To furnish proof that this blog is not dead (at least not yet), I post this:
You know you needed to watch this.
UPDATE (Friday, May 13th, 2011 2:45 p.m.): I did have a couple of readers leave comments on this post, but the unstable loons at Blogger inadvertently deleted them during a system "upgrade" this morning. I'm just putting this on the record in case anyone thinks it was me.
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
To furnish proof that this blog is not dead (at least not yet), I post this:
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
As someone who loves American cars and prays for the recovery and rejuvenation of the great city of Detroit, I was floored when I saw this ad aired during the Superbowl. I didn't watch the game, but my daughter (an Eminem fan - definite mixed feelings about that) told me about it:
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Another Bill Burns classic for your enjoyment this holiday season:
"Quick! Somebody hand me the Log Cabin syrop! Hahahahahaha!!!"
To my three or four remaining readers, I hope you have a Merry and Blessed Christmas, and hopefully the outbreak of psychosis at the North Pole is short-lived.
Friday, September 10, 2010
Monday, August 02, 2010
I cannot seem to get my groove on to write anything interesting lately, so it is a bit ironic to be compared to Edgar Allan Poe. I am sure he never had writer's block, but then again, by the time Poe was my age, he was already dead*. So his problems were, in the main, greater than mine.
Since I cannot put two words together on my recent trip to Quebec, and since my delight over the egg dripping off Patrick Fitzgerald's face delivered recently by Conrad Black and the United States Supreme Court cannot (yet) be put into any sort of efficacious post of its own, I am going to have to try something else to shake off the rust and get the brain working again.
With that, please indulge me as I recount a story about - more or less - the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site in Philadelphia. Back in August 1988, on part of my 8,250-kilometer journey** back to Halifax from California, I found myself in Philadelphia. Accompanying me on this part of the trip was my friend Frank T. from Toronto, who was also a fellow student at Dalhousie University. We spotted on a map - apparently, not a very detailed one - a small coloured dot denoting the location of the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site.
This was the first time either of us had been to Philadelphia. We had managed to find Broad Street and we were heading south toward places like City Hall, Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. By the look of the map, all we had to do to find the E.A.P. National Historic Site was make a left turn and proceed east a couple of blocks. It seemed very simple.
Broad Street itself was interesting. Apparently parking was (and probably still is) a little difficult, so cars were parked parallel along both sides of the street, and in the bidirectional left turn lane in the centre of the street as well. This lane is more appropriately known as the Lane of Death, so perhaps the many parked cars using it made it safer. Don't know.
At any rate - I am going by memory here, and this was 22 years ago - we continued south until we figured we were more or less in the right place, and that once we turned left, we would either see the Poe place or we would see signs indicating how to proceed. So I turned left off Broad Street onto a street running east-west.
We had gone only about 100 feet on this side street when we knew something was terribly wrong.
The buildings on either side of the street were either boarded up, burned out and gutted, or torn down. There were vacant lots filled with trash and broken glass. There were automobiles on either side of the street that were not in working condition. By that I mean that some were stripped, some were up on blocks, some were burned, and at least one was on its roof. There were tough-looking guys wearing coloured bandanas, I assume the reason for which was to denote membership in one gang or another. On the next block, there were people walking in full Arab garb - the sort of long white thawbs one might see in Saudi Arabia, with head coverings. I really don't know what they were doing there, as I always thought ex-pat Saudis were well off and didn't have to hang out in neighbourhoods like this, but perhaps like us, they too wanted to visit the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site. One or two more blocks to the east, our street dead-ended on a north-south street and we turned right. As we did so, the doors on a church opposite the intersection were thrown open and a casket was brought out, followed by many mourners.
That did it. To hell with the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site. It was nowhere to be found, we had no exact address, there were no signs pointing the way. There was only urban blight and the feeling that at any minute, my out-of-country 1983 Pontiac Acadian (the equivalent of a Chevette) was going to attract the attention of the wrong person and he would start firing a gun at us. I believe after turning the corner, I said to Frank something along the lines of, "Let's get the !/$%^&* out of here!" He agreed, and I sped up to get to the next street onto which I could turn right, and from where we could make our way back to the relative safety of Broad Street. As I did so, I turned the radio on and blaring out the speakers was the song by the Talking Heads that had been a hit a few years earlier: Burning Down the House. After a block or so, I mentioned to Frank that "Burning Down the House may not be the best song to be playing in Philadelphia," referring to both the bad neighbourhood we were in and the MOVE house fire-bombing in 1985. Only a few minutes later, we were back on Broad Street, heading toward City Hall again, with the song still playing.
Since then, I cannot think of Edgar Allan Poe or listen to Burning Down the House without thinking of that day in Philadelphia, twenty-two years ago.
Good times, good times.
* This is illogical, but you know what I mean.
** I zigzagged a lot. If you proceed directly the distance is a lot less.
Sunday, July 25, 2010
Monday, June 21, 2010
Someone can correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe this aired during halftime of the Superbowl back in 1992:
"Oh the humanity! Hahahahahahahahaha!!"
I don't know what made me think of this, but Jim Carrey's Fire Marshall Bill character suddenly popped into my head. The continuing theme/gag of the character was that he was constantly warning others about extremely unheard of (or at least implausible) hazards, but he would end up causing explosions and fires himself.
I remembered something sad about that particular show, too: at the close of this episode, which was broadcast live, all the cast of In Living Color were gathered together to bid the audience thanks and goodbye, and Sam Kinison screamed, "I'd just like to say I'm really sorry I bet on Buffalo! Aaauugghhh!! Aaaugghhh!!!" It was one of his last appearances on television.
Friday, June 11, 2010
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
For no particular reason, here are a couple of scenes from a very funny (and somewhat off-colour) movie from 1990, Crazy People starring Dudley Moore:
So remember, if your visual presentation doesn't make quite the sense you want it to make, just give the panel a little shake and it will be better.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
This song has been stuck in my head for a couple of weeks, the reason for which shall remain classified. But in order to clear my mind, I have to let the tune out somehow. The alternative is listening to Roch Voisine's Sleigh Bells one more time, to crowd the mind and cause the auto-replay subroutine to switch to something else. But another round of Sleigh Bells should cause unpredictable danger to others. So that strategem is right out.
Thomas Dolby may have been one of the ultimate One Hit Wonders, but the video is still awesome, after all these years.
I remember being in a dentist's chair, early in the 1980s, coked to the gills on novocaine as I got a couple of molars filled, with this song playing a little too loudly on a radio in the background. It still
creeps me out fascinates me to remember it.
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
Monday, November 02, 2009
What do the Leafs and the Titanic have in common?
They both look good until they hit the ice.
What's the difference between the Toronto Maple Leafs and a cigarette vending machine?
The vending machine has Players.
What do the Toronto Maple Leafs and whales have in common?
They both get totally confused when surrounded by ice.
Why are the Toronto Maple Leafs like Canada Post?
They both wear uniforms and don't deliver.
Why doesn't Hamilton have an NHL team?
Because then Toronto would want one too.
What do the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Argonauts and the Toronto Blue Jays all have in common besides being based in Toronto?
None of them can play hockey.
What do you call 30 millionaires around a TV watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs?
The Toronto Maple Leafs.
How do you keep the Toronto Maple Leafs out of your yard?
Put up a goal net.
What do you call a Toronto Maple Leaf with a Stanley Cup ring?
What do the Toronto Maple Leafs and possums have in common?
Both play dead at home and get killed on the road.
How many Toronto Maple Leafs does it take to win a Stanley Cup?
This guy says to the bartender, “Can my dog and I watch the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey game here? My cable is out, and my dog and I always watch the game together.”
The bartender replies, “Normally, dogs wouldn't be allowed in my bar, but it’s not very busy right now, so you and the dog can have a seat at the end of the bar. But, if there’s any trouble with you or the dog, I’ll have to ask you to leave.”
The guy agrees, and he and his dog start watching the game. Pretty soon, the Leafs manage to score a goal and the excited dog jumps up on the bar, barks loudly, does a back flip and runs over to the bartender and gives him a high-five.
The bartender says, “Wow, that’s pretty cool! What does he do when they win a game?”
The guys answers, “I have no idea.”
(Ig talking): My friends in Toronto, if this didn't rankle enough, stop and think about this little added bit to the story:
The Leafs suck and the Leafs' owners like it that way. It's intentional.
Have a great season!
Tuesday, October 06, 2009
As regular readers of this blog know, I am a fan of a certain Boston baseball team. Today, though, I am a fan of the Detroit Tigers, who are playing a tiebreaker against the Minnesota
Two Ply Kleenex Box Wavers Twins later this afternoon.
I have no particular grudge against the Twins (anymore), nor do I have a strong affinity for the Tigers. But today I am in their corner, hoping they win and advance to the playoffs, where they would be further encouraged to stomp all over the New York Yankees. But not even my animosity toward the Yankees is behind this.
It's something more than just baseball. I want the Tigers in the playoffs because I have a strange sympathy for the city of Detroit.
I have only been to Detroit twice in my life, more than 20 years ago, and I can only count those as visits if one is allowed to count "driving through the place" as a visit. So it's not like I know the place well, despite the fact that Jimmy Hoffa and I had unusual and uninvestigated ties to one another. No one I know even lives there, although I do have a few relatives in other areas of Michigan.
Detroit, like many other American cities, is in a horrible decline. A once-great, bustling, productive city has been reduced to a shadow of its former self. The American automobile industry, the backbone of the city's economy, is in tatters. The housing market collapse has hit Detroit extremely hard: in December 2008, the city's median home sale price was $7,500. That's seven thousand five hundred. The Detroit Board of Realtors reported that the average home price in January 2009 (one month later) was only $13,638.
In August 2009, the US unemployment rate was 9.7%. Michigan's rate was 15.2%. Detroit's was 17.3%. (So says the Michigan state government.) And those are seasonally adjusted rates - the raw unemployment rate in Detroit was closer to 28% during the summer.
- Detroit's overall crime rate was more than twice the national average.
- Detroit's violent crime rate was more than four times the national average.
- Detroit's murder rate was more than six times the national average, and was higher than the murder rates in Washington, D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Baltimore, Buffalo, Cleveland and Boston.
- Burglaries in Detroit occurred at a rate more than three times the national average.
- The rate of motor vehicle thefts in Detroit was more than five times the national average.
The good news is that the homicide rate has shown some decline, dropping in 2008 to the lowest level in many years. But due to a continued exodus from the city, even this good news prompted mayoral candidate Stanley Christmas to say, "I don’t mean to be sarcastic, but there just isn’t anyone left to kill."
Speaking of mayoral candidates, Detroit has recently had a little trouble with its mayor, a Mr. Kilpatrick, who appears to have got carried away with the trappings of his office.
