Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Shot in the Right Direction

A story that was overshadowed by the tea party pilgrimage to Searchlight, Nevada, was the grand opening of a new shooting range just north of Las Vegas, the Clark County Shooting Park, hosted by Senate majority leader Harry Reid. Prominent guests included executives from the National Rifle Association, Chris Cox and Wayne LaPierre.

This new shooting range, which Reid was instrumental in helping into existence, is believed to be the one of the largest in the country. It provides for archery as well as space for pistol and rifle sports.

www.lasvegassun.com/news/2010/mar/24/harry-reids-gun-party-competes-searchlight-tea-par/

Not only did Senator Reid arrange for the sale of unused public lands in Nevada, with the proceeds returning to benefit Nevada communities. The park is expected to draw up to 40,000 tourists a year to engage in shooting sports events, benefitting constituents. Another focus of the park is shooting sports and gun safety education.

Reid joined in with some shooting practice himself.

Looking at Reid's record on firearms, courtesy of www.ontheissues.org/senate/harry_reid.htm
this shooting park is not the first time that Reid has taken a stance that was pro-gun, and pro-2nd Amendment.

Senator Reid's voting record re Firearms:

Voted YES on allowing firearms in checked baggage on Amtrak trains. (Apr 2009)
Voted YES on prohibiting foreign & UN aid that restricts US gun ownership. (Sep 2007)
Voted YES on prohibiting lawsuits against gun manufacturers. (Jul 2005)
Voted NO on banning lawsuits against gun manufacturers for gun violence. (Mar 2004)
Voted YES on background checks at gun shows. (May 1999)
Voted NO on more penalties for gun & drug violations. (May 1999)
Voted NO on loosening license & background checks at gun shows. (May 1999)
Voted YES on maintaining current law: guns sold without trigger locks. (Jul 1998)

Voting yes to allow the open carrying of fire arms in national parks should be included on this list.

Once again, proof that all those tea party participants who are so worried about losing their right to legally carry might be better advised to do their homework. Contrary to their erroneous opinion, neither the Congress nor the President is making any effort to take away their guns or deny them the full enjoyment of them.

Using the carrying of loaded weapons intending to intimidate the elected government on the other hand might, too easily, if any shootings were to result, legitimately give rise to much more regulation limiting that 2nd Amendment Right.

Monday, March 29, 2010

ACROSS THE GREAT DIVIDE III


"Abatement in the hostility of one's enemies must never be thought to signify they have been won over. It only means that one has ceased to constitute a threat."
Quentin Crisp

1908-1999

"All violence consists in some people forcing others, under threat of suffering or death, to do what they do not want to do."
Leo Tolstoy

1828-1910

“Successful politicians are insecure and intimidated men. They advance politically only as they placate, appease, bribe, seduce, bamboozle or otherwise manage to manipulate the demanding and threatening elements in their constituencies.”
Walter Lippmann

1889-1974


In the days preceding the vote on health care reform on March 21, 2010, and the days following, there has been an avalanche of violence and threats directed at Democratic legislators who voted for health care reform. In contrast, there has been exactly one reported instance of anything similarly directed at a Republican legislator, Congresswoman Jean Schmidt was called racist for being Republican. I don't count the factually deficient public whining of 2nd minority whip Eric Cantor that misrepresented events surrounding an accidentally broken window.

Embarrassed by the threats (and they should be), and fearing political fall out that will even further diminish their declining political fortunes that have taken such a solid beating in the last two election cycles, the Right is attempting to deny the existence of these threats and to repudiate the contributing role of their rhetoric. Some individuals are even claiming that the events they are trying not to name as threats are actually stunts by the left against the left to gain sympathy. Some, in the conspiracy theory tradition of the right fringe mouth-frothers, are even claiming that the SEIU is responsible. In fact, masquerading as 2nd Amendment Rights advocacy is an attempt to use weapons at protest events as a very real threat - I draw your attention to the third interview in this video of a Tea Party protest event in Alamogordo New Mexico in January 2010:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=XqjVWifq4Kc&feature=player_embedded#

This denial of any threats clearly ignores the protest signs, like this one, which appears to make a very overt threat, in both words and images. "Brown" is newly elected Senator Scott Brown, from Massachusetts, previously viewed as the savior for those against the health care reform legislation in the senate who did not derail health care reform legislation as hoped on the right. "Browning" refers to the fire-arms designer and manufacturer; in the instance of the protest sign, it appears to be the very famous semi-automatic 9 mm model Hi-Power, designed by the legendary Mormon US arms designer, John Browning. I recognize this weapon; I learned to shoot with this kind of weapon, I was taught range safety with this weapon, to be proficient not only firing it accurately but to field strip this weapon blindfolded. My reaction is not an anti-gun response, it is anger at such blatant, egregious offense to our 2nd Amendment Rights and Responsibilities advocated by this sign. This is a widely available, widely produced hand gun, with an impressive history behind its use. The border tape "FIRE LINE DO NOT CROSS" admonishes those who see these signs not to venture between those who intend to shoot, from a position designated as the fire line, and the intended target, clearly represented by the image of the Capitol on the sign. The language, the visual imagery, clearly have a meaning beyond metaphor. This is a sign promoting threats of violence against elected officials, our fellow citizens, not merely oppositional words and ideas.

This is not an isolated sign; clearly there were others. The signs were held by tea partiers outside congress. Republicans, like Michele Bachmann, left the floor of the House of Representatives during the Sunday Health Care Reform vote session, to stir up these very sign-carrying protesters, to whip up their emotions.

After the threats began to come to light, these same people, these Tea Party courting Republicans, tried to deny they had any part in this.

They are liars.

They have a long participation in false, inflammatory statements. There was Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, who claimed loudly to his base that the Democrats were going to "pull the plug on Grandma" with the health care reform legislation, repeating the Palin popularized premise that won her the 2009 Lie of the Year award. North Carolina Republican Congresswoman Virginia Foxx claimed that our government was going to kill seniors. Republican Congressman Randy Neugenbauer rudely yelled out "Baby Killer" on the house floor, and despite his tepid apology, is reputed to have used the notoriety for his rudeness to attempt to fund raise on his demonstrably untrue statement.

And we have perenial off-the-deep-ender Michele Bachmann of the 're-education camps' and 'armed and dangerous' citizens claims, boasting she's the new Nostradamus for claiming Obama is un-American, now bragging how prescient she was on "Hardball with Chris Matthews", after she tried in 2008 to deny ever having made the statement. Caught in her rant, she has tried to 'clarify' that she means Obama's policies, a distinction which eludes me. If Obama's policies are Un-American, is not Obama Un-American for embracing and promoting them? And we have Bachmann's appearance on Sunday, March 29th's airing of Face the Nation, proclaiming in her usual refrigerator-magnet and bumper sticker 'slogan-thinking' that Americans are suffering under "Tyranny", that over 50% of the private sector of our economy has been taken over by the government, while 100% of the private sector was private before 2008, and my personal favorite, that doctors would abandon their profession like crazed lemmings according to the New England Journal of Medicine.

