Transparency: Armed Liberal Comes Out

I’ve been working with a bunch of people on Spirit of America, including Jeff Jarvis. In New York last week, getting ready for Jim Hake’s trip to Iraq (he’s there now) we set out some principles we thought would help organize this as quickly and effectively as we’d like and is necessary.

One of them was ‘absolute transparency’.

That put me in a bit of a bind, because as someone behind a pseudonym – or someone who has done a lot around these issues from behind a pseudonym, I wouldn’t be keeping that commitment.

So in talking to Dan Gillmor, for his column in today’s Mercury-News, I made a decision.

“Ollie-Ollie Oxen Free,” is how the kids put it.

My name is Marc Danziger, I live in the Los Angeles area, and I am the new C.O.O. for Spirit of America. We have BIG plans in store, and the blogosphere will play an important role.

More to come later….

Step Away From The Keyboard And Nobody Gets Hurt

You may have noticed that my posting has been light in the past week. Some of you may even find that a good thing … <g>

But, as happens with bloggers sometimes, things in my material life have changed, and those changes – which are all good, and in fact even more than good – mean that I need to take a break from blogging for a while.

I have an opportunity to work on a project that is too interesting and challenging to pass up. I expect it to be fairly all-consuming, which means I’ll have less time than I do now. And because it is peripherally in the public sphere, I need to think carefully about how it would interact with what I write for my own amusement and education here.

I may be back in a week or so. I may just toss something out once a month or so. I may even see if I can merge my real and electronic selves. I may not. Don’t know yet.

Thanks to everyone who has participated in these discussions; thanks especially to those who disagreed and made me think and study harder, and sometimes even change my mind. Keep it up while I’m gone. And, as I usually ask:

Please don’t kill anyone or blow anything up while I’m away.

Frisbees over Fallujah

An email and photos sent to Spirit of America, from Lt. Col. Colin McNease, USMC. From Fallujah. Looks like our earlier efforts (big thanks to all attendees) are beginning to pay off on the ground:


We went out to the village where the tank got stuck, about 3 km northeast of Fallujah. The area is a dirt road farming village of concrete or mud brick houses strung along a single road which runs from a cemetery to a ‘T’ intersection. The people have gotten to know the Marines since the tank spent a week there before we could pull it out. They were friendly to the Marines who already felt bad about trashing their canals and fields while trying to unstick the M1A1. When we went out to pay damage claims for all the lost crops and date palm trees and torn up roads, we saw a lot of kids around and met a few of them. This made us think of the SoA stuff, especially the soccer balls and frisbees, we had been sent and had back on Camp Fallujah.

The next time we went to visit the village, we took as many of the soccer balls and frisbees as we could find into the open space in the back of our hummers (around chow, water, ammunition, radio batteries, etc.) When we arrived at the village and parked the HMMVWs in the center, some shy but curious kids were peeking out from doorways or looking out their windows. But when we pulled out the soccer balls and handed the first one out, they started coming out like ants to a picnic.


None of them wanted frisbees at first, all really wanted the soccer balls. But when we ran out of soccer balls and kept handing out frisbees they would line up to take them, sometimes trying to get more than one, and many making sure their little brothers or sisters got one as well. They didn’t know what to make of the frisbees at first, holding and throwing them like dinner plates, but once they had a little professional military education on how to operate the frisbee and were checked out on it, a lot of them became surprisingly good surprisingly quickly. I spent almost 45 minutes tossing the disc with one very young girl who got to be quite accomplished.


Some of the kids’ parents and some of the older kids who could read did pick up on the friendship message and would point to the English and then point to the Arabic and give us a thumbs up to show that they understood that they meant the same thing in both our languages.

This took place at a time when we were being shot at in most every other place we went so it was particularly gratifying, and it was nice to have something good to give them. Other things they seem particularly crazy about are sunglasses (they always want ours) and colored pens.

A big thanks to all of the bloggers and readers supporting Spirit of America, in this and other projects, as they work to help our troops make a difference in Iraq.

The U.S. Diplomats Write

Dear Mr President:

’Hello,’ he lied. One of the best book titles I know of.