So overall, one might describe Detroit as a place to avoid. While I don't plan to travel there any time soon myself, I have a soft spot for the place. This once-wonderful and exciting city is in the dumper, with few prospects for or reasonable expectations of improvement. It makes no good sense that cities should be in such bad shape, but they are, and Detroit is among the worst.
That's why I'm rooting for the Tigers today.
Not just because the hanky-waving Twins fans are a bunch of wienies, and because the Metrodome sucks. The people of Detroit need something to cheer for, even if it's only for a few more days. So go get 'em, Rick Porcello and teammates. Chew these guys up in Minnesota, and then crush and humiliate the Yankees.
Do it for the great city of Detroit.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Thirty-four years ago today, on Wednesday, July 30th, 1975, former Teamsters Union President Jimmy Hoffa disappeared from near the Machus Red Fox Restaurant in Bloomfield Township, near Detroit, Michigan.
No one seems particularly moved by my foreknowledge of the JFK assassination in 1963, probably because the whole thing was a dream. Fair enough. However, here are a few things about the Hoffa disappearance which, at the risk of putting myself in the sights of the authorities, make one take pause:
- Jimmy Hoffa and I used to live within 60 miles of one another. Well, we would have been living within 60 miles of one another, if Hoffa hadn't been in the federal hoosegow at the time.
- Hoffa disappeared 34 year ago today. '34' is a Markov number, so named after Russian mathematician Andrey Andreyevich Markov, whose masters thesis was entitled, "About Binary Quadratic Forms with Positive Determinant," which just screams conspiracy.
- Less than two weeks after Hoffa disappeared, I was on board an Air Canada flight from Toronto to Los Angeles with my brother, sister and parents, and we flew right over the city of Detroit.
- Hoffa took over the Teamsters' presidency in 1957, succeeding Dave Beck. I used to work with a guy named Beck when I was a banker. (Hoffa's friend Beck dressed better than my friend Beck.)
- President Nixon commuted Hoffa's sentence in 1971. My brother, who was on the plane with me in 1975, was born in 1971. And twenty-two years later, I met a man who had worked for Nixon.
- Hoffa was 62 years old when he disappeared. At the time, the civic number on the house where I lived was 62.
Look, I could go on and on here, but you get the idea. I have answers, but no one ever bothers to ask the right questions.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
In just a day and a half, as I alluded to in my previous post, I have come to the realization that a man needs a pickup truck. All the struggling with cargo, renovation materials, hauling tools, furniture, etc. could all be solved if I bought myself a truck. Just yesterday, I drove my father-in-law's pickup exactly one block to the local building supply store to buy some drywall sheets. The dang things fit just lovely in the back of the truck. No fussing, no removal of seats in the back of the minivan trying to make something fit that is not going to fit anyway, no cursing under my breath as I load at the store or unload at home.
I am now on the hunt for a decent half-ton. I'll keep y'all posted.
This section really should be its own post, I know. More than one post a day, or more than eight or ten a month, is asymptomatic of this blog. So I'm shifting gears now and sharing the details of the strangest, most vivid dream I have had in years. This one occurred in the early hours of Saturday morning.
In the dream, I had access to a means of time travel. Not a machine per se, but simply some means of moving the entire world's clock to whatever date I wanted it to be. I somehow felt I was limited to the 20th century. I don't know why.
I chose to go back to the early 1960s. Dreams being what they are, there were all kinds of inconsistencies, like the fact that the neighbourhood I grew up in got built in the 1960s, but in my dream it was as it was in the 1980s. That's not important but I thought I'd mention it anyway.
What struck me is that I suddenly came to the realization that the date to which I had shifted the entire planet was none other than Friday, November 22nd, 1963. I had done this entirely accidentally. When I realized what date it was, I felt a terrible chill.
Several other people in the dream were with me - they were friends of mine, and they were from the present day. In other words, they were in on the whole time travel thing. I gathered my friends together in a state of panic and anxiety.
"Do you realize what today is?" I told them.
"Yes." Everyone nodded.
"The Kennedy assassination is two days from now," I told them, for some reason thinking the date was November 24th.
"No, that's not right," one of them corrected. "Two days from now is the Oswald assassination. The Kennedy assassination is today."
"Today? What time is it now?" I asked, alarmed.
"It's 12:30 p.m." came the reply. "With the time difference, it is 10:30 a.m. in Dallas." (None dare say I confuse my time zones when I sleep.)
"We have two hours to do something!" I yelled. "What the hell do we do? Who do we talk to?" About this point in the conversation, I realized I was in the middle of my old street in Nova Scotia with the others, pacing frantically.
The conversation turned as to how the Kennedy assassination could be stopped. We were just about to act, to start making calls to the authorities, when everyone stopped and looked at one another.
"We cannot do this," someone said quietly. "We would be changing the course of history in ways we cannot predict. It could be extremely dangerous." The conversation then turned to the various presidencies and administrations that followed President Kennedy's, and many of the permutations that flowed from them. The sense of panic gave way to resignation, and then the hatching of another plan.
"If we cannot stop it," I said, nearly choking up, "we can at least make sure that the truth gets out." Everyone agreed on this.
The plan was that I was going to call a journalist in Dallas, and ask him to record my call. (Dan Rather was in Dallas that day - I wonder if it was him I was supposed to call?) I would ask the journalist to verify that he was recording my call, and I would ask him to verbally confirm the time of day and his location, so that the call could be verified to have been placed prior the assassination. I would tell him everything I knew or believed about the plot. Part of the plan was believing that he would likely take me for a crank caller and do nothing about the information I was giving him until after everything had happened. At that point, what reporter would sit on a tape of a call like this? The event would not be stopped, but the truth would get out.
The amazing thing is the amount of detail that I had in mind to give to the journalist. I was planning to tell him that there was a conspiracy to assassinate the president; that there were to be gunmen on the railroad overpass or behind the bushes atop the Grassy Knoll, and in the Texas School Book Deposity Building, and in the Dal Tex Building at Dealey Plaza; that the police would arrest the wrong man; that the man arrested would be killed in two days' time by a Mafia-connected nightclub owner; that JFK's Secret Service detail had hangovers and could not be considered reliable today; that the Dallas police could not be trusted to investigate the crime; that the Warren Commission would cover up the conspiracy; that Lyndon Johnson and J. Edgar Hoover could not be trusted; that the autopsy would either be botched or forged; that the CIA had placed agents all over the place who were unwittingly part of the conspiracy; and that the man from California the police would arrest in the Dal Tex Building after the shooting (Eugene Brading) is Mafia-connected and ought not to be released.
I never made the call. I woke up before I could get to a telephone.
Over the last twenty or so years, I have read a few (maybe a half dozen) books on the JFK assassination. Among these include Contract on America by David Sheim and Le Dernier Témoin by William Reymond and Billie Sol Estes. (Le Dernier Témoin was written by a Frenchman [Reymond] and first published in France. It was released in English under the title The Last Man Standing.) Most recently, at our cottage in Quebec, I started reading High Treason by H.E. Livingstone and Robert Grodin, published about twenty years ago. I only got about halfway through it due to being too busy to read very much, and the fact that it is a big, thick pig of a book, loaded with names and information that take time to absorb.
The strange thing is that my dream took information from every one of the books I have read, boiled down the details and the allegations to a summary of a few that I believe to be true or at least worthy of focus, stuck them vividly in my head and then sent me back to November 22nd, 1963. The dream was incredibly creepy, based on the subject matter, the clarity and the emotion.
In time, whenever I get around to it, I'll share some more thoughts on the JFK assassination. Jack Ruby said to a friend visiting him in prison that it was "the most bizarre conspiracy in the history of the world." I certainly don't have the answers about the murder, but some of what has been proved would raise the eyebrows right off your head.
(The photo of President and Mrs. Kennedy was taken at Love Field in Dallas after they disembarked their plane, less than one hour prior to the shooting.)
Friday, June 19, 2009
Back at the end of January, I posted about the loss of the governor's office, at the hands of the Illinois State Senate, suffered involuntarily by the Great Helmet-Haired Milorad Blagojevich. The comments that followed led me to express my hope that U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald would experience an ignominous loss if the whole business ended up in court. (Since Blago has since been indicted, in court it shall be.)
A commenter on my original post, my friend Mr. Macrum from Maine, he of the bicycle repair shop that would get my business if I only lived a little closer, asked me why I felt this animosity toward Fitzgerald. Kenneth Starr was mentioned in passing, and I wrote this post on February 10th about how zealotry for the law, however nobly intentioned, often leads us to all sorts of unpleasant places, particularly the disheartening trend to criminalize politics. In the post, I focussed on Starr, with a promise to follow up at some point on Patrick Fitzgerald - he who got the topic rolling in the first place.
None dare accuse me of striking while the Teflon-coated frying pan is hot, or whatever the proverb actually says. It is now five months later and I cannot use the "I don't have time to write about this right now" excuse anymore. I still don't have the time to write about it, but truthfully, I don't have the time to write about anything. I managed to put this post together over the past few weeks (if anyone was wondering where I was). So today Patrick Fitzgerald finally gets his day in court, here in the Great Halls of Ignatian Pontification.
I know by now I should have changed my mind about Blago. The indictments sound pretty severe, and with cases like this, high-profile prosecutors avoid bringing indictments forward if their cases are not solid. But to hell with all that. As my friend Mr. Durham from South Carolina pointed out, there is no justice in seeing Blago get sent up the river when the rest of the detritus that passes for politics in Chicago remains free. I am therefore remaining on record that I hope to see Rod Blagojevich beat the rap and win acquittal on every single charge, because I think it would be a delight to see the look on Patrick Fitzgerald's face when he mugs for the cameras afterward. "If I'm on camera, even if the publicity is bad, it is a good thing," opined Fitzgerald recently. Okay, I might have made that up. Let's move on.
First of all, I have to preface my remarks by stating that I did not always think Patrick Fitzgerald was a grandstanding nincompoop. I believe he worked very diligently and courageously back in the 1990s when he prosecuted members of the New York mafia and even more so later when he was part of the team prosecuting Omar Abdel-Rahman and other terrorists who were connected with the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York.
