Friday, March 30, 2007

McCain hopes to reclaim maverick mantle

The bus is back.Sen. John McCain has revived the "Straight Talk Express," the campaign conveyance made famous in his 2000 bid for the Republican presidential nomination, for his new run. The Arizona lawmaker was back on board Thursday afternoon, hitting town-hall meetings in Iowa, the scene of the first caucuses of the 2008 GOP campaign."I'm still the same candidate I was -- little bit older, but still the same candidate," he said. "We're still having fun. We're still on the bus, still having the town hall meetings in the same way that we were before, and I'm convinced we're doing fine."McCain is trying to reclaim the maverick mantle he wore seven years ago, when he upset then-front-runner George W. Bush in the New Hampshire primary -- and largely ignored Iowa, where his opposition to ethanol subsidies was a liability in a corn-belt state.But the 20-year Senate veteran has spent most of the intervening years veering back toward the Republican mainstream. He is one of the most outspoken defenders of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, now widely unpopular, and has courted religious conservatives whose leaders he once savaged as "agents of intolerance."Today, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani -- a supporter of abortion rights, gun control and domestic partnership laws for same-sex couples -- looks like the outsider. But buoyed by his response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack that destroyed the World Trade Center, Giuliani has opened up a double-digit lead over McCain in the GOP presidential field. (Poll: Giuliani leads GOP pack)Of course, the votes won't be counted in Iowa for 10 months. And though his full-throated support for the war may hurt, his strategists say McCain's background as a former Navy flier and prisoner of war in Vietnam, plus his expertise as the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, will help him."The transcendent issue of this campaign will be this conflict we are in between good and evil, between the forces of radical Islam and extremists that are trying to destroy America and everything we believe in," he told reporters in Des Moines. "I'm qualified. I know the face of war. I know the face of evil. I will win. We will win."

Monday, March 19, 2007

Bookman: Gonzales' lies give justice a dirty name

"I would never, ever make a change in a United States attorney for political reasons," Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told the Senate Judiciary Committee two months ago.

If you want to understand how a pretty minor story — the removal of eight U.S. attorneys by the Bush administration — has somehow metastasized into a major controversy, that statement by Gonzales is your Rosetta Stone. It opens the door to the three levels of scandal in this story, ranging from relatively minor to potentially grave and earthshaking.

Let's start with the relatively minor. In his statement to Congress, Gonzales acknowledges it would be wrong to remove prosecutors for political reasons. It is so wrong, he tells Congress, that he would never, ever do such a terrible thing.

And yet he did.

Since that statement, the evidence has become overwhelming that some if not most of the attorneys were ousted for political reasons, with considerable input from the White House. One of the eight, for example, was removed as U.S. attorney in Arkansas despite glowing performance reviews. Why? So an aide to White House political adviser Karl Rove could get the job.

Now, that's not a huge scandal. Such decisions, even if made on a political basis, are clearly within a president's prerogative. They do bring into question the judgment of those who would treat one of the most important jobs in federal law enforcement like a mere political plum, but they do not explain why this scandal threatens the careers and reputations of some of the most powerful people in Washington.

To understand that, you have to step to the next level: By denying any political motive or involvement by the White House, Gonzales and other Bush officials lied to the U.S. Senate. That has angered politicians of both parties, leading at least two Republican senators to demand Gonzales' resignation. It's almost funny — a Congress that has allowed itself to be lied to, stonewalled, ignored and ridiculed by the administration for six years over issues fundamental to government finally gets upset at how it's treated, and it's over something like this.

The third level of this scandal is by far the most troubling and explosive, and also the least understood. It goes to how and why those eight prosecutors were selected for replacement despite the fact that most of them were Bush appointees who had conducted themselves well as U.S. attorneys.

John McKay, a well respected Republican lawyer ousted as U.S. attorney in Seattle, says he may have been tagged for removal because he fended off unethical demands from Republican leaders to pursue charges of vote fraud against Washington Democrats, even though those charges were groundless.

"There was no evidence, and I am not going to drag innocent people in front of a grand jury,'' says McKay, who suggests a special prosecutor may be needed to determine the full extent of this scandal.

