Thursday, July 19, 2007

A Question of Competency

Michael Motta, a diarist at Michigan Liberal, shared this with us last week, and then sent me a little bit more information. I'd like to thank him in advance for all the hard work and research he did, and for giving me permission to talk about it here. It's important enough that I wanted to bring it up.

He received a letter from Congressman Tim Walberg:
The letter, in case that's too small for you to read, thanks Mr. Motta for contacting Walberg about HR 1070, the Constitution Restoration Act. It then proceeds to explain why Walberg thinks the bill would be a good idea, and reminds us that he's a co-sponsor of HR 69, the Pledge Protection Act of 2007.

The Constitution Restoration Act would "limit the jurisdiction of Federal courts in certain cases and promote federalism," according to its own description. How does it do that? By limiting the ability of federal judges and the Supreme Court to review cases "concerning ... acknowledgment of God as the sovereign source of law, liberty, or government."

That's right-- it makes it so that they can't hear separation of church and state cases. It clearly states that such issues are no longer in the jurisdiction of the courts, and states that judges that review such issues should be impeached.

And Tim Walberg thinks the bill is a great idea. That, and the Pledge Protection Act, 'cause there's everyone knows that if "under God" is removed from the Pledge of Allegiance, people might start pledging allegiance to the flag of Canada or something.

I'm really tempted to go off on a rant about separation of church and state and why Walberg is wrong, but I won't. See, there are a number of things that are wrong with Walberg's letter.

For starters, Michael Motta didn't write to Walberg in support of HR 1070, the Constitution Restoration Act. He wrote to Walberg to support HR 1415, the Restoring the Constitution Act of 2007. That bill, supported by the ACLU, deals with restoring civil liberties curtailed by the Bush Administration.

Yep, Walberg thanked him for supporting a bill that Michael Motta doesn't support. Walberg (or, at least, his office) ignored what Michael Motta actually said and thanked him for what they wanted him to say.

But it gets worse.

See, the Constitution Restoration Act isn't HR 1070. The Stamp Out Gang Violence Act is HR 1070. In 2005, during the 109th Congress, the Constitution Restoration Act was numbered 1070, but that was two years ago and long before Walberg even entered the House. Oops.

Does Walberg even know which bills are up for consideration and which aren't?

UPDATE: I didn't think to check this before, but I went back and checked another piece of the letter. Walberg reminds us that he's a co-sponsor of HR 69, the Pledge Protection Act of 2007. Except, HR 69 isn't the Pledge Protection Act, it's the Disability Benefit Fairness Act of 2007. The Pledge Protection Act of 2007 is HR 699. A typo, perhaps, but on top of everything else...

But wait! In the bill text, Tim Walberg is not listed as a co-sponsor! He even got that wrong!

Ignore that last line, I spoke too soon. Walberg is a co-sponsor of HR 699, but it wasn't listed on the Thomas text.

Ah, but it gets even worse!

Michael added an update to his diary at Michigan Liberal to share the latest:
I got another in the mail today from Walberg. I'm convinced that Walberg is going by the theory that negative publicity is better than no publicity.

"Dear Mr. Motta:
Thank you for contacting me expressing your concerns and thoughts about the 2007 Farm Bill. I appreciate hearing from you." Et cetera, et cetera.

And I sure do appreciate that I must be expressing a lot more concern about our nation than I actually am! Now I'm not just a civil liberties guy and an anti-war guy but a big Farm Bill guy to boot! Only problem is I have no recollection whatsoever of becoming a big Farm Bill guy. Maybe the bill is good, maybe it could be better - honestly I don't know. One good thing about this Walberg letter is at least he didn't thank me for my opposition or support of the Bill.

Of course it would be nice if Walberg not only appreciated hearing from me, but also listened (or read with any degree of literacy). Since this letter was dated July 12, I am pretty convinced that it was a response to my e-mail explaining that I'm in favor of the Restoring the Constitution Act of 2007 (per the initial diary entry). Must be that 2007 part that was a killer for staff to sort out.

So now I'm chalked up as being in favor of a reactionary bill that was killed during the last Congress, and also as a concerned Farm Biller. What next?
(Emphasis added.)

So, let's recap. When Michael contacted Congressman Walberg to express his support for a civil liberties bill, he was thanked for supporting two entirely different bills, one of which was debated and tossed aside long before Walberg was elected. [UPDATE:] And, he claims credit for co-sponsoring a bill that he isn't a co-sponsor for, getting another bill's number wrong too!