Sometimes one gets carried away with one's own success. Sometimes one gets caught up with one's ability to turn a phrase and make a good argument, and gets egged on by the echo chamber around him. (Hell, that's happened to me before.) Sometimes the approach to solving a problem works so well that the problem solver starts applying it inappropriately to other areas of life. For example, suppose the success of jailing the 1993 WTC terrorists and Omar Abdel-Rahman was achieved by zealously applying anti-racketeering, anti-conspiracy, and anti-terrorism laws. This is a useful and appropriate application of the law, because the problem is terrorism, and therefore there is a need to protect the public from a virulent and mortal physical threat. But what if some of the same laws are applied the same way to politicians who have had their hands in the till or who have lied to the FBI about political decisions they made while in public office? One should reasonably argue that these politicians, if proved guilty, should be subject to punishment. But if the laws prescribe penalties that exceed the seriousness of the crime, should they be applied with the same zeal? Some would say yes, because politicians are just pigs at the trough, and should rot in jail. Others might say no - I would say jail time is appropriate, in some cases, but if there is no threat to the public from these guys, at some point there has to be a consideration for the questions of cost and justice in keeping them incarcerated. (And let’s bear in mind that the notion of justice should not be defined by emotion.)
In other words, a big part of the problem is the law itself. The hammer hits too hard. Rod Blagojevich's predecessor, Governor George Ryan, entered federal prison (after prosecution by Patrick Fitzgerald) at age 73 to begin a six-and-a-half year prison term for corruption. Is this a just outcome? I have no problem with Fitzgerald's conduct during the Ryan trial, by the way, but I ask the question sincerely. George Ryan deserved time in prison, but is six-and-a-half years appropriate? His reputation has been irretrievably destroyed and he has been ruined financially. Why does the taxpayer have to pay for his continued incarceration? If justice is being served, that could be a good reason. If his example serves as a deterrent to others, that could be a good reason. Bear in mind, though, that Mr. Ryan faced many decades in jail - the sentence handed down was seen as lenient. Should a politician convicted of a wide range of comprehensive charges of corruption - many of which overlap one another and cover the same crime from different angles using different wording - actually face the possibility of a hundred years in jail? That is what I mean by the law being part of the problem.
If you take these laws, with their overlaps, their punitive overkill and their statutory authorization to read unproved criminal activity into arguably lawful private or political conduct, and you put them in the hands of someone who has become zealous about his role as a prosecutor and proud of his ability to articulate a sense of justice, what do you end up with? You end up with Patrick Fitzgerald.
Mr. Fitzgerald kicked off a classic display of overstep on October 28th, 2005, when he announced that the District of Columbia Grand Jury had returned a five-count indictment of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who had been Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff. It was the culmination of Fitzgerald's investigation into the now-infamous Valerie Plame case. For those who were smart enough not to pay attention, Valerie Plame, the wife of former Ambassador-to-Tiny-West-African-Nations Joseph C. Wilson, was a CIA employee whose employment with the CIA had been classified. On July 14th, 2003, she was identified in a column by Robert Novak as a CIA employee. Somewhere along the way, her status had been inappropriately or illegally divulged to Novak and possibly others, and an investigation followed. It lasted over two years.
The investigation was passed late in 2003 from the Attorney General, John Ashcroft, to the Deputy Attorney General, James Comey, who in turn gave Patrick Fitzgerald special prosecutor status. And after a very long investigation, no one was charged for illegally divulging Valerie Plame’s employment at the CIA.
But one would not know that by listening to Patrick Fitzgerald’s press conference when he indicted Libby with obstruction of justice, perjury and lying to the FBI. Let’s parse some large swaths of it:
Good afternoon. I'm Pat Fitzgerald. I'm the United States attorney in Chicago, but I'm appearing before you today as the Department of Justice special counsel in the CIA leak investigation.
Oh, oh! Did you see that? Blatant! Oh, wait a minute, I’m getting ahead of myself.
A few hours ago, a federal grand jury sitting in the District of Columbia returned a five-count indictment against I. Lewis Libby, also known as Scooter Libby, the vice president's chief of staff. The grand jury's indictment charges that Mr. Libby committed five crimes. The indictment charges one count of obstruction of justice of the federal grand jury, two counts of perjury and two counts of false statements.
So far, so good. But whether he intends to or not, Fitzgerald misleads everyone listening when he starts putting things into "context":
Valerie Wilson was a CIA officer. In July 2003, the fact that Valerie Wilson was a CIA officer was classified. Not only was it classified, but it was not widely known outside the intelligence community.
Valerie Wilson's friends, neighbors, college classmates had no idea she had another life.
The fact that she was a CIA officer was not well-known, for her protection or for the benefit of all us. It's important that a CIA officer's identity be protected, that it be protected not just for the officer, but for the nation's security.
Valerie Wilson's cover was blown in July 2003. The first sign of that cover being blown was when Mr. Novak published a column on July 14th, 2003.
But Mr. Novak was not the first reporter to be told that Wilson's wife, Valerie Wilson, Ambassador Wilson's wife, Valerie, worked at the CIA. Several other reporters were told.
In fact, Mr. Libby was the first official known to have told a reporter when he talked to Judith Miller in June of 2003 about Valerie Wilson.
Oops! Now, raise your hands if by this point in time you would have 1) stopped listening to the windy press statement, and changed the channel, and 2) glazed over the first mention of Scooter Libby and concluded that he was being charged with knowingly and illegally divulging Valerie Plame’s classified status.
It's critical that when an investigation is conducted by prosecutors, agents and a grand jury they learn who, what, when, where and why. And then they decide, based upon accurate facts, whether a crime has been committed, who has committed the crime, whether you can prove the crime and whether the crime should be charged.
That's the way this investigation was conducted. It was known that a CIA officer's identity was blown, it was known that there was a leak. We needed to figure out how that happened, who did it, why, whether a crime was committed, whether we could prove it, whether we should prove it. And, given that national security was at stake, it was especially important that we find out accurate facts.
There's another thing about a grand jury investigation. One of the obligations of the prosecutors and the grand juries is to keep the information obtained in the investigation secret, not to share it with the public. And, as frustrating as that may be for the public, that is important because, the way our system of justice works, if information is gathered about people and they're not charged with a crime, we don't hold up that information for the public to look at. We either charge them with a crime or we don't.
And if you cannot charge them with a particular crime, you can always hold an over-the-top press conference and put the emphasis on the part of the story that is not even the object of the indictment.
That brings us to the fall of 2003. When it was clear that Valerie Wilson's cover had been blown, investigation began. And in October 2003, the FBI interviewed Mr. Libby. Mr. Libby is the vice president's chief of staff. He's also an assistant to the president and an assistant to the vice president for national security affairs.
The focus of the interview was what it that he had known about Wilson's wife, Valerie Wilson, what he knew about Ms. Wilson, what he said to people, why he said it, and how he learned it. And, to be frank, Mr. Libby gave the FBI a compelling story.
Yikes. Fitzgerald’s “context” – while perhaps important to explain - still gives the impression that Mr. Libby was the crook behind the leak.
What he told the FBI is that essentially he was at the end of a long chain of phone calls. He spoke to reporter Tim Russert, and during the conversation Mr. Russert told him that, "Hey, do you know that all the reporters know that Mr. Wilson's wife works at the CIA?"
And he told the FBI that he learned that information as if it were new, and it struck him. So he took this information from Mr. Russert and later on he passed it on to other reporters, including reporter Matthew Cooper of Time magazine, reporter Judith Miller of The New York Times.
And he told the FBI that when he passed the information on on July 12th, 2003, two days before Mr. Novak's column, that he passed it on understanding that this was information he had gotten from a reporter, that he didn't even know if it was true.
And he told the FBI that when he passed the information on to the reporters he made clear that he didn't know if this were true. This was something that all the reporters were saying and, in fact, he just didn't know and he wanted to be clear about it.
Later, Mr. Libby went before the grand jury on two occasions in March of 2004. He took an oath and he testified. And he essentially said the same thing. He said that, in fact, he had learned from the vice president earlier in June 2003 information about Wilson's wife, but he had forgotten it, and that when he learned the information from Mr. Russert during this phone call he learned it as if it were new.
When he passed the information on to reporters Cooper and Miller late in the week, he passed it on thinking it was just information he received from reporters; that he told reporters that, in fact, he didn't even know if it were true. He was just passing gossip from one reporter to another at the long end of a chain of phone calls.
It would be a compelling story that will lead the FBI to go away, if only it were true. It is not true, according to the indictment.
In fact, Mr. Libby discussed the information about Valerie Wilson at least half a dozen times before this conversation with Mr. Russert ever took place, not to mention that when he spoke to Mr. Russert, Mr. Russert and he never discussed Valerie Wilson or Wilson's wife.
He didn't learn it from Mr. Russert. But if he had, it would not have been new at the time.
Let me talk you through what the indictment alleges.
Finally! Yes, for goodness sake, talk about what the indictment actually alleges. Up until this point, Fitzgerald is throwing around the impression that Libby is being indicted for something else – namely, the leak itself.
The indictment alleges that Mr. Libby learned the information about Valerie Wilson at least three times in June of 2003 from government officials.
Let me make clear there was nothing wrong with government officials discussing Valerie Wilson or Mr. Wilson or his wife and imparting the information to Mr. Libby. But in early June, Mr. Libby learned about Valerie Wilson and the role she was believed to play in having sent Mr. Wilson on a trip overseas from a senior CIA officer on or around June 11th, from an undersecretary of state on or around June 11th, and from the vice president on or about June 12th.
It's also clear, as set forth in the indictment, that some time prior to July 8th he also learned it from somebody else working in the Vice President's Office.
So at least four people within the government told Mr. Libby about Valerie Wilson, often referred to as Wilson's wife, working at the CIA and believed to be responsible for helping organize a trip that Mr. Wilson took overseas.
In addition to hearing it from government officials, it's also alleged in the indictment that at least three times Mr. Libby discussed this information with other government officials.
It's alleged in the indictment that on June 14th of 2003, a full month before Mr. Novak's column, Mr. Libby discussed it in a conversation with a CIA briefer in which he was complaining to the CIA briefer his belief that the CIA was leaking information about something or making critical comments, and he brought up Joe Wilson and Valerie Wilson.
It's also alleged in the indictment that Mr. Libby discussed it with the White House press secretary on July 7th, 2003, over lunch. What's important about that is that Mr. Libby, the indictment alleges, was telling Mr. Fleischer something on Monday that he claims to have learned on Thursday.
In addition to discussing it with the press secretary on July 7th, there was also a discussion on or about July 8th in which counsel for the vice president was asked a question by Mr. Libby as to what paperwork the Central Intelligence Agency would have if an employee had a spouse go on a trip.
So that at least seven discussions involving government officials prior to the day when Mr. Libby claims he learned this information as if it were new from Mr. Russert. And, in fact, when he spoke to Mr. Russert, they never discussed it.
But in addition to focusing on how it is that Mr. Libby learned this information and what he thought about it, it's important to focus on what it is that Mr. Libby said to the reporters.
