Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Extremity of 90s Republicans

Today's bit is this piece from Media Matters which rounds out something I had been wondering about while writing my last post, namely how Bob Dole fit into the picture.   As I stated then:
Next in line to Newt was Majority Leader Dick Armey, and below that, Majority Whip Tom Delay.  Moderatism was dead.  Gingrichism never faced any significant internal Republican resistance the way Nixonism did, there was no one left in the Republican party of any importance who didn't believe in it. 
I really don't know much about Dole, but in my mind he stands as rather more moderate in tone and demeanor than Gingrich, Delay, Armey et al.  Yet he was Majority Leader of the Senate and 1996 nominee.  How so?  From the MM piece I get my answer:
Dole, who was running for president and trying to shore up support among hard-core conservatives, boasted: "If you're looking for leadership, ... somebody who has been a career conservative, long before many of them showed up around this town — I was there, fighting the fight, voting against Medicare — one of 12, because we knew it wouldn't work in 1965.(emphasis added)
So there you have it.  Even in 1995, Dole takes his original and unchanging opposition to a program that had been successfully operating for more than 30 years at that point as some kind of badge of pride to wear, rather than a mark of a fool incapable of recognizing error.  I doubt if a 30 year old business went bankrupt, Dole would say the whole venture had been doomed from the start.  My fears that any moderate Republicans had somehow held positions of power in the 90s remain phantoms. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Gingrichism Didn't Start with Gingrich

Via Digby this great post by Jonathan Zasloff explaining how Gingrich is really the heart and soul of the modern conservative modus operandi:
Gingrichism is the philosophy that all means short of illegality are fair game in the struggle for political power.  He came to the fore in the House minority by personal attacks on other members’ patriotism; he stirred up the Republican base with the argument that the Democrats were not merely wrong, but evil and a threat to the Republic.  As Speaker, he destroyed the existing committee structure and bill mark-ups, did away with Congressional institutions to educate members (such as the Office of Technology Assessment or the Administrative Conference of the United States), and centralized power in the leadership.  When he did not get his way with Clinton, he cavalierly shut down the government.  Not cowed by the political disaster that ensued, he used the House’s impeachment power for political purposes and put the House Oversight Committee in the hands of Dan Burton with the express mandate to harass and cripple political opponents.  Gingrich broke institutions not by accident, but on purpose.
It's a great piece, but I think you can't have this discussion without mentioning Nixon, the White House "plumbers", ratfucking and Watergate.  The corporate media choose to remember Watergate as being about the coverup, not the crime.  That's probably true as far as why they care about it (nothing drives the beltway press more than a story that a politician doesn't want told or revealed) but the heart of the scandal was essentially about election rigging - bugging the campaign headquarters of the opposition, threatening (or killing) journalists who gave bad coverage, terrorizing non-partisan think tanks.  Gingrich certainly gets some credit for the new and inventive ways he found to undermine the informal compacts that make democracy work, but it's far too generous to give him credit for inventing it.

What did change in 1994 is that the takeover of the Republican party by religious fundamentalists and the malefactors of great wealth meant the demise of the Rockefeller Republicans (the moderates)A few did hang on, but they were no longer any real influence on the party.  Nixon had to contend with his own Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General both of whom resigned rather than obey the improper order to fire Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox.  Nixon had to contend with Republican Senators who told him he needed to resign because he was going to lose an impeachment trial in the Senate.   Republicans had 42 Senators at that time, which meant there were at least 9 Republican Senators ready to remove Nixon from office.  Nothing like that existed after 1994.  Next in line to Newt was Majority Leader Dick Armey, and below that, Majority Whip Tom Delay.  Moderatism was dead.  Gingrichism never faced any significant internal Republican resistance the way Nixonism did, there was no one left in the Republican party of any importance who didn't believe in it.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Class Warfare Princelings

This is why the rich need high taxes; "Spankings lead to charges against businessman:"
Single mothers, former drug addicts and other beaten down young women who came to wealthy businessman Henry Allen Fitzsimmons for a chance to climb out of their financial hole knew his help came with a catch. In exchange for an allowance, a place to live and promise of a college education, they agreed to be spanked if they broke his rules.

At least six of the women say his corporal punishment went too far, including one who says he sexually assaulted her, and the 54-year-old Virginia Beach restaurant owner faces felony charges.

