Friday, August 31, 2007

Women, Wiretaps, and Smears: the FBI and Coretta Scott King

"This is a woman who basically was trying to raise four kids and honor her deceased husband...I don't know how that was a threat to anybody's national security."

--Isaac Ferris, Jr., Coretta Scott King's nephew and spokesman for The King Center in Atlanta ( jVZ0RMNg6RHMfRBWm1t7f2Q)

Today's news of the FBI conducting surveillance on Coretta Scott King for years after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination sent my mind reeling. To think of anonymous, small armies of government bureaucrats, sitting in cubicles lit by dim, flourscent lights searching through Mrs. King's personal letters, reading logs of field agents meticulously recording the schedule of her comings and goings, and even having the audacity to critique her autobiography is like something out of a Terry Gilliam movie.

It's bizarre.


Yet, it happened.

Houston television station KHOU broke this story today: hou070830_ac_scottkingfiles.85e64faa.htm l. It shows the extent that certain elements in our society - including our own government - will go to when confronted with an eloquent, plain-spoken argument for social change.

In his "Beyond Vietnam" speech ( /mlkatimetobreaksilence.htm) delivered on April 4, 1967, exactly one year before he was assassinated, Dr. King argued that, "...A time comes when silence is betrayal...". In a relatively few short minutes he became one of the government's biggest domestic threats, more than the Black Panthers, more than Malcolm X. King was able in this speech to meld the anti-war movement, the civil rights movement and the movement toward economic populism together into one seamless garment, saying:

"...we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. And so we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would hardly live on the same block in Chicago. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor..." (my emphasis added)

King's threat was real: he was already at this point working on the Poor People's campaign, a cause that would bring together working people and poor people of all races to use nonviolence to demand economic justice from our government. He was poised to bring together disparate factions of the left and right, rich and poor, young and old by articulating how our nation's dependence on the military-industrial complex and the foreign policies it spawns adversely affects normal, every day Americans from widely divergent walks of life.

The urgency to stop him was real. The tactics employed by our government through the COINTEL program were brutal ( /cointel.htm). His voice being silenced exactly one-year-to-the-day of delivering this landmark speech has always looked suspicious.

But after being silenced, why did the government continue these tactics against Mrs. King? Why did they start a meme that literally hounded her the rest of her life, making her the butt of political cartoons (one where she and her children were depicted as pick ninnies) and encouraging right-wing radio talk show hosts to label her "the Black Widow"? As KHOU reports:

"...One agent even read and reviewed her 1969 book "My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr." and made a point to say Scott King's "selfless, magnanimous, decorous attitude is belied by.. (her) ..actual shrewd, calculating, businesslike activities." ( hou070830_ac_scottkingfiles.85e64faa.htm l).

Why did the FBI employ these same tactics against close advisors like Ralph David Abernathy:

"...In the report the FBI details an uncertain and "shaky" Abernathy who was "concerned about his possible assassination as well as his position as President of the SCLC..." So the agent makes a recommendation: "It is felt that by notifying Abernathy directly upon receipt of information relating to threats against his life, some rapport may be developed with him..." The report also adds that doing this would give the benefit of "the disruptive effect of confusing and worrying him by reminding him of continuous threats against his life." ( hou070830_ac_scottkingfiles.85e64faa.htm l).

The FBI was worried that someone might stand up in the void left by MLK, might continue the work that he started on a summer day in a quiet church nestled in the chaos and confusion of New York City.

So, in the midst of visits to the White House, where Mrs. King and her children posed for photo ops and were told what a wonderful man their husband and father was, our government was reporting to these very same men with the sympathetic eyes where Mrs. King was going, who she was talking with, and how to sully her repuation just enough to make her a less credible threat.

This story has an upside, as all stories do. The government ceased its surveillence of Mrs. King around November, 1972. The American Civil Liberties Union issued a press release today calling for an immediate re-writing of the guidelines the FBI uses to spy on people in public places ( 30prs20070831.html).

And, a Presidential candidate paid tribute to King's seminal speech, illustrating its urgent, timely call to end our silence and finally be patriotic about something other than war:

If we want to stop the type of injustice Mrs. King experienced, it isn't enough to hold investigations or write better laws and policies (as important as these action are). We need to change who we are as a people.

Silence is a betrayal.

Stand up, speak out. Be the change you want to see.

Bush could have learned something from Lyndon Johnson and Hurricane Betsy

From The Campaign To Change America

By, Ellinorianne

In 1965, President Johnson responded to the aftermath of Hurricane Betsy in New Orleans. He went there personally and he set an example of how it should have been handled.

On this 2nd memorial of such a tragic natural disaster and unnatural response from our Government, we should remember that Presidents have faced these kinds of disasters before and handled them far better. What's your excuse President Bush? What was more important than the victims of Hurricane Katrina?

Transcript of audio of President Johnson in New Orleans following landfall of Hurricane Betsy, September 10, 1965.

The President's Remarks Upon Arrival at New Orleans Municipal Airport

Mr. Mayor and my friends of New Orleans: Today at 3 o'clock when Senator Long and Congressman Boggs and Congressman Willis called me on behalf of the entire Louisiana delegation, I put aside all the problems on my desk to come to Louisiana as soon as I could. I have observed from flying over your city how great the catastrophe is that you have experienced. Human suffering and physical damage are measureless. I'm here this evening to pledge to you the full resources of the federal government to Louisiana to help repair as best we can the injury that has been done by nature.

Throughout the day I have talked to Senator Long and Senator Ellender, Congressmen Boggs and Willis, my friend Jimmy Morrison, Otto Passman and Congressman Wagner about what has taken place in this great state. As we flew to New Orleans we discussed the ways and means of putting the compassion of the United States in specific and helpful action. With me are Governor Buford Ellington, in charge of the federal government's Office of Emergency Planning, and whose responsibility it is to make sure that all needs to be done gets done and quickly as possible. Also with me are Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman, General Collins, Chairman of the American Red Cross, Dr. Luther Terry, the Surgeon General of the United States. Mr. -- the head of our Small Business Administration is here, and we'll have further announcements as we go along. Mr. Gene Foley will have a briefing just before we return to Washington on what that agency will be able to do.

The agony and the loss of Louisiana would have been far greater without the cooperation, effective work of the Weather Bureau, the Civil Defense Authorities of Louisiana, the Red Cross and other local groups. I'm delighted to see your mayor has been on the job for many hours now and is here to welcome us. More than 180,000 citizens were evacuated from southern Louisiana alone. Because we were alerted to the assault of Hurricane Betsy, I am ordering in teams from the Office of Emergency Planning, the Army Corps of Engineers immediately. The Small Business Administration has already declared this area a disaster area and will be prepared to make long-term loans to rehabilitate both business establishments and all the homes that we saw, their roofs under water a few moments ago.
I am here because I want to see with my own eyes what the unhappy alliance of wind and water have done to this land and to its good people. And when I leave today to go back to Washington you can be sure that the federal government's total resources, with the help of the fine Louisiana Delegation, will be turned toward helping this state and its citizens find its way back from this tragedy.

Thank you for coming here to see us. We want to go and explore as much of the devastation as possible, and then we'll go on further up the state.

President Johnson Speaks to Hurricane Victim William Marshall:

LBJ: Where's your home?
William Marshall: Right here in Orleans, 9th Ward.
LBJ: Where are you going now?
WM: Well I'm gonna try and go to the place where we can sleep tonight.
LBJ: How many in your family?
WM: Four or five of us.
LBJ: Is your home under water?
WM: Oh yes, [?] water. About three feet to the house.
LBJ: Where'd you sleep last night?
WM: I didn't sleep anywhere, I just sat up until the water ran us out this morning [?].
LBJ: How far down the road do you live?
WM: I live at 1409 Gordon Street.
LBJ: How far is it, a mile? Two miles?
WM: No no no...LBJ: Half a mile?
WM: About six blocks.
LBJ: Six miles.
WM: From where I live to where [?]
LBJ: Where are you going now?
WM: I'm going to [?] Street, I'm told.
Unidentified Man: Yes, there's a school there where he will be taken care of tonight.
LBJ: Where's your family?
WM: Some behind me right in here, a couple in the front, [?]
LBJ: What's happened to your neighbors?
WM: Well they the same way. They're the same way, sir. They're the same way. We're all out of there, you know. I guess we'll maybe march back. We're all outta there.
LBJ: How long've you lived here?
WM: Well I lived right there thirteen years.
LBJ: You ever seen anything like this before?
WM: No sir, not in my life. I've seen storms and hurricanes, but not this much water. Unless of course...a cloud burst or something and it wasn't nothing like that...
LBJ: How come you didn't lose any more lives?
WM: Well [?], God, with the providence of him. I guess we will see through his mercy.
LBJ: Where do you work?
WM: I don't work. I do little ordered jobs... I'm not able. I'm 74 years old. I worked for the [?] governor after [?], and I went on to retirement.
LBJ: How old are you?
WM: 74.
LBJ: You look like a pretty young fella for 74.
WM: 1892, 16 of December.
LBJ: What state?
WM: Tennessee. Nashville, Tennessee.
LBJ: Well, good luck to you. I hope things work out alright.
WM: God bless you. God ever bless you.

President Johnson Speaks to an Unidentified Victim at a Shelter in New Orleans

LBJ: Is your house under water?
Man: It's under water, completely.
LBJ: All your family safe?
Man: Yes sir, my family's safe. Thank goodness, thank goodness.
LBJ: We're down here and we're gonna help every way we can.
Man: Thank you very much.

President Johnson Requests Water After Visiting Shelter

Get a hold of [?] and talk to the Mayor and see if you can get [?] water right away. Fellas at the shelter were saying they was thirsty and their starving for water... we've just got to get them some water in there as soon as we can.

President Johnson Speaks to the Media Prior to Departure for Baton Rouge:

What we'll do...I think is this, he told me y'all need 30-40 minutes. We'll just sit, wait til y'all file your story, then you come on, we'll go we'll scratch Baton Rouge -- we've committed to go there, and I'll talk to the governor over the telephone from the plane if I can, and I'll have a statement for you when they get out here.

I've asked the mayor to call Coca-Cola, 7Up, Orange Crush people, everybody they could to try and get them out there this evening because they have no water. And that's one thing you can do without any fear of contamination.

President Johnson's Remarks Upon Departure of New Orleans to Washington, DC:

Ladies and gentlemen, we will not go to Baton Rouge. I've talked to Governor McKeithen by telephone very shortly. I want to again thank the members of the Louisiana Delegation for escorting me here this evening and to the Mayor, who has taken me through the ruined city. I have just completed an extensive tour of New Orleans and the surrounding area. I am saddened by the damage and the suffering that I have seen. The high winds that reached a speed of 145 miles per hour wreaked massive destruction. Roofs were crushed, trees toppled, tons of broken glass and shattered electric and telephone lines lay in the wake of the savage storm. Most of the city as you observed, is still without lights this evening. With the winds came the rain, and untold misery has been caused by flooding. Many homes are now covered, including their roofs. But I am determined that we can help these people in every way that human compassion and effective aid can serve them.

I have ordered that all red tape be cut. Our assistance will be given the highest priority. The Department of Agriculture is already providing emergency food at food stations such as we visited. They've been set up by the Red Cross and the help of other local agencies. Troops from Fort Polk have called into action to prevent starvation and to protect life and property. The Small Business Administration, under the direction of Gene Foley, will tomorrow morning begin processing the first long-term loans in New Orleans. The Corps of Engineers is at work tonight, opening levees and dikes and removing debris. But we're ready to do much more. Within the hour, Governor McKeithen asked us to declare Louisiana a disaster area. We will so declare it tonight. At that moment, I will immediately order the following:

One, we will allocate the funds necessary to rebuild the streets, highways and bridges. We will repair essential facilities such as public buildings, docks, hospitals and schools. Two, we will distribute through the Red Cross the medicine and the food necessary to carry the victims through the emergency period. Three, we will provide temporary housing and emergency shelter. Four, we will supply federal equipment for construction, repair and clearing. Five, we will assist veterans to retain their homes by a temporary suspension of V.A. mortgage payments.
I congratulate Louisiana's local and state officials, particularly the Mayor of the city of New Orleans for their heroism and their devotion to duty. I want to pay tribute to the compassion and the around-the-clock concern of the entire Louisiana Congressional Delegation. Within two hours after they notified me that we should come visit this area, our plane was taking off the runway at Andrews.