We former US diplomats applaud our 52 British colleagues who recently sent a letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair criticising his Middle East policy and calling on Britain to exert more influence over the United States.

Well, we like the influence Blair has had so far, and their troops have done a pretty good job in Iraq, so I’d say I like the influence that Britain has had on the U.S. But I think they want to change Britain’s policies as well.

As retired foreign service officers we care deeply about our nation’s foreign policy and US credibility in the world.

I believe that. I also believe that they are deeply invested in a process that it fundamentally broken, much as the retired buggywhip makers were distraught at the changes that internal combustion brought. I’ll skip over the little detail (made often by others) about their British colleagues being on the Arab dole, and I won’t dig into Googling all the names and seeing how deeply this group’s hands are shoved into Arab pockets.

We also are deeply concerned by your April 14 endorsement of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s unilateral plan to reject the rights of three million Palestinians, to deny the right of refugees to return to their homeland, and to retain five large illegal settlement blocs in the occupied West Bank.

So giving back Gaza is a bad thing? And the telling note about ‘the right of refugees to return…’ well, that’s pretty much a nonstarter and has always been. The right of return means the end of Israel; it’s that simple.

I oppose the settlements (and for a good article on the current issues, go see this in Ha’aretz)

This plan defies UN Security Council resolutions calling for Israel’s return of occupied territories.

No!! And it also defies a billion referenda at world conferences on racism, in which nations that won’t – as an example – let me travel in certain cities, because I’m a nonbeliever – get to criticize the U.S. and Israel for our horrible history on race.

It ignores international laws declaring Israeli settlements illegal.

Another argument against the ICC and international law.

It flouts UN Resolution 194, passed in 1948, which affirms the right of refugees to return to their homes or receive compensation for the loss of their property and assistance in resettling in a host country should they choose to do so.

Didn’t they just say that?

And it undermines the Road Map for peace drawn up by the Quartet, including the US. Finally, it reverses longstanding American policy in the Middle East.

Which was working so well, by the way, all through 2001 and 2002.

Your meeting with Sharon followed a series of intensive negotiating sessions between Israelis and Americans, but which left out Palestinians.

Well, most of the Palestinians with any power were hiding from Israeli helicopters, which made them difficult to negotiate with. Reasonable Palestinians, who want to actually see peace, have mostly been cowed into silence by the homicidal thugs running the West Bank and Gaza these days.

In fact, you and Prime Minister Sharon consistently have excluded Palestinians from peace negotiations.

See note above.

Former Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo voiced the overwhelming reaction of people around the world when he said: “I believe President Bush declared the death of the peace process today”.

Well, if what we’ve had in the last three years is the fruits of the peace process these diplomats support, I’m all for cheering it’s demise. Long live the new peace process.

By closing the door to negotiations with Palestinians and the possibility of a Palestinian state, you have proved that the United States is not an even-handed peace partner.

Actually, here’s the hidden point: by withdrawing from Gaza and more of the West Bank, Israel is actually bringing the possibility of a Palestinian State closer. I wonder why these guys think this is a bad thing?

You have placed US diplomats, civilians and military doing their jobs overseas in an untenable and even dangerous position.

That’s what they are paid for.

Your unqualified support of Sharon’s extra-judicial assassinations, Israel’s Berlin Wall-like barrier, its harsh military measures in occupied territories, and now your endorsement of Sharon’s unilateral plan are costing our country its credibility, prestige and friends.

So on one hand, the wall –designed to limit suicide bombings, and the need to take steps against those who make them happen – is condemned. On the other, the actions taken because of the absence of the wall are condemned. So basically, the Israelis just sit around the pizzerias and schools and wait to get blown up?

It is not too late to reassert American principles of justice and fairness in our relations with all the peoples of the Middle East.

Actually, I think Bush did that, in concert with a certain level of American realism.

Support negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis, with the United States serving as a truly honest broker.

I’ve discussed the value of such negotiations below.

A return to the time-honored American tradition of fairness will reverse the present tide of ill will in Europe and the Middle East – even in Iraq.

