Friday, December 29, 2006

100 U.S. soldier Killed in Iraq this month; Bush dawdles on 'new approach'

The Washington Post reports this morning that 100 American service men and women have been killed in Iraq during the month of December.

The President, meanwhile, continues to insist that he will not be rushed into changing course from his failed policies, regardless of what the people, the Congress, military leaders, military analysts and just about everyone except his wife, his dog, his Vice President, and John McCain believes he should do.

By my count, four Louisiana residents have been killed in Iraq since the release of the Iraq Study Group report earlier this month. It was that report that provided the political cover for Bush to change course, which he promptly refused to take. Instead of trying to extricate us from this catastrophic war, he's actually contemplating escalating the violence.

For a man who bull-rushed this country into the single greatest self-inflicted wound on our national security, global standing and our military based on trumped up intelligence cooked up in the office of his Vice President, Bush has chosen a particularly inopportune time to go all deliberate on us. Oh, what the hell! The war's only costing us a couple of billion dollars per week.

Too bad he didn't take as much time considering his policy options before he and Cheney got us into this mess.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Speaking Ill of the Dead: Ford's Real Legacy

It is with some frustration that I read the laudatory eulogies for ex-president Ford. Ford, we can all agree, was a nice man and a definite improvement over the criminal Richard Nixon. His niceness--and plain-spoken honesty--was a tonic the country needed after Nixon and Agnew.

But the idea that Ford's pardon of Nixon spared the country unnecessary pain and that the act of pardoning a president for any and all acts committed while in office was somehow noble goes beyond the usual stricture that we not speak ill of the dead and into a sort of eulogizing that ignores the real consequences of Ford's act.

Ford "spared" us all the necessity to look Nixon's peculiarly anti-American criminality in the face--and the opportunity to snuff it out forever. Nixon, we should recall, was a prime example of the "Imperial Presidency." Nixon believed that the President could legally do things that would be criminal if done by anyone else. In effect he endorsed the regal idea the the president embodied the state and that, literally, his word was law. He could not break the law because he was the law. As he famously told David Frost: "when the president does it, that means it is not illegal."

This is precisely the position that King George III took in repressing American aspirations prior to and during the revolutionary period. Nothing could be less American in its spirit. From the invasion of Cambodia, to the invasion of a critic's psychiatrist's office, to the burglary of the opposing political party, to suborning perjury when he was caught: any decision he made could be justified by his belief that the security of the country depended upon his politics and policies.

Following Watergate the country that hounded him out of office was in a mood to hang him high. They wanted to condemn what he'd done and make sure that no man thought himself above the law. The personal ugliness and bigotry of the man which has seeped out over the last 30 years in dribs and drabs would have been revealed in all its grotesquery at a time and in a circumstance which would have demanded its punishment and the institution of legal standards which would have made it clear that no man embodies the Republic--and that to think so is to court the country's contempt and condemnation.

That is what Ford "saved" us from doing. His blanket pardon of the man who made him President saved us from having the moment that would have destroyed the Imperial Presidency.

We got, instead, Ronald Reagan, whose convoluted Iran-Contra shenanigans wrecked our relations in the Middle East and have lead directly to the current mess in Iraq. That administration backed a scheme to fund illegal support of Contra death squads with income from secret sales of advanced weaponry to Iran. (The picture of Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam took place at a moment when the US had abandoned Iran and was supporting and supplying Saddam in his war against Iran and his hostility to Syria.) Reagan initially lied about the affair and then admitted that the arms sales had taken place. Reagan's subsequent deification by the right wing of his party has suppressed any real examination of the still-secret details of this affair and had the effect of reawakening the idea that whatever the President did had to be OK.

Finally we have President Bush, who openly and nonchalantly claims Imperial status for his decisions. Apparently the president cannot commit an illegal act, simply because he is The President. (This is often called by proponents the "unitary executive" and was first suggested by Samuel Alito during the Reagan administration. Such a man Bush now conveniently makes a Justice...) During his presidency Bush has repeatedly made the claim that he only has to enforce the parts of laws he likes, that he can abrogate fundamental treaties like the Geneva Conventions at his whim, that he can torture folks at his pleasure and need not answer to anyone. The list of outrages is long. And it is not just Democrats who complain...the Cato Institute's condemnation of his violations of the Constitution is particularly stinging.

