Friday, December 30, 2005

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Michael: Bush Bought the Farm

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

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

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

Michael: The War on Terror Comes Home

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

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

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

But all that rhetorical ordinance now lies rusting and useless.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Michael: Lord of Misrule

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

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

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

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Michael: Moveon Ruffles Shachter Over CD8 Nomninations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Francine Shacter

Is Shachter's concern just sour grapes?

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Michael: Cheney Proclaims President is King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael: Kitzmiller Triumphs Over ID

Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District was handed down today by the U.S. District Court, reinforcing the separation between church and state by disallowing a creationist ploy to have science classrooms endorse their religious views of the origin of life and man. The court rejected the 'Dover Disclaimer' which was to be read in preface to the teaching of evolution.

I couldn't be happier with the outcome; which means, of course, that the Kitzmiller opinion will be the newest in the Right's stable of judicial whipping boys.

Here's a sample of the smackdown the boys in black gave ID:

In summary, the disclaimer singles out the theory of evolution for special treatment, misrepresents its status in the scientific community, causes students to doubt its validity without scientific justification, presents students with a religious alternative masquerading as a scientific theory, directs them to consult a creationist text as though it were a science resource, and instructs students to forego scientific inquiry in the public school classroom and instead to seek out religious instruction elsewhere.

I couldn't have said it better myself. The secular nature of our government survives another round. Judge John E. Jones III is my new hero. And he's ::GASP:: a Republican.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Michael: America Losing a soldier, Private Kyle Lawson, for no good reason

Private Kyle Lawson, stationed in Sierra Vista was beaten and threatened at knife-point by his fellow soldiers. What was his crime? Is he a Bin Laden sympathizer? A spy? A traitor?

No. Private Lawson was outted at a party as a gay man.

There is a terrible hypocrisy and waste of human potential underlying the "don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) policy. I suppose it was the most expedient means to address the problem at the time, but the policy's usefulness has worn thin. DADT creates a vast waste of both human and taxpayer resources. It excludes 10% or more of Americans from service, either because they are already out, or because they righly fear that what is happening to Private Lawson could happen to them. It also wastes taxpayers money as the significant resources spent on soldier training can be completely trashed by one careless comment at a party.

Soldiers don't shape the military, the needs of the military shape the soldier. Most of these young people come to the military as lumps of clay, ready to be fashioned into weapons. That involves changing their values and beliefs; even to point where they can kill other humans in the course of their duty.

Does anyone really think that if the military culture demanded tolerance and understanding of differences in sexual orientation that soldiers wouldn't adopt those views? The reason that homophobia is so rampant in the service is because the brass shares that prejudice and allows it to continue, much as they allow sexism against women to persist. We were able to make the armed forces a largely color-blind institution - probably the most progressive organization as regards race in this nation - by confronting the problem forthrightly. I believe that it would also be possible to make the armed forces tolerant of gender and sexual orientation.

Some will say that it would be damaging to troop morale to allow open gays in the armed forces. That's utter bullshit (I can't put it any less vociferously). What is destructive to morale is sex within the unit, which is banned regardless of the participants' genders. What is destructive to morale is assualts upon a soldier by his fellow soldiers, such as have been visited upon Private Lawson. What is destructive to morale is the fear engendered by a policy which allows soldiers to decide to ostracize and effectively destroy the career of a fellow soldier because of who he or she is, and cannot change.

We must abolish DADT and require toleration in the ranks. Otherwise we waste the talents of half of our population on sexist prejudices, and decimate our population's military potential in a politically slack-jawed willingness to pander to the homophobic panic of a few of our soldiers and officers. It is the bigots who should face the threat of court-martial, not the homosexuals and lesbians in uniform.

Michael: Some call it jury tampering

After the Administration's blanket refusals to comment on ongoing investigations and litigation brought about by his Administration's thorough corruption, it is amazing to see the President say the following when asked by Brit Hume of Fox News about Tom DeLay:

HUME: Do you just — do you believe he's innocent?

BUSH: Do I? Yes, I do.

Talk about pissing in the jury pool. You think maybe some folks down in Sugarland were watching that? Think one or more of them might end up on DeLay's jury?

"Hey, the President says that DeLay is innocent. Must be so, no matter what evidence them dirty prosecutors produce at trial."

Whatever happened to just using the Presidential pardon to get your crooked cronies out of a jam?

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Michael: Monitoring the Homeland

I've been following the President's secret authorization of domestic spying by the NSA under National Security letters unauthorized by a FISA court. I think it is too early to tell whether there is a scandal here or not. It's best not to cry wolf unless your're sure that you're not just looking at a mangy dog.

It is not clear, at least to me, how long these taps continued (the statute only authorizes short-term taps without a warrant in time of war) and whether they were focused on legitimate intelligence targets. These facts will be determinative in finding out if the President and others in the Administration may have committed a crime by their admitted actions. In the big leagues of national politics, there is no distinction between committing actions near the edge of legality with a letter from your staff lawyers in you pocket saying you are justified and willfully committing criminal acts; either way you're fucked.

One thing is certain. Unless the President discloses the names of those monitored to a independent and reliable third party, such as a judge, or a pre-cleared member of another branch of government not totally controlled by the GOP, such a few minority members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, we will never know if these people are sufficiently connected to terrorist activity or espionage to justify the President's actions.

I will predict now, based on the abuse of informational control this Administration has already indulged in, that such disclosure will not be forthcoming to either the courts, or when the Senate opens an investigation: and that WILL be a scandal.

Of course, this is a separate issue from the NYT's cowardice in holding the story for a year and thereby helping Chimpy scrape his way into a second term. This is a degree of accomodation that would make a Patpong whore blush. The incalcuable harm of 'four more years' may with justice be laid at the feet of the craven editorial staff of the Grey Lady who made this gutless call.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Michael: 4th Gen War, Al Qaida

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Al Qaida:

Al Qaida is the highest expression of the evolution towards 4th Generation Warfare that America has yet confronted. Col. Hammes proposes as axiomatic that that a military power based on an earlier evolutionary stage of war has never, and will never, be able to overcome an emerging power using the strategies of the latest generation. He quite straightforwardly expresses the view that America, with our defense and intelligence agencies organized according to 3rd generation principles, cannot defeat Al Qaida.

