Let’s see if we have this straight: At the same time an oil spill is leaking millions of gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico, the head of the federal agency that oversees drilling is fired, forced out or quits – and the president of the United States has no idea what happened, even as he assures the country he’s responsible, engaged and on task. At issue is the departure of Elizabeth Birnbaum, who had led the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service since last July. Birnbaum’s shop has been the focal point of criticism in the wake of the BP spill. She got the boot, was shoved or fell on her sword the very morning of President Obama’s news conference on the leak. Asked about Birnbaum, the commander in chief said he didn’t know the circumstances of her exit and said he’d been busy with a “whole bunch of other stuff.” That’s it? He had other “stuff” going on? Like … what exactly? Meeting with the national champion Duke basketball team? A photo op with former President Clinton and the U.S. soccer team? Is it possible for someone to be simultaneously engaged and detached? Obama appears to be living proof.
Not too long ago the British were hot about global warming. As The New York Times notes, climate change was such a big deal in the U.K., Parliament put targets for emissions cuts into national law a couple years ago. But there’s been a cooling of British opinion on warming, following months of reports about allegedly skewed science, mistakes in key reports and other developments rattling the research supporting climate change theory. A BBC poll in February found just 26 percent believe man-made climate change is happening — down from 41 percent in November. “Legitimacy has shifted to the side of the climate skeptics, and that is a big, big problem,” says Greenpeace spokesman Ben Stewart. “This is happening in the context of overwhelming scientific agreement that climate change is real and a threat. But the poll figures are going through the floor.” Greenpeace, other environmental groups and scientists who swear by man-made global warming say inaccuracies in a United Nations report and e-mail traffic suggesting climate scientists fudged numbers to bolster their research have been blown out of proportion. They’re urging global warming believers to fight back. But it’s hard to restore lost credibility once regular people, British and others, doubt your integrity and your motives.
Depending on who you believe, Tuesday’s Capitol Hill pow-wow between President Barack Obama and Senate Republicans was: a) the kind of frank but civil discussion of a host of issues that will promote understanding and legislative progress; or b) a food fight. Various reports indicated things got pretty hot behind the closed doors. Kansas’ Pat Roberts said Obama showed a thin skin when challenged and suggested the Prez might take a chill pill before the next mind meld with Republicans. Even Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, a moderate by any measure, sounded irritated. “Their bipartisanship generally consists of ‘Can we have your vote for our bill,’ ” Snowe said. The White House downplayed disagreements, but the level of GOP irk and ire suggests last week’s financial regulatory reform bill might be the last major legislation passing the Senate before the fall mid-term elections. Obama wants a global warming bill and immigration reform this year — plus the Supreme Court nomination of Elena Kagan. Good luck with that. More than a year of hope and change from Barack Obama has produced a political climate as polarized as ever before.
If you were skeptical when Democrats demanded special counsels to investigate a variety of alleged sins during the Bush administration, consistency dictates that you be skeptical of Republican calls for a special investigation into the deal (some say “bribe”) allegedly offered by the Obama White House to Rep. Joe Sestak, to keep Sestak from challenging U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania’s Democratic primary. Oddly, Sestak himself is making the claim he was offered a high administration post to clear the field for Specter. Sestak declined and soundly thumped Specter in last week’s primary. U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., wants the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel to look into Sestak’s allegation. The White House is acting like nothing untoward happened, but stonewalling the press on questions about it is a sure-fire way to keep the issue alive. Justice says no special counsel is needed, but also gave no indication it plans to check into the allegation — yet another new reason for regular Americans to wonder about integrity in Washington.
Of course, another major reef upon which many a political career has been smashed is the extra-marital affair — U.S. Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., being the latest example. Souder, first elected from his Fort Wayne-area district in 1994, admitted Tuesday to a “relationship” with a part-time staffer and said he will leave Congress at the end of the week. In a statement Souder said although his family would stand behind him in his re-election bid this fall, he chose resignation rather than put them through more pain. “The error is mine and I should bear the responsibility,” Souder said of his costly fling. “I wish I could have been a better example.” So do his constituents, no doubt. Certainly, Souder’s withdrawal opens up this year’s race in Indiana’s 3rd District. Gov. Mitch Daniels could call a special election, but that’s unlikely given the proximity to the November mid-term elections. Otherwise, within 30 days precinct chairmen across the 3rd District will meet to choose a replacement nominee. Souder’s fall is disappointing and, again, testimony to the pitfalls of power. At least he’s not one of those politicians who insists on healing himself in office.