There was a moment in American history when we were primed to reassert a real Republic; one in which no man embodied the state and no one was allowed to consider themselves above the law.

Ford robbed us of that moment. No one, on the left or the right, not even when eulogizing the dead, should applaud that act.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Republican Slime Machine Starts Louisiana Franchise

The Baton Rouge Advocate reported on Tuesday that the national Republican Slime Machine has opened its Louisiana franchise with the stated goal of gaining GOP control of the Louisiana Legislature in the 2007 elections.

The group tips its hand by all but naming itself after Tom DeLay's disgraced operation. The operating moniker: "The Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority."

New Orleans developer cum post-Katrina land-grabber Joseph Canizaro is the head of the group, but it's clear that this is the Louisiana version of the national operation that was so successful in the earlier portion of this decade but which has fallen on harder times in 2006. Canizaro is a Bush Pioneer. So, too, is Boysie Bollinger (and he's got the fat contracts for work that didn't pan out on the Coast Guard fleet 'up-grade' to prove it!).

But, the piece that nails this down as a national power grab in Louisiana is the presence of Bob Perry of Texas as a maximum contributor to the new PAC. Perry, you may recall, is the money behind the group that 'swiftboated' John Kerry and in 2004 presidential race. His group's track record in 2006 was less successful, but no less slime-filled.

The group has, The Advocate reports, $600,000 of its goal of $2.5 million that it wants to have in-hand by the time qualifying rolls around in August. The objective is to get Republican majorities in the Louisiana House and Senate. There are 144 seats in the two chambers (39 in the Senate; 105 in the House). If they had a candidate in every race, the PAC could spend more than $17,000 per race. That might not seem like a lot of money but, in a district race, it would be huge.

The story, though, says they intend to be active in only about 37 or so races. Let's say 40 just for rounding purposes. That means they will have the ability to pour more than $60,000 into each of those races!

The group says it will play favorites among Republicans. Must have plenty of ex-Democrats in the group, no? ;-)

So, what does this mean?

Well, the past is no direct guide to the future but it can be instructive. Recall that Tom DeLay used his Texans for a Republican Majority as a money laundering conduit that enabled him to elect a Republican majority in the Texas Legislature. He then used that majority to re-apportion the Texas Congressional delegation in ways that created new Republican-majority districts. OK, well it worked in 2004 but came back to bite the party in Texas in 2006.

So, let's assume the GOP game plan goes as planned. The Republican majority in the Louisiana Legislature (working in concert with what they expect to be Republican Governor Bobby Jindal) would reapportion Louisiana's Congressional districts before the 2008 elections. No doubt they'd cite the recent Census Bureau estimate that the state lost five percent of its population in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. They'd target Charlie Melancon and Bill Jefferson's districts, shifting lines to make it more difficult for Democrats to get elected from those districts.

Republican control of the Legislature would also put that party in control of all reapportionment that followed the 2010 Census, including the Legislature (both houses), the Congressional districts, the Public Service Commission, the state Supreme Court, BESE districts and other state districts.

In short, this is an outside directed attempt to re-order Louisiana politics, capitalizing on the demographic shifts as a result of the storms, using techniques developed in Texas and on partnerships developed inside the corrupt national Republican establishment.

It should be noted that DeLay was forced to give up his seat in Congress as a result of the ethical and legal troubles his Texas power grab brought him. No doubt there will be similar hubris and over-reach in this endeavor.

Then, again, we see this one coming.

Break out the slicker suits, the Republicans have committed to taking Louisiana at all costs. It's going to get nasty.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Jindal's Ethics Issues

With Republican legislators going partisan in the Special Session, it's clear that the race for governor is now on.

Sure, Bobby Jindal is going through the motions of praying over whether he's going to run or not when, in all actuality, that decision was made the night he lost in 2003.

Jindal will bring something new to this election: a deep bag of connections to corrupt Republicans that extends over the network that he used to raise funds for his congressional races and that he pandered to while in Washington.

