Saturday, January 31, 2009

Re: The "Stimulus": Economics As the Dismal Science -- Keynesians Say 1+1=3, Milton Friedman & Common Sense Say No Way

Boxing is the sweet science, medicine is the artful science, and economics is surely the dismal science (link). Economists, whether one-armed or two, are always disagreeing about everything from soup to nuts. To be sure, their books are filled with fancy graphs and complex formulas (after all, calculus is a pre-requisite), but if it was all so scientifically clear why are there so many arguments about the most fundamental things? We no longer debate the germ theory of disease or whether a walk is as good as a hit, but economists cannot agree on whether it makes sense at all for us, through our central government, to borrow from foreigners an unimaginable sum of money to spend on ourselves, money we would not otherwise spend but for fear about our current recession.

So to know what to believe I fall back on well-tested, old-fashioned principles -- living within one's means, borrowing money only when absolutely necessary, and balancing budgets. I also believe that when something seems too good to be true, especially when it violates common sense, it almost certainly isn't true. So Keynesians with their multiplier theory can try all they want to convince me that 1+1 = 3 (talk about real Voodoo Economics), but I'm not buying it. To me, it's part of a tactic to "not let a crisis go to waste" that can be used to scare us into accepting huge new spending programs that will permanently enlarge the size of the federal government and its role in our lives, foisted by those who value statism over individual liberty, which requires limited and divided government to long survive.

Here’s a relevant excerpt (Chapter 5) from my yellowing copy of Milton Friedman’s Capitalism & Freedom (link), which was required reading for me years ago as an undergraduate in a “Common Core” social science course at the University of Chicago:
When private expenditures decline for any reason, it is said, governmental expenditures should rise to keep total expenditures stable…. Each recession, however minor, sends a shudder through politically sensitive legislators and administrators with their ever present fear that perhaps it is the harbinger of another 1929-33. They hasten to enact federal spending programs of one kind or another. Many of the programs do not in fact come into effect until after the recession has passed. Hence, insofar as they do affect total expenditures… they tend to exacerbate the succeeding expansion rather than to mitigate the recession…. The chief harm done by this [spending] theory is therefore not that it has failed to offset recessions, which it has, and not that it has introduced an inflationary bias into governmental policy, which it has done too, but that it has continuously fostered an expansion in the range of governmental activities at the federal level….
One thing is however clear. Whether the [Keynesian government deficit spending] views so widely accepted about the effects of fiscal policy be right or wrong, they are contradicted by at least one extensive body of evidence. I know of no other coherent or organized body of evidence justifying them. They are part of economic mythology, not the demonstrated conclusions of economic analysis or quantitative studies. Yet they have wielded immense influence in securing widespread public backing for far-reaching governmental interference in economic life.
Richard R Balsamo

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Illinois Democrats Turning Blagojevich Into a (Somewhat) Sympathetic Figure

Only Illinois Democrats could turn fellow Democrat Governor Rod Blagojevich into a (somewhat) sympathetic figure. The Illinois Senate impeachment trial, run by the majority Democrats, appears somewhat unfair in that Blagojevich cannot challenge certain key evidence against him that is put forth by US Attorney Fitzgerald, who carries a great deal of ethical baggage himself (link). Fitzgerald has leveled serious charges against sitting governor Blagojevich via a criminal complaint yet still has not obtained an indictment, and in fact requested and was granted an extension of time in which to do so (link). As for the Illinois Democrats, they're in a huge hurry to get rid of Blagojevich as soon as possible so voters have enough time to forget Democrat complicity and corruption by the time the 2010 elections for all state-wide offices roll around.

The unfair aspects of the Senate impeachment trial have been well commented on by law professor William A. Jacobson at Legal Insurrection (link) and others such as Dave Kopel (link) at the legal group blog The Volokh Conspiracy and Geraldo Rivera the other night on Fox News, for what that's worth (he is an attorney).

People exercised against Blagojevich and in favor of his removal, who assert that this impeachment trial is a political process and not a criminal trial with different rules of evidence and a different standard for "conviction," forget that all of the charges other than the ones relating to Fitzgerald's allegations are based on things that never would have resulted in impeachment let alone conviction. The heart of this case and the heart of the public outcry are the Fitzgerald allegations, the evidence in support of which is mostly in Fitzgerald's hands. So what should the evidentiary standards be for removing a sitting governor? Just that a majority of senators think he's been a bad governor? What if most Senators were Republican, as well as the next-in-line lieutenant governor, and the governor a Democrat (or vice versa)? Do they need solid evidence at all, and if so how much? Are allegations enough for removal? Could the mere fact of a criminal complaint, not yet even an indictment let alone a conviction, be enough to justify a Senate vote to remove from office? What if some of Fitzgerald's evidence is wrong? I detest corruption, but more than that I love the rule of law and basic principles of fairness, which include the right to examine and challenge all evidence said to be against you.

Few seem to care about any of these concerns about fairness and process and precedent, particularly Illinois Democrats so anxious to be rid of their albatross, so Blagojevich the governor is almost certain to be soon gone.

Meanwhile, some Illinois Republicans are illustrating why the state party still has a long way to go. I've caught a few brief news clips on TV and radio featuring comments by prominent Illinois Republicans on the whole Blagojevich mess. They slam Blagojevich. Well, that's fine and good, but no one is defending Blagojevich right now on the merits of his performance as governor. It would be far smarter to blast the Illinois Democrat party of which Blagojevich was a part all these years and the prominent Democrat leaders who endorsed him and pitched his candidacies to the public. That's the Democrat party the state Republicans will be running against in 2010; Blagojevich will likely be long gone politically. When it comes to this kind of public political positioning, too many Republicans are in the minor leagues next to Democrats.

John M Greco

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Battle Erupts Over “Academic Bill of Rights” at College of DuPage in Suburban Chicago; Leftist Slant at a Community College

A battle has erupted at the College of DuPage in west-suburban Chicago over a proposal by the college’s Board of Trustees to impose protections for students against biased indoctrination by teachers. The language containing these protections incorporates what is known as the “Academic Bill of Rights” (link), which unsurprisingly has been strongly opposed by teachers and their unions. Looks to me as though College of DuPage Trustee Kory Atkinson is to be commended. College of DuPage is a large two-year community college, with about 30,000 students per semester, according to its web site (link), and brothers John and Jim Belushi are perhaps its most famous former students.

Following this story is Sara Dogan, National Campus Director of Students for Academic Freedom, which is a “clearing house and communications center for a national coalition of student organizations whose goal is to end the political abuse of the university and to restore integrity to the academic mission as a disinterested pursuit of knowledge.” She writes (link):

In what may be a landmark battle currently playing out at a large Midwestern community college, the College of DuPage’s faculty association has pitted itself against the board of trustees over whether to protect the academic freedom of its students. This latest skirmish in the five-year war over David Horowitz's Academic Bill of Rights (ABOR) reveals the lengths to which faculty unions are prepared to go to deny college students the right to an education free from indoctrination.

If adopted, as the Board of Trustees has proposed, this reform would make the College of DuPage the first institution of higher learning in the nation to adopt the Academic Bill of Rights and only the third to recognize that students have academic freedom rights that are distinct from (but related to) those granted to faculty.

“I and the other trustees thought it was important to provide for the academic freedom of students as well as faculty members,” explained Kory Atkinson, a trustee at DuPage and the principal author of the new policy manual which contains the Academic Bill of Rights.
“We’ve had some anecdotal evidence from students about faculty at DuPage providing lower scores [for ideological reasons] and even in some written reports for classes where professors made comments about sources being ‘right-wing’ rather than rejecting them for scholarly reasons, mainly in the social sciences where sources tend to be more subjective,” Atkinson said, explaining some of the Board’s impetus for proposing the Academic Bill of Rights.

The Academic Bill of Rights proposed at DuPage echoes the language of the original Bill authored by David Horowitz in 2005. It recognizes that the principle of academic freedom applies not only to faculty but also to students who should be protected “from the imposition of any orthodoxy of a political, religious or ideological nature.” The DuPage bill acknowledges the right of faculty members to “pursue their own findings and perspectives in presenting their views” but states that they should consider and make their students aware of other viewpoints” and that “courses will not be used for the purpose of political, ideological, religious, or anti-religious indoctrination.”

Despite such guarantees, the DuPage faculty union, a unit of the National Education Association (NEA), has declared open war over the proposed policy change.

In a separate post, Dogan rebuts the specific “smears” hurled at the Academic Bill of Rights by its opponents (link). For a view sympathetic to the point of view of liberal indoctrinist faculty, here’s a post at Inside Higher Ed online (link).

College of DuPage certainly appears to need an overhaul. Earlier this month, it extended a speaking invitation to ultra-liberal, detestable domestic terrorist Bill Ayers (link), in keeping with the "leftist slant of invited speakers in recent years."


