Saturday, October 15, 2005

Should Virginia Execute Hitler?

The Virginia Gubernatorial race gets a little bit uglier. Godwin's law aside (does that only apply to internet posts, by the way?), I really dislike this ad. In my opinion, the Holocaust should be used to influence one political issue and one political issue only: genocide. Since the chances of mass murder breaking out in old Virginny are relatively slim, and since neither Kaine nor Kilgore will have any influence on American policy regarding the current genocide in Darfur, the Hitler reference is exploitative and entirely inappropriate.

A few thoughts. First, according to The Washington Post, Jewish leaders share my outrage by the usage here:
Adolf Hitler became a central character in the Virginia governor's race this week as Republican Jerry W. Kilgore's campaign used the Nazi leader's name in an emotional ad on the death penalty, prompting an outcry Friday from some Jewish leaders.
Such references are inappropriate and insensitive, and, as part of a discussion of the death penalty in the Commonwealth of Virginia, trivialize the horrors of the Holocaust," wrote David Friedman, a regional director for the group.

While most Jewish groups lean Democrat (making some conservatives suspicious), it appears that this is not a partisan issue:
Holocaust references have become almost off-limits in American politics as Jewish leaders have begun to pounce on what they say are cynical attempts to capitalize on the emotional power of the genocide.

U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) was chastised for accusing Senate Republicans of acting like Nazis. Conservative commentator Pat Buchanan was taken to task for comparing the Terri Schiavo case to the killings at Auschwitz. And in Virginia, state Sen. Janet D. Howell (D-Fairfax) was reprimanded for comparing a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage to the Holocaust.

It's very frustrating to me to see non-Jewish politicians (especially non-Jewish politicians who take positions at odds with the majority of the Jewish community) co-opt one of the most horrifying events in our history without our consent. The fact that this ad ran without any apparent consultation with the Jewish community is appalling. It doesn't matter whether the ad matches some hypothetical situation where Kaine would have to pass judgment on Hitler (and even the accuracy in this respect is disputed). The Kilgore campaign should have consulted with the Jewish community before invoking a man who's very name has a powerful psychological effect on Jews around the world. It just lends more credence to my hypothesis that the Jewish identity is rapidly devolving into nothing more than a political football for non-Jewish activists. There is no examination of Jewish perspectives on the death penalty (which admittedly is a very complex issue). The impact is a very powerful silencing effect on the Jewish community, as its views on its own identity become irrelevant and pass out of the public debate. This is marginalization personified.

Second, Kaine's opposition to the Death Penalty comes out of his sincere religious beliefs as a Roman Catholic. Recall that Kaine has said that he will enforce Virginia's death penalty law because it's the law--his anti-death penalty position is a personal belief, nothing more. Imagine the outrage if a liberal candidate attacked a conservative candidate for just holding conservative religious beliefs. Hell, you don't even have to imagine it--we know what would happen, because we've been hearing for several years now Republicans blasting Democratic Senators for asking conservative judicial nominees if their sincere religious beliefs will prevent them from upholding the law. "Religious discrimination!" they cry. "Stop persecuting people of faith." But what the Democrats are doing is asking the perfectly legitimate question about whether these potential judge's personal faith will conflict with the rule of law. The Kilgore ad attacks the belief even after being assured the rule of law won't be implicated. There is a difference here, to be sure, but the GOP comes out far worse.

I haven't been following the VA race that closely, but from what I've picked up it seems that Kilgore is running a paradigmatic nasty campaign. Ads like this are maybe the most visible instances. However, I also heard that as he got pummelled in the debates, he resorted to old conservative stand-bys of "TAXES WILL RISE TO THE HEAVENS!!! AAAAAAHHHH!!!!" In other words, what we've seen out of the Kilgore campaign is what we see out of far too many campaigns in America today: lots of inflammatory rhetoric, precious little substantive debate. I won't say I think this is worse than gratuitous Holocaust references. But it is something we should oppose.

