Saturday, October 11, 2008

Palin - still does not get what Troopergate was about

CNN gives Palin's response to the release of the Troopergate report:
Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin denied Saturday that she had abused her power as Alaska's governor, a conclusion reached by a state investigator in a report released the day before. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin boards her campaign bus Saturday in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

"If you read the report, you will see that there was nothing unlawful or unethical about replacing a cabinet member," Palin said as boarded her campaign bus in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. "You got to read the report."
I'd like to believe that she knows she's spinning the truth, but I doubt that's the case. The crux of the findings was that she abused her power by pressuring subordinates, both directly and through her husband, to fire her ex-brother-in-law, Mike Wooten, from the state police force. Whether or not she had the legal right to fire Public Safety Commissioner Monegan, one of the officials she pressured, was not the point. The point was that she violated the Ethics Act, which prohibits action or inaction in furtherance of personal interest, by repeatedly exerting pressure on her subordinates to "do something" about Trooper Wooten.

Now maybe all she really cares about is not getting impeached or even censured by the legislature. But the fact that her punishment may be light does not mean she's done nothing wrong. Ironically, that was the whole point she and her husband were trying to make about Wooten -- that he got off too light with a 10-day suspension and, despite laws protecting his right to keep his job, he really was wholly unqualified from serving as a state trooper.

Throughout her political career, Palin has showed that she sees nothing wrong with using political office to reward her friends, punish her enemies, transport her husband and children, and pretty much do whatever she pleases. This apparently is not only a failure of character, but also one of knowledge and understanding about checks and balances in government and the way ethics laws are supposed to work to ensure that officials do not skirt around them. As far as Palin is concerned, if she thinks her motives are pure and right, she should be able to break any rules or procedures that may be designed to check arbitrary power and protect the innocent. In other words, ethic laws only apply to the unethical -- therefore, if she is ethical in her own mind, they simply do not apply to her.

As mentioned below, a recent story in The New Republic revealed how Palin expressed a similar disdain for and lack of understanding of conflict of interest rules back in Wasilla. Funny thing, the people who tried to call her on it then just got fired or dismissed. Let's hope we can return the favor by seeing that she is fired before she is hired as Vice President.

Mudflats has nailed it in "Through the Looking Glass with Sarah Palin."

"I’ve been struggling to find the right terminology for this. She has jumped the shark. She has landed on Fantasy Island. She has slipped through the looking glass. She’s Queen of Denial. She has become the Head of Orwell’s Ministry of Truth… choose whichever metaphor works for you."

What follows is a transcript of Palin's press conference on the Troopergate report, which more than proves the point, and, for those who do not recall the details, the parts that clearly contradict the truth of both what was said in the report and the underlying facts, which Palin does not dispute.

In addition to the Mudflats piece, there is Time Magazine's new article, "What the Troopergate Report Really Says" by By Nathan Thornburgh. An excerpt:
A harsh verdict? Consider the report's findings. Not only did people at almost every level of the Palin administration engage in repeated inappropriate contact with Walt Monegan and other high-ranking officials at the Department of Public Safety, but Monegan and his peers constantly warned these Palin disciples that the contact was inappropriate and probably unlawful. Still, the emails and calls continued — in at least one instance on recorded state trooper phone lines.

The state's head of personnel, Annette Kreitzer, called Monegan and had to be warned that personnel issues were confidential. The state's attorney general, Talis Colberg, called Monegan and had to be reminded that the call was putting both men in legal jeopardy, should Wooten decide to sue. The governor's chief of staff met with Monegan and had to be reminded by Monegan that, "This conversation is discoverable ... You don't want Wooten to own your house, do you?"

Monegan consistently emerges as the adult in these conversations, while the Palin camp displays a childish impetuousness and sense of entitlement.
And this just in:
What shocks me about the McCain-Palin campaign’s reaction to this report is how illogical they have been in their response. On the one hand, they claim that the report shows she did nothing wrong; therefore, they argue, she is totally off the hook. But on the other hand, they claim that the report’s conclusions are invalid because the investigation was too tainted by partisanship. One wants to stand on top of a tall object with a megaphone, yelling, “What the hell are you talking about!? THIS MAKES NO SENSE!”
Comment quoted in Glenn Grenwald's piece on Rick Davis in Salon.

Panurge - In Praise of Creditors and Debtors

I've been reading about Panurge, a character who speaks in "praise" of debtors and creditors in Book III of Gargantua and Pantagruel by Rabelais. Consequently, I stumbled upon this remarkable essay, "The Housing Market Crisis" by Peter Isakson (posted August 17, 2007). At the outset is Panurge's view:
The economy -- as Panurge (i.e. Rabelais) understood it five centuries ago -- is based on the willingness of people to purchase the useless and, why not, nefarious to keep money (means of payment) circulating and expanding the overall supply. If people only looked after fulfilling their real needs, the economy would appear to stagnate....
After analyzing the "current" housing market crisis (as seen in 2007) in light of these principles, Isakson concludes:
My feeling is that the predicted "clash of civilizations" will not be between regions or religions but rather between human cultures (which still do exist and whose most visible but not unique or even essential glue is often religion) and the globalizing Panurgian culture of debtors and creditors who thrive in a state of mutual dependence obliging them to create the useful and the useless, the good and nefarious. We may in fact have no choice as the price of our purchases continues to mount and the means of payment, constantly increasing, turn out to be permanently and fatally insufficient because with the creation of one type of value (mercantile) other more fundamental values are ignored in the best of cases and destroyed in the worst. Compounding the issue is that thanks to our unshakable belief in the virtue of creation for its own sake, we become unable (or at least unwilling) to measure what is being destroyed. Awareness of this principle and the severe risk it entails could be taken as the common denominator of the ecology and the global protest movement (altermondiste), which has yet to formulate an alternative set of cultural values, focusing primarily on physical conservation or the imaginary return to an undefined and idealistic status quo ante bellum (the war being the industrial-capitalist revolution). Not that it should be held to exercise that responsibility, since it actually belongs to the cultures of the world to do so more or less locally.

The clash I would foresee (but which I’m not predicting as an historical inevitability) is between the globalizing finance-rooted economy on the one hand, and, on the other, the world’s diverse cultures somehow allied with a global protest movement and endowed with a certain persuasive force that will be acquired least through efficient organization and more through the increasingly obvious failures of the Panurgian paradigm as the useless is increasingly revealed to be nefarious.
Intercultural Musings.

We haven't quite gotten to a class of cultures and civilizations -- not yet -- but viewing the current worldwide financial crisis through the lens of Panurge is eye-opening, to say the least. Unlike the more simplistic views of the evils of the market that I've read recently -- such as "The God's Must Be Crazy" and "The Market as God," which seem to focus on the assignment of monetary value to goods and services and the creation of a market for those values, as if abstraction alone is the culprit -- Isakson's (and Panurge's) view of the culture of creditors and debtors that is so complex and interdependent that it is not possible to refine the system of valuation to take into account more than the short-term fluctuations of a certain kind of uniform abstracted value. In other words, it is not simply that we assign monetary values, it is that we lose all control over the way in which is done, what is measured and how, when everything gets sucked up into a vortex of creation and expansion for its own sake on what is now a vast global scale.

Thus, it is not so much that humans have come to worship The Market as a god or idol, it is because it has become, by virtue of its size and complexity, the Creator of the global environment in which we all live, workers, managers, governors, and all those caught between the cogs in the machinery -- or perhaps the more apt metaphor being The Matrix, in which virtually are plugged in and without which few can survive. The dilemma is finding a way for us to gain some control of it, constrain or correct it. Otherwise, it will simply overtake us entirely and the best we will be able to do is occasionally growl and rage at whatever persons, groups, or institutions we decide must take the blame for it all.

