Friday, February 29, 2008

Millions incarcerated. But do they all need to be?

So it's here.

The day when 1%, 1 out of a hundred of the U.S. adult population is incarcerated.

NEW YORK (AP) -- For the first time in history, more than one in every 100 American adults is in jail or prison, according to a new report.

The report, released Thursday by the Pew Center on the States, said the 50 states spent more than $49 billion on corrections last year, up from less than $11 billion 20 years earlier. The rate of increase for prison costs was six times greater than for higher education spending, the report said.

Using updated state-by-state data, the report said 2,319,258 adults were held in U.S. prisons or jails at the start of 2008 -- one out of every 99.1 adults, and more than any other country in the world....

"For some groups, the incarceration numbers are especially startling," the report said. "While one in 30 men between the ages of 20 and 34 is behind bars, for black males in that age group the figure is one in nine."

The nationwide figures, as of January 1, include 1,596,127 people in state and federal prisons and 723,131 in local jails -- a total 2,319,258 out of almost 230 million American adults.

There are of course some people for whom there is no other option than to keep them in prison-- incorrigible, violent criminals. But what we've done in seeking to always get tougher and tougher on crime is create a system which threatens to collapse under its own weight.

To cite one example, using the statistics cited in the report, it costs $21,000 per inmate to house them, including security, food clothing and medical care. Those costs fall on the rest of the population to pay, and together with years of tax cuts and otherwise tight state budgets it is quickly becoming far too burdensome for many states to pay.

The standard response from many staunch conservatives when you cite prison costs is to 'make them pay.' They want to create more work crews so the inmates can 'pay' for their stay. Of course this is ridiculous. I'm not against putting inmates to work, but when organized into work crews it takes additional security, as well as the costs of transportation, and if anyone really thinks that the value of the work they do picking up litter on the side of the road is valuable enough to offset these higher costs they are really out of touch with reality. Work crews are for the benefit of the inmates who we want to incentivize to stay out of prison in the future, and of society in general (or to satisfy those who want to make sure prison isn't a 'walk in the park'). But financially they only add to the bill. Imagine how much your employer would be in the hole if they had to post a crew of licensed and trained guards to watch you do menial and simple tasks while providing secure transportation to and from your work site every work day, even if they didn't have to pay you.

The second response from staunch conservatives is that limiting appeals and hastening the death penalty would reduce the prison population. This also fails to recognize numerical reality. I remember reading a few years ago that if you took every person on death row at that time in the country and executed them immediately, the prison population would be back where it was in two weeks. I don't know if that statistic is still true, but I'm sure it is not too far different from that. Even if we ignore the flaws in a death penalty system in which over a hundred people who had been on death row have by now been exonerated, the numbers are so small that arguing over them in the context of the prison population is like waiting until a flood goes through your house and then arguing over whether turning the sink off will do anything about the flood. Just as a matter of scale, it won't.

There are three questions we can ask here. The first is how we got into this situation, The second is whether locking this many people up is an effective way to fight crime and worth what it is costing us,and the third is what we can do instead of incarcerating people.

The answer to the first question is that it is a confluence of many factors. The most obvious is that during the 1990's we spent a lot of money to build more prisons. More prisons so that we could lock up more inmates for a longer time, and then we passed legislation like mandatory decades long prison sentences for selling drugs and three strikes laws to help stock the new prisons and make sure that they all became just as full as the old ones. Getting tough on drugs has really made a difference in the prison population, and even today half of all crimes are drug crimes-- and many ordinary addicts (and even most sellers got there by being addicts) spend a lot of time in prison, and ironically don't get any help with breaking their addiction (so as soon as they are out they are able to renew it-- and maybe get back to prison.)

But that is not the only explanation. It is also true that in the 1970's and 1980's, we shut down many of the mental institutions. This came about by an unlikely alliance of liberals and conservatives. The liberals felt that locking someone up in one indefinitely was a moral dilemma-- even more so given the expose of abuses that had occurred in some mental institutions, and painted in the worst possible light by movies like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The conservatives felt that the mental institutions were expensive and with a typical Social Darwinist attitude felt that the best therapy was to let the mentally ill or deficient survive in the real world and compete against everyone else on equal footing. The result has in fact been a tragic miscalculation by both sides. The prison system is where the highest concentration of mentally ill individuals end up, and as we see their conditions of confinement are much worse than they ever were in the old mental hospitals. Furthermore, rather than learning to survive in the real world, many, perhaps most of them have proven that they are not suited for life on the outside and have gone to a place where they require much more security and supervision than where they were. And to put the cherry on top, the only chance that they might improve is through treatment, but the budget for that is cut by legislatures as they try to figure out ways of paying for more and better prisons.

The answer to the second question is to note that while crime did in fact go down during the 1990's (the period of new prison construction), it is much lower still in industrialized countries that don't lock so many people up. So at best the idea that it prevents crime is limited to the obvious fact that while a person is locked up they aren't on the outside committing a crime. But it doesn't go beyond that, and then we have to ask whether it is legitimate to spend thousands of dollars per year just to make sure someone doesn't steal any more pizza (the now infamous crime that earned a hapless prisoner in California the first 'three strikes and you're out' life sentence.)

The answer to the third sentence is that there are better ways of dealing with some criminals-- especially non-violent offenders, primarily drug offenders. According to the article, Texas and Kansas are leaders in looking for more efficient ways to treat criminals without locking them all up. Often various combinations of fines (which add money to the system rather than subtracting from it), probation and other punishments are more appropriate than prison or jail time. This is a good start. But we also need to combat recidivism by giving prisoners help with reforming their lives after they leave prison. Crime is always available as a career path, so we have to make sure that there are other career paths available to them. I once wrote a post entitled, "The prison which follows prison" in which I pointed out that no matter how much people like to run down rehabilitation programs, we have to keep trying because it is certain that virtually everyone in prison-- other than the very few who will stay there until they die-- will sooner or later be back out among us. We certainly should do everything we can to make sure that rehab programs are as efficient and as successful as possible, but given the cost of failure, not trying is not an option (though ironically, programs designed to provide education and job training to prisoners are invariably among the first to face cuts from misguided state legislators who are focused on that year's budget and willing to shunt aside the costs associated with their decisions-- both the economic and human costs-- to future years, and future legislators.) As I wrote in my post on prisons linked to above,

Now, I'm not going to stupidly sit here and say that if we funded more of these things, you wouldn't still have recidivism. Some people are habitual criminals and you could hand them a million dollars in cash and make them the CEO of a Fortune 500 Company, and the next day they would still be out running a con, knocking over a liquor store or beating someone up or raping or killing someone.

People like that need to be in prison, and there is little anyone can do to change that. But I am saying that regardless of the success rate (or failure rate) of rehabilitation programs, we as a society have an obligation to TRY. Because except for lifers or people on death row, the rest of the prison population will sooner or later be out among the rest of us, either rehabilitated or not.

