Sunday, November 28, 2004

J. Michael Luttig, a Potential New Supreme Court Justice

Bush is likely going to be able to appoint two new Supreme Court justices during his term, and quite possibly three. Sandra Day O’Connor will likely retire for personal reasons during the next four years, and Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who has thyroid cancer, is currently too ill to sit on the bench and may be forced to resign within the next month or two.

There are several names being thrown around as potential replacements, one of which was Alberto Gonzales who is the new Attorney-General. Since he is no longer an option the short list is led by J. Harvie Wilkinson III, J. Michael Luttig, Emilio Garza, Samuel Alito Jr and Janice Rogers Brown. Former Solicitor General Ted Olson, whose wife died in the Sept. 11 attacks and who argued for Bush and Cheney in Bush v. Gore, is also mentioned in that list, but from what I’ve read his age is a significant factor working against him.

From what I’ve been reading it seems likely that J. Michael Luttig will get the first Supreme Court opening (with Wilkinson III being the second-leading candidate) and I’d be quite surprised if he isn’t on the bench by the end of Bush’s term in any case. It also seems very likely that Clarence Thomas will be appointed the new Chief Justice. If you’re wondering what difference that makes, as far I’ve always understood the Chief Justice appoints who writes the opinions and this is important because it frames exactly why the court ruled as it did. Luckily, in this case it appears to be a conservative replacing a conservative judge on the bench, with a conservative replacing a conservative as Chief Justice. However, it is still worth finding out more about the man who seems likely to replace Chief Justice Rehnquist.

Luttig, 47, currently serves on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and South Carolina and is also considered the most conservative appeals court in the country. Interestingly, Wilkinson III is a judge on that court, as well. Luttig clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia when he was an appeals court judge and worked for the Justice Department in the first Bush administration. He has ties to Justices Thomas, David Souter and Scalia, which led to an interesting case in 2001 when those 3 Supreme Court justices excused themselves from a case. Luttig’s father had been killed in a carjacking and the murderer’s case ended up before the Supreme Court. This led to an unusual 3-3 decision, which was not enough to stay the man’s execution.

Luttig’s intellect has been routinely praised, as this article from the Richmond Times-Dispatch shows:

That Luttig sometimes strays from a conservative line does not surprise Richmond lawyer Steven D. Benjamin, president of the Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys.

Benjamin said Luttig's "greatest strengths as a judge are his intellect, his analysis and his distrust of power . . . I regard his distrust of power as an important characteristic."

"No one wants a judge who is going to judge by the force of his political philosophy," Benjamin said. "I think he regards an intellectual, analytical approach as far more important than a political consideration or a popular view.”

However, CNN provides another article looking at what Luttig has done so far while on the bench:

It has been during his time on the 4th Circuit bench that Luttig has developed his reputation, staking out some of the most controversial opinions from that bench in recent years.

Two years ago, he wrote an opinion striking down the Violence Against Women Act on the grounds that Congress had overstepped its authority in establishing the legislation. In 1998, he reversed a lower court ruling and upheld a Virginia ban on partial birth abortion. A year earlier he issued a ruling allowing the state to require parental notification before a teen-ager could obtain an abortion.

Luttig was a supporter of capital punishment long before Beazley and two accomplices in the carjacking -- brothers Donald and Cedric Coleman -- killed his father and wounded his mother in the driveway of their home in Texas.

In recent years, defense attorneys have at times asked him to recuse himself from capital cases because of the personal tragedy he suffered. But Luttig has said he can separate his personal emotions from his judicial responsibilities.

Luttig is also described as a “Scalia protégé” in the aforementioned Richmond article. He has developed a reputation as a “feeder” judge, which means that those law clerks that clerk for him often end up clerking for justices on the Supreme Court, particularly Justice Thomas. As the Washington Post reports:

Thomas relies heavily for clerk recommendations on friends and ideological soul mates among appeals court judges. Twenty-three of the 56 law clerks Thomas has hired at the Supreme Court previously clerked for one of two federal appeals court judges, Laurence H. Silberman and J. Michael Luttig, both highly respected conservatives who stood by Thomas during his confirmation.

Luttig said in an interview that his own judicial philosophy likely "has some relevance" to Thomas's selection of many of his clerks. More crucial, he said, are the track records of his clerks who previously worked at the high court and his friendship with Thomas, which allows for easy, candid assessment of candidates.