Jindal's campaign will explode the myth of Republican rectitude that has been the basis of the party's claim to the moral high ground (such as it exists) in Louisiana politics over the past 30 years. After all, Edwin Edwards was not a member of their party.

No, but Donald "Boysie" Bollinger is and recent stories about Bollinger Shipyards' role in the emerging scandal in the supposed upgrade of the Coast Guard fleet are going to seriously eat away at the state Republicans' phony righteousness.

Then, too, there will be Jindal's ties to Grover Norquist and his Americans for Tax Reform. Jindal has signed every pledge that Norquist has stuck in front of him at the same time that Norquist and his various organizations were acting in partnership with and as fronts for money laundering schemes developed by disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. I'd be interested in learning more about the ties between Jindal and Ralph Reed. If ever there were two opportunists whose ambitions and egos would have driven paths to cross, those are two.

Then, too, there will be the actual record of Jindal as a public official. I am particularly interested in the boy wonder's role as head of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals in the first Foster term. There was at least one serious public health issue that was swept under the rug during Jindal's tenure that later came back to haunt residents in the Baton Rouge area. Will the media stick to repeating the fawning myths of this guy, or will they actually look at his record with a critical eye on what he really did?

Jindal has gotten a free ride from the media and the political establishment. It is going to be different this time around.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Vichy Suaves

Thank you to the Baton Rouge Advocate for their illuminating coverage of the so-called "No Party Party" for Republican Parish President Joey Durel which was hosted by Glenn Armentor, a member of the Lafayette Democratic Parish Executive Committee.

Thanks to the reporting by The Advocate, we learned that other members of the Democratic Parish Executive Committee attended the event and, we can only presume, gave money to Durel's re-election bid.

The Advocate also provided a picture of Durel with former Democratic State Party Chairman Mike Skinner.

Joining Armentor and Skinner as members in good standing of the soon-to-be infamous Vichy Democrats were PEC members Jeff Moss and Ken Bouillion.

Now before the Republicans and Democratic apologists go all apoplectic about 'bipartisanship', let's be clear about what the issue is here: It is about leaders of the Democratic Party breaking party rules to raise funds for and endorse a Republican. It is not about Democrats backing Republicans (and it's certainly not about Republicans backing Democrats because, as we know, that just isn't done here).

Face it. There is no bi-partisanship here in Lafayette. There is a strong and visible streak of Democratic surrender, of which Armentor's party is just the latest and most visible example.

And, while Mike Skinner holds no current rank in the party, his legacy is firmly established. No Democratic Party chairman (and possibly no Republican Party chairman) has done more to advance the Republican Party in the 7th District than has Mike Skinner.

Look back to the 2004 election when Skinner, then serving as state party chairman, allowed or condoned the use of the state party's mailing permit to distribute a flier that promoted the candidacy of Sen. Willie Mount over that of Sen. Donald Cravins in the 7th District Congressional race. Adding insult to injury, funds raised by independent Louisiana Democrats for the Kerry campaign were used by the state party to distribute this flier.

The resuling bitterness and recriminations allowed Charles Boustany to get elected to Congress in 2004. That same election, David Vitter became the first Republican since Reconstruction to be elected to the U.S. Senate from Louisiana.

Mike Skinner, you did a heck of job!

So, it is appropriate that Skinner's picture grace the web story on this event since it is his indifference to the fate of the Democratic Party in this region which set the stage not only for the rise of a certain class of Republicans, it also paved the way for more anti-party behavior on the part of other Democratic 'leaders' (and that is a phrase I use loosely these days), the kind of which was on exhibit on West Bayou Parkway last night.

If any member of the Republican Parish Executive Committee would have the temerity to endorse a Democrat for office, he/she would be ridden out of town on a rail by the same Republicans who are embracing the betrayal of the Democratic party and their oaths by Armento, Moss and Bouillion. As I said, Mike Skinner is in a class by himself.

When we erect the Vichy Democrats Hall of Shame (coming soon to another site), we'll be sure to reserve a special place for Mr. Skinner.