John M Greco

Monday, January 26, 2009

"Ethics" Professor Calls For Mandatory Youth Service Corps For "Permanent Cultural Change" By a "New Breed of Citizens"

A Dr. William A. Babcock, senior ethics professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, writing (link) in the Christian Science Monitor, calls for a mandatory national youth corps, in which high school grads would serve for two years and be rewarded with two years worth of college tuition. He writes:
The times call for legitimate regeneration ... a piecemeal, voluntary approach simply would not promote the sort of permanent cultural change ... the 21st century increasingly demands.... to instill a permanent "service mind-set" throughout the nation... that we start working again... that we better prepare and educate our students, that we ready our young people so that they might have every opportunity to mature with grace, dignity, and understanding.... would help spawn a new breed of citizens....
Here's this "senior ethics professor" calling for mandatory national service in a youth corp whose purpose is "regeneration" through "permanent cultural change" in a program that will "better educate our students" to form a "new breed of citizens." No doubt all with a special salute and crisp uniforms -- brown would look nice. And how about a touching pledge to our new Leader, like the Hollywood celebrities are making.

You can just about hear what's going on in the minds of the liberal elites: it's too hard to properly "educate" kids today, with family influence still too strong and alternative sources of information still too available; if we could just get all kids into long 24/7 reeducation programs away from family, friends, and the wrong reading materials, we could finally achieve our dreams of "permanent cultural change" with a "new breed of citizens."

It can look so innocent when it starts.

No doubt some new material for Jonah Goldberg's next edition of Liberal Fascism.


John M Greco

The Culture of Celebrity's Latest Victims -- Blagojevich Star Struck By Oprah & Kristol Falls for Damon

Our eerie and and sometimes pathetic culture of celebrity always reveals more about the enthralled than the celebrities themselves, however unserious or undeserving they may be.

Right on the heels of the Caroline Kennedy Kabuki theater comes news of more celebrities being taken seriously on matters far beyond their ken.

We now learn embattled Democrat Illinois Governor Blagojevich considered Oprah Winfrey as a replacement for Obama in the Senate (link), and the ordinarily sober Bill Kristol is willing to debate actor Matt Damon on the merits or demerits of the Iraq war (link). Blagojevich may just be messing around as a diversion, but even if so note he brings up Oprah and not, for example, some unknown black female accomplished businesswoman.

Lots of people listen when celebrities talk, so they talk more about more things. And yes, celebrities can attract publicity for a cause and so are put out front. But some get confused about all this attention and begin thinking their thoughts are especially insightful, like the actor who feels qualified to testify before Congress on health care policy, not because he is a doctor but because he plays one on TV.

John M Greco

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Wall Street Journal's Liberal Slant Makes Readers Play the "Guess Which Party" Game; Must Only Republicans Pay Taxes?

Most people think that the Wall Street Journal has a conservative point of view. As a long-time reader, I believe this is true for its editorial positions, but its straight news reporting is another story. While not blatantly liberal as those of most other newspapers, WSJ news reports sometimes have subtle slants and omissions that attentive readers can pick up. Knowing this, I was not surprised about the disquiet among some Journal reporters when Rupert Murdoch bought the paper, when they likely feared the imposition of more stringent neutrality rules.

Documenting the ubiquitous liberal bias in news reporting is a full time job, to say the least; sites such as Newsbusters (link) and Media Research Center (link) show us that. But we all must contribute our fair share to the effort, so here's mine for now.

In the January 24th Wall Street Journal, the article "Mayor's Admission Roils Portland," (link) requires readers to once again play the favorite liberal game of "Guess Which Party." It slips the author's mind, and those of his editors as well, to mention the wrongdoer's party affiliation. Since we know that stories about wrongdoing by Republicans never fail to mention party affiliation early and often, on reading the article I knew for a certainty that Mayor Adams is a Democrat, a fact I later happened to see mentioned explicitly in another source -- an Associated Press report at Fox News (link) (even here the word "Democrat" does not appear until the 10th paragraph, but hey, that's better than not at all). For the WSJ, in its 10 paragraph article there was no room to mention that the guy is a Democrat. We last played this game just a few weeks ago when newspaper stories surfaced about the corruption of the mayor of Baltimore, who, by coincidence, turned out to be a Democrat as well.

Liberal slant in a WSJ news story is not an isolated instance. For example, in the same January 24 edition, in an article (link) covering the debate in the Senate over Obama's nomination of tax-cheat Tim Geithner to head the Treasury Dept. (which includes of course the Internal Revenue Service), the first sentence is: "The delay in confirming Timothy Geithner as President Barack Obama's Treasury secretary is slowing the administration's ability to assemble a team to help tackle the worst financial crisis in decades." Get that? It's not Obama's fault to have nominated a tax cheat. It's not the Democrat's fault to have kept the tax evasion story under wraps from November until springing it on Republicans at the last minute. No, it's those damn obstructionist Republicans compromising Obama's ability to confront this financial crisis. After all, Republicans should know from the recently revealed tax "issues" of Geithner, Caroline Kennedy, and U.S. Rep. Charlie Rangel, Democrats all, if they didn't know it already, that only Republicans are expected to pay their taxes if they want to serve in government.

On the subject of liberal media bias, here's Byron York writing at The Corner at National Review Online the other day (link):
In 2001, during the confirmation of John Ashcroft to be attorney general, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee forced a one-week delay in the committee's vote on Ashcroft, saying there had not been enough time to answer all the questions about the nomination. On January 24, 2001, the Washington Post reported the story under the following headline:

Vote On Ashcroft Is Delayed A Week; Democrats Cite Need for More Review

Yesterday, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee did precisely the same thing for the nomination of Eric Holder to be attorney general. Today, the Washington Post is reporting the story under the following headline:

Republicans Obstruct Holder's Path to Justice Department


Those damn obstructionist Republicans.

John M Greco

Friday, January 23, 2009

Homeopathic Democrats Plan To Correct Effects of Excessive Borrowing & Spending With Even More Borrowing & Spending

Obama and his fellow Democrats, who will be aided and abetted not doubt by some Republican “mavericks,” are about to drive this country off a financial cliff. As if the misbegotten and mishandled TARP wasn’t enough, the Democrats want to borrow much more, mostly from foreign investors willing to buy Treasury bonds, for us to spend on ourselves. Not content with how bad our budget deficit is already, they want to borrow more, much more.

Gangster Johnny Rocco in the movie Key Largo was likely a Democrat. When asked what he wants, he answers “More.” When then asked if he’ll ever get enough, he answers “No, never have, and don’t think I ever will.” Like homeopaths who treat fever with more fever, Democrats want to treat deficit spending with even more deficit spending. Maybe Democrats are homeopathic gangsters.

Here's Steve Chapman in the Chicago Tribune: (link)
We all know how we got into this economic mess. We spent too much, borrowed with abandon and acted like the bills would never come due. So what's the prescription for getting out? Spending more, borrowing more and acting like the bills will never come due…. This alleged cure deserves special scrutiny because it invites our policymakers to redouble the very policies that caused the crisis. Congress and the new administration are all too eager to abandon restraint so that we can overcome the consequences of excess…. We will be borrowing money to prevent a decline in our current standard of living. That money will eventually have to be paid back, which will require a decline in our future standard of living.

John M Greco

Gary Sinese, “Friend of Our Troops,” Awarded Presidential Citizens Medal

A belated acknowledgement of the great and well-deserved honor bestowed upon actor Gary Sinese by President Bush at the White House last month. Chicagoan Sinese was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal for his activities in support of our service men and women and their families.

Sinise currently stars in CSI: New York and is also well known for his Oscar-nominated role as Lt. Dan Taylor in the movie Forrest Gump. Sinese is a co-founder of the Steppenwolf Theater Company of Chicago. I saw some great performances of his in the 1980s in Steppenwolf plays in the old theater at Hull House on Broadway and Belmont.

From Andrew Breitbart (link):

Since war became a geographically distant but very real way of life after Sept. 11, 2001, no Hollywood star has stepped up to support active duty U.S. military personnel and wounded veterans like Gary Sinise. There is no close second. And quietly, as is in his nature, he is becoming something akin to this generation´s Bob Hope…. Michael Yon, a Special Forces vet and the pre-eminent war journalist of our time, communicated his admiration in a dispatch from Bahrain: "Gary is a true friend of the American soldier. He does not hesitate to travel into war zones to express his admiration and personal support for those who defend us. He visits wounded soldiers, some of whom I personally know. All love him. Soldiers from privates to generals admire Gary for his dedication to a cause greater than any of us. Gary's dedication went much further. He personally supported [through his own Operation Iraqi Children] sending millions of dollars worth of school and clothing supplies to Iraqi children. I saw this effort with my own eyes. Gary Sinise is a Great American."

