Ted Kennedy and Al Sharpton: no excuses

(Addendum: Al Sharpton is at it again. The New York Times reported on Nov. 19, 2014,  that Sharpton “has regularly sidestepped the sorts of obligations most people see as inevitable, like taxes, rent and other bills. Records reviewed by The New York Times show more than $4.5 million in current state and federal tax liens against him and his for-profit businesses.”

“Sidestepped” is too polite a word for how Sharpton has behaved. And this is a man President Obama turns to for guidance?)

Reading all about Al Sharpton’s emergence as a respectable political leader and go-to guy for President Obama, I’m reminded of Ted Kennedy.

Liberal Democrats loved Ted Kennedy.

He was the standard-bearer for the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. He was their beloved champion for his work on health care, education, immigration reform, civil rights, voting rights, workers’ rights and other causes.


So what did Democrats do when faced with the news that Kennedy’s actions had caused the death of 28–year-old Mary Jo Kopechne when he drove an Oldsmobile 88 into a tidal channel on Chappaquiddick Island in 1969? They stuck with him.

What did they do when it was learned he had left the scene of the accident, consulted with a high-powered group of political and legal advisors, and didn’t notify the police for 10 hours after the accident. They stuck with him.

What did they do when State police detective-lieutenant George Killen said, “Senator Kennedy killed that girl the same as if he put a gun to her head and pulled the trigger?” They stuck with him.
They looked on without reproof when Kennedy’s only punishment was losing his driving license for a year and receiving a suspended two-month jail sentence.

All was forgiven. The liberal special interest groups that depended on his support in the contentious political arena, even the usually outspoken Liberal women’s rights groups, either stayed silent or defended him then and in the years to come. After all, he was one of them, a supporter of their agendas.

And Massachusetts voters continued sending Kennedy back to the Senate until his death on August 25, 2009, after which liberals eulogized him as a great American and a great senator.

“I can think of no one who engendered greater respect or affection from members of both sides of the aisle,” said President Obama in 2009 remarks on Kennedy’s death.

“I just hope we remember how he treated other people…,” said Vice President Biden, ignoring Kennedy’s reputation on the Hill as a “the rules don’t apply to me” boor whose appalling behavior was well documented.

Joyce Carol Oates suggested that even if Kennedy had caused the death of a young woman, he had redeemed himself by accomplishing so much good work thereafter, by his “…tireless advocacy of civil rights, rights for disabled Americans, health care, voting reform, his courageous vote against the Iraq war.”

Liberal’s willingness to excuse Ted Kennedy, even in the face of his clear guilt in the death of a young woman, reminds me of their tolerance for, and even promotion of, Al Sharpton’s ascension to political prominence.

Sharpton’s infamous rise in public notoriety has been well documented.

A 1987-1988 case that drew national attention revolved around Sharpton’s involvement with 15-year-old Tawana Brawley, a black woman from New York who accused six white men of raping her and leaving her in a garbage bag smeared with and covered with racist words written in charcoal.

Sharpton, who accused government officials of trying to cover up for the rapists because they were white, led the way in spurring a national uproar over the case.


He was later rebuked and fined after a grand jury concluded that Brawley had not been the victim of a forcible sexual assault and that she may herself have created the appearance of an attack.

In 1991, Sharpton stirred up black fury in the Crown Heights area of Brooklyn when a Jewish driver hit and killed a black boy, Gavin Cato, with his car.

At the boy’s funeral, Sharpton vilified Jewish “diamond merchants” who killed black children in Brooklyn.

Days of anti-Semitic riots culminated in the murder of Yankel Rosenbaum, an Australian Jew who had nothing to do with the incident, being stabbed to death in the midst of a mob of about 30.

The New York Post reported that after the driver of the car was cleared of charges and left for Israel, Sharpton flew to Tel Aviv to slap the driver with a civil suit. When a passer-by at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport recognized Sharpton, she shouted, “Go to hell!”
“I am in hell already,” Sharpton replied. “I am in Israel.”

In December 1995, during a Harlem protest stirred up by Sharpton, a black man entered Freddy’s Fashion Mart, a Jewish-owned clothing store, took out a gun, ordered the black customers to leave and set a fire that killed himself and eight other people.

Sharpton was accused of having spurred the devastation by delivering and facilitating incendiary racist and anti-Semitic comments on black radio stations and at the protest.

In Sept. 2013, the New York Post reported that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. had written in a previously secret diary, “Al Sharpton has done more damage to the black cause than [segregationist Alabama Gov.] George Wallace. He has suffocated the decent black leaders in New York. His transparent venal blackmail and extortion schemes taint all black leadership.”

Sharpton, pitching himself as America’s leading advocate of social justice, shows up everywhere there’s a TV camera and a potential racial dispute to be exploited. Most recently, he made himself visible in Ferguson, Missouri.

