Sunday, January 15, 2006

Blog For Arizona Site Update

I have moved over to a typepad-based blog for the time being. I was getting a little tired of some of the limitations of the Blogger platform at present. I hope that you will join me at the new site, but at the same address:

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Michael: Two Arizona Cities Named in Top 20 Meanest Cities

National Coalition for the Homeless issued their annual report 'A Dream Denied: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities' for 2006 which names Flagstaff (#10) and Phoenix (#17) among the 20 meanest cities in America.

Some of the most serious problems that the homeless face are the lack of social services, the lack of affordable housing, and the outlawing of the very status of homelessness by criminalizing or otherwise restricting 'urban camping', loitering, panhandling, busking, open-air feedings, and other activities associated with homelessness.

Each city named in the top 20 has a narrative account that explains how they were selected to be on the list.

Flagstaff's reads:

Soon anyone camping or sleeping in a car or in public within the Flagstaff city limits may be subject to trespassing and camping violations, totaling up to $2,500 in fines and six months in jail time. The current ordinance’s wording only allows prosecution of people arrested in city parks. City Attorney Patricia Boomsma supports the new, stricter ordinance, because “[…] prosecutors need to prosecute the person actually doing the camping.” The proposed ordinance aims to eliminate litter, human waste, and illicit campfires. According to Flagstaff chief of police, J.T. McCann, the ordinance is intended to promote public safety. However, local service providers, such as Stephanie Boardman of Hope Cottage, believe these ordinances are counter-productive, especially to the domestic violence victims that Hope Cottage takes in. Boardman said, “A lot of them are embarrassed to go to shelters. They just want their freedom. You penalize the people in crisis because 10, 15, 20 people are really causing an upheaval.” While Flagstaff law enforcement officials have written 162 citations for camping, all charges were dropped because camping is not yet illegal in the city.

And Phoenix reads:

The Phoenix City Council voted to ban camping in all city parks in order to preserve the parks as “family places” in December 2004. The measure was aimed at keeping homeless people from areas where children and others gather. Even though few of the homeless people caused trouble, “many people are intimidated by the homeless and won’t use the park.” Homeless advocates argued that the ordinance would not solve the problem. According to Jeff Taylor of the Phoenix Rescue Mission, “If you close the parks, homeless individuals will gravitate to another area. This will squeeze individuals into other areas where they may be more invisible.” The Executive Director of the Phoenix Rescue Mission, Jerry Sandvig, doesn’t see any alternative with such an overwhelming homeless population in Phoenix, saying, “There really isn’t any place for them to go.”

Not all the news is bad, however. Several cities around the nation have model programs that are addressing the problems of those who have fallen into poverty and homelessness in the Bush's ever more inequitable economy.

Many communities have formed outreach teams that pair community-policing trained officers with a civilian partner who was formerly homeless and often trained in crisis intervention and psychiatric evaluation to make contact and encourage access to services. Training to raise awareness of the problems faced by the homeless and to teach the most effective ways to address those problems have been made manditory at some police departments.

Some communities have created day centers to give homeless people a place to access vital services such as laundry, health care, meals, hygene, psychiatric care, and legal, employment, and housing counseling, substance abuse treatment and case management. San Diego is now bringing the legal system into homeless shelters. Though often ticketed for misdeamor offenses, many of the homeless, struggling with daily survival, do not have the resources to inerface normally with the criminal justice system. Warrants and accumulating fines compound their legal troubles. The Homeless Court Program brings the court to the shelters once a month to help resolve such issues before they cause incarceration, which can prevent access to needed services and programing needed to escape from homelessness.

Arizona is, for obvious reasons, a favored place to winter for people who are both homeless and peripatetic. Rather than reacting to the challenge that this population poses to public order with criminalization, Arizona cities should be responding in a constructive fashion, seeking to help our fellow citizens to address their troubles and get back on their feet. We should aim to remove Arizona's cities from the list of the 20 meanest in America.

Michael: Gabby Giffords Kicks Off CD 8 Bid

Gabby has finally announced her official campaign launch. As widely expected, the guest of honor at that event will be Congressman Raul Grijalva. With Gabby's money (she just announced clearing her first 250K - I doubt if any of her rivals for the nomination can boast even half of that), her DLC and Party connections, and now with Grijalva apparently in her camp, Gabby is presenting a fairly convincing image of inevitability.

She recently sent out invitations to her launch party:

I would like to invite you to join Congressman Raúl Gríjalva and other supporters at our official campaign kickoff, which will begin at 10 a.m. on Jan. 24 at the Arizona Inn, 2200 East Elm Street. This will be followed by a 12:30 p.m. event in Green Valley at the American Legion Post, 1560 W Duval Mine Road in Sahuarita and some other stops around our district over subsequent days.

