The Last Great American Journalist: Helen Thomas

For decades I could count on Helen Thomas to ask the hard questions on her beat as White House correspondent.  The questions which were burning inside me to ask always got spoken by this great American journalist who spoke truth to power fearlessly.  She died yesterday and American journalism will go to the grave with her because there is no one else on the beat who can replace her moral courage.  Rest in peace Helen, a grateful nation mourns.

Therefore Be It Resolved

Have you heard about those White House petitions, where if you get 25,000 signatures, they have to respond? Well you should sign this one calling on the President to address clean elections and Citizens United in his State of the Union next month. I think we all know how big money can skew elections at the state level too. Surely we can put these petitions to better use than other recent noteworthy petitions like seceding from the union or building death stars!

Here’s the text of the petition:

Our democracy is broken, flooded by money from corporations, billionaires and SuperPACs that puts their interests over those of the public. From big banks sinking our economy while blocking real reform to the NRA preventing sensible gun safety measures, big money forces are corrupting our politics. Since the US Supreme Court has ruled that corporations and wealthy donors have the right to spend unlimited money in our elections, a growing popular movement is now calling for a constitutional amendment to reclaim our democracy. Eleven states and nearly 500 cities and towns have joined this call. We petition President Obama to use the State of the Union to call for a constitutional amendment to reduce the influence of money in our political system and restore democracy to the people.

Emphasis added.  Anything we can do to keep it in the news and on folks minds leading up to the State of the Union on Feb 12th, the better. Please sign the petition, and be thinking about which cities and towns in PA might still be able to join the growing chorus of nearly 500 municipalities that already have across the nation.

Here’s a sample resolution that you can take to your local officials.

Surely there are some more cities and towns in PA that can muster a Therefore be it resolved…

Truckin’ to Treason: The Hot Air of Secession

by WALTER BRASCH

A white Ford F-250 pick-up rumbled through town, a Confederate rebel flag on a pole behind the cab; on the rear bumper were a pro-life and three Anti-Obama stickers, two of which could not be revealed in a family newspaper.

It wasn’t a lone wolf protest; several cars, trucks, and homes in the area sport similar flags and messages. During the summer, when a 4-wheel Jamboree and a Monster Truck rally are held at the local fairgrounds, attracting thousands from a multi-state area, many trucks fly rebel flags, insignia, and political statements. During the annual eight-day fair at the end of September, vendors sell all kinds of items with the Confederate battle flag, most of them made overseas.

The rebels say they are fierce independents. But, being a “rebel” doesn’t mean you can complain about paying taxes, while also denying climate change and evolution. Nevertheless, those flying rebel flags, although they may be disenchanted and alienated from the mainstream, are still part of traditional mainstream America.

They may claim they oppose “Government” (also known as “gummint”) intruding upon their lives, but think it’s perfectly acceptable for government to make rules about the people’s sexual practices and to invade women’s bodies.

They also believe government has the duty to create laws to require national identification for every citizen and establish restrictive measures that weaken the rights of all people to vote, especially those who aren’t White establishment Republicans. When the U.S. invaded Iraq for reasons that were questionable at best, chest-thumping jingoistic “rebels” were the strongest supporters of military action. But, they remained largely silent when liberals and social activists spoke out about soldiers not being given adequate body armor, and military hospitals not giving the wounded adequate treatment. They have also remained largely silent about the one-fourth of America’s homeless who were combat veterans.

These pretend-rebels gave standing ovations to the PATRIOT Act that established numerous ways the government could violate citizen rights granted by the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th, and 14th Amendments. When the federal courts ruled parts of the Act to be unconstitutional, the “patriotic rebels” complained about activist judges.

They listen to conservative talk radio and Fox News, all of which bash the mainstream media, but don’t recognize that the very sources they turn to for information are also mainstream media, owned by establishment multi-millionaires.

They willingly agree with Mitt Romney, even in defeat, that 47 percent of Americans are takers who “want stuff,” but don’t recognize that one of the biggest takers who wanted more “stuff” was Romney himself, who ran a venture capital company that existed to take over other companies. Even fellow Republicans during the primaries called Romney not a venture capitalist but a vulture capitalist.

In a local newspaper, which daily opens a full page, sometimes two full pages, to dozens of one or two paragraphs of grammatically-scurrilous rants from local citizens, are variations of President Obama being a Kenyan-born Muslim who is leading America into Communism and self-destruction, their thoughts mimicking the screed of conservative talk show hosts, pundits, and bloviators.

But the rebel who drove the white F-250 doesn’t live in the Deep South; this is in the rural red center of blue-state Pennsylvania, home of the Declaration of Independence and Gettysburg, the turning point of the Civil War.

The Civil War-known as the War Between the States among Confederate sympathizers-is still being fought. Almost 25,000 Pennsylvanians have now signed petitions to have the Keystone State secede from the union.

More than 700,000 citizens upset about the re-election of President Obama in the past two weeks have signed petitions calling for their states to secede. The states with most of the signatures are Red States, paralleling the former Confederacy, which receive far more in federal dollars than their citizens pay. They are also the states where numerous polls reveal at least one-fourth of all citizens don’t believe in the separation of church and state. Maybe the U.S. can convince Iran and Saudi Arabia, theocratic dictatorships, to annex those states.

However, Texas, with more than 120,000 signatures, leads all lists of petitions. It would be tempting to send the Lone Star State back to Mexico. They get Texas, and the U.S. gets Acapulco, Cancun, and Mazatlan. In 2009, running for re-election, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, trying to burnish his ultra-conservative credentials, had even suggested that not only did he align himself with right-wing extremists but that Texas could become so mad at the federal government they might consider seceding. But now, he says he disagrees with the citizens who ignorantly claim the 10th Amendment gives them right to secede.

Perhaps it’s because Gov. Perry realizes that the only way a state can secede from the union, according to the Constitution, is not by having a majority of citizens petition the White House or even having an election, but only by an armed insurrection, something that didn’t work in 1861-and won’t work today.

Nevertheless, there is one possibility for those who so willingly signed secession petitions, mouthing off before they understood the penalties for treason.

For more than four decades, these conservative pretend-rebels told everyone who disagreed with them and protested American policy that they were un-American and unChristian. Not knowing even the basics of the Constitution or political philosophy, the conservative “rebels” called protestors for social justice pinkos, Commies, and traitors. They drilled into the public discourse the mantra of “America-love it or leave it.” By their own actions the past two weeks, it may now be time for a few hundred thousand to pack their bags and take their own advice.

[Walter Brasch proudly calls himself a social activist who, although he often disagrees with government actions, believes in the right of the state to exist and to protect its citizens from all forms of terrorism and stupidity, both foreign and domestic. His current book, which looks at the American Revolution and the Revolution of the 1960s, is Before the First Snow, available at amazon.com and www.greeleyandstone.com]

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Walter M. Brasch, Ph.D.

On The Question Of Virginity, Or, “Starter? I Can’t Make Her Stop!”

I got a weird little story about my friend Blitz Krieger to bring to you today.

He’s had a crazy car problem, he has, and over the past few months he thought he had found a solution – in fact, he thought he had found the solution of his dreams – but in the end, he’s discovered that the things you dream about often don’t go according to plan.

The way it’s worked out for him so far, it’s been a lot of anticipation followed by a sudden wave of frustration, but I feel like he’s a lot better off having his particular problem with his car…because if he’d had cancer instead, he’d surely be dead by now.  

