Friday, September 29, 2006

torture bill breakdown

NY Times editorializes against the torture bill. This is a good explanation of the likely consequences of the bill.

Andrew Sullivan, former Republican voter, summarizes:

The only response is for the public to send a message this fall. In congressional races, your decision should always take into account the quality of the individual candidates. But this November, the stakes are higher. If this Republican party maintains control of all branches of government, the danger to individual liberty is extremely grave. Put aside all your concerns about the Democratic leadership. What matters now is that this juggernaut against individual liberty and constitutional rights be stopped. The court has failed to stop it; the legislature has failed to stop it; only the voters can stop it now. If they don't, they will at least have been warned.

Senate tramples constitution, torture bill passes

I knew it would happen but it still hurts. The Military Commissions Act has been passed by the Senate 65-34, with 12 Democrats voting in support. From the NY Times:

The bill was a compromise between the White House and three Republican senators . . . .

I think I’ve found the problem right there.
Republicans argued that the new rules would provide the necessary tools to fight a new kind of enemy. “Our prior concept of war has been completely altered, as we learned so tragically on September 11th, 2001,” said Senator Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia. “And we must address threats in a different way.”

The threat since 9/11, then, is apparently greater than those we faced in World Wars I and II and the duration of the Cold War when the world sat on the brink of mutually assured nuclear destruction for 40 years. Or at least scary enough to cause those entrusted with our defense to wet their pants continuously for 5 years.
Mr. Bush attacked Democrats for voting against the legislation even before the vote began, signaling Republicans’ intention to use it as a hammer in their efforts to portray themselves as the party of strength on national security.

Bush showing his true colors here . . . is there any reason this bill couldn’t have been debated 3 months ago or 3 months from now? This was pure politics of the most debased and shameful kind. Exactly what we’ve come to expect from the modern Republican Party.
And even some Republicans who said [they] voted for the bill said they expected the Supreme Court to strike down the legislation because of the habeas corpus provision, ultimately sending the legislation right back to Congress.

“We should have done it right, because we’re going to have to do it again,” said Senator Gordon Smith, a Republican from Oregon, who had voted to strike the habeas corpus provision, yet supported the bill.

A nice sentiment, Senator Smith, but a bit irrelevant since you dishonor the principles of your faith by voting for this abomination. Likewise Senators Hatch and Bennett. I won’t speak to the other religions represented in the Senate with which I am not as familiar. But I don’t know where in the New Testament these Senators thought they would find support for waterboarding and other “coercive examination” techniques perfected by Stalin.

However, Smith is correct that this sets up a direct confrontation with the Supreme Court.
The legislation broadens the definition of enemy combatants beyond the traditional definition used in wartime, to include noncitizens living legally in this country as well as those in foreign countries, and also anyone determined to be an enemy combatant under criteria defined by the president or secretary of defense.

This means that, should the President, in his sole and unbridled discretion, determine the threat to be great enough, you or I could be strapped to the table with plastic wrap and water over our faces next.
From the WaPo:
Senators voted 51 to 48 against [an amendment] which called for deleting from the bill a provision that rules out habeas corpus petitions for foreigners held in the war on terrorism. The writ of habeas corpus, which is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, allows people to challenge in court the legality of their detention, essentially meaning that they cannot be held indefinitely without charge or trial.

The issue was one of the most contentious in the bill, which authorizes the president "to establish military commissions for the trial of alien unlawful enemy combatants engaged in hostilities against the United States for violations of the law of war and other offenses. . . ." Under the rules in the bill, statements obtained from a detainee by torture would not be admissible as evidence, but information extracted using harsh interrogation methods that violate a ban on "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" would be allowed if they were obtained before the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 went into effect on Dec. 30 and if a judge found them to be reliable and in the interests of justice.

So if the government decides someone is an “enemy combatant” then that is the end of legal recourse for that person. This I would expect from China, Cuba, Sudan, North Korea, and Iran. I did not expect this from the U.S. Senate.

The WaPo article quotes Senator Specter, who had this to say:
He charged that by striking habeas corpus rights for terrorism suspects, the bill "would take our civilized society back some 900 years" to a time before the Magna Carta was adopted. He said this was "unthinkable."

But he went ahead and voted for the bill anyway! This tells you all you need to know about the “moderate” Republicans in Congress today. I was considering at one point voting for McCain over Gore in 2000. There is literally nothing he could do now to regain my respect. He, more than anyone else in the Senate, knows the corrosive influence torture has on both victims and perpetrators, and for this reason, there is a special place reserved for him now in hell.

