Monday, January 30, 2006


This vote counting system was replaced with a paperless DIEBOLD voting machine that counted 4,258 Bush votes in an Ohio precinct with only 638 voters

(This column will appear in the 2/2/06 THE ALBANY JOURNAL)

“In the past 9 years, neither my staff nor I can recall a single case or complaint of a voter impersonating another voter at the polls — the issue sought to be corrected by mandatory photo identification. And had this been occurring, some voter surely would have complained upon finding that someone else had voted under their name. It hasn't happened....

The bill attempts to solve a problem that does not exist while expanding the opportunity for fraud in the area that has long been the most vulnerable to this type of abuse — the mailed absentee ballot.”

Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox, in 2005 letter to Georgia State Senate.

For the second year in a row, the Republican controlled legislature has passed a voter identification law which will prohibit elderly and poor voters without driver’s licenses from using their birth certificates or Social Security cards as identification. Although requiring proper identification at the polls seems like an innocuous requirement, the proponents of the law should have to answer some questions that the media has failed to press:

* If the integrity of elections is so important to the Republicans who now control the legislature, why didn’t they require a paper trail for computer cast ballots? Weren’t they aware that many jurisdictions around the country had problems with computer voting in 2004, including one precinct in Ohio’s Franklin County which recorded 4,258 votes for Bush where only 638 voters cast votes?

* If Republicans’ true concern is that imposters may use fake identification to vote if photos aren’t required, why not just let poll officials use digital cameras to snap pictures of voters who don’t have drivers’ licenses or other photo ID, then let them cast a provisional ballot? That way no legitimate voter will be excluded, and in the unlikely event an imposter shows up (it hasn’t happened once in the last 10 years), his vote can be challenged and he can be prosecuted using the photo as evidence.

* If eliminating voter fraud is so important to the Republican Party, then why did they relax the rules on absentee voting, where almost all of the recent instances of vote fraud have occurred in Georgia? Surely it couldn’t be because absentee voters usually vote Republican while those who lack drivers’ licenses usually vote Democratic?

* The committee which reported out this bill could not find a single instance of voter fraud resulting from use of a fake ID to justify the law. What is the real reason this legislation is such a high priority to Republicans that it has been the number one item on their agenda the first two years the Party took over the Georgia legislature?

The answers don’t come from Atlanta, but from Washington, Ohio, and Indiana.

The string pullers are in Washington

The real reason that the law has resurfaced relates to a Karl Rove- Jack Abramoff type initiative to maintain Republican control of Congress and state legislatures by suppressing likely Democratic voters. In Florida’s 2000 election thousands of legal voters were improperly denied their right to vote (the majority of whom were Democrats) when then Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who was also serving as the State Chair of Republicans for Bush, contracted a company to purge county voter lists- with zero oversight to correct all of the mistakes. In 2005 the Georgia photo ID bill was one of many introduced around the country in Republican controlled legislatures. Here’s an April 12, 2005 Associated Press story from Indiana which has eery parallels to Georgia’s recent headlines:

“INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana lawmakers passed a bill Tuesday that would require most voters to show government-issued photo identification before casting a ballot. Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels has said he would probably sign the measure, which would be one of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the nation. The Republican-controlled Senate voted Tuesday 33-17 along party lines to approve slight changes to the bill made in the GOP-controlled House. Republicans said the measure will help prevent voter fraud and restore voter confidence without putting an undue burden on citizens. "I want everyone in this state to have the right to vote -- one time," said Republican Sen. Victor Heinold, the bill's sponsor. Democrats strongly opposed the bill, arguing it would deprive the poor, minorities, the disabled and the elderly of the right to vote, because they are less likely to drive.“

The year before Indiana Republicans passed a law to “solve” a non-existent problem which-- totally coincidentally (!)-- will reduce votes for Democratic candidates, its next door neighbor, Ohio, had computer voting machines manufactured and serviced by Diebold, Inc. that mysteriously recorded phantom votes for Bush during the 2004 election. Franklin County’s 4,258 Bush votes gleaned from 638 voters was only one of many such instances. Astoundingly, every reported instance of over votes turned out to be in Bush’s favor.