And, just to be sure of the mindset of Thomas’ clerks, he earlier states:

Thomas's clerks are culled from the top ranks of law school graduates and are typically conservative. Most justices tend to hire like-minded clerks, though Antonin Scalia is known for bringing in an ideological opposite to sharpen the discussions in his chambers.

"I'm not going to hire clerks who have profound disagreements with me," Thomas said several years ago during an appearance in Dallas. "That is a waste of my time. Someone said that is like trying to train a pig. It's a waste of your time, and it aggravates the pig."

Luttig is a Scalia-trained justice who feeds conservative law clerks to Justice Thomas. He has never sided with the defendant in a death-penalty case argued before him and appears to be ardently pro-life. While the issue will being to get really contentious when if a liberal justice leaves the court during Bush’s term, it appears that Luttig, if appointed, is going to fit in well beside Scalia and Thomas on the noticeably conservative side of the bench.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

More Abstinence-Only Sex Education

God, abstinence only sex education is a terribly close-minded and dangerous approach to teaching teenagers about sexual activity. Children are going to have sex, regardless of abstinence education or not. If you don’t teach them how to use contraceptives or avoid sexually transmitted diseases, what do you expect to happen when they actually start to have sex?

Surprise, surprise, Bush wants more abstinence only education.

Congress last weekend included more than $131 million for abstinence programs in a $388 billion spending bill, an increase of $30 million but about $100 million less than Bush requested. Meanwhile, a national evaluation of abstinence programs has been delayed, with a final report not expected until 2006.


"We don't need a study, if I remember my biology correctly, to show us that those people who are sexually abstinent have a zero chance of becoming pregnant or getting someone pregnant or contracting a sexually transmitted disease," said Wade Horn, the assistant secretary of Health and Human Services in charge of federal abstinence funding.

Those who say schools also should be teaching youths how to use contraceptives say Horn's argument ignores reality. Surveys indicate that roughly 50 percent of teens say they have sex before they leave high school. While the nation's teenage pregnancy rate is declining, young people 15 to 24 account for about half the new cases of sexually transmitted diseases in the United States each year.

Just in case you weren’t aware, here are what educational programs have to subscribe to in order to be eligible for funding.

What is referred to as "abstinence-only" education received its first major federal funding in 1996, when conservative members of Congress quietly included a provision in section 510 of the Social Security Act guaranteeing $50 million annually for five years, with more money likely on its way, for abstinence-only education grants to the states. The definition of this abstinence-only education is as follows:

According to federal law, an eligible abstinence education program is one that:

- Has as its exclusive purpose, teaching the social, physiological, and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity;

- Teaches abstinence from sexual activity outside marriage as the expected standard for all school age children;

- Teaches that abstinence from sexual activity is the only certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and other associated health problems;

- Teaches that a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of human sexual activity;

- Teaches that sexual activity outside of the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects;

- Teaches that bearing children out-of-wedlock is likely to have harmful consequences for the child, the child's parents, and society;

- Teaches young people how to reject sexual advances and how alcohol and drug use increases vulnerability to sexual advances; and

- Teaches the importance of attaining self-sufficiency before engaging in sexual activity.

And, to conclude, a nice little look at Dubya’s home state, because Bush loves his abstinence-only education.

Texas: A Case Study

“I have seen what works in my state: raise expectations, insist on results, measure progress and blow the whistle on failure.”

Presidential candidate George Bush, 2000

- Texas spends over $10 million a year in teaching abstinence-only-until marriage sexual education

- Texas’ teen pregnancy of 113 per 1,000 females aged 15 to 19 is 46th worst in the U.S.A, and over 220 teens becomes pregnant every day.

- Texas’ teen birth rate is the second worst in the nation, behind only Mississippi.

- Texas’ decrease in teen birth rates from 1991 to 1999 was the worst in the U.S.A., a full 11% below the national average.

- Texas has an extremely high number of cases of STDs, and accounts for 10% of all chlamydia and gonorrhoea cases in the nation.

- Texas ranks 44th in the nation in chlamydia rates per 100,000 population and ranks 46th in the number of HIV/AIDS cases.

Unusual News Roundup

Is That a Baby Pickle in Your Pants, or Are You Just Happy to See Me?

Stripper stories are always good, but this one is one of the best I’ve read in a while.

Police say a 13-year-old boy was charged with abducting an exotic dancer when she allegedly showed up for an appointment at what turned out to be a vacant house in Virginia Beach. Police spokeswoman Rene Ball says when the woman entered the house on Nov. 16, she realized her client was a juvenile and tried to leave. But the boy pointed a shotgun at her and ordered her to dance for him.