Now Obama, the Democratic Party and other liberals are legitimizing Sharpton and giving him a highly visible chair at the table.

It’s an appalling comment on their willingness to embrace one of their own regardless of his contemptible actions.

Ferguson prompts a new low for the New York Times editorial page

Over-the-top editorials have been a fixture in the New York Times for years, but it’s newest attempt to justify its opinions hit a new low.

An editorial in last week’s New York Times called for the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney, Robert McCulloch, to step aside or Gov. Jay Nixon should select a special prosecutor to replace him in the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, MO.


A key justification given for the paper’s position – “…more than 70,000 people have signed an online petition calling for a special prosecutor…”

So now one of the largest, most respected newspapers in the United States is advocating policies on the basis of an online petition? Good grief.

This one was started by Jamilah Nasheed, a Democrat who represents part of St. Louis City (District 05) in the Missouri Senate. It was put up on MoveOn.org, a progressive public policy advocacy group.

On Aug. 21, Nasheed presented 70,000 of the signatures to McColluch. “We’re going to demand that the governor do the right thing, and step up to the plate, and not play politics on the back of a dead man,” Nasheed said.

Nasheed, who accused the police officer who shot Michael Brown of “shooting down a man in the middle of a street, execution-style,” has inflamed the situation by threatening that if the police officer who shot Brown is not indicted, “the rioting we witnessed this past week will seem like a picnic compared to the havoc that will likely occur.”

As of the writing of this post, Nasheed’s petition had 78,129 signatures, That’s .01 percent of Missouri’s population and .0002 percent of the population of the United States. Definitely enough to drive an editorial position.

Meanwhile, a MoveOn petition, “Arrest and Try House GOP Leadership for Sedition” has 62,341 signers. Why isn’t the New York Times editorializing in support of this?

Obama’s executive orders on immigration: A feast for special interests

“A government above the law is a menace to be defeated.”
Lord Scarman

“This is a nation of laws,” President Obama proclaimed on Tuesday during his plea for calm in Ferguson, MO.

Yes it is. And the President of the United States, who appears to be unable or unwilling to work with Congress on immigration, shouldn’t be focusing his energies on how to go around it.


“America is a nation of laws, which means I, as the president, am obligated to enforce the law. I don’t have a choice about that. That’s part of my job,” Obama said in March 2011, at an event hosted by the Spanish-language television network Univision.

“There are enough laws on the books by Congress that are very clear in terms of how we have to enforce our immigration system that for me to simply through executive order ignore those congressional mandates would not conform with my appropriate role as president,” Obama added.

So there’s something very dispiriting about his administration’s current maneuvering, in collusion with an array of special interests, to bypass Congress and circumvent immigration law through executive orders.

It reminds me of my time as staff on a committee of the House of Representatives when an impatient constituent complained about House inaction on a piece of legislation. Rep. Edwin Forsythe (R-NJ), the ranking minority member of the committee, replied that the Founders intended Congress to be deliberate. “It keeps a lot of bad bills from passing,” he said.

Instead of letting that legislative process play out, there’s something odious about all the special interests sidling up to Obama and his advisors behind closed doors to plead their case. They haven’t succeeded in pushing Congress to pass an immigration bill to their liking, so they’re happy to win by going in the back door.

This is where special deals for special interests, many of which have likely contributed generously to Obama and Democrats, can get their rewards without public exposure.

In an interesting juxtaposition of stories in today’s New York Times, one story highlighted Obama’s disengagement with Congress. “…nearly six years into his term, with his popularity at the lowest of his presidency, Mr. Obama appears remarkably distant from his own party on Capitol Hill, with his long neglect of would-be allies catching up to him,” the story said.

Meanwhile,another story outlined Obama’s plans to use executive orders to make “potentially sweeping changes to the nation’s immigration system without Congress.”

”America cannot wait forever for them to act,” Obama said of Congressional Republicans.

But the unwillingness of Congress to act on a president’s priorities shouldn’t mean defaulting to unbridled executive action. Rather, it should lead to more aggressive effort to secure Congressional votes.

When faced with Congressional resistance to his civil rights proposals, President Johnson didn’t retreat to the oval office to invent spurious ways to bypass Congress. As Robert Caro has so ably documented, Johnson worked every angle, twisted every arm, and glad-handed every critic to secure passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

According to Caro, when Johnson embarked on his campaign for a civil rights bill, his allies cautioned him about using up his political capitol on a important but doomed effort so soon after ascending to the presidency following Kennedy’s assassination.

Johnson’s reply? “Well, what the hell’s the presidency for?”

If City Club of Portland says “no” to GMOs, is “no” to vaccines next?

