Today at the Frankfurt Book Fair, Trajectory, Inc. and Chinese publisher Zhejiang Publishing United Group announced a global digital distribution agreement that is one of the largest to date in exporting Chinese eBooks worldwide. This is the fourth major China trade agreement for Trajectory, Inc. in 2013.
I took command of the Marine Corps Security Force Company aboard United States Naval Base, Guantanamo Bay on August 29, 2001. Guantanamo Bay was familiar to me — I had deployed there in 1993 as a young lieutenant to help with the care and security of over 13,000 Haitian emigrants plucked from the Caribbean Sea. Essentially an idyllic small town, the tight-knit community welcomed me and my family with ceremony and a fair amount of celebrity, the proper formality for the senior Marine, but something to which I was personally unaccustomed. I was a big fish in a little pond, though fairly junior in rank.
A short fourteen days after taking command, still getting oriented to the demands of the job, I watched on CNN as the second plane flew into the World Trade Center. Immediately grasping the significance of the act, I turned to my second-in-command, John Griffin. “We’re at war,” I said. Those words were to prove prophetic, and this sleepy little corner of Cuba was about to play a key role in the coming conflict.
How did Guantanamo Bay, a small military base that was for Fidel Castro “a dagger plunged into the Cuban soil,” become what Donald Rumsfeld later declared “The Least Worst Place” for a detention facility?
The Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay has garnered significant attention since September 2001, but its significance in Western history began long before modern America. Christopher Columbus touched down in Guantanamo Bay in 1494, on his second voyage to the New World, searching unsuccessfully for gold. Despite the explorer’s disappointment, the discovery of the protected bay opened it as a safe haven for pirates and British Navy alike in the years that followed.
America’s interest came later, during the Spanish-American War in 1898, when a battalion of 647 Marines landed at Guantanamo Bay and tied down 7,000 Spanish troops in Guantanamo City, thus protecting Teddy Roosevelt’s charge up San Juan Hill 40 miles to the west. Like the British Navy before it, the U.S. Navy found the bay’s protected waters useful, and in the treaty of 1903, the Cuban government agreed to lease defined areas around Guantanamo Bay to the U.S. for use as a naval station. This was the beginning of the oldest U.S. overseas base, and the only one (to eventually be) on Communist soil.
Signed by President Theodore Roosevelt, the initial lease enabled the US to contribute to the defense of Cuba through the maintenance of “coaling and naval stations.” A key element of this agreement was the passing to the United States of “complete jurisdiction and control over and within said areas.” The only restrictions on the United States were that the area be used only as a coaling and naval station, and vessels engaged in trade with Cuba would retain free passage through the bay encompassed by the reservation. A subsequent agreement, signed by President Roosevelt on October 2, 1903, expanded on the initial lease, stipulating, among other things, a rent of two thousand dollars in gold each year, and that fugitives from Cuban justice, fleeing to the U.S. reservation, would be returned to Cuban authorities.
In the run up to World War II, the base expanded greatly. The stable acoustic conditions for echo ranging made the sea areas close to Guantanamo Bay ideal for training ships’ crew in anti-submarine warfare, and deploying convoys to the Southern Atlantic. Post-WWII, the Fleet Training Group was established to train Navy units, and the excellent amphibious training opportunities provided by adjacent islands led to staging of the 1st Marine Division at the Naval base. The Fleet Training Group was the bane of many a sailor — the Navy’s version of finals and the SAT rolled into one. Liberty in town was a welcome respite for sailors who spent long tours underway, training under the demanding and often career-ending eye of the Fleet Training Group.The agreement, later confirmed by the Treaty of 1934 between the United States and Cuba, in effect gives the United States a perpetual lease on this reservation, capable of being voided only by our abandoning the area or by mutual agreement between the two countries. After taking power, Castro refused to recognize the treaty that established the base. He also refused to cash any of the U.S. checks after the Bay of Pigs Incident in 1961. The Castro government maintains that the perpetual lease provision of the Treaty of 1934 for the base is illegal.
That off-base liberty came to an abrupt end with the kidnapping, on June 27, 1958, of 29 Sailors and Marines by Cuban rebel forces under Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother, six months before they gained victory over the Batista government. Through diplomatic efforts, the hostages were released 21 days later, uninjured. During the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the Cuban Missile Crisis that followed Castro’s ascent to power, tensions between the U.S. and Cuba soared. The events led to the United States’ decision to establish at Guantanamo Bay a permanent base of Marines augmented with artillery, tanks, and attack aircraft. Defensive lines of fortifications and obstacles were constructed in order to slow the possible advance of Cuban forces while civilians and non-combatants could be evacuated and the base reinforced from the U.S.
But, as we know, that attack never came. When the Fleet Training Group departed in 1994-95, much of the base’s usefulness to the Navy evaporated. Some felt much of what the base provided could be shifted to Roosevelt Roads in Puerto Rico or naval bases state-side. The Navy’s response to the reduced usefulness of Guantanamo was a program called Minimum Pillar Performance or MPP. For the Navy, it meant the base was in a caretaker status, with only the barest of resources to maintain the provisions of the 1934 treaty. The treaty would be the bedrock — under pressure from the Department of State, the Navy would not reduce the base beyond its ability to comply with the treaty’s tenets. As early as 1996, discussions were ongoing within the Marine Corps about the elimination or reduction of the position in Guantanamo — a natural continuation of the Gulf War downsizing. These internal conversations centered on the perception of a non-existent threat from the Cuban forces arrayed around the base. These forces, ostensibly to counter the U.S. presence, actually served the primary purpose of stopping Cuban asylum seekers.
I arrived at a base with less than 1,000 military personnel, gutted from its heyday population, during the Fleet Training Group days, of more than 10,000. At one time, the base had been the center of the U.S. Navy’s training program for the Atlantic Fleet. Now, Guantanamo was manned at half strength and minimally funded.
The Marine force numbered 118 strong, much smaller than the Marine Barracks, and used rotating, temporarily attached units rather than permanently stationed forces. The majority of my time was spent stretching the available troops to ensure the external security of the base and dealing with dilapidated infrastructure. The U.S. side of the fenceline was in a state of disrepair prior to 9/11. The chain link fence that demarcated the base boundaries, a requirement of the 1934 treaty, was in some locations less than five feet high. In other spots, the fence leaned at a 35-degree list, with a foot of unobstructed clearance between the bottom of the fence and the ground due to erosion. Marine sentries manned observation posts, called MOPs (Marine Observation Posts), around the perimeter of the base. A crushed coral road that ran adjacent to much of the fenceline was pocked with significant potholes and runnels from water runoff; the road condition presented a constant challenge to the Marines who patrolled the fenceline in Humvees 24 hours a day. Vehicle accidents were frustratingly frequent.
At one time, the physical barrier surrounding the base was bolstered by one of the largest minefields in the free world and guarded by the Marine Ground Defense Security Force, a battalion-sized force augmented with tanks and artillery. In 1999, however, a presidential directive ordered the removal of all mines by the end of the year. Though the mines were subsequently removed, the minefields, or areas marked as minefields with restricted access, remain. While I pressed my boss to designate the minefields free of mines, he demurred. Each successive commanding officer has been understandably reluctant to sign the minefield de-certification paperwork left in the inbox by his predecessor and assume the legal exposure of designating those areas safe and absent or “proofed” of mines.
In sharp contrast, the Cubans maintain a modern barrier, equipped with lights, sensors, and alarms, and manned by the Cuban Army’s Frontier Brigade. There are multiple physical barriers: fences, trenches, mines, and planted cacti. A foot trap — a patch of sand that is regularly raked to display and highlight footprints — runs adjacent to the perimeter road, known as the Castro Barrier Road, or CBR. The road, mostly paved, encircles the U.S. base, broken only by the water gate that provides ships access to the upper bay.
Despite the political animosity between Cuba and the U.S., local relations with Cuban authorities are mostly cordial. The base commander, a Department of State representative, and I met regularly with Brigadier General Solar Hernandez, the Cuban general who commanded the Eastern Region, and his subordinate responsible for the Frontier Brigade, Colonel Burgos. General Hernandez was a big, barrel-chested man, confident with an easy smile that would just as quickly disappear when discussions turned serious. He was reputed to be a close compatriot of Castro’s and to have played a significant role in the revolution of 1959. Colonel Burgos, who smiled rarely and spoke even less often, was a difficult read. His forces out-numbered mine seven times. I was realistic enough to realize I wouldn’t survive an attack by Cuban forces, but also knew that any Cuban aggression would be foolish, something Colonel Burgos surely recognized as well.Cuban forces man numerous observation and guard posts around the perimeter, nominally to guard against incursion into Cuban territory by Americans, though, again, they mostly thwart asylum attempts. During my tour, less than 20 people each year gambled on bypassing the guards, mines, and American immigration rules to gain freedom in the U.S. In consonance with an agreement with Cuba and international law, most of those were returned to Cuban authorities, with the proviso that they would not be mistreated for their attempt to depart. A scant few received passage on to other countries that agreed to receive them.
Meetings were also attended by several Cuban Ministry officials who spoke excellent English and were always smiling and friendly. The meetings alternated between U.S. and Cuban sides of fenceline at the Northeast Gate of the Naval base, the only passage maintained through the barriers. Each meeting started with a formal greeting, salutes and hand-shaking, followed by an official invitation to cross into the respective territory. The meetings began with pleasantries, excellent Cuban coffee on their side, decent java on ours, before getting to the agreed agenda for the meeting. After completing the day’s business, conversation would shift to baseball, banalities about the weather, and fishing while we shared a light meal.
The days without meetings were taken up with a variety of tasks. The vehicle accidents from the faulty road, along with minor discipline problems, and other necessary administrative issues ate plenty of time on their own. The rest of my day involved participating in the Marines’ training and refining the mostly smooth conduct of fenceline operations. Of the two platoons at my command, one platoon manned the fenceline, while the other conducted training and enjoyed some down time. The base supported live fire to a degree not available at other locations, and I encouraged my platoon commanders to take full advantage of the opportunities – aggressive training not only honed their skills, it provided an additional deterrent to potential attackers. We regularly exercised as a group at first light to avoid the tropical heat and humidity. I implemented an aggressive combatives/martial arts program, a personal interest of mine, that quickly became a favorite of both the Marines and those Navy personnel brave enough to join us. Life was not all work, and my family and I enjoyed the tight community and warm ocean waters to the fullest — my young sons loved the beaches. Those evenings free of an official dinner allowed us to take part in frequent block parties with the neighbors, sharing the latest changes/improvements/damages to the base, depending on one’s view.
Until the War on Terror heated up, most Americans were familiar with the existence of the base at Guantanamo only from A Few Good Men. Rob Reiner’s visit to the base enabled him to capture the look and feel of the place remarkably well. He had originally intended to film at the base itself, but the script portrayed a negative view of the Marine characters, and Reiner was unwilling to modify the script to include positive Marine character portrayals. As a result, official support was withheld, and access to Guantanamo denied – upset, Reiner stormed out of the meeting with the Marines saying, “I’ll make the movie without you.”
There are significant differences between the movie and the real-life events it was based on. In the movie, a Marine dies as a result of efforts by his fellow Marines to administer some peer discipline—discipline in fact ordered by the commanding officer, famously played by Jack Nicholson. The real event involved Marines severely beating—but not killing—a fellow Marine who had alleged that Marine sentries were shooting across the fenceline separating the base from Communist Cuba. It was a classic case of hazing – the unfortunate dark side of fraternal organizations like the military, law enforcement, fire service, sports teams, and college fraternities. Though the beaten Marine survived, and though the official investigation found no evidence of a negative command climate advocating hazing or unauthorized extra-legal discipline, the Marine colonel in command was relieved of his command – a clear indication of censure.
Yet despite the Marine Corps having no tolerance for the kind of events depicted in the film, many Marines have shared with me their admiration for Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of the Marine colonel—aggressive, tough, decisive. Colonel Nathan Jessup is meant to be a parody, inflexible, intolerant, megalomaniacal, and impatient with substandard performance; to Marines, he comes across almost as a role model. “I eat breakfast 300 yards from 4000 Cubans who are trained to kill me,” “You can’t handle the truth,” and so forth are commonly quoted by Marines and civilians, alike.
The Guantanamo I had come to know in the early 1990s, and which I found taking command in mid-2001, was to change dramatically starting in January of 2002.
By November of 2001, ongoing military operations in Afghanistan in support of the War on Terror had resulted in a number of captives — enough to force decision-makers to look for someplace to hold them. Many of these terrorists and combatants were collected and temporarily detained at the forward operating base at Khandahar, Afghanistan. Detainees were evaluated to determine their status as lawful combatants, which required specific treatment by international law, and their value for intelligence purposes to counter future terrorist operations. Unfortunately, the facilities at Khandahar were limited, insufficient for long-term detention and full exploitation of a detainee’s intelligence value through detailed interrogation. The need for a more robust facility quickly became apparent. The biggest question: where to locate such a facility?
Some of the critical conditions necessary for the establishment of a detention facility were security and safety of the detainees, control, a certain freedom from legal review, timeliness, security, established supporting infrastructure, and cost managements. Contenders included Guam, Diego Garcia, Wake Island, and others, in addition to Guantanamo Bay.
One of the principal advantages to placing the detainees in Guantanamo Bay or a similar location was the legal status that non-U.S. soil provided. If the detainees weren’t in the U.S., then they wouldn’t have the same rights under American laws, the argument went. Some of these included the right to legal representation, rights of prisoners, and rights to the American legal system. One government official referred to the base as the “legal equivalent of outer space.” To the Bush administration, this was an immense advantage in the consideration of long-term detention. Guantanamo was central to the Bush Administration’s prevention of the judicial review of the legal status of prisoners, a position invalidated by the Supreme Court in Boumediene v. Bush.
On January 4, 2002, U.S. Southern Command was directed to take custody of designated detainees within the United States Central Command area of responsibility, and to escort and hold the detainees at Guantanamo Bay for further disposition.
In the month following the order to US Southern Command, more than 1,000 U.S. service members deployed to Guantanamo Bay to provide security for the detainees. The U.S. Southern Command activated Joint Task Force 160 (JTF-160) to command and control the detainee operations. JTF-160′s primary mission was to secure captured enemy combatants from the war on terrorism — essentially to set up and operate a holding facility for al Qaeda, Taliban or other terrorist personnel that came under United States control as a result of the ongoing “Global War on Terrorism.”
The advance party of JTF-160 arrived with lots of requirements and no resources. We scrambled to loan staff and money from our own budget, providing Marines to prepare office spaces, move furniture, and other tasks required to get the JTF headquarters up and running. Without funding lines, the JTF could not even purchase cleaning supplies to re-condition the facilities for the staff.
Residents used to the slow pace of a small town lamented some of the changes: long lines for everything, shortages at the base store, errant tenants with a short-term mentality. On the other hand, several thousand service members justified making significant improvements to the recreation services aboard the base; the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) Division flourished. Regular athletic events—an adventure race, a triathlon, a cycling road race, and a golf tournament—were quickly organized.
An incidental advantage to choosing Guantanamo, at least to some decision-makers back home, had been the proximity of the base to Washington, D.C. The closeness to the seat of the U.S. government allowed easy visits by the officials genuinely interested in the camps. Paradoxically, perhaps, yet another perceived advantage was the ability to control media access. There had been limited media access in the past, and it required rigorous prior approval. This perception of control proved false, however, in practice. Throughout the initial stages of standing up the base for the detainee mission, media attention presented considerable challenges. For some, the easy answer was to just keep all reporters out. After all, GTMO was a closed base; no unofficial visitors (residents are allowed to have friends and family members visit, within very strictly defined limits) were allowed aboard the base. However, this type of protective posture would make it too easy for critics to cry “foul” and allege cover-up and ill intent.
In the week prior to the arrival of first batch of detainees, the Department of Defense allowed the media aboard the base, with their movements strictly controlled and for the visit limited to a few days. The visit went reasonably well, until one of the reporters got word from his network that a military transport plane carrying a number of detainees had departed Afghanistan. When Bob Franken, a reporter with CNN, caught wind that detainees were most likely headed for Guantanamo, he and several others staged a “sit-in,” refusing to leave the base. Base, JTF, and Southern Command officials went into a crisis mode. What to do about these uncooperative journalists? Some advocated forcibly ejecting the reporters, bound and gagged if necessary. Eventually, a small number were allowed to remain and observe the arrival of the detainees from a distance. While the command remained apprehensive about the media, and potentially negative reporting, a steady flow of reporters passed through the base during my tenure.
Initially uncomfortable on camera, I became accustomed to television interviews. While I had no direct role in either detention or interrogation, the history and current base operations were interesting to the media, as background, and I had a solid understanding of the base’s storied past. Most of the reporters were polite and interested.
Government officials also came to the base, though many of the visitors had only a marginal need to view the detainees. Probably the most distinguished of visitors was Donald Rumsfeld. The Secretary made a short visit — partly to satisfy in his own mind that the detainees were receiving humane treatment. He came away content that the conditions of the detention facility were acceptable and met international standards. Numerous congressional delegations made similar visits, ostensibly for similar reasons. They were constrained to less than one day, partly because of limited billeting facilities, and partly to reduce the burden the revolving door of visitors placed on base personnel.
In addition to holding the detainees, the Secretary of Defense directed Southern Command to implement a Department of Defense/Interagency interrogation effort. As a result, Southern Command established Joint Task Force 170 on 16 February 2002, to coordinate U.S. military and government agency interrogation efforts (focused on intelligence collection, force protection, and planned terrorist activities) in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
In short, JTF-160 was responsible for detention and JTF-170 covered interrogations. Rumors of discord between the Commander of JTF-160 and the Commander of JTF-170 were founded in reality. Formally, superiors don’t have problems with subordinates. Unfortunately, the way the organization was set in GTMO, neither JTF Commander was directly subordinate to the other.
The two gentlemen had little in common. Major General Michael Dunlavey, Commander of JTF-170, was tasked in part with keeping all the various agencies working together to collect intelligence from the detainees. The consummate communicator, Dunlavey was well-connected within the Department of Defense, a necessary relationship to keep tabs on opposing agendas and conflicting priorities. He displayed a command of law, politics, and human nature. At the various functions we attended, he was always making the rounds, shaking hands, talking, even occasionally singing and dancing.
