Sunday, January 31, 2010

BiPartisan solution

Today Katherine Kersten, a conservative columnist for the Minneapolis StarTribune, offered her recommendations on how to achieve a bipartisan healthcare bill.

There were a number of problems, which I'll go into further, but the most significant simply was this, her solution was for the Democrats to become Republicans, and simply adopt all of the Republican ideas while abandoning ALL of their own. In short, her bipartisanship was simply, "We can be bipartisan if you do what the Republicans want, and expect no comprimise from us." That's not bipartisan, that's capitulation, and it's silly to think the majority party should simply acquiesce on all points and call it bipartisan. It is anything BUT BIpartisan, it is purely partisan.

She made several points - which I'll discuss below:

1. Her first suggestion was to allow for insurance carriers to compete across state lines. The idea is to foster competition by allowing carriers who are succesful in one state to compete against those in other states who are 'less incented' to be price competitive. This sounds good on paper, but it is anything but correct. First of all, virtually ALL carriers already compete in many states, if not all. There isn't some 'hole-in-the-wall' state where only small carriers are keeping rates jacked up due to a lack of competition. In fact, in Minnesota, the law stipulates that health carriers MUST be non-profit, a fact that chased several carriers OUT, not into the state, they could not compete with programs priced at a non-profit level (or rather would not). But the more significant element is the concept of state rule, each state has passed laws protecting consumers from various predatory practices. Most states are pretty aggressive in this, a few, like Delawaree, instead prefer to offer safe haven to insurance carriers who chose to offer less than robust coverage. When these states did this, states enacted laws with provisions referred to as 'extra-territorial' or 'extra-territoriality' clauses, these clauses required that if the majority of a health plan group resides in the state, even if the company is headquartered elsewhere, the laws of the state prevail. The fact is that any carrier can offer a group program to employees across state lines if the group represents employees from several states, but they are required to conform to the laws of those states. This recommendation does NOT seek to offer competition, instead it seeks to eliminate those extra-territorial clauses and requirements. It will strip away MANY MANY protections of consumers, and subject them to coverage by carriers who incorporate in Delaware, and thus where none of the normal kinds of provisions will exist. Laws prohibiting predatory coordination of benefits, or predatory re-pricing into new groups, will be gone. This is a sop to business, and nothing more.

2. Ms. Kersten suggests that small businesses should be allowed to 'pool' into larger group programs, like large companies can do. It's a reasonable idea, but as a news flash to Ms. Kersten, THEY ALREADY CAN. Most states have group consortiums, and even where they don't, any number of small employers can form a benevolent association and buy larger group insurance. We don't need laws for it. That said, this is the same concept, of a large, sweeping program, that Ms. Kersten objects to about Obama's proposal, which smacks a little of either hypocrisy, or an unreasonable fear of the government - an unfounded fear at that since Medicare works VERY VERY well.

3. Ms. Kersten also suggests allowing for health savings programs in greater measure, but these are already present, and in growing numbers, yet have never proven to be the panacea that the right used to very frequently suggest it would be. Catastrophic, high-dollar deductible .. whatever you call it, making the consumer bear some of the pain is very much the way to reign in some of the inflation in the system, but it cannot be done overnight, or it would cause massive deflation, a catastrophe of unfathomable proportions, in 1/6th of the economy. Further, it doesn't address the increasing age of the population - which is the KEY driving element of health care inflation.

4. Finally, Ms. Kersten brings up malpractice, and tort-reform. She suggests that 100 Billion dollars annually is spent on unnecessary medicine to avoid charges of malpractice. My response is, such a suggestion is ludicrous in it's face. Their is a GREAT deal of overutilization, but Medicare experts suggest it is VASTLY more about fraud than defensive medicine, and further, there are MANY MANY other reasons for defensive medicine than simply avoiding a malpractice charge, not the least among them, ensuring you haven't missed something. Further, malpractice costs have been tied FAR FAR FAR more to losses suffered by malpractice carriers who invested premiums in the stock market, and so looked to recoup those losses by jacking rates, than due to frivolous lawsuits. Finally, frivolous lawsuits don't get awards above $250,000 very often (read damneed near never). Malpractice carriers may be willing to shell out $5-$15k as nuicance payments, but they absolutely AREN'T willing to pay 1/4 of a million. If the case has no merits, it is MUCH less costly to contest it in court, since, if it is frivilous, it is easy to dispense with. NO, instead, what THIS tort reform cry is about is protecting malpractice carriers from paying for claims and losses in exactly the kinds of cases they are SUPPOSED TO PAY, namely, where a doctor really and truly screws up, usually negligently. 100,000 people die each year in hospitals or other clinical environments due to mistakes, most of them innocent, but still mistakes about countra-indicated mixing of medicines. MANY thousands die from negligent conduct, and doctors buy malpractice because the cost of paying families for these negligent mistakes is FAR more than just a few thousand dollars. If they had to pay out of their pockets, as would EVERY OTHER TYPE OF BUSINESS which didn't have similar liability insurance, it would bankrupt them, but it would rightly, THEY cost someone their life or limb. This is instead about making doctors sacrosanct from their mistakes, limiting awards to an amount they could probably pay out of their pockets. Malpractice insurance would be a nuicance element - but you should not expect, not for one moment, that costs would be materially affected. Malpractice costs are estimated to comprise about 1/2 of one percent of the inflationary pressure in the market. Defensive medicine is certainly another driving factor for costs, but fraud as well as proper thoroughness are part of that factor as well, and I have heard estimates that there is no less than $40 Billion in fraud in defensive medicine, so Ms. Kersten's numbers, which were not attributed, likely are VASTLY inflated.

In the end, the Republican proposals either are to do little (propose HSA's or group coverage for small employers) including proposing things which are already in place, or they are to provide bail-outs for insurance carriers (in malpractice) or to propose changes in law which will allow for predatory trade practices as carriers flee to havens where protective laws are not possible to enforce. That's not change, it surely isn't standing up for the common man, and one other thing it isn't, it isn't bipartisan, not by a darned sight. It is simply asking the people to let the corporate interests determine the best way forward, and as recent history has shown with respect to wages, with respect to banking, and with respect to jobs, that may be good for the wealthy corporate leaders, but it is anything but good for the rest of us. Ms. Kersten's ideas are both staid (they are ideas which have been around and tried for the better part of 20 years), and decidedly partisan.

Friday, January 29, 2010

State vs. Scott Roeder - Finale

The case of State of Kansas vs. Scott Roeder reached a conclusion just before noon in Wichita, Kansas on January 29, 2010. The jury deliberated just 37 minutes before handing down a verdict of Guilty to the charge of First Degree Murder. The jury also convicted him of two counts of aggravated assault for threatening two ushers who attempted to stop him after the shooting. Sentencing is set for March 9. The maximum sentence for the charge is life in prison. The prosecution has announced that it will ask the court to impose a "Hard 50" sentence, which would mean Roeder will have to serve at least 50 years before being eligible for parole.

Testimony in this case began on Friday, January 22, when the prosecution introduced a parade of witnesses including the others present when Mr. Roeder walked into Dr. Tiller's church, put a .22 caliber revolver to Dr. Tiller's forehead, and pulled the trigger. Forensic evidence was introduced, including DNA evidence linking Scott Roeder to the killing (blood found on his pants was identified as belonging to Dr. Tiller), and Scott Roeder's own brother testified for the prosecution that Roeder purchased a handgun at a pawn shop in Lawrence, Kansas and then practiced shooting it at the brother's house in a rural area outside of Topeka, Kansas. The prosecution also introduced several witnesses that testified that Scott Roeder was at the church on several occasions prior to shooting Dr. Tiller.

The defense attempted to call Asst. Attorney General Barry Disney, and former Attorney General Phill Kline to testify about attempts to prosecute Dr. Tiller for illegal abortions, but Judge Warren Wilbert ruled that their testimony would not be allowed because it was irrelevant. (Dr. Tiller was acquitted of all criminal charges in 2009). Scott Roeder then was the only witness for the defense, and while testifying, admitted the elements of premeditation, and claimed it was done to save unborn babies. Mr. Roeder also gave additional details of the crime, including what he had done with the gun used to commit it. Judge Wilbert ruled that although Roeder would be allowed to testify as to why he committed the crime, he did not allow him to testify about abortion itself. At the conclusion of the defense, Judge Wilbert also ruled that he would not give an instruction on Voluntary Manslaughter, stating "There is no imminence of danger on a Sunday morning in the back of a church, let alone any unlawful conduct, given that what Tiller did at his clinic Monday through Friday is lawful in Kansas."

