Annals of Hypocrisy: Rush Limbaugh

30 April 2006 |permalink | email article

Famous people are often treated differently than most of us when they get in trouble. Consider the case of Rush Limbaugh, the conservative talk-show radio host, who was charged with prescription drug fraud, pleaded not guilty and made a deal Friday in Florida to avoid prosecution on whether he improperly used painkillers.

An iconic conservative voice since the mid-80ís, heís played a central role both in rallying support for the Republican sweep of Congress in 1994, in leading the drum beat to impeach President Bill Clinton in 1998 and regularly demonizing Democrats.

Limbaughís arrogant posture has long set the tone for a generation of extreme conservative television and radio hosts - and yes,  wing-nut bloggers ñ for absolute legal, moral and political certainty on every issue affecting the body politic.

In October 1995, Limbaugh said on his former television show that ìif people are violating the law by doing drugs, they ought to be accused and they ought to be convicted and they ought to be sent up.î

In 2003, Florida law enforcement officials began a three-year investigation of Limbaugh after a tabloid report quoted his maid as saying that she had helped him obtain OxyContin, a time-release narcotic. That October he said on the air that he was addicted to painkiller and would enter a rehabilitation program which he did.

Rush got a sweetheart deal in avoiding a criminal conviction with prosecutors agreeing to drop the fraud charge in 18 months if he agrees complies with all the court guidelines. “They slapped his hand and thatís all,î said Debra Opri, a celebrity lawyer and frequent television analyst. ìHe doesnít have to stand trialÖand thatís it. He walks.î

Itís Limbaughís rant about cracking down on drug users and his own actions that should raise questions about hypocrisy among his devoted but brainwashed fans. 

(First in an occasional series)

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Democratic Gubernatorial Showdown

27 April 2006 |permalink | email article

California convention delegates will decide Saturday in Sacramento whether the party should officially endorse either state Treasurer Phil Angelides or state Controller Steve Westly for governor before the June 6 primary. The winner needs 60 % of the delegate votes.

The party has not endorsed a gubernatorial candidate in a contested primary since 1990 when state Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp beat Dianne Feinstein when he topped the 60% hurdle by six votes in a recount. It didnít matter. Feinstein won the primary.

On paper, Angelides, the more liberal candidate, is the heavy favorite of the party establishment. Heís backed by U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, the California Labor Federation and the California Teachers Assn.

Recently, Angelidesí advisers have dampened expectations, saying he will be happy to simply outpoll Westly among the estimated 1,800 delegates. Westlyís goal is to block an outright nomination. Both candidates are multi-millionaires, with Westly having far deeper pockets.

Until February, the populist Angelides led by 8% before the more centrist Westly introduced himself to voters in a series of feel-good TV ads. He’s now ahead in every area of the state with an 11% lead that represents a 19-point turnaround in just two months.

Now an admitted underdog, Angelides, who may have made a strategic mistake by pledging to raise business taxes, is being heavily outspent on television. A controversial committee, funded by a longtime friend and former business partner Angelo K. Tsakopoulos and his daughter, has contributed $5 million to the candidate representing firefighters and law enforcement for ads to get him back into the race.

With over a third of Democrats still undecided, the last month of the campaign will be a negative and nasty donnybrook. The advantage remains with Westly unless union leaders decide to go all out for Angelides now instead of saving their war chest to unseat Arnold Schwarzenegger, their real enemy, in November. For the governor, Angelides presents a far juicer target. 


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Can Rove Save GOP Majority?

26 April 2006 |permalink | email article

Karl Rove has been relieved of his responsibilities for White House domestic policy but keeps the title. George W. Bushís ìbrainî is now the indispensable force in plotting Republican political strategies ahead of the November midterm elections.

But yesterday Rove testified for three hours before a federal grand jury investigating the 2003 leak of a CIA operativeís identity, appearing voluntarily at the request of the chief federal prosecutor. His appearance marked the fifth time he has appeared to testify. U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald advised his attorney that he was ìnot a target of the investigation,î but added no decision has been made about charges. 

