Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Michael: Bush's Agenda on the Rocks

When asked about progress on the signature issue of his second term (sic), Social Security destruction, Bush said, "It's like water cutting through a rock, it's just a matter of time. We're just going to keep working and working and working."

That's a relief. Bush has now realized that it will be a matter of geological time, not calendar time, before Social Security is privatized.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Memorial Day 2005

Editorial Cartoons for Memorial Day 2005

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Michael: The Politics of Star Wars "The Return of the Sith"

This isn’t a review. This is an analysis of the main theme of "The Return of the Sith" and it contains spoilers. If you haven’t seen the movie, I strongly recommend reading no further until you do.

The spine of the movie is Anakin Skywalker’s quest to be the most powerful Jedi ever. He is supposed to have convinced himself that the reason he wants that power is to save Padme from dying in childbirth, which he sees in a Force vision. He had been unable to save his mother from death at the hands of the Tusken Raiders in II, and is determined not to be helpless to save his loved one again. But saving Padme doesn’t work as the real reason Anakin turned to the dark side, despite his constant avowals of purpose in his dialog.

That motivation is not only implausible, but it provides a central contradiction of the film (it doesn't resonate with common sense enough to be considered irony). Anakin’s turn to the dark side in search of the power to save Padme is what causes the death of Padme in childbirth. There was nothing physically wrong with her. She died of a broken heart, broken by Anakin’s horrific betrayal of all their love had stood for. Here we encounter a circularity too common in uncanny plot devices used in science fiction; Anakin’s ability to have the visions is what causes the event in the visions; he wouldn’t be seeking greater power to save her had he not had the visions, and thus she would not have died but for the visions. Saving Padme is a somewhat gimmicky and ironic cover for Anakin’s real motive for his journey to the dark side: politics.

Anakin Skywalker doesn’t turn to the dark side for love, he does so because he stops believing the Jedi order is pursuing the public good and begins to believe that order and peace can only be brought to the galaxy by one strong enough and wise enough - the Emperor Sidious. After the disgusting slaughter of the younglings at the Jedi Temple, Anakin meets Padme:

PADME: Anakin, what are you going to do?

ANAKIN looks down for a moment and then walks away from Padme.

ANAKIN: I will not betray the Republic . . . my loyalties lie with the Chancellor and with the Senate . . . and with you.

Anakin’s prime concern is politics, and only secondarily Padme. He’s still (willfully) fooling himself and Padme that the Republic still exists. He knows that the Chancellor is a Sith Lord bent upon overthrow of the Republic, and he now supports that goal. He has begun to actively deceive Padme, something he would not have done before, because he knows that her politics are no longer the same as his own. The conflict threatens to break out into the open, but Anakin sidesteps the issue with a veiled threat:

ANAKIN: The Republic is unstable, Padme. The Jedi aren't the only ones trying to take advantage of the situation. There are also traitors in the Senate.

PADME stands and reacts ever so slightly.

PADME: What are you saying?

ANAKIN: You need to distance yourself from your friends in the Senate. The Chancellor said they will be dealt with when this conflict is over.

PADME: What if they start an inquisition? I've opposed this war. What will you do if I become a suspect?

ANAKIN: That won't happen. I won't let it.

PADME: Oh, Anakin, I'm afraid.

ANAKIN takes PADME in his arms.

ANAKIN: Have faith, my love. Everything will soon be set right. The Chancellor has given me a very important mission. The Separatists have gathered in the Mustafar system. I'm going there to end this war. Wait for me until I return . . . things will be different, I promise.

Yes, very different. All possible resistance will be crushed and Padme would have no choice but to acquiesce to the new order. Now, when Padme disobeys Anakin’s direction and seeks Anakin out on Mustafar, Anakin gives her a political manifesto and an ultimatum. Anakin doesn't speak as to somebody you have sacrificed everything to be with, but Padme still speaks the language of love:

PADME: Come away with me. Help me raise our child. Leave everything else behind while we still can. [Padme appeals to their love]

ANAKIN: Don't you see, we don't have to run away anymore. I have brought peace to the Republic. I am more powerful than the Chancellor. I can overthrow him, and together you and I can rule the galaxy. Make things the way we want them to be. [Anakin counters with a political ultimatum; interestingly, the exact one that he will give to his son in Episode V "The Empire Strikes Back"]

PADME: I don't believe what I'm hearing . . . Obi-Wan was right. You've changed. [she means his politics have changed]

ANAKIN: I don't want to hear any more about Obi-Wan. The Jedi turned against me. Don't you turn against me. [any political disagreement has become a rebuke, which trumps any personal relationship]

PADME: I don't know you anymore. Anakin, you're breaking my heart. I'll never stop loving you, but you are going down a path I can't follow. [because it would betray her politics, not her heart]

This film sets in place the keystone of the entire story arc of Star Wars. The entire six film cycle is the story of the political birth and maturation and denouement of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader. Anakin’s political philosophy is formed by the circumstances of his youth on the edge of the Republic as a powerless slave. As he grows in power, he first serves, and finally questions and betrays the Republic, destroying it. He then passes through the same pattern of service and disillusionment with Empire. His political worldview and its evolution drive the entire plot round a full circle. ‘Return of the Sith’ is the axis around which Anakin’s political identity revolves. The deep structure of the plot is the willing, even eager, transformation of Anakin from a bulwark of freedom and justice, into the willing tool of tyranny and injustice.

The film’s lack of genuine emotional resonance is the main reason that the story is not engaging for many who see "Sith" expecting something more. The purported justification for Anakin’s turn to the dark side, love for his wife and unborn children, doesn’t ring true. He must know that certain assumptions about his personal character underpin Padme’s love; no love is truly unconditional. The Anakin Skywalker she loves is a selfless, if tempestuous, hero who upholds the ethical traditions of the Jedi Order. She could never be with a man who slaughters innocent children for political ends.

The depth of self-deception required for Anakin to sidestep this self-knowledge is beyond the bounds of human experience. Believing their love could survive his betrayal of the Republic is a stretch no one can accept short of Anakin’s actual mental illness. Lucas pushes us to accept the Anakin is in a deeply delusional state by presenting us with his belief that the Jedi are evil, and that he’s saving the Republic instead of ending it, and with scene 190 on Mustafar in which Anakin reveals his still sensitive soul by shedding a tear after having murdered all the Separatists on Mustafar (but not after the children at the Jedi temple, apparently). But Anakin’s supposed self-deception is undercut at every turn and ultimately appears self-serving.

In the end there is only one conclusion that makes any sense, Anakin turned himself into Darth Vader willingly for one reason only - political power. And only one brand of loyalty remained in his value system - "If you're not with me, you're my enemy" - the absolute kind. Anakin’s destruction of the Republic, the Jedi Order, and Padme, was not the tragic consequences of an misguided, but loving, obsession. The damage he wrought was to seize political power, all else was intentional deception, or willing self-deception.

Anakin/Vader’s political philosophy is essentially Platonic, expressing the same complaints about democracy as Plato, and settling upon many of the same solutions as does Plato in the ‘Republic’ and the ‘Politicus’ dialogs: the wise king (emperor) who is above all law, the aristocracy of philosophers (Sith lords), and the limited utility of democracy to fashioning policy (the rubber stamp Galactic Senate). Lucas’s vision would have been dark indeed if his films stopped here. But we know that eventually even Darth Vader loses faith in his chosen idol, and clears the path for a brighter tomorrow with his own hand. In the end, the political manifesto of Star Wars might be summed up as ‘don’t put too much faith in any political order’. Regardless of how people are organized what is important is justice, equality, openness, participation, accountability, and a struggle against harmful absolutisms. Ultimately, it was the lack of those virtues that threw both the Republic and the Empire onto the rocks of history at the hand of Anakin/Vader.