That is a scary proposition. Let me repeat it. America, as currently led and using our current organization and strategy, cannot defeat Al Qaida.

Now, that does not imply that Al Qaida can defeat us in any meaningful way. We are a superpower, they are cells of terrorists. They do not threaten our existence as a society, but they can do us substantial and unacceptable harm. In this age of WMD, even one person has the potential to inflict unimaginable horror on our population.

This means that we have to approach the problem of Al Qaida with urgency, but also a sense of proportion. We cannot and must not destroy what is unique and most vital about our society while seeking to contend with Al Qaida and groups like them. That means we cannot abandon the rule of law for the comfort of transferring unaccountable power to our security forces and our executive. It means we musn’t abandon our commitment to human rights and dignity because our enemies have done so. But we must also exert considerable political will to make the changes to ‘business as usual’ at the Pentagon, the CIA, and other government agencies tasked with keeping Americans safe.

How can we re-organize to take advantage of the maturing 4th generation strategies that empower groups like Al Qaida? Hammes recommends first to abandon the hierarchical management structures that we have inherited from 19th century management principles for mass-production. The armed forces, the intelligence services, and the massive Homeland Security Department are organized in this fashion. This ensures risk aversity, slowness to adapt to change, stultification of human talents, bottlenecking of information flows, and suppression of the network effects which are perhaps the greatest advantage of 4th generation strategic organizing principles.

We also must stop looking at the challenge Al Qaida presents as purely a military problem of killing targets, or even an intelligence and police problem of detection and apprehension. 4th Generation warfare proceeds along all the vectors created by the networks of people within modern global society: this includes economic activity, religion, art and literature, politics and diplomacy, ideas and values. Today, we are miserably failing to advance our cause along these vectors. The only nod this Administration makes to the idea of public diplomacy is to send out a ham-fisted, tin-eared PR hack like Karen Hughes on an international tour of shame to be booed at while mindlessly reeling off sound bites. We cannot continue to operate American foreign policy as the political enforcer of last resort for globalized business and international capital. We have to dedicate ourselves to a vision of international justice and equity that will quell the fires of resentment that helps fuel terrorism.

Broadening our response for terrorist networks using 4th Generation War strategies is not just a better way to fight terrorism - it is the only way that will actually work. It is the responsibility of those who aspire to national leadership to articulate a vision for accomplishing this transformation. It is the responsibility of the American public to demand that our leaders move beyond exploiting our fears, instead engage our reason, speaking to the angels of our better natures. Unless we grow the hell up, and pull ourselves out of the disgusting political infantilization that we have been coddled into, the damage that networks like Al Qaida can do our well-being and our way of life may be catastrophic.

Michael: McCain kicks Bush/Cheney's brutal asses

Bush was forced to accept McCain's ban on torture under pressure from an unvetoable alliance McCain built in Congress. Bush didn't so much acquiesce as scream for mercy like a kid in a head-lock.

Now, I think that McCain is a consummate politician, by which I mean he's a self-aggrandizing blowhard who talks a much better game than he deals, but I absolutely give the man his props for going to the mat on this issue. He piled every gram of political capital he had into opposing a strongly held Administration position, which is also politically radioactive among the deepest red of the GOP base, and he did it for our troops and our national honor. Sure, he looks good for doing it, but he damn well deserves to look for doing the right thing for the right reasons.

I'll say this about McCain: I would prefer a yellow dog who's registered Democrat over any Republican for President, but if McCain were to succeed in his quest for the Presidency at least I could sleep at night knowing that a man who demonstrates fidelity to a vision of the American national interest at heart is running the country. I sure as hell can't say that much about the one we have now.

UPDATE: This all assumes, of course, that Lindsey Graham's ammendment which would block habeaus corpus for certain detainees is passed (making the whole provision dead letter from outset) or that the Pentagon doesn't stuff a bunch of secret procedures for interrogation into the Army Field Manual. I seriously wouldn't put anything past these shits at this point. They wouldn't make the effort to toss a starving man a crust of bread, but they'll move heaven and earth to torture the bastard if he might be Al Qaida. Love those Christian values.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Michael: Lawmakers Demand Bush Protect Evangelizing Chaplains

A group of lawmakers, including AZ's Trent Franks, presented Bush with a petition of 150K signatures, demanding that Pentagon rules regarding military chaplains' duties not prevent evangelizing the troops.

Though couched in terms of relgious freedom, these lawmakers are asking for the Pentagon take a hands-off approach to chaplains evangelizing for Chrisitian sects using their position. Chaplains aren't just preachers, they are public servants and officers in our military. They should be constrained in their behavior. They aren't there to bring souls to Christ. They are there to serve the spiritual needs of ALL the troops, despite their religious or sectarian adherance. As such, it is appropriate, and required for troop morale to constrain military chaplains from abusing their privileged and state-sponsored position to coersively recruit for the Lord.

The abuses at the Colorado Springs Academy clearly demonstrate that some Christians are endeavoring to use the obeidience and subordination of military discipline to coersively convert soldiers to their religion. We shouldn't allow the already perilously close relationship between church and state in the persons of our military chaplians to be abused by aggressive evangelists of any religion. This is not an anti-Christian restriction, it is protecting our troops from oppressive and abusive practices of any religion.

Michael: Tim Sultan to Sit it out

Just in case anyone who was interested hadn't heard already, I'll make it official by putting it on a blog: Tim Sultan has decided not to run for Kolbe's open CD 8 seat. Making him perhaps the first, or even the only, Democratic activist in CD 8 to definitely rule himself out of the race. And making this news about a lack of news.

Tim graciously announced at the Dec 13th LD 28 special meeting to fill the vacant Senate seat in that district that he felt that his candidacy might somehow weaken Democratic chances for taking the Congressional seat from the Republican Party. I don't actually follow the logic of this, except that perhaps too many candidates may somehow impede creating a clear message for voters. Consider the presidential primary debates of '04 with an uncountable number of candidates on stage and everyone reduced to competing sound bites. I can see that as a problem, I suppose. But I think it's a problem that could be overcome in the general as the selected candidate goes head to head with the Pubbie choice.

