Friday, March 30, 2007

Giuliani was told of Kerik's ties to organized crime, and still made him chief of police

According to an article in today's New York Times, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was briefed in 2000 about Bernard Kerik's ties to organized crime, but chose to appoint Kerik police commissioner anyway (you might remember Kerik-- he almost became the Secretary of Homeland Security after being nominated by President Bush for the position-- on Giuliani's personal recommendation; Revelations about his sex life and multiple mistresses led to more revelations of his corruption and abuse of public funds, which in turn led to the publicization of his links to organized crime.)

Giuliani acknowledges that he was briefed but claims not to remember anything about the briefing. If that is true, then it means that 1) at the time he was either not paying attention (just what we need in a President-- in fact we already have that) or 2) he doesn't remember because to Rudy Giuliani, a trusted confidante being linked to organized crime is just a routine matter, and would not disqualify him from being police commissioner.

In fact, there is only one piece of good news for Giuliani: His closest rival in the GOP Presidential sweepstakes, John McCain, also has ties to the mafia, through his father in law.

I know it isn't a real high standard, but can we just ask that Republican Presidential candidates and their organizations not be linked to the mafia? Is that asking so much?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Another attack on a homeless victim for the heck of it-- but this time making kids do it.

Attacks against the homeless, just on a lark and for no reason at all, are nothing new (tragically), and I've discussed them before. But today there is a story out of Florida that brings this crime to a new low: ten year olds pushed into beating homeless man.

(CNN) -- Egged on by a 17-year-old, two 10-year-old boys joined in the attack of a homeless man, leaving him bruised and bloody Tuesday, Daytona Beach Police said.

The incident highlights an upswing in violent crime across the U.S. against the homeless.

In 2006, there were 142 attacks and 20 murders, several involving teenagers seeking a vicious thrill, according to the D.C.-based National Coalition for the Homeless.

The incident, which took place in Daytona Beach, Florida, may make history, said the non-profit's acting executive director Michael Stoops.

"If we're talking about 10-year-olds, that means we've hit an all-time low," said Stoops. "The youngest person to have ever been arrested for a crime like this is 13....

Daytona Police Sgt. Billy Walden said the teen and two boys were walking in their neighborhood around 9 p.m. when they saw 58-year-old John D'Amico. They began throwing rocks at the homeless man.

The 17-year-old, Jeremy Woods, punched D'Amico who then fell over a concrete wall. As he lay on the ground, one of the 10-year-olds - whose names are not being released - used parts of the concrete to bash D'Amico in the head, a police report shows.

D'Amico's eye was severely damaged in the attack. Woods and the two boys were charged with felony aggravated battery and are being held without bond at a juvenile detention center in Daytona Beach, Walden said.

There was one good piece of news in the story though. In one of several posts I've done on this topic, Kill some time, kill a man I wrote about the brutal January 2006 murder of Norris Gaynor who was beaten to death with baseball bats for 'sport'. In the story linked above, it says later on (after noting that apparently Florida has an unusually high number of these kinds of cases-- though as I wrote about the suspects in the Phoenix serial shooter cases random recreational violence, Arizona is hardly immune from this kind of stuff) that

One of those cases has garnered international attention and is expected to go to trial this fall after a surveillance camera captured two teens beating a homeless man with bats in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on January 12, 2006.

Prosecutors say 17-year-old skateboarder Tom Daugherty, 18-year-old Brian Hooks, a popular hockey team captain, and a [third] teen, Billy Ammons, a high school dropout, assaulted two more homeless men that night.

And that is a piece of good news, that they have caught and are prosecuting these monsters.

Murder is always a crime of unspeakable violence.

And there is no motive for murder that justifies the crime. However, the motives that there have been in the past, if wrong, could at least be understood as being motives for murder. Money, passion, jealousy, personal rivalry, revenge, rage, organized crime or gang feuds, turf battles, sadistic sexual desire, paranoia, misplaced patriotism, to send a message to someone else, even things like blind racial, ethnic or religious hatred, or homophobia, all of these motives, if inadequate for the crime, fit our frame of reference as motives for the ultimate crime.

But with the dehumanization of the homeless, we see more and more attacks, nearly always by juveniles, just for the heck of it. I don't understand it. In nearly all of these cases, the attackers have been white, and in nearly all of these cases they have come from middle or upper-middle class families. So why would they feel that they need to kill someone who has nothing?

It is no secret that some of the attackers have watched videos like 'bumfights,' a video in which 300,000 copies were distributed in which homeless people were paid to fight each other in front of a camera. Do they feel that these homeless people are only fodder for them to take out aggression on?

Or could it be perhaps that they have bought into the line that homeless people have earned their lot in life by themselves and are not deserving of any better fate?
That the homeless people are not as good as they are?

As I wrote in the Phoenix case (and which also appears to be true in the Gaynor case, and is true most of the time in these cases:

both suspects apparently came from families in which they never experienced poverty, and so apparently bought into the misconception of transients as all being that way by choice or because they were lazy.

And with that, can it be all that surprising that some disturbed people have taken homelessness as a license to murder human beings with no more compunction than most people might kill a garden pest?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Do we always want a lame duck?

Every now and then I post on a topic that I hope everyone will catch their partisan breath, step back for a moment and consider whether we should do it.

And so it is today. I believe that we should repeal the Twenty-second amendment, which prevents the President from serving for more than two terms.

What?!? Do I, a confirmed Bush-basher, want more of Bush?

Absolutely not. But if that was your reaction then you are guilty of the myopic view that I am trying to get you to see past, and you can go to the end of the line. For one thing, Jeb Bush was quietly assembling a campaign staff last year as he considered a bid to become the next link in the Bush dynasty, and wisely backed out of the race recognizing that America would dearly have loved to slap down George W. Bush at the polls (as happened by proxy last November), and if Jeb ran then he would certainly have been punished for the sins of his brother.

I know there are conservatives who occasionally stop by here. Is this some trick to bring back Bill Clinton?

