Death of a President (2006)

death_of_a_presidentI have avoided watching this movie for years, because I thought it such a disrespectful way to portray a standing President, especially at a time when some were probably wishing him dead … until they realized Dick Cheney would have become POTUS!

So the other night I’m skipping around my 800 channels looking for something, anything worth watching before I turn to tried-and-true On Demand.

And there it was …! Death of a President on one of the movie package channels.

A 2006 docudrama, produced in Britain (I had thought it was a German production.) as a “high concept” political thriller.

Not so sure about the “high concept” thing, but nonetheless … The question was should I swallow my Sense of Propriety; watch it; and see what value – if any – it offered. Or should I continue to avoid it like I do the Michael Moore: Outraged activist while I’m making all this money spectacle?

I decided to watch it.

Should have held onto my Sense of Propriety just a bit longer.

Sure, I get it. If you want to do a docudrama right, you must have some Docu in the Drama! You have to have a hook to connect the theoretical subject with reality.

I’m sorry. No … You really don’t have a whack a President, no matter how unpopular he is, in order to sell an entertainment concept. His inclusion added nothing to the subject matter of what happens in a theoretical situation. POTUS could have very well have been played by some formless, off-camera subject.

But let’s not kid ourselves. The fact that George W.Bush was so roundly hated in 2006 simply made the concept more palatable to a large section of the population … both here and abroad.

If you don’t believe that, just answer the following questions honestly.

If it was the current President being portrayed in this way – simply to sell a docudrama concept as being relatable, up-to-date, and credible – what do you think the reaction would be in this country?

Do you think – at a time when Kim Jong-un could stop a comedy dead in its tracks – the movie would have a chance at seeing the bright lights of the local Bijou???

I don’t … not for a second.

The inconspicuous news

Yuengling-Logo4The Politics of Beer

Pennsylvania’s Governor-elect, Tom Wolf, will take the State’s oath-of-office this Monday.  As is the practice for such lauded events, there will be much partying and the consumption of a few adult beverages.  But one truly Pennsylvania product, renown the oldest continuously operating brewery in the United States, will not be invited to the party!

Yuengling, the pride of Pottsville, will be excluded from the inauguration festivities for the first time in the State’s collective memory.  And this despite the brewery’s long-standing tradition (along with those of other established Pennsylvania breweries) of providing their suds free of charge.  Even President Obama dispatched a case of Yuengling to the Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada, in 2010 after the Canadians topped the U.S. hockey team in the Olympics!

280x425Why is Yuengling being excluded?  Well, apparently Yuengling’s isn’t “union enough” for our new governor, who is in big hock to organized labor.  Richard Yuengling, Jr., president of the brewery is – not surprisingly – a vocal proponent of Right-to-Work laws, and the unions that backed Tom Wolf with money contributions for both his campaign and to foot the bill for his inauguration festivities ($50,000 maximum) – not surprisingly – aren’t.

So what’s wrong with such a decision?  For one thing, several other Pennsylvania breweries will be represented; but none of them represent the rich fabric of Pennsylvania’s business and economic legacy like Yuengling.  Secondly, Wolf is at least supposed to APPEAR to be a man of all Pennsylvanians, not just those to whom he is in debt and not just those who agree with his take-care-of-the-unions approach to governance.

None of this holds out much hope for any progress at all in solving Pennsylvania’s crushing public pension obligations, which of course involves a lot of public union interest.  So much for this Man for Pennsylvania, eh?

The Politics of a Pipeline

George Will posted an insightful article on the constant stalling by the Obama Administration on the Keystone XL pipeline.  Will really sharpened his keyboard this time, illustrating just how naïve, uninformed, and unreasonable President Obama is being about a project which his own State Department has projected the creation of over 42,000 jobs, most in various temporary stages during construction.  (Still … That’s a lot of even temporary employment!)

Will takes the President to task for pretending to take the pipeline construction under consideration, while the Nebraska courts sorted out a lawsuit attempting to block construction.  Now that the Court ruled in favor of the pipeline, the President suggests further study, despite that the pipeline has been under study for six years!

keystone-pipeline1-300x204Will really nails the President on his naiveté about how global oil prices might affect the cost of oil and gas in the USA.  It appears the President doesn’t think much of Canadian oil being shipped through the U.S. as having any impact on American economics.  Apparently there is confusion at The White House over how a global market affects domestic pricing.

