Friday, 30 November 2007

Paul Loeb's Latest on Hillary

As much as I typically enjoy expounding on Presidential politics, I've been rather mute of late, feeling rather ambiguous about my own preferences. Kucinich continues to represent for me the most honest voice defending the values most important to me, but I'm enough of a realist to see that 1) he won't win, & 2) if he could, those forces in opposition to his vision would succeed in thwarting his efforts. Obama possesses an oratorical gift, a uniting vision, and fine intellect, but has failed to capture my imagination as I hoped he might, and has been disappointing in a few particulars. Edwards says a lot of the right things, but I don't fully trust him. Dodd and Biden are both smart and either would stand head and shoulders above the disaster currently occupying the White House, but neither is going to gain the traction to get there. Richardson maybe has an outside shot, and would make a good President, but I really think he's already looking to be the VP choice. Then there's Hillary. Competent and with a lot of connections, I can try to talk myself into thinking she won't be so bad, and at least will likely make many excellent appointments. But I cannot deny the palpable disappointment I feel that she will likely be the Democratic nominee. Hence I will simply publish here Paul Loeb's latest article:

Hillary Clinton and the Politics of Disappointment
by Paul Rogat Loeb

When Democrats worry about Hillary Clinton's electability, they focus on her reenergizing a depressed Republican base while demoralizing core Democratic activists, particularly those outraged about the war, and consequently losing the election. But there's a further danger if Hillary's nominated--that she will win but then split the Democratic Party.

We forget that this happened with her husband Bill, because compared to Bush, he's looking awfully good. Much of Hillary's support may be nostalgia for when America's president seemed to engage reality instead of disdaining it. But remember that over the course of Clinton's presidency, the Democrats lost 6 Senate seats, 46 Congressional seats, and 9 governorships. This political bleeding began when Monica Lewinsky was still an Oregon college senior. Given Hillary's protracted support of the Iraq war, her embrace of neoconservative rhetoric on Iran, and her coziness with powerful corporate interests, she could create a similar backlash once in office, dividing and depressing the Democratic base and reversing the party's newfound momentum.

Think about 1994. Pundits credited major Republican victories to angry white men, Hillary's failed healthcare plan, and Newt Gingrich's "Contract with America." But the defeat was equally rooted in a massive withdrawal of volunteer support among Democratic activists who felt politically betrayed. Nothing fostered this sense more than Bill Clinton's going to the mat to push the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Angered by a sense that he was subordinating all other priorities to corporate profits, and by his cavalier attitude toward the hollowing out of America's industrial base, labor, environmental and social-justice activists nationwide withdrew their energy from Democratic campaigns. This helped swing the election, much as the continued extension of these policies (particularly around dropping trade barriers with China) led just enough Democratic leaning voters in 2000 to help elect George Bush by staying home or voting for Ralph Nader.

No place saw a more dramatic political shift than my home state of Washington. In November 1992, Democratic activists volunteered by the thousands, hoping to end the Reagan-Bush era. On Election Day, I joined five other volunteers to help get out the vote in a swing district 20 miles south of Seattle. Volunteers had a similar presence in every major Democratic or competitive district in the state. The effort helped Clinton to carry the state and Democrats to capture eight out of nine House seats.

But by 1994 grass-roots Democratic campaigners mostly stayed home, disgruntled. In Washington State, there were barely enough people to distribute literature and make phone calls in Seattle's most liberal neighborhoods, let alone in swing suburban districts. Republicans won seven of our nine congressional races, and reelected a Senator known for baiting environmentalists.

The same was true nationwide. I spent that campaign season traveling to promote a book on campus activism, staying with friends long involved with progressive causes. Everywhere I went, critical races would go to the Republicans by the narrowest of margins. Yet my friends and their friends seemed strangely detached, so disgusted with Democratic politics that they no longer wanted anything to do with it. Surveys found that had voters who stayed home voted, they would have reversed the election outcome. Even a modest volunteer effort might have prevented the Republican sweep.