Also no, and now you can go to the back of the line. It is true that Clinton, who left office with 60% plus approval ratings, would probably be a more viable candidate for a third term than George W. Bush, whose approval ratings can't seem to break out of the low to mid 30% range. However, I was never that big of a fan of Clinton or of the DLC, and frankly if people want to go back to the Clinton era then they already have a way to get there, by voting for Hillary.

My concern has more to do with the effect of a lame duck Presidency on the country. Traditionally, Presidents never served more than two terms (a Vice President who became President and served more than half of a term as President was considered to have served for a term.)

That tradition of not running again changed with Roosevelt. No, not Franklin, but Teddy Roosevelt. Roosevelt was considered to have served two terms, acceding to the Presidency after an assassin shot William McKinley in 1901, then being elected in his own right in 1904. So after the election of 1908, Theodore Roosevelt left office on schedule and was succeeded by William Howard Taft.

In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt became unhappy with the return of the establishment leaders of the Republican party (he had been chosen VP in 1900 primarily as the hero of San Juan Hill, in an age when Vice Presidents were considered to be nearly useless, except to win votes for a ticket.) So being relatively young (he turned 54 that year) he unsuccessfully challenged Taft for the nomination, and then put together his own party to challenge both the Republicans and the Democrats. He lost, but he got 28% of the vote and actually beat Taft-- the only time in post-Civil war history that a third party candidate has finished ahead of the nominee of either of the two major parties. Clearly, while many voters did not want Roosevelt back, millions did and the 'third term' issue did not affect them.

Then in 1940, Franklin Roosevelt decided to run for a third term. Unlike his distant cousin he was successful. In 1940, Hitler's armies were marching unchecked all over Europe and the future looked bleak. Even people who may not have liked him voted for Roosevelt to serve a third term, prefering proven leadership to an inexperienced candidate like Wendell Wilkie as America and the world seemed headed, willingly or not, into one of its darkest hours. Roosevelt, his health failing but determined to see the war through, was also re-elected to a fourth term but died just weeks after his inauguration and approximately the same amount of time before the war ended.

In 1947 (with ratification occuring by 1951), Republicans pushed through the twenty-second amendment. As Roosevelt ally Elmer Davis said, the amendment was 'an act of retroactive vindictiveness.' Davis went on to say that 'they couldn't beat Roosevelt while he was alive, so they kick him when he's dead.'

At the very least, the amendment says that the voters are too stupid to vote out of office a President who hasn't been terribly effective (ask Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush about that). No one wants a 'dictator for life' in the White House, and I believe that the voters of America would not stand for it. As I mentioned earlier, 1940 was an extraordinarily dark time in history, so people voted for the leader they knew could lead.

What has the effect been? The first President who would have been eligible to run for a third term would have been Eisenhower. But in 1960, his health was already starting to fail him (though he lived until 1969) and he had been a somewhat reluctant President to begin with, so it is likely that he would not have run, Nixon would still have lost to Kennedy and history would not be significantly different.

The next time the amendment barred a President from seeking a third term, it was Ronald Reagan in 1988. And Reagan did make some comments to the effect that he would like to run again and was supported by conservative GOP representative Guy Vander Jagt of Michigan, who proposed legislation to repeal the amendment. But the legislation got nowhere. In any case, Vice President George H.W. Bush was seen as the heir to Reagan, and it seems likely that either man could have defeated Dukakis. History might not have been hugely different, though then again it might have since Reagan might not have turned his back on the Shiite insurgency and the Iraqi army officers who considered deposing Saddam Hussein in 1991 after the Gulf War. Another thought is that Muammar Khadafy's regime, which timed the Lockerbie attack for when Reagan was on his way out of office (revenge for Reagan's bombing of Tripoli) might not have done it at all-- to be blunt, Khadafy was more afraid of Reagan than he was of Bush (I know that some of my readers won't want to hear that, but a fact is a fact.)

The third President who the amendment applied to was Bill Clinton. It seems likely that after twelve years of Republicans the charismatic Clinton would have beaten the Republican nominee in 1992 (likely Bob Dole, four years early) even if Reagan did have a third term. By 1992 his health was deteriorating and he would certainly not have sought a fourth term. So history to that point would not have been appreciably different.

In 2000, it is true that Clinton had promised Al Gore that he would support him in a Presidential run after eight years, and while Clinton's approval ratings were very high, much of that was in reaction to disgust with the GOP overreaching and trying to impeach the President, ultimately for lying about sex. Clinton very well might, if he ran again in 2000, have been a stronger candidate than Gore and won a third term, but let's assume for the sake of argument that he did not and let Gore seek the Presidency in 2000. No historical difference, right? Wrong.

In the late 1990's, Clinton was the classic lame duck. The GOP Congress was launching investigation after investigation, and tying his ability to get anything done. He would not be on the ballot again (since he was legally prohibited from it) so they had no reason to hold back (except perhaps if they had read the real mood of the voters over the impeachment saga). More to the point, in 1998, Saddam Hussein saw how bogged down Clinton was and ordered the U.N. weapons inspectors to leave. Clinton spent four days bombing Iraq after that, but even that reaction was excoriated by Republicans as an attempt to divert attention from the Lewinsky scandal. Note that it was Iraq's failure to comply with U.N. sanctions, especially his kicking out the inspectors, which George W. Bush later used to push through the AUMF and justify his ill-planned and ill-conceived war in Iraq. Also in the middle of the Lewinsky scandal, on August 7, 1998, bombs blew up two U.S. embassies in Africa and killed hundreds. This fairly screamed for a response, and there was one-- an attempt to get bin Laden eleven days after the African embassy bombings. Unfortunately, bin Laden, who was notoriously late to meetings, started and ended on schedule that day and had departed before cruise missiles arrived at the camp where the meeting was held. And what was the reaction of the right? It was that the whole bin Laden threat was overblown and the bombing was an attempt to steal a headline from Monica (which would have been the case most days in 1998).

“"I think we fear that we may have a President that is desperately seeking to hold onto his job in the face of a firestorm of criticism and calls for him to step down.”

Senator Dan Coats, R-IN August 19, 1998.

This comment, the day after bin Laden was saved only by virtue of his finishing his meeting ahead of schedule, must have been very comforting to him.

