Jim Bunning still knows a doctored pitch and Henry Paulson just threw one.

Hall of Fame Pitcher Jim Bunning

Hall of Fame Pitcher Jim Bunning

Back when I was a kid living outside of Baltimore, my dad, from time-to-time, would take me to see the Orioles play at the old Memorial Stadium.  One night game I remember very well.  That night the Orioles were playing the Detroit Tigers and the starting pitcher was Jim Bunning.  Bunning would later be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.  At any rate, during the game, while Bunning was pitching, Oriole manager Billy Hitchcock came out of the dugout and ran toward the homeplate umpire.  After a brief conversation, the umpire, Detroit manager Bob Scheffing, and the Tiger catcher walked toward the pitching mound where Jim Bunning was standing.  As the tree men approached the mound, the umpire reached his hand out toward Bunning in a gesture that revealed he was asking for the baseball Bunning was holding.  After a momentary hesitation by Bunning the ball was given to umpire.  Then, after only a couple of seconds, the umpire motioned that Bunning was being thrown out of the game.  For the thousands fo fans in the stadium, they had no clue what was going on, but later the news got around that Bunning was “doctoring the baseball” by cutting it with his belt buckle.  That is against the rules and that’s why Bunning was thrown out of the game.  Nevertheless, when I finally learned what happened, I began to quiz my dad on how and why pitchers would do such a thing.  He said pitchers were always looking for ways to sneak a bad ball into a situation that gave them an advantage without the batter knowing it.  Plain-and-simple it was cheating.

So, today while watching the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee hearings on the proposed $700 Billion bailout of Wall Street and the credit markets, it was no surprise to me to see Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky taking to task the architect of the plan, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.  You see,

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson
Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson

Bunning can not only throw a doctored baseball, but he also knows when one has been thrown at the American people.  Today he, along with others in Congress (see the Forbes article) who have great reservations about the details of Paulson’s plan leveled a flury of attacks aimed at demanding that individual American taxpayers don’t get holding the bag.  As economist  Willaim Greider stated in a Nation Magazine article, “If Wall Street gets away with this, it will represent an historic swindle of the American public–all sugar for the villains, lasting pain and damage for the victims.”  Bunning called the plan “financial socialism” and “unAmerican.”  Although I agree with both of these men, I do not necessarily agree with Bunning’s last characterization.  The fact is, greed, corruption, and stealing from the poor to give to the rich is hardly “unAmerican.”  It is, all to often, the American way.

Related Articles:

Sen. Jim Bunning’s Statement

Paulson Plan a Historic Swindle – William Greider

Administration Seeking $700 Billion for Wall Street – New York Times

What We Need to Know About the Bailout Plan – Forbes

Congress Tries to Fix What it Broke – Investor’s Business Daily

Dirty Secret of the Bailout – Huffington Post

How We Became the United States of France – TIME

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Falling into Grace

Shame The idiom, “fall from grace” is typically used to express the idea of a loss of status, respect, or prestige for a failure of moral character. Just in the past week, we’ve borne witness to the moral failure of Eliot Spitzer, governor of New York because of his involvement with a prostitute. People have and do fail, some failures being more public and shameful than others. In recent years very public ministers, such as Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, and Ted Haggard have had their sins broadcast around the globe, not only bringing shame on themselves, but shame to the Church. High-profile politicians such as Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, Randy Cunningham, and Bill Clinton have had very public failures splashed over every newspaper in the land. Exposing and scrutinizing the sins of the rich, famous and powerful seems to garner as much interest as other national past-times such as baseball and American Idol. It’s a bloodsport.

This morning, Easter morning, the guest speaker at our church was John G. Rowland, former governor of the state John G. Rowland Connecticut, the state in which I live. On July 1, 2004 Rowland resigned as governor after facing charges of tax evasion, corruption, and bribery. More than likely, Rowland would have been impeached if he had chosen to fight the charges. In the end, he would spend ten months in federal prison for “honest services mail fraud” and tax fraud.

