Archive for September, 2007

Libertarians and Democrats: Now is the Time

I have always thought that Democrats and Libertarians have many important issues to fight for together. It used to be the case that Libertarians and Republicans had more in common, but the lie of “small government Republicans” took care of that.

Democrats and Libertarians tend to line up on civil rights issues — womens rights, reproductive rights, gay rights, legalizing marijuana, equal protection under the law, bill of rights issues, and so forth. The one exception I can think of is gun control, but there are even plenty of pro-gun Democrats these days, especially in Texas.

Democrats and Libertarians clash most often on the appropriate role of government in society, which is why there were more commonly Libertarian-Republican coalitions until now. I think it’s apparent that today’s Republican Party doesn’t have a place for Libertarians. If you’re not a bible-thumping fundamentalist or rich corporatist, the Republican Party won’t give you the time of day.

Now is the time for Democrats and Libertarians to work together for honest and open government, equal protection under the law, and civil rights that don’t reflect one culture’s dominance over another. I’ve seen Libertarians and Democrats working together locally on issues that really matter to the community, and I hope to see more of it as Election 2008 approaches.

Texas House: Setting a Bad Example

Okay, watch this video:

and let’s talk about how we can fix this problem. This doesn’t appear to be a D or an R problem, but a systemic problem. And it’s embarrassing for our State.

One solution might be to get rid of the ridiculous “one session every two years” nature of the Texas House and Senate. If there were more time to get the business of the State taken care of, legislators wouldn’t be so rushed that they would break their own rules.

Another solution is to have a speaker that cares enough about this problem to slow down the pace of the legislature. Or, another group could be created to oversee these type of “self-policing” rules that never get enforced. (Of course, the only group with authority to create such a group is the legislature itself…)

Thoughts?

Ysidro Gutierrez: Campaign Website Up

Precinct 3 County Commissioner Ysidro Gutierrez, who is running for re-election in 2008, has his campaign website up.

www.ysidrogutierrez.com

Ambassador Cofer Black in Lubbock

Wow, there’s a lot to digest after attending the Cofer Black talk at the Texas Tech International Cultural Center yesterday. If you need a reference point, the A-J was there and covered it well, including using one of Black’s answers to the question I asked.

Cofer Black was the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism from 2002-2005. Prior to that, he was a CIA field officer. In 2005, he took a Job with Blackwater USA, a private security firm. Needless to say, this guy is an authority on American counterterrorism.

The first part of his talk was devoted to a rough history of counterterrorism in the U.S. — how we got to 9/11. I won’t summarize the whole thing, but will point out a few points from this part of the talk that I think are worth highlighting:

Historically in the U.S., terrorism was seen as the responsibility of law enforcement, not military or national intelligence.

The Clinton administration took Cofer’s / CIA’s terrorism threat assessment seriously.

The early Bush Administration was focused on missile defense, not counterterrorism.

Cofer Black, along with many in the American intelligence world, was not surprised by 9/11. He compared the intelligence view at that time to Romans looking out over Hadrian’s wall.

After 9/11, there were basically two grand strategies for the U.S. to adopt: the “Worldwide Attack Matrix” or the “War Plan.” The Worldwide Attack Matrix basically means going after the 114 terrorist groups in the world and arresting, detaining, or killing them. The War Plan involves degrading terrorism “host countries” (most notably Afghanistan) to the point where they are no longer adequate training grounds for terrorist groups. It seems that we have ended up doing both, with emphasis on the War Plan. Indeed, one of the post-hoc “strategic” justifications for the War in Iraq is that it is now a magnet for Jihadists, as opposed to the United States.

In 2007, where are we now and where do we go from here? Cofer Black had some points from the latter half of his talk and from the Q&A that I want to emphasize:

At 9/11, the world was with us. Now, that view has been “greatly degraded,” and we are seen “in a new light.” Rather, our government is seen that way while our citizens are still looked on generally favorably.

We appear to be safer after 9/11 since we have not been struck. Ambassador Black offered driving fatality statistics of 30-45K per year as a contrasting metric.

The most pressing international issue is resolving the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

Iran is not a war threat, but a counterterrorism threat. We should use all of our national resources — statecraft, economics, special forces, intelligence, etc — to reward and punish Iran’s behavior without hurting it.

I want to devote the remainder of this post to the topic of privatization of government functions, since Cofer Black more or less embodies this trend. After 30+ years of service to our country in the fields of intelligence and counterterrorism, Cofer Black accepted a position at Blackwater USA. This type of move from government to the part of private sector that deals directly with government has been increasingly popular since World War II. I’m reminded of Eisenhower’s dire warning in his farewell address to the nation: watch out for the military-industrial complex.

I think it’s safe to expand Eisenhower’s warning to say: watch out when the leaders of industry are also leaders of the nation. Out-of-control privatization is one path to that state.

Ambassador Black made what I think is an excellent point: Blackwater and other companies would not work for the government if the government had not offered the work. Blackwater and others respond to RFPs from the government; in other words, they are invited. Far from being a justification for the ever-expanding roles for private contractors, I think it should be a call to action: stop electing leaders who want to privatize everything!

Don’t get me wrong, I think that private contractors have a useful role to play in some areas of government — specifically those where innovation is key. I do not believe that representing our nation on the field of battle is an appropriate area for private contractors, however. There are many functions of government that should not be privatized, and no area of government should be permanently privatized, period.

Accountability is a key issue here as well. Ambassador Black hinted that he believes a government contract is accountability enough. It isn’t. Suppose that the current allegations of killing Iraqi civilians brought against Blackwater personnel turn out to be true. Those who would be guilty would not face punishment from our system of courts-martial, and possibly they would face no punishment at all. Blackwater’s contract would very likely still be intact, and they would likely be free to pursue other contracts with the government.

