Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Michael: The Gabby Rush, Updated

So it seems as official as it will be, at least until January when the official announcement will come: Gabby Giffords is running for Kolbe's now open CD 8 seat. No surprise really.

UPDATE: Seems Gabby is OK with resigning to run and will be commencing her assault on CD 8 immediately. Thus her Senate seat will become vacant more than year from the next election and the Pima Supes will have to fill it with a Democrat.

The likelihood of Gabby's run is supported by the scramble to grab one of the three LD 28 nominations to the Pima County Board of Supervisors to fill her seat. I'm sure that elected Precinct Committeemen (and women) all over Pima County are getting calls right about now. Unless Gabby's intent were very clear, no one would be going to all the trouble to lock down the PC votes.

It's quite clear that LD 28 representatives Downing and Bradley want the seat, and will almost certainly grab two of the nominations. The big question, and perhaps you have some ideas on this, is who will be the third? And the biggest question - who will the Pima Supes send up?

UPDATE: So, now more than ever that third slot becomes interesting and the politics of the Pima Board the new sovietology of Tucson politics. Who's got answers?

Michael: Bush Straddles the Border

Trying to stake out a middle position between the immigration plans of the two Republican Arizona Senators hosting him, Bush pretty much split the difference at his speech at DMAFB in Tucson. Bush advocates fortifying the border with yet more men and resources (though the BP budget has already been tripled since 1990) while creating a guest-worker program that would create a permanent and legally sanctioned under-class in America.

Bush complained bitterly of the costs that illegal immigrants impose on hospitals, schools and law enforcement, but he didn't propose to help border states defray those costs. And never did he mention the burden on border-state taxpayers as a result of jailing those undocumented immigrants who commit crimes while in this country. It's a problem so bad, and so expensive, that Arizona legislators even proposed the idea of building an Arizona prison in Mexico (though it was motivated as much by immigrant bashing as it was by fiscal concerns).

Arizona Governor Napolitano recently sent a bill for 118 million dollars to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for uncompensated incarceration expenses. But Bush did not promise any expansion of State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) funding to compensate our state for housing the over 4000 illegal immigrant prisoners in Arizona's jails and prisons. This year, in fact, the White House seeks to zero out SCAAP in the next budget. Nor did Bush promise to transfer these prisoners to federal prisons to take the unfair burden off the taxpayers of Arizona and other border states - despite having been a Governor of a border state strongly affected by this problem.

Instead, Bush purports to ease the burden on state correction systems by spending the money on preventing immigration in the first place. They are doing such a great job of interdicting all those illegal drugs, I'm sure that the feds will have immigration under control in no time. Really, it would be wonderful if the feds really could stop illegal immigration, but it hardly addresses the millions of foriegn nationals already here, some of whom might commit crimes that land them in our jails. Slowing, or even stopping illegal immigration, really just doesn't address the unequal burden that residents of border states have borne, and will continue to bear in coming years.

As is too often the case with this Administration, what was carefully not said during Bush's speech is what will cost us dearly.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Michael: Bush's appreciation

"I appreciate my love for Laura." —George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., April 20, 2005

"I appreciate the United States Congressmen who have joined us here today -- Congressman Hayworth and Shadegg and Flake." -George W. Bush, Phoenix, AZ, November 28, 2005

"I appreciate and America appreciates the sacrifices of our military families." George W. Bush, Fort Hood, TX, January 3, 2003

Ever notice how often Bush says that he 'appreciates' people and things? He says it in probably every speech. He always goes through his list of key people present, 'appreciating' them all rather non-specifically. It is his all-purpose word for feeling generally positive toward something, or feeling grateful, or just acknowledging something or someone. Why doesn't Bush have a more nuanced vocabulary of personal feeling? Can he really not verbally distinuish between his love for his wife, acknowledging that some Congressional flunkies showed up at a rubber chicken event, and honoring the heroes who give their lives for his dirty little war?

I suspect the man is so given to malappropisms that he has been coached to just say he 'appreciates' everything, rather than have to rummage through that second-rate brain for a more active or appropriate verb - and likely end up flubbing it. The man has the emotional range and vocabulary of a mackerel. It's hard to believe that so many take his forced bonhommie and inappropriately touchy-feely public personae as a sign of genuine warmth and compassion. I find the fact that he is unable to articulate emotional states with greater range and variety than a default reliance on 'appreciation' more than a little creepy. I watch Bush at public events and I get the same faintly nauseous embarrassed-for-another feeling that I get when watching the antics of the socially-inappropriate and falsely confident manner of the boss on The Office (both the British and American versions).

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Michael: McCain gets on the right side of history

John McCain has backed Democratic calls for hearings with top Adminstration officials on the misuse of intelligence in the run up to the Iraq war. This shrewdly positions McCain as pro-war, but also pro-accountability. McCain is saavy enough to know that the public will not long tolerate a stone-walling Administration, but generally has the patience to endure a difficult war if leveled with.

We Democrats see the numbers trending toward opposition to the war, but Republican centrists like McCain only see that the American people are fed up with the way the war is being fought and the distortions which started it. McCain is likely feeling confident that once the hard truths are out and there is an 'accountability moment' that he can still win the Presidency by proving the he is honest and has a plan for victory.

Of course, I think McCain is misguided in his views on Iraq, and in his craven support for Christo-fascists like Senator Santorum, but getting out in front of the issue of truth and accountability for the misuse of intelligence as a pretext for war is the strongest move a 2008 GOP contender can do. Senator Warner, another short-lister for the 2008 GOP nomination, proves the strength of the move by calling for Bush to give the public regular updates on Iraq's progress by means of a regular "fireside chat." Though it does ramp up the pressure on the Administration to be more forthcoming, Warner's challenge is weak because it allows the Administration to continue to control the message and limit access to information. The quarterly reports to the Senate Warner pressed for earlier, based on Democratic legislation, have a better chance of supplying accurate information to the public because the opposition will have a chance to act as interlocutor, questioning the accurancy and completeness of the Administration's information. In a 'fireside chat' format Bush can simply continue living in his reality-free bubble.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Michael: The Modern Holiday Season

The Holiday Season, including Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day, have become increasingly less public or civic affairs and more a rare opportunity to connect with family in an increasing hectic and overworked nation, even as the meaning and purpose of the Holidays are being increasingly commercialized.

In some ways, the Holiday Season reminds me of Medieval Feast Days, whose purpose was ostensibly religious, but were really a reason to not work, eat a lot and get drunk for people who were chronically overworked. Our Holiday Season functions in the much the same fashion for our society. Like the Medieval festivals, our Holiday Season allows us to engage in religious piety and civic solemnity with only as much sincerity as we care to provide, providing all the appropriate trappings and themes.

Just as some number of peasants who donned the green and danced the maypole were really just interested in making time with Helga from the farm down the road, not the religious significance of the ritual. Many today gorge on Halloween candy (I have noted a significant increase in adult trick or treaters in recent years), fill their bellies with turducken, rip open their presents on Christmas, and get blind drunk on New Years with no higher agenda than a hedonism among friends and family.

And that's fine. America is the hardest work industial nation in the world. We work longer hours, with higher productivity, at lower median wages, and with less vacation and benefits than most other Western nations; we need a break now and then.

What is sad about the Holiday Season, however, is the extent to which these celebrations have become central, not just to our culture, but to our economy. A bad Cristmas season can ruin a retailer's year. When an expectation of excess is built into the nation's fiancial life, the result can only be disappointment.

The marketing blitz that accompanies the Holiday Season detracts from any remaining magic in the Season. Surely, you, too, have been annoyed when the Holloween theme goes up in August and cycles through Thanksgiving and then Christmas for the remainder of the year. When corporate America starts demanding that I celebrate in the approved fashion, preferably going into debt to do so, I find it much easier to "bah, humbug!"

But then family members I haven't seen in months come to town, friends stop by to visit with greater frequency, I get a little paid time off, I gain a few pounds, and a little corporate hypocrisy seems a small price to pay.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

gerry's thoughts

Hi everyone, I wrote this piece in response to someone’s request for information about what the new Progressive Caucus stood for.

Dear___, It is a pleasure to correspond with you.

I will try to answer your questions, but can only speak for me, not the whole caucus. I hope you will bear with me as I try to explain my views; perhaps you are not interested, in which case I write to clarify them for myself.

If I tell you I got my MSW at UC Berkeley in 1967, you will understand that I knew about activism and about Saul Alinsky and about SNCC, and about Selma, but not about the party, nor how to influence it. And, one by one, as every strong and charismatic leader was lost to assassination I think many of us just became really depressed the possibility of influence, and concentrated on being good people in our personal lives and good citizens in our communities. Since the 1960’s, I have worked as a clinical social worker, raised kids, became a New Thought minister, a writer, and am now raising my second batch of kids - my grandson and my partner's son, both Sophomores in high school.

If Bush and Cheney had not been such a complete disaster for America, I would probably still be only concentrating on church and family, teaching and working for peace and social justice at a community level. As it was, I was ready to say "yes" when another PC recruited me during the 2004 Dean primary campaign.

