Sunday, January 31, 2010

Guest Voice: The Truth Evades Obama

A business associate has a 180-degree opposite political ideology than myself. John Cothern believes President Obama is a fraud. Below I will reprint his entire email as it refers to two of my columns in which I was critical of the president's lack of leadership. The columns were headlined "Will The Real Barack Obama Stand Up" and "Obama's Speech Earns A 'D'."

Hi Jerry:

Read a portion of your blog from yesterday regarding the State of the Union address, and I suspect you and I would agree in tandem and may well parallel our views.  Unfortunately when we enter into discussion about minor issues, we start to lose focus of intent and direction, and pay more attention to impertinent subject matter that results in "heated debate."

I tend to view things as a goal or objectives to be reached; i.e., a single word with a strict definition everyone already understands.  No deviations or spinning allowed!  The objective is little more than a point in time and space where we need (or want) to arrive.  It becomes the pinnacle we achieve over time, and because we stay focused along the way, we are able to protect that objective with the greatest of expectations.  It's merely the way we use building blocks to construct tall buildings, however the use of a nonconforming block or ideology can make the structure crumble into a catastrophic failure.

 Picture this as an example.  An equilateral triangle, resting on its base.  Imagine the triangle to have three layers (tiers if you will) equal distant from the base line - something we now need to label.  Let's call the bottom tier "details."  The second tier, it "specifics."  The top tier is - maybe - "generalizations," maybe objectives.  We don't about the label, as long as we agree upon the strict definition for that tier or section.

Now draw or imagine thousands of parallel lines to each of the three sides, thus creating billions or trillions of tiny equilateral triangles, each represented with it's own label. Who cares?  We don't have a billion words in the dictionary, anyhow.  The point here is that the lower tier will contain all the details that make up the basics for any structure or ideology.  The "specifics" tier appears to be where we "think."  The relationship to each tier is where we argue, debate, fight, and form our hates and dislikes.  We will argue back and forth, side-to-side, in every direction, until we exhaust ourselves trying to kick the crap out of our opponents.  (Wanna' argue?  Not I.)

Now draw a vertical line from the peak to a mid point on the baseline to form a perpendicular.  At the top there is one triangle (don't cut it in half).  All points of the lesser triangles provide direction (up or down) of an argument.  The second layer only has two triangles that can be referred to as left or right, love or hate, positives or negatives, or even polarization.

Each lesser triangle, up and down to structure, is a step in a process of understanding and building.  Skip a step, we have confusion, however, this does illustrate strategy.  The implementation of logic.  Deductive reasoning is arguing from a general conclusion to a specific or detail, and inductive reasoning is arguing from a specific detail to a general conclusion.  If they can agree, thus balance themselves in the equation, the strategy (direction) is now founded and is sound and logical.  Moving from side to side confounds issues and logic, but these must also be balanced.

Obama does little to provide a goal - a single point in space.  He keeps that clouded to avoid showing intent.  He doesn't want the populous to see where he wants to go with the nationalization of this country.  The more he keeps hidden, the more he lies!  So he speaks in vague generalities, ricocheting like a bullet inside of an iron clad room without goal or intent.  He can't remember his latest lie(s), thus he can't provide positive direction - if in fact he has one?  It is for this reason, primarily, that he lacks the discipline to be a leader - of anything!  His ego appears narcissistic, a self adulation, possibly due to his ability to mesmerize the masses through oration talents.  Why?

Obama's gift is his ability to gather the masses to him by speaking in third party terms like "we," "us," or "our," clearly including everyone in his grand scheme, yet only hinting at a goal.  But it's clear that we are included, to ride the way - the path - to ideological successes, according to his narcissistic belief - his overconfidence in one's self.  Why?  His mannerisms are so punctuated, and oratorical skills are well honed, that no one challenges him!  And without challenge or criticism, one becomes content and arrogant.

There runs Obama, trite and content with his ability to deceive, but driven to a goal that no one knows but himself.  He will micromanage everything and everyone around him, hence the need to appear "perfect."  A slight polishing "lift" of the chin pointing toward a teleprompter, elevates him to a level of grandeur that only he can appreciate.

It isn't that he can't get started up or down the path with a strategic plan.  He doesn't know how, or where to begin, because the truth evades him whenever people are critical of his ways and means.  His narcissistic beliefs are ruling his emotions, and that's not going away too soon.  Lying and hiding the goal has become his behavioral path.  His leadership is great, but it takes on negative paths that are now seemingly inexcusable to US citizens.  Worse yet, he doesn't care!

It's frightening!

Use the word "Freedom" as your goal - the top triangle.  What is the logical process, the strategy to attain that as a goal for the US?  Big "O" doesn't know, or he has an altered agenda, well masked and hidden from view!  (But we're included!)  He believes he's God, but God knows he's not Obama.

John T. Cothern


Saturday, January 30, 2010

Roll Me Over And Let's Do It Again

I appreciate President Obama heeding my advise and start the process of governing the likes of which we haven't seen since Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan.

What we observed Friday when Obama entered the lion's den of House Republicans-only for a political retreat was classic U.S. politics at its best. Best because it was televised so we could see first hand the give and take of competing ideas.

In recent weeks I have posted columns highly disenchanted and critical of my president for his lack of leadership, specifically his failure in cajoling Congress into passing his number one priority, health care reform. After a year in office, my patience was exhausted.

Presidential historian Arthur Schlesinger wrote that the presidency is a daily learning process. I think Obama is now catching up with the curve. Little surprise, there. I always believed he was the smartest guy in the room.

He proved it Friday in a memo to his most vehement critic on Fox News, Sean Hannity, should consider --  no teleprompter.

He rattled off government data and specific details of programs faster than a computer could spit out -- with most on or close to being on mark.

He deflated what he called Republican talking points because they failed to pass what I call the smell test -- they've tried and failed in the past or fell short of what they promised.

To those in the audience who complained the Democratic leadership failed to consider their proposals, Obama told the Republicans he read them all and incorporated the best in legislation supported by the White House.

The president painted himself as a centralized, not a Bolshevik as some Republicans have alleged. That drew snickers from the group.

“I can look you in the eye and tell you we have not been obstructionists,” Representative Jason Chaffetz, a freshman from Utah, told him. Chaffetz and his cohorts resent the label "Party of No" placed on Republicans by Democrats and some members of the Obama administration. The label sprung from the fact no Republican voted for the stimulus plan and only one for the health reform bills passed by the House.

“They didn’t send us to Washington to fight each other in some sort of political steel-cage match to see who comes out alive,” Obama said. But he was tough and even defensive at times, giving no ground on policy and five times using the phrase “not true” to describe Republican statements. 

The 82-minute televised session was terrific theater. We learned something from it. It's not that Obama won and the bad guys lost.

I could care less if Obama's people pulled a fast one on the GOP by insisting the session be televised. For the sake of the electorate, sessions like these should be televised regularly much like the British Parliament places the Prime Minister's feet to the fire.

What Obama accomplished Friday is only the start. It will get tougher if he can match LBJ's ramrodding Civil Rights and the Great Society down the Senate's throat. Or Reagan matching wits with Democratic Speaker Tip O'Neill to salvage Social Security.

That my friends is leadership whether one likes the outcome or not.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Obama vs. Alito Legless Outrage

 I'll begin this discussion with a question.

Is disgruntled Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito's  muttering of "not true," according to lip readers, the same as Republican Rep. Joe Wilson's shout out "you lie" during a president's speech at a joint session of Congress?


You wouldn't know that in the wake of President Obama's State of the Union address Wednesday. The president rebuked the court's 5-4 ruling the previous Thursday that allowed unlimited corporate spending in federal election campaigns. Alito's head shaped into a prune as he muttered a few inaudible words.

This 30-second incident, if one might call it that, came during a 72-minute speech. The reaction drew as much attention as anything else the president's speech covered.

I doubt this story has legs. It is a difference of judicial philosophy between a couple of constitutional lawyers. Obama from Harvard and Alito from Yale. Sort of an Ivy League elite squabble.

My experience in covering national events is to overlook subtle nuances because although they may portray a story behind the story they seldom have little significance to the overall picture. More on that later.

Here's the Washington Post's account of what the president said that apparently irritated Alito:

"With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that, I believe, will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections," Obama said.
"I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests or, worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people. And I urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps correct some of these problems." 

There is a difference of opinion in the legal community whether foreign corporations can spend money on U.S. elections as Obama and others in his camp contend. The Los Angeles Times:

"This was an outrageous statement by the president and a breach of decorum. It was pure demagoguery," said Bradley A. Smith, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission and a sharp critic of the campaign finance laws. He said the law continued to forbid election spending by foreign corporations.

Other reactions from the Post:

"Rude," said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) about the president.

"Inappropriate" said Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) about Alito.

