Thursday, March 29, 2007

in the shadows

Kevin Johnson at ImmigrationProf Blog gives us a peek at the police state in which out-of-status immigrants live:

Lilia Velasquez, a San Diego immigration attorney and immigration professor at California Western, says in the last 10 days, she's received twice as many calls as normal. She says many Latino residents in North County are terrified because Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents have detained their relatives and neighbors. According to the radio interview (here) by KPBS Reporter Amy Isackson, Lilia Velazquez says the stories callers are telling her are nearly identical. Velazquez:

The immigration officer had gone to their homes looking for someone else. They didn't find that someone else. So they arrested the husband or the relative instead. And they were very worried as to whether there was a special operation taking place or why was ICE staking out those places.

Velazquez says callers tell her agents often detain everyone at the house who can't show immigration papers.

And from the LA Times (via Johnson again) we learn that there are shanty towns in Southern California:

Jose and his family live in a world few ever see, a vast poverty born in hundreds of trailer parks strung like a shabby necklace across the eastern Coachella Valley.

Out here — just a few miles from world-class golf resorts, private hunting clubs and polo fields — half-naked children toddle barefoot through mud and filth while packs of feral dogs prowl piles of garbage nearby.

Thick smoke from mountains of burning trash drifts through broken windows. People — sometimes 30 or more — are crammed into trailers with no heat, no air-conditioning, undrinkable water, flickering power and plumbing that breaks down for weeks or months at a time. "I was speechless," said Haider Quintero, a Colombian training for the priesthood who recently visited the parks as part of his studies. "I never expected to see this in America."

. . .

Some of the largest and poorest parks are on the Torres Martinez Indian Reservation where they are not subject to local zoning laws and the county can't monitor safety, hygiene and building standards. The reservation is also home to the worst illegal dumps of any tribe in California, Arizona or Nevada, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The federal agency has closed 10 of the 20 most toxic dumps and cited four of the largest trailer parks for health violations.

. . .

The presence of the parks on the reservation has frustrated Torres Martinez Tribal Chairman Raymond Torres.

"The owners started off with good intentions, then I think it overwhelmed them," he said. "I have a real problem with it. Someone is going to get hurt. I'd like to see the parks gone and the owners start over again."

But in the complex world of tribal sovereignty, Torres cannot close the parks; only the Bureau of Indian Affairs can. The bureau said last week that parks on the reservation are illegal because they do not issue bureau-approved leases to tenants. They are now threatening legal action against [trailer park] Duroville and said other parks could be next.

Trailer parks began springing up on Indian land largely because of a county crackdown. In 1998, after several fatal accidents caused by faulty wiring, Riverside County began closing parks that did not have permits and threatening to sue others not up to code. Faced with outrage from farmworker advocates and the Roman Catholic Church, who feared thousands could be rendered homeless, officials backed off, but not before many panicked park dwellers had moved onto the reservation.

Bad things happen when an entire community lives outside of the law.

On the other side of the park, Cesar Rafael, 17, a Purepechan, lives in his parents' trailer. He and several other students at Desert Mirage High School in Thermal made a short video about their world, "The Contaminated Valley," which was shown at school.

"I wanted people to see another side of life," he said. "Everything is poisonous here, even the water is poisonous. And nobody really cares about it. We are invisible.
As is often the case on the immigration blogs I read, a lone VDare troll is the only person motivated to comment on the situation. His love for humanity is palpable.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

what country are you?

Holy crap, it worked!

You're Costa Rica!

You're about as peaceful as anyone on the planet, a real dyed-in-the-wool
pacifist. And why not? No one really poses much of a threat to you and
everything seems to work out, no matter how much violence and insanity rages all around
you. So you relax and appreciate nature and culture while the rest of the world
carries on their petty disagreements. If only everyone could follow your

Take the Country Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid

I love Costa Rica! How did they know?

(Via IOZ.)


May the major cell phone companies burn jointly and severally in eternal hellfire. I’ve not come across a single one that wouldn’t mug its own grandmother in a dark alley and blame it on the new neighbors with the funny accent down the street. My fervent hope is that the crafty intertubes find a way to snake their customers and utterly destroy their revenue base.

God I hate them.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

reporting on reporting

I found this from Atrios to be insightful:

Adding to the post below about reporting/talking, campaign journalism is an area which is just filled with hackery. There's really no way to do interesting "straight reporting" about campaigns, aside from polls and hirings/firings. It's almost intrinsically "talking about the news" instead of reporting on it. So campaign journalism is part highly subjective narrative, part gossip, part anonymous backbiting, part reporter projection, part quoting sources with major conflicts of interest, part unrepresentative "man on the street interviews," etc. If I ran a newspaper, campaign reporting is the area where I'd begin chucking out the entire model of "balanced journalism" and recognize it for what it ineivtably is, a highly subjective description of what's going on. Reporters hide behind all the various devices given to them to try to take themselves out of the narrative, but ultimately they really are just creating the very subjective narrative they wish to create. So, drop the pretense and bring the reporter's voice forward.

Campaign reporting of the sort you might read in the Times is typically a glorified version of the type of “reporting on reporting” that you get when a celebrity story has burned through the tabloids for a week or so and the Times decides it wants a piece of the grubby action without getting its wingtips dirty. A few days into the Anna Nicolle story or Britney’s latest shenanigans or whatever latest hot news that isn’t “real news”, the Times will do a story on how other outlets are covering this bit of non-news and how excited people who don’t know any better seem to be about it. These attempts to hover above the fray while transparently cashing in on the salacity of the story are quite silly. Likewise, political reporters aspiring to be bloodless, opinionless automatons of objectivity only manage to deceive both the reading public and themselves that they are not part of the story, too.


Any way you spin it, Iraq is the war of Bush and his supporters. But this may be the key to ending the war:

In 2002, and in 2004, and at all points in between and since, the war in Iraq has been Bush’s War; and, as he was their man, it has been the Republicans’ War. The war and Bush were inseparable - he was The War President, the war was his thing, and if he stopped being President the war was lost. In 2002, this was good; in 2004, kind of a wash; now, it’s no good at all. Now, whether Republicans really thought supporting the war was good policy, or just good politics, isn’t that important, as they (almost) all have impressively long track records of equating leaving Iraq with letting Osama crash on your couch. This makes it hard to change course, even with most of the country supporting a pull-out. But as the investigation of OverblownPersonnelMatterGate drags on, and Bush gets even more toxic, policy is going to be less important than politics, and the political imperative is going to be to repudiate Bush. And the way you repudiate Bush is by repudiating his policy, and ending the war.

However, if the Republicans don’t understand the new dynamic and fail to repudiate Bush and end the war, the party will be decimated in the 2008 elections and then the Democrats will do it on their own and get the political credit. I hope that isn’t the way this plays out.

Also, very bad things are likely to happen when we leave (see, e.g., Cambodia circa 1977). At some point before the U.S. is forced by domestic politics to pull out of the country, it should ask the Security Council to sanction a multilateral peacekeeping force to intervene to stop the country from imploding. Unfortunately, I can’t picture the rubes willing to step into that pile of shpoop, nor can I imagine Bush agreeing to UN intervention or anything like it. Hopefully his successor will be more flexible.

And hopefully his successor will not be Clinton. Here is a convincing version of the liberaltarian argument against her. Come to think of it, I don’t know of any bloggers who are revved up about Clinton, whatever their politics. Are there any out there?