Whenever I complain about a politician like Tim Walberg, I inevitably get the response that, as long as they're doing a good job, I can't complain too much just because I disagree with them. In other words, competency trumps ideology. I personally don't believe that, but some people do.

This episode calls the competency issue into question. It's not just about them mixing up the names of two bills, anyone could be guilty of that. But Walberg and his office got everything completely wrong on this one.

If this is how they handled one constituent's thoughts and concerns, how badly have they screwed up everything else?

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Regarding Berryman's initial press release announcing his candidacy:


“Jim Berryman is a true leader. He has helped to resolve strikes in ways that benefited business, labor and our community,” said Munson. “In the Senate, he worked with former Republican Governor John Engler to create the Michigan Economic Growth Authority (MEGA), which brought many new businesses and job opportunities to Michigan and specifically to the 7th congressional district.”


I don't think a would boast much about working Big, Tax-Slasher, now Washington Insider, John Engler. I don't even think Schwarz Republicans like Engler.

Furthermore, is this the best the Dems can come up with in 7th Congressional. Jobs, jobs and, on yes jobs.... can they broaden their message a tad...??

The letter from Michael Motta, which is supposedly from Tim Walberg, is unsigned.

I am suspect of any conclusions drawn from this, and I think Walberg should press charges against anyone who falsifies a letter using Congressional letterhead.

But, if the letter is real, Walberg should quit. I doubt it is and I don't think you are very smart to have spread it as I think it might open you up to some legal trouble.
3:05 PM Anonymous,

I appreciate your concerns, and if the letter turns out to be fake, I'll certainly post an apology and send Congressman Walberg a personal apology as well. I have absolutely no intention of spreading lies about anyone, and I definitely don't intend to put myself at any legal risk.

That said, it being an unsigned letter doesn't necessarily mean it's false. The argument could be made that a letter with as many errors in it as this one had might also accidentally be sent without a signature. I really don't know why it wasn't signed. All I have is what Michael wrote in his Michigan Liberal diary and comments, what he said in his e-mail correspondence with me, and the copy of the letter I received.

I'm hopeful that I wasn't tricked into being a part of an elaborate smear campaign. Perhaps I'm naive and overly optimistic, but I choose to believe that the simpler explanation is that Walberg's office made mistakes, and Michael was surprised and amused by the whole episode, and wrote about it on Michigan Liberal.

And if it is all true, I don't agree that the errors in the letter are enough to lead to a resignation. I just think it raises questions about the kind of a job Congressman Walberg is doing for his constituents.

Still, thank you for your concern-- I really do appreciate it. If anything in the future indicates that the letter is forged, I'll issue a correction and contact the congressman right away.



Great job on a difficult write-up. I'm honored to be featured in your blog.

I probably shouldn't even dignify the suggestion by "Anonymous" that we have a counterfeit Walberg letter, but here goes anyway.

Yes, it's true that there's no "signature" on this letter, but it has the whole overblown letterhead on it. I don't think I saved the envelope and it seems pretty far-fetched to me that someone would take the trouble to send me a fake Tim Walberg letter. I don't even have a printer and I had to go to the library to make a copy to send to Fitzy. I'm not exactly a counterfeiting whiz.

Also, the Farm Bill letter does have a "signature" on it. It says "Tim" (no last name) in semi-fancy script and doesn't look hand-signed nor even stamped ex post facto. I wouldn't doubt that what's on this letter wouldn't constitute a legal signature either. Does "Tim" think he's as big as Madonna, Bono, or Eminem? Also, this letter appears to be on the same kind of paper as the other one. The watermarks, if that's the appropriate term for the eagle and shield emblem with the word "Recycled" and year "2007" that you can "see through the paper", look the same to me. Maybe the Farm Bill letter is another fake (sarcasm).

Besides, to me the easier way to fake something like this would be to lie about what was said on the phone rather than to falsify government correspondence. The ACLU sent us an Action Alert and I acted on it and Fitzy printed what I received in the mail. That's it. Sorry, no Oliver Stone drama here.

I think the last thing a Congressman would want to do would be to go after a constituent. Nice press that would get!