As an activist, I knew that all my friends were leaving the Democratic party in droves to become Greens or Independents or to stop voting altogether, passionately, deliberately, because in the Democratic Party they felt betrayed. They thought I was selling out by working for Democrats.

I have to tell you that I can agree with them that as I look up, I see almost as many Democrats whose votes have been "bought" by corporate lobbyists as Republicans. I am appalled along with my friends at the rush to the right of well known Democrats, and at their inarticulate spinelessness when attacked by the neocons and their media minions, and at their voting records against the interests of working families and the poor, and their silence in the face of the destruction of what I thought Democrats held dear. I guess I think that voices of dissent are essential to the democratic party, we’re the “give ‘em hell” party.

I resent more than anything the DLC idea that to win elections we must be more like Republicans. Hogwash, I say.

I tremble as the neocons deliberately disassemble the work of several generations in social policy, through legislation and through rules and regulations and through "starving" needed programs, while Democrats for the most part sit quietly by. I reject the notion that to be pro-regulation and pro-labor is to be anti-business. I believe in balance and the win-win solution. Of course capital must appreciate to stay invested, but as a small investor, I haven't noticed my own portfolio exactly flourishing. I will never agree that dishonesty and bullying can bring us long-term prosperity.

Democrats may have lost their backbone, and the media may have been bought out and lost their edge, and many Democrats can probably also justly be accused of corruption, which is probably why they are silent, but we are more creative and stronger as a people than to go down as Americans to any of that. It has been almost like Democrats have been fighting with their teeth extracted and both hands tied behind their back. I look at the Al Gore of today and the Al Gore of 2000, for instance, and I wonder where he was during his own campaign, and I know that it was DLC Democrats who silenced him, not Republicans. Then Howard Dean told us in his campaign that it was our own fault that the party had fallen into the state of disrepair that it had, because we had abandoned it. I am here to tell you that at least in S. AZ, almost all of the people I working actively on the phones and house-to-house in the 2004 Kerry campaign were Dean supporters, who personally disliked John Kerry.

I am not a politician, and although I am a bit of an armchair philosopher, I am not an intellectual. My aim is to infuse the energy of the grassroots activists, who count me as one of their own, and who had been abandoning the party, and who are "mad as hell" at the current state of affairs, and who hold a strong vision for a future of an honorable, peaceful world that works for everyone, back into the Democratic party, so their views are in fact represented and considered. Their values are honesty, honor, and fairness, based upon the worth and dignity of every human being, inextricably interconnected, and a belief in government as the moderator and advocate of the common good.

The issues at stake include corporate ownership and manipulation of the political and electoral process, political elitism, nationalism and militarism in general, especially in partnership with unregulated robber-baron corporatism, the oil wars, improper American dominance and bullying in the world, American human rights abuses and abuses of international law, war profiteering, our hypocritical buildup of new nukes while we deny other countries a similar buildup, our looting of other countries wealth and resources on behalf of our corporations in the false name of "free trade," (and then being upset when millions try to flee the abject poverty that we ourselves caused by coming here), our interference with the culture and politics of other countries on behalf of US corporate interests during both Republican and Democratic administrations, and, at home, the Katrina spectacle multiplied across the country, based on corporate welfare and de-regulation in every area of public interest, regressive taxation, unemployment and underemployment, the income gap and loss of real wages for working families, continuing disparity of lifestyle, education, housing, and wealth for white-privileged vs minority citizens, undermining of civil and privacy rights of every kind, destruction of the social safety net, inadequate health care and retirement, senior and womens’ issues, separation of church and state, oil dependence for energy needs, wanton destruction of our environment, dismantlement of our public education system, over-incarceration of especially minority Americans, the death penalty, invasion of privacy in so many ways, media reform, and so on. I guess I do have a list of grievances, do I not?

It just seems like basic decency and honesty has departed the American political scene. Then, to add to the mix, we have an entirely different global situation than we did 50 years ago, and the conceptual frames that we worked from in 1965 in large extent just don't apply in 2005. We do have to embrace globalization and an interconnected planet, because they are here to stay, but with ingenuity, honesty, and honor we can dream up global solutions that benefit the entire planet instead of plundering it for the greedy few. It is no longer a matter of labor versus business, it might be more a matter of multi-national, tax-free mega business, in partnership with the institutions of power, versus the interests of the rest of the world.

I’ll bet you weren’t expecting a social science lecture.

Anyway, I hope that you find our ideas compatible, and that you will want to help us introduce issues such as these into the dialogue within the party, and that you agree that the voices of people who are working on important issues, like the voting integrity issue brought to us by AUDITAZ and others, should have a hearing within the party.

Have a great Thanksgiving,

Peace and more peace,

Rev. Gerry Straatemeier, MSW

AZ State Democratic Committee
Co-Chair, Progressive Caucus

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Michael: CD 8 Busts Wide Open

Today, Rep. Jim Kolbe let fly rumors among reliable associates that he was not going to seek a 12th term in Congress. The 63 year old openly gay Republican has been rumored to be considering teaching, among other possible opportunities.

This will, of course, set off a flurry of anouncements for the office on both the left and right as egos bottled up over the course of 20 years of Kolbe's incumbency seek expression in a run at Congress for a now open seat. The Latas and Shacter candidacies, still in their infancies, now face a major test of their viability.

Moveon is looking at the CD 8 race now as a key swing district, as will the DCCC and DNC. Moveon is collecting nominations for the open seat: make sure to nominate your favorite politician - or maybe even yourself :)

Join the excited discussion at Kos.

Michael: Socialized vs... um, Socialized

There is little that is more nonsensical than the argument against universal healthcare coverage that goes, "We don't need socialized medicine in this country because..." As if the system of healthcare we currently have isn't 'socialized'. We have a 'socialized' medical system in this country already. It's just a crappy, peicemeal, unequal 'Socialized' system. The choice this county has to make is not between 'socialized' medicine and 'private' medicine (the only people who have private medical care in this country are the uninsured, and they would prefer almost anything else), but between efficient, lower-cost, equitable 'socialized' medicine and ever-more expensive, bloated, profiteering 'socialized' medcine that leaves millions of Americans out.

'Socialized' means under group control. Specifically, in this context, the word is a proxy for 'government' control. In either case, it denotes a mechanism of shared benefits and control in order to spread risk. That is exactly what insurance is. Our current system is 'socialized' to the core through the mechanism of insurance. Recall that Social Security is insurance. Workman's Comp is insurance. Unemployment Insurance is, of course, insurance. Most of the social programs that insulate American families from risks both catastrophic and chronic are insurance programs at base. We simply allow private insurance companies to extract a profit from their management of people's health insurance policies.

Using the private market to manage people's insurance is surely more efficient than having government do it, right? Well, not so much. The overhead costs of private health insurance, including management, infrastructure, wages, and profits, averages about 25% of revenue. Government run Medicare/Medicaid/SCHIP programs? Less than 5%. How does an industry that is comaratively so grossly inefficient stay in business? By spending millions to lobby against the expansion of more efficient government systems.

But surely there is a good reason to have private companies in the insurance, i.e. 'socialization', of certain risks? There is. Moral risk. When a loss is insured against risk, there is a tendency of people to treat those risks in a more cavalier fashion, either by neglecting to take reasonable steps to avoid the risk, or to positively use their insurance against risks to take unreasonable, or even fraudulent risks, knowing they have nothing to lose. A classic example of a moral risk meltdown due to poorly overseen insured risk is the Savings and Loan Bailout of the 1980's. The GOP significantly reduced government regulation and oversight of how these institutions managed the risks the government insured them agaist. The result of was taxpayers left holding a 100 billion dollar tab. Private interests have a stronger incentive to police such moral risk to ensure that they don't lose their money, cause they can't print more.

But moral risk is not a major factor in health care insurance. People don't choose to get sick or have accidents. Fraud does occur, but it is usually a conspiracy between providers and patients which private interests are in no better situation to detect or punish than the government. People really don't want to take pills, or be shut up in hospitals, or have major surgeries. Moral risk is just not a major factor in health care insurance, any more than it is with flood insurance; people don't flood their own properties on purpose all that more frequently than they choose get hit by a bus on purpose. Flood insurance is thus a good moral risk, increasing the productive use of areas that might not be developed fully if private insurance had to be underwritten. Likewise, universal government insurance allows the full development of human capital that private insurers might consider to not be worth underwriting.

The flip side of moral risk is a problem in health insurance, however: bad faith. Bad faith is when an insurer withholds payment for an insured risk without good cause. This tends to happen a lot in health insurance: it's the reason you likely hate your HMO. The reason it happens is because the private profit incentive combines with people's natural aversion to medical treatments to produce the bureaucratic hurdles and hoops that cost a large chunk of that 25% average overhead. The result is predictable; people just give up trying to get needed medical services because it's such a pain in the ass and, well, they often really aren't all that excitied about having the service in the first place. The government, having no incentive for bad faith, and no need of profit, thus comes in at a svelt 5%.

