Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Democracy in-action, U.S. versus Ukraine

An interesting sideline to the U.S. national election just concluded, is the Ukraine election which happened at the same time. Both elections ended in a very close vote, with a certain cloudiness to the results. Yet in the U.S. there's no outcry, while in the Ukraine the "loser" refused to take on the "loser" role, and instead declared that he really is the winner, that the election was rigged, and there have been mass protests in the streets since.

Democracy inaction If U.S. officials who are complaining about election fraud in Ukraine applied the same standards in Ohio, then our own presidential election certainly was stolen. By James K. Galbraith; salon.com Nov. 30, 2004

In this salon.com article, Galbraith compares the election results in Ohio with the Ukraine, and thinks the U.S. form of democracy is coming up wanting. I wonder, in 2000, how much of of Al Gore's calculus was being shy of risking a confrontation, risking raising the ire of the people. Would (I'm thinking out loud) the republicrats be afraid they'd lose control of the game if the people were to take to the streets in a massive way as they are in the Ukraine? And what of Kerry's calculus in 2000? One side is that he could simply return to being a Senator, and try again in 2008, while another side is the size of the vote gap that we covered earlier, and the unlikelihood of any recoount overcoming the size of the gap.

It's interesting to ponder "what if" either democratic candidate had been braver. But what about us, the people, of whom this more perfect union is created? Where is our will in this? It is, supposedly, our will which causes the more perfect union that is this country to exist, yes? Why is our will so badly represented by our supposed representatives?

Since that's such a large question, I'll just have to leave that as a question for the reader to ponder.

In the meantime you might find the companion article also interesting: Where democracy refuses to die The media was pro-government. In much of the country, the election machinery was controlled by the ruling party. Voter fraud was rampant. But the people of Ukraine will not surrender. By David Talbot; salon.com Nov. 30, 2004

The Talbot article is an interview of Olena Prytula, editor in chief of Ukrayinska Pravda (Ukrainian Truth).

You know, as Stalin said, it doesn't matter who votes, it's who counts.
In the disputed regions of Ukraine, Yanukovych's people controlled the results counting. Comparitively, in Ohio it was George W Bush's Ohio Campaign manager who was also the Secretary of State and hence in control of the people counting the results. As they say, it doesn't matter who votes, but who does the counting.

Monday, November 29, 2004

China, ASEAN to create trade bloc

Hmm, the world global economy is shaping up into a few large trading blocks.

China, ASEAN to create trade bloc

Monday, November 29, 2004 Posted: 8:34 AM EST (1334 GMT) CNN.COM

Already existing is NAFTA (Canada+US+Mexico) and the EU (Europe).

I've seen proposals to expand NAFTA to more of the America's, and now China and ASEAN have agreed to form a free-trade zone.

That leaves me pondering the fate of other regions .. for example, India is not included in this new China/ASEAN bloc, and we have India and Pakistan in interesting conversations. That leaves Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia uncovered by "free-trade" zones.

That also leaves me pondering just who is served by these free trade agreements?

Friday, November 26, 2004

"Stunning" arms haul in Falluja

'Stunning' arms haul in Falluja

Thursday, 25 November, 2004, 15:55 GMT BBC.CO.UK

There was an assault launched upon Falluja, launched the week after the U.S. Presidential Election (convenient, that). The assault was intended to route out "insurgents" who are resisting the occupation of Iraq.

There are many reports, such as this, of weapons cache's found by the soldiers "clearing" Falluja. It shouldn't be surprising that these weapons are being found. The insurgents have obviously been getting their weapons from somewhere, and there is the little matter of rampant looting of the Iraqi army weaponry shortly after the invasion of Iraq. Though for some reason the news articles come across as if this is shocking and unexpected.

Ohio judge denies recount request

Ohio judge denies recount request

Wednesday, November 24, 2004 Posted: 7:55 AM EST (1255 GMT) CNN.COM

As noted previously there's a few questions of foul-play in the latest election. Some people requested a recount in Ohio, but the recount has been denied (for now) until the first count becomes "official". Once officialized the Judges will consider the recount request.

Monday, November 22, 2004

"We're Sorry" and "Apologies Accepted"

Here's an interesting bit of global healing that spontaneously sprang up after the 2004 US election.

http://www.sorryeverybody.com/ is a "foto blog" which is allowing people to express how sorry we are that Bush won this time. It's full of photographs ...

The companion site
is for people from around the world to say something like "we accept your apologies".

I'm really liking the outpouring of concern between the U.S. and the rest of the world that's happening through these two web sites. The highest purpose of the Internet is to provide connection between us all, and here it is happening.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Powell may be lying, or not

Following the release of claims that Iran has yet more secret uranium enrichment facilities than have previously been disclosed - Colin Powell (at this point still U.S. Secretary of State) was quoted as saying he'd seen similar "intelligence" and that he believed the report. Despite it coming from an Iranian dissident group which the U.S. lists as a terrorist group.

This CNN article documents a little firestorm around his comments:

Source of Powell's Iran intelligence under scrutiny

Friday, November 19, 2004 Posted: 4:15 PM EST (2115 GMT) CNN.COM

"This allegation is timed to coincide with the next meeting of the board of governors of the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency]," Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Hussein Moussavian, said. "And every time just before the meeting there are these kind of allegations either from the United States or terrorist groups. And every time these allegations have proven to be false."

Now, this is much as I said a couple days ago. Curious timing this is. The denial is a little hollow, though, coming from an Iranian. Just as Powell's claim of having seen evidence is a little hollow, given his past performance at truthfulness (can you say 26 lies in the U.N. Security Council presentation in Feb 2003 to justify the Iraq invasion?).

So what we're left with is some he-said-he-said games and we can't really trust any of the speakers. Powell lied to the U.N. already, the dissident group is on the State Department terrorist list, and the Iranians may simply be covering their ass with public denials. What's the truth?

This is the problem with having lied in the past, Secretary Powell. We don't trust you any longer. If you hadn't lied to the U.N. then you would still have credibility and your claim today would hold water. While you will be gone soon, your designated successor has even less credibility.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Shaking up the cabinet

Since the election the cabinet has seen a few departures. It's known that over 1 1/2 years ago, Bush required his cabinet members to stay on, and not resign, until after the election. Now that the floodgates are open, we have people leaving and being replaced.

So far the departures and replacements indicate that the administration is going to take an even harder line. For example the replacement Attorney General is the fellow who wrote memo's giving legal cover for the torture in places like the Guantanamo Bay and abu Ghraib prisons.

As of November 16, here are the departures:

  • Colin Powell: Secretary of State; being replaced by Condoleeza Rice (cnn article)
  • John Ashcroft: Attorney General; being replaced by Alberto Gonzales (cnn article)
  • Don Evans: Secretary of Commerce
  • Rod Paige: Secretary of Education
  • Ann Veneman: Secretary of Agriculture
  • Spencer Abraham: Secretary of Energy

Apparently along with Colin Powell, the whole senior management of the State Department is leaving. So much for moderation in the second term.

Along with cabinet departures there is a shakeup at the CIA.

Top leaders of CIA's clandestine service resign

Monday, November 15, 2004 Posted: 11:14 PM EST (0414 GMT) CNN.COM

As The CIA Turns...


Top CIA staff quit US spy agency

Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 November, 2004, 04:34 GMT BBC

C.I.A. Churning Continues as 2 Top Officials Resign

Published: November 16, 2004 NYTIMES.COM

Spies rise up against CIA chief

By Marcus Warren in New York
(Filed: 15/11/2004)

CIA purge may be in the works

New director allegedly was told to get rid of those disloyal to Bush
Newsday - published in Houston Chronicle

CIA's No. 2 official retires amid reports of infighting

Saturday, November 13, 2004 Posted: 1628 GMT (0028 HKT) CNN.COM

Arafat health records stay private

Following up on the speculation on whether Arafat was poisined, we have this CNN report on the status of the medical records resulting from his stay in Paris that culminated in his death.

Arafat health records stay private

Tuesday, November 16, 2004 Posted: 7:56 AM EST (1256 GMT) CNN.COM

Basically, the French position is that it is up to Arafat's family to have the records released. Arafat's family is his wife Suha.

"We sent an official letter, asking for all the details and all the reports," Qureia said from his office outside Jerusalem. "He is one of the region's main leaders and therefore I think we should know what happened."

The intense secrecy surrounding Arafat's final days has aroused frustration and rumors in many parts of the Arab world.

Arafat's Jordanian physician, Dr. Ashraf al-Kurdi, has called for an autopsy, citing poisoning as a possible cause for Arafat's death.