Conservatives are often keen on the idea of “incentives.” Well, there’s no incentive here for private contractor personnel to behave honorably, but there are always many incentives for our armed forces to behave honorably. Sending in private contractors to do military jobs will only hurt us in the long run.

I have heard that there are now more U.S. private contractors on the ground in Iraq than there are U.S. troops. What are we doing? We cannot simply purchase our diplomacy, security, and coercive force and call ourselves a sovereign nation. We will become just another customer.

Lubbock DFA to screen “Idiocracy”

Lubbock Democracy for America, taking a turn for the irreverent, is screening Mike Judge’s under-appreciated crude satire “Idiocracy” this Wednesday at Mahon. From the email:

Wednesday, 09/26 at 07:00 PM
Mahon Library
1306 9th St
Lubbock, TX 79401

Full details are on the event page.

Blackwater: In Trouble and In Lubbock

Not a good week for Blackwater. They are in trouble for killing Iraqi civilians (and will possibly lose their license from the Iraqi government), and there are accusations that they smuggled weapons into Iraq that ended up in the hands of our enemies. Daily Kos has a big story up about this.

Well, it turns out that Cofer Black, an executive with Blackwater, will be giving a talk on Monday at the TTU International Center at 5:30. Here’s the announcement:

The Office of International Affairs invites you to a talk by
Ambassador Cofer Black
Terrorism: The Reality Behind the News
September 24, 2007
5:30 p.m.
International Cultural Center
601 Indiana
A reception will follow the talk

Note: Because of road construction, take either University Ave. or the new Texas Tech Parkway
to 4th Street and then turn south on Indiana

Ambassador Cofer Black, Chairman of Total Intel, is an internationally acknowledged expert in counterterrorism. He serves as CEO of the Black Group, LLC, a company providing security for corporate executives.
Prior to his current position, Ambassador Black was the State Department’s Coordinator for Counterterrorism with the rank of Ambassador at Large from Dec. 2002-Feb. 2005. Ambassador Black’s office, Security/Counterterrorism, had primary responsibility for developing, coordinating, and implementing U.S. counterterrorism policy. Before joining the State Department, Ambassador Black was the Director of the CIA Counterterrorism Center.

Sponsors: CH Foundation, Office of International Affairs, and the Center for Global Understanding

I hope to find time to attend and ask some tough questions.

MoveOn: Not Backing Down

It never ceases to amaze me how effective a grassroots organization MoveOn.org is. There are maybe 2 dozen people who make a living at MoveOn, but 3.2 million members nationwide who make it go.

Yesterday, they raised $500,000 from 12,000 donors, with an average donation of less than $50 per person. Let me repeat — half a million dollars in a single day from small donors only.

What’s all the fuss? MoveOn ran a very effective ad in the New York Times about a betrayal of trust from those responsible for leading our military.

The Republican response? “How impolite.” The Republican Senators put forward a resolution, sponsored by Texas’ own John Cornyn, condemning the MoveOn ad (voting record). Apparently, a single newspaper ad was more important to the Senate Republicans than actually providing adequate time at home for our troops in the field. And people wonder why congressional approval ratings are so low.

MoveOn’s response is to fight back with a new video that highlights the betrayal of trust from the Senate Republicans. You can watch the ad to see their message yourself and donate online if you are moved by it as I was.

A few minutes ago I ran into a friend downtown. “I just donated to MoveOn,” he told me, as I was about to return to my office and do the same. True story.

Solitarity

Today on Digg there was a video of Stephen Colbert’s segment “The Word,” which was made popular because of a shout-out to digg.com. (The video in question was removed from YouTube because of copyright — use the preceding Comedy Central link and watch the video called “Solitarity.”) The content of the video caught my attention, though, because Colbert is right — the current young generation does not know how to become active in the real world, even to the point of doing nothing while a classmate is excessively tasered a few feet away.

For me, this is a key issue: how to empower obviously concerned citizens who are active online but will not speak up offline. Obviously, I’m not saying that online political efforts are useless; I would sure be wasting my time writing this if that were the case. However, a certain amount of political work has to be done in the public space and “in the streets.”

In all honesty, I do think both laziness and a postmodern sense of detachment are working their ill effects throughout our democracy, as the Colbert “Solitarity” clip suggests. We do, in addition to personal foibles, have a very palpable society-wide resistance to activism in general to overcome. In many American cities, but especially in Lubbock, we have a pervading atmosphere of “don’t speak up; don’t make trouble.” That’s where online activism and organizing can help the most — we don’t suffer the disapproving glares of the local conservative status quo in front of a computer screen. So, begin your activism online because it’s safe and convenient, but don’t forget to take it with you when you stand up from your keyboard.

To borrow a phrase from a popular textfile group from my youth:

Save yourself! Go outside! DO SOMETHING!

Maybe saving the world is really that simple too.

DFT Poll: Mikal Watts or Rick Noriega?

Democracy for Texas has a poll about which Democratic Senate candidate to support — Rick Noriega or Mikal Watts. What I like about this poll is that they have posted each candidate’s answer to the DFT Questionnaire, which gives a pretty good idea of where each candidate stands on many important issues.

Rick Noriega DFT Questionnaire

Mikal Watts DFT Questionnaire

This is a great resource if you are following this exciting race for the Democratic Party nomination.

Ysidro Gutierrez Announces Re-election Bid

According to a story in this week’s El Editor, Precinct 3 County Commissioner Ysidro Gutierrez will announce his re-election bid this Saturday, September 22nd at 3pm at Jimenez restaurant and bakery downtown. Most recently, Ysidro is known for voting against a pay raise for County Commissioners and for giving away his raise to charity when the other Commissioners voted for the pay raise anyway.

The Saturday announcement should be a good time, and the food at Jimenez is always delicious.


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