We also should consider re-establishing (and/or expanding where they still exist) state mental hospitals. That way people who need treatment rather than incarceration will be able to get it (and it goes without saying that a prison atmosphere, with all the attendant sources of added stress and danger is probably not the ideal atmosphere to recover from a mental illness). A great deal more is known about mental illness and the psychology and biochemistry of the brain than was known in the past, so it would be much more difficult for someone to 'fake' their way into a mental institution in order to avoid prison. In any case though, to not invest in mental health care because we are worried about someone who doesn't need it 'gaming' the system is like not building a building because you are worried there might be termites someday. The way to handle it is to prosecute fraud aggressively when it is found, but not deny the benefits of treatment to the hundreds of thousands who need it because you are worried about a few 'McMurphees' (to also refer to the afformentioned movie.)

We also have to do a much better job of integrating prisoners back into society after they leave prison. There are far fewer halfway houses now than there were, and as I wrote in the previous prison post linked to above,

However, in some cases, we seem to be going beyond the pale in meting out punishment AFTER the punishment that the legal system decreed has been paid. In other cases, we are, simply by the mechanisms we put in place in society, setting them up to fail and return to crime (a career choice which is, after all, always available if no other options are).

For example, we say that convicted felons have the right to seek employment. However, we have for years cut the budgets for prison programs that seek to educate inmates about a trade (I have first hand knowledge of several educational institutions that suspended or ended their prison programs because of state or Federal budget cuts). We have also cut funding for job placement programs and halfway houses for prisoners. So, not surprisingly, when people who get out of a long term in prison with nothing to show on their resume other than a long stint in prison, have trouble getting a job, they often find that the easiest, and perhaps the only, way to earn a living wage, is through returning to a life of crime.

Another problem is that many people frankly expect and even want felons to fail. That is part of their dogma. As I blogged (ironically defending a campaign worker for conservative Republican Fred Thompson),

First and foremost, it's a matter of time. I wrote a post once, called "the prison that follows prison" that dealt with how hard it is for a convicted felon in America to become a productive member of society, or for that matter to be anything other than a convicted felon in the eyes of most people. For that matter, unless he's had his rights restored, Philip Martin would not be allowed to vote in most states. But look, his last conviction was TWENTY-FOUR years ago! TWENTY-FOUR bloody years ago! Do we EVER forgive anybody, or let them move ahead with their lives? The man has kept out of trouble for nearly a quarter of a century, and some people want to haul up what he did in 1979 or 1983. Guess what? Besides it being a long time ago, he was also a lot younger then. Sometimes younger people do foolish things, and then they learn from them. All the evidence is that Philip Martin did learn from his mistakes.

The attitude that prevailed towards Philip Martin prevails in the eyes of many if someone has ever been convicted, of anything (for the record he had two drug convictions that are decades old.)

It is understandable that many people would prefer to hire someone who is not a convicted felon. However, it seems as though our entire societal structure, between our indifference to the difficulties faced by those who genuinely want to make a living within the law and without committing any crimes, and our active hostility to those who may have once upon a time (even decades in the past) made a mistake, almost seem to be telling felons that they are always felons, and cannot ever fully repent.

A system which neither forgives nor forgets, and continues to punish people forever no matter how hard they try to change.

It's a good thing that God doesn't use the same standard of justice.

My daughter gives a great zinger.

Yesterday Barack Obama gave a rousing speech in Beaumont, Texas. I was watching it on MSN just now, and part of it went like this, when he started talking about the need for parents to be more involved with their children:

"Am I right? So turn off the TV set. Put the video game away. Buy a little desk. Or put that child at the kitchen table. Watch them do their homework. If they don’t know how to do it, give ‘em help. If you don’t know how to do it, call the teacher. Make ‘em go to bed at a reasonable time! Keep ‘em off the streets! Give ‘em some breakfast!"

One of my sixth grade daughters (who also loves Obama) came out of the computer room just as he got to the line, "Make 'em go to bed at a reasonable time!" So I gaver her a nudge on the back and said, "See?"

She quickly turned around and joked back at me, "Can I change to Hillary Clinton?"

If that Clinton commercial about her working late at night comes on, I'm changing the channel.

Well, she's eleven, but she keeps asking me when she will be able to run for precinct committeeperson. I'm sure she'll be a good one, but for right now I still get to tell her when it's time to turn the light off.

Monday, February 25, 2008

What is Patriotism anyway?

Today Barack Obama fought back against charges that he is not sufficiently patriotic.

He and his wife have recently been accused of this by the right wing, citing three main pieces of 'evidence', 1) a photograph taken last year at Tom Harkin's steak fry in which Obama stands at attention but with his hands clasped in front of him rather than with one over his heart during the playing of the national anthem (Harkin and fellow candidate Bill Richardson are in the photograph as well in a more traditional pose;) 2) the fact that Obama last year during the campaign stopped wearing a small American flag button on his lapel, and 3) the statement that Michelle Obama made last week saying that 'for the first time in my adult life,' she was proud of her country.

Obama responded forcefully today, saying,

"The way I will respond to it is with the truth: that I owe everything I am to this country."

But more to the point, he said that his choice not to put his hand over his heart would 'would disqualify about three-quarters of the people who have ever gone to a football game or baseball game.'

In regard to his wife's comments, he said that she meant to say for the first time she was proud of the way politics was conducted in this country, and had misspoken. Well, that's what he said, and either you believe it or not, but it's not like people never say anything they regret later. That's why I rarely pay attention to political gaffes (even President Bush's frequent ones) unless they are clearly well thought out and repeated and thereby give one a window into the soul of the person who says it (i.e. 'macaca.')

His point (and the reason he removed the lapel pin) is this: Patriotism is something that a person holds in his or her heart, and it should not be measured by counting the number of American flags or yellow ribbons or whatever other outward signs someone displays.

I have a tattered flag in front of my door that I put there on Sept. 11, 2001, and haven't taken down since. That is my choice. But it would be just as much my choice if I chose NOT to have it there, and it would make me no less patriotic if I did not.

I consider patriotism to be fighting against attempts to cut funding for veterans programs or deny disability for disabled veterans coming back from Iraq.

I consider patriotism to be trying to create a nation in which all Americans have a stake in the country.

I consider patriotism being to fight for the rights that our Founding Fathers fought for, including the right to NOT be compelled to say anything (or by failing to display any symbol, be assumed to be saying anything.)

Surely it would have been politically easier for Barack Obama to do the 'safe' thing and keep the lapel pin on and put his hand on his heart during the pledge. But lately that has become a requirement instead of an option, and a requirement like that is in effect tyranny. And expecting it as 'part of the drill,' frankly cheapens its value for those who DO choose to wear a flag pin or otherwise follow the 'expected' rules for 'patriots.'

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Obama literature appears fair on health care but not on NAFTA; I think he should get rid of it anyway.