At social functions, by contrast, Brigadier General Bacchus stood apart, drinking water. But his ability to size up the essential elements of a mission or challenge was impressive — he was supremely focused and devoted, a tough yet fair, sober individual with a sharp analytical mind. Brigadier General Bacchus’s attention to detail allowed him to maintain appropriate supervision of the myriad budget, construction, and personnel issues that assailed him daily. He was tasked with the care and welfare of a force of almost 2,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen.
If the differences in their personalities made it unlikely they would be friends, the missions they were assigned and the organizational relationship established between the two JTFs guaranteed problems, jeopardizing organizational structure and lines of responsibility. In order to resolve some of the conflicts and streamline operations aboard the base, U.S. Southern Command merged JTF-160 and 170 and re-designated the combined organization as JTF GTMO. A change of command ceremony in November of 2002 was the first step in the eventual transition to a permanent facility and tenant command aboard the Naval base, a permanence that dogs the current president’s efforts to shut it down against bi-partisan resistance in Congress.
My own departure from Guantanamo Bay in October 2002 was a bittersweet one. While I had made the successful pitch for $6 million to make improvements to the base’s external security posture, I would not see those funds put to use. Over the next three successive commanders, I stayed in touch — more for my own sense of nostalgia than for any background or advice I might offer. In 2007, I returned to the base as part of a Department of the Navy inspection team, the subject matter expert on physical security and critical infrastructure protection. My successors made good use of the funds, though the perimeter road remained a precarious route, with occasional vehicle accidents. Only two familiar faces remained: the dive shop manager and the director of airfield operations. I was surprised to see windmills biting into the Caribbean tradewinds atop the land’s highest peak, a solution to the ever-increasing energy needs of a burgeoning base population served by a 1970s power grid. Despite the nod to sustainable energy solutions, much of the base remained the same; Guantanamo Bay persists as a prehistoric fly caught in amber.
The final chapter on Guantanamo Bay has yet to be written. The treaty remains, a separate bilateral diplomatic issue from the current one that rubs raw both international and domestic critics, and that means the base will likely endure beyond the detention facility. A final disposition on the detention facility needs to be made before any future of the base can even be considered. The U.S’s future relationship with Cuba awaits that decision: termination of the lease remains unviable while detainees remain on Guantanamo Bay. However, the strong chorus of “not in my backyard,” regardless of the international stigma, means President Obama’s commitment to closure is restrained by domestic political realities, regardless of his personal ideals. Divorced from the detention facility, Guantanamo Bay will remain a symbol for Cuban ex-patriates and conservatives who see the base as a planted flag against communism – the last gasp of the Cold War. Guantanamo Bay remains, for the time being, the least worst place.
As Congress debates the case for intervening in Syria this week, most , by Peter D. Feaver and Christopher Gelpi, shows that having military experience makes you less likely to be an interventionist — perhaps because you know just what a nasty situation the country is weighing getting into. The authors find that Americans with military experience support intervention only in situations that pose a direct threat to U.S. national security — a pragmatic perspective sometimes called “realpolitik.”
Meanwhile, “Civilian elites who have no military experience are somewhat more likely than military officers to report an ‘interventionist’ opinion, advocating foreign policy goals that do not fit within the realpolitik interstate security paradigm, including responses to human rights abuses and the internal collapse of governance in other countries, or the desire to alter a state’s domestic regime.”
But in cases when the U.S. does intervene, veterans are more likely to support using “overwhelming” force without restraint.
Consequently, the authors found that as more and more veterans join the ranks of government, the likelihood of intervening militarily abroad decreases — but the force used in each intervention is greater.
We find that as the percentage of veterans serving in the executive branch and the legislature increases, the probability that the United States will initiate militarized disputes declines by nearly 90 percent. At the same time, however, once an MID has been initiated, the higher the proportion of veterans in the government, the greater the level of force the United States will use in the dispute.
5. We would probably have fewer military interventions if it was always up to Congress.
Obama’s decision to turn the decision on Syria over to Congress is significant because historically, lawmakers are much less likely to take on foreign conflicts than presidents are.
As Richard Hanania argued in the Journal of Jurisprudence last year, “If the power to make war was still exclusively in the hands of Congress, the Serbian and Libyan, and likely Somali, interventions would never have happened.”
To give just one example, here’s the wishy-washy manner in which Congress handled the decision to send NATO into Kosovo in 1999:
On March 23, 1999, the Senate passed a resolution urging the United States and NATO allies to attack the former Yugoslavia in order to stop Serbian forces from killing Albanians. The House refused to do the same, and one day later, NATO began bombing the former Yugoslavia. The very same day, the House passed a resolution which expressed support for American soldiers and made clear the reservations of some members of the legislature about the attack, but did not approve of the war. Just over a month later, it rejected a Senate vote authorizing the use of force against the Serbs by a tie vote. At the same time, the House explicitly rejected a resolution calling on the president to withdraw all troops from the conflict, and along with the Senate appropriated funds for the mission.
One way Hanania explains this is through the phenomenon of buck-passing: If you really do support intervention as a president, not taking action means living with the guilt of violating your morals. After leaving office, Hanania points out, President Clinton said that his biggest regret was not intervening in Rwanda. Meanwhile, if you support intervention as a member of Congress, you can still vote with your party, or with the sentiment of your home district, and share the guilt of having not intervened with your fellow policymakers.
Other studies have found that the general public generally does favor intervening in foreign countries on humanitarian grounds, and that those opinion polls influence the way legislators vote.
“Both the public and members of Congress understand and are motivated by the ethical and normative obligations of the international community in general and the United States in particular to step in and stop episodes of widespread human rights abuse,” a 2012 study in the journal Foreign Policy Analysis found.
However, that’s actually another reason Congress members might be reluctant to act in the case of Syria: Their constituents are, too.
In a Monday conference call, “Secretary of State John Kerry told House Democrats that the United States faced a ‘Munich moment’ in deciding whether to respond to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government,” Politico reports. The allusion comes as no surprise to longtime observers of U.S. politics. Hawks are constantly drawing dubious comparisons to World War II, the “good war,” in order to pressure Americans into initiating other wars nothing like it.
For hawks, it is always 1939.
But as Michael Hirsch writes in National Journal, “Bashar al-Assad, a tinpot dictator who is fighting only for his own survival, is no Hitler. He’s not set to overrun an entire continent. And the ‘lessons of Munich’ and the dangers of appeasement are generally overdrawn.” Exactly right. The Munich allusion is obviously inapt — which is what makes the context of Hirsch’s words so inexplicable.
Let me quote him at greater length:
World War II began 74 years ago Sunday when German troops invaded Poland. The invasion conclusively discredited the concept of “appeasement” as a foreign policy for, well, the next 74 years. But if the U.S. Congress opposes authorization of the military mission to Syria that President Obama has now handed off to it, and if Obama uses that as an excuse to back further away from enforcement of his “red line,” the “A” word will likely come to dominate the international debate once again.
And Barack Obama, who in his first term was known as the vanquisher of Osama bin Laden, could come out of his second looking more like Neville Chamberlain.
I don’t want to overstate things. Bashar al-Assad, a tinpot dictator who is fighting only for his own survival, is no Hitler. He’s not set to overrun an entire continent. And the “lessons of Munich” and the dangers of appeasement are generally overdrawn. But, after all, it was Secretary of State John Kerry who lumped Assad with the Fuehrer on the talk shows Sunday, saying that he “now joins the list of Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein [who] have used these weapons in time of war.” (Technically, Hitler’s only use of gas was not on the battlefield but to kill millions in extermination camps.)
So let me see if I have the argument right: If Obama doesn’t apply to Syria the lessons of Munich, which are overdrawn and almost totally inapplicable, then he’ll look more like Neville Chamberlain than the guy who killed Bin Laden, even though he did kill Bin Laden, and won’t have done the same thing as Chamberlain, or brought about the same consequences, or anything remotely similar.
That just isn’t persuasive. I predict that if we don’t invade Syria, there is exactly zero chance that history will remember Obama as another Chamberlain as a result. And I sincerely wish I could put a lot of money on that proposition in Las Vegas.
The piece goes on:
As Obama said in his Rose Garden statement Saturday: “If we won’t enforce accountability in the face of this heinous act, what does it say about our resolve to stand up to others who flout fundamental international rules? To governments who would choose to build nuclear arms? To terrorists who would spread biological weapons? To armies who carry out genocide?” So the stakes look very high indeed.
Actually, Obama’s argument looks very weak indeed. If we “won’t enforce accountability in the face of this heinous act,” it says nothing about our resolve to stand up to terrorists who would spread biological weapons. What kind of sense does that even make? Imagine we discover that Al Qaeda terrorists in tribal regions of Pakistan or Yemen possess a biological agent that could kill millions. Does anyone doubt that we would act? Will anyone say, if something like that ever happens, “These bio-weapons are very dangerous, but I don’t believe we have the resolve to destroy them given that we didn’t intervene in Syria”?
What about governments who would choose to build nuclear arms? Well, I imagine that America’s failure to stop Israel or India or Pakistan or North Korea from going nuclear, as well as its invasion of Iraq on hyped fears of its nuclear program, are among the factors the Iranians and others consider when pursuing nukes. It would be very strange if, instead of looking at American nuclear policy, they decided to instead extrapolate based on our actions in Syria. And when I say it would be strange, I mean that obviously no one would proceed that way.
Says Daniel Larison:
Appeasement is irrelevant to the debate over Syria, since no one is suggesting that the U.S. or its allies give anything up to Assad. The debate has focused entirely on whether and how much to use force in Syria’s civil war.
Hirsch concludes his piece by arguing that “it was just this kind of war weariness that created Neville Chamberlain, and his foreign policy of ‘positive appeasement’ as he called it, in the years after the terrible bloodletting of World War I. If one becomes unwilling to strike dictators and mass murderers, all that remains is to appease them.” Every part of that part of that argument is wrong. The war weariness of post WWI Britain was very different from the war weariness of present day America; and an unwillingness to strike dictators who kill their own people is not the same as appeasement. By Hirsch’s logic, it is imperative that we immediately invade North Korea because otherwise we are appeasing it, and inviting it to begin a blitzkrieg across the Western world, because Hitler. The approach he implies — intervention wherever there is a dictator or a mass murder — is a recipe for far more war, and far more misery from war.
“The sense of truth no matter how subjective is necessary for the experience of beauty.”
Have you ever wanted to tell someone they look sleep-deprived, but then just before you do, stopped yourself? Because, wait, are they really sleep-deprived? Or is that just how their eyes usually look? Also, remember, not everyone likes to be told they look tired.
In 2010, researchers at the University of Stockholm found that people who appear tired are also more likely to be perceived as unhealthy and less attractive. So, yes, “You look tired” is an unambiguous insult. The Sweden-based research team published even more specific details in the academic journal Sleep this week to help us sort the inexorable facts on the link between how we sleep and how we appear.
Doctoral candidate Tina Sundelin and her team photographed research subjects on two separate occasions: Once after eight hearty hours of sleep, and then once after 31 hours awake. Forty people then rated the photographs on scales for fatigue, sadness, and ten metrics of physical appearance.
The eyes of sleep-deprived individuals bored the biggest burden. They were perceived as having “more hanging eyelids, redder eyes, more swollen eyes and darker circles under the eyes.” Sleep deprived subjects were perceived as being sadder and having paler skin, more wrinkles or fine lines, and “more droopy corners of the mouth. ”
Discovery Health recently ran an article called “10 Signs You May Be Deprived of Sleep,” which was about what they believe to be 10 signs you may be deprived of sleep. Spoiler: “Mood swings, medical problems, relationship troubles, diminished motor skills, poor decision making, vision problems, increased appetite, inability to concentrate, poor memory, inability to handle stress.” So, only those things. That’s not very helpful, because it’s everything. But this new study from Sweden actually has practical implications.
“Since faces contain a lot of information on which humans base their interactions with each other, how fatigued a person appears may affect how others behave toward them,” Sundelin said in a press release. Is this part of our innate sense of empathy? (“I should go easy on this tired person, or offer them a bed”) Or is it part of an innate ability to identify and exploit weakness? (“This person looks tired. Now would be a good time to rob them.”)
I asked Sundelin if she wanted to comment on the study beyond the press statement, and she said she didn’t have anything to say off-hand, but she offered that she “won’t be offended if you say ‘Doesn’t everyone already know this?’” Which is something I never say. But as she told me, “A friend of a friend’s once told me my studies were bullshit research, before she knew I was behind them. That still makes me laugh. I think it’s good to scientifically examine what people consider common knowledge since every now and then that common knowledge is dead wrong. Wait, I guess that could be my comment.”
So it is. Testing common knowledge is probably the most important thing science does — right up there with telling us to sleep. Even though the research is not always glamorous and sometimes involves photographing very tired people who, at the time, probably aren’t thrilled about being photographed.
As for the part about wrinkles, which I understand to be of interest to many, Sundelin tells me it’s still not well established that sleep deprivation actually causes wrinkles. There was one study that says so, commissioned by Estée Lauder, but it was not peer reviewed.
Apart from concerns of personal vanity, Sundelin says, “This is relevant not only for private social interactions, but also official ones such as with health care professionals, and in public safety.”
Once I was so tired after a 36-hour ICU shift early in my residency that I almost quit my job because it didn’t seem reasonable or safe to work for that long. That’s how tired I was. Patients also probably thought I looked unhealthy and unattractive and sad, which they might well have taken as an ill omen. At best it did little to inspire confidence in my abilities. But no one died who wasn’t meant to, and eventually I got some much-needed sleep, and now I look sort of normal.
So always get eight hours of sleep, if it’s important to you to seem beautiful and happy.
Miley Cyrus probably hasn’t studied much theater history. She was most likely completely unaware of the legacy of minstrelsy that influenced her performance at MTV’s Video Music Awards. She has nevertheless been heavily criticized for appropriating black music and dance while demeaning her black backup dancers. A few people have defended her against the accusation, and others have said that that they were unaware while watching it of what made Cyrus’s performance racist.
I’m not surprised. When I teach theater history to undergraduates I meet very few students who have heard of minstrelsy before I tell them about it. Even when I teach graduate students, I find that many of them think American theater history began with Eugene O’Neill. They are completely unaware that the first nationally popular American play was Uncle Tom’s Cabin, transformed onstage from an anti-slavery text into a racist spectacle whose influence survives till today.
Just as present-day filmmakers are on the lookout for bestselling novels that can be made into blockbuster films, 19th-century theater managers looking for hits adapted popular books for the stage. The first known stage version of Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin was performed even before the final sections of the serialized novel had been printed. The second production was part of an evening of entertainment that included a tightrope walker and a blackface burlesque of Othello. Though George Aiken’s somewhat faithful adaptation was the most successful version, Southern pro-slavery writers parodied the novel in productions that turned Stowe’s sympathetic portrayal of slaves on its head. Theater managers everywhere competed to have the most outrageous show by adding bands, songs, dances, even fireworks.
The popularity of the scene in Uncle Tom’s Cabin when Eliza is chased across a frozen river by dogs led to the inclusion of more and more live animals in Tom Shows, including mules and even elephants. Eventually producers began casting “real Negroes” to bolster their claims of authenticity: Their shows, they boasted, depicted black life as it really was—full of happy go-lucky, animalistic should-be slaves. That these black performers still had to wear blackface betrayed the truth—the Tom Show idea of black life was not authentic at all.
Simultaneously, minstrel shows—combinations of skits, dancing, and music characterized by caricatured representations of buffoonish black people by performers in black face, slapstick situations, and a send up of aristocratic pretensions—rose in popularity from a working-class entertainment to a middle-class one. By combining the story of Uncle Tom’s Cabin with the central tropes of minstrelsy, Tom Shows, as these spectaculars came to be called, presented song and dance representations of black life from a white perspective. Even after the Civil War, Tom Shows continued to tour the country and attract large audiences from all walks of life.
Just as these performances’ dances, like Jumping Jim Crow, were purportedly observed among real black people and then caricatured, Miley Cyrus, surrounded by black women half-dressed as animals, attempted and perverted a form of black dancing called twerking. Rather than aping aristocratic pretensions, like minstrel shows did, Cyrus sent up her own past as an innocent child by embodying the good girl who nevertheless knows she wants it. But it was minstrelsy just the same.
Audiences may not have recognized the tropes upon which Cyrus drew partly because even people who know about Tom Shows think of them as being performed by men. In reality, by 1871 America had at least 11 scantily-clad, all-female minstrel troupes performing in blackface. Even in male troupes, “wench” characters, played by men in light makeup (they were “yaller gals”) and depicted as possessing overwhelming sexual appetites, made public representations of eroticism a common element in Tom Shows.
Cyrus wasn’t wearing literal blackface in her performance, but the tradition of a little white girl at the center of a minstrel performance is as old as minstrelsy itself. One of the most popular characters in Uncle Tom’s Cabin was Little Eva: the blonde, lily-white daughter of conscientious slave owners who is adored by white and black people alike. The uncivilized slave Topsy, who says that she cannot love anyone because no one has ever loved her, is nevertheless moved to tears by Eva’s death and vows thereafter to be good.
In 19th-century productions, Eva’s centrality to the narrative was made literal: The moment of Little Eva’s death put Eva centerstage, on her bed surrounded by mourning slaves. In at least one production, so many slaves appeared that the stage was full of them, while others peered in at windows and stood in doorways. In the more spectacular, upbeat adaptations, she doesn’t die but rather sings and dances with the happy slaves.
Tom Shows did not decline in popularity until well into the 20th century—only after they had made their impact in Hollywood. The metatheatrical 1936 film Dimples, featuring Shirley Temple as a young performer (Dimples) who is playing Little Eva in a stage production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, combines the sentimental portrayal of the little white girl with the “isn’t she just cute as button dancing with those negroes” version. Her death scene brings about tears from the actors on stage and those in the on-film theater audience, and just as in the original story Topsy is redeemed by her ability to feel, the villain in the movie is redeemed by the sentiment evoked by Eva. As an epilogue to the play, the curtain comes up on a minstrel troupe, and Dimples dances at the center of a group of blackface performers.
