Top of the Ticket

Political commentary from Andrew Malcolm

Category: Corruption

Obama's news conference: So much to talk about, so he did. The result: So little to remember

Democrat president Barack Obama's News Conference 9-10-10

Holy Harvard, this president loves to talk.

Upwards of 9,000 words' worth during his first White House news conference since last spring.

He took 76 minutes to answer 13 questions. (Full text, as usual, right here on The Ticket.)

And that's what turns out to be a problem for this man, so otherwise notorious for his spoken eloquence, discipline and icy control.

Obama lost control of his own news conference -- in his own house. Is he flailing?

In politics -- especially presidential news conference politics -- it's not how much you say. It's not even what you say or don't say.

It's what people remember you said.

Quick! What was the main Obama team message out of this news conference? The economy? Afghan corruption? Playing defense on healthcare costs? Admitting he hasn't....

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So, did you hear the one about U.S. politicians lecturing Afghans on corruption?

ROFL! OK, So these two House members walk into a bar and....

This week the country was treated to some mid-summer levity as a bunch of U.S. House members manufactured and professed grave concern and quite possibly outrage about the possibility of ongoing political corruption -- way over there in Afghanistan.

This is the upside-down red-blooded American political institution where folks have stored $90,000 in cash in their food freezers. Doesn't everyone? Where phone calls from substantial political donors get passed right on through to the elected member while ordinary citizens can leave a message.

CapitolHillDomeUpsideDownap

Where members on banking committees can acquire below-market mortgage rates from private companies and successfully claim ignorance of the going rates. Where members live rent-free for years in apartments owned by advisers to giant corporations allegedly regulated by the federal government.

Where members vote themselves automatic pay raises years in advance to avoid publicly discussing such awkward details so often. Where a so-called ethics committee takes how many years to figure out if not reporting all of your income is cause for member discipline.

And where a go-with-the-flow politician out of the aptly-maligned Chicago Democratic machine can get elected president as a reformer.

So this week a House foreign aid appropriations subcommittee voted to cut off nearly $4 billion in aid to Afghanistan over concerns -- even suspicions, mind you -- that some people in that war-torn, lawless, fractured land might quite possibly be ripping off some of the aid money.

If you can imagine such a thing in a decidedly foreign place where U.S. taxpayer money helped fund and arm the deadly anti-Soviet mujahideen violence of the 1980s.

"I do not intend," said panel chairwoman Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat, "to....

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Obama White House probe of Obama White House finds no Obama White House impropriety on Sestak

Pennsylvania Democrats Representative Joe Sestak and Arlen Specter

Obviously, nothing to see over here, folks. Move along now.

Joe Sestak, the newly-elected Democratic Senate nominee from Pennsylvania, repeated his assertion Sunday that somebody he did not identify from the Obama White House offered him an administration job he did not detail, possibly in return for him dropping out of his undesirable primary challenge of Arlen "I Was a Republican Before I Realized I Was a Democrat" Specter.

Obviously, Sestak didn't accept the offer. And Specter didn't win a primary race that he feared losing if he stayed a Republican. 

On NBC's "Meet the Press" David Gregory asked Sestak about the job offer.

Here's the exchange:

MR. GREGORY: What, what job were you offered to stay out of a primary race by the administration?

REP. SESTAK: It's interesting. I was asked a question about something that....

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Al Franken takes over the U.S. Senate floor to explain a newspaper cartoon to the waiting nation

All we can say is thank goodness Minnesota's newest Democratic U.S. senator, Al Franken, was on duty Thursday.

We were poring through one of America's most glorious man-caused treasures -- the 31 years of C-SPAN video archives, which The Ticket detailed with effusive praise here earlier this year.

And we realized suddenly that somehow we had inexplicably missed the comedian's detailed explanation of a newspaper editorial cartoon enlarged so that he could identify the symbols and characters in it so the elderly senators could see it. The current White House's pedantry is apparently infectious.

Additionally, Franken takes many moments to explain the drawing and its symbols as documentation for his argument for more government regulation of yet another part of the financial industry.

No, this is not a "Saturday Night Live" skit. This is the real thing from the Senate floor where the 100 members are paid $174,000 -- each -- for this work. The folks back home must be very proud of the honorable gentleman.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Video courtesy of C-SPAN

Turns out, Obama's busy deficit commission has a deficit of transparency too

a large mine representing the deepening US federal deficit

More opaque transparency this week in Washington.

President Obama's Deficit Commission is meeting again. The formal name, given the president's penchant for reform, is the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (NCOFRAR).

That's the bipartisan panel he appointed in February to devise ways to cut Social Security and other entitlements while raising taxes to cover his exploding federal government deficit problem compounded by all the other administration spending since he took office and a bunch from before?

Some silly people think the deficit is like a big yawning hole in the ground. And they feel badly about leaving future generations to pay for debts so incredibly immense that civilian calculators do not have room for all the digits.

