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  • Friday, May 26, 2006


    The Darkness of Preemptive Action

    Governments have to make choices about risks to their stability. This is a basic self-preservation sort of thing. In the U.S., we (the general public) like to think we (the government) have a balanced policy which doesn't trample on the civil liberties of citizens or unduly interfere with other countries.

    Of course, this is a false perception of the benevolence of our government.

    The U.S. has a long history of invading and killing people in other countries for a variety of reasons. The U.S. went into the Phillipines to Christianize the people. (At least, that was one of the public reasons.) Most actions in the latter half of the twentieth century were to combat the spread of communism. Or, rather, to block the influence of Soviet Russia and China, which were arguably not very communist at all.

    The most recent rational for inserting troops/influence has been as a preemptive strike to keep terrorists/ radicals/ Islamists/ Communists/ dictators (not ours) from gaining control and in order to unselfishly control/manage the oil/ resources/ economy/ strategic location for the good of the world.

    It's a funny thing about preemption: If done too soon, it can look a lot like unwarranted overreaction against non-threatening countries and people. This is why, at events where Pres. Bush speaks or appears, there is a massively overdone effort to keep dissenters far away from the main area. Often this includes overuse of force where it is not necessary. This is the preemptive principle gone ugly and paranoid beyond reason.

    I don't think too much preemption is a very good basis for sound foreign policy or crowd control of peaceful demonstrators.

    Thursday, May 25, 2006


    "Voting is for squids," sez Jack Deth

    I recently finished reading Fooled Again: How the Right Stole the 2004 Election & Why They'll Steal the Next One Too (Unless We Stop Them) by Mark Crispin Miller. (Miller's blog is here.) While I'm impressed by the sheer mass of evidence he marshaled, I was disappointed by a few points. (I wrote briefly about this book a month ago.)

    First, the good: This is a pretty darn thorough examination of the various subtle and less-than-subtle tactics used by the Republicans in the lead-up to the 2004 election to disenfranchise and negate as many potentially Democratic votes as possible. It is astonishing and amazing the breadth of these methods, ranging from dirty tricks and disinformation to deliberate destruction of voter registrations to aggressive challenges of voters at the polls. While many of these are small scale and local, more than a few are statewide campaigns originating with State Secretaries of State and election boards/committees.

    If you are like me, you probably tracked some of these voting "irregularities" from before election day 2004 through the weeks afterward. I found it difficult to assess at the time whether the reporting of these incidents was accurate or significant. It didn't help that statements were constantly being released after the election which snidely dismissed all reported problems as "sour grapes" or individually inconsequential to the outcome of Bush's victory. Of course, the real issue is whether we, as American voters, can depend on our ability to cast a ballot and have it accurately counted. I would think it obvious this is not a partisan issue; it is a baseline requirement and minimum standard for a democratic system, any democratic system.

    Republican spokespeople and operatives are swift to bring up that Democrats are not without taint either. And while it is true some Democrats have used some of these same tactics in various elections in the past, I think it is safe to say Democrats have never mobilized such varied tactics on the massive scale the Republicans did for the 2004 election. It took my breath away as Miller recounted incident after incident in state after state.

    As a counterpoint, he mentioned a couple of incidents involving Democratic (sort of) cheating during the election. Rather, these were accusations of fraud or dirty tricks by Republican partisans. Investigation showed most of them to be baseless. A few were substantiated but they apparently were very small in scale, mostly committed by Democratic workers with ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now). One involved the girlfriend of an ACORN worker; she registered to vote 25 times and signed three other friends up another 40 times. The motivation? This made an extra $120 for her boyfriend who was paid by the number of registrations and had a minimum quota to meet. I think that was the worst Miller mentioned. Oh, and an already fired ACORN worker signed up a 13-year-old to vote.

    There were other incidents but compared to the long litany of Republican sins on this front, the Dems come off as simple hayseeds, silent or bewildered by this blizzard of corrupt machination.

    I was frustrated by the vague promise at the end of the subtitle: (Unless We Stop Them). I had hoped Miller would give some specifics on the how of stopping such fraudulent antics. Sadly, he mostly ends with general exhortations to reclaim our right to vote. There's nothing wrong with not going into it in this book but I wanted more and I thought more was implied by the title.

    There were a few spots where the statistical details and figures overwhelmed me a bit. There were a few other spots where the figures were just not very impressive even though they indicated the trend of the vote. For much of it, I was caught up in Miller's generally very-readable style.

    The appendix was an appropriate coda: Two statements from participants caught up in some rather horrible police action at a Bush campaign event/motorcade in Jacksonville, Oregon. The description of repression and use of force to stifle opposing speech is chilling.

    Fooled Again is well worth reading. Some reviews of it have been critical but I'm at a loss to explain them. I think Miller has made a cogent and well-researched book about the election.