This nation grieves for its neighbors in Louisiana, but this state will build its way out of its sorrow. And the national government will be at Louisiana's side to help it every step of the way in every way that we can.

Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Carter on Edwards: "A Candidate Whom I Really Admire"

Two Southerners, two standard bearers of the Progressive Movement stood side by side today in the Georgia heat and talked about the future.

Jimmy Carter, the man who created a blue print for "ex-Presidents" that has been followed by everyone from Bill Clinton to George Bush, Sr., didn't endorse anyone for President. A man of great political wisdom, he rightly said it was too soon in the race to throw his considerable weight behind any one candidate right now.

But here's what he had to say about John Edwards:

"I can say without equivocation that no one who is running for president has presented anywhere near as comprehensive and accurate a prediction of what our country ought to do in the field of environmental quality, in the field of health care for those who are not presently insured, for those who struggle with poverty...." ( l)

Let's stop for a moment and consider the gravitas of this statement. This is a man who as president guided us through our first serious energy crisis. Indeed, as Thom Hartman cites, Carter's April 18, 1977 speech, "...established the strategic petroleum reserve, birthed the modern solar power industry, led to the insulation of millions of American homes, and established America's first national energy policy." ( -22.htm).

In the area of health care, Carter has a wealth of experience to draw upon. The Carter Center, established by President Carter to continue the work he began in the oval office, is the base of the International Task Force for Disease Eradication ( /index.html). The Center's health programs have prevented the, "...suffering of millions of people around the world from diseases often ignored by others." ( .html). Carter's commitment to global health care, and his holistic approach in looking at how poverty and environment affect health, can be seen in the ways that Edwards approaches the issues of health care and economic justice. And both demonstrate that compassion should be the light that guides us, not just in determining our health care policies, but as an overall philosophy of government to ensure that everyone has a good, decent quality of life.

Although Carter's statement isn't an official endorsement, it is a heart-felt sentiment on John Edwards from one of our nation's most valued statesmen, and one that I hope folks will keep in mind during this primary season.

The John Edwards Blog Is Unique

For those of us who've populated the space since January, this is not news.

But I've visited other candidates' websites and as far as I can tell no one else has the confidence and trust in his/her supporters to let them speak out directly on issues that concern them.

Roughly three quarters of entries on this site are from unpaid supporters. The other sites seem to have staff write the posts and have supporters respond. That's a huge difference and (no surprise) shows the Edwards campaign is willing to take a chance.

The "open mic" section subjects one to the vagaries of peer review, but a diary entry goes up immediately.

To me, The Campaign To Change America starts with this concept - putting trust in people.

Don Wheeler

The Crime? Helping the Poor While Being Wealthy

By A. Alexander
The Progressive Daily Beacon
Saturday 25 August 2007

It is interesting to observe Republicans and the corporate-owned media as they attack the rare wealthy person who dares attempt to help America's poor and impoverished. According to Republicans, wealthy people that try to help America's poor, even those like John Edwards who came from a working class background, are to be publicly humiliated ... to be treated as though they have committed a crime. What crime? The crime of helping the poor while being wealthy.

Though Republicans and the corporate-owned media might attack the concerned individual, their assault is really against America's poor. After all, when Republicans and the media attack the cost of a haircut for those trying to help the poor, the reason is about more than simply hoping to undermine the person's credibility; ultimately their goal is to undermine the cause.

For the last 40 years in the United States, any person that dared take on the cause of the poor and disenfranchised has been roundly attacked, belittled, marginalized, intimidated into complete surrender, or murdered (i.e. Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. etc.). The reason for this is simple: Republican philosophy dictates that any of the hard-earned taxpayer dollars returned to, or used to improve the lives of common citizens is a waste of money. However, giving the taxpayer's revenue to the wealthiest Americans and corporations is money well spent. In other words, welfare for the poorest among American society is bad; welfare for the wealthiest among American society and corporations is good.

And what is best of all? Spending most of working America's tax dollars on building bigger, better, and deadlier bombs!

It might be tempting to consider this analysis as being a bit harsh on Republicans. However, a recent scenario illustrates the point perfectly: Every reputable study and organization has found that there are currently some 9 million American children without health insurance. Congress was seeking to address the issue and determined it would cost about $10 billion dollars per-year to cover 6 million of the uninsured children. Suddenly, the Bush administration released a "study" that concluded, despite all previous evidence and studies, that there are supposedly only 5 million American children without health insurance.

This finding, of course, came from an administration that has literally made it impossible for government researchers to make public information and studies that contradict Republican ideology. However, the moment Congress decided to address the lack of health insurance among America's poorest children, and the Republican administration suddenly produced a study that undermines the need for helping poor children. Better, perhaps, to state that the administration's "study," if taken seriously, would effectively ensure that only half the original funds of $10 billion would be spent on helping America's poorest children gain health insurance.

A political party that can see no problem with spending $700 billion per-year on senseless and endless warfare and that gladly provides billions of dollars in annual tax cuts for corporations, but can find no reason to spend a mere $10 billion in an effort to help poor children is as unconscionable as it is unfathomable. Is it unreasonable to question their humanity?

In the end, however, Congress did pass child health care reform ... and Mister Bush and his administration immediately issued orders to states that made it impossible to administer the program.

Maybe the only explanation for the Republican perspective is greed. The less money possessed by the poor, leaves more money for the wealthy.

As for why the corporate-owned media and Republicans so viciously attack the rare wealthy individual who dares speak out on behalf of the poor? Well, they know that only one of their own would have the power to make a difference. After all, isn't it obvious that the poor are powerless to overcome the wealthy forces arrayed against them? If they weren't, poverty would have been extinguished long ago.

On BBQ, Or, Our Godson Goes To War

It has been an unusually wet and rainy summer in my corner of the world, and it was a great pleasure to be able to combine a road trip with what has become a rare sunny day.

The Girlfriend and I were headed to see our two godsons and their family for a summer barbecue; and you would think the combination of family, a perfect day, and a smoking grill would be all you would need to guarantee happiness all around.

But not today.

Because we were going to say goodbye to one of our godsons.

He’s going to the Middle East with his Army unit, and this is his last day “in the world”.

It takes about three hours to drive from one house to the other, and neither The Girlfriend or I want to think about the purpose of the trip too much...I’m trying to lose myself in music, and she’s on the phone, just to stay distracted.

There are a couple stops to make, but we eventually arrive at the house.

The weekend before I seasoned some beef, let it slowly cook for about six hours, “pulled” it and sauced it, then tossed it back on heat for another hour or so. As a result, all I had to do to get dinner going was to start the oven and reheat the meat.

We picked fresh blueberries, had some veggies and salad cut up, and all there was to do was to wait for everyone else to arrive.

It’s weird how, on the surface, everything seems normal and mundane, but the proverbial elephant is very much in the room.

He’s been in the Army National Guard for long enough that he’s got some stripes on his uniform, so he and we all have a familiarity with him being in the service, but the idea that he will be going tomorrow puts a bit of a damper of everyone’s otherwise good mood.

There was a first part to this story, written three months ago when he was going to Fort Sill, Oklahoma for final training; and as we discussed then, the good news here is that he is unlikely to be serving in a direct combat role-at least based on today’s circumstances.

Of course, I’ve known that since at least 2004 the Army has been so short of combat soldiers that they have been forced to draw on the Navy and Air Force for ground combat troops, and that the problem continues to this day; but you can bet I don’t mention it much to The Girlfriend, and he and I only talk about it a little.

That said, I don’t like the safety glasses portion of the hardware store anymore (troops are wearing safety glasses they were sent by family members shopping at Home Depot and Lowe’s to protect them from flying glass), but I am impressed at the stylishness of the new designs.

There are now three members of the family there who have a military background-his Mom was in the Army (and when both kids were young we did tease ‘em by saying “your mother wears Army boots!”), and I have my own military association-so there’s not much in the way of wild-eyed idealism. As a matter of fact, his Mom just came back from a trip to Anatolia (the historic name for what is now Turkey) with her college class, so we’re particularly focused on the history of the neighborhood these days.

Some stupid movie is on, but no one’s really paying attention.

We talk about what might happen a little bit, and we talk about the Sunni and Shi’a and Kurds, and how strange it is that we’re having a more informed discussion than what our President seems capable of.

(Ottoman Empire is not a piece of period furniture, Mr. President.
I promise it isn’t. Really.)

I know we don’t have enough troops to keep this surge going, and we talk about how long it might take to pull out...what I don’t talk about is my gut feeling that these troops will be there longer than 15 months...or my deep conviction that Mr. Bush will declare that we can never give up, no matter what the cost, because we are finally about to turn the corner and victory is, once again, imminent.

Nor do I choose to expound on my Universal Theory of Soldiering-which says, in a nutshell, that all soldiers, on every side, in every war in history, return home wounded.

Instead I’m trying to soak in as much memory as I can-because I’m deathly afraid the most important thing in the world one day will be to be able to remember him as he was before he left.

By now it’s dark, and fairly late, and his brother has to go, so it’s hugs all around.
We sit and talk for a bit longer, but he’s tired, and eventually falls asleep on the couch.

We still have a three hour drive ahead of us, and so it’s well past time for us to we say goodnight to the remaining awake family. I take one last look at my godson...none of us cry, but I’m crying now.

The next morning, his Mom drove him to the airport, and now he’s gone.

If all goes well, he may be home for next Christmas.

Between now and then, there’s not much to do but hope for the best, make sure that we keep in touch as best we can, and try to stay as upbeat as circumstances allow.

So that’s our story for today: a beautiful summer day, good food, the company of those who matter most...all balanced against the backdrop of an occasion I hope to never repeat again.

All in all, it was a hell of a barbecue, if you ask me.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

WIB Fiscal Practices Series Begins

Timing is everything, they say. Yesterday, Juan Manigault - Republican candidate for Mayor of South Bend - called a press conference to decry the lack of disclosure of problems found in the most recent state audit for the city of South Bend. Yesterday, I was able to pick up (via a public records request) "correspondence and audits related to Workforce Development Services for years 1999-2003". At ten cents per page, my bill was for $16.90.

According to a South Bend Tribune article by Jeff Parrot Mr.Manigault cited two problems found in a budget of approximately $150,000,000 involving fund shortfalls. Mayor Steve Luecke later responded that the shortfalls were anticipated and gave details about that. He pointed out "There were no funds lost or misused". The other concern that came up was a failure to deposit emergency medical services revenue in a timely manner.

It seems that the State and the City need to get on the same page accounting-wise to resolve the first issue. The city claims it has already addressed the second one.

Mr Manigault reportedly distributed a press release entitled "City Audit Results Not Revealed" and pledged to, if elected, " take the initiative to publicize problems that arise". Mr Parrott notes, "But Manigault admitted he did not notify the press in 2002 when the Indiana Department of Workforce Development raised questions about how the Workforce Investment Board, Inc., then headed by Manigault, had accounted for the expenditure of federal grant money."

Mr. Parrott's next paragraph states a position held by Mr. Manigault, but is the crux of what we'll be looking at in this series. It reads "The state workforce development agency ultimately cleared the WIB of any wrongdoing, but not before the WIB had to spend more than $228,000 to hire an accounting firm to reconstruct its books."

The 169 pages of documents I received were all written after the reconstruction noted above. The vast majority of them were generated prior to the finding cited above. It seems likely there is more to know about this.

If Mr. Manigault is sincere in his wish to be forthcoming in "publicizing problems that arise", I'll do my best to help him out when warranted.

I'm not going to try to distill all this information into some kind of summary (though perhaps, at the end), and I intend for the most part to not to render judgement. I will attempt to take a document or two at a time and tell the reader what it says. Til next time.

Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport

Don Wheeler
South Bend, IN

Monday, August 27, 2007

Alternet: Big Media Can't Write off Edwards

This great, amazing article by Joshua Holland is one to share with our brothers and sisters in the Progressive Movement (you know - the real Progressive Movement, not the one the DLC thinks is just another way of diffusing the unpopular label "liberal").

It also shows that if your heart belongs to Kucinich, your head should tell you to vote for Edwards.

Joshua elegantly, honestly makes the case why all true progressives who want to see systemic change need to be embracing Edwards for the Democratic nomination:

"...Edwards isn't the only candidate in the race making such bold statements, of course. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) has long spoken of economic issues in the kinds of terms Edwards used last week. But John Edwards was the vice presidential nominee on a presidential ticket that won 59 million votes and he's raised $23 million in the current cycle (20 times what Kucinich has raised), and that means that corporate media is forced to cover him. So far, they've mocked him, written stories about his haircuts, pushed shadowy innuendo about his personal business dealings and suggested his focus on poverty is disingenuous or hypocritical, but they simply can't write him off as a member of the fringe. Unlike Kucinich, they can't ignore him..." (

So, who will win out? Big Media and politics as usual? Or the grassroots, netroots and working people?

You have a say in this contest, and the louder we speak the more we will start being the change we want to see.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

On Space Radar, Or, Real Life Ain’t Like “24”

Those of you who are regular readers will know that I like to bring you stories that are not part of the conversation you might generally see at this site (or anywhere else, for that matter); and I have a good one for you today.

We will discuss a military “spy satellite” program that has great potential for use by other customers-including law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

A program, frankly, that has a huge “Big Brother” potential.

A program that may end up costing $150 billion of today’s dollars-or more-over the next 25 years.

And with that introduction complete, let’s talk about “Space Radar”.

This will be a fairly long, but not very technical, description of a development and procurement program that has the twin goals of allowing the US military to obtain an image of any location on Earth, and then employing that information to support a variety of missions; and secondly, to track individual vehicles from space so that they might be attacked, if needed.

At the end of the discussion you should have an understanding of what the system can-and can’t-do, and you should be able to do your own thinking regarding a rough cost-benefit analysis of the program.

''I'm really trying to help keep this revised assault on schedule!''
--CTU Analyst Chloe, on the television show “24”

The television show “24” is but one of many places where you can see the image of the Secret Government Intelligence Agency specialists hunched over computer screens, following the image of some vehicle that is driving in a distant desert in real time, and then-with the appropriate giant explosion-the Evil Terrorist and his Truck are destroyed by a pinpoint strike from a perfectly guided missile.

Another success for Our Side.

But as you might suspect, in real life it doesn’t always work out that way.

For a variety of reasons that we will flesh out as we go along, several parts of that scenario are very difficult to make happen, and especially exactly when you need them all to happen.

For example, you can’t just “steer” satellites to where you want them to go as you might a car-the nature of how this type of satellite orbits the Earth determines where it will be at a particular time of day. Therefore just because you located the Evil Terrorist Truck doesn’t mean you can just call up an image, right this instant, from the closest satellite.

It’s also very difficult to maintain contact with the Evil Terrorist Truck for more than a few minutes as it’s driving along, and one factor causing this difficulty is related to the orbital parameters of the satellite. Other factors relate to the design characteristics of the radar itself, in what direction and over what terrain the target vehicle travels, potential confusion caused by any other vehicles located nearby, and the computational and computer processing difficulties inherent in this type of work.

The number of satellites you have, and their angle relative to what they are trying to observe will also affect the ability to get the image.

If all that wasn’t enough, all the data generated has to be processed into a useable image, downloaded, and analyzed. Unfortunately, space today is essentially wired for DSL, and to make this program work we will also have to install a much bigger “pipe” for getting data down from space. As a result of today’s slower speed connections, the current reality often means waiting for data from a satellite before it can be acted upon-and that delay can be not just seconds or minutes, but sometimes even hours.

Is there any good news here?
Well, maybe.

Depending on how we design, we might be able to use Moore’s Law to leverage today’s investment by upgrading some components later.

There is a manufacturing development on the horizon that might substantially reduce the cost of producing the radar arrays themselves, and electronics do tend to get cheaper every year-but those are not the most expensive part of the satellite’s design. More on this later.

Before we get too far, a quick word about sourcing.

I will link liberally in the course of this discussion, but I owe a giant thanks to the Congressional Budget Office. In January of 2007 they released “Alternatives for Military Space Radar”, and the great majority of the information found here can be found, in greater detail, there.

So now, let’s talk generically about what these satellites do.

As we discussed above, these satellites are intended to perform two basic missions. In the first, they travel around the Earth taking pictures of strips of land as they pass overhead. This is what you might think of as a typical “spy satellite” mission-the comparison of images from some location to images of the same place, taken in a previous time. This is the raw material of how most folks might traditionally imagine the process of photographic analysis works. You can analyze, for example, if construction has occurred (are they building the reactor?) at a particular place, or the movement and composition of military forces (where is the enemy?) on a battlefield. There are other uses for this data as well, including military mapping.

Military mapping has two purposes: the production of maps for use by troops, sailors, or pilots, and the creation of the “maps” that are fed into the navigational systems of certain missiles. Once the map (actually a digital three-dimensional representation of a series of “waypoints”) is loaded, the missile can find its own way to the target.

The second mission is not so traditional: the goal of tracking the movements of individual vehicles from space as they move about on the Earth, in “near-real” time, so as to create the “actionable intelligence” we so often hear about. No acknowledged satellite performs this mission today for any country. Earth based systems such as the Predator, Global Hawk, and JSTARS have handled this mission since the 1990’s.

The biggest challenge for a designer tasked with making these two things happen…is that the “taking pictures” mission and the “actionable intelligence” missions fundamentally conflict with each other.

Here’s what I mean:

After going to the time, trouble, and expense of launching a satellite and putting the infrastructure in place to both keep it going and to use the data it creates, you need to ensure you collect the most data possible 24 hours a day. A satellite performing this type of mission travels around the Earth in an orbit that creates “strips” of image, one alongside the other as each orbit goes by, until a complete image of the Earth’s surface is created. If a satellite can complete one strip in 105 minutes (the orbit time for a satellite passing 1,000 kilometers above the Earth), 14 strips would cover the entire Earth’s surface in 24 hours.

To get a better idea of the “strip” concept, look at the cardboard roll in the center of your paper towels or toilet paper. That overlapping pattern, if applied to a more spherical shape (the Earth), is an excellent way to visualize what I’m talking about.

On the other hand, the longer you can stay over a target, the longer you can observe a particular object (the Evil Terrorist Truck, for example). The level of detail you can create from that image goes up as well. There are satellites that, if you were able to look up and see them, would always appear to be over the same spot on Earth. These are called “geosynchronous” satellites, and if you have DirecTV you benefit from such a satellite. This would theoretically create the most detail and longest time over target possible.

This is not a good design for a spy satellite, however, because you can only look at one place for that satellite’s entire lifetime.

This, as with much of life, is not 100% accurate-it is possible to move satellites to different orbits to some extent, but doing so will reduce the time they can be maintained in orbit, and a satellite that cannot maintain its orbit will eventually fall back to Earth. Since these satellites will likely be costing us more or less $1.5 billion each, keeping them up as long as possible matters.

One way this problem is resolved is by increasing the number of satellites, but this can still leave gaps in coverage. For example, 14 satellites that take 105 minutes to orbit would mean a satellite would be over any particular spot every 105 minutes…but that also means the Evil Terrorist Truck could have up to a 105 minute head start before we can get a camera on it, if a satellite had just passed by.

There are issues related to the satellite’s distance from the Earth’s surface as well. High altitude orbits (20,000 kilometers or higher) have advantages, especially in the amount of coverage at any given time, but they require exponentially larger amounts of power to operate, because the returning signal is so weak. (The CBO reports that doubling the range a signal travels makes it 16 times weaker.)

Medium Earth Orbit (5,000 to 15,000km) satellites have similar characteristics: large amounts of power and large radar antenna and solar arrays make design and construction technically challenging, but they offer large “footprints” of coverage.

Low Earth Orbit (500 to 1,000km) is risky because of the risk of orbital decay-the dragging of the satellite back to Earth because of the planet’s gravity. This orbital altitude offers the smallest viewing area, but the strongest signal return potential. It is the likely choice of any future Space Radar system.

You might expect that implementing power solutions would be the easiest for these Low earth Orbit satellites, but nothing’s ever that simple. And thus we need to take a moment to address the role of earthly eclipses on satellite batteries.

Because of the time spent in the Earth’s shadow every orbit it is not possible to get enough power from the sun to operate any single satellite’s radar at full power at all times. This requires the satellites to store solar power in onboard batteries for when it’s needed-but the more often you charge and discharge batteries, the faster you wear them out. Changing batteries is not an option, which is why the proposed satellites have a reported lifespan of about 10 years. (A Low Earth Orbit satellite spends about 25% of it’s time in shadow.)

The satellites we are talking about gather images through the use of radar. The common image of a radar installation is an exotic looking antenna of some sort rotating around at the top of a radar mast. The radar sends signals out from the antenna (the “aperture”), the system receives the signals as they return after bouncing off an object, and the time it takes for that to occur can be used as one input for a math problem (an algorithm) that is processed by a computer to create the “radar image” that the operator sees on a modern radar.

This is not, however, the only way a radar device can operate. The larger the aperture, the more detail the image can have. That’s because more signal sent out allows more signal to return, and that’s where detail and clarity comes from. It’s also true that a larger aperture allows you to see more area at any one time.

It’s possible to electronically manipulate radar “transmit/receive modules” laid out on a giant flat non-moving panel (an “array”) to create a giant “synthetic” aperture-and “Synthetic Aperture Radar” (or SAR) will be used on the Space Radar satellites. This electronic manipulation capability allows for fancy tricks never imagined by the “old school” radar designers-for example, part of the radar can scan a large area with lower detail, while part of the radar scans a small area with very fine detail.

Two other handy characteristics of the design are the ability to “re-aim” any part of the array at any other area it’s pointed at instantaneously, and the ability to “re-view” several spots that the array is facing in a repeating pattern over and over (10 seconds on six locations every minute, as an example).

The Defense Support System uses giant SAR installations, and they are also used on US Navy ships (note the large flat panel just below the mast).

This brings us to nomenclature.
I promise I’ll be gentle, but there are a few more terms you need to know for all of this to make better sense.

To help simplify what might otherwise seem a bit obtuse, I’m going to ask you to play a mental game with me. Imagine you’re sitting in the driver’s seat of a car.

In this example, the car will represent the satellite, and you, sitting in the driver’s seat, will represent the radar.

Now imagine that you are driving that car on the freeway (or motorway for my UK friends.)

The view out the front window would represent the “Satellite Ground Track”.
This can also be called the “Along-Track” or “Azumith” direction.

The radar is pointing out the passenger window, and the window represents the aperture that we discussed above. (That direction is known as the “Cross-Track”,”Range”, or “Elevation” direction.)

As you might imagine, the size and shape of the window affects what can be seen. Picture a window two feet tall by four feet wide in size, with you looking out the window down at the ground. Now consider how that view would change if the window was four feet tall by two feet wide

Here’s what else might affect your view:

--How much does your head have to turn to look out the side window?
That angle is called the “Azumith Angle”.

--How much do you have to tilt your head down to see the spot you want to see on the ground? That angle is called the “Elevation Angle”.

--The reverse of that (the angle someone on the ground would have to look up to see you) is called the “Grazing Angle”.

--The area of ground that you can see looking out the side window would be the area of the “Range-Swath Width”

--You can’t look straight down through the car’s floor to see the road-and a satellite can’t either. This zone that can’t be seen immediately below the satellite is called the “Nadir”.

We’ve covered a lot so far, and I think with just a couple exceptions the terms we need to learn are now out of the way, so how about we take a short break?

Go walk away, let your head clear a bit, pour yourself a refreshing beverage, and come on back. We’ll pick up the discussion by looking at the factors that limit what this sort of system can accomplish.

Our break over, let‘s continue our discussion of what keeps radar designers up late at night.

