Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Bad Religion

Bad Religion still rocks, as I discovered at their show at Times Square on Sunday night. Lead singer Greg Graffin's consistently awful inter-song banter aside, the band puts on an amazing live show. This band gets the genre as few punk rock groups do. Punk rock, I think, works best when it channels the senseless, angry tumult of youthful rebellion to rail against the general fucked-up-edness of the status quo. Graffin (and bandmate Mr. Brett) does this as incisively and articulately as anyone. Plus the music rocks even if you don't understand what Graffin is saying, which is crucial to the success of any pop/rock act.

I'm willing to forgive the occasional misguided ode to Malthus (the BR song "10 in 2010," in which Graffin sings about the hopelessness of living in a world with 10 billion people in it in 2010, was just factually wrong) for the sake of lines like "I don't know if the billions will survive, but I'll believe in God when one and one are five," or "God I want to be a man, but I don't want to die with a rifle in my hand."

Graffin, once he's broken through the veneer of good intentions and mindless convention that people use to cover up ugliness in the world, and once he has skewered the self-serving hypocrisy of the ruling class, doesn't seem particularly interested in building a better tomorrow. He doesn't claim to have the answers, and he's suspicious of ideology of any kind, including the so-called punk rock movement: "Empty causes, direction for the soul, conviction for the mind, empty causes, you've got yours and I've got mine." (However, contrast this with "Punk Rock Song": "This is just a punk rock song, written for the people who can see something's wrong," unlike the rest of the population, who are "big strong people unwilling to give, small in vision and perspective.")

In the end, Graffin wonders whether each of us would be "better off dead, a smile on the lips and a hole in the head." Fortunately for us all, "slumber will come soon."

Not the most pleasant perspective, maybe, but god, how many more love songs do we need on the radio?

On a side note, while I felt a little old, at 27, to be going to a punk rock show, I was at least a decade younger than nearly everyone on stage (Murphy's Law, Pennywise, and Bad Religion have been around a long time—Anti-Flag is a bit more youthful) and a number of other concert-goers. But the median age was probably 21. So why do young kids keep coming to hear these somewhat faded bands who have never been on MTV? I'd like to say it's because the music is objectively stellar, but I'm not sure what the real answer is …

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

protest babes?

Glenn Reynolds today approvingly quotes a US Soldier:

Greyhawk particularly likes this explanation given by a soldier for why he reenlisted: ..."because as I look around at the state of this nation and see all of the weak little pampered candy-asses that are whining about this or protesting that, I'd be afraid to leave the fate of this nation entirely up to them."

Back in April he was singing a different tune.
PROTESTS IN EGYPT have passed a crucial milestone: They're now producing photos of protest babes. This should have Hosni Mubarak worried.

Hmm … I guess there are candy-assed protestors in the middle east as well--the phenomenon of the protest babe is well documented. However, its broader relevance is apparently not very well understood.

Update: Another Reynolds protest babe here today, this one protesting Chirac in France. I think I'm getting the picture here. Protests are a valid form of political expression if they're directed against the governments of countries that didn't support the Iraq war or of middle eastern countries not currently occupied by the US that aren't Israel. But most anti-Chirac protestors are angry with him for supposedly trying to lead France away from a statist economy--in all likelihood, those pictured here are rabid leftists (Chirac is a conservative, after all). As are the middle eastern protest babes, by the standards of their societies. It's hard to imagine these people linking arms with US conservatives to march against abortion, gay marriage, or US liberals, which seem to be the conservative-approved forms of political protest in the US.

x,000 dead in Iraq

It's undeniably tragic that 2,000 American soldiers have now died in Iraq. But what is also tragic is that none of the accounts I've seen of this story on either the left or the right bothers to even mention the tens of thousands of Iraqis who've lost their lives since the conflict began.

The insurgency is responsible for much of the mayhem, and has committed unthinkable atrocities. But this only goes so far in explaining the horrors in Iraq. Someone has to take responsibility for the deaths caused directly by US munitions, deaths before the insurgency formed, deaths as a consequence of the failure of the occupying power to provide basic security and infrastructure.

On a side note:

US President George W. Bush stressed it was crucial "that there will be a fair trial, which is something [Saddam] didn't give many of the thousands of people he killed".

Given my post yesterday on human rights, this is a statement I support. But in the context, it is a bit much to take. What are the chances Bush will be held to account for the thousands he has killed? Was he justified simply because Saddam was bad? (Analogy: you've been robbed and terrorized repeatedly by the same person, so I--as a private citizen, mind you--in the course of apprehending the perpetrator, burn down your house. No insurance money forthcoming. Are you happier now than before? Maybe, maybe not. Do I owe you anything more than a "you're welcome, have a nice day"?) Is there a way Saddam could have been brought to justice without visiting destruction on a massive scale on the same people who suffered under his rule? I would like to think so.

A bit more attention to the welfare of Iraqis is in order in this debate, I think.

Monday, October 24, 2005

quiet for now

Looking around the blogosphere, speaking generally, the left is focusing on Fitzgerald's investigation and the right on the unfolding Miers debacle. Those on the right probably don't want to draw more attention than necessary to the impending indictments, and they've apparently got their hands full upholding the flag of conservatism after Katrina and with Iraq not going well, but mightn't this neglect to try to lay the ground of public opinion for the (potential) indictments be a misjudgment?

I watched Chris Matthews and his guests on one of the Sunday network shows for about 10 minutes, and the level of discussion on this issue that the pundits felt was appropriate for national consumption was very low. They were bringing up points that had been discussed in the blogs and op-ed pages months ago. This tells me that the American public has no idea what is about to happen. Perhaps the Bush administration feels there's not much it can do at this point, and defenders of the administration may not have much in the way of a substantive response to the findings of a prosecution led by a Bush-appointee which the president himself repeatedly endorsed. But this has the potential to eclipse everything that's gone wrong so far: Miers, Katrina, Iraq, Social Security. Where's the famous Republican attack and slime machine? (aside from this rather lame attempt from Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison) I guess it's about to be indicted.

Caveat: Looking more closely, I see that National Review Online has been making some attempts at preparing the defense/attack, but not very successfully. This article gets bogged down with comparisons to Clinton/Lewinsky, which will certainly be discussed heavily once the grand jury acts, but is not all that relevant to the matter at hand. This one goes off on the journalists involved, but as you can tell from the fact that the strongest attacks on the journalists are coming from the left, this tactic is not going to help much.

China, Saddam, and the discourse of human rights

I attended part of the American Branch of the International Law Society's annual meeting over the weekend, and learned some interesting stuff. Sharon Hom of Human Rights in China noted that China has become much more sophisticated in its approach to human rights. To deflect attention from its own atrocious record, it is now apparently using the discourse of human rights offensively, and producing detailed reports on U.S. abuses at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.

I'm not sure whether this is a positive or a negative development. On the minus side, shenanigans like this by Libya and other human rights violators stymied the UN Human Rights Commission for years. On the plus side, it means that the Chinese government is becoming better versed in the discourse of human rights, and that China is trying to appropriate the benefits of being on the right side of the human rights debates, even though it is a transparent attempt at distraction. This may have the unintended effect of helping to implant human rights norms in China. If groups like Falun Gong can point to China's denunciations of the U.S. and then show credible evidence of actions by the Chinese government that are much worse, the Chinese government will be in a more vulnerable position than if it had denied the value of human rights entirely.

This issue can be framed more generally as co-option of the discourse of human rights by governments that have previously opposed or downplayed it. In particular, the Bush administration has appropriated this discourse as no Republican administration has before. (Disclaimer: I'm not saying that U.S. conservatives have never valued human rights, only that human rights were traditionally not a top priority for the right. Neither am I saying that the Bush administration's actions are comparable in scope or severity to abuses of the Chinese government. China is much worse.)

The Saddam trial brings us to the somewhat unusual situation where the U.S. right is taking the lead in calling for tough legal prosecution of a former leader for human rights abuses. In the past, the left has been at the forefront in calling to use legal remedies against dictators like Pinochet or Milosevic.

Human rights has its roots in the Enlightenment and before, but as a modern discourse was really kick-started at Nuremberg, and was largely ignored after that by the right (except as it pertained to religious freedom), until it became instrumental as a justification for the Iraq war. Kissinger was famously dismissive of complaints of human rights violations by allies of the U.S.; for example, he supported Operation Condor in the Southern Cone and gave the green light to governments to commit massive atrocities there. Reagan turned a blind eye to heinous abuses by Central American governments because they were staunch allies in the war against communism. Reagan talked the talk of human rights, but the walk was conspicuously absent. Throughout the Cold War, the right's position on human rights violations was basically "If the communists do it, it's unconscionable. If our allies do it, it's an unfortunate but necessary effect of the greater battle to defeat evil." (Christopher Hitchens has excoriated many on the left for ignoring communist human rights abuses around the world for political reasons. There's something to that. However, Amnesty International got its start in large part by responding to Soviet abuses, and now rails against China. My premise in this post is that the human rights community has traditionally been viewed with suspicion by the U.S. right, and that the right's position on human rights has been changing since 9/11 and particularly since the invasion of Iraq.)

