Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Comcast's Cohen Saved Corbett's Struggling Reelection

When I had a chance to ask Governor Corbett a question last year at a rare press conference in Philadelphia, I said, "It looks like your policies are shafting Philadelphia." The Philadelphia Inquirer lead with my observation the next day.

That is why I was surprised that Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen, former chief of staff to Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell, recently held a fundraiser for Republican Governor Tom Corbett at his home in the Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia. The fundraiser was mostly attended by Comcast employees and prominent Republican Bob Asher.

Cohen, who has been a longtime supporter of the Democratic party, had hosted President Obama there for a fundraiser that netted $1.2 million for his reelection campaign.

Under his breath, former Governor Rendell must be muttering e tu David? Corbett is basically the anti-Rendell. He has slashed programs for the poor, suggested women "close their eyes" while having a vaginal ultrasound, outsourced the state's lottery to the British, and possibly bundled his investigation into convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky when he was the state's attorney general.

Cohen's move is also surprising because Pennsylvanians have roundly rejected Corbett gubernatorial tenure. A recent Franklin and Marshall poll has only 26% of Pennsylvanians approving of the job that he has doing.

Terry Madonna, the state's preeminent political pollster said, "Corbett has vacillated between 25-35% since taking office. These are the worst poll numbers ever for a sitting governor at this point in his administration.  Corbett's predecessors, Rendell and Ridge, were polling at 50% and 40% respectively at the same time in their administration."

He continued, "We'll see if Corbett can come back from this. Every incumbent governor, since Pennsylvania has permitted governors to run for a second term, has won. Usually, they don't face tough competition. In this case, first tier Democrats are chafing at the bit to run."

In some ways, voters have already spoken on Corbett. They elected Kathleen Kane, who made an investigation into Corbett's bumbling of the Sandusky prosecution a central part of her election platform, as the state's Attorney General in 2012. She is the first Democratic to win that office since the office became an elected one. She is the rare women to win a Pennsylvania election. Allyson Schwartz is the lone woman to represent Pennsylvania in Congress.

The support of Cohen, considered the most astute political player in the state, and Comcast for Corbett is significant. Without it, the Corbett campaign would have remained on life support. Madonna, who expects Corbett to raise $20 million for the race, did not see any dissonance in Cohen's donation to Corbett.

"David has always been a businessman in politics. He has never been overly concerned with social issues."

I sent an email to Cohen's public relations people asking routine questions like such as why Cohen supports Corbett, has he been good for business, and name one policy of his that you like. He refused to comment. I am wondering if he would defend Corbett's anti-choice views to the female employees of Comcast or defend   his abandoning of Philadelphia, whose renaissance he spearheaded.

A source close to Comcast, who attended the fundraiser, explained that "If someone is surprised at Cohen's support of Corbett, they don't know David Cohen. The fundraiser was held before Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz announced that she was running. Comcast always supports incumbents and doesn't support challengers. The electoral history of Pennsylvania suggests that an incumbent will win."

He continued, "Comcast is a business in the state of Pennsylvania. They need to be able to talk to both sides."

This is technically true. While the cable industry is heavily regulated, most of the regulation comes from the federal level not the state level.

This person did not rule out the possibility that Cohen will donate to the campaign of  Corbett's "formidable" challenger Allyson Schwartz.She appears to have declared her intentions before the other Democratic candidates.

Not waiting for Cohen's check, Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz supporters are dismissing Cohen abandoning the Democrats. One said, "Corbett saw his poll numbers and terrorized a leading businessman to support him."

Rachel Magnuson, the chief of staff for the Congresswomen, was not concerned about Cohen's donation.

"Allyson Schwartz does not care about a political insider. She is hearing from Pennsylvanians from all four corners of the state and they are urging her to run," said Magnuson.

Madonna names Pennsylvania State Treasurer Bob McCord, who has won two statewide campaigns and has personal wealth that he put in the campaign, and former Congressman Joe Sestak, who only lost the 2010 Senate race against Toomey  by 2 points, as two other possible Democratic challengers to Corbett. He noted that Allyson Schwartz understood what it took to run statewide since she had previously run for the Senate and lost.

While it is too early to handicap the race, he thinks that a winnable race for the Democrats could be lost if there is a nasty primary battle. It was not all good news for the Democrats.

"Rendell was a liberal and won. But he won on the strength of his mayoralty in Philadelphia," said Madonna.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Kerry Cancelled Israel Trip Due to Hagel Confirmation Delay

Although he had previously said that he would visit Israel on his first foreign trip as Secretary of State, John Kerry's office now announced that he will bypassing Israel. Instead he will visiting Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Abu Dhabi on this trip and will possibly come to Israel when President Obama comes at the end of March. The administration seems unconcerned that they will be once again criticized for visiting Israel's neighbors and not Israel.

The official reason for the delay is that Israel has not formally formed a new government after the election. This may be a fig leaf. There is no doubt that current Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu will head the next Israeli government with HaTnua leader Tzipi Livni joining the government this weekend.

According to staffers in Defense Secretary Ehud Barak's bureau, the real reason for the postponement is the logjam on Capital Hill over the Chuck Hagel confirmation as Secretary of Defense. 

"The American Secretary of Defense is more important to Israel than the Secretary of State. The Iron Dome is more essential to the survival of Israel than fruitless negotiations with the Palestinian Authority," said one staffer. "Both sides want to talk about the next round of defense purchases."

Republicans have alleged the damage caused by the delay in the eventual Hagel confirmation is minimal. The Kerry postponement proves that this is not true. Their political games are having real world consequences and could affect Israel, one of America's most important allies. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Gladwell Lambastes Penn for Continuing Football Program

Leading intellectual Malcolm Gladwell, while at the University of Pennsylvania, lambasted the university for continuing their football program after the suicide of Penn football captain Owen Thomas. The examination of the 21 year old's brain showed that he had early signs of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) possibly caused by hits to the head on the field. NFL players that have prematurely died, such as linebacker Junior Seau, have also suffered from the same condition.

Gladwell, the author of New York Times bestsellers "Outliers: The Story of Success," and "The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Difference," called the continuation of the program "a moral abomination". The New Yorker magazine journalist compared the university's disregard of the warnings to the callous indifference of the coal mining industry towards black lung disease.

He mocked their mercenary attitude - "We have to have football. The alumni would be anger if we cancelled the program." He urged students to boycott football games and protest outside.

"Maybe, if there is only 1500 alumni smoking cigars at the game, the university will cancel the program," he said.

He did not call for an outright ban of football, but instead held the university to a higher standard.

"A university's job is to educate and care for students not maximize alumni donations," said an outraged Gladwell.

The university official that closed the event looked uncomfortable, but graciously handled the criticism.

On the way to dinner with Gladwell, he said, "One definition of an intellectual is someone who bites the hands that feeds you,"

It will be interesting to see if Gladwell's cri de couer results in the cancellation of the football program. The students did not seem to embrace Gladwell's suggestion. But it might be because a group of students standing in line to hear an intellectual are not going to football games.

One senior football player said that football had given him many opportunities that he would not normally had.

"Being 270 lbs and 6' 2",  I can not play soccer," he said.