For starters, consider the challenges of tracking the Evil Terrorist Truck (or mobile SCUD transport erector launcher [TEL], for that matter). A satellite, traveling more or less 17,000 miles an hour, is trying to find a vehicle traveling maybe 30 miles an hour on a planet passing hundreds of kilometers underneath at 15,000 miles an hour on its voyage around the Sun. This vehicle might be on a road surrounded by other vehicles at varying speeds, or it might be in the mountains, where valleys can block your view. Patterns of vegetation are also confusing.

Designers resolve some of these problems by attempting to “teach” the computers that interpret the data how to filter out the “clutter”. Unfortunately, this is an exercise in guessing (if the vehicle is traveling on a road, the computer might attempt to extrapolate the location of the vehicle from the surrounding “clutter” based on information it has already received about the target’s previous activities, for example), and guessing leads to guessing and...

To make a long story short, the CBO estimates current “state of the art” technology could only maintain any single vehicle’s tracking for less than 10 minutes before the clutter overwhelms the system’s ability to correctly guess what’s what. The best results are achieved in a grid environment (a plowed farmer’s field, for example), where the vehicle moves in the Cross-Track direction. The more rapidly a target is traveling, the easier it is to locate. A vehicle moving exactly in the Along-Track direction cannot be detected.

Another means of resolving some of these problems is to employ many satellites. As we mentioned above sending one satellite, in the same orbit, over a location over and over throughout the day can require many satellites in order to constantly observe any particular spot on Earth. In fact, if you have 14 strips that take 105 minutes to orbit, viewing one location every 9 minutes requires roughly 150 satellites. This would provide you the ability to have near real-time images of any location on Earth nearly 90% of the time, as one of the 150 satellites is always somewhere nearby overhead, and with a large range-swath width you could theoretically achieve nearly overlapping coverage. (Because of the nadir below every satellite, it is nearly impossible to achieve 100% coverage.)

Of course, who can afford 150 satellites?

But there is another way: remember the paper towel roll example we discussed before? Imagine if the “seams” on that roll went in two directions-the seam you see running to the right, and a second seam, crossing over the first, going to the left. That would be an example of satellites on two “Orbital Planes”, and the constellations of satellites that are envisioned for Space Radar operate on one, two, or three orbital planes, depending on the alternative you’re talking about. (Picture two seams, not overlapping, going to the left, and one to the right on our cardboard roll, and you have three orbital planes.) If you picture satellites paralleling or crossing each other’s paths on these orbital planes, you can see new opportunities to cover ground more quickly with fewer “birds” in space.

In the end, however, the limitations of real world budgets will require compromises, and the first of those is to accept that you can’t be everywhere at every second. Instead, the goal of a constellation designer is to create a pattern of orbiting satellites that offers the most:

--Access (what percentage of the time can any particular location be observed)

--Response Time (how soon can you get images from any particular location)

--Coverage (how large an area can you view every hour)

--Mean Track Life (how long, on average, can you track a particular target)

Another challenge in providing coverage is to design a satellite that can view the largest area possible with the greatest detail required. This is a bit like looking through a pair of binoculars: the greater the enlargement, the smaller the area you can see through the lens. To do this a terrestrial SAR uses enormous arrays, but that is not possible in a space-based system because of the weight and size limits imposed by launch vehicles.

As a result, the systems being considered would have arrays covering 40 square meters (more or less 9 feet high by 50 feet long) or 100 square meters (about 75 feet long by 12 feet high). Essentially, you have to decide if you want a smaller number of very large radars, or a larger number of smaller radars.

Each has its tradeoffs: as we said earlier, larger satellites are extremely expensive to design, build, and launch (that giant-and therefore heavy-array has to be folded up for launch, which requires lots of extra engineering; it’s also more likely to flex in space, and thus must be designed with a heavier, more rigid structure, and the greater demands for power require heavier equipment than smaller designs), but a larger number of satellites means more expenses down the road for maintenance, data collection and processing, and required spare satellites (about 10% of satellites experience “catastrophic failure”).

Most of the Earth’s interesting “targets”, the CBO reports, are located between 20 and 60 degrees north latitude, and this is where grazing angle comes into play.

Let’s try another mental game: imagine you are a satellite, and you are standing near a model car on the floor. The top-down view you would have of the car is much more informative than the one you would have if you were laying on the floor looking at the car. In reality, it is impossible to “look across the floor” using a satellite (known as a “zero grazing angle”) because of ground clutter (trees, buildings, hills…) creating obstructions and other such issues. (Eight degrees of grazing angle is considered the absolute minimum for any currently proposed design.)

Placing the satellite’s orbits so that targets in the 20 to 60 degree latitude range are well covered, therefore, is of paramount importance.

Now it’s time to more fully address data transfer.
Everyone who has switched from dialup to broadband understands what better connections can mean, and this system generates huge outputs of data.

The amount of data can be reduced by doing some of the computer processing on the satellite, but this means more power and weight, plus the concern that failure of an onboard computer might render an entire satellite useless. Instead, it is likely that raw data will be sent to ground stations for processing. This model also offers the advantage of allowing for easy upgrades of processing hardware and software, since all the equipment performing these tasks is located on Earth.

Of course, communication between a satellite and a ground station requires a “line of sight” view between the two, and that’s not always possible. This creates delays in getting data to those who need it. NASA has the same problem with their satellites, and they created a “backbone network” of linked communications satellites that orbit the earth today.

The idea is that one of the satellites in the backbone network is always connected to a ground station, and when data needs to be downlinked a satellite connects to the network and passes its data. At that point, much like the cell phone network, the backbone satellites pass the data amongst themselves until the ground station connected satellite is reached, at which point the downlink occurs.

Today the NASA system has six channels that can pass 800 Mb/second, which is equivalent to six DSL connections-not much when you have many satellites trying to pass video and other data all at once. Any future system will require a radically improved “backbone” to support it; and my uneducated guess is that this could represent another 30-50% added to any other cost estimates.

And so, at long last, we come to the heart of the matter: just what should we expect from such a system, and how much should we expect it to cost?

To answer those questions, we need to identify just what sort of a system we are talking about. I will pick out two of the options the CBO discussed and focus on them, as I believe they are the options most likely to be adopted.

System 1 is a constellation of nine satellites on two orbital planes. The radars are the larger 100 square meter aperture design, and they are in Low Earth Orbit.

System 2 has 21 satellites with 40 square meter aperture. The satellites are also in Low Earth Orbit, and are on three orbital planes.

The next thing we need is a scenario. The CBO developed two: the ability of each system to track a single vehicle target in North Korea; and the mission of observing locations on the Korean Peninsula over a period of time.

They also made assumptions about two technologies that are not yet known to actually exist:

It is theoretically possible to send multiple frequencies from a single transmit/receive module simultaneously, and then separate the frequencies again when the return echoes are received. If this is possible, the area that could be imaged in any time period would be multiplied by the number of additional frequencies transmitted (three frequencies, triple the area observed, for example). No system currently is known to have this capability.

It is also hoped that a process called “STAP processing” will improve the performance of the proposed radar systems when tracking vehicle targets through more effective “clutter removing” algorithms. Because the CBO cannot today know how effective this processing will be, they made a conservative and an aggressive assumption, which we will discuss as we go along.

First, let’s discuss the “picture taking” (SAR) mission.

You may recall that the more detail you require, the smaller an area you can image. More detail also lengthens response times, but in the case of our North Korean mission this is not too severe: both Systems 1 and 2 would be able to provide images at .01 meter (3”, sufficient to determine if a crop is growing at an expected pace) resolution in less than 15 minutes; and in the case of System 2, if you could settle for images of .07 meter resolution (not quite two feet, and sufficient to tell the difference between a truck and a tank) you could obtain an image in about seven minutes anywhere in North Korea.

Coverage is the next metric to be examined.
To help give you a bit of perspective, consider these facts:

A Division is a massing of about 10-15,000 troops and they typically operate in an area of about 1,000 square kilometers.

During the Persian Gulf War of 1991, the US Air Force created so-called “kill boxes” of about 2,500 square kilometers for the purposes of locating SCUD TELs.

The Korean Demilitarized Zone and an area extending about 80km into North Korea encompasses about 11, 000 square km; this area equals about 10% of the total area of North Korea, which is in turn about half of the Korean Peninsula.

System 1 could survey the DMZ region, about five kill boxes, or the operating areas of 10 to 11 Divisions daily at .01 meter resolution, and the entire Korean Peninsula at .06 meter resolution. System 1 can survey roughly twice as much land at .01 meter resolution as System 2. The amount of land surveyed at 1 meter resolution is about 10 times that which can be imaged at .01 meter resolution.

System 2 can only cover about 60% of the area of System 1 at .01 meter resolution, but at 1 meter resolution this 21 satellite constellation can cover about 3 times as much as the 9 satellite System 1-over 1,000,000 square km daily. The amount of land surveyed at 1 meter resolution is about 20 times that which can be imaged at .01 meter resolution. System 2 could therefore provide five complete images of the entire Korean Peninsula daily at 1 meter resolution, compared to two images daily with System1.

System 1 could image any target located between 40 and 60 degrees North or South latitude between 15% and 20% of the time at .01 image detail, and roughly 20% at 1 meter resolution.

System 2 could image any target located between 40 and 60 degrees North or South latitude between 10% and 20% of the time at .01 image detail, and above 30% at 1 meter resolution.

Keep in mind that grazing angle counts with all of this-an angle approaching 90 degrees yields no image (the “laying on the floor” example we discussed above), which is why the best results are obtained in the latitude range we’ve discussed above.

The next item to assess is the effectiveness of the two Systems in tracking a target vehicle (officially known as Ground Moving Target Indication, or GMTI).

Before we can examine the numbers, a quick word about steering.

We don’t want to cause our satellites to change their orbits, because we will use fuel that we will need later to maintain the satellite’s orbit. However, we might choose to “spin” our satellite (turn it on its yaw axis, for the aerospace engineers still reading) in order to follow a single vehicle, and the CBO, as they did about STAP processing, made a “fixed” and “variable” yaw angle assumption.

There are disadvantages to varying the yaw angle: the fuel use, of course, but also the risk of flexing the radar array, which will drastically reduce the radar’s effectiveness.

With that said, here’s some numbers…

First, let’s examine access. It is estimated that one of the nine System 1 satellites would be available to track a vehicle traveling about 20 mph 30% of the time with a fixed yaw angle, and making a conservative assumption as to the effectiveness of STAP processing. Because of the aperture size, there is no real improvement if we assume STAP processing is more effective. The variable yaw angle makes the system about 30% more effective.

The 21 satellites of System 2 would fare better, and if STAP processing lived up to the aggressive assumption, System 2 would be roughly twice as effective as System 1. However, the conservative STAP assumption only yields a small improvement over System 1, no matter if we are comparing fixed or variable yaw designs. The lowest predicted assumption was for 40% access, and the most optimistic suggests access could be maintained almost 70% of the time.

In any case, vehicles moving less than 2 meters per second (about 5 mph) are virtually invisible to any of the radars we are examining. If the aggressive STAP assumption is made, vehicles traveling over 4 meters per second are probably going to be tracked about 40% of the time for System 1, above 60% of the time for System 2.

Under the conservative assumption, neither System can be counted on to be able to track a particular target more than 20% of the time if the target is traveling less that 6 meters per second (about 15 mph), and System 2 can’t hit the 20% number unless the vehicle is traveling 8 meters per second (20 mph).

How quickly can our Systems respond once the order is given to track a vehicle?

Assuming either a fixed or variable yaw angle, it would take one of the nine System 1 satellites more or less 15 minutes to respond to a target between 40 and 60 degrees North or South latitude. System 2’s 21 satellites could respond in less than 10 minutes, possibly as quickly as 5 if aggressive STAP assumptions are used.

That response time, however, is not possible for vehicles traveling less that 4 meters per second-System 2 requires up to 60 minutes to locate such a target, although System 1 can do it in about 10 minutes. If you called in a sighting of a high value target driving away, even a 10 minute response time may be too slow.

