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Get Away From Those Spinning Doors February 8, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Political Commentary.
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07 February 2009, www.truthout.org

by: Michael Winship, t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Not even three weeks in office and President Barack Obama is discovering that being in charge is no bed of roses, even when you have a garden of them just outside your Oval Office windows. February’s frost has bitten a bit of the bloom off the new president’s aspirations as the swamp of hypocrisy and partisan inertia that is Beltway Washington took its toll.

    Weighed down by tax return problems and charges of DC influence-peddling, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle pulled out as President Obama’s candidate for secretary of Health and Human Services – just as the president was trying to accelerate momentum for Senate passage of his economic stimulus plan, and the Republicans were equally trying to slam on the brakes.

    Daschle’s withdrawal, coupled with the same day, tax-inflicted stepping down of Nancy Killefer, who was to be the White House’s chief performance officer, forced Obama to use a lightning round of network interviews he’d intended as stimulus promotion to defend himself against charges that his oratorical hopes of cleaning up government and solving all its problems had hit a speed bump.

    The resulting “I screwed up” mea culpas were refreshing in a town where shifting blame to the other guy is the standard modus operandi. But whether contrition for the cameras, combined with President Obama’s continued high popularity, can translate into forward-moving action remains unknown. By week’s end, Obama had dropped his conciliatory tone of bipartisanship and gone on the attack to try to rescue the stimulus package.

    But one thing the Daschle affair and the problems with other Obama appointments makes clear is that while new administrations come and go, what hasn’t changed – yet – is the phenomenon of the revolving door, the back-and-forth fandango of lobbyists moving into government jobs at the same time that officials out of power parlay their resumes into suites on K Street. Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives – all are guilty.

    A recent report from the nonpartisan organization CREW, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, found that of 24 men and women who served as cabinet members during the Bush administration, seventeen of them left office and raced to private sector jobs with some 119 companies. Sixty-five of those businesses spend money lobbying the United States government – and 40 are directly hitting up government agencies the former cabinet secretary was in charge of.

    Former Attorney General John Ashcroft started his own lobbying firm. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham joined the board of Occidental Petroleum. Tom Ridge, the first secretary of Homeland Security, is well-known for his involvement with companies profiting from the fear of terrorist attack or natural disaster, including Lucent Technologies and Home Depot, where duct tape is king.

    But the poster boy seems to be former Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, whom CREW says has worked for 42 different companies since he left the Bush cabinet in 2005. They include Centene Corporation, which runs Medicaid plans in seven states; the pharmaceutical company Novartis; and even an operation called Whey Cool Health Foods. Logistics Health, a medical readiness company of which Thompson is president, saw its federal contracts go from $19.9 million in 2003 to $104.8 million in 2007. The company claims Thompson never contacted folks at Health and Human Services on its behalf, but Logistics’ founder and chairman told a Wisconsin newspaper, “Tommy really is able to get us in to see the right people.”

    Maybe you thought the in-and-out revolving door would shudder to a halt with a new president who vowed to clean up Dodge and campaigned on the promise that no lobbyist would find job security in the White House. The day after his swearing-in, President Obama signed an executive order barring former lobbyists in government positions from overseeing anything related to their past business interests.

    Apparently, that presidential executive order comes with an asterisk: no lobbyists in charge – except when they are. Take Deputy Secretary of Defense-designate William J. Lynn III, former executive and lobbyist with Raytheon, world’s largest manufacturer of guided missiles, including the Patriot missile. Raytheon received more than $10 billion in defense contracts last year. Lynn says he lobbied for “only a handful” – missiles, destroyers, warheads, a radar system, a spy satellite. Some handful. But because both the President and Defense Secretary Robert Gates insist he’s the only man for the job, Lynn’s been given a waiver.

    Also please give a big welcome to anti-tobacco lobbyist William Corr, the newly designated number two at Health and Human Services. He insists he’ll stay out of any HHS business that has to do with tobacco, won’t even yell at anyone smoking in the elevator. We’ll see.

    According to The Washington Times, nearly two dozen of President Obama’s executive-level appointments have worked as registered lobbyists. “Even the toughest rules require reasonable exceptions.” That was the explanation of White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. True, there’s an argument to be made for bringing in people with expertise and experience in maneuvering the mazelike intricacies of big government. But with so much money at stake, so much power too easily corrupted, the perpetual revolving door remains a big problem.