However, on Saturday a top Palestinian official, Nasser al-Kidwa, the Palestinian envoy to the United Nations and Arafat's nephew, said that there is no evidence that Israel poisoned Arafat. Nevertheless, he, too, called for an investigation.

Israel has vehemently denied any wrongdoing in Arafat's death

Monday, November 15, 2004

Was Arafat assassinated?

Not that we'll ever be able to know for certain, but this little thought has lived in the back of my mind since Arafat took ill and has since died. He had many enemies in the Middle East, and both Sharon and Bush had repeatedly warned that Arafat was no longer "relavent". Sharon specifically threatened to assassinate him, and has occupied Arafat's compound in Ramallah for a few years holding him in a form of "house arrest".

This news article in Ha'aretz is a prime example:

WHAT IT MEANS: Politically, Arafat is a dead man walking

By David Landau, Ha'aretz Correspondent
Last Update: 25/06/2002 15:21

Bush's verdict: Arafat is the guilty party. "Today," he asserted, "the Palestinian authorities are encouraging, not opposing, terrorism." The Palestinian Authority, he added, had "rejected [Israel's] offered hand and trafficked with terrorists."

Bush's sentence was brutal and unequivocal: "Peace requires a new anddifferent Palestinian leadership," he pronounced.

And in this Associated Press article, published in the Taipei Times (Taiwan), Sharon explains why he would assassinate Arafat:

Sharon: Arafat could be assassinated

Tuesday, Apr 06, 2004,Page 6

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said his pledge to the US not to harm Palestinian President Yasser Arafat no longer holds, declaring that Arafat and the head of Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas are potential targets for assassination.

In an interview set for broadcast yesterday by Israeli Army Radio, Sharon said that three years ago he promised US President George W. Bush that Israel would not harm Arafat, but since then circumstances have changed.

"Arafat was given red carpet treatment everywhere in the world. Today it is clear to the US and to everyone just who Arafat is," Sharon said. Israel and the US are boycotting Arafat, charging that he is responsible for Palestinian violence.

In secret operations lore you sometimes hear of poisins that could undetectably cause sudden illness and death. In this case with Arafat, the illness came on suddenly, and apparently there was confusion over the problem in both diagnosis and treatment. Even when he arrived in Paris at the leading blood disease hospital. It would be naive to not consider this question, especially given the coincidental timing matching the U.S. Presidential election.

It's clear that the Palestinians themselves think Arafat was assassinated. Whether or not he really was, some of the palestinian "street" will think so and act on that belief. There isn't any evidence whether he was, or wasn't. The news articles provided on this page are the tip of the iceberg resulting from some google searching. There are many more articles suggesting that Arafat was in danger of assassination, but that direct action to make an obvious assassination would have "cost" too much in terms of reaction by the Arab and Palestinian "street".

What "good" does it do to entertain ideas that you can't prove? The mind likes to fill a vacuum, and if you can't prove something then that lack of proof creates a vacuum. What will the mind fill it with? In this case we can see in the following articles that the Palestinians are filling it with "Arafat was assassinated".

This article talks of concern by top Palestinian leadership that Arafat might have been poisined, and that they took blood samples for analysis in labs in Germany and the United States.

Aide alleges Israel poisoned Arafat

Nov. 8, 2004 0:25 by Lamia Lahoud

There is a series of interviews by MiddleEast.COM (Middle East Review) of a Palestinian political science professor, who describes the theory and beliefs from the Palestinian "street" point of view. To listen you'll have to visit

their page

Arafat Assassination Discussed on San Antonio KTSA with numerous quotes from MER, MiddleEast.Org, articles. (11/11/2004)
With many quotes from MER articles the assassination of Yasser Arafat was discussed on San Antonio, Texas, Radio KTSA the afternoon of 11 November, the day Arafat's death was finally announced. MER Publisher Mark Bruzonsky was invited to discuss Arafat's death and the realities of the new 'Palestinian leadership' and the Middle East 'peace process' for about 20 minutes. Bruzonsky, former Washington Representative of the World Jewish Congress, provided the live on-air commentary for Canadian national TV during the White House signing ceremony with Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin in Sept 1993. He can be reached at Mark@Bruzonsky.com, (202) 352-5266 in Washington, and bio info is at www.MiddleEast.Org/mab.

Prof. Hisham Ahmed in Ramallah on the Killing of Yasser Arafat (11/7/2004)
Was Yasser Arafat actually assassinated by blood poisoning? Was Yasser Arafat assassinated like Caesar of old by Israel and enemies from within all with an American OK? Listen to Professor of Political Science and former Fulbright Scholar Hisham Ahmed discuss these historic matters with Mark Bruzonsky, the publisher of MiddleEast.Org. Professor Ahmed received his Ph.D. from the University of California at Santa Barbara and now teaches at Bir Zeit University. He lives near the former Arafat Headquarters in Ramallah in Occupied Palestine. This interview was conducted in the early morning hours of Saturday, 6 November. Professor Ahmed can be reached at Hisham@MiddleEast.Org and (202) 362-5266. (13 minutes)

Professor Hisham Ahmed on the Blood Poisoning of Yasser Arafat (11/6/2004)
Was Yasser Arafat actually assassinated by blood poisoning? Was Yasser Arafat assassinated like Caesar of old by Israel and enemies from within all with an American OK? Listen to Professor of Political Science and former Fulbright Scholar Hisham Ahmed discuss these historic matters with Mark Bruzonsky, the publisher of MiddleEast.Org. Professor Ahmed received his Ph.D. from the University of California at Santa Barbara and now teaches at Bir Zeit University. He lives near the former Arafat Headquarters in Ramallah in Occupied Palestine. This interview was conducted at 11pm on Friday, 5 November. Professor Ahmed can be reached at Hisham@MiddleEast.Org and (202) 362-5266. (23 minutes)

Arafat's Death, Burial, and Legacy. Interview with Mark Bruzonsky on 5 November with Toronto 640 Mojo Radio - 20 minutes (11/5/2004)
5 November 2004 - With Yasser Arafat still captivating the world at the time of his death, MER Publisher Mark Bruzonsky was interviewed today on Toronto Radio 640 about Arafat, where he will be buried, and what legacy he leaves. Bruzonsky has meet personally with Arafat in Beirut, Cairo, and Tunis. In 1985 Bruzonsky had a private dinner with Arafat and a few of the top leaders of the PLO at Kubba Palace along the banks of the Nile in Egypt. Bruzonsky can be contacted at MAB@MiddleEast.Org and by phone in Washington at (202) 362-5266. His bio information is at http://www.MiddleEast.Org/mab. (Approximately 20 minutes).

Fallujah "liberated", supposedly

Troops Battle for Last Parts Of Fallujah

Senior Iraqi Officials Claim City Is Liberated

By Jackie Spinner and Karl Vick
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, November 14, 2004; Page A01

The U.S. military has declared Fallujah "liberated", but there is still intense fighting going on. The last "pocket of resistance" is "surprisingly" well organized in a way similar to a regular army. Oh, and violence has increased in other parts of Iraq, seemingly because some who were in Fallujah have left to take up the fight elsewhere.

Zarqawi, the main target of this offensive, was nowhere to be found. Hmmm...

Iraqi rebels slip away to fight another day

By Aqeel Hussein in al-Nouaimia and Toby Harnden in Fallujah

(Filed: 14/11/2004) (telegraph.co.uk)

So much for capturing the bulk of the resistance.

Families fleeing the besieged city of Fallujah say that rebel fighters have slipped through the American and Iraqi military cordon and have been driven away in Mercedes cars to rejoin the battle elsewhere in Iraq.

The fighters, said to include foreign militants using satellite telephones, are believed to be heading for Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul, to open a new front.

Regardless of anything else, the fighting was rough:

55 US Soldiers Killed This Week

At least 34 killed in Fallujah alone

by Michael Ewens (antiwar.com; November 14, 2004)

The most telling sentence is:

[the military] continues to pursue policies that suppose there exists a static number of Iraqis willing to fight the occupation: if they could only kill them all, democracy and calm would flourish. Of course, it is more likely that these incursions will create more insurgency.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

ActForChange.com activism

Even though salon.com did a good job debunking the specific issues raised concerning the 2004 election, I feel concerned. The use of paper-trail-lacking voting machines must be stopped, for example, since we must have accountability in the voting system.

ActForChange.com (a division of Working Assets) has two calls for action out right now. The action is simple, sending an email to congress-people asking for investigation and reform.

