Monday, January 30, 2012

Memo To Mitt -- How About The Rest Of The Story?

After numerous questions from the media, and repeated demands from his rivals, and even some jeers from a debate audience, Mitt Romney finally released his tax records for 2010 and 2011.

This move, however, hasn't let him escape the troubled waters that have washed away his attempt at a squeaky clean image. Those troubled waters are now murkier than ever.

The two years covered by the material released are not enough to get a clear picture of Romney's financial dealings. That's because the records for 2010 contain information that raises eyebrows, and more questions about his financial modus operandi in previous years.

The facts that Mitt Romney had, until 2010, a numbered Swiss bank account, and offshore transactions with financial institutions in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands are troubling admissions--especially since the front-running Republican Presidential candidate did not reveal the "Swiss" connection in another form of financial disclosure last year.

The electorate is entitled to know now--not after his nomination--why a man who has amassed a vast fortune found it necessary to place his wealth somewhere, anywhere, outside the United States.

It's time for Mitt Romney to give us the rest of the story.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

America's Pakistani Predicament

No matter who wins the November Presidential election, the United States/Pakistan relationship will remain a foreign policy nightmare with no easy solution.

Topping the list of problems with our supposed-to-be friend and military ally is the growing concern over Pakistan's nuclear capability, and the safekeeping of nuclear weapons.

One other area of concern, which is less publicized, and would be considered by many to be of lesser importance, is the charge of treason placed by the Pakistani authorities against a friend of freedom and a foe of terrorism.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is now speaking publicly about the unfair proposed prosecution of Dr. Shakeel Afridi, whose purported crime is assisting the United States military in locating and taking out Osama bin Laden.

The Doctor organized a vaccination campaign in the area of the bin Laden compound, as a way of getting DNA to confirm the presence of the Al Qaeda leader.

Leon Panetta's concern for the Doctor comes with his implied belief that someone high up in Pakistan's government or military had to be aware of bin Laden's whereabouts.

Should Dr. Afrida be convicted of treason, the United States will be in a most difficult position, and the world will be watching to see if America acquiesces to an "ally", or comes to the aid of a true friend.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Newt's Debate Comeuppance

Last Monday's blog posed a pertinent political question: "When Will Gingrich Get His Debate Comeuppance?"

Well, it didn't take long to find out. And it was CNN, the target of a Newt Gingrich tirade a week earlier, which double-teamed the Republican Presidential candidate, and exposed him as the compulsive liar that he is.

During the past nine months, and through 19 Republican Presidential debates, candidate Newt Gingrich has deflected unwelcome questions by chastising moderators and castigating the media. And in most instances, his Oscar-worthy outrage has elicited audience support--including a standing ovation last week in South Carolina.

After that ovation, which was, in effect, a put-down of moderator John King, Gingrich stated emphatically that there were personal friends--witnesses--who had tried unsuccessfully to appear on ABC to refute the damaging claims of an ex-wife during an interview. According to Gingrich, the names and the request to appear were given to ABC, but the network declined.

Days later, John King spoke live with Gingrich for clarification, and the former Speaker reiterated his claim that names of witnesses, along with the request to be heard, had been given to ABC. This reconfirmation eliminated the possibility of any misspeak or misunderstanding. Gingrich stood by his original statement.

Meanwhile, however, ABC debunked Gingrich's story, and after CNN repeatedly asked for the names of the supposed witnesses, Newt Gingrich's campaign manager acknowledged that there never were any such witnesses eager to appear.

Wolf Blitzer completed the double team last night during the Florida debate, when he stood his ground to prevent Gingrich from escaping a question by attacking the moderator. This time there was no audience support for Mr. Gingrich.

The CNN double team finally gave Newt Gingrich his debate comeuppance.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

School Lunch Programs -- Then And Now

After all these years, I still have fond, vivid memories of my grammar school lunch program. The very use of the term "grammar school" tells you that was a very long time ago.

But even now, I can almost taste some of those lunches--food that was filling and delicious--and nutritious.