Speaking of it not being very smart to do something, it's not very smart to flirt with libel either. And as someone recently addressed in Michigan Liberal, anonymity while writing on someone else's blog isn't so anonymous.
I posted the second comment, under anonymous.

A pdf of a letter is a very simple thing to forge; cutting and pasting letterhead is not an invention of my mind.

I noticed there was no signature. I enjoy this website and I would hate for it to be tarnished by a sleazy partisan attack and I am confident, with the description of similar watermarks, that the lack of signature is simply one more sign of Walberg's incompetence.

As for firting with libel, that was exactly my point. Checking sources, verifying the authenticity of a document, those are responsible ways to ensure the blog remains within the bounds of the law.

I wanted Fitzy to be careful. No intention to stifle the conversation was intended, nor did it have that effect. I think my comment points out even more evidence that Walberg is unfit for the job and I hope to see this letter and the bungling of this issue by Walberg brought out into the light of day--beyond this blog.

This is huge. Factual innacuracies are either a total mistake or an attempt to mislead. So, Walberg is either a complete idiot or he is preading more lies to deceive the voters of the 7th district.

Both are unacceptable.
On the latest letter I have received from Congressmen Walberg, the letterhead looks the same as the one Michael received (the lettering is blue on the actual letter, and I am guessing it appears black in the picture because of the scan). The signature is only Tim as stated above and is indeed printed at the same time as the letter as you can see pixel sized flaws around the signature as it is most likely a .jpg, with the dots around the signature being from the compression. Also only the first page was watermarked, with the page containing the signature appears printed on the same kind of paper sans watermark. Hope that helps.

I have signed up on the Congressmen's mailing list and the 2 or 3 letters I have received from it really don't address much of anything(which is why I have not posted anything here after receiving one), so this letter comes as little surprise for me.
I think the concerned "anonymous" poster has valid issues and I truly appreciate his (and Fitzy's) gentlemanly, non-confrontational style. It is so easy to lapse into acrimonious conversation--particularly when the subject matter is as important as this is.

But one point of clarification: supposedly one of the letters is signed "Tim" and the other (the one referred to by our concerned friend) has NO signature. There's a huge difference and that is what is troubling to him.

Any mail I've ever gotten from Walberg is simply signed, "Tim", so that apparently is the norm. Having no signature is not.

Again, I truly appreciate the rational tenor of this blog's posters and I pray it will continue thusly. No productive conversation can ever be gleaned from bitter rants (although we all would like to be able to scream our heads off when we read of what is happening to our beloved country).
Thanks for the contribution Interrupt.

As far as Anonymous goes, okay it's cool now. What I took offense to was the acrimonious language here:

"The letter from Michael Motta, which is supposedly from Tim Walberg, is unsigned.
I am suspect of any conclusions drawn from this, and I think Walberg should press charges against anyone who falsifies a letter using Congressional letterhead."

"But, if the letter is real, Walberg should quit. I doubt it is . . ."

I am all for critical thinking, but the suggestion here to me was that I was being suspected of participating in the forging of government documents. This is even less critical thinking than just taking the letter at face value. I took the "I doubt it is" as a lot stronger than mere philosophical doubt/skepticism/reservation/epoche that's used as a starting point a la Descartes or phenomenologists. To me when combined with what comes before it about Walberg pressing charges, the tone is one of accusation more so than reservation.

I think a better way to have put it might have been something like "Fitzy, what do you make of the authenticity of this document given the fact that there's no signature on it?"

With the objective being to keep Fitzy and the blog out of trouble, I also think an e-mail to Walberg Watch would have served this purpose much better.

So as I said, it's cool now. But I just wanted to voice why I feel justified in having taken offense. I acknowledge that I could have been a little more diplomatic in my first comment.
I was the poster who questioned the authenticity of the Walberg letter. I do not like his politics, I do not like the nasty, negative way he conducts his campaigns, and I despise the way he uses religion as a source of power and control to justify some of his positions. I do not like much about him, but I was very suprised to hear he has been so lazy as to surround himself with incompetent staff who would send out an unsigned letter. And, I question if he is even fit for the job if letters are sent out which he clearly did not read or approve of.

He is demonstrating his lack of respect for his constituents. He does not care about our opinions and he is proving that our voices are not worthy of his attention.
The title of this post is misleading. It should be, "Question of Competency Finally Answered" or "The Jury is in: Our Congressman is Incometent."
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