Finally, some have claimed that "Sith" is a partisan political attack on the Bush Administration. It’s not that at all; it was written, in broad outline, well in advance of the political ascendency of the extreme Right and Bush. It is a commentary on a political attitude and set of beliefs that reduce human freedom and dignity, and what those beliefs cost their acolytes. If the extreme Right see something of themselves in the film, that is due to their own conscience, not the film’s rhetoric. Indeed, I would guess that the Right will tend to stay very carefully quiet about any supposed criticism of the Bush Administration in the film in an effort not to draw more attention to any possible political critique as culturally powerful as the Star Wars franchise has become.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Reid Lays Out Reform Agenda

Your weekend homework: Read Reid's remarks to the National Press Club, which were curiously and studiously ignored by the national press.

Michael: Google Image Search for John Bolton

I just now realized that when one does a Google Image search for John Bolton one gets both images of a mustachioed neo-con and naked female vampires.

The mundane explaination is that a famous illustrator coincidentally named John Bolton is really into naked female vampires. But I prefer to believe that we are witnessing the hand of God producing such an embarrassing and suggestive juxtaposition in the universe. I challenge you to prove otherwise, in any case.

It is clear to me, and should be clear to any Right thinking Christian who doesn't want their soul condemned to hellfire, that God is warning us of the consequences of the confirmation of John Bolton: to wit, if Bolton is confirmed, there will be a plague of naked female vampires brought down upon us by the Heavenly Host.

Um. Well. On second thought, Ambassador Bolton has a certain ring to it, doesn't it?...

Caption This!

Rice Gestures

Okay. This photo has some obvious captions just screaming to be applied to it. Let's not do that. I know my readers are creative people. Give this photo a caption that DOESN't go there :)

Michael: Two Faces of Orson Scott Card

Those of you have only read Orson Scott Card's books would be very surprised to read his political punditry. OSC is one very small step short of Ann Coulter: anti-intellectual, jingoistic, insulting, denigrating toward all who disagree with his views, chauvinist, bigoted, self-righteous, and down-right stupid at times. It is almost as if OSC the writer and OSC the pundit are two different people.

Now, I think it's possible for a writer to get so inside his characters that the words he writes are not his personal views bleeding through the scenery, but rather thoughts and actions that do not reflect any bias of the artist at all, but which solely serve the needs of the story. It's easy to presume that OSC's books are the products of such a submergence of the artist's ego. It's easy to presume that the real thoughts and beliefs of OSC are those expressed in his callow political work. But what if the easy answer is wrong?

What if just the opposite is true? What if the books reflect the real views OSC and the jingoistic political rants are the careful artifice? Perhaps it an interesting artistic challenge to a writer to create a public personna who is so biliously over-the-top that he makes Rush look a like a bit of a swish.

What's the pay-off? Well, you would have a chance to steer the enemy camp's rhetoric closer and closer to the cliff of absurdity. OSC seems intent on doing that. Judge for yourself whether OSC is serious or planting conceptual IEDs in the opposition's base camp.

Re the Newsweek Qu'ran flap:

"Too many people in the "American" media have lost any concept of loyalty to their country"

"They are loyal to a community -- but it's not America. It's Smartland. The nation of the newsmedia people. That's where they live. Not in America."

"And yet the irony is that the reason the radical Islamists hate the West so much is primarily because of the unchecked and uncheckable excesses of the Smartish. From Hollywood to newspeople to the soft-subject professors in our universities, the culture that makes people like Osama bin Laden want to blow us up or crush us into dust is the culture of the R-rated movie, the anti-religion intellectual, the glorified abortionist, the babies-without-marriage crowd, and the what-me-worry media elite"

"Muslims in Muslim countries can dish it out, but they can't take it. They had no problem expelling all the Jews from their countries in an ethnic cleansing every bit as vicious as anything the Spaniards did in 1492. They desecrated Torahs left and right. Nowadays they blow up babies and call it a heroic act, because they were Jewish babies. But let somebody start a rumor that somebody dunked a Quran in the toilet, and they go insane and riot and kill people. "

"The greatest asset that Osama and his tribe have going for them is not the tantrumlike behavior of their supporters. It's the fact that the West is deeply divided, as a new religious movement -- politically correct puritanism -- is perilously close to seizing control of the governments of most of the major nations of the West. These citizens of Smartland disingenuously claim that they are neither organized nor a religion -- organized religions are the bogeyman they invoke to frighten their opponents into silence."

I read these passages and many others (these gems are from only a single article) and I hear a false note. A true believer, a member of OSC choir, as it were, would likely not be able detect this false note. I may be wrong, but I can't help noticing what sounds like a tone of parody. Perhaps it is just wishful thinking, but sometimes in reading OSC's polemic I perceive a charactature of an arch-conservative bomb-thrower, not a genuine voice.

If I'm right, OSC is gleefully pulling the legs of the conservative movement like a child with a cockroach. Why? Who knows? Perhaps he's just having fun. If my fancy is wrong, and I'll admit that it is vastly more likely that it is, then OSC is just a conservative cretin and bit of an idiot. He won't be the first artist to cherish dispicable political convictions while somehow still managing to produce high-quality art.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Michael: Kudos to Pastor, Calls For Carriles Extradition

Arizona Arizona Congressman Ed Pastor called for the extradition of Cuban terrorist Luis Posada Carriles. Pastor is one of a dozen Congressmen who transmitted a letter to GWB calling for Carriles' extradition to Venezuela. It is heartening to see that some people's moral compass still works upon entering political office.

A dead civilian amid the wreckage of a airliner isn't politics - it's murder. As a society, we should dedicate ourselves to the principle that the monsters who do such things ought to get justice, not asylum. All posturing over Cuban and Venezuelan politics aside, take a moment to remember how it felt when Lybia was harbouring the bastards who blew up a plane load of people, including some of our citizens, over Lockerbie. Do we really want to be in that moral relationship to the Venezuelan and Cuban people?

To control terrorism, we can't be seen as abetting it, or tolerating its use among the Right's ideological allies. That will cost us what moral authority we have remaining, and further sap our 'soft' power in international affairs.

Michael: What About Senator Basha?

I got a call from the Democratic Party the other day looking for spare change for a run against Kyl. I was thrilled! They'd found someone to take on Senator Strangelove...

Alas, no. They were just filling the coffers for whomever they might dredge up.

Kyl's polling is under 50% and he is truly vulnerable. We have an excellent change to knock him out. Perhaps a two prong attack is best; recuit a moderate Republican to challenge him in the primary (not very likely), and find a Democrat who can really beat him senseless.

Janet could certainly do it, but we need her as governor. Jim Pederson has made a few noises, and while he certainly has the connections (being head of the AZ Dems) and the money (being filthy rich), he is generally unknown and isn't terribly exciting as a cadidate (yay, another rich white guy's running for Senate...). So Jim has a few downsides.

I thought about carpetbagging Mark Udall out of Colorado, but he's unlikely to want to move and give up his seat, even to return to his childhood home. Besides, a legacy name can be a curse as well as a blessing, as we learned with Paul Babbitt's District 1 Congressional run in 2004.

But then the perfect candidate stuck me while shopping. Eddie Basha. He is a fantastic guy, highly respected, fantastic charity work, a local business institution, yet totally aligned with progressive concerns. He has plenty of money, and good name recognition from business and his 1994 run for Governor (so he also has experience with a state-wide race). Hey, how many candidates already have a high school named after them? Throw in the Bashas' compelling family history of immigrant hard work and success, and I think Basha is a very viable and interesting candidate for one of Arizona's Senate seats.

Anyone have any ideas about a Basha candidacy? Anyone know him personally and care to put a bug in his ear? Any ideas for other candidates you think could crush Kyl more effectively? I'd love to hear it.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Michael: In a Galaxy Uncomforatbly Close to Home

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With the Pentagon seeking to deploy weaponry in space with little or no public debate or notice, we have to face the fact that our military-industrial complex has become a law unto itself. As I have written previously, the Neo-Cons now dominating political leadership of the Pentagon are willing to circumvent a decades-long understanding against deployment of space-borne weaponry under the cover of sleazy semantic arguments about defensive and offensive capabilities. The Pentagon has been homing in on the target of making space the next militarized theatre of warfare for several years now, and are preparing to pull the trigger.

