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Obama faces 'mission creep' in Afghanistan

  WASHINGTON -  By keeping Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and most likely Gates' team, President-elect Barack Obama may be sliding into a situation similar to one that beleaguered President John F. Kennedy. Kennedy inherited his predecessor's military commitments to South Vietnam and the disastrous and abortive Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba.

    While Obama has tacitly signed onto the agreement between the U.S. and Iraq for three more years of occupation, Obama has specifically called for an "effective strategic partnership" with Pakistan to help fight the Taliban and terrorists in its neighbor Afghanistan.

    Referring to Afghanistan, Obama has said, "if we combine effective development, more effective military work as well as more effective diplomacy, then I think that we can stabilize the situation."

    Obama has consistently called for shifting troops from Iraq to Afghanistan, and that transfer has already begun, sending troops and resources to a country that has never been conquered by a western military force in all of history. There has never been a formal declaration of war against Afghanistan, where an additional 20,000 American troops will soon be deployed.

    The troops are being sent in response to a request from Gen. David McKiernan, American commander in Afghanistan. Among them will be soldiers from the Third Mountain Brigade, who will be sent from Fort Drum, N.Y. There has been no congressional debate over these deployments, which will last at least 18 months. 

     Bush has used the congressional Authorization for the Use of Military Force passed in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks as his justification to punish enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, the war in Afghanistan is on automatic.

   Obama will be faced with having to pay for this unannounced Afghanistan "surge" while he is trying to refrain from drawing down too quickly the 140,000 U.S. troops fighting in Iraq.

     Michael Crowley, writing in The New Republic, estimates that it could take as many as 600,000 troops to quell all the tribal tensions in Afghanistan - roughly 10 times the number of soldiers in the multi-national force there now. Even with more troops, sprawling, mountainous Afganistan may not be winnable. 

    The Greek warlord Alexander couldn't conquer it, nor could Queen Victoria's Imperial forces, nor the Soviet Union in 1979. The upcoming budget for the Defense Department is estimated at $584 billion, not counting the increased commitments for Afghanistan. Reportedly, the U.S. expeditionary forces have enough money to last them through June 2009. But Obama and the Democratic Congress will have to face the consequences of mission creep before then.

-- Douglas Turner


Your Washington Contacts

Got a problem? Got a question? Need a favor? Want to know where's the beef or who's getting the pork? Or why they voted as they did for the bailout bill?

Here is a list of your national representatives and their contact information. Local addresses and phone numbers are provided, as well as their main offices in Washington, D.C. For e-mail submissions, web site forms are preferred and are listed below under each elected official's name.


Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton

E-mail contact:

Buffalo/Western New York

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton Larkin at Exchange, 726 Exchange Street, Suite 511, Buffalo, NY 14210; Phone: (716) 854-9725; Fax: (716) 854-9731

Washington, D.C.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, United States Senate, 476 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510; Phone: (202) 224-4451; General Fax: (202) 228-0282; TTY/TDD: (202) 224-6821

Senator Charles E. Schumer

E-mail contact:


Senator Charles E. Schumer, 130 South Elmwood Avenue #660, Buffalo, NY 14202; Phone: 716-846-4111; Fax: 716-846-4113

Washington, D.C.

Senator Charles E. Schumer, 313 Hart Senate Building, Washington, DC 20510; Phone: 202-224-6542; Fax: 202-228-3027; TDD: 202-224-0420

House of Representatives

Representative Thomas Reynolds (R-Clarence) - 26th District

E-mail contact:


Rep. Thomas Reynolds, 500 Essjay Road, Suite 260, Williamsville, NY 14221; Phone: 716-634-2324; Fax: 716-631-7610

Washington,  D.C.

Rep. Thomas Reynolds, 332 Cannon House, Washington, DC 20515; Phone: 202-225-5265; Fax: 202-225-5910

Representative Brian Higgins (D-Buffalo) - 27th District

E-mail contact:

Erie County

Representative Brian Higgins, Larkin at Exchange, 726 Exchange Street, Suite 601, Buffalo, NY 14210; Phone: 716-852-3501; Fax: 716-852-3929

Chautauqua County

Representative Brian Higgins, Fenton Building, 2 East Second Street, Suite 300, Jamestown, NY 14701; Phone: 716-484-0729; Fax: 716-484-1049

Washington, D.C.

