Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Molly Ivins (1944-2007)

Molly Ivins, one of the great political writers and wits of our time, died today in Austin at the age of 62.

She responded to Pat Buchanan's somber speech about America's "culture war" at the 1992 Republican National Convention by noting that the speech "probably sounded better in the original German." Of the first President Bush she wrote, "Calling George Bush shallow is like calling a dwarf short." When George W. Bush first ran for governor of Texas, Ivins began calling him "Shrub."

Her progressive politics belied her conservative upbringing as the daughter of an oil company executive living in Houston. She offered some thoughts about the origins of her views in the introduction to her first book, Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She? (The book's title was derived from the line plastered on billboards in Dallas by her employer, the now-defunct Dallas Times Herald, in an effort to defuse--and perhaps capitalize on--an uproar generated when Ivins wrote about a congressman, "If his I.Q. slips any lower, we'll have to water him twice a day.") Ivins wrote:

I'm supposed to explain myself in this introduction--specifically, how come I came out so strange. Having been properly reared by a right-wing family in East Texas, how'd I turn out this peculiar? I believe all Southern liberals come from the same starting point--race. Once you figure out they are lying to you about race, you start to question everything.

If you grew up white before the civil rights movement anywhere in the South, all grown-ups lied. They'd tell you stuff like, "Don't drink out of the colored fountain, dear, it's dirty." In the white part of town, the white fountain was always covered with chewing gum and the marks of grubby kids' paws, and the colored fountain was always clean. Children can be horribly logical.

The first great political movement to come along in my lifetime was the civil rights movement, and I was for it. The second great question was the war in Vietnam, and I was against it. So they told me I was a double-dyed liberal. I said, "O.K." What did I know? Later on, people took to claiming it meant I was for big government, high taxes, and communism. That's when I learned never to let anyone else define my politics.

I suspect there are a couple of other factors accounting for the odd hitch in my getalong. Being female, for starters. Can't say I've ever come to any particularly cosmic conclusions about gender, but when you start out in a culture that defines your role as standing on the sidelines with pom-poms to cheer while the guys get to play the game, it will raise a few questions in your mind. Another problem is my size. It wasn't that I ever rejected the norms of Southern womanhood. I was just ineligible. I was the Too Tall Jones of my time. I grew up a St. Bernard among greyhounds. It's hard to be cute if you're six feet tall.

My copy of Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She? was signed by Ivins. She wrote: "Texans-in-exile. Come home! You know we get to laugh more here--we have more to laugh about. Hang in and keep fightin’ for freedom. And keep laughin’ too. Best wishes--Molly Ivins."

Ivins wasn't just funny; more often than not she was on to something important. In the weeks right after 9/11, Dan Caldwell, Russ Burgos, and I gave a series of lectures at Pepperdine on terrorism. I began one of my lectures with an observation that Ivins had made a week or two earlier in her column: "In 1950, the United States got involved in a war and called it a police action. We are now involved in a police action that we’re calling a war. The semantic confusion is having unfortunate effects on everyone." Slowly, more and more experts have come to the same conclusion that Ivins reached immediately after the declaration of a "war on terror."

In the next-to-last column Ivins wrote, dated January 8, 2007, she promised to make every one of her columns thereafter about the war in Iraq "until we find some way to end it." Sadly, the cancer that was first diagnosed in 1999 took Molly Ivins' life before much progress could be made toward ending the war.

Ivins believed that we all need to take an active part in the political life of our community and our nation. That's why in her final columns she urged "Bubba," the good ol' boy in Texas who'd rather drink beer and watch football than get out and vote, to take matters into his own hands concerning the war. Ivins once wrote, "Politics is not a picture on a wall or a television sitcom that you can decide you don't much care for." It's a sentiment worth remembering from a woman worth remembering.

Crime and No Punishment

James Bamford, author of The Puzzle Palace and Body of Secrets, wonders in a New York Times op-ed today why a judicial determination last summer that President Bush had broken the law by authorizing warrantless surveillance of American citizens has not been accompanied by any enforcement activity:

Laws are broken, the federal government investigates, and the individuals involved--even if they’re presidents--are tried and, if found guilty, punished. That is the way it is supposed to work under our system of government. But not this time.

