Archive | May, 2012

Corasanti Acquitted

31 May

An Erie County jury yesterday acquitted Dr. James Corasanti of 2nd degree vehicular manslaughter, 2nd degree manslaughter, leaving the scene of an accident that resulted in death without reporting it, and two counts of tampering with evidence. He was convicted of one lesser, misdemeanor charge of DWI.

The vehicular manslaughter charge requires a finding of “criminal negligence“, which basically means he fails to see or perceive something that he should have, and that his failure to do so represents a “gross departure” from the reasonable person standard of care. If the defendant was DWI, there is a rebuttable presumption that his mental condition contributed to the death. 

The 2nd degree manslaughter charge requires a finding of “reckless” culpable conduct. As compared with criminal negligence, recklessness requires a finding that the defendant was aware of a substantial risk of unnecessary harm, and disregarded it. 

In this case, Corasanti took the stand – something he was under no obligation to do as a criminal defendant. His legal team took a calculated risk in exposing him to the scrutiny of cross-examination, and it was completely up to the jury whether to believe him when he said he didn’t see Alix Rice on her longboard; that he didn’t know he had hit a person – much less killed her; that he wasn’t drunk; that he wasn’t texting; that he wasn’t speeding or weaving. The jury bought it. 

That’s not the fault of the prosecution, or the judge, or the jury. That’s no one’s fault at all. That’s just how it shook out.

Mad at Corasanti? Of course. He hit and killed a girl with his car. Privileged rich guy with a 5-series and a low-number EC license plate. The very embodiment of local WNY monied privilege. But that wasn’t the issue – whether he committed that act, but whether he had the culpable mental conduct in doing so that would justify sending him to jail.  His wealth and prominence weren’t an issue, either in the commission of the crime. Mere accident, or something that would have/could have been prevented had Corasanti acted like any reasonable person? This jury found that this was a tragic accident, not one punishable by jail time – not one that he could have prevented. 

Face it – if you were in Corasanti’s shoes, you’d have paid every penny to buy the best damn criminal defense you could afford, too. 

Alix Rice, via Facebook

A jury is specifically instructed – carefully selected – to be impartial; to set aside prejudices or sympathies they may have. They most certainly didn’t insult the memory of Alix Rice last night – they couldn’t have; weren’t allowed to.  The judge explicitly told them to set any such feeling aside. Juries aren’t supposed to convict people because they feel badly for the victim or her family. Juries aren’t supposed to convict people because popular opinion will be outraged at what they did. Juries aren’t supposed to decide based on sympathy or empathy. 

Juries are specifically instructed to analyze the facts presented to them in the courtroom, and apply the law to the facts as they find them. Jurors are uniquely empowered to make determinations about the credibility of evidence and witnesses before them. This jury worked hard and did what was asked of them. They were careful, methodical, and thoughtful. They analyzed the evidence. It just so happened that they had what they considered to be a reasonable doubt about Corasanti’s guilt on the homicide counts. 

They apparently found that Corasanti never saw Rice – that she was operating her longboard in such a way that she was very difficult to be seen. They may have found that Rice contributed to her own death by the way in which she was operating the longboard. That’s enough to conclude that Corasanti was neither criminally negligent nor reckless. 

But the public outcry – it’s totally reasonable for people to be outraged. A young girl is dead, and a wealthy, prominent person was able to buy himself the best local criminal defense team he could afford. In this case, he probably dropped six figures to buy accident reconstructionists, expert witnesses, and some of the most effective criminal defense lawyers in town. Is it fair? Are the people who are outraged going to agitate to change the laws so that indigent or middle-income criminal defendants have equal access to expert defense witnesses?  A turning point in this case was the expert testimony that Rice’s longboard may have veered across the fog line into Corasanti’s path. That testimony cost a lot of money, and likely saved Corasanti from prison.

Left the body in the brambles? Call Joel Daniels. Caught by a sleuth? Call Cheryl Meyers-Buth. Need a jury uncertain? Call Tom Burton. 

Most people would have probably taken a plea. This trial was a huge gamble. A massive risk. All or nothing for Corasanti. Insert your big-win-gambling-analogy here. 

Had Alix Rice ran down a prominent doctor late at night after leaving “martini night” at a friend’s house, and registering a .1 BAC a few hours later have gotten away with it? We’ll never know, but I doubt it. Maybe it depends on the defense her family could have afforded. 