The result of all this bad faith is a failure to invest in what might be called epidemiological risk. Large numbers of people simply don't take very good care of themselves. Discouraged from engaging in preventive care by tightfisted private insurers, and lacking substantial investments and motivations to make needed lifestyle changes on a massive scale, people suffer poorer health outcomes because there is no single insurer with an incentive to reduce costs by addressing such risks. The solution is, of course, to have just one main health insurer, the government, who will be empowered and encouraged to create wise policies to reduce epidemiological risks, thus reduce costs to the insureds (the taxpayer), and improving Americans' standard of living.

So if you want the flabby, hyper-expensive, 'socialized' medicine that most Americans can not participate in, and that suffers of massive bad faith and out-of-control epidemiological risks, then don't change a thing about the American healthcare system. If you want 'socialized' medicine that is lower cost, administratively efficient, operates in good faith to insure every American, and addresses epidemiological risks aggressively to improve the health of all Americans, you want 'socialized' universal government run healthcare. If you really believe that 'private' healthcare is better, drop your health insurance coverage now and join the over 40 million Americans who are currently enjoying the benefits of ideologically pure medical care.

Michael: Arizona's Guard and Reserve Units

The Bush Executive has instituted desperate policies to maintain troop strength. The Pentagon has issued "stop-loss" orders, under which soldiers whose contractual enlistment has ended or is about to end are ordered to remain in service, often being returned to operational zones such as Iraq or Afghanistan for additional service. Many have called this conscription without a draft; soldiers are performing active duty they never volunteered to serve, imposing serve hardships on the troops and their families and degrading the morale of the troops.

The stop-loss orders attempt to make up for a lack of planning, foresight, and judgment by both the Pentagon and the White House, asking those already sacrificing in the line of volunteer duty to sacrifice yet more to cover for their bad leadership and poor judgment. Our leaders’ disregard for the men and women in uniform will only compound their errors and failures -- a volunteer army pushed too far will simply walk away. In the interest of short-term, and politically motivated objectives, this Administration is destroying the trust between citizen and government that is the foundation of the volunteer army and of democratic rule itself.

This Administration has also called up many soldiers in the Individual Ready Reserve. These are soldiers who are no longer active duty, but have agreed to be called back to service when their nation needs them. These citizens are being ripped from their job, family, and community commitments to fight Bush’s war of choice. Many of these citizens, years out of service, are given only minimal additional training and preparation before being thrown back into combat situations. No wonder that many are simply ignoring these orders – and the Pentagon is quietly ignoring these legal desertions so as not to draw attention to this abuse of these citizens’ patriotic commitments.

Of course, most soldiers serving with reserve units are not serving under stop loss and are not IRR. The Guards represent a proud and vital tradition of citizen-soldiery that is a vital link between the civilian world and our increasingly professionalized armed forces. Embedding vital functions of warfighting in the reserves was a conscious choice by General Abrams adopted after Vietnam. It is one of the few remaining restraints on the President's war powers that the reserves must be mobilized in any major conflict - neccessitating maintenance of public support to keep the military in the field for any length of time.

The tripwire that General Abrams set to stop another Vietnam has been triggered. Bush's policies in Iraq are quickly turning our reserves into a broken force; and that is by design. President Bush has lost public support for the mission in Iraq. If he continues to 'stay the course' despite broad public consensus that he's headed for a cliff, the reserves will come apart at the seams.

As of today, the total National Guard and Reserve personnel on active duty is 148,617, including both units and individual augmentees. The Arizona units on active duty, from a military file release listing all active reserve units, includes the following units (individual augmentees are not listed or counted), composed of a total of 1,121 of our fellow citizens, down from 1,374 last March.

When it comes to the lives and safety of our fellow citizens, there are no factions and no politics. I wish them safety, health, and quick return to their civilian lives and families. I hope they are not forced to choose between conscience and duty. Godspeed, brothers and sisters.

159 FI DET
Army National Guard

Army National Guard

5 MI BN 104 RGT DET 3
Army Reserve

111 MD BN CO C FWD 2
Army National Guard

Army National Guard

Army National Guard

Army National Guard

Army National Guard

Army Reserve

Army Reserve

180 FA BN 01 155 SP FWD 8
Army National Guard

180 FA BN 01 155 SPFWD 4
Army National Guard

180 FA BN 01 HHB 155 SP FWD
Army National Guard

180 FA BN 01 HHB 155 SP FWD 3
Army National Guard

180 FA BN 01 HHB 155 SP FWD2
Army National Guard

180 FA BN 01 HHB 155 SP FWD7
Army National Guard

356 LS 3 BN DET 5
Army Reserve

Army Reserve

877 AG CO PLT1
Army Reserve

DET 20 6253 RC BDC
Army Reserve

DET 21 6253 RC BDC
Army Reserve

Army National Guard

Army National Guard

Army National Guard

Army National Guard

Army National Guard

180 FA BN 02 FA BN 155M FWD
Army National Guard

180 FA BN 02 FA BN FWD
Army National Guard

180 FA BN 02 FWD
Army National Guard

180 FA BN 02 HHS FWD2
Army National Guard

189 AV BN 01 CO C
Army National Guard

Army Reserve

225 MP DET DET 2
Army Reserve

285 AV CO CO G FWD 2
Army National Guard

Army Reserve

Army Reserve

Army National Guard

Army Reserve

Army National Guard

Army National Guard

Army Reserve

492 CA BN
Army Reserve

Army Reserve

Army National Guard

Army National Guard

Army Reserve

Army National Guard

Army National Guard

Army National Guard

Army National Guard

Army National Guard

Army National Guard

Army National Guard

Army National Guard

Army National Guard

Army National Guard

Army National Guard

Army National Guard

Army National Guard

Army National Guard

Army National Guard

Army Reserve

Army Reserve

Army Reserve

Army Reserve

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Michael: Francine Shacter Wants To Be Your Representative

Francine ShacterPlease take a moment to visit the website of Francine Shacter for Congress. Admittedly, as of this writing, there isn't all that much there. Francine is a candidate best experienced first-hand, anyway.

Francine (you can't help but think of her by her first name) is very much the wise and compassionate elder stateswoman. Having seen her speak at a forum last night, I can tell you that she absolutely exudes patience, civility, sympathy, and good humor. She spent much of her time on the stump talking about the children she was helping to learn to read through the Reading Seeds program. Her passion for educational issues is evident. If she had her choice she would like to serve on the House Committtee on Education and the Workforce.

She is also passionate about veterans' issues. She says that we owe our veterans a debt that can never be repaid, but that we can, and must, give them finest care possible. She is strongly against the war in Iraq and feels that we should withdraw in good military order under no deadline but to get our troops out as safetly and expeditiously as possible. To ensure that our committments to our troops are honored, Francine would also wish to serve on the House's Committee on Veteran's Affairs.

Francine is herself a veteran of Congress and the Federal bureaucracy, having spent her career on staff at the House Committee on Government Operations, and at the Census Bureau and the Consumer Products Safety Commission. Presumably, she will know her way around upon arrival.

There may be a downside to Francine's experience, too, however. Francine is very realistic about what a freshman legislator can achieve: this could make her more effective at the job she wants, but it could also prevent her from describing to voters an ambitious agenda for what she'd like to achieve, out of honesty about the likelihood she could quickly achieve it.

Francine's humility in approaching the job of U.S. Representative is refreshing. She says she is not running to be queen, but to be the servant of the people. Her's is a self-effacement unusual in this age of big-ego celebrity politics. Francine wants to serve as a conduit between the people of CD8 and DC. She wants to convey the wishes of the people to power and to help solve problems. She thinks the highly partisan atmosphere in our government prevents problem solving and governance.

Despite a pragmatic and cooperative leadership style, Francine's politics are staunchly progressive. She's a big admirer of Howard Dean. Her motto, "love thy neighbor as yourself - and you don't get to choose your neighbor," was inspired by Dean.

Her positions are all fairly orthodox progressive Democratic ones. There are a few rhetorical flourishes on these positions she does especially well. She points out the hypocrisy of the Right for constantly calling for less federal regulation - except in our bedrooms and examination rooms. The governement is developing a "prurient interest in sex" according to Shacter, and needs to get out of Americans' sex lives and medical decisions. Shacter also hammers hard on the appalling statistic that America is 41st in infant mortality. I guessed 29th; I guess my outrage is a little out of date - pre-Bush, if you will. She thinks infant mortality is emblematic of the need for a more equitable health care system.

The impression I carried away from encountering Francine was of a wise and experienced person who wants very much to serve the people of her community. She seems the kind to avoid unnecessary conflict and kerfluffle if she can, in preference for making progress, even incrementally, toward her goals. But if crossed, she gives the distinct impression of having the wit and toughness to be the last one standing at the end of the fight.