The campaign headquarters at 5704 E. Broadway in Tucson will be open by Feb. 1. Please stop by anytime to share your thoughts on issues. And of course I’d love to have you roll up your sleeves and add your talents to our effort. (emphasis added)

I could throw out a few well-worn platatudes at this point - there's many a slip 'twixt cup and lip, don't count your chickens before they hatch, ad nauseum - but the brutal fact is that unless Gabby's competitors start making a much bigger noises, Gabby will be the nominee walking away. I hope the candidate forums will generate some noise, but I doubt it - they never do. The other candidates need to choose some issues, which Gabby can't co-opt, that are highly media-genic and start beating that drum like a red-headed step-child, or they are going to get burried under Gabby's avalanche of CW and march of endorsements.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Michael: John Shadegg's Bid for Majority Leader

(Update: I mistakenly identified the office Shadegg was running for as the Majority Whip. I corrected this mistake. Nobody commented about my mistake - come on people! Hold my feet to the fire!) John Shadegg, Republican Representative of Arizona's District 3 has announced his candidacy for the House's second leadership position, Majority Leader, recently vacated permanently by ethically troubled Tom DeLay. I'm going to make a bold prediction right now: Shadegg is going to win this one.

There are several reasons for my conclusion: Shadegg's ideological pedigree, Shadegg's early support from key constituencies (including his immediate endorsement by Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform), the growing influence of the Arizona delegation in the Republican party, Shadegg's monolayer of bi-partisan patina; but the real reason is that Congressional GOPers need some ethical cover from fund-raising and lobbying violations for the 2006 election season and Shadegg's the only guy on the board with a ghost of a chance at providing it. He, too, took Abramoff money, but little of it, and returned it promptly. Shadegg has a reputation for probity and ethical conduct married to a bulletproof neo-con right wing ideological pedigree that few could best. These qualities will make him the next Majority Leader.

I don't think that he will loom as large as did Tom DeLay in that role. The only reason that DeLay was so powerful was his special relationship with Hastert (though technically junior to Hastert, in many ways Hastert was DeLay's creature) and his ability to dole out leadership PAC money like Halloween candy. Shadegg won't have either of these attributes and will likely play a much more traditional role as Leader.

But make no mistake, Shadegg's election will not be a good thing for Arizona, nor for average Americans, nor for anyone other than the most regressive and right-wing elements of the GOP base. Shadegg is a rock-solid right wing ideologue who came to the House in the Gingrich Revolution and now possesses a long and increasingly conservative record (check out his interest group ratings, issue positions, and public statements if you don't believe me) and a penchant for toeing the party line. He will now be strong-arming his fellow party members into betraying America, instead of just thinking up ways of betraying America as he did in his former job as Chair of the GOP House Policy Committee.

Shadegg is neccessary window dressing on just more of the same from the criminals, scofflaws, idiots, and fools who are running our Congress, and our country, straight into the ground.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Michael: Why Bush's NSA spying broke the law

A tribe of constitutional scholars wrote a letter to Congress that states with great even-handedness and particularity why the Administration's legal justifications are a load of horseshit. I really can't presume to add to the devastation. Anyone who can read this and not understand that Bush needs to be prosecuted and impeached for his stunning hubris and illegal acts has willfully withdrawn into a place where reasoned discourse no longer has any effect.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Michael: Florida's Vouchers Defeat Bodes Well for Arizona

The Florida Supreme Court (FLSC) overturned the Republican sponsored statewide educational voucher system. This is a blow to the effort to privatize schools nationally, including here in Arizona, where GOP politicians passed a voucher program through the legislature last year to expand upon the inroads made into the public education system with charter schools and tuition tax credits. Governor Napolitano vetoed the Arizona program, in part because she felt it violated the Arizona constitutional ban on funding private religious schools. Incidentally, this case is also a political body blow to the President's brother JEB, destroying what had been one of his hallmark achievments as Governor of Florida.

The provision the FL SC hung their ruling (PDF) on was the FL constitutional mandate for a uniform public school system. A similar mandate is present in the Arizona Constitution, Article 11, Section IA, which reads, “[t{he legislature shall enact such laws as shall provide for the establishment and maintenance of a general and uniform public school system.”(emphasis added) Note the mandatory “shall” which clearly indicates that the legislature must provide such a uniform public school system.

