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Painting Themselves Into A Corner

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April 27, 2009

During the April 21 – 24 timeframe, ABC News and The Washington Post conducted a poll to ascertain President Obama’s approval rating.  The poll revealed that 69 percent of Americans favor the job performance of our new President.  Fifty percent of those polled believe that the country is on the right track (compared with 19 percent just before Obama’s inauguration).  This seemed like a particularly strong showing since, just one week before this poll began, we saw the anti-taxation “tea parties” that had been promoted by Fox News.

A recent article by Ben Smith and Jonathan Martin for Politico revealed that in some states, the “tea parties” have helped energize the Republican base:

“There is a sense of rebellion brewing,” said Katon Dawson, the outgoing South Carolina Republican Party chairman, who cited unexpectedly high attendance at anti-tax “tea parties” last week.

As the article by Smith and Martin pointed out, this “rebellion” is taking place at exactly the time when many Republican Party leaders are tacking to the center and looking for someone like Utah Governor Jon Huntsman as a possible Presidential candidate for 2012.  Nevertheless, as the article noted, rank-and-file Republicans outside of Washington have no desire to adopt more moderate views:

Within the party, conservative groups have grown stronger absent the emergence of any organized moderate faction.

Many of those comprising the Republican base appear to be motivated by antipathy toward the increasing acceptance of gay marriage, rather than by a reaction to all of the bailouts that have been taking place.  In fact, I was surprised to observe, during the extensive “tea party” coverage, that none of the protesters were upset about the bank bailouts or Treasury Secretary “Turbo” Tim Geithner’s use of the Federal Reserve to manage the bank bailouts in furtherance of his attempts to avoid legislative oversight.  I guess Fox News had not primed the protesters for that sort of outrage.

The Politico article by Smith and Martin reveals that “cultural issues” remain as the primary concern of the Republican base.  Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich is trying to position himself as the next Republican standard bearer.  Those touting the “sanctity of marriage” (including the Catholic Church) don’t seem particularly concerned that Newt has been married three times.  Newt’s vision for the future is the same vision he was seeing almost twenty years ago:  lower taxes.  If others within the Republican Party have a broader vision and feel the need to expand their appeal to the voters, they can expect plenty of opposition from the party’s base — and therein lies the problem.  Newsweek‘s Howard Fineman has written extensively about how the political primary system works to the benefit of political candidates with the most extreme views.  This is because the only people who vote in political primaries are those with strongly held views and most of them come from the extremes.  This is why wing-nuts such as Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann get nominated.  In the absence of any strong moderate or centrist uprising within the Republican ranks, the GOP could be destined to find itself marginalized.  It’s beginning to appear as though the only way for promising, new, centrist Republicans to get elected is to run as independents in the general elections.  Once elected, they can reclaim the “high ground” within the party.  In the mean time, Republican leaders are either unconcerned by or oblivious to the fact that they are painting themselves into a corner by continuing to pander to their base.

The Al Franken Month

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January 26, 2009

At the end of 1979, Al Franken appeared on the “Weekend Update News” during Saturday Night Live to announce that the 1980s would be “The Al Franken Decade”.  For those of us old enough to remember, it’s scary to realize that “The Al Franken Decade” ended almost twenty years ago.  In 1999, Franken released a book entitled:  Why Not Me? concerning his fictitious run for the Presidency in 2000.  The cover of the book featured a photograph of Franken being sworn in as President.  Although many news publications restrict their discussions of Franken’s background to the subject of his years with Saturday Night Live, they overlook the elements on his resume qualifying him to serve as a United States Senator.  For one thing, he graduated cum laude from Harvard in 1973.  In 1996, he wrote a book entitled: Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations, wherein he dared to challenge the most outspoken pundit of conservative talk radio.  The book found its way to the number one spot on the New York Times best seller list.  He subsequently took on the Fox News organization with his book:  Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.  The book sported a picture of Bill O’Reilly on the cover and included a chapter criticizing O’Reilly’s on-air statements.  From 2004 through 2007, Franken hosted his own talk show on Air America Radio.  His program was primarily focused on political issues.

Franken’s Minnesota campaign against Norm Coleman for the United States Senate has found its way into the court system, with the trial scheduled to begin today.  By the time votes had been counted (on November 18) Coleman was ahead by only 215 votes.  Because the candidates were separated by less than 0.5 percent of the vote, Minnesota law required an automatic recount.  On January 5, 2009, the Minnesota State Canvassing Board certified the recounted vote totals, with Franken leading by 225 votes.  The next day, Coleman filed suit, contesting the recount result.  The trial of this case is taking place before a three-judge panel of “trial-level” judges.  As you can imagine, there will likely be an appeal from whatever result is reached in that case.  In the mean time, Franken has filed a motion before the Minnesota Supreme Court to compel Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and Governor Tim Pawlenty to sign the election certificate, designating Franken as the winner.  That hearing is set for February 5.