One question the media needs to ask the Republican leadership in Georgia, Indiana, and Washington is why they have fought so hard against laws that would require a paper trail to protect the integrity of ballots cast using Diebold voting machines while passing laws to keep the poor and elderly from casting legal votes. Perhaps the answer can be found in ill fated Ohio Congressman Bob Ney’s gift basket.

Two weeks ago Ney was stripped of his post as Chair of the House Administration Committee because of illegal gifts and other bribes received from convicted “$100,000 Ranger for Bush” Jack Abramoff. Abramoff, a member of the 2000 Bush transition team, was an initiator of the sleazy K-street project to purge lobbying firms of Democrats while funneling bribes to Republicans. His guilty plea to bribing so far unnamed Republican Congressmen (no Democrats received any money directly from Abramoff or from clients under Abramoff’s direction) has recently caused many Washington Republicans to lose sleep.

Diebold -- whose CEO Wally O'Dell is a Republican stalwart who pledged to deliver Ohio's votes to Bush in the 2004 campaign-- was reported to have paid a quarter of a million dollars to Abramoff's firm, Greenberg Traurig, for “lobbying” work. Ney's former chief of staff David DiStefano has been paid to lobby for Diebold, Inc. One of DiStefano's claims was that he had "an insider’s edge to hard-to-reach political officials. After receiving “contributions” from Abramoff and being “lobbied” by his former chief of staff, Ney successfully fought off every Democratic effort in Congress to require a paper trail for votes cast on Diebold voting machines.

Georgia Republicans have opened the doors wide to voter fraud by likely Republican voters while enacting legislation to suppress likely Democratic voters

“What is it with you son?” the old football coach asked the overweight tackle. “Is it ignorance or apathy?” “I don’t know and I don’t care,” the player responded.

Georgia’s top Republican legislators have apparently taken their cue from the football player in the apocryphal story, either being unaware or indifferent that their photo ID bill would severely impact legitimate voters, keeping them from the polls, while opening the gates wide to voter fraud in absentee balloting. In his ruling invalidating Georgia’s 2005 photo ID law, Federal Judge Harold Murphy noted that Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox wrote the Georgia State Senate, asking that the senators consider the "staggering opportunities for voter fraud" that HB 244 would create:

“By allowing any person, at any time within 45 days before an election, to vote an absentee ballot by mail — with no ID requirement and no requirement to state one of the current conditions for voting absentee— such as being out of town on election day, having a disability, being over 75 years old, etc.), you would be opening a gaping opportunity for fraud. At virtually every meeting of the State Elections Board during the past 10 years, we have dealt with cases involving fraud or election law violations in handling or voting absentee ballots. HB 244 removes all restrictions on voting by mail, and thus makes it quite simple for someone inclined to commit fraud to do so.

This completely contradicts the reasons stated for another measure contained in HB 244 — the Photo ID requirement. If the authors are indeed concerned about voter fraud, they would not likely authorize the easiest — and most prevalent form — of election law violations: unregulated voting by mail.”

In granting the lawsuit’s request for an injunction, Judge Murphy wrote: “In reaching this conclusion, the Court observes that it has great respect for the Georgia legislature. The Court, however, simply has more respect for the Constitution.” Would that Georgia’s Republican legislators felt the same.

Sunday, January 22, 2006


“Jesus” talks to Episcopalian Minister Daniel Webster (Aidan Quinn) in NBC’s controversial “The Book of Daniel”

(This column will appear in the January 27, 2006, THE ALBANY JOURNAL)

“Almost all TV produced after the 1980’s is nothing but garbage, but we are talking about an outright attack on Christianity with ‘The book of Daniel.’”

