the clerics looking the other way until sexually-sensitive material is aired? Was Rosana the only female working for LBC?

By contrast, NBC recently concluded a series on gains women have made in the U.S. workplace hosted and edited by Maria Shriver. Makes me wonder what Rosana would have to say about that.

We are a faithful, obedient ally of the Saudis because we worship their oil which keeps us in line just as the Wahhabi clerics keep imagined infidels like Rosana under foot.

Friday, October 23, 2009

NATO Ministers Support McChrystal -- Easy For Them To Say

Reports from Bratislava, Slovakia, today indicate NATO defense ministers support Gen. Stanley McChrystal's recommendations to increase counterinsurgency strategy, nation building and additional troops in Afghanistan.

Easy for them to say. More than two-thirds of the 28-country NATO forces totalling 104,000 troops are American and far less than that are involved in combat operations.

The ministers did not discuss the number of additional troops expected. Reports claim McChrystal wants 80,000 but would settle for 40,000 additional U.S. troops.

Also, the ministers face a hard sell in some of their home countries. According to a CBS report today:

Dutch Defence Minister Eimert Van Middelkoop said his country is awaiting the final election results in Afghanistan Nov. 7 before deciding whether to augment its 2,160 troops in Afghanistan.

Danish Defence Minister Soeren Gade said allies won't increase troop levels until they're assured the new government in Kabul is committed to the NATO goals.

Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung of Germany said he also doesn't expect his country to increase its 4,200 troop numbers in Afghanistan when the soldiers' mandate from the German parliament comes up for renewal in December.

Britain has pledged 500 additional troops on a series of conditions.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has maintained that Canada will pull its troops out of Afghanistan by 2011.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay, who is attending the meeting, has said he does not expect Canada will be asked to send more troops or extend its mission beyond 2011.

"Everyone agreed that the plusing up of the American [troops] was going to be a critical component part and that ongoing counter-insurgency efforts would have to continue," he told CBC News in a phone interview Friday.

"So it was a question of resolve and a question that everyone is waiting to have answered is what will the Obama administration do in the final analysis, and we'll go from there."

Much of the role non-U.S. NATO forces and civilians play in Afghanistan is security such as protecting fuel and weapons depots. One incident and possibly another reflects the ineptness of those forces when it comes to fighting the insurgents.

A German commander called in an aerial attack on a hijacked fuel tanker last month killing seven civilians. The Italians were accused by a London newspaper of paying locals to perform their security operations in an Afghan province, a report denied by the Italian government.

NATO's mandate in Afghanistan is spelled out on its website. The report does not differentiate by nation the activities assigned.

Since NATO took command of the UN- mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in 2003, the Alliance has gradually expanded the reach of its mission, originally limited to Kabul, to cover Afghanistan’s whole territory. The number of ISAF troops has grown accordingly from the initial 5,000 to around 50,000 troops coming from 42 countries, including all 28 NATO members. ISAF is a key component of the international community’s engagement in Afghanistan, assisting the Afghan authorities in providing security and stability and creating the conditions for reconstruction and development.

Among its tasks is training and equipping the Afghan police and military. In 2006 it established a "quick humanitarian" assistance program for food, shelter, medicine and repair of buildings and bridges. NATO members also are assigned to combat illicit trafficking from Afghanistan's largest gross national product -- heroin.

The Provincial Reconstruction Teams help build institutions within the government to "fully establish good governance and the rule of law."

Certainly, the role our allies are performing in Afghanistan is helpful but the vast majority are not putting their lives in harm's way as U.S. troops carry the brunt of the combat mission.

At the NATO defense minister's meeting, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, "There were a number of allies who indicated they were thinking about, or were moving toward, increasing either their military or their civilian contributions, or both."

Gates squashed a proposal by Vice President Joe Biden that the U.S. pull out most or all of its troops. "We're not pulling out," Gates said. "I think that any reduction is very unlikely."

Biden represents one view point in the Obama administration in which a counterterrorism strategy focuses more on capturing and killing terrorists linked to Al Qaeda than what McChrystal and the foreign ministers were discussing.

President Obama is expected to announce his troop decision on or before the Nov. 7 Afghan election.

Would someone explain to me how a second election would produce a government we can trust? That seems to me why former Vice President Dick Cheney calls Obama "dithering" for reevaluating his Afghan strategy announced in March.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Move To Dump Insurers From Anititrust Exemption Gains

The House Judiciary Committee Wednesday voted 20-9 to remove federal antitrust exemptions the health insurance industry has enjoyed since the 1940s. Majority leader Harry Reid said a companion bill will be voted on soon in the Senate.

Finally the Democrats in Congress have showed some spunk. If the final bill is signed by President Barack Obama, the nation's insurers would be liable for certain antitrust violations including price fixing.

In the Beltway, the proposed legislation is considered punishing the industry for what many consider an erroneous report by the industry that the current health reform bills now offered in Congress would increase premiums.

I consider it leveling the playing field for the consumer by forcing the industry to become more competitive, especially if a public option is not included in the final health reform bill.

Republicans will look silly opposing the antitrust provision. Health insurance and Major League Baseball are the only two industries exempt from the law.

For those of you with an insatiable thirst for Beltway politics, read this posting on the issue by The Hill newspaper.

Another reason Democrats are showing some backbone is a growing sentiment of public support for if not a public option at least some way to force health insurers to be more responsive to consumer demands. Those feelings were suggested in the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll crunching the numbers in the divide between Democrats, Republicans and Independents.

Harold Meyerson, a Washington Post columnist, destroys the myth that the insurance industry is champion of the free market system.

In more than 30 states, five or fewer health insurance companies control three-quarters of the market (in Alabama, one company controls 90 percent). And mergers among health insurers are at an all-time high this year, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday. Worse yet, more and more businesses are declining to offer health insurance to employees (60 percent offered benefits this year, down from 69 percent in 2000 and 63 percent last year, according to an annual Kaiser Family Foundation study). Increasingly, individuals will have to shop for insurance in markets that are steadily less competitive.

