Sunday, July 31, 2005

Michael: Ramirez Cartoon Mired in Stereotype

I read the paper pretty religiously; one of a declining share of Americans who do so. Some of my favorite features are the cartoons. Whether they are just for fun, or the more serious commentary of the editorial type, I love how they convey a powerful message with style and emotional expressivity.

Needless to say, I think editorial cartoons are a form of free speech of great political and cultural significance and should never be censored by the publisher. However, I was greatly offended and saddened at the flip and offensive stereotyping employed by Editorial cartoonist Michael Ramirez in Sunday's Opinion section of the Arizona Daily Star. Here is the panel:

Michael Ramirez, posted under fair use for criticism and commentary

Now, I don't think that the Star's editors should have censored this expression of Mr. Ramirez's opinion in any way, even though his work offended me on many levels. I simply claim the right to criticize his work. That's the way this country is supposed to work; not by writing angry letters to get the editors to pull anything that might offend someone, especially someone in power, such as Turd Blossom.

I find Ramirez’s depiction of organized labor as extinct dinosaurs bickering uselessly about their direction as the worst sort of anti-working class bigotry and stereotyping. Unions have not only played a vital role in winning the sorts of working conditions most Americans, including non-union employees, take for granted, and paid for those advances for the American worker in blood, unions are vital to the sort of productivity gains and involved workforce management techniques that keep American business competitive. Unionized shops have better outcomes for everyone, from workers, to owners and management, to host communities.

Past, present, and future, unions are vital to the progress and well being of the American worker. How could it rationally be otherwise? Who else is looking out for American workers? Certainly not multinational corporations who are swapping out American workers for cheaper labor like any other fungible factor of production. Certainly not the political establishment which is voting the American worker out of existence with free trade agreements which benefit no one but international capital holders. Without unions to articulate the dreams and aspirations of America's workers, not to mention negotiate the nitty-gritty details of industrial relations with employers and governments, everyone who works for a living would immediately feel the loss.

30 years of declining real wages in America have coincided with the systematic de-unionization of labor in the service sector workforce. That sad fact points to the one valid point Mr. Ramirez's cartoon points out; American labor does have to adapt or die out. The SEIU-Teamsters should be depicted as a small mammal. Their aim, to revitalize the labor movement by focusing intensively on recruitment and unionizing new shops and industries, is exactly the sort of evolutionary adaptation that is needed to make the American labor movement flourish in the next century and to bring much needed equity between workers and management back to the 21st century American workplace.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Michael: Nepotism Personified

Goldwater's nephew is going to enter the primary for the AZ GOP Gubernatorial primary. You can do worse than having a name like Goldwater in Arizona politics. Of course, they said the same to Paul Babbitt, who went down to first term incumbent Congressional pipsqueek Rick Renzi last year.

On the other hand, there are Udalls in prominent offices in New Mexico and Colorado (though, oddly, not Arizona). Who knows? Maybe Arizonans are somewhat resistant to being star-struck by a political family name.

Don Goldwater will have an uphill fight in the primary with Greene, Green (if he's still in...), and Bennett all slugging it out. I don't know Don's politics too well yet, but as he was at one time the head of the Goldwater Institute (which is way right of Barry, BTW), he's likely to be running up the right side of the field. Not a bad position to be in for the primary, but as Matt Salmon will testify, perhaps not the best position for the Big Game.

Michael: Juan Crow

Today most of us look back in horror at the system of legalized political repression and economic exclusion of black Americans that persisted for more than a century after the Civil War. Most cannot not imagine that treating people in such a way could possibly be considered just or right. But many did consider it right. Some privately still do.

Were all those people bad? Obviously not. They were the product of the assumptions of their culture and the prevailing social norms. They were taught from birth that blacks were inferior and undeserving of a better lot. They fervently defended those misguided beliefs and the political fallout from the effort to dismantle Jim Crow is felt still today. Some would, with some justice, claim Jim Crow still hasn’t been completely abolished.

Today new social norms struggle for dominance which hold that people who are in this country illegally seeking employment and betterment of their lives are undeserving of a chance to earn a better lot in life. Some believe immigrants constitute a threat to our national security, our moral fibre, and our way of life, and should be excluded from the American dream under any terms. There are increasing numbers of laws that seek to punish, repress, and exclude these people from the wider society. There are even some who are taking matters into their own hands and forming posses to harass and possibly even kill these people.

At what point does this trend toward legally and culturally demonizing and marginalizing undocumented immigrants constitute a new ‘Juan Crow’ that our descendants will have to struggle to dismantle? Aside from all the rhetoric on both sides of this issue, one simple fact remains: every undocumented immigrant is a human being deserving of basic rights.

Our response to undocumented immigration should be to address the causes of the ongoing tidal wave of migration of the past decade, not to build a racist and insular legal edifice in vain attempt to exclude the newcomers, or to demonize those caught in the tide. How foolish to alienate a growing and vital de facto part of the American community.

At one point our nation’s highest law said that a black man could never be a citizen of this country, either. If facts as immutable as skin color and parentage can be overcome to recognize the human rights of former slaves, how long can a mere legal status of ‘undocumented’ stand between human beings and their natural human rights in nation of free people?

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Michael: Ask John Roberts

Got a zinger for Roberts? Now you have a way to submit your question for the confirmation hearing, courtesy your Democratic Women's Sentorial Caucus.

Democracy: it can be a cool thing in the right hands.

Here's my question (or question and follow-ups, more accurately...):

What is the extent of state soveriegn immunity in your view? Are states immune to suit by their citizens for violations of their constitutional civil rights and statutory rights granted by Congress? What limitations, if any, are there on Congressional power to abrograte States' immunity? In the line of cases from City of Boerne, to College Savings Bank, and Kimmel do you agree with the reasoning of the majority of the Court or the minority, and why?

One major area of Supreme Court activism has to been knit a shelter for States to avoid liability for violation of civil rights from the tatters of that odd chimera 'sovereign immunity'. The views of the next Supreme Court Justice on this doctrine are critical matter for his confirmation, in my view.

For more details, I recommend 'Narrowing the Nation's Power' by 9th Circuit Justice John T. Noonan. The New York Times said of Noonan's book in an August 21, 2002 editorial:

"The Supreme Court's conservative justices say they practice judicial restraint and accuse their liberal colleagues of activism. But a conservative federal judge has just written a blistering book arguing that the court's conservatives are actually engaged in a huge power grab, under the banner of respect for the states, that seriously erodes the rights of ordinary Americans."

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Michael: The Turning of the Tide

A USAToday poll indicates that 51% of Americans now believe the Bush Administration deliberately misled the public about whether Saddam Hhussein had WMD. 58% say that the U.S. will not be able to establish a stable, democratic government in Iraq. 32% say we can't win the war in Iraq, another 21% think we could win, but haven't the will or leadership to do so.

These polling results show two things clearly: the majority of people don't trust the Bush Administration on Iraq anymore and public confidence in Bush's handling of the Iraq war is in deepening decline. Yet despite this, Americans retain a fundamental optimism and support for the troops and the overall mission: asked whether it was a mistake to send troops to Iraq, an astounding 53% say it wasn't a mistake.

What does this tell us? Two things. Americans, rightly or wrongly, still tend to believe that good may yet come of this complete fiasco. Secondly, because of how poor Bush's record on this war is, we are going to see GOP leadership starting to go their own way in offering solutions to the problems of the mission in Iraq - especially those casting an eye toward 2008.

Such a questioning of orthodoxy and willingness to hold the Bush Administration accountable within the GOP can only be a positive development. It is the monolithic support for the Bush Administration, come what may, that is most responsible for the mess we are now in. You can't run a war by consensus, but neither can a war be won when the leader is a nincompoop and people follow him blindly into error.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Michael: The Day the 4th Amendment Died

The House OKed renewed almost all PATRIOT Act powers on a largely partisan vote of 257-171. The Senate will take up reauthorization next. I pray that they will show greater restraint and wisdom.