So the favored solution for such uncomfortable D.C. problems among many White Houses is to....

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Beam me up, Mr. Speaker: James Traficant is back!

05-05-traficant

We'll be honest.  We dig his haircut. And who hasn't missed his leisure suits?

Out of prison but perhaps not out of northeastern Ohio's heart, former Rep. James Traficant is back. With a vengeance? We don't know.

But he wants back in. Released from federal prison last year after serving seven years on corruption charges, the congressman known for ending his floor speeches with "Beam me up, Mr. Speaker" filed petitions Monday to run as an independent back in his old stomping grounds.

He's got a message that could sell. He told the Associated Press Monday: "If you work for the IRS, start looking for a job."

That's if he can get his old job back. Something his hometown area newspaper doesn't seem to relish:

It would be fun to have Traficant on the campaign trail, peppering him with questions that he obviously doesn’t want to answer.

On the other hand, Traficant would be doing the Mahoning Valley a big favor by not running this year. His candidacy will dredge up the region’s putrid political history and will turn the state and national spotlight on us -- and not in a good way.

The paper has a point. Traficant is no angel. He was only the second member kicked out of Congress since the Civil War. And the vote to boot him was 420-1. His only friend? Gary Condit, who as NPR's Ken Rudin reminds us: "had his own set of problems."

That being said, some of his floor statements were -- as Chris Farley used to say -- awesome.

It was just over 14 years ago that Traficant delivered a speech for the ages. No, it probably doesn't rank up there with President Kennedy's bold challenge to reach the moon or President Reagan's "tear down this wall" address, but it was one worth noting.

Singling out the Department of Agriculture's Environmental Quality Incentives Program for questionable spending, Traficant said:
After years of studies and reports, and after hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars, the Department of Agriculture has come to several conclusions. No 1: Big farm animals produce more manure than small farm animals.

And No. 2: Manure stinks.  Beam me up, Mr. Speaker!

200 million dollars to determine that manure stinks. I think these environmentalists over at the Department of Agriculture have been smelling too many methane fumes...

You can watch the speech below. Extra bonus: Someone added in a laugh track.

-- Jimmy Orr

Photo: James Traficant. Credit: Associated Press

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Update on Nevada's embattled Sen. John Ensign

Our apologies to Nevada’s junior senator: The Ticket has neglected him for far too long. (At the very least, we last left him with a lovely haiku.)

 

2010 has not been kind to Sen. John Ensign, the once-ascendant Republican whose dalliances have jeopardized his political career. And that’s after a disastrous 2009.

Nevada's Republican Senator John Ensign

 

Remember?

 

The world learned he had bedded his co-chief of staff’s wife, who also worked for him; pushed both of them out of their jobs; had his well-to-do parents pay them $96,000 and begged friends in Nevada to find a new job for the cuckolded husband, Doug Hampton.

 

Darn that Mark Sanford! Without the South Carolina governor’s, ahem, travels on the Appalachian Trail, Ensign might have topped the news.

 

If last year’s revelations landed the married and socially conservative Ensign in ethical trouble, this year’s left him in political and – possibly – legal jeopardy.

 

Last month, the Department of Justice served subpoenas on a number of Ensign associates, including Nevada political heavyweight Sig Rogich and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Here’s a copy of the subpoena, via Las Vegas TV station KLAS.

 

Las Vegas commentator Jon Ralston reported that federal authorities might be looking at an indictment related to “structuring” – or, as he explained this month:

Structuring is a broad term that refers to the crime of creating financial transactions to evade reporting requirements — for example, a $96,000 payment to your mistress laundered through a trust controlled by your parents and calling it a “gift” instead of what it obviously was: a severance payment that had to be reported

Uh-oh.

 

So it has taken nearly a year, but political players are starting to – as we suspected they might – openly treat Ensign as the pariah of 2010. Rep. Dean Heller, a top Nevada Republican, stopped just short of calling for Ensign’s resignation. The Washington Post referred to him as “disgraced and morally craven” in an editorial that had pretty much nothing to do with ethics.

 

For his part, Ensign has blamed the media, not his libido.

 

On Tuesday, we learned just how deep in exile Nevada’s junior senator is. In politics, the powerful are rewarded with cash. Ralston tweeted that Ensign’s first-quarter fundraising was – drum roll, please -- $50. Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons raised more for his fund to challenge the healthcare reform law in court.

 

Let's face it -- even street poets drum up more change.

-- Ashley Powers

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Photo: Associated Press

Blago does Donald Trump. Maybe Patrick Kennedy's right. Is there no shame left in America?

Donald Trump, cast of celebrity Apprentice

Let's be clear. Rod Blagojevich is an impeached former governor, facing charges of trying to sell Barack Obama's old Senate seat. The indictment against him -- prepared by prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, famous for going after former Cheney chief of staff Scooter Libby in the Valerie Plame case -- reads like a textbook case of corruption.