In other words, the lame duck status of the President had become not only a hindrance to his domestic agenda (which I have no problem with, then or now-- I've always felt that a strong Congress was preferable to a strong executive), but had also been a hindrance to his ability to conduct foreign policy-- and to the detriment of the United States.

What about the present? Well, there are a lot of congressional probes going on, about everything from pre-war intelligence to the firing of the U.S. attorneys. And I think that is great, we should delve in and find out what has been going on in this administration behind closed doors. Some of what we are learning about the disdain with which this White House has treated the law and the Constitution is downright scary, and it is time to reign it in. And such domestic priorities that the President pushed when he entered his second term in office in 2005 as Social Security privatization and making the Bush tax cuts permanent are either dead or on life support, just not a priority of this Congress.


But then look at the fact that the Iranians, knowing that we are overextended in Iraq, have been pulling the west's tail, doing things like openly flouting U.N. sanctions, pushing ahead with their nuclear program, not even trying that hard to cover up their involvement in Iraq, and now the incident involving the British sailors (note that Tony Blair is also on his way out), seem to similarly be taking advantage of a lame duck President.

Not so good.

I've made proposals about what we should do about Iran before (and it is not a military solution) but the fact is, I believe that in giving our enemies (and we do have some) four years of a President who they know for sure won't be on the ballot again we are making a mistake, because they know that they can pull exactly this kind of garbage late in the term and not get called on it (or at least get called by a guy whose power is waning). And if you are a foreign adversary, or even a trading partner and don't like who we have sitting at the negotiating table, well as it stands now you can just let the clock run out and start over with a new (and likely inexperienced) President. You know you can, because the U.S. law says so. It is an intrinsic weakness of democracy that it is at its weakest during the transition between leaders (maybe another reason for the timing of Lockerbie, as well as the timing of the pre-election October 2000 attack on the U.S.S. Cole), but at least on an international scene is it wise to extend this period to virtually half the time a President is in office?

And if you want, then write the amendment in a way that 'grandfathers' it in-- just as the original 22nd amendment (passed in 1947 and ratified in 1951) exempted President Truman. Playing to the paranoia on both sides word it similarly to the original 22nd amendment and prevent Bill Clinton and George W. Bush from running again.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The value of a local holiday

I've become convinced that a municipal holiday is a good thing for a town.

I've lived in towns that didn't have one, and it was like living in a city, with people not knowing their neighbors and having nothing in common.

Not so here though.

Today (March 24) is Joseph City Founder's Day. The holiday is to commemorate the pioneers who founded the town and their descendants. We are unusual in that we moved here without being related to anyone in the town (which means I can't use the old standby line that everyone else gets to use on their kids, "You can't go out with him! He's your cousin!") Even though we are related to no one, we really get to enjoy the holiday every year.

Every year on March 24, the town has a municipal holiday. It starts with an institution in the town, a group of guys going around town and 'firing the anvil' (blowing it into the air with gunpowder charges.) Well, if you aren't up by the time they come by your house with the anvil, you will be quick enough. Then there is a seven o'clock breakfast, a parade and games with the kids, and lunch at the firehouse (a $7 per plate barbeque cooked by the firefighters, which provides a good chunk of their budget every year). Throughout the day they have various other activities, plus this is the weekend every year when the high school puts on their annual musical. One highlight is the quilt show. Some of the ladies here are real talented quilters. And a good western gentleman will learn a few things about quilts and appreciate the talents of the ladies. Then at night there is a dance.

I've also gone with my kids to Snowflake to celebrate their version of founder's day (which is in late July). Even though the town is larger, it is much the same-- and what is best about it is that everyone gets to meet everyone else. This engenders a sense of community that is lacking in other places (sure there are national holidays which are celebrated in small towns, like the fourth of July-- and we celebrate that here too-- but somehow it isn't the same.)

I can say that communities I've lived in that had their own municipal holiday have almost uniformly been stronger, closer communities than those I've lived in which do not.

Friday, March 23, 2007

An example of how a conservative budget cut will create more of what conservatives say they are against

Conservatives should be happy.

Their fiscal solutions help create more social problems, which later create more budgetary problems they can rail against, so they can be happy because they always have something to complain about.

For example, there is a story out today about how because of a bill the GOP Congress passed in 2005 ostensibly to reduce the deficit (you know, the one they created with trillions in tax cuts), the price that college students will pay for birth control pills will double or triple to in excess of hundreds of dollars per year (for comparison, when I was in college I once paid $20 per month to live in a non-air conditioned converted boxcar during the summer, in desert heat-- and for many students their standard of living has not improved much since then.)

(AP) -- Millions of college students are suddenly facing sharply higher prices for birth control, prompting concerns among health officials that some will shift to less preferred contraceptives or stop using them altogether.

Prices for oral contraceptives, or birth control pills, are doubling and tripling at student health centers, the result of a complex change in the Medicaid rebate law that essentially ends an incentive for drug companies to provide deep discounts to colleges.

"It's a tremendous problem for our students because not every student has a platinum card," said Hugh Jessop, executive director of the health center at Indiana University....

At some schools women could see prices rise several hundred dollars per year.

About 39 percent of undergraduate women use oral contraceptives, according to an estimate by the American College Health Association based on survey data.

Many students could shift to generics but experts said they might still pay twice the previous rate.

Let's focus on what will happen. I'm not going to split hairs about numbers or who else might do what (though I suspect that the number of students who will therefore and only for this reason abstain from sex, which is what conservatives would probably want, is neglible.) While I suspect the following 'some' would be quite a large number, I'll just say, 'some' since any conservative who wanted to dispute it would have to argue the negation of 'some' (which is 'none') and would be in obvious denial as to the consequences of their 2005 budget cut that is now taking effect.

Here is what will happen to SOME of these adult college students: some of them will certainly quit taking the birth control pills due to the increased cost, and some of those will have unwanted pregnancies.

Some of those pregnancies will result in abortions. This will give conservatives cause to celebrate, because the number of abortions (largely due to sex education and contraception) is down 25% since the early 1990's. When these college women start having abortions maybe that trend will reverse itself and then conservatives will have something more to complain about.

