Obama surprises many with Cabinet picks

November 26, 2008

Well, much to the surprise of Obama’s critics, he hasn’t so far picked any Muslims or terrorists to join his Cabinet.

In fact, according to Associated Press, he’s “assembled a national security brain trust populated by graybeard establishment figures with decades of combined experience and even a few medals. ”

Consider he’s keeping Robert Gates, the very man running the Iraq and Afghan wars for the current Republican president, as his Secretary of Defense.  According to Associated Press, Obama suggested that a critical era at home and abroad required strong Washington hands, but overseen by a chief executive pressing for change. “What we are going to do is combine experience with fresh thinking. But I understand where the vision for change comes from first, and foremost; it comes from me. That’s my job, is to provide a vision in terms of where we are going and to make sure then that my team is implementing.”

“The old ways of thinking and the old ways of acting just won’t do,” Obama said.

Also consider that or the critical inside job of national security adviser, Obama wants retired Marine Gen. James Jones, a respectful critic of some Bush administration war strategy, especially in Afghanistan, and his priorities and world view seem in line with Obama’s. But he’s no lefty. The former NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe was named last year to head an energy initiative for the Republican-friendly Chamber of Commerce, and he also served as a special Mideast peace adviser for the Bush administration.

Consider also his selection of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. No matter what you think of Hillary personally, you have to agree she’s a respected foreign policy wonk who will lend instant credibility to the Obama presidency throughout the world.

Gates and Jones are both career public servants without a strong ideological stamp. Clinton, 61, may carry ideological baggage, but she also brings a record of bipartisan cooperation in the Senate and tested Midwestern stick-to-it-iveness.

According to the Associate Press, Gates was a member of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group and is widely respected by Democrats in Congress, but he retains strong Republican lineage. The 65-year-old climbed the CIA bureaucracy from an entry-level position to become director under President George H.W. Bush. He also served on his National Security Council, as he had for Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.

Gates helped lead U.S. efforts to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan in the 1980s while at the CIA and was deputy national security adviser during Operation Desert Storm, the first U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Gates is a close friend of the Bush family. He was interim dean of the George Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M and became the university’s president in 2002. The school is home to the elder Bush’s presidential library.

Gates supported the Iraq war and the military buildup there, although he has also endorsed new efforts to draw down forces in Iraq and beef up troop numbers in Afghanistan _ a strategy also voiced by Obama.

Gates has won praise from Democrats for his willingness to work with all sides on Capitol Hill and his moves to swiftly can Pentagon leaders who he believed were not performing. During his brief tenure he has fired the Army and Air Force secretaries as well as the Air Force chief of staff.

Let’s see what the Obama critics have to say about these appointments. I’m sure they’ll be quick to point out how Jones, Gates and Clinton are all Muslim terrorists just like Obama.


Race issue debunked in McCain win here

November 24, 2008

When I saw the county-by-county PA election map on one of the local news stations here, I wasn’t surprised or shocked at all. There it was-Fayette blood red, thus showing me once again that many of the voters there allowed racism and prejudice to cloud their judgement. I thought that Fayette was still Democrat- tried and true, but when a black man is the Democratic candidate, the masses there shy away at the polls. Almost makes me ashamed to tell the folks over here that I’m from “good ole boy” Fayette County. Oh well! Guess Rep Murtha was right!”
Philadephia, Pa.