The soup and sandwich combos--chicken noodle soup with an egg salad sandwich, or cream of tomato soup with a grilled cheese sandwich--were favorites. As was the once-a-week spaghetti with meat sauce and salad.

There was always an apple, orange, or banana on the tray, along with a sliver of cake or pie, or perhaps a cookie. The beverage was a glass of milk.

Over time, the type of school lunch I enjoyed fell victim to the fast food craze. A filling lunch became more fattening. Lunch was just as delicious, but not always as nutritious. Often it was a soda instead of milk.

There were guidelines that were intended to assure proper nutrition, but the guidelines were abused. One flagrant example of cheating on nutrition got a lot of attention last year.

A slice of pizza was being listed as a vegetable--this phony claim because the pizza was topped with a little tomato sauce--two tablespoons worth.

Now, however, the Department of Agriculture has come up with better-regulated menus that provide adequate nutrition.

As of next July 1, school lunch programs nationwide must offer fruits and vegetables with all meals. There are limitations on the amount of sodium, saturated fat, and trans fats in the food that is served. Milk is back on the tray--the lowfat variety.

The new USDA approach to school lunch programs is aimed at making the food served to school children both appealing and healthy. With more than 17 million American children currently classified as obese, the new guidelines are an example of an especially beneficial form of regulation.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Today's GOP--Where Have All The Good Guys Gone?

Since coming of age to vote, I've cast my ballot for President without regard to party affiliation.

Some election years I've voted for a Democrat; and some election years I've voted for a Republican. Sometimes the incumbent President got my vote, and sometimes it was the challenger that I voted for.

So there is no strict party loyalty involved when I say that I look upon the current crop of Republican Presidential candidates as the sorriest collection of frightening losers that the GOP has ever foisted on the American electorate.

Learning what they would do once entrenched in the White House should give the heebie jeebies to Mr. and Mrs. average American. That's because much of what they would do runs counter to the thinking of a vast majority of Americans.

But there's something else disturbing about these candidates--something beyond their collective dubious past; something beyond their policies and proposals.

They all have personal flaws in their makeup that are there to see in their modus operandi. They are bad guys--bad because of their choice of language and their propensity for lies. They are nasty; they are mean.

It hasn't always been this way with the GOP. Dwight Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, the first President Bush--all competent and all gentlemen. All saints--compared to the sinners of 2012.

Monday, January 23, 2012

When Will Gingrich Get His Debate Comeuppance?

It could be delivered tonight, at the hands of NBC's Brian Williams; or it could be inflicted Thursday evening by CNN's Wolf Blitzer; or it could happen in another debate sometime in future.

But I have a feeling that, sooner or later on the primary trail, a debate moderator is going to ambush Republican Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich with a well-planned gotcha question that will set the former Speaker back on his heels--stumbling and fumbling through an embarrassing response.

Through the seventeen Republican Presidential debates to date, Gingrich has used unwarranted attacks on the media, in general, and the debate moderator, in particular, to direct attention away from questions asked.

He has claimed to have been "appalled" by questions he didn't like. and has used the word "despicable" to describe the actions of debate sponsors and moderators.

In several instances he has been successful in turning the audience against the moderator--using inflammatory language to get showstopping approval from the audience.

I don't believe that the media is as upset by Gingrich's attempts to humiliate moderators, as it is by the Speaker's attempts to avoid answering pertinent questions that are posed so as to give voters information they have a right to know.

Count on it. Sooner or later, Newt Gingrich will get his debate comeuppance.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

General Motors And The General Election

General Motors is once again the world's leading automaker, and that fact takes away one more talking point for the GOP in the general election.

Most Republicans ranted and raved when "Detroit" received taxpayer money to stay afloat through the worst days of the great recession. The federal bailout of General Motors, engineered by the Obama administration, was the focus of attention, and contention. Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney was one of the loudest voices of opposition.

But now, figures released this week reinforce the idea that General Motors was worth saving. GM is once more popular and profitable. The company sold nine million cars and trucks last year, and its continuing financial strength has allowed repayment of some of the monies it received in the bailout.

