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Archives for 9/11/2001

Our 9/11 Hangover


In an episode of the Family Guy earlier this year, Lois Griffin challenges Mayor Adam West for election. When she finds that actually answering questions is not the fastest way to elective office, she begins to answer every question in the debate with two words: nine-eleven.

September Eleventh is no joke – it is one of the most tragic days in our nation’s history. Yet to some Americans it feels like Republicans in particular have taken to answering every question from traffic to the environment is “9/11”.

To some degree this accusation is true which itself is no laughing matter. Because some Republicans have abused the legacy of 9/11, Americans have, by and large, pushed the tragic events of that day out of the public consciousness. The impacts of 9/11 were real, and they continue to exist yet because it has become trite to blame things on 9/11, we look for other culprits or simply blame George Bush.

The hangover of 9/11 is most evident when you walk into the airport. Airline security is important, and it always has been, but the loss of privacy and the inconvenience of the added security is wearing thin. How many times are we going to ask a five year old to remove his shoes or an eighty-year old grandmother to take off her overcoat before we realize that fighting terrorism should involve somehow looking for people who fit the profile of, you know, terrorists?

What’s more, the American airline industry is continuing to pay the price of 9/11, and will for decades to come. In the aftermath of the attacks, several U.S. airlines went into bankruptcy; others barely avoided it by doing things like cutting back on in-flight meals and charing customers for services that used to be included in the ticket price.

Meanwhile, foreign carriers improved their soft products – upgrading premium cabins and installing personal video on demand, for example – and investing in new aircraft such as the Airbus A380 and environmentally-friendly Boeing 787 Dreamliner. American airlines, struggling though difficult times, are now behind the eight ball when it comes to replacing planes; they’ll be waiting to replace what they’ve got for a while. In the meantime, most domestic airlines will be flying louder, less fuel-efficient planes for decades longer than their foreign counterparts. Their inability to provide much more than a Southwest-level of service has opened markets for new entrants like Jet Blue and Virgin America.

There’s a broader impact. In the days following the attacks, billions of dollars were lost in global equity markets, leading to reduced tax revenues for federal and state governments. Worker productivity suffered as people stayed home and stayed away from public venues. It’s no surprise, looking at these facts, that President Bush’s 2001 budget surplus became a deficit in 2002 and each year since.

The Post 9/11 economic slowdown led the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates to historically low levels. The 1% Fed Funds rate which we all took for granted, fueled hyper-inflation in the nation’s housing markets and a credit free-for-all which ended – you guessed it – with the current sub-prime mess.

While it is tempting to blame 9/11 for all of America’s problems and equally tempting to write off any Republican who want to use the attack as an excuse, not a reason for some of our nation’s current problems, we should remember 9/11 and its contributing effects to our collective story not just on the anniversary, but on 9/12, 9/13 and every other day of the year. The effect of this sad day are still with us. We need to realize – and accept – that fact.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 9:31 AM | Permalink

Outing a Hypocrite


Mike Rogers is proud of himself. But he’s not proud in the gay-pride kind way. He’s proud in the self-important kind of way. By playing into America’s fears of homosexuals, and exploiting homophobia, Rogers has managed to get himself labeled the “most-feared” man on Capitol Hill by none other than the Washington Post.

So here’s a question that the pioneer of “outing” cannot quite answer. And one The Post didn’t seem to ask: When has outing a politician ever done gay rights any good?

A week ago, America learned about the cost homophobia takes on families and homes when we learned how Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig was arrested and convicted for allegedly soliciting sex in a Minneapolis airport men’s room. For whatever reasons – societal mores, usually top this list – Craig could not live his life honestly and chose, instead, to live in the shadows to fulfill his natural desires. Had he been born some forty years later perhaps somewhere other than Idaho, Craig may well have lived openly and honestly as a bisexual male (if you take him at his word that he’s “not gay.”) Alas, Craig is a product of his times – one of many and hopefully among the last – a man who seems to engage in homosexual behavior but who steadfastly denies it.

In recent years, the Republican Party has been consistently rocked by “gay” scandals. Florida Congressman Ed Schrock was caught soliciting phone sex and resigned. Rep. Mark Foley, another Florida Republican, sent suggestive instant messages to Congressional pages. Now we have Larry Craig.

Mike Rogers has played a role – behind the scenes, often publicly – in all these affairs. His stated motivation in outing elected officials is to expose hypocrisy. When someone lives a closeted gay life but supports policies he deems anti-gay, he believes their sexual orientation should be exposed. But what do gays gain from these outings? Not much. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that Rogers is doing little more than grandstanding.