This comment was one of many similar postings on our Web site about the recent results of the presidential election in Fayette County where Republican John McCain defeated his Democratic Party counterpart Barack Obama by a margin of 215 votes, 26,081 to 25,866.
It all sounds somewhat true, especially since this was the first time a Republican presidential candidate won Fayette County since Richard Nixon beat George McGovern here back in 1972.
But consider this. Four years ago, George W. Bush took 46 percent of the vote here in losing to John Kerry by a margin of 27,321 to 23,403. It was the best showing by a Republican here since Nixon and probably paved the way for McCain’s victory earlier this month.
But more importantly no one mentioned race at all in the aftermath of Bush’s impressive vote tallies. So, why is anyone talking about it now? Clearly, there was much more than race involved in this election.
There was talk back in 2004 that Fayette County was becoming more conservative and Republican as issues concerning guns and abortions were coming to the forefront. Certainly with all the hunters and Catholics here, there was cause for concern among Democratic Party officials that the Republican Party could use those issues to sway local voters to their side.
With McCain, a strong proponent of both gun rights and the pro-life movement, at the head of the ticket was it really that big of a surprise that he won Fayette County? Consider also that McCain, a war hero and an established politician on the national scene for over 20 years, was running against Obama, a relatively unknown candidate to most local residents.
So, to say that people only voted for McCain because of race is a slap in the face to the overwhelming majority of those who backed the GOP candidate. It’s also an insult to Dee John, the new chairwoman of the Fayette County Republican Party, who worked hard to get out the vote for McCain.
Ironically, I think that John Murtha had the best take of anyone on the presidential election in Fayette County. Appearing before our editorial board, Murtha never mentioned racists or rednecks as he did to other media outlets. Hard to say what he was thinking when he made his comments to them, but when we asked Murtha about how Obama would do here, he said about 5 percent of the people in Fayette County would probably never vote for a black president. But overall, he said Obama would do well and would probably win Fayette County.
While, Murtha was wrong on that count, it does seem probable that he was right about the 5 percent of people who wouldn’t vote for a black president, considering that was approximately the difference between Bush and McCain’s vote totals.
I also think of two other factors. Watching MSNBC on election night, commentator Chris Matthews talked about Obama’s change theme and how it probably had little appeal to voters in Pennsylvania, especially those in the southwest.
He noted that people in this area of the state have seen a lot of changes over the years but not many of them have been good. He pointed out that many young people have to go elsewhere for good jobs, breaking up strong families, which were once the lifeblood of the area.
No matter what you think of Matthews, you have to agree he had a point.
I also sensed that even among those Democrats who voted for Obama, most did so more out a sense of loyalty to the Democratic Party rather than any passion for his cause. But I blame at least part of that on the fact Obama never came here to rally the troops as he did in so many other places. And if you figure that the odds of him coming here were pretty slim, what about Hillary Clinton, who did so well here last spring, or Vice Presidential candidate Joe Biden, who had some appeal with his Pennsylvania roots? I think it’s possible that a stop by someone of national prominence on Obama’s behalf might have been able to keep Fayette County from going red.
But while we can probably talk all day about why McCain won here, there could be a real upside to his strong showing. For too many years, the Democratic Party has had an overwhelming edge over Republicans in voter registration numbers. It’s been so lopsided that state and national Democratic Party officials took us for granted while their Republican counterparts avoided us like the plague, figuring they had no chance of winning any votes here.
Perhaps this election will change all of that. Maybe now both sides will pay more attention to our wishes and needs. And if that happens we’ll all be winners, no matter our party affiliation.

Mark O’Keefe is the executive editor of the Herald-Standard. O’Keefe can be reached by e-mail at mo’keefe@heraldstandard.com, by regular mail at 8-18 Church St., Uniontown, Pa., 15401 or by phone at 724-439-7569.

Smokeout day set for Thursday

November 17, 2008

Quitting cigarettes is hard and staying quit is even harder.

I should know. I smoked from my early 20s til I was 37. But I quit and this January will be 20 years since I lit up a cigarette. I think the hardest thing was thinking that I could actually quit. I had convinced myself that I just wouldn’t be able to quit, but once I did, that was it. It wasn’t easy, but it was doable.

And I think that’s important, especially with the American Cancer Society’s 33rd Great American Smokeout set for Thursday. The ACS has also come up with help for those who’ve quit with its the new Stay Quit Monday initiative. The idea is to reaffirm their Smokeout commitment to living smoke-free on the Monday following their quit date and recommitting each Monday thereafter.

“Studies show a high relapse rate for most first-time quitters and it takes multiple attempts for most smokers to quit for good,” says Frances Stillman, Co-Director of the Institute for Global Tobacco Control at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “The idea of using each Monday as the day for quitters to reaffirm their smoke cessation goal is a sensible way to stay on track, from Monday to Monday, instead of from ‘today to never again.'”