The heart of the FLSC’s reasoning is:
“[the voucher system] diverts public dollars into separate private systems parallel to and in competition with the free public schools that are the sole means set out in the Constitution for the state to provide for the education of Florida’s children. This diversion not only reduces money available to the free schools, but also funds private schools that are not “uniform” when compared with each other or the public system. Many standards imposed by law on the public schools are inapplicable to the private schools receiving public monies. In sum, through the [voucher system] the state is fostering plural, non-uniform systems of education in direct violation of the constitutional mandate for a uniform system of free public schools.”

It should be carefully noted that the FLSC declined to rule on the issue of whether the voucher system, which did have the effect of diverting public taxes to parochial schools, was an unconstitutional establishment of religion under the Florida Constitution. Instead, the court chose to strike down the voucher system only based on non-uniformity. I think this was an astute political and jurisprudential choice by the FLSC. It prevents the Right from flogging the fiction of judicial hostility to Christianity as a rallying cry by taking the establishment issue off the table. This makes it both harder to sneak through vouchers in through a devious non-religious back door and easier protect statewide curricula from any magical thinking under the aegis of uniformity.

‘Uniformity of public education’ will, I predict, become the new rallying cry of those seeking to protect free public schools with secular curricula. I haven’t actually done a survey of state constitutions, but I’m willing to bet that a substantial number contain similar language about uniform public education.

Arizona’s Constitutional provisions regarding education, taken together, also make a very strong plain meaning case that the framers intent was to not allow the state to fund religious education in any way.

From the Arizona Bill of Rights:
Article 2, Section 12: … “No public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise, or instruction, or to the support of any religious establishment.”

From the Education Section:
Article 11, Section 1.A.: “The legislature shall enact such laws as shall provide for the establishment and maintenance of a general and uniform public school system”

Section 6.: “The legislature shall provide for a system of common schools by which a free school shall be established and maintained in every school district for at least six months in each year, which school shall be open to all pupils between the ages of six and twenty-one years.”

Section 7.: “No sectarian instruction shall be imparted in any school or state educational institution that may be established under this Constitution, and no religious or political test or qualification shall ever be required as a condition of admission into any public educational institution of the state, as teacher, student, or pupil…”

Taken together, the proper effect of these clauses is to forbid any sort of funding to sectarian instruction and to make it perfectly clear that a uniform free system of public schools is the sole means constitutionally permissible for carrying out the State’s mission of educating Arizona’s young. The Florida court has interpreted broadly similar language in their constitution to be a constraint on the way that the legislature may reform and provide for education, and our own courts, when inevitably faced with this same issue, should show the same deference to the plain meaning of our Constitution.

So far, efforts toward privatization have avoided serious constitutional problems in Arizona by making private schools receiving public funds (i.e., charter schools) meet the same state criteria as public schools, teaching to the same core curricula, taking the same tests, and by mandating that charters not charge more than the state per child allotment for in-district enrollment. The most significant difference between public schools and charters is that there are no state mandated standards for teachers at charter schools. Arguably, charter schools thereby violate the constitutional mandate of a uniform system of public education. However, there has not been any direct challenge to the constitutionality of charter schools, mainly because they are considered privately run public schools and treated as public entities under state educational law.

Arizona’s program of voluntary tax credits for both individuals and corporations for gifts to private scholarship foundations that support private schools seems also to run afoul of our constitutional language and intent. However the Arizona Supreme Court upheld such tuition tax credits in Kotterman v. Killian in 2000; an opinion that many legal commentators held uncharacteristically failed to give appropriate significance to the Arizona Constitution's emphatic and unqualified disapproval of State financial support for religious - and, indeed, all non-public - education. The opinion also split semantic hairs by finding that such tax credits were not properly ‘expenditures of public funds’, even though the clear intent and effect of the tax credits is to divert state tax revenue into the coffers of sectarian educational institutions.

In contrast, the FLSC determined that a private system of schools funded by diversion of public funds to the districts was in fundamental conflict with the goals of the constitutional design for education.

“In sum, article IX, section 1(a) provides for the manner in which the state is to fulfill its mandate to make adequate provision for the education of Florida’s children—through a system of public education. The [voucher system] contravenes this constitutional provision because it allows some children to receive a publicly funded education through an alternative system of private schools that are not subject to the uniformity requirements of the public school system. The diversion of money not only reduces public funds for a public education but also uses public funds to provide an alternative education in private schools that are not subject to the “uniformity” requirements for public schools. Thus, in two significant respects, the [voucher program] violates the mandate set forth in article IX, section 1(a). We do not question the basic right of parents to educate their children as they see fit. We recognize that the proponents of vouchers have a strongly held view that students should have choices. Our decision does not deny parents recourse to either public or private school alternatives to a failing school. Only when the private school option depends upon public funding is choice limited. This limit is necessitated by the constitutional mandate in article IX, section 1(a), which sets out the state’s responsibilities in a manner that does not allow the use of state monies to fund a private school education. As we recently explained, “[w]hat is in the Constitution always must prevail over emotion. Our oaths as judges require that this principle is our polestar, and it alone.” Bush v. Schiavo.”