I was a bit distressed today to see a story out about campaign literature sent by the Obama campaign in Ohio, which Hillary Clinton is calling 'shameful' and comparing to Karl Rove type-tactics, saying bluntly that the literature falsifies her positions on NAFTA and health care. The Obama campaign has responded that the literature is correct.

Now, I've been clear in my support for Obama, for whom I voted. And I still believe he is the best nominee for our party and would make the best President in the general. But that doesn't mean that I support a sudden shift towards negative campaigning, if that is what this is. Obama will win the nomination if he continues doing what he has been, and if he does then he will need a united party and needlessly antagonizing supporters of Hillary (many of whom are very passionate in their support) would be a serious mistake. At the same time if the literature is accurate and points out a matter of record then she should respond on the issue and not complain about the fact that he is sending it out.

On NAFTA, she takes issue with a line in the literature that says that she was a champion of NAFTA when it was signed but now wants to make adjustments in it. This I believe is an unfair attack. For one thing, when NAFTA was signed she was the first lady and her husband was signing it, and it would be very difficult to gauge what her true feelings were on the subject from public statements she made at the time. First ladies don't undermine their husbands in public, and I wouldn't expect that she would do so even if she didn't agree with it-- she might tell him behind closed doors but neither I nor anyone from the Obama campaign would know whether she did or not. So that line should not be included in the literature.

On healthcare, the charge is that her plan would force people to buy health insurance even if they could not afford it (as opposed to Obama's plan which still gives people the right to not buy health insurance.)

So I decided to test his charge by downloading her plan from her website here it is and I find that he may well be justified in his concern.

On page 4 she states that

• Individuals: will be responsible for getting and keeping insurance in a system where insurance is affordable and accessible. (which she reiterates on page 8).

Of course we knew that already, that she proposes mandates while Obama does not. Further down on page four she indicates that

• Government: will ensure that health insurance is always affordable and never a crushing burden on any family and will implement reforms to improve quality and lower cost.

I'd feel a lot more sanguine about this if it was defined somewhere what a 'crushing burden' is. Many people live paycheck to paycheck and therefore any additional cost at all would be such a burden.

She then goes on to explain how she will do this:

• Provide Tax Relief to Ensure Affordability: Working families will receive a refundable tax credit to help them afford high-quality health coverage.

Something similar is in John McCain's plan as a matter of fact, and he spells out the amount ($5000 per family.) She does not, but given that the cost right now of premiums for an average family exceed $12,000 it is clear that she would need to more than double McCain's proposal (which is disastrously low) to match the cost of premiums. Of course even if this were the case, there are some problems here. Tax refunds (including refundable tax credits) come once per year, and even if the tax credit were given the year before initially, there would be some people who would be unable to pay their premiums because it would be more than the tax credit for them (for example if they are cancer surivors or have a chronic illness or otherwise have much higher premiums.) Also, many people's tax refunds (and presumably refundable tax credits) are tied up in collections, bankruptcy proceedings, old IRS debt, child support and a whole host of other issues. If a family is barely making ends meet but one of the spouses owes child support to a previous spouse (or to the state for payments made to a previous spouse), or has a judgement against them from a creditor or bankruptcy court, then that is where any kind of tax refunds go, and suddenly the family (which may also have children) is stuck being mandated to pay for insurance without having any additional money with which to pay for it. You can rail against so-called 'deadbeat parents' or 'bankruptcy bums' if you want to, but it is a fact that there are millions of people, including current family members of people with a judgement against them who may have nothing to do with the reason for the tax garnishments, but who could be stuck in a situation where this plan would require them to spend money they don't have while the money that is supposed to help them pay for it would be directed by the government and the courts to go to someone else.

Further in the Clinton plan it says

Limit Premium Payments to a Percentage of Income: The refundable tax credit will be designed to prevent premiums from exceeding a percentage of family income, while maintaining consumer price consciousness in choosing health plans.

What percentage? Right now the $12,000 I referred to above is about a quarter of the average family income in the United States. Is 25% the figure that will be used? Will it apply to everyone (i.e. would someone earning $100,000 have to pay $25,000 in premiums so that a family earning $8,000 per year would only be charged $2,000?) There are no numbers here, which causes me to wonder. Obama's plan is similarly short on numbers (there are some) but since there is no mandate that is less of a concern (if you don't like his numbers then you still have the right to decline the option to purchase the insurance.) This is sometimes compared to mandatory auto insurance but the differences are that 1. some people don't have a car (which is a choice for some of them at least, though not all) and 2. the price of auto insurance, especially if you drive a car that is only designed to get you around with no frills is far, far less than what health insurance costs.

So having looked at this, I have to conclude that the Obama campaign's claim is right on target-- clearly there will be some people who would be mandated to buy health insurance by Clinton's plan but who won't be able afford it.

But I still think he should consider pulling the literature and keep on running the positive, uplifting campaign that has made many in the country, including myself consider him the better candidate. She hasn't found a way to beat Obama yet when he does.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Rick Renzi indicted

Well, it took some time.

In spite of all that Alberto Gonzalez and George W. Bush did to help their friend Rick Renzi, including pushing aside one of the most effective U.S. attorneys they had this morning came the announcement that Congressman Renzi has been indicted.

Renzi created a complex tangle of numbers to try and hide a land deal that helped James Sandlin, one of his friends, violate campaign finance laws by overpaying Renzi for a piece of land so he could quickly raise the money in 2002 to get elected to Congress, where he paid Sandlin back by misusing his position to, among other things, write legislation that helped increase the value of another piece of land that Sandlin owned. Renzi, even before the Sandlin land deal was known, was already considered one of the most corrupt congressmen in Washington for such other ethical lapses as using his official position to help steer up to a billion dollars in Federal contracts to his father's business. As it later turned out even that was part of the web he was weaving to try and cover up the original land deal.

Renzi's scheme to cover up the land deal actually resulted in two separate probes into two pieces of his scheme, and as I predicted eventually merged into one giant investigation.

Unfortunately not enough was known about the deal to prevent Renzi from getting re-elected last time when he ran for Congress. He ran his usual smear campaign against Ellen Simon by using lies, innuendos and distortions just as he has always done in his electoral campaigns. But last year it all broke open when the FBI raided Renzi's wife's business (where he had apparently hidden some of the evidence), ironically at the very same time as Alberto Gonzalez was on Capitol Hill answering questions about the firing of U.S. attorneys, in which Renzi's name figured prominently in connection with the firing of Paul Charltonn who had been investigating him. Last year Renzi finally was forced to announce that he would not seek re-election though he still is trying to remain in Congress (maybe he can have lunch with Larry Craig, because no one even in their own party is talking to either of them.)

Rick Renzi apparently thought that he was smarter than other people. He thought he was smart enough to create such a murky cloud of obfuscation around his financial misdeeds that no one would be able to figure out what he had done. He thought he could get away with it.

