Saturday, October 28, 2006

"Mistakes Were Made"

One of my best Professors, a Religion and Judaic Studies specialist here at Carleton, once remarked on the propensity of bureaucrats to use the passive voice. "If you want to avoid accountability for someting, always use the passive voice."

The context for the discussion was on how the US State Department responded to pleas by the American Jewish community to more forcifully address--rhetorically, militarily, any way at all--the Holocaust during WWII. The responses were all in the passive voice: "reservations were expressed", "the issue was raised", "proposals were taken under consideration." No trail, no specifics, no actor, no agent, no nothing. And, sure enough, the US continued to downplay the genocide occurring--refusing to allow in Jewish refugees, not bombing tracks leading to death camps--until it was far too late.

The Holocaust is an extreme example, meant only to show just what this rhetorical tactic can be made to justify (or, more accurately, ignore). I suppose it shouldn't surprise us, then, when it pops up in compartively lighter situations. NATO General David Richards admitted that "mistakes were made" in a NATO strike that killed 70 Afghani civilians. Begging the General's pardon, but "mistakes weren't made", someone made mistakes. Finding that someone or someones and why they made their mistake or mistakes is a moral imperative when you have that many innocent lives on your hands. The NATO Supreme Commander, James Jones, promised a thorough investigation, but this type of bureaucratic obfuscation is not a promising start.

It's late, I'm tired, and this was probably an unjustified rant. Sometimes the passive voice is just the passive voice. But I am sick of this culture of unaccountability, and I am sick of not being able to detect a pulse among the polity to the end of holding people accountable for their sins. Something needs to change.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Take That, Rewind Brownback

Sammy B's got the voice that make my head go smack.

The Senator from Kansas is blocking a federal appellate court judge nominaton because the nominee attended a commitment ceremony for a lesbian friend. She didn't officiate, it had no legal standing, she participated in no legal or judicial capacity, and she's made this very clear to the Senator. In her words, "The ceremony, which was entirely private, took place in Massachusetts, where I had no authority to act in any official capacity and where, in any event, the ceremony had no legal effect" (she is a Michigan judge). One of the women involved had lived next-door to her family for decades. Yet the erst-while bold advocate for "up-or-down votes" continues to hold the nomination up.

Kevin Drum says that Brownback is trying to strip James Inhofe of the "worst Senator" title. A while back, I specifically put the Oklahoma delegation ahead of the Kansas set for worst Senate delegation. I also wrote an article urging Democrats to Be Like Sam on the topic of human rights.

That being said, this story reminds us that he is and remains a nut.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

French Role in Rwandan Genocide

International Law specialist Julien Ku reports that Rwanda is looking into evidence of French involvement in the 1994 genocide there. This is the second report of a nation revisiting foreign involvement in a 1994 atrocity this week.

Most of the allegations refer to the French training the participating militias who engaged in the killing, or standing aside and giving the killers access to their victims. However, perhaps the most shocking claim is that French helicopters specifically airlifted people out of the cities to be executed in isolated forests.

France is apparently cooperating with the probe, which is good news.

Arrest Warrant For Ex-Iranian President

And it's not from Israel. It's from Argentina, relating to the 1994 Hezbollah attack on a Buenos Aires Jewish center that killed dozens:
Argentine prosecutors on Wednesday asked a federal judge to order the arrest of former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani and seven others for the 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center that killed scores of people.

Prosecutor Alberto Nisman told a news conference that the decision to attack the center "was undertaken in 1993 by the highest authorities of the then-government of Iran."

He said the actual attack was entrusted to the Lebanon-based group Hezbollah.

The bombing of the Jewish cultural center was the worst terrorist attack on Argentine soil. Eighty-five people were killed and more than 200 others injured when an explosive-laden vehicle was driven near the building and detonated.

Iran's government has vehemently denied any involvement in the bombing, following repeated accusations by Jewish community leaders and others here. Iranian authorities in Buenos Aires declined to comment.

