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Dinner wasn't a big bleeping deal for Biden

By Al Kamen
Wednesday, May 5, 2010; A19

In the midst of all the glitz, the glitter and the self-congratulatory crowd at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner last weekend, there was a recurring, somewhat worrisome question: "Where's Joe?"

By tradition, the president is center stage at the yearly event, and the vice president plays Ed McMahon and grins and claps. But Saturday night, neither Vice President Biden nor Dr. Jill was on the stage.

Some attendees seemed to recall that the vice president never attends, but that's not true. In fact, Al Gore and Dick Cheney, along with spouses, were often in attendance. But Biden wasn't there last year or this year.

Other attendees guessed that maybe his absence was a prudent post-9/11 security decision not to have him and Obama at the same event. Wrong again. Well, maybe Biden, who subbed for the boss at the Gridiron Club dinner last year -- did a fine job, in fact -- and at the Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner this year, is getting tired of these media extravaganzas?

Sure. And Bill Clinton didn't like burgers.

As it turns out, a decision was made that Biden's time would be better spent out in Arizona, were he was the keynoter at the Arizona Democratic Party's Heritage Dinner, its equivalent of the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner. The political calculation, we're hearing, was that Arizona is an important state at an important time. It was a state Obama and Biden could well have carried had it not been the Republican nominee's home state.

Even worse, we were told, the White House decided there was no reason for both Obama and Biden to be at the dinner. Still, Arizona Democrats over the cr?me de la cr?me of the national media?

Talk about a fall from power.

Our plan in Havana

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has a new plan for perennially troubled Radio Marti and TV Marti, the U.S. government media operation set up to topple the Castro regime in Cuba. The committee's report this week urges that the Office of Cuba Broadcasting be pulled back to Washington from the Cuban exile bastion of Miami and placed under the Voice of America in order to "clean up its operation."

That, however, will accomplish little to deprive this column of excellent items over the years about cronyism, criminality and bizarre editorial judgment at the two media operations. The real problem, as the report says, is that Radio Marti, after 25 years of broadcasting, and TV Marti, after 20 years -- and more than $600 million in U.S. taxpayer money -- still have minuscule audience shares, the report said, maybe around 2 percent for Radio Marti.

That's largely because the commies jam the broadcasts and partly because the broadcasts are "offensive and incendiary." There's no TV jamming on Friday and Sunday evenings during baseball season, when TV Marti broadcasts games, the report notes. (The Castros try jamming those games and the counter-revolution begins immediately.)

Another factor is that Cuban TV has gotten better, now featuring shows such as "Grey's Anatomy," "Desperate Housewives" and "The Sopranos."

Finally, about 30 percent of Cubans polled said they watched CNN en Espa?ol on Cuban television during the past week, the report notes. If they have DirecTV, they can get Univision and ESPN and the like. All of which raises the question why a government broadcast operation, even if strongly supported by the exile community, is needed when the private sector appears to be doing the job quite well.

Well, because they don't have Fox, that's why.

'Outstanding'!

The anti-tax movement appears to have made some progress at the Department of the Interior.

A recent e-mail reminder to all employees said the IRS had "notified the DOI that as of Sept. 30, 2009, 2.36 percent" of its employees "have some sort of outstanding income tax delinquency," the message read. "The number of DOI employees with a delinquency is increasing each year. In September of 2008, 2.29 percent of DOI employees were delinquent."

It's expected everyone will pay up," the reminder said, "which in turn will . . . foster the public's confidence in all federal employees."

And remember, they got Al Capone on a tax rap.

A vacuum to abhor

Despite calls by President Obama and other good-government types for openness and accountability, seems at least 15 of 73 federal government watchdog jobs, including some of the most important ones, are vacant or filled with temporary folks, according to a report Tuesday by the Center for Public Integrity.

The posts at several major agencies -- the State Department, the CIA, the Labor Department and the Interior Department, as well as the comptroller general (head of the congressional Government Accountability Office) and the Office of Special Counsel (which investigates whistleblower allegations) -- have been vacant pretty much since the administration began or even earlier, and no one has been nominated to fill them.

On the other hand, the administration has installed some key IGs, the report said, including at NASA, the Education Department and the Pentagon, while a nominee at the Environmental Protection Agency has been stalled in the Senate.

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