Yep, we got had

Tuesday’s Huntsville Times published an “Editor’s note”:

Yep, we got had.

Several readers brought to our attention that a letter to the editor we published Saturday was part of a mass letter-writing scam.

The pro-President Obama letters signed by Ellie J. Light have appeared in scores of newspapers across the country, all purporting a local address.

It shouldn’t have happened, but it did and we regret it.  Upon receiving Light’s letter with only a signature, we e-mailed Light seeking identification information, which is typical of any letter that we receive that doesn’t have all the detail we require.  Light falsely reported to us a Huntsville address and zip code.

Thanks to the Times for informing their readers about the scam.  To the Times Editor who wrote the note – nice touch – you didn’t apologize, which is entirely appropriate – you acknowledged the problem and provided some details of your process.

I’m sure that The Times will review the “letter to the editor” process and make whatever improvements they think best.  Consider the following admission when reviewing the authentication process:

Reader ‘ivan’ admits that he scams newspapers using sockpuppets:

During campaigns, i sometimes draft letters for others to recast or adapt and send to the paper(s)… I did have some success in Parker’s [Griffith] campaign — his publicity man was good at getting letter signer-senders.

The Importance of the American Spirit, the Perils of Ignoring It

From Congressman Parker Griffith (R – AL05).

The downward spiral of the Obama-Pelosi agenda is a direct result of either a terrible misreading of the American culture or a complete lack of respect for it. Naïveté or hubris, the lesson is the same – ignore the American spirit at your own peril.

The American spirit is not a theory or just a patriotic feeling, but the unique asset of the United States – the power to produce, to grow, to overcome and thrive. Whether it is on the battlefields, a Montgomery bus, or in the boardrooms, the American spirit is the innate power gifted to all in this country. It is the anointed weapon bestowed on us all to defend liberty, fight for our livelihood, and to clear the path towards success.

The American spirit is why the United States produces 23.4 percent of the Gross Global Product, yet we are only 4.5 percent of the entire global population. It is why, according to a recent New York Times piece, the top five U.S. hospitals conduct more clinical trials than all the hospitals in any other single developed country, and it is why Americans have received the Nobel Prize in medicine more often than recipients from all other countries combined. It is the American spirit that has led to the creation of an economic system that has made us the global superpower, resulting in incredible prosperity for ourselves and for many, many around the world. It is what delivers the oppressed from tyranny, food to the hungry, and relief to the inflicted. And, despite the risks, it is why immigrants continue to flock here, with over 700,000 each year becoming Americans.

Yet, this administration continues to bypass the American spirit as the answer to our recovery and, instead, pushes oppressive regulation, government takeover and gross spending as the way out. The democratic leadership is effectively telling the American people they cannot, and will not, have any part in their own futures.

I rejected that leadership philosophy. The American people have rejected it as well, evidenced by the elections in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.

The culture of a nation determines its destiny, not the government that serves it.

I am an American, and I am a conservative. I hail from one of the most highly educated and inventive districts in the country. The fifth District of Alabama put a man on the moon, launched the first satellite into space, built the Lunar Roving Vehicle and the Hubble Telescope. It is home to NASA, Marshall Space Flight Center, Redstone Arsenal, and a copious amount of innovators in biotechnology and medicine.  The products and services that come from the fighting fifth District better the lives of people globally. Creativity and knowledge, coupled with guts and support, have meant success in my district. We know the power of the American spirit.

However, the Democratic leadership does not believe that the American people, given the encouragement and freedom, can determine their own destiny. Beginning with Cap and Trade legislation, and culminating in the debacle that is the Health Care overhaul, the Obama administration has been rabid in its efforts to impose the will of the Government on its people.

The right vision for a strong America is one that unshackles the American spirit to unleash economic recovery. The right vision is to bring down healthcare costs by encouraging medical students to enter the primary care field, allow competition in the insurance sector, and to encourage medical innovation. There needs to be an increase in the number of medical, nursing and pharmaceutical schools to meet the need for health care providers. The right vision is to put Americans back to work by incentivizing people to start their own businesses, to pursue education and knowledge, and to invest in their future. As lawmakers we must refocus our mission on upholding the values that are quintessential to the America way.  We must listen to the American people and champion the American spirit. It is and always has been the answer.

