Author Archives: Michael Bryan

Guest Essay: Conspiracy Theories and the Common Good

By Monica Bauer, Ph.D.

When the world spins too fast, there is a coping mechanism that will ease the blow; conspiracy theories. A conspiracy theory provides great comfort to those in the middle of rapid change who feel powerless to affect the course of their own lives. A conspiracy theory gives a gold-plated excuse for everything that has happened that is out of control. It gives those bewildered by change the option of laying blame on something that could, in theory, be fixed. That the familiar, the status quo, could be snatched back from the past and installed, once again, in the present. All that needs to be done is to root out the conspiracy, and defeat it.

I learned this lesson years ago, not out of books, but out of personal experience. As I try to make sense of the True Trumpist phenomenon, those lessons have been more helpful to me than anything I learned in graduate school.

In 1993, I went to Egypt, and taught for a year in the Political Science Department at the American University in Cairo. I was not a specialist in the Middle East, far from it; I was a Nebraska girl with a specialty in American political parties and elections, and political theory. I had not spent five minutes trying to understand the history of the Middle East, or the role the religion of Islam played in it. I went to Cairo to be a college professor in my chosen field, to teach at the Harvard of the Middle East. But I became, out of necessity, a student, to try and make sense of the surroundings in which my students had grown and developed opinions and attitudes about political life.

The most puzzling thing I found, in the streets and shops of Cairo, among those who learned enough English to cater to the Westerners who lived in the suburb of Ma’adi, was this: Egypt was marinated in conspiracy theories. Everything that happened could be explained, one way or another, by some complex plot. Some of these theories started out on solid ground; yes, it was quite likely that the dictator Hosni Mubarak was actually trying to hand power over to his idiot oldest son. But then these theories would take a turn.

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McSally’s Holding Pattern

By Michael Bryan

Arizona has become one of the few states that are key to control of the U.S. Senate in 2018. With Flake declining to run for re-election and McCain facing the end of his life, both of Arizona’s Senate seats are in flux at a time when electoral tides are strongly disadvantaging Republicans. When McCain inevitably lays down his duties and resigns, one would expect there will be a wide field of both Democratic and Republican candidates vying for Arizona’s two open Senate seats.

One of the most salient players in this drama has remained purposefully and stubbornly obscure as to her next moves, however: Representative Martha McSally. While it is widely known that her ambition, and her current intention, is to move up to the Senate, she has remained stubbornly non-committal regarding launching a campaign for Flake’s seat in 2018.

She is certain to run for Senate; she has already recruited (and McSally’s political shop is running the nascent campaign of) Hispanic Chamber of Commerce CEO/President Lea Márquez-Peterson to try to succeed her. Since it seems certain that she plans on departing her current office for the Senate, but is passing up weeks of fund-raising and earned media in a primary against her main rival for the nomination for Flake’s seat, Kelli Ward, what could explain her current passivity?

McSally simply doesn’t plan to enter the primary for Flake’s seat. She expects to take over McCain’s seat, likely well before the primary election next year — probably before the end of this year.

Appointment to replace McCain provides several advantages to McSally. She would likely quash any primary challenge merely by occupying the seat, especially if she is perceived as McCain’s own choice to replace him. Even if she does not quash all opposition, incumbency conveys powerful advantages against both primary and general election challengers. Appointment to McCain’s seat also avoids an unpleasant primary contest with Ward, which would serve to further irritate the far-right Trumpian faction of Arizona’s Republicans, whom McSally has already irritated more than once.

Governor Ducey, likely with the knowledge and blessing of McCain, must be planning to appoint McSally to fill McCain’s seat when he resigns due to his failing health. It is unlikely that McSally would sit on the sidelines like this if she did not have assurances that the appointment to McCain’s seat was hers.

So, I make a few predictions:

  1. McCain will announce his immediate resignation from the Senate before or at the end of this session of the Senate on December 29, 2017.
  2. McCain will make it known that McSally has his support to be appointed to his seat.
  3. Ducey will appoint McSally to McCain’s seat.
  4. McSally will run for the remainder of McCain’s term in the 2018 election substantially or completely unopposed in the Republican primary.