None of his elected targets have survived their scandal to become a gay-friendly Congressman who might do the community some good. Shrock, Foley and Craig resigned and in the case of the first two, were replaced by politicians who were at least as bad if not worse when it came to voting on gay issues. No doubt the next Senator from Idaho will not be receiving high marks from the Human Rights Campaign any time soon. Another Rogers target, California Republican David Dreier, remains in office in a safe district that’s supported him for years. He’ll only be ousted if an ultra-conservative uses the Internet attacks against him to gin up a homophobic primary campaign, a pretty good case of leaping from the frying pan into the fire.

When it comes to staffers, Roger’s record is far worse. Dan Gurley, used to work at the Republican National Committee and had vocally spoken out against anti-gay campaign tactics. He was fired after Rogers exposed his not-so-closeted gay long term relationship. Needless to say he does not sing the praises of outings by Rogers.

Jonathan Tolman lost his job working for on the Environmental and Public Works Committee for Sen. James Inhofe after being “outed” by Rogers. Tolman’s photo had graced the cover of local gay rag Metro Weekly. If he was in the closet, it was a double-sized walk-in with glass French doors swung wide open. It’s not hard to see what’s going on here. Roger’s was trying to associate Inhofe, a conservative Republican, with gays, stirring up homophobia in his home state of Oklahoma. The result? Tolman lost his Capitol Hill job.

Neither Gurley nor Tolman are working for their Republican bosses. But Inhofe remains in power and the RNC continues its work but without an outspoken voice for reason or tolerance from within.
Rogers’ main objective is promoting good politics, not good policy. No good policy has come from outing Republican elected officials or their staffs. But if you are a Democrat, it’s good politics to see the GOP get a black eye.

And that’s the goal here. It’s what you’d expect from the man behind “Gays for Giuliani” – a website hoping “educating” bigoted voters on Rudy Giuliani’s pro-gay record. Like the rest of Rogers’ work, it’s nothing more than an attempt to undermine the campaign of the most gay friendly GOP candidate in the Republican Presidential primary and give Democrats another bit of mud to sling at Republicans–putting politics ahead of policy yet again.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 4:26 AM | Permalink

Oppo Action: Gays for Giuliani


For political parties in America, winning elections is no longer simply about picking the best candidate and letting the voters decide. When your bench is short, sometimes the best strategy is to stir up lots of dirt and hope the voters give you the candidate you can trounce.

Democrats, tired of losing Presidential elections, look like they’re poised to try to knock out Rudy Giuliani, the most electable Republican in the field, before he gets a chance to take on their nominee. And their first strike is the mayor’s position on gay rights – a position I support. Rudy’s less-government positions from taxes to social issues are why I want Giuliani to be the Republican nominee.

But conventional wisdom among Democrats and Big Media elites is that former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has a tough road to hoe if he wants to win the Republican nomination for President of the United States. They believe that the very reason that Giuliani may be electable in a general election – his moderate positions on social issues which are much more in touch with mainstream America – will disqualify Giuliani from any hope of winning a Republican Primary where conservative “base” voters are more active.

Making Giuliani more dangerous is his ability to get votes from people you wouldn’t think would support him. He got elected as a Republican in New York City – which was never supposed to happen. Now, he’s wooing a plurality of Republican Primary voters to his side.

A recent, lengthy, New Yorker article summed this up nicely: “Giuliani’s challenge was to convince Republicans that his social positions should not be held against him any more than the color of his eyes – he was from New York, he couldn’t help it. Giuliani had to demonstrate that he was one of them, and that their enemies were his enemies, too.”

And let’s face it, what Democrat wouldn’t prefer to run against Mitt Romney in 2008? So, to eliminate the Giuliani threat, don’t be surprised to see Democrats meddling in the GOP primary by taking a page from one of the most cynical politicians of our time, the one belonging to former – and not much missed – California Governor Gray Davis.

Pardon the brief history lesson; if you’re from California, this is familiar territory. If not, it’s a good mirror of current events. In 1998, Gray Davis found himself elected Governor of California with the help of campaign wiz Garry South on the basis of a simple campaign slogan crafted in a race against two mega-rich opponents. The catch-phrase, “A Governor Money Can’t Buy,” was enough to get the career politician swept into office. But within four years, Californians learned that while Davis might not have been able to buy the election, once in office, he certainly had a price. One Californians were paying with his poor stewardship of the state purse-strings. But he won re-election. Why? He found a Republican he could beat and made sure he was the nominee.

