Saturday, 15 August 2009


Ken Berwitz

Chris Dodd, and his fellow preferentially-treated Senator Kent Conrad are off the hook.


To virtually no media coverage, the Select Committee on Ethics tsk-tsked a couple of times, felt bad about the appearance that you were receiving preferential treatment, and let it go.


In other words, Dodd - who was up to his neck in the Enron scandal, a key element of the sub-prime mess, who inserted the language that ok'ed those bonuses for the AIG executives his own party was railing about, who lied about the value of his property in Ireland, etc. etc. etc. - skates again, courtesy of his Democratic accomplices.


Paul Greenberg, the (outraged) editorialist of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, provides the details:


How Ethics Disappear

By Paul Greenberg | Gosh, what a surprise: A committee of their fellow senators has decided that Chris Dodd and Kent Conrad did nothing unethical when they took out loans from Countrywide Financial on the kind of favorable terms not available to us mere mortals without their financial or political standing or a personal connection to the head of Countrywide.

The very Select Committee on Ethics did recognize that the whole deal looked bad, and gave its colleagues a gentle pat on the wrist for creating "the appearance that you were receiving preferential treatment based on your status as a senator." But in the end one hand washed the other, if not very well.

The senators on the committee have a point: This VIP program called Friends of Angelo after Angelo Mozilo, the head of Countrywide at the time wasn't restricted to U.S. senators; it seems to have been open to a wide, bipartisan range of politicians with pull as well as anybody Angelo Mozilo took a liking to. To name a select few:

A former secretary of housing and urban development (Alphonso Jackson), a former secretary of health and human services and later university president (Donna Shalala), a former assistant secretary of state and still diplomat (Richard Holbrooke), an adviser to Barack Obama's presidential campaign (James Johnson) and so prominently on.

How else could these preferential loans appear but improper? Could it be because they were improper, ethically if not legally?

The surest way to lose the very basic and maybe first definition of ethics obligations beyond the law is to treat ethics as only a branch of the law rather than a separate realm above it. Which is why the phrase, "ethics law" is something of an oxymoron. Just because something is legal doesn't make it right.

When a member of the U.S. Senate is told he's getting a favor, like a point off his interest rate, that ought to be enough to raise a warning flag and keep him from accepting the deal.

Countrywide cast a wide net for its favoritism, but just how wide may never be known. It seems the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee (which may prove another oxymoron because it doesn't seem all that interested in either oversight or reform) is refusing to issue a subpoena for Countrywide's records of just who got these VIP loans and why.

The chairman of the committee, it turns out, is one Edolphus Towns, a Democratic congressman from New York, who himself received a couple of loans from Countrywide. What a coincidence.

Chairman Towns denies getting any special treatment, but without a look at Countrywide's records, how can the public be assured of that? If the congressman has nothing to hide, why isn't he going after the records that would vindicate him? Somehow we don't expect him to answer such questions till, like Sens. Dodd and Conrad, public pressure forces him to.

Lest we forget, Sen. Conrad tried to brazen out this scandal at first, declaring: "I never met Angelo Mozilo. I have no way of knowing how they categorized my loan. I never asked for, expected or was aware of any special treatment. From what we have been able to determine, it appears that we were given a competitive rate."

Only later did it emerge that the senator had spoken with Angelo Mozilo by phone about getting a mortgage. The loan officer at Countrywide who was in charge of such loans testified that both senators knew very well they were getting special treatment. Indeed, that it was standard practice to tell recipients of such loans they were getting a preferred rate.

Well, sure. What's the point of doing influential people a favor if they don't know about it? Let it be noted that Countrywide didn't just give Sen. Dodd a VIP loan; it also contributed some $20,000 to his political campaigns.

Sen. Dodd now has acknowledged that he should have leveled with the public sooner about his relationship with Countrywide "I think (my silence) contributed to people's cynicism and distrust that maybe I wasn't telling the truth." Ya think?

What is most obviously missing from both these senators' approach to ethics, or rather their avoidance of it, is their neglect of what may be the most basic, and is surely one of the first, ethical injunctions ever recorded: Build a fence around the law, said an ancient sage. That is, don't even come close to stepping over the line. Or appearing to.

