Monday, July 6, 2009

Money for Nothing, and The Houses are Free!

Ms. Mamie Van Doren. As they say in the mystery stories: If you're building a house, you're going to want someone like her in the floor plans......

Yesterday, I wrote a long hissy fit about Governor Palin’s resignation and the allegations that she failed to disclose that she received for free some portion of the goods and services involved in building her Wasilla home. I had mentioned that Governor Palin’s attorney, Thomas Van Flein, had sent out a press release, supposedly addressing these allegations. The press release also included a ridiculous threat of legal action against anyone who “re-publishes (sic) the defamation.” Of course, I sprained both my ankles, diving for my computer to re-publish the defamation, because if there’s anything I love more than re-publishing defamation about Sarah Palin, I’m not aware of it.

What I did not have at the time was the complete text of Mr. Van Flein’s press release, so I made snarky comments on parts of the release that were quoted in the Associated Press article reporting the story.

Ms. Yvonne Craig. She was also Bat
Girl, but in an article dissecting lawyer-
speak in press releases, you really 
need to pull out all the stops.
Well, a close personal friend sent me a link to the complete release. Unfortunately for my friend (and everyone else), I now feel morally obligated to make snarky comments about the entire release (once again illustrating that old adage about no good deed goes unpunished). So here it is, courtesy of my newest close personal friend atThe Immoral Minority.

For those of you who don’t want to read all my snarky comments (which is pretty much everyone who does more than just look at the pictures), here is the bottom line. Either Governor Palin has a terrible lawyer who does not know how to write a press release (which I can’t imagine is the case), or there is some fire in all this smoke. Do I have any reason to think that the Palins’ personal house was illegally built with public funds? From what I have seen, no. Does it look like the Palins received some undisclosed benefits from the contractors who built the Wasilla Sports Complex? To me, there are just too many unanswered questions that are easy to answer. In my less than humble opinion, Mr. Van Flein’s statement is carefully written to answer all the questions people aren’t asking, and to carefully ignore all the questions Alaskans deserve answers to.

What follows is the text of Mr. Van Flein’s press release in italic and my snarky comments in bold. Afterwards, I have drafted a statement of the type I expect to see from the Palins. My sample release involves the remodel of my house, assuming I was facing the same type of accusations.

Ms. Carroll Baker. I can't be sure, but I
think she also played the Mexican girl
in Giant.

July 4, 2009

On July 3rd, 2009, Governor Sarah Palin announced her intent to resign her gubernatorial duties and transfer the powers of Governor to Lt. Governor Sean Parnell.

Almost immediately afterwards, several unscrupulous people have asserted false and defamatory allegations that the "real" reasons for Governor Palin’s resignation stem from an alleged criminal investigation pertaining to the construction of the Wasilla Sports Complex.

Investigations are not always “criminal.” Ethical complaints are usually “civil” as opposed to “criminal.” Any time I see any response to an allegation of wrongdoing that emphasizes “criminal,” that is a cause for concern.

This canard was first floated by Democrat operatives in September 2008 during the national campaign and followed up by sympathetic Democratic writers.1. 

I am guessing the “1” refers to a footnote, but my source for this statement did not include the footnote.

It was easily rebutted then as one of many fabrications about Sarah Palin. Just as power abhors a vacuum, modern journalism apparently abhors any type of due diligence and fact checking before scurrilous allegations are repeated as fact.

The history of the Wasilla Sports Complex is publicly known. Contrary to the insinuation that as Mayor of Wasilla, Sarah Palin "personally" oversaw bidding, construction, funding and accounting for the project (and thus, the allegation goes, "embezzled" from the project),

“Embezzlement” is a specific type of theft, with a very narrow meaning. Traditionally, “theft” was defined as taking the property of another, with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of that property. “Embezzlement” was taking the property of another, with the intent to temporarily deprive the owner of the property. For example, say a bank teller pulled $100 out of the cash drawer, to bet on a horse race. After the race, the teller intended to pay back the money out of the winnings. That would be “embezzlement,” as opposed to “theft.”

