' Daily dispatches - Paul Greenberg

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September 21st, 2017

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Daily dispatches

Paul Greenberg

By Paul Greenberg

Published August 4, 2015

   Daily dispatches

The Senator and the General -- Bob Dole has a new project. Long a champion of this country's veterans, his own withered arm says more about his wartime service and sacrifice than any statue could. Now he's leading a peacetime campaign to get the long-planned Eisenhower Memorial in Washington finished while he and other members of his generation are still around to attend the dedication.

The problem is that the memorial's design is still more about its world-famous designer (Frank Gehry) than its subject. Even if a couple of statues, one of Eisenhower the general and the other of Eisenhower the statesman-president, have been added. Much as a couple of statues were added to the graceful Vietnam Memorial -- just enough to mar its simple, sloping lines.

What do you think General and President Eisenhower would do? Wait till plans for his memorial mature, or do a hurry-up job to meet an arbitrary deadline? It's impossible to know. Ike is far beyond such concerns now.

But we do know what the man did. He spent years putting together the grand coalition that liberated Europe, paying close attention to every detail, rather than speed up the invasion of Normandy. Till the day before the planned invasion, he was postponing it till the weather was right. And as president, he was a frugal chief executive who preferred balanced budgets to flashy effects.

We also know that the general's family objects mightily to the current hodgepodge of a design for his memorial, however it's been prettified by a little statuary here and there. Here's hoping the Eisenhowers stand fast against all these hurry-up-and-build-it pressures. Why build in haste only to repent at leisure?

The important thing is to get it right, not just to get it built.

A continuing outrage -- Who says our two political parties can't agree on anything in Washington? The other day lawmakers both Democratic and Republican noted that the Department of Veterans Affairs had been hiding details about the imminent shortfall in its budget, details that should have been shared with Congress much earlier. And that now threaten to shut down some VA hospitals as early as next month.

The chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs says he's shocked by the size of the VA's too long neglected problems. But the administrative rot at the VA scarcely shocks by now. It's become routine.

How long is the country going to tolerate this continuing scandal? Probably as long as the bureaucrats at the VA think they can get away with it. Bureaucratic inertia is one of the constants of any large organization private or public, and it's going to take a real leader to shake things up at the VA. Think of how a Kenesaw Mountain Landis -- there's a name from the past! -- shook up baseball after the Black Sox scandals in 1919, or how Ronald Reagan finally get the attention of the country's air controllers. By firing most of them after they'd walked off the job -- despite a law against such strikes.

Where is the Patton or Billy Mitchell who will take the VA in hand? And clean it out the way Hercules did the Augean stables, which was also supposed to be an impossible task. But it can be done. And lots of us look forward to the day it is. Eagerly.

Crazy -- Somebody in Ohio (Joshua Newell, 35) has pled no contest to a misdemeanor charge of criminal trespass after he jumped a fence to pet the cougars at the Columbus Zoo, and posted a video of it on YouTube. I would have acquitted him of the charge by reason of insanity.

Sad but sweet -- It's enough to make a grown man cry: Don't read that tragic news story out of Keene, N.H., less'n you've got all the fixin's to hand and ready to go. A police sergeant there reports that some 250 gallons of maple syrup leaked from a tractor-trailer onto New Hampshire Highway 101, obliging firefighters to use squeegees to clean up the sticky mess. And not a pancake in sight.

Same old runaround-- For the moment it's all a jumble, and may remain so if Hillary Milhous Clinton manages to cover her tracks as well as she usually does.

It seems some material in her personal email account shoulda, woulda, coulda have been classified information. Or maybe not. The FBI has been asked to investigate, which is said to be routine in such cloudy cases. Those first reports in the New York Times about a criminal referral to the Justice Department turned out to be as accurate as much else in the Times -- that is, not very.

A couple of inspectors general, one each for the American intelligence network and the State Department, now have "explained" that this was not a criminal referral, it was a "security referral made for counter-intelligence purposes." Got that? Call it a distinction without a difference, an old specialty in Washington.

As usual, the bureaucratic lingo does more to conceal than explain what is going on here, if anything is, than to reveal it. By now the daily "news" stories about this case sound more like rewrites piled atop rewrites instead of what the news should be: a clear narrative of even complicated events.

Ms. Clinton isn't the only one confusing this matter. By the time it's resolved, if it ever is, Americans will be so bored by all the daily details we'll probably have lost all interest. Which is how the Clintons have handled one scandal after another, and, if the past is prologue, there's every reason to believe Ms. Clinton will emerge from this one unscathed, too. After all, both Clintons have made a career of beating the rap.

You won't find the best summary of how the Clintons operate in the New York Times but in F. Scott Fitzgerald's description of Tom and Daisy Buchanan in "The Great Gatsby," my nomination for The Great American Novel. It took the author only one, perfect sentence to sum up the Clintons' modus operandi: "They were careless people, Tom and Daisy -- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made."

Dept. of Strange Coincidences -- The commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service swears his people didn't discriminate against right-wing groups seeking to obtain or retain their tax-exempt status. Or rather Commissioner John Koskinen says no evidence that his agency did so has turned up.

Really? Back in 2013, the IRS itself found that its agents had improperly singled out the Tea Party and pro-Israel groups for special (and adverse) treatment. Result: Lois Lerner, head of the IRS division in charge of granting tax-exempt status to various groups, had to resign. And was placed on administrative leave. But was still collecting her impressive salary ($177,000 a year) at last report. On condition that she stay out of the office. In this administration it pays to be at the center of a scandal.

But never mind all that. Coincidences will happen. Especially to groups an administration doesn't much like, And especially if the party in power has an enemies' list it's compiling. See the sad history of Richard M. Nixon, president and paranoid. But surely someone as distinguished as Hillary Clinton is much too well-balanced to do anything like that. After all, she's a former everything from First Lady to U. S. senator to secretary of state. And she's now an announced candidate for president of the United States.

Then again, somewhere in the dim recesses of memory, didn't Our Lady of Benghazi once complain about a "vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband." But that was (a) long ago, (b) even paranoids can have real enemies, and (c) those now in charge of the IRS can offer a whole range of unconvincing excuses (take your pick) for their decisions. As with the Department of Veterans Affairs, the more things change at the IRS, the more they seem to remain the same.

The word is out -- According to a flurry of all too believable news reports/rumors, this administration is planning to release convicted spy Jonathan Pollard as a sop to Israeli public opinion. Just as soon as he becomes eligible for parole. And let him travel to Israel. To put it in plain English, an increasingly rare commodity in Washington, "Go along with our deal to let Iran have its Bomb, however that may endanger your very existence, and we'll let you have your spy back."

But the usual unreliable sources are asking what purpose is served by holding Mr. Pollard in this country any longer. The short answer: deterrence. So long as he serves every day of his sentence and meets every condition of his parole, the message to other turncoats -- like Edward Snowden -- will be clear: Betray your oath and country, and free lifetime lodging at government expense awaits at a federal facility near you. Followed by close supervision here in the United States.

For now Mr. Snowden is basking in sunny Siberia, a man without a country who has escaped one prison only to sentence himself to the larger one known as Russia, which should serve as a deterrent itself. Let him rot there under the watchful eye of his keepers.

The moral of this story is same one a British prime minister and iron lady once shared with another American president: Now is no time to go wobbly.

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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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