Hate on the campaign trail

Rachel Maddow has been covering the Presidential campaign with extraordinary depth and insight. Last night she provided the only serious coverage of the Troopergate report (interview with Walt Monegan and the story on the report).

During the same show she produced the segment above on hate on the campaign trail, which asks searching questions. I don't know any other reporter or commentator like Rachel who can both say things bluntly and, at the same time, step back and pull from daily news headlines some deep thinking and reflections, not just her own but also those of the people she interviews. In her own context, I'd say she, too has a first-class temperament and a first-class intellect.

A first class temperament and a first-class intellect

Christopher Buckley, conservative son of the late William F. Buckley, has endorsed Obama for President. His rationale is two-fold. First, McCain has changed and is no longer reliable. Second, Obama has strong credentials, in terms of both temperament and intellect. Here is an excerpt:
But that was—sigh—then. John McCain has changed. He said, famously, apropos the Republican debacle post-1994, “We came to Washington to change it, and Washington changed us.” This campaign has changed John McCain. It has made him inauthentic. A once-first class temperament has become irascible and snarly; his positions change, and lack coherence; he makes unrealistic promises, such as balancing the federal budget “by the end of my first term.” Who, really, believes that? Then there was the self-dramatizing and feckless suspension of his campaign over the financial crisis. His ninth-inning attack ads are mean-spirited and pointless. And finally, not to belabor it, there was the Palin nomination. What on earth can he have been thinking?

All this is genuinely saddening, and for the country is perhaps even tragic, for America ought, really, to be governed by men like John McCain—who have spent their entire lives in its service, even willing to give the last full measure of their devotion to it. If he goes out losing ugly, it will be beyond tragic, graffiti on a marble bust.

As for Senator Obama: He has exhibited throughout a “first-class temperament,” pace Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.’s famous comment about FDR. As for his intellect, well, he’s a Harvard man, though that’s sure as heck no guarantee of anything, these days. Vietnam was brought to you by Harvard and (one or two) Yale men. As for our current adventure in Mesopotamia, consider this lustrous alumni roster. Bush 43: Yale. Rumsfeld: Princeton. Paul Bremer: Yale and Harvard. What do they all have in common? Andover! The best and the brightest.

I’ve read Obama’s books, and they are first-rate. He is that rara avis, the politician who writes his own books. Imagine. He is also a lefty. I am not. I am a small-government conservative who clings tenaciously and old-fashionedly to the idea that one ought to have balanced budgets. On abortion, gay marriage, et al, I’m libertarian. I believe with my sage and epigrammatic friend P.J. O’Rourke that a government big enough to give you everything you want is also big enough to take it all away.

But having a first-class temperament and a first-class intellect, President Obama will (I pray, secularly) surely understand that traditional left-politics aren’t going to get us out of this pit we’ve dug for ourselves. If he raises taxes and throws up tariff walls and opens the coffers of the DNC to bribe-money from the special interest groups against whom he has (somewhat disingenuously) railed during the campaign trail, then he will almost certainly reap a whirlwind that will make Katrina look like a balmy summer zephyr.

Obama has in him—I think, despite his sometimes airy-fairy “We are the people we have been waiting for” silly rhetoric—the potential to be a good, perhaps even great leader. He is, it seems clear enough, what the historical moment seems to be calling for.

"Sorry Dad, I'm Voting for Obama."

Friday, October 10, 2008

Troopergate Report Released

Well, at long last, the Alaska Legislative Council voted unanimously to release the report of its Stephen Branchflower, the former prosecutor it hired to investigate Troopergate. The abbreviated "public" report is 263 pages, and can be found in pdf format at

I've only read the summary of the findings in the first part and the explanation of the findings in the middle, but it it comes across as objective and fairminded. At times it even sounds generous to the Palins in terms of understanding their frustrations while, at the same time, it ultimately concludes that Sarah Palin overstepped some bounds by using her position and contacts to press for Wooten's firing. The tenor is not one of condemnation or outrage at Palin's conduct, but rather a matter-of-fact account of who said what to whom and an explanation why those conversations and meetings created conflicts of interest.

The report's specific findings were as follows:
1. For the reasons explained in section IV of this report, I find that Governor Sarah Palin abused her power by violating Alaska Statute 39.52.110(a) of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act. Alaska Statute 39.52.110(a) provides:

"The legislature reaffirms that each public oficer holds office as a public trust, and any effort to benefit a personal or financial interest through official action is a violation of that trust."

2. I find that, although Walt Monegan's refusal to fire Trooper Michael Wooten was not the sole reason he was fired by Governor Sarah Palin, it was likely a contributing factor to his termination as Commissioner of Public Safety. In spite of that, Governor's firing of Commissioner of Monegan was a proper and lawful exercise of her constitutional and statutory authority to hire and fire excecutive branch department heads.

3. Harbor Adjustment Service of Anchorage, and its owner Ms. Murleen Wilkes, handled Trooper Michael Wooten's workers' compenastion claim properly aand in the normal course of business like any other claim processed by Harbor Adjustment Service and Ms. Wilkes. Further, Trooper Wooten received all the workers' compenation benefits to which he was entiteld.

4. The Attorney General's office has failed to substantially comply with my August 6, 2008 written requirest to Governor Sarah Palin for information about the case in the form of emails.
Report at p.8.

Jumping ahead to p. 48, one gets the applicable laws and regulations and the required elements of proof for finding a violation. Pages 52-64 summarize eighteen numbered events revealing conduct that supports the first finding of abuse of power.

That section begins with events relating to the Wootens' 2005 divorce proceedings, including an August 2005 email Sarah Palin sent Colonel Grimes and a transcript of the judge's Oct. 2005 ruling on child support, in which he expressed his frustration with the Palin family's efforts to get Wooten fired when he had child support obligations to meet. [Note that the divorce was final in 2006 -- April, I believe -- and Palin did not become Governor until December 2006].

Most of the rest of the conduct deals with Todd's repeated contacts with state officials in his attempt to get Wooten fired despite the fact that Monegan kept trying to tell him that it was inappropriate for them to be discussing the matter and that, since an investigation had already been conducted and discipline imposed on Wooten by the time the Palin became governor, Moegan could not take any actions against Wooten based on his prior conduct. Sarah was only actively involved at the outset, but Todd always spoke in terms indicating that he was acting on behalf of them both as well as the rest of the family.

After describing the key events, the report sets forth its conclusions in support of the findings. The conclusions concerning Governor Palin's abuse of power are detailed at pp. 65-67. They include the following:
The policy underlying Alaska's Ethics Act is to discourage executive branch employees from acting upon personal interests in the perfromance of their public responsibilties and to avoid conflicts of interest in the performance of duty. The Act makes clear that compliance with the code of ethics creates a burden on each executive branch employee that is personal in nature.

Compliance with the code of ethics is not optional. It is an individual responsibilty imposed by law, and any effort to benefit a personal interest through official action is a violation of that trust. As explained aboev, the term "benefit" is very broadly defined, and includes anything that is in the person's advantage or personal self-interest. The term "personal interest" as used in the Ethics Act means any interest held by the public officer or the public officer's immediate family, including a sibling such as Governor Palin's sister Molly, Molly's children, her father Mr. Heath, or any other family member. AS 39. 52.960(11).

As defined in AS 39.52.960(14), the term "official action" means advice, participation or assistance, including, for example, a recommendation, decision, approval, disapproval, vote or other similar action, includling inaction, by a public officer."

The evidence supports the conclusion that Governor Palin, at the least, engaged in "official action" by her inaction if not her active particpation or assistance to her husband in attempting to get Trooper Wooten fired [and there is evidence of her active participation.] She knowingly, as that term is defined in the above cited statutes, permitted Todd Palin to use the Governor's office and the resources of the Governor's office, including access to state employees, to continue to contact subordinate state employees in an effort to find some way to get Trooper Wooten fired.....