For most of those in the crowd attending the service today, they only knew John Rowland because of his history in state government and his legal troubles. For me it was personal. Seeing him at church today brought back waves of past memories relative to the eminent domain case that consumed almost seven years of my life. John Rowland was a central figure in our contention that government should not seize personal property to give to another person, institution, or business, but for strictly defined public uses such as for roads, schools, and the like. (see the tab above, “NABOTH’S VINEYARD” for information on the case)

On February 3, 1998, the day Amy and I had our offer to buy our home accepted, Governor John Rowland, George Milne of Pfizer Corporation, and City of New London officials were on-board a ferry in the Thames River announcing that Pfizer was going to build it’s Global Research facility in New London, a few blocks from our house. This was great news. New London needed an economic asset of this magnitude to jump-start the city’s sagging fortunes and move it toward a better quality of life. Amy and I were thrilled. For the next nine months the New London Development Corporation, the city’s quasi-public/private agency, began a course of informational meetings about the development of the area adjacent to the new Pfizer development. For most residents, including myself, the idea of redeveloping the Fort Trumbull peninsula was welcomed news. However, before too long, we began to detect some stories of underhanded attempts by the NLDC to get theresidents of the Fort Trumbull neighborhood to sell their homes to the NLDC. For many residents, the neighborhood had been their home for most of their lives, and many of the residents, being quite advanced in years, just didn’t want to sell. That’s when the pressure began.

By the end of the year, 1998, Amy and I wrote up a petition that stated our support of the residents to stay in their homes and that the proposed development should incorporate the neighborhood. The petition was part of the administrative requirement for an environmental impact study. After a short time had passed, we began to hear more and more distressing stories of harassment and intimidation. Part of that intimidation was a threat of eminent domain. Legally, according to the Connecticut General Statutes, using the threat of eminent domain is illegal until a government plan had been certified. That wouldn’t happen until February 2000.

During 1999 we continued to hear stories of how the NLDC was strong-arming the residents in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood by employing some fairly deceitful practices. In more than one case we found where the home evaluations the NLDC was giving the residents showed a considerable drop in value. All the while, the city continued to tax them at a much higher rate. Clearly unjust weights. What was really sad was to see elderly residents being treated so poorly. They were being given low offers for their homes which carried no mortgages. These folks had worked all their lives to raise families and buy their homes, which they now owned, free and clear. Sadly, the offers they were given by NLDC wouldn’t buy a garage, much less a home. In addition most of these people were retired having small retirement pensions. They couldn’t afford or even qualify for a new mortgage that would give them the same house as they now owned. In spite of our rantings to the city, state, and NLDC about the injustice of what had been and continued to be done, it fell on deaf ears. Instead, the residents were being told they needed to sacrifice for the common good. It was ironic that Claire Guadiani, president of both the NLDC and Connecticut College was saying that the remaining residents needed to sacrifice for the common good, yet at the same time, we discovered that the original plan that had been developed included an educational campus led by Claire’s husband David Burnett, a Pfizer executive. No conflict there.

At the end of 1999, members of the Coalition to Save Fort Trumbull Neighborhood, an organization formed to save the neighborhood were fairly certain the path the state was taking in the project was one that would force the remaining residents out of Fort Trumbull. Their gentrified neighborhood just didn’t fit with the world class Pfizer development. On January 18, 2000 the New London City Council voted 6-1 to approve the municipal development plan submitted by the state, through their agent, the NLDC. In that act, the council gave its power to use eminent domain to force out unwilling residents from their homes. The plan was hatched and approved at the highest level of state government in the person of John G. Rowland.

For most of the next year my wife and I obtained thousands of pages of emails, letters, and other documents through the Freedom Of Information Act. After a while, we could have written them in our sleep. At any rate, as we continued to dig up violations of statutes and other laws, we sought legal help. We retained the service of a local attorney, (our personal attorney) Scott Sawyer. By May 2000 we formed an organization, the Fort Trumbull Conservancy in order to launch legal actions against the city, state, and NLDC. In July 2000 we filed our first lawsuit. While we proceed to fight on state-level statutory levels, we also lobbied the support of the Institute for Justice– IJ, a Washington-based public interest law firm. They took up our cause in December 2000.

For the next four plus years, we continued to fight to preserve the property rights of the residents and hope for a modification of the plan in order to get the development going in uncontested areas of the project site. The results were disheartening on all sides. Through that period we went to superior court, the state supreme court, and finally, on February 22, 2005, the case was heard in the highest court in the land, the US Supreme Court.

From early on in the struggle, Amy and I participated in weekly prayer walks in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood. It was led by myself and John Endler, pastor of First Baptist Church in New London. We had asked people and churched to join us in an effort to pray for reconciliation and peace in the city. A number of people were faithful to the call for over five years running. Sadly, only two churches participated. During those days I noticed there were three kinds of prayers being offered. The first was a general prayer for the residents and the resolution of the immediate problems. The second was a prayer that was more sharp-edged, with a call for justice against those who had violated the residents in the neighborhood. The last kind of prayer was one of reconciliation to our enemies in this particular fight and one that sought truth and mercy. I was one that prayed for reconciliation. That included prayers for John Rowland, Claire Guadiani, and our city officials.