Last Aug. 17, Judge Anna Diggs Taylor of the United States District Court in Detroit issued her ruling in the A.C.L.U. case. The president, she wrote, had “undisputedly violated” not only the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution, but also statutory law, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Enacted by a bipartisan Congress in 1978, the FISA statute was a response to revelations that the National Security Agency had conducted warrantless eavesdropping on Americans. To deter future administrations from similar actions, the law made a violation a felony punishable by a $10,000 fine and five years in prison.

Yet despite this ruling, the Bush Justice Department never opened an F.B.I. investigation, no special prosecutor was named, and there was no talk of impeachment in the Republican-controlled Congress.

The Bush administration has, of course, changed the policy at issue, but Bamford still questions the absence of punishment. An argument by the Bush administration that the case should be thrown out because the issue has been mooted by the new policy is, Bamford contends, "like a bank robber coming into court and arguing that, although he has been sticking up banks for the past half-decade, he has agreed to a temporary halt and therefore he shouldn’t be prosecuted."

The complete essay is here.

The Problem with Neoconservatism

Put simply, the problem with neoconservatism is that it is still with us. The neoconservatives' foreign policy ideas should have been sealed in a very deep grave by now, but they continue to roam the earth like zombies in a bad horror movie.

In today's Guardian, Francis Fukuyama notes that, in spite of the utter failure of the neoconservative plan for Iraq, there are many neocons making the same arguments for an invasion of Iran that were made for an invasion of Iraq five years ago. It is bad enough that so many ostensibly intelligent people have been completely immune to any kind of critical thinking, but even worse is the fact that some still have influence in the Bush administration.

Perhaps, to change the horror movie analogy, we need an exorcism.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Robert F. Drinan, S.J. (1920-2007)

Father Robert Drinan--a tireless defender of human rights, the first Catholic priest to serve as a voting member of Congress, and, at the time of his death, a professor of law at Georgetown University--died on Sunday at the age of 86. The Boston Globe provides a complete obituary while Chris Borgen offers a more personal tribute at Opinio Juris.

Drinan was elected to the House of Representatives from Massachusetts in 1970 on the strength of his opposition to the Vietnam War. During his second term in Congress, in 1973, he filed a resolution of impeachment against President Nixon--not because of the Watergate burglary and coverup that eventually forced Nixon's resignation but because of the bombing of Cambodia in violation of congressionally imposed limits on the war in Southeast Asia.

In 1980, after he was forced to relinquish his seat in the House when Pope John Paul II barred priests from serving in elective office, Drinan returned to teaching, public speaking, and writing, with most of his work focused on human rights.

Drinan's 2001 book, The Mobilization of Shame: A World View of Human Rights, concludes with these words:

The human race has been struggling for centuries to stop injustice and to offer reparations to its victims. There is no one pattern or force that prompts nations to be just. Sometimes it is the voice of the victims that accomplishes such a feat, but more often it is the conscience and moral outrage of nonvictims. Traditionally, they more than any others have championed the rights of those who have been victimized.

Solon, the ancient Athenian jurist, summed up this truth in words that have a striking relevance: "Justice will not come until those who are not hurt feel just as indignant as those who are."

Father Drinan was not a victim, but, to use his own words, he nonetheless "championed the rights of those who have been victimized."

Monday, January 29, 2007

Music as a Response to Terrorism

Music often celebrates the heroic and mourns the tragic in the human experience. Occasionally, what is heroic or tragic is also political. Beethoven's Eroica Symphony (Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major), which originally carried the title Bonaparte, is perhaps the most famous example of concert music celebrating the heroic. (According to an early biographer, Beethoven flew into a rage and removed the title when he heard that Napoleon had proclaimed himself emperor.) Dmitri Shostakovich's Leningrad Symphony (Symphony No. 7 in C major), composed during the German siege of Leningrad in World War II, is another excellent example of the celebration of the heroic.

Where there is a text set to music, the political dimensions of a piece of music can be made more explicit. Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, which employs not only the text of the Latin mass but nine war poems of Wilfred Owen, is a beautiful work--overtly political--that mourns the tragedy of war.

Can music offer a response to terrorism in the post-9/11 world? Two of the foremost American composers have suggested that it can.

