Sunday, October 30, 2016

FBI Director James Comey Channels His Inner J. Edgar Hoover

FBI Chief James Comey, possibly napping
Those who defend FBI Director James Comey’s decision to notify Congress that his bureau is investigating newly discovered emails related to Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while at the State Department insist that he is simply doing his job. They say Comey's just doing what he's required to do.

Actually, the very opposite is true. Releasing a breathless statement to Congress just days before a presidential election about emails linked to one of the candidates that he admits may or may not even be new or significant evidence in a closed case is a violation of ethics, decency and law.

I've been highly critical of Clinton on several fronts, from her untenable downplaying of the deep-seated problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs to some of her shady benefactors at the Clinton Foundation. 

But she was spot-on this week when she said that it's "pretty strange to put something like that out with such little information right before an election. In fact, it’s not just strange. It’s unprecedented, and it’s deeply troubling.”

Comey admitted this week that he doesn't even know what he has here. Maybe nothing at all. He said the bureau is simply reviewing this to see if there is anything worth pursuing. Good. Fine. That is his job.

But it's unconscionable for him to notify Congress less than two weeks before a presidential election about this "new" information, with no specific charges or even a clue whether there is anything to this.

It's an egregious violation of the Hatch Act, which was passed almost 80 years ago to prohibit civilian federal government employees of the executive branch from engaging in certain political activities, such as influencing elections.

Comey, who up until recently, at least, was a registered Republican, knew full well when he notified Congress that it would become an A-1 story in a heartbeat and that it would indeed influence the election. 

He also knew that many of Clinton's detractors would make immediate hay, even though to date there's no fire amid all the smoke.

This was a cynical, foolish and I believe very personal move by Comey, who's been described as self-righteous, and worse. He said recently on the record that he has gotten a lot of negative comments for exonerating Clinton. 

His apparent response to all the criticisms for his decision not to prosecute Clinton? Calling this really unfortunate, J. Edgar Hooveresque audible, which he and the country will regret for a very long time.

Hillary’s Opponents Are Having A Field Day

Naturally, Donald Trump is thanking his lucky stars for Comey's missive. Trump is of course mischaracterizing it as a bumper crop of new evidence. This just isn't the case. In fact we won't know for many weeks whether there is any "there" there.

The point is, what Comey has done is unheard of in American politics.

I’ve already stated my feelings about the emails "scandal." It’s much ado about very little. I just can’t get too worked up over it. It ain’t Watergate. It’s not disqualifying for the presidency, unlike the 25 or 30 things that disqualify her opponent.

The outrage many are expressing over the emails debacle is predictably selective. Where's the outcry over the fact that the George W. Bush administration deleted 22 million emails from private email servers? 

Several Bush staffers, including Karl Rove, reportedly used private email servers. As Newsweek recently noted, many of these deleted emails were written during the time when Bush and his staff were telling lies about weapons of mass destruction to get the public to support the Iraq War, which of course turned out to be the biggest mistake this nation has made since Vietnam. This is far more troubling than anything we have learned about Clinton and her emails.

Those Bush-era emails on private servers were also deleted during a time when multiple US attorneys were fired simply because they were not doing what Rove wanted them to do.

While many but not all of those 22 million emails were found, they’ve still not been made public. Neither President Obama nor any federal law enforcement officials have pushed to see them. I sure would like to see them, though, don’t you? 

As for punishing folks for stupidity, I don't think either Clinton or anyone at the Pentagon or elsewhere should be jailed for years for honest mistakes regarding the handling of classified material. 

Yes, laws prohibiting folks from disclosing classified documents are of course there for a reason. There should be care when handling them and punishment for mishandling them. But it's all about the intent. Stupidity and duplicity are two very, very different things.

Some Agreement On Both Sides Of The Aisle

Good folks in both political camps agree that Comey’s actions this past week are unethical at best. 

Larry Thompson, a deputy attorney general under Bush, and Jamie Gorelick, a deputy attorney general under Bill Clinton, said in a joint statement that the Department of Justice for many, many years has limited disclosure of ongoing investigations, especially in a way that might be seen as influencing an election.

Thompson and Gorelick noted that, decades ago, the DOJ decided that in the 60-day period before an election, "the balance should be struck against even returning indictments involving individuals running for office, as well as against the disclosure of any investigative steps."

The obvious reasoning, they said, was that "however important it might be for Justice to do its job, and however important it might be for the public to know what Justice knows, because such allegations could not be adjudicated, such actions or disclosures risked undermining the political process."