“We live in the United States of America and are free to watch whatever we want on TV. If you do not want to watch ‘Book of Daniel,’ simply turn the channel and quit showboating.”

Albany Herald Squawkbox comments.

I like television. I always have, dating back to the days of The Lone Ranger and The Mickey Mouse Club. I still remember as a six year old when our family flew to Hawaii to visit my grandparents (it was so long ago that the plane from Los Angeles to Honolulu had propellers) that I was seriously worried that local television wouldn’t carry Annette Funicello and the other Mouseketeers.

In the decades since there have been shows ranging from the truly awful- The Jerry Springer Show and Fear Factor come to mind, to the truly inspired- Northern Exposure and M*A*S*H, to the hilarious- every Saturday Night Live hosted by Steve Martin, Cheers, and The Daily Show. These days we can watch scintillating television drama with real world political figures on the figurative hot seat- Meet the Press and Sixty Minutes, intelligent fictional political drama- The West Wing, or raunchy cartoon political satire- South Park.

So the recent controversy about the NBC series, The Book of Daniel, is nothing new in the television universe. But I have to wonder- do the narrow minded boycotters realize that their relentless public outcry has been a windfall of free publicity for the show? Heck, I even tuned in the first hour of the pilot to see what all the fuss was about.

My verdict? What could have been either a ripping satire or an insightful family drama was merely stupid, with low end stereotypes wildly miscast, the most obvious of which is the adopted Chinese “adolescent” who appears to be played by an actor in his mid twenties. Rarely original in any case, screenwriters really scraped the bottom of the barrel with this rip-off of Joan of Arcadia (Joan talked to God, Aidan Quinn’s Protestant minister has confabs with Jesus in the front seat of his car- perhaps so he can ride in the HOV lane?) and Desperate Housewives (everybody is either randy, on drugs, or both, with a lame criminal subplot- embezzlement- thrown in to keep the plot spicy).

I’ll never know if Daniel gets any better, because I don’t plan on watching another minute of the show. My take is that if the producers and NBC were pulling out all the stops and putting their best foot forward in the pilot, then it’s gotta be all downhill from there. Besides, watching that Friday night 10:00 show would mean I’d miss NUMB3RS, the CBS show starring David Krumholz, Rob Morrow, and Judd Hirsch, which is produced by brothers Ridley Scott (Gladiator) and Tony Scott (Top Gun). NUMB3RS satisfies my brain’s Sherlock Holmes cravings as it pits a mathematician (!) against violent criminals. But instead of a gun, his weapons of choice are his brain, a chalkboard, and probability theory.

Karl Marx supposedly said that “religion is the opiate of the masses,” but if he did, he got that one backwards. If you want to stir up the masses, just mess with their religion- it’s like stomping on a fire ant mound. Karl wasn’t pharmacologically savvy, so perhaps he really meant to say that “religion is the crystal meth of the masses.” Throughout history religion has precipitated intolerance, violence, and killing, all too often in the name of the Prince of Peace, the Crusades and the Inquisition being two infamous examples.

When it comes to religion, politicians and televangelists can’t resist stirring the pot, but for many true believers the pot was near boiling to begin with, precipitating controversies over posting the Ten Commandments in public places, the inclusion of the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, and the battle against evolution by proponents of “intelligent design.” Our country has become so insane on the subject that the phrase “Happy Holidays” has become an invitation to a fistfight.

And that’s only in America. Around the world, in places as disparate as Nigeria and Iran, you can earn yourself a Fatwah death threat if you so much as hint a negative thought about the prophet Mohammed or Islam. Just ask Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses, who has carried a death sentence for more than twenty years after his book was published. Muslims killing Jews in Israel, Christians killing Muslims in Bosnia, and Christians killing Christians in Ireland- this is the stuff of our daily newspapers, not just the history books.

