Sunday, February 22, 2009

Congresswoman Grace Napolitano Has Found a New Way to Abuse Campaign Funds

Congresswoman Grace Napolitano of Torrance, 72, has been elected to Congress 6 times in a safe Democratic seat in California.

She loaned her initial campaign $150,000. Such loans are common in politics. Senator Clinton, for example, advanced her presidential campaign about $13 million last year. Instead of earning interest on it, she had to write it off. Losing candidates have difficulty raising funds to pay off campaign debts.

The Representative though charged her campaign an interest rate of 18% on the loan. The usually ineffectual Federal Election Commission accepted her argument that the money came from a retirement account that would incur an early withdrawal penalty. She graciously lowered the interest rate to 10% in mid-2006.

The FEC allows candidates to charge their campaigns a “commercially reasonable” interest rate on moneys they loan the campaign. Forget 5-6%; now we know it can be a credit card rate.

So far, she has earned over $158,000 in interest on the loan since 2001 and $221,780 since 1998. Not a bad return on investment, and what a nice supplement to her Congressional income. 18% is the interest rate which many claim is outrageous on credit cards. The current Fed Funds rate is 0%.

Why hire family members, or pay rent to family (Pelosi), when you can pay yourself?

Since she represents a safe district, she could easily have raised funds to pay off the loan, but to do so would have resulted in a substantial loss of income.

She held fundraisers in 2007 and 2008 to retire the debt, but only reduced it by $65,000. She obviously wasn’t trying hard.

The rules which allowed politicians to convert campaign funds to personal uses were abrogated years ago. Congresswoman Napolitano has pioneered an ingenious, but simple way, to do so. Who needs the discredited House Bank when you can be your own banker?

Loose Lips Sink Ships, Predator Drones and Banks: Of Senators Feinstein, Schumer, and Dodd

A popular poster in World War II was “Loose Lips Sink Ships.” Secrecy over developments, logistics, strategic and tactical plans was encouraged to prevent the enemy from discovering them and then reacting. Secrecysaves lives.

A classic example came from the War. The U.S. Navy had rebounded from the Pearl Harbor debacle and other early defeats to win the Battle of the Atlantic by the end of 1943 while American submarines were decimating the Japanese Merchant Marine and surviving depth charge attacks by enemy destroyers.

A visiting Congressman in Pearl Harbor asked Navy officers why American submariners were so successful in evading Japanese destroyers. He was told that they were diving to 300 feet while the Japanese were using smaller depth charges set to explode at 150 feet.

The Congressman reported this secret of the Silent Service’s success to the media. As soon as the Japanese learned of it, they used larger charges set to explode at 300 feet. American submarine casualties sharply rose. Loose lips sank ships.

More recently Al Qaeda and the Taliban have used safe havens in Pakistan to attack American soldiers and terrorize Afghans. The U.S. may or may not be sending soldiers across the porous border to track or attack the enemies in Pakistan; such conduct would be extremely risky.

Instead, a series of Predator drone attacks has successfully targeted Al Qaeda and Taliban targets in Pakistan, often with great success. Pakistan has strongly protested these infringements on its territorial integrity. Pakistan’s leaders have to weave a fine line between respecting popular support for Al Qaeda and the Taliban and opposition to Americans versus fear of the Taliban gaining control of Pakistan. The Taliban already effectively controls the border provinces of Pakistan.

So how does Senator Feinstein figure in this border dispute? At a recent Congressional hearing she revealed that many of the Predator Drones are based in Pakistan. She responded to Pakistan’s objections to the territorial overflights in something of a pique by saying “As I understand it, these are flown out of a Pakistani base.”

The Senator is chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and hence is in a position to know. Rumors had been circulating for years about the origin of the flights, but never verified until now. At least she did not disclose the source of the intelligence relied upon by the CIA in the Predator attacks.

Governments, like candidates, are often Janus like, saying one thing in public and another in private. The political and geopolitical ramifications in Pakistan have yet to play out, but they will not be favorable to America in the war on terrorism.

No calls have been made for the Senator’s resignation from the Committee, unlike the fate of Senator Patrick Leahy a few years back. Both Senators illustrate why Presidents prefer to keep Congress in the dark on sensitive national security matters.

Loose lips also have catastrophic consequences in the financial market. Senator Charles Schumer wrote a letter last spring to the Office of Thrift Management stating that IndyMac Bank was in financial peril. His office then released the letter to the public, setting off a run on the Bank. The federal government had to seize control of the bank a few days later - a multi-billion dollar bailout.

Senator Chris Dodd, Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, exacerbated the banking crisis last week. He stated that the federal government might have to take over the banks, sending banking stocks, especially Citigroup and Bank of America, further into the tank.

The threats of nationalization of the nation’s banks are a blow to shareholders and creditors of the banks, minimizing the possibility of private investment in the financial industry.

The costs of the bailout have just risen.

Loose lips sink banks.

Cheerleaders are Jocks in Wisconsin

Cheerleaders are Jocks in Wisconsin

As we age, let us look fondly back at the cheerleaders of our high schools and colleges in the 1960’s. So sweet, wholesome and innocent in their cute outfits, as they hardly worked up a sweat in leading us in such simple yells as “Hey, hey, ho, ho, let’s get the ball and go, go, go,” “Hit’em again, harder, harder,” “Let’s get another one just like the other one,” “First and ten, do it again” “Hold that line,” and, of course, the school spell out. Steve Martin got nowhere when he tried out a new yell at Garden Grove High School: “Die, you gravy-sucking pigs.”

I have a newspaper clipping of a sweet, innocent Madonna Ciccone as a high school cheerleader in Michigan.

Many have gone on to great fame and success in politics, entertainment, and the law. Cheerleader alumni include FDR, G.W. Bush, Trent Lott, Thad Cochran, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Ann-Margret, Paula Abdul, Halle Berre, Sandra Bullock, Deana Carter, Katie Couric, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kirk and Michael Douglas, Calista Flockhart, Samuel L. Jackson, Steve Martin, Mandy Moore, Cybil Shepperd, Aaron Spelling, Jimmy Stewart, and Vanna White.

In hindsight, there wasn’t much to get excited about.

Then, of course, we have the professional teams pioneered by the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. No comment is necessary, except that Terri Hatcher was once a San Francisco 49er cheerleader.

Of course, Disney provided cheerleaders for a few months after acquiring the California Angels. That Mickey Mouse stunt was quickly aborted.

And then a quiet evolution developed. Music was introduced; dance routines choreographed, and the outfits became skimpier. The cheerleaders, both male and female, became gymnasts and then seemingly acrobats as they developed new routines and increasingly risky routines, such as the pyramid and toss. Teams competed in regional and national competitions. Cheerleader schools were established. And pulchritudinous was no longer required.

A quick Google search of cheerleaders and “falls” will uncover a number of YouTube videos showing cheerleader mishaps, presumably funny to look at. Yet, these routines and falls entail great risk to the participants.

Three cheerleaders at Holman High School in Wisconsin were practicing a new stunt, the “post-to-hands” stunt, for the first time before a basketball game. Brittany Nofke was to stand on the shoulders of the “base.” with the third cheerleader, Kevin Bakke, helping her onto the base and then standing behind her in case she fell. Instead, he went to the front of the base. Brittany fell backwards. Her head struck the tile floor which lacked mats.

Not surprisingly, Nofke sued the school district, Bakke, and the supervisory teacher.

A Wisconsin statute, covering amateur recreational activity, exempts liability for negligence for physical contact between persons in a sport. Liability can only be imposed if defendant acted recklessly or intentionally.

The statute’s laundry list of recreational activities includes hunting, fishing, trapping, camping, bowling, billiards, picnicking, exploring caves, nature study, dancing, bicycling, horseback riding, horseshoe-pitching, bird-watching, motorcycling, operating an all-terrain vehicle, ballooning, curling, throwing darts, hang gliding, hiking, tobogganing, sledding, sleigh riding, snowmobiling, skiing, skating, participation in water sports, weight and fitness training, sight-seeing rock-climbing, cutting or removing wood, climbing observation towers, animal training, harvesting the products of nature, and sport shooting. Some of these are clearly oriented to Wisconsin.

In case this seemingly all-inclusive statute left anything out, it added the catchall “any other sport, game, or recreational activity.” “Cheerleading” is seemingly omitted by the legislature in this exhaustive list, but that didn’t stop the Wisconsin Supreme Court from judicially amending the statute.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court held that cheerleading is a contact sport within the meaning of the statute.

The Court premised its opinion on the basic maxim of legislative interpretation that the plain language of the statute should control.

And yet, the Court then turned to a dictionary to divine the plain words of the statute, and not even the most highly regarded dictionary, Merriam Webster’s New Unabridged. Instead, it looked to the American Heritage Dictionary of the American Language, which defined “sport” as “an activity involving physical exertion and skill that is governed by a set of rules or customs.”

The Dictionary defined contact as “coming together or touching.”

As defined therefore, “contact” doesn’t have to be between opponents but could be touchings between teammates. The Court recognized cheerleading sometimes involved stunts that “produce a forceful interaction between the participants.”

Plaintiff had argued that the statutory exemption was for contact sports between competitive teams. The statute was titled “Liability of Contact Sports Participants.” The Court dismissed this argument because titles are not part of a statute.

As the majority finished its opinion, it recognized a major issue left open by the opinion: How to treat clearly recreational sports that are non-contact, such as golf, tennis, and swimming. I would have assumed that swimming would be included within “water sports” since relays involve contact, but since the Court was not concentrating on the plain words of the statute, it might have missed that.