The community is always embarrassed by the drag queens because straight society says, “A faggot always dresses in drag, or he’s effeminate.” But you got to be who you are. Passing for straight is like a light-skinned woman or man passing for white. I refuse to pass. I couldn’t have passed, not in this lifetime.

–Sylvia Rivera, describing the founding of Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), quoted in the book Becoming Visible: An Illustrated History of Lesbian and Gay Life in Twentieth-Century America

So here’s what happened to Blitz: he waited forever to buy his first car because he wanted, more than anything else in life, to drive his “perfect” car: a 1982 American Motors Eagle SX/4.

It’s a wild car: it was designed as a small hatchback…with a V-8 engine…and “switchable” 4WD…which allowed it to travel easily in snow in a way that virtually no other passenger car at the time could manage.

So he waited all this time, and two years ago, in California, he literally found a little old lady from Pasadena who sold him his “Dream Car”, which, ironically, was the same brown color as Al Bundy’s Dodge.

It drove great for about six months, but it’s been suffering from a strange malady that presents as a horrible grinding noise when he tries to start the car. He has no idea what to do – and standing in the way of a solution is an obsession that I find a bit strange:

He is absolutely determined that he is not going to go to just any mechanic.

Instead, Blitz told me that since it’s the first time the Dream Car needs to be repaired, he intends to go to a mechanic who has never worked on any car before his – and he says he wants to do this because he feels the experience of having the work done this way will make it more “special” for the both of them.

It took him almost a year to find someone, but when he did, it was truly perfect: he met a woman named Jenna Talia who wanted more than anything to be a mechanic.

She’d been studying through one of those “learn at home” programs, and, amazingly, she had an attitude similar to my friend Blitz’s: she knew about how to fix a car from what she’d read in a book, but she refused to actually repair one until she got the chance to work on her Dream Car – and even more amazingly, her Dream Car…was a 1982 American Motors Eagle SX/4.

They actually met on the bus (Blitz, naturally, refused to drive any other car except the Dream Car), and after a few months of knowing each other, Blitz proposed that Jenna might work on his car in his garage, and she agreed.

Fun Fact I Just Made Up: In a recent poll, 32% of voters thought the Iowa Caucuses were a country located near the former Soviet Georgia.

So we’re going out last Saturday night, and I get a call from Blitz asking if I could come by and pick ’em both up there at his house, and I’m OK with that, because with two drinks in a night being a big evening for me I’m more or less a permanent designated driver.

I was wondering how it was going with the car, and what I saw was stunning: the upper half of the engine was sitting in the living room, entirely disassembled. There were rockers and rods and all kinds of stuff there, neatly arranged for easy reassembly, and it looked like they had really put a lot of effort into the thing, but it was clear that they just couldn’t get it quite figured out…which isn’t surprising, considering it was the first time for both of them.

And you could see, in just that first second, that the two of them were some kind of frustrated. But it gets worse: Blitz told me that this was her third “diagnosis”, and that, now that she was actually face-to-face with a real car, she seemed to be entirely confused about exactly what to do.

Apparently things had gone so bad that Jenna wouldn’t even leave his house at night to go home until she could get things figured out…and, from what he’s telling me, he’s ready to throw her out, buy a different car, and get that car fixed by a mechanic who’s been there and done that – a lot.

To put it another way, he’s ready to dump his virgin mechanic…for a slut.

Now here’s the really crazy part of the story: I’ve had a bit of experience with cars breaking down over time, and I knew what was wrong from the beginning, as many of you probably did, too: the starter was bad – and that’s located on the very bottom of the engine, not the top, which means everything they’d been doing was pretty much pointless.

But I couldn’t tell them that in the beginning…because, again, it would’ve just spoiled the experience…and I sure wasn’t gonna say “I told you so” now…so even though I could have offered them both useful advice about how ignorance ain’t bliss, they surely didn’t want to hear it.

So look, folks, we could have a lot more fun following out this comic premise, but there’s a bigger point: I don’t want a virgin mechanic, and surely not a virgin doctor – and they don’t even allow virgin pilots to carry passengers.

What is it about sex (and politics, for that matter) that makes people think they’ll be able to simply “get it” with no experience at all? What is it that makes them think that celebrating their own ignorance is the best way to show they’re ready to take on something that, frankly, requires a bit of trial…and error…before you really get it right?

I don’t know the answer, but the next time someone tells you how their ignorance makes them a lot smarter about something, do me a favor and think about Blitz and Jenna and the Dream Car – and the living room full of engine parts – and if that person’s running for office, run the other way. Quickly.

I’d appreciate it; so will you – and if I know Blitz, he will, too.

Does God send natural disasters as punishment?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

On Hole Cards, Or, “Drill, Baby, Drill”? Why? Is Canada Out Of Sand?

In America, today, there are three kinds of drivers: those who look at the other gas pumps down at the ol’ gas station and think: “Oh my God, I can’t believe how much that guy’s spending on gas”, those who look at their own pump down at the ol’ gas station and think: “Oh my God, I can’t believe how much I’m spending on gas” – and those who are doing both at the same time.

Naturally, this has brought the Sarah Palins of the world back out in public, and once again the mantra of “Drill, Baby, Drill” can be heard all the way from the Florida coast to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

But what if those folks have it exactly backwards?

What if, in a world of depleting oil resources, the last thing you want to do is use yours up?

To put it another way: why isn’t all our oil part of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve?

Consider the inexorable logic of the Big Lie. If a man has a consuming love for cats and dedicates himself to the protection of cats, you have only to accuse him of killing and mistreating cats. Your lie will have the unmistakable ring of truth, whereas his outraged denials will reek of falsehood and evasion.

–From the book Ghost of Chance, by William S. Burroughs

So here’s the thing: we produce a surprising amount of our own oil right here in the USA (in fact, we’re the world’s third-largest oil producer), but we don’t produce enough to cover our current use, and that’s why we import about half of the roughly 19 million barrels of oil we use daily. The vast majority of that is used in vehicles or for heating; almost none is used to generate electricity.

Our largest suppliers of oil, despite what you might think, are not all from the Middle East: instead, it’s Canada, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Nigeria, and Venezuela, in that order.

(Perhaps you’re thinking: “Canada? Oil?” Yes. Canada and Oil. They provide us with more than twice as much as Saudi Arabia from huge “oil sand” resources, primarily in Alberta; the exploitation of those resources has created a huge environmental controversy.)

Now if you ask me, an ideal situation would be one where we decided to get out of the business of using oil altogether – and to help make my point, we have some helpful numbers from a guy that you pay every day to figure this stuff out: Mark Doms; he’s the Chief Economist for the US Department of Commerce, and, to paraphrase Little Feat, he’s always handy with a chart.

According to Doms, 60% of our 2010 trade deficit (about $265 billion) represents the cost of imported petroleum products, and if things continue through December as they did the first three months of this year, in 2011 every American, man, woman, and child, will pay a “tax” of about $1000 to import all that petroleum.

Do you know what we, individually, spend on gas? In March of this year, the average household spent just over $300 on that month’s gasoline; 5 months ago that number was $56 lower. The way it works out, every time gas goes up 10¢ a gallon, it costs the average household another $7 a month.