"I can't ever recall a president taking a swipe at the Supreme Court like that," said Lucas A. Powe Jr., a Supreme Court expert at the University of Texas law school.

 In less blunt terms, Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan each asked Congress for specific action in response to court decisions of which they disagreed.

In an address to Congress, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was so irate at the court for overturning many of his "New Deal" programs he urged expanding the court. Congress rejected FDR's court packing plan.

The Obama/Alito ruffle has a history.

As a Senator, Obama opposed Alito's nomination to the high court offered by President George W. Bush.

"I have found that in almost every case, he consistently sides on behalf of the powerful against the powerless; on behalf of a strong government or corporation against upholding American's individual rights," Sen. Obama said during the confirmation hearings. The vote was 58-42 to confirm.

Justice Alito does not do interviews and rarely makes a speech so only his closest peers can guess what goes on in his mind. He has been quoted as saying the nomination process was "dehumanizing."

He was conspiculously absent last year when Obama, at the invitation from Chief Justice John Roberts. made a friendly visit to the court.

Bottom line: This rift is between two power players from two competing branches of government. It is remarkable in its pettiness.

Alito's decorum is a far cry from Rep. Wilson's "you lie" mini-rant which I rated an 8 on my outrage scale of 10. I'll rate Obama's call out a 5 and Alito's reaction a 1.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Obama's Speech Earns A 'D'

Apologies for being tardy commenting on President Obama's first State of the Union address. I had slept 36 hours as a result of some viral. I awakened for a bit of nourishment and watched the speech, followed by the Republican response, and went back to bed for another 12 hours.

If I were a political science professor, I would grade Obama's speech a D.

Before even reading the reviews other pundits quickly posted, my reaction hearing contents of the speech is that he hasn't learned a damn thing his first year in office.

He urged Congress to salvage the health care reform legislation on their own with himself sitting on the sidelines as designated cheerleader. If ever there was a time for the president to arm-twist and kick some butt,. this was it. He declined.

He urged a spending freeze beginning 2011 for three years on all programs not national security, Medicare, Medicaid and Veteran Affairs. I haven't seen the numbers, but this seems a pitiful feeble attempt at cutting the deficit at a critical time the economy still requires some pump priming.

He wants a jobs bill that smacks of extending the stimulus without any additional funding except what's left in the original $787 billion package.

I expected the president to turn to the center, a path President Clinton chose when the Republicans regained a majority in Congress after the 1994 midterms. He didn't. To borrow a phrase from George W. Bush, he's staying the course.

That's a major mistake. To govern, he must cut his umbilical cord with his liberal base and seek a right-of-center course where most American voters now reside.

I thought it was beneath the president to scold the Supreme Court for its ruling allowing unlimited corporate spending for federal election campaigns. Rather than fight the court, he should be demanding complete transparency in campaign finance disclosures which would allow voters to determine the efficacy of each issue.

I gave him a passing grade only on his admonition of both political parties in the Senate to assume responsibility when using the 60-vote supermajority rule to defeat, delay or diminish all major legislation.

Earlier today I began reviewing the reviews. Nothing changed my mind. He still gets a D.

John Dickerson, writing for the liberal Slate:

The State of the Union speech was intended, at least in part, to remind voters that the president is the same guy they elected 14 months ago.

That's the problem. He is still Everyman espousing hope when substance and leadership is required.

Ron Fournier, the respected bureau chief for the Associated Press:

The president used his prime-time address to essentially concede that he had failed to communicate his empathy for hard-luck Americans.

But copying the Clintonian "I feel the pain" bromide does not get legislation passed. The AP writer then nailed a  problem, no matter how undeniable it is:

"I know the anxieties that are out there right now," (Obama) said. "They are not new." The last phrase was a reference to economic woes he inherited from Republican President George W. Bush. Obama pointed back at Bush — a subtle passing of the buck — at least a half-dozen times.

The Washington Post's veteran colunist Dan Balz:

He needed to stiffen the spines of Democrats, who are now justifiably worried about surviving the wrath of a disgruntled electorate in November. He wanted to challenge Republicans by warning that voters may hold them as responsible as Democrats for the breakdown of functioning government in Washington. And he needed to reconnect with the voters after a year in which he became a virtual prisoner of the unseemly machinations on Capitol Hill.

Unless the president turns bully, these are shallow promises. Continues Balz:

His proposals spanned the ideological spectrum as his radar sought to lock in on disparate groups of voters: more tax cuts for small business; more nuclear power plants and offshore drilling for conservatives; more education spending for suburban families; a spending freeze for deficit hawks; a renewed pledge to end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" for the left. And, for anyone willing to listen, there was the promise to keep fighting for health care.

Here, Obama the Everyman is throwing crumbs to Everyone. Don't hold your breath.

Gail Collins, New York Times columnist, on the angry tone in Washington:

The House hates the Senate. The liberal Democrats hate the moderate Democrats. The normal conservative Republicans hate the hyper Tea Party-types. The Tea Party-ists are having so many internal fights that there’s a definite danger of broken crockery. And, of course, everybody hates the bankers, except the Republicans who sat on their hands when the president called for taxing them.

No wonder nothing gets done, especially with a president too cool to become combative ala Teddy Roosevelt. More Collins:

Obama does not really do angry. Peeved, yes.

During his speech, Obama outlined a litany of successes including tax breaks for earners up to $250,000 which failed to budge Republicans from their seats to applaud. The president even quipped that he thought that would draw a similar response as the faithful Democrats in the House Chamber.

The New York Times article on the speech explained why, referring to Republican Gov. Robert F. McDonnel's State of the Union rebuttal:

“Today, the federal government is simply trying to do too much,” Mr. McDonnell said.
 Today's editorial in the Los Angeles Times was surprising luke warm to the president's speech:

It also lived up (or down) to the modern expectation that such speeches will be extravagant exercises in high rhetoric and political theater. What it seems unlikely to do, however, is galvanize support in Congress and the country for what until very recently was the president's most prized priority.

I would be surprised if Obama's speech receives much of an uptick in his job performance polls. Of course, as Everyman he remains personally popular.

The problem is presidents who win Mr. Congeniality contests must also learn to govern.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Will The Real Barack Obama Stand Up

Will the real Barack Obama, who appeared as Everyman during his presidential campaign, step up and govern for crying out loud.

I'm growing disenchanted with the president who suddenly has donned the cloak of a populist which is akin to David Dukes joining the NAACP. Taxing banks and capping salaries is a bogus effort circumventing the real issues.

Whatever the president is, he's lost the patience of the American people who perceive him as Wall Street's buddy while they are running out of time to save their jobs and stave off foreclosures of their homes. Health reform ranks way down their list of priorities. Yet Obama spent all his political capital on that legislative disaster.

Obama achieved little in saving mostly public sector jobs through the stimulus bill. His efforts to help homeowners with underwater mortgages is all but a complete failure. While banks flourished from taxpayers bailout funds in a matter of months, every day is an eternity for the growing ranks of the unemployed.

Consider the plight of Deb Franklin and her husband. She did exactly what her bank and Obama's Making Home Affordable program asked. All it did was lower her monthly mortgage of $1,423 by $200. Her ordeal is documented in this MSNBC "Red Tape Chronicles."

It is outrageously disgusting. "I don't know if President Obama knows what's going on," Mrs. Franklin said.

While the smug ultra-right conservatives on Fox News may gloat "we told you so," liberals are seething and equally disenchanted in their Democratic president as I am.

Writes Bob Hebert in the New York Times:

Mr. Obama may be personally very appealing, but he has positioned himself all over the political map: the anti-Iraq war candidate who escalated the war in Afghanistan; the opponent of health insurance mandates who made a mandate to buy insurance the centerpiece of his plan; the president who stocked his administration with Wall Street insiders and went to the mat for the banks and big corporations, but who is now trying to present himself as a born-again populist.

Hebert implores the president to draw the line in the sand and tell people exactly where he stands.

The president who has been aloof and remote and a pushover for the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries, who has been locked in the troubling embrace of the Geithners and Summers and Ben Bernankes of the world, all of a sudden is a man of the people. But even as he is promising to fight for jobs, a very expensive proposition, he’s proposing a spending freeze that can only hurt job-creating efforts.

Another liberal columnist, Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post writes:

Even if he (Obama) were to roll up his sleeves, loosen his tie and start talkin' like his predecessor, droppin' his final g's left and right, nobody would buy the (populist) act. So I hope the White House pays no attention to the critics calling on Obama to cultivate a more populist image. Regaining the political initiative will be a matter of substance, not style -- and also a matter of passion. 

And, more:

He needs to do a better job explaining the impact that last year's massive stimulus bill has had in keeping people employed. It may be the case that he should push for more economic stimulus. It is definitely not the case that he should allow Republicans to stampede him and Congress into prematurely taking action to rein in the deficit, because if the economy remains in the doldrums it's the Democrats who will be punished in November. 