President Obama and congressional liberals believe that one way to help Americans get the best deal for health coverage is to establish insurance exchanges where consumers can compare plans online. They further believe that merely establishing an exchange in an oligopolistic market isn't enough; the way to ensure true competition is to create a public option concerned less with preserving an industry-wide profit margin than with offering Americans a better deal.

Concludes Meyerson:

The market champions here are the president, liberals in Congress and the American public. Advocates for socialism? More like advocates for shoppers.

Another cost savings approach is to force all the states to allow its residents to purchase health insurance from out-of-state carriers. As it stands now, each state has its own insurance commission and sets the rules of what carriers must provide. The commissions' rules reflect each state's pet projects its legislators demand. Carriers which don't care to bother meeting any given state's standards simply stay out of the loop.

The result is lack of competition and promotion of insurance cartel oligarchy.

If the Democrats really are serious about lowering costs, then they must demonstrate they have the cojones to take on the trial lawyers lobby and set a cap on malpractice awards. With tort reform in this area, doctors no longer would order redundant tests on patients simply to cover their asses when a surgical or drug procedure goes haywire.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Shooting The Messenger

The White House must end its fight with Fox News now. Enough already. David Gergen, White House advisor to three former presidents, said it is "risky strategy." I agree and add it's stupid and unproductive. While Fox commentators may have succeeded in tweaking President Obama's massive ego, retaliation from the Oval Office violates a very simple rule:

You can't win a fight when cable news television is on the air 24/7, radio talk show commentators three hours a day five days a week and newspapers buy their ink by the barrel. Especially when media baron Rupert Murdock of News Corp. owns outlets in all three sectors.

Fox owes the White House gratitude because every time they are criticized their ratings go up. Not that they need it. Fox buries its competitors by a 2-1 margin at worst. This past April:

Fox News beat CNN and MSNBC combined in every hour from 6amET to MidnightET in both Total Viewers and the A(ge) 25-54 demo. FNC had the top 11 cable news programs in Total Viewers and 12 of the top 15 in the demo. FNC is the #2 network in Total Viewers on all of cable. From 9amET on, every program grew by more than 60% in the demo. The 5pmET hour, now occupied by Glenn Beck, is up 212% in the demo and up 128% in Total Viewers. Your World with Neil Cavuto is up 102% in the demo and up 60% in Total Viewers. On the Record with Greta Van Susteren is up 75% in demo and up 55% in Total Viewers. Also in demo: FOX Report is up 75%, Special Report 70%, The O'Reilly Factor 74% and Hannity 64%. Fox & Friends has now been #1 for 90 consecutive months, Studio B with Shepard Smith for 80 consecutive months.

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is the latest Obama administration official criticizing Fox News. Asked on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday about White House Communications Director Anita Dunn's criticisms of the cable news network, Emanuel said:

“It’s not a news organization so much as it has a perspective, and that’s a different take. And more importantly, it’s important not to have the CNN’s and the others of the world being led and following Fox, as if what they’re trying to do is a legitimate news organization,” Emanuel said.

Dunn opened a new front on the Democratic war with Fox News last week by calling it a "wing of the Republican Party." She jabbed the network by insisting they weren't even conservative.

My suspicion is that the White House fears Fox News has usurped its mantel of controlling the news and frames the national agenda with all the other media following Big Daddy Murdock.

I'm not about to reiterate every punch and counter punch thrown in the ring of public opinion. However, I think it fair to reprint portions of Brent Hume's defense of Fox. Hume, now a senior political analyst for Fox News and regarded as a veteran figure at the news organization, took the White House head on. In his "Brit Hume Commentary" segment on Fox News Channel's Oct. 12 "Special Report with Bret Baier," Hume, pointed out this "feud" the Obama administration has decided to elevate is a bad idea. According to Jeff Poor writing for NewsBusters:

"Every president ends up disgusted with the news media in general and with certain individuals or outlets in particular, but there is an old adage often attributed to Mark Twain that advises against picking fights with people who buy ink by the barrel," Hume said. "He is speaking of the big media of his day, which were newspapers."

Hume noted that generally presidents have remained above the fray when it comes to these disagreements with the media. "Most presidents though refrain from directly attacking media outlets, perhaps with that adage in mind or perhaps mindful of another saying that it is bad idea to get into a public fight with someone smaller than you are because it diminishing you and elevates your opponent," Hume continued.

And Hume also pointed out there's not a clear definition of what a victory for the Obama administration would be. News outlets are protected by the Constitution and that makes it difficult for politician to gain an upper hand when they want to go one-on-one with a particular media outlet.

"Fox News may be the biggest news channel by far but it is not as big as the presidency," he said. "There is an additional problem in fighting with the press. The protections by the First Amendment make the media largely invulnerable to attacks from politicians. For all these reasons, the kind of salvos recently fired at Fox News by the Obama White House represents, as you heard [CNN political analyst] David Gergen say, a risky strategy."

But Hume did explain how the Anita Dunn described Fox News as a "research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party" instead of a "conservative outlet in her Oct. 11 CNN "Reliable Sources" interview.

"The White House has though chosen its words with some care," Hume continued. "Note the characterization of Fox not as conservative but as Republican. A lot more Americans identify themselves as ‘conservative' than as Republican. What is more, though, if Fox News really were a GOP mouthpiece, the White House would not be attacking it. It would feel no need to."

Now it's my turn.

I'm one of those viewers who turn on Fox simply to hear what the opposition is saying. Sometimes it is informative and provocative. Most of the time it is aggravating and an insult to one's intelligence. I find little humor when Sean Hannity refers to Press Secretary Robert Gibbs as "Minister of Propaganda."