At least one Democrat still has a sense of dignity (from the WaPo again):
"We are about to put the darkest blot possible on the nation's conscience," Leahy said. "This is so wrong. . . . It is unconstitutional. It is un-American."

The provision "makes a mockery of the Bush-Cheney lofty rhetoric about exporting freedom across the globe," Leahy said. "What hypocrisy!"

Today’s Republicans are simply unfit to govern. I sincerely hope that the fact that many/most Americans support this bill means they don’t really know what is in it. But I fear otherwise.

Bush’s legacy is right here, for later generations to judge him by. He will take his place next to Justice Taney , Senator McCarthy, and Richard Nixon in the halls of infamy and moral decrepitude.

History will not be kind.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

lukewarm

Marty Lederman on the torture bill that seems certain to pass this week:

[T]he really breathtaking subsection is subsection (ii), which would provide that UEC is defined to include any person "who, before, on, or after the date of the enactment of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, has been determined to be an unlawful enemy combatant by a Combatant Status Review Tribunal or another competent tribunal established under the authority of the President or the Secretary of Defense."

Read literally, this means that if the Pentagon says you're an unlawful enemy combatant -- using whatever criteria they wish -- then as far as Congress, and U.S. law, is concerned, you are one, whether or not you have had any connection to "hostilities" at all.

This definition is not limited to Al Qaeda and the Taliban. It's not limited to aliens -- it covers U.S. citizens as well. It's not limited to persons captured or detained overseas. And it is not even limited to the armed conflict against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, authorized by Congress on September 18, 2001. Indeed, on the face of it, it's not even limited to a time of war or armed conflict; it could apply in peacetime.

I’m not a religious man, but please, God, please keep Justice Stevens alive for two more years.

Jack Balkin:
I am puzzled by and ashamed of the Democrats' moral cowardice on this bill. The latest version of the bill blesses detainee abuse and looks the other way on forms of detainee torture; it immunizes terrible acts; it abridges the writ of habeas corpus-- in the last, most egregious draft, it strips the writ for alleged enemy combatants whether proved to be so or not, whether citizens or not, and whether found in the U.S. or overseas.

This bill is simply outrageous. I doubt whether many Democratic Senators or staffs have read the bill or understand what is in it. Instead, they seem to be scrambling over themselves to vote for it out of a fear that the American public will think them weak and soft on terror.

The reason why the Democrats have not been doing very well on these issues, however, is that the public does not believe that they stand for anything other than echoing what the Republicans have been doing with a bit less conviction. If the Republicans are now the Party of Torture, the Democrats are now the Party of "Torture? Yeah, I guess so." Not exactly the moral high ground from which to seek office.

The Democrats may think that if they let this pass, they are guaranteed to pick up more seats in the House and Senate. But they will actually win less seats this way. For they will have proved to the American people that they are spineless and opportunistic-- that, when faced with a genuine choice and a genuine challenge, they can keep neither our country nor our values safe.

The current bill, if passed, will give the Executive far more dictatorial powers to detain, prosecute, judge and punish than it ever enjoyed before. Over the last 48 hours, it has been modified in a hundred different ways to increase executive power at the expense of judicial review, due process, and oversight. And what is more, the bill's most outrageous provisions on torture, definition of enemy combatants, secret procedures, and habeas stripping, are completely unnecessary to keep Americans safe. Rather, they are the work of an Executive branch that has proven itself as untrustworthy as it is greedy: always pushing the legal and constitutional envelope, always seeking more power and less accountability.

If the Democrats do not stand up to the President on this bill, if they refuse to filibuster it or even threaten to filibuster it, they do not deserve to win any additional seats in the House or in the Senate. They will have delivered a grievous blow to our system of checks and balances, stained America's reputation around the world, and allowed an obscenity to disfigure the American system of law and justice. Far worse than a misguided zealot is the moral coward who says nothing and allows that zealotry to do real harm.

There are times for those on the left to criticize Democrats and times to circle the wagons. This is certainly a time to rage against the spineless, sycophantic, morally deficient, purportedly progressive legislators who would vote for this bill.

The Republicans sold their souls long ago for power and a false sense of security. Now the Democrats seem hellbent on collecting their 30 pieces of silver.

"So then, because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth." Rev 3:16

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Shrilliam H. McShrillerton

One libertarian is shrill.