Obama the Savior

After President Obama's State of the Union Address on Tuesday, Republicans hit the airewaves complaining Obama can't continue to "Blame it on Bush." After all (goes their logic) Obama's been President for a FULL YEAR NOW.

Isn't Obama responsible for what happens on his watch?

This utter sophistry is made even funnier by the complaints of Republicans that Clinton didn't deserve credit for the boom of the 90's (that was the result of Reagan's 'pro-small government' policies after all); that Reagan didn't deserve any blame for the economic woes of 1982 and 1983, because that was, after all, the fault of Jimmy Carter's.... uh, "weakness".

Carter really had few economic programs which had ANY impact on the country outside of appointing Paul Vollker Fed Chair. Yes, the same Paul Vollker which Reagan later credited with ending double-digit inflation. Reagan first complained bitterly about Vollker's fiscal policy which tightened credit to kill inflation, but also made the massive deficit spending Reagan engaged in even more costly.

And finally, those same Republicans claim it was NOT Bush's fault that the economy tanked in 2002, but rather the poor policies of "Clinton/Gore."

The truth is that it sometimes takes several years for policies to have material effects on the economy. Bush really didn't deserve the 'blame' for what happened in 2002, nor did Reagan deserve blame for what happened in 1982, but neither did he deserve credit for what happened in 1997. George Bush Sr. and Clinton, combined, deserved credit for the surplusses of the late 90's. The internet boom and Y2K programming boom deserved credit for the increases in wages, just as the internet BUST and end of the Y2K threat, in part at least, brought about the problems of 2002 (rather than Bush Jr.).

The recession of 2008 really started in late 2007, got MUCH worse in 2008, and continued into 2009. It happened in large part due to an overreaction and fear of what transpired on Sept 15, 2008, when Lehman Brothers finally paid the price for years of issueing crappy paper, derivatives and Credit Default Swaps against poor quality loans. Lehman helped to bring down Reserve Management Corp, whose Primary and Reserve Government Money Funds floundered immediately, one of them 'breaking the buck' in Net Asset Value (NAV), something which was supposedly impossible. (It had happened only ONCE, ever, in the late 1960's when a very small firm, from malfeasance.) It was supposed to be impossible for it to happen to something the size of Reserves $120B in Primary and Government Money funds. The collapse of those funds froze the assets of tens of thousands of people for months, sent people fleeing the market, and caused corporations to lay off hundreds of thousands of workers. It was a massive over-reaction; it was mass-hysteria.

We had some really ugly months. We avoided the collapse of our banking system only by massive federal intervention, started by Bush. (Bush, in one of his few lucid and competent moments, appointed Hank Paulson and then Ben Bernenke to help stave off catastrophe.) It was continued by Obama and the Democrats.

Did Bush cause the collapse? In part yes, and in part no; he sat idley by while banks became roullette palyers. He encouraged their conduct, backing the ideas of Phil Gramm and Barney Frank to further deregulate banks. More important, was the repeal of Glass-Steagal. But Bush didn't cause the hysteria, and he DID react correctly when the collapse fully manifested. He responded, perhaps too slowly when the cycle began, often denying there was any problem at all. Does anyone remember Bush's 'booster shot' mentality in 2007?

Did Obama save us? No - not really.

What has occured is the country has moved back from the precipice, and begun rehiring a little of what they laid off. We have a huge unemployment problem to overcome and long way to go to regain any real prosperity. The fundamental truth is that until we start paying labor better, allowing them to at least keep pace with inflation, we will remain ill and sick and stagnant. Conumer spending IS 66% of the economy and it IS how we can pay off our obligations, through wage growth and thereby revenue growth.

But since we seem hell-bent to have 10 minute vision instead. I say..
along with CBS news:

that Obama is the savior of our economy. We've had two quarters of GDP growth, and last quarter, at 5.7% growth, represents the best quarter since 2003. We've had that growth WITHOUT tax cuts and WITH increased government spending; the economy booms, and will continue to do so.

James "the Pimp" O'Keefe

I have one question for conservative fans (or other admirers) of James O'Keefe, the man who stands accused of engineering an attempt to interfere with the lawful conduct of business at Senator Landrieux's office in Baton Rouge, LA.

If you revile liberal bias in the media, if you thought Dan Rather was grossly unprofessional for failing to second source a document which appeared genuine but was in fact was forged (but not by Rather) ...

how do you admire O'Keefe?

How do you reconcile admiration for the fake news he created by doctoring videos, by using distortion and entrapment to put people in the worst possible light, deliberately editing out to exclude allof the exculpatory details, with your anger and antagonism towards Rather?

Rather put his life in harm's way in Vietnam and Afghanistan, in the latter dramatically aiding the Mujahadeen's cause to expect the Soviets. He served as a journalist for 50 years, adhering (generally) to this standard of second sourcing for almost all of it.

O'Keefe, conversely, is the epitome' of bias, is the epitome' of creating a fiction and calling it news, is the epitome of dishonesty and cowardice.

I get that some in the right-wing world of crazies (a very large world indeed), and even a few in the left-wing world of crazies (a sizable enough chunk too), think that bias is unavoidable. But if you think that, then what was your issue with Rather? And if you resent Rather, who didn't CREATE anything fake, simply because he's from the left, rather than the right, i.e. the left version of Fox News, then isn't your issue simply that Rather used what you perceived as dirty tricks. It wasn't the tricks that bothered you, it was simply that it wasn't YOUR dirty trick!

The rest of us look at O'Keefe and see a punk and a thug, perpetrating ugly, fictionalized video.

He apparently intended to disrupt Sen. Landrieux's staff from being able to take calls, so that HE COULD SHOW THEY WERE IGNORING CALLS. That is a setup, it is dishonest. It is what has turned off the rest of the country to your particular brand of screed. It is utterly craven, in this case, criminally so. Bluntly, this little boy fancies himself some sort of savior - journalistic -vigalante. The truth doesn't matter, to him or to the righties who think like him, who reward and employ him, and who celebrate him - so long as his side 'wins' in some way. The intent is to harm others for their benefit; nothing else, nothing less.

The bottom line here is that 31 Republican Representatives backed a House Resolution applauding O'Keefe's craven dishonesty when he produced a doctored up distortion about ACORN. He intentionally failed to report on the OTHER, well intended, professional people he encountered; those who told him to 'get lost' when he asked stupid questions about prostitution in a state where prostitution is legal. He FAILED to report the OTHER comments from those he filmed, video which would have painted their comments in a more meaningful and truthful light.

O'Keefe ommitted that footage, and has refused to allow anyone else to see his original recordings, because he never had any interest in the truth.

O'Keefe is scum, but the Republican representatives and their staffers ALSO didn't care. THAT makes them complicit in propping up this pompous would be pimp.

Now as they run for the hills distancing themselves from their pet scumbag's latest work, I have several questions for them.

WHERE was YOUR outrage when he reported about ACORN?
WHERE was YOUR fact checking?
WHERE was YOUR zeal for journalistic professionalism?

You know, like the professionalism you cried foul over, as you chased Dan Rather out of his job?

Thursday, January 28, 2010


The election last week of Scott Brown to serve out the term of Ted Kennedy as a Senator from Massachusets is sending shock waves through the political community, especially on the Democratic side.

Now, no one should have been surprised that during a major economic downturn, the incumbants are going to be viewed negatively, but truth be told, Obama very much brought this down on himself, but NOT for the reasons that too many pundits appear ready to claim.

This was not a failure of Obama to be more conservative, or more centrist or to fail to work (or attempt so) in a "bi-partisan way." In my opinion, frankly, I think it is exactly the opposite.

The fundamental thing that Obama missed, and the Republicans simply never accept, is that the people are tired, tired of watching their savings dissappear to pay for gasoline, for rising daycare costs, and for rising health care costs. We've had a decade of flat wages, of lost jobs going overseas to supposedly create better jobs which never appeared. Instead, what we've seen is a decade of business controlling the government's agenda. The United States, said a member of the British Parliament (and by the way, a member of their Conservative Party) is different from England chiefly in one way, and that way is that "the United States is government is controlled by business."