Glenn Beck is a self-confessed clown appealing to the base level of human Pavlovian responses. Neil Cavuto has prostituted himself to role of flack for News Corp.'s talking points. I never turn on the TV until mid-afternoon so I know only the stupid snippets from the Fox And Friends Morning show replayed by MSNBC's Keith Olbermann. Shepard Smith is good and even O'Reilly is watchable until he gets lost in his own ego and steers into sexual adventurism content which is more often than I care.

Those are the commentators. They're the gravy train for Fox News Cable. They must be doing something right or no one would be watching. I will give them credit for that. They milk a formula that has crushed its opposition.

In no way am I implying CNN or MSNBC is better. I feel more comfortable watching them probably because they are closer to my personal views on politics and the world around us. It's not that I need to be reassured. It might be because I detect as much or more spin as Fox but less errors in factual presentations. By the end of the day, I don't mind being entertained.

We must keep a healthy perspective. It wasn't that long ago MSNBC was attacking the Bush administration as fiercely as Fox is now bashing President Obama.

Bush basically ignored them. Perhaps a subtle dig, such as "I don't watch the news." Yeah, Dubya was a funny guy.

But attacking the messenger is childish.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Guns vs. Butter

For critics claiming we cannot afford health care reform for our own people and the proposals are not cost sustainable, consider these apples.

It costs about $400 a gallon to deliver fuel to our troops in Afghanistan. The Pentagon reports it costs about $1 billion for ever 1,000 troops in that land-locked nation which has an infrastructure worse than the poorest barrio in Tia Juana, Mexico. The military is asking for an appropriation of $1.3 billion this year just to build things so the troops can carry out their mission. Only a fraction of those expenditures in roads, water and electrical systems would help the Afghans.

By the way, that $400/gal delivery price started out at the standard price of $2.78, according to the Defense Energy Support Center.

This information comes courtesy of The Hill newspaper which tapped its Pentagon and Congressional sources and quoted articles from trade journals. “It is a number that we were not aware of and it is worrisome,” Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), the chairman of the House Appropriations Defense panel, said in an interview with The Hill. “When I heard that figure from the Defense Department, we started looking into it.”

According to the article, the problem is logistics. Afghanistan has no seaports and a shortage of airports and navigable roads where thousands of IEDs are buried. The nearest port is in Karachi, Pakistan, where fuel for U.S. troops is shipped.

From there, commercial trucks transport the fuel through Pakistan and Afghanistan, sometimes changing carriers. Fuel is then transferred to storage locations in Afghanistan for movement within the country. Military transport is used to distribute fuel to forward operating bases. For many remote locations, this means fuel supplies must be provided by air, by far the most expensive delivery system.

An estimated 80% of U.S. military casualties in Afghanistan are caused by improvised explosive devices in the roads, forcing the need to use aircraft for transportation inside the country. The Government Accounting Office reported that in June 2008 alone , 44 trucks and 220,000 gallons of fuel were lost due to attacks. U.S. marines by themselves need 800,000 a day to conduct their missions, according to the GAO report.

These logistical problems are only one of many reasons President Obama has delayed a reported request for up to 40,000 additional troops in Afghanistan by Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

Meanwhile, Stanley Pincus,, the veteran Pentagon reporter for The Washington Post says the
$1.3 billion appropriation bill would add to the $2.7 billion the military has already spent in construction projects over the past three fiscal years.

At Bagram, the main U.S. base in Afghanistan, the military is planning to build a $30 million passenger terminal and adjacent cargo facility to handle the flow of troops, many of whom arrive at the base north of Kabul before moving onto other sites. The daily volume is approximately 1,000 passengers and 400 short tons of cargo each day but is expected to increase to 1,650 passengers daily. A $25 million project to expand the paved aircraft parking area to hold 18 fighter aircraft also is underway.

There's more:

The military is also spending hundreds of millions of dollars constructing facilities for the Afghan army and police. The U.S.-led coalition recently announced the opening of a $68 million, U.S.-financed forward operating base near Farah, in the western part of the country bordering on Iran. The base will house 2,000 Afghan soldiers and an American mentoring team.

Pincus reports a total of 30 U.S. bases in Afghanistan would be improved with the $1.3 billion appropriations.

From a cost-benefit ratio Afghanistan is a loser. The mission seems to keep the Taliban from regaining power and al quada extremists out in a country thirsty for some nation-building stimulus led by a crooked government and a people who are war-weary and want to be left alone.

There is already some evidence al quada and other terrorists groups are spreading to other areas to kill the infidels in Pakistan and create bases of operations in Somalia, Sudan and other middle and southeastern Asian hell holes.

The only attraction offered by Afghanistan is its fertile poppy fields some government officials, the Taliban and al quada tap as an ATM machine to finance their causes.

We're talking about the age-old circular question of guns vs. butter. Afghanistan is not Iraq. Look 10 years down the road and one sees the same old same old. Not much better or worse than eight years ago when we had a purpose to retaliate for 9/11.

At $400/gal and $1 billion/1,000 troops, one would think we could get more bang for our bucks by providing affordable health care and breathing cleaner air right here at home in River City.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Field Of Frozen Dreams

I am a native Southern Californian, love baseball, played it as a youth and because my hometown San Diego Padres suck, don't follow it that much on television until the playoffs. Watching Friday night's game in New York with the Yankees playing the Angels I may have caught a case of pneumonia in my own home 3,000 away from home plate.

Believe me, it was a lot warmer at Yankee Stadium than Coors Field in Denver when the Rockies played the Philadelphia Phillies last week and the World Series several years ago in that mile-high city.

Why can't Major League Baseball wise up and at least play the World Series in a dome or warm weather park? These frigid nights playing baseball ruins the game. Oh, I know both teams face the same conditions. The National Football League always schedules the Super Bowl in a dome or nice winter weather city. No one complains even though the sport can be played in a snow storm or on a frozen tundra with less problems than the game of baseball.

