It’s St. Patrick’s week in Washington, and Megan Smolenyak, chief family historian at Ancestry.com, assures us that President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are both on the receiving end of some fine Irish blood.
Mr. Obama’s Irish heritage can be traced back to the villages of Moneygall and Shinrone in County Offaly, Ireland. The president’s third great-grandfather, Fulmoth Kearney, immigrated to America at age 19, landing in New York Harbor on March 20, 1850, and settling in Fayette County, Ohio.
Mr. Biden’s Irish ancestors arrived in the United States within six months of Mr. Obama’s family. Both men’s relatives were shoemakers by trade.
Bernard Madoff, ordered jailed late last week after admitting he masterminded the largest Ponzi scheme in history, donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to mostly Democratic Party candidates.
Lindsay Renick Mayer of the Center for Responsive Politics reveals that Madoff and his wife, Ruth, forked over $238,200 to federal candidates, parties and committees since 1991, and Democrats banked 88 percent of the share.
Big recipients of Madoff cash: The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee ($102,000); New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer ($12,000); New Jersey Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg ($8,600); former New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton ($2,000); New York Rep. Charles B. Rangel ($2,000); Connecticut Sen. Christopher J. Dodd ($1,500); Massachusetts Rep. Edward J. Markey ($10,000); and Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden ($13,000).
As five congressional panels held hearings in recent days on Mexican drug cartel violence and border security, former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff had one thing to say about legalizing marijuana in hopes of easing the bloodshed: "It won’t work."
In a conversation with this columnist over the weekend, Mr. Chertoff likened today’s drug wars in Mexico to previous mob wars in America, which – he pointed out – didn’t stop once Prohibition ended in 1933.
In 1986, it was Mr. Chertoff, as an assistant U.S. attorney working side by side with then-U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York Rudolph W. Giuliani, who dealt a major blow to organized crime. As lead prosecutor, Mr. Chertoff’s goal was to build a case against the five Mafia families that ran organized crime in New York. When the dust settled, leaders of the Genovese, Colombo and Lucchese crime families, as well as a captain of the Bonannos, were convicted.
Mr. Chertoff’s final task as director of homeland security was seeing to the safe inauguration of Barack Obama. Still, he told one interviewer that despite all the security in place, his fear was a Virginia Tech-type incident in which one disturbed person goes on a killing spree.
Today, Mr. Chertoff is writing a book about his experiences and speaking through the Harry Walker Agency on topics that include terrorism, cybersecurity and economic infrastructure, the immigration crisis and emerging threats for the next decade.
Former Time magazine Washington bureau chief-turned-deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott, who now heads the Brookings Institution, has written a new conclusion for his soon-to-be-released paperback version of The Great Experiment: The Story of Ancient Empires, Modern States, and the Quest for a Global Nation.
Taking readers through the election of Barack Obama, Mr. Talbott is calling on the new president to launch an array of nonproliferation initiatives, starting with one directed to Moscow. (We doubt Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton‘s wrongly worded gift presented earlier this month to Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov was what Mr. Talbott had in mind).
Politically speaking, Mr. Talbott also provides his take on Republican Sen. John McCain‘s failed bid for the White House:
"On the basis of what I knew — or thought I knew — of McCain, I expected that, once he had feinted right and had the nomination locked up, he would move back to the center and take the high road as a unifier at home and an established statesman abroad. While I could hardly have been more wrong, McCain paid a huge price for proving me so. His divisive strategy in the general-election campaign backfired spectacularly."
Had Republican Sen. John McCain won the presidency, he would have awakened Saturday morning at the White House, shared breakfast with his wife, Cindy, delivered the weekly radio address and contemplated the global financial crisis with visiting Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Instead, President Obama accomplished all of the above, while Mr. and Mrs. McCain began their Saturday like other ordinary Americans.
"I was walking out of Starbucks, they were walking in," says Leslie Bauman, referring to the coffee shop in Crystal City. "They were both in casual clothes, and he was wearing a Navy hat, so I didn’t even recognize him at first. But Mrs. McCain is absolutely gorgeous in person, and I recognized her immediately."
Mrs. Bauman, who works for the B.F. Saul group of hotels, says the couple were extremely gracious.