In 2002, Los Angeles Mayor Dick Riordan’s nomination for governor appeared as inevitable as the words “President Hillary Clinton” seem today. Riordan, like Giuliani, was a big city mayor who had convinced a heavily Democratic town to support him despite his party affiliation. Running against him was California version of Mitt Romney, a self-made millionaire named Bill Simon. Simon said everything he needed to to win the support of the GOP base – he was against abortion, taxes and Democrats – but California Republicans knew he was unelectable even against damaged goods like Gray Davis.

Master-minded by political consultant Garry South, Davis’ campaign sent targeted messages to Republican voters, attacking Riordan for his positions on social issues, like his support for abortion rights and more, taking issues for which GOP voters had forgotten or forgiven Riordan and bringing them to the forefront of the public debate. Davis’ campaign even master-minded an attack on Riordan for supporting–get this–Gray Davis! It worked. Bill Simon became the nominee and promptly lost the race to Davis, paving the way for 2003’s Recall and the election of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

It’s no stretch, then, to imagine a shadowy Democrat-funded 527 group running ads in South Carolina attacking Giuliani’s support for gay rights, sending out mailers in Iowa claiming Giuliani supports abortions or stirring up talk in Texas that the former mayor wants to take their guns away. It’s already happening. The very week that the Democratic candidates held a forum in Los Angeles to discuss gay and lesbian rights a website cropped up called “Gays for Giuliani.”

The website purported to be a site run by homosexuals in New York who wanted to see their former mayor elected president and were targeting their message to the deep South. The parody video talks about Giuliani’s creation of a Domestic Partner registry in New York while mayor and highlight plaudits he received from gay-rights groups like the Empire State Pride Agenda and Log Cabin Republicans.

Serious journalists from Reason Magazine to the Los Angeles Times have asked, straight-faced, whether the site was real or whether it was really an attack against the former mayor. Which means it’s worked; conservative Republicans now know Giuliani is in favor of gay rights. A simple search of domain registries would show that “Gays for Giuliani” isn’t for Giuliani at all. The website is owned by the notorious Mike Rogers, an avowed Democrat and blogger-activist best known for outing Republican Members of Congress and their staffs. He’s got as much interest in seeing Rudy Giuliani become president as I do in seeing Dennis Kucinich move into the White House.

The Huffington Post is soliciting funds for the “Gays for Giuliani” campaign, which has one lawyer friend of mine upset. He emails, “Gays for Giuliani is not a legal campaign but is anti-Giuliani campaign and NOT registered yet it is soliciting funds through The Huffington Post and a Pay Pal Account. It is illegal.” I am no election law expert – and the law here is not clear at all – but this probably crosses some line that John McCain and Russ Feingold considered in their efforts to reform campaign spending.

It is kind of ironic that people who claim to support gay rights would be trying to eliminate the electoral hopes of any Republican that agrees with that idea, kind of like the NRA running an ad against a Democrat who supported gun control. But politics today is apparently no longer about policy. It’s about winning. At all costs.

Editor’s Note: Spot-on’s Mike Spinney has had a few comments recently about politics and winning. You can read that here. And Chris Nolan’s been worrying about the use of dirty tricks in on-line campaigning since the early summer. That post is here.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 8:27 AM | Permalink

Whose Primary Is On First?


Presidential polling in August of an odd-numbered year isn’t likely to tell you much, but it reveals a little something about those who obsess over the numbers. And coverage of the latest round of numbers hints at the possibility that the national political media, sticking to the narrative of presidential primaries of the past, may miss the boat when America votes in 2008.

Hillary Clinton stole the headlines in the latest poll by increasing her national lead to a near-majority of Democratic Primary voters. Her recent confrontation with rival Barack Obama over his experience and fitness to serve, so the narrative goes, worked. In the same poll, among Republicans, fellow New Yorker, front-running centrist Rudy Giuliani, extended his lead over non-candidate candidate Fred Thompson, big-spending Mitt Romney and the moribund John McCain campaign although you’d hardly know it from the news accounts.

Why? Well the political press are following the old script that says the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire primary are still the most important states in picking a president. More likely, that talking point has been well-distributed by the campaigns of Mitt Romney and John Edwards who are undoubtedly saying: don’t look behind the curtain of the national numbers – we’re competitive in Iowa and New Hampshire!

Unfortunately for these two states and those two candidates, the traditional first-in-the-nation status held by New Hampshire and Iowa has quietly fallen. The first votes of the 2008 Presidential contest will be cast in Downey, Calif., not De Moines, Iowa and in Modesto, Calif., not Manchester, N.H..