Later, the definition of “embezzlement” shifted again, this time to mean knowingly taking funds directly from an entity. For example, Spenard Builders Supply (SBS) was the company that supplied building materials to both the Wasilla Sports Complex, and the Palins’ home. The Palins would be guilty of “embezzling from the project,” if SBS gave the Palins building materials for free (or at a discount), charged the cost of those materials to Wasilla or the State, and the Palins were aware that SBS was taking that action. That means under either of the following two scenarios, the Palins would not be guilty of “embezzling from the project:”

1) SBS gave the Palins free (or discounted) building materials, billed the State for the cost of those materials, but the Palins were not aware that SBS was doing so; or

2) SBA gave the Palins free (or discounted) building materials, but did not bill the State for the cost of those materials.

Ms. Jayne Mansfield. I am always
surprised at the vitriol that critics
throw her way, if only attacking her
for being "fat." She knew how to work
a system that was rigged against her
every way imaginable.
In short, it is certainly possible that SBS (or any of the other contractors of the Wasilla Sports Complex) could have given the Palins a free home (or paid for some portion of goods and services), and the Palins would still not have “embezzled from the project.”

the truth is far more mundane, and publicly available:

Curtis D. Menard was instrumental in spearheading the effort from conception to realization of the Wasilla Sports Complex. He directed the steering committee that was responsible for placing the issue before the voters of Wasilla and subsequently passed. He remained chairman of that committee through the design and construction of the facility. He was an ardent supporter and leader of civic, educational and athletic endeavors within the community as well as an advocate of the continued success of the Sports Center. Thus, as any basic fact checker would learn, the Mayor of Wasilla is not listed as "chair" of the Steering Committee. As Mayor, Governor Palin did appoint the committee, another fact readily verifiable, and she was publicly on record supporting the need for such a facility—as was most of Wasilla. "Wasilla weighs sports facility" published December 6, 2001 and available at her public support of this project was deemed pivotal by many, the actual construction, bidding, financing and other day-to-day management of the project was not in her scope of authority as Mayor.

So then Mayor Palin played no role in the selection of any of the contractors or subcontractors for the Sports Complex? That was not the impression I was given in reading the history of how the Complex was built. But even if she had no role, that does not preclude the fact that she may have received free stuff from SBS or any other contractor.

Ms. Gloria Grahme. I am going to have
to keep looking, because I can't find a
picture that really does her justice. She 
was the only thing I liked in the film 
The Greatest Show on Earth.
In addition, Sarah Palin was then criticized by some of not showing enough interest in the project. The Frontiersman reported that at a public meeting with the Chamber of Commerce, an opponent of the project "accused Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin of staying quiet about the arena because of her campaign for Lieutenant Governor." "Sports Arena Campaign gets Rolling" (February 22, 2002).

“AN OPPONENT of the project” (emphasis added)? One person in a public meeting, who apparently holds no position of authority, kvetches? That means less than nothing, so why is Mr. Flein including it? It smells of red herring.

Further, this was a highly public project, approved by the voters, and subject to public bid requirements. As described by the City of Wasilla itself:

The city uses competitive means for the purchase of all goods and services as required by Wasilla Municipal Code 5.08. The city also utilizes contracts and price agreements established by the State of Alaska, the Western States Contracting Alliance and other cooperatives or agencies when it is deemed to be in the best interest of the City. The city believes in open, fair competition and strives to ensure that all vendors have equal opportunity to compete for city business.

The City of Wasilla operates under a decentralized purchasing system. This means purchasing decision up to $5,000 is made independently by the departments in the city (with the exception of Management Information System purchases). When the estimated amount for goods or services is between $5,000 and $9,999, departments are required to obtain three quotes prior to purchase. The departments may utilize the services of the Purchasing/Contracting Officer (PCO) for this process or may do it themselves; however, when this processed is selected, the PCO must sign off on the final product prior to purchasing or contracting.