I played right field for my high school team once in a mist and temperatures around 40 degrees. It wasn't much fun. My hands suffered what seemed like an electrical shock after fouling off a pitch. My cleats were caked with mud.

Major leaguers fare much better but the cold weather still distracts from any given strengths and accentuates its weaknesses. In short, the elements change the game the way it is designed to be played.

Television revenue is the driving force for mostly night games in mid-October. I'm not knocking that except for one humongous flaw. Night games are played so late that children -- the future of the sport -- should be in bed asleep. I pine for the days when we listened on our radio transistors
in sophomore science class the 1954 World Series between the Cleveland Indians and New York Giants or cutting a college class to watch Don Larsen pitch a perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers.

I don't want to change the game by shortening the regular season from its current 162-game schedule nor abbreviating the playoff system.

I just want to watch baseball played as it was designed for fair weather and batted balls that don't create a splash when landing in the outfield or skid crazily on half-frozen grass. Except for the high stakes, the game we see this late in the year is not the one we saw in August.

Unless the Padres are involved, I don't have a dog in this show.

Friday, October 16, 2009

My God Has More Compassion Than Theirs

The mere mention of the Westboro Baptist Church in any form of the media is a victory for the gay-bashing anti-Semite demented hate mongers. I'm sorry but I will risk being struck by a bolt of lightning by saying the group will be protesting at a number of San Diego area churches Saturday night.

Here's a blurb from their website:

Since 1955, Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) has taken forth the precious from the vile, and so is as the mouth of God (Jer. 15:19). In 1991, WBC took her ministry to the streets, conducting 41,226 peaceful demonstrations (to date) opposing the fag lifestyle of soul-damning, nation-destroying filth. In response, america bombed WBC; & burned WBC on 8-2-2008. God is america's enemy: 5,200 dead soldiers; $11 trillion+ in national debt.
America crossed the line on June 26, 2003, when the Supreme Court (the conscience of the nation) ruled in Lawrence v. Texas that we must respect sodomy. WBC believes her gospel message to be this world's last hope.

Nothing ignites my outrage button more than any proclaimed religious or political group claiming God is on their side. I really go ballistic when they say God hates America. Or anyone, for that matter. The God I believe in is more compassionate than theirs. Na Na NaNa Na.

Before I continue, it must be clear that Westboro Baptist Church is in no way, no how, officially recognized by the Baptist Church organizations.

In an advance story today about the announced protests, The San Diego Union-Tribune glossed over WBC's nasty record and chronicled how local churches are arming themselves for protests as well as a wave of criminal acts against what once was a private, sacred sanctuary.

It tells how the Rock Church in the Point Loma suburb, one of the group's focus, every several months trains 100 security volunteers to prepare for a gunman attack, kidnapping at its nursery or disorderly outsiders.

Here's a snippet from the story:

“You'd think it's the most safe place in the world, and yet priests have been shot at the altar,” said the Rev. Wayne Sanders of St. John's Episcopal Church in Fallbrook.

Sanders was one of about 50 people to attend an interfaith security conference in August at St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church in Poway hosted by the Anti-Defamation League.

Leaders from Christian churches, synagogues, Buddhist temples and the Church of Scientology learned about the importance of reporting suspicious behavior and forging relationships with local law enforcement.

Mary Ferro, the faith center liaison for North County-based Interfaith Community Services, helped organize the event.

“One faith center had people stealing out of purses while people were at Communion,” Ferro said. “One had break-ins in automobiles during a series of services. Another one had vandalism and teenagers using drugs or alcohol on the grounds.”

St. Timothy's Episcopal Church in Rancho Peñasquitos has been burglarized twice in the past five months. Just two weeks ago, gardening equipment was stolen from an outdoor shed. Before that, a 45-pound bell made of copper and silver was stolen.

“We're vulnerable,” said Rector Wilfredo Crespo, who is buying security cameras for the property. “I think it's the worst thing you can do to a church community. We're here to help those who don't have work and try to support them.”

San Rafael Parish, a 3,000-family Catholic congregation in Rancho Bernardo, invested in a camera system a year ago after teenagers defaced the property with graffiti. Security guards now roam the grounds at night, paid for by the church and neighboring businesses.

The Jewish Anti-Defamation League is the leading advocate exposing the Westboro Baptist Church.

The Topeka, Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church is a small virulently homophobic, anti-Semitic hate group that regularly stages protests around the country, often several times a week. The group pickets institutions and individuals they think support homosexuality or otherwise subvert what they believe is God’s law.

The group caught my attention earlier this year when it protested a funeral of a soldier killed in Iraq because God is punishing America for allowing homosexuality.

In fact, WBC members say that “God’s hatred is one of His holy attributes” and that their picketing is a form of preaching to a “doomed” country unable to hear their message in any other way, according to the JDL's website. It continues:

The primary goal of the Westboro Baptist Church, led by Fred Phelps, appears to be garnering publicity for itself and its message. For this reason, the group directs its efforts at events that have attracted heavy news coverage, like the deaths of soldiers killed in wars or the victims of well-publicized accidents, or at venues, such as high schools, which are likely to generate large counter-protests and community outrage. Many of its protests are held in response to events that have generated at least local media coverage, as in an April 2009 protest of the staging of the musical “Rent” at a high school in Newport Beach, California, which had been the subject of local controversy. ..

To create further attention, the group produces music videos with titles like “God hates the world” or “Santa Claus Will Take You to Hell” and maintains Web sites with names like GodHatesAmerica and GodHatesFags, all designed to inflame the passions of viewers. One of these Web sites includes a “media room,” with links to “broadcast quality resolution video files of our picketing ministry.”

