Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Just to show how bad the right's numbers are getting.

Today I listened again to Rush for a little while (not much else to listen to up here, out of range for most radio).

He tried to compare the murder rate in the city of Philadelphia to the country of Iraq, specifically claiming that the 406 murders last year in the city of 1.5 million indicates a much more dangerous environement when compared to the 821 U.S. service members who died last year in Iraq.

Of course that is a meaningless comparison as I'm sure he knows. The number of civilian deaths in Iraq (about a hundred per day) is more than the number of daily murders in America.

In fact the only meaningful way of comparing the two would be what if a person living in the city of Philadelphia were to join the military and spend a year in Iraq. Living in Philadelphia, the risk of being murdered would be 406/1,500,000 X 100 % = .027 %; In Iraq (since last year there were on average 140,000 U.S. troops there at any given time) the risk is 821/140,000 X 100 % = .586% . This means that using Rush's own figures that he gave today, the person in question would have a 20 times higher risk of death while serving in the U.S. military in Iraq than remaining at home in Philly.

Of course the average 'dittohead' probably buys this argument, but Rush is certainly aware that he is intentionally skewing the numbers by comparing only a small fraction of all the violence in Iraq (that which is conducted against U.S. forces) to the base population of the entire country. In other words, he knows darn well he is lying, but is getting desperate to make anyone believe anything.

There are things I'll never say, unless you tell me it's against the law to say it.

If there is one word I really loathe, it is the 'n' word. I can honestly say that my parents taught me early on never to use that word so I've never used it. I've even been careful to explain to my kids when we read 'Huckleberry Finn' that we don't ever, ever use that word. People who use it show themselves to be ignorant, bigoted fools. I know that the word is deeply offensive, especially to African-Americans as it is what they were called during the days of slavery and Jim Crow.

So is there a situation when I would ever allow that putrid, rotten word to come out of my mouth? Well, yes there is. I might use it if I'm ever in the town of Brazoria, Texas and they make it illegal.

Saying the "n-word" in one Texas town may soon cost people hundreds of dollars. The mayor of Brazoria, near Houston, wants to ban the word.

"This is a melting pot -- this country is, okay? There is no room for any racial slurs, whatever," said Brazoria Mayor Ken Corley.

Ken Corley wants people to face a $500 fine if they say the “n-word” there.

I'm glad the mayor feels that his town is a melting pot and that there is no room for racial slurs. I agree with him that there shouldn't be room for that. Heck, he makes it sound like the kind of progressive place that you don't hear so much about in the Lone Star State, and maybe worth a visit sometime.

But he and I part company when we talk about making a word illegal.

In the United States we have a Constitution, and one which wisely allows people to say the most horrible, disgusting things. That is why while we may regulate pornography, it is allowed. That is why holocaust deniers can feel free to spout off their particular kind of filth. That is why we allow music to be sold in stores that is pretty much one constant stream of profanity, often liberally spiced with the 'n' word, for that matter.

As one of my friends who has a gift for cutting things to the core once told me in regard to free speech (after an incident in which a mutual acquaintance was punished by his employer for complaining about a co-worker), "If I don't have the right to call you an asshole, then what rights do I have?" (I generally try to avoid even that level of language, but that is a direct quote to what he said-- though as an aside I believe that someone who hires you does have some rights to expect you to uphold certain standards of civility on the job.)

So to be honest, as much as I loathe and detest the word, and as honestly as I can say that I've never once said it, if they make it illegal in Brazoria, Texas and I happened to be there, I'd feel obligated to say it, probably right directly in front of hizzoner the mayor. I might not even say it in a way that was connected to anything else, or as part of a sentence, but I'd feel like I had to say the word. And then challenge the ban in court. Because if we can tell people what to say, then can telling them what to think be far behind?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Rape victim jailed while police stop looking for the rapist.

There is crime and there is crime.

A 21-year old woman went to Tampa police and reported that she had been raped. They began an investigation, which they immediately stopped and instead arrested her and put her in jail for two days upon learning that she had a juvenile arrest warrant. Most breaks in cases happen within the first 48 hours, and this probably helped the rapist evade capture.

To make matters worse, the victim was denied the second of two doses of a 'morning after pill,' which she only got when local media started reporting on the case. It is still after the time it should have been given so she will have to wait to find out if she is pregnant from the assault.

TAMPA, Florida (AP) -- A college student who told police she had been raped was jailed for two days after officers found an old warrant accusing her of failing to pay restitution for a 2003 theft arrest.

While she was behind bars, a jail worker refused to give her a second dose of the morning-after contraceptive pill because of the worker's religious convictions, the college student's attorney said.

The 21-year-old woman was released Monday only after attorney Vic Moore reported her plight to the local media.

"Shocked. Stunned. Outraged. I don't have words to describe it," Moore said. "She is not a victim of any one person. She is a victim of the system. There's just got to be some humanity involved when it's a victim of rape."

Moore said the young woman was not allowed to take the second emergency contraceptive pill until Monday afternoon, a day late, after reporters called police and jail officials....

She reported the rape Saturday afternoon, and officers took her to a rape crisis center where she was given the first of two doses of the morning-after pill, McElroy said. The second dose is supposed to be taken within 24 hours.

Later, as she was riding in a patrol car trying to locate the crime scene in the dark, police found the warrant stemming from a 2003 juvenile arrest for grand theft and burglary. It said she owed $4,585.

"They stopped the investigation right there" and put her in handcuffs, Moore said.

Should the police follow up on the old warrant now that they know where she is? Perhaps, although it is a juvenile warrant and she has not had any trouble as an adult. But that is for a later time. The pressing matter at the time was the fact that she was a rape victim, and that the rapist was out there possibly targetting other vicitms. Any information the police could have gotten and used might have brought him in quickly. At the very least, he has gotten a good head start, and quite possibly evidence, including at the scene that might have helped them catch him has been destroyed by now.

This is the kind of bureaucratic mentality that I find nauseating. Instead of the common sense approach that 1) the crime under investigation at the time was a heck of a lot more serious than the one they learned about from years ago, 2) the evidence was available then and might not be later and 3) the woman in question had just been brutalized by a horrible crime, they followed some ridiculous procedure and shoved aside the more serious investigation to focus on what amounts to a minor one.

Yes, she may have made a mistake when she was a minor. But that is no reason she should have to pay for it by not having the authorities bring all the resources they normally would to hunt for the monster who attacked her.

What else can they do to make it easy pickings for fraud?

What would you think of a law that makes pensions both more opaque and reduces the requirement for who can manage them? In the old days, that usually meant that organized crime had a hand in the till.

Maybe things haven't changed all that much. The Arizona legislature, in its infinite wisdom, is set to pass HR 2147, which among other things will 1) reduce the minimum requirements for who can manage employee pension funds, and 2) makes it clear that proprietary commercial information on Arizona State Retirement System (ASRS) investments are not to be made a matter of public record.

So in a nutshell, they are arranging it so that people who didn't used to be qualified to handle pension investments, can do so now, and they can do it in the dark.

And this from the legislature that only four years ago brought you the alt-fuels scandal. And we are expected to trust this crew?

Monday, January 29, 2007

Splitting up can be messy.

Back in the 2000 election, a lot of people warned against electing George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, 'two oil guys' to the two most powerful offices in the country.

And there is no question that the Bush presidency has been a great six years for Big Oil. The energy bill pushed by Bush and his allies in Congress and passed during the first Bush administration gave away billions in tax dollars to subsidize an industry that, frankly, needs subsidies like Barry Bonds needs nutritional supplements. The administration resisted progress on any number of fronts that the oil companies didn't want to see progress on, everything from higher fuel standards on vehicles and research on alternative fuels to emissions standards and global warming. The invasion of Iraq was supposed to guarantee that the third largest proven oil reserves in the world would be safely under the control of a friendly, pro-American government in a secure, stable country and accessible to exploitation by western firms. Some neo-con planners envisioned using it as a platform to invade Iran and enforce a 'Pax Americana' throughout the middle east, which is why they planned to build fourteen permanent military bases in Iraq-- plans which have since been put into what is hopefully a permanent deep freeze. Although things haven't worked out that way in Iraq, the war was still a boon to Big Oil as prices last year hit $80 a barrel and produced record profits.

But it seems that all things must come to an end, or at least must be re-evaluated. Last year the President said in his State of the Union speech that we are 'addicted to oil.' This year he proposed higher CAFE standards on new automobiles and research into alternative fuels-- which is good, but don't forget how hard this administration and their allies in Congress fought against these things for years, both openly and behind the scenes by cutting funding for alt-fuel research. Oil prices have fallen into the $50 range. It is clear that Iraq will never be the safe haven for American corporations that the oil companies had hoped.

So there were a couple of news stories out today that made it clear that the split is widening. One story was that the Bush administration (still thinking that the way to 'win' in Iraq is to dig ourselves in deeper) is threatening Iran with unspecified consequences if they become more involved in Iraq (see Bush's answer to an intractable war: threaten to start another one for why this is a stupid course of action; if we want to theaten a country we have to have the ability to carry it out, and thanks to Bush we really don't.) The other story is more profound: Shell and its partners signed a $4 billion agreement with Iran to develop oil fields. Shell risks U.S. sanctions by doing so. But it did so anyway, which is a poke in the eye to the Bush plan to isolate Iran economically.