Except that, no surprise, her numbers and her conclusions and her claims about doctors and the New England Journal of Medicine are not true. But those lies play well, very well indeed, to her radical right base. A base which does not seem to care if Bachmann is accurate or not, a base which will, as they do with Palin, embrace and praise anything she says, no matter how stupid, now false, how calculated to push her base over the edge of reason.

Congresswoman Bachmann on "Face the Nation"
fact checked by CBS, "Bachmann Offers Big Numbers, Little Proof" :
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/03/28/ftn/main6341007.shtml

The Republicans are talking big, with their futile law suits by the state Attorneys General, and their boasts, like those of Michele Bachmann, that the Republicans are going to repeal the health care reform legislation. It is precisely because those efforts have no reasonable chance whatsoever of success that the Republicans and the Tea bagging militia members and other right wing extremists must continue their threats and their harrassment. The alternative is to accept that they do not have a majority. They do not reflect the prevailing opinion. After the signing of the health care reform legislation, the poll numbers support the legislation. Of the approximately 40% who do not support it, 18% to 20% disapprove because they wanted even stronger reform, not less, and therefore the poll numbers do not argue for the citizenry supporting the efforts of the right. If this assessment is correct, projecting from the trend during the 2008 election and the 2009 debate over health care reform, we will see an increase in threats, not a decrease.

On the face of this, those who do not embrace fact are clearly equally unable to embrace reason, or moderation, or apperntly in at least some instances, decency and self-control. We need to oppose inflammatory rhetoric on the right, and we certainly need to oppose it on the left as well; I think we can safely define the centrists as not extreme in this regard by definition. We need to demand accountability for the factual content of statements by our leaders and elected representatives in both chambers of Congress. We need to express our feelings not only about legislation but also about how we conduct political discourse. We do this with our words, and with our votes. I believe that all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to stand by and do nothng. Join with me in condemning intimidation. Whatever your ideology, join with me in opposing false statements and inflammatory rhetoric, everywhere you find it.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Twice as Many

On ABC News last night I heard that twice as many soldiers died in Afghanistan (57) as died in February 2009. I thought, "Wow, let's hype the deaths, shall we?" I felt this way because it is not at all surprising there have been more casualties in Afghanistan given we've begun a long, and long overdue campaign to try to re-establish stability and the rule of the Afghan government throughout the balance of Afghanistan.

Yet, I saw this same headline on CBS News. I thought, perhaps it's not just a pretty openly pro-conservative news organization like ABC News - perhaps it's just what we get when our news stories are so frequently wire copy. Perhaps the complaints of bias in fact, swing both ways.

Afghanistan is a dangerous place. It is a place with more division, and a greater population than Iraq. In Iraq we had at least the Kurds on our side, 20% of the population (roughly). In Afghanistan we have a country fully engulfed in corruption, with few consistent allies. We ignored the problem for 7 years after we initially toppled the Taliban. We kept too few places safe, we allowed the government to become exactly what it had been prior to the Taliban. In short, we allowed it to become EXACTLY what the native Afghans hated MORE than they hated the Taliban.

President Obama vowed to make a difference, he promised to provide more truth in direct opposition to the desires of the anti(any) war/pacifist element of the Democratic party. He promised to try to retake areas which have been under Taliban control for more than four years, he promised to retake the 80% of the country we gave up on under Bush. Consequently, he sent more troops and engaged in trying to win "Bush's (forgotten) War."

I served for 12 years in the Army Reserves, I knew and know many people who've served in both Afghanistan and Iraq. I would be beyond heartbroken if one of them were killed, yet, it IS what we know is the risk. We agree to be agents of policy, and benign and agnostic to politics in uniform. We knew Afghanistan was going south, and IF, big IF, we are going to do anything to retrench Afghanistan, then it would take sweat, hard work, and unfortunately, heartbreakingly, it will take blood.

I have to ask the press, were they asleep? Were they unaware that Obama is trying to take the fight to the enemy, and with it, greater risk exists? I have no idea (nor will I go look to find out), if the right-wing press is trumpeting up the deaths, which I would find utterly hypocritical considering the months where our deaths in Iraq routinely topped 100 yet they said nothing.

Instead, to them (and their unread blogs) and to the press, I suggest you all consider that we either must TRY to take Afghanistan back, or leave. Doing the middle ground thing, in short, being present but taking little action, does nothing but spend our money, and our blood, more slowly, but surely longer. So whether this month is twice as many, will the overall cost be twice as much as acting with conviction? I pray and hope it is not. What I mean is, it may be twice as much in the short run, but I hope and pray and believe that it will therefore be less than half as much in the long run.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

ACROSS THE GREAT DIVIDE II

“The most practical kind of politics is the politics of decency.”
-Theodore Roosevelt
American 26th U.S. President 1901-09, &

advocate for government universal health insurance
1858-1919


“Do not overestimate the decency of the human race.”
(and)
“The fundamentalist mind, running in a single rut for fifty years, is now quite unable to comprehend dissent from its basic superstitions, or to grant any common honesty, or even any decency, to those who reject them.”
-Henry Louis Mencken
American humorous Journalist and Critic of American life
1880-1956



I have been reading on the right that the newly passed Health Care is terrible.

"Baby Killer", they claim, just like the Representative from Texas red neck Annoying-bugger yelled during the session of Congress on Sunday. Our own dear wacko Representative to Congress from Minnesota, Michele Bachmann (she's crazy, she's not stupid) is now reported to have assured Representative Neugenbauer's adult son that the outburst would get less attention than the equally wrong, inaccurate, and misleading "You Lie"outburst from Joe Wilson during the State of the Union address. "It WILL kill people", "Pelosi is a liar", "Obama is Un-American", "It is a government takeover", "they're going to insure illegals", "we've lost our freedoms", health care reform "comes between patients and their doctors", the legislation is "tyranny", "Armageddon", and on and on and on, the political right continues promulgating factually inaccurate statements about this legislation, about the Democratic members of the House and Senate, about the actions of the cabinet, advisers and White House staff.

Sadly, quite the opposite lack of concern has been evident from the right; while people really have been dying by the tens of thousands due to lack of health care, especially lack of health care relating directly to insurance company greed, there was not a comparable worry about any American citizens dying. We were told we have the best system in the world, despite all of the evidence to the contrary. This, despite the evidence of the numbers of people dying who could have been healthy. This, despite the evidence of the numbers of bankruptcies and other financial devastation directly related to the costs of illness and injury.

Those Republican claims about this legislation? NO. WRONG. NOT TRUE. http://politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2010/mar/18/top-10-facts-know-about-health-care-reform/

There are absolutely, positively, categorically no language, no sections, no provisions anywhere of any kind to fund abortions, or death panels. There ARE provisions to extend health care to a large portion of our population that does not currently have insurance, and without insurance, does not have health care. There ARE provisions that will, if they function as they are intended, reduce the instances of bankruptcy due to medical bills, and will reduce the number of people who have to choose between paying for their housing, or life and death medical care. We currently have tens of thousands of people who die every year because they don't have insurance. This will change, people will not be let die who were vulnerable when government was dominated by the Right. People dying from a lack of care is not the same as people being killed, like those for example who are wrongly convicted and executed, and calling fewer people dying for lack of care "KILLING people" is adding insult to injury.

