Sunday, March 11, 2007

Confession: I'm a bad citizen

I didn't vote on Tuesday. But I wasn't the only one. Only about seven percent of registered voters participated, mostly by mail. This despite school board races where millions of dollars were raised (and pre spent). What happens when nobody votes? As City Beat put it, "the apathy-tainted results still stand".

Also in City Beat this week, a cover story on an alleged Mexican Mafia-directed murders of African Americans in Highland Park and Harbor Gateway and evictions in West LA.

When presidents attack

Our president embracing the Brazilian presidentI couldn't resist posting the picture above, from the front page of the LA Times. Doesn't it look like President Bush has pounced on an unsuspecting prey? Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva doesn't look very comfortable. Bush got an unfriendly welcome in Brazil, so I wonder if this an attempt to make him more popular by tying him to Lula. Or more likely, this is an attempt to make Lula less popular in Brazil. If so, it is about as subtle as the poison used to kill that Russian spy in London.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

More from Sonoma: national GP politics

National GP Political Director Brent McMillan[First off, to correct a common misconception, the retreat was not a decision-making event. There was strategy discussion, but no strategic decisions. Secondly, this post goes into a lot of detail about internal Green Party debates. Sorry if it bores you.]

Part of the discussion in Sonoma focused on national Green Party dynamics, and how California fits into that. One of the things that makes me hopeful that the party will avoid a repeat of the bitter split that happened in 2004 is hearing from the national Political Director, Brent McMillan (above). He came out to the retreat from Washington, D.C., where he is working to make the 2008 Green primary and national convention smoother than last time. As McMillan pointed out, 2004 was the first contested primary for the Greens, and a lot of the convention rules were not clear. [This was exacerbated by the presence of multiple "favorite son" candidates, including Calif. primary winner Peter Camejo, who ostensibly supported Ralph Nader, but who did not directly control their delegates.]

So it is imperative to clarify rules about convention delegates ahead of time. One other thing that is being planned for this cycle is to gather pledges for donations to whomever wins the nomination in advance, so that their campaign can come out of the convention at full steam.

A related issue is how the votes will be apportioned at the national convention. This was a major source of contention in 2004, because the formula gives small states a disproportionate vote (similar to the electoral college). California, a big state that is also has one of the most active and successful Green Parties in the country, was particularly short-changed by this system. Some activists here have threatened to withhold our ballot line or even split our state party from the national over this issue.

On the national committee, a group has been working to develop a new apportionment plan that would be acceptable to those activists, but also to Green Parties in small states. This effort has been led in large part by Cat Woods, who was in Sonoma. In February, the proposal from the Delegate Apportionment Committee (DAC) failed by only two votes (70 Y, 38 N, with 72 needed to pass). The proposal, which will be brought back soon in a modified form, uses four criteria to determine how many seats each state will get: membership, campaign strength, state voting strength, and presidential voting strength. Each accredited state party would have a minimum of 2 seats and a maximum of 42 seats, with 200 total seats.

Even though I don't spend very much time thinking about the national, and I would not consider splitting off from it over this issue, it is very important that this proposal passes, for two reasons. First, the lack of fair representation has led to a serious split at the national level and also within the Calif. state Green Party. Second, this proposal will build the Green Party because it creates an incentive for activities that build the party, including expanding membership, electing candidates, and running strong statewide campaigns. After the next vote on this proposal (at the next state General Assembly meeting), California will decide how it wants to respond, and will come out united either way, I hope.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Jose Padilla: nondelusionally paranoid?

Dahlia Lithwick has a great article in Slate this week on the hearing to determine if Jose Padilla is mentally fit to stand trial. Here are a few paragraphs from the piece:
That's why it's worth keeping an eye on the proceedings this week in Miami as federal Judge Marcia Cooke tries to determine whether the alleged "dirty bomber"—scratch that—alleged "apartment bomber"—um, scratch that—alleged terror conspirator Jose Padilla is mentally fit to stand trial. What the prosecution now claims almost defies credulity. They contend that Padilla is wholly unharmed—after spending 1,307 days in a 9-foot-by-7-foot cell in a Navy brig in South Carolina, where he says he was, among other things, deprived of sleep, light, sight, sound, shackled in stress positions, injected with "truth serum," and isolated for extended stretches of time. It's better than that. According to the government, Padilla is faking his craziness.
The hearing is only to determine whether Padilla is fit to stand trial, not whether the abuse was grounds to dismiss the trial (that will come later).
So, what happened to Padilla in those many months of quasi-abusive solitary confinement is legally relevant only if the court determines that he is, right now, too damaged to understand the charges against him or aid in his defense. And not surprisingly, it has come down to a battle of the experts. As of today, two defense experts have testified that Padilla suffers from shattering post-traumatic stress disorder, facial tics, and Stockholm syndrome, which has him protecting the government and fearing his own attorneys. (He has been described by some prison staff as behaving like "a piece of furniture.")

The prosecution's expert, on the other hand, vows that Padilla's mental health problems are relatively minor and in no way impede his ability to stand trial. (So far my very favorite line from the various psychological evaluations of Padilla is this unironic note: "He does believe that he is being persecuted by the government, and he does demonstrate some paranoia about the government, but this does not appear to be delusional.") The prosecution's other claims range from laughable to horrifying: Padilla is alternately "malingering," faking so he doesn't have to stand trial; or his mental illness is a result of his own history of drug abuse; or he is clearly capable of assisting his lawyers, because he managed to tell them he'd been abused in confinement. Most unnervingly, they assert that the abuse he suffered—which they can't quite bring themselves to deny—is "irrelevant to the criminal case against him."