Open thread

This should satisfy a frightening need for an open thread….

(And there are plenty more media clips from the past week in politics posted at Hominid Views.)

One more poll…

KING-5/SurveyUSA have one last poll in the field regarding the county executive race, and this time they’re asking about party identity… whether we identify Susan Hutchison as a Democrat or a Republican, and whether party affiliation makes a difference in determining our choice.

It’ll be interesting to see the results.

Civil War

Earlier this week, the New York Times unloaded some big news about Afghanistan:

KABUL, Afghanistan — Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of the Afghan president and a suspected player in the country’s booming illegal opium trade, gets regular payments from the Central Intelligence Agency, and has for much of the past eight years, according to current and former American officials.

The agency pays Mr. Karzai for a variety of services, including helping to recruit an Afghan paramilitary force that operates at the C.I.A.’s direction in and around the southern city of Kandahar, Mr. Karzai’s home.

I won’t excerpt the entire article here, but it’s an enlightening read. Karzai, of course, denies both the payments and his role in the drug trade. But while the payments are a revelation, it’s long been a not-so-well-kept secret that he profits from Afghanistan’s opium production. As I’ve mentioned before, when an industry accounts for over a 1/3 of nation’s GDP, the powerful are either part of that industry or they risk losing their power. This is the dilemma we continue to face in Afghanistan and it’s the reason why the Taliban has been resurgent.

In order to really understand the depths of this clusterfuck, it helps to go back to another piece in the NYT from last summer, by former State Department anti-narcotic official Thomas Schweich. Schweich’s piece was a masterpiece of utter delusion, which I’d initially discussed here. Even then, I only scratched the surface of how clueless this man was in describing his genuinely earnest efforts to rid Afghanistan of opium plants. Here he is discussing a 2006 meeting with Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Condoleezza Rice:

I emphasized at this and subsequent meetings that crop eradication, although claiming less than a third of the $500 million budgeted for Afghan counternarcotics, was the most controversial part of the program. But because no other crop came even close to the value of poppies, we needed the threat of eradication to force farmers to accept less-lucrative alternatives. (Eradication was an essential component of successful anti-poppy efforts in Guatemala, Southeast Asia and Pakistan.) The most effective method of eradication was the use of herbicides delivered by crop-dusters. But [President Hamid] Karzai had long opposed aerial eradication, saying it would be misunderstood as some sort of poison coming from the sky. He claimed to fear that aerial eradication would result in an uprising that would cause him to lose power. We found this argument perplexing because aerial eradication was used in rural areas of other poor countries without a significant popular backlash.

I’m not entirely sure how Schweich could’ve believed this considering that it was in December 2005 that a former coca grower named Evo Morales was elected president in Bolivia – the first country aerial eradication was ever conducted – as a backlash against America’s drug eradication efforts. And President Karzai, a man who’d already survived several assassination attempts, wasn’t about to do anything that would guarantee that he’d have even more guns fixed on him. Unfortunately there was already a push within the Bush Administration to give Schweich the green light on carrying out his drug warrior fantasies. Part of that push was to send former Colombian Ambassador Anne Patterson to Afghanistan:

Even before she got to the bureau of international narcotics, Anne Patterson knew that the Pentagon was hostile to the antidrug mission. A couple of weeks into the job, she got the story firsthand from Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, who commanded all U.S. forces in Afghanistan. He made it clear: drugs are bad, but his orders were that drugs were not a priority of the U.S. military in Afghanistan. Patterson explained to Eikenberry that, when she was ambassador to Colombia, she saw the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) finance their insurgency with profits from the cocaine trade, and she warned Eikenberry that the risk of a narco-insurgency in Afghanistan was very high. Eikenberry was familiar with the Colombian situation, but the Pentagon strategy was “sequencing” — defeat the Taliban, then have someone else clean up the drug business.

What Schweich fails to mention about Colombia (and Patterson pretends isn’t true) is that the overall amount of cocaine coming out of Colombia hadn’t changed much over Patterson’s time there. Instead, what happened was that pro-government right-wing paramilitaries just took over more of the trade as they were also gaining more influence within the Uribe government. The reason that FARC was losing out on drug profits was because the Colombian government was so utterly powerless to stop the corruption within the ranks of their own paramilitary supporters.

In Afghanistan, we’ve ended up with the same dynamic. Ahmed Wali Karzai’s paramilitary fights against the “narco-terrorists” in the Taliban for his brother’s government and NATO forces shrug off the fact that he’s just as involved in supplying the rest of the world with heroin. But as Schweich mentioned in his piece, the debates between Secretary of State Rice (who favored a stronger anti-drug push) and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld (who didn’t want to get more involved with anti-drug efforts) were being won by Rice (with Bush being “the decider”). And despite continued push back from the Defense Department, more and more emphasis throughout Bush’s second term was being placed on trying to eradicate the opium plants.

