Friday, December 23, 2005

Feingold and the Genocide Convention

For those of you smoldering over my "cheap shot" at Russ Feingold on genocide, see the update to my post here.

It's So Simple!

Do you ever get the feeling that the Christian Right is just parodying itself? Consider this excerpt from the American Family Associations proposed boycott of Target:
ATTENTION! Expect Target To Try To Confuse You

When you call Target, they will no doubt try to confuse you. You may be told their employees are free to greet people with a "Merry Christmas." You may be told that they support the Salvation Army. You may be told many things in order to confuse you.

Therefore, ask this one simple basic question and don't allow them to confuse you. "Do you use the term 'Christmas' in your in-store promotions developed by Target (not products you have for sale) and do you include the term 'Christmas' in your retail advertising?"

Target refuses to use "Christmas" in their in-store promotions or in their retail advertising. If you are told they do, you are being mislead.

1) That's two questions

2) I don't know about you, but I don't consider that to a "simple" question, what with the parenthetical and the modifiers ("in-store promotions developed by Target", and "retail advertising"). Seems rather specific, don't you think.

3) What with their support of the Salvation Army, and store greeters free to say "Merry Christmas," it seems like Target is plenty supportive of Christmas already. I mean, I understand the AFA's dream-world is one where all retailers blare out carols at 250 decibels while being staffed solely by born-agains throughout December. But seriously, meet them half-way already!

I'm going to see the Caps tonight, and then will be off to Aspen, Colorado tomorrow. So this may be my last post for a week. It may not--I don't know if I'll have internet access in Colorado. But if it is, have a happy holidays, be it Christmas, Chanukkah, Kwanzah, or just the spirit of the season.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Back In The News

The story of the Bush administration's appalling negilgence toward Homeland Security in general (and the DHS in particular) is back in the news--only 2 and 3/4 years after Jonathan Chait first wrote the break-through article on it. To readers of this blog (or any credible center-left source, like The New Republic), there isn't anything wildly new. Bush opposed the DHS, blocked key Homeland Security initiatives, wielded the issue like a partisan club, etc. etc.. Still, at this point I'm just thrilled they're paying attention at all.

Kevin Drum remarks:
One of the worst results of all this is that because George Bush treats terrorism mostly as a handy partisan club to make Democrats look weak and cement his own support with his corporate base, he's managed to convince a lot of liberals that the whole thing is just a game. Unfortunately, this is pretty understandable. At this point, I don't really blame liberals for feeling that terrorism is little more than a Republican bogeyman that's pulled out whenever the president's poll numbers are down. After all, that's pretty much how Republicans treat it.

But it's not. Osama bin Laden really would like to find a way to kill a whole bunch of us, and we really should all be working to keep that from happening. Maybe someday Karl Rove will figure out that that's more important than bringing back the glory days of William McKinley and his 30-year Republican reign.

Yes, yes, and more yes.

Matt Yglesias also responds.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

"Criminal Non-Intervention"

My old Feminist Theory professor has directed my attention to a short but very interesting paper on the subject of leftist opposition to American interventionism. It's by Harvard Women's Studies and History Professor Afsaneh Najmabadi, and it's titled "Must We Always Non-Intervene"? It raises precisely the type of questions that need to be discussed amongst those leftists reflexively opposed to an interventionist American foreign policy. It's very brief, but here's a taste just the same:
The dissident voices in this country (at least the ones with which I have engaged) have met this prospect with an orientation that could be summarized as: Oppose and Expose. This is a similar orientation to that taken toward the two recent American engagements with this part of the world; the Gulf War of 1990-91 and the campaign in Afghanistan against the Taliban. In both cases, this dissident American position came to be in conflict with those of the people who have lived and suffered under these regimes and who in both instances welcomed (and at times begged for) outside, including American and including military, interventions. The kind of social disintegration that the Ba'th or the Taliban had produced meant that internal forces opposing these regimes knew all too well that they were too weak on their own to get rid of them. No outside intervention meant continuing to live with (and die from) the intolerable brutalities of these regimes indefinitely. The American dissident position, therefore, was received by these forces (and is received currently by the Iraqi opposition) as worse than irrelevant: it is tantamount to criminal non-intervention. What here may seem the honorable position of opposing the war machine and military adventurism of one's own government, in this configuration, came at the price of other people continuing to suffer with no end in sight.