I feel about this torture bill the way I remember feeling about the Iraq invasion. The government is about to do something terrible, and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it except watch in slow motion.

Remember when the U.S. government observed and promoted human rights laws? It is only a memory now.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Bush gets his way on torture

Publius calls the torture fight a Bush win.

The three republican Senators and the President reached a compromise last week on the detainee bill that seems to have formally maintained the language of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions while giving the executive branch leeway to keep torturing detainees if it so chooses. Habeas corpus (the right of a detainee to challenge the legality of his detention) is gone. The whole thing is shadily ambiguous, providing just the right kind of legal grey area in which Addington and Cheney like to operate.

The White House hopes to push this mess of a bill through before the current legislative session ends to get the Democrats on record against it and use it as an election issue against them.

Harry Reid doesn’t seem to understand what is happening.

A handful of principled Republican Senators have forced the White House to back down from the worst elements of its extreme proposal for new interrogation rules,” said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader.

Which is technically true but completely misses the point. One reason the Democrats should not have been sitting out this fight so far (besides not doing the right thing, losing any early possibility to influence the process, and missing out on potential political benefits from standing up to torture) was that they were completely at the mercy of Republican “moderate” hawks who have a near-perfect record of being rolled over by the White House. I didn’t address in my earlier posts the motives or intentions of the Republican 3. They seemed to be acting in good faith to prevent the legalization of torture . . . why else would they cause this intraparty ruckus just before the elections? I thought maybe McCain could see some political gain out of standing up to Bush, and that, having been tortured himself by the Vietnamese, he was actually acting out of principal. The more convincing explanation now is that they opposed the first draft of the bill so they could get the headlines “McCain Opposes Torture”, Bush could claim to have done his utmost to defend the country again, and Democrats would be shut out of the whole process, having ceded their voice in this matter to the “moderate” Republicans. Meanwhile the bill itself is so convoluted and ambiguous that both sides get to claim victory and Washington reporters—who’ve proved time and again their inability to grasp either the legal subtleties or the substance of national security legislation—parrot what the politicians tell them.

Maybe, as a TPM reader speculates, Reid has been keeping the Democrats’ powder dry while allowing the Republicans to make a mess of the bill and fix their positions, waiting to enter the debate until now in order to slow the bill down so it can’t be passed during the current session of Congress. But things look bleak now. I wish I’d seen Feingold, Dean, Reid, Obama, or Clinton up there holding forth against the President on this bill. But they haven’t been (as far as I’ve seen), and I wonder if they ever will.

Again I’ll turn to a conservative pundit to say what no Democratic politician has dared:
Two days after the Senate compromise, it appears pretty clear that few know exactly what it prohibits, allows or changes. Some of this is inevitable. It's a very complicated legal balancing act. But some of it is deliberate: obfuscation as a way to give the executive complete lee-way. Under these circumstances, it seems clear to me that, barring absolute clarity from both sides, this bill should be shelved till the next session. No bill this complex and this unclear and this important should be rushed into law.

I might add that this position, regardless of your take on the underlying issue of torture, is the politically conservative one. The quintessential conservative virtues are not moral certainty and instant legislation but prudence and deliberation, not faith but doubt, not a rush-to-legislate but careful checks and balances. Yes, I know we're told national security is at stake. We always are. But national integrity is also at stake. And that is not something you cram down the Senate's throat in 24-hour sessions, when no one is quite sure what is being made into law. This should be the Democrats' position. It should be the Republicans' position. Why do I fear it won't be?

(Meanwhile, so far not a peep out of the so-called libertarians at Volokh. Pathetic.)

There's lots about this at Balkinization, and more here about why the “interrogation techniques” should simply be called what they are, torture.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

denied

Ezra Klein yesterday on retroactive cancellations of policies by health insurers:

In practice, the scam works like this: Selah Shaeffer, age four, was diagnosed with an aggressive, cancerous tumor in her jaw. The family had been with Blue Cross for about a year, and the bump was ex[a]mined and biopsied after they'd begun insurance. But because it was growing before, Blue Cross cut off reimbursement for surgeries it had already authorized, and is now trying to recover $20,000 from the Shaeffers. Or take the Nazertyans, who had premature twins. They were covered by Blue Shield all throughout, and disclosed all facets of the birth and operations. Blue Shield not only dropped, them, but was trying to get back $98,000 they'd already paid under the rationale that the Nazertyans hadn't disclosed an early miscarriage. After the LA Times reported the st[or]y, Blue Shield called off the debt collectors.