The PATRIOT Act was born as a wizz-bang grab-bag of police powers that federal law enforcement had been pipe-dreaming about for decades. It was only the tragedy of 9/11 that allowed it to pass with only one NO vote (the brave Sen. Fiengold), and no public debate.

Now, it is being reauthorized with little debate on how it's been used for the past 4 years, little evidence that the new powers are effective, nor any requirement that the new powers be used only for terrorism investigation. In fact, the evidence we do have, from Ashcroft's report on the Act and Senate hearings, suggests the new powers are overwhelmingly being used for standard criminal investigations, and even domestic spying on peaceful domestic activists. I do not approve of my government stripping me of my constitutional rights so that the FBI and DEA can improve their stats on street and drug busts and keep tabs on civil rights lawyers and whale-huggers.

It seems to me questionable, even ill-considered timing that reauthorization be taken up so close to the events of 7/7. I don't suggest any conspiracy, but it does seem that the GOP is striking while the iron is still hot, so to speak, to reauthorize an immensely unpopular, and constitutionally suspect set of laws. Some of the PATRIOT provisions are sensible and useful reforms which should be retained, no doubt, but too many cut so deeply into the heart of the 4th Amendment, it doesn't seem likely to survive.

With the independent judiciary being actively attacked from the Right (even according to Justice O'Connor), the bench may be too weak, and too ideologically compromised, to vigorously protect Americans' rights under the 4th against PATRIOT's assault in a 'time of war,' especially when ever expanding capability of both private and goverment snoops to dataveil a citizen's every step, it may just be a matter of time before the 4th is as much dead letter law as the Priviledges and Immunities clause.

If our right to a sphere of privacy around our daily affairs is only respected in the breach, rather than in the main, the result will be the end of America as a place where the right to be let alone can be take as granted. Is that the America that lives in in your heart? It's not the one in mine.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

The Real Role Model From Texas

Lance Armstrong

There is one Texan today who embodies the ethics of hard work, courage in the face of adversity, and humility despite obvious greatness. Yellow should never signify cowardice again.

Real heroes and role models in sports seemed a naive notion of the past not too long ago. Professional athletes who act like rock stars and pampered trust fund babies are more dispriting than uplifting. Armstrong has shown how a noble spirit can lift any human endeavor to the sublime, even if it's just riding your bike.

Michael: White House Won't Show All Roberts' Papers

In the first genuine controversy of the Roberts confirmation process the White House has said they will refuse to disclose some materials written by Roberts during his time with first Bush, and possibly the Regan Administrations. Their justification is that that it would violate attorney-client privilege and chill candor of communication between the President and his advisors.

Both excuses are pretextual. Government lawyers do not act as personal counsel to the President when working on government business. There is no attorney-client privilege between Roberts and any of the Presidents in who's Administrations he has served. As to chilling frank communication between the advisor and the President, that too is ridiculous. The public's business is public, save for information which could imperil ongoing military or covert operations. A lawyer asked to prepoare a memo advising a course of action is trying to achieve the client's goals and interpret the law in the most favorable and persuasive manner. No lawyer worth his salt is going to worry about how that makes him look in a hypothetical future disclosure. But the views expressed in such communications may shed light on a lawyer's own views and temperment, which are valid subjects of inquiry in a hearing for a lifetime appointment - in fact, they are the most salient subjects.

The simple fact is that there are undoubtedly positions taken in those materials that Roberts and the Administration would rather not have to explain of defend. But explaining his views of the law is the duty of Judge Roberts in this confirmation. It is the public's right to know Judge Roberts' views as embodied in the work product of his career. If some of it can be misinterpreted by the public, it is Roberts' place to correct that interpretation and explain himself. We deserve no less from someone who will have a profound impact on American law for a generation.

This episode is a part of a seamless programme of stonewalling and secrecy that this Administration has followed from day one. In their view, the public has no right to know the public's business, except as suits the politicians. It is unfortunate that politics have degenerated to the point where a nominee's views need to kept secret for fear that the media and the opposition will sensationalize and decontextualize the record might reveal. The confirmation process should be sufficient that anything inflammatory can be given proper context and weight. Things which are not just inflammatory, but genuinely disqualifying, should be brought out in hearings, and should prevent the nominee from being confirmed. The process of advise and consent isn't a rubber stamp for the Executive's whim, it is the Constitional duty of a co-equal branch of government.

Unfortunately, the political environment of personal attacks the GOP and the media have fostered make considered judgements rare in D.C. these days. This Adminstration's stonewalling is simply fear of what might happen to Robert's confirmation in the climate they have themselves promoted. The victims of the GOP's poisoning of our political atmosphere may be the public's right to know Roberts' legal views, and Roberts' right to a full and fair confirmation hearing.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Michael: Guilty Children

One mark of mature responsibility is the willingness to own up to mistakes and atone for the harm caused. Children who have learned to distinguish right from wrong, but haven't yet acquired the good sense to avoid doing wrong, have a typical response to their own mistakes: they cover them up. They try to hide the evidence. They lie with outrageous abandon. They ask others to lie for them. They threaten others with dire repercusions if they fail to lie for them. They'll do just about anything to cover up their misdeeds, including more misdeeds. It's just what children do. Which is why we try to avoid giving children any vital responsibilties; it's just asking for a disaster.

That is why the Administration's desperate attempts to hide the evidence of horrible wrongdoing at Abu Ghraib and other detension facilities are so troubling. They are trying to hide the graphic and horrifying evidence of murder, rape and torture (yes, not just 'rough interrogation' happened there) that would open Americans' eyes to just how completely this Administration had failed in its responsibilities. It's very much like a pack of guilty, willful children are running our country. It should give you nightmares; if it doesn't, you never spent much time with children.

It is also why the Plame Game, or Rove v. Wave, or whatever you want to call it, is actually important. Just like children caught spreading nasty rumours, or telling a secret they shouldn't have, Rove and Libby are certainly 'shading the truth' (lying) about their role in outting Plame. (And if anyone leaves some assinine comment about how it wasn't a crime, or Plame wasn't really under cover, I'm going to find you and break your legs.) They compromised national security to further their mud fight, now they are desparately engaged in covering it up. It this play were not backed by the White House, it would just be a few naughty kids, but apparently there are no adults residing at the White House now. The place should be called Neverland East.

Every time this Administration does something illegal, immoral, unethical, stupid, or just plain incompetent, its first instinct is hide the evidence and lie flagrantly, just like a guilty child. But they have immense power, the savvy to lawyer up, and the presumptive secrecy of national security on their side - not to mention a compliant media ready to broadcast their lies - which naughty children don't. But as far as I can see, that's as far as the difference goes.

Tonight, when you are in bed, your family snugged away for the night, think of a mischievious child about to be caught in a terrible, life destroying mistake with his finger on The Button. It's going to be a long night.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Michael: Foreign Exchange with Fareed Zakaria

Foreign Exchange with Fareed Zakaria | Where America Meets the World:

For those who saw Zakaria on the Daily Show and would like to see his show, it is not been picked up by any Arizona PBS stations yet. Call your local PBS station and request it. In the meantime, it is available on a video stream from the website.

I watched the current week's show. It explored issues in depth, used regional experts, not talking heads, and approached issues in the spirit of journalistic inquiry, not ideology. Strongly recommended.

Stuart Heady: Pull out of the Paradigm - and Iraq

Re-edited and Replublished at Common Dreams.

Back in 1990, as the first Gulf War progressed, a memo outlining long term strategy was issued by Central Command that pointed out how water treatment and sewage system damage could be used against a civilian population in a desert region.

Accordingly, sewage treatment plants and water purification systems were bombed and subsequently the sanctions prevented repair. The theory was that Saddam would feel pressure or would be overthrown by a public that would conclude their suffering was his fault and wouldn’t see the U.S. as the source of their woe.

Humanitarian observers and the British Medical Association studied the effects and had concluded that by 2000 as many as 500,000 children, old people and adults had died because of drinking septic water which had caused diseases like dysentery and cholera.