A good source for understanding the court battle over this Senate seat is MinnPost.com.  There, you will find Jay Weiner’s guide to the trial as a handy reference.  Mr. Weiner has spelled out the issues raised by Coleman’s suit in the following manner:

Were the more than 2.9 million votes cast on Nov. 4, 2008, for Democratic challenger Al Franken and Republican incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman counted accurately, fairly and uniformly statewide?

Were about 11,000 of the 288,000 absentee ballots cast rejected properly and with consistent measures in all 87 counties?

Were any votes counted twice? Just because a precinct registry says 20 people voted and 22 votes exist, does that mean votes were double counted?  Are there other reasons such discrepancies could exist?

Should votes cast on Election Day that have since gone missing be counted?

Should votes that were found after Election Day that weren’t originally counted by included in the final tally?

Jay Weiner’s article also included his take on the ultimate outcome of this suit:

For all the talk of alleged double-counted votes or missing votes or newly found votes after Election Day, it seems unlikely that Coleman can scrounge up enough votes in those categories to net him the 226 new votes he needs.

Meanwhile, Michael O’Brien of The Hill website, has disclosed that Coleman has taken a job with the Republican Jewish Coalition while this battle continues:

In what could be seen as a sign that Coleman thinks his bid to return to the Senate may be lost, he has signed on to do consulting work for the group, which is comprised of a number GOP leaders.

“The senator needs to earn a living while the contest is going on,” said Coleman spokesman Mark Drake, who said the job does not at all affect Coleman’s bid to win reelection.

With the Democratic Party poised to capture yet another Senate seat, we can expect a lot of excitement to surround this trial.  The Al Franken Decade may be long gone but, like it or not, the current decade has brought us The Al Franken Month.  Beyond that, if this trial ends up the way most commentators expect, the United States Senate will experience at least one Al Franken Term.  Six years may not be another decade … but it should be fun.

Home Improvement With Norm And Ted

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December 15, 2008

The battle for Norm Coleman’s Senate seat, representing Minnesota, continues to drag on toward the new year.  Democratic candidate Al Franken inched closer to victory when the state Canvassing Board ruled that more than 1,600 absentee ballots were improperly rejected by local officials.  As Curt Brown reported in the December 14 Minneapolis Star Tribune:

The recount has revealed numerous missteps, some involving enough ballots to tip the balance.

There are a couple of similarities between the Senatorial election in Minnesota and the Senatorial election in Alaska.  When Alaska Senator Ted Stevens lost his bid for re-election in the 2008 Senate race, it was the count of absentee and questioned ballots that determined the outcome of that event, as reported in the November 20 Seattle Times.  More importantly, the crucial factor motivating voters in the Alaska election was also discussed in that article:

A week before the election, a jury convicted Stevens of seven felonies for lying on his financial-disclosure forms about more than $250,000 in gifts, including renovations of his Girdwood, Alaska, home.

Prior to the resolution of that race, there was a good deal of discussion concerning the likelihood that the Senate would not tolerate the membership of a convicted felon in their exclusive organization.

Meanwhile, Senator Norm Coleman is facing questions from reporters over his own home improvement scandal.  Although he is not presently facing criminal charges for any wrongdoing in this matter, the FBI has begun an investigation into the money trail left by $75,000 in campaign contributions.  On Thursday, December 11, Fox 9 of St. Paul provided this:

The FBI is now reportedly investigating the allegations that Nasser Kazeminy tried to funnel $75,000 in campaign contributions through the Senator’s wife.

*      *     *

Norm Coleman’s home in St. Paul’s Crocus Hill neighborhood is not lavish — but it’s a lot nicer than it used to be, thanks in part to contractor Jim Taylors, who helped remodel the home two years ago.

“Put in a second floor master bedroom/bathroom, the bedroom was there, we just added a bathroom and closet and a kitchen remodel, actually turned into half the house remodel by the time we painted and refinished floors and did some landscape work,” says Taylors.

The remodeled kitchen was the backdrop for some of the Senator’s campaign commercials.  FOX 9 learned the woman in charge of the project was Shari Wilsey, an interior designer.  Wilsey, along with her husband Roger, are longtime friends of the Coleman’s and financial contributors to the Senator’s campaigns.

*     *     *

Two lawsuits allege that in spring of 2007, Edina businessman Nasser Kazeminy began a series of $25,000 payments to Coleman from Deep Marine Technology, a company he controlled in Texas, to Hays Companies, the Minnesota Insurance company where Laurie Coleman works.

*     *     *

While Coleman didn’t agree to sit down for a interview, his campaign did agree to share billing records of the remodeling project.  Original projections in 2006 estimated a cost of $328,000, but four months later, the construction cost was estimated at $414,000, over-budget by $86,000.