"These women are victims. They're single moms. They need their bills paid," prosecutor Tom Murphy said at a court hearing Thursday. "It's bizarre, there's no doubt."
Half of why society needs the rich to pay taxes proportionately to the benefits they draw from society (yes, progressive taxation is a fair deal for living some place that lets you become rich) is so that we can pay for the things that are needed to take care of the least among us, and provide the safety net for those in middle.  The other half is so that nonsense like this doesn't happen.  This sort of arrangement is an obvious consequence of inquality:  poor young single mothers struggling to survive in a society that no longer affords them nor their children any realistic hope of success meet wealthy sociopath with far too much money willing to spend some of it to exploit their much more basic and universal needs.

If Reagan could convince a generation of Americans that every welfare recipient was really milking the system to drive a cadillac and eat steak dinners on the town, perhaps some pushback along the theme of examples like this are in order, hence the title.  Rich people with money to spend on harems of impoverished women willing to put up with physical and emotional abuse in exchange for money can clearly afford higher taxes and clearly aren't creating the kinds of jobs anyone sane would want if they had any better alternatives.   Let conservatives and libertarians try to argue the rich do a better job than government spending the money in face of cases like this.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Insite Supreme Court Arguments Highlight Conservative Government's Mendacity, Inhumanity

The Supreme Court heard the arguments, and has reserved a decision.  Hard to say what the sense is as far as tea-reading the questions and comments of the Justices, but a couple parts deserve more notice::
When Insite opened, the Bush administration's drug czar, John Walters, called it "state-sponsored suicide," and after a Conservative government was elected in Canada in 2006, it moved to close the site.
But Federal lawyer Robert Frater told the court Thursday that no decision has been reached on whether to extend its exemption from federal drug laws.
"The decision to grant or not to grant the exemption has not been made," he said.
Arvay said there's no question the Conservative government will terminate the exemption and called it "completely disingenuous" for the government to say that they might grant an exemption.
In 2008 the then federal health minister, Tony Clement, told the Canadian Medical Association that the Conservative government opposed Insite because "injections are not medicine and they do not heal."
I don't know if lawyers arguing in court are required to be truthful, but I can't see how that claim isn't a lie.  The Government already tried to close Insite by letting its exemption lapse.  In fact, that exemption has actually lapsed, and Insite has been continuing to operate only because the Courts have allowed it.  Were it up to the Federal government, the RCMP would already have raided the place and charged its staff and patients with possession and trafficking.  

That's their mendacity.  How about the government's inhumanity?
Federal lawyer Paul Riley conceded health ministers allowed it to operate from 2003-2008 following a wave of deaths in the 1990s “to permit a scientific study of the nature of that program as a question of policy.”
“And it worked,” interjected Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin.
She cited the trial judge’s findings based on research showing addiction is an illness; unsanitary equipment is linked to infections and disease, and risk of death is lessened by supervision of qualified health professionals.

“Lives are being saved, diseases are being prevented by this site, and are we putting too fine a point on it by saying the site has nothing to do with it?” McLachlin said.
“In the end this program somehow, while not being perfect, works,” said Justice Louis LeBel. “Have you got anything that tends to demonstrate that this program doesn’t work?”
Riley stammered in reply: “I think that’s a fair observation.”
It's useful to step back and recap that this Court case is only happening because in 2008 the Conservative federal government refused to simply extend Insite's exemption from the sections of the (overly broad) Criminal code that would allow police to shut down and prosecute a medical injection supervision site.  Now, having had 8 years to study the facility and all the available evidence suggesting it does in fact work to reduce the harms associated with intravenous drug use, while doing no evident harm to the community, they still want to shut it down.

That really is the difference between conservativism and liberalism.  I don't like Insite, or more accurately, the need for it.  I wish that there was some great way to treat addicts, and that we had a society where no one felt like taking intravenous drugs was preferable to the daily hell of their lives.  We don't have these, and being offered a way to reduce the number of overdose fatalities, HIV/Hepatitis transmissions and stray needles left in parks and alleys, I'm going to take it until something better comes along.  Conservatives just want the addicts to suffer, viewing the fact of their addiction as proof of their unworthiness and the harms listed above as just desserts.  They don't like Insite because it works.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Stephen Harper v. Humane & Effective Addiction Harm Reduction

This Thursday, May 12th, the Supreme Court of Canada will hear Attorney General of Canada, et al v. PHS Community Service Society, et al.  The case centres around Insite, the only safe-injection facility in Canada (or North America for that matter).  Insite began as an experiment under the previous (Liberal) government, operating under a special permit granted by the Federal government exempting it from some aspects of the Criminal Code (all criminal law is federal in Canada).  Things changed when the Conservatives took power, and with a couple delays, the government planned to have Insite shut down by mid-2008.  The operators of the facility took the government to court, and challenged parts of Canada's drug laws as contravening the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. 