Meanwhile, I would hope that other members of the Lafayette Democratic Executive Committee and other Lafayette Democrats will press for censure of the committee members who took part in last night's tawdry display of opportunism.

With Democrat 'leaders' like this, who needs Republicans?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Well. Well. Well.

In a sudden (but belated) spasm of sanity, a majority of the Lafayette Parish Consolidated Government Council appears to have reached an agreement on a proposal to honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., involving Willow Street.

The Daily Advertiser had this story on Thursday.

The Advocate had this one.

This is a small but necessary step on the part of the white majority on the Council to recognize the legitimate needs of the African American community in Lafayette as expressed by their elected leaders. A lot more work needs to be done merely to repair the damage to the community inflicted over the course of this 15-month long battle.

Congratulations to all participating parties for allowing the greater good of the community to prevail on this matter.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A Challenge to Durel

The Baton Rouge Advocate reports that Lafayette Democratic Parish Executive Committee member Glenn Armentor is being praised by Joey Durel for having the courage to host a fund-raiser for Durel at his home.

The paper carries effusive testimony by the two to the wonders of the particularly phony sort of bi-partisanship that thrives in Lafayette; that is, Democrats shove aside their party to embrace some popular Republican. Republicans, meanwhile, not only refuse to endorse any Democrats, are quick to criticize as wildly partisan anyone who dares point out the sham truce. This being Acadiana and all, does the name Vichy Dems work in this case? Think "Casablanca."

Here's a challenge to Durel: If party has nothing to do with governing Lafayette, if it is really all just about the good of the city and all that, give up your membership in the Republican Party now and run for re-election without a party label.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Secrecy and Our Republic

Geoffrey R. Stone is the author of a great book, Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism. From time to time, a piece by him is posted at Huffington Post Blog.

Here's an extended excerpt from a Huffington Post Blog entry today. It focuses on why government secrecy works against the interests of us citizens. In the course of a few paragraphs, Stone and his co-author William P. Marshall provide a civics lesson for those wondering what role is there for us ordinary citizens in the processes of government.
As citizens of a self-governing nation, we are charged with the responsibility to understand, monitor, and evaluate the policy judgments of our elected representatives. We elect a president and members of Congress to make decisions on our behalf. But they are answerable to "We the People." This means not only that "We the People" get to vote every two, four, or six years, but also that we have a right to know what our representatives are up to. We delegate to them a certain degree of authority, but they are accountable to us.

It is understandable that those in power are reluctant to share information. Why would anyone in authority want to enable others to second-guess them? Why would they want their mistakes exposed? Those in power always believe they should have carte blanch to make the decisions they think best, without interference. "Trust us" is a perfectly logical demand from the perspective of those who hold the reins of power.

But in a self-governing society, when those in authority say "trust us," we are in peril. The American constitutional system is premised on distrust of those to whom we delegate authority. Separation of powers, checks and balances, staggered terms of office, a bicameral legislature, judges with life tenure, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press are all premised on distrust of those in authority who say "trust us."

Excessive government secrecy is the enemy of democracy. Secrecy cripples public debate. Citizens cannot understand, monitor, and evaluate public policies if they are kept in the dark about the actions of their elected representatives. Secrecy is the ultimate form of censorship because the People do not even know they are being censored.

Excessive secrecy is also the enemy of competence. We make better decisions when we consider more rather than fewer perspectives. We make better decisions when we openly debate the alternatives. We make better decisions when we know we have to justify our judgments and know we will be held accountable for our mistakes. Secrecy undermines all these values.

Excessive secrecy has been a consistent theme of the Bush administration. It refused to disclose the names of those it detained after September 11. It has adopted a crabbed interpretation of the Freedom of Information Act, rendering millions of pages of government documents unavailable to the American people. It closed deportation proceedings from public scrutiny. It has redacted vast quantities of "sensitive" information from thousands of government websites. It secretly authorized the National Security Agency to engage in electronic surveillance of American citizens. It secretly established prisons in Eastern Europe and secretly authorized rendition and torture. It secretly authorized the indefinite detention of American citizens. It has concealed the cost of its policies in "special appropriations" bills, threatened public employees and newspapers with criminal prosecution for revealing its secrets, and deliberately masked its motives, its policies, and its failures from We the People.

