Sunday, May 31, 2009

Washing my feet; or, once again Delawaredem intentionally misses the point

In the wake of the slaying of Dr. George Tiller in Wichita KS, Delawaredem takes this opportunity to write:

I have just ordered a gallon of water for Steve Newton to use to wash down his foot. See, we were right. There are right wing extremists who are so pro-life that they will kill to make their point. They are terrorists and deserve to be treated as such.

I first have to admit that I didn't get to wash down his foot, unless DD is suggesting either (a) some bizarre Catholic rite of contrition I've never experienced; or that (b) he wants me to be more hygenic before I put it in my mouth.

Here's a simple response, that should not be difficult for him to comprehend: kiss my ass [and I'm not washing it first].

This is a wonderfully cynical example of Delawaredem's faux outrage, designed to score political debating points and (as always) to stifle political discourse that makes him uncomfortable.

The game that DD and company love to play is this: conflate all political rhetoric with which they disagree with that of truly dangerous, nutcase, violent extremist groups, and then take any--any--violence committed by someone with superficially similar views and use that to vindicate your own particular form of hate speech.

The latest Gallup Poll suggests that 23% of American voters would have abortion illegal in all circumstances; 53% would see it legal with restrictions; and 22% would see it legal under all circumstances. Let's just take the 23% and call it the Pro-life movement. Gee: that would be 65-70 million people.

Since 1993, there have been 17 attempted murders and 8 murders related to anti-abortion fanatics.

Even one death is too many, but this breaks down--assuming no overlap whatever in the perpetrators--to one murder/attempted murder per 2.8 million people who feel that abortion should be outlawed in all circumstances. Or .000000035% of people with superficially similar political views.

My problem with the Department of Homeland Security, many LEOs, and the ilk of Delawaredem is that they consider anti-abortion rhetoric (or any other kind of political rhetoric they disdain) as prima facie evidence of violent intent, even in the absence of other evidence.

This is about the same mentality that, during the early 20th Century, would have found one actually guilty African-American murderer or rapist, and used his guilt to justify the necessity of using lynching to keep the inherently dangerous negro population in line....

Real terrorist groups--or dangerous lone wolves--are the legitimate target of law enforcement, and I have never suggested otherwise.

But tarring everybody with the brush of violent extremism is a scuzzy political tactic that can only work via intimidation.

And it won't work here, DD.

Mike Matthews Rocks

He consistently manages to crack me up and get me all outraged in the same fell swoop...

Today Mike takes up the cause against the gut-churning insidery self-dealing of a certain former Democrat House speaker, whose Democrat state representative daughter sits on the Democrat-controlled committee in the Democrat-controlled legislature of Democrat-run Delaware that ensures his ridiculously exorbitant salary.

I hope Mike never decides to just give in to the dark side and orlandogeorge his way through life...

...or should I say orlandogorge.....?

ADDENDUM : I love harmony in the Delaware blogosphere, when we can put our juvenile tiffs aside and agree where stinky shit stinks, no matter what side of the aisle it happened to plop in :

Burris keeps it short and sweet.

Cassandra offers constructive thoughts, with a subtext of similar outrage.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

A three-legged Libertarian stool?

So yesterday I blogged about Bruce Bartlett's strange description of Libertarians, which is still strange and inaccurate, but did get me started thinking....

Libertarians miss the point of American politics, I think, because we often focus way too much on way too many things, and because we're absolutists in our thinking.

I'll use Miko's comment to illustrate my point [which is not to lampoon it at all; Miko is one of the most rational libertarians who comments here]:

This is a bit like complaining that a prison-reform group wants to free all falsely convicted inmates instead of taking seriously the idea of providing them with better meals. I can see pragmatists endorsing the gradualist strategy, but for those of us that believe war is murder, taxation is theft, and regulations are designed to keep a large under-class dependent on the corporate and statist elite for their survival, the goal has to be ending the corrupt system rather than redecorating it. Sure, we may end up with gradualism in practice, but there's nothing wrong with remembering what we're aiming at. Which, incidentally, is why most libertarians prefer engaging in grass-roots activity to the electoral farce of "which of these candidates is slightly less bad?" Even if it loses us a few votes, we have to admit that the electoral strategy hasn't been working well so far, as the deck is stacked against us by those who have power and want to keep it.

The problem, Miko, is that short of the singularity I can see only two routes to a state which is based on human freedom as Libertarians understand the concept: (a) via revolution; or (b) via election. Grass-roots activity may stop a local seat-belt ordinance, but it's not going to create a material increase in the overall level of freedom in our society.

Put it another way: if the government is still free to put people in jail for using natural analgesics to reduce their cancer pain, still free to spend trillions of dollars of money stolen from my children, and still free to use enhanced fragmentation Hell-fire missiles against Afghani civilians, then there is a limit to what a minor local victory over the parking nazis means....

Nor is the revolution going to arrive any time soon.

Meanwhile, the Libertarian Party platform covers the Earth, detail by ever-loving detail....

I keep wondering if maybe the answer is to approach electoral politics from a Libertarian perspective is the same sort of three-legged stool that the conservative movement used so successfully to rebuild the GOP after Watergate.

Please note: I am talking process here, not ideology.

The conservative movement that took over the GOP united social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, and libertarians. William Buckley forged the marriage between the social cons and the libertarians; being hawks on defense kept the fiscal cons and the social cons together; resentment of the welfare state made the libertarians fellow travellers with the others. [All hideously over-simplified, but what the hell I only budgeted a paragraph here....]

A three-legged Libertarian stool would include economics, social issues, and foreign policy, but without proclaiming any of them as more than primus inter pares.

Could we build a tent wherein any one of the following three conditions might pertain?

(a) Somebody who is profoundly against the military-industrial complex and interventionist wars, as well as expecting the government to stay out of our personal lives, but who is willing to support a moderate level of taxation and social welfare spending ... might find more of a home with Libertarians than with the pro-war GOPers and the nanny-state Dems?

(b) Somebody who thinks there is a need to stay the course in Afghanistan, but who can't see massive deficit spending/high-taxation and doesn't want the government tellling his/her kids they have to wear a bicycle helmet ... might find more of a home with Libertarians than with the pro-taxing and spending Demopublicans?

(c) Somebody who has strong feelings about abortion as murder or gay marriage as the destruction of traditional family values, but who opposes heavy taxation and foreign wars might find more of a home with Libertarians?

A lot of my Libertarian friends decry the idea of playing to folks who only agree with, say, two-thirds of the Libertarian message. They refuse to accept the idea that greater freedom results from convincing large numbers of American citizens to vote for candidates because they believe in at least two-thirds of our message....

Is General Petraeus positioning himself for a post-Army political career?

Interesting question, but it is what came to mind when I read this:

During an interview today with Fox News, CENTCOM commander General David Petraeus said the US government had been “rightly” criticized for violating the Geneva Convention in recent years. The general added that he thought going forward it was important for the US to live up to the agreements it made internationally.

Petraeus defended the ban on “enhanced interrogation techniques,” saying it had taken away a tool used as a moral argument against the US on the international scene. He insisted that while “there might be an exception” he felt that the Army Field Manual was “generally sufficient” for interrogations.

I am well aware that Petraeus had generally denied any political ambitions, but this kind of statement is one that you'll usually only see out of a general officer contemplating his positioning for a new career. He can simultaneously be tough on defense [obviously], while demonstrating that moral rectitude so necessary these days to get elected. Short of getting a fifth star (unlikely unless North Korea actually invades and he's called on to take command there), CentCom is destined to be Petraeus' last command prior to retirement.

As a civilian, I'm thinking he makes an interesting post-Gates SecDef or post-Clinton SecState, both of whom will be gone--at the latest--in the first year of a second Obama administration. Other possibilities: the Dems dump Paterson and run him for Governor of New York in 2010.

No hard evidence--just sayin'.

Unbelievable Failure in Leadership

The bloated patronage government of Wilmington led by Mayor James M. Baker has managed to turn fear-mongering over public safety cuts into the real thing, while also raising every tax, fee, fine, and levy it could muster.

Wilmington Budget Includes Layoffs
May 29, 2009
Adam Taylor - News-Journal

WILMINGTON -- City Council passed a $145 million operating budget Thursday night that includes layoffs of 17 police officers and eight firefighters.

It also includes double-digit hikes in property taxes, water-sewer fees and a per-employee tax on all but the smallest businesses throughout the city. Fines for parking tickets and red-light camera fines will go up as well.