Should Rove be indicted, and given the free fall in Bushís approval ratings, it would be a potentially fatal blow to GOP hopes of retaining their majority in the wake of damaging new poll data. 

A national survey by the Pew Research Center of 1,501 Americans this month suggests voters are mad as hell with Congress, with independents heavily leaning Democratic and, with Bush fatigue, signs Republican candidates may bear the brunt of public disillusionment.

A strong appetite for change in Washington has two thrusts: 1) a majority of voters would like to see most members of Congress defeated, and 2) a sizable minority want their representative turned out in the midterms.

Both indicators reflect anti-incumbent sentiment not seen since late in the historic 1994 campaign, just before Republicans gained control of Congress. The Democratsí current 10-point lead is only one of a handful of occasions since 1994 when either party has held such a sizeable advantage in the congressional horse race.

The Democratic candidate is favored over the Republican by 17% among white, non-Hispanic Catholics, by 8% among white mainline Protestants, and by 12% among voters in the Midwest.

The Democratic candidate is tied with the Republicans among other groups that the Democrats lost in recent elections, including whites, men and Sourthners.The Democrats have wide leads in the West (23%) and Northeast (19%); in February 2002, the GOP held a slight advantage in both regions.

Whatís most impressive throughout the 15-page Pew report is the crucial swing role of independent voters. Half of them (51%) favor the Democratic candidate in the district compared with just 31% who say they will vote Republican. More than in any recent election, far more independents (62%) say the issue of who controls Congress will be a factor in their vote this fall.

Especially worrisome for Republicans is the current 20-point Democrat lead among independents. Four years ago, the Democratic and Republican candidates were essentially tied among independents (42% R, 39% D).

Assuming he is not charged Rove’s greatest challenge will be to offset the strong desire expressed by the public for policies and programs that are different from the current administration. The survey is the most negative evaluation of Congressís record since 1997.

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Hydrogen Man, Voter Anger

24 April 2006 |permalink | email article

George H.W. Bush, during the 1992 presidential election against Bill Clinton, mocked Al Gore as ìozone man.î His son, George W. Bush, from the same anti-environmental oil dynasty, sneered in the 2000 campaign that Gore ìlikes electric cars. He doesnít like making electricity.î

Bush 43, the ìdecider who decides what is bestî and scorned the Kyoto agreement on global warming, spent an Earth Day marked by record-breaking gas prices promoting his passion for hydrogen-powered fuel cell cars as the fuel of the future.

How ironic that ìhydrogen manî would attempt to be perceived as proactive on energy independence with escalating gas prices nearing $4 bucks at the pump. Offering millions of angry motorists sympathy, without any sign of personal intervention, is a bad omen.

The president has yet to satisfactorily explain why heís gutted the Environmental Protection Agency or failed to act decisively on tightening U.S. fuel-efficiency standards like China, Japan and the European Union have done.

Yet, the presidentís feel-good prediction is that todayís children would take their driving- tests in hydrogen-powered cars. Many analysts dispute this prediction, saying the concept is good but a hydrogen energy system will take decades and billions of dollars to develop.

In his Jan. 31 State of the Union address 43 decried the nationís ìaddiction to foreign oil.î If heís serious about jumpstarting a moribund domestic legacy, he should take up a Democratic proposal and convene a bipartisan national energy summit.

Unless he alights from the bubble soon, hydrogen manís ìtough summerî remark about tight gasoline supplies may well ignite a ìtough fallî for Republican candidates. On this issue, voters arenít partisan!