I suppose it could also be a matter of resources, i.e. money. Though I have been led to understand Tim's last bid was financed primarily with the money of family and family friends more than traditional big Democratic donors. Perhaps he wants to guide those resources into the campaign of his favorite candidate. Nice of him.

Perhaps it was a matter of volunteer resources. Only so many to go around. When Tim announced publicly that he was out of the CD 8 bid, he also put his name forward at the LD 28 meeting for the Senate vacancy left by the retirement of Gabby Giffords. I don't know how many of the PCs Tim lined up prior to the meeting, if any, but he was eliminated from the voting early. I'm not sure how many volunteers were on board with a run by Tim for Congress.

Tim's a hell of good guy, and you gotta throw your hat in the ring to become visible to voters and activists, but I don't think anyone really expected Tim to sign up for another round of what he suffered in the 04 primary against Eva Bacal. With Eva (unofficially, at this point) running, as well as Gabby, Latas, and Shachter, Tim's announcement is really just a nod to reality.

I hope Tim runs for State Rep, or another local office. He's too smart, too talented at legislative voodoo, and too damn nice for people not to take advantage of him and put him to work at slave wages serving the public welfare. He's a man with a lot to offer. I just wish he would offer it in less of a buyer's market where voters could get a real chance to appreciate his sterling qualities.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Michael: The LD 28 Senate Slate

The deed is done. Representatives Bradley and Downing were elected on the first ballot to the slate from which the Board of Supervisors will replace retiring Senator Giffords. Nobody was surprised.

Then things got interesting. Apparently Supervisor Sharon Bronson decided to throw her considerable weight behind her own candidate for the slate, a woman named Nixon who has apparently considerable experience working on Bronson's staff, but whom I (and lots of others) had never met before tonight. She was an impressive candidate, to be sure.

Paula Aboud (and lots of others), whom nearly every Tucson Democrat knows, didn't cotton to the idea of Bronson basically foisting Giffords' replacement on us (shades of the old days when the PCs didn't vote on replacements...), so she decided earlier that afternoon that she was running, as there were no other women running. It took 5 rounds of balloting to eliminate all the other worthy candidates and bring the contest down to a head to head between Aboud and Nixon, and Aboud won handily.

Now the Board of Supes will select a new Senator among Downing, Bradley, and Aboud on January 3rd. If one of the Representatives is chosen, that will likely leave Democrats a seat short going into the January 9th session. For that reason and because of gender politics, Aboud might have a better than 1/3rd chance of being the selection. Add to that the problem of both Bradley and Downing terming out in 2006, with both possibly looking to hop to the Senate, and Aboud looks even more attractive to the Supes (they can avoid giving either Rep a leg up on the seat by selecting Aboud). Whether Aboud's last minute foiling of Bronson's designs will be a factor in the selection, well... we'll have to see.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Michael: Randy Graf in the Crosshairs

Randy Graf will be holding a public townhall meeting at:

Wilmot Library, Tucson
Tues., December 13th, 6 P.M. to 7:30 P.M.

I can't make it, but I encourage others to show up and ask the Grafster some pointed questions. I'm also interested in whether you'll need an invitation from the GOP to get in (maybe Congressional candidates are now pretending like they're President... oh yeah, so's the 'President'... ). Anyhow, I'll be interested to recieve a report from anyone who attends.

Michael: 4th Gen War, Iraq

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

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

4th Generation Warfare (4GW) forces are immune to decapitation and disruption of command and control, resistant to disruption of logistics (living largely off the land and indigenous populations), very resistant to intelligence gathering (making SIGINT and surveillance largely ineffective, and HUMINT much more difficult), and present little in the way of a strategic targeting profile (recall Rumsfeld’s infamous comment about Afghanistan lacking good bombing targets). Technological and social changes have made 4GW strategies come to maturity, to the point where 4GW forces now regularly overcome armed opposition organized around 2GW and 3GW strategies: like our own armed forces, which are the premier iteration of 3GW war-fighting.

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

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

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

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

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

Part I: Iraq

America has only lost wars when facing opponents using 4GW strategies – Vietnam, Lebanon, Somalia. And we have never won a 4GW engagement. We seldom lose battles, however; we only lose wars. Nothing can overcome our forces in a stand-up fight, but 4GW strategies still consistently manage to win wars against us. We do not lose these struggles because our armed forces are not superb and well equipped. We lose such struggles because the quality of our armed forces is largely irrelevant to the outcome of the war. 4GW strategy primarily targets the ability and desirability of continuing to fight in the minds of enemy decision-makers. But 4GW is not just propaganda, it brings to bear an entire suite of psychological, economic, political, and military assets to the task of breaking the will of the enemy and convincing key decision makers that the fight is not worth continuing. As such, 4GW strategies are most powerful in defense against a occupying or invading enemy, especially one in which the decision makers are politically accountable to a mass electorate. 4GW has proven a powerful strategy for populations resisting foreign incursion.

It is here that theory meets current events. 4GW strategy allows an asymmetric force to fight a vastly more powerful, well-equipped, 3GW-organized and wealthier occupying force. An enemy that uses 4GW strategy is exactly what we face in Iraq, now that the mechanized and heavy weapons units of the Iraqi national army have been disbanded or destroyed. There is evidence that Saddam planned a guerrilla resistance to any American invasion, but what we are seeing in Iraq goes far beyond those plans. The Iraqi people have formed 4GW networks have sprung up emergently and opportunistically in the vacuum left by the Baathist regime's demise.

Military engagement with the American forces is only part of the function of Iraq 4GW networks, and not even the most important part. They seek not only to wage war on American military personnel, but also to defeat American plans for Iraq’s future by destroying political support for the occupation by mobilizing political, ideological, economic and cultural forces to shape the future of Iraq. The many factions within Iraqi society are now looking beyond the immediate struggle with the American-led occupation to the struggle for dominance of Iraq. Their strategic visions do not terminate with an end to the American occupation. This is one reason why we have been so ineffectual: our strategic vision essentially ended with the end of “major combat” operations (i.e. the end of the 3GW engagement), whereas the enemy we now face in Iraq has a strategic vision that begins where ours ends.

