Thursday, September 16, 2010

Obama Backpedals on Afghanistan Corruption

In a press conference Friday, September 10, 2010, Barak Obama said:
[W]e’re going to try to make sure that as part of helping President Karzai stand up a broadly accepted, legitimate government, that corruption is reduced. [sic]
And we’ve made progress on some of those fronts. I mean, when it comes to corruption, I’ll just give you an example. Four years ago, 11 judges in the Afghan legal system were indicted for corruption. This year, 86 were indicted for corruption. We have seen Afghan-led efforts that have gone after police commanders, significant business people in Afghanistan. But we’re a long way from where we need to be on that.
And every time I talk to President Karzai I say that, as important as it is for us to help you train your military and your police forces, the only way that you are going to have a stable government over the long term is if the Afghan people feel that you're looking out for them.  And that means making sure that the tradition of corruption in the government is reduced.
And we’re going to keep on putting pressure on them on that front.
The “Afghan-led efforts” Obama mentions, often involve two Afghan anti-corruption law enforcement units, the Sensitive Investigation Unit and the Major Crimes Task Force, which are trained and mentored by the United States and Britain.

“All very well and good,” you might say? The Obama Administration is insisting the Afghan government do everything in its power to fight corruption?

But wait!

Just a few days later, on September 13, the Washington Post reported:
Senior Obama administration officials have concluded they need to step back from promoting American-style law enforcement as the main means of fighting corruption in Afghanistan because of the rift it has caused with President Hamid Karzai.
In other words, Obama will back off from his recent remarks, and let Karzai and the Afghan government handle the corruption problem. Typically, as he has done since he entered office, Obama tells the American people one thing, then does just the opposite.

Well, that’s reasonable, isn’t it? After all, isn’t this an internal matter of a sovereign nation?  Every government has some corruption. What’s the big deal?

According to data compiled by Transparency International, a bi-partisan organization which exposes corruption around the globe, in 2009, Afghanistan ranked as the second most corrupt nation on Earth, (it may not surprise you to learn that Somalia earned the Blue Ribbon and came in first).

Moreover, if the evidence is to be believed, President Hamid Karzai’s family, allies and the Afghan government seem to be at the very heart of Afghanistan’s corruption woes.

Woes which spread far outside the borders of that country and into the homes and lives of ordinary citizens of the United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

According to a September 6 story in Britain’s Daily Telegraph, the Afghan Central Bank was forced to intervene to prevent the collapse of Kabul Bank, which had given, (in many cases, off-the-books), loans to shareholders, family and allies of President Hamid Karzai. These shady deals are said to amount to well over $100 million dollars.

The Telegraph article states:
[Kabul Bank Chairman] Farnood was ordered to hand over £100 million of apartments and villas in Dubai which he had purchased with the banks money for figures including Mahmoud Karzai, the president's brother.
Haseen Fahim, brother of [Afghanistan’s] vice president Mohammad Qasim Fahim, has borrowed tens of millions of pounds from the bank…
But that's not all. By a long shot.

President Karzai’s half brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, is reputed  to be the wealthiest figure in Afghanistan’s drug-trafficking network and in league with the vicious “Los Zetas” Mexican drug cartel which has murdered hundreds of civilians and smuggles drugs into the United States, (including, presumably, some of Ahmed’s).

Mohammad Zia Salehi, one of Karzai's senior national security advisors, was arrested by a U.S. trained Afghan law enforcement unit on charges of giving and receiving bribes, but ordered released by President Karzai, (in an amusing, if ironic, side-note, one of the many charges against Salehi was for taking a bribe not to investigate bribery).

The Afghan Attorney General is threatening to re-arrest Salehi, in something of a standoff in which President Karzai has so far held the upper hand: Karzai has accused the anti-corruption units of “violating human rights principles.”

Human rights principles? The armed officers entered Salehi’s home in the middle of the night and arrested him. Oh! Well, stop the presses! Based on wiretaps and other evidence of graft, armed officers arrest the President’s buddy, after-hours. There’s a human rights violation, all right. I’m shocked. Flog them mercilessly.