Councilmen Steve Martelli, Justen Wright, Mike Brown and Trippi Congo voted against the budget. Martelli, a former city policeman, said he did so because he doesn't think the city worked hard enough to cut spending.

"The city should have looked into that as hard as the state government did, but it didn't," he said.

"We need to look at our take-home vehicle fleet and a host of other spending items before we even consider laying off the public safety workers who protect people who live, work or visit Wilmington."

Wilmington City Council's prime movers, for all their rumblings about getting a tighter rein on spending and lard, are about as effective as a convenient rubber stamp in the puffy hands of Baker's champagne government.

The four council members who voted against the budget deserve praise. Notably all, except lone council Republican Mike Brown, are newly-minted in their positions, elected last November for the first time....perhaps a harbinger of hope for the future.

The more I hear from Steve Martelli, the more he impresses me as someone who "gets it", unwilling to just go-along to get-along. Congo and Wright have also struck me as quite thoughtful and dedicated in their approach to their public service.

All appear unbeholden to the tired uninspiring politics of the city's perpetual dinosaur incumbents who nonetheless remain firmly in charge of city government...for now.

For all Baker's and his flunkies' rhetoric, they want (and got) absolutely zero curbs on the their junta's perqs and patronage...while shedding crocodile tears about economic tough times, Baker repeatedly admitting how hard the citizenry has been hit, across the board.

That the result of this budget is all about whichever unions most compliantly cut deals with the Baker mafia says it all about the yawning void of public responsibility we get from absolutist Democrat rule in Wilmington.

Of course, the sectors of city employees representing the real lard were quickest to fold, avoiding the public spectacle underway between the Baker mob and the public safety employee unions.

The ranks of non-essential employees, embedded as their unions are in our government, knew damn well which way public sentiment would go were they to attempt a public fight like the fire and police are waging - and it would not be one of sympathy to their bleating about "maintaining services" or the woe-is-us 'plight' of layers of useless Wilmington bureaucrats.

Of course, fire and police know the public is with them, at least on the big issues of human and material resourcing. So their unions have held out where all the others quickly grabbed whatever they could from the status quo Baker gravy train, just as promptly receding back into their holes.

The result of this twisted path to fiscal pseudo-responsibility is that public safety workers are the "last man standing" and thus to be subjected to mere default. (Let's not forget that earlier this year Baker canceled this year's police academy.)

There was never so much as a hint of real debate or even question over whether the citizens would be the first and only stop for more cash to fuel the Baker Gravy Train Express. It was all about how to assuage the City's bloated workforce and bureaucratic patronage rolls, and how far they could all insulate themselves from economic reality.

The taxpayers and all other targets of voracious Wilmington government revenuers are simply sheep to be further fleeced by over-paid, over-fed self-dealing parasites whose apparent biggest concern is how to deal with government employee unions while keeping everyone on the rolls fat and matter what the cost to the public...or its safety.

When public safety layoffs are not a function of public safety (or the last blow from near fiscal collapse) but instead are simply the end result of the public farce of a strongarm bully executive pretending to play hardball with unions, except for the ones really playing hardball with him, it is alarmingly clear that this city is governed ruled by reckless misfeasance and breathtaking irresponsibility.

It is truly disgusting.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The interesting upswing in the media and political importance of (some) Libertarians

As the GOP disintegrates into the Old Confederacy, Buffalo Commons & Lawn Jockey Party, Libertarians of all stripes come into play.

The GOP needs them, after two decades of dissing them, to rebuild.

The Dems want them, because if they can get them focused on social and foreign policy issues instead of economic issues, they can cement their (they'd like to believe) permanent political majority.

Meanwhile, as usual, Libertarians waste more and more of their time conducting internal purges over miniscule differences that would have befuddled Stalin and Trotsky.

Nobody, however, really wants Libertarians as Libertarians, any more than the Dems really want queers as queers or the GOPers really want real fiscal conservatives as real fiscal conservatives.

So what they do, as Bruce Bartlett does today at Forbes, is use the term Libertarian as a crude caricature to make those who use it appear to be idiotic bumpkins who need handlers:

On the surface, there would appear to be potential for an alliance. Libertarians tend to be liberal on social issues, favoring such things as gay marriage and drug legalization; and also liberal on defense and foreign policy, opposing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and opposing torture and restrictions on civil liberties in the name of national security.

But libertarians are conservative on economic policy--favoring a free market with virtually no government intervention except the enforcement of contracts, and no government spending or taxes except those to pay for a very minimal police force and military.

Libertarians' views on social policy and national defense make them sympathetic to the Democrats, while their views on economic policy tend to align them with the Republicans. If one views social, defense and economic policy as having roughly equal weight, it would seem, therefore, that most libertarians should be Democrats. In fact, almost none are. Those that don't belong to the dysfunctional Libertarian Party are, by and large, Republicans.

The reason for this is that most self-described libertarians are primarily motivated by economics. In particular, they don't like paying taxes. They also tend to have an obsession with gold and a distrust of paper money. As a philosophy, their libertarianism doesn't extent much beyond not wanting to pay taxes, being paid in gold and being able to keep all the guns they want. Many are survivalists at heart and would be perfectly content to live in complete isolation on a mountain somewhere, neither taking anything from society nor giving anything.

Neat pseudo-intellectual trick there, Bruce. You--a non-Libertarian--label what you decide are the three foundations of Libertarian belief, assign equal value to each, and then declare that if Libertarians weren't so selfish, anti-social, and prone to violence, they'd all be Democrats.

Let's leave aside the fact that both the Democratic Party and the current Democratic presidential administration are far more interventionist than I'd call Libertarian....

Or that both the Democratic Party and the current Democratic presidential administration are far more socially intrusive than any Libertarian would be comfortable with....

Meanwhile, Bartlett conflates a specific sub-group of Libertarians [minarchists] with all Libertarians on fiscal issues, favoring a free market with virtually no government intervention except the enforcement of contracts, and no government spending or taxes except those to pay for a very minimal police force and military.

This argument is a little more sophisticated than ascribing a love of watermelons, fried chicken, and dancing to all African-Americans, but not by much.

On the other hand, Libertarians have generally failed to prove that (a) they really understand the nuts and bolts of public policy; or that (b) they would take seriously the idea of governing rather than immediately and blindly setting about dismantling the government. [Monday, we'll eliminate the Fed, Tuesday, the IRS, Wednesday, the FBI....]

But I could also argue that neither the Dems or the GOPers have actually used that understanding of public policy to make any real difference in the exponential growth of government, the increasing pace of American wars abroad, or the persistent cancerous penetration of the nanny state into my daily life....

So maybe the benefit of winning elections is, ah, overrated.

Shorter General Casey: "We're getting the Pusan Perimeter ready to use again"

This will really help ratchet down tensions regarding a possible new Korean war (as well as get us prepared for that military draft Kilroy is worried about):

US Army Chief of Staff General George Casey today insisted that the army was “prepared” to fight a war against North Korea, in the event one broke out. Given the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Gen. Casey conceded that “it would probably take us a little bit longer to shift gears” into fighting a more conventional conflict with the massive North Korean army.

You may recall that Casey is the fellow who promised us the other day that the Pentagon was planning on staying in both Afghanistan and Iraq for at least another ten years.

What's happening here is that (a) we are reaping the whirlwind of nearly two decades without a real foreign policy for dealing with the world that was destabilized by the end of the Cold War; and (b) we are being prepared for a return to the permanent war state necessary to keep the Defense budget up, the Defense industry churning along, and the campaign contributions dropping into the right pockets.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Wonder if Jack Markell and the folks at Leg Hall are reading this...

... in which the Feds are threatening California with the loss of billions of dollars of stimulus money if the Governator and the General Assembly follow through with a pay cut for unionized home health care workers?

From the LATimes:

Reporting from Sacramento -- The Obama administration is threatening to rescind billions of dollars in federal stimulus money if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state lawmakers do not restore wage cuts to unionized home healthcare workers approved in February as part of the budget.

Schwarzenegger's office was advised this week by federal health officials that the wage reduction, which will save California $74 million, violates provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Failure to revoke the scheduled wage cut before it takes effect July 1 could cost California $6.8 billion in stimulus money, according to state officials.

The news comes as state lawmakers are already facing a severe cash crisis, with the state at risk of running out of money in July.