Monday, March 26, 2007

kicking against the pricks

The Editors direct us to a gem:

Save Our State is a grassroots 501(c)(3) non-profit organization founded in 2004. Our members are committed to educating California's citizens about the disastrous effects of illegal immigration and creating positive change through aggressive activism and advocacy.

I take the “disastrous effects of illegal immigration” to be these: constant lambasting of illegal immigration on conservative talk radio and cable news leads to white backlash against immigrants, which in turn alienates latino voters. In a majority-minority state like California, this has the long-term effect of marginalizing the political party that exclusively represents white interests at the expense of immigrants. Disastrous indeed.

Save Our State’s adherents are in an untenable position. Like a fly in a spiderweb, the more they thrash about, the more entangled they become.

As the country edges ever closer to national majority-minority status . . .

Currently, the anti-illegal immigration movement is trapped in the Old Paradigm that primarily consists of apathy, inaction and reaction. The result is a disjointed movement, ineffective and mired, barely functioning in a defensive and reactionary posture.

“Defensive and reactionary”—against all odds, I've found a point on which I agree.

Save Our State is committed to creating a New Paradigm, one that consists of one singular tenet: the transference of pain. Our enemies in the open borders lobby are not going to change their policies or behavior unless we make it painful for them to continue propagating their anti-American agenda.

. . .

Thomas Paine proclaimed, “These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict the more glorious the triumph."

Sadly, California is filled with these “sunshine patriots” who are weak and unwilling to wage battle against the Mexican racialists and the vast open borders lobby. Years of inculcation by the doctrines of political correctness have left you emasculated and impotent, silenced by the thunderous chants of "racist" and "bigot." And there you stand and watch, paralyzed by fear, as your community is ravaged by the illegal alien invasion and turned into a Third World cesspool.

Embrace your inner bigot! No need to be ashamed. Then let him out to fight the unholy alliance of Mexican racialists and Big Business single-mindedly focused on keeping honest patriots down.

Otherwise, your community might one day turn into this Third World cesspool:

Saturday, March 24, 2007

a political agenda

A Connecticut minister reassures readers of the NY Times that local students who wrote and rehearsed a play about the Iraq war were not in thrall to anything so petty and divisive as a political ideology. Despite having prior approval and going through a "balancing" rewrite, the play was prevented by administrators from being performed.

“I would want to read the script before having it performed here, but from what I understand from the students who wrote it, they didn’t have a political agenda,” said the Rev. Jane Field, the church’s youth minister.

Thank goodness. A high school student informed and aware enough to have a political agenda would be a serious threat to national stability. What the nation needs instead are docile youth who value tradition, don’t ask too many questions of their elders, and hew to the blessed center. Because compromise at home enables us to carry out the slaughter abroad without undue distraction.

Friday, March 23, 2007

killing is killing

Dahlia Lithwick is suspicious of John Yoo’s reasoning:

Yoo, author of the infamous "torture memo" that came out of the Office of Legal Counsel in August of 2002 and became public in the summer of 2004, continues to defend the legality of the president's right to torture suspects. (The OLC subsequently withdrew the memo.) Yoo's argument rests largely on more of this same "greater-power-includes-the-lesser-power" analysis. As he explains to his interviewer, "Look, death is worse than torture, but everyone except pacifists thinks there are circumstances in which war is justified. War means killing people. If we are entitled to kill people, we must be entitled to injure them." He goes on to say, "I don't see how it can be reasonable to have an absolute prohibition on torture when you don't have an absolute prohibition on killing."

. . .

The greater-than-lesser-than argument is nothing more than a "debater's point," says the University of Virginia's Jody Kraus. It assumes that the speaker has some basis from which to claim that the lesser power is, indeed, well, lesser. You can certainly say that the power to ban speech is lesser than the power to ban gaming. Or you could say the opposite. I, for one, feel a lot more strongly about my right to speak than my right to split eights and aces. So, by what measure, other than Yoo's assertion, is the power to water-board someone "lesser" than the power to kill?

I think Yoo is onto something. As terrible and inhuman as waterboarding is, killing someone is much worse. Waterboarding, by all accounts, feels a lot like drowning and is one of the most efficient ways known to force a confession. It’s the torture four out of five evildoers prefer. But when it’s over you’re still alive. And, assuming you are at some point released from whatever secret windowless hole the government is holding you in, you might go on to have a successful career, find love, smell the ocean, or hear the first laugh of your first child. If you are dead, you can’t do any of those things.

Lithwick continues:

And if [the power to water-board someone is "lesser" than the power to kill], why does Yoo draw the line at water-boarding rather than eye-gouging which is, by his logic, still better than death?

Right again. Eye-gouging—still better than death. Especially if only one eye gets gouged. You can still see with one eye. Even if both eyes are gone, you’ve still got four senses left. There’s precious little that’s worse than death.

I guess that makes me a pacifist, which is apparently the only thing worse than being an atheist.

When a group of people, i.e. the “government”, decides to kill a person—whether a convicted criminal or an enemy soldier or an innocent civilian (also known as “collateral damage”, the kind of murder which prompts the least concern in civilized societies since death is accidental and therefore blameless, a regrettable but unintentional consequence of dropping explosives onto a school or hospital or wedding party)—the deceased is no less dead than if she’d been killed by fewer people through a process involving less paperwork and fewer empty platitudes. In such cases, it’s only the size of the lynch mob that varies. The only time a person really deserves to die is when she kills herself.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

as you sow . . .

Conservative politicians and pundits, by convincing voters across the country in recent election campaigns that illegal immigrants are committing crimes, using up public services, and stealing their social security, have put Republican presidential candidates in a difficult position vis-à-vis conservative voters furious about government inaction on illegal immigration. From the NY Times:

On Saturday morning in Des Moines, Mr. Brownback stood for 30 minutes at a breakfast with Republicans as question after question — without exception — was directed at an immigration system that Iowans denounced as failing. “These people are stealing from us,” said Larry Smith, a factory owner from Truro and a member of the central committee of the state Republican Party.

Finally, Mr. Brownback, with a slight smile, inquired, “Any other topics that people want to talk about?”

“What are you going to do with illegal immigrants who come here and become criminals?” demanded Jodi Wohlenhaus, a Republican homemaker who lives outside Des Moines.

. . .

Other Republicans said they thought Mr. McCain’s identification with the push for easing immigration laws could prove to be among his greatest vulnerabilities. “Senator McCain will be hurt badly if he continues to support a bill like last time,” said Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama. “I think he’ll have a hard time defending that piece of legislation. I think it would be important for him to demonstrate that his position on immigration is not defined by the bill that he introduced last time.”

Nowhere does that appear to be more the case than [Iowa], a state crucial to Mr. McCain’s hopes of winning his party’s nomination. A front-page article in The Des Moines Register after the first day of Mr. McCain’s bus trip here focused on his defending his efforts on changing immigration laws.

Mr. Smith, the Republican Party central committee member, said Mr. McCain’s views on immigration had eliminated him as a contender in the view of many state Republicans.

“I have a hard time appreciating McCain’s position at all on this issue,” Mr. Smith said. “I feel he’s been extremely weak.”

“When I go county to county visiting 29 counties in my area, I believe almost without exception that immigration is that issue that puts fire in their eyes,” he said. “They just really are livid that we have allowed this to happen to the point it has.”

