Wednesday, January 31, 2007


Hilzoy has for us today an unpleasant reminder that the people running our executive branch are not decent people. A decent human being would not do these things to another human being.

But then a decent public would not sit by and allow these things to happen, or cheer them on.

Via Jim Henley, the mysterious IOZ has some thoughts about American exceptionalism.

The War in Iraq is not an unprecedented foreign policy disaster. It's a disaster with a distinct, observable lineage. The Bush administration is not unprecedented. Its precedents are every other presidency in the years since World War II, and several, at least, before. At the very root of the error is unthinking acceptance of the P.T. Barnum-esque premise of America as "The Greatest and Most Prosperous Nation in the World," a chestunt roasted equally by both parties. That phrase, and those like it, is shorthand for a religious--I mean that as a pejorative--belief that the United States of America, being something of a civilizational (minimum: civic, political) apotheosis has an affirmative commission to interfere in the internal developments of other nations for whatever reason we see fit. The most disastrous consequence of that belief from a purely practical standpoint is that it has decoupled our plain imperialism from plain acknowledgement that imperialism is our project. Because our moral self-illusion precludes us from really identifying what it is we seek when we send off the ships and airplanes and infantry, we make colonial policy by circumlocution and euphemism, even at the very highest levels. "The forward agenda of freedom" isn't only a phrase for public consumption. Meaningless bromides are clearly just as much the lingua franca of the governing class. The far more disastrous consequence from a human perspective is that because we believe our bromides, believe in our goodness, and believe in the legitimacy of our moral pretensions, we feel as justified as any other zealot in raining blood and fire on non-belieivers, since we believe that a failure to convert is spiritual doom anyway.

That sort of exceptionalism lead us into a militarized national security state, a garrison economy, a many-trillion-dollar military complex, a series of fruitless border skirmishes with the Soviet Union that, in their worst instance, killed millions of Vietnamese. It led to the creation of a vast nuclear arsenal which we alone reserve the right to use, should it become "necessary." It led to a quarter-century of America-funded, America-supported massacres in Latin America. (These things occured under Democrats as much as under Republicans.) It lead to the modern surveillance state, the gradual slide toward national identification, the imprisonment of two million Americans, the creation of a vast intelligence apparatus with no meaningful Congressional oversight and secret budgts. It lead to our monstrous interventionist policies in the Middle East. It lead to Bill Clinton's "Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act," which lead to the Patriot Act. It lead to the articulated Clinton/Gore policy of "regime change"--a Democratic euphemism. The current contention that "A Gore presidency wouldn't have taken us to war in Iraq" is not only fanciful, ahistorical projection, it's also patently false in that we were already at war with Iraq. We were bombing the country almost daily through the final years of the Clinton administration, and Al Gore was one of the staunchest Iraq hawks in the government. It was a low-intensity conflict that we simply chose to ignore domestically under the euphemistic guise of "no-fly zones" and "economic sanctions." In Susan Sontag's famously provocative post-9/11 essay, she asked, "How many Americans are aware of our ongoing bombardment of Iraq?" You know the answer.

While I mostly agree, clearly a low-intensity war with Iraq was better than the carnage we unleashed. The differences between Gore and Bush are not trivial.

The project of altering the fundamental perceptions and premises underlying the American popular consciousness is a long one. Possibly it is futile. But the idea that the American electorate--the American mind, if such a thing exists--is currently capable of supporting or sustaining meaningful, essential, fundamental change is a fantasy and nothing more. The nature of our problems and the scope of our wrongdoing is entirely beyond the farthest boundaries of ordinary discussion in America today. The first step toward change is to expand the capacity of Americans to imagine something different. Slow, quixotic, and likely hopeless. But that is the task at hand.

Yes, much of our public discourse is based on false assumptions and is guided by a flawed methodology. The herd mentality usually prevails, and fear and ignorance frame our collective view of the world. But there are solutions, and I wonder what IOZ has in mind for reaching them. I’ve just stumbled onto this blog today and can’t tell whether it’s a libertarian or Chomskyite perspective, or something else, but I find myself largely agreeing with much of this post, at least. I’d like to hear more.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

empire state

I just realized tonight for the first time that we can see the Empire State Building from our apartment. If you stand in the kitchen just right and look out the living room window, you can see it peeking out from behind a distant apartment building. Spectacular views of the city! That's got to be worth something.

Back to my taxes . . .

Oh, and I liked this from the Horse's Mouth:

Barack Obama just introduced legislation calling for all combat brigades to be withdrawn from Iraq by March 2008.
He talks purdy. Complete sentences and all. What would that be like in a president . . . it's been so long, I've almost forgotten.

Monday, January 29, 2007

tax time!

I’ve been too excited filling out my 1040 to post much of anything tonight. Refund for me!!

At the risk of supremely irresponsible speculation—rather, with the explicit goal of irresponsible speculation way too early to possibly be accurate, I’ll just note that Senator Brownback’s chances in the Republican primary are looking pretty good right now. And Hagel’s, too, if the base finally decides to turn against Bush on Iraq. But even if they do, and end up embracing the substance of Hagel’s Iraq position, they may never forgive him for disagreeing with the President so early and so vocally. So my money’s on Brownback. Until I change my mind, probably next week.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

oops, our bad

Just as the U.S. government outsources torture to shady regimes, I’m outsourcing this post to Hilzoy:

Today, the Canadian Prime Minister apologized to Maher Arar:

"Prime Minister Stephen Harper formally apologized Friday to Maher Arar for the torture he suffered in a Syrian prison and said the government would pay him and his family $10.5-million, plus legal fees, to compensate them for the "terrible ordeal."

"On behalf of the government of Canada, I wish to apologize to you ... and your family for any role that Canadian officials may have played in the terrible ordeal that all of you experienced in 2002-2003," Mr. Harper said in a letter to Mr. Arar.

Hilzoy determines that Canada’s culpability in this affair is based on the fact that they (1) provided bogus information to the U.S. government that Arar was a security threat and then (2) did not pressure the U.S. government to get him released as firmly as they could have. After the Canadian government learned of its error, it conducted an exhaustive investigation into Canada's role in the matter which was capped by a personal apology from the leader of the country and an award of $10.5 million dollars to compensate Arar for his suffering.

Hilzoy continues:

We, by contrast, actually detained him and shipped him off to Syria, where he was kept in a three foot by six foot underground cell and tortured for ten months. Unlike the Canadian government, we have not initiated an investigation of how we ended up shipping an innocent engineer off to be tortured in Syria. To my knowledge, no one has resigned. We have not apologized, nor have we made any effort at all to help Mr. Arar put his life back together after we broke it apart.