Whether or not the creators of Cyrus’s performance know it, American entertainment has been so suffused with these images for so many years that they live in our shared subconscious and are often referenced without artists or audiences even realizing it. Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black has been praised for its mostly female, racially diverse cast, but it has also been rightly criticized for drawing upon black experiences to tell a white girl’s story. The creative staff of Orange Is the New Black or the talented actor who plays Crazy Eyes, Uzo Aduba, may not have been thinking about Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but both Topsy and the Crazy Eyes character are black women who were adopted and “civilized” by white parents. Crazy Eyes, like Cyrus at the VMAs, even sports Topsy’s iconic hairstyle.
Contemporary pop culture may be driven by Hollywood, but back in the day, it was theater—particularly traveling troupes like the Tom Shows—that created a shared national culture. This history will not go away, whether we acknowledge it or not. Without an awareness of the way the iconography of minstrelsy informed so much of the entertainment that has come after it, history is bound to keep repeating itself, just like it did two Sundays ago.
That’s why many people believe that war ought to be avoided whenever possible: that it’s foolhardy to enter a war of choice if you can safely avoid doing so.
There isn’t any one rule that can guide a nation in all circumstances. Perhaps the U.S. ought to have intervened to stop the genocide in Rwanda, though we could avoid doing so. But a strong case can be made that the “go to war only if you must” rule of thumb would’ve served America well even it would’ve been applied inflexibly for the whole postwar era. Imagine a world where the 58,000 Americans who needlessly died in Vietnam were still alive, and the 5,000 Americans who died in Iraq were around too. We’d also be a few trillion dollars richer, and have hundreds of thousands fewer people suffering from missing limbs or PTSD. (Then again, we wouldn’t enjoy the fruits of having invaded Grenada.)
Imprudent wars are so catastrophic that even a small risk of one just isn’t worth it. Most Americans don’t quite believe that war should only be entered by necessity. But their instinct to apply the “only if you must” rule is enduringly strong.
What I don’t understand is another sort of American — a particular kind of foreign policy hawk. They frequently urge interventions, like Senator John McCain, but their interventionism isn’t rooted, like his, in the valorization of martial values. Nor is it rooted in Samantha Power style beliefs about stopping atrocities.
The hawks I don’t understand are the ones who urge war not to achieve a “kinetic” end, but to send a signal. President Obama wants to intervene in Syria not to topple the regime or give the rebels a decisive advantage, but to send a signal about chemical weapons use. I suppose I can almost wrap my brain around that attitude, though I doubt striking Syria will impact future use of chemical weapons.
From there, the Signal Hawks start to totally mystify me.
Professor Carrie Cordero of Georgetown also wants to intervene in Syria in order to send signals, but a different set of signals than the ones Obama wants to send.
…there is the pragmatic question of whether intervention is in the United States’ national security interests. There are strong arguments that it is, but it does not sound as if the Administration has made that case yet to Congress, or to the public.
In short, punishing the Syrian regime by means of military force, and more broadly, intervening in the Syrian civil war, is in the United States’ national security interests because the world is watching. And what the world, and particularly those governments or terrorist organizations that act contrary to U.S. interests will see in our actions, our resolve*, will affect their behavior in the future. Accordingly, it is in our interests:
For the Syrian civil war to resolve, sooner rather than later.
For the Syrian civil war to not spread further and destabilize what is left of governments with whom we can at least have an open dialogue on Middle East issues, such as Jordan.
To send a message to the world’s rogue regimes-like North Korea and Iran-that we will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons.
To demonstrate to the Arab street that we have compassion for their children, too, and that we will back that compassion with strength to defend and protect the most vulnerable.
To see that the Assad regime falls, and that we have deeper insight into who will make up the new leadership of Syria, and that we will have a channel through which to dialogue and work with that leadership.
With all due respect to Professor Cordero, almost every time I encounter this attitude toward international affairs I can’t help but suspect that it is totally lacking in rigor.
Let’s probe some of her arguments.
Is a military attack on another country in the Middle East really the only way, the best way, or an effective way to show that we have compassion for the region’s children? There are certainly ways other than an act of war to send that signal. For example, we could help the child refugees who’ve been streaming out of Syria. Even if we did, the people of the region would still be well aware that Americans are willing to incidentally kill faraway Muslim children in drone strikes if they believe that those strikes will make Americans infinitesimally safer from terrorism. Is a Yemeni, aware of innocents we’ve killed, or an Iraqi, aware of our sanctions regime, or anyone familiar with the totality of U.S. policy really going to conclude, after a cruise missile strike, that the U.S. really does care about their children? “The Americans are bombing Syria — it must be because they have a high regard for the lives of Syrian children,” exactly no one will think.
Now consider another signal intervention would allegedly send.
Imagine that we fire cruise missiles into Syria. Would that really send a signal to North Korea that we would not tolerate their use of chemical weapons? Whatever one thinks about an American attack on Syria, it is unlikely to lead to a nuclear war on the Korean peninsula, or the deaths of thousands of American troops stationed in South Korea, or a potentially catastrophic confrontation with China, all of which could happen if we attacked North Korea after it used chemical weapons on its own people. And the North Koreans surely understand that the strategic calculus used to attack Syria for chemical weapons use would be different from the factors President Obama would weigh if it were North Korea. Signal hawks often act as if foreigners will be totally oblivious to the obvious.
Despite all the talk about red lines and the “necessity” of responding to the use of chemical weapons with force, everyone in the United States and the world understands that the United States would not go to war with Russia, or China, or North Korea, or Pakistan, if one of those countries used chemical weapons on their own people. No foreign government is so simpleminded as to think, “The Americans responded to chemical weapons in Syria by striking the country, so they’re obviously going to respond in exactly the same way to any other country.”
Whether or not we attack Syria, “rogue regimes” will know, as well as we do ourselves, that “getting away with” future use of chemical weapons depends not on precedent, but on the offending country, its international alliances, its military strength, the president at the time and his or her priorities, and three dozen other factors. The faith of Signal Hawks in absolute transitivity is as strong as it is baffling.
Arguments that turn on signal-sending so often adopt assumptions about the signal that would be sent that are highly questionable at best, and that are, at worst, simplistic, naive, and totally lacking in rigor. Their advocates never seem to look back and notice the signals that don’t work. The Iraq invasion was predicated in part on the fact that Saddam Hussein gassed his own people, and the belief that he had chemical weapons. Yet neither the Iraq invasion nor the execution of Saddam Hussein stopped chemical weapons from being used in Syria.
And what are we to make of the argument that we must intervene because “the world is watching”? That might make sense as a hawkish talking point if most of the world decidedly favored intervention, but that is far from true. The parliament of our closest ally, along with the British people, think intervention is a bad idea. Neither the UN nor NATO will endorse intervention, and it’s hard to imagine that, say, Brazil or Canada or India will change its attitudes toward America in any salutary way if and only if we send cruise missiles or bombs into Syria.
The world is always watching, and parts of the world, like the Israelis, may be eager for America to intervene in Syria. Of course, disappointing the Israelis by failing to intervene, even though they’re watching, wouldn’t do any damage to the United States. Nor is America’s relationship with the hawkish French likely to suffer in any profound way if we stay out of Syria. Meanwhile, there are many parts of the world who are watching President Obama and thinking to themselves, “Are those fool Americans so arrogant as to launch another war in the Middle East?” The signal hawks often invoke “the world watching” in a way that is totally disconnected from actual world opinion and perceptions of the conflict in question — as if global observers broadly share hawkish notions of credibility.
Ignored are the many salutary signals that would just as plausibly be sent by doing the opposite of what the hawks want. The United States must not intervene in Syria, because the U.N. has not approved a strike, and the United States must signal that it respects international law so that we have credibility in the future. Why isn’t that the relevant signal? America must send a signal to anti-regime forces in the Muslim world that they won’t get our help if al Qaeda friendly factions are among their ranks. Why isn’t that the relevant signal? I don’t accept the notion that signals are as important as the Signal Hawks say, but if they were, the Signal Hawks never offer any argument about why the particular signal that they focus on is operative or most important — as best I can tell, it’s an unexamined assumption that is never fleshed out or defended.
Different Signal Hawks typically believe that credibility is conferred by bellicose rhetoric (neocons) or military strikes against much weaker countries (internationalist liberals), and erroneously believe that everyone else in the world will react to American intervention by respecting us more forever after. Going to war to send signals is always a dubious enterprise that shows insufficient respect for the seriousness of war. It is especially foolish when there’s no reason to believe that the signal being sent is the one Signal Hawks want to send.
*”What does getting deployed mean, mommy?”
“It means they’re sending your dad very far away for awhile.”
“Will he have to kill people?”
“Why did they send daddy far away to go kill people?”
“Well, America has to signal resolve, so that other countries will know we have it in the future.”
I’ve recently seen twoarticles speculating on the NSA’s capability, and practice, of spying on members of Congress and other elected officials. The evidence is all circumstantial and smacks of conspiracy thinking — and I have no idea whether any of it is true or not — but it’s a good illustration of what happens when trust in a public institution fails.
The NSA has repeatedly lied about the extent of its spying program. James R. Clapper, the director of national intelligence, has lied about it to Congress. Top-secret documents provided by Edward Snowden, and reported on by the Guardian and other newspapers, repeatedly show that the NSA’s surveillance systems are monitoring the communications of American citizens. The DEA has used this information to apprehend drug smugglers, then lied about it in court. The IRS has used this information to find tax cheats, then lied about it. It’s even been used to arrest a copyright violator. It seems that every time there is an allegation against the NSA, no matter how outlandish, it turns out to be true.
Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald has been playing this well, dribbling the information out one scandal at a time. It’s looking more and more as if the NSA doesn’t know what Snowden took. It’s hard for someone to lie convincingly if he doesn’t know what the opposition actually knows.
All of this denying and lying results in us not trusting anything the NSA says, anything the presidentsays about the NSA, or anything companies say about their involvement with the NSA. We know secrecy corrupts, and we see that corruption. There’s simply no credibility, and — the real problem — no way for us to verify anything these people might say.
It’s a perfect environment for conspiracy theories to take root: no trust, assuming the worst, no way to verify the facts. Think JFK assassination theories. Think 9/11 conspiracies. Think UFOs. For all we know, the NSA might be spying on elected officials. Edward Snowden said that he had the ability to spy on anyone in the U.S., in real time, from his desk. His remarks were belittled, but it turns out he was right.
This is not going to improve anytime soon. Greenwald and other reporters are still poring over Snowden’s documents, and will continue to report stories about NSA overreach, lawbreaking, abuses, and privacy violations well into next year. The “independent” review that Obama promised of these surveillance programs will not help, because it will lack both the power to discover everything the NSA is doing and the ability to relay that information to the public.
It’s time to start cleaning up this mess. We need a special prosecutor, one not tied to the military, the corporations complicit in these programs, or the current political leadership, whether Democrat or Republican. This prosecutor needs free rein to go through the NSA’s files and discover the full extent of what the agency is doing, as well as enough technical staff who have the capability to understand it. He needs the power to subpoena government officials and take their sworn testimony. He needs the ability to bring criminal indictments where appropriate. And, of course, he needs the requisite security clearance to see it all.
We also need something like South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, where both government and corporate employees can come forward and tell their stories about NSA eavesdropping without fear of reprisal.
Yes, this will overturn the paradigm of keeping everything the NSA does secret, but Snowden and the reporters he’s shared documents with have already done that. The secrets are going to come out, and the journalists doing the outing are not going to be sympathetic to the NSA. If the agency were smart, it’d realize that the best thing it could do would be to get ahead of the leaks.
The result needs to be a public report about the NSA’s abuses, detailed enough that public watchdog groups can be convinced that everything is known. Only then can our country go about cleaning up the mess: shutting down programs, reforming the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act system, and reforming surveillance law to make it absolutely clear that even the NSA cannot eavesdrop on Americans without a warrant.
Comparisons are springing up between today’s NSA and the FBI of the 1950s and 1960s, and between NSA Director Keith Alexander and J. Edgar Hoover. We never managed to rein in Hoover’s FBI — it took his death for change to occur. I don’t think we’ll get so lucky with the NSA. While Alexander has enormous personal power, much of his power comes from the institution he leads. When he is replaced, that institution will remain.
Trust is essential for society to function. Without it, conspiracy theories naturally take hold. Even worse, without it we fail as a country and as a culture. It’s time to reinstitute the ideals of democracy: The government works for the people, open government is the best way to protect against government abuse, and a government keeping secrets from is people is a rare exception, not the norm.
Here is a caption that is now part of the photographic archives of The Washington Post:
Senator John McCain plays poker on his IPhone during a U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing where Secretary of State JohnKerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey testify concerning the use of force in Syria, on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, Tuesday, September 3, 2013. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post)
Yep. During the hearing on one of the biggest questions that will face Congress as it reconvenes after its summer recess, the Arizona senator was … on his smartphone, playing a game. And, hey: Fair enough, sort of. It was a long hearing. Much of it covered familiar ground — ground that would be especially familiar to McCain. Who among us, etc.
What’s noteworthy here, though, is what McCain’s little round of poker says — not about politics, but about technology. Because it was McCain’s screen that gave him away. It was his screen that provided evidence – photographic evidence — of his lack of attention.
And that’s a relatively new thing. As anyone who has tuned in to the State of the Union — or any other Congressional session, for that matter — can attest, our elected representatives often seem to be paying less than their full attention to the proceedings at hand. Yet they always seem to be doing that. We viewers have never been quite sure. Distant gazes could suggest daydreaming … or deep thinking. Lowered eyes could signal sleeping … or reading. Or note-taking.
But screens! Screens are different. They reveal exactly what you are paying attention to at a particular moment. They are attention, made visible and public.
McCain happened to have a photographer behind him, and that photographer happened to capture his screen. And sure, in McCain’s case, his Visible Ante Line may have been one of the oldest things in politics: a stunt. And McCain’s apparent glee at being caught would suggest that:
Scandal! Caught playing iPhone game at 3+ hour Senate hearing – worst of all I lost!
But whether what we saw on McCain’s screen represents true boredom or a more strategic protest, it’s a reminder nonetheless of how public, via our smartphones and other computers, our attention has become. Whether you’re a U.S. senator or a plain old citizen, your attention is, in a way it never has been before, out on display. Your screen is a window to your soul — which is fine, until your soul gets bored and decides to play some poker.
John Kerry is no longer a member of the U.S. Senate.
It’s a fact he and some of his former colleagues struggled to recall at moments during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Tuesday on “The Authorization of Use of Force in Syria.” Kerry and John McCain bantered like old friends, Kerry stood up for his successor’s right to display a nameplate, and Barbara Boxer addressed her former colleague as “John,” before quickly correcting herself to “Mr. Secretary.”
Kerry, too, at one point seemed to lose sight of the fact he was there as an administration spokesperson seeking to reassure and convince a skeptical public, as well as his former colleagues, and not to think out loud as the discussant he had been for so many years when he served as chairman of the committee. The topic: the critical question of whether the Obama Administration plans for there to be American troops on Syrian soil.
In the House, Democrats Chris Van Hollen and Gerry Connolly have been drafting a reworked version of the proposed White House authorization for use of force. The representatives’ version, according to the Washington Post, includes “a legally binding stipulation that no ground troops would be deployed.”
“Mr. Secretary, we received from the administration a proposed resolution for the authorization of force, and of course that is a negotiation between the Congress and the administration,” current Chairman Robert Menendez of New Jersey asked. “Would you tell us whether you believe that a prohibition for having American boots on the ground — is that something that the administration would accept as part of a resolution?”
“Mr. Chairman, it would be preferable not to, not because there is any intention or any plan or any desire whatsoever to have boots on the ground,” Kerry replied. “And I think the president will give you every assurance in the world, as am I, as has the secretary of defense and the chairman.
“But in the event Syria imploded, for instance, or in the event there was a threat of a chemical weapons cache falling into the hands of al-Nusra or someone else and it was clearly in the interest of our allies and all of us, the British, the French and others, to prevent those weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of the worst elements, I don’t want to take off the table an option that might or might not be available to a president of the United States to secure our country.“
Menendez interrupted. “If we said that there’d be no troops on the ground for combat purposes, that clearly would, I assume ….”
“Well, assuming that, in the going to protect those weapons — whether or not they had to, you know, answer a shot in order to be secure, I don’t want to speak to that. The bottom line is this — can I give you the bottom line?” Kerry replied.
Menendez said something inaudible, but everyone was eager for the bottom line.
“I’m absolutely confident, Mr. Chairman, that it is easy — not that complicated — to work out language that will satisfy the Congress and the American people that there’s no door open here through which someone can march in ways that the Congress doesn’t want it to, while still protecting the national-security interests of the country,” Kerry unspooled his answer. “I’m confident that can be worked out. The bottom line is, the president has no intention and will not, and we do not want to, put American troops on the ground to fight this — or be involved in the fighting of this civil war, period.”
Senator Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, was less than satisfied with this answer. “I will say that — in response to your answer to Senator Menendez, I didn’t find that a very appropriate response regarding boots on the ground,” he said later in the hearing. “And I do hope as we move through this, the administration can be very clear in that regard.”
Kerry walked his earlier comment back: “Well, let me be very clear now because I don’t want anything coming out of this hearing that leaves any door open to any possibility. So let’s shut that door now as tight as we can. All I did was raise a hypothetical question about some possibility — and I’m thinking out loud — about how to protect America’s interests.
“But if you want to know whether there’s any — you know, the answer is, whatever prohibition clarifies it to Congress and the American people, there will not be American boots on the ground with respect to the civil war.”
It was that kind of a day, a picture captured by McClatchy made clear:
Against the odds, President François Hollande, who is renowned for his timidity on the domestic reform stage, has emerged as the surprise bellicose mascot of the free world. He is living up to Secretary of State John Kerry’s designation of France as America’s “oldest ally.”
Today Hollande took time out from a press conference with German President Joachim Gauck to repudiate Bashar al-Assad’s direct threats against French interests outlined in the dictator’s interview with the Le Figaro newspaper.
The threats had only ‘‘reinforced France’s determination,” said Hollande in remarks that sounded positively Sarkozyesque.
“The most serious threat would be to leave him (Assad) to his own devices, allow him to continue to use chemical weapons,” the French president added.
Even if the U.S. decides not to strike Syria, France was ready to ‘‘take her responsibilities in supporting the Syrian opposition,” he said.