Within months of 9/11, the New York Philharmonic commissioned an orchestral work by John Adams. His composition (On the Transmigration of Souls), which incorporated a recording of various voices reading a list of names of victims of the destruction of the World Trade Center and a choral text that included lines taken from handmade flyers left in Manhattan by the families of the missing, was a compelling memorial that one critic compared to Maya Lin's Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.

More recently, Steve Reich's Daniel Variations has been premiered at the Barbican Theatre in London, Carnegie Hall in New York, and Disney Hall in Los Angeles. I was privileged to attend the West Coast premiere at Disney Hall last night.

Daniel Variations was commissioned to honor the memory of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was captured and killed by militants in Pakistan in 2002. It begins with a text spoken by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (in modern-day Iraq) in the the Book of Daniel: "I saw a dream. Images upon my bed and visions in my head frightened me." It is a vision of terror, but against this awful premonition in the first movement, Reich in the second movement presents a surprisingly powerful affirmation expressed in five simple words spoken by Pearl in the tape made by his executioners: "My name is Daniel Pearl."

The music is an important part of what makes the second movement so powerful, but so is the significance of names. Those whom the Nazis sent to concentration camps during World War II were dehumanized by having their names stripped from them; a number tattooed on each prisoner's arm replaced his or her name. Knowing this, we can understand how the simple recitation of Pearl's name in Daniel Variations can be heard as an assertion of his humanity under circumstances of extreme inhumanity.

Grant Gershon, director of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, said in a pre-concert talk about the program that the second movement of Daniel Variations left every performer in tears during the first read-through in rehearsals. Most of those in the audience last night were, it seemed, similarly overwhelmed.

What is perhaps most remarkable about Reich's Daniel Variations is that it celebrates the heroic more than it mourns the tragic. In this respect, it offers a life-affirming response to terrorism.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

An Apology for Arar

Maher Arar, the Canadian citizen detained by U.S. authorities at JFK International Airport and sent to Syria for interrogation, has been given a formal apology by Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper and awarded almost $9 million in compensation by the Canadian government.

The government of the United States, on the other hand, has refused to acknowledge that its suspicion of Arar was--or is--unwarranted. The Washington Post reports:

Harper and Arar both criticized the United States for its refusal to accept the exhaustive Canadian inquiry that found Arar was an innocent man. Public resentment in Canada has swelled this week over U.S. officials' insistence that Arar should remain on its "watch list" of potential suspects, as well as the testy comments of U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins, who said Canada had no business questioning who was on the list.

The United States has never acknowledged it made a mistake in the Arar case, which has become one of the most public embarrassments in the U.S. practice of "extraordinary rendition" of suspects to other countries for interrogation and imprisonment. Last week, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) demanded an explanation for the administration's stance. He complained that American officials "knew damn well, if he went to Syria, he'd be tortured. It's beneath the dignity of this country to send somebody to another country to be tortured."

For more on the Arar case see these earlier posts:


Today is the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust. On November 1, 2005, UN General Assembly Resolution 60/7 officially designated January 27, the date on which Auschwitz was liberated by the Soviet army in 1945, as a day of remembrance to be observed worldwide. (Resolution 60/7 was the first resolution presented by Israel ever to be adopted by the UNGA.)

For more on the Holocaust, see the web sites of Yad Vashem and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, along with these posts:

For those in the area who might be interested, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Institute on Law, Religion, and Ethics at the Pepperdine University School of Law will co-sponsor a conference on Genocide and Religion next month (February 11-13). Details are available here.

Commander in Chief

What does it mean to be "commander in chief" under the United States Constitution? Historian Garry Wills contends that this manifestation of executive power, like most others, has been greatly inflated in recent years due to the increasing militarization of the United States.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Blackwater: The Legal Front

In case you're wondering (as I was) what the latest is on the legal front with respect to the wrongful death lawsuit against Blackwater (noted in this post and this one), the answer comes from a story out of Raleigh, North Carolina:

Private security contractor Blackwater USA is seeking $10 million from the attorney representing the estates of four employees killed and mutilated in Iraq, arguing their families breached the security guards' contracts by suing the company for wrongful death.