The depth of the U.S. experience in the Vietnam war four decades ago is evidenced in a number of cultural, historical and political manifestations — not the least of which is the way the war still represents dangerous shoals that baby-boomer politicians must avoid. Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who’s running for the U.S. Senate, is the latest example. The New York Times has uncovered a tendency by Blumenthal, a Democrat, to overstate his Vietnam era service. We say “era” because Blumenthal never set foot in ‘Nam. But that apparently hasn’t stopped him from talking like he did, The Times found.
In one speech in 2008, Blumenthal talks about important lessons learned “since the days that I served in Vietnam.” The newspaper found other examples of Blumenthal fuzzing up the details of where he was and what he did in those years, but the ’08 speech is the topper, and it’s on video. In fact, The Times reports, Blumenthal got five military deferments from 1965 to 1970, and when the last one was running out he got a spot in the Marine Reserve, virtually assuring he wouldn’t go to Vietnam. He joined a Washington unit which, the paper reports, “conducted drills and other exercises and focused on local projects, like fixing a campground and organizing a Toys for Tots drive.” Not exactly Bronze Star duty. We’ll see whether it costs Blumenthal in November, but it’s amazing how ambition can warp a man’s better judgment, causing him to say things that are easily proved false or sadly misleading.
They’re canceling “Law & Order.” No lie: NBC announced Friday the original New York-based crime/judicial series is not being renewed for another season. The last episode will air May 24. That might not seem like big news compared to Greece falling off the financial cliff or a terrorist trying to bomb Times Square, but the show has been on 20 years and will end up tied with “Gunsmoke” for the longest-running TV series ever.
Of course, L&O is famous for its opening narration: “In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate but equally important groups …” blah, blah, blah by a voice-over actor named Steven Zirnkilton. It spawned spin-offs including “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” “Criminal Intent” ran on NBC its first six seasons before moving to cable. NBC has renewed “Special Victims Unit” for a 12th season.
Law & Order’s successful formula devoted half the hour-long show with cops investigating a heinous crime and the other half with the prosecution of the case. The show claimed its inspiration from real crimes, ripped from the headlines, and usually leaned to the political left whenever possible, reflecting executive producer Dick Wolf’s liberal preferences. Its passing is a big deal in TV Land.
Inquiring minds want to know why the Congressional Budget Office didn’t tell everyone Obamacare’s real cost would be more than $1 trillion if add-on spending authorized in the program was included? Simple: CBO didn’t have time — at least, that’s what CBO says. With staff members reportedly working 100-hour weeks in the waning days of the health care debate, calculating costs for various versions of the plan, there wasn’t time reckon $115 billion for administration, community health centers and Indian health care.
Obviously, these details would’ve been nice to know before the Senate’s decisive vote. Add another $115 billion to Obamacare’s costs and you just about wipe out all the savings it was supposed to generate its first 10 years. Bait-and-switch is as old as the hills, and cynics can say Obamacare is a good example. Meanwhile, the latest CBO revelation puts President Barack Obama in a precarious pose: having to threaten to veto the add-on spending for his own health care program if it isn’t paid for with cuts elsewhere in the budget. It’s almost like Obama is telling Congress, which his party controls, if you vote to spend this extra money on the crowning achievement of my administration I’ll punch myself in the face. That, we’d pay to see.
For those keeping score at home, U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., has become the first House incumbent voted out of office, beaten in Tuesday’s primary by a state senator who questioned Mollohan’s ethics and his vote for Obamacare. Running as a conservative Democrat, Michael Oliverio got 56 percent of the vote to Mollohan’s 44 percent. He’ll face former state Republican chairman David McKinley this fall. McKinley said Mollohan’s defeat was a referendum on President Barack Obama. “People just didn’t like what was happening in Washington,” McKinley said. “It’s clear this is not the agenda they wanted. This wasn’t the change they envisioned.” Coupled with Republican Sen. Robert Bennett’s defeat in Utah’s primary, the heavy gale warnings clearly are up for incumbents — especially those associated with big spending and big government.
Most folks know that when a new pope has been selected to head the Roman Catholic Church, white smoke vents from a smokestack atop the Sistine Chapel. There’s nothing like that in American politics, but maybe there should be when it comes to nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court. Until the president announces his choice, Beltway speculation on who it will be ricochets around like a bullet inside a concrete bunker.
The current buzz centers on Solicitor General and former Harvard law school dean Elena Kagan as the possible nominee to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens. Politico reported President Barack Obama has picked Kagan, but Fox News’ Major Garrett said nothing is final yet. “It may well end up being her,” an official told Fox, “but there’s no white smoke yet.” Ah, see? White smoke!
As for Kagan, Beltway pundits figure she’s a front-runner because she’s just 50 and likely would be on the court for years to come. Besides that, she’s supposed to have the intellectual heft to duke it out with Justice Antonin Scalia, the anchor of the court’s conservative wing. No smoke signals, but all the other signs suggest we’ll soon know what Obama is going to do.