Now granted, Shell is not a U.S., but rather a Dutch company. At the same time it has widespread presence in the United States and close ties to a number of American companies. So what this is really saying is that 1) Shell does not fear whatever George Bush can do (he is toothless, and they already know that) and 2) they consider that given a choice between the U.S. and Iran, they consider that Iran has more to offer. One has to wonder how long it will take before American-owned companies take the same course.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Donald Trump can fly his flag-- on a 42 foot pole like anyone else.

As a liberal, it's always risky speaking against flying an American flag. I'm sure that some right winger, if they read this, will be quick to jump up and cite it as proof that liberals are unpatriotic, or hate America, or some such crap.

If so, they don't know me. I love America, and in fact I have a small American flag right next to my front door. I stuck it up there on September 11, 2001, and it has remained in place since that day. The wind has shredded it to the extent that pretty soon I will have to replace it. To be honest it would bother me to throw it away. The proper procedure for disposal of an old or tattered flag,

according to 36 USCA Sec. 176, Respect for flag:

The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.

but if I did that then I'm sure those same right-wingers would claim that I was making an anti-American political statement.

But I'm going to speak against flying the flag. Specifically, against Donald Trump flying his.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Officials in the ritzy coastal town of Palm Beach have voted to fine Donald Trump $1,250 a day for flying a large American flag atop an 80-foot flagpole at his lavish club in violation of town codes.

Code enforcement officials have accused the 60-year-old real-estate mogul of violating zoning guidelines with a flagpole taller than 42 feet, for not obtaining a building permit, and for not getting permission from the landmarks board.

Trump has refused to take down the flag. He has also filed a $25 million lawsuit against the town arguing, in part, that officials are selectively enforcing ordinances and that flying the American flag at his Mar-A-Lago club is a constitutionally protected expression of free speech.

Let's start with why this is not a violation of free speech. The town of West Palm Beach has not said that Donald Trump can't fly the American flag. In fact, he could fly the same flag (oversized as it is) 42 feet off the ground. This is as high as a typical three or four story building, so it's not like he can't fly his flag in a very visible manner. He would have a point that it was a violation of free speech if the law said that he couldn't display it at all, or for that matter that he could only display it in a manner where it could easily be overlooked, but the ordinance does not say that. Further, the zoning ordinance says nothing about the flag itself, but rather about the flagpole. In other words if he wants to, for example, display the flag eighty feet up on the side of a building or some other way of displaying it, he would not be in violation of the ordinance. A limit on the height of a flagpole can be grounded in all sorts of practical reasons, including that an eighty foot pole could, if struck by a vehicle conceivably cause injury to people a signficant distance away, or that people may want an unobstructed view.

The fact is that cities and towns have a right to create and enforce ordinances designed to promote what they see as the quality of life in their communities. There have been times when I have been unhappy about these ordinances (for example several years ago we were all set to buy land and move into a community when they passed an ordinance against single wide trailers. We had one that we were planning to put on the land. When they passed the ordinance we went elsewhere (though things have in fact turned out much better where we are, especially in terms of having much better schools, than they would have there). But whether I liked the ordinance or not, I never felt that the town didn't have the legal right to pass it.

A zoning ordinance can in some cases be considered a restriction on free speech but I don't honestly see how this one is. If I felt otherwise I'd speak out against it, as I have before on free speech issues.

Donald Trump seems to have created this situation intentionally. He could have applied for permission from the landmarks board. It might not have been granted, but then again it might have-- but he chose not to follow the procedure to ask for permission. Perhaps he is creating the controversy because his image has taken a hit lately, between the dust-up with Rosie O'Donnell and his having been fooled by a fraudulent resume submitted by a low level day trader who was hired by Trump to direct his mortgage division. Or maybe it's just a matter of the fact that he hasn't had many headlines since the war with Rosie has receded from the front page.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Justice later is justice still

Today, James Seale pleaded not guilty to charges that he was involved in two murders in 1964.

JACKSON, Mississippi (Reuters) - A former Ku Klux Klan member pleaded not guilty on Thursday to charges in the 1964 murders of two black teenagers in Mississippi, in a case that highlights violence used by white supremacists during the civil-rights era.

Marshals escorted James Seale, 71, to and from federal court in Jackson for an initial hearing on kidnapping and conspiracy charges.

A three-count indictment says Seale trained a shotgun on the teenagers while his companions beat them. Then they attached heavy weights to the pair and threw them alive into the Mississippi River.

It will be interesting to follow this trial and listen to the evidence. And perhaps the best justice in the case may not be that which will be reserved for James Seale, if he is convicted. Rather, it may be the fact that he pleaded before a black judge today (a female one at that) and even in Mississippi segregation is as illegal as what he did defending it. Black people have the same rights to use the restroom, eat at restaurants and go anywhere that white people do. James Seale lived to see that happen in spite of his efforts.

That isn't to say that there is no more progress to be made, because there is a great deal that still has to be done before we can say that race is no longer an issue in America and that the ugliness of that era is behind us (both in the south and in the rest of America). But this trial shows that no matter how long it takes, justice can be served.

Note to self: Get the whole story before editorializing on it.

I guess I should take some of my own medicine about wildly speculating.

I did a post yesterday after reading about how the Arizona House was evacuated following a bomb scare. I duly linked to a post on Ted's blog, Rum, Romanism and Rebellion. But I then did something that Ted wisely didn't do and went on a diatribe against the 'fascist right.' Turns out (and I will cut and paste what Ted said today on his blog)

Here's the story as told to me (Ted) by Barrett Marson, spokesman for the House Speaker: suspicious packages were sent to four members, Eddie Farnsworth, Adam Driggs, Ben Miranda and Kyrsten Sinema. Sinema, understandably spooked by the numerous threatening e-mails she's recieved over a bill she's sponsoring that labels groups like the Minutemen domestic terrorists, called the Capitol Police. Miranda, who has not signed on to the bill, also contacted the Capitol Police after recieving a package.

The packages, as it turned out, were pages and pages of court documents from a self-styled "sovereign citizen" in Casa Grande who is out to prove that the State of Arizona has no legal authority over him. The four members may have been chosen because they are all part of the House Judiciary Committee.

So I considered deleting the previous post, but I'm not. And I will say that while I jumped the gun on the diatribe, there have been some recent stories (such as when I blogged on talk show host Hal Turner's suggestion to assassinate members of Congress who voted for immigration reform) that made my assumption, while wrong, not wacky.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Arizona House evacuated after suspicious package sent to legislator.

The Arizona House of Representatives has been evacuated following the discovery of two suspicious packages.

According to Tedski at Rum, Romanism and Rebellion, the packages were sent to Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix). Sinema has sponsored legislation aimed at some of the kooks who try to harrass and intimidate immigrants and pro-immigration activists.

This is the kind of stuff we've unfortunately gotten to see from the far right in Arizona. Recall that last year following the immigrant marches in Phoenix, vandals knocked a spanish language radio station off the air.

In our democracy it is legal to speak out, even vigorously against ideas, people, or even whole populations of people you don't like (so that for example, as odious as their thoughts are, Holocaust deniers are allowed to peddle their particular brand of filth in America much more easily than they are, for example, in Europe-- and I even defended one last year.) But committing acts of violence, physical or verbal harrassment and intimidation are over the line.

But given that it is clear by now that only a minority support the hardline stance on immigration (if you don't believe it, just ask Randy Graf and J.D. Hayworth), it appears that these modern day fascists are now adopting fascist tactics. If you are in the minority you have two choices-- you can accept that the people have spoken and move on, or you can plead your case and try to convince a majority that you are right. But violence, threats of violence and terror tactics are not acceptable in the United States.

And we must all stand against it.

Net effect: 'tax cuts' are GOP code for 'tax shifts.'

Last night in his State of the Union address, the President suggested taxing some people's health care benefits to help pay to make health insurance more affordable for some other people.

What is remarkable is not that his vapid proposal about health care marks the first time he has addressed the problem of the uninsured in six years of his presidency, nor the fact that he suggested a tax increase.

No, it is that he is trying to do something that conservatives were very successful at twenty years ago. Shift taxation away from the wealthy onto the middle class.

The President did not say we should hurry up and get rid of his massive tax cuts that favored the wealthy. Nor did he say we should borrow the money, as he has done for everything from Iraq to the medicare presecription drug scam. No, he wants to fund his program by taxing people with employer provided health insurance. The threshhold sounds high enough, $7,000 per individual and $15,000 per family of health care benefits, but in fact with the rate of increase in premiums it is not unusual for people to receive this much in benefits and he didn't say whether this would just be the threshhold for premiums of whether actual payments made to health care providers would also figure into it.

To understand how profound this is, let's begin with the observation that Republicans are not against government spending, despite all their rhetoric. They have different spending priorities, such as funding wars and major military purchases, and multitrillion dollar giveaways in to already profitable companies in the pharmaceutical and energy sectors, to name a couple, but in the end they are even bigger on spending than the Democrats are (one reason why overall spending exploded under Bush much more quickly than it had had grown under Clinton.)

