Friday, September 29, 2006

They Know Not What They Do

It's pretty rare you're hear this blogger quoting Jesus on any subject. But I'd imagine the man would have some pretty choice words on the issue of torture specifically, and being railroaded to "justice" without cause generally. And while I am optimistic that the courts will enjoin at least some of the more appalling provisions, it is every person's duty stand up and oppose this hideous blot on our nation's character and conscience.

The bill itself is, to put it gently, indefensible. The Washington Post sums up just a few of its naked violations against the civil rights we've expected since the era of the Magna Carta:
The Senate joined the House in embracing President Bush's view that the battle against terrorism justifies the imposition of extraordinary limits on defendants' traditional rights in the courtroom. They include restrictions on a suspect's ability to challenge his detention, examine all evidence against him, and bar testimony allegedly acquired through coercion of witnesses.

It's important to note that the most horrifying portions of this bill are how they eviscerate protections at the procedural level. One can believe that we should treat illegal combatants differently than POWs--I agree. But as was pointed out by Stanford Law Professor and detainee expert Jenny Martinez, it is an inversion of basic principles of justice to apply said punishment as part of the procedure for determining who deserves the punishment itself. Or to use her rhetoric:
Holding military commission trials that do not afford basic due process saying that the best way to deter street crime is by subjecting street criminals to kangaroo courts. The necessary deterrence ought to be provided by the ultimate punishment imposed, not by the process itself. [emphasis added]

Or in otherwords, "you're a terrorist, so you can't challenge whether you're a terrorist, because that would give terrorists rights." It's unreal.

It seems there are two minds among commenters opposed to this radical abuse of power. The basic question is whether or not the Senators and Representatives really recognized the gravity of what they've done. Two of the most respected legal scholars in America today could barely contain their shock over the bill's provisions:
University of Texas constitutional law professor Sanford V. Levinson described the bill in an Internet posting as the mark of a "banana republic." Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh said that "the image of Congress rushing to strip jurisdiction from the courts in response to a politically created emergency is really quite shocking, and it's not clear that most of the members understand what they've done."

On the one hand, it seems impossible that anyone could dispassionately look at these provisions, realize they are essentially disregarding the basic panoply of rights that have been protected since the 13th century, and still vote in favor of the bill. I can't believe that there are over 60 senators that really have that little respect for basic legal protections. On the other hand, this debate was public, open, and it seems equally impossible to believe that our elected representatives wholly ignored the huge cry of alarm that arose from those who recognized this bill for what it was. What exactly have they been doing over these past few weeks?

My own belief is that the people who voted for this bill deluded themselves. They are vaguely aware of how awful it is. But they have managed to convince themselves (by any number of intellectual gymnastics that I can't even fathom) that the bill is necessary, or not so bad, or that these are terrorists and we can do whatever we want to them, or soemthing. And thus they vote "yea", because they don't want to look weak (or they want to make Democrats look weak). After all, for all the desperate attempts for our constitutional guardians to sound the alarms, this bill went off with a whimper, not a bang. Whatever the reason, these people are not living in reality.

And as far as I can tell, I'm not living in America.

Marginalize Lott. Vote Dem

Trent Lott on Iraq:
President Bush barely mentioned the war in Iraq when he met with Republican senators behind closed doors in the Capitol Thursday morning and was not asked about the course of the war, Sen. Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, said.

"No, none of that," Lott told reporters after the session when asked if the Iraq war was discussed. "You're the only ones who obsess on that. We don't and the real people out in the real world don't for the most part."

Lott went on to say he has difficulty understanding the motivations behind the violence in Iraq.

"It's hard for Americans, all of us, including me, to understand what's wrong with these people," he said. "Why do they kill people of other religions because of religion? Why do they hate the Israeli's and despise their right to exist? Why do they hate each other? Why do Sunnis kill Shiites? How do they tell the difference? They all look the same to me."

Now, aside from the weird implication that the only form of violence Lott understands is against people who don't "look the same" (which is a lovely sentiment coming out of Mississippi), I think we can agree that there are plenty of "real people" who care about what is happening in Iraq. Lott apparently isn't one of them. Since I want people who do care about what's going on in Iraq to be setting Iraq policy, I want to marginalize Lott as much as possible. How do I do that? By voting Democrat and relegating him to the back bench.

It's about priorities. And Lott and the GOP don't share mine.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

What a Quaint Speech

In a must-read post, Publius puts the words of the President side-by-side against relevant portions of the detainee treatment act. I'd say it's pure gold, if it wasn't so bitter to read.