How long can we maintain tracking on a particular target?

Here’s some bad news. The CBO estimates that System 2 could only maintain a track on a target for a period of 1 to 4 minutes using the conservative STAP assumptions, and only 2 to 8 minutes using the aggressive assumptions. That means even if you were able to respond to the tasking to track a particular high value target, the target would likely be lost before any aircraft or other weapons system could be brought to bear on that target. Even the larger radars of System 1 would be only likely to hold the track, in the most optimistic case, for about 19 minutes, with 5 to 6 minutes being the more conservative estimate.

More bad news: the CBO estimates that if we want a 95% confidence that we can keep response time under 4 minutes for our hypothetical Korean Peninsula targeting we would require somewhere between 35 and 50 satellites (depending on fixed or variable yaw angle).

So what would all this cost?

To deploy these Systems, we would first have to fund a development process to attempt to design the STAP software, then we would also have to fund certain other development work on the satellites themselves.

At that point we would be ready to purchase the actual satellites, the launch vehicles that put them in orbit, the ground equipment to support them, and we would be ready to train and equip the analysts, engineers and technicians we would need.

Our costs would include maintenance, the second set of satellites we would need to launch after 10 years or so, and the processing of the data sent to Earth by the Systems.

With all this in mind, it is estimated that System 1 might cost between $53.4 and $77.1 billion. System 2 will likely cost between $66.2 and $94.4 billion. (50 satellites would likely cost 2.5 times the System 2 estimate, or roughly $150 to $250 billion.)

These estimates do not consider the “space network backbone”, which will add a lot more to any costs we are discussing here.

And now, at last, we have come to the end.

By now you should have a better understanding what Space Radar can and can’t do and what it’s likely to cost. From where I sit, I suspect we have five choices:

--Do nothing.

--Adopt System1.

--Adopt System 2.

--Go for the 50 satellite option.

--Deploy for the SAR mission, but leave GMTI to the currently deployed Predator, Global Hawk, and JSTARS.

This was an especially long conversation, and I do appreciate that you would take the time to get to this point. I hope I made it worth your time, and I look forward to hearing some ideas about how we should proceed.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Freedom Of Information

I challenged the South Bend Tribune to follow up on an old story they wrote about Juan Manigault's management of a state agency costing the taxpayers roughly one quarter million dollars in audit expenses to sort out how that organization spent its money and if it spent it appropropriately.

The Tribune responded by publishing a story which indicated Mr. Manigault has a letter which says the matter has been resolved. This tells us roughly nothing.

Since our only local newspaper seems to have no interest in this matter, I as a private citizen have petitioned my government for documents which will let us know the results of the audit and any other findings. When I get these documents, I will share them.

Democracy is not a spectator sport.

Don Wheeler

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Ownership Society-Part 2-New Fictional Series

Part 2

“I know I’m supposed to care for these people, Pastor Nick, it’s just…I just don’t.” The calloused hands spread before the pastor in supplication. “I mean, why is it my fault if they have kids they can’t afford? Why is it my fault if they make stupid decisions and life kicks ‘em in the a—uh, rear? Sorry.”

Pastor Nick nodded, attempting to mask a serenity he saw in a painting of the Buddha. He found himself more and more frequently heading to that place of quiet meditation, recalling how the painting surprised him, hung in a far corner of a conference room. Quiet. Calm. Pastor Nick wondered how many meetings it had presided over from its perch next to the coat closet, its expressionless eyes, down-turned but awake and alert, its passive countenance following each individual around the room. Watching. Aware. Nonjudgmental. One hand held up as if to stop someone from speaking while the other encouraged a more thoughtful, engaging interaction.

Right now Pastor Nick was desperately trying to be the Buddha, letting long silences fill the room like so much cotton candy, sweet and ethereal, waiting for the long journey of the soul across from him to finally come to an end.

His companion continued. “I know the Bible says “I’m your brother’s keeper and all”, but wasn’t that God saying that? I mean, I have my own bills to pay. We don’t have a lot of money, either. We just plan and save and why the heck should I take it in the shorts just because of someone else’s stupidity? Look, I’m not saying to cancel this…soup kitchen thing or whatever it is. All I’m saying is to move it up an hour, so I can have a nice event with my family in the church hall. I’ve been a member here my entire life, and this is our 30th wedding anniversary, and I don’t think that this is too much to ask.”

Pastor Nick breathed in deeply, smelling the raw, burnt sugar smell he always associated with these uncomfortable pauses, opening his mouth to taste the heavy, candied air that he swore filled the room in the midst of someone baring their soul to him.

The man broke the silence. “And I don’t care about these people. I’m sorry, but that’s they way it is. I don’t see why I should feel sorry for them – they’re screw ups, plain and simple.” He pointed his finger in the air, missing Pastor Nick’s chest by six inches. Pastor Nick paused a second, channeling the Buddha, feeling the calmness descend from the top of his head down his spine, making his feet heavy on the worn, coffee-stained carpet.

“Bob, are you a sinner?” Pastor Nick let the words lie still on the worn, oak desk separating himself from the large, older man with the wispy, grey hair whose tirade he had just absorbed.

“What?” Bob asked absentmindedly, not ready for a question but a lecture.

“Are you a sinner?” Pastor Nick looked up at the man this time, meeting his eyes with a compassionate stare.

“Well, yeah. I mean, we’re all sinners, right?” Bob’s voice fumbled, attempting to recall a Sunday school lesson he had learned a generation ago.

“What’s a sin?” Pastor Nick asked, his voice modulated with a careful evenness.

“Well…it’s…I mean, you do something bad.” Pastor Nick saw Bob’s cheeks flush slightly, and he leaned back, attempting to alleviate the man’s embarrassment for being put on the spot.

“Lying’s a sin, right?” Pastor Nick offered, using a tried-and-true analogy Lutheran pastors had used since the time of Martin Luther himself. Bob picked up on it right away.

“Oh, yeah, I know, and lying is supposed to be the same thing as killing someone, right? And so somehow that means that I’m just as bad as those people are and that’ll just shut me up? But Pastor Nick, I’m not a bad man, I’m not a killer, and these folks…they just need to deal with the consequences of their actions is all I’m saying.” Bob’s hands started to tremble slightly, his voice a quivering roar as Pastor Nick glanced a touching blow at the exposed nerve of his soul.

“I think everyone feels the consequences of their actions.” Pastor Nick offered and then immediately wished he could take it back.

“Oh, no, not these folks.” Bob’s agitation was palpable. “No, not when they have welfare, and, and, food stamps, and Medicaid. They’re living in hog heaven off of my tax dollars. It isn’t fair!” Bob bellowed as his hand struck the desk, making an unexpected slapping noise.

For a few moments, the men just looked at each other, both equally surprised by the outburst of emotion that clung to the corners of the room.

“What’s really going on, Bob?” Pastor Nick leaned forward, intently studying the man’s face.

“Nothin.” Bob muttered.

“Why are you here?” Pastor Nick probed.

“I…I don’t know.” Bob gave up, his body slowing deflating.

“Whatever you’re going through, you know you can tell me about it.” Pastor Nick attempted to make eye contact with Bob, who just looked down, his body encased in his own embarrassment.

“I should go.” Bob stood up, turning toward the door. Pastor Nick stood up with him.

“Nothing about this life is easy.” Pastor Nick said, walking Bob toward the door. “Sometimes I think God makes it that way, and honestly, sometimes that really pisses me off.” Bob swung his head around, looking at Pastor Nick’s mischievous grin. They both chuckled slightly, relieved.

Bob turned around before leaving and shook Pastor Nick’s hand. “You’re a good man, pastor.” Nick put his hand on Bob’s shoulder. “You’re a good man, too.” He said.

It wasn’t until he closed the door behind Bob that Pastor Nick felt the throbbing in his temples. He made his way over to the desk, hands clasped to both sides of his head, fingertips feeling the soft, short blonde hair covering the dense pounding inside his skull. Sliding into his worn, fabric-covered office chair, he pulled his cell phone out of his jacket pocket and absentmindedly scanned his address book. The rhythm of the mechanical blips as he pressed the arrow keys soothed his nerves. He passed by a name, thought about, and scrolled back. He stared at the entry for longer than he realized. Finally, getting his nerve up, an unfamiliar panic tightening his stomach muscles, he pressed the send key.

“Hi, Jeff? It’s Nicholas. Yeah, Pastor Nick. Yep. Yeah, no, just a regular day.” He tried to keep up the friendly banter, his mouth becoming slightly dry the longer he talked. “So, what’s up with you? ‘Cuz I was wondering, if you’re not busy, maybe…maybe we could see a movie or something?”

…to be continued.

Monday, August 20, 2007

John Edwards - in person

Many of you know that I made a trip to Burlington, Iowa to see an event in the Fighting For One America bus tour. I just wanted to pass on some impressions from that experience.

First, the group of 200+ people waiting to see him were obviously seriously interested in seeing him and hearing what he had to say. Since I came from so far away, I arrived early - but there were plenty of people there ahead of me.

Next, the venue choice was excellent. Nice surroundings, excellent staff. In addition to that the local office and volunteers really did a fabulous job. It seemed to me that nothing was left to chance.

Next, Elizabeth Edwards is definitely Elizabeth Edwards. The person you see on TV is the same you see in person. I'm glad I read her book since it gave me insight into who she is. She's funny, very smart, warm hearted yet tough minded. No doubt, in terms of who we're married to - John Edwards is the second luckiest man on the planet!
In one funny moment, John got a bit carried away and referred to Ann Coulter as a "she-devil". He had to amend that after an admonishment from Elizabeth.

Finally, John himself. David Brooks put it well recently. He said (roughly) that John Edwards has the ability to talk to a person from any walk of life in a way few people can. I saw that last Friday. He listens to people carefully, answers their questions directly and respectfully - and people respond to that.

When I saw him in person, I found him to be a handsome man with great hair, but looked much closer to his age than the guy you see on television. That made me wonder a bit. He's earned those wrinkles (God knows) and maybe the campaign should let him flaunt his maturity a bit. Just my opinion.

The final impression I'd like to convey is that I believe I can assure people that John Edwards is a person with a kind and generous soul.

After he finished answering questions, many people were grouped around him hoping for a quick word. One of the first people to reach him was a women I later realized must have been in trouble emotionally. I have no idea what was said between them, but what I saw was John embracing her fiercely and massaging her back with his forearm. It looked like he wasn't going to let her go until she was OK.

She passed me a bit later, tears on her cheeks but looking OK.

That's our guy.

Democracy is not a spectator sport.

Don Wheeler
South Bend, IN

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Ownership Society-Part 1-New Fictional Series

Part 1

It was supposed to be their dream home.

Lost between ominous red-striped envelopes bearing overdue notices mass-printed on cheap paper, buried under stacks of cynically bright colored pre-approved credit card letters, humming under the buzz of brash female voices yelling at the home's occupants through a small, grey answering machine, hid the dream of the people living inside the house. The dream manifested itself in different physical forms: a nursery, lovingly painted in the tones of the sun and the sky on a clear, summer day; a rosebush, clipped and freshly watered, the musty smell of fresh cedar mulch mixing with the scent from the pink flowers as they opened to the visitors approaching the front door; family photos hung in carefully playful groupings inside the foyer, each face smiling lovingly on the guest as they climbed the stairs to the fireplace-adorned living room with the vaulted ceiling.

Deborah and Charles bought this home right after getting married. They were newlyweds moving into a newly built subdivision holding each other tightly together as they looked forward to seeing the trees in the backyard grow up with their yet-to-be-born children. They talked of where to put the yet-to-be-bought swing set, and purchased books from Home Depot on how to build a yet-to-be-constructed sandbox. Deborah had her first attempts at interior decorating in this home, painting the walls in the upstairs bathroom an icy-cold blue in the thought that this might refresh her and Charles after a long day under the hot, Georgia sun.