The primary season, especially if Kolbe decides to retire (how often have we heard that disarming rumor?), will certainly test who's got what it takes to take on Kolbe or Graf. My sense is that Francine will have to make a considerable media splash, or perhaps pickup a DFA Farm Team endorsement to stay in the money race. She hasn't been in Tucson long enough to develop the network she'll need for funding and hasn't an extensive party base to work from. If Francine's campaign will have a fatal weakness, it may be keeping up in the money race, which is itself evidence of just how corrosive and limiting to our democracy is our method of funding elections.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Michael: The Ad Hominem Party

Yesterday, on the House floor Rep. Schmidt of Ohio made remarks suggesting the Rep. Murtha was a coward for sponsoring a plan for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. She was sending 'a message' from one of her cronies that "Cowards cut and run, Marines never do." Of course, it turns out that the crony was Marine reserve Col. Danny Bubp, who in his thirty years of service in the reserves, never saw deployment outside the CONUS, and never saw battle, being a JAG officer.

Schmidt was forced to remove her comments from the Congressional record when Democrats shut down proceeding in protest of the ad hominem attack on Murtha, a decorated Vietnam veteran.

Today, it seems that the House GOP leadership are looking in to an ethics investigation against Murtha. This is an obvious bit of political payback and intimidation. The GOP continues to prove itself to be the party of the poliitics of personal destruction. Such ad hominem tactics indicate that the GOP is out of ideas and unable to defend it's policies. Instead, they simply aim their slime canons on anyone with enough back-bone to stand up to them. Congress is not longer a deliberative lawmaking body, it's a goddamn school yard ruled by bullies.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Michael: Are incendiary weapons unethical?

The Pentagon has admitted using White Phosphorous (WP) on 'enemy combatants' (a term which apparently embraces anyone in Fallujah at the time of the U.S. assault on that city). WP eats flesh down the bone, leaving clothing and structures intact. It has been widely reported that U.S. forces are also using MK-77, a form of napalm in Iraq. Additionally, the Marines have recently introduced a new shoulder mounted assault weapon that uses a fuel-air thermobaric mixture, which has been compared to a micro-nuke, intended to flatten buildings and incinerate any inhabitants.

There may be sound military reasons to use these weapons - force protection, maneuver cover, even their very lethality - but what remains problematic is whether incendiaries such as these raise the same ethical concerns as other banned chemical weapons, such as nerve or blistering agents. So far, the Administration is defending the use of such weapons as a military neccesity, when used with due care to avoid civilian deaths. There is no sign of the Bush Administration soon repudiating the use of any of these munitions.

One of the most attractive properties of these weapons are they are area effect and don't require line of sight by American forces. They wreak terrible damage on multiple enemies, even if you don't know exactly where they are. This is a force multiplier as well as a compensator for poor 'on the ground' intelligence; both features are vitally important for current American operations in Iraq. This feature is also why they are ethically analogous to other chemical weapons. Their effect is more localized and is less subject to unintentional drift into non-combat areas than are 'chemical' weapons, but they are weapons that may be, and often are, used essentially blind. Thus they tend to subject civilians to accidental exposure at a much greater rate than targeted munitions.

If one is killed by an 'conventional' explosive, or by its pressure wave or shrapnel, one is just as dead as if one is cooked by napalm or WP or a fuel-air explosive. Both types of demise are, more or less, the result of a chemical's reaction with the human body, and they both leave your dead: so where's the ethical distinction?

One distinction is hidden by a common, but ethically problematic use of a 'conventional' munitions - aerial bombing. The 'collateral damage' caused by aerial bombardment has come to be accepted as a normal and unavoidable feature of warfare, but there is still a school of thought that considers aerial bombardment of areas inhabited by civilians to be a war crime in and of itself. Aerial bombardment, because it is an indirect and thus inherently indiscriminant use of force presents the same ethical issue I touched on in the previous paragraph. The ethical distinction between death by 'conventional' and 'chemical' weapons ought to be the likelihood of unintended civilian casualties, but the distinction is buried under the mountain of civilian deaths caused by aerial bombardment. But just because the distinction is concealed by 'collateral damage' doesn't mean it's not there.

Another distinction is that there is something viscerally horrifying about death by immolation. It shocks the conscience, as I'm sure the picture I led this post with shocks many readers. Is that reason enough to ban the use of a class of weapon?

It's the best reason. Our ethics are the product of our evolutionary adaptation to social existence. Such a 'gut check' is a good way to know that we are doing something terribly inimical to social order and our long-term survival by using such weapons, even if it is beneficial from a purely utilitarian viewpoint, i.e. serves military mission goals admirably. Despite the fact that military and political leaders may claim that using these weapons aid us in 'winning' the 'war on terror', and even if they are right about that, using such weapons is impermissable because of their indiscriminate and inhumane effects.

We might win battles by use of these awful weapons, but we will lose the war.

Michael: Murtha Says, "IT IS TIME TO BRING THEM HOME"

Representative John Murtha of Pennsylvania just put another stake in the heart of the Bush Iraq 'policy'. Murtha is a decorated veteran intelligence officer, who voted for the resolution considered authorization for Bush's war in Iraq.

He released a strong statement against the war today and sponsored legislation that will force the Administration to:

  • To immediately redeploy U.S. troops consistent with the safety of U.S. forces.

  • To create a quick reaction force in the region.

  • To create an over- the- horizon presence of Marines.

  • To diplomatically pursue security and stability in Iraq.

Murtha explained his move saying, "The war in Iraq is not going as advertised. It is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion." Murtha said he was standing up because he had a constitutional and moral obligation to speak for the troops.

Just as Cindy Sheehan marked a turning point in public support for the Iraq war, Murtha represents a turning point in Congressional support for Bush's policy. With both former Democratic Presidents now openly criticizing the war, and even Brent Scowcroft, widely considered Bush I's catspaw on foriegn policy matters, criticizing Bush II's handling of the war, the angle of the slope of elite opinion is tilting against the Administration. The new tone of rancor in the Administration's defense of their Iraq policies, including unprecedented partisan attacks in Bush's Veterans' Day remarks, demostrates that they are decidedly on the defensive about Iraq.

In the Senate, John Warner (R - VA), led the charge to finally put some teeth in Congressional oversight of the war by requiring quarterly reports to the Senate. Though rightly considered by many to be too little too late, it indicates the growing dissatisfaction with the stinking albatross that Bush has hung around the necks of Congressional GOPers facing re-election next year.

These developments are very positive signs that consensus is forming to head for the door in Iraq, rather than settling in for more butchery and even deploying more troops in the Iraqi quagmire, as Senator McCain and others are still advocating.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Michael: Relying on Clinton

The most amusing thing about the White House's new defense of its Iraq policy (if anything about Iraq can said to be humorous) is the component which claims that Clinton came to many of the same conclusions about Saddam and his WMD in 1998 prior to Operation Desert Fox. Therefore, we are encouraged to infer that Team Bush's conclusions about Iraq's WMD, being superficially similar to Clinton's, were also supported by the best available intelligence. It's nothing more than an appeal to authority aimed at Democrats and Independents who supported Clinton, aiming to shore up Bush's deflating polls. And we all know that appeals to authority are classical logical fallacies in argumentation.

This assertion in defense of Bush fails to admit that Clinton also felt that Desert Fox had met its goals and eliminated the threat of WMD proliferation in Iraq. Clinton considered Iraq contained. But that's just the misleading and logically fallacious part. The funny (sic) part is that Bush thereby relies on the honesty and integrity of Clinton's goals for an operation that conservatives almost universally condemned as a distraction from domestic political issues and a purely political ploy with no basis in real intelligence. Ironically, many conservatives claimed that the President was intentionally puffing the evidence that Iraq was developing WMD, or even outright lying, and purposefully provoked Saddam because he so badly wanted to start a war.

So the lesson one might draw from this (sadly) unsurprising bit of hypocrisy is that a Democrat can only be right when his position, post hoc, seems to support Bush's policies. Conservatives reserve the right to rehabilitate any policy they once excoriated, if it suits their immediate needs. Any questioning of the Bushista party line in such matters is simply irrational Bush hatred (aka Bush Derangement Syndrome), and can therefore be ignored.

Michael: Jack Jackson, Jr. for Congress

Please visit, the website for Jack Jackson, Jr. who's running against Dick Renzi for Congress in Arizona's CD 1. Jackson's website is still mostly under developement, though he has inaugurated his blog, which I sincerely hope will not be as boring as most candidate blogs.

Jackson is off to a good start on that score by substantively taking on the issue of veterans' benefits on Veteran's Day in the context of his district. He seems set to write the blog himself, of which I strongly approve. Blogging should not be left to volunteers or media consultants any more. If candidates want their blogs to get any electoral and media traction these days, they need to be personally written at least part of the time.

There are no issue positions up yet at Jackson's site, so there isn't much to talk about. I do have an issue with his logo that apparently the consultants or volunteers who ginned it up must have overlooked. There is a crude vernacular saying, "he thinks the sun shines out of his ass," meaning that someone is self-centered. I can't help recalling this phrase every time I see Jackson's logo. He may want to consider changing it before he's too deeply invested in it.

Michael: Jeff Latas Declares for CD 8 Race against Kolbe

Please visit the website of Jeff Latas for Congress. Mr. Latas has laid out a very smart and common-sense platform in plain language on his site. I don't agree with every detail of his views, but it is obvious that Jeff is a smart and serious, and well-qualified candidate who is open-minded, goal-oriented, and progressive.