But these days he is enjoying a renaissance as a figure of note on television shows.

The other night he did the "Late Show with David Letterman." In his list of Top 10 laments, he included a mention of beleaguered New York Gov. David Paterson, as in,  "How come I'm not a governor and Paterson is?" Um, maybe because he hasn't been indicted? Just a guess.

Then this Sunday, Blago is on the season opener of Donald Trump's "Celebrity Apprentice" show. Trump, himself a figure of some controversy, was on MSBNC's "Morning Joe" today reporting that Blago was great on the show, really great.

Maybe there's no harm in having disreputable public figures appearing on reality television. After all, they are part of our reality. And maybe Blago should be presumed innocent until convicted in a court of law.

But maybe, just maybe, Patrick Kennedy was right. The other day the Rhode Island Democrat, who is retiring from Congress, blasted the media for its nonstop coverage of another disgraced figure, former Democrat Eric Massa. In a rant heard round the water cooler, Kennedy railed against the media's fixation on one sick individual in Congress when other lawmakers were working hard, grappling with heady issues like healthcare reform and the war in Afghanistan.

Take a look and let us know what you think.

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo: Donald Trump with the cast of Celebrity Apprentice. Credit: Haaseth/NBC

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Eliot Spitzer, David Paterson, Charlie Rangel, Eric Massa -- what's in that famous N.Y. water anyway?

New York Democrat Eric Massa
New York is famous for its water. In fact, some people say that's why New York bagels are second to none.

Seriously.

But this is beginning to look like a sewer.

First,  Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned after it turned out he was Client No. 9 in prosecutors' attempts to break up a prostitution ring, a client who was wiring money to shell corporations to pay for his habit. Apparently he's bored to death as a real estate magnate -- "Politics gets my heart pounding faster than buying a building and raising rents," he told Time magazine -- and eying a comeback.. The New York Post responded to Spitzer's comeback hopes with this headline: "You Can't Keep a Bad Man Down."

Not to be outdone, Spitzer's successor, Gov. David Paterson, is now teetering on the edge of his own scandal involving his alleged attempts to pressure a woman seeking an injunction against an abusive boyfriend who happened to be one of the governor's top aides.

And let's not forget Charlie Rangel, the affable but ethics-challenged chairman of the Ways and Means Committee who forgot to mention on his House financial disclosure reports that he took corporate sponsorship for overseas trips.

Now comes word that Eric Massa, a first-term Upstate Democratic congressman, will not be seeking reelection. Massa says he is leaving Congress for health reasons. But turns out the congressman, who is married with two children, is being investigated by the House Ethics Committee for making unwanted advances toward a junior male staffer.

In a bit of marvelous irony, Politico reported that on Massa's 50th birthday last September, his staff chipped in on a plaque for him engraved with a quote from Ronald Reagan: “You must have the courage to do what is morally right.”

All of this creates headaches for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Taking the reins in 2007, Pelosi promised to run the most ethical Congress in history. Now, as she struggles to keep Blue Dog Democrats on board for the healthcare bill and the Congressional Black Caucus on board for the $15-billion jobs bill, she must also grapple with the appearance of Democratic sleaziness -- just in time for the 2010 midterm elections.

Maybe a water purification program?

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo: Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.); credit: Associated Press

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Rangel gives up Ways and Means gavel as Democrats respond to anti-Washington fever

Call it a panic attack by Democrats.

Stunned by the election in Massachusetts of Republican Scott Brown, sobered by the surge of anti-Washington fever that is sweeping the country (see Kay Bailey Hutchison in Texas), House leaders have done the once-unthinkable. They have thrown the popular Charles B. Rangel under the bus.

Funny, too, because before the 2006 election, the gravelly-sounded Harlem congressman said that if Democrats didn't take the House, he wouldn't run again. I mean, what's the fun of being in Congress for all those years (he's been serving since 1971) if you couldn't be chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Well, be careful what you wish for. Installed as chairman of the powerful tax-writing committee, Rangel ran into a few tax issues of his own. Also some ethics issues -- as in accepting payment from corporations for corporate reimbursement for travel to the Caribbean and failing to disclose rental income from an apartment in the Dominican Republic. In normal times, Rangel, who overcame a troubled childhood to make something of his life, could probably apologize and move on.

But these are not normal times. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised on assuming office that she would run the most ethical Congress in history. And with many Americans struggling to find work or hold on to their homes, a Caribbean-junketing congressman is not the image Democrats want to project.

So on Wednesday, Rangel announced that he would temporarily step down as chairman, pending completion of the Ethics Committee investigation. The Ways and Means Committee, without a chairman, canceled its scheduled meeting today. In a press announcement without questions, Rangel was pretty clear that he was falling on his sword for the good of his party.

Will it be enough to hold off angry voters? Watch this space in November.

-- Johanna Neuman

Video credit: CBS via YouTube

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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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