One final (brief) note on Jewish views on the Death Penalty. In Judaism, the commandment is "Thou Shalt Not Murder" (as opposed to "Kill"), and the Death Penalty is not considered murder if judicially imposed as punishment for certain crimes. However, Talmudic interpretation has severely limited when it can imposed--placing extremely high procedural hurdles before the state can justly take a life (to the practical effect that it could never be imposed at all). So while Jews don't subscribe to the Roman Catholic model which is inherently opposed to the Death Penalty, a Jewish perspective would be appalled by the broken, unjust, and frankly racist freight train to the Electric Chair that personifies Virginia's Death Penalty system. Which is roughly my position as well: The Death Penalty may be alright in theory, but in practice it is broken beyond repair. That these nuances were again, entirely ignored by the Kilgore campaign as it sought to exploit Jewish tragedy for electoral gain, is icing on a bitter cake of Jewish political expendablity.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Academic News

Some interesting maneuvering going on in the academic sphere. To start, Brian Leiter informs us that Chicago Law Professor Adrien Vermeule is jumping ship to Harvard. But more interestingly, he says that of Harvard's latest five pick-ups (including Vermeule), three are generally considered to be "conservatives."

Now, Leiter thinks that the liberal academy is a "myth" to begin with (I personally think there is some truth to it, see my thoughts here, here, and here for a few examples). Regardless of whether that's true or not, one wonders about the impact of Harvard's hiring choices. Is it completely innocent? Are they trying to remedy unequal political representation on their faculty? Are bowing to outside pressure and trying to appear to remedy said inequality (without actually thinking it exists and/or matters)? Regardless of intention, how will Harvard's campus environment be affected by an influx of conservative scholars?

On a slightly related note, one of the big reasons I've been willing to concede there is a liberal slant in academia is that their seem to be a lot of studies demonstrating it to be true. (Big reason number two is that I've definitely observed it on my own campus). But now I read this Lior Strahilevitz post on the latest of those studies, and I'm not so sure. Apparently, a much trumpeted David Horowitz study proclaimed, among other things, that at the University of Chicago, Democrats outnumber Republicans 55 to 8, out of 100 full-time professors surveyed. The problem, as Professor Strahilevitz notes, is that Chicago only has 33 full-time professors, making the best. Anybody know what's going on here?

Bring in the Noise

I hope all my Jewish readers had a good fast. I personally didn't fast, but I did spend much of the day repenting over the fact that I didn't fast, so hopefully it evens out (right?). Somewhat distressingly, my hit counts for yesterday still topped 200, even though I didn't post. Thus proving that I'm most popular when I'm saying nothing at all. Lovely.

I also found out that I didn't make Model UN this year, after making the team last year. I'm kind of upset, but I have plenty on my plate already (and I prefer debate anyway). [Ed.: Does this have anything to do with you relaying to one of the MUN Officers that you hated the event last year and thought it was idiotic?] I can very much imagine that factoring into the decision, yes. But it still was a fun trip, and I think I could have done quite well this year.

Finally, to bring is back to the blogosphere for a moment, Nate Oman informs us that he hates the peace and quiet of a law office and needs some noise to truly concentrate on his work. Finally, validation! It took me forever in High School to explain to my parents that I could concentrate better with music on (they insisted it would be "distracting"). When I worked at Williams & Connelly this summer, the head library honchos were kind enough to let me listen to my iPod while I worked. But in my entire three month tenure at the firm, I saw a grand total of one attorney listening to music while he worked (and I think he might have been a Summer Associate). Do you think that listening to music is frowned upon by the veterans as flippant or distracting (much like, say, blogging)? Or is this just considered a quirk of individual attorneys?

Of course, while Omans is listening to Handel and The Dave Matthews Band, I'm listening to Hoobastank and Trust Company. But we'll chalk that up to the generational gap.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Zone Defense

I believe I have linked to Cathy Young twice in my blogging tenure: Once when she blew apart Eric Alterman on Holocaust trivialization, and once nailing Stephen Bainbridge on a disparate-impact switcharoo. Both times I was quite gleeful at her skilled dismemberments.

It's, uh, a bit less entertaining when I'm the one in the crosshairs. The topic is my two posts (plus one at The Moderate Voice) on whether or not a particular Feministe post is or isn't emblematic of liberal "blame America firstism." It had stirred up quite the hornet's nest already, but even I wasn't expected a Boston Globe columnist to weigh in. But alas, I'll fight the good fight, even when I'm in over my head.