He comes out strongly for creating an actual energy policy rather than letting the energy companies set policy around such a deeply influential and strategically important sector of our economy. With energy prices on everyone's mind this is going to be a compelling campaign issue, and Jeff recognizes that.

He takes a strong stand for environmental conservation and enforcement, though I think he would do well to talk more about the moral and self-interested dimensions of conservation and protecting the environment and less about the nuts and bolts of enforcement.

He is going to take some serious heat in CD 8 on immigration issues with his current statement. He is laudibly honest in his condemnation of the 'close the border' 'law-enforcement first' view of immigration, but his suggestion that Mexico pay for the health-care costs for its nationals in the U.S. is unrealistic.

Latas gives a nod to defense spending being out of control but hesitates short of calling for any specific reductions in the defense budget, and instead only states a desire to increase military R&D. Our military budget certainly needs to be reprioritized, but it also needs to be cut - mostly from our over-exention in Iraq.

Jeff wisely acknowledges that the Medicare deficit is a much more serious and immediate problem than any projected shortfall in the Social Security Trust. Presumably, Latas can therefore be depended upon to staunchly reject any spurious Social Security 'reforms' and look for solutions to underfunding Medicare instead, which will be the foundation of any universal health-care program, which Latas clearly supports. Latas would do well to devote less time to attacking private accounts, which is a policy that's already DOA, and more to addressing how fund Medicare and how to fix the drug prescription benefit, which will be a heated topic begining next year as retirees get fed up with the GOP's horrible plan.

Latas needs work on his tax proposals, though it is dangerous to be specific on this topic. He makes a good start by stating the priciples that he stands for reduced income tax on the poor and AMT for the wealthy. To complete his philosophic stand on taxation he advocates relying less on income tax and more on "user tax", by which I assume he means service fees and the like. I find that position weak. He should advocate for less reliance on payroll taxes if he wants to help 95% of Americans. If he wanted to be truly progressive and innovative he should back a universal transaction tax.

Latas keeps his position on free trade short and sweet, demanding "free trade for free states." All parties to free trade agreements should adhere to human rights, enviromental, and fair trade policies. I'm not sure what 'fair trade' policies are, but if they are international norms on wages, union rights, workplace safety and benefits, then count me in.

I'm looking forward to seeing how Latas does in the campaign. He has some natural advantages in the current political climate. He's a career veteran of the Air Force with Pentagon and intelligence experience and a son in the Army Reserve in Iraq. This gives him a natural authority to take a strong position on Iraq in contrast to Kolbe's. He also has a compelling personal story regarding his son's life-threatening illness supporting the moral urgency of his stand on universal health-care. Finally, as an engineer, he has the intellectual capacity and personal commitment to enviromental protection via an alternative energy policy to really sell this issue and make it a centerpiece of his campaign. He would do well to link his campaign to the Apollo Alliance.

If I had one suggestion for the Latas campaign. it would be to make Americans' civil rights and universal human rights a much more explicit and central issue in his platform. The people need candidates talk about the damage to our constitutional rights and our prestige in the world this Administration and Congress have done over the past 5 years. Unless candidates put it front and center in their campaigns, the GOP will not pay the price they should for their perfidy.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Michael: Bush Feeling Betrayed, Turns Recluse

Via Daily Kos:

The Washington Times (Moonie Conservatives with a printing press) reports that Bush (43) has become increasingly reclusive, even avoiding contact with Bush (41). His relationship with Rove has suffered because Bush apparently believed Rove when he claimed to have nothing to do with Plamegate and allowed Bush (43) to put what little reputation he has left on the line for the Turd Blossom.

Mr. Bush maintains daily contact with only four people: first lady Laura Bush, his mother, Barbara Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes. The sources also say that Mr. Bush has stopped talking with his father, except on family occasions.

So, Bush has stopped talking to anyone except his mother and Bush's fawning and overweaningly affectionate female proxies for his mother. I'll bet that he also continues regular contact with Harriet "you are the best Governor ever!" Miers. That tells us something very disturbing about Bush's state of mind. He's been psychologically wounded by the unwinding of the neocons' schemes.

The man is retreating ever further from a reality that will no longer yield to his press releases and spin doctors. If Republicans were worried about Clinton 'wagging the dog' to take focus off his impeachment problems, it is certainly rational to worry about what Bush might do to take the focus off his reality problems.

Bush has betrayed the trust of all Americans, especially conservatives, in fundamental ways: no amount of dog wagging will regain Bush's credibility. The Presidency will be a weak and pusillanimous institution for the next three years. Congress will step into the vaccuum to lead the Republican majority down the toilet with their agenda-setting brain trust on loan from the Religious and Corporate Right Wings that produced such popular initiatives as the Shiavo affair and attempted benefit cuts to veterans' and childrens' programs to keep favored tax rates for stock dividends and eliminate the Dynasty Tax.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Michael: Al Qaida Changes Gears

It seems a new, and fairly confusing, front in the terrorist campaign over Iraq has begun. The bombings of tourist hotels in Amman Jordan seem out of step with the goal of Al Qaida to use terrorist attacks to isolate America from its military coalition ‘partners’. The target even prompted many to wonder if Al Qaida in Iraq was not actually behind the attack, but was instead orchestrated by Sunni Baathists. The capture of one of the failed terrorists makes such an attribution much less likely. This attack highlights the highly decentralized nature of Al Qaida today.

We’ve already seen Al Qaida cell strikes in Spain and England, aimed to prompting withdrawal of those nations from the coalition. It worked against Spain, but not yet against England. Concerns about the goals and handling of the war, as well as about possible terrorist attacks at home have caused several coalition partners to pull their troops (Ukraine, Portugal, Netherlands, Bulgaria, and others).

One would expect the next attacks to fall either on England again, or on the most mediagenic, influential, or internally unstable coalition members with troops in Iraq. Candidates would include Australia, Poland, South Korea, Japan or Georgia. But instead 5 suicide bombers struck in Jordan. It appears these bombers really did come from Al Zarqawi’s organization, and were not just working under cover of ‘Al Qaida in Iraq’. So why would Al Qaida want to strike at Jordan?

Jordan’s Hashemite Sunni king has been very accommodating of Washington’s goals and has even established a full embassy in Baghdad, granting recognition to the provisional government, something no other Arab League member has done. In the eyes of Al Qaida, such betrayals may have erased what natural sympathies there might have been, prompting this attack as a stern message to cease embracing the U.S. and its goals in the region.

No doubt we will continue to see terrorist attacks on the civilian populations of coalition partners in the future. Based on the public opinion trends among key coalition partners, we can expect Al Qaida cells, if they if fact exist in those coalition partner countries, to strike where public opinion about the war is least favorable. My guess is that either Poland or Australia is next up. Poland offers the advantage of serving as a demonstration to America's numerous, "New Europe," Eastern European allies that they, too, are vulnerable. However, the very small foreign Muslim population in Poland (about 25K) is a fairly small population to recruit from for resident cells. Australia is, I think, a more likely target. Their English-speaking press will catapult awareness of the attack in England and America much more effectively, and they have a much larger Muslim population (over 250K), many of whom are recent immigrants, giving Al Qaida a much more fertile ground for recruitment.

The attacks in Jordan clearly demonstrate that Al Qaida is willing to take the immediate political heat to discipline Middle Eastern governments, as well as coalition 'partners'. Many have predicted the Iraq war would have the effect of spreading terrorism throughout the greater Middle East and potentially destabilizing allied and moderate Middle Eastern regimes. That prediction, while not fully realized, seems now more likely to come to pass.

Michael: Reflecting On Iraq

I'm currently reading Assassin's Gate (as you can see on the sidebar). So far I'm finding it an excellent book. The first part is about the ideological and political manuevering that formed the trigger pull to launch the war. I am finding this part challenging to my world-view. Packer so eloquently describes some of the noble aspirations of many who supported the war, that I often find my self in sympathy with pro-war views.

I never opposed the war because I was afraid of using American power for a noble cause. Nor because freeing Iraq from Saddam and the Baathists wasn't a noble cause. Nor even out of some general pacifism. The reason I opposed the war was because I firmly believed that nothing that the Bush regime wanted to do could possibly be any good for Americans - or for Iraqis, in fact. Knee-jerk Bush-hating? Perhaps. I prefer to think of it like a dog who knows when he sniffs you whether you're a son-of-a-bitch or not.

I believed there was insufficient cause for war, and that inspections and international cooperation could achieve the desired ends. I also believed that the Iraqi people would not see us as liberators and that we stood a reasonable chance of getting entangled in something much more costly and protracted than we were being promised. But more than either of these reasons I simply suspected that the Bush regime would screw it all up somehow.

I wish I could point to a more principled reason, and if I tried I could certainly dress it up some, but it really never was more than complete and utter skepticism about the Bush regimes' motives and competence. I just didn't trust Bush and his pack of cronies to be able to competently manage the whole thing and bring it off with a reasonable degree of simple competence. Their numerous inept and transparent lies and distortions, obvious even then to people such as myself with access only to open sources, and widely recognized as lies and distortions now, simply cemented my profound reservations about the whole venture.