Liberals are pushing the Keynsian economic model and by economist Paul Krugman to jump start the economy out of its doldrums. Many point to Japan as an example of too little too late in which that nation suffered a depressed economy lasting a decade.

Jonathon Capehart, a conservative voice on the Wasington Post, dissects both columnists' opinions with this tidbit:

On health care, jobs, energy, whatever, Obama has been consistent in his push to address these issues. Yet he has been irritatingly inconsistent on the details of those policies.

That reflects my sentiments exactly. Even before his nomination in Denver, I wrote that someday Obama's flourishing oratory will have to be matched by substance.

I really don't care whether Obama is a centralist disguised in progressive clothing or a flaming liberal covertly converting our economy to a socialist state.

Stop the pandering and govern, for crying out loud.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Solution For Federal Campaign Spending

 The Supreme Court decision to allow corporations to spend unlimited funds in elections may have opened the door finally to revamp our campaign financing laws.

President Barack Obama in his weekly Saturday address said he will be working with Congress to forge a "forceful bipartisan" counterattack in what amounted to a rare but firm rebuke of the court's decision.

“We have begun that work, and it will be a priority for us until we repair the damage that has been done,”  Obama said, adding “I can’t think of anything more devastating to the public interest.”

It is no secret that the campaign financing rules enacted by McCain-Feingold  and many of its predecessors, some of which were overturned in the court ruling, have not been effective. Smart lawyers always find loopholes and siphon money wherever they please.

Perhaps the approach to curb corruption has been misplaced.

Perhaps a better way is to allow unfettered contributions by individual, corporate and all special interest groups including lobbyists to not only issue ads but also directly to the candidates themselves. Let's call them donors since the court has decreed they are all one and the same.

The control mechanism would be complete transparency rigidly enforced. The framework for this model already exists in many financial disclosure laws. But they require some tweaking.

For example, donors who contribute less than $1,000 per calendar year for federal political purposes need not be reported. Those who contribute as well as those who receive more than $1,000 must file with the Federal Election Commission and the Internal Revenue Service.

A donor tax of 0.5% would be assessed on contributions from $1,000 to $10,000. A graduated tax beginning with 5% on $10,000 to a maximum of 25% for $1 million or greater would be levied.

The tax would be deposited in a special fund to help cities, counties, special districts and states defray up to 100% of the cost of federal elections. Such a fund already exists with The Help America Vote Act of 2002 (H.R. 3295). The law authorized the appropriation of approximately $3.9 billion to the states to replace punch card and lever voting machines, clean up voter rolls, and improve the administration of elections nationally.

The constitutionality of such a donor tax most certainly would be challenged. A non-legal argument is quite simple. It would equal the playing field between those who cannot afford to contribute and those who can. No one can claim money doesn't influence elections.

The late Jesse Unruh, Speaker of the California state assembly, said it correctly: "Money is the mother's milk of politics."

Under this law, disclosures by both the donors and recipients can be cross-checked by the FEC as well as watchdog groups. The names must be listed on the major donors and recipients web site pages.

For media political ads, groups would be required to disclose the names of donors kicking in at least 10% of the organization's total budget for the ad campaign at the time the ads are aired. Television and radio ads would  require a voice-over naming the donors meeting that 10% requirement.

People are accustomed to this practice required by the Federal Drug Administration to announce side effects of medicines.

Donors of in-kind services also must report if the value exceeds $1,000 for that function. For example, if a union provides volunteers to man phone banks and transport voters to polls, that service must be reported if the volunteer is paid by his union, employer or any outside source. If not paid, it goes unreported.

Harsh penalties for those convicted of violating the disclosure law would be at the discretion of the judge following these parameters: Automatic jail time ranging from 15 to 45 days, paying federal court costs and per diem prison costs. People convicted of white collar crimes are not comfortable with the prospects of incarceration.

That in itself would compel voluntary compliance, especially with the IRS looking over their shoulders.

As for the millions of citizens who contribute less than $1,000 in a calendar year. The Obama campaign beginning in 2007 tapped these people brilliantly through the use of the Internet and raised hundreds of millions of dollars as a result. The practice of bundling these donations drew criticism from his opponents.

Under this disclosure law, a citizen's 1040 income tax form would include a line item reporting any money donated to a federal election campaign. Even cash donations would be spotted if reported, by law, by the recipient group or politician.

Bundling still would be legal but the donor name, address, occupation, telephone and email would be kept on file by the receiving group, the FEC and IRS. On political ads, only their total number would be reported as designated contributors of less than $1,000.

Such a federal law could be used as a model for cities, counties, special districts and states to follow.

Personally, I am not convinced as some critics fear that corporations will flood the election process with truckloads of money to influence campaigns. The disclosures will turn the spotlight on them in which their buying public will read into it whatever they care to believe.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

An Ode To Beer, Cows And The Pope

It's been a wild ride on the political escalator this past week in which feathers of all stripes were ruffled. People were going crazy trying to understand its totality. That's where I come in as a columnist to make sense of the world around us.

My prayers for an answer came with three minor news items on today's menu. I think they bring us back to reality. The real world as we know it.

Remember Evangelical preacher Pat Robertson using his television pulpit and inartfully saying the earthquake in Haiti is the result of a long series of disasters and political mayhem because its slaves 200 years ago made a pact with the Devil to rid themselves of French colonialism.

Pope Benedict must have received the message. He must have figured if the evangelist can create that much ink and reaction on the Internet, perhaps that's the path the Catholic Church take to spread its gospel, especially to youth adept in today's modern communications tools.

So, the Pope issued an edict to his priests to blog for God's sake. It must be said that Pope Benedict, 82, is no fan of computers and he writes his messages in long hand German. He also is no dummy.

Rueters quotes The Pope:

"Priests are thus challenged to proclaim the Gospel by employing the latest generation of audiovisual resources — images, videos, animated features, blogs, Web sites — which, alongside traditional means, can open up broad new vistas for dialogue, evangelization and catechesis," he said.

But he also issued a warning.  "Priests present in the world of digital communications should be less notable for their media savvy than for their priestly heart," he said.

For years, the Catholic Church has lost its followings, especially in Europe, as they continued kicking and screaming and clinging to some of their old doctrines that have fallen out of favor.

Pope Benedict announced his views at the Roman Catholic Church's World Day of Communications.

Move over Pat Robertson. You and your fellow televangelists have a new kid on the block.

The second item that grabbed my attention goes to the heart of President Obama's new-found passion fighting for more jobs in his Elyria, Ohio, speech Thursday. It was a U-Tube spectacular, panned unmercifully by his critics at Fox News and even elicited a reaction from MSNBC's Chris Matthews on his "Side Show" segment in which Obama mentioned the word "fight" 14 times.

While the mockery of the usually professorial and ultra-cool president was being aired, none knew just how personal and serious bad times in America meant to dairy farmer Dean Pierson of Copake in upstate New York.

State police said Pierson went into his barn Thursday morning and killed all 51 of his milk cows and then shot himself to death. For unknown reasons, the barn's heifers and calves were left to survive. Investigators would not comment on the personal problems Pierson had leading up to the suicide.

Reported the Hudson Star Register:

On Friday morning farmers from around Copake came together and dug a large trench beside the barn to bury the bodies of the cows. Out of respect for Pierson’s family the men said they would leave any comments on the matter to the police and Pierson’s widow.

“It’s a hard time to be a farmer these days,” one man said from inside the fence.

To me, the slaughter of 51 cows and the taking of a human life illustrates just how cruel this economy can be to some no matter how emotionally rattled they may be. It is not a laughing matter for the president to show his fighting spirit to improve an economy that sometimes takes a tragic twist.

The third item that caught my fancy was the innovative extents even large corporations tinker to improve their bottom line in the competitive free market arena. It is the kind of innovation Obama has said makes America so resilient.

Believe me, Ray Kroc, the founder of the McDonald's franchise empire, will be rolling over in his grave on this one.

Burger King, one of the fast food giants, announced it will serve beer beginning at one of its Miami outlets next month.. It would be the first to serve alcoholic beverages at what is universally known as a family-friendly industry..

At the Whopper Bar South Beach,  a burger combo with fries and Budweiser, Millers or Coors will cost customers $7.99. One industry analyst said it could be a challenge for the new image to resonate in some U.S. markets.

I enjoy this type of out-of-the-Jack-In-The-Box thinking.

CNBC recently ran a re-run of a biography on Ray Kroc. One of his marketing secrets was to fly over a small town, spot a church steeple and tell his developer to build a McDonald's next to it.

You can kiss that option good bye if Burger King's beer parlors prove popular.

Certainly, none of these three events had any direct connection to the roller-coaster political news of the past week or two.

Rather they are related by coincidence, cause and effect and sheer joy of creative thinking.

