Archive for December, 2005
Sandy Levinson explains why Samuel Alito’s ascension to the Supreme Court
is so important to the White House, and it’s not Roe v. Wade:
Judge Alito and Executive Power:
Key to any answer, I suggest, is the belief by insiders in the Bush Administration that he would be better on the one issue they REALLY care about, which is the aggrandizement of Executive power. The events of the past two weeks, following the disclosures about literally unwarranted wiretapping and data-mining by the National Security Agency, bring into sharp focus the intent by the Administration, led by Dick Cheney, to assert almost unlimited executive powers linked to the “Commander-in-Chief” Clause of Article II of the Constitution. Dick Cheney has apparently been obsessed since his own service as Gerald Ford’s Chief of Staff with returning the presidency to the “imperial” status that was, he thought, the victim of Watergate. For him the Bush Administration is about rolling back what are perceived as illegitimate incursions on raw presidential power.
This concern helps to explain John Roberts appointment as Chief Justice. Recall that then-Judge John Roberts gave the Administration a major victory in the D.C. Court of Appeals in the Hamdan case literally the week before he was nominated to the Supreme Court…. Roberts is likely to be a dependable ally of the President. There is also the important detail, ignored by almost all of the press, that one of Roberts’s prerogatives as Chief Justice is the ability to appoint, without any checks from his colleagues or the Congress, federal district judges to the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court and then federal circuit judges to serve on the three-member court of appeals from decisions of the FISC. As University of Pennsylvania Law School Professor Theodore Ruger has importantly demonstrated, Chief Justice Rehnquist was prone to appoint conservative Republicans to serve on that Court, which is the first line of defense against overreaching by the Executive in wiretapping and other forms of surveillance….
The stakes are simply too high to allow any deference at all to this president (and vice-president), whose hunger for power, if tolerated, will transform us into a country that none of us should wish to live in.
December 29th, 2005
Mandana Hendessi sent me this email in response to my article The Sex Lives and Sexual Frustrations of US troops in Iraq: An Ocean of Ignorance [posted with permission]:
I stumbled across your article “The Sex Lives and Sexual Frustration of US Troops in Iraq” today which plunged me into dismay and sorrow. The brothel in the Green Zone was never intended to be such. Far from it, I set it up as a shelter for victims of family and tribal violence in February 2004 towards the end of my stint in Baghdad as the gender advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority.
I am so heartbroken to have realised that the rumours are actually true. In February I waged a campaign here in the UK, on hearing about the closure of the shelter by Iraq’s interim president, Ghazi al-Yawar. Although at first it appeared that the president’s intention was to annexe the house to his collection of properties in the Green Zone, leaked emails later showed that the house was taken over because it was being used as a brothel by American soldiers. The Iraqi interim government and the White House seemingly colluded to ensure that this scandal wouldn’t become another Abu Ghraib by suppressing the news.
I was wondering if you have more information about this.
In a further email she responded to my question as to why she assumed the two brothels, her shelter and the one reported by Patrick Cockburn. were the same:
I somehow have this deep suspicion that it is the same house because it offered a good cover for such misdeeds, under the guise of a women’s shelter, with everywhere else being under the careful scrutiny of the US Army. Furthermore, this house was out of the view, tucked away on the outskirts of the Zone – out of sight, out of mind.
Following the annexation of the house and the eviction of the residents (whether prostitutes or victims of domestic abuse) in Feb, I cited leaked confidential emails from the then president’s wife (wife no.3 – he is shamefully polygamous) to the State Department about the house falling into disrepute and therefore requiring drastic action. I also heard similar reports from a Muslim charity in the UK which had provided funding to furnish the shelter. They also noted with shock and awe the sudden disappearance of the director of the so-called charity running the project, shortly after the shelter was closed. It’s all very horrible and sinister.
But such has been the fate of poor Iraq and Iraqi people. And you are right, the women’s situation in the New Iraq is woefully no better than under Saddam, despite all the efforts, notably by Iraqi women’s rights activists with dreams of Nirvana.
Strangely enough, I am in the process of writing a book on my six-month stint in Iraq. Yes, the story must be told and explored in all its dichotomy – the war-torn Iraq was tumultous and violent as well as innocent, charming, beautiful and generous. There was an opportunity for building a just and democratic society on the ruins of war and dictatorship which was woefully squandered by friends and foes.
December 29th, 2005
A new article of mine The Sex Lives and Sexual Frustrations of US troops in Iraq: An Ocean of Ignorance is now available on OpEdNews:
Well over a hundred thousand American men and women, most younger than 30, spend a year or more at a time in a foreign country where they are almost totally isolated from the indigenous population. Are all these troops really chaste for those long periods, as called for my military regulations?
What is going on sexually among US troops in Iraq is one of the great untold and unknown stories of the Iraqi occupation. As I have followed the course of this war, I have paid careful attention to any glimmers on information available. Having read perhaps 30,000-50,000 articles on Iraq, I’ve seen at most a couple dozen mentions of anything related to sex, other than the systematic sexual abuse and sometime rape of detainees at Abu Graib and the other US prisons. Of course, military regulations ban sex out of marriage, but these regulation have about as great a chance of being obeyed as the US has of obtaining the “total victory” that the President is always promising….