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Bush to California: No Federal Money

23 April 2006 |permalink | email article

No, the headline is not quite ìBush to California: Drop Deadî in response to a request to W. by Arnold Schwarzenegger to grant a preemptive federal disaster declaration the governor wanted as heavy rains have endangered 29 levees in several northern counties. How about this twist: ìWe Repair, You Pay?î

Clearly, the president did not buy the governorís concern about the serious threat to the Sacramento Delta, Instead, he granted a rare waiver allowing the Army Corps of Engineers to accept about $23 million in California money into its account. It will serve as an advance down payment to start levee repairs this summer and fall.

Sure, down the line, the waiver might help in getting future federal funds or expedit getting permits. The real question is will California ever be reimbursed?

The Democratic spin is Schwarzeneggerís failure to get immediate federal money shows he has no real clout with the White House. Republicans will argue that the governor put a successful process in motion to prevent a Katrina-like emergency.

Itís not a secret that neither Bush 41 nor Bush 43 has ever had any fondness for spending federal dollars like Bill Clinton did in the Democratic-leaning Golden State.

On ìMeet the Press,î the governor was asked whether he is a ìBush Republican.” No, he replied, ìI am an Arnold Republican.î Given the bizarre tensions between them, one might speculate it is one politically petty reason , aside from not bending the rules requiring an actual disaster, why the president failed to be generous on Friday.

Yesterday, in West Sacramento, the president again failed to address the region’s flood control problem even as he spoke on a helipad less than 100 yards from a levee holding back the Sacramento river.

Schwarzenegger, in San Pedro for Earth Day, slammed Bush for failing to provide emergency funds for levee repair. “The response…is unacceptable. We have seen what happens in New Orleans when the people waited for the federal government.” Is the governor still a Republican?


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Bush: Risky California Weekend?

17 April 2006 |permalink | email article

Surprise! Surprise! Given his terrible environmental record, virtual lame duck President Bush will spend this weekend in California where heíll fundraise, lunch with military families and celebrate Earth Day on Saturday with a tour of the California Fuel Partnership in West Sacramento - his first visit there since 2001.

Appearing with him is embattled Rep. John Doolittle, who sponsored the Hydrogen Infrastructure Project that received $5 million to speed development of nonpolluting hydrogen-powered cars.

The proximity of Doolittle to Bush, and at some point with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose recent shots at the administration for being slow on environmental change, are cannon fodder for intense media coverage. It starts with the Roseville congressman who reportedly has been linked to scandals surrounding three top Republican figures.

Brent Wilkes, identified in court documents as a co-conspirator in the bribery case of now imprisoned Rep. Randy ìDukeî Cunningham, also gave Doolittle $46,000; Doolittle has contributed to resigned former House majority leader Tom DeLayís political fund and strongly defended him; and Doolittle is among congressman who have received donations from convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

More interesting is the dilemma facing Schwarzenegger, seeking re-election this fall. How does he deal with the unpopular W.? His performance as president was rejected by 56% of Californians two months ago in a Field Poll. The poll also showed 65% opposed his handling of the Iraq war.

In February, the governor, who needs Democrats and independents to win, tried to distance himself from the president on NBCís ìMeet the Press.î Asked if he was a ìBush Republican,î Schwarzenegger replied that he was an ìArnold Republican.î

Trying to position himself as more moderate than most conservative Republicans, while pandering to the latter, Arnold now finds himself in a political Catch-22. By adding several top Bush-Cheney operatives who have worked out of the White House he appears disingenuous. How can the ex-Mr. Olympia flex his muscles while standing on his head and still keep a straight face?


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California Governor’s Race: T-Word

16 April 2006 |permalink | email article

Benjamin Franklin famously said, ìnothing is certain but death and taxes.î The ìT-Word,î a perennial hot button issue in U.S. politics, has surfaced again in the state race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

Former governors Pat Brown and Ronald Reagan got away with raising taxes but state voters recalled Gray Davis, who did it in 2003. Both multimillionaire Democratic candidates, Phil Angelides and Steve Westly, back Proposition 82, a $2-billion tax that would fund a statewide preschool program on the June ballot. Taxes would increase for very wealthy individuals or couples.

