Friday Reads

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Good Morning!

Many of you might be stuck in your homes today with all that weather so here are some things to keep you busy. First, Richard Engle’s Diary of his kidnapping in Syria has been published in Vanity Fair.

A group of about 15 armed men were fanning out around us. Three or four of them stood in the middle of the road blocking our vehicles. The others went for the doors. They wore black jackets, black boots, and black ski masks. They were professionals and used hand signals to communicate. A balled fist meant stop. A pointed finger meant advance. Each man carried an AK-47. Several of the gunmen began hitting the windows of our car and minivan with the stocks of their weapons. When they got the doors open, they leveled their guns at our chests.

Time was slowing down as if I’d been hit in the head. Time was slowing down as if I were drowning.

This can’t be happening. I know what this is. This can’t be happening. These are the shabiha. They’re fucking kidnapping us.

“Get out!” a gunman was yelling as he dragged Aziz from the car.

Then I saw the container truck. It wasn’t far away, parked off the road and hidden among olive trees. The metal doors at its rear stood open, flanked by gunmen.

That’s where they are going to put us. That’s here for us. We’re going into that truck.

I got out of the car. Two of the gunmen were already marching Aziz to the truck. He had his hands up, his shoulders back, his head tilted forward to protect against blows from behind.

Maybe I should run. Maybe I should run right now. But the road is flat and open. The only cover is by the trees near the truck. Maybe I should run. But where?

I saw John standing by the minivan. Gunmen were taking Ian toward the truck. It was his turn. Like me, John hadn’t been touched yet.

Maybe they’ve forgotten us? Maybe they don’t want us?

Our eyes made contact. John shrugged and opened his hands in disbelief. Time was going very slowly now, but my mind was racing like a panicked heart in a body that can’t move.

“Get going!” a gunman yelled at me in Arabic, pointing his weapon at my chest.

I looked at him blankly, pretending not to understand. Foreigners who speak Arabic in the Middle East are often assumed to be working for the C.I.A. or Israel’s intelligence agency, the Mossad. The gunman took me by the finger, holding on to it by the very tip. I could have pulled it away with the smallest tug.

But then what? Then go where?

John was the next to join us in the back of the truck. He walked slowly, as if being escorted to a waiting limo. John is a New Yorker and was dressed entirely in black. He has long white hair and a devilish smile, and his nickname is the Silver Fox. He and I had been in a lot of rough places—Libya, Iraq, Gaza. John, Ghazi, and Aziz were among my closest friends in the world.

At least I’ll die with my friends.

This will let you know how tough it is out here: “To Place Graduates, Law Schools Are Opening Firms”.

The plan is one of a dozen efforts across the country to address two acute — and seemingly contradictory — problems: heavily indebted law graduates with no clients and a vast number of Americans unable to afford a lawyer.

This paradox, fed by the growth of Internet-based legal research and services, is at the heart of a crisis looming over the legal profession after decades of relentless growth and accumulated wealth. It is evident in the sharp drop in law school applications and the increasing numbers of Americans showing up in court without a lawyer.

“It’s a perfect storm,” said Stacy Caplow, a professor at Brooklyn Law School who focuses on clinical education. “The longstanding concerns over access to justice for most Americans and a lack of skills among law graduates are now combined with the problems faced by all law schools. It’s creating conditions for change.”

Remember  John Yoo.  He was the lawyer/author of those Bush legal memos justifying torture.  He thinks that Obama is “getting too much grief over targeted killing”.

And he wants Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)—who filibustered Obama’s nominee to head the CIA for 13 hours on Wednesday—to lay off.

“I admire libertarians but I think Rand Paul’s filibuster in many ways is very much what libertarians do, they make these very symbolic gestures, standing for some extreme position,” said Yoo, now a UC Berkeley law professor, who once suggested it was okay for the president to order a child’s testicles be crushed. Referring to Paul’s marathon filibuster, an attempt to force the Obama administration to clarify its views on the use of military force against terror suspects in the United States, Yoo said “It sort of reminds me of young kids when they first read The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged and they suddenly think that federal taxation equals slavery and they’re not going to pay any federal taxes anymore.” Yoo’s statements were made on a conference call Thursday held by the Federalist Society, an influential conservative legal organization.