. . .

Here's what Alberto Gonzales had to say after the Canadian government's report appeared:

. . .

Some people have characterized his removal as a rendition. That is not what happened here. It was a deportation. And even if it were a rendition, we understand as a government what our obligations are with respect to anyone who is rendered by this government to another country, and that is that we seek to satisfy ourselves that they will not be tortured. And we do that in every case. And if in fact he had been rendered to Syria, we would have sought those same kind of assurances, as we do in every case.

So, in other words, we didn’t formally send him to Syria for the explicit purpose of having information extracted from him by torture, information which the Syrian government (our sworn enemies on Mondays, Wednesdays, and every other Friday) would then relay back to us (and we would do what with, exactly? . . . since we trust Syria so completely). No, we simply deported him like we would deport any Mexican who overstayed his visa or snuck over the border, but if he just happened to fall into the hands of the Syrian government, and just happened to be brutally tortured for 10 months, well then, that certainly wasn’t something we had anything to do with.

It strikes me that an easy way to deny conducting extraordinary renditions is to use the ample discretion available in the immigration system to deport someone to a country where they are likely to be tortured, ignoring our obligations under the Convention Against Torture and other treaties. The effect is the same as a formal rendition, but you avoid the bad press surrounding the term “rendition” and you don’t have to go through the process of procuring assurances from the government to which you are sending the person that they will not torture him. Since the immigration "judges" are part of the executive branch anyway, it's not that hard to get away with.

Hilzoy isn’t happy.

Think about this. We kidnap one of their citizens and send him off to be tortured. We refuse to admit that there was anything wrong with what we did. We won't allow him to enter the US or to fly over it, and we won't clear his name. When Canada rather understandably protests, some genius in Washington orders our ambassador to be gratuitously rude.

It's a wonder we have any allies left at this point.

Here's one Canadian newspaper's response:

"The Americans seem to be saying they will ban whomever they like and they won't give reasons, and that they will deport people to be tortured if that's what they feel like doing. Simultaneously, they seem to be saying Canada must share every bit of information it has about anyone who proposes to cross the border.

Well, Canada doesn't have to hand over our information if the U.S. doesn't take our concerns seriously.

That is why Harper should tell U.S. President George Bush that this lopsided take on North American security does not work for us.

In addition, the parliamentary committees that oversee Canada-U.S. security information sharing should review the entire range of co-operation in this area.

Both countries undeniably have an interest in working together to thwart terror. But if the Americans are going to be heavy-handed, we need to be correspondingly cautious."

Update: John Dean, Nixon's former counsel, is dismayed by Gonzales's recent testimony before Congress:

In the history of U.S. Attorney Generals, Alberto Gonzales is constantly reaching for new lows. So dubious is his testimony that he is not afforded the courtesy given most cabinet officers when appearing on Capitol Hill: Congress insists he testify under oath. Even under oath, Gonzales's purported understanding of the Constitution is historically and legally inaccurate, far beyond the bounds of partisan interpretation.

No wonder that with each appearance he makes on Capitol Hill, Gonzales increases his standing as one of the least respected Attorney Generals ever, in the eyes of both Congressional cognoscenti and the legal community.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

through the looking glass

The NY Times reports on questionable tactics used by the DOJ in defending against civil suits brought against the government for its domestic spying program:

The Bush administration has employed extraordinary secrecy in defending the National Security Agency’s highly classified domestic surveillance program from civil lawsuits. Plaintiffs and judges’ clerks cannot see its secret filings. Judges have to make appointments to review them and are not allowed to keep copies.

Judges have even been instructed to use computers provided by the Justice Department to compose their decisions.

. . .

In ordinary civil suits, the parties’ submissions are sent to their adversaries and are available to the public in open court files. But in several cases challenging the eavesdropping, Justice Department lawyers have been submitting legal papers not by filing them in court but by placing them in a room at the department. They have filed papers, in other words, with themselves.

. . .

Soon after one suit challenging the program was filed last year in Oregon, Justice Department lawyers threatened to seize an exhibit from the court file.

This month, in the same case, the department sought to inspect and delete files from the computers on which lawyers for the plaintiffs had prepared their legal filings.

The tactics, said a lawyer in the Oregon case, Jon B. Eisenberg, prompted him to conduct unusual research.

“Sometime during all of this,” Mr. Eisenberg said, “I went on Amazon and ordered a copy of Kafka’s ‘The Trial,’ because I needed a refresher course in bizarre legal procedures.”

A federal district judge in the case, Garr M. King, invoked another book after a government lawyer refused to disclose whether he had a certain security clearance, saying information about the clearance was itself classified.

“Frankly, your response,” Judge King said, “is kind of an Alice in Wonderland response.”

The DOJ’s actions in these cases are representative of the administration’s disdain for the rule of law. The DOJ is led by a man who thinks the right of habeas corpus is dispensable and sees little need for involvement by the other two branches of government in matters of national security.

In trying to subvert normal judicial processes in these cases, the DOJ seems to be driven more by political considerations than those of national security.

In August 2004, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which was investigating an Oregon charity, al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, inadvertently provided a copy of a classified document to a foundation lawyer, Lynne Bernabei.

That document indicated, according to court filings, that the government monitored communications between officers of the charity and two of its lawyers without a warrant in spring 2004.

“If I gave you this document today and you put it on the front page of The New York Times, it would not threaten national security,” Mr. Eisenberg, a lawyer for the foundation, said. “There is only one thing about it that’s explosive, and that’s the fact that our clients were wiretapped.”

To the administration, domestic politics are a key element of any national security strategy, since the way they see it, if they are not in charge, we’ll all be killed in our sleep by the Islamofascists. But as Tim at Balloon Juice points out, by eliminating meaningful oversight by the other branches of government, the executive branch and the GOP have (a) greatly increased the likelihood of failure of their preferred policies and (b) tied those failed policies tightly around their own necks in the eyes of voters.

What baffles me is that once the GOP owned the war lock stock and barrel, someone (say, Pat Roberts) thought it would be a good idea to kill off the faintest hint of oversight. In free market terms that’s the same as a business sinking its resources and reputation into a project and then taking off to Maui for a few months while the contractor does his thing unsupervised. That suggests an awful lot of confidence in the contractor, n’est-ce pas? It suggests that Republicans considered their leader practically infallible, incapable of the quotidian failures that characterize ordinary humans, not unlike the leader cult barbs (Dear Leader etc) half-jokingly brought up by lefties like me. After all, assuming that the GOP Congress were rational beings with some vestigial interest in their political future, what other explanation makes any sense?