And if you spend, then there will be taxation. Either it will come now, as Democrats tend to feel, believing that we should pay for what we propose, or it will come later, for future generations to pay off our debt (as we've seen with the massive borrowing over the past few years.)

But what this does is, without revoking a penny of the previous tax cuts, create a new tax on people who may not be the ones who received the Bush tax cuts earlier this decade. So the net effect is that this is a tax shift. So when conservatives talk about 'tax cuts,' over a period of several years it will turn out not to mean 'cuts,' but rather 'tax redistribution.'

And it's not the first time this has worked for the GOP. For example. the 1981 Reagan tax cuts blasted a hole in the deficit that continued to grow throughout the 1980s until Bush I started to get things under control in 1991. Then the Clinton tax rates were set in 1993 with another tax hike (leading to a budget surplus and the most prosperous economy in decades, suggesting that conservatives who predicted a recession were way off the mark.) But the 1991 and 1993 tax hikes were 'across the board.' What this meant was that compared to 1980, the wealthy were still paying far less in taxes while the poor and middle class, who had not benefitted much from the 1981 cut, were now paying more.

And so it is here. I don't dispute the idea that taxing health care benefits to pay for what is officially being billed as an increase in the number of people covered is politically adroit, but in the end let's see how it, combined with the 2001 tax cuts, affects who pays taxes in America. My expectation is that taxes will as a net effect hit the middle class harder while the wealthy will still come out ahead on the exchange.

Why do we keep falling for this 'sucker punch?'

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The New Green Conservatism

What to make of it?

Tonight in his State of the Union address a President who has been known for being the most anti-environmentalist in modern history endorsed higher fuel efficiency standards on automobiles (something we liberals have plugged as common sense for years but never got much support on) and pledged to reduce our dependence on oil by 20%. In fact, he might have tried to make that step in last year's speech, when he said that we are 'addicted to oil' but then quickly took the step back apparently when his friends (dare we say handlers) in Big Oil grimaced.

A study on global warming is going to come out citing the 'smoking gun' level evidence that it is already here, and while the talk show hosts bomb away with their usual blather, conservative policy makers are strangely silent on the report.

Even conservative bloggers have suddenly created sites like push forward energy policy with a decidedly green tint (though also pointing out something else that us liberals have pointed out for years-- having to depend on the political stability of the middle east to be supplied with energy is a major national security risk).

Why the sudden conversion?

A lot of reasons spring to mind. The biggest of course, is the realization that no matter what comes out of Iraq, it won't be the America-friendly paradise that some in the administration and the energy community had envisioned, in which America would have pretty much total control over the third largest oil reserves in the world.

Another is the political calculus. As more and more evidence piles up of the reality of global warming, and as more and more parallel evidence piles up that Exxon-Mobil paid 'skeptics' to put forward their views in order to create the appearance of a vigorous debate about global warming when in fact there was none, continuing to deny it becomes a politically untenable position. So instead it seems that conservatives have hit upon a new plan-- make the issue theirs and steal it right out from under the noses of liberals.

What should liberals do about it?

The first thing is to make sure that we stay on top of the debate. Now that so many conservatives have wheeled about and taken our view of global warming with a nimbleness that would put the Stalinist communist party in the old Soviet Union to shame, the debate is likely to shift to a debate over what to do about it, on what timetable and who should pay. That's OK. I'd rather be having that debate than the 'does Cincinnati really exist?' type debate we've been having over the past few decades.

The second thing is to recognize opportunity when it knocks. I'd rather compromise with conservatives on a bill that will reduce our dependence on oil than to have no such bill at all, as we've had in the past.

Monday, January 22, 2007

someone smears two Democrats with one brush.

I've never liked cheap smears. But I also don't like cheap tricks.

And I didn't like this one, now that CNN has showed that it is a lie that was reported in Insight Magazine claiming that Obama had attended a madrassa, or fundamentalist Islamic school, when he was young.

JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNN) -- Allegations that Sen. Barack Obama was educated in a radical Muslim school known as a "madrassa" are not accurate, according to CNN reporting....

Obama lived in Indonesia as a child, from 1967 to 1971, with his mother and stepfather and has acknowledged attending a Muslim school, but an aide said it was not a madrassa....

Insight stood by its story in a response posted on its Web site Monday afternoon.

The Insight article was cited several times Friday on Fox News and was also referenced by the New York Post, The Glenn Beck program on CNN Headline News and a number of political blogs.

But CNN did what apparently Insight magazine didn't choose to do: investigate.

School not a madrassa

But reporting by CNN in Jakarta, Indonesia and Washington, D.C., shows the allegations that Obama attended a madrassa to be false. CNN dispatched Senior International Correspondent John Vause to Jakarta to investigate.

He visited the Basuki school, which Obama attended from 1969 to 1971.

"This is a public school. We don't focus on religion," Hardi Priyono, deputy headmaster of the Basuki school, told Vause. "In our daily lives, we try to respect religion, but we don't give preferential treatment."

Vause reported he saw boys and girls dressed in neat school uniforms playing outside the school, while teachers were dressed in Western-style clothes.

"I came here to Barack Obama's elementary school in Jakarta looking for what some are calling an Islamic madrassa ... like the ones that teach hate and violence in Pakistan and Afghanistan," Vause said on the "Situation Room" Monday. "I've been to those madrassas in Pakistan ... this school is nothing like that."

Vause also interviewed one of Obama's Basuki classmates, Bandug Winadijanto, who claims that not a lot has changed at the school since the two men were pupils. Insight reported that Obama's political opponents believed the school promoted Wahhabism, a fundamentalist form of Islam, "and are seeking to prove it."

"It's not (an) Islamic school. It's general," Winadijanto said. "There is a lot of Christians, Buddhists, also Confucian. ... So that's a mixed school."

What really troubles me more than the story is the alleged source:

Insight attributed the information in its article to an unnamed source, who said it was discovered by "researchers connected to Senator Clinton." A spokesman for Clinton, who is also weighing a White House bid, denied that the campaign was the source of the Obama claim.

"This is an obvious right-wing hit job," he said.

And he is right. How often does any news organization come right out and cite its sources? Clearly someone wanted the claim to be that it came from the Clinton organization.

Not that I am a supporter of either Sen. Clinton or Sen. Obama for President (for one thing the next President will need to negotiate our way out of Iraq, and I'm not sure that a person with a single Senate term is the experienced hand we need at the negotiating table). But these kinds of cheap tactics make me wonder if someone in the GOP is afraid of both of them.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

state party convention likely to be an example of democracy in action.

I'm going to blog on a subject that I don't blog on very much. The state Democratic Party and why I am proud to be a member of the State committee. This weekend we will meet in Phoenix to elect our state party leadership.

What has impressed me about the whole system is that it is very open to newcomers. I first ran into Claudia Maestas, our former party chair pretty much on the last day anyone could file to run for precinct committeeman in 2002. I hadn't really given it much thought, but she talked me into it, and I got the signatures and the rest of it together in about 24 hours (not hard, really-- in my small precinct I only need 6 valid signatures from registered Democrats, though I always get a full page of 15-- it's a great way to meet people.) Within two years I was a county Vice Chair (a position I still hold but will relinquish when my term expires at the end of this year). I also have been a member of the state committee for about that same amount of time.

Further, members of the state leadership (including DNC positions) are filled by election from among the members of the state committee. There has been plenty of electioneering going on, but hey-- that's how democracy works. My own party chair, Ken Smith, is running for First Vice Chair of the state party. Unfortunately he has to be away, keeping an obligation he made to a sick friend. But that's how he is-- he won't break a promise no matter what the situation is. We will do the best job we can for him.

The fact is, that I have seen by now how the Democratic party is much more of a party in which the people from the ground up are able to make a difference than is the GOP. In 2004, Howard Dean supporters became very influential in the party and elected a DNC which supported him for chair (and clearly the right choice). This stands in stark contrast to the Republican party which is so hidebound and run from the top down (not even my words, I heard that straight from the lips of a Republican activist) that they haven't even had a Presidential ticket that didn't feature a Bush or a Dole since the Nixon-Agnew ticket of 1972. This next election will make that 36 years, assuming the GOP nominee doesn't tap Liddy Dole for veep (if there is one silver lining to George W. Bush's incompetent ruination of America, it is that there is zero chance that Jeb Bush will ever become President).

Most police do the best job they can and do it well

Last week I wrote a post on the two boys recovered from a kidnapper in Missouri. And as was confirmed today, the man who held at least one of the boys for four years was a child molester.

In the post I wrote, Kudos to the police officers who noticed a rusty white pickup truck with a camper shell like that used in the kidnapping while they were visiting the building where it was parked on an unrelated case.

This is a sterling example of police work done right. So was the arrest of Warren Jeffs last August in which a police officer on a routine traffic stop sensed that the man in the back seat was unreasonably nervous and couldn't give a straight answer. Jeffs is now on trial and hopefully the nightmare of young girls being forced to marry old men and become their fifth wife, or of teenage boys being dumped out on the street without being ready to meet the world will now come to an end.