Donald Distasio, Chief Executive Officer of the American Cancer Society, Eastern Division says, “We hope many more smokers will use the Great American Smokeout as an important first step towards living a smoke-free life. Stay Quit Monday is a good tool for smokers to use in reinforcing their commitment to quitting. If you’re looking to quit smoking, call your American Cancer Society at 1-800-ACS-2345 or visit http://www.cancer.org. We can help.”

Locally, you can call 1-888-227-5445. They have a number of programs to help those dealing with cancer. Also, anyone interested in volunteering to help with the many programs can call the number. Volunteers are always needed in whatever capacity a person can help, especially right here in Fayette, Greene and Washington counties.

Meanwhile, a report last year from the Institute of Medicine says that “motivating more quit attempts among people who now make none, and more frequent quit attempts among those who now try to quit” is one of five requirements for achieving higher cessation rates.(1) The American Legacy Foundation, a leading provider of smoke cessation resources, says, “Smokers should not pin all their hopes and aspirations on one day to be a successful quitter. Instead of waiting for the start of the New Year to roll around, the start of each week can signal a new beginning and be a chance to renew your commitment to quit smoking.”(2)

“Stay Quit Monday builds in an opportunity every week to commit to quit smoking and to celebrate the progress people are making towards this goal,” says Peggy Neu, President of Healthy Monday. “We believe that no matter what day a smoker quits – Smokeout Day, New Years or birthdays – recommitting to that resolution every Monday thereafter can do a lot to increase the chance for success.” The Stay Quit Monday campaign is a Healthy Monday project of Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University Newhouse School of Public Communications.

Smoking causes more than 15 different types of cancers, cardiovascular disease and stroke. To learn more about how to quit smoking and to prepare to begin a smoke-free life contact the American Cancer Society’s Quitline at 1-800-ACS-2345 or visit http://www.cancer.org. And for more resources on quitting smoking and staying quit, visit the Stay Quit Monday page on the Healthy Monday website at http://www.HealthyMonday.org/stayquit.

Palin at it again

November 15, 2008

Sarah Palin apparently just can’t help herself.

According to Associated Press, the governor of Alaska was in Miami last week for the Republican Governors Association meeting and at first she displayed her sense of humor telling her fellow governors, that she wanted to catch them up on the developments in her life since they last met.

“I had a baby, I did some traveling, I very briefly expanded my wardrobe, I made a few speeches, I met a few VIPs including those who really impact society like Tina Fey,” she said to loud laughter.

Palin then got serious, noting Congress is led by the likes of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Rep. Barney Frank, and said it was incumbent upon GOP governors to ensure that the federal government doesn’t take over the health care system. She said if Obama and the new Congress “err on the side of excess taxes, we have to show them the way.”

Before briefly taking questions from reporters Thursday morning, Palin said, “I, like all of our governors, we’re focused on the future. The future for us is not the 2012 presidential race. It’s next year and our next budget, and the next reforms in our states and in 2010 we’re going to have 36 governors’ positions open across the U.S. That’s what we’re focused on.”

“We are the minority party,” Palin added at a session on “Looking Towards the Future: The GOP in Transition.” “Let us resolve not to be the negative party.”

Palin even said she’d be willing to try and help Obama.

“Let’s reach out to Barack Obama,” Palin said. “Show him how lower taxes provide opportunity for the private sector to grow.”

But then Palin went back into her attack dog-mode.

She said with governors, “the buck stops on our desk. … We are not the many voting yea or nay or present.” While an Illinois state lawmaker, Obama often voted “present,” a practice the GOP criticized during the campaign.

Why would Palin take such a cheap shot at Obama? Doesn’t she realize the American people are sick and tired of these negative attacks. Even John McCain has agreed to bury the hatchet. He’s meeting with Obama on Monday to try and see what they can to work together for America.

Remember when Obama was asked about Palin during his final debate with McCain. He could have said a lot, especially with Palin bashing him everyday at campaign stops around the country.

But Obama refused to take the bait and said it was up to the American people not him to judge Palin.