Whether it be protecting their country, their livelihood, their families, or their honor, Americans have and must be encouraged to call on their unique qualities to find success. It is only through fostering and enabling the creativity, ingenuity, and passion of the people it serves, can the United States Government fulfill its mission – to be a government of, for and by the people.

We must demand Government rededicate itself to its constitutional promise. And as Americans, we must stop putting all of our trust in a single person or party. We must stop merely hoping for the best – we must demand that our Government trust us and trust our American spirit.

About that letter from Ellie Light

Gannet Wisconsin Media acknowledged that they were duped by Obama astroturfer ‘Ellie Light’:

A woman named Ellie Light (if that is her real name) recently duped dozens of newspapers around the country, including some here in Wisconsin, into printing her letter praising President Barack Obama as if she were a local resident…

Since the Cleveland Plain Dealer broke the story Friday, Light’s bogus letter has been found in more than 60 papers and counting…

We apologize that this letter appeared on our Web site.

Thanks to Michelle Malkin for spotting the apology.

I expected The Huntsville Times to inform their readers that they were scammed by Ellie Light, so I looked through the Sunday and Monday editions for a note from the Editor or even a correction.  Nothing.

Note to Times Editor Kevin Wendt – you know (or should know) about this issue – you owe it to your readers to tell them that you published a letter praising Obama that was sent to you under false pretenses. 

Patterico reports that “Newspaper Editors Begin to Address Pro-Obama Astroturfing” and praises Mike Throne, the Editor of Ohio’s Chillicothe Gazette, who writes:

I’ve written several times on Astroturfing — a way of sending form political letters to multiple news outlets with a few key strokes — and authored a column on Jan. 17 on how the Gazette was bolstering Opinion page procedures to make sure the opinions submitted were true and accurate.

Yes, the irony of having a letter to the editor situation blow up in your face just days after saying the newspaper is following new procedures isn’t lost on me. It’s embarrassing and regrettable.

But if we hadn’t followed those procedures, I’d feel a lot worse.

In this case we did follow them and were lied to about the local nature of the opinion and the address used. In short, we were duped.

Come on, Huntsville Times – inform your readers.

Huntsville Times gets scammed by Obama astroturfer

The Saturday Huntsville Times published a Letter to the Editor from “Ellie J. Light, Huntsville 35811″, who gushed about Obama and said that “governing is hard work”.

Turns out, “Ellie Light sure gets around” according to Sabrina Eaton of the Cleveland Plain Dealer “Obama has suspicious number of letter-writing fans named ‘Ellie Light’” (read the whole article – it’s instructive):

In recent weeks, Light has published virtually identical “Letters to the Editor” in support of President Barack Obama in more than a dozen newspapers.Every letter claimed a different residence for Light that happened to be in the newspaper’s circulation area…

Variations of Light’s letter ran in Ohio’s Mansfield News Journal on Jan. 13, with Light claiming an address in Mansfield; in New Mexico’s Ruidoso News on Jan. 12, claiming an address in Three Rivers; in South Carolina’s The Sun News on Jan. 18, claiming an address in Myrtle Beach; and in the Daily News Leader of Staunton, Virginia on Jan. 15, claiming an address in Waynesboro. Her publications list includes other papers in Ohio, West Virginia, Maine, Michigan, Iowa, Pennsylvania and California, all claiming separate addresses.

Ace at Ace of Spades says:

Whether Axelrod (did I mention? “the gold standard of astroturf campaigns”) is behind any of this, I don’t know (but he almost certainly is).

Create the illusion of a inevitability. Make people think they are almost alone in disapproving of Obama, so that they self-censor and won’t say they disapprove of Obama, and thereby make other people think they’re alone in that too.

PR, PR, PR. Spin, spin, spin. Alinsky, Alinsky, Alinsky.

It was always dishonest. Now it’s just pathetic.

Note to the editorial page of The Times:  the Plain Dealer article includes some suggestions on how to counteract leftist dirty tricks like this.  As always, we’re pleased to help you guys improve the paper when possible…

Seriously, it sucks to be taken advantage of – but had the newspapers done a better job of vetting Obama before the election you would have known about his campaign’s use of these tactics – and maybe even reported on it (however see John Edwards for an example of what the media willingly hides).