But let's start off with my main target, Jeff Goldstein, who also had some choice words to say on my arguments. Basically, I said this his critique of Feministe followed the following path:
conservatives take a reasonable liberal post, distort it so it "blames America first," proclaim it to be the epitome of liberal thought, and conclude with a lament that all the moderate liberals who don't engage in this type of thinking are gone.

And Jeff cried foul, saying I "completely misread[] the post" and saying his post did nothing of the sort.

Did it? To the videotape.

1) "Distort it so it 'blames America first'":
Jeff approvingly quotes a comment by Karol which said the following:
Is America perfect? Yes, compared to the land of Saud, we are. You do a disservice to the battle against violence of women by even noting our problems in the same post as Saudi Arabia. America bashing is always fun, I'm sure, but it makes us take the problems of Saudi Arabia much less seriously when you draw a moral equivalence between what happens here and what happens there. It's actually a classic liberal problem, to be unable to criticize anything without first criticizing America. It makes people tune you out and not to take you seriously and whatever point you were trying to make becomes muddled or irrelevant under that equivalence. [emphasis added]

As I pointed out in my own post, this isn't what Feministe was saying at all--far from "first criticizing America" and then, bona fides established, lamenting Saudi Arabian abuse as well, the post spends the first 9/10 bashing Saudi abuse and then as a one paragraph disclaimer asks that we not ignore or minimize abuse at home. So to say, as Jeff approvingly quotes, that this is a case of "America bashing" (much less that the bashing came "first") is simply wrong. So the "distort" claim goes through.

2) "Proclaim it to be the epitome of liberal thought"
Jeff says flat out: "It is typical of the kind of discourse those on the left are treating us to these days." So yes, he's proclaiming this to be "typical" of leftist discourse. He also says that to get rid of it, we'd need to "nuke the base"--implying that this is a common rhetorical move within the mainstream movers and shakers of the Democratic party (I apologize to everyone that I've never seen "Alien"--but I assume this doesn't completely change the meaning of the phrase?). And of course, the second italicized portion of Karol's quote also argues that this is a "classic liberal problem."

3) "Lament that all the moderate liberals who don't engage in this type of thinking are gone"
Jeff references what Democrats would have to do to bring moderates back into the camp:
Rox Populi asked the other day what it might take for moderate Republicans and independents to return to the Democratic Party.

To which I said, quite seriously, that the first thing the Dems would have to do is nuke their base.

A base which, presumably, is rife with this pattern of thinking and where moderates who don't think this way are AWOL.

So, I think Jeff's post follows my pattern relatively closely. I love ya, Jeff, but here I think you're just flat wrong.

Now, on to Cathy. She focuses on the particular claim of mine regarding inconsistency. That is, I argued that insofar as conservatives are claiming that post's like Feministe are part of a pattern of liberal anti-American discourse (even conceding for the moment that the post was part of said pattern, which again I don't think it was), the claim falls flat when conservatives just ignore posts which don't meet the pattern. If they only link to posts that fit the pattern, of course it will exist (and look like a pathology). But that's nothing more than confirmation bias. Cathy flips this point around:
Left-wing feminists don't offer an "it's bad here too" disclaimer every single time they talk about the oppression of women in the Third World? Fine.

Commenters at TMV made similar points, that I wanted the right to give Feministe a cookie every time they didn't attach a requisite America-smack to a post. But it's the right who's forwarding an empirical claim about how liberals talk, that this is a "classic problem," an "inability" to condemn the sins of others without condemning our own. In that respect, they have an obligation to examine the left as a totality, not plucking individual posts out and proclaiming a trend. That's the confirmation bias problem I was talking about--they're drawing a consciously skewed picture and presenting it as fact.

The confirmation bias can also be seen in how Cathy reads the post itself. She writes:
In fact, the placement of the comment about domestic violence in America at the end of Jill's post - in the concluding paragraph, not a footnote - has the effect of shifting the focus from the oppression of women in Saudi Arabia to the "cultural ills" that afflict women in America. If she had wanted merely to acknowledge that we have problems too, why not say, "Yes, America has problems with domestic violence and gender inequality, too, but to even compare them to the abuse and oppression of women in America is delusional to the point of being obscene"? The way her post is written, its main point ends up being: Let's not feel too superior to those Saudis.