In all these instances, this opposition to war stance has been linked to another stance, that of exposing US government's history of prior support for the very forces that it then has set to overthrow, the Taliban and the Iraqi Ba'th. In the extreme, the Taliban and the Ba'th become mere creations of the all-powerful US government -- something verging on racist denial of any agency on the part of the people of the Near East to be able to even produce their own dictators. In any event, even if one were to agree on the total responsibility of the American government, that responsibility could just as easily and in fact more logically be invoked for a US intervention to set these past bad deeds to good for a change, instead of a non-interventionist stand. Why should Afghanis and Iraqis continue to suffer the consequences of terrible US foreign policy instead of expecting that government to take responsibility for its bad judgments and do some good? Without an interventionist orientation that is centered on the interests of the people of these regions, the exposition of prior US foreign policy by the voices of American dissidence over the war is received by Afghanis and Iraqis as hollow moralism at their expense. While they have been repeatedly betrayed by US government policies, Iraqi dissidents feel they have no other option but to seek its support for their struggle. Similarly, the great fear of Afghanis today is lack of long-term commitment by US government (and other international forces) to stay in Afghanistan and help their post-Taliban reconstruction. Why shouldn't the dissident energies in this country be focused on the kind of American intervention (one for the interests of Afghani or Iraqi people), rather than on a policy of non-intervention?
[O]ne may have to consider the terrible possibility that a policy that may be wise for internal US developments may not be good for Iraqis and Afghanis. One may have to openly say: sorry folks, but we have to abandon you. Yet I am not convinced that that desperate position is necessary, at least not until we have considered other options. I do not believe that opposition to the attack on civil liberties and immigrant rights has necessarily have to be linked with a non-interventionist policy. This is a link that the most hawkish and right-wing forces in this country have worked hard to forge in post-September 11th political landscape; the you-are-with-us-or-against-us mentality. It is critical to break apart this link. There is no reason why the opposition to the internal US developments cannot be linked with an interventionist policy that puts demands on the government over the terms of its interventions, and the consequent responsibility beyond the military aspects of intervention. [Emphasis Added]

I agree completely. I cannot say how many times I have written posts critical of appalling human rights violations done under the guise of the war on terror, and received responses (both liberal and conservative) which all assumed I was anti-war. We very well may fail in managing to have a foreign policy of liberation that does not stray into imperialism and mismanagement. But if that is the case, it is a failure, not some sort of vindication for the left. It is intellectually lazy to think otherwise.

Perhaps the Harvard Women's Studies Department is not exactly the place one might expect this sort ofchallengee to be coming from. But it's been my observation that even the liberal academia (including those professors in the much-maligned "identity politics" departments, such as this one) is nowhere near as narrow-minded and monolithic as it is made out to be by the conservative media. I doubt heavily that Professor Najmabadi is in the majority amongst her peers. But she is raising the right questions, and I hope to see her claims addressed in the near future.

Drug Coverage

Dorothy Roberts has an excellent piece up on disparities in media coverage of White versus Black teenage drug addictions. NPR did a report on OxyContin abuse by upper-class Whites. It all the hallmarks of a "normal" drug report--dealing by students, theft to pay for the addiction, trying to be "cool" by taking the drugs (specifically, the sentiment amongst Prep School students that this was what real rich white kids did). But Professor Roberts notes:
What struck me most about the NPR program was its totally sympathetic stance toward the plight of these teens and their parents. The interviewer never asked the teens if they had a problem with acting "white" or their parents why they didn't motivate and supervise their children like "Asian parents." There was not even a hint of blame for anyone: as one mother said, these children just "got grabbed by something that was greater than [them]." Nor was there any indication that any of the teens had been in trouble with the law for their crimes or placed in foster care for their parents' neglect. Most will probably complete the drug treatment program, graduate from their highly-ranked suburban high schools, and go on to college, their brush with drug addiction and crime a forgiven momentary lapse in their privileged path to success.

Can you imagine a similarly sympathetic discussion of addiction, drug dealing, and theft with a group of black teenagers and their parents? The last remotely similar NPR program I heard involving black teens was about the juvenile detention center in Chicago, under investigation for its abusive treatment of its almost exclusively black population, many of whose offenses were far less egregious than those of the white OxyContin addicts in Massachusetts. Some commentators on this blog are fond of blaming the poor parenting skills of black adults and bad attitudes of black children for their failure to achieve. Is it possible that the hugely disproportionate placement of black children in juvenile detention and foster care - and the stereotypes that go along with it - contribute to the "achievement gap?"