Governor Palin knowingly permitted a situation to continue where impermissible pressure was placed on several subordinates in order to advance a personal agenda, to wit: to get Trooper Michael Wooten fired. SHe had the authority and the power to require Mr. Palin to cease contacting subordinates, but she failed to act.

Such impermissible and repeated contacts create conflicts of intersts for subordinate employees who must choose to either please a superior or run the risk of facing that superior's displeasure and tje possible consequences of such displeasure. This was one of the very reasons the Ethics Act was promulgated by the Legislature....

Governor Palin has stated publicly that she and her family feared Trooper Wooten. Yet the evidence presented has been inconsistent with such claims of fear....

Finally, it is noteworthy that in almost every contact with subordinate employees, Mr. Palin's comments were couched in terms of his desire to see Trooper Wooten fired for reasons that had nothing to do with fear....

I conclude that such claims of fear were not bona fide and were offered to provide cover for the Palins' real motivation: to get Trooper Wooten fired for personal family related reasons....
pp. 65-67.

This is the meat of the report. It goes on to conclude that although Monegan's refusal to fire Wooten was probably a factor in Palin's decision to fire Monegan, she had other reasons as well, and violated no law by getting rid of him.

Bottomline, there does not appear to be anything new in the facts presented. Nor is there anything startling about the conclusions. The report does not recommend censure (as far as I could see, at least) and contains no inflammatory language. All it does it make two recommendations for legislative action: (1) a change in the law to protect the confidentiality of employee medical records regarding workers' compensation claims, and (2) a change to see that persons such as the Palins who make complaints against troopers receive information about what the department does about those complaints.

So, it is a mystery to me why the Palins and the McCain campaign fought so hard to keep this report from being released. I don't see how the basic facts can be disputed. Todd Palin himself admitted to his repeated contacts with state officials and employees in the affadavit released earlier this week. The Palins may claim that Sarah did not know about every contact, but it would be hard for her to deny that she knew he was pursuing the matter or that she disagreed with his efforts. But I don't think they have ever seriously viewed the matter as being a dispute over such facts (at least not since the recorded phone conversation came out) -- only what kind of conclusions one should draw from them.

I do not see how any of this will impact the Presidential election. Palin fans will not care or will think it an understandable family matter, and everyone else is likely to be more concerned about other issues. Nevertheless, I think the non-news of this report indicates how Palin really does not get what these kinds of ethics violations are about.

There was an interesting footnote in the recent cover story on her in the New Republic (link somewhere below) about conflicts of interest that arose in Wasilla. One example was a vote on whether the city would substantially increase its contribution to the winner's purse for the big snowmobile race that Todd races in. When some suggested that she recuse herself from the vote, she was deeply offended and unable to grasp what the problem was. She reasoned that just because Todd had won the race the previous year was no guarantee he'd win again, so there was no conflict. No one could convince her that being in the position of being likely to receive some personal gain was enough of a reason to recuse herself.

Similarly, with the whole Wooten affair, she does not seem to get that there could be anything wrong with trying to get rid of someone she believes is unfit to serve in the police force -- all just because she is governor and he is her ex-brother-in-law. It may be that she is right about Wooten, and her motive for getting him fired may have been simply righteous indignation rather than some kind of payback for the way he treated her family. But what she doesn't seem to understand is that the criticism in Alaska and elsewhere has not been that she was wrong in her assessment of Wooten, but rather that she should not have tried to use her position as governor and contacts with her subordinates to get him fired.

More importantly, neither she nor Todd seem to have ever grasped that no one -- private citizen or governor -- is entitled to get someone fired for conduct for which he has already been, in effect, tried and convicted. Under the rule of law, Monegan could not simply re-do the investigation and reach a different result to please them or anyone else. But they don't seem to grasp basic notions of due process and protection against double jeopardy.

Nor are they ever likely to understand how "light" a sentence they received in the form of this investigative report and the publicity that will briefly attend it. It defies even the wacky logic of Presidential politics that all day today Palin supporters were making noise outside the Legislative Council's chambers, all dressed in clown costumes, in protest of a report they had not seen and which, in the end, will amount to nothing more than a slap on the wrist, if that. But, then, nothing makes much sense in this election season. Woe to the Alaskans who must live with these politicians once the national news blows over.

If they can't win fair and square

Michelle Laxalt, Republican (daughter of Paul Laxalt) speaking on Larry King about the smear tactics of the McCain-Palin campaign.

Update: Maybe Laxalt was too kind to Palin. This week's cover story in The New Republic on Palin reveals the following:
Within a few months, Palin was officially challenging Stein and exploiting the cultural shift masterfully. She welcomed a national anti-abortion group in to carpet bomb Wasilla with pink postcards affirming her pro-life bona fides. She orchestrated an NRA endorsement and a mailing from the group falsely proclaiming Stein, a lifelong hunter, "anti-gun." (Stein complained to the local newspaper that Palin was telling voters he wanted to "melt down" all the firearms in the state.) And, in a move practically out of Karl Rove's playbook, she dwelled on how Stein's wife used her maiden name, going so far as to demand a marriage certificate as proof of their nuptials. Palin's campaign literature proclaimed her "deeply devoted to conservative family values"--all in the context of an ostensibly nonpartisan election. (Stein himself was a moderate Republican.)
Noam Scheiber, "Barracuda," p. 20, The New Republic (Oct. 22, 2008). David Talbot, who told a similar story in "Mean Girl"(published Sept. 23, 2008) in Salon, noted that Stein's wife "died of breast cancer in 2005 without ever having reconciled with Palin."

Doesn't sound like Palin needed to learn anything from McCain operatives about dirty politics.

Why Troopergate is important to Alaskans

AlaskaReal comments:
A reader emailed me and wanted to know why Alaskans seemed "obsessed" with this Troopergate thing, and the "real" issues we should be focusing on are McCain, McCain, McCain.

Well, I don't know about other Alaskans, but I feel that we have a lose/lose situation going on with the election. If McCain/Palin were to win (you must visualize me turning around three times and spitting) we get her as VP/presidential candidate 2016 (if she can withhold the knife from McCain's back that long.) If they were to lose (looking more likely every day) we get her back. And she hasn't even been Gov. for two years yet, so we've got her back for awhile.

To understand the "obsession" with Troopergate is to have to look at Alaska politics over the last few years. You'd have to visit Progressive Alaska or Celtic Diva or Alaska Report for more detail, because I've simply lost count of how many of our state legislators are under indictment, in jail, or under investigation. (Despite what the Gov. will imply, she didn't have anything to do with that - those were all FBI.) In fact, that Sen. Ted Stevens is on trial now was a surprise not because people didn't know it was coming - but everyone thought Ben Stevens would be indicted first.

It does not seem to be a surprise to many Wasilla folk, but much of Alaska (you've seen the high numbers) was really hoping Sarah Palin would be different. She seemed to come in as a reformer, promising politics that weren't the same as the rest of her party. She hasn't done much of that reforming yet, but still, hope.

When Troopergate hit, it was all sort of, "We knew it was too good to be true." There were already red flags popping up with her, some more in the know than others, but I think it wasn't so much the initial accusation that was shocking, but the proverbial nail in the coffin. Even her hiring the "sex harrasser" in place of the guy she fired was just like, "Well, maybe she just sucks at hiring people (she's done a lot of that.)"

The nail in the coffin (for me anyways) was after however many times she or her administration said there was absolutely no pressure put on Monegan to fire Wooten - none whatsoever - not so much as a nudge or wink.

Then the tape gets discovered and she holds the press conference that essentially says (let me just paraphrase), "Just kidding."