    Monday, May 22, 2006


    Prisons are a Growth Industry

    According to a headline on Democracy Now!, the US prison population is nearing 2.2 million people.
    1 in 136 U.S. Residents Now in Prison
    The country’s prison population has reached almost 2.2 million. One in every 136 U.S. residents is now behind bars. The nation’s prison population increased by more than 1,000 inmates a week last year. New data also shows that 12 percent of African-American men between the ages of 25 and 29 are now incarcerated. That is more than ten times the incarceration rate of white men.
    Below are some statistics compiled from The Real War on Crime: The Report of the National Criminal Justice Commission, edited by Stephen R. Donziger (HarperCollins, 1996). Obviously a little out of date but still showing trends. If you think they've gotten better, I assure you they have not. Most trends have continued to accelerate. I found them on the Maoist International Movement (MIM) site, not exactly my first choice as a source but I've got others further down.
    Remember these are stats from around 1996, ten years ago. What follows is from the Department of Justice's report (pdf version and text version) on prisoners in 2004 (released Oct. 2005).
    * State prisons were between 1% below capacity and 15% above; Federal prisons were operating at 40% above capacity.

    The rate of incarceration in prison at yearend 2004 was 486 sentenced inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents -- up from 411 in 1995. About 1 in every 109 men and 1 in every 1,563 women were sentenced prisoners under the jurisdiction of State or Federal authorities.

    Overall, the United States incarcerated 2,267,787 persons at yearend 2004. This total represents persons held in --
    -- Federal and State prisons (1,421,911, which excludes State and Federal prisoners in local jails)
    -- territorial prisons (15,757)
    -- local jails (713,990)
    -- facilities operated by or exclusively for the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (9,788)
    -- military facilities (2,177)
    -- jails in Indian country (1,826 as of midyear 2003)
    -- juvenile facilities (102,338 as of October 2002).

    1 in every 138 U.S. residents in prison or jail at yearend 2004.

    The rate of incarceration in prison and jail was 724 inmates per 100,000 residents in 2004, up from 601 in 1995. At yearend 2004, 1 in every 138 U.S. residents were incarcerated in State or Federal prison or a local jail.
    Wikipedia has a short article on the Prison-Industrial Complex which is worth a look if you've never thought about prisons for profit.

    The reliance on prison as a solution for social problems is very disturbing to me. Are there dangerous people who need to be dealt with by society? Certainly. But if the incarceration rate is this high, I have to question the foundations of the society rather than seeing such a percentage as somehow "normal".

    I postulate that the laws of the US are constructed in such a way that the vast majority of adults have committed deliberate or unintentional crimes during their lifetime which, if brought to court, would result in large financial penalties and/or jail time. Even the most law abiding have
    done this. Think carefully about it. A parking transgression? Perhaps jaywalking? Oh, those aren't really serious crimes, you say. Just a ticketing offense. Maybe. If you jaywalk a lot and know it's wrong, there's a name for it: scofflaw. Or chronic offender.

    I just pulled that example out of the air but I believe you could, with a little thought, come up with personal examples, probably much more serious in nature. Because we are used to thinking of jailed offenders as violent, we don't think much about the myriad little ways many of us fudge the line of legality. We almost always think of ourselves as good guys trying to get along, not as criminals or subverters of the law. I think this is an illusion, a necessary delusion. The facts might tell a different story.

    [Addendum: SourceWatch, a project of the Center for Media & Democracy has a Wiki-type page with many links on the subject of the Prison-industrial complex.]

    Friday, May 12, 2006


    Straight, Not Narrow

    Usually, I prepare to ignore e-mail requests for link exchanges. My experience has taught me these are generally spammish in origin. So I was suprised when I checked out Straight, Not Narrow. The subhead reads: "Advocating for GLBT equality in the church and politics. This site has been viewed by open-minded people with open hearts in 79 nations on 6 continents! I belong to the Washington, DC chapter of PFLAG and Equality Maryland."

    He seems like a sincere sort and I think the message of Christian acceptance of lesbians and gays is not heard enough. I know that plenty of folks like this blogger are out there but (big surprise) the "liberal" media rarely mentions them. The scary hellfire and damnation people get much more press. Like blood, hate often seems lead in the news.

    So check it out.

    Wednesday, May 10, 2006


    "They are animals."

    A recent observation of mine is ripe for being crafted into an aphorism but I haven't been able to properly phrase it. Thusly:

    People refer to another group of people as "animals" when they want to treat that group of people like animals.

    Calling people "animals" is a way to shortcircuit intellectual discussion, a way to nullify and void ethical boundaries. I particularly see this in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but I think it generally holds true on a broader basis.

    An interesting variation on this is the current use of the term "terrorist" in an expansive manner to also include large groups of people who do not use so-called "terror" tactics. Anyone in armed (and sometimes unarmed) opposition may then be categorized as "deserving" harsh treatment. Thus we get a designation of "enemy combatant" for prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, a group of people supposedly outside of the legal application of the Geneva Conventions as they pertain to prisoners. Well, at least according to the current White House administration.

    Tuesday, May 09, 2006


    "This Mutant Bush" Graphic

    As usual, when words fail me, I turn to the comfort of Photoshopping political figures. It soothes my fevered brain. I love the fact that applying a few filters will completely obliterate and hide my hamfisted manipulation of the photo. And it adds that je-ne-sais-quoi, giving an illusion of artistic merit without all the hard work of actually being a skilled artist.


    Ney, Ney, Black Sheep

    Question: Who hasn't been bribed or influenced in Congress?

    Monday, May 08, 2006


    The Military Loves Civilians... for dinner

    I think it's really, really, really smart to put a general in charge of the CIA. Particularly a general who has ties to the domestic spying scandal. I doubt he will get confused over whether it's illegal for the CIA to spy on US citizens. If he does spy on US citizens, I'm sure he will have a good reason. I trust this administration with all my brain cells.

    Don't you?

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