In the end, strongarm tactics like those used by the DOJ are counterproductive and self-defeating. But we may have to wait for new leadership in the White House and in the AG’s office to repair the damage that has been done by the current occupants.

Friday, January 26, 2007

getting things done

Another pearl from Ezra Klein:

It's far easier to take this country to war then to significantly raise its minimum wage, or reform its tax code, or fix its health system. The President, particularly in recent years, can conduct military actions without anything approaching oversight or institutional opposition. Even minor social policy changes, conversely, need a majority in the House, 60 votes in the Senate, and a favorably inclined executive.

This is a foolish way to run a country and hopefully the days of unrestrained executive power abroad are numbered.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

music to my ears

[O]n domestic policy, Pelosi — not Bush — is now arguably the nation's most powerful force.

Maybe there is a god after all.

schizophrenic immigration policy

Immigration is a new front in the culture wars. The issue is heating up and it’s unclear to me how it will be resolved. Over the past year, as the issue gained more exposure, I feel that anti-immigrant sentiment has become more entrenched among many Americans. Lou Dobbs and Glenn Beck hammer away at it on CNN almost every day—meanwhile I’m not aware of comparable voices on the left calling for comprehensive immigration reform, at least in English. You’ve got Spanish-language radio probably performing a similar function as talk radio does for anti-immigrant groups—rallying the troops with impassioned rhetoric. But you don’t have Keith Olbermann or Atrios talking about it every day like they do about Iraq.

What we do have is a fairly broad coalition in the Senate supporting comprehensive immigration reform. This coalition roughly tracks elite consensus on the topic. Business supports comprehensive reform, and most journalists and pundits probably view immigration favorably through an economic and cosmopolitan frame that much of the public does not share. So while Beck, Dobbs, and the talk show hosts rail against illegal immigration, the levers of power quietly move to maintain the flow of immigrants into the country.

But the Bush administration is not impervious to public opinion. So that’s why Bush can call for a guest worker program in the SOTU while simultaneously cracking down on illegal immigrants through Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE), a branch of the Department of Homeland Security.

From ImmigrationProf Blog:

In the past two weeks, ICE authorities have posed as police officers and going door-to-door in neighborhoods searching for people, or standing outside grocery stores and arresting residents who cannot provide documentation of legal residency. According to ICE out of 119 detainees in Contra Costa County, 94 were “encountered in the process”, meaning they had no deportation orders.

This is part of a broader effort that began last summer in response to the backlash against the mass pro-immigrant marches last spring. From the LA Times:

By today, when federal immigration officials announced the results of the sweep, 338 illegal immigrants had been arrested at their homes in Ventura, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside and Los Angeles counties. Another 423 were taken into federal custody at county jails, said Virginia Kice, spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The Associated Press rode along on the first day of the secret sweeps, which began Jan. 17. Those arrested were from 14 countries, including Mexico, Honduras, Ukraine, India, Japan, Poland, and Trinidad. Of the 761 people arrested, more than 450 have already been deported, Kice said today.

The raids were a major push within "Operation Return to Sender," a crackdown that has resulted in 13,000 arrests nationwide since June. Immigration officials have also identified 3,000 inmates in state and local jails who will be deported.

The operation targets those illegal immigrants who hide after skipping their voluntary deportation proceedings and criminals who have re-entered the United States after being previously deported for crimes in the U.S.

It's an uphill battle. Despite ongoing efforts, officials estimate that about 600,000 illegal immigrants who have ignored deportation orders are still at large, Kice said.

. . .

The two dozen men -- and one woman -- brought in from other raids now sit on wooden benches, clutching paper bags filled with their personal belongings. ICE officers wind through the room interviewing them in Spanish and helping them fill out forms.

One by one, the immigrants are taken for mug shots and fingerprints. Some will be charged with illegal re-entry to the United States after felony deportation -- a federal crime than can carry up to 20 years in prison. Others, first-time illegal immigrants with no other criminal record, will be processed and deported within days.

Adan Garcia, a 29-year-old dishwasher with a wife and two young boys in Honduras, considers himself lucky to be deported and not charged with a crime. He says he won't be back to the United States -- at least not illegally.

"I came to this country to work, not harm anyone, and not expecting what happened this morning at 5 a.m.," said Garcia, who was taken into custody at the second house. "It wasn't supposed to be this way."

He most likely won’t be back in this country legally, as it’s very difficult to come in legally once you’ve been deported.

Armando Navarro, a professor and pro-immigrant activist, is glum:

"The anti-immigrant climate keeps growing and will grow anticipating the president's immigration reform. Anti-immigrant groups feel more threatened now that there is a Democratic Congress backing the president's plans for immigration reform."

A more aggressive ICE could change a lot of things about how the government interacts with the public and what the role of the government is. Immigrants already avoid the police and most government services out of fear of deportation. This creates a sphere of lawlessness in which crime can flourish. The consequences for the immigrant communities and the larger communities they inhabit can be dire. Stepped-up enforcement by ICE has already disrupted businesses in the West dependent on immigrant labor, like agriculture and manufacturing. Pushing illegal immigrants further into the shadows will exacerbate these problems.

The strategy may also push more immigrants toward urban areas where they are already concentrated and have less to fear from the feds. Currently, in Sanctuary Cities like New York, city officials are prohibited from inquiring about a person’s immigration status in non-criminal matters, and cannot divulge a person's immigration status to the federal government. This two-tier system is not sustainable.

Meanwhile, recent anti-immigrant fervor and five years of the War on Terror has brought xenophobia to new highs.

Recently three Palestinian students were attacked by members of the football team at a Quaker college in North Carolina. A racist assault perpetrated by Quakers! This does not bode well for a peaceful resolution to the immigration debate.

The pessimistic view: We are looking at a Children of Men scenario if this process accelerates, with an impoverished underclass relegated to certain lawless areas while the middle-class majority lives in fear behind fences and riot police.