In 2004, Mr. Sinise, wanting to do more, formed the Lt. Dan Band, a jam band created almost exclusively to entertain the troops in and out of war zones. "It´s very important that you know we are grateful," the bass guitar playing Mr.Sinise recently said while performing at the Pentagon. "The sacrifice you and your families make - you are not forgotten."

Deb Rickert of Operation Support our Troops said it best about Mr. Sinise: "In an age when the public often lavishes epitaphs of greatness on celebrities merely because they are famous, the military community bestows the simple title of friend on Gary Sinise truly because that is what he is to us."


Richard R Balsamo

Thursday, January 22, 2009

"Great Powers" Historian Paul Kennedy Warns Against the Planned Economic “Stimulus” Package That We’ll Need Foreigners To Pay For

Historian Paul Kennedy (link) wrote a short essay recently for the Wall Street Journal (link) titled "American Power Is on the Wane" in which he comments on the current economic health of the United States and finds the patient seriously ill. Professor Kennedy, author of many books, is perhaps best known for “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers,” a thorough and quite illuminating study of the relationship between the economic and military power of the world’s major powers of the past 500 years. This book and his “The Rise and Fall of British Naval Mastery” have significantly informed my world view.

He argues that a country’s economic and military strength are correlated (the latter depends on the former), and that these two strengths are always in flux relative to each other and relative to those of other countries as well. In the long run, the two tend to equilibrate, but can diverge significantly in the short run. The common pattern of divergence starts with an economic expansion, followed by a military expansion to protect the wider economic interests; then the inevitable relative economic decline, which then leaves the country overextended militarily (“imperial overstretch”) relative to finances and which only exacerbates the economic decline; and then finally the inevitable relative military decline that brings the two “strengths” back to equilibrium.

It's hard to deny that the United States is in a period of relative decline in its global economic strength compared to the period 1945 -1960, when it assumed its current massive global military obligations. Our share of global output is much less than it was 50 years ago, yet our military obligations have not ebbed correspondingly. Common sense and historical inquiry tell us this mismatch is unsustainable. From troops defending South Korea and Central Europe to sailors fighting pirates in the Indian Ocean, we are spending too much of our resources as policeman of the globe.

Now comes this current economic crisis, which is accelerating our relative economic decline and consequently ultimately our military strength. Fearful of our fiscal deficits and of the apparently incipient massive “fiscal stimulus,” Kennedy writes in the Journal:

By what logic, though, should America lose more ground in the years to come than other nations…. The first reason, surely, is the U.S.'s truly exceptional budgetary and trade deficits. There is nothing else in the world like them in absolute measures and, even when calculated in proportion to national income, the percentages look closer to those you might expect from Iceland or some poorly run Third World economy. To my mind, the projected U.S. fiscal deficits for 2009 and beyond are scary, and I am amazed that so few congressmen recognize the fact as they collectively stampede towards the door entitled "fiscal stimulus."

The planned imbalances are worrying for three reasons. The first is because the total projections have been changing so fast, always in a gloomier direction. I have never, in 40 years of reading into the economics of the Great Powers, seen the figures moved so often, and in such vast proportions…. The second reason all this is scary is because no one seems to be certain how usefully (or fecklessly) this [stimulus] money will be applied…. The third thing I'm really scared about is that we'll likely have very little money ourselves to pay for the Treasury bonds that are going to be issued, in tens of billions each month, in the years ahead…. Never mind, I am told, the foreigners will pay gladly for that paper. This notion makes me queasy. In the first place, it is (without its advocates ever acknowledging it) a dreadful sign of America's relative decline.… [O]ur dependency upon foreign investors will approximate more and more the state of international indebtedness we historians associate with the reigns of Philip II of Spain and Louis XIV of France … We could be looking at as large a shift in the world's financial balances as that which occurred between the British Empire and the United States between 1941 and 1945…. Moreover … the staggering array of overseas military commitments and deployments that weigh upon Uncle Sam's shoulders…. brings us back, I'm sorry to say, to the "imperial overstretch" remarks I made some 20 years ago.

Borrowing money from foreigners to distribute among ourselves to spend on personal consumption is no path to economic recovery and prosperity.

Richard R Balsamo

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Some Republicans Misrepresent Geithner's Tax Evasion So As To Dismiss It; An Early Test of the Loyal Opposition on an Important Principle

I am completely baffled by the dismissive attitude of some Republicans to the Geithner tax evasion scandal. Baffled. A major principle is involved, of the importance of character and honesty in public servants, and Republicans are deciding if they stand for this or not. For many, the answer seems to be "not".

Geithner is clearly a tax cheat, as I have opined (here and here). He has no explanation for why he failed to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes, especially for the two years after the IRS audit, knowing that he signed an acknowledgement for his employer that he owed those taxes and knowing that he had accepted extra money explicitly for payment of those taxes. He has no public explanation because he will not admit what is obvious to everyone -- he cheated and got away with it. When Obama was evaluating him for nomination as Treasury Secretary, this tax evasion came to light (no doubt Geithner quickly fessed up in private) and Geithner then finally paid up his taxes, many years overdue. He knew all along he had cheated, and no doubt never expected to be a cabinet nominee when this would come to light.

Yes, we're in an economic crisis, and perhaps it would hurt to not have a Treasury Secretary quickly at work (although after how the last one has been doing, maybe we'd be better off without one for a while). But this is Obama's fault, to nominate a tax cheat to head the IRS -- so much for Obama's new politics. Yet I could understand why some Republicans might say something like: He's a tax evader and I abhor his behavior, but he has acknowledged his sin and repented, and only because of this extraordinarily urgent national crisis will I support the appointment, but in no way is my support a dismissal of the seriousness of his past action.

And no doubt some do say that. But here comes Republican Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire on this evening's Larry Kudlow show on CNBC -- he not only defended Geithner's qualifications and supports him, he dismissed the tax evasion problem as an oversight and said that "when it became clear that he owed the taxes, he paid." Kudlow immediately called him on this gross misrepresentation, and said "that's not true." Gregg did not and could not defend his statement. Why does Gregg try to mislead the inattentive public to carry water for Geithner and Obama? Kudlow then interviewed Republican Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky, who said, clearly holding to principle, that "someone who knowingly evades taxes should not be heading up the IRS."

And moments ago Hugh Hewitt, a leading conservative voice, said on his radio show that "I've never been one of those search and destroy types who goes after a guy because he didn't pay taxes on his nanny." Is is possible that Hewitt does not know that the nanny tax issue is only one of Geithner's many tax issues but only a relatively insignificant one compared to his failure to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes? Could Hewitt possibly not know this? Hard to believe. He appears to present the false notion that Geithner's tax issue is about a nanny tax, allowing him to dismiss it easily. It is one thing to call the tax evasion for what it is but argue that exigent circumstances force you to support confirmation, and another thing entirely to label it a "triviality" (as Charles Krauthammer did).

The signs are that most Senate committee Republicans will vote to confirm Geithner. This is a very early test case for Republicans. What a horrible way for some Republicans and conservatives to begin the Obama era -- not as the loyal opposition dutifully keeping the majority honest, but as enabling rationalizers of a significant moral and legal failing.

The thinking apparently is that some Republicans fear appearing obstructionist. Oh yea, that's a big worry, knowing that Democrats Reid and Pelosi were as obstructionist as could be with Bush's agenda and appointments and look where it's gotten them.

Update January 22: Today the Senate Finance Committee voted 18-5 to support Geithner's nomination and move it to the whole Senate for a vote. Voting to support were all 13 Democrats plus 5 Republicans -- Cornyn, Crappo, Ensign, Hatch, and Snowe. Voting against were 5 Republicans: Bunning, Enzi, Grassley, Kyl, and Roberts.

John M Greco

Monday, January 19, 2009

Bush's Border Patrol Commutation Lessens His Shame

In the last few hours of his presidency, George W. Bush today (link) commuted the sentences of Ignacio Ramos and Alonso Compean, the two U.S. Border Patrol Agents who are serving 11 and 12 year sentences, respectively, for shooting a drug-smuggling suspect in the buttocks in February, 2005. As I have written (link), they made the mistake of trying to protect our borders against a drug smuggler during the presidency of an “open borders” advocate, and were made a lesson of. The case is a travesty, a huge and horrible moral stain on George W. Bush, his former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and the man he appointed as the federal prosecutor for the region, one Johnny Sutton.

In keeping with the infuriating nature of the Bush Administration's handling of this case, which should not have been brought in the first place, the men will not be freed until March 20, rather than immediately.

In a previous post (link), I expressed hope that Bush would "make a small but morally-significant step in softening what will be the cold, harsh stare of history on his presidency by pardoning the two Border Patrol agents persecuted by his administration in what can be seen as a political gesture to the Mexican government, which does not want enforcement of our immigration laws. The case is difficult to understand otherwise."