And that’s not all: less than half of the total cost of imported oil is paid at the pump: about 44% of imported oil is used by businesses; another 15% is used by governments across the USA, and that means almost 60% of the cost of imported petroleum is “folded into” the price of everything else.

(A quick author’s note: you’ve seen the words “oil” and “petroleum” used liberally in this story; the exact literal reality is that in each instance we should really be referring to “petroleum products”, and that’s because we import and export not just crude oil, but a variety of other petroleum products. I get tired of using the phrase “petroleum products” over and over, and I’m probably using “oil” and “petroleum” more interchangeably than I should.)

So get this: if we were out of the importing oil business, we’d save about $300 billion a year – and as it turns out, over a 10-year period we could actually convert the entire US auto fleet to electric cars powered by windmills by providing $15,000 cash “buy-outs” for today’s 135,000,000 gasoline cars and building the wind generation and “smart grid” we’d need to support the effort…and doing all that would cost…wait for it…about $250 billion a year.

If I get the math right, 20 years after we first started building windmills and subsidizing cars, everything would be paid off; and every year after that the US economy would generate a $300 billion “profit” on our investment – unless the price of a barrel of oil goes up. If it does, the amount of money coming back to our wallets every single year from then on, obviously, also goes up.

And if we were out of the “using oil for driving” business, once everything was paid off we could put almost $4000 a year (in today’s dollars) right back in the pocketbooks of every family in this country – which, if you ask me, represents a pretty good “tax cut”.

Let’s also keep in mind that any new oil drilled on our public lands might not necessarily end up in the US; that’s because even if oil companies were 100% free to “Drill, Baby, Drill” in our waters to their hearts’ content…they’d also be perfectly free to sell as much of that same oil, anywhere in the world, to whatever entity might end up being the highest bidder – and today, our friends in places like India and China are desperate to be that high bidder.

Put all of this together, and you get back to the question I posed at the top of the story: why in the world would we be in a hurry to “Drill, Baby, Drill”, when we could, instead, put all our efforts into getting out of oil, which would save us so much money that the conversion pays for itself?

Then, when oil’s running $400 a barrel or so, let’s use our oil to pay China back the trillion dollars we owe ’em…which, at current production rates, would only take about 400 days, assuming it were possible to divert all our production for that purpose.

To state it a bit more ironically, it may be that the smartest thing we can do right now is to conserve every possible drop of oil we have…until we don’t need it any more, and it becomes a sort of Strategic Cash Reserve that can help strengthen the dollar and reduce the national debt in the years to come, both at the same time.

Or to put it another way, the next time someone tells you they want to “Drill, Baby, Drill”…you can step right up, look them square in the eye, and ask: “Why do you hate America?”

And won’t that be fun?

Does God send natural disasters as punishment?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

On Sunday Drinking, Or, Has Satan Been Rendered Irrelevant?

I know better than to go drinking on Sundays, but it’s just been one of those weeks, and I figured I’d grab a few beers, no big deal, and then head hone and get some real work done.

Of course, the reason I don’t drink on Sundays is because that’s when Satan likes to go hang out at my favorite bar – and to be real honest with you, lately Satan’s getting to be a real drag to hang out with once he gets drinking.

I mean, it’s depressing: he’s always talking about how he gets blamed for the economy, even though he claims he has no control over Wall Street, and atheism is a bit of a sore subject – and he’s forever complaining about how all his best customers have been outsourcing more and more work to Varsavarti.

But if you think all that’s a drag to have to deal with…you should hear him complain about Republican Presidential Politics.

They say that heaven is,

10 zillion light years away;

But if there is a God,

we need him now;

Where is your God?

That’s what my friends ask me;

and I say it’s takin’ Him so long,

’cause we’ve got so far to come.

–From the song Heaven is 10 Zillion Light Years Away, by Stevie Wonder

I had no idea what a Tardis was until recently, except that it’s one of the things you have to hit a bunch of times to get to the really good multiballs in the “Doctor Who” pinball game, and it was Satan who told me all about this “Doctor Who” stuff over a few games in the back of the bar (and he would know: he tells me almost every BBC producer, one time or another, has availed themselves of the intercession of the Devil just to get another 12 episodes out of that network); in fact, the way I really got to know Satan was over a whole bunch of games of pinball.

He plays fair, by the way: he gives himself free replays by making the machine “match” his score at the end, but he doesn’t manipulate the gameplay just to rack up results; because of that we have some pretty competitive games, especially after he has a beer or two and really loosens up.

But once he found out I’m a blogger…oh, man, it’s Republicans this and Republicans that – and the thing that really has him upset with this crowd lately is that it’s all sort of gone out of his control.

“There was a time,” (it’s always “there was a time” with Satan) “when a guy who was in favor of private businesses being allowed to be ‘Whites Only’ who also wanted to run for Senate, much less President…well, they wouldn’t have a chance in Hell unless they made a deal with me – and now you got two of ’em in the same family who went and ran for Congress, and won, without me getting’ a single soul out of the deal, and now Ron Paul’s running for President, and it’s just killin’ me.

And look who else you got over there: you can’t do a deal with Trump, because he’ll try to bankrupt his way out of any agreement you make, and Santorum actually believes he can win without a deal. Me and Dan Savage, though, we fixed him good: Google ‘Santorum’ sometime, and see what you get.

I made a deal with Bachmann…but I did it when I thought she’d only make it to Congress…so I’m gonna get short-changed on that one. I don’t know if Pawlenti wants it bad enough to make a deal, and if he doesn’t run I’ll lose that soul. Romney hasn’t done a deal yet, and I’ve told him three times already that he can’t win without me.

Gingrich was the one I was sure I would get eventually, but he has no shame, so he’s running without my help even though I showed him how bad he looks to the rest of the world…and he’s been trying for years to undercut me by going to the Catholics to get his marriages annulled – and for cash, instead of a soul. The guy’s just pathetic, he really is.

I am negotiating with Daniels, though, so it’s not all bad – and on that deal, I might even get a ‘two-fer’: him and the wife.”

By now I’d been just nailing Daleks and I was in the middle of the three-ball multiball, and collecting Davros jackpots big-time, but even in the middle of all that I had the presence of mind to ask if Satan had any campaign tricks up his sleeve for this bunch?

“Tell me what you think about this: I’m working something up where Christine O’Donnell gets caught up in an affair with one of the candidates – but I can’t figure out who makes a better scandal: linking her romantically to Newt Gingrich…or to Michelle Bachmann?”

And I told him the truth: I was happy indeed that I hadn’t been drinking a beer when he asked, because I would have done a “spit take” for sure.

But, honestly, I’m not sure who would make the better scandal, so I’m going to do what I promised Satan I would: I’m going to throw it open to you, the readers, and we’ll see who y’all think would be the best person for Christine O’Donnell to be, shall we say, “seeing”.

Anyway, by that time I figured I better go, especially before he got all caught up in another big speech about how “Citizens United” screwed him over, or how that guy from the IMF is gonna be calling any time now, so I finished up my pint, and I headed on home to bring you this story of how the Republicans have screwed things up so badly that, for perhaps the first time in history, discord, anarchy, insanity, and ugliness aren’t business opportunities for The Horned One…and, of course, I wanted to get you the “heads up” on the Christine O’Donnell scandal that hasn’t even happened yet – which, if my friend Satan has anything to do with it, soon will.