Some measure of secrecy is, of course, essential to the effective functioning of government, especially in wartime. But the Bush administration's obsessive secrecy has constrained meaningful oversight by Congress, the press, and the public. It has directly and arrogantly undermined the vitality of democratic governance and it has predictably led to incompetent decisionmaking. One cannot escape the inference that the cloak of secrecy imposed by the Bush administration has less to do with the necessities of the "war on terrorism" than with its desire to insulate executive action from public scrutiny. Such an approach to governance weakens our democratic institutions and renders our nation less secure.

The responsibility for all this rests first and foremost with the president, but it rests also with Congress, the press, and the American people, who failed to meet their responsibility not to fall victim to the plea of "Trust Us." If history is a guide to the future, this will not be the last time a president attempts to hide critical information from the American people. We will best serve our government and our nation if we remember our mistakes of the present.
The most significant local issue that demonstrates the pernicious nature of secrecy in government is the ULL Horse Farm controversy, where officials at ULL fought desperately to conceal their dealings involving public dollars and property from the press and the public.

Secrecy is the enemy of our form of government. The more secrecy there is, the more likely it is that those insisting on the secrecy are working against the interests of ordinary citizens. It's true in Bush's war. It's true in the Horse Farm deals.

Only citizens, though, can insist on ripping back the curtain and letting the sunshine of public scrutiny heal the damage such secrecy inflicts on our institutions and our processes.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Policy of Deceit. What if Bush Won't Change?

The New York Times editorial today points out the the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group (ISG) report quietly points out that the Bush Administration has been deceiving the country about nature and cost of the war. The paper says the group is trying to help a disfunctional president and administration. I say, the ISG is pointing to ways that the Bush Administration has been lying to us all along, from the supposed reasons for going to war to how it's going and what it's costing us.

We can quibble about the implications of those lies, but here's how The NY Times sees them:
We were particularly drawn to Recommendations 46, 72 and 78. Under separate headings dealing with the military, the federal budget and the nation’s intelligence agencies, they share one basic idea: Government officials should not lie to the public or each other, especially in matters of war.

One should not need a blue ribbon commission to know that. But the fact that it had to be said, and so often, in the report goes a long way toward explaining how Mr. Bush got the country into the Iraq mess and why it is proving so hard to dig out of it.

Consider Recommendation 46, which calls on the new secretary of defense to create “an environment in which the senior military feel free to offer independent advice” to civilian leaders, including the president. That is their sworn duty. But the back story is the Pentagon’s prewar refusal to listen to the former Army chief of staff (and who knows how many other generals) who warned that it would take several hundred thousand troops to stabilize a post-invasion Iraq. The good news is that the new secretary of defense, Robert Gates, acknowledged as much in his confirmation hearings. The bad news is that Mr. Bush has not.

Recommendation 72 says that “costs for the war in Iraq should be included in the president’s annual budget request.” The report warns that the White House’s habit of using emergency funding for the war has eroded both “budget discipline” and Congressional oversight. And just in case you were worrying that you hadn’t been paying sufficient attention to the war’s price tag, the report says the White House presents its requests in such a “confusing manner” that only detailed analyses by budget experts can answer “what should be a simple question: How much money is the president requesting for the war in Iraq?”

And finally, Recommendation 78 calls on the Pentagon and the intelligence community to “institute immediate changes” in how they collect data on violence in Iraq “to provide a more accurate picture of events on the ground.” The report says that officials have used a standard for recording attacks (it notes that “a murder of an Iraqi is not necessarily counted”) that systematically underreports Iraq’s mayhem. It cites one day this past July when the government recorded 93 “attacks or significant acts of violence,” while the Iraq Study Group’s own analysis “brought to light 1,100 acts of violence.”

Sprinkled among the recommendations, the report also has some homespun advice on how Mr. Bush might fix America’s foreign relations. It suggests that the nature of diplomacy is to engage with adversaries as well as friends. And it warns that the United States does Israel “no favors” by refusing to try to broker peace in the Middle East, adding that it is “an axiom that when the political process breaks down there will be violence on the ground.”