To the extent that American war planners did plan for the post invasion period, they made an assumption to that Iraq would be a blank slate to be written upon anything the neo-con ideologues could dream up. In practice, nothing could have been further from the truth. The spontaneous 4GW networks of influence and command which have sprung up following the war, severely curtailed the execution of America's hothouse plans, flourishing in the think tanks of Washington, but unable to survive in the desert of the real.

The central truth of why the Iraqi insurgency is succeeding is the same reason American plans for the political future of Iraq have gone so badly awry. The planners of this war assumed that the only resistance to change would be the antiquated and ill-equipped 3WG forces arrayed against the initial invasion. Once that organization was swept aside, they envisioned nothing to prevent us from creating the Iraq the neo-cons wanted. They ignored the lessons of history and the emergence of 4GW strategies as an effective means of defeating superior 3GW forces.

The Bush Administration now points to the Iraqi constitution, the interim government, and the coming parliamentary elections as evidence of how far we have come. However, these are all improvisations; they were never part of their plan. These developments were all more or less imposed upon us by the 4GW political and cultural maneuvering of the mass of Iraqi people. The result will not be our choice, nor our tool; the result will be the creature of those Iraqi networks that have best been able to exploit 4GW strategies to control Iraq.

The Administration’s line regarding the termination of the occupation, that “we’ll stand down as the Iraqis stand up,” and that Iraqi’s have to stand up for their own security, is deeply absurd, though it seems reasonable enough on its face in its nearly moronic simplicity. The fact is that the 4GW networks which are now creating Iraq’s sovereign concept of security are likely to define it largely as security against us. Any forces that we train will likely never be loyal to any American approved authority or policy in Iraq, but rather to those 4GW networks that are able to successfully mobilize Iraq politically and culturally. We are training not our replacements, but our future rivals in Iraq.

There will be no independent Iraqi forces so long as we define independent as 'willing to follow U.S. commands'. If we really wanted independent military strength, the Kurdish and Shiite militias would serve adequately as counter-insurgency forces if properly equipped, trained, and led; but using these forces looks too much like taking sides in a civil war. Once again, 4GW strategy ties down Gulliver with a multitude of threads. The Iraqis are not sitting down on the job, we just can't find any Iraqis willing stand up and fight as our proxies. There is no solution to the problem of creating an independent Iraqi armed force as the Bush Administration has defined the problem. Even a reasonable simulacrum of a national force will be a Potemkin army that will come apart along 4GW network lines at the first crisis.

We are trying to create stable pro-Western Iraqi national government with a political process that strongly favors the very 4GW networks we vainly seek to control. In the end, any reasonably democratic process in Iraq works to the advantage of every party other than American interests; we do not have a vote in Iraqi elections, despite all our efforts to rectify that problem. The history of the 2nd Gulf War will clearly show how we bulled our way into a situation we didn’t understand, knocked out a brutal ruling minority, converting it into a violent and repressed minority, then empowered the majority to remake Iraq in their own image. The Shiites and the Kurds used their new freedom to create a base for Kurdish separatism, and a tyrannical Shiite theocracy aligned with, and strengthening the Iranian mullahs. It was all accomplished by 4GW strategy and tactics that we were essentially powerless to stop, because we failed to understand the root causes of our impotence in the face of such foes. Because we lacked an understanding of how 4GW strategy works, let alone how to fight such a foe. We threw away more than 2100 American lives, and counting, to shoot our national interest in the foot and make fools of ourselves on the world stage.

If you step into a dark closet and are suddenly pummeled by unseen opponents from every side, barely able to defend yourself and completely incapable of contending with your assailant, “stay the course” is hardly good advice. That is essentially what has happened to us in Iraq. Staying in that closet is not going accomplish anything except provide your assailant with an easy target. We need to get out of Iraq, use what influence we can from outside of Iraq, and assess how to retool our military doctrine to contend with and win in the 4GW strategic environment. We have never won a war against an opponent using 4GW strategies. Until we learn how to contend with such enemies, we need to stay out of the nation-building, regime-changing business lest we have more expensive and painful debacles like Vietnam and Iraq.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Michael: The Christmas Conspiracy Revisited

I've been listening to talk radio in the car of late. It's like listening to the raw transmissions of some hostile terrorist organization. For instance, I had no idea that Don Collier, of The Desert Speaks fame, was an absolute Right-wing loon. He and some other local nutbags on KJLL were talking about the 'Christmas conspiracy' to prevent anyone from referring to anything religious during the holiday season (ooops, there I go repressing the poor Christians again). Anyway, he busts out a riff on how 'we' can best start our campaign to take back Christmas for Christ by taking a page out of the jihadi's playbook, and cut the heads off all the ACLU lawyers!

No, I'm not kidding. And I really don't think he was either.

I've figured out the psycho-dynamic here, I think. There is, of course, no war on Christmas. The Right is just astutely cobbling together the largely futile rearguard actions of secularists to accomodate a multi-ethnic population with over 50 major relgious minorities, and to prevent this nation from becoming a Christian theocracy, and spinning it as an organized assault on their religion. Nothing coheres a fractious and diverse polity like being under attack. To keep Christian sects, who historically have been anything but monocultural, unified and under the same political banner it is neccessary to keep them feeling like they are under asault by some godless conspiracy. The entirely fictional war on Christmas does the job admirably, even if it doesn't exist.

Perhaps we on the left should take a page from the Christo-fascist playbook and invent a hot-button war against the left. I have an idea. How about we spin all those children that go missing every year into a white Christian conspiracy to kidnap and sacrifice lefty children to Yaweh? We could write some fake protocol, a la The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which requires the sacrifice of "heathen" and "darky" children to the white Christian god periodically. Then we could use the internet and talk radio to whip our base into a frenzy of fear, indignation, and hatred for white Christians. If we get lucky, we might even incite some real religious war.