Because of the bailout, America still has an automaking industry, and the hundreds of thousands of jobs that, without the bailout, would have been lost forever

Meanwhile, there has been nary a mention of the auto industry bailout during recent Republican Presidential debates.

By the time the general election campaign commences, this issue will have shifted from a talking point for the Republican nominee, to a talking point for the incumbent President.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Thank Heaven For A Prying Press

Newt Gingrich's tirade against the media in the opening minutes of last night's Republican Presidential debate drew a standing ovation from the South Carolina audience.

My immediate reaction was quite different. It was one of worry. I am increasingly concerned about the way many politicians are trying to turn the electorate against a prying press. They are obvious in their attempt to control what the press prints, and the public knows.

The word prying usually has a derogatory connotation, but I believe that it is not only the appropriate word--but a good word as well--when it is applied to the media.

That's because we need a prying press. We need journalists with the guts and gusto to dig out the truth; to expose false or misleading statements; and to make public the pertinent information that allows voters to know what, as well as who, they are voting for.

Newt Gingrich was able to blunt a sharp question about his personal life by claiming that the press has been attacking Republicans and protecting a Democratic President. The mostly conservative audience ate it up.

The truth is that investigative reporting has focused on members of both political parties. Just ask disgraced and deposed former Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner.

The question that Newt Gingrich vehemently objected to was fair game because there have been so many incidents in his past that are about judgment and ethics and trust.

One of those incidents, that is indisputable fact, is Gingrich's hypocritical pursuit of the impeachment of President Clinton on moral grounds, while at the same time, Mr. Gingrich was in the midst of an illicit affair of his own.

Another incident, which is a matter of record, is his exit in disgrace from a position of leadership in Congress. For that transgression, he paid fines totally $300,000. And there's more--much more. The list of incidents is long and revealing.

How Newt Gingrich has lived his life is most likely how he would live his Presidency. That's why questions about his personal life are valid ones. That's why voters are entitled to know about incidents concerning trust.

There was another somewhat milder tirade last night that is worth mentioning, because it also lends credence to the need for a prying press.

Rick Santorum used the word "disgusting" to describe President Obama's treatment of veterans when it comes to budget cuts. He said that the President's budget cuts "hit veterans".

The indisputable truth,--a matter of rercord--is that the President has actually proposed increases in federal spending on veterans.

Without a prying, pressing media to keep them "honest", politicians would be giving us a never-ending flow of misleading statements and outright lies.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Reasons For Regulations

One of the talking points for Republican Presidential candidates this election cycle is their opposition to federal government regulations. And the GOP, as a party, has worked nationwide to effect deregulation at the state level.

The anti-regulation stance makes for good sound bites and applause, and is a popular position to take; but the fact of the matter is that most government regulations are vitally necessary. There is good reason for them, and two news stories the last few days bear this out.

The cruise ship disaster in the Mediterranean is said to be due to human error, and a lack of proper crew training--bringing into question cruise ship regulation, or lack of regulation. Strictly enforced, well-developed regulations may well have prevented a tragedy.

The apple juice story reveals a danger to American consumers that is due to a lack of regulation.

More than 70 percent of the apple juice consumed in this country comes from China, where arsenic based pesticides are used in farming. Unacceptable levels of arsenic are being found in that apple juice.

The need is obvious for regulations stringent enough to protect consumers. But at present, the Food and Drug Administration inspects only two percent of the food imported into the United States.

When the case is made for deregulation, consider the possible cost.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Martin Luther King Day -- It's About The Message

A year ago, on Martin Luther King Day, this space was given to the subject of progress--the progress that has been made in tolerance and understanding since that afternoon in 1963, when Dr. King said,

"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed....that all men are created equal".

Sadly, as this year's day of remembrance approaches, I'm hearing all too many derogatory remarks about this man who pleaded for equality, while preaching non-violence and love.

I am reminded, by Dr. King critics, of the allegations of indiscretions that have evolved from whispers to public comments--seemingly louder and bolder with the passage of time. "He was no saint", so says a neighbor.