They won in the BC Supreme Court, and again on appeal to the BC Court of Appeal in a 2-1 decision back in 2010.  Now the Government has appealed to the Supreme Court, and the fate of evidence based, humane drug addiction harm minimization is at stake.  If Insite wins, the Criminal Code prohibitions that prevent safe injection sites from operating will be struck down.  Other facilities will certainly open, likely at least in Montreal and Toronto, but maybe Winnipeg as well.  What modern city does not have some kind of needle drug addiction problem?

I'm not well versed in Supreme Court of Canada Kremlinology.  A simple partisan read of the Court shows there are 6.5 Justices appointed by Liberal Prime Ministers, and 2.5 appointed by Conservatives (the half mark is because the Chief Justice was appointed by Mulroney as a puisne (associate in US terms) Justice, then promoted to Chief by Chretien.  Insite's case has won twice already, and I have reasonable hopes that the current SCC will uphold the Charter challenge to our overly broad drug laws that would allow charges of possession and trafficking (!) to be levelled against medical professionals who merely allow addicts to use their own drugs in a safe place. 
The group Friends of Insite is asking Canadians in the Ottawa area to attend the hearing in support of Insite.  This may not be the end of the fight, Harper can always have Parliament amend the Criminal Code in some way that makes safe injection facilities illegal and is more likely to survive a Charter challenge, but each battle won is still a battle won, if nothing else but to make him expend political energy on it, and also for the people that Insite helps each day. 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Steinbeck on the faceless evil machine

Some of the owner men were kind because they hated what they had to do, and some of them were angry because they hated to be cruel, and some of them were cold because they had long ago found that one could not be an owner unless one were cold. And all of them were caught in something larger than themselves. Some of them hated the mathematics that drove them, and some were afraid, and some worshipped the mathematics because it provided a refuge from thought and from feeling. If a bank or a finance company owned the land, the owner man said, the Bank—or the Company—needs--wants--insists--must have—as though the Bank or the company were a monster, with thought and feeling, which had ensnared them. These last would take no responsibility for the banks or the companies because they were men and slaves, while the banks were machines and masters all at the same time. Some of the owner men were a little proud to be slaves to such cold and powerful masters. The owner men sat in the cars and explained. You know the land is poor. You've scrabbled at it long enough, God knows.

We're sorry.  It's not us.  It's the monster.  the bank isn't like a man.
Yes, but the bank is only made of men.
No, you're wrong there—quite wrong there. The bank is something else than men. It happens that every man in a bank hates what the bank does, and yet the bank does it. The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It's the monster. Men made it, but they can't control it.

“I built it with my hands. Straightened old nails to put the sheathing on. Rafters are wired to teh stringers with baling wire. It's mine. I built it. You bump it down—I'll be in the window with a rifle. You even come close and I'll pot you like a rabbit.”
“It's not me. There's nothing I can do. I'll lose my job if I don't do it. And look—suppose you kill me? They'll just hang you, but long before you're hung there'll be another guy on the tractor, and he'll bump the house down. You're not killing the right guy.”
“That's so,” the tenant said. “Who gave you orders? I'll go after him. He's the one to kill.”
“You're wrong. He got his orders fro the bank. The bank told him, 'Clear those people out or it's your job.'”
“Well, there's a president of the bank. There's a board of directors. I'll fill up the magazine of the rifle and go into the bank.”
the driver said, “Fellow was telling me the bank gets orders from the East. The orders were, 'Make the land show profit or we'll close you up.'”
“But where does it stop? Who can we shoot? I don't aim to starve to death before I kill the man that's starving me.”
“I don't know. Maybe there's nobody to shoot. Maybe the thing isn't men at all. Maybe, like you said, the property's doing it. Anyway I told you my orders.”
 The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck, John Steinbeck centennial edition (2002), Penguin books.

