Ragged Claws

Thursday, July 27, 2006

A Conversation

Me to my husband, who is reading a book on the development of the Canadian military: So, how are those Canadian armies?

Husband: Professional.


Husband: What? That's the thesis of the book!


Husband: That makes it sound really boring, doesn't it?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Lieberman and the Torture Thing

A couple of weeks ago my family made a modest contribution to Ned Lamont's campaign (which I suppose makes us members of the "the demonizing, hating, virulent, character-assassinating left of the Democratic Party." (Also, I can't be the only one who thinks that quote suffers from its failure to include the phrase "fever swamp" - stop coasting, Lieberman supporters! There are plenty of other words relating to disease and criminality that can be used to describe the Democratic base!)) The donation was the fulfillment of a promise that I made back in 2005, shortly before the final vote to confirm Alberto Gonzales as attorney general. The hearings had made it abundantly clear that a vote for Gonzales was a vote in support of the policies that had led to Abu Ghraib. While Gonzales offered the requisite mealy-mouthed condemnations of "torture" in his testimony before the Senate, he also refused to specify what activities he was actually repudiating (Waterboarding? Naked human pyramids? Beatings that stop short of causing pain equivalent to organ failure?); to take a stand on whether the president may order the torture of prisoners or to clarify his views on the infamous "Bybee memo". Gonzales even declined to comment on whether the activities photographed at Abu Ghraib constituted criminal conduct. In any decent government, this wink-wink nudge-nudge hedging on the subject of torture would be absolutely unacceptable. And for the most part, Senate Democrats managed to stand together to make what should have been the utterly uncontroversial point that torture is very wrong, and that anyone who would facilitate or excuse it has no business serving as the nation's chief law-enforcement officer. Lieberman, however, took a rather different stance:

Again, Justice Gonzales said repeatedly at the hearing that he would not countenance torture, repeated what is the fact that the Administration made very clear, presumably with his Counsel, that the rules of the Geneva Convention applied to the Iraq war because Iraq was a duly formed government, a sovereign state, and a party to the Geneva Convention. And what happened at Abu Ghraib was embarrassing, was hurtful to our cause in the world, and was offensive. It is being dealt with within the military justice system, as we have seen.

Questions are raised about the connection, I suppose, between the Bybee memo, whatever involvement Judge Gonzales had in it, and the events at Abu Ghraib. There is simply no evidence to make a connection certainly between Judge Gonzales and what happened at Abu Ghraib. And any of the independent reviews that have gone on, most particularly Mr. Schlesinger's independent review, said that there was no connection between so-called higher-ups and what happened at Abu Ghraib.

So, in the end, I have to ask myself, because of a memo written by somebody else -- Mr. Bybee at the Office of Legal Counsel -- which has in it material that I find, as I’ve said, profoundly offensive, that judge Gonzales received and did something with, am I prepared to vote to deny him confirmation as Attorney General of the United States? And to me, personally, that would be an unjust result. And that is why I will vote to confirm. I understand the frustration of members of the Judiciary Committee about some of the answers -- many of the answers that Judge Gonzales gave at the hearing. Some of them were evasive, some were legalistic, but that wouldn't be the first time that a witness before a committee had proceeded in that particular way, particularly one who has privileges that he occupies and lives under as Counsel to the President of the United States.

On February 3 of last year (before the above speech was delivered but admittedly, too late to have even the slightest impact), I wrote to Lieberman urging him to reconsider his reported intention to vote for Gonzales. Since I'm not one of his constituents, I used the only point of leverage that an out-of-state Democratic nobody could be expected to have, and said that if Lieberman supported Gonzales then I would support any primary challenge that Lieberman might eventually face. (Unsurprisingly, I never received a response to this email.)