They added that Justice allows neither for "self-aggrandizing crusaders on high horses nor for passive bureaucrats wielding rubber stamps from the shadows. It demands both humility and responsibility. As former deputy attorneys general in the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, we are troubled by the apparent departure from these standards in the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email server."

They concluded that Comey "put himself enthusiastically forward as the arbiter of not only whether to prosecute a criminal case — which is not the job of the FBI — but also best practices in the handling of email and other matters. Now, he has chosen personally to restrike the balance between transparency and fairness, departing from the department’s traditions. As former deputy attorney general George Terwilliger aptly put it, 'There’s a difference between being independent and flying solo.'"

CNN legal analyst Paul Callan also weighed in this weekend, calling for Comey to resign. 

"The FBI virtually never announces the commencement or termination of ongoing criminal investigations or the discovery of new evidence," he wrote. "Such inquiries are often conducted in relative secrecy, enabling a more efficient investigation."

Callan added,"Trashing the Justice and FBI rule books in the interest of 'openness' is likely to put the FBI front and center in one of the most contentious presidential races in recent US history. J. Edgar Hoover loved to influence elections, but he had the good sense to keep quiet about it."

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Kennedy Center Dishonors: Where Are The Rest Of The Eagles?

Bernie Leadon, Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Randy Meisner. Don Felder
The Kennedy Center Honors, which considers itself the arbiter of who is and who is not worthy of a lifetime artist achievement award, recently announced its 2016 honorees. They include actor Al Pacino, pianist Martha Agerich, singer-songwriter James Taylor, rhythm and blues singer Mavis Staples, and the Eagles, one of America's most popular bands.

The three current members of the Eagles - Don Henley, Timothy B. Schmit and Joe Walsh - along with Glenn Frey, who died earlier this year, will be honored December 4. President Obama is scheduled to attend the ceremony and will also receive the honorees at the White House. And as always the event will be nationally televised on CBS on Dec. 27.

But Eagles co-founding members Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon and longtime Eagles member Don Felder, all three of whom had an enormous hand in developing the band's sound and legend, were not invited. 

This despite the fact that all three of these men were rightly inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as Eagles.

A petition to add Meisner, Leadon and Felder was initiated by Eagles fan Brandon Butler on more than a year ago. It was submitted recently to the Kennedy Center Honors with more than 12,000 signatures. But the final decision by KCH regarding keeping Meisner, Leadon and Felder out in the cold has been made. 

This is what was shared with the petitioner in an email forwarded to The Reno Dispatch:

From - Deborah Rutter, President of the Kennedy Center Honors:   "The KC [Kennedy Center] consulted with the Eagles and through that discussion it was determined that the four band members who 'carried the torch' Don Henley, the late Glenn Frey, Timothy Schmit & Joe Walsh - will be awarded the Honors. We appreciate that there will be some debate about who constitutes the Eagles. This determination does not discredit the contributions of former band members."

Yes, folks, the Kennedy Center "consulted" with the current members before making its decision. In other words, the Kennedy Center didn't make its own determination, it was guided by the existing members of the band. How preposterous is that? In the bio of the band on the Kennedy Center website, Meisner, Leadon and Felder are not even mentioned. Are you kidding me? 

Since the Kennedy Center announcement was made that the Eagles would be honored, hundreds of Eagles fans have emailed and called me expressing anger and frustration with the executive committee of the Kennedy Center’s Board of Trustees, who in God-like fashion ultimately decide who is honored each year.

The Eagles actually were to be honored last year but postponed the appearance after Frey was forced to miss the ceremony due to health issues. Sadly, Frey later died.

The announcement of the Kennedy Center's final decision has stirred the pot again, and many longtime Eagles fans are saying it's simply inexcusable and unethical for the Kennedy Center Honors to make this arbitrary decision to keep three three hugely important pieces of the Eagles puzzle off the board.

Bill Aliff, 49, from Jacksonville, Fl, told me it would be a "travesty" if these men were not included in the ceremony. "Meisner and Leadon are founding members," he said. "I understand the adversity and lawsuits due to decisions concerning business, but the most important aspect of all this is the music."

Aliff said he and the other "passionate fans" from one of Meisner's fan pages on Facebook did everything they could to "make their inclusion a reality."

Lisa Hamilton, an IT executive and longtime Eagles fan, said that not including these guys "is just an injustice to them. It is outrageous. Longtime fans of the band don't understand how you can possibly honor the contribution the Eagles have made to American music and leave these three guys out. This is just wrong."