Yes, the time-honored tradition of fairness, which has worked so damn well. Why not keep doing the same thing over and over, as conditions for the Palestinian people deteriorate, as the Palestinian elites enrich themselves, and Israeli and Palestinian women and children die. It’s been good to them; they get to ride around in armored Suburbans, stay in ritzy hotels, drink good wine, and hardly ever get blown up. Hasn’t worked so well for the folks on the ground, though.

Because the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at the core of the problems in the Middle East, the entire region – and the world – will rejoice along with Israelis and Palestinians when the killing stops and peace is attained.

Well, I’d always thought that brutal, kleptocratic governments oppressing their people so that they could send as much of their oil wealth to Switzerland as possible was the core of the problems in the Middle East. But what do I know? I’m not an expert.

How offensive and stupid is this letter?

They didn’t even feel it necessary to make the sidebar, pro-forma condemnation of Palestinian terror.

I’m glad these clowns are retired. I wish I’d been in a position to offer them a far earlier exit from service; the world would be a better place if only that had happened.

Schumpeter Was (Unsurprisingly) Right

Commenter Thorley Winston waxes wroth below at my criticism of the new consumer bankruptcy bill:

What rubbish. There is nothing “anti-consumer” about requiring that people who voluntarily decide to enter into a contract should have to uphold their end of the bargain.

Without going into deep detail on this bill (I’ll suggest a reasonably neutral link), let me respond to Thorley and actually get to spend some time kicking at the well-polished loafers of the corporate shills who have pushed this legislation.

I’m always amused when, as a Democrat, conservative Republicans bust me for believing in Big Government Intervention – usually, on behalf of the poor, the less powerful, and people who have been typically excluded from ‘the game’ we play in our economy and polity.

I’m amused because they are the same ones who trip over the tassels on their loafers rushing to the Capitol to get laws changed that might materially improve their lot in life.Let’s look at bankruptcy as an example, and without deeply analyzing the bill, suggest that as far as consumers are concerned, this substantially shifts the burden in bankruptcy to them and from creditors (who stood to lose).

Now portfolio management is simple; I underwrite the risks in my portfolio and set a return necessary to cover the risk. The pattern on increasing consumer willingness to use bankruptcy as a tool for financial management – much like Worldcom, K-Mart, Johns-Mansville, and other corporate borrowers, who follow the pattern set out in ‘Strategic Bankruptcy‘.

But to me, the issue really isn’t a ‘goose’ and ‘gander’ one; the issue is simple.

When the companies that are in the business of loaning money to consumers don’t like the returns or risk they are taking to get those returns, their response isn’t to improve underwriting, better manage their loan portfolios, offer better credit education to their customers – it’s to use their financial and political clout to change the rules under which those loans were made.

Because the laws in place were are much a part of the structure of those loans as the actual agreements executed by the people ol’ Thorley is so contemptuous of.

And that, my friends, is why I can’t get at all distraught about the fact that government regulation imposes burdens (in general – obviously there are lame and counterproductive regulations) on business. Live by the fine print, die by the fine print, I always say.

Some Retail Politics, For A Change

I discovered Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va) in 2002, in a post at Armed Liberal which I titled: Why My Ostensible Party, The Democrats, Will Not Be Able To Use Bush’s Corporate History Against Him. In it, I quoted a New York Times article which explained that Moran – who carried the repulsive anti-consumer bankruptcy bill, also received a $447,000 loan ‘on favorable terms’ from MBNA – the credit card company.

He managed to explain to a meeting of opponents of the Iraq war that “if it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this.”Since then, I’ve found out that he’s managed to add to the level of outrageous behavior, as set out in an article in today’s Washington Post.

Over the years, financial, ethical and personal problems as well as physical confrontations have become Moran’s hallmark as much as his political resilience. In 1984, Moran resigned as vice mayor of Alexandria after pleading no contest to a misdemeanor conflict-of-interest charge related to a city garage project. He was later elected mayor, and the verdict was set aside.

In 1995, Moran shoved Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.) during an argument and later apologized. In 1999, Moran’s wife filed for divorce after an early morning argument, to which police were called. In 2000, Moran grabbed an 8-year-old boy, saying the child had a gun and had demanded his car keys. A magistrate closed a complaint from the boy and his parents, taking no action.