Mr. Brownback was reminded of that throughout the day on Saturday, including during his march in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade up Locust Avenue in Des Moines. “We need to build a fence,” Mike Clark, 38, a pig farmer, told Mr. Brownback as he walked alongside him. “We need to get them stopped.”

Of the major Republican candidates, it appears that Romney is the only one in tune with Republican voters on this issue. But even he only came to this position recently. Republican candidates find themselves sandwiched between the pro-immigration business community and anti-immigration voters. Bluster on the campaign stump followed by a nod and wink to the business community is not going to work any longer. I am worried that this means we will not be getting comprehensive immigration reform this year and certainly not next when campaigns are in full swing. For any bill at all, we may have to wait for a Democratic president and a solidly Democratic Senate, and even then I’m not sure we’ll get anything decent.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Now this is inspired.

global warming and Darfur

Eric Martin explains why global warming is a big deal. It’s not necessarily that the planet will end up submerged like in Waterworld or that we’ll all burn to a crisp. It’s that human societies are delicately calibrated and easily upset by things like floods, storms, droughts, and resource scarcity, all of which are predicted consequences of climate change.

An article by Stephen Faris in the most recent issue of The Atlantic provides a chilling look at just how severe those consequences may end up being for many of the Earth's inhabitants. It's not just the effect that extreme weather phenomena like floods, landslides, droughts and hurricanes will have on the populations immediately impacted by such events. While the death and destruction from those events can be enormous, the specter of more catastrophic outcomes looms on the horizon.

The repercussions from dramatic shifts in temperature, rainfall and overall patterns will likely exacerbate, if not directly instigate, bloody conflict on a massive scale. The upending of societal orders that are, at least in part, dependent on a continuation of the existing pattern of sustainable interaction with the local environment will lead to new-found competition over suddenly scarce resources such as arable land, viable real estate and water.

To put it in less colorful language: previously peaceful neighbors will start fighting in desperation over what little is left after the Earth literally moves from beneath their feet. Faris offers a glimpse:

To truly understand the crisis in Darfur—and it has been profoundly misunderstood—you need to look back to the mid-1980s, before the violence between African and Arab began to simmer. Alex de Waal...was there at that time, as a doctoral candidate doing anthropological fieldwork. Earlier this year, he told me a story that, he says, keeps coming back to him.

De Waal was traveling through the dry scrub of Darfur, studying indigenous reactions to the drought that gripped the region. In a herders’ camp near the desert’s border, he met with a bedridden and nearly blind Arab sheikh named Hilal Abdalla, who said he was noticing things he had never seen before: Sand blew into fertile land, and the rare rain washed away alluvial soil. Farmers who had once hosted his tribe and his camels were now blocking their migration; the land could no longer support both herder and farmer. Many tribesmen had lost their stock and scratched at millet farming on marginal plots.

The God-given order was broken, the sheikh said, and he feared the future. “The way the world was set up since time immemorial was being disturbed,” recalled de Waal. “And it was bewildering, depressing. And the consequences were terrible.”

In 2003, another scourge, now infamous, swept across Darfur. Janjaweed fighters in military uniforms, mounted on camels and horses, laid waste to the region. In a campaign of ethnic cleansing targeting Darfur’s blacks, the armed militiamen raped women, burned houses, and tortured and killed men of fighting age. Through whole swaths of the region, they left only smoke curling into the sky.

At their head was a 6-foot-4 Arab with an athletic build and a commanding presence. In a conflict the United States would later call genocide, he topped the State Department’s list of suspected war criminals. De Waal recognized him: His name was Musa Hilal, and he was the sheikh’s son.

The fighting in Darfur is usually described as racially motivated, pitting mounted Arabs against black rebels and civilians. But the fault lines have their origins in another distinction, between settled farmers and nomadic herders fighting over failing lands. The aggression of the warlord Musa Hilal can be traced to the fears of his father, and to how climate change shattered a way of life.

. . .

[emphasis added]

. . .

Environmental degradation “creates very dry tinder,” says de Waal. “So if anyone wants to put a match to it, they can light it up.” Combustion might be particularly likely in areas where the political or social geography is already fragile.

As Faris indicates, the social context here matters a lot. Water scarcity in the U.S. Mountain West may lead to harsh words between state bureaucrats and politicians, but it's not going to lead the people of Southern Utah to rise up against their rivals in Las Vegas. While the situation is bad now in much of Africa, widescale weather disruption could make things much worse. The solution in my view, aside from working to minimize climate change, is to immunize weak societies against the coming sickness by strengthening rule of law and international institutions. The fragmented nature of modern international politics should not be seen as an end state, but as transitional, although it may take a global crisis to make this as apparent as it was to American leaders after the last two world wars.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Jeopardy category: Middle East debacles

A: Henry Kissinger said the following about this Middle East conflict between a coalition of Western nations and an Arab state:

It takes perseverance to find a policy which combines the disadvantages of every course of action, or to construct a coalition that weakens every partner simultaneously. [X] managed just that feat. [Diplomacy, Simon & Schuster, 1994 (paperback), p. 541.]

Q: What is the Suez crisis of 1956? (With Great Britain, France, and Israel as the mystery bunglers.)

Wikipedia provides a brief summary of the crisis:

The United Kingdom objected strongly when the Egyptian leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser, nationalized the Suez Canal Company on July 26, 1956.[4] By this stage, two-thirds of Europe's oil was being imported via the canal. The United Kingdom sought cooperation with the United States throughout 1956 to deal with what it maintained was a threat of Israeli attack against Egypt, to little effect.

The alliance between the United Kingdom, France, and Israel was largely one of convenience; the European nations had economic and trading interests in the Suez Canal, while Israel wanted to reopen the canal for Israeli shipping and end Egyptian-supported fedayeen incursions and hit-and-run raids.

[Inexplicably omitted here is the part where Israel invaded Egypt in late October 1956 as a pretext for British and French forces to “intervene” to separate the warring parties, thereby regaining control of the Canal. - YB]

When the Soviet Union threatened to intervene on behalf of Egypt, Canadian Secretary of State for External Affairs Lester B. Pearson feared a larger war and proposed a plan to separate the opposing forces by placing United Nations forces between them to act as a buffer zone or 'human shield'.

Eventually, pressure from the United States forced the United Kingdom, France, and Israel to withdraw. The crisis resulted in the resignation of the British Conservative Prime Minister, Sir Anthony Eden. This marked the completion of the shift in the global balance of power from European powers to the United States and the USSR, and was a milestone in the decline of the British Empire.

Harry from Crooked Timber compares Suez to Iraq:

[T]he parallels are striking. In both cases, it is clear that a small handful of policymakers were determined to undermine the targeted dictator, and were not about to be deflected by stupid facts. In both cases democratic scrutiny simply didn’t operate; neither Blair/Bush nor Eden were subject to the kind of hard questioning by their cabinet colleagues that should have stopped them, or at least forced them to act less precipitously. And in each case, as we know only too well in the case of Iraq, neither politicians nor military had any kind of long term plan.

These are fairly vague parallels, that, while accurate, could have also applied to virtually every American military action since WWII.

There exist more exact similarities between the two conflicts.

