AMEN

Dan Nachbar: “I have my gripes with Mayor Bloomberg, but one must give him credit for his clear-eyed and courageous stand on the so-called ‘ground-zero mosque’ question. One paragraph of his speech this week caught my eye:

The attack was an act of war, and our first responders defended not only our city, but our country and our constitution. We do not honor their lives by denying the very constitutional rights they died protecting. We honor their lives by defending those rights and the freedoms that the terrorists attacked.

☞ Well said, Mike.

WITH LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL

Five years ago, the California legislature passed same-sex marriage but Governor Schwarzenneger vetoed it. Yesterday, a U.S. District Court ruled the ban unconstitutional – and Governor Schwarzenegger issued this laudable statement:

For the hundreds of thousands of Californians in gay and lesbian households who are managing their day-to-day lives, this decision affirms the full legal protections and safeguards I believe everyone deserves. At the same time, it provides an opportunity for all Californians to consider our history of leading the way to the future, and our growing reputation of treating all people and their relationships with equal respect and dignity.

Today’s decision is by no means California’s first milestone, nor our last, on America’s road to equality and freedom for all people.

☞ Well said, Ahhhnold.

NBIX

Guru expects positive data this month or next on a depression trial. If the data are good, he sees the stock at $8 (and higher down the road); if not good, at $4. I prefer $8, but sold a chunk in my non-taxable account yesterday at $6.45, up from $2.60, on the theory that you can’t go broke taking 148% five-month tax-deferred profits. I’m holding most of it for the longer term (even if this set of data don’t pan out and it does go to $4).

ASSUMING THE BEST OF EACH OTHER

We are so quick to assume the worst. Not that it isn’t sometimes justified ($90,000 in a freezer?). And not that I am myself guiltless in this. But I try hard to avoid it because, in my experience, assuming the best of each other often proves to be a pretty good assumption.

One example, just because it’s top of mind, before I get to the main event.

A very bright guy – who assumes the worst of anyone and anything not right-wing – sent his list a scathing email about the financial reform bill that had just passed. The bill, he assured us without qualification, was a nightmare, not least because neither he “nor anyone else,” he said, had read the 2,300-page monstrosity or knew what was in it. Based on his not knowing what was in it, he was certain it was terrible. When I challenged him, he wrote back that House Financial Services Chair Barney Frank had taken $7 million in sweetheart loans from Countrywide Financial in return for enabling the lax mortgage regulation that all but brought down the financial system. I pointed out that Barney was in the minority at the time – it was the “regulation is bad” Republicans and Bush who ran the show – and asked him to supply a source for the $7 million allegation. He said he had “read it” and I should Google it. I said he should Google it, because it was an incredibly serious allegation – about a friend of mine – and I was calling him on it. He couldn’t find the source and suggested we “agree to disagree.” Bull—-, I replied, noting that he of all people, an Orthodox Jew, should remember that “bearing false witness” was one of the Top Ten things we’re not supposed to do. (For the record: Barney has never taken a Countrywide mortgage. He currently rents. The property he most recently owned cost $170,000. And the 2,300 pages of legislation are, in the main, very positive for investors, consumers, and the stability of the financial system as a whole.)

And now!

I am no insider in the Charlie Rangel camp, and don’t propose to say that in 80 years he has never made a mistake. But doesn’t this, from the New York Sun, give you pause? It did me:

Railroading Rangel
Editorial of the New York Sun
August 1, 2010

A wise labor lawyer, Judith Vladeck, once offered us her explanation of why honest labor leaders rarely step down from their jobs voluntarily. In contradistinction to the captains of industry and finance, she said, they rarely have vast estates to which to retire. They depend on their offices to carry them into old age.

Mrs. Vladeck is gone, alas, but we’ve been thinking of her words during the railroading of an honest stalwart of the left, Congressman Charles Rangel. He is set to go on trial at the age of 80, in the closing years of a long career of service that began in the frozen ditches and darkest days of fight for a free Korea. The charges center on his use of congressional letterhead to try to raise private, voluntary contributions for a public college.

On its face, the alleged infraction strikes us as not only petty but also illogical. No one carped when Mr. Rangel used earmarks to steer something like $1.9 million in taxpayer funding to the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Affairs at City College. But his use of congressional stationary to approach people like David Rockefeller and ask them to contribute to City College to educate minority students in public service is somehow taken as scandalous.

The statement of alleged violations issued by a House investigative subcommittee reckons the charitable contributions to the Rangel Center “constituted indirect gifts” that were “attributable” to Mr. Rangel. He, incidentally, is described as “respondent,” though, since he himself requested the investigation, the “respondent” could just as easily be the Ethics Committee.

The reason these contributions are “gifts” and “attributable” to Mr. Rangel seems to be that he would have an office in the Rangel Center and the center would allow him to store and archive his papers and “to perpetuate his legacy.” But the papers themselves would no longer be Mr. Rangel’s, because he is giving them to a university that is owned by the public. The logical move is to send Mr. Rangel not a subpoena but a thank you note.