Television, on the other hand, has dulled and diminished our children’s brains to the point that many if not most high school and college graduates can’t focus enough to read a newspaper. And too many can’t spell, can’t write coherent sentences, and are not only unaware of their nation’s history, but have no idea what happened in the world more than 24 hours ago when the last television news cycle ended. As much as I liked television growing up, I also loved to read, and regularly consumed 50 to 100 books a year from the public and school libraries. You would be hard put to find many students today who read a book a decade.

So parents, if you are incensed by The Book of Daniel, do your children a favor. Don’t switch the channel and don’t protest NBC, WALB, or the show’s sponsors. Turn off the TV, unplug it, and take your kids on a trek to the local library. They might actually learn something from reading a book. For instance, reading a book this morning I just learned that a diet of vegetables and water is healthier than meat and wine:

“Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days; and let them give us pulse [pulse is made from wind-dried organic whole foods] and water to drink. Then let our countenances be looked upon before thee, and the countenances of the children that eat of the portion of the king’s meat. So he consented to them in this matter and proved them ten days. And at the end of the ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king’s meat.”

My source? The real “The Book of Daniel,”, Chapter 1, verses 12- 16:

Monday, January 16, 2006


Vice President Cheny's former company, Halliburton, has made billions from the occupation of Iraq
(This column will appear in the January 19, 2006 THE ALBANY JOURNAL)

"They that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety, and will end up losing both.”

Attributed to Benjamin Franklin, circa 1759.

“The furor over the National Security Agency wiretapping without court approval is stirred by thoughtless people intent on criticizing the president.... the U.S. Constitution provides for broad powers when it comes to national security.... It’s forgiveable that Americans might be alarmed when hearing that their president had authorized eavesdropping on private telephone calls.... we must for our own security. Eavesdropping on terrorists is not only the right thing to do, it is logical. The president has ordered it for our national security.”

Unsigned editorial, January 15, 2006 The Albany Herald.

As my son- my only child- prepares for his second tour of duty in Iraq, I can only shake my head at the nefarious villains and complete idiots who, alternately, want to steal our freedom and give it away. All in the name of “national security” to save us from mysterious, mostly anonymous, suicidal Islamic fanatical terrorists who are portrayed as being as different from us as the night is from the day.

How many Americans, exposed to the Bush Administration’s constant litany of words intended to evoke hate and fear, the conflation of “Terrorism and Iraq” and “Islam and Fascism” (great irony there in the inclusion of the “F” word by those most likely to institute it here), are scared, angry, and confused? Well, that’s just the way the villains want you to feel. And when you do, the next steps are easy as you surrender the liberties won through the precious blood and sweat of our forefathers.

Those who oppose the Bush Administration’s illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, the violations of International Law, the implementation of policies which caused the murder and torture of human beings, and the open violations of the United States Constitution, including illegal wiretapping and detention of Americans, wonder why our government is so dysfunctional that Congress won't even investigate the President's admitted lawbreaking, let alone draw up a bill of impeachment.


And those who consider themselves on the '"right" who support the President- like the Herald’s editorialist- will say that these criticisms hurt the morale of the troops, are unpatriotic and anti-American. But anyone with a smidgeon of an appreciation of history knows that “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” Today’s self-proclaimed patriots are no exception. Their primary goal has nothing to do with our freedom, national security, defeating international terrorism, or promoting democracy and peace abroad. Their quest is for power, money, or both, and their method of obtaining and keeping them is to keep the American population in a constant state of fear of a powerful external enemy who may have infiltrated the United States.

Filmmaker Eugene Jarecky recently released a documentary, Why We Fight, in which he interviewed Americans in 30 states, asking them why we are at war. The first word that springs to their lips is “Freedom,” but most have doubts about the true reasons for this war. Jarecky’s film includes quotes from Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican two term President, who presciently warned America of the dangers of the “military-industrial complex” that would take our nation to war for profits if we didn’t reign them in.