There would seem to be plenty of evidence for corruption in these tales alone, but here’s one that should make you sit up and gasp.  According to a June 2010 Wall Street Journal article:
More than $3 billion in cash has been openly flown out of Kabul International Airport in the past three years, a sum so large that U.S. investigators believe top Afghan officials and their associates are sending billions of diverted U.S. aid and logistics dollars and drug money to financial safe havens abroad. [Emphasis mine]
Officials believe some of the cash, if not most, is siphoned from Western aid projects and U.S., European and NATO contracts to provide security, supplies and reconstruction work for coalition forces in Afghanistan. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization spent about $14 billion here last year alone. Profits reaped from the opium trade are also a part of the money flow, as is cash earned by the Taliban from drugs and extortion…
It would seem Afghanistan’s “internal” corruption scandal reaches right into the pockets of American taxpayers, and those of any nation giving aid to the Afghans.

Karzai’s family and cronies are using your tax dollars, Dear Reader, to line their bank vaults and buy luxury villas. Some of them  are, so the evidence would seem to suggest, getting rich by smuggling drugs across our borders through the hands of some of the most bloodthirsty thugs in Mexico.

American and NATO troops and Drug Enforcement officers have died trying to stem the tide of drugs flowing out of Afghanistan and into their countries, yet the drug problem there seems to be supported by—certainly involving—members of the regime itself. An obviously corrupt regime supported by the Obama Administration, with U.S. tax dollars.

Much of the evidence points at President Karzai, though nothing seems to point directly to him; his fingerprints don’t seem to be on the cookie jar—though how often did Al Capone do his own dirty work? Obviously, Karzai’s friends, family and members of his government  are involved in the drug-trafficking and corruption, and one would have to be naïve, indeed, to suppose that Karzai himself is not reaping some benefits.

But! Afghan parliamentary elections take place on Saturday, September 18, so perhaps some of the corrupt politicians will be voted out of office, right?

Don’t hold your breath, folks. Looks like the election is rigged. Just like the last one.

Afghanistan’s 2009 elections, which saw Hamid Karzai elected to a second term as president, also saw widespread election fraud. Reporters for the BBC bought “restricted” and official voter identification cards on the open market. Reporters for Britain’s Guardian filmed the seizure, by election monitors, of reams of ballots pre-marked for Hamid Karzai. Voters had to dip a finger into a jar of indelible ink to mark them so they could not vote more than once. The “indelible” ink easily washed off.

Saturday’s election already shows signs of fraud, and according to the Christian Science Monitor, suspected war criminals will be on the ballot, the article implicating Karzai:
…President Karzai himself cut deals with warlords and men implicated in past crimes ahead of last year's presidential election because of the votes they could deliver. The choice of Mohammad Qasim Fahim as Karzai's vice presidential running mate was emblematic of this trend; Fahim has long been implicated in possible war crimes from the 1990s and is widely perceived by many Afghans to be connected to criminal gangs.
And Karzai has the audacity to accuse the police of human rights violations?

Considering all the evidence of election fraud, war criminals in office, graft, corruption, human rights violations, American taxpayer money used to buy luxury villas and expensive cars, why on Earth is Obama suddenly putting on the kid gloves and playing patty-cake with Karzai? How can the President of the United States consider, even for a moment, kow-towing to the whims of this two-bit  gangster?

Has Obama no dignity? No sense of justice? No basic understanding of the concept of Right-and-Wrong?

Does Obama not have what it takes—as he has shown so often since he assumed the Office of the Presidency—to be the leader of the American people?

It would seem not.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Patrick Walked On Water?

Those of you who have read this blog before know well that I have little, if any respect for journalists, (respect is earned, you see, and I can’t think of a journalist who has earned my respect since Walter Cronkite retired). Today’s journalists seem almost completely devoid of integrity, writing biased articles based, more often than not, on political agendas rather than anything resembling the truth.

But everyone expects journalists—much like politicians—to be blatant, shameful liars. Beyond their seedy disingenuousness, perhaps the most annoying thing about your common, garden-variety journalist is an apparent lack of anything resembling a proper education. They pollute airwaves and newsprint alike with atrocious grammar and sentence structures rarely witnessed outside a remedial English class.

Today’s example is Wendy Zang, who—though her short article below may seem to have been written by a fifth-grader—is said to be a college graduate. Note also, that Wendy has been employed as a journalist for years. Beyond her vague and bumbling sentence structure, Wendy has committed several blunders in this piece. Among those, one beckons like the lighthouse at Rhodes. See if you can spot it.