Despite the advent of so many new economic models and theories, new technologies and vast political change, it is amazing how little has changed and how important Steinbeck's insights remain.  We were told by the Serious People that we didn't need all those antiquated New Deal regulations anymore in the 80s and 90s, and over and over how the public social programs built then were counterproductive and ultimately unnecessary.  But the fundamentals of the system hadn't changed.  The interlocking and overlapping incentives which can so effectively lock everyone into a collective outcome of madness via a series of rational self-interested decisions remains with us, and so far the only means known to be able to break the cycle is democratic intervention into the market through the people's governments.  While there are some new things under the Sun, more and more I find that the economic crises we face stem from forgetting lessons known even in Steinbeck's day, and for all I know, they may have been understood much earlier than that.

Last, note his insight into the psychology of the Owners hiding behind, and worshipping the math that tells them to do such harm to their fellow humans.  Steinbeck doesn't state it explicitly, I wonder if he wanted the reader to draw the inference that they love the math because it absolves them of responsibility for doing what they want to do anyway?  The primary benefit of capitalism is supposed to be that it turns the natural selfish behaviour of many individuals into a collectively beneficial result.  But it also seems to promote and incent that selfishness to levels beyond what would otherwise exist without the system.  Greed is part of the human condition, but whoever said the level of greed is constant?  And when it is clearly possible for those many rational selfish decisions to lead to a collectively bad result, the systemic incentives toward greed and selfishness exacerbate whatever underlying problem is going on, and make solving it via means external to the system nigh impossible.  Rather than self-correcting, under at least these circumstances capitalism accelerates toward its own demise. 

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Bin Laden Torture Debate Could be Worse

This development should have been obvious:
 Yoo told CNN on Thursday night that the special forces team sent to kill bin Laden should have instead taken him alive and kept him as a source of future intelligence. Failing to do that, Yoo says, cost the U.S. a valuable asset. That was a mistake, Yoo says.
Not that I saw it coming, but really that the right would go from "surely torture was essential in Osama's demise" to "Obama should have tortured Osama" is a pretty obvious development.

As I said, I would have preferred he be put on trial, and I fear that cowardice over the risks in doing so may have influenced how this went down (which really is looking like an execution or at least that Osama's death was the preferred result, one which SEALs were happy to oblige), I prefer that we're having the "did torture help catch him" stupid debate instead of the "why isn't Obama torturing him?" debate we would be having if he was in custody (or worst of all, if Obama did have Osama tortured, there wouldn't be a debate).

Oh, and good job Berkeley.  Morons.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Layton's Challenge

Following up on my thoughts on the hidden limits that majority governments face, it's worth thinking about what Jack Layton has to do to be an effective Opposition leader.  The biggest challenge will be the perception of his caucus as inexperienced, which could easily become a narrative that Layton's team is not ready to govern, which even if Harper's lot stumbles could prove fatal to any hopes of an NDP government.

The biggest key will be his selections for front bench (or "shadow cabinet" as sometimes called).  These are the MPs who generally ask the bulk of the questions during Question Period.  They're the ones who, if they can land hits will be covered by the media and if they get outwitted, will make Harper's group look good.

Layton is fortunate to have a decent set of experienced MPs who are good at jousting in Parliament.  This includes Layton himself, who as Opposition leader decides the order of Opposition questions and usually leads off the questions on the biggest issue of the day.  So Layton will have plenty of limelight.  But he will need to share some limelight in order to build the perception that he has a strong team, ready to take charge if Canadians decide they want a change in four years.

In a very real sense, this is a very similar task as the Prime Minister picking his cabinet.  Layton will have to try and ensure adequate representation from all regions, as well as diversity of backgrounds of the individuals chosen.  One real challenge in this area will be that the majority of Layton's caucus comes from Quebec, and yet are overwhelmingly rookies.  How many front bench slots does he give to untried fresh faces?  How many of his existing Shadow Cabinet does he demote to the back benches?  He's pretty much maxed out in Quebec, so his job next election is to win more seats in English Canada.  He will have to balance the expectations of Quebec voters who have taken a chance electing his party, and the need to appeal to other regions in order to grow a winning coalition.

Given that his caucus will be the overwhelming majority of the Opposition itself, the NDP will get the bulk of the questions and that's one nice thing about knocking the BQ down below official party status, he really only has to share significant time with the Liberals (though independent MPs do get to ask questions sometimes, and one of the independents is actually Green Party leader Elizabeth May, how Layton handles her will be interesting to watch).

My own non-expert thought is that Layton might be wise to pick his best veterans for the key slots (finance, foreign affairs, defence) and assign a solid number of slots to the Quebec newcomers, but curtail their Question time until he has a better handle on their abilities.  He's going to have to make changes often in the early going here to seperate wheat from chaff and not allow a "not ready for prime time" meme to gain steam.  First impressions will be important, so he has to ensure the first week or so of QP goes smoothly before giving any of the more unknown elements a chance at the limelight. 