Investigate Electronic Voting Machines


Pass Meaningful Election Reform


Make Election Day a National Holiday


Tuesday, November 9, 2004

More missteps - Falluja attack prompts Sunni's to withdraw from government

The following is a roundup of todays news regarding Iraq. Over the past 2-3 days the assault on Fallujah was launched by U.S. forces, supposedly assisted by the new Iraq army. The purpose is to quash the "rebellion" in Fallujah so that fair and open elections can be democratically held. Rumsfeld is expecting this to "tip" Fallujah over to "our side", and presumably to cause the rest of Iraq to come to "our" side".

Instead we see in the articles below the immediate and harsh reaction by at least one Sunni political party to withdraw their support from the Iraq government. We see much bloodshed, and we know from the past that bloodshed and fighting has only turned into more anger and resentment by the Iraqi's. It is the bloodshed and fighting which fuels the resistance movement, by inciting the people to join the resistance.

In the time.com article, they quote the Marine Sgt. Major as equating this with the U.S. Marine assault on Hue (Vietnam, 1968). While that assault was a military success in a similar situation to the assault on Fallujah (both cities held by "insurgents", destablising the attempt to install democracy), and while the assault on Hue was a military victory, it only worsened the Vietnam situation. In the larger picture, the assault on Hue was the tipping point of losing Vietnam. We have all the earmarkings that this assault on Fallujah will only worsen the Iraq situation.

From before the invasion of Iraq I've been shaking my head over this thought that one can "install" democracy. I think a country needs to choose democracy, not have it forced upon them, especially with guns pointing at them. The core feature of democracy is that the people rule the country jointly, and forcing democracy onto a people is the antithesis of the concept of the people jointly ruling a country.

Rumsfeld Looks to Military Success to 'Tip' Iraqi Opinion

Defense secretary argues that routing insurgents could persuade public to back interim leadership.

By Mark Mazzetti, LA Times Staff Writer

November 9, 2004; LATimes.com

WASHINGTON — U.S. troops captured Saddam Hussein, killed his much-loathed sons and handed power over to an Iraqi interim government. But none of that succeeded in tipping Iraqi public opinion decisively in favor of the United States.

Now, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other officials say they are hoping that crushing militants in Fallouja will serve as a milestone for winning the backing of the Iraqi public and deflating the lethal insurgency.

The Grim Calculations of Retaking Fallujah

Capturing the city could mean a Sunni election boycott, but leaving it in rebel hands would also jeopardize the poll

By TONY KARON (time.com, Monday, Nov. 08, 2004)

Allawi plays for high stakes using force to ensure elections

By Anton La Guardia, Diplomatic Editor
(Filed: November 9, 2004) (London Telegraph)

During a surprise visit to members of Iraq's new army he (Allawi) said he had personally authorised US forces to clean Fallujah of terrorists.

...Mr Allawi said the attack in Fallujah and the security measures were designed to restore order before Iraq's elections next January.

He is playing for high stakes. If coalition forces are successful in Fallujah, he will have taken an important step in asserting his government authority.

But if the operation fails, or causes heavy civilian casualties, the prime minister could ignite greater resistance.

US looking to Allawi to avoid repeat of last aborted Fallujah offensive

WASHINGTON, Nov 8 (AFP) - The US military was forced to abort its first attempt to retake the restive Iraqi city of Fallujah in April. Now it is counting on Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi to avoid a repeat as it sends troops back into the insurgent-held city.

U.S. forces launch ground assault on Fallujah

By Associated Press, 11/8/2004 11:29 (boston.com)

U.S. forces storm into northern districts of Fallujah, opening major assault on insurgent stronghold

By Jim Krane, Associated Press, 11/8/2004 15:14 (boston.com)

Fallujah has painful history at hands of British, U.S. forces
Stronghold has become symbol of insurgency

By Agence France Presse (AFP) Tuesday, November 09, 2004 (The Daily Star, Lebanon)

By striking at this city that has come to symbolize resistance in Iraq, the U.S.-led forces and Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi are hoping to break the back of the insurgency so key elections can go ahead more peacefully in January.

...Fallujah, located in the restive mainly Sunni province of Al-Anbar, has a bitter history with the American and British forces.

It has painful memories of its time under British mandate in the 1920's and was also bombed during the 1991 Gulf War.

Overlooked, or perhaps avoided during the war, the city has always simmered - too much to ignore but not enough to require crushing - since the invasion to oust Saddam Hussein in March last year.

Relations with the Americans really deteriorated in April 2003 when U.S. troops opened fire on protesters who demanded that U.S. soldiers not use a school as a base. At least 17 Iraqis were killed.

Missiles rain indiscriminately on Fallujah

November 09 2004 at 02:02AM (Independant online, South Africa)

Fallujah becomes 'like hell'

09/11/2004 07:54 - (news24.com, South Africa)

Fallujah - The skies over Fallujah lit up from the flashes of air and artillery barrages as United States troops launched an offensive to seize key insurgent strongholds in a city that became the major sanctuary for Islamic extremists who fought marines to a standstill last April.

Sunni party withdraws from Iraqi government in protest over Fallujah

By Sameer N. Yacoub, Associated Press, 11/9/2004 02:31

and, in Washington Post

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) A major Sunni political party has quit the interim Iraqi government and revoked its single minister from the Cabinet in protest over the U.S. assault on the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah, the party's leader said Tuesday.

The Iraqi Islamic Party wields significant influence over the country's Sunni community and its withdrawal from the government will likely be a blow to Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.

"We are protesting the attack on Fallujah and the injustice that is inflicted on the innocent people of the city," said Mohsen Abdel-Hamid, head of the Iraqi Islamic Party.


Sunni clerics call for boycott of January elections because of Fallujah attack

By Associated Press, 11/9/2004 09:53 (boston.com)

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) A powerful group of Sunni Muslim clerics called Tuesday for a boycott of national elections set for late January ... The group's director, Harith al-Dhari, said the election was being held "over the corpses of those killed in Fallujah and the blood of the wounded."

Fallujah a city of mosques and resistance

Posted on Sun, Nov. 07, 2004

Residents mostly strict Muslims

The Associated Press

Fallujah calls itself the “City of Mosques

Portable Nuclear Power Plants (SSTAR: a small, sealed, transportable, autonomous reactor)

Nuclear power has a greatly mixed blessing. On the one hand it offers vast quantities of electricity without the hydrocarbon-style pollutions, and you don't have to ruin a river valley by installing a dam. On the other hand nuclear wastes last for thousands of years, so disposal is a problem, and then what if the nuclear material falls into the wrong hands and they make bombs out of it? Proliferation of nuclear weapons is a serious problem.

The tension with both Iraq and North Korea right now is over their development of nuclear technology. Is it simply for peaceful purposes, providing electricity to run the country? Or are they building bombs? Since they're refusing to abide by the nuclear inspection regimine run by the International Atomic Energy Commission, how can we be certain?

All countries, developing and otherwise require power in order to modernize themselves. A team at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has been working on a particular solution to this problem.

SSTAR is a small and relatively lightweight nuclear reactor with which they intend to solve a broad range of issues around the use of nuclear reactors. Here's the feature set:

  • Transportable by ship in a shipping container
  • At 500 tons weight, it can be transported from the port to its destination by heavy truck
  • It is tamper resistant and contains notification capabilities, making it safe to deliver into uncertain territory and have assuredness the nuclear material will not be misdirected
  • The coolant is a liquid metal that will not boil off
  • The design is sealed and meant to remain in operation for 30 years without much intervention
  • Wastes remain within the reactor
  • After 30 years the recipient returns the nuclear reactor for "recycling"

Clearly we have a two-edged sword here. Past nuclear reactors have safety problems, could provide weapons making material to undesirable institutions, and have massive technology and infrastructure requirements to build and maintain. Further the waste disposal problem is very bad, with growing resistance to the transport of nuclear waste around the world (and with good reason).

These problems have resulted in a vehement anti-nuclear crowd that knee-jerkily shouts "NO NUKES" whenever possible. They regularly protest anything remotely nuclear, and just last week a protester in Germany lost his life trying to block a train carrying nuclear waste.

With the current state of nuclear technology, I must agree with them. It is very dangerous stuff, and I am glad that the U.S. has not built new nuclear plants in decades.

However, this LLNL design provides for some very interesting thinking.

What if ... The design is of a size useful to a developing country, and appears to have enough safeguards for deployment nearly anywhere. And it offers "clean" power, in that the immediate output of the reactor is steam that runs a turbine. Due to the high temperature it can also be used in hydrogen production, providing a source of pure hydrogen for fuel cells.