I've also been critical of police at times. For example, in this post about a kid being killed after a taser was used unnecessarily or in the post where I wrote about my experience serving on a Grand Jury in which I wrote, in part:

Observation #4: A few police officers will cut corners (not what you want when you are deciding on matters that affect people's lives). On one occasion, we heard from a police officer who mentioned a person's prior criminal record and the representative from the county attorney's office had to advise the jury to ignore that comment and told the police officer he shouldn't mention that. So five minutes after that case ended, we had the same police officer back on the stand in regard to another case involving someone else, and he did exactly the same thing (and got the same warning.) He should know the law on this, and the first time could have been an honest mistake but I really felt the second time was intentional. Now, the evidence was easily sufficient even without that, so I have to question what his motives were. There were also cases in which the investigation seemed to be particularly slipshod, with even basic information either not collected or not put into the report, which is unfair to the cop testifying when he has to look in the report and can't find the answer to a question such as 'how tall is this person' or 'did someone verify that the item this person had was the one stolen?' I have a lot of friends who are police officers, and I believe that most of them act honorably and do the best job they can, and certainly deserve respect and support (support meaning better equipment and higher pay-- our cops are underfunded by our misers down in Phoenix as well) for the dangerous and thankless job they do. But I'm also convinced that there are some of the other kind out there, and we saw both types testify.

And we have seen a number of high profile cases out of large cities like Los Angeles, New Orleans (particularly during Katrina) and New York where individual or small groups of police officers have become the criminals themselves. In cases like the Abner Louima case, we have certainly seen how a criminal in a uniform is just that much more dangerous.

I had an experience myself with what might be considered a police excess (though certainly not on the scale of what we have seen in some minority communities). In 1995 I was involved in a traffic accident in Albuquerque. While I was waiting for an ambulance to take me to the hospital and make sure I was OK, I could hear distinctly a police officer rifling through my car (without a warrant). I couldn't see it because I was restrained by the paramedics and couldn't turn my neck. Later when I visited my car at the yard where it had been towed to I could see that what I had heard was correct, the glove box and other things had been opened and dumped out (which the accident did not cause that) and a locked briefcase I had was forced open-- which did bother me because the briefcase had belonged to my late father and was one of the very few things I had which had been his.) I don't know what they were looking for-- probably drugs, but I don't use drugs and whatever they were looking for they didn't find it. The long term harm to the police is that (at least speaking for myself) if I were serving on a jury and a defendant's lawyer were to suggest that the police broke the law and violated his or her civil rights, I would tend to take that suggestion much more seriously as a possibility than I probably would have before that episode. And when I read about charges like that in the media I tend to consider that it may well be true (so for example, I believe that Mark Furman might (or might not) have planted evidence in the O.J. case, which most people I've asked are sure that he did not-- although they don't say why they are sure, they just are).

I do believe that it is important that the public have full confidence in the police, both that they will protect their communities and that they will obey the law in regard to treatment of suspects and procedures in exercising their authority. Where failures to carry out these duties are found, then we should not be afraid as a society to prosecute police officers just as we would anyone else who committed a crime.

However, I also believe that police get the bad end of the old adage that if you do 99 things right and make one mistake then you will get hanged for the mistake. Police officers have a tough, tough job (one that can get them killed)-- and most often they do get the bad guys and don't bother the good guys-- but they are held up to a theoretical standard of perfection. Yes, we've all met the 'badge and a gun' kind of cop who likes to harrass people just to feel big, but the truth is that most police departments don't want to hire people like that, both for reasons of public opinion and for reasons of liability (people can still sue in the civil courts if they want to-- and it usually is the department that they sue, not just the individual officer.) Yes, some investigations are slipshod and sometimes police don't follow up leads because they are either oveworked or just plain too lazy to look beyond the first suspect they can think of (remember Richard Jewell-- who ironically is a good cop). But the large majority of police officers (and some of them are my friends) are good people who will go out of their way to do their jobs, which also includes helping people if they need it. My son in law wants to go to the police academy. I am tremendously proud of how good a husband he has been to my daughter (working two jobs night and day to put food on the table) and a father to my grandchildren. I am sure that he would be a good cop if he does go through the training for it (right now he is a prison guard-- another dangerous job that doesn't pay enough.) Most of the police officers I know in the little town where I live (a lot of them live there) are good people. My kids go to school with their kids, and I see them around town all the time. I'm sure they are not so friendly to people who they arrest, but let's face it-- would you prefer that they not do it? Some cases are very tough for police, such as if they get called to a domestic dispute at midnight, but they still have to go and if necessary may have to arrest people and drag them out of their own homes. It's what the law says they should do and we expect them to follow the law-- but the people they arrest will probably tell it much differently. In rural communities it may even be harder on the police because of how often they end up having to arrest people who they know, or sometimes even people who they are related to.

Maybe this would be a better investment of funding.

According to a Harvard Study out today, the world is falling short of its education goals.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Access to education increased dramatically over the past century but 323 million children worldwide are still not in school and efforts to achieve universal primary education by 2015 are likely to fail, a new study said on Wednesday.

Despite the findings, the study by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences said the goal of providing a high-quality education to all children could be achieved at a reasonable cost with more support and funding from governments worldwide.

"There's no question that it's possible," said David Bloom, one of the authors of the study. "It's a question of financial resources and it's a question of political will."

"We have cost estimates, for example, of what it would take and we're looking at numbers that are less than what the U.S. is spending on an annual basis in Iraq and Afghanistan," he said. The United States is currently spending about $8 billion a month on the Iraq war.

Did it ever occur to anybody that having educated children around the world might make future such military expenditures less because of how easy it is for demagogues to stampede the ignorant?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Cost of Iraq war reaching historic proportions

Even if we get out of Iraq soon, we will still be 'in' it, as in 'in the red' for decades into the future.

Iraq war may become the most expensive of all time (and that is even adjusted for inflation.)

Washington | By the time the Vietnam War ended in 1975, it had become America's longest war, shadowed the legacies of four presidents, killed 58,000 Americans along with many thousands more Vietnamese and cost the U.S. more than $660 billion in today's dollars.

By the time the bill for World War II passed the $600 billion mark, in mid-1943, the United States had driven German forces out of North Africa, devastated the Japanese fleet in the Battle of Midway and launched the vast offensives that would liberate Europe and the South Pacific.

The Iraq war is far smaller and narrower than those conflicts, and it has not extended beyond the tenure of a single president. But its cost is beginning to reach historic proportions, and the budgetary "burn rate" for Iraq might be greater than in some periods in past wars.

Well, what do you expect when you waste billions on no-bid contracts which auditors later find were full of overcharges and other waste? And don't forget back in 2005, when Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) embarrassed the White House with the revelation that after the fall of Baghdad we had people driving around Baghdad in a pickup truck with bags of hundred dollar bills which they handed out freely.

And this is supposed to be the party of fiscal responsibility!?!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Are the quick executions in Iraq a way to save those who served in the Reagan administration?

Today two more of Saddam Hussein's co-defendants were executed, for the same crime he was, the killing of 136 men and boys in the village of Dujail.

And even with the eyes of the world on it, after the hanging of Saddam showed how little control the al-Maliki government has over its own security forces, they still managed to botch today's execution, with the drop being too long (resulting in the decapitation of one of the executed men). There are precise formulas for figuring this out, which is why there has not been such a mistake made in the United States since the turn of the last century (although with lethal injection replacing hanging and other methods of execution in the U.S. that record is likely to remain intact.) But hey, given the ineptness of the Bush administration it is only logical that the President still expresses confidence in the five-thumbs fumbling of al-Maliki's government, suggesting that somehow they are the answer to the problems of Iraq.

Beyond the apalling incompetence though, there is a darker question that shows itself through these rushed executions. It is whether those in charge even want to follow up on the rest of the trial. In particular the gassing of the Kurds.

It is no secret that the U.S. helped supply Saddam Hussein with the components and knowlege that helped him build chemical weapons in the 1980's. The Reagan administration was very helpful to Saddam in his war against Iran, providing him with everything from satellite intelligence photos to actively taking part in a secret naval war with Iran in the Persian Gulf. And most damning, it has been alleged that members of the Reagan administration, possibly including Vice President George H.W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, knew of and consented to Saddam's use of poison gas-- for the first time since such weapons were banned after World War I-- against the Iranians and later against the Kurds.

It may be that the quick executions in response to the Dujail incident have been prompted by a desire on the part of the al-Maliki government and their supporters to not even get to the Kurdish case-- or if they do, to make sure that anyone who might be able to confirm American support for the gassing of the Kurds is safely 'silent.'

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Even Hitler would have had the right to a lawyer.

U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights, 6th amendment:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

What did Al Capone, Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Eric Robert Rudolf and Timothy McVeigh all have in common?

The answer is that no one suggested that they not have access to a defense counsel. In other words, even the most horrible, despicable monsters in our history have had that right. Even when they went about it stupidly (like Bundy when he chose to represent himself) they have been entitled to a lawyer. It is the basis of our Constitution and legal system.

Those people who have represented them have sometimes been subject to public scorn and derision. While that may be understandable given how much these people are themselves hated, it is also a very short sighted and stupid reaction. For example, if to take an extreme case, if every possible lawyer were publically intimidated from serving, then in fact the defendant would have to be let go exactly because of the sixth amendment. Any conviction would by definition be unconstitutional.