It is mind-boggling that this commission felt compelled to deliver Governing 101 lessons to the president of the United States. But that fits with the implicit message of the entire exercise — a rebuke of the ideologically blinkered way Mr. Bush operates. The report shows that there have always been plenty of alternatives to Mr. Bush’s stubborn insistence on staying the course, and that if he were just willing to make an effort, it would be possible to forge a bipartisan consensus on the toughest issues.

It’s tragic that Mr. Bush could not figure that out for himself. It is far past time for him to heed this new advice.
The question we (Congress, citizens and the military) are going to have to grapple with is this: What is going to be when he ignores the advice?

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Delusions of King George

The second Louisiana soldier to die in Iraq this week is from Thibodaux.

The death comes two days after the release of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group Report which, although heavily critical of the way the war has been run (and not run), basically gives cover to the administration to stay in Iraq for two more years.

Tom Friedman of the New York Times, a war supporter, said in his Friday column the choice is really "10 months or 10 years."
As I’ve written before, our real choices in Iraq are 10 months or 10 years. Either we commit the resources to entirely rebuild the place over a decade, for which there is little support, or we tell everyone that we will be out within 10 months, or sooner, and we’ll deal with the consequences from afar. We need to start the timer — today, now.
Based on his public statements since the Baker-Hamilton report was released, the President is still locked away in his 'victory' fantasy land. There will be no change in policy forthcoming from this administration. This means that full implications of the "grave and deteriorating" conditions in Iraq, as described by the 10 people on the Baker-Hamilton panel (all supporters of the war) will be unveiled before our eyes.

But, as proof of the power of words, the criticisms included in the Baker-Hamilton report apparently were enough to embolden one Republican senator to part company with the Bush administration on Iraq. Today, Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith stood on the floor of the U.S. Senate and said:
That is a lesson we are learning again. I am afraid, rather than leveling with the American people and saying this was going to be a decade-long conflict because of the angst and hatred that exists in that part of the world, that we tried to win it with too few troops in too fast a time. Lest anyone thinks I believe we have failed militarily, please understand I believe when President Bush stood in front of "mission accomplished'' on an aircraft carrier that , in purely military terms, the mission was accomplished in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But winning a battle, winning a war, is different than winning a peace.

We were not prepared to win the peace by clearing, holding, and building. You don't do that fast and you don't do it with too few troops. I believe now that we must either determine to do that , or we must redeploy in a way that allows us to continue to prosecute the larger war on terror. It will not be pretty. We will pay a price in world opinion. But I, for one, am tired of paying the price of 10 or more of our troops dying a day. So let's cut and run, or cut and walk, or let us fight the war on terror more intelligently than we have, because we have fought this war in a very lamentable way.
You can read the speech here (and there's a link to video).

So, Bush might not be moved, but Baker-Hamilton appears to have given some Republicans the political cover they needed to abandon Bush's failed policies in Iraq.

On the floor of the Senate on Wednesday, Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa railed against the refusal of the FDA and the Justice Department to comply with subpoenas issued by Senate committees. He warned Democrats that talking about oversight is one thing, but if the executive branch refuses to acknowledge things like Congressional oversight of its conduct, there is a serious problem. Yes, it's called a Constitutional crisis.

I believe Democrats will try to assert Congresses oversight duties and rights. I also believe that the Bush administration will stonewall those attempts. The war in Iraq will be but one instance over which these fights will occur.

Ultimately, based on Bush's obstinancy and a monarchical view of government that can be found nowhere in the founding documents of this country, impeachment will the only course remaining for those trying to restore Constitutional balance.

In the meantime, Bush will continue trying to press on with this war as if he's King. More Americans will be killed and wounded in pursuit of a war that the country does not believe in and does not believe will succeed.

More than 30 years ago, the question about the Vietnam War was who would be the last person to die for that mistake. The question now is: who will be the last American to die for the delusions of George W. Bush?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Citizen Padillo's Torture on U.S. Soil

Every President of the United States takes the following oath upon being sworn into office:
"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
The man in this still frame capture from a video obtained by the New York Times is Jose Padillo, a U.S. citizen who was at one time charged with terrorism. The Bush administration dropped those charges when it appeared they were going to lose a court ruling that would have overruled their claim that, as Commander in Chief, Bush could unilaterally declare any citizen an enemy combatant and take away their constitutional rights.

