Sunday, August 31, 2008

More on Gustav

My friend Ben Greenberg has an excellent post at Hungry Blues on approaching Gustav and the threat not only to Louisiana and New Orleans but also to the whole Mississippi coast, which was utterly devastated by Katrina.

Getting Real About Palin

More on Sarah Palin's pressuring the Alaska Public Safety Commissioner to fire her brother-in-law. Josh Marshall writes:

The Palin family had a feud with Wooten prior to her becoming governor. They put together a list of 14 accusations which they took to the state police to investigate -- a list that ranged from the quite serious to the truly absurd. The state police did an investigation, decided that 5 of the charges had some merit and suspended Wooten for ten days -- a suspension later reduced to five days. The Palin's weren't satisfied but there wasn't much they could do.

When Palin became governor they went for another bite at the apple. Palin, her husband and several members of her staff began pressuring Public Safety Commissioner, Walt Monegan -- a respected former Chief of the Anchorage police department -- to can Wooten. Monegan resisted, arguing that the official process regarding Wooten was closed. And there was nothing more that could be done. In fact, during one of the conversations in which Palin's husband Todd was putting on the squeeze, Monegan told Todd Palin, "You can't head hunt like this. What you need to do is back off, because if the trooper does make a mistake, and it is a terminable offense, it can look like political interference."

Eventually, Palin got fed up and fired Monegan from his job. (Palin claims, not credibly, that she fired Monegan over general differences in law enforcement priorities.) This is an important point. Wooten never got fired. To the best of my knowledge, he's is still on the job. The central bad act was firing the state's top police official because he refused to bend to political pressure from the governor and her family to fire a public employee against whom the governor was pursuing a vendetta -- whether the vendetta was justified or not.

Even if Wooten (the brother-in-law) did everything that Palin's family accuses him of, her actions - pressuring the Public Safety Commissioner to fire her brother-in-law, then firing him because he wasn't willing to fire the man - are an abuse of power. Is this someone we want, as they say, "a heartbeat away from the presidency"? And secondly, what is wrong with McCain and his campaign operation that they didn't take account of this story when she was being considered as a candidate?

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The mother of all storms

So now Mayor Ray Nagin has ordered an evacuation of New Orleans New Orleans, saying "I must tell you, this is the mother of all storms."

I think about this phrase, "the mother of all ___" every now and then, because my memory is that Saddam Hussein introduced this phrase into English before the Gulf War in 1991 when he threatened that if the U.S. coalition attacked Iraq, it would be the "mother of all wars." It's interesting that the phrase has been so naturalized into English that it can be used for anything really big. I wonder how many people who use the phrase remember its origin.

So how long will Sarah Palin be McCain's running mate?

I think the thing that most surprises me about McCain's choice for V.P. is not her inexperience, or the transparent ploy of picking a woman on the presumption that other women only vote on the basis of who has ovaries, or her very right-wing politics (that's not surprising at all, that's his attempt to get the right-wing evangelical voters on his side) - but the fact that there is a scandal brewing about her in Alaska. I was under the impression that the campaigns did their best to carefully vet V.P. candidates so that they don't have any surprises about the person before Election Day. Anyone remember Thomas Eagleton? At least no one knew about his problems before he was nominated. Palin's ethics problems are being covered by TPM Muckraker in this very interesting story:

The scandal began on July 11, when Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan was removed from his post with little explanation, a move whose abruptness quickly raised questions in Alaska. A few days later, Monegan decided to blow the whistle, and came forward to tell local media that he had been dismissed because he refused to fire trooper Mike Wooten, the ex-husband of Palin's sister, after having been pressured to do so by aides to Palin. (Monegan's replacement, former Kenai Chief of Police Chuck Kopp was only lasted two weeks on the job once past complaints of sexual harassment from 2005 were publicized.)

Critics pointed out that the effort to fire the trooper might have been directly related to the fact that Palin's family had a longstanding grievances with Wooten. In an internal state police investigation in 2005, Palin herself had accused Wooten of threatening to harm her father during the breakup of her sister's marriage. (The Palins claimed, among other things, that Wooten had used a taser on his 10-year-old stepson, and shot a moose without a permit.)

Since Monegan made his allegations, Palin has denied that she personally had a role in the effort to fire Wooten. On July 28, the state legislative council, a bipartisan panel of senators and representatives, appointed a special commission to probe the matter.

Her backtrack on her office's role was prompted by the preliminary findings of a separate ongoing investigation into the matter by the state Attorney General, launched on August 4, that she herself put into motion. At a press conference at which Palin revealed some of that investigation's finding, she acknowledged that in February, state troopers had taped a phone call from Frank Bailey, Palin's director of boards and commissions, whom she appointed in August 2007, in which Bailey appeared to push for the firing of Wooten on Palin's behalf.

In the call, Bailey appeared to say that Palin and her husband were frustrated that Wooten still had his job. "The Palins can't figure out why nothing's going on," Bailey said in the recorded phone call. "Todd and Sarah are scratching their heads ... 'Why is this guy representing the department, he's a horrible recruiting tool.' You know? So from their perspective everybody's protecting him."

The investigation could be particularly poorly timed for the GOP. Steve Branchflower, a former state prosecutor who is conducting the investigation, has a three-month contract for his work, which started August 1, and will end October 31, according to Alaska State Senate Judiciary Committee chair, Hollis French (D), who is overseeing the probe. French told TPMmuckraker that he expects Branchflower to release his report in the days before the November 4th presidential election.

A spokeswoman for Palin told TPMmuckraker that the governor's office would be fully cooperating with Branchflower.