To prevail in close races, Democrats need enthusiastic volunteer involvement. This happened in 1992, and then again in 2006. If Hillary is the nominee, she's likely to significantly damp this involvement, especially among anti-war activists, many of whom are currently saying her candidacy would lead them to sit out the election entirely. She'll also draw out the political right in a way that will make it far harder for down-ticket Democrats in states like Kentucky and Virginia where the party has recently been winning. In a recent Pew poll, she had both higher unfavorable and lower favorable ratings than either Obama or Edwards. A July Fox poll (of citizens, not Fox viewers), 29% of voters (including 27% of Independents and 5% of Democrats) said they would "never vote for her under any circumstances," compared to just 6% overall saying the same about Obama, and less than 1% about Edwards. And a November 26 Zogby poll, (albeit one using some new methodologies) now shows her trailing the major Republican candidates, while Edwards and Obama defeat them. So she might not win at all, despite Bush's disastrous reign.

But even if she does, she is then strongly likely to fracture the party with her stands. She talks of staying in Iraq for counterterrorism operations, which could easily become indistinguishable from the present war. She backed the recent Kyl-Lieberman vote on Iran that Senator James Webb called "Cheney's fondest pipe dream." She supported at least one regressive version of the bankruptcy bill and the extension of Bush's tax cuts on capital gains and dividends. If her contributors are any guide, like those she courted in a $1,000-a-plate dinner for homeland security contractors, she's likely to cave to corporate interests so much in her economic policies that those increasingly squeezed by America's growing divides will backlash in ways that they're long been primed to by Republican rhetoric about "liberal elitists." And if Democrats do then begin to challenge her, the relative unity created by the Bush polities will quickly erode.

Because the Republican candidates would bring us more of the same ghastly policies we've seen from Bush and Cheney, I'd vote for Hillary if she became the nominee. But I'd do so with a very heavy heart, and a recognition that we'll have to push her to do the right thing on issue after issue, and won't always prevail. We still have a chance to select strong alternatives like Edwards (who I'm supporting) or Obama. And with Republican polling numbers in the toilet, this election gives Democrats an opportunity to seriously shift our national course that we may not have again for years. It would be a tragedy if they settled for the candidate most likely to shatter the momentum of this shift when it's barely begun..

Paul Rogat Loeb is the author of The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear, named the #3 political book of 2004 by the History Channel and the American Book Association. His previous books include Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in a Cynical Time. See To receive his articles directly email with the subject line: subscribe paulloeb-articles

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Theft of Our Airwaves

In what is truly a case of the privileged few versus the muzzled many, the FCC wants to further expand the consolidation of our media, which is already dominated by the broadcasting giants. Chairman Kevin Martin earlier this month proposed a relaxation of the rules against newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership within the same market area. And he's trying to rush its enactment before the holidays, by ending its comment period on December 11.

Martin is well aware that there is overwhelming widespread objection to media consolidation, as was evident at the last public hearing on the matter which I attended in Seattle on November 9th. Senators Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Trent Lott (R-MS) have been leading the effort in the Senate to oppose the FCC's attempts at further consolidation.

Democratic FCC Commissioners Michael Copps & Jonathan Adelstein have been consistent voices at the FCC in favor of the public interest and against consolidation, but the Republican majority have ignored the overwhelming opposition even within their own party, and consistently sided with big media. Prior to Kevin Martin, it was Michael Powelll who did big media's bidding. But before you think I'm impugning only Republicans in the sellout of OUR airwaves to Big Media, consider that Powell was appointed to the FCC by Clinton in 1997, more than a year after Clinton himself signed into law the Telecommunications Act of 1996, a massive overhaul of the laws governing media ownership, which resulted in unprecedented consolidation of media.

Back in those days not too many people outside the industry were paying attention to the dry subject of media regulation, but Clear Channel Communications for instance went on a buying spree with the elimination of the 40-station ownership cap, and now owns over 1200. Rupert Murdoch, Disney Corporation, AOL-Time-Warner, and others have been subsequent beneficiaries of this monumental legislation. In the name of deregulation and "free" ownership, we have created a situation where smaller operations without huge capital are squeezed out, local stories get short shrift, and our news sources have become homogenized. It turns out those restrictions actually served to empower the little guys. Minority ownership is down; local ownership is down; and bots are running radio stations controlled from thousands of miles away, saving money for the owners, but not serving the needs of the public consumers of media.