In America freedom of speech and assembly is constitutionally protected. These fanatics are pushing the legal envelope. They must be exposed for what they are. I'm sorry. I'm not an ostrich. I can't stick my head in the ground and make believe they don't exist even though the mere mention of them furthers their cause.

Thing is, I'm not gay, Jewish nor all that religious. When I see evil perpetuated, I will call it out. Period. End of post.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Obama Throws A Crumb To Seniors

Biting the hand that feeds me, I think it is a bad idea that President Barack Obama is urging Congress to kick in an extra one-lump $250 to each of the 57 million seniors, veterans and people with disabilities because they will not receive cost-of-living increases in 2010 from Social Security benefits.

It's not that I prefer to go without. If Congress goes along with the president, and key leaders say they like the idea, I would prefer it be paid in 12 monthly $20.83 increments added to the average gross monthly stipend of $1,261.

Recipients received a $250 bonus in 2009 as part of the $787 billion stimulus package and those such as me on fixed incomes either saved it, paid off a few bills, spoiled the grandkids or bought personal or household items.

The Social Security Administration announced Thursday there would be no cost of living increase because of zero inflation this past year. That hasn't happened since 1975. The good news is that by law benefits cannot be reduced which means Medicare premiums will remain at $96 which are deducted from most Social Security beneficiaries.

As I see it, inflation will occur during 2010 in food, health insurance shares of cost, gasoline and other economic sectors that hit those on fixed incomes the hardest. An extra $20 a month can be better managed to cover some of those increases than a lump sum of $250.

Just as important is the $13 billion cost of Obama's plan which the White House said had no idea where the money would come from. That means printing money which in itself is an inflationary process. That in turn increases our national debt and makes the government's borrowing powers that much more expensive.

The timing of the president's proposal makes the cynic in me think he's throwing crumbs at seniors in hopes they will support his healthcare reform legislation. One cost-cutting measure being proposed is a so-called $500 billion in savings in the form of waste and fraud in Medicare. Many seniors and their advocates lobbying Congress believe those cuts will remove benefits they now receive under Medicare.

White House spokesmen said the $250 plan in no way signals the administration is paving the way for a second massive economic stimulus.

"Even as we seek to bring about recovery, we must act on behalf of those hardest hit by this recession," Obama said in a statement. He noted that countless seniors had seen their retirement accounts and home values shrink during the economic slump.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over Social Security in the House, both said they support the plan.

But Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) objected. "I think it would be inappropriate," he said. "The reason we set up this process was to have the Social Security reimbursement reflect the cost of living."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

NFL To Rush Limbaugh: Drop Dead

It's not official but early returns of talk radio conservative mega voice Rush Limbaugh's bid to become part owner of the St. Louis Rams is all but dead before arrival. It seems the money earned by the mouth that roars is not good enough for one of the most exclusive clubs in America.

"I've said many times before we're all held to a high standard here, and I think divisive comments are not what the NFL is all about," Goodell said at a National Football League owners meeting in Boston Tuesday. "I would not want to see those comments coming from people who are in a responsible position in the NFL, absolutely not."

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said, "I would not be in favor of voting for him."

DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, reportedly expressed his personal reservations about Limbaugh's bid in a memo to players on the union's ruling executive committee, and urged players to express their views about the matter publicly. The union has no formal role in approval of an ownership bid.

Jets linebacker Bart Scott said Limbaugh "could offer me whatever he wanted. I wouldn't play for him.”

Poor Rush. The man is a jock freak. There's nothing on the planet he could wish more for than a piece of an NFL franchise. God knows his money is just as good as any put forth by past and present NFL owners -- gamblers (Art Rooney), swindlers (Gene Klein), do-nothing inheritors (Baron Hilton), self-made tycoons (Jerry Jones , H.L. Hunt and scads more) -- all with enormous egos just as Limbaugh.

Limbaugh himself has said his bid to join a group of investors led by Dave Checketts, chairman of hockey's St. Louis Blues, is driving liberals nuts. It makes me wonder if his offer is nothing more than perpetuating his own colossal ego.

Sale of the Rams is in the earliest stage of the process. Ownership is taking bids. Whoever they choose to select must be approved by three-fourths of the 32 NFL owners.

The case against Limbaugh drummed to death by our sports media is his perceived shoddy record on race relations, outrageous vocal divisiveness over all issues political, economical and societal and a high personal visibility detrimental to the NFL.

The race issue. I'm not going to rehash his bigoted statements of the past. About 70% of NFL players are black. One of them, Mathias Kiwanuka, a black defensive lineman of the Giants said, "I am not going to draw a conclusion from a person off of one comment, but when it is time after time after time and there's a consistent pattern of disrespect and just a complete misunderstanding of an entire culture that I am a part of, I can't respect him as a man."

The politics. There's good reason most NFL owners will remain mum on Limbaugh unless he is part of the ownership package being considered for approval. I would bet the cost of a Chargers' ticket in the top row of Qualcom Stadium that most share Rush's political views.

The hypocrisy. Al Sharpton (who once called a black New York City mayor the "n" word) and Jesse Jackson (who once called a white NYC mayor a "heine") both have made public protests about Limbaugh's bid for an NFL team on the grounds he is a racist.

Sports columnist Tim Sullivan of the San Diego Union-Tribune summed up Limbaugh's case best:

Given Limbaugh's record on the race front, the blowback was predictable. What's surprising is that such a divisive figure would have survived the scrutiny of a seasoned operator like Dave Checketts, the St. Louis Blues owner who is leading the hometown effort to buy the Rams.

There are at least four plausible explanations for this apparent oversight: 1) Checketts miscalculated the amount of uproar Limbaugh would cause; 2) Checketts' financing is so precarious that he cannot afford to be too particular about his partners; 3) Checketts has convinced himself that the only color that matters in the NFL is green; or 4) Limbaugh broadcasts what many NFL owners more quietly believe.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Health Reform Snowe Job

The Senate Finance Committee finally voted 14-9 its sweeping health care bill out of committee Tuesday with the lone Republican Olympia Snowe of Maine on board. Whoopty doo. Now maybe we can get down to business and fix the system.