From Kissinger again, we see that American neocons were not the first to claim that the perils of Munich lurked in the dark plans of a Middle Eastern strongman:

France was even more hostile [than Britain] to Nasser. Its major interests in the Arab world were in Morocco and Algeria, the former a French protectorate, the latter a department of Metropolitan France containing a million Frenchmen. Both North African countries were in the process of seeking independence, for which Nasser’s policies provided emotional and political support. The Soviet arms deal raised the prospect that Egypt would become a conduit for Soviet arms to the Algerian guerrillas as well. “All this [is] in the works of Nasser, just as Hitler’s policy [was] written down in Mein Kampf,” declared France’s new Prime Minister, Guy Mollet. Nasser [has] the ambition to recreate the conquests of Islam.”

The analogy to Hitler was not really on the mark. Implying that Nasser’s Egypt was determined to conquer foreign nations, it ascribed a validity to Middle Eastern borders that the Arab nationalists did not recognize. The borders in Europe—except for those in the Balkans—reflected in the main a common history and culture. By contrast, the borders of the Middle East had been drawn by foreign, largely European, powers at the end of the First World War in order to facilitate their domination of the area. In the minds of Arab nationalists, these frontiers cut across the Arab nation and denied a common Arab culture. Erasing them was not a way for one country to dominate another; it was the way to create an Arab nation, much as Cavour had built Italy, and Bismarck had created Germany out of a plethora of sovereign satates.

However inexact their analogy, once Eden and Mollet had nailed their flag to the anti-appeasement mast, it should have become clear that they would not retreat. They belonged to the generation, after all, that viewed appeasement as a cardinal sin, and Munich as a permanent reproach. Comparing a leader to Hitler or even to Mussolini meant that they had moved beyond the possibility of compromise. They would either have to prevail or lose all claim to governance—most of all in their own eyes. [p. 531]

The dynamic duo then pioneered a UN-baiting tactic used to similar effect nearly 50 years later:

After [Secretary of State] Dulles’ October 2 press conference abjuring the use of force a second time, a desperate Great Britain and France decided to go ahead on their own. British and French military intervention was now only a few tactical moves away. One of these was a final appeal to the United Nations, which had played a curious role throughout the whole affair. At first, Great Britain and France had sought, with American backing, to avoid the United Nations altogether, fearing the Nonaligned group’s solidarity with Egypt. As they edged closer to the end of their diplomatic tether, however, France and Great Britain did appeal to the United Nations as a sort of last perfunctory gesture to demonstrate that, because of the world organization’s utility, they had no other choice than to act alone. The United Nations was thus transformed from a vehicle for solving international disputes to a final hurdle to be cleared before resorting to force, and, in a sense, even as an excuse for it. [539]

Here’s the setup:

The British and French expedition had been ham-handedly conceived and amateurishly implemented; designed in frustration, and lacking a clear-cut political objective, it doomed itself to failure.

And the punchline:

The United States could never have supported so flawed an enterprise. [543-44]

Kissinger apparently has more faith in American foreign policy than I do, but it’s true that the relatively cautious Eisenhower at least attempted to avoid costly military entanglements, which is more than can be said of virtually every president since. By the current decade, the roles of the players have been switched somewhat, with the U.S. now the declining power lashing out to preserve its rule.

Leon Hadar sketches one possible future for the U.S. in the Middle East, after the U.S. and Israel take long-threatened military action against Iran:

While the United States and Israel emerged as victorious from the military campaign, not unlike the British, French, and Israelis after the 1956 Suez Campaign against Egypt, they found themselves totally isolated in the international community and facing enormous diplomatic and economic pressure to reverse their policies. As oil prices soared to more than $125 per barrel, Venezuela imposed an oil embargo on the United States, and China threatened to create the conditions for the collapse of the dollar by selling her U.S. Treasury bonds if Washington did not agree to convene an international conference on the Middle East that would determine the political future of Iraq and Lebanon, as well as take steps toward imposing a peace accord on Israel and Palestine.

Jim Henley reacts:

The possibility of China reacting to an Israeli or American strike on Iran with the same sort of economic blackmail weapon Eisenhower deployed against the anti-Egyptian allies 51 years ago seems intriguingly plausible. It would have the same means - appeal to the local nationalisms of the region - and ends - oust the old hegemon(s) and become the new one.

It remains to be seen whether the U.S. will take as active a role in its own decline as did France and England half a century ago.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

this is your democracy

Brad DeLong links to Gideon Rachman’s FT blog:

Gideon Rachman's Blog: Next week I hope to visit the US. I will put it no more strongly than that. I have learnt not to take my right to visit America for granted – ever since being ignominiously deported in 2003. When I rang my wife from Dulles airport to tell her that I was being put on the first plane home, she briefly feared that I was about to reveal a double life as an international drug-smuggler or pornographer. Nothing so interesting. I had simply forgotten to get myself a journalist’s visa.

The best stories of this sort usually involve the innocent foreigner being shackled or bundled off to the state penitentiary. Not in my case. The officials dealing with me were polite, sympathetic – but implacable. I protested feebly that I was a former Fulbright scholar who had lived in the US for several years. I had written for American journals, I knew important people, Britain was fighting alongside the US in Iraq. None of it cut any ice. As one of the immigration people explained: “We could have made an exception before 9/11, but not now.”...

As a result of my unfortunate oversight, entering the US is always a bit of a performance. I am now wearily familiar with the look of consternation that crosses the immigration officer’s face, as my name comes up on the computer. Then I get pulled over for a “secondary inspection”. Usually, after 15 minutes or so, I am on my way.

But I am far from alone in feeling uneasy when I find myself in an American immigration line. In November, a survey of more than 2,000 regular foreign travellers found that 66 per cent of them agreed with the statement: “If you make a simple mistake or say the wrong thing to US immigration or security officials, you might be detained for hours or worse.”... 39 per cent of regular travellers rate the US “worst” for immigration and entry procedures; the Middle East came second on 16 per cent. Discover America complains of a “climate of fear” and a “travel crisis”. It cites a “near 20 per cent drop in the United States share of overseas travellers since 2000” and claims that this has cost 200,000 jobs and $93bn in revenue.

Rachman continues:

As for myself, when I am in Washington next week (God willing), I will make a point of cultivating people who might one day get top government jobs. I would do this anyway for professional reasons. But I also have an ulterior motive. Perhaps one day, one of my friends will get me off the immigration watch list. I explained my reasoning recently to one National Security Council hopeful. His reply was not encouraging: “Sorry – but it would easier for me to launch an air strike than to get your name out of the immigration computer.”

DeLong tags the post with “Politics: Bushisms”, among others, but immigration stupidity is a proud bipartisan tradition. It's true that this administration has lowered the already subterranean bar for acceptable immigration governance, but the immigration system is broken largely because that’s what suits most Americans. “Make it easy for us to go where we want and hard for others to come here,” is the task they have charged successive governments with, and successive governments, backed by the full military and financial clout of the U.S. government, have responded.

gay-straight alliance clubs

I always have a sinking feeling when I see my home state in the national news. This is why:

Most people would probably not consider the average high school chess club to be a hotbed of disorder or immorality. But a club is a club, and Utah has decided that student groups need some stern policing and regulation.

Next month, a 17-page law will take effect governing just about every nuance of public school extracurricular clubs, from kindergarten jump rope to high school drama. How groups can form, what they can discuss in their meetings, who can join, and what a principal must do if rules are violated are addressed.

But the school clubs law, signed last week by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., was not really intended to rein in the rowdies down at the audio-visual club, some lawmakers said. The real target was homosexuality.