Those intent on launching a new arms race are acting for the benefit of narrow corporate interests, and have cynically seized upon 9/11 as a universal justification for their short-sighted and rapacious policies. But there is more than one way to create security. It seems the Neo-Cons reflexively and automatically favor preemptive war, domination, superior fire-power, and the overwhelming ability to annihilate one's foe as the means to create security: they seek the security of knowing all possible foes are neutralized. But strength can be used against you, superior firepower doesn't always assure victory, and today's enemy may be tommorrow's ally while today's ally may become your worst enemy. In a dog eat dog world, only the meanest dog survives. Is that the world we want our children to inherit? Can we even afford to act in such a atavistic fashion when the very existence of humanity and the web of life on earth hangs upon the outcome of the struggle between our instictual belligerence and the angels of our better nature? We must take risks in seeking peace, just as we take risks in waging war.

There are better ways to assure the peace, proven by decades of experience to work more reliably than naked force alone. Collective security, international coalition and consensus building, and mutual guarantees and inspection provide a path to the goal of security in outer space that is cheaper, more fair, and brings more stability than rushing to the high ground with the biggest weapons we can find, and hoping to hold it against all comers. Instead of blundering headlong into a future where outer space is a perilous place, and we live every day with hostile weapons parked high above our very homes, we should seize the opportunity to expand the restriction on weapons contained in the Outer Space Treaty. We can fashion the universal desire for peaceful co-existence in space into comprehensive ban on weaponizing space that protects our interests now, and preserves the options of our wiser descendants tomorrow.

Michael: Filibroken

Boy, I hope those seeing the Senate settlement as a victory turn out to be right, but I fear they are very wide of the mark.

I try not to judge too swiftly the history that is now passing before us, so I waited and let the nuclear option settlement play out and digest a few days before commenting. I, too, was hoping for a settlement of some sort, but I believe now that I didn't think it out. Better that pro-busters had gone to the mat in the court of public opinion to defend the constitution and Senate traditions, Even if we lost in the short-term, we could have won the battle with a resounding victory in public opinion. In fact, it is because the idea was so horribly unpopular that the Right even agreed to negotiate.

I have come to the conclusion that the settlement was servile appeasement. I’m sure that Reid and McCain and others were doing what they thought proper for the country and desperately trying to avoid the constitutional melt-down the nuclear option represents, but they have really done nothing but tossed three judgeships into the maw of absolutism in order that it might be sated for the moment. What have we gotten in return? Nothing. The status quo. The right to fight another day. And fight we shall, because the Right has just been taught that constitutional terrorism works.

Instead of kicking them in the teeth and taking the case to the people in a serious and uncompromising fashion, the Democratic leadership folded and cut a deal on something as important and central as the traditional powers of the Congress. Congressional officers are the only people who can defend the powers of Congress, and they have failed in that primary duty to preserve the prerogatives of their offices. The minority leadership and centrist Republicans are being shoved down the road to slavery, and they are patting their captor on the back and telling everyone what a reasonable guy he is.

The Right’s arguments are total bunk. They make less sense with every telling. The idea that for some reason it is constitutionally incumbent to pass on the President’s judicial nominations by ‘an up or down vote’ is complete hogwash. Are Ambassadors, Ministers, Consuls and all other Officers of the United States next on the list of appointees that cannot be filibustered? They are in the very same sentence mandating the Senate’s role to Advise and Consent on judicial nominees. The same sophistry must apply to them. Just wait for a Democratic President and Senate majority to make a few appointments under the new ‘understanding’ of the filibuster which the Right is trying to smuggle into the Senate - we'll see how long thier interpretation stands then.

This settlement is a grievous wound to the body of our democracy and historians will long lament the day. The Right has held democracy hostage, and our political leaders met the terrorists demands because they only cut the hostage's head off little a bit.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Michael: The Rise of the Religious Mainstream

UPDATE 4/28: a 'God's Politics' meetup will be held on June 1st. If interested in the politics of prophetic religion, consider attending.

The political activation and organization of the religious right is going to motivate the emergence of a much larger and more powerful force in American politics: the religious mainstream. Unlike the Right, the religious mainstream is unwilling to walk in lockstep with any ideological program, drawing its positions from the real material needs of its parishioners. It is likely to be more loosely organized, but will no doubt bring a similar passionate belief and serious financial and electoral clout to bear on political issues, especially those directly related to faith and the interaction of church and government.

Already many organizations on the religious mainstream have been founded in reaction to the threat of the Right, and are growing swiftly. One of my favorite organizations nationally is the Interfaith Alliance founded in 1994 and how representing over 150,000 members. The Alliance is organized in local chapters that you can join, and which hold local Meetups.

The Alliance stands for a positive, healing role of faith in public life. They are non-denominational and welcome people from many religious and spiritual traditions – Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs – more than 70 faith traditions in all, including Agnostics and Atheists.

The Alliance stands witness against intolerance and extremism. Rooted in faith traditions from the world over, they offer America a mainstream, religiously based agenda committed to individual dignity and the importance of community.

What the Alliance believes:

FOR the participation of people of faith in political process and AGAINST the view of the Religious Right that one’s political beliefs are the measure of one’s faith.

FOR treating religious diversity as an asset and AGAINST the notion that only the majority faith tradition deserves public acknowledgement and respect.

FOR giving all faith traditions a voice in national life and AGAINST attempts to use government resources or authority to give special preference a to any religious institution or view.

FOR inclusion and diversity in American society and AGAINST efforts to sow discord or hate, especially under the guise of religion.

FOR healthy interaction between religion and government and AGAINST efforts to impose religious litmus tests on public policy or service.

These are the sort of ideals that will resonate with average Americans. These are the ideals that define the proper and traditionally American relationship between a faithful, patriotic citizenry and a fair and open democratic government of all the people. Mainstream Americans know how to maintain a dignified and principled faith that does not require them to dominate their fellow citizens in a misguided attempt to force their faith upon their neighbors.

A model of such interfaith mainstream political involvement flourishes right here in my backyard. The Pima County Interfaith Council, part of the Arizona Interfaith Network, was founded in 1990 and does an excellent job in advocating for the real needs of its parishioners in local and state politics, and training people of faith in community based organizing. Organizations that are similarly non-ideological and inspired by faith will one day soon make the Religious Right look like Perot’s Reform party.

Extremism in America has always been extinguished by the distaste it generates among regular folk. From it’s hateful pogrom against gay Americans, to its leadership’s suspect fidelity to our constitutional traditions displayed in the Schiavo and filibuster affairs, and the lingering stink of corruption that the GOP leadership’s lack of ethical rectitude has created in the Congress, in our White House, and even in the Pentagon, the Religious Right has proven over and over that is it is fringe movement deserving of the scorn and repudiation of all Americans. When America wakes up and starts handing down the indictments, the common lament will be, “why didn’t we see through these hucksters, con men, and demagogues?” For a preview of what that process of awakening will look like to millions of Americans who have been duped by the lies of the Religious Right, I recommend “Blinded by the Right” by Media Matters founder David Brock. If a summary is possible, it is to hate the sin, not the sinner.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Michael: Holy Flat Tax Batman!

A long-time shibboleth of Conservative philosophy has been the institution of a flat tax. Every Conservative ideologue worth his salt has seriously toyed with idea. One of the most offensive things to Conservatives about our current income tax system is its progressivity; it takes a larger percentage bite as your income rises. Many Republicans just shake like outraged Chihuahuas at the thought of having to pay a larger percentage than a Wal-Mart employee. Wouldn’t it be ironic if the tax haters got a flat tax rate and it still gave them indigestion because it was even more progressive than the current system?

Well, that’s exactly what the UniTax does. It is a flat tax, not on income, as so many Conservatives dream of, but on ALL financial transactions. That’s right; from groceries to corporate arbitrage and foreign exchange, every financial transaction is taxed. Seems like a nightmare, right? But with the increasing use of electronic transactions, especially for large transactions, the cost of compliance and administration shrinks to nearly nothing. The IRS would practically whither away and you wouldn’t have to file an income tax return ever again.

