Monday, 16 February 2009

ED SCHULTZ TALKS SENSE ABOUT CONGRESS

Ken Berwitz

Ed Schultz is the only liberal/leftward talk show host I know who has demonstrated more than a nominal capacity to attract listeners. 

Maybe it's because of quotes like this, which he made about the congressional hearings that put Wall Street executives on the carpet:

Here's the bottom line, the committee that grilled these eight executives, 71 members, 42 Democrats, 29 Republicans. Now we're doing ESPN Inside the Numbers. Of the 71 members, folks, there's only 33 of them that have ever run their own business or were involved in upper-level management of a business, less than half. That means a bunch of 'em come from government, a bunch of 'em come from the activist life, people that have never met payroll. Of these 71 members, get that?, 33 have ever been in private business. And, get this, five have some business experience but did not run their own business and were not involved in upper management. So now the number's up to 38. OK, of the 71 members, 33 have no apparent business experience. OK? What are you doing on the House Financial Services Committee? Who are these 33 that have never been there and done that, supposed to hold anybody accountable who is at the absolute top of their profession being a CEO of a major financial institution?

Good for you Ed.  I don't think it could have been said better.


DUBAI, THE "ENLIGHTENED" ARAB STATE

Ken Berwitz

From today's New York Times. The bold print is mine:

February 16, 2009
Sports of The Times

A Political Swing at One Player Sours a Tournament for All

As freshly strung racket strings pummeled defenseless balls Sunday, a more sinister tension was striking at the heart of womens tennis. The show went on in Dubai but with Middle East politics as its top-ranked headline, with a player taken from the draw for the crime of being from the wrong country.

Shahar Peer, an Israeli, was scheduled to play a Russian, Anna Chakvetadze, in the first round Monday of the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships, a major stop on the early-season circuit that features all but one of the top-10 players. Peer, ranked 48th, had planned to play this $2 million tournament for some time, but there was always the specter of real-world invasion, the matter of a visa being granted to a Jewish player traveling on an Israeli passport. That had never happened in Dubai, which is part of the United Arab Emirates. Larry Scott, the chairman and chief executive of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, said Sunday that he told officials of the seven-year-old tournament that it had to happen now.

We knew it was an issue, but we made it clear that she was going to be in the draw and we wanted to be optimistic that she would get the visa, Scott said. Then they waited until the 11th hour to deny it.

Just like that, the glitter and promise of Dubai as an emerging international sports center evaporated into the cool desert night. The tour had a decision to make with almost a full complement of competitors, 55 of 56, in or on their way into town, ready to play the Premier 5 event, what Scott called one of our nine biggest tournaments after the four slams.

In a telephone interview, Scott said a response of canceling the tournament was immediately discussed, but Peer and her family called for caution. They didnt want all the players to be harmed because of one, Scott said. We talked to our players and told them that something terrible has happened here, but every single one would be punished if we were to cancel.

Next year, Scott seemed to say, will be a different story.

I made it clear to them that if Shahar were not allowed to play, they would run the risk of losing their tournament, Scott said. It would be a big blow to lose one of this prestige and money, but if it comes to the principles of fairness and openness, there can be no compromise.

If this is Scotts nonnegotiable position, then tour stalwarts need to be right behind him, as Venus Williams appeared to be when the news broke in Dubai.

All the players support Shahar, Williams said. We are all athletes, and we stand for tennis.

They need to support the tour, in whatever direction it goes, no doubt knowing which way that should be.

Scott wasnt surprised that Williams was so quick to the defense of Peer, or any peer. She has grown into a senior presence, a leader in the fight for equal prize money. More than most, she and her sister Serena have had to hit their way past ancient, prejudicial attitudes. But the women should collectively recognize how dangerous a precedent it would be to finesse this issue, compromise in the interests of maintaining a prize revenue stream, even in the face of global recession.

For one thing, tennis does big business in American markets think New York, Los Angeles and Miami with large Jewish populations. The men, who follow the women to Dubai next week, may want to remember that, too, along with the companies that sponsor these events.

Scott had done business in Dubai since the early 1990s when he worked to create the mens tour stop. He could only guess why the powers that be drew a hard line in the sand over Peer, stepped back from commercial ambitions that created the Dubai Sports City and even floated the idea of a bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics they never did make.

No doubt the Israeli invasion of Gaza made it harder there for progressives. In detailing the devastating effects the financial downturn has had on the Dubai economy, The New York Times recently reported on a rollback on news media freedoms and government policies.

