Friday, July 04, 2003

A final thought for the day: it might be a good time to take a few moments to study the words of some Americans who, however much we might disagree with them on particular issues, certainly know the meaning of sacrifice...
The news this morning: Dubya has announced that six detainees at Guantanamo may face military tribunals -- in which US military officers will serve as judge, jury, and (if need be) executioner, will vet the defense lawyers, and will decide how much (if any) of the evidence the defendants, or their lawyers, will be allowed to see.

So far, the US media is not reporting the identity of the first victims of this process, but the BBC has already named two who are Britons. The father of one, himself a British Army vet of Indian descent, is deeply distressed, raising the obvious questions about fairness of the trials, saying that his kid was a teacher with no connection to the Taliban, and recounting that his letters hint at a coerced confession.

Americans once had a problem with a ruler who:

... has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

... has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

  • ...
  • For depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury.
  • For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences.
  • ...
  • For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments.

Do we still?

In Slate, Tim Noah reports on an unintended consequence of campaign finance reform efforts (dating back to their beginnings, in the wake of the Nixon administration):

...because each contribution was now smaller, House members had to devote more and more of their time to raising money. Today, fund-raising is a grind for all elected officials in Washington, but it's an especially dreary treadmill for representatives because they must run every two years.

At the same time that campaign reform made being a congressman less enjoyable on a daily basis, it expanded vastly the power of Washington's lobbyists. No longer mere messenger boys for individual wealthy patrons, they became powers unto themselves as House members (and other Washington politicians) subcontracted to them the business of raising money. Increasingly, lobbyists came to represent entire industries rather than individual companies. The most successful lobbyists extended their fund-raising reach beyond those they represented and solicited contributions from the larger community of prominent wealthy people. In addition to rendering themselves more valuable financially, this mingling with the nation's elites raised the lobbyists' social status. By banning previously unrestricted "soft money" contributions to the national parties, last year's McCain-Feingold campaign finance law will further accelerate this trend.

This dependance, reducing the effective power of the reps, was augmented by rotating committee chairmanships instituted under Gingrich, which eliminated long-standing committee chairs as power brokers, leaving only the lobbyists.

The upshot: while Senators maintain their prestige, Representatives are now the social inferiors of the lobbyists on whom they depend. A recent retirement party for the recording industry's lobbyist drew several Senators, pop stars, and Bill Clinton. The closest thing to a celebrity which showed up at the party for some long-serving Reps was Arlen Specter.

And so we drift toward government of the people, by the bought-off, for the rich and corporate interests...

The Observer has a two-part report (here and here) on Tranquility Bay, a "behavior-modification center" for rich kids who misbehave, some in minor ways. One student, a Lindsay Cohen, is described as "[a] straight-A high-school graduate, ... heading for Harvard until an unsuitable choice of boyfriend had her sent here at the age of 17." But the parents have higher expectations:

... striking is the assumption parents make of entitlement to their child's affection, as though this is a legal right. 'She's a neat kid, she really is,' a former student's mother says. 'She just didn't like us.' But now, 'I don't believe she's lying to me any more, and that's a neat feeling.'

Messy divorce and remarriage are the norm among these parents. Their expectations of loyalty from their children, though, suggest a gilt-edged ideal of American family life so brittle any rebellion or defiance is literally terrifying. This culture then creates its own logic - for once adolescence is criminalised, Tranquility becomes the obvious solution.

The regimentation is brutal:

When most children first arrive they find it difficult to believe that they have no alternative but to submit. In shock, frightened and angry, many simply refuse to obey. This is when they discover the alternative. Guards take them (if necessary by force) to a small bare room and make them (again by force if necessary) lie flat on their face, arms by their sides, on the tiled floor. Watched by a guard, they must remain lying face down, forbidden to speak or move a muscle except for 10 minutes every hour, when they may sit up and stretch before resuming the position. Modest meals are brought to them, and at night they sleep on the floor of the corridor outside under electric light and the gaze of a guard. At dawn they resume the position.

This is known officially as being 'in OP' - Observation Placement - and more casually as 'lying on your face'. Any level student can be sent to OP, and it automatically demotes them to level 1 and zero points. Every 24 hours, students in OP are reviewed by staff, and only sincere and unconditional contrition will earn their release. If they are unrepentant? 'Well, they get another 24 hours.'

One boy told me he'd spent six months in OP.

I didn't think this could be true, but it transpired this was not even exceptional. 'Oh no,' says Kay. 'The record is actually held by a female.' On and off, she spent 18 months lying on her face.

But the results are as desired:

Jim Mozingo got the result he wanted. Twenty months after sending his son Josh away, he arrived from North Carolina to collect him. ...

'He was real disrespectful to his mom,' Mozingo sighs. 'Not to me. Never to Daddy. He lived with his mom until a year-and-a-half before he came here, and I knew the day would come when she would call me and say, "I can't handle it."'

