Indications of the age in which we live. A congressional committee has a hearing scheduled this week to get to the bottom of a question of intense public concern: How did Tareq and Michaele Salahi get into last week’s White House state dinner for the prime minister of India without a formal invitation? Really! The economy’s in the dumper, federal spending is out of control, Iran is close to building a nuclear bomb and the House Homeland Security Committee is pinned down by a couple of party crashers. Maybe we should say “alleged” party crashers, because the Salahis maintain they didn’t pull a Vince Vaughn/Owen Wilson deal to get into the White House shindig. Was there a security breach of epic proportions? Did the Salahis schmooze their way in and if so, who was schmoozed? Why was Vice President Joe Biden grinning from ear to ear when he posed for a party pic with Michaele? Looks like we’ll have to tune into the hearing to find out.
OK, what if there was a stimulus but nobody noticed? Top White House economist Christina Romer told a congressional committee this week the $787 billion stimulus package passed earlier this year already has had its biggest impact on growth and probably won’t help much next year. Although only about $200 billion of the package has been spent, the rest won’t drive expansion next year, Romer said. That’s especially bad news for the nearly 10 percent of Americans without jobs. It’s bad news for taxpayers, too, because the stimulus was sold as an emergency measure to perk up the economy. Instead, it appears there was a little stimulus and a lot of something else — all billed to the country’s credit card. Meanwhile, Romer said unemployment will remain high through the end of 2010, which begs the question of how much worse joblessness and other economic statistics would have been without the stimulus and all the extra debt that came with it.
“Pugnacious” is a word frequenting a number of remembrances of William Safire, the former Nixon speechwriter and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The New York Times who died Sunday at the age of 79. The author of then-Vice President Spiro Agnew’s “nattering nabobs of negativism” line in 1970, Safire also distinguished himself as a conservative political columnist and ardent defender of clear and concise English at The Times. He won his Pulitzer in 1978 for columns skewering Bert Lance, President Jimmy Carter’s controversial budget director. The Times’ obituary described Safire as a forceful conservative voice in the paper’s “liberal chorus.” He was old-fashioned in reporting for his columns and unafraid of blunt appellations, such as when he called then-first lady Hillary Clinton a “congenital liar.” Like Robert Novak before him, William Safire’s passing leaves a sizable void in the world of newspaper punditry.
Former White House Press Secretary Jody Powell’s death this week caught a number of people by surprise. He was just 65 when an apparent heart attack claimed him at his home in Maryland. Powell flakked for President Jimmy Carter for four years and was well-liked by reporters because of his obvious closeness to the president. Powell had a tough job, tasked with putting the best foot forward for Carter, who was no Obama or Reagan. Told of Powell’s passing, Sam Donaldson expressed admiration by saying Powell tried hard not to lie. After the White House years Powell pursued other interests, including a love for Civil War history — highlighted, perhaps, by his appearance in Ken Burns’ award-winning PBS series on the war in which he furnished the voice for Confederate Gen. John B. Gordon, a fellow Georgian. A Washington outsider when Carter was elected, Jody Powell became part of the permanent, insider establishment, heading the PR firm Powell Tate.
D-Day plus-65 years will be marked by ceremonies across the world today — none more physically and spiritually linked to the Allied landings on Normandy’s beaches than the one scheduled at the U.S. military cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, where more than 9,000 white crosses and Stars of David overlook Omaha Beach.
President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit along with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and other dignitaries. Obama’s grandfather and great uncle both made Normandy landings, though not on D-Day itself. They followed thousands of American soldiers, who with British, Canadian and Free French troops, began rolling back German forces that had held France throughout World War II.
Americans might be surprised at how grateful Normandy’s French remain, 65 years later. The political differences France and the U.S. have had the past six decades have not diminished their love and affection and memory of what the G.I.s did on D-Day. “When you are 4 or 5 years old, and your parents and your grandparents tell you about this, it sticks with you,” 42-year-old Benoit Noel told The Washington Post. “Everybody in Normandy remembers the landing. We know what the Americans did for us. We haven’t forgotten.”
Memories of war, the specific battles and instances of heroism, fade with the passing of the veterans who lived them. But the cemeteries remain — stone markers on lush green lawns, testifying to the great clash of armies and to the changing of history’s course, which is D-Day’s enduring significance.