Justice? Justice is what you make of it. Corasanti probably thinks he found justice. Supporters of Alix Rice don’t. But this isn’t over. Civil suits have been brought against Corasanti on behalf of Rice’s estate. There, the standard of proof for a plaintiff is significantly lower than in criminal court. Corasanti may never go to jail, but depending on how well-insured he is, he very well may be financially destroyed. If his personal assets are exposed, all his wealth will be at risk, his future and his legacy demolished. Is that justice? 

After the verdict, Corasanti’s legal team started in with “nobody’s a winner here” and other mouth-noises about how sad this all is for everybody. I’d suggest that the legal team is better at defending criminals than public relations. Now is a great time for them to keep quiet. No one wants to hear their platitudes about winning and losing. Quite palpably, Dr. Corasanti is the winner and Alix Rice is the loser. Corasanti woke up this morning in his own home, convicted only of a first-offense misdemeanor. He’s surrounded by his wife and family. Alix Rice remains dead, her life gone, her future destroyed, her friends and family even more distraught and filled with loss. It’s quite clear that there was a winner and a loser in this case. Corasanti’s team should dummy up and let Rice’s family grieve, and let her supporters be outraged. 

Judge DiTullio did not allow reporters to live-blog or Tweet during the trial. She didn’t allow the proceedings to be televised, as is the norm in New York State. I think it’s long past the time to change that rule. If we’re going to subject ourselves to criminal trial porn, then it’d be helpful if the general public was better informed about what was going on in court, in real time. 500-word summaries of a day’s worth of testimony don’t cut it. Unless you were in that courtroom for the entirety of the proceedings, you have only a generalized, condensed idea what that jury saw and heard. Court proceedings are public in nature, but the public works for a living. It’s time New York changed its rules to permit electronic media in court as a general rule, and leave judges discretion to exclude them, not the other way around. 

Please don’t vilify the jurors. They did what they were supposed to do, and they did it thoughtfully. You can disagree with their verdict, but they aren’t the bad guys and they aren’t your enemy. If jurors start fearing for their lives or start getting harassed because they fulfilled their civic duty, you deal a blow to our system – an imperfect one in an imperfect world.  Please, media, stay away from the roadside shrine to Alix Rice. Let people grieve and remember in peace. Get man-in-the-street voxpops somewhere else. Anywhere else. 

Lawyers win, lawyers lose. Juries get it right, juries get it wrong. The guilty go to jail, and the guilty get off. The innocent get off, and the innocent go to jail. The innocent sometimes die. Life isn’t fair, money is important, and sometimes things don’t go the way you expect them to go. As long as the matter was tried fairly – and no one, anywhere, has suggested otherwise – we must accept what happened last night. We don’t have to like it, and we can analyze it every which-way, but if you’re ever charged with a crime, you’ll come to appreciate the inherent fairness of our system, and the protections it affords the accused.  Neither sending Corasanti to jail, nor sending him to the poorhouse will ever bring Alix Rice back. But the latter will make him literally pay for what he did that night. 

After all, the jury in the civil suit will only need to find that he was culpable for Alix Rice’s death by a preponderance of the evidence, a lower standard than that within which the criminal jury worked. 

Perhaps then, the public will feel that justice has been done. 


Chris Charvella: His Path to Atheism

30 May

Because he proposed the ultimate, NSFW title he used for this introspective series on faith, and I suggested that he use that very title on Facebook and promised to link to it when he did, I now link to it and suggest that you read it

Chris is a former colleague of mine from, living and working in Batavia and providing news and views from a rural Democrat’s perspective. Please add his blog to your readers. 

Wield Your Influence

30 May

In light of a discussion that was generated by this post and this post, I attended a meeting of preservationists Tuesday morning. In an area where progress and action is unfortunately fueled by transactional politicking, I recommended that the preservationist community become more active in that world. There isn’t a problem plaguing WNY that doesn’t have a political cause and solution. 

For instance, one speaker related how Mayor Brown refused to write a simple letter in support of the Central Terminal master plan because it wasn’t a priority for him – downtown is. (If downtown is a priority for the Mayor who’s served since 2006, I’d say his list of accomplishments is horrifically microscopic.)