Without a pardon, these public servants will be convicted felons for the rest of their lives. With today's commutation, Bush mitigates his shame and culpability in this travesty, but cannot erase it and does not end it.

John M Greco

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Arizona nee Chicago Cardinals Advance to the Super Bowl

The Arizona nee Chicago Cardinals advance to the Super Bowl after today's win against the Philadelphia Eagles, a team itself with a Chicago connection through its quarterback Chicagoan Donovan McNabb, the pride and joy of football powerhouse Mt. Carmel High School, long run by the Carmelites on the South Side near the University of Chicago.

The Cardinals were my father's team, but it didn't bring him or other fans much joy. They generally weren't very good, but did win one championship -- in 1947 against the same Philadelphia Eagles. They played for years at the old Comiskey Park, while the Bears played at Wrigley Field.

The Cardinals supposedly acquired their red color and their new name when the original owner bought faded, cast-off maroon uniforms from the University of Chicago, then a major football school. The Bears also borrowed from the U of C -- its football-shaped "C" logo and its nickname "The Monsters of the Midway" (after the Midway Plaisance, which runs through the campus and is basically a wide, sunken parkway dug but never used as a Venetian canal for the 1893 Columbian Exposition). The Bears, incidentally, took their blue and orange colors from the University of Illinois.

The Cardinals sadly left Chicago for St. Louis in 1960, around the time so many other sports franchises relocated. They stayed there until 1988, when they moved a second time -- to Phoenix.

I heard on the radio that no other National Football League team has gone longer without a championship. Here's hoping there's one more win left this season for the old team that started out on the West Side, the oldest franchise in the NFL.


Richard R Balsamo

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Ray of Hope at the Chicago Sun-Times Newspaper

The Chicago Sun-Times is struggling, just like most other newspapers. And, like the Minneapolis Star Tribune which just announced bankruptcy, the Sun-Times has become ultra-liberal in recent years, not just in its editorial views but in its slanting of straight news stories and in its roster of columnists (link). But long gone are the days when three or four papers in a big city could profitably stake out differing political points of view and cater to a specific readership. Why a newspaper today would deliberately alienate half of its potential customers is hard to understand. Nevertheless, that's the Sun-Times strategy.

With that strategy, the paper itself says it's losing about $20 million a quarter and burning through cash (link). Already just this month it has announced closings of some Chicago suburban newspapers (link) and non-union pay cuts of 7% (link). But no worries -- no doubt everyone there is in the full throes of Obamamania, if the cover and web site are any indication (link).

Now comes word that one large shareholder, unhappy with the way the paper has been run (link), has finally obtained sufficient support from other shareholders to replace the Board of Directors of the Sun-Times parent organization (link).

Newspapers can and should perform a valuable public service. They can and should take editorial points of view, but should be dedicated to providing straight news that's balanced and fair. When they distort and manipulate the news itself, they fail their readers. Chicago would be better served with two well-run newspapers, and one can only hope the new Sun-Times Board has the requisite sense of urgency, clarity of purpose, and set of skills. It can start by removing the now pervasive liberal bias in its news stories and replacing half of its currently all-liberal columnist panel with conservatives.

John M. Greco

Friday, January 16, 2009

Geithner, Obama, & Republicans -- Will Character Matter or Expediency Rule?

Condoning serious dishonesty in public officials is corrosive to our Republic. I would have thought this principle self-evident. And yet, some prominent leaders continue to voice support for Tim Geithner, Obama’s nominee for Treasury Secretary and head of our income tax agency, the Internal Revenue Service. Tim Geithner is pretty clearly a significant tax cheat, and the irony of his nomination to head the IRS is remarkable to behold.

The Congressional hearing on his nomination is currently set for Wednesday January 21st. Philip Klein writes (link) that "[t]he reason why Geithner is getting a relatively free pass on the Capitol so far is that he's a Democratic nominee who is viewed by Republicans as a solid, business-friendly Treasury Secretary who is the best they can expect to do under Obama." But do and will Republicans stand for clean government or not. Abandonment of core principles for momentary political considerations is the reason Republicans are so down and out.

Obama and his team have known about Geithner’s tax problems and nominated him anyway. Supporters assert that these problems were oversights, and some even excuse Geithner as a victim of excessively complex tax filing rules.

But more details continue to appear, and Byron York, in a posting (link) today marshals more facts that cast a very serious doubt on the Obama and Geithner story that tax mistakes like this were common at the IMF, Geithner’s employer, and that two accountants overlooked the failure to pay self-employment taxes.

We already know (link) that not only did Geithner fail to pay self-employment taxes on income for 2001 and 2002, he requested and accepted extra reimbursement from his employer to pay those taxes, and signed forms acknowledging his responsibility to pay those taxes. In addition, when this problem was discovered via IRS audit in 2006 for tax years 2003 and 2004, Geithner finally paid self-employment taxes for those two years but did not go back and also pay for 2001 and 2002, apparently because the stature of limitations had run on those years and the IRS could no longer force him to pay, even though the taxes were owed. We also know that the dollars involved were significant -- about $43,000 for the four years.

And yet, the ordinarily sensible and perceptive Charles Krauthammer joins with Obama in thinking this problem is a triviality. He said on Fox News last night (link): "We have in Geithner a guy with amazing experience, extremely smart, who has been in every crisis over the weakness in 2008, all the rescues.... And to sink his nomination over what I think is a triviality is simply unserious. Our crisis is too strong, too big, and his is too much of an asset to deny him office over unpaid taxes, which in the end he refunded and repented."

Krauthammer is wrong. Geithner never “repented”. He only paid his 2001 and 2002 taxes some weeks ago when he was nominated by Obama, thereby allowing him to now say all his taxes have been paid. Geithner knew and Obama knew he owed those taxes for years and had not paid, yet Obama nominated him anyway.

This whole issue of ethics and symbolism is bigger than Geithner. Geithner’s story is one of significant tax evasion, and in a land of hundreds of millions of people he is not indispensable, even at this moment in history. That both Obama and Krauthammer think this matter is a triviality is very surprising and very disappointing. This reeks of "one rule for the elite, political class, one rule for the masses" mentality.

And one can only hope that Obama’s early indifference to certain ethical shortcomings in some of his nominees (link), such as Clinton’s conflicts of interest (link) and Holder’s involvement in outrageous pardons (link), is not a harbinger of more serious problems to come.


John M. Greco

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Geithner Tax Evasion Story Indicates the Severity of the Democrat & Media Double Standard in the Age of Obama

Media treatment of the income tax dodges of Treasury Secretary-nominee Tim Geithner give us an early indication of the severity of the double standard that will exist for Democrats and Republicans in the age of Obama. Indeed a double standard has long existed, but the hair-trigger sensitivity of the liberal media, big and small, to any and all things conservative during the Bush II years has been astounding to witness. It’s equally astounding to see how quickly things reverse when Democrats are involved.

Now comes Geithner, nominated by Obama to head the Treasury Department, the largest part of which is the Internal Revenue Service. Evidence suggests Geithner is a tax cheat.

The core tax issue is his failure to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes for four years (2001 – 2004) when he was employed at the IMF, which did not withhold these taxes from his paycheck. The law says Geithner needed to pay those taxes himself, but he did not. He claims it was an oversight. Geithner’s failure to pay these taxes was eventually detected by the IRS, which in 2006 audited only two of the four tax years at issue (2003 and 2004) and required him to pay the back taxes he owed. Now comes the key point – if his failure to pay was an oversight, why didn't Geithner on his own go back and pay the taxes he failed to pay for years 2001 and 2002 after the IRS forced him to pay only for 2004 and 2005? Today's Wall Street Journal (link) suggests the answer: "Senate Finance aides said they were concerned either Mr. Geithner or his accountant used the IRS's statute of limitations to avoid further back-tax payments at the time of the audit." So here's a very credible theory, and the only one that explains the known facts -- the statute of limitations had run and the IRS could no longer force Geithner to pay the taxes he failed to pay for 2001 and 2002, so Geithner didn’t pay. He didn't pay, that is, until just weeks ago when Obama picked him for Treasury, 12 years after the IRS audit that discovered his tax problem.

Furthermore, now come reports (WSJ; Byron York in National Review) that the IMF not only clearly and repeatedly informs its American employees that they need to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes on their own, but the IMF pays those employees extra dollars for partial coverage of these taxes, which the employees are then supposed to pay to the IRS on their own. Reports are that Geithner took the employer money intended for his tax liabilities but nevertheless still didn’t pay the taxes. And this is the man Obama wants to head up the Internal Revenue Service. Geithner wants us to believe he is too obtuse to understand basic income tax requirements but still smart enough to manage our economy, the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, and, of course, the Internal Revenue Service.

