Monday, November 15, 2010

Glenn Beck's Ratings Still Down Sharply I HAVE HOPE FOR THE AMERICAN PEOPLE!

Glenn Beck's Ratings Still Down Sharply From Their 2009 Peak

Glenn Beck has seen a sharp ratings decline this year. By April, his Fox News Channel audience had slipped to about 2.1 million viewers from 2.9 million in January.

Five months later, Beck's ratings haven't improved any. In October he averaged 2,095,000 total viewers, down 24% from about 2.7 million in October 2009, according to Nielsen.

He still crushes his competitors in the 5 p.m. time slot. But one of them, MSNBC's Chris Matthews, saw his ratings improve 8% in October year over year, up to 576,000 from 543,000. CNN's Wolf Blitzer saw a considerable drop in his audience, though he still beat Matthews, with 602,000 total viewers down from 715,000 a year earlier.


Ethics trial ends, Rangel awaits fate *tick tick tick tick...)

After his dramatic walkout from a high stake ethics trial, Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) now awaits judgment from the ethics panel that has heard the evidence against him and has ended the public portion of the trial.

The ethics panel, after an unexpected 40-minute private session Monday, rejected Rangel’s request to delay the trial and forged ahead with its business, plowing through piles of evidence about Rangel’s corruption case. The witness chair where Rangel was supposed to sit was empty, a sobering sign of Rangel’s refusal to participate.

Now, the special panel hearing the case decided to accept a motion stating all the evidence presented by ethics committee lawyers on Rangel’s guilt was fact. The panel then retired to deliberate in secret over Rangel’s fate.

It was a fitting end for a wild day, and the only question now is whether Rangel will be found guilty or innocent. Judging upon the way things have gone so far, the chances of Rangel being cleared appear very low.

The Rangel trial, overseen by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who is also the chairwoman of the full ethics committee, began with fireworks.

As soon as he was allowed to speak, Rangel asked for a continuation of his trial, arguing that he had parted ways with his lead defense attorney – the law firm Zuckerman Spaeder – just a month ago and needed more time to prepare his case.

Rangel split with Zuckerman Spaeder last month after paying the firm $1.6 million during the two-year investigation into his personal finances. The New York Democrat said the firm wanted an additional $1 million for the trial, funds that he no longer had available after running through his campaign account. Members of Congress are allowed to use campaign funds to cover legal fees incurred as part of their official duties.

"I am being denied to the right to have a lawyer right now because I don’t have the opportunity to have a legal defense fund set up," Rangel complained to the “adjudicatory subcommittee” hearing the case. "And because I don’t have a million dollars to pay my counsel."

Once a top fundraising draw, Rangel stepped down as chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee earlier in the year, damaging his ability to raise money. The long-running ethics scandal has also damaged his reputation with potential donors.

The 80-year-old lawmaker said he was only told two weeks ago by the ethics committee that he could set up a legal-defense fund to cover his attorney fees, and Rangel claimed that he hadn’t had time to so yet.

Rangel was visibly emotional in his opening speech, arguing that due process rights, his lengthy congressional career and even his combat service during the Korean War, justified a delay in the proceedings.

“All I am asking for is fairness,” Rangel told a horde of reporters who trailed him down the hallway after his combative appearance.

Abbe Lowell, a top ethics and white-collar criminal investigation attorney who represented former President Bill Clinton during his 1998 impeachment, was at Monday's session, although he never got a chance to appear on Rangel’s behalf.

Rangel also complained bitterly that the ethics committee was trying to end his trial and sanction him before the end of the 111th Congress.

“Can you tell me under what theory of fairness would dictate that I be denied due process, that I be denied an attorney, because it’s going to be the end of the session?" Rangel said. "How far does this go to a person not having counsel, not having due process, because we don’t have the time?"

"My reputation, 50 years of public service, has to suffer because you have concluded that this matter has to end before this Congress ends," Rangel said.

But after two years wrestling with the Rangel case, Lofgren was having none of it. After a secret, 40-minute debate among the eight panel members, the California Democrat announced it was going forward, with or without Rangel.

Lofgren noted that Rangel "asked for formal advice from the committee [on covering his legal bills] in Sept. 2008, in March of 2009, in October of 2010 and again in November of 2010, and received informal advice on that in August."

Lofgren added: "Each time, the committee responded and provided Mr. Rangel with formal guidance on how he could pay his legal fees in this matter."