Most people are unaware of this because the press was largely uninterested, and both political parties supported the sanctions policy. Americans, like it or not, seem historically impervious to the suffering of other peoples, especially if they are seen as not white.

Saddam was a brutal thug, morally worse than Al Capone. No question about it. But we can’t shut our eyes to our own long-term relationship with him. Essentially, Saddam was our creature. We gave him billions in military support, without which he might never have survived long enough to be more than an obscure local figure.

Many foreign policy efforts of the past decades, in the Middle East, in Central America, and in Southeast Asia, have been based on ruthless thinking. Separating the tactics we have used in achieving policy goals from the moral values of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution that we hold so dear has given American foreign policy a more and more dark face many Americans are not prepared to appreciate.

In fact, we seem to be going back to the worst nineteenth century approach to dealing with other peoples. One might draw a useful historical comparison between the use of deadly diseases arising from our prevention of repairs to sewage treatment plants in Iraq, to tactics intended to weaken and destroy the resistance of native peoples through killing the buffalo herds they depended upon and the fabled distribution of blankets infected with smallpox.

This widening distance between our tactics and our values indicate it is time to call for a change larger than just a pullout from Iraq. We must withdraw from our deeply entrenched way of looking at other peoples in the world and our way of responding to them. This will require considering deeper issues than we are used to addressing in our current political culture. Certainly, the media won’t have much attention span for the process- if the advertisers they depend upon even permit such deep questioning of the status quo. We must do more than cleverly reframe the issues. We must look at the tectonic plate issues that underly the whole political landscape.

Oil is one such crucial issue. This resource has become so central to our civilization and our economy that if it were no longer available tomorrow, our civilization would surely collapse. Oil is a resource that has taken millions of years to develop, and yet is half gone after a little more than a century of pumping it out of the ground. We have no plan for what comes next.

The best thinking our current leadership can come up with is to pump it out of the ground faster, encourage more consumption, and go to war to secure access to the oil fields under other nations’ territories. Our leaders are acting like a teenage kid trying to reassure a date that there is plenty of gas in the tank by pumping on the gas pedal to race his muscle car’s engine.

Democrats are in a position (if we can find the courage) to call for real international cooperation to lead the way in making sure that the largest number of humans (not to mention other species) can survive into the twenty-second century, with something like the chances for economic prosperity we’ve enjoyed, if not better. In the last election, Kerry failed to do this, and to make it central to the debate. If Democrats continue to fail to see a political opportunity in responding to the Republican effort to keep the debate focused on trivial and superficial issues by ripping the cover off of the true nature of our historic situation, we will have missed our moment. Future history will record our efforts as tragically shortsighted.

The greatest issue in the world today is how economic prosperity can be balanced with sustainable resource use. The Bush administration is so caught up in nineteenth century view of the world that it is unable to produce a reality-based response to to the direst emergency in our civilization’s history.

It may be that truly important issues cannot be effectively addressed through governmental policy unless a groundswell develops in public opinion that makes action absolutely unavoidable.

Thus, discussing and planning how to move forward with an alternative energy plan, and taking a tough and critical look at the consumer economy is imperative. Even more important is to work for real change in the private sector and local government, seeding the public debate with new ideas, innovations, and practical successes. People are dying in Iraq and other places because of the nineteenth century-minded thinking in which our government is stuck, its time for us to get out the mindset and push.

We have to withdraw from our present way of thinking about the world we live in. We have to withdraw from the siren song of stay-the-course platitudes of this Administration and much of the Democratic leadership. The situation in Iraq could provide an opportunity to begin anew. Ending the occupation of Iraq isn’t a destination, it is starting point from which to free ourselves, and the Democratic Party from the temptation to be stuck in debates focused on the past instead of moving towards the best potential for the 21st century that lives in all our dreams.

Posted on behalf of Stuart Heady of Tsaile, Arizona.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Michael: Almost Surely Wrong Prognostication

Speculation regarding the 2008 ticket is really only interesting for the second chair; the top slots are locked up before a single vote is cast or husting mounted (boy, I love that term - seems sleazy, and generally is).


Hil will be the Democratic nominee. DLCers are stilled larded throughout the party and the important PACs. Add to that Dean's neutral (one might even say neutered) position, Bill's considerable clout and charisma, and the party's absolute deperation for a 'best chance' candidate, and the deal is sealed.

VP will be whomever demonstrates the best ability in the primary to flip western states and/or fringe southern states, and FL. This will probably be Clark, Warner, or Richardson, and an outside chance to Edwards. Gore won't run because Hil will suck the heart out of any base he has.

I would bet on Warner and hedge with Richarson. They are both great policians, geographically positioned, well-connected, and governors. I give Warner the edge because he has less history, isn't seen as a Clintonite, and is a Southerner. I can't discount Richardson because he is a Clintonite and he's a hispanic Southwesterner with lots of energy policy and international experience. Wes has too many GOP and mil-industrial-surveillance connections to be a comfortable for many Dems, despite that we love a military hero. Edwards is a Southerner, but he only served briefly in the Senate, couldn't carry his own state, and has the stink of failure about him.


You saw the GOP nominee being chosen when McCain hugged Bush at the 04 convention. There was a cost to that gesture and it was Bush's Pioneer list and the power to milk it. McCain has the mo, the saavy, the center straddle, and the institutional support. He can't lose, despite his unpopularity with Wingers. They will come to realize that they will have to live with McCain because they don't have another viable horse in the race.

VP for the GOP is likely to be just a sop to the Wingers. Could be anyone to the right of Ghengis Khan. It doesn't really matter who, their views will be predictable, but mustn't conflict overly with McCain's. I would be surprised by someone like Tancredo who is riding the anti-immigrant wave. I suspect it will be one of the Wingers' favorite sons, such as Brownback. Condi is a non-starter; not because she's a black woman, but because she's a complete incompetent. Powell would be a great call, but two relative moderates is more than the GOP can currently dish up.


GOP fatigue more than anything else is going to put Hil in the WH in 08, barring a major stumble. Her husband's sexual shennanigans will be used against her by the GOP as ammo for their shit cannon, but it will ultimately benefit her. Again, due to Americans getting fed up with the shit cannon. After a few years of the GOP at the steering wheel, the pedals, the turn signals, and the hood-mounted shit cannon, America will opt again for divided government. They will give Hil the steering wheel and may also decide to throw Democrats the Senate (the brake pedal) if they're persuasive. The shit cannon's pivot generally doesn't allow it to be pointed directly at the driver, except in extraordinary circumstances, so the GOP will lose interest in using it as much.

OK, now that I'm on the record, I will wait for history to prove me utterly wrong.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Michael: Routing Around Failure

The internet is a good model for how power is structured in a globalized information-based society. Just as on the internet, if even a major node in the global network fails, the business of the world simply routes around the failure. So, too, with world politics today; the Bush Administration has utterly failed to deliver leadership on key common issues facing the world today. In response, the world is routing around the failure.

Enter former President Clinton’s Global Initiative. Clinton has established a conference, modeled on Davos, drawing eminent figures from government and the private sector to discuss four topics of global concern on the eve of the UN annual session in New York. The topics discussed may change from year to year, but, unlike Davos, each invitee will asked to give a personal pledge to make a change on at least one topic at the end of the conference, and be held to account by Clinton for it the next year.

The four topics this year read like a litany of the Bush Administration’s failures of leadership in a globalized world: poverty, religious conflict and reconciliation, climate change, and good governance. As we saw at the G8 conference, the Bush Administration has proven unwilling to take seriously the issue of global poverty. As we see daily in the ongoing divisive rhetoric of the ‘war on terror’, the Bush Administration has proven unable to defuse the escalating tension between the world’s religious traditions. The broken Kyoto accords, the empty gestures toward hydrogen power, and the overflowing pork-barrel the Bush Administration ironically calls an ‘energy policy’ demonstrate the utter failure of this Administration to plan for the world’s future energy needs. Despite the illegitimate election of 2000, the voters’ rights abuses of subsequent elections, the electoral farces staged in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the ever-widening campaign finance scandals besmirching the entire political process, the Bush Administration remains steadfastly committed to business as usual. On these most critical global concerns, this Administration is 0 for 4.