Its a complicated world we live in, Scott said, and always thorny when it comes to Israelis and international sport.

We have seen Olympic officials turn into ostriches when Iranians have packed up their gym bags when matched against an Israeli. When it comes to basketball, a sport Israel loves and happens to be pretty good at, its teams are relocated to Europe, a region it has almost no chance to survive.

Tennis, though, is a globetrotting sport of individuals, choosing its tour stops based on merit and good will. Last year, Peer did play in Doha, Qatar, which at the time had low-level ties with Israel. She was the first Israeli to play in a Gulf-Arab state. She has also played doubles with Sania Mirza, a Muslim from India in a partnership that has evoked cheers and jeers.

Just last month, Peer faced a small, noisy protest of Israels Gaza incursion during a tournament in Auckland, New Zealand. There is always going to be international conflict, and athletes in the middle. But they cant be abandoned there when there is a choice. Tennis should finish its business in the gulf this month, and say bye-bye, Dubai.

Good for Venus Williams to say something.  Good for Larry Scott to say something.  Now what are they going to do?   This year, not next year.

Frankly, Mr. Scott, this is not "complicated" or "thorny" at all.

If these pros have any integrity and guts, one after the other they will get on the court and, at each match's start time, walk off.  Then, at the end of the non-matches, Larry Scott will announce that this concludes the Dubai part of the tennis tour - unless and until all players are allowed to compete. 

I doubt that they will.  But I hope they do.  How great that would be!

Thank you Dubai, the "enlightened" Arab state, for showing us what the current state of enlightenment really is.


DAVID PATERSON'S WELL PAID PALS

Ken Berwitz

David Paterson may be the accidental Governor of New York, and he may be a bit of a dimwit (ok, more than a bit).  But that doesn't mean he can't figure out how to extravagantly pay off his staff while all the "little people" are told there isn't any money for raises.

Here is the story, from Fred Dicker of the New York Post.  Please pay special attention to the last two paragraphs, which I've put in bold print:

GOV'S HY-PAY-CRISY

STAFFERS GET SECRET RAISES AMID 'FREEZE'

 Last updated: 2:30 am
February 16, 2009
Posted: 1:59 am
February 16, 2009

ALBANY - Gov. Paterson has secretly granted raises of as much as 46 percent to more than a dozen staffers at a time when he has asked 130,000 state workers to give up 3 percent pay hikes because of the state's fiscal crisis, The Post has learned.

The startling pay hikes, costing about $250,000 annually, were granted after the governor's "emergency" declaration in August of a looming fiscal crisis that required the state to cut spending and impose a "hard" hiring freeze.

One raise was approved as recently as last month - when Paterson claimed the budget deficit had reached an unprecedented $15.5 billion.

The raises, which have stunned the few state workers who know about them, are outlined in data obtained from the office of state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, prepared at The Post's request.

Two of the raises were tied to publicly proclaimed promotions - granted despite the supposed hiring freeze - of some of Paterson's most important appointees, although the announcements didn't include disclosure of the pay hikes.

The remaining 14 raises appear to have gone to individuals who remained in their same positions, despite claims by a spokesman for Paterson that they had been promoted.

"These are not raises for old positions, rather new salaries for new positions," Paterson spokesman Errol Cockfield insisted.

But a DiNapoli spokesman, Dennis Thompkins, said flatly, "These are individuals who stayed in their same position and received a salary increase."

Paterson's top aide, William Cunningham, a one-time law partner of the governor's father, Basil, saw his pay jump 5 percent to $178,500 - just $500 less than Paterson himself - from $170,000 on Nov. 7, after he was promoted from a temporary "acting" secretary to permanent.

Charlotte Hitchcock, one of Cunningham's deputies and a personal friend of the governor's, received an $18,000, or 11.25 percent, raise on Dec. 22. While a press release said she was promoted from deputy secretary to "chief of staff" and "director of financial regulation," it made no mention of a higher salary.

Cassie Prugh, a confidential assistant, was given a 46 percent pay hike in late November, raising her annual salary to $125,000 from $85,721, while Gaurav Vasisht, an assistant counsel, received a 6 percent, $7,427 increase in December, bringing his salary to $130,279.