The wages at issue involve workers who care for some 440,000 low-income disabled and elderly Californians. The workers, who collectively contribute millions of dollars in dues each month to the influential Service Employees International Union and the United Domestic Workers, will see the state's contribution to their wages cut from a maximum of $12.10 per hour to a maximum of $10.10.

The SEIU said in a statement that it had asked the Obama administration for the ruling.

Of course, that was May 8, before the Obama administration backed down:

On Wednesday, the Obama administration said that California's decision to cut the state's contribution to home health care workers' wages will not affect the state's eligibility for $8 billion for Medi-Cal provided through the federal economic stimulus package, the Sacramento Bee reports.

Medi-Cal is California's Medicaid program.

The wage cuts affect workers participating in the In-Home Supportive Services program. A provision of the state budget approved in February reduced the state's contribution to the workers' wages from a maximum of $12.10 to $10.10 an hour (Hotakainen, Sacramento Bee, 5/20).

Unions representing the workers complained to the Obama administration, arguing that the cut violated a provision of the stimulus package that bars states from shifting costs to counties.

However, in a letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), federal officials wrote that the reduced state contribution to the wages does not violate the stimulus law because it does not require counties to increase their contribution to IHSS workers' wages (Freking, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 5/20).

You'd have to wonder why.

Of course it couldn't have anything to do with lucrative $15,200/plate Beverly Hills fundraisers.

But more importantly, you'd have to wonder how the possibility that the Feds might raise the same sort of issue in Delaware might play in the face of unified opposition from virtually all state employee labor unions.

Delaware Attorney General's Office and the strange sound of silence in the DSU slaying case

I don't often blog about DSU, given my position there, but this isn't really a post about the university, or even about the tragic events that took the life of Shalita Middleton in fall 2007.

It's about the absence of outrage.

The charges against Loyer Braden have been dismissed, not just because the Attorney General's office apparently failed to share exculpatory evidence with the defense, but also because a key witness recanted testimony tying Braden to the homicide.

Here's the key paragraph from the WNJ story today:

Braden’s murder trial was dismissed last week by a Superior Court judge who said prosecutors withheld key evidence that could have compromised the former DSU student’s right to a fair trial. The evidence was a witness’ statement to Dover police identifying someone other than Braden as the shooter.

What's missing in this picture? How about somebody in State government, State politics, or even the News Journal calling for a serious investigation of whether or not it is common practice in the AG office for prosecutors to just, ah, forget to hand over evidence in discovery as required by law?

It pains me (well, not really) to have to admit that pretty much the only serious discussion of this whole mess has occurred at Delawareliberal, and even there the focus was almost evenly split between outrage at the prosecutorial conduct and speculation about how badly this would damage Beau Biden's political career. [DL being DL, and intensely politically oriented, this is not a criticism, just an observation.]

But I'm waiting for somebody in the General Assembly to stand up and say, Wait a damn minute! We need to investigate this case! We need to investigate this office! Somebody needs to get fired or disbarred, and oversight needs to be put into place to insure that this doesn't happen to anybody else.

Holding my breath. Turning blue.

I'm going to go way out on a limb here, and suggest an unlovely possibility: if the victim--Shalita Middleton--had been white, if the accused--Loyer Braden--had been white, or if the whole affair had played out at UD rather than DSU, our state politicians would be pissing their pants to get into this issue.

Instead, we have two out-of-state African-American students at that university....

We have those people killing each other....

[Even though you'd have to have been both blind and deaf on my campus not to know what a special and amazing young woman Shalita Middleton was, and how much the world has been impoverished by her death.]

Which is not (imagine my surprise) a political priority in the State of Delaware.

Racism: it's not just for people who don't agree with President Obama.

It's About Time : Medical Marijuana in Delaware

Senator Margaret Rose-Henry, Wilmington Democrat and advocate of a compassionate approach to drug abuse issues, has introduced legislation to legalize marijuana sale and use for medical reasons.

Medical marijuana bill introduced
News-Journal - Ginger Gibson

Sen. Henry confident she has votes to pass measure this year

Under Senate Bill 94, residents would be allowed to have up to 6 ounces of marijuana, considered a month's supply, Henry said, and would be issued identification cards to prevent them from being prosecuted for having that amount or less. The state would also license centers to grow and sell marijuana to be sold for medicinal purposes.

Nationwide, efforts like Henry's got a boost last week when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to California's medical marijuana law, allowing the law to stand and the sale of medical marijuana to continue.

Henry said her proposal would not decriminalize marijuana or prevent people who sell or purchase it illegally from being prosecuted.

The bill calls for setting up compassion centers or centers with the right to grow marijuana," Henry said. "You would not be able to go on the street corner and buy. We're not talking about heroin or the drugs we see on street corners."

The legislation gives the Department of Health and Social Services 120 days after its passage to establish rules and regulations to oversee the issuance of ID cards and licenses to sell marijuana. Henry said the regulations would model other states that allow medical marijuana as a treatment option for residents.

The legislation is co-sponsored by Rep. Hazel Plant, D-Wilmington North, and also lists Sens. Karen Peterson, D-Stanton, Robert Venables, D-Laurel, and Liane Sorenson, R-Hockessin.

"I want to thank them for being brave enough to join me on this journey," Henry said of the co-sponsors, "because any time you do something something that is new or innovative in a state, some times it takes people with courage."

Henry said while several people expressed apprehension about having their names listed as co-sponsors, she has spoken with several members of her caucus and believes she has the support to get the legislation passed this year.

Joe Rogalsky, spokesman for Gov. Jack Markell, said the governor is still studying the issue of legalizing medical marijuana and does not yet have a position on the bill.

Personally, I support a complete end to the prohibition of marijuana everywhere in the United States.

I used to have some trepidation in this sense about confining marijuana to the realm of narrow medical uses, when it is so beneficially and safely used by millions of Americans on a daily basis.

For goodness sake, it's a natural plant. It is used 'right off the vine'. In my view cannabis was a gift to man from God, a completely-natural means to many positive human ends...not the least of which is access to medicine as ubiquitously as food can be grown for sustenance. But hey, that's me.

Knowing that this represents a sea attitude change from the prohibitionist excesses of the last 80 or so years, it is a very positive step forward for Delaware.

Notably on the legislation is Senator Bob Venables, the socially-conservative downstate Democrat who was recently on the vanguard of protecting property rights against eminent domain abuses in Delaware but also in support of codifying marriage to exclude same sex couples. Senator Venables' co-sponsorship will prove key to passage of this bill.

I applaud these courageous lawmakers for bringing this bill forward and disregarding the vestiges of political risk-aversion from being labeled "soft on drugs", should a politician hint at supporting a sane rational fact-driven liberty-based drug policy rather than criminal prohibition.

These legislators have made progress merely by introducing this legislation. They are bringing us out of the stifling dark ages of political inertia on this issue, and allowing an outlet for what will be a public outpouring in support for drug policy progress.

As with so many issues, the public is ahead of the politicians on this one. As such, we are at a rapid tipping point with majority support growing from all points along the political spectrum. Let's hope the politicians get the message.

Perhaps the Delaware Senate will wisely follow the lead of another state's Senate, occupied in the not-too-distant past by our president.

I urge everyone reading this, who believes we have had enough of the drug war and police state enforcement tactics in Delaware and America, to call your legislators and offer your support to this excellent legislation...a first step toward rational, reality-based public policy on personal drug usage.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sottomayor. Ricci v DeStefano, and the curious difficulty involved in parsing today's news

Obviously--and it could not have happened any other way--the ideological lines have been drawn with President Obama's nomination of of Federal Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sottomayor to the Supreme Court.

First, let me point out personally that nothing in the nomination surprises me: Sottomayor had long been feted as a potential Obama nominee, and her views are in fact predictably Statist [“The Second Amendment applies only to limitations the federal government seeks to impose on this right," which means the States and municipalities can restrict any weapons they so choose for any reason.], but in replacing Associate Justice David Souter I'm not opposed to some affirmative action. If we're going to have another Statist with traditional liberal/progressive views on the Court, then having a female Hispanic with traditional liberal/progressive views as opposed to another old white guy is probably not a horrible development....

In other words, having watched the SCOTUS drift further and further toward cementing State power at the expense of the individual over the past four decades, whether it does so in a socially liberal or socially conservative manner is not that exciting an issue for me.