Prosecutors urged the judge to seek international and national arrest orders for Rafsanjani, who was Iran's president from 1989 to 1997. They also asked the judge to detain former intelligence chief Ali Fallahijan and former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati.

In addition, they urged the arrest of two former commanders of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, two former Iranian diplomats and a former Hezbollah security chief.

Wow. Wow.

I don't have any data on it, but I imagine its spectacularly rare for a country to make such a bold move unless it has really strong evidence on the matter. Notions of international propriety and sovereignty generally preclude putting out an arrest warrant on another nation's leaders. Argentina clearly feels like it has enough data on the matter so it's willing to take the diplomatic hit.

Rafsanjani is apparently considered a moderate in Iranian politics, which just goes to show you what passes for moderation in the Tehran regime today.

Meanwhile, Modernity Blog reminds me to ask for comments from the "We Are All Hezbollah Now" protest wing.

Lest we get too excited, the proceeding judge does not have to act on this recommendation immediately, or indeed, under any time limitation. And since the suspects are not in Argentina, the call is for an international arrest warrant, which would require foreign compliance. This obviously will not be forthcoming. So I don't expect any actual trial to go forward. But hopefully this will be another data point in showing that the Iranian government is not anti-Zionist, but anti-Semitic.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Obama's Record

Given my well-known adoration of the junior senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, it would be fair if some of my readers wondered if, to use to the current President's parlance, he might be "all hat and no cattle." Well, Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings has a round-up of Sen. Obama's key initiatives since entering congress. She identifies four issues particularly praise-worthy, both on substance and because they tend to not get the attention they should. They are non-proliferation, Avian Flu (before it was a hot topic!), regulating genetic testing, and reducing medical malpractice suits without harming the rights of legitimate plaintiffs. As for the rest, well, decide for yourself:
-A "health care for hybrids" bill (previously blogged upon here)

-An Energy Security Bill

-Various bills on relief for Hurricane Katrina, including aid for kids and a ban on no-bid contracts by FEMA

-A public database of all federal spending and contracts

-Trying to raise CAFE standards

-Veterans' health care

-Making certain kinds of voter intimidation illegal

-A lobbying reform bill (with Tom Coburn), which would do all sorts of good things, notably including one of my perennial favorites, requiring that bills be made available to members of Congress at least 72 hours before they have to vote on them.

-A proposal to revamp ethics oversight, replacing the present ethics Committee with a bipartisan commission of retired judges and members of Congress, and allowing any citizen to report ethics violations. This would have fixed one of the huge problems with the present system, namely: that the members have to police themselves.

-Introducing legislation to make it illegal for tax preparers to sell personal information.

-Legislation on chemical plant security.

-Legislation on lead paint.

Hilzoy identifies several themes latent in how Obama approaches legislation:
I do follow legislation, at least on some issues, and I have been surprised by how often Senator Obama turns up, sponsoring or co-sponsoring really good legislation on some topic that isn't wildly sexy, but does matter. His bills tend to have the following features: they are good and thoughtful bills that try to solve real problems; they are in general not terribly flashy; and they tend to focus on achieving solutions acceptable to all concerned, not by compromising on principle, but by genuinely trying to craft a solution that everyone can get behind.

His legislation is often proposed with Republican co-sponsorship, which brings me to another point: he is bipartisan in a good way. According to me, bad bipartisanship is the kind practiced by Joe Lieberman. Bad bipartisans are so eager to establish credentials for moderation and reasonableness that they go out of their way to criticize their (supposed) ideological allies and praise their (supposed) opponents. They also compromise on principle, and when their opponents don't reciprocate, they compromise some more, until over time their positions become indistinguishable from those on the other side.

This isn't what Obama does. Obama tries to find people, both Democrats and Republicans, who actually care about a particular issue enough to try to get the policy right, and then he works with them. This does not involve compromising on principle. It does, however, involve preferring getting legislation passed to having a spectacular battle. (This is especially true when one is in the minority party, especially in this Senate: the chances that Obama's bills will actually become law increase dramatically when he has Republican co-sponsors.)