So, how does a preservationist community that is as sincere as it is factionalized become an effective political force?  Less reactive and more proactive? 

1. Unify. There are too many preservationist organizations in Buffalo. I can’t tell one from the other, and there seems to be little actual thought or reason behind it. Egos and ambition should be set aside to present a unified front to promote their issues and goals.

2. Start a PAC. By doing so, the preservationist community can advocate for ideas and for policies. They can draft proposed legislation that would create a city or regional “do not demolish under any circumstances” list, and an objective set of criteria for other buildings to be added to that list in the future.

3. Start a political club. Perhaps more effective, by doing this the preservation community can vet and endorse candidates. They can hold events that don’t just raise money for their cause, as with a PAC, but actually hold fundraisers for favored political figures. They can publicize their electoral choices among their membership and elicit detailed information from candidates for public office regarding their positions regarding preservationist issues. With promises of money, influence, and warm bodies to canvass, stuff envelopes, and make phone calls, the preservationist community can help do the dirty work of electing candidates friendly to their cause. 

4. Create a fusion party. While not my personal favorite, this is an option that’s available to the preservationists – a “Preservation Party,” which can not just endorse and raise money for candidates, but actually provide them with another party line, and actual votes. 

The people who make up the preservationist community are some of the best-connected in town, with existing access to media, elected officials, the regional apparatchik class, the money-rich foundations, and the moneyed elites. Yet instead of capitalizing on that, they reduce themselves to “this place matters” passive resistance and emergency leafletting or litigation. They’re often referred to as “obstructionist” specifically because of that. While they may not care about it, and rationalize it, it’s a perception that can be changed rather easily. 

Steel Tube Production for Lackawanna

30 May

Chris Smith came across a notice for a public hearing, which was held on the morning of Tuesday May 29th in Lackawanna City Hall regarding an application Welded Tube, USA, Inc. made to the Erie County IDA for a land and incentive package at the “Tecumseh Business Park, Lakewinds Site Parcel 3 at the intersection of Route 5 and Ridge Road in Lackawanna”.  

Under the proposal, Welded Tube intends to build a “new, high speed, efficient steel tube production line for the production of multi-faceted cold formed carbon and HSLA tubular steel for use in the energy tubular industry”.  

The ECIDA would purchase the land and lease it back to Welded Tube, and “contemplates that it will provide financial assistance to the Company for qualifying portions of the Project in the form of sales and use tax exemptions, a mortgage recording tax exemption, and a partial real property tax abatement consistent with the policies of the [ECIDA]”. 

The property in question is a 400 acre brownfield site that sits perhaps not coincidentally right next to the embattled Bethlehem Steel North office building. 

Alfred Culliton, COO of ECIDA says that Welded Tube is a “Canadian operation” looking to open up its first US operation on this Lackawanna site. Culliton says Welded Tube intends to construct further south on the property, near the South Branch crossing, and is in no way related to, or spurring the push to demolish the Bethlehem Steel North office building. 

Welded Tube USA, Inc. is not incorporated in New York State, and there are no Google hits for that name, except for the ECIDA hearing notice.  It appears that cleaning up the former Bethlehem Steel property for prospective residential or recreational purposes is not a priority, and the land will instead further be used for industrial purposes. This place – does it matter? How, and for whom?

The Return Of The Morning Grumpy – 5/30/12

30 May

It’s been a hellish few weeks of business travel, but I’m back in the saddle, ready to give you your daily dose of all the news, views, and filtered excellence for you to consume during your morning grumpy.

1. Once upon a time, there was a group of media outlets that made decisions about the types of information you, the consumer, would be able to hear, view or read.  They were gatekeepers and they decided what would be news and what would forever descend down the memory hole.

The internet changed all of that.  We, formerly known as the audience, suddenly became producers, curators and distributors of news and information using the semantic web and social networking. We could even influence the production of traditional media using the web; changing the face of the news to look a little something like this.

Using this technology, we would set information free and open new channels of communication independent of gatekeepers. Right?

Eli Pariser is the author of a book called “The Filter Bubble” which challenges that basic assumption.  I’ll let him explain the basics.