At the same time, the tax base, which is now mainly personal and corporate income, would explode 100 fold, and most of that new tax base is heavily skewed to the wealthy. That means the UniTax takes its progressivity from economic distribution, not rate change. As wealth becomes more evenly distributed, so would the tax burden. The much greater tax base also means the UniTax rate could be 100 times lower and still preserve revenue neutrality. Economists estimate the new UniTax rate would be just 0.30%, or 30 cents on $100. The average person would pay pennies on the dollar of their current tax burden, but the super-wealthy, who are responsible for the vast majority of financial transactions, would pay a much greater proportion of overall taxes than they do now; though unless they spend more than their net worth every year, they would still pay less than 1% per annum. Would you want to argue that your freedom and the American dream weren’t worth less than 1% of your net worth? Didn’t think so.

The ideologues would get the flat tax that they are always mooning about (and they can’t complain about it from a principled position without revealing that they just wanted lower taxes on the rich all along) and the rich would pay more of the nation’s taxes, resulting in a more progressive, more efficient, and politically more difficult to subvert tax code, and the poor and middle class would get well-deserved tax relief. And everybody is shut of the IRS. The UniTax is a one of those rare beasts, a gift that gives everyone what they say they wanted, as well as everything they so richly deserve.

For more information on the UniTax, AKA the Automated Payment Transaction (APT) tax, visit the web site of the idea’s creator. If you are a blogger, please blog about this taxation system, too, and help bring awareness to this great idea.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Michael: AZ GOP Goes Back on Budget Deal

Gov. Napolitano negotiated in good faith to reach a budget compromise. She ended up giving more than she wanted, but less than she could tolerate. She kept her word on the budget. She assumed the leaders of the GOP would do the same. She was wrong.

In common parlance, when someone assures you of one thing and then turns around and does something else, that person is a 'liar'. So let's just speak straight and call a spade a spade here: those of the Republican leadership involved in breaking the budget deal are a bunch of damned liars.

They promised Napolitano to negotiate a court mandated bi-lingual education program with legislative Democrats as part of the budget deal. They didn't, and Janet had to veto that portion of the budget in response.

Voters should remember one thing very clearly next year when many of these law-makers come up for re-election: they are liars. They were willing to publicly break their word to the Governor and they can't be trusted. Do you really want people who can't even tell the truth involved in running our state? It's really as simple as that.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Michael: Nuking our Democracy

Next week, all eyes will be focused on the drama in the Senate as the GOP attempts to subvert our Democratic institution of the filibuster. Make no mistake, stripping the minority of rights to slow or stop unwanted action, be it legislation or lifetime appointments, is not improving democracy, it is destroying it. And like all great dramas, the dialog is not about what it is about. The script may be about 10 rejected nominees, but the meaning is really only about the coming nominations to the Supreme Court. The GOP wants to strip Democrats of the right to object to judicial nominees only because they plan to pack the court with the worst sorts of activist judges yet seen. They will make Fortas or Bork seem like centrists by comparison.

There is only one way to stop this and the Senators on the Democratic side of aisle can't do it. The 'nuclear option' of constitutional reinterpretation is against the rules of the Senate, and cannot be stopped by less than 50 Senators. Unless at least 5 GOP Senators suddenly put their love of country above loyalty to party the 'option' will pass: and only three, McCain, Chafee, and Snow have found the spine to stand up for their countries' democracy. No. Saving the right of filibuster, the 200+ year institution that protects minority rights in this country, is not going to be accomplished by politicians, it is up to you. Only a sufficient outcry by the citizenry will put paid to the GOP's ambition to set up a one-party state and pack our Court with ideologues.

Some may claim that losing the filibuster, which was used to block civil rights legislation and to prolong the institution of slavery, will ultimately be a positive thing for America. That without the filibuster progressive legislation will be enacted more easily over the forces supporting the status quo. This might be true, but difficulty in good times is a small price to pay to avert tyranny in bad times. The quality and durability of a democracy lies in it's ability to protect minorities, not in its ability to empower majorities; majorities are almost always empowered by nature and do not require democracy to ensure their ascendancy.

Our democracy is badly disordered. I, for one, feel that we are very close to the sort of institutional collapse that proceeds all descents into tyranny; the majority picking apart the institutional and traditional safeguards against tyranny until nothing stands against the onslaught of dictatorship. This is the pattern seen every time a democracy has fallen into tyranny; and the GOP is demanding Americans put their own heads on that same well-used chopping block.

We like to think that America is immune from tyranny. To the extent that has been true, it is not because of our character or our principles. If we have been resistant to tyranny, it is only because of the finely judged Constitutional checks and balances built into our institutions (many of which, such as the war powers and the treaty power, have long been abrogated) and those traditions installed early in the life of our Republic by wise statesmen, such as the filibuster and the rights of minorities in Congress (which are now under attack or already destroyed).

Our democracy is already pressed to the wall by the tyranny of a burgeoning police state, an over weaning and bloated military-industrial complex (which, if you think about it, is just another word for the combination of state and corporate power that Mussolini called corporatism or fascismo), an electoral system that returns 98% of federal office-holders to office, a national security state that hides many of the most important decisions our country makes behind a veil of secret executive orders and black budgets, and a political party system that is subject to capture by a pack of ravening Savonarolas on the right hand, and passel of centrist careerists on the left. If we throw away some of the final institutional checks that are the bulwarks of our freedom, we are truly lost.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Michael: The War Crimes Tribunal of 2010

The Trial
My Favorite Day-Dream. Click for larger view, and enjoy the Schadenfruedy goodness!

Before going all indignant about the implied war crimes, read this. We are talking about war crimes here.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Michael: Portland adopts citywide clean elections based on Tucson's system

The Portland City Council passed a resolution which will fund candidate races. Modelled after similar laws in Arizona and Maine, the proposal gives mayoral candidates $200,000 for primary campaigns
and $250,000 for runoffs. To participate, they must collect $5 checks from 1,500 people.

The two Tucson city council members, Ronstadt and Dunbar, who are opting out of the Tucson clean elections system this cycle, are bucking against the trend. People are becoming fed up with big money dominating politics. People want their real daily concerns to be the heart of the political system, not big donor money and secretive quid pro quo deals. The real test, of course, will be whether Tucson voters think clean elections important enough to refuse to vote for candidates who are wholly owned by wealthy local businessmen, and increasingly, by out-of-town and even out-of-state interests.

Portland's rule will be referred to voters after two election cycles, in 2010. Voters will get to see the results of a few elections under the new system before making a decision about it. Perhaps it is also time to consider strengthening the Tucson system and likewise letting the voters give it a trial run, before a wholesale repudiation of the system by big-money candidates makes our own local system impotent.

Medea Benjamin in Tucson on Saturday, May 21st

Medea Benjamin, the founder of Global Exchange, and cofounder of CODEPINK: Women for Peace will be attending a Book Release Party tommorrow:
Saturday, May 21, 2005
7:00 p.m.
Reader's Oasis
3400 E. Speedway
Tucson, Arizona

The book:

For more information about this event, please call Nancy Hill at 520-370-2567 or email: pinktucson@cox.net.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Michael: Steve Farley Promises to Make Development Revenue Nuetral

From the Friends O’Farley blog:
"Michael Says:
May 18th, 2005 at 8:04 pm


What’s your take on the new ‘public information’ ads by SAHBA purporting that a new study shows that new home construction more than pays its way with new tax revenue without any new impact fees?

# Steve Farley Says:
May 19th, 2005 at 10:28 am

It’s the typical number juggling we’ve come to expect from an industry bent on maximizing profits for out-of-state interests. You’ll note on their own page, their “data” for the “City of Tucson” is actually data from the Tucson Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), which includes all homebuilding in the whole area, including Marana, Sahuarita, and Oro Valley, all of whom have higher impact fees, plus a construction contracting sales tax. It would be a safe bet that even with their skewed and self-serving methodology, that the City of Tucson is losing big money with each new home built within city limits, thanks to our tardy and scrawny impact fees and lack of other growth-recovery financial instruments.