In the global network required for creation of a better world, the White House node is down. So, in the classic conservative tradition, the role of leading the world on the most important challenges we face will have to be privatized. And none too soon.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Michael: Russia & China Demand U.S. Get Out of Central Asia

In what is likely the most important overlooked story in recent months the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO, or the Shanghai Five) which includes Russia, China, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, issued a joint statement demanding the withdrawal of American forces from member countries. This is a surprising and troubling anti-American move that demonstrates a growing accord on security as well as development issues between member countries, especially Russia and China.

America has operated major bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan since 2001 in support of the Afghani and Iraqi wars and anti-terror operations in the region. The possible loss of these bases is a serious blow to American capabilities in the region. More disturbing than the immediate military impact of this development is the emerging anti-American alignment of the Shanghai Five under Chinese and Russian leadership. This alliance, should it continue to deepen, would represent a pan-Asian power bloc which could become a major economic and military rival in the future.

The deepest irony of such a development is that this is exactly the sort of rival power center which the Neo-Cons' Project for a New American Century was concerned about preventing. Following the doctrinal imperatives of that strategy document led us to war with Iraq, to a policy of unilateral foreign policy, and to a contentious and dictatorial diplomatic stance that has pushed other major powers into in each other's arms in order to counter us. Following PNAC may have helped create in the SCO exactly the rival that its authors feared.

Michael: Hersh on the WH's Attempt to Influence the Iraqi Elections

From The New Yorker:

"A Pentagon consultant who deals with the senior military leadership acknowledged that the American authorities in Iraq “did an operation” to try to influence the results of the election. “They had to,” he said. “They were trying to make a case that Allawi was popular, and he had no juice.” A government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon’s civilian leaders said, “We didn’t want to take a chance.”

I was informed by several former military and intelligence officials that the activities were kept, in part, “off the books”—they were conducted by retired C.I.A. officers and other non-government personnel, and used funds that were not necessarily appropriated by Congress. Some in the White House and at the Pentagon believed that keeping an operation off the books eliminated the need to give a formal briefing to the relevant members of Congress and congressional intelligence committees, whose jurisdiction is limited, in their view, to officially sanctioned C.I.A. operations. (The Pentagon is known to be running clandestine operations today in North Africa and Central Asia with little or no official C.I.A. involvement.)"

Hersh's article confirms in detail what many have long suspected - this Administration will stop at nothing to get its way, whatever the means. They were, and are, running secret ops off the books to influence the internal affairs of foriegn nations. This is lawlessness and corruption at its worst. For this Administration to speak of democracy and freedom while secretly running covert ops out of the Pentagon's back door is the worst sort of hypocrisy; the kind that damages our national interest and reputation. Just who the hell do these people think they are? They operate as if they are above the law.

Michael: Rove V. Wave

The Media is all abuzz over accusations that Karl Rove was responsible for outting Valerie Plame as an undercover CIA agent. Instead of getting yet another Gate, pundits have dubbed the mounting pressure for Bush to cut Rove lose, Rove v. Wave (of media coverage).

The partisan bickering over Rove's culpability is at high tide, of course, but two facts are rocks amid a sea of uncertainty: Bush promised to fire whomever was responsible for the leak (not whomever was indicted or was found guilty, but whomever did the deed, it must noted), and Rove told Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper in an email that Plame worked for the CIA. Of course, Rove and his lawyers have offered up a number of legal defenses to any possible criminal charges; that he did not use her name, referring to her only as Wilson's wife, and that he was not aware that she was a covert CIA operative, just a run-of-the-mill CIA operative. Whether those defenses will prove adequate may be tested in time, but both contentions are completely beside the point.

There is no doubt that Rove was one source of the leaked identity of Valerie Plame. The only question remaining is whether the Wave will drown Bush's notorious loyalty to his cronies, or whether Rove will manage to hang on to a lifepreserver from the U.S.S. White House. I would be pleased if Mr. Bush showed the nation that he could still keep his word - but I would be far more surprised.

Update: It seems very likely that, like so many in the civilian sector, Rove may be foiled by the Non-Disclosure Agreement he signed as White House employee. His NDA places an affirmative duty upon him NOT to confirm any reporter's inquiry about classified information. Thus by 'simply' confirming what Cooper or Novak may have already known, he violated his NDA. The remedy for such a breach being mandatory termination and revocation of his security clearance. A security clearance that House Democrats have already tried to revoke, but were stymied by a party line vote, BTW.

Update Now Bush is changing the terms of the issue and promising only to fire anyone found to have committed a crime in leaking from the White House. This is a vast shift in the standard of proof by Bush and direct contradiction of his own NDAs. It seems clear that protecting Rove takes precedence over honor and national security for this PResident. By moving the goal posts like this Bush is admitting that Rove violated the nation's trust. The issue of Rove's continuing service in this Administration obviously should be taken out of the PResident's hands. Note: I've changed the date of this post to bring it back to the top of the page because of this breaking news.

Michael: Put Your Loved Ones on ICE

An new idea for cell phone users, popularized in England due to the 7/7 bombings, and now spreading here, helps rescuers quickly locate the next of kin of disaster victims. The idea is really very simple - just put ICE (In Case of Emergency) before the names of those you want notified in an emergency in your cell phone's address book. For example: ICE --- Mommy Dearest.

It is a decentralized, non-invasive, flexible, and widely available fix for an increasingly vexatious and time-consuming problem facing first responders. It's one of those solutions that when you hear it, you just think, "Well, that's perfectly obvious." Boy, if anyone told me a few years ago I'd be enthusiastically passing along a tip for how to deal with being the victim of a terrorist incident, I'd think they were insane. What a different place the 21st century is turning out to be.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Michael: Abrams Doctrine Trips Bush

The nation's Governors are concerned over National Guard deployments in Iraq. Recruiting is 23% under targets and the homeland capability of reserve units is being eroded. Units deployed overseas are cutting into the ability of Governors to meet crises at home. Foreign deployments have a double impact on response to domestic crises; not only are Guard units unavailable, but since a disproportionate number of first responders, such as police, firemen, and paramedics are Guard members, the impact on disaster readiness is even greater.

Expect a major sub-theme of the war in Iraq and counter-terror during the coming bi-elections and the 2008 Presidential campaign to be the impact of Bush's military policies on the short- and long-term capabilities of our armed forces, and especially on the reserve component of the Total Force Concept (the post-Vietnam staffing doctrine put in place following the abolishment of Selective Service, aka the Abrams Doctrine). Already Presidential hopefuls on both sides of the aisle are sounding the alarm about the effect thhe Iraq deployments are having on Guard families, on national security, and on the future of the citizen-soldier. Gov. Warner, a likely 2008 Democratic hopeful said, "We are changing the role of citizen-soldier to soldier-citizen." And Governors aren't just criticizing current policies, many are suggesting changes to the reserve system. Gov. Mitt Romney, a likely 2008 Republican candidate suggested, "we are going to need to recognize the greater demand on the young men and women that serve in the Guard by substantially improving their benefits." Where those additional revenues will come from is anyone's guess when the current Administration is already killing the messengers in its own party over shortfalls in the VA system.

Many military experts see the current force structure as a means of connecting military action to public opinion by requiring the mobilization of the reserves in Guard units from communities across the county. These citizen-soldiers' deployment has a much stronger impact on their communities than would professional soldiers, involving public opinion much more strongly in either support or opposition to a war. Many have characterized the Abrams Doctrine as a force structure with a built-in political tripwire which a President has to pass to accomplish a major deployment. It may not have been Gereral Abrams' intent, but it could be that the force structure he created, and the relationship between the military and civilian secotrs he engineered, does have the effect of creating political accountability for the extended deployment of American troops.