Oy vey …

But Will really gets me when he addresses the concerns of the “infantilism” of the environmentalists.  After all, as Will claims, there are over 2 million miles of natural gas pipelines and 175,000 miles of pipeline moving any number of hazardous liquids.  Can we really be so frightened about 1700 miles of Keystone?

I guess only if you really believe gas prices are going to permanently stay below $45/barrel.  If you do, I have a unicorn ranch I’d like to speak to you about buying …

The politics of Joe Pa

imagesAfter two years of contention and lawsuits filed by both the family of legendary Penn State football coach, Joe Paterno and the PSU alumni association, the NCAA reached settlement with the university that restored 111 vacated victories and Paterno’s place as the winningest coach in NCAA Division 1 history.  Although the $60 million fine will remain in place, agreement was reached to allow the entire fine to be spent on child protective services within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

The sanctions handed down by the NCAA as the result of the Jerry Sandusky serial child abuse case have been a major source of anger in the PSU community, particularly its alumni association.  The alumni reactions included a backlash against outgoing Governor Tom Corbett, who also served on the PSU Board of Trustees, and likely contributed to the failure of his reelection campaign.

At the heart of the successful NCAA challenge, which was filed jointly by the alumni association and the State Treasurer Rob McCord, was focused on the NCAA’s internal deliberations, revealed in e-mails obtained by the plaintiffs that suggested the NCAA wanted to set an example as “the new sheriff in town”.  The primary goal was to restore the Joe Paterno legacy, a man still revered across the Commonwealth for his efforts in PSU football and for his donations to the university over his 60-plus years there.

If nothing else, the settlement puts an entirely sad and frustrating episode in the university’s rearview mirror.  The Paterno family still intends to push its own lawsuits against the NCAA forward.  In addition, criminal trials are pending against university officials accused of covering up Sandusky’s despicable crimes.

The best part – in my opinion – is restoring the reputation of a man, who positively influenced the lives of so many, before the horribly managed Sandusky affair.  Add to that keeping that $60 million in the Commonwealth to fight the abuse of the most innocent seems like a win-win result out of a lose-lose situation.

 

PA Attorney General Kathleen Kane indicted on criminal charges!

Now admit it … How many of you were expecting an brutal excoriation of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder?  If you did, you obviously do not live in the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania!

If you did, you might have immediately associated the above title as one of the traits now commonly attributed the Pennsylvania’s Attorney General Kathleen Kane.

Kane won election to the post of AG quite handily in 2012, even receiving an in-person endorsement appearance by former President Bill Clinton. Heck, even I crossed party lines to vote for her, in my long-held belief that having an qualified opposition party member holding certain positions in government (e.g. AG, Comptroller) is not a bad way to keep an eye on the majority party hen house.

In this case, it was a monumental mistake in judgment on my part!

Kane has served only as an Assistant District Attorney in Lackawanna County.  That does not – in and of itself – preempt the possibility that she was qualified and could serve admirably.  But there other rumblings during the election about just how much litigation experience she had, which also by itself does not predict incompetence.

Regardless, the important thing now is that she has proven to be so far in over her head that even PA Democrats, including fellow Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, are looking in her direction with WTF? looks on their faces!

Almost immediately after taking office, Kane shut down a years-long PA AG investigation into political corruption in the Democrat bastion of Philadelphia.  The probe, using a turned informant, caught five local pols, including four State Representatives and a Traffic Court judge, taking cash payments or jewelry, on 400 hours of TAPE (!) for votes or contracts!

The problem?  Kane was in a feud with the investigation’s former prosecutor, Frank G. Fina, who, having identified a conflict-of-interest for Kane’s management of the case, had bundled up the evidence and forwarded it to federal prosecutors for their consideration.

Fina was already in Kane’s crosshairs for his connection the Jerry Sandusky (Penn State University football) pedophilia investigation, which Kane used as the pointy spear in her campaign for the state AG job.  She alleged politically-motivated foot-dragging by the State AG’s office at the direction of Governor Tom Corbett, who sat on the PSU Board of Governors. (Those allegations were independently disproved in a subsequent probe commissioned by AG Kane.)  When Kane took office she had her staff appropriate the hard drives and all files in Fina’s possession, then took the unprecedented steps of interfering in Fina’s professional interactions after he left and joined the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office.