For purchases beyond $10,000, the city requires all departments to contact the PCO who will utilize the city's bid process according to Wasilla Municipal Code 5.08. The bid process is initiated through either an Invitation to Bid (ITB), utilized when the city knows the specifications for the purchase; or a Request for Proposal (RFP), utilized when the exact specifications or process is unknown.

All well and good. Virtually all municipalities operate on some form of RFP and public or quasi-public bidding process. Nevertheless, the ultimate awarding of bids is still a subjective process. Moreover, regardless of how perfect the Wasilla and Alaska bidding process may be, that process has nothing to do with SBS deciding to give the Palins free building materials.

Ms. Mara Corday. Another sentimental
favorite of mine. I also love idiotic
cowgirl costumes. Accordingly, the Sports Complex was publicly bid, in accordance with City and state law, and was accounted for in the time and manner all public projects are handled. The Mayor of Wasilla, be it Sarah Palin, or her successor, did not handle the funds, or the materials, for this project. To thus suggest she "embezzled" is as false as it is impossible.

Again, the use of the word “embezzled” is suspicious. The word has a very narrow meaning. I would expect the statement to read “To thus suggest she “embezzled,” received a kickback, discount for goods or services, or any benefit whatsoever from any contractor connected to the building of the Wasilla Sports Complex is as false as it is impossible.” But Mr. Flein does not say that.

The additional claim of "proof" of wrongdoing is the allegation that the Palins purchased building materials from Spenard Builders Supply—and that this company may have provided supplies for the Sports Complex.

This is another red flag for me. “[T]hat this company may have providedsupplies for the Sports Complex” (emphasis supplied), is either careful writing, or just plain sloppy. There is no question that SBS provided materials for both the Palins home and the Sports Complex. The following sentences even suggest (but do not state unequivocally) that SBS was involved in both projects.

Prior to the construction of Lowe’s and Home Depot within the last few years in Wasilla, Spenard Builders Supply was the primary building supply company in Wasilla. It can hardly come as a surprise that it would sell materials to small homeowners or that it would also bid to supply commercial contracts. One would be hard pressed to find a home, cabin or outbuilding in the Mat-Su Valley in which Spenard Builders Supply did not sell at least some of the materials.

Again, this is either careful writing or sloppy writing. If Mr. Flein is being sloppy, he is creating suspicion where he does not need to. But if he is being careful, then Mr. Flein is writing to Governor Palin's supporters, suggesting that Governor Palin’s critics do not even know IF SBS was involved in both projects. This sentence acknowledges the possibility—maybe even the probability that SBS was involved in both projects--but does not say for a fact that SBS provided materials to both the Palin home and to the Sports Complex.

If Mr. Van Flein knows his onions (and I am certain, sure he does), he is trying to create the impression that Governor Palin’s critics do not even know the basic facts of the matter.

The Palins built their Lake Lucille house using Todd as the general contractor. Todd’s family owns a hardware and building supply business in Dillingham. He is no stranger to construction, or to rolling up his sleeves and doing work. 

Ms. Lana Turner. She's happy, because
she also knows someone whose father
owned a hardware store.
The Palin home was built from the ground up on a two acre, lakeside lot. The house has a tax appraised value of $552,000, is two stories, four bedrooms and four baths, and 3,450 square feet. Ask anyone you know in any of the construction trades: will having a dad who owned a hardware store give you the background to build such a house? (The answer will be “no.”) No doubt SOMEBODY besides Todd Palin was involved—if only in drawing up the architectural plans. 

Is it possible that Todd Palin and a few buddies “rolled up their sleeves” and built that house? Sure—but it’s certainly not very probable. I would need to know a lot more information about who else was involved.

The Palins used a combination of personal savings, equity from the sale of their prior home, and conventional bank financing to build the house—like millions of American families. The deeds of trust are recordable public records. Basic journalism and fact checking would confirm this.