Padillo is still being held, now on federal charges, but in a state of sensory deprivation. You can read more about it here.

A few years ago, a photo like this from the Soviet Union or some Communist state would have provoked howls of protests from human rights groups and from conservatives alike. But, this is America and we don't torture.

Right, and we're winning in Iraq, too.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Race, Party, Community, Durel and Leadership

This is a long post, but there is no way to break it up, since the ideas are all intertwined. The points are: the link between party and race is incontrovertible; Joey Durel's failure to provide leadership on the King street issue is inexorably tied to the fact that he is a Republican; economic progress in Lafayette is dependent upon racial tolerance; therefore, the kind of racially-insensitive Republican leadership exhibited by Durel and the Council are particularly unsuited to the job of advancing Lafayette's economic prospects in the 21st Century.

First, Party Politics in the South is ALL about Race.

A few days ago, in this post, my friend Tony Fazzio wrote:
Too often we forget that race is a matter of parity not party.
That statement is accurate only if one is willing to ignore the history of the rise of the Republican Party in the South. That rise began with Lyndon Johnson's signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Republican Party has ridden white racial anger and resentment since then.

Nationally, that has manifested itself in the so-called "Southern Strategy" in which the Republicans learned to speak in code to white Southerners. It was no coincidence that Ronald Reagan's first campaign event in the 1980 election campaign was the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Mississippi, within miles of where three civil rights workers were killed and buried by white racists in the mid 1960s.

In our state, Republicans took up the rebel yell of "states' rights" with the rest of their southern political brethren. And, while Dave Treen hid his prejudice behind a veneer of country club Republicanism, Mike Foster paid David Duke a hefty fee for voter lists (and, some say, to stay out of the 1995 governor's race). Upon taking office, one of Foster's most significant early acts was to eliminate affirmative action. There's that signal to the good ole boys that Big Mike was one of them.

While Republicans were out of power nationally, they could claim the mantel of conservatism; you know: 'small gov'ment, balanced budgets, low taxes.' To hear them talk, you would have thought that Republicans believed that government should be a lean, mean, fighting machine. Then, they came to power. As the past few years have shown, Republicans in Congress were neither for smaller government, nor balanced budgets. When George W. Bush became president, the Republican-controlled Congress gave up its constitutional responsibility to provide oversight on the actions of the executive branch, and allowed Bush to make unprecedented grabs of unchecked power. So, let's see: under Republicans, government grew, as did its power, deficits exploded, Congress nearly allowed a re-ordering of the Constitution without so much as a whimper, and corruption has become rampant on a scale never seen before.

And, still, we see local Republicans claiming to be conservative.

I think they're talking in code. What they're really saying is they are anti-black.

There's some voting analysis to back this up. In his book, Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South, author Thomas F. Schaller says that Republicans are successful in the South because they have mastered the art of appealing to Southern racists.

Some of his case is based on voting research contained in a paper entitled: "Old Times There Are Not Forgotten: Race and Partisan Realignment in the Contemporary South." The paper is by Nicholas Valentino and David Sears. The heart of the work is summarized in this paragraph from an article in The New Republic:
Running regressions on a massive data set of ideological opinions, Sears and Valentino demonstrate with precision that, for example, a white Southern man who calls himself a "conservative," controlling for racial attitudes, is no less likely to chance a vote for a Democratic presidential candidate than a Northerner who calls himself a conservative. Likewise, a pro-life or hawkish Southern white man is no less likely--again controlling for racial attitudes--than a pro-life or hawkish Northerner to vote for the Democrat. But, on the other hand, when the relevant identifier is anti-black answers to survey questions (such as whether one agrees "If blacks would only try harder, they could be just as well off as whites," or choosing whether blacks are "lazy" or "hardworking"), an untoward result jumps out: white Southerners are twice as likely than white Northerners to refuse to vote for the Democratic presidential candidate. Schaller's writes: "Despite the best efforts of Republican spinmeisters ... the partisan impact of racial attitudes in the South is stronger today than in the past."
So, it is racism that created the basis for the Republican Party in the South, and it is racism that enables the party to hold onto its white base in the South despite the fact that the party has proven conclusively that it is not conservative by any standard by which it had set for itself.