Nah... The facts of what the Right is really trying to do to this country are horrifying enough, really. Like Truman said, "I don't give 'em hell. I just tell the truth and they think it's hell." I don't want to use Don Collier, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh or Tammy Bruce as role models for the political strategems of the left. The most ignominious defeat is when you adopt the traits of your enemies that are the very reasons you fight them.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Michael: Gilchrist Mainstreams Racist Extremism in Orange County

Jim Gilchrist, one of the self-proclaimed founders of the 'Minuteman' militia, captured 25% of the vote in a third-party bid for Congress in Orange County's 48th Congressional District. He didn't come close to winning, but his roughly 25K votes made a loud statement. What this shows is how acceptable a politician who allies himself to white supremecists and the fringe militia movement responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing has become to a large minority of the GOP electorate.

Jim Gilchrist has done for the militia movement what David Duke did for the KKK.

This is important to Arizona and national politics in 2006 and beyond. No one really expects any resolution of immigration reform debate before 2006, leaving open a window for extremists to try to exploit fears and resentments around the issue (note that Roy Moore has recently embraced immigration as another hot button issue he can use), not to mention blatant racism thinly disguised as nationalism. One likely recipient of the momentum Gilchrist's performance gives the racist immigration alarmists is our own Randy Graf.

Many commentators have been looking for a moderate, heavy-weight Republican to step up and deny Graf the nomination. With Ray Carroll seeming to be sitting this dance out, Graf's nomination is looking more possible, especially if the militia movement sees an major opportunity in Graf's candidacy.

Arguably, this is good for Democrats, as the Democratic nominee will have a better chance against a loon and a racist than against a reasonable GOP moderate, but is it good for Arizona or America?

Arguably, it is.

Putting the extremist agenda of Graf in the harsh light of a hard-fought election battle presents an opportunity to expose the unwholesome underbelly of militia movement's racism and fascistic eliminationist ideas to the electorate.

If the Democratic nominee has the stomach to take that opportunity, the result could be a healthy purge of those ideas from legitimate American political discourse and relegate it back to the homebrew political handbills and hobby web servers were it can moulder in all its constitutionally protected ignomy. Of course, if the Democratic nominee doesn't have the courage and skill to blunt the immigration wedge Graf will be wielding, this issue could continue to prove effective into the 2008 Presidential election season.

Can you say Tom Tancredo for President? Ugh.

Michael: The Right's New Whipping Foetus

The next round of judge bashing from the Right will come courtesy of the Hawaiian Supreme Court ruling that a mother could not legally be held responsible for the death of her son due to her ingestion of a lethal dose of meth three days before his birth. The Hawaiian Supreme Court held that because the unborn child is not considered a legal person under Hawaiian statutes, that his mother could not be charged with manslaughter. The right should be railing about the lack of a Hawaiian 'fetal homicide' statute; instead they are decrying the Court's decision as immoral and indicative of the perfidy of judges.

34 states do have fetal homicide statutes, and the Federal government recently passed a the Unborn Victims of Violence Act (popularly known as the Laci and Conner Pederson Law), but that act does embrace actions by the mother which results in the death of her own foetus. These facts dicate the Court's decision in this case.

The great hypocrisy the Right is already engaging in all over talk radio and the internet is in pointing to this decision as an example of out-of-control activist judges at work, when it is exactly the opposite. The Hawaii Supreme Court refused to substitute their own judgment for that of the democratic process embodied in the Hawaiian legislature. They declined the opportunity to legislate from the bench, creating law out of their own moral or sociological views, which is exactly what the Right is constantly deanding that judges do. Damned if you do, damned if you don't, it seems.

If the Right did not have the ulterior motive of using such 'fetal homicide' laws as a tool to attack women's reproductive rights, instead of truly being interested in protecting foetuses from violence, then I would be able to support such laws. I think that there is ethical merit to protecting the lives of viable foetuses in gestae against violence. Unfortunately, the uncompromising aims of religious zealots to enshrine their own bad theology in our laws makes it impossible for reasonable people to make reasonable compromises regarding reproductive rights or to protect incipient life. As the Right would be quick to acknowledge, making compromises with petty dictators only results in them marching their troops over your borders.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Michael: Render Unto Bush el-Masri

The ACLU has filed what is sure to become a landmark lawsuit in the history of the Bush Administration’s violations of domestic, constitutional, and international law in pursuit of a ill-conceived, extra-legal jihad against ‘terrorists’. The suit aims to shed light on and end the practice of deporting foreign nationals to third countries that practice torture for the purpose of interrogation – a practice known in New Speak as ‘Extraordinary Rendition’. The suit, filed in the Federal circuit of Virginia, is titled El-Masri v. Tenet, and it alleges:

”On December 31, 2003, Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent, was forcibly abducted while on holiday in Macedonia, detained incommunicado, handed over to United States agents, then beaten, drugged, and transported to a secret prison in Afghanistan, where he was subjected to inhumane conditions and coercive interrogation and was detained without charge or public disclosure for several months. Five months after his abduction, Mr. El-Masri was deposited at night, without explanation, on a hill in Albania.

Sounds like a bad dream, doesn’t it? However, many credible sources indicate it is all too real. Tenet himself admitted in testimony before the 9/11 commission that ‘rendition to justice’ was a key tool in counter-terrorism efforts and that as of that time over 70 rendition operations had been carried out. Memoranda prepared by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel have consistently advanced the position that foreign nationals held at such facilities, outside U.S. sovereign territory, are unprotected by federal or international laws. The Bush Executives own statements and arguments hoist them by petards of their own weaving.

Even if the whole thing is nothing but an abduction fantasy of alien nationals (and, yes, there is an allegation that El-Masri was anally probed – is anyone surprised anymore by our intelligence services apparent prurient interest in anal rape?), the Bush Executive has already given the world plenty of good reason to believe the practice is American policy. After Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, alleged violations of the laws of war regarding the use of restricted weapons, and allegations of a secret archipelago of CIA prisons in Eastern Europe and throughout the world, our government has no credibility left to make a denial stick. If there were a credible allegation that Bush had two heads, at this point, I think many people around the world would believe it.