So just who is KCH disrespecting? 

Randy Meisner:  Singer-bassist-songwriter Meisner was in Poco and Rick Nelson's Stone Canyon Band before founding the Eagles with Henley, Frey and Leadon in 1971. Randy appeared on every Eagles album until leaving after Hotel California was released in 1977. Meisner was a huge part of the Eagles' harmonies and sang and co-wrote such hits as "Take it to the Limit" and perhaps the band's most underrated gem, "Try and Love Again." Full disclosure: Meisner sang backup and harmony vocals on a few of my songs about a decade ago and is one of the kindest people I've met in the music business.

Bernie Leadon:  Hugely talented if rather reclusive multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Leadon, who has virtually no online presence, is also a founding member of the Eagles along with Henley, Frey and Meisner. It was Leadon who  gave the band its country sound. This omission makes even less sense because it appeared as if Bernie had made peace with the existing members. He actually appeared with the band on recent tours.

Don Felder:  Lead guitarist and songwriter Felder, a gifted musician and writer who joined the band to give them more rock and roll cred', co-wrote the band's staple classic, "Hotel California" and is, too, a huge part of the band's legacy. But Felder's bitter feuds with Frey and, to an only slightly lesser degree, Henley, are part of rock and roll lore. Clearly, Henley and Eagles manager Irving Azoff told the Kennedy Center Honors not to include Felder.

Meisner, Leadon and Felder absolutely deserve to be part of this increasingly dubious Kennedy Center Honors gala. There is no real and comprehensive salute to the Eagles without including two of the band's four founding members and a guitarist who contributed so much to the band's sound.  

As for Schmit, who is a fine singer and bass player and seems like a nice enough guy, how do you include him and not Meisner? Schmit played on just one album during the band's heyday in the 1970s. 

I urge everyone who reads this story to contact the Kennedy Center at its toll-free number 800-444-1324 and voice your displeasure with this absurd decision to keep these seminal artists out of the proceedings. These three musicians were good enough to be inducted, as Eagles, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but not the Kennedy Center Honors, whose arbiters aren't even musicians? Um, really?

The Reno Dispatch Wins Six San Diego Press Club Awards

With all the very talented writers and reporters residing here in San Diego County, it was a sincere honor to have won eight awards, including four First Place awards, at Tuesday's San Diego Press Club 43rd Annual Excellence in Journalism Awards.

It was an especially good night for the national news blog you're currently reading. The Reno Dispatch captured six awards, including First Place for our feature on Arthur Lincoln Winters, a World War II hero who fought the Germans, then the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for 70 years to get the disability benefits he earned.

We also took First Place for our take on the problematic relationship between the United States and the Saudi government, and for our glowing review of Coronado's Il Forniao restaurant. This brings the grand total of journalism awards for this little news blog to 26 in the four years we've been up and running.

I'm also proud to have won First Place for my exclusive Yahoo News profile of Paula Pedene, the original whistleblower at the Phoenix Department of Veterans Affairs. Pedene broke her long silence to talk to us about her frustrations with the embattled Phoenix VA, which manipulated wait times for veterans seeking care. As a tragic and inexcusable result, many of these veterans died waiting to see a doctor.

I also won recognition for my Healthline story on the presidential primaries that took an in-depth look at where each of the candidates stood on veterans' health issues.

Other stories that won awards on Tuesday include my preview of Beach Boys genius Brian Wilson's performance of the classic "Pet Sounds" album; my rant against manipulative and wildly insincere pop sensation Taylor Swift; and my happy recollection of the San Diego Chargers' epic upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship game.

Thanks to everyone who reads and supports our work.

October 25, 2016

First Place:

Daily newspapers and websites - Military
By Jamie Reno
The Reno Dispatch

Daily newspapers and websites - Column
By Jamie Reno
The Reno Dispatch

Daily newspapers and websites - Profile
By Jamie Reno
Yahoo News

Daily newspapers and websites - Restaurant Reviews
By Jamie Reno
The Reno Dispatch

Second Place:

Daily newspapers and websites - Essay/Commentary/Opinion
By Jamie Reno
The Reno Dispatch

Daily newspapers and websites - Sports
By Jamie Reno
The Reno Dispatch

Third Place

Daily newspapers and websites - Election Coverage
By Jamie Reno

Daily newspapers and websites - Arts & Entertainment Reporting
By Jamie Reno
The Reno Dispatch

For a complete list of the winners, please click here