Blackwater has also asked a federal court to move the dispute into arbitration, having failed so far in its ongoing efforts to have the lawsuit dismissed.

Arbitration is necessary "in order to safeguard both (Blackwater's) own confidential information as well as sensitive information implicating the interest of the United States at war," attorneys for Blackwater Security Consulting, a unit of Moyock-based Blackwater USA, wrote in a petition filed December 20.

Dan Callahan, a California-based attorney representing the families, called the claim "appalling."

"This is a shock-and-awe tactic," Callahan said Friday. Blackwater's attorneys declined to comment.

There's a business model at stake in this litigation--not one that should be encouraged in a democracy.

Blackwater, Again

Jeremy Scahill has an interesting op-ed in today's Los Angeles Times on the significance of Blackwater USA for the Bush administration's strategy in Iraq. He makes a number of points that were discussed here last fall (see October 30, November 5, and November 7), but he also notes that the idea for a Civilian Reserve Corps, which President Bush mentioned in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, was presented (in privatized form) two years ago by Blackwater USA owner Erik Prince.

Scahill writes:

Bush and his political allies are using taxpayer dollars to run an outsourcing laboratory. Iraq is its Frankenstein monster.

Already, private contractors constitute the second-largest "force" in Iraq. At last count, there were about 100,000 contractors in Iraq, of which 48,000 work as private soldiers, according to a Government Accountability Office report. These soldiers have operated with almost no oversight or effective legal constraints and are an undeclared expansion of the scope of the occupation. Many of these contractors make up to $1,000 a day, far more than active-duty soldiers. What's more, these forces are politically expedient, as contractor deaths go uncounted in the official toll.

Scahill's new book, Blackwater: The Rise of the Most Powerful Mercenary Firm in the World, is due out at the end of March.

Zap 'Em

The development of non-lethal weapons is a serious matter, but it's hard not to laugh when thinking about where the inspiration for these latest designs might have come from.

First, there's a microwave device that zaps bad guys 500 yards away. It doesn't cook them--that, to state the obvious, would make it a lethal weapon--but it does make them feel hot under the collar. Not angry hot under the collar, but "I feel an overwhelming desire to go jump in the nearest lake" hot under the collar.

Second, there's a spray-on equivalent of the banana peel. The "polymer ice," according to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), is supposed to "degrade the ability of our adversaries to chase us." It's suitable for use on streets, sidewalks, stairs, and dance floors in any country where plaintiffs' attorneys are in short supply.

Coming soon: automated ear-twisters.

[Via Foreign Policy Passport.]

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Senator Hagel on "The Plan"

Today the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a non-binding resolution opposing President Bush's plan to send more troops to Iraq. All eleven Democrats on the SFRC were joined by one Republican--Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska--in support of the resolution.

Although Senator Hagel was the only Republican to vote for the resolution, most openly expressed doubts about the President's conduct of the war during the debate.

Senator Hagel, however, took off the gloves. He said, "I don't think we've ever had a coherent strategy. In fact, I would even challenge the administration today to show us the plan that the president talked about the other night. There is no plan. . . . There is no strategy. This is a ping-pong game with American lives."


Ten American corporations--including Alcoa, Caterpillar, DuPont, General Electric, Pacific Gas & Electric--and four major environmental organizations announced on Monday the formation of the United States Climate Action Partnership (US-CAP). Gee offers more details here. For the new web site of the Climate Action Partnership, go here.

Last night in his State of the Union address, President Bush belatedly recognized the need for action on energy conservation and climate change, but his proposals were extraordinarily modest and avoided altogether some of the most effective regulatory changes that could be adopted.

Enriched Uranium To Go

Two cases of attempted smuggling of enriched uranium in the Republic of Georgia that are reported in tomorrow's New York Times have underscored the difficulty of accounting for--and securing--all the fissile material available in Russia and the former Soviet republics at the end of the Cold War. According to the Times, both in 2003 and in 2006, individuals with ties to Russian middlemen were arrested in Georgia while attempting to sell small quantities of uranium. The 100 grams of uranium seized in the January 2006 case, a sample apparently intended to seal a larger deal, was enriched to almost 90 percent U-235. In larger quantities--six to eight kilograms--U-235 at that level of enrichment could be used to make a nuclear weapon.