Ball says the woman tried to call 911 on her cell phone, but the boy grabbed the phone. The woman bit the boy's hand, broke free and ran to her car.

Crazy kids and their rampant hormones. Couldn’t this kid just have found some dirty magazines like everyone else does?

I’ll Have What the Salamander’s Having

Although according to this website tiger salamanders may live past fifteen years in captivity, one little salamander is showing great longevity, as mentioned in the Fort Wayne Gazette.

MUNCIE — Salamanders usually live four or five years in the wild, but a 28-year-old tiger salamander named Survivor outlived his owner.

Teacher Gene Frazier bought “Sur” as a tadpole in 1976 and raised him on bits of lunch meat. Sur amused Frazier’s students and spent much of his life in the classroom. But when Frazier died at age 73 last year, the amphibian was left to Frazier’s wife, Marilyn.

Dolphins Are Cool

Another reason why I’m a big fan of dolphins.

WELLINGTON, New Zealand - A pod of dolphins saved a group of swimmers from a predatory 10-foot great white shark off the northern New Zealand coast, a newspaper reported Tuesday

The unusual incident occurred Oct. 30 when lifeguard Rob Howes took his 15-year-old daughter Niccy and two of her friends swimming near the town of Whangarei, The Northern Advocate said.

The dolphins, "started to herd us up, they pushed all four of us together by doing tight circles around us," Howes told the newspaper. When Howes tried to break away from the protective group, two of the bigger dolphins herded him back, he said.

Howes then spotted what he described as a 10-foot great white shark cruising toward them, but the man-eater was apparently repelled by the ring of dolphins and swam away.

"It was only about six feet away from me, the water was crystal clear and it was as clear as the nose on my face," he said.

Howes realized what the dolphins were doing: "They had corralled us up to protect us."

Another lifeguard, Matt Fleet, on patrol in a lifeboat, saw the dolphins circling the swimmers and slapping their tails on the water to keep them in place. Fleet told the newspaper he also had a clear sighting of the shark.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Hate Crime Laws and 2003 U.S. Statistics

The FBI released its statistics on 2003 hate crimes a couple of days ago and I, for one, find that sort of stuff quite interesting. To summarise the main findings, there were 7,489 hate crimes in the United States last year, including 14 murders.

Six of the 14 murders were committed as a result of a sexual-orientation bias, five involved racial prejudice, two were committed because of a bias against an ethnicity and one was the result of a hostility toward a disability, the bureau said.

Intimidation was the most often reported hate crime against an individual followed by simple assault, it said.

Damage, destruction and vandalism was the most frequently reported hate crime offense against property, accounting for 83 percent of all such offenses.

Of the total 7,489 hate crimes reported in 2003, just over half were motivated by racial bigotry. Nearly 18 percent were caused by religious intolerance and nearly 17 percent were the result of a sexual-orientation bias.

The FBI said the crimes were committed by 6,934 reported offenders -- just over 62 percent of them white and about 19 percent black.

While it’s good to note that murders form such a low percentage of hate crimes, it still causes one to stop and think when you realize that 7,489 hate crimes equals an average of 20.5 crimes a day, purely motivated by hate for another person’s religion, race, gender, sexual orientation and so forth.

I’ll now summarise some of the other findings on the report, although you can download the entire document from the FBI’s website. Beginning with racially-motivated crimes there were 3,844 incidents, of which 2,548 were anti-black and 830 were anti-white, with the majority of the remainder being anti-Asian.

Anti-religion crimes numbered 1,343 in 2003, of which 927 were anti-Jewish. While, as people know me may know, I have a large problem with those people who equate criticism of the state of Israel with anti-Semitism. However, at the same time this stat should reaffirm the unfortunate prevalence that anti-Semitism itself has in our society today. While Arabs deal with institutional and governmental racism, Jewish individuals deal with racist actions on a day-to-day basis more than any other religious group. Neither kind is right, and unfortunately I doubt either kind will be rectified in the near future.

Hate crimes dealing with sexual orientation were almost as common as those dealing with religion. There were 1,239 hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation, of which 1,217 were anti-homosexual. Not surprisingly the majority of these anti-homosexual hate crimes were directed against gay men. Of the other 19, 8 were anti-bisexual, which really could qualify them under the first categorization, while there were 14 anti-heterosexual hate crimes in the U.S. in 2003. That’s right; even if you are straight you are not safe. Dick Cheney would have a field day.