This bill is a massive subsidy to private insurance carriers who are not happy because it falls short of universal coverage which would mean more bucks in their pockets with little guarantees it would stop inflating premium prices and rising costs. All this to gain one frigging vote from a Republican who promises her support may not be there once the bill is reconciled with the Senate's other bill from its committee on health chaired by Chris Dodd of Connecticut.

Don't be surprised that the deal the Obama administration struck with the drug barons, American Medical Association and private insurance lobbies for support falls apart by the time a final version is hammered out in conference for a floor vote in both houses of Congress.

Folks, get ready for a bill Obama will sign that accomplishes some reform and regulation of insurance practices but fails to insure everyone including many small businesses and does little to control health care inflation.

Here's another morsel to digest. All tax increases in the final plan will go into effect immediately but the reform process will not kick in until 2013. That's the major reason the Congressional Budget Plan declared the Senate Finance Plan cobbled by Sen. Max Baucus is deficit neutral in 10 years. In plain English, that means taxing 10 years but spending only seven. Any bloke could make that work.

The good thing is the health care legislation can now pick up steam. Why all the fuss over the Democratic-controlled Senate's efforts to snare at least one Republican vote? An appearance of bipartisanship. Holy moly, the comic character cracked. Whoopty doo, I say sarcastically. Here's what Snowe said earlier today before the panel's vote, according to the New York Times:

“Is this bill all that I would want? Far from it. Is it all that it can be? No. But when history calls, history calls.”

“The mark before us produces some bipartisan landmark reforms,” Snowe said. “It bolsters what works in the system and engenders quality and competition.” Snowe praised provisions in the bill that would help small businesses, and said it was the government’s responsibility to make sure that insurance was affordable for individuals and families.

With suspense building in the room as it became clear that she would announce her stance, Snowe said she still had many reservations about the legislation.

“At the same time I have shared my Republicans’ concerns about vast governmental bureaucracies and governmental intrusions — that’s why I opposed the amendment for the so-called public option,” she said.

“I happen to think that the consequences of inaction dictate the urgency of Congress to take every opportunity to demonstrate its capacity to solve the monumental issues of our time,” she said moments later. ““There are many, many miles to go in this legislative journey.”

She also warned that she would want to see an updated cost analysis before she votes on a motion for the full Senate to take up the health care bill. “My vote today is my vote today,” she said. “It doesn’t forecast what my vote will be tomorrow.”

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports lawmakers are reviving ideas that had been discarded, including a new approach to a government insurance plan that appears to be gaining support with party moderates.

One proposal attracting considerable attention originated with Sen. Thomas R. Carper (Del.) and would allow states to decide whether to create their own insurance plans or join forces to provide coverage in collaboration with neighboring states. Other Democrats want to take the state-based approach a step further, creating a national public plan that states could join. Carper, a moderate Democrat, said he is not sure he is prepared to go that far. "I'm just chewing on that one," he said.

Sen. Evan Bayh (Ind.), a moderate Democrat, was bullish on Carper's approach. "I think something like that is likely, and would probably pass muster with moderates," he said. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who opposes a public option, said he likes Carper's idea. "I think the states, as laboratories of democracy, probably can find ways to deal with this, and if they do make a mistake it's a smaller mistake to correct than at the federal level," Nelson said.

The legislation voted on today includes $463 billion in subsidies over the next decade and would result in 94% of Americans having insurance coverage, according to an estimate by the Congressional Budget Office.

Industry leaders and healthcare experts consider universal coverage as crucial to making other changes to the healthcare system -- such as restraining the cost of premiums and prohibiting insurers from denying coverage for preexisting medical conditions. Reports the Los Angeles Times:

"The larger the insurance pool, the better able you are to spread risk," said Peter Harbage, a healthcare consultant who has advised Democrats in Washington. "If you have universal coverage, you will have the most efficient system and best achieve affordable coverage."

Finally, if you don't think the lobbyists play a major role in fighting proposed healthcare legislation, read this from an article earlier this week in the New York Times.

In this debate, everyone, including the consumer, is out for themselves only and screw the rest of the people.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Charlie's Falling Angels

Charlie Rangel is a charming, engaging fellow. The kind of man you would enjoy having a beer. Most of the journalists who deal with him in Congress like him because he is forthright even when spinning a topic in his favor. A Korean war hero, Rangel's Harlem voters have elected him to 20 terms, vaunting him to a position of power and by seniority his Democratic comrades have selected him as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, the second most powerful job in the House of Representatives. They write out tax codes.

Problem is, Charlie didn't pay his taxes in a timely fashion.

As so happens with many congressman who spend half their lives in the public arena, Rangel is master of his own universe. In his own mind. His personal bookkeeping of his financial affairs is sloppy, at best. His ethics are suspect. His influence of power is feared.

The House Ethics Committee is investigating Rangel's tangled financial affairs and possible violations of House ethics rules. This isn't exactly a Kangaroo Court.

The committee is controlled by the Democrats and three members have received campaign contributions from Rangel. Republicans lost a floor vote to strip Rangel of his chairmanship while the investigation drags on, now more than a year.

Charlie's well protected in this riff. His best buddy is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who promised the most "open government" in history but refuses to demote Rangel from his perch as the guy who controls the government's purse strings.

Pelosi's problem is she doesn't have anyone to replace Rangel unless she drops down the seniority ladder which would ignite a vicious floor fight. Peter Stark, the San Francisco Bay Area congressman whose district snuggles next to Pelosi's, is second in line for the chairmanship. Stark's a maverick she doesn't trust.