Durel's Failure to Lead

Which brings me back to the matter of Joey Durel's silence in the face of the Martin Luther King street renaming controversy. First, I believe Durel received absolutely no pressure from his Republican base to get involved, defuse or otherwise provide leadership on this issue. Why? See above.

Instead, Durel allowed members of the parish's legislative branch to embarrass themselves and the parish by turning the issue into a display of pettiness and, yes, racism that has no place in a community that aspires to call itself progressive.

What has resulted is a series of decisions by the white majority on the Parish Council to defund projects in districts 3 and 4, which just happen to be the districts of the council members who have been pushing for the renaming of Willow Street after Dr. King.

Now, Tony Fazzio (and, aparently, Glenn Armentor) don't fault Durel on this. How can they not? I think it's got a lot to do with their failure to understand leadership and its responsibilities.

Yes, there was a deafening silence from many whom most consider leaders in the white community on the King Street renaming issue. But, the difference is that Joey Durel is the elected chief executive of this parish. That is, he is the leader of the public sector in this parish. As such, his actions and words speak to and for all of us, whether he wants them to or not; it's the nature of the job and, some might say, one of the burdens of leadership.

The fact that Durel did not intervene, did not try to prevent the dispute from becoming a controversy; nor from escalating from a controversy to a travesty, and not from escalating from a travesty to an embarrassment, undermines what he claims to be his broader agenda. It also is testimony to the fact that he never viewed this issue beyond anything but a political issue. His Republican base didn't think the escalations mattered, because they don't care about the issue, don't care for Chris Williams and Louis Benjamin, and, ultimately, Durel's supporters, in the famous words Kanye West's said about George Bush, don't care about black people. His silence on the King Street matter says Durel and his Republican backers don't believe the African American community matters to the future of the community.

The Economic Impact of Racial Intolerance.

Or, the price we pay for Durel's lack of leadership on race and Why it matters.

It matters because, as economist and author Richard Florida wrote in his book Rise of the Creative Class, the communities that will prosper in this century are those that have what he calls "the three T's: technology, talent, and tolerance."

Durel has postured himself as a leader trying to turn Lafayette into a progressive community that can attract the creative class that Florida profiled in his book.

So, let's look at the standards based on the Three T's. We've got technology (the fiber project, when it gets built will cement that piece, though we have many other assets along those lines). We've got talent (we've got UL Lafayette, the community college, the technical college and other talent-grooming assets in Acadiana). But, as the street renaming controversy has demonstrated, we've got a hell of a lot of work to do on the tolerance piece. More importantly, Durel is not working to make it better.

Not Up to the Challenges at Hand.

Lafayette is competing in a global economy. Many of the communities that we compete against are bigger and have equally good mixes of technology and talent (although maybe in different proportions). But, to think that we can compete successfully against these communities while declaring up front that we are going to ignore 25 percent of our population and, in fact, we're going to compete without them, is the equivalent of the Knight in Monty Python's Holy Grail who, after having both legs and an arm cut off said, "it's only a flesh wound!"

"Visionary" is a cheap title in this town (some people have it on business cards). I don't think Joey Durel comes close to qualifying as a visionary — even at the cheapened level to which it has fallen in Lafayette.

His brand of leadership (the kind that will not challenge the biases of his backers) will not take take Lafayette to new, higher levels of community and economic success. In order to go there, we will have to use all of the talents and technology that we can muster. That means we can't afford to shut out or leave out any segment of our community in this competition. The challenges are too great and the competition is too fierce to think otherwise.

The white members of the council don't get it. Durel's Republican base doesn't get it. So far, Durel hasn't given any indication that he gets it either.

Considering the stakes for the community and its future, in my view, this disqualifies Durel as a suitable leader for Lafayette at this juncture in its development. It is about race. It is about party. And it is about the ability of this community to respond to the challenges it faces.