Perhaps this effort is really SAHBA calling for higher taxes & fees on growth in the City of Tucson, to catch up with the other regional municipalities?"

# michael Says:
May 19th, 2005 at 6:32 pm

Will you commmit to increase Tucson city construction taxes and/or impact fees to ensure that construction in Tucson is, at minimum, revenue neutral? Second, will you work with nearby municipalities and the county to ensure that the impact of new construction in the greater tucson metro area does not result in additional tax burdens on Tucson taxpayers?

# Steve Farley Says:
May 20th, 2005 at 8:44 am

1) yes (within legal limits–see below); 2) yes. That’s part of why I am running in the first place. The reason our budget is always in crisis is because we are not recovering the cost of growth from those who benefit from it. I will be increasing impact fees to appropriate levels, and I will be rescinding Fred’s six-year delay of commercial impact fees. Unfortunately, the City Charter requires a vote of the people to raise construction contracting sales taxes, so that is much harder. We tried that through our transit initiative that went to voters in 2003, but SAHBA and their friends wrote the big checks to knock that down. I will be working with neighboring municipalities and the county–at this point the city is the problem child, the entity that has been afraid to stand up for its own taxpayers by instituting fees where needed to get the cost of growth off our backs.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Michael: Reframing Drug Policy

UPDATE: If you aren't convinced that the 'drug war' remains a primary and immediate threat to our freedoms, then you haven't heard of Rep. Sensenbrenner's (the same extremist who brought us the REAL ID Act) "Defending America's Most Vulnerable: Safe Access to Drug Treatment and Child Protection Act of 2005" (H.R. 1528). This law would make it a crime to fail to inform on drug users and create even more outrageous mandatory minimums for drug offenses.

Too often, Progressives allow Conservatives to successfully frame drug policy in terms that are all too familiar: street crime, more police, more jails, sacrificing freedom for safety, in short, the ‘war on drugs’. Is it any wonder the same formula has been used to frame policy on terrorism? Drug policy needs to be recast as 'drug peacekeeping'.

After decades of funding modern police forces, with billions sunk into prisons and their maintenance, and passing ever more draconian drug laws, what have we to show for all this war?

Less crime? No. Crime rates remain constant, shifting only with demographic changes.

Less harm to citizens from crime? No. If anything, more harm and less help from government.

Less drugs on the street? No. More drugs of higher grade, greater lethality and addictive power are on the streets than ever before.

A decrease in drug-related violence, or even a significant reduction in drug usage? Hardly. The opposite, in fact. Organized criminal activity is ever more profitable, ever more profitable, and ever more violent, with the public caught in the crossfire.

It is as if Prohibition and its lessons never happened. Criminal enterprises are now richer and more powerful than many governments, and international in scope. The multi-billion dollar illicit drug industry churns on unchecked, unregulated, and untaxed, killing thousands annually, and ruining the lives of countless thousands more. But the best the ‘law and order’ folks can do is stick their fingers the dike. The cost of this brain-dead approach is to let a public health disaster continue unabated, spreading disease, misery, and death while giving only an illusion of progress or control.

We call it a victory each time a shipment in interdicted, but we should call it a failure because each seizure represents 10, or 50, or 100 shipments that got through. Our police forces, already bloated beyond all need, will never be large enough to stop drug trafficking. All they accomplish is a grotesque political pantomime, and the cost is the lives of many first responders, and financial and human resources that could better used elsewhere.

We call it a victory every time a county or district attorney wins a case against a dealer, possessor, or trafficker of illicit drugs. But every dollar spent on enforcement of drug laws represents a plea bargain with a rapist or a wife-beater, or an economic fraud gone uninvestigated due to a lack of resources. A political decision is being made about the quality of life in your community, and it is regrettably easy to simply ‘get tough on drugs’ instead of making our communities more livable and equitable. Resources that could be used in diversion programs, and restorative and therapeutic models of justice are siphoned off into the ever-growing backlog of drug crimes.

We have the highest incarceration rate of any nation, save only China. The burdens of the mindless rush to incarcerate more and more people, for longer sentences, falls heaviest on minority citizens, who can least afford it. And it is not just the ‘criminals’ who pay, it is the families and kids and communities they leave behind on the outside who are also harmed. It is a net loss to society that once a person is branded a felon due to involvement with black market drugs, their potential is forever limited by prejudice and institutional discrimination. We can't afford to lose millions of our citizens in the increasingly competitive race for prosperity.

The landscape left by the 'war on drugs' is a vista of unmitigated failure. How can we do better and reverse failed policies that have entrenched themselves in our law, our economy, and our culture? We need to stop using the wrong tools to deal with drug use. Drug use is a public health problem, a regulatory problem, an import substitution and trade balance problem, a problem of poverty, a problem of education and the lack thereof, a problem of taxation. It is all these things, and we have all these tools and more to deal with it. But what it is not, and must not be, is a criminal justice problem, in all but a small sub-set of cases.

This is the reframing challenge: moving this nation’s drug problem out of the shadowy realm of criminal justice where it is conveniently tucked into the category of moral turpitude, and into the light of creative public policy solutions, where it can be seen more clearly as a challenge for all of society. Scheduled substances should be grouped with alcohol and tobacco as lifestyle drugs, which present a public health hazard if improperly used, or in some circumstances, if used at all.

Reframing drug policy is a challenge at every level of government, not just federal offices. The drug war permeates the entire criminal justice system. Office-holders from elected county and states' attorneys to sheriffs have a direct impact on how drug policy is implemented. Prosecutors and police officials have enormous institutional discretion in how the law in enforced, and could use it, given political support. County supervisors, city council persons, mayors, state legislators, and governors can all play critical political and legal roles, too. Much that needs to be done to end the ‘drug war’ and turn it into ‘drug peace-keeping’ must be done on the state and local level. For as more and more states and localities pull their troops out of the ‘drug war’ the federal government would find itself without the resources or support to continue the war. Actually withdrawing local resources from the 'war on drugs' is the only way to break the political deadlock that has trapped us in a failed policy for decades.

Of course, such a model of policy change has implications for other wars, too...

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Michael: Am(way)erica

I review a book by a self-described Amway deprogramee on BlogCritics. I also add my own paranoid observations to the mix. Please check it out.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Michael: Science is a source of Morality

I believe that those who claim that science cannot determine morality fundamentally misunderstand morality. When you unpack the concept of morality it is really nothing more than culturally encoded rules for how to deal with the world, most specifically how to deal with social interactions. Those rules are not inchoate in some Aristotealian sense, they are invented by people over time to deal with issues of survival and social cohesion. In a sense they are a very rough analogy to the scientific method as applied to vastly complex problems over time. Richard Dawkins popularized the concept of memes; that is what morals are, culturally trasmitted solutions to complex social problems collected and competing across time. Morals are based on rank conjecture, superstition, and lucky, or unlucky, chance, but they are also based on observation and determining what works in a society that is trying to survive in the real world. I contend that as our knowledge of the world grows, including our knowledge of our own extremely complex biology, behavior, social interactions, and role in the world grows, so too does our morality grow and change.

A few examples of where we go wrong, and where we go right. There have long been cultural taboos about homosexuality in many western cultures. There have also been cultures in which homosexuality is tolerated, and even celebrated. At some point, the meme that homosexuality is bad got encoded (perhaps the writing of Levitcus is a source of the meme) and worked for the cuture or cultures involved. To this day we have a strong meme of condemnation of homosexuality as a result. But now that we are learning more about ourselves, sexuality in other species, and have developed memes which stress privacy in sexual affairs, some of which derives from science, the anti-homosexuality meme is being challenged by other moral viewpoints. Science is changing morality. It may be slow and painful, but it is happening in much of the Western world.