In the account he gave to the FBI and to the grand jury was that he told reporters Cooper and Miller at the end of the week, on July 12th. And that what he told them was he gave them information that he got from other reporters; other reporters were saying this, and Mr. Libby did not know if it were true. And in fact, Mr. Libby testified that he told the reporters he did not even know if Mr. Wilson had a wife.
And, in fact, we now know that Mr. Libby discussed this information about Valerie Wilson at least four times prior to July 14th, 2003: on three occasions with Judith Miller of The New York Times and on one occasion with Matthew Cooper of Time magazine.
The first occasion in which Mr. Libby discussed it with Judith Miller was back in June 23rd of 2003, just days after an article appeared online in The New Republic which quoted some critical commentary from Mr. Wilson.
After that discussion with Judith Miller on June 23rd, 2003, Mr. Libby also discussed Valerie Wilson on July 8th of 2003.
During that discussion, Mr. Libby talked about Mr. Wilson in a conversation that was on background as a senior administration official. And when Mr. Libby talked about Wilson, he changed the attribution to a former Hill staffer.
During that discussion, which was to be attributed to a former Hill staffer, Mr. Libby also discussed Wilson's wife, Valerie Wilson, working at the CIA - and then, finally, again, on July 12th.
In short - and in those conversations, Mr. Libby never said, "This is something that other reporters are saying"; Mr. Libby never said, "This is something that I don't know if it's true"; Mr. Libby never said, "I don't even know if he had a wife."
At the end of the day, what appears is that Mr. Libby's story that he was at the tail end of a chain of phone calls, passing on from one reporter what he heard from another, was not true.
It was false. He was at the beginning of the chain of phone calls, the first official to disclose this information outside the government to a reporter. And then he lied about it afterwards, under oath and repeatedly.
Hang on, Patrick. If Scooter Libby was the first official to disclose this information outside the government to a reporter, why was he not charged for doing this? Why is it okay for a prosecutor to tell the press that a man is guilty of the object of a long investigation if the same man is not under indictment for this offense? I thought you were going to get to the point of the indictment, which was one count of obstruction of justice, two counts of perjury, and two counts of uttering false statements to the FBI. Oh, wait, here’s a brief bit in the next paragraph:
But I think what we see here today, when a vice president's chief of staff is charged with perjury and obstruction of justice, it does show the world that this is a country that takes its law seriously; that all citizens are bound by the law.
But what we need to also show the world is that we can also apply the same safeguards to all our citizens, including high officials. Much as they must be bound by the law, they must follow the same rules.
So I ask everyone involved in this process, anyone who participates in this trial, anyone who covers this trial, anyone sitting home watching these proceedings to follow this process with an American appreciation for our values and our dignity. Let's let the process take place. Let's take a deep breath and let justice process the system.
Sniff, sniff... I’m touched. What office are you running for, Patrick? I thought prosecutors were supposed to, you know, prosecute. You know, in court. Not before the press. Save it for the jury, and stop behaving like you enjoy being a pontificating blowhard before the TV cameras.
The entire business was over the top. The press conference was over the top, and the investigation – particularly the rough way it treated the reporters – was over the top. I wonder how happy the press is that a special federal prosecutor essentially set a new precedent for coercing reporters to testify under oath about their confidential sources. And after an investigation of two years, Fitzgerald could not find evidence of a criminal leak of Valerie Plame’s status. That sure as hell didn’t stop him from giving the opposite impression when he charged Libby, though.
And before anyone jumps on me for defending Scooter Libby, I’m not. He was convicted of four of the five counts in the indictment, and they were serious matters. I am glad he did not go to jail, because as I mentioned above, the sentences handed out for political crimes are very heavy. I have gone on record here in the past as being somewhat (but not completely) unsympathetic when a government official goes to jail. It goes with the territory when you wander the halls of power. You may overstep your role and break the law, either intentionally or unintentionally. Your boss’s political enemies may find a way to paint you into a corner with trumped up charges. It is shitty, but it is a risk that should be assessed by anyone asked to serve at high levels of political power.
I do admit a high level of unsympathy for Joe Wilson and his wife Valerie Plame. Here’s a bit of advice for other Washington power couples:
Do not write an op-ed for the New York Times talking about your trip to Africa, if your being asked by the US government to make the trip depended on your wife’s employment with the CIA, and your wife’s employment with the CIA is supposed to be secret.
* * * * * * * *
And now the same Patrick Fitzgerald has Rod Blagojevich in his sights.
Blago is in very deep crap. The indictment has 19 counts, of which I believe 16 apply to Blago, and they’re going to be harder than hell, if not impossible, to beat in court. The indictment was announced on April 2nd, 2009. The accusations against Blago, as enumerated in an Associated Press story on April 3rd:
- Directing billions of dollars in bond business to a company whose lobbyist secretly agreed to give them hundreds of thousands of dollars.
- Having convicted developer Tony Rezko give the governor's wife, Patti Blagojevich, tens of thousands of dollars in real estate fees and salaries that she didn't really earn.
- Arranging job interviews for Patti Blagojevich with financial institutions doing business with the state. When no jobs materialized, the governor allegedly said he didn't want the companies to get any further state business.
- Handing out a high-level state job in exchange for $50,000 in donations to Blagojevich's campaign.
- Telling a lobbyist that it would take a $50,000 donation to get his client on the list of recommended investment funds for the Teachers' Retirement System.
- Threatening to block a $220 million TRS investment with Capri Capital unless Capri's owner arranged substantial donations to Blagojevich.
- Threatening to withhold a $2 million state grant to a public school unless a U.S. congressman arranged a political fundraiser for Blagojevich.
- Demanding a $50,000 donation from the head of Children's Memorial Hospital in return for approving increased state support children's health care.
- Extorting $100,000 in donations from two horse racing tracks and a racing executive in exchange for quick approval of legislation the tracks wanted.
- Extorting $500,000 in donations from a construction-materials company and a company executive in return for action benefiting the road construction industry.
- Withholding state aid sought by the Tribune Co. unless the company fired unfriendly editorial writers at the Chicago Tribune.
- Scheming to get personal benefits, such as a Cabinet post or a lucrative union job, in exchange for Blagojevich's decision on who would replace Barack Obama in the U.S. Senate.
- Soliciting help from national fundraiser Joseph Cari in exchange for state business and contracts.
- Using improper influence to block efforts to consolidate several retirement funds.
- Discussing the possibility of getting U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald removed in an effort to block his investigation.
- Lying to the FBI.
The second to last one sounds like reasonable behaviour to me. (All right, I’m kidding!) But the issue I have with Patrick Fitzgerald again stems from his comments to the press. And in this case, the comments made to the press were made fully four months prior to the indictment. Not the date of the indictment, but four months prior.
Quick now: how many of you reading this would like a United States Attorney to make accusations against you in public regarding alleged offenses for which you have not even been charged? And if you think it’s okay because Blago is a politician, why do you think this is okay? If a politician’s reputation or his chance for a fair trial later on can be destroyed by the words of a prosecutor who is not yet ready to indict but is yapping anyway, why not yours too? And if you think it’s okay because Blago is clearly guilty, ask yourself if you think you would like to live in a country where what the acceptability of what the government says about you is based on a presumption of guilt prior to the same damn government even having its charges ready to file against you. Against you. First they came for the sleazy douchebag politician with the helmet hair....
Don’t think it’s any big deal? Well, let's see what Fitzgerald said back in December 2008, when Governor Blagojevich was arrested – the arrest was necessary, I assume, because Fitzgerald could not simply pick up the telephone and inform the governor or the governor’s lawyer that he was under investigation. Sometimes those damn telephones do not work well, and an arrest is the only way to go.
Oh, wait – there was a compelling public interest at stake here. The public ought to have the right to know that the governor is under investigation. If that’s the case, then perhaps a less political and more reasonable approach would be to release a statement informing the public that the governor is under investigation, and outline – in broad, general terms – what the investigation is all about.
Sorry for the lengthy buildup. Here is what Patrick Fitzgerald actually said:
This is a sad day for government. It's a very sad day for Illinois government. Governor Blagojevich has taken us to a truly new low. Governor Blagojevich has been arrested in the middle of what we can only describe as a political corruption crime spree. We acted to stop that crime spree.
Hold on a second, Pat. You’re not the dang jury. You’re the prosecutor. You prosecute in court, and you prove your case. And before you even get there, you indict. Am I the only one who finds it a little unseemly that a federal prosecutor is accusing a politician of taking “us to a truly new low” via a “crime spree” months before he is ready to file charges?
The most appalling conduct Governor Blagojevich engaged in, according to the complaint filed today or unsealed today, is that he attempted to sell the Senate seat -- the Senate seat he had the sole right, under Illinois law, to appoint to replace President-elect Obama.
I am not excusing this if it is true, but I seriously doubt it is the first instance of a state governor doing something like this.
Let me take you back eight weeks ago to set the allegations in context. Back eight weeks ago, we had the following environment. There was a known investigation of the Blagojevich administration that had been going on for years, involving allegations of pay-to-play conduct and corruption. There had been a recent trial of an associate of Governor Blagojevich in which allegations were aired where people testified that government -- Blagojevich was involved in corrupt conduct. And there was an Ethics in Government Act that was pending, that would go in effect January 1 of 2009, that would bar certain contributions from people doing business with the state of Illinois. You might have thought in that environment that pay to play would slow down. The opposite happened. It sped up. Government -- Blagojevich and others were working feverishly to get as much money from contractors, shaking them down, pay to play, before the end of the year.
Does this sound like a prosecutor to you? Or does this sound like a political opponent?
After being aware that actually the pay-to-play scheme had taken up greater steam and greater urgency, back eight weeks ago, after careful review, decision was made that more extraordinary means of investigation needed to be used. After that point, a bug was placed in the campaign offices of Governor Blagojevich and a tap was placed on his home telephone. And that tap and that bug bore out what those allegations were.
Why would a prosecutor say all of these things in public before he is ready to indict? Is it because he feels he has to justify an unnecessary arrest?
I'll give you two examples set forth in the 76-page complaint. One involves Children's Memorial Hospital, a hospital that obviously takes care of children. At one point, the governor awarded funding -- reimbursement funding to that hospital to the tune of $8 million, but he also indicated privately that what he wanted to get was a $50,000 personal contribution from the chief executive officer of that hospital. In the ensuing weeks, that contribution never came, and Governor Blagojevich was intercepted on the telephone, checking to see whether or not he could pull back the funding for Children's Memorial Hospital.
Shame! It was for the children! Won’t someone please think of the children?
A second example is legislation that is pending concerning horse racing. There is a bill that, I believe, sits on the governor's desk that would take money from casino revenues and divert a percentage of it to horse-racing tracks. While this was pending, the interceptions show that the governor was told that one person who he is seeking to have -- raise $100,000 also was working with a person who was seeking that money to have a -- a bill pending. And the governor was told that the person who wanted that bill, from whom they wanted money, was told the following, that he needed to get his contribution in.