But what is interesting is the characterizations of Judge Sottomayor's most publicly significant case [at least at this point], a case in which she didn't actually do much of anything except uphold a lower court without stating an opinion. The case, Ricci v DeStefano, is that reverse-discrimination case fire-figher case from Connecticut.

Let's take a look at how it gets parsed, depending on the source.

First, the NYT:

Judge Sotomayor's most high-profile case, Ricci v. DeStefano, concerns white firefighters in New Haven who were denied promotions after an examination yielded no black firefighters eligible for advancement. Joining an unsigned opinion of a three-judge panel of the appeals court, Judge Sotomayor upheld the rejection of a lawsuit by white firefighters, one of them Hispanic, claiming race discrimination and, as part of the full appeals court, she declined to rehear the case. The Supreme Court is currently considering the case, and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy is the likely swing vote. Among the questions in the case is whether the law should treat diversity in the work force differently from diversity in the classroom. Judge Sotomayor dissented in part in an earlier case, Gant v. Wallingford Board of Education, finding that race discrimination had occurred when a school demoted a black child from first grade to kindergarten.

Crap. From that one you can't even tell what the case was really about, can you?

OK, here's the Libertarian Party view:

Sotomayor is best known for the Ricci v. DeStafano case, in which the New Haven, Conn. fire department decided it didn’t like the results of an officers promotion exam in which whites and Hispanic firefighters outperformed black firefighters. The city threw out the results of the exam, denying several firefighters promotions solely because of their race. The firefighters sued the city, claiming racial discrimination under Title VVI of the Civil Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Sotomayor disagreed, ruling the city has a right to discriminate against white and Hispanic public employees to construct a politically correct racial mix in hiring, even if it goes against the results of a racially-neutral competency exam.

The case is now before the Supreme Court. Sotomayor has had her rulings thrown out by the court a troubling four times. In three of those cases, the Court ruled Sotomayor had incorrectly interpreted the law.

This one's interesting, because it misstates several key facts about the case. New Haven's actual argument was not that they threw out the results to deny white firefighters a promotion because of their race, but because of the fear that not to do so would render them vulnerable to a Title VI discrimination suit from African-American firefighters based on the rather bizarre technicality called facially neutral employment practices. In other words, the Libertarian press release fails to specify the complexity of the issue facing the city of New Haven in terms of the conflict between Title VII and reasonable interpretations of the due process clause of the XIV Amendment. Then the press release attacks Sottomayor for ruling the city has a right to disciminate against white and Hispanic public employees to construct a politically correct racial mix in hiring, which is again a distortion of the case. Take just one point: the case had nothing to do with hiring, only promoting.

If you are going to critique Sottomayor on this one, at least get your facts right.

Which is something, from the other ideological end of the spectrum, that Slate should also learn:

Ricci is a hard case with bad facts—a case that could do serious damage to Title VII, one of Congress' landmark civil rights laws. In 2003, the city of New Haven, Conn., decided to base future promotions in its firefighting force—there were seven for captain and eight for lieutenant—primarily on a written test. The city paid an outside consultant to design the test so that it would be job-related. Firefighters studied for months. Of the 41 applicants who took the captain exam, eight were black; of the 77 who took the lieutenant exam, 19 were black. None of the African-American candidates scored high enough to be promoted. For both positions, only two of 29 Hispanics qualified for promotion.

In other situations like this, minority candidates have successfully sued based on the long-recognized legal theory that a test that has a disparate impact—it affects one racial group more than others—must truly be job-related in order to be legal. You can see why New Haven's black firefighters might have done just that. Why promote firefighters based on a written test rather than their performance in the field? Why favor multiple-choice questions over evaluations of leadership and execution? It's like granting a driver's license based solely on the written test, only with much higher stakes.

Faced with these complaints, which translated into both political and potential legal fallout in a city that is nearly 60 percent African-American, New Haven withdrew its test. But that fueled an intense and also understandable frustration on the part of the white firefighters who'd spent time and money on test-prep materials. They'd succeeded by scoring high, only to be told that now their investment counted for nothing. Frank Ricci is a 34-year-old "truckie"—he throws ladders, breaks windows, and cuts holes for New Haven's Truck 4. His uncle and both his brothers are firefighters. He studied fire science at college. He has dozens of videos about firefighting tagged on a Web site he set up to recruit for the department. He is also dyslexic, which means that his high score on the promotion test was especially hard-won. Ricci and 19 other firefighters sued New Haven, alleging reverse discrimination, in light of Title VII and also the 14th Amendment's promise of equal protection under the law. They said that New Haven shouldn't have thrown out the test.

This sounds like a much more balanced, nuanced, and complete rendition of the case (admittedly from a liberal perspective), until you get to that paragraph I placed in bold, which indicates--sadly--that Emily Bazelon of Slate--has apparently not actually read the case.

Why do I say that? Because the written test in question constituted only 60% of each applicant's final score.

Here's the run-down from the Cornell University Law School [which has the benefit of being written well prior to the Sottomayor nomination]:

The written exams were to account for sixty-percent of the ultimate assessment of a candidate's ability to successfully serve as a lieutenant or captain. See Brief for Petitioner, Frank Ricci et al. at 7. Forty-percent of an individual's assessment consisted of an oral exam evaluating a candidate's ability to lead others in emergency situations. See id. When New Haven officials analyzed the written test results, they found that the pass rate for black candidates was approximately half the pass rate of white candidates. See Brief for Respondent at 5.

So while you may question the test, it is clear that Ms. Bazelon set out to write her piece for Slate in utter innocence of the fact that the written test itself was only one component of the promotion process. I will leave it as an exercise for the student to crunch the numbers and find out that in order for the highest African-American candidate to have placed 13th for Lieutenant and 15th for Captain (with the "rule of three" allowing the Board to promote only the highest scoring three candidates), means that these candidates also had to have performed below the norm on the oral interviews as well. Could those interviews have been biased? Quite possibly, but that's somewhat beside the point.

The point, again, is that what you're being told about Ricci v DeStefano is being driven in almost all cases by ideology rather than the facts of the case, and those carefully constructed narratives are being used to position Sottomayor either positively or negatively for public opinion.

[The reality, by the way, is that Ricci should be in danger of being over-turned by SCOTUS for two reasons: (1) there was never any evidence presented to prove that the test was facially racially neutral, because there really is not any such test; and (2) the appropriate time to challenge such a process as inherently discrimatory (i.e. lacking other measures of excellence) was before participating, not after.]

Be careful with the news, folks. Both sides are making it up.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Iraq and Afghanistan for ten more years....

There is a saying in the military: "You will fight the way you train." It means that if you cut corners in training, you won't know how to do the right thing in battle.

Military historians also have a concept, less succinctly expressed, that nations tend to fight the wars they plan for, regardless of whether those particular wars still make sense. Shorter: tail wags dog.

In that vein, it is disturbing to discover that the change of presidential administration has actually given the Pentagon, if anything, an expanded sense of its own importance in future foreign policy planning:

WASHINGTON -The Pentagon is prepared to leave fighting forces in Iraq for as long as a decade despite an agreement between the United States and Iraq that would bring all American troops home by 2012, the top U.S. Army officer said Tuesday.

Gen. George Casey, the Army chief of staff, said the world remains dangerous and unpredictable, and the Pentagon must plan for extended U.S. combat and stability operations in two wars. "Global trends are pushing in the wrong direction," Casey said. "They fundamentally will change how the Army works."

He spoke at an invitation-only briefing to a dozen journalists and policy analysts from Washington-based think-tanks. He said his planning envisions combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan for a decade as part of a sustained U.S. commitment to fighting extremism and terrorism in the Middle East....

Casey said several times that he wasn't the person making policy, but the military was preparing to have a fighting force deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan for years to come. Casey said his planning envisions 10 combat brigades plus command and support forces committed to the two wars.

When asked whether the Army had any measurement for knowing how big it should be, Casey responded, "How about the reality scenario?"

This scenario, he said, must take into account that "we're going to have 10 Army and Marine units deployed for a decade in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Casey stressed that the United States must be ready to take on sustained fights in the Middle East while meeting other commitments.

In other words: the policy parameters have already been set, and it really doesn't matter who is in the White House, because the tool is now specifying its own use.