For the moment at least, Paris is more united, determined and ready to ‘‘punish” Assad and send a message imminently than either Washington or London.
For all the talk, however, French parliamentarians aren’t clamoring to vote on military intervention in Syria, and certainly not before the U.S. Congress does. Tomorrow’s scheduled National Assembly debate will go ahead without a ballot. Nonetheless, the option of a vote has not been ruled out by Hollande, who has revealed himself in less than 18 months as president to be a robust interventionist willing to take the lead in military affairs.
January’s invasion of Mali was undertaken at France’s behest and with little material assistance from either its European allies or the U.S. After backing the Mali action, France’s Socialists are also on board with Hollande on Syria.
Le chef de l’Etat has nothing remotely like the outright mutiny of dozens of Tory MPs that British Prime Minister David Cameron faced in last week’s lost vote in the House of Commons. Nor does he have a diverse and divided Congress such as President Obama faces.
In fact, Hollande has a party secretary, Harlem Désir, who has accused the center-right opposition of having a ‘‘Munich spirit’,’ in reference to the failure of appeasement on the eve of World War II.
Socialist voter and philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy wrote an impassioned oped in Le Monde refuting claims that strikes against Assad will aid Islamists. The author and activist has called on Obama and Hollande to put the Syrian question at the heart of discussion at the G20 meeting in Saint Petersburg — and even adjourn the meeting if Vladimir Putin refuses to act against Syria.
Even one of the French opposition leaders, Jean-François Copé, has ruled put pushing for a National Assembly vote on the grounds that it would compromise the president’s “absolute right” to intervene military without consulting the Assembly.
(Other prominent opposition leaders, though, are demanding an Assembly vote. And of course, the far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen, whose father has been a long-time apologist for the Assad regime, is opposed to intervention ”because French interests are not concerned”.)
Meanwhile, France has released its own intelligence confirming chemical weapons attacks by Assad. Hollande and the French military were geared up for an immediate military strike early this week until Obama tossed the Syria decision to Congress.
The fact that France is more gung-ho on Syria partly exposes the inaccurate and unfair caricaturing of the French as overly isolationist by Americans and the British during the Iraq war.
The truth is that because Jacques Chirac refused to join the invasion in the absence of firm proof of weapons of mass destruction, France was less traumatized by Iraq — and it now feels freer to act on Syria.
One of the most misleading metaphors in the discussion of President Obama’s Syria policy is that the president has “boxed himself in” or has “painted himself into a corner.” These metaphors treat a president’s available actions as if they were physical spaces and limits on action as if they were physical walls. Such metaphors would make sense only if we also stipulated that Obama has the power to snap his fingers and create a door or window wherever he likes. The Syria crisis has not created a new precedent for limiting presidential power. To the contrary, it has offered multiple opportunities for increasing it.
If Congress says no to Obama, it will not significantly restrain future presidents from using military force. At best, it will preserve current understandings about presidential power. If Congress says yes, it may bestow significant new powers on future presidents — and it will also commit the United States to violating international law. For Obama plans to violate the United Nations Charter, and he wants Congress to give him its blessing.
People who believe Obama has painted himself into a corner or boxed himself in might not remember that the president always has the option to ask Congress to authorize any military action he proposes, thus sharing the responsibility for decision if the enterprise goes sour. If Congress refuses, Obama can easily back away from any threats he has made against Syria, pointing to the fact that Congress would not go along. There is no corner. There is no box.
Wouldn’t congressional refusal make the United States look weak, as critics including Senator John McCain warn loudly? Hardly. The next dictator who acts rashly will face a different situation and a different calculus. The UN Security Council or NATO may feel differently about the need to act. There may be a new threat to American interests that lets Obama or the next president offer a different justification for acting. It just won’t matter very much what Obama said about red lines in the past. World leaders say provocative things all the time and then ignore them. Their motto is: That was then, and this is now.
If Congress turns him down, won’t Obama be undermined at home, as other critics claim? In what sense? It is hard to see how the Republicans could be less cooperative than they already are. And it’s not in the interest of Democrats to fault a president of their own party for acceding to what Congress wants instead of acting unilaterally.
Some commentators argue (or hope) that whatever happens, Obama’s request for military authorization will be an important precedent that will begin to restore the constitutional balance between the president and Congress in the area of war powers. Don’t bet on it. By asking for congressional authorization in this case, Obama has not ceded any authority that he
Intervention backers are considering bringing Salim Idris, the former Syrian army general heading the rebel Free Syrian Army’s military efforts, to Washington to make his case to Congress in person. While no final decisions have yet been made, the idea is that hearing directly from Idris and from Ahmed al-Jarba, the Syrian National Coalition’s newly elected political leader, could help to win over lawmakers.
Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed that Idris “is prepared” to travel to Washington to lobby members of Congress to take military action against the Assad regime. During Tuesday’s hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry said Idris is currently in Germany to talk to lawmakers there, and will head to London next to meet with members of the British Parliament, which voted down military action against Syria last week.
A series of congressional briefings is scheduled for the coming days involving the Pentagon and the State Department, among others. The approach is “all hands on deck” with talking points flying about among offices; the administration is working hard to be as accessible as possible to lawmakers who remain skeptical of any intervention anywhere and want to see all the assembled evidence.
For those who favor greater support to the rebels it has been a set of days marked by peaks and troughs, bringing relief at the idea of U.S. military intervention, even in a limited way, but surprise at the White House’s decision to delay action and seek congressional approval.
“You get the actual leaders of the political and military opposition to go to make the same case in person and to say: ‘Here are the real details as I have seen them on the ground; here is what my soldiers have seen,’” says Dan Layman, spokesman for the Syrian Support Group, an advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C., that supports the Free Syrian Army.
Layman says time is running out for bolstering the moderate opposition that has been out-outfitted and outspent by extremists backed by regional powers including Qatar.
“Right after Obama’s speech (announcing he would go to Congress) we started getting word back that the extremist groups were picking up on their recruitment efforts,” Layman said. “They were capitalizing on the fact that the West seems to have backed out of another chance to get behind the moderate opposition.”
Getting that fractured moderate opposition to the negotiating table has proven to be a daunting diplomatic challenge. On Sunday, Kerry said that even as military strikes are contemplated the U.S. “will continue to work with Russia in conjunction with us in that effort to try to achieve that political settlement,” calling it “our top priority.” On Monday, Kerry spoke with Idris and told him the U.S. is committed to supporting the Syrian opposition in its push to force Assad out of office and “usher in a democratic government in Damascus,” the Wall Street Journal noted.
Russia and the U.S. in July were said to have renewed the push to get the parties to the table, with the Russians agreeing to the idea of a transfer of “full executive powers” as outlined in the June 2012 Geneva communiqué. But after suffering a series of military setbacks the opposition remained reluctant to negotiate from a position of weakness. In the wake of the August 21 chemical attack and the last week of Syria policy whipsaw, any chance the opposition will agree to the long-delayed Geneva 2 without military action has vanished.
For Layman and those backing greater support for the Syrian rebels, a U.S. military strike paired with sustained support for the rebels offers the best shot at getting to an eventual diplomatic deal.
“There have been a lot of last chances that the U.S. hasn’t capitalized on in terms of showing support for moderate groups,” Layman says. “This is something we have to move on.”
In building drones that kill people, the U.S. has a couple-decade head start on China. But when it comes to domestic uses, U.S. businesses are hamstrung because the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) isn’t required to issue commercial drone rules until 2015. In the meantime, one of China’s biggest delivery companies is tinkering with using drones—with Chinese government permission.
SF Express is testing a drone it has built for delivering packages to remote areas, according to Chinese media reports. The drone can hit an maximum altitude of 328 feet and deliver parcels within two meters of its target. It’s not clear what sort of weight these puppies can handle, but Beijing journalists calculated that it probably can’t carry more than 6.6 pounds.
The news broke yesterday morning, after a Sina Weibo user noticed what looked like a UFO hovering above a street in Dongguang, in southern China, and after noticing a SF Express logo, posted images online.
In July, a Shanghai bakery launched aerial cake delivery—or “pie in the sky,” as the Telegraph put it (video below). However, as an anonymous government official told the Shanghai Daily at the time, businesses that want to use drones must be granted approval from the local civil aviation authorities first. The bakers forgot to do that, apparently.
However, the Dongguan police said that, except during certain sensitive times, commercial operators who receive permission from the civil aviation regulator and air traffic control are allowed to fly drones. SF Express says it’s strictly complying with the policies.
In the U.S., meanwhile, the jury on commercial drones is still out (even as the postal service sometimes reaches remote areas of the U.S. via mules and sled dogs). The FAA estimates that there will be 30,000 drones in U.S. airspace by 2020. But the prospects will be unclear until it issues its new rules in 2015. And while it okayed two drones for commercial use in early August, both were costly, state-of-the-art drones owned by prominent companies—Boeing and AeroVironment Inc—making it hard to guess the FAA’s views on cheaper drones. In the meantime, a slew of U.S. state laws designed to protect citizens from surveillance by law-enforcement drones threaten to limit the use of commercial drones too, at least the FAA rules come out.
Seamus Heaney is applauded after receiving the Nobel literature prize in Stockholm, Sweden, Sunday December 10, 1995.(AP / Eric Roxfelt)
When Seamus Heaney won the Nobel Prize, in 1995, I was living in Dublin during a semester off from college, working in a crowded, narrow restaurant at the heart of the city (long days, no tips; pre-Celtic Tiger, this was a time when people brought in their own tea bags or shared one tea bag among a group). I was 19, and I wanted, in a vague, romantic way to be a poet—an enterprise I associated with strong feelings as much as anything else. I was terribly broke, but I read whatever I could get my hands on, focusing mostly on Irish writers, from Yeats to Patrick Kavanagh to, of course, Seamus Heaney.
Heaney’s “bog poems,” as they’re known (“Bogland” and “The Tollund Man” and others) had made a particular impression on me for the way that they addressed nationalistic and ethical concerns while never losing their visceral force. In them, Heaney finds a haunting way of thinking about the social through the particular, invoking the idea of a “sad freedom” while also writing about the way a dug-out bog man’s body might still be full of “his last gruel of winter seeds/caked in his stomach.”
So I have a vivid memory of the day the Nobel was announced. Everyone was excited, talking about the news. I was cleaning off the tables during the morning rush when I spotted a newspaper someone had left behind, with Heaney’s picture on the front page, and I squirreled it away to study on my break, with a cup of tea and a piece of soda bread. I read it slowly. As a teenager who had no idea how one actually became a poet, there was something unspeakably powerful about the reality of this news, and what it meant to many of the Irish people around me. Somehow, being there, and holding this paper in my hand, seeing how important Heaney’s poetry was to the culture I was living in, changed my sense of what it meant to be a poet. It was not just a personal avocation; it was a kind of ethical responsibility.
And because I was living in Ireland, drinking its tea and Guinness and breathing its moist air, the poems no longer seemed like a performance of an exotic Irishness (as they might have to my still callow mind) but a deeply accurate description of the landscape and the people I met: a record of their attitudes, their speech, their ways of being. Poetry wasn’t inventive romance; it was a way of describing reality. It was actually a form of speech, as intimate as it was magnificent.
That immediacy of voice is one of Heaney’s greatest attributes as a poet. As well-shaped and musical as his poems are, they never seem fancy or false or even baroque. They have a plainspokenness derived from his childhood in the country. A “country boy” from Northern Ireland who got a scholarship to a Catholic boarding school, Heaney left his family’s farm life behind when he was quite young, but it stayed in his soul somehow. In the ’60s, he moved to Belfast, where he began to make a name for himself, as part of the so-called “Northern School” of Irish poets—among them, Derek Mahon and Michael Longley. Like some of their work, his is rooted in physical experience, in dirt and peat and cow udders and green hedges; one of the most startling images in his early poems is a dead younger brother’s “poppy bruise” glimpsed as the boy lies at the wake in a “four foot box, one for every year.” His work is also preoccupied by the difference between father and son, with the way that his urban, worldly life had a shadow rural life behind it.
In his first book, Death of a Naturalist (1966), he wrote what would remain one of his most famous poems, “Digging,” a kind of ars poetica, which opens:
Between my finger and my thumb The squat pen rests; snug as a gun. Under my window, a clean rasping sound When the spade sinks into gravelly ground: My father, digging. I look down Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds Bends low, comes up twenty years away Stooping in rhythm through potato drills Where he was digging.
Continuing this imaginary visit with his father, Heaney writes, “By God, the old man could handle a spade./ Just like his old man./ My grandfather cut more turf in a day/ Than any other man on Toner’s bog.”
The poem returns, inevitably, to the self, as the poet contemplates the way memory makes “living roots awaken in my head,” and observes, pointedly, how different his desk work is from his forebears’ field labor:
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them. Between my finger and my thumb The squat pen rests. I’ll dig with it.
In the 1970s, after he left Belfast and moved to the Republic of Ireland, following Bloody Sunday, his work became increasingly engaged with ethical and national questions, with conflict, and so on. But it never lost its sensuousness, its subtle way of airing human mysteries. I always loved his later poem “The Underground” (the opening lyric from 1984′s Station Island) for the way it effortlessly blends myth, music, and a narrative of potential loss. In four compact quatrains, it describes two people running as if for a train, opening “There we were in the vaulted tunnel running,/ You in your going-away coat speeding ahead.” In a reversal, after the trains have gone, the speaker ends up alone retracing his steps, “Bared and tensed…all attention / For your step following and damned if I look back.” (So much work is done in that adjective “going-away”—at once vernacular, evocative of a time and place where people wore such things, and symbolic.)
Heaney was also extraordinarily kind. In 2008, 13 years after my youthful time abroad, I went back to Ireland for the first time to read at a national poetry festival at Dun Laoghaire, a suburb of Dublin, at which Heaney was headliner. Dublin had changed (it was easy to find coffee, and everywhere you went you could hear Eastern European languages being spoken), and in the intervening years I had published a book of poems I was still astonished that anyone had read. There was a collective reading of younger poets and just as it got started, in came Seamus to sit and listen, which he did appreciatively. Then he gave a brilliant reading. Afterward we all hung out at the bar. There was some whispering about whether “Seamus” would come—he always did, I was told, by some of the less rattled Irish poets. We drank and talked in the warm light, telling jokes, and then sure enough in came Seamus to join us.
I was too shy to speak up, but he told me he liked my poems, and asked all of us if we wanted a beer. We did, of course. I don’t remember much else except being glad to be in his presence, talking about poetry; and I do remember that I didn’t know how to tell him how much reading his poems while I lived in Dublin had meant to me. Now I wish I had.
Over the past few weeks my wife and I have had a lot to say about the little lakeside manufacturing town of Holland, Michigan. Main themes: conservative Dutch-religious influence for better and worse,
Reinvention and resilience across the nation Read more
I was preparing one last “substance” post on Holland, about the gay-equality initiatives that have run into trouble from the city government and the leadership of the church-affiliated local Hope College. I talked about the resulting controversies with many people including (at the New Holland Brewery) with the mayor.
But many people have written in on that very theme, so for now I’ll wrap up with their letters and some others on larger themes from this small town. At the end of this post, a preview of where we are headed next.
I won’t live there. I got a lot of messages in this vein:
I’m a graduate of Hope College, magna cum laude in [XX subject in the late 1970s]. I know the area well. I have some Dutch ancestry. My sister is [an official] about 30 miles north. I know Holland and western Michigan and Dutch-American culture from the inside.
I grant all the excellent qualities you have written about –hard work, ingenuity, social cohesion, and a sense of an America very different from DC or NYC.
I won’t live in Holland, and when my own children (ages 19, 17, and 15) have looked at colleges (or will), I never suggested my alma mater.
My reason: the social narrowness of smug Dutch-American culture. Athough there is a very significant Latino population in Holland, it has not successfully challenged Dutch-American Christian Reformed hegemony. That hegemony will allow no compromises.
You alluded to this smugness when you mentioned the failure of the gay rights initiative(s) there. I wouldn’t want to raise my children in this atmosphere, and I don’t want my children going to college in it. The hateful things that were said during that discussion give evidence of the smugness of that culture.
I live in Connecticut now (outside New Haven), and there’s a lot wrong with CT. But we experience far more cultural, religious, and racial diversity here. It’s not perfect, but we’re working on it.
Holland has many fine qualities. But it’s suffocating for many people, including me. Do mention the numerous people from Holland, and Western Michigan, who have fled the cultural suffocation.
I won’t live there, either. To give another sample:
It’s interesting how a brief visit imbues one with all sorts of ideas about a place. I’m sure you’ve received a lot of letters from residents or locals; this is another one (although now I split time between Evanston/Chicago and Wuhan, Hubei, PRC.
You got the local money part right. It’s the underlying provincialism and Calvinist ethic that one has to be there a long time to understand. A corollary article might be “What’s it like to be an outsider in Holland?”
It gets pretty insulated. Having grown up there, I’m now a “FIP”, as in “fucking Illinois person”. There’s a long list of similar story lines.
It gets real small in Holland. You saw it at its best. [As below]
The equality struggle. From a filmmaker nearby.
As you and your wife continue your journey, I wanted to be sure you are aware of the non-profit Until Love is Equal. (I doubt many Hollanders will bring it up.)…
While the efforts of this Grand Rapids-based group have been determined and well-intentioned, I don’t believe the council has taken any action on the issue as a result of ULIE’s campaign. I do believe, however, that the campaign’s message and media campaign has helped generate fresh dialogue among Hollanders (and surrounding communities) about the average experience of gay citizens in their city. Or maybe not. Could be worth asking?
Yes indeed. We actually heard about ULIE while there, and the controversy over the city’s rejection of its measures came up repeatedly. Especially we heard this from some international business people who were concerned that it would mark the city as intolerant and thus make recruiting to Holland a harder sell for professionals they were trying to attract from bigger-city America or overseas.
Why a Dutch-American community could be less tolerant than the original Holland itself. Also on this theme:
I live in Grand Rapids and it is a bit embarrassing that they cannot figure this out in a region that wishes to emulate their [Netherlands] homeland (as they often proclaim.) We have asked what does it say about being billed as a welcoming community when their leaders out and out reject LGBT as full citizens worthy of protections.