Now even Todd Palin is "proudly" saying (or at least writing) that yes, he was aggressively talking about getting Wooten fired... and, wierdly enough, maybe some of the "real" reason about bad blood was the audacity of Monegan sending a heads up to Mama Palin about a report from a legislator that she was not putting her baby in a car seat. Uhh.... really? The absolute nerve of the top law enforcement official to, you know, make sure the top government official in the state was following the law? (Not to mention making sure her child was being protected.) That's the argument?
[Note: According to Todd Palin's affidavit, what was false about the rumor that Sarah did not use a car seat for Trigg was that it was not she who was driving and that they were never on public roads. The truth, as he told it, was that Sarah and Trigg were riding in the front seat of a pick up truck on private property. Another small example of them saying, hell no, we didn't do that, and later, yes, but it was under circumstances where the law does not or should not apply to us.]

And this from AlaskaPolitics:
My capacity to be shocked by the "nothing is beneath us" attitude of the McCain thugs is pretty much gone. They've completely usurped the functions of the governor's office, with the full complicity of the spineless pieces of crap and devoted loyalists in that office, starting with the Lieutenant Governor and virtually including everyone but the janitor. Today's reminder of the surreal world in the Palin dark circle of friends comes with the release by the McCain campaign of their own investigation's results. (We had no idea that they were conducting an investigation. It apparently consisted of them reading the happy horseshit in Todd Palin's bizarre affidavit and then chatting with a couple people who are friends of Todd's, or something. Similar to the lengthy effort they put in when they vetted Sarah after McCain picked her name out of a hat.)

Get ready to be floored by this unexpected announcement: After a thorough review, the McCain campaign has released a 21-page report that absolutely absolves Palin and her staff of ethically ignorant devotees of any and all misfeasance, and lays the blame for this fiasco where it rightfully belongs: Andrew Halcro!
. . . .

Okay, I get it. We're a state that doesn't have the big issues that plague other states, so we tend to blow out of proportion these minor spats between our beloved governor and our grudgingly voted-in legislature. We make mountains out of molehills when we act like it's a big deal for a governor, her self-admitted obsessive husband, and half a dozen of her creepy staff members to relentlessly pursue the firing of her ex brother in law for things he allegedly did and was already either disciplined for or was cleared of doing. We're petty that way. We elect someone on the platform of openness, ethics, transparency and a change in the way government is run. We find out we were sold a bill of bullshit goods. We take it personally.
. . . .
The way I see it, I think it is important to follow this story, both as to the facts and the perspective of the Alaskan bloggers, not only because of what it reveals about the Palins but also about how the McCain campaign staff operates. The way they have camped out in Alaska ever since Palin was selected as the VP candidate, taking over communications from the governor's office, bringing in a Texas neo-con legal team with ties to both big oil and the religious right, trying to muzzle and re-invent the Palins at every turn, and overall treating the people of Alaska with utmost contempt, is... well, telling, to say the least. No doubt that is the way they will treat us all if they ever come to power.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Alaska Supreme Court Says No

The Alaska Supreme Court said no to the appeal of the Republican legislators who sought to halt the investigation into Troopergate. The court said in a brief order issued today:
IT IS ORDERED: The order of the superior court issued on October 2, 2008 granting the Motion to Dismiss is AFFIRMED. An opinion will follow.

Entered at the direction of the full court.
It should be interesting to see the full opinion when it is issued. But for now it means that the Legislative Council may proceed to decide whether to release its investigative report tomorrow.

The court's decision should not have been a surprise, but it was good to hear nonetheless. Some of the questions the judges asked during oral argument yesterday suggested that they were not viewing the appeal favorably. A newspaper reported them as follows:

Clarkson [local counsel for the legislators], who was up first, didn't speak long before the justices began firing questions at him.

Justice Daniel Winfree asked how Clarkson figured his clients had any standing to sue based on the notion an unconstitutional investigation violates the individual rights of others, chiefly Palin's.

Because this is a case of "public significance," Clarkson replied.

"Is this one of public significance or just one of public interest?" Winfree shot back.

"It's both," Clarkson said.

Later, Justice Robert Eastaugh asked, "What are we to make of the fact" that a bipartisan panel voted unanimously to conduct the investigation?

Clarkson said the investigation has lost focus, that lawmakers exceeded their authority in launching it, and that it should be delayed until they can do a proper investigation for a constitutionally valid purpose -- making or changing laws.

That's just what the Legislature is doing, argued Peter Maassen, an attorney for Branchflower and the legislative panel overseeing his investigation.

Anchorage Daily News, October 8, 2008.


McCain campaign releases Palin's own report clearing herself of wrongdoing. AP Press.
"McCain spokesman Taylor Griffin, who distributed the campaign's report, said it was written by the McCain-Palin campaign staff and based on public filings and Todd Palin's affidavit." Chicago Tribune.
So I guess this is was not even the report that was supposed to be issued by the state Personnel Board, which is controlled by Palin. Sounds more like a press release.

The New York Times has a new story giving the details of Troopergate, "Palins Repeatedly Pressed Case Against Trooper."

The Guardian has a new Palin bio, "The chameleon - Who is the real Sarah Palin?"

and Fluffy says she really likes this one, "Cut, Kill, Dig, Drill" by Jonathan Raban in the London Review of Books. No one skewers people like the Brits.

For an excellent roundup on Troopergate, see this VIDEO news story by a reporter from the Anchorage Daily News that features film of conflicting statements made by Palin and staff about Troopergate. It includes the audio recording of the telephone conversation that showed that Frank Bailey (a Palin loyalist and Deputy Commissioner) had, in fact, not only discussed Wooten with someone at the state troopers' office but specifically said that Wooten was a problem that the Palins were concerned about.

Troopergate - Todd Palin's sworn answers

Todd Palin, the husband of Sarah Palin, has finally submitted his sworn answers to the legislature's questions in the investigation of the firing of Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan. The full document is available here.

The Alaska Daily News reports the following:

He also suggested there was bad blood between the governor and Monegan over two other matters:

• An inquiry from Monegan to the governor about whether she once failed to put her Trig, her infant, in a car seat while she was driving.

• The unavailability of a state trooper airplane for the governor's use when traveling to the Bush.

On the car seat, Monegan sent an e-mail to the governor on June 30, 12 days before he lost his job, that said: "Via a soon-to-be-retiring legislator, we received a complaint that had you driving with Trig not in an approved car seat; if this is so that would be awkward in many ways."

The governor fired back from her private e-mail account: "I've never driven Trig anywhere without a new, approved car seat. I want to know who said otherwise -- pls provide me that info now."

Todd Palin, in his sworn statement, said this was a "false rumor," and that the governor was a passenger in a truck, "on a private farm road without traffic at low speed."

"Todd Palin campaigned years for firing trooper."

One Alaskan's view of the gist of Todd Palin's account is available here.

Meanwhile back at the Alaska Supreme Court

Remember "Troopergate" -- the Alaska Legislature's investigation into Gov. Sarah Palin's firing of Walt Monegan as Safety Commissioner, allegedly because he refused to fire Palin's ex-brother-in-law Wooten? -- the firing she recently defended on the grounds that Monegan was a "rogue" cop himself, trying to go off to Washington D.C. to get federal funding to help combat violent crime against women in Alaska, something Palin did not want him to do (although her staff authorized him to travel there -- they just did not know what he was going to do there. At least that was the story).

You may recall that Palin first agreed to fully cooperate with the investigation, which was initiated by bi-partisan panel of legislators. Once she was nominated the Republican VP candidate, however, she lawyered up, claming that she should not have to cooperate because investigation was unfair, biased, and politically motivated. She said she would only cooperate with an investigation of her conduct that she, essentially, launched herself -- one to be conducted by the state Personnel Board, whose members are appointed by the governor. When the legislature decided to proceed with their own investigation anyway, five Republican legislators loyal to Palin filed a lawsuit to try to stop them.