Byron Dorgan of North Dakota has become a champion of derailing the consolidation train, in part due to a literal train derailment in his home state in 2002, when 210,000 gallons of anhydrous ammonia was spilled near Minot. Authorities were unable to contact KCJB, the designated emergency broadcaster in a market where six of the seven commercial stations are owned by Clear Channel who typically pipe in broadcast material from elsewhere.

I'll warrant that the current deregulation is small potatoes compared to the monstrosity that Clinton signed into law, but it does include some back door provisions that make it worse in reality than it is on its face. We need to push lawmakers to go in the opposite direction and create incentives for more local and diverse control of all media. One step toward further consolidation is not the answer, no matter how Martin might spin it (pages 5&6). The time is short for contacting your members of Congress on this, or registering your comment at the FCC (click on Media Ownership ...-Docket 06-121.)

For more background on media consolidation, few have poured as much energy into this issue impacting our democracy as Bill Moyers, who offers a primer here. A great timeline of events related to media consolidation can be found on PBS's NOW website.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Troy Davis, Justice, and the Death Penalty

Innocence Matters!

So proclaims the website dedicated to the exoneration of one death row inmate in Georgia. Whether one believes that the death penalty is ever appropriate, or in the innocence or guilt of that particular inmate, we should all agree that indeed innocence does matter.

As we examine the case of Troy Anthony Davis, we should care very much whether an innocent man was convicted of a crime which substantial evidence seems to indicate was committed by someone else. It is also worth examining several broader questions. Does the desire to gain convictions skew investigations to buoy the first plausible solution to the exclusion of other possibilities? Once convicted of a crime, are the barriers to considering continued claims or evidence of innocence too steep? Should the certainty of guilt be even higher for the application of the death penalty? When if ever is the death penalty appropriate, or as the American Bar Association claims, do inconsistencies and flaws in our system of justice warrant a moratorium on capital punishment?

Ironically, it may be his death row status which ends up triggering a new trial for Davis, with the possibility of exoneration. Yesterday, the Georgia Supreme Court heard arguments for and against granting such a trial, with an expected decision to be rendered sometime early next year. This observer sees a real need for re-examination of the process for granting new trials in cases where either faulty investigations, over zealous prosecution, coerced testimony, recantations, or new evidence casts doubt on former convictions - whether or not the death penalty is involved. That doesn't mean opening every case where an inmate claims innocence, or making it too easy for outside organizations to force trials when the case is not strong. But justice is not served by keeping the innocent behind bars in the name of having "someone" pay for the crime, upholding the standing of police or prosecutors, or appearing tough on crime.

The Innocence Project is doing great work in using DNA testing from former convictions to exonerate many who have been unjustly imprisoned. But physical evidence is not always available, as in the case of Davis, and common sense suggests that wrongful convictions are at least as high in such cases where eye-witness testimony is likely to have played a major role.

I am not claiming to know that Troy Davis is innocent. My window on the case is limited to what I've heard on radio, read online, and heard in conversation with Laura Moye, who is deputy director of Amnesty International's Southern regional office. I acknowledge that I am a long way away, and may have been swayed by the fact that "Davis' supporters were good at 'marketing' their cause", as DA assistant David Lock told Georgia's justices. Still, based on what I have learned, it seems more plausible that alternative suspect Sylvester "Redd" Coles is the actual perpetrator. And it is very difficult to accept that a new trial should not be granted in light of the recantations of 7 of the 9 original eyewitnesses. From a Savannah Morning News account
"If the prosecution witnesses are recanting to that extent and that they possibly perjured themselves, then the Supreme Court is doing the right thing [in considering whether to grant a new trial]," said William "Rusty" Hubbarth, vice president of the pro-death-penalty Justice For All in Austin, Texas. "I have never heard of a case like this where you have five or six witnesses recanting."