With 40 years under his belt in Congress, Rangel is pulling no punches to save his chairmanship, let alone quitting in shame. He claims to have paid back taxes he owes and amended his Congressional financial and ethics statements to reflect their current status.

The advocacy group CREWS says Charlie is the most corrupt member of congress. Here's their account of the charges:

1) Rangel leased four rent-stabilized apartments at Lenox Terrace in New York City, three of which serve as his personal residence and the fourth of which was used as an office for his campaign and political action committees. In total, Rangel paid about $3,800 for the apartments, roughly $7,000 less than new tenants would pay. This means he may have violated New York housing law, the House gifts rule and campaign finance laws.

2) Beginning in 2005, Rangel solicited funds for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at the City College of New York using his official congressional letterhead. House rules prohibit the use of congressional letterhead for any mailing paid for with non-appropriated funds.

3) Rangel owns a beachfront villa on a Dominican Republic resort that rents for between $500 and $1,100 a night during tourist seasons. In total, Charlie failed to disclose $75,000 in rental income since 1988 when he purchased the villa. In 1990 the 10.5% mortgage interest was waived. By failing to include the rental income on his personal financial disclosure forms, Rangel may have violated the Ethics in Government Act and House rules. In addition, if when the interest was waived on his loan for the property Rangel received better terms than others similarly situated, the loan may have violated the House gifts rule. In September 2008, Rangel paid $10,800 in back taxes for his 2004, 2005 and 2006 returns related to the unreported rental income he earned from his Dominican Republic beach house.

4) Rangel helped preserve a tax loophole benefiting Nabors Industries at the same time he was soliciting donations to the Rangel Center from the company’s chief executive. If Rangel accepted a contribution to the Rangel Center in direct exchange for legislative assistance for Nabors Industries, he may have committed bribery, deprived his constituents of his honest services, and accepted an illegal gratuity.

5) Rangel repeatedly failed to disclose all of his assets and unearned income in clear violation of House rules. From 1978-2006, the lawmaker failed to report buying, owning or selling assets 28 times. According to the Sunlight Foundation, “Assets worth between $239,026 and $831,000 appear or disappear with no disclosure of when they were acquired, how long they were held, or when they were sold, as the operative House rules at the time required.” From 2002-2006, Rangel failed to report up to $1.3 million in outside income on his financial disclosure forms. On Aug. 12, 2009, Rangel filed an amendment to his 2007 personal financial disclosure form. The original report failed to disclose between $512,009 and $1.18 million in assets, including a checking account worth at least $250,000. If Rangel knowingly and willfully failed to disclose, or misrepresented, the true value of his personal assets on his financial disclosure forms, he would appear to be in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001.

6) Rangel stored his 1972 Mercedes in a House parking lot for several years. The car was covered by a tarp and did not have license plates. Its registration had expired in 2004 and the car did not display a current House parking permit. The space is valued at $290 per month, and must be reported to the IRS as imputed income. By storing an unlicensed vehicle in a House garage without a valid parking permit, Rangel violated House rules.

Charlie has coughed up $1 million in legal fees to fight the ethics charges.

Calls for his resignation as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee have run the political spectrum from the Daily Kos, Detroit News, the Republican National Committee, CBS's network affiliate Channel 2 in New York City, The New York Daily News and Fox News Politics. Here's a snippet from Channel 2's website:

"Certainly money does make friends and influence people and perhaps make him a little bit more popular and at this particular moment that might help," said pundit Micheline Blum of Baruch College.

"Buying insurance, you know? Don't bite the hand that's feeding you. Clearly he sees himself as having a problem and he is contributing to members who might look favorably," added Doug Muzzio of Baruch.

Seems to me Charlie's dealings are pretty sleazy. Of course, they are only accusations. I'll wait for the Ethics Committee's verdict even though they are under the influence of his power brokerage prowess. To strip him of his chairmanship and then learn he is cleared or softly reprimanded seems too harsh for the 79-year-old grandfather whose only court he's in is in his own house. I would prefer for him to stand for re-election in his district and if he wins, then boot him out of his current chairmanship and reassign him to a lesser committee. That's less sanguine. The case against him is too politically charged and the nation in too much turmoil to change horses in the middle of the race.

As the wise old ballplayer said, "Nice guys finish last." I don't see Charlie falling that far. But he will fall. Even if he wins, his hands are dirty.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Who Nominated Obama?

After being bombarded with spin, stonewalling and lies, it doesn't take long for a journalist to become a cynic. Skepticism grows along with a thick skin and a demeanor where one needs to ask the tough questions. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. If not the journalist, then whom?

In my column yesterday questioning the merit of President Barack Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize after only nine months in office, I wrote that neither Obama nor the White House staff knew he had been nominated, "as far as we can tell."

At least one reader took offense, claiming I was a hack making a cheap shot and comparing me with Glenn Beck. Fine. My first reaction was putting me and Beck in the same sentence is an oxymoron.

The cynic in me made me do it. It's not as though I don't believe the White House surprise. Rather, I find it incredulous Obama's staff was clueless. Someone or group nominated the president. Word gets around, usually.

My suspicion -- and, yes, it comes from out of left field -- is it came from someone/group associated or on the fringe of Obama's presidential campaign committee. There's nothing wrong or sinister about that. I would like to know.

I could be wrong, but I don't think the Nobel committee releases the names of those who nominate candidates. But, that doesn't prevent the supporters to come forth on their own.

Why do I make a mini issue about this? It goes to motive and transparency. Let's assume it was the president's campaign people for the sake of argument. I say more power to them for they successfully extended their man to the most prestigious award on earth although I maintain it was a calculated gamble since Obama was only in office 13 days before the Feb. 1 filing deadline.

The problem I have is I can't conceive anyone or group totally independent from the political spectrum of the Obama advocacy family entering his name on a lark or sincere desire. These happenings don't occur in a vacuum.