This was rather unusual, to say the least (the U.S. Congress certainly has launched plenty of investigations into allegations of misconduct by the President and others in the Executive branch). But never mind the legal technicalities. What was most peculiar was that Alaska's Attorney General first allowed himself to be drawn into the dispute, argued on behalf of the Governor's friends in the trial court, and then, when the trial court ruled against them last week, the AG instructed everyone to go ahead and talk. In other words, he gave it his best shot and then when he lost, he not only walked away from the case but actually instructed state employees to cooperate with the legislature's investigation.

The case might have ended there, but instead it was taken on by outside counsel, who filed an appeal with the Alaska Supreme Court. The lead attorney for the Palin side was Kelly Shackleford of the Liberty Legal Institute, a private, right-wing legal aid organization whose mission is to defend religious freedoms. The Alaska Supreme Court agreed to hear the expedited appeal and is scheduled to issue its decision by Friday, the day the legislature planned to report the results of its investigation.

In addition to the appellate brief filed by Shackleford, a brief was filed by a group of law professors associated with the Liberty Legal Institute entitled "Brief Amicus of Curaie of Law Professors and Legal Scholars in Support of Appellants" (i.e. a friend-of-the-court brief by third parties who claim to have some kind of special interest or expertise that persuades the court to let them file an advisory brief, which the court can then consider or ignore in reaching its decision). Aside from the silliness of having attorneys associated with the LLI file two sets of briefs (one for the legislators appealing -- the appellants -- and one as a group of "law professors and legal scholars" seeking to help the Alaska Supreme Court figuring out its constitutional duty), this development is remarkable in light of the identity of these "friendly" professors and scholars.

Celtic Diva has explored the matter in depth in Part I - Supreme Court Appeal by Religious Right Lawyers -- Who are they? and Part II - What is that "Amicus Brief" and who wrote it?. I mentioned earlier stories on LLI here, but CD's work surpasses that, having delved deeper into the background of not only the LLI but also that of the so-called experts involved in writing the amicus brief.

This would be almost funny -- the usual sort of right-wing nut cases who lurk among law school faculties everywhere (and yes, they have their counterparts on the left), coming to the rescue of the Alaska Supreme Court, to make it see how monumentally "unfair" it would be to allow the Alaska legislature to investigate -- if it were not for the fact that these are the sorts of "strict constructionist" legal scholars who might end up on the U.S. Supreme Court if McCain-Palin were elected. There are reputable jurists who hold conservative views on all kinds of legal issues (though nowadays it is difficult to use terms like liberal and conservative meaningfully with respect to the wide range of issues that can divide the justices). The problem with these folks, however, is that they have invoked their supposedly lofty ideals for the purpose of buying time for one side in this purely local political dispute, one that clearly is within the province of the legislature and from which the governor should not be able to evade simply because she decides that it will not treat her "fairly" and give her the result she wants. If they really believe that courts and officers of the executive branch should be allowed to collude to prevent a legislature from functioning as a political body, then we should all be deeply worried if they ever achieve power. And it is laughable, to say the least, that so-called strict constructionists would seek to broaden the concept of Due Process beyond all prior case law and decide that it extends to the "unfairness" of exposing a governor's actions to legislative scrutiny.

In the end nothing may come of the Troopergate charges -- or, at most, a legislative opinion that the governor could have better handled her family situation so as to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. But if there truly is nothing seriously wrong to hide, all the more reason why the legal system should not have been abused by this litigation.

For anyone who really wants to delve into the facts of the case and the detals of the legal dispute, the trial court's order and all the briefs are currently available at the Alaska Supreme Court's website here (Keller, Wes etal. v. French, Hollis, etal.)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

About that $3 million overhead projector

As someone who has much appreciated the Adler Planitarium, both when I went on field trips as a child and when I took my own children to visit, I suspected that what McCain said in the debate about an overhead projector being "pork" was likely a terrible miscalculation on his part. McCain, of course, views all "ear mark" spending as being for unworthy projects. For him the idea of funding any of the world-renowned great science museums in Chicago would, no doubt, be an extravagant waste of money on those children and adults who visit them and might not only learn something new but get excited about science.

Well, here's what someone who knows about that projector has to say about it:

I am an Associate Professor of Astronomy at the University of Chicago (the University that today has added yet another Nobel Prize winner in the sciences for the US). I would like to comment on Sen. McCain's statement during the today's debate that Sen. Obama has earmarked "$3 million for an overhead projector at a planetarium in Chicago, Ill. My friends, do we need to spend that kind of money?"

The way Sen. McCain has phrased it suggests that Sen. Obama approved spending $3 million on an old-fashioned piece of office equipment (overhead projector). The 3 million is actually for an upgrade of the SkyTheater - a full dome projection system, which is probably the main attraction of the Adler Planetarium and is quite sophisticated and impressive piece of equipment.

I find it appalling that Sen. McCain would call a science education tool for public (largely children) for a historic planetarium with millions of visitors a year a wasteful earmark. The planetarium's focus, as stated on their website ( is "on inspiring young people, particularly women and minorities, to pursue careers in science." Is an investment in such public facility at the time when US competitiveness in math and sciences is a constant source of alarm a waste?

"American's ability to compete in a 21st Century economy rests on our continued investments in math and science education," said Rep. Brian Baird, Chairman of the Research and Science Education Subcommittee in Congress, after the passage of The 21st Century Competitiveness Act of 2007.

Considering such investments "wasteful earmarks" today, even in the face of the financial crisis, will severely cripple US economic competitiveness in the increasingly high-tech world down the road.

— Andrey Kravtsov, Chicago, IL

Reprinted at Daily Kos.

UPDATE - The Planetarium has released this statement:
Last night, during the presidential debate in Nashville, Tennessee, Senator John McCain made the following statement:

McCain: “While we were working to eliminate these pork barrel earmarks he (Senator Obama) voted for nearly $1 billion in pork barrel earmark projects. Including $3 million for an overhead projector at a planetarium in Chicago, Illinois. My friends, do we need to spend that kind of money?”

To clarify, the Adler Planetarium requested federal support – which was not funded – to replace the projector in its historic Sky Theater, the first planetarium theater in the Western Hemisphere. The Adler’s Zeiss Mark VI projector – not an overhead projector – is the instrument that re-creates the night sky in a dome theater, the quintessential planetarium experience. The Adler’s projector is nearly 40 years old and is no longer supported with parts or service by the manufacturer. It is only the second planetarium projector in the Adler’s 78 years of operation.

Science literacy is an urgent issue in the United States. To remain competitive and ensure national security, it is vital that we educate and inspire the next generation of explorers to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

Senator McCain’s statements about the Adler Planetarium’s request for federal support do not accurately reflect the museum's legislative history or relationship with Senator Obama. The Adler has approached the Illinois Congressional delegation the last few years for federal assistance with various initiatives. These have included museum exhibitions, equipment and educational programs we offer to area schools, including the Chicago Public Schools.

We have made requests to Senators Durbin and Obama, as well as to 6 area Congressmen
from both political parties. We are grateful that all of the Members we have approached, including Senator Obama, have deemed our activities worthy of their support, and have made appropriations requests on our behalf, as they have for many worthy Illinois nonprofit organizations.

As a result of the hard work of our bipartisan congressional delegation, the Adler has been fortunate to receive a few federal appropriations the past couple of years.
However, the Adler has never received an earmark as a result of Senator Obama's efforts.

This is clearly evidenced by recent transparency laws implemented by the Congress, which have resulted in the names of all requesting Members being listed next to every earmark in the reports that accompany appropriations bills.

