Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Unity '08 is Stupid!

Unity '08 is a group that wants to run a bipartisan presidential ticket in 2008. They somehow think that the middleground between the two parties is a good thing. It isn't.

Just got their latest letter. They need help getting 100,000 members. So they can sign up "millions more!"

Uh... they're not on the track to millions.

Here's their missive:

Dear Michael,

Help us blast past 100,000 on our way to 1 million members!

Please take 10 minutes today to invite 10 friends to join Unity08. Together, we can break through our 100,000 member milestone on our way to millions more.

In the past two months, with Congress at a standstill on so many crucial issues, the need for unity has become clearer than ever.

We're going to revolutionize American politics next June and November, but we don't need to wait until then to send Congress a wake-up call.

We've already nearly doubled our membership in the past 60 days. This week, with your help, we can pass the 100,000 mark and tell politicians more interested in point-scoring than problem-solving that their days are numbered.

To invite friends, please visit our easy-to-use "Tell A Friend" page.

I look forward to meeting all the new members that join us!


Doug Bailey

Founders' Council

P.S. The first vote on the American Agenda is progressing nicely. If you haven't yet received your invitation to participate, look for it soon!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Lawless Zones

Do you like raping and thieving but hate the hassle of law enforcement? Sure, we all do.

Do you wish you could find a place to rape women in peace and quiet? Who doesn't?

Well, good news, now there's a place for people like you: Native American reservations!

NPR's All Things Considered is doing a thorough and therefore thoroughly horrifying series of stories on crime on Indian lands, and it turns out it's out of control. For example, about a third of Native American women will be raped in their lifetimes.

Recently, Australia faced up to the intensity and ubiquity of alcoholism, domestic abuse, and domestic sexual abuse on aboriginal lands. The culprits there seem to be the despair and self-destructive habits that come from generations of dispossession and systematic injustice. Those problems also face Native Americans, but the high crime on reservations isn't just another case of poor people punishing themselves for being poor. Nope, they're being punished by a government system that, if it isn't deliberately racist now, was racist when it was set up decades ago and hasn't changed much since.

Across America, tribal officers are generally barred by law from prosecuting crimes by non-Indians, even when the occur on tribal lands. Tribal courts are usually prevented from trying such cases and even from trying serious cases (including murder and rape) involving only Indians. That means that tribal officers--even if they know exactly who did it--can't arrest a non-Indian who raped a fourteen-year-old girl. They have to send a report to the US Attorney and the Bureau of Indian Affairs and hope that they'll take care of it. And the US Attorney's office, it turns out, mostly doesn't bother. It's not drug smuggling and it's not terrorism, so it's not worth prosecuting.

This is repellent. It should be fixed.

The silver lining, though, is that it can be fixed quite easily. Tribal officers and courts should be given jurisdiction over all crimes committed on their lands. All defendants should have the right to appeal to US District courts but only after they've been tried by the competent authorities in the place where they committed the crime. And only if their appeal meets the same standards that any other appeal would have to meet.

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Is The New Republic Lying?

I know most of you don't read "The New Republic." I get it for free from work and I enjoy it. They save their back pages for diaries. This time around an annonymous soldier in Iraq wrote the diary and it contains some really disturbing stuff about the behavior of some American soldiers in a war zone. The broad theme is that under the stresses of war some young soldiers have developed a maccabre "sense of humor" that involves wearing found human skulls on their heads and using armored vehicles to run over stray dogs.

The right says the story is phony, another moment where The New Republic has been lied to by a writer.

Two observations: First, Stephen Glass, "The New Republic" writer who made up stories and was featured in the movie "Shattered Glass" has not worked there in over a decade. Also, the magazine learned from that and would never let it happen again. To invoke Glass here is to imply that the magazine should never be trusted again, an assertion that makes no sense in the face of the good reporting its staff has done since.

Second, I know one person who fought in Iraq. He told me, in an admiring way, that his commander strapped the bodies of slain insurgents to his jeep and drove through the streets. So, what I read in "The New Republic" is entirely consistant with what I've heard from a soldier who had been there.