Building his party from a distant fourth to Official Opposition was a real test of Layton's political and campaigning acumen.  This is a different sort of test.  Before Layton had a small, manageable team.  The NDP federally has no institutional memory of managing 100+ MPs.  It's a real management challenge and a different ballgame.  Certainly Harper had a rough go of it, with a number of prominent bad cabinet picks.  Luckily the spotlight is generally on the Government.  If the competence of the Opposition becomes the issue, that's already a really bad sign.  As long as Layton can identify and minimize any weak MPs, and have his veterans manage to keep the media looking at the Government, he should be able to settle in and spend the next four years building the narratives he'll need come the next campaign.  The people of Canada will not be better off in 2015, and they should blame Stephen Harper while seeing Jack Layton as the guy and the NDP as the party to fix his mistakes. That's what he has to sell now and he has four years to do it.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Could the US have convicted Osama Bin Laden for 9/11?

I'm in the small minority of liberals who are bothered by the possibility that the soldiers who were sent after Osama Bin Laden were given explicit or implicit orders to kill him, or at least the understanding that his death was preferable to capturing him. 

I really would have preferred to see him on trial.  Partly because it better upholds the Western ideal of justice, and partly because I think it would be a more effective victory against Al Qaeda. 

So I wonder if once they knew where he was, and realized that getting forces to him was not going to be terribly difficult (not without risk, but a peaceful suburb of Islamabad sounds a lot easier than the remote tribal mountains we kept hearing he was likely hiding in all these years), they must have considered what to do with him if they captured him. Trying him for planning 9/11 certainly seems like it would have been the first thing considered, and the question must have been asked "what evidence do we have that we could present in court that could actually be used to convict him?"

I suspect we (meaning US authorities) know Osama planned 9/11 through a variety of hearsay and indirect ways, but not ways that would survive an actual civilian Article III court, or maybe even a proper Military Court-Martial.  I doubt the US has much primary evidence in the form of personal eye-witnesses or original documentary evidence.  It's likely not much of that actually ever existed.  If Bin Laden really is the conceptual thinker and philosopher-king of Al Qaeda, he may actually have not had much real involvement in the plan. Regular mafia bosses regularly make it difficult to stick any particular charge to them by staying above the operations, if no one "rolls" on Osama to testify that he personally ordered or authorized the 9/11 operation, a Judge might just toss out the charges.

Then of course some or all of the evidence they do have is probably classified and disclosing it would necessitate disclosure of other secrets, expose agents etc.  

I'm sure they would have next considered using one of the Gitmo kangaroo courts which accept secret and hearsay evidence, but no way a trial of this level of publicity could be conducted under those rules.  This would have worldwide attention, and a rigged trial would be particularly counterproductive to the goal of demoralizing Al Qaeda and persuading politically radical Muslims to stay peaceful. 

I fear this, more than anything else may have driven a decision to let the special forces kill him while giving the White House some level of plausible deniability that they had ordered them to do so.  I even wonder if America could have convicted Bin Laden for the Cole bombing, or the African embassy bombings.  Even if they could, this would have been a big let down, putting Capone on trial for tax evasion.

None of this is to go down the Truther road.  I don't have any reason to doubt Osama did lead the plot to do 9/11, bomb the Cole or the rest, just that I can well believe that no one was too sure they could actually get a Judge and Jury to convict him of these things, most especially 9/11.

If so, killing him certainly solves this problem in a most convenient sort of way, but as the initial stories of Bin Laden fighting back and hiding behind a human shield have begun to unravel, the suspicion that he was essentially assassinated becomes more problematic.  Certainly it won't hurt Obama in domestic US politics, but history at least will remember.  If the Israelis could try Eichmann, I'd like to think America could find the courage to try Osama, so I really do hope the instructions were to capture if possible, and his shooting done out of some perceived operational necessity. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

Nixon North gets his 1972

We're in for an ugly 4 years.  Layton gets his wish, and maybe it will all work out for the best, but right now this is all a very high price to pay for a more progressive alternative governing party.  Well congratulations top one percenters, you've got free reign to plunder.  Worst, another four years without action on the global climate emergency, ruled by psychopaths prepared to run civilization off a cliff rather than pay moderately more taxes.