Prayers for Shirley

The past year has been a really tough one for my mother. Her health and mobility deteriorated to the point that she spent late spring and summer in a hospital and nursing home in northern Illinois, while struggling to decide what to do and where to go next. My brother and I visited her several times each, worked with medical staff and social workers, and were met with numerous setbacks in making any progress in making long-term plans with her. Finally, after we all agreed she would move to Seattle so she live in an assisted living facility on Lake Washington and receive care from a doctor she already knew from a visit there a few years a go, she got weaker, had trouble keeping food down, and came down with shingles. Once she began to recover, my brother at long last got her on a plane and out to Seattle, where she has been staying at another rehab facility for the last month and trying to build her strength up. She never was able to get strong enough to meet the requirements for the place on the lake, but she finally agreed to go to a facility downtown that offers more help but where she could have her own apartment-like rooms and a community atmosphere. Last weekend she and my brother went out to buy furniture and decor, and yesterday she moved in.

I got up this morning to read this email from my brother:
After a great moving day, I left Mother feeling very good and actually able to move about her new studio mostly on her own.

Then around 930p this evening I got a call from the nurse at the Terrace that Mother had taken a fall and was being sent to the hospital. I went to the ER immediately and to make a long story short, she has broken her right femur and will have to have surgery tomorrow or potentially the day after.

I just got home and they are going to call me in the morning when the surgeon comes to the floor and I will run down there then. From talking to Mother, she was lying in her new bed, quite comfortable and happy, when she decided to get up on her own and go to the bathroom and then tripped on one of her slippers. She had taken off the emergency pendent they give everyone to call for help because it wasn't comfortable on her neck in bed.

Who knows what this means for the future. I'll give you a call in the morning when I get up
This is NOT good. It could mean she cannot stay where she has just moved or at least that she will be wheelchair-bound for sometime and may never recover the mobility she still had, which consisted of being able to walk some with a walker, though she had some difficulty getting up and down. As for trying to get to the bathroom on her own the first night, taking off her call pendant, well.... Anyway, prayers are needed for my brother and his family as well as my mother.

The Joy of the Moosehunt - UK Film on Palin

HT Celtic Diva.

This one is for +Clumber

This is direct from Greta Van Susteran of Fox News, an impeccable source. This is Sarah Palin's assessment of tonight's debate between Presidential candidates Senator Obama and Senator McCain.

Greta tells us:

Just got this email from FNC embed producer Shush ….traveling with Governor Sarah Palin campaign

From: Walshe, Shushannah
Sent: Tue Oct 07 23:14:22 2008
Subject: Palin reacts to debate

Palin reacts to McCain debate performance:

“Great. Great. It was a great night for America. He’s proposing real plans that will work for economic recovery and energy independence. I think Barack was even less candid than usual, which I was kinda surprised. But McCain has fought on and sounded very energized, and and it was a good night for him, for all of us, for all of America. It’s gonna be a great 28 days to go. Taking this message of reform on the road and just having it resonate more and more every day is what I believe’s happening. And it’s good. It’s very good. I look forward to the 28 days.”

From Gretawire.

I'd say it's time to dig the heels in and take the gloves off. Call me an elitist snob, but what's this about "kinda surprised" and "what I believe's happening"? And this is one of the more polished examples.

Another view from abroad, Maura Kelly, writing in the Guardian, said the other day:
It is not just painful, but frightening to watch someone who could become the vice-president of the United States stumbling around like this in an interview." Herbert was focused mainly on Palin's lack of readiness to lead the country, rather than her basic linguistic inadequacies. But the two go together. I would guess they stem from her lack of intellectual curiosity and her concomitant arrogance.

I could go on and on. I could mention the time when she mentioned "predator" lenders, rather than predatory lenders, to Couric. But you get the point.

I have to wonder whether Palin, who is being touted by Republican leaders as an anti-elitist, knows the definition of "elitism":

1. The belief that certain persons or members of certain classes or groups deserve favored treatment by virtue of their perceived superiority, as in intellect, social status, or financial resources.

2. a. The sense of entitlement enjoyed by such a group or class.
b. Control, rule or domination by such a group or class.

Funny that a so-called anti-elitist is woman who rewards members of her inner circle and old high-school friends with plum appointments; who is a member of the party that has been ruling the White House for eight years; who seems so haughty about her right to run for the vice-presidency that she makes no effort to hide her exasperation with members of the media who are trying to assess whether she is prepared for the job.

From "Sarah Palin's Political Gibberish."

Gosh, she's even lost Brigette Bardot's vote. She said of Palin:

In a final salvo against Palin, the 74-year-old ex-star picked up on Palin's depiction of herself as a pitbull wearing lipstick and said she "implored" her not to compare herself to dogs.

"I know them well and I can assure you that no pitbull, no dog, nor any other animal for that matter is as dangerous as you are," Bardot wrote.

From "Brigette Bardot: Sarah Palin is a Disgrace for Women."

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

How the foreign press sees us

Flirting her way to victory: Sarah Palin's farcical debate performance lowered the standards for both female candidates and US political discourse
by Michelle Goldberg
Friday October 03 2008 18:30 BST
At least three times last night, Sarah Palin, the adorable, preposterous vice-presidential candidate, winked at the audience. Had a male candidate with a similar reputation for attractive vapidity made such a brazen attempt to flirt his way into the good graces of the voting public, it would have universally noted, discussed and mocked. Palin, however, has single-handedly so lowered the standards both for female candidates and American political discourse that, with her newfound ability to speak in more-or-less full sentences, she is now deemed to have performed acceptably last night.

By any normal standard, including the ones applied to male presidential candidates of either party, she did not. Early on, she made the astonishing announcement that she had no intentions of actually answering the queries put to her. "I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I'm going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record also," she said.

And so she preceded, with an almost surreal disregard for the subjects she was supposed to be discussing, to unleash fusillades of scripted attack lines, platitudes, lies, gibberish and grating references to her own pseudo-folksy authenticity.

It was an appalling display. The only reason it was not widely described as such is that too many American pundits don't even try to judge the truth, wisdom or reasonableness of the political rhetoric they are paid to pronounce upon. Instead, they imagine themselves as interpreters of a mythical mass of "average Americans" who they both venerate and despise.

. . . .

Evidently, Palin's pre-debate handlers judged her incapable of speaking on a fairly wide range of subjects, and so instructed to her to simply disregard questions that did not invite memorised talking points or cutesy filibustering. They probably told her to play up her spunky average-ness, which she did to the point of shtick - and dishonesty. Asked what her achilles heel is - a question she either didn't understand or chose to ignore - she started in on how McCain chose her because of her "connection to the heartland of America. Being a mom, one very concerned about a son in the war, about a special needs child, about kids heading off to college, how are we going to pay those tuition bills?"

None of Palin's children, it should be noted, is heading off to college. Her son is on the way to Iraq, and her pregnant 17-year-old daughter is engaged to be married to a high-school dropout and self-described "fuckin' redneck". Palin is a woman who can't even tell the truth about the most quotidian and public details of her own life, never mind about matters of major public import. In her only vice-presidential debate, she was shallow, mendacious and phoney. What kind of maverick, after all, keeps harping on what a maverick she is? That her performance was considered anything but a farce doesn't show how high Palin has risen, but how low we all have sunk.
Read it all at The Guardian. HT to Celtic Diva.

Demeaning Democracy
by Rami G. Khouri
Released: 6 Oct 2008
BEIRUT -- Watching the US presidential election from the Arab region is a confusing vocation. At one level, American democracy is an impressive, vibrant, often stunning, phenomenon that permits any citizen -- certified idiots and genuine geniuses alike – to seek and assume public office, and control the destiny of society. It produces some of the most monumental errors and costly adventures in world history, in the military and economic fields, but it also contains the mechanisms for its own self-correction, reconfiguration, improvement and re-birth -- as we witness these days in the economic arena.