And the quote was, "Look, there is a concern that there is going to be some skittishness if your bill gets signed because of the timeliness of the commitment," close quote. Then the person told the contributor, the money, quote, "got to be in now," close quote.
And when the governor was told this part of the conversation, his response was, "Good."
Shortly thereafter, the person who was trying to get the contribution from the person who had the bill pending suggested that the governor call the person directly, that it would be better to get the call personally from the governor, quote, "from a pressure point of view," close quote. And the governor agreed.
As we sit here now, as far as we know, that bill sits on the governor's desk. That $8 million in funding is still pending.
In addition to the pay-to-play allegations which are described in greater detail in the complaint, we also were surprised to learn of an extortionate attempt against the Chicago Tribune newspaper. The Chicago Tribune had not been kind to Governor Blagojevich, had written editorials that called for his impeachment. And Governor Blagojevich and defendant Jonathan -- John Harris, his chief of staff, schemed to send a message to the Chicago Tribune that if the Tribune company wanted to sell its ball field, Wrigley Field, in order to complete a business venture, the price of doing so was to fire certain editors, including one editor by name.
In the governor words -- governor's words, quote, "Fire all those bleeping people. Get them the bleep out of there and get us some editorial support," close quote. And the bleeps are not really bleeps.
The defendant Harris tried to frame the message more subtly to get the point across to the Tribune that firing the editorial board members would be a good thing in terms of getting financing to allow the sale to go forward.
But the most cynical behavior in all this, the most appalling is the fact that Governor Blagojevich tried to sell the appointment to the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Obama.
The conduct would make Lincoln roll over in his grave.
This may seem like no big deal, fans and friends, but I think it is. This is Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. Attorney, talking. He is not in court, trying for a bit of dramatic flair to impress the pretty girl with the nice brown eyes sitting on the jury. He is in public. The guy he is talking about had not even yet been charged when he said this. Fitzgerald is doing this only to impress the reporters covering his statement, and to impress the grannies sitting home watching the news. And that’s not what a federal prosecutor is supposed to do. He is supposed to know the law, describe the law to the jury, and argue how the facts of someone’s conduct transgress the law. His role is not to engage in dramatic political speech on television.
The governor's own words describing this Senate seat, quote: "It's a bleeping valuable thing, thing. You just don't give it away for nothing," close quote.
Another quote: "I've got this thing. And it's bleeping golden. I'm just not giving it up for bleeping nothing. I'm not going to do it. I can always use it. I can parachute me there," quote.
Those are his words, not our characterization, other than with regards to the bleeps. The tapes reveal the Governor Blagojevich wanted a number of things, in exchange, for making the appointment to the Senate seat -- an appointment as secretary of Health and Human Services or an ambassadorship, an appointment to a private foundation, a higher-paying job for his wife or campaign contributions.
At one point, he proposed a three-way deal, that a cushy union job would be given to him at a higher rate of pay, where he could make money. In exchange, he thought that the union might get benefits from the president-elect. And therefore the president-elect might get the candidate of his choice.
I should make clear, the complaint makes no allegations about the president-elect whatsoever, his conduct. This part of the scheme lost steam when the person that the governor thought was the president- elect's choice of senator took herself out of the running. But after the deal never happened, this is the governor's reaction, quote, "They're not willing to give me anything but appreciation. Bleep them," close quote. And again, the bleep is a redaction.
I bet – I just bet – Rod Blagojevich is the first governor in the history of the United States to use off-colour language.
What I should also talk about is that, in another event, somebody else approached the governor. And the governor's understanding of this approach was that in exchange for an appointment, to the Senate seat, he would receive campaign contributions. And the governor's view of what was told, to him, through intermediaries was that, quote, "We were approached pay-to-play that, you know, he raised me 500 grand. Then the other guy would raise a million if I made him senator," close quote.
This is a conversation where the senator is describing how he perceived a message that came through multiple hands. His concern: Was he offended that, he thought, campaign contributions were being offered in exchange for a Senate seat? No. He was worried that the campaign contributions would actually be paid. He wasn't against the corrupt deal. He was against being stiffed in the corrupt deal.
His quote was, he wanted the money, quote, "tangible, up front," close quote. He told someone who was his intermediary, quote, "Some of this stuff has got to start happening now, right now. And we've got to see it," close quote.
Just last week, he was saying this to someone, to make sure that the money was going to be up front. And he said, quote, "You've got to be careful how you express that and assume everybody's listening. The whole world is listening. I would do it in person. I would not do it on the phone," close quote. That's the governor of Illinois.
After an article appeared in the Tribune, last week, indicating a belief that Mr. Blagojevich had been taped, then a message was sent for him to undo contact with the intermediary on that campaign contribution deal.
And finally we should also note that the governor talked about appointing himself to the Senate seat, for reasons not having to do with the better welfare of the citizens of Illinois.
He wanted to do it to avoid impeachment in the Illinois legislature for his conduct. He wanted to do it to have access to greater financial resources if he were indicted. He wanted to do it to see if he could help his wife work as a lobbyist. He wanted to do it to remake his image, to run for office in 2016. And he wanted to do it to see if he could generate speaking fees.
I am dreadfully sorry if I do not see how the conduct in the previous paragraph is criminal, or how it is any of Patrick Fitzgerald’s business. All of the allegations here are purely political in nature. A governor wants to get a new job before the legislature tries and fires him? No wonder. A governor wants to get a higher-paying job because he anticipates he shall fall under indictment, and find himself in need of money for legal fees? No damn wonder. The government has unlimited resources to prosecute. A governor wants to see if he could get a lobbying job for his wife? Politically, you may not like it, but it is not criminal. A governor wants a change of venue to try to repair his damaged public image? No wonder. A governor thinks a certain political move may, in the future, generate higher speaking fees? So bloody what? How is this the business of a federal prosecutor?
At the end of the day, the conduct we have before us is appalling.
What I do want to note is that, at the end of the day, it's very, very important that how we proceed from here be the right way to proceed. We have a lot of information gained from a number of interviews and investigation over the years. We have a tremendous amount of information gained from the wiretap and the bugs that occurred over the last month and a half or so.
What we also know is that some of these schemes went pretty far, and some did not go far at all, but they had discussions about what they would do, who they would approach, and how they would phrase it. And we need to do the investigation, now that the investigation is overt, to find out from other people what happened: what they were told, how explicitly, what they understood, and what happened. That part of the investigation we intend to conduct responsibly.
We hope that people out there understand that this complaint only charges two individuals. These two individuals are presumed innocent. But we make no charges about any of the other people who are referenced in the complaint, most not by name. And people should not cast aspersions on people who are discussed on the wiretap or bug tapes for conduct when other people are scheming to figure out how to approach them for different things. We hope you'll bear that in mind and not cast aspersions on people for being named or being discussed, or if you learn they're being interviewed.
"These two individuals are presumed innocent." What? Is Fitzgerald kidding? After all the accusations, hyperbole, drama and grandstanding, Patrick Fitzgerald has the audacity to say, “Oh, yeah, it is my duty to mention that these two people are presumed innocent, and I have to proceed the right way, and prove my case in court, etc. etc.” What a bunch of nonsense.
The other part is that I think this is a moment of truth for Illinois. In all seriousness, we have times when people decry corruption; and yet, here we have a situation where there appeared to be wide-ranging schemes where people were seeking to make people pay contributions to get contracts or appointments or do other stuff.
The FBI and their sister agencies at Postal, IRS and the Department of Labor have done a magnanimous -- a magnificent job. They will continue to work very, very hard. But what we really need is cooperation from people who are not in law enforcement, the people outside who heard or saw things or were approached in ways that felt uncomfortable. If they felt uncomfortable and they think, "This is not how you run a government," they ought to come forward and give us that information. It's very, very important that we get that information, so we can make the right decisions about where to proceed from here.
Translation: “Uh, some of what I’m saying is me talking through my ass. I have suspicions only but cannot prove them all. Someone please come forward and help me.”
I can tell you we've been conducting interviews during the day, and we're already quite heartened to hear that there are a number of people out there who were appalled by this conduct who are willing to come forward and talk to us. So we encourage people to talk to us. We encourage people to work with us, to let us get to the bottom of what has happened here.
We remind people that there's a lot we don't know and need to know. We remind people that we -- there's an awful lot we do know, and we'll be able to verify what people tell us. But we ask that the press, in particular, recognize that we're not casting aspersions on people other than the two people we charged, and bear that in mind and be responsible.
Getting to the bottom of things shall hopefully include the discovery that much of what went on in Rod Blagojevich’s tenure was of a political, not a criminal, nature. I actually do believe that the governor broke the law and I also believe he is going to pay dearly for it. In fact, he already has.
But Patrick Fitzgerald continues to colour outside the lines because of his zealotry for the law. He continues the unhappy American trend known as the criminalization of politics. He has become a grandstanding blowhard who presents the appearance of a man obsessed with enhancing his small acre of fame.
And I appear to be the only person in Christendom calling him on it.
Saturday, April 04, 2009
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
In my previous post about Super Rod Blago, I took a swipe at U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. In fact, following up on a comment from His Honour Lord Macrum of Maine, I relished the possibility of Patrick Fitzgerald losing the case. To his credit, Macrum did not let that pass without asking me why I felt this antipathy toward Fitzgerald, and he also asked what I thought about Kenneth Starr's pursuit of President Clinton back in the heady days of the 1990s. (Heh... er, sorry about that.)
I will start at the end, which is the beginning, and then work my way back, which is actually forward. In time, I mean. Whatever. This post is about Ken Starr. The next one will be about Patrick Fitzgerald.
Ken Starr, for those that were too young, too drunk or too wise to have been paying attention, was the United States Solicitor General during the administration of the first President Bush. He was later appointed by a three-judge panel to investigate the Whitewater controversy, which implicated Bill and Hilary Clinton in a failed real estate venture and, by extension, into the questionable circumstances surrounding the failure of Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan, which was owned by the Clintons' real estate business partner. All of this was somewhat interesting at the time, but it soon became clear that as far as the Whitewater land development and Madison Guaranty issues were concerned, the Clintons seemed always to be just removed enough not to pursued in a criminal sense. But they were certainly guilty of having associations with crooked business partners. Fifteen individuals were eventually convicted of federal crimes, mostly embezzlement, tax fraud, loan fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud, related to the Whitewater affair.
