Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Profoundly distorted...

A friend recently asked me what I thought about the "Obama issue." The answer: I don't think of it much or much of it.

The fact is, I don't have much of an opinion on the whole Obama-flap. I think this is/has been little more than a media-created non-story. The Clinton's have convinced much of the press that they have been to easy on Obama, so they are searching for something to smear him with.

I didn't get to see the entire 'A More Perfect Union' speech, although I read the transcript. The speech itself was courageous and genuinely exceptional. Just an all-time great American Speech. He said exactly what is truth - we all know folks who are good, nice, "non-overtly-racist" people...who when pressed, when frustrated, or just because they are from another generation drop some really horrific phrases or stereotypes on occasion. Then, of course, it's uncomfortable and awkward...but you don't necessarily throw that person under a bus because they are not perfect.

Kind of like he mentioned, I know "older" people whom still sometimes refer to "black-town" or "the blacks" or something ridiculous like that. That does't mean that I completely abandon a relationship with such people. I just think they are unenlightened and insensitive. Recently, I met a guy in the airport while I was waiting on a plane. We talked about work, kids, even church stuff. He seemed a really nice, family guy. Then later, the conversation turned to politics and in discussing Clinton/Obama he said something about how he didn't want to see either one of those "types" of people - a woman or a minority - become President. ... Okay, awkward. But that doesn't mean that I unloaded on the guy right there or self-righteously refused to talk to him anymore. I just think he's wrong and comes from a profoundly distorted perspective.

My family goes to what would generally be considered a very conservative church and a lot of the things that people in my church believe - both religiously, and socially/politically - I don't support, or believe in, or adhere to. Even some things that have been said from the pulpit, I squirm at and feel completely uncomfortable with. But we still go to church there because on the whole the "core" beliefs are shared. Our family has found a place there. My son has friends, we have friends, we are involved with the youth group, etc. We believe that it is the church family for our family. Just because something gets said, or just because a leader in the church has an 'opinion' that I disagree with doesn't mean that I'm going to disassociate myself from my church. I may well think they are wrong and/or nuts and/or misinformed, but I'm going to keep showing up and, yes, making my contribution each Sunday.

He also addressed the flip side of that issue:
Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience -- as far as they're concerned, no one handed them anything, they built it from scratch. . . . So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college . . . when they're told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

[These resentments have] helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns -- this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

He was brave enough to acknowledge the resentments and "profoundly distorted views" on both sides, while urging America to transcend. It was a great speech.

That doesn't, however, mean this should have been a front-page story in the first place. Oh, No!!! Someone Obama knows said some atrocious things some years ago!!!! That has never happened to a politician, or anyone else, ever!!! [Yawn]

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The "epic downdraft" to come...

In TX-7, right-wing Rep. John Culberson (R) has acknowledged what could be "an epic downdraft that defeats every Republican in Harris County unless we work hard to correct these problems."

True, that is primarily just a standard political line to scare the base into giving money to the campaign...but maybe this year it proves to be true.

For the first time since first being elected in 2000 Culberson faces both a competent and well-funded opponent.

Michael Skelly is a great candidate who has substantive plans on the issues that affect our district (energy, health care, education, transportation, etc.), perspective and judgment to be a leader on national issues (Iraq, economy, national security, etc.), and has the vision to step to the fore in the House and be a leader.

John Culberson is a party-special-interest-loyalist and one of the biggest Bush-supporters in Congress. He has no vision to be a leader on issues important to our district. On his own website, Culberson states that he has no energy policy (a critical issue in Houston and the 7th District) but rather that the 2005 energy bill solved all the problems there were. Of course, that was before $100 oil/$4.00 gas, etc. Culberson just doesn't get it. Culberson has no transporatation plan other than cars, cars, and more cars. He has radically opposed investment in Houston's public transportation infrastructure to reduce congestion, improve commute times, and reduce environmental impact. In fact, Culberson's website says TODAY that his plan for transportation in the 7th Dist. is "working with Majority Leader DeLay and other members of the Texas delegation." Culberson just doesn't get it.