Pariser asserts that the tools we use to produce, aggregate, curate, and disseminate news have become the new gatekeepers. The complicated algorithms which make the web possible are actively working to create a personal internet, attuned to our biases and perspective. So much so that we’re beginning to lose touch with other points of view and information needed to make informed decisions as media consumers.

Essentially, Facebook, Google and others are turning into automated confirmation bias machines.

Interestingly, there are geeks all over the world who are working to solve this problem. The first product I’ve seen is a Google Chrome extension called rbutr. And it could change the way we consume information. Their solution is an amalgam of the two systems, technology tools and personal gatekeepers, working to keep each other honest.

Our current primary focus at this point is leveraging the platform we have to develop a strong, dedicate community of bloggers and skeptics who will continue to help building a network of rebuttal connections between relevant websites all over the web.

A healthy mix of people, skeptics, and algorithms. Sounds good to me. Their mission?

To link every page on the internet to its most appropriate responses, so that no one is ever forced to simply accept what they are ‘told’ by any one source ever again.

It comes along with a code of ethics and philosophy. A very unique tool for a confusing time in media.

2. This summer, we’ll have a redux of the fight over the debt ceiling and the effects of that showdown will derail the economy…which is exactly what the Republicans are hoping to accomplish.

Europe is crumbling. China is slowing. The Federal Reserve is dithering. Yet the biggest threat to the emerging U.S. economic recovery may be Congress.

John Boehner, the leader of the House Republicans, has promised yet another fight with the White House over the debt ceiling

If this sounds familiar, it’s because we suffered through an identical performance last summer. Our analysis of that episode leads to a troubling conclusion: It almost derailed the recovery, and this time could be a lot worse.

The brinksmanship displayed by the Republicans last summer resulted in a huge drop in consumer confidence, not just a drop in our credit rating.

High-frequency data on consumer confidence from the research company Gallup, based on surveys of 500 Americans daily, provide a good picture of the debt-ceiling debate’s impact (see chart). Confidence began falling right around May 11, when Boehner first announced he would not support increasing the debt limit. It went into freefall as the political stalemate worsened through July. Over the entire episode, confidence declined more than it did following the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc

The only way, realistically, that Mitt Romney takes the White House is if the economy goes into the proverbial squatter. The Republicans were willing to derail the recovery and toy with the nation’s credit rating last summer to accomplish a political goal, why wouldn’t they do it again when the stakes are even higher? They reneged on the deals that were struck after that near economic nightmare last summer and they’re ready to bring it all crashing down.

As an added kicker, if you read this breakdown of the negotiations from last summer (some of the finest enterprise journalism of the last five years), you’ll learn that the Republican caucus is so fractured, that there isn’t one entity with whom the White House can negotiate.

In other words, buckle up, it’s gonna be One Crazy Summer and President Obama will be negotiating with the political equivalent of the Stork Brothers.

3. Speaking of that Presidential election, Medicare Fraud Enthusiast and Governor of Florida, Rick Scott, is doing his best to turn the Florida election into a trainwreck of confusion and insanity. As in the run-up to the Presidential election in 2000, the Republican Party is doing their best to disenfranchise as many voters as possible.

Bill Internicola is a 91-year-old, Brooklyn-born, World War II veteran. He fought in the Battle of the Buldge and received the Bronze Star for bravery. He’s voted in Florida for 14 years and never had a problem.

Three weeks ago, Bill received a letter from Broward County Florida stating “[Y]ou are not a U.S. Citizen” and therefore, ineligible to vote. He was given the option of requesting “a hearing with the Supervisor of Elections, for the purpose of providing proof that you are a United States citizens” or forfeit his right to vote.

This decorated World War II veteran is just one of hundreds of fully eligible U.S. citizens being targeted by Governor Scott’s massive voter purge just prior to this year’s election, according to data obtained from Florida election officials by ThinkProgress. The purge list, according to an analysis by the Miami Herald, targets mostly Democrats and Hispanics.

If you can’t win on ideas, you change the meaning of winning.

4. Every day, the National Security Administration intercepts and stores over 1,700,000,000 emails, phone calls, texts, and online communications. Ya know, to keep us safe.

The Department of Homeland Security is also monitoring your communications, even on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and other associated social media outlets. You’re not doing anything wrong, so you’ve got nothing to worry about, right? Well, if you’ve used any of these keywords in your communications, you should wonder.