One of the more puzzling moves in our time in Afghanistan was our prosecution of Haji Bashar Noorzai. Noorzai was an ally in southern Afghanistan who’d turned against the Taliban, but was lured to America (he believed he was coming to volunteer his help for American forces) and arrested for being a drug trafficker. He’s now serving a life sentence in an American jail. Nothing about this case ever really made sense, until the New York Times report from this week, which ended with this bit of information:

Some American counternarcotics officials have said they believe that Mr. Karzai has expanded his influence over the drug trade, thanks in part to American efforts to single out other drug lords.

In debriefing notes from Drug Enforcement Administration interviews in 2006 of Afghan informants obtained by The New York Times, one key informant said that Ahmed Wali Karzai had benefited from the American operation that lured Hajji Bashir Noorzai, a major Afghan drug lord during the time that the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, to New York in 2005. Mr. Noorzai was convicted on drug and conspiracy charges in New York in 2008, and was sentenced to life in prison this year.

Habibullah Jan, a local military commander and later a member of Parliament from Kandahar, told the D.E.A. in 2006 that Mr. Karzai had teamed with Haji Juma Khan to take over a portion of the Noorzai drug business after Mr. Noorzai’s arrest.

Even with this knowledge, the rationale behind our arrest and prosecution of Noorzai still makes no sense from a strategic standpoint, but it demonstrates how much power Ahmed Wali Karzai has that he could get us to undermine our nation building efforts in order to expand his own illegal activities – all while still being paid by the CIA. Either he’s a criminal mastermind of epic proportions or the people who were making decisions about how to wage that war were morons (and yes, I know which one it is).

Going back to Schweich’s article again, there’s one passage that’s just infuriating beyond belief:

By late 2006, however, we had startling new information: despite some successes, poppy cultivation over all would grow by about 17 percent in 2007 and would be increasingly concentrated in the south of the country, where the insurgency was the strongest and the farmers were the wealthiest. The poorest farmers of Afghanistan — those who lived in the north, east and center of the country — were taking advantage of antidrug programs and turning away from poppy cultivation in large numbers. The south was going in the opposite direction, and the Taliban were now financing the insurgency there with drug money — just as Patterson predicted.

It’s called a self-fulfilling prophecy, dumbass. When you take the largest industry in the country and make it illegal, you end up with a well-financed insurgency. And as you try harder and harder to eliminate that industry, a higher percentage of the profits will end up being concentrated among the people most unwilling to submit to your authority. And if you do it for long enough, those insurgents will eventually start taking over parts of the country, which is why thanks to our attempts to eliminate the opium trade, the Taliban have once again recaptured large parts of Afghanistan and record numbers of coalition troops are being killed.

The New York Times article from this week tends to make the CIA look incompetent or even reckless, but the story is more complex than that. It’s probably because when I think of CIA agents, I get a mental image of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character in Charlie Wilson’s War, but I can easily see them getting angry to the point of punching a wall over having to deal with people like Schweich and Patterson, whose boundless naivete drove the mission in Afghanistan into a hole. When I write about Afghanistan and what’s still possible to accomplish there, it’s easy to approach it from far too theoretical a perspective, without taking into account the damage that’s already been done. I’m done doing that. We’ve managed to fuck things up so spectacularly that anything other than a rapid withdrawal is a mistake. We simply don’t understand what we’re doing well enough to justify keeping a single soldier in that country.

Why does Kate Riley hate free speech?

One of the things that irritates me most about Seattle Times editorial columnist Kate Riley is the way she writes so authoritatively about things she knows absolutely nothing about.  For example

But Constantine really stepped outside the lines of propriety, not for nastiness, but for violating the copyright of a revered institution, the nonprofit TVW, Washington’s version of CSPAN — and for refusing to cut it out. TVW has asked that it be taken down, and Constantine’s lawyers have refused. Constantine’s spokesman Sandeep Kaushik told seattlepi.com that the use is justified.

Riley is just flat out wrong about the basic legal facts. Once again, in utilizing clips from TVW, neither the Constantine campaign nor myself have violated TVW’s copyright. We may have used their material without their permission, and contrary to their stated policy, but we were totally, 100-percent within our legal rights to do so under the Fair Use doctrine of U.S. copyright law.

