December, 2008

It’s A Question Of History

martin-luther-king2hitlerIf you were given the opportunity to meet ten historical figures of interest either living or dead and could only ask one or two questions  about present day knowing you would get truthful answers, who would you want to meet and what would you ask? I am not speaking of a  top ten list of the most important historical figures.  I am speaking of figures whose beliefs and actions have somehow influenced your personal space.  Questions you consider personally important regardless of what anyone else thinks.  Here is my list and the questions I would ask in no particular order.  They may or may not be questions you would ask but it’s my space.

1. Adolph Hitler.  Why do you really hate me as a Jew?

Susan B. Anthony:  Is there gender equality ?

3. Thomas Jefferson:  When you drafted the Declaration of Independence did you have visions of the democracy of the distant future?  Is democracy  what you envisioned in 1776?

4.   Jesus Christ:  What really happened?

5.   Franklin Delano Roosevelt:  How much did you really know about the Holocaust?  Would you have handled it differently?

6.  Martin Luther King:  Is racial equality where you dreamed it would be?’

7.   Samuel Morse(the inventor of the telegraph):  What do you think of cell phones?   Is the internet a positive influence on society?

8.   All authors Of The Bible:  If you were not there, who told you?

9.   John F. Kennedy:  How would you address the terrorist threat and Iran?

10.   Albert Einstein:  How much further can we go?

Who and what would you ask?

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Is The Moon An Illusion?

Is the “space race” alive and well in the United States?  President Bush would like  NASA to put men back on the moon by 2020, and then onto Mars between 2035 and 2037. The Russians plan to build a new manned space transport system by 2015 . China plans to send another rover to the moon in 2012.  Is Bush’s timetable in jeopardy?  President-elect Barrack Obama has made it clear that he does not consider either the moon nor  manned Mars exploration a priority in his administration.  His transition team looking at spending cuts to the Constellation Project, the successor to the Space Shuttle.  This program is supposed to create to a permanent manned base on the Moon by 2020 with a manned mission to Mars to follow.  How will this timetable be affected  light of Obama’s repeated campaign statements that he does not consider funding for pure exploration a NASA priority?  He feels the money should be used for education and infrastructure as well as more  immediate impact  NASA initiatives such as national security.  While he appeared to back off this stance, it was pre-economic meltdown.  The bottom line is that while Obama appears to fully support  the continued development of more immediate impact NASA initiatives he  has very different views than the Bush administration on pure “where no man has gone before” space exploration.vulcan_captain_first_contact

Short sighted or prudent?  What are we expecting to accomplish with such lofty goals?  I frankly have “First Contact” visions of a Vulcan space ship passing by one day , detecting our spacecraft on its way to Mars and deciding to stop by and say hello.   After that everything will change.  It will unite humanity in ways never envisioned. Hunger, war, poverty will all be a thing of the past.  Well maybe I am stretching things a bit but it sure sounded good when William Ryker and Deanna Troi said it in the movie First Contact.  Don’t we all hope that will happen in our lifetimes?

In reality I am in agreement that NASA pure exploration funding should be slashed and realloacted to NASA initatives such a international security.  I  believe the colonization of the moon is important from a technology advancement and global conservation standpoint. I however question whether NASA as it exists today is the way to go for the long term in pure space exploration.  When it comes to space exploration is not that what we are really talking about?  We are talking about the long term.  The only way to surge ahead beyond our lifetimes may be to take a step backwards in our lifetimes.  That step backwards would be to re-structure NASA and divert funding for pure exploration to the private sector.  It is already being done to a a degree anyways. Let the free-market create momemtum.  NASA should be encouraging private industry to jump into the fray to a much greater extent than they are.  It however has been an irresistible force meeting an immovable object. The only way to shake it up may be to cut funding and encourage NASA to encourage others to kick in. In the long term, I believe we would see more private funding, expanded notions of what can be achieved and  further advancement of space technology than we would ever see with back and forth NASA budget battles. What would we lose?   Space is not going anywhere. The Vulcans will still be there.