Obama has called all of this an "innocent mistake" (link). The liberal media, when it is not dismissing this story outright, blows smoke in our eyes by conflating it with a far less significant nanny tax problem and with the deception that all these minor issues were resolved by Geithner long ago. Sometime Republican Lindsay Graham has of course rushed to Geithner's defense, and even some stalwart conservatives have fallen for the misdirection (link). No doubt that if the roles were reversed and Geithner was a Republican, it is unlikely that he would ever have been nominated, and if so, he would have been boiled in oil by now by Congressional Democrats and the liberal big media as just another example of the unethical, hypocritical, and lawless ways of Republicans.

The reality is that not only is Geithner’s past tax evasion shocking, but equally so is the dismissal of this as an issue by Democrat Obama and his team, their liberal media supporters, and some hoodwinked Republicans.

John M Greco

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Chicago Tribune Rearranges Deck Chairs As Its Ship Sinks -- Now Will Publish in Two Formats

The Chicago Tribune continues its slow slide to oblivion, which is very, very sad to see for those of us who appreciate the critical role newspapers play when they do their job well in a balanced and fair way.

The Tribune has announced (link) that it will convert from a broadsheet to a tabloid format for street sales, retaining the larger, traditional format only for home delivery. It claims that content will be the same, although I'm skeptical for if so why would it incur additional costs to publish in two formats. The Tribune apparently hopes to attract more "street " purchases, now a small fraction of their overall sales, by people, otherwise craving for the Tribune's product, currently put off by the larger format.

The Tribune continues to struggle to survive. Its parent company is in bankruptcy (link), it seems indifferent to the web given its mediocre and slow site, and it recently apologized (link) for its dumbed-down appearance and content since its last redesign only months ago (which I wrote about here).

This latest move is truly rearranging deck chairs as the big ship sinks. I recall the old broadsheet Chicago American newspaper, which in its final days 30-40 years ago also clutched at straws as it drowned: less content; dumbed-down articles; a shift to tabloid format, and a name change -- to the chicago today -- all lower case apparently so as to not seem intimidating to potential readers (believe it or not).

Yes, the internet has dramatically changed the world for newspapers, who no longer have a monopoly on news and information and whose biases in reporting, undoubtedly longstanding, are now painfully exposed. But it is not at all clear that "newspapers" cannot survive. They must, however, reinvent themselves as a news and information source with multiple distribution methods focused on delivering content so good and original that customers will pay for it, even on the web. They would need to be much leaner and much more focused, and not offend potential customers with bias in "straight" news reporting (link). The customer base would be smaller but profitable.

Since the Tribune management thinks their ship is sinking because the deck chairs are poorly arranged, time for new management, and there is not a moment to lose. Trying to appeal better to people who don't read much is doomed to fail.


John M Greco

Monday, January 12, 2009

Democrat Voters Migrate to Republican Areas For Better Jobs, Safer Neighborhoods, and Better Services, But Then Still Vote For Democrats; Go Figure

A post by economist Mark J. Perry at Carpe Diem yesterday (link) about data which shows that Michigan was again the state with the most outbound migration got me thinking once again about the implications of business climate and employment levels on political parties. Data like this that I have seen in recent years (link) for the most part shows migration of workers away from higher-taxed, more unionized states with poorer business climates. Most workers seem to recognize in at least a part of their brains that non-government jobs come from successful businesses, and that more successful businesses are in some places than in others.

Once relocated in more promising areas, though, many voters counter-intuitively continue to support the failed policies that caused them to migrate in the first place. This past election cycle has shown us that North Carolina, for example, is less “Republican” than it has been due to migrants from northern Democratic states who have moved south in search of better economic conditions. So we have large numbers of people who in their new more-successful states vote in favor of the very kind of people and policies that have ruined the states they were forced to abandon.

This phenomenon happens at the local level as well. For years now there has been a migration out of Democrat-controlled Chicago and Cook County into the surrounding historically-Republican “Collar Counties.” People have been moving for the better (and more plentiful) jobs, the better schools, the better, safer neighborhoods, the better local governments, and the better services. And yet what do many of them do upon arrival? – they vote for Democrats.

Illinois State Senator Kirk Dillard, a Republican from Hinsdale in DuPage County, was quoted thus in the Chicago Suburban Daily Herald a few years back: “I always find it funny that Democrats run out to [Chicago suburban] DuPage County for the quality of life that we have … yet they want to change it and go back to a system that leads to higher crime, greater taxation and inferior schools.”

For years many Republicans assumed that migration from economically- and socially-failing Democrat-controlled cities and states out to relatively well-run Republican ones would cause Democrat migrants to switch parties, but that does not seem to be happening to the degree expected. Clearly party affiliation depends on multiple factors. But it is sad indeed to recognize that demonstrating better results is not enough by itself to compete for votes against the continual siren call of the inevitably spiritually- and politically-debilitating crypto-totalitarian Democrat nanny state. Democrat Party elites may have it at least a bit right in their cynicism about democracy and popular elections – they think most people are sheep, they treat voters like sheep, and they are continually rewarded for it.

Update 1/13/09: From Carpe Diem (link): "The eight states enjoying the greatest net in-migration of people from other states between 2000-2008 all have Right to Work laws. But of the eight states suffering the worst out-migration, only Katrina-hit Louisiana has such a law."

John M Greco

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Minnesota Canvassing Judge Slams Criticisms of Bias, But Does Not Rebut a Single Allegation of Serious Mischief in the Coleman-Franken Recount

Investor’s Business Daily [link] has reported that on January 5, 2009, “after a flurry of ballots that materialized after election night, the Minnesota Canvassing Board determined that [Democrat] Al Franken is the duly elected junior senator from the land of 10,000 lakes and almost as many questionable ballots. The margin was 225 votes out of nearly 3 million cast…. Franken is not quite senator yet. Incumbent [Republican] Norm Coleman, who led on election night by more than 700 votes, has filed what is called an election contest. This is a legal proceeding, held before a panel of judges to be appointed by the chief judge of the Supreme Court, to determine the winner of the election.” I have written previously about this election contest here and here.

Specific serious allegations have been made of inconsistent decision making by the Canvassing Board that have favored Democrat Franken and disadvantaged Republican Coleman. Some of these allegations were outlined in a recent Wall Street Journal editorial (link). One member of the Canvassing Board has responded to the Journal’s editorial and his letter was published by the Journal on January 7. He is Edward J. Cleary, Assistant Chief Judge, Second Judicial District, as well as member of the Canvassing Board, who wrote (link):
As a member of the Minnesota State Canvassing Board, appointed pursuant to statute, I have attended all nine board open meetings held in the past seven weeks. I am knowledgeable about the proceedings, as well as Minnesota's election laws…. [A]ll of our major votes were unanimous. We consistently followed the law in limiting our involvement to a nonadjudicative role, declining both candidates' attempts to expand our mandate. Further, we painstakingly reviewed each challenged ballot, some more than once, to confirm that we were ruling in a consistent manner. One can only assume, based on the tone of the editorial, and the over-the-top slam at Al Franken, that had Norm Coleman come out on top in this recount, the members of the board would have been praised as "strong-willed, intelligent and perceptive."
Cleary does not respond to a single specific allegation of possible impropriety made by the Wall Street Journal. Not a single one. Here are three of them:
(1) Under Minnesota law, election officials are required to make a duplicate ballot if the original is damaged during Election Night counting. Officials are supposed to mark these as "duplicate" and segregate the original ballots. But it appears some officials may have failed to mark ballots as duplicates, which are now being counted in addition to the originals. This helps explain why more than 25 precincts now have more ballots than voters who signed in to vote. By some estimates this double counting has yielded Mr. Franken an additional 80 to 100 votes.
(2) In other cases, the board has been flagrantly inconsistent. Last month, Mr. Franken's campaign charged that one Hennepin County (Minneapolis) precinct had "lost" 133 votes, since the hand recount showed fewer ballots than machine votes recorded on Election Night. Though there is no proof to this missing vote charge -- officials may have accidentally run the ballots through the machine twice on Election Night -- the Canvassing Board chose to go with the Election Night total, rather than the actual number of ballots in the recount. That decision gave Mr. Franken a gain of 46 votes.
(3) Meanwhile, a Ramsey County precinct ended up with 177 more ballots than there were recorded votes on Election Night. In that case, the board decided to go with the extra ballots, rather than the Election Night total, even though the county is now showing more ballots than voters in the precinct. This gave Mr. Franken a net gain of 37 votes, which means he's benefited both ways from the board's inconsistency.
Cleary, a sitting Minnesota judge who should know about addressing issues when raised, does not respond to a single one of these very serious allegations, not a single one, yet he slams the Journal for “slamming” Democrat Al Franken.