Some of those who do not have abortions, will keep their child. Some of them will give up on their dreams of earning a degree, and instead of becoming an educated and likely productive member of society, will join the oversupply of low skill, non-college educated workers competing for a shrinking supply of low-wage jobs. The later children of those women will have a much worse standard of living growing up than the later children of them would be if they were born to a professional, college eduated mother. And some of them will end up on public assistance-- which I guess will please future conservatives very much (else why are they passing bills like this) because then they will have a whole new generation of 'welfare queens' they can complain about.

Yup, conservatism breeds the fuel for more conservatism. What a deal.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Paul Charlton's fatal flaw-- he was too effective

It is out now, officially. The departure of Arizona U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton is a direct result of the concerns about the Renzi investigation. Recall that last year, Congressman Renzi was being investigated for corruption (the same charges that sent his congressional colleagues Duke Cunningham and Bob Ney to prison.) Once Paul Charlton started digging, it became clear that what appeared to be two different Renzi investigations were in fact two angles on a much larger and more complex investigation.

So in December, Paul Charlton abruptly resigned. I remembered then about how the Bush administration had previously called off an attack dog, when they had given a promotion to Noel Hillman, the Justice Department prosecutor who was working the Abramoff case, to the Federal bench in order to get him off of the case. So I figured that they had given Charlton an opportunity (since he was going to work for the law firm where his wife works.) Turns out I was wrong about the opportunity-- we now know that his resignation was requested, but we also now have confirmation it was to get him off of the Renzi case. That is provided by a memo which D. Kyle Sampson, Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez's chief of staff, wrote to then White House Counsel Harriet Miers on September 16, shortly after he opened the Renzi investigation. In it he says that Charlton needs to go.

Paul Charlton, you see, is not an easy man to intimidate or get rid of. I've always respected him, and in fact I wrote at the time (in the second link in the last paragraph)

Charlton, though I know some people who don't like him, has always impressed me. Maybe it's because I remember his investigation into Valinda Jo Elliot after the Rodeo Chedeski fire had destroyed hundreds of homes; Elliott had started the Chedeski half as a signal fire after being lost in the woods following a vehicle breakdown. Elliott took her cell phone, and had reached some stupid person with a clerk mentality with the Bureau of Land Management; they figured out where she was and informed her that since she was over the line in the national forest she had to call the national forest headquarters. The HQ of course had long since been evacuated because of the nearby Rodeo fire and the national forest was closed, so Elliott got a recorded message. Then her cell ran out of power after having been put on hold for so long by automated machines between the two calls. Anyway, Charlton was the guy who was willing to go to Heber after the Chedeski fire and face an auditorium full of enraged people and tell them that he wasn't going to prosecute Valinda Jo Elliott (which was the right call by the way; if anyone should have been prosecuted it was the one person she actually talked to, the clerk with the ultimate 'that's not my department,' mentality even while talking to a desperate person in a life and death emergency.)

Heck, just last year the U.S. Department of Justice announced that the Arizona U.S. Attorney's Office would serve as a national "Model Program." In other words, they thought he was the best of the best.

So Charlton, who had been recognized not long before as one of the Justice Department's most effective prosecutors, wasn't afraid to do his job then, and he wasn't going to be afraid to do it when it came to Rick Renzi.

So Alberto Gonzales, together with Karl Rove and who knows who else, determined that Charlton had to go. What is really interesting is that the Justice Department emails suddenly started naming him as one that needed to go. And simultaneously Rick Renzi hired former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods (and former A.G.'s are expensive) as his legal representative. Since then, he has retained attorney Patton Boggs and spent over $100,000 on legal bills (source Federal Elections Commission via Lofty Donkey. If there was nothing there, I doubt if all that would have happened. They knew they had a problem, and they knew the only way to solve it was to get rid of the same man they had just recently acknowledged as the best they had.

Of course since then-- there has been nothing new on the Renzi investigation. So it appears that calling Charlton off worked.

Answering some spurious claims.

I'd like to correct a few misconceptions I've heard on the right concerning the investigation into the firing of the U.S. Attorneys.

The first is that it is a mountain out of a molehill, and that the President has the right to fire them if he pleases. And that Clinton fired 93 U.S. Attorneys.

He does have that right. And it is true that when he took office, Bush did fire nearly all of the Clinton-appointed U.S. Attorneys and replaced them with his own. As did Clinton when he took office (so the Clinton attorney firings, like the first round of Bush firings, were not the same as what we see here-- midterm firings.) Midterm firings almost never happen-- less than thirty in the past twenty years-- and in every case there were some serious performance-related issues. This is what started the current controversy: Attorney General Gonzales told Congress (not when he was under oath) that all of these firings were due to performance issues. That turned out to be a lie-- and while lying when not under oath is certainly legal, it was not a good choice if the goal was to get Congress to quit investigating.

But two issues that have become much greater in their impact here: First, in the past all U.S. Attorneys have been appointed with the advice and consent of the Senate. A secret clause in the Patriot Act got rid of that condition. So all of a sudden the President and Attorney General could appoint attorneys and bypass the Senate confirmation process-- and they appear to have abused that privilege for political reasons (exactly the sort of thing that people were most concerned about when the Patriot Act was passed.) Second, the fact that it appears that some of the attorneys, perhaps even most of them, were fired for reasons relating to corruption investigations. This includes David Iglesias, who was moving at what he considered the right pace for a corruption investigation invovling two Demcorats; Paul Charlton, fired from here in Arizona after he began finding things on Rick Renzi (note since Charlton has been gone, the Renzi investigation seems to have been shut down.) It includes Carol Lam, who put Duke Cunningham in prison.

So now the Bush white house is offering to have staff testify in front of Congress, without being under oath.

If you hadn't had the Gonzales lie the last time a White House official testified in front of Congress, then Congress might be willling to accept their offecr, but given what just happened, I doubt it. Lies not backed by an oath are free and easy, and this adminstration has a already shown it has propensity for lying.

Another claim that the right makes is that 'there is no crime or criminal investigation.