UPDATE:

Patterico has a round up, so far he’s counted letters in “42 publications in 18 states plus D.C.” by “Ellie Light”:

Think there might be some phony Astroturfing there?

Educate them

Me and several of my stereotypically ugly rancorous prejudiced nasty fellow citizens attended the Huntsville City Council working session tonight, where we were harangued by a sanctimonious ‘Fair Housing’ agitator.

City Councilman Will Culver arranged for Fair Housing ‘experts’ to address a working meeting of the Huntsville City Council, including George Jones of the Fair Housing Center of North Alabama (the group that threatened to sue the City over the Drummond Road house).   Jones launched into a thinly-disguised sales pitch for education programs and other services.  In my opinion he and his group are hustlers trying to shake down the City by threatening lawsuits with one hand and offering services with the other.

Jones said he “respects the opposition”, even as he uses phrases like “unfortunately”, “acrimony”, “rancorous”, “real ugly”, “nasty”, and the “heavy tinge of hostility”.  He presented his opinions as “very important” (many times) and his approach to opposing views was to “educate them” (I don’t think he realized that he was in a room with people who are ‘educated’ on housing issues).

The meeting ended prematurely because of the tornado – it passed over City Hall shaking the building – we evacuated to the basement after it passed.

City Councilman Sandra Moon was visibly agitated by Jones’ remarks, but she didn’t get to publicly respond to Jones.  If that guy comes back Moon is ready to ‘educate’ him on housing issues.

Several people approached Jones after the meeting was cancelled to discuss housing and his offensive mischaracterizations.  One questioner (and frequent commenter here) kept getting the same response from Jones regardless of his question:  Jones kept repeating “what have you done to further fair housing?”  Like paying for it doesn’t count…

Jones cited the Westchester case (“Housing as Busing”) in his speech as a reason to comply (or else!) with Fair Housing law.  Note that the Westchester case actually arose from “false claims” made by the County in its ‘Affirmatively Furthered Fair Housing’ certifications – so as long as the City of Huntsville doesn’t lie on forms sent to the Feds – they should be OK. 

Since I’m not a lawyer, my legal intepretation might be a bit shaky.  But since Mr. Jones is a “non-practicing lawyer” employed by a  lawsuit-happy “private non-profit”, his legal interpretation might be a bit shaky too.

I know that Councilman Culver had good intentions when he asked Jones to speak, but Jones is an agitator and he cares nothing about this City.  The other guest Culver invited, Michael Brown of Bradley Arant law firm in Birmingham, made a nice presentation about Fair Housing Law.  I understand that Culver wants to reschedule the meeting – maybe next time more “nasty” people from Huntsville will show up.  IMO Culver is doing the right thing by facilitating discussion of the housing issue, but if that guy represents the other side then nothing good can come of it.

***

Thanks to Mayor Battle, Deputy Mayor Rex Reynolds, and HPD Sergeant Mark Roberts for their response to the tornado – they reacted immediately and handled themselves professionally when notified.

Focus on Haiti

Here’s some background on Haiti, mostly from the CIA World Factbook, with many other sources used to round out the post.

Haiti comprises an area of 27,750 square kilometers, roughly 1/5 the size of Alabama.  It is located on the western third of the island of Hispaniola, which it shares with the much more prosperous Dominican Republic.  The population is about 9 million (half of whom are under 20 years old – people die before they’re 60).  Alabama’s population is about 4.6 million people.  The terrain is mountainous and almost half of the population lives in urban areas.  

There are “inadequate supplies of potable water”, even though Haiti receives 54 inches average annual rainfall (Huntsville receives about 58 inches of rain annually).  Haiti suffers from “extensive deforestation” of about 98% of the arable land (and “much of the remaining forested land is being cleared for agriculture and used as fuel”).  The deforestation and poor agricultural practices contribute to soil erosion and desertification (imagine mountainous terrain like eastern Madison County devoid of trees and overflowing with sprawling cities of hungry people).

The risk of major infectious diseases is “high”:  “bacterial and protozoal diarrhea, hepatitis A and E, and typhoid fever”, “dengue fever and malaria”, and “leptospirosis”.