What we see in Iraq, and in homefront opinion of the war, is the reaping of what the Bush Administration sowed by lying their way into war. The initial reaction of the American public was very favorable as they expected to eliminate a grave threat to America and to the world, to do so cheaply with a great deal of 'Coalition' support, and to do so relatively quickly; what they expected was the First Gulf War. What they got was a very different sort of war that has turned out to miscalculated and badly planned at every turn. Declining public support of the Iraq war reflects people's disillusionment with the Pollyanna pronouncements of an increasingly disconnected Administration.

The impact of this war on military families has been much harsher than initially expected, too. The casualites continue to mount, with horrific injuries being sustained by soldiers in the field, even as medical and family benefits are cut and narrowed. Citizen-soldiers expecting, and accepting, the possibility of a tour of duty overseas, despite the great hardships on their families and their professional lives, found themselves forced into multiple tours overseas on a contractual technicality. Families and communities are suffering a great deal for a war that has stretched to much more than the 6 months suggested at the outset.

Abrams' tripwire has been triggered. It is not because Americans are anti-military; they're not. It's not because Americans are against the use of military force; they're not. It's not because Americans don't support our troops; it's because they do. This Administration has done just about everything it can to alienate, denigrate, short-change, exploit, and flat-out lie to the American public, including our soldiers. Now they are begining to feel the backlash. It is a national tragedy that more people didn't recognize earlier an Adminstration that has no regard for Americans' safety and for the people who protect it. When someone is mouthing patriotic words, and dressing up in military costumes, most people aren't cynical enough to think it is just a cover for ideological politics. I'm more cynical that most.

I don't have much hope that the next few years hold out much hope of any sort of redemption for Bush Co. I don't forsee them transforming themselves into a national unity Administration; they only understand dividing, not uniting, despite Bush's hollow and ironic early claims. I only hope that, unlike the aftermath of Vietnam, the damage to our national esteem and the effectiveness of our armed forces is slight and reparable, and that the experience galvanizes Americans to support our troops in the best best way possible - by making peace.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Michael: The Saudi Bomb

The possible nuclear ambitions of Iran have been the source of a lot of sabre rattling in Washington of late, but Saudi Arabia looks to be the real threat for nuclear proliferation in the region. High level ties and exchanges between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, including secretive military purchases, suspect scientific exchanges, 1.2 billion in free oil to Pakistan every year for the past decade, and troubling connections between the Saudis and the A. Q. Khan network, may indicate that Saudi Arabia pursuing an "oil for nukes" program or has already secretly obtained a nuclear capability.

There are strong sympathies between the two governments, including the long-term funding by Saudis of the Pak Madrassas that produced the Taliban and even now are indoctrinating graduates against America. Both Pak ISI and many in the Saudi intelligence services and within the royal family are known to sponsor and sympathize with al Qaida. Given the ties to terrorists and unaswered questions regaring both Pakistani and Saudi Arabian connections to our enemies, this Administration's judgment seems impaired. The danger that a Pak or Saudi nuke could end up in terrorist hands is much greater than through almost any other vector.

Our own government's focus on Iran as an emerging threat in the Middle East is misguided. Our putative allies, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, pose a much greater danger to us than any of those whom the Bush Administration frame as threats, such as Iran or Syria, or non-state actors like Hezzbolah, Hammas, or the Palestinians. Iran, though its government is non-aligned and not pro-American, has a considerable resevior of good-will for American among its people. They very unlikely to overtly attack American interests, even through proxies. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, on the other hand are just the opposite; their ruling factions maintain an uneasy alliance with America that cannot be relied upon because within the government, and widespread in the populace, is religious radicalism and virulent anti-Americanism. While purporting to be allies, both governments must frequently bow to the strong radical Islamicist and anti-American factions in thier own ranks. These tensions cause them to frequently betray us, or to be perceived as betraying their own people, ultimately precipitating a radical coup.

Saudi Arabia is most likely to be the next Middle Eastern nation to join the nuclear club, and the 'axis of evil', as it were; they have the money, the will, and the expertise to acquire WMD, and the deep hostility required to use them. They are an inherently unstable regime and have the closest financial and sympathetic ties to al Qaida. Remember that bin Laden and 14 of the 9/11 suicide bombers were Saudi and had considerable support in their mission from Saudi Arabian sources, and it is bin Laden's ultimate goal for a revolutionary in his own tradition, if not him personally, to lead Saudi Arabia in a new jihad to free the Ullema from foreign domination. If Saudi Arabia gets the Bomb, the next attack by al Qaida on American soil may come in the form of a mushroom cloud.

We need to recongize who our real enemies are in the Middle East, and they are not those we are currently fighting or threatening.

Michael: Something So Perfect...

"Other than telling us how to live, think, marry, pray, vote, invest, educate our children and, now, die, I think the Republicans have done a fine job of getting government out of our personal lives."

-Editorial Page, Sunday, June 19 Portland Oregonian

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Michael: On The Logic of Suicide Bomb Terrorism

A new study of suicide terrorism by political scientist Robert Pape of University of Chicago, examining every known incident since 1980, has thrown clear light on a murky and emotional issue. The study suggests that contrary to popular sentiment, which casts suicide bombers as unstable religious fanatics who despise Western culture or religion, suicide terror attacks actually have in common a highly specific political aim: to force a modern democratic state to end a foreign occupation. Almost half the time, suicide bombing campaigns have succeeded in achieving at least some of their political goals. When the terrorists’ political goal is achieved, the attacks have stopped immediately. This study indicates that suicide attacks are used for one imperative reason: they often work to force a political accommodation despite great asymmetries of power.

Look to 9/11 as an example. 9/11 was essentially a very innovative suicide bombing attack. Bin Laden cited many reasons for the attack, but the central rationale was the stationing of some 10,000 American troops in Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden was able to galvanize the mainly Saudi attackers using religious sentiments because many Saudi saw our troops as foreign occupiers of their homeland, and of the Islamic holy land. And the attacks of 9/11 worked. Following 9/11 the Bush Administration removed nearly all American troops from Saudi Arabia. Satisfying al Qaida’s demands may not have been Bush’s primary purpose, but I doubt bin Laden cares – from al Qaida’s perspective he won a major political concession, even if it was presented by America in terms of a changing strategic picture upon the fall of the Ba’ath regime in Iraq. 9/11 also fixed in the mind of every Middle Easterner the idea that America would capitulate, and even act contrary to its strategic interests, if pushed with suicide bombing attacks on American soil.

Now, America has almost 140,000 unwelcome troops occupying Iraq. History and logic suggest this situation will provoke more suicide bombing attacks on America in an attempt to dislodge us. For now, such attacks are confined to targets of opportunity in Iraq, but that isn’t likely to last. Why haven’t we been hit with terrorist attacks at home yet? Intercepts suggest bin Laden ordered that attacks should concentrate on Coalition ‘partners’ to isolate America politically. Terrorist attacks are way up all around the world since the occupation of Iraq, but those which have registered most strongly with American media are the attack on Spain, prompting their withdrawal from Iraq, and now the attack on England, which will test British resolve to remain in Iraq. England’s soul searching will be especially intense now that it seems clear that the London suicide bombers were British born, not foreigners. It is inevitable that American civilians will once again become targets of terrorism unless and until our troops leave Iraq.

One can infer from Pape’s study simple rules to avoid and prevent suicide bombing attacks; don’t occupy foreign countries or territories, especially those having differing cultural or religious traditions, and if you are already doing so, stop. Americans are eventually going to have to ask themselves if the pieties and empty rhetoric the Bush Administration has cobbled together in lieu of a real causus belli are worth, not just the lives of our troops in Iraq, but also the lives of untold numbers of additional innocent Americans civilians who will certainly become terrorist casualties if we stay in Iraq? You’ve been conditioned to think, “Isn’t that capitulating to terrorists again?” But it is discretion and wisdom, not capitulation or cowardice, if the coming crop of Iraq-inspired suicide bombers primary reason to strike us is removed before they ever do so.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Michael: Specialist Leonard Clark Arrested in Iraq


Specialist Leonard Clark is a long-time member of the Arizona Army National Guard 806th Military Police Brigade, is currently deployed in Iraq, and is adamantly against the war. He is outspoken about his opposition to the war both in his unit, in public, and on his blog. And now he's paying an unacceptable price for giving voice to his conscience.

