Friday, November 19, 2010

This is not a demo-crazy... not yet at least

It isn’t crime that defeats a democracy, it is the lack of getting the facts right.

Today, the country is on the verge of becoming a demo-crazy instead of being a democracy. So many people on both sides are spreading rumors and crazy theories because it supports their position. These irresponsible acts are picked up on the web and before you can find the source to check the facts, the tall tales get moving as fast as electrons can move email.

The latest is a claim by Michelle Bachmann, a conservative and Tea Party favorite. Anderson Cooper, CNN reporter and news show host, asked Bachmann how she would cut the budget. Instead of answering the question directly, she said, “I think we know that just within a day or so the president of the United States will be taking a trip over to India that is expected to cost the taxpayers $200 million a day. He’s taking 2,000 people with him. He’ll be renting over 870 rooms in India, and these are five-star hotel rooms at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. This is the kind of over-the-top spending.”

That sounded just a little too good to Bachmann to check the facts. It helped her get attention off what she would cut and supported her position that the Democrats and the President are just tax and spend people.

Rush Limbaugh starting talking about the cost. He said on his show, “in two days from now, he’ll be in India at $200 million a day.” Glenn Beck, not to be out done by just repeating rumors needed to embellish. It turns out to be a “vacation” for Obama that included warships, aircraft carriers, 3,000 people and one tenth of the U.S. Navy. Note that Bachmann said it was with 2,000 people. Wonder were the other 1,000 people came from?

Cooper thought that he should check on this little piece of information. Any responsible reporter should check the facts, especially one as big as this one. It does have to be asked why a representative of the United States congress didn’t ask the same questions before talking about them?

What Cooper found out is a little different then the story making the rounds. The short of it is, the story comes from an unnamed alleged Indian official from Maharashtra (a state in India) talking about the cost of the entire Asian trip by the American President. Now that is a great source.

The Pentagon press secretary, Geoff Morrell is quoted as saying to Cooper, “I will take the liberty this time of dismissing as absolutely absurd, this notion that somehow we were deploying 10 percent of the Navy and some 34 ships and an aircraft carrier in support of the president’s trip to Asia. That’s just comical. Nothing close to that is being done.” He went on to say that the entire war in Afghanistan is costing $190 million dollars a day.

Robert Gibbs, the White House secretary said that for security reasons, they don’t make detailed comments about travel plans and arrangements for the President. But, he did say that, “I am not going to go into how much it costs to protect the president, [but this trip] is comparable to when President Clinton and when President Bush traveled abroad. This trip doesn’t cost $200 million a day.” Trips by Bush and Clinton of similar size to similar destinations cost only about $5.2 million per day, inflation adjusted.

Every day we all need to make decisions about our government and the people that we elect to help operate it. Our decisions are based on the information we are provided. If we have bad information, we will always make bad decisions.

If that bad information comes from people that we place trust in, if they only repeat rumors and stories that sound too good to check, there is no hope, we will be a demo-crazy


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Justice wins in New York terrorism trial

In the old western movies from the 40’s and 50’s, when they would try to hang the bad guy, someone would ask, “shouldn’t we give him a trial?” The answer that came back was often, “Good idea, then we’ll hang him.”

A jury in New York yesterday convicted Tanzanian Ahmed Ghailani of conspiracy and sentenced him to 20 years to life. He was a Guantanamo Bay detainee that is said to have helped plan the bombing of United States government buildings in 1998. He was moved to a civilian court in an attempted by the Obama administration to demonstrate that “terrorist” could be tried in civilian courts. They acquitted him of more than 280 other charges.

Representative Peter King, a New York Republican, said that a light sentence like that and acquittal on the other charges will not happen again because “the Republicans are now in charge” after the recent election. King is about ready to take over the chair of Homeland Security Committee.

It sounds like the old western again. “Oh, ya, will give him a trial then hang him.”

Keep in mind this wasn’t a jury selected from Chicago or Kansas City that haven’t felt the brunt of “terrorism” like New York City. [I will continue to use the word “terrorist” for a little longer, but these aren’t terrorist, they are common criminals that have been given a glorified name that makes them out to more than they are.] The jury was selected from the people of the city that has had the most trouble with terrorism. All New Yorkers that were alive when the towers were attack remembers the deep fear and anger that exploded inside of them on that day. But yet, they found him not guilty on a slew of charges. If anyone would want to simply give him a trial and then hang him, it would be them.

Could it be, it is daringly asked, Ghailani could be innocent on the other charges? Could it be that the government hadn’t made a strong enough case? Representative King said that the rest of the Gitmo detainees should be tried in a military court. Is that because he is just looking for a hanging and not justice?

The “terrorist”, to be called criminals from here on out in this post, win the most converts to their cause when the United States operates in secrecy. When the country does hold trial in private, all kinds of stories can be weaved about what is “really” happening. To hold trial in an open civilian court with all to observe, it is much more difficult to weave the tales.

But, even deeper as far as our culture and community are concerned, it is justice. In countries that do not hold true to the trilogy of justice; laws made by consensus, enforced by an independent executive and judged by an independent court system; open trial doesn’t and can’t happen. We only need to look at what happen in Iran in the past couple of months. Three people were held captive and not given the opportunity to challenge their case in open court. We all condemned the Iranian government for not properly holding hearings and presenting their case. How is it we can condemned them for actions that we might take on our own?

Just because Ghailani was acquitted on all but one of the charges, doesn’t mean the United State’s court system isn’t the right place for these common criminals. He is going to spend 20 years in prison. New York City wasn’t attacked as many said it would be. There wasn’t an attempt to break him out of prison.

In an honest and open system like ours, there is risk. Risk that someone may get off. But that is a far better risk then giving the enemy more ammunition by holding the trials in secret prisons far from any kind of justice.

The prison at Guantanamo Bay must close. Yes, that message is for all the Peter Kings of the country, but also for President Obama.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

End earmarks

The abolishing of earmarks is an issue that is supported by the Tea Party and President Obama. With the election of many candidates that were supported by the Tea Party, it is now becoming a hot issue.

Here is a definition of earmarks:

"Provisions associated with legislation (appropriations or general legislation) that specify certain congressional spending priorities or in revenue bills that apply to a very limited number of individuals or entities. Earmarks may appear in either the legislative text or report language (committee reports accompanying reported bills and joint explanatory statement accompanying a conference report)."[3]

That is the formal definition. But, the common definition is when a representative’s or senator’s vote is gained for a certain piece of legislation by directing some – if not all – the money allocated in the legislation to the home state or district.

Sounds to me like a kick back to certain projects that supported the legislator during the elections.

In balance, we all expect our representatives and senators to bring back the bacon. They are our representatives and not others. We all want them to vote for the things we want them to and support our community the best they can.

But, if all things were fair and we attempted to keep politics out of any spending process, a mix of market and need should determine where money is spent on any project or program. To “earmark” (to use the term in the definition) money directly in the legislation is to subvert the market and need distribution process.

That point was driven home by Senator Mitch McConnel. He said that he supported a proposed ban on the addicting habit of directing money to a specific district. President Obama has criticized the process as increasing the budget deficit. This places many in congress between the White house and the Capital. [ In this after election climate, between two very hard places.]

If we as a community believe something needs to be done then we should allocate money. Then a need assessment should be conducted to be determined where the money should be spent. Where the need is most, a competitive process based on the market should be implemented. By “earmarking” money in the legislation this fair and equitable process is damaged.

End earmarks.