They didn't have a buyers' agent when they purchased this house. They simply walked into the newly built model, over plastic-covered carpet and through crisp, white walls into the living room where the builder's agent fed them chocolate cookies and sweet tea and started showing them floor plans. Before they knew it, they were sitting at their closing signing page after page of legal documents. The lawyer, who was playing beat-the-clock, looked slightly annoyed when Deborah started reading some of the pages for herself. Fatigue won in the end, and by seven o'clock Charles was walking toward their car, his left arm holding onto Deborah's waist, clutching a freshly-pressed set of house keys in his right hand. He kissed Deborah, squeezing her close to his chest before opening the passenger side door for her.

That was just a few years ago, before Charles got laid off from his entry-level job at a local computer company. This was before Deborah, four months pregnant, seated across the table from the manger of the small non-profit organization she worked at, was told that they just couldn't afford to keep her around any longer. But they had been in the house a few years, and had paid off enough principal to qualify for a small home equity loan, to help pay for the pregnancy and the rest of the things they would need for the baby. Charles was working three jobs now: stocking vending machines by day; working the cash register at a local gas station at night and during the weekends; and he was trying to start his own home pressure-washing business, inspired by the pressure-washer they had received as a wedding gift.

And Deborah? She was home, full-time, with the baby. With both of their families living out of state, and with the cost of daycare at two-hundred and fifty dollars a week, even trying to look for a job was out of the question as whatever she would take home would just be eaten up by the daycare bills and commuting expenses. She was trying to do what she could to budget. Deborah was the one who found out that they qualified for the WIC program. Deborah planned all the meals, clipped coupons, and used the food processor (another wedding gift) to make her own baby food. She was a careful garage sale shopper, traveling to wealthier neighborhoods early Saturday mornings after dropping Charles off at the gas station, and talking rich, white women down from $1.00 to $0.50 for a pair of BabyGap shorts.

They had stretched, and stretched, and stretched the household budget. Charles barely got eight hours to sleep a night. And wasn't enough.

It started with the credit card bill. They had expensed a lot of the baby's items on it - and their honeymoon - and when money was good they had always tried to pay more than the minimum. They had still been able to make the minimum payment, barely, when Deborah received a call from the credit card company stating that they could either close the account or pay thirty percent interest. When Deborah protested, explaining to them that they hadn't been late in over a year, the aggressive, booming male voice on the other end of the line stated simply that because they had gone down to one salary as a household they expected them to be bankrupt within the year, and they wanted their money first before they defaulted on their other creditors.

Deborah closed the account. The interest rate was frozen at nineteen percent. They were now down to one credit card with three hundred dollars left in available funds.

Then the baby got sick. Deborah tried everything she could - over-the-counter children's medication, cool baths, watered-down apple juice - but nothing helped. Finally, desperate, she took the baby to the emergency room. After more medication and more visits to the doctor the baby's health improved. The rest of the home equity money was used paying the medical bills.

Soon, the interest rates on the credit card and the home equity loan were eating up any disposable cash their struggling, young family had for daily necessities. They weren't the only ones in their neighborhood going through this - driving down the entrance of the subdivision, instead of seeing playing children and folks out mowing their lawns, she started to see foreclosure sign after foreclosure sign. "CASH FOR YOUR HOUSE" signs started appearing at the front of the subdivision. Charles, swearing under his breath, would try to remove the signs as fast as they sprouted up, but they were like a many-headed hydra: remove one sign and two sprung back in its place. Eventually, he gave up.

It was right in the dead heat of August that the utility bill came. After the baby's illness, Deborah didn't take any chances with the air conditioning: it was left on, all day, at seventy-nine degrees. Telling herself it would be cheaper to pay for the utility bills than go through another round of doctors bills for the baby, Deborah cocooned into a self-made psychosis of safety. When the bill came, that cocoon shattered, leaving her in a distraught, rumpled panic.

It was three hundred seventy-five dollars. And, with two hundred ten dollars already overdue, and no extra sources of income to draw from, she felt naked and vulnerable to the indifferent world outside. Hearing the baby cry, Deborah tried to make a bottle of formula, only to have her unsteady hands drop it on the vinyl kitchen floor, the pale, milky liquid pouring over the black-and-white faux tile motif.

And then the doorbell rang.

Wiping her eyes, gently lifting up the crying child, Deborah walked to the door and peered out the keyhole. A pudgy, hardened looking face looked back at her through the tiny, distorted glass. But, she knew who this was: Malcolm, her next-door neighbor's nephew.

Cautiously, Deborah opened the door.

"'Sup?" Malcolm smiled broadly, a wild, insincere effort.

"Hey, Malcolm. How's your aunt?" Deborah replied, her arms unconsciously wrapping the baby closer to her.

"She's alright. Hey, I gotta favor to ask you." Malcolm leaned slightly against the house. "I gotta - you know - take care of some business in Forsythe. I was wonderin' - my aunt said you all are looking to make a few bucks - and I'd be real appreciative..." Deborah nodded, filling the empty pause with an approval for Malcolm to continue.

"So. Like I said, I got this thing I gotta do and the rental car company don't rent to folks without a credit card or somethin' ridiculous, like five hundred dollars in cash or somethin'. And, so I was wonderin' if possibly you might be able to rent a car for me." Malcolm pulled a wad of bills out of his pocket, rolled tightly and held together by a dirty, red rubber band. "I mean, I got money but I don't got rental car company money, you know what I'm sayin'? And I only need the car for three days. So, if you could rent the car for me I could give ya three hundred bucks right now." Malcolm snapped the rubber band off the bills, absently counting the twenties as Deborah's mind looked for an excuse to over-ride the nagging doubts in the back of her mind. Three hundred dollars. Air conditioning.


Her eyes drifted toward the innocent face of the child she held in her arms, and for a moment it was as if time stood still. She could feel his warm breath on her cheek, smell that wonderful smell of detergent and milk and joy that all babies exude.

"Let me get my keys." She told Malcolm, her mind made up.

Keys in hand, she closed the door.

To be continued...

I attend a John Edwards campaign event

A bit over five hours from South Bend, IN, Burlington, Iowa turns out to be a beautiful, old Mississippi River town of the kind that many of us who hail from the midwest cherish.

The venue picked for the event was the Drake Restaurant - specificly, the large outdoor section of it which overlooks the river. It was a gorgeous, sunny afternoon and something like two hundred people were there.

After a while, a forty foot motorcoach with "John Ewards 08" on the front and "Fighting For One America" on its side rolled into view. Moments later, John and Elizabeth Edwards made their entrance(s) to enthusiastic applause.

Elizabeth (looking great) introduced John in her usual manner. John made some brief opening remarks, mostly centered on creating a new energy economy and aggressively addressing climate change. Then he took questions from the audience.

Burlington, like many other cities in the rural Midwest, has experienced hardship and challenges. Senator Edwards addressed these concerns head on. Paraphrasing, since he's from a part of the country that has suffered in much the same way, his policy proposals focus on dealing with these problems. Trade issues, energy independence, educational opportunity, a fair tax system, the right for workers to organize, a minimum wage that is a living wage, as well a specific program for rural America - all these factors figure in.

Naturally, the event was far too brief for my taste. Something I noticed from seeing videos of Senator Edwards at events like these - the way he relates to people asking questions or making statements - was certainly confirmed by seeing him in person. Though he lacks the "you're the only person here" demeanor of Bill Clinton, he has an intense focus of attention to whomever is addressing him. I have yet to ever witness him dodge a question and he's not afraid to answer in a way that might reasonably not please the questioner. His approach is as respectful as I've ever seen.

So, the event ended and John Edwards made his slow exit talking briefly to many people, shaking hands, being photographed, signing autographs, generally heading back to the bus which will take hime to the next event.

I eventually positioned myself by the bus door. As Senator Edwards was about to climb the steps, I stuck out my hand and said "I came here from South Bend this morning to see you. And I'll be back here to help caucus for you". He shook my hand, then noticed the One Corps shirt I was wearing. He looked me in the eye and said "Thank you for that".

A lot of my friends are intrigued that I would have driven ten hours today to have been at this event. I say it's worth some effort to shake the hand of the next President of the United States.

Democracy is not a spectator sport.

Don Wheeler
South Bend, IN

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Clinton Running a Rove-Style Campaign?

From today's WaPo:

"...Clinton's campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle, seems to agree with that assessment, having effectively vowed to run her operation much as Rove did his two successful national campaigns. "She expresses admiration for the way George W. Bush's campaign team controlled its message, and, given her druthers, would run this race no differently," Michelle Cottle writes this month in New York magazine. 'We are a very disciplined group, and I am very proud of it,' she says with a defiant edge..." ( tent/article/2007/08/14/AR2007081401722. html)

Okay, I want to make sure we all understood this. Clinton's campaign manager has, "...effectively vowed to run her operation much as Rove did his two successful national campaigns."

Now, you can't blame Wapo for doing a drive-by on that statement. This was an article about Karl Rove, after all, and not Hillary Clinton.

But I, for one, would like a little more clarification on this. Is Clinton's campaign proposing the type of swift-boat smear against her opponents that Rove masterminded? Will she be finding some non-existent, white love-child that Obama fathered somewhere in South Carolina?

Is this where The Haircut originated?

I'd really like to know how Ms. Clinton can argue that she's the candidate for change using such old-school tactics.

If only some reporter would actually ask the question...

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Ownership Society-New Fictional Series


“It’s not the right orange juice, ma’am.” The clanging monotone voice echoed through the backed-up check out line. Its owner, a vaguely bland, somewhat skinny girl in her early twenties cut through Deborah’s vision with the annoyed stare of someone who had been overdue for a break for the last three years.

She flicked off the light hovering over the cash register in disgust.

“But…the sign said…” Deborah’s temples were pounding, and she felt like she could almost hear the blood rushing in her ears and see small, whitish-blue dots flit before her eyeballs like so many fireflies. She glanced at her baby in the car seat, perched ungracefully but securely on top of her shopping cart. Thankfully, he was still asleep, a slight smile hiding behind his closed lips.

“Manager, to register three. Manager, to register three.” The cashier’s indifferent voice grated against Deborah’s nerves. She waited, unable to speak, wanting to scream at this selfish child for making her an object of public ridicule. Eyes lowered, staring at her sleeping infant she heard the line behind her shuffle as people cursed under their breaths, psychically directing all of their day’s aggression and anger at her shoulder blades. Eventually a tall, white man, balding and sporting a slight paunch, arrived.

“This isn’t the WIC orange juice, is it?” A skinny, pale arm thrust the joyfully colored carton toward the man. Unconsciously, he pushed the bridge of his gold, wire-rimmed glasses higher on his nose, and Deborah noticed it shone in the dingy, fluorescent lights of the store. She randomly thought about how some men actually do need foundation.

“Nope.” The man turned toward Deborah, barely making eye contact. He extended his once muscular arm outward, handing the carton to her. “I mean, you can buy this one, but it’ll just be full price.”

“But you’re out of the other kind.” As she was speaking Deborah noticed her voice climbing a little too high, becoming a little too shrill, but she couldn’t stop its aggression. “This was right next to it, and the sign was right there, and it is almost the same price -”

“Sorry, ma’am. Nothing I can do. Do you want it?” Deborah shook her head and handed the carton back to the man, who in one motion passed it back to the cashier. The cashier sighed louder this time, wanting everyone around her to feel how inconvenient this all was. Angrily, she pressed some buttons, removing the item, her fingers clacking against the smooth plastic and adding to the pounding rhythm in Deborah’s skull.

“Sixty-oh-eight.” Deborah sheepishly slid her card through the reader.

"Debit or credit, ma'am." The cashier demanded, knowing full well Deborah wasn't doing this right.

"It'" Deborah handed the card to the cashier. Confirming that this was an EBT card for food stamps, the cashier all but rolled her eyes.

“Here.” The cashier handed the card back to Deborah. “Slide it through, and then select EBT.” Hands shaking slightly, Deborah quickly swiped the card and tried to immediately hide it in her front jeans pocket.

“Other way.” The cashier intoned, her voice spicy with impatience.

Deborah yanked the card out of her pocket, looked for the magnetic strip and swung it again through the reader. Her fingers mindlessly took over at the keypad, completing the transaction.

“All set. Have a nice day.” The cashier barked to her, an order directing her to leave the store as soon as possible.