Kevin Hassett of the American Enterprise Institute, has written (link):
Throughout the recount, the state’s majority Democratic political machine has been grinding away in Franken’s favor. From a dispute over double-counted ballots, to the treatment of rejected absentee forms, Coleman has lost every major dispute with Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, a Democrat, and the state canvassing board, which is controlled by Democrats. … It’s hard to imagine that Coleman is always wrong and Franken always right. So what is really going on in Minnesota?
The fact remains – specific allegations have been made of inconsistent Canvassing Board decisions that served to favor Democrat Franken. Canvassing Board member Cleary blows smoke but does not even mention let alone rebut a single allegation. This is supposed to assure us that he has been balanced and fair? I remain unconvinced.


John M Greco

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Blagojevich Matter Now a Three-Ring Circus: Fitzgerald Prosecution (RICO coming?); Illinois Impeachment (What Evidence?); Sen. "No Money" Burris

The Blagojevich affair has now become a three-ring circus.

Ring One: The Fitzgerald prosecution -- the first ring, and likely to be the last one with any clowns still active. The latest is that Blagojevich wants Fitzgerald off the case because of Fitzgerald's inappropriate comments when announcing the criminal complaint. Blagojevich has a credible point, which I wrote about here, although it does seem unlikely that his request will be granted. The next step for Fitzgerald is to bring an indictment against Blagojevich, and he just received an extension of the deadline -- it's now early April. Law professor William Jacobson at Legal Insurrection, who has been following this whole matter very closely, thinks Fitzgerald may be working up a RICO count (link ; link).

Ring Two: Impeachment. Blagojevich was impeached today by the Illinois House (link), and now a trial will occur in the Illinois Senate. If convicted, Blagojevich is removed from office. The major issue -- on what grounds and with what evidence can the Senate convict? There is no "high crimes and misdemeanors" language, but surely the grounds cannot be trivial or based on policy differences or based on general inanity, and surely there must be evidence adduced in support of conviction that Blagojevich can challenge. But where will the truly substantive evidence come from if not from Fitzgerald, and it is not clear how much he will release to the Illinois Senate (commentary on this at Legal Insurrection here). I expect lots of embarrassing testimony, ongoing worries about links to Obama and his people, and great theater.

Ring Three: The appointment of Roland Burris to fill Obama's vacant Senate seat. Senate Democrats fear that Burris's link to Democrat Blajojevich will doom a Burris-led Democrat ticket in Illinois in the fall 2010 election, and so wish to block his appointment, but as I commented (here), they do not have any good arguments on which to stand. Although they blustered at first about a constitutional basis for denying Burris the seat, upon his arrival in D.C. they resorted to a procedural, technical one -- that the Burris appointment did not have the certification of the Illinois Secretary of State as required by an old Senate rule. Today, however, the Illinois Supreme Court held (link) that the Secretary of State was not required to issue such certification, and that the Blagojevich appointment was valid already. Secretary of State White though still refuses to certify, so now Senate Democrats must decide if they will relent on their rule requiring certification. The Illinois Supreme Court went out of its way to assert that it is not at all clear that the Senate rule does indeed require certification, and that even if it did, it cannot be that a Senate rule can contravene a constitutionally-valid appointment. I expect Reid and his fellow Senate Democrats to fold.

Furthermore, to assure Senate Democrats, and everyone else for that matter, that his appointment did not involve any inappropriate quid pro quo with the tarnished Blagojevich, former Illinois Attorney General Burris stated (link), remarkably, that "there was certainly no pay-to-play involved, because I don't have no money."


John M Greco

Blagojevich Files Motion To Remove Fitzgerald, Citing Inappropriate Comments; Fitz Is a "Repeat Offender"

Attorneys for Illinois Democrat Governor Rod Blagojevich have filed a motion seeing to have federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald removed from the case, alleging that he made inappropriate comments about Blagojevich during his December press conference announcing the criminal complaint.

This development is not entirely unexpected given Fitzgerald's statements. Moreover, this is not the first time Fitzgerald's actions have come under fire -- his behavior in the Libby perjury-trap prosecution related to the Plame affair has been severely criticized by many and discussed here (link); for example, Investor’s Business Daily in an editorial of August 29, 2006, said: [I]t’s hard to see anything but politics as the motivation for Fitzgerald’s handling of the Plame affair …. Fitzgerald knew in the early days of his politicized witch hunt that no crime was committed… From top to bottom, this has been one of the most disgraceful abuses of prosecutorial power in this country’s history.”

The Chicago Tribune Reports (link):
In announcing Gov. Rod Blagojevich's arrest on corruption charges last month, U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald was more outspoken than usual when it came to the stunning allegations that the governor had tried to sell a U.S. Senate seat.
"Gov. Blagojevich has been arrested in the middle of what we can only describe as a political corruption crime spree," the typically reserved Fitzgerald said. The conduct "would make [ Abraham] Lincoln roll over in his grave," he said.
On Thursday [January 8], it was revealed that Blagojevich's defense team, in a sealed motion, is trying to turn the hard-charging prosecutor's words against him, asking a federal judge to remove Fitzgerald and others in his office from prosecuting the case.
Attorney Joel Bertocchi said he couldn't recall seeing Fitzgerald as hot under the collar as he was at the Dec. 9 news conference, but he [thought] that the governor's lawyers probably aren't really hoping that the U.S. attorney will be tossed off the case. What's more likely is that the Blagojevich defense is making a record to argue later that the jury pool has been tainted and the trial should be moved to another state.
Former Justice Department official Victoria Toensing observed Fitzgerald’s behavior at the December 9, 2008, news conference and did not like what she saw. She wrote the following in the Wall Street Journal on December 13, 2008, in a commentary titled Fitzgerald Should Keep His Opinions to Himself -- As in the Libby Case, His Behavior Is 'Appalling.' (link):
In the Dec. 9 press conference regarding the federal corruption charges against Gov. Blagojevich and his chief of staff, Mr. Fitzgerald violated the ethical requirement of the Justice Department guidelines that prior to trial a "prosecutor shall refrain from making extrajudicial comments that pose a serious and imminent threat of heightening public condemnation of the accused." The prosecutor is permitted to "inform the public of the nature and extent" of the charges. In the vernacular of all of us who practice criminal law, that means the prosecutor may not go "beyond the four corners" -- the specific facts -- in the complaint or indictment. He may also provide any other public-record information, the status of the case, the names of investigators, and request assistance. But he is not permitted to make the kind of inflammatory statements Mr. Fitzgerald made during his media appearance.
What's more, Mr. Fitzgerald is a repeat offender. In his news conference in October 2005 announcing the indictment of Scooter Libby for obstruction of justice, he compared himself to an umpire who "gets sand thrown in his eyes." The umpire is "trying to figure what happened and somebody blocked" his view. With this statement, Mr. Fitzgerald made us all believe he could not find the person who leaked Valerie Plame's name as a CIA operative because of Mr. Libby. What we all now know is that Mr. Fitzgerald knew well before he ever started the investigation in January 2004 that Richard Armitage was the leaker and nothing Mr. Libby did or did not do threw sand in his eyes. In fact -- since there was no crime -- there was not even a game for the umpire to call.
In the Libby case, rather than suffer criticism, Mr. Fitzgerald became a media darling. And so in the Blagojevich case he returned to the microphone. Throughout the press conference about Gov. Blagojevich, Mr. Fitzgerald talked beyond the four corners of the complaint. He repeatedly characterized the conduct is "appalling." He opined that the governor "has taken us to a new low," while going on a "political corruption crime spree."
I am as repulsed by the governor's crude statements -- captured on tape by investigators -- as anyone. And although I am a Republican, I am first an officer of the court. Thus, I take no joy in a prosecutor pursuing a Democratic politician by violating his ethical responsibility. I fear for the integrity of the criminal justice system when a prosecutor breaks the rules.
As I said before, in Chicago even the federal prosecutor needs watching. Somewhere Chicagoan Mike Royko is smiling. He loved the great theater that is the tragi-comic politics of Chicago and its state Illinois.


John M Greco

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Democrats Continue To Block Burris From Senate With Specious Legal Arguments & Tactics; Reid Makes Illinois Secretary of State “The Fall Guy”

Top Senate Democrats have now met with Roland Burris (link) and continue to block him (link) from taking his rightful seat in the Senate, publicly justifying their actions on legal arguments they know are as thin as can be. The real issue is that they are afraid a Blagojevich appointee will be a tainted candidate and pull down the Democratic ticket in Illinois in the 2010 elections.

The Democrats have blustered mostly about a Constitutional basis for refusing to seat Burris (link). My formal exposure to constitutional law was the one course I had on the subject in law school. However, over the years I have read and followed many Court decisions and it never ceases to amaze me how some Justices (as well as liberal law professors) can serve up fantastically contorted legal arguments – stretching definitions to the breaking point and splitting hairs into microspace -- to justify the specific ways they want cases to come out. So anything can happen if a Constitutional argument reaches a court.