Our largest defense contractor, Lockheed-Martin, raked in an extra $4.9 billion dollars in defense contracts, from $17 billion to $21.9 billion, a 29 percent increase, the year we invaded Iraq. Not coincidentally, Lockheed provided a corporate Vice President for marketing, Bruce Pitcairn Jackson, to head up President Bush’s “Coalition for the Liberation of Iraq” in the months leading up to the March 2003 invasion. Jackson was a Bush delegate to the 2000 Republican convention whose Lockheed job was to leverage huge weapons sales to foreign countries.

Jackson’s job on behalf of his employer and the President? To drum up support for the war and put out false information from the likes of Achmed Chalabi, an Iraqi “nationalist” who was secretly an Iranian agent and who was previously convicted in Jordan of looting a bank. During the 2003 State of the Union address, Chalabi was the President’s gallery guest when Bush uttered the infamous “sixteen words,” falsely accusing Iraq of attempting to obtain yellow cake uranium in the African nation of Niger.

Halliburton went from off the charts ($500 million, #37) to the top ten of defense contractors ($3.5 billion, #7) within 12 months of the onset of the war. Vice President Dick Cheney, Halliburton’s former CEO, is still receiving tens of thousands of dollars from the company. A complacent Republican Congress has refused to investigate the no bid contracts, outrageous overpricing, and outright thefts of billions of dollars which have occurred during the “reconstruction” of Iraq, much of it attributed to Halliburton.


But the President and the chief architects of the war dare not admit the true reasons they aren’t interested in winning the “War on Terror” or why they didn’t have an exit strategy for Iraq. Instead, they explain our invasion and continued occupation of Iraq by saying “American Troops are fighting for our freedom” and “Americans are fighting to ensure Iraqis can have freedom and democracy.” Even the Pentagon’s euphemism for the war is “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”

And how do the Iraqis feel about their newly granted freedom? Here’s a recent dispatch from Iraq, courtesy of Dahr Jamail:

"Nobody will allow us to leave our homes now," 17 year-old student Salam said after a roadside bomb exploded just blocks away from his home in central Baghdad. "Everybody is afraid they might be kidnapped just like our relative who had been kidnapped for two weeks."

Salam said his relative was released after 4,000 dollars ransom was paid. Now, he said, no one will allow children to leave the house.

Salam's uncle who had traveled from Amman had his car robbed at gunpoint. "They held guns to me and my mother's heads," the uncle said. "They then pushed both of us out of the car along with my daughter, and took our car."

It is certainly more than theoretically possible for a Fascist takeover of the United States. But it won’t come from foreign troops or an Islamic enemy outside or inside the U.S. We are perfectly capable of destroying our own freedom in the name of national security. Our recent history is no comfort- the World War II unlawful imprisonment of a whole people (Japanese Americans) who committed no crimes, based solely on racial differences and our fears of the "Yellow Peril," and the McCarthy era of the early 1950's when we were closer to Fascism than any time before or since, with blacklisting and paranoia being the order of the day.

But the real question is: do we truly want to be a nation of laws, where no one is above the law, where we do not murder, torture, or arbitrarily imprison, where Presidents who are lawbreakers are answerable in the Courts and in Congress? Anyone who has read history knows that war mongering self-proclaimed “patriots” in 2006’s America are nothing new under the sun. Every Fascist and totalitarian government in history has claimed to be acting on behalf of the people, for their security, against outsiders and enemies who were demonized and whose dangerousness was blown out of proportion (for Hitler it was the Communists and Jews).

For my part, I prefer to live in a free country where dissent is not only tolerated but welcomed, where debates are about ideas and not about personal attacks, where respect for human life and due process of law trumps an inchoate irrational fear of enemies camped outside the gates and Fifth Columnists within them.

And for the life of me, growing up in the 1950's and 1960's, I never dreamed I would be writing the above paragraphs in the United States of America about my own country.