Pandora’s Drone

By Michael Bryan

Note: This is a think piece that has been languishing in my drafts for some time. I am publishing now in order to see what, if any, feedback readers may have, not in response to any current events, although it does briefly touch upon the terrorist attack in Charlottesville in my last revision.

In a complete reversal of American norms before 2001, Americans have come to expect that our foreign, sub-state political foes will be dealt with by assassination. That might seem a shocking assertion, but the policy of targeted killings of those identified as enemies of the United States by drone can only be euphemized, not denied. Bush and Obama placed such assassinations at the heart of our military strategy against those groups and individuals seen as a terrorist threat to America, and regardless of who the President might be, that tool will not be disposed of unless its use is wholly rejected by Americans. Given that no great outcry or mass movement has yet denounced the continued use of drone assassination in our foreign policy, it seems very likely to continue. In fact, Donald Trump has re-authorized the CIA to carry out its own drone strikes, lowering accountability and reporting requirements in place under Obama, when only the military was empowered to carry out lethal drone operations.

Our desire for the perception of safety and demand of bold action by our leadership against possible terrorist threats has swamped any scruple we may once have held against merely murdering our geo-strategic enemies. We have always killed in war, but killing specific people, and all persons believed to be members of designated organizations, anywhere they may found, even in countries we are not hostile to, is a new thing entirely. But no modern politician will run the risk of being accused of not having done everything possible when the next mass casualty attack on American soil comes, as it inevitably will, therefore a tactic that began as an expedient use of a new technology in a crisis seems to have become the centerpiece our de facto anti-terrorism strategy.

Americans seem to have decided that extra-judicial state murder, even of some American citizens, is justified in our fight against terrorism. Despite the fig-leaf of “due process” of review within the executive branch that was constructed around the practice by the Obama administration, targeted drone strikes and so-called signature strikes on suspected terrorist activity are extra-judicial executions, pure and simple. We may hide behind the fiction that we are “at war” with some ill-defined terrorist organizations and thus those killed are “enemy combatants,” and any innocents killed as a result are unfortunate “collateral damage”, but this only semantics. Since we are not going invade Pakistan, or Somalia, or Yemen, or Syria, or (re-re-re-invade?) Iraq, or any of the other failing or weak states where terrorist cells might find sanctuary, in order to end the threat of these sub-state organizations pose to our security, we are going to continue to fight these “wars” with proxies, intelligence assets, and drone strikes. We will continue to make targeted killings, i.e. murder, a key component of our foreign policy.

My point is not to suggest an alternative, or even to suggest that the policy is necessarily wrong or immoral. There may be no more effective, more politically acceptable, or more morally inoffensive alternative. My point is to question what effect this will have on the evolution American political culture, and on the normative behavior of governments visa-vis their own citizens – including our own toward us.

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Why I Voted for Felicia Chew for City Council

By Michael Bryan

ChewI voted in the Ward 3 Tucson City Counsel Primary today. I voted for Felicia Chew. BlogForArizona doesn’t endorse candidates, but each author is free to talk about why they support a particular candidate. Here’s why I decided to vote for Felicia Chew.

1) She is endorsed by Karen Uhlich.

First, but by no means primarily, she is endorsed by the incumbent. I have been a supporter of Karen Uhlich during her time in office and believe that she has done a commendable job of representing the Ward and helping to lead Tucson forward. I think she is in a good position to recognize in others the same qualities of leadership she brought to the job, and her choice is Ms. Chew. I respect that, and her recommendation figured strongly in my choice.

2) She is the only woman in the race.

I don’t advocate automatically supporting a female candidate over a male candidate, but the underrepresentation of women in our politics is real, it’s a problem, and it can only be remedied by voting for qualified female candidates when possible.

3) Her life history demonstrates a deep care for others and her community.

Ms. Chew’s history and life experience demonstrates to me her deep commitment to caring for others, and her community. I’m confident that her competition are also public spirited people who would make fine counsel-persons, but Felicia stands out. Her chosen career of public education is itself a life-long commitment to the future of our society. That she chose to serve some of the poorest and most-disadvantaged populations by teaching Native American children on New Mexico’s reservations demonstrates a genuine concern for those who need the most help in our communities. With Arizona’s cities having among the highest poverty rates in America, that is a vital character trait for a leader in Tucson.