When the recent decision by the Supreme Court, striking down a decade of precedent, something which it generally avoids with great intent and reason (the doctrine of Stare Decisis rests on the idea that changing things radically results in chaos, and an unpredictable and unstable ground on which to operate the government and law) - AND despite DECADES of complaints that unions were the cause of corruption in politics, and despite the fact that this decision enables unions to spend MORE, guess what??!! The Republicans are four-square in support of the decision, and Democrats are four-square against it. Why? How can this be? you might ask?? Well simply because the Republicans know full well that this is likely to massively benefit them FAR more than any benefit for Democrats because BUSINESS is MUCH more likely to spend a lot more on Republicans than Unions will spend on Democrats.

It seems clear the Republican party embraces the idea that by making the wealthy prosperous, we will all subsequently prosper, but this has not transpired. Since 1981, the income of the upper 5% has quadruppled, while the wages of the middle class have fallen on an hourly evaluation - by 7%, and if adjusted for the increasing age (and therefore experience) of the workforce, by 17%, those are massive numbers. We've moved roughly 8 Million technology jobs offshore since 1992 - and this was the the supposed salvation as the 'next sector of prosperity' after manufacturing dissappeared in the 1980's.

In that same period (since 1992), health care expenses have more than trippled, day care has doubled, and energy costs, just since 2001, have increased by THOUSANDS of dollars per average family per year.

In Texas, one of the most conservative states in the country, fully 66% of the people believe that the government simply is out for the benefit of, and works at the behest of large companies. The country frankly is quite aware, quite tired, and quite angry with the leadership of BOTH parties for being for sale. Obama's lesson to take out of Massechusettes is simply this, show that you are different, show that you will stand up for the common man, show that you are NOT corrupt, as corrupt as Bush so abley proved himself to be, and you will have the people with you. If you instead appear to be helping health insurance carriers, helping banks, helping push MORE jobs offshore, not doing anything to fix the state of hiring or wages, then you are little better than the man you replaced, a man who was the worst President of the modern era, and you will rightly be judges as harshly as a failure, for YOU WILL HAVE FAILED. Do what you said you would do, be different, defend the individuals and the people from the powerful who control government, to do less, is to abbrogate your duty.

Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu Targeted by the Right - Deja Vu All Over Again?

"Goodness knows why God created Mississippi; so Louisiana wouldn't be last in everything."
- former Louisiana Rep. Pete Schneider(R)

"We've just about beat this dead horse to death."

- former State Rep. Bryant Hammett (D)

"I couldn't lose unless I was caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy."
- former Governor Edwin Edwards (D),
longest serving Louisiana Governor
currently serving a 10 year sentence for racketeering

my thanks to Louisiapolitics for their collection of state political quotes on-line

Four men attempting to compromise the telephones in Senator Mary Landrieu's New Orleans office recently were arrested and charged with felonies.

One of the men, James O'Keefe, previously achieved a certain notoriety for his widely circulated ACORN video. What was less widely circulated was that O'Keefe inserted images of himself posing as a pimp into the original ACORN footage to make it appear that he was in ACORN offices in his pimp costume when he was not. O'Keefe has declined to make the original footage available so that the actual interactions between himself, fellow conservative activist Hannah Giles who was posing as a prostitute, and ACORN personnel could be examined to reveal what actually took place in the ACORN offices. This has not deterred some of the media, including Fox News, from broadly circulating the footage as factual.

This is not the first time that conservatives have gone after Senator Landrieu with dirty tricks. In the 1996 election, the narrowly defeated Republican candidate, Woody Jenkins, claimed massive voter fraud by the Democrats had taken place. Senator Landrieu's seating in the Senate after the election was delayed by the Republican majority in the Senate. The resulting investigation not only exonerated Senator Landrieu, it revealed that Jenkins had hired a felon, Thomas "Papa Bear" Miller. An FBI investigation, and a second investigation by the Senate, uncovered that Miller, who had previously pled guility to crimes that included attempted murder, had coached multiple witnesses to lie, claiming they had participated in voter fraud either by voting illegally, or by transporting vanloads of illegal voters to vote in multiple jurisdictions. It is fair to assert that this maneuver on the part of Jenkins campaign having backfired is still an active source of ill will in Louisiana politics.

Landrieu won reelection in 2002 in another high-profile election, defeating former Louisiana Commissioner of Elections, Republican Suzanne Haik Terrelll. Terrell went on to serve in the second term of the George W. Bush administration after George H. W. Bush, then President George W. Bush, and Dick Cheney had campaigned for Terrell against Landrieu. Terrelll had also been an elector for the 2000 Bush / Cheney ticket.

So,it is fairly safe to conclude that Senator Landrieu is a target that would appeal to O'Keefe to gain points, to "make his bones" with conservative Republicans. It will continue to earn him notoriety, building on his previous 'theme' of challenging ACORN, widely and wrongly blamed for voter registration fraud relating to the defeats of Republicans for office, and specifically to get the attention and approval of those Republicans who particularly object to the continuing success of Senator Landrieu in defeating the candidates they have supported. Without another 'stunt' to his credit, Landrieu will fade into oblivion as a one-trick pony, all the more so as the fakery associated with it is becoming better known.

The continuing connections between O'Keefe and the religious right,are every bit as close as those to the radical conservatives. O'Keefe's partner in the ACORN altered video, Hannah Giles, is the daughter of Doug Giles, the senior Pastor of the radical Christian ClashChurch. One of O'Keefe's associates in the Landrieu Office escapade, Joseph Basel, who describes his politics with the single word "Radical" on his Facebook page, is the son of Lutheran Minister Dan Basel of Mankato, Minnesota. Basel met O'Keefe through the Leadership Institute, in Arlington, Virginia.

Giles was awarded the Young Activist Award by the Young America's Foundation, which also has close connections to the origination of the Conservative Political Action Conference. The idea of posing as a prostitute to go undercover to damage ACORN was Giles' idea, which was key to her employment as a columnist by and, run by Andrew Breitbart, who also employ O'Keefe. I have found no repudiation for creating a deceptive, partially faked video on the part of the conservative right, but instead there has been consistent rewards and praise of their anti-ACORN efforts. There seems to be a slight 'backing away' from the current legal troubles of O'Keefe and his three alleged accomplices, but not outright condemnation.

O'Keefe, Basel and Giles all have connections to conservative Minnesota Republican politicians. Basel was the campaign manager for the 2006 election bid of Bill Ingebretsen for the Minnesota Senate. O'Keefe's ACORN video was the subject of a resolution co-sponsored by Congressman John Kline of Minnesota praising O'Keefe's "exemplary actions as government watchdogs". According to an article in the Minneapolis / St. Paul, Minnesota Star Tribune, Giles was invited by Congresswoman Michele Bachmann to come to her DC office to speak with Minnesota reporters about ACORN - Bachmann is more than a little nuts (pardon the pun) on the subject of ACORN.

So, perhaps it is not so surprising that O'Keefe and Basel and their two associates would come up with this (alleged) scheme targeting Senator Landrieu's office. O'Keefe needed some new antic to dine out on in order not to drop off the radar of Fox News and lose his status to court the more conservative right. Given this bunch's connections to the Minnesota Conservative Republicans, it is not surprising that Basel would see tremendous potential for similar notoriety by joining O'Keefe; whereas Giles has perhaps already accomplished her goal of creating a niche for herself alongside her father among established radical Conservatives.

Or maybe she just doesn't look as good in a hard hat and reflective vest, less provocative clothing, as she does in skimpier prostitute costume?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Vikings End

As many probably know, I live in Minneapolis (as does DG), and so I watched with great interest the NFC Title Game yesterday.

I'll keep this short, but underline my comment that I played football for a couple of years in High School, and played on an NROTC club team in college. I'm no great expert, but I know a little.

The Vikings certainly turned the ball over a lot, 3 fumbles (2 lost), and 2 interceptions never helped any team win a game. Conversely, the Saints made many similar kinds of mistakes in being flagged for numerous penalties, and personally, many more COULD have been called as the Saints defensive backs (the position I played) routinely were forced to hold the Vikings receivers to prevent long gains.

The reality though is this, the Vikings didn't lose this game because of turn-overs alone (probably). They could not protect Favre, and as a result Favre was rushed, frequently overthrowing or throwing behind various receivers. He also tried to force a number of completions which were simply not there to make. The Saints DB's were not up to covering the Vikings receivers, but Favre routinely didn't have time to let them find space.

Conversely, the Saints routinely provided excellent protection for Drew Brees. Brees routinely had a long time to find receivers, and yet, due to a superior defense (Vikings vs. Saints Defense) was less able to find open receivers than he normally was this season (a season in which he set the NFL record for completion percentage), yet he found just enough to move the Saints down the field on critical posessions, and scored when they needed to.