Deem and Pass, although ultimately not used in passing the legislation, was equally DEEMonized by the right. The best explanation for how the Democrats intended using this parliamentary procedure was clearly explained by politifact.com :
http://politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2010/mar/17/cliff-stearns/stearns-says-house-democrats-trample-procedures-he/

A friend, a dear friend who is a conservative, on his blog when I wrote something about Deem and Pass joined in deriding it with, commenters from the right. I was told that I was either lying - using the more polite term that I was 'disingenuous', OR that I apparently didn't KNOW what I was talking about in terms of the parliamentary procedures, and its historic use, OR that I was innocently simply parroting the left liberal talking points that I must have read on other lefty blogs - in other words, my friend ostensibly in sticking up for me asserted I was unable to think for myself. I was offended, heartily offended. I was just undecided what offended me the most.

As it happens, I do not routinely read very many other blogs, either of the left or right. The exceptions are the blogs for which I write, which would include the blog of our contributing author Apathy Boy, and routinely the blog of my friend and sometimes mentor on the right, Mitch Berg of Shot in the Dark.info. where I sometimes comment, as does Pen.

I certainly do not need other people to think for me, and I not only do not lie in what I write, I scrupulously try to fact check my information before I make statements. As my dear colleague and erstwhile 'boss' (a fond honorific that he emphatically denies) here on Penigma can attest, as he was the patient listener to my venting, I was unhappiest over assertions that I was uninformed on the parliamentary procedures and the history of their use specifically, but I was really furious that anyone would think I didn't do research. I take pride in reading original documents, be it court documents or legislation, or whole books rather than just trusting wikipedia. Part of this is, I will admit, vanity; I like knowing what there is to know, and where possible knowing more than other people. When I do the prep work, I feel more confident in writing. In researching more than minimally, I feel I have made a good faith effort to look at all the information, including what does not support the position with which I begin, in an attempt to offset bias - recognizing all of us have some bias - instead of cherry picking facts. I promised myself when I asked Pen to allow me to write on this blog that I would make this effort. It can be a dull slog. So I will readily admit - my vanity was sharply pricked, if not fully wounded.

When I was a second grader joining the more junior program of Girl Scouting known as the Brownies, we were introduced to Robert's Rules of Order. Later in Girl Scouting it was part of earning a badge. I have consulted professional Parliamentarians in the course of drafting revised constitutions and by-laws for organizations to which I belonged, and I have researched how these professionals become credentialed, and the two national organizations for the profession. I know individuals who have been past parliamentarians for our state legislature, and I was aware long before the health care reform brought it to public attention that the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives each have their own Parliamentarian. In fact, as an avowed parliamentarian 'geek' (or would that be nerd?) I was utterly delighted to see that those Parliamentarians were getting public recognition for their roll in the legislative process for a change.

Before I made my comment on my friend's conservative blog, I also fact checked it. I don't want to stick my neck out if I'm not confident about my information; I was brought up to believe that making a controversial or contradicting statement is something that should be done with care and consideration. Being accurate is, for me, part of treating the other person with respect, by making the effort to disagree only if you are very sure that you are doing so constructively, and courteously, attempting to minimize the inherent tension of disagreement.

I have believed for some while now that the "Great Divide" of polarized politics, as distinct from consensus and centrism and bi-partisanism, has two inherent parts. One is obviously the ideology of Right and Left - or as it sometimes seems, the Right, and anything not to the Right, encompassing Center moderates and the Left. But the other, which seems to me to offer the greatest potential for finding a way across the great divide is the issue of fact. In my experience, there seems to be far too often, avoidably often, differences in the facts which form the basis from which the sides proceed. Sometimes this is intentional cherry-picking, and sometimes it is less clear if that is the case.

So, given the rancor, the name calling and insults, the incivility and even threats that have characterized our political reality, the importance of fact checking, of researching more thoroughly than we might otherwise, including looking at the facts that are embraced by the other segments of the political spectrum is more important now than it ever has. Although I hear the memory of my old debate coach haunting me as I write this, whispering "when was this imaginary time of yours when research was not important, and absolutely essential?".

His ghost in my memory may not agree with my answer, but that answer is, it is even more important than during calmer times, when people are so angry that they are beginning to behave badly, threatening violence.

In reply, that ghost memory laughs, "or when someone makes you mad." Reminding me that being offended should prompt me to research even harder.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Thank God

219-212. After 60 years.

And the BEST thing, now Rush Limbaugh can move to Costa Rica! (and get public health care treatment for his various addictions).

(Post Script: I'm adding to the above sentiment two editorials, both from the New York Times, which eloquently explain why I am thankful this passed. As both point out, this is less about substance, than mission and the meaning behind overcoming the vile and incipid conduct of the opposition. They threw everything, ration, and especially irrational, at this, and yet they failed. This was a stinging defeat, and hopefully, it will mean better days ahead.)

The first is "Fear Strikes Out" - by Paul Krugman - perhaps the finest editorialist in the country. This is a re-use of a title of a book (and movie) about the life of Jimmy Piersall - a baseball player who battled his father and his own demons of depression and insecurity - doubtless Krugman chose this title with a keen eye on irony.

The second is "An Absence of Class" by Robert Herbert - also of the Times, which keenly scythes through the BS of the right and exposes quite well the falacy and deception used time and again by those who oppose actual discourse.

Historic Day?

Today, after 60 years of trying, we may finally get some serious reform of our health care system. It doesn't go far enough, it doesn't provide true competition to health care insurance (which operates at a 26% administrative cost - 4-6 times higher than Medicare) - it doesn't ensure universal coverage, it doesn't reign in run away utilitzation - but it is a good start. It may be the best we can do for now.

I hear from my friends about concerns about how it will negatively affect Medicare, yet I have no concerns about Medicare, it is the most postively supported program in congress (with the exception of the neo-ultra-cons who want to get rid of it). The cuts to waste proposed aren't unreasonable.

I have also heard complaints about taxes, that those above $250,000 will see a tax increase.

Yesterday, I did my 2010 taxes, and for the first time, I'm subject to the Alternative Minimum Tax. I do not look at myself as misfortunate, rather the opposite, I'm lucky that my job (and my wife's) pay enough that I am in a group that has to consider this additional tax. If I have to, oh well, would it be better to make less? Would it be better to say I'd rather not provide help?

The same thing is true of the $250k additional tax, people in that bracket are fortunate to have jobs which provide that kind of income. If paying my fair share (which isn't a flat percentage, people in that group have far more disposable income) to ensure we are decent and doing our christian duty, means paying a bit more, I at least do not mind. I would rather see to it people do not suffer or die, and pay a little more. As the man said when asked about giving up his cow (his only cow) to help the village, "I am not sad to lose my cow, I am glad I have a cow to give."