However, it is entirely another matter when someone in an official government position chooses to intimidate defense counsel. For example, Charles "Cully" Stimson, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs.

Charles "Cully" Stimson, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, said in a radio interview last week that companies might want to consider taking their business to firms that do not represent suspected terrorists.

Stimson's remarks were viewed by legal experts and advocacy groups as an attempt to intimidate law firms that provide legal help to all people, even unpopular defendants.

A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Brian Maka, said Stimson was not speaking for the Bush administration.

I'm glad that they distanced themselves officially from his remarks, but given his position they need to make it very clear that they won't tolerate this sort of behavior from a top official-- possibly by an official reprimand. Otherwise it sounds more like an official dodge than an actual condemnation of the remark.

After all, if a person accused of terrorist acts is in fact a terrorist, then why not put together the evidence you have and make the case in court? If you've got the evidence then don't complain that there is a defense, but instead go to court and beat the defense. Isn't that how the system is supposed to work? To be honest, I've often had my criticisms of our legal system and wondered if there might be an alternative to the adversarial system that we have set up, and in fact I've seen what I believe could be a better system in practice in my church, but as the U.S. legal system stands now, both sides have lawyers and they are supposed to each do the best job they can to make their case. So what we have here is a high government official, presumably sworn to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, actively seeking to undermine it.

The rights that our Constitution affords the accused in fact stands America in sharp contrast to some of our current and past opponents, whether we are talking about the infamous 'midnight trials' prevalent under communism or today's sharia based Islamic fundamentalist legal system.

It is in fact a sad day when our society, which was strong enough to give Charles Manson a day in court, now appoints someone to a key Federal position who can't even handle the fact that Osama bin Laden's taxi driver will be entitled to a lawyer.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Bush's answer to an intractable war: threaten to start another one.

Wednesday night the President threatened Iran and Syria in his speech. Then American troops raided an Iranian consulate yesterday.

However, just as in the case of North Korea, when successive dares by the Bush administration simply led to the line being crossed again and again with no consequences, the President runs the real risk here of making threats he can't back up. As deeply as we are mired in Iraq, this President is off threatening to expand the war into other countries!! Is he crazy, or just plain stupid?

Let's be honest. With the proposed addition of another 21,500 American troops in Iraq, the U.S. is stretched so thin that there is no way we could take any real military action against Iran and Syria other than bombing. So to threaten Iran and Syria without being able to back it up is foolhardy. When their inevitable defiance of the threat comes then he will be unable to actually do anything about replacing either regime. That is why bluster and threats are so stupid right now. The fact is, U.S. military power has been squandered in Iraq to the extent that Bush can make all the threats he wants but no one is afraid of them anymore.

Bombing might achieve some results but as we've seen, history shows that it is possible to survive a bombing campaign. And the Iranians probably would welcome it-- because in the politics of the middle east, they've already emerged as the dominant regional Islamic military power, and if we bomb them and they can claim they 'took our best shot' afterwards, then they also become the dominant Islamic political power in the area. There are times when I have questioned whether Ahmadinejad is angling for exactly that outcome, and it seems that once again, by threatening Iran, George Bush is playing into his hands. He knows that the U.S. is so bogged down in Iraq that there is no way we could actually invade his country, and bombing campaigns with a limited accompanying ground campaign-- well, consider how spectacularly the Israeli bombing campaign in Lebanon failed last year for one recent example. This is entirely besides the fact that such a bombing campaign would further gin up Islamic radicalism because even if 99% of the bombs hit what they are aimed at, the ones that will get the press coverage will the occasional errant or misdirected bomb that in an urban environment will hit something else, such as an air raid shelter full of kids, the Chinese embassy, a full apartment building (to cite some fairly recent examples) or perhaps a mosque, school or hospital. And when the bombing campaign inevitably ends with the current Iranian (or Syrian) regime still running the country, it would be hard for conservatives to justify that outcome when just about five years ago they were claiming that it was a mistake to leave Saddam in power in Iraq after the first Gulf War.

Of course the Baker-Hamilton commission, which the President himself authorized, recommended instead that we enter into negotiations with both countries about Iraq. The President refused to consider that option. But the fact is, you don't negotiate with your friends (at least not on matters of war and peace), you negotiate with your enemies. That doesn't even mean you have to trust them. As Ronald Reagan said, 'trust but verify.' Ironically the Gipper's advice would be wise for George Bush to take.

Is there ever a time internationally when the threat of military action is appropriate? Absolutely. That is why Teddy Roosevelt, no stranger to threatening and sometimes taking military action once said, 'speak softly and carry a big stick.' But I don't think that Teddy would have made the threats if his holster was empty. That would take George W. Bush.

Something to be grateful for-- two kidnapped boys found alive

For several months I have had the Code Amber ticker running up at the top of this blog. Just this week I read another Amber alert on the ticker, and it featured one of two boys who has been recovered alive in Missouri today.

Kudos to the police officers who noticed a rusty white pickup truck with a camper shell like that used in the kidnapping while they were visiting the building where it was parked on an unrelated case.

This is a superb outcome, and uncommon. One of the boys had been missing for more than four years, and I am sure that his family must be overjoyed at the news.

They haven't said it yet, but you can be sure that the man who kidnapped and held these two boys is a child molester.

As I've blogged before, (for example in a post called what to do about chronic child molesters,

we have to separate them from the rest of society. I believe that most of them are sick and sexually addicted, but since in society there will inevitably be children, it is not like they can be removed from continual temptation if they are out on the street. So we have to look at solutions that will keep them away from kids. And prison, while appropriate to the crime that was committed, is not a realistic permanent solution. In a post I wrote on the topic after Oklahoma and South Carolina had legislated the death penalty for child molesters (which is a stupid waste of taxpayer money for reasons I went into in the post) I summarized my position from earlier posts as follows:

1. People convicted of child molestation or rape should serve their full term in prison.

2. Ideally, if we are serious about keeping them away from children, we should create an institution (similar to the old mental institutions but more humane) which would offer more freedom than a prison (freedom on the grounds, freedom to have visits from family members regularly
[of course minor family members only under strictly scrutinized conditions] , and perhaps some supervised group activities on the outside) but would remain secure (of course, it being better than a prison, prison would still remain as the place to send someone who committed a crime inside.)

3. Until we can implement such a plan, put on tracking devices similar to the one Martha Stewart wore (which of course she never should have had to wear, but it does make sense for sex offenders.)

Like chronic drunk drivers, I don't think that most child molesters want to be evil, but if they are unable to control their urges then it is incumbent on society to protect our children from them.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Real versus Symbolic

During today's Senate hearing in which Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice defended the Bush administration's plan to dump yet more Americans into Iraq, many Senators expressed their opposition. However, only Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) talked about forcing a withdrawl by use of the power of Congress to control the budget.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) is talking about a resolution "expressing opposition" to the President's Iraq strategy. Republicans may filibuster the measure.

But even if they don't filibuster or aren't successful at blocking it, the Reid resolution actually does virtually nothing. We will continue to lose American troops in Iraq just as we are now, if it passes.

I'm not saying that there may not be times when a symbolic resolution makes sense, because there are. But in a case like what we see now, when the President's 'new' Iraq strategy has no more chance of success than any of his previous Iraq strategies, and the price for the delay will be paid in American lives, to push for only a symbolic resolution is morally indefensible. Even to many of the Senators who supported the initial Iraq war effort, it has become painfully clear that the Bush/Rumsfeld strategy was so bungled early on that we are now stuck in an intractable guerilla war which is not likely to be resolved via a clear military win. This guerilla war further overlays a civil war going on within Iraq. Essentially the President's strategy with the 'surge' is to 'shoot at both sides' in Baghdad, continuing to target Sunni insurgents but also going after the Shi'ite Mahdi militia. Such a strategy won't work any more than we have been successful at stopping Sunni insurgents during the time when we've just been going after them.

In such a situation, the American troop surge will primarily produce more casualties and not substantively make any difference in Iraq.

As such, a 'symbolic' resolution is a cowardly path to take. The Senate should step up and vote on a real resolution as should the house. True, the Republicans would most certainly filibuster it, but it's still better to lose pushing for a real change that has teeth, than to push for one with no teeth (which might still end up losing anyway).

Even some Republicans who supported the war (like Chuck Hagel) are now coming to the realization that this war can't be won and will require a negotiated, diplomatic solution (one reason for my support for Bill Richardson-- it's a straight up question of which Presidential candidate is the best diplomat because the next President will be tasked with negotiating our way out, so what we need is the strongest negotiator we can find).

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

I wanted to say this but obviously Bill Richardson is on my wavelength

It looks like Richardson day today. Following up the last post, he had the following press release on George Bush's speech. I had been planning to blog about the President's speech, but Gov. Bill's press release says it better than I could have:

"I strongly oppose any plan to increase American troop levels in Iraq. Sending more American troops will not make us safer. It will only add to the sectarian violence that is already tearing Iraq apart. I am also very concerned with this plan’s impact on our overburdened National Guard forces, which already compose half of our forces in Iraq.

The only surge we need in Iraq is a diplomatic one. We need to withdraw American troops from Iraq this year, redeploy our men and women to Afghanistan and other international terrorism hotspots, and reinvigorate our diplomacy throughout the Middle East. We need a political solution to the Iraq crisis, not a military one."