She also noted that Rangel could have paid legal bills out of his own pocket.

Lofgren also said that whether Rangel even participated in the hearing was immaterial at this point.

"We recognize that Mr. Rangel does not intend to participate. It is his right not to participate,” Lofgren said.

Rangel has been hit with a 13-count “Statement of Alleged Violation” after a two-year investigation, including allegations that he improperly solicited millions of dollars from corporate officials and lobbyists for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at The City College of New York; failed to disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars of income and assets on financial disclosure forms; maintained multiple rent-stabilized apartments in a luxury Harlem apartment building; and failed to pay income taxes on a villa in the Dominican Republic.

Ethics committee attorneys later admitted that there was no issue of corruption by Rangel, or any apparent attempt to benefit himself or his family personally through his actions, especially in regards to the Rangel Center and his failure to disclose all his assets.

"I see no evidence of corruption," said Blake Chisam, the top ethics committee lawyer, about Rangel. Chisam's statement was in response to questioning by Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.). Butterfield is serving on the eight-member panel hearing the Rangel case.

"It's hard to answer the question of personal financial benefit," Chisam added. "I think the short answer is probably no. Do I believe that based on the record that Congressman Rangel took steps to benefit himself based on his position in Congress? No. I believe that the congressman, quite frankly, was overzealous in many of the things he did. And sloppy in his personal finances."

The most serious allegations against Rangel surround his fundraising on behalf of the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Policy at City College in New York. Rangel sought as much as $30 million in public and private funds for the center, and he was charged for setting dozens of letters on official letterhead to official donors.

Chisam said that Rangel could have avoided any problems "if he had only followed the rules" laid out for such fundraising in the House ethics manual.

Zuckerman Spaeder, the law firm that represented Rangel until it cut ties with him last month, has also come in for a bad time today.

Butterfield and other members of the bipartisan panel hearing the Rangel case have battered the law firm for its actions, suggesting that they would seek to change House ethics rules so that it doesn't happen again.

The special panel will now make a public announcement on whether it has found Rangel guilty on all or some of the charges. Sanctions against Rangel will be left for the full ethics committee to decide, with the entire House having to vote on any serious punishment.


Mel Gibson Admits to Slapping Oksana

Documents from Mel Gibson's custody battle with ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva include the actor's admission that he "slapped," rather than punched, Grigorieva during a bitter argument on the night of January 6, 2010. Grigorieva accused Gibson of punching her in the face and knocking out two teeth, but Gibson said she was running around the couple's home wildly shaking their infant daughter, Lucia. "I slapped Oksana one time with an open hand in an attempt to bring her back to reality," Gibson said. He admitted he "did not handle the situation as well as I should have."

Read it at TMZ

LAS VEGAS IS: "My, my, my! Such a lot of guns around town and so few brains."

"That's what makes us tough. Rich fellas come up and die and their kids ain't no good, and they die out. But we keep a-comin'. We're the people that live. They can't wipe us out. They can't lick us. And we'll go on forever, Pa... 'cause... we're the people."

Petraeus warns Afghans about Karzai's criticism of U.S. war strategy

KABUL - Gen. David H. Petraeus, the coalition military commander in Afghanistan, warned Afghan officials Sunday that President Hamid Karzai's latest public criticism of U.S. strategy threatens to seriously undermine progress in the war and risks making Petraeus's own position "untenable," according to Afghan and U.S. officials.

Officials said Petraeus expressed "astonishment and disappointment" with Karzai's call, in a Saturday interview with The Washington Post, to "reduce military operations" and end U.S. Special Operations raids in southern Afghanistan that coalition officials said have killed or captured hundreds of Taliban commanders in recent months.

In a meeting Sunday morning with Ashraf Ghani, who leads the Afghan government's planning on transition, Petraeus made what several officials described as "hypothetical" references to an inability to continue U.S. operations in the face of Karzai's remarks.

The night raids are at the heart of Petraeus's counterinsurgency strategy and are key to his hopes of being able to show significant progress when the White House reviews the situation in Afghanistan next month.

Officials discounted early reports Sunday that Petraeus had threatened to resign. But "for [Karzai] to go this way, and at that particular stage, is really undermining [Petraeus's] endeavors," one foreign diplomat in Kabul said. "Not only his personally, but the international community." Several officials in Washington and Kabul requested anonymity in order to discus the issue.