People we never knew

Often I am struck by a sense of sadness when someone I barely knew passes. I find out too late what a wonderful and decent person they were. My friend Tom Ticen was like that - President of the Met Council, a man who befriended everyone, and who defended everyone - fearless, fiery, affable beyond words. So was my friend George Olson. George acted as my daughter's Grandpa on take your Grandpa to school day a couple of times. He was the heart and soul of my church for years - a man who could say in a few words what we all knew was the right thing. He was never sad, and he never said anything to hurt anyone (that I knew of). He died of ALS last spring. I wish I had known both of them FAR better than I did.

And today I learned of another - Margaret Moth. Her life story is compelling - someone who wouldn't let adversity stop her, who insisted on putting herself in the middle of the action to get the picture which would be worth 1000 words - I offer you this link: Margaret Moth - and ask you to go read about her. We do not see many her like in our lifetimes, and I wish I would have known her better than I now do in reading of her passing.

Apologies

In a recent post, I questioned the qualifications of John (Johnny) Roosh - I did so because the standard in Financial Planning is that if asked, you answer. You're not supposed to offer specific financial advice (on pain of losing your job) if you work in the industry unless you are credentialed. For more than a year, Mr. Roosh failed to answer a perfectly innocent and straightforward question. He recently said it was on privacy grounds - yet, all answering would have done is confirm his status, it would have revealed nothing further. To me it seems he didn't answer more out of pugnaciousness, but that's just me.

Yet, he felt my questioning of his credentials went more into saying he didn't have any. I didn't say that, but as that is the inference he took, and it is certainly NOT the inference I intended, I sincerely apologize. Someone's expertise can be questioned, but it should not be said to not exist unless you have verified that it doesn't. So, to him and to the readers, I apologize for any inference taken by my apparently poorly chosen words.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

7 years down, 93 to go?

Today marks the 7th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. Seven years later the country is more peaceful than during the first five years of our presence, much of it due to the efforts of Gen. David Petreaus to change in tone and treatment of the Iraqis and their government from the brutally and pervasively racist attitudes and conduct of US forces under Tommy Franks and Donald Rumsfeld.

To be clear, it was not by any means the majority of US forces which behaved with racial/cultural contempt. In fact the vast majority of US forces tried very hard to be fair and decent. No, instead it was much more commonly the private contractors, coupled with a handful of US troops which operated with contemp AND the approval of men like General Odierno. That was the key element, the conduct of the military leadership on the ground and in the Administration which covered-up, brushed off, and ignored brutality and even atrocity. It was leadership and tone which Petreaus changed. It was the corrupt and contemptuous conduct which turned the average Iraqi against us, just as it was that change in conduct which turned them back toward us when Petreaus instilled that change.

The comments of people like Limbaugh who considered providing prisoners with legal counsel to be "molly-coddling" terrorists, and called the conduct at Abu Ghraib "fraternity pranks" spoke of a pervasive attitude among conservatives, inside and outside the military, that Arabs and Muslims were to be treated however we liked. When combined with comments that Muslims like and support terrorism, it helped to foster an fears of crusade inside Iraq and an attitude of contempt inside the Pentagon which shaped US military policy on the ground (prior to Petreaus). It was that contempt, along with too few jobs, too little power and water - which lead to four years of unrelenting insurgency. So, it was more than anything else the change in conduct of US troops by using the local leaders and working within the framework of payments for favors and let's not forget stopping the wanton killings by private contractors which changed the nature of the game in 2007. It was EXACTLY the opposite of the kind of arrogance demonstrated by Limbaugh, Coulter, Hannity, or Cheney - it was precisely what the rest of the country and world said we needed to do, and it worked. So whatever we've "won" in Iraq - make no mistake - it was not Bush nor his cronies who "won" it - they embraced violence and torture instead of cooperation and intelligent interogation. It was the change forced on Bush which "won" whatever we've won.

Yet, this relative peace is just that, relative. There are still daily bombings, there are still daily killings. The frequency is far lower than in 2004-2006, but there are still several a day throughout the country.

Earlier this month Iraqis voted to define the government for the next Parliamentary cycle. It is likely the Al Maliki government will be returned to power, they are leading in the polls.

The shape of the government will likely shape the speed of our departure from Iraq, and Iraqis are worried. They are worried that our departure will create a power vacuum, they are worried our presence props up one faction over another, and so compromises sovereignty. Much of what they worry about is that our departure may set off sectarian violence which has only been forestalled by our presence, but, like Yugoslavia, still lurks slightly below the surface.

By contrast, I watched the movie "Green Zone" yesterday, only by coincidence, and it reminded me how this all started. While it was a work of fiction, it had some undertones which we seem to have forgotten as we claim that "Bush won HIS war" - as if he didn't start Afghanistan - those important facts about Iraq which the movie drove home were:

1. Bush (and company, esp. Rumsfeld) hand picked the intelligence data they wanted. They called it "raw data", but that really meant the ignored the valid interpretation of middle-east experts, including the likelyhood of some intelligence being lies. We obviously found out later that profoundly impactful sources like Ahmed Chalabi and "Curveball" were totally unreliable - yet we invaded anyway.

2. That we, in fact, didn't know where WMD were - Rumsfeld's comments that WMD were "North, South, East, and West" of Bagdhad belied David Kay's comments at the time that the only areas left unsearched were Hussien's private palaces - and given a short period more time he (Kay) would complete the inspections. Bush refused to wait.

3. That invading a country where 25% (ish) of the populace dominated the other 75% by way of controlling the army, and then disbanding that army, helping create 75% unemployment, was enormously foolish. It armed a resentful Sunni minority, and left them with little to do other than be without an income, and fearful of the Shiaa exacting revenge for 30 years of Sunni brutality.

4. Lastly, it reminded me of one extraordinarily important fact. The CIA and other intelligence services said it was 'likely' that Hussien still had some sort of WMD, but that they had no hard evidence. Further, they said that the WMD which was unaccounted for and about which Bush ultimately invaded - was inert and had been inert for 11 years. It was THOSE WMD Bush required Hussien to produce evidence of the destruction of or there would be war. As the truth turned out, he no longer had those weapons, a reality Bush wouldn't address or consider and so we created a pretext for war which made that war unavoidable. Hussien did not have WMD. With respect to nuclear weapons, the weapons Bush and his Administration conjured up fears of mushroom clouds, the CIA told Bush TWO MONTHS prior to the invastion that Iraq no closer than five years from a nuclear weapon, more likely more than 15 years. We had NO solid evidence Iraq had a viable nuclear program, zero. No evidence of nuclear enrichment sites or capability, no satellite imagery, nothing other than the lies of Curveball and Chalabi.

So, seven years after an invasion built on purposefully myopic and deceitfully presented "evidence", Iraq struggles to find its way. The Iraqis hope that peace will be sustainable even though Iran's power has grown, even though the power of the Shiaa has grown, and even though the more militant Sunni nations (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan) want to confront Iran on Iraqi soil. Further, while the more militant elements of the Shiaa majority have accepted a Sunni participation in the government, it is probable that they've only done so because of US troop presence. So our fragile peace continues and our hope for a peaceful Iraq survives, but the test will be will it survive after we leave? This question is the same now as when asked in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007. Ultimately the fate of Iraq depends upon the desires of the Iraqis and their ability to fend off outside influence. Yet, we are ultimately responsible for that outcome. We took the lid off a powder keg of a highly repressive government which abused the majority of its people. We behaved with blind and blithe ignorance. We tried to install puppets, we failied to secure weapons caches, and disbanded the only organization capable of stopping the looting and probably preventing an insurgency (the Iraqi Army). We did this quite simply because we thought just because we were AMERICANS that we knew better how to 'run' Iraq than those we would govern. The Bush Administration's otherwise professed love of decentralized government was utterly ignored as we arrogantly tossed aside the advice of, and experience of, Iraqi officials.