Friday, January 22, 2010

An Open Letter To Chief Justice Roberts

To: Chief Justice John Roberts

Re: Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission

Dear John,

I am a voter who takes his citizenship seriously. I am not a rich man. I have volunteered my time as an unpaid volunteer to work for various political causes and candidates. In your majority ruling Thursday, you reaffirm that corporations have the same rights as individuals.

You go on to rule that corporations are free to contribute as much money as they want to federal political races in support or against a candidate before an election. You call it a First Amendment issue.

Sir, I humbly suggest I am not equal to Exxon in terms of buying ad space for a candidate for the House of Representatives. Even if I secured a $1 donation from a million friends just like me would we be equal to match a Big Oil corporation fighting new energy regulations, for example.

May I remind you, sir, your majority decision overturned about 100 years of precedent limiting the wealth of large corporations influencing the outcome of elections. Specifically, during your Senate confirmation hearing in 2005 you stated your judicial belief as a strict constitutional constructionist and valued legal precedents as the holy grail of the law:

“Judges are like umpires,” you said back then. “Umpires don't make the rules; they apply them. The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules. But it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ball game to see the umpire... I will remember that it's my job to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat.”

Again, may I humbly suggest, sir, you swung for the fences in Citizens United. You and your majority justices took a narrow issue from the political "documentary" of then presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and changed the entire complexion of campaign financing laws.

Sir, allow me to refer you to Friday's New York Times article in which your good friend Benjamin L. Ginsberg is quoted:

“It will put on steroids the trend that outside groups are increasingly dominating campaigns,” Mr. Ginsberg said. “Candidates lose control of their message. Some of these guys lose control of their whole personalities.”
“Parties will sort of shrink in the relative importance of things,” he added, “and outside groups will take over more of the functions — advertising support, get out the vote — that (political) parties do now.”

And, from one of your inquisitors during your Senate confirmation hearing, New York Sen. Charles Schumer:

"The Supreme Court just predetermined the winners of next November's elections. It won't be Republicans. It won't be Democrats. It will be corporate America."

Mr. Chief Justice, even Republican operatives have raised eyebrows from your ruling.

"I don't believe that the ruling will fundamentally change the outcome of the elections given the obscene amounts of money that was spent independently in the last two years by everyone," said Jim Innocenzi, a GOP strategist in Alexandria, Va. "You could argue that since everyone has figured out a way to get around the rules, we'd be better off with full disclosures of who is really paying for this stuff and let everyone just promote whatever cause they want."

"There is only so much advertising space available the last 30 to 60 days [before an election] anyway, so all the ruling does is jack up the cost of 30-second commercials at the end of the campaign," he said.

In all due respect, sir, I don't think your ruling will change democracy as we now know it as some of your critics are claiming.

Certainly, I would never dream of calling your decision the worst since Roger B. Taney who was chief justice in 1857 and wrote the Dred Scott decision.

Nor would I even hint that your ruling was an advert case of judicial activism in defense of First Amendment rights.

Come to think of it, you five men certainly contributed your fair share of improving one of our economic sector's downsides which is the lack of advertising revenue for newspapers, television and political websites. I read that $2.6 billion was spent during the 2008 presidential campaign. Potentially, you guys have raised that ceiling immeasurably. Ah, unintended consequences.

In closing, I have one tiny question for you, sir.

What makes me equal to Rex Tillerson, chairman of the board and CEO of Exxon Mobil Corp.? Of course we each have one vote. It's what each can do before the vote that diminishes my value compared to his. That, sir, is not fair.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Jerry K. Remmers


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Democrats Caught In Jaws Of Murphy's Law

 Will Rogers, America's beloved humorist of the 1930s, claimed he was not a member of any organized political party. "I'm a Democrat," he quipped to the guffaws of his Great Depression audiences.

Today's Democrats find themselves still disorganized but also the victims of Murphy's Law: When things go bad, they're only going to get worse.

The pinnacle of what's gone haywire is the election of Republican Scott Brown to the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts in what many believed was the bluest of blue states.

 As Rogers would say, I only know what I read. Well, I read that about half of the registered voters in the Bay State were independents. I read that polls were showing independents across the country were leaning Republican because of the economy, massive government spending and disenchantment with the Obama administration domestic agenda.

Top that with the Democratic candidate Martha Coakley running an inept campaign dissing Red Sox Nation and avoiding old fashion retail politics -- you know, glad-handing the peons and kissing babies -- while her opponent did and said all the right things.

The Republicans were quick to slap a label on the Democrats: They were arrogant. That label will stick through the year culminating with the midterm elections in November.

I read the post mortems same as all of you. I'll even stick my neck out and claim the Democrats cannot govern any better and perhaps worse than the previous eight years of the Bush administration.

Jon Stewart, who is transforming into the sage of the political world but funnier than Will Rogers, says on his "Daily Show" that when George W. Bush wanted something passed by Congress, he got it. No questions asked.

The Democrats with a 50-vote majority in the House and until Brown is seated a 60-vote supermajority in the Senate squandered nearly every opportunity to pass critical legislation. The laws which were signed by Obama were so watered down one could argue they did as much damage as they did good. We learned the hard way that, at least in the Senate, minority rules.

Much of the blame falls at the feet of Obama and the political operatives who run the Democratic Party.

Voters elected Obama for a variety of reasons they believe they saw in the candidate. Liberals saw an opportunity to reform the health care field with a public option which Obama never promised. Anti-war advocates believed Obama would lead us out of Iraq even though the initial steps were made by Bush. They refused to believe Obama when he called for more troops sent to Afghanistan.

Obama wanted the landmark health reform legislation finished before the August recess. He turned it over to select Senate committee chairmen who blew it. That launched the birth of the teabaggers (for want of a better name).

While Obama allowed the health care debate linger into December, the American people no longer considered it all that critical even though Obama's assessment is correct that the economy cannot be repaired until the escalating costs of health care gets under control. We are talking about one-sixth of the economy, after all.

Americans' number one focus has been on jobs jobs and jobs and the prospects of losing their homes.. That was one part of the disconnect with the White House and Congress.

The other part was Main Street's newly found hatred for Wall Street. While the TARP funds salvaged a global financial collapse, all it accomplished was an infusion of equity to continue the same high-risk investments that turned historic losses to profits and a continuation of rewarding the risk-takers with obscene bonuses.

Obama's Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is the bad guy in this scenario. Where are the regulations that were to prevent future financial institution crashes. The banks are fighting back with millions of dollars seeded from TARP funds to keep the status quo.

The progressives in the House have passed bills but the moderate Democrats in the Senate have stalled them into limbo whether it health reform, climate change, bank reform, immigration reform and even resistance to shutting down Guantanamo Bay prison.

In short, the Democratic Party is a coalition of liberals, moderates, ethnic groups and academia all with their own agendas under the common misbelief that Obama represents them and only them.

One needs to look no farther than Rahm Emanuel for creating a moderate block of Democrats who gained office in Republican or at least conservative districts. As leader of the Democratic Congressional Election Committee, Emanuel forged a Democratic landslide in the 2006 and 2008 election cycles. But, that has come back to haunt the party progressives as these incumbents become even more conservative to hold on to their seats.

Talk about bad news following bad news, the Labor Department said initial claims for unemployment aid rose by 36,000 to a seasonally adjusted 482,000 this past week. The national unemployment average remained at 10%. It was only two weeks ago Obama said his administration was focusing as a laser on ways to increase jobs. This is a con game played by all administrations. Fact is, presidents have no control over job markets although policies on interest rates and availability of money can have an effect through Treasury and Federal Reserve.

The banks, which should kiss the rings of both Bush and Obama administrations, are threatening to sue as unconstitutional if Obama enacts a tax on the richest banks. Newsweek's business reporter Daniel Gross said the industry argues the tax would mean less money available for lending. He claims it would be a piddling amount compared to the bad loans each bank suffers. The tax amounts to 15 basis points on the net liabilities that have assets greater than $50 billion. It would range from about $1.5 billion annually for JPMorgan Chase while a merely large bank as US Bancorp would pay about $100 million per year.

The blame game has run crazy on the political blogs, as one headline noted: "Mass Hysteria."

That gray old lady, the bastion of liberal causes, is kinder on the president than I am at the moment. In the New York Times editorial, it worms its way around a reason.

There are many theories about the import of Scott Brown’s upset victory in the race for Edward Kennedy’s former Senate seat. To our minds, it is not remotely a verdict on Mr. Obama’s presidency, nor does it amount to a national referendum on health care reform — even though it has upended the effort to pass a reform bill, which Mr. Obama made the centerpiece of his first year.

Mr. Obama has done many important things on the environment, and in foreign affairs, and in preventing the nation’s banking system from collapsing in the face of a financial crisis he inherited. But he seems to have lost touch with two core issues for Americans: their jobs and their homes.

