A Man with a Flashlight

Small war, big fear

Two former Reagan appointees notice an odd difference between today’s Permanent Emergency (popularly labeled the War on Terror) and World War Two and Vietnam:

To date in the war on terrorism, including the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks and all U.S. military personnel killed in action in Afghanistan and Iraq, America’s losses total about 2 percent of the forces we lost in World War II and less than 7 percent of those killed in Vietnam. Yet we did not find it necessary to compromise our honor or abandon our commitment to the rule of law to defeat Nazi Germany or imperial Japan, or to resist communist aggression in Indochina. On the contrary, in Vietnam — where we both proudly served twice — America voluntarily extended the protections of the full Geneva Convention on prisoners of war to Viet Cong guerrillas who, like al-Qaeda, did not even arguably qualify for such protections.

I have seen remarkably little discussion of how this happened. In fact I cannot, at the moment, recall reading a single explanation of why, after shouldering the bitter weight of World War Two with such aplomb, and maintaining our principles, if not our winning streak, in Vietnam – what caused us to lose our nerve now, and to condone such desperate, doomed solutions from our President?

Are we simply spoiled? Has sixty years of wealth and comfort made us so desperate to avoid a fight that we will give up honor, if only we can buy a little more time, and be saved from death?

That is Bush’s bargain: betray the principles of our fathers, and I will give you safety from death. Let those take it who will, but forgive me if I don’t have the stomach for it.

King of America watch
July 23, 2007, 11:30 pm
Filed under: Politics

Some people are beginning to notice that the constitution gives the power to wage war to congress not the president. And to ask why they might have done such a thing. Good quote:

The Constitution cannot enforce itself. It is, as the constitutional scholar Edwin Corwin famously observed, an “invitation to struggle” among the branches, but the founders wisely bequeathed to Congress some powerful tools for engaging in the struggle. It is no surprise that the current debate over a deeply unpopular war is arising in the context of a Congressional spending bill. That is precisely what the founders intended.

Are we approaching a constitutional crisis that will make the 2000 election showdown look like a minor judicial matter?

Japan flirts with trial by jury
July 21, 2007, 1:10 pm
Filed under: Crime and Punishment, The East

Beginning in 2009, trials in Japan will be decided by a jury – or one manner of jury anyway, consisting of three judges and six citizens. Some aren’t buying it:

Critics say the judges will lead the deliberations, deciding what issues to debate; the jurors will depend on the judges to hand out sentences because of their lack of knowledge of the penal code. What is more, the new system will not address more basic problems in the Japanese criminal justice system: the authorities’ overreliance on confessions, sometimes forced; the absence of discovery, which allows the prosecution to withhold information; and a general presumption of guilt that leads to a 99.8 percent conviction rate in criminal cases.

I was startled to learn that Japan hadn’t had a jury system before. But it figures. Even in the flower of East Asian democracy, the power of the state is somewhat steroidal by comparison with the ways of the West. Yes, we are all practicing “democracy.” But that’s a pretty broad concept. The genius of government in Europe and her children is not simply popular suffrage – it is the constant, laborious hacking which keeps the rude weed of state power in check. The nature of all government is to grow and hoard power. Really the heart of the American achievement is not governance, it is the successful check placed on governance by keeping power institutionally – not by mob or public passion, but by the patient, daily decisions which restate the individual’s rights – in the hands of each American.

That, of course, is an America that many in her government understand dimly at best. And the Cheneys of this world, not at all.

But returning to the Japanese move towards juries – many Japanese don’t really see the benefit of them at all. That’s what policeman and courts are for, aren’t they? To tell us who must be punished and how?

Want more people to read your blog?
July 20, 2007, 7:39 am
Filed under: The East

Write it in Chinese. The internet is shifting.

Terrorists on trial
July 19, 2007, 10:38 am
Filed under: Crime and Punishment, The War on Terror

At Guantanamo, it’s all about maintaing the facade of legality.

The only thing that made al Sharbi exceptional was that he was one of only a few Guantánamo detainees who’d actually been charged with a crime, albeit a novel one in the annals of international-warfare law: conspiracy to commit, among other things, murder by an unprivileged belligerent—which basically means he thought about killing American soldiers he believed he was at war with. (He was never accused of killing, or even trying to kill, anyone.) He would be prosecuted by the men at the table on the other side of the room, an Air Force captain and a Navy Reserve lieutenant, who would be allowed to present their case using evidence the military considered so sensitive that al Sharbi would not be allowed to see it, let alone contest it. The judge, who was known in the proceedings as the presiding officer, was a navy captain. The jurors would also be military officers.