Palin would be well advised to study the exit polls from the election. Six in 10 Americans said Palin is not qualified to become president, according to exit polls of voters in last week’s election. That included nine in 10 Democrats, nearly two-thirds of independents and a quarter of Republicans. The exit polls were conducted for The Associated Press and the television networks.

If indeed she’s going to be a force in American politics in the coming years, she’ll have to turn those numbers around. And one way would be to ditch the snide and negative comments. They may help her with the Republican base but they certainly don’t win over any Democrats or Independents, whose votes she’ll need to win a national election.

McCain burying hatchet with Obama

November 14, 2008

Isn’t it amazing that some folks on the right seem determined to continue insulting and defaming President-elect Barack Obama even though their hero John McCain has agreed to bury the hatchet with him.

According to Associated Press, Obama will meet Monday with John McCain in talks that will focus on ways they can cooperate on an array of troublesome issues facing the country.

“It’s well known that they share an important belief that Americans want and deserve a more effective and efficient government, and will discuss ways to work together to make that a reality,” Obama spokesman Stephanie Cutter said in announcing the meeting.

Shouldn’t this be what Republicans and Democrats do across the country?

The Associated Press said  the two will be joined at Obama’s Chicago transition office by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a McCain confidant, and Rep. Rahm Emanuel, the Illinois Democrat whom Obama has chosen to be his White House chief of staff.

According to Associated Press, Obama has struck a bipartisan tone, pairing pairing a Republican and a Democrat to meet with foreign leaders this weekend on his behalf in Washington, for example. His aides emphasized the bringing together of both sides in announcing the meeting with McCain.

Republican and Democratic officials say Emanuel and Graham arranged in a postelection conversation to have Obama and McCain meet at the earliest possible time and Monday was it. Emanuel and Graham have worked together before on issues on Capitol Hill, and Graham jumped to Emanuel’s defense when Republicans criticized his appointment as Obama’s chief of staff.

Meanwhile, on another interesting note, the Associated Press is reporting that a Democratic official speaking on grounds of anonymity said that Obama met in Chicago with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is under consideration for secretary of state.

The two met on Thursday afternoon, said the official, who asked not to be publicly identified because the official was not authorized to release the information.

Maybe that will satisfy all those people out there who were so upset that Obama didn’t pick Hillary for VP that they voted for McCain.

Bill Ayers comes clean

November 14, 2008

I know this won’t be near enough to satisfy all the Obama Bin Laden haters out there but Bill Ayers has finally spoken and guess what. He denies the two were ever close contrary to claims by John McCain and Sarah Palin that they were “paling around,” presumably trying to overthrow the U.S. government.

“I think my relationship with Obama was probably like thousands of others in Chicago. And, like millions and millions of others, I wish I knew him better,” Ayers said in a recent Washington Post interview.

Then, according to the Associated Press in the afterward of his new paperback release of his 2001 memoir, “Fugitive Days.” Ayers wrote, “In 2008 there was a lot of chatter on the blogosphere about my relationship with Barack Obama: we had served together on the board of a foundation, knew one another as neighbors and family friends, held an initial fundraiser at my house, where I’d made a small donation to his earliest political campaign.”

He writes that Obama’s enemies saw their connections as a chance to “deepen a dishonest narrative about him.”

“That he is somehow un-American, alien, linked to radical ideas, a closet terrorist, a sympathizer with extremism,” Ayers writes.

Ayers said it was “more than guilt by association,” something he called “a deep and ugly tradition in our political life.”

For the record, Ayers lives just a few blocks from Obama on Chicago’s South Side with his wife, former fellow radical Bernardine Dohrn. Now a law professor at Northwestern University, Dohrn was a fugitive for years with her husband until they surrendered in 1980. Now an education professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago, Ayers helped found the Vietnam-era radical group the Weathermen, which carried out bombings at the Pentagon and the Capitol. Charges against him were dropped because of government misconduct, which included FBI break-ins, wiretaps and opening of mail.

Also for the record, Obama has denounced Ayers’ violent past and said Ayers was never involved in his White House campaign.

