Wednesday, March 31, 2010

LTG 03-31-10: NOW can we call them terrorists?

Earlier this week, several members of the Hutaree militia in Michigan were arrested for conspiring to kill police officers. According to prosecutors, the group planned to make a fake 911 call to lure police officers into an ambush and then use bombs to attack the funerals of the officers slain in the original ambush.

What’s even more chilling is the reasons attributed for these attacks. According to federal authorities, the militia hoped their attacks would spark others to rise up and violently oppose the government. The Hutaree militia (whose name is supposed to mean “Christian warrior”) believed that they were preparing for the Biblical end-times and the rise of the Antichrist in the form of the United States government. Therefore, they believed they were compelled by God to use violence against agents of the Antichrist and that any innocent persons harmed along the way were unfortunate collateral damage to their holy mission.

Sound at all familiar? Who needs a trip to Baghdad or Kabul when you can just head to rural Michigan?

Unfortunately, that’s not the only reason why the Hutaree story sounds familiar. It wasn’t that long ago that an anti-government believer flew a plane into a building in Texas. And it wasn’t that long before the plane attack that an anti-abortionist walked into a church and assassinated a doctor. And it wasn’t that long before the assassination that soldiers were shot by a man violently opposed to the war in Iraq. And it wasn’t that long before the shooting of the soldiers …

OK, you get my point. There’s plenty of reason for concern about the rising tide of politically-motivated violence in this country. This is particularly true if you remember back to the mid-1990s, when the militia movements first gained notoriety. A lot of what you heard back then – the government is evil, your freedoms are being taken away, the President is a traitor, good citizens should arm themselves and resist – is being echoed in the Tea Party rallies of today. Whether the current anti-government rhetoric will culminate as the rhetoric in the 1990s did – with the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and the death of 168 people – remains to be seen.

But there’s a broader legal issue that has received little attention. After the September 11 attack on this country, we were told by then-President George Bush that the fight against terrorism was a new kind of war, requiring new kinds of tactics. Those tactics, as it turned out, involved indefinite detention of terrorism suspects, the use of torture, the elimination of habeas corpus, and ultimately the granting of the President with dictatorial powers in the name of “keeping us safe.”

That was a pretty easy sell to a scared nation being told about mushroom clouds hanging over its’ cities. And let’s be honest, it was also made easier when those on the wrong end of all that unchecked Presidential power were named Mohammed or Ali instead of David or Joe.

So, why haven’t we called the Hutaree militia a terrorist cell? The plan certainly fits every description of a terrorist plot I can think of. But there’s no mention of terrorism in the indictment filed against the militia members. There’s been no mention of terrorism in the President’s statements about the attack. Ironically enough, the Obama administration offered support to the people of Moscow who were victims of domestic terrorism in the subway bombings, but no references to the domestic terrorist plot broken up by law enforcement.

Why is this important? Because it exposes the lie told to us for years that constitutional rights have to be surrendered to fight terrorism. The Hutaree militia plot was foiled not by the PATRIOT act, but by good law enforcement. They’re being held in jail, not in a super-secret military prison outside of the country, and they haven’t broken out and wreaked havoc on the American countryside like we’ve been told Guantanamo detainees would if we put them in a SuperMax prison.

Apparently, that means the Republicans believe that foreign-born terrorists are way more dangerous than domestic terrorists. Isn’t that a touch unpatriotic?

I’ve said this before, and I will say it again. “Declaring war” against an abstract concept like terrorism, or crime, or littering, is fine as a metaphor but terrible as a legal rationale. If we’re serious about declaring actual war against terrorists, then we’d be renditioning the Hutaree militia members to Guantanamo and torturing them.

We’re not. Our refusal to accept actions like the Hutaree plot as terrorism is further evidence that, at some level, we understand that treating the “war on terror” as an actual war and suspending our constitutional freedoms for the duration puts us into the perpetual war that George Orwell warned us about in “1984.”

Sunday, March 21, 2010

LTG 03/21/10 - The Imperial President

Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman have introduced the Enemy Belligerent Interrogation, Detention, and Prosecution Act of 2010 before the United States Senate. The proposal is shocking in it’s sweep. If passed into law, the bill would literally give the President the authority to detain anyone he wishes, American citizen or not, for as long as he wants.

I’m not kidding. I’m not exaggerating. This isn’t the opening chapter of “It Can’t Happen Here” or any other dystopic fictional work. Here’s how it would work.