Saturday, January 07, 2006


Dr. Martin Luther King's dream is not yet realized
(This column will appear in The Albany Journal 1/12/06)


The woman was minding her own business, driving on a rural highway in Terrell County with her teenage daughter. Without warning she was blind sided by a car running a stop sign. Her car, struck on the passenger side, careened across the road and spun around. When it finally stopped, the woman lay bleeding and unconscious. An ambulance arrived and she was carted off on a stretcher. She racked up extensive medical bills, and her injuries were serious enough that her doctor kept her out of work for four weeks.

A year later her lawsuit seeking compensation for her lost wages, medical expenses, and pain and suffering went to a jury in the Terrell County Courthouse. Because liability was not disputed, the judge told the jury that the only issue they would be deciding would be the amount of damages to award. The defense put up no evidence contesting the medical expenses or lost wages and did not dispute the very real injuries suffered by the woman.

When the jury returned its verdict, the woman was stunned. The verdict awarded the medical expenses she had incurred, but only three weeks of her four weeks’ lost wages. The jurors did not award her a single penny for her pain and suffering. The woman had been bleeding and unconscious, injured seriously enough that her physician kept her out of work for almost a full month, but the jurors didn’t think she deserved a cent for pain and suffering, even though the law required they fully compensate her for her injuries. How could this be?

The jury was composed of 12 white people. The woman was black.. Did race matter? No other explanation made sense. Those jurors simply did not ascribe any value to her very real pain and suffering. The year was 1999.


A few years later, a criminal case went to trial. The State’s evidence was so weak that all three bailiffs in the courtroom volunteered the opinion that the accused was not guilty and the jury would return an acquittal in short order. Bailiffs are law enforcement officers, and they generally have little sympathy for criminal defendants. By dint of sitting through hundreds of trials, they also get a good feel for what defendants are guilty or innocent and what prosecutions are solid or weak.

A day and a half of jury deliberations later, the judge was forced to declare a mistrial. The jury was stymied, with 10 voting not guilty and two voting guilty. The 10 voting not guilty were black. The two jurors voting guilty were white. The person on trial was black. The odds of the jurors ending up 10-2 for not guilty with the 10 being black and the 2 white were less than one in a million. Did race matter? The year was 2005.


After I graduated from Duke Law School in Durham, North Carolina in May of 1976, I moved to Atlanta to look for work and study for the Georgia Bar examination. In September I was offered a job in Albany representing poor people in civil cases, working for Georgia Legal Services Programs, Inc., a non profit corporation commonly known as “Legal Aid.” I can still remember that during the long drive down from Atlanta I wondered whether I would have been brave enough to have made that journey ten years earlier, during the turbulent Civil Rights era. In those days it was physically dangerous to represent the poor or black people seeking to vindicate their legal rights. I remember reflecting on how easy I had it compared to the Northerners and Southern blacks who had been blasted with water cannons, beaten, and even murdered in Alabama and Mississippi during the era when Dr. Martin Luther King marched for freedom.


By 1986 my career had taken some exciting turns, and my reputation as a lawyer willing to take on unpopular causes, including Civil Rights cases, was solidly established. At that point I was asked by Professor Lee Formwalt to sit on a panel discussion at Albany State College where the topic was how Albany had changed twenty-five years after the 1961 Martin Luther King marches and demonstrations here.

When Professor Formwalt told me he wanted me on the panel, my first reaction was to ask how I could intelligently discuss Albany’s progress since 1961 when I had only been here ten years. He suggested I do some reading at the Central Library, and for the first time I learned about the Albany Movement, courageous local citizens who spoke out for their brethren, and how Martin Luther King had attempted to change the official policies of segregation in schools, libraries and swimming pools, and the policies of discrimination against blacks who wished to vote or serve on juries. I came away from my reading with a great respect and regard for people like Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee representative Charles Sherrod, Attorney C. B. King, Dr. Walter Gordon and countless others who risked their personal safety to speak out on behalf of equal rights for all.