What's so remarkable about all this is what it exposes about how health insurance in this country works: We rely almost exclusively on private insurers whose primary business imperative is not to pay when we get sick. They do that by seeking to deny coverage before the fact, or reject claims afterwards. They pay for platoons of employees who have no job other than scrutiniz[ing] thousands of policies a week to find sufficient cause for cancellation. Say what you will about the inefficiencies of the public sector, but can it really match the ruthlessness and absurdity of insurers spending large amounts of money so they don't have to insure? Is that sort of profit motive really what you want underlying your health care coverage?

Nothing to add here. Seems pretty messed up to me.

WWGD?

What Would Goldwater Do? Asking this question is an, in its own way, admirable way for contemporary moderate conservatives, marginalized of late but now hopefully on the rise, to "get back to the roots" of conservatism in an effort to salvage something from the debacle that is the Republican Party today.

But I have to wonder, WWGD today? At the time of his presidential run in 1964, he was pretty conservative compared to the political mainstream, so much so that many give him credit for jumpstarting the modern conservative movement. But who would he most resemble today if he were still active in politics? Those on the hard right (Allen, Frist, Buchanan) or more moderate conservatives (McCain, Chafee, Lieberman)? In today's political environment, Goldwater would likely have to adapt many of the stances moderates find so laudable merely to have a voice in the party. In another ode to Goldwater, Andrew Sullivan takes this as a given, but doesn't examine the question of whether Goldwater would stand strong or instead modify his positions in the present environment.

At any rate, I think the foolishness of speculating about WWGD today is only slightly more foolish than comparing the political positions of modern conservatives to those of Goldwater which were located in a completely different context. Any rhetorical tactic that is effective at restraining the excesses of the Republican Party from within is probably worth getting behind, but I wonder if this is any more than a tactic.

Romney supports torture

Via Andrew Sullivan, Hotline follows up on a NY Times report that Mitt Romney is "foursquare behind the president" on the torture issue.

I'm glad Romney supports universal health care and all, but this is a bit much.

And I still think the outcome of this debate will be a net political positive for McCain and a net negative for Romney and Bush by 2008.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

what's liberal about the liberal arts?

Some inspirational reading for our comrades in the academy.

(Scroll down to the pdf link at the bottom of the post.)

[Forgot to add the obligatory "via Henry at Crooked Timber" to the post. Henry has mastered the multimedia potential of the medium more than I and has added a frame from the file to his post.]

a problem of will

The NY Times today:

Senior Iraqi and American officials are beginning to question whether Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has the political muscle and decisiveness to hold Iraq together as it hovers on the edge of a full civil war.

Maliki may not be able to manage, but I know who could.

But nobody wants that. There is a problem with expecting someone who has been in office for 4 months in a country that has been "hovering on the edge of a full civil war" for at least that long to have “the political muscle and decisiveness to hold Iraq together.” Especially when that someone replaced as prime minister another someone who was “forced to withdraw his nomination for premiership for the permanent government because of accusations of weak leadership.”

In this situation, strong leadership would certainly be desirable, but I’m not convinced after reading the Times article that it is what is lacking here. Maliki seems to be doing the best he can to manage a fundamentally untenable situation. One might say that constant pressure for results from the Americans and a willingness to shuffle out democratically elected leaders who don’t immediately resolve Iraq’s political problems might be contributing to Maliki’s difficulties more than any supposed weakness of character.

Then again, it could just be that Maliki lacks the will to win . . .

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Day for Darfur in Central Park

 

On Sunday I went to the Save Darfur rally organized by the Save Darfur Coalition, Amnesty International USA, and other groups. It was part of a worldwide effort to call attention to the precarious situation in Darfur and encourage world leaders to pressure the government of Sudan to allow a UN force into Darfur.

Last month, the UN Security Council authorized a peacekeeping force to enter Darfur to enforce the peace agreement signed in May of this year. However, the government of Sudan is not complying with the peace agreement and refuses to allow the UN troops into the region. The African Union force of 7,000 troops that is currently policing the region is set to leave at the end of September. The NY Times says 200,000 have died in the conflict so far; Save Darfur says 400,000. Right now Darfur is on the verge of slipping into chaos.

The rally was held in the East Meadow at Central Park near West 97th Street, also known as the Dustbowl to the frisbee and soccer players who play pick-up games there and kill all the grass. I guessed there were between 10,000 and 20,000 people at the rally, but these things are hard to gauge. The N.Y.P.D. estimated 20,000. There were lots of organized youth groups in matching t-shirts, and probably 80% of the people there were under 25. Many were wearing blue hats or shirts to symbolize the necessity of UN intervention.