According to the bill, if someone who was taken into military custody and suspected of being an “unprivileged enemy belligerent,” the bill would give the President authority to detain that person in military custody without trial or criminal charges “for the duration of hostilities against the United States.”

And you thought the Bush-era euphemisms like “enhanced interrogation” for “torture” were gone. Silly you.

But what do all those euphemisms mean? Well, an “unprivileged enemy belligerent” is someone who the President determines to be a member of a group hostile to the United States. If that sounds similar to the Bush-era “enemy combatant” designation, that’s because it means the exact same thing.

How about the “duration of hostilities” thing? That means when the President declares the “war on terror” to be over. And if you think the answer to that question is “never,” just like a war on crime or poverty or bad taste in music, you’re exactly right. It’s the primary problem for treating a metaphorical war on a concept the same as a real, legal war on something tangible like a country. By telling a populace they are in a war, even a perpetual war, a government gets to enhance its’ power and repress its’ citizenry for the duration of the perpetual war. George Orwell told us that in “1984.”

Did you notice a common theme running through the description of the bill? It’s the President that gets to make all of these decisions. The bill is actually just putting into law the “Unitary Executive” theory made popular by the neoconservative movement that brought us the Iraq War and Guantanamo Bay. That theory states that the President has unfettered authority during times of war as commander in chief of the military. A perpetual war, of course, means a perpetual granting to the President of unfettered authority. And that is pretty hard to distinguish from a military dictatorship.

Surely, though, such a law would be unconstitutional, right? Well, on its’ face you would think so. But the Bush administration did a pretty good job of taking this country down a constitutional rabbit hole with its’ fearmongering of 9/11, getting at least six unconstitutional ideas into the mainstream of American thought before breakfast. And with the Conservative Four on the Supreme Court, there’s no reason to be optimistic about this bill being struck down if it became law.

For example, remember Jose Padilla? He was the guy accused of trying to set off a “dirty bomb” in 2002, and held indefinitely as an “enemy combatant” by President Bush. Eventually even the Bush administration was forced to try him in Federal court, where he was sentenced in 2007 (by the way, not for anything involving a “dirty bomb”) to 17 years in prison. He remains there to this day, which is amazing to know considering how we’ve heard from the Republicans how terrorists are all supervillains whose mighty powers couldn’t possibly be held by a SuperMax prison.

I guess I understand why McCain would sponsor such legislation. He’s in a huge primary fight against a conservative talk show host, and thinks he needs to look tough to get the hard-right conservative votes. Lieberman is more of a mystery to me, and I cannot fathom how a Jewish man who knows his history could ever give the kind of authority to anyone that his bill would grant the President.

What surprises me a little is why the Tea Party kooks haven’t picked up on this. Remember, these are the folks who think that President Obama is a socialist. And a communist. And a Marxist. And a dictator. And a Klingon, I think. Regardless, they think he’s a Bad Dude who is trying to “steal our freedoms” and “take our country away” and stuff like that.

Well, guess what? If this bill passes, Obama would have the legal authority to do just that. He could declare all the Tea Partiers as “unprivileged enemy belligerents” and have them arrested and held in military detention for as long as he wants. It wouldn’t matter that the Tea Partiers have no connection whatsoever to international terrorism. The President and the President alone could make that decision, with no access to the courts or any other independent tribunal for review. After all, Padilla didn’t have anything to do with what he was accused of, but he would have been held indefinitely anyway.

Perhaps if the Tea Partiers spent less time worrying about death panels and more time worrying about military tribunals, they’d be a more productive force in society. But I’m not holding my breath.

Monday, March 15, 2010

LTG 03/10/10 - Waterboarding litterbugs?

“Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” – Samuel Johnson

Liz Cheney, daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney and current conservative political agitator, has thrust herself into the spotlight again. Her political organization, Keep America Safe (not to be confused with Keep America Beautiful, although if she ran that organization she’d be advocating the waterboarding of litterbugs) has run an advertisement critical of Department of Justice attorneys who represented Guantanamo detainees in the past.

Although, to be fair, calling the ad “being critical” really doesn’t do it justice. In the ad, the lawyers who had the temerity to represent Guantanamo detainees were called “war criminals” and “terrorist huggers,” and the ad suggested that the attorneys might be terrorist sleepers and a threat to the country.

So, in the world according to Liz, making sure that people get a fair trial means you’re a threat to national security. If you represent a criminal, you love crime.

This isn’t reasoned debate. This is verbal thuggery. This is a naked and brazen attempt to use fear to damage the public’s confidence in the DOJ and the administration which, surprisingly enough, doesn’t include her father.

