“Check This Out Buddy –You’re Fired”

Is this a one-off as the Secret Service insists or are there more revelations to come about the culture of an elite agency that’s entrusted with protecting America’s leaders?

What is particularly disturbing about the case is that veteran supervisors were involved in the partying in Cartagena just before President Obama arrived for the Summit of the Americas last weekend.

That in istelf suggests there is more here than if it had been only junior agents blowing off steam and may well reflect a casualness throughout the agency.

If supervisors thought it was okay to party with escorts while on travel duty, then it suggests that they may have felt they had some immunity or that this would not get them into trouble with higher-ups.

In all eleven Secret Service agents and nine military servicemen are under investigation for hiring 20 or 21 hookers in Cartagena last week. The two veterans were named first by CBS as Greg Stokes and David Chaney.

Chaney, who has been forced into retriement, is the son of a George Chaney, who had himself a long career with the Secret Service and was on the LBJ detail. Stokes, an assistant special agent in charge of the K9 division, has been removed for cause, i.e. fired, but has an opportunity to appeal the dismissal during the 30-day notice period.

Chaney’s lack of discretion comes through on his Facebook page where, according to the Washington Post,  he posted a photo of himself showing him behind Sarah Palin during the 2008 campaign with the comment, “I was really checking her out, if you know what I mean?”

“Well, check this out, buddy — you’re fired!” Sarah Palin has taunted in a TV interview.

From my experience of the Secret Service while covering Capitol Hill and the White House for several years, agents are highly professional but they do have a tendency to drink hard in the evenings at the various Capitol Hill watering holes.







We Women Warriors

We Women Warriors

I received this today from independent journalist Nicole Karsin, who has done some fine work on human rights in Colombia.

“I would like to reach out in light of the upcoming Summit of the Americas (April 14-15), to put the spotlight on an important documentary film project, scheduled to premiere this summer.

We Women Warriors follows the lives of three native women leaders caught in the crossfire of Colombia’s warfare, who use nonviolent resistance to defend their people’s survival.

The film makes an excellent talking point given the President’s first visit to Colombia this week. Filmmaker Nicole Karsin will be actively speaking on issues addressed in the film and advocating participation in the National Day of Action for Colombia organized by a coalition of NGOs working to secure justice in Colombia.

The U.S. has given more than $8 billion in military aid to Colombia since 2000. In that time, some 30,000 civilians have been killed. With more than five million displaced, Colombia stands just behind Sudan as the world’s second worst internal displacement crisis in the world.

As a U.S. correspondent based in Colombia for seven years, Nicole reported on human rights issues in remote villages, and witnessed the conflict in Colombia firsthand. She also directly experienced the loss of friends to violence that erupted, and has since dedicated herself as a filmmaker to share this story.

We Women Warriors, now six years in the making, gives voice to the lives of women whose lives and communities are still imperiled by Colombia’s complicated drug war. We have 39 days to raise completion funds through Kickstarter, and we are mobilizing friends, colleagues and new supporters to join us to help bring this film to the public.

Please be in touch to get the conversation started. There are multiple ways to participate through Facebook, Twitter.”


Independents Like Obama But Favor Opportunity Over Fairness

Independents are likely to be crucial in deciding whether Barack Obama secures a second term in the White House or whether his likely GOP challenger Mitt Romney ousts him. A new poll released today and conducted for the moderate Democratic Third Way think tank suggests that Obama is sitting pretty when it comes to independents in battleground states. Fifty-seven percent of swing independents view the President favorably compared to 41 percent being inclined to Romney.

Further good news for the Democrats comes when the pollsters drill down on the economy. The two parties are in a statistical tie when it comes to whom independents trust to manage the economy; and on taxes, traditionally a GOP strength, Obama has a six point lead over the Republcians.

But the President’s support is soft. A key finding generally is that swing independents are concerned with opportunity more than fairness. According to Third Way co-founder Jim Kessler, “What they’re really worried about is the country slipping. They’re not sure their family is going to reach the heights they expected. They’re relatively sure China will have the world’s leading economy in 15 years. They’re looking for someone to answer that.”

And the President doesn’t so that when he stresses fairness more than opportunity. It is something the Republican group Amrerican Crossroads has picked up on. It plans to launch an ad blitz  and according to one of the organization’s strategists, Steven Law, the spots will go softly on the President to avoid offending independents with too much negativity but will question whether Obama is up to the job of fixing America.