The optimistic view: The Sanctuary Cities provide a model of how, somewhat counterintuitively, with less strict immigration enforcement, rule of law in an area actually improves. New York City has one of the largest immigrant communities in the country which ICE is relatively unable to penetrate, and it's also one of the safest large cities in the country. And while we have a long history of racism and nativism in the U.S., we’ve also been relatively successful at assimilating past hated groups into the mainstream. These established groups in turn join in on hating on new groups. One would hope we’ll eventually run out of new groups to hate. Or maybe we’ll discover life in space and the human race will finally be united.


Hagel and McCain are NOT moderates in any meaningful sense. They both voted yesterday to eliminate the federal minimum wage.

(Bob Geiger via Atrios)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

the myth of justice

For some people, justice in our country is a fantasy. From the NY Times today:

Roy Brown, who spent 15 years in prison on a murder conviction and uncovered evidence while there that linked another man to the crime, was released from prison on Tuesday after DNA tests on the other man’s exhumed body matched saliva on a nightshirt at the crime scene.

. . .

“Changes have got to be made, man,” Mr. Brown said later at a lawyer’s office across the street, answering questions in a monotone as he rested awkwardly in a black swivel chair. “They say the wheels of justice move slowly, but you know what? The wheels of justice are flat.”

This on the heels of another exoneration in Dallas last week. Texas, our Texas. All hail the mighty state.

These are the stories that get told, but for every one of these, there are many that never see the light of day. It's not really a priority for most people, who really couldn't care less who goes to jail as long as someone gets punished for the crime.


Matt Yglesias finds the best response yet to the SOTU. At its base, the situation we're in is simple enough for a 4-year-old to understand.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

DHS rethinks "material support" laws

The Department of Homeland Security recently announced a policy change to permit certain immigrants to become asylees or refugees who were previously prohibited from doing so under national security laws on the grounds that they had provided material support to terrorist groups abroad. The laws had the perverse effect of prohibiting many victims of terrorist groups from seeking refuge in the U.S. For instance, if a victim had been forced under threat of death to feed or shelter guerillas, she could for that reason be denied asylum, detained, and deported back to her home country.

The exemption applies to material support provided to specific resistance groups operating in Myanmar, Tibet, and Cuba. In addition, Secretary Michael Chertoff will exercise discretion in allowing asylum applications from people who (1) have provided material support under duress and(/or) (2) who do not represent a public safety or national security risk to the U.S. (It’s not clear from Secretary Chertoff’s statement whether applicants must meet both conditions or only one to qualify for the exemption.

See here for more.

This is a promising development, and is the result of lobbying efforts by a broad range of religious and human rights groups. But limiting the scope of the exemption to three countries plus those whom DHS decides merit it strikes me as a potentially incomplete solution. As always with this administration, the devil is in the details of implementation. But this is certainly a step in the right direction.

Also encouraging was Bush’s continued push for comprehensive immigration reform in tonight’s State of the Union address.

Immigration advocates think this is the year to make it happen. I hope so.

Monday, January 22, 2007

pre-SOTU sentiment

Dan Drezner has a fairly sincere walkback of his support for the Iraq war, in the process even apologizing to Al Gore.

Meanwhile, for John Cole, Bush changed everything, not 9/11.

The incompetence, the deceit, the disdain for the law, the pandering to the religious nuts, and the fact that Bush diehards continue to swallow everything these losers throw at them has had a far greater impact on my life and my politics than 9/11.

And Jim Henley applies Hayek to Iraq:

The article is another angle on “the knowledge problem,” something I’ve talked about since before the invasion phase of our long war with Iraq began. Applied Hayek. Society works by widely distributed information invisible to any central authority. The necessary dispersal of information severely limits the constructive coordination of society by a central authority. What’s more, attempts to centralize social direction destroy information they would require to work. Hayek explained that this was true for economic central planning, nationalized means of production. But the same phenomenon applies to transformative foreign intervention.

As we say on the internet, we’ve been over this. The only Americans who move among Iraqis are heavily armed, heavily armored, traveling in packs, ignorant of the local language. The conditions in which they contact Iraqis severely limit the kinds of things they can learn from the meetings.

I’m told these men supported Bush at one point. It seems there are not too many libertarians among the 28% who still think he’s doing a good job. (via Atrios)

Sunday, January 21, 2007

never admitted--so what?

From the NY Times:

During the past two years, when Brian T. Valery was representing a Stamford drug company in connection with product liability lawsuits involving the painkiller OxyContin, William E. McGrath Jr., a lawyer for one of the plaintiffs, found Mr. Valery “unduly aggressive” but never questioned his abilities.

In another case, Steven Maass, who hired Mr. Valery’s former law firm, Anderson Kill & Olick, after Mr. Maass’s electronic trading business was destroyed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, thought Mr. Valery unimpressive but chalked it up to inexperience.

“All first- and second-year attorneys are pretty terrible,” Mr. Maass wrote in a recent exchange of e-mail messages.

But it turned out that Mr. Valery, who billed roughly $300 an hour as he deposed insurance executives and coordinated the testimony of two expert witnesses from Harvard Law School, had never actually been admitted to the bar. Or, for that matter, attended law school, something that eluded his colleagues at Anderson Kill, one of Manhattan’s white-shoe law firms, not to mention the editors of journals for which he co-wrote articles on environmental law and property insurance.

. . .

In October, the firm alerted authorities in Connecticut to the misconduct, leading to Mr. Valery’s disbarment last month. Connecticut authorities debated what Mr. Dubois called the “metaphysical question” of whether they could even disbar someone who was never a lawyer and had only temporary privileges to practice in the state. They decided they could, and should, to keep other states from issuing privileges based on the faulty Connecticut credentials.

Those who monitor the legal profession say it is difficult to defend against an impostor like Mr. Valery, who appears to have lied about his education and experience through a decade of work at the firm since he began as a paralegal in 1996. Anderson Kill partners say they blame themselves for treating Mr. Valery as a “trusted employee” and for failing to corroborate what he told them.

To me, this brouhaha just highlights the silliness of the legal profession. If this guy worked as a paralegal for 10 years, he was almost certainly more qualified to do what he was doing than any first or second year associate would have been. In many cases, law school only marginally prepares a person for what they will actually do at a firm. But someone who goes to law school is endowed with a magical quality that enables them to act as a “lawyer,” doing the same things many paralegals do but getting paid more.

More of this silliness is evident when you consider that most judges have people fresh out of law school—many of them not even admitted to the bar yet—write the bulk of their opinions who get no credit or are held accountable in any way. This includes Supreme Court justices.