Mr. Obama’s challenge is that most Americans are not seeing a recovery. They are seeing 10 percent unemployment and a continuing crisis in the housing market. They have watched as the federal government rescued banks, financial firms and auto companies, but they themselves feel adrift, still awaiting the kind of decisive leadership on jobs and housing — in terms of both style and substance — that Mr. Obama promised in 2008.

It's going to get worse. The Supreme Court opened the door in a decision yesterday that removes restrictions on businesses and labor unions contributing to presidential, House and Senate candidates.

It's Murphy's Law,  you know.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

In Haiti, No One In Charge

 This is no criticism of U.S. military and humanitarian relief aid in the first week after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that flatten half of Haiti last Tuesday. God knows their intentions were sound.

No one seems in charge. Not the Haitian government which was feeble before the quake and totally crippled beginning with the first after shocks. Not the United Nations blue-helmeted security forces shaken to the bone with numerous deaths.

The only semblance of authority was the U.S. military from a party table and laptops performing air traffic control duties at the Port-au-Prince's one runway airport. They established a priority list of plane arrivals and departures. For the most part, the much needed supplies remained for days at the airport.

Some really questionable decisions were made. Doctors Without Borders which had established clinics in Haiti years before the quake, dispatched a portable, inflatable hospital surgery unit carried in two planes. One was allowed to land in Haiti, the other was forced to land in the Dominican Republic resulting in two lost days before it was made operational.

On Thursday night, Belgian relief chief coordinator Geert Gijs ordered a surgical team evacuated from a makeshift hospital leaving just operated victims abandoned because of security reasons.

For all the valid reasons we heard during the chaos on why water, food and medical supplies were not delivered to the horror-stricken, injured, thirsty and hungry victims, one country excelled.

That, of course, was Israel.. Hours after landing, they established a fully equipped field hospital and performed dozens of surgeries. A second team was dispatched Monday night and was operational by midday today.

The IsraAID/FIRST medical teams consisting of 12 medical personnel treated some 200 people, performed 25 surgeries and delivered.three babies in its first day.

The U.S., in particular FEMA, should use Israel as a model. It is a lean, mean, surgical task force with years of practical experience.

The U.S., by comparison, is a bumbling, fumbling giant funneling a wealth of resources too often unable or incapable of being logistically delivered in a timely fashion. It occurred in New Orleans after the Katrina hurricane and we see the same logistical blockage in Haiti.

It is not a case of "helluva job Brownie." It is a case of lack of leadership on the ground. Where is the general or admiral to kick butt and take names and get the job done.

Isabelle Jeanson, a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) Emergency Communications Officer, wrote in an email from Haiti on Sunday: "MSF is still concerned that delivery of vital supplies is being delayed."

"Patients who were not critical only three days ago are now in critical phases. This means that people will die from preventable infections. It's horrible. It's really so terrible that people are begging for help and we can't help them all to save their lives!"

CNN anchor Anderson Cooper called it "stupid deaths."

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, who led relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina in 2005, said the evacuation of the clinic's medical staff  involving Belgian, Canadian and U.S. doctors was unforgivable.
"Search and rescue must trump security," Honoré said. "I've never seen anything like this before in my life. They need to man up and get back in there." They returned the next morning.

"I find this astonishing these doctors left," he said. "People are scared of the poor."

Under the leadership of President Barack Obama, the U.S. has pledged $100 million in relief aid, committed almost 10,000 troops and countless Coast Guard vessels to Haiti while at the same time suspending the deportation for 18 months of up to 200,000 Haitians said to have entered the country illegally.

I can't help but wonder if we have learned our lesson supporting whatever government the Haitians concoct. Giving money directly to the government is akin to flushing it down the toilet. The money supply line must be changed during that nation's rebuilding process. Smarter people than me no doubt can figure it out. Some of the humanitarian relief organizations made productive strides in schooling Haitians in the operation of medical clinics and hospitals.

Americans have big hearts and always respond to national and international disasters. I don't like what I'm seeing as a future for Haiti. They have nothing but hope and despair. The rebuilding process must start at ground zero. There is no infrastructure -- that big word we take for granted until the bridge collapses or the sewer line bursts.

At the moment our government is on a path to adopt Haiti. That is a recipe for disaster.

The sad thing is that within six months -- exactly as what happened with the tsunami on Christmas Day 2004 off the Indian Ocean -- Americans will have forgotten about Haiti.


Monday, January 18, 2010

Dark Memories Of A Jumper

 In jolly old England, a radio disc jockey is being criticized for playing the Van Halen classic "Jump" as police stopped traffic and tried to prevent a woman from jumping off a bridge.

Here's the account as reported by a London newspaper.

I'm not the most politically correct person on the planet but this behavior by a smart-ass disc jockey is irresponsible. Fortunately, the woman survived the 30-foot leap.

The efforts people in the business will go to increase ratings oftentimes reaches the bizarre. The good ones with the best drive-time ratings push the envelope to a line of humor and tragedy. Most of the time it is a funny practical joke played by the two Toronto DJs on Sarah Palin when she was a vice presidential candidate and in this linked story where Tony Blair, the UK prime minister, was the butt of a prank.

This story conjured images of a night I regret taking part. I was assigned to cover a jumper from the highway overpass connecting the famous Balboa Park in San Diego. I shared a cab with a reporter on the morning paper.

Upon arrival, the reporter leaped out of the taxi, ran towards the bridge yelling "Jump! I'm on deadline."

The poor bloke jumped. The 60-foot fall was predictable. It was the last time I spoke a word to that jerk. While his comments made him a legend among the ghoulish newspaper fraternity, it turned out he was more emotionally troubled than the victim we covered that terrible night.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

In Defense Of Television

Some years back a buddy of mine boasted he never watched television. Yet, he could tell you every joke and expression and the actors on the then popular television show "Laugh In."

Folks, here comes da judge. You lie.

Television is the best and worst form of entertainment and information ever invented by mankind. Ever since communications commentator Marshall McCuen called it "the vast wasteland," intellectually-challenged conservatives have used it to accuse its critics as elitists and snobs.

For every one good thing one can say about television one can find 10 negatives.

But McCuen's "wasteland" no longer exists with the advent of cable and satellites expanding the television menu options into the hundreds -- for a price most can afford by necessity.

Yesterday I posted a column praising CNN for its initial coverage of the Haiti earthquake destruction and by the end of the week it continued to be two steps ahead of its competitors. In the comment section to the post, as so often is the case, the conversation took a particular thread with some of my respected colleagues suggesting to press the off button on the TV clicker.

Excellent advise. We Americans watch too much television. It seduces us from childhood in which parents employ it as a baby sitter to old age in which mobility confines us to our places of shelter. Too many of us are couch potatoes and among the young contributes to obesity and juvenile diabetes.

Television is the chief culprit of the dumbing down of America.

It need not be. Because our public and private schools are deficient in many areas of basic education, television can fill the gap albeit crudely.

Rather than watch reruns of "I Love Lucy," the Public Broadcasting System, the History Channel and the National Geographic Channel among many offer understandable lessons in history, geography, culture and the sciences.

I have a friend who did not receive his high school diploma until age 30 by going to night school. His rudimentary knowledge of history and politics is equal to any college graduate simply by faithfully following the History and NGO channels. The other day we were talking about Sarah Palin, and yes, he did know why Korea was divided into north and south as a result of World War II.

I'm a baseball buff. Ken Burns' PBS series on the creation of baseball into America's national pastime was an educational classic for me because it filled gaps I was totally ignorant.

Television offers something for everyone. Reality, soap opera and most comedy shows are not my bag but for others they are the staples of life as they know it. I wasn't a great fan of "Seinfeld" or "Friends" but watched them if nothing else was on the air at the time.

The best crime show in cinema history was "The Wire" on HBO. The best political drama was "The West Wing" on a commercial network, NBC. The list is endless.

In television news, the cables cater to niche audiences while the three major networks struggle with their half-hour nightly shows which offer too much fluff for such limited time slots. By the way, they call television news "shows" for a reason. Too much gimmickry and need to entertain rather than inform and educate.One thing television news must avoid at all costs -- Boring.

America's attention span is measured in nanoseconds. Television falls prey to channel surfers: Catch their attention now or lose them.

That is the new "wasteland."

Friday, January 15, 2010

CNN The Early Winner In Haiti

 I'm a print guy. Only my mother thought I was handsome enough to turn to television for a career. Which is my way of backing into television coverage in Haiti.

But first some perspective and a dose of history. A strange phenomena occurred when television in its infancy offered wall-to-wall coverage of the John F. Kennedy assassination in Dallas in November 1963. People were glued to their sets that miserable weekend. At the same time they bought newspapers by the truck load to verify what they saw on the black and white screens.