The problem was that the investigation, like almost all white collar investigations, dragged on for ages. Kenneth Starr unearthed some evidence of sketchy or questionable conduct by the Clintons, and by times the Clintons seemed less than forthcoming about the matter. But instead of dropping the issue and moving on, Mr. Starr kept digging, always finding out a bit more, but never enough to charge or present an impeachment report related to Whitewater.
Concurrent to this, of course, President Clinton was pursued in the courts by a woman, Paula Jones, to whom he had been very rude. I am not excusing Clinton's behaviour, which allegedly involved a sudden and unexpected invitation to a certain intimacy, but this is the political and social climate we have lived in since the 1980s, where rude behaviour is often considered illegal. Like almost all civil suits, this too dragged on for ages, and by the time it came to fore in the courts, putting it frequently in the news, President Clinton had been subpoenaed and had testified in a deposition and had once again raised suspicions about his truthfulness. And it was here that things went out of control: Kenneth Starr asked the Attorney General, Janet Reno, for authority to investigate the allegations against Clinton relating to what he may or may not have done with Paula Jones and with a now-famous White House intern, Monica Lewinsky.
We all know how the story went from there. Zealotry for the law! Yes, yes, said Ken Starr, I know this all about private conduct, but the president may have lied about the matter under oath. Well, duh. Of course he lied about it. And while I do not condone or excuse lying under oath, my position is that no man, not even a philandering scumbag adulterer like Bill Clinton, should have to testify in a deposition or in court about the women he has had. This was ridiculous. I know, I know, I am opening up myself to criticism for saying this, because I believe that the absence of public criticism of abhorent moral behaviour has fuelled the general decline of Western culture in the last forty years. Bill Clinton should have been publicly embarrassed by these revelations, but I cannot see any justification for the matter being dragged into court. Ken Starr didn't see it this way, though. Mr. Starr is a man of great intellect, high personal moral standards, and great generosity. But he was blinded by his zealotry for the law, and put the United States through an entirely unnecessary political episode. One might argue that if it had not been Starr, it would have been someone else. I can counter that with you may be right, or you may be wrong. It could just as easily have been someone who would have pulled the curtain on the matter instead of ordering testing of evidence on a blue dress. Zealotry for the law does not always translate into justice.
Two final interesting points about Clinton and Starr, one of which may raise the wrath of some of my readers:
1) Ken Starr has since expressed regret about asking Janet Reno for authority to investigate the Lewinsky matter.
2) The laws which permitted Bill Clinton's prosecution for sexual harassment were put in place for good reasons, but the blame for the degree to which they have become weapons in the hands of vengeful people rests entirely with the political left. The obsession with political correctness that brought us to the day when a person's life can be ruined, socially and legally, based on another person's unproved allegations, is most definitely not a conservative creation.
If time permits, I shall post my complaints about Patrick Fitzgerald tomorrow or Friday.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
A little over a month ago, former Associate Director of the FBI Mark Felt died at age 95. As just about everyone knows by now, Mr. Felt was the mysterious Watergate character known as Deep Throat, secretly providing his friend, Washington Post reporter Robert Woodward, with information on deep background. The information Felt provided was meant to point Woodward and his partner Carl Bernstein in the right direction when digging for stories and sources on Watergate. And that he did.
For more than a few years now - probably about 20 - I have been something of a Watergate aficionado. And for many of those years, until Mark Felt was revealed in 2005 to have been Woodward's friend Deep Throat, I had my own theory as to who the source was. After reading All The President's Men for the first time, which occurred after I had read Watergate books by John Dean, Gordon Liddy, H.R. Haldeman and Jeb Magruder, I was sure I knew Deep Throat's identity. The clues I thought I had picked up led me to Fred Fielding, who served as John Dean's deputy in the Nixon White House (and later was White House Counsel for Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush).
I came to this conclusion about 10 years ago. I based it on a number of factors:
1) Deep Throat was identified by Woodward as a friend who worked in the Executive Branch.
2) Woodward wrote that Deep Throat had knowledge of the inner workings of the White House, the FBI, the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CRP), and the Department of Justice. Based on the information he reported, Deep Throat seemed to have very detailed knowledge of the behind-the-scenes scrambling at the White House and at the CRP following the arrest of the Watergate burglers on June 17th, 1972.
3) Deep Throat advised Woodward late in the summer of 1972 that both the White House and the FBI were trying furiously to pinpoint the source of Woodward's and Bernstein's stories in the Washington Post.
4) Deep Throat emphasized to Woodward (as Woodward tells it, anyway) that "the whole thing" was "a Haldeman operation." H.R. Haldeman was President Nixon's Chief of Staff. While not many had access to the President - Haldeman and Domestic Affairs Advisor John Ehrlichman saw to it that Nixon was kept out of reach of almost everyone at the White House - Deep Throat described how many people had access to Haldeman, and that Haldeman used them as surrogates or go-betweens to insulate himself from CRP's intelligence-gathering activities.
5) Haldeman himself actually pointed at Fred Fielding as the probable identity of Deep Throat.
After Mr. Felt died in December, I undertook to re-read All The President's Men and Blind Ambition (by John Dean) in their entirety, and portions of Haldeman's White House memoir, The Ends of Power. I wanted to see how and where I had gone wrong in believing Deep Throat was Fred Fielding. And like every other situation that has the benefit of hindsight, the clues were jumping off the page. It's actually hard to believe that I didn't see earlier that Deep Throat worked for the FBI.
A few of my mistakes, enumerated from the items above:
1) When one hears the term "The Executive Branch", what does one think of? Well, the first thing that comes to mind is the President, and therefore the White House. I got stuck on the White House simply because of the term "Executive Branch". A very silly error, since it encompasses much more than just the White House.
2) Deep Throat knew what was happening inside the White House and inside CRP. One of John Dean's assets as Counsel to the President was that he had previously worked for the Department of Justice, as an assistant to Attorney General John Mitchell. He was one of very few people who could act as a go-between the White House and the CRP, where Mitchell was chair (up until late June 1972). Haldeman and Mitchell did not trust or respect one another, and Ehrlichman and Mitchell were frequently in conflict and had only disdain for each other. I therefore figured that for Deep Throat to have substantial knowledge of both the White House and CRP, he would have to be someone close to Dean. This pointed at Fielding.
3) The fact that both the White House and the FBI were trying to figure out who was leaking information to the Post should have led me to suspect either place as a possibility. But I was stuck on the White House. Ironically, a couple of days after the arrest of the burglars, Dean complained to his old colleague, newly-installed Attorney General Richard Kleindienst, that stories were being leaked to the press by the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police. (The D.C. police, for example, leaked to Woodward that one of the burglars had a large quantity of cash on his person when arrested, which pointed at a money trail, and that the same burglar - Bernard Barker - had an address book in his jacket, within which was an entry for Howard Hunt, who had worked at the White House, putting the White House in the reporters' direct sights almost immediately.) Kleindienst told Dean that he couldn't do anything about the D.C. Police, but not to worry, the leaks would stop in a few days, because the FBI was about to take over the case. Hahahahahahahahahaa!!!
4) The characterization of the CRP's intelligence gathering activities, both legal and illegal, as "a Haldeman operation" led me (again) to believe that Deep Throat worked in the White House. But it shouldn't have necessarily - everyone by then who worked in a senior position in the federal government knew that Haldeman was essentially the Assistant President, and that his underlings were a) involved in everything of any importance and b) not authorized to do a bloody thing without his orders.
5) Just because Haldeman wrote that he believed it was Fielding didn't mean he wasn't making the same mistakes I made. Haldeman's other named suspects all worked in the White House. Interestingly, in private conversations with President Nixon, Haldeman stated that he believed Felt was leaking confidential information to the press. And according to FBI Director Patrick Gray (more on him below), Haldeman put pressure on Gray to fire Felt, but Gray resisted on the basis of Felt's (false) assurances that he was leaking nothing to the press.
Like I said, when I re-read the books, it makes perfect sense that the Deep Throat source worked for the FBI. From the earliest days after the burglary, Acting FBI Director Patrick Gray was ferrying copies of documents from the investigators to John Dean, who was keeping the White House and by times the CRP informed of the direction of the investigation. This, too, made me suspect Fielding, but I should have thought of the information flowing in the opposite direction. In other words, Gray was probably learning all kinds of things from Dean, even if Dean wasn't necessarily spelling everything out. And as was discovered later during Gray's Senate confirmation hearings in March 1973, his lips were a little loose and his comments were a little indiscreet. For example, Gray volunteered, without being asked, the fact that FBI reports on the Watergate investigation were being shown to John Dean. He also announced - in response to a question from Senator Robert "Methuselah" Byrd (D-W.Va.) - that Dean had "probably lied" to the FBI when he stated, five days after the Watergate burglary, that he did not know if Howard Hunt had an office at the White House. (Hunt and Liddy organized the burglary but did not enter the Watergate that fateful night.) Dean wrote in his book that the White House hated the thought of having Gray go in front of the Senate for confirmation hearings, as there was no telling what he might say. (It was even worse than they feared.) But they worried more about upsetting him by not nominating him to be FBI Director.
Getting back to the issue of press leaks: There is every reason to believe that Patrick Gray was a conduit of information from the White House back to his deputy, Mark Felt. He believed he could trust Felt and, as I described, he was not given to playing his cards close to his chest. And there is no reason to believe that Felt didn't have other friends in the White House and the CRP who were telling him things he really shouldn't have known. People talk. I'll bet people sometimes talked to Deep Throat, without knowing where it would lead.
Furthermore, the FBI was interviewing every staff member it could find at the CRP. That alone could have been Felt's line to the Committee.
To draw this rambling post to a close, I guess I'll just state that it's funny how we can get stuck on a particular line of reasoning, a single possibility, or, in the case of a mystery, a single suspect. In the process, we miss the most obvious clues and glaze over any reasoning that would point us in another direction.
Monday, November 03, 2008
For the first time since 1952, neither an incumbent president nor an incumbent vice-president are running for President. For the first time since 1976, there is no one named Bush or Clinton running in either slot on either ticket. In case anyone follows such things. But that is not the point of this entry.
The American election cycle has touched off the usual accusations, from both major parties, about what the other would do to the country's economic situation if they were foolishly handed the keys to the White House by the voters. In this respect, things are more or less the same as every other election. Around the first of October, I found things were getting a little out of hand. The vile feelings from both sides of the aisle got to be a little too much, so I stopped paying attention to that part of the news. Besides, there was an election going on in Canada, too, and while I love following American politics, I was getting overloaded. Thankfully, our federal campaigns usual do not last more than five or six weeks, so we got ours out of the way on October 14th. The last few days, I have been looking again at the race for the White House. And I do not like what I see.
