Thursday, February 15, 2007

Romney's symbolism

Any candidate for president should aim to represent all the American people. So it was disappointing to see that Republican Mitt Romney chose to launch his presidential campaign at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. (“Claiming Outsider Status, Romney Says He’ll Seek White House,” NYTimes, Feb. 14, pg. A18.)
Ford was, of course, a major industrial innovator, but he was also the most prominent anti-Semite in U.S. history. Not only that, but Dearborn was home to a Ford-sponsored magazine, the Dearborn Independent, which was the most visible outlet for anti-Semitic writing in the history of American journalism. Articles from the Independent were reprinted in a book published by Ford called The International Jew, which the Nazis later distributed in 29 German editions.
It is inexplicable that a presidential candidate like Romney -- who, as a Mormon, must predicate his entire campaign on the religious tolerance of the American people -- would choose such a backdrop.
In all this beautiful country, couldn't he find a more inspiring spot?

Boston, Feb. 14, 2007

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Rumsfeld Changes Course

From today's New York Times, we learn that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who is still on duty and sworn to uphold his office, recently wrote a memo outlining a menu of alternatives to the president's policy in Iraq. Notably, Rumsfeld did not recomend that we "stay the course" in Iraq. In fact, he specifically rcommended that we not stay the course.

This departure from the Bush doctrine in Iraq raises several questions:

--The first is a legal matter. According to the Times, the memo is a classified document that was "leaked" to the Times. Following the standard procedure of the Bush administration, such a leak of classified information would call for a criminal investigation. (Since we know the author, it should a simple matter to investigate: subpoena Rumsfeld, and ask him if he leaked it; if he denies it, ask him who else had access to it. Then, prosecute the hell out of whoever leaked it.) This should be the top priority for Attorney General Gonzalez first thing Monday morning.

--The second is a political matter. When "stay the course" was the Bush administration's policy, anyone who dissented from it was branded a wimp and a traitor who wanted the terrorists to win. Now that Rumsfeld says let's not stay the course, we have to ask, does that mean those people who adopted this position 6 or 12 or 18 months ago were foresighted? Or does it mean that Rumsfeld is now a disloyal wimp who wants the terrorists to win? According to the Bush doctrnie, there are no other categories. So which is it?

Thursday, August 24, 2006

History's Burden in Iraq

Each passing day, the news brings fresh evidence of the failure of the Bush policy in Iraq. In light of the region's history, this failure was probably inevitable. The fact is that there is no nation called "Iraq" in the sense of a coherent society with stable boundaries, shared values, a common history, and a government with a monopoly on the use of force. The place we call Iraq was created by British imperialists after WWI by drawing straight lines on maps bearing little relationship to the realities on the ground.

It may well be that the populations in the area encompassed by "Iraq" -- Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds, and others -- can be held together only by a dictatorship such as the one Saddam Hussein imposed. It may well be that "Iraq" should be divided into several independent areas. But that is not a decision for the United States to make. It can be made only by the people who live there.

Most of the violence that American officials attribute to an "insurgency" actually appears to be the early stages of a civil war. Many people in the area called Iraq seem intent on waging war on each other. In a sense, they are entitled to do so, and our presence only prolongs or distorts the efforts by the inhabitants to work out their own destiny.

President Bush can rightly claim credit for toppling a dictator. His attempt to do more, however, has led to a tragic episode of over-reaching, as the British, French, Ottomans, Persians, and Russians all found out years ago.

For further reading, see: David Fromkin's "A Peace to End All Peace," which covers the fateful years 1914-1922.

Buying an election?

As the Boston Globe recently reported, Chris Gabrieli, a candidate for the Democratic Party's nomination for governor of our state, has already spent about $7.5 million in his campaign thus far. That is a large amount of money.

To put it in some perspective, consider the size of the universe of voters he is trying to reach. According to the Massachusetts secretary of state, the entire number of Democrats who voted in the last primary election for governor, in 2002, was 746,190.

Having spent $7.5 million, Gabrieli's spending per voter works out to about $10 -- provided, of course, that he wins every Democratic vote, which seems unlikely, and provided that he spends no more in the next few weeks, which also seems unlikely.
If this were an auction, we'd have to ask: will people vote for him at $20? How about $50? Anybody go $100?