Angelides, the state Treasurer who portrays himself as a populist, would raise even more taxes for education and to close a so-called structural deficit. For the hard-charging former Sacramento real estate developer who championed tax increases in 2003 and 2004 and is backed by labor and most Democratic leaders, itís a huge gamble. Candor about raising taxes can destroy a candidate. Walter Mondale learned that losing to Reagan in 1984.

Westly, the Los Angeles-born former eBay executive whose wealth far exceeds his opponent, trailed Angelides by 8% in a February Field Poll before he introduced himself to voters in a series of feel-good TV ads. The result has been startling.

Although over a third of Democrats are undecided, the state Controller now leads in every area of the state and among every subgroup in a new poll. His 11-point lead represents a 19-point turnaround in two months.

Railbirds expect Angelides, whose history of negative ads began with his flagrant 1994 primary attack on Senate President Pro Tem David Roberti for opposing abortion rights, to repeat the drill. My hunch remains that a less abrasive Westly may win on the strength of his unlimited TV blitzkrieg.

In head-to-head match-ups Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger gains on his rivals; both beat him in February; tied with Westly he beats Angelides by 4%.

But only 36% of the electorate are inclined to support the governor in November. If the primary becomes a nasty donnybrook and Angelidesí coalition rescues him, Schwarzeneggerís marginal odds of winning may increase.

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Dobbs Lectures Schwarzenegger

11 April 2006 |permalink | email article

Lou Dobbs, whose CNN rants now surpass those of the conservative FOX network on the illegal immigrant issue, lectured California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger this week about his Monday opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal.

The governor, who backs a guest-worker plan opposed by Dobbs, aped Ronald Reaganís belief about an immigration policy ìthat both strengthens our borders and welcomes immigrants.î He dropped his harsh comment 3/28 in the Los Angeles Times that ìgranting citizenship to people who are here illegally is not just amnesty- itís anarchy, but wrote:

To pursue a policy of compassion, Congress must attack the problem, not people. Compassionate immigration policy will acknowledge that immigrants are just like us: Theyíre moms and dads looking for workÖAny measure that punishes charities and individuals who comfort or help immigrants is not only unnecessary, but un-American.

Unimpressed, Dobbs chided the governor with a dismissive insistence that Congress must first ìsecure the bordersî before any serious reform can be discussed.

Just to make Dobbsí disappointment clear, Schwarzeneggerís photo was displayed above a caption reading ìActing Governor.î A cheap shot, it hurts CNNís image even as the network shamelessly promotes a host who fuels xenophobia and backs a draconian GOP-passed House bill making it a felony to immigrate illegally or help someone who has.

The immigration issue is risky in the gubernatorial campaign as Latinos make up 14 percent of the California electorate, more than double that in 1994. That year GOP Gov. Pete Wilson won a landslide reelection. by embracing a ballot measure which denied education and other public services to illegal immigrants.

Wilsonís victory resulted in a long-term backlash which has badly damaged Republicans ever since. Neither the governor nor the two candidates for the Democratic nomination in June, state Treasurer Phil Angelides and state Controller Steve Westly, can afford to ignore the subject. The governor is an Austrian immigrant. Angelides is the son of an immigrant mother. And Westlyís wife immigrated here from China as a child.   

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Bush: Today Iraq, Tomorrow Iran?

10 April 2006 |permalink | email article

As disorder and instability in Iraq reach a new tipping point, the April 17 issue of The New Yorker raises the serious prospect of President Bush going to war, if necessary, to stop Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon by destroying deep underground targets with tactical nuclear weapons.