Finally, though the piece documents attrocious behavior, that wasn't the soldier's real point. The point was that war changes people, especially young people. I think it's arrogant for critics on the outside to cry "fake" just because the message disturbs them.

I have no doubt the article was accurate. That doesn't mean that our soldiers have turned feral or that the behavior is commonplace. It's just something that somebody saw and was moved to report.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Yellow Elephants?

In a way, I hope you all didn't watch the CNN/YouTube debates last night because, well... the questions were fresh but the answers were canned and you were unlikely to have learned anything about the plethora of Democrats that you didn't already know.

But, kudos to the Democrats for joining this debate first. Every candidate showed up for what was a new, though moderated to the point that it wasn't so new, format. At least they showed up.

At this point, on the Republican side, only John McCain (of the ailing campaign) and Ron Paul (brave extremist to them all) is willing to show up for the Republican version.

They've already seen the Democratic version of the debate. They should have noticed that, for the most part, the candidates were able to use previously tested answers to the moderated Youtube questions and so they should have noticed that this debate format is no threat to anybody. Hell, look at the aftermath: Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama went into that debate as front-runners and they emerged as front-runners without ever straying from previous talking points. In this "new" debate format, nothing changed. I used scare quotes around the word "new" because this is the same as an old fashioned "Town Hall" style debate. I used scare quotes around the word "Town Hall" because the very phrase is an anachronism.

What are the Republicans scared of? The format of the debate has been exposed as less-than-novel and the impact of it on the Democratic party primary seems miniscule.

Are Republicans just against new things?

Against the Internet?


All three?

Answer seems to be "All three."

Monday, July 23, 2007

Atlas, Eh?

In Washington. D.C. lawmakers are currently proposing to tax hedge fund manager's income at the same rates as everyone else. Top earners would pay up to 36%, like other wealthy people, rather than the 15% they pay now, which is what lower middle class taxpayers play. They were given this tax break because, without hedge fund managers, the world would collapse.

It's given me an idea for a novel.

"Atlas, Eh?" by Mike M.

The world's hedge fund managers go on strike and a restaurant in Greenwich, Ct. is forced to stop charging $400 for truffle-infused entres. The global economy is effected in myriad ways, none of which will be documented but which will be mentioned many times on the Op-Ed pages of the Wall Street Journal. Soon, spring turns to summer and summer to autumn. Other things go on, as usual.

I feel it will be a philosophical Tour de France because I plan to make it 800 pages long. And it will have lots of speeches. Or, lots of speeches. And you will wonder just "Who has such gall?"

Stifling the Imperial Presidency

Adam Cohen has written a good op-ed piece about why, when it comes to the war, George Bush should stop trying to ignore Congress and nattering about being "the decider."

Friday, July 20, 2007

Soccer and Empire (ABRIDGED VERSION)

So it's been a while since I posted. I'm prepping a big move (Chicago to LA) and doing some research, but the main reason, I confess, is that I've been watching soccer. In many ways, this has served as an excellent distraction from my uncomfortable vacillation between numbness and rage whenever I look at politics in America. But even soccer, it turns out, is a temporary and ultimately unsatisfactory refuge from political rage. This offers up some insights into America's challenges and duties in conducting foreign policy once the current set of incompetent bullies leaves office.

This is now a long post. It used to be a very long post, but I decided that I was trying to make two separate points. So I've relegated one of those points--my defense of the terms "American" and "soccer"--to the comments section. It's a pretty tight bit of arguing, if I do say so myself, but on re-reading it, I will concede that it may appeal only to specialized palates.

There's been a lot of soccer involving Americans this summer. Among other events, the MLS is in full swing (I'm not going to name the famous English dude since he's been discussed in one or two other places), the world-beating women's national team has looked good in its World Cup tune-up matches. The men's team won the Gold Cup (the North & Central American championship) by beating Mexico 2-1 in the final. The U-20 men's team just finished its successful run in the U-20 World Cup (along the way, they beat Poland 6-1 and Brazil 2-1). And the US men's team played as an invited guest in the Copa América, South America's championship.