A couple of additional points about the nomination of U.S. Circuit Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. The first is you’ve got to wonder how hard Republicans dare tread on the first Hispanic nominee to the high court, given that group’s growing electoral clout. A filibuster would please the party’s base, but at what price? And for what purpose? It’s not as though blocking Sotomayor would produce a more conservative nominee from President Barack Obama. Yet GOP senators can’t just wave Sotomayor on through. Some of her public comments over the years are eyebrow-raisers that need examination.
There’s the one about circuit courts making “policy” – fighting words for lawmakers worried about activist judges — that at a minimum showed a lack of political savvy in someone who had to know she would be on a Democratic president’s Supreme Court short list, thus making every word she uttered subject to intense scrutiny. Then there was the time she said a Latina judge would make better decisions than a white male because of her life experiences. She’s going to get grilled on that one. Hard to imagine John Roberts or Sam Alito getting confirmed if they’d said a white male would reach better judicial conclusions than a Latina or an African-American because of his life experiences.
Barring some major negative development, Sotomayor will be confirmed by the Democrat-dominated Senate. Even so, there’s enough out there for a revealing — and entertaining — few days on her way to confirmation.
Who’s following the money, the $787 billion federal stimulus package passed earlier this year? Members of Congress hope the taxpayers are. Just three of 10 members of the subcommittee charged with tracking the funds showed up for a meeting this week. Interestingly, the session was dubbed, “Follow the Money Part II.” A couple of those present remarked that taxpayers can follow the stimulus’ expenditures on the Web, which is good as far as it goes. Still, taxpayers who essentially hire public officials to perform these tasks in Washington must be concerned by the lack of official enthusiasm for following this great big money trail.
One of the wonders of Washington is how moderate-to-liberal politicians get elected to the Senate from some of America’s reddest states. Take Sens. Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad from North Dakota.
George W. Bush won the state with 60 percent of the vote in 2000 and 63 percent in 2004. Last year, a tough year for Republicans, John McCain won with 53 percent, still a fairly comfortable margin. That’s a pretty red state to be electing senators who voted the liberal position 68 percent of the time (Dorgan) and nearly 65 percent of the time (Conrad) in 2008, according to the National Journal.
Conrad, especially, is a Houdini when it comes to some sleight of hand with the home folks. This week he was the decisive vote in a House-Senate conference to let the Senate pass major health-care legislation under “reconciliation” rules — with 51 votes instead of the 60 usually required on controversial bills. This, although Conrad says he’s opposed to using reconciliation that way. And, despite an image as a “skin-flint deficit hawk,” as a Wall Street Journal editorial described him, Conrad as Budget Committee chairman shepherded President Barack Obama’s $3.5 trillion spending plan to passage.
Then again, Conrad’s next election’s still more than a year away. Plenty of time to convince North Dakotans not to believe what they see.
We recently chided the Sierra Club for consuming so much conventional energy in trying to promote alternative energy. That effort doesn’t hold a patch to Greenpeace, a more radical environmental group, which has just come out with a “National Energy Scenario” report in conjunction with the European Renewable Energy Council. The report runs to 46 pages of tiny type, not to mention supporting materials sent to U.S. media affiliates. That’s a lot of paper and ink to talk about saving the environment in part through using less paper and ink. Of course we were comforted in knowing that the report and supporting materials were printed on recycled, chlorine-free paper using vegetable inks. No word on whether the presses were powered by humans working a treadmill rather than electricity generated by coal.
Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley’s spokesman insists Grassley didn’t mean AIG executives should actually kill themselves when the Republican said officials of the troubled insurance giant should take responsibility for the company’s problems by taking a Japanese approach: resignation and/or suicide. That’s a hard sell given the words Grassley used.
AIG’s executives are catching major flak for doling out bonuses even though the company has received billions of dollars in taxpayer money to avoid total collapse. AIG’s CEO says the bonuses were contractually obligated and the company had no choice but to pay them. President Barack Obama and members of Congress disagree and have been venting plenty of spleen over the deal.
“Maybe they ought to be removed,” Grassley said in a radio interview this week. “But I would suggest the first thing that would make me feel a little bit better toward them (is) if they’d follow the Japanese example and come before the American people and take that deep bow and say, I’m sorry, and then either do one of two things: resign or go commit suicide.”
Grassley won’t win any awards for political correctness, but he probably reflects the anger many Americans feel right now about AIG and other beneficiaries of their hard-earned tax dollars.