The California primary is officially February 5th, but more residents of this state will have cast more ballots before the Iowa Caucuses and New Hampshire Primary than will be counted in both the states combined when they are able to start voting on January 7 – a month before the polls open. And many of those folks – permanent absentees – will be reminded to vote when they get their ballots delivered to their doors by the U.S. Post Office sometime in early January.

That’s one reason why the presidential nominees from either party won’t be those who are focused on Iowa, which caucuses on Jan. 14, and New Hampshire, which votes on Jan. 22, but will likely be the candidates who realize that Californians will begin voting just after Christmas, before college football has crowned my beloved USC Trojans champions in New Orleans on January 8th. And they’ll keep casting ballots through and until February 5th when the polls open.

In 2004, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom rode to victory on ballots that were mailed in well before election day. Two years later, Republicans in California focused heavily on securing absentee votes and there were early indications that the GOP could claim victory in some statewide offices. On election day and anti-Bush, anti-GOP fervor swept the nation, suppressing Republican turnout and encouraging some Republicans to even punch the chads of Democrats. But despite the Democratic tidal wave on election day, Republicans Arnold Schwarzenegger and Steve Poizner managed to win statewide office with two others coming within spitting distance of their opponents.

In 2008, California could see a similar phenomenon with its Presidential primary. So far, the State’s polling numbers have tracked along with the national numbers. Clinton and Giuliani are not only leading but they’re extending their leads in the Golden State.

Should a John Edwards or a Mitt Romney pull off an upset in Iowa or New Hampshire, it may be too late to affect the vote in California because, well, many ballots will already have been cast. The national media, if they continue sticking to their playbook of campaigns past and are either unaware or choosing to overlook this phenomenon may get left dockside as the Clinton and Giuliani campaign set sail on a tidal wave from the Golden State.

Editor’s Note: California’s permanent absentee balloting is a phenomenon Spot-on writers have been following for some time. Here’s Chris Nolan’s take on the Newsom election and the increasing popularity of the state’s vote-by-mail system.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 11:56 AM | Permalink

Blame Iowa for Market Woes


Every four years, the media proclaims the virtues of the Iowa Caucuses – real Americans from middle America get together in DeTocquevilliean style meetings to make a choice for the next President of the United States. But the preeminence of the Iowa Cuacuses are costing regular Americans like you and me more than we know. It’s a little complicated but, trust me, the caucuses and its Holy Grail status in American politics are at the heart of our current economic woes.

Three times in the last week, the stock market has fallen out of bed to the tune of three-digit losses. On Monday an official from CalPERS – the nation’s largest pension fund serving California’s state employees – told CNBC’s Money Honey Maria Bartiromo that the pension fund lost two billion dollars in two days, a feat not even the inept California Legislature could accomplish. And it’s all because of the Iowa Caucus.

Behind the market’s woes is what’s being called the “sub-prime debacle.” Families who leveraged their fortunes to buy a home on an adjustable rate mortgage can no longer afford once it adjusted upwards. Foreclosure notices are being handed out in record numbers. Mortgages are costing more these days because interest rates keep going up. The Federal Reserve has hit the pause button on hiking interest rates but refuses to do the one thing that would help many Americans stay in their homes – cutting rates.

In the meantime, Americans are getting hit at the pocketbooks whenever we stuff something into their mouths. Food inflation has joined oil prices among the leading causes of increased living expenses for Americans. Why does food costs more? The Iowa Caucuses.

Food prices are being led by surges in the cost of one item: corn. And it’s not just Nebraska football players who are corn-fed. Which, of course, brings us to Iowa.

Eat a pork chop? That pig probably ate corn. So did the cow they slaughtered to make your filet mignon, and so on. The cost of corn contributes to the rising cost of more than just your Frosted Flakes. So as the cost of corn goes up, so does the expense of producing just about everything else in the food supply.

So why is the price of corn going up so much? You guessed it: the Iowa Caucuses.

Corn is the key ingredient in America’s production of ethanol. Coincidentally, they grow a lot of corn in Iowa. That’s long been the reason why any politician with Presidential ambition wants you to put ethanol in your car. Pro ethanol policies help farmers sell more corn and ethanol’s newly hip status as a possible “green” fuel is, well, making the idea even more popular. But even before it became fashionable, support for ethanol was probably the only thing that all Presidential candidates could agree on.

Senator John McCain, at least, has been honest about his conversion to pro-ethanol policies since he skipped the Iowa caucuses in 2000 but he’s now drinking ethanol as if it were a glass of Kool-Aid. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has an eye on next year’s Iowa caucuses as well, making ethanol the center of his energy policy but he doesn’t ask how much it will cost Americans to replace its foreign oil with corn-based ethanol. The Democrats are not immune to the sweet taste of ethanol Kool-aid either Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have pro-ethanol stances.