Paul’s conservative colleagues also pushed back on him on Thursday: On the Senate floor, John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) mocked Paul’s objections as “ridiculous.”

Yoo said that he thought the administration’s problems stemmed from its belief that it needed to provide “due process” to terror suspects abroad—or even in the United States, referring to a recently leaked white paper outlining the Obama administration’s legal views on targeted killings of US citizen terror suspects.

So, here’s an interesting study.  It seems that the “States With Most Gun Laws Have Fewest Gun Deaths”.

“It seems pretty clear: If you want to know which of the states have the lowest gun-mortality rates just look for those with the greatest number of gun laws,” said Dr. Eric W. Fleegler of Boston Children’s Hospital who, with colleagues, analyzed firearm-related deaths reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 2007 through 2010.

By scoring individual states simply by the sheer volume of gun laws they have on the books, the researchers noted that in states with the highest number of firearms measures, their rate of gun deaths is collectively 42 percent lower when compared to states that have passed the fewest number of gun rules. The study was published online in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

 As proof, Fleegler pointed to the firearm-fatality rates in law-laden states such as Massachusetts (where there were 3.4 gun deaths per 100,000 individuals), New Jersey (4.9 per 100,000) and Connecticut (5.1 per 100,000). In states with sparser firearms laws, researchers reported that gun-mortality rates were higher: Louisiana (18.0 per 100,000), Alaska (17.5 per 100,000) and Arizona (13.6 per 100,000).

Speaking of working to end violence, today is Intentional Women’s Day. This year’s theme  is “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women” Here’s some headlines for that celebration. First off, here’s French economist and head of the IMF Christine BEys8WOCIAAO8YI.jpg largeLeguarde.  You can watch her speak at this IMF Link. 

Here’s some suggested readings for you.

From the UK Guardian: “International Women’s Day: school is ‘the new front line of feminism’

Surveys and anecdotal evidence may suggest that few young women identify with the word feminism, fearing it sits at odds with a desire to wear makeup or heels. Yet there are increasing signs of an interest in gender equality issues among these same young women, who are now turning to social media such as blogs, Twitter and Facebook to reach out to fellow activists or just to share experiences and seek advice about what can be done.

Laura Bates, the founder of the #everydaysexism campaign, says that 10% of its more than 20,000 entries detailing harassment come from under-16s, with many more from colleges.

Campaign group UK Feminista has been so inundated with requests to speak to schools around the country that it has now launched a two-year programme of workshops and campaigns aimed at secondary pupils. Called Generation F: Young Feminists in Action, it comes as the government considers a cross-party bid to make sex and relationship education compulsory in schools.

From World News Australia, we read that  “International Women’s Day 2013: Gender inequality ‘still rife'”.

Australian women make up just over half of the total Australian population.

In some areas, equality has been achieved, but in others there is clearly a long way to go.

The boards of both private and public organisations are still dominated by men.

For instance, only about 10 per cent of the executives of companies listed in the Australian Stock Exchange Market are female.

And according to federal government figures, average weekly earnings for women are $250 less than men.

United Nations Women director for Australia, Julie McKay, thinks a combination of socio-economic factors contribute to this situation.

“I think there’s a huge issue about unconscious bias, that we sometimes don’t even realise that we have, about the roles that women should play and the sort of characteristics that make different people leaders. But I think we also got other issues around accessibility and affordability of child care, which prevent many women being able to access work and particularly full time work.”

Many migrant and refugee women in Australia can be prevented from working in the field in which they’re experienced, due to lack of English skills or problems with qualification recognition.

But Chin Wong, from the Australian Migrant and Refugee Women’s Alliance, says that doesn’t mean they don’t get into the workforce.

She argues that female newcomers can be preferred by employers because they are more likely to ignore their rights, and tend to argue less than men about working conditions.