The lawsuit proceeds under the currently disfavored Alien Tort Claims Act, alleging violations of the Fifth Amendment’s prohibition of arbitrary detention, the Convention Against Torture, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Geneva Conventions. The suit is based on the investigation of el-Masri’s allegations by the Office of the Prosecuting Magistrate in Munich. Germany opened an investigation into Mr. El-Masri’s allegations that he had been unlawfully abducted, detained, and interrogated in Macedonia and Afghanistan. German officials easily corroborated Mr. El-Masri’s account that he had traveled to Macedonia and had been detained shortly after entering that country and returned to Albania. To evaluate Mr. El-Masri’s account of his detention in Afghanistan, German authorities conducted scientific tests, including radioactive isotope analysis of Mr. El-Masri’s hair. Those tests were consistent with Mr. El-Masri’s account that he had spent time in a South Asian country and had been deprived of food for an extended period.

I have always felt a certain contempt for the ‘good’ Germans during the Nazi regime who might have known that terrible violations of peoples’ rights were being carried out in the name of defending the Fatherland, but did nothing. Now I, and you, know the bitter reality of knowing that your government is committing atrocious acts and being powerless to stop them. Luckily, we have strong civic organizations, such as the ACLU, that we can support in their efforts to stop such perfidy.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Michael: Juan Cole on the Shiite Victory in Iraq

Juan Cole, the U Mich Professor of Islamic Studies whose blog Informed Comment has become an authoritative contra-Administration source of analysis, published a history of how the Shiites have gotten the upper hand in Iraq as a result of Bush's invasion. His thesis regarding the likely course of politics and power in the Middle East as a result of that war and occupation coincides so well with my own analysis of mid-October, that I wanted to bring them together in a post.

Cole's conclusions are as logical as they are alarming:

An Iraq dominated by religious Shiites who had often lived in exile in Iran for decades is inevitably an Iraq with warm relations with Tehran. The US, bogged down in a military quagmire in the Sunni Arab regions, cannot afford to provoke massive demonstrations and uprisings in the Shiite areas of Iraq by attacking Iran. Bush has inadvertently strengthened Iran, giving it a new, religious Shiite ally in the Gulf region. The traditional Sunni powers in the region, such as the kings of Saudi Arabia and Jordan, are alarmed and annoyed that Bush has created a new "Shiite crescent." Far from weakening or overthrowing the ayatollahs, Bush has ensconced and strengthened them. Indeed, by chasing after imaginary weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, he may have lost any real opportunity to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon should it decide to do so.

I came to the conclusion that the greatest threat to Middle East stability and American interests comes from an emerging pan-national alliance of Shiites in formerly Sunni controled nations of the Persian Gulf. My analysis is far more speculative than Cole's more constrained analysis, but his reference to an emerging "Shiite crescent" perfectly echos my concern.

The only dominos likely to fall in the Middle East are the Shiite majority areas controlled by superannuated Sunni oil sheiks around the Persian Gulf. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Dubai and Qatar, all have substantial Shiite populations and sclerotic political institutions ripe for destabilization by populist movements. Without us being able to do much more to stop it than we could have done about Iran itself in 1979, a theocratic Shiite pan-national alliance, led by Tehran, could dominate the Gulf region and the great majority of the Middle East’s oil. This is the real pan-Islamic threat that America should be concerned about.

Needless to say, throw nuclear weapons into the mix with the oil weapon such a "Shiite cresent" would already wield, and Bush's policy will have created a formidable and implacable enemy in this strategic region, instead of the cascade of liberal democracy the NeoCons sold to Bush.

Michael: The Gabby Rush, the sequel

Now that Gabby has announced her retirement from the State Senate to run for the open CD 8 seat, it has set off something of a scramble in southern Arizona politics. Gabby's Senate seat will become vacant and the Pima County Supervisors will have to fill it from a list of three nominees provided by LD 28's elected PCs. The PCs, including myself, will probably meet in mid-December to decide on the slate of three. The obvious first two candidates will be current LD 28 Representatives David Bradley and Ted Downing. The real wild-card is who will be the third.

Of course, if either Bradley or Downing is selected by the Supes, that will set off a new and more open scramble to fill the vacated representative seat.

There are many worthies who would be willing to fill either the Senate or the theoretical Representative slate of candidates. Many office-holders and workers-behind-the-scenes will circulate their names as candidates among the LD 28 PCs over the next two weeks. I have already received several calls on the subject. Most of the names wouldn't mean anything to anyone who doesn't attend Party meetings and follow Party politics closely.

One interesting aspect that I am convinced will have a decisive impact on the process is gender politics. Gabby herself has expressed hope that her successor will be a woman. It appears that Sharon Bronson, a Democratic Pima County Supervisor that will play a key role in selecting from the slate of candidates, may also be disposed to ensure that a woman is selected.

This means that if a woman is able to get on the LD 28 PC slate of three that she may have an advantage over the Bradley and Downing. Downing has expressed an interest in running for the Senate seat next year even if he isn't appointed, so gender politics may tilt toward appointing a woman now and letting the voters have the final say in the next election.

Even if Bradley or Downing are selected for the seat, which may be more likely if a third man is slated by the LD 28 PCs, gender politics could play a role in filling the appointee's vacated Representative office. At that point, the pressure to appoint a woman may become more intense, given that the Senate seat will have gone to man.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Michael: Grijalva Speaks on Iraq

It will come as no surprise that Congressman Raul Grijalva (D – AZ) doesn’t agree with Bush’s Iraq policy. He voted against the war and has been a vocal critic from day one. Unlike Bush, Grijalva came to his district to face supporters and critics alike and explain his position on Iraq and take questions on the subject. From the tone of the some of the questions, it was clear that Grijalva faced critics as well as curious supporters and reporters.

There will be plenty of media coverage of Grijalva’s remarks, and I am posting his talking points here. In essence, Grijalva wants to see a withdrawal of American troops within a militarily feasible time period (Grijalva suggests that 120 days is sufficient, in contrast to Rep. Murtha’s 6 months).

Grijalva’s view favoring rapid withdrawal coincides with those a growing number advocates for withdrawal among military command officers, Foreign Service officers and foreign policy and military experts. American forces are contributing more to violence and extremism than they are to stability and security. Without a massive infusion of troops that is logistically, financially, and politically impossible, that trend will not change. Therefore, withdrawal to an over-the-horizon posture is widely considered preferable. Though such a posture, which necessarily entails in increased reliance on strategic bombing, presents its own difficult ethical and political challenges.