Now for an example of science creating a moral meme. Don’t pollute the environment. Until we began to see the health effects, the effects of destruction of bio-diversity and habitats, and the many economic costs of pollution, there was no moral aspect to disposal of waste. Now that we are gaining an ever greater scientific knowledge of the effect that man-made pollutants can have, more and more people see preserving the environment as a moral good, and harming it as a moral negative. Even many evangelical churches, just to name a fairly unexpected extreme, are starting to talk about stewardship of creation as a moral duty. This set of environmental moral values did not exist widely in the population just a few decades ago. Science has given us new ways to see the world and our effect in it, and virthed a new morality.

I contend that as science uncovers more and more of the delicate workings of human societies, economies, and psyches that this new knowledge will create or overturn memes that tell us how we should behave. In fact, a new moral values are constantly birthing, but only the most important and strong will tend to survive. Science can give us moral values, and better ones than we had before.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Michael: Walmart equates zoning restrictions with Nazi bookburnings

NazisSeems that Walmart is running print ads here in Arizona associating zoning restrictions on 'Big Box' retailers with an image of a Nazi book burning. The reaction of many is not favorable, especially WWII vets who know exactly the magnitude of the evil they faced on the battlefields of that war, and would not have it diminished through comparison with square-footage restrictions.

I think that placing comparisons to Nazis or allusions to Nazism off-limits in our political discourse is unhealthy. The same active evil that dwelt in the Nazi leadership, and the more banal type inhabiting their collaborators, lurks in every human. Therefore, we must never make it impossible to simply call a spade a spade, as it were, in our political rhetoric. I myself have made comparisons between the current ruling junta and the National Socialists when I thought the comparisan was apt, and I don't appologize for it.

On the other hand, it's generally not the Nazis' land use policies regarding retail outlets that are the focus of people's horror when they reflect on the harm the Nazi movement caused the world. Such unreflective and jingoistic uses of such a powerful referent threatens to minimize tha evil of Nazi fascism. And that must never happen.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Michael: Prop 200 preventing new voter registrations

Critics predicted that Prop 200 would tend to discourage and supress new voter registrations with its new identification requirements. However, it appears to be much worse that expected. The Arizona Daily Star has reported that the Pima Registrar's office now has a rejection rate of 59% for new voter registrations since Prop 200 took effect, compared to 0% at the same time last year. Inquiries with the Registrar's office of Arizona's other major population areas, Maricopa and Coconino, confirm that they also are both running a roughly 50% rejection rate since Prop 200 took effect.

Of course, new voters will be notified of the needed identification, and new forms, which specify the requirements for new voter registration under Prop 200, are being prepared. Many, possibly most, of these rejections will amended and processed. But if even a small percentage of new voters fail to meet Prop 200's requirements or give up, despite being eligible voters, we will have supressed the constitutional rights of American citizens in pursuit of a the illusory goal of preventing illegal aliens from voting. Never has there been a single instance of an illegal alien voting, nor of being apprehended trying to vote. Prop 200 serves as just another means to make excercising fundamental political rights difficult, especially for those of limited means, and minority racial or ethnic affiliation.

I would not be surprised if, after a short time in effect, Prop 200 could be successfully challenged as a violation of the equal propection proection clause of the 14th Amendment under a 'disparate impact' theory. It seems very likely that members of a protected class are statistically more likely to be prevented from voting by Prop 200, exposing Prop 200 to constitutional challenge. That day cannot come too soon, in my opinion; however, better that voters should be given a chance to repeal at least some portions of Prop 200 by another initiative in 2006.

Prop 200 is embarassing, poorly implemented law that was passed due to the overheated rhetoric and out-of-state funding of people with a broadly racist agenda. The initiative power in our State Constitution is generally a positive political force, and a needed check on the government by the grassroots, but it does pose inherent dangers. Prop 200 is an edifying example of what can go wrong.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Michael: In Steve Nash NBA names MVP and Role Model

Steve NashSteve Nash may be a great basketball player, but I wouldn't know. I wouldn't know a layup from an alley-oop. In fact, I cannot recall having ever written about sports before. The less said about sport the better in my opinion. Really, there just isn't much to say. You need only listen to a few pre- or post-game interviews to know that. But the election of Steve Nash in preference to Shaq as NBA MVP says something about values that calls for comment.

Despite my conviction that sport is to be seen, not heard, I do grasp the moral and ethical dimensions of sport. Sport does teach values, as does any other group endeavor - but which values it teaches is up to us. The MVP election between Nash and Shaq was a statement on values, I hope.

Nash is a self-effacing point guard whose claim to MVP status is through excellent leadership of his teams and his league-leading assists average. Shaq is a mega-star conglomerate franchise as well as being a flashy center, a big man who drives to the hole, and leads his team via his celebrity style and energy. Nash has centered his career, as measured by his assist record, around making his team-mates look good, and his teams win. Shaq has centered his career, as measured by his league leading field-goal average statistic, around putting the ball up accurately and often. Nash's approach built better teams, Shaq's built better endorsement contracts.

Nash epitomizes the 'team centric' values of sport: serving others and putting the team first. Shaq epitomizes the 'player centric' values of sport: putting individual achievement first and hoping that the result will be the good of the team. While Nash works quietly to help his team succeed, Shaq is the very model of how to use a celebrity-obsessed sport, in a celebrity-obsessed culture, to propel one into new and exciting opportunities having nothing to do with the team and everything to do with ego and ambition. In short, Nash vs. Shaq is a parable for much of what is most objectionable about popular culture and the value system underlying the 'stars' so many of us worship.

Even as the American Right rails against Hollywood, they relentlessly promote the exceedingly materialist and individualistic values that lay at the heart of the 'star' system. Their worship of a celebrity-mogul like Schwartzenegger, and lionization of the entrepreneur and the weathy 'job creator' as the moral ideal and focus of public policy, puts the lie to their claim to have any values higher than the Almighty... Dollar. If you think the NBA is about flash and stars, and each team and each player getting the most they can from the sport, Shaq is your choice for MVP. If you think that a player does well only when the team as a whole does well, and that sport is about more noble objectives than just making as much scratch as possible, then Nash is your sort of MVP.

I don't know if it indicates the society has turned a corner when a good team player, a liberal, and vocal anti-war proponent, like Nash, beats out the pyrotechnic celebrity Shaq, who is a mega-millionaire, a household name, and a law-and-order type, working on his criminal justice degree and thinking of running for office or becoming a cop when he retires (just guess which ticket he would run on). All I know is that I sure hope it means something positive. But in either case, in Nash we have an MVP who is a worthy role model for our children, and for ourselves.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Michael: So Very Not Republican

I am:
"You're a damn Commie! Where's Tailgunner Joe when we need him?"

Are You A Republican?

Michael: A Guide to When Bush is Lying, and the central hypocrisy of his Administration

I just read Bush's Riga speech that so angered Russia's Vladamir Putin. I noted two features of the speech I found interesting.

The first is something I've noted before: Bush's absolutely shameless hypocrisy. In the Riga speech, Bush said, "We will not repeat the mistakes of other generations, appeasing or excusing tyranny and sacrificing freedom in the vain pursuit of stability."

Except when we will. Such as in Saudi Arabia, or Pakistan, or Sudan where our national security interests and desire for stability apparently override Bush's passion for freedom and abhorence of tyrants. Or in the Taiwan straight where Bush's passion for freedom led him to deny support for a referendum on a free Taiwan in pursuit of stability with China. Or in the numerous other compromises with tyranny that is part and parcel of leading the world.

America isn't strong enough to take every fight with every petty, and not-so-petty dictator to the mat every time, and at the same time. Bush must know this, yet his high-flown and hypocritical rhetoric doesn't brook any realism, and so paints our potential partners and allies as moral cowards.

Way to go Bush! Alienating the world one speech at a time.

Secondly, I have broken the code for when Bush is lying about things. You needen't know current events, or read dense GAO reports, or have access to classified intelligence estimates to know when Bush lies. All you need is some basic grammar skills.