[Technical note: it is an essential element of military planning and training to prepare for the wars you may be called upon to fight. That's why, during the 1980s we kept training on Fulda Gap scenarios, and in the 1990s we repeatedly looked at Balkan engagements. But at a certain point carts and horses come into play: think about German military planning prior to 1914. When the crisis blew up in July 1914, Germany's only recourse in declaring war on Russia (in response to Russia's declaring war on Austria-Hungary, which had declared war on Serbia, a Russian ally) was to invade France. Why? Because the only workable military plan the German General Staff had for a general European war (thank you Graf von Schlieffen!) envisioned an all-out attempt to defeat France before the Russians could complete their mobilization. I read General Casey's remarks, and I start to think we are in Schlieffen/von Moltke the Younger territory, not rational planning for future wars.]

Flow my tears, the Policeman said: coming to an America near you!?

Rachel Maddow introduces us to the Orwellian double-think that leads to police states if we do not pay attention:

Monday, May 25, 2009

"Don't ask, don't tell" may be on the chopping block, but apparently nobody knows where the hell the ax is

Kafka, not Dana, would be the appropriate reporter for this story, as the AP chronicles the fascinating waffle of the Obama administration and the so-far successful public foot-dragging of senior military officials:

President Barack Obama's top military adviser said Sunday the Pentagon has enough challenges — including two wars — without rushing to overturn a decade-old policy that bans gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military and incites political and social factions on both sides.

Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he is working on an assessment of what — if any — impact overturning "don't ask, don't tell" policies would mean for the military and its culture. In the meantime, the Pentagon plans to follow the existing rules, which say gays and lesbians can serve in the military if they do not disclose their sexuality or engage in homosexual behavior.

"The president has made his strategic intent very clear, that it's his intent at some point in time to ask Congress to change this law," Mullen said. "I think it's important to also know that this is the law, this isn't a policy. And for the rules to change, a law has to be changed."

During his presidential campaign, Obama pledged to overturn the Clinton-era policy and promised that gays and lesbians could serve openly in uniform. But he has made no specific move to do so since taking office in January. He has not set a deadline for repeal, has given the Pentagon no direct orders and has kept Capitol Hill guessing about when he might ask for a change in the law.

Mullen said the military would not start on a timeline until Congress acts.

Obama's go-it-slow approach has drawn criticism from gay rights groups, including activists and fundraisers who met in Dallas to organize a grass-roots lobbying effort to force Obama's hand.

Last week, Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs stood at the White House podium and reiterated the president's eventual goal, although he said the administration was fine with Congress taking the lead on the potentially divisive subject.

"Try as one may, a president can't simply whisk away standing law of the United States of America," Gibbs said. "But if you're going to change the policy, if it is the law of the land, you have to do it through an act of Congress."

Gibbs' counterpart at the Pentagon issued a similar statement.

Obama's top advisers — in uniform and in politics — have urged restraint despite the issue's resonance among the president's left-flank base. They want Obama to move with a deliberate plan that accounts for all potential consequences during wartime.

Retired Marine Gen. James Jones, the White House's national security adviser, said this month he wasn't sure the policy would be overturned.

"We have a lot on our plate right now," he said.

There is concern that reopening the socially and politically divisive question of gays and lesbians in the ranks could place an additional burden on a military stretching to fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Buying time serves both the Pentagon's desire for caution and Obama's desire not to pick an unnecessary fight. Former President Bill Clinton never fully recovered from his miscues over the gays in the military issue.

Meanwhile, since the Obama inauguration, over 200 [the number rises each week] LGBT American citizens have been discharged from the US military, including--as Waldo tells us--one of our very few Arab linguists...

At a certain point, President Obama's performance on this issue moves from far-sighted through prudent, past pandering and into gutless.

We're about halfway through the P's now.

May 25, 1974 - Grateful Dead - UC Stadium - Santa Barbara, CA

Love 'em or hate 'em, the Grateful Dead are the ultimate American rock band. No other was more storied, more enduring, or more reflective of American music to its roots.

Here is a nice performance by them 35 years ago today, on a beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon in California, in front of their infamous "Wall of Sound". (The recording has initial tweaks as they work out the mix).

The Wall of Sound was probably the most complex and fine-tuned PA system ever devised. Basically it allowed the band to play in front of the PA, without need of stage monitors, so they would be hearing exactly what the audience was.

It barely lasted a year (1974), since the band had to haul it around the country in three tractor-trailers (in the midst of the first oil supply problems).

The band basically went broke from it...

Opening Acts : Maria Muldaur; Great American String Band; Elvin Bishop

Set List:

U.S. Blues
Mexicali Blues
Jack Straw
Scarlet Begonias
Beat it on Down the Line
Brown Eyed Women
Me and My Uncle
El Paso
China Cat Sunflower
I Know You Rider
Around and Around

Promised Land
Ship of Fools
Big River
Tennessee Jed
Let it Grow
Wharf Rat
Sugar Magnolia
Goin' Down the Road Feelin' Bad
One More Saturday Night

Encore : Casey Jones

Band Member Photo Credit : Dean Abrams

Phil Lesh's Alembic bass : "The Godfather"
U.S. Blues

Lyrics: Robert Hunter
Music: Jerry Garcia

Red and white, blue suede shoes
I'm Uncle Sam, how do you do
Gimme five, still alive
Ain't no luck, I learned to duck

Check my pulse, it don't change
Stay seventy two, come shine or rain
Wave the flag, pop the bag
Rock the boat, skin the goat

Wave that flag, wave it wide and high
Summertime done come and gone, my oh my

I'm Uncle Sam, that's who I am
Been hiding out, in a rock and roll band
Shake the hand that shook the hand
Of P. T. Barnum and Charlie Chan

Shine your shoes, light your fuse
Can you use them old U.S. Blues
I'll drink your health, share your wealth
Run your life, steal your wife


Back to back, chicken shack
Son of a gun, better change your act
We're all confused, what's to lose
You can call this song the United States Blues

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Memorial Day

I don't do abstract really well on Memorial Day, or Veterans' Day, or any other day when I remember the brothers and sisters who put boots on the ground wherever they are sent. Part of the reason I feel so passionately about the need to examine, criticize, and debate American military policy, and part of the reason that I have become increasingly non-interventionist in my foreign policy views is that the lives of these American citizens are important.

Even those who never actually fired a shot in anger, but spent the long years training, the long nights awake and shivering, doing the things that needed to be done that nobody else wanted to do....

On Memorial Day I will remember three soldiers from the Virginia Army National Guard who are no longer with us. One reader stopping by here will recognize at least two of the names; to pretty much everybody else they will remain just that ... names without stories attached.

I could tell the stories. I could make my evocation of them live for a few seconds in your mind, but they were each worth far more than my memories, as is every man or woman who has worn my country's uniform, no matter how that service turned out: the heroes and the cowards, the tacticians and the technicians...

So I will just leave their names as I knew them:

Sp4 "Duke" Johnson
SFC W. Lee Smith III
Col Jim Harmon

Once again: you don't get to criticize your largest creditor...

... even when it used to be one of your favorite mantras.

From WaPo:

BEIJING, May 24 -- For the second time this year, a top U.S. official visiting China has declined in advance to publicly discuss Beijing's human rights record, a shift in practice that comes almost exactly two decades after the Tiananmen Square massacre.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who collided with Chinese authorities in 1991 when she unfurled a banner memorializing those who died in the square, arrived here Sunday saying only that she planned to discuss climate change with Chinese officials.

At a briefing in Washington before leaving for her week-long trip, Pelosi declined to say whether she planned to discuss human rights with her hosts. Instead, she said only that she would focus on securing support for a global pact on reducing carbon emissions, in advance of a major international gathering on climate change scheduled for December in Copenhagen.

"We have to . . . learn from each other as we go forward. So that is the subject," she told reporters, ignoring several requests to address human rights issues.

In February, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, on her maiden voyage as the top U.S. diplomat, also pointedly played down human rights issues when she traveled to Beijing. Clinton drew criticism from human rights activists by saying that pressing China on that issue "can't interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis." On matters such as greater freedom for Tibetans, she said, "We pretty much know what [Beijing is] going to say."

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Joe Klein on Charles Krautheimer: you'd be better without that wheelchair, buddy....

In the tasteless comment of the month you've got to give it to Time's Joe Klein, talking about conservative columnist Charles Krautheimer:

"He became ground zero among the neo-cons, but he's vastly smarter than most of them," said Time's Joe Klein, an admirer and critic who praised Krauthammer's "writing skills and polemical skills" as "so far above almost anybody writing columns today."

"There's something tragic about him, too," Klein said, referring to Krauthammer's confinement to a wheelchair, the result of a diving accident during his first year of medical school. "His work would have a lot more nuance if he were able to see the situations he's writing about."