Does God send natural disasters as punishment?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Bin Laden Press Briefing

I was watching the Phillies-Mets game when a push notification came into mu iPhone saying President Obama would be making an unusual late night announcement on TV.  My immediate thought was that we’d killed Ghaddaffi in the recent strike in Libya.  A few minutes later I got another notification via NBC News that Osama Bin Laden had been killed.  That was soon confirmed by other multiple sources and the White House Media Affairs Office notified me there would be a background press briefing.  Background means no one can be identified personally, the information can only be attributed to “Senior White House officials.”  In an unusual move the White House has provided a transcript of the call this morning.  The first part is basic background so I’ll go directly to the meat of the information for you:

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  As you heard, the President ordered a raid earlier today against an al Qaeda compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.  Based on intelligence collection analysis, a small U.S. team found Osama bin Laden living in a large home on a secured compound in an affluent suburb of Islamabad.  The raid occurred in the early morning hours in Pakistan and accomplished its objective.  Osama bin Laden is now no longer a threat to America.

    This remarkable achievement could not have happened without persistent effort and careful planning over many years.  Our national security professionals did a superb job.  They deserve tremendous credit for serving justice to Osama bin Laden.

    Bin Laden was a sworn enemy of the United States and a danger to all humanity; a man who called for the murder of any American anywhere on Earth.  His death is central to the President’s goal of disrupting, dismantling, and ultimately defeating al Qaeda and its violent allies.  He was responsible for killing thousands of innocent men and women not only on 9/11, but in the 1998 East Africa embassy bombing, the attack of the USS Cole, and many other acts of brutality.

    He was the leader of a violent extremist movement with affiliates across the globe that had taken up arms against the United States and its allies.  Bin Laden’s most influential role has been to designate the United States as al Qaeda’s primary target and to maintain organizational focus on that objective.  This strategic objective, which was first made in a 1996 declaration of jihad against Americans, was the cornerstone of bin Laden’s message.

    Since 9/11, multiple agencies within our intelligence community have worked tirelessly to track down bin Laden, knowing that his removal from al Qaeda would strike a crippling blow to the organization and its militant allies.  And last September the President was made aware of a compound in Abbottabad, where a key al Qaeda facilitator appeared to be harboring a high-value target.  He received regular intelligence updates, as was just mentioned, on the compound in September, and he directed that action be taken as soon as he concluded that the intelligence case was sufficiently strong.  A range of options for achieving the mission were developed, and on Friday he authorized the operation.

    Now I’ll turn it to my colleagues to go through the intelligence.

    SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thank you.  First I want to point out that today’s success was a team effort.  It was a model of really seamless collaboration across our government.  Since 9/11, this is what the American people have expected of us, and today, in this critical operation, we were able to finally deliver.

    The operation itself was the culmination of years of careful and highly advanced intelligence work.  Officers from the CIA, the NGA, the NSA all worked very hard as a team to analyze and pinpoint this compound.  Together they applied their very unique expertise and capabilities to America’s most vexing intelligence problem, where to find bin Laden.

    When the case had been made that this was a critical target, we began to prepare this mission in conjunction with the U.S. military.  In the end, it was the matchless skill and courage of these Americans that secured this triumph for our country and the world.  I’m very proud of the entire team that worked on this operation, and am very thankful to the President for the courage that he displayed in making the decision to proceed with this operation.

    With that, let me turn to my colleague to give you details on the intelligence background.

This is long so click below for the rest.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thank you.  The bottom line of our collection and our analysis was that we had high confidence that the compound harbored a high-value terrorist target.  The experts who worked this issue for years assessed that there was a strong probability that the terrorist that was hiding there was Osama bin Laden.

    What I’d like to do is walk you through the key points in that intelligence trail that led us to that conclusion.  From the time that we first recognized bin Laden as a threat, the CIA gathered leads on individuals in bin Laden’s inner circle, including his personal couriers.  Detainees in the post-9/11 period flagged for us individuals who may have been providing direct support to bin Laden and his deputy, Zawahiri, after their escape from Afghanistan.

    One courier in particular had our constant attention.  Detainees gave us his nom de guerre or his nickname and identified him as both a protégé of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of September 11th, and a trusted assistant of Abu Faraj al-Libbi, the former number three of al Qaeda who was captured in 2005.

    Detainees also identified this man as one of the few al Qaeda couriers trusted by bin Laden.  They indicated he might be living with and protecting bin Laden.  But for years, we were unable to identify his true name or his location.

    Four years ago, we uncovered his identity, and for operational reasons, I can’t go into details about his name or how we identified him, but about two years ago, after months of persistent effort, we identified areas in Pakistan where the courier and his brother operated.  Still we were unable to pinpoint exactly where they lived, due to extensive operational security on their part.  The fact that they were being so careful reinforced our belief that we were on the right track.

    Then in August 2010, we found their residence, a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, a town about 35 miles north of Islamabad.  The area is relatively affluent, with lots of retired military.  It’s also insolated from the natural disasters and terrorist attacks that have afflicted other parts of Pakistan.  When we saw the compound where the brothers lived, we were shocked by what we saw — an extraordinarily unique compound.  The compound sits on a large plot of land in an area that was relatively secluded when it was built.  It is roughly eight times larger than the other homes in the area.

    When the compound was built in 2005, it was on the outskirts of the town center, at the end of a narrow dirt road.  In the last six years, some residential homes have been built nearby.  The physical security measures of the compound are extraordinary.  It has 12- to 18-foot walls topped with barbed wire.  Internal wall sections — internal walls sectioned off different portions of the compound to provide extra privacy.  Access to the compound is restricted by two security gates, and the residents of the compound burn their trash, unlike their neighbors, who put the trash out for collection.

    The main structure, a three-story building, has few windows facing the outside of the compound.  A terrace on the third floor has a seven-foot wall privacy — has a seven-foot privacy wall.

    It’s also noteworthy that the property is valued at approximately $1 million but has no telephone or Internet service connected to it.  The brothers had no explainable source of wealth.

    Intelligence analysts concluded that this compound was custom built to hide someone of significance.  We soon learned that more people were living at the compound than the two brothers and their families.  A third family lived there — one whose size and whose makeup matched the bin Laden family members that we believed most likely to be with Osama bin Laden.  Our best assessment, based on a large body of reporting from multiple sources, was that bin Laden was living there with several family members, including his youngest wife.

    Everything we saw — the extremely elaborate operational security, the brothers’ background and their behavior, and the location and the design of the compound itself was perfectly consistent with what our experts expected bin Laden’s hideout to look like.  Keep in mind that two of bin Laden’s gatekeepers, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Faraj al-Libbi, were arrested in the settled areas of Pakistan.

Our analysts looked at this from every angle, considering carefully who other than bin Laden could be at the compound.  We conducted red team exercises and other forms of alternative analysis to check our work.  No other candidate fit the bill as well as bin Laden did.

So the final conclusion, from an intelligence standpoint, was twofold.  We had high confidence that a high-value target was being harbored by the brothers on the compound, and we assessed that there was a strong probability that that person was Osama bin Laden.

Now let me turn it over to my colleague.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thank you.  Earlier this afternoon, a small U.S. team conducted a helicopter raid on the compound.  Considerable planning helped prepare our operators for this very complex mission.  Senior officials have been involved in the decision-making and planning for this operation for months, and briefed the President regularly.  My colleague has already mentioned the unusual characteristics of this compound.  Each of these, including the high walls, security features, suburban location, and proximity to Islamabad made this an especially dangerous operation.