During that time is when, the lawsuit alleges, Kazeminy was trying to get money to Coleman.

According to the lawsuits, in March of 2007, Kazeminy said that “U.S. Senators don’t make s—” and he was going to try to find a way to get money to Coleman.

“On the one level it could just be a coincidence, on the other level this could be one of the reasons he’s getting that money from elsewhere, to try to make up for his, to be able to pay off a loan, pay off a line of credit,” says Schultz.

Records provided by the campaign show that Coleman paid Wilsey in full for the renovation — $414,000.  In part, by refinancing his home in March 2007, for $775,000.

The Senator acknowledges, that like a lot of people in America, he now owes more on his home than it’s actually worth.

What we know is this: the Senator had costly and over-budget renovations to his home at the same time a contributor was allegedly trying to funnel him money.  But he’s still criticized for walking away from reporters, while the questions aren’t going away.

It’s nice to know that we can count on a Fox news outlet for a good scandal, and if we’re lucky, it might even involve a Republican.  Although Coleman was not named as a defendant in either lawsuit, the FBI investigation into the campaign contributions could eventually give Coleman some more serious headaches.  At this point, it seems as though Coleman could document that he paid for the remodeling project by refinancing his home.  However, did the refinancing cover the entire $414,000 cost?  Even if Coleman is re-elected, could we eventually get to the point where the Senate, itself, has to consider giving him the boot?  Stay tuned.

Palin Comparison

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September 1, 2008

In a perfect world, there would be a floor fight to take Sarah Palin off the ticket at the Republican Convention. It would make for some good TV this week.  On the Friday, August 29 program, Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO), National Public Radio’s Michel Martin made the strident claim that those who criticize Sarah Palin “do so at their peril”.  Sarah Palin is a Gumball.   There.  I will say it again, as well.  Although I would agree that anyone who resorts to sexist criticism of Palin does so at their own peril, there is plenty of room for reasoned dismay at McCain’s choice.  Meanwhile, Michel Martin’s claim that Palin’s experience is analogous to Tim Kaine’s experience, should have been made at Martin’s peril.  Actually, it was.  Tim Kaine is the Governor of a state that just happens to be next door to our nation’s Capitol.  Virginia’s population is 7,702,091 people.  The population of Alaska is less than one tenth of that at 683,478.  Although Kaine’s time served as Governor of Virginia is equivalent to the time served by Palin as Governor of Alaska, Kaine previously served four years as Lieutenant Governor of Virginia  — a job with similar day-to-day duties as those of the Vice-President of the United States.  You see, both the Lieutenant Governor and the Vice-President preside over a body called “the Senate”. The Lieutenant Governor presides over the State Senate and the Vice-President presides over the United States Senate.  The Gumball made the mistake of asking the question, into a TV camera, of what the everyday duties of the Vice-President might be.  Tim Kane learned the answer by presiding over the Virginia Senate for four years.  In case The Gumball doesn’t know (and she doesn’t, by her own admission) Kane’s duties as Lieutenant Governor matched those of the Vice President of the United States.  Michel Martin must be aware of this … she just might not want anyone else to be so aware.  Before Tim Kaine was Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, he was the Mayor of Richmond Virginia for four years.  Two years ago, The Gumball was the mayor of her home town:  Wasilla, Alaska (population 9,000).  Tim Kaine was the mayor of a city with a population over twenty times the size of Wasilla, Alaska, at 200,123 people.  Tim Kaine went to law school (Georgetown).  The Gumball didn’t, nor did John McCain.

The stupidity of this episode is “off the charts”.  On the heels of an outrageously successful Democratic Convention, McCain has made a desperate reach for those disgruntled supporters of Hillary Clinton.  At the same time, with his choice of The Gumball, McCain has sold out to the televangelist lobby in the hope of connecting with that ever-elusive Republican “base”.  The term “desperate” has been used by many commentators.  Jonathan Alter of Newsweek was kind enough to analogize the selection of Palin to a “Hail Mary” or “Hail Sarah” pass at the end of a close football game.  McCain’s media sycophants claim that McCain’s selection of Palin as his running mate, reinforces his “maverick” persona.  To the contrary, if McCain really were a maverick, he would be standing up to the televangelist lobby, rather than sucking up to it, as he is with this choice.

Sarah Palin (a/k/a “The Gumball”) is a “wing nut” who wants creationism to be taught in public schools and who refuses to believe that global warming has been caused by human activity.  To her credit, Palin went to term with a baby known to have Down Syndrome, based on her anti-abortion stance.  Her ability to do the anti-abortion walk as well as the anti-abortion talk will give her some degree of “street cred” with a limited population.

Nevertheless, with his choice of Palin, McCain has alienated his own “base” – the independents, moderate Republicans and centrists who believed that once elected President, McCain would tear off the rubber mask and return to his old self.  As Arianna Huffington said a while ago:  “The John McCain of 2000 is not a candidate in this election.”  McCain’s choice of The Gumball just drove that message home.