What are the problems with nuclear power and how does this design stack up against them? Here's a few, and it makes the rosy scenario painted by the scientists to be a little less certain. I am comforted somewhat that they envision shipping these as product in 2015, which gives us a few years (5-10 maybe) of design debugging.

Issue Solution Devils Advocate
Proliferation Tamper-"resistant" and includes notification facilities. "Resistant"? I'd rather it be tamper "proof" but how could that be accomplished?

The notification facility is likely some kind of satellite radio system. The article discusses the notification system being triggered by detectors rigged to "identify actions that threaten the security of the reactor".

What if a country gets real "uppity" and successfully wards off inspectors and the "international community" to tamper with and remove the nuclear material for their own nefarious ends?

Waste & Radiation in general The waste stays within the reactor. It gets "recycled" after the 30 year lifespan is up. It has to be returned to the supplier for recycling. What if the supplier goes out of business?

How can we test against leaks over a 30 year lifespan?

What if there's an accident during transport to the destination, or upon return to the supplier? Will the design withstand being dropped while being loaded or unloaded on the cargo ship? What if the cargo ship sinks?

Meltdown Liquid metal "coolant" cannot boil off

Liquid metal is at a low pressure

The design can include a passive shutdown feature

In the article they discuss "corrosiveness" of some formulations of the liquid metal coolant. Will this work over a 30 year lifespan?

Control systems fail all the time, and computer systems always have bugs. How can we trust 30 years of successful operation to a computer software system?

Monday, November 8, 2004

Battle for Falluja - just days after election

Just in time for it to not affect the election results, we have this:

Battle for Falluja begins

Monday, November 8, 2004 Posted: 2:03 PM EST (1903 GMT)

The election was finalized on November 4, the invasion of Falluja begain on November 8. The administration would likely have us believe this is a coincidence, but I think not. It's raw politicized conniving, that's what it is.

Sunday, November 7, 2004

Iran negotiations proceeding, having success

'Progress' at Iran nuclear talks (BBC)

The EU and various european countries are continuing their negotiations with Iran. The sword over their head is that if the negotiations fail, the EU will agree with U.S. to "refer" the Iran situation to the UN Security Council.

China is involved, having recently veto'd something that came to the UN Security Council. China is also in deep cahoots on a business level with Iran, being a big customer of Iran's oil. Iran is offering China that Iran would be their "gateway" to the Middle East, whatever that means. And the payback is obviously that China would do something to cover for them in the UN.

Iran Reaches Preliminary Nuclear Accord With Europe, IRNA Says

(Bloomberg) Nov. 7

"All four delegations are supposed to go to their capitals and if the capitals agree with the agreement, it will be officially announced in the next few days," Hossein Mousavian, the head of the Iran's delegation in the French capital told state television, IRNA reported.

Iran reached preliminary nuclear agreement with EU

11/7/2004 7:00:00 PM GMT (aljazeera.com)

Iran asks Bush to “change behavior

Thursday, November 4, 2004

The definition of slippery slope - "questionable money transactions"

In the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks a questionable law was rushed through Congress. The PATRIOT act (so-called). Many have been worried about the effects this law will have, since it was rushed through before anybody in Congress could understand what they were voting for.

In a washingtonpost.com article we see "slippery slope" in action.

Money-Laundering Law to Be Extended

By Bill Arthur

Bloomberg News

Wednesday, November 3, 2004; Page E03

The article discusses the "money laundering" provisions of the PATRIOT act. Clearly loose money controls through certain industries allowed the "terrorists" to send their money around. We learned at that time of a traditional money passing system run by Muslims around the world, that supports money transfers under the radar of the normal banking system. While it's the Muslim equivalent to the Western Union Moneygram (and frequently used by Hispanics to send money home to their families in Mexico and elsewhere), it possibly was used by the al Qaeda financiers. Those organizations also received funding from Muslim Charities, by the way.

If one could cut off the avenues through which al Qaeda and other organizations can send their money around, then you can cut off the air supply (to borrow a phrase) of their operatives in the field. Clearly that's the intent of the law.

But, what does that mean? That means tighter control over the flow of money around the world. Tighter control just so we can stop "terrorists". This is the financial equivalent to how we all must take off our shoes while going through airports now. Just because one guy tried to set off a shoe bomb in an airplane, the officials are now determined to stop all future shoe bombs, and force us all to take off our shoes and have our shoes screened. Even though the chance of catching another shoe bomb is vanishingly small.

In the article they discuss how the law was originally applied to banks credit unions, casinos, securities broker-dealers and mutual funds. Now it is being extended to jewelers. Here's their theory:

...Enforcement officials want to prevent terrorists from using other cash-intensive businesses as alternatives after banks and casinos implemented the law.

"As you tighten control in the formal financial sector, banks for example, people will look to move elsewhere to try and integrate dirty money into the system," William D. Langford Jr., associate director for regulatory policy at the network, said in an interview Monday.

Insurance companies also would be required to file suspicious-activity reports to the government. "Both rules, I hope, will be out in the next month," Langford said.

The muddy slippery slope is right there in the words, obvious for all to see. The "network" in question is

The U.S. Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCen)

(web site: http://www.fincen.gov/ )

What of the personal privacy implications? In the article the people quoted do say stuff about "doing it right". Still, this is an deep intrusion into normal economic activity. Is there sufficient reason for the government to be tapping into this?

Election validity concerns

UPDATE [November 10, 2004] salon.com has an article today examining most of these issues, and finding good and simple explanations for all of them. Salon.com is not the kind of organization that would whitewash over issues, but revels in digging up dirt. The explanations they offer are good to my eye.

Was the election stolen?

The system is clearly broken. But there is no evidence that Bush won because of voter fraud.

BLACK BOX VOTING (web site, book) bills itself as "Consumer protection for elections". As the site says:

Voting without auditing. (Are we insane?)

In other words, we hold a vote, then do not double-check whether the vote was tampered with. I find the idea compelling, especially with what she reports in a pilot study:

Such a request [ed- freedom of information act] filed in King County, Washington on Sept. 15, following the primary election six weeks ago, uncovered an internal audit log containing a three-hour deletion on election night; “trouble slips

Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Voter turnout highest since 1968

Voter turnout highest since 1968 (CNN)

Wednesday, November 3, 2004 Posted: 2:17 PM EST (1917 GMT)

One bright spot of this election is the higher level of interest. This is reflected in voter turnout. On NPR in their interviews with officials around the country, one point that came up over and over is the heavy turnout.

This reminds me of an interchange I had in a college course. The professor was talking about how voter turnout is high in many other countries, primarily the ones with a parliamentary system. He posed the question "why". The answer I shot back was "people here are bored with politics, in those countries the stakes are higher and it's more interesting overall" to which he said "interesting".

As I noted on "Ranked Choice" or "Instant Runoff" voting a few days ago, the U.S. election system isn't very representative. Since it's winner-take-all rather than proportional representation, the voters are highly incentivized to vote for the winner rather than the one who best represents their voice.

In this presidential race I found myself with two poor choices, and picked the least poor of the choices (well, Kerry would have been a pretty good choice, but I had a clear preference for Wesley Clarke). That's because my agenda was to get Bush out, leaving Kerry as the strongest voice to support who stood a chance of defeating Bush.

If the election were proportionally representational, I could have voted my conscious with less qualms. Say Clarke were still votable, I could have listed him as my primary choice, listing Kerry as the secondary choice, etc. Or it might be even more precise than that, because in the countries that do have proportional representation there are lots of parties available to choose from.

Still, it's exciting that so many people turned out. The people seem energized about politics in a way I hadn't thought possible. Heck, I'm energized about politics in a way I hadn't thought possible. I plan to keep up the sort of activism I've been doing, because I know my ideas and voice are worthy of being spoken. Just as everybody elses voices and ideas are worthy of being spoken.

We have a country to take back from the corporatist pseudo-royalty that have hijacked this country. They have bought and paid for the presidency twice now, and their candidate has a real mandate now rather than the pseudo mandate he stole in 2000, and they are about to get their dream supreme court justice (Renhquist will be dead soon). We have to keep the pressure on our representatives to represent us.

Vote results watching

It's 10:15 PM PST (1:15 EST) and Fox News has called Ohio for Bush. Is Bush's cousin still news director there?

Okay, that's a cheap shot ... I'm surprised since 50% of Cincinnati remains to be counted and the difference is around 100,000 votes. While that's a strong lead, Cincinatti has a lotta voters and all around the country the urban areas are voting democratic. I think it's still too early to call Ohio right now.

UPDATE [10:57 PM]: Saw on
a field report that some inner-city precincts in Ohio did not have enough voting equipment, and that people are still waiting in line to vote at midnight their time.