But read you must. The fate of America's soul lies in the passage or failure of this bill.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Pro-Life Principles

Amy Uelman offers three principles that she thinks should bring together all "pro-life" persons, regardless of party affiliation:
1) Both agree that abortion is moral tragedy for all of the people directly involved and for society as a whole.

2) Many (perhaps not all, but the bulk) agree (either explicitly or tacitly) that the criminal law is too blunt to be the principal instrument for regulation of this complex social problem.

3) When considering various regulatory paths, many (again, perhaps not all, but the bulk) agree that practical solutions should weigh very heavily the host of public health problems that would arise if abortion is driven underground.

I won't say that I wholeheartedly endorse these principles, but they do have some appeal to me, and strike me as a point where persons of all persuasions on the issue of abortion can try and unite over common ground.

See also the Democrats' 95-10 plan on abortion. The plan seeks to reduce the abortion rate in the U.S. by 95% over the next 10 years through a variety of mechanisms, like increased access to contraception, increased healthcare options for young women, better sex ed programs, tax credits for adoptions, and child-care services for mothers in college. It has support from both pro-life and pro-choice Democrats, because it demonstrates a just and humane solution to a difficult social problems.

Even pro-choice Democrats don't cheer the act of abortion. We cheer access to the procedure, to be sure. We think that the availability of abortion is important to granting women a equal position in the American polity. But no women gets excited and flush-faced at the prospect of abortion. Nobody throws a party for an intrusive medical procedure. Reducing the number of abortions doesn't stand in opposition to a pro-choice sentiment, as long as the methodologies we use in the effort fundamentally respect a woman's equal status and are cognizant of her health, welfare, security, and freedom. The more the Democrats can push that message, the better off they'll be.

Pony Up

Kevin Drum on "debating" Iraq policy:
Various luminaries in the liberal foreign policy community have been proposing Iraq policies right and left for over three years now. First, that perhaps we should have kept our focus on Afghanistan and stayed out of Iraq altogether. Then, once we were there, liberal thinkers suggested more troops, dialogue with Iran, a multilateral council to accelerate regional investment in Iraq's progress, a variety of counterinsurgency strategies, a variety of partition plans, more serious engagement in Israeli-Palestinian talks (Tony Blair practically begged for this), and on and on. Every single one of these suggestions was ignored.

Would they have made any difference? Who knows. But to blame Democrats now for not being aggressive enough in trying to trisect this angle is like blaming Gerald Ford for losing Vietnam. George Bush fought this war precisely the way he wanted, with precisely the troops he wanted, and with every single penny he asked for. He has kept Don Rumsfeld in charge despite abundant evidence that he doesn't know how to win a war like this. He has mocked liberals and the media at every turn when they suggested we might need a different approach. The result has been a disaster with no evident solution left.

It's one thing to ask for "debate," but it's quite another to ask for a pony that doesn't exist anymore and to blame Democrats when they're unable to produce yet another one after three years of trying. That makes no sense.

As if "sense" is the goal of these sort of charges. Still, point well taken (for what it's worth).

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

I Love My State

Via Steve Benen, two excellent ads in the Maryland Senate race. The first, by Republican Michael Steele, is a pre-emptive strike against negative advertising, warning voters of "grainy images" and scary voices telling them that he hates puppies or other such non-sense. It's very well executed and hits very good notes with me. This is very much akin to the type of ad that I'd like to see politicians run more often. At the end, Steele also informs that in reality, he loves puppies. I, of course, actually do hate puppies, but I wasn't voting for Steele anyway.

The Democratic Senate Committee released a response ad, and it's quite good as well. It's theme is that Steele may like puppies, but he loves George W. Bush. It's also got a very light, mocking tone to it that I very much prefer to scary voices and grainy images. Steele is running away from the Republican label (it's never mentioned in his ad) because, well, he's running in Maryland. But Democrats are going to hang his support for George W. Bush over him like a weight.

Only in the Old Line State.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Holy Smokes!

Andrew Sullivan gives a Malkin Award to Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-CO), for this sentence in a debate:
As we face the issues that we are facing today, I don't think there's anything more important out there than the marriage issue

Me, I just blanche at the horrible lack of rhetorical skill. "As we face the issues we are facing today"?