Lawyers who were admitted to the bar have screwed things up much worse than this imposter ever did. Much of the legal profession rests on the fiction that you need to go to law school to do legal work. This allows lawyers to maintain high barriers to entry to the profession and charge exorbitant fees. It’s a government-sanctioned monopoly that often serves clients poorly. I think some sort of deregulation is in order.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

America in protest

Todd Gitlin weighs in from Sundance on a movie about the Chicago protests of 1968:

In Park City, Utah, an audience of some 1500 cheered. That was Sundance's third sold-out auditorium in a row for Chicago 10, which opened the festival out here where the crisp air ought to concentrate the mind. This morning, the Salt Lake Tribune fronted this: "'I made the movie because it was the kind of movie I wanted to go see, to mobilize the youth of this country to get out there and stop this f---ing war,' yelled filmmaker Brett Morgen."

One thing the frigid air ought to concentrate the mind on is that a majority of the people in 1968 who watched the awful Chicago riot coverage in their living rooms sided with the police who were smashing the demonstrators' heads.

But you won't learn this from the film. Nor will you learn that a bit more than two months after these stirring events, the American electorate went to the polls and chose Richard Nixon president of the United States--and he proceeded to wage that horrible war in and on Vietnam for several years, and millions of casualties, more.

It's the black magic of movies--your viscera get a workout because emotion lacks consequence. You watch the streets fill up with angry, brave, sometimes funny, sometimes creative, sometimes merely provocative crowds (and the agents provocateurs among them, well represented in Morgen's selections from the trial transcripts) without being invited to reflect on how wild confrontations backfire.

As the American public was turning against the Vietnam war, it was also revolted by the antiwar movement. And the public's acrimonious turn not only helped Richard Nixon reap the whirlwind, it helped the right win the post-war recriminations...whereupon you can flash forward to George W. Bush and his awful, unending, crackpot war.

That’s quite a fast forward. In it, you might have missed the 20 years or so in which we didn’t start any wars, and the ten years in which we waged a couple of wars that had widespread international support. That’s nothing to snort at, given our record during the past 5 years.

The reason I'm taking your time for this stroll down memory lane, in case you were wondering, is that today's antiwar movement is about to accelerate. The discipline that kept it brilliantly focused on defeating the war party in '04 and '06 finally paid off in the Democratic Congress that is just beginning to strut its stuff. It would not at all be surprising if 2007 turned out to be a big year for antiwar demonstrations. The focus will be off Congress and onto the streets. I would guess that the January 27 march in Washington will be big.

The netroots have been much savvier, if less colorful, than the '68ers. They are not inviting a backlash. Those who go to the streets now ought to tread just that carefully, too.

An objection to Gitlin’s warning: the antiwar protests in 2003 had this in common with MLK’s marches: they were nonviolent. Mainstream America in the ‘60s was unsettled by many things about the protesters then, one of which was their sometimes violent methods. From what I’ve seen, violent protests of the kind seen at Seattle in 1999 have been absent in today’s antiwar movement. The marchers I saw in 2003 were boomers with families, professionals, veterans, and yes, students as well. They looked like people you’d see on the subway—a pretty good cross-section of middle-class New York City. I don’t see this crowd clashing in the streets with police and raising fears of the dissolution of society.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Children of Men

A couple of initial reactions:

--I did not like Julianne Moore in The Vertical Hour, and this movie confirmed my opinion.

--Having a gun was no guarantee of safety; in fact, the reverse seemed to be true.

--The “post-apocalyptic” vision of the world portrayed in the movie is currently a reality in many parts of the world. Haiti, Darfur, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Palestine, Somalia. Except in the world we live in, the walls and fences keeping poverty and violence out are not visible in daily life and it’s easier to forget that bad things are happening now. For instance, Rwanda and Srebrenica are recent examples of situations which were much worse than those depicted in the film.

--It was riveting.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Haitian blues

Haiti is on the doorstep of the U.S. and is one of the most messed-up countries in the world.

Haiti was judged by Transparency International as the most corrupt country in the world in 2006. It is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and has one of the highest levels of poverty outside of sub-Saharan Africa. Armed gangs run the country. Politically-motivated killings are often indistinguishable from organized crime or random violence. Recently, vigilante killings have emerged as a response to the lack of government-enforced security. This has been a phenomenon seen in troubled parts of Latin America and often leads to serious human rights abuses. Waves of refugees have periodically washed onto U.S. shores since the fall of Baby Doc Duvalier in 1986. The U.S. has a long history of involvement in Haitian politics, and invaded the country a couple times in the 20th Century. Some less savory characters in Haitian politics have found their way onto the CIA’s payroll.

But since Haiti is poor and black, and since Haitian communities in the U.S. have not managed to accumulate political clout the way some other immigrant communities have, Haitian refugees and asylum-seekers are routinely deported back into the maelstrom to fend for themselves.

Some Haitian-Americans have lived their entire lives in the U.S., but had the misfortune to be born in Haiti instead of in the U.S. like their younger siblings, and find themselves in middle age being sent back to a country they don’t know anything about. There they are targeted for being (relatively) wealthy, for being American (Haitians are unhappy with the U.S.’s recent roll in exiling Aristide), and often are scapegoats for anti-crime public sentiment.

The U.S. is famous for stirring up trouble in its backyard and then ignoring the human consequences, but it has perfected this technique in Haiti.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

border games

Some enterprising Americans have filmed a cross-border game of volleyball, played with the border wall as the net. Video here (click on "Walleyball").

Contra Ezra, I don’t think this sport is in danger of taking off anytime soon.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

on a different note . . .

Watching American Idol tonight was a distressing experience, apart from the reasons you might think. This will come as no surprise to people who’ve seen the show, but many of the contestants were just terrible, but had absolutely no idea they sucked. And they were not just kind of bad—they were embarrassing. They made you want to hide your head under the pillow like you’re about to witness Borat do something heinous to an unsuspecting bigot. Some of these terrible singers had family, friends, and coworkers so confident in their loved one’s abilities that they traveled great distances to the audition to lend their support.

Now with some of the borderline singers who I thought could have gone one way or the other, one of the judges (invariably Randy or Simon) would lead the pack, laying down a marker—“this is crappy” or “this is good stuff”—and the others would follow their lead. I’m almost certain in a couple of cases that if the leader had laid down the opposite marker, the others would have followed. So a good amount of this was subjective. You judge talent by how people around you judge it. Once a singer gets positive feedback, they grow more confident and sing better, gaining more praise and confidence, and so forth.