I found that the more I prayed for my “enemies”, the more I felt God releasing love for them in my heart. Even though I would still continue to confront them over what I saw a injustice, I didn’t allow myself the opportunity to hate them. I had to pray for them, I had to love them. )

In 2004, I was not at all surprised to hear about Rowland being charged with tax evasion and other charges. For me and my wife, we KNEW since 2000, it was going to happen. We knew he would be kicked out of office. (Read NABOTH’S VINEYARD. In it I said in February 2000 that John Rowland would not make it through his term as governor.) After hearing the news, my heart was heavy and I began to pray for him and his family. I felt very strongly that God had His hand on John Rowland and was doing something special in his life. That special thing was fine-tuned after Rowland was sent to federal prison for ten months. I thought of him and prayed for him often, believing that God had him right where he wanted him.

When I heard that John Rowland was released from prison and that God had indeed done something in his life, I remembered the verse of scripture my mother would always encourage me by, Romans 8:28. Ironically, it was this same verse that got John Rowland through some really rough patches while in prison. That verse says, “We know that God makes all things work together for the good of those who love Him and are chosen to be a part of His plan.”

It is so wonderful to see that God has used what man would consider a nail in the coffin of a life to resurrect a new man, that like David, after he was caught in the sin with Bathsheba, was empowered to preach God’s word. (Psalm 51) Wow!

Today, I heard my enemy speaking of God’s glory and the power of Christ’s resurrection. What a joy to see him redeemed. Actually he fell into grace instead of falling from it. He may have lost status, respect, and prestige in the world’s eyes, but in God’s eyes, John Rowland has status, respect, and prestige as a child of God. Grace is unmerited favor, that which is bestowed, not earned. The Scripture says that where sin abounds, grace does much more abound. (Romans 5:20) Indeed, John Rowland has fallen into God’s grace. I know, because I’m there with him.

Peace,

Steve

Unjust Weights?

Ashcroft “The LORD abhors dishonest scales, but accurate weights are his delight.” – Proverbs 11:1

Here, in the state of Connecticut, if you are accused of a motor violation, and you plead “no contest,” you may end up paying your fine to Mothers Against Drunk Drivers or some other related non-profit organization. I guess it’s the way the state let’s you off, but you still pay. The benefit is, the decision doesn’t affect your driving record and therefore, your insurance premiums won’t go up. It’s a fair trade. Nevertheless, I’ve heard people ask why they can’t pay the fine to a different charity or even, their kid’s after-school program, or something like that. They “suspect” that the reason MADD gets the dough is because of some nefarious relationship the prosecutor or judge has with that particular group. Maybe the prosecutor is getting a little kick-back. Maybe. At any rate, the government has guidelines set for such arrangements and the upper hand.

This past week, former Attorney General John Ashcroft appeared before a House judiciary subcommittee to answer questions about a lucrative monitoring contract he received from Chris Christie, New Jersey’s U.S. attorney. The implication, made mostly by Democrats, is that giving Ashcroft’s firm the no-bid contract, rumored to be worth between $28 and $52 million, amounted to political cronyism. Although Ashcroft’s firm is being paid by the corporation it’s monitoring, it was assigned the contract by Christie, who was once one of Ashcroft’s subordinates at the Justice Department. The House judiciary subcommittee wanted Ashcroft to explain how the Ashcroft Group, the lobbying and consulting firm he started after he left government, won a no-bid contract worth $28 million to $52 million. Ashcroft’s task was to monitor an out-of-court settlement between the Justice Department and an Indiana medical device manufacturer, Zimmer Holdings Inc. Zimmer is accused of making kickbacks to doctors who used its equipment and is required to submit to 18 months of oversight in order to comply to the laws they broke. Much like the example I sited in the first paragraph, the government allows the individual or company to pay an outside group and keeps them out of a court-imposed penalty. Much of this has come about after the Enron collapse and other corporate failings due to fraudulent bookkeeping. The Sarbanes-Oxley law requires that companies accused of fiscal wrongdoing of this sort, obtain monitoring and corrective training and/or corporate restructuring to correct the error.

After researching the Zimmer-Ashcroft-Christie deal, it seems that the accusations being made regarding Christie’s supposed conflict of interest is, statutorily baseless. Unless Christie is getting a kick-back from his decision to use his old boss for the deal, there is no benefit to him, therefore, no conflict. However, Ashcroft’s assertion that there is no appearance of conflict of interest is, for me, a bit troubling. The problem with “appearances” is that they are determined by the beholder, not by the one who is presenting the appearance. At times, appearances will be what they represent. At other times, they are deceiving. Logically, Ashcroft can’t make the determination that the deal had no appearance of conflict. That is left in the eye of the beholder.

