Obama's 180 Degree Ethics Spin

"Date on which Barack Obama implemented new ethics guidelines restricting former lobbyists’ roles in government: 1/21/09.

"Days later that he waived the guidelines for the deputy secretary of defense: 1." -Harper’s Index, June 2009.

No Problem

"Not a shred of truth to it."

Or so a senior White House official tells this columnist, referring to reports that President Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s relationship is "strained" because of the latter’s indiscipline and frequent gaffes.

The official took particular issue with media reports surrounding Newsweek journalist Richard Wolffe‘s new book, Renegade: The Making of a President, including that Mr. Obama has become "distracted" by Mr. Biden’s gaffes to the extent that he has rebuked him.

The official insisted that at the end of the day Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden are "arm in arm, laughing with each other."

Go Figure

If the political party with the most money in its campaign war chest had dominated in November’s elections, then Republicans would be in control of Congress and John McCain would be sitting in the Oval Office.

Nationally, according to the Federal Election Commission, the Republican Party raised $30 million more than Democrats during the 2007-2008 election cycle — $793 million and $762 million, respectively. But the amount raised by Democrats was a 58 percent increase over the 2006 cycle, while Republican receipts grew 32 percent.

The Republican National Committee spent far more in independent expenditures than the Democratic National Committee in opposing the other party’s presidential candidate. The DNC spent just more than $1 million opposing Mr. McCain, whereas the RNC spent almost $54 million opposing Democrat Barack Obama.

Eye For an Eye?

Don’t look now, but certain bureaucrats carrying Uncle Sam’s credit card in their wallets are back to spending your hard-earned taxpayer dollars on everything from first-class travel to Hawaii to laser eye surgery.

The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) has obtained a new Congressional Research Service report detailing abuses in the federal government travel card program, costing taxpayers "millions of dollars annually."

The CRS report looked at Government Accountability Office and federal inspector general reports and found, among other improper or unauthorized charges, $3,700 for laser eye surgery; reimbursement of nearly $10,000 for tickets that an official never purchased; a charge for a first-class trip to Hawaii; and numerous upgrades to premium-class accommodations.

Even worse, federal agencies failed to recover millions of dollars in unused travel tickets. For example, the Department of Defense had $100 million in unused tickets from 1997 to 2003.

Noted Scott Amey, POGO’s general counsel: "A private travel agency would be out of business running this kind of operation."

Who Needs Enemies?

As if having Republican lawmakers and conservative groups breathing down your neck were not unsettling enough, hundreds of lawyers and judges have now been tasked with turning over every stone and examining every shred of evidence pertaining to the professional life of Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

Immediately upon her nomination to the Supreme Court last week by President Obama, a peer review of Judge Sotomayor was launched by the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary.

ABA President H. Thomas Wells Jr. explains that every member of the standing committee will participate in the evaluation. In addition, "hundreds of lawyers, judges and members of the community" who have known Judge Sotomayor professionally will be asked to assess her on three key criteria: integrity, professional competence and judicial temperament.

In addition, two panels of legal scholars from respected law schools, and a third panel of pre-eminent lawyers with Supreme Court and appellate experience "at the highest level," will examine her legal writings for quality, clarity, knowledge of the law and analytical ability.

Finally, Judge Sotomayor herself will be interviewed "at length" by members of the standing committee, who will then evaluate the nominee as either "well-qualified," "qualified" or "not qualified." The peer review is then sent to the Senate, where members will weigh it along with whatever they have compiled.

Navy vs. Marine

College football fans haven’t forgotten one of the 1993 season’s more memorable games, when Army beat Navy by 18 inches. Yes, as in just over a foot.

Of all unlikely midshipmen, Navy placekicker Ryan Bucchianeri was critical to the Army win, as Sports Illustrated recalled after the game:

"In all the years he had played and replayed this moment in his mind — from spring and summer nights to restless autumn afternoons, from his Pennsylvania boyhood to his first months at the U.S. Naval Academy — Ryan Bucchianeri had always made the kick, the one he had to nail to beat Army. Not once, in all his youthful reveries, had he ever missed. Ever hooked it left, floated it right. Ever failed. Ever imagined anything but the kick that sailed end over end through the uprights, the boot that lifted the Middies over the Cadets and raised the boy onto the swarming shoulders of his teammates."

Indeed, Mr. Bucchianeri told the magazine: "Literally thousands of times I’d been in that situation in my dreams and made the kick against Army. I always made it. I had been visualizing it for years. For years!"