Clark has been arrested and will be brought before a Court Martial on as yet unknown charges; but his commanders have made it abundantly clear to him that his real crime is excercising his First Amendment rights(MP3 Stream) by opposing the war. Earlier this month Clark was ordered to stop posting to his blog on the grounds of operational security, though Clark never posted operational information. Clark's arrest came as no surprise him and has been anticipated for some time now.

If it is the American way we are fighting for in Iraq, as George Bush insists that it is, then we have already lost the war; Clark's arrest shows that the American way has been undermined and demolished by the very people and institutions who hypocritically claim to defend it.

Michael: A Chance for Kyl to Put His Values into Practice

Two volunteers from the No More Deaths in the Desert Campaign were recently arrested by Border Patrol agents and charged with transportation of undocumented aliens and obstruction of justice. The aid workers were transporting three immigrants from their desert camp to get medical aid for exposure and severe dehydration, which they could not themselves treat. They were trying to prevent the death or injury of these people by rendering emergency medical assistance, not to assist them in entering the country illegally.

Despite their clear intent, the volunteers were arrested near Arivaca, and will be arraigned on Monday. This is a travesty of justice. A press conference and public meeting will be held at the Southside Presbyterian Chruch on Monday at noon at 317 West 23rd Street.

Here is Senator Kyl's chance to prove that he meant it when he claimed to be concerned about stopping deaths on our borders. The Senator should speak up on behalf of these volunteers who are fighting on the front lines of the crusade to stop the needless suffering along our border. If the Senator's concern about the welfare of undocumented entrants is sincere, he can do nothing less than support these angels of mercy on our borders. Likewise, all other members of the Arizona delegation and throughout Arizona's government should make statements of support for these humanitarian volunteers.

Michael: Friends Of Fred Ronstadt

Tucson City Council Candidate Steve Farley used the Google map API to map his opponent's political contributions showing that most of the money for his race is coming from outside the city. It's a very effective presenation and a savvy use of the technology.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Michael: My Mom's Health Care Insurance

Sometimes issues of great national importance and complexity can seem just too daunting and complex to comprehend, and too abstract to care much about. A personal story can often make the values at stake in a dry policy debate much more concrete. Health care policy is one such topic.

Meet my Mom. She 72 years old. She has mild diabetes and high colesterol. She has an arthritic knee, which doesn’t work so well, so she often uses a cane. She recently had eye surgery for cataracts, so at least she doesn’t have to wear glasses anymore. But she’s at a stage in life where bits of your body are always going wonky, or just plain conking out. She takes it in stride and with good humor. My Mom is probably one of the most stoical and good-natured people you’d ever meet. She was raised in the Great Depression and fought WWII on the home front as my Dad fought it in the Pacific. She’s not the sort to ask for handout, but is the sort to expect a fair deal and an honest word.

My Dad’s employer for most of his working life was JC Penney. My Dad’s passed, but my mom still receives a small pension and a Social Security check. These make up the entirety of her income. It’s not much, in fact, it is less than most people live on. But the house is paid for, as is her car, so her expenses are mainly utilities, food, gas, car and house insurance, maintenance costs, and health care costs. Those costs eat all of her income and more, forcing her to frequently dip into her ever dwindling, and not large to begin with savings.

My Mom’s insurance is through a group plan provided by JC Penney, The cost of that plan has grown by leaps and bounds since my Dad’s retirement. JC Penney’s has passed on more and more of the premium costs to retirees and employees. Back when he retired, in the early 90’s, the premium was less than $20 a month. Now that premium is over $140. That cost does not include growing co-pays for visits, and procedures, and tests, and drugs - though these costs are sometimes picked up by Medicare part A if over the deductible. The result is that much of my Mom’s income and savings goes to medical expenses. She really doesn’t have much room to wiggle or kick up her heels in her budget.

Imagine yourself in my Mom’s position, on a fixed income with no room to maneuver, and then you get a notice from the JC Penney corporation that they are ending retiree health care benefits as of the end of this year. You’re going to be cut off.

That’s not entirely accurate – in 2006 you are eligible to get an individual policy through AARP with no health check and no limits on pre-existing conditions (thanks to HIPPA) and Penney’s will apply 55% of their 2005 expenditure toward your new premiums. Great! But in 2007 and beyond, Penney’s will make no further contribution. And Penney’s part of the premium has already shrunk immensely since Dad’s retirement; 55% of chump change is, well, chumpier change. And they can’t say how much the new premiums will be. They could be – read ‘will be’ – much higher (HIPPA plans generally are). Basically, JC Penney’s is dumping her into health care limbo so that they can report another penny (groan…) per share earnings for the quarter.

Great for JC Penney. Don’t they have any legal obligation under US law to provide retirees or their spouses with access to heath care? No. Not unless the employment contract or a collective bargaining agreement specifies it. JC Penney has always carefully disclaimed any obligation regarding health insurance. Penneys is golden, and rid of annoying and expensive liability.

Not so great for my Mom - or anyone other than Penneys, for that matter. What of the cost this imposes on my Mom, whose husband gave JC Penney 27 years of service? What of the hit to the economy as I, and lots of people like me, divert their earnings to care for Mom instead of buying another SUVs and Armani suits? What of the cost this imposes on the public as my Mom will likely come to rely more and more on Medicare part A for regular care, and likely on part D for drugs, and maybe even Part B for hospitalization? Medicare is already a looming fiscal crisis that this Administration is studiously ignoring, such new burdens are only going to make things more dire.

But let’s keep focus on my Mom. She’s facing the prospect of possibly disrupting all her relationships with her doctors as she moves to a new insurance company, which raises quality of care issues and heightens the likelihood of malpractice or mistake. She faces the prospect of much higher premiums, and lower benefits. This means that she could be facing the proverbial choice between feeding herself and buying her meds. Of course, myself and my siblings won’t let that happen, but she’s already taking about dieting to get her weight down in hopes of saving money on her diabetes meds. This isn’t the sort of thing I want my mother contemplating at 72. Would you?

I would be happy to put her on my healthcare plan if I could. But there is no option for putting an elderly parent on your policy. Kids, spouses, domestic partners? Sure. Parents being booted from their former employer’s retiree plan? Forget it.

Why should we as a society allow corporations to clean their slates at the expense of others like this? They are being allowed to pass off elderly people as if they were bad debts to be written off. Worse, their actions impose greater costs and insecurity on the retirees and upon all of us through the Medicare system. What social good justifies so much social ill, much of which we don’t have the policy tools or social structures to mitigate?

So that’s what the health care debate is really about: millions of stories like my Mom’s. Some are far more dire. Many involve issues of life and death. But they are all issues of fairness and responsibility to someone’s Mom, or Dad, or child. They all confront us with a fundamental moral choice of whether health and life are just commodities, or if it is immoral to let indifferent markets decide who lives, who dies, who suffers, and who receives care.

Michael: The Weekend's Parting Shot

"Just because it's true doesn't mean you should say it," my mother used to tell me. Well, what is maternal advice for other than breaking?

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Michael: Homeland Security Cameras on I-19

Placing cameras on I-19 to recover stolen cars before they reach the Mexican black markets is a great idea, a clever use of current technology, and a perfect example of how government will increasingly use new information technologies to monitor Americans ever more closely. The plan has perfectly respectible, nay, laudible goals. There is no one who could seriously argue that the system of cameras and automatic database searches would not significantly benefit Arizonans in a variety of ways.