Hm, so that’s what an unlawful enemy combatant is. It’s hard to sum up this system better than the accused did himself, when asked if he wanted a different military lawyer – “To me it’s the same circus, different clown.”

Don’t blame him for being right about that. President Bush is the sole author of this comic strip. If justice in America is still more than a game, then someday he will be the one in the dock. That’s not a question of politics, it’s a question of which is paramount – the law, or the king. For us in the west, there can be no going back: the law must prevail.

The firewall is not great
July 19, 2007, 9:48 am
Filed under: The East

Wanted to send email into or out of China over the past four days? Too bad. The Communist Party shows off its tech muscles.

Maliki to US: Get Out
July 15, 2007, 3:49 pm
Filed under: Politics, The War on Terror, Uncategorized


Where to begin? At first Maliki’s statement seems like shocking ingratitude. His office and the government it directs were paid for with American blood. But think about what he’s saying – and his advisor’s complaints about the recent Anbar successes Bush is rightly proud of. Don’t get it yet? Here’s how it works: Maliki is pissed off because we’re not helping him conduct a civil war against the Sunnis. Meaning whatever successes the surge has achieved are against the will of the Maliki government. We are trying to establish security; he prefers instability which can be exploited against the Sunni enemy.

Imagine what it means to the average Iraqi in the street that the man who for better or worse leads their country has told us to leave. What is it we think we can achieve here again? And who is going to help us achieve it?

From today forward, any soldier dying in Iraq is dying for a government which doesn’t want our help and has asked us to leave. Our mission is opposed by most Iraqis and the Iraqi government. And most Americans think it should be ended. Against that, we have the faith of a president who has spent all his political capital. You may not like the way the wind blows, but you can’t pretend it’s blowing the other way. The time for realism has come.

New York firefighters on Giuliani
July 14, 2007, 7:21 pm
Filed under: Politics, The War on Terror

It seems some of them don’t like him.

I’ve gone off on Giuliani before and I’ll probably do it again, but I want to say that I actually admire his aggressiveness about fighting terrorism. Immediately following 9/11, his black and white mind was a reassuring presence. But some things have happened between now and then, like Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, secret rendition to torturing regimes, the President’s unilateral, extralegal wiretapping of US citizens, and the occupation of Iraq, which we fumbled in front of the whole world – after the whole world had told us not to do it. So while Rudy does seem like a good guy to have around, I just can’t allow myself to vote for someone who doesn’t even seem to view these as major problems, someone who just wants to keep on chooglin’. We’ve had enough monarchy for a while. It’s time to elect a President.

Gravel calls bullshit on Hillary, Obama, Edwards, and the HRC
July 14, 2007, 4:16 pm
Filed under: Politics

You gotta love Mike Gravel. A, because he establishes some pretty mean credentials in the stand against the politically expedient homophobia Bush and Rove contributed to the national debate. And B, because like Ron Paul, Gravel seems to take pleasure in staking out positions that are well out of the mainstream, but eminently sensible. Edwards, Clinton, and Obama must view him with envy and annoyance.

For the record, all the Democratic candidates say they would change Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, though Gravel claims that Hillary still defends it as a good policy at the time it was created. Only Gravel and Kucinich support gay marriage. (See the HRC scorecard – and why aren’t they letting Gravel come to their debate again?)

I have no idea how self-identified conservatives can oppose gay marriage. Isn’t a central tenet of conservatism (and one with which I agree) the idea that the government governs best which governs least? And how is the relationship between two people the business of any prince or legislature?

2007: Year of the grumpy old men. Let’s hope 2008 finds them even grumpier.

Contempt of Congress
July 13, 2007, 1:08 pm
Filed under: Politics, The War on Terror

At yesterday’s press conference, Bush was asked how he would win Republican legislators to the cause of staying the course in Iraq. His answer was simple: he didn’t have to. Congress has no business making war policy.