 

Citizen Cope, Suzanne Vega, Big & Rich, and OAR played short sets and speakers encouraged the crowd to take action. Speakers included Mira Sorvino, Imam Talib of the Harlem-based Mosque of the Islamic Brotherhood, and Simon Deng, a former slave from Sudan.

Chris Smith, a Republican Congressman from New Jersey, called for the African Union and the Security Council to fulfill their obligations to the people of Darfur and for Bush to appoint a special envoy for Darfur and to work to pass a bill on Darfur currently pending in the House. He said, “With Darfur, we can never say we didn’t know. Indifference, especially now, makes us complicit in genocide.”

Several speakers referenced Bush’s words written in the margins of a report on the Rwandan genocide, “Not on My Watch.” “Mr. President, this is your watch!” yelled David Rubenstein of the Save Darfur Coalition.

Speakers and posters in the crowd called out President al-Bashir of Sudan by name, excoriating him for the deaths for which he is responsible. Gloria White-Hammond, who organized a recent campaign to deliver a million postcards to the White House calling for President Bush to take action, called on China to stop protecting the Sudanese government. Mira Sorvino described in graphic detail the murder and mutilation of individual children in the conflict and wondered why, two years after then-Secretary of State Colin Powell labeled the conflict a genocide, more has not been done to stop the killing. “As long as they’re with us in the War on Terror, they can murder their citizens,” she speculated.

 

Big & Rich, a country music group, sang about Jesus in their first two songs to several thousand secular and Jewish East Coast kids, who they encouraged to “fight for life.” “It’s not a political thing,” said singer Big Kenny (in the picture above), “it’s a human thing.”

I left as OAR covered Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changin’. I have to say the whole thing was kind of amazing. In a time of political polarization, Darfur unites religious conservatives and secular urbanites, the reddest and bluest parts of our country. And while an inexcusable number of people have died while we in the West watched, this level of awareness and mobilization has not occurred with any previous genocide, from Armenia to the Holocaust to Rwanda. Based on what I saw today, I have some hope that western governments will listen to their citizens and respond by pressuring Sudan to stop the killing. And I feel that in this movement are the seeds to a broader foreign policy that can bring Americans together instead of pushing them apart.

 

"Southern Sudanese in Solidarity with Darfur." Posted by Picasa

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Democrats and torture

To echo Yglesias, the Democrats’ recent political tactic on the military tribunals bill may provide short-term benefits but long-term costs to the party. To recap, Bush is pushing for a bill to bring terrorism suspects to trial that would change the way the U.S. applies the applicable provision of the Geneva Conventions to allow U.S. government officials to continue using the interrogation techniques (waterboarding, extreme sleep deprivation, Soviet-style cold cells) they have been using in recent years. After the Supreme Court's decision in Hamdan, the DOJ stopped providing legal cover for the CIA's interrogation techniques. Three Republican senators--McCain, Warner, and Graham--have rejected Bush's proposal, and Colin Powell recently expressed his support for their position.

As far as I can tell, the Democrats as a national party and as individual presidential contenders for 2008 are getting owned by McCain right now on the military tribunals issue. Public opinion has been turning against Bush almost since the 2004 election, but Democratic politicians have been clubbed so many times with national security as a political issue they want to talk about it as little as possible before the election. So they are letting Senators Warner, McCain, and Graham stand up to the President on this (or else they the only ones the media is giving much coverage to), thus ceding to McCain, possibly the highest-visibility politician in the country right now, all the political momentum which will come from Bush’s defeat on this.

McCain can see farther than most and knows that by the time 2008 rolls around, whoever can run most convincingly as not-Bush will be best positioned to win. By taking center stage here, he gets his Bush-battling credentials and strengthens his reputation on national security at the same time. Meanwhile the Democrats are MIA. The point is not that Republicans are divided; we knew that already, although it hadn’t been quite this publicly clear before. The point is who will absorb the political influence that is bleeding from Bush with each passing day. Who will pick up the pieces of the failures of the past four years and build a way forward that addresses Americans’ security concerns without selling our collective soul.