Haiti’s GDP is about $7 billion; less than half of Huntsville’s GDP of about $16 billion.  Natural resources include:  “bauxite, copper, calcium carbonate, gold, marble, hydropower”.   The US is Haiti’s largest trading partner (we buy 71% of their exports, they buy 34% of their imports from US).  Haiti has 3.2 million cellphones.  Haiti has 14 airports – 4 of them with paved runways.    The only working Air Traffic Control tower in the country was destroyed by the earthquake.  Haiti has 600 miles of paved roads and about 2,000 miles of unpaved roads.

“Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with 80% of the population living under the poverty line and 54% in abject poverty. Two-thirds of all Haitians depend on the agricultural sector, mainly small-scale subsistence farming, and remain vulnerable to damage from frequent natural disasters, exacerbated by the country’s widespread deforestation”.  To say there is widespread unemployment is an understatement: “more than two-thirds of the labor force do not have formal jobs”.

IMO the Government of Haiti is as deadly as the recent earthquake - the country has a history of dictatorship and socialist rule.

Haiti has a President, a Prime Minister (who selects the Cabinet), and a bicameral National Assembly.  The leading political parties are the L’ESPWA (Front for Hope – an alliance composed of parties like ”Effort and Solidarity to Create an Alternative for the People”), FUSION (“Merging of Haitian Social Democratic Parties”), and OPL (“Struggling People’s Organization”).  There are at least a dozen parties holding seats in the legislature (splitters).

Haiti’s national budget: “revenues: $967.5 million” and “expenditures: $1.162 billion”.  Compare that to the City of Huntsville’s 2008 budget of about $285 million in revenue and $326 million in expenditures (it was a bad year for the City budget).

Haiti has “no regular military forces”, except for violent gangs usually associated with political groups.  There are about 8,000 UN peacekeepers from the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) who “maintain civil order in Haiti” (they’ve been accused of killing gang members along with the occasional civilian).  Brazil contributes many of the MINUSTAH forces and the remainder are mostly troops from South American countries.  The leader of the UN Mission, Tunisian Hedi Annabi, was killed in the recent earthquake (along with his deputy and much of the UN leadership in Haiti).  There is “pervasive corruption” in the Government. 

Haiti is a dangerous place.

***

The people of Haiti need help – give to the Red Cross or similar established charities.

But then, the people of Haiti needed help before this week’s earthquake.  The place is a mess, and Haiti may become our long-term mess (as it has been for several times in history).

The US has the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson on station, along with an Amphibious Ready Group (LHD, LPD, and LSD plus escorts) and the 22d Marine Expeditionary Unit.  These forces plan to be in Haiti for at least six months.

Madison County GOP Breakfast – 1/16/2010

Congressman Parker Griffith (R) attended the Madison County Republican breakfast this morning, creating quite a buzz.  Griffith’s welcome ranged from warm hugs and handshakes to curiosity to silent disapproval.  The leadership didn’t exactly embrace Griffith – they didn’t seat him at the head table as might be expected for a sitting Congressman of your party.

I introduced myself to Griffith, telling him that I wasn’t sure if he’d show up to one of our meetings and that I respected him for attending.  Griffith said that he’d heard of Flashpoint (unsurprising since we covered the Huntsville Hospital documents pretty extensively during the last campaign).  I made Griffith the same offer that I made to the Artur Davis (D) campaign; we’ll post event notifications or issue papers sent to us from his campaign.  I hope Griffith takes us up on the offer.

The GOP breakfast was packed with more than 300 people.  You can really tell that the campaign season has started - lots of officials and candidates. In addition to Griffith, AL05 Congressional candidates Mo Brooks and Les Phillip attended (Les is probably so looking forward to reading “The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire” – he and I – and Mo – share a love of history).  Attendees included: State Representatives Phil Williams (6), Mike Ball (10) and Howard Sanderford (20); House 20 candidate David Pinkleton; Senate 9 candidates Tony Cochran, Clay Scofield, Don Spurlin, and John Wilson; State Board of Education candidate Mary Scott Hunter; Sheriff Blake Dorning; Judges Dick Richardson and Dennis O’Dell; DA Rob Broussard; Madison County Commissioner Dale Strong; HSV Councilman Mark Russell; HSV Board of Education member Jennie Robinson; Madison Councilman Tim Cowles; and Madison County Board of Education candidate David Vess.  Forgive me if I left anyone off the list.