Other than these homages to the past-days of Republican history, Culberson has no vision for an energy plan for America. Michael Skelly does -
Michael Skelly built a leading wind energy company right here in Houston. In order to build that company, he had to understand the entire energy equation. The energy business fuels the world economy, and energy is at the heart of many of the pressing issues of our day—national security, global warming, the economy, and the strength of our currency. Michael Skelly understands how important it is to think strategically about energy. It’s what has made his wind energy company successful. Right now, the country’s energy sources come disproportionately from areas of political instability, and it’s urgent that we replace our dependence on foreign oil with sustainable energy from a broader variety of sources. As a country, we need an energy strategy that balances the long term with immediate problems, and we need to change our energy policy sooner rather than later so that business people can make the right investment decisions. For all those tough choices, Washington will need our city. Houston is the energy capital of the world, and it’s vital that our representative in Washington understand energy so the rest of the country can benefit from our expertise.

Other than somehow still relying upon scandal-ridden Tom Delay, Culberson has no vision for a transportation plan for Houston and the 7th Dist. Michael Skelly does -
In the energy business, Michael Skelly oversaw infrastructure investments worth several billion dollars. He knows what it takes to carry out complex projects, and he will use that experience to improve Houston’s transit system. Most Houstonians spend endless hours in traffic every day because they have no other choice. Michael Skelly is committed to working with Mayor White and other elected officials to reduce traffic and gridlock. Houston needs a complete transit system—not just roads and highways, but also buses, urban rail, and commuter rail—options that will cut air pollution and decrease commutes so that people can spend more time with their families. Michael Skelly will make sure Houstonians can choose whether to drive, ride the bus, or take the train.

Culberson does not even have any reference on his website to policies for health care, the economy, or national security. The 7th District deserves better.

The 7th District is a diverse and robust part of Houston ranging from Jersey Village in the Northwest, through the Memorial area, Bellaire, West University, and into the Montrose area of mid/near-town. It is a district that should have a leader with clear policies that will make an impact on the important issues facing it, and have the perspective and judgment to take leadership on natonal issues. What we do not need is a party-man, Bush-buddy, career politician.

Best of all, Michael Skelly is not just a good alternative to Culberson, he is a proven leader with a record of entrepreneurship, job creation, getting things done and solving problems. Skelly looks like just what the 7th District needs.

Related posts:

Michael Skelly for 7th Cong. Dist. of Texas...

Friday, March 14, 2008

The right of the people to be secure... their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by an Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be searched.

So says the 4th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, ratified in 1791.

For about 210 years of our nation's history, the 4th Amendment meant pretty much what it said: the people are protected from unreasonable government prying into their personal effects without a court-ordered warrant authorizing a search.

For the last five or six years, however, the 4th Amendment has been undercut, trampled on, or simply ignored - and today it seems as if these once hallowed words have little to no meaning.

Two stories this week bring the current government's abandonment of the 4th amendment to the fore.

First, the dazzling downfall of former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer. Although I don't think it need be said, let me say it anyway: Spitzer's conduct was unjustifiable, it was unquestionably wrong, and it was inexcusable. I do NOT defend him. He broke the public trust and clearly broke the law. His resignation was inevitable and justified.

I am not, however, writing about Spitzer's conduct. Instead, a part of the story that has been lost in the salaciousness is how our government "stumbled" upon the scandal.

According to two sources ... Spitzer hit the federal radar when a bank reported to the Internal Revenue Service that a significant amount of money had been suspiciously transferred from one account to another.

The IRS, upon investigating the matter late last year, found that the accounts were connected to Spitzer, the sources said. The IRS contacted the FBI, which joined the case to investigate the possibility of government corruption.

New "counter-terrorism" banking laws require banks to report certain account activity to the government - specifically the IRS:
Federal law requires a banking institution to file a Suspicious Activity Report when the institution suspects a transaction is linked to a federal crime.