We need a diplomat, not a warrior in the White House.

What if on the eve of George Bush's announcement of a new war plan for Iraq, peace broke out someplace instead?

Well, maybe it is. Several days ago Bill Richardson was asked by the Save Darfur Coalition to go to Darfure and try to arrange a cease fire so that the U.N. could start working there. The reason they asked Richardson is that he has a long track record of success in everything from hostage negotiations to representing U.S. interests as a former U.N. ambassador.

According to a press release from Bill Richardon's office

KHARTOUM, SUDAN – New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson today announced that he has secured a commitment from Sudanese President Omer Hassan Al Bashir to agree to a 60-day cessation of hostilities in the Darfur region to allow for a new political process under the Darfur Peace Agreement and the auspices of the African Union and the United Nations. Governor Richardson also spoke this week with rebel leaders who said they would agree to a cease-fire. If all parties follow through with the cease-fire, the A.U. and the U.N. will convene a Peace Summit on March 15 under the framework of the peace agreement.

Governor Richardson also secured the following commitments from President Al Bashir:

· Agreed not to have the National military aircraft painted in white markings normally reserved for international organizations.

· Agreed that government forces would attempt to improve security conditions in all areas of Darfur with special emphasis on El Geneina, and would provide protection to food and other humanitarian convoys.

· Agreed to expedite procedures for entry visas for all humanitarian aid workers as well as goods. He also agreed to terminate the requirement of exit visas for humanitarian aid workers.

· Agreed to allow and facilitate travel by journalists from all over the world to Darfur.

· Governor Richardson and President Al Bashir reiterated that gender-based violence and such crimes must be condemned and prosecuted regardless of which party or organization was responsible. President Bashir said he would welcome a significant contribution of female members to the AU/UN hybrid operations. In addition the Justice Minister offered analyze and extend existing efforts to support Sudanese women against all gender-based violence.

I hope that this 60 day cease-fire does indeed lead to an extended peace negotiation. But considering it was patched together by an American peace coalition and a guy whose actual power ends a few miles east of Clovis, it makes one wonder what the White House and George W. Bush could accomplish if they focused their efforts on diplomacy instead of making war.

One big reason why I support Bill Richardson if he does run for President is because after the big mess that the next President will inherit both in Iraq and internationally, we will need the best diplomat in the White House that we can get, and I believe that Bill Richardson is about the only candidate running or likely to run who has proven that he could be that diplomat.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

More troops won't be the answer.

Some on the right have suggested that we on the left are hypocrites for suggesting that the President invaded Iraq with too few troops to get the job done, but opposing a troop surge today.

In fact, there is no hypocrisy here. Just an acknowlegement of fact. Facts that involve both scale and timing.

It is true that Eric Shinseki was right when he cited a 1999 exercise that showed that 400,000 troops at a minimum would be required to occupy Iraq in order to prevent an insurgency. I've blogged on that a number of times, most recently two weeks ago in the post, Don't buy into George Bush's Iraq trap.

Unfortunately President Bush did not take Shinseki's advice, in fact he was punished and forced into retirement for giving it, and we invaded with too few. And just as the 1999 exercise predicted, an insurgency occurred.

Further, that number was only good at the time. The exercise did not model actually fighting the insurgency, although since it takes more energy to fight anything (be it a disease, a weed, a fire or an insurgency) after it has taken root than it does to prevent it, we can presume that what would have been sufficient to prevent it, would still not be enough to end it, even if that many troops could be found.

The highest number of American troops to since occupy Iraq was 160,000, a level reached in February of 2005. As we can see, that did not stop the insurgency, which has since become even more extensive than it was before that. Yet this is the same troop level which the President is today proposing-- a drop in the bucket which will if anything only increase the violence. In fact, in February 2005 there were more international troops. Today there are fewer so the President in fact is proposing to get the violence under control using fewer troops than what we've already tried and failed with. And it is doomed to further failure.

He may claim that there are Iraqi forces which will make up the difference. Oh, yes. Those Iraqi forces which have been so infiltrated by Shi'ite militias that the British have had to fight Iraqi security forces in Basra and had to destroy a police station just a couple of weeks ago on Christmas day, to stop the torture and murders that were going on inside. In fact, we saw a fine demonstration of the discipline and control of the Iraqi security forces during the hanging of Saddam. The government was so incompetent or has such little control over their own handpicked execution team that they couldn't even find a dozen men among their security who they could be sure were not members of Shi'ite militias. It would be almost impossible to find a way to make Saddam look like a commanding presence anymore, but they managed to find the fools who could bungle the hanging badly enough to achieve that outcome (and turn him into a Sunni martyr). Yet these are the people who the Bush administration thinks will be able to help us gain control of Iraq?

I think I once wrote a post in which I referred to Elliot Ness. He had no success against Capone's organization as long as he was taking along any Chicago police on his raids-- because Capone's men by that time pretty much had infiltrated every single police unit, all the way up to the top. And so it is with Iraqi security. Not only the Shi'ite Mahdi militia of Muqtada al-Sadr (though there were obviously some Mahdi militia members who got onto the Saddam execution detail). But also the much more dangerous and disciplined Iranian-backed Badr brigade. The Badr brigade has almost ceased to exist as an independent and identifiable force in Iraq because they have followed the advice of their handlers in Tehran and signed up for and donned the uniform of the Iraqi army and police.

Yet this is who the President proposes to take along on raids against Shi'ite militias and death squads. It would be as if Elliot Ness had invited the Chicago police to go with him on a raid personally targetting Capone himself. When our troops are lucky, the raids will be failures and the targets will have quickly "left" the area, as if they knew we were coming. When our troops are not so lucky, the raids will turn into bloody ambushes. I don't know about you, but I can see that new 'phase' of the war coming just about as plain as the sunrise, what with the talk about going after the Shi'ite militias and the parallel talk about taking the Iraqi units along for the fighting. Does George Bush not see that? Or does he no longer care, just as long as he can buy time to get through the next two years, at whatever cost in American blood, and have his successor be the one to realize that we have to negotiate our way out and pull the plug on continued pointless American military action in Iraq? Once again, we find ourselves stuck in the middle of somebody else's civil war. 'Out Now' makes a heck of a lot more sense than 'raise the ante.'

So no, there is no hypocrisy here. There was a time when a large enough occupation force would have worked. But that was a force three times as large as we have now, and the time was in mid-2003. Adding twenty thousand troops today will produce absolutely nothing except to fill more coffins.

Ethical, unethical, against the rules, illegal

This is not a sports blog. But for at least the third time lately, I've found that what happens in sports mirrors what happens in society, politics and social perception, including in its ugly realities.

Today, Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn, two class guys who no one would argue deserve it, were elected to baseball's Hall of Fame. The two ironically spent their entire careers with one team-- a rarity nowadays, though in opposite leagues and therefore will probably spend more time together during their induction ceremony than they ever did on the field, since they generally only opposed each other for a few innings every year during the All-Star Game.

The bigger story though was about Mark McGwire. Also about Jose Canseco, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds.

During his home run battle with Sosa in 1998 to catch Roger Maris, McGwire admitted to using androstenedione, a body-building steroid. At the time, it was not illegal, nor was it considered unethical despite such well publicized cases as that of former NFL great Lyle Alzado, a small high school player, whose experimentation with early steroids likely brought to the peak of being one of the greatest defensive linemen in the NFL but then led to an early death from brain cancer. When McGwire retired five years ago, his 'andro' use was still considered a footnote, and few doubted that McGwire would get voted into the hall with Ripken and Gwynn.

But then came some devastating revelations. Jose Canseco, McGwire's 'bash brother' on the Oakland A's team that went to the world series for three years straight from 1988-1990 (and won one of those series) wrote a book in which he not only admitted using steroids, both legal and illegal ones, but he named names in the book. Among those names was Mark McGwire. Canseco said that McGwire and he used to inject each other with steroids. Conseco also made allegations against George W. Bush, in claiming that when he was the owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team, Bush knew of steroid use by a number of players including Canseco (who briefly played there) and chose to look the other way. Canseco, incidentally, despite having career numbers that otherwise might have ranked him at least as a serious contender for Hall of Fame status, was named on just six ballots-- a number so small that he won't appear on the ballot anymore at all.

Then came that day before Congress. McGwire was supposed to answer questions about steroids, including whether he had ever used banned or illegal ones. His tepid and all-too-revealing answer was, "I'm not here to talk about the past." (what exactly then was he supposed to talk about in a committee hearing to discuss steroid use? His plans for the future)? In fact, his future took probably a fatal blow that day. He'd have been better off to have come clean like Canseco did (though he could still have done so with some dignity while Canseco is considered by now to be baseball's answer to Mike Tyson.) If he and Canseco took turns injecting each other with steroids in the buttocks (as Canseco says they did), well it would be better to say so than to leave a Congressional hearing with a 'no comment.' Jason Giambi, a former member of the A's whose steroid use became public when he moved to the New York Yankees, has admitted it, says he has quit and moved on. He still has a shred of dignity, therefore.