December 29th, 2005
A new report says the world has been far more peaceful since the end of the Cold War. Armed conflicts dropped 40% from 1992 to 2003 and mass slaughters of civilians dropped 80%. No wonder the War State has been in such a panic, inventing the Global War Against Terrorism. Peace is, as always, the enemy of the Imperial State: Peace on Earth? Increasingly, Yes.
A major study by the Rand Corp. published this year found that U.N. peace-building operations had a two-thirds success rate. They were also surprisingly cost-effective. In fact, the United Nations spends less running 17 peace operations around the world for an entire year than the United States spends in Iraq in a single month. What the United Nations calls “peacemaking” — using diplomacy to end wars — has been even more successful. About half of all the peace agreements negotiated between 1946 and 2003 have been signed since the end of the Cold War.
No wonder the US right hates the UN so much. Its existence threatens the rationale for the warrior state.
December 29th, 2005
Horrifying beyond belief by its banality. Crooks and Liars has the video of contractors in Iraq engaged in random shooting, evidently killing a number of drivers of cars. The video is even set to music!
December 24th, 2005
Article of mine from OpEdNews:
The headline in the Independent tells it all: Britain will be first country to monitor every car journey: From 2006 Britain will be the first country where every journey by every car will be monitored.
”Using a network of cameras that can automatically read every passing number plate, the plan is to build a huge database of vehicle movements so that the police and security services can analyse any journey a driver has made over several years.”
”By next March a central database installed alongside the Police National Computer in Hendon, north London, will store the details of 35 million number-plate “reads” per day. These will include time, date and precise location, with camera sites monitored by global positioning satellites.”
Such tools, once built, naturally, and quite easily expand:
”Already there are plans to extend the database by increasing the storage period to five years and by linking thousands of additional cameras so that details of up to 100 million number plates can be fed each day into the central databank.”
Will the next step be to integrate in face recognition capability? Why not? And what then?
This decision in Britain is especially ironic in light of the headlines this week in the United States, which announce that the Bush administration has been illegally wiretapping unknown numbers of people and, separately, spying on peaceful protesters, all in the name of fighting terrorism. Especially important to keep in mind is the fact that Bush emphatically asserted in 2004 that no one was being wiretapped without a court order. Surveillance tools, when built, are always only going to be used within clear limits. And then…
While it may be justified, and fun, to demonize Bush and his gang, we have to remember that the Bush administration is hardly the first to use illicit means to crush opposition. Many articles this week have made connections to Watergate and other actions of the Nixon administration. But Democratic administrations have certainly engaged in their share of dirty tricks when facing opposition. The infamous Cointelpro program, the attempt to provoke Martin Luther King Jr. to commit suicide, and many other attacks on protestors and dissidents occurred largely during the Johnson administration.
Over a hundred years ago Lord Acton understood that the danger to liberty does not reside mainly in bad individuals, but in the power available to those in positions of authority: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This is why it is essential to put absolute limits on the tools available to those in authority. If we trust our leaders to use the tools available to them wisely, we are simply being fools. Further, if these tools are used prudently now, there is absolutely no guarantee that future leaders will continue to wield them judiciously. Some tools should never be built, and the total surveillance system being constructed in Britain is one of those.
One can only imagine what will be done with these tools once they are built. Unfortunately, the land of the Magna Carta is rapidly moving toward becoming the land in which privacy is a quaint relic of the past. While the pretense of freedom will undoubtedly remain, real freedom may soon be gone. The next step may very well be to keep tabs on the movements of every individual. GPS systems make such a totally surveillance state a likely possibility, indeed, a certainty, unless current trends are rapidly reversed. Already, such systems are being used to control prisoners. Proposals exist to use them with visitors, to make sure they don’t overstay their visas. How far is it from these uses to a society in which everyone’s location is monitored at all times? Such an outcome may seem outrageous now, but so would this Independent headline have seemed so 10 years ago. The issue of the creeping, or rather galloping, total surveillance state is one of the most important ignored issues of modern times. Modern technology makes possible types of monitoring, and control, undreamed of by Orwell. And, with little discussion or opposition, these techniques are being implemented. If we don’t act now, it will soon be too late to turn the tide.
December 24th, 2005
A new French film, Joyeux Noel , brings the 1914 Christmas truce, that moment when a world of peace could be imagined, to a wider audience.
At this time of year, papers in Europe often have articles on the truce, a trend amplified this year with the release of the film. Antiwar.com has links to several. For a representative one, see the Reuters piece: Christmas truce still stirs Europe 90 years later.
Another article, from the Telegraph, has this nugget:
Some viewers might find a certain sentimental excess in the scene in which a Scottish bagpiper spontaneously joins in when German soldiers began singing Stille Nacht (Silent Night). There are records of such an event. “All the acts of fraternisation had one thing in common: music and song,” says Carion. “I loved the idea that these could stop a war for a few hours.”