The men who executed this mission accepted this risk, practiced to minimize those risks, and understood the importance of the target to the national security of the United States.

I know you understand that I can’t and won’t get into many details of this mission, but I’ll share what I can.  This operation was a surgical raid by a small team designed to minimize collateral damage and to pose as little risk as possible to non-combatants on the compound or to Pakistani civilians in the neighborhood.

Our team was on the compound for under 40 minutes and did not encounter any local authorities while performing the raid.  In addition to Osama bin Laden, three adult males were killed in the raid.  We believe two were the couriers and the third was bin Laden’s adult son.

There were several women and children at the compound.  One woman was killed when she was used as a shield by a male combatant.  Two other women were injured.

During the raid, we lost one helicopter due to mechanical failure.  The aircraft was destroyed by the crew and the assault force and crew members boarded the remaining aircraft to exit the compound.  All non-combatants were moved safely away from the compound before the detonation.

That’s all I have at this time.  I’ll turn it back to my colleague.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  We shared our intelligence on this bin Laden compound with no other country, including Pakistan.  That was for one reason and one reason alone:  We believed it was essential to the security of the operation and our personnel.  In fact, only a very small group of people inside our own government knew of this operation in advance.

Shortly after the raid, U.S. officials contacted senior Pakistani leaders to brief them on the intent and the results of the raid.  We have also contacted a number of our close allies and partners throughout the world.

Sine 9/11, the United States has made it clear to Pakistan that we would pursue bin Laden wherever he might be.  Pakistan has long understood that we are at war with al Qaeda.  The United States had a legal and moral obligation to act on the information it had.

And let me emphasize that great care was taken to ensure operational success, minimize the possibility of non-combatant casualties, and to adhere to American and international law in carrying out the mission.

I should note that in the wake of this operation, there may be a heightened threat to the homeland and to U.S. citizens and facilities abroad.  Al Qaeda operatives and sympathizers may try to respond violently to avenge bin Laden’s death, and other terrorist leaders may try to accelerate their efforts to strike the United States.  But the United States is taking every possible precaution to protect Americans here at home and overseas.  The State Department has sent guidance to embassies worldwide and a travel advisory has been issued for Pakistan.

And without a doubt, the United States will continue to face terrorist threats.  The United States will continue to fight those threats.  We have always understood that this fight would be a marathon and not a sprint.

There’s also no doubt that the death of Osama bin Laden marks the single greatest victory in the U.S.-led campaign to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda.  It is a major and essential step in bringing about al Qaeda’s eventual destruction.

Bin Laden was al Qaeda’s only (inaudible) commander in its 22-year history, and was largely responsible for the organization’s mystique, its attraction among violent jihadists, and its focus on America as a terrorist target.  As the only al Qaeda leader whose authority was universally respected, he also maintained his cohesion, and his likely successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is far less charismatic and not as well respected within the organization, according to comments from several captured al Qaeda leaders.  He probably will have difficulty maintaining the loyalty of bin Laden’s largely Gulf Arab followers.

Although al Qaeda may not fragment immediately, the loss of bin Laden puts the group on a path of decline that will be difficult to reverse.

    And finally, it’s important to note that it is most fitting that bin Laden’s death comes at a time of great movement towards freedom and democracy that is sweeping the Arab world.  He stood in direct opposition to what the greatest men and women throughout the Middle East and North Africa are risking their lives for:  individual rights and human dignity.

    MR. VIETOR:  With that we’re ready to take a couple questions.

    Q    One question.  You said “a small U.S. team.”  Were these military personnel, can you say, or non-military?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Can’t go into further details at this time; just a small U.S. team.

Q    Good morning.  Can you tell us specifically what contact there was with bin Laden at the compound?  You referred to someone using a woman as a shield that was not bin Laden.  But how was he killed?  Where?  What occurred at the compound?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  As the President said this evening, bin Laden was killed in a firefight as our operators came onto the compound.

Q    Thank you.  Just to go back to what you were talking about with the attacks in response to this operation, are you hearing any specific threats against specific targets?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  No.  But any type of event like this, it is very prudent for us to take measures so that we can ensure that the security measures that we need to institute here and throughout the world are in place.  This is just something that we normally would do.  We don’t have any specific threats at this time related to this.  But we are ensuring that every possible precaution is taken in advance.

Q    Yes, hey, how are you doing?  My question would be, what was the type of the helicopter that failed?  And what was the nature of that mechanical failure?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Can’t go into details at this time.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  We didn’t say it was mechanical.  

Q    Was bin Laden involved in firing himself or defending himself?  And then any chronology of the raid itself?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  He did resist the assault force.  And he was killed in a firefight.

Q    Thank you.  Thank you for taking this call.  Can you give me a comment on the very fact that Osama bin Laden was just in Islamabad — and has long been (inaudible) Afghanistan (inaudible) also from India, that Osama bin Laden is hiding somewhere near Islamabad?  What does it signify, that?  Does it signify any cooperation or any kind of link that he had with establishments in Pakistan?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  As the President said, Pakistani cooperation had assisted in this lead, as we pursued it.  So we’re continuing to work this issue right now.  We are very concerned about — that he was inside of Pakistan, but this is something that we’re going to continue to work with the Pakistani government on.

Q    But the very fact you didn’t inform the Pakistani authorities — did you have any suspicion that if you informed them, the information might lead somewhere?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  An operation like this that is conducted has the utmost operational security attached to it.  I said that we had shared this information with no other country, and that a very, very small group of individuals within the United States government was aware of this.  That is for operational security purposes.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I would also just add to that that President Obama, over a period of several years now, has repeatedly made it clear that if we had actionable intelligence about Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts, we would act.  So President Obama has been very clear in delivering that message publicly over a period of years.  And that’s what led President Obama to order this operation.  When he determined that the intelligence was actionable and the intelligence case was sufficient, he gave us high confidence that bin Laden indeed was at the compound.

Q    Thank you.  What is going to happen next?  And what is the U.S. going to do with bin Laden’s body?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  We are ensuring that it is handled in accordance with Islamic practice and tradition.  This is something that we take very seriously.  And so therefore this is being handled in an appropriate manner.

MR. VIETOR:  Great, thanks.  Just to remind everyone, this call is on background, as senior administration officials.  We have time for one more question, and we’re going to go to bed.

Q    Do you have a sense of the vintage of the compound and how long bin Laden had been there?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  The compound has been in existence for roughly five years, but we don’t know how long bin Laden lived there.  We assess that the compound was built for the purpose of harboring him.  But again, don’t know how long he’s been there.

MR. VIETOR:  Great, thank you all.  We’ll talk more tomorrow.

                     END            12:24 A.M. EDT

oh yes, the Mets won in 14 innings 2-1.

Update:  As more information comes to light we know the operation was conducted yesterday by about 25 Navy Seals.  One helicopter crashed during the operation.  A woman used as a shield was killed.  How brave was it to grab a woman and try to use her to keep from getting shot?  This sort of tells us exactly what sort of men with which we were dealing.

Osama’s body was prepared and buried in the North Arabian Sea.  Pictures were taken.  Obama decided against an earlier missile attack so there would be proof of death.  The insane controversy over his birth certificate. reportedly was a factor in that decision.  It might have been impossible to convince the crazies that Osama had actually been killed.  Unfortunately this put soldiers at risk.