Maybe the Democrats will have to lose another election or three before they get a clue about how this works. They perpetually seem to believe every election will be just like the last one. "We tried to stand up to the administration on foreign policy and that lost us the Senate in 2002 and the presidency in 2004." So they decide not to take a stand against the president’s proposal to change U.S. law to officially sanction torture and instead let prominent Republican hawks do it, one of whom happens to be the front-runner for the Republican nomination in 2008. There's a groundswell of public opinion against Bush and his failed foreign policy, and Democratic politicians are doing everything they can to disassociate themselves from this movement at the critical moment that the post-Bush political order is being constructed.

An opposing argument might be that the Democratic leadership doesn’t have the military credentials of the Republican Three (+ Powell) and that letting the Republicans fight it out among themselves lets the Democrats avoid any political damage they might sustain if they got involved. But why couldn’t Kerry, Wes Clark, or Hillary Clinton draw on their foreign policy experience on this issue? Or you could argue that it’s more important to not do anything to dampen the Democrats’ recent advantage in the polls just before the election, and then start swinging after the Democrats take the House in November. But the White House has set the agenda, and this debate is happening now, and the Democrats avoid it at their peril.

Update: Via Ezra Klein, John McIntyre at RealClearPolitics points out that the Republican base does not want bipartisanship from its leaders right now, and that by opposing the President on this high-profile issue, McCain is busy destroying his chances at obtaining the Republican nomination in 2008. It doesn't matter how much good it will do him in the general election if he never makes it past the primary. This sounds plausible--if the Republican base hasn't deserted Bush by now, it's hard to imagine under what circumstances they would do so. Unless, as a result of Democratic congressional investigations if the Democrats regain the House or an ill-advised invasion of Iran, Bush ventures into NixonLand and McCain steps forward as the man to salvage the hopes of the party. Although it's hard to envision either of those occurrences making the base like Bush less ...

Friday, September 15, 2006

DADT update

The NYTimes looks at the current state of play on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. The official rationale for the policy is that allowing openly gay servicemembers in the military would negatively impact unit morale and cause recruiting problems. But what has happened to the militaries of other countries who have allowed gays to serve openly?

24 foreign armies, most notably those of Britain and Israel, have integrated openly gay people into their ranks with little impact on effectiveness and recruitment. In Britain, where the military was initially forced to accept gay troops by the European Court of Human Rights, gay partners are now afforded full benefits, and the Royal Navy has called on a gay rights group to help recruit gay sailors.

In fact, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell exacerbates existing recruiting problems.
The new debate on “don’t ask, don’t tell” also coincides with multiple deployments that are being required of many American troops by a military that has lowered its standards to allow more high school dropouts and some convicted criminals to enlist.

“Would you rather have a felon than a gay soldier?” said Capt. Scott Stanford, a heterosexual National Guard commander of a headquarters company who returned from Iraq in June. “I wouldn’t.”

Via Yglesias, an article in TNR points out that the Army is still facing severe recruiting problems—it keeps raising the age of enlistment (soon my grandpa will be able to serve again), the percentage of new recruits failing boot camp has been pushed steadily down, “[t]he number of Army recruits who scored below average on its aptitude test doubled in 2005, and the Army has doubled the number of non-high school graduates it can enlist this year. . . . In May . . . the Army signed up an autistic man to become a cavalry scout.”

As a consequence of recruiting problems, often the law is ignored. From the Times piece:
[C]ommanders look the other way when someone is suspected of being gay or even avows it, especially if that service member is valuable. Since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001, discharges of openly gay members have fallen by 40 percent.

So, to sum up, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is morally repugnant, it has no rational policy basis, it’s not being enforced in many cases, and when it is, it’s actively harming military readiness.

Also, not surprisingly given the carnage in the Middle East, the policy is being abused by military members who want to get out of their service commitments.
[T]he policy lets unhappy troops, straight or gay, ditch the military service to which they have committed. About 85 percent of those discharged under the policy had declared a homosexual orientation, according to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a gay rights watchdog; roughly half that number had volunteered the information simply to get out of the military.

“It lets people kind of get out of jail free,” said Aaron Belkin, director of the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military, a research group at the University of California, Santa Barbara, that has sided with the effort to eliminate “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Where have I seen that before . . .

payback from powell

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell sent a letter to Senator John McCain Wednesday arguing against Bush’s proposal to narrow the scope of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions to allow torture of detainees by U.S. personnel. This led the Senate panel considering the issue to break against Bush’s proposal 15-9. The New York Times covered the story:

Mr. Powell, a former four-star Army general who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and had a leadership role in the Persian Gulf war of 1991, said in his letter to Mr. McCain that redefining Common Article 3 would only deepen worldwide doubts about America’s moral stature.