“This is all about gay-straight alliance clubs, and anybody who tells you different is lying,” said State Senator Scott D. McCoy, Democrat from Salt Lake City, who voted against the law.

State Senator D. Chris Buttars, a Republican from the Salt Lake City suburbs and the law’s co-sponsor, said in an interview that he saw the need for the measure after parents from a high school in Provo, Utah, protested the formation of a gay-straight club in 2005.

But Mr. Buttars said his bill was intended to bring uniformity to the rules. The centerpiece, he said, is a clause giving school administrators the authority to ensure that clubs do not violate “the boundaries of socially appropriate behavior.”

“If a gay-straight club wants to meet together, as they say they do, just for friendship, I have no problem with that,” Mr. Buttars said. “But I think school districts should have the authority to do whatever they need to do protect their schools — the law gives them authority to make decisions to protect the physical, emotional, psychological or moral well being of students.”

Yes, Mr. Buttars, what these kids really want to do is have hot sex on school property, no heteros allowed, multiple partners preferred, BDSM on alternating Tuesdays, and they want to use taxpayer money for lube, sex toys, and homosexual propaganda. Then they want to march naked down to city hall, converting middle schoolers and cub scouts to their "lifestyle" along the way, and burn a big pile of Books of Mormon wrapped in American flags.

Mr. Buttars, you are retarded. Please remove yourself from public office immediately so no one has to listen to you explain your silly legislation ever again.

a cunning plan

What happens when you take some basic government incompetence, add a liberal amount of unprincipled arrogance, and throw in a dash of malevolence?

You get this story from the NY Times:

Ten Iraqis being held in a British military detention center in Basra carried out an audacious escape plan over the past several days: they switched places with visitors, British authorities said Friday.

An 11th detainee was missing, but no one appeared to have been substituted for him, British authorities said. The detention center is at a British base on the outskirts of Basra.

The escape came to light on Thursday, when it became apparent that “one person was not who he said he was,” said a spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity. The military began to investigate and found that nine other detainees were also substitutes. The real ones had walked out the door, apparently after swapping clothes with their willing stand-ins, British officials said.

The substitutions were carefully plotted, and the imposters “were remarkably well prepared,” the spokesman said.

“They looked the same,” he said. “They knew the stories of the people they were substituting for. It was quite a sophisticated effort, very carefully planned.”

Because none of the detainees who escaped had yet been charged with a crime, the British military would not provide any details about their cases or the facility in which they were held, including its size or the length of time that they had been held there.

Do their captors know why those Iraqis were being held? Did the British military have any plans to try and then release or punish any of the detainees? And why is this the job of the British government rather than that of the Iraqi government? Are British citizens happy with the priorities of Tony Blair? Did they learn anything about the value of due process from imprisoning innocent Irishmen for decades?

“I’m afraid that there are now people inside who shouldn’t be,” he said. “We are very unhappy about it all.”

Who could he be referring to? The Times has the answer in the next paragraph:

Thousands of Iraqis are held in American and British facilities in Iraq awaiting determinations on whether they will be charged with crimes. Some have been detained for more than two years.

When will enough be enough? What is wrong with our governments that makes them think this is acceptable? What is wrong with us that we don't do anything about it?

praise for TPM

Columbia Journalism Review has a good summary of TPM and the attorney purge story.

This article in the LA Times has more:

The bloggers used the usual tools of good journalists everywhere — determination, insight, ingenuity — plus a powerful new force that was not available to reporters until blogging came along: the ability to communicate almost instantaneously with readers via the Internet and to deputize those readers as editorial researchers, in effect multiplying the reporting power by an order of magnitude.

In December, Josh Marshall, who owns and runs TPM , posted a short item linking to a news report in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette about the firing of the U.S. attorney for that state. Marshall later followed up, adding that several U.S. attorneys were apparently being replaced and asked his 100,000 or so daily readers to write in if they knew anything about U.S. attorneys being fired in their areas.

For the two months that followed, Talking Points Memo and one of its sister sites, TPM Muckraker, accumulated evidence from around the country on who the axed prosecutors were, and why politics might be behind the firings. The cause was taken up among Democrats in Congress. One senior Justice Department official has resigned, and Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales is now in the media crosshairs.

This isn't the first time Marshall and Talking Points have led coverage on national issues. In 2002, the site was the first to devote more than just passing mention to then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's claim that the country would have been better off had the segregationist 1948 presidential campaign of Sen. Strom Thurmond succeeded. The subsequent furor cost Lott his leadership position.

Similarly, the TPM sites were leaders in chronicling the various scandals associated with Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

. . .

In much of its work, TPM exhibits a clearly identified political agenda. In this, it is no different from dozens of other blogs across the political spectrum. It distinguishes itself by mixing liberal opinion with original reporting by its own staff and actively seeking information from its readers.

This was most apparent in 2004-05 when Marshall turned the site's focus to President Bush's proposed privatization of Social Security. Marshall asked readers to survey their own members of Congress on the issue. This distributed reporting helped TPM compile rosters of where every member of Congress stood on the proposal, something no newspaper attempted. By making apparent the lack of enthusiasm for the plan, TPM helped kill it.

This is all true. Josh Marshall takes the collective knowledge of his readership and focuses it skillfully and precisely on certain key issues. He doesn’t pick up on every topic of the day; rather, he shapes political discourse by, on the one hand, picking at the threads of a story like the attorney purge or the Abramoff scandal persistently until it unravels, and on the other, pushing a consistent narrative of how each new development fits into the larger picture. The larger picture usually being Republican wrongdoing. The blog’s large and well-placed readership is the perfect muckraking tool, and I’m confident the attorney purge won’t be the last big story that first finds light at TPM.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Trial

IOZ puts it nicely:

A man is secretly detained for many months and years, incommunicado. What the people know of him is that he engaged in plots against the government, against the country. Eventually he is brought before a tribunal. Of course, he confesses to "a vast series of plots." Yes, I did it. And what's more, here's what I wanted to do!

I couldn't tell you if Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is really a "terrorist mastermind" or if he's a total fiction, invented by the government, represented by a goofy snapshot of a disheveled Arab man, who could be a Riyadh cabbie waking up with a hangover for all we know. Nor could anyone else really tell you. If not a product of our government, he is, at least, its singular possession. His existance lacks externality. He has no being, only meaning. Bless you, Jean Baudrillard: The Simulacrum is true.

The New York Times, meanwhile, pulls its usualy Pravda for this shameful farce.

"Mr. Mohammed, long said to be the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, he confessed to them and acknowledged full or partial responsibility for more than 30 other terror attacks or plots.

”I was responsible for the 9/11 operation, from A to Z,” he said.

It reads like a dispatch from the USSR. It reads like an East German party paper. Here is the thing about show trials: some of the tried are guilty of crimes. Some of them are terrorists, or violent revolutionaries, or foreign agents, or spies, or traitors. But the nature of the process is worse than any of their real or imagined crimes because it obviates guilt. It makes the judgement moot. It makes the finding and the confession irrelevant. Here is what we can say about the show trial of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed: Even if he were truly guilty of every item on the confession, he was not nor ever will be brought to justice.

My fiancée has more on this story:

he also admits to poisoning Victor Yushenko, shooting JR, framing Roger Rabbit, and hiding my cell phone where I couldn't find it.