To me, the post only comes off that way if you want it to come of that way. To be clear, 85% of the Feministe post (I did a word count) focuses on Saudi Arabia with nary a mention of the US. To interpret the concluding 15% as entirely absorbing the rest strikes me as an act of will. It doesn't strike me as something that would come about absent a pre-conceptualized narrative about how the "left" talks. Cathy's re-write would completely destroy Feministe's real point, which is that we shouldn't minimize our own abuse even while condemning the much worse abuse abroad. Cathy's wording would let us feel all superior about our abuse-response, which isn't a mindset likely to galvanize the masses toward true reform. It encourages political quiescence, the exact opposite of what we want here. So to propose it as a viable alternative only makes sense if the goal is to condemn Saudi Arabia and praise America, as oppose to condemn Saudi Arabia and not let America off the hook. The latter, to me, seems a far more reasonable (and honest) characterization of the way the world is.

The final point Cathy makes is that the presence/absence of America bashing in the Saudi/Columbia posts (respectively) comes from a reflexive leftist opposition to imperialism, which they are currently superimposing on the war on terror:
But actually, the contrast between the two posts is interesting. Maybe the difference in approach is due partly to the fact that the oppression of women in traditional Islamic societies has become a conservative cause lately, with the plight of Muslim women invoked as a justification for U.S. intervention; so, when leftists talk about women's oppression in those countries, they want to be especially careful to avoid even seeming to validate "American imperialism." More broadly, radical/fundamentalist Islam right now is America's "Other," the them in "us vs. them." Maybe that's why talk of the mistreatment of women under fundamentalist Islamic regimes has to be accompanied (no, not always, but often enough) by disclaimers that are supposed to bring America down a peg: Can't allow those ugly Americans to feel culturally superior to the Other!

First of all, I don't think this is true. Any Patriarchy-blamer worth her salt could find a link between Columbia and American imperialism. Plan Columbia anyone? And I can at least speak for myself that I'm pretty gosh-darn hawkish on the War on Terror--I don't see it as imperialist but as a morally obligatory liberation of oppressed. But more importantly, I think that this distinction hurts conservatives as much as it hurts liberals. Recall a point I made in the first post:
I never see conservative blogs rail against domestic abuse in America. I never see conservative blogs argue in favor of difficult sacrifices to make up for our failings to African-Americans, women, and other minorities continually left behind in the America dream. Very occasionally, the subject comes up, but it's only instrumental to other goals ("Many black children live in broken families. We have to ban gay marriage!"), it's never discussed for its own sake.

Conservatives have only made domestic abuse in the Muslim world a "cause" recently because Radical Islam is our enemy d'jour. This is not to say that it isn't a problem, that they aren't our enemy, or that we shouldn't be condemning it. Rather, it is an observation that whereas liberals are opposing bad things because they're bad (regardless of whether it advantages us in the geopolitical realm--I don't think Columbia is going to challenge our hegemony in the near future), conservatives appear to only challenge bad things to the extent that its an effective lever to achieve broader ends (such as winning the war on terror). Now, I want to win the war on terror as much as anyone--but I don't think that opposition to domestic abuse should be tied to that, to be summarily abandoned when we win the battle. Insofar as conservatives are not opposing abuse qua abuse, but abuse qua abuse by our enemies, they're engaging in a form of relativism of their own--every bit as despicable as the straw man rhetoric they claim liberals engagement.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Maybe They're Just Taking Their Time

A few days ago, some members of the conservative blogosphere, unfairly in my view, criticized a Feministe post on Saudi Arabia because it dared note the US has problems to. There was much harrumphing by Karol of Alarming News, Jeff Alan, Jeff Goldstein, John Cole, and others about how those kooky leftists could never criticize other countries without a requisite America-bash, how much they hate our country, moral equivilancy, etc etc.. It proved to be a very controversial post as the right piled on and the left played defense--144 comments and trackbacks in all.