By Wendy Zang | McClatchy Tribune

St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. Born in the late fourth century in Scotland, he was kidnapped as a teenager and shipped to Ireland as a slave. He was sent to the mountains as a shepherd, where he spent his time in prayer. After six years, he had a dream in which God told him to leave Ireland. Walking nearly 200 miles, he escaped to Great Britain, where he reportedly had a second vision, telling him to return to Ireland as a missionary. Soon after, he joined the priesthood and did just that. He is credited with converting much of Ireland to Christianity. He died in the mid-fifth century, on March 17.


Map courtesy Central Intelligence Agency

Wait a minute, what?

Let’s look at that again:

…God told him to leave Ireland. Walking nearly 200 miles, he escaped to Great Britain…

Now pay attention, Wendy. On the right you will see a map of Great Britain (centered, bearing a sickly, pinkish-beige color). On the left of said map you will see Ireland (oddly, the same baby-poop-brown color as France to the lower right, but, unlike France, Ireland doesn’t deserve to be covered with baby-poop).

To recap: Great Britain, center. Ireland, left. With me so far? OK.

Now between Great Britain and Ireland is this blue-colored thing. See it? This blue-colored thing is water. Specifically, the Irish Sea.

So, what do you think might be the problem here, Wendy? Okay, I don’t want to see any other hands, I’m just talking to Wendy.

Wendy? Anything? I’ll give you a hint: The Irish Sea would seem to be the problem…Wendy? Still nothing?


Okay, Wendy. The Irish Sea is between Ireland and Great Britain. Patrick could hardly have walked to Great Britain from Ireland across the water, now could he?

Here’s your paper; I’ve marked it incomplete. Do it over, please, explaining such things as what happened to the sheep Patrick was supposed to be guarding since he was, instead, praying, and why he didn’t dream for six years. Did he have two dreams, or one dream and one reported vision? Who reported the vision, to whom did he report it, why, and was Patrick given demerits as a result? What did God say when He told Patrick to leave Ireland? “Verily, thou shalt vamoose?”

Put a little thought and a modicum of dignity into it this time, will you Wendy?

Class dismissed.

Note: I might state here that, “Who is St. Patrick,” excerpted—and ridiculed—above, is copyright Wendy Zang and McClatchy-Tribune, though I honestly can’t see anyone else claiming it’s theirs.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Aircraft Collision Over The Hudson: Some Thoughts

Saturdays’ tragic collision over the Hudson River of a helicopter and a fixed-wing aircraft reminded me of an eerily similar occurrence some 20 years ago.

I had departed Kansas City’s Downtown Airport in a Piper Tomahawk; a low-wing aircraft not dissimilar to, though smaller than, the Piper Lance of last weekend’s tragedy.

Paralleling the Missouri River east, I came to KCP&L’s Hawthorn Power Plant and practiced a 180-degree banking turn by keeping the top of the facility’s huge smokestack aligned with a point on my port wing.

Coming out of the turn and backtracking west up the river, I saw a helicopter in the distance, below my altitude and to my left, on a northerly heading that would take it across my course.

Though it was obvious we would not collide, FAA regulations consider a “near-miss” to be two aircraft passing within 500-feet of each other and the situation thus required minor action: I added power, gaining altitude and, scanning for other aircraft in the vicinity, watched the helicopter—a Hughes 500C—dip his nose slightly and descend. I turned left a bit to pass behind him. We safely passed over 1,000-feet apart.

We were both actively watching for other traffic: I saw him and he saw me and everything turned out fine.

Now, I wasn’t at the scene on the Hudson River Saturday. Beyond the news reports I don’t really know what happened—though it seems human error was likely involved—and I am not going to pontificate on how the accident occurred or how it might have been avoided.

Here’s what Mark Phelps had to say in an article on Flying magazine’s online site:

The instrument-rated pilot of the Piper, 60-year-old Steven Altman, departed from nearby Teterboro Airport moments before the collision, after stopping to pick up his brother and his nephew.

There was some confusion between Altman and the Teterboro tower controller as to which route the Piper would take toward its destination, Ocean City in southern New Jersey. Ultimately, Altman said, "Tell you what, I'll take down the river."