The wild card is that the Administration concedes that it would withdraw if asked by the Iraqi government. With elections two weeks away and a Shiite-Kurdish coalition likely to form the new government, our welcome seems contingent upon continuing to help suppress the Sunni resistance. As soon as the new democratic majority no longer sees American forces as an aid to that end, or worse, a check on the low-intensity ethno-religious civil war that is building, we could well be shown the door by Iraqis themselves. The only choice we may have ultimately is to either condone ethnic cleansing or leave Iraq.

Bush’s vow to fight to the end in defense of the newly ascendant majority might itself commit America to use our military forces to assist with genocide. That sounds extreme, but it may be the logical end of our policy to build a strong Iraqi military. The only effective Iraqi military forces in Iraq are the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Shiite militias, including the Badr Brigades who are accused of running anti-Sunni death squads. These are the only likely beneficiaries of American military assistance. The entire project of training Iraqi armed forces to “stand up so that we can stand down” is fallacious, argues former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski in an interview with the American Prospect:

Q. Do you think the Iraqi army is going to be ready soon?

A. I think our course with the Iraqi forces verges on the absurd: It is all about us training them. The question arises: Training them to do what? If it is a matter of knowing how to use a Kalishnikov in order to kill other people, I think most military-aged Iraqis don’t need our training. If it is a question of training Iraqis so they behave and act like American soldiers, that’s well and good. Except that is not what is needed in the circumstances we will be bequeathing them. What is needed is motivation based on loyalty to the powers that be. That will mean loyalty to various Shiite militias with a clerical connotation and loyalty to the two major Kurdish formations. Plus, perhaps eventually, loyalty to some Sunni militias based on a tribal allegiance. The motivation is not going to be created by American sergeants who are -- quote, unquote -- "training" them how to behave like American soldiers.

By building Iraqi forces, we may only be ensuring the effective destruction of any Sunni military resistance, and ultimately the destruction of the Iraqi Sunni community itself. By defining our military and political success by the complete prostration and defeat of a religious minority, we are setting our selves up for a nasty ethical blowback. By leaving Iraq, thus removing the excuse of fighting a foreign occupation, we could succeed in bringing Sunnis and Shiites and Kurds to the table to workout a sustainable political relationship. By remaining in Iraq and blindly backing the ‘democratic majority’, we have willy-nilly bound ourselves to the Shiite cause while pushing the whole country into an increasingly violent and extremist battle with a minority which refuses to be reconciled precisely because of our military support for the majority.

The basic futility of trying to secure Iraq’s political allegiance to the aims of the American government with an occupation army is something that Congressional leaders are just not yet prepared to accept. Many still conceive of the conflict in Iraq as a ‘war’ that we can win or lose based on our tactics and strategy. Too many have allowed the debate to be framed by the Administration: withdrawal equals defeat in the war. The reality of the situation is too bitter a pill for most politicians to try to feed to the American public, and too ironic to reframe with a straight face: the Administration already lost the war, right after they won it. Withdrawal is the only way to salvage what hope is left of even a marginally acceptable outcome in Iraq. As Zbig puts it:

Our congressional leaders are still inclined to dance around the issue or to find salvation in a formula that calls for American disengagement -- but gradually and without indicating what that means in terms of levels or dates. I’m not sure that’s a wise policy. Because once you begin to draw down your troops, it’s probably better to remove them rapidly. If you scale down your presence gradually, the reduced numbers are going to be in jeopardy. Moreover, it doesn’t have the psychological and political effect of shaking Iraqis into a realization that it is their responsibility to stand on their own feet. We need to scale down our definition of success and realize we’re not going to get a "democratic," secular, pro-American Iraq. We’re going to get an Iraq that is responsive to Iraqi nationalism and dominated by a combination of Shiites and Kurds with some proportion of Sunnis adjusting to that reality. It will probably be more theocratic in character than we would like to see. But it will be a regime that responds to current political realities. I think we need to bite the bullet and leave sometime in the next year.

Grijalva similarly recognizes that the ultimate result of our adventure into Iraqi politics is not going to result in an American-style secular democratic state. Moreover, he’s realistic enough to know that there isn’t much we can do militarily to avert that outcome. Instead, he advocates meeting our obligations to rebuild the country and to provide humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people. Retaining and restoring the goodwill of the Iraqi people is key to the future of our relationship with Iraq, not boots on the ground. Grijalva adds a key proviso that every we dollar spent there, requires a matching expenditure on human needs here at home.

I asked Grijalva what role he thought Congress would take in investigating allegations of human rights abuses, torture, and violations of the laws of war in the ‘War on Terror’ and the aggression against Iraq. To his credit, Grijalva admitted that it would be little to none. He said, “we just don’t have the balls” to take the political heat that investigating the Administration, the Pentagon and the CIA would generate. He ruefully opined that Congress had completely abdicated its oversight of national security matters over the past 4 years, and that he apparently doesn’t expect that to change quickly.

Even if Democrats recapture the House or Senate in 2006, it seems unlikely that Democrats will have the intestinal fortitude to demand accountability for all the poor decisions and failures of leadership the Bush Administration initiated and allowed. A studied indifference to the lingering shame of this Administration’s excesses seems likely. However, I hope that Democratic leaders like Grijalva will demand accountability, rather than just sweeping these vile crimes under the rug of history. Certainly, if Democrats do manage to retake either chamber of Congress next election, they should take it as a specific mandate to bring the Administration to heel on national security issues by the power of investigation and the purse.

The GOP’s public disgrace and humiliation for the Bush Administration’s many crimes, and the Party’s acquiescence and participation in them, is the only hope of finally breaking the back of the GOP’s deeply reactionary coalition and restoring a more moderate and cooperative tone to American politics. If we are unable to demand accountability for Iraq through our elected representatives, democratic government will have become a meaningless ritual, devoid of the substance of freedom: the rule of law.