First, the Sunday New York Times cited an internal staff report by the U.S. Embassy and the military high command in Baghdad that underscores shifts in the Iraq war over three years; it provides a sobering analysis of Iraqís politics, economy and security, rating the overall stability of six of the 18 provinces ìseriousîand one ìcritical.î

The report conflicts with public statements by top U.S. politicians and military officials. The American ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilizad, has said the invasion opened a ìPandoraís box,î warning a civil war could engulf the entire Middle East and that ìmuch work remains.î

It also underscores the growing power of rival militias in southern Iraq, and the growing power of Iranian-backed religious Shiite parties, several of which the U.S. helped into power. Now Bush is prepared to play the Iran card.

In the must-read New Yorker article, now online, Seymour M. Hersh writes Bush, while publicly advocating diplomacy to deny the Iran the bomb, is focused on denying Tehran the opportunity to begin a pilot program, planned for this spring, to enrich uranium. Unnamed military and intelligence officials suggest the Administration has increased clandestine ground operations inside Iran and intensified operational planning for a major air attack, long a neocon Middle East dream.

Other points: a conviction within the U.S. military and the international community Bush wants regime change and sees Iranís anti-Israel president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as the new Saddam Hussein but with more credibility and power; serious misgivings about the nuclear option within the offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; recent Bush talks with a few key senators and members of Congress, including at least one Democrat, without dissent.

One House member opined that ìthe most worrisome thing is that this guy has a messianic vision.î My two cents is that, failing in Iraq after talking to a higher father than his own, Bush 43 will try to recoup in the hope his lasting legacy may be Iran. With this scenario, forget the troop withdrawal issue!

Endnote: Joe Biden told HBOís Bill Maher Friday that he would seek the Democratic nomination in 2008. John Kerry, queried by NBCís Tim Russert Sunday, said heíd decide by yearís end whether to try again. Asked about his biggest mistake in blowing the election, Kerry haltingly said it was insufficient TV money to match Bush in the stretch. Nonsense. His fatal error was not doing ì60 Minutesî early, rebutting Vietnam Swift Boat veterans who attacked his patriotism, and convincing voters he had command presence and would be a tough president who regretted his vote for the war.

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Hooray for Harry Taylor

06 April 2006 |permalink | email article

Real political theater happened yesterday when W. addressed an open-forum event in Charlotte, N.C. Harry Taylor, 61, did something that no frustrated Democrat has yet been able to accomplish since John Kerry blew the 2004 election. Taylor stood up in the balcony and told off the president.

Abandoning the drill of screened audiences and scripted meetings, the forums represent a new PR effort by W. to confront his falling public approval and appear more spontaneous and unafraid of criticism. The response has generally been a love fest.

That is until the commercial real estate broker challenged the president and rattled off a series of grievances on war, liberty, domestic eavesdropping and quality of life issues.

ìYou never stop talking about freedom, and I appreciate that,î Taylor said. ìBut while I listen to you about freedom, I see you assert your right to tap my telephone, to arrest me and hold me with charges. To try and preclude me from breathing clean air and drinking clean water and eating safe food.î

Many in the audience of a nearly 1,000 booed but W., to his credit, took the criticism in stride. He refused to apologize for the eavesdropping, boasted about building democracy in Iraq, said that if he didnít think victory was possible heíd bring the troops home and justified the decision to go to war.

When an angry citizen has to guts to tell the president of the United States to his face that ìI hope, from time to time, that you have the humility and the grace to be ashamed of yourself,î heís expressing the frustration of a majority of Americans about this administration.

Taylor’s three minutes of fame is in contrast to the failure of Democrats to get beyond talking the talk about a plan for victory. So far, there has not been a single, unified and compelling voice such as the improbable real estate guy was able to articulate.

Would W., a hard-liner on leaks, have been so sweet had Taylor asked him about authorizing White House official ìScooterî Libby to disclose secret intelligence information to reporters in an attempt to discredit a CIA adviser whose views undermined the rationale for invading Iraq? Replying it was legal would only beg the Nixonian question about using such data for political advantage. 