No doubt the Palins did this. And “basic journalism and fact checking” will also confirm there is a trust deed, and any liens the Palins may have on their home. However, what “basic journalism and fact checking” cannot confirm is who the subcontractors were or the building permits were acquired on the Palin home, because while Mayor, Sarah Palin blocked an effort to require the filing of building permits. Additionally, all the “basic journalism and fact checking” in world will not confirm that SBS (for example) did not provide the Palins the supplies for their home at a sharp discount. Going back to the Senator Uncle Ted Stevens debacle, the government discovered that the good Senator Uncle paid $160,000 for $410,000 of improvements on a humble mountain cabin only after Mr. Bill Allen, the former chief executive of VECO (an oil services company) rolled over and spilled the beans to the US Attorney.

Unless some similar whistle blower comes through regarding the Palins, or the Palins produce receipts showing they paid 100 cents on the dollar for the supplies for their home, this story will not (and should not) go away.

The Sports Complex was built in 2002. It is now 2009. While the Federal Government has a process to follow, and that process sometimes takes time, we can categorically state that we are not aware of any "federal investigation" that has been "pending" for the last seven years. We are aware of no subpoenas on SBS regarding the Palins. We are aware that the Federal Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation have been helpful, responsive and diligent in prosecuting the email hacker and in cleaning up Alaska’s corrupt legislators.

Ms. Joi Lansing. You can tell she is 
easy, but not too easy, because only
one strap on her dress is down.
Looks at the dates: 2002 to 2009. What was happening with the Federal Department of Justice at that time? Well, I remember US Attorney Carol Lam for the Southern District of California sent sitting Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham to prison, and was fired for incompetence. Then there was US Attorney David Inglesias of New Mexico. His firing resulted in the destruction of the careers of then Senator Pete Domenici and Congresswoman Heather Wilson. In fact, nine honchos at the Department of Justice resigned in disgrace for malfeasance, including Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. I can’t imagine misconduct by Republican mayors of towns less than six thousand population was big focus.

But so what? Whether there is (or is not) a “federal investigation,” that does not answer any questions as to who built and paid for the Palins’ home.

To be blunt—this "story" was alleged during the campaign, evaluated then by national media and deemed meritless. Nothing has changed.

Let me be blunter. A blank assertion that this allegation has been “evaluated” by an (unspecified) “national media” means nothing. In the immortal words of Gene Autry: Show Me the Money. If the Palins paid for all the materials and services that went into building their home, then show me the receipts. Give me the affidavits of the architect who drew up the plans, the electrician who put in the wiring, the plumber who did whatever plumbers do to get the bathroom water to the bathroom and the kitchen water to the kitchen. Show me the receipts that the Palins paid for all those fancy pantsy appliances. And if they didn’t pay for any of that stuff—then who did?

The following is the empty and ridiculous threat of legal action, that I addressed in my previous hissy fit.

To the extent several websites, most notably liberal Alaska blogger Shannyn Moore, are now claiming as "fact" that Governor Palin resigned because she is "under federal investigation" for embezzlement or other criminal wrongdoing, we will be exploring legal options this week to address such defamation. This is to provide notice to Ms. Moore, and those who re-publish the defamation, such as Huffington Post, MSNBC, the New York Times and The Washington Post, that the Palins will not allow them to propagate defamatory material without answering to this in a court of law. The Alaska Constitution protects the right of free speech, while simultaneously holding those "responsible for the abuse of that right." Alaska Constitution Art. I, Sec. 5. These falsehoods abuse the right to free speech; continuing to publish these falsehoods of criminal activity is reckless, done without any regard for the truth, and is actionable. And a moron says what.

Thomas Van Flein, for Governor Sarah Palin

Okay—I made up that last part.

Actionable schmactionable, as they say where I come from. Do I know for a fact the Palins got free stuff, in the form of goods and services for the building of their 2002 home? Of course not. Do I have reasons to be suspicious? You betcha, to coin a phrase.

Ms. Mamie Van Doren. I think she's got
the towel over her head, so you don't
ask why she's wearing heels with her
What do I want to know?

I mentioned in my last post that I had done some work on my house, right after I bought it. Suppose I was the governor of Alaska (big ups to my best friend (in 1969) and current Alaska resident Tracy who would probably burn in hell before voting for me—but we digress), and some troublemakers were accusing me of getting free goods and services for my home repair. What kind of a statement would I release?