False, also. This case is direcly about whether the Justice Department fired the attorneys for their approach to investigations involving corruption. That is a crime. The attorneys were pulled off these cases for reaons relating to what they were investigating. That is obstruction of justice. As far as the attempted coverup of this is concerned, there could also be charges of misleading investigators, tampering with evidence and other crimes often associated with covering things up. We will see if there are any criminal charges forthcoming, but for the right to claim that 'there is no crime,' is at best premature and could very well be categorized along with such famous wrong quotes as 'We will bury you' (Nikita Khruschev) and about the 'unsinkable' ship (the owners and operators of the Titanic.)

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

What is 'moral,' anyway?

About three years ago, a letter appeared in the Winslow mail, in which the writer pretended to be neutral, then asked people to figure out if they were Democrats or Republicans and couched the letter in strongly moralistic terms. In fact, the writer was not neutral at all, it happened that he was the Republican candidate for County Assessor (which he thankfully lost for in November). At the time I wrote back a letter. It was edited for length, and much of it was edited out (though luckily they left in the place where I called him on his disingenuity, proclaiming himself a neutral observer while in fact seeking elected office as a Republican.)

This week, there has been a bit of a controversy stirred up by General Pace, the chief of the army, as he condemned homosexuality as 'immoral.' He is of course entitled to any belief he wants, but to proclaim it publically is an insult to an estimated 65,000 gays in the military who are following the military's 'don't ask, don't tell' policy and in many cases are in the front lines, laying it all on the line on behalf of their country, and expecting leadership instead of personal condemnation from their leaders. There has also been other recent discussion of 'morality,' especially since Al Gore placed it front and center by describing climate change as a 'moral' issue.

So, I've decided to post here some of the parts of the letter I wrote that were edited out by the paper:

... a friend of mind pointed out his letter to the Winslow Mail. To begin with, it was disingenuous, with him purporting a veneer of impartiality in defining what Republicans and Democrats are for and against, ostensibly for the benefit of new or undecided voters. He did not even mention that he is running for public office as a Republican. Then he went on to define Democrats in a mostly negative light, focusing heavily on moral arguments.

So, as a Democrat, I would like to respond in context.

I am a Democrat because it is immoral that we deny or limit the care people (even children) can receive in hospitals, if they don’t have insurance.

It is immoral that we pay companies to ship jobs to Asia instead of helping small businesses create them in our communities.

It is immoral that we hold up ‘big box’ stores as models of job creation, when they pay little more than subsistence wages and frequently force businesses to close that pay people well enough to feed their families.

It is immoral that we send our young people to fight in a war half a world away, when we can’t tell them why we are there, how long we will be there, or how we plan to get out.

It is immoral to cut funds for our national parks, so that little will be left of some of them by the time our kids are old enough to inherit our national treasures.

It is immoral that we save a few dollars by knocking some people off of food stamps, yet spend many times that amount on corporate welfare while very few people say anything.

It is immoral that we block the importation of drugs from other countries, thereby supporting the drug companies in their selective gouging of Americans compared to Canadians and Europeans. Shouldn’t our government be protecting us from those who want to put the screws to us, instead of helping them do it?

It is immoral that we have homeless children in the richest country on earth and some claim they are there by ‘choice.’ Adults may choose to be homeless (although many didn’t), but how can a child choose to be homeless? This is a cop-out that some conservatives use to duck having to face that reality or spend a few dollars to do anything about it.

It is immoral that we hire degreed professionals to teach our kids in K-12 schools, yet pay them so poorly that it is unlikely that they will be able to send their own kids to the colleges that they went to.

It is immoral that we make things as difficult as we can on both documented and undocumented workers, while giving a slap on the wrist to the businesses that hire them.

It is immoral that we block research that could cure many diseases, when the blastocysts that could be used are tossed in the garbage every day.

It is immoral that we mandate tests like AIMS and fulfill other requirements of the NCLB act, and then ask local school districts to pick up the tab.

It is immoral that we work to cut the authority of governmental regulatory agencies designed to protect the health of workers and the public as an ‘unnecessary intrusion,’ but we allow the same government to massively increase their surveillance of the American public and the right to conduct secret trials, and then ‘trust’ their word that these powers will never be abused by either the current or any future administrations.

It is immoral that we give more duties to our police officers, but don’t fund them.

It is immoral that we build infrastructure in Iraq when many people here in Navajo county still don’t have electricity.

It is immoral that we say, ‘support the troops’ and then close VA hospitals and cut other veterans programs.

It is immoral that we give massive tax cuts to billionaires and then leave the debts for our young people to pay later on in life.

It is immoral that, despite having the technology available, we don’t raise vehicle fuel standards and instead have to depend for our security and livelihood on the political stability of a few slaveholding, misogynist, dictatorial feudal monarchies. George Washington is surely spinning in his grave.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Media discovers-- schools pushing underperforming kids to drop out. I could have told them that last year.

Have you ever ran across an article that leaves you scratching your head, not because you doubt its truth, but because it seems like some research wonk in the media has just 'discovered' a situation that you've known about for years?

That just happened to me a few minutes ago. I was perusing, and ran across this article on a high performing high school that is forcing low performing students to drop out because the school is rated on overall test performance.

And the case they cite might not even be considered completely one-sided, since the article makes it clear that the student they profiled (though there are others as well) was only pushed out of that school, not out of school altogether, and she may have contributed to her own academic deficiencies by absenteeism and disciplinary problems-- though it is only in the new world of conservative double speak where the way to solve a problem with a student playing hooky is to make them leave the school. However, I've known personally about more egregious cases than that. In my line of work, I've talked to a number of young people just in the past year or two who told me that they didn't finish school because after failing standardized tests the first time around they were advised by their high school advisors to drop out, and did so (though I'm happy to say that none of the students who told me this had gone to my own local high school-- if they had, I'd raise heck with the school board about it.) This is a disturbing new development-- I thought school counselors were supposed to encourage students to stay in school, not advise them to drop out and become quitters.