During the panel discussion I discussed the progress achieved as a result of the landmark cases which had brought Albany out of the Dark Ages, including voting rights suits, school desegregation cases, and public employment discrimination cases. But I also mentioned that along with privilege came responsibility. I discussed the fact that by 1986, the biggest obstacles to local black progress were no longer official government policies of exclusion, but self imposed failures like not exercising the hard won right to vote, the disintegration of two parent households, and the black on black crime that plagued large areas of the city.


Twenty years after that panel discussion, much progress has been made on the official front. Albany has elected a black mayor and a black superior court judge with the help of many progressive white citizens and voters. Every large employer in the area has non discriminatory hiring practices, and all public areas and retail stores are open and available regardless of race. In those regards, Albany is nothing like it was 45 years ago when Dr. King came to town. But drugs, unemployment, crime, single parent and no parent households, are even worse than they were in 1986. White attitudes are rarely blatantly racist, but in the safe anonymity of the local Squawkbox or in jury rooms racism clearly still exists. As we celebrate Dr. King’s birthday, we should remember that the greater part of his work is still ahead of us.

Monday, January 02, 2006


Ann Coulter, an example of a "Conservative" commentator

(This Column will appear in The Albany Journal for 1/5/2006)

I was disappointed to discover when I came back from vacation last week that Eddie Byrd had folded his tents and closed down the Albany Metro News, nee, Albany Northwest News. During the year plus tenure of the News, Albany was well served by its reporting- most notably, former Albany Journal staffer Zack Hudson- and its editorial commentary, both of which regularly challenged Albany’s daily newspaper to do a better job. Albany needs alternative voices reporting news, and without those checks and balances on the mistakes and omissions of our only daily paper, the public frequently misses out on opportunities to learn the truth about stories that matter to us.

When I travel, one of my pleasures is to pick up the local daily paper. Last week on a family vacation in the Rocky Mountains in central Colorado it was the Denver Post. Each morning, in zero degree weather, I would don my long johns, jeans, sweatshirt, ski jacket, boots, and gloves, then trudge out in the kind of stillness you only get at 9,600 feet in the dead of winter. Stepping around the piles of snow, I would follow my daily ritual and pull one glove off to put two quarters in the Post’s box. There’s something special about having a daily paper with news, comics, sports, commentary, movie reviews, and one of my favorite sections- letters to the editor- on the breakfast table accompanying the orange juice, pancakes, bacon, and scrambled eggs, that my Dad or sister would whip up.

I like newspapers, but just like everything else in life, there are good ones, bad ones, and many in between. The quality of the paper obviously depends on the quality of the editors and reporters. Within the journalism profession, there are two kinds: hacks; and those with intellectual curiosity. The hacks can be depended on to print news releases word for word, never questioning their veracity or giving readers any perspective or analysis. I call this news of the “he said” genre. For instance, a local paper might report: “This morning, Special Prosecutor Kelly Burke stated in a press release: ‘Unlike defense attorneys, who take an oath only to their client, these public servants [District Attorneys] take an oath to do justice.’”

The hack reporter won’t lift a finger to check to see if that is a true statement. The curious reporter will pick up the telephone and call a criminal defense attorney. The extra effort will unearth a news nugget- defense attorneys do not take an oath to a client. In fact, defense attorneys take the same oath that prosecutors and all other attorneys take when they are sworn in as members of the bar and officers of the court: “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Georgia.” By going the extra foot (not even a yard or a mile), the curious reporter will discover two things: defense lawyers don’t take oaths to their clients, and this particular prosecutor is either woefully ignorant or deliberately deceptive. The curious reporter will then follow up to determine whether the special prosecutor deliberately misstated the law or whether he was just ignorant and careless.