“Sometimes the women can find jobs easier than men and therefore a lot of times the man become the homemaker, and the woman has to go to work. But that doesn’t mean that when they come home they don’t still have to make sure that the houses are maintained, because that’s culture. Some of the cultures mean that the women have to do most of the work.”

Here’s two suggested reads on racism in America by Ed Kilgore with a link to Ta-Nehisi’s Coates’ guest column in the New York Time.

If you are a white person who has on occasion felt aggrieved at the persistence of allegations of white racism in America, do yourself and your conscience a favor and read Ta-Nehisi’s Coates’ guest column today in the New York Times.

His point of departure is the humiliating frisking of the very famous and distinguished actor Forest Whitaker by an employee of a deli in Coates’ own Manhattan neighborhood. But he uses this incident to make the very important point that if we disclaim the possibility of racist behavior on the part of “good” or “moral” people, we may well wind up excusing racism almost altogether.

The idea that racism lives in the heart of particularly evil individuals, as opposed to the heart of a democratic society, is reinforcing to anyone who might, from time to time, find their tongue sprinting ahead of their discretion. We can forgive Whitaker’s assailant. Much harder to forgive is all that makes Whitaker stand out in the first place. New York is a city, like most in America, that bears the scars of redlining, blockbusting and urban renewal. The ghost of those policies haunts us in a wealth gap between blacks and whites that has actually gotten worse over the past 20 years.

But much worse, it haunts black people with a kind of invisible violence that is given tell only when the victim happens to be an Oscar winner. The promise of America is that those who play by the rules, who observe the norms of the “middle class,” will be treated as such. But this injunction is only half-enforced when it comes to black people, in large part because we were never meant to be part of the American story. Forest Whitaker fits that bill, and he was addressed as such.

I am trying to imagine a white president forced to show his papers at a national news conference, and coming up blank. I am trying to a imagine a prominent white Harvard professor arrested for breaking into his own home, and coming up with nothing. I am trying to see Sean Penn or Nicolas Cage being frisked at an upscale deli, and I find myself laughing in the dark. It is worth considering the messaging here. It says to black kids: “Don’t leave home. They don’t want you around.” It is messaging propagated by moral people.

The thing is, this has always been more or less true. My extended family (thought not, mercifully, my nuclear family) when I was growing up in the Jim Crow South was loaded with racists. None of them were members of the Ku Klux Klan, perpetrators of violence, or “bad people” by any general measure. Most of them were very regular church-goers. One of the sweetest people I ever knew was a great aunt who after MLK’s assassination allowed as how she wished she could take in the assassin and feed him and protect him for his great act in defending Christian civilization. That wouldn’t have been surprising to Dr. King himself, whose classic Letter From a Birmingham Jail was addressed to the good Christian clergy of that city who by their silence and calls for an unjust “peace” were defending segregation more effectively than the hooded riffraff of the Klan.

So, there are my suggestions today.  Please be careful if the weather around you is “lionly”.  What’s on your reading and blogging list?


Doublespeak, the Devil’s Advocate and Diogenes’ Endless Quest

Just when you think current events and various public utterances cannot get any more ridiculous, they do.  Often, much of what we hear and are expected to take seriously is wrapped in doublespeak, deliberately vague, obscure language to hide the speaker/writer’s true intent.

We’ve had examples galore as the 2012 election looms over DC, political candidates twisting themselves into pretzels to find the right combination of words to seduce voters.  Newt Gingrich, for instance, referred to his lobbying involvement with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac [for which he was paid handsomely] as providing advice as an ‘historian.’  John Boehner has taken a page out of Frank Luntz’s cannon, repeating the phrase ‘job creators’ as if it were a magical incantation.  Democrats are certainly not immune to this form of prevarication.  Every time I recall Nancy Pelosi’s infamous statement about the Healthcare Reform Bill, I wince: We have to pass the bill before we know what’s in it.

That being said, there’s a special spot in Doublespeak Heaven or Hell for John Yoo, who often writes for the American Enterprise Institute.