I suspect that closing with a quote from the case Bush v. Schiavo, in which the religious right so famously over-reached in their religiously inspired crusade to control end-of-life decisions, is not a co-incidence, but a carefully crafted signal that the Court was not insensible to the religious import of their decision. By basing their reasoning on other grounds but referencing a terrible defeat for the religious right, the court signaled that they still had the issue of establishment in their quiver, and they wouldn’t hesitate to use it if needs be.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Michael: 4th Gen War, Maturation

I just finished reading Marine Colonel T. X. Hammes latest book on the evolution of modern warfare, The Sling and the Stone. Col. Hammes wrote an article for the Marine Corps Gazette which is essentially a summary of his book. It lays out the thesis more completely and cogently than I could hope to here.

In a nutshell, Hammes (along with many other eminent military theorists and professionals) proposes that war utilizing distributed networks of military, political, economic, and cultural power, driven by a broadly accepted ideological focus creates a much different kind of warfare which is capable of overcoming even superior arms and power. Such networks are empowered by new technologies, but certainly not dependent upon them, having been used successfully in armed struggle for at least the last 70 years.

There are four issues which Col. Hammes’ work brings up which I feel inspired to comment and expand upon for anyone who has interest in the topic of the emergent strategic environment of warfare in the present and near future. The result is too long for a single post, so I will be posting these reflections as a series over the coming weeks.

I) What does the maturation of 4GW means for American strategy in current conflicts? Specifically, what sort of enemy do we face in Iraq and what are our prospects for defeating them?

II) How does an understanding of 4GW inform our strategy in the struggle with Al Qaida and other future transnational terrorist insurgencies?

III) Whether 4GW is similar to 2GW in favoring defense over offense, and whether 5GW, as and when it evolves, will break open the 4GW strategic environment like the armored maneuver of 3GW did to the static defense biased battlefields of 2GW?

IV) What does the maturation of 4GW means for large-scale warfare with major nation-state powers? How should 4GW affect our military doctrine and our global strategy? Will the future of warfare make protection of civilian populations obsolete or impossible?

The Maturation of 4th Gen War:

It took the 20 years between WWI and WWII for the techniques of 3rd Gen Warfare of armored maneuver to evolve from their tentative beginnings in the successful German combined arms assaults on entrenched positions just prior to the Armistice to the first glimmerings of fully fledged strategy of blitzkrieg. Even now, however, the full potential of 3rd Gen Warfare has not been exhausted, though the American armed forces are the unquestionably the premier 3rd Gen War fighting force in the world. Even now, however, certain aspects of 2nd Gen strategy continue to prove an intractable problem for 3rd Gen forces and strategies. Deep bunkers and massed fortifications are a notable continuing 2nd Gen thorn in the side of 3rd Gen warriors. There will inevitably be such hangovers and strategic holdouts against the arsenal of the new generation. We still teach our soldiers hand-to-hand combat techniques (a 1st Gen stratagem), because in certain situations it still works and is necessary.

By its nature, a revolution in military affairs does not make the stratagems and equipment of the prior generation immediately obsolete; the revolution just makes the previous generation increasingly irrelevant. Inertia can thus bind a fighting force to the prior generation of strategy until catastrophe bumps the collective minds of the military out of their ruts. The American armed forces can likely continue to coast on their mastery of 3rd Gen War for some time to come, despite being defeated consistently by 4th Gen War opponents. Thus, our success and pre-eminence in 3rd Gen War may come to be the most dangerous challenge to our national security.

It seems to me that there is a rhythm to the balance between the strength of offensive and defensive strategies across the development of warfare. The 1st Gen favored coordinated maneuver between foot and horse, backed by artillery, over defensive formation. The 2nd Gen, typified by the elaborate and oft impenetrable fortifications and earthworks of the late American Civil war to the end of WWI, favored defense over offense – mainly due to the extraordinary deadliness of new iterations of 1st Gen weaponry. The 3rd Gen then cracked open the strategic stalemate by reintroducing maneuver and making battle lines fluid once again, to the point that today battle lines are nearly an anachronism.