Mr Flip and Mr Flop

Aren’t they both playing a game of bait and switch? Yesterday, GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney, who would now seem to have a lock on the Republican nomination following his primary wins this week, accused President Barack Obama of running a “hide-and-seek campaign.

And the Republican has some justification for hurling the accusation in the light of Obama’s side remark at a meeting in South Korea on March 25 to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev about the issue of missile defense.  He urged Medvedev to tell incoming Russian President Vladimir Putin not to press him on the issue, saying that after the election he would have more room for maneuver.

“On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved, but it’s important for him to give me space,” Obama was heard to remark by a Russian TV crew in an unguarded moment.

Obama added: “This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility.”

Romney picked up on the remark last week, claiming, “President Obama signaled that he’s going to cave to Russia on missile defense, but the American people have a right to know where else he plans to be ‘flexible’ in a second term.”

And speaking before newspaper editors conference in Washington DC yesterday he pushed the theme again, saying Obama will “state his true position only after the election is over.”

Romney’s attack would seem to be justified but arguably here we have a case of double standards, after all the former Massachusetts governor is no stranger to flip and flop or indulging in Etch a Sketch campaigning himself.

Whipping Up Religious Frenzy

“History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government.” The words are Thomas Jefferson’s in a letter he wrote in 1813 to Baron Von Humboldt. The sentiments are not unusual for the Sage of Monticello.

Here’s another from our third President: “The preachers dread the advance of science as witches do the approach of daylight.” And he wasn’t alone, of course, among the Founding Fathers to disdain priests and churches. “Can a free government possibly exist with the Roman Catholic religion?” queried our second President, John Adams.

And yet, according to Glenn Beck in a Washington Post opinion piece we should all be Catholic now “because the state is telling the Catholic Church to violate its principles and teachings” by trying to force church-run institutions to pay for birth control and morning-after pills.

The compromise offered by the White House whereby insurance providers take on the employers’ cost for these services is dismissed as “sin by proxy” by Beck – and by Catholic bishops. “The state has no right to say how much religion any American can practice. It’s our right, and it is the first one our Founding Fathers protected,” Beck argues.

In their Salem-like efforts to whip up a revivalist frenzy against President Barack Obama, Beck and other religious conservatives make much of the First Amendment – “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” But they misread that amendment and abuse it.

The amendment doesn’t give the right of the church – any church – to create a parallel society that ignores general welfare; and the intent of the amendment was to protect thought and the expression of opinion – that is why the First Amendment deals not just with religion but with the press, too, and freedom of speech and assembly.

Notice that word Beck uses, “practice”. It isn’t there in the First Amendment and for good reason. Practice may well impact non-church members or involve behavior that offends or undermines the general welfare. It was the practice of Beck’s church, the Church of Latter-Day Saints, to engage in polygamous marriage. Does Beck believe that if the current Mormon president has a sudden revelation and reverses the church’s ban on polygamy, that Congress and law-enforcement agencies then should turn a blind eye and not enforce laws against bigamy against Mormons?

“This isn’t a fight over abortion or birth control,” writes Beck. “This is about whether the state can force someone to pay to have their religious beliefs violated.” The logical conclusion of that argument would mark the end of secular governance and would make hogwash of the Founding Father’s principle of separation of church and state. Suddenly we would have the anarchy of lots of parallel religious societies observing their own laws, following their own practices and claiming they don’t have to do anything, pay for anything that offends their religious beliefs.

It would be the end of the United States of America.

It is the kind of medieval argument mounted in Europe currently by Muslim fanatics who disdain pluralism, diversity and the whole basis of enlightened liberal governance and who want to impose Sharia law, if not for everyone at least for believers or within a defined geography.

In the UK last year residents of some London boroughs were horrified to be confronted with posters daubed on bus stops and street lamps declaring, “You are entering a Sharia-controlled zone – Islamic rules enforced,” and announcing a ban on gambling, music, alcohol, and smoking.

The preacher behind the campaign, Anjem Choudary,  said he wanted to “put the seeds down for an Islamic Emirate.” And here we have Beck wanting to turn the United States into an anarchy of theocracies.