Oh, but wait: Buying votes is illegal.

Isn't it?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Spans of Space and Time

By Chris Daly

As I looked recently at the diagrams and photos of the collapsed section of the Big Dig connector in Boston I was reminded of a visit I took with my family to Rome last year.
We saw many examples of Roman architecture and engineering, including some that were quite ancient but still standing. It made me wonder about how our own public works will endure.
As I recall them, all the structures we saw in Rome were built of stone, not concrete. And all were built in the form of the arch or the dome. If there were cases of ancient Roman attempts to span space with flat roofs, we didn't see any. They must have all fallen down.

On Fighting Against an Insurgency

Lessons from U.S. history

By Chris Daly

It has been said that when the U.S. got involved in Vietnam, we had the challenge of “discovering” a new mode of warfare – known as “counter-insurgency.” The suggestion is that we Americans had never faced such a military problem before and that we had to invent the tactics and weapons necessary to defeat an insurgency. (Never mind that other countries might have done so and that we could study their histories. No, if it hadn’t happened to Americans, it hadn’t happened.)
But that was not quite true. The U.S. did in fact have experience with insurgency. Indeed, it could be argued that the decades of Reconstruction in the defeated Confederacy were an example of counter-insurgency. Certainly, it counts as an example of occupying a conquered territory with a suspicious or hostile population. Or, we could look at our occupation of the Philippines.
But there is also a much more obvious episode in U.S. history that policy-makers in Vietnam could have looked at, just as policy-makers considering what to do in Iraq today might want to examine. That is, the Indian Wars fought by white Americans to suppress the hostile uprisings of the native peoples of North America.
That was a struggle that was bipartisan, total, and ruthless. We used all the tactics we could think of and some we borrowed, as well as some that we didn’t even realize we were using (like germ warfare). We involved almost the entire white population in the effort, and we settled the land we took.
I think that one reason we white Americans fought so hard, so long and so successfully was that there was no alternative. That may be what it takes to defeat an insurgency. You have to be absolutely determined, you have to have a political consensus in favor of it (there was virtually no dissent among white Americans that I can think of), you have to be ruthless in your tactics. And you have to be willing to stay at it. In the case of the “long war” against the native peoples, we were at it for about 250 years.
Does anybody really want to approach Iraq this way?
When we embark on foreign adventures like Bush’s optional choice to invade Iraq, we ought to stop and think if we really know what we are getting into.

Sunday, July 09, 2006




At this time of agonizing reappraisal over U.S. involvement in Iraq, here is a thought experiment that might help clarify some of the issues. This exercise is offered to both Democrats and Republicans as a way to think more clearly about the issues.
First, we must ask ourselves: Can a president – any president – ever make a mistake? To listen to some members of the Bush administration and to some of their Republican supporters in Congress and among the right-wing media, their answer might be a qualified “no.” That is, the answer is no for Republican presidents, who are apparently infallible. Democratic presidents, of course, are not only able to make mistakes, they are prone to doing so.
But any American who is not blinded by partisanship must acknowledge that in fact presidents can and do make mistakes. We know from history that presidents have made colossal errors in judgment, costing our nation dearly in terms of blood, treasure and the world’s opinion.
There is no language in the Constitution that grants the president the political equivalent of papal infallibility, and there is no provision that says presidents of one party are infallible while presidents of other parties are not.
Next, we must ask: If a president makes a mistake, does our Constitution offer any remedy? Is there anything that Congress, the judiciary, or the people as a whole can do to reverse a mistake, or at least to cut our losses?
In other words, if a president makes a mistake, must we always “stay the course”?
Are all presidential mistakes beyond review? Are they never subject to revision, correction, or reversal?
If we do not stay the course, are we always being disloyal? In other words, is dissent treason?

Monday, June 26, 2006

Prosecute This!