Today, Feministe wrote about trying to liberalize Columbia's draconian abortion laws. It did not contain a one paragraph disclaimer about American abortion attitudes--despite them almost definitely also not being up to what the Feministe girls would prefer. It was a plea for change in Columbia and Columbia alone--no America-bashing, criticizing, commentary, or conversation included. Just what the right says the left never does.

Response of the conservative blogosphere? Nada. This post has, to date, garnered a grand total of one comment.

Maybe the reason conservatives only see liberals attacking America is because they ignore everything else they say. And undoubtedly, the next time a liberal blog incorporates American problems with gender issues in the context of a larger post, the usual suspects will be back proclaiming that this is how leftists always operate and that they never can speak out against other abuses for their own sake.

Confirmation bias, anyone?

Not Comforting

Orin Kerr points us to this story in the New York Sun regarding (in Dan Markel's words) L'affiare Drezner. For the most part, it's nothing too noteworthy. But this statement did catch my eye:
While refusing to go into specifics about Mr. Drezner's tenure case, the chairman of the political science department at the University of Chicago, Dali Yang, dismissed the notion that his department considered Mr. Drezner's blog in making its decision. "I can assure you it's not specifically about the blog," he said.

Ummm... "not specifically about the blog"? That doesn't go far in assuaging my fears. I'd hope that the U of C didn't go, "yeah, Professor Drezner rocks, but the blog...ugh...." What we're all worried about is that it will be considered in any negative light, period. Which I don't think it should be, and I hope Professor Markel is right that it won't be in the future.

Again, I'm not saying that Chicago actually did give the blog considerable weight in it's decision. I'm just saying that Professor Yang's statement does little to reassure the blogging population that their blogs will not affect their career chances.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Did I Forget Anything?

An interesting conversation in the blogosphere has begun over when it is appropriate to note American abuses in the context of much worse abuse around the world. The spark was this post at Feministe, detailing a case of Domestic Violence in Saudi Arabia that finally managed to shatter the silence such crimes are normally treated to in that nation. What got the right's gander up was the ending paragraph, which stated:
It's too easy to read a story like this and respond, "Wow, they sure are backwards over there in Saudi Arabia," thus exoticising domestic crimes and excusing yourself (ourselves) from any ownership over this society, which also tacitly excuses violence against women. Yes, women in the United States have far more resources than Saudi women when trying to escape abusive situations, and the cult of silence around such violence has had holes poked in it here. For that, we can all thank feminism. But to claim that the cultural ills which promote and allow intimate partner violence exist there and not here is delusional to the point of being dangerous.

For that disclaimer, Jeff Goldstein takes her to task as a textbook case of leftist self-flagellation (tip: John Cole). He then approvingly quotes a comment by Karol of Alarming News:
Is America perfect? Yes, compared to the land of Saud, we are. You do a disservice to the battle against violence of women by even noting our problems in the same post as Saudi Arabia. America bashing is always fun, I'm sure, but it makes us take the problems of Saudi Arabia much less seriously when you draw a moral equivalence between what happens here and what happens there. It's actually a classic liberal problem, to be unable to criticize anything without first criticizing America. It makes people tune you out and not to take you seriously and whatever point you were trying to make becomes muddled or irrelevant under that equivalence.

We might first quibble with the wording, that America is perfect "compared to the land of Saud." Perfect, of course, is not a comparative term, you can't be perfect compared to something, you either are perfect or you aren't, and America isn't. It is clearly better than Saudi Arabia (a point Feministe concedes), but to say we're perfect is to make invisible the myriad of ways we clearly are not. To be blunt: "better than Saudi Arabia" is a pretty strong dilutation of "perfect" when it comes to woman's rights.

But more fundamentally, Karol is distorting Feministe's stance. Look at her own rhetoric: "It's actually a classic liberal problem, to be unable to criticize anything without first criticizing America." But that's the exact opposite of what Feministe did--she criticized Saudi Arabia first and then added a single paragraph at the end noting that we have significant problems here as well.