As far as absenteeism is concerned, all I know is that I've not met a truant officer for decades. Are there still any out there? My best guess is that the reason they've disappeared is probably some combination of legal requirements and regulations (probably, to be honest, imposed by liberals) and budget cuts (imposed by conservatives.) Maybe there still are some, and I just haven't met any (luckily my own kids have never required their services-- whatever problems they've had in school, unauthorized absence wasn't on the list.)

An even deeper level of this problem is that in some school districts it seems that students are flunked more often in specific grades, primarily because of the fear that they will perform poorly on standardized tests. For example, according to data collected by Walt Haney and his colleagues at Boston College, the number of ninth graders in 2000 nationwide exceeded by 13% the number of students who were in eighth grade nationwide in 1999 (source.) By 2000 (which is before the implementation of NCLB) a lot of states had already implemented standardized testing at the tenth grade level, and in many of them performance on these tests was already tied in various ways to school funding. So, apparently students were 'held back' at a much higher rate in the ninth grade than they were in the eighth or other grades so that they would have another year of being 'taught to the test' before they had to lay it on the line. Now, I have no problem with the concept of holding back a student if it is warranted by a failure to learn the material in the grade level in question (in this regard I disagree with the author of the source article), but that should apply to all grade levels, not just the grade before it is time to take the test.

One proposal I have heard and which I favor is to restructure high school similar to what we have in college-- there would no longer be formal grades, but students would have to complete a certain level of classes (including certain specific core courses). Students would be placed in classes based on similar background and abilities, rather than age; If necessary, students could be put into a course that came before the core curriculum course, while others might be able to jump into a course that is a year or two more advanced than their former eighth grade classmates. Four years might be an average time to spend in school, but some students might be able to do it in three years while others might need five or six (if beyond six years then we might consider a transition program into the community college where they could earn a diploma or equivalent while using the high school credits they had to that point accumulated and additional work at the community college.) The whole stigma/expectation associated with age and grade level would likely erode in this kind of environment. Why exactly is it more important that a tenth grader should be in an English class with other tenth graders rather than with other students (of whatever grade level) who have similar writing skills? In this environment completion of the core curriculum would show proof of knowlege so there would be no need for standardized testing, but if it was insisted there had to be then take it after the student has completed say a specific English class and a specific Math class, both of which are included in the core curriculum.

But whatever we do, it is absolutely an outrage that we have reached the point where students are being encouraged to leave school by those who should be most involved with helping them to stay in school. But the financial incentive for the schools is now to do exactly that.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Terry Goddard is a great A.G. He's also a great guy.

This week I've been incredibly busy (which is why I have only put up one posting since last Saturday.)

The high point of the week politically was a reception in Winslow for our Attorney General, Terry Goddard. Like many other politicians, he was just elected to another four years this past November. Unlike many other politicians, now that he is out of campaign mode he is taking the opportunity to travel around the state and actually talk to people, both to let them know what his office is doing and to hear what their concerns are.

I've had quite a few opportunities to talk to Terry, and he is the same unflappable mixture of wit, class, charm and a good listener that he has always been.

What I'd like to do is pass on some of the things he is working on.

He is making fighting hard against both meth labs and the drug itself a top priority. Meth labs in a neighborhood are a hazard, not only to the occupants of the lab (which distressingly often includes the children of the meth cooks or of other residents of the domicile). The fumes from its production are toxic, and an explosion can start a fire which quickly consumes a trailer and everyone inside, and possibly spread from there. In the last legislature, Goddard and others pushed for a bill that would require stores to limit the amount of pseudoephedrine they sell at a single purchase and keep it under lock and key. The pharmaceutical industry worked behind the scenes to defeat it (Senator Barbara Leff will always have meth labs in your neighborhood as part of her resume). So since then, many cities and local jurisdictions have circumvented the legislature and passed the law themselves. Goddard met earlier on Tuesday with the Navajo county board of Supervisors and urged them to put together such a bill that would cover unincorporated areas of the county (and he was joined at the reception by supervisor Jesse Thompson.) But getting rid of meth labs is only a small part of the battle. After all, it is true that most meth here comes from Mexico and as long as there is a market, it will continue to come.

I noted in the post on my Grand Jury experience about how about half the cases we saw were drug cases, and the large majority of those involved methamphetamine. Meth is also very dangerous because people who get jacked up on meth don't just get mellow or go to sleep (like marijuana) or even get hyper but mainly a threat to themselves (like cocaine.) Meth users get paranoid, and imagining they are in danger try to 'protect' themselves, often by lethal violence. I was living in Moriarty, New Mexico in the mid 1990's, when not even a mile from my home there was a man who had been using meth that was driving on I-40 and when he imagined that his son was the devil, he stopped his van, cut off his son's head and threw it out onto the freeway and then drove on with the lifeless body in the van. That's what meth users do-- not just ordinary hallucinations, but hallucinations that often cause them to attack and murder other people. So the Attorney General found a hard-hitting program that he likes called, 'Montanameth' run by the state of Montana where they describe exactly to school age kids what meth is and what it can cause, and doesn't sugar-coat it at all. He is in the process of adapting it to Arizona so we can start whacking at the addiction rate here.

He also discussed his work on educating kids about on-line sex predators and on consumer fraud issues.

As I said before though, it was really nice to have a politician come to town AFTER the election and talk with people about what he is doing and what they think he should do.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Charlie Crist does the right thing, and for the right reason

Recently elected Governor Charlie Crist (R-Florida) has announced that he will restore voting rights to convicted felons who have paid their debt (meaning they have completed all sentencing including probation, paid any restitution and otherwise steered clear of the criminal justice system.)

TALLAHASSEE, FL (AP) -- Governor Charlie Crist says he will continue working to change the rules so that felons will have their voting rights automatically restored once they have paid their debt to society.This is one of the most revolutionary and far reaching proposals made by a governor in years. The removal of voting rights for ex-felons, those who have served their time and returned to society, is a direct descendent of the 1890 Mississippi Constitution. This document proudly listed a variety of ways Post Reconstruction whites would remove all political power form black citizens.

Crist announced that this campaign promise was a top reform priority.