Were the Iowa Caucuses not the first official event in the Presidential selection season, I somehow doubt that ethanol would be so popular. If you want the exception to prove this rule, look no further than California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Unable to run for President and unaffected by the Iowa caucuses, Schwarzenegger’s environmentalism embraces hydrogen, not ethanol – a technology favored automakers Mercedes and BMW.

So, in a way, if you lost money in the stock market this week or worse, risk losing your home to foreclosure, don’t Blame President George W. Bush. Don’t Blame Canada. Blame Iowa and their first-in-the-nation caucuses.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 10:26 AM | Permalink

Speak No Evil, Ask No Evil


Once again, the presidential candidates got together but, for a refreshing change, “debate fatigue” was not the headline.

Debate fatigue had set in among the American chattering class over the last few months because of the sterility of the environment in which these so-called “debates” are held. Moderated by media professionals who did not wish to appear biased for or against any candidates, the debates’ lines of questioning had grown tired, reflecting an inside-the-beltway view of what was important to America.

This time, when the Democratic presidential candidates took questions from the American people – thanks to the power of YouTube – we learned that the public can come up with some engaging and challenging questions. They were the kind of questions reporters and TV anchors are often, well, afraid to ask.

You can expect a return to timid questioning in a few weeks when the Democrats candidates will meet for another debate, hosted by gay rights advocates at the Human Rights Campaign and Viacom’s Logo television network. Although the event is being billed as “historic,” chances are there won’t be too much news made at the forum. Why? Well no one will be too anxious to rock the, er, boat.

The Gay political establishment – of which HRC is the keystone – would like its followers to believe that there is a simple dichotomy when it comes to Republicans and Democrats. One party represents good and the other, evil. But as with most politics, there are many shades of gray. If there weren’t then there would be no need to have a Democratic debate over gay rights to begin with.

If the Logo/HRC debate were a truly historic event, there are at least four questions the candidates should be asked. You’ll probably won’t hear them asked in Democratic party circles so I’ll ask them here.

1. If gays and lesbians deserve full rights and protections under the law, then why should you be debating gay rights at all?

From the time someone comes out and receives their “gay card,” they’re told that Democrats support gay rights and deserve the community’s vote. If that were true then there would be no need for Democrats to be debating gay rights. Of course, it’s not and there is.

Not one leading candidate will step forward and say, “I agree, there should be no debate that all Americans should be treated equally under the law.” Unless HRC thought they’d get that answer from John Edwards, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, they won’t ask the question.

Edwards, for example, says that he supports equality for gays and lesbians, but when asked about marriage rights, he says that it is a personal journey for him to reconcile his religious opposition with his policy positions. Hillary Clinton tortures herself over whether to oppose her husband’s own policies of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act. If Democrats truly believed that gays and lesbians were Americans deserving the full rights and responsibilities of citizenship–as they’d like the gay community to believe–there should be no such gray area.

2. Will you continue the Drug Enforcement Agency’s crackdown on dispensaries in states where the legal distribution of medical marijuana conflicts with federal law?

Here in California, the Bush Administration has been widely criticized for enforcing federal law and shutting down medical marijuana dispensaries. Will the Democratic candidates, if elected, enforce Federal law or give precedence to states’ rights? Somehow, I doubt that the local gay community wants to know the answer to that question.

The question of State’s rights is at the heart of the AIDS treatment debate, as well as that over marriage equality. The first President Clinton wiped away States rights on the marriage issue with the Defense of Marriage Act, which he signed in 1996. While States like Massachussetts and perhaps soon California may recognize equal marriage rights, when it comes to filing taxes, collecting social security or immigration issues, no such rights exist–federal law takes precedence.

3. Why did no one in the Democratically-controlled U.S. Senate try to get recognition for gay and lesbian couples during the immigration reform debate earlier this summer?

One of the leading items for gay activists in recent years – including the Human Rights Campaign – was to give gay and lesbian couples equal treatment under the law when it came to immigration. Bi-national heterosexual couples can marry and get a green card but those who are born gay do not get that option. Surprisingly, not one senator tried amending the McCain-Kennedy Immigration Bill to make gay couples equal under immigration law.

4. Will you, as president, allow the discriminatory estate tax to return in 2011 even though it will harm gays and lesbians?

Few gays can admit that George Bush has done anything for the community. However, when Bush eliminated the estate tax, he also took away one of the federal benefits of marriage. With no estate tax gay and lesbian couples do not face the discrimination in the tax code they did before Bush was elected President.