Once the courier was established it took tradecraft to follow him over months and determine the location of the compound.  Then it took months of surveillance to establish OBL’s presence there.  Inmates at Gitmo were questioned about the identity of the courier and it was learned he was a trusted confidant of OBL.  It seems torture wasn’t needed to gain this valuable intelligence.

Once the compound was ID’d the fact it was without phone or internet in spite of its size and nature were red flags.  Bin Laden knew he had to eliminate any communications chatter which could be intercepted by the NSA.  What this did was necessitate couriers.  Finding him was a matter of finding them and tracking them to the compound.  Old fashioned spycraft.

On Universities And Such, Or, If Obama’s A Kettle, Is Donald Trump Black?

Just about 40 seconds after (Yes, He’s Actually The) President Barack Obama brought forth his Certificate of Live Birth unto the world Donald Trump was accusing Obama of somehow sneaking his way into some University or another.

If Trump’s to be believed, Obama was a terrible student at a College, and then he somehow snuck his way into a University; after that he basically grifted his way into becoming the President of the Harvard Law Review.

Trump would tell you that he’s a hustler, that Obama is, and we’ve got to do whatever it takes to figure out what kind of semi-illegal shenanigans Obama’s University experience was all about.

But here’s the thing: Donald Trump has his own history of semi-illegal University shenanigans-and it appears that some of his semi-illegal shenanigans continue to this very day.

”I don’t lie. When I speak, I believe it to be true. One week later, it may no longer be.”

–French raconteur Bernard Tapie

So here’s the deal: just like there are people who want to Be Like Mike, there are those who wish to emulate The Donald; in 2005 it was announced that Trump University would be formed to help make that possible (the name was trademarked in 2004).

According to the announcement, the University:

“…will offer a rich mix of products and services, including online e-learning courses, multimedia home study programs, and a series of publications. These diverse offerings are geared to a broad range of consumers, from small business owners and entrepreneurs to investors and other professionals looking to advance their careers and to create wealth. Trump University’s innovative, world-class business curriculum will be designed according to the Learning by Doing method. Content will be delivered through interactive learning experiences, including evaluating business plans, simulating real estate purchases, and developing marketing strategies.”

You first meet the “Admissions Office” by either signing up online or by attending one of Trump U’s free one-day seminars-and the Admissions Office is looking to get you to sign up for the $1495 three-day “conference”.

If you do, you are, according to those who’ve been there, instructed to immediately increase the credit limits on your credit cards (immediately as in during the next coffee break), so that you might take advantage of the real estate investment opportunities you’re going to be turned on to at the end of the weekend.

But it appears that investment opportunities aren’t what end up being presented to the conference attendees. Instead, they’re being presented with the opportunity to invest in more courses, this time for numbers ranging from $9,500 to $35,000.

If you jump in for the full package, you’re told that it’s “the next best thing to being Trump’s Apprentice”, and, thanks to your personal mentor (you’ll have a year’s access to this service), you’ll be connected to Realtors, contractors, and other investors (a “Power Team”); all this will allow you to become a Real Estate Professional, doing profitable real estate deals, just as Trump does.

You’ll make enough on your very first deal, it is claimed, to pay for the entire $35,000 course.

(There are other courses as well, including one known as the CEO Success Codes, intended to help you “Learn how to run your business The Trump Way”.)

What is the Trump Way, precisely?

Here’s how Stephen Goff, one of the Trump U trainers, lays it out, as described in a Houston Chronicle article:

You find a property worth $200,000, but the owner’s willing to take $125,000. Why?” Pause. “Because he’s in trouble.”

You put in an offer, even if you don’t have the money. Then you sign a contract, giving yourself 60 days to close. The next day, you put an ad in the paper, advertising the $200,000 property for $150,000. You get that money – in cash – before the 60 days is up, and voila: $25,000 profit without putting down a penny of your own money.

The same article quotes an expert who suggests that this strategy:

“…can be done, but it’s also just as easy for me to audition for American Idol and become the next Justin Timberlake…”

Fun Fact: in his book Trump University Real Estate 101: Building Wealth With Real Estate Investments, Dr. Gary Eldred, the Real Estate Mastery Program “Content Expert” for Trump U, quotes The Donald thusly:

“The worst things in history have happened when people stop thinking for themselves, especially when they allow themselves to be influenced by negative people. That’s what gives rise to dictators. Avoid that error at all costs…

…People who take responsibility have no need to blame others or to be continually finding fault. The naysayers never manage to contribute much and never amount to much either. Don’t join their club. They’re the lowest common denominator.

I knew a guy that I used to call up just to see who and what he would be blaming that day. I don’t think that guy ever thought he had personally made a single mistake in his entire life. From day one, nothing was ever his fault. His biggest blind spot was himself, and, sad to say, he became a total loser because he never thought of the remedy for his biggest failure: himself…” (emphasis is original)

There is a bit more to this story than we have revealed so far: a lot of the information I discovered about the University came from documents related to a lawsuit, filed in 2010 by former students Tarla Makaeff, Brandon Keller, Ed Oberkrom, and Patricia Murphy; that suit is today seeking class-action certification on behalf of all Trump U “students”.  

The Plaintiffs allege that Trump U doesn’t live up to its own hype, that Trump is not involved personally, that the expensive seminars offer no real value (a trip to Home Depot to view building supplies is reportedly part of one seminar), and that the mentors and the “Power Teams” either disappear completely after the three-day course ends, or they appear to offer deals that are self-serving and marred by conflicts of interest-and all of that means no “one year apprenticeship”, followed by tons of income every month, which is what the courses seemed to promise in the first place.

(Page 24 of the complaint shows an image of the Trump U homepage, with a picture of The Oddly Haired One next to the words “”Are YOU My Next Apprentice? Prove it to me!”)

There was also a signed letter sent to potential enrollees:

…You can do it, even if you only have five or ten hours a week to spare. With our simple instructions and practice exercises – and ongoing support from your own Trump Team of Experts – you’ll have what you need to succeed!” (Emphasis in original). The letter closes with Donald J. Trump’s name, signature, and at the Trump University address, at 40 Wall Street, 32nd Floor, New York, NY 10005.

It is also alleged that efforts made to obtain promised refunds have come to naught; the refunds are apparently always “just about to be issued”, or the appropriate person is never available to answer the calls that are coming in seeking information about refunds.

Trump University countersued, claiming various forms of defamation; the action is being defended as a SLAPP suit.

(For the record, it’s easy to find Web pages with complaints about Trump U; those complaints, for the most part, mirror those in the lawsuit.)

This whole real-estate hustle turned educational hustle has caused a reaction from the world beyond Trump; that’s something he noted in his Trump U blog:

Recently Gary Trudeau spent a week lampooning Trump University in his comic strip Doonesbury. The basic premise of each strip in the series revolved around the disparity between Trump University and a traditional university. . . .

Trump University has also been mocked in one of Jay Leno’s monologues, in the New York Post’s Page Six cartoon, and probably in a lot of other places.

It’s nice to see that my new venture is making a splash in popular culture.

As they say, no press is bad press. (emphasis is original)

(Doonesbury’s August 8th, 2010 edition is one of those comics which mentions Trump’s “school”.)