With the anti-science GMO silliness that’s going on at the City Club of Portland, I’m surprised it hasn’t recommended that moms reject vaccinations for their kids. After all, Jenny McCarthy, Robert Kennedy Jr. and Charlie Sheen are already on board.


A study committee for the City Club recommended in July that the group endorse a November ballot measure mandating the labeling of genetically engineered foods sold in Oregon. The City Club will vote on the recommendation on Wednesday, Aug. 20.


One key element of its reasoning – some consumers want such labeling. If public opinion is to be the primary determinant of whether the City Club endorses a policy, just do a poll and go with the majority. Then they won’t have to do any real independent research.

Of course, even if the City Club did a poll today, that would only tell them what the public thinks at that point. Public sentiment on an issue can shift over time, as the defeat of many once widely supported Oregon ballot measures illustrates.

Good research by the City Club might reveal that the public is really misinformed and being swayed by nonsensical arguments. The fact is, the so-called “collective wisdom” is often wrong. The public does not always have all the relevant information to make an intelligent decision.

Besides, why should the City Club care what other people think. Make up your own mind.

The other principal reason the City Club committee gave for endorsing mandating the labeling of genetically engineered foods sold in Oregon is that it would help track the safety of genetically altered foods.

Come on now, folks.

Independent scientific organizations have overwhelmingly concluded that genetically engineered foods pose no health risk.

For example, the National Academies (the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine) were asked to convene a committee of scientific experts to outline science-based approaches for assessing or predicting the unintended health effects of genetically engineered (GE) foods and to compare the potential for unintended effects with those of foods derived from other conventional genetic modification methods.

The committee’s report found, “To date, no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population.”

That’s not to say more research isn’t needed. It is. But requiring that all genetically engineered foods be labeled won’t help. More likely, the labeling, in combination with unscientific scare tactics by GMO critics, would simply depress demand for such foods.

But then, maybe that’s what the labeling advocates really want.

Ferguson, MO: So many agendas, so little time

In 1989, when I was a reporter for The Oregonian, I happened to be in the vicinity of Homestead Air Force Base in Florida when Manuel Noriega, the former dictator of Panama, was flown in late at night after being captured by American troops in Operation Just Cause.

With my reporter credentials, I managed to secure access to an area near the base where a couple hundred demonstrators had gathered to denounce Noriega. The dynamics were fascinating.

The demonstrators would mill about calmly chatting, drinking cokes and smoking cigarettes until the TV crews yelled, “We’re going live” and turned on their lights. On cue, the demonstrators would quickly come together and erupt in ferocious anger, screaming slogans and raising protest signs. When the camera lights went out, the demonstrators would instantly resume their casual almost family picnic-like behavior.

To the TV viewers, Homestead Air Force base was overrun by a huge mob of anti-Noriega demonstrators demanding justice, but what was actually going on was a scripted, mutually beneficial tableau, with everybody playing their part.

Ferguson, MO feels like that.

Michael Brown

Michael Brown

From the moment Michael Brown was shot to death on Saturday afternoon, August 9, the story ceased to be about him.

For Obama critics, it has provided an opportunity to take him to task for not being more immediately engaged in the matter, for carousing on Martha’s Vineyard while Rome burned, or for injecting himself into the story in the first place.

For Jesse Jackson, who arrived on the scene Friday night, it’s been a chance to remind people he’s still a player on the national stage. For the ever-present Al Sharpton, it has provided yet another chance to visibly insert himself in a controversy, hype it as a racial travesty and raise his public profile. On Aug. 12, Sharpton came to St. Louis to speak to Brown’s family and worked his way around the St. Louis area to demand justice in the shooting. That afternoon he managed to draw more attention by speaking on the steps of the Old Courthouse in St. Louis.

Al Sharpton speaks to a crowd at the St. Louis downtown courthouse

Al Sharpton speaks to a crowd at the St. Louis downtown courthouse

For Benjamin Crump, who represented the family of Trayvon Martin and has been hired by the Brown family as their counsel, it has provided a shot at a second dose of notoriety.

Benjamin Crump

Benjamin Crump

For the no-longer-as-influential NAACP, it has meant a chance to be a player, to hold a packed press conference at the local Murchison Tabernacle CME Church. So many people showed up, a lot of them had to stand outside and listen to speakers.

The NAACP press conference was overwhelmed with attendees

The NAACP press conference was overwhelmed with attendees

For some politicians, the whole affair has been a godsend for their exposure.

Missouri Democratic State Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal went so far as to go on MSNBC and call Brown’s death an “execution-style” shooting. She also sent out expletive-laden tweets to Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, such as, “ You don’t know s..t bc you never communicate. F..K you, Governor!” and “F..K you, Governor. I’m calling your bullshit!”

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) weighed in with a tweet,too. “This is America, not a war zone.”

For critics of the distribution of surplus military equipment to police forces around the country, the use of such equipment in Ferguson has given them a chance to advance their messages.