Just for the record, Mr. Burke actually did make the above statement in a December 16, 2005 press release in which he responded to public remarks of Ralph Scoccimaro, one of the defense attorneys in the Rehberg/Bagnato case. Considering the spectacular legal defects in the indictment Mr. Burke drafted and his failure to speak to alleged “victims” of the crimes in the indictment, i.e., Congressman Sanford Bishop, who was unaware he was the “victim” of a crime until he read about it in the newspaper, this is further evidence that this prosecution will be an unmitigated disaster and a waste of taxpayers’ money.

The same week that Eddie Byrd called it quits, one of my favorite columnists, William Raspberry, retired after 40 years of punditry and commentary. Raspberry stands out for one laudatory characteristic- on any given subject, he took the facts as he found them, and voiced his opinion based on what is, not on what he wished things to be. You didn’t have to go very many inches from his columns on the editorial pages to find paid shills who, 99 percent of the time, could be predicted to follow the official dogma, cherry picking facts or ignoring them completely.

Unfortunately for the sake of intelligent debate and civilized discourse, it is usually only columnists like Mr. Raspberry who base their columns on facts. Most of the so-called “conservative” columnists (I have yet to find anything about this country they wish to conserve other than millionaires’ estates) have sold out their intellectual birthrights in order to secure themselves lucrative niches in the right wing media world. Rich Lowry, Cal Thomas, and Victor Davis Hanson would probably be perfectly rational in face to face conversation- Ann Coulter's recent appearances on Bill Maher's Real Time show seem to indicate that she's no longer in that category, but when placed on a national stage, they will willingly perform a temporary frontal lobotomy in order to parrot the Republican National Committee’s (a/k/a Karl Rove) daily talking points.

This bold generalization is easily provable simply by looking up what liberal and conservative columnists write now as opposed to what they wrote when a Democrat was president. The easiest parsing topic is deficits. In the Clinton era, deficits were considered to be a product of irresponsible, “tax and spend” (remember that phrase?) Democrats, and the 1994 Republican Contract with America promised a vote on a Constitutional amendment for a balanced budget. Suddenly, after consecutive $400 billion plus annual deficits and not even a promise of a balanced budget (Bush promises only to halve the deficit by 2008- but when he fails, he will be still be an ex-president flying off to lucrative private speaking (!) gigs), the “borrow and spend” Republicans who now control both houses of Congress and the Presidency are immune from criticism of conservative commentators. They would rather cut off their right arms than suggest cutting even a penny from an unneeded missile defense system or advanced jet fighter in a world where our enemies have inflicted the most harm using 19th century bombs and knives. Were a Democrat in power, this fiscal insanity would earn them the full fury and ceaseless tirades from the right wing keyboard warriors.

It is a shame that so many conservative commentators have sold out for the sake of fame and fortune, because there are good debates to be had out there on different sides (not “both,” because there are more than two sides to many issues) of every topic- abortion, military intervention in the Middle East, deficit reduction, school vouchers, and so forth. But people like William Buckley and William Safire aren’t around anymore to share in the debate or shape it. You can’t debate with people who will demonize their opponents rather than articulate a position which they will support with facts and logic. For instance, Michelle Malkin, who would go broke if she were objective, recently wrote:

“There's a far Left brouhaha in Britain over Craig Murray, formerly the UK's ambassador to Uzbekistan. He's trying to sell a new book by whipping moonbat bloggers into a frenzy with claims of British-outsourced torture in Uzbekistan.”

An articulate and logical conservative columnist might, somehow, make an argument that the policy of the U.S. and Britain of sending human beings to Uzbekistan to be tortured or murdered is a good thing for our nations or the cause of world peace. Or he or she might actually visit Uzbekistan and interview any of the surviving “renditioned” suspects to determine whether the stories of torture and murder have a basis in fact. But using phrases like “far Left” or “moonbat bloggers” doesn’t promote discourse. It’s intellectual laziness to use a label instead of facts and logic, and this is the difference between a Rich Lowry or Cal Thomas,both of whom are inflicted upon us by our daily paper, and a William Raspberry, who will be missed.