Representative Brian Higgins, 431 Cannon House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515; Phone: 202-225-3306; Fax: 202-226-0347

Representative Louise Slaughter (D-Fairport) - 28th District

E-m ail contact:


Representative Louse Slaughter, 465 Main Street, Suite 105, Buffalo, NY 14203; Phone: 716-853-5813; Fax: 716-853-6347

Niagara Falls

Representative Louse Slaughter, 1910 Pine Avenue, Niagara Falls, NY 14301; Phone: 716-282-1274; Fax: 716-282-2479

Washington, D.C.

Representative Louise Slaughter, U.S. House of Representatives, 2469 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20515; Phone: 202-225-3615; Fax: 202-225-7822

What's the rush on the $700 billion bailout?

   WASHINGTON - In March, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson warned that if the government didn't step in to save Bear Stearns in New York the old investment firm would fail and prompt a financial catastrophe spreading through the nation's banks.

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York stepped in with a 28-day bridge loan, but Bear Stearns collapsed anyway, and its remnants were absorbed by JP Morgan Chase.

In July, Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke warned President Bush that if the government didn't step in and place Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac under federal control the nation's banking system would collapse. The nicknames stand for the Federal National Mortgage Association and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, two government sponsored enterprises that guarantee about half the mortgages held in the U.S.

Weeks ago, Paulson and Bernanke warned that if the government didn't guarantee the debts of AIG, a crisis would spread through all of American business, and so the government stepped in.

Now Paulson is warning Congress if they don't act quickly to give him the power to buy up $700 billion in worthless mortgages from banks that are not failing, then a crisis or catastrophe will occur.

Bush is strongly backing everything Paulson is saying to Congress. Isn't this the same process by which Bush led the nation into the Iraq War: Acting precipitously, relying on a very narrow circle of advisers, and creating widespread fear about a sector of society that depends on confidence?

Why not wait until Congress and the public understands exactly what is being purchased, and from whom, precisely? No one has yet described a way to unroll, or dismantle the complicated financial instruments, some called consolidated debt obligations, squared, or CDO2s. Or where they are?

On Tuesday, Paulson told the Senate Banking Committee that discussions about whether reckless bankers' golden parachutes should be limited ought to be "put off for another day."

Paulson has only been treasury secretary for a little more than two years. Before that he was chairman of Goldman Sachs & Co., one of the biggest contributors to federal candidates of both political parties that employed an army of lobbyists to fight government regulation. As of last Sunday, Paulson's old firm no longer exists. It is now merged into Goldman Morgan, and planning to go into the bank holding business.

So why is Bush's man, Paulson, listened to as an authority on how to fix the economy? What are you getting out of these bailouts? What are you telling your senator, or member of the House? The Senate switchboard is 202 224 3121. For the House, call 202 225 3121.

--Douglas Turner


Rep. Rangel's troubles spill into WNY

Rangel_tax_troubles     WASHINGTON -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters this week that she "sees no reason" why Rep. Charles B. Rangel, left, D-Manhattan, should step away from his job as chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee until the air over his many issues is cleared.

     Apparently Rangel's Democratic colleagues feel the same way. They voted down a measure on Thursday to investigate Rangel while he suspended himself from the chairmanship of the panel that writes the nation's tax laws and controls trade bills and legislation dealing with Social Security and Medicare.

     Democrats Brian Higgins of Buffalo and Louise Slaughter of Fairport voted to support Rangel and Republicans Thomas M. Reynolds of Clarance John R. "Randy" Kuhl Jr. of Hammondsport backed the probe.

     Kuhl said Rangel faces a "growing list of charges, many of which he has personally admitted to, including federal tax evasion, violating state and federal election laws, and gross violations of congressional ethics rules."

     "Today," Kuhl said, "we learn that Congressman Rangel has abused the House parking garage by parking his old Mercedes-Benz for free.  The spot, valued at $290 per month, was not declared on his IRS statement, which is mandated for all Congressional members. The car, which lacks a valid registration and current tags, would have the imputed income of more than $5,000 if it has been parked in the lot since Rangel surrendered his license plate in 2004. This is his sixth scandal to come to light in only three months.”