I've never viewed those who supported the war as much worse than gullible and, quite possibly, fatally reactionary due to 9/11. I think that that was the plan for selling the war domestically - idealism and fear in equal measure.

I did not suspect at the time that our national honor would be so brutally sacrificed on the neoconservatives' altar to Pollyanna. Secret detentions, torture, violations of the Geneva Conventions, mass civilian casualties, use of chemical weapons on combatants and civilians alike. These atrocities only begin to plumb the depths to which this inept regime has dragged America's honor in pursuit of a bright and noble dream. Whatever else it may be, or someday become, the Iraq war has been a tragedy classical tradition - hubris, a fatal flaw, and an ironical and terrible fate foretold.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Michael: Threat of jail time may get attention of Arizona leaders

Raner C. Collins, Federal judge and Bush appointee, wants to lock the Governor and the State Legislative leaders in jail until they resolve the dispute over funding the teaching of English as a second language in Arizona. Now that's criminalizing politics.

Not that I disagree with him; a lot of political disputes could no doubt be solved if our leaders were given some clear guidelines and locked in a room until they reached agreement. We do this all the time in public life: it's called a jury. And jury deliberations, held hostage as they are to unanimity, have a way of making the most intransigent prejudices amenable to reasoned discourse, if only to get home in time for supper.

So fire off that writ, Judge Collins. Throw our disfunctional legislative leaders into a locked room with Janet. I have no doubt about who would walk out of that room, and who would crawl.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Michael: Flake Alert

Those who watched the Daily Show tonight were treated to an appearance by Arizona's own Jeff Flake (R, AZ CD 6), and his hair, doing their best John Birch impersonation for all the world to see. The former Director of the Goldwater Institute opined that we don't need no steekin' Energy Department, nor a stupid Commerce Department (despite that pesky Commerce Clause in the Constitution), nor a dumb Department of Education. All those agencies are just pork-barrel spending in Flake's sage view.

I'm glad to see Flake going on record on these matters... should make a great campaign ad in 2006. I will acknowledge that at least Flake's voting record seems to be consistent with his anti-government views. Flake seems only to vote in favor of appropriation bills that have guns or black helicopters somewhere in them.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Michael: Obama Rally for Pederson in Phoenix

Sen. Barack Obama will join U.S. Senate Candidate Jim Pederson and Congressman Raul Grijalva for a rally with Arizona students and families about the importance of educational investment.

Saturday Nov, 12th @ 1:30pm

Arizona State University
Student Services Lawn
Tempe, AZ 85281
(near the Memorial Union)

Looks like Obama is using his celebrity status wisely to help new Democrats into the Senate. It's the wisest thing he could do: it'll get him off the bottom of the seniority pile :) And it might just break the political logjam that is keeping the marshlands of D.C. from draining.

Michael: Hurricane in Tucson

I can't help but see the gale force victories of Karin Uhlich and Nina Trasoff as a good sign for the upcoming 2006 election season. Certainly, the quality of the candidates and the energetic work of the Democratic volunteers have a lot to do with ultimate victory, but margins in the range of 30% do not come from well-run or energetic campaigns, they come from very pissed-off constituencies.

The dissatisfaction with the GOP's experiments in social engineering is building quickly and is raining down on the heads of even local yokels like Frodo and Dumbar. If the electorate's anger is enough to wash a middling-safe Senator like Kyl out of office, then the Senate might just change hands in 2006. Should that happen, the GOP will no longer be able to supress investigatory oversight of the many, many, many unexplored scandals hovering just of the public's radar. Two years of torrential scandals may be just the ticket for enough additional pickups to turn over the House in 2008, and maybe deliver the White House as well.

Karin and Nina are just little storms, but when joined with all the other leftward political winds blow around the country tonight they could build into a perfect political storm that will engulf the whole nation.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Michael: Senate Staffer Attacked, FBI Sees Possible Link to Investigatory Work

Via The Hill:

Senator Grassley of Iowa's Finance Committee staffer Emilia DiSanto was beaten outside her suburban home by an assailant dressed in black and wearing a hood wielding a baseball bat. She sustained serious upper body injuries, before her family scared the attacker off. The assailant made no demands, just started beating her. DiSanto lives in an area where violent street crime is very rare.

"Grassley is known for his aggressive oversight of the public and private sector. Over the past year, he has scrutinized healthcare fraud, organ-donation procedures used by hospitals, drug-safety matters and the use of nonprofit groups related to former lobbyist Jack Abramoff."

Abramoff was in a serious business dispute with Gus Boulis over the SunCruz casino when he was murdered, gangland-style, in 2001, and is under investigation for many improprieties. One must wonder if the assault of DiSanto is a sign that politics have indeed become 'criminalized', not by prosecutors like Earle and Fitzgerald who are upholding the law, but by the Republican thugs and bagmen, like Abramoff, who now infest K Street. DiSanto's experience may be an extreme example of the Republican practice of 'working the refs' - working them over with baseball bats.

Michael: Bush Declares: 'We Do Not Torture... Without a good reason"

Defending U.S. interrogation practices, Bush declared boldly, "We do not torture... without a good reason. Everyone knows that we do torture people. Heck we have pictures. I keep the better ones in my desk drawer in the Oval Office and look at them when I'm sittin' in there with war on my mind. But I promise that we won't torture anyone who is not in U.S. custody. And of those in U.S. custody, we won't torture anyone if they aren't brown skinned and speak a foreign language. The rest, we render to legal jurisdictions for torture and don't do it ourselves. In any case, we can't have any of this nonsense from the Senate about not torturing people under any circumstances, because it doesn't take into account the nuance of the situation. I pledge to be the torture President."

White House spokesman McClellan clarified the President's statements. "The President meant, of course, that we don't torture civilians. Only enemy combatants who have no rights or status as human beings under American law. Who is designated a enemy combatant is totally within the discretion of the President. Helen Thomas?"

"Scott, so the President is saying that he'll torture whomever he wants?"

"Hellen, I think we all know that you don't support the broader war on terror, so the President today issued a proclamation designating you as an enemy combatant. Everyone should be aware that Ms. Thomas' ethnicity is Arab... yes, that's right, she one of those. Ms. Thomas, the Secret Service will escort you to Vice President Cheney's bunker for sexual humiliation before your rendition."

John Yoo, the White House office of legal counsel staffer who drafted the Administration's torture policy clarified further. "We don't actually torture anyone. You see 'torture' as defined by this Administration means inflicting pain the equivalent of major organ failure or death. We don't do that. So, under the newspeak... er, new definition of torture, all the things we do with stress positions, drowning, sensory deprivation and overstimulation, starvation and dehydration, sexual humiliation and violation, inducing respiratory distress, physical beatings and dog assaults, aren't actually torture. In fact, the multiple homocides that have occured in U.S. detention camps around the world aren't torture either, because the pain those persons underwent wasn't the equivalent to the pain of death, it was the pain of death. So you see, the U.S. doesn't torture people at all."

For the stupid: The preceeding has been satire and not actual quotes.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Michael: Restoration Project in Arizona

In America, the self-proclaimed Johnny Appleseed of Democracy, 4.7 million Americans have been shorn of their most basic civil rights, including the right to vote. The most basic and cherished right of an American citizen is denied to these citizens because they have been convicted of a felony one or more times in their life. In 48 states (with the exception of Maine and Vermont) and the District of Columbia prisoners cannot vote. In 35 states felons on probation or parole are disenfranchised. And in 13 states, including Arizona, a felony conviction can result in a lifetime loss of civil rights extending long after the completion of a sentence.

This fundamental obstacle to participation in democratic life is exacerbated by racial disparities in the criminal justice system, resulting in disproportionate numbers of minority citizens being unable to vote. It is estimated that this pervasive disenfranchisement of American citizens has affected the outcome of at least 7 Senate races and at least 1 Presidential race (2000), in just the last 20 years.

As a result of various changes in state laws, as well as extensive grassroots efforts, an increasing number of Americans with felony convictions are regaining their voting rights. Such an effort is underway here in Arizona under the Restoration Project, which had its first public forum in Tucson on the 4th of November. The Project seek both legal remedies to the problem, to educate the relevant population on how to restore their rights, and to educate the broader public about the need for reform.

Public opinion clearly shows strong support for reform - 80% of the public supports restoration of voting rights for ex-felons who have completed their sentences, and more than 60% support the right of probationers and parolees to vote. So why is reform so difficult if public support is so strong? Ignorance.

Most people simply aren’t aware of felon disenfranchisement and its impact, and if they are, they don’t realize the hurdles former felons face in restoring their rights. Arizona doesn’t collect statistical information on civil rights restoration, but it is known that over 58,000 Arizonans have been stripped of their right to vote. Based on the rates of restoration in jurisdictions with similar laws for judicial restoration procedures, it is safe to assume that only a negligible percentage of former felons achieve restoration, even if they are eligible.