More here.

that piercing gaze

Apologies to fans of 30 Seconds to Mars, but I couldn’t pass this up.

a fair shake

NY Times editorial today on America's underclass:

A screaming baby girl has been forcibly weaned from breast milk and taken, dehydrated, to an emergency room, so that the nation’s borders will be secure. Her mother and more than 300 other workers in a leather-goods factory in New Bedford, Mass., have been terrorized — subdued by guns and dogs, their children stranded at school — so that the country will notice that the Bush administration is serious about enforcing immigration laws. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of poor Americans, lacking the right citizenship papers, have been denied a doctor’s care so that not a penny of Medicaid will go to a sick illegal immigrant.

As the country waits for Congress and the president to enact immigration reform, the indecency of existing policies is becoming intolerable. The immigrant underclass is in a growing state of misery and fear. States and localities have rushed to fill the vacuum of Congressional inaction with a jumble of enforcement regimes. Farmers are worrying about crops rotting as their immigrant workers retreat further into the shadows. Officials in Colorado have settled on one solution: replacing those workers with prison chain gangs.

Senator Edward Kennedy, infuriated after visiting a New Bedford church basement and hearing tales of separated families and sick children, has given up on drafting a new immigration bill. He has decided instead to get Congress moving quickly by reintroducing a bill passed last year by the Senate Judiciary Committee. That bill — sponsored by Senator Arlen Specter, then the committee’s chairman — was seriously flawed to start and further distorted by harsh Republican amendments.

Mr. Kennedy clearly believes that the urgent priority is to get the bipartisan coalition for immigration reform back on the bus and to fix problems while the bus is moving. His frustrations are understandable, but he will have to work hard to make sure that he and the bill do not compromise too much. And there is a lot in the Specter bill to be concerned about. Parts of it were cut and pasted from a cruel immigration bill that passed the House, including draconian measures to speed immigrants’ deportation and deny them protection in the courts. It came with an arbitrary cutoff date, leaving anyone who arrived here illegally after 2004 in the cold.

What is urgently needed is decency, proportionality and bipartisanship to resolve this festering debate. Whenever and however the Senate revisits immigration, the bottom line must be the same: a bill that combines border security and workplace enforcement with diligent protection of workers’ rights and a path to citizenship for immigrants who work for it. The alternative, the blundering and punitive status quo, is a path of misery.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


The NY Times unearths the latest bit of thoughtful governing from administration officials (from Andrew Sullivan):

The dismissal of the seven prosecutors was preceded the previous summer by the removal of [U.S. Attorney] Cummins in Arkansas. He was succeeded by J. Timothy Griffin, a former prosecutor who had once worked with Mr. Rove. In a Dec. 19 e-mail message, [aide to Gonzales] Mr. Sampson wrote: “Getting him appointed was important to Harriet, Karl, etc.,” a reference to Ms. Miers and Mr. Rove.

Mr. Sampson’s e-mail message, sent to the White House and Justice Department colleagues, suggested he was hoping to stall efforts by the state’s two Democratic senators to pick their own candidates as permanent successors for Mr. Cummins.

“I think we should gum this to death,” Mr. Sampson wrote. “Ask the senators to give Tim a chance, meet with him, give him some time in office to see how he performs, etc. If they ultimately say ‘no never’ (and the longer we can forestall that the better), then we can tell them we’ll look for other candidates, ask them for recommendations, interview their candidates, and otherwise run out the clock. All this should be done in ‘good faith’ of course.”

Generally it’s not a good idea to put quote marks around the term “good faith”, especially if the Senators you are bamboozling may read it at some point in the future.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

no, the answer is no

Will Bunch (via Atrios, who's picked the wrong target today, I think) picks up the tidbit that John Edwards didn’t really want to vote for the war resolution in 2002, but his advisor Bob Shrum talked him into it.

If John Edwards had taken the time to better educate himself about events that take place outside of our borders, my guess is he would have been less likely to vote for the resolution. Since he wasn’t confident in his own judgment on the subject, he deferred to an advisor who probably knew even less about it than he did. Can we really afford another president who doesn’t know his ass from his elbow on foreign policy?

bang for your buck

I’ll just second Andrew Sullivan and say that I’ve not been too impressed by the Human Rights Campaign and have been very impressed by Immigration Equality, which is a much smaller outfit that punches well above its weight.

Monday, March 12, 2007

states’ rights

The NY Times has a couple of stories today about clashes between states and the federal government over immigration enforcement. First is this:

A new federal rule intended to keep illegal immigrants from receiving Medicaid has instead shut out tens of thousands of United States citizens who have had difficulty complying with requirements to show birth certificates and other documents proving their citizenship, state officials say.

Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Ohio and Virginia have all reported declines in enrollment and traced them to the new federal requirement, which comes just as state officials around the country are striving to expand coverage through Medicaid and other means.

Under a 2006 federal law, the Deficit Reduction Act, most people who say they are United States citizens and want Medicaid must provide “satisfactory documentary evidence of citizenship,” which could include a passport or the combination of a birth certificate and a driver’s license.

. . .

“Congress wanted to crack down on illegal immigrants who got Medicaid benefits by pretending to be U.S. citizens,” Mr. Jones said. “But the law is hurting U.S. citizens, throwing up roadblocks to people who need care, at a time when we in Wisconsin are trying to increase access to health care.”

There are a lot of elderly and sick New Yorkers languishing in nursing homes, care facilities, hospitals, and on the street who may have lawful status in this country but don’t have the documentation to receive the care they need, or to do things like get a job or open a bank account. Let’s say a naturalized citizen falls on hard times, loses his home and job, doesn’t have much family in this country, and ends up on the street for a time, losing in the process every shred of paper that ever once identified him as a member of the human race. It happens more often than you might expect. Let’s say he wants to start things over and try to pick up the pieces of his life. It can be nearly impossible for such a person to navigate on his own the bureaucratic maze needed to recover the documentary foundation upon which modern life is built.

At the employment office: “You need two forms of picture ID and proof of citizenship to start work.”

At the DMV: “You can’t get a state-issued ID unless you have proof of birth that we accept: birth certificate, passport, non-expired permanent resident card.”

At the Department of Health: “You can’t get a birth certificate without a government-issued ID.” Doesn’t matter in our case anyway, since our guy was born abroad. That’s even worse—just try getting a birth certificate from another country with no valid form of identification.

At Citizenship and Immigration Services: “No more walk-ins today. Use the kiosk in the hall to make an InfoPass appointment.” Our guy soon discovers that an InfoPass appointment requires a government-issued ID.
“But that’s what I need to talk to somebody about.”
“Call our 1-800 number.”
After 45 minutes on hold, our guy is transferred and then told to make an InfoPass appointment.

Can’t work, can’t eat, can’t pay rent. But can’t receive public benefits either, since he can’t prove he exists to the satisfaction of any of the government agencies tasked with keeping track of him. He may as well not exist.

So maybe he gives up and stays on the street. Maybe he dies.

Or maybe he finds a non-profit agency that knows how to request written confirmation of his immigration status from USCIS, then can assist him in applying for a replacement citizenship document and is willing to pay the hundreds of dollars in fees that the government charges for this service. Then with patience and perseverance, he can use that document to get others, and rebuild a life.

But knowing that our sympathies run young, the Times aims to push the right buttons by focusing on another demographic:

Medicaid officials across the country report that some pregnant women are going without prenatal care and some parents are postponing checkups for their children while they hunt down birth certificates and other documents.