     Kuhl is calling on his Democratic challenger, Eric Massa of Corning, to return or dispose of $65,000 in campaign gifts Massa has received from Rangel's campaign fund and Rangel's leadership political action committee. Kuhl said Massa should call off a fund-raiser in New York City on Oct. 6 that Rangel is helping to sponsor.

     The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the New York Daily News and The Buffalo News all have editorially called on Rangel to resign as chairman.

     In Alaska, Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, Democrat challenging Republican Sen. Ted Stevens, announced he is donating $10,000 in campaign money -- funds he now considers tainted because he received it from Rangel -- to charity. Stevens is being tried for failing to report $250,000 worth of favors from a contractor he helped.

     Rangel has said he has requested an investigation by the House Ethics Commitee to determine the validity of charges against him. However, because of the committee policy of confidentiality exactly what the charges are will not be known until the enquiry is completed.

     Massa's campaign manager, Justin Schall, issued a statement to The Buffalo News responding to Kuhl's charges:

     “We are pleased that Congressman Rangel has called for an investigation by the Ethics Committee to clear his name. Unlike Congressman Kuhl, who took $20,000 from Congressman Tom DeLay and then voted to kill the Congressional investigation into DeLay's relationship with lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Rep. Rangel welcomes an investigation. That's the same Tom DeLay that was indicted by a Grand Jury on charges of money laundering and the same Jack Abramoff that is now in a federal prison. To this day Congressman Kuhl has refused to return this tainted $20,000. Most folks would find that pretty hypocritical of Randy Kuhl. Here's the bottom line, Rangel called for his investigation and Kuhl voted to block an investigation into a man indicted for money laundering, a man that just happened to give Kuhl $20,000.” 
--Douglas Turner


When is an apology for slavery too late?

The House of Representatives, with a minimum of fanfare and no pomp, passed a resolution Tuesday apologizing to black Americans for the "fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow" segregation.

The resolution did not even draw a roll-call vote but squeezed through by a voice vote on what is called "the suspension calendar," a device to speed along noncontroversial legislation to which neither party objects.

It was sponsored by a white Democrat from Tennessee, Rep. Steve Cohen, who faces a primary Aug. 7 in his heavily black district against a black challenger, airline lawyer Nikki Tyler.

Slavery was abolished for part of the United States in 1863 by Abraham Lincoln's proclamation, and that was reinforced by federal laws, and remnants of slavery were dealt with by amendments to the federal Constitution through the mid-1960s.

At the time of the country's founding, slavery was found in every former colony and region, not only in the South but in New York City, where slave ships were fitted out, and in Providence and Newport, R.I., where slave pens were maintained.

The bill was sponsored by 42 members of the Congressional Black Caucus, but only handful of the members have endorsed Cohen's reelection. The Senate has yet to act on a similar proposal by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.

In Chicago on Tuesday, Sen. Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic candidate for president, stopped short of endorsing an official apology to American Indians, but urged the nation to acknowledge its treatment of certain racial groups.

Speaking to a convention of minority journalism associations, Obama said, "there's no doubt that when it comes to our treatment of Native Americans as well as other persons of color in this country, we've got some very sad and difficult things to account for.

"I personally would want to see our tragic history, or the tragic elements of our history acknowledged," Obama said. "I consistently believe that when it comes to whether it's Native Americans or African American issues or reparations, the most important thing for the U.S. government to do is not just offer words, but deeds."

--- Douglas Turner

To drill, or not to drill

The House Republican whip, Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, told reporters this week that ever since the GOP, led by President Bush, raised the issue of drilling for oil and gas on America's ocean shelf, "people are listening" to Republicans  for the first time in years.

However, the Democratic congressional leaders are not among those who are listening. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has ruled that there won't even be a floor debate on the issue of offshore drilling before Congress begins its month-long August recess at the end of next week.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., forbade offshore exploration amendments to legislation limiting the influence of commodity futures speculators on the prices of oil and gas. On Wednesday, Sen. Robert C. Byrd., D-W.Va., pulled an appropriations bill from consideration to prevent Republicans from amending it to permit offshore drilling.