It could be that the 4th Gen War is moving us once again toward a strategic bias for defensive war fighting. 4th Gen warriors decentralize command, eliminate defensive positions, rely on small irregular units, and blend with the indigenous population of the battle space to protect their forces until targets of opportunity are available. They make defense superior to offense by presenting as few as possible static targets. So long as the 4th Gen force is meshed with a sympathetic population, their defensive position is nearly unassailable, especially by 3rd Gen forces, except perhaps by means of genocide.

Is there any such thing as a 4th Gen vs. 4th Gen war? Absolutely, it is called civil war, revolution, or coup. It is simply not possible for a 3rd Gen force to use 4th Gen techniques to succeed: the two are mutually exclusive and incompatible. You cannot make aggressive 4th Gen war except within your own society. 4th Gen War relies heavily on social networks and an invading army or force cannot exploit those networks more efficiently that an indigenous force. Thus I would postulate a law: the longer an aggressor army is in the field, the less likely its chance of success in achieving its political goals becomes. Over the long term, any indigenous force has a decided political advantage over an invader when using 4th Gen War strategy.

Might 5th Gen Warfare, when it starts to evolve break the strategic advantage that 4th Gen has over 3rd Gen, just as 3rd Gen broke the defensive advantage of 2nd Gen? It is possible. Nobody really knows what 5th Gen war might look like. Likely it will not look much like what we would consider war at all. Likely, it would proceed over a time horizon of many years, even decades. It would utilize effectively indigenous social networks to compete politically with the enemy. It would look a lot like successful and smart efforts such those underway in Iraq. 5th Gen war would build economic ties, civil society organizations, political affiliations and social identities that compete with more traditional, extant social networks. Iraq may be like those tentative steps toward combined arms maneuvers by the Germans at the end of WWI: unsuccessful and incompetently handled, but pointing the way toward the future.

What we have seen instead of success at these 5th Gen efforts is the complete success of 4th Gen War by the strongest most affective social networks in Iraq: religious sectarianism and ethnic identities. These powerful claims on Iraqi allegiance basically beat the snot out of every American effort to provide alternative allegiances and identities. What we are likely to see before too long is a struggle to create a political settlement that prioritizes these affective networks above Iraqi national identity. That will entail a straight our civil war between 4th Gen forces, possibly culminating in a 2nd or 3rd Gen military endgame. The real question is whether our armed forces will be caught in the middle or off the game board. I opt for the latter, and thus support expeditious withdrawal.

Michael: Drinking Liberally Returns

Drinking Liberally starts back up on Thursday, January 5th after a hiatus over the holidays. The location remains The Shanty.

This Thursday, in honor of Bush's domestic surveillance, wear a tin-foil hat and get your first drink on the host. Bring your friends, spouses, etc., and feel feel to invite public figures on your own initiative.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Michael: Coulter Jumps the Shark, Again... and Again... and Again

So now Ann Coulter is defending Bush's wiretaps by trying to rehabilitate the Korimatsu ruling and the Japanese internment it ratified. Really, when will this nut finally be so discredited that even the rabid partisans of the far Right will just shake their heads and say, "Damn, is that bitch crazy?"

Does she have to deny the Holocaust? Say that she'd really like to have given Hitler a reach-around? Is there any fucking insane, hateful, racist, totalitarian, eliminationist spew that she could say that would finally make the world just stop giving this harridan a megaphone to broadcast her poison?

I certainly support Ms. Coulter's right to mumble whatever crazy hateful shit she likes - I just wish she would do it in a closet somewhere like all the other good demented people of the world.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Michael: Bush Bought the Farm

I don't know how securely sourced this report is, but I see no reason to automatically discount Univision's report just because it has only appeared in the Spanish language press. Apparently Bush bought a little over 2 acres of land just outside Bagdad when he flew in for his fake turkey photo shoot at Thanksgiving 2003. The cost of the land was a real bargain: about 12,000 dollars U.S..

I can certainly imagine his thinking. "I'll establish a little ranch. Heh heh. I'll be just like Crawford Iraq. I'll clear brush in Iraq and prove to everyone what a secure and prospering place Iraq has become when I vacation on my Iraqi ranch. Heh heh." Well, Univision's reporters couldn't even make it out to the President's parcel due to security restrictions. Perhaps the President, with 138K soldiers at his disposal will do better in securing his Iraqi homestead, but somehow I don't think he'll be vacationing on his little Mesopotamian estate any time soon.

Or maybe, once he's impeached and convicted of war crimes, he can be sentenced to live on his Iraqi little dirt farm without an SS detail.

Michael: The War on Terror Comes Home

Boy, the Bush Executive never ceases to find new ways to surprise me.