Ultimately, then, in my humble opinion, outside of the Adrian Peterson fumble at the very end of the 1st half (which without doubt cost the Vikings points), the Vikings lost because they couldn't protect their QB, and the Saints won because they could and did.

State vs. Scott Roeder - Part II

"Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly" Leviticus 19:15

This is Part II of a series of articles on a criminal trial being conducted in Wichita, Kansas. Scott Roeder is accused of shooting to death Dr. George Tiller inside Dr. Tiller's church. Dr. Tiller was one of the few physicians in the US who performed late term (third trimester) abortions. Mr. Roeder admitted to shooting Dr. Tiller in an interview with a television crew, but claimed at the time that the shooting was done to save unborn babies.

Previously up to this point:

In December, 2009 the Hon. Warren Wilbert, the trial judge in the matter, ruled that he would not allow Mr. Roeder to use the "necessity defense", (i.e. that it was necessary to kill Dr. Tiller to save unborn babies), as that defense is not recognized under Kansas law. This came as no great surprise; most legal experts agreed that Kansas law does not permit this defense.

On January 8, 2010 Judge Wilbert indicated that he would consider allowing the defense to present evidence indicating voluntary manslaughter, claiming that Mr. Roeder had the honest but mistaken belief that circumstances existed to justify the use of deadly force. The prosecution objected, but Judge Wilbert indicated on January 12, 2010 that he would indeed allow the defense to argue those points, although he has refused to indicate in advance whether he will give an instruction on voluntary manslaughter to the jury. Appellate courts tend to want a defendant to be given every opportunity to present every reasonable (i.e. permitted by law) theory of his/her defense, and thus by leaving open the possibility of a manslaughter instruction, the judge is probably hoping to make sure that the defense on appeal cannot claim they were not permitted to present a theory of defense, no matter how nutty we may think it to be.

In an order issued on Monday, January 11, 2010, Judge Willard also, at the joint request of the prosecution and defense, closed the process of jury selection. This prompted an appeal to the Kansas Supreme Court, which ordered Judge Willard to reconsider his order. He did so and on Wednesday decided to question individual jurors privately about their views on abortion, and then allow the other questions from the attorneys for the state and the defense to be public. Attorneys for the prosecution as well as the defense will be present during the questioning in the judge's chambers, as will the defendant. This gives the defendant his guaranteed right to be present during all proceedings, and allows for protection of juror's privacy while balancing the public's right to know information.

Discussion of the law

This case will be goverened by Kansas law. Kansas law has several types of crimes relating to the killing of another person. These are:
Capital Murder: Intentional, premeditated murder (1st degree) with any one of several circumstances present, including (but not limited to) killing for hire, killing during a kidnapping, killing during a rape, killing a law enforcement officer, killing a witness, etc. Capital murder has a penalty of death or life in prison without parole.
1st Degree Murder: This means killing with premeditation and with malice. It also includes felony murder, i.e. a death which occurs during an inherently dangerous felony. 1st Degree murder carries a minimum of 25 years in prison without parole, and depending on aggravating circumstances, can have a maximum of 50 years in prison with parole eligibility after 50 years.
2nd Degree Murder: This is either intentional murder, without premeditation, or unintentional murder, but with extreme disregard for human life. This carries a minimum of 15 years to a maximum of life in prison.
Voluntary Manslaughter: This means a killing during a sudden quarrel in heat of passion, or, in an unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified the use of deadly force. Voluntary Manslaughter carries a maximum of about 10 years in prison.
Involuntary Manslaughter: This means a killing in which the actor was reckless, or in which they are fleeing from a felony, or in which they have committed a lawful act in an unlawful manner. Voluntary Manslaughter is punishable by up to 5 years in prison.
Vehicular homicide: This is used when a death results from negligence in an automobile or other vehicle. Its commonly used in cases of a drunk driving situation resulting in death (if it was a misdemeanor drunk driving case) It carries up to 1 year in jail.

In Kansas, a judge commonly is held by case precedent to allow any reasonable defense that is permitted under Kansas law. This is why the judge in this matter said that he would allow the defense to try to put evidence that might give rise to a jury instruction for voluntary manslaughter. It is highly doubtful that the judge will eventually give this instruction, for several reasons. The first is that it is going to be extremely difficult for the defense to introduce relevant evidence that would indicate to anyone that Mr. Roeder could have felt that there was a threat that required deadly force. The second is that in order to do so, the defense will almost certainly need to have Mr. Roeder testify in his own defense. Because Mr. Roeder's state of mind will be the telling issue in this defense, only the defendant can truly testify as to what he was thinking at that time. No defense attorney wants their client to testify in this situation, because they have waived their 5th amendment privilege, and are subject to cross examination at that point.

A jury of 12 with two alternates will hear the case. Opening arguments by the prosecution were held on Friday, January 22, 2010. The defense, as is common in these types of proceedings, reserved its opening argument until the state has rested its case. I will publish regular updates as they become available.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Scott Brown: Salvation of the DNC?

When the acting Democrats were voted in, everyone wanted healthcare reform. It was a very high general priority and the DNC made it part of their platform; they promised us health care reform and they won elections.

But since they took office, health care lost popularity. [Why this is the case is another article altogether, but in IMAO the American people lost a game of chicken to a mirror.] If just a quarter of a certain group of people change their mind about health care reform, support can go from +30 to -5 overnight (do those numbers sound familiar, Martha?).

But if I were the Democrats, I would have ordered Coakley to tank the election. Whether or not a decision was made, or an order was given, is pure speculation; the fact that Coakley tanked the election is not.

Let's go back to last week to see what the Democratic conundrum looked like. If they passed the bill, they'd be unpopular with the moderates they need for 2010. If they didn't pass the bill, they'd be unpopular with the liberals they need in 2010.

There were two extremes available. One would be to pass health care by any means necessary, including the nuclear option. Doing so would have been a giant white flag. The strategy that move indicates would be to appeal to their base to build a stronghold while conceding the majority back to the Republicans. But speculation that Democrats would use reconciliation to pass health care turned out to be untrue. And since they have made it a priority to seat Brown before continuing, it is obvious that cutting corners is not an option for them.

The other extreme would have been to drop healthcare altogether and do a complete pivot, trying to save face with the moderates. Doing so would alienate their base, which would kill their fundraising and put them in more jeopardy than the other extreme. On top of that they would be vulnerable to the RNC’s claims that they wasted year accomplishing nothing during an economic crisis, which would be difficult to defend. Although it is still a possible option, I don’t think that the Democrats are seriously considering it.

Short of turning the tide of general opinion within the next few months, their predicament had two major exits, and both involve the Republican Party. The first was to find at least one Republican to come along with the ride so the bill gets the bipartisan stamp, however weak. But it was difficult enough for them to get the Democrats in line and there was no reason for the Republians to involve themselves at all from a strategic perspective.

The second would be to force the Republicans to kill the bill so they could absolve themselves of its failure, claim due diligence to their base, and pivot back into the economy without losing face. This option was not possible, however, because they had a filibuster-proof control of the senate. Losing a Senate vote that they had previously counted on would indicate regression of the bill and mark the first loose threads of its unraveling. Without any recourse, the Republicans had absolutely no way to sink the bill on their own and therefore no reason to involve themselves in the process whatsoever.

Until now.

Cut to present. With the filibuster back in play, the Republicans have the ability to go on the offensive and attempt to derail the health care bill once it comes back to the Senate. Whether they do or not doesn’t matter, it's their newfound capability that plays. Because if they decide not to act on their capability and let the Democrats pass healthcare, the bill will have a faint bipartisan stamp that the DNC needs for 2010. [The Democrats will at least be able to say that the Republicans had the opportunity to stop the bill and did not, which could be effecitve in general elections.] If the Republicans block the bill, the Democrats will be able to put the blame of its failure on the Republicans and allow their own fate to rest more heavily on the resurging economy.

There is no way the Democrats can prevent a little fallout from their mistreatment of health care, but either scenario will provide them with much needed damage control to soften the Republican edge and give them an opportunity to keep the three branches through 2012.

The Democrats are still in a very tough place with healthcare. But losing seat 41 opened up options that they didn’t have last week.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

"Sarah from Alaska", a book review

The Sudden Rise and Brutal Education of a New Conservative Superstar

by Scott Conroy & Shushannah Walshe

published 2009 by Public Affairs Press,
ISBN 978-1-58648-788-1 (hardcover), 301 pages

I added this book to my reading list after hearing it described as a biography which was fact-based, and which was credited with seriously striving to be as unbiased as possible. Author Shushannah Walshe was a producer at Fox News from 2001 to 2008; author Scott Conroy worked for CBS News and as a producer. Both were embedded in the Vice Presidential Campaign of Sarah Palin as reporters.