John Yoo.  Name sound familiar?  Mr. Yoo, the infamous legal advisor to the Bush Administration’s inner circle, recently jumped up, expressing considerable distaste for and worry over President Obama’s overreaching his authority, abusing and doing considerable damage to the US Constitution.  A reasonable person might conclude this is in reference to the recent indefinite detention clause in the National Defense Authorization Act, the one POTUS claimed he would not sign.  But then did.

But we’re not talking reasonable.  We’re talking John Yoo, deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel [OLC], Department of Justice from 2001-2003.

John Yoo helped strangle the English language, managing to transform the word torture into ‘enhanced interrogation,’ a smoke screen phrase that former Vice President Cheney is still defending, so he and his buddies can sleep at night.

Let’s recall the past.

John Yoo spun out legal arguments for wiretapping, warrantless surveillance on all communication coming in or out of the country as well as warrentless surveillance against American citizens; defended the use of torture [excuse me, enhanced interrogation], authoring the infamous ‘torture memo,’ in which he cited permissible techniques, including assault, maiming and drugging on orders of the President as long as they do not result in death, organ failure or impairment of bodily functions.  He also advised the suspension of the Geneva Convention, War Crimes Act, indicating that the US is no longer restrained by International Law in our endless War on Terror; declared that the President is empowered to make war without Congressional permission and, in fact, has the power to order military strikes inside the US.  He defended the President’s right to order rendition without Congressional approval, etc., etc., etc.

That John Yoo.  He was a very busy man while he held tenure as the Devil’s Advocate.

Mr. Yoo now says President Obama has exceeded his powers by his recess appointment of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  As you may recall this is the nefarious agency, the wicked brainchild of Elizabeth Warren, to protect American consumers from the labyrinth of confusing language offered in loan and credit agreements.  For example, credit card agreements and home loans.

According to Mr. Yoo, who wrote a piece for the National Review Online, President Obama is making a sweeping claim in the very definition of ‘recess.’

But President Obama is making a far more sweeping claim. Here, as I understand it, the Senate is not officially in adjournment (they have held “pro forma” meetings, where little to no business occurs, to prevent Obama from making exactly such appointments). So there is no question whether the adjournment has become a constitutional “recess.”

And,

This, in my view, is not up to the president, but the Senate. It is up to the Senate to decide when it is in session or not, and whether it feels like conducting any real business or just having senators sitting around on the floor reading the papers. The president cannot decide the legitimacy of the activities of the Senate any more than he could for the other branches, and vice versa.

I find this argument particularly startling coming from Yoo, considering his defense of all things related to the expansion of presidential authority.

But there’s more,

Even with my broad view of executive power, I’ve always thought that each branch has control over its own functions and has the right — if not the duty — to exclude the others as best it can from its own decisions.

Broad view is an understatement because John Yoo is on record, as early as March 1996, declaring that the President has the right to declare war, not Congress.  During his tenure with OLC, he asserted that a President can suspend First Amendment Freedoms in wartime and that the power of the Executive is virtually unlimited in times of war.

You can’t have it both ways.  We’re still engaged in Afghanistan, involved in a seemingly perpetual state of war.

Yoo further states that in view of President Obama’s gross overreach:

Most importantly, private parties outside government can refuse to obey any regulation issued by the new agency. They will be able to defend themselves in court by claiming that the head of the agency is an unconstitutional officer . . .

Now to be clear, I am not a lawyer. I cannot comment on the legalistic merits of the argument.  Others have done that.  But I do think I have a fairly good eye for hypocrisy.  And then there’s this, in reviewing Mr. Yoo’s past declarations, summaries of his memos and advice on matters of war, torture and the suspension of civil rights, this recent charge against President Obama seems out of proportion.

And duplicitous.

It’s okay when neo-cons play with the boundaries and definitions of the Constitution but not when our presumably Democratic President does the same thing.  That’s not to say I agree with either political class redefining, remaking and declaring right and true what is and what is not permissible under the Constitution for very distinct political purposes, merely extending a particular agenda.  But once this questionable threshold is crossed?  The results are what they are.