I was getting all geared up to write about how the President’s illegal authorization of domestic spying. I was ready to demonstrate that the radical theory of executive power authored by Bush’s Eichmannische lawyer, John Yoo, positing that the President’s authority in security and international affairs is essentially unlimited, is really nothing more than the Nazi Party’s Führerprinzip tarted up in Constitutional drag.

I was going to expound upon how any unlimited power that places any person or office above the law is ultimately incompatible with the rule of law. I was going to denounce their Presidentprinzip philosophy as a radical challenge to the very idea that a democratic and legally regulated state can survive and prosper in the modern world. Yoo’s Presidentprinzip undercuts the Potemkin rationale of their entire foreign policy – America’s special role in spreading democratic institutions in an unsafe world. I was going to resort to quoting the Founders on the topic of the rule of law and the proper limits of government, such as Madison’s observation that if men were governed by angels we wouldn’t need to worry about limiting the powers of government.

But all that rhetorical ordinance now lies rusting and useless.

The Executive has instead beat me to every shot by using those NSA wiretaps to spy not on terrorism suspects, but on it’s domestic political rivals, UN diplomats, and even dissident factions in the Administration. They skillfully drove home the point that unchecked, unsupervised, and unaccountable power will always be misused and must never be entrusted to anyone, no matter how they protest that they will use it for the common good. Ceasar, too, may have wanted to save and protect the Republic, but he ended being its murderer instead.

It’s easier to ignore the lessons of history when our collective sloth and cowardice leads us to devolve upon the President the power to torture, murder and disappear only filthy foreigners, but when the targets of lawlessness are us, it is harder to close our eyes.

The hard fact is that in a democracy nobody can be allowed to have power without continuous accountability. But the Bush Executive has consistently sought to limit their accountability for their actions taken in the name of ‘national security’. Remember all of Bush’s talk about the ‘accountability moment’ for Iraq following the election? That is how this Administration conceives of democratic power: not a dialogue in which the people continuously exercise their sovereignty through the daily give and take of politics and the balancing structures of our federated and divided government, but as nothing but a periodic vote.

The Bush Junta’s limited vision of democracy sees elections as the sole means by which citizens participate in their own governance. They envision sovereign power as residing in the President at all times, and being ratified or rejected solely at the ballot box by an infantilized citizenry that knows ‘only what they need to know’. The Bush Executive’s lies, corruption, and blatant abuses of power are about to precipitate a civics lesson that America won’t soon forget.

The President is not security Fuhrer of America; unaccountable and unlimited in his powers. Such a travesty is not only obnoxious to our Constitutional order, but anti-democratic, unnecessary and undesirable in the effort to secure America in the struggle with terrorism. Empowered networks of free citizens, competently led, are better able to ensure our safety than are secretive and unilateral uses of power – which inevitably become abuses of power.

In a very narrow sense, it is unfortunate that there hasn’t been a terrorist attack in the United States since 9/11. That is a terrible thing to say, I know - but the blunt fact is that many Americans have been lulled into a false sense of security and complacency which has forestalled demands for real, effective, and accountable security solutions from our government. The reason why there has been no attack is because the terrorists have chosen not to attack. That’s the only reason.

The Bush Administration has and will continue to argue using the logical fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc (after this, therefore because of this). The Administration has already implied that it is due to the President’s abuses of power (wiretaps, violating the laws of war, torture, rendition, secret CIA prisons) are the reason America hasn’t been attacked. Dick Cheney said when asked about the NSA spying, “"It is good, solid, sound policy. It is, I'm convinced, one of the reasons we have not been attacked for the last four years.” They want Americans to think that their abuses are keeping us safe – and it’s a damn lie.

Their strategy for ‘fighting terror’ is much like their fantasy of a Star War missile defense system that they hope will work with 100% effectiveness the first time, despite never being successfully tested. They view anti-terrorism policy as a perfect prophylactic against harm. They seem to think that if we just give the President enough secret draconian power to work his will, that they can make sure there will never be another successfully attack. Their premise is absurd, even delusional. The question is not if we get hit again, but when – and, most importantly, are we ready to deal with the result?

All the Bush Administration has really done is to pile effective agencies, like FEMA, into the most massive reorganization of Federal government in 50 years (ensuring a focus on reorganization rather than missions), staff them with their hack cronies, throw much money in the general direction, and cross their fingers as they move to ‘privatize’ as much of our security agencies as they can, opening the Federal trough to their corporate sponsors. Katrina showed how effective their stewardship has been in mitigating threats to the homeland. We can only pray if there is a flu epidemic, another major natural disaster, or a terrorist attack. We won’t be ready with these people in charge. They are constitutionally unable to be ready: that takes planning, foresight, political courage, and accountability. These are not descriptors the Bush Executive can possibly claim.