But now the Bush administration has jumped on the human rights train to enlist support for the Iraq war. While I regret that Saddam's record of killing and torturing his own people was used as a post hoc justification for a war that 1) should have been multilateral to be legitimate and 2) was clearly entered into for other reasons (i.e. to shake up the Middle East to be more favorably disposed to the U.S., to be seen as "doing something" about Islamist terrorism, to remove a persistent thorn in the U.S.'s side, etc.), overall, it is a good thing that the right is making arguments based on respect for human rights. We want human rights to fully enter the mainstream, as civil rights has done in the U.S. (the two are components of the same discourse, with civil rights being a specific manifestation of the more general human rights paradigm). We want both political parties in the U.S. vying to better deliver results on human rights to the American people and to people around the world.

The key for liberals is not to turn our backs on some human rights battles because they have become "tainted" by association with the Bush administration. Human rights should not be a political football. They are a fundamental component of every functioning democracy, and deserve support from both sides of the aisle. Saddam should be tried and held responsible for his crimes, as Pinochet never was. As Pol Pot never was. Ditto for Stalin, Mao, Trujillo, Somoza, Mugabe, Castro—the list goes on. We should support a full prosecution of Saddam (provided he is given a fair trial) and make sure all his dirty laundry is aired in court. This will be good for Iraq and good for the Middle East more generally, as it will show dictators there and elsewhere that there is a growing likelihood that they will be held accountable for their actions.

And we should use the rhetoric of the administration against it as it tries to cover up persistent stories of detainee abuse, as it ignores Darfur's descent into chaos, and as China trades support for the War on Terror for less noise from the U.S. on Chinese human rights abuses. Again, not for political gain, but to strengthen democracy at home and abroad. This administration has staked its reputation on being the "democracy and human rights" administration. Let's hold it to its word.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Spamalot . . .

...sucked a lot. What a waste of an evening.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

1,000 years of glory

From the Boston Globe yesterday, via Atrios:

Venturing into foreign policy, Governor Mitt Romney yesterday told a largely Republican audience that Islamic terrorists ''want to bring down our government" and ''want to put in place a huge theocracy."

''We're under attack, as you know, militarily," Romney told about 150 people gathered at an exclusive Raleigh country club. ''They're not just intent on blowing up a little bomb here and there at a shopping mall, awful as that would be. They want to bring down our government, bring down our entire economy. They want to put in place a huge theocracy."

''Thank heavens we have a president of the United States who recognizes this for what it is and has declared war on it, and thank heavens we have a military that consists of the strongest and bravest and most able men and women in the world," Romney said.

. . .

''Obviously, this is an extreme fundamentalist perspective," he responded. ''It's certainly not shared by the people of Islam generally, but is shared by some radical few."

Well, that is interesting. Some radical Islamist fundamentalists have professed a desire to restore the ancient Islamic Caliphate, as sure an example of theocracy as you're likely to find. But my impression was that many Islamist terrorists are more interested in killing unbelievers than in converting and/or enslaving them.

It is also interesting, however, and the Globe doesn't want to touch this (I will, though, with apologies in advance to my LDS friends and family), but the LDS church to which Romney belongs has the stated goal, or more precisely, the expectation, of eventually establishing a theocratic government in the United States. Such a government will naturally come into existence when Christ returns to kick off the Millennium (with a capital "M", the thousand years following the Second Coming of peace on earth under Christ's reign).
The Articles of Faith—fundamental statements of faith of members of the LDS church—help shed some light on this millenarian belief:
10. We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.

11. We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.

12. We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.

Article 11 lays out a fundamental difference between Islamist fundamentalists and faithful Mormons: the latter unwaveringly support freedom of religion. This makes sense given the early Church's history of persecution, both during Joseph Smith's life and after, when polygamy made the Church very unpopular in this country. This principle is believed to continue even in the afterlife, when people are still able to choose to follow the LDS religion, if they haven't already rejected it during their earthly lives.

Article 12 also strongly affirms submission to secular government and rule of law. Church members generally place a high value on obeying the law even when laws don't necessarily make perfect sense or have any particular moral implication. Obeying the law is considered a priori to be a moral act. Of course, Article 12 was followed a bit more loosely at the end of the 19th century, when polygamist leaders of the Church went on the lam to escape imprisonment by federal authorities.

However, Articles 11 and 12 are basically stopgaps—ways of ensuring the Church's continued survival and stability in these evil times until the need for secular government no longer exists. Such a moment has been eminently expected for the past 175 years, ever since Joseph first restored the "one true church" to the earth, as the Church teaches.

The real story lies in Article 10, which describes the earth's ultimate destiny, as taught by Joseph Smith. Israel will be gathered, Zion built in the Americas, and the earth will be transformed into a more glorified state, all under the perfectly just, perfectly compassionate rule of Jesus Christ.

This is quite possibly the only way a government could be more theocratic than the Caliphate.

I'm sure the LDS Church isn't alone in this sort of belief—many evangelical Protestant churches, to my knowledge, subscribe to similar beliefs, and the last I heard, the Catholic Church still stands behind the Book of Revelation. It is also important to note that the Mormons aren't espousing that arms be taken up to hasten along the Millennium—it will come when it comes; the timing is in God's hands.

But it is also believed by faithful LDS that, as society continues to spiral downward in modern times, world events will naturally progress toward a global conflagration centered in the Middle East. Nation will rise against nation, and there will be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, et cetera. Just as things are at their worst, Christ will return with the sword and kill off the evil-doers. This will allow the thousand years of peace to begin. Thus, growing U.S. involvement in Middle Eastern conflicts is not necessarily a bad thing to many evangelicals, including faithful Mormons.

Many LDS do not agree with Bush's foreign policy approach, and reject the current misadventure in Iraq. But many more support Bush more or less completely (Utah voted for Bush in 2004 by the largest margin of any state), and see any American military action abroad quite starkly in terms of good vs. evil. "We Americans are the good guys, they, the Terrorists, are the heartless killers. Bush may not be a member of the Church, but he's helping carry forward God's work just the same, an unwitting instrument in His hands." And the worse things get in the mid-East, the closer we are to 1,000 years of paradisiacal glory.

I don't know what Mitt Romney's personal views are on this or any other religious topic. But I'm making an educated guess, based on what I know about LDS theology, that he may not be averse to the establishment of a "huge theocracy" in America as predicted in scripture (nor, most likely, would Bush, Ashcroft, or many other evangelical political figures). It's just a matter of getting the right theocracy in place.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Kashmir quake relief

According to a Pakistani official quoted in the NYTimes, an estimated 35,000 to 40,000 people have died so far in Pakistan alone.

Many bodies were still buried beneath leveled buildings, and the United Nations warned of the threat of measles, cholera and diarrhea outbreaks among the millions of survivors.

. . .

In one field clinic alone, 2,000 patients had been treated, most of them for broken arms or legs. It's too early for onset of disease, but officials are fully aware of the potential threat, he said.

The quake damaged sanitation systems, destroyed hospitals and left many victims with no access to clean drinking water, making them more vulnerable to disease.

A list of relief agencies can be found here . Please give what you can.

Friday, September 30, 2005

torture update

The Bush administration's ongoing efforts to sanction and cover up torture and inhumane treatment of detainees by US troops continues, with a couple of new developments this week. As ever, Andrew Sullivan is all over this story.

Capt. Ian Fishback, after trying to get from his superiors a firm definition of what treatment of military detainees US policy allows for 17 months, recently went to the Senate and Human Rights Watch with his concerns. In a letter to Senator John McCain earlier this month, he wrote:

I am a graduate of West Point currently serving as a Captain in the U.S. Army Infantry. I have served two combat tours with the 82nd Airborne Division, one each in Afghanistan and Iraq. While I served in the Global War on Terror, the actions and statements of my leadership led me to believe that United States policy did not require application of the Geneva Conventions in Afghanistan or Iraq. On 7 May 2004, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's testimony that the United States followed the Geneva Conventions in Iraq and the "spirit" of the Geneva Conventions in Afghanistan prompted me to begin an approach for clarification. For 17 months, I tried to determine what specific standards governed the treatment of detainees by consulting my chain of command through battalion commander, multiple JAG lawyers, multiple Democrat and Republican Congressmen and their aides, the Ft. Bragg Inspector General's office, multiple government reports, the Secretary of the Army and multiple general officers, a professional interrogator at Guantanamo Bay, the deputy head of the department at West Point responsible for teaching Just War Theory and Law of Land Warfare, and numerous peers who I regard as honorable and intelligent men.