As fate would have it, at age 18 and six months out of high school, at Giants Stadium in New Jersey "at almost ten past three on the afternoon of Dec. 4, 1993, and for Ryan Joseph Bucchianeri — placekicker, poet, pianist, plebe — the Army-Navy game was just one play away from being his to decide. Army was leading 16-14, but the Midshipmen had driven 79 yards in 12 plays in the game’s final 4 minutes, from their own 20-yard line to Army’s one, and now it was third-and-goal with 12 seconds left to play, and Bucchianeri (pronounced Boo-chee-ah-nary) was reciting his mantra on the sidelines: ‘I’m going in to kick the game-winner,’ " Sports Illustrated wrote.

Twelve seconds later, Mr. Bucchianeri was in shock, white as a ghost. His kick missed right by 18 inches.

Upon graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy, he spent five years as a naval officer stationed in the Middle East, Central America and Asia. He worked two years with contractor Lockheed Martin in South America and Europe, handled Middle East policy for the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs and graduated from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Now, with the Army game still no distant memory, Mr. Bucchianeri has just entered Pennsylvania’s Democratic primary — his aim this time to unseat a retired Marine who went from drill instructor at Parris Island to being awarded two Purple Hearts. He is the only Democrat facing the outspoken and embattled veteran Rep. John P. Murtha, and if he were to win it would be the longest field goal of his life.

There Goes Ed

Even discounting his tall stature, it’s not difficult to spot President Bush’s former counselor, Ed Gillespie, on the touristy streets of Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington. He’s one of the few pedestrians who dresses in a dark suit every day.

Mr. Gillespie, a one-time chairman of the Republican National Committee, recently crossed the Potomac to launch Ed Gillespie Strategies on Prince Street, having previously partnered at one of K Street’s more prominent lobby shops, Quinn Gillespie & Associates, with former Clinton White House counsel Jack Quinn.

Mr. Gillespie has made it clear his lobbying days are over. He’s now concentrating on strategic planning, communications and, of course, politics, including helping to run the campaign of Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell.

Hug a Postman

It’s been one year since we’ve checked on the health of your mailman, and whether it’s because of the depressed economy or more people sending e-mail instead of licking stamps, the U.S. Postal Service projects a mail volume decline of 10 percent to 12 percent in 2009, resulting in unprecedented losses.

According to the Government Accountability Office, the USPS this year faces a financial gap of about $12 billion (despite planned cost cuts of $5.9 billion), resulting in a "record annual loss" of more than $6 billion.

In addition, the postal service projects outstanding debt beyond the annual statutory limit of $3 billion, and an unprecedented $1.5 billion cash shortfall.

The year 2010 doesn’t offer much hope — the service projects mail volume will decline by an additional 10 billion pieces, leading to financial losses similar to 2009’s. Now being considered are layoffs, consolidating operations and closing unnecessary facilities.

Pay to Read?

It’s not the best of times for the nation’s newspapers, especially the once-profitable New York Times, its parent company posting a $335,000 loss in the first quarter of 2009.

All the more reason for the Atlantic to rush forward with news of an unpublicized meeting in Chicago on Thursday of the Newspaper Association of America, attended by Michael Golden, vice chairman of the New York Times Co.

Mr. Golden now assures Editor & Publisher that there was nothing secretive about the meeting, pointing out: "If it were secret, there wouldn’t have been a sign on the door saying ‘NAA meeting.’ "

Asked about the specifics of the gathering, which had been planned for several weeks and reportedly included the pros and cons of charging for Web content, Mr. Golden would only say "there were a lot of people there facing a lot of similar issues to the ones we are facing."

Endless Growth

Letter sent by Richard C. Thiel, chairman of the Wolf Den Architectural Control Committee in Vienna, Va.:

"To whom it may concern: a U.S. congressman, Alan Grayson, owns property in Wolf Den, a part of Wolf Trap Woods Homes Association … The height of his lawn currently ranges from 18 inches to 36 inches. The home also receives little to no exterior maintenance. A complaint form regarding the height of the lawn has already been forwarded to Fairfax County officials. Anything you can do to encourage this newly elected congressman from the 8th congressional district (Florida) to maintain his property to even minimum standards would be greatly appreciated by his discouraged neighbors."

Attempts to reach Mr. Grayson over the weekend were unsuccessful. However, this columnist touched base Sunday with Mr. Thiel, who said one of the congressman’s fellow neighbors stepped in late Saturday afternoon to cut the lawmaker’s lawn.

"The neighbor saw the sticker left by the Fairfax County zoning enforcement," Mr. Thiel said. "He went over and took the sticker off and communicated with the owner somehow."

Mr. Grayson "grew up in the tenements of the Bronx" and "cleaned toilets and worked as a night watchman" to put himself through Harvard (and later Harvard Law School), graduating in the top 2 percent of his class, his congressional bio states.

After first practicing law, he launched and became president of the IDT Corp., a telecom/Internet company that grew into a $2 billion-a-year business. He and his wife later moved to Orlando, where they are no doubt also busy raising five children , all younger than 15: Skye, Star, Sage, Storm and Stone, the latter pair twins born in 2005.