I respect those republicans that you’re referring to, I presume you’re referring to friends of mine like Lugar, or, Senator Lugar, Domineci, yeah. These are good honorable people. I’ve spoken to them, and I listen very carefully to what they have to say. First of all, they share my concern that a precipitous withdrawal would embolden Al Qaeda. And they also understand that we cant let al Qaeda gain safe haven inside of Iraq. I appreciate, you know, their calls. And I appreciate their desire to work with the White House to be in a position where we can sustain a presence in Iraq. What I tell them is this, just as I’ve told you, which is as commander in chief of the greatest military ever I have an obligation, a sincere and serious obligation, to hear out my commander on the ground. And I will take his recommendation and, as I mentioned, talk to Bob Gates about it, as well as the Joint Chiefs about it, as well as consult with members of the Congress, both Republics (sic) and Democrats, as I make a decision about the way forward in Iraq. And so, you know, I value the advice of those Senators. I appreciate their concerns about the situation in Iraq. And I will continue listening to them.

Note how radically his language would limit the power of Congress: I listen very carefully to what they have to say (no mention of Congress actually, you know, making law). As commander in chief I have an obligation. As I make a decision about the way forward. I will continue listening to them. The corollary, you see, of the Unitary Executive, is the Advisory Congress. Call it America 2.0.

Bush used 9/11 to create a war with no geographical limit, which can be prolonged indefinitely. He may be losing against al Qaeda, but he has racked up a series of stunning victories on the front of expanding government power and attacking American liberties. Ask yourself how much of that agenda could have been achieved without the favorable environment of the “war on terror”? Welcome to the permanent emergency. And check out a Republican presidential candidate with a different view.

Remember when the power to begin – and end – war lay with the Congress? To borrow a line from Star Wars, those were the days of the Old Republic – before the Empire came.

July 13, 2007, 10:21 am
Filed under: Drug Prohibition

That’s the number of people arrested in America for cannabis offenses so far this year, or a mathematical estimate based on 2005 statistics. See Drug War Clock for more.

Super typhoon Man-yi
July 13, 2007, 9:57 am
Filed under: The East

9:49am: The wind stops. Rain continues, but the continuous howling of the last eight hours goes completely silent. I think it’s the eye.

9:55am: Starting to gust again, but still not like before.

10:25am: Blows hard for a few minutes, then dies down again. Could be the feeder bands passing overhead.

Super typhoon Man-yi
July 13, 2007, 9:38 am
Filed under: The East


When Ayako told me typoons were bigger in Okinawa than the ones I’d seen in Taipei, I thought maybe it was a case of hometown pride. Wrong!

Friday, 9:23am: winds gusting pretty hard all around our apartment – 155 miles an hour, gusting up to 190, according to the weather underground. What that looks like, from my desk looking at our balcony, is like the balcony railing is the side of a boat and we’re in rough seas. Buckets of water are being dumped on the balcony every minute. Luckly our place seems tightly sealed, and pretty well designed – a bit of water gets blown in around the edges of the windows, but it drains through the bottom of the window frame, leaving the sill dry.
At 2 am last night I drove Ayako home from an Izakaya. Walking from the car to the apartment, some scary sounding wind was going over us, but otherwise things were okay. Right now if I left the apartment, I wouldn’t expect to make it to my car – it’s at least a hundred yards away. Odds are the wind would either take me down before then, or I’d get taken down by flying branches, rocks, or signs blown off buildings. But my money would be on getting picked up and flown – this wind looks every inch capable of picking up a man. If Okinawa had cows we’d probably be seeing some right now.

This clears up the mystery of why concrete is such a popular building material here. We’re on the third floor of a concrete apartment building that’s new and solidly constructed, but when the large gusts come the building does vibrate.

I’m going to try to make the most of this one, as much as I can without leaving the apartment. Probably my last typhoon before heading back to California.

July 11, 2007, 10:03 am
Filed under: Politics

I second Andrew Sullivan’s call to impeach Cheney. I mean, what’s the man’s next act? A press conference featuring him, a copy of the Constitution, and a lighter?

Decision time. Will we turn back towards the path of a nation of law? Or slide further into political hackery, secret government, and rulers to whom no law applies?

A nice TPM post on this topic from last year.

Kijiji vs. Craigslist
July 11, 2007, 7:48 am
Filed under: Internet

A brief account of how a non-profit kicked the competition’s asses and created hundreds of the most useful communities on the internet. Capitalism is of course king, but the rampaging success of Craigslist and the quality of its product is hard to ignore.