Something else seems to have escaped these two U. S. senators namely, that they are U.S. senators. Which means their getting a loan at a preferential rate through the head of a corporation like Countrywide, which was very much dependent on favorable treatment by the government before it came crashing down at great expense to the taxpayers, is quite different from a private citizen's getting a mortgage at the same preferential rate.

Why? Because the private citizen is in no position to return the favor through political influence. Which is why the ethical standards expected of public officials are higher. Or at least should be. That crucial distinction used to be well understood. I'm not so sure it is now.


We deserve this, folks.  We elected a one-party government.  And this is what one-party governments do.


Dodd is up for re-election in 2010.  Maybe then the people of Connecticut, will finally have had a bellyful of this paragon of unethical dishonest behavior.  Or, maybe theyll turn off their eyes and ears on election day and vote this embarrassment on legs back to the senate.


Well see.


Oh, one other thing:  How much media coverage of Dodd's latest get-out-of-trouble-free episode did you catch in our wonderful "neutral" media? 


I thought so.


Ken Berwitz

If MSNBC ever needs a replacement host for keith olbermann - one who is even more obnoxious and viciously insulting that olbermann is - they can go straight to their farm system.

lawrence o'donnell, fresh from acting so offensively and childishly toward Peter Schiff earlier in the week, decided to parlay that "triumph" with an equivalent performance aimed at Texas Republican house member John Culbertson. 

Frankly, I don't know how Culbertson maintained his composure.  I don't think I could have.  o'donnell's rudeness and sneering disdain  for him was breathtaking.  But somehow Culbertson did, and, putting it bluntly, he reamed o'donnell and MSNBC in return. 

I'll let Noel Sheppard of flesh out the story:

Congressman Tells O'Donnell 'You're Illustrating Why MSNBC's Viewership Is In the Tank'


By Noel Sheppard (Bio | Archive)
August 14, 2009 - 19:53 ET


MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell for the second time in eight days bullied a guest he was interviewing, but this time the person on the receiving end really let him have it.


As NewsBusters previously reported, O'Donnell last Thursday, while subbing for Ed Schultz on that evening's "The Ed Show," continually talked over his guest Peter Schiff and basically never let him answer any questions.


On Friday, O'Donnell, who was sitting in for Chris Matthews on "Hardball," tried the same tactic with Rep. John Culberson (R-Tex.), but this time his guest struck back and struck back hard:


You know, Lawrence, for your listeners, you're illustrating why MSNBC's viewership is in the tank because you don't allow your people you're interviewing to answer questions. And, you know Lawrence, this is why Katie and everybody else is going to Facebook, everyone's going to the Internet because why listen to MSNBC when you won't even let the people you're interviewing answer the question?


Bravo, Congressman! Encore

Culbertson did not make o'donnell look like a low-life loser with a child's maturity.  o'donnell himself did that.  But Culbertson's narrative of o'donnell's behavior was excellent and then some. 

A serious cable news venue would be embarrassed beyond belief at this.  But we're talking MSNBC.

So watch out keith.  Someone is gaining on you.


Ken Berwitz


The first Latino (ok, Latina) supreme court justice is Sonia Sotomayor.  As regular readers know, Ive blogged a great deal about her.  I believe her numerous comments relating to racial and gender over the years disqualified her for consideration.  But I can at least hope that, as a Supreme Court Justice, she truly can go beyond her prejudices, and have detailed reasons why I think that is a real possibility.


But should Ms. Sotomayor have been the first?  Was any other Latino ever in the running?  On a fast track to the Supreme Court?   The answer may surprise you.  


From Larry Elders latest column:


The Other Hispanic Nominee

By Larry Elder


"For the first time in a long time," said one "Hispanic" man in the street interviewed on cable television, "I feel really proud." Others in the "Hispanic community" rejoiced as Sonia Sotomayor became the first Hispanic justice on the Supreme Court.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., in her statement at the beginning of Sotomayor's confirmation hearings, said: "Your nomination I view with a great sense of personal pride. You are indeed a very special woman. You have overcome adversity and disadvantages (emphasis added)." Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said, "Judge Sotomayor, you have overcome many obstacles (emphasis added) in your life that have given you an understanding of the daily realities and struggles faced by everyday people."