Grand Rapids enacted protections for their LGBT in 1994. MIchigan has more than 20 other cities that have followed since…except Holland. The council rejected its opportunity even after their civil rights committee said overwhelming this was a real problem.
And racially divided. A reader born and raised there writes:
I truly do believe Holland is a unique city, and one ripe for study — especially after coming to college and getting a better perspective on how most cities of Holland’s size operate economically and socially.
Growing up in Holland, I was a bit of an outcast politically (not just in the town, in my family, too). So I was highly critically ofHolland’s political and religious climate. Now I appreciate more fully how valuable an experience it was to grow up in such a diverse climate — diverse politically, economically, and racially. And now I unabashedly love the city.
Holland’s racial divisions is an issue I would encourage you to pay special attention to. I attended Holland public schools, and by the time I got to Holland High School, there were discussions amongst friends and teachers about the drastic “white flight” experienced by Holland public schools over the past few decades. Of course no empirical study exists, but if you look at the number of students Holland public schools lost — mainly to schools within driving distance of Holland public (Michigan is a “school of choice” state) — and look at the changing racial composition of the schools, while also considering Holland’s struggle with some pretty serious gang activity in the late 1980s and 1990s, I don’t think “white flight” is too strong a term.
[A bit of local industrial output on display in the city museum.]
Other Dutch-American cities are the same:
Your comments regarding Holland, MI’s downtown could almost be duplicated for the Dutch founded towns of Sioux Center and Orange City, IA. Both of them have significant manufacturing bases, a philanthropically minded local gentry, tidy well kept and vibrant downtowns, and local religious colleges that are an integral part of the town.
It does not hurt that they are smack dab in the middle of some of the most productive (and expensive) farmland in the world.
Another data point is that they are they form a major part of the political base of Steve King (R) IA, currently most visible leading the anti-immigrant crusade.
On the mixed role of the Big Local Families, which I mentioned recently here:
Holland, like Grand Rapids, is marked by an unusual sort of oligopoly, the dominance of a handful of very conservative, very powerful old (Dutch) Christian Reform families.
Grand Rapids is essentially run by the DeVos clan, the Van Andels (who co-founded Amway with the DeVoses) and the Meijers (founders of huge big-box chain of same name).
Holland is home to the Prince family of Blackwater fame, which is related to the DeVoses — Erik Prince is the brother of Betsy DeVos. These families pour lots of money into local philanthropy (while of course also fighting bitterly against state taxes that would send money to Detroit or Flint or Saginaw), which is one reason why Grand Rapids and Holland look in better shape than many similar Midwestern manufacturing towns.
On a tolerant side of Dutch heritage. I mentioned that the superintendent of schools in the city, who runs a “majority-minority” system, was concerned about students who had been brought to the U.S. when very young and now lived in legal limbo. A reader says that some local residents are still conscious of their own immigrant background:
My father immigrated to Zeeland, MI with his family in 1954 and both of my parents graduated from Hope College. (I rebelled and went to Hope’s rival, Calvin College!) One factor related to immigration and Holland also might be that the Dutch Americans in that area still closely identify with their community and country of origin and see themselves as immigrants albeit several generations down the line for most of them. Especially within the Christian Reformed Church, there is a huge first generation community of Dutch immigrants who came to the U.S. and Canada after WWII (my father’s family would have been part of this wave) so matters of immigration are still within recent memory for many families.
The role of the Bible. A local reader writes:
For a real understanding of what makes the town the way it is, I suggest you read the Bible, particularly the book of Romans, followed by a close reading of the Heidleberg Catechism and the John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian religion.
The industry of the Dutch reformed community hinges on the central idea of the Reformed faith: that the Chief End of Man is to Glorify God and enjoy Him forever; that according to Colossians 3.17: whatever you do, do it wholeheartedly as unto the Lord. Following these principles leads to joy, love for one’s neighbor, and also prosperity/financial stewardship/generosity, which is why Holland is unique.
They sound like hippies. In response to my post noting the striking “we’re in this together” attitude that helped rescue the downtown, a reader in the Boston area writes:
You say of Holland, “The emphasis on rising and falling together was something I heard a lot — in this politically very conservative area.”
Crikey! I think I understand what you are thinking here, but it sounds very strange. Consider the following imaginary report from the future
“Here in Berkeley California, the city council has approved a second year of free Thursday night babysitting for everyone. This effort to improve nightlife and support new cultural venues has been a centerpiece of Green Party mayor Constance Haywire.
“The emphasis on rising and falling together was something I heard a lot — in this politically very liberal area.”
Today, it seems to me, anyone in national politics who emphasizes rising and falling together will be branded a Socialist by the GOP. And lots of conservatives would, I think, endorse a general stance that self-reliance is essential, that depending on anyone else for your family’s safety, welfare, and prosperity is a sign of bad character.
We have lived long enough that Norman Rockwell’s America sounds like a land of hippies.
Maybe more hippieish than it seems. I noted a statue of children saluting the flag. A reader points out something I missed:
As a twenty-year resident of Holland, MI and a graduate of Hope College, I enjoyed your recent article. I just wanted to note that if you look closely at the sculpture you mentioned as “non-whimsical statements like this,” you’ll see that one of the children saluting the flag has her fingers crossed behind her back. More whimsical than it might first appear.
‘My city was gone.’ A reader in Australia, originally from the American Midwest, notes the importance of local wealth — or its absence.
Thirty years, back, in almost every major city of the Midwest, there used to be from a handful to two dozen listed companies with their head offices in each.
Today? Almost all these co’s have been ‘rolled up’ into mega merged entities.
25 or 30 years back, these companies would provide a lot to the communities in which their head offices were domiciled:
- Charity donations; in many cases, heading up charities themselves
- Their corporate executives would purchase wasting assets and invest/renovate them, adding value to the greater community, eg the Fox Theatre in St. Louis in the early ’80′s
- Heading up or being major donors to, art museums, galleries & arts festivals
- Heading up or donating to major urban redevelopment
- Owning/sponsoring sports teams, eg Anheuser Busch and the St. Louis Cardinals
- Funding research in local universities
I could go on, but you get the point. In the city in which I grew up, St. Louis, there were over fifteen that no longer exist: SW Bell (RBOC), General Dynamics (moved to TX for lower tax), Ralston Purina, Mallinckrodt Chemical, Sigma Chemical, Anheuser-Busch, a dozen regional banks, ten or eleven hospitals now part of three mega groups, etc etc
Its a huge loss to the local communities, not just in the dimensions articulated above, but in identity, that the region is a ‘player’ and can punch above its weight nationally. For example, if you’ve read Michael Porter’s ‘The Competitive Advantage of Nations’, his ‘cluster’ model includes both suppliers and customers which drive innovation in products and services. But when the big dogs leave, so too do the suppliers, collective IP erodes and withers away, and if you wanted to, for example, recreate the capability for fine chemical manufacturing (which I started out in after uni), ‘you can’t get there from here’.
A review of what we’ve learned here. An early note from a reader that touches many themes that careful readers will recognize by now:
• I have nothing but praise and admiration for the Padnos family. Their example of quiet, persevering philanthropy is a model. Theirs is a gritty, dirty business, but they always have tried to manage it in the most responsible way possible.
• The charming aspect of Downtown Holland owes mostly to the ministering hand of the Prince fortune–but the family applies a determinative thumb on the scales in recompense for this largess. (Edgar, when alive, acted mostly benevolently.) Rents downtown are high, and what might be allowed is tightly regulated by private influence over public administration. “Conservative” does not obtain here in politics only. First wave of a re-nascent feudalism? (Support: Large migrant population seasonally, invisibly, picking crops here.) A review of current, demographical statistics would undercut the inordinate power the white, ethno-Dutch population wields. Tulip Time vs. Tulipanes.
• Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater/Xe, was spawned here. Living like a spider in Dubai, last I heard.
• The churches are not for Sundays/show merely; still exercise an outsized, ecclesiastical authority over what occurs commercially. Atheists/Agnostics need not apply.
• The city council has resisted recalcitrantly passing a human-rights ordinance against sexual-orientation discrimination–in spite of similar initiatives passing in other municipalities across Michigan. Jay Peters, a crying-in-the-wilderness voice, is worth interviewing. Holland is Ready.
• According to West Michiganders, the Antichrist resides in Detroit, whence all evil emanates.
• Hope College, once considered a “Harvard of the Midwest,” now aspires to be a middlebrow Christian college. Babbit lives! A pharisaical pedagogy prevails (“Thank, God, we are not as others!”)
• Your photo of the Big Red lighthouse is from the Southside. Most Hollanders will no longer be able to view it from this aspect. The DeVos/Van Andel (Amway–quintesssential Horatio Alger story we gullibly believed) fortunes are the other wing steering Holland’s course. Recently, these families have curtailed access to the lighthouse (public-trust doctrine–confluence of local/state/federal authorities). Buy it and barricade it. There are credible suspicions that big money is influencing recent decisions within Park Township (titular authority over lakeshore properties). Increasingly, the public is being foreclosed access to the Lake. A second closing of the Commons. Just ask the Great Lakes’ surfers
We still consider it home. To round this off for now:
We spent 12 years living near Kalamazoo from 1991 to 2003, having moved there from [northern, California, and subsequently to [the LA area], where we now reside. We still consider our time in Kalamazoo as the highest quality of life at the lowest cost of living we’ve ever experienced, and have long-standing friendships that we highly value.
My wife is a board-certified veterinary pathologist, and finds employment at pharmaceutical companies doing early drug discover R&D. I am a computer software developer, specializing in regulated software development for medical devices and pharmaceutical research and manufacturing.
In [NorCal], we always felt financially stressed, and while paying for our house, only had enough money for second-hand furniture. We rarely went to movies, and never made it to cultural events.
We left in 1991 when my wife’s biotech employer went out of business, and my medical device employer left the area. Among our choices was Kalamazoo, where my wife had a standing offer of employment; I was able to contact friends in the area and get a job immediately as well. We retained our northern California salaries, and had made a little money on the sale of our house…
For just over half the cost of our California house, we found an architected house on a private lake, in a nice neighborhood, with fabulous neighbors. We were able to find much more cost-effective child care, excellent public schools, and great cultural opportunities.
In our neighborhood, all the parents knew all the kids, and all the kids knew it. The parents would get together once a year to discuss curfews, expected behaviour, etc., yielding an environment in which no kid could say “But Johnny’s parents let him stay out until midnight…” The neighborhood was adjacent to a large nature preserve, and the kids were encouraged to roam the neighborhood and the woods, as long as the kids stayed together in a group. The neighborhood also had a small swimming beach, and kids were allowed to go swimming as long as a parent was on hand.
We found that the descendents of the Upjohn family were still very active in the community, and through the Upjohn and Gilmore Foundations, funded a very active arts culture. These foundations paid for arts education in the public schools in Kalamazoo and surrounding school systems, sponsored a really decent symphony orchestra and a chamber orchestra, provided grants to community arts organizations, and saw to it that the downtown area in Kalamazoo was also vital.
As a community chorus member, board member, and board president, I was able to get very involved in the arts environment. I regularly interacting with the grants organizations, asked to participate in the selection of the new orchestra conductor, and meeting college and university executives as well as business leaders in sharing our enthusiasm with the arts.
Over the 12 years we lived there, we repeatedly saw Kalamazoo-area companies mature and grow, becoming successful regionally, and then being acquired and consolidated into out-of-state regional or national companies. This happened with the Gibson Guitar company, with First of America Bank, and others – each time, taking highly-paid and well-educated people out of the community. This culminated in 2003 when Pfizer acquired Pharmacia-Upjohn, and bid 8,000 highly-compensated, well-educated, and high-engaged community members adieu.
The community responded with something called the Kalamazoo Promise – encouraging people to stay in the city, and move there. This creative program paid for two to four years of college in Michigan in exchange for 8 to 12 years of public education. The foundations also sustained arts funding, and downtown development.
Our daughter completed high school here in [SoCal], and was accepted at Smith, at Occidental, and University of California, and chose to return to Kalamazoo to attend Kalamazoo College. She’s now at University of Chicago, doing her PhD. Our son, in graduate school at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, goes camping at our Kalamazoo friends’ annual summer event in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Our family is also represented every year at our friends’ annual multi-day New Year’s party, held in their downtown Kalamazoo house.
Despite living in southern California for the last ten years, we still consider Kalamazoo home.
Every time we went to some little place in China, we ended up thinking: we had no idea how much was going on there. The major point of this whole exercise is to convey some of the texture, in good and bad, beneath our normal descriptions of “declining Rust Belt” or “red state and blue state” and so on.
Next up, Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Marketplace begins its reports from Sioux Falls tomorrow, and my wife and I, with John Tierney, will be rolling out posts in parallel.
What will happen when Congress votes on Syria? At this point, nobody knows, though President Obama said Tuesday he is confident his request for military authorization will be approved, and with Republican House leaders’ backing, some degree of congressional momentum appeared to be building in his favor.
But what is already apparent is that the issue has laid bare stark divides within both political parties. Some Democrats, haunted by Iraq, are staunchly anti-intervention, while others, haunted by Rwanda, are strongly in favor; some Republicans, inspired by former Representative Ron Paul, decry military adventurism, while others, in the mode of the George W. Bush Administration, see a need to act against a rogue regime.
Most members of Congress are still undecided or leaning against a strike, making the coming week a crucial one for both the administration and those who seek to stop what they see as a march to war. (According to the Washington Post‘s ongoing tally of votes, as of Tuesday afternoon, the “yes” votes included 20 senators — 11 Democrats, nine Republicans — and 17 representatives — nine Democrats, eight Republicans. The “no” votes included four senators, all Republican, and 36 representatives — 14 Democrats, 22 Republicans.) Here is a sampling of the arguments being offered by the major camps in the debate.
The Pro-Intervention Democrats This group is led by President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, obviously. It also includes the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. Cynics charge that Obama blundered by creating a “red line” on chemical weapons that he now must enforce. But these Democrats make the case that international norms against chemical-weapons use must be respected. Pelosi said Tuesday that the “humanitarian disaster” in Syria required a military response, which she emphasized would be “targeted, tailored, of short duration, and send the message that is necessary.” She called Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons “outside the circle of civilized behavior,” adding, “Weapons of mass destruction, deterring their use, is a pillar of our national security strategy.” For a more detailed explanation of the Democratic case for intervention, read my interview last week with former Representative Tom Perriello.
The Anti-Intervention Democrats Representative Alan Grayson, the liberal firebrand from Florida, launched a petition against attacking Syria last week and says he will whip his colleagues against the resolution. As of Tuesday afternoon, the petition at dontattacksyria.com had more than 25,000 signatures. (Don’t miss Dave Weigel’s excellent recent story in Slate on how Grayson has become effective from his perch as a junior member of the House minority by teaming up with civil-libertarian Republicans.) Grayson makes the case that U.S. interests are not at stake and that taxpayer dollars would be better spent domestically. “This literally has nothing to do with us,” Grayson said on CNN on Sunday. “We are not the world’s policeman. We can’t afford this anymore, these military adventures that lead us into more than a decade of war. It’s wrong.” Others have argued that a supposedly limited strike is a slippery slope to broader involvement and that there is not enough international backing for a strike. “The reality [is] that military attacks result in retaliation and an escalating conflict,” said Minnesota Representative Rick Nolan, who called for Assad to be tried in international court instead.
The Pro-Intervention Republicans The GOP’s most reliable hawks, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, are leading the Republican charge in favor of a strike, and they were joined Tuesday by the top two Republicans in the House, Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor. (Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is the only congressional leader of either party who’s yet to take a position on the Syria authorization.) Cantor’s statement called Syria a “terrorist state” and warned that American inaction could cause “further instability in a region of vital interest to the United States.” He also cited the need to counteract Iran and Hezbollah and argued that “America’s credibility is on the line.” While the interventionist Democrats tend to emphasize the limited nature of the strike, McCain and his GOP allies have called for a broader mandate and an explicit objective of toppling Assad from power. The Republicans also have emphasized that it is up to Obama, not to them, to sell the American people and the Congress on the prospect of intervention. “Everyone understands that it is an uphill battle to pass a resolution, and the speaker expects the White House to provide answers to members’ questions and take the lead on any whipping effort,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said Tuesday.
The Anti-Intervention Republicans Senator Rand Paul and Representative Justin Amash have stepped into their roles as heirs to the anti-war Republican legacy of Paul’s father. (Amash attended Sunday’s classified briefing on Syria wearing a Darth Vader T-shirt.) Opponents call them isolationists; the Paulites see themselves standing in the way of a powerful military-industrial complex that wants to cut off debate. On Meet the Press on Sunday, Paul argued that American action would exacerbate Syrian suffering, not ameliorate it, and could increase the likelihood that Israel is attacked. He warned that the “Islamic rebels” can’t necessarily be trusted, and said Obama’s setting of a “red line” was a “grave mistake.” “When you set a red line that was not a good idea in the beginning with, and now you’re going to adhere to it or try to show your machismo, I think then you’re trying to save face and really adding bad policy to bad policy,” Paul said. Many congressional observers expect the House vote to fall along similar lines to the vote in July on an amendment offered by Amash that would have limited domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency. The Amash amendment just barely failed, with a final tally of 217 against, 205 in favor; those voting for it included 94 Republicans and 111 Democrats, a remarkably even cross-partisan split that testifies to the rise of civil-libertarian sentiment in both parties.
The “Yes-But” Caucus Though we put McCain in the group that favors a strike, he belongs to another group of lawmakers as well: those whose support is conditional. He has said he will not vote for the authorization currently proposed by the White House. Rather, McCain wants the Senate, which began its consideration of the measure with a Tuesday afternoon hearing of the Foreign Relations Committee, to amend the measure to make it broader. But McCain is working at cross purposes to some Democrats who hope to make the authorization narrower instead. Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy has said the administration resolution is “too open-ended,” and Democratic Representative Chris Van Hollen has called for amending it to include an expiration date and an express prohibition on ground troops.
Other than passwords, there are a host of other tricks, all with that same goal in mind: verifying that you are you. Two of the most common are security questions (silliness) and two-step verification such as Gmail’s, which involves a secondary code that only you have access to.
These, however, are all variations on a theme — logging in, account by account, to the data or service you are trying to access. A new device called the Nymi has a different idea in mind for how to verify your identity, and with it, its creator Bionym prefigures a time where you don’t so much as log in as present yourself.