UPDATE [11:35 PM]: CNN has called Michigan for Kerry, while none others have. This is not a surprise though, and most of the other uncalled states are expected to go to Kerry. If Bush really has Ohio and Kerry has the rest, then we'll have a 269-269 tie.

Hence, Ohio is the key. Cincinatti still has 75% uncounted, but is overall leaning to Bush. The NPR voices keep saying there are many uncounted provisional ballots. There's something like 1/4 million votes remaining to be counted.

At the Kerry-Edwards headquarters, Edwards came out for a late-night speech-let saying they would fight for every vote. We can't expect a concession from them tonight.

UPDATE [11:43 PM]: Fox called Michigan for Kerry.

Apparently the Secretary of State in Ohio had noted they would not count the provisional ballots until the 11th day after the election. Presumably to allow the mail to deliver mailed votes.

UPDATE [2:30 AM]: I'd woke up in the middle of the night and checked. Nevada had been awarded only by NPR to Bush.

UPDATE [6:00 AM]: Other networks have awarded Nevada to Bush, but not all. Conspicuously Fox is not. On the other hand the Bush camp is claiming victory.

Over the past couple weeks there's been a series of salon.com articles pointing to shennanigans by the Ohio Secretary of State that were similar to the shennanigans pulled in Florida in 2000. We'll have to dig through those and see what that's about, as it's clear we're likely to have a drawn out battle over who gets Ohio.

UPDATE [6:08 AM]: CNN's web site reports that 100% of Ohio's counties have reported, with Bush having a 130,000 vote lead. My argument of last night doesn't hold any longer, Cincinatti voted for Bush by a comfortable margin. The only remaining thing to count in Ohio is the "provisional" ballots, which may include the absentee ones...?

Of concern is the report from salon.com of at least one precinct still having voters waiting to vote well into the night (after midnight). How widespread was that? How many voters gave up after such a long wait?

UPDATE [6:25 AM]:

With Echoes of 2000 Vote, Ohio Count Is at Issue (NY TIMES)
Iowa is planning a recount due to the closeness of results there. The Ohio Secretary of State reportedly told the Bush camp that statistically even the provisional ballots are not enough to help Kerry, hence the Bush camp is claiming victory. The Kerry camp claims there are 250,000 or more provisional ballots in Ohio to be counted.

UPDATE [9:40 AM]:

Kerry calls Bush to concede (CNN)

A Kerry adviser said the campaign had concluded that the too-close-to-call battleground state of Ohio was not going to come through for the Democrats.

The adviser said there was no way to gain votes on Bush without an "exhaustive fight," something that would have "further divided this country."

... During the brief conversation, Bush told the senator he was "an admirable, worthy opponent."

"You waged one tough campaign," McClellan quoted the president as saying. "I hope you are proud of the effort you put in. You should be."

Kerry must have looked at the numbers and decided the margin was too far out to overcome. The official difference in Ohio stands at around 140,000 votes, with somewhere around 175,000 (or more) provisional ballots to count. In order for them to make a difference, the provisional ballots would have to have been for Kerry at a vastly higher proportion than the regular ballots, which is highly unlikely.

Earlier in the day Andrew Card announced:

We are convinced that President Bush has won re-election with at least 286 electoral votes," Card said. (

CNN Transcript of Card's comments


To arrive at that number Bush would have to carry Ohio, Iowa and either New Mexico or Nevada. In other words, to make a clean sweep of the remaining states.

I believe that Bush's congradulation of Kerry and the tough campaign he fought, also applies to all of us who worked on getting the word out.

UPDATE [11:11 AM]: CNN calls Ohio for Bush, leaving New Mexico and Iowa still unaccounted for and Bush's total at 274. Kerry is giving his concession speech.
*** Sigh ***

Tuesday, November 2, 2004

This is Your Story - The Progressive Story of America. Pass It On.

Reprinted from

This is Your Story - The Progressive Story of America. Pass It On.
by Bill Moyers

Text of speech to the Take Back America conference sponsored by the Campaign for America’s Future

June 4, 2003

Washington, DC

Thank you for this award and for this occasion. I don't deserve either, but as George Burns said, I have arthritis and I don't deserve that, either.

Tomorrow is my 69th birthday and I cannot imagine a better present than this award or a better party than your company.

Fifty three years ago tomorrow, on my 16th birthday, I went to work for the daily newspaper in the small East Texas town where I grew up. It was a good place to be a cub reporter – small enough to navigate but big enough to keep me busy and learning something every day. I soon had a stroke of luck. Some of the old timers were on vacation or out sick and I got assigned to cover what came to be known as the Housewives' Rebellion. Fifteen women in my home town decided not to pay the social security withholding tax for their domestic workers. They argued that social security was unconstitutional, that imposing it was taxation without representation, and that – here's my favorite part – "requiring us to collect (the tax) is no different from requiring us to collect the garbage." They hired themselves a lawyer – none other than Martin Dies, the former congressman best known, or worst known, for his work as head of the House Committee on Un-American Activities in the 30s and 40s. He was no more effective at defending rebellious women than he had been protecting against communist subversives, and eventually the women wound up holding their noses and paying the tax.

The stories I wrote for my local paper were picked up and moved on the Associated Press wire. One day, the managing editor called me over and pointed to the AP ticker beside his desk. Moving across the wire was a notice citing one Bill Moyers and the paper for the reporting we had done on the "Rebellion."

That hooked me, and in one way or another – after a detour through seminary and then into politics and government for a spell – I've been covering the class war ever since. Those women in Marshall, Texas were its advance guard. They were not bad people. They were regulars at church, their children were my friends, many of them were active in community affairs, their husbands were pillars of the business and professional class in town. They were respectable and upstanding citizens all. So it took me awhile to figure out what had brought on that spasm of reactionary rebellion. It came to me one day, much later. They simply couldn't see beyond their own prerogatives. Fiercely loyal to their families, to their clubs, charities and congregations – fiercely loyal, in other words, to their own kind – they narrowly defined membership in democracy to include only people like them. The women who washed and ironed their laundry, wiped their children's bottoms, made their husband's beds, and cooked their family meals – these women, too, would grow old and frail, sick and decrepit, lose their husbands and face the ravages of time alone, with nothing to show from their years of labor but the crease in their brow and the knots on their knuckles; so be it; even on the distaff side of laissez faire, security was personal, not social, and what injustice existed this side of heaven would no doubt be redeemed beyond the Pearly Gates. God would surely be just to the poor once they got past Judgment Day.

In one way or another, this is the oldest story in America: the struggle to determine whether "we, the people" is a spiritual idea embedded in a political reality – one nation, indivisible – or merely a charade masquerading as piety and manipulated by the powerful and privileged to sustain their own way of life at the expense of others.

Let me make it clear that I don't harbor any idealized notion of politics and democracy; I worked for Lyndon Johnson, remember? Nor do I romanticize "the people." You should read my mail – or listen to the vitriol virtually spat at my answering machine. I understand what the politician meant who said of the Texas House of Representatives, "If you think these guys are bad, you should see their constituents."

But there is nothing idealized or romantic about the difference between a society whose arrangements roughly serve all its citizens and one whose institutions have been converted into a stupendous fraud. That difference can be the difference between democracy and oligarchy.

Look at our history. All of us know that the American Revolution ushered in what one historian called "The Age of Democratic Revolutions." For the Great Seal of the United States the new Congress went all the way back to the Roman poet Virgil: Novus Ordo Seclorum" – "a new age now begins." Page Smith reminds us that "their ambition was not merely to free themselves from dependence and subordination to the Crown but to inspire people everywhere to create agencies of government and forms of common social life that would offer greater dignity and hope to the exploited and suppressed" – to those, in other words, who had been the losers. Not surprisingly, the winners often resisted. In the early years of constitution-making in the states and emerging nation, aristocrats wanted a government of propertied "gentlemen" to keep the scales tilted in their favor. Battling on the other side were moderates and even those radicals harboring the extraordinary idea of letting all white males have the vote. Luckily, the weapons were words and ideas, not bullets. Through compromise and conciliation the draftsmen achieved a Constitution of checks and balances that is now the oldest in the world, even as the revolution of democracy that inspired it remains a tempestuous adolescent whose destiny is still up for grabs. For all the rhetoric about "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," it took a civil war to free the slaves and another hundred years to invest their freedom with meaning. Women only gained the right to vote in my mother's time. New ages don't arrive overnight, or without "blood, sweat, and tears."