A Tragic Night

When off duty police officer Mark MacPhail responded to a commotion near a downtown Savannah Burger King at 1 AM on Aug. 19th of 1989, he discovered a homeless man, Larry Young, being pistol whipped. Before he had a chance to draw his pistol from his holster, Larry Young's attacker, seeing the officer's badge, shot and killed him. Witnesses hearing the shots saw three men fleeing the scene. This account, one of a series of five recent articles about the case appearing the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, gives what appears to be a fair summary about what is known about the sequence of events that evening, and what Troy Davis and Redd Coles each claim to have occurred. Davis' proximity to the site of two shootings on the same evening understandably directed suspicion his way, but the wantonly murderous behavior he is accused of, seems to fit better with Coles prior and subsequent behavior than with that of Davis. And two of the recanting witnesses have signed affidavits declaring that Coles was also present at the party earlier in the evening near to where another man was shot and injured. Why would Davis brutally assault the homeless man, when even Coles admitted that it was he who had the initial argument (over a beer) with him? Why did Coles show up at the police station with a high paid lawyer to finger Davis in the crime? Why did Davis so readily return from his subsequent trip to Atlanta when he discovered he was the subject of a manhunt, unless he felt confident that he would be absolved of the charges.

7 of 9 Recant

But the most compelling case for granting a new trial comes from the sworn affidavits recanting earlier testimony which implicated Davis, and suggesting police coercion in obtaining that testimony. The unfortunate homeless man who was the victim of the beating was detained by police for over an hour when he most needed medical attention. In pain and somewhat inebriated he finally signed a statement written by police without reading it, in order to gain his own release. Reading the details of each recantation, it is difficult to believe prosecutor's claims that Davis' family was able to pressure all of these witnesses to recant earlier testimony, risking perjury, not to mention the wrath of the still free Coles, simply out of sympathy for a man on death row.

Troy Anthony Davis has been in prison now for 18 years. That alone would be an extraordinary sentence for what, if his story is true, may have been a case of keeping bad company and using poor judgment in the aftermath of gunfire. And yet a new trial is all he currently is asking for.

The appeals process has been yet another story in this case, where procedural reasoning seems to trump new reasonable doubt, whether in the state's habeas court denial of his petition in 1977, or the impact of provisions of the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 signed into law by Clinton, which restricted the power of federal courts to correct constitutional error in criminal cases, or the Federal 11th Circuit Court's denial of Troy's appeal in 2006, or the U.S. Supreme Court's refusal to hear his case.

This case has now gotten strong media attention, yet it is still not clear that a defendant who likely deserves at least a second trial will get one. How many other cases languish in obscurity where innocent prisoners will never receive a fair trial when they were originally denied one? In many cases - hopefully a large majority of them - our justice system where one is innocent until proven guilty works beautifully. We have a justice system which on the whole is worth fighting for, and is far better than that which existed in earlier centuries, or does exist in many places around the world. But two factors which stand as a threat to proper justice remain the inordinate influence of money and connections on the process, and the growing simplistic tough on crime attitude which vilifies the accused too early in the process, values numbers of convictions over certainty of justice, and turns a blind eye all too often on instances of police or prosecutorial misconduct.

Process matters. Complexity matters. Motive matters. Truth matters. Certainty matters.

Innocence matters.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

We Are All Socialists!

Or at least a vast majority of us are.

I could have as easily titled this piece "We Are All Capitalists!", with an identical qualification.

The point is, that with the exception of a few rigid extremists on either side, most of us acknowledge by our daily activities some acceptance of the fact that the capitalist model works quite well for many things in life, while a socialist model works for others. Too many, especially on the far right, but also on the far left, have tried to make this into an either/or dilemma, when it really ought to be about AND.

Here in the United States and much of the Western World, we have settled on an economic model which is predominately capitalist, with a few socialist elements. I happen to think that is probably the best choice. I love pointing out to those who find my views to be radical, that this ought to place me - in an economic sense, at least - a little to the right of center.

But for many, the commitment to an economic model has become imbued with a moral element which simply isn't appropriate. It is quite true that economic models, if they become grossly imbalanced, can allow ghastly things to happen which DO have a moral element. Such awful scenarios have been played out many times in history. China's Cultural Revolution and the Indonesian extermination of the East Timorese are but two examples abetted by economic imbalances of different origins.