The fact that The Gumball was not adequately vetted, has become glaringly obvious to many Republicans.  She hasn’t been Governor of Alaska for two years and yet, she is already in trouble there. A special prosecutor has been appointed to investigate her activity.  She has been accused of “abuse of power”.  Our current Vice-President has that as his middle name.  This situation should make life easy for those writing the negative ads about the Republican ticket.

As long as Michel Martin has directed our attention to Tim Kaine, let’s remember where he was born:  a city named St. Paul, Minnesota.  If you want to find out what life is like there now, with the Republican Convention taking place, read Lindsay Beyerstein’s article, “Inside an RNC Raid” at Firedoglake.com.  It will make you sick, with reports of warrantless searches at homes — even one owned by a former military police officer.  When a woman staying at the house discussed in the story asked for a warrant, she was detained.  Local police were blended with apparent “contractors” or private Gestapo-for-hire.  Of course, this is all completely illegal in the United States where we have lived for all our lives.  Those in control of the 2008 Republican Party don’t care about the rule of law.  They make a point of promoting “leaders” who know nothing about it, either.  The reasons for this are obvious.

Women To Watch

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June 19, 2008

Most of the eulogies about Hillary Clinton’s Presidential campaign have focused on the theme that she was a “groundbreaker”, who proved that a woman could make it to the Senate and become a serious contender for the highest office in the land.  Meanwhile, there are a number of women presently in the Senate, who got there without having been married to a former President (whose surname could be relied upon for recognition purposes).  In fact, two of these women are presently working on closing the so-called “Enron loophole” in the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000, 7 U.S.C. §2(h)(3) and (g), which existed throughout Bill Clinton’s tenure in the Oval Office.  This “Enron loophole” is what has made it possible for speculators to drive the price of gasoline beyond $4 per gallon.  Surely, the increased demand for oil by China and India has explained part of the soaring cost of gasoline here in the United States.  However all authorities on the subject agree that unchecked speculation in the American markets has greatly facilitated the skyrocketing increase in gas prices.  That speculation owes its existence to the so-called “Enron loophole”, which is once again coming under attack in the Senate.

There is abundant interest focused on whatever Hillary Clinton’s mission will be when she returns to the Senate after her month of R&R and what role she might play if Barack Obama is elected our next President.  I suggest that we turn our sights to the Senate right now, to witness what other women are doing there and find out for ourselves who the real “trailblazers” are.  We should also consider these pioneers when looking toward the day when a woman finally makes it to The White House.

Our first potential future candidate is Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, whose role on the Senate Commerce Committee has found her fighting against the “Enron loophole”.  Looking on Wikipedia.org we learn:

She received her bachelor’s degree magna cum laude in political science from Yale University in 1982, where she was a member of the Yale College Democrats and the Feminist Caucus.  …  Klobuchar served as an associate editor of the Law Review and received her J.D. in 1985 at the University of Chicago Law School.

Bam!  She has made the prerequisite pilgrimage to Iraq (March, 2007) and voiced her frustration with Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki upon her return.  She is a member of the following Senate Committees:  the Agriculture Committee, the Environment and Public Works Committee and the Commerce Committee.  She is also a member of the Congressional Joint Economic Committee.

Our second potential future candidate is Senator Maria Cantwell from the State of Washington.  She is also currently working to close the “Enron loophole”. Senator Cantwell received a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Administration from Miami University of Ohio.  She has served in the Senate since January of 2001.  Although she supported the Joint Resolution for the Use of the Armed Forces in Iraq, she explained the qualifications for her support in an extensive press release the day before the vote on that Resolution.   She is a member of the following Senate Committees:  Finance, Indian Affairs, Finance and Entrepreneurship, Energy and Natural Resources, as well as the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

At this juncture, it remains to be seen whether Hillary Clinton will join these two sister Senators in their efforts to close the “Enron loophole”.  It never bothered her husband during his eight years in the White House and she never spoke up about it during that time.

For our third potential future candidate, we can’t forget about Governor Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas.  Although she is being promoted as a possible running mate for Barack Obama, her five years as Governor of Kansas are considered by many as a bit short for the position of Vice President.  (She faced that criticism when she had served only one year as Governor and was considered as a possible running mate for John Kerry in 2004.)  She earned a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the University of Kansas after earning a Bachelor’s Degree from Trinity Washington University in Washington, D.C.  (Trinity Washington University is not associated with the late Jerry Falwell, who died and went to hell.  It is a Catholic – affiliated University.)  As Governor of Kansas, she has an established record as an advocate of environmental protection.

As the pundits watch Hillary Clinton’s political future, some of us will be looking toward other American women, one of whom may turn out to become the first female President of the United States.


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