Talk radio superstar Dale Jackson of WVNN attended the breakfast. 

John McMillan, candidate for Agriculture and Industries Commissioner, deserves a special mention.  McMillan was endorsed by 26 Republican legislators – which is unusual for a primary and speaks to the respect McMillan has gained through years of public service.

***

The meeting featured speeches by the candidates for State Senate 9 (South Huntsville, Marshall County, and part of Blount County).  We are blessed to have such fine people running to replace incumbent Senator Hinton Mitchem (D).  Here are excerpts from their speeches (keep in mind it’s tough for me to eat and write at the same time):

Tony Cochran – if elected, he will be the only CPA in the legislature, which he says will benefit the budget process. “Democrats are bankrupting the State of Alabama”.  Supports Charter Schools.  Prevent AEA executives from participating in State retirement plan.  Rolling reserve budget system (Canfield).  Pro-life.  Pro-gun.  Illegal immigration – TN trains 10% of its troopers to be ICE officers.

Clay Scofield – this is “the year of the conservative”.  Pro-life. Pro-Second Amendment. Ethics – “we have to create an environment where being a legislator is unprofitable”. Tell Hubbard NO; “40% of the eductaion budget is spent in the boardroon and not in the classroom”. “Take care of home-grown businesses”.  Note that Clay is a young man, someone at my table who didn’t know him said he was “pretty impressive”.

Don Spurlin – “Small Government, low taxes, Constitution, pro-family, pro-life”.  Education – “focus on the classroon”, math and reading initiative.  “I believe in the ABC’s, not the AEA’s”.  Economy – “Provide what employer’s need: trained workforce, industry-ready worksites, infrastructure”.  Marshall County is impacted more by illegal immigration than any other County in the State.  Don noted that Governor Riley praised the Alabama DHR for a record number of adoptions in the State of the State address. Spurlin praised the Marshall County DHR who also had a record number of adoptions.

John Wilson – “Lifelong conservative Republican”. Wilson noted that Sen. Hinton Mitchem was a “no-show” at the Madison County Legislative Delegation’s forum.  PACT – the State has a “moral obligation to honor the contract”.  Support gas tax pledge. Illegal immigration – supports E-Verify and suspending business licenses of employers who don’t make a good faith effort to comply.  “John Wilson reporting for duty”.

Brewery Modernization Act

Free the Hops is proposing legislation this year to make it easier to open breweries and to allow the existing breweries to expand their operations.  The Bill is free market, pro-small business, and good for Alabama’s economy.  Existing businesses benefit by easing restrictions on their distribution channels.  New businesses benefit by lowering restrictions on entering the market, plus the expanded distribution opportunities enhance potential profitability.

Drink responsibly…

From the Free the Hops January 2010 Newsletter:

For the 2010 legislative session, we will be introducing the Brewery Modernization Act. Now that we can buy some of the greatest beer from around the world, we think it’s time to make it easier for Alabamians to make some of the greatest beer in the world.

As beer geeks, we love the idea of local beer. What’s better than going to your neighborhood brewery’s tap room or brewpub to try the latest seasonal, served by one of the brewers themselves?

Unfortunately, there are only 4 breweries in Alabama, and half of those aren’t allowed to serve you beer.

The two breweries that are allowed sell their beer on-premises – Hurricane Brewing in Mobile and Montgomery Brewing – are lucky enough to have met all the requirements for opening a brewpub in Alabama. Such a license is only available in a handful of counties, and then only if located in an historic building. Even after meeting those (and more) requirements, they’re not allowed to sell their beer outside of the brewpub.

The other two breweries in Alabama – Good People in Birmingham and Olde Towne in Huntsville – have more freedom on where they can open and sell. However, the current law effectively cuts them off from the beer-drinking public. Many breweries outside of Alabama offer brewery tours with samples and/or a tasting room where you can try their beer on-location. Alabama’s breweries are not allowed to do either.

It’s next-to-impossible to open and profitably operate a brewpub in Alabama. If one can find and afford an historic location in one of the few available counties, the law won’t allow you to expand beyond your brewpub doors. Similarly, since on-premise sales at breweries are illegal, the law is denying the distributing breweries a potential source of income and promotional efforts.