I read this book in a very short period of time, so as to have my impressions from reading it fresh in my mind when I write this. The book appeared to me to be meticulously researched, with five pages of small print notes broken down by chapter, following the main body of the book. Those notes detail meticulously many of the 190 interviews for this book which they completed in research, in addition to their own shared observations from the campaign, and the additional several pages of acknowledgments. The authors point out that they give credit where they can, a few other sources did not wish to be identified in the book's pages. These sources encompass family and friends, political allies and foes - and some individuals who had been both at different points in time. One of the qualities in the writing of this book that most impressed me was the determined effort of the authors to avoid a celebrity hype piece, or a hatchet job, or sensationalism (pro or con).

My favorite quote, although long, insightfully sums up what was said by many of the people interviewed reads:

(quoting Republican State Legislator Ms. Lesil McGuire from Anchorage, who served prior to and during the Palin partial term as governor, pages 277-278)

"I am proud of her for entering the fray, for coming out and being strong with a full family and all of those obligations that she struggles with. And I am very proud of the person that she was when she entered the race. She was very real and plain spoken. But what I see as having happened now is that you had a really good person thrust way up ahead of where their experience level was. Maybe it would be like asking someone who had observed or read medical textbooks to go and perform a surgery. No matter how competent you are as a person and your character and what you stand for, it doesn't mean that you have the experience necessary to govern. People take that for granted. I think they think that when they are voting for someone, it's a personality contest. Well, if I like them, if they are attractive to me, if they seem like a good person, maybe I want them to be my neighbor, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are qualified to govern. And it may mean they are qualified to govern later on in their life, not at that particular point. So she got ahead of her experience. Because of that, in my opinion, her self-confidence deteriorated. She stopped having one-on-one meetings, because, frankly, the conversations would get into details that she wasn't able to answer. That then begets a whole other series of problems. People feel like you are not respecting them because you are not meeting with them. You are evasive; you are aloof. You're not doing it necessarily because you're mean, because you are rejecting the public; it's because you're maybe out of your league and then now you compound this with this national exposure, and she never got an opportunity to define to the world who she was prior to that."

I have been skeptical of the allegations made in the recent gossipy book "Game Change", which included the idea that Sarah Palin was so poorly educated on such a wide range of topics that she did not know why there was a North and South Korea, and that she had to be educated on the fundamentals of the history of WWI and WWII. In the section of "Sarah from Alaska"dealing with the preparation for the Vice Presidential Debate, the participants involved in prepping Palin assert that Palin had very much that kind of ignorance. They describe foot tall piles upon piles of flash cards intended to try to cram as one would for an exam to bring her up to speed. Palin appears to be not only appallingly ignorant, and unqualified to serve in a major political office, she shows no indication of attempting to remediate her deficiencies, or to even acknowledge that she has such deficiencies. Palin has, correctly, been compared unfavorably to the widely viewed as unqualified Vice President, Dan Quayle.

On page 38, Palin's own father is credited with explaining Sarah Palin's leaving the University of Hawaii at Hilo, in a comment that is in some ways descriptive of Palin (and her friends) subsequently leaving the office of Governor after the Vice Presidential campaign "It just wasn't what they expected," he says. "They were a minority type thing and it wasn't glamorous, so she came home." A similar lack of glamour is given as one of the causes, but by no means the only cause, for Palin leaving office without serving out her full term. It also reflects a very parochial, narrow comfort zone for Palin prior to being thrust upon the national stage.

I won't try to summarize the entire contents of this book. It covers Palin's entry into state level politics, it addresses many of her relationships, both family and friends, and political colleagues and adversaries. "Sarah from Alaska" provides an excellent look behind the scenes of the 2008 McCain / Palin Presidential and Vice Presidential campaigns, and follows her up until shortly after her resignation as Governor of Alaska after the campaign was over.

I was impressed with the effort by these two journalists to be as objective and fact-based for their statements as is humanly, reasonably possible. I was impressed at the level of collaboration as authors, especially given the rivalry of their employers. For those who have a continuing interest in Palin, whether as a supporter or a detractor (or the few who remain neutral), I would encourage adding this book to your reading list. It is a significant source for anyone trying to form a well-grounded opinion of Palin in anticipation of the 2012 electoral race.

I would particularly appreciate comments from any other readers of this book for their reactions to the content.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Please join with us
in celebrating the memory
of Dr. Martin Luther King,
and in appreciating
in the time since his assassination,
the advances towards
greater equality for all citizens
that have taken place
in our country.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Nuts, not soup-to-nuts, but Super Nuts

Hart Van Denburg wrote on December 9
"Latest Bachmann ACORN concoction: It could regulate banks!"

The fuss is over Bachmann's response, in her position on the House Financial Services Committee, to an amendment offered by a Democratic Congresswoman from California, Maxine Waters. The amendment would create a Consumer Financial Protection Oversight Board with members from 'fields of consumer protection, fair lending and civil rights, representative of depository institutions that primarily serve under-served communities or representatives of communities that have been significantly impacted by higher-priced mortgage loans'.

The oversight board in Water's amendment would not have the power to set policy or to regulate banking.

Waters made the statement, expanding on the purpose of her amendment, "Over the past two years, we have seen the impact of foreclosures on communities, small banking institutions, and our constituents and how predatory financial products like subprime credit cards and mortgage loans were targeted to minorities and low-income consumers. In order to ensure that this does not happen again, groups and individuals with the consumer's best interest in mind must have a seat at the table."

How does Congresswoman Bachmann respond? She claims that it is expansive new government beauracracy with far-reaching powers.

WHAT 'expansive new government beauracracy? This is about consolidating and making regulation more effective. WHAT far reaching powers??????????

Bachmann goes on to claim that this new oversight board would "make decisions for consumers about the kinds of mortgages, small business loans, and other financial products they may access."

MAKE DECISIONS for consumers? NO.

In her grand finale, Bachmann contradicts her own comment about "far-reaching powers" when she states "In its current form, ACORN would be elegible to sit on an Oversight Board tasked with advising the CFPA Director on his overall strategies and policies."

Not make decisions for consumers, not make policy decisions either; the board would simply ADVISE, and presumably not as the only source for advice on regulation either, but serving as a counterbalance to predatory financial interests.

Which if you deconstruct what Bachmann says, it boils down to 'this is a good idea, there isn't anything else of substance to complain about, so let's fall back on the tattered and torn worn-out boogeyman of ACORN in an attempt to discredit a useful and necessary amendment. Well, that, and expressing the obligatory negativism of the Republican party-sans, the party of not, the party of nope......or perhaps that should be written, the party of NO hope.

Taking a look at the financial state of Bachmann's own 6th Congressional District:

Bachmann's 6th District leads the state of Minnesota with one of the highest foreclosure rates, with housing foreclosures up 56% in Minnesota overall in 2009 compared to 2008. Looking at a map of Minnesota displaying the most recent statistics, while there are three other counties spread around the state with higher individual county foreclosure rates, ALL of the counties in Bachmann's very gerrymandered 6th Congressional District (Anoka, Benton, Sherburne, Stearns, Washington and Wright) are among the more severely affected, with Wright County being one of the four very worst affected. Out of 87 counties in Minnesota, Anoka County ranked 3rd in the state for the most foreclosures, Washington was 5th, Wright tied for 6th, Sherburne was 8th, Stearns just missed the ten worst coming in at 11th, and Benton was the 24th worst county for foreclosures.

From September 2008 to June 2009, unemployment in Minnesota increased 56% to a statewide figure of 7.4% (seasonally adjusted) up from 6.1% in November 2008. But in Bachmann's District 6, the rate is higher, with Sherburne County having an unemployment rate of 8.2%, and Wright County 8%; Anoka and Benton Counties are closer to the state average at 7.6% and 7.3%, while Stearns and Washington Counties come in slightly lower than the statewide average, at 6.6%. In contrast, the state of Minnesota had a rate of 3.8% prior to the recession, back when Bachmann was first elected to Congress. The US overall, has an unemployment rate that is at 10.0%in November 2009, up from 6.8% a year earlier.