With gasoline prices hovering over $4 a gallon, a majority of voters polled think that loosening restrictions on drilling might help relieve pump pain over the long run. Other polls indicate many voters think that oil companies, and not average Americans, would get the economic benefit from more exploration.

President Bush lifted the executive ban on drilling in many coastal areas. However, Congress has renewed the ban every year. The current prohibition expires Sept. 30.

The probable Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, sides with President Bush on allowing more coastal exploration, but McCain does not support tapping oil and gas reserves believed to be under the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. Some believe this will help McCain in the presidential race.

McCain's Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, agrees with Pelosi, Reid and Byrd.

What do you think Congress should do?

--- Douglas Turner

Rep. Slaughter: Censorship or Fairness?

         WASHINGTON - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told political journalists on Wednesday that Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-Fairport, was one of the political powers in the House that wants to restore the so-called "Fairness Doctrine" to broadcast news and discussion.

     Slaughter, the chair of the powerful House Rules Committee, has been active in the attempt to revive the doctrine "for a while now," Pelosi told reporters at a breakfast.

     Republicans view attempts to pass a law embodying this doctrine as an attempt to silence, censor, conservative commentators like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, to name a few. Pelosi said there is growing interest among her Democratic majority to pass such a law.

     A product of the New Deal, the Fairness Doctrine required broadcasters to faithfully report both sides of all important issues, or risk fines, and possible loss of license. To stay out of trouble, most just stations stayed close to the middle.

     The Federal Communications Commission, which issues and monitors all radio and TV licensees, declared the rule unconstitutional in 1987, and President Reagan, who named the FCC commissioners, vetoed a Democratic bill to restore the rule.

     Pushed by Limbaugh & Co., Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., got a bill through the Democratic-controlled House that would prohibit reestablishment of the rule. It died in the Senate. Pence, a former broadcaster, moved to pass a one-year moratorium on revival of the doctrine. Blocked by Speaker Pelosi, Pence then filed what is called a motion to discharge that would force a floor vote on the moratorium.

     It needs 218 signatures, but so far only 196 have signed. The number includes Reps. Thomas M. Reynolds, R-Clarence, and John R. "Randy" Kuhl Jr, R-Hammondsport. But unlike the bill that Pence got approved last year, the discharge petition has no Democratic support. Pence charged Thursday that Pelosi is personally blocking the legislation. Pelosi said Wednesday there would be no floor vote on Pence's moratorium.

     One leading Democrat who is not supporting the fairness doctrine is Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, the probable Democratic presidential nominee. He calls the dispute "a distraction."

     Slaughter had no immediate comment on Pelosi's remarks about her, but in a 2004 interview on PBS with Bill Moyers, Slaughter said that in the 1980s even then Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., and Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., supported the fairness doctrine. (Helms is 86 and living in North Carolina.  My original post mistakenly referred to him as deceased.) 

     Slaughter told Moyers "when we tried to reinstate [the fairness doctrine] again in '93, one of the reasons we couldn't was that Rush Limbaugh had organized this massive uprising against it, calling it "The Hush Rush Law." Which again said that while Rush can speak and anybody that he wants to can speak on those stations, the rest of us can't. But he aroused his listeners so that they contacted their members of Congress and killed the bill, and that's not the first time we've seen that."

     In the wake of Pelosi's comments , Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, who opposes the fairness doctrine, said its revival would be "nothing less than a sweeping takeover by Washington bureaucrats of broadcast media, and it is designed to squelch conservative speech on the airwaves."

     President Bush has threatened to veto the bill, and even it passed the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., is unlikely to uphold such a law that brushes up against the free speech amendment to the Constitution.

     But it is strong ideological meat for the presidential and House and Senate elections. What do you think of the fairness doctrine? Is it fair or is it censorship?

---Douglas Turner    

The end of the Reynolds era

Reynolds_for_web_2  The end of a political era comes today when Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, R-Clarence, announces his retirement from Congress.

   Since his emergence on the political scene as a Concord councilman in the early 1970s, through his stints in the County Legislature, as Erie County Republican chairman, as minority leader of the Assembly, and finally as a 10-year member of Congress, Reynolds stood at the center of local, state and national politics.