Instead of resolving my concerns, the approach for clarification process leaves me deeply troubled. Despite my efforts, I have been unable to get clear, consistent answers from my leadership about what constitutes lawful and humane treatment of detainees. I am certain that this confusion contributed to a wide range of abuses including death threats, beatings, broken bones, murder, exposure to elements, extreme forced physical exertion, hostage-taking, stripping, sleep deprivation and degrading treatment. I and troops under my command witnessed some of these abuses in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

The NYTimes quotes Fishback:
"We did not set the conditions for our soldiers to succeed," said Captain Fishback, who has served combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. "We failed to set clear standards, communicate those standards and enforce those standards. For us to get to that point now, however, we have to come to grips with whether it's acceptable to use coercion to obtain information from detainees."

By this summer, Captain Fishback had met with Human Rights Watch researchers several times. He gave the organization the names of other members of his unit who could support his allegations.
Now the Pentagon is paying attention. But they are not working to clarify US policy or punish those responsible for the failures that led to torture and deaths of detainees—rather, they are trying to silence Fishback.
An Army captain who reported new allegations of detainee abuse in Iraq said Tuesday that Army investigators seemed more concerned about tracking down young soldiers who reported misconduct than in following up the accusations and investigating whether higher-ranking officers knew of the abuses.

The officer, Capt. Ian Fishback, said investigators from the Criminal Investigation Command and the 18th Airborne Corps inspector general had pressed him to divulge the names of two sergeants from his former battalion who also gave accounts of abuse, which were made public in a report last Friday by the group Human Rights Watch.

Captain Fishback, speaking publicly on the matter for first time, said the investigators who have questioned him in the past 10 days seemed to be less interested in individuals he identified in his chain of command who allegedly committed the abuses.

"I'm convinced this is going in a direction that's not consistent with why we came forward," Captain Fishback said in a telephone interview from Fort Bragg, N.C., where he is going through Army Special Forces training. "We came forward because of the larger issue that prisoner abuse is systemic in the Army. I'm concerned this will take a new twist, and they'll try to scapegoat some of the younger soldiers. This is a leadership problem."

Sullivan makes the case for why this story should be in the headlines:
The bottom line, as the NYT reports today, is that the military and the Bush administration are determined to stop any real investigation about how torture and abuse came to be so widespread in the U.S. military. The scapegoating of retarded underlings like Lynndie England is an attempt to deflect real responsibility for the new pro-torture policies that go all the way to the White House. It's a disgusting cover-up and it rests on breaking the will and resolve of decent servicemen and women brave enough to expose wrong-doing.

. . .

We have administration memos allowing for de facto torture of "enemy combatants" if "military necessity" demands it; we have new, Bush-approved legal definitions of torture that nevertheless allow all the kinds of horrors we have seen at Abu Ghraib, Camp Cropper, Bagram, Guantanamo, Basra, Camp Mercury and dozens of other sites in the war arena. We have decorated captains testifying at great risk to themselves what has been happening - and we have a clear record of the administration's attempts to silence and intimidate them. I wonder what is required for this to become the national outrage it should be.

It would be nice if the American people cared that their government had implemented a policy that led to the torture and deaths of innocent detainees. But frankly, it's too much trouble getting into the details of who was guilty and who wasn't, or what level of force was used, in what circumstances, and whether it was used properly. These are complicated issues, and Iraq and Afghanistan are far away. "Those people are not Americans, they must have been doing something wrong to be in jail in the first place, and our troops have to defend themselves." This will be the standard reaction, if this story ever makes it into the national consciousness, which it probably won't.

Impugning the integrity of our soldiers goes against everything we are taught from kindergarten—it's not patriotic. If we don't care much what happens to prisoners within our own borders—and we don't—why would we care what happens to non-Americans in a place where we are at war, where our soldiers are being killed? Most Americans just don't care what happens to "those people," and that's why this story will probably never fully break.

Monday, September 19, 2005

criminal glorification

Realizing that there has been a distinct shortage of righteous indignation in the blogosphere regarding proposed British anti-terror legislation which may send anyone who "glorifies, exalts or celebrates" any terrorist act committed over the past 20 years to prison for up to five years, Daniel at Crooked Timber takes a whack at supplying the missing outrage:

For Christ’s sakes !! A Labour government (A LABOUR GOVERNMENT!) is trying to pass a law whereby you can sit down at a pub table, spend the evening talking and come away having COMMITTED A CRIMINAL BLOODY OFFENCE!! THIS IS A BLOODY SPEECH CRIME PEOPLE!! THEY ARE QUITE LITERALLY SAYING THAT THEY ARE GOING TO PUT PEOPLE IN JAIL FOR EXPRESSING THEIR POLITICAL VIEWS!!Do I have to start using the f and c words before anyone notices that there is something quite serious going on? I am as concerned as the proprietor of Shot by Both Sides for my long term career path, but this surely has to be more important. THE GOVERNMENT OF THE UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND IS PROPOSING TO PUT PEOPLE IN JAIL FOR POLITICAL SPEECH CRIMES!! If anyone is proposing a quick sing-song outside the gates of 10 Downing Street singing “Glory Glory O Bin Laden” I think I am probably up for it. What the by-our-lady hell is going on?!

One commenter points out that this law might have, had it been enacted sooner, made reading Yeats aloud a prosecutable offense.

Another commenter makes a perceptive point:
We live in a world where the likes of [a previous commenter who favored the proposed legislation] can demand that his own right to free speech be curtailed. It’s time to realise the darkest truth about totalitarianism: it chimes in with deep fears we all have about taking the responsibility for our own freedom. Some of us give in to these fears and start to demand a ‘leader’ to take away this irksome responsibility.

In short, we are not so different in some very basic ways from the oppressed societies we are spreading "enlightenment" to. Let's not give up our very real freedoms for the sake of speedy protection from a shadowy threat--we are stronger and smarter than that.

Friday, September 16, 2005

the kids are alright

The Brookings Institute has a new review out of research conducted on the effects of same-sex parenting on children:

Some observers worry that legalizing same-sex marriage would send the message that same-sex parenting and opposite-sex parenting are interchangeable, when in fact they may lead to different outcomes for children.

To evaluate that concern, William Meezan and Jonathan Rauch review the growing body of research on how same-sex parenting affects children. After considering the methodological problems inherent in studying small, hard-to-locate populations-—problems that have bedeviled this literature—the authors find that the children who have been studied are doing about as well as children normally do. What the research does not yet show is whether the children studied are typical of the general population of children raised by gay and lesbian couples.

So children of gay and lesbian parents are doing fine compared to other children, but they might have different ideas about certain things than children raised by straight parents--hmmm, like they might think it's ok to be gay, or more tolerant of people different from themselves? Wonder why that would be ...

A second important question is how same-sex marriage might affect children who are already being raised by same-sex couples. Meezan and Rauch observe that marriage confers on children three types of benefits that seem likely to carry over to children in same-sex families. First, marriage may increase children's material well-being through such benefits as family leave from work and spousal health insurance eligibility. It may also help ensure financial continuity, should a spouse die or be disabled. Second, same-sex marriage may benefit children by increasing the durability and stability of their parents' relationship. Finally, marriage may bring increased social acceptance of and support for same-sex families, although those benefits might not materialize in communities that meet same-sex marriage with rejection or hostility.

So not only are children raised by same-sex parents "doing about as well as children normally do," but they do even better when their parents are married. Since conservatives have been hammering home for decades the idea that children are better off with married parents, it shouldn't come as a surprise when the evidence bears that theory out. So why do so many conservatives oppose what is essentially a conservative principle--strengthening family bonds to improve the welfare of children? Does anyone have an answer?

Hat tip: William Saletan at Slate.

boots on the ground

From Kevin Drum:

Jim Henley points us to a report from the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military that suggests the military isn't quite as anti-gay as it claims to be:

Scholars studying military personnel policy have found a controversial regulation halting the discharge of gay soldiers in units that are about to be mobilized.
....Gay soldiers and legal groups have reported for years that known gays are sent into combat, and then discharged when the conflicts end....But the Pentagon has consistently denied that, when mobilization requires bolstering troop strength, it sends gays to fight despite the existence of a gay ban.