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NBA Fleeceology

devinharrisjasonkiddI like Devin Harris.  He is a  nice guy.  He is a fun guy.  He is a very good basketball player.  I was sorry to see him leave Dallas.  He should have a great career ahead of him barring injuries.  I like Jason Kidd.  He is a great  basketball player. I am glad to have him in Dallas.  I am also amused when I see all of the mainstream media and blogs opining on the value of the Harris-Kidd trade.  The word of the moment to describe the trade seems to be “fleeced“.  Chants of “Thank You Cuban!” reverberate throughout Izod Center.

I do not claim to be a “basketball guru”.  Maybe I am a basketball idiot.  In the end I am just a fan like anyone else but I can not figure it out.   Someone please explain it to me.  How did the Dallas Mavericks get fleeced?  They were fleeced because Devin is putting up good numbers for the Nets?  They were fleeced because every one is crowning Devin the next Jason Kidd or Steve Nash?  They were fleeced because someone out there unbeknown to the world is blessed with the ability to predict alternate realities  has predicted an NBA championship for the Mavs this year had we kept Devin?  That’s what it is about is it not?   While it was not a trade,  I remember the same type of media and blogosphere bashing when Steve Nash left for the Phoenix Suns.  If we use the same “fleece logic”  being used with regards to Devin, one could argue that the Phoenix Suns underwent a huge “fleecing” not by the Mavs but by Steve’s agent.   They paid a ton for Steve and have nary an NBA  championship to show for it.  If that’s what it’s all about.

Let’s talk hard court facts.  We can start by agreeing that what matters in the end for a NBA team is holding the championship trophy when the the clock reads zero in the last game played.  Everything else is conversation for the pundits, gamblers and fantasy leagues.  Steve Nash has had a Hall Of Fame career.  We can agree he is still playing at a very high level in a very different system than he played in for the Mavs.  Jason Kidd has had a Hall Of Fame career.  We can agree he is still playing at a very high level in a very different system than he played in for the New Jersey Nets.  Systems designed around different players and different chemistry.  The formula for an NBA championship is not cookie cutter. You do not have to be smarter than a 5th grader to figure out that its a damn hard equation to master with more talent integration variables than a Rubik’s Cube.  Devin Harris is having a good season so far.  He is putting up good numbers in a different system than he played in for the Mavs.  So who is right for what system?  Which great player gives their team the best chance to hold that trophy and at what point during their tenure there?   It is much more difficult to assemble than a simple prediction of  statistical greatness.  The last time I checked,  Phoenix Suns have not held up a  championship trophy during the Steve Nash era. They have not even made it to the finals.   During the Jason Kidd era, the New Jersey Nets made it to the finals  in 2002 and 2003.    If we are going to talk about degrees of success as meaning anything  the Mavs have come closer post Steve Nash than the Suns ever did with him.   Jason Kidd is a great player.  He has had at great career.  He put up great numbers in the Nets system.  Last I looked the Nets had not held that trophy either during his stay there.  Does that mean the Nets got “fleeced”?

In the end only one NBA team out of  30 calls themselves champs in June.  I guess everyone else got “fleeced”.

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Enemies Of The State

Does the  the president  have the power to order the indefinite military detention of American born ,U.S. naturalized citizens  or other legal U.S residents seized on domestic soil?   Joe The Plumber terrorized the Democratic party with his economic theories.  If he were have deemed to have committed an actual terrorist act on domestic soil, could he be stripped of the constitutional rights that our children hopefully read about in civics classes and we adults learn about by watching endless  Law and Order re-runs?  We are about to find out.   The answer will have dramatic effects on the upcoming Obama Administration which no doubt views such rights differently than the Bush administration.  Bush’s policy has been for all practical purposes that such people have no rights at all other than international basic human rights.   The “Bushanzied”  Justice Department has fought tooth and nail to keep it that way. There is no one better to attest to that than U.S citizen Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marr.

Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marr, a A legal resident alien and student at Bradley University arrived in the United States the day before the 2001 terrorist attack. Weeks later, he was arrested after authorities found in his home hundreds of credit card numbers belonging to others.  As the investigation into him progressed, alleged ties to al Queda were uncovered.  In 2003 President Bush formally declared him an “enemy combatant” under the “Authorization For Use of Military Force Act”  He was transferred from civilian custody to military custody.  President Bush alleges that:

“al-Marri engaged in “hostile and warlike acts” working as an “al Qaeda sleeper agent” who was planning to “hack into the computer systems of U.S. banks” for a possible follow-up to the 9/11 attacks.”

This is not the first time the Bush administration has branded someone in this country legally an enemy combatant. Louisiana-born Yaser Esam Hamdi, another former ”enemy combatant” held in this country without charges, was eventually sent home to Saudi Arabia after renouncing his right to U.S. citizenship.  He was an American born, United States citizen.

This is not as clear cut as the captured Germans who landed on U.S soil by Submarine during World War II.  They were  immediately declared enemy combatants. They were tried in a military setting.  Most were executed .  This was an easy call. We had a Congressional declaration of War against Germany.  Germany had one against us. The enemy was easy to spot.   The eight German saboteurs (one of whom claimed U.S. citizenship) were tried by military commission for entering the United States clandestinely by submarine, shedding their military uniforms.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt convened a secret military tribunal which sentenced the eight men to death. The President later commuted the death sentences of two to life in prison for helping in the capture of the others. quirincourt

Today we have post 9-11 legislation that makes it relatively easy for a President to hang a combatant tag on someone, stripping that person of practically all constitutional rights.  Today we have 200+ detainees at Guantanamo Bay which President-elect Obama has vowed to close.  If they are moved to American soil what rights will inure to them if they are not declared enemy combatants?   If they are charged with federal crimes, they will have federal rights.  Secrets may be exposed. Evidence obtained by unorthodox means may be excluded. There is no easy answer.  To come up with one, we have to accept that the concept of war as our parents knew it has changed.  This philosophy has been the backbone of every move the Bush administration has made in this arena.  In the terrorist millennium, the true “declaration of war”  enemy combatant scenario has arguably become obsolete. Does this mean our Constitution has become obsolete in this area requiring the use of executive authority  and knee-jerk legislation to make up for any shortcomings?   I would hope not.  It has withstood  220 years military conflicts and incursions.  The Constitution is supposed to be bigger than any moment in time.

So what about Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri?  Can he, a resident alien in this country legally be  arrested and held indefinitely on U.S soil with only the rights of an enemy combatant?   Earlier this year, the Fourth Court of Appeals ruled that additional hearings are necessary in U.S. District Court to allow al-Marri to challenge whether he was properly designated an “enemy combatant.”   The Supreme Court in what is surely to be its most watched decision of this term has agreed take the al-Marri case to either restrain or leave unchecked presidential executive authority to order the indefinite military detention of U.S Citizens arrested on U.S soil.   The Supreme Court will not decide whether Marri is an agent of Al Qaeda but will decide whether the Bush administration had the legal authority to bypass the nation’s civilian judicial process and to hold a person in military custody.

I am in agreement that the traditional concept of war is obsolete in today’s world.  I am agreement that a person can committ an act of war without their being a declaration of war.  I agree that the executive branch should be able to classify acts of war. That’s where my agreement ends. Our Constution is bigger than our passage through history.  United States citizens either naturalized  or U.S born  have rights that can not be stripped without judicial process.  If an act is comitted by as U.S. citizen that is deemd by the adminstration as  “an act of war” without a Congressional declaration, such a designation must be subject to judicial scrutiny  and habeus corpus.  Like the death penalty, an enemy combatant designation of a U.S. citizen  should carry an automatic appeal to the federal court system to review the designation.  If the designation is upheld so be it.   If it is not, the person must be charged in the criminal system or released pursuant to all constitutionally afforded guarantees.

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