The major parties' nominees, John McCain and Barack Obama, have left a long trail of comments and arguments that require some analysis. I have decided to assign the task to myself, and I am pleased to provide an absolutely irrelevant perspective. My irrelevance is demonstrated by the facts that I am not an American citizen, not a resident of the United States, not entitled to vote (although I might travel to Cleveland and give it a shot anyway), and, most importantly, have a readership so light in number that there is little chance this will influence the thinking of anyone who is entitled to vote on Tuesday.
Warning to those who continue reading: I am going to be critical of both candidates, but I am going to concentrate on and be particularly critical of the Democratic Party's candidate. However, rest assured that I am going to stick with facts, figures and history, and leave the most of the emotion out of it. Forgive me if I take a few swipes, but I have a feeling that they'll be spread around.
One of Barack Obama's economic policy points, which has been repeated, off and on, by many others in his party over the course of the last seven years, is that the tax cuts put into place by President Bush are the reason, or at least a major reason, for the current mess known as the United States budget. Here is what Mr. Obama said not long after throwing his hat in the ring early in 2007: "Domestically, our national debt and budget constrain us in ways that are going to be very far-reaching. And I think whoever is elected in 2008 is going to be cleaning up the fiscal mess that was created as a consequence of the president's tax cuts."
(Mr. Obama's point about the debt and the budget "constraining" the next president is even more true now than it was 18 months ago, when Mr. Obama announced his candidacy.)
And we have the now-infamous exchange on October 11th between Barack Obama and Samuel Wurzelbacher, who is better known these days as Joe the Plumber:
Joe the Plumber: “Your new tax plan is going to tax me more, isn’t it?”
Barack Obama: “It’s not that I want to punish your success. I just want to make sure that everybody who’s behind you… that they have a chance to [achieve] success, too. I think that when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.”
I am assuming that among Barack Obama's beliefs about the American macroeconomy are the following:
1) The U.S. government requires money to operate.
2) The U.S. government faces a situation where there is little flexibility in the budget and little room for new debt.
3) The government requires more money than it is getting now in order to operate.
4) The federal budget has been hurt by the tax cuts initiated during the Bush administration. (That is, the tax cuts resulted in a situation where the government had too little money, and this is what has caused the large deficits of the past several years.)
5) Individuals who are making a relatively substantial amount of money (Obama has used the range of $200,000 to $250,000 in annual income to define the starting point of "wealthy" Americans) should be paying more income tax.
6) The prospect of spreading "the wealth" around is good for everybody.
7) Wealth can effectively be spread around by the federal government to a greater degree than it is now without any substantial negative effects.
8) The transfer of wealth from higher-income individuals to lower-income individuals creates a greater chance for the lower-income individuals to succeed.
If anyone thinks any of these eight points misrepresents Obama's position, please so state in the comments section. But be specific and tell me where I have gone off-course, and argue your point well and with proof or substantiation behind it. I take reasoned argument seriously, even when it criticizes. I do not take emotional rhetoric or insults seriously. Be partisan if you wish, but please be respectful and reasonable.
A dissection of the my assumptions of Mr. Obama's economic beliefs follow.
1) The U.S. government requires money to operate. Absolutely agree with this. It may surprise some folks to learn that conservatives actually believe in a role for government, and do acknowledge that government both requires money and is justified in raising it through taxation.
2) The U.S. government faces a situation where there is little flexibility in the budget and little room for new debt. This is also absolutely true. A household cannot survive by borrowing money to pay for the groceries, or raiding a credit card to make the car payment. Neither can a government, not even the U.S. federal government. Yet this is exactly what has been happening the past several years.
(The next several points refer to the U.S. government's fiscal years. These are different from calendar years, although they still are twelve months long. The U.S. government uses a fiscal year starting on October 1st of the previous calendar year and ending on September 30th of the year in which it is numbered. Fiscal year 1999, for example, began on October 1, 1998, and ended on September 30, 1999. Fiscal year 2009 began on October 1, 2008, and will end on September 30, 2009.)
3) The government requires more money than it is getting now in order to operate. The reason why I am making this assumption about Barack Obama's economic beliefs is that because the statement he made about the Bush tax cuts (to be covered further in point #4). But this point - that more money is required - is only true if it is totally impossible to reduce expenditures. There are two ways to fix a budget shortfall: increase revenue, or decrease spending. And tell me: who thinks that the United States government should have revenues higher than $2,521,200,000,000? That's about $2.5 TRILLION, which is what the U.S. federal government's revenues were in fiscal year 2008. They were marginally higher in FY 2007: $2,568,200,000,000. In FY 1999, revenues were $1,827,600,000,000.
I will illustrate this point another way: Suppose you knew someone who, nine years ago, earned a certain sum of money, and who managed to cover all his expenses that year. Not only that, but he saved almost 7% of his income that year, and used it to reduce his personal debt. Now, nine years later, this same individual has an income that is 40% higher. That is another way of saying that he received a raise every year of 3.8%, calculated on the year immediately preceding it. (Quick, now: how many of you readers have received annual raises of 3.8%, compounded annually, for the last nine years?)
And despite this high income in 2008, this individual had planned to borrow an amount equal to 16% of his income to cover his spending. But even that was not enough: it turned out he had to borrow 18% instead, because his spending was even higher than what had been planned. And now, in the midst of all this borrowing and spending, he complains you that his problem is that his income is not high enough. What would you think of such a person?
4) The federal budget has been hurt by the tax cuts initiated during the Bush administration. This is a throwaway line often used by Democratic Party politicians. But it simply does not hold up against the facts. Here are the facts:
First, this point: If we are to have a conversation about the effects of rate cuts on federal revenues, it is relevant to discuss and compare year-to-year revenues raised through personal federal income tax, but it is also important to compare overall revenues raised through other types of taxation, such as Social Security taxes and corporate income taxes. Why? Because the economy is not static. All of these things are interconnected. If you earn $50,000 more in income than you did last year, your personal income tax bill is going to be higher. But much of the income you spend is going to become income for someone else - perhaps a company, which will owe more in corporate income tax because of your increased business. That company may have to hire someone new, or increase an existing employee's salary, in order to keep up with the faster pace and higher sales. That means those employees will pay more Social Security taxes and income taxes themselves. That's the general idea.
In FY 2001, federal revenues were $1,991.4 billion. Of that amount, federal income tax accounted for $1,145.4 billion. Of this portion, federal personal income tax raised $994.3 billion. That year, by the way, was the first year of President Bush's tax cuts. However, the decrease in rates was small: of the five tax brackets, all but the bottom one saw a rate cut of one-half of one percent. The lowest tax bracket did not change at all.
Overall revenues declined slightly from FY 2000, when they were $2,025.5 billion. This is a decrease of about 1.7%. However, personal income taxes only decreased by $10.2 billion (from $1,004.5 billion) - a 1% decrease. On the other hand, corporate income tax collected fell more than 25%. Social security taxes increased by more than 6.3%.
Before anyone starts arguing that Ha! This is proof that tax cuts cause revenues to fall, bear in mind that there are two determinants when it comes to calculating the government's tax haul: the overall amount of income, and the tax rate. Now, think back to 2000 and 2001. What happened? Well, late in FY 2000, the NASDAQ wrecked, the dot-com bubble burst, and millions of people who had been making lots of taxable income from easy capital gains were now out of luck, out of money and in some cases, out of work. Another way of referencing this event is The Previous Great American Bubble Burst - the more recent one being the Housing Market.
If anyone was wondering, U.S. federal government spending in FY 2001 was $1,863.2 billion, which was an increase of $74 billion (4.1%) from FY 2000. The U.S. federal budget surplus declined from $236.2 billion to $128.2 billion. Surpluses? Remember them?
In FY 2002, federal revenues were $1,853.4 billion. This was a decrease of almost 7% from FY 2001. In 2002, the four highest tax brackets were subject to another small rate drop of one-half percent each. The lowest tax bracket was broken into two brackets: in 2001, taxable income up to $27,050 was taxed at 15%; in 2002, taxable income up to $6,000 was taxed at just 10%, and then income from $6,000 up to $27,950 was taxed at 15%. Again, ask the question: did the tax cut cause the revenue drop? Looking at just personal income tax revenue alone, there was a decrease in revenue of $136 billion. Even if all other factors remained the same, a half-point decrease in the income tax rate cannot by itself cause a loss of $136 billion in tax revenue.
I am sure everyone remembers the events at the end of FY 2001 - specifically, on September 11th. In retrospect, it is a wonder that the tax revenue didn't fall more than $136 billion.
In FY 2002, federal spending increased to $2,011.2 billion, an increase of $148 billion (more than 7.9%) over the previous year.
In FY 2003, revenues fell further to $1,782.5 billion, a negative difference of $70.9 billion (3.8%). This is the year when the Bush tax cuts took effect in full force. The highest four tax brackets all had substantial rate cuts of 2% each, except for the highest bracket, which fell from 38.6% to 35%.
And this is one year in which I will grant you that it is possible that decreased income tax revenues were the result of tax cuts. Income tax revenue fell to $925.5 billion from $1,006.4 billion, which is a drop of $80.9 billion (just over 8%). But I will remind the reader of the words of President Kennedy in December 1962: "[I]t is a paradoxical truth that tax rates are too high today and tax revenues are too low, and the soundest way to raise the revenues in the long run is to cut the rates now." A government does not cut tax rates in order to tie itself into knots, but it does allow the possibility of a short-term decrease in revenues. It cuts rates to maintain solid overall economic growth, to be fair to its income-producing taxpayers, and to increase its own revenues in the long run. When the first stage of JFK's rate cuts took effect in 1964, revenues rose slowly at first - by $6 billion (5.6%). The second stage of cuts took place in 1965, and revenues rose modestly again - by $4.2 billion (3.7%). But they rose by almost 12% in 1966, and then another 13.8% in 1967. By 1970, federal revenues were almost 81% higher than they had been in 1963.
So if history were to repeat itself - if tax revenues were to rise after 2003, just as they did after Reagan's tax cuts in the 1980's, and as they did after the Kennedy/Johnson cuts in the 1960's - would anyone be convinced of the efficacy of tax cuts to boost federal revenue?
Which brings us to FY 2004. Overall revenues rose to $1,880.3 billion (+5.5%), with income tax revenues rising by almost 7.9%. Federal spending rose to $2,293 billion in 2004, after rising to $2,160.1 billion in 2003. In percentage terms, that is a 7.4% increase followed by a 6.2% increase.
In FY 2005, overall federal revenues were $2,153.9 billion, a whopping 14.6% increase over the previous year. Income tax receipts rose by $207.3 billion, or 20.8%. If the feds had increased spending by a reasonable 3%, the federal deficit would have shrunk from $412.7 billion to $207.9 billion. But spending rose by 7.8% to $2,472.2 billion, resulting in a deficit of $318.3 billion. (Memo to President Bush and the former (and mostly defeated in '06) Republican Congress: years like this are known as missed opportunities. Not sure if you understand that or not, but that's what they are. You idiots.)