A promotional video from Bionym shows how this ought to work and imagines a few scenarios beyond your run-of-the-mill email login for which this could be quite handy:
What happens when you exercise or are under stress? The company explains on its site that the Nymi only verifies once — when you put it on. And they recommend you put it on in a relaxed state that you could replicate easily (first thing when you wake up, say). Once it has identified you, it won’t lose track of you until it is removed. When you put it on again, it will need to check you anew. Currently the company is accepting pre-orders which it hopes to ship in early 2013. Whether it works as well in reality as it does in the video will be determine whether this becomes a viable option for people concerned about their online security who have many accounts and devices to constantly log in to.
Of course, many of the functions demonstrated in the video will require some programming and possibly even some specialized hardware on the receiving end, but the conceit at least gives a sense of another way identity verification could work in an age when machines constantly need to know who you are.
“You are a bad person if you send your children to private school,” argues Allison Benedikt in an article that appeared on Slate last week. Benedikt makes two points to parents: that going to a diverse public school will provide their kids with an education no less important than what they learn in the classroom, and that rich parents have a moral obligation to suffer the same frustrations with public schools as poor parents, so that they will be motivated to demand that the schools be improved. Conservatives criticized Benedikt on liberty grounds, but others have failed to point out how Benedikt’s argument is not right on its own terms. Even Benedikt’s usually insightful colleague Matthew Yglesias praised it. Benedikt’s argument is objectionable, and not just because it is obnoxious and ignorant, but because it would lead to bad policy. Benedikt claims inner-city public schools would be better off if parents were unwilling to consider private school, but she is wrong.
The reason is the narrowness of Benedikt’s view of America, as if she had just landed in New York City from Mars. She seems to think that the only types of people in America are the urban poor and the urban rich. She writes, “Whatever you think your children need—deserve—from their school experience, assume that the parents at the nearby public housing complex want the same. No, don’t just assume it. Do something about it. Send your kids to school with their kids.”
Benedikt bizarrely assumes that her readers are wealthy and educated but that they live near a public housing complex. From that false premise, she infers that the only choice facing the rich is an homogenous private school or a diverse public school.
What’s missing from this portrait? The suburbs. You know, they’re the place where a majority of Americans live. Sending their kids to private school is only one approach the affluent take to avoid sending their children to inner-city public schools. The more common choice is to move to the suburbs.
So, is someone who moves to an exclusive, wealthy suburb and sends their kids to the gold-plated public schools a good person in Benedikt’s view? Implicitly, yes, since she makes no distinction between cities and suburbs, or rich school districts and poor ones.
In fact, though, the average student in a wealthy suburban public school may be exposed to no greater diversity–possibly even less, thanks to private school scholarship programs–than one finds in most urban private schools.
Consider Potomac, Maryland, which is the kind of wealthy coastal blue state community where Slate readers might live. The median household income in 2011 was $167,436. Despite being next to the “Chocolate City” of Washington, D.C., the population is less than six percent African-American. At Winston Churchill High, a public high school in Potomac, fewer than five percent of the students qualify for reduced-price or free school lunches. By contrast, elite urban private schools in D.C., such as Maret and Georgetown Day, report that their student bodies are approximately 20 percent African-American. Then there is the fact that living in many urban neighborhoods will expose a child to diversity that raising her in car-dependent fancy suburb will not.
So how does a wealthy family moving to Potomac for the fancy public schools help anyone but the family itself?
It doesn’t. (For the New York region, just substitute for Potomac a town such as Scarsdale, in Westchester, where the median household income in 2011 was $220,119 and the school district is only 1.3 percent black.) If the choice you are making–and for most rich parents, this is the choice, if they consider staying in the city at all–is between living in the city and sending their kids to private school or moving to the suburbs and sending their kids to public school, the inner-city poor benefit more from the former. In that case, at least the family’s income and taxes will stay in the city. While the public schools don’t benefit from the family’s social capital, they also have one fewer student drawing on their resources. The existence of private school options may help keep rich families in the city, and cities are undoubtedly better off with wealthy residents than without them. Just compare the fiscal health and crime rates of Detroit, St. Louis or Cleveland to New York, San Francisco or Boston.
Another hole in Benedikt’s logic is the presence of another option on the spectrum of urban public-school avoidance: magnet schools and charters. Plenty of well-off urban parents who do send their kids to public school choose selective magnets, or at least charters that require some parental involvement to apply. If you send your kids to public schools that are disproportionately wealthy and white compared to the city as a whole, are you an evil person? By following Benedikt’s thinking on private schools, the answer should be yes. But since, like “suburbs,” the words “magnet” and “charter” appear nowhere in her piece, she is implying sending your kid to an elite public magnet school is a morally pure choice while sending her to private school is evil.
The same goes for gifted programs and tracking. Are parents who send their kids to the local public school’s gifted program evil as well? If not, how is their decision to make sure their child is challenged academically any different than that of a private-school parent?
I grew up in Park Slope, Brooklyn. My parents were among the earliest wave of the neighborhood’s gentrifiers. Gentrification is now seen by many people–ironically, often gentrifiers themselves–as a dirty word connoting the arrival of Starbucks and the ejection of longtime residents. In 1979, though, when my parents bought their house, New York City was struggling with rising crime, near fiscal insolvency and rapid out-migration. The decision of any educated professionals to stay was widely viewed–including by many working-class families hanging on in the Slope–as a blessing. (As Suleiman Osman, a native Slopie and professor of American Studies at George Washington University, explains in his 2011 book The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn, the middle-class and working-class families who did not want to leave neighborhoods like Carroll Gardens and Park Slope actively recruited gentrifiers as a stabilizing force.)
Every Slope kid I know from a middle-class or wealthy family attended a magnet school, a Catholic school, or a private school, rather than one of the locally zoned public schools. Why? Some urban public schools are so bad that parents fear more than a sub-par education if their kids go there. My local district school, Sarah J. Hale–since shut down by the city for failing its students academically–was known as “Sarah Jail” and was on the news while I was in high school because a student sliced a teacher.
If there were no private or magnet school options, the college-educated liberal parents who revived Park Slope would not all have, as Benedikt naively imagines, simply sent their kids to John Jay and Sarah J. Hale and shrugged at the thought they would have a better chance of getting stabbed than getting into a good college. They would have moved to the suburbs.
DOHA, Qatar – After establishing itself as the epicenter of Syria’s opposition factions, punctuated by the establishment of a rebel embassy in Doha, Qatar is now adopting a distinctly quieter tone on military action against Assad. Observers here say that the Qataris have not renounced their support for an American intervention. They’ve simply chosen not to be the most adamant Middle East voice calling for war.
This apparent change in policy is due, in part, to the rise of Qatar’s new emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. Tamim assumed his new role in late June after his father, Sheikh Hamad, abdicated after 18 years in power. The young ruler is approaching his new role more gingerly than his father, who had a track record of hyper-active foreign policies. Such policies included supporting the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, backing Arab Spring revolutionary movements, championing the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and inserting itself in such war zones as Somalia and Darfur. Tamim has not necessarily distanced himself from these endeavors, but he has apparently chosen to be quieter about them. This extends to Qatar’s Syria policy, as well.
Part of this change in tone stems from the departure of Qatar’s iconic prime minister and foreign minister Hamid Bin Jassim – popularly known as HBJ – whose colorful and outspoken personality was central to the foreign policies of Tamim’s father. HBJ’s influence could be seen in Hamad’s highly controversial foreign policies and Qatar’s massive foreign investments. Tamim has since replaced HBJ with the lower-key Abdullah bin Nasser, who also holds the position of interior minister. Bin Nasser’s second portfolio, observers say, may indicate a more inward looking Qatar for the foreseeable future.
This shift may also coincide with a new willingness to take a backseat to Qatar’s longtime Gulf rival, Saudi Arabia. The rivalry has been punctuated by tensions over Qatar’s sponsorship of the traditionally anti-Saudi Al-Jazeera television network, as well as its backing of the Muslim Brotherhood, which Saudi Arabia seeks to minimize. Despite these longstanding tensions, Tamim visited Saudi Arabia in his first official trip abroad in early August, signaling a possible rapprochement between the two countries. Riyadh has since come out in favor of U.S. intervention in Syria, notably through its dominance of the Arab League, which issued a strong statement Sunday. Relative to Saudi Arabia, Qatar has been rather quiet.
While Doha’s posture may reflect a willingness to allow Saudi Arabia to lead, Qatar also harbors a healthy fear of Iran, which lies just across the Gulf. Tehran is a top sponsor of the Assad regime, and it has threatened to attack U.S. interests in the event of an American intervention there. Qatar can certainly be seen as one of those interests, given that it hosts the sprawling al-Udeid airbase, which is crucial to American operations in the Middle East (although the U.S. does not have plans to attack Syria from this base).
Tensions between Qatar and Iran don’t end there. Admittedly, Qatar has found a way to strike a balance with Tehran in comparison to other Sunni Gulf Arab states. But observers here say that these ties are undercut by Qatar’s financial windfall precipitated by its exploitation of its northern gas field, which abuts Iran’s South Pars gas deposits. These are essentially shared resources because drawing gas from one necessarily depletes the other. Qatar has grown into a financial juggernaut through the exploitation of the deposits, while Iran, under international sanctions, has failed to do the same.
Qatari concern over domestic opposition, however, is a nonfactor; Qatar’s posture on Syria is completely indiscernible on the streets. Qataris, who are an insular community, number a mere 300,000 out of the country’s 2 million residents. The expats of Qatar, hailing largely from South Asia, have little to say about the looming conflict.
Despite its generally quiet posture on Syria, though, observers roundly believed that Qatar was still playing an important role behind the scenes – wielding both influence and cash.
Supporting Syria’s rebels is one of Doha’s biggest bets. That’s why Doha is undeniably eager to see an American strike. Whether President Obama follows through or Congress votes down military intervention, Qatar can be counted on to continue its support for Syria’s resistance – just a bit more stealthily.
The numbers are out to scare you. “Of the 963,000 jobs created in the past six months, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Household Surveys, 936,000 of them are part-time,” Harold Meyersonwrites. The predictions will scare you more. The Wall Street Journal foretells a time when Obamacare’s employer mandate will force small businesses across the country to move swaths of workers to part-time rolls, narrowly ducking the law’s penalty.
The scare stories are good scares, but they’re not good stories, since they start at the end and forget the beginning and middle. The truth about Part-Time America is that a part of America has always been working part-time, and there’s not much evidence that we’re seeing a terrifically new phenomenon.
The first thing you would expect from a true Part-Time America is a growing number of part-time workers. Instead, there are fewer Americans working less than full-time for economic reasons now than just about any time in the last three years. Here is your jagged line of part-time work, meandering its way downward (WSJ).
Zoom out four decades, as San Francisco Fed does, and you get another graph making an argument against Part-Time America as a new phenomenon. Part-time work rises when the economy stinks. It falls when the economy improves. That shouldn’t surprise anybody. But in Part-Time America, you would expect the share of part-time workers to be historically high and rising after the recession. Again, it’s not. “The level of part-time work in recent years is not unprecedented,” the researchers find.
Another look. Here is the ratio of part-timer workers to unemployed workers. In Part-Time America, you would expect that ratio to be historically out of whack today, as well. It’s not.
Across the Internet, economic writers are calling out: Is there no responsible way to terrify my readers about the awful future of part-time work? And yes, there is a responsible way. It begins with marriage demographics.
Just because right now Part-Time America is an overblown crisis manufactured to fit headlines rather than statistics doesn’t mean the stats won’t eventually catch up to the headlines. The future of work in America is fraught and uncertain. But there is a difference between prophecy and analysis.
For nearly two weeks, the nation has been transfixed by wildfire spreading through Yosemite National Park, threatening to pollute San Francisco’s water supply and destroy some of America’s most cherished landscapes. As terrible as the Rim Fire seems, though, the question of its long-term effects, and whether in some ways it could actually be ecologically beneficial, is a complicated one.
Some parts of Yosemite may be radically altered, entering entire new ecological states. Yet others may be restored to historical conditions that prevailed for thousands of years from the last Ice Age’s end until the 19th century, when short-sighted fire management disrupted natural fire cycles and transformed the landscape.
In certain areas, “you could absolutely consider it a rebooting, getting the system back to the way it used to be,” said fire ecologist Andrea Thode of Northern Arizona University. “But where there’s a high-severity fire in a system that wasn’t used to having high-severity fires, you’re creating a new system.”
The Rim Fire now covers 300 square miles, making it the largest fire in Yosemite’s recent history and the sixth-largest in California’s. It’s also the latest in a series of exceptionally large fires that over the last several years have burned across the western and southwestern United States.
Fire is a natural, inevitable phenomenon, and one to which western North American ecologies are well-adapted, and even require to sustain themselves. The new fires, though, fueled by drought, a warming climate and forest mismanagement — in particular the buildup of small trees and shrubs caused by decades of fire suppression — may reach sizes and intensities too severe for existing ecosystems to withstand.
The Rim Fire may offer some of both patterns. At high elevations, vegetatively dominated by shrubs and short-needled conifers that produce a dense, slow-to-burn mat of ground cover, fires historically occurred every few hundred years, and they were often intense, reaching the crowns of trees. In such areas, the current fire will fit the usual cycle, said Thode.
Decades- and centuries-old seeds, which have remained dormant in the ground awaiting a suitable moment, will be cracked open by the heat, explained Thode. Exposed to moisture, they’ll begin to germinate and start a process of vegetative succession that results again in forests.
At middle elevations, where most of the Rim Fire is currently concentrated, a different fire dynamic prevails. Those forests are dominated by long-needled conifers that produce a fluffy, fast-burning ground cover. Left undisturbed, fires occur regularly.
“Up until the middle of the 20th century, the forests of that area would burn very frequently. Fires would go through them every five to 12 years,” said Carl Skinner, a U.S. Forest Service ecologist who specializes in relationships between fire and vegetation in northern California. “Because the fires burned as frequently as they did, it kept fuels from accumulating.”
A desire to protect houses, commercial timber and conservation lands by extinguishing these small, frequent fires changed the dynamic. Without fire, dead wood accumulated and small trees grew, creating a forest that’s both exceptionally flammable and structurally suited for transferring flames from ground to tree-crown level, at which point small burns can become infernos.
Though since the 1970s some fires have been allowed to burn naturally in the western parts of Yosemite, that’s not the case where the Rim Fire now burns, said Skinner. An open question, then, is just how big and hot it will burn.
Where the fire is extremely intense, incinerating soil seed banks and root structures from which new trees would quickly sprout, the forest won’t come back, said Skinner.
Those areas will become dominated by dense, fast-growing shrubs that burn naturally every few years, killing young trees and creating a sort of ecological lock-in.
If the fire burns at lower intensities, though, it could result in a sort of ecological recalibration, said Skinner. In his work with fellow U.S. Forest Service ecologist Eric Knapp at theStanislaus-Tuolumne Experimental Forest, Skinner has found that Yosemite’s contemporary, fire-suppressed forests are actually far more homogeneous and less diverse than a century ago.
The fire could “move the forests in a trajectory that’s more like the historical,” said Skinner, both reducing the likelihood of large future fires and generating a mosaic of habitats that contain richer plant and animal communities.
“It may well be that, across a large landscape, certain plants and animals are adapted to having a certain amount of young forest recovering after disturbances,” said forest ecologist Dan Binkley of Colorado State University. “If we’ve had a century of fires, the landscape might not have enough of this.”
As of now it’s not known which parts of Yosemite have burned at tipping-point levels and which have stayed within historical, possibly rejuvenating parameters. That will become apparent in years to come. In the meantime, said Binkley, the Rim Fire and other megafires of recent years have demonstrated that fire should not always be fought.
“If you want to preserve something, you have to put it in a jar and pickle it. If you have a living forest, getting older and older, it’s not something we have an option to conserve in an unchanging way,” he said. “Some fires are going to be necessary if we want to sustain these old forests.”
When the Congress of the United States of America authorizes a military intervention, the result is usually a war. American presidents, even after the passage of the 1973 War Powers Resolution, generally have not sought congressional approval in advance of brief interventions and targeted military strikes. That makes Obama’s request for Congress to authorize the use of force in a limited strike against Syria unusual.
But I wonder if there’s not also a logic of escalation that comes into play now that Obama has requested Congressional authorization, creating a very real possibility that the result of a formal authorization for use of force will be a more aggressive or protracted intervention than what we’d have seen had the president not sought Congress’s buy-in. If Obama had acted alone to order a bombing campaign over Labor Day weekend, that would likely have been the end of it. Outraged liberals and furious isolationist Republicans would have united in criticism of his use of presidential power, rallying forcefully against further intervention in a conflict the vast majority of Americans don’t want the U.S. to enter.
Now, however, we are seeing pressure from Republican hawks for the administration to go beyond Obama’s rather clinical rationale for intervention — upholding the international norm against chemical-weapons use that the major norm-setting international institutions, such as the U.N., scarcely seem devoted to any more. Senators like John McCain and Lindsey Graham want the outcome of the congressional process to be a strategic plan for resolving the conflict in Syria and removing Bashar al-Assad from power.
“We cannot in good conscience support isolated military strikes in Syria that are not part of an overall strategy that can change the momentum on the battlefield, achieve the president’s stated goal of Assad’s removal from power, and bring an end to this conflict, which is a growing threat to our national security interests,” McCain and Graham said in a statement Saturday.
The same message is coming from a chorus of hawks in the press, who are arguing that an intervention that sends a message on chemical weapons but fails to change the balance of power in the underlying conflict is inadequate. “Congress should not support any resolution that does not, in addition to targeting chemical weapons, also aim to turn the tide against Assad and pressure him to seek a negotiated settlement,” National Review‘s Mario Loyola argued, in one of many examples of people calling for a broader approach. Nor is it just hawks — an intervention without “an objectives-based strategy” defies logic, according to Frederic Hof, the former Obama State Department point man on Syria. One writer has even accused Obama of flirting with “appeasement” in Syria.
Obama on Tuesday reiterated before a White House meeting with congressional leaders that any intervention would be limited. “This is not Iraq, this is not Afghanistan,” he said. “This is a limited, proportional step that will send a message not only to the Assad regime, but to other countries that may be interested in testing these international norms, that there are consequences.”