Upon hearing this revealing description of Musgrave's legislative priorities, her Democratic opponent responded:
Holy smokes, we're at war, we've lost nearly 3,000 people and thousands more are maimed. We have over 46 million Americans without health insurance.

I'm not sure that's the most effective response, but it certainly captures my goggly-eyed amazement upon hearing that maintaining anti-gay discrimination is a more pressing issue to America than anything else on our plate.

Movers and Shakers

My dorm room at Carleton College is quite excellent. It is a massive quint at the top (4th) floor of the nicest dorm on campus. The 4th floor has only two rooms on it (our, and a quad), and the dorm itself is one of the more (psychologically if not spaitially) isolated on the campus.

Among my roommates, our room includes the head of the Sci-Fi Alliance at Carleton, the Guildmaster of the Assassins' Guild on campus (which is huge here), and myself, the President of the Debate Team. In other words, we are geek kingpins, and there is alot of nerd power concentrated in our litte tower.

I am the only Jew of my roommates, and despite leading the debate team I am the only Jew who is a member of the program there is well. All of this is to segue into a devastating review of a book that appears to be quite interested in resurrecting the myth of the Jewish conspiracy. It tells the tale of Sidney Korshak, a fixer for the mob and general shady behind-the-scenes powerbroker. Who, I guess it bears mentioning, is Jewish. It's worth mentioning because the author uses Mr. Korshak's story as a jump-off for discussing how the Jewish community writ large has a propensity for being part of these shadowy organizations--the hand behind the scenes that got things done for the public face.
How much of this is fact and how much legend is for the reader to decide. There is a lot of gossip here, guilt by association, innuendo - Russo quotes an actress named Selene Walters who says she was raped by Reagan in 1952, two weeks before he married Nancy Davis - but Korshak was clearly an influential figure. The system needed him, so he appeared. The problem is with the broader context Russo paints, in which Korshak and a handful of men with Jewish-sounding names are seen less as freely acting individuals than as cogs in a secret machine. Again and again, Russo strikes the sort of taboo-breaking pose that makes me nervous, the way any sentence that follows the phrase "Let's be honest" makes me nervous. Whenever I started to get caught up in the story, I ran into sentences like this: "Throughout history, the Jews were never the public leaders; they were always the kingmakers and the power brokers. ... They worked surreptitiously, choosing to focus on the substrata of a business or event." Or: "The Jews' historical Diaspora (dispersion) and relative lack of national roots helped them to identify and exploit more quickly the most lucrative emerging markets."
I'm not saying Korshak was not powerful, was not connected, did not know how to get a project moving or shut down. He was and did all these things, and that's what makes his story so interesting. It just seems to me - sensitive Ashkenazi that I am - that in making his case Russo deploys some very old notions of Jewish double-dealing and conspiracy, without which his larger ideas about Korshak and the world would fall apart. The fact is, every immigrant community in this country has spawned an underworld and every underworld has needed guys like Korshak. This does not make him a typically Jewish figure. It makes him a typically American figure. Or as Bellow's Augie March proclaims, "I am an American, Chicago born."

It reminds me of the routine in which Dave Chappelle talks about first learning of the stereotype about blacks and fried chicken. "All these years, I thought I liked chicken because it was delicious," Chappelle says. "Turns out I am genetically predisposed to liking chicken. I got no say in the matter." Well, I felt the same way when I finished "Supermob": I thought Sidney Korshak became a powerful figure because he was crooked and ambitious and smart. Turns out he was just Jewish.

I feel the same way. I have amassed my fair share of power here at Carleton (and before I go on, I want to stress that I feel very comfortable as a Jew on this campus for the most part, and do not feel like people think of me as the power-hungry Jew), most of it without being the explicit front-figure. For example, though I'm not technically a member of the college Democrats, I know virtually everyone who is, and I write for the flagship liberal paper on campus. Even in debate, my treasurer is the public face of debate for most of the dealings with the college. Shady Jew? Fits the framework, maybe. But I'm honestly not interested in taking over any worlds. More importantly, the same relational structure could apply to many of my roommates (who also have power in a variety of indirect ways), but since they're not Jewish, they'd never get tagged with the model.

There are good Jews and there are bad Jews. There is not an over-arching Jewish conspiracy or psyche that channels these Jews into positions of power and influence. The myth has gone on long enough.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Glimmer of Hope

Pass this. For the love of God, pass this. The compromise is no compromise. Bush won the right to continue to torture. This amendment can mitigate at least some of the damage.

Get it done, and damn the political expense.