That placed the Piper inside the Hudson River VFR [Visual Flight Rules] corridor, a narrow strip of VFR airspace that extends from the surface to 1,100 feet, and from the New York side of the river to the east and the New Jersey side to the west.

Altitude readouts for the Lance show it flying at just that height or about 100 feet lower until the collision moments later.

The helicopter, a Eurocopter AS350 operated by Liberty Helicopter Tours, had departed from the 30th Street Heliport and was in a climbing turn southbound as part of its planned 12-minute tour.

Along with the pilot, New Zealander Jeremy Clarke, 33, were five tourists from Bologna, Italy.

The right wing of the Piper separated after it contacted the rotor disc of the helicopter and both aircraft spun into the water with nonsurvivable impact.

Though the busy Hudson River corridor has been the scene of many aircraft accidents over the years, the accident last Saturday is the first collision in memory.

Eventually, the FAA will end up pointing a finger—though if experience is any teacher, it won’t necessarily point in the right direction. Let’s hope it does, this time.

I am a volunteer wildland firefighter. One thing that is constantly drummed into our heads during training is this phrase:

YOU are responsible for your own safety!

No matter what the fire-behavior expert, the weather-guesser or the Incident Commander says, it is up to you and you alone to pay attention to what is going on around you and decide whether it is safe to go where they want you to go or stay where they want you to stay.

Your safety—your life—is your responsibility; not the responsibility of some guy you’ve never met sitting 5 miles away in a tent dealing with radio traffic from hundreds of scattered firefighters; not the responsibility of some FAA traffic controller you’ve never met sitting miles away dealing with hundreds of flights daily.

Whether you are a firefighter, a pilot or a housewife driving in traffic, a moment’s lack of vigilance can cost you your life.

Berlin Currywurst Museum Opens

Germany’s favorite sausage snack enshrined


I love Germany, currywurst and museums, so imagine my delight when I learned that a museum devoted exclusively to currywurst will open 15 August 2009 near Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin.

For those of you who have not had the pleasure, currywurst is sliced, fried pork sausage, topped with a sauce—commonly ketchup—and curry powder.

In a nation seemingly devoted to sausage, currywurst has been a favorite since—according to legend—Berliner Herta Heuwer first concocted it in 1949.

Berlin alone boasts over 2,000 currywurst stands serving up 70 million currywursts a year and Germans as a whole consume some 800 million annually.



The new currywurst museum features an array of interactive exhibits which guide visitors along a 'sauce trail' through the history and variety of the beloved dish which has worldwide connoisseurs and even inspired a song by German musician, Herbert Groenemeyer.

Guests may climb inside a currywurst van, slice and prepare their own computer-generated offerings against the clock and watch Grace Lee's 22 minute documentary film, "Best of the Wurst" (2004).

A spice chamber scents the air with curry powder as guests relax on the giant 'sauce sofa', shaped like a squirt of ketchup while an eco-alley assesses the environmental impact of fast food.

The Deutsches Currywurst Museum is located at Schützenstraße 70, Berlin.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Cheese Has Landed

One small step for a cheddar, one giant leap for cheesekind

To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, a group of cheesemakers launched a 300g (10.58 oz) wedge of cheddar over 18 miles into the skies over England.

Here is the tale from “Mission Control” at the West Country Farmhouse Cheesemakers:

Cheddarnaut lands in one piece

Members of the West Country Farmhouse Cheesemakers group breathed a sigh of relief today as the extra-mature handmade Cheddar launched into space on Tuesday 28th July, was found safe and sound by a Buckinghamshire resident, and handed in to Thames Valley Police.

Organizers of the launch believe the cheese, and its specially-designed capsule built by the dairy farmers at a secret location in the West Country, did indeed achieve its space-bound objective as the large weather balloon used specifically to take the pod up to the 100,000 feet had burst, and the parachute had engaged, guiding the 300g wedge safely back to earth.

Discovered late last night in the Cressex area of High Wycombe by a resident who wishes to remain anonymous, the pod was handed in to local police officer Detective Constable Jane James, who notified the cheesemakers group. Final calculations suggest the pioneering cheese travelled 439,927.822 feet from launch to landing site…no mean feat for an 18-month old no matter how mature!

The capsule carried digital camera equipment and a GPS satellite tracking device, but the latter failed to send any signals back to earth and so far the camera has not displayed any images from the flight.