Let's talk about the obstacles, adversity and disadvantages of another Hispanic nominee, one whom many thought pre-Sotomayor worthy of future consideration as the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice.


Born in Honduras the child of a broken home this nominee immigrated to the United States at 17 years of age, arriving with a limited command of the English language. The nominee's mother spoke no English. But four years later, the nominee graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa with a bachelor's degree from Columbia University. The nominee went on to Harvard Law School, served as editor of the Harvard Law Review and received a Juris Doctor degree magna cum laude. The nominee served as a clerk at the U.S. Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, practiced law in New York, and then served as an assistant U.S. attorney, later joining the Justice Department as an assistant to the solicitor general for the Clinton administration.


Overcoming personal adversity? The nominee's spouse died from an accidental overdose of alcohol and sleeping pills, after the couple had suffered through a miscarriage.


The American Bar Association whose evaluation was once hailed as "the gold standard by which judicial candidates are judged," by Senate Judiciary Committee member (and current chairman) Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. unanimously gave the nominee its top "well-qualified" rating. Yet the nominee despite an admirable record of overcoming personal and professional "obstacles" and "adversity" met with a hailstorm of opposition, including a filibuster to prevent an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor.


The Senate only had 55 votes to end the filibuster, but it requires 60 votes to end one. If the Democrats had allowed a full vote, the nominee would have had enough Senate votes to reach confirmation. After all, Clarence Thomas only got 52 votes for his confirmation. Finally, because of fierce opposition by Democratic senators including the lengthy, seven-month filibuster staged as a procedure-delaying tactic to deny a full Senate confirmation vote the nominee withdrew in 2003. "This should serve as a wake-up call to the White House that it cannot simply expect the Senate to rubber-stamp judicial nominees," said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.


The nominee was Miguel Estrada.


Then-President George W. Bush, in 2001, nominated him to the prestigious U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Had Estrada secured the nomination and had Republicans retained the White House in 2008 many would have placed Estrada on the list of possible future Supreme Court justices. He, not Sotomayor, could have become that court's first Hispanic justice. Instead, the "minority-sensitive" Democrats treated him like a child molester. One staff strategy memo sent to Sen. Durbin in 2001 when the Democrats ran the Senate Judiciary Committee called Estrada "especially dangerous, because he has a minimal paper trail, he is Latino (emphasis added), and the White House seems to be grooming him for a Supreme Court appointment."


Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., days before chairing a Senate Judiciary Committee's confirmation hearing on Miguel Estrada, told the liberal magazine The Nation: "(Estrada) is like a Stealth missile with a nose cone coming out of the right wing's deepest silo (emphasis added)." When, however, President Barack Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor, Schumer regained his "compassion" for minorities: "(Republicans) oppose her at their peril."


Opposition to someone's nomination on ideological grounds or "judicial philosophy" is fair game irrespective of the nominee's race, ethnicity or gender. But Democrats consider sob stories of Democratic nominees relevant to show "obstacles" overcome and "adversity" conquered. But as to the sympathetic "back story" of a Republican nominee who cares? It means little or nothing even in the case of a racial or ethnic "first" if nominated by the wrong party.


Democrats market themselves as the party of compassion and sensitivity to racial and ethnic minorities. But they do so only selectively. A Republican nominee like Miguel Estrada becomes a "sellout" or a "Tio Taco." Similarly, Justice Clarence Thomas, following his nomination by then-President George Herbert Walker Bush, found himself caricatured on the cover of a national black magazine as a mammy-style, handkerchief-capped "Uncle Thomas."


"Hispanic pride" and "overcoming obstacles" only count when the "good guys" say so.


It would be a tragedy if, as Sonia Sotomayor takes that seat on the bench, the torpedo job on Miguel Estrada is forgotten and consigned to the dust bin of partisan politics.  And that is why Ive posted Larry Elders column today.