The New York State Education Department informed Trump that an educational institution with no degree-granting programs and no differentiated graduate and undergraduate divisions can’t be a University; as a result Trump University is now known as The Trump Entrepreneur Initiative.

(Despite the State’s order, the Trump University name seems to have lived on, however: The Trump Store website, as of the time this was written, still sells “Trump University Audio Books” and “Trump University Books” and “Trump University DVD and Audio Packages”.)

And remember Gary Eldred, Trump’s “Content Expert”? It turns out he has a few credibility problems of his own: he co-hosted a radio show with another expert in running a successful real estate development business, Fredric “Rick” Dryer-and in July of 2008, we found out the secret of how Dryer was able to be so successful.

He was convicted on 44 counts of real estate fraud.

So that’s our story for today: Donald Trump couldn’t wait to trash Barack Obama’s University experience, but Trump has some experience of his own regarding Universities-and from what we can see, when Trump opens a University, unsavory practices and questionable associations and lawsuits and regulatory actions follow in his path.

That’s no way to run a University, and, more to the point, it looks like The Trump Way is no way to run a country-except for maybe Blowhardistan.

Does God send natural disasters as punishment?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

On Happy-ing Their Gilmores, Or, Will Body Bags Be The New Gold Watch?

We are continuing a recent theme here today in which two of my favorite topics are going to converge: Social Security and in-your-face political activism.

I have been encouraging folks to take advantage of the recent Congressional recess to have a few words with your CongressCritter about the proposed Death Of Medicare and all the proposed cuts to Social Security…and you have, as we’ll discuss…and now we have an opportunity to do something on a national scale, just as we did a few weeks ago in support of Social Security.

This time, we’re going to concentrate on fighting the idea that retirement ages should go up before we become eligible for Social Security and Medicare (and elements of Medicaid, as well), and that Americans should just keep right on working until the age of 67 or so-which isn’t going to be any big problem…really…trust us.

Now that just makes no sense, and to help make the point we have a really cool video that you can pass around to all your friends-and your enemies, for that matter, since they’ll also have to worry about what happens to them if they should ever make it to old age.  

“…Art can create a climate of sensitivity in which it is possible for change to occur…”

Shabana Azmi, on Riz Khan’s Al Jazeera program One on One

Members of Congress are at home this week, and they love to go out and meet the voters-but it hasn’t been as much fun all of a sudden for some of them, and there are several videos out on the Web right now where it looks like Members wish they hadn’t been hanging out where the public could see them so easily.

Now some of these videos are loud and boisterous-but the one that should really scare Republicans was Charlie Bass’ appearance in Hillsboro, NH on the 4/20 holiday.

If you look at the crowd, they’re older, for the most part-and for the most part they came to the meeting with their own information, meaning that they weren’t so much looking for the Congressman to tell them what was up as they were looking to tell Mr. Bass (who represents the State’s 2nd District) that they weren’t too happy with him about this “entitlements reform” deal.

Now they weren’t there with pitchforks and torches by any means, and a lot of them were supportive of many of the Congressman’s other positions-but they were extremely unhappy about the idea that Medicare would become a voucher system (just so you know, Bass would insist that it’s a “premium support system” whenever the word “voucher” came up), and they did not find the argument that “this won’t affect you” very convincing, either.

In addition to the obvious question (basically, “why would the plan be better if it only sticks it to our kids and grandkids?”), a woman from the crowd asked a question I don’t think Karl Rove ever thought would come up: you might not be sticking it to senior citizens today…but she wondered what’s to prevent conservatives from coming back in a few years and asking those under 65 why they should be supporting those old people and their “Cadillac plans”-at which point it will be “stick it to the old folks” season, and Medicare will officially die, along with a lot more old and disabled people, sooner than they should have.

And he wasn’t the only one to have a bit of a tough week at what used to be really friendly Town Halls: Pat Meehan (PA-07) got himself into a shouting match with his putative employers, so did Lou Barletta, he of Pennsylvania’s 11th…and so did Catfood 2.0’s architect, Paul Ryan, who had to face what he politely described as an “enthusiastic” crowd in Milton, Wisconsin.

“Happy learned how to putt! Uh-oh!”

–Adam Sandler, from the movie Happy Gilmore

To put it bluntly, the Members are hating it, big-time, as it appears that their 2009 “Town Hall Goose” has suddenly become just a little too good for the gander.

And if we’re already making life hot for these folks…why not just keep on pushing?

That’s the idea behind “Don’t Make Us Work ‘Til We Die“, which is an effort of the fine folks at Strengthen Social Security to highlight the fact that a lot of people right now are proposing to raise the retirement age; either to 67, or to something north of that…for the good of America, of course.

After all, if you’re a firefighter, or a nurse, or maybe you work in the trades, or a restaurant kitchen, or you drive a gasoline truck…or maybe you’re a smokejumper for the Forest Service…why would working until 67 be a problem for you?

Here’s a video that makes the point very nicely:

(By the way, they would love for you to spread this video far and wide; grab the embed code and just go nuts-or, if you prefer, email the link-and in the interests of Full Disclosure: I’m associated with the Campaign for America’s Future and they’re one of the members of the Strengthen Social Security coalition.)

.

On Wednesday and Thursday all of this goes outside and hits the streets all across the country, and to make it easy, the same website can help you find an event near you-or, if you live in Wyoming or something, you can attend the “virtual event”-either way, just visit the handy website and go from there.

So there you go: we have Republicans feeling mighty uncomfortable all of a sudden, we have a chance this week to get out in public and make the point in a bigger way-and now you even have the perfect video to send to that one relative who always forwards you Michael Savage’s latest missives.

Now get out and keep the momentum going forward-and don’t forget, it’s really easy to look at the person next to you in line at the grocery store and say: “Can you believe how they’re trying to screw us out of Social Security?”

That’s about all it takes to get a pretty good conversation going…and if you repeat that process, about a million times…well, that’s how politics gets done.

FULL DISCLOSURE: This post was written with the support of the CAF State Blogger’s Network Project.

Does God send natural disasters as punishment?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

On Taking It Back, Or, Wisconsin Recalls, Explained

News is suddenly moving so fast that it’s becoming hard for me to keep up; that’s why we’re not finishing the story today that we just began Tuesday. You know, the one about Titan Cement suing two North Carolina residents who appear to be doing nothing more than speaking the truth.

Unfortunately, other important news has forced itself to the front of the line, and it’s going to demand that we break schedule, whether we like it or not.

That’s why today we’re going to be talking about Wisconsin, and how workers there are fighting back against the State’s Republican legislators and Governor, who seem to have gone out of their way this past three weeks to govern without the consent of the governed.

It’s kind of chilly today in Wisconsin…but I can assure you, things are heating up fast-and it ain’t because of spring.

“I will tell you this: Any business where two partners don’t trust each other, any business where one party says, ‘You need to do X, Y and Z because I told you,’ is a business that is not only not run well, it is a business that can never be as successful as it can be,”

–Former National Football League Players’ Association executive director DeMaurice Smith

As so often happens, we need a bit of background:

In Wisconsin, a recall involves first, the collection of signatures, then, if you get enough, a recall election.

Once the proper papers have been filed, those who want to recall an elected official have 60 days to gather signatures for a recall petition that equal 25% of the number of votes cast in the prior gubernatorial election in that “political subdivision”.