But for some, the positive feedback loop had gone awry. Someone should have introduced some negative feedback into the loop at some point to derail that particular misguided ambition into a more productive pursuit, like banking or driving a bus.

And it made me think . . . God help me, what if I’m like that, too? What if I’m not all that great at what I do for a living, or what I do for fun, and no one can muster up the nerve to tell me? Or what if, compared to my family and friends who don’t share my occupation or particular interests, I’m relatively good but really bad compared to others who do what I do? It stands to reason that there are any number of people who go about their daily lives, convinced that they are pretty good at what they do, when in reality they are mediocre at best. Or maybe most people don’t think of their work or hobbies in those terms. I don’t know, but staring into this Idol-induced existential abyss was fairly unnerving. Thank God there are not four bored and snarky (or drunk) middle-aged adjudicators waiting to validate or destroy my hopes and dreams based on a thirty-second sample of the best a capella legal analysis I can summon up. I don’t know if I could handle the verdict.

Monday, January 15, 2007

"declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism"

MLK fought against not only racism, but also poverty and violence. His entire movement was predicated on the principle of nonviolence. If, at a march in which he was participating, his fellow demonstrators resorted to violence, he would withdraw. His adherence to these principles led him to denounce the Vietnam war long before this was a mainstream position. For his troubles, he received sharp criticism in the national press and from liberals. His criticism of Vietnam was viewed by many as a diversion from the civil rights battle. He did not see it that way; to him, poverty, racism, and militarism worked in tandem to subjugate people in the U.S. and abroad, and as he famously put it, "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." His words delivered in New York City on April 4, 1967, a year to the day before he was murdered in Memphis, are more relevant today than ever.

Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence when it helps us to see the enemy's point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.

So, too, with Hanoi. In the north, where our bombs now pummel the land, and our mines endanger the waterways, we are met by a deep but understandable mistrust. To speak for them is to explain this lack of confidence in Western words, and especially their distrust of American intentions now. In Hanoi are the men who led the nation to independence against the Japanese and the French, the men who sought membership in the French commonwealth and were betrayed by the weakness of Paris and the willfulness of the colonial armies. It was they who led a second struggle against French domination at tremendous costs, and then were persuaded to give up the land they controlled between the thirteenth and seventeenth parallel as a temporary measure at Geneva. After 1954 they watched us conspire with Diem to prevent elections which would have surely brought Ho Chi Minh to power over a united Vietnam, and they realized they had been betrayed again.

When we ask why they do not leap to negotiate, these things must be remembered. Also it must be clear that the leaders of Hanoi considered the presence of American troops in support of the Diem regime to have been the initial military breach of the Geneva agreements concerning foreign troops, and they remind us that they did not begin to send in any large number of supplies or men until American forces had moved into the tens of thousands.

Hanoi remembers how our leaders refused to tell us the truth about the earlier North Vietnamese overtures for peace, how the president claimed that none existed when they had clearly been made. Ho Chi Minh has watched as America has spoken of peace and built up its forces, and now he has surely heard of the increasing international rumors of American plans for an invasion of the north. He knows the bombing and shelling and mining we are doing are part of traditional pre-invasion strategy. Perhaps only his sense of humor and of irony can save him when he hears the most powerful nation of the world speaking of aggression as it drops thousands of bombs on a poor weak nation more than eight thousand miles away from its shores.

At this point I should make it clear that while I have tried in these last few minutes to give a voice to the voiceless on Vietnam and to understand the arguments of those who are called enemy, I am as deeply concerned about our troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy and the secure while we create hell for the poor.

Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours.

This is the message of the great Buddhist leaders of Vietnam. Recently one of them wrote these words:

"Each day the war goes on the hatred increases in the heart of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism."

If we continue, there will be no doubt in my mind and in the mind of the world that we have no honorable intentions in Vietnam. It will become clear that our minimal expectation is to occupy it as an American colony and men will not refrain from thinking that our maximum hope is to goad China into a war so that we may bomb her nuclear installations. If we do not stop our war against the people of Vietnam immediately the world will be left with no other alternative than to see this as some horribly clumsy and deadly game we have decided to play.

The world now demands a maturity of America that we may not be able to achieve. It demands that we admit that we have been wrong from the beginning of our adventure in Vietnam, that we have been detrimental to the life of the Vietnamese people. The situation is one in which we must be ready to turn sharply from our present ways.

. . .

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. n the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life's roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: "This is not just." It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say: "This is not just." The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into veins of people normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

. . .

This kind of positive revolution of values is our best defense against communism. War is not the answer. Communism will never be defeated by the use of atomic bombs or nuclear weapons. Let us not join those who shout war and through their misguided passions urge the United States to relinquish its participation in the United Nations. These are days which demand wise restraint and calm reasonableness. We must not call everyone a Communist or an appeaser who advocates the seating of Red China in the United Nations and who recognizes that hate and hysteria are not the final answers to the problem of these turbulent days. We must not engage in a negative anti-communism, but rather in a positive thrust for democracy, realizing that our greatest defense against communism is to take offensive action in behalf of justice. We must with positive action seek to remove thosse conditions of poverty, insecurity and injustice which are the fertile soil in which the seed of communism grows and develops.

. . .

A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.

This call for a world-wide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one's tribe, race, class and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all men. This oft misunderstood and misinterpreted concept -- so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force -- has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man. When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Moslem-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John:

Let us love one another; for love is God and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. If we love one another God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.

Hat tip: Jesus' General.

Update: Matt Yglesias makes a good point:
King and other leaders of the civil rights movement apparently took their Christianity more seriously than a lot of people do, however, and, following in part in the political example of Gandhi, set out on a different path. A path that, seemingly, actually generates much more success than do strategies of violent insurgency. Nevertheless, you tend to see all around the world on both sides of various issues, a tendency to massively overstate the utility of force.
I've heard Noah Feldman say that if the Palestinians took to the streets in large scale nonviolent demonstrations, they would attain their goals fairly quickly with the world on their side. We as a nation, however, are not willing to use nonviolence as an organizing principle of foreign policy. So far, we've not suffered much for our willingness to use violence since we're the biggest kid on the block and have been for the past 60 years. But that may not always be the case. Sooner or later, we'd be well advised to revisit the reasons for the success of Dr. King's movement.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Tears of the Black Tiger

The gayest Thai western you’ve never seen has finally made it to the U.S. It only took 7 years. More like this one, please.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

God Grew Tired of Us

Tonight I went to the premier of the new documentary God Grew Tired of Us. The film follows a group of “Lost Boys” of Sudan who had made their way on foot across 1,000 miles of the Sahara to a refugee camp in Kenya, and then were stuck there for about ten years.