    Ah, sigh the jaded cynics and opportunists who spawn along the shores of the Potomac, the more things stay the same, so what can you do? What you can do is speak up, and, as the late Molly Ivins would say, keep raising hell. Otherwise, that breeze you’ll feel blowing out of Washington will never be the winds of change; just a fetid gust generated by Beltway blusters of hot air and the endless spin of those damned revolving doors.


Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday nights on PBS. Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at www.pbs.org/moyers.


Palin Changes the Subject November 2, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Sarah Palin.
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Julie, Bosman, New York Times Political Blog, Oct. 30, 2008

ERIE, Pa. – Gov. Sarah Palin tried to change the subject from the economy to national security on Thursday, warning an audience of 7,000 not to vote based on economic concerns alone.

“In times of economic worry and hardship, the crisis that we’re in right now, sometimes it’s tempting to put those concerns aside on Election Day, national security issue, but we don’t have that luxury,” Ms. Palin said, adding that Senator Barack Obama intends to “soften the focus” in the closing days before the election.

“He’s hoping your mind won’t wander to the real challenges – national security – challenges that he is incapable of meeting. But in a time of choosing, we have to decide which man has proven that he can protect us from Osama bin Laden and from Al Qaeda.”

Ms. Palin spent the day burnishing her own national security credentials, meeting with a group of national security advisers that included former Gov. Tom Ridge; James Woolsey, the former head of the Central Intelligence Agency; Rear Admiral Marsha Evans; Lieutenant General Carol Mutter; John Lehman, the 17th Secretary of the Navy; and Ambassador Rich Williamson, the special envoy to Sudan.

The meeting was closed to the press, but Ms. Palin spoke to a small group of students, alumni and reporters afterward, flanked by the advisers and four large American flags.

“It may be hard to spend much time worrying about great troubles in far-off places when you fear for your own job and the possible life insurance threats that we have, maybe losing that life insurance plan, health benefits, by losing a job, those things that you perhaps are worried about today,” she said. “It may be hard to spare much thought even for the most urgent matters of national security.”

Mr. Ridge, the former head of the Department of Homeland Security, appeared to dutifully be back on message after saying last week that Senator John McCain might have been on the verge of winning Pennsylvania if he had chosen Mr. Ridge – not Ms. Palin – as his running mate.

This time, he noted his “three decades long” friendship with Mr. McCain and introduced Ms. Palin by asking the crowd to give a “very warm, northwest Pennsylvania welcome to the next vice president of the United States!”

It was the third time in a week that Ms. Palin has strayed from her standard stump speech and focused on a single policy issue. Last Friday, she spoke about special-needs children, and on Wednesday, she delivered a speech on energy security.

Peas in a Pod November 2, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in John McCain.
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From McCain, Warm Words for Bush

Michael Cooper, New York Times Political Blog, Nov, 2, 2008

WALLINGFORD, Pa. – Senator John McCain was nearing the end of his rally in a high school gymnasium here Sunday morning, making the case that a comeback was at hand, when his voice suddenly began to grow hoarser and hoarser.

“Now let me give you a little straight talk about the state of the race today,’’ he said at Strath Haven High School. “There’s just two days left. We’re a couple of points behind in Pennsylvania. The pundits have written us off, just like they’ve done before.’’

Then his voice cleared, and he announced brashly, “My friends, the Mac is back!’’

He was reprising a slogan that was popularized around the time of his come-from-behind victory in the New Hampshire primary, and in doing so trying to offer a dollop of optimism supporters wary of the many polls that show him trailing Senator Barack Obama both here in the state of Pennsylvania and nationally.

“The other night, Senator Obama said that if he lost, he would return to the Senate and try again in four years for the second act,’’ Mr. McCain told the crowd. “That sounds like a great idea to me! Let’s help him make it happen.”

For months Mr. McCain has been trying to distance himself from President Bush, the deeply unpopular Republican president he is vying to succeed. For many days he has said at rallies, “I’m not President Bush.’’ And when Vice President Dick Cheney praised him this weekend, the Obama campaign quickly cut an ad to spread the word of an endorsement they clearly believed would hurt Mr. McCain more than it would help him.

So it was a bit surprising when Mr. McCain offered praise of President Bush on Sunday, reprising a line he has hardly used, if he has used it at all, since the Republican primary battles ended. It came as Mr. McCain praised Tom Ridge, the former Pennsylvania governor and Homeland Security secretary, who had introduced him.

“I think that Tom Ridge — and President Bush — deserve some credit for the fact there’s not been another attack on the United States of America since 9/11,’’ he said.