Seven years later, we are still paying for it - both in treasure and in blood, and while it is less so our blood, Iraqi blood still flows freely. Perhaps the 93 more years John McCain, Dick Cheney and George Bush said we should be willing to stay would mean a sustainable peace. Yet the lessons of Yugoslavia and Chechynya say otherwise. Instead, I think our experience and history says that even seven years cannot make up for the colossal mistakes we made during our invasion and occupation (especially the latter). 500,000 or so Iraqis paid for our mistakes with their lives. I sincerely hope, given that I am responsible for the conduct of my government, that when we leave in one year or 93, no more Iraqis need to die to pay any more for our misdeeds.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Intellectual Dishonesty (again)

Shot in the Dark has one decent writer (Mitch) who, despite engaging in sophistry to start off many of his posts, otherwise tries to argue toward a rational point. I don't always agree with Mitch, but he writes persuasively pretty often. To be clear, I frequently think he short changes decent analysis and seems to go out of his way to attempt to ignore or consider how very important counter-points dramatically impact his claims.

Shot in the Dark also has other authors - one is Johnny Roosh. JR apparently holds some sort of position in financial services, and has described himself as being a "financial planner." We've asked a few times what licensure he holds (Series 7 would be pretty standard) - but he hasn't answered. I'm not sure he is properly licensed, and frequently he makes comments which belie the suspicion that he is not, for he, like our former pest troll KR, claims that it was governmental regulation which caused the recent econimic meltdown/catastrophe.

I can't claim to be a great expert on financial services - I work in investment banking, dealing with large cash movement and the reasons for the appetite (or lack) of banks for deposits and the desires of brokers to make 'spread revenue' with the cash they have on hand. But, I DO work with some people who are VERY experienced in financial services, people reasonably well-known on Wall Street. I talked with them about what happened from 2007 into 2009. In short, what I heard was:

1. Companies, thru lax oversight, were allowed to hide debts (like Enron), and many, many of them did so.
2. People were overly incented to do deals - so they did bad deals when the good deals ran out.

Some of these kinds of deals were:
a. Many companies sold their bad debts off to other companies packaged up into deals with many parts, claiming they were good investments (i.e. derivatives)
b. Other companies effectively sold their debt exposure (insurance against loss) telling the buyer they were good ideas to hold the risk (Credit Default Swaps).
c. Still more companies bet long with what was supposed to be 'low risk' money - namely money market funds. When their bets failed, the underlying money fund collapsed.
d. Still MORE companies wrote mortgages with zero income to debt requirements, or wrote HELOCs with equity percentages above 100%, or agreed upon mortgages with HUGE balloon payments that they should have had zero expectation the customer would be able to pay when the interest rate or the balloon shot up.

Yet - people like KR (and JR, and Mitch), have attempted to claim that in fact it was TOO MUCH governmental regulation which really was the underlying cause of the collapse. Specifically that the 3% of the bank's books dedicated to providing mortgages at normal rates to low-income borrowers instead of jacking the rates or requiring outrageous down-payments (or both) was the underlying reason. Now, make no mistake, CRA loans WERE packaged in CDS's and derivatives, but they didn't cause those CDS's (or derivatives) to collapse by themselves. No, instead they collapsed for what was understood to be the underlying problem, specifically a broad and deep income weakness in a as weighted against increasing fuel and healthcare costs- which combined with ARMS and balloon payments (and some idiotic loans which could never ever have been expected to be repaid) caused MANY MANY MANY mortgages to collapse, MILLIONS more than all of the CRA loans.

Yet, when you want to hate the government, you look for any excuse.

So, to that I offer two comments -

First, my almost universally Republican friends who work(ed) on Wall Street think this line of blame (of the government) is laughably stupid. They know full well it was too many people, and too huge bonuses, causing them to chase too few good investments so they started chasing bad ones, combined with shrinking numbers of decent jobs.

Second - Wall Street knows it full well too. You'd be hard pressed to find anyone worth a damn actually blame CRA - they'd be mocked, they'd be a laughingstock. Consider the independent audit done by Anton Valukas (a court appointed auditor). In his recent report (March 12, 2010) - he found:

"“There are many reasons Lehman failed, and the responsibility is shared,” Mr Valukas wrote in his report, which was made public by the court on Thursday. “Lehman was more the consequence than the cause of a deteriorating economic climate.”

Those of you who have read my prior comment on this know that I've said Lehman bought too much bad paper - e.g. #2a and #2b above... Valukus goes on..

"In his report, Mr Valukas claimed that Lehman’s financial plight “was exacerbated by Lehman executives, whose conduct ranged from serious but non-culpable errors of business judgment to actionable balance sheet manipulation; by the investment bank business model, which rewarded excessive risk taking and leverage; and by government agencies, who by their own admission might better have anticipated or mitigated the outcome.” (e.g. #1 above)

By the time Lehman imploded, $25bn in capital was supporting $700bn of assets and liabilities, a leverage ratio that was regarded as extremely high. In an effort to maintain favourable ratings from the rating agencies, Lehman engaged in what was referred to internally as Repo 105, a sort of window dressing which involved getting $50bn of assets off the firm’s balance sheet at the end of both the 2008 first- and second-quarter balance sheets. The examiner quotes a Lehman executive saying, “there was no substance to the transactions”.

As anyone can see, Mr. Valukas was extremely critical of Lehman's leadership, describing them as absent or complicit.

Now, when I confronted my friend Mitch, he claimed the report was work of a 'biased NYT report.' His reaction was knee-jerk ad hominem. He didn't research the report. This was no such thing, it wasn't simply Op Ed - which Berg has no problem quoting when it's conservative spin from the Journal, NO, the report was put together by Anton R. Valukas, a former federal prosecutor and current chairman of the law firm Jenner & Block, who is serving as an examiner for the bank. As JDsupra.com notes - "Examiners in bankruptcy cases are appointed to investigate accusations of wrongdoing or misconduct. Their job is to determine whether creditors can recover more money in these cases, and their findings often serve as guides for more lawsuits and even regulatory action." He is eminently qualified to draw his conclusions, and is certainly far more an expert than my friend Mitch, or his supposed financial expert, John Roosh.