The problem is, of course, the unintended consequences of the government's new capabilities. Once such a capacity exists, there is a tremendous pressure to use the capability in new and creative ways, both legitimate and sactioned, and illicit and unsanctioned. Studies of the Nation Crime Information Center (NCIC) have shown time and again that the information network which makes crime-related dossiers available to law enforcement personnel across the country is regularly misused for private purposes, and that the information is regularly sold into the black market. NCIC gets credit for making America a safer place, but that same information which has such power to fight crime can also fuel darker schemes unless responsibly controlled. Responsibility in the context of law enforcement and intelligence gathering means independent oversight, accountability and transparency above all.

Before supporting Arizona's Homeland Security chief Frank Navarrete's plan, I recommend citizens demand to know, at minimum, how access to the information will be controlled, under exactly what conditions the system will alert, what records will be stored and which destroyed, and how, and what legal safe-guards will be in place to prevent and severely punish misuse of the information. Ideally, open meetings and consultations with civil rights organizations would be an integral part of formulating the legal framework in which such a system would operate, not some deeply secretive commission. Even though there is no constitutional bar to the type of monitoring proposed that I am aware of, new governmental powers with the sort of automaticity and intrusiveness proposed for this system rightly give people the Big Brother willies. That's the healthy response of a free people; I'll really start to worry if Americans start passively accepting such developments without any skepticism.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Michael: US detains five Americans in Iraq

Now even U.S. citizens are subject to unconstitutional detention in Iraq by this rogue Administration. Five U.S. citizens have been detained without charges or access to legal counsel on suspicion of activities related to the insurgency over the past few months. As of Thursday, the 7th of July, the Penagon would not identify the detained citizens, but only suggested a variety of pretexts upon which they had been detained. It is also known that 3 of the detained Americans are of Iraqi descent, one is Iranian-American and a Navy veteran, and one is Jordanian-American. It seems obvious that their national origin has been leaked, even as their identities have been withheld, in an effort to discredit them due solely to their Middle Eastern origins.

If these American citizens were involved in criminal activity, they should be investigated and charges brought against them with the full weight of the law, but detension in a war zone does not automatically subject U.S. citizens to some irregular or ad hoc system of frontier justice. They could be tried by military tribunal if their activities fall within the competence of military courts, or by Iraqi or U.S. criminal courts otherwise. But to suck more American citizens into the legal limbo Bush has built upon the excuse of waging the 'war on terror' is clearly unconstitutional and unconscionable. These Americans have rights which are being willfully violated by military and civilian authorities in Iraq.

The Supreme Court has already ruled that American citizens in these circumstances must be provided counsel and must be arraigned before a competent court promptly or released. This Administration's incompetence in all things related to Iraq is no excuse for denying Americans' constitutional due process.

Michael: Tom DeLay's Arizona Posse

See how snuggly in bed AZ's House Republican delegation is with Tom DeLay and his scandal ridden ARMPAC. Our GOP reps have all taken money from DeLay's PAC, over $80,000 in all, and all but Shadegg voted to weaken House ethics rules to protect DeLay from investigation and punishment.

If you want strong ethics requirements in Congress, and want the legalized bribery that DeLay and his cronies practice to end, remember who has had his back these past few years next election. You may think your representative is a moderate who represents Arizona's people, but perhaps your interests aren't really their first priority.

Michael: Orwell's Legacy

I just finished reading "No Place to Hide" by Dan Solove. In his book Solove details the many ongoing efforts by our government to partner with private information brokers who are forming a new information-security complex in the name of servicing the marketing needs of corporate America and its customers. Governments are seeking to exploit the growing mass of informational detritus that each of us sheds in the course of our everyday lives in an effort to detect and predict criminal behavior. This effort pervades our government, from the NSA, CIA, DIA, FBI and TSA all the way down to state and municipal police forces. All are intent upon becoming ‘domestic intelligence agencies’ focused upon detecting criminal behavior in the massive amount of commercial and confidential data the IT revolution has placed within their reach. The ‘War on Terror’ is a convenient and powerful justification for compiling massive dossiers on every citizen, but the desire to control crime and to quash political opposition plays a pervasive and seductive role in their grab for ever more information about you and your activities.

Every aspect of your life, your medical records, your personal relationships, your spending habits, the kind of pornography you like, where you travel, what you buy, your intimate conversations, your image as you move about your daily life, are all increasingly being recorded, sifted, and massaged to determine your demographic profile and what you might want to buy. This allows marketers to reach you more efficiently and predict your needs and tastes, but when the government accesses the same information, as they inevitably will, the result is Big Brother. There is nothing overtly sinister about the collection of these details of our lives by companies like SeisInt, LexisNexis, Axiom, and others, but when the many databases of information are drawn together by intellegent agents, profiling software in massively quick computers and distributed throughout government without proper accountability or transparency, the result is often an Orwellian nightmare for those who are mistakenly, or maliciously, mistargeted by government authorities.

Solove provides no ready solutions for the growing problem he skillfully profiles, but one is left with the impression that the law desperately needs to catch up to the reality of a rapidly maturing dataveilence capability in our government. It is here is where artistic vision and political wisdom steps into the policy void. Just denying government these tools isn’t likely to work, even if it were a desirable goal. Governments increasingly needs a greater ability to dataveil the populace as an effective and practical means of investigating and preventing criminal activity. The problem is one of asymetric capability and lack of oversight over the new powers that the internet, cheap data capture, and data mining gives our government. David Brin forsaw these developments when he wrote his book "The Transparent Society’ in 1997. He opines that attempting to cut off the flow of detailed information about citizens to the government would ultimately fail (if the private sector has the ability, the government will certainly acquire it, too), and it would probably be harmful if the effort to restrict the governement’s access were to succeed in any meaningful way. Better if we can watch the watchers and have access to what they have access to in order to monitor use and correct mistakes. Nobody would have any secrets, but no one would be at a disadvantage visa-vis the government’s capabilities, or those who could afford those capabilities for themselves. Better that everyone share in these new capabilities, building a new bulwark of checks and balances into our society, than to allow new inequities and illicit sources of social control to arise from controlling access to these new tools.

Michael: Opens Friday

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Michael: A Happy 5th of July to You

Being a curmudgeon, I can’t allow people to have fun without being compelled to point out that they are dancing in a graveyard. Such is how I felt this 4th of July. Don’t get me wrong, I love Independence Day; but that is exactly why I am troubled.

Independence Day, commemorating the ratification of the Declaration of Independence, is by its nature a highly political holiday. From its inception, the 4th has been used to make political statements. From the hacking to bits of a statute of King George to make bullets in revolutionary days, to today’s hometown parades, fireworks, and gales of hot air sweeping down from the nation’s political podiums, the holiday has ever been about democracy at work. And that’s not always pretty. Often overblown with empty rhetoric, made a mockery by bread and circuses spectacles, and always a prime opportunity for jingoes to claim to be more truly American than the other guy, it nevertheless retains a dignity of meaning that no rhetoric can overthrow, if you know where to look.

Even those to whom mainstream America has barred the doors of democracy's temple could always manage to claim the 4th for their own. The Abolitionists remade the holiday into a celebration of the end of slavery when America failed to heed them. Frederick Douglass asked at his alternative Fifth of July celebration held in Rochester, New York, in 1852, “What to the Slave to the Fourth of July?” and answered, “The Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.”

Today's moral battle is over the militarization of American society, and the policy of aggressive nationalism proclaimed by the Bush cabal, and epitomized by the invasion and continued occupation of Iraq. In light of history, it shouldn’t surprise us that each side in this struggle seeks to use the 4th of July for its own political ends.

The Bush Administration took its dog and pony show to West Virginia, as they have on three other Independence Days during George’s reign. George paid homage to the historical roots of the celebration saying, “The revolutionary truths of the Declaration are still at the heart of America: We believe in the dignity and rights of every person. We believe in freedom and equal justice, the rule of law, and a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

These truths are the heart of America, but unfortunately Bush is insensitive to its rhythms. Having denied thousands the right to due process and freedom from torture, and hundreds of thousands more their right to privacy and freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, having arbitrarily denied freedom to so many and set up a separate and unequal system of justice to judge them that answers solely to him and the appeal from which is solely his whim, and having spat on the rule of law at the very moment of his ordination, I can only assume that speaking those words burned George’s tongue. I can forgive his speechwriters eliding the words of Lincoln with the principles of the Declaration, but I cannot forgive such a litany of hypocrisy.