This makes a lot of sense. Felons face, in addition to hurdles like difficulty getting a job and a home with a felony conviction on their record, a continuing stream of sanctions by society even when they have served their sentence and want to get on with their lives. Some of the sanctions make sense (for example denying the right to buy a gun to someone who has been convicted of a violent crime, because of the increased risk that they may use it in another crime). Sex offender registries make a lot of sense. Other sanctions do not. For example, restricting gun sales to non-violent criminals (I'm not sure that someone who has been convicted of embezzlement or selling marijuana is such a threat if they have a gun.) And chief among those which make no sense is preventing felons from voting. In Florida, because of prior felony convictions, 600,000 felons cannot vote, including over 31% of the state's adult African-American population (keep in mind that even being caught with any kind of drug paraphernalia can be considered a felony in many states.)

Further, even Crist's proposal will continue to deny voting to a few criminals:

the Times reported that there would be exclusions for those convicted of murder, rape, or major drug trafficking.

And I agree with that, for the most part. Murder, while it may result in less than a life sentence, is different from all other crimes in that there is no hope at all for the victim to recover. So a lifetime sanction may make sense. Rapists are generally required to register as sex offenders, so therefore they never do leave the criminal justice system completely-- so as the law is written they would not ever qualify. The most controversial provision has to do with drug trafficking. To me, the word 'major' suggests very large quantities of drugs, usually as part of a smuggling ring. But I don't know if that is the definition according to the proposal.

In fact, it seems Gov. Crist is doing it for the right reason. He is already taking heat for it in Florida. Further, there is no data on how felons intend to vote (this group has never been polled, for obvious reasons.)

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Rudy made sure they found the gold. Then he quit looking.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has jumped to the head of the GOP Presidential field, despite not having actually run for any office in nearly a decade (maybe that is why he is so popular).

His biggest plus, according to everyone was his exhibition of leadership on September 11. He got the second biggest accolades for heroism on that day. The biggest of course, were for the first responders, especially the New York Fire Department, which lost 343 of its members. Those who went into the buildings to help others get out of them.

So how are the Firefighters responding to Rudy today? Not well, it turns out. They drafted a letter listing very specific reasons they are not supporting him.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- One of the nation's largest firefighters' unions has accused Republican presidential contender Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, of committing "egregious acts" against firefighters who died in the September 11 terrorist attacks.

In a letter to its members Friday, the International Association of Fire Fighters excoriated Giuliani for his November 2001 decision to cut back the number of firefighters searching the rubble of Ground Zero for the remains of some 300 fallen comrades.

The 280,000-member union accused him of carelessly expediting the cleanup process with a "scoop-and-dump" operation after the recovery of millions of dollars in gold, silver and other assets from the Bank of Nova Scotia that had been buried.

Now granted, by November of 2001, it was certain that no one else would be found alive in the rubble, but it is a fact that only a small portion of the rubble was really searched thoroughly through for remains (and the discovery of several sets of remains since then even in the industrial scale cleanup operation since shows that it would not have been all that hard to find most of them, at least). Don't the family of the real heroes even deserve that?

Well, no, apparently. It is clear that Rudy's biggest concern was to make sure that the gold and silver were found and recovered. After that, nothing else was left that was as important as the reserves of the Bank of Nova Scotia.

So this is a union, and they always back Democrats, right?

No again. It is true that they endorsed John Kerry in 2004 after the Bush administration's promises to fund first responders turned out to be more flourish than substance. But in the 1997 mayoral race, the last time Rudy Giuliani ran for office, he beat Ruth Messinger with their backing and their votes.

It seems that Rudy's leadership on September 11 is a bit overrated. The tragedy itself happened in the heart of the nation's biggest metropolitan area, where the infrastructure remained otherwise intact, and everyone who survived had a home to go back to so there were no refugees. In this regard it was far less of a test of leadership than, for example, Katrina which devastated an entire region, including homes, hospitals and shelters. So the real test of leadership came in the days, weeks and months after the September 11 attacks, and it is clear that once the gold was safely back in the Bank of Nova Scotia, Rudy Giuliani simply turned his back on the real heroes of the day.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Before Haggard, there was this Newt guy.

Ever wonder what Newt Gingrich was doing in 1998 after a long day of Clinton-bashing at the office, over the Lewinsky scandal?

Well, now we know. Newt was having a little extramarital affair of his own.

His excuse? He says that:

as a leader of the government trying to uphold the rule of law, I have no choice except to move forward and say that you cannot accept ... perjury in your highest officials."

Just wondering if that at least includes Scooter Libby, or if he will find some other reality-bending excuse to be able to excuse Republicans for the same thing he is grilling a Democrat for.

Janet goes to Iraq-- and starts sounding like a neo-con.

I have to say I was very disappointed with Governor Napolitano's trip to Iraq.

I don't have a problem with her going, to visit Arizona National Guardsmen.

But her comments seem to mirror the kind of garbage we've heard coming out of Iraq for years, citing 'progress' and expressing support for the latest folly, the President's troop surge. In that regard, she might as well have been George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice or any of the other names we've heard spouting the line about how everything is going according to plan for the past four years (hint: if it had gone according to plan during the past four years, we'd be out of there by now.)

Politically, it is not hard to see where the Governor is going. In 2010, she will be term-limited out, and John McCain, who will be older than the hills by then and who will likely be weakened by a failed Presidential run (just look at how fast he is dropping in GOP primary polls) will be up for re-election. If McCain does not then retire, or even if he does, she would be all but guaranteed of the Democratic nomination to run for the Senate.

In terms of the Iraq war, McCain has taken a very hardline stance. So even if people are turned off by her pro-Iraq war stance, it's not like she has much ground to lose on the issue.

But it still bothers me. In four years, we have accomplished the objectives of Iran more than anything else, and I'm sure the Governor is smart enough to realize that.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Notice a pattern here?

We've been hearing over the past few days about how two members of New Mexico's congressional delegation called and pressured David Iglesias, the former Federal Prosecutor for that state, into speeding up a corruption investigation involving a Democrat and then had him fired by the Bush administration when he refused.

As I blogged in December, Paul Charlton, investigating corruption charges against Rick Renzi, was also leaving (though in contrast to that post it now turns out that he got a firm push out the door.)