As a further aside, Mr. Valukas gave $3000 to the McCain Victory campaign for President prior to giving $4000 to Rudy Giuliani's campaign, whom he apparently preferred. Yep, Mr. Valukas clearly is a biased liberal.. but even had Mr. Valukas actually BEEN a liberal - what would it matter? He was charged with a task, a legal responsibility - how dare anyone claim he would change the numbers it for simple politics? Apparently it's easier to use baseless personal attack for Mitch than to do actual research. So, he winds up looking foolish (in the extreme) by claiming the report was simply spin. Or maybe, just maybe, Mitch seems utterly unwilling to conduct himself in any regard on his blog without massive spin, and so is equally unwilling to conceive that others are actually upright and honest. Consequently, he attacks a dyed-in-the-wool conservative Republican who did his job professionally, and seemingly well. He attacks him by claiming his report was liberal spin. This kind of knee-jerk truly baffles me, yet I encounter it over and over again from the likes of Mitch, for to consider the alternative, that Valukas' comments were true, would fundamentally indict the idea that capitalism ran amock, greed often has consequences, and most importantly, that the government didn't cause anything due to too much regulation, but may well have enabled it through far, FAR too little. Lax regulation was the watch-word of the Bush Administration and the end of the Clinton Admnistration with the willing agreement of folks like Phil Gramm. Ad hominem is the argument of the weakly justified - and it seems, the poorly researched.

Anyway, back to the point - Today, Michael Lewis, Wall Street 'wunderkind', and author of "Liar's Poker," has published his own analysis...
- Michael Lewis, "Inside the Collapse."


"This was an episode where capitalism was almost destroyed, just by the capitalists. And, in the most sensational way, they were sort of destroyed by their own folly," Lewis told Kroft.

Asked what happened, Lewis said, "The incentives for people on Wall Street got so screwed up, that the people who worked there became blinded to their own long term interests. And because the short term interests were so overpowering. And so they behaved in ways that were antithetical to their own long term interests."

So, when someone claims the governement was the cause - much like they might claim FDR (and liberalism) caused the Great Depression - laugh, laugh out loud, and let them know, you are laughing at them.

For my friend Mitch and the reader, I would ask whose version do you think is more likely true, the one which pretends to blame 3% of the mortgage market (not to mention doesn't for a moment explain the present danger of a commercial mortgage market collapse), or the one (I'd like to think mine in contrast to "theirs"), which is embraced by Wall Street, hangs together logically, makes sense, and which nearly every analysis points to? When you decide you already know the answer to every question, and that answer is "it's the governments fault," you wind up looking and soundling like an extremist with a tin ear, wearing blinders, which I suppose is best, because that way you don't have to hear the laughter.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Talk About Big Brother

Frequently conservatives in the political "blog-o-sphere" caterwaul "government cannot be trusted".

In a recent post, my friend Mitch Berg suggests the government "should not be trusted with a cardboard knife." Government supplies police, fire, roads, military, coastal protection, schools, food, medical service and drug oversight, and an enormous host of other absolutely necessary services. These are services Mr. Berg and other Americans gratefully rely on daily.

The comment implies people employed within government are somehow not “ordinary Americans”, and the average, ordinary, every day “Joe”, who may be a sailor or a cop, is somehow vastly different; they should not be trusted with a cardboard knife. The forget or ignore our government is “of the people”, including its rank and file workers.

States and municipalities prove why governing isn't "simple", or driven by "common sense", as conservatives envision it. Laws drafted by those with single-issue agendas are dangerous laws. Perhaps such laws are simply falling to "The Law of Unintended Consequences", but that hardly makes it acceptable. Contempt for governance is an inadequate substitute for good governance. It is self-evident, crafting a law which doesn’t dramatically and negatively impact society is a requirement to be a "good" law. Knowing how to craft laws which avoid such outcomes should be a requirement for anyone seeking office.

It is precisely this contempt, this visceral disregard for the idea of a government shaped by understanding and appreciation of the potential negative impact (especially on the minority), that we get these horrible outcomes. Contempt drives the ideas making law is “easy”, and that those who think otherwise are na├»ve’. Contempt brings about these poor laws, rather than simple unintended consequence. Thinking government is always wrong has had serious and profoundly negative consequences on our society. Teaching contempt for government ultimately harms our ability to govern rationally, as knee-jerk reactions to any situation impedes reasoned consideration of perfectly appropriate, functional laws and services.

An example of this is Texas. In Texas, the death penalty is more frequently used than in any other state, by a factor of 4 times more often than the next closest state, Virginia. There have been 450 executions in Texas since 1976, 105 in Virginia. Now, Texas IS three times larger than Virginia (almost), so that explains some of it, but Texas' attitude and conduct of Capital cases is distinct and unique. Between those two states, they have put to death almost half of all of those executed since Capital Punishment was reinstated, with Texas making up the lion’s share of executions. In its desire to exact vengeance rather than justice, Texas stands virtually alone in using Capital Punishment contrasted with ‘average America’ as represented by the other 48 states. The interest in the state in fairness or due process seems a distant second to other interests, and as the following illustrates. It can be argued that innocence is not as desirable as conviction. Whether the convicted is the guilty party is a distant and secondary consideration.

Texas has a thirty day limit on the submission of exculpatory evidence after the date of conviction. Any evidence which shows the defendant was innocent, such as finding photos, fingerprints, DNA evidence or other proof of the innocence of the convicted, if it is found 31 days after the announcement of the verdict, it just doesn't matter, the defendant stays on death row.

I understand that Districts Attorney don’t want to release a convicted person. I understand they want to be darned sure the evidence they’ve convicted someone wrongly is factually correct, but that’s not the same thing.

This law bars the submission of any evidence, strong or weak, proper or questionable. It effectively prevents the kind of action taken in Illinois, it prevents freeing someone wrongly convicted, by preventing any evidence from being considered. The Supreme Court has upheld the right of Texas to implement this law. Appeals on evidentiary grounds, the most meaningful kind of appeals, are prevented. The zeal of the ‘too liberal court’ crowd to unlimited appeals, has, without question, sometimes gone too far. The contempt for appellants, the length of time it takes to execute someone, and the cost has in reaction caused the enactment of law which will lead to the death of innocent people. Think not? Read below about Illinois. As you consider, read these articles on the subject:

Cornell Law Review Editor's Article:

Execution of the innocent?

Clearly, from the second article, there is a question about whether the state may have executed innocent people. There are even greater questions about whether the Governor is willing to admit it, or would prefer to cover it up.

In Texas, in Capital cases, public defenders representing the VAST majority of capital case defendants get a minimal fee, around $250, to cover all their legal and research expenses. That’s not much, and to defend someone's life it is not adequate. In contrast, the state often spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on researching, taking depositions, bringing in forensics experts, and other activities to prosecute the accused. This inequity in the state of Texas is not describable as the “benevolent application of law.”

As a further example of the zeal for “justice” in Texas, I offer one more point.

A few years ago, a convict was released on a rape charge after DNA evidence during an appeal proved the convict was not the person who left semen on the victim. That DNA belonged to another person, a prior sex offender; that other person was ultimately charged.

There were two injustices in this instance. One, an innocent man was jailed; the other, more important in some respects, the guilty man was free. He stood little risk of ever being charged without the work and diligence of the defense counsel during the appeal.

What was the reaction of the District Attorney in this case? Did he apologize? Did he seek to confirm whether OTHER DNA test kits might show he should be looking for someone else?