You know this. You are the heirs of one of the country's great traditions – the progressive movement that started late in the l9th century and remade the American experience piece by piece until it peaked in the last third of the 20th century. I call it the progressive movement for lack of a more precise term. Its aim was to keep blood pumping through the veins of democracy when others were ready to call in the mortician. Progressives exalted and extended the original American revolution. They spelled out new terms of partnership between the people and their rulers. And they kindled a flame that lit some of the most prosperous decades in modern history, not only here but in aspiring democracies everywhere, especially those of western Europe.

Step back with me to the curtain-raiser, the founding convention of the People's Party – better known as the Populists – in 1892. The members were mainly cotton and wheat farmers from the recently reconstructed South and the newly settled Great Plains, and they had come on hard, hard times, driven to the wall by falling prices for their crops on one hand and racking interest rates, freight charges and supply costs on the other. This in the midst of a booming and growing industrial America. They were angry, and their platform – issued deliberately on the 4th of July – pulled no punches. "We meet," it said, "in the midst of a nation brought to the verge of moral, political and material ruin....Corruption dominates the ballot box, the [state] legislatures and the Congress and touches even the bench.....The newspapers are largely subsidized or muzzled, public opinion silenced....The fruits of the toil of millions are boldly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for a few."

Furious words from rural men and women who were traditionally conservative and whose memories of taming the frontier were fresh and personal. But in their fury they invoked an American tradition as powerful as frontier individualism – the war on inequality and especially on the role that government played in promoting and preserving inequality by favoring the rich. The Founding Fathers turned their backs on the idea of property qualifications for holding office under the Constitution because they wanted no part of a 'veneration for wealth" in the document. Thomas Jefferson, while claiming no interest in politics, built up a Republican Party – no relation to the present one – to take the government back from the speculators and "stock-jobbers," as he called them, who were in the saddle in 1800. Andrew Jackson slew the monster Second Bank of the United States, the 600-pound gorilla of the credit system in the 1830s, in the name of the people versus the aristocrats who sat on the bank's governing board.

All these leaders were on record in favor of small government – but their opposition wasn't simply to government as such. It was to government's power to confer privilege on insiders; on the rich who were democracy's equivalent of the royal favorites of monarchist days. (It's what the FCC does today.) The Populists knew it was the government that granted millions of acres of public land to the railroad builders. It was the government that gave the manufacturers of farm machinery a monopoly of the domestic market by a protective tariff that was no longer necessary to shelter "infant industries." It was the government that contracted the national currency and sparked a deflationary cycle that crushed debtors and fattened the wallets of creditors. And those who made the great fortunes used them to buy the legislative and judicial favors that kept them on top. So the Populists recognized one great principle: the job of preserving equality of opportunity and democracy demanded the end of any unholy alliance between government and wealth. It was, to quote that platform again, "from the same womb of governmental injustice" that tramps and millionaires were bred.

But how? How was the democratic revolution to be revived? The promise of the Declaration reclaimed? How were Americans to restore government to its job of promoting the general welfare? And here, the Populists made a breakthrough to another principle. In a modern, large-scale, industrial and nationalized economy it wasn't enough simply to curb the government's outreach. That would simply leave power in the hands of the great corporations whose existence was inseparable from growth and progress. The answer was to turn government into an active player in the economy at the very least enforcing fair play, and when necessary being the friend, the helper and the agent of the people at large in the contest against entrenched power. So the Populist platform called for government loans to farmers about to lose their mortgaged homesteads – for government granaries to grade and store their crops fairly – for governmental inflation of the currency, which was a classical plea of debtors – and for some decidedly non-classical actions like government ownership of the railroad, telephone and telegraph systems and a graduated – i.e., progressive tax on incomes and a flat ban on subsidies to "any private corporation." And to make sure the government stayed on the side of the people, the 'Pops' called for the initiative and referendum and the direct election of Senators.

Predictably, the Populists were denounced, feared and mocked as fanatical hayseeds ignorantly playing with socialist fire. They got twenty-two electoral votes for their candidate in '92, plus some Congressional seats and state houses, but it was downhill from there for many reasons. America wasn't – and probably still isn't – ready for a new major party. The People's Party was a spent rocket by 1904. But if political organizations perish, their key ideas don't - keep that in mind, because it give prospective to your cause today. Much of the Populist agenda would become law within a few years of the party's extinction. And that was because it was generally shared by a rising generation of young Republicans and Democrats who, justly or not, were seen as less outrageously outdated than the embattled farmers. These were the progressives, your intellectual forebears and mine.

One of my heroes in all of this is William Allen White, a Kansas country editor – a Republican – who was one of them. He described his fellow progressives this way:

"What the people felt about the vast injustice that had come with the settlement of a continent, we, their servants – teachers, city councilors, legislators, governors, publishers, editors, writers, representatives in Congress and Senators – all made a part of our creed. Some way, into the hearts of the dominant middle class of this country, had come a sense that their civilization needed recasting, that their government had fallen into the hands of self-seekers, that a new relationship should be established between the haves and the have-nots."

They were a diverse lot, held together by a common admiration of progress – hence the name – and a shared dismay at the paradox of poverty stubbornly persisting in the midst of progress like an unwanted guest at a wedding. Of course they welcomed, just as we do, the new marvels in the gift-bag of technology – the telephones, the autos, the electrically-powered urban transport and lighting systems, the indoor heating and plumbing, the processed foods and home appliances and machine-made clothing that reduced the sweat and drudgery of home-making and were affordable to an ever-swelling number of people. But they saw the underside, too – the slums lurking in the shadows of the glittering cities, the exploited and unprotected workers whose low-paid labor filled the horn of plenty for others, the misery of those whom age, sickness, accident or hard times condemned to servitude and poverty with no hope of comfort or security.

This is what's hard to believe – hardly a century had passed since 1776 before the still-young revolution was being strangled in the hard grip of a merciless ruling class. The large corporations that were called into being by modern industrialism after 1865 – the end of the Civil War – had combined into trusts capable of making minions of both politics and government. What Henry George called "an immense wedge" was being forced through American society by "the maldistribution of wealth, status, and opportunity."

We should pause here to consider that this is Karl Rove's cherished period of American history; it was, as I read him, the seminal influence on the man who is said to be George W.'s brain. From his own public comments and my reading of the record, it is apparent that Karl Rove has modeled the Bush presidency on that of William McKinley, who was in the White House from 1897 to 1901, and modeled himself on Mark Hanna, the man who virtually manufactured McKinley. Hanna had one consummate passion – to serve corporate and imperial power. It was said that he believed "without compunction, that the state of Ohio existed for property. It had no other function...Great wealth was to be gained through monopoly, through using the State for private ends; it was axiomatic therefore that businessmen should run the government and run it for personal profit."

Mark Hanna – Karl Rove's hero – made William McKinley governor of Ohio by shaking down the corporate interests of the day. Fortunately, McKinley had the invaluable gift of emitting sonorous platitudes as though they were recently discovered truth. Behind his benign gaze the wily intrigues of Mark Hanna saw to it that first Ohio and then Washington were "ruled by business...by bankers, railroads and public utility corporations." Any who opposed the oligarchy were smeared as disturbers of the peace, socialists, anarchists, "or worse." Back then they didn't bother with hollow euphemisms like "compassionate conservatism" to disguise the raw reactionary politics that produced government "of, by, and for" the ruling corporate class. They just saw the loot and went for it.

The historian Clinton Rossiter describes this as the period of "the great train robbery of American intellectual history." Conservatives – or better, pro-corporate apologists – hijacked the vocabulary of Jeffersonian liberalism and turned words like "progress", "opportunity", and "individualism" into tools for making the plunder of America sound like divine right. Charles Darwin's theory of evolution was hijacked, too, so that conservative politicians, judges, and publicists promoted, as if it were, the natural order of things, the notion that progress resulted from the elimination of the weak and the "survival of the fittest."

This "degenerate and unlovely age," as one historian calls it, exists in the mind of Karl Rove – the reputed brain of George W. Bush – as the seminal age of inspiration for the politics and governance of America today.

No wonder that what troubled our progressive forebears was not only the miasma of poverty in their nostrils, but the sour stink of a political system for sale. The United States Senate was a "millionaire's club." Money given to the political machines that controlled nominations could buy controlling influence in city halls, state houses and even courtrooms. Reforms and improvements ran into the immovable resistance of the almighty dollar. What, progressives wondered, would this do to the principles of popular government? Because all of them, whatever party they subscribed to, were inspired by the gospel of democracy. Inevitably, this swept them into the currents of politics, whether as active officeholders or persistent advocates.