The weekend controversy came days before NATO leaders, including President Obama, are scheduled to hold a summit in Lisbon that will begin to set a timetable for transition - the process of turning portions of Afghanistan security control over to Afghan forces. The summit, which Karzai is to attend, will also set 2014 as a deadline for the end of coalition combat operations there and will showcase a long-term NATO-Afghan partnership.

Petraeus "never actually threatened resignation," but his comments to Ghani reflected his desire to ensure that the Afghans understood the seriousness of the situation, a senior NATO military official said.

"We've been [subsequently] assured that President Karzai is fully supportive of the joint strategy, that we share the desire for Afghan forces to take the lead, and that we've worked hard together to address all the issues over which [Karzai] raised concerns and will continue to do so," the official said.

Petraeus did not attend a scheduled meeting Sunday with Karzai, officials said. Karzai's spokesman also cancelled a scheduled news conference. Some Afghan officials Sunday attempted to smooth over the issue by declaring Karzai's respect for Petraeus and faith in his strategy.

It is "categorically false" to interpret Karzai's remarks as a "vote of no-confidence in Gen. Petraeus," one senior Afghan official said. In addition to agreement on ending the coalition combat mission by the end of 2014, he said, there are many areas of "common interests and common objectives."

"These are two men who are comfortable working with each other. There's an environment of mutual respect, and trust has been building among them," the official said.

In the Saturday interview, Karzai said that the often-troubled U.S.-Afghan dynamic had improved since Petraeus's arrival in the summer, and that the two countries have a more "mature relationship." But he also outlined a vision for the U.S. military presence here that sharply conflicts with the Obama administration's strategy.

In addition to ending night raids, Karzai said that he wants U.S. troops to be less intrusive in the lives of Afghans, and that they should strive to stay in their bases and conduct just the "necessary activities" along the Pakistan border.

"I think it's [Karzai's] directness that really sticks in the craw," another NATO official said. "He is standing 180 degrees to what is a central tenet of our current campaign plan."

"It's pretty clear that you no longer have a reliable partner in Kabul," the official added. "I think we tried to paper it over with [Karzai's] Washington visit" in May. "But the wheels have becoming looser and looser . . . since that."

The latest rift follows a string of public disputes between Karzai and the West in recent months. They clashed on corruption issues last summer after Karzai freed an aide from jail who was accused of soliciting a bribe and moved to stem the activities of U.S.-backed anti-corruption investigations.

This fall, Karzai's push to disband private security companies that protect foreign assistance projects was seen as putting at risk billions in development aid. His public comments, often bluntly criticizing the West for meddling or worsening the war by harming civilians, have made it difficult for the nations to deliver a common message.

In Washington, officials described Karzai's remarks as nothing out of the ordinary and said he had expressed similar views to Petraeus and other officials in private.

"While we certainly didn't expect the list that he laid out," a senior administration official said, "the fact that those were concerns to him was not a surprise to us."

The official added: "Obviously, President Karzai has expressed some frustration recently. We've been working very hard to deal with those frustrations. It's challenging. That's no secret." The administration, he said, shared some of Karzai's concerns and was trying to "work with" him to address them.

At the Lisbon summit, NATO plans to declare that progress in the war will enable "transition" to Afghan security control, beginning in the spring. Petraeus is to decide which provinces and districts are stable enough to turn over to Afghan national security forces, with coalition troops remaining in an "overwatch" capacity as they head toward complete combat withdrawal by the end of 2014.

Coalition officials hope that the formal start of the transition process will allow Karzai to assert that his concerns about a reduced foreign military footprint are being addressed. Areas slated for transition will be cleared with the Afghan government and Karzai will announce them in coming months.

"We are making sure that he is the person who is out front," the senior administration official said.

NATO has emphasized that "transition" decisions are separate from decisions made by individual coalition members about withdrawing their forces from Afghanistan altogether. Obama has pledged to begin bringing U.S. troops, now totaling about 100,000, home from Afghanistan in July, although the administration has said the size and pace of the drawdown will be determined by "conditions on the ground."

Many coalition officials said they have grown accustomed to Karzai's provocative statements and think that they are intended primarily for an Afghan audience. But others worry that such comments will erode NATO's resolve to stay in Afghanistan, already challenged by declining public approval of the war in member nations.

"It undermines the support and trust of the Western countries," one foreign diplomat in Kabul said. "That's what the NATO summit should be all about. Are we on the same page? Or are we in different worlds?"

Joshua Partlow and Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Foreign Service