"They stopped and shook my hand," she says. "Then I thanked him for his service to our country and for being a voice for moderate conservatives. He asked what my name was – they were so kind and attentive, really genuine. I interned for my U.S. congressman all through high school and college, so I can tell when a politician is pretending to be interested and when someone is genuine."
Myron Ebell, director of energy and global warming policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, says President Obama indirectly attacked his own nominee for White House science adviser — John P. Holdren — when signing a presidential memorandum this week on protecting scientific integrity in government policy.
Mr. Obama said the memorandum "is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda — and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology."
Says Mr. Ebell: "President Obama’s goal is laudable, yet the scientist he wants to put in charge of implementing this memorandum … is the very model of a scientist who puts his political agenda ahead of sound science."
The CEI director charges that Mr. Holdren has, of late, "distorted, concealed, exaggerated, and misrepresented the scientific data in order to promote his extreme global warming and energy-rationing agenda."
If Washingtonians didn’t get caught up in traffic bottlenecks caused by Angelina Jolie, who was in town (accompanied by husband and fellow traffic-stopper Brad Pitt) last week filming the CIA thriller Salt, perhaps the movie set of Fair Game, a future flick surrounding the outing of former CIA officer Valerie Plame, will slow motorists down when it arrives in Washington to start filming this week.
The Federal Election Commission says it finds no reason to believe campaign violations occurred when then-Sen. Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, obtained a discounted “super super jumbo” mortgage from Northern Trust Co.
The complaint, filed by Judicial Watch, further claimed that the discounted mortgage rate was a prohibited corporate contribution that was never reported.
In its ruling, the FEC says it “found no reason to believe that the loan was made contrary to applicable law or outside the ordinary course of business, and no reason to believe that it was a prohibited corporate contribution.”
The complaint was filed July 8 after it was reported that the Illinois senator received a home loan of $1.32 million at a rate of 5.625 percent, although the average going rate on that same day was reportedly between 5.93 percent and 6 percent.
In addition, the complaint had charged, unlike what was reportedly available for the public, the special below-market loan was secured without an origination fee or discount points.
While recognizing that many Americans this tax season are experiencing difficult times financially — some losing their jobs, others finding incomes decreased or else tapping into retirement funds — the Internal Revenue Service says to “file a tax return even if you are unable to pay” to avoid additional penalties.
And get this: the IRS says the loss of a job creates new tax issues.
“Severance pay and unemployment compensation are taxable,” it warns. “Payments for any accumulated vacation or sick time also are taxable. You should ensure that enough taxes are withheld from these payments or make estimated tax payments to avoid a big bill at tax time.”
If it’s any consolation, food stamps are not taxable.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is up in arms all over again about former Vice President Al Gore‘s red-meat diet.
We wrote last year when PETA said the meat industry is the leading source of greenhouse gas emissions, and Mr. Gore’s "a-steak-or-more-a-day habit isn’t helping."
"Mr. Gore’s own addiction to meat is adding to the very crisis he’s devoting his life to stopping," noted PETA Vice President Bruce Friedrich.
A United Nations report confirms that raising animals for food generates about 40 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than all the cars, trucks, ships and planes in the world combined. PETA says a meat-based diet causes eight times more greenhouse gas emissions than a vegetarian diet.
Now, the animal rights group has filed an application with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) in support of a new domain: OffsetAlGore.eco. It would seek to make people aware of the harm Mr. Gore is personally causing to the environment.
Quote of the Week
"I’ve lived through ’64, ’74 and ’92. In ’64 we were beaten so badly people talked about whether the party had a future. By ’66, Lyndon Johnson had gone so far to the left and spilt the Democratic Party and we gained 47 House seats and picked up a bunch of governorships and Senate seats. Since 1968 you have not elected an overt liberal in 40 years. In ’74 to ’76, we had Watergate and a bad recession and then a Reagan-Ford nomination fight. In that period, only 17 percent of the country identified itself as Republican and yet four years later, Reagan won a smashing victory and Carter collapsed under a bad economy. In ’92, Bush, having thrown away the fiscal conservatives by raising taxes, lost the three-way race and, two years later, we gained the House for the first time in 40 years and kept it. I know how fast the country can switch."
— Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, reminding Newsweek’s Eleanor Clift that the nation’s political landscape can change at the drop of a dime
*Cartoon by Brett Noel