David Iglesias, the equally well respected Republican ousted as U.S. attorney in New Mexico, believes that he, too, was removed because he ignored pressure from fellow Republicans to indict Democrats just before the 2006 elections. Iglesias has told Congress he felt pressured by phone calls from a U.S. senator and congresswoman; barely a week after the election, his name was added to an internal list of attorneys to be removed.

The most troubling case may be that of Carol Lam, a U.S. attorney from San Diego who put Duke Cunningham, a Republican congressman from California, in federal prison on corruption charges. On the day the Los Angeles Times reported that Lam was also investigating U.S. Rep. Jerry Lewis of California, the powerful head of the House Appropriations Committee, a top Justice Department official sent an internal e-mail to the White House, complaining about "the real problem we have right now with Carol Lam," suggesting a replacement be found quickly.

Any implication that a U.S. attorney's employment depends on his or her willingness to protect a president's political allies and persecute his enemies strikes at the heart of public confidence in the system. Here in Georgia, for example, defenders of former state Sen. Charles Walker, a top Democrat now serving a federal prison term, have long argued that he was the victim of politically motivated prosecution.

That's not the case; Walker was guilty and got what he deserved. But in some quarters this scandal will be seen as lending credence to Walker's claim, and that's unfortunate.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

ActorQuest - A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Bway 10

There are certainly "politics" that surround you in the theatre world, especially on the Broadway level! But my experience with "Company" has been relatively painless in that regard. Even given that, I do not envy the real world of Politics!

You have already read about some of my piano students and you may remember Rachael, with the "stinky feet". This young lady continues to impress me and so I wrote this one specifially about her. With all the talk of the next Presidential election it seemed a good time to run it here on!.


I had only JUST begun to recover from my deep disappointment over the last presidential election when news of more and more corruption in Washington started to send me back down that dark, depressing hole. For a while, I thought of completely withdrawing from the political scene – no Bush bashing emails, no insightful editorials, no arguments with "friends -- until I began teaching piano lessons to Rachael. Now I am back in the party spirit. Even though her candidacy is still a few years away I am beginning to get excited in supporting Rachael for President!

Unfortunately, Rachael does not yet qualify as a presidential hopeful, as she is only nine years old. So why my optimistic attitude? During her piano lesson Rachael and I talk over life as we know it. She is deeply concerned about the environment, saving whales and other endangered species, treating people fairly -- and running for president! She informed me of this in her last lesson.

She is not only a capable piano student but becoming quite articulate about politics. For instance, she informed me, before the news stations did, that Hilary Clinton would indeed run for president. Rachael did not envy her because she would have to "clean up Bush's mess." Her words, not mine. As the second woman president, she would be happy to ride in on Hilary's coattails. Whatever it takes in calculating the years and presidential terms, I am quite sure that Rachael will be ready when the time comes.

Lest you think I am making this up let me hurry to say that we often have this kind of discussion during her lessons. Sometimes she gets on such a roll that she talks more than she plays. She talks about the Enron fiasco, Martha Stewart's jail time and the budget deficit. She brings up these and other relevant issues, and I just let her improvise and make what seem to be excellent points!

Even though she is surprisingly mature for her age, she can follow up a political discussion by telling me that some boy in her class is "wack-a-doodle" because he lines up all his pencils on his desk. I listen and tend to look on her elementary school experiences as good-down-to-earth-getting-to-know-the-people she will represent one day.

A disgruntled citizen like me couldn't ask for a more well-rounded candidate. She is a purple belt in Tae Kwan Do, plays at the third level of her piano book, is a vegetarian, and has a mother in the health care industry and a father who is a financial officer of some sort. Her older brother is "worthless" as are many other older brothers and she has two golden retrievers who are not. She gets mostly A's in school and never has her "card" turned over for bad behavior. She has begun to take modern dance and dressed as a Vampiress for Halloween. A bold choice, as she is missing her two front teeth.

Rachel gives me hope in our present hopeless political scene. She is smart, energetic, a caring person and a woman. After her lesson, I feel like a new person. She is an antidote to the deadly news of the day.

So just remember where you heard it first: Rachel for President! Keep your eyes on this young lady in the 2036 presidential election!