Yeah, Joe, like the governor of New York might be doing a better job if he could actually see the problems of the people in his State, too, right?

[h/t Alphecca]

Friday, May 22, 2009

Time for Admiral Mullen to go...

Last week the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff discovered that our air raids were killing large numbers of civilians in Afghanistan to the point where those deaths could compromise our ability to win the war, but he couldn't think of anything better to do...

This week, the venerable Admiral has twigged onto the fact that our operations in Afghanistan are de-stabilizing Pakistan, and once again--predictably--he can't think of anything better to do:

Speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen insisted that the United States has “a clear national security interest” in taking on the Taliban in Afghanistan and that the 21,000 additional troops coming in the surge is “about right.” At the same time, Adm. Mullen cautioned that the attempt to reverse the Taliban’s gains in Afghanistan could have dire consequences for neighboring Pakistan.

“We can’t deny that our success in that regard may only push them deeper into Pakistan,” Mullen conceded, adding that “we may end up further destabilizing Pakistan without providing substantial lasting improvements in Afghanistan.”
The Admiral’s only answer to this seemingly enormous problem was to call for more military and economic aid to Pakistan.

In other words: we're not wining the war, our tactics are alienating the people supposed to be on our side, and our strategy may drive a nuclear armed nation over the brink into become a failed, radical Islamist state....

But Admiral Mullen's only response is to keep doing what we've been doing.

Now would be a very good time for some change I could believe in, at the top of the Joint Chiefs.

Cartoon Worth A Thousand Words...

Credit : News-Journal

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Words never mentioned in the President's speech today


Extraordinary rendition.

The CIA network of secret detention facilities on foreign soil.

None of these issues has been acknowledged by the Obama administration.

Not to mention this passage on the State secrets doctrine that somehow neglects to mention how many times the Obama DOJ has already invoked it in court:

Now, along these same lines, my administration is also confronting challenges to what is known as the "state secrets" privilege. This is a doctrine that allows the government to challenge legal cases involving secret programs. It's been used by many past Presidents -- Republican and Democrat -- for many decades. And while this principle is absolutely necessary in some circumstances to protect national security, I am concerned that it has been over-used. It is also currently the subject of a wide range of lawsuits. So let me lay out some principles here. We must not protect information merely because it reveals the violation of a law or embarrassment to the government. And that's why my administration is nearing completion of a thorough review of this practice.

That one sentence in bold is true ... but exceptionally misleading.

Or this one on preventive detention:

Now, finally, there remains the question of detainees at Guantanamo who cannot be prosecuted yet who pose a clear danger to the American people. And I have to be honest here -- this is the toughest single issue that we will face. We're going to exhaust every avenue that we have to prosecute those at Guantanamo who pose a danger to our country. But even when this process is complete, there may be a number of people who cannot be prosecuted for past crimes, in some cases because evidence may be tainted, but who nonetheless pose a threat to the security of the United States. Examples of that threat include people who've received extensive explosives training at al Qaeda training camps, or commanded Taliban troops in battle, or expressed their allegiance to Osama bin Laden, or otherwise made it clear that they want to kill Americans. These are people who, in effect, remain at war with the United States.

Let me repeat: I am not going to release individuals who endanger the American people. Al Qaeda terrorists and their affiliates are at war with the United States, and those that we capture -- like other prisoners of war -- must be prevented from attacking us again. Having said that, we must recognize that these detention policies cannot be unbounded. They can't be based simply on what I or the executive branch decide alone. That's why my administration has begun to reshape the standards that apply to ensure that they are in line with the rule of law. We must have clear, defensible, and lawful standards for those who fall into this category. We must have fair procedures so that we don't make mistakes. We must have a thorough process of periodic review, so that any prolonged detention is carefully evaluated and justified.

You must understand, in reading this passage, that President Barack Obama is both an eloquent man and a legal scholar well aware of the niceties and limitations of language. The words due process never appear here. President Obama never explicitly limits his consideration of extended preventive detention to foreigners or non-citizens. There is nothing in the trial balloons so far released by the administration that would prohibit the use of long-term preventive detention on American citizens considered to be, say, rightwing extremists.

President Obama's supporters will hail the candor and nuance with which he made this speech; they will admire his grasp of the issues, his apparently reasoned approach. They will want us to give him time to work out the problems he has outlined, and they will relentlessly point out that he is cleaning up a mess not of his own making.

This is, on the surface of things, a rational set of arguments, but it is dead wrong.

There is no room for compromise and nuance on the basic constitutional issue at hand:

No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

That's from the 14th Amendment, for those who do not recognize it.

Strangely enough, after taking the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany in 1945, the Allies were left with millions of prisoners associated with no recognized government, many of whom were guilty of quite heinous war crimes, and some of whom still offered a direct threat to our soldiers occupying central Europe. Surprisingly, even at the beginning of the Cold War, mechanisms of international law were found to prosecute, convict, and sentence them.

When the Soviet Union unilaterally continued to detain German prisoners until 1955 we condemned this act as contrary to those same precedents of international law.

Yet what we find here is a President asserting it is necessary to craft a new legal standard for indeterminate preventive detention without due process guarantees. This is simply unacceptable.

There are those--especially some of my friends--who will raise the issue of pragmatism. Am I one of those people who never places national security over civil liberties, one of the folks that President Obama today labeled as an absolutist?

No, but I find myself getting a lot closer to that position. Why?

Because during World War Two, when our enemies actually overran Europe and most of Asia, we didn't need these policies....

Because during the Cold War, when our opponents possessed the ability to incinerate 100,000,000 Americans in a single hour, we didn't need these policies....

But thanks to Presidents Bush and Obama, our political leadership has become convinced that we need them now....

The part that scares me about President Obama is that he his so much smarter than President Bush ever was.

He's very likely going to get what he wants.

Shocker : Obama Puts Lawyer for Polluters in Charge of DOJ Environmental Enforcement

Yet more corporate shuttle politics in Obama-land :

President Barack Obama has nominated a lawyer for the nation’s largest toxic polluters to run the enforcement of the nation’s environmental laws. On Tuesday, Obama “announced his intent to nominate” Ignacia S. Moreno to be Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division in the Department of Justice. Moreno, general counsel for that department during the Clinton administration, is now the corporate environmental counsel for General Electric, “America’s #1 Superfund Polluter“:

Number five in the Fortune 500 with revenues of $89.3 billion and earnings of $8.2 billion in 1997, General Electric has been a leader in the effort to roll back the Superfund law and stave off any requirements for full cleanup and restoration of sites they helped create.

This February, General Electric lost an eight-year battle to “prove that parts of the Superfund law are unconstitutional.” One of the 600-person DOJ environmental division’s “primary responsibilities is to enforce federal civil and criminal environmental laws such as” the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Superfund.

I am sure there are plenty of apologies and rationalizations in the waiting for this move.

Ya know :

"Oh, Obama's being brilliant as ever. Who would know better how to go after polluters than one of their former lawyers...." [*cue unicorn running by in the background*]

Obama the Miracle Worker : Dick Cheney's Favorability Rating on the Rise

A politically-independent friend and former candidate for office in Delaware (legislature) has left me two incredulous messages in his own down-to-earth way saying :

"These guys (Obama et al) are starting to make Bush-Cheney look better and better."

Apparently he was closer than he thinks :

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- As Dick Cheney prepares to give a major speech on the battle against terrorism, a new national poll suggests that favorable opinions of the former vice president are on the rise.

But the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey, released Thursday morning, indicates that a majority of Americans still have an unfavorable opinion of Cheney.

Fifty-five percent of people questioned in the poll say they have an unfavorable opinion of the former vice president. Thirty-seven percent say they have a favorable opinion of Cheney, up 8 percentage points from January when he left office.

My friend has consistently shared my disdain and contempt for Bush-Cheney and the direction of the GOP under them, so he was not implying Obama makes them look good or any more palatable in their own right.

He is no blogger or political junkie or partisan or newsie or activist, but he does keep a close eye on the prevailing "narrative" (uggh, I hate that term and what it represents) and talks to many many "workaday" Americans every day.

His sentiment seems to be emerging that : "If you think Bush-Cheney had it wrong, Obama is shaping up far worse."

I think he sees that except for fluffery and pure rhetoric, we are getting with Obama the Bush-Cheney national security/police-the-world state PLUS trillions in profligate national statism touching not just on foreign or security policies, but EVERY aspect of our economy and our lives.