And finally, the board they both served on was the Chicago Annenburg Challenge, which was founded by Walter Annenburg a big-time Republican supporter. Annenburg was appointed to serve as ambassador to the United Kingdom by Richard Nixon and he was a close friend of Ronald Reagan.  So, it wasn’t like this was a left-wing board they served on. It was a community education-reform board with all types of people on it.  You have to wonder how many other people served on the board and why weren’t they made to answer for their ties to Ayers?

Endoresment furor puzzles editor

November 10, 2008

OK, I’ll admit it. I’m more than a little puzzled and confused.

I’ve been a member of the Herald-Standard Editorial Board since it was formed in 1982, and I’ve never seen such vitriol and viciousness over an endorsement as our backing this year of Barack Obama for president.

For some reason, this past presidential campaign brought out rather extreme viewpoints about the candidates, especially Obama. In the past there had always been a certain civility in presidential politics. Even if you disagreed with a candidate there was a basic level of respect that was paid to those running for the highest office in the land.

But that was not the case this year. That line of civility was crossed and then some. We received numerous calls questioning our sanity in endorsing Obama with several threatening to actually stop their subscription to the Herald-Standard.

One woman I talked with said she was upset with our endorsement because  Obama was “evil, un-American and unChristian.’’ Pressed for details she also called him a “Muslim terrorist.’’ Some people right here in Fayette County took to calling him the Anti-Christ.

So, to these people, I guess, our endorsement was seen as a sign that we were somehow backing Satan.

Realizing that people sometimes get a little fired up for presidential campaigns, we thought things would calm down after the election, but we were wrong as the calls and comments have kept coming.

Apparently upset at the results of Tuesday’s election, they’re now blaming us for Obama’s victory. It’d be nice to be so powerful, but I think they give us far more credit than we deserve. After all, local politicians don’t call our endorsement the kiss of death for nothing. Just look at how Obama lost to John McCain in Fayette, Greene and Washington counties for proof of that theory.

Maybe if we wanted McCain to lose so much, we should have endorsed him.

But that goes against the main reason why we endorse candidates. Our biggest concern is not who wins or loses.  Our top reason for endorsing candidates is to get people to think.  Period. If you agree with us, fine. But if you disagree, that’s OK too. We’re just hoping that our editorials can spur some critical thinking on the various issues of the day. That’s why we have an editorial page in the first place.

To us, politics is no different. If we’re going to take certain viewpoints then it stands to reason that we should back candidates who are going to support those viewpoints.

Trust me, we don’t have some grand “liberal’’ agenda that we want to impose on our readers. If we did, how could we have endorsed George W. Bush for president back in 2000? In fact our editorial board’s endorsement meetings are often spirited affairs with strong arguments waged on both sides. That certainly was the case this year as the board was almost equally divided between Obama and McCain.

The vote came out in Obama’s favor, but we tried to make it clear in the endorsement editorial that the board was divided, and there was much to like about McCain.

Overall, the vast amount of issues we editorialize about are local ones because they’re the ones we know best. It’s not like we editorialize to a great extent on national or international issues like the New York Times or the Washington Post do.

Our biggest concerns in the past have been making sure that the government’s business is done in the open and those making decisions concerning the public trust are held accountable for them. Are those concerns liberal or conservative? We sincerely hope they’re  supported by those on the left, on the right and in the middle too.

We’ve also tried to make the editorial board more representative of the community in general. It now includes four editors, our publisher and controller, a reporter and two members from the community.

That’s all the more reason why I’m so puzzled over all the hoopla about the endorsement editorial. It’s just a very small part of our overall job. Given that, you have to wonder if endorsement editorials are worth all the problems they cause. Certainly at some point if people are so divided and take them so much to heart then maybe we’ll have to stop them. The last thing we want to do is insult or offend our readers in any way.

But if we stop the endorsements, I think we’ll all suffer. Our democracy was built around a free press and giving everyone the right to express their opinion.

If our voice is silenced, then who’s next?


Mark O’Keefe is the executive editor of the Herald-Standard. O’Keefe can be reached by e-mail at mo’keefe@heraldstandard.com., regular mail at 8-18 Church St., Uniontown, Pa., 15401 or by phone at 724-439-7569.