True enough. But who is a saint? We could mention Popes and Preachers and Presidents who were not without sin, but who made this world a better place for their having been here.

Dr. Martin Luther King may well have been far from perfect, but he gave us a message that is nigh unto perfect, and it is for this that we set aside a special day to think about progress--that which we have made, and that which remains a dream.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Journalistic Efforts Worth Saluting

As one who has enjoyed a lifelong love affair with journalism, I find great pleasure in the journalistic accomplishments of others.

In recent days, I have found myself in awe of several members of the media whose work has been especialy noteworthy. And yes, I admit to being more than a little envious of their skills and achievements.

David Gregory of NBC turned in a brilliant performance last Sunday morning as the moderator for the Republican Presidential debate in New Hampshire. Evidence of a job well done is the praise he has received from his peers.

I've been watching Presidential TV debates since the first one in 1960. And since the second one was aired in 1976, I've missed very few. Never has a moderator seemed better prepared, or more in tune with what was pertinent, than David Gregory last Sunday.

But it is what was achieved as a result of that preparation and the pertinent questions that elevates David Gregory to a place head and shoulders above the rest of the moderators this election cycle.

He followed a boring Saturday night debate with an obvious plan to enliven the proceedings, and more important, to get beyond the sound bite replies, so as to get real answers. David Gregory succeeded, and gave us the best debate of the 15 to date.

Soledad O'Brien is the host of a new and different kind of early morning program on CNN--"Starting Point". The difference is in the varied venue--a diner, a restaurant, or other AM gathering place.

Her guests share a breakfast table, and the barely audible background noise adds an excitement and authenticity to the telecast that is not possible in a studio.

Two weeks into the new show, Soledad has aired from Iowa, New Hampshire, and this morning, from a diner in lower Manhattan. This election year will find her breaking bread with guests and viewers in towns and cities throughout the country.

Although the setting is informal, and much of the conversation is casual, Soledad injects a seriousness into every telecast with hard-hitting, incisive interviews. No softball questions from Soledad.

"Starting Point" is something new that I dont think will soon grow old.

And then there's Dr. Sanjay Gupta. He's been around for a while, but some of his varied, recent work makes him worthy of mention as a unique, and very good journalist. What is unique is his resume.

Sanjay is best known for his role as chief medical correspondent for CNN. What makes him know of what he speaks is his background as a neurosurgeon, and as a professor of neurosurgery.

Dr. Gupta is a best-selling author, and a columnist for Time Magazine, and a special correspondent for CBS' "60 Minutes". He has been a White House advisor--to Hillary Clinton in the 90s; and he was offered the position of Surgeon General of the United States by the Obama administration.

He has spent considerable time abroad in war zones, and in disaster areas--after Hurricane Katrina, and after the earthquake in Haiti, and following the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. His work on these occasions was as both journalist and doctor.

In 2011, Dr. Sanjay Gupta was named as one of the ten most influential celebrities in America by Forbes Magazine.

There has always been, and there always will be, a lot of criticism directed at the media, and some of it is justified.

But there have always been, and there always will be, exceptional journalists to be admired, and to be appreciated for the outstanding work that they do--journalists such as those above.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

About Home Invasions And Gun Control

Four and a half years ago, in a small town in Connecticut, a home invasion resulted in the brutal rape, and senseless murders of a mother, and her two daughters, aged 17 and 11.

Those heinous crimes have remained in the news, while the two assailants were brought to trial, and were convicted, and now face the death penalty.

At the time of the Petit family tragedy, a bill to do away with the death penalty in Connecticut had passed in the legislature and was awaiting the Governor's signature. This one horrific event caused the Governor to veto the bill.

It long seemed to many, myself included, that the Petit family home invasion was a unique happening, a rarity. And, for a while, I shared with many a naive belief that the swift justice effected in this case, and the attendant publicity, would serve as a deterrent to home invasions.

But the reality is that home invasions are on the rise. Some homes, and some families are too easy a target for the criminally intent to resist. Forcibly entering and robbing a home is bad enough, but in all-too-many cases, sexual assault and murder are part of the crime spree.