The problem Karol points out is a real one. It comes in the form of some leftists arguing to the tune of: "You shouldn't criticize Saudi Arabia when America abuses women too." In other words, until we've totally obliterated American abuse (attacked America first), we have no standing to attack other nations on their abuse. People do that sometimes, I admit, but any honest reading of Feministe's claim shows she isn't in that group. She makes the perfectly valid claim that Saudi abuse is horrific and must be opposed, but it can't be within the framework of the noble and flawless American Paladin saving the savage from his ignoble ways. Because we're no Paladin, and it does a disservice to abused woman in America to act like there's nothing to fix here. When faced with abuse in America and even more horrible abuse in Saudi Arabia, the Feministe position (and the one I share), is simple: let's fix both. Let's protest both, let's condemn both, let's march against both, let's blog about both. Don't try and hide one in false solidarity with the other. That does nobody any favors. But by distorting this comprehensive narrative to fit within the stock conservative attack of leftists who refuse to see any wrong but in America, the effect of Karol's statement is to facilitate the continued abuse of women here at home.

It's not so much that I think Feministe made the perfect argument here (I'd have preferred a sharper distinction between the situation in Saudi Arabia and America). But Karol completely twists Feministe's structure so it fits within her pre-set paradigm, and everybody is going along with it. The effect is to chill any liberal who sees a problem in America and wants to fix it, because even if they do couch their point within a global framework that recognizes this isn't "just our fault," it'll simply be ignored and they'll be grouped with the raving Michael Moore set. Feministe's post wasn't an example of "blame America first." It was an example of "this problem is widespread in Saudi Arabia, and it's widespread here, so let's fix the damn thing before another woman has her face smashed into a marble wall."

Goldstein continues:
We in the US know our failings. We know our past. But after 911, the majority of us surrendered the liberal guilt we had the luxury to wallow in when we thought we'd reached the end of history precisely because we know, at heart, that we are a good country. And we have little time for such self-flagellation, particularly when such strains to point up a symmetry between ourselves and the culture from which our enemy springs like sword-wielding weeds.

Do we really know these things? I'm not convinced we do. If we did, then we'd see a far more concerted effort by America to rectify these inequalities and injustices, these "failings" in our past (and present). But I never see conservative blogs rail against domestic abuse in America. I never see conservative blogs argue in favor of difficult sacrifices to make up for our failings to African-Americans, women, and other minorities continually left behind in the America dream. Very occasionally, the subject comes up, but it's only instrumental to other goals ("Many black children live in broken families. We have to ban gay marriage!"), it's never discussed for it's own sake. In that respect, I'd disagree with Jeff. I think America is doing it's best to ignore it's failings and forget it's past. If it were otherwise, I think you'd see some very different prioritizations in congress and in the blogosphere. But alas, these issues are only raised by the left, and the center and right doesn't want to hear them because it's far more comfortable to label ourselves "perfect compared to Saudi Arabia" (talk about a stacked deck!).

Effectively, then, my challenge to the conservative blogosphere is this: If you want your criticisms of "Blame America First" leftists to have any weight, then show you actually recognize that America has problems at all. Speak up about domestic abuse in America--and tell us what plans you have to stop it. Condemn institutionalized racism in America--and condemn the politicians who use it for electoral gain. I just wrote a post about a set of policies designed to shift voting strength away from law-abiding black citizens to rural white counties and representatives. Where's the outrage? Our drug laws are explicitly set to ensnare black defendants for multi-decade sentences while letting white defendants off with misdemeanors and treatment. Where's the outrage? Show us that it is possible to improve America without hating America and without the crutch of pointing to other countries which are worse. Because the current stance, "America: We're better than Saudi Arabia," just doesn't fly with me.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Dark Clouds Gathering

If I appear to be in a bad mood, I am. And here's why.

Now, normally I would not be so upset over a tenure denial--even of a blogger I read rather frequently. However, Professor Drezner was something special. He was the inspiration to this blog, from the time I read his New Republic column and noticed that it had link to a web-thingy. He was the epitome of what I aspired to be--intellectual, analytical, fair, thoughtful, and above all, honest. I don't know if I've met those standards, but I never would have even started blogging if I didn't have a live model that it was possible to abide by them in the rough-jungle world of the blogosphere. Professor Drezner was that model.