The Constitutional argument the Democrats have floated is based on Article I, Section 5, Clause 1, which states: “Each house [of Congress] shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members." Since the Burris appointment is not an election, and the issue is not Burris’s personal qualifications (age, citizenship, and residency, from Article I, Section 2, Clause 2), then for the Senate to have review power (to be the ‘Judge”) over the Burris appointment that appointment must be a “Return.”

The one commentary I can find in support of Democratic Senator Reid’s assertion that the Senate can “Judge” the Burris appointment and find it unacceptable is by law professors Akhil Reed Amar and Josh Chafetz writing in Slate (link).

They first argue that the Senate’s power to “Judge” includes determining whether the “Senate believed that legislators [who originally were the ones to “elect” Senators] in a given state had been bribed into voting for a particular candidate,” and if so finding then “the Senate could refuse to seat him.” The legal support they offer for this contention is “English parliamentary tradition and early Colonial and state practice.” Then they turn to the definition of the word “Return.” The authors state that “[a]ccording to the Oxford English Dictionary, a "Return" in the time of the framers involved a report of an appointment made by a sheriff or other official,” and conclude therefore that the power to judge a “report” of an appointment is the power to judge the appointment itself and not just the veracity of the report of an appointment.

Assuming that this predicate is correct (and there are people who argue it is not; see discussion at the Volokh Conspiracy site here), what evidence does the Senate now have to “judge” that the appointment of Roland Burris was corrupt and on that basis refuse to seat him? Amar and Chafetz write:
To be sure, there is no evidence Burris bribed the governor to get this seat. But imagine if Burris had won election only because other candidates were wrongly and corruptly kept off the ballot. Surely the Senate could properly deem this an invalid election. Similarly, it now seems apparent that there were candidates that Blagojevich refused to consider for improper reasons—because one refused to "pay to play" early on, or because another is at the center of the impending criminal case against the governor. With the appointments process so inherently and irremediably tainted, the Senate may properly decide that nothing good can come from a Blagojevich appointment.
So, these law professors argue that based on evidence not yet “proven,” not even examined, and only alleged in a criminal complaint (not yet even an indictment), the Senate can find that the appointment of Burris is sufficiently tainted by the general allegations leveled at Democrat Governor Blagojevich by federal prosecutor Fitzgerald. In other words, they argue that the Senate can properly deem the Burris appointment to be corrupt by finding the appointer Blagojevich to be corrupt in general, without adducing any specific evidence that the Burris appointment itself was corrupt.

My goodness, if suspicion of being associated with corruption were a bar to serving in the Senate, then much of the Democrat leadership would need to resign immediately [e.g., Reid with the suspicious Nevada land deals; Dodd’s below market rate mortgage from a prominent lender affected by his committee’s decisions]. How far could the Senate go in refusing to seat someone? (Law Professor William A. Jacobson ponders this at his weblog Legal Insurrection here). Journalist Dennis Byrne, a long-time commentator of the Chicago political scene, sees the absurdity in Reid’s public position based on this legal argument of guilt by association with a person or persons generally thought to be corrupt; he writes in the Chicago Tribune (link; and at his weblog here):
[Reid’s] refusal to seat Burris is so arbitrary that it could set a precedent theoretically allowing Republicans, once back in control, to refuse to seat Democrats simply because they're from Chicago—which, come to think of it, isn't a bad idea.
Steve Chapman writing at Reason Online (link) states:
It's far more plausible to say that the Senate isn't obligated to accept Burris if his appointment involved illegality—say, if he promised Blagojevich something tangible in exchange, as the governor allegedly sought from other prospects. But so far, no one has alleged, much less proven, anything of the kind. It's one thing for the Senate to conduct an investigation to remove all doubt. But it shouldn't use that pretext to endlessly delay what it can't legally prevent.
As such, Senator Reid appears to be on very thin ice when he asserts that he can block Burris from serving based simply on a general sense that Governor Blagojevich is corrupt in the absence of any evidence that the Burris appointment itself was corrupt, again assuming in the first place that the Senate has the power to “judge” this appointment.

Reid and the Democrats almost certainly know this argument is untenable, which is why their first line of defense against Burris is to rely on the Illinois Secretary of State’s refusal to “certify” the appointment. However, even though no one other than partisan Democrats seems to be arguing that such certification is anything beyond a formality (a “ministerial” task), the lack of certification does give the Democrats a pretense to keep Burris out of the Senate until such certification is obtained. So right now Illinois Democrat Secretary of State Jesse White, himself black, carries water for the national Democrats in providing this pretense upon which to block Burris.

White, although sticking to his pledge to not certify anyone appointed by Blagojevich, is not happy about this ploy by Senate Democrats – he says he’s been made the fall guy. My guess is that he’s been hearing from a lot of blacks who want Burris seated. The Chicago Tribune reports today (link):
Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White said this morning he has been made "the fall guy" by the U.S. Senate, which he said is using him as an excuse to not seat Roland Burris. "They could have seated him without my signature; my signature is not required," he told WGN-AM 720's John Williams…. White said, "My signature is mostly ceremonial, rather than a point of law… They played a little bit of a game with [Burris] yesterday." Asked by Williams if he had been made "the fall guy," White said, "You're absolutely correct."
If and when the White certification gambit fails, then the fall back position is the Constitutional argument, which Reid must be very reluctant to use. Reid no doubt hopes to stall until Illinois Democrats can remove Blagojevich from office, thus providing Democrat Patrick Quinn, now Lieutenant Governor, the power to appoint the new Senator. However, Democrats would still need to show that the Blagojevich appointment was invalid before a Quinn appointment could be entertained. In any case, Democrats do not want a special election for the seat – they might well lose it.

In reality, this fight is about the fear among Democrats that a Blagojevich – appointed Democrat Senator on the top of the Democrat ticket in the 2010 election in Illinois will be disastrous for them, costing them not only the Senate seat but others as well.

Burris now has petitioned the Illinois Supreme Court (updated link: analysis at Legal Insurrection here) to compel Secretary of State White to certify his appointment. If Burris persists and wins, and if Democrats fail to remove Blagojevich soon enough, and if public outcry becomes loud enough, Democrats may try to compromise with Burris – offer to seat him in exchange for his promise not to run for election in 2010 – or capitulate to him altogether.


John M Greco

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Oriental Institute's "Striding Lion" of Babylon














A "Striding Lion," from ancient Babylon. I spotted it a few weeks ago on a cold December day in Chicago and took its picture.

One of the many gems on permanent display at the Oriental Institute, the University of Chicago’s remarkable museum which displays well its large collection of objects from the ancient Near-East, particularly Mesopotamia, Assyria, Egypt, and Persia.

Per the museum: From Babylon. Molded and glazed brick. Neo-Babylonian Period, circa 604-562 B.C.

Excerpt from legend: This colorful striding lion, its mouth opened in a threatening roar, once decorated in ancient Babylon (the Biblical city of Babel) a side of the “Processional Way,” which led out of the city through a massive gate named for Ishtar, the Mesopotamian goddess of love and war whose symbol was the lion.

These structures were built by Nebuchadnezzar II of Hanging Gardens fame. The Encyclopedia Britannica informs me that the Processional Way was a stone- and brick-paved avenue which ran over half a mile, and that its sides were decorated with an estimated 120 brick lions. The Ishtar Gate itself was decorated with hundreds of dragons and bulls, and along with the Processional Way has been partially rebuilt in Berlin at the Pergamon Museum from excavated material. I saw a short video of the museum exhibit on a TV travel show a while back and it looked quite impressive. Wikipedia has a photo from the Pergamon as well as sketches of how the original structure must have appeared (link).

The aesthetics seem remarkably refined and developed for a society near the beginning of recorded civilization.


UPDATE:
Other posts here on the Oriental Institute:
Ancient Assyria & the Transience of Economic Strength

Friday, January 2, 2009

Prosecutor Fitzgerald Wants More Time To Indict Democrat Governor Blagojevich – Did He Rush Criminal Complaint To Protect Obama?

Federal prosecutor Fitzgerald wants more time to indict Illinois Democrat Governor Blagojevich. It is not clear to me why this should be allowed outside of extraordinary circumstances. I have been very critical of Fitzgerald’s behavior in the Libby prosecution and in this case with Blagojevich in a previous post titled “As Prosecutor Fitzgerald Pursues Blagojevich, Who Watches Fitzgerald?” (link).