An ‘accountability moment’ is certainly coming. And there are a lot of sins to pay for.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Michael: Lord of Misrule

Ancient tradition would have us choose from among us this day a Lord of Misrule, who would serve as a temporary king. His whim would be law, but at the end of this season of merriment, his throat would be slit as a sacrifice to God. Generally, such a king would rule either for the 20 days of Saturnalia, or for the 12 days of Christmas. I think the latter would be a more modern practice, with our Lord of Misrule to report to the gibbet on January 6th - the 12th day of Christmas.

Since we already have a Lord of Misrule, supposedly selected by the people, and already appointed King by his own extra-legal actions and by his minions' legal briefs, we can forego the selection. Our Lord of Misrule, our King of the Idiots, is already ensconced on his throne of folly. Now, let's see if he'll report for the inevitable end of the venerable end of the ceremony come January 6th. I think on the national mall before the Washington Monument (the President who could have been King, but, like Cincinatus before him, refused the 'honor') would be an appropriate location.

Have a very Merry Christmas with visions of that ceremony dancing in your head. May you get all the presents you wish for, too.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Michael: Moveon Ruffles Shachter Over CD8 Nomninations

Francine sponsored a nomination contest when Kolbe announced his retirement. Asking for members to nominate their favored candidates, they narrowed the field to 4 candidates. Unfortunately, two of them - Tom Volgy and Mary Judge Ryan - have not announced, and may never announce, their candidacies. Two of them - Gabrielle Giffords and Jeff Latas - have. But at least two announced candidates - Francine Shachter and Alex Rodriguez - did not make the cut. And one candidate who is widely expected to run - Eva Bacal - apparently didn't make the cut either.

The validity and the method by which influence and money may be directed to certain campaigns by Moveon's process concerns at least one candidate; and I wouldn't be surprised if her opinion reflected the feelings of some of the others who haven't been put on Moveon's short list (especially since two of the slots are taken by person's who haven't made the plunge).

Francine Shacter wrote the following open letter, and I decided to share it in full:

My name is Francine Shacter and on November 7, I declared my candidacy for Congress in the 8th Congressional District of Arizona. I have just received your email listing the four top candidates nominated by your mailing list to run for this seat. I was sorry to see that my name is not among them.

I was interested in your comment that “crucial decisions are being made every day right now, as potential candidates decide whether to run and the Parties decide which candidates they'll support. Usually this happens behind closed doors and you only have a say when you are presented with one, or a couple, candidates on the primary ballot.” You are, in effect, doing the same thing. Your request for nominees went to your mailing list which may not be behind closed doors but is limited to your membership. I am a long time liberal, progressive Democrat. I have worked to elect progressive Democrats since before that term “progressive Democrat” was coined.

You have come up with four people who got the most votes. Speaking as a retired statistician, I think you should state the universe from which these nominations came. Otherwise you are in the same category as the folks behind closed doors that you inveigh against in your emails. By intruding yourself in the political process in CD 8, you are creating another “closed door” group.

The way candidates get on the ballot is by running a campaign and getting enough signatures to a nominating petition to meet the requirements of the State. Anyone who can meet these requirements can run for public office. Therefore, your comment that “the Parties decide which candidates they’ll support and you [the voter] only have a say when you are presented with one, or a couple, candidates on the primary ballot” is not accurate. In fact, a truly open primary is the best way for the electorate to select the best candidate.

With the exception of Jeff Latas, who decided to run and announced his candidacy on November 11, the three persons on your list had no intention of running against an incumbent because of the difficulties inherent in that process. Francine Shacter (announced November 7) and Jeff Latas (announced November 11) were the only ones willing to run in a primary and let the electorate decide which of us should face Kolbe, the incumbent. That should tell the world one thing about Shacter and Latas: these are people who have the courage of their convictions and the guts to put themselves and their positions on the issues before the voters.


Francine Shacter

Is Shachter's concern just sour grapes?

I don't think so. She raises a very valid concern regarding the mindless piling-on of early money and support - very little of it informed by much beyond a certain credibility, name recognition, and momentum. Is that really how we want to be selecting our candidates? Do we really do our party or our democracy a service by winnowing our choices down to a 'managable' field of choices so as not to confuse the 'consumer'?

Our instinct is that the earlier a nominee is annointed, the stronger that candidate will be in the general election. But just the opposite may be true, in fact. The testing of a hard-fought and substantive primary season with diverse candidates is the best proving ground for a party's nominee. Short-circuiting that process by limiting certain candidates' access to the voters by starving 'marginal' or 'dark-horse' candidates of money, media, and manpower may only serve to further narrow the range of debate with-in the party and weaken the resulting candidate's appeal to a wider electorate.