Indeed, in all their public statements and interviews, not even TVW has gone so far as to claim that the Constantine campaign has violated its copyright. In fact, TVW President & CEO Greg Lane himself appears to acknowledge Constantine’s legal right, even while abusing him for daring to exercise it, complaining to Publicola, “They’re hiding behind a fair use legal argument and ignoring the greater public interest.”

Hear that Kate? Lane is accusing Constantine of “hiding behind” copyright law, not violating it.

Which raises an interesting aside. The courts have previously determined that copyright holders must make a good faith effort to consider the Fair Use doctrine before issuing DMCA takedown notices. Thus if Lane acknowledges Constantine’s usage is Fair Use, then, under the DMCA TVW has legally perjured itself in issuing a takedown notice to YouTube. (The same would be true of the takedown notices TVW issued to YouTube and Vimeo regarding my videos). Huh.

Riley insists that Constantine should pull the ad and apologize, but if you ask me, it is Constantine who deserves the apology from TVW, after Lane’s organization knowingly issued a bad faith takedown notice in its efforts to enforce a policy it has no legal right to enforce.

And in fact personally, if I had the money to hire attorneys, that’s exactly the argument I’d be making in court Monday morning.

Trick or Treat

trickorvote2009-1

As usual, I’ll be dressed up in my scary Tim Eyman costume, trick or treating with my daughter, and frightening the neighborhood kids, but if you don’t have plans and are looking for a fun and productive way to celebrate the holiday, I suggest you check out this year’s Trick or Treat canvassing party thrown by the Washington Bus:

This year, we’re partnering with the Approve Referendum 71 campaign and the No on 1033 campaign to present Trick or Vote in both Seattle and Spokane. For the Seattle event, Trick or Voters are meeting up at the Old Rainier Cold Storage in Georgetown (5840 Airport Way S) at 2:00 for a brief training before heading out to all corners of the city to talk to voters about turning in their ballots, voting yes on Referendum 71 and against Initiative 1033. In Spokane, attendees will gather at the Community Building Warehouse (17 W Main Avenue) before fanning out across town.

And of course, there’s an afterparty. It’s going down at Old Rainier Cold Storage, with free food, drink (for those of age), music by Selector Tang, and dancing by everyone. All free, all ages, all good.

Have fun!

TVW… WTF?

TVW is still playing their stupid little takedown notice game, now having my “Suzie Huckabee” video pulled from Vimeo, after first having it pulled from YouTube. Only this time their actions have resulted in all my videos being pulled from Vimeo, even those which consisted solely of footage I shot myself.

In response, I’ve filed a counter-notice with Vimeo, and have edited all my posts to include the embed from LiveLeak displayed above. But I doubt it will end here.

TVW’s copyright policy notwithstanding, they do not have the right to deny me permission to use clips in this manner under the Fair Use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. I assume their attorneys understand this, and thus I also assume that their continued actions constitute little more than an intentional effort to harass me into submission.

For example, just take a look at the statement TVW issued in demanding that the Constantine campaign pull a TV ad that also makes fair use of one of their clips:

The citizens of Washington trust TVW to provide unedited and unbiased access to public policy events. Editing and using our programming for political ads both violates that public trust and puts at tremendous risk the public’s access to these events.

Yesterday, I spoke directly to representatives of the Constantine campaign, requesting that the offending ad be pulled from the air immediately. This morning, the campaign’s lawyers responded that the Constantine campaign is refusing to abide by our request. We are disappointed with their response, which completely ignores the public interest and the tradition of respect maintained for TVW’s unique role.

Notice how they make the public policy argument, but not the legal one. That’s because there is no good legal argument for pulling the ads. And yet they continue to issue legal takedown notices to YouTube, Vimeo and other video hosting services pursuant to 17 U.S.C. Section 512, knowing full well that these videos are protected under U.S. copyright law as Fair Use.

Huh. One might reasonably argue that TVW has actually perjured itself in issuing these takedown notices. And given a pro bono attorney, that’s a legal argument I very well might make in a court of law.

Nonpartisan, my ass…

Back in 2005, while investigating allegations of David Irons’ abusive behavior, I repeatedly contacted Councilmember Dow Constantine’s office to confirm reports that he had intervened on behalf of one such abused female staffer. Constantine and his staff refused to talk to me, on or off the record, despite the fact that Republican Irons was in the midst of what was then considered to be a tight race for King County Executive against Democratic incumbent Ron Sims.

Apparently, Councilmember Kathy Lambert isn’t nearly so collegial.

Question…

What exactly did Nick Licata do to piss off Seattle firefighters?

What goes around, comes around

Democrats don’t endorse and campaign for Republicans. That means Brad Owen and Brian Sonntag are not Democrats. At least, not real ones.

Democratic constituency groups should keep that in mind come 2012.