The question is, why do we have such different mentalities (and policies) when it is White children with the addiction as opposed to Blacks? Both are amongst the dealing class. Both are committing crimes to support the addiction. Both are encouraged by powerful social cues. But it is only Blacks who we immediately give up on, label lost causes, and shunt off into prison (or prison-esque school tracking programs) without a look back. Clearly, something is motivating this. But if not racism, then what?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Fair Trade Versus Clear Aid

Will Baude is confused about fair coffee supporters:
I have always been confused about why people wanted to pay more for their coffee and then trust the corporations they dislike to pass the money backwards rather than simply donating 25 cents to some international charity directly. Maybe it's just too hard to find a UNICEF jar.

Maybe I'm just confused here, but isn't there a virtually universal consensus that "trade not aid" is the way out of poverty for the third world? Aid breeds dependency and stifles native industry (or at least that's the refrain I hear from the economics right and center). Just giving to charity does little to get these country's toward long-term economic self-sufficiency. But if we can create a market for fair and non-exploitative business practices in the third world, it seems we get the best of both worlds: economic growth without mass worker starvation.

Trust is an issue, of course. But there is NGO-monitoring for precisely that purpose (of course, I'm not sure I trust them either). In any event, procedural kinks aside, it seems that a concerted effort to buy "fair-trade" is far more sensible given the true goals of the target market, compared to donating to a charity or aid-organization.

Putting TDL On The Map

Okay, this is neat. It's a map of the blog world--divided between the dueling kingdoms of Kostria and Wingery. The cartographer asks for further submissions to fill in the map.

Being based on a 1911 map of Austria-Hungary, it seems most of the names are Germanic. I have no idea how to mutate "The Debate Link" into a German sounding name. But "Schraub" is quite German--I suppose as a city it would be "Schrauben".

Now, where to put it? Well, "Schraub" literally means "screw" in German. True, it means "screw" as in "bolt", and not as in "Slutzberg", but still. Just south of that fair city, and west of my allies in "Laurenthia", lies the border of Kostria and Centriola--about right for this blog, I think. It appears the frontier village of Villach remains unclaimed. I Christen ("Jewishen"?) it "Schrauben", and claim it as the true, ever-lasting homeland of The Debate Link.

UPDATE: I've been placed. So to my new neighbors in Sullyfurt and Laurenthia, I am honored to be in your presence. It seems, though, that this part of the map is strangely underpopulated. The perils of moderation, it seems.

Taking The Fall

I'm sorry President Bush. The next time the terrorists attack, it'll be on my head. Attacking the leak of his NSA wiretap program, Bush said:
"My personal opinion is it was a shameful act, for someone to disclose this very important program in time of war."

"The fact that we're discussing this program is helping the enemy."

Leading The Princezz to respond:
You're right, Mr. President. It is our fault for demanding transparency of government in a democratic society, not your fault for pulling old Cold War CIA/KGB wire-tapping tricks on your own people. So I guess if another terrorist attack happens (god forbid!) that will be our fault, too, for wanting some sort of honesty from our own elected government officials, not your fault for still not having your act together after five years in office.

In the same vein, Katherine has a must-read post at Obsidian Wings.
Look. We have a President here who is making a claim of unlimited power, for the duration of a war that may never end. Oh, he says it's limited by the country's laws, but they've got a crack legal team that reliably interprets the laws to say that the President gets to do whatever he wants. It amounts to the same thing.

I am not exaggerating. I am really and truly not.

September 11 started the war. When will it end? Maybe never. Where is the battlefield? The entire world, including the United States. Who is an enemy combatant? Anyone the President says is an enemy combatant, including a U.S. citizen--no need for a charge, no need for a trial, no need for access to a lawyer. What if they're found not to be an enemy combatant? We can keep them in prison anyway, and we don't have to tell their families they're alive or their lawyers that they were cleared. What can you do to an enemy combatant? Anything you want. Detain him forever, for the rest of his life, because this is a war like any other and we have always been able to detain POWs for the duration of the war. But you don't need to follow the Geneva Conventions, because this is a war like no other in our history. And oh yes--if the President decides that we need to torture a prisoner for the war effort, it's unconstitutional for Congress to stop him. They took that position in an official memo, and they have not backed down from it. They have said it was "unnecessary" but they have never backed down from it.