Of the six counties represented by Bachmann, 4 are among the top ten HIGHEST stats for filing Bankruptcies: Sherburne - 1st, Wright - 3rd, Benton - 5th, and Anoka - 7th. Washington county just missed out on the top ten, coming in at 13th, while Stearns county came in at 21st, still reflecting an unhealthy economic situation relative to the rest of Minnesota's 87 counties, just not the MOST unhealthy.

Which provokes the inevitable question, whose interests does Bachmann serve?

The interests and needs of her constituents would seem to be coming in a distant second to the welfare and profits of predatory lenders. Bachmann voted against five foreclosure relief bills, the Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act, the Neighborhood Stabilization Act, the Expanding American Home Ownership Act, the Expand and Preserve Home Ownership through Counseling Act, the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, the FHA Housing Stabilization and Homeownership Retention Act of 2008 (in committee), and Bachmann voted against funding for HOPE for Homeowners (a program to refinance home mortgages facing foreclosure).

It would appear from the statistics, and from her voting record, that there is far more to fear from Bachmann's actual role regarding positive regulation than from any potential, hypothetical role in regulation by ACORN. Bachmann has focused her legislative efforts on stupid issues like not phasing out incandescent lightbulbs in favor of more energy efficient flourescent bulbs; on misstating the science of carbon dioxide; on promoting the notion that this IS a Christian nation (not only a Christian nation, but a predominantly Christian not secular entity according to Bachmann); opposing health care reform, and particularly any balanced and accurate view on abortion.

So, given the statistics, given her voting record, why would Bachmann say such odd things?

Saying distinctly odd things, often and loudly, through any media that will give her a mouthpiece is the defining characteristic of Bachmann. She lives for sensational statements and misstatements about the Census, Re-education Camps, and Un-American ideas in Congress. And let us not by any means ignore her favorite canard about the political left stealing elections, despite no evidence supporting the statement of real, substantiated, significant fraudulent voting affecting the outcome of elections ANYWHERE.

But........why? WHY would Bachmann engage in this behavior, conduct which just recently won her the CNN Wingnut of the Year Award? I think the answer was provided by Minnesota right wing blogger TJSwift, aka "Swiftee" in a comment found under Van Denburg's writing.

"TJSwift says:
This is Bachmann's "rope a dope".
She's gained national prominence for her outspoken, and yes, sometimes outrageous statements....but the gist of her message always is based upon a truth.
Most Americans are too busy trying to make their way through the day to pay attention to politics. Michelle understands that and has found a very effective way to make them sit up and listen.
She is more responsible for taking ACORN down than anyone else. And any group that she sets her aim on would be smart to have a care.
In the mean time, the batshit crazy response Michelle provokes from the left is providing some of the best theater evah."

Deconstructing "Swiftee's" comments, NO, emphatically NO Bachmann's comments are NOT based on fact, they are carefully and artfully crafted to take some item that begins as a fragment of fact but never a complete fact, and from their mislead and to misrepresent it. Many more of Bachmann's statements, as indicated above, are outright bold-faced lies.

The conservative right wing takes great delight in Bachmann's outrageousness, but implicit in Swiftee's statement about 'most Americans' being 'too busy to pay attention to politics' is the assumption that our fellow Americans are not patriotic enough to care about their elected representatives, or issues;and, that our fellow Americans should be manipulated by outrageous, sensationalized mis-statements calculated to get their attention.

This is a tactic that can fairly be described as fear-mongering. It is appallingly condescending in its assumptions about the citizens of this country, and inherently insulting.

But doesn't it just explain perfectly the phenomenon that is Bachmann?

Secondary to doing everything in her power to act against the interests of her own district's constituency, is Bachmann's obsession with ACORN, a source of pride and entertainment to the conservative right. ACORN is not now, nor has it ever been, a serious threat to Bachmann's district, to the state of Minnesota, or the the government of the United States. But hey, focussing on ACORN apparently in the mind of Bachmann and the conservative right is a good use of one's time and resources, a suitable priority ------- but ONLY in the minds of the conservative right.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


This morning I woke up, took a shower, brushed my teeth (with Colgate (tm)) - took my Nexium, dressed in my blue jeans from Land's End.

"We shame ourselves to watch people like this live" - John Mellenkamp, "Jackie Browne"

This morning, the nation of Haiti is struggling with a devetating earthquake which hit this impoverished nation on Monday afternoon, and perhaps as many as 500,000 people have perished.

That soever which you do unto the least of me, you do also to me - Matthew:25

The United States, this monring, in a reflection of one of the greatest things about this country, is rushing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of aid, and will send thousands of people to help the people of Haiti.

To put into some perspective the devestation and death toll, more people died in one afternoon (potentially) than died fighting for the United States during the entirety of World War II. To put it in further perspective, the total population of Haiti is estimated at just over 9 million, so effectively, one in every 18 poeple just perished. If such a figure were applied to the United States, it would mean 13 Million people would have died in one afternoon - the population of the city of New York (roughly) - in one afternoon.

The horror is unimaginable - I am struck dumb, nausiatingly void of emotion or words - I expect that I will, like most, come out of what is essentially a state of surprise, and awaken into a state of horror. Horror in the carnage, but equally, in the reality that while I, as an American, sit safely in my home, there is a world where people are so poor, they construct their houses out of mud, their buildings out of unreinforced concrete, and are so ill-educated, they don't even know to go outside if an earthquake strikes, but instead huddle in terror inside that 'home' or that building, hoping and praying in the dark to be safe, and now, to be saved.

In this world where we have so much, we have nations which 1% of the populace owning 99.9% of the wealth - and we appear to think this is 'the best' way to engineer an economy - if so, then we must ask ourselvs as we rush to aid those in desparate need - whether in part we own some responsibility.

The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. 18 And when they measured it by the omer, he who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little. Each one gathered as much as he needed. - Exodus 16:18

Monday, January 11, 2010

Sex, Politics, and the Pursuit of Happiness

"Sexual harassment on the job is not a problem for virtuous women."
“By getting married, the woman has consented to sex, and I don’t think you can call it rape,”
"Women have babies and men provide the support. If you don't like the way we're made you've got to take it up with God."
- Phyllis Schlafly

"Don't you think that the irresponsible behaviour of men is caused by women?"
-Pope John Paul II
(response to Dr. Nafis Sadik's suggestion that the church could play a role in reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in Third World countries by teaching men not to "impose themselves" on unwilling wives. Dr. Sadik is a woman.)

"There is nothing loving about sex."
"Having sex without horniness is a greater expression of love. Sex is self- satisfying, but not meant for pleasure."
"Inequality is the natural condition."
-Fr. Paul Marx, Human Life International Symposium on Human Sexuality

"Incest is a voluntary act on the woman's part. If it were not, it would be rape."
Charles Rice, professor emeritus of law, Notre Dame University, currently teaching "Law and Morality"

"Many women have been brainwashed by the mindset of our society. They have been educated beyond their intelligence and beyond their natural instincts ..."
'The Flourishing Mother', Above Rubies, March 13, 2002

"It is interesting that today many women are so educated beyond their intelligence that they no longer understand the way God created them - with a womb to nurture life and breasts to nourish that precious life." 'Fully Female'
- Nancy Campbell,

"The proposed law on rape within marriage threatens the whole concept of the special marriage relationship."
Light magazine, Nov. 6, 1976
- Rev. Fred Nile, Christian Democratic Party

"I smell the stink of your fetid breath in the welfare lines; in crime ridden public housing compounds, in the detox wards where the detritus of liberalism wretch the bile of leftist compassion onto the floor; and in the horror chambers where Dr. Frankenstein rips your doomed children from the wombs of your defiled women."
ApathyBoyblog comment section, T.J. Swift "Swiftee" , Conservative Minnesota blogger

Let me begin by explaining that I couldn't encompass describing the scope of the further-to-the-right conservative view of sex with fewer quotations. The above represent a cross section of Catholic and Protestant Christian views, along with the views of both male and female secular conservatives.

Let me also add, in great haste, that I do not presume that these individuals speak for ALL conservatives; I am well aware that there is a spectrum of views on women and on sexuality among conservatives, and also that these views do NOT by any stretch of the imagination speak for the wider point of view held by more moderate Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Protestant Christians. So, please, please do not take these quotations as expressing any assumptions about the more widely held views of any religious denomination.

The last quotation however was, although not on Penigma, at least in part, a response directly to Pen, AB, and myself, and so became my inspiration here. I was particularly struck by the notion that apparently women are defiled by having sex, but that men are not. I was further struck by the notion, typical of the 17th century, that rape does not, cannot by definition, occur within marriage. Statistically approximately 25% of all reported rapes occur between spouses (and many more rapes go un-reported).