And this is where it gets really juicy!

When pressed by critics and the media for an explanation for dropping what appeared to be a pretty solid chance for prosecutions, Kane first claimed the probe was racially targeted (All the subjects were black.); then she claimed other prosecutors had told her it was “unprosecutable” then she simply said that anyone who challenged her view was “sexist”, playing the “good old boys” network.

The only findings supporting the “unprosecutable” claim came from the federal prosecutors’ undefined decision not to accept the case as forwarded by Fina and another DA’s opinion that was based only on a summary prepared by Kane’s office!

The most egregious claim was the one on racism. Kane claiming that the lead prosecutor, an African-American, had advised that he was directed to target member of the city’s black caucus.  Claude Thomas, the investigator said no such thing was ever said; and the only “evidence” Kane would supply was a memo prepared by her staff AFTER she had made the claim.

At this point, Philly DA Williams, a fellow Democrat, came to the defense of his new employees, Fina and Thomas, who had come to work for him after Kane had let Fina go.

Williams challenged Kane’s claims on all counts.  So Kane threw the challenge back at Williams, daring him to take over the case and attempting prosecutions.  Williams promptly did, and so far has brought charges against two of the probe’s targets, with the Traffic Court judge accepting a plea deal for accepting a $2,000. Tiffany bracelet.

In another attempt to nail Frank Fina, Kane released a confidential grand jury memo on financial investigation into J. Whyatt Mondeshire, former head of the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP.  Mondeshire was never charged or publicly acknowledged as a target of the grand jury; but that didn’t stop Kane (or her staff) from releasing the information to newspapers.  As a result, a grand jury, commissioned by former Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron Castille, is looking into the matter and the potential for criminal charges.

Kane’s worrisome defense?  She was a stay-at-home mom at the time of the Mondeshire probe, so the curtain of confidentiality didn’t apply to her!  Yep, that’s a top-flight legal mind right there!

Of course, Kane – for all the legitimate questions and challenges thrown her way – continues to double-down on her defense of her head-scratching, almost unconscionable positions by attacking even more!  Her latest foible was to conduct a full review of the Corbett Administrations e-mail archives, after it was revealed that inappropriate and pornographic content was shared among some working in the AG office and in other segments of the State’s justice system.

Not necessarily a bad initiative to take, even if it ensnared a few Democrats along the way, such as tough law-and-order Supreme Court Justice, Seamus McCaffrey.  The only problem is that many viewed the effort as a thinly-veiled attempt to silence critics by threatening to reveal the details of their e-mail histories.

Yet Kane even managed to muff the punt once again, by claiming her review found instances of child pornography, which were quickly walked back by her own staff spokesperson almost as soon as Kane uttered the words.  Media reviews did in fact find memes and pictures of children, but they were clearly not pornographic in nature!

For a State, recently depicted as one of the most corrupt state governments in the U.S., yet which rarely considers the removal of officials from office under almost any circumstances, it is quite telling that the State Legislature is throwing around the “I word” …

And now today, the grand jury convened to review the actions of Kathleen Kane’s Attorney General’s office has returned an indictment for criminal charges of perjury and contempt of court.  The meteoric rise of the politically gifted is often only exceeded by the speed of their fall!

 

 

 

Glancing through the morning papers

Happy New Year, all!

New Year 2015 formed from sparking digits over black backgroundA few observations on interesting articles from today’s morning papers.

Foreboding in Kabul

Kabul, Afghanistan

Kabul, Afghanistan

Washington Post columnist, Pamela Constable, braves the desolation of a Kabul, Afghanistan largely abandoned by both Westerners and affluent Afghans as the Taliban closes in on what can only be described as a city waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Taliban terror attacks, suspicion, and dread of the potential return of extremist Islam has emptied a city still showing signs of its foreign-driven capitalistic Western influences. Constable braves suspicious stares as she takes a look behind the capital’s facade of urban bustle.