Here's a small, but representative sampling of their ranks. Jane Addams forsook the comforts of a middle-class college graduate's life to live in Hull House in the midst of a disease-ridden and crowded Chicago immigrant neighborhood, determined to make it an educational and social center that would bring pride, health and beauty into the lives of her poor neighbors. She was inspired by "an almost passionate devotion to the ideals of democracy," to combating the prevailing notion "that the well being of a privileged few might justly be built upon the ignorance and sacrifice of the many." Community and fellowship were the lessons she drew from her teachers, Jesus and Abraham Lincoln. But people simply helping one another couldn't move mountains of disadvantage. She came to see that "private beneficence" wasn't enough. But to bring justice to the poor would take more than soup kitchens and fundraising prayer meetings. "Social arrangements," she wrote, "can be transformed through man's conscious and deliberate effort." Take note – not individual regeneration or the magic of the market, but conscious, cooperative effort.

Meet a couple of muckraking journalists. Jacob Riis lugged his heavy camera up and down the staircases of New York's disease-ridden, firetrap tenements to photograph the unspeakable crowding, the inadequate toilets, the starved and hollow-eyed children and the filth on the walls so thick that his crude flash equipment sometimes set it afire. Bound between hard covers, with Riis's commentary, they showed comfortable New Yorkers "How the Other Half Lives." They were powerful ammunition for reformers who eventually brought an end to tenement housing by state legislation. And Lincoln Steffens, college and graduate-school educated, left his books to learn life from the bottom up as a police-beat reporter on New York's streets. Then, as a magazine writer, he exposed the links between city bosses and businessmen that made it possible for builders and factory owners to ignore safety codes and get away with it. But the villain was neither the boodler nor the businessman. It was the indifference of a public that "deplore[d] our politics and laud[ed] our business; that transformed law, medicine, literature and religion into simply business. Steffens was out to slay the dragon of exalting "the commercial spirit" over the goals of patriotism and national prosperity. "I am not a scientist," he said. "I am a journalist. I did not gather the facts and arrange them patiently for permanent preservation and laboratory analysis....My purpose was. ...to see if the shameful facts, spread out in all their shame, would not burn through our civic shamelessness and set fire to American pride."

If corrupt politics bred diseases that could be fatal to democracy, then good politics was the antidote. That was the discovery of Ray Stannard Baker, another journalistic progressive who started out with a detest for election-time catchwords and slogans. But he came to see that "Politics could not be abolished or even adjourned...it was in its essence the method by which communities worked out their common problems. It was one of the principle arts of living peacefully in a crowded world," he said [Compare that to Grover Norquist's latest declaration of war on the body politic. "We are trying to change the tones in the state capitals - and turn them toward bitter nastiness and partisanship." He went on to say that bi-partisanship is another name for date rape."]

There are more, too many more to call to the witness stand here, but I want you to hear some of the things they had to say. There were educators like the economist John R. Commons or the sociologist Edward A. Ross who believed that the function of "social science" wasn't simply to dissect society for non-judgmental analysis and academic promotion, but to help in finding solutions to social problems. It was Ross who pointed out that morality in a modern world had a social dimension. In "Sin and Society," written in 1907, he told readers that the sins "blackening the face of our time" were of a new variety, and not yet recognized as such. "The man who picks pockets with a railway rebate, murders with an adulterant instead of a bludgeon, burglarizes with a 'rake-off' instead of a jimmy, cheats with a company instead of a deck of cards, or scuttles his town instead of his ship, does not feel on his brow the brand of a malefactor." In other words upstanding individuals could plot corporate crimes and sleep the sleep of the just without the sting of social stigma or the pangs of conscience. Like Kenneth Lay, they could even be invited into the White House to write their own regulations.

And here are just two final bits of testimony from actual politicians – first, Brand Whitlock, Mayor of Toledo. He is one of my heroes because he first learned his politics as a beat reporter in Chicago, confirming my own experience that there's nothing better than journalism to turn life into a continuing course in adult education. One of his lessons was that "the alliance between the lobbyists and the lawyers of the great corporation interests on the one hand, and the managers of both the great political parties on the other, was a fact, the worst feature of which was that no one seemed to care."

And then there is Tom Johnson, the progressive mayor of Cleveland in the early nineteen hundreds – a businessman converted to social activism. His major battles were to impose regulation, or even municipal takeover, on the private companies that were meant to provide affordable public transportation and utilities but in fact crushed competitors, overcharged customers, secured franchises and licenses for a song, and paid virtually nothing in taxes – all through their pocketbook control of lawmakers and judges. Johnson's argument for public ownership was simple: "If you don't own them, they will own you. It's why advocates of Clean Elections today argue that if anybody's going to buy Congress, it should be the people." When advised that businessmen got their way in Washington because they had lobbies and consumers had none, Tom Johnson responded: "If Congress were true to the principles of democracy it would be the people's lobby." What a radical contrast to the House of Representatives today!

Our political, moral, and intellectual forbearance occupy a long and honorable roster. They include wonderful characters like Dr. Alice Hamilton, a pioneer in industrially-caused diseases, who spent long years clambering up and down ladders in factories and mineshafts – in long skirts! – tracking down the unsafe toxic substances that sickened the workers whom she would track right into their sickbeds to get leads and tip-offs on where to hunt. Or Harvey Wiley, the chemist from Indiana who, from a bureaucrat's desk in the Department of Agriculture, relentlessly warred on foods laden with risky preservatives and adulterants with the help of his "poison squad" of young assistants who volunteered as guinea pigs. Or lawyers like the brilliant Harvard graduate Louis Brandeis, who took on corporate attorneys defending child labor or long and harsh conditions for female workers. Brandeis argued that the state had a duty to protect the health of working women and children.

To be sure, these progressives weren't all saints. Their glory years coincided with the heyday of lynching and segregation, of empire and the Big Stick and the bold theft of the Panama Canal, of immigration restriction and ethnic stereotypes. Some were themselves businessmen only hoping to control an unruly marketplace by regulation. But by and large they were conservative reformers. They aimed to preserve the existing balance between wealth and commonwealth. Their common enemy was unchecked privilege, their common hope was a better democracy, and their common weapon was informed public opinion.

In a few short years the progressive spirit made possible the election not only of reform mayors and governors but of national figures like Senator George Norris of Nebraska, Senator Robert M. LaFollette of Wisconsin, and even that hard-to-classify political genius, Theodore Roosevelt. All three of them Republicans. Here is the simplest laundry-list of what was accomplished at state and Federal levels: Publicly regulated or owned transportation, sanitation and utilities systems. The partial restoration of competition in the marketplace through improved antitrust laws. Increased fairness in taxation. Expansion of the public education and juvenile justice systems. Safer workplaces and guarantees of compensation to workers injured on the job. Oversight of the purity of water, medicines and foods. Conservation of the national wilderness heritage against overdevelopment, and honest bidding on any public mining, lumbering and ranching. We take these for granted today – or we did until recently. All were provided not by the automatic workings of free enterprise but by implementing the idea in the Declaration of Independence that the people had a right to governments that best promoted their "safety and happiness."

The mighty progressive wave peaked in 1912. But the ideas leashed by it forged the politics of the 20th century. Like his cousin Theodore, Franklin Roosevelt argued that the real enemy of enlightened capitalism was "the malefactors of great wealth" – the "economic royalists" – from whom capitalism would have to be saved by reform and regulation. Progressive government became an embedded tradition of Democrats – the heart of FDR's New Deal and Harry Truman's Fair Deal, and honored even by Dwight D. Eisenhower, who didn't want to tear down the house progressive ideas had built – only to put it under different managers. The progressive impulse had its final fling in the landslide of 1969 when LBJ, who was a son of the West Texas hill country, where the Populist rebellion had been nurtured in the 1890s, won the public endorsement for what he meant to be the capstone in the arch of the New Deal.

I had a modest role in that era. I shared in its exhilaration and its failures. We went too far too fast, overreached at home and in Vietnam, failed to examine some assumptions, and misjudged the rising discontents and fierce backlash engendered by war, race, civil disturbance, violence and crime. Democrats grew so proprietary in this town that a fat, complacent political establishment couldn't recognize its own intellectual bankruptcy or the beltway that was growing around it and beginning to separate it from the rest of the country. The failure of democratic politicians and public thinkers to respond to popular discontents – to the daily lives of workers, consumers, parents, and ordinary taxpayers – allowed a resurgent conservatism to convert public concern and hostility into a crusade to resurrect social Darwinism as a moral philosophy, multinational corporations as a governing class, and the theology of markets as a transcendental belief system.