Three months ago, a list of keywords was released by the Dept. for Homeland Security after the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) sued the government for withholding the document.

Sure, they don’t monitor everything you say or type, but if you’ve typed the words “virus”, “social media”, “denial of service”, malware”, or “worm”…they certainly have checked you out.

This is probably a good time to remind you Proles that, “We’ve always been at war with Eurasia.”

5. As it turns out, customers prefer to be lied to about pricing.

You might have seen recently that iconic retailer JC Penney is slumping badly. You almost certainly have seen the reason why: A massive, creative and aggressive new advertising and pricing campaign that promises simplified prices.

Shoppers hated it.

The campaign, which launched on Feb. 1, appears to be a disaster. Revenue dropped 20 percent for the first quarter compared to last year. Customer traffic fell 10 percent. Last year, the company made $64 million in the first quarter; this year, it lost $163 million.

The CEO who came up with this concept was picked from the ranks of Apple, which made hundreds of billions of dollars by limiting choice and product options and simply relabeling it as “simplicity”. Now that the numbers are in, it would appear that people will dig this “simplicity” only if it’s paired up with the right kind of marketing in a very narrow product vertical. In department stores?

If a firm tries to educate consumers on tricks and traps, and tries to offer an honest product, a funny thing happens: Consumers say, “Thank you for the tips,” and go back to the tricky companies, where they exploit the new knowledge to get cheaper prices, leaving the “honest” firm in the dust.

JC Penney is, as they say, fucked. Switching back to shrouded prices and coupons so quickly will be disastrous for the company. Staying with the current strategy also leaves them exceedingly vulnerable in a very competitive marketplace. It’s fun to see a company make a big bet and take a lot of risk, but it’s terrible to see an iconic American brand lose so big on that bet.

Fact Of The Day: The Commodore 64 is the best selling computer ever made. To this day, I can strike anyone out with Pepe Perez’s screwball in Hardball.

Quote Of The Day: “The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.” – Oscar Wilde

Laugh Of The Day: (Strong Language) “Funny As Hell” – Hannibal Buress

Double Laugh Of The Day: “Birth” – Patton Oswalt

Song Of The Day: “Cissy Strut” – The Meters

Follow me on Twitter for the “incremental grumpy” @ChrisSmithAV

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Lake Effect Ice Cream’s Punditella

29 May

On Tuesday, I got an ice cream named after me. 

I’m a huge fan of Lake Effect Ice Cream, the plucky little Lockport factory of deliciousness behind awesome flavors like Salty Caramel, a Date at the Zoo, and Peanut Butter Epiphany. Jason Wulf and Erik Bernardi are doing great things, but most importantly they love their fans and are responsive to new flavor ideas. 

So, all last summer, I harassed them to do a Nutella ice cream. The Italian chocolate-hazelnut treat is my favorite – especially schmeared on a fresh slice of scala bread. I’ve tried to make it at home, but I don’t have the patience to do it right. Fortunately, Jason and Erik have that patience, and they’ve already got several years’ worth of experience making truly excellent ice cream flavors. 

A few weeks ago, Lake Effect tweeted that they had been perfecting their Nutella ice cream, and asked me to name it, suggesting “Punditella”, as an amalgam of “Pundit” and “Nutella”. I laughed and thought it sounded like a horribly evil Disney Princess. So, naturally, they Photoshopped my face onto Maleficent from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty

Here’s how Lake Effect describes the resulting ice cream: 

What a great way to come off the Memorial Day weekend! Today at the shop we will be adding, for a limited time our brand new Punditella flavor. Inspired by local Artvoice writer Alan Bedenko’s constant urging for a Nutella ice cream we have created this new flavor for everyone!

It is an ultra rich chocolate hazelnut ice cream with pieces of hazelnuts swirled throughout. We have only made a few batches and it is only available at our scoop shop. So stop in and grab some before it’s gone!

Nutella and hazelnut bits? It’s the answer to the question, “invent the best possible ice cream you could possibly invent”. Available at Lake Effect’s scoop shop in Lockport, Punditella is available for only a short time. To say I’m honored is a vast understatement.  I bow to these guys. 


