Thursday, March 06, 2003

So Long, Neighbor

What with all the turmoil in the world, I forgot to mention this. Saddest news in a quite a while. The themes were obvious, and they get a little repetitive, but I doubt you can read through all six pages of cartoonists' Tributes to Mr. Rogers on Slate without a lump in your throat. I know I couldn't. May his soul be bound up in the bond of life.

Jingo Bells, Jingo Bells

I'm in favor of a war to depose Saddam and bring to an end Iraq's quest to achieve regional hegemony. And I'm no friend of the Arab world. But when pro war bloggers cross the line into jingoistic ad hominem attack, I have to call bullshit on them. In the linked item on Little Green Footballs, Charles Johnson cites the insulting remark of the Iraqi delegate to an Arab summit to his Kuwaiti counterpart, which has been translated, no doubt word for word, from Arabic as "Shut up you monkey. Curse be upon your mustache, you traitor." Now if one were to criticize diplomats acting like children, fair enough. One ought to expect high public officials, even when in high dudgeon, to carry themselves with a bit more dignity than that. But Johnson's criticism goes farther. He says:"These are the leaders of the Islamic world. When they get angry, the worst, nastiest insult that pops out of them is a frickin’ curse upon their opponent’s facial hair." Here, Johnson shows his own ignorance about the about the nature of language, and the perils of literal translation. My knowledge of Arabic is limited to a very few phrases, but I think it fairly obvious from the reaction it engendered that the insult, although odd to English ears, hit a nerve in Arabic. Hell, even the New York Post managed to report the incident accurately without being snide. And if you think the LGF post was bad, you see the string of comments he got.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

Bye bye, Judgeship

Oh well, my chances of ever being nominated or elected to the bench were pretty slim anyway, so I'll just call this one as I see it. John Ashcroft is out of his mind. Not just content with depriving suspects of lawyers, or covering up naked breasts on statues, he's now focusing on another "peril": pot smokers. (thanks to Instapundit for the link). Ashcroft is hardly the first public official to waste precious public moneys waging "the war on drugs." But to focus on marijuna is particularly absurd. According to Lancet, one of the most respected medical journals in the world, "moderate indulgence in cannabis has little ill-effect on health." Perhaps more to the point, the Lancet editorial stated "it would be reasonable to judge cannabis less of a threat to health than alcohol or tobacco, products that i[n] many countries are not only tolerated and advertised, but are also a useful source of tax revenue." Are there non-health based justifications for criminalising marijuana use? The only one ever proffered is that marijuana is a "gateway drug." Only problem is, the gateway theory is pretty much a load of crap. Assistant United States Attorneys are some of the most talented lawyers in America, and they're paid pretty handsomely (albeit less than private sector lawyers), with your tax dollars and mine. Aren't their talents (and those of the FBI and DEA, for that matter) better used for more important matters?

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Ashcroft Running Amok?

The war on terrorism is being used as an excuse for eroding the right to counsel. I'm no fan of Matt Hale, the white supremacist at issue in the news story. And the crime of which he's accused -- conspiring to murder a federal judge -- is one that strikes at the very heart of our system of justice. But if we, on the flimsiest of grounds, restrict the right to counsel, then we do Hale's work for him. The Tribune article says that the restrictions on access to counsel are used rarely. Perhaps so, but restrictions on the right to counsel, whether the administrative rules used in Hale's case, or the "emeny combatant" designations at issue in the Hamdi and Padilla cases,are being used more frequently now, as best I can tell, than ever before. Less than two months ago, the Fourth Circuit ruled that the government could hold suspected terrorist Yaser Hamdi incommunicado indefintely and without access to counsel. Phillippe de Croy, on the Volokh Conspiracy correctly pointed out at the time that Hamdi was an easier case -- because Hamdi was not a US citizen -- than the Padilla case, where General Ashcroft is arguing that he can name an American citizen an "enemy combatant", a designation that under the Fourth Circuit's holding would essentially be beyond judicial review, and use that designation to strip the poor sod of his right to counsel, his right to a speedy and public -- or indeed, any -- trial, holding the "enemy combatant" incommunicado until hell freezes over. "While expeditious, and
certainly painless, [that] might not be in a manner of speaking,
the American way."

The Hale case takes Ashcroft's diabolical heavy-handedness to a new level. Hale, vile though he may be, neither represents nor is connected to a terrorist threat of any magnitude. He is part of a fringe movement best contained not by suppression, by exposure to the broad light of day. If rodents like Hale can't be defeated without subverting the Constitution, then what's the good of having the thing at all? Hale's lawyer plans to appeal Ashcroft's decision. Here's hoping he wins, and promptly. UPDATE: According to today's (i.e., 3/5/03) Chicago Tribune, the Special Administrative Measures have not been used, in Hale's case, to block his access to his lawyer -- yet. Instead, he has simply been cut off from virtually all contact with other outsiders, including incoming and outgoing mail and phone calls, and visits with his family. I still have a few issues with special administrative measures (especially since they may limit his counsel's ability toprepare for his defense), but as currently applied in Hale's case, they don't yet implicate his right to counsel, and I concede that prosecutors are entitled to more discretion in such matters than they are on access to counsel.permalink

Monday, March 03, 2003

This Ain't Vietnam

Instapundit links to this column by Gerald Posner, a supporter of the war against Iraq, who is now embarrassed by his participation in protests against the Vietnam War. His embarrassment reflects the same misunderstanding of history demonstrated by the AWIBs, who see themselves as the proud heirs of the anti-Vietnam War movement. So I'll say it again: This Ain't Vietnam. Posner has a point when he says that he, and others in the anti-war movement, were naive about the nature of the Ho Chi Minh and his cohorts. History has proved that like all Marxists, they were brutal, tyrannical, vile. But in the 1950's and 1960s, they were also genuinely popular among their own people. The regime in South Vietnam that we were propping up was no better -- it too was a cruel, autocratic regime. And had we packed up our troubles in our old kit bag in 1964, instead of having our own President swindle us with the Tonkin "crisis", the true impact -- on Indochina and on the eventual course of the Cold War -- would have been negligible, and the impact on our own polity immeasurably positive. Johnson and Nixon's war was indefensible, and we who stood against it (even as precocious pre-teens) should always be proud of having done so. (That doesn't mean that those who spit on soldiers should be proud. That is repulsive behavior in any context, and attacked entirely the wrong targets. That doesn't mean that Jane Fonda was right to have gone to North Vietnam. But the entire anti-war movement was not wrong for those excesses, any more than John McCain, John Kerry, and thousands of others who served honorably and heroically in Vietnam should be tarred with the same brush as Calley and the butchers of My Lai.). Understanding history is vital to understanding the present, but we have got to get beyond seeing every international crisis through the lens of Vietnam. permalink

Sunday, March 02, 2003

Be Not Idle Spectators

"My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total and I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution." Barbara Jordan, of blessed memory, said that nearly thirty years ago at the House Judiciary Committee hearings on the impeachment of Richard Nixon. That is what each and every one of us must be saying to General Ashcroft, every day, loud and clear. My support for the war should in no way be construed as support for the wholesale destruction of civil liberties in which the administration is engaged. Nat Hentoff, though sometimes bordering on hysteria, has been keeping close tabs. His latest column is a must read, and a call to action. Let your senators and congressmen know how you feel. Send the Hentoff link to your friends, and tell them to act, too. And if you weren't old enough to hear Barbara Jordan live in 1974 (I was a nerdy enough sixth grader that I spent more of my summer vacation than I perhaps should have watching the hearings), you really should listen to the mp3 clip at the site above. permalink