Reasonably enough, Jim suggests that this undermines the entire case for keeping gays out of the military:
Recall that the respectable case against allowing out homosexuals to serve in the military is that it will undermine unit cohesion in the stress of battle. Keeping gays and straights apart in hostilities is what the policy is supposed to be for. If the problem isn’t enough to keep gays out of the wartime Army, it’s certainly not enough to keep them out of the peacetime Army.

Kevin goes on to show that discharges under Don't Ask Don't Tell have decreased by half since 2001.
Is that peak in 2001 just a coincidence? Or did something happen that year that might have caused the military to suddenly decide that a good soldier is a good soldier regardless? I'm sure it will come to me if I think about it a bit....

As the old half-baked rationales for opposing gay rights fall away—"it'll undermine unit cohesion", "the judiciary is imposing its will on the people", "society will disintegrate"—what reasons are left? Don't Ask Don’t Tell "seems inexplicable by anything but animus toward the class that it affects; it lacks a rational relationship to legitimate state interests."

Thursday, September 15, 2005

popularly approved

This from yesterday:

Amid a pep-rally atmosphere, Massachusetts legislators on Wednesday overwhelmingly rejected an attempt to halt same-sex marriages here -- showing how quickly gay nuptials have moved from being a court-ordered imposition to a powerful political cause.
By a vote of 157 to 39, members of the House and the Senate meeting together voted down a proposed constitutional amendment that would have eliminated the same-sex marriages legalized two years ago and replaced them with "civil unions" for gay couples.
. . .
Politicians here credit the weddings themselves with shifting the political momentum, saying their growing ordinariness has defused some of the opposition.
. . .
The proposal passed in March 2004 but still required another vote; it was the measure turned down on Wednesday.
In the meantime, the weddings began. Since the first one on May 17, 2004, more than 6,100 gay couples have wed, accounting for about 17 percent of all the state's weddings during that period.
Each one made the idea of same-sex marriage more acceptable, observers say.

A principal argument among opponents of gay marriage in Massachusetts was that it was judicially imposed and didn't reflect the will of the people. That argument lays by the wayside in Massachusetts and California.

Kevin Drum remarks:
This is the beginning of the end for gay marriage opponents. As gay marriage becomes more common — both in the United States and in other countries — and absolutely nothing happens except that more people than ever can show off wedding scrapbooks with pictures of beaming partners and guests having a blast, opposition will slowly but surely melt away. The homophobes are banking everything on the proposition that same-sex marriage will lead to moral degeneracy and the breakdown of society, and when that doesn't happen they'll have nothing left.

Our society survived interracial marriage, against all predictions to the contrary, and became stronger because of it. The same will be true of gay marriage.

Monday, September 12, 2005


I don't have much to say about Katrina that hasn't already been said better elsewhere. I do think it's important to remember that Katrina exposed existing problems in a dramatic way, and most of those problems were not simply issues of technical coordination. No matter how good our government gets at managing disaster relief, poor people will still bear the brunt of natural or manmade catastrophes. I liked Nicholas Kristof's take on this:

If it's shameful that we have bloated corpses on New Orleans streets, it's even more disgraceful that the infant mortality rate in America's capital is twice as high as in China's capital. That's right - the number of babies who died before their first birthdays amounted to 11.5 per thousand live births in 2002 in Washington, compared with 4.6 in Beijing.

Indeed, according to the United Nations Development Program, an African-American baby in Washington has less chance of surviving its first year than a baby born in urban parts of the state of Kerala in India.

Under Mr. Bush, the national infant mortality rate has risen for the first time since 1958. The U.S. ranks 43rd in the world in infant mortality, according to the C.I.A.'s World Factbook; if we could reach the level of Singapore, ranked No. 1, we would save 18,900 children's lives each year.

So in some ways the poor children evacuated from New Orleans are the lucky ones because they may now get checkups and vaccinations. Nationally, 29 percent of children had no health insurance at some point in the last 12 months, and many get neither checkups nor vaccinations. On immunizations, the U.S. ranks 84th for measles and 89th for polio.

One of the most dispiriting elements of the catastrophe in New Orleans was the looting. I covered the 1995 earthquake that leveled much of Kobe, Japan, killing 5,500, and for days I searched there for any sign of criminal behavior. Finally I found a resident who had seen three men steal food. I asked him whether he was embarrassed that Japanese would engage in such thuggery.

"No, you misunderstand," he said firmly. "These looters weren't Japanese. They were foreigners."

The reasons for this are complex and partly cultural, but one reason is that Japan has tried hard to stitch all Japanese together into the nation's social fabric. In contrast, the U.S. - particularly under the Bush administration - has systematically cut people out of the social fabric by redistributing wealth from the most vulnerable Americans to the most affluent.

Kristof makes important points. What happened in New Orleans was tragic, but the reason so many died was because of ongoing inequalities that most people manage not to think about most of the time. But there's more to it than bad policies. It'd be nice if everything bad that happened could be chalked up to one president or one political party or one side of the political spectrum. Then you just vote the bastards out and things should get better. But it's not that simple. We had Clinton for a long time, and things didn't get measurably better for most people around the world. It's nice that the Japanese get along well with each other, as Kristof acknowledges, but that doesn't do Bangladeshis or Bolivians much good when disaster strikes in those places (as it seems to do quite frequently). Local problems often have global roots, and when they do, they should have global solutions. The tragedy on the bridge in Iraq managed to share the spotlight in the US press with Katrina for nearly an entire day, until we realized New Orleans hadn't dodged a bullet after all. I'm guessing that Iraqis have been less than riveted by our national tragedy; for the past two weeks, they've been dealing with one of their own. Superficially, Katrina and the bridge disaster look like unfortunate accidents, until you realize that virtually the only ones who died were the ones who already had nothing. That's no accident; it's a failure to acknowledge and address pervasive, ubiquitous inequality.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

turning back the clock in China

According to the NY Times:

Chinese police raided the office of a American-financed human rights group shortly before the arrival of the United Nations human rights chief today, as authorities sought to keep a tight lid on dissent during the sensitive visit.

Police searched the offices and copied computer files at the Empowerment and Rights Institute, a leading legal and human rights advisory group, employees and visitors to the offices said. The group's director, Hou Wenzhuo, said that as many as 10 plainclothes and uniformed police came to her home as well, but did not arrest her.

The raid came shortly before Louise Arbour, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, arrived in Beijing to discuss China's rights record with senior Communist Party officials.

Ms. Hou said she had hoped to meet with Ms. Arbour to present evidence she has collected about human rights abuses. Her group has documented what she described as systematic suppression of people who complain about problems like land confiscations and police torture.

One might think that the Chinese government fundamentally misunderstands the public relations dynamic surrounding human rights and foreign opinion—it is cracking down on human rights groups just as they will have maximum international exposure in the wake of a visit from the top UN human rights official. However, the government has not shown particular concern for foreign opinion in the past, and may be banking on relative silence from Western governments distracted by more pressing concerns of Islamic terrorism.

Also, the government's greatest concerns may be with the domestic impact of a visit from the UN high commissioner for human rights. Such a visit, even if scripted and sculpted by the government-controlled media to have minimal direct public effect, could galvanize the human rights/reform/intellectual community. Transnational linkages between Chinese activists and a broader human rights community have already caused trouble for the government:
Ms. Hou, 35, founded the group after studying human rights law at Oxford University and Harvard Law School. It is funded primarily by the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington.

The government's fear is that the nascent human rights community will tap into popular discontent of millions of Chinese left behind by the country's stellar economic growth.
[Ms. Hou's] organization came under heavy pressure this month after it advised farmers in Guangdong Province in a land dispute. The farmers have sustained a pointed and sometimes violent uprising against local leaders, and Ms. Hou was briefly detained by police there before being told to return to Beijing.

"The space for doing this kind of work is shrinking," she said. "The pressure is already much greater than it was a couple of years ago."
. . .

Some legal experts have argued that China has begun to take small but promising steps toward respecting individual rights, partly as a way of improving its image before it hosts the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

But a rash of social unrest around the country in recent years - China experienced at least 74,000 protest incidents in 2004, according to the police - has prompted authorities to sharply curtail grassroots activists groups and harass or arrest rights workers.