   Now the changing of the guard begins, and as in all political transitions, the focus on his successor sharpens. The Democrats are already offering Akron industrialist Jack Davis, Iraq War veteran Jonathan Powers and Amherst attorney Alice J. Kryzan -- with possibly more now that Reynolds is leaving the scene.

   The Republican name most heard is State Sen. George Maziarz of Newfane, a major GOP figure in Albany. But Assemblyman James Hayes of Amherst could also emerge, and is known to have expressed interest.

   The Reynolds departure was anticipated by some after two hard-fought elections against Davis. Nevertheless, it is a blockbuster political development with reverberations not only in his suburban Buffalo and Rochester district, but in Albany and Washington as well.

--  Robert J. McCarthy

Does upstate need more free trade?

In the decade ending 2006, New York State lost 28.7 percent of its manufacturing jobs, according to the Albany-based Public Policy Institute. For upstate, this meant the loss of more than 50,000 jobs.

Both Democrats, notably President Bill Clinton, and Republicans under President George W. Bush, have pushed hard for liberalized trade. The most important free trade action taken by Congress was normalization of trade with Communist China, under Clinton.

The libertarian CATO Institute in Washington issued a report Oct. 25 claiming free trade has been an engine of growth and prosperity for America. It did not break down data for New York State.

The Institute noted  that "critics claim that the average real wage has declined since the 1970s, but this study shows that the average real wage is a flawed measure."

A more accurate measure of earnings, the institute claimed, is “real hourly compensation, which takes into account not only wages but benefits. In the decade since 1997, as the U.S. economy has become more globalized, real compensation per hour for American workers has risen by 22 percent, CATO said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is reportedly setting a vote for passage of free trade with Peru next month. She is also working with the White House on passage of agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. Democrats, some of whom are as likely to be influenced by corporate lobbyists as Republicans, are trying to inoculate themselves from progressives and labor by claiming they are adding environmental and labor clauses to the pacts.

But it is widely agreed it is impossible for the U.S. to enforce another nation's labor and environmental codes. Driving free trade bills is the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Charles  Rangel, D-Manhattan. He hopes Congress will pass more trade assistance income support for those whose jobs are outsourced.

Trade assistance was passed each time a new round up free trade laws were enacted, but this never stopped the outflow of jobs and families from Upstate.

Should upstate House members be saying more about this?

-- Douglas Turner

Backing Bush on S-CHIP veto

Two Western New York House members, Thomas M. Reynolds, R-Clarence, and John R. "Randy" Kuhl Jr., R-Hammondsport, are signaling that they will vote to uphold President Bush's veto of the State-Children's Health Insurance Program.

Kuhl said the Democrats are using the legislation to advance "socialized health care." In an op-ed piece in Monday's Buffalo News, Reynolds called for renewed negotiations to amend the bill to explicitly outlaw illegal immigrants from benefiting from the program.

The override attempt ordered by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is scheduled for Oct. 18.

Observers believe Democrats need about 15 Republicans to change their vote and support the legislation in order to override the veto; but the chances of that happening are shrinking and the legislation may be little more than a campaign issue next year.

Meanwhile, Families USA, a non-partisan health care advocacy group, said the existing law explicitly forbids the government from providing benefits to undocumented immigrants. And this prohibition is continued in the expanded program.

---Douglas Turner

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About Politics Now

Robert J. McCarthy

Robert J. McCarthy

A native of Schenectady, Robert J. McCarthy came to The Buffalo News in 1982 following a six-year stint at the Olean Times Herald. He is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University, and has been covering local, state and national politics since 1992.

Tom Precious

Tom Precious

Tom Precious joined The Buffalo News in 1997 as bureau chief at the state Capitol, where he covers everything from statewide politics and state government fiscal affairs to health care, environmental and municipal government matters. Prior to The News, he worked for news outlets in Albany and Washington, DC.

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri is an Amherst native and has covered politics and government in upstate New York since 2003. She joined The Buffalo News in 2012 and covers City Hall.

@jillterreri |

Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski, The Buffalo News Washington bureau chief, has reported from the nation's capital since 1989 after joining The News as a business reporter in 1984. A graduate of Syracuse University, Zremski is a former Nieman fellow in journalism at Harvard University. In 2007, he served as president of the National Press Club.

@JerryZremski |