Having fully explored hypocrisy, Bush moved on to lies, insinuating, “At this hour, our men and women in uniform are defending America against the threats of the 21st century. The war we are fighting came to our shores on September the 11th, 2001.” George repeated once again the intentional misdirection that we are fighting in Iraq because of 9/11. George’s courtiers will declaim that he means that we only that we must be proactive and ‘fight the terrorists there, so we don’t have to fight them here’, but that’s bullshit. In the ears of any American, the cause of 9/11 is payback for what was done to those 3000 innocents, pure and simple. We’ve exacted as many as 100,000 of Iraq's innocents by now, despite their being no ties between Iraq and 9/11. How many more until we are so bloated with death that we are forced to admit we were deceived and mislead?

Meanwhile across the country, the enemies of George’s glorious little war were holding 4th of July festivities of their own. Bush did not mention how many young American lives had been consumed in his war, but remembering the studiously hidden cost of this war was the heart of a much different 4th in Santa Monica at "Arlington West." While the George’s regime continues to bar the press from photographing the coffins of our fallen soldiers in hopes of concealing the daily cost of his war in the colonies, patriots continue to mourn the fallen as they deserve; publicly, and in open acknowledgement of the lapse of good sense and decency that sent them to die in war that should never have been started.

There may have been speeches at this other Independence Day, I don’t know, none were recorded and trumpeted as press releases. But almost certainly someone was there circulating the Veterans For Peace petition calling for the impeachment of George II. Among tokens of the fallen, the true principles of Independence Day once again found their highest expression. Not dripping from the mouths of self-serving politicians, but burned in the conscience of each patriot, and written in the blood of martyrs. The 4th of July will always remain a day of revolution and human freedom, as intended. But until we have come to our senses as a nation and withdrawn from Iraq, the 4th is for mourning; for celebration, I prefer to take the 5th.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Michael: Surprise! Arizona's Not Corrupt, but is America?

A report on State corruption by the Corporate Crime Reporter (CCR) (link is PDF file) indicates that Arizona is ranked 43rd in the nation in terms of public corruption. Only seven states have more public rectitude than Arizona; Minnesota, Utah, Colorado, Iowa, N. Hampshire. Oregon, and Nebraska.

Of course, everyone wants the dish, not just the dessert. The most corrupt states probably won't be completely surprising. They are; Mississippi, North Dakota, Louisiana, Alaska, Illinois, Montana, S. Dakota, Kentucky, Florida, and New York, in that order. Some of the less populous states on the list surprised me; I wouldn't have expected enough opportunity for corruption in Montana or South Dakota for those state to hit the top ten, especially given that Nebraska (another big, sparsely populated, conservative plains state) is ranked the least corrupt state in the country.

One misleading thing about the study is that the District of Columbia was not included. If it had been, it would have been far and away the most corrupt political entity in the country, if only because it is the seat of the Federal Government, which was the target of 453 successful public corruption prosecutions over the last decade. Mississippi, with a corruption rate of 7.48, ranked as the most corrupt state. DC's score would be 79.33.

How are these rankings generated you might ask? The Department of Justice reported public corruption prosecutions per 100K capita used to generate the rankings. Thus the statisics rely on certain assumptions and facts. Fact 1: some 80% of public corruption prosecutions are brought by federal prosecutors. I don't know if that's due to an orientation to 'street' crime in county and state departments, or if federal prosecutors have more political independence and resources. Fact 2: the reliance on federal prosecution figures means that the the rankings could be wildly off if a federal district has a prosecutor who lacks the courage and political will to bring cases against politically powerful figures in her district.

An interesting contrast with these rankings is found in a similar report on public corruption by the Better Government Association (BGA) which ranked states based upon the laws in place in each state: freedom of information laws, whistleblower protection, campaign finance laws, gift/trip/honoraria laws, and conflict of interest laws. The resulting ranking bore little resemblence to that of the CCR.

Perhaps there isn't a strict correlation between good laws on the books and a culture of public integrity. Or perhaps those states which have strong laws tend to get more prosecutions, thus more convictions and a higher ranking under CCR's methodology. For instance, Kentucky was rated 4th highest for integrity in the BGA assessment, yet was in the top ten in CCR ranking of most corrupt states. But the pattern is not so easy to discern. Only one of BGA's best 5 was even among the 50% least corrupt states of CCR's conviction-based ranking. And 2 of BGA's worst 5 were likewise among CCR's 50% least corrupt states.

So what is the real reason some states are more corrupt that others if it is not solely their laws? CCR suggests the answer can be found in a state's political economy; the mores and values of reporters, citizen's groups, prosecutors, judges, religious leaders, and yes, politicians, who are willing to speak out against corruption, and bird dog bad behavior rather than tolerate it. Some state cultures are weak and corrupt, some are strong.

So what does it teach public figures and our coming generations when we allow a President to lie us into a war, to lie about the effect of massive tax cuts on government revenues, to lie about his military service record, to award massively bloated 'no bid' contracts to corporate cronies, to 'lose' 8 billion dollars in Iraq, to turn the Interior Department into a lobbying firm for extractive industries, to call massive corporate giveaways in possibly the biggest hog ever to waddle out of the Congress an 'energy strategy', to disband and defang ethics committees rather than allow them do their jobs, even to break the law with impunity to reward political allies and punish enemies? It teaches that corruption is now the standard, and virtue is the abberation. Getting away with it is what matters, not what is 'right' or 'legal'. What quaint notions.

Perhaps most telling is how the worlds' business perceives the United States' level of political corruption. You would think that we would be the most admired and respected; right at the top of any ranking of public integrity. We are the world's largest market, the favored destination for foreign investment, and the leader in promoting the rule of law around the world to foster a secure and uncorruptable business enviroment.

And you'd be wrong. We don't even make the top 10 - barely the top 20. According to Transparency International, which conducts an annual survey of business people's perception of corruption, we came in 18th; down from 16th since Bush took office.

Quaint notions or not, legality, rectitude, and simple integrity have been the bulwark of (most of) the American way since we took the mantle of leadership in the world following WWII. We dispose of those values in our public and commercial lives at our peril.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Michael: O'Crap!

O'Connor retired from the Supreme Court. This is going to be bad. Everyone was expecting Rehnquist's retirement; that would have been cake. Replace one right wing ideologue with another - no problems. Court stays the same and there's no fireworks over confirmation of a new Justice, though Bush trying to give Scalia the cute stripey robe might cause a few heads to be knocked.

But O'Connor is a swing vote and a relative moderate. Replace her with a wing nut and you have a very different court, indeed. There is no doubt that to keep the balance of the court the same the Senate can only confirm someone as moderate as O'Connor.

The good news is that Bush has no hand with the Senate now. He can't even get Moondoggie Bolton confirmed for a prissy little Ambassadorship. The liklihood of getting confirmed whatever shambling mound of conservatism he chooses for the Court are slim. Bush just might have to compromise and choose a moderate Republican as Sen. Harry Reid suggested at the close of the SC session.

But that would be the smart and sane thing to do. The GOP, and Bush in particular, have a terrible prediliction for over-estimating both their own power (which is considerable, I grant) and the popularity of their choosen fights among mainstream Americans (which is abyssmal, I allege). Given their deadly combination of power-drunkeness and a tendency to over-estimate their own electoral attractiveness, the GOP has a high potential for hitting on nominees way above their league. When they are stumbling around half-mad on power, trying desperately to close the deal, they may be tempted to slip Lady Justice a roofie to smooth the consummation, and then we had all better watch out - the aforementioned fireworks may fly.

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