What that means in English is that if you’re looking to recall a State Senator and the last time a Governor ran, 50,000 votes were cast in that Senator’s District, you need to gather 12,500 signatures in 60 days to force a recall election in that District.

The election is not to ask the question: “Should this officeholder be recalled?”

Instead, the incumbent will run against other candidates, and whoever has the most votes either keeps or takes over the office.

It is possible that multiple candidates will emerge from within the same Party; if that happens a “recall primary” election is held.

A primary would take place four weeks after the signatures are turned in, the recall election itself would be six weeks after, and both elections would be held on a Tuesday; all of this according to Article XIII, Section 12 of the Wisconsin Constitution.

You can’t recall someone until after they’ve been in office for a year, so the Governor can’t be recalled…today…but because the Senate elects half of its Members every two years there are a group of State Senators who can be recalled; they were elected in 2008.

If three Republicans were to be recalled and replaced by Democrats, the State Senate would change from majority Republican to majority Democratic.

If you’ve ever been to Embarrass, Wisconsin (home of The Chair That Grew), you’ve visited Robert Cowles’ 2nd District. (For the record, it’s more or less 100 miles due north of Milwaukee, and there’s some football team that plays in Green Bay that’s also in his District.) He’s been a Senator since 1987, and in ’08 he ran unopposed. His District voted 52-46 for Obama over McCain in ’08, and chose Bush over Kerry by almost exactly the same margin in ’04.

I do not have a feel for who might run against him, but I have some calls out to try to get an answer; if I learn more, we’ll add it to the story.

One Senator who might be in trouble is Alberta Darling (so far as I know, she’s unrelated to cricket great Joe Darling), who represents District 8, which is basically Milwaukee’s northern suburbs.

In ’08 she only won by 1007 votes (of about 100,000 cast).

It’s worth noting, however, that her District cast the most votes for Governor in 2010; as a result her opponents will be required to gather more valid signatures than in any other District (20,343, by one reckoning).

Her opponent last time was Sheldon Wasserman; he’s a former State Representative, an OB/GYN from Milwaukee, and a member of the State’s Medical Examining Board.

(On a side note, it looks as though the Governor might be messing with the Board as well; he refused to allow two recent physician nominees selected by the Board to be seated, and he’s apparently looking to nominate his own people.)

Just as in District 2, this District voted for Obama in ’08, and Bush in ’04.

Sheila Harsdorf, who currently chairs the Senate Committee on State and Federal Relations and Information Technology, was sent to Madison to look after the interests of the State’s westernmost District, “The Fightin’ 10th“, as Sir Rev. Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, DFA, would say.

Even though she thinks State workers are taking too much from the public Treasury…her relationships with the Federal Government are so good that she had no problem taking in $195,000 in Federal farm subsidies over a ten-year period for Beldenville’s Trim-Bel Valley Farms, of which she just happened to be a 50% owner as recently as 2008 (for all I know, she may still be an owner, more current information was unavailable).

This is another one of those Districts that went for Obama in ’08 by about just the same margin as it went for Bush in ’04.

Luther Olsen of the 14th (located about 40 miles or so due north of Madison) is another farm owner; he owns 20% of Waushara’s Riverview Farm; they also happily accepted at least $58,502 of your money and mine, because Olsen, like Sheila Harsdorf, apparently believes that’s a better use of our money than, you know, paying a public school teacher or something.

(Fun Fact: did you know Golda Meir, the former Prime Minister of Israel, used to be a Milwaukee public school teacher?)

Olsen did not face an opponent in ’08…and once again, this District went Obama in ’08, Bush in ’04-although it went about 4 points farther for Bush than for Obama.

And that brings us to Randy Hopper.

This District (the 18th, which most notably includes Oshkosh and Fond Du Lac) is another one of those Republican seats that are considered among the most “gettable”; that’s because just 163 votes separated Hopper and his ’08 opponent, Jessica King.

There’s also this:

“I have a lot of correctional facilities, a couple universities, and a couple of tech schools [in my district]. I have the second largest population of state employees in the state.”

Hopper also chairs the Senate Education Committee…and there’s also a story going around that his wife is telling people that he’s been providing some “private lessons” to his 25-year-old mistress down in Madison; this according to the MAL Contends… blog-and that’s not going to help a family-values candidate.

He owns two radio stations, one an AM-talk Ag Report and Hannity broadcaster, the other an FM station that caters to the “music at work” market; this may allow him to mitigate some of the potentially-about-to-occur bad publicity, and certainly can’t hurt at election time.

Perhaps the most unrepentant Republican during this process has been Glen Grothman of the 20th (which actually, literally, includes Fredonia, and that has to have some deeper meaning…), and he can afford to take a strong stand.

This guy might well be a mortal lock in this District: the Sheboygan area is one of the most reliably Republican-voting regions of the State over the past 30 years, and of all the Senate candidates who faced opposition in ’08, he won with a larger margin of victory than any of ’em. (He didn’t get 61% of the vote in ’08…he won by 61% of the vote.)

(Fun Fact #2: Our friends at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel created these two most excellent voting trend maps for your dining and dancing pleasure; they illustrates how Wisconsin can swing wildly back and forth between Republican and Democratic “electoral domination”.)

Moving on: Mary Lazich, of the 28th, occupies another seat that is going to be tough to get-her District encompasses Milwaukee’s western suburbs (a reliably Republican voting region; in both ’04 and ’08 Republican Presidential candidates won with over 60% of the vote), she did not face an opponent in ’08, and this is another District that will require more than 20,000 signatures to force an election.

“…Fate has been hounding me like a Mormon missionary with an Amway franchise…”

–A. Whitney Brown, appearing on the television show Almost Live!

We’re going to complete today’s “Recall Roundup” with one of the most vulnerable of all the Senators: Dan Kapanke, the Senate Majority Caucus Chair (and a pretty good “get” if you’re running a recall campaign). He’s from the 32nd, which is all the way across the State from Milwaukee, on the Minnesota border, pretty much in Wisconsin’s southwest corner.

He won by less than 3 points in ’08, his District voted 61%-38% for Obama over McCain…and 53%-46% for Kerry over Bush in ’04, which is the largest margin of any of the 8 Republican Senators currently under recall threat. (Go back and have another look at those voting trend maps, and look at what’s happened to this corner of the State.)

He’s hard right on social issues, but the Farm Bureau loves him.

He is quoted as saying that he expects the signature gathering effort in his District to be successful (only about 15,400 signatures are needed) …and he’s also quoted as having the belief that there is such a thing as a Wisconsin State Senate arrest, despite the presence of an “immunity from arrest” clause in the Wisconsin Constitution.

As of March 8th, 57% of voters in the 32nd would rather have “generic” than Kapanke in a recall election, and they had to close the road outside his house on Friday to keep the hundreds of peaceful protesters gathered there safe.

Now before we close today…we need to offer “big ups” to DavidNYC, who posted a fantastic interactive results spreadsheet at the Swing State Project site; we’ve been referring to it a bunch in this story and you should have a look at it yourself.

And with all that said, that’s today’s “scorecard”, folks, and you can keep track of all the races-or volunteer to help-from one handy location: WisconsinRecall.net…so bookmark the spot, help out any way you can, and let’s start with Wisconsin…and then move on to Ohio and Indiana and Michigan next.

Does God send natural disasters as punishment?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...