Palin won the governor's office in 2006 as a squeaky clean reformer. "She portrayed herself as an open-government, ethical person," Rep. Mike Doogan, a Democratic state lawmaker, told TPMmuckraker. "You can see the obvious problem." He added: "These things don't help her [politically]."

And they may not help John McCain either.

(ed.note: The original version of this post incorrectly stated that the state legislature was in Democratic hands and ordered the probe of Monegan's firing. In fact, the senate is under the control of a coalition of Democratic and dissident Republican lawmakers and the House of Republicans. The state legislative council, which ordered the probe, is a bipartisan panel made up of members of both bodies.)

And this woman might be next in line to the presidency?!

Gustav in Cuba

And this is what Gustav just did to Cuba:

Gustav slammed into Cuba's tobacco-growing western tip as a monstrous Category 4 hurricane Saturday while both Cubans and Americans scrambled to flee the storm as it roared toward the oil-rich Gulf of Mexico and New Orleans.

Forecasters said Gustav was just short of becoming a top-scale Category 5 hurricane as it hit Cuba's mainland after passing over its Isla de la Juventud province, where shrieking 150 mph (240 kph) winds toppled telephone poles, mango and almond trees and peeled back the tin roofs of homes.

It's happening again in New Orleans

Many in New Orleans Flee as Storm Grows

Hurricane Gustav grew significantly in intensity as it approached the Louisiana coast on Saturday, and officials issued increasingly urgent pleas for everyone to leave New Orleans....

City officials said if the threat worsened, as anticipated, they would to issue a mandatory evacuation order beginning Sunday morning, the first since Hurricane Katrina flooded the city three years ago.

Scary - they want everyone to leave. I hope it all works out better than it did three years ago, when anyone who watched CNN had a better idea of what was going on than President Bush.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Presidents' letter against UCU boycott call?

I've been following the recent discussions on Harry's Place and Engage about the arguments on the UCU activists' list with interest. And I've started to wonder what response there was to the UCU's renewed boycott call. Was there another call by U.S. university and college presidents to denounce the UCU motion? I don't remember that there was. (This is relevant to something I'm working on now). If any of my (not so numerous) readers know the answer to this, please let me know.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Am I liberal or a conservative?

Kevin Drum of Washington Monthly provides this summary of the Russia-Georgia war:

CHEAT SHEET....Since the Russo-Georgian war is complicated, I thought everyone might appreciate a quick primer:

* Shorter liberal view: "This isn't to condone Russia's conduct, but...."

* Shorter conservative view: "Yes, Saakashvili acted recklessly by sending in troops first, but...."

See? It's easier than you thought! You may now return to your regularly scheduled Olympics watching.

As far as I have been able to determine from reading *some* New York Times articles this week, I agree more with position B than with position A. So am I a conservative? I thought I was a liberal - after all, I'm enthusiastically for Obama....

So much for the helpfulness of political categories.

Terrorist Violence and Mental Illness

Dave Neiwert on Orcinus has an interesting post on right-wing violence and mental illness that I think can be extended to other forms of terrorism. His post is about the murder of the Arkansas Democratic Party chairman last week. He argues that despite the apparent mental illness of the perpetrator, political motivation also drove him to kill this man in particular. He writes:

Part of the problem is that we actually have seen this happen time after time after time: A mentally unstable person is inspired by hateful right-wing rhetoric to act out violently -- and yet because of that mental state, the matter is dismissed as idiosyncratic, just another "isolated incident." And over the months and years, these "isolated incidents" mount one after another.

But simply ascribing these acts to mental illness is a cop-out. It fails to account for the gross irresponsibility of the people who employed the rhetoric that inspired the violent action in the first place, and their resulting moral culpability.

I commented on his post -

Thank you Dave, for pointing out how mentally unstable people can be vulnerable to this kind of hate-mongering - either through the media or through recruitment by a violent group. Recently, while I was visiting Israel, there were two terrorist attacks in Jerusalem. The first one, which occurred in early July, involved a Palestinian man taking a large bulldozer and rampaging along one of the main streets in central Jerusalem. Three people were killed and many injured. In Israel, this attack was taken by the police, the media, and by ordinary people to be a terrorist attack motivated by hostility towards Jews/Israelis - given the context of Israeli-Palestinian hostility and the history of Palestinian terrorism against Israelis. This was despite the fact that the man was a drug addict and had spent some time in jail for violence against a former Jewish girlfriend (whose child he fathered).

When I returned to the U.S. and was discussing this case with a friend, she referred to it not as a terrorist attack but as the attack of a mentally ill person - a conclusion which the American media had apparently made about this attack. I was very surprised to hear her say this (she is herself Jewish and pro-Israel so it wasn't motivated by her political beliefs).

And there was another attack of the same type the day I left the country, July 22 - another man used a mechanical digger to attack people on another main street. In this case he did not kill anyone, but injured about 20 people, including one man who lost his leg in the attack. This man lived in a Palestinian village that was known as supportive of Hamas, and his uncle was in an Israeli prison because he was a Hamas elected official from the West Bank. The assumption in Israel was also that his attack was politically motivated. Neither of these men was a member of any group (like Hamas itself, for example), and they had not been sent by any group.

For this latter reason, it seemed that some media outlets in the U.S. were unwilling to say that even the second attack was a terrorist attack. It seems to me that this involves a fundamental mistake - not all terrorism is committed by people involved in organized groups. Some terrorist attacks occur because of a mixture of personal motivation or instability and political inspiration - propaganda by the right wing in this country, or by Hamas in Palestine. Saying that someone with mental instability only acted because of that illness ignores the political context of the act.