The Economist magazine ran a pair of stories last week suggesting that the government, under the increasingly authoritarian Hu Jintao, is tightening control over civil society (what there is of it in China). First, the magazine argues that Mr. Hu is behind recent moves to combat economic and political liberalism.
Given the increasingly conspicuous inequalities emerging in China as a result of the country's embrace of capitalism, it suits Mr Hu to appear to pour cold water on the idea of laisser-faire economics, blamed for a growing gap between rich and poor, between regions and between urban and rural areas. In the past couple of years there has been an upsurge in the number of protests triggered by these disparities, as well as by rampant corruption. Mr Hu is trying to strengthen the party's legitimacy by stressing its sympathy for the disadvantaged.

Second, the government has reversed a two-year trend toward a more open media.
[T]he comprehensive nature of this about-face on media deregulation points to hardline convictions at the top. President Hu Jintao seems determined to avoid even a hint of glasnost, which he is said to blame for the collapse of the Soviet Union.

By combining steady economic results with tight control over civil society, the government has shown with consistent deftness that it can resist external and internal pressures to open up. However, it plays a dangerous, potentially unsustainable game when it plays the growing middle class against the disenchanted underclass.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

back from the dead

This is not my area of expertise, but it is rather incredible, the stuff of science fiction:

Soldiers in combat and gunshot or stabbing victims often bleed to death because medics don't have enough time to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation or deliver blood. This type of injury kills about 50,000 Americans every year and is the leading cause of death among troops killed in action, said nationally recognized trauma surgeon Dr. Howard Champion, who lives in Annapolis, Md.

In the 1980s, Dr. Peter Safar -- inventor of cardiopulmonary resuscitation and founder of the center that bears his name -- collaborated with Army officials to develop a novel "big chill" concept for bringing people back to life after their hearts stop beating because of massive blood loss.

Safar, who died two years ago, proposed flushing the circulatory system with an ice-cold salt solution, which would drop the core body temperature to about 50 degrees compared to the usual 98.6 degrees.

Cooling the body in this way would buy extra time to transport injured soldiers or trauma victims in cardiac arrest to the hospital, Safar reasoned. The cold temperature would have a preserving effect so no damage would occur to tissues and organs, even though the heart would be stopped.

"The idea is to preserve the victim for just a little while in this state called suspended animation so the surgeons can locate bleeding sites and make the necessary repairs," Kochanek said.

Patients could then be revived by slowly pumping warm blood back into their bodies and administering a brief electric shock to their hearts.

The news here is that scientists have recently tried this technique successfully on dogs:

Scientists at Pitt's Safar Center for Resuscitation Research in Oakland announced at the meeting last week that they have found a way to revive dogs three hours after clinical death -- an hour longer than in previous experiments, said the center's director, Dr. Patrick Kochanek.

Now we just need to locate and disable that pesky aging gene . . .

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Bolton and UN Reform

The current negotiations over UN reform are intended to lead to a proposal outlining reform of the organization that world leaders are supposed to adopt at a UN summit in three weeks. The principal issues on the table are:

--creation of a UN Peacebuilding Commission to assist post-conflict countries in building lasting stability;

--completion of a comprehensive anti-terrorism convention [including settling on an internationally accepted definition of "terrorism"] and a fissile-material cut-off treaty to limit the spread of nuclear materials;

--establishment of a small, standing Human Rights Council to replace the Commission on Human Rights;

--expansion of the Security Council;

--institutional changes within the Secretariat to make its operations more flexible, efficient and accountable;

Everyone seems to think UN reform is a good idea—the US, other member-countries, even the UN Secretariat. However, UN reform means different things to different people.

The Bush administration's top priority is administrative reform, which is badly needed but low on the list of objectives for many countries. For developing countries, following up with meaningful implementation of the Millennium Development Goals is a priority. The Bush administration would rather have the flexibility to pursue development goals on its own.

Brazil, Japan, India, and Germany are clamoring for seats on an expanded Security Council; other countries have their own ideas for Security Council expansion. This aspect of reform is one the permanent five members of the Council, especially the US, least want to address, but is probably the most important item on the agenda. International decisionmaking by the current permanent Security Council is deeply undemocratic and arbitrary, and represents no principle or rational balance of power, but rather the stale status quo of 60 years ago. The war on terror will ultimately go nowhere unless more of the world's people are represented in international security decisions.

The US has not been happy with the direction the negotiations were taking:

[E]arlier this month, U.S. deputy Ambassador Anne Patterson complained that the 15-page development section was too long, that the document focused too much on disarmament and not enough on nonproliferation, and that it included language on the International Criminal Court which the United States opposes.

She also reiterated that the United States wants action on overall reform before the most contentious issue in the document -- Security Council expansion -- is tackled.

Then last week the U.S. tried to scrap the plan that had been drafted. It wasn't clear from statements made by those involved whether this was simply a negotiating tactic or an attempt to torpedo the negotiations. One thing seems clear: few countries are happy with the current draft.

Then in yesterday's news:

U.N. General Assembly President Jean Ping said on Tuesday he wanted to try a new negotiating tactic to complete work on a comprehensive U.N. reform plan after the United States raised extensive objections to the most recent draft.

A core group of 20 to 30 nations, including the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, would be named to resolve remaining differences in the reform plan in time for a U.N. world summit opening in three weeks in New York, Ping told reporters.

That would ensure Washington a seat at the table to make its case, along with other permanent council members Russia, China, France and Britain. Until now, the drafting has been conducted informally, in hopes of keeping the focus on the whole package and off the details.

I don't know whether negotiations such as these are normally conducted informally, but "keeping the focus on the whole package and off the details" to me sounds like those in charge are hoping to salvage any proposal they can, but don't expect what emerges to contain much of substance.

Internationally, the US has a lot staked on successful UN reform after its failure to utilize the UN to bring other countries on board for the Iraq war, especially now that things are going badly there. Domestically, Bush appointed Ambassador Bolton with the stated objective of reforming the UN. However, Bush's conservative base wants the most inefficient, marginalized UN it can get, and would be happy if no accord were reached, especially if the blame could be pinned on the intransigence of other nations or the UN itself. Hence, the US negotiating team must walk a fine line, producing some sort of accord to placate Democrats baying for Bolton's blood and convince moderate Republicans they weren't hoodwinked into supporting the nomination, but ensuring little meaningful change aside from administrative reform.

Since Bolton is supposed to be a tough negotiator who will "get things done" with UN reform, he is under considerable pressure to reach an agreement. This will weaken his bargaining position to some degree, but I wouldn't bet on any major capitulations from this administration. In short, meaningful reform is unlikely to emerge in September. The issues most important to the US are least important to most other countries. Furthermore, the US does not want comprehensive reform, and the US team, with Bolton at the head, is particularly ill-equipped to achieve it.

Update: Steve Clemons, guest blogging last week at TalkingPointsMemo
has a series of posts on how Bolton may be undermining Secretary Rice's efforts at UN reform. Scroll down to read them all.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

a public question

New York City Mayoral candidate Gifford Miller came under fire in a recent televised debate when asked whether he would send his young children to public school. He punted on the issue, eliciting boos from the audience, and then became visibly defensive. The NYTimes reports on some follow-up comments from Miller:

Mr. Miller, who attended the St. Bernard's all-boys private school on the Upper East Side, said yesterday that his school choice for his children should not be a campaign issue.

"My kids' education is a private decision, not one I make as part of the campaign or as part of a public pronouncement," he said.

Basically, there are two education systems in this country: a system that works and one that doesn't. Those who have the benefit of the functioning system often achieve economic success, and pass the benefit of a good education to their children, who pass it on to theirs. The efficiency of the system that works and the dysfunctionality of the one that doesn't means that class mobility is now lower here than in Europe. Until the beneficiaries of the system that works put real time and energy into the system that doesn't, it will remain a non-working system. When wealthy politicians start putting their kids into public schools, they then have a real incentive to take steps to unite the two disparate systems into a single system that works for everyone.

I appreciate the dilemma that Miller faces—sacrificing the well-being of his own children in a very real way vs. adding incrementally to the general well-being of poor children in New York City. The current middle to upper-class liberal approach seems to be "let's work on making public schools better, but in the meantime, I'll make sure my kid has the best education money can buy." This is an understandable position to take, but "in the meantime" seems to have dragged on for several decades without much improvement in the public schools. We should have learned a long time ago that "separate but equal" is not a workable solution to any problem.

I think this is very much a legitimate campaign issue, but it shouldn't be limited to politicians. Any liberal parents with money should ask themselves not only "Where will my children attend school?" but "How can I support an unjust system given my political beliefs?"