They are not only entitled to do these things to people; they are entitled to do them in secret. When Congress asks for information about them, they can just ignore it. And they are entitled to actively deceive the public about all this.

That's the power they claim. At what point are we going to take that claim seriously?

What Katherine is saying is important. This isn't some hyperbolic claim about what will happen if we accept certain administration programs. This is, effectively, how the Bush administration describes its own position now. They claim all these rights and powers, and resist any attempts at effective congressional or public oversight.

Katherine and Matt Yglesias both cite to this question at a recent White House Press Conference:
I wonder if you can tell us today, sir, what, if any, limits you believe there are or should be on the powers of a President during a war, at wartime? And if the global war on terror is going to last for decades, as has been forecast, does that mean that we're going to see, therefore, a more or less permanent expansion of the unchecked power of the executive in American society?. I wonder if you can tell us today, sir, what, if any, limits you believe there are or should be on the powers of a President during a war, at wartime? And if the global war on terror is going to last for decades, as has been forecast, does that mean that we're going to see, therefore, a more or less permanent expansion of the unchecked power of the executive in American society?

These our questions we need to start asking. Not as a "gotcha" thing, but as a serious issue in determining what powers are necessary for this war, how they will be limited, how they will be established, and how they will be reviewed. If it is true that this war is perpetual and may not have a clear ending, then we need to account for that--the worst thing for America to do would be to give carte blanche to the Executive for what may amount to eternity. I'm not saying the Bush administration is plotting to turn America into a fascist dictatorship. I'm saying that we need to plan for the future and address these concerns as a nation, openly, fairly, through our democratic processes.

And for arguing that the type of disclosure necessary to jump start this discussion is "helping the enemy", shame on you, Mr. President. If you weren't breaking the law, then maybe we could have avoided this unpleasantness. As it stands, its long since past the point where an executive "trust me" will suffice as a bulwark against the erosion of our constitutional freedoms.

UPDATE: Definitely, definitely, see Steve Vladeck.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Bush Poll Numbers Don't Budge

CNN reports that Bush's poll numbers have not moved in the wake of his Iraq speech last night. I am not surprised. Even though I gave it a guardedly positive review, I think we've reached the point where it's going to take more than speeches to regain the lost trust of the American people. Bush has to show he can back up his words with action, true progress on the ground, and a firm commitment to listen, address, and respond to the quite legitimate criticism coming from legislators, pundits, the media, and outside experts.

I apologize for light blogging, but for whatever reason I have been suffering from bad insomonia and thus spend my days in a sleep-deprived haze. It's downhill from here, as I leave Saturday for a week-long ski-trip to Aspen--blogging will likely be on hold over that time. But I definitely forecast a full recovery by January--so fear not!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Bush's Iraq Speech

President Bush delivered a speech before the nation tonight, seeking to stem growing opposition at home and skepticism over whether we will be able to achieve victory. The Washington Post has the full transcript.

Overall, I give the speech a "B." There were definitely parts that I thought were good. I continue to be pleased whenever President Bush takes responsibility for the war and its after-effects. It is such a marked contrast to the early days, when the "responsibility" and "accountability" president refused to accept either for anything. Glenn Reynolds' Insta-reaction is that Bush is setting the stage to take credit for an eventual victory in 2006 or 2008. That may be true, I don't know. But it is a definite improvement over the recent past.

The other thing I liked was his characterization of what happens if we allow radical Islamists to achieve victory. He spoke of "a vision in which books are burned, and women are oppressed, and all dissent is crushed." These should be an anathema to liberals. They are to me anyway. There are reasonable arguments on why the US should withdraw from Iraq or direct our attention elsewhere. But we should not delude ourselves about the stakes of this conflict. Nothing is more depressing to me than watching apparent liberals embrace some form of mutant realism that just ignores the human rights implications of American isolationism. Of course, even a democratic Iraq will not be a paragon of women's rights or political liberalism. But compared to the alternative, there is no question about which is the preferable outcome. And ultimately, that is what makes me steel myself against the very compelling arguments for withdrawal--an act I fear would doom Iraqi's nascent hopes for democracy.