At another level, America also provides a powerful argument against a totally open, unregulated democratic system, because it allows the volatile and sometimes infantile emotional psyche of a bare majority of citizens to determine the exercise of immense power. . . .
Read it all at Agence Global.

Time to let the Constitution shine its light

"Federal Judge Orders Release of Chinese Muslims"

by William Glaberson, published October 7, 2008, New York Times.
WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Tuesday ordered the Bush administration to immediately release 17 Chinese Muslims who have been held for seven years at Guantánamo Bay, and to allow them to stay in the United States, because they are no longer considered enemy combatants.

The ruling, handed down by Federal District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina, marked the first time that any United States court rejected government arguments and ordered the release of detainees from Guantánamo Bay, an American naval base in Cuba, since the detention center there opened in 2002.

Judge Urbina said that the detention of the 17 prisoners — members of the Uighur ethnic group, a restive Muslim minority in western China — was unlawful, noting that the Constitution prohibits indefinite imprisonment without charges.

"I think the moment has arrived for the court to shine the light of constitutionality on the reasons for the detention," he said.

The judge ordered the 17 detainees, all of whom are men, brought to his courtroom next Friday, but the government suggested that it would immediately appeal the ruling, and that perhaps immigration officials might detain the men on their arrival in the United States.

The judge reacted angrily, saying he did not want the detainees molested by anyone in the government, in what he called an urgent matter.

"There was a pressing need to have these people, who have been incarcerated for seven years — to have those conditions changed," Judge Urbina said.
Read the rest here.

World-stopping wonder and awe

I wrote the following in response to Fr. Terry's marevellous essay "Dancing With God." As usual, my comments were lengthy, stumbling, and not particularly well-written, but what made Haloscan spit it out was the fact it had too many links. So, what the heck, I'll post it here and link:

Yes, YosemiteGreg, those stories and that of the Empty Tomb. :)

Terry, I love this essay of yours and have read it several times now. But, as usual, it's also got me thinking. One of my favorite parts was this:
...the world-stopping wonder and awe that overcomes you when you begin to glimpse the movement of God in your midst.

How do you begin seeing this movement? By expecting it. By believing it is true, and then beginning to seek God out.

It took me a very long time to allow myself to expect it, believe it was true, and I still struggle with seeking God out in my everyday life -- but I do glimpse that glory, in and through bad times, as well as good.

Reading this made me recall the many years when I fought it. I come from family and friends and an educational background that surrounded me with the "spiritual but not religious" perspective on religion and faith (even as I attended Sunday School and church weekly with my family while growing up and was confirmed in 8th grade, with much anguish, with, in effect, my fingers crossed). My studies in anthropology, history, and literature; Sunday School teachers who told us our Jewish friends were going to hell; and the images of Buddhists in Vietnam burning in protest of the war, while my own pastor prayed (in those seemingly interminable pastoral prayers the Methodists do), prayed for U.S. military victory and thus (as I understood it) death to the enemy -- all contributed to a deep skepticism and mistrust of any kind of institutional religion. I also never *got* it as a child -- always felt like an outsider in my home church, thought of Jesus as mysterious and offputting (didn't look or talk like any "friend" I knew or could imagine), and was horrified at what struck me as celebration of a tortured death.

Yet, the day finally came when I did start to get it, indeed came to expect, believe in, and seek God's movement in my life, when Jesus Christ became my means for doing so. But today I see so much in our contemporary culture that adds to those barriers, the scales that were once in front of my eyes. Two things, especially, come to mind.

First is the continued force of the so-called Religious Right in culture and politics, which I believe is what fuels the fear and loathing of agnostics and atheists (most recently evidenced by Bill Maher's new movie, Religulous, which I have not seen but have read about, and the websites associated with the movie). On one of Maher's recent shows, he talked about how scary it was that Sarah Palin "literally believed in the Bible." Now if he meant an anti-science view based on Creationism or foreign policy based on Dominionist theology, for example, I, too, admit to fear, or at least deep concern (though personally I'm more concerned about the woman's inability to tell the truth -- but that's another matter). But when I listen to Maher and others rant about Palin's religion, what I hear is also deep aversion and sometimes contempt for anyone who believes in God as someone or something that is revealed in everyday life, to whom one does pray, for many reasons, but including intercessionary prayer, for anyone who actively seeks God's will in trying to wrestle with difficult decisions. This is not a new problem in Western culture in general and U.S. politics in particular (recall Stephen Carter's The Culture of Disbelief back in the 1990's), but it is growing with leaps and bounds on the internet and news right now.

Second, strangely enough (to me, at least), people within the church, all across the spectrum of theological/political views, seem to view those who hold the "spiritual but not religious" view with both pity and contempt. This growing segment of the U.S. population (as high as 40% of the total population, according to one article), is viewed by some as "moderate voices" in favor of religion (see same article), but more often, as lazy, self-centered or New Age flakes among those "inside" church culture, right and left (not what she meant, I know, but how Kit Carlson's recent article would have struck me back when I was an outsider). A better view may be what Robert Fuller said (at the end of the article at Beliefnet that prompted Kit's essay):
But it is difficult to move to a more qualitative understanding. We don't fully understand how unchurched Americans assemble various bits and pieces of spiritual philosophy into a meaningful whole. We are even further from understanding how to compare the overall spirituality of unchurched persons with that of those who belong to spiritual institutions.

Spirituality exists wherever we struggle with the issue of how our lives fit into the greater cosmic scheme of things. This is true even when our questions never give way to specific answers or give rise to specific practices such as prayer or meditation. We encounter spiritual issues every time we wonder where the universe comes from, why we are here, or what happens when we die. We also become spiritual when we become moved by values such as beauty, love, or creativity that seem to reveal a meaning or power beyond our visible world. An idea or practice is "spiritual" when it reveals our personal desire to establish a felt-relationship with the deepest meanings or powers governing life."
People who are scared to death because of what they see and hear (or think they see and hear) from religionists and religious people can be reached by ways in which they allow themselves to glimpse the glory of God -- the sublime, for example, in Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey" or even the "self-willed" order of non-human nature in Jack Turner's The Abstract Wild. Personally, I don't believe that the way to reach them is to avoid religious language or revise religious practices (at least that never worked for me), but rather to find ways to get religious people to speak as Terry has, openly, clearly, and joyfully about how and what they see, feel, and know about God in their lives, without apology and without censure, but with some kind of better understanding of what motivates the "spiritual but not religious" -- their deep, and not entirely unrealistic, fear of promoting ignorance and intolerance by in any way supporting or participating in institutional religion. Looking at the deep conflict and bitterness in the Episcopal Church, it is hard to argue that, well, it's just the "nutters" (as Mad Priest might say) -- the denominations and sects of extreme fundamentalism -- not "us." And, for the sake of some degree of peace and forbearance in the midst of our strife, it becomes increasingly difficult to appeal to individuals' "experience" of the divine, especially among those who do not readily express it in orthodox terms, without fear of an attack from the neo-orthodox or conservatives within the church. So it seems "we" progressives seem to get caught in middle between those we would seek to evangelize and those who would brand us heretics.

I don't know the answer to this problem, but for me, at least,what you write, Terry, strikes me as a step in the right direction (as well as your overall efforts in both your blogs). And I share with you not only the hope but the firm belief that God will see us through these troubled times, from glory to glory.

Tax Law Professors Get in the Truth Game

Alright, maybe I'm overloading on Palin news, but bear with me, please. This should all be over soon.