Then they also fired Carol Lam, the prosecutor who sent former GOP Congressman Duke Cunninham to prison.

On the day when they got caught being petty and mean spirited by the Libby guillty verdict, here they do it again.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Open mouth, insert foot.

Today after visiting the town of Americus, Georgia to look at tornado damage, President Bush, apparently not willing to commit Federal assistance to the project, suggested that Habitat for Humanity could visit the town and repair some of the damage (of course repairing existing structures is not something that Habitat for Humanity does, for among other reasons that working on existing but damaged structures require engineering expertise that the volunteer organization does not have).

The mayor of Americus had to tell him that the organization is headquartered in Americus.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Hit piece on Al Gore actually leads to an opportunity to educate people.

In the recent firestorm of criticism from the right about Al Gore's utility bill, it seems that there are some inconvenient facts that have been ignored.

Begin with the credibility of the source, and their apparent willingness to lie in order to get a headline-- and more to the point, not just the credibility of this source but of right leaning sources who simply jumped on a press release from an organization they probably didn't know much about without checking their facts.

The press release from The Tennessee Center for Policy Research (a previously obscure right-wing attack group whose only known address is a P.O. Box in Nashville) stated that Gore's electricity bill was $1,359 per month on average, and stated that they got the figure from Nashville Electric Service. NES spokesperson Laurie Parker however responded that the company was never asked by the center, and never gave it, any information. Additionally, the figure was wrong; it turns out to be closer to $1,200. While $1,359 is in the ballpark and likely represents an educated guess (though a bit high) it certainly brings into question the veracity of any claim that might be made by an organization of people who apparently are willing to invent data in order to make their case. While the exposure of the made up data by Parker has since been reported in some media, it has gotten a lot less attention than did the original report. One has to wonder if this is the new 'journalistic standard' by those on the right (particularly since this report appeared, unquestioned, on any number of right wing blog sites.) And the truth is that Gore's energy bill is not out of line for someone at his income level (as I reported several months ago Gore has become very rich while not serving as President, working as an advisor to Google and in other capacities).

Additionally, the report is misleading since Al Gore does (as he has for several years now) pay for 'green' electricity, mostly from a program available in Tennessee. Where he can't do that he makes donations equal to what he uses specifically for electricity from renewable resources.

And that leads to the real hypocrisy-- the right, either by intent or by ignorance continues to propogate the 'freeze in the dark' view of green electricity and other use of natural resources. In other words, they argue that environmentally responsible energy means a reduction in lifestyle. They argue that to be 'green' means to use less, and that is all it means, and that if you are living with any modern uses of energy (be it electricity, a car or whatever) then you cannot be an environmentalist.

But this is absolutely false. Being 'green' means being cleaner and leaner-- but this does not have to mean any kind of a reduction in lifestyle. It is true that in terms of conservation, it means using less energy. But conservation means to reduce waste. Waste by definition is resources expended but not used. So, for example, if you turn off the television after your favorite show, keep your tires fully inflated in order to improve your gas mileage and reduce wear on the tire, turn down the thermostat when you are not at home, or caulk your windows so you will use less gas then you have conserved-- but it is hard to argue that any of these conservation measures impacts your lifestyle.

These of course are individual choices. Then there is societal environmentalism. This is environmentalism at the public policy level, and is more what a person like Al Gore is pushing. Even President Bush, after fighting it for a long time, reversed himself in January in his State of the Union address where he pushed for, among other measures, higher CAFE standards on automobiles. This means designing cars to use less fuel. The technology is already there, and in fact all other major industrialized countries (as well as China) have higher fuel standards on vehicles than the United States. If all cars were designed to have, say, five mpg better mileage, then the result would be less gasoline used resulting in less emissions, less demand resulting in lower fuel prices (so people would save on both ends-- by using less gas and paying less for what they used) and in the bargain less dependence by the United States' economy on the political stability of feudal monarchies like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait or feeding the regimes of people like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Hugo Chavez. Conservatives have long opposed these standards (and blocked their implementation in Congress) because of a desire by oil companies to keep prices higher and sell more product.

But it begs the question: If the car you buy in ten years is designed according to the higher standard and, for example, gets 30 mpg instead of 25 mpg, how exactly will that impose on your lifestyle choices? For that matter, if a practical electric or hydrogen vehicle is developed and put into large scale production how would having one, and say having to charge it periodically instead of pump gas, affect your lifestyle? It's hard to see how it would.

Electricity is another example. 'Green' electricity is not the same as no electricity. It means 1) electricity from renewable sources such as wind, solar, and hydroelectric (all of which are in fact in practical use today in a number of places in America, despite claims by conservatives in past generations that they would never be practical) or 2) if fossil fuel is burned, then state of the art emissions technology. A smashing example of success had to do with the 'acid rain' battle of a generation ago. The discovery that nitric and sulfuric acid in power plant emissions was killing forests in North America and Europe led to the installation of technology that cut emissions of both of these pollutants way down. The result is healthier forests and cleaner air. Even statues and buildings are not being eroded by acid rain as they once were.

Again, how is breathing cleaner air an imposition on your lifestyle?

What about mass transit? In a rural area like where I live it may not be that practical (though there is a local taxi company and some communities on the reservation have at times had bus service). But in larger communities, an investment in mass transit makes a lot of sense. Not only does, for example, one bus use less gas and cause less congestion on the road than a dozen or more individual cars, but often the people who use the bus would otherwise be driving older cars-- which tend to be the most polluting, inefficient cars on the road. And a 'miniature' form of mass transit is the formation of car pools. Some municipalities actively encourage this, for example by designating special highway lanes or waiving tolls for carpools. If there are more buses, light rail, car pools or other forms of mass transit then it still won't affect you if you want to drive someplace all by yourself, but simply give you and everyone else a choice. So again, how is it an imposition on your lifestyle?

So Al Gore's use of electricity (like mine or yours) is no sin. If you waste electricty then, well, you will pay for it. But it is a sin not to press for policy initiatives that can, without causing anyone any real inconvenience, improve the health of the planet and of all of us.
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