Young black Sudanese boys were targeted for slaughter in Sudan’s civil war in 1987, causing some 27,000 of them to flee across the desert. Young boys suddenly became caretakers for even younger boys. Thousands died of disease or starvation. Roughly 12,000 eventually made their way to Kenya were they lived without family, unable to return to their wartorn homes, with barely enough food to survive on and no material possessions to speak of. Some two million people died in the war.

From Wikipedia:

Most of the boys were orphaned or separated from their families when government troops systematically attacked villages in southern Sudan killing many of the inhabitants, most of whom were civilians. The younger boys survived in large numbers because they were away tending herds or were able to escape into the nearby jungles. Orphaned and with no support, they would make epic journeys lasting years across the borders to international relief camps in Ethiopia and Kenya evading thirst, starvation, wild animals, insects, disease, and one of the most bloody wars of the 20th century. Examiners say they are the most badly war-traumatised children ever examined.

When villages were attacked, girls were raped, killed, taken as slaves to the north, or became servants or adopted children for other Sudanese families. As a result, relatively few girls made it to the refugee camps.

In 2001, several thousand Lost Boys—now men almost 15 years after first fleeing Sudan—were resettled in the United States. The movie follows three in particular who appeared to be in their twenties.

While the opening scenes of the movie in Africa were heart-rending, the men’s arrival in the U.S. showed in stark contrast the differences in daily life between impoverished Africa and the U.S. The men had never before used electricity. They did not know what a shower was. They had to be shown how to turn on and off the light switches and how to use the toilet. The concept of pre-cooked, pre-packaged food had to be explained. Seeing how they reacted to their new surroundings reminded me of Doug Bruce, the title character in the documentary Unknown White Male about a man who experiences total amnesia, not only forgetting details of his personal history, but also forgetting things like the ocean and Star Wars. The Lost Boys’ sense of newness and wonder was profound and encouraging, especially when contrasted with the horror and depravation of their past.

The men followed by the filmmaker soon got jobs and began sending everything they could not only back to their families, for those who had managed to locate them, but also to their “families” back at the refugee camp, their brothers in suffering. One Lost Boy was about to enroll in a community college but then got word for the first time in 15 years that his family was alive. He dropped his plans and started working three jobs in order to support his family.

The Lost Boys experienced loneliness and alienation from their new society. One, speaking of his “brothers” left behind in Kenya, asked “why me and not them?” Why had he been so fortunate while they continued to suffer? He spoke of how he’d been thrust into a position of responsibility at age 13, leading others and burying the dead.

The Lost Boys began organizing to help each other and network. Some began advocating for action to stop the killing in Sudan. In Syracuse, NY, they staged a march symbolizing their trek across the desert to raise awareness of the conflict in Sudan. One Lost Boy spoke at a packed church and asked for help for his compatriots back home.

Director Christopher Quinn, George Biddle of the International Rescue Committee, and one of the Lost Boys (whose name escapes me) were present after the screening to answer questions. Quinn said he’d been inspired to make the film after learning about the genocide in Rwanda and how no one did anything to stop it. A man from Sierra Leone in the audience asked about the causes of the conflict. I asked them what kind of impact the advocacy efforts of the Lost Boys in the U.S. had on the involvement of the U.S. government in the peace settlement nearly two years ago. Biddle said that U.S. participation in the negotiations was primarily attributable to pressure on the administration from U.S. churches. He said that the government had sent good people like John Danforth to the talks, and that it had been helpful to have a human face close to home to represent the issue to the public. He worried that the peace in Sudan could be lost again due to neglect from the international community, and described the delicate line his organization walked in drawing attention to the crisis in Darfur without jeopardizing gains elsewhere in Sudan. I think it’s fascinating that an unintended consequence of bringing the Lost Boys to the U.S. may have been to help end the conflict there (if somewhat incompletely). One thing is clear about our political system: nothing puts a foreign policy issue on the government’s radar like a domestic constituency making a stink about it.

Now that I think about it, the men I saw at the Day for Darfur rally in Central Park (bottom photo) were probably Lost Boys.

When the Lost Boy at the screening told the audience he had received his U.S. citizenship last year, the crowd broke into applause. This bothered me a bit for reasons that are complicated, but it’s true that U.S. citizenship in his case is a golden ticket, likely meaning financial stability and the ability to bring his family here, if he can find them.

This movie shook me on a core level. Knowing about extreme suffering on an intellectual level is not the same as seeing it unfold and watching how lives are shattered by needless conflict and blinding poverty. It’s like the pictures of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib; there’ve been much worse abuses documented—including torture and murder—but they have not registered in the national consciousness because there weren’t any pictures. I hope this movie gives the conflict in Sudan visibility it would not have otherwise had, and opens up people’s minds to the idea that we should be more involved in bringing peace to the region.

Friday, January 12, 2007

newsflash: lawyers represent unpopular clients

In the NY Times tonight: (link generator doesn’t seem to be working again)

The senior Pentagon official in charge of military detainees suspected of terrorism said in an interview this week that he was dismayed that lawyers at many of the nation’s top firms were representing prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and that the firms’ corporate clients should consider ending their business ties.

. . .

In his radio interview, Mr. Stimson said: “I think the news story that you’re really going to start seeing in the next couple of weeks is this: As a result of a FOIA request through a major news organization, somebody asked, ‘Who are the lawyers around this country representing detainees down there?’ and you know what, it’s shocking.” The F.O.I.A. reference was to a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by Monica Crowley, a conservative syndicated talk show host, asking for the names of all the lawyers and law firms representing Guantánamo detainees in federal court cases.

Mr. Stimson, who is himself a lawyer, then went on to name more than a dozen of the firms listed on the 14-page report provided to Ms. Crowley, describing them as “the major law firms in this country.” He said, “I think, quite honestly, when corporate C.E.O.’s see that those firms are representing the very terrorists who hit their bottom line back in 2001, those C.E.O.’s are going to make those law firms choose between representing terrorists or representing reputable firms, and I think that is going to have major play in the next few weeks. And we want to watch that play out.”

Karen J. Mathis, a Denver lawyer who is president of the American Bar Association, said: “Lawyers represent people in criminal cases to fulfill a core American value: the treatment of all people equally before the law. To impugn those who are doing this critical work — and doing it on a volunteer basis — is deeply offensive to members of the legal profession, and we hope to all Americans.”