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Iraq, Bloody Iraq

05 April 2006 |permalink | email article

The Los Angeles Times, in a feat of award-winning journalism, published a three-part series this week that addressed the hush-hush issue of the more than 17,000 American troops that have been seriously wounded since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

I say hush-hush because it appears that the Bush administration has gone to far greater lengths to discourage media coverage of this carnage than previous administrations during Vietnam. The ìMission Accomplishedî slogan after the fall of Baghdad turned out to be cruel hoax.  

The Times series told the stories over 13 pages of five men injured last November as a reporter and photographer followed them through a system of military medical care described as more advanced than in any previous conflict. 

But it is the bloody front-page pictures and inside each day that show how most of the wounded have been victims of explosive devices similar to mines in earlier wars which sensitizes one about the reckless rush to war without ample pause or preparation - factors which have turned the nation strongly against it.

For a generation of Americans who will do almost anything to avoid suffering, these pictures are sobering confirmation that it exists, in battle, as in life.

Retired Maine Gen. Anthony Zinni, former head of the U.S. Central Command and a special envoy to the Middle East who endorsed Bush in 2000, soon compared Iraq war strategy to a ìbrain fartî emitted from a Bush ìpolicy wonk.î Addressing the Naval Institute in the fall of 2003 he summed it up:

ìOur feelings and sensitivities were forged on the battlefields of Vietnam, where we heard the garbage and the lies. And we saw the sacrifice. We swore never again would we allow it to happen. And I ask you, is it happening again? And youíre going to have to answer that question, just like the American people are. And remember, every one of those young men and women that come back [a casualty] is not a personal tragedy, itís a national tragedy.î

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Paging Paul Conrad

03 April 2006 |permalink | email article

Longtime Los Angeles Times readers remember that political cartoons appeared on the editorial page much of the time three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Conrad was itís chief editorial cartoonist from 1964 to 1993. Liberals applauded, conservatives jeered and guess what? ñ Conradís pen and slashing one-line captions sold newspapers.

Then, more than 20 years ago, Conradís controversial work, and generally less compelling cartoons since, were abruptly shifted to the op-ed page.

Thatís why last week it was stunning to see a cartoon about U.S. immigration policy in the space normally occupied by the second of three essays on the editorial page. Undistinguished, it was drawn by Christophe Vorlet for the Times Editorial Board.

Is this more tinkering by Andres Martinez, the youthful opinion page editor and protÈgÈ of Michael Kinsley, founder of Slate, the on-line magazine, whose brief reign as a virtual Times editor telecommuting mostly from Seattle ended after several bizarre and controversial misjudgments?

Or does the brief cartoon repositioning signal yet another daunting editorial experiment by the Times, struggling under the demanding revenue yoke of Tribune Co. ownership as it attempts to staunch a national trend of declining newspaper circulation and advertising revenue?

Hereís the point. Conradís observations still reportedly appear in newspapers worldwide, are syndicated by the Chicago Tribune with the Times owning the L.A. area syndicated rights as of last year. Ironically, his work rarely appears in the paper where he became famous.

While at the newspaper he was honored with six Distinguished Service Awards for Editorial Cartooning by the Society for Professional Journalists/Sigma Delta Chi (SDX) ñ the only journalist s to win that many SDX awards in any category since the competition began in 1932.

Asked by Random Lengths, a L.A. Harbor area weekly, last summer why he hasnít seen one of his cartoons in the Times, Conrad replied: ìYou wonít. They just wonít do it ñ even if they agree with it.î

Since the Times no longer has an in-house cartoonist and, for the most part, carries a rather mediocre roster of op-ed columnists (in contrast to the New York Times and Washington Post), itís not surprising the section is a rare must read. In contrast, Dean Baquet, the paperís new editor who won a Pulitzer Prize for investigating reporting at the Chicago Tribune, has assembled several I-Teams which have started producing significant journalism.

Carrying Conrad once again might help the paper restore the biting edge it’s opinion pages once had under Otis Chandler.

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