No! He ordered the destruction of ALL rape test kits, to prevent any other appeal from being successful. He ordered the destruction of any evidence which might have proven the innocence of someone, and that the accused was still free. He ordered the destruction of any evidence that would affect his conviction rate.

His interest was not justice. He cared about preserving his reputation as DA, and the conviction record of his office. This was not swift justice, this was not the “common sense” application of the wisdom of “plain folk”.

This was a calculated intervention by the state, preventing innocent people from rightfully proving their innocence. Given the reliance by law enforcement on DNA, there was little validity to the DA’s claim at the time that the destroyed DNA evidence was “questionable.”

While one could look at this case as proof that government should not be trusted, I would argue instead that it is more proof that those who distrust the government and the legal process are untrustworthy. This DA did not trust the appeal process. He refused to allow the system to work properly, a system which had been designed to preserve such evidence both for the benefit of the state AND the defendant.

Now, ultimately the Governor of Texas in these capital cases could stay the execution, either commuting the sentence or pardoning the defendant. It's certainly not an assured outcome, and as a remedy to abuses, it is at best cold comfort. Anecdote and example do not support the premise of a lenient Governor intervening.

Consider the callousness of George Bush when asked by Larry King what Karla Faye Tucker's last words were, to then Governor Bush prior to her execution in Texas. Bush's vulgar and disgusting reply was to feign he was crying, rubbing his eyes with a smirk on his face as he sniggered, "Please don't kill me."

This is a man who claims to be a born again Christian. He LAUGHED at holding this woman’s fate in his hands. He mocked her death.

I make no excuse for Ms. Tucker. She was convicted of participating in the double murder with an axe of two innocent people. Fifteen years later she claimed she was also born again, that she had truly repented her sins and crimes. I do not believe such repentance is reason to halt an execution, but I’m not someone who claims to take instruction directly from God, nor embraces repentance in the same light as born-again Christians like Bush claim.

Finding humor in the execution of a person is disgusting, whatever your religion or lack of it. It belies an attitude of sneering, unrelenting contempt towards human beings. Consequently, there is NO assurance a Governor with that contempt and callousness will be impartial and fair when dealing with defendants.

In Texas once 31 days go by, there is no right of appeal, zero, under state law, and too little likelihood of such a conviction being commuted, even in the face of demonstrably provable cases of error. It's absurd.

The issue with Texas is simply what is done with the situations where the court erred? In many states there seems to be a similar contempt for due process and appeals, and toward the defendants. In what is a cruel irony, these states are also those which employ the death penalty more than most. It is primarily in southern states where 955 of the 1196 executions since 1976 have taken place. Do we support justice which is so dramtically different from one region to another in this country? Can we even call that justice?

In contrast, Illinois is different. In Illinois, after research by University of Chicago grad students found that 13 of 25 death-row convicts were NOT the perpetrators, the Republican Governor commuted EVERY death sentence and forbade any further use of the death penalty until such time as a more accurate convictions could be assured. This prohibition has not been lifted; it was instituted in 2003. An aside, this Governor was later accused and convicted of corruption, and sent to prison. In what would have been real irony, had he been contemptuous of the convicted, he would then have been contemptuous of himself, an irony not lost on me when examining Mr. Bush's sneering mockery.


The ultimate point here is, when considering the experience of Illinois, clearly these cases are not simple. Rights of appeal ARE relevant, and sometimes complex. None of us care to see a guilty man or woman set free. We find appeals by incompetent counsel difficult to stomach. However, if in our rush to "justice" we deny people's basic rights, our interest in 'simple' government becomes an anathema. It becomes nothing less than a gross violation of what we believe is intrinsically American. We believe as Americans in protecting the rights of the individuals from abuse by the state. Ironically, it is those small-government talking heads which bluster about believing exactly this, but which are ready and willing to enact the kind of travesty which characterizes the Texas Capital case penal system.

Equally compelling is the fundamental hypocrisy of it all. This deep and abiding hypocrisy occurs when those who advocate for a smaller government are the very same people who enact laws like the limits on counsel and appeal, precisely because of their contempt for government. Because of that contempt, they enact far more onerous laws than anything they complain about.

Whether those laws are onerous because of ignorance or unintended consequence is hardly material, because when confronted, they don’t look to change until the press or public become so indignant change is demanded. In short, they DESIRE such laws – and whether they desire such laws because they despise good governance, or because they reflexively write off someone accused of a crime, or both, I leave to you, the reader, to decide.

Either way, it seems clear that writing law in such a state of mind leads to the worst things in government, not the best. It is important we teach our kids about the proper use and limits of government, but also that government CAN be used for the greater good. We need to teach our children it is often quite capable and that when it is not, we can and should carefully change it.

The government isn’t some monolithic beast. It is made up of ordinary people. It is made up of you and me. So long as we hold our legislators to certain standards, such as being respectful of civic duties, grounded in how to govern well, then we will not so often fear them. We must embrace and teach that good and proper government includes respecting the rights of the unpopular. That many, in fact most laws are crafted carefully, not stupidily, out of a desire to protect EXACTLY those rights – the rights of the individual – rather than as some would claim, to usurp them.

To be continued…

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Right Words


"If words are to enter men's minds and bear fruit, they must be the right words shaped cunningly to pass men's defenses and explode silently and effectually within their minds."
- J. B. Phillips

British Biblical translator, writer, clergyman
1906 - 1982

"In a sense, words are encyclopedias of ignorance because they freeze perceptions at one moment in history and then insist we continue to use these frozen perceptions when we should be doing better."
- Edward de Bono

Maltese physician, inventor, professor, author and consultant; originator of the concept of lateral thinking
1933

"Deception is a cruel act... It often has many players on different stages that corrode the soul."
~ Donna A. Favors



On Thursday evening March 4th comedic genius Stephen Colbert presented an especially cogent mini 'Tip of the Hat' segment on the Colbert Report in which he demonstrated the kind of extreme editing and outright fakery used by James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles in creating the false and misleading 'ACORN' sting videos. That it also made fun of the folly of Sean Hannity of Fox News on Hannity's own set added to the effectiveness of the send up, while emphasizing the underlying truth of Colbert's criticism of both O'Keefe and Hannity.

www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/265498/march-04-2010/tip-wag---james-o-keefe---sean-hannity

Saturday evening, March 6th, at the California Republican Assembly Convention, an event that the late President Ronald Reagan called "the conscience of the Republican Party", James O'Keefe and his partner in crime, Hannah Giles, were to be presented with the Ronald Reagan Freedom Fighter Award for their videotape 'stings' of ACORN. This can reasonably be construed as a 'right wing' gala event, the 'right' of the title of this essay 'Right Words', which is all about wrong words, lies, deceptions, fraud and misrepresentations.

So, why reward O'Keefe and Giles, not only with this award, but with wider spread right wing adoration?

For the same reason that so many other right wing prominent political figures have come out against ACORN. They hate ACORN for having been effective in registering voters from lower income and disadvantaged areas who vote largely Democratic, and for the support of associated causes.