All of the major Democratic candidates talk about repealing George Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy but in doing so, they’d be reinstating taxes on gay and lesbian couples. How can that be fair?

Don’t expect the Human Rights Campaign to ask these questions of the Democratic candidates. They don’t want to know the answers. Merely asking them and challenging the candidates to respond contradicts the story they’re trying to tell to their members, contributors and legislative supporters: that the Democratic party is the only friend gay Americans have in politics.
In the end, the Democratic Candidates really are not on the same page as groups like HRC, who want to portray them in a positive light, especially when compared with Republicans. Organizations like HRC fear that if they asked the tough questions, the “gay debate” would be “historic” because it would be the last.

They have to play nice, or they can’t play ball.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 9:05 AM | Permalink

Past Performance, Future Warnings


Sitting around with friends at a barbeque Sunday afternoon, I had to bite my tongue as the group discussion meandered into the issue of veterans’ healthcare.

The liberal friends gathered around the circle recited the horror stories of Iraq War veterans who were told they’d receive full healthcare benefits only to return home mentally ill and kill their families and so on. True or not, I wanted to ask these folks a simple question. How could they simultaneously criticize the healthcare our government gives to veterans while supporting the idea of a universal healthcare system run by that same government?

Before the American people today stand two philosophies for providing healthcare to all Americans.

One school of thought, championed by liberals like Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton would apply the VA model for healthcare to everyone with one single-payer, that payer being the government. The other approach, championed by Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger uses a market-based approach like the G.I. Bill, setting minimum standards of coverage and allowing people to choose the healthcare plan which best suits their situation.

I’m not a healthcare expert like others, but I do know that when it comes to government policy, we should not pay heed to the warning we hear in mutual fund ads: Past performance is indicative of future results. Besides, there’s an alternative model to use.

Following World War II, the government set about to make sure our veterans got access to higher education and to health care.

Rather than creating a university systems just for vets, the U.S. Congress passed the G.I. Bill, essentially giving veterans what amounted to school vouchers to pursue a university degree. Under the G.I. Bill, millions of veteran – from WWII, Korea and Vietnam – have gotten a higher education. Some went to Harvard, others pursued occupational training but each received education according to their need.

On the other hand, when it came to providing healthcare, the government chose to create a network of hospitals under the Veterans Administration. As my friends’ comments indicate, the Veterans Health Administration has not had the success of the GI Bill. The centerpiece of veterans care, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, is in worse shape than your local No-Tell Motel. That scandal has led Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson to resign.

If a veteran wants – you know, actual health care – without having to wait weeks or months for that “elective” surgery to repair his hip, the only option would be to pay out-of-pocket and go to a private hospital.

Some folks just need a physical once a year and urgent care when necessary, while others need a stack of prescriptions. The very nature of the kinds of demands and their variety makes the idea of a one-size fits all plan for health care laughable.

While past performance may not be indicative of future results, when my health is on the line, I’d rather hedge my bets by betting against the goverment-run model we know to be an abject failure.

Clarification: An earlier version of this piece referred to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center as part of the VA, which of course, it is not, being an Army Medical Center. Thanks to Matthew Holt for pointing me through the confusion caused by the Associated Press article on the reasons for Nicholson’s resignation.

Editor’s Note: Spot-on’s health care writer Matthew Holt disagrees with Scott Olin Schmidt and he’s put it in writing. You can read that post, which further clarifies Walter Reed’s place in the government bureuacracy, here.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 8:04 AM | Permalink

Notes From a Scandal


Somewhere between the helicopter-filled days when Paris Hilton was released – and returned – to prison and the 10-day Fourth of July weekend, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa learned a lesson that should be imparted to all politicians in the new media environment: love yourself, warts and all.

Rumors have persisted since January that the mayor had been in a more-than-friendly relationship with Telemundo news anchor Mirthala Salinas. But even when Salinas herself used a telling phrase - “the rumors are true,” – as she covered news of Villaraigosa’s June separation from wife Corinna, the back stories remained nothing more than speculative.

Perhaps hoping to avoid releasing any more “bad” news, the mayor’s office opted for the slow drip of news rather than full disclosure. But that seems to have triggered a not-so-slow drip of rumors flying through the Internet on L.A. insider sites like Luke Ford and Mayor Sam.

The rumors run from the laughable – Villaraigosa is sleeping with press secretary Janelle Erickson – to wishful thinking for some – linking him to his other, gay male, press secretary. There’s been the medically impossible, thanks to a vasectomy: that he has impregnated planning commissioner Sabrina Kay, forcing the later to release a denial. And the plausible; should Salinas, a native of Mexico lose her employment at Telemundo, she may risk deportation if she were on a work visa in the United States and needed to stay employed to remain in this country.