“Furthermore, it would put our own troops at risk,” Mr. Powell said in his letter to Mr. McCain. Critics of the Bush administration approach have argued that, if the United States is seen to be mistreating captives, Americans who are taken prisoner could be subjected to cruelty.

. . .

In 2002, despite his misgivings about the coming war, Mr. Powell argued the Bush administration’s case before the United Nations, asserting that there was strong evidence that the Baghdad regime had deadly unconventional weapons. When those weapons failed to materialize after Mr. Hussein was deposed, Mr. Powell was said to be hurt and angry.

Powell’s performance at the U.N. is still up on the White House website. I guess the administration doesn’t see any reason to take it down, since they’ve never admitted any wrongdoing in the lead-up to war. The headline says it all: “Iraq: Denial and Deception.”

memories of 9/11

It's a few days late, but I thought I'd post my memories of 9/11. I had moved to New York three weeks before to begin law school and I was living in a crappy apartment on the corner of Thompson and Bleecker in lower Manhattan.

On the morning of September 11th, I woke up around 9 and walked 2 blocks down Bleecker to Coles, the NYU gym. The gym is mostly underground, with about a single story's worth of building above ground. It has a roof where students and alumni can play tennis and jog. I liked jogging there because I could avoid the hassles of traffic and pedestrians on the streets. As soon as I got on top of the roof and started running south, I could see that both of the towers of the World Trade Center were on fire.

There had been a lightning storm the night before and I assumed the fires were somehow related to that. It didn't occur to me to wonder why both towers were burning—the likelihood of even one building catching fire from a lightning strike must be quite low, since I've never heard of this happening ever in NYC or anywhere else. I don't know if the fact that I kept on jogging was attributable to morning grogginess, general naivete and immaturity, my marginal powers of observation, sheer incomprehension, or some combination of the above. There were a couple other diehard idiots like myself jogging, but mostly people were standing, watching or filming with handheld cameras. "Silly tourists," I thought, "haven’t they ever seen a building/mountain on fire before?" thinking back to a couple late-summer fires on the dry mountains around Provo, from where I had come to NYC three weeks earlier to start law school. I assumed the buildings had been evacuated before the fires got to that stage, or that people had just not gone in to work yet if there had been a fire the night before.

Both towers were still standing by the time I finished and went downstairs to exit the building. There are TVs in the lounge area near the entrance at Coles, and I saw the burning towers on the news and went to watch. A girl standing next to me said something like, "Those f#$%ers, I can't believe this." "What do you mean?" I asked. And she said, "They hit them on purpose." I watched for another minute, then went outside to take another look. The streets were crowded with people, many of whom were gathered in the middle of the intersection of Bleecker and Mercer, staring southward, oblivious to traffic. They were upset, anxious, and confused, talking in worried voices. I walked to where they were and looked back. Only one tower was left.

I thought about this as I walked home. How could the building collapse if it had only been on fire near the top? How could a small aircraft do that kind of damage to such a large building? Was there a missile or something? It didn't make any sense. I didn't know what the hell was going on.

People were gathered again where Bleecker crosses LaGuardia. I looked downtown as I passed, then to Thompson and my apartment. My roommate was out of town at the time, later I would sit in his room, glued to the TV for days while he waited in Miami to take a bus back to New York. I tried calling home but couldn't get through. I didn't really have anyone to call in New York yet, but I could tell the phones were useless. I left the windows open so I could hear what was going on in the street. After a little while I heard yells from outside and rushed to the window just in time to see the second tower collapsing in a cloud of dust. I think there was a crashing sound, but I don't really remember since I’ve seen it now on TV so many times.

It occurred to me that my family might be worried, even though I lived about a mile and a half from the towers. I went to the computer lab at the law school and emailed family and friends to let everyone know I was ok. Then I went upstairs to my torts classroom, unsure whether we would have class that day as scheduled at 10:40. Umm, no.

I went back to the apartment to watch the news some more. I don't remember much about the coverage at that point, but at some point a newscaster must have mentioned that people were donating blood at local hospitals. I decided that sounded better than sitting in my apartment feeling helpless. Newspeople were speculating that there would be a mass of wounded people hitting the hospitals soon. I walked over to St. Vincent's Hospital on 7th Avenue and Greenwich, only to find that they had all the donors they needed. I walked uptown to the NYU Medical Center on East 32nd Street and 1st Avenue. On my way up I finally got through to my mom and let her know I was fine. There was no need for donors at NYU either. As it turned out, there were very few wounded—most people in the buildings either made it out ok or were killed.