Yes, don’t worry… we fired him
July 11, 2007, 1:12 am
Filed under: Crime and Punishment, The East

Zheng Xiaoyu, the late head of China’s Food and Drug Administration, executed yesterday “for taking bribes to approve medicines,” i.e. in order to demonstrate China’s serious response to recent food safety errors which killed a large number of pets in the U.S. Standard execution practice is for a court policeman to shoot the prisoner in the back of the head. The former practice of charging the executed prisoner’s family for the bullet has been discontinued. (Go ahead, read that sentence twice.)

In spite of its ambitious, hardworking, wonderfully resourceful people, and in spite of the many leaders working for reform within government (The Tiananmen Papers can’t be recommended highly enough), the Chinese administration is firmly in the hands of a cabal of vampires steeped so deeply in blood that they have to apply white powder to their skin before appearing in public (ok, not really, they didn’t touch the blood themselves… so far as we know).

If you support the death penalty you won’t mind seeing how it looks in China. (Not to be clicked lightly.) More at the Asia Death Penalty blog here. What a disgrace.

That reminds me, I’ve been meaning to write something about the wonderful, wonderful Ma Jian.

Is whoring a serious sin? David Vitter represents.
July 11, 2007, 12:24 am
Filed under: Politics

Now, Jimmy Carter famously admitted to having sinned in his heart. Louisiana congressman David Vitter, on the other hand, went ahead and sinned with the body (sin according to him, not me). I wonder if that isn’t just the difference between Georgia and New Orleans.

Vitter’s name was among those on phone records made public by “D.C. Madame” Deborah Jeane Palfrey (who is in the process of getting done for pimping) in what looks awfully like a ruined attempt at blackmail. What Palfrey did shouldn’t be illegal, but, like many successful businesspeople, she’s not all that sweet and she’s not all that straight.

Vitter deserves credit for respecting our intelligence, if nothing else. Everybody else involved is telling stories like they think we think magic is real. Like deputy secretary of state Randall Tobias, who was just getting a massage – or Madame Palfrey herself, who apparently thought the johns were paying for a few hours of platonic friendship, or perhaps intelligent conversation (they were college girls after all). Her business success must have been quite a surprise to her.

All this fuss for a business transaction which has been outlawed countless times and places, but never prevented. When will we learn that to alter human nature is beyond the power of government?

GM can suck my balls
July 7, 2007, 12:28 pm
Filed under: Design

Now and then the truth looks you right in the face: America hasn’t produced a car with any style since the 1970s.

From the parking lot at the Lawson near my place this morning. I was going out to take pictures of some concrete-form buildings and I ran into my favorite car – the Nissan Figaro (ragtop edition). I snapped a picture while the lady driving it was busy inside the store.

Legalization is coming
July 6, 2007, 11:55 am
Filed under: Drug Prohibition

The Agitator notes a little-commented detail of the Bong Hits 4 Jesus case: Justices Stevens, Ginsburg, and Souter cast a favorable glance at legalizing marijuana entirely. From their opinion:

…just as prohibition in the 1920’s and early 1930’s was secretly questioned by thousands of otherwise law-abiding patrons of bootleggers and speakeasies, today the actions of literally millions of otherwise law-abiding users of marijuana,9 and of the majority of voters in each of the several States that tolerate medicinal uses of the product,10 lead me to wonder whether the fear of disapproval by those in the majority is silencing opponents of the war on drugs.

Surely our national experience with alcohol should make us wary of dampening speech suggesting—however inarticulately—that it would be better to tax and regulate marijuana than to persevere in a futile effort to ban its use entirely.

Marijuana will surely be legal. It is the strength of our political system that policies based on ignorance, prejudice, and misinformation cannot be maintained.

And the fact that the court minority raised the topic of drug legalization while ruling on a first amendment case which merely happened to revolve around a poster advocating “bong hits” illustrates the broad awareness of this issue right now. It’s becoming increasingly obvious, to people in all walks of life, that the prohibition on marijuana delivers no tangible benefit, divides Americans along a trivial but highly charged fault line, and imposes a high cost to personal liberty and limited, rational government.

Quote of the day
July 6, 2007, 8:03 am
Filed under: Politics, The Earth

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation) there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets: Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” – W.H. Murray of the Scottish Himalaya Expedition, often wrongly attributed to Goethe himself.

Note to Mike Gravel, Bill Richardson, John Edwards, Barack Obama: propose a large tax on gasoline. This writer, and others, will have new respect for your seriousness on a range of issues, from peace in the Middle East to addressing the environmental catastrophe.