First, I would not attack anyone in the media. The responsibility of the media is to ferret out public corruption, and if I have hold some public office and get free stuff, I have the legal and ethical responsibility to disclose that.

Second, my “statement” would be much simpler and straightforward. For example:

There have been numerous allegations that I have received free or sharply discounted goods and/or services regarding the repair of my home, and that I have failed to disclose those gifts. That is incorrect.

Enclosed with this statement are copies documents showing the following:
1) Who I purchased my home from, and the price I paid.
2) The names of the carpenter, electrician, plumbers, roofers, and tree trimmers I hired, their bills, and their supporting affidavits confirming that they both billed me in full, and I paid their bills.
3) Also included are some of the receipts from the building supply stores where I purchased the materials for my home repair. Unfortunately, I do not have all of the receipts, but I do have affidavits from Home Depot, Color Tile, Standard Paints and Brands, and A Boy Hardware that they have not—and indeed would not—give me any discounts.
4) Next, there are affidavits from the friends of mine who helped me with work on the house, and the extent of work they performed without pay. Each person states they performed the work as a favor to me, out of friendship.
5) Finally, there are copies of all the applicable building permits detailing work done, and where no permit was required, I wrote a brief summary of that particular project.

In conclusion, I want to say that at no time did I receive any benefit in the form of goods, services, special considerations, discounts, kickbacks, or benefits in any way, other than what I have listed in this statement. And a moron says what.

Ta Dah! And we all go on to live rich and happy lives. Almost. I would probably have to answer a whole lot of other very embarrassing questions---like:

“How do you respond to the allegations in the affidavit from your friend Skip that sheetrocking with you was a nightmare, because you don’t know your right from your left?”

“In the affidavit from Steve, he says that when the two of you spray painted your house, you spent about half the time crying, because you kept getting paint in your eyes. Is that true?”

Ms. Joi Lansing. When she is not typing,
she is answering the phone. What a
great secretary!
“The affidavit from your electrician says that he never considered giving you a discount for of your political beliefs, because you have your head up your ass about Chile. Is your head up your ass?”

“The affidavit by your ex-wife says you took more than five years to tile a shower. Why did you need five years to tile one shower?”

“An affidavit from Todd says that the only tools you should be allowed to use are made by Fisher Price. What does he mean by that?”

“Your plumber says that several times he almost walked off the job, because you kept asking him if copper pipes would make your water taste quote 'funny,' but were unable to explain what you meant by the word 'funny.' Is that true?”

“The president of Acme Roofing says that he remembers your house very well, because he’s never even heard of a house having five layers of tar paper covering a rotten shake roof before. He also wonders about the brains of someone who would buy a house in that shape. Do you have any similar concerns about your brains?”

“Joe the Carpenter, who replaced the sill on your house, says that he remembers you, because he has never had to yell ‘Will you get the hell out of here?’ so many times. What kept you from getting the hell out of there?”

“The affidavit from the Color Tile Corporation not only states that they did not give you any special consideration, they considered applying for a restraining order, banning you from their locations, ostensively because your complete inability to make any form of decision drove three employees to file for disability from stress related issues. Did you send 'get well' cards to those employees?”

“Mike says in his affidavit that working with you trimming trees renewed his faith in an omnipotent and loving god, because while you all managed to bend the blade of the chainsaw, neither of you suffered any permanent injury. What impact—if any—did that experience have on your faith?”

Ms. Diana Dors. Don't be messing with
her about who all built her house.
“An affidavit from Judith states that you did extensive stripping of lead paint with a heat gun, because she remembers you saying that you didn’t need to use a safety mask if you quote ‘drank lots of water, to flush the lead out of your system.’ Are you really that stupid?”

“A mortgage broker named Steve says that he is well aware of all the financing you have done with your home, because working with you quote ‘felt like he was Edgar Bergan working with Charlie McCarthy.’ What does he mean by that?”

Maybe it’s just as well I’m not the governor of Alaska.

1 comment:

Karstan said...

I like the questions at the end best. :)