It’s not like Clan Cheney doesn’t have experience using fear. For years during the Bush administration, Papa Cheney orchestrated a campaign of darkly worded missives about supervillain terrorists who could break out of normal prisons to convince a nation that torture was acceptable and to create an extrajudicial gulag in Cuba that even George W. Bush realized was a bad idea.

And, to give the devil her due, it works. When Wolf Blitzer ran a story about the Keep America Safe ad, the chyron at the bottom of the screen read “Dept. of Jihad?” Mission accomplished for Liz and company, to be able to take this non-story about attorneys doing what attorneys are supposed to do and stoke the fires of the lunatic Tea Party conspiracy theories about President Obama being a “secret Muslim” out to “steal America” from “real Americans” and give it to “them.”

But, it’s Wolf Blitzer, the nation’s premier embarrassment to journalism. It shouldn’t be surprising that he was distracted by a shiny object like the Keep America Safe ad.

When you take even a moment to think through the ad, though, you realize how offensive it really is. If America really is a free country, one of the bedrock principles of that freedom is that everyone gets a fair trial. In the Soviet Union in its’ heyday, there were plenty of trials that went on. They just weren’t fair trials. People got railroaded in show trials and the enemies of the state got sent to a Siberian work camp or a shallow grave.

This, apparently, is the model Liz wants to adopt for our country. Again, it’s consistent with her father’s “torture and lock up forever whoever I tell you to” philosophy. But to attack an attorney for doing exactly what an attorney is supposed to do – zealously represent their client and let a neutral judge make a fair decision – is even starting to ring hollow in conservative circles.

So, is Liz just dumb? Hardly. Clan Cheney may be many things, but they are very smart. So why would she say something like this when she knows how silly she’ll look?

Well, keep in mind that just before this scary ad came out, the DOJ released a report describing how John Yoo and other Bush-era DOJ lawyers wrote memos justifying torture that they knew were not legally defensible. While the report said Yoo didn’t commit malpractice, the report also was scathingly critical of the legal lynchpins that supported Clan Cheney’s torture program.

That’s not something Papa Cheney would want making the national media cycle. That’s easy to fix. One scary commercial later and CNN has a “Dept. of Jihad?” chyron on the screen. And no one is talking Papa Cheney’s torture program being illegal.

Which is, of course, the ultimate irony. Liz’s commercial calls the DOJ lawyers war criminals for doing their jobs. Liz’s father, though, by spearheading and authorizing an illegal torture program, is the one in jeopardy of war crimes prosecution.

If Papa Cheney gets charged, wanna bet Liz won’t complain about the lawyers defending him?

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Leaving kids behind?

Very interesting article from NPR (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124209100&sc=fb&cc=fp) interviewing former Assistant Secretary of Eduacation Diane Ravitch, who once championed George W. Bush's "No Child Left Behind" program and now thinks maybe it was a bad idea. The money quote is at the end, talking about how schools operate best when they share the best ideas rather than competing and trying to put each other out of business.

Ya think?

I have no idea who Ravitch is, or whether she's having this deathbead conversion to protect her professional position after the election or not. And while the goal of accountability in NCLB is laudable, the mechanism used to achieve it is disastrous. Unfortunately, the Republican panacea to everything is "apply competition, give tax breaks" without any consideration as to whether or not it would actually, you know, work. It's the ultimate example of the cliche about when your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Sadly, the Obama approach to education hasn't been that much better. Race to the Top, part of the stimulus package, has asinine rules and outcomes as well.

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In 2005, former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch wrote, "We should thank President George W. Bush and Congress for passing the No Child Left Behind Act ... All this attention and focus is paying off for younger students, who are reading and solving mathematics problems better than their parents' generation."

Four years later, Ravitch has changed her mind.

"I was known as a conservative advocate of many of these policies," Ravitch says. "But I've looked at the evidence and I've concluded they're wrong. They've put us on the wrong track. I feel passionately about the improvement of public education and I don't think any of this is going to improve public education."

Ravitch has written a book about what she sees as the failure of No Child Left Behind called The Death and Life of the Great American School System. She says one of her biggest concerns is the way the law requires school districts to use standardized testing.

Emphasis On Test Scores Led To Cheating, Dishonesty

"The basic strategy is measuring and punishing," Ravitch says of No Child Left Behind. "And it turns out as a result of putting so much emphasis on the test scores, there's a lot of cheating going on, there's a lot of gaming the system. Instead of raising standards it's actually lowered standards because many states have 'dumbed down' their tests or changed the scoring of their tests to say that more kids are passing than actually are."