Tea Party: Putting God In Government

Last year, I wrote a piece for the Daily Caller suggesting that libertarians and economic conservatives would be unwise to align with the Tea Party. My point was that what underlines the Tea Party movement is social conservatism.

In short, the Tea Party isn’t a movement full of supporters of gay marriage, immigration reform, etc, I suggested.

Last weekend, academics David Campbell and Robert Putnam disclosed in the New York Times some of their long-running research into national political attitudes. They used interviews with 3000 people going back to 2006 to identify the type joining the Tea Party. Their research enabled them to “look at what people told us, long before there was a Tea Party, to predict who would become a Tea Party supporter five years later.”

And what did they find? Their analysis cast doubt on the idea that the movement was fueled by “nonpartisan political neophytes”. In fact, Tea Party supporters were highly partisan Republicans. “More important, they were disproportionately social conservatives in 2006 — opposing abortion, for example — and still are today. Next to being a Republican, the strongest predictor of being a Tea Party supporter today was a desire, back in 2006, to see religion play a prominent role in politics.”

The academics conclude: “The Tea Party’s generals may say their overriding concern is a smaller government, but not their rank and file, who are more concerned about putting God in government.”




To Publish Or Not

Should newspapers publish photographs released by the White House of the dead Osama bin Laden, even if they are gruesome? The Washington Post has a thoughtful news report on the debate some newsrooms are having over whether to publish any photographs that are released.

White House aides are debating also what to do. According to the Post, President Obama’s spokesman, Jay Carney, says officials are worried about releasing such photos because: first, their disturbing nature per se, and, second, because of the danger they may inflame anti-American protest around the world and prompt a more violent Muslim backlash.

At the same time officials want to rebut skepticism among bin Laden’s supporters that his death is part of some American conspiracy.

But would publishing the pictures dissuade those who don’t want to believe: they could also maintain that the pictures are inaccurate and made up.

Surely, there is plenty of evidence around to prove the U.S. claim: for example, the testimony to Pakistani officials of bin Laden’s 12-year-old daughter, who witnessed her father’s death.

The traditional news media is confronting a similar question of sensitivity. As the Post points out, U.S. newspapers consider themselves family publications – the kids can see.

If the White House releases pictures, they are going to be all over the web and carried by traditional media in other countries: Latin America, for example, where the media have fewer qualms. If U.S. newspapers don’t publish, do they highlight the fact that their relevance is increasingly less in the digital age? If the do publish for that reason, do they debase themselves?

Surely news is news, though, and the pictures are the very definition of news. Publishing would not be in these circumstances gratuitous: there is real journalistic value.

Back in the mid-1980s when I was on the Sunday Telegraph an intense debate was prompted when an excellent reporter, Walter Ellis, managed to secure photographs of the bodies of two British soldiers who had been killed in Northern Ireland after blundering accidentally into a massive Irish Republican funeral.

The soldiers had been stripped to their underpants, slapped around and then shot. One of the bodies was left in the shape of a human cross.

After much soul-searching it was decided that however gruesome the pictures were, there was journalistic value to publishing. The photographs helped illustrate the hatred and violence of the Northern Ireland troubles and also showed how no one in the funeral crowd lifted a hand to help the soldiers or protested their ill-treatment.

A Mexican Easter

Poor Mexico: "So Close To America, So Far From God."

The Easter holidays and Mexico City would not be complete without Labor protests in the Zocalo. Mexican President Calderon is the target and so is the “war on drugs” he declared in 2006 — a struggle that has so far seen more than 30,000 killed, many as a result of turf battles between the cartels.

The frustration I have is with the failure of many here in Mexico City to understand that the Obama administration has been highly sophisticated in its understanding of the complex social, economic and political problems engulfing Mexico. The administration also has a real appreciation of the American contribution to the crisis — both as the biggest market for Mexican narcotics and as the biggest exporter of guns to Mexico.

Quietly and carefully the administration has been trying to edge Calderon towards reform — of the judiciary, of money-laundering regulations, etc. It has also emphasized — again carefully and quietly — that the war on drugs must be accompanied by a real civil society and development strategy. And it has acknowledged publicly the problem of gun smuggling into Mexico from the United States, and has tried to do something about that but is hampered by American domestic politics.