Friday, October 01, 2010

Political update for October, 2010

It was a dark and stormy night

How’s this for a murder mystery plotline? A legendary senator is convicted for failing to report gifts, which causes him to lose his last election. An FBI agent files an affidavit claiming the prosecutors failed to turn over evidence which would have exculpated him. A judge overturns the conviction finding overwhelming evidence of prosecutorial abuse. The next year the senator dies in a mysterious plane crash. The year after that, soon before the report of abuse is released, one of the prosecutors, a young man, commits suicide. Or was he helped?

I don’t know the answer to that question, but everything I just told you is true and applies to the case of Ted Stevens, the most famous and popular politician in Alaska’s history (voted the man of the century and having an airport named after him), and its senator for over 40 years. Stevens was convicted of taking about a quarter of a million dollars in gifts (itself not a crime), mostly to refurbish a home, without reporting them as required (the crime). The case was hard fought and always in doubt. His lawyer was Brendan Sullivan, possibly the most respected defense lawyer in D.C. You may remember him as Colonel North’s attorney when he testified before congress. Sullivan famously told a questioning senator who asked him not to interfere with the hearing ing that he was not a potted plant. Defending Senator Stevens, he complained that an important witness was sent back to Alaska by the U.S. attorneys and they also withheld critical information, a prior affidavit of a star witness that would have undercut his testimony. According to constitutional law, he was entitled to know (defendant are entitled to what’s called Brady material - anything that might exculpate them).

The defense team went so far as to write the U.S. Attorney General in the Bush administration (who was a former judge) to complain of ethical violations, but he ignored them. But, after an FBI whistleblower ratted on other agents and the U.S. attorneys who tried the case, revealing a conspiracy to hide the Brady material, the new U.S. attorney, Eric Holder, now under fire himself, moved to overturn the conviction and the judge complied, reading his opinion in restrained anger. The prosecution team was held in contempt and Holder removed them from their special team that investigated public corruption. The judge, who said he had “never seen mishandling and misconduct as in this case,” also named a special prosecutor to investigate the prosecutors.

Stevens lived long enough to see his reputation at least technically restored, but not his career. Sadly for him, he died in a plane crash, having survived one over 30 years earlier that killed almost everyone else in the craft, including his wife.

His death a couple of months ago did not raise any questions of foul play. The special prosecutor’s report has not yet come out, but the young prosecutor who killed himself's attorney claims that his client will be completely exonerated (and when are attorneys ever wrong?) I suspect he killed himself because he was ashamed, humiliated, and could not face the loss of his reputation and pride never mind the possibility of his own prosecution and conviction. Nothing to be suspicious about here, but, if someone was going to make a political thriller/murder mystery out of it – it has all the ingredients.

There is a point here beyond the tenuous innuendo. Even after the conviction, Stevens maintained his innocence despite the pressure of other Republican Senators who had long been his friends and he refused to resign his senate seat until he lost the election. I admit, although I wasn’t sure he’d be convicted, as best as I can recall I just presumed that he was guilty. It could have been me accused; it could be any of us.

In the late 1980s a young man accused of murdering a young female neighbor on Long Island was convicted in the press before he even had a trial. I would listen to the replay of the trial at night and was shocked at the media coverage and the paucity of evidence, including the ridiculous testimony of a so-called tooth bit expert who has since been discredited. Maybe he was guilty; I hope so, because he was convicted and is still in jail. He has always denied it, and many suspected his younger brother. I was never satisfied and maybe there are others because last year, the Nassau County, D.A., Kathleen Rice (who I once sat next to and briefly spoke with - very pretty for a D.A.) re-opened the case last year (I also believe that the family of the convicted murder finally, after 20 years, has moved off the block they shared with the victim's family).

Also about 20 years ago, I had space in a law office when a murder of a pregnant woman in a Boston cab infuriated the nation. Her husband had survived his gun shot wound and identified a young black man as the culprit. The police swept the area, literally grabbing every young black man they could find, and found a likely suspect. I argued ferociously with the people in my office who wanted him killed without a trial. How do you know, I asked? We don’t know anything but accusations. Shortly thereafter, the husband’s brother ratted him out; he had killed her himself and then gave himself a wound to make it look good. No one took back their call for a lynching.