But now the president, too, is talking about long-term strategy. The planned intervention “fits into a broader strategy that we have to make sure that we can bring about over time the kind of strengthening of the opposition and the diplomatic and economic and political pressure required so that ultimately we have a transition that can bring peace and stability not only to Syria but to the region,” Obama said Tuesday.
“I know it will be amended in the Senate,” Sen. Patrick Leahy said, calling it “too open-ended.” Rep. Chris Van Hollen said the amendment would benefit from an express prohibition on ground troops — use of which Obama has also repeatedly ruled out — and perhaps also an expiration date. But unless the expiration date is less than a week from the measure’s passage, even that option would be likely to authorize a more prolonged effort than the president initially proposed. Four Republican senators have indicated support for the existing proposal, including McCain and Graham.
On Monday, McCain confirmed after meeting with Obama that the administration has made a shift to a broader argument based on longer-term strategic goals, at least in private. “We believe there is in formulation a strategy to upgrade the capabilities of the Free Syrian Army and to degrade the capabilities of Bashar Assad. Before this meeting, we had not had that indication,” he said.
Now, if Obama gets congressional approval, he’ll be getting it in what is likely to remain a fairly open-ended way, as part of a strategy with bigger aims, and owe his legislative success in part to the support of the most hawkish members of Congress. Is there any doubt they will continue to pressure him to act under the authorization they will have granted him, and that his White House requested? And that the forces gunning for intervention, once mobilized, will have a momentum of their own?
It’s easy both to understate and overstate the significance of the Justice Department’s announcement Thursday that it would not immediately challenge new regulations in Colorado and Washington that aim to legalize and tax the sale and recreational use of marijuana. It’s a bigger deal than you might think because the feds forewent litigation they surely would have won to block those voter-endorsed state initiatives. As a matter of constitutional law, the Obama Administration was (and still is) within its rights to argue that these state laws are preempted by federal law and policy.
But last week’s announcement is not nearly as big a deal as it could have been had the Obama Administration answered the many vital legal and political questions that still remain about marijuana’s quickening march toward respectability. All we know today that we didn’t know a week from today is that there will be no immediate litigation — that the Obama Administration is content, at least for now, to allow Colorado and Washington to come up with a way to safety regulate pot like alcohol and tobacco. Unfortunately, the feds didn’t even try to resolve the pot debate. They just agreed to let it unfold a little longer.
So many questions remain — for example, about the capital and credit that any industry needs to thrive. The Justice Department did nothing last week to offer any clarity to honest entrepreneurs in the burgeoning legal marijuana industry who are vexed by regulations that forbid banks from loaning money for ventures considered illegal under federal law. “Bankers are concerned they could be seen as having laundered money, aiding and abetting a crime,” Rep. Ed Perlmutter told Fox31 Denver last week. “Many financial institutions won’t provide financial services; consequently, it becomes an all-cash business. And when it’s all case, you’re subject to more robberies …”
Nor did the White House announce last week in its “Guidance Regarding Marijuana Enforcement” that it has asked officials of the Drug Enforcement Administration to undertake a new review of marijuana’s classification as a Schedule 1 drug, without any medicinal value, on a par with heroin, under the Controlled Substances Act. That classification, which flies in the face of nearly two dozen state medical-marijuana laws around the country, is the backbone of the executive branch’s policy on pot.
“Congress has determined that marijuana is a dangerous drug,” Deputy Attorney General James Cole reminded his line prosecutors. Even as he pulled back on their reins, he told federal lawyers there were still plenty of reasons to prosecute under federal pot laws.
In other words, the executive branch is only willing to go so far so fast in adjusting the nation’s policy toward marijuana. On the federal level, it is clear, lasting reform will have to come from Congress. That’s why Perlmutter has introduced a Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act, as capitalist a piece of legislation as you’ll find anywhere. And it’s why there is bipartisan support for Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2013, which would get around pot’s draconian classification in the Controlled Substances Act by exempting from its federal definition those who are acting in compliance with state laws.
The White House, and the Justice Department, clearly want Congress to lead, not just with marijuana reform but with the related (and broader) goal of sentencing reform. The big news from Attorney General Eric Holder last month was not his willingness to allow lawmakers in Denver and Olympia to take a clear shot at pot regulation but rather his decision earlier in the month to re-prioritize federal prosecutorial discretion over drug cases in general. Holder knows, and Congress knows that Holder knows, that any attempt to meaningfully reduce the number of non-violent federal prisoners also must include changing the text of statutes that define and classify marijuana.
With that in mind, I spoke last week via telephone with Senator Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Leahy, a former prosecutor, has consistently supported a more rational approach to the nation’s costly and failed war on drugs. For example, along with Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, Leahy this spring sponsored the Justice Safety Valve Act, which would formally return to judges more discretion to give sentences below the “mandatory minimums” that now apply. It’s a measure that would memorialize in the text of federal law the new sentencing policy the Obama Administration announced last month.
Indeed, even before the Justice Department announcement last week about marijuana, Sen. Leahy had scheduled a Judiciary Committee hearing, titled “Conflicts between State and Federal Marijuana Laws,” for Tuesday, September 10. It will be a timely and important hearing designed both to press the administration for answers and to prod lawmakers to action. Here is the interview, minimally edited for space, which took place before the administration announced its policy of watch-and-see over state legalization efforts.
There are now 20 states that have legalized medical marijuana in one form or another, and measures are pending in four other states. More than half of the nation’s population lives in jurisdictions where medical marijuana is legal. Why are Congress and the White House so far behind the curve on this? Why isn’t the federal government at least taking a neutral position?
I’ve long urged the federal government to stay away from states where they have legalized the use of marijuana, or legalized medical marijuana, and the reason I am holding my hearings is to get a very clear understanding of what they want to do. We only have so many resources for law enforcement and to waste time on these minor marijuana measures or waste time on marijuana in states where it is legal makes absolutely no sense.
The basis of the executive branch’s policy is marijuana’s classification as a Schedule 1 drug. Can Congress push the DEA to reclassify the drug to account for its medicinal uses? Should Congress do that? And can Congress amend the Controlled Substances Act so that there is less federal power to arrest and implicate and indict in this area?
Congress could change it, but as dysfunctional as some parts of Congress have been in the past couple of years I don’t have as much hope for that as I do for an executive policy that does it. It can be done by executive policy — just as every prosecutor has to determine what are the priorities. I spent eight years as a prosecutor. We did not begin to have the resources to prosecute every single law on the books. We had to pick and choose those that made the most sense. Certainly go after an armed robber or violent crime before you might go after some minor drug case.
And most people understand that. Especially when you have a state that has made a decision to legalize. On a substance especially like marijuana — the state’s wishes should be acknowledged.
What the White House and Justice Department say is, “Look, the DEA is telling us it has no medicinal value, it’s a Class 1 substance.” Can Congress push the executive branch to do more to update the status of the classification?
Well, Congress, of course, can change the classification. My question is whether in the amount of time with the budget issues coming up, appropriations issues coming up, immigration and others, whether Congress would take that on. If they would I’d be delighted. That would be the best way to do it because it would involve not only this administration but the next administration three and a half years from now. That’s the ideal way. In the meantime, though, the DEA and the Justice Department can determine which priorities they have and say that one priority is not to involve themselves in marijuana in states where they have legalized it. That they will not try to trump states on this issue.
You’ve asked the attorney general to come explain administration policy with respect to state initiatives that seek to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana. What do you hope the he is going to say?
I hope the attorney general says that it should be a state matter; that we have more important things to do.
What can you do, what are you prepared to do, if the Justice Department allows these states to proceed right up until the date of the first legal sales and then moves in and arrests and indicts folks. Have you thought about that scenario?
I think that would be a bad mistake. And I think that would probably be enough to get a number of members of Congress, from both the right and the left, to say, “We have more important things to do. Let’s change the law.”
But there are a lot of things we should be changing the law on with drugs. This idea that if you are a wealthy professional and you buy $200 worth of powdered cocaine the most that will happen is that you will get a slap on the wrist or told to do community service. If you are a poor minority, living in a poor section of town, and you buy $200 worth of crack cocaine you are going to go to prison — and then try to get a job when you get out. I mean, there are a lot of things in our current laws that don’t make any sense …
When the attorney general announced his sentencing reforms a couple of weeks ago you were quick to praise them. Do you see a link between those efforts from the Justice Department and the marijuana area? This is a related area, if the attorney general and the Obama Administration are serious about reform and cutting down costs. Do you see this being a part of that?
I know that the attorney general is serious and I am hoping that these hearings press him to go even further.
A few minutes ago I posted the six-step pattern of pro-escalation rhetoric that Eric Martin laid out two years ago. That followed William Polk’s lengthy and important 13-question examination of a strike on Syria.
Now on the Foreign Policy site, Tom Mahnken has listed six more questions about the administration’s rationale and plans. Here’s the importance of his list:
Before Congress approves an attack, it should be sure the administration has a clear answer on each of these points. The public should expect comprehensible answers from the administration too. Not perfect or irrebuttable answers: especially in combat, things develop in unforeseeable ways. But the president should show that at a minimum he and his team have thought through, and can explain, each of these aspects. Mahnken’s list:
What objectives does the administration seek to achieve in Syria?
How does it anticipate that the use of force will lead to the fulfillment of those objectives?
What is the administration’s theory of victory? That is, what are the assumptions that link the use of military force to the achievement of victory?
How does the administration believe that Syria will respond to the U.S. use of force?
What does the administration believe could go wrong? What unexpected things could happen?
And finally, how does the administration anticipate that this will end?
Now a related note, with bonus Donald Rumsfeld clip, from a reader who until recently worked at a DC organization that is generally pro-intervention in the Middle East. He raises a longer-term concern about what Rumsfeld used to call the “known unknowns”:
Assuming we do decide to intervene in Syria, and we do not destabilize Assad–the White House has explicitly ruled out regime change as a goal of intervention–the best we can hope for is a situation similar to Iraq from 1991-2003. In such a scenario–heavy sanction, regular weapons inspections (which ended in Iraq in 1998), and a no-fly zone–we’d probably have a tenuous ‘peace’ thru the end of the Obama administration, but there’s no guarantee that the next president would support a system that leaves in place a brutal dictator who has shown himself unafraid to use chemical weapons on his own people and has been known to pursue nuclear weapons. The temptation to ‘finish the job’ might prove too much to resist, particularly if Assad decides to do something like take a shot at one of our jets patrolling the no-fly zone.
It might sound far-fetched, but mission creep should be a very real concern. I encourage you to take a look at this clip from Errol Morris’s new documentary to see how speculation, distrust, and misinformation turned the Iraq sanctions into the Iraq War. It’s not hard to see how it could easily happen again.
Again, it’s good for the country, and for the president himself, that he is taking this case to the Congress. Let’s hear him answer questions like these, so that Errol Morris does not have to follow his “how did we get this so wrong?” documentaries about Robert McNamara and Donald Rumsfeld with one on Obama and his team.
Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett (Courtesy of the Texas Attorney General’s Office)
In early June the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, the longtime progressive advocacy group, released the results of a landmark study on “the effect of campaign contributions on judicial behavior.” The statistics confirmed what former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and countless other observers of our legal systems have long contended: Judicial elections impair the fair administration of justice by fostering impermissible appearances of impartiality by judicial candidates and judges. In seeking votes, in acting like politicians, judges invariably lose what they ought to prize most: their perceived credibility as neutral arbiters of cases and controversies.
When I read the study, the first person I thought of was Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett, a popular and successfully reelected jurist whose campaign-style website I wrote about last year for The Atlantic. Justice Willett, it seems to me, is the poster-child for the results of the ACS study. Indeed, he should have been on its cover. So I reached out to him, asked him to read the ACS study, and to then answer for me a few questions about his perceptions about judicial elections and the role campaign contributions play in them. About a month ago, he graciously complied in a way that was both candid and frightening.
It’s not accurate to portray the justice’s words as a direct response to the ACS. He was responding as much to me as to it. But if you want to get a sense of the scope of the problem here, and of the mentality that campaigning judges or justices bring to an endeavor that is in inherent conflict with judicial ethics, this exchange is likely as good as you’ll get. The thing to remember, as the Justice himself says below, is that he isn’t an outlier in the system. Instead, he’s playing the system with the skill and the diligence you would expect from a justice. And the voters of Texas keep sending him back to his post.
Here’s how the ACS put it in its summary:
Over the past year, a team of independent researchers has collected and coded data on more than 2,345 business-related state supreme court published opinions, which includes opinions from all 50 states during the years 2010 to 2012. The dataset was merged with over 175,000 contribution records that detail every reported contribution to a sitting state supreme court justice over the same period, or dating back to the last time the justice ran for reelection. Data have also been collected on related factors such as individual justice characteristics, ideology, and data about state processes to ensure a complete and robust empirical model for testing and analysis.
The data confirm a significant relationship between business group contributions to state supreme court justices and the voting of those justices in cases involving business matters. The more campaign contributions from business interests justices receive, the more likely they are to vote for business litigants appearing before them in court. Notably, the analysis reveals that a justice who receives half of his or her contributions from business groups would be expected to vote in favor of business interests almost two-thirds of the time.
Moreover, the data demonstrate that the empirical relationship between business contributions and justices’ voting for business interests exists only in partisan and nonpartisan systems. There is no statistically significant relationship between money and voting in retention election systems.
The data also show that there is a stronger relationship between business contributions and justices’ voting among justices affiliated with the Democratic Party than among justices affiliated with the Republican Party. Because Republican justices tend to be more ideologically predisposed to favor business interests, additional business contributions may not have as large of an influence on them as they do on Democratic justices. Finally, there is a stronger relationship between business contributions and justices’ voting in the period from 2010-2012 compared to 1995-1998.
The problem is bad, in other words, and getting worse. From the ACS Report:
With the increase in competitiveness of judicial elections, campaign spending has skyrocketed. State supreme court candidates raised less than $6 million in the 1989-1990 election cycle. For the 2009-2010 election cycle, the most recent cycle for which aggregate data has been compiled, candidates raised more than $38 million, approximately $11.5 million of which was independent in nature. In three of the last six election cycles, candidates raised a total of more than $45 million. Indeed, throughout the 1990s, only $83.3 million was contributed to state supreme court candidates; in contrast candidates raised $206.9 million between 2000-2009.
During the last decade, the flow of campaign contributions has been especially powerful in partisan races. Between 2000-2009, campaign fundraising was three times greater in states with partisan elections; candidates in these races raised $153.8 million across nine states, compared to $50.9 million raised in the thirteen states with nonpartisan elections. Mirroring the increases in direct campaign contributions, the last decade has also seen a dramatic increase in spending on television advertising in judicial races. Candidates and interest groups have realized that television advertising is effective in increasing name recognition and support for favored candidates, or alternatively, attacking their opponents.
I asked the justice the following questions via email:
As a state judge with an active website that encourages campaign contributions what is your initial reaction to the conclusions in this report? Do you disagree with its conclusions or premise? Do you contest the findings? Why should litigants in Texas who do not contribute to your campaigns have confidence in your ability to remain impartial? What would you say to those people who read this report and have doubts about the notion of impartial justice in jurisdictions where campaign contributions play such an important role in determining who becomes (or stays) a judge?
And here was his response — I have edited it a bit for space but the gist surely is clear:
My website only accepts contributions during campaign season. My last day to fund raise was March 6, 2013, and thankfully I can’t raise another penny until summer 2017, when the 2018 reelection campaign begins. State law restricts judicial candidates in terms of when they can fund raise, from whom they can fund raise, and how much they can fund raise.
The ACS study raises difficult and consequential questions, familiar questions that frankly can’t be raised enough. A former Texas Governor, Sull Ross, once said, “The loss of public confidence in the judiciary is the greatest curse that can ever befall a nation.” I don’t disagree. The Texas Constitution, however, mandates a judiciary elected on a partisan ballot. Calling this system “imperfect” is a G-rated description, and I’m intimately acquainted with the myriad drawbacks, and they are plentiful.
On the one hand, Texans insist on their right to elect their judges (though they can’t name any of us). On the other hand, they harbor suspicions about the role of money that ACS chronicles. I’ve long favored smart judicial-selection reform — every member of my court does — and every legislative session, reform measures are filed … and then they fail. Both major parties and lots of activist groups in Texas oppose changing the current partisan elected system. Interestingly, the business lobby and tort-reform groups all favor scrapping our current judicial-selection system.
In other words, those who allegedly benefit from the current system aggressively favor replacing it. But the status quo is deeply entrenched, and legislatively, the wheels always come off.
I haven’t studied the ACS reports findings or methodology, but I understand 100% the suspicion that donations drive decisions. That skepticism siphons public confidence, and that’s toxic to the idea of an impartial, independent judiciary. I can only speak for myself and say that it flatly doesn’t happen.
It’s also important to underscore that the laws we interpret are enacted by a very business-friendly legislature. My court doesn’t put a finger on the scale to ensure that preferred groups or causes win, but the Legislature certainly does. Lawmakers are fond of lawmaking, and the business lobby exerts significant influence on state policymaking. Then those laws come to the courts for interpretation. If the legal playing field is tilted in favor of business, that’s chiefly due to legislative choices, not judicial ones. And when those choices go too far and collide with constitutional guarantees, I’ve voted to strike them down. …
No doubt contributions play a huge role in determining political victors and victims, in judicial races no less than in other branches. My name ID hovers between slim and none, and voters know far more about their American Idol judges than their Supreme Court judges. The crass bottom line is that you spend 99 percent of your time raising a colossal fortune that you then use to bombard voters in hopes of branding your name onto a tiny crevice in their short-term memory for a few fleeting moments.
I’d be shocked if people didn’t look askance at such a flawed system. I do, too, having had close-up experience spanning several contested statewide races. Nothing would please me, or my wife, more than if my last election were my last election, and between now and 2018, Texans would opt for a smarter system. Hopeful? Yep. Optimistic? Nope.
There is an awful lot to digest here. The justice is saying that he holds his nose while he campaigns for votes by pledging to be “conservative” and by placing the endorsements of men like James Dobson and Foster Friess (and current Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott) on prominent places on his website. (How would you feel, as an atheist, with Justice Willett on your case?) And he is saying that the decidedly pro-business Texas legislature is more to blame than the decidedly pro-business Supreme Court for the decidedly pro-business bent of Texas law. They have reaped what they have sown.