Rep. McDermott plays big role in health reform. Nobody notices.

It is fashionable around these parts to criticize Seattle Rep. Jim McDermott as a do-nothing congressman who fails to bring home the bacon (you know, unlike Washington’s paragon of something, Rep. Norm Dicks). So I guess I shouldn’t expect our local media to break with the meme by covering the active role McDermott’s played in health reform negotiations, including the four key provisions he authored in the House version of the bill.

On muckraking…

I’ve long had a reputation as a bit of a muckraker, and I’ve never been shy about aiming low if that’s where the facts lead me. But unlike some bloggers, I’ve generally refrained from breaking stories of personal scandal without being firmly backed up by say, 62 pages of documentation, or, you know, the first-hand testimony of the subject’s mother.

But if the other side wants to lower both the threshold and the standard, I may just have to lower mine.

About the lie that Washington “didn’t do enough” for Boeing

Apparently $3.2 billion in tax incentives over 20 years and everything else the state has forked over isn’t good enough.

This is partly about neoliberal corporate executives chasing non-union low wages, as Charles Mudede alluded to at Slog yesterday, but it’s also an attack on unionism itself. This isn’t about economics, it’s about an ideology that long ago concluded the very existence of unions is an affront. Face it, there are many, many people in our society who would gladly abolish unions if they could, but since they can’t, the next best thing is to create conditions where forming unions is next to impossible and put an Orwellian moniker like “right to work” on them.

So while the taxpayers of Washington state got to pay and pay and pay in a somewhat futile attempt to appease Boeing, now the citizens of South Carolina get to pay and pay and pay. Hell, we’ll all probably wind up paying still, because Republicans and the bidness guys and gals are already preparing to use this as an attack issue, claiming without any credibility that Washington state is somehow a bad place to do business, when numerous measures rank us fairly high. Plus we’ll all get to continue to pay for military work done by Boeing. (Earth to powerful US Senators, come in US Senators…)

Notice that in this “free market” economy, the transfer of wealth is from regular people to giant corporations, their shareholders and officers, and that tax dollars are extorted from all of us to make it so. Then when the system nearly crushes everyone and a neoliberal has to resort to extraordinary means to avert a world-wide cliff dive, he is attacked as an authoritarian tyrant in order to keep the peasants divided, even as he and his predecessor fork over billions of taxpayer dollars to prop up the decayed neoliberal order. It’s “socialism” if regular people get routine medical care, but it’s “free market” economics if corporations are not only awarded huge profits but literally paid off.

Capital, of course, is prized in our system above all else. Land, ie property and the means of production, also enjoys a high status. Labor is semi-disposable, and nothing infuriates neoliberals like workers who don’t realize their place in the pecking order. Boeing is putting labor in its place, both out of pique and as a warning to anyone who would challenge the existing order of things.

I’m quite certain skilled politicians instinctively understand the situation, and the interesting question is: now what? Boeing supposedly will still have a large presence in the state, and it needs a transition time to get the South Carolina facility up and running.

Since one of Boeing’s complaints is a lack of qualified engineers in Washington state, what say they pitch in now and help offset those massive tuition increases from last session? Surely Boeing won’t need all of that $3.2 billion in tax incentives over the next fifteen years or so, seeing as the people of South Carolina are being so generous.

The Dunmire Initiative Process

Since 2004, retired Woodinville investment banker Michael Dunmire has given at least $2,747,193.71 to Tim Eyman and his various initiatives.

That’s nearly half a million dollars a year.

Over the past six years Dunmire’s impressive bank account has provided the bulk of the money used to buy the signatures necessary to get Eyman’s initiatives on the ballot, and the bulk of Eyman’s personal compensation. Without the largesse of this one man, none of Eyman’s recent initiatives would have qualified for the ballot.

Is that the citizens initiative process the populist framers of our state constitution imagined?

I don’t think so.

Talk of doing away with the initiative process is a nonstarter; even significant reforms would require a constitutional amendment, and nobody ever wins an election asking for less democracy. But I do have one idea that might return the initiative process closer to its populist roots, and just may be constitutional in the process: impose contribution limits on the signature gathering portion of the campaign.

The courts have been clear that the state cannot impose contribution limits on issues, as that would interfere with free speech, but as far as I know, separating the mechanics of collecting signatures from the messaging, while imposing contribution limits on the former but not the latter, has never been attempted.

Perhaps the courts would not allow this either; I don’t know, and perhaps folks with more expertise in this aspect of the law could chime in with their opinion. But at the very least such an effort at reform would create a much needed public discussion of whether our democracy is served by making the initiative process the private playground of wealthy individuals and powerful special interest groups.