Then, in 1992, O.J. Simpson was convicted of murder. I still believe he was guilty, but given the abortion of a job by the L.A.P.D. and the prosecution, I was less sure he’d be convicted (a tribute to commenter Don – he was sure he wouldn’t be convicted). The deck was stacked against O.J. (a boyhood hero of mine) by the ridiculous press coverage and the incompetent judge from the start. He was found innocent and probably got away with murder (although he was convicted recently of another offense when trying to recover his memorabiliaand is in jail; I believe mostly in retribution – though he is undoubtedly an idiot). His murder case was followed by a civil case which was even more unfairly handled, and a judgment was had against him. Few seemed to care how the law was ignored in both of the cases.

There are a million cases I could use, but those stand out in my mind. We make judgments and go on our experience and gut. We are often wrong, particularly when it comes to crimes.  I have, at least, become somewhat more circumspect and cynical, in convicting anyone based on what the the media reports.

Health care reform problems already?

A Washington State health insurance company, Regence BlueShield, has announced this week that it is stopping its sale of new child-only plans, a direct result of the federal health care reform acts provision preventing insurance companies from excluding children with pre-existing conditions (or, at least some).

It appears that McDonald's make end its health benefits for its 30,000 employees (though, despite a leaked memorandum to that effect, they denied).


My problems with the health care reform act were as follows:

It was too big. No one understands it. Even President Obama, who made an effort, showed in interviews and in the C-Span health summit with Republican leaders, didn’t understand it – it’s between 2-3000 pages and that doesn’t include regulations. Most of those who voted for it didn’t read it (and wouldn’t understand it or remember it if they did). I don’t care if you don’t vote for something like that if you haven’t read it – but I do care if you do vote for it.

It was corrupt. It was procured with trade-offs which I believe are unconstitutional at worst and bad government at best – huge promises being made to Florida, Louisiana and Nebraska for their votes. What else we don't know.

It will almost certainly cost too much (and we don't have the money for it to cost too much). The CBO says it will lower the budget eventually, but if you read their report, they have no idea. When has a huge federal government plan ever worked out? Okay, maybe the GI bill and other loans for education, but other than that? In fact, recently, Barack Obama seemed to be backtracking on that it would save money. Wait a minute! Wasn't that the whole point they tried to sell everyone on. Now, the Medicare's actuarial office says premiums will go up as a result of the plan for the next ten years. But  . . . but . . . but.  Now the president says he never claimed it would happen for free (but, if you say it will save money - yes, you did). Now, he only hopes to bring it down to the level of other inflation. Great.

My own premiums have already gone up about $100.00 per month.Yours? I don’t know if reform is why, but it doesn’t seem to have helped at all.

There are few things on the level with health care reform in importance. Looks to me like they blew it. Back in the 1990s, there were a few years I refused to vote for a Republican because of the impeachment and what I saw as political harassment of President Clinton. I thought they needed to be punished. I probably should apply the same thing to the Democrats. But, I have to admit - they are both equally bad. Who the hell am I going to vote for?

Israel and Palestine

I return to this topic again and again because it is infuriating. Whatever loathing I feel for Hamas and Hizbollah, I become more and more disenchanted with Israel, which seems to want to justify the Arabs world’s fears that it never intends to give up any land or settlements.

I was furious when the temporary halt on building in the West Bank ended and the settlers gleefully continued. Well, we know how Gaza put a stop to settlements. Is that what Israel really wants? Another war? Maybe. Only, the citizens don’t seem to happy when they occur.

I said this before, but it bears repeating (as, of course, everything else I say), Israel should unilaterally give up all settlements and get out of the West Bank the way it got out of Gaza. Then, if attacked it should defend itself like Bruce Lee in The Chinese Connection and with the same moral force it has shown in the past, make its attackers terribly sorry.

Today, reading of the administration’s efforts to bribe Israel to halt the building so the Palestinian’s do not walk from the negotiations (not that anyone had a lot of hope), I was sickened by Israel’s position. It is their leadership's duty, their responsibility, to at least remove the settlements, by force if necessary.

Doesn’t mean I will back their vicious enemies, but I won’t support them either (not that either care). But, it is also the last major policy issue on which I feel I can support the president (since he has also refuse to end Don't Ask, Don't Tell, which he could do with a pen stroke). He was right to toughen up on Israel and not let them feel whatever they did was fine, as Bush did. There will be no peace until both sides feel they must resolve it.

Bob Woodward’s book on Obama’s War

I could care that there was division in the White House over what to do about Afghanistan. Why wouldn’t there be? It’s a war. I am completely uncaring if the lead actors called each other names. Have you ever read history? Of course they will.