On a note of more personal concern, there are also rumors floating that his blogging had a role (albeit almost definitely not decisive) in his tenure denial. While blogging is not at the moment a blackmark for tenure (Orin Kerr got it while at the VC), as an aspiring professor myself who at this point cannot lapse into blogger anonymity, it is not a positive sign. Juan Non-Volokh certainly concurs--he is clearly relieved that he is safely cloaked behind his pseudonym. I don't have that luxury. And again, since I've modeled this blog after Professor Drezner's example, what does this mean for my future?

But that is far into the future, and in any event there is plenty of time for the world to become enlightened about the blogosphere. And consenant with the sentiments expressed by JNV and Professor Drezner's commenters, I too am confident he will land on his feet.

Still...disturbing. My thoughts are with him in this difficult time.

The Wrong Guy

One of my friends at college is a huge fan of a certain movie entitled "The Wrong Guy." She says it is the funniest movie ever created--in fact, if it only had Brad Pitt in it, it'd probably be the best movie ever, period (she has a bit of a thing for Brad Pitt). I myself have never seen it, and have continually resisted her entreaties to watch it myself.

The Pentagon also has it's version of "The Wrong Guy." Only this is no comedy. This is a conscious and deliberate obstruction of justice. Whenever someone tries to put forth proof of American abuse of prisoners, the Pentagon springs into action--to discredit the critic. Scott Horton has the scoop:
When all the baseless suspicions against [Army Chaplain James] Yee were disproved, the Pentagon turned to its favored technique to punish him. He was accused of improper sexual conduct. In American society today, these words generally relate to conduct that is abusive - unauthorized sexual contact. Not in Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon: there they relate to consensual sexual relations between a man and a woman. The consistent factor is that one of the sexual partners has made it on to the Pentagon's black list for one reason or another.

The Rumsfeld Pentagon has developed destruction of the character of those who get in its way to an art form. Those viewed as troublesome become the target of a special investigation. Wiretaps are applied to their telephones and their emails are read. An evidentiary case is built and humiliating leaks to the press occur.

Let's stop for a moment and ask: when the persons in question are two-, three- and four-star generals, at what level must this be authorized? In fact, the targets have included two-, three- and four-star generals, and the authority or impetus for such action has almost certainly come from the Office of the Secretary of Defense. The charges brought have tended to fall into two baskets: charges of petty dereliction and sexual misconduct. In the former case, we have seen charges that officers kept classified documents on their laptop computers - when the documents turned out not to be classified; and we have seen charges of petty errors and oversights in contract administration. (Conversely, serious cases of contract misadministration involving billions of dollars and Halliburton are resolved by persecuting the whistleblower.) But the favored technique clearly lies in bringing charges of improper sexual conduct, invariably involving consensual sexual relations.

These charges are easily brought. The number of eunuchs and sexual abstainers among the uniformed military is low and sociological research has long shown that the vast majority of the population has sexual relations outside of wedlock at some point. That means that these charges can be brought against virtually anyone. If the rules were enforced uniformly and aggressively, we would not be able to maintain a volunteer army. But the current highly selective application may achieved the same result. Two important bar organizations have already looked at the situation and concluded that the application of sexual misconduct rules by the uniformed services suggests highly uneven application. Both urged reforms. The Pentagon refuses to budge. The tool is too powerful, and too readily abused. Therein lies its attraction.

In addition to the case of Capt. Yee, developed in his current book, consider these:

- Maj. Gen. Thomas J Fiscus, Judge Advocate General of the Air Force - known to have criticized rules on treatment of detainees - accused of sexual misconduct

- Lt. Gen. John Riggs - questioned the level of troop commitments to the Iraq campaign - accused of sexual misconduct and technical contract infractions

- Gen. Kevin Byrnes - responsible for incorporating changes in doctrine on interrogation and treatment of detainees, rumored to have had reservations about changes hammered through by Rumsfeld - accused of sexual misconduct.