In FY 2006, the U.S. government's total revenues were $2,407.3 billion, an increase of 11.8%. Income tax receipts rose to $1,397.8 billion, almost 16% higher than the year before. Even after ramping up spending in 2005 by an amount more than double the inflation rate, Uncle Sam managed to increase it again by nearly the same percentage (7.4% this time), to $2,655.4. The deficit in FY 2006 was $248.1 billion. Had the feds only increased spending by 3% in 2006, after their binge in 2005, the deficit would have been $139.1 billion.
In FY 2007, the federal government had revenues of $2,568.2 billion (+6.7%), and of this, income tax accounted for $1,533.7 billion (+9.7%). Guess what happened to the expenditure side? If you guessed that it rose to $2,728.9 billion (+6.3%), you'd be right.
Here is the punch line: if in 2005, 2006 and 2007, the Congress and the President had held the rate of increase in spending to 3% per year, by FY 2007 the bloody federal budget would have been back in a surplus position, to the tune of about $62.5 billion.
Here's another punch line: federal revenues rose by more than 44% in just four years, from 2003 to 2007. How do you like them apples?
I have gotten off track a little bit on this point, and have increased the colour of my language, which I had not planned to do. But I think everyone by now gets the idea that the United States federal budget has not at all been hurt by tax cuts.
I'll yell it for you: A FORTY-FOUR PERCENT INCREASE IN REVENUE IN JUST FOUR YEARS, IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING THE BIG 2003 TAX CUTS. Could we please put this argument in the dustbin now?
5) Individuals who are making a relatively substantial amount of money (Mr. Obama has used the range of $200,000 to $250,000 in annual income to define the starting point of "wealthy" Americans) should be paying more income tax. For what purpose? I have already demonstrated that the best way to keep tax revenue flowing to the federal government is by cutting high marginal tax rates. But suppose someone out there says that high-income people are not paying their "fair share." To this I might rejoinder with "How much is fair?" and "What do you think of these numbers?" Here are the numbers:
Since 2002, the share of federal tax paid by the top 1% of income earners in the United States has grown. Not just the absolute amount, but the percentage share of the total tax paid by everyone in the country.
- The top 1% of income earners paid 39.89% of the total federal income tax received by the U.S. government.
- The top 5% of income earners paid 60.14% of the total federal income tax received by the U.S. government.
- The top 10% paid 70.79% of the total share.
- The top 25% paid 86.27% of the total share.
- The top 50% paid 97.01% of the total share.
Source: The Internal Revenue Service.
It would seem to me that the United States income tax system is already extremely progressive, and has become even more so under President Bush. Unless someone out there wants to suggest that these percentages are insufficient, in which case I'd love to have that argument.
6) The prospect of spreading "the wealth" around is good for everybody. I do not disagree that some spreading of the wealth is good for everyone. Otherwise, there would be no provision of pure public goods, such as the Interstate Highway system, fire and police protection, national defense, and public education. But how much should you try and spread it? At what point does the automatic provision of something that is arguably a private good (or at lease a mixed public/private good) become a disincentive to work or improve oneself? At what point does the automatic penalty assessed to financially successful people become a disincentive to produce more? Given that we know that only 10% of American taxpayers are providing more than two-thirds of the tax revenue to the federal government, can we not say that we are already sufficiently spreading the wealth?
7) Wealth can effectively be spread around by the federal government to a greater degree than it is now without any substantial negative effects. Um, this has been attempted before. During and after World War II, the top federal tax rate was more than 90%. (It stayed over 90% until 1963.) During the 1950's, growth was haphazard, characterized by several periodic recessions and persisent (but relative to today, small) budget deficits. As President Kennedy said during the same speech I cited above, "Surely the lesson of the last decade (i.e., 1952 to 1962) is that budget deficits are not caused by wild-eyed spenders but by slow economic growth and periodic recessions." What a difference from the deficits created today! But the evidence is not just numeric, but intuitive. When you tax any activity, you can count on less of that activity. If you tax income too much, you can count on less income. If you tax capital gains too highly, you can count on less business investment, less stock market growth, and less capital formation.
Caution is the watchword here. As I wrote above, the economy is not static. It reacts, and the reactions ripple. Wealth tends to shrink in availability if politicians, particularly the Congress and the President, do not treat it with respect. A confiscatory stance is not conducive to creating and growing wealth. Barack Obama would be wise to take this to heart.
8) The transfer of wealth from higher-income individuals to lower-income individuals creates a greater chance for the lower-income individuals to succeed. It might. Then again, it might not. I do know this: that wealth is already transferred in huge quantities from higher income individuals to lower income individuals in the form of government services. These services, paid for almost exclusively by higher income earners, are used in greater frequency and degree by lower income earners. Since the late 1960s, the growth of these services by the government has far outpaced the vision of those leaders who put them in place 40 years ago. Have we helped lower-income individuals succeed? On one level, we have. By and large we do not see the level of material privation of individuals and communities that we saw prior to 1970. On the other hand, there is a systemic poverty in society that we seem not to be able to conquer, no matter how much money the government spends.
Speaking as one who works daily with people who earn, in relative terms, lower incomes, I see huge differences among families, even among those who have similar incomes and similar numbers of mouths to feed. The difference is not financial, although in some cases the more successful families are headed by parents with some talent for managing a limited amount of money. The difference is cultural.
The successful families have children who have limits set for them by their parents. The successful families place the highest priority on education, including insisting that the children behave well in school, complete all assigned homework and do their absolute best at all times. The successful families give responsibilities to their children, in terms of household chores, and insist they meet them. The successful families prohibit their children from associating with people who are known to be attracted to mischief, trouble, lawbreaking, alcohol and drugs. The successful families encourage their children to get involved in at least one extracirricular activity at school. The successful families do not use inappropriate language around their children and do not have people in their homes who use inappropriate language. The successful families do not interfere in their neighbours' business. The successful families have set bedtimes for their children, and stick with them.
The unsuccessful families miss one or more of these "rules to live by." One of the items that is most commonly missed is an emphasis on the importance of education. Another is the excuse that parents "cannot choose their children's friends", so if they end up with the wrong crowd, it's just bad luck. Like hell they can't choose, and like hell it's only bad luck.
What is the difference between the successful and unsuccessful families? The unsuccessful families have daughters who are much likelier to become mothers while they are still teenagers. The successful ones have children who wait longer before having children of their own. The unsuccessful families have children likelier to drop out of school, get mixed up in drugs, have trouble with the law, get mixed up in neighbourhood squabbles, and have trouble finding and keeping employment. The successful families have children who stay in school, stay out of trouble, and then have much less difficulty landing jobs that are stable and pay better. Many of the unsuccessful families have children who end up on welfare, and then apply for the same government programs I administer to their parents.
I am not just talking out of my hat. I have been doing the same gig for six and a half years. It is heartbreaking to see girls who were in elementary school when I started my job in 2002 apply for welfare today with their babies in tow. And the difference is not financial, by any means. Several of the most successful families I have met during my tenure had the lowest incomes in 2002, and some were on welfare - and yet more than a few of them today are homeowners with decent-paying jobs. More importantly, their children are still in school and out of trouble.
I realize it opens a huge can of worms by saying that some people do not succeed because of the choices they make, and the quality of their parenting skills. It is much easier to say that we need a new program to try this, or new funding to do that. It makes it look like you care if you say these things. The truth will make you look like a jackass, at least to some. But there it is.
Barack Obama has surely seen enough during his 47 years on the earth to know the difference. It would be encouraging if he said so, instead of repeating the same tried-and-failed left-wing economic talking points.
If I had a vote, I would not vote for Barack Obama. His social and economic values are much too liberal for my taste, and his nominees to the federal courts, and especially the Supreme Court, would probably reflect his thinking. But if he wins tomorrow - not an unlikely outcome - he has a huge opportunity to fix a lot of things that have been made wrong over the last eight years. (So does John McCain, for that matter.) It is both lamentable and laughable to hear Republican partisans decry Obama's socialist tendencies after watching a GOP Congress (2002 to 2006) expand the government by leaps and bounds, uninhibited by common sense, with the nodding approval of President Bush. Some of the greatest fiscal policy blunders have been initiatives of President Bush himself, such as the Medicare prescription drug benefit passed in 2003, the No Child Gets Ahead But We Sure Do Spend More On Education At The Federal Level Act, and the massive increases in military spending (and I say this as one in favour of a hefty military budget - but to more than double it from 2001 to 2008? Does the USA really need to spend $728 billion on defense every year, and pass increases of over 10% almost every year?). On this basis, I understand Americans who feel that the Republicans need to be chucked out of office and out of the White House. I understand the argument that stupidity should not be rewarded, and the sentiment that to vote for the Republican nominee, John McCain, would be to reward the GOP for gross economic mismanagement.
Of course, it's complicated. The housing bubble, the failure of the American financial and regulatory system, and the gigantic bailouts of mismanaged private and public entities has been a group effort. It cannot be pinned on one party or another, and in fact, many American consumers own some of the blame, too. And you cannot vote against them.
John McCain, on October 18th: "At least in Europe, the socialist leaders who so admire my opponent are up-front about their objectives. Raising taxes on some in order to give cheques to others is not a tax cut, it’s just another government give-away." Sounds sensible, right? But later the same day he added this zinger: "We need to give you a mortgage that you can afford, so you can realize the American Dream of owning your home." WHAT? Who's "we"? The government? The taxpayer? Thomas Sowell, when given these two McCain quotes, was asked which vision McCain actually represents. I can understand why Sowell replied, "He represents whichever one occurs to him at the moment. He has what Thorsten Veblen called 'a versatility of convictions'."
John McCain: character and experience to boot, but possessed of "a versatility of convictions."
Barack Obama: the flavour of the day, but utterly wrongheaded in economic matters.
What a choice to have. Best of luck, America.
Note: If you have an inquiring and critical mind, and I hope you do, you're wondering from where I obtained my figures for the U.S. budget revenues and expenditures. I got them from the Congressional Budget Office, for years up to 2007. For FY 2008 and beyond, estimates were obtained from the Executive Office of the President of the United States. (No overlap there, eh? Best to have two separate groups track this stuff!) In case you were wondering, the EO of the POTUS has the same historical numbers as the CBO, except for 2007, when the CBO's expenditure number was exactly $2 billion lower than the EOPOTUS number. Not sure why this happened, but overall, I believe the numbers are trustworthy from both sources.
The quotations of President Kennedy are taken from his address to the Economic Club of New York on December 14th, 1962.