But, I will be upset if, with over a hundred thousand American and NATO troops in Afghanistan, his whole plan is based on political considerations. I’m not suggesting he’d be the first president to do that. Far from it. But, that doesn’t make it right.

According to Woodward, the president said we are out of there in 2011 because he didn’t want to lose the whole Democratic Party. Well, sorry, when you sign up for president, you do have to risk your whole party when it comes to critical decisions and war. Do we know he said it, for sure? Of course not. But, he hasn’t denied it, and neither has Joe Biden, who has been talking about the book. Don’t you think someone would?

Naturally, we can’t expect courageous questions from reporters, but you’d think if it wasn’t true, they’d be out there denying it as they have done with less important matters.

Plus, Bob Woodward has pretty much earned everyone’s trust. At least among the chattering classes, he has as much or more credibility as anyone. I don’t like that he doesn’t cite quotes sometimes, but he does here. Partisans can’t just say, we believe the stuff we like and not anything else (well, of course, they can, but not credibly). After all, Woodward published several books on President Bush, and I can’t recall the media or his White House denying any of that either.

I haven’t been happy with President Obama, but I have supported him when it comes to Afghanistan, as it seems like he is allowing General Petraeus to really give it a shot. But, if it is known that we are gone next year, the resilient forces against us will fight now, but bide their time until we go, or, at least mostly go. Smells like Vietnam all over again. I say this admitting that I change my mind about Iraq and Afghanistan all the time. If I could send 250,000 men to Afghanistan, I would. If we are going to have minor victories stretched out over 20 years, I don’t think it is worth it.

Of course, this isn’t going to be a major issue. We are right now engaged on a major offensive in Afghanistan (taking Kandahar) and not many people care about that either.

Please don’t argue with me

I really don’t go out of my way to argue with people about their religious beliefs. I’m happy to discuss my atheism, and debate it with anyone who wants, but you can’t convince most people of this kind of stuff and you might only succeed in upsetting them, or hurting their feelings.

But, I was admittedly happy to see an article on the results of a Pew Forum on Religion poll this week which showed a few interesting things. First, when it comes to religion, Americans, in general, are really ignorant. Second, atheists, and you have to love this, know more about religion than religious people do. Jews were next, so, in a sense, I make first and second place if you want to completely generalize. I checked out the questions. They were not difficult or esoteric. Here’s the breakdown of the percentage of correct answers (out of 32 questions).

Atheists/agnostics – 65%

Jewish - 64%

Mormon – 63%

White evangelist protestant - 55%

White Catholic - 50%

White mainline protestant – 49%

Nothing in particular - 475%

Black protestant - 42%

Hispanic protestant – 36%

Apparently, they didn’t have enough Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists to determine their knowledge level.

It’s not like they had too small a sample. They asked 3,412 people, which is a fairly large sized poll. I was especially interested that atheists/agnostics did so much better than those who were categorized as nothing in particular. An explanation pleasing to me might be that atheists were more educated or thought harder about things. But, it could be argued that those with faith don’t need to work so hard at it. Another explanation might be that those with faith know THEIR religion, but not necessarily that of others – however, the poll did not bear that out – people knew little about their own religion too. Still another explanation might be that those who have better educations are more likely to be atheists or agnostics. I’m just making these up, you understand. You could go on and on.

However, as a member of a non-group group against whom there is still much prejudice (most Americans would vote for a black or Jewish president, but only around half would vote for an atheist one), it feels good.

And what about the president's chances?

Everything I say below is qualified by the statement – of course, we cannot know what will happen.

It looks like the Republicans will be making a lot of gains in the upcoming midterm elections. It looks quite possible, some think probable, that the Republicans or those who will caucus with them (read – tea partiers) will take the house. I’m not so sure as others, but I’d certainly go with a fair degree more likely than not.

The Senate looks harder. Because of their numeric advantage, in order to take that house, the Republicans must win all of the seats they are expected to win, all of the so called toss up seats and at least a couple of the seats leaning Democrat. Possible, but not so likely.

But 2012 is different. For one thing, this is a midterm election, and gains by the opposition is common. President Obama, in his second year, is more popular than either Reagan or Clinton was (G. W. Bush had his 9/11 bump by now) was at the same time. Few thought that either would end up as popular as they did at the end of their terms and among the population. Clinton, for example, just polled as the most popular politician in the country.