The rest of the cheesy saga:

Healthcare worker Leonie Gould, 56, discovered a mysterious…thingy…in the back garden of her Woodland Close home on her return from a 14-hour shift at Wycombe Hospital.

She called police fearing the foil-covered, Wallace and Gromit-styled invention was a suspect package.


Intrepid Cheddarnaut poses with instrument package

Mrs. Gould said:

I was at work when I spoke to my husband on the phone and he said a parcel was in the garden. I said “a parcel? I haven't ordered anything.”

I forgot all about it, got home and then my husband reminded me about the parcel.

I went out there and I was shocked to find this nine inch-long box, covered in foil with a cheese attached to an aerial.

I didn't know what it was or where it came from, so I ran inside and called the police.

When the officers arrived, they just laughed and explained about the cheese-launch mission.

Mrs. Gould added:

It's a bit strange!

Dom Lane from the mission team said:

We got a call from the police who said a resident found the cheese in the garden of their High Wycombe home, so I rushed out straight away to pick it up.

Unfortunately the camera didn't work and therefore we don't have any pictures from the mission but the weather balloon burst according to plan, everyone has had a great time and to get it up there at all is a wonderful feat, so we're delighted.

We're very grateful and pleased that the resident handed in the cheese – we will be sending them a box of cheese as a thank you present.”

Philip Crawford, chairman of the West Country Farmhouse Cheesemakers group, added:

We are thrilled to announce the success of our space odyssey.

We feel we have appropriately marked the 40th anniversary of the first man on the moon in our own way with a first for cheese.

We are also incredibly touched by the public support for the safe return of the Cheddarnaut and are delighted that people are as proud of this West Country food icon as we are.

There is, as yet, no word as to whether the Cheddarnaut plans a book on the history-making voyage.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Public Citizen Urges Supreme Court to Uphold Campaign Finance Reform Law

Overturning Campaign Finance Restrictions Would Allow Corporations to Dominate Elections

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Public Citizen joined a team of other attorneys in submitting a friend-of-the-court brief to the U.S. Supreme Court today, urging the court to adhere to its precedents and reaffirm the longstanding principle that corporations may not engage in unfettered campaign spending.

The brief filed in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission argues that if the Supreme Court overrules past decisions and strikes down portions of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA), corporations would be free to mobilize their vast assets as political "war chests" and could soon come to dominate electoral discourse. Ruling against BCRA would not only condemn its electioneering provisions, but also the decades-old requirement that corporations make campaign expenditures only through political action committees (PACs) funded by individual donations, not from their corporate treasuries.

"This has become one of the most important campaign finance cases of our generation," said Public Citizen attorney Scott Nelson, who coauthored the brief with former U.S. Solicitor General Seth Waxman and his partners Randy Moss and Roger Witten of the law firm Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr LLP, as well as former Public Citizen Litigation Group Director Alan Morrison, currently on the faculty of the George Washington University Law School.

The case involves the abortive plan of a right-wing group, Citizens United, to broadcast Hillary: The Movie, which a lower court found to be electioneering subject to BCRA. Among other things, BCRA prevents corporations from funding broadcasts containing candidate advocacy except through segregated funds, or PACs, with all money donated by individuals. Citizens United admittedly did not comply with those restrictions.

After hearing argument in the case in March, the Supreme Court announced that it wanted to hear additional argument on whether two of its key precedents allowing limitations on for-profit corporations’ ability to use corporate funds for electoral purposes should be overruled. The brief filed today on behalf of the principal congressional sponsors of BCRA (Sens. John McCain and Russ Feingold and former Reps. Chris Shays and Marty Meehan) strongly urges the court to uphold BCRA’s constitutionality.

Now at issue in the case is whether the court should overrule Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which held that the government can limit for-profit corporations to the use of PACs to fund express electoral advocacy, and McConnell v. FEC, which applied that principle to uphold the constitutionality of BCRA’s "electioneering communications" provisions, which restrict corporate funding of election-eve broadcasts that mention candidates and convey unmistakable electoral messages.

The brief submitted on behalf of the BCRA sponsors urges that "[o]verruling Austin or McConnell in this case would be unwarranted and unseemly" and that the principle of respect for the court’s precedents requires a "special justification" - which is absent here - before the court may take such a drastic step. The decisions, the brief contends, "are vital cornerstones of modern campaign finance" and "[o]verruling them would severely jolt our political system."