The Chicago Tribune reported (link) the following on December 31:
The U.S. attorney's office today asked a federal judge for an extra three months to formally indict Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his former chief of staff. The move by U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald's office was expected because the deadline for handing up an indictment had been set for Jan. 7. The extension would give prosecutors until April 7…. Blagojevich was charged in a criminal complaint, not an indictment.
Fitzgerald's office cited the complexity of the case as one of the main reasons for seeking the three-month extension…. In seeking the extension, which Blagojevich's defense attorneys are not opposing, prosecutors said they have intercepted "thousands of phone calls" by tapping Blagojevich's home phone between late October and early December. They also said "multiple witnesses have come forward in recent weeks to discuss their knowledge of criminal activity" connected to the case…. They also noted that federal grand juries are not seated during the holidays and said there were other reasons they need the delay, but did not disclose them publicly.

On Dec. 9, when FBI agents arrested Blagojevich … Fitzgerald said investigators moved quickly to stop a crime spree in progress and noted agents were fanning out to continue probing the allegations.

A hearing on the extension request is expected to be held Monday [January 5].

I have looked at a number of sites featuring commentary by attorneys (e.g.: Instapundit; Volokh Conspiracy; Althouse; Legal Insurrection) and have found nothing yet on this development.

We know that Fitzgerald has had Gov. Blagojevich under scrutiny for years for a number of issues. Obama’s election and the incipient vacancy of his Senate seat that would be Blagojevich’s to fill led to the now-famous taped discussions between Blagojevich and others. I have read speculation that Fitzgerald moved suddenly to bring the criminal complaint last month because he feared that Obama and his people would get caught on tape negotiating with Blagojevich about whom Blagojevich would appoint to Obama’s Senate seat. This theory could explain why Fitzgerald needs yet more time to interview new witnesses and to gather additional material --he does not yet have a slam dunk case against Blagojevich and would not have brought the criminal complaint when he did but for Obama's election and the resulting flurry of conversation it created over the Senate seat.

It seems patently unfair for a prosecutor to announce a criminal complaint and arrest an elected official with great fanfare and then say a full 30 days later that he needs more time to build his case. The rule must be that a prosecutor should only bring a criminal complaint unless he already has a strong enough case that he believes should prevail at trial.

UPDATE 1/3/09: Law Professor William A. Jacobson addresses this issue in a post at his weblog Legal Insurrection (link).


John M Greco

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Democrats Gaining in Their Attempt To Steal Minnesota Senate Election Via Rigged Recount

The recount process continues in the disputed Minnesota Senate election. Democrat Franken and his team are pulling out all the stops in an effort to take the seat from incumbent Republican Norm Coleman. The day before yesterday, the ultra-liberal Huffington Post reported (link) that the canvassing board's final recount gives Franken a 50 vote lead, but with over 1,300 disputed absentee ballots to be dealt with; the post outlines the next steps in the process. Given past history, it would seem the smart money is on the Democrats.

In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal (link), Trent England details the infamous stealing of the 2004 Washington State election for governor by Democrats, particularly aided by their militant arm ACORN, and comments on the similarities between that event and what’s happening now in Minnesota:
For those who watched the Washington State governor's race recounts in 2004, the ongoing recount drama in Minnesota is just another rehash of the same script…. [I]n Washington, Democratic Party candidate Christine Gregoire lost the first count, lost the recount, and then won a second, highly dubious recount by 133 votes. In Minnesota, where Sen. Norm Coleman is defending his seat against comedian-turned-candidate Al Franken, the first count showed Mr. Coleman up 725 votes. Today, thanks to another dubious recount, Mr. Franken is apparently in the lead.

Both Mr. Franken and Ms. Gregoire were endorsed by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now -- Acorn -- a group under investigation in several states for suspected voter registration chicanery. The man overseeing the Senate recount, Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, was also endorsed by Acorn, and his election campaign in 2006 was funded in part by something called "The Secretary of State Project." This latter group, founded by MoveOn.org's former grass-roots director, exists solely to install far-left candidates as secretaries of state in swing states.
Kevin Hassett of the American Enterprise Institute ,wrote about this election recount on December 19, 2008, at Bloomberg.com (link):
[A]ny fair-minded person should be concerned about what’s going on in Minnesota. Throughout the recount, the state’s majority Democratic political machine has been grinding away in Franken’s favor. From a dispute over double-counted ballots, to the treatment of rejected absentee forms, Coleman has lost every major dispute with Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, a Democrat, and the state canvassing board, which is controlled by Democrats. Unsympathetic judges have rejected Coleman’s appeals. It’s hard to imagine that Coleman is always wrong and Franken always right. So what is really going on in Minnesota? …. After examining some of the ballots, I’m concerned. Although voter intent seems clear in a large majority of the ballots, in a number of instances the board’s judgments seem inconsistent in a way that favors Franken.
Last month in December, Ann Coulter devoted three of her weekly columns to the Minnesota recount. On December 3, 2008, she wrote (link):
On Election Day, Franken lost the U.S. Senate race in Minnesota to the Republican incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman by 725 votes. But over the next week, Democratic counties keep discovering new votes for Franken and subtracting votes from Coleman, claiming to be correcting "typos." In all, Franken picked up 459 votes and Coleman lost 60 votes from these alleged "corrections." As the inestimable economist John Lott [link] pointed out, the "corrections" in the Senate race generated more new votes for Franken than all the votes added by corrections in every race in the entire state -- presidential, congressional, state house, sanitation commissioner and dogcatcher -- combined. And yet the left-wing, George Soros-backed Secretary of State, Mark Ritchie, stoutly defended the statistically impossible "corrected" votes. There's something fishy going on in Minnesota besides the annual bigmouth bass tournament.
To understand what is happening in Minnesota, one must turn to the Washington state gubernatorial election of 2004. As in Minnesota this year, the Republican candidate kept winning and winning, but the Democrats refused to concede, instead demanding endless recounts. Meanwhile, Democratic precincts kept "discovering" new ballots for the Democrat…. The head of the Washington State Democratic Party orchestrating this ballot theft was Paul Berendt. Guess who is advising Al Franken on the Minnesota recount right now? That's right: Paul Berendt.
Minnesota has gone to a hand recount, but in some instances election officials are allowing the original election-day results to be recorded instead of hand recount totals when the original results favor Democrat Franken. Coulter wrote on December 10, 2008 (link):
What is the point of having a hand recount of ballots in the Minnesota Senate race if the Democratic secretary of state is going to use the election night totals in precincts where it will benefit Democrat Al Franken? Either the hand recount produces a better, more accurate count, or there was no point to the state spending roughly $100,000 to conduct the hand recount in the first place. But that is exactly what the George Soros-supported secretary of state has agreed to do in the case of a Dinkytown precinct near the University of Minnesota. The hand recount of the liberal precinct produced 133 fewer ballots than the original count on election night and, more important, 46 fewer votes for Franken. So he's proposing to defer to the election night total over the recount tally.

Highly implausible, post-election "corrections" in just three Democratic precincts -- Two Harbors, Mountain Iron and Partridge Township -- cost Coleman 446 votes. But I note that Ritchie doesn't propose deferring to the election night totals there. The Minneapolis Star Tribune attributed the 436-vote "correction" in Franken's favor to "exhausted county officials." Were they more exhausted in those three precincts than in Dinkytown? Either the post-election tally is better than the election night tally or it isn't. Cherry-picking only those election night results Ritchie likes isn't an attempt to get an accurate vote-count; it's an attempt to get a Democrat in the U.S. Senate.

On December 18, 2008, Coulter wrote (link) that “No matter how many times Democrats steal elections, Republicans keep thinking the next time will be different. Minnesota is famously clean, isn't it? It must different. It's not different. It's still the Democrats.”

In a previous post here (link) on November 8, 2008, I wrote about this attempt by Democrats to steal the Minnesota senate election: “We’ve seen this recently in 2000 in Florida, and in 2004 in the Washington state governor’s race. The playbook is the same: after official vote counts show the Republican winning by a very narrow margin, previously submitted vote totals are ‘revised’ and new votes are found that had been ‘overlooked.’ Past Republican surrenders to this assault have been instructive, and no doubt provocative, to some Democrats, who apparently think they can outlast and outmaneuver most Republicans in the inevitable exhaustive court fight.” In the 2004 Washington state contest for governor, Republican Dino Rossi declined to challenge the stolen election in court, and decided to move on with his life. He then ran again against the now-incumbent governor Democrat Christine Gregoire in 2008 and lost by over 6 percentage points amidst the Obama voter surge. Most Washington state voters either forgot to punish Democrats for their immorality in stealing the 2004 election or they endorsed it.

As we know, weakness is provocative. So now in Minnesota, encouraged by the Washington state experience, Democrats try once again, brazenly in broad daylight, to steal an election. Liberals avert their eyes, thinking that election cheating is a small price to pay to secure another Senate seat for their self-defined morally-superior Democrat party.

First paragraph expanded at 10:44 p.m. on Jan 1.

John M Greco