But criminals always think that way. But eventually justice does catch up to them. Just ask Renzi's former colleagues, Duke Cunningham and Bob Ney.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Meet Mr. McCain-- part II (The Sopranos aren't finished yet)


Ever since the 2000 election, when Vietnam combat veteran John McCain burst onto the scene in the Republican Presidential primaries as a 'moderate alternative' to George W. Bush, it seems that he has led a charmed political life. George Bush is known to detest McCain personally, but he has needed him. Liberals held their fire because every now and then McCain throws them a bone (in fact John Kerry wasted valuable time and effort trying to convince McCain, who was the chair of the Bush campaign in Arizona, to defect and run on a ticket with him; what it also meant was that when John Kerry picked John Edwards for the ticket, everyone knew he was a second choice.) Independents ooze over the conservative McCain (and conservative he is, just look at his voting record,) as if they think he is one of them. Even Bush backers, like Pat Robertson (who thoroughly trashed McCain in South Carolina) have warmed up to him.

And one of McCain's biggest assets, according to most of these people is that he eschews negative campaigning.

There is a good reason for that though. It's a tale that involves organized crime, corruption and murder. Let's say that John McCain never runs a negative ad against his opponents because he doesn't want them to dig too hard.

It's because McCain is where he is because of his marriage to his second wife, Cindy. No, Cindy Hensley McCain is not where the story begins. She was a young 25 when McCain married her (he was 43). According to the Arizona Republic on June 5, 1999, McCain joked that his marriage was based on a 'tissue of lies.' Both he and she had lied to each other, she claiming to be older than she was and he claiming to be younger. Yeah, I know-- what a good foundation for a marriage to start off on. To their credit the McCains however have stayed together. Or maybe there are other reasons...

One wonders what Cindy told McCain about her father. When did McCain learn how his father-in-law Jim Hensley made his fortune? Sooner or later he had to be dealt in on the 'family jewels.' After all, they helped finance a run for Congress and not long after that for the Senate.

Jim Hensley and his brother Eugene went to work after World War II for Kemper Marley, a wealthy wholesale liquor distributor. Marley, in fact, had once been a bookie, getting his start working for the Transamerica Wire Service, a betting service established by mafiosi Gus Greenbaum (who was murdered with his wife when their throats were slashed in bed in 1958). Until 1947, liquor was rationed by the government. Apparently Marley did quite well in spite of the restrictions, and in 1948 the reason why became clear. Eugene and Jim Hensley were convicted of falsifying records on behalf of Marley's distributorship, United Liquor (along with fifty other Marley employees) to conceal the illegal distribution of hundreds of cases of liquor. Jim Hensley got a six month suspended sentence.

In 1953, Jim Hensley, then the General Manager for United Liquor, was once more charged for doing the same thing again. Marley paid for top notch legal representation though (future Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist.) Hensley still went to prison, but took the fall when the rest of the company was cleared. According to an article in American, Marley rewarded Hensley for his loyalty to the organization:

When Hensley strolled out of the joint, Marley bought his silence with a lucrative Phoenix-based Budweiser beer distributorship.

That distributorship and the rest of Marley's empire did very well over the decades for both Hensley and Marley, making both men multi-millionaires.

In fact, Marley was interested in more than just liquor. In 1976, then Gov. Raul Castro, a Democrat, appointed Marley, then a billionaire and the state's richest man, to the state racing commission.

And that's when one of those pesky investigative reporters got in the way. The reporter's name was Don Bolles and he worked for the Arizona Republic. Bolles discovered a land fraud ring and other crimes that appeared to lead to Sen. Barry Goldwater and other movers and shakers in Arizona. And he discovered that Kemper Marley, newly appointed to the State Board Racing Commission, had connections to the Mafia. In fact, Marley was a close associate of Peter Licavoli, the mob boss for Arizona. Marley had also served as Chairman of the Board for Valley National Bank, which helped bankroll Bugsy Siegel's construction of the Flamingo in Las Vegas. Digging into Marley's past also uncovered his earlier work for Gus Greenbaum. The revelations forced Marley to resign from the commission.

And Kemper Marley and his associates in the Mafia weren't people whose business you interfered with lightly.

On June 2, 1976, Bolles climbed into his car and was blown apart by a bomb under the driver's seat. Pieces of his body were strewn around the parking lot. Bolles amazingly survived for eleven days and said to investgators on the scene, "They finally got me. The Mafia. Emprise. Find John (Harvey) Adamson."

Adamson was later convicted of the murder. But who hired him? That trail was never really followed up on, according to members of the Arizona Project, a group of reporters who began looking into mob ties after the murder.

Following Bolles' death, more than 30 journalists from the then-newly formed Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) group arrived in Phoenix to carry out their late colleague's work....

Don Devereux, another Arizona Project reporter, feels the IRE team may have trusted the authorities too much. "We accepted very uncritically their scenario. In retrospect, we were very naive to get lead around. It really isn't something that we should be running around congratulating ourselves about," says Devereux of the IRE investigation...

"The biggest disservice we did to Bolles was not paying more attention to him," says Devereux. "His dying words were words we should have glommed onto a little more seriously, because when he was lying on the pavement he said: `Adamson, Emprise, Mafia. ... Emprise was almost Bolles' white whale. He was obsessed by them...."

Emprise, a Buffalo, NY based sports concessionire with known mob ties, had a circuit of Greyhound racing tracks in Arizona. So who was named to the Racing Commission was of vital interest to Emprise. Enter Kemper Marley. Exit Kemper Marley, courtesy of Bolles.

The Phoenix police theorized that Marley wanting revenge enlisted the help of local contractor Max Dunlap. Dunlap then allegedly hired Adamson to carry out the bombing. Adamson claimed that plumber James Robison assisted him.

Over the years, Dunlap and Robison have maintained their innocence. Dunlap remains incarcerated.** Although, Robison gained acquittal in a retrial, he is still awaiting release from prison on a related charge. Meanwhile, the state paroled Adamson [in 1996], and he disappeared into the federal witness protection program.

The Phoenix police never even arrested Marley, who died in 1990.

**-- Dunlap has since died in prison after the source article was published.

Meanwhile, Jim Hensley remained a close confidante and associate of Kemper Marley. In fact, it was Bolles who wrote that the Hensleys had bought Ruidoso Downs horse racing track in New Mexico on behalf of Marley. Eugene Hensley later sold the track to a buyer linked to Emprise (linked here as described in the Phoenix Gazette, Jan. 4, 1990.)

One thing that Marley and Hensley didn't have-- governmental authority themselves. They had to depend on their friends in government to help them out. But then Hensley got a gift-- his daughter married the former Navy pilot and decorated veteran of the Vietnam conflict, John McCain. Hensley knew right away what to do. According to an article published in 2000 by the Phoenix New Times,

[McCain] retired from the military in 1980, divorced his first wife, wed Arizona native Cindy Lou Hensley and moved here to plunge into the world of politics. His first job in Arizona was as a public affairs agent for Hensley & Company, one of the nation's largest beer distributors. He was paid $50,000 in 1982 to travel the state, touting the company's wares. But he was promoting himself as much as he was Budweiser beer. A better job description might have been "candidate."