In the last ten days, two crimes, more than a thousand miles apart, have brought gun control into the conversation about home invasions.

On New Year's Eve, in Oklahome, an 18-year old girl, and her three-month old baby were home alone. She was grieving the loss of her husband, who had succumbed to cancer on Christmas Day.

An intruder, somehow aware of her situation, tried to gain entrance, and eventually set about breaking down the front door. When he had succeeded, he entered the house with a knife in his hand.

The girl retrieved her husband's gun, and shot the intruder dead before he could reach her. An accomplice waiting outside was subsequently captured.

Without the gun, this 18-year old mother, and her baby, would have been at the mercy of two assailants.

Last Friday morning, in Lake Butler--a small town near where I live in north Florida--two men forced their way into a home where they murdered a 69-year old husband, and sexually assaulted his 39-year old wife.

The intruders, who have since been captured, had a gun. The couple they killed and assaulted did not.

Controlling guns is a good thing. Prohibiting guns is not.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Politics On A Saturday Night And Sunday Morning

There is much that is new in Presidential politics this time around. Example A is the frequency, and emerging importance of Presidential debates.

This election cycle, we watched thirteen debates before the first votes were counted. It was said by many at the outset that there were way too many debates scheduled, and that the electorate would soon tire of politics, and tune out the candidates.

Not so. The Republican Presidential debates rapidly became as much about entertainment as education and the national audience grew to a surprising seven million viewers. And now, we have a most unusual weekend of politics coming up--the likes of which this nation has never seen.

It's a Saturday night and Sunday morning of political theatre. Yep, this Saturday evening we have another prime time debate courtesy of ABC News. But what's different is that this 9:00-11:00 PM debate is followed just ten hours later by a Sunday morning debate on NBC.

This unprecedented scheduling of back to back debates gives the electorate a unique opportunity to see the candidates operate under pressure for a lengthy, sustained period of time.

They will field questions from a superb group of moderators, who all enjoy a reputation for tough, pertinent questions, and for not allowing candidates to sidestep an issue. Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos will do the honors Saturday night, and David Gregory will be in charge Sunday morning.

It will be interesting to see who best meets the challenge, and who, if anyone, exits the ordeal appearing calm, cool, and collected--looking Presidential. It's desperation time for some of those who will be on stage, and the gloves will be off.

What better entertainment for a Saturday night and Sunday morning.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Attack Ads Are A Necessary Evil

We all grew up being told, "If you can't say something nice about someone, then say nothing at all".

That's good advice for most areas of life, but not for politics. In the political arena, it's better to be truthful than nice.

There's not a whole lot I like about what Mitt Romney is spouting these days, but I do agree 100 percent with something he told Wolf Blitzer of CNN yesterday regarding attack ads.

Romney said that attack ads are a longstanding, necessary part of the political process--important because they test in a number of ways those who would be Commander In Chief. He implied that attack ads help assure that it is the strongest and most qualified candidates who survive.

I further believe that attack ads are important because they serve as a kind of investigative reporting that often alerts voters to vital information about the candidates.

If there were no attack ads this election cycle, voters would not be so aware of the flaws, faults, failures--and in some cases the past sins--of several Republican Presidential candidates.

Staying positive may sound nice, but an occasional dose of truthful negativity is a necessary evil in politics.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

Now, 2011 belongs to the past,
As all four of the seasons have flown by so fast.

Most of us had both good times and bad,
Giving us memories both happy and sad.

This column, too, had its ups and downs;
Some days making smiles, some days causing frowns.

But thanks to the readers who choose to be here,
We continue to write about things we hold dear.

So with 2012 already at hand,
There's something I'm hoping that you understand.

Agree or not, with what I might say,
You are welcome--I respect you--and I hope you will stay.

Yes, I hope you will join me for the columns to come;
But a far better wish is where I'm coming from.

May you have all the best that the Good Lord can give,
In the New Year ahead, and for as long as you live.

--your cuz'n Bill