On a related note, many people should reevaluate the No Child Left Behind act and similar state initiatives to implement rigorous public education reforms. Outside of suburbia, the public education system is broken. Poverty and inadequate education reinforce each other in a persistent cycle of despair. Strengthening education gives people the tools they need to rise out of poverty. NCLB is the best, most realistic shot we are likely to have at fixing the public education system for the next 10-20 years. Arguing simultaneously that NCLB is underfunded and unworkable is contradictory and counterproductive. It allows the administration to take the moral high ground on reform while quietly diverting resources away from education. We have to find a way to bring teachers on board, and the system does need more money. But opposing NCLB simply because it was a Bush initiative ends up sabotaging reform. The problem of bad schools isn't going to go away on its own.

Another swing of the pendulum?

Gideon Rose, editor of the influential journal Foreign Affairs, writes that idealist leaders present and past have taken the country into ill-considered wars in response to some undefined American urge to go "have an adventure" abroad, like taking a semester in Europe during college. This analysis ignores the crucial motivating element behind every war: fear.

In explaining the recent Bush shift away from the idealism of the neocons, Rose asserts:

Seen in proper perspective, in other words, the Bush administration's signature efforts represent not some durable, world-historical shift in America's approach to foreign policy but merely one more failed idealistic attempt to escape the difficult trade-offs and unpleasant compromises that international politics inevitably demand - even from the strongest power since Rome. Just as they have so many times before, the realists have come in after an election to offer some adult supervision and tidy up the joint. This time it's simply happened under the nose of a victorious incumbent rather than his opponent (which may account for the failure to change the rhetoric along with the policy).

BEING fully American rather than devotees of classic European realpolitik, the realists-today represented most prominently by Ms. Rice and her team at the State Department-offer not different goals but a calmer and more measured path toward the same ones. They still believe in American power and the global spread of liberal democratic capitalism. But they seek legitimate authority rather than mere material dominance, favor cost-benefit analyses rather than ideological litmus tests, and prize good results over good intentions.

So what can we expect next? A spell of calm without dramatic visionary campaigns or new wars, along with an effort to gradually wind down the current conflict while leaving Iraq reasonably stable but hardly a liberal democracy. This is likely to play well - until domestic carping over the realists' supposedly limited vision starts the wheel of American foreign policy turning once again.

Rose has vaguely attributed our bad wars to "idealism" when there is a simpler explanation. Politicians have taken the country into wars of choice that ended badly in scary, uncertain times to console a fearful public anxious for some kind of action. Whether such action was defensive or offensive didn't really matter in the eyes of an uninformed, frightened populace. Any offensive action would be justifiable as self-defense, since the country perceived itself to be in danger from an outside threat. (Whether or not the perception was initially accurate is kind of irrelevant. A cornered animal, in addition to being more dangerous than usual, is itself at greater risk of being attacked.)

In the cases of Vietnam and Iraq, the specific location of the war was not as important as the circumstances in which the U.S. found itself at the time. At a time of high tension between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, shortly after Cuba had fallen to the communists and after the country had narrowly avoided catastrophe during the Cuban Missile Crisis, JFK and LBJ needed a war to make the American people feel more secure against the perceived communist threat. Really, any war would do. It didn't so much matter where it took place—Afghanistan, Guatemala, or Angola would have worked just as well as Vietnam [Update: Afghanistan would not have worked, since fighting there would almost certainly have drawn the USSR into a major confrontation]. The important thing was that that the government be seen as "doing something" to confront the communist threat without drawing the Soviets into a direct confrontation. The same dynamic was at work in 2002-2003. The invasion of Afghanistan had generally gone well, but Bin Laden was still at large and the mood in the U.S. remained tense and uncertain. Bush decided to go for broke, knowing that so soon after 9/11, he'd have a relatively free hand. A fearful, uninformed public acquiesced, not bothering to ask for much of an explanation.

I don't know the history of the Korean war that well, but if memory serves, MacArthur became overconfident after early success and pushed on past the 38th parallel towards China, drawing the Chinese into the war and ensuring a protracted, bloody conflict. The problem there was not the idealism of Truman, as Rose suggests, but the folly of his lieutenant. Nixon did not technically extricate the U.S. from Vietnam, as Rose indicates, so much as he was pushed out after escalating the bombing campaign in a failed attempt to win the war. Also, he had already resigned by the time the U.S. was finally forced to leave Saigon. The limited wars in Kosovo and Iraq 1991 were less ambitious and enjoyed wide international support, and occurred during periods of relative peace and stability. They were not driven by the panicky urge to strike out at a shadowy enemy, as were the wars in Vietnam and Iraq. Rose alludes to Clinton's debacle in Somalia, but fails to mention the 800,000 Rwandans that Clinton watched be slaughtered rather than face a public still angry over the American lives lost in Africa.

Rose tries to link America's misadventures abroad with idealism, but the distinctions between realist and idealist presidents that he makes break down under scrutiny. And he fails to acknowledge that the U.S. has a history of launching bad wars under particular circumstances—when its people are afraid and its leaders decide that doing anything is better than doing nothing.

2006 and Iraq

The NYTimes reports that Republican politicians are getting increasingly worried about their prospects in the 2006 elections if things continue to go badly in Iraq. It's too bad the Democrats, given their role as craven lapdogs of the administration in the run-up to and prosecution of the war, are now in no position to guide the public to a saner foreign policy and reap the attendant political benefits. A "leader" should lead, not pander to the latest stampede of public opinion. Of course, listening to the public is important. But it's also important to take a stand on issues you believe in, and help shape public opinion in productive ways. That's why it's a shame virtually no Dems took a principled stand against the war from the start.

The article quotes NY Senator Chuck Schumer:

"There is no question that the Iraq war, without any light at the end of the tunnel apparent to the American people, is becoming more and more a ball and chain rapidly weighing down the administration."

Mr. Schumer, reflecting continued Democratic nervousness at being portrayed as disrespectful of troops, added, "I have been more supportive of the president's war on terror than many Democrats."

Mr. Schumer, you are as responsible for our predicament in Iraq as anyone in Congress. Even now, you refuse to forcefully criticize the President's damaging policies. Here's the line to use: this administration has led our country to a war of choice in which 1,800 U.S. soldiers have died and tens of thousands have been maimed, it has failed to provide necessary logistical support and manpower because the administration can't afford to transparently account for the cost of the war, and has abused the trust of countless reservists who have been effectively drafted into full-time service. That's not "supporting the troops".

Unfortunately, this line of argument would be much more convincing coming from someone who hadn't calculatingly supported the scam in the first place. Kerry tried many of those same arguments, and failed to persuade because he'd been baying for Saddam's blood back when it was politically expedient. The Democrats will remain a minority party so long as they are afraid to lead rather than react.

Update: Kevin Drum predicts that the Iraq issue could splinter the Democratic party in 2006--partly because doves are unwilling to forgive being sold down the river by the party, and partly because no major Democrat has been willing to say "I was wrong, it was a terrible idea from the start, now lets find a workable solution." Drum makes a good case for a managed withdrawal. I've been reluctant in the past to support setting a timetable for withdrawal, since that seemed likely to destabilize the country further, but it's now been 2 1/2 years since the invasion, the situation is not improving much, and we need to get some idea of how long we're going to be there.

It is somewhat incredible that, in the face of the governing party's consistently poor judgment and incompetence in Iraq, no major Democrat has any measurable credibility on the war. Proposing a meaningful alternative to the government's current "wait and see" policy might be a way to start regaining some public trust.

Apologists under attack

This article by Harold Meyerson in the American Prospect calls out prominent journalists who made the case for the war in Iraq back when it mattered, who rallied public opinion around what was objectively a tough sell. I remember when I first heard Bush making serious noises about invading, back in July of 2002, while I was in Costa Rica. The idea seemed so implausible, so laughable, I barely gave it notice. Who could fail to see an attack on Iraq as anything other than a transparent attempt at distraction, an adolescent, indiscriminate lashing out? It didn't even make sense—what purpose would invading a country with virtually no involvement in the 9/11 attacks serve but to infuriate both friends and enemies? A wartime president needs a war to stay in business, and I assumed Bush was reaching out for any conflict he could get his hands on. War is addictive and ultimately damaging to the user, like a narcotic--but who would hand an addict $50 and a syringe, no questions asked? I was the one, however, who failed to acknowledge the intense loyalty to king and country of the American public, its apathetic approach to the details of foreign policy, and the neocon/conservative scheme underlying the entire project. I can't help but think that anyone, especially on the left, who claims to have been misled by Bush's propaganda-fueled push to war, is either desperately naive or disassembling (that means "not telling the truth"). The greater the shock and betrayal now evoked by these early war supporters, the greater my skepticism. I imagine, as public sentiment belatedly turns against the war, rafts of Democratic politicians castigating themselves for not realizing earlier that getting on the record against giving Bush authority to go to war in October 2002, aside from being the right thing to do, would also have been a good political move.