Sammy Sosa, who battled McGwire for the home run title in 1998 is another player who has been accused of steroid use. Unlike McGwire, there is no solid evidence that anyone has ever seen Sosa use any sort of performance enhancing substance, but Sosa's integrity did take a hit a couple of years ago when his bat split open during a game and revealed that it had been doctored. Sosa was suspended for several games after that episode.

Today, McGwire didn't get into the Hall. That wasn't surprising, as a lot of the Baseball Writers of America, who are tasked with electing players to the Hall had said up front that they weren't planning to vote for him. And a first ballot miss doesn't mean he might not get into the Hall later-- a first ballot election is considered a special privilege that is reserved only for an elite class of players, players like Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn. What was surprising was the margin. There are 545 voters this year. It is notoriously difficult to get into the Hall of Fame, with 75% (409 voters this year) having to name a player to guarantee election (incidentally Ripken and Gwynn got 537 and 532 votes respectively). McGwire was only named by 128 voters, not even a quarter of those eligible. This low total seems to suggest that he will never get in. It also suggests that Sosa may have a tough time ever making it to the Hall.

Which brings us squarely to the present poster boy of steroids, Barry Bonds. Bonds is in some ways the anti-McGwire. McGwire was always friendly and personable with the press-- which now seems surprising as it is those same sports writers who have to be considered as having given Mark McGwire an enormous personal rebuke today. Bonds is notoriously surly and uncommunicative with the press. Part of that is because he likely saw the grief his father, Bobby Bonds, took from the New York press after fan favorite Bobby Murcer was traded away for him in 1974. Seeing the steady stream of abuse in the press certainly made an impression on a school age boy, as Barry Bonds was then, and has led to his surliness with and distrust of the media. As such, it has been all too easy for the media to jump on Bonds today. Not that Bonds doesn't deserve it-- more on that later-- but there is no question that the kid gloves (make that fawn gloves) that the media handled McGwire with in 1998 were just never there for Bonds.

Bonds, who is approaching one of baseball's most cherished records-- Hank Aaron's 755 career home runs, has always denied allegations of steroid abuse. But everyone from his teammates to his ex-girlfriend have said that he used them. So the assumption is that he has. Somehow no one cared that McGwire, who had never hit over 50 home runs in a season before, exploded to 70 in 1998, but when Bonds bested that with 73 just three years later, people assumed the worst.

However, Bonds' most dangerous enemy now is not the media or those fans who don't want him to break Aaron's record-- the media and the fans frankly don't bother Barry a whole lot. It is the Federal grand jury investigating perjury at the BALCO trial. The BALCO trial involved a laboratory in the San Francisco Bay area that gave steroids to players on both the Giants and A's (Giambi has admitted that his source was BALCO) over a number of years. Bonds in particular was asked to testify under oath at the BALCO trial whether he had used steroids. He answered that he had never knowingly used them. The grand jury is investigating whether this is true. If it turns out that Bonds lied under oath then it is possible that he could go to prison for several years. I suspect that the pace of the investigation will go as it does without regard to Bonds' home run pace, so he might end up in a race against the jailer to break Aaron's record.

What this causes me to think about is that sometimes we as a society have a fine line between what is ethical, unethical, against the rules (whether the rules of baseball, Congress or other internal kinds of rules), and illegal. Mark McGwire has seen the effects of going from ethical to unethical (with allegations of against the rules.) Barry Bonds for the same thing (not ever proven) has always been considered unethical and now it has gotten to the point where he may have committed a felony and be on the wrong side of the law for it.

And lacking a set and spelled out standard, these grey areas can in the end be ruin. Just ask Mark McGwire.

And that is why it is such a good thing that Congress passed ethics reform this week, stating that no 'gift' from a lobbyist can be worth more than $50 (though I would prefer that you can't accept any gift from a lobbyist myself, but this is still a huge improvement), and banning free flights on corporate aircraft. Is it unethical to 'carpool' in the air, if you know someone who is going where you are? What if they will be guaranteed several hours of exclusive access to you, and you are in a position to make decisions that will affect them? I would consider that it is. But with the new lobbying bill, it is also now spelled out, that it is banned.

Monday, January 08, 2007

There are times when a tax hike is needed, and this could be one of those times.

Republicans are flabbergasted that some Democrats are suggesting rolling the Bush tax cuts back to the Clinton rates, particularly on the wealthy. And this could be accomplished easily just by letting the expiration dates already written into the Bush tax cuts come and go without taking any action at all. In fact, some have even proposed specifically increasing taxes on the wealthy.

And why not?

The GOP has always proposed tax cuts, at least for the past couple of generations since I can remember. When the economy was booming and we had a surplus, they wanted tax cuts. When it was in a recession, they wanted tax cuts. When it was rebounding from the recession, they wanted tax cuts. Inflation? The answer was tax cuts. Unemployment? Tax cuts. Tight job market? Tax cuts. In fact for at least a generation, whatever condition the economy was in, the Republicans have always proposed tax cuts. Name the economic malady, and the GOP has exactly one answer for it, tax cuts. And when it happened that those tax cuts came the wealthy made out like bandits (surprise)?, the middle class got small amounts (myself, I got enough from the Bush tax cuts to fill the tank a couple of times) and the poor in many cases got nothing.

When taxes have been raised, either at the Federal level (i.e. the 'read my lips' tax hike of 1991 or the 1993 tax hike that was central to the Clinton economy) or at the state or local level (often to replace lost Federal revenues that were withheld in the wake of Federal tax cuts) those taxes tended to be raised 'across the board.' In other words, the net effect over the past couple of generations has been not to eliminate taxes, but rather to shift taxation from the wealthy onto the middle class and the poor.

What about the promises that lower taxes would help the economy? The argument goes something like this-- when wealthy individuals and businesses have more money then they can invest it, and the investment will create more jobs. And more jobs will mean more prosperity for everyone. How has that worked out?

Well, let's look at the record:

In another study that tells us something that we already know, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has confirmed that job growth under George W. Bush is pretty puny.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The economy has cranked out fewer jobs under President Bush -- by millions -- than it had by the same point in the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton...

Under Bush, the economy produced 3.7 million new jobs from January 2001 through December of last year based on nonfarm payroll figures collected by the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Republicans try to blame Clinton of course:

Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez counters, in an interview, "It's just a matter of timing and when we started getting out of the recession that the president inherited."

Let's torpedo that explanation right off the bat: In eight years Clinton's economy (including the 1993 tax rates) created 20 million jobs, for an average of 2.5 million per year. In the first two years of Bush's economy (which incidentally the economy did not show negative growth until after the first Bush tax cut was passed in March 2001) we lost 3 million jobs. So even if we assume that in the succeeding four years 6.7 million were created (replacing the three million lost plus the 3.7 million net gain) you have the creation of just under 1.7 million jobs per year. And that's being as generous as I can to Bush, starting him from the low point of the recession, both timewise and jobwise. Even with that, his economy still doesn't come close to Clinton.

What about the jobs that all that money flowing into large businesses created? Well, it did create them. Remember how the economy, though it was slowing, did not show negative job growth until after the March 2001 tax cuts? There is a simple explanation for this. The large corporations that got the bulk of the benefit from the tax cuts did use it to create jobs. In Asia-- where labor is cheaper than in America (funny how 'free marketeers' who backed the 2001 tax cuts on the basis of job creation didn't see that result coming). At the cost of a deficit, America helped finance the movement of millions of jobs out of the country. And most of that outsourcing occurred within those first two years of the Bush tax cuts as companies took full advantage of their new windfall and 'invested' it. The economy in Mumbai and Shanghai is much stronger for it today.

What about unemployment? Conservatives always like to cite the unemployment reports. It reached a low of 4.0 % during the last year of Clinton's term-- 2000, then went up to 6.0 % during 2003 and has since declined to 4.6%. Isn't that proof of hiring?

Sure, it is. But consider that during Clinton's first year of 1993, it averaged 6.9%. It dropped down to 4.0%, representing a decline of 2.9%. In the case of Bush, it has gone up a net of 0.6%. If you again look back to 2003, it has dropped by 1.4% in the succeeding four years-- so again, not as fast as it did under Clinton (though barely less) even if you give the Bush administration the complete benefit of the doubt and start measuring from the worst it got and just measure the decline). So even using what has lately been the favorite measure of conservatives, Bush still doesn't come off as good as Clinton.

This means at best the Bush tax rates have not done anything compared to what the higher Clinton tax rates did for the economy, and at worst, they have hurt the economy.

And the real irony is that by creating deficits they will require that we raise taxes in the future just to pay back. As interest rates rise, expect that interest payments on the national debt will again be a significant drag on our economy. And when that day comes, expect some statement about 'across the board sacrifice.' Translation is this: The debt was run up giving tax cuts to the rich while continuing to spend like mad, especially in the area of corporate welfare; but paying it back will require that the tax increases fall disproportionately on the middle class.

Meanwhile, we continue to pour hundreds of billions down an endless black hole in Iraq, fighting a war that while we have been told of 'sacrifice,' none of us, except of course for the military members fighting the war and their families, have had to actually worry about. This is the first time in history that taxes were not raised to finance a war, In fact, if the financial costs of the Iraq war (about $320,000,000,000.00 and counting) were distributed evenly among all current American citizens, we would each owe just over a thousand dollars in extra taxes. But the Bush administration has defined for most people the meaning of 'sacrifice' to mean putting a yellow ribbon decal on your vehicle, and some future generation will have to actually worry about the dollar cost of this war (compounded by that time by interest, of course.)

