Monday, December 06, 2010

The Weekly Wrangle

Make plans to attend "Houston's Top Political Bloggers'" holiday soiree', next Monday, December 13. No "bottoms" allowed. And the rest of the Texas Progressive Alliance is gathering up boughs of holly in anticipation of future hall-decking as it brings you this week's blog roundup.

Off the Kuff takes a look at the HHSC report on the effects of dropping Medicaid. Short answer: It would be bad, but what they really have in mind to do may be even worse.

Bay Area Houston has some interesting comments on the criminal probe of State Representative Joe Driver.

Capitol Annex takes a look at a dangerous proposal by incoming State Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Humble) to allow independent school districts to lessen the amount of cash reserves they are required to keep on hand and explains why this is a terrible idea.

This week on Left of College Station Teddy takes a look at the shortfall in the Texas budget, and also covers the week in headlines.

McBlogger reminds everyone to STOP SHOUTING at the Federal Reserve for doing its job.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme won't be switching to U-verse now that AT&T bought 700 copies of Rick Perry's book. Yuck.

Neil at Texas Liberal makes note of the fact that unionized city workers in Houston are taking voluntary furloughs to help ease Houston's budget crisis. What a contrast this act of helping out Houston represents in comparsion to the public at large, which can be barely troubled to vote in municipal elections. Sometimes it is government that gets it right while individuals are apathetic or even hostile with regard to the public good.

Public Citizen's TexasVox blog gives you ways to get involved to keep Texas from becoming the nation's radioactive waste dump, by attending the public hearing in Austin on Dec 9 at 10am.

Friday, December 03, 2010

"So I guess we are, in fact, seeing what Mr. Obama is made of."

After the Democratic “shellacking” in the midterm elections, everyone wondered how President Obama would respond. Would he show what he was made of? Would he stand firm for the values he believes in, even in the face of political adversity?

On Monday, we got the answer: he announced a pay freeze for federal workers. This was an announcement that had it all. It was transparently cynical; it was trivial in scale, but misguided in direction; and by making the announcement, Mr. Obama effectively conceded the policy argument to the very people who are seeking — successfully, it seems — to destroy him.

So I guess we are, in fact, seeing what Mr. Obama is made of.

Each day it seems the president reaches a new stage of schmuckiness. Putzimas maximus.

It’s hard to escape the impression that Republicans have taken Mr. Obama’s measure — that they’re calling his bluff in the belief that he can be counted on to fold. And it’s also hard to escape the impression that they’re right.

The real question is what Mr. Obama and his inner circle are thinking. Do they really believe, after all this time, that gestures of appeasement to the G.O.P. will elicit a good-faith response?

What’s even more puzzling is the apparent indifference of the Obama team to the effect of such gestures on their supporters. One would have expected a candidate who rode the enthusiasm of activists to an upset victory in the Democratic primary to realize that this enthusiasm was an important asset. Instead, however, Mr. Obama almost seems as if he’s trying, systematically, to disappoint his once-fervent supporters, to convince the people who put him where he is that they made an embarrassing mistake.

Whatever is going on inside the White House, from the outside it looks like moral collapse — a complete failure of purpose and loss of direction.

Did Rahm Emanuel take Obama's spine with him when he left for Chicago? No, because there was nothing there to take in the first place. But the same also holds true of Gibbs and Axelrod and the rest. Quivering, quavering invertebrates.

You can't nail Jello to a tree, after all.

So what are Democrats to do? The answer, increasingly, seems to be that they’ll have to strike out on their own. In particular, Democrats in Congress still have the ability to put their opponents on the spot — as they did on Thursday when they forced a vote on extending middle-class tax cuts, putting Republicans in the awkward position of voting against the middle class to safeguard tax cuts for the rich.

It would be much easier, of course, for Democrats to draw a line if Mr. Obama would do his part. But all indications are that the party will have to look elsewhere for the leadership it needs.

Who's the leader of the Democratic party if it's not the president? Hillary Clinton? Not with that Wikileaks all over her face. Nancy Pelosi? Radioactive, by virtue of the avalanche of smear ads spent in the past campaign. Harry Reid?

Really? Harry Reid?

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Wikileaks, Julian Assange, and the Right's wrong response

“To radically shift regime behavior we must think clearly and boldly for if we have learned anything, it is that regimes do not want to be changed. We must think beyond those who have gone before us, and discover technological changes that embolden us with ways to act in which our forebears could not. Firstly we must understand what aspect of government or neocorporatist behavior we wish to change or remove. Secondly we must develop a way of thinking about this behavior that is strong enough carry us through the mire of politically distorted language, and into a position of clarity. Finally we must use these insights to inspire within us and others a course of ennobling, and effective action.”

Wikileaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange, “State and Terrorist Conspiracies

So that's what he's up to. OK. But why leak cables?

These leaks are not specifically about the war(s) at all, and most seem to simply be a broad swath of the everyday normal secrets that a security state keeps from all but its most trusted hundreds of thousands of people who have the right clearance. Which is the point: Assange is completely right that our government has conspiratorial functions. What else would you call the fact that a small percentage of our governing class governs and acts in our name according to information which is freely shared amongst them but which cannot be shared amongst their constituency? And we all probably knew that this was more or less the case; anyone who was surprised that our embassies are doing dirty, secretive, and disingenuous political work as a matter of course is naïve. But Assange is not trying to produce a journalistic scandal which will then provoke red-faced government reforms or something, precisely because no one is all that scandalized by such things any more. Instead, he is trying to strangle the links that make the conspiracy possible, to expose the necessary porousness of the American state’s conspiratorial network in hopes that the security state will then try to shrink its computational network in response, thereby making itself dumber and slower and smaller.

But doesn't this endanger national security? Not according to Dr. Richard Stoll at the Baker Institute for Public Policy:

Let me begin by saying two things:

1. The U.S. government classifies too much information.

2. While a number of the leaked documents are embarrassing, they probably do not damage U.S. national security.

But there are dangers to these disclosures.

Candor in conversations among diplomats in the course of their responsibility of foreign relations is one of the dangers he identifies.

Pshaw, I say.

In a world where privacy is being both quickly relinquished and usurped -- by Facebook, by the flash drives implicated in these Wikileaks disclosures, by online data mined by corporations and sold to advertisers, by TSA scans, by ubiquitous security cameras watching even to see if we run a red light -- indeed, in a world where the documents regarding the Kennedy assassination still remain hidden from public view, the idea that state secrets must remain so is only the case for those whom the secrets would implicate by nefarious intent.

Executives and managers in and out of government believe they must have some right or guarantee to frank and candid discussion without the possibility of those conversations becoming public.

I call BS.

That's where the plots against the people who elected them, who are managed by them, who guarantee their authority and their compensation are hatched.

And in an era when politicians are increasingly held to little account by the former watchdogs (the press), and the politicians as a result show little deference to any media that doesn't fit their POV (FOX), Wikileaks is providing an important check and balance on the corrupt, the scheming, and the dishonest.

And that's important for our democracy. Or our republic, if you prefer.

Of course that's not stopping Sarah Palin, or an advisor to the Canadian prime minister from insinuating or just outright calling for Julian Assange's murder. A collection of right-wing blogging goons only want to kill him, naturally, after they figure out how to use his data against Obama.

Assange in his own words again:

The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie. This must result in minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms (an increase in cognitive “secrecy tax”) and consequent system-wide cognitive decline resulting in decreased ability to hold onto power as the environment demands adaption. Hence in a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are nonlinearly hit relative to open, just systems. Since unjust systems, by their nature induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.

And back to zunguzungu for the wrap-up:

Julian Assange is trying to do something else. Because we all basically know that the US state — like all states — is basically doing a lot of basically shady things basically all the time, simply revealing the specific ways they are doing these shady things will not be, in and of itself, a necessarily good thing. In some cases, it may be a bad thing, and in many cases, the provisional good it may do will be limited in scope. The question for an ethical human being — and Assange always emphasizes his ethics — has to be the question of what exposing secrets will actually accomplish, what good it will do, what better state of affairs it will bring about. And whether you buy his argument or not, Assange has a clearly articulated vision for how Wikileaks’ activities will “carry us through the mire of politically distorted language, and into a position of clarity,” a strategy for how exposing secrets will ultimately impede the production of future secrets. The point of Wikileaks — as Assange argues — is simply to make Wikileaks unnecessary.

This post from the Newswatch blog at the Chron has several updates to the Wikileaks developments, including its next targets -- a major US bank, pharmaceutical companies, financial firms, and energy companies.

Other related articles:

-- Amazon has turned off Wikileaks' servers. This comes after they had moved to Amazon over the past weekend as they faced denial-of-service attacks to their network.

-- Interpol is after Assange on a sex crime charge.  Moscow's secret agents are also on his trail.

-- Congress may soon pass legislation strengthening the protection of whistle-blowers (ironically, to prevent them from going to Wikileaks).

-- Robert Scheer mocks Hllary Clinton:

Instead of disparaging the motives of the leakers, Hillary Clinton should offer a forthright explanation of why she continued the practice of Condoleezza Rice, her predecessor as secretary of state, of using American diplomats to spy on their colleagues working at the United Nations. Why did she issue a specific directive ordering U.S. diplomats to collect biometric information on U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and many of his colleagues?