The Court held that the statutory immunity would apply when four conditions were met:

1) Participation in a recreational activity;
2) The recreational activity includes physical contact between persons;
3) Those parties are participating in a sport; and
4) The sport involves amateur teams.

This interpretation would probably include a common cheerleader activity involving physical conduct: sex.

While the Court held cheerleaders were athletes within the meaning of the statute, other college athletes in contact sports receive athletic scholarships while cheerleaders do not.

The final irony of the opinion is that Chief Justice Ruth Abrahamson, a liberal jurist, in her concurring opinion actually cited Justice Antonin Scalia on the misuse of dictionaries. Resort to a dictionary can be “the equivalent of entering a crowded cocktail party and looking over the heads of the guests for one’s friends.”

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Amateur Hour at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Last Tuesday President Obama was scheduled for an interview at the White House with Fox News. Instead, he and Michelle ducked out to read “The Moon Over Star” to students at an elementary school.

Why you might ask?

Because he said “We were just tired of being in the White House.”

Just two weeks into the Presidency, and President Obama is having trouble handling the pressure. Instead of evoking Lincoln, FDR, and JFK, President Obama should heed the wisdom of Harry Truman: “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

What was the precipitating cause? Tom Daschle’s tax problems, not to mention Tim Geithner and Nancy Killifer. Lest us also not forget Governor Bill Richardson, who may have played “pay to play” like Blago. Obviously, the 7 page, 63 question form for prospective appointees failed.

Could it have also been Vice President Biden mocking Chief Justice Robert’s flub of the Oath at the inauguration of President Obama, followed by the VP’s own inability to even read the Oath correctly in swearing in Secretary of State Clinton. Could it be CIA Director nominee, Leon Panetta, contradicting himself on torture? Could it be campaign promises getting into the way of realism with Gitmo, Iraq withdrawal, and aggressive interrogation?

These are minor blips at the beginning of a new administration. By themselves they will not define his Presidency. However, they serve as a warning.

Two weeks into his Administration and he cannot even pick a Cabinet. His press aide, Robert Gibbs, is daily wearing the deer in the headlights look. Democrats used to call it “the Dan Quayle Look.” Even sooner than Presidents Carter and Clinton, Obama’s been rolled by the Congressional Democrats.

President Obama has to do something he’s never done before. Actually run an organization as the ultimate decision maker and make decisions. It’s often neither fun nor easy, but it must be done. Rhetoric only goes so far.

Campaigning is easy compared to governance. You must make decisions that affect 300 million Americans. Decisions will please some and anger others. If the decisions turn out to be wrong, or if enough are disaffected by them, the President’s popularity will tank.

President Obama recognizes that his success or failure as President will depend on keeping the American people safe from terrorist attacks and restoring the economy. In both situations, campaign rhetoric clash with political reality.

The President is confronting the same issues as President Bush on the economy: How to keep the banks from collapsing; How to restore the credit markets; How to revive housing? The options are limited.

He must also be bemoaning how President Bush adroitly kicked the can to him on Detroit. He must decide within a few weeks if Detroit will succeed or fail. Yet, he cannot politically let it fail, but probably even Lee Iacocca couldn’t save Chrysler today. The President owes too much to Michigan and the labor unions to pull the plug on them.

The Stimulus Bill displays a dangerous quality of the President; he hates to get involved. He claims the Bill as his own, but it was drafted and negotiated by Congress. His Office, the Presidency, the White House through Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel was not heavily involved in the details. President Obama essentially claimed the House Bill as his own without even reading the details. Yet its success or failure may define his Presidency.

The Stimulus Bill reflects the failed practices of the past. Government spending failed in the Great Depression to bring us out. It failed in every major recession since then. It failed in Japan in the 1990’s. And it will fail now.

His recent appearances demanding passage indicate an ‘in your face” Presidency, but not “hands on.”

He even showed his frustration by taking on Rush Limbaugh. The President must be above such petty fights, which he cannot win. It only serves to belittle the president. Rush proudly wears the slings and arrows of President Obama as a badge of honor.

So much for the new tone in Washington! Everything the Democrats have heaped upon Republicans has come back to haunt them as all too many of their “distinguished” leaders turn out to be as capitalistic and greedy as Republicans. Potomac fever is non-partisan.

President Obama is clearly right in his statement that he won. He won the Presidency by a commanding margin, which neither Carter nor Clinton did. He carried with him overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate. Congress will support him on almost any bill right now.

With power, which can be fleeting, comes responsibility. So far we have seen the arrogance of the majority.

Don’t underestimate the President though. He has four major strengths.

First, he has the Bully Pulpit, and will utilize it regularly, unlike his predecessor.

Second, the public wants him to succeed with fixing the economy.

Third, 4 years is an eternity in politics.