If you had forgotten, now you remember.  If you didnt know, now you know.


Ken Berwitz

Here, from Gaza is the latest news regarding that mosque attack I blogged about yesterday.

It comes to us from Reuters, via

Terrorist vs. Terrorist in Gaza

Middle East | Sat, Aug 15, 2009 at 10:12:42 am PDT

Theres absolutely nobody to root for, as Hamas puts down a threat to their control of Gaza by invading a mosque and slaughtering more than 20 people.

GAZA (Reuters) Palestinian Islamists Hamas struck back at an al-Qaeda challenge to their grip on the Gaza Strip by storming a mosque in overnight battles that left the leader of the Warriors of God splinter group among up to 28 dead.

After fighting ended early on Saturday the town of Rafah was sealed off to media, but Hamas said the physician and preacher who led the group and who had declared an al Qaeda-style Islamic emirate from a local mosque on Friday was dead blown up by his own hand along with a Syrian ally after killing a mediator.

In this screwed up surrealistic conflict, Hamas is actually the moderate side. The Warriors of God dressed like the Taliban and wanted to impose strict Stone Age conditions on Gaza.

Some of the dead were former Hamas men who, people who knew them said, wanted a tougher line on imposing Islamic rule. The group wanted a return to anarchy, said Ehab al-Ghsain, the spokesman for the Interior Ministry of the Hamas government which has run Gaza since routing forces loyal to Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in June 2007.

Residents said the Ibn Taymea mosque where Moussa preached on Friday to a hundred or so supporters, some armed and dressed like Taliban, was hit by grenades and Moussas house destroyed.

These are the people that the world demands Israel make peace with.



Ken Berwitz

I read a story in today's Asbury Park Press (the largest paper in the area I live) about congressman Frank Pallone, that is so ridiculous I can't believe it was in the paper.

It seems that Mr. Pallone has decided to run a town hall meeting.  But he picked a venue that has just 100 seats. The meeting is scheduled for August 26.

Mr. Pallone was asked to move the meeting to a larger venue, because it was clear a great many more than 100 people want to attend. But he said he couldn't do it.  Why?  Because he already sent out the schedule and, using 3rd class mail, he felt the new date would not get to them in time.

Here is the key segment of the article:

RED BANK The hottest issue in the country health care reform is coming to the borough, but Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., who is hosting a town hall meeting on Aug. 25, said it's too late to find a bigger venue for the potential crowd that could show up.

Meanwhile, callers to the Asbury Park Press have suggested that more people will attend the Aug. 25 session than the borough hall courtroom can accommodate a capacity of about 100 people and they have suggested it be moved to a bigger place.

Pallone's office confirmed that the congressman will hold a town hall meeting from 7 to 9 p.m., Tuesday, Aug. 25 at the borough municipal building at 90 Monmouth St.

"We can't switch now. Notices have already gone out (to constituents) and there is no way to notify them again," Pallone said Friday after a press conference. "What will happen is people will get confused."

Notices were sent to constituents by third-class mail, and the 11-day period between Friday and Aug. 25 isn't enough time for a second round of third-class mailings to reach people, he said. Pallone estimated a renotification could take three weeks.

"If I switched (locations), it would have to be held a month later," Pallone said.
"We'll stay until everyone's heard, but it's not possible to switch it."

Check your calendar, folks.  We're talking about 11 days.  11 DAYS.  That's not long enough for local mail, even third class mail, to get to constituents?

And if I can read his excuse in the paper, couldn't he as easily have changed the venue of his town hall meeting by putting that in the paper instead?

And aren't there numerous other ways of communicating that a meeting location has changed, if you have a week and a half to do it?

Maybe it's just me, but I smell a town hall meeting with a limited number of people that will "love" just about everything Mr. Pallone has to say.  And I smell a town hall meeting in which people who don't "love" just about everything Mr. Pallone has to say will have difficulty securing one of those 100 seats.

This has the smell of of a phony town hall meeting all over it.  Just like Barack Obama's town hall meetings earlier in the week. 

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