Is it any surprise that Alabama has only 4 licensed breweries while Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee share over 70?

The goal of the Brewery Modernization Act is to take the complicated, restrictive and multi-tiered brewery licensing law and turn it into a more simple law. As intended, the result will be:

  1. There’s no more distinction between “distributing breweries” and brewpubs. There’s just “breweries.”
  2. Breweries can sell their beer on-premises and/or they can sell to a wholesaler. So Olde Towne and Good People can continue doing what they’re doing PLUS they can open up a taproom or brewpub at their location. The Montgomery Brewpub and Hurricane Brewing can continue doing what they’re doing PLUS they can start bottling or selling draft beer at other retailers.
  3. Breweries can open in any wet county, don’t have to be in an historic building, don’t have to have a restaurant, and don’t have a cap on how much beer they can brew.
  4. Breweries are specifically allowed to offer tours with samples.
  5. Breweries are specifically allowed to participate in beer festivals.

With the current state of the economy, shouldn’t we be making it easier to open and operate a small business in Alabama?

Turning a complicated law into a more simple law is, unfortunately, pretty complicated. As of now, the state agency that writes bills has not finished drafting the Brewery Modernization Act to meet our requirements. We expect the bill to be drafted very soon and introduced into the legislature next week.

Pinkleton Announces for State House 20

From the Pinkleton campaign:

David Pinkleton will be challenging Rep. Howard Sanderford in the Republican Primary on June 1st for State House District 20. David will bring energy and excitement to the District 20 race. He knows the state budget is of great concern to the constituents of District 20. As a state legislator, David will work hard to make sure that state government does more with less.

“The forecast is gloomy for Alabama. The Governor is hedging on stimulus money to balance the state’s checkbook at a time when my generation will have to live with the consequences of the state budget. That’s why I am running and that’s why I need your support,” Pinkleton said.

As a state legislator, David will push the envelope in Montgomery to ensure greater transparency in government on a local and state level. David will also work alongside other Madison County lawmakers to ensure that much needed road and bridge repair in Madison County begins prior to the influx of 10,000+ defense related jobs by 2011 as a result of BRAC.

Additional information about David Pinkleton can be found on his Facebook page.

State of the State – 2010

I attended Governor Riley’s State of the State address at the State Capitol. Riley asked the legislature to focus on 5 areas: economic development (tax credits for job creation), education (charter schools), ethics (subpoena power), PACT (Riley said the State made a promise and should keep it – standing ovation), and gambling (bingo machines are illegal slot machines). Riley reminded the legislature of the corruption that former Gov. Patterson fought long ago – and that Patterson said no good ever comes out of gambling.

The biggest problem Riley has getting his agenda passed is that the Democrats control both the State House and the State Senate (with a veto-proof 21 seats).

An issue under discussion that disturbs me is that some legislators are planning to raid the Alabama Trust Fund. The Dems want to raid it for road construction (election year) and a few GOP want to raid it for coastal insurance. Either way – I don’t think they plan to ‘pay it back’. The legislature already drained the reserves, they’ve already spent the stimulus money, and now they’re hoping for ‘Stimulus 2′ to make up budget shortfalls.

***

The State of the State address was held in the magnificent old Capitol Building. We got a quick tour of some of the preserved spaces, like the Treasurer’s Office (from the 1850s). The chamber in which the speech was delivered was packed: State Senators, Representatives, Justices, State Officers – all of them were there. I watched from the balcony, where I got to meet Kristopher of  TheWorldAroundYou.

I also met Alex Goepfert, Communication Director for Congressman Artur Davis (D – running for Governor).  Alex complimented Brian’s analysis of the Governor’s race (no words from the Sparks’ campaign).  Alex is a friendly young man and I was happy to meet him.

After the speech, I got to hang out with Senator Paul Sanford.  From what I saw, the people in District 7 can be proud of how well he’s establishing himself in the political scene.  Paul is ‘the new face’ of the ALGOP.

We went to the Montgomery Brewpub for dinner, which is just around the corner from the new Wintzell’s.  The old Capitol Hotel with the Karaoke Bar has closed, so the Montgomery Brewpub plans to have Karaoke Nights on Tuesday for Legislators.  Note to Mike Ball – they don’t have equipment for instruments, so bring your own – they’re expecting you :)