Pyongyang Traffic

26 May

Here’s something odd I found on a North Korea Flickr group. A person rode around Pyongyang taking picture of buses and trolleys, categorizing the types he found. Here are two incidental finds that I found puzzling, as these vehicles are distinctly American, and we don’t exactly export to the hermit kingdom. 

The first shows a Dodge Ram van, sold until 2003 and replaced by the Mercedes-built Sprinter vans. The second shows a VW Routan, which is a rebadged Chrysler Town & Country minivan. It’s a vehicle that is not sold anywhere outside of North America, as the rest of the world is too good for such a cynically awful amalgam of American mediocrity and European badge engineering. My best guess is that they’re either owned by Canadian diplomats, UN services, or some NGO or another. I just think it’s surreal.



[From the Vault] Regionalism: Time to Party Like it’s 1999

25 May

photo.JPGI’ve heard it said that Buffalo is where good ideas go to die. I don’t think of it like that.

Buffalo is where good ideas are made to inhale chloroform, dragged around to the back of the abandoned house, and murdered by status-quo driven self-interest.

Buffalo in 2011 (and 2012) is besotted with the same problems, the same issues, the same concerns, and – strikingly – the same debates it had a decade ago.  Save one.


Regionalism was murdered in 2005 after being debilitated by people who have an interest in maintaining the status quo, and then unintentionally killed by a politically beleaguered Joel Giambra; it was manslaughter.  After all, during the last few years of his 16th floor Rath Building tenancy, Joel Giambra was political poison. If he was for pink bunny rabbits and sun-shiny days, polls would show that 20% of WNYers agreed with him, while 70% hated bunnies and sunshine, and a further 10% didn’t know.

But as wrong as Joel Giambra was about a lot of things, he was right about one – that western New York needed to seriously consider the implementation of regional, metropolitan government. The champion of this idea was Kevin Gaughan.

Gaughan recognized that regionalism – a concept whose entry in the regional socio-economic-political discussion began through a forum held in 1997 at the Chautauqua Institution – was a non-starter due to its support from, and association with the toxic Giambra.  He turned his attention to another crusade – the “Cost“, which studied and determined that we ought to remedy a symptom of too many governments in WNY – i.e., too many politicians and appointees – and begin eliminating villages and downsizing town boards and other legislatures.  That has been met with some success, more failure, and bypasses the disease itself.

Yet those familiar with the internet’s Way Back Machine can still access Gaughan’s arguments for regional metropolitan government.

One of the opinions I’m most known for is the idea that county government ought to be abolished. It was done in 1997 in Massachusetts, which recognized that county government largely adds no value to the work already done by cities, towns, villages, and – most importantly – the state.

We have so many redundant and needless governments in western New York that the regional is factionalized and fragmented.  The Balkanization of western New York helps ensure that there is no unified plan – with a set vision, and a series of distinct goals – for moving a region into a 21st century reality.

We rely on the Sabres and the Bills to keep convincing ourselves that this is a major league city. It isn’t. Our infrastructure planning assumed that the City of Buffalo and Erie County would grow to a population of over 2 million people. It hasn’t; it’s shrunken. People clamor for change, yet moan about its actual implementation. As if by abolishing a village government you abolish the village itself and displace its people.

We are the ultimate hoarders; hoarders of pointless governmental entities that add no value to the civic equation. Why? Could it be as simple as my hypothesis – that there are too many people dependent on the maintenance of the status quo to permit change to be implemented?

It’s time for us, the people of Erie County and western New York, to start talking again about looking forward.  The governmental number and structure of the 50s needs to change, or this region will continue to decline.  The age of industry has given way to the age of knowledge and information.

The city of Toronto, Ontario is a municipal entity comprising over 2 million people. It has a directly elected mayor and a unicameral legislature made up of 44 councilmembers representing a geographical constituency. In 1998, Toronto and six surrounding municipalities joined, making up the amalgamated Metro Toronto. Buffalo also has a changed demographic reality, one that could do with some radical change.  You mean to tell me that 45 elected officials to handle a population of 900,000 isn’t doable? Western New York has 45 separate and distinct governments, comprised of well over 300 elected officials.

This is the first in a series, and it’s my hope that we can re-spark this discussion and come up with ways to implement and design this new reality for western New York. I sincerely think that by making this switch to metropolitan government is the best chance for lurching us out of a 50s growth & infrastructure mentality that has been an anachronism for decades. This is an idea that will be fought tooth & nail by those who benefit from our stagnated status quo, but some of their points will be valid and need to be addressed.  I hope to conclude with an action plan that will enable people to lobby, advocate, agitate, and cajole for this idea.