The fact that Cheney is now coming out swinging against Obama is all about defending himself and his administration from attacks (at least rhetorical) on specific Bush-Cheney tactics in executing neocon foreign policy.

Cheney should otherwise be hailing Obama's Bush-lite militarist interventionism, but I don't think he likes the idea of "Bush-Cheney Lite", especially not from Obama. (Neither do many of us, but for far different reasons than Cheney's).

My friend has always been a good barometer for the general mood out there (he is in a job that exposes him to 100's of people on a daily basis across almost all socio-economic lines) so I am sensing a growing fatigue with all the Obama duplicity...the "head swimming" (as Dana Garrett put it) reversals from Obama the candidate to Obama the president.

It should be of no comfort to the "Obama at all costs" crowd that he is making Dick Cheney a more favorable figure, amongst any Americans.

Dana Garrett nails it on President Obama's disdain for civil rights and constitutional protections

Chronicling the visit of some human rights activists to the White House, where they discovered that the new President is mulling a policy of completely unconstitutional preventive detention for terror suspects [which you should read in its entirety], Dana closes with a paragraph that proves his intellectual integrity:

Imagine their shock. Here they thought that at a minimum they would be talking to a President who wouldn't be as insensitive as George Bush on the human and legal rights of the detainees, only to confront a President who is considering creating a policy (and a political legacy) of disenfranchising these detainees of their rights in perpetuity. The differences between Obama the candidate and Obama the President are so vast they make one's head swim.

That sort of intellectualy consistency is why Dana Garrett represents the progressive conscience of the Delaware blogosphere.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Thinking about poverty and the purpose of cities...

Things have been up in the air real-world-like, so it has taken me nearly a week to get to Pandora's interesting post on being poor in the city [via WaPo].

Worth reading, but boils down to three major observations: (a) poor people get victimized by higher prices because supermarkets and discount shopping are not available in the inner cities; (b) poor people in the inner cities have difficulty making good plans; and (c) consumption taxes hit poor people harder.

This is Pandora's conclusion:

How in the world are people supposed to attain the American Dream when the entire system seems to function as a vicious cycle designed to make sure they don’t get ahead - even when they’re doing everything right?

And she also notes in the comments:

There’s an extra price - in money and time - for the poor, and it is levied due to their reliance on public transportation, lack of appliances (washer/dryer), and inability to get a bank account.

I'm going to take a different route in examining this question, because I don't think we're actually looking at the cause of the problem.

The problem is that most cities in America no longer have a reason to exist.

Think about cities in historical perspective: for most of human history cities have parasitic rather than productive. Cities dominated nation-states because they had to control the agricultural hinterlands that fed them. Cities have always had higher death rates and higher poverty rates than towns or rural areas. For the most part, cities have been consumers rather than producers of goods.

So why did cities exist at all? Primarily as political centers, religious centers, and communications centers for empires and larger societies [empires]. Bureaucracies found cities particularly useful; some industries like shipbuilding tended to concentrate in cities.

London in the 17th-18th centuries resembled far more Rome or Damascus in the 2nd Century CE than any modern city.

But something happened in the late 19th century that created a sort of blip in the form and function of cities. The industrial revolution briefly--for a period of several decades--located the factories turning out the products of heavy industry in and around the cities, because absent automobiles or effective mass transit that was the best way to keep a concentrated pool of labor available. Commerical services targeted toward that population helped balloon the size of the cities further.

Problem: during the post WW2 period, in uneven waves, the combination of the aging and dislocation of America's manufacturing capability and the development of the interstate highway system actually sucked out the two major reasons for large cities to exist: the heavy industry and the skilled/semi-skilled workforce. Prior to the advent of the internet age, other businesses (specifically financial services or corporate headquarters) moved into the gap, but they didn't have much use for the lower-income folks struggling to figure out what to do next. At the same time (roughly) we saw the progressive expansion of social programs designed to keep these folks afloat--as long as they remained in place.

There's the real rub for the prisoners of the inner city: not the prices, not the lack of mass transit, not the consumption taxes, not the failed education system, but the inability to leave.

Speaking as somebody who has picked it all up and moved cross-country on multiple occasions to seek better employment, you can only do it with (a) a support system where you're going; or (b) enough cash or credit to get by for at least three months, PLUS the skills necessary to pick up and start over completely in a new environment...

... which is not the skill set of somebody who won't go get his driver's license renewed to avoid massive check-cashing fees ...

One of the reasons that we have massive amounts of migratory immigrant labor (and not just in the agricultural field) throughout the suburbs of America is that they'll suffer in pretty much silence the fact that they live in migratory poverty (well below that which most inner city dwellers would ever accept) while filling necessary economic niches.

Did anybody in policy-making positions ever think that it would be significantly less expensive in the long run to get people the hell out of our cities rather than constantly try to invest more and more money into what amount to urban singularities?

Forget enterprise zones.

Forget urban welfare programs.

I'd be willing to tell a family, Here's $25-50K and a job contract [including benefits] in a town or small city three states away. No strings attached, except this: use the money to get yourself situated, and don't ask me for a damn penny for the next five years.

Yeah, I know there's all kinds of necessary variations on the theme, and the consequence of my program would be a dramatic change in the very nature of American urban society....

But until we start thinking differently about our problems, we're never going to get much closer to solving them.

Another campaign promise biting the dust?

Apparently if the Obama administration has any plans to ditch don't ask, don't tell in the American military, they haven't gotten around to explaining it to the defense industry lobbyists they placed in charge of the Pentagon:

The Pentagon says it has no plans to repeal the don't ask-don't tell policy for gay troops.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Tuesday that the military's top leaders have only had initial discussions with the White House about whether gay troops should be open about their sexuality.

Under current rules, openly gay troops can be discharged from the U.S. military.

Morrell said the White House has not asked for the 1993 policy to be scrapped.

"I do not believe there are any plans under way in this building for some expected, but not articulated, anticipation that don't ask-don't tell will be repealed," Morrell told reporters at the Pentagon.

President Barack Obama committed during the 2008 presidential campaign to moving to end the Clinton administration-era policy.

If Barack Obama's failure to support gay rights in the Prop 8 fight in California wasn't a tip-off, this should be.

When you've got a constituency that has nowhere else to go, your promises to them don't really matter.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Run, Jesse, Run!

Ventura is hilarious in this video...especially at the end.

As brash and abrasive as Hannity is with any opponents, it says a lot for the force of Jesse Ventura's personality that he had Hannity almost looking scared and hardly willing to shout down Ventura's interruptions.

I think Ventura is looking at a 2012 independent run for the presidency. You heard him mention Perot...

He may repeat Obama's line about "inheriting a mess" and deflect for Obama...for the moment...but I suspect Ventura believes that the "mess" will get no better under anything Obama is doing...he knows Obama is extending the middle east wars Ventura so opposes, as a big example.

Ventura is being Mr. Nice Guy until the time is right to strike. As a wrestler and entertainer, Ventura knew that setting up your moves well in advance was what made them so devastatingly well-executed, grabbing the audience by the gut in bold swift strokes in what is a choreographed are all presidential elections.

Let's not forget this man became Governor of Minnesota, unaffiliated with a major party and with absolutely zero political or government experience. That is no small feat.

I think Ventura plans to take it national and he sees events shaping in the direction of real viability for a 3rd option for U.S. President in 2012, beyond anything Perot could have approached 20 years ago.

Ventura also signed onto the Ron Paul Revolution and became outspoken in its accompanying resurgence of libertarianism.

"I'm a Goldwater conservative", Ventura swiftly retorted to Hannity's "I'm a Reagan conservative."

Ventura's views are pretty much libertarian down the line, from anti-interventionism to anti-statism to personal liberty and privacy, including anti-drug war...a particular issue that may well emerge much bigger over the next 3 years than anyone is foreseeing at the moment.

Ventura is a natural leader who gives plain sense with no apologies. It is, at the very least, refreshing to have his voice booming in the mix.

Bell to bell and the morality of employee pay cuts...

With many Delaware teachers now working Bell to Bell as the DSEA attempts to make a point about the inequity of across-the-board State employee pay cuts, the blog and public reactions are mixed:

Dana stands with the teachers at Delaware Watch.

The mostly anonymous commenters at Fix Red Clay mostly think the teachers have pretty good jobs and are acting like spoiled brats.