4) Her personal experience has prepared her for leadership in advocating for victims of domestic abuse.

Ms. Chew does not hide the fact that she was a victim of domestic abuse, and is willing to talk about the matter publicly. To me, this is a vital fact. The victims of domestic abuse must have role-models in positions of authority and power to advocate for them, and to demonstrate that being a victim is not shameful for the victim, only the perpetrator. Having been a city prosecutor, I know that for many suffering domestic abuse, municipal courts are where the rubber hits the road. We need a strong advocates in our city governments for prosecutorial and police resources to combat domestic violence and to provide victim services and support.

5) She has done her homework and has demonstrated a willingness and ability to learn the issues.

Ms. Chew has repeatedly demonstrated that she understands the issues facing Tucson, and that she appreciates the scope of the city government’s work as well, if not better, than her competitors. I think that she will learn swiftly what she does not know and quickly become an effective advocate and leader for our city. Most importantly, she knows that she does not know everything or have all the answers; she is open to advice and the views of others.

6) She was unfairly attacked for voting her conscience.

Though it was not a formal part of my decision to support Ms. Chew, it certainly rubbed me the wrong way when Paul Durham sent out an attack mailer targeting Ms. Chew for voting for the Green Party candidate in the 2016 Presidential election. I find the tribalism of the GOP appalling, and I do not support importing such attitudes into the Democratic Party. Far be it from me to condemn anyone for choosing what they perceive to be a more progressive or liberal candidate. I voted for Ralph Nader in 2000 over Al Gore. Does that make me an apostate to my party, too? Does that mean that I failed to support Al Gore against George W. Bush? Paul’s mailer would certainly suggest so, and to me, it was a divisive, ugly, and unworthy attack.

Those are the reasons I chose Ms. Chew, and I invite you to do the same.

AZ Donkey Feed Fired Up, Ready to Go!

By Michael Bryan

Some of you may have noticed, and others not-so-much, the widget on the sidebar called AZ Donkey Feed. That is a live feed of the news and information that I take note of every day though my Digg RSS Reader. I follow several hundred RSS feeds from around Arizona and the national media, including traditional media, online, blogs, and institutional and government information sources, in order to get a reasonable picture of what’s happening in the world, with a special emphasis on politics here in Arizona and nationally.

Yes, I know… I might have a problem. But my obsession might save you some time in ferreting through your own rss feeds, bookmarks, and daily web rambling.

However, I will freely admit, I’m also damned lazy. There has been some problems with the link structure in the Arizona Donkey Feed for some time, but I think I finally have it all fixed and running properly. So if you have had some difficulty in the past with dead links, be assured, anything you click on should now land you on the source I intended and not dead link limbo.

The feed should be properly updating from now on – please let me know, if otherwise. So feel free to save yourself some time and benefit from my dysfunctional news obsession. Just click on the big “kiss my ass” donkey in the sidebar to visit my full feed (which you could just bookmark, if you like), or just take a gander at the latest twenty links in the sidebar. Come back often, as I usually update my Digg Reader a few times a day. I know… as the Cheeto Twittler might say, “Sad!”

Trump’s Muslim Ban Executive Order Reveals an Administration Ready to Lie About Absolutely Everything

By Michael Bryan

Many have identified the reasons why Trump’s Executive Order (EO) suspending travel from seven Muslim majority counties is ineffective, illegal, and just plain stupid: it is clearly discriminatory toward Muslims, it harms our counter-terror efforts made in conjunction with those nations’s governments, it is a propaganda win for the terrorists, and there haven’t actually been any terror attacks in America by visitors from the targeted countries since 1975, among many other reasons.

But what I find most disquieting about the EO is something that I have not seen a lot of commentary on, thus far: it demonstrates that this Administration is ready and willing to take ill-considered and deleterious actions regarding national security for purely political reasons, and then blatantly lie about classified intelligence to justify it.

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