But Mozingo had baby twin sons with his new wife, and Josh was a disruptive addition to the household. 'I knew I had to do something. I didn't want to lose him. I would do anything for him, that's why I sent him here. We tried therapy at home, but you know.' He laughs conspiratorially. 'God love 'em, we've got to have therapists, I guess. But I come from a class where if you've got a problem, well hell, you just work it out. Josh just needed to get his head on straight. And he has.

'Sure, he complained like hell at first,' he recalls fondly. 'Typical case of manipulation, just like they said in the handbook. He said the staff were mean and violent, they beat you, the food is terrible.' He chuckles, pleased by the neat symmetry of the handbook and letters. While he is talking, Josh hovers nearby, with bright eyes that dance longingly on his father's face. It took Josh a whole year to reach level 2, some of it spent in OP, but his father feels only awestruck gratitude for the treatment his son has received.

And as for the kids, they all wind up brainwashed into believing that they literally would have died without the program. Or they don't leave.

Lets you know what some people might be running from...

(via BoingBoing)

Thursday, July 03, 2003

And now, a case study of market incentives at work in a truly unregulated marketplace:

Insurance is a funny thing here. There are several Bulgarian insurance companies here, that will take your money (cash only, in advance) and give you some documents with stamps on them. There are few insurance companies that will actually reimburse you for damage or theft to the car they insure.

Thus, Sofia has the Thieves Guild, er, the Bulgarian Mafia, who have set up their own legitimate insurance company; it works like this:

You give them money, they give your car a flashy sticker, which shows that you are protected under their insurance. Your car is rarely stolen, apparently, and they send people to 'investigate' any theft of their protected car. They also get your car back (or a car that looks very similar to your car) with a considerable success rate. I know a couple people who have got their car back (or, a car very much like the car that was officially theirs) after a theft.

A novel concept, that works well for Bulgaria. Less paperwork, I hear, also.

Of course, we really ought to note that there's a precedent of sorts in the property insurance operations of such American entrepreneurs as John Gotti.

via Daniel "Daniel Boone really is my name. Blame my parents." Boone.

The word from John Ashcroft's Department of Justice:

Legal process is an impediment to law enforcement.

That's an Ashcroft DOJ official explaining why he wants domain name registration records to stay open to the public, even though they have become fodder for spam address harvesting and other undesirable activities.

Which, as Henry Farrell points out, is nonsense; the feds already have access to ISP billing records without any probable cause requirements, thanks to the PATRIOT act; they could just as easily arrange the same for domain registration records, without making them fully open to the public.

But it's the attitude that gets to you. Like Thomas More's foil in A Man for All Seasons, these guys would knock down every law in the land to get at the devil -- that's how they think of it, starting right at the top, with the man who sees the devil in calico cats. And when the last law is down, you'd like to ask the soi-disant "conservatives" who claim to care about this sort of thing, what's left to protect them, or us, from government overreach?

But oh yeah, I forgot. We already have that problem. We have to pay income tax.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

Adam Felber speculates on how the former Mayor of Cincinnati might revitalize the Democratic Senate delegation if he succeeds in his current run for that office:

June 26, 2005 - Springer Forces Health Care Reforms

Testifying before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pension Committee, the 350-pound man shifted uneasily in his chair and pointed at his wife. "She don't love me," he complained, "and I gotta hear her listen to her in the other room every night, making love to that trashy lesbian lover of hers!" The lover in question, lapsed nun Helen McMunty, screamed, "Who you callin' trashy?" and launched herself at her obese accuser while her lover sobbed. Congressional pages hurried to break up the fracas.

"Such was the scene today as Senator Springer (D - OH) made health care reform hearings into headline news. The hearings, which Springer dubbed "I'm Trapped in a Bad Marriage to Keep My Insurance" garnered the highest ratings in CSPAN history, forcing Senate Republicans to help pass universal heath coverage for all Americans...

This is the work of a trained, professional comic. Don't try this at home.

But seriously -- say Springer actually tried that approach. Would that be much worse than what the party currently has? Consider: polls show that national security is a poor issue for the Democrats; they are just trusted less by the public at large than the Republicans. And that raises questions: Should the party work to publicize the lapses and failures of the current administration? Or should it try to put together and publicize its own credible, alternative vision? The obvious answer, from where I sit, is "both". But then I think back to all those NPR chats with Respected Political Analyst Cokie Roberts, where she blithely restates what seems to be conventional wisdom: that the Dems should do neither, and just turn tail and run on something else, because, hey, the polls show it's not their issue. As if only a fool would dream of changing that...

Actual New York Times headline:

Guilty or Not, U.S. Is Blamed in Mosque Blast

Got that? Just because we invaded their country, displaced the existing government, and have the sole authority currently operating in their territory, the Iraqis expect us to keep order. What is it with these people, anyway?