Little has changed except television's live coverage has undergone incredible technological advances and fewer people read ... anything. We live in an age of instant gratification and television feeds that addiction.

During the Katrina hurricane destruction in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast, another interesting thing happened. While national television did a marvelous job, the real stories beneath the big picture were delivered accurately separating fact from rumors by the city's two major newspapers on their websites.

It is not a nasty little secret that television reporters get the bulk of their news from local and embedded print reporters.

Same goes for events on the debris-ridden ground in the Hatian capital. It was Reuters that first reported vandalism by desperate natives at a relief warehouse and dumping bodies on the street to intercept humanitarians trying to deliver much need supplies, particular water.

When network and cable news teams arrive at a disaster as a locust, it becomes a competitive contest for the survival of the fittest.

In that regard, CNN is the clear winner in the early days of the Haiti earthquake coverage. By sheer courage and cunning and superior use of on-air transmissions, CNN once again proved what it does best -- the audio and visual coverage of straight, hard news.

 Here's now James Rainey, a television critic, described it today in the Los Angeles Times:

Anderson Cooper clambered to the top of a pile of rubble along a ruined Port-au-Prince street, joining the clutch of men digging fervently inside a dark crevasse. As his cameraman zoomed in on a pair of small, naked feet, the CNN anchor described the struggle to free 13-year-old Bea.

The images swept the cable station's audience, in an instant, into a moment as intimate as it was epic, as unsettling as it was affirming -- a microcosm of Haiti's struggle these last three days. Could a handful of amateur rescuers, armed with a single shovel, win one skirmish against the country's sweeping devastation?

A few moments later, the men dragged the dusty, disheveled girl -- one leg probably broken -- into the sunlight. Some 18 hours after a massive earthquake, Cooper and his CNN colleagues were the first Western broadcast journalists who delivered the most indelible images from the heart of the impact zone.

Meanwhile, NBC News anchor and managing editor Brian Williams and his crew were standing safely at the Port-au-Prince airport doing his best what he had been told was going on inside the city. 

This is no knock of Williams, ABC anchor Diane Sawyer or CBS's Katie Courek. I suppose in the minds of the TV moguls, they believe their audience will follow their anchors anywhere the news breaks.. Keep in mind that rarely did Walter Cronkite -- the most trusted man in America -- leave the CBS studio for major news events and the network did not suffer ratings withdrawal symptoms.

With the exception of Cooper and Fox's Shepard Smith (who remained in the states), these people are more news readers than reporters the likes of Edward R. Murrow, Dan Rather, Tom Brolaw and Peter Jennings. That's not a knock. It's just the nature of the TV business today.

Bucking the prime time blanket coverage of Haiti was Fox News stable of Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Greta Van Susteren who granted about a quarter of their hour shows to Haiti and the rest their basic formula of political and cultural topics.

Not surprisingly, Fox averaged 2.9 million viewers to CNN's 1.5 million and MSNBC's 977,000 on Wednesday night. It proves the moguls correct: That viewer loyalty, creatures of habit, they cling to their favorite channels.

I think these ratings are a mixed bag. Viewership in the western time zones are not during the prime time slot but two to three hours earlier during the dinner hours. Also, even for the most jaded TV news junkies, by the time they reach the 8.p.m. start of prime time they look for a welcome reprieve, probably taking refuge in one of the network reality shows or a movie on the AMC channel.

But Fox critics such as Rainey won't let go:

Randall E. King, a professor of media communications at Indiana Wesleyan University, said he was surprised and disappointed to see Fox devote so little attention to the story. King said the evening hours are crucial because they signal what a TV outlet views as the day's most compelling topics.

"When a real crisis comes and there's an opportunity to really serve as a leading news organization, to make a conscious decision to not cover this is an abandonment of journalistic responsibility," said King. The one-time television reporter said the prime-time hosts, despite their opinion focus, should have paid more attention to the crisis just off our southern border.

 Rainey did note that all the networks' were making their way into the city by Friday and filing more comprehensive reports.

Howard Kurtz, who I believe is the best media critic, writes about the first three days of coverage in Haiti in his Media Watch column in the Washington Post.

As journalists have parachuted into the misery that is Haiti, they have had to cope with both primitive conditions and communications difficulties. 

On Wednesday night, the television coverage was often reduced to little more than radio. An opening shot with Katie Couric froze, forcing CBS to switch to Harry Smith in New York. Brian Williams and Ann Curry were speaking by cellphone when their audio dropped out. But both networks managed to get the shots up later. 

By Thursday, after a night in which many correspondents slept at the Port-au-Prince airport, the satellite technology and streaming video and Skype were working better but transportation was still limited. The reporters did the best they could. CNN's Sanjay Gupta aided a father whose 15-day-old daughter had received scalp lacerations. 

Television does a superior job with its approach of shock and awe. As for the details on the ground, I still prefer to absorb it in print.

I'm just a dinosaur at heart.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Liberal Sirens Call For Filibuster Ax

 Liberal Democrats are becoming more vocal in their efforts to can supermajority rule in the U.S. Senate which now calls for three-fifths or 60 senators to kill a filibuster. It reminds me of an old farm adage that what's good for the goose is good for the gander. Or for you younger city folks, watch out what you wish for.

My assessment is that liberals are becoming frustrated with the senate rules because the threat of filibusters has held much of President Obama's legislation hostage. Needless to say, it is Democratic senators who own a 60-vote majority that is causing the legislative ship to stall in still waters in this session of the Senate. Ergo, it isn't solely one or the other party doing the skulduggery over the sands of time.

The concept of filibusters is to offer protection for the minority party when they deem pending bills are offensive or detrimental to their constituents. Southern Democrats for years used this tool to prevent civil rights legislation until they were out-gunned by public sentiment and President Johnson in 1965 following the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

It was a delaying tactic and/or death sentence rarely used more than a half dozen times annually until 1996 when it gained popularity if not notoriety by both Republicans and Democrats. At the end of the 2008 Senate session, nearly 140 cloture motions were filed.

When I was a political science major in college, I wrote a term paper defending the filibuster as a checks-and-balance of potentially bad legislation rushed upon the Senate in times of turmoil and hysteria. That was 1958. I was terribly idealistic.

Times, they have changed. From a pragmatic perspective, filibusters are threatened to preserve an ideology such as Democrats opposing George Bush judicial nominees or Republicans fighting the stimulus package at a time the nation was on the brink of a financial meltdown in a full-blown recession.

What we have seen this year is Senators using cloture as a means to help themselves get reelected by playing king for the day. Sen. Ben Nelson demanded specific wording on federal funding of abortions while simultaneously requiring the nation's taxpayers to pay his state of Nebraska's full cost of Medicaid forever. Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana plucked $300 million from the national kitty to pay for some health care projects in her state.

Folks, this is blatant abuse of the Senate rules, a situation necessitated by the Senate leaders needing every Democratic vote in the chambers because the Republicans, for whatever their reason, are in lock step in opposition to the health care bill.

As the Republicans proved during the first six years of the Bush administration, they have their act together better than the Democrats at any place in power. 

When parliamentary rules are flaunted, it is time for change. It lends credence to simple majority rule and ipso facto places greater importance on our election process.

I Googled Wikipedia, certainly not the Bible of Senate filibuster history, but reliable enough to refresh myself on Senate procedures I last studied in detail oh those 50 years ago in college.

As many of you know, the Supreme Court confirmed the two legislative houses to set their own rules in 1892. In 1917 the Senate modified its rules allowing cloture to kill a filibuster with two-thirds of the chamber's quorum and that requirement was relaxed to three-fifths (60 today) in 1975..

Somewhere in the process during this period, the Senate rules got a little sneaky by invoking Rule 12 in which Senators no longer were required and speak until they dropped in a filibuster a la Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.

The fact is the Senate can change its rules if carried by 67  votes. There is another so-called Nuclear Option which is based on constitutional standards although probable but politically impossible based on today's polarization in the Senate.

In today's Los Angeles Times, Harold Meyerson, editor at large of the American Prospect and an Op-Ed columnist for the Washington  Post, argues what the Senate needs is a firebrand liberal such as the late San Francisco Rep.Phil Burton.

Burton democracized the House 40 years ago by convincing Democrats to elect their Speaker and committee chairman rather than earning the jobs based only on seniority where they ruled their fiefdoms as tyrants.

"With that, the most conservative House Democrats began to vote more like their more numerous liberal colleagues," Meyerson says. Man, based on the House health care bill, I'm not certain that argument holds much water.

He also writes that California Sens. Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer could lead the charge for the Senate rules change. "Today, there are 68 Californians for every resident of Wyoming. Constitutionally, Californians are the most underrepresented Americans in the Senate by a large margin," he writes. Uh, that's by design, sir.