Read the speech. You will soon note that whenever Bush starts using present participles, and especially in the progressive tense (ironically), he is shamelessly embroidering the truth. He can't seem to help it, his speech suddenly fills with constructions like "is fostering," "is showing," "are seeing," "is making," and the like.

The reason for this verbal tic is simple; if something is happening right now, no one can check the record and prove you untruthful. Better, if what you said doesn't come to pass, i.e. "is stockpiling WMD," or "are developing nuclear weapons", you can always claim to have innocently relied on faulty intelligence, or to have been mislead by what turned out to be a 'historical document with no actionable items', or whatever bullshit you like. Once you start to look for present progressive participles in Bush's speech, you will find them in droves, and gain the ability to gauge at a glance where this Administration feels vulnerable enough to need a little distance from the truth.

Michael: Jesus H. Christ!

I could hardly believe the news, a congregation in North Carolina voted out members of their church for failing to pledge to support the Republican views of the church's pastor.

What the fuck would Jesus do?

What's next? You have to sign a GOP party card to get into heaven? I'm still nearly speechless on this one, but I wanted readers to be aware of this creeping evil taking over today's GOP. I'm curious to hear your reactions to this stunning news.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Michael: The New Racism

In today's America, if you want to send the message to your right-wing constituency that you share their racist predelections, it is no longer fashionable to rail against affirmative action. Blacks, who are less than 10% of the population and largely urban, just aren't as threatening to exurbanites who never see them except on TV. If you want to make whitey feel threatened these days, the candidate better be brown, present in the suburbs and exurbs where whites live, have a fast growing population base, and speak another language they don't understand.

Today, if you want to proclaim to other racists publically that you too are a racist who shares their values and world view, you rail against 'illegals'. 'Illegals' allows you to proclaim your racism and still hide behind concern for the rule of law or national security.

Used to be one could reliably spot racist attitudes. They came with convenient buzzwords like segregation, Jim Crow, separate but equal, state’s rights, and epithets like nigger, spic, hebe and slant. Things aren’t quite so easy now. Racism isn’t for polite company anymore. Nobody gets a pass to be racist based on the their ‘heritage’ or ‘upbringing’ any more. No, being a racist in today’s America is a lot like being gay in yesteryear’s America. That’s right, today’s racists are like yesteryear’s gays; they hide in plain sight behind a blind of hypocrisy.

The most important analogy between racist/gay life is/was that the prejudice/preferences of the group dares not speak their name. Instead, there were code words and elaborate ritual displays and habitual haunts that allowed you to determine who was like you - with whom it was safe to let down your hair, and when you could let your inner bigot/queen out to frolic.

The false marriage was the ultimate refuge of the queer then. It had the advantage of being so hypocritical that it seemed impossible that it could all be just a lie. From the safe base of operations that was the happy hetero marriage, covert homosexuality could be more easily indulged, and more convincingly denied if people began to get wise.

Patriotic concern over immigration is likewise the ultimate refuge of the racist today. If a whiff of racism should wrinkle the nose of the public it can be more easily dismissed as solely the requirement of conscientious citizenship from within the unassailable refuge of national security. The same unthinkable level of hypocrisy that protected the married queer now protects the bigoted cowards who seek to hide inside the last refuge - patriotism.

The racist anti-immigrant agenda, characterized by advocacy of more punitive and authoritarian immigration measures, more law enforcement resources focused on immigration, and more militarization as the preferred means to prevent and deter undocumented immigration and to punish foreign nationals here without approval, is rooted in racist attitudes. Here’s why: these views universally characterize immigrants as ‘the other’ with malign motives, low morals, a propensity for criminal behavior (after all they broke the law to get here…) and other undesirable traits. Immigration racists never see undocumented immigration as the consequence of conditions we create and control, but only as the ethically questionable choice of the individual immigrant who can be deterred by high enough penalties, thorough enough enforcement, and draconian enough legal impediments (see Prop 200 for example).

The more the immigration racist/queer protests that their issue/marriage is purely economic/legitimate, or crime related/for reproduction, or national security based/for companionship, the more the issue/marriage is shown to be nothing but a front for racism/homosexuality. The real difference is that in the case of the homosexual hiding in a hetero marriage, the shame was on society for making him hide who he loves, whereas in the case of the immigration racist it is the bigot who should be ashamed and his hatred should be exposed for all to see.

I’m glad that homosexuals no longer have to hide hypocritically behind an institution that I genuinely esteem. Hopefully one day, all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, can openly share their lives with the person they love. Perhaps one day, too, people without ulterior racist motivations will control the agenda of undocumented immigration. Then we will see proposals that address the human needs represented by the flow of undocumented workers across our southern border. Such proposals won’t cater to our human need to choose villains and heroes, a pig-headed desire to simply outlaw what we don’t like or understand without considering the consequences, and they won’t be as media-friendly as a bunch of racist vigilantes patrolling in the desert. But unlike the proposals of the immigration racists, they will actually work.

Michael: GOP's Inconsistent Positions on Med Mal Caps and UA Med School Expansion

The Arizona GOP still seeks ineffective Med Mal compensation caps as a panacea for rising medical costs and inadequate physician supply. Arizona Capital Media reports that GOP lawmakers are going to attempt to place a Med Mal compensation cap on the ballot in 2006. Republicans claim that ‘reform’ is needed to contain medical costs, despite the failure of compensation caps to reduce medical costs, or even slow inflation below the national average in any state adopting these draconian anti-patient ‘reforms’. Some also indicate that Med Mal caps will help retain physicians in the state who might be driven out of the market by usuriously high Med Mal premiums (though oddly you will NEVER hear a Republican advocate regulating Med Mal insurers – they only advocate legally limiting the contractual obligations of those insurers so they can make more money, which is the invariable result of compensation caps).

Despite these false and misleading claims about compensation caps, the simple fact is that Republicans supporting these ‘reforms’ have no interest in strengthening medical care for Arizona’s citizens. Only Med Mal insurers’ bottom lines are helped by compensation caps, nobody else is, certainly not consumers.

The fundamental disinterest of the GOP in providing quality medical care to Arizona’s citizens is clearly demonstrated by the on-going fight to secure funding for an extension of the U of A Medical School to a new campus in Phoenix. Three GOP controlled legislative committees refused to fund the Governor’s program, despite the support of the medical community and the demonstrable need for expanded capacity in Arizona to train new physicians. The very slight startup costs achieved by the extension’s planners would cost effectively expand the future pool of Arizona based doctors.

If GOP politicians were serious about addressing the medical needs of Arizona’s citizens, they would have leapt at the chance to expand the medical school. Instead, they dug in their heels against the proposal, which has been slowed down by the two-tier funding structure GOP budget negotiators extracted in the budget negotiation. So, a few years from now, should you be unable to be awarded by a jury the full and reasonable cost of taking care of a loved one harmed by a negligent doctor, you will have the GOP to thank. When you are able to find a qualified specialist physician you need in your community, you can thank Governor Napolitano for making a new medical school in Arizona a top priority. Arizona’s Neo-Cons clearly value the interests of big insurance companies’ needs over yours, whereas Janet values what all decent folk value, Arizona citizens’ health and well-being.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Michael: Napolitano's Budget Compromise

Many Democrats are upset by the deal that Governor Napolitano cut a deal with GOP lawmakers to secure the final components of her budget priorities: 17 million in all-day kindergarten funding and 7 million for an extension of the U of A medical school in Phoenix. Some would have preferred she go to the mat, veto the budget, and shut down the government if needs be. The terms of Napolitano’s deal speaks volumes about the thinking of radical Republicans on the likely public perception of a shut down. There is little doubt Napolitano would have fared better than the legislative Neo-Cons, and they are well aware of that fact. But we can’t afford to imperil the lock the Governor seems to have on re-election in 2006 – she’s the best weapon we Democrats have in stopping the radicals. With over 40 vetoes to her credit, just imagine how much worse things would be without a strong and popular Democratic governor keeping the legislative radicals in check.