As Horton notes, the Pentagon's sudden sexual puritanism (inconsistently applied from the start, since the prosecutions are only brought against a few "troublemakers") becomes absolutely incoherent when remember that sexual misconduct factored heavily into the abuses approved by the Pentagon for Abu Gharib and other locations. When we are allowed to (indeed encourage officers to) sexually abuse prisoners for intelligence gain, but at the same time prohibit consensual sexual actions between two adults within the same institution, we lose any semblance of justice or rationality. As Horton puts it, the only possible explanation at this point is that the Pentagon and Bush administration view "sexual morals as something to be manipulated for the accomplishment of political objectives," a hideous formulation that nonetheless seems incontestable in face of the facts.

Legal Fiction thinks that the Bush administration is petrified of their own torture policy. They fear that one day, everything will come to light and the lot of them will be carted off and tried for war crimes. That explains Roberts and Miers--both have proven themselves extremely deferential to the executive branch. I don't know if any of that is true. But I damn well hope Bush is afraid. If not of legal ramifications, then this alleged Christian should fear for his immortal soul.

Oh, and the fact that John Bolton probably is right about this (or at least, he is on the second part) does not make me feel better.

Do me a favor and read Horton's whole post. It's not much longer than the portion I excerpted, but it is a true must read.

0/5 Compromise

According to Spencer Overton, many states include prison populations for purposes of redistricting--even though as (mostly) convicted felons, they are (mostly) not allowed to vote. What's more, they're counted as residing in the district where they are incarcerated, rather than where they lived prior to incarceration.

The net effect is dilute voting strength in (mostly black) inner-city neighborhoods, and transfer that strength to white representatives in the rural counties which hold the prisons. One rural Nevada district includes a county where 95% of the black "residents" are in prison.

I concur with Alex Coolman--I am struck by parallels to the 3/5 compromise. For those of you lacking knowledge of this ignoble constitutional clause, the 3/5 compromise was the answer by the North and the South to the nagging question: How should slaves be counted in the federal census? The North wanted them counted for taxation but not representation. The South wanted them counted for representation but not taxation. And after much debate and discussion, they hit on the solution: Count them as 3/5 of a person both ways! And everybody was happy (except, of course, the slaves, but they're weren't really persons anyway--or at most 3/5 of one).

At least on face, however, this arrangement is worse than the 3/5 compromise (contextually, it isn't as bad since it isn't tied up with the slave system). It basically represents the Southern position--black prisoners are completely present for purposes of representation, even though they themselves are not allowed to choose their representatives. And, like in the "old days," these persons are placed inside their districts not by where they have chosen to live, but by where the powers-that-be have decided it most convenient for them to be placed. And wouldn't you know it? The arrangement just happens to be that black voter strength is sapped away by disenfranchised black persons, and transferred, vampire-like, to predominantly white districts electing white representatives who then (predictably) pass laws to put more black persons ("voters"?) into their prisons--thus strengthening their hand yet more. What a horrifically vicious cycle.

This may be a strained analogy, but I see parallels to the ID/Evolution debate here. You look at this system and how it so perfectly suppresses black people and elevates white power, while at the same time cloaking itself in the impenetrable armor of justice and righteousness, and you think: This must be designed. There is no way that such an incredibly complex, subtle, and effective method of preserving racial hierarchy could have come about naturally. But, good evolutionist that I am, I am ultimately swayed by the--in my view--scarier position. That these systems come into being not by a conscious design to keep black people in their place, but because our system is proactively racist when left on auto-pilot. If left to its own devices, without a conscious effort to correct, steer, and guide it away, our society will naturally and inevitably gravitate toward racist results. That's the way we, in our glorious color-blindness, work.

Personally, I oppose felon-disenfranchisement laws (especially for such bogus felonies as non-violent drug possession). But if we do have them, then prisoners should be counted as residents of where they lived as civilians--where their interests as citizens remain. The status quo completely strips prisoners of their personhood--which may, by itself, be a necessary incarceratory tool (I'm skeptical)--and then turns the dehumanized husk into slaves to the whims of the legislature; political pawns to be pushed around as line-drawing demands. You can't do both. You can't say that prisoners are no longer persons, and then re-create their identity into nothing more than a demographic tool. That is an unprecedented expansion of governmental authority to declare by fiat a polar shift in reality, a veritable deconstruction and reconstruction of what is to suit what the politicians want it to be. The state's power cannot justly extend that far.