Of the murders, all six anti-gay murders were committed against homosexual males, while the five racially motivated hate crimes were committed against four black individuals and one white person. Interestingly, the violent incidents seem to be clustered, as the 14 murders occur in only seven states: Arkansas (2), California (4), Louisiana (1), North Carolina (2), Tennessee (1), Texas (1) and Washington (3).

Perusing the crime locations by state (at least for the jurisdictions that reported statistics to the FBI), New Jersey, surprisingly, appears to be the most dangerous state when it comes to hate crimes. There were 594 incidents with a population of 8,638,396, which meant you had a 0.00688% chance of being a victim of a hate crime in that state. California had the most hate crimes, 1,472, but there you only had a 0.0041483% chance of being a victim.

Interestingly, a lot of “redneck” states had the lowest rates in the country. In Louisiana one only had a 0.00020% chance of being a victim (out of only 7 incidents, one was a murder), in Alabama it was 0.00043% and in Mississippi it was 0.00012%. A lot of these red states actually seem more tolerant than the blue states.

However, the immediate question becomes, “What is the per capita frequency of hate crimes, within the categories?” While there are fewer hate crimes in Alabama than in New York, I’d wager there is substantially fewer African-Americans, Jews and homosexuals in that state, too. That’s not something that has available statistics at this point in time, so although those stats might, at first glance, seem surprising, we can’t draw any real conclusions from them.

The per-capita rate of hate crime incidents would actually be quite informative in trying to identify the specific areas of the country where actions to promote diversity and tolerance need to be considered. I’d also be interested in examining other linkages, such as how closely does it correspond to the red state/blue state divide. My guess is that it does roughly, at least. Also, are there any linkages between governmental policy and statements and hate crimes? Does a statement like Rick Santorum’s infamous quote encourage people to commit crimes against GLBT individuals? What about Jim DeMint’s statement of, “If a person is a practicing homosexual, they should not be teaching in our schools.” This would likely be incredibly hard to figure out, given the existing problems of getting accurate figures on homosexuals, especially those who are openly homosexual and thus more likely to be the victim of a hate crime and then trying to isolate the other variables so one can determine, at least roughly, if official intolerance promotes civilian hate crimes.

On the general issue of hate crimes themselves, I support hate crime legislation. I do not see it as being inconsistent with the justice system to hand out harsher punishments for one sort of murder over another, as that is exactly what we do when distinguishing between first and second degree murder and manslaughter. There are different punishments for different sorts of robberies, so there is no problem with looking at different sentencing for murders.

Hate crime legislation is necessary because the victims in hate crimes were targeted because of who they represented, as opposed to who they are. A robber might target a rich individual because he is rich and thus the reward from the robbery is greater than it would otherwise be. A lover might murder his spouse because she is threatening to leave him. A target in a hate crime is not targeted because of the specific individual he or she is, but rather because he or she possess characteristics that make them representative of a group that the offender has come to hate. They are not targeted because of who they are; they are targeted because they are mentally disabled, for example.

I believe that in order to demonstrate the tolerance of our society and our unwillingness to stand for hatred of identifiable groups. We need to emphasise that murder motivated by factors opposed to those values should be punished severely. Although I have no statistical evidence to prove this (because I haven’t looked, not because there is none), it seems logical to me that hate crime offenders are much more likely to re-offend than other sorts of offenders. Someone who another person in a bar right, or who rapes a girl on a date who won’t engage sexually with him may not re-offend. However, the hate crime perpetrator hates his target group, and that hate does not subside, so it seems only logical he’d use the next available opportunity to commit another act against them. Thus, the purpose of protection is also served through hate crime legislation. We must not allow discrimination to occur against any person through religious beliefs, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, disability or anything similar, and hate crime laws are an effective and necessary way to demonstrate our intolerance and protect members of minority groups.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Min Ko Naing Released from Prison

Min Ko Naing, a Burmese prisoner of conscience was finally freed by the Myanmar government on Friday after spending 16 years in jail. Naing founded the All Burma Federation of Students Union (ABFSU) in 1988, and called for students to engage in peaceful protests against the Burmese military government, and in favour of democracy. Naing was arrested on March 23, 1989 and has been jailed ever since, under Section 5(j) of the 1950 Emergency Provisions Act, which the government uses to “justify” detaining political prisoners.