Even now, the number one complaint from the left and the center is the plaintive "he Lied to us". Yes, but you believed him! Number two: "they've mismanaged the war". This is the mother of all red herrings, allowing former war supporters to condemn Bush now that things aren't going well while maintaining the appearance of logical consistency with regard to their previous enthusiasm for the endeavor. It's a copout. I have to give Hitchens some credit for not taking the easy way out like Friedman and other moderates. Although it is interesting to watch him twist into increasingly awkward positions under the pressure of uncomfortable reality, particularly given his spirited (and accurate) condemnations of leftists who turned a blind eye to the fact of communist abuses during the Cold War.

Don't get me wrong, I'm no party-line fanatic (look how witless the Democratic party line was in late 2002), and I appreciate a healthy dose of contrarianism in an argument. But the conventional wisdom, the main current of political opinion against which radical ideas make little headway, should be "we do not attack other countries without good reason", not "we support the President in matters of foreign policy without asking questions, because he will act in our best interest".

Update: To those, including myself in moments of optimism, who point to the possibility of a democratic Middle East as the end result of the current chaos in Iraq, I say: 1) that was not why we went in—it was not conceived or sold, and certainly not executed, as a humanitarian project; 2) too many lives were lost and will be lost, for which we bear direct (for non-insurgents killed by Americans) or indirect (for those killed by the insurgents) responsibility; and 3) we have made things worse for ourselves than before. Democracy is a worthy end, and I sincerely hope it comes to the Middle East, but this was not an efficient or morally consistent way to achieve it.

Enron part III: the Banks

Enron was not a case of a "few bad apples". The whole economic/financial system failed —or rather, the system succeeded in producing money, but no value. What failed or didn't exist were the necessary preventive regulatory/legal safeguards. Everyone involved—the banks, the accountants, the lawyers, the executives—took their cut, and they all have a piece of the blame. For the most part, it was business as usual, and, if the past is any indication, a comparable scandal will come along sometime in the next 5-10 years. On a smaller, less detectable scale, it happens every day.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Killing children

This from Wednesday’s paper:

A suicide car bomb was detonated today near a group of American soldiers who were distributing candy to children in a poor neighborhood here, killing as many as 27 people, about two dozen of them children, and wounding dozens more, government and hospital officials said.

This is messed up. You would think that sponsoring an attack that kills two dozen innocent children might give you pause to think about what you are doing, to reevaluate the trajectory on which you find yourself. Not so. The jihad continues, and the killing goes on, in Iraq, in London, and around the world.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Novak not out of the woods yet

We know from recent experience that federal investigators don’t like being lied to. The American people don’t like being lied to. So that is why Murray Waas’s post indicating that Novak and Rove may have lied to federal investigators is so interesting:

Federal investigators have been skeptical of Novak's assertions that he referred to Plame as a CIA "operative" due to his own error, instead of having been explicitly told that was the case by his sources, according to attorneys familiar with the criminal probe.

That skepticism has been one of several reasons that the special prosecutor has pressed so hard for the testimony of Time magazine's Cooper and New York Times reporter Judith Miller.

Josh Marshall has debunked Novak's claim repeatedly. Apparently the feds thought it was a bit of a stretch, too.
Also of interest to investigators have been a series of telephone contacts between Novak and Rove, and other White House officials, in the days just after press reports first disclosed the existence of a federal criminal investigation as to who leaked Plame's identity. Investigators have been concerned that Novak and his sources might have conceived or co-ordinated a cover story to disguise the nature of their conversations. That concern was a reason-- although only one of many-- that led prosecutors to press for the testimony of Cooper and Miller, sources said.

Might this be another case of the cover-up being ultimately more damaging than the original act? I guess we’ll see in the coming weeks.

Update: Robert Kuttner suggests the feds are already focusing on possible lies told by Rove and Co., rather than the initial misdeed:
Under the CIA nondisclosure law, an illegal disclosure has to be deliberate and knowing, and the CIA agent clandestine. Other published reports suggest that Fitzgerald is pursuing a possible case against Rove and other suspected leakers for perjury or obstruction of justice, which are easier to prove, especially if Rove was not entirely truthful in his testimony.

Update: Murray Waas says Rove didn't tell FBI investigators in his first interview with them that he had discussed Plame with Cooper. When all is said and done, it's what Fitzgerald says in October that matters, not what the media, politicians, or the blogosphere say now. This story may have fallen off the front pages with the Roberts nomination, but that doesn't mean it has disappeared.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Swift justice

An American filmmaker was detained in Iraq back in May after potential bomb-making materials were discovered in the taxi he was riding in. He was eventually released without charge after seven weeks.

"This case highlights the effectiveness of our detainee-review process," the spokesman, Brig. Gen. Don Alston of the Air Force, said in the statement. "We followed well-established procedures, and Mr. Kar has now been properly released."

However, Mr. Kar’s lawyer thinks that seven weeks was a long time for a U.S. citizen to wait in jail for the government to realize that he had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"He was never told what if any charges were being made against him," said one of the lawyers, Mark D. Rosenbaum. "He never had access to a lawyer. He was never told that he passed a lie-detector test. He was virtually incommunicado. That's not a model detention policy. And that was for 50 days - for a guy who got into the wrong cab."

We can probably assume that the military put Mr. Kar's case on the fast track, given the likelihood of press scrutiny of the detention of a U.S. citizen, and that the U.S. is trying harder not to let detainees languish too long without a determination, after such cases were repeatedly splashed around the news. So this is pretty much top speed for processing detainees in Iraq.

Our justice system, with its transparency and uncompromising protection of civil liberties, truly is a shining example to the aspiring democracies of the middle east.

Might I suggest that Mr. Kar, when he finishes with the project he was working on when interrupted, make a film about his experience in detention. We can only speculate what we might learn if all the people wrongly detained in Iraq and elsewhere had the education, connections, and resources to show us their version of what happened to them in U.S. custody. I’m guessing it wouldn’t be pretty, although it might be illuminating.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Two vacancies are better than one

Ed Kilgore at TPMCafe points out that Bush is in a tight spot with both Rehnquist and O'Connor retiring at once, since the religious right is unlikely to accept a compromise on either justice. Both justices must be sufficiently pro-life to support the overturn of Roe v. Wade. In fact, according to Kilgore's math, the next three nominees must take this stance:

Right now the Court is stacked 6-3 against overturning Roe v. Wade, based on the lineup in the 1992 Casey decision. That means overturning Roe--the obsessive and irreplaceable goal of the Cultural Right, not just with respect to the Supreme Court, but in terms of its alliance with the GOP--requires a net gain of two Justices for that position. Rehnquist actually voted against the original Roe decision. So his retirement would leave just two sure votes to overturn.

Thus, the Right has to run the table--a vote against Roe to replace O'Connor, a vote against Roe to replace Rehnquist, and a vote against Roe to replace the next retiree, probably Stevens.

As Kilgore puts it:
[W]hen it comes to the Court, the Cultural Right could not possibly care less about issues like business regulation or federalism or treatment of detainees at Gitmo. It's all about abortion--always has been, always will be.

If the Dems don't completely botch this--and with Reid at the helm, we can hope that they won't--Bush will be under pressure to nominate a moderate for at least one spot. If he had the benefit of several months between nominations, he'd arguably have to compromise less. Bush's early calls to tone down the heated rhetoric surrounding the first anticipated nomination are probably not so much directed at the left as at his own base.

According to this data, a slim majority of Americans supports Roe, and while most (78%) think abortion should remain legal in some circumstances, large majorities think it should be confined to the first trimester. Leaving abortion aside for a moment, a justice who would vote to overturn Roe would likely take a hard right position on any number of other issues. Who is appointed to the high court is arguably the most important consequence of last year's election. While Bush's supporters can point to his victory in November to claim that he should be able to appoint who he wants ("you lost, so quit whining and deal with the consequences"), the relatively close margin of victory, Bush's current abysmal poll numbers, and public opinion on Roe (among other issues) indicate otherwise.

I'd like to think the Dems could manage to pull this off. It depends on whether they can keep up the unity and focus they've displayed since the 2004 election, now when it matters most.

Friday, June 24, 2005


This is some funny stuff. I like this one. And this and this . Can't ... stop ... linking ...