Brendan Fitzgerald, a special office assistant, received a 21 percent, or $15,737, pay hike only last month, bringing his salary to $90,000, while Michael Deloach, another confidential assistant, saw his pay leap 29 percent, or $18,200, to $80,000 in August.

Lauren Passalacqua, a confidential secretary, saw her salary jump $12,000, or 31.5 percent, to $50,000, while the salary of another confidential aide, Chardee Mendoza, was hiked $10,000, or 28.5 percent, to $45,000.

Disclosure of the secret pay hikes comes as Paterson is under attack for spending well over $20,000 in state funds on a four-day stay for himself and several aides during President Obama's inaugural last month, and for planning a state-funded junket to Davos, Switzerland, which he canceled only after his plans became public.

Paterson, in his budget proposal outlined in December, demanded that state workers who belong to the Civil Service Employees Association and the Public Employee Federation forgo negotiated, 3 percent pay hikes that would kick in April 1 or face massive layoffs.

Eliot Spitzer had to resign in disgrace because he was buying the services of hookers and trying to hide the expenditure.

But watching this dimwit, who admitted to using campaign funds to bed his girlfriends, along with buying clothing and furniture, etc., and now is shtupping his pals with money while state workers have to suck it up and get nothing, suddenly Spitzer doesn't look half bad.

How long before media - not just the New York Post but the rest of it - start putting moves on Paterson and demanding that he resign?

It can't happen too soon.


PAKISTAN WITHOUT MUSHARRAF

Ken Berwitz

Sometimes you don't realize what you've got until it is gone.

In the case of Pakistan, it's a matter of realizing that you've got a sack of manure, but that the alternative is a far bigger, more dangerous sack.

That's what the geniuses who pushed and prodded and insisted we move away from pervez musharraf didn't realize (or, worse still, maybe they did).

The Associated Press explains, via excerpts of today's report from Peshawar, in the affected region:

Pakistan inks truce deal with militants in NW area

By RIAZ KHAN, Associated Press Writer Riaz Khan, Associated Press Writer Mon Feb 16, 1:29 pm ET

PESHAWAR, Pakistan Pakistan agreed Monday to suspend military offensives and impose Islamic law in part of the restive northwest, making a gesture it hopes will help calm the Taliban insurgency while rejecting Washington's call for tougher measures against militants.

A U.S. defense official called the deal "a negative development," and some Pakistani experts expressed skepticism the truce would decrease violence. One human rights activist said the accord was "a great surrender" to militants.

Elsewhere in the northwest, missiles fired by a suspected U.S. spy plane killed 30 people in a house used by an extremist commander, witnesses said. It was the deadliest of almost three dozen apparent American attacks on al-Qaida and Taliban targets in the semiautonomous tribal lands close to the Afghan border since last year.

Monday's peace agreement applies to the Malakand region, which includes the former tourist destination of the Swat Valley, where extremists have gained sway by beheading people, burning girls schools and attacking security forces since a similar agreement broke down in August.

U.S. officials complained the earlier accord allowed militants to regroup and rearm and urged Pakistan's government to concentrate on military solutions to the insurgency in the rugged frontier region, where al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding.

The new agreement intensified that unease.

"It is hard to view this as anything other than a negative development," a senior Defense Department official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of relations with Pakistan and because he was not authorized to speak on the record.

There was no official comment in Washington because government offices were closed for the Presidents Day holiday.

Among the participants was a pro-Taliban cleric who authorities said would return to Swat and tell militants there to disarm, although there was no mention in the agreement of any need for extremists to give up their weapons.

Many analysts questioned whether the fighters would listen to the cleric and said they doubted the deal would stop violence. Critics asked why authorities were responding to the demands of a militant group that has waged a reign of terror.

"This is simply a great surrender, a surrender to a handful of forces who work through rough justice and brute force," said Athar Minallah, a lawyer and civil rights activist. "Who will be accountable for those hundreds of people who have been massacred in Swat? And they go and recognize these forces as a political force. This is pathetic.

The Swat Taliban, which had said Sunday it would observe a 10-day cease-fire in support of the government's initiative, welcomed the deal.

"Our whole struggle is for the enforcement of Shariah law," Swat Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan said. "If this really brings us the implementation of Shariah, we will fully cooperate with it."

Shari'a law is what they wanted, and shari'a law is what they got.  No problem under the current ruler. 

How soon before all of Pakistan is under shari'a law, and the lunatics come knocking at Afghanistan's door? 

Then who will the media blame?  Bush?


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