Senator Rand Paul, R- KY, has put the responsibility for the militarization of police departments at the feet of big government, arguing that, “Washington has incentivized the militarization of local police precincts by using federal dollars to help municipal governments build what are essentially small armies…”

Senator Rand Paul, R-KY

Senator Rand Paul, R-KY

Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., has announced his intention to introduce the “Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act,” which would further monitor, limit or eliminate such equipment sales. Johnson and Michael Shank, associate director for legislative affairs at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, took to USA Today on March 10 to proclaim of the military’s program, “Something potentially sinister is happening across America.”

Even the media’s gotten into the act. After two reporters from the Washington Post and the Huffington Post were arrested on Aug. 13 while covering demonstrations in Ferguson, both media outlets and the reporters have gone public with descriptions of the incidents and anguished protests about the “assault on the freedom of the press.”

Ryan Reilly, a reporter for the Huffington Post, talked to MSNBC's Chris Hayes, anchor of “All In,” about his arrest .

Ryan Reilly, a reporter for the Huffington Post, talked to MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, anchor of “All In,” about his arrest .

Again, this reminds me of a time when I was at The Oregonian and a con man I was following in an exhausting and circuitous effort over several weeks threatened to kill me. I wanted to include all the details of my travails in researching the story when I wrote it, but a senior editor insisted I delete it. “The troubles you endured in getting the story don’t belong in the paper,” he said. ‘The story’s not about you.

Why did Senator Ron Wyden try to bail out union pensions?

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) tried to pull a fast one last month to help out the United Mine Workers of America union.

While Congress, the country and the media were fixated on the twists and turns of efforts to rescue the Highway Trust Fund, Wyden and some other members of Congress pursued an entirely different agenda, using the Trust Fund legislation to bail out the underfunded United Mine Workers of America’s pension plan.

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR)

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR)

When the Senate Finance Committee, which Wyden chairs, first reported out a Highway Trust Fund bill it slipped in a provision advocated by Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va). The provision called for $2.7 billion of the funds to be raised to be diverted to help bail out the underfunded pension plan for retired coal miners.

Congressional efforts to bail out the United Mine Workers health and pension plans have been going on for decades.

A 1992 law authorized the transfer of interest accruing to the unspent balance of the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund to help for the United Mine Workers health care fund. That was followed by 2006 amendments to the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program, which provided transfers of general funds to insure the solvency of the Mine Workers health care plans.

This time, however, Wyden’s committee proposed paying for the union rescue with a gimmick called “pension smoothing” that has been roundly criticized by liberals and conservatives alike as nothing more than a sham.

Pension smoothing lets corporations delay contributions to their employee pension plans. Because pension deposits are tax-deductible, postponing them raises corporations’ taxable income and, therefore, increases tax payments to the government.

The problem is the increased revenues from the smoothing period will be largely offset later when corporations will pay less in taxes in years when they rebuild their pension plans to make up for the underfunding period.

In other words, Wyden’s committee proposed using illusory revenue from a corporate pension gimmick to save a failing union pension plan.

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget excorciated both the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways & Means Committee for using the ruse.

But there was little public debate on the $2.7 billion union rescue plan. Compare that with the furor surrounding President Obama’s request for $3.7 billion to deal with the surge of children from Central America crossing the southwest border into the United States.

Maybe Wyden, Rockefeller and the measure’s other supporters thought their union bail-out would succeed because it was in a must-pass bill.

Maybe Wyden acceded to adding the bail-out money because he knows his seat is safe no matter what.

Maybe Wyden did it as a going-away-gift to Rockefeller, who’s retiring from the senate at the end of this term.

Or maybe, even though Wyden knows pension smoothing is a farce, he could, as a liberal, care less about the growing national debt when there are favors to be granted.

Thankfully, though, his gambit failed. A Highway Trust Fund bill that transfers $10.8 billion to the Fund finally passed on July 31st after the Senate accepted a House version without the miners’ pension provision. Obama signed the law on August 8th.

But don‘t think that means the end of attempts to bail out the union miners’ pension plan. Members of Congress surely have other tricks up their sleeve.

You’ve got to watch them every second.

It’s about time: Walsh drops out of Senate race

Senator John Walsh (D- Montana) dropped out of the race for a full term today following allegations of massive plagiarism on his thesis at the prestigious U.S. Army War College. His withdrawal comes after other Democrats in Congress rallied around him, despite his grave ethical breach.

Senator John Walsh (D-Montana)

Senator John Walsh (D-Montana)

Senator John Tester (D-Montana) had argued that Walsh’s actions were a minor mistake and that voters should overlook a relatively minor mistake when weighed against his military service in Iraq and career serving his country.

As Tester put it, “He’s a soldier, not an academic.”