Deborah complied. She put the baby – still sleeping, still unaware of his mother’s public humiliation – in the back seat, making sure the carrier clicked into the harness and testing it slightly with her hand before tenderly closing the door. She then got into the front seat, behind the driver’s wheel, put her head in her hands and let the hot, sticky tears silently drip through her fingers. be continued

Crossposted at Grannyhelen's Kitchen:

Monday, August 13, 2007

On Term Limits, Or, Rove Needs A New Puppet

Seasoned audiences of presidential scandal know that there's only one certainty ahead: the timing of a Karl Rove resignation. As always in this genre, the knight takes the fall at exactly that moment when it's essential to protect the king.
--Frank Rich, via the New York Times, July 17th, 2005

Karl Rove, in a move Sir Lancelot would be proud of, has announced that he will “leave the building” August 31st.

Does this mean Mr. Bush’s recent “colonoscopy” was merely a cover story for a procedure more closely resembling the removal of a hand from a puppet?

Don’t bet on it.

Consider it instead an evolutionary step in Rove’s career-and a chance to shut off some of the controversy created by his use of Republican National Committee email accounts.

Here’s what I mean:

Mr. Bush and Rove have been essentially “joined at the hip” since Texas days, but that’s now over, because of term limits.

Mr. Bush has reached the end of his political career (unless Laura decides to run), but Rove has no reason to retire-after all, why give up the power he worked so hard to get?

So where is Rove to go? He either has to “hitch his wagon” to a new Presidential contender, take over the Republican Congressional political command, or become an independent voice, much as Gingrich is today.

Despite today’s announcements that Rove would like to help get Congressional candidates elected, my suspicion is that he wants another Presidential candidate.

After all, who wants the irritation of trying to control the Republican National Congressional (RNCC) or Senatorial (RNSC) Committees? Those jobs have too much of a “frogs in a wheelbarrow” aspect to them-and why would a “unitary executive” guy take up with legislators?

And then there’s the money. Why would the current “commanders” of the RNCC or RNSC let Rove take over the distribution all those PAC donations? Those donations today are one of the major levers the Party uses to enforce discipline, and giving control to Rove would severely upset the Congressional apple cart.

On the other hand, a Presidential candidate-especially in this year’s Republican field-is much more easily drawn into the Rovian orbit. The message management and coordination issues are simpler as well-and the infighting is more readily controlled than in a Congressional environment. Not to mention the advantages of having to massage only one ego, rather than 535.

A reasonable person can imagine that Rove will be raising and spending most of the money for such a candidate; and by extension, directing that candidate’s message and image. This would seem much more attractive for a manager than the Congressional environment we just examined, and my guess is Rove feels the same way. Rove’s likely calculus reveals an additional advantage: the President’s political coordinator would be a likely head of the RNC, if Rove chose to accept the gig.

To me the real question is: has Rove selected his new pony-and has that pony yet made it to the starting gate?

It would be possible to lay out any number of scenarios, but here’s a quick five:

Rove rescues McCain.
Rove and the RNC have anointed Romney.
Giuliani has made an offer that has caught Rove’s interest.
Rove is the “missing link” that Thompson has been waiting for.
Gingrich thinks Rove can get him “over the hump”.

I’ll leave all this to the community to evaluate, so that we might take a minute to discuss Rove and his Blackberry.

Although Mr. Bush reports he never uses a computer and does not send emails, Rove Blackberries like crazy. An unknown number of those messages were related to White House business, and some were of a political nature. It is now known that many of those communications were made through an account operated by the Republican National Committee, and as we mentioned above there is considerable controversy as to the applicability of the Presidential Records Act and the Hatch Act over the contents of those accounts.

But much of that controversy disappears if Rove is no longer a White House employee. The legal issues remain, of course, but going forward the damage can be minimized, especially if the RNC servers have “accidentally” or “as a routine maintenance procedure” had the account records removed (“we’re shocked, shocked to discover the servers with those records had a catastrophic failure…we’re so disappointed we can’t prove Rove’s innocence”…). If this occurs, you can expect any investigation will be stonewalled beyond November 2008, with the hope no conclusion is issued in time to hurt the RNC, the Candidate, or Rove.

My impression is that this process is already underway.

Rove can’t be afraid of criminal sanctions, after the Scooter Libby “pardon”, suggesting, stealing from Shakespeare: “the stonewall’s the thing”.

Finally, a quick word about that “joined at the hip” thing: there’s no reason why Rove has to end his relationship with Mr. Bush’s Administration-all he has to do is place a “consigliere” in the White House to pass the messages back and forth, and the connection stays in place. And Mr. Bush still doesn’t have to use email.

I do expect an effort to create a new extension of “Executive Privilege” applicable to “non-employee advisors” of the Executive Branch.

All that being said, it’s time to get to the summary:

I suspect Rove feels he can simultaneously run a campaign and an Administration, and my guess is he’ll be trying to do just that-much to Cheney’s disappointment.

I further suspect a lot of today’s news is also based on a desire to contain the controversy over Rove’s emails-both their contents and actual existence-and that can be easily stonewalled from outside the White House.

And finally, I suspect that Rove will continue to be Mr. Bush’s close and trusted advisor-and that his freedom to act will be enhanced based on his new status.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

A note from DonVila

After posting on The Campaign To Change America (The John Edwards Blog) for about six months, it occurred to me that there was work to do in Michiana. Many people do pitch in to help others, and in my experience this area may be particularly blessed in that way. Unfortunately, this area has more work to do than some others. Also, there's not much of an outlet for (take your choice) lefties, liberals, progressives to pitch in on the issues.

I am an enthusiastic and unapologetic supporter of John Edwards for President. And I will (from time to time) try to convince visitors and participants that he is the best choice. But that is not the purpose of this blog. In time, I hope progressives of all stripes will weigh in and let us know what they think, what they're doing and let us know about what's coming up.

I'm very pleased that aguilar del norte will be contributing. ADN and I have been involved in some local agitation, and I suspect that will continue.

I'm especially pleased that grannyhelen and fake consultant accepted my invitation to join us. Granny from the east and fake from the west are two of my favorite commentators. If you haven't already checked out fake consultant's three part story (from June and July) of how young children are being shamed into petty debt collection (from their parents) through the hammer of the school lunch program, take the time. I promise, little you'll read will piss you off as much as this.

Anyway, thanks for dropping by. If you'd like to contribute to the discussion email me at .

Democracy is not a spectator sport.

Rolling Stone: Counting Edwards Out Would Be A Big Mistake.

The article begins - "The Real Liberal: John Edwards may rank third in the polls. but his progressive agenda and old-school campaign have given him the edge in the states that count."

"If he weren't rich, handsome and so well married, you might feel a little sorry for John Edwards. Never before in the in the 231 year history of the republic have the inalienable traits that Edwards possesses - his fair skin and a Y chromosome - have been anything but a prerequisite of presidential politics. Today his race and gender stand a chance of derailing his campaign altogether. 'There's a lot of Democrats who would like to make history,' says Markos Moulitsas, founder of the influential online forum Daily Kos. 'The party is anxious to nominate a black or a woman' agrees Dick Morris, the former advisor to Bill Clinton. 'You have to sign off on either of those two options before you even get to voting for Edwards.' Indeed, Edwards has been all but eclipsed by the celebrity candidacies of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama: He ranks a distant third in national polls, and his $12 million cash on hand is barely a third of Hillary's and Obama's hauls."

"But counting Edwards out would be a big mistake. Flying below the radar, the former vice-presidential candidate is pulling off a feat that Democratic consultants have long considered impossible: staking out the most progressive platform among the viable candidates while preserving an aura of electability. In head-to-head polling agains the likes of Rudy Gulliani and Mitt Romney, Clinton and Obama have managed to post only modest leads. Edwards, by contrast, not only bests every Republican in the race, he trounces them - by an average of twelve points."

Use the link for the full article. It's a very detailed analysis.

Democracy is not a spectator sport.

On Evolution, Or, Political Robots Compared

Some of you may recall my previous exclusive reporting of the crash (and successful restoration) of the Hilary® Mark II Mod. 7 Robotic Candidate Device just before the start of Tuesday’s Democratic debate.

Because of the community interest, we will today expand upon that discussion by walking through some of the differences in design philosophy between the two major categories of political robots: the Robotocan™ .1 Series and .3 Series of Devices and the Democrobot Device Program robots.

The reader should also expect technical comments on the execution of those philosophies, and some consideration of the day-to-day funding, operating, and maintenance issues that impact the entire Robotic Political Device establishment.

Let’s start with design philosophy, shall we?

Those familiar with ballistic missile warhead design and targeting tactics will recall that there were two basic operational concepts for ballistic missile attack during the Cold War: the Soviet Union tended to rely on a single, large warhead-for example, an attack on Detroit might feature a single 30-megaton device fused for ground burst in the center of the downtown area. On the other hand, a US target package delivered on St. Petersburg might rely on a MIRVed delivery of perhaps 9 payloads of 500 kiloton size, dispersed over the city and fused for detonation at 1000 feet or so to accomplish a similar task.

As a result of the design decisions that went into the initial weapon designs each side has specific operating needs that drive the manner in which they direct and disburse their forces. The same is true for the Parties and their Robotic Programs.

The most important design differentiation-and the one that affects every element of campaign operations and strategic management-was the decision, starting with the Robotican™ v1994.1 and .3 series, to eliminate the autonomous speech and thought capabilities that were embedded in the Robotican™ OS kernel.

The Recent History of Democrobots

Perhaps because of their long-term Congressional successes, the Democrobot design parameters instead called for a fully autonomous Device-an adaptation of the “fire and forget” philosophy that defines many weapon systems.

Of course, what works well in Congressional elections might not work so well when dealing with a “big-tent” constituency in a Presidential race. Candidates such as a BarneyFrank or a BoxerBot were great in District and Statewide races, but they just could not get traction nationally-and this was evident to everyone with the failures of the DukakadroidCSE and the Mondaleotron.

Even the CarterSys Bicentennial Edition and The Al Gore Robotic Candidate Device Company’s Al Gore (so dull his model name was...Al Gore) were unable to achieve re-election. These models represented early experiments in applying “liberalism filters” and a new “political correctness” adapter, and it was clear that more work was required.

Democrobot designers were therefore extremely excited, to say the least, when the first pre-release testing data was returned for the two “BillBot” prototypes.

BillBot 1.0 and BillBot 1.0A both featured the two most important additions to a Democrobot Presidential Candidate Device in at least two decades-a new class of liberalism controls called a “center stabilizer service” that kept the ‘bot from veering off to the “left” too excessively; and an improved “revenue agitator”, which is designed to improve fundraising performance.

Both designs also included the newly updated WonkWare Enterprise application (now standard on all Democrobot Devices) with the Rhodes SCH snap-in installed.

The biggest difference between the 1.0 and the 1.0A was the “Carvilleator” add-on card used in the 1.0A, and it was this revolutionary device that created such excitement for Democrobot designers. This “everyman regulator” (reverse engineered from the Robotican™ RoboReagan v1980.3 after a nearly ten year effort) caused such behavior as fast food cravings, the ability to engage crowds, and a “Q” score higher that any Democrobot Candidate since KennedyCorp.’s legendary Model 109. When paired with the experimental “binary ‘bot” Hilary® Mark I, the system had extraordinary electoral and fundraising success.

Despite the success of the design, the BillBot 1.0A M3.1002 (the actual Device that was elected) had certain idiosyncrasies which lead to the decisions to remove the Carvilleator and ultimately to rework the Al Gore design for 2000. All of this rethinking (and the Al Gore’s vote gathering success) eventually led to the introduction of the Boston Robotic Group’s McKerry in 2004 as an offshoot of the Al Gore architecture.

After 2004 it was evident that, despite the risks, a BillBot-class design would have to be reintroduced, at least in the primaries, so that the BillBot and Al Gore environments could be compared side-by-side in front of live voters.

As a result, the two front-running systems in the Democratic national polling today are the BillBot Group’s ObamaBot 2 (build M1.2245) and the most current incarnation of The Al Gore Robotic Candidate Device Company’s line (and the redesign of the aforementioned 1990’s “binary ‘bot”): the Hilary® Mark II Mod. 7.