In office, Moran has been on the defensive for accepting, among other things, an unsecured $25,000 loan from a drug company lobbyist whose bill he supported and a $447,000 debt consolidation mortgage package he received from a credit card giant whose legislation he carried.

For what it’s worth, he’s being opposed in the Democratic primary this June (which, in the gerrymandered district, is tantamount to election) by Andy Rosenberg. Rosenberg has a pretty typical resume – “…former Senate aide and lobbyist for the Association of Trial Lawyers of America and drug companies…”. He’s won the endorsement of the Americans for Democratic Action.

To be honest, I don’t know enough about him…except that he’s not Jim Moran, and that sending a message to Members of Congress than behavior like Jim Moran’s will result in electoral defeat seems like a damn good thing.

His website is at, and if you go there, you can donate to his campaign. If you live in the district, you can even volunteer.

Cleaning up Congress, one district at a time…

Abu Ghraib != (does not equal) My Lai

Dear Diana Moon. I know a lot about My Lai (I was leading demonstrations against the Vietnam war at the time). I even know who Hugh Thompson is. And in all my discussions of My Lai with my fellow protesters and at our events, I made it a point to bring up his story.

Why? Because it showed My Lai for what it was – a criminal act, rather than state policy. If it had been state policy, Hugh Thompson would have been court-marshaled, not Lt. Calley.

But enough about my experience with Vietnam; I’m not John Kerry.
Your conflation of My Lai – where American troops massacred helpless villagers – with the treatment of Iraqi prisoners is right up there with PETA’s conflation of Purdue Farms with the Holocaust.

It’s not that I’m offended at you personally; it’s that you represent with this argument a form of ‘argument by hyperbole’ that’s too common in modern discourse, and sadly, has completely captured the left today. ‘Bush=Hitler’ and commenter Jussi’s quote that: ‘The US Army,at the Abu Ghraib,acted like Gestapo.Like GPU.Like Saddam’s Mukhabarat.” No, they didn’t.

They acted damn badly – immorally, and certainly criminally. They deserve what they have coming to them, which is, I trust a long stretch of experience as an inmate, rather than a guard.

I’m obviously having trouble getting my point across, since this is the second time (the first was in regards to the release of the kids convicted of raping and beating Central Park Jogger). I’ll do a longer post on it, but let me promote a comment I made in the thread below as a starting place:

I must just see the world oddly.

Every day – hell, every hour – things much worse than what happened in Abu Ghraib happen here in Los Angeles. Prisoners are brutalized, police officer abuse their authority, women are raped, beaten or murdered, children are abused.

Now as far as I can tell, those – awful – things don’t define this city, any more than dog droppings define Paris.

They are an aspect of it; and the issue isn’t whether they happen – they have, are, and will – but whether they are central to the nature of our society (could we get along without them) and how much effort and success do we have in stopping them, and in catching and punishing those who do them.

One thing that I believe about the anti-Western Left is that they have, for whatever historic reason, chosen these elements of Western society as defining it.

I think they do so as a way of validating their rejection of it; and I think that they do so – as did Jussi in his comment above – in complete and total ignorance of history and of what truly brutal and amoral societies are like.

This isn’t a “well, our guards only killed 3 guys, and the NKVD killed 300, so we’re 100 times better” (although there’s an element of that which must be considered). It’s the simple fact that our guards who murder or torture run the risk of joining their charges in jail. That we have a process – which works more often than not – to discover, investigate, and resolve these issues. We don’t ‘accept’ that innocent kids went to jail for a rape they turned out not to have committed. We investigate it, fix it, and try to improve our systems so it doesn’t happen again.

That’s a damn good thing. That’s good news.

And after all this, I still believe that it is. I do need to do a better job of making my case, and it’s in the works.

Abu Ghraib

By now, if you’re interested enough in news to be reading this, you’ve read about the crimes committed in Iraqi prisons by Coalition troops. While guarding Iraqi prisoners, they abused them.

I don’t know enough yet to know the extent of or all the facts around the abuse, but I do know enough to know that abuse happened, and that those in charge at various levels were somewhere between supportive or ignorant.