More specifically, the banks are required to report to the IRS any transactions totaling $5,000 or more if the transactions "involve potential money laundering or a violation of the Bank Secrecy Act." The act requires businesses to keep documents that are useful for identifying and investigating money laundering.

Ummm...does anyone else but me recognize something incredibly important missing in those sentences? How about a warrant? These laws REQUIRE financial institutions to report activity that no one has probable cause to get a search warrant to look at. Yet, no one seems to be remotely concerned.
Sources said Spitzer allegedly was moving money between several of his own accounts, and investigators think he may have been shuffling money to hide his behavior from his wife.

US law requires banks to report an individual moving money between several of his own accounts, without a warrant, and somehow that is supposed to not be a violation of the 4th amendment. This is appalling. What about this: a private citizen moves money around between several of her/his own accounts because she/he was hiding from their spouse the fact that they were surreptitiously participating in - - - a fantasy baseball league that they didn't want to tell their spouse about.* The bank would be forced to give that information to the government. No probable cause, no laws broken, no description of place person or thing to be searched - nothing. How can anyone argue that that is reasonable, or that our government is respecting our right to be secure in our person, houses, papers, and effects?**

Secondly, President Bush continues to expressly mislead the American people about the new FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) legislation:
[President] Bush appeared on the White House's South Lawn yesterday to demand House passage of the Senate legislation, warning lawmakers that "voting for this bill would make our country less safe. . . . The American people understand the stakes in this struggle. They want their children to be safe from terror."

Balderdash. Ridiculousness. Rubbish.

The conflict about passage of this bill centers primarily on granting retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that turned over private user information to the government without warrant. This is not the primary focus of my post, but it simply underlines the point I am trying to make. Some of these companies looked at the government request and said - "that's nice, if you can get us a warrant, we'll get you the information." Others simply turned over the data without a warrant. Those companies now face lawsuits seeking to enjoin further activity without warrant. It seems only common sense to allow these companies to make their arguments and let a Court decide if they - or the government - broke the law in turning over such information without a warrant.

Just as important, if not more so, is the fact that in fighting on this new FISA legislation, what the Bush Administration is attempting to do is be able to look at my (and your) private information without our authorization, and without a warrant. Could there be a more clear violation of our 4th amendment rights? It is patently unreasonable to garner the private data of hundreds of thousands of law-abiding citizens without probable cause. In addition, the FISA courts are - as they absolutely should be - essentially rubber-stamp courts. If the government as any information that remotely indicates probable cause, the FISA courts will authorize warrant. That is the way it should be. I am not arguing that the FISA judges should not grant argument is that our government should not be allowed to randomly search our private effects without probable cause.

I am outraged that this government is so cavalierly throwing the basic rights of the people out the window - and all the while arguing that we are in mortal danger if we don't allow it. The Bush government says "If we can't monitor your bank records, the terrorists will get you...if we can't monitor your communications, the terrorists will attack."

Well, I for one reject that unconstitutional fear-mongering, and more and more law-abiding American citizens have to start recognizing when our rights are being stripped away.

If our Constitution and the 4th amendment mean anything anymore, then these types of unreasonable government searches without probable cause have to be eliminated.

* - due credit for this example goes to the movie "Knocked Up." I didn't particularly care for this movie as a whole (although it seems to be quite popular), but the side story about the marriage of the sister-in-law of the main character was really, really good. To me, the unquestionably funniest (and frankly, truest) part of the movie was when the sister-in-law became convinced that her husband was cheating. She follows him out one night when he said he would be working. Instead, she follows him to another person's home. She bursts into the house searching for him and whomever he was cheating with and what does she find --- he's at a fantasy baseball draft!!! Essentially, he plays fantasy baseball but he knew that his wife would think that so juvenile and would be unhappy with him spending time away from her and the kids for a fantasy draft, so instead he told her he was working. Classic.

** - I recognize that a statutory exception might be possible for public officials in order to fend off corruption/bribes/etc. Such a statutory exception would indeed be reasonable as a limited and specifically identified target of the searches with some probable cause about the use of funds by a public official. As far as I am aware, no such statutory exception exists.