The case will be reargued on Sept. 9.

Bribery Is Alive And Well: Obama Appoints 3 New Ambassadors

Ambassadors bought their cushy new jobs

“Dad, you have got to get me out of here. Talk to Senator Griswold. After all, you paid good money for him.”

—Major Charles Emerson Winchester, from the TV series M.A.S.H.

From Wikipedia, (Note: I rarely consult Wikipedia, but this page somehow escaped Wikipedia’s apparent policy of hosting only laughably erroneous drivel):

Bribery, a form of pecuniary corruption, is an act implying money or gift given that alters the behavior of the recipient.

Bribery constitutes a crime and is defined by Black's Law Dictionary as the offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting of any item of value to influence the actions of an official or other person in discharge of a public or legal duty.

The bribe is the gift bestowed to influence the recipient's conduct. It may be any money, good, right in action, property, preferment, privilege, emolument, object of value, advantage, or merely a promise or undertaking to induce or influence the action, vote, or influence of a person in an official or public capacity.

The buying and selling of ambassadorships in the United States is certainly nothing new.

Presidents Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson’s spoils systems included ambassadorial posts for top partisan allies.

Some Presidents such as the late and unlamented Richard Nixon were more avaricious.

In June 1971, Nixon told H.R. Haldeman, then White House Chief of Staff:

My point is that anybody who wants to be an ambassador must at least give $250,000… [about $1.3 million in 2009 dollars]

The contributors have got to be, I mean, a big thing, and I’m not gonna do it for political friends and all that crap.

Herbert W. Kalmbach, Nixon’s personal attorney and Deputy Finance Chairman for the Committee to Re-elect the President, (an organization possessing the most amusing acronym of CREEP), spent time, (though far, far, too little), in the crossbar hotel for arranging the sale of ambassadorships involving J. Fife Symington ($100,000) and Ruth Farkas ($300,000).

But the Nixon administration’s practice of trading foreign postings for campaign cash didn’t disappear—campaign reform laws drove it underground.

Simply writing a check doesn’t work any more. These days, the rich and connected are expected to raise money for the candidate from their well-to-do friends as “bundlers.”

According to

Bundlers are people with friends in high places who, after bumping against personal contribution limits, turn to those friends, associates, and, well, anyone who's willing to give, and deliver the checks to the candidate in one big "bundle."

Take Public Servant Obama’s latest ambassadorial appointments:

  • Alan D. Solomont, ambassador to Spain
  • Barry B. White, ambassador to Norway
  • William E. Kennard, U.S. representative to the European Union—a position which carries the rank of ambassador.

Together, Solomont, White and Kennard bundled more than $1 million combined toward Obama's election efforts. Overall, they—along with their immediate family members—contributed nearly $2 million to federal candidates since 1989.

Solomont and Kennard each bundled more than half a million dollars to Obama's presidential campaign.

White bundled between $100,000 and $200,000. The exact amounts are unknown because the presidential campaigns provided only broad ranges when they disclosed information about their bundlers.

Solomont has been a long-time money-raising force in Democratic circles and headed Obama's fundraising efforts in the Northeast. He has been a prolific contributor to federal candidates and committees and along with his wife and children, has donated about $1.8 million since 1989—all of which has gone to Democrats.

This ranks Solomont as the largest personal contributor among Obama's ambassador picks to date, edging out donor and ambassador to Germany Philip Murphy by more than a quarter-million dollars.

Solomont was the CEO of a company called ADS Group, the biggest nursing home chain in the northeast, which is where he made his fortune.

In the midst of Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign, (in which Solomont was also a major money-finder), as Time magazine reported, Solomont visited Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala:

…with a team of lobbyists to press for less stringent enforcement of nursing-home regulations. Solomont…kept on lobbying throughout the campaign to win major concessions for his industry over the objections of consumer advocates. He got much of what he wanted.

Kind of guy you want living next door? Or as an ambassador?

While less prolific than Solomont, Barry White has also donated large sums to federal candidates, parties and committees. Along with his wife, White has contributed about $103,000 since 1989—of which 98 percent has gone toward Democrats.

And then there’s Louis B. Susman, who, having sent over $500,000 to Democrats since 1989, is now Public Servant Obama’s appointee as ambassador to the U.K.