Rhiannon M. Noth, 28, of Cincinnati applied for Medicaid in early December. When her 3-year-old son, Landen, had heart surgery on Feb. 22, she said, “he did not have any insurance” because she had been unable to obtain the necessary documents. For the same reason, she said, she paid out of pocket for his medications, and eye surgery was delayed for her 2-year-old daughter, Adrianna.

The children eventually got Medicaid, but the process took 78 days, rather than the 30 specified in Ohio Medicaid rules.

Dr. Martin C. Michaels, a pediatrician in Dalton, Ga., who has been monitoring effects of the federal rule, said: “Georgia now has 100,000 newly uninsured U.S. citizen children of low-income families. Many of these children have missed immunizations and preventive health visits. And they have been admitted to hospitals and intensive care units for conditions that normally would have been treated in a doctor’s office.”

Dr. Michaels, who is president of the Georgia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said that some children with asthma had lost their Medicaid coverage and could not afford the medications they had been taking daily to prevent wheezing. “Some of these children had asthma attacks and had to be admitted to hospitals,” he said.

In Kansas, R. Andrew Allison, the state Medicaid director, said: “The federal requirement has had a tremendous impact. Many kids have lost coverage or have not been able to obtain coverage.” Since the new rule took effect in July, enrollment in Kansas has declined by 20,000 people, to 245,000, and three-fourths of the people dropped from the rolls were children.

Well, those people probably don’t vote, anyway. A few months with no dialysis should show them the pain of civic disengagement. Serves ‘em right.

So goes the thinking.

Next we have a dust-up between the Massachusetts state government and the feds, who recently whisked away hundreds of immigrant workers across the Mason-Dixon line to prison in Texas via a sort of perverse Underground Railroad:

The head of Massachusetts' social services on Monday called for the release of about 20 factory workers arrested in an immigration raid, saying many have children with no one else to care for them.

They were among the 361 people taken into custody following the raid March 6 at a Michael Bianco Inc. factory that makes equipment and apparel for the U.S. military.

Many of the suspected illegal immigrants were shipped to detention centers in Texas before a federal judge ordered the rest to remain in Massachusetts because advocates said the raid created a ''humanitarian crisis.''

Commissioner Harry Spence was among three-dozen state Department of Social Services workers who traveled to Texas during the weekend to interview more than 200 detainees.

The department workers returned to Massachusetts on Monday after recommending the return of 21 detainees the day before, Spence said. Immigration officials in Texas were releasing nine of those 21, Russ Knocke, spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security in Washington, D.C., said Monday.

. . .

Spence said the detainees he wants released have children ages 2 to 16, and a few of the children had medical conditions that required special care, including one child that required a feeding tube. All were believed to be born in the United States and therefore are U.S. citizens.

. . .

In the days following the raid in New Bedford, a 7-month-old child was hospitalized for dehydration because the breast-feeding infant refused to drink formula and the mother was in custody for two nights. Another mother was located in Texas after her 7-year-old child called a hot line state officials created to reunite families.

Commissioner Spence now seems satisfied that the most pressing concerns were met. But it’s only a matter of time before some baby dies alone at home because her mother is locked up somewhere for a few days without warning. Maybe it’s happened already. We could say, to heighten the outrage, that this dying infant will be a U.S. citizen, but it’s kind of sad if that’s the principal reason people would care.

But this and the previous article highlight the growing tension between the states and the federal government over how and to whom government services are to be provided. What is the purpose of government? Massachusetts views its immigrant workers as constituents and acts accordingly. The federal government views them as criminals and acts accordingly.

Will the free states band together and make a stand against tyranny? Will the federal government crack down brutally in order to preserve the Union?

Well, I doubt that even the free states care enough about their illegal immigrants to incur any grave inconvenience on their behalf. And the current administration is nominally pro-immigrant. Most of the activity at the moment is political posturing ahead of the immigration bill coming down the pike, which may be the most significant immigration legislation in the last decade or two. But it isn’t theatre to the people whose lives and families are being forcibly scattered.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

This . . . Is . . . Spaahhtaaa!!!

I saw 300 last night amongst a crowd of teenagers, having a pretty good idea of what I was in for. I thought I’d give it a chance since I enjoyed Sin City, but there was no sense in which the movie was not utterly ridiculous. Each scene was more laughable than the last. The movie is parody-proof—any attempt to mock it would be redundant. I found myself wondering whether the movie was made in good faith, or whether it’s instead a Borat-like effort to pull one over on war-loving American audiences and liberal film critics alike. It certainly seems destined to take its place with the great B-movies of all time.

As it turns out, Frank Miller is fully nuts, and most likely his contributions as executive producer and creator of the graphic novel upon which the film is based were completely in earnest. Here’s a transcript of an NPR interview with him in January of this year:

NPR: As you look at people around you, though, why do you think they’re so, as you would put it, self-absorbed, even whiny?

FM: Well, I’d say it’s for the same reason the Athenians and Romans were. We’ve got it a little good right now. Where I would fault President Bush the most, was that in the wake of 9/11, he motivated our military, but he didn’t call the nation into a state of war. He didn’t explain that this would take a communal effort against a common foe. So we’ve been kind of fighting a war on the side, and sitting off like a bunch of Romans complaining about it. Also, I think that George Bush has an uncanny knack of being someone people hate. I thought Clinton inspired more hatred than any President I had ever seen, but I’ve never seen anything like Bush-hatred. It’s completely mad.

NPR: And as you talk to people in the streets, the people you meet at work, socially, how do you explain this to them?

FM: Mainly in historical terms, mainly saying that the country that fought Okinawa and Iwo Jima is now spilling precious blood, but so little by comparison, it’s almost ridiculous. And the stakes are as high as they were then. Mostly I hear people say, ‘Why did we attack Iraq?’ for instance. Well, we’re taking on an idea. Nobody questions why after Pearl Harbor we attacked Nazi Germany. It was because we were taking on a form of global fascism, we’re doing the same thing now.

NPR: Well, they did declare war on us, but…

FM: Well, so did Iraq.

At one point, King Leonidus’s wife, the queen, has an argument with the treacherous councilman Theron in which she scorns his “realist” take on foreign policy and defends her husband as an “idealist.” This I took to be a straightforward reference to the contemporary debate over the direction of U.S. foreign policy and the Iraq war. I’m no classical scholar, but I’m skeptical that these terms of modern international relations discourse were common in ancient Sparta.

Also, Sparta seems an odd subject for a movie about a freedom-loving nation of warriors, built as it was from top to bottom on slave labor.

Matt Yglesias weighs in:

My less political friends were mostly focused on the gay undertones, but from a foreign policy perspective it's hard to avoid noticing that this is a movie wherein your heros battle the insidious forces of Iran Persia. At one point, Xerxes even unleashes a rhinoscerous of mass destruction. Clearly, in the film's mythic retelling of the Thermopylae story, the Spartans are not only the heros but they are, in an important sense, us. We all living in the west are, or so the story goes, the heirs to Greek culture and civilization which was saved that day against in battle against the Asiatic hordes.