The whole thing follows a kind of odd logic. Because the rumors linking Villaraigosa and Salinas persisted, even though there was plenty of confusion, they turned out to be true and paved the way for an almost anything-goes state of affairs. In this climate, people can say just about anything about Villaraigosa and his personal life and it is presumed to be true until denied.

Villaraigosa’s case should be instructive to other candidates seeking public office. I’m thinking of potential Republican contender Fred Thompson.

Although a number of conservatives see Thompson as the third coming of George W. Bush, there are quiet whisper campaigns alleging that Thompson may be a tad more, um, liberal than thought, both with his personal life and his politics. For instance, when asked whether he had represented the pro-abortion group NARAL, Thompson chose to dodge the issue, claiming that he did not recall working for one of the lobbying groups most offensive to Republican Primary voters, evidence be damned. And as more stories come out about Thompson’s less-than-conservative values, I predict the enthusiasm of the “FredHeads” will diminish as quickly as Villaraigosa’s support among Latina voters.

By contrast, it is well known that New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is a philandering, cross-dressing liberal who likes tax cuts. Rather than deny the charges against him, the former Giuliani has embraced his past and his positions, even when they are to the contrary of the GOP base. Voters not only respect Giuliani’s honesty, in many states like California, they’re embracing him.

Maybe it’s because he learned his politics in the nation’s most competitive media market – New York City – but whatever the reasons, Giuliani seems to understand the new political reality. Bloggers will chase big stories about politicians, and if they can do so in a way that isn’t libelous, they’ll report what they hear. And politicians can no longer rely on the mainstream media to protect them from their own peccadilloes. The only choice is for politicians to step up, be honest, and love themselves, warts and all. In exchange for such refreshing honesty, voters may just love them back.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 6:17 AM | Permalink

What Would George W. Do?


The nation celebrates its 231st Birthday this Fourth of July but for many, there seems scant reason to celebrate. In poll after poll, Americans will tell you that they feel the nation is on the “wrong track” – even as the economy continues to expand with inflation in check and low unemployment? What gives?

I’m no historian but I sometimes wonder about how far we’ve come in twenty-three decades and ask what the first George W. would think of life under George Dubya.

Were George Washington, America’s greatest military leader, to wake up on July 4, 2007, I’d bet someone would have to tell him that we’re in a war. Although the war on terrorism was brought to our shores and has expanded to include a foray into Iraq, signs of war on the home-front are noticeably missing. Other than bumper stickers opposing the fight against terrorism, there are no signs of war at home, few sacrifices being made by anyone who isn’t in the military. Washington would no doubt find this general ambivalence troubling.

American ambivalence has allowed for a gradual erosion of the principles our Founding Fathers fought for: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Just weeks ago, voters in California selected a new Member of Congress. Less than ten percent of voters went to the polls. A state of affairs that would likely lead Washington to ask what good are rights if they are not exercized?

Most Americans will remember the Boston Tea Party from their History Books. One of the catalysts to the American Revolution, the Tea Party was, at its core, a tax revolt launched in protest of a tax levied on the colonists’ favorite beverage. Today, not only do we tax tea, but we tax coffee, beer, wine and more. Among industrialized nations, the United States has one of the lowest per capita tax burdens, which would probably please Mister Washington. And under George Bush, we’ve expanded individual financial liberty by rolling back the burden of the personal income and estate taxes. But I wouldn’t count on it lasting.

History has shown that the American government can be even more oppressive than the Imperial British when it comes to reaching into our pocketbooks. We only won the “right” to choose the people who will take our economic freedoms away, a right most of us take for granted when we stay at home on election day.

When constructing the new Republic, our Founding Fathers struck a bargain within the states, creating a bicameral legislature where both the states and the public would get representation in the Senate and House respectively. At the time of the first Congress, this was a cozy arrangement. Each of the thirteen States had two Senators, as they do today. In the House, the largest delegation, Virginia’s, consisted of ten members; the smallest, Delaware, had but one.

In today’s Congress, while many states have but one member of Congress, the largest delegation – California – has fifty three and thirteen more states have more than Virginia’s original ten representatives. While the grand compromise between the States may have made sense in 1789, it has made the United States Senate one of the most un-democratic directly-elected bodies in human history. And I’d imagine Washington would not be pleased with the way the Senate conducts itself. The need for so-called “super-majorities” – two-thirds approval – cloture votes and special rules are not written into the Constitution. In today’s hyper-partisan world, they have led to a gridlocked environment where the Senate would be lucky if it could pass a Flag Day resolution.