I read not long ago that the Palins had finally released their tax returns and, as I suspected, there were some issues regarding their treatment of travel expenses and the per diem charges. Ordinarily this kind of information makes me want to snooze (sorry Chuck Irish, my tax law professor), but fortunately now I've found some experts to do the hard work of figuring out what it all means.

Go to TaxProf Blog and read "Tax Profs Agree: Gov. Palin's Tax Returns Are Wrong." The article does a good job of bullet-pointing the highlights, but the devil is in the details when one follows the links. My favorite was the article on the Roger M. Olsen opinion letter. Olsen is a Washington D.C. tax attorney who wrote an opinion letter justifying the Palins' treatment of various expenses in their tax returns (funny how those Beltway folks can come in handy sometimes). As an attorney who remembers a little something from Tax I and Tax II more than twenty years ago, I am amazed at the following:
Undoubtedly the most amazing (brazen?) aspect of Mr. Olsen's opinion letter is that he cites absolutely no law in the four pages to support his conclusions -- no code or regulation sections, cases, or rulings.

Another discrepancy is the $196,531.50 income as Governor reported on her financial disclosure form (with the notation "[a]s reported to filer by State of Alaska"), compared to the $107,987 wages, tips, other compensation and $122,401.43 Medicare wages and tips reported by the state of Alaska on the W-2 attached to her tax return.

(Mr. Olsen has a tax LL.M. from George Washington and is a former Assistant Attorney General of the Department of Justice's Tax Division under President Reagan.)
Brazen, indeed.

Palin's Terrorist Pals and Tales of the Maverick

Also of interest, "Make Believe Maverick: A closer look at the life and career of John McCain reveals a disturbing record of recklessness and dishonesty." An excerpt:
Intent on winning the presidency at all costs, he has reassembled the very team that so viciously smeared him and his family eight years ago, selecting as his running mate a born-again moose hunter whose only qualification for office is her ability to electrify Rove's base. And he has engaged in a "practice of politics" so deceptive that even Rove himself has denounced it, saying that the outright lies in McCain's campaign ads go "too far" and fail the "truth test."

The missing piece of this puzzle, says a former McCain confidant who has fallen out with the senator over his neoconservatism, is a third, never realized, campaign that McCain intended to run against Bush in 2004. "McCain wanted a rematch, based on ethics, campaign finance and Enron — the corrupt relationship between Bush's team and the corporate sector," says the former friend, a prominent conservative thinker with whom McCain shared his plans over the course of several dinners in 2001. "But when 9/11 happened, McCain saw his chance to challenge Bush again was robbed. He saw 9/11 gave Bush and his failed presidency a second life. He saw Bush and Cheney's ability to draw stark contrasts between black and white, villains and good guys. And that's why McCain changed.
Read the rest at The Rolling Stone.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Why is Palin such a good liar?

Frank Schaeffer asks the question "Why is Palin Such a Good Liar for God?" in an article published today at The Huffington Post. He writes,
The Evangelicals live in a resentment-fueled, inward-looking subculture. They are convinced that the world is out to get them and put them at a perpetual disadvantage. They equate knowledge, facts and education with an elite that they feel belittled by.

The Evangelical "base" have unwittingly become the enemy of democracy. They are democracy's enemy because a grossly misinformed Evangelical public that celebrates its ignorance is the antithesis of an informed people who can manage their own affairs....
It is this pride in ignorance that continues to puzzle me. You would think they would know by know that Republican politicians and consultants like Rove are just using them. Nevertheless, it's even scarier now that someone like Palin is part of the bait. Schaeffer writes:
The Republican leadership and John McCain are counting on Palin's grass roots sincerity that most Republican leaders no longer have. Palin is a true believer. And true believers put the mission they sincerely believe in -- that God has "laid on their hearts" -- above mere details such as truth or honesty, let alone honor. They also speak with conviction.

Palin doesn't actually believe the rehearsed smears she's telling about Obama, but she does believe that she is morally right in lying.

If lies will help her win, Palin believes God's will is being done. McCain just wants to win an election. Palin has bigger fish to fry. Her "call" is to restore America to its "Christian heritage." In that sense Palin is the product of my late father Francis Schaeffer, who helped politicize the Evangelicals into the Religious Right through his incendiary books such as A Christian Manifesto (1980) wherein he called for the takeover of America in the name of Christ if, need be, by force if all else failed....
Please read the rest at Why is Palin Such a Good Liar for God?" at The Huffington Post.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Richard Trumka on Racism and Obama

Alone in a great forest

Taking a break from politics, I've finally gotten around to reading Jack Turner's The Abstract Wild. It's extraordinary. I cannot begin to explain the connections I find between this kind of writing and my off-beat notions of religious experience and the place we humans should find ourselves in the universe, if we only we would get out of our concrete jungles and become "alert, careful, literally 'full of care.'" So for now, I'll just share a few excerpts from this powerful book.

In light of the current financial crisis, it may be good to step back and consider the following from Turner's Introduction:
I believe a saner relation to the natural world must end our servitude to modernity by creating new practices that later out daily routines. I also believe that no resolution to the crises facing the wild earth will achieve more than a modicum of success without an integration of spiritual practice into our lives. Any spiritual tradition worthy of the name teaches the diminishment of desire and it is desire in all its forms -- simple greed, avarice, hoarding, the will to power, the will to truth, the rush of population growth, the craving for control -- that fuels the destruction of our once-fair planet. I believe that virtually all problems are problems of scale, and I know, to the degree I know anything, that desire usually drives us to adopt scales that are inappropriate to their subjects. This is true for emotion and forestry as it is for hunting and global economics.
from Introduction, p. xvi, The Abstract Wild (Tucson: Ariz. U. Press 1996).

And this can only speak for itself:
If anything is endangered in America it is our experience of wild nature -- gross contact. There is knowledge only the wild can give us, knowledge specific to the experience of it. These are its gifts to us. In this, wilderness is no different from music, painting, poetry, or love; you concede the abundance and try to respond with grace.

The problem is that we no longer know what these gifts are. In our effort to go beyond anthropocentric defenses of nature, to emphasize its intrinsic value and right to exist independently of us, we forget the reciprocity between the wild in nature and the wild in us, between knowledge of the wild and knowledge of the self that was central to all primitive cultures. Once the meaning of the wild is forgotten, because the relevant experience is lost, we abuse the world, literally mis-use it. The savagery and brutality of gang rape is now called "wilding," and in New Age retreats me search for a "wild man within" by sitting in the mud beating drums.

Why do we associate the savage, the brutal, with the wild? The savagery of nature fades to nothing compared to the savagery of human agency. The most civilized nations on the planet killed sixty to seventy million of each other's citizens in the thirty-year span from the beginning of World War I to the end of World War II. Dante, Shakespeare, Goethe, Kant, Rousseau, Dōgen, Mill, Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Manet, Basho, Van Gogh, and Hokusai didn't make any difference. The rule of law, human rights, democracy, the sovereignty of nations, liberal education, scientific method, and the presence of an Emperor God didn't make any difference. Protestantism, Catholicism, Greek and Russian Orthodoxy, Buddhism, Shintoism, and Islam didn't make any difference. How can we, at this time in history, think of a grizzly or a wolf as . . . savage? Why laugh at the idea of the noble savage when we have discovered no savage more savage than civilized man?

The easiest way to experience a bit of what the wild was like is to go into a great forest at night alone. Sit quietly for awhile. Something very old will return. It is well described by Ortega y Gasset in Meditations on Hunting: "The hunter . . . needs to prepare an attention which does not consist in riveting itself on the presumed by consists precisely in not assuming anything and in avoiding inattentiveness. It is a 'universal' attention, which does not incscribe itself on any point and tires to be on all points."
Ibid., "The Abstract Wild: A Rant" at p. 27.