Naing is probably the second-most famous political prisoner in Myanmar, behind Aung San Suu Kyi, who was elected prime minister in 1990. When General Ne Win stepped down as ruler of Burma in 1988, a military junta lead by Than Shwe took power. Pro-democracy movements began to form in Burma, from the ABFSU to Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD). Kyi was placed under house arrest in 1989. General elections were held in 1990, and the NLD won 80% of the votes. Shwe refused to let them form the government though, and the election results were nullified. Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize the following year, and remained under house arrest until 1995. She was then freed, but was told that if she left to visit her husband and children in the United Kingdom she would barred from returning to Burma. As such, she never left and has been under house arrest for the majority of time since 2000, where she currently remains.

On October 19. 2004 Lt. Gen Soe Win took over from Khin Nyunt as Shwe’s appointed prime minister. Although Nyunt and Shwe had been clashing, and this seemed to be a power-solidifying move, the last month has shown a marked willingness to engage in some reforms. About 4,000 political prisoners have been freed in the last month, predominately members of pro-democracy movements who have spent years in jail. Naing is the most famous of thousands of individuals willing to sit in jail because they opposed the military regime. It’s a positive step that so many have been freed, although I question whether the government will allow them to continue their fight against tyranny. The fact Kyi still is under house arrest and the unwillingness of Shwe to make any substantive democratic reforms still means Myanmar has a long way to move towards becoming a functioning democracy. Naing would be a great candidate to lead the fight with Kyi still in jail, but I wonder if he has any fight left in him after 16 years in solitary confinement.

Naing was the co-recipient of the 1999 John Humphrey Award, given to honour a non-governmental organization or individual for exceptional achievement in the defence or promotion of human rights and democratic development.

A more detailed biography of Min Ko Naing, from Amnesty International, is available here.

In September 1988 after violently suppressing demonstrations and killing hundreds of people, the military reasserted power and formed a new government, called the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). Martial law decrees were issued, including a ban on any criticism of the military and of any public gathering of more than five people. At the same time the SLORC announced that political parties could be formed and that elections would take place in May 1990. Dozens of political parties were founded, including the National League for Democracy (NLD, led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi).

In March 1989, the Myanmar Government began to issue warnings against possible memorial gatherings by students and others to mark the first anniversaries of the deaths of student demonstrators during the initial waves of civil unrest in March 1988. At a
24 March 1989 press conference a SLORC spokesperson said that the ABFSU and two other student union organizations were ''illegal organizations'' because they had refused to register with the authorities. The spokesperson went on to say:

''Min Ko Naing, alias Paw U Tun, chairman of the illegal ABFSU, has been arrested...because he and his associates instigated disturbances to the detriment of law and order, peace and tranquillity. At the same time, it had been ascertained that they have been carrying out organizational work and giving speeches...Furthermore, Min Ko Naing has been found to have repeatedly violated Order No 2/88 [forbidding gatherings of more than five people]...Action will be taken against him according to the law.''

It includes a report of the conditions Naing faced in jail:

Min Ko Naing was severely tortured and ill-treated during the early stages of his detention and his health suffered as a consequence. During his interrogation he was reportedly forced to stand in water for two weeks until he collapsed, and as a result, his left foot became totally numb. Such treatment is not uncommon. Political prisoners in Myanmar routinely face torture during the initial phases of detention when they are often interrogated for hours or even days at a time by rotating teams of Military Intelligence (MI) personnel. They are also vulnerable to torture and ill-treatment after sentencing, when they can be punished for breaking arbitrary prison rules such as possessing writing paper. In addition conditions in most prisons are harsh, due to lack of adequate food, water, sanitation, and medical care.

Torture and ill-treatment have become institutionalized in
Myanmar. Patterns of torture have remained the same, although the time and place vary. Torture occurs throughout the country and has been reported for over four decades. Members of the security forces continue to use torture as a means of extracting information; to punish political prisoners and members of ethnic minorities; and as a means of instilling fear in anyone critical of the military government.

For most of his imprisonment Min Ko Naing has been held in complete solitary confinement. In 1993 he was visited in
Insein Prison, Myanmar's main detention facility, by a United States Congressman. He was said to be in poor health and appeared disoriented. In November 1994 the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Myanmar was also allowed to visit him briefly in prison, and described him as being nervous and thin. Subsequent reports on his health stated that, although it improved, he suffers from a nervous tremor and may have suffered emotionally as a result of his ill-treatment and prolonged solitary confinement. He is believed to suffer from a gastric ulcer.

The Undecideds

While post-election wrap-up is beginning to tire (although I may have one piece forthcoming shortly), I did find one article quite recently that was relatively interesting. In The New Republic online Christopher Hayes, a freelance