Perhaps we should learn something about the importance of music to peace. After all, the 60′s peace movements were infused with song, whereas today’s movements are silent. Music and song can unite, they can inspire, but they also can soothe. Movements for peace need all three.
The Telegraph article continues to point out that the reality of peace is beyond what audiences can believe:
The film also features a foraging ginger cat adopted as a mascot by both the French and the Germans. The cat existed, and, in real life, it was arrested by the French, convicted of espionage and shot in accordance with military regulations. “It was an era of madmen,” says Carion, who filmed this scene – to the great distress of his extras – but decided not to include it in case his audience didn’t believe it.
A Scottish bishop’s sermon, which includes references to a “crusade” and a “holy war”, seems like a thumpingly obvious effort to find parallels with more recent discourses about Iraq. In fact, these words were, Carion says, taken directly from a sermon preached by an Anglican bishop at Westminster Abbey. Here, too, the truth was toned down: Carion excised the real bishop’s references to German soldiers “crucifying babies on Christmas Day” in order to make it credible.
Perhaps the propensity toward war is aided by our unwillingness to imagine the depths to which people can sink when captured by the lure of war, the fantasy of perfect union with the state, that idealized perfect mother, and the ability to extrude all evil onto the enemy, that poisonous cannibalistic bad mother. As Christopher Hedges points out in War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, in more normal times we disown this desire for union and extrusion and cannot remember or imagine how destructive it can be.
Perhaps this dynamic also helps explain people’s passivity toward the threats to democracy facing us in the United States today. For those identified with their country, to truly accept the danger puts the evil, the bad, inside the union, where it is especially terrifying.
A resolution for many is the demonization solution, to view George W. Bush and his administration as absolute evil, destroying the country and the world. While tempting, and certainly not without evidence, the problem with this outlook is that it is the mirror image of that attitude which leads us into the nightmare. To those adopting this view, evil resides in Bush, in Cheney, in the Republicans. If only they could be removed, impeached, tried, the world would be saved. The problem with this notion is that it encourages only destruction of the enemy, not construction of something better. History has repeatedly demonstrated that movements guided by hatred do not end up producing a better world.
The Christmas truce, in its magnificence, gives us a tiny glimpse of a true alternative, a world in which we are all simply human, in which that which we have in common is greater than that which divides us. For the brief moment of that truce, lasting days or weeks, the soldiers on all sides embodied the wisdom of peace through union, a union without an all-bad enemy (though the officer class trying so hard to restore their respective killing machines surely could have qualified). A union of fun, of games, and of song. A world dominated by eros.
The challenge, so far unsolved, is how to take such a moment and make it last, or at least not turn into its opposite, a renewed carnage of destruction. This challenge, as pacifists and nonviolent activists have repeatedly discovered, requires us to find a way to accept and tame the capacity for destructiveness in each of us, so as not to need to attribute it to an enemy. At the same time, we need to find a way to continue peace and unity in more normal, less extraordinary times, beyond the moment of fusion. For eventually the excitement fades and we remember all our irritations, our gripes and our fears. To bring peace into daily life is the need upon which the future of the human race may well depend.
This is the utopian challenge for our day.
Peace on Earth! Goodwill to Men and Women!
For more information on the 1914 truce, see the book Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce by Stanley Weintraub.
December 24th, 2005
A new detailed post by Media Matters for America, Former fellows at conservative think tanks issued flawed UCLA-led study on media’s “liberal bias”, provides a nice critique of a new study of supposed liberal bias of the media. The study involves a coding scheme in which the ACLU is a conservative organization, the National Rifle Association is barely conservative, and the Rand Corporation and the Council on Foreign relations are liberal organizations. In addition to showing the ridiculousness of this study – finding, for example, that the Wall Street Journal is more liberal than the New York Times – the article is a nice example of a research critique. Perhaps tellingly, the study will appear in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, where it likely was reviewed by those more wowed by the quantitative methodology than concerned about the validity of the findings.
December 23rd, 2005
A new report indicates that avian flu may easily develop resistance to Tamiflu, one of only two drugs potentially useful against this type of flu. This, and other doubts about the efficacy of Tamiflu, not to mention its limited availability, emphasize the importance of preventive measures. The world needs massive increases in public health surveillance. Further, major resources need to be available to reimburse farmers whose poultry flocks are suspected of being infected. At present, many poor farmers hide sick birds out of fear of financial ruin if their flocks are culled without adequate compensation. It is sickening to hear that the US administration is seeking only paltry sums for this much needed preventive effort, putting most researches in dike-building with vaccine creation and Tamiflu stockpiles.
As is all to often the case, it is more lucrative to deal with a problem after it develops, rather than seek to prevent it. After all, money used to reimburse farmers in Asia does not go to Western corporations, as will money for drugs and vaccines. If a pandemic does develop, such shortsightedness could lead to the deaths of millions. The recent data on the limited effectiveness of Tamiflu raises the stakes higher.
December 21st, 2005