So, you’re asking, what the hell is a post about this doing on Winds of Change on a Good News Saturday?

Because to me, the news is good news.

The news isn’t that people were abused. I’m sorry, but that happens everywhere and has happened throughout human history. As a species, we’re pretty cruel.

In many societies, though, cruelty is the norm. It is not only expected, but those who practice it well are rewarded.

In our society, they are shamed, and fired, and arrested.I feel much the same way about this as I did about the revelation that the kids who were arrested for a brutal rape of the ‘Central Park Jogger’ after a night of ‘wilding’ in Central Park were found innocent. I’m sad – sad that the rape happened, sad that the wrong people were charged and convicted of it. But I’m proud, and glad, too.

Because in this society, the least of us – poor children who turned brutal, Iraqi prisoners of war – have rights too, and there is someone out here who will defend those rights. And those defenders don’t wind up in gulags or standing against blood-spattered walls, but on the front page of the New York Times.

…none of this changes the fact that I’m proud because we live in a society where we are willing to face up to and admit our mistakes. To correct them where possible. No politically connected prosecutor was able to bury the confession or prevent the DNA testing that ultimately appears to have exonerated them. I’m thrilled that we have been able to take the fruits of our technology and apply them, fairly and objectively to support the interests of people who would normally be beneath consideration. I’m excited because I believe that these tools…the technology and the open legal system…that are the product of this society will be used in the future to prevent bad things from happening…like convicting the wrong people of horrible crimes.

I’m interested in why our three reactions are so disparate, and it cuts to one of my significant core issues, the alienation of many of us from our society and the overt disgust with all the instruments of government. In other words, the collapse of legitimacy.

I’m interested in why it is, when we correct the injustices of the past, and devise tools to ensure that it will be difficult to make the same mistakes again, we are dwelling on the “Oh, no, we were so bad” rather than the “we’re getting better”. See, I think that real liberalism…the kind that builds schools and water systems and improves people’s lives…comes from a belief in progress.

We aren’t perfect. No one is or ever will be…to quote William Goldman, “Life is pain, Highness! Anyone who says differently is selling something.” But we can either keep trying to get there or sit on the floor dwelling on our shortcomings. Which one would you rather do, and why?

Well, it’s Friday night, and I’m full of Good News (no, I haven’t quite been born again…).

It has just been an incredible week for me.

Spirit of America. Damn, I’ve never ridden a rocket before. What a thrill; my friend who is doing the books – who is somewhat of a cynic – commented as she iced her hands from entering all the donations into Quickbooks – “My faith in humanity is restored.”

In case you missed it, Jim Hake set out to raise $100,000 to buy some TV equipment – to let local Iraqi stations air local news. Much of that news is good, but much as the news of gang shootings in Pico-Union creates panic in West Los Angeles, the bad news there tends to drive out the good. Allowing some old-fashioned local news coverage – of rescuers working to save girls stuck in wells, local sports heroes, all the banal stuff that everyday life is so deliciously made up from – offers the chance to remind people that life is not sliding downhill quite the way some might fear.

Well, Jim is aggressive and good, and soon there was a column in the Wall Street Journal, and the next day there was $400,000 in the bank. As of today, the website shows over $1.5 MILLION in contributions – all of which will be used to buy things the Iraqi people need to rebuild their country and their lives.That’s a good thing, because people who are playing soccer or building houses aren’t shooting each other or our troops; most important of all, people who have hope for their future don’t drive cars loaded with explosives into crowds and set them off.

All kinds of doors have been opened – for Spirit of America, by the prominence and potential that this success will unlock. And for me as well. I fell like I am a changed man, just by having watched it happen and having read some of the letters and emails that came in to accompany the donations.

The volunteers delivered the goods (actually, FedEx delivered the goods, but they did it for free, so they’re volunteers as well) – actually, the volunteers presented the goods, and Gerard Van der Leun wrote a powerful – it’s not right to call it a ‘post’, that’s demeaning – short essay about it. Go read that and understand that I feel the same way; I just can’t write about it as well as he does.

Spirit of America isn’t done doing good. It hasn’t even begun. Go over there and donate, or better still, sign up to volunteer. There will be a lot to do.