If you read the book, The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini), you develop an appreciation for how vibrant a city Kabul once was … before the Taliban rose to power the first time, before 9-11 and our just war to oust them, and 13 years of foreign occupation in attempts to prop up a government that most likely never had a chance to unify a “nation” artificially created out of tribal and religious chaos.

The natives, always the ones with their ears closest to the ground, are fleeing, if they can afford to flee, because they sense what’s next. All this to the surprise of absolutely no one!

.

All about the frack … and taxes

One of our local Pennsylvania State Representatives, Madeleine Dean (D, Montgomery County) penned an op-ed in The Philadelphia Inquirer on the State’s “obligation to tax gas extraction”. This was a big issue in PA during the recent Governor’s race, where Democrat Tom Wolf ousted incumbent Republican Tom Corbett.

Of course many here – even Republicans – take the bait on making the natural gas industry (NGI) pay more for the privilege of extracting natural gas and – oh, by the way – providing Pennsylvania with a future of fuller employment in high-paying technical jobs and off-shoot business opportunity in support industries.

What many fail to realize is that the NGO already pays Impact Fees intended to offset the costs to infrastructure and to help local communities take full advantage of these developing opportunities. And let’s not forget, like all Pennsylvania businesses, they are saddled with the highest Corporate Tax Rate (9.99%) in the country!

The State faces a $2 billion deficit, a big chunk of which results from the loss of federal stimulus funding that former Governor Ed Rendell had specifically devoted to education funding. This damaged Corbett in the Governor’s race, despite not being of his doing.

Now I’m all in favor of Big C corporations chipping in to resolve fiscal problems in the state in which they may do quite well. But if you price the NGI out of production profits, all those cool, high-paying jobs and business opportunities will move elsewhere.

The current price of oil in the international market will be a huge influence in those decisions, a lesson not wasted on Saudi Arabia’s oil market decisions. Which also brings us to …

.

We all scream for ice cream … especially in Venezuela

Another Washington Post piece by Nick Miroff looks at the “rocky road” of ice cream in Venezuela’s “melting economy”. The Heladeria Coromoto, an shop that boasted 863 flavors (!), including trout and mushroom in wine sauce (Yeah, I don’t get it either.), and a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records (undoubtedly for most bizarre flavors) closed in Merida.

The owner claims milk shortages as the cause; but of course the Madura Government blamed the owner’s status as an “opposition supporter .. in a low-intensity war against the present government.” This on the heels of a toilet paper panic (always a sign of impending social collapse) and shortages in basic food stuffs.

Hugo Chavez (left)

Hugo Chavez (left)

Of course it’s difficult to imagine a capitalist, even one in Venezuela, resorting to closing down a successful money-making venture in a “low-intensity war”.

What’s odder in all this is Venezuela’s status, sitting on the world’s largest petroleum reserves. How does such wealth, often used to sling barbs at U.S. foreign and domestic policy (See Citgo), become such a wasted commodity?

The HUGE Hugo Chavez socialist spending spree is raising it’s ugly head. Falling oil prices aren’t helping either, with Venezuela’s oil going for less than $50 a barrel, most likely the result of Saudi Arabia’s determination to drive the oil market’s value down and capture a much bigger market share.

Saudi Arabia?!?

That’s karma, baby!

Our Post-Election Quandary

election2014

Another Election Day is in the books.  We can stare at the carnage, the breakthroughs, the piles of cash thrown into the winds of political expediency … or we can look ahead to the challenges that will determine the political future.

I choose to look forward in this post, although those piles of cash … estimated at $4 billion for the 2014 general election … is a disturbing image in my rearview mirror.

Nationally, it was a bad day for the Democrats.  Losing control of the U.S. Senate (52-45 Republicans, 2 Independents, Louisiana’s race into a runoff) and now facing a 65-seat Republican majority in the House of Representatives.

No doubt this was a referendum on President Obama and his administration, most particularly his Leadership or more appropriately the lack thereof.  In some parts of the world, such polling would result in a coalition-busting dissolution of Government and the forming of new coalitions.

OK … So maybe I am glancing back at Tuesday’s carnage.  Maybe in a bit of satisfaction … but you have to know where you are to get where you want to go.