The GOP has, I believe, fallen hostage to a small and powerfully mobilized cadre of primary voters that have driven GOP nominees ever-further to the right. I think this will eventually destroy the GOP as a national coalition party. We do not want to emulate the 'catastrophic success' of the GOP's model of primary competition. What appears to be strength and cohesion may in fact be only careful stage management and the suppression of dissenting voices.

Early money may be like yeast, but it would behoove us to remember that some strains of yeast can cause a virulent infection

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Michael: new technology at the root of the NSA wiretap scandal?

UPDATE: NYT Confirmed that the wiretaps were, in fact, a data mining operation.

Does new technology explain the Bush Administration's perception that they could not submit to FISA oversight? There are good reasons to think that this might be the case.

Primarily, one has to understand that we might not be talking about 'wiretaps' as commonly conceived where the NSA's secret program is concerned. More likely what was going on was high volume scanning of a sampling, or even a filtered set, of international communication traffic looking for matches to known voices, or some algorythmic match for language and/or keywords. In short, what the NSA might have been doing was Total Informational Awareness lite.


  • In 1995 the FBI requested the legal authorization to do very high-volume monitoring of digital calls and was turned down by Congress.

  • There's no way for the judicial system to approve the sheer number of warrants for the number of calls that the FBI wanted to monitor, and that the NSA seems to have in fact monitored.

  • The agency could never hire enough humans to be able to monitor that many calls simultaneously, which means that they'd have to use voice recognition technology to look for "hits" that they could then follow up on with human wiretaps.

When asked why Bush didn't simply ask Congress to pass a law making the program clearly legal, AG Gonzales told reporters: "We've had discussions with members of Congress, certain members of Congress, about whether or not we could get an amendment to FISA, and we were advised that that was not likely to be - that was not something we could likely get, certainly not without jeopardizing the existence of the program, and therefore, killing the program."

Perhaps Congressional members faced with a program of routinized and automated snooping of U.S. citizen's communications similar to what they rejected in 1995 simply felt that the trade-off between security and civil liberties wasn't warranted - or wouldn't be accepted by constitutents when it became known. Faced with having to forgo what they viewed as a vital weapon in the 'war on terror', the Administration seems to have forged ahead with a top secret program that simply was never supposed to come to light. Now that it has, they are left with nothing to justify thier actions except a naked assertion of Constitutional authority.

This explanation has everything we have come to expect from the Bush Administration - Orwellian use of new technology for information gathering, a propensity for secrecy and need-to-know decisionmaking, a bold and cocky use/abuse of power, and a confident assertion of rectitude even in the face of multiple signals that they have gone too far.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Michael: Cheney Proclaims President is King

I was willing to suspend judgement on the NSA domestic spying scandal (the stakes are just too great to go off half-cocked on this), but the Administration's tack on defending it's action - not by showing conformance to the law, but by claiming that the law cannot bind the President - has me questioning whether the Administration has a legal defense.

Cheney said, "I believe in a strong, robust executive authority and I think that the world we live in demands it... I would argue that the actions that we've taken there are totally appropriate and consistent with the constitutional authority of the president. ... You know, it's not an accident that we haven't been hit in four years."

What a surprise: Cheney pulled the 9/11 card.

Cheney, Condi, the AG, and the President have now all claimed constitutional authority for the spying. What this does is assure a consitutional crisis.

Who gets to interpret the Constitution? According the the President, he does. According to 200+ years of American politics and jurisprudence? The courts do. Members of the judiciary may be upset that the FISA court may have been made into a Potempkin Court. that One FISA judge even recently resigned, saying that he was concerned that the President's actions had "tainted the FISA court's work". If the President is looking for a war with the judiciary, my guess is that the courts will be more than willing to bring their game face. And with the judiciary enjoying a much higher degree of confidence from the American people than either the Congress or the President, I dare say that Bush won't like the results.

One thing's for sure, the political strategy the President seems to have settled on gives no one any means to save face. He is essentially playing a game of constitutional chicken with the other two branches of government. It is a stupid and irresponsible thing for a President to do in the best of circumstances; but for a President accused of as much malfeasance as this one, sitting on a approval rate that would make Nixon cringe, it also political suicide.

I am both afraid and elated that Bush obstreperous "I am the law" defense strategy could well land him in an impeachment hearing, or even in a criminal dock. I don't think that his gambit will play well even with his base, and when elite opinion begins stacking up against him, he'll have no recourse. A desperate President is a dangerous President. And that's the last thing we need.

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