**Warning**: do not click on the last two links if you are easily offended. And do not click on the last "this" link if you do not like poop jokes.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

update from Iraq

"[We] have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. [We] have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. The Baghdad communiqu├ęs are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows... Our unfortunate troops,... under hard conditions of climate and supply, are policing an immense area, paying dearly every day in lives for the willfully wrong policy of the civil administration in Baghdad." - T.E. Lawrence, Sunday Times of London, August 22, 1920. Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan.

a movement based on love

Russell Shorto takes an in-depth look in the NYTimes Magazine at how gay marriage has galvanized the religious right, and examines the uncompromising nature of the movement:

[F]or the anti-gay-marriage activists, homosexuality is something to be fought, not tolerated or respected. I found no one among the people on the ground who are leading the anti-gay-marriage cause who said in essence: ''I have nothing against homosexuality. I just don't believe gays should be allowed to marry.'' Rather, their passion comes from their conviction that homosexuality is a sin, is immoral, harms children and spreads disease. Not only that, but they see homosexuality itself as a kind of disease, one that afflicts not only individuals but also society at large and that shares one of the prominent features of a disease: it seeks to spread itself.

One activist said:

''I used to feel that as a Christian my job was to deal with political issues from a prayerful standpoint,'' she said. ''Now I think this is the defining issue of my generation, and I want to take a stand.''

is planning to run for the State Senate in 2006, and he said that the gay-marriage issue was one important reason. He put it in historical terms: ''I remember talking to my parents about Roe v. Wade. And I asked them, 'Where were you while it was happening?' They didn't think they could do anything about it, and really they couldn't because it was done by the courts. I want to be able to tell my children that when people were battling this issue, I was on the front line.''

It is tragic that so many people are so convinced they are on the right side of history. Only after years of needless pain and courageous struggle will we reach a tipping point where the anti-gay movement loses mainstream support and becomes irrelevant, and then abhorrent, to most Americans. What will those who fought so hard against the “scourge” of gay marriage then tell their children and grandchildren? What did Strom Thurmond and George Wallace tell their grandchildren? Probably nothing resembling the truth.
Of course, this view of homosexuality -- seeing it as a disorder to be cured -- is not new. It was cutting-edge thinking circa 1905. While most of society -- including the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Education Association, the World Health Organization and many other such groups -- eventually came around to the idea that homosexuality is normal, some segments refused to go along. And what was once a fairly fringe portion of the population has swelled in recent years, as has its influence.

Shorto is clearly mistaken here. While the positions of the APA and other groups are representative of many educated, upper-income people, society has not yet “come around to the idea that homosexuality is normal.” The anti-gay movement has grown only as the gay rights movement has gained momentum. While the consensus held that homosexuality was abnormal and repugnant, there was no need for an anti-gay movement. There is no need to start a movement when the vast majority of the population supports your position.

Gay rights leaders say that gay marriage has become useful for their counterparts on the religious right in part because it allows them to tap into an antipathy toward homosexuality. Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said that the emergence of gay marriage last year was not the doing of groups like his. ''We didn't want this fight,'' he said. ''It is being driven by a certain brand of evangelicals and fundamentalists as part of their agenda and because they sense an opening. I don't think their leaders care about gay people. And I don't think people as a whole understand how deep-seated the loathing is.'' In this calculation, gay marriage serves as a vessel for containing opinions that many social conservatives have but which in the past they might have felt were socially unacceptable to voice.

Robert Knight, the director of the Culture and Family Institute of Concerned Women for America, conceded as much. ''People feel liberated,'' he said. ''They feel like we don't have to go along with this stuff anymore, the idea that we're repressed backwater religious zealots just for wanting a decent society in which our children can thrive. It's O.K. today to say that marriage is between a man and a woman. Saying so does not make you a hater or bigot.''

Indeed, a constant refrain among the anti-gay-marriage forces is that they are motivated not by hate but by love. Most of the activists I spoke with say that they know gay people -- several said they have relatives who are gay -- and that they have approached them, with love, to try to get them to change. Rick Bowers, a pastor of a nondenominational church in Columbia, Md., is the head of Defend Maryland Marriage, another activist group, which works with Focus on the Family. ''There are those extremists who say that if a gay person were on fire you would burn in hell if you spit on them to put out the fire,'' he told me. ''But we're not like that. We love the human being. It's the lifestyle we disagree with.''

I would like to give the Christian activists mentioned in this story the benefit of the doubt, and take them at their word when they say they “love the sinner and hate the sin”, but based on the history of fervent and hateful conservative religious opposition to civil rights movements, opposition based on unapologetic prejudice, I find it hard to believe. When evangelicals stop cutting off gay members of their families, when they stop referring to gays in derogatory terms, when they stop teaching their children to distrust and ridicule gays, in short, when they stop treating gays as subhuman, I will believe that they love those they believe to be sinners, as Jesus did.
For [the Christian activists], the issue isn't one of civil rights, because the term implies something inherent in the individual -- being black, say, or a woman -- and they deny that homosexuality is inherent. It can't be, because that would mean God had created some people who are damned from birth, morally blackened.

Shorto’s choice of words here is interesting (“morally blackened”), because you don’t have to look very far back to find explicitly religious justifications for repression based on inherent characteristics. I don’t know how prevalent the “Mark of Cain” theory was in mainstream Christianity, but in the Mormon church, it played a prominent role in justifying discrimination against blacks. (In short, the story goes that Cain’s progeny was cursed with dark skin for his sin, and cursed with eternal second-class status. Another variant is the “Curse of Ham”, Noah’s son.) Conservative reasoning on this point represents an advance, of sorts. Conservatives of yesteryear found no need to justify repression of ethnic minorities based on immutable characteristics.
At its essence, then, the Christian conservative thinking about gay marriage runs this way. Homosexuality is not an innate, biological condition but a disease in society. Marriage is the healthy root of society. To put the two together is thus willfully to introduce disease to that root. It is society willing self-destruction, which is itself a symptom of a wider societal disease, that of secularism.

This diagnosis is accurate from my experience. The crucial element is that “the disease” is chosen, that the gay person is somehow culpable. Everything else depends upon that—otherwise there is no personal responsibility for the sin, no opportunity for repentance. Sin, by definition, must be chosen, or it is not sin.
Understanding the logic of the evangelical position was a relief to me at first; realizing that I was dealing with a rational impulse after all, that this wasn’t pure animus. But with mounting evidence that same-sex orientation is not chosen, as gays become more outspoken and the younger generation sees the reality of healthy, happy, productive people, rather than the miserable, diseased degenerates their elders speak of, as the arguments for stigmatizing same-sex orientation crumble under scrutiny, the conservative view looks less like a reasoned position and more like undiluted prejudice.

Shorto sums up the enormous gulf in perception that exists between activists on each side with this sad story:

When I met Polyak, she told me how, when she first testified before a legislative committee, an anti-gay-marriage activist, a woman, confronted her with bitter language, asking her why she was ''doing this'' to the woman's children and grandchildren. Polyak said the encounter left her shaken. A few days later, as I sat in Evalena Gray's Christmas-lighted basement office, she told me a story of how during the same testimony she approached a blond lesbian and talked to her about the effect that gay marriage would have on her grandchildren. ''Then I hugged her neck,'' she said, ''and I said, 'We love you.' I was kind of consoling her to some extent, out of compassion.''

I realized I was hearing about the same encounter from both sides. What was expressed as love was received as something close to hate. That's a hard gap to bridge.

Maybe in five years, Shorto will be able to come right out and say what he thinks, that this evangelical woman is a nutjob, or worse, willfully ignorant of the harm she is causing. But not yet, apparently.

I think over the coming years, as the tide turns in favor of gay marriage, we can expect more of the same revision of events from conservative activists, the complete blindness to reality that this woman evinced. People have to look themselves in the mirror, after all. They have to justify their actions to their grandchildren somehow.

Update: Andrew Sullivan makes the case that the modern conservative reaction to the gay rights movement has more in common with historical persecution of Jews than of blacks: “the arguments now made by some Christianists are replicas of the old anti-Semitism, peddled by so many Christians in the past: that Jews are to be loved, but loving them is dependent on their conversion to Christianity; that you can love individual Jews while disdaining Judaism; that Jews' stubbornness in resisting conversion is evidence of their inherent evil; that such evil, at some point, has to be segregated from mainstream society as much as possible.”

Another update: Again from Andrew Sullivan, refuting David Frum's argument that since Canadian gays haven't been taking advantage of their right to marry, they must not have wanted it much anyway, and no grievous harm is being done by denying American gays that right. A reader responds that by that logic, there should be nothing wrong with antimiscegenation laws, since rates of interracial marriage are still very low. Sullivan then posits a correlation between "those states that were the first to ban gay marriage and those that were the last to hold onto miscegenation bans." Sounds plausible to me.