The solution is to automatically restore lost civil rights upon the completion of any felony sentence. Arizona State Representative for District 28, Ted Downing, introduced legislation that would automatically restore all civil rights (except for the right to carry weapons, which would still have to be judicially determined) last term. It was passed out of the Public Institutions committee by a wide margin, but never got a hearing in the other two committee to which it was assigned. Deserving of extra-credit for supporting a Democratic-sponsored bill are Republican Members Jennifer Burns, Pete Hershberger, Vice-Chairman Trish Groe and Chairman Marian McClure.

One might wonder why this bill didn’t sail through committees and pass overwhelmingly, given the broad public support such laws receive. Ignorance.

There are many superficial and reflexive responses to restoration that might cause some people to resist restoration. I will try to address some of them.

”Felons have broken the social contract and cannot be trusted to use their vote to promote the social welfare. They may form a voting block voting against the public order and enforcement of the penal laws.”

This is an untested and theoretical assertion with no evidence to support it. In America we demand that when the government acts to deny its citizens fundamental rights that it have a reasonable policy goal in mind with narrowly tailored policies to reach that goal. We demand that there be a logical and empirically proven connection between the ends desired and the means used, and that the policy be designed to minimize collateral impacts on the rights of citizens. These are principles of our Constitutional law, not just reasonable and intelligent governance.

There are good reasons to believe that most, if not all, of those 4.7 million Americans have useful and important views and life experience that will enrich our democracy. They have seen intimately how our justice system works, or fails to do so. We have the industrial world’s highest incarceration rate: maybe part of that is disregarding the franchise of those who have been there. America suffers from a creeping militarism in its foriegn policy that threatens the stability of the world and the future of life on earth: maybe the nearly 600,000 veterans nation-wide who have been disenfranchised by these unjust laws would have useful views on our military policies. They have seen economic hardship and know the sting of discrimination. We have the industrial world’s greatest income disparities, rates of child and senior poverty, and worst healthcare for the poor: maybe we ignore the poor because so many of them are legally disenfranchised. Our democracy is impoverished, not improved, by their silence.

”These people have committed crimes; they simply deserve whatever they get for the rest of their lives.”

There is not a single judge who would argue that a felon should be punished beyond the term of his sentence and satisfaction of whatever fines and restitution is apportioned to him. How is it justice to punish a person beyond their lawfully imposed sentence?

The most important argument against the sort of perpetual retribution which disenfranchisement represents is more spiritual in nature: Forgiveness. Reverend John Fife (himself a disenfranchised felon for his acts of civil disobedience in the Sanctuary movement) spoke to this point at the forum. Fife pointed out that community, be it a family, a friendship, or a nation, cannot function without forgiveness.

Consider the example of Abraham and his sons. He intended to murder of his sons and the children made war on each other, yet they stood together at Abraham’s funeral. We all do terrible things to one another, but with repentance, atonement, and forgiveness we can continue to live together. The promise of forgiveness in Christ is the central covenant of the Christian faith. If you would have a more Christian nation, more forgiveness would be a good place to start.

There are other very good reasons to favor restoration. Our nation was founded under the slogan, “No taxation without representation!” A central republican (note the small r) value is that the moral authority for taking taxes from the populace is that the same populace has a franchise with which to have a say in how it is spent. Many felons live for years in our communities, paying taxes, raising kids, working to make a living and contribution, yet they are denied representation while bearing taxation.

We want ex-offenders to reintegrate into society upon the completion of their sentence and become full and productive members of society. Yet we deny them the most basic rights of citizens. A franchise and the other civil rights, such as holding public office, for many are marks and vital tools of that citizenship. It is hypocritical to expect these men and women to take on the full responsibilities of citizenship after they’ve paid their debt to society and yet withhold from them all the rights of citizenship.

To move this issue forward a broad coalition of interests must be mobilized and our legislators must be aware of the broad support for issue in their constituencies. If you are a member of a public interest or service organization, ask them to join the Restoration Project. Contact your legislators, especially if they are on the Judiciary, Public Institutions or Rules committees and let them know how you feel about this issue. This shouldn’t be a partisan issue, it should be about doing what is right and just and best for our democracy.

Michael: Alito Nomination Support Soft?

Though harranged by Bush from Air Force One, Senator Arlen Specter refused to promise Bush to bring ScAlito's nomination to the floor of the Senate by Christmas. It looks like Bush won't be getting a visit from Santa this year.

Specter's reluctance to rush the confirmation hearings may be sign of the softening support for Alito among key conservative groups, and strong opposition by the left. Polling on the nomination shows the candidate's surprising weakness - on par with early support for failed nominee Harriet Miers.

Via Yahoo News:
"Early support for Alito, however, is considerably weaker among such key groups as evangelical Christians, Republicans and the wealthy than it was for newly confirmed Chief Justice John Roberts, according to an AP-Ipsos poll conducted Monday through Wednesday.

About four in 10 respondents — 38 percent — backed Alito's confirmation. Twenty-two percent voiced strong support.

For Roberts, 47 percent said in July that they supported his confirmation, 36 percent strongly.

The survey of 1,006 adults put public sentiment for Alito closer to the level of early backing for the failed nomination of Harriet Miers, Bush's first pick who withdrew amid mounting criticism from conservative Republicans. They said the White House counsel and Bush confidant had thin credentials on constitutional law and no proven record as a judicial conservative.

Nearly two-thirds of evangelicals supported Roberts' confirmation, with half strongly backing him. For Alito, about half of evangelicals support his confirmation, one-third strongly. There were similar drops among Republicans and among people who make more than $75,000 a year."

Why is ScAlito's support softer than Roberts' was? Part of it might be that while Roberts was replacing Rhenquist, ScAlito is aiming to replace centrist O'Connor, whom many evanglicals see as the key vote to kill Roe. They may not feel as sure as they would like of ScAlito's ideological pedegree on this issue. As I pointed out in an earlier post, evangelical's focus on Roe is misguided on jurisprudential grounds; their interests are better served by judges who have a track record of undermining womens' reproductive autonomy, as does ScAlito, and Roberts. The confirmation process and their own leadership may educate on them on this point and firm up ScAlito's support.

Support among conservatives may eventually stiffen, but in the face of growing liberal concern about ScAlito's nomination, it might not be enough to keep key "Gang of Fourteen" fingers from the filibuster button. Despite early signals from Senators DeWine, Nelson, Johnson and Pryor, it remains unseen whether these key votes will find "extraordinary circumstances" in the course of the confirmation hearing. Given ScAlito's 15 years on the bench and extensive paper trail, it's a good bet that something "extraordinary" will turn up.

Of course, if that happens and the veto is sustained over GOP a attempt to use the unconstitutional nuclear option, I will get to say, "I told you so" again. At that point, I'm going to incorporate and go into business as a political psychic advisor.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Michael: Dunbar's two minds

Kathleen Dunbar is suing, well, everyone she can think of, for defamation at a million a pop. I'd be really interested to learn how Dunbar's reputation is worth a plug nickel, let alone a megabuck. I guess I'll see. Having published the reply letter of the opposing attorney, I have published the same allegedly defamatory charges. I'm expecting service any minute now...

Dunbar's extreme litigiousness (apparently threatening law suits is a regular feature of her campaigns) is at odds with her sang froid toward any lawsuit over Clear Channel's illegal billboards. I wonder why that might be?

Michael: Working over society's referees

After a tumult of charges of partisanship from all sides, the DeLay political corruption case finally got a judge. How long will it be before a standard part of every case is to demand the recusal of any judge not sharing your client's party registration? Partisan election of judges is a deeply stupid idea for this, any many other, reasons.

I fear we may be coming to a point in American public life when public institutions are no longer perceived as being any more neutral or impartial than the most biased people within them. Look at elections. The deporable political polarization around the issue to accountable and auditable elections, which should be a very neutral and universal goal, is held hostage to the Republican's perception that black box elections somehow favor them. Every aspect of public life is becoming entangled in the Republicans' fevered insistence on 'working the referees'.

Elections should work without political bias. Journalism (as opposed to opinion/propaganda, like this blog) should operate without political bias. The courts should operate without political bias. Yet in each of these realms, on which the very notion of a just and accountable civic order is based, we see conservatives making every effort to inject bias, or decry imagined bias, where previously there was a conscious avoidance of it.

There is a childish saying, which sucinctly captures the essence of conservatives' relationship to political bias: "He who smelt it, dealt it."


Wow. A campaign web site for a Supreme Court nominee. Check it out at It makes a good case for ScAlito based on his resume, but papers over the real issue of his clear ideological aims revealed by his record on the federal bench.

The Extreme Right is having no hesitation throwing as much weight as they can at ensuring ScAlito's ascension. Given that only a scintilla of information about his position on abortion is demonstrated by the record, their zeal and unstinting support may seem a surprising contrast to their scuppering of Miers.

Unlike Miers, who made some unfortunate comments about 'autonomy', ScAlito has clearly signalled his allegiance to the strategy of incrementally decreasing women's access to abortion. But there is no strong signal that he is ready to sack Roe, and there's a good reason for that: burning Roe is a conservative straw man. It is a good rabble rouser, but it's not a valid judicial strategy. Civil Libertarians holding their fire until ScAlito clearly signals an intent to overrun Roe are likely to never get a chance to repulse ScAlito's assault on our rights.