The Nobel committee made the award on the precept Obama has changed world opinion for peace and climate change compared to what they considered the unilateral war-mongering Bush administration. Nobel judges hope the award will continue Obama's momentum to accomplish the goals he has set out to meet so far by his words.

In this context, the Obama nominators held a royal straight flush playing into that mind-set. If that nomination came from the Obama people, they deserve the chutzpah award of the century.

Just to set the record straight, my column yesterday was my way of honestly complimenting Obama for receiving the award. I'm happy he won and proud he is a fellow American and the award gives him the political stature, clout and momentum to achieve the goals he has set out to accomplish.

But I remain a cynic. We observed how he took seemingly forever to close the deal in the primaries before finally defeating Hillary Clinton for the nomination. As president, we are waiting for him to seal the deal on health care and climate change legislation. The list keeps on growing as the political process plays out its snails-pace path.

Obama is a Cy Young starting pitcher but as a closer he's still working in the minors.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Not So Noble Nobel Peace Prize

President Barack Obama being awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize is akin to me winning a Pulitizer Prize in journalism. Neither one of us accomplished enough to earn it. The world's most prestigious award is diminished to the level of an Academy Award nominee finishing fifth.

Hey, Obama talks the talk but has failed so far to walk the walk. The Saturday Night Live spoof that he has accomplished nothing is closer to reality. It pains me to say that because I have been a faithful advocate and patient admirer for Obama since his keynote address to the Democratic National Convention in 2004.

"Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world's population," according to the Nobel committee award statement.

The White House press office claimed Obama had no knowledge he was nominated shortly before the Feb. 1 deadline less than two weeks after he was sworn into office.

Man, talk about the audacity of hope. But that is exactly what the Nobel committee bought into.

Americans, myself included, must understand the award is based on a world perspective that many of us, especially conservatives, fail to grasp. It is true that despite the esoteric volatile U.S. politics Obama is extremely popular outside our shores in foreign lands where the United Nations and global governance is cherished above all else.

It is only natural that Obama critics might think the Nobel Peace Prize is a slap in the face of the Bush Administration for its unilateral excursion into Iraq in 2002 and pullout of the Kyoto climate treaty. It certainly sounds that way from comments to reporters in Oslo by Nobel committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland. From the Washington Post:

"We have not given the prize for what may happen in the future," Jagland said. "We are awarding Obama for what he has done in the past year. And we are hoping this may contribute a little bit for what he is trying to do."

Jagland specifically cited Obama's speech about Islam in Cairo last spring, as well as efforts to address nuclear proliferation and climate change and use established international bodies such as the United Nations to pursue his goals.

Say what? Those speeches were made after the Feb. 1 nomination deadline. One supposes the other 204 nominees sat on their hands or were bound and gagged during the selection process. Oh, and that slap and put down of George W. Bush's unilateral -- "You're with us or for the terrorists" -- approach.

The committee -- made up of luminaries selected by the Norwegian government -- noted a profound shift in U.S. policy and said Obama had "created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play."

Well, at least we know where the Nobel Peace Prize committee is coming from.

Obama is the third sitting president to win the award. Woodrow Wilson was awarded the prize in 1919, after helping to found the League of Nations and shaping the Treaty of Versailles; and Theodore Roosevelt was the recipient in 1906 for his work to negotiate an end to the Russo-Japanese war. Jimmy Carter won the award in 2002 two decades after his presidency.

In the U.S. the most stinging slam against the award comes from an online article by Wall Street Journal deputy editor Iain Martin as quoted in the Washington Post:

"Think about it, it's so post-modern: a leader can now win the peace prize for saying that he hopes to bring about peace at some point in the future. He doesn't actually have to do it, he just has to have aspirations. Brilliant."

In the Mideast, reaction was moderate.

"We believe he has been rewarded or judged based on good intentions towards peace but not on his achievement," said Ahmed Yousef, deputy foreign minister of Hamas, the Islamist group that runs Gaza and remains isolated by the United States because of its refusal to recognize Israel. "It was too early to award him. He has not done that much yet."

Danny Danon, a member of the Israeli Knesset from the ruling Likud Party who opposed U.S. efforts to freeze construction of Jewish settlements, also said Obama's record is thin. "This is the first time the award is given for wishful thinking," Danon said.

But Hagit Ofran, of Israel's dovish Peace Now movement, credited Obama for pushing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to endorse creation of a Palestinian state and consider settlement curbs. "He is being respected for his belief and determination to get things going," she said. "It is not peace and it is not enough, but his rhetoric did change many things."

Back in the U.S., some of the things Obama has struggled with is pushing new health care reform and climate change legislation although he signed an economic stimulus program which so far has mixed results.

He banned torture but quickly learned closing Guantanamo Bay prison is unlikely to meet a self-imposed deadline next January. His mission to pull all combat troops out of Iraq was squelched when the Bush administration and Iraqi government signed a status agreement keeping our troops there until at least 2012. He's still deliberating over Afghanistan war strategy after announcing a new plan in March.

His efforts to make peace and a two-state accord between Israel and Palestine has received rebuffs from both sides.

Oh, that peace prize award. In his 1895 will, Alfred Nobel said it should be rewarded to "the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations and the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the formation and spreading of peace congresses."

Obama didn't ask for it, as far as we know. Now, he's saddled with it and the demands for him to produce results are even higher than a normal human being could possibly achieve. It was bad enough the full plate of problems he inherited from the Bush administration.

Now he has dessert thrust upon him by world opinion.

I'm still hopeful he can pull it off. Oops, there goes that damn audacity of hope thing again. I will continue rooting for Obama but sooner or later he must stand up and deliver. I agree with that Hamas spokesman. The Nobel committee should have waited until his second term before awarding him that $1.4 million prize.