Concludes Meyerson:

The filibuster is an affront to the most basic principles of democracy: that majorities govern; that elections matter. It can be repealed by a two-thirds vote of the body or, more contentiously, by a majority vote upholding a ruling of the chair that strikes it down.

Abolishing the filibuster carries risks, of course, should Democrats lose control of the Senate. But liberals should be committed to the principle of majority rule. 

 That's easier said than done while sitting in the catbird seat.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

There You Go Again, Pat Robertson

Why is it whenever there is a natural or man-made tragedy, Evangelical preacher Pat Robertson uses his television podium to claim God is punishing us for tolerating abortions and homosexuality and in the devastating ruins of Haiti a "pact to the Devil."

Risking God striking me with a bolt of lightening for saying this: Mr. Preacher Man, you are a disgrace to your religion and blinded by your perceived political prejudices and intolerance.

As to Haiti, you assert their people made a pact with the devil to rid the yoke of French colonialism, a nation, by the way, at the time composed of 95% catholics, who in an obtuse fashion, are among your competitors for the blessings of the almighty.

If Pat Robertson is in the business of outrageous comments, I can play that one-upsmanship game. Remember the movie "The Mouse That Roared?" A small nation declared war on the United States in order to receive economic aid.

Using that analogy, I contend Haitians built their cities knowingly on a fault line that in time would slip sideways during a 7.0 earthquake and topple all the buildings and killing thousands in a devious plot to have their nation rebuilt by sympathetic countries.

But I'm not done. To prove how callous we Americans are, our humanitarian aid is limited to $1 million because our nation is financially bankrupt.

Take that, Pat Robertson, and in my scenario, the devil had nothing to do with it.

Rather than praying for the Haitians, why don't you and your fellow religious orders tithe your earnings to Haiti until order is restored and the country is rebuilt.

Why, one might ask, am I venting my wrath on Pat Robertson. It's personal.  In 1991 I was finally on a path of return to my church after years of absence and agnostic behavior. Then 9/11 occurred and Robertson claimed it was God's wrath for our sins. I talked hours with my new pastor but I had made my decision. I wanted no part of any organized religion that usurped my understanding of the Jesus I knew as a youth. That Jesus was forgiving.

Meanwhile, the news accounts today reduced me to tears. President Obama did not set a price but pledged "unwavering" support for Haiti. The UN was freeing $10 million in emergency relief funds and the European  Union pledged $4.4 million. These amounts will be dwarfed by contributions from private charities.

Oh, a little geophysical and economic memo to Pat Robertson. He described the island of Hispania divided in half, the western slopes barren of vegetation and subject to mud slides. The eastern half is the Dominican Republic which he said is lush and green and thriving with tourist resorts. True, but the Haitians denuded the hills for fire to warm their homes and cook their meals. The forests west of the major Dominican Republic populations are essentially unreachable. More than 30% of the people in both countries live in abject poverty.

What is really tragic about this story is that recovery will end with the same results. Rebuilding a nation on a major fault line and in the center of a hurricane system is a disaster waiting to repeat itself. There's not enough money to require more earthquake-resistant structures such as was the case after the 1988 temblor that damaged the San Francisco Bay region.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Immigration: U.S. vs. France

 This is a tale of two countries groping with the complexities of immigration reform.

In France, conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy has launched a national dialogue on what constitutes a French person's identity. Liberals in the French Parliament oppose his every move.

In the United States, President Barack Obama is quietly securing support from Latinos, in particular, to launch another effort to pass immigration reform and fulfill a campaign promise. Opposition Republicans killed the effort two years ago and there is reason to believe their obstruction will be repeated.

There is a major difference among the immigrant population in the two countries.

In France, they are the estimated three million Muslims who are essentially segregated in isolated conclaves and discouraged by unions and a caste system to assimilate into the culture.

In America, Hispanics represent about 28% of the 300 million population with only the poorest living in barrios while first generation off spring tend to merge into the white culture without overwhelming prejudice.

The difference is most Muslims moved to France legally from former French colonies after the arrival of Turks, Italians, Spaniards and eastern Europeans who were brought in after World War II to rebuild the nation. An estimated 10 million Hispanics now reside in the U.S. illegally looking for jobs Americans didn't want until last year's recession.

France's immigration policy was by design. America's by neglect.

Sarkozy and his immigration minister arranged the debates three months ago following a vote in Switzerland that banned construction of  minarets on mosques. Sarkozy's government also banned girls from wearing burkas and head scarfs in schools. The purpose was a direct charge at Muslims to do more to blend into French society.

Immigration Minister Eric Besson.sought to defend the discussions during a National Assembly recent debate, declaring that "the Republic must, in particular, be interested in the link between immigration and integration and between immigration and national identity."

He was booed and shouted down by left-leaning deputies.

Sarkozy has defended the debate series as a means for the French to let out suppressed feelings about their national identity. "It's by becoming deaf to the cries of the people, indifferent to their difficulties, their feelings, aspirations, that we nourish populism," he wrote in a Paris newspaper. "Nothing would be worse than denial" that the French and Europeans "feel that they are losing their identity."

In his editorial defending the need for the debates, Sarkozy argued that France's national identity relies on the "successful assimilation" of Muslims, through their "discreet" demonstration of their religion.

My brother Lee, a retired professor of international economics, has lived in Europe for about 40 years, the last 30 in Thomery, a small town outside Paris. In an email in response to a reaction about the French debate, he wrote:

There is a fairly high level of polarization among the French.  The left here [like left-wing American liberals] tend to believe the immigrants are suffering from excessive discrimination.  While a lot of truth to this, the story is not so simple. The left wing members of parliament are against anything that the current government is for, or proposes.  Like the split between the Democrats and Repubicans in the US Congress.  So in public it is hard to have a reasonable debate unless it is the Pope preaching to Catholics.  For historical reasons here there is a very strong sentiment for a secular society.  Until about 100 years ago, the Catholic church had more or less of a monopoly [96% of the population], and a fairly strong influence on the government.  The church began to lose its power at the time of the French revolution at the end of the 1700's, and has been fighting a rear-guard action ever since.  Most French call themselves Catholic, but this usually means they are baptized, married, and given last rites by the Church.  In the small towns, there may be more participation.

Catholics count for 85% of the population.  2% to 3% each are Jewish or Protestant, the remaining Muslim. The statistics are not precise because in the census, one does not tick a box to indicate religion. The (Los Angeles Times) article stated half the Muslims are practicing, but that figure is doubtful.  They stand out in the population, at least those who are devout [women] because wearing the burqua covered in black from head to toe with or without much of their face exposed makes them obvious.  Actually one sees so few, that they draw attention.  Head scarves are much more common, though not allowed in school.  Like the orthodox male Jews who dress in black, with a black hat, and long sideburns make them stand out. Many Muslims are making a statement.  Their appearance labels them as different, not of the same culture of their hosts.  It would be unfair to put all in the same pot, but I think a fairly large number, especially the young, are showing these external signs as a form of f--- all of you. The Muslims do have cause for being angry since they are discriminated against.  They tend to live in poor neighborhoods, many only 1 generation away from the boondocks of Algeria or Morocco, primitive customs, poorly educated, and high levels of unemployment.  It is something of a vicious circle.  Poor education, means no jobs or menial ones.  Poor neighborhoods mean more crime, gangs, etc.  Some of the older generation practice old country customs like slitting the throat of a goat or a lamb for their big religious meals [Muslim equivalent of Thanksgiving or Christmas].  Butchering an animal in an apartment or in the communal garden does not endear them to the non-Muslims in the neighborhood.  

Meanwhile, the Obama administration faces a tough sell with whatever details -- including an amnesty path to citizenship and special workers' visa program -- they offer in a new immigration reform package. The reason is unemployment remaining at 10%.

Republican lawmakers said they remained confident that they could defeat any overhaul proposal. They said it would be political folly for the Obama administration to propose a huge legalization program for illegal immigrants when so many Americans are out of work.

“Allowing millions of illegal immigrants to stay and take jobs away from citizens and legal immigrants is like giving a burglar a key to the house,” said Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, the senior Republican on the House Judiciary Committee.

Even so, the White House apparently has decided to press ahead. The Los Angeles Times:

In an effort to enlist the kind of business support that helped drive its healthcare initiative, for example, administration officials have reached out to the National Restaurant Assn., which represents an industry that employs thousands of immigrants. Earlier this year, the new head of the association, Dawn Sweeney, met with Cecilia Muñoz, a White House aide involved in the issue, and expressed interest in cooperating.

At the same time, the Obama administration has accelerated a Bush administration policy with 169,612 federal prosecutions in 2009, a 9% increase from the previous year in which more than half were for immigration violations, a 16% increase.