As Dan Caldwell and I note in Seeking Security in an Insecure World (p. 70), there is enough fissile material worldwide to produce over 100,000 nuclear bombs. A number of states--India, Pakistan, North Korea, Israel, and Iran--are producing more even now. In the former Soviet Union, fissile material is often inadequately secured. Accounting systems are often in such disarray that the theft of stored fissile material can go unnoticed. Corruption among scientists, military officers, and government officials exacerbates the problem. While the United States has helped Russia to "blend down" large quantities of its highly enriched uranium and to secure even more, the two Georgian cases suggest that much more needs to be done.

The 9/11 Commission gave the government of the United States low marks--a "D," to be exact--in the area of preparation for nuclear terrorism. Given the news out of Georgia, it may be difficult to make the case for a higher grade.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Children in China

Beth Nonte Russell describes some of the effects of China's one-child policy in an op-ed in tomorrow's New York Times. As economist Amartya Sen first noted over a decade ago, one of the effects is a large number--60 million by 2010--of "missing" girls. Russell writes,

And what happened to these girls? According to the International Planned Parenthood Federation (a term that takes on a whole new meaning when referring to China), there are about seven million abortions in China per year, 70 percent of which are estimated to be of females. That adds up to around five million per year, or 50 million by the end of the decade; so where are the other 10 million girls? If even 10 percent end up in orphanages . . . well, you do the math.

Although many girls in China end up in orphanages, the U.S. Department of State reports that Americans adopted only 6,493 Chinese children last year, down from 7,906 the year before.

Why aren't there more adoptions? Russell blames new Chinese government policies designed to make adoption difficult.

Under the new Chinese adoption guidelines, the international adoption celebrity Angelina Jolie could not adopt from China (she’s not married, and alas, she and Brad have more than two divorces between them, which is a no-no); nor could the actress Meg Ryan (again, not married). Another person who is not eligible is yours truly. My husband is over 50, so I would have to trade him in, marry again, wait the required five years (another new rule) before beginning the adoption process, and by that time I would be sneaking up on 50 myself.

It is comforting to know that Madonna is still eligible, at least until she turns 50, gets fat (the new regulations call for a body mass index of less than 40), gets divorced or goes broke (anyone with a net worth of under $80,000 is excluded).

Meanwhile, Chinese authorities are predicting "confusion in the social order" as more and more young males face the reality that there are simply not enough women to meet the demand in the marriage market.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

More on Malibu's Dictator-in-Residence

This week's issue of LA Weekly, which hits the streets tomorrow, has an excellent story on the purchase of a $35 million estate in Malibu by the son of Equatorial Guinea's dictator. Diana Ljungaeus has dug much more deeply into the story than either Melissa Giaimo or I did back in November. (Ms. Giaimo wrote a very interesting front-page story for Pepperdine's newspaper, The Graphic, and I made some observations in a post titled "Welcome to the Neighborhood.") In addition to providing new details about the purchase and about the Obiang family, Ljungaeus's story discusses the failure of Malibuites, who are ordinarily quick to become involved in important political issues, to express any opinions about the dictator (or, to be more precise, the dictator-in-waiting) living just down the street.

In the interest of full disclosure--and to entice some of you to actually click on the link or pick up a copy of LA Weekly--I should point out that I'm quoted in the story. There's more: A photograph--of me. (Thank you, Diana Ljungaeus and Rena Kosnett.)

Freedom Stagnation

Freedom in the World 2007, the new edition of the annual report by Freedom House, was released today. The press release accompanying the report notes that the survey "found that the percentage of countries designated as Free has remained flat for nearly a decade and suggests that a 'freedom stagnation' may be developing."

Among its more specific findings, the survey indicates that

the number of countries judged by Freedom in the World as Free in 2006 stood at 90, representing 47 percent of the global population. Fifty-eight countries qualified as Partly Free, with 30 percent of the world’s population. The survey finds that 45 countries are Not Free, representing 23 percent of the world’s inhabitants. About one-half of those living in Not Free conditions inhabit one country: China.