Memo to Stimson: it’s not 2003 anymore. It’s not in the political interests of the administration to shed any more light on what is happening in Guantanamo, as the government continues to hold hundreds of people without charges and continues to release detainees with no charges filed. This new publicity may rile up the GOP base, but it will alienate others—including lawyers in the DOJ and the military who will be carrying forward these prosecutions after Bush leaves office. In addition, attacking the bar in this way will not endear the executive branch to the judges who will be ruling on the constitutionality of the trials of detainees moving forward.

In fact, it sounds like Stimson was acting alone on this:

In an interview on Friday, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said he had no problem with the current system of representation. “Good lawyers representing the detainees is the best way to ensure that justice is done in these cases,” he said.

Neither the White House nor the Pentagon had any official comment, but officials sought to distance themselves from Mr. Stimson’s view. His comments “do not represent the views of the Defense Department or the thinking of its leadership,” a senior Pentagon official said.

. . .

The role of major law firms agreeing to take on the cases of Guantánamo prisoners challenging their detentions in federal courts has hardly been a secret and has been the subject of many news articles that have generally cast their efforts in a favorable light.

The idea that these law firms are somehow being “exposed” through this FOIA request is ludicrous. Pro bono efforts undertaken by law firms are primarily calculated to do two things: keep overworked associates happy and get good p.r. for the firm. Corporate law firms are extremely lucrative businesses, and nothing is done without an eye on the bottom line. Every hour a mid-level associate spends on something other than a paying client, the firm loses hundreds of dollars. If firms did not think pro bono representation of Guantanamo detainees would be good for them, they would not do it.

When asked in the radio interview who was paying for the legal representation, Mr. Stimson replied: “It’s not clear, is it? Some will maintain that they are doing it out of the goodness of their heart, that they’re doing it pro bono, and I suspect they are; others are receiving moneys from who knows where, and I’d be curious to have them explain that.”

That is simply one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard and doesn’t even merit a response.

This game that administration officials like to play, hand in glove with the conservative noise machine, is getting very tired. I am looking forward to the day in January 2009 when executive agencies can get back to the business of governing instead of playing political games that cheapen the government they represent.

containment, the sequel

Zvika Krieger points us to Ian Shapiro’s recent suggestion of a better way to proceed in the Middle East:

America needs a post-occupation strategy for Iraq and the Middle East, one grounded in a viable national security strategy for the twenty-first century. That strategy is containment.

. . .

Containment’s goal was to prevent Soviet expansion without saddling the US with unsustainable military obligations. So long as the USSR did not stage a military attack, containment’s reliance on economic sticks and carrots, competition within the world communist movement, intelligence and diplomacy, and promoting the vitality of the capitalist democracies would guarantee security. Kennan was right: the dysfunctional features of Soviet system, and its over-extension internationally, would lead to its demise.

Shapiro argues that a similar strategy has already worked with Libya, and could work if applied to the Middle East more broadly.

Krieger sums up:

So there are two lessons from the Cold War: We only hurt ourselves by intervening, and that we will only have the confidence not to intervene when we acknowledge that there is little direct threat to American security. We can't use the abstract threat of "terrorism" to justify hasty and aggressive action in the Middle East anymore. We have to recapture that Cold War confidence that authoritarian states will collapse as a result of their own dysfunction, and that "the best way to spread democracy is to demonstrate its superiority" rather than "ramming [it] down people’s throats."

While this certainly would be a better foreign policy framework than the thuggish, incoherent approach favored thus far by the administration, I’m not sure how applicable it is today. Shapiro is much more an expert on containment than I am, but I’m not convinced his interpretation of containment would be accepted by conservatives (or even liberal hawks) now. One narrative of the Cold War goes like this: we or our proxies fought the communists in Vietnam, Angola, Guatemala, South America, and elsewhere so that we wouldn’t have to fight them in Hong Kong, Japan, Germany, Mexico, or the U.S. Only by keeping a series of small, “hot” wars going to put pressure on the USSR were we able to stem its expansionist tendencies, ramp up its military expenditures, and eventually force it to implode. Just sitting around waiting for the USSR to collapse on its own wouldn’t work—we had to actively fight at the periphery while taking care not to provoke the center too much.

Someone who subscribes to this retelling of the Cold War is not going to be persuaded by Shapiro’s argument that in order to reprise our success against the Soviet Union with our enemies today, we need to withdraw from Iraq and forge a solution in Israel/Palestine. Even if Shapiro’s version of containment is closer to Kennan’s original vision than what our Cold War policy later became.

But the story of containment is a compelling one, and Americans know that it basically worked. If the doctrine can be resurrected for use and retooled for our circumstances today, it could be a useful way of framing what in essence would be a new foreign policy of “don’t go around blowing shit up for no good reason.”

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Iraq surge reaction round-up

Iraq, circa 1970, from the inimitable General JC Christian.

Matt Yglesias sums up:

So to sum up, neither the American military nor the American congress nor the American people nor the Iraqi government nor the Iraqi public wants an American military escalation. Naturally, we're getting one.

Via Andrew Sullivan, John Derbyshire points to a tiny flaw in the President's otherwise airtight plan:


—-We can't leave Iraq without a victory.

—-Unless Maliki & Co. get their act together, we can't achieve victory.

—-If Maliki & Co. don't get their act together, we'll leave.

It's been a while since I studied classical logic, but it seems to me that this syllogism leaks like a sieve.

Next comes news this morning that we have attacked the Iranian consulate in Northern Iraq and taken the employees prisoner. WTF?

And now we’re in the process of getting embroiled in a fight with a third insurgency and creating yet another refugee crisis in Somalia? Is this really happening?

Meanwhile, Steve Clemons takes note of some ominous rumors:

Washington intelligence, military and foreign policy circles are abuzz today with speculation that the President, yesterday or in recent days, sent a secret Executive Order to the Secretary of Defense and to the Director of the CIA to launch military operations against Syria and Iran.

Steve also quotes possible Republican presidential candidate Senator Hagel’s thoughts on the President’s speech:

I think this speech given last night by this president represents the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam, if it's carried out. I will resist it -- (interrupted by applause.)

As others have said better than I, indeed.

And finally, from Brad DeLong, does George Bush have the mental and emotional maturity of a 14 year old or of a 3 year old? The adolescent vs. toddler debate rages on.