There is no party line at Delawareliberal: some for, some against, some confused.

It is interesting to see many supposedly pro-union folks (with Dana as a notable exception) suddenly willing to throw the DSEA under the school bus, and who mouth the narrative so easily: Things are tough all over, you ingrates. Other people have had to take pay cuts. Man up, you wimps. [I'm sort of channeling my inner jason here.]

What is truly intriguing about this situation is the absence of any real consideration of the morality of the situation.

For example, the operative moral impulse here is, Treating employees like shit in the private sector justifies treating employees like shit in the public sector.

There's also, If my health insurance either got cut or is too expensive in the private sector, then it is OK to jack up the price of yours by 50%.

Or there's It is perfectly OK to demand the same amount of work (including extra hours and extra effort worked) for 10-12% less money, even though you had a contract, because things are tough all over.

Notice the position that the government puts you into: the Governor has told the citizens of Delaware that they can balance the budget by accepting a few minor tax increases and an across-the-board salary/benefits cut for State employees.

No pain, right?

On the other hand, here's the DSEA position: We got out the vote for you, which should have given us insurance against any significant pay cuts. What gives?

What's also interesting is the wounded virgin played by the Governor and General Assembly: We had absolutely no idea it was going to get this bad. We're just trying to survive a horrible situation with State services [and gambling] intact.

Amazing, isn't it? These are the people who either supervised Delaware's finances, wrote the tax laws, and expanded government personnel dramatically over the past eight years, and suddenly, suddenly .... they're surprised!

But could we think about different ways of doing things? Could we examine the idea that maybe, just maybe the closed doors of the Big Head Committee, the spending habits of the government and the school districts could use a little ... transparency?

Apparently not.

Governor Mark Sanford : Part of the Solution

No sooner than Lindsey "I'm a Winner!!" Graham wrote off libertarian ideas from the GOP, the Republican Governor of his state, Mark Sanford, stepped up to rebut Graham's stupidity.

"There was almost a pejorative comment a moment ago. Sen. Graham spoke and said “I’m not a libertarian,” whatever, whatever, as if that’s an evil word. Liberty is the hallmark of the American experiment … People say, you know, “Mark, you’re kind of libertarian,” you know, and they say it as if it’s an evil word, like you’re a communist or something. I’m like: Throw me in that briar patch … I’ve been accused of being a libertarian and I wear it as a badge of honor." - Governor Sanford

Thanks to Reason's blog Hit & Run for the link and the Campaign for Liberty for the video.

Worst caption of the day

Despite smiles, Obama, Netanyahu Seem Far Apart


Far More Alarming Than Any "Right Wing Militia"

...or "Boy Scouts Meet the American Police State".

As an enlisted Army Light Infantry veteran with active duty tours in two foreign theaters, one an occupied city and one a combat zone, also Airborne-qualified with prior service in the 11th Special Forces Group, and eventual officer commissioning into the Delaware National Guard, I find utterly disturbing these pictures and quotes from the New York Times May 13 article "Scouts Train to Fight Terrorists, and More".

IMPERIAL, Calif. — Ten minutes into arrant mayhem in this town near the Mexican border, and the gunman, a disgruntled Iraq war veteran, has already taken out two people, one slumped in his desk, the other covered in blood on the floor.

The responding officers — eight teenage boys and girls, the youngest 14 — face tripwire, a thin cloud of poisonous gas and loud shots — BAM! BAM! — fired from behind a flimsy wall. They move quickly, pellet guns drawn and masks affixed.

“United States Border Patrol! Put your hands up!” screams one in a voice cracking with adolescent determination as the suspect is subdued.

The Explorers program, a coeducational affiliate of the Boy Scouts of America that began 60 years ago, is training thousands of young people in skills used to confront terrorism, illegal immigration and escalating border violence — an intense ratcheting up of one of the group’s longtime missions to prepare youths for more traditional jobs as police officers and firefighters.
The training, which leaders say is not intended to be applied outside the simulated Explorer setting, can involve chasing down illegal border crossers as well as more dangerous situations that include facing down terrorists and taking out “active shooters,” like those who bring gunfire and death to college campuses. In a simulation here of a raid on a marijuana field, several Explorers were instructed on how to quiet an obstreperous lookout.
“Put him on his face and put a knee in his back,” a Border Patrol agent explained. “I guarantee that he’ll shut up.”

There have been numerous cases over the last three decades in which police officers supervising Explorers have been charged, in civil and criminal cases, with sexually abusing them.

Several years ago, two University of Nebraska criminal justice professors published a study that found at least a dozen cases of sexual abuse involving police officers over the last decade. Adult Explorer leaders are now required to take an online training program on sexual misconduct.

Many law enforcement officials, particularly those who work for the rapidly growing Border Patrol, part of the Homeland Security Department, have helped shape the program’s focus and see it as preparing the Explorers as potential employees.

The Explorer posts are attached to various agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and local police and fire departments, that sponsor them much the way churches sponsor Boy Scout troops.

“Our end goal is to create more agents,” said April McKee, a senior Border Patrol agent and mentor at the session here.

Just as there are soccer moms, there are Explorers dads, who attend the competitions, man the hamburger grill and donate their land for the simulated marijuana field raids. In their training, the would-be law-enforcement officers do not mess around, as revealed at a recent competition on the state fairgrounds here, where a Ferris wheel sat next to the police cars set up for a felony investigation.

Their hearts pounding, Explorers moved down alleys where there were hidden paper targets of people pointing guns, and made split-second decisions about when to shoot. In rescuing hostages from a bus taken over by terrorists, a baby-faced young girl screamed, “Separate your feet!” as she moved to handcuff her suspect.

Authenticity seems to be the goal. Imperial County, in Southern California, is the poorest in the state, and the local economy revolves largely around the criminal justice system. In addition to the sheriff and local police departments, there are two state prisons and a large Border Patrol and immigration enforcement presence.

These pictures are, in my mind, demonstrable child abuse, in the form of militarist mind control and conditioning of young, not-fully-developed nor fully-educated adolescents to reflexively apply force to other human beings as though they are animals.

Mind you, this happy little adulteration of a national youth group into a breeding/weeding ground for aggressive little government storm trooper types is geared toward domestic activities.

[Speaking of storm troopers, the irony should not be lost that this twisted program is carried out in Imperial, California...also, surely by happenstance, the poorest county in California.]

It is one thing for someone to enlist in the military at a young age. The U.S. military has a continuous 200+ year history of professional esprit de corps, constant training and personal development, strict controls over chain of command and responsibility, SOP's out the wazoo, constant supervision especially over junior enlisted, accountability enforced by immediate superiors and line commanders through a Uniform Code of Military Justice, and a largely-limited well-honed focus on how armed force is to be carried out and by whom.

The military is an all or nothing commitment, once undertaken, and is not simply a matter of throwing faux-firearms into young hands and holding tactical training exercises in use of deadly force.

Training adolescents in tactical, realistic situations by which they are taught to employ violence and weaponry, if necessary inflicting injury and death on some nebulous opposing force, is extraordinarily misguided. Doing it behind the guise of "Scout" activities is reprehensible and insidious.

Our police/law enforcement agents are tasked to keep the peace, not to wage war on their fellow citizens.

Exposing and ingratiating children to law enforcement through the lens of tactical military-style operations is the work of law-and-order police state thuggery, not very short of what the brown shirts (the Nazi SA) did with impressionable youth.

[The SA's maxims were : "Terror must be broken by terror" and "All opposition must be stamped into the ground".]

The fact that it happens under a phony patina of "honor" and "courage" is part and parcel of this corruption of youth.

I bet you not one of these children could adequately explain the bill of rights or enumerate the essential constitutional protections owing to any and every person subjected to state force (not just Miranda warnings, either)....but then I doubt the jackbooted overseers of this outrage have much of a grasp on them either.

Yet, these children are being conditioned in how to kick down doors, shout commands, and "neutralize" human beings in a domestic civil context under the pretext of legitimate governmental authority.

Let's just hope such a travesty like this never comes to Delaware : predation on children from poor areas to turn them into loyal police state troopers.....oh, shoot, I already has...possibly even worse.

ADDENDUM : For an interesting (true) liberal perspective check out this post by attorney Rick Horowitz on his blog Probable Cause.

ADDENDUM 2 : In an older (2006) commentary from, of all places, Popular Mechanics, law professor Glenn Reynolds enumerates the dangers of paramilitary civilian police forces.