Freedom in the World 2007 also states that in 2006 there were 123 electoral democracies in the world, the same number as the year before.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Civil Rights and Human Rights

The Allies' triumph over Fascism in World War II was, in large measure, a victory over claims of racial superiority or inferiority. Oppressed peoples everywhere took note and began to press claims for freedom and equality.

Those who organized the postwar international order paid attention to these claims. The Charter of the United Nations listed among the purposes of the organization fostering international cooperation "in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion" (Art. 1). Racial equality was clearly an idea whose time had come, but America's war against German and Japanese racism was fought not by blacks and whites standing shoulder to shoulder but by black units and white units, separate and unequal even as they fought a war against racism.

Cognizant of the inconsistency between America's support for human rights abroad and its segregationist policies at home, President Truman in 1946 appointed a Committee on Civil Rights to offer a way forward for the United States. A report issued by the Committee in 1948 noted the problems inherent in trying to exert moral leadership in the world while failing to address civil rights problems in the United States:

Our position in the post-war world is so vital to the future that our smallest actions have far-reaching effects. . . . We cannot escape the fact that our civil rights record has been an issue in world politics. The world’s press and radio are full of it. . . . Those with competing philosophies have stressed--and are shamelessly distorting--our shortcomings. . . . They have tried to prove our democracy an empty fraud, and our nation a consistent oppressor of underprivileged people. This may seem ludicrous to Americans, but it is sufficiently important to worry our friends. The United States is not so strong, the final triumph of the democratic ideal is not so inevitable that we can ignore what the world thinks of us or our record.

Truman issued an executive order calling for the integration of the United States military, a small first step. At the United Nations, Eleanor Roosevelt brought the work of the UN Commission on Human Rights to a successful conclusion in the matter of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was approved, without dissent, by the General Assembly on December 10, 1948. The UDHR declared, in Article 2, that "everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status."

These were small steps, but to those opposed to civil rights they served as a call to arms. In the aftermath of Truman's reliance on the UN Charter rather than a congressional declaration of war as the legal authority for military intervention in Korea, both isolationists and segregationists (two groups with considerable overlapping membership) rallied around the Bricker Amendment, which (in various guises) was intended to prevent the president's treaty-making power from being used to alter the fundamental norms of the American constitutional system, including the nature of the relationship between states and the federal government. In essence, isolationists supported the Bricker Amendment in order to prevent the United States from becoming further involved in multilateral institutions and segregationists supported it in order to prevent international human rights law from advancing the civil rights movement. To block the Bricker Amendment in the Senate, President Eisenhower was forced to end U.S. involvement in negotiations toward an International Bill of Human Rights.

In essence, opposition to civil rights in the Senate had the ancillary effect of ending American leadership of the international human rights movement. To this day, the United States has still not recovered its position of leadership where human rights are concerned.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Addressing the MANPADS Threat

The threat to civil aviation from small shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, or MANPADS (man-portable air defense systems) has long been a source of concern. (I commented on it here in November 2004.) At Los Angeles International Airport today, Northrop Grumman unveiled a defensive system called "Guardian" that critics contend is too expensive to be affordable to the struggling airline industry and wrong-headed in its approach.

The system, mounted on a FedEx MD-10 cargo plane for an eighteen-month trial, employs directed infrared countermeasures (DIRCM) designed to disable the tracking mechanisms of anti-aircraft missiles. Originally developed for the military, the technology has been adapted by Northrop Grumman for use on commercial airplanes.

In addition to the cost of deploying the system (roughly $11 billion across the industry according to a study conducted by Rand in 2005), critics argue that Guardian represents a deviation from what ought to be the primary focus on surveillance. John Meenan, the executive director of the Air Transport Association, put it this way: "Isn't a surveillance program around airports better? Shouldn't we be doing more to go after the archer rather than trying to catch the arrows?" Meenan noted that there are other threats to commercial aviation such as rocket-propelled grenades that would not be addressed by the Guardian system.

The U.S. military currently uses a system called "Nemesis," based on the same technology as the Guardian system, on a variety of fixed-wing and rotary aircraft.

"Creatively Maladjusted"

Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.

--Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

[Via SojoMail (from Sojourners).]

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Growing a Little Wiser

Take three minutes and listen to this commentary by conservative columnist Rod Dreher of the Dallas Morning News.

[Via Matthew Gross, who provides text (and a broken link).]