Journalists Need to Push Back against Prosecutors

By Chris Daly

For some reason, federal prosecutors seem to have decided that it’s open season on journalists.
Last year, reporters for The New York Times, TIME and NBC-News were threatened with jail or actually jailed for refusing to play ball with prosecutors investigating leaks. In the latest assault, two reporters for the San Francisco Chronicle are on the hot seat, thanks to a federal prosecutor who wants to know how they found out so much about Barry Bonds.
This new case does not involve any great state secrets or matters of national survival. All that’s at stake is how much of what kind of steroid Bonds may have swallowed or rubbed on his skin or injected into his butt. What could possibly justify hauling those reporters – whose work, by the way, was both accurate and useful in the pursuit of the greater social good of cleaning up baseball – into court and threatening them with jail?
Yes, I grant that there is a Serious Issue at the core of the Bonds case, too – the sanctity of the grand jury process. But, come on. (If the grand jury is so sacrosanct, why don’t prosecutors and judges improve their own performance in keeping them secret rather than punishing what amounts to a symptom rather than a cause?)
There was a time when all this would have been unthinkable. No one would have launched these prosecutions of the news business back in the day when newspapers were prosperous and feisty, when they were run by tough-minded moguls who didn’t have to answer to anyone. Then, the conventional wisdom was, Never pick a fight with anyone who buys ink by the barrel. Now, these prosecutors are picking fights with people who not only buy ink but also satellites, Web servers and all the rest. The prosecutors must think they can get away with it.
These are frankly political prosecutions and should not be tolerated. They are political in two senses. On the one hand, they are obviously partisan. Think for a second: Why is it that these cases never arise during Democratic administrations? Why is it only Republicans who attack the media? Could it be that the professional incentives for U.S. Attorneys working in a Republican Justice Department favor such attacks? Could it be that Republicans really do hate the news media?
They are also political in another sense. If politics is defined as the struggle over power, these prosecutions represent an attempt by one institution to assert power against an institution that is perceived as losing power. Prosecutors (and their bosses) can read the circulation figures. They want to kick journalists while they’re down.

When challenged, of course, prosecutors say what they always say, “We are just following the dictates of the law.”
But it is na├»ve in the extreme to think that all these prosecutors suddenly and spontaneously came to the same conclusion. Are we really supposed to believe that prosecutors consult only their law books, suffused in the glow of the law’s majesty and guided only by the dictates of sweet reason and cold logic?
Gee, it would be swell if things worked that way. But they don’t. When a whole lot of people spanning a continent all decide at more or less the same time that it would be a good idea (and a career-builder) to put a bunch of reporters in the slammer, that’s not a coincidence. That’s an emergency.
It’s time for the media to push back. Here are some suggestions:
--INVESTIGATE: Open a spotlight probe of every U.S. Attorney, the entire staff, and the operations of the office. Do they come to work on time? Do they wash their hands before returning to work? Is anybody in the office unhappy enough to want to talk to a reporter? How is their affirmative action program going? Who fixes their parking tickets? Nobody likes being investigated, even when they’re exonerated. Prosecutors should know that.
--OUT THEM. They started this fight, so there’s no reason to behave any better than they do. Now is the time to reveal every leak from every prosecutor in the country. Where do reporters get info from? Reporters know. Why shouldn’t their readers know? If leaks are so bad, then certainly no prosecutor would ever engage in them… or would they? Hmm….
--KEEP ‘EM BUSY: The media should flood every U.S. attorney’s office with FOIA requests. Just keep them coming, until they call off their dogs. (“Isn’t this a fishing expedition?” “You bet it is! We’re fishing for justice.”)
--SUE THE BASTARDS: There must be some basis for suing these prosecutors for violating the civil rights of journalists. The Massachusetts Constitution, for example, provides this opening:
The liberty of the press is essential to the security of freedom in a state: it ought not, therefore, to be restrained in this commonwealth. The right of free speech shall not be abridged.

What lawyer couldn’t draft a civil rights complaint based on those two sentences alone?
Once the prosecutors start getting subpoeaned to show up in court – as defendants! – we’ll see how much they like their own tactics. Media lawyers can get them under oath and start asking them questions. As the prosecutors well know, you don’t always have to win a case to benefit from the proceedings.
Any takers?