One of the contributors to the Rangel Center, Eugene Isenberg, chairs a company, Nabors Industries, that had an interest in a matter before Ways and Means. It got decided in a way that benefited Nabors. No quid pro quo is in evidence, or even, so far as we can tell, alleged. The Isenberg check was a gift to Mr. Rangel only by the logic of the Ethics Committee.

What really happened is that Messrs Rangel, by his papers and name and time, and Isenberg, by his $100,000 check, each gave to the same charity, a center to help uplift minority students to careers in public service. The approach to Mr. Isenberg, moreover, was made not by Mr. Rangel, though the two talked on September 19, 2006, in the presence of the president of City College, Gregory Williams. The meeting had been arranged by a paragon of political probity, Robert Morgenthau, the district attorney of New York County, whose grandfather had gone to City College.

The commitment by Mr. Isenberg to make a contribution to the Rangel Center was made in a meeting between Mr. Isenberg and Mr. Williams, at which Mr. Rangel was not even present. The meeting took place on November 9, 2006, before Mr. Rangel acceded to the chairmanship of Ways and Means, and at a time when Nabors had no matters pending before the committee.

It turns out that when Mr. Morgenthau was United States attorney for the Southern District, he gave Mr. Rangel his start. And over the years Mr. Morgenthau made, separately, the acquaintance of Mr. Isenberg and learned of his interest in minority education. For that reason he sought to bring him together with the Rangel Center. Mr. Morgenthau has been defending Mr. Rangel throughout this drama.

Illogic also infects the controversy over the alleged abuses of the rent-controlled apartment that Mr. Rangel’s political committee used as an office. Mr. Rangel’s defense filing pointed out that it was an un-renovated, vacant space in a building in which there was a 20% vacancy rate. It was allegedly rented in Mr. Rangel’s name, but the landlord accepted its use by a political committee.

The Ethics Committee seems to reckon this added up to a benefit to Mr. Rangel. But how so? It might be a benefit to his political committee, but not even that is clear. There’s a lot of office space in Manhattan. The benefit, if there is one, seems to be that Mr. Rangel’s political committee is conveniently located near his modest residence. Call out the National Guard, we say.

The squabble over Mr. Rangel’s errors on his tax return strikes us as indicating nothing so much as the need for tax reform. Mr. Rangel’s tax error was not nearly as serious, in our view, as, say, Secretary Geithner’s. But if the chairman of Ways and Means can’t figure out his taxes, how can the rest of us long-suffering Americans?

Here the Ethics Committee could order Mr. Rangel to have lunch with Steve Forbes, who is the leading advocate of a flat tax that would be easy to understand and hard to dodge. Mr. Rangel, as Ira Stoll pointed out over the weekend in a defense of Mr. Rangel at futureofcapitalism.com, has shown a certain a savvy in respect of capital gains.

Mr. Rangel doesn’t deserve the bum’s rush he is getting from President Obama. Let the president remember his haste in respect of Shirley Sherrod. When Mr. Rangel was 20, he was lying in a ditch in Korea, while the corpses of many of his fellow GIs lay nearby, either slain in combat or frozen to death. Private Rangel rallied his comrades and led 40 of them out from behind enemy lines. Instantly recognized as a hero, he was decorated for valor.

We are not indifferent to serious ethical questions when they crop up. But it happens that we have spent a long career arguing against the use of small bore ethics attacks like those being used against Mr. Rangel. Instead we’ve long favored substantive debate on policy. If Mr. Rangel goes to trial, let us hope it will be an open and public proceeding, so that the American people can hear all the testimony and the measure of Mr. Rangel can be taken in full.

Mr. Rangel, Mr. Morgenthau told us the other day, never knew father. His mother abandoned him when he was two weeks old. He was brought up by his grandfather, who was elevator operator in the office of the district attorney, Frank Hogan. He went into the Army, got himself decorated, came back, went to St. John’s Law School, got on the law review, and came to work for the U.S. attorney.

“It’s a pretty amazing career,” Mr. Morgenthau said. He says he sees nothing to suggest that Mr. Rangel took any money at all. In Mr. Morgenthau’s vast prosecutorial judgment, any mistakes, if there are any, are anomalous in a career that is long and distinguished. “I can’t think of a better person to name a school for public service for than Charlie Rangel.”

Finally, there is that rarely mentioned party to all this, Mr. Rangel’s constituents in Harlem, who have returned him to office for so many terms, including after these matters surfaced. They are in no rush to see him leave, and neither are we. Neither do we see any scandal in him landing, whenever it is that he does retire, in an office at the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at City College. We suspect Judith Vladeck would have understood, and his students will be lucky to be able to study at the feet of a political master.

Tomorrow: Matt Miller’s Great Idea

 

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