Friday, January 12, 2007

On to Iran?

On Wednesday evening shortly after the President's speech, a professor and keen observer of military affairs (sometimes the two are not mutually exclusive) from another university e-mailed to say, "You heard it here first. . . . Watch in coming weeks for 'disrupting networks' in Iran to be (very thin) cover for initiating hostilities against Iran, rather like 'disrupting sanctuaries' was in Cambodia." Now, from today's Boston Globe, there's this:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice refused yesterday to rule out cross-border US military action against Iran, a day after President Bush pledged in a major speech to "seek out and destroy" Iranian and Syrian networks providing weapons and training to anti-American forces in Iraq.

My colleague is not the only one worried about the Cambodia precedent, according to the Globe story:

Senator Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, compared the idea of pursuing Iranian networks to the secret 1970 expansion of the Vietnam War into Cambodia.

"Some of us remember 1970, Madame Secretary, and that was Cambodia, and when our government lied to the American people and said we didn't cross the border going into Cambodia. In fact we did," he said. "So, Madame Secretary, when you set in motion the kind of policy that the president is talking about here, it's very, very dangerous."

It's time for the checks and balances in our constitutional system to start working.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Terrorists on Your Desk

Does your 2007 desk calendar have photos of terrorists wanted by the United States Government? If not, you obviously don't have Counterterrorism 2007, a desk calendar published by the National Counterterrorism Center. But, not to worry. You can download the calendar here in this 15 MB .pdf file.

A Voice from Guantanamo

The Los Angeles Times today published excerpts of letters from Jumah al-Dossari, who has been imprisoned in Guantanamo since 2002. He describes being subjected to sleep deprivation, loud music, extreme cold, and threats to the life of his daughter.

In one letter, al-Dossari wrote,

If I die, please remember that there was a human being named Jumah at Guantanamo whose beliefs, dignity and humanity were abused. Please remember that there are hundreds of detainees at Guantanamo suffering the same misfortune. They have not been charged with any crimes. They have not been accused of taking any action against the United States.

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the arrival of the first detainees at Guantanamo. It is a day that has been marked by protests all over the world.

The Good Shepherd

The Good Shepherd, which tells the story of the CIA from its origins in the early days of World War II (as the OSS) to the Bay of Pigs invasion, opened while I was in Europe and so I don't know much about the initial critical response. But because Eric Roth, who wrote the screenplay, has been telling me about the film for well over a year, I went to see it as soon as I could after my return to the U.S.

First of all, The Good Shepherd is a very thoughtful--and thought-provoking--film that is well worth seeing. But don't expect to fall in love with any of the characters (even though they are played by a star-studded cast) and don't expect to leave the theater feeling good. The story is one of idealism surrendered and virtue corroded by the burdens of secrecy. It is, in fact, painful to witness Edward Wilson--the main character, played by Matt Damon--try to deal with the tension between the moral demands of his job with the Agency and his personal moral responsibilities.

It is an open question whether the tenuous ethical position that Wilson holds at the end of The Good Shepherd is a consequence of his own failings or an inevitable result of his circumstances, but in either case the outcome is very problematic for those who would like to believe that those who make foreign policy can be successful without selling their souls.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Back in Business

My travel break, running from December 13 to January 1, merged into a second break during which I've been trying to catch up on things left undone during the travel break. It is long past time, though, to return to the blog. So, to those of you who are regular readers, thanks for your patience. Now that I've broken the ice with this post, I expect to have something to say (or at least something to link) almost daily for the foreseeable future.

My travels, for those who might be curious, took me (and my parents and my sons) to Italy, France, Monaco, Andorra, Spain, and Portugal by car. The route took us (more or less) from Milan to Monte Carlo, Avignon, Andorra la Vella, Montserrat, Zaragoza, Bilbao, Santiago de Compostela, Porto, Lisbon, Madrid, Aix-en-Provence, Florence, and back to Milan. We covered over 6,000 kilometers in just over two weeks, but most of the driving was done in relatively short daily stretches of 300 kilometers or so. All in all, it was a great trip.

Incidentally, if you left a comment during my absence, it was held up by design. I've now published most of the comments that I found when I returned and will get to the others soon.