"Swiftee" specifically stated in further comments that because I associated with liberals, I could not "find the strength to realize my worth". I would argue that everytime I write something here on Penigma, or on any of the other locations where I blog, that I use my intelligence, my skills, my perceptions and my character to do precisely that - to use my strength to realize my worth.

When I was a small child, before I was old enough to attend kindergarten, I was furious that grown ups could force me to wait to go to school. I wanted to learn how to read, and I wanted to learn NOW; I made a pretty good start at teaching myself to read, but I was absolutely convinced that school would speed things up tremendously. I was never a patient child. I vividly remember an afternoon spent alone with my maternal grandmother talking about the importance of school. I asked her if she had been a good student. It turned out my grandmother had been first in her graduating class, by a very large margin......but in her day, it was the best male student who was designated valedictorian. The best a woman could hope to achieve, regardless of the extent to which she excelled, was to be salutatorian; for which my grandmother received recognition, including giving a brief salutatory address - a welcoming statement of a line or two compared to the longer, more prestigious valedictorian address.

While bad language was pretty strictly prohibited, my unexpected reaction ,"The hell I'm going to put up with THAT!" left grandma laughing so hard, and in such complete agreement, that there was no chance of reprimand. Grandmother tried to patiently explain that in her day, it was considered the appropriate thing to do, however unfair it might seem to me years after her experience. When I asked grandma WHY in the world she would go along with something so unfair, she indicated that at the time, that was how both men and women defined being feminine. When I asked my grandmother WHY that defined masculine and feminine (and yes, my observation 'that's just dumb' was a part of the conversation), she was quiet for a very long time, and finally told me she just didn't know really, that it was not logical, that it was what people believed, and that they believed it very strongly. She did observe that the male ego was definitely a part of the belief, and that there had been an implicit need to prop up male status at the expense of female status - because how women felt was regarded as frankly (according to grandma) less important than how men felt.

Grandma predicted that I would be more successful than she was, but that it would mean conflict in my life. That specific conversation was the foundation over the years until she died just shy of 100, where when we were alone together we were not older and younger, we were equals who were unusually candid with each other. Grandma shared with me that she knew absolutely nothing on her wedding night, ignorance being equated with innocence. She shared with me that she was not even aware of the symptoms of pregnancy or the realities of contraception, when she was pregnant with my mother. And she shared with me that she had not been well informed enough as a mother to pass on much useful, reliable and accurate information to my mother and my aunt.

When I was old enough to have a curiosity about sex, after one of our candid discussions between grandma and I, I decided that my parents either wouldn't know or wouldn't be comfortable answering my questions. I had a number of mentors, but while they might have wanted to answer my questions, when it came to sex, I was sure they would be put on the spot between what my parents would want and what they would want and what I would want. So, I did what I always did when I wanted to know what the adult world was unwilling or unable to provide. I turned to my local library -- where fortunately at an early age - somewhere between 7 and 8 - my parents had written the obligatory letter which gave me unlimited access to the adult section of the library without either parental or librarian approval being required. My parents assumed - wrongly - that while I clearly enjoyed science books, and reading classical literature like Shakespeare, my reading ability would provide the appropriate limits. I was reading at college level by 5th and 6th grade, and I read everything that interested me, voraciously. I read Shakespeare, beginning with The Tempest and Midsummer Night's Dream, complete with the explanations of his sexy language. I read Ayn Rand, and thought she wrote very provocative sexual relationships. I even read a couple of books by the Marquis de Sade (Justine, and Juliette), just to see what the fuss was about and to see why anyone would consider him a philosopher. An inside joke to anyone else who has read de Sade, he was not my cup of tea. It was however great fun when I was in my mid teens to correct my aunt and uncle's family minister over the dinner table after Christmas Eve service when he inaccurately used the word Sadism. (Those "she did WHAT" moments were always a source of mischief - and surprisingly, perhaps most of all second only to my enjoyment, was my grandmother's.)

I was the person my grandmother turned to, while I was still in elementary school, to speak candidly about going through menopause. I was the person who was able to be supportive to my mother when she first had a radical mastectomy, followed a few years later by a hysterectomy, in understanding what kind of physical changes were going to result from such drastic surgery. When I received incredibly thorough comprehensive sex ed in the summer school biology class I took early, to pick up extra credits towards graduation, it filled in a few blanks, but was not entirely new material.

What formed the positive views of sex in monogamous relationships were things like observing my parents kiss each other hello, a 'real' kiss, not just an indifferent peck on the cheek when my father came home from the office. Or watching my father grieve over having lost his soul mate when my mother died at an unfortunately early age. Equally important were the loving long term relationships I formed with the men in my life, as mentors, as lovers, and most of all as friends which led me to regard sex as spiritual and about connection and character not just libido.

Every aspect of the attitudes about sex, and gender, encompassed in the quotations above, are hateful towards women and demeaning towards a wholesome and loving equal sexual relationship. Swiftee used the word 'defiled'. To defile, by the dictionary definitions, is to make dirty, unclean, polluted, or debased. It means to violate chastity. It means to desecrate. It means to sully a reputation. I can think of no better definition to describe the conservative view of sex and gender expressed by the quotes above, than defilement; defilement of women, defilement of what sex can and should be. The views in those quotes is ugly, it is degrading, and it is hateful. I am grateful to all of the people in my life who shaped my view of sex and gender, but most especially to the men in my life, whether teacher, friend, or lover, for valuing women generally, and for always valuing me specifically; and especially for helping me to value myself and to realize my strength and my potential.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Welcome new Penigma author,
Apathy Boy,
of the linked blog of the same name!

I hope you will enjoy reading and commenting
on his first published writing on this blog.
- Dog Gone

Wingnut of the Year: Bachmann's Crowning Accident

Michele Bachmann has been awarded wingnut of the year, a distinction she has worked very hard to achieve, and I am sure she is proud of her new title. As a politician and a business woman, attracting the attention of the general public is a great way of expanding your brand, and as the old adage goes "there's no such thing as bad publicity."

But what has Bachmman actually done to achieve this title? Sure she writes her own material (as far as we know), but when you look at her actual achievements, her success has been more a happy accident of being in the right place at the right time than it has been a product of effort and elbow grease. Many of the factors leading to her "success" were well outside of her control.

She hasn't done anything in congress to achieve the WOY title. Of the top ten Bachmann quips, the only one that occurred on the congressional floor was the "carbon is harmless" gaffe. This quip was little more than a poorly executed weak argument, which happens to all politicians. It's the football equivalent of a starting receiver dropping and easy pass: it looks bad on T.V. but it happens to everyone at some point. And even that quote never would have been printed if her reputation hadn't already been established.

Her firebrand reputation stems almost entirely from her media exposure. But ironically she would have had this exposure if she wasn't a member of congress. When it comes to eye-catching (or ear-catching, as it were) rhetoric, she is nowhere close to the likes of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. This is partially because since she is in politics she has to keep a much keener eye on public opinion. Being hated is good for ratings but doesn’t win any votes.

And Beck and Limbaugh are professionals at stirring people up. It’s what they are paid to do full time and they have much more experience and practice at the art of doing so. And they get paid a lot to do it. Bachmann gets a lot of media exposure because she doesn’t charge for it. Her rhetoric isn’t nearly as powerful as Beck’s but it is more cost efficient.

She has not established herself as a proven leader the way that other Republicans have. She is not a leader of the TEA Party movement but someone they look up to. Democrats like to claim that the TEA Party is "Astroturfed," or instigated by her and possibly other conservative politicians to look like a people's movement, but I give them the benefit of the doubt. If the TEA Party is truly a grass roots organization, it would exist in roughly the same shape today without Bachmann.

Finally it’s also very likely that her gender played a role in her popularity. From a strategy standpoint the GOP had to respond to the Clinton vs. Obama primary by putting minority faces out there. By not doing so they would continue to be seen as the "old white man" party which left them weak against the "you must be racist" arguments coming from the Democrats. By putting female faces on the conservative movement, they established a solid "well, you must be sexist" response.

Joe Wilson’s conservatism is just as controversial as Bachmann, but didn't fit the profile the GOP was looking to promote at the time. I do not think that gender plays any role in Bachmann's character or politics, but it has played a large role in her popularity. Also, I don’t think that the GOP made a conscious or organized decision to back women over men, but GOP members developed a tendency of doing so en masse because of the strategic benefit it gave their party as a whole.