We need to be more concerned about what works, and be willing to draw from models which have succeeded before, without ascribing evil intent to any suggestion which can be remotely associated with an ideology that we disagree with. The public sector of our economy exists for a reason, and most Americans agree that it has its place. Schools, the Post Office, police, fire departments, parks, and resource management are integral parts of our society which operate predominately on a socialist model, with some incentive-based balancing elements. That doesn't make the participants in that part of the economy radical commies foaming at the mouth, any more than those working for or running our corporations must be evil capitalists intent on stealing from the poor to line their own pockets.

We operate in a mixed economy, and should be wary of those whose commitment to an economic model trumps practical considerations in determining how to structure our various institutions. It seems that the folks at the Heritage Foundation would have us privatize every institution rather that acknowledge that occasionally (often!) the public good is better served by public institutions with public accountability. It's not that privatization is NEVER a good idea, but that it's certainly not ALWAYS a good idea.

When I look around me in 2007, there's not much left that hasn't been privatized or partially privatized that needs more privatization. I'm far more often alarmed by the extent of privatization that has occurred already. Naomi Klein, recent author of "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism", appearing on Democracy Now yesterday, said
The last frontier for the privatization of the state is the privatization of ... core state functions. You know, the only thing left that hasn’t already been privatized and outsourced is -- and this is pre-Bush administration -- is the army, is the police, are the fire departments. And these core state functions are really seen as the last great privatization free-for-all. It’s already entered healthcare. It’s already entered water. It’s already entered electricity, the media.
Those of us who are inclined to argue for de-privatizing some of that which has suffered from over privatization are frequently accused of being "far left" even when what is sought is simply movement back towards the way things were 20, 40, or even 80 years ago. And when someone like me suggests that in certain arenas, such as health care, we should simply acknowledge the net public good which could come from moving more fully to a socialist model, then in the eyes of some I might as well have suggested selling their children to work for Kim Jung Il.

Among the current crop of Presidential candidates, only Dennis Kucinich is bold enough to suggest that we need a single payer system for health insurance, even though in countries where such systems are standard, even political conservatives generally acknowledge the public good which they serve. I supported Kucinich's bid for the Democratic nomination four years ago, but recognizing that his selection would be undeservedly polarizing, was rather excited about the possibility that Obama might be less beholden to corporate interests than someone like Clinton, while speaking the language of unity which we desperately need, and hence center us. It is rather sad to me that Obama is obliged to take an improved but still timid approach to health care when it seems clear to me that something bolder is called for.

So call me a socialist if you like - I'll not deny it. But don't be surprised after we spend some time together, if I call you one too.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Writing Chuck about Mukasey

Occasionally I feel the need to engage in probably futile exercises, just so I can go on record. Today I sent the following web email to Senator Charles Schumer:
Change your mind - vote against Mukasey!

Neither Senator from my state of Washington is on the Judiciary Committee, so I feel compelled to write you on the matter of Michael Mukasey's nomination to be the chief law enforcement officer of our nation. Regardless of how nice he may be, Mukasey's equivocations under questioning demonstrate that he is unfit to take over as Attorney General, where a clear moral compass is needed more than ever in the wake of the errors left behind by Alberto Gonzales.

Arlen Specter and Lindsay Graham know Mukasey is not fit, but they will likely capitulate to the pressure of being Republicans. You do not have that handicap. Listen to your mother, talk to those like Sheldon Whitehouse who have made the necessary decision, and bring along others like Dianne Feinstein, in order to keep Mukasey's nomination from having to even go to the floor of the main Senate.

It's not just the bit about waterboarding. Mukasey has been equivocating all over the map, and you know it. Admit you were wrong, and do the right thing!

Thanks to you and your staff for taking the input of concerned American citizens such as myself.
Charles Schumer seems to exemplify for me exactly the wrong way to be a liberal. He's strident and stubborn in defending entrenched party positions, while he bends in exactly the places where liberalism can best take the moral high ground. Nonetheless, he's pretty effective and powerful, and we cannot lightly brush him off.

Why must Russ Feingold and his kind be so rare?