That Al Gore lineage, as we well know, has created a vastly improved but highly “moderated” Candidate. After early testing of the Mods. 5 and 6 she was determined to need an update-and the Mod. 7 included personality emulator and Iraq War response software “tweaks”. Recent evaluations have suggested that this new code, while highly successful, may have contributed to the crash we discussed in the first installment of this story.

Meanwhile, ObamaBot engineers also appear to be in a “field development” process, with alterations to the aggression controls causing recent anomalies when trying to run the %root%\ program’s command set, among other issues. Because of the efficiency of the improved revenue agitator ’07 software and chipset, however, sufficient funding exists to ensure the program can continue to exist as long as is necessary. Downtuning of the reintegrated Carvilleator may occur in the future as well if the operators determine an increased “gravitas output” is required.

Robotican™ Devices considered

Earlier we had touched upon the decision to remove the autonomous speech/thought system from the Robotican™ operating system, and it is now time to explore this topic further.

It was well known that the speech/thought system had led to many duds and misfires of Robotican™ Congressional Candidate ‘bots (and a Democrobot majority in several Congresses) throughout the previous several election cycles leading up to 1994; and it was hoped that by adopting a “push” software/firmware update system and a new “talking point service” for the series a more consistent “ideological display” output could be achieved.

As a result, all Robotican™ Congressional Candidate Devices (the so-called .1 Series) include the capability to receive “push” updates through a simple SATCOM modem. Interoperability exists with the Robotican™ Murdoch series of Media Robots, meaning all Republican robotic assets can be software updated with the same “talking points” simultaneously.

The GWBmatic3000 v2000.3 Device Series, developed for the 2000 Presidential election cycle, is a variation on the highly reliable and robust Barbara6000 (there were motherboard issues, and a redesign was needed for Presidential Service); and features an additional “remote user” capability that allows for live operation of the Device by a connected operator.

The evolution of that capability is in itself amazing.

Robotican™ engineers were tasked with the development of an on-board chipset that would incorporate the capabilities of Harris Corp.’s AN/VRC-103(V)2 radio system-a unit often carried as a backpack by US Army troops today-to allow the remote operator 100% reliability of communication with the GWBmatic 3000 in any conceivable threat environment; particularly debates; with absolute system availability guaranteed by the installation of radiation isolated and redundant data busses emanating from redundant neck antennae.

To prevent Democratic political operators from “listening in” on the transmissions, the SINCGARS and Havequick I/II frequency hopping systems were included, along with Fascinator 128kbps support-unique among acknowledged military COMSEC systems. (Extensive encryption key storage, to support a variety of operating modes, is also provided for.) Additionally, should voice communications fail, the GWBmatic3000 can track and locate up to 12 SATCOM networks and download data via SATCOM modem, using the SATCOM Situational Awareness software.

As a final fail-safe, a “remote emergency boot/operate” receiver mode exists which can exercise Device control using a second program that runs above the Robotican™ Operating System (similar to the relationship between DOS and the Windows 9x. OS programs). This will allow a remote operator to call and execute programs, services, and functions of the GWBmatic 3000-even if the OS has “frozen” or cannot be otherwise operated. Unfortunately, it is not possible to immediately transfer between program modes, a failure that has been noted under certain emergency conditions.

A last minute design compromise was the external emergency battery pack used on the GWBmatic 3000 v2004.3 Debate Edition, which is not present on the GWBmatic 3000 v2004.3 COMMAND/POTUS Edition. By hot-swapping the battery just before the debate it was guaranteed that all system functions would be maintained even in the event of onboard primary and secondary power system failures.

And the future?

Besides the issues we have just addressed, a major problem for both sides has been the Uncanny Valley factor, which is driving research for both sides.

Additionally, as we all know, the massive effort on both sides continues into finding the solution to the Holy Grail of political device execution-a reliable, effective “Truth Enhancer” that will allow for the more effective dissemination of political concepts and positions.

So that’s our story for the weekend-a tale of two groups of researchers, maintenance technicians, and customer-operators working hard to create ‘bots that inspire, motivate...and keep you in a constant state of suspended disbelief until the morning after Election Day.

After which, the cycle begins again.

--crossposted wherever they'll have me...

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The Debate They Needed Him to Lose

The historic irony: Edwards, the Man Who Courted the Labor Vote, Loses it to Clinton. Puts the nail right in the coffin right there, don't it?

And, historic ironies always make great headlines.

So, it's no wonder initial reports from Big Media put Edwards as a "poor performer", and Hil as the winner (more historic irony as the Woman Behind NAFTA Gains the Labor Vote).

Again, it begs the question: what's up with that?

Here's the deal: all of us working people who thought Edwards hit a home run were listening for one thing, and all of the chattering classes were listening for another.

Check out this early analysis on MSNBC (host of the debate):

"...If this debate is remembered for anything, it will be for the moment that Joe Biden turned into Hillary Clinton's surrogate. He went after Obama on foreign policy and targeted Edwards on how sincere his labor stances are.

In fact, Dodd seemed to also take part in the attacks on Obama (less so on Edwards). But clearly, the old guard of Washington are not taking kindly to either Obama and Edwards. The problem for the two chief Clinton challengers, though, is that they are fighting to be the same person, the anti-Hillary. And Clinton, now, has a lot of supporters on stage with her, including Dodd and Biden. It's a fascinating dynamic that I think is developing in this primary. But how long can Edwards and Obama be allies and how comfortable will Dodd and Biden be carrying Clinton's water?..." (

What is important to Big Media in this debate? Strategy. Politics. Hillary vs Obama. Who's supporting who?

Now, for all the rest of us working folks, and the fifteen thousand union members who showed up to this debate, this is what this debate will be remembered for: a retired steelworker with a camcorder, plaintively asking a blank screen, "Why?" Why was my pension cut? Why can't I pay for my wife's health insurance?

His age-scarred voice near to the breaking point, he simply asked, "What will you do about it?"

Edwards' answer was spot-on. Make CEO pensions tied to your own. Provide universal healthcare so you're not punished for the sins of your employer.

This is why folks stood outside, with rain threatening a desolate stadium on a muggy Chicago night. They're not there because they care about the personality politics of the Democratic party.

They care about health care. Their pensions. Their futures.

Any network that can't grasp that one has failed in understanding what their viewers want from their government, and in turn, what they want for themselves.

Crossposted at Grannyhelen's Kitchen:

A Fake Consultant Exclusive: Hilary® Crash Technical Analysis

In a startling development, members of the Hillary Clinton campaign admitted Hilary® crashed just before the Democratic debate today in Chicago.

The incident occurred in her van on the way to the event.

Fortunately, technicians in the van were able to reboot her, and she was able to complete the debate under her own power, with no one in attendance the wiser.

This reporter was able to speak with a technician on the scene this evening. She reports that the current thinking among the engineering staff that operates Hilary® on a daily basis is that the source of the anomaly has to be either a failed memory card, or an issue related to newly installed software.

As you may know, the current Hilary® Mark II, Mod. 7 device uses a memory card array that consists of custom RAM modules that are soldered onto a larger card. Even though the solder is applied by dipping, there’s a concern that the impurities might be damaging the RAM and causing memory dropouts.

The Hilary® Mark II, Mod. 8 is expected to use an all-etched custom memory array that will be more stable, which should prevent some of the slow responses that were noticeable throughout the first few months of the campaign.

The software issue, however, is more vexing.

As many of you know, the Mods. 5 and 6 had serious problems in their personality emulator and Iraq War response software. Rather than trying to fix each problem with its own Mod., the Mod. 7 attempted to integrate both fixes at the same time, and that is the other potential problem that may have occurred today.

“Hilary® tries to look as human as possible” my engineer source told me this evening “and her personality emulator has been learning very well over the past two weeks.” She further reported that “bug-eye” incidents were reduced by over 75% during Hilary’s® last 100 operating hours due to a better Iraq response algorithm.

“If we can just nail down the source of the crash, we’ll be 90% ready for the election, and if the Mod. 8 works as expected that will be achieved.”

There were two cautionary notes to the conversation, however-and a warning for the weeks ahead:

“The Mark II Hilarys® have not been stress-tested as thoroughly as the earlier release, and we do not know if she will hold up over the next few months…the only way to know if she can hold up is to field test her. After the Mod. 8 is released we plan a destructive testing process on the Mod. 7 to better understand the potential operating parameters.” She also told me: “A second goal of stress-testing will be experimental-we are still trying to determine what causes her unnatural ‘cheerleader’ response, and finding the source of that suboptimal reaction is our highest priority.”

AUTHOR'S NOTE: My being here today is a result of the kind invitation of Don Wheeler (thanks very much, by the way), and I look forward to bringing conversation to the table that will be useful to us all.

But for my first day...well, any good speaker knows to open with a joke.

Republican Mayor Candidate's Fiscal Record In Question - Chapter 2

Manigault clears slate with agency

That's the deliciously misleading title of a South Bend Tribune article published August 2, 2007.

I call it misleading, because it appears that "clearing the slate" was Mr. Manigault's resignation, not any clear endorsement of his leadership of nearly twenty years of that agency. But the Tribune seems impressed. The article states later: "Manigault produced a letter from the state Workforce Developement oversight director" (no name given, by the way). "The letter, issued in October 2004, regarded the final determination of audits covering the period from July 1999 through June 30, 2002 and concluded that 'your agency has satisfactorily addressed all of the issues identified in the audits"."

What does that mean? And what did it cost us? We still don't know.

Curiously, Mr Manigault says that he was considering a leave of absence to campaign for Mayor. Then he said his resignation was a "mutual understanding" between himself and Andrew Penka, state commisioner for Workforce Development. Later in the article, "Manigualt said that he had been looking at a September departure, but he and Penka decided it made more sense to do it now."

Really? Why?

Another note in the article is that this decision coincided with a "Voice Of The People" letter (mine) in the Tribune, a somewhat condensed version of my earlier post. Then there are two separate notes of denial that the letter had anything to do with the decision.

I chided the South Bend Tribune because they clearly dropped the ball in covering this story contemporaniously. But that was years ago. I tried to suggest to them that some serious follow-up now that the guy's running for Mayor of South Bend might be useful. That doesn't seem to have impressed them.

I'm sure there's more to this. There's likely to be a Chapter 3.

Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport

Don Wheeler

Monday, August 6, 2007

Paul Krugman, “The Substance Thing”

Paul Krugman rides again. The New York Times columnist published a column Monday characterizing various Presidential candidates’ policy proposals – or lack thereof. The subtitle in fact is “Who has it, who doesn’t.”

Who doesn’t? According to Mr. Krugman “The entire GOP field…fails the substance test”.

Mr. Krugman continues, “There is, by contrast, a lot of substance on the Democratic side, with John Edwards forcing the pace. Most notably, in February, Mr. Edwards transformed the whole health care debate with a plan that offers a politically and fiscally plausible path to universal health insurance.”

“Whatever the fate of the Edwards candidacy, Mr. Edwards will deserve a lot of the credit if and when we do get universal health care in this country.”

“Mr. Edwards has also offered a detailed, sensible plan for tax reform, and some serious antipoverty initiatives.”

His take on Barrack Obama borders on faint praise – a bit better I think, but he’s quite guarded about Ms. Clinton. He doesn’t trust her lack of specificity.

“And even if you believe Mrs. Clinton’s contention that her positions could never be influenced by lobbyists’ money – a remark that drew boos and hisses from the (YearlyKos) Chicago crowd – there’s reason to worry about the big contributions she receives from the insurance and drug industries. Are they simply betting on the front-runner, or are they also backing Democratic candidate least likely to hurt their profits?”

This is a nice essay highlighting the difference between policy and broad themes, and which of these approaches has practical value. If you haven’t already read Paul Krugman’s review of the Edwards health plan, you should. I believe it is archived on the main Edwards website.

We do have friends in the Main Stream Media, and we need to help amplify their voices.

Democracy is not a spectator sport.

Don Wheeler