So, while there are plenty of good reasons to oppose Lieberman - his votes for cloture on the bankruptcy bill and on the Alito nomination, his Wall St. Journal editorial equating criticism of the president with treason, his continuing, inured-to-the-evidence support for the Bush administration's policy in Iraq - the most pressing issue for me is Lieberman's willingness to condone torture. Torture is not a complicated moral question about which reasonable people can reach different conclusions, although I've been horrified by the increasingly common tendency to portray it as such. Prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment is one of the basic tenets of American justice, a bright line that is supposed to differentiate the U.S. from nightmare states like Argentina under the Dirty War Junta or Iraq under Saddam Hussein. And without letting any of the architects or executors of the administration's torture policies off the hook (after all, they wouldn't let you off it!), there's something particularly galling when a former Democratic presidential and vice-presidential candidate from a solidly blue state acts as if torture is an issue on which triangulation or "deference" to executive overreaching is appropriate. Stances like Lieberman's undermine both the rule of law and the ability of the Democratic Party to present itself as a strong, principled alternative to the Republicans. Claims to the contrary aside, therefore, I don't see our contribution to Lamont as part of an extremist antiwar "jihad" (although I guess I wouldn't, huh?), just a reminder that there's only so much contempt you can display for people's core values before they decide that hey, maybe they aren't that crazy about you either.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Viva AMLO!

So I'm still rooting for López Obrador to pull ahead in the Mexican presidential race (although it seems increasingly unlikely that he'll actually do so), for all of the usual, boringly obvious Massachusetts-lefty-transplanted-to-the-Bay-Area reasons. (1) The most important reason to back López Obrador, though, is the shocking revelation made Sunday night concerning the true nature of his PAN opponent, Felipe Calderón. During Azteca America's coverage of Calderón's victory-according-to-selected-indicators speech, the wide-angle camera shots revealed that not one but two of the people standing directly in front of the main podium were wearing NY Yankees caps (tan and blue respectively, turned backwards so that the logos were clearly visible). Seriously, PAN, your candidate studied at Harvard and you still can't muster up any love for the BoSox? (2) For shame. That's the final straw - you're dead to me, PAN. López Obrador para siempre! (3)

(1) No, he's not perfect. The cartoon pamphlet that he distributed in 2004 claiming that "dark forces" were working against him was so over the top in its paranoia and sense of self-righteous aggrievement that when I first saw it I thought that it was that it was a piece of cutting satire produced by his opponents. (Then again, the various attempts to disqualify López Obrador from even entering the presidential race certainly lend some plausibility to notions of "fuerzas oscuras.") And the PRD's post-election rumblings and threats to disregard election results have been a bit disquieting (although once more, it's not as if there aren't reasons for PRD supporters to be suspicious of the validity of presidential vote counts). On the whole, though, I think López Obrador has gotten a raw deal from the U.S. press, which seems obsessed with fitting news from Latin America into a "resurgence of the populist-authoritarian left" storyline and which generally insists on measuring the region's leaders using standard Chávez units (according to some quick back-of-the envelope calculations, Fidel Castro tips the scales at a hefty 2.5 Chávezes, Evo Morales and Lula da Silva both come in at a respectable 0.7 Chávezes apiece and Alan García barely registers at only a tenth of a Chávez. To be fair, the López Obrador-Chávez comparison is not the sole creation of U.S. reporters, as the PAN also ran campaign ads linking the two.)While it can be useful to look at events within a regional context, individual and national differences are often as important as the similarities. Expressing concern for the poor does not automatically make a politician a ruthless demagogue, and advocating that wealthy citizens contribute more to their country is not one step away from dressing everyone in burlap and sending them off to collective farms. There are arguments to be made about López Obrador's merits as a politician, but painting him as a Chávez-in-waiting seems to miss the point.

2) Yeah, yeah, the men in the Yankees caps were probably photographers or reporters, and not actually affiliated with the PAN. Still, does a decent presidential candidate allow the Yankees to be supported in his or her presence? That's right, I didn't think so. (Yeah, Hillary. You heard me.)

(3) No, growing up in Massachusetts didn't bias me on this issue at all - why do you ask?