Then in 1982, McCain ran for Congress. That takes some quick money, and McCain had access to it-- thanks to his father in law (whose employees at his liquor distributorship were 'persuaded' to donate thousands of dollars to McCain), and one of Hensley's friends, Charles Keating of the Lincoln S&L (I won't get into the Lincoln S&L scandal here because it is pretty well known by now that McCain was one of the 'Keating Five.') To seal the deal, Jim Hensley and Cindy Hensley McCain invested $359,100 in one of Keating's projects. In fact, when McCain first ran for the Senate, in 1986, even Kemper Marley, through his son Kemper Jr. (who was now running United Liquor-- Marley himself had become politically radioactive) donated money to him.

It has been said that the Mafia never really left, they have just moved upscale. That is certainly the case in Las Vegas, where the casinos are corporations and run in a businesslike manner (so a Bugsy Siegel would be an anachronism, but I'm also not sure I'd want to make an enemy out of some of the folks who have those offices on the top floor.) The original Cosa Nostra may have been largely broken up, but the remnants of the Mafia are still around, mostly in fat family bank accounts and people they have helped push into positions of power, and John McCain is privvy to one and is the other.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Wow. Republicans in Legislature finally propose a good gun bill.

Rarely, if ever, do I agree with any piece of legislation proposed by right-wing bogeyman Russell Pearce.

But his proposal to allow people with concealed carry permits to carry weapons on college or grade school campuses makes a lot of sense.

Had any of the students had a concealed weapon available when Steven Kaczmierczek opened fire this week in a classroom at Northern Illinois University then maybe some of the five people he murdered or the eighteen people he wounded would have been spared the carnage that he inflicted in what according to all accounts lasted less than two minutes.

The University had put in place a plan for dealing with such an eventuality after the Virginia Tech shootings last year, and by all accounts the system worked as it should have. The police were on the scene within minutes, the campus was placed on lockdown and computers sent the news and the alert zipping around campus.

However, in spite of the quick response, it was too late. Kaczmierczek had already taken his own life at the end of the rampage even before the police arrived.

Contrast that to what happened several weeks ago in a church near Colorado Springs. A man named Matthew Murray, armed with over a thousand rounds of ammunition and several weapons entered the building after murdering two people the night before and two more in the parking lot, clearly intent on carrying out a massacre. But he failed, because Jeanne Assam, a volunteer security guard at the church, had a gun which she used to take him down after he ignored her order to halt. Dozens, scores, or maybe even hundreds, of lives were saved thereby.

Fred Boice, the director of the board of regents for the University system in Arizona was quoted in today's Arizona Republic as expressing concern about allowing eighteen to twenty-five year olds on campus with a firearm and apparently raising the specter of tempers flaring into a firefight compared with a 'one in a million' chance. Of course on a grade school campus it would generally be only the teachers and staff who might have a CCW permit, so let's focus on universities, where he presumably is concerned about eighteen to twenty-five year old students.

Wrong on both counts. On the first count, getting a permit requires an evaluation and is not something you can do on a whim. Further, soldiers in the armed forces carry weapons all the time and don't start gunning each other down because of a dispute over a parking place or a seating arrangement. Why would military members be more mature about stuff like that than college students? They're not. Both groups are mature enough to be trusted, especially if they've gone to the length of getting a CCW permit. Of course it is true that if someone started firing at everyone in an army barracks, then they would obviously be killed themselves before they got very far-- but that's exactly the reason why maybe we SHOULD allow firearms on college campuses.

As to the 'one in a million' chance-- that is dead wrong as well. There are less than 200 division I colleges, and since 1991 we've seen mass shootings (which I will define as three or more murders, not counting the shooters themselves) at the University of Iowa, San Diego State University, The University of Arizona Nursing College (remember that), Virginia Tech and now Northern Illinois University. That is more like a 'one in forty' chance than 'one in a million.' Certainly enough of a chance to take very seriously.

To put it in perspective, the five incidents that I just listed are more than the number of major fires that have killed three or more people at the same universities during the same time frame, but we would never think about letting students go to school in universiites that did not include fire alarms, fire extinguishers, fire escapes and other features that are part of the building code.

I've certainly been critical of Republicans in the legislature (especially Pearce) and even on second amendment issues, where I'm most likely to agree with them they've been kind of nutty in the recent past. For example they passed a bill last year (which was vetoed, because our Governor at least is sane) requiring businesses to provide gun lockers or else allow customers to walk around with weapons on them. This would have required, among other things, a late night clerk working alone at a convenience store to allow someone to literally walk right up to the counter brandishing a weapon or else step out from behind the counter to take the weapon and store it. This of course would have negated their silent alarm, weapon under the counter or whatever other security system they had in place (why not call it the 'hello, my name is Rob' bill?)

But this bill makes sense, for once.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Meet Mr. McCain-- part I (the conservative Republican)

The media likes to harp on John McCain as some kind of a 'moderate' (not a conservative). And recently he has been only reluctantly accepted by many conservatives while others have continued to whine about his getting the nomination. They claim that because of his support and authorship of a few specific bills that McCain is 'not a true conservative.'

Well, they don't need to worry. He is. And trust me, by the time the election rolls around all or virtually all of the conservatives will be back on board. President Bush already is, and has been lavish in his praise of the man who gave his former rival, Bush, the notorious 'Hug' at the 2004 GOP convention:

Don't ever forget that hug, because it makes it clear like nothing else ever could who McCain's master is, and where his loyalty lies. The trick will be to get people tho believe that McCain is some kind of a 'moderate' to realize that he isn't.

Start with the fact that McCain has a lifetime 82% rationg from the American Conservative Union. This puts him much more in line with most Senate Republicans than it does with 'moderates.' McCain has a 100% anti-choice voting record in the Senate and uniformly supports any kind of a bill that opposes abortion. Of course hardcore conservatives like to harp on the fact that he hasn't supported amending the Constitution to make abortion illegal, but part of the reason is because McCain is smart enough to realize that such an amendment (just like an anti-gay marriage amendment) is a pipe dream that would never be ratified by the legislatures in 3/4 of the states, as required by law. So he instead pushes legislation to make it as restrictive as possible.

Further, when asked about Supreme Court nominees, McCain recently asserted his support of the Bush nominees on the Supreme Court, especially Chief Justice John Roberts. He disparaged Justice Antonin Scalia for 'wearing his conservatism on his sleeve.' This upset some talk show hosts but the truth of the matter is that if McCain appoints judges like John Roberts-- quiet conservatives who keep their conservatism hidden deep down in their vest pockets-- the result will be the same as if he appointed a loudmouth like Scalia. So look at what happens: John McCain is portrayed as a moderate, but the result if he is elected is that we will get more consevative judges.

John McCain has long opposed what he sees as 'pork' spending. Of course most so-called 'pork' is money that is invested in projects, especially in rural areas, which help people and communities but might not be affordable without the federal support. Recently though he has in fact redoubled his attacks and suggested that he will if he is President simply veto bills that have 'pork' in them, regardless of whether they are worthwhile projects or not.

Now granted, one could ask the 'anti-pork' crusader whether President Bush should have vetoed his own bill that directed $10 million to create the William H. Rehnquist Center here in Arizona (memorializing another arch-conservative Supreme Court justice who McCain admires a great deal.) But certainly his promise to blanket veto spending on such projects is hardly 'moderate.' It could be justified as hard-nosed fiscal responsibility though, if it weren't for his stance on the Bush tax cuts. Though McCain, still angry over his 2000 loss to Bush opposed the Bush tax cuts in 2001, he now supports making them permanent. And of course that will cost the government far more in revenue that the relative trifle he plans to save with his vetoes.

Health care? Well, just read what John McCain's own website says about it (if you dig deep enough and scroll down to near the bottom.)

Reform the tax code to eliminate the bias toward employer-sponsored health insurance, and provide all individuals with a $2,500 tax credit ($5,000 for families)

Now, the average family insurance policy now costs in excess of $12,000. So in other words, McCain plans to discourage your employer from continuing to offer you insurance, and replace it with a tax credit for less than half of what the premium is now (so if your employer pays half your premium now, then you will be $1,000 in the hole.) And of course if you or a family member has health issues like being a cancer survivor or having a chronic illness or disability then your premium will go much, much higher (if you can buy insurance at all once your employer quits covering you) but Mr. McCain's partial tax subsidy won't rise to cover it. So the bottom line is that the McCain plan will create more uninsured than there are now. Yup, that's what conservatives do too.

Above all, McCain is a strong conservative on foreign policy, especially the Iraq war. McCain is the chairman of the Board of Directors for the International Republican Insitute (IRI). The IRI is a para-governmental organization which was originally founded by Jeanne Kirkpatrick and other conservatives during the Reagan administration to provide a counter to Jimmy Carter's work certifying foreign elections. It found a new lease on life during the Bush administration. Because it is not a governmental agency, the IRI can conduct foreign policy (including setting up elections and educating foreign voters and perhaps less laudible goals than that-- including spreading American-style conservatism) where direct involvement by the State Department could violate U.S. or foreign laws. A quick glance at the full membership of the Board of Directors shows that in addition to McCain, it includes Paul Bremer (the first U.S. ambassador to Iraq during the war), Bush I-era cronies Brent Scowcroft and Lawrence Eagleburger, former GOP chairman Frank Fahrenkopf and three other sitting or former Congressmen or Senators (all Republicans) and various members of the military-industrial complex.

McCain voted enthusiastically for the AUMF in October 2002 and was a supporter of the 'surge' from its opening days. He has spared no expense, supporting close to a trillion dollars in new Iraq spending (all while grousing about a few million in 'pork'; well, McCain recently admitted that he didn't understand economics.) McCain recently said that he is willing to stay in Iraq for a hundred years (Yikes!) So it is obvious that on the Iraq war, a McCain administration would be another four years of the Bush administration.

Part of the appeal that John McCain has to independents and moderates is that they don't see him as being as 'bad' as other Republicans.

Well, he is every bit as bad. Maybe he can see the benefits of working with Democrats on a handful of issues that will get him a lot of press, but on the issues that count, he's still just as conservative. And like his 'huggy buddy' McCain gets stuck on an issue, and he is a stubborn jackass who won't change his mind even when everyone can see that he is wrong.

So don't be fooled by John McCain. He's a conservative. He's just a smart enough conservative that he knows how to play the media game and once in a while keep up appearances. But his supporters in Virginia who the other night when he finally won the primary broke into chants of, 'four more years,' know better. They are Bush backers, and this year McCain is their man.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

According to GOP talking heads, that guy was unqualified.

Tonight, Feb. 12 the talking heads, at least those who are talking from the GOP side, seem to enjoy discussing the role of Commander in Chief and suggesting that maybe Barack Obama is not qualified for the job.

They picked a bad night to do it.

Tonight is the 199th birthday of that other guy who was a little known lawyer from Illinois before serving four years in Federal office (Congress) before being elected President.

Maybe they would have preferred a second James Buchanan term instead?

Friday, February 08, 2008

conservative tantrum against McCain

There are times in my life that I look back on fondly. For example, I played rugby in college, and enjoyed myself quite a bit, despite not being particularly good at it (the rugby games were just a warmup for the rugby parties, and I was good at that part of it.)

But now I'm in my mid forties, have a family and go to work every day. I can enjoy reminiscing in the old days, but I'm realistic enough to know that was a long time ago, and those days came and went once, and only once.

But apparently not to conservatives. They fell in love with Ronald Reagan, in fact many of them are my contemporaries and they loved Reagan when they were in college or high school too (though I never embraced their philosophy, and going to an engineering college, that meant I disagreed about Reagan with about 90% of the student body.) Reagan's zenith came in 1984, when he came only a few thousand votes in Minnesota short of winning fifty states in his re-election bid.

Since then though, they've tried over and over and over to resurrect Reagan. After an attempt led by Michigan congressman Guy Vander Jagt in 1988 to repeal the twenty-second amendment (Presidential term limits) so Reagan could run again failed, they were happy with George H.W. Bush (after all, who could be a better heir to Reagan than Reagan's Vice President?) In 1992 they were furious with Bush senior though (they read his lips, so the 1991 budget agreement that included a tax increase sent them running for the doors) and many of them either voted for Pat Buchanan in the primaries or decided that billionaire Texan Ross Perot was their new savior or just didn't care. By the time they'd had eight years of Bill Clinton they settled on Mr. Bush's son, mainly because he didn't tell them to read his lips. But because of his position on immigration and failure to reign in spending during the bloated GOP Congress of the first part of the 2000's, even those who still like Bush (for example, because of the fact that under Bush the United States refused to be bond by that irritating Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners) admit he's no Reagan.

All of that pales in comparison though to the ire they've directed at John McCain. Lead by the same cabal of right-wing radio talk show hosts who have demonized Democrats for years, they are now calling McCain 'Benedict Arnold' (that is a direct quote from a caller on Rush Limbaugh's show today-- see Althouse for text of the complete call.) and claiming that they will even vote for a Democrat to keep McCain out of the White House.

While I fervently disagree with John McCain about a whole host of issues (and will have plenty of opportunity to post on that between now and the election) it seems from this rhetoric that the far right is becoming unhinged (an easy task for them.) Are they suggesting that McCain was somehow brainwashed in Hanoi and is the Manchurian Candidate?

What it really boils down to is that the far right can't get over their infatuation with the Reagan era. To them, he was a demigod, and any Republican is measured against the standard of Reagan, Or rather, it would be more accurate to say that any Republican is measured against the myth of Reagan-- they seem to forget that the Reagan who campaigned as a 'fiscal conservative' exploded the deficit, that the 'anti-abortion' Reagan sent abortion defender Sandra Day O'Connor to the Supreme Court and that the Reagan who railed against the evils of communism actually became quite chummy with Mikhail Gorbachev by the time he left the White House. In fact, by the end of that term, Reagan even agreed to a number of tax increases, but as the 'teflon President' he didn't suffer the same kind of damage to his image with conservatives as Bush Sr. did a few years later. For more on this, see Reagan's liberal legacy. But today conservatives view Reagan as being ten feet tall, and simply forget what they want to forget.

The good news for the GOP is that this is February, and the election isn't for nine months. And like any spoiled, immature children, that will be time enough for conservatives to get over the temper tantrum they are throwing because there isn't any more Ronnie. Even Limbaugh, who has led a by now well-documented attack on McCain the past few weeks, began to apply the brakes in order to reverse himself with breakneck speed, trying to talk the caller who compared McCain to "Benedict Arnold" out of voting for Obama instead in his first show after Romney quit and made it certain that McCain will be nominated by the GOP.

The good news for the rest of us is that they've done so much by now to saw down the support poles of their 'big tent' that there still won't be enough of them, if Democrats get out and vote.

Monday, February 04, 2008

A return to the bad old Hoover days?

Who was the most feared man in Washington between May 10, 1924 and May 2, 1972? It was J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover was not a President, though after his appointment as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations by President Calvin Coolidge in 1924 he lasted for 48 years, spanning the Coolidge, Hoover, Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and part of the Nixon administration. There was a reason he remained in power in Washington for so long. Part of it was that he made the FBI his own personal fiefdom, dismissing agents or anyone else who crossed him, and in fact arranging the end of their careers. No one-- not Congressmen, Senators or even Presidents dared to cross Hoover. He held official Washington in an icy grip of fear.

And the key to his power was because he had files. Up to fifty million of them-- on any American who was noteworthy enough (or even knew anyone who was noteworthy enough) to attract his attention. If he couldn't find 'something' on somebody then he had his agents conduct surveillance (including wiretaps) into their family, their friends, or anyone else he could use as leverage should he ever have a desire to do so. Hoover made it a point to destroy the lives of anyone who dared challenge his power, and abused his charge by conducting surveillance on political opponents who were exercising their Constitutional rights and who had nothing to do with crime or criminal activity.

Once the scope of Hoover's activities came to light following his death, and also other abuses of civil liberties by the Nixon White House and other government agencies (such as the CIA) there was a brief period in the mid-1970's when concerns over civil liberties and privacy led to the the Freedom of Information and Privacy Acts, the creation of the FISA court and other reforms that made government more accountable and gave the FBI and similar agencies some laws to follow. Since Coolidge appointed Hoover, in 1924, we've had one President, who made limiting the domestic spying authority of government agencies any kind of a priority at all, and that President was Jimmy Carter, who served one term and signed many of the reforms of the 1970's into law.

FBI to collect database of human physical characteristics.

CLARKSBURG, West Virginia (CNN) -- The FBI is gearing up to create a massive computer database of people's physical characteristics, all part of an effort the bureau says to better identify criminals and terrorists.

But it's an issue that raises major privacy concerns -- what one civil liberties expert says should concern all Americans.

The bureau is expected to announce in coming days the awarding of a $1 billion, 10-year contract to help create the database that will compile an array of biometric information -- from palm prints to eye scans.

Kimberly Del Greco, the FBI's Biometric Services section chief, said adding to the database is "important to protect the borders to keep the terrorists out, protect our citizens, our neighbors, our children so they can have good jobs, and have a safe country to live in."

But it's unnerving to privacy experts.

"It's the beginning of the surveillance society where you can be tracked anywhere, any time and all your movements, and eventually all your activities will be tracked and noted and correlated," said Barry Steinhardt, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Technology and Liberty Project.

The FBI already has 55 million sets of fingerprints on file. In coming years, the bureau wants to compare palm prints, scars and tattoos, iris eye patterns, and facial shapes. The idea is to combine various pieces of biometric information to positively identify a potential suspect.

A lot will depend on how quickly technology is perfected, according to Thomas Bush, the FBI official in charge of the Clarksburg, West Virginia, facility where the FBI houses its current fingerprint database.

Thomas E. Bush III is not a first or second cousin of the current President, though I've not been able to research definitively if or how closely related he is beyond that.

What concerns me is that this seems to be one more brick in a virtually endless succession of steps that have come-- from both Democratic and Republican administrations-- that give official spy agencies such as the FBI pretty much a window into anyone's life.

It is unfortunate that no one really addresses this issue anymore, taking it for granted that 'we have to protect ourselves from criminals and terrorists' or whatever other bogeymen they throw out there, so therefore we should all just accept these new spy powers.

Yeah, I know. I may get some more comments from Ron Paul supporters. I still consider him to be somewhat of a nut though, what with arguing against the civil rights movement and even against the Civil War, apparently having no problem with institutional racism. Unfortunately, Bush I (the former head of the CIA) raised an endorsement from the ACLU as a red flag against Michael Dukakis in 1988, and since then it seems that all major candidates of both parties have taken it as a matter of course that they should just go along with the flow towards ever and ever more restrictive police powers (I never hesitate to remind people that when Clinton's ATF tried to shoot their way, unannounced into Waco, it was technically legal because 'someone' had said their might be drugs in the compound-- though no evidence of that was actually found later-- so the 'no-knock' attack was legal under 'war on drugs' legislation pushed by Ronald Reagan in the 1980's.) In other words these laws last way beyond any administration and can be used or abused by any future administration.

Or by any future rogue bureacrat, out to create his own empire within Washington.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Final Four-- the Republicans (yawn).

Technically, the Republicans still have four candidates left in the race. Ron Paul is a nutbag who remains in the race mainly because he's got a lot of money to spend courtesy of the internet, but is so right wing that he is left wing on the Iraq war-- a worthy successor to Pat Buchanan but thank God the man will never become President. Mike Huckabee has proven that the vaunted 'Christian Right' has its limitations. He has been fading since Iowa, and remains in the race now (though he won't admit it) as a favor to John McCain (the two of them have become closer on the campaign trail than two candidates running against each other usually become) since he cuts into a base of support that Mitt Romney needs if he is to catch McCain.

However, I will limit this discussion to the top two (as I said in the last post).

Mitt Romney is likely not going to win. And well he deserves to lose. Romney used to be pro-choice, in favor of embryonic stem cell research and gay rights. That is why he got elected Governor as a Republican in one of the two or three most liberal states in the union. But then he decided to run for President and did the crassly political, changing his positions to suit the conservative base of the GOP. Many have remained openly suspicious of him, and rightfully so. I suspect that if the alternative were someone other than John McCain, Mitt wouldn't even have the support he has now. He also has (as a man with hundreds of millions of dollars) done the same thing as Steve Forbes did-- spent enormous amounts of his own money on negative advertising. And like Forbes, he's mostly failed. He lost Iowa and New Hampshire, early states he was supposed to win, and when Rudy Giuiani collapsed in Florida Romney still wasn't able to win despite saturating the air waves with more negative ads. I've watched Romney in the debates and he comes across as every bit as unpleasant in person as his advertising apparently has to early primary voters. I might add that he created 'universal' health insurance coverage in Massachusetts by getting the legislature to pass a law requiring that everyone buy coverage. The problem is that many people who didn't have it before can't afford the premiums and apparently Romney never considered that some people might be too poor to afford the premiums, either because they don't earn enough or because they have health conditions that make it hard to even find anyone who will sell them a policy at any price. Romney must think that everyone else has a quarter of a billion dollars in the bank just like he does (though after this campaign it is likely to be substantially less than that.)

However, Romney will most likely lose to John McCain. McCain has a reputation as a 'maverick' and the distrust of some high profile conservatives because he has disagreed with them on issues like immigration (on which he has the same position as President Bush) and torture (where he has the same position as the Geneva conventions, in contrast to the Bush administration which apparently has the same position as Saddam Hussein.) But being against torture isn't exactly the hallmark of a liberal, it's the hallmark of anyone with any kind of decency at all. Just think that before the Bush administration we all knew, and knew because it was true, that the United States did not engage in such practices. So being against torture is like not being a murderer. Not supporting torture doesn't inherently make you 'good,' because anyone in any civilized nation should take it for granted that their government adheres (as a signatory) to the Geneva Conventions anyway, it's just that those who can't even reach that bar are distinctly 'bad.' The fact that McCain has been attacked for not being willing to, for example, support the waterboarding of prisoners says more about the moral bankruptcy of those who have followed George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Alberto Gonzalez down this medieval blind alley than it says about John McCain. McCain has also been on the sh*t list of conservatives since McCain-Feingold, a law which limits the ability of organizations to run ads targetting candidates by name within a short time before an election. Not that it has been much of a restriction, since they can just start a '527' instead, so that for example McCain-Feingold did not prevent the 'swift-boat' ads, nor has it prevented Romney's monetary bludgeon. Further, McCain, whose election to Congress in 1982 was largely financed by his in-laws' mafia money, and who was one of the 'Keating Five,' is hardly a paragon of virtue when it comes to keeping money out of politics.

To dispel a great myth, let me also say that John McCain is no liberal, nor is he a moderate. He is very conservative, on many, many issues. His voting record has been pretty consistently to the right throughout his whole tenure in Congress.

He is an economic conservative. McCain runs a website where he likes to take aim at what he calls 'pork,' (despite the fact that a lot of Federal spending is an investment in the basic infrastructure of various areas, and that is according to the intent of the founding fathers who created a house of 'REPRESENTATIVES,' tasked with representing the needs of their districts and consituencies and writing it into legislation.) McCain has also made it clear on his own Presidential campaign website (under 'issues,' hit 'read more' under 'health care' and scroll almost to the bottom-- that last link is here) that he wants to "eliminate the bias towards" employer paid health insurance and replace it with a $2,500 tax credit($5,000 for families). Never mind that the average family policy last year cost over $12,000 and that many people have health risks such that they could only qualify for affordable insurance if they are part of an employee risk pool. McCain is against extending unemployment benefits or other programs designed to help people out even during a recession, and has made it abundantly clear that he favors extending the Bush tax cuts (even though he voted against them in 2001.) In 2005 McCain praised President Bush's failed attempt to privatize Social Security.

John McCain is also a social conservative. He has been against gay rights and for banning abortion. He has a 100% anti-abortion voting record both in Congress and in the Senate, and the only time he ever said anything that could be construed as pro-choice was during the 2000 campaign when he was asked before the New Hampshire primary what he would do if his own daughter became pregnant and wanted an abortion and he implied that he would allow it. So John McCain is consistent in that he only favors abortion for his family, but he is against allowing it for women he is not related to. The other day when discussing Supreme Court nominees, McCain said he would nominate justices 'like John Roberts.' Yikes. Roberts has been part of the four staunch conservatives on the court. Some conservative commentators have jumped on McCain because he disparaged Justice Alito for 'wearing his conservatism on his sleeve.' That doesn't matter. Roberts may keep his tucked away in his vest pocket, but the result is the same. With liberal Justice Stevens having regular heart problems, and the SCOTUS balanced right now only on Justice Kennedy's consistent inconsistency, we can't afford for John McCain to appoint another quiet, consistent conservative like John Roberts to the Supreme Court any more than we could afford a sleeve-wearing conservative.

John McCain is also a neo-con. We all know by now that he is invested to the hilt in the Iraq war, and supports the construction of permanent bases in Iraq and recently vowed to stay there for 'a hundred years.' Of course in the Senate, McCain has voted consistently for unlimited and unconditional funding for Iraq (for some reason 'fiscal conservatives' who scowl at a few hundred thousand in the budget for a bridge in America don't bat an eyelash over hundreds of billions every few months to pour down the drain in Iraq.)

But he is a neo-con in more than just supporting the Iraq war. In 1983, a group of Reagan administration officials, embarrassed by former President Jimmy Carter's work in certifying elections in foreign countries as fair (or certifying some as unfair) founded the International Republican Institute, a private organization that is not part of the government. The purpose of this organization is officially to certify elections (as an alternative to the U.N. and other indepdendent monitoring agencies) but it is a sometimes shadowy organization that has been involved with local politics, what could be considered 'nation building' and operating parallel to the offical state department diplomacy throughout the world. During the Bush administration, the IRI has more than once been a key component to conducting the administrations' parallel diplomacy in situations where matters like American law and international law might be 'constraining.' Anyway, a look at the board of directors of the IRI is quite revealing:

Its chairman is none other than John McCain.

Others on the board of the IRI include a virtual who's who of the neo-cons present and past: Paul Bremer (the first U.S. envoy to Iraq), Frank Fahrenkopf (former chairman of the Republican Party), Scowcroft and Eagleburger (the 'Bobsey twins' of Bush I foreign policy, who went to Beijing right after the Tianenmen Square massacre to assure the Chinese that any official criticism was for domestic consumption only), and three other present or former members of Congress (all Republicans.) Former Reagan U.N. Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick was a member until she passed away last year. The rest of the membership reads like a laundry list of neo-con priorities, a mixture of movers and shakers of industry (such as the Director of Lockheed Martin Missile Defense Programs), former CIA and state department midlevel managers and others who can be relied on (not a Democrat among them.) Well, you know what they say, "birds of a feather." Well, this is the company that John McCain is keeping these days. Has been since 2003. And Patriot I and Patriot II and all the other domestic spying bills? Yep, McCain supported those too.

So it's really not so surprising that McCain was caught in the famous photo of the Bush hug at the 2004 GOP convention.

On virtually everything that matters, if you want another four years of the Bush administration, then you'll vote for John McCain.
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