Here’s what the Wall Street Journal had to say about Susman on 7 July 2009:

CHICAGO -- President Barack Obama has raised some eyebrows with his decision to send as ambassador to the U.K. a little-known retired investment banker -- and top fund-raiser -- from his hometown who has little diplomatic experience.

The post at the Court of St. James's in London is one of the most prestigious in U.S. diplomatic circles. Though largely ceremonial and rarely controversial, it is a prominent position given the close relations between the U.S. and the U.K. In recent years, it has usually gone to political boosters of the president.

Still, the nomination of Louis B. Susman, whose confirmation hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, has rankled some watchdog groups and political commentators who say he was chosen chiefly because he raised money for Mr. Obama's campaign. "Clearly his appointment has nothing to do with anything but money," said Craig Holman, a government-affairs lobbyist at watchdog group Public Citizen. [emphasis mine]

So really; how much diplomatic experience do these wastes-of-space appointees have?


None? Are they all inexperienced dilettantes? I hear you ask.

Generally, only ambassadors to the important nations have no diplomatic experience whatsoever: The lesser nations get the career diplomats, who are, commonly, graduates of the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute.

For example, Joseph Kennedy, Sr., JFK’s father, was one of the wealthiest Americans of his generation and a major donor to Democratic candidates, (FYI, in 1973, mob boss Frank Costello said he and Joseph Kennedy Sr. had been bootlegging partners during prohibition and Harvard classmates say Kennedy Sr. supplied the illicit booze for alumni events: It is believed, by many, Kennedy made much of his fortune through such illegal activity).

Kennedy Sr.—with no training as a diplomat—was appointed ambassador to England in the run-up to World War II, but left the post in embarrassment after making an undiplomatic comment (“Democracy is finished in England”).

Public Servant Obama also nominated Lee Feinstein, a national security and nonproliferation expert at the Brookings Institution—so, some diplomatic experience, perhaps—as ambassador to Poland.

Feinstein has contributed about $5,250 to federal Democratic candidates, parties and committees since 1999, including $2,283 to Obama during the 2008 election.

Well, what about the career diplomats?

In recent weeks, Obama nominated a career member of the Foreign Service, Alberto M. Fernandez, to be ambassador to Equatorial Guinea in central Africa.

Another Foreign Service veteran, Mary Jo Wills, is slated to become the new ambassador to the African island nations of Mauritius and Seychelles.

That’s right: The scoundrels who can move money Obama’s way get the plum jobs.

The experts, the career diplomats—without deep pockets—get what’s left.

In the November 2006 Foreign Service Journal of the American Foreign Service Association, William Davnie, a Foreign Service Officer since 1981, had this to say in his article, Political Appointees: A Cost-Benefit Analysis:

Political-appointee ambassadors constitute a perennial source of amazement, frustration, anger and sometimes even inspiration among career diplomats and observers of American diplomacy.

A June 15 International Herald Tribune column by Thomas Raleigh called for an end to, or sharp restriction of, the number of “amateur (i.e., political appointee) ambassadors.”

Raleigh focuses on the general failure of such appointees to meet the standards of the Foreign Service Act of 1980, both in terms of the skills and experience necessary to do the job, and the fact that they tend to be major political donors, not foreign policy experts.

[P]olitical appointees, who are often CEO-types, are shocked to discover the limitations on their position when they actually arrive at an embassy. On the policy side, except in a few hot spots (where political appointees only rarely land, with Iraq and Afghanistan representing exceptions that prove the rule), policy is set, and news made, back in Washington.

Ambassadors are essentially seen as messengers, and thus of little interest unless they can truly build credibility on certain issues — a worthy goal but one most appointees can’t achieve, because they don’t have the background.

At a minimum, the White House needs to take the real challenges of diplomatic service into greater account when deciding which of the major donors will receive posts, and the Senate needs to exercise its role of advice and consent with greater care.

The issue at hand is not simply the background of the nominee, which may be sterling, but the ability of the nominee to meet the distinctive challenges of diplomatic service in a new organizational environment in a new country.

In other words, leave diplomacy to the diplomats and leave the damn, idiot money-grubbers at home.

Note: From you may download a Microsoft Excel-compatible spreadsheet of campaign contribution data regarding all of Obama's ambassador picks here.