Downsize? Let’s downsize from 45 to 1.

Sometimes, old forgotten ideas are worth reviving.  Let’s do that.

The foregoing article was first published on March 8, 2011. Unfortunately, it didn’t really become a “series”, and that’s my own fault. Maybe by re-publishing it here, thanks to the archives of my old 2006 – 2011 posts that is now back online, I’ll remind myself further to pursue this line of thought and debate. 

The Obamian Candidate

24 May


Birtherism is the right-wing fever-dream that won’t die. For Democrats and independents, it’s long gone from being puzzling to hilarious – especially since the President released his “long-form” birth certificate in April 2011. The theory? Usually it comes down to Obama being a secret Muslim, Kenyan-born, Manchurian candidate, set up since birth in 1961 by a communist cabal intent on destroying the United States. Like the Romney campaign, this wing of birtherism still lives deep in the heart of the Cold War. 

Less insane birthers claim merely that Obama can’t be a “natural-born” citizen because under the law as it stood in the 18th century, one could not be “natural-born” if one’s father was not a citizen at the time of birth. Of course, that’s not the law in the United States. The 14th Amendment confirmed that any person born on American soil is automatically and by birthright a natural-born citizen. So, that theory’s out the window. 

The less inventive birthers insist that Obama’s certificate of live birth wasn’t proof of anything, despite the fact that writing on the document itself indicates that it is “prima facie evidence of the fact of birth in any court proceeding“.  So, to shut the thing up once and for all, the White House released the long form birth certificate, pictured above. 

Of course, these people immediately accused the White House and/or Hawaii of falsifying the birth certificate, analyzing the PDF version of it for “layers”, (as if the PDF wasn’t merely a scanned image in a particular format of a physical document). The “layers” theory was handily debunked here

There are still dummies all over the internet claiming that Obama is a foreign-born usurper and that everything is phony. In the most tea-party prone state in the Union, Arizona, a whopping (sarcasm – ed.) 1,200 emails were sent to Secretary of State Ken Bennett, (who – totally coincidentally – is also the Arizona co-chairman of the Romney campaign), to demand that Hawaii confirm Obama’s eligibility before the President is allowed to be listed as a candidate on the November ballot there. 

The emails between Arizona and Hawaii are utter comedy, but ultimately Hawaii did send a verification to Arizona, which you can see here. It seems pretty legitimate to me, even if it is a PDF and likely has LAYERS!

But for some reason, the Romney campaign has not yet answered claims that the likely Republican nominee is, in fact, a unicorn.  You see, Arizona was chasing down Obama’s eligibility, and claiming to Hawaii that it had a duty to do so. It would therefore follow that they had a duty to chase down Romney’s eligibility.  After all, Romney’s father may not have been born in Kenya, but he was born in Mexico. But Arizona hadn’t contacted Michigan, and had no plans to do so.

So, if a mere 1,200 angry, xenophobic, conspiratorial emails can get Arizona’s Ken Bennett to conduct a birther investigation, then certainly 15,000 emails will be more than persuasive for Mr. Bennett to conduct an investigation into the shocking, un-contradicted claims of Romney’s alleged unicornhood

The Republican rush to appropriate and placate the tea party is going to start coming back to haunt it – the tea party, which is at its core little more than a reactionary movement that facially opposes “spending” but never really coalesced for some reason until 2009. I wonder what that reason might be? 

After all, here’s a chart that shows a comparison of the growth in government spending between the Obama administration and other recent Presidents. (It starts with 2010, because the 2009 budget was passed in 2008 under President Bush). 

If conservatism is about smaller government, shrinking the federal budget, and lower spending, it would perhaps seem as if our political labels may be, quite frankly, reversed. The deficit? It wasn’t caused by spending – it was caused by a dramatic reduction in revenue during the 2008 downturn

But the longer we blama Obama for outrageous “spending” and for not being “natural-born”, the longer we’ll just keep going around and around, not really solving any big problems, but instead punting and making them worse for future generations. 

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On the Wings of Chickens

24 May


Courtesy Marquil at