What neither side refuses to speak to is the considerable danger there is in not accounting for what the next elected Executive is likely to do with ‘expanded’ powers, the establishment of a unitary president. This falls under the heading: Short-Term Goals. It should be noted that redefining the scope of the Executive Office was all the rage during the Bush years, something that Obama vowed to change.

But he did not.

Recalling Mr. Yoo’s penchant for reinterpreting the US Constitution during 2001-2003 [not a pleasant journey], I felt as if I’d literally entered a parallel Universe, one in which language is weaponized.  In this strange, ever-evolving cosmos, white is black, up is down, evil is good and ultimate power [with no accountability] is the Law.

George Orwell is screaming from the Heavens to be named a true prophet.

As for the US Constitution?  It can mean anything you want it to mean. It depends on which side of the political divide you’re standing on.

John Yoo is not a person I would ever turn to for legal advice.  Not for the world I wish to inhabit or wish available to my children and future grandbabies.  In fact, I would think after all the damage Mr. Yoo  [admittedly, he was not alone] did during the early years of the Bush Administration, he’d be reluctant to level charges against anyone ever again.

And yet, a quick check through the archives found that Yoo had weighed in on President Obama’s proposed Executive Order on Federal contractor disclosure.  This proposal would require contractors to provide their political-giving history, any gift over $5000.   The proposal, it is argued, will make the Federal contract system more transparent and accountable to the public.

How radical!

Yet Mr. Yoo suggests the proposal makes some of Richard Nixon’s ‘dirty tricks’ look quaint by comparison.  As an example, he conjures up the humiliating fate of anyone tempted by Presidential overreach, undoing the time-honored, Constitutional right of anonymous political speech [conveniently avoiding the issue of money-giving, as in, swamping our elections in massive amounts of payola].  Namely, the consequence of these sins leads to impeachment.

I’m falling down a rabbit hole.  A really dark rabbit hole.

A case in point, Mr. Yoo ties his concern for poor, vulnerable corporations to MoveOn’s boycott of the retail operation, Target, in Minnesota.  The boycott and subsequent bad press disclosed that Target had made a contribution to a conservative group supporting a gubernatorial candidate opposed to gay marriage.  Yet Target had repeatedly proclaimed itself a gay-friendly corporation.

Ian Millhiser at Think Progress summarizes Yoo’s analysis this way:

In other words, Target misled the public by calling itself a gay-friendly corporation, when it actually was secretly funding an anti-gay effort. Yet, because of disclosure, it was no longer able to maintain this charade and forced to end its two-faced practices. In Yoo’s twisted understanding of the world, this is a great tragedy and not a compelling argument for why disclosure laws are necessary.

I would like to think there’s a place in the Universe where bad actors are rehabilitated, where they reconsider bad decisions, damaging policies that serve only to injure the weak and/or take advantage of human vulnerabilities. Yet reviewing the twisted logic of John Yoo has given me real pause.  If fact, all these political players give me great pause.

This is particularly true with a primary season trudging along, Republican candidates making whacko statements and mean-spirited declarations. We’ve witnessed:

Michelle Bachmann’s delusions, the Eye of the Newt’s vindictive nature, Romney’s spinning positions, Santorum’s woman and gay problem, Perry’s aphasia, Jon Huntsman’s [sadly] invisible campaign and the cuddly libertarian Ron Paul, who yearns to return to the good ole days of 1900. We have not had the benefit of listening to the likes of Buddy Roemer, a voice that should be heard. But now add John Yoo to the brigade of howling voices, then mix a large measure of contradiction, deception and slick language games.

President Obama [who certainly has employed doublespeak with flair, spun numerous fantastic tales of his own] begins to look grounded, normal.

Which means, of course, I’ve definitely entered an alternate Universe.  Maybe this one:

The crazy season just goes on and on and on.  Which makes me think of Diogenes, wandering ancient Greece with lantern in hand, searching for that one honest man.

That was nearly 2500 years ago.  We haven’t learned much.