The criticism of ACORN for a number of problems, both with internal issues including embezzlement of funds, and with a very small percentage of their voter registration drives, criticism by both the left and the right, is well deserved. Some of the ACORN voter registration drive efforts were badly supervised, and I personally have a serious objection to funds going to an organization that has a past of covering up embezzlement. But I don't believe that ACORN has been proven to have altered the outcome of elections, or many of the other claims against it.

Overall, about 5 to 7% of ACORN's voter registrations have had to be further checked, with about 1% actually being rejected as either duplicate or false. That percentage is higher than the success rate for other voter registration groups, but not excessively so. Those 'bad' voter registrations are caught through the various cross referencing methods used to validate the voter registration data base in every state. Anyone who wants to know exactly what the validation methods are in their state can determine that with a quick phone call or email to their own state administration for that data base. It is a matter of public record, and I encourage people to make their own inquiries.

The RNC has sent out many fund raising solicitations over the signature of chair Michael Steele, both by email and snail mail, incorrectly claiming voter fraud, not just voter registration fraud or failures by ACORN. The RNC and a number of prominent conservative politicians, media talking heads, and bloggers all claim an unprecedented and unprosecuted theft of elections from the right by this voter fraud. They specifically blame ACORN, they specifically target ACORN because they need someone, something, to blame for their losses.

This is a claim even more loudly advanced by Minnesota 6th District Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who has elevated hatred for ACORN into an obsession as unique in intensity as it is inaccurate factually. ACORN is a frequent icon for terrorizing her doner base in Bachmann's fund raising efforts, and a regular target for Bachmann's legislative efforts on behalf of the right. Hannah Giles has included similar completely false, unsupported allegations in the three page solicitation letters she sent out to raise money for her legal defense. There is a lot of money to be made in peddling fear, and anger, and the sting of losing majority power. Further, the right needs a distraction from their own years of bad government when they had that majority power.

Even the December 22, 2009 Report to the Congressional Judiciary Committee prepared by the Congressional Research Service, determined that ACORN has not had a single instance of actual voter fraud resulting from their voter registration efforts (page 1, item number 3).
http://judiciary.house.gov/hearings/pdf/CRS-ACORN091222.pdf
The CRS report was only one of the more recent examination of the charges of voter fraud to find no evidence to support the charges against ACORN by the right; it is not the only report to do so.

So, while there may be a few jokers who fill out a voter registration card as Minnie Mouse or Donald Duck, or even Goofy, none of those people have tried to vote under those registrations. An equal or greater proportion of the problem registrations have been simple duplicates, where there was no attempt to use a fictitious identity. None of the investigations to date have found any pattern of deliberate fraud to alter elections. Problem voter registrations are a nuisance, in some instances they are a crime, but they have never EVER been demonstrated to be significant in the outcome of elections.

But that hasn't stopped the continuing efforts of the right against ACORN. Readers may recall that the New Mexico US Attorney, David Iglesias, lost his job for refusing to prosecute ACORN in that state because there was insufficient evidence of any crime, during the Bush administration attempt to politicize the Department of Justice. The efforts by O'Keefe and Giles are only the latest attack on ACORN by the right.

The latest award to O'Keefe and Giles comes at the end of the week that saw the announcement by the Brooklyn, New York District Attorney at the conclusion of an extensive investigation that there was no basis for any prosecution of ACORN. This despite the attempts by O'Keefe and Giles to portray the Brooklyn ACORN office, and a number of other ACORN locations, as engaging in not just any criminal activity, but child prostitution, in a calculated attempt to engage the emotions of the public. Mere voter registration issues are too boring to get a reaction. They needed to 'sex up' the perception of problems with ACORN.

Except that like the false accusations of voter fraud, there do not appear to, have been any instances of criminal activity, either aiding prostitution or money laundering, by ACORN identified to date. There are other investigations into the activities of both ACORN AND O'Keefe and Giles, resulting from these videos, including one by the California Attorney General. There is a very real possibility of criminal felony indictments resulting from those investigations - charges against O'Keefe and Giles.

There has been a huge media smear of ACORN, but no charges, no proof. To date, only O'Keefe and Giles, and now the Brooklyn, NY District Attorney have seen the uncut, unedited version of the events. O'Keefe and Giles, and their boss Andrew Breitbart have insisted across the internet, and across pretty much the entirety of Fox News and some mainstream media, and social utilities like Youtube through their videos and interviews that their heavily altered and partially faked videos portrayed ACORN assisting them to try to set up a brothel providing the sexual services of underage illegal immigrant girls.

In response to the investigation by the Brooklyn DA, the right has tried to fly the accusation of conflict of interest, along with the usual factual errors they resort to with ACORN claims. One of the best analyses of New York prostitution and money laundering laws explaining factually why the Brooklyn DA did not prosecute ACORN was written by prominent New York attorney Michael J. Gaynor at www.webcommentary.com/php/ShowArticle.php?id=gaynorm&date=100305 where he breaks down the applicable statutes line by line as they apply to what ACORN did - and did not do.

There have been multiple investigations, and now there are law suits against O'Keefe and Giles being filed. There may be criminal indictments as well resulting from their videos of ACORN, and appropriately so as they appear to have possibly violated not only the laws of a number of states including Maryland and California, relating to recording without consent, but also possibly the federal statutes against recording people for either tortious or criminal purposes. Some states make a particular point of singling out for penalty not only recording people with or without their consent with the intent of then making the recordings public after altering them to reflect false and negative images, which would seem to be a big problem for O'Keefe and Giles.

Fox News which promoted O'Keefe and Giles is suddenly very quiet on the subject. Andrew Breitbart who employed O'Keefe and Giles, accepted awards with them, and widely promoted them across the media is now claiming he never saw the unedited 'raw' footage, and that he was deceived by O'Keefe and Giles.

I wonder when more of the right is going to catch on that the jig is up. I wonder if the California Republican Assembly will eventually try to take back their Ronald Reagan Freedom Fighter Awards.

I wonder what the Right words on ACORN, O'Keefe, and Giles will be then.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Intellectual Honesty

An opinion article in the Financial Times tells some unspoken truths about the 'mystical' Reagan years...

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/03/01/business/financialtimes/main6256362.shtml?tag=cbsnewsSectionContent.10

"Traditional conservatives disdain populism and respect knowledge. They believe in balancing the government's books. And they are pragmatists who are suspicious of ideology. Reagan debased all these ideas - and modern American conservatism is still suffering the consequences.

The tabular content relating to this article is not available to view. Apologies in advance for the inconvenience caused.

The most damaging idea propagated by the Reagan myth is the cult of the idiot-savant (the wise fool). "

Certainly Ms. Palin (and a host of other conservatives who deny things like Evolution or Global Warming) is/are intelligent, even clever, but they frequently quote ill-researched, often veneer thin factoids, while eschewing vastly better supported research supporting the position they don't prefer. In her case, she is highly ambitious, and it seems her power base for election and support is to appeal to a social/political stance which doesn't prefer the scientific outcome/researched positions, consequently, she adopts such a position, and claims it is simply 'common sense' that, for example, that Global Warming isn't happening.