There were some handbags at the end of the U-20 US-Uruguay game (the Uruguayans really hate to lose), but the only real controversy the US stirred up this summer in the soccer world was in the Copa América. In order to round out the field, the South Americans invite two teams. One is the previous Gold Cup champion (the US, this time) and the other is Mexico, whose TV companies and advertisers give the South American organizers a lot of money. After losing to the US at the end of a shaky Gold Cup performance, Mexico played brilliantly throughout much of the Copa, but the US tanked, in large part because we sent our B or C team--promising but inexperienced players in their early 20s--and that team lost all three games by a cumulative score of 2-8.

A lot of South American fans then experienced a quandary: should they resent the US for sending the C team or revel in the US's utter defeat? A good number of them thought it over and decided that they could do both. So the US got ripped both for its "arrogance" in not taking the Copa seriously and for the pathetically low level of its men's soccer. (Of course, the South American fans weren't alone in this. A lot of US soccer fans were furious. They wanted the coach fired. They wanted the president of US Soccer fired. They wanted to kidnap and forcibly nationalize Argentina's attacking players.)

Against the background of these specific complaints about the US's participation in this particular Copa América, there were repetitions of longstanding complaints about the arrogance of American soccer. It's those complaints that I really want to emphasize here because they help crystallize how much rebuilding America's image needs abroad. This administration has been particularly disastrous for our international standing, but a lot of these issues go back decades, even centuries.

Resentment #1: A lot of South Americans (and, more generally, Latin Americans) are pissed that we call ourselves Americans. Resentment #2: A lot of Latin American (and other) soccer fans are pissed that we use the word "soccer" rather than "football." Non-Latin Americans and non-soccer fans would be surprised how common and heartfelt that resentment is, but, trust me, for some people it's very real.

The resentment about "Americans" comes from a sense that, by using that name to refer to ouselves, US citizens are pretending to be the only people who live in the Americas. The offended parties point out that there are two American continents (North and South), at least three American regions (North, Central, and South), and dozens of countries in the Americas. The resentment about "soccer" also involves what many see as unacceptable American exceptionalism: the whole world calls it "football" or some variant, they say, so why does America have to extend its middle finger to the world by inventing the word "soccer"?

Both of these resentments, I think, are misguided and even a little silly. As mentioned above, I provide breathtakingly excellent analysis of that in the comments section. Feel free to read, revel, and repeat. Here, however, I simply push onward because


Misplaced though the resentment may be about the terms "America" and "soccer," Americans have a great deal to answer for in much of the Americas, and we forget that at our peril. Most of the anger that gets diverted into these relatively trivial issues of nomenclature has as its real objects bigger and more legitimate grievances.

And those grievances come from the same sort of rage that initially sent me on my soccer-watching binge this summer. One of the people who went after me for saying a version of what I say above said, "What you seem to miss is the fact that we [Latin Americans] perceive your use of America offensive in the context of a rosary of offenses." Another poster appropriately took this fellow to task for claiming to speak for all Latin Americans in the same way that he was taking Americans to task for pretending to be all Americans, but in fairness that sense of grievance is, if not universal, then at least widespread in Latin America. And with good reason. I didn't miss that at all. In fact, I was trying to argue that "that rosary of offenses" isn't always the fair or proper context for understanding American behavior (our soccer fans are some of the most respectful in the world, and for their own sakes people from all over the world would do well to encourage that sort of behavior). But anger over that rosary runs so deep that otherwise thoughtful people can find it impossible to escape.

So what are those offenses? Well, here's a partial history of US involvement in Latin America framed in terms of the Copa América preliminary groupings:

Group A
Bolivia--Not too bad, though we did support General García Menza's short-lived dictatorship.
Uruguay--Until late 1970s, backed the military government that overthrew the legitimate civilian government.
Peru--Not too bad.
Venezuela--Backed coup to overthrow democratically elected Chavez government (which hadn't yet become nearly so authoritarian and which probably is still better for the many, many poor people in that country than the government that it replaced).