So I would posit that at this time, 1) the tax cuts we've had in the past have done nothing, and 2) right at the moment given the deficit and the cost of the war, increasing taxes makes a lot of sense.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Maybe they want some '08 business from the GOP too.

The military dicatorship in Myanmar announced this week that they are releasing almost 3,000 prisoners, including about 20 political prisoners.

Of course trade with the dictatorship, one of the most notorious human rights abusers in the world, remains forbidden. Myanmar (formerly called Burma) continues to periodically detain detain Nobel Prize winner Suu Kyi, who is actually (by reason of election) the legitimate President of the country.

The junta seized power after a bloody 1988 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators led by Suu Kyi. In 1990, junta refused to step down when Suu Kyi's party won a landslide election.

Why are they taking this step now? Well, you might recall that the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign was embarrassed by a story in which it turned out that the campaign itself had violated the boycott on Myanmar by outsourcing Bush-Cheney campaign wear to Myanmar. They apparently got around the boycott by having 'made in Burma' (the countries' old name) put on campaign gear bearing the Bush-Cheney '04 logo since the law now says that they couldn't trade with Myanmar. It would be like someone claiming they were respecting my marriage by sending romantic letters to my wife using her maiden name. But the Bush-Cheney campaign apparently thought that was OK (or more likely figured that if they did this nobody would catch them on it.) Considering that the Bush administration had invaded another country seeking to achieve 'regime change' by ousting a dictator, for them to buy campaign gear from (what is likely a sweatshop in) Myanmar is particularly hypocritical.

Remember too, that Myanmar is a country which because of the sanctions has missed out on the 'outsourcing' bonanza that has shipped millions of American jobs to other countries in Asia. So apparently they are now trying to improve their public image (though without ceding any actual control) in order to maybe get an encore from the GOP with the 2008 election season right around the corner.

Minimum wage increase

It has been great watching the new Congress over the past couple of days. And I am glad that the House is likely to pass an increase in the minimum wage (from $5.15 to $7.25) and the Senate seems likely to follow (though the Senate bill is likely to include some tax breaks for small businesses in order to counteract the effect of up to a 40% increase in labor costs). And it is worth noting that the Democratic Congress is getting this done as one of its first orders of business after the Republican Congress for at least the past four years has pawed around the issue and either failed to take action or come up with excuses for why they couldn't.

In fact, as long as this is what the tax breaks are for, I don't have a problem with them. However, there needs to be one other provision in the bill then. That is because of the fact that the 40% increase in labor costs is only to adjust for the rise in inflation accumulated and compounded over the decade since the last time minimum wages were increased. So in effect these same businesses, if they are still paying people minimum wage, have been the beneficiaries of ten years of what amounts to decreasing labor costs. I can understand that having to 'eat' it all in a year or two might be difficult, and that some of these businesses may just be starting into business now. However, in order to prevent the situation from repeating itself (which it has-- and on the whole to the detriment of the workers as minimum wages have since the 1950's not increased as fast as inflation) there should be a periodic adjustment in minimum wages. There have been proposals to index the minimum wage to the same cost of living indicator that is used for the salaries of members of Congress and for Social Security payments, and I agree with that proposal.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Saddam's executioners now imprisoned for making and releasing unauthorized video.

Today, the Iraqi government reported the arrest of three of the men who executed Saddam Hussein.

The arrests were for shooting and releasing unauthorized video of the event, and for events shown on the video itself, including taunting Saddam and dancing around his body.

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraqi authorities reported the arrests Wednesday of two guards and an official who supervised Saddam Hussein's hanging and said the guard force was infiltrated by outsiders who taunted the former leader and shot the video showing his body dangling at the end of a rope.

The unauthorized video, which ignited protests by Saddam's fellow Sunni Arabs in various Iraqi cities, threatens to turn the ousted dictator into a martyr. Saddam was shown never bowing his head as he faced death, and asking the hecklers if they were acting in a manly way.

Apparently one reason they are unhappy is because the video contradicted information given by the official spokesman in a number of ways. This is very important because if the goal is to depress the Baathist insurgents then they want to promote the image of Saddam in fear. And that is what the official word was over the day or two following the execution. But the unauthorized video apparently contradicted that position and likely will have the opposite effect on Sunni insurgents.

It is true that the Iraqi security forces have been infiltrated by many whose primary loyalty is elsewhere than to the government, many in particular to the Iranian backed Badr brigade, which has almost entirely disappeared as a seperate militia since they have almost all followed instructions to join Iraqi security forces and police. It is also true that if the executioners were Shi'ites (as they presumably were) they certainly had no love lost for Saddam.

However, it does point out just how unreliable Iraqi security is. If they can't even put together a team of less than a dozen men they absolutely can trust to follow orders and carry out the most important execution in the history of Iraq in a professional exemplary manner, then how can we trust them to keep control over tens of thousands of Iraqi troops and police officers?

Then again, 'our' man in Iraq, prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has only been prime minister since May, said yesterday that he can't wait to leave office. He even said he may resign before his term is over. Not spoken like a man who is exuding confidence.

Hal Turner issues a fatwa on right wing assault radio

Hat tip to E.A. Prez at Details

It seems that conservative talk show host Hal Turner is advocating the assassination of members of Congress if they vote in favor of a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Directly taken from his website (linked in the preceding paragraph) is the following:

They wanted to talk about my OPINION that we may have to assassinate members of the United States Congress if they BETRAY the nation by granting citizenship, AMnesty or even a "path to citizenship" to millions of [undocumented immigrants]. I will re-air the segment during my show tonight.

Which is the way some right-wingers think. If someone disagrees with you then any action, up to and including murder, is acceptable.

There is a reason why Mr. Turner and others who advocated his hard-line position on immigration lost. The reason is that the voters didn't agree with him. Most voters agree that we need to get a handle on who is coming over the border, but part of that is dealing with the people who are already here, and until we have a plan by which they can work towards citizenship you are likely to see them continue to not assimilate with our culture.

And the real irony is this: immigrants from Latin America are overwhelmingly Christian, very religious, hard workers who don't complain about what they earn or complain because someone else has more than them, and appreciate what the United States has to offer so much that they are willing to risk their lives in order to get here. They also have very strong family ties (one reason why bashing immigrants cost Republicans a 14% drop among Hispanic voters this year-- many voters are citizens whose family members may be here illegally, or who may have family members in Latin America waiting to come; I'm not even Hispanic but through my cousin I know I have Latin American relatives here (immigration status irrelevant-- they are still my family.) In other words, these are people who conservatives would be able to appeal to if they didn't keep bashing them.

But no, he'd rather (since he and his ilk have spent their wad and lost, rather than gained support among the public for their positions) advocate the people take up arms and shoot those who don't agree with them. And his show itself is an implied threat.

Which is why I am taking the time to post this to make it CLEAR that I support a path towards citizenship for immigrants with or without documents who are here in America and who have not been convicted of a crime. The best way to oppose a threat is to publically stand with those who are threatened (so, for example, the same reason I posted the Mohammed cartoons last year). However, unlike then, when I detested the cartoons but detested the fatwa more, in this case I actually do happen to agree with the concept of a path to citizenship for immigrants who are living in America peacefully.

President's budget challenge-- sorry, Mr. President, we've already seen your 'fuzzy math'

Today, President Bush challenged Democrats on spending.

Well, there are certain areas where I would be all for a spending cut. Starting with the third of a trillion dollars we have dumped into Iraq since the war began. That is the first place where government spending should be slashed. Maybe we can get it to zero before the President leaves office-- wouldn't that be an accomplishment?

He claims he has a plan to balance the budget by 2012. Hmmm... Didn't he start with a balanced budget? No, actually he didn't. He actually started with a suplus well into the hundreds of billions of dollars. He also says he wants to preserve the Bush tax cuts (which would take a positive vote by Congress to extend; if Congress does nothing then they will expire on schedule and revert to the Clinton tax rates, which helped produce that surplus).

The President said he doesn't want 'politics as usual' and warned Congress against passing bills that are 'political statements.' Then he said that he wants a line-item veto. Um, excuse me Mr. President, you might recall that some years ago Congress did pass a line item veto. It was determined to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court after two Republican lawmakers sued when Bill Clinton actually used it to veto a couple of their pet projects. So, you are asking for something that has already been declared unconstitutional, apparently for appearances. What was that about bills that are 'political statements?'

"We need to reform Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid so future generations of Americans can benefit from these vital programs without bankrupting our country," he said.

I have an idea for reforming Medicare. How about scrapping the turkey of a drug bill that your party passed and you signed three years ago, Mr. President? You know, the one that gives away trillions of tax dollars to pharmaceutical companies and really hasn't made prescription drugs any cheaper for American seniors?

As for Social Security, that could be fixed by eliminating the $90,000 cap on Social Security wages subject to taxation. How about it, Mr. President? Obviously the American people didn't like your privatization plan last year, so how about something different?
Flag Counter