Unfortunately, the ACS was unable to share with me specific data on judicial elections as it relates to Texas. But for context and perspective I thought it would make sense to share Justice Willett’s comments with folks who work regularly as this hectic intersection of law and politics. So I asked my colleagues at the Brennan Center for Justice — specifically Adam Skaggs, Alicia Bannon, and Matt Menendez — to point out those portions of the justice’s response that they found interesting. Here is how Skaggs responded:
With respect to the basic question of whether money/contributions drive his or his peers’ decisions, while we would not suggest we think he himself is influenced or approaches any cases in bad faith, obviously the public strongly believes there is a correlation — and that perception is itself damaging to the judiciary, whether or not any judges consciously allow the knowledge of contributors to seep into their decision making. Put differently, even if donations don’t drive decisions, the hit to public confidence in the courts (which he repeatedly acknowledges is an issue) is itself a serious problem; more generally, it’s well established that even an appearance of bias itself raises due process concerns.
Moreover, in a national survey of more than 2000 judges about a decade ago, nearly half of state court judges — 46 percent — believe that campaign contributions have some or at least “a little inﬂuence” on their decisions. So his peers are a lot less confident than he is. Finally, the chummy relationships that emerge from the fundraising judges have to do almost certainly create implicit biases, even if judges aren’t consciously shaping decisions to please donors.
Also, even putting aside the way special interests influence judges, he acknowledges a related problem that you need a lot of money in order to run a competitive race. One result of this is that deep-pocketed companies who litigate often — and the lawyers who represent them — have an outsized ability to shape the court’s composition.
No lawyer, no matter how talented, has a legitimate shot at winning a seat on the bench if they can’t perform well in the “wealth primary” — so long before judges are on the ballot for the general public to vote, there’s a preliminary vetting process in which only the donors get to vote. This clearly is likely to skew the bench toward judges likely to be more sympathetic to the donor’s worldviews and priorities.
On a more fundamental level, the disconnect between politician on the campaign trail and neutral arbiter on the bench doesn’t help to educate the public about what judges do and why they are different from politicians. Of course, this is a critique of the system more than any one judge, but it underscores another way in which judicial elections undermine the independence and credibility of the judiciary.
So there you have it. The citizens of Texas have made a conscious choice to elect their judges in this fashion. And the state’s power brokers are content with the arrangement. The people who lose out in this bargain are those who almost always lose out: The politically powerless, who rarely have a strong voice in the state legislature, now have an even meeker voice on the state Supreme Court. The American ideal is that our courts are the one place in government where money is not supposed to make a difference. But in Texas, money makes all the difference in the world. Don’t believe me? Just ask Justice Willett.
In rejecting the use of force in Syria, the British parliament did more than deal a blow to U.S. efforts to organize an international coalition against the deployment of deadly chemical weapons in Syria. Last week’s unexpected development also confirmed a phenomenon that has been clear in economics and finance for a while: countries are turning more insular, even when there are good reasons to believe that collective international action would dominate individual domestic responses. In turn, this has contributed to a global economy that continues to operate below potential and faces renewed risks of financial instability.
The post World War II period was one in which the West recognized the power of coordinated responses, and acted on it. They wisely used structure to do some of the heavy lifting, forming a network of multilateral institutions and processes. This was supplemented by periodic summits that, unlike today, were driven more by substance and less by public relations – most notably among the G-7 (led by the U.S. and consisting of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom). And bilateral relationships were anchored not just by common values and aspirations, but also by a unified assessment of external threats.
This Western-dominated architecture contributed in consequential ways to economic, political and social achievements. It also proved mostly effective in countering unexpected shocks.
Recall how the West catalyzed most of the world to counter Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait; and, on the economic front, the coordinated response to the financial crises of 1994/95 and 1998/99, as well as earlier collective action to deal with major currency mis-alignments within the G-7.
More recently, the architecture proved useful in encouraging the multi-country policy response that proved instrumental in preventing a disastrous global depression in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. Indeed, the overall effectiveness of the April 2009 G-20 meeting in London now constitutes the peak of recent global economic coordination.
Over time, however, the West has found it hard to evolve this architecture to keep up with major global realignments, let alone get ahead of them. Steadfast adherence to outmoded historic entitlements and stubborn mindsets were major hindrances, as was the erosion in western countries’ global economic power and influence (particularly relative to the economic breakout performance of emerging economies).
Unusually high unemployment, increasing income inequality and persistently sluggish growth imparted a heavy domestic bias to the policy narrative in the West. Meanwhile – and especially with multilateral institutions consistently handicapped by obvious representation, voice, governance and legitimacy deficits – there were few effective ways to channel and incorporate the growing influence of emerging economies.
It is therefore not surprising that Western policy formulation has paid little, if any attention to global spillover effects. It is also not surprising that global economic outcomes have fallen short of both historic achievements and, more tragically, what is needed, feasible and desirable.
Whether it is the overwhelming domestic bias of unconventional monetary policy in Japan and the U.S. or the loss of momentum in trade negotiations, the ex-post rationalization in the West has relied on some combination of three distinct arguments: It is legitimate to use domestic measures to pursue domestic objectives; the rest of the world would end up better off by adopting measures that are focused on improving Western economic performance; and it is the responsibility of emerging economies to adjust to what the West is doing.
The rationalization in emerging economies has been more diverse. Having said that, there is a common perception – that of an unequal global standards, with the West failing to internalize the importance of more equal voice and representation, starting with multilateral institutions such as the International Monetary Fund. Also, having acquired systemic importance quite suddenly, some countries find it hard to reconcile their new global responsibility with their domestic situations.
Each of these arguments has merit on a standalone basis. Yet, as the world has been finding out when it comes to dealing with shared economic challenges, the aggregate result is an overly narrow and excessively-insular characterization for today’s global realities.
Traditional Game Theory provides useful insights on why legitimate individual actions can lead to outcomes where welfare is neither maximized for each of those involved nor for the group as a collective. It also helps with understanding what is needed to improve outcomes.
Consider in particular the now-famous formulation of the “prisoners’ dilemma” that speaks to the rational decision making of two prisoners subject to individual interrogation. Unable to coordinate and lacking the mutual assurances that would enable each of them to opt for the unambiguously superior result, each prisoner ends up rationally opting for suboptimal outcomes in both the individual and collective sense (i.e., neither Pareto optimal nor Pareto efficient).
Consider this dynamic when you think about four of the major economic shortfalls of the recent past:
Delegates sit at the stage before the opening ceremony of 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. (Reuters)
In 2008, a group of Chinese intellectuals drafted a manifesto demanding deep reforms and calling for the implementation of constitutionalism in China whereby the Party’s power would be restrained by a higher system of laws. In response to this document—called “Charter 08”—the government cracked down on charter signatories, imprisoned future Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, and interrogated at least 70 others. Further discussion on constitutionalism was muted.
This year, President Xi Jinping’s comments in support of legal reform have reignited the debate. Reformists have long believed that adherence to the constitution would bolster the Communist Party’s credibility, but conservatives now argue that constitutionalism is unsuitable for socialist countries, even suggesting that American intelligence agencies are backing it to subvert Beijing. A recent comparison of articles shared on Sina.com, home of popular microblogging platform Sina Weibo, suggests the Chinese public appears to be in favor of reform. And, in the latest development, support for constitutionalism has caused the suspension of an outspoken law professor.
“It looks beautiful on paper, but in practice Chinese courts do not generally take the Chinese constitution into consideration to decide cases.”
In an August 25 statement, Professor Zhang Xuezhong, of East China University of Politics and Law in Shanghai, said that the university had accused him of violating “teaching ethics” as well as the constitution of the People’s Republic of China with his article, “The Origin and Perils of the Anti-Constitutionalism Campaign in 2013”, which included heavy criticism of President Xi Jinping.
Indeed, the president’s very role in this debate has been particularly enigmatic. In December, Xi had sparked optimism among liberals by saying, in one of his first speeches as president, that “no organization or individual shall enjoy privileges beyond the constitution,” and that it “should be the legal weapon for people to defend their rights.” But last month, the Party’s main mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, ran front-page commentaries attacking constitutionalism, saying it is a poor fit for China’s socialist system. A subsequent article in the paper’s overseas edition said the calls for constitutionalism are meant to overthrow “dictatorship by the people” and restore “dictatorship by the capitalists” in the name of democracy. Then, an internal Party memo referred to as Document No. 9 called for the eradication of “seven subversive currents” in Chinese society including “Western constitutional democracy,” universal human rights values, media independence, and civic participation.
But despite recent government efforts to stifle support for constitutional rule, the debate has continued. Qian Gang, the former managing editor of Southern Weekly, one of China’s most independent newspapers, argued in a piece published on Monday that the death of constitutionalism is far from certain. He noted that online debates for and against the practice have been evenly matched, and even the People’s Daily has published an article expressing a fairly neutral view on constitutionalism.
“Constitutionalism, whether we’re talking about a political term or an institutional arrangement, stands right now on a knife’s edge in China,” Qian wrote. “Will it remain? Will it be thrown out? Will it live? Will it die? At the end of August, constitutionalism seemed to be in imminent danger. But as of yet, it has not become a deep-blue term. It is impossible to say whether Xi Jinping has even decided whether he means to ‘get rid of constitutionalism’ or to ‘implement constitutionalism’.”
Beijing University law professor He Weifang, a constitutionalism expert, referred to the document as a “sleeping beauty”, in that it promises so much but delivers so little. “What factors allow us to develop such a high-sounding constitution that often degenerates into lip service and empty promises? Perhaps, it is necessary to analyze Western constitutional practices … to help us understand how to activate our constitution’s elements,” he wrote in a 2008 essay on the subject.
China’s current constitution was adopted at the Fifth National People’s Congress in 1982 after the chaos of the Cultural Revolution prompted the government, then under de facto leader Deng Xiaoping, to strengthen the rule of law. The document enshrines liberal values like the protection of human rights, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of demonstration and property rights. But the constitution does not limit the Party’s power—a vital detail that reformists say renders it meaningless.
“It looks beautiful on paper, but in practice Chinese courts do not generally take the Chinese constitution into consideration to decide cases,” said Dan Zhou, a Shanghai-based lawyer. “Ordinary citizens cannot use the constitution to defend their rights or redress their grievances.”
In the years since the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989, China’s legal reforms have focused on creating “the rule of law without politics,” said University of Hong Kong Chinese law professor Fu Hualing. Rather than establishing a legal framework for all aspects of governance, Fu says Chinese lawmakers instead sought to limit legal issues to regulating business transactions and supporting economic growth.
Nevertheless, calls for China to adhere to the 1982 constitution remain. In December, Beijing University professor Zhang Qianfan published “A Proposal for Consensus Reform”, co-signed by 72 intellectuals including He Weifang, demanding that the government abide by the charter. The proposal suggested setting up a review committee within the National People’s Congress as a first step to give the constitution real power. But the article, which was posted on Zhang’s personal blog and the Beijing University Law School website, was soon deleted without explanation.
The constitutional debate came to a head—and reached a wider audience—earlier this year when editorial staff of the Southern Weekly newspaper staged a strike against the censorship of their New Year’s edition. The paper had run an editorial titled “Chinese Dream, Constitution Dream” which called for enforced limitations on government power, but censors replaced the piece with an essay praising the country’s advances.
In May, state media and conservative Party journals responded with a spate of editorials raising a new concern about constitutionalism. Renmin University law professor Yang Xiaoqing wrote in the Party journal Red Flag that constitutionalism is “not suitable for socialist countries” because the system “belongs to capitalism and bourgeois dictatorships.” A Global Times editorial went further to say that constitutionalism was “a new way to force China to adopt Western political systems.”
Internet users responded en masse to the editorials, prompting Sino Weibo to delete three-quarters of the nearly six million posts. Prominent real estate developer and popular microblogger Ren Zhiqiang wrote: “Constitutionalism is very simple. It means putting power in a cage and giving the key to the people.”
Can Beijing address public interest in reviving constitutionalism while maintaining stability? Kerry Brown, professor of Chinese politics at the University of Sydney, expects the government to respond “pragmatically” to quell the issue.
“They probably see no reason now for the Party to limit its own powers,” said Brown. “But if they could be convinced that constitutionalism could better guarantee the Party’s dominance then they may have no problem supporting it.”
Peter Han’s artwork lives and dies in a flurry of dust. In the short documentary Pardon My Dust, Han stands in front of the chalkboard, drawing with long, broad strokes of brightly colored chalk. The shapes appear quickly: an octopus, a piranha, a dinosaur. A tarantula crawls over Han’s shoulder, and swiftly emerges on the chalkboard, its legs now foot-long curves of white and yellow powder.
As they take shape, his creatures feel as if they exist on the chalkboard and could leap out at any point. Instead, they are wiped away. “It’s about the big picture, not the small details,” Han explains. “Because I enjoy the process more than the shapes, I can let go of it.”
Pardon My Dust is a SnowGlobe Studios production. Director Adriel de la Torre and his crew originally found Han through Kickstarter, and decided to make the film after learning about his unusual philosophy. Be sure to also check out more of Peter Han’s artwork, both on and off the chalkboard, at peterhanstyle.com.
There is growing concern that physicians are spending less time with patients. One study at Johns Hopkins earlier this year documented that physicians in training are now spending about eight minutes per day with each of their hospitalized patients. The reasons are complex: Things that used to be done by doctors, such as drawing blood, are now done by non-physicians; restrictions on duty hours limit the amount of time trainees can spend in the hospital; and managing the electronic health record now consumes a great deal more physician time.
While the reductions in time for patient contact have been apparent for many years, some of their consequences are still just emerging. It is becoming increasing apparent that when speed is of the essence, patience, curiosity, and compassion can cease to be virtues. Instead they often become expensive liabilities that must be weeded out in the name of increased efficiency. What will medicine look like in the future? As products of this system, will today’s young physicians come to resemble customer care providers at the health care counter of the local department store?
The patient – call him Mr. Jones – was a middle aged man, successfully treated for cancer, which was now in remission. He returned for a routine follow up visit and was being seen by a fourth-year medical student, Joe. Joe’s mission was to perform a focused history and physical examination and review Mr. Jones’ laboratory and radiology results. After consulting with his attending physician, Dr. Smith, he would reassure Mr. Jones that everything was going well. The whole visit should not have taken more than 15 or 20 minutes.
Dr. Smith, who was busy seeing other patients, noticed that Joe was taking an unusually long time with Mr. Jones. What could he be doing? It was not uncommon for medical students to require more time than seasoned physicians – in fact, it is the norm. But in this case, the visit was dragging on far longer than expected, and it was beginning to push the clinic behind schedule. So Dr. Smith stopped by the exam room and poked his head in. At a glance, he could tell that Joe and Mr. Jones were engaged in a deep conversation. In fact, Mr. Jones had tears in his eyes.
Dr. Smith asked Joe if he could speak with him privately for a moment. “What is happening with Mr. Jones? Is there a problem?” Joe reported that toward the end of their session, Mr. Jones had posed what seemed to be an innocent question. “Tell me doctor, these medicines you prescribe – do they sometimes stop working?” Joe knew that for a variety of reasons medications could lose their effectiveness, and he said as much to Mr. Jones, thinking that would be the end of it. But then he began to wonder, why had Mr. Jones posed such a question?
His curiosity piqued, Joe posed a follow up question. “Do you have some particular medication in mind?” After some hesitation, Mr. Jones admitted that he did. The medication he was referring to was an antidepressant. This led to further questions, and Joe soon realized that Mr. Jones was depressed and contemplating suicide. In fact, he had even made plans to threaten a police officer, so that he would die without the stigma of taking his own life. Just a month before, he had attempted to kill himself by overdosing with another medication.
It turned out that Mr. Jones needed a radically different form of care than Joe and Dr. Smith initially supposed. As they delved further into the situation, they confirmed that Mr. Jones would require hospitalization. Arranging an emergency psychiatric consultation, hospital admission, and tending to their patient’s distressed state of mind ended up requiring several hours of dedicated attention. Fortunately, the other clinic patients were accustomed to delays from unexpected issues with other patients and waited without complaint.
From the point of view of efficiency, Mr. Jones’ case represented a glaring failure. A routine cancer follow up visit that should have required less than 20 minutes ended up consuming hours. Other patients were inconvenienced, and their customer satisfaction survey results probably reflected poorly on both Dr. Smith and the hospital. Had Dr. Smith been able to tell them what happened, they probably would have understood, but protecting Mr. Jones’ privacy dictated that he could only apologize for the delay and offer no details.
In a highly efficient medical practice, there might be no opportunity for such an interaction. The physician would be in too much of a hurry to address Mr. Jones’ medication question. Instead he would simply congratulate him on his normal laboratory results and CT scan, pat him on the back, and send him on his way. He would complete all the required sections of the electronic visit record, maintaining his high quality and patient throughput metrics.
Had mandates concerning efficiency and productivity been foremost in the minds of Joe and Dr. Smith, Mr. Jones might well have died. Not that such a death would have counted against the medical team. Their productivity report card was titled, “Cancer Follow Up – Routine,” not “Psychiatric Consultation – Emergency.” So as long as they checked off all the boxes on the electronic cancer follow up form and got the patient in and out of the examination room in a sufficiently short period of time, they would be judged winners and rewarded accordingly.
If physicians hurry too much they will lack time even to get to know their patients’ best interests, let alone base decision making on them. Listening to the patient, communicating well and taking time to answer questions, genuinely caring about the patient as something more than a number – these will become relics of a bygone era. When physicians begin to think more about efficiency than patients, quality of a sort that we cannot even measure is inevitably compromised. They end up buffing electronic medical records rather than caring for human beings. We need doctors who know the difference.
Mr. Jones, who is now doing quite well, knows this. He never completed any customer satisfaction survey. Nor did he write a letter to Dr. Smith, his medical practice, or the hospital recounting what happened or offering his thanks. But he knows. He knows the vital importance of having a physician whose primary concern is not a checklist. He knows that the patience, curiosity, and compassion of a medical student made all the difference. Every time he sees Dr. Smith for another routine follow up visit, he asks about the “great young doctor.”