I would remind Democrats that the Governor stood firm against vouchers, denying the radicals an important legal tool for diverting yet more public school funds to private schools, and she cut more than 90% of the GOP’s demanded corporate tax diversions to private scholarships. In addition, she was able to put in place important mechanisms to exercise oversight of private schools receiving diverted tax revenues. To my mind, the Governor made an excellent, and skillful, deal.

Some are concerned that the door has been opened to growth in the size of tax revenue diversions to private schools. But that threshold was passed long ago when individual tax diversions to private scholarships where allowed. The sad truth is that Napolitano is fighting a desperate rearguard action against an all-out assault on our public schools by GOP ideologues and religious extremists. If we win every battle in as lopsided a manner as the Governor won this one, we’ll be doing well.

If voters want to stop the assault on our public schools, and reverse the budgetary neglect that has buried our state at the bottom of the heap in per child educational spending, we have to do more than rely on Governor Napolitano. We will need kick the GOP radicals out and elect many more moderate Republicans and Democrats to the state legislature.

Unless you want to see American Madrassas funded by state taxes, perhaps it is time to get serious about supporting GOP moderates. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, and Republican moderates have no love for their party’s right wing radicals. At this point, many moderate Republicans are really more at home, policy wise, in the Democratic Party than in their own. Perhaps Democrats should register as Republicans for primary battles in heavily Republican districts. Perhaps Democrats should openly support moderate Republicans who run for office. But one thing the crisis we face surely does not mean is complaining when Napolitano brings home a major victory at such a minor cost.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Michael: GWOT Making World Less Safe

Bush was asked last week in a rare press conference if the “number of troops you’ve left tied up in Iraq” are limiting military options elsewhere that might be of higher priority. He replied that his Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff “doesn’t feel we’re limited” in our capacity to fight other engagements.

This week, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff issued an annual risk assessment report that says the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan could hamper U.S. ability to fight other wars. Specifically, the report noted that the risk of troops casualties would be greater and engagements could be longer and cause more collateral damage (i.e. innocent deaths and loss of property) because the military is stretched thin with the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The situation is likely only to get worse if military recruiters continue to come up short of their targets.

It is striking how misleading Bush statement was in light of the actual facts. While not a lie, his statement cuts very close to the boundary of honesty by dint of over-simplification. The report, of which he was surely aware, states that additional operations would have their effectiveness degraded - though he is right that the Pentagon’s assessment doesn’t say operations couldn’t be done, or that the President would be limited in his options. But the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan clearly are endangering not only the troops on the ground there, but are also degrading the survivability and effectiveness of other possible missions.

Lowered survivability and effectiveness in future conflicts actually translates to a significant strategic disadvantage in dealing with potential military hot spots. The knowledge that future military operations will be more costly for us in terms of casualties is sure to embolden potential adversaries and negotiating partners. In fact, Chairman Gen. Meyers specifically warned in his Congressional testimony that potential adversaries should not feel encouraged by this news, which is the surest means to tell that they certainly will be, and with good reason.

Bush was also asked about the suppressed State Department statistics showing that terrorist attacks had tripled in 2004. Bush responded with that horrible line about fighting terror overseas so we don't have to fight them here. There are two reasons this is specious reasoning; globalization and chauvinism.

Globalization flattens the world, making the movement of goods and people in commerce vastly easier. More terrorists making more attacks overseas isn't a good sign, as Bush would have us believe. It is a sign that there are more terrorist who are more active and who have not yet decided to attack American domestic targets, but it is just a matter of time, really. When terrorists intend to attack inside the United States, the nature of our open, democratic, and free market society means that they will succeed. There is no way to win the 'War on Terror' by security measures or by military action alone. The only way to win is to have the other side decide you are no longer a legitimate or useful target, or stop fighting entirely.

The chauvinism in Bush's statement is breathtaking. No wonder the whole world hates the man. He implies that so long as terrorists aren't striking on U.S. soil, everything is OK. Politically, he is correct. American's aren't going to pay as much attention to overseas attacks, even if they are against U.S. citizens. But the fact remains that people are dying in record numbers due to terrorist attacks inspired by Bush's policies. These are innocent people being murdered, the fact that they aren't in the U.S., or not U.S. citizens, should give Bush no pass on his share of responsibility for the carnage.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Michael: 'Homeland' Online

I recently revisited a novella I wrote a while back called "Homeland". It was a tongue in cheek way of framing some of my more paranoid concerns about the "War on Terror". I made some small revisions to reflect current politics, and decided to post it online. I have started a micro-blog to make it available to anyone who is interested.

I would be honored if you decided to read it: Homeland.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Michael: The Vision Thing

GOPigI’m sick to death of Republicans maligning Democrats as being obstructionist and not having any ideas or solutions of their own. It’s gotten so bad that even some Democratic consultants and pundits, who really ought to know better, have joined the refrain.

The truth is that the House has been turned into a rubber stamp machine for the Republican Caucus. New and draconian rules of proceedure prevent Democrats from submitting bills, and they are often restricted from even being able to offer amendments to GOP legislation and get an ‘up or down’ vote. Yet those hypocrites complain about not getting a ‘fair’ vote on Bush’s theo-facsist judicial nominees.

How can the minority have anything to say if they don’t even have an institutional voice? Voting on and debating bills makes news; announcements of the bills the minority party would have liked to have a vote on seldom does. Even so, they do try. Saying that Democrats don’t offer America ideas is like raping a woman and then calling her a slut.

Nor is the agenda the GOP is pushing focused on the lives and concerns of average Americans. Social Security ‘reform’, the central issue of the GOP this year, proposes counter-productive changes for a system that won’t experience any difficulties for over a decade and is perfectly solvent for a least a generation. Yet when there is a real crisis, it goes begging for attention from the GOP. For instance, the vastly larger and immediate crisis in Medicare is going unaddressed. Apparently, there is no political upside to dealing with that crisis.

The federal budget deficit is ballooning out of control, and instead of addressing it the GOP is using accounting tricks to disguise it. Their trickery might confound what passes for the press these days and the average American, but it won’t fool the central bankers who set our de facto credit rating in the world. Our trade imbalance grows ever more alarming and has contributed greatly to the over 30% slide in the value of the dollar against the Euro recently, yet the GOP does nothing to rectify the problem. It seems a common pattern for the GOP is to only take on the most tractable issues and ignore our most pressing problems. The GOP has become quite practiced a fiddling quite entertainingly while Rome burns.

The GOP has built its ‘revolution’ on tax relief, but I sure haven’t seen much of it. The GOP mortgaged our future and cut vital programs for our veterans and seniors to pay for ending the dynasty tax that would only affect a tiny percentage of very wealthy Americans when they die. When presented with a Democratic alternative exempting all small businesses and farms (the excuse GOP pols used to justify their actions), they brushed it aside. GOP tax ‘reform’ looks a lot like an excuse for eliminating taxes on non-labor income, i.e. the income and assets of the wealthy.

“Tort reform” was also high on the GOP’s agenda. The GAO estimated that liability caps on malpractice awards would reduce medical inflation by less than 1%, at the expense of those most harmed by our medical system. Despite the weakness of their case, the GOP pressed ahead and acted as if they had solved the health care crisis in America. In reality, they won’t go near the issues of affordability, portability, or universal coverage as that might alienate the health care industry. And then they accuse Democrats, who have put forward several viable plans to make health care more affordable and accessible during the Presidential campaign, of not having any vision.

I will admit, the GOP does have a vision. They call it the ‘ownership society’. What it really amounts to is shifting the risks of our free market system to those least able to bear it, the workers and families of America. Their vision is little more than a rehash of Gilded Age America where big business cavorted unfettered over the broken lives of American workers, and the wealthy felt no sense of responsibility for the public welfare.

From bailouts and monstrous tax handouts to favored industries to limiting the liability of industries with no consideration returned to the public in exchange, the GOP has proven that it’s only real vision is one in which their donors’ dividends and equity are on the march.

Yes, the GOP has a vision for America, but it’s no place I want to live.

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