I have no memory of the rest of the day. I think I watched TV all that day and for the next few days until my roommate got back. I felt a real affinity for Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings—they were trying to make some sense of what had happened and was happening, and I latched on to their authority and compassion. I cried when I saw the vigils broadcast from Moscow, Sydney, London, and elsewhere. I felt alone, but not, somehow, since there was such a feeling of unity and common purpose that was so obvious in the responses from around the world. I saw the footage of some Palestinians celebrating. At first I thought there must be some mistake—how could anyone celebrate such a thing?

At some point either that day or in the ensuing days, they cordoned off everything below 14th Street to non-residents. There were no cars on the streets. They evacuated people below Houston, which was a block south of my apartment. There was a heavy, stinky smoke in the air for days. I shut the windows but it still seeped in. When the trains started up again, I went to Brooklyn to visit a friend I had met a week or two before and saw the smoke rising from Ground Zero into the blue sky. I went to Washington Square at night to look at the candlelit pictures and messages people had put on the chain link fences surrounding the arch, which was under renovation. There were pictures of missing people posted all over, like pictures people put up if a pet runs away, except these were for people. Desperate pleas, “Have you seen _________, please call 917-________,” over pictures of attractive, smiling young women and men. I thought there must be some chance of finding these people, somehow—why else would people put up so many flyers, hundreds of different ones? Most of them came down in the next week or so as people realized they weren’t going to pull anyone else out of the rubble, but some stayed up for weeks.

A few nights after 9/11, I was asleep in bed sometime between 2 and 4 a.m. when something woke me up. I gradually realized there was yelling going on outside my second-story window on Thompson Street. It got louder and I woke up more fully and looked outside just in time to see a firefighter take a swing at a man on the street below. There was a firetruck parked in the middle of the road, and one or two other firefighters surrounding the man. One of the other firefighters managed to pull off the attacking firefighter and break up the fight. They left after awhile and I went back to sleep. I’ll always wonder why the firefighter punched the guy. The firehouse on W. 3rd a couple blocks away had flowers outside it and pictures of the men who had died. I don’t know whether the firefighters on the street were from that firehouse, but I imagine they were pretty stressed out and sad after everything they’d been through.

I worried about another attack, but I thought statistically the chances I would die were slim. Anything seemed possible since what had happened had been so inconceivable. In the weeks after 9/11, a researcher/pundit spoke at the law school about further possible attacks. It was in the middle of the anthrax scare, and he told us about the Cipro he had bought for his children. He talked about how another attack, correctly placed, could cripple the transportation network that brought food into Manhattan. There would be chaos and a complete breakdown of society. People wouldn’t be able to get out, and deaths could be in the tens of thousands or higher. It sounded plausible to me at the time, but I never considered leaving the city. I didn’t feel particularly vulnerable, even living in lower Manhattan. I had lived abroad and I knew how powerful we were relative to other countries. We had the strength and resources to weather a crisis like this and to protect ourselves in the future. I worried more about what we might do to others.

I remember a feeling of intense rage when it became clear we were going to invade Afghanistan. “If we kill even one innocent person there because of this, then we’re no better than the terrorists,” I thought. Now, after absorbing the general consensus in the U.S. that invading Afghanistan was the right thing to do, I don’t feel so sure. But is that consensus justified? Many of the people we killed there were innocent, and they are certainly dead now. Invading Iraq was not justified, and now there are at least 41,000 dead civilians there according to iraqbodycount.net, probably many more given the methodology of the project. In short, some of my worst fears about our response to 9/11 have already been realized; I’m afraid of what may come next.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

miasma of insanity

New, shriller Yglesias, now untethered from the Prospect. Look elsewhere for your sensible liberalism.

[T]hink about the quality -- intellectual and moral -- of the men and women who would look at the past several years of American and world history and decide that an outrageous and dishonest report on Iranian nuclear capacities was exactly the sort of thing the US congress should spend its time working on. Simply put, there's a miasma of insanity, dishonesty, and hubris floating around the circles they operate in that makes them grossly unfit to govern.

Friday, September 01, 2006

conrad burns is a funny man

“I can self-destruct in one sentence,” Mr. Burns, a former livestock auctioneer, recently told supporters. “Sometimes in one word.”

Impressive. Would that that were literally true.