Group B
Brazil--Backed brutal military dictatorship in 1970s and 1980s.
Ecuador--Not too bad, actually. Even helped bring peace to a war with Peru in 1942.
Chile--Backed Augusto Pinochet's repressive military dictatorship in 1970s and 1980s. Milton Friedman-inspired neoliberal "Chicago boys" helped wreck the country's economy.
Mexico--Took a huge chunk of its territory (now California and the American southwest) during trumped-up Mexican-American War.

Group C
Argentina--Helped assassinate democratically elected president Salvador Allende and replace him with military dictatorship.
United States--Spent a lot of money supporting these jerks.
Columbia--Financed Panamanian independence movement from Colombia in 1903 so that we could build and control the Panama Canal. Have contributed to country's ongoing civil war in country by financing "war on drugs."
Paraguay--Supported Alfredo Stroessner, the military dictator who ruled Paraguay from 1954-1989.

This doesn't take into consideration other Latin American countries, where in the twentieth century the US supported military dictatorships or oppressive oligarchies (El Salvador), where it actively helped bring about military coups against democratic governments or at least tried to do (Cuba, Nicaragua, Guatemala), and where it actually invaded some countries for some pretty lame reasons (Nicaragua, Panama, Grenada).

So of course a lot of Latin Americans are predisposed to think the worst of America and to see almost anything as proof of arrogance or imperialist intention.

Does that mean we never do anything good in Latin America? Far from it.

Does pointing the finger at the US change the fact that a lot of the dictators we supported in Latin America had plenty of backers at home? Nope.

Does it change the fact that a lot of Latin American leaders, just like a lot of Middle Eastern leaders, frequently combine legitimate US blunders and imperialist interventions with wild exaggerations about the Great Satan in order to distract their citizens from their own crummy records as rulers? Nuh uh.

Does this even mean that we need to stop saying "soccer"? Nah.

But it mean does that we as individuals and we as a country should understand this history when we deal with Latin America. We have not only a perception problem but also, more importantly, a reality problem. We need to act better in Latin America (which as a country may mean acting less) for a long time before many Latin Americans give us credit for doing so.

In Latin America, as in the Middle East, even when we're right, people will suspect us of being wrong. Is that fair? Maybe not, but who cares. It's reality, and this country, we need to start dealing knowledgeably, humbly, and rigorously with reality. We don't have another trillion dollars and 3,000 soldiers' lives to spend on another counterproductive ideological adventure, and we don't have decades more to wait before winning friends and influencing people.

Our wars have been financed by literal debt, and our wars have put us in moral debt. And we need to start paying those debts back, or the interest charges will be too high to meet and our creditors too angry to reason with.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Let's Change the way pardons are granted

I have no problem with giving the president the ability to pardon or commute the sentence of anyone who has been convicted by a federal court. It allows a fix for judicial errors and it allows the government to both express mercy and to apologize for wrongs it has committed.

When I was a kid, outgoing New Mexico governor Tony Anaya commuted the death penalty sentence for all inmates on death row. That was an act of principle.

George Bush's pardon of Scooter Libby was an act of... well, probably craven cowardice. I'll bet Libby asked Bush and Cheney if he should spend his five years in jail writing a tell-all book or if he could maybe not go to prison instead?

Doesn't matter. There are no requirements that a president explain his reasons for granting a pardon. A president can pardon anyone convicted of a federal crime, even on a whim. A president is limited only by the need to get re-elected or the need to keep poll numbers up. A a lame duck, Bush had nothing to lose.

But we should change the pardon rules because it represents a conrtradiction within the constitution. See, on one hand, we're all entitled to equal treatement under the law. On the other, a President can pardon one person, or commute their sentence while leaving somebody in the same circumstances in jail.

Bush claimed that Libby's sentence was excessive. But Victor Rita, a military veteran is currently serving the same sentence (33 months, so it's longer) for perjury.

So I say this, when Bush commuted Libby's sentence, it should be made to apply to "all people similarly situated." Why is Libby a better man than Rita? Just because he's friends with the president? Well, yes, that's the only answer.

So, change the rules in order to comply with the equal protection obligations of the government.

Just a thought.