- The Washington Times - Friday, July 10, 2009

FRIENDS OF BARACK

“Reporters from roughly 30 television networks, newspapers, magazines and Web sites celebrated the Fourth of July with Barack Obama at the White House last weekend. Why didn’t you know that? Because they were sworn to secrecy,” John Cook writes at Gawker.com.

“We reported [Wednesday] that Politico’s Mike Allen was spotted milling about as a guest at the White House’s ‘backyard bash’ by the pool reporter, who was allowed into the event for 40 minutes and kept in a pen before being ushered out. When Allen quoted from the pool report in his Playbook column the next day, he deleted a reference to his own name and didn’t bother to tell his readers that he was actually at the party,” Mr. Cook said.

“Well, he wasn’t alone. Gawker has learned that the White House gave tickets to virtually every major news organization that covers the president - the New York Times, Washington Post, Newsweek, Time, ABC News, NBC News, CNN, CBS News and so on, about 30 in all. The reporters were invited to attend on the following condition: ‘You are being invited to attend this event as a guest. Blogging, Twittering or otherwise reporting on this event is not permitted. If you feel that you cannot agree to abide by these ground rules, please don’t claim a ticket.’

“That’s right: Much of the White House press corps spent the Fourth schmoozing with White House staffers, catching performances by the Foo Fighters and Jimmy Fallon, and watching the fireworks from the most exclusive vantage point in the D.C. metro area, all off the record - not to mention off the Facebook and off the Twitter. These are the same people who just a week ago were whining in the press briefing about Obama’s malicious and dastardly attempts to ‘control the press.’ (Well, not the self-same people - we’re not sure if Chip Reid and Helen Thomas, the primary antagonists in that exchange, were in attendance.)”

READY FOR BATTLE

Sen. Robert C. Byrd got out of the hospital last week after a monthlong stay for a staph infection, and the 91-year-old West Virginia Democrat appears eager to do battle over climate-change legislation, notably the carbon cap-and-trade plan passed by the House and supported by President Obama.

“I cannot support the House bill in its present form,” Mr. Byrd said. “I continue to believe that clean coal can be a ‘green’ energy. Those of us who understand coal’s great potential in our quest for energy independence must continue to work diligently in shaping a climate bill that will ensure access to affordable energy for West Virginians. I remain bullish about the future of coal, and am so very proud of the miners who labor and toil in the coalfields of West Virginia.”

A spokesman for Mr. Byrd told the Wheeling (W.Va.) News-Register that the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will begin marking up the “cap and trade” bill later this month, with floor debate scheduled for September or October.

BLOODIED LITIGANT

“Some years ago, I shared cocktails along San Antonio’s River Walk with Richard Estrada, the legendary columnist for the Dallas Morning News. Estrada would trace the nuances of the Mexican-American experience while framing it in the long sweep of American history,” Froma Harrop writes in the Providence Journal.

“I recall saying that U.S.-born Latinos didn’t seem so much a racial minority to me as just another ethnic group. He responded with a definitive ‘yes,’ ” the columnist said.

“Estrada died in 1999, and I try to imagine his take on the New Haven firefighters’ case - mainly the matter of Ben Vargas, the firefighter of Puerto Rican heritage who joined 17 white firefighters in suing the city. They opposed New Haven’s decision to discard a test for promotions because too few minorities passed. Vargas had finished sixth.

“Days after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the white firefighters’ favor, Vargas went out drinking with co-workers to celebrate an impending marriage. When he visited a restroom, someone punched him bloody. He ended up in the hospital. Vargas assumes the attack was retaliation for having joined the suit opposing an affirmative action policy.

“A newspaper article shows Vargas sitting over coffee in his suburban Connecticut house. Beside him are his wife and their 3-year-old son Joshua. Out the window you see a deck and lawn leading to woods.

“The home could have belonged to any of his firefighting colleagues, be they of Italian, Irish or other ethnicity. The same went for the conversation.”

STIMULATING CRITICS

“Democrats are in a bit of a jam on the stimulus, as many reporters have noticed: ‘Democrats are all over the map on the stimulus and the possibility of a sequel, and it’s not hard to see why: When it comes to a second stimulus, they may be damned if they do and damned if they don’t.’ But there is nothing they would have done differently, right? That phrase may prove to be this administration’s ‘Mission Accomplished’ banner,” Jennifer Rubin writes in a blog at www.commentarymagazine.com.

“The current excuse - that somehow the administration didn’t understand how severe the crisis was - isn’t going over so well. In fact, it’s so easily disproved by rolling back the tapes of all the gloom-and-doom talk that permeated the president’s remarks in the early days of his term, that his critics are having a field day,” the writer said.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, for example, isn’t buying any excuses: ‘I found it … interesting over the last couple of days to hear Vice President Biden and the president mention the fact that they didn’t realize how difficult an economic circumstance we were in. … Now this is the greatest fabrication I have seen since I’ve been in Congress. I’ve sat in meetings in the White House with the vice president and the president. There’s not one person that sat in those rooms that didn’t understand how serious our economic crisis was.’

“Well he does have a point; the president kept calling it the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

“The simple truth is the stimulus was ill-conceived and poorly executed. Sooner or later, the president and his advisers will need to acknowledge that deferring to Nancy Pelosi to devise a grab-bag of goodies for liberal interest groups wasn’t smart politics or smart policy.”

Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or gpierce@washingtontimes.com.

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