As a citizen I don't like the consequences of this crusade, but you have to respect the conservatives for their successful strategy in gaining control of the national agenda. Their stated and open aim is to change how America is governed - to strip from government all its functions except those that reward their rich and privileged benefactors. They are quite candid about it, even acknowledging their mean spirit in accomplishing it. Their leading strategist in Washington - the same Grover Norquist – has famously said he wants to shrink the government down to the size that it could be drowned in a bathtub. More recently, in commenting on the fiscal crisis in the states and its affect on schools and poor people, Norquist said, "I hope one of them" – one of the states – "goes bankrupt." So much for compassionate conservatism. But at least Norquist says what he means and means what he says. The White House pursues the same homicidal dream without saying so. Instead of shrinking down the government, they're filling the bathtub with so much debt that it floods the house, water-logs the economy, and washes away services for decades that have lifted millions of Americans out of destitution and into the middle-class. And what happens once the public's property has been flooded? Privatize it. Sell it at a discounted rate to the corporations.

It is the most radical assault on the notion of one nation, indivisible, that has occurred in our lifetime. I'll be frank with you: I simply don't understand it – or the malice in which it is steeped. Many people are nostalgic for a golden age. These people seem to long for the Gilded Age. That I can grasp. They measure America only by their place on the material spectrum and they bask in the company of the new corporate aristocracy, as privileged a class as we have seen since the plantation owners of antebellum America and the court of Louis IV. What I can't explain is the rage of the counter-revolutionaries to dismantle every last brick of the social contract. At this advanced age I simply have to accept the fact that the tension between haves and have-nots is built into human psychology and society itself – it's ever with us. However, I'm just as puzzled as to why, with right wing wrecking crews blasting away at social benefits once considered invulnerable, Democrats are fearful of being branded "class warriors" in a war the other side started and is determined to win. I don't get why conceding your opponent's premises and fighting on his turf isn't the sure-fire prescription for irrelevance and ultimately obsolescence. But I confess as well that I don't know how to resolve the social issues that have driven wedges into your ranks. And I don't know how to reconfigure democratic politics to fit into an age of soundbites and polling dominated by a media oligarchy whose corporate journalists are neutered and whose right-wing publicists have no shame.

What I do know is this: While the social dislocations and meanness that galvanized progressives in the 19th century are resurgent so is the vision of justice, fairness, and equality. That's a powerful combination if only there are people around to fight for it. The battle to renew democracy has enormous resources to call upon - and great precedents for inspiration. Consider the experience of James Bryce, who published "The Great Commonwealth" back in 1895 at the height of the First Gilded Age. Americans, Bryce said, "were hopeful and philanthropic." He saw first-hand the ills of that "dark and unlovely age," but he went on to say: " A hundred times I have been disheartened by the facts I was stating: a hundred times has the recollection of the abounding strength and vitality of the nation chased away those tremors."

What will it take to get back in the fight? Understanding the real interests and deep opinions of the American people is the first thing. And what are those? That a Social Security card is not a private portfolio statement but a membership ticket in a society where we all contribute to a common treasury so that none need face the indignities of poverty in old age without that help. That tax evasion is not a form of conserving investment capital but a brazen abandonment of responsibility to the country. That income inequality is not a sign of freedom-of-opportunity at work, because if it persists and grows, then unless you believe that some people are naturally born to ride and some to wear saddles, it's a sign that opportunity is less than equal. That self-interest is a great motivator for production and progress, but is amoral unless contained within the framework of community. That the rich have the right to buy more cars than anyone else, more homes, vacations, gadgets and gizmos, but they do not have the right to buy more democracy than anyone else. That public services, when privatized, serve only those who can afford them and weaken the sense that we all rise and fall together as "one nation, indivisible." That concentration in the production of goods may sometimes be useful and efficient, but monopoly over the dissemination of ideas is evil. That prosperity requires good wages and benefits for workers. And that our nation can no more survive as half democracy and half oligarchy than it could survive "half slave and half free" – and that keeping it from becoming all oligarchy is steady work – our work.

Ideas have power – as long as they are not frozen in doctrine. But ideas need legs. The eight-hour day, the minimum wage, the conservation of natural resources and the protection of our air, water, and land, women's rights and civil rights, free trade unions, Social Security and a civil service based on merit – all these were launched as citizen's movements and won the endorsement of the political class only after long struggles and in the face of bitter opposition and sneering attacks. It's just a fact: Democracy doesn't work without citizen activism and participation, starting at the community. Trickle down politics doesn't work much better than trickle down economics. It's also a fact that civilization happens because we don't leave things to other people. What's right and good doesn't come naturally. You have to stand up and fight for it – as if the cause depends on you, because it does. Allow yourself that conceit - to believe that the flame of democracy will never go out as long as there's one candle in your hand.

So go for it. Never mind the odds. Remember what the progressives faced. Karl Rove isn't tougher than Mark Hanna was in his time and a hundred years from now some historian will be wondering how it was that Norquist and Company got away with it as long as they did – how they waged war almost unopposed on the infrastructure of social justice, on the arrangements that make life fair, on the mutual rights and responsibilities that offer opportunity, civil liberties, and a decent standard of living to the least among us.

"Democracy is not a lie" – I first learned that from Henry Demarest Lloyd, the progressive journalist whose book, "Wealth against Commonwealth," laid open the Standard trust a century ago. Lloyd came to the conclusion to "Regenerate the individual is a half truth. The reorganization of the society which he makes and which makes him is the other part. The love of liberty became liberty in America by clothing itself in the complicated group of strengths known as the government of the United States." And it was then he said: "Democracy is not a lie. There live in the body of the commonality unexhausted virtue and the ever-refreshed strength which can rise equal to any problems of progress. In the hope of tapping some reserve of their power of self-help," he said, "this story is told to the people."

This is your story – the progressive story of America.

Pass it on.

"Record voter turnout predicted"

I'm listening to the morning news - and they're discussing huge voter turnouts all over the country. Yipee!


Monday, November 1, 2004

"Ranked Choice" or "Instant Runoff" voting

In the 2000 election an issue Ralph Nader pushed very strongly is the disproportionate representation we have among elected officials.

The election system in the U.S. is "winner take all" which ultimately means that we end up with two parties getting the vast majority of the vote. But, really, is the range of individual opinion adequately represented by two parties?

Let me suggest, echoing Ralph Nader, that the two-party winner-take-all system is not doing a good job of representing the will of the people in this country.

We have to take this carefully because this country has a couple hundred years of experience with the system we use. But we can point at many countries around the world where proportional representation exists, and does work. In all those countries there are many "minor" parties, and I believe that the range of individual opinion is much better represented.

Unfortunately I think (haven't verified) that these countries are also ones lacking a separation of power between the branches of government. That is, the Prime Minister of England (currently held by Tony Blair) is a member of Parliament. That would be like the President of the United States being a Congressman (either Senator or Representative) as well as being President.

The Founding Fathers of the United States of America purposely chose separation of powers. Congress (the Legislative branch) is a different branch of government from both the Judicial and Administrative branches of government. Under the equal branches of government theory, the President is elected separately from the Legislature and the President cannot also be a Legislator.

This makes the style of proportional representation used in those other countries unusable in the United States.

However the system that Ralph Nader promoted during the 2000 election cycle is very workable in the United States. A few locations in the U.S. are now using this very same system:

Instant Runnoff --or-- Ranked Choice

The idea is that instead of voting for one person, you rank the top two or three choices among the candidates. You might end up with

Favorite: Mickey Mouse
Next Favorite: Prince Valiant
Least Favorite: Dick Tracy

The individual voter then has more say about who they like. That, by itself, would be a vast improvement over the current situation that devolves our choice into "hold your nose, and vote for the least smelly candidate".

What happens next?

Why, this is magic. In the vote counting machines a fancy dancing shuffle is done.

Say that Mickey is showing badly in the count (Minnie may have cussed out a reporter, for example). Your vote for Mickey is then applied to your next favorite. Suppose Prince Valiant is also not doing so well (maybe Saracens are getting a lot of sympathy this year), so your vote is then moved over to Dick Tracy. This process is repeated for up to three times, or until a winner is found.

What this means to the winner is they have a better assurance that their voters truly preferred them over the other candidates. Under the current system, a voter for Mickey Mouse may have simply found him the least offensive of the available choices, and not truly preferred Mickey at all.

One may think it unfair that when ones vote is moved to a secondary or third choice, that the vote count in full. There is a simple solution to this:

Primary preference: counts full
Secondary preference: counts 1/2
Third preference: counts 1/3

More information

Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) A Fairer Way to Conduct Single-Winner Elections (http://www.fairvote.org/irv/index.html)