We also know that President Obama is a ferocious campaigner and he doesn’t quit. It seems to me that weariness from being president comes in the lame duck term – the last two of his second, and he is also a relatively young man.

And, of course, when and if the right takes the House, then, we’ll get to see what they do. And don’t be surprised if people don’t like it. After all, despite the anti-incumbent feeling in the country, some polls have shown that Americans don’t like congress, but they like Republican congressmen a little less than the current holders of the house.

The right and the tea party are fired up, but acting with the courage of their convictions might not be so good for them. Of course, and here’s where I waffle, having a Republican congress might make Obama a better president, just like it did Clinton. I hope so.

Take out for two

Carl Paladino is a bit of a jerk in my book. I heard him on the radio once before the blowup with NY Post reporter, Fred Dicker, the other day, and he seemed to want to sound not just like a regular guy, but one who orders hits on other mobsters while eating mama's linguini with clam sauce. Tough guy.

And, there is a certain appeal if you are sick of, and who isn't, namby pamby politicians who apologize for breathing too hard at the drop of a hat if it might offend a voter, or worse, get the media hounds after them.

But, in my book, he takes it too far. His use of the expression to Mr. Dicker - "I'll take you out" was repulsive. His personal attacks on Andrew Cuomo, accusing him of having an affair (something Paladino admits doing) was equally repulsive, because he now admits he didn't have any evidence. He was hoping the press he reviles would dig something up if he suggested it. Someone you want being your governor? I don't care that he has a child out of wedlock. So do I and she's a great kid. He hid it though, which shows a greater lack of character. The fact that he told his wife after they had lost a child doesn't do it for me. You would think traditional conservatives who CLAIM that Bill Clinton's affair was unforgiveable would be bothered by this - but apparently it isn't an issue any more (how can it be after so many of them have shown to be no better?)

This isn't an Andrew Cuomo endorsement. I don't even know what either one really stands for so much, except that Mr. Paladino is a tea partier and NY's Attorney General is a prosecutor. Nothing against prosecutors, really, some of them are very decent people doing a very tough job for little reward - but, Mayor Giuliani and Governor Spitzer have sort of soured me to them as far as other political offices. That's not fair, of course, but I'm admitting a bias.

So, you might be surprised when I tell you, I think the media got it all wrong in the Paladino-Dicker fight, just as thought the judges and the sports writers got it all wrong back in the 80s when they called the first Leonard-Duran fight for Duran. It was close, but I thought Leonard won (and he proved next time around, there was really no contest between them). Sure, Mr. Paladino was angry because the Post had photographed his daughter at her house. Who wouldn't be? And he did taunt Mr. Dicker as the AG's stalking horse. But, watch the video again - the longer one. It is Mr. Dicker who is far more agressive than you'd expect from a reporter (he was right - Mr. Paladino had no evidence against Mr. Cuomo) and seemed to be on the verge of violence. It was he who one of Mr. Paladino's aides (I think that's who he was) tried to calm down first, and he who yelled let me go and went after the candidate again. I'm not sure why they then tried to restrain Mr. Paladino. He didn't seem to be doing anything to me. But, no one threw a punch, and then Mr. Paladino dropped the "take out" bomb. He was going to take the reporter out. We all know what that means. Even if that's just the way he talks, shouldn't he think about changing it?

If I scored the round, the winner being the more aggressive one who landed the most verbal punches, I would give it to Mr. Dicker just over Mr. Paladino, despite Mr. Paladino's late second rally - too little, too late. Just my opinion, but I've watched it four or five times now and that's how I see it. Alone in the world on this one, but there weren't many who thought Sugar Ray Leonard won his first fight with Roberto Duran either.

The next update I'll be able to report on the election, and, we get to start the 2012 presidential campaign. Who will announce first? The only thing I'm sure of, it won't be Hillary Clinton (ruining a conservative fantasy I rank up there with the liberal fantasy that President Bush was going to declare martial law if Senator Obama won the election).


  1. I'm really worried about myself- I find myself agreeing more and more with your political update posts. Can't really find anything to disagree with in this one that wouldn't be nit picking. Of course, I do think you should have investigated the Illuminati angle to Stevens' death. Afte all they have been running things as an outgrowth of the Knights Templar for hundreds of years. Just sayin.

    BTW thanks for the hat tip in the post.

  2. It worries you? Imagine how it makes me feel. You are welcome for the hat tip (I write, as if I have any idea what you are talking about).


Your comments are welcome.

About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .