P.L.A. - A Journal of Politics, Law and Autism

PLA is a fair and balanced Journal published by Dwight Meredith with a Focus on Politics, Law and Autism

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Saturday, June 14, 2003
Today’s Tour

Making Light has the definitive post on the issue of the looting of Iraqi antiquities.

I am often wrong (even though rarely in doubt) but I get the impression that Julia will not be getting a Christmas card from Michael Savage Weiner.

SouthKnoxBubba tells the story of a Tennessee church that has gone way, way out of control. Why any church would kidnap and terrorize children in the name of religion is beyond my comprehension. I simply cannot describe the post. Please read it but before you do, lock your doors and hug your children.

I always love it when TBogg decides to mock NRO’s The Corner. The Corner deserves it and TBogg is the master of the genre.

Kip’s take on proposed reforms of the Alabama tax code, the Republican Governor of Alabama and the role of religion in tax policy is not to be missed.

Friday, June 13, 2003
Quid Pro Quo?

Soon after the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform bill became law, a group of the bill’s opponents, led by Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky filed suit to have the bill declared unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds. The group retained noted First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams to handle the case.

Mr. Abrams took the deposition of Senator McCain ( here is a good summary). At the deposition, Abrams pressed McCain to provide specific examples of how campaign contributions corrupted the legislative process. From the Courier-Journal article linked to above:
Opponents of the law say there's no evidence to back up arguments that soft money corrupts the political process. Efforts by the plaintiffs to elicit examples of corruption turned up nothing, said Todd Young, policy director of the Southeastern Legal Foundation, a public-interest law firm in Atlanta that is allied with McConnell.

''The government's case relies very heavily on anecdotal evidence,'' Young said. ''The connection between issue advocacy, party politics and corruption has yet to be made.''

While being deposed by McConnell's side, McCain repeatedly was pressed for an example of corruption that the campaign finance law was intended to address. He at first declined to be specific.

''The purpose of campaign-finance reform was to eliminate the widespread belief that there is the appearance of corruption in Washington,'' he said. ''. . . It is not my job to identify that from a legal standpoint.''

But under continued questioning in the deposition, McCain offered an alleged instance he believed represented an appearance of corruption.

McCain testified that at a Republican Senate luncheon in 1998, the lawmakers discussed an upcoming national tobacco settlement vote. Tobacco companies wanted the measure defeated because it would have raised taxes on cigarettes and the amount the companies would have to pay to settle lawsuits brought by states seeking to recover smoking-related medical costs.
McCain said he heard McConnell tell his colleagues he had been assured by the tobacco companies they would spend heavily on their supporters' campaigns. The legislation was defeated, and the states reached their own settlement with the tobacco industry that fall, one that did not call for congressional approval.

Abrams later asked McCain if he had ever checked to see what, if anything, tobacco companies had done for senators. McCain said he ''didn't even try.''

''What bothered me was not whether the tobacco companies did it or not. . . . It was the fact that the statement was made to Republican senators just prior to a vote,'' McCain said.

The questioning of Senator McCain about specific incidents of corruption puts him in a tough position. In order to be effective in the Senate, he needs at least a cordial relationship with other Senators. Perhaps it would be better if proof of a quid pro quo between campaign contributions and legislative action came from a source other than Senator McCain.

Three recent news stories should be reviewed to see if the conduct described establishes that campaign contributions have a direct and corrupting influence on the legislative process.

The first such story involves a Kansas City company known as Westar. On June 5, the Washington Post carried a story based on certain Westar documents and emails. That story reports the following:
Executives of a Kansas-based energy company believed that $56,500 in donations to political groups linked to four key Republican lawmakers last year would prompt Congress to exempt their firm from a problematic federal regulation, according to documents disclosed as part of a federal investigation of the company.

One executive of Westar Energy Inc. told colleagues in an e-mail that "we have a plan for participation to get a seat at the table" of a House-Senate conference committee on the Bush administration's energy plan. The cost, he wrote, would be $56,500 to campaign committees, including some associated with House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (Tex.), Rep. Joe Barton (Tex.), Rep. W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (La.) and Sen. Richard C. Shelby (Ala.).

The e-mail said Tauzin and Barton "made this request" for donations, and Shelby "made a substantial request" for another candidate. It not specify a direct request from DeLay.

Spokesmen for the four lawmakers said yesterday there was no connection between Westar's donations and their involvement in the sharply debated energy legislation. The exemption that Westar sought was inserted into the legislation by Barton, but it was later withdrawn after a grand jury began investigating the company for alleged wrongdoing, including securities fraud.

The Post story also reports on an email sent by a Westar vice-president. The email stated as follows:
We are working on getting our grandfather provision on PUHCA repeal into the Senate version of the energy bill. It requires working with the Conference committee . . . .

We have a plan for participation to get a seat at the table, which has been approved by David, the total of the package will be $31,500 in hard money (individual), and $25,000 in soft money (corporate)….

Right now, we have $11,500 in immediate needs for a group of candidates associated with Tom DeLay, Billy Tauzin, Joe Barton and Senator Richard Shelby …

(Delay’s) agreement is necessary before the House Conferees can push the language we have in place in the House bill…

(Tauzin and Barton) are key House Conferees on our legislation. They have made this request in lieu of contributions made to their own campaigns.

Those emails clearly establish the “quid.” It is clear that Westar felt that it was buying influence with its $56,000 in contributions. The remaining issue is whether a “pro quo” existed.

Although the Post story notes that Representative Barton in fact introduced the legislation Westar wanted (the provision was pulled after it was announced that Federal Authorities were investigating other Westar activities), the lawmakers involved adamantly deny a “pro quo.”

A spokesperson for Tom Delay acknowledged the Majority Leader met with Westar representatives. He noted, however, that “We have no control over any fantasies they might have about what they might get for a campaign contribution."

The defense put forward by the Delay spokesman is, in essence, that “We don’t sell influence. We flirt and hint to make potential contributors think that we sell influence but once we get the money, we do not deliver.” Back in high school, we had a crude term for girls who opted for that particular tactic on dates.

Thus, we may conclude that the politicians are either corruptly selling influence or just running a con game. That may be proof that Delay et.al. are vile but their alternate explanation is at least sorta, kinda plausible. I would say that conclusive proof of a quid pro quo is not present in that episode.

The second example that caught my attention was this story also in the Washington Post (Link via Off the Kuff):
Only hours after Rep. Roy Blunt was named to the House's third-highest leadership job in November, he surprised his fellow top Republicans by trying to quietly insert a provision benefiting Philip Morris USA into the 475-page bill creating a Department of Homeland Security, according to several people familiar with the effort.

The new majority whip, who has close personal and political ties to the company, instructed congressional aides to add the tobacco provision to the bill -- then within hours of a final House vote -- even though no one else in leadership supported it or knew he was trying to squeeze it in…

The provision would have made it harder to sell tobacco products over the Internet and would have cracked down on the sale of contraband cigarettes, two practices that cut into Philip Morris's profits. Blunt has received large campaign donations from Philip Morris, his son works for the company in Missouri and the House member has a close personal relationship with a Washington lobbyist for the firm.

As Charles Kuffner notes, in addition to the campaign contributions:
his son is a lobbyist for Philip Morris and has been the beneficiary of this kind of paternal largesse before on behalf of another client. Plus, Rep. Blunt is apparently involved (in some unspecified fashion) with a female lobbyist for Philip Morris. This plotline would've been rejected as excessively cheesy by the writers of Designing Women, and yet here we are.

Blunt uses the chicken and the egg defense to deflect claims that he peddled influence. He argues that the policy he promoted was a good one. In essence, the argument often made is that the politician makes his best judgment as to policy issues and the campaign contributions come because the contributors agree with the politician not the other way around.

Off the Kuff points us to this TNR story that sorta, kinda supports Blunt’s defense:
it does look like the Blunt explanation more or less adds up: Profits from contraband cigarette sales have apparently found their way back to Hezbollah in the past; the Hatch-Kohl measure would try to crack down on these sales, as well as Internet sales, which, the senators argue, both enable the contraband trade and are "unfair not only to ... individual states, but also to the brick and mortar retailers ... placing these businesses at an unfair commercial disadvantage."

The campaign contributions, his son’s employment relationship with Philip Morris and Blunt’s alleged relationship with a lobbyist for the company are all suggestive but in the end are not conclusive of a quid pro quo. The chicken and the egg defense is often used because it is difficult to disprove. In the end, the Blunt/Philip Morris episode totters on the brink of conclusive evidence of a quid pro quo of influence peddling but stops just short of the cliff.

The third story, written by David Grann, originally appeared in the New York Times Magazine. It has now disappeared behind the Times’ $ firewall. The Washington Monthly reports:
The New York Times Magazine's David Grann must be a good reporter to have convinced Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) to let him listen in on a private phone call between himself and freshman Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) But Chambliss must wish Frist had a better press secretary. During the call, Chambliss asked for Frist's support in naming a high-rolling GOP donor to an economic development organization. "He has lots of dollar figures down there?" Frist asked. "That's exactly right," Chambliss replied. "And he did raise a chunk of money for me." "All right," Frist said. "You're a good man." Sounds like Chambliss's donor got his money's worth.

Chambliss defends his conduct:
Well, the important thing about that article is, the article's got me quoted right. There was an interpretation in there that I said this guy's a heavy Republican donor, let's give him something. That's not what I said. I just simply said this guy has asked me to mention to you that he'd like to be considered for an ambassadorship. The guy's qualified for it, as a matter of fact. He just happens to be a donor, which then Senator Frist mentioned the numbers. ... Every day we're asked to make recommendations for people who enter college, enter med school. Particularly now with the change in the administration I get requests from people sometimes on who I know, sometimes I don't know, to be appointed to various positions. Some of them are donors. If you eliminate the donors, you eliminate an awful lot of qualified people.

Chambliss also points out that the donor did not get the job.

What of the position of Senator Frist? His question to Chambliss did not concern the man’s qualifications. His interest was in knowing whether “he has lots of dollar figures down there?" That question can only be understood to inquire as to whether or not the man being recommended for the job was a major campaign contributor. When Chambliss confirmed that the man did in fact “raise a chunk of money for me” Frist says “All right.”

Thus, it appears that Senator Frist makes being a contributor to Republican campaigns a prerequisite to his support for at least one appointed position. In our view, that is a smoking gun of influence peddling.

Even if you do not think that the Chambliss/Frist conversation is conclusive evidence of selling legislative influence for campaign contributions, the combination of all three of the above described incidents is difficult to dismiss.

Maybe Westar was just engaging in wishful thinking and the $56,000 requested by the Congressmen was going to buy absolutely nothing. Maybe Rep Blunt was unaffected by campaign contributions, the desire to help his son’s career or a little pillow lobbying. Maybe he really did think that the policy benefiting Philip Morris was so good that he just had to try to slip into the Homeland Security bill under the cover of darkness, in the dead of night without hearings or debate.

Perhaps the fact that the man had raised a chunk of cash for Chambliss had nothing to do with Chambliss trying to get him an Ambassadorship. Perhaps Frist asked about the man’s contribution history just to pass the time of day. Or perhaps not.

The lawyers defending the McCain-Feingold lawsuit should consider taking the depositions of Senators Frist, Chambliss and Shelby as well as Reps. Blunt, Delay, Tauzin and Barton. They may know more about specific instances of corruption than Senator McCain.

Thursday, June 12, 2003
A Poisoned Well

When I first started publishing PLA, I joked that I did it to keep my wife from yelling at the TV when Fox News was on. Blogs, particularly left of center blogs (which were fairly rare at the time), enabled us to read commentary closer to our own world view than most of the material presented by traditional media.

A funny thing happened as I continued to publish. I began to think of PLA not as an isolated web site but rather as part of something larger. I met a number of new people through blogging. People like Jim, Jeanne, Julia, Kevin, Devra and a number of others shared many of my political views, and, over time, I came to admire them as writers and as people.

Despite the fact that I have never met any of them, I began to think of them as friends. I would check in with them daily not only to read their writing but just to see how my friends were doing. I began to think of the blog world not only as a group of journals but rather as a group of people with common interests living within a larger society. That is one definition of community.

Last December I became aware of a blog operated by Mary Beth and known as Wampum. It was readily apparent that Mary Beth and I have many interests in common. We have similar political viewpoints (although I suspect that she is somewhat to my left). We are both interested in economics from a layperson’s perspective. Most importantly, however, we are both parents of autistic kids.

I helped introduce Wampum to my virtual community. Her clarity of thought, her insight, her diligent research, her honesty and the quality of her writing quickly led to Wampum becoming a popular blog with a wide community of her own. She remained in my virtual community as well. Mary Beth is my friend.

Mary Beth has now closed Wampum. That decision was a blow to my virtual community. She did so, in part, because someone decided to poison the well of her virtual community. That person was Mac Diva.

Mac Diva spews poison into the well of each community she visits. For her, blogging is not about community, it is about self. Mac Diva spreads untruths about others in order to attract attention to herself regardless of the damage done to the virtual community inhabited by others.

She began spreading her poison as a commenter attacking conservatives. For instance, at the Daily Kos, she attacked Ricky West of North Georgia Dogma:
I read RW's site, which is replete with insulting depictions of African-Americans, gays and those who suport abortion rights. He also makes an utterly unbelievable claim that racism in the South ended around 1970. (Uh huh. They just said 'No.') If he really thinks his heart is pure that is an amazing thing. (Just an observation, of course. Guy says he has a gun so I am not about to attack him.)

Ricky challenged Mac Diva to link to any post on his site that included anything insulting about blacks, any post that stated an opinion about abortion and/or any post in which he claimed racism ended around 1970.

Mac Diva responded by pointing out a post entitled Codes R Us. Ricky begins that post with the statement “Here is a tongue-in-cheek version…”. Now, if I wrote a post entitled “A Modest Proposal” I would expect almost all PLA readers to catch the literary reference and understand that what followed was satire. A few, perhaps, would not understand. If I began a post with the statement that what followed was “tongue in cheek” I would expect every single person who can read to understand that the post was not meant to be taken at face value.

Mac Diva, confident that few would click through the link, used the satirical post to smear Ricky as not having a pure heart (which was simply a way to call him a racist).

Ricky West is not a racist. Ricky is a staunch conservative. He and I disagree about virtually every political issue. Ricky began visiting PLA and leaving comments. His comments led me to his site and eventually to email correspondence. While we have agreed to disagree about politics, Ricky and I share an interest in raising children (with an emphasis on special needs kids) baseball and other things. Despite the fact that I still wish that he could see the correctness of my political views (and he wishes that the fog would clear from my eyes), our relationship is characterized by respect and civility. Community does not require perfect agreement.

Mac Diva simply made up the charge that Ricky is a racist so that she could spew a little of her poison around and draw attention to herself.

It is to the shame of liberals, including me, that we did not call her on her smear tactic at the time. To permit false claims of racism undermines credibility when the real thing is present. We tolerated her venom simply because it was directed at a conservative like Ricky and not at one of us. That was a mistake because Mac Diva is not concerned with us. She is only concerned about herself. The liberal position is to oppose injustice wherever it is found.

We permitted Mac Diva to smear Ricky. Little did we realize that when Mac Diva has a chance to draw attention to herself, the fact that someone else will get smeared is no obstacle. She would not long limit herself to smearing conservatives.

Mac Diva has made unfair charges against other conservatives as well. She challenged John Cole’s humanity by suggesting that he thought of Iraqi children as “cannon fodder.” I read Balloon Juice only on occasion. John Cole is not part of my virtual community and I am not part of his. John and I disagree on most issues including the war in Iraq.

People who opposed the war, including me, have often decried what we view as a tendency of war supporters to question our patriotism. It is possible to have opposed the war and still love America. Similarly, it is possible to support the war but wish no harm to the Iraqi people. I was in the former position. John Cole was in the latter.

For Mac Diva to suggest that John viewed the Iraqi people as merely “cannon fodder” does a disservice to him in exactly the same way that suggesting that my view is unpatriotic does to me. It is unfair and uncalled for. Unfairness, however, is of no concern to Mac Diva when she has an opportunity to call attention to herself.

The liberal community tolerated Mac Diva’s smear of John Cole because it was directed at someone outside our community. That was wrong.

Perhaps her most insulting comment on a conservative blog came at a site run by one Stefan Sharkansky known as Shark Blog. I am not a reader of Shark Blog. We live in different virtual communities.

Sharkansky, apparently, is married to a woman of Korean descent. He has a child who he describes as “Jewish Korean.” Around Martin Luther King Day, Sharkansky wrote a post announcing that he was taking the weekend off and noting “My personal debt to the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is for his efforts that helped lead to the repeal of laws that would have made my family illegal in some states.” He also implied that Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is inconsistent with any kind of affirmative action.

The next day, Mac Diva left a comment saying:
And Stefan wants to further damage the lives of people who were Americans long before he ordered his 'wife' from Korea. Telling. (BTW, which catalog was she in, Stefan, 'Cherry Blossoms'?)

That comment is offensive at many levels. First, it is inappropriate to attack the wife of a blogger instead of the ideas presented. Secondly, it denigrates both Mr. Sharkansky and his wife by suggesting that she was a mail order bride who had been “ordered” by her husband. The quote marks around the word "wife" are particularly offensive.

Apparently, Mr. Sharkansky’s wife has degrees from Berkeley and Princeton. She has never been to Korea. She is as American as you, I or Mac Diva. Mac Diva’s suggestion to the contrary is itself racist, stereotypical and uncalled for.

Third, Mac Diva spewed her poison and made those allegations without any supportive evidence. Mac Diva claims to be a lawyer. She surely knows that one ground for objection to a question at trial is that it “assumes facts not in evidence.” Mac Diva’s comment assumed that Mr. Sharkansky’s wife was born in Korea. It assumed that he picked her out of a catalogue. The reference to “Cherry Blossoms” is beneath both contempt and comment. Mac Diva assumes from Sharkansky’s post that he “wants to further damage the lives of people…” There is absolutely nothing in his post that suggests that is true.

Truth, however, is no obstacle when Mac Diva has a chance to call attention to herself.

At the time Mac Diva made the offensive comment quoted above, she was posting as a guest at Natasha’s The Watch. Natasha objected to the comment and while praising Mac Diva generally, refused to continue to allow Mac Diva to post at The Watch. Natasha’s post is here.

Natasha is to be commended for her stance. Mac Diva’s attack was not against a person within Natasha’s community. If others, including myself, had stepped forward and called Mac Diva on her disgraceful tactics, her venom would not have reached as far as it has and the Blog world would be better for it today. Natasha had the courage to do so.

Mac Diva was not happy about Natasha’s decision. She began a campaign to smear and malign Natasha. The fact that liberals had not stood up to Mac Diva when she attacked conservatives emboldened Mac Diva in her attack on the liberal Natasha.

Mac Diva claimed that Natasha was harassing her and that Mac Diva feared for her personal safety because Natasha lived in the same city. She also claimed Natasha was mentally unbalanced and made a number of other charges.

When I emailed Mac Diva and asked that she send me links or emails to prove the charges of harassment, she was either unwilling or unable to provide a single link or email to support her claims. I have found no post or comment by Natasha that could be construed as harassing Mac Diva.

One part of Mac Diva’s campaign against Natasha was out and out false. Mac Diva’s claim that Natasha lived in the same city (thereby allowing Mac Diva to assert that she feared for her personal safety) was simply a lie. Mac Diva has written that she lives in Portland, Oregon. In an email to me, Mac Diva wrote:
I am under the impression Natasha does (live in the same city), or at least in the area. She joined up with the Northwest contingent at Daily Kos when I first began participating in the blog community in January. That is odd if she doesn't live here, Vancouver or Seattle.

In other words, when Mac Diva claimed that Natasha lived in the same city, she did not know where Natasha lived. She suspected but did not know whether Natasha lived in the same city or perhaps somewhere in the same state, or perhaps in a different state or maybe a different country. Accuracy does not matter to Mac Diva when she sees a well that she can poison.

Mac Diva even attacked Natasha based on a disability. Natasha has Asperger’s Syndrome. Asperger’s Syndrome is part of the autism spectrum (the very high functioning end of the spectrum).

Mac Diva claimed that Natasha was trying to avoid responsibility for her allegedly harassing behavior by hiding behind her Aspergers. Mac Diva wrote a post comparing Aspergers to psychosis (which is ridiculous). She also attacked parents of autistic children by writing that such parents have an “entitlement complex” because autism affects whites at a greater rate than others (a factually incorrect statement).

In her effort to smear Natasha, Mac Diva even went so far as to set up a blog called “NatashaWatch.” That blog, which lasted about one day before being pulled, appeared to have as its sole purpose smearing Natasha and anyone who might rise to Natasha’s defense. I am told that I was one of the people attacked at that site. I did not see the post and the site is now closed.

Mary Beth of Wampum took offense at Mac Diva’s post about the “entitlement complex” (as did I) as well as her attacks on Natasha. Mary Beth expressed her opinion of those posts at Wampum.

Mac Diva, not content at having dumped poison into the well of Natasha’s community, then proceeded to try to pollute the well of Mary Beth’s lodge. She called Mary Beth a liar (which she is not), accused her of being manipulated by Natasha (which is also false), and accused her of certain unethical conduct (which is a damnable lie).

A member of Mary Beth’s community, Lisa English of Ruminate This, supported Mary Beth in the comments at Wampum.

Mac Diva responded by trying to smear Lisa. She wrote a post calling Lisa a racist. Anyone who has taken even a cursory look at Ruminate This (and it is a frequent read for me) knows that such a charge is not only false but rather is simply delusional.

Barry of Alas, a Blog, rose to the defense of the credibility of Mary Beth and Natasha. What did Mac Diva do? She threatened Barry in an attempt to prevent others from standing up for Natasha, Mary Beth and Lisa. In a comment at Alas, Mac Diva wrote the following:
I haven't decided which hypocrite deserves special attention next? Are there any volunteers? How about you, Barry, the self-described objective person who has not taken sides? Are you ready for YOUR close-up?

I suspect that by writing this post I have “volunteered” for Mac Diva’s “special attention.” I expect to be called a racist, a liar and be accused of all sorts of unethical conduct. After all, I have a well from which my community still drinks and Mac Diva has an insatiable appetite for attention and an inexhaustible supply of venom.

Why then, did I decide to write this post? My virtual community has been damaged by the loss of Wampum. That loss resulted from my failure to stand up to Mac Diva when she was using smear tactics to attack conservatives and later when her venom was turned on liberals. Her smear campaign will not stop unless I speak out and others follow suit. If one does not stand up to bullies, the bullying never stops.

I realize that people visit PLA to read about Politics, Law and Autism. I generally avoid blogcentric posts and also avoid commenting negatively about other bloggers. I apologize to PLA readers for the departure from the norm. This issue was one I did not feel I could ignore.

I wrote the post so that those of you in your own virtual communities will know that if Mac Diva comes to visit, guard your well.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003
Real Life Intrudes

I apologize for the lack of new posts. Real life has been intruding into my writing time. I will return soon.