George Washington was famously anti-partisan; a cautious and shrewd man who lived in an tumultuous time and understood the need for compromise. Today he’d find himself in an America that is as divided as it has been since the presidency of John Quincy Adams but he’d also see hope for our political future. The American people are following his lead and rejecting party affiliation. With nearly twenty percent of Californians now registering as “Decline to State” and the nascent candidacy of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg – who has tried, and rejected, both political parties – Washington might see, as I do, evidence of change in the works.

If George Washington were to wake up on this July Fourth, he may well agree that the country is on the “wrong track” but he might also be encouraged. Although Americans have not chosen to reconstitute our government in 23 decades, we do have a tendency to stir the political pot when things go awry.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 10:58 AM | Permalink

Stand in A Circle And Shoot


When the California Republican Party sought an H1-B visa for their new political director, Canadian Christopher Matthews, they all but acknowledged that among 300 million Americans, no one was qualified to steer the state party towards a more positive path. But as the California GOP struggles with its demons – xenophobia and homophobia – it is becoming obvious that perhaps no one can save the GOP but itself.

Two weeks ago, the San Francisco Chronicle revealed that the California arm of the Republican Party had sought an elusive H1-B visa -reserved for technical, skilled workers and much prized in the neighborhood just south of San Francisco, Silicon Valley – for Matthews, its newly hired deputy political director. The move sent Republican activists and consultants, like Karen Hanretty, into a tizzy: “There are talented Republicans in California, and the message that (party chair) Ron Nehring is sending is that there’s no talent pool here.”

The story then focused attention on Matthews’ immediate boss the party’s Chief Operating Officer Michael Kamburowski – an Australian citizen. Like so many who cannot stand the glare of a spotlight shown near them, Kamburowski could not stand the scrutiny when his own immigration records were researched. It turns out that the top official for California’s GOP was jailed for three visa violations by the Department of Homeland Security. Party conservatives have also pointed to “marriages” – scare quotes included – as apparent attempts to legalize his status in the United States.

If the story were all about legal or illegal immigration, it would interesting cocktail party chatter, a kerfluffle among Republican insiders. But the “scare quotes” surrounding Kamburowski’s “marriages” reappeared this week on the editorial pages of the San Francisco Chronicle, hinting at a hidden agenda – long whispered, not openly discussed – among some party activists who are eyeing the unmarried status of their newly-elected bachelor Chairman.

In the Chronicle piece, California’s Republican National Committee member Tim Morgan discusses how Kamburowski got brought into the California party: Though their mutual connection with Republican activist Grover Norquist, head of the Washington, D.C. organization, Americans for Tax Reform. “When Nehring learned that he and I would both be in Washington for the Conservative Political Action Conference, he arranged for Kamburowski to meet with me,” Morgan wrote. “Later, I learned that Norquist accompanied Kamburowski on his visit to California to meet fellow board members, providing Nehring’s “friend” an unexpected element of “gravitas” upon his introductions. Few questions were asked about the circumstances of their association.”

Anyone familiar with the patois of a gossip column – from Washington’s Wonkette to Perez Hilton here in L.A. – won’t wonder why there are “quotes” around the word “friend” in Morgan’s telling of this story. But as a West Hollywood resident like Perez, I clearly understand the code here. The suggestion that Norquist and anyone were something other than “friends” appears to be a wink and a nod to extremists within the party who are unsettled by what they’ve heard that Nehring may be doing in his personal life. And it’s not fair. If Morgan is suggesting that there’s more than an amiable relationship between Norquist and Kamburowski, then the Chronicle‘s editors should have made him be less coy about it; if all he suggests is that they are actual, you know, friends, then why put that word in quotes? Friends are, after all, friendly.

This whisper campaign is nothing new. Even before Nehring was elected chairman of the California Republican Party, I heard a steady but quiet discussion over whether Nehring’s bachelorhood was a choice or whether he was born that way. Now that there’s an a full on assault against Nehring – including a brief but moribund website “RecallRon” website – a less pleasant question stirs in the background:

Is the California Republican Party’s circular firing squad motivated by xenophobia or homophobia? Is one being used as an excuse to hide the real intentions behind the latest imbroglio? Sadly, we may never know. But Republicans ever hope to win in California and elsewhere we need to follow the example of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and purge ourselves of both xenophobia and homophobia.

Editor’s Note: Scott Olin Schmidt is an elected member of the 42nd District Republican Party Central Committee and serves on the Executive Committee of the Los Angeles County Republican Party.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 9:48 AM | Permalink

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