My post-election quandary can be stated quite succinctly:

My kingdom for a Leader!

In my home state of Pennsylvania, the same storyline – described above – played out in the Governor’s race, only this time in favor of the Democrats.  No confidence in Governor Tom Corbett led to a loss of support across all demographic groups except those over the age of 65.

PA Governor-elect Tom Wolf

PA Governor-elect Tom Wolf

Now that he’s been elected, the real problem for Tom Wolf is he is faced with the same Republican-dominated legislature that denied Corbett some of his most cherished legislative initiatives, like liquor privatization and taking action on the State’s unsustainable public pension problem.

How will Mr. Wolf provide Leadership for a legislature completely controlled by the opposition party?  (Hint: Don’t look to The White House for an example!)

Leadership … a quality many believe our President fails to possess in any way, shape, or form.  From his refusal to get acquainted even with the Democrats in Congress, his hands-off management style, an administration fumbling the basic functions of government, and his failure to take quick, decisive action in times of international crisis, President Obama set out the finest silverware when inviting the poll whooping Democrats received last Tuesday.

Leadership … the one trait you want any Chief Executive to demonstrate regardless of whether you voted for them or against.

Tom Wolf will have his opportunity to show what kind of Leader he can be.  Can he work with those across the aisle, as he must to be successful?  Will he be able to build relationships with his powerful political opposition?  Can Wolf set a tone of Leadership that will allow him to cultivate alliances with a Republican Legislature and get things done?

Wolf’s off to a rocky start, choosing divisive Katie McGinty, Pennsylvania’s former Environmental Protection Secretary, as his Chief-of Staff and throwing down the gauntlet on Medicaid expansion, which the PA Legislature is all too aware will only be partially funded by Washington after the first years.

Not exactly your political olive branches …

Cats are plain creepy!

Creepier only on the face of a politician …

The President, given what we have seen over the past six years, most likely will not even try leading with the fully Republican-controlled Congress.  He will give lip service to working together and the fine Art of Compromise.  But in the wake of an election where most Congressional Democrats treated Obama like he himself was Ebola-infested, it’s doubtful the message from Tuesday’s shellacking will resonate with the country’s Chief Executive.

No, it’s far more likely he will give Congressional Republicans his best Cheshire cat smile while all along fingering the nuclear option … government-by-executive-fiat.

Now despite my proclivity to criticize Democrats, nothing here absolves our esteemed Republican representatives in Harrisburg or in Washington, D.C. from showing a bit of Leadership themselves.  In fact, it would be a breath of fresh air if perhaps we can expect the same kind of across-the-great-divide behavior from our legislative majorities!

As a close admirer (?) of mine recently cautioned, taking those first steps should never require that one abandon core principles.  And I agree.  But core principles rarely get anything accomplished on their own.  They are anchors that should define one’s approach to policy.  It’s the recognition of those principles as a foundation for making sound decisions and – when appropriate – suitable compromise that result in getting The People’s work done.

And somewhere in between perhaps the twain shall meet!

As I searched for a pithy way to wrap this up, I wanted something that would best characterize the implications of what occurred in voting booths this week and how it defines our political near-future, particularly for Mr. Wolf and our Pennsylvania State Legislator.  (Unfortunately, I have given up on the D.C. crowd.)

Instead of referring to the wisdom of Aristotle, Benjamin Disraeli, or Napoleon Bonaparte, I stumbled on this little gem written just weeks ago by a Lt.Col. Stacy Clements, Deputy Commander, 821st Air Base Group in a commentary on Leadership from the cozy confines of Thule Air Base, Greenland.

To me, it says it all …

Leadership: It’s not about you, it’s up to you!

Some relevant excerpts:

As a leader, you need to take the initiative to solve problems, take action to get results, and take ownership of the responsibility for getting things done.

As a leader, your actions can inspire and influence others – or can create a toxic environment where work may get done, but not as effectively as it could be. To help and influence others, you need to be trustworthy and approachable; try to understand those you lead, what motivates them, and be open to helping them achieve their goals.

Don’t focus all your attention on the image in the mirror – focus your efforts on making things better and helping people become better. Remember, it’s not about you, but it is up to you.

Hopefully, someone will take the advice!