The problem with the speech is that it still felt political. Jon Chait, perhaps the most virulently anti-Bush pundit to also vocally support the Iraq war, thought that the speech was a step up from previous Bush orations:
I am not, to say the least, a fan of President Bush. But a portion of his speech tonight genuinely moved me and made me think more highly of him. It was the part where he addressed opponents of the Iraq war, said he understand their passion but asked that they think of the stakes of defeat now that the war had happened and asked that they not give in to despair. I cannot remember this president ever speaking to his political opponents except to mischaracterize their views and use them as a straw man...

...Bush's prior pro-war speeches mostly struck me as simplistic, ugly and demagogic, reminders that I supported the war despite the administration rather than because of it. But this moment in his speech tonight really struck me as some kind of symbolic or emotional break from the past for Bush--a genuine attempt to unify Americans rather than polarize them. Bush and his supporters (both inside and outside the administration) have made it so damn hard to support them on this war. It just got a little easier tonight.

Perhaps this speech was an improvement from speeches past (I don't tend to watch them, but this one pre-empted "Family Guy"). But it still, for the most part, engaged in very simplistic and narrow-minded characterization of his critics. Consider this excerpt:
Since the removal of Saddam, this war -- like other wars in our history -- has been difficult. The mission of American troops in urban raids and desert patrols -- fighting Saddam loyalists and foreign terrorists -- has brought danger and suffering and loss. This loss has caused sorrow for our whole Nation -- and it has led some to ask if we are creating more problems than we are solving.

That is an important question, and the answer depends on your view of the war on terror. If you think the terrorists would become peaceful if only America would stop provoking them, then it might make sense to leave them alone.

That isn't the "view of the war on terror" that generally is taken by thoughtful advocates of the preceding position. They consider whether or not Iraqi opposition to the occupation, or the massive hit our reputation took after the torture scandals, or Iraqi mistrust of our motives, or any number of factors based on policy, not presence, may have made our troops poisoned fruits. This is a serious claim, but one that I think can be addressed. It is not addressed by painting this group as the same as the loony left fringe who argues that terrorism is only a reaction to American "provocation."

I also had a visceral reaction toward Bush's barely veiled partisan swipe at "defeatists who refuse to see anything is right." He proclaims that such people only make such claims for "partisan uses." Obviously, there are people who fit into this category. However, it is fall smaller than him and his flacks have previously made it out to be. Partisanship cuts both ways here--Bush can't expect me to take his complaints about "defeatists" when nearly any criticism of his policies in any manner, form, or respect has landed the speaker into this category (his token nod to "honest critics" notwithstanding). But more importantly, it says absolutely nothing about those commentators who, one might argue, "refuse to see anything is wrong." Such speakers are nearly endemic amongst the Republican right. Presumably, their triumphantalism is as harmful to the war effort as the defeatists, as it obstructs necessary policy changes and paves the way for the continuation of failed strategies. What is needed is neither defeatism nor triumphantalism. What is needed is a clear-eyed perspective, one that does not proclaim doom at every setback, but is not blind to clear errors either. If President Bush was truly serious about placing this war beyond currents of partisanship, he should have repudiated that branch of his own party. But by exempting his boosters from criticism even while assailing Democrats for similar sins, he shows that he himself has not transcended his view of Iraq as little more than a partisan game.

Obviously, it is a lot to expect of a President to both aggressively defend his beliefs, and reach out to his opponents, and deal with serious objections in a serious way. But I expect a lot of our presidents--when it comes to the leader of the free world, I make no nods to mediocrity. There are very few politicians that could pull off the type of speech I believe would be proper given our current situation. President Bush is not one of them. Ultimately, then, this speech is quite good given the constraints of Bush's abilities. However, it also demonstrates why he will never be ranked amongst our nation's great presidents.

Teach Out

Lauren of Feministe has a great post on her time as a student teacher. It's powerful stuff. Her students had problems that most of us in the blogosphere can only nightmare about. Or, on occasion, simply refuse to acknowledge exist. These types of first person accounts are vital in understanding what exactly goes on in our nation's schools (especially beyond the narrow band of elite public and private schools that many of us, myself included, received our education). I see so many bloggers write polemics against how awful the nation's school system is, with little to no understanding of what actually goes on there. Every one of them should read about Lauren's experience.

I also wish to become an educator, but as a law professor, not a secondary teacher. I simply don't think I have the patience or the emotional steel to "fall in love and have my heart broken so many times in eleven weeks", much less my whole career. But this just shows how special and valuable those people who choose this path really are. Regardless of whether they are career teachers or student mentors, they are all amazing individuals worthy of our praise. We don't respect them nearly enough.