The streamline immigration cases have become the low-hanging fruit of the federal legal system: Immigration prosecutions, from inception to court disposal, are lightning quick, according to the (Syracuse Univesity) report. While white-collar prosecutions take an average of 460 days and narcotics cases take 333, the immigration cases are typically disposed of in 2 days. 

And while federal prosecutors decline to prosecute about half of the white-collar cases that are referred to them by law enforcement agencies, they prosecute 97 percent of the immigration cases

That hardly smacks as soft on crime, a charge routinely thrown at Obama by Republicans.

Where Art Thou, Keith Olbermann

Unless his contract specifies a three to four-day work week, absenteeism from his "Countdown With Keith Olbermann" show is of serial proportions.Olbermann was a no-show on his program again Monday night.

In the past year, Olbermann has missed more shows than his hero Edward R. Murrow missed in a lifetime at CBS. I'm guessing, of course.

I'm giving the guy plenty of slack because during the last 13 months his mother died and his father suffered an accident. During the World Series, Olbermann missed every show in which a game was played. That, too, is okay. He's a confessed baseball junkie and seeks refuge in the game. I understand that.

But I wonder how serious he is about his anchor job when he has 100% attendance this past season on Sunday Night Football where he has about four minutes of face time during a 90-minute pre-game show.

It doesn't matter whether Olbermann is one's cup of tea as a news anchorman. He's not doing his job.How can one follow the fellow and grow an audience when he's absent 20% of the time?

His chief competitor, Bill O'Reilly in the 8 p.m. (Eastern Time) slot, is not much better. However, the Fox host has proven ratings, a devout following and a consistent cable news leader over the past decade.

Anchoring a network news show five days a week no doubt is a grueling job. Three of Olbermann's favorite targets -- Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck -- at least show up for work consistently. Same goes for Olbermann's MSNBC pals Joe Scarborough, Chris Matthews, Rachael Maddow and Ed Schultz.
And, when's the last time Katie Courek and Brian Williams missed a show, not counting vacations and holidays?

Olbermann's ratings generally lag behind his prime time competitors. One reason is his gig caters to the liberal left and the show's format is too often off the wall. But his show also is similar to a fine wine still aging in the cellar. It grows on you if you have a liberal taste.

With the exception of Jon Stewart of "The Daily Show," Olbermann's snarky and sometimes vicious jabs at conservatives is a welcome respite to the day's news. His first two segments of the so-called five top stories of the day are usually serious attempts with particular left-leaning slants. His fourth segment, "Worst Persons," usually is an effort at sticking a pin in the side of the pompous politician.

But all this goes to naught if he's not on the air. It tells me he has little regard for what few followers he has. I could care less what Olbermann does off camera or whether he's lazy, a hypochondriac, prima dona or some kind of fruit cake.

It make me wonder if MSNBC is auditioning his designated replacement Lawrence O'Donnell for the job. At first they tried David Shuster to fill in but he was a disaster. The network obviously has decided the time slot will be filled as a voice of the left to counter-program CNN's Campbell Brown and Fox's O'Reilly.

Olbermann started the Countdown show in 2003 after an exemplary career as an innovative sportscaster on ESPN, usually paired with his sidekick Dan Patrick. In spot hard news coverage, he performed brilliantly, earning the Edward R. Murrow Award for his handling of the 9/11 terrorist attack.

His detractors are many. One website tracks his news judgment. It makes a salient point. For the week of
Jan. 4-8, it tallies 69 references to George Bush, 38 to health care, 32 to Brit Hume, 28 to Dick Cheney, 28 to Tiger Woods, 28 to Fox News, 24 to Sarah Palin and 21 to Rush Limbaugh. All this when the rest of the media focused on security breaches by the Christmas Day underwear bomber and al-Qaeda in Yemen.

At the start of Countdown, Olbermann told television columnist Lisa de Moraes that "our charge for the immediate future is to stay out of the way of the news.... News is the news. We will not be screwing around with it.... As times improve and the war ends we will begin to introduce more and more elements familiar to my style." 

That, he did. Using Murrow's parting words ending his shows, Olberman signs off with "Good Night, and Good Luck." I might add:

Wherever you are, Keith.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Big Mac Comes Clean On Steroids

The most talked about story in America today is an old one that has tainted our toy department the past decade: Baseball great Marc McGwire's admission he used steroids.

My initial reaction was:


ESPN, the nation's primary sports channel, reacted in typical fashion, as if it were the second coming of Christ. Everyone has an opinion which makes stories such as this so great.

I met Mark once when he was a student-athlete at a party hosted by USC alumni. He was a tall, lean, muscular lad with the reputation of hitting a baseball a mile. More important, he struck me as an honest, humble kid who seemed to care a lot of what people, especially children, thought of him. He came from a good Southern California family with a younger brother who adored him.

Everyone in that dining hall sipping punch and wine coolers knew Marc McGwire was destined for super stardom, including myself.

He didn't disappoint. The highlight was hitting a then-record 70 home runs for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1998 in a dramatic homer derby with Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs who ended the season with 66. The incredible avalanche of home runs by McGwire, Sosa and others most baseball experts believed saved the game after a strike/lockout cancellled the 1994 World Series for the first time ever.

But almost to a man, these experts were blinded by the glory on the field that something was wrong. All  others were guilty --  the players, the Major League Players Association Executive Council, baseball team managers and executives all  the way up to the owners and especially Commissioner Bud Selig.

They were as ostriches, sticking their heads in the ground, knowing full well they were participating in a code of silence about the use of steroids and performance enhancing drugs which at the time were not banned by the sport. To this day, no test is reliable to detect certain human growth hormones.

The downfall started in 1999 when a reporter saw a capsule of HGH inside McQwire's locker. Big Mac retired in 2001 and in 2005 refused to discuss his past during a congressional hearing. For most of those years, he has secluded himself inside his gated community.

In his statement and interviews today, McQwire apologized profusely saying his use of steroids and HGH was stupid, foolish and wrong. He took them, he said, because he believed they would faster repair his muscle and ankle injuries and get him back on the playing field to justify his multi-million dollar salary. He admitted he wasn't convinced today that the juice worked.

I found credence in McGwire's statement that his silence was on advice of his attorneys. And those of the MLPA. Their role was to keep McGwire out of jail and protect the baseball union.

For  a decade now, the specter of McGwire's performance drug use floated over his head with sportswriters and most fans delivering a guilty verdict. Such a verdict in a court of law probably would have been less severe on this guy who just wanted to do his job for the love and money the game offered.

Hall of Fame voters refused to consider his nomination the required five years after his retirement. From a historical perspective, that's a joke. Few are model citizens on or off the field. For every Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. there's a Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Gaylord Perry.

The one man who has stood alone and believed in Big Mac has been Tony LaRussa, his manager with the A's and Cards. LaRussa finally talked McGwire out of retirement and hired him as the St. Louis team's hitting instructor after last season. They agreed Mac would issue a statement, clear the air and get on with life.

It was the best call of both men's career.

“I wish I had never played during the steroid era,” McGwire said.

As the years go by, the sensitive youth I met years ago will be exonerated in the minds of baseball fans for we are a forgiving lot.And, Marc McGwire is a good, decent human being.

One would think three other guilt-drenched superstars would face up honestly.

Are you listening  Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

What Price Democracy In Hawaii

 It was bound to happen. Like most cash-strapped states, Hawaii has slashed its budget so much it has only $5,000 on hand to pay for a million-dollar special election.

What caught my attention and what goads me is that this is a special election to accommodate an incumbent Congressman who plans to quit and run for governor. Unless the feds plug the cash hole, Hawaii is faced with only one of its two representatives in Congress from February until January 2011.

U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat, announced last week he will resign Feb. 28 after 19 years so he can dedicate his time to the gubernatorial race. The special election would be held May 1. The possibility looms that a potential 600,000 voters in Hawaii would not be represented for almost a year.

Interim Chief Elections Officer Scott Nago told the Associated Press his office has only $5,000 until the new fiscal year begins July 1. State Attorney General Mark Bennett advised the legislature that delaying the special election could run afoul federal laws and the U.S. Constitution.

Sarah Litton, spokeswoman for the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, told the AP federal money could be forthcoming.

Hawaii would have to ask the commission to decide whether the money can be spent in that way, Litton said.

Separately, about $1.3 million may be available because of a recently discovered accounting error. The money was distributed to Hawaii by the federal government in 2003 to reimburse the state for new voting machines, but it was put into the wrong account, elections officials said.

I hold nothing against politicians who want to further their careers. This Hawaiian case smacks of personal ambition passed onto to taxpayers to the tune of a million bucks.

Each state has its own laws to replace incumbents who die or resign before their terms expire. Too often the politicians' ambitions take advantage of the system.

The most disgraceful example that immediately comes to mind is Sen. Joe Lieberman who in 2004 ran simultaneously for vice president and still appeared on the Connecticut ballot as an incumbent senator for reelection. That's covering all bases, my friends.