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

Dubya's crew is still trying to argue that we needed to go to war, like, immediately in order to keep Saddam from getting weapons of mass destruction. As evidence for which, their latest offering is centrifuge plans and parts buried in a garden more than a decade ago, and not retrieved since.

That justified immediate war.

Meanwhile, the news from North Korea is... in flux. About six months ago, when the North Koreans blew the dust off their plutonium reprocessing plant, the word on the street was that if nothing changed, they'd have enough weapons-grade goop for six to ten warheads in about six months. Sure enough, a few days ago, the Yomiuri Shimbun had an interview with one of Clinton's Korea hands, who had done the math and stated authoritatively that they've got the glop... well, pretty much now. But, he said, things could be worse; at least, they didn't have the technology to make warheads small enough to fit on their missiles.

Or so he claimed. But this was a Clinton hand. Might he be ill-informed? Out of the loop?

Indeed, he is. The New York Times reports this morning that the North Koreans do have the technology to deliver nuclear weapons on their missiles, according to the latest reports from the CIA.

You never could trust the word from the Clinton administration.

Oh, one more thing. The North Koreans are now openly threatening to abandon the armistice that ended the Korean war.

Recall that the North Koreans started doing all this -- particularly, taking their plutonium weapons program out of mothballs -- in direct response to the belligerent tack which had been taken by Dubya's crew on entering office, and its abandonment of the Clinton administration's more diplomatic approach, which left the North Koreans feeling that they had no choice but to resume weapons development the quickest way they knew how, to head off an attack which they expected to come no matter what.

Gee, it's good to have the grownups back in charge. Isn't it?

To head off some objections -- yes, part of what was going on here is that even while the North Koreans had their plutonium program in mothballs, they were developing a uranium enrichment program -- a slower way to get an inferior bomb, but it still would have gotten them a bomb. But that was probably just a ploy for more aid, witness what happened when, in response to Dubya's White House machismo, they decided that they needed not just the threat to develop a bomb, but, well... a bomb.

The Bush administration has always been unusually secretive. But the Homeland Security Administration is bringing that to new heights: they won't allow the press to talk to their press secretary.

Via Electrolite's new "sidelight" section...

Monday, June 30, 2003

Where to hold a convention on the promotion of virginity and abstinence? Las Vegas. Where else?
Fiscal responsibility, Republican style, as applied to California:

First, let politically connected firms like Enron seize control of the local energy markets; deny federal regulatory relief until the state government winds up signing $43 billion dollars' worth of inflated contracts, pretty much wiping out the state budget surplus. The most recent news here, as I noted last week: their regulators have finally given Enron, which was already bankrupt, the "death penalty", barring it from the markets -- but they are refusing to void the contracts, continuing a completely unjustified transfer of wealth from California taxpayers to the Texas oil patch.

Then, when the effects of the contracts combine with the economic woes plaguing all state governments to produce a massive deficit, refuse to consider raising taxes to pay for it, even when the ensuing turmoil threatens to sink the state's bond rating, costing even more in interest. And justify your conduct by putting up screeds on state government web sites comparing the Democrats to Enron management.

Thus enact the kind of fiscal policy candidly described by one soi-disant conservative here:

Stephen Moore, president of the Club for Growth, a conservative group, said Mr. Bush had been "one of the biggest-spending presidents we've had in 20 years." But, he added, "he has cut taxes, so politically that has protected him."

"A month ago, he passed this huge tax cut that I think is terrific — I mean, I'm thrilled by that — and now this month he's passing this preposterous prescription drug benefit, and I'm furious at him," Mr. Moore said. "But I can't get too angry with him because he passed this tax cut. That's the way this administration works."

He's spending, sure, but there won't be tax money to pay for it, so hey, it's all good!

Besides, who would know better than Republicans about Enron management?

The quote of the day, from Time via already more blogs than you can shake a stick at:

Meeting last month at a sweltering U.S. base outside Doha, Qatar, with his top Iraq commanders, President Bush skipped quickly past the niceties and went straight to his chief political obsession: Where are the weapons of mass destruction? Turning to his Baghdad proconsul, Paul Bremer, Bush asked, "Are you in charge of finding WMD?" Bremer said no, he was not. Bush then put the same question to his military commander, General Tommy Franks. But Franks said it wasn't his job either. A little exasperated, Bush asked, So who is in charge of finding WMD? After aides conferred for a moment, someone volunteered the name of Stephen Cambone, a little-known deputy to Donald Rumsfeld, back in Washington. Pause. "Who?" Bush asked.

Many folks are already wondering whether the administration ever believed its own WMD story. But what the Pentagon believed isn't necessarily what Dubya believed. He doesn't have to go on what he hears from intelligence sources, after all; he has other authorities to rely on...