As to the accusation made against Ashcroft by Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law, suggesting the contract was a “backroom, sweetheart deal,” I think that claim is at least spurious fishing, but more likely, just another example of partisan, politically-oriented character assassination. Her sarcastic comments were the stuff of school yard bullying. Baseless accusation is the currency of many members of Congress to undermine the credibility of an opponent. It was in full view here. It hardly professional behavior, but rather sordid and thoroughly uncultured.

Although I disagree with Rep. Sanchez’s speculative assertion that there was a “backroom, sweetheart deal,” between Christie and Ashcroft, I fall in with those who are concerned about the no-bid course of action taken by Christie. I’m not blaming Ashcroft at all, but the process stinks. For me, it’s ironic that the Republican Party has consistently championed the concept that competitive bidding is preferable to monopolistic, sole-source contracting. In fact, the iconic President Reagan made deregulation and and open bidding a keystone of his economic policy. Even today, in the discourse on health-care, Republicans are typically supportive of the competitive process over the public, sole-source model. They rail at the idea of a program that will be fraught with waste, fraud, and abuse, yet in thiscase, they are not that concerned because there is no direct government funds involved. The problem is that, holistically, the no-bid arrangement made by Christie hardly assures the public that it is getting the best qualified group to do the job, and at the best price for services rendered. This is not to say that The Ashcroft Group wouldn’t have won the contract under a fair-bidding scheme, but who will know?

According to the federal law (48 CFR § 2.101) governing no-bid contracts, the only legal reasons for offering sole source (no-bid) contracts include:

  1. only one firm has a product that will meet the projects needs or only one firm can do the work;
  2. the existence of an unusual and compelling urgency;
  3. for purposes of industrial mobilization or expert services;
  4. an international agreement;
  5. sole source is authorized or required by law, e.g., socio-economic programs;
  6. national security; and
  7. the public interest.

It’s obvious from this list of qualifiers, Christie chose not to apply these standards. Even though it could be argued that there is no specific law or guidelines that direct the process of hiring monitors, it’s in the public interest to provide a level, competitive playing field for any individual or corporation to get a chance to win the contract. That’s fair and ethical. In this case, no opportunity was given to anyone else to bid on the contract. It just doesn’t pass the stink test.

Apparently, the Justice Department thought it needed to do something about the “non-appearance” of conflict of interest. On March 10th, the department announced internal guidelines for the selection of monitors in out-of-court settlements with large companies. The new guidelines are intended in part to avoid the sort of conflict of interest accusations that followed the disclosure of Mr. Ashcroft’s contract.

I have to agree with the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Representative John Conyers Jr., a Michigan Democrat, who suggested at the hearing that the new guidelines may not go far enough, and that Congress may consider legislation to impose new rules for the selection of monitors. “We must assure the public that the Department of Justice is not rewarding political allies in a forum where prosecutorial independence is absolutely necessary.” It is a time for transparency in the rewarding of government contracts and those it manages. There is too much revolving-door lobbying and neither party can claim the high road.

My final thoughts on this matter have to do with biblical ethics. It seems to me that the most basic of ethical mores defined for Christians is that they “do unto others that which they would want others to do to them.” Yeah, that’s the Golden Rule. I would suggest that if John Ashcroft and other Christians involved in these kinds of situations really believe in the Golden Rule, they should apply it in every aspect of their lives, both individually and corporately, especially in the business of government. To do otherwise suggests a lack of integrity and the appearance of embracing situational ethics. I believe that Ashcroft should support the remarks of John Conyers and others who are asking for an open process that ensures a level playing ground of opportunity. If not, I would be inclined to think that he is defending a process of “unjust weights.”

The second ethical concern I want to address is the way some Christians get sucked into the cesspool of partisan politics and fail to focus on “whatsoever things are true.” Instead, they launch naturally and readily into ad hominem diatribes and sarcastic mockery of those who don’t support their particular brand of politics that day. I admit that it is hard to stomach some of the partisan jousting and nasty invectives that pour from the mouth of politicians and pundits, nevertheless, this kind of behavior is not justified for those representing Jesus Christ in the political arena. Is this what the “new man” of scripture is to sound and look like? Are Christians allowed to put their love of enemies on the shelf when it comes to politics. It seems to me that God doesn’t want us to be putting on transition lenses when it comes to our interest and involvement in the arena of politics, but to bring light into the darkness and overcome evil with good. Darkness has never been overcome by more darkness.

The next time you feel like cursing (opposed to blessing, praying for, or interceding for) politicians, pundits, or anyone else who you might disagree with, consider whether you modeling the Satan who accuses or the Christ who advocates.

Accuser or Advocate

God Save Us All – Steve