Rather than a frontal assault on Roe (a decision which a clear majority of Americans support), a fifth column of jurists like ScAlito seek to chip away at the foundations of a woman's privacy until Roe is just more dead-letter law and collapses into the void they've dug. ScAlito poses a dire threat to the rights of American women, especially the poor and victimized, but not because he's posed to conquer Roe. Unless the we stop focusing exclusively on the citadel of Roe, we might find the war for women's rights has been lost because we were massed on the wrong battlefield.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Michael: Kathleen Dunbar - Protecting Precedent Against Kids

I have a very interesting email. It is the response of the Democratic Party's lawyer to the threatened defamation lawsuit by Dunbar against her political critics over her handling of a voluntary per unit contribution by a developer to offset the impact on local schools. It pretty clearly lays out the history of this sad chapter in Tucson politics. I share it with you in full.

Dear Mr. Gonzales:

Just prior to 7:30 a.m. this morning your client, City Councilwoman Kathleen Dunbar, awakened retired Amphitheater school teacher Ms. Alison Newman, and threatened to have her "lawyer sue you personally."

Her threat followed Ms. Newman's refusal to "write a retraction" of the contents of a letter she and two other retired school teachers wrote to fellow educators urging that they not vote for Kathleen Dunbar because she has demonstrated that she "does not support our schools and children."

Later that morning you separately e-mailed Karin Uhlich and the Pima County Democratic Party threatening legal action against the party committee "and ALL persons and organizations" who you claim will be "subject to the same legal action which will be brought against Mr. Jaeger and the Amphi School District."

Please accept this letter from my law firm on behalf of Ms. Newman, the Democratic Party and Ms. Uhlich.

At the May 10, 2004 regular session of the mayor and council there was a remarkable exchange between Mr. Todd Jaeger, Associate Superintendent and General Counsel for the Amphi School District and your client, Council Member Kathleen Dunbar. Mr. Jaeger said his appearance at the council meeting was on behalf of the District and that they were paying him to be there. He outlined for the mayor and council the financial impact on the District of new residential construction that filled to capacity their schools and the difficulty of the district to build new schools or to bus students within the district from one school to another. Consequently, the district had sought voluntary agreements with developers to pay the district an impact fee to lessen the burden of their project.

Mr. Jaeger, on behalf of the district, had negotiated such an agreement with The Kemmerly Companies that would have resulted in the Amphi School District receiving approximately $250,000 from the developers. After the agreement had been made but before final signatures your client, Ms. Dunbar, utilizing the powers of her office, threatened to punish the company by voting against the project and soliciting the votes of other council members to stop the project.

A partial transcript of Mr. Jaeger's own words at the May 10, 2004 council meeting are quoted below.

"Ultimately on or about 4/21 we received final word after exchanging drafts of the agreement, that the developer would in fact enter into an agreement with the district providing $1200 per home which would essentially enable us to build 4 classrooms at the schools and allow us in fact to overcome the capacity deficiency. Oddly enough then you might wonder why we are here. We're here because the developer just a few days later contacted us and said after reaching an agreement they were withdrawing that agreement. They said quite candidly that they were withdrawing from the agreement because Ms. Dunbar had told them that if they entered into an agreement she would see to it that this development was voted down. I had my own conversation with Ms. Dunbar on or about 4/21 and she told me in fact she would fight us on this project. I cannot understand for the life of me why she would oppose a voluntary agreement that would benefit students at 2 Title I schools. But that is the status. We would ask that this applicant be denied at this time until the school district's serious concerns about capacity at the schools are addressed."

Mr. Jaeger's description of events were confirmed by emails of the negotiating process.

On April 21, 2004 at 1:26 p.m. Connie McFarland of the Amphi School District sent the proposed agreement to Larry Rollin, the Kemmerly Companies lawyer.

She said: "Sir, per your discussion with Todd Jaeger yesterday, I have attached a form of agreement drafted for your initial review. For your reference, I have also included an agreement (Rooney Ranch) that we have recently utilized."

Some fifteen minutes later Mr. Rollin responded that he had spoken with his client who was "on board with the $1,200 program." His e-mail reads in full:

"Thank you for the documentation. Please inform Todd that I spoke with Chris Kemmerly and he is on board with the $1,200 program. Our only internal issue is whether we will increase the house price by the amount or have the buyer pay it as one of a number of buyer costs due at closing."

Less than twenty minutes later at 1:59 p.m. the "final form of agreement" was emailed back from Amphi to the Kemmerly Companies lawyer. That email reads in full:

"Thank you. I have attached a final form of agreement (I deleted references to apartments in paragraphs 5 at Todd's instructions). If you will facilitate Mr. Kemmerly's signature on the Agreement and return an original to our office, I will place the Governing Board's ratification of our Superintendent's signature on the May 11th Board agenda. Following the ratification, I will forward a completely executed Agreement for your files."

Only two days later Kemmerly Companies backed out of the agreement. The email from Todd Jaeger to Vicki Balentine, Superintendent of the Amphi School District is a contemporaneously recorded recollection of what happened. Again, that email is quoted in full:

”I am so ticked.

“I called Larry Rollin, who had previously told me we had a deal on Kemmerly. He told me that now they're pulling back a bit because Kathleen Dunbar has told Kemmerly that if they enter into an agreement with us, she and other members of the city council will vote no on the project. She told them that this is between the City and the District and the City will "take care of" the District's concerns. She said she doesn't want to set a precedent.

“She is obviously playing games - games that ultimately and shamelessly hurt kids at Title I schools. Unbelievable. Larry said he wants me to know this information "off the record" and is worried about retribution against him and his client if Dunbar's antics are disclosed. I told him I could make no commitments, but I would do my best. I said I would certainly have to tell my clients.

“He said they now want to wait to see how the council will vote. If the majority will vote in favor of project without agreement with us, they will not go forward with agreement. I asked him why the city should care if his client decided to give us donations. He said Dunbar is upset and is threatening failure of the project. They now feel like small fish caught between two sharks."

As you will note Mr. Jaeger's appearance before the major and council occurred ten days after the Todd Jaeger email to Superintendent Balentine while the events were fresh in everyone's mind. It is telling that Ms. Dunbar did not deny his version of her conversation with him nor did she or Mr. Kemmerly who was present at the council meeting deny the reason the company decided not to give Amphi the agreed upon money.

For ease of analysis I have quoted Ms. Dunbar's response to Mr. Jaeger below.

CM Dunbar: “Mr. Mayor, With response to the comments made by the attorney for Amphi, I guess I would like to point out that this property is already zoned and it is zoned for manufactured housing. As a matter of fact it is zoned for 220 to 225 units. This is a rezoning. It has actually gone down from the 220 to a maximum of 185. So it is actually by my map 40 houses less than zoning in place right now. As for the comments as to who did what, you know the letters were sent to our office and out comments were in response to your letters. We just had a gentleman come up and talk about the 2 story versus the 1 story - I am a little bit confused on that so could we even now clarify exactly the 2 story versus the 1 story. At a maximum I mean."

As you know Ms. Dunbar has twice been voted as the Southern Arizona Homebuilders Association's (SAHBA) favorite elected official. Consequently, she has become known as the "Special Interest Council Member." Her strong opposition to impact fees at that point in time is a matter of public record. Her shocking intervention to prevent the Kemmerly Companies from giving $250,000 to the Amphi School District is consistent with her reputation on the council.

Your letter to the Pima County Democratic Party Committee made the following claim as justification for your "legal action which will be brought" against "your committee and all persons involved in this defamation . . ." You said: "I represent Ms. Kathleen Dunbar with respect to her defamation claims arising from the false and malicious allegation that Ms. Dunbar interfered with Amphi school construction."

Since truth is a defense to a defamation action I call your attention to the negotiated agreement between the Kemmerly Companies and the Amphi School District which provided $1,200 for each residential home in the project. The agreement provided in ¶ 9 that "the Education Donations received by the district pursuant to this agreement shall be used to improve, or expand, school facilities in such a manner as to mitigate the impact of enrollment, resulting from the Developer's Project." Mr. Jaeger told the mayor and council those funds, some $250,000, would "essentially enable us to build four classrooms at the schools."

As Mr. Jaeger's letter and statement made clear Ms. Dunbar told Kemmerly that she and other members on the council would vote no on the project if they entered into the agreement they made with Amphi. Ms. Dunbar's stated motive was that "she said she doesn't want to set a precedent." Regardless of her true motive it can certainly be fairly stated that she "interfered" with the Amphi and Kemmerly Companies' agreement that would have resulted in enabling them to build additional classrooms. In fact, "interfering" is a quite soft word for strong arm and bullying tactics that amounted to extortion.

Mr. Jaeger succinctly expressed his feelings when he wrote "I am so ticked." Please add my name to the list of those outraged by Ms. Dunbar's abuse of her office.

We invite Ms. Dunbar to point out the errors in the written record made at the time of the negotiations. Until then my clients will rely on that record which is informed by her known voting record on the city council. Please respond to this office if you choose.


William J. Risner

RSS/Atom Feed Site Meter
Powered by Blogger