Whether or not Bachmann is quietly proud of winning Wingnut of the Year or sees this as an achievement, I am sure that she has plenty of supporters that see this as a feather in her cap. But as far as I’m concerned this distinction of hers is due purely to accident, not diligence.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

State of Kansas vs. Scott Roeder

This is an article (or series of articles, depending on how motivated I am), which will detail the (continuing) legal events in this case in Kansas. Scott Roeder is charged with first degree murder in the shooting death of Dr. George Tiller. He was charged in Sedgwick County District Court in Wichita with one count of first degree murder and several lesser charges, included aggravated assault because he allegedly threatened others with the gun he allegedly used to shoot Dr. Tiller.


Dr. George Tiller was one of only a few physicians perform later term (third trimester) abortions in the United States. His clinic, in Wichita, Kansas, was a frequent target for anti-abortions protesters. Although the author personally finds the practice of abortion to be an abomination, this article is not about abortion. This article is about a legal proceeding: a criminal prosecution for the crime of murder.

The Law:

In Kansas, first degree murder is defined thus: "Murder in the first degree is the killing of a human being committed (1) intentionally and with premeditation; or (2) in the commission of, attempt to commit, or flight from an inherently dangerous felony as defined in K.S.A. 21-3436 and amendments thereto. Murder in the first degree is an off-grid felony." K.S.A. 21-3401.

This means that the prosecution must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Mr. Roeder killed Dr. Tiller intentionally and that he did it with premeditation. There is no time limit on the premeditation, but it is generally considered proof of premeditation that he drove to the church and got out of the car with a gun in his hand.

In Kansas, the off-grid crime of Murder in the First Degree is punishable by a minimum of 25 years in prison without parole, and a maximum of life in prison. The other two charges of aggravated assault are punishable by 11 to 31 months in prison, depending in criminal history. Under Kansas law, this crime would not be eligible for the death penalty.

Mr. Roeder has pleaded not guilty. He has, however, confessed that he killed Dr. Tiller. He attempted to use the defense of justifiable homicide, stating that his actions were to protect the lives of others. The judge rejected this defense, noting that among other legal hurdles it would have to jump was that Dr. Tiller's actions were causing imminent threat to others, something which was not true when Dr. Tiller was serving as an usher at his church. In addition, the limited references to this defense in Kansas law indicate that the person killed needed to be committing an illegal act. Abortion, even during the third trimester, is legal in Kansas.

On Friday, January 8, 2010, the Hon. Warren Wilbert ruled that the defense could argue for a conviction of Voluntary Manslaughter because Judge Warren said that they could try to convince the Jury that Mr. Roeder had an honest but mistaken belief that circumstances existed that justified the use of deadly force. Prosecutors have filed additional motions to try to limit the defenses that can be used, and to prevent defense attorneys from trying to put abortion on trial. Judge Wilbert has already indicated, however, that he will not allow any such thing to happen.

Status of the Case:

Voire Dire (jury selection) was scheduled to begin at 8:30 AM on January 11. However, prosecutors filed additional pre-trial motions and the Court entered an order closing voire dire to the public to protect the privacy of the jurors and potential jurors. Both the prosecution and defense agreed with the order, which is permissible under Kansas law. Voire dire is expected to commence again on Wednesday. The Court will hear oral arguments on the prosecution's motions asking for additional restrictions on the defense on January 12, 2010.

UPDATE: January 13, 2010
On January 12, 2010 the Kansas Supreme Court ordered the trial judge in this matter to reconsider his order which closed the voire dire process to the media and the public. They did so because he had not given the press and public sufficient notice and right to comment on the matter, and because he had not considered other, less restrictive, ways to accomplish the same goals (to preserve veniremen candor during the questioning process).
On January 12, 2010, Judge Wilbert also clarified his ruling that he would allow Mr. Roeder's attorneys to present a voluntary manslaughter defense. He indicated that he would decide, on a case by case basis, the relevance of any particular testimony as to Mr. Roeder's state of mind, but said that he thought it possible at the conclusion of the evidence, he might be required to instruct the jury in the lesser offense of voluntary manslaughter, rather than first degree murder.

Monday, January 4, 2010

I'm for Drunk Driving

I noticed today that a south Florida child abuse prevention group is asking that "The Who" be removed as the halftime entertainment at the Super Bowl. The reason, they say, is that Pete Townsend (lead vocalist) for the band, "is a registered sex offender."

I read the rest of the story... and, Pete Townsend was apparently arrested in 2003 for possessing child pornography but...

He was cleared, never convicted. Yet, in England, apparently they put you on their list of registered sex offenders anyway. Is it fair, oh, not by our standards of innocence until guilt is proven, but it's England, not the USA - and they do things differently about things like that. They have a MUCH more intrusive police presence, including neighborhood watch cameras in places of higher crime or where there is a potential terrorist threat.

No matter, though, this group still uses charged language which, unless you dig a little deeper, makes it sound as if Townsend was CONVICTED of being a sex offender - I mean after all, if you weren't convicted why are you registered as a sex offender. The average citizen will not dig deeply enough, and the group wasn't responsible enough to apparently check facts or if it did, to properly convey reality about the nature of Townsend's arrest and reason for his presence on a watch list. Townsend, were he in the US, might have a claim of defamation against the government for placing him on a watch list when he was never convicted of any crime and was, to all accounts, exonerated, but this ain't the US, and he probably has no recourse.

Which brings me to the point - in the US (and elsewhere it seems) we seem ready to use 'zero tolerance' programs to usurp rights, to expel children from school, to leap to these kinds of illogical extremes, not bothering to weigh the validity of the complaint or supposed offense. We do so because it's easier for administrators to NOT have to use their judgement about appropriate punishment, and we seem to get some satisfaction in pretending to be tough by creating mandatory sentencing guidelines which give judges no latitude to use juris prudence when they should have such liberty. We instead hide behind ubiquitous one-size fits all justice like the stupid sex offender registry list program which the UK employs, and which we emulate in other areas.

When did discernment become impossible? When did a person's responsibility to treat others with fairness and consideration of the ACTUAL facts become void? Moreover, when did our fear of things like pen-knifes in a 10 year-old boy's backpack become so overwhelming that we would rather stigmatize that boy with expulsion than allow the Principal to look at the actual facts - in some vain and useless and horribly overblown attempt to keep our kids safe? Franklin Roosevelt, in one of the most prophetic quotes of our age once said, "The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself." I believe he meant that we cannot allow our fear of .. Fascism, crime, terrorism, whatever, to allow us to destroy our basic freedoms, we cannot allow it to control our judgement and lead us into diluting our liberties and our common requirement to use good ethical standards. In fact, I believe it is in the worst of times, just as Roosevelt pointed out, that our true ethical mettle is tested, and it is either found strong, or found - due to fear - wanting.

Yet, in cases like Townsend, or those who parade around as 'against drunk driving' - we feel somewhat intimidated to stand up and say, "Shame on you - this had NOTHING to do with protecting kids, it had to do with you not checking your facts and overreaching, you were wrong and you were irresponsible." The reason we don't is that we don't want to be labeled as 'weak on .. (sex offenders/crime/drunken driving)" or appear to be defending them, it's not politically correct - and make no mistake, it's endemic to both the left and the right - it's some people's PC'ism of choice (to advocate to be "tough on " X - whether it's illegal immigration, terror suspects or criminals) - and they'll put a spit thru anyone who speaks out against such excess.

Well, sometimes you stand up and say, "What the hell??" - saying you're against drunk driving or want to be tough on crime implies others are FOR drunk driving or want to give criminals your valuables and access to your daughters (and sons) - there isn't anyone (credible) who is anything like in support of drunken driving or not putting violent or dangerous offenders in jail - it's the height of self-promotional deceit to claim otherwise or to phumper and thump your chest that you are MORE against terrorism because you advocate putting people in prison without charge - so I choose today to stand up to this sophomoric reasoning.. I oppose putting people on sex offender lists when they are never even brought to trial (frankly if they aren't ever convicted), but what's more, I oppose the reckless use of terms like 'registered sex offender' and so if that means in order to fight this PC bullcrap that I need to be for the obverse, so be it.

I support Drunk Driving - and I'm going to print up bumper stickers saying the same and get some blood-red ribbons to tie around my car antennae because after all THAT's really saying something. I'm a Father Advocating Drunken Driving - you may call my cause stupid, but me, I'll call it a FADD.