Some states contend that 80 to 90 percent of their children are proficient readers and have math proficiency as well, Ravitch notes. But in the same states, only 25 to 30 of the children test at a proficient level on national tests such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

"Secretary (of Education Arne) Duncan often says we're lying to our kids," Ravitch says. "And we are lying to our kids."

'There Should Not Be An Education Marketplace'

Part of the reason schools were so intent on achieving high tests scores was because they were competing with other schools for resources, which were often doled out on that basis alone.

Ravitch is critical of the impact this had on schools.

"There should not be an education marketplace, there should not be competition," Ravitch says. "Schools operate fundamentally — or should operate — like families. The fundamental principle by which education proceeds is collaboration. Teachers are supposed to share what works; schools are supposed to get together and talk about what's [been successful] for them. They're not supposed to hide their trade secrets and have a survival of the fittest competition with the school down the block."

Monday, March 01, 2010

JTG 03/01/10 - It's about time

Well, I guess the last minute is better than not getting someting done at all. Creighton managed to sweep the final week of the regular season, ending at 16-14 (10-8 in Valley play) and a fourth-place finish in conference.

The week started out with a mid-week trip to Carbondale to face the hated Salukis. The game started out fast, but competitive, with neither team able to pull away from the other (or play any form of defense, apparently). Towards the end of the first half, Creighton went into one of their now-traditional swoons, allowing Southern Illinois to go on a 20-4 run. But the Bluejays came back to life a little, cutting SIU's halftime lead to 40-36.

Creighton then spent the entire second half chipping away, getting close, and hanging around against the Salukis. While Creighton was never able to get the lead, it was more than refreshing to see this Bluejay squad have the mental toughness to stay in the game and get it to overtime.

Of course, in yet another flashback, Creighton had the final possession of regulation and held for the final shot. At least this time the Bluejays' failure to score was the result of two blocked shots instead of an unforced turnover, but the result was the same.

In overtime, however, Creighton found its' collective mojo. The Bluejays scored the first six points and never looked back, pulling away for an 83-78 win. In a sign of the atrophy of this rivalry, the win was Creighton's fifth straight over SIU, including two straight in Carbondale.

So, the Bluejays got the road win they desperately needed against the Egyptian dogs. Given this season, it sets up perfectly for a letdown and an inexplicable home loss to Bradley, right?

Sure looked like it to start out. After building a ten-point lead in the first half, Creighton apparently thought they had the game in hand. Bradley came roaring back, including hitting a ridiculous shot from their own end of the court as the halftime buzzer sounded to cut Creighton's lead to one. Here's that deja vu again - how would this Bluejay squad respond?

Bradley opened the second half by hitting two shots to take the lead, much to the discomfort of the assembled Qwest crowd. But then Creighton did something we've seen precious little of all season. They put the clamps down, went on a 9-0 run, and ultimately pulled away for a relatively comfortable 82-71 victory.

You want streaks? Creighton salvaged their 10-conference-win streak, making it 14 in a row (second nationally to Kansas' 16). Their 20-game win streak, once dead and buried, now can at least be discussed. Two wins in the Valley tournament puts them at 18, and likely gets Creighton a bid to at least the CBI postseason tournament. Two wins in that, and the Bluejays pull off what to me would be an unthinkable salvage job.

So, now we look to St. Louis. On Friday, Creighton has to turn around and play Bradley again. The Bluejays have won both games against the Braves this season, but Bradley has an unfortunate history of spoiling Creighton's trips to Arch Madness. And, even if the Bluejays get by Bradley, they get the winner of the Northern Iowa-Southern Illinois/Drake play-in game. In other words, they get Northern Iowa.

That's not good news for Bluejay fans hoping for a run. Sure, the Panthers are ranked, but they're not going to be kidding themselves. UNI knows that an early exit in St. Louis could be deadly to their NCAA dreams, particularly given how weak the Valley is this year.

It does look like the Bluejays are really starting to come together, finally. How much the suspension of P'Allen Stinnett has to do with Creighton's end-of-season play is tough to tell, although it's telling that Creighton has found ways to replace his scoring. It's a big mountain left to climb, but the only time I've seen Arch Madness in person in when Creighton was a four-seed, and they won the whole thing. A little magic this weekend wouldn't be a bad way to kick off Championship Week.