On another level, however, the "thousand nations of the Persian Empire" were the superpower of their day, like the United States. The Spartan rhetoric refers to "freedom" but it is not the liberty of the moderns for which they speak. In conventional terms, Xerxes' subjects were probably freer than those under Leonidas' rule. Rather, the Spartans fight for the freedom of Sparta the freedom of Greece, for the self-determination and autonomy of their people, and they fight for it to the point of irrationality and suicide. The impulse has more in common with, say, Hugo Chavez' defiance of the superpower next door or Palestinians detonating a car bomb at a West Bank checkpoint than it does with anything in contemporary American policy.

A commenter takes issue with the idea that we are the heirs of Greek civilization:

Actually, the idea that contemporary Western culture derives from the ancient Greeks is just as much a myth as the Garden of Eden. Think of the first battle scene in Gladiator and ask yourself which side became "us." It was the screaming Germanic barbarian hordes that became most of the white peoples of Western Europe and North America. The West almost completely lost access to Greek traditions during the migrations of the 400's and 500's and began a different type of cultural development during the Middle Ages. If you want to see a society that's derived from the traditions of Ancient Greece, visit Greece.

300 was also one of the gayest homophobic movies I’ve ever seen. Every other remark out of a Spartan’s mouth impugned the masculinity of someone deemed to be insufficiently warlike. The enemies all wore eyeliner, and the enemy king’s eyebrows were immaculately plucked and shaped.

Dana Stevens at Slate put it this way (via Andrew Sullivan):

Here are just a few of the categories that are not-so-vaguely conflated with the "bad" (i.e., Persian) side in the movie: black people. Brown people. Disfigured people. Gay men (not gay in the buff, homoerotic Spartan fashion, but in the effeminate Persian style). Lesbians. Disfigured lesbians. Ten-foot-tall giants with filed teeth and lobster claws. Elephants and rhinos (filthy creatures both). The Persian commander, the god-king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) is a towering, bald club fag with facial piercings, kohl-rimmed eyes, and a disturbing predilection for making people kneel before him.

As others have noted, I’ve never seen so many chiseled abs and crotch shots as I did of the Spartans in battle in their leather hot pants. As A.O. Scott points out, electrolysis therapy must have been quite advanced in Sparta, or maybe they waxed before they went into battle. At one point the Spartan leader mocks Athenian men for their love of young boys. But anyone with a passing familiarity with Greek history (or Jesus’ General) would know that Spartans were famous for their state-sanctioned same-sex relationships (links from another commenter), which were used as a way to train boys to be warriors and improve unit morale—kind of the reverse approach of the U.S. armed forces. Somehow, none of this came out in the movie, which managed to be a perfect storm of homophobia and xenophobia.

More from Yglesias:

Certainly, on a not-very-subtle level the semiotics here are indicating that the Middle East is populated by people who are, at best, partially human. This is taken over directly from the comic book but somehow amped-up during adaptation.

I wonder how many of the film’s fans are going to realize that Persians live in Iran, the target of the latest war the administration is trying to gin up. But it probably doesn’t matter much—Miller still gets his message across. Arabs is Arabs, even when they’re Persian.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

gun control

From the NY Times yesterday:

Violent crime rose by double-digit percentages in cities across the country over the last two years, reversing the declines of the mid-to-late 1990s, according to a new report by a prominent national law enforcement association.

While overall crime has been declining nationwide, police officials have been warning of a rise in murder, robbery and gun assaults since late 2005, particularly in midsize cities and the Midwest. Now, they say, two years of data indicates that the spike is more than an aberration.

“There are pockets of crime in this country that are astounding,” said Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, which is releasing the report on Friday. “It’s gone under the radar screen, but it’s not if you’re living on the north side of Minneapolis or the south side of Los Angeles or in Dorchester, Mass.

Local police departments blame several factors: the spread of methamphetamine use in some Midwestern and Western cities, gangs, high poverty and a record number of people being released from prison.

Surprisingly, the consequence of putting a record number of people into prison is that at some later point, a record number of people will be released from prison. They can’t be locked up forever.

But the biggest theme, they say, is easy access to guns and a willingness, even an eagerness, to settle disputes with them, particularly among young people.

. . .

Seventy-one percent of the cities surveyed had an increase in homicides, 80 percent had an increase in robberies, and 67 percent reported an increase in aggravated assaults with guns.

. . .

Many chiefs blame the federal government for reducing police programs that they say helped cut crime in the 1990s. But they also say the problem is economic and social. “We seem to be dealing with an awful lot of people who have zero conflict-resolution skills,” Chief Magnus said.

. . .

Many chiefs blame the federal government for reducing police programs that they say helped cut crime in the 1990s. But they also say the problem is economic and social. “We seem to be dealing with an awful lot of people who have zero conflict-resolution skills,” Chief Magnus said.

And too many guns. Guns, guns, guns! Flood the country with guns, as the NRA has managed to do, and this is the predictable result. People in the suburbs gots to have their handguns, for some reason I have never understood, but then it’s young men of color in the cities who do the bulk of the shooting and the dying. The former is probably motivated by vague fear of the latter, but the actual chances of a drug-deranged inner-city youth breaking into a McMansion in Provo, UT or The Woodlands, TX or pretty much anywhere you’ve got a high concentration of dues-paying NRA members is close to zero. On the other hand, the chances of getting shot if you are a young man in the city who likes to carry a gun are quite high.

There’s an idea floating in the ether that having a gun on your person makes you less likely to be shot and killed, when all available evidence points to the opposite conclusion.

Meanwhile, episodes like this will forever be used to explain why we need even more guns in our society. Guns for every man, woman, and child! Then everyone will feel perfectly safe.

This quote from the Salt Lake Tribune article linked to above sums up the situation fairly well:

Homicide and suicide rates in countries where gun ownership is restricted - like Japan, Canada and the United Kingdom - are a fraction of the U.S. rate, Sackett said.

Just what kind of numbers are we talking about? Here are per-capita murder rates in other developed nations presented as a percentage of the U.S. rate, calculated from this site:

South Korea: 46%
France: 40%
Australia: 35%
Canada: 35%
UK: 33%
Italy: 30%
Germany: 27%
Spain: 27%
Japan: 12%

Fewer guns = fewer gun deaths. More guns = more gun deaths. While there are other factors involved, it’s hard not to see the pattern here.

That’s why law enforcement officials in cities with high murder rates are not happy with decisions like this:

Interpreting the Second Amendment broadly, a federal appeals court in Washington yesterday struck down a gun control law in the District of Columbia that bars residents from keeping handguns in their homes.

The decision was the first from a federal appeals court to hold a gun control law unconstitutional on the ground that the Second Amendment protects the rights of individuals, as opposed to the collective rights of state militias. Nine other federal appeals courts around the nation have rejected that interpretation.

Linda Singer, the District’s acting attorney general, said the decision was “a huge setback.”

“We’ve been making progress on bringing down crime and gun violence,” Ms. Singer said, “and this sends us in a different direction.”

. . .

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said the District was reviewing both the impact of the decision and the next steps it would take in the litigation. “Today’s decision flies in the face of laws that have helped decrease gun violence in the District of Columbia,” Mr. Fenty said at a news conference. “We intend to do everything in our power to get this decision overturned.”

But what do they know about crime and gun violence?

IOZ follows up on what I took Michael Moore’s point to be: that we have a culture that is uniquely (among developed countries) enamored with violence, which has both domestic and international manifestations. Americans might not be so wedded to their guns if we had a less militaristic, aggressive outlook on life. But strengthening gun control laws would be a good start towards curbing the bloodlust.