So my little data point is: while Obama has not proposed his Cosmic Plan for World Peace, he has proposed a lot of interesting legislation on important but undercovered topics. I can't remember another freshman Senator who so routinely pops up when I'm doing research on some non-sexy but important topic, and pops up because he has proposed something genuinely good. Since I think that American politics doesn't do nearly enough to reward people who take a patient, craftsmanlike attitude towards legislation, caring as much about fixing the parts that no one will notice until they go wrong as about the flashy parts, I wanted to say this.

Hilzoy's post is chock full of links that I don't provide, so I recommend the whole thing. I'm with Hilzoy, the wonk in me loves seeing a high-profile figure work so hard at getting legislation passed on issues that are important even if they don't hit the news waves. That shows he cares more about the good of the country than the good of his next press release. That's what I want in leader. That's what I want, dare I say, in a President.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Follow the Leader

The UN is having trouble pressuring countries to stop torture. Why? Because these countries claim they're only doing what the US is doing.

Steve Benen had the heads up, and notes sadly that only a few years ago we could condemn these people with a straight face. No longer. Now their sins are on our heads too. Over a year ago I lamented this:
For better or for worse, the US is a beacon. Other countries look to us to understand what freedom and democracy means. That is a privilege that the US has earned over years of being the world's most consistent shining light for humanity. But it comes with a heavy responsibility, to conduct ourselves within the most scrupulous ethical guidelines, to not take the easy way out, to try an elevate the status of moral behavior around the world rather than depressing it and/or trying to get away with the absolute bare minimum. When the world sees America the Free locking up persons in isolated detention camps with no trials, no attorneys, and no rights, is it any wonder that they go back and do the same?

So it goes.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Minnesota Ailments

I love Minnesota, but one of the few drawbacks of livng here is that I seem to get sick very easily in the climate here. My allergies are a constant problem, and on top of that I usually catch some form of nasty cold at least a few times a term.

The good new is that I have a pretty well developed response to sickness--I sleep. I am a crack sleeper--if I were a superhero, it would easily be my superpower. I can do it any time, for any length, anywhere. So last night, when I started to feel a bit under the weather, I thought: "Aha! I'll just get to bed, have a nice night's sleep, and wake up tommorrow refreshed and ready!"

I then proceeded to go to bed. And stare at the ceiling for the next eight hours.

Insomnia! Curses!

I finally did fall asleep at 9:30 AM, which pretty much destroyed any hope of me attending classes today. Fortunately, when I was telling this story at dinner, I got some good advice on my dilemma. A friend of mine, known only by her shadowy moniker of "K-Bar", suggested some Benadryl. Where might I find some? Well, it just so happens K-Bar might have a container full of it in her backpack. Would I like some?

I know, I know, this is how addictions start, but I was desparate. So I have four pills of Benadryl (two at a time, six hours between doses) sitting in my room now. And K-Bar has probably expanded her undoubtedly massive drug dealing empire by one Carleton student.

Actually, K-Bar is a Student Wellness Advisor, so I'm skeptical she actually is the local drug kingpin. Indeed, knowing what I know about K-Bar, I'd label it extraordinarily improbable. But "shadowy figure named K-Bar offers some pills she just 'happens' to have lying around" makes a better story than "Friend and Student Wellness Advisor offers me some medicine after I get sick." Let nobody say I don't know how to market. Besides, how else did she get the nickname "K-Bar"?

Anyway, thanks K-Bar.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

B.D., Doonesbury, and Trudeau

The Washington Post has a fantastic article on Doonesbury's most famous storyline. For those of you who don't know, main character B.D. (the first character to appear in the strip) had his leg blown off in Iraq several years ago. Since then, the strip has followed B.D.'s ardorous recovery and therapy sessions. It's been critically acclaimed from all quarters, including the military, which gave Doonesbury writer Garry Trudeau special access to recovering military amputees.