Michael: World AIDS day and right reason

Ambassador Richard Holbrooke of the Global Business Alliance on AIDS called for systematic testing for AIDS (audiostream). He points out reasonably that you cannot fight an epidemic if you don't know who has a disease. The problem is especially severe with AIDS because of its unique epidemiology.

Today 12,000 people in the world will be infected with AIDS. On average, those people will not know that they have been infected until 2013. Eight years from infection to detection means that each of those 12,000 stands a very good chance of infecting many more people. That is why the AIDS epidemic grows and grows, despite our prevention efforts.

But systematic testing for AIDS is not feasible, or even desirable to many, until we are able to ensure confidentiality and prevent stigmatization of those who test positive. Americans' health records are pitifully porous. The way that our laws deal with medical records practically ensures disclosure of AIDS status. That would not be so bad if private insurers weren't the backbone of the American healthcare system. The stigma of AIDS flows at least in part from the vitual exclusion from the world of work and private healthcare benefits that are too often a consequence of diagnosis. No one wants to hire or insure persons with AIDS becuase of the risks and costs involved are too great.

What is the solution? Universal health insurance for every American. If you cannot be excluded from healthcare coverage, and that coverage is independent of employment, the stigma of AIDS becomes much less of an issue, and medical privacy becomes much easier to implement. Want to get AIDS under control in this country? A prerequisite step is routine and systematic testing to prevent accidential transmission during the period between infection and diagnosis, and universal health care facilitates that goal.

Stop AIDS; support universal health care.

Michael: CD 8 Straw Poll

Go vote for your favored nominee for the CD 8 seat, whether you are GOP or Dem. Needless to say, this is highly unscientific. But who cares? It has got a (semi-)intelligent creator, so science be damned!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Michael: Christmas vs. Holiday Controversy

The latest front in the Christian fundamentalist kulturkampf has opened on Chistmas. The target is retailers who use the supposedly secular and generic word 'holiday' instead of 'Christmas' in retail and public contexts. Once again, the Christian Right is set to antagonize the majority of Americans with their cultural presumptions. As long as their harrassment remains in the form of private boycotts and campaigns, there will likely be little backlash, but it seems that Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert is willing to jump in on the cultural Christmas wassailing by bringing the controversy into the Capitol. Such presumption might generate wider resentments.

There is a great deal of historical irony in fundamentalist Protestants claiming Christmas as their own (not to mention certain hypocrisies). There is no textual support for the date of Christ's birth. The date was only fixed in the 4th century, mainly as a means of coopting existing winter solstace celebrations. And the whole idea of a "Christ Mass", with its smack of Catholic ceremony and orthodoxy, should be anathema to real Protestants.

The cultural centrality of Christmas to the Christian identity is really rooted more deeply in the growth of American consumer culture than it is in Christian theology. It wasn't until the publication of culturally transformative works about Christmas and St. Nicholas/Knecht Ruprecht/Belsnickle/Kriss Kringle/Santa Claus by Clement Clarke Moore, Charles Dickens and others in the early to mid-ninteenth century that Christmas was tranformed from a rowdy agricultural night of wanton misrule to a domestic holiday focused on the delight of children - and a handmaiden to the growth of consumer spending. Christmas was not even recognized as official holidays by the States until it was adopted sporadically from the 1840s through the 1860s.

Can Christmas be 're-sanctified' by insisting on saying 'Christmas' instead of 'holiday'? I doubt it. Christmas has always been a hetrodox occassion, celebrated by some as a time for public celebration and excess, either of vice or of consumption, and by others as a time of quiet reflection and religious devotion. So much of the ritual and trappings which Americans associate with Christmas are the products of a decidedly secular consumer culture that there is a certain irony in Christian fundamentalists trying to claim the holiday by controling its name. They say that the power to name a thing is the power to control it, but this attempt to control Christmas by a narrow, self-appointed faction of Christians is unlikely to accomplish more than to generate further resentment of their efforts to enforce their cultural prerogatives on American society via an ongoing political 'culture war'.

Michael: The ‘Partisan Control of Initiatives’ Referendum

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and corporatist constituents across the state are advocating yet another restriction of the public’s sovereign right to legislate via the Initiative under the Arizona Constitution. The chamber seeks to amend our Constitution to require that citizen-sponsored initiatives be reviewed by an unspecified board before petitions can circulate. As stated in the Chamber’s own briefing document (PDF):

Initiative and Referendum Reform: Support reforms to Arizona’s initiative and referendum processes, such as pre-circulation review of language, content, and constitutionality. Institute a ballot title and summary review board, and require petition circulators to disclose their employers and other beneficial links to the measure.

The sheer cost and effort of qualifying an Initiative for the ballot is sufficient incentive for any reasonable person to acquire competent legal assistance when drafting, and if that effort is deficient the courts are the proper public forum to decide the issue. This is a clear effort to transfer a politically strategic function from the independent judiciary to a politically appointed body, similar to the limit on the people’s powers accomplished with the passage of Prop 101 in 2004. Prop 101 requires specification of a revenue source for any initiative requiring new state revenue, restricts the public’s access to their own general fund, and requires approval of financing mechanisms by a politically appointed Auditor General. The corporatists have not filed an Initiative application for this proposal. They will rely on their allies in the legislature to put the measure on the ballot by Concurrent Resolution in 2006, as they did with Prop 101 last year. Undoubtedly, the Resolution enacting this attack on the people’s sovereignty will establish a review mechanism that places the real power with the legislative majority.

The proposal will be marketed as a means of assuring the quality and legality of Initiatives, which certainly has presented problems in the past, especially with poorly conceived right-wing sponsored proposals like Prop 200 and Prop 106. But the naked reality is that this is simply an attempt to tie-up politically disfavored proposals and possibly, depending on how it’s drafted, to strip the courts of the power to interpret and review the constitutionality of favored Initiatives and Referenda. With Prop 200 severely curtailed in effect by the Attorney General and the courts (though still perniciously preventing legitimate voters from registering), and Prop 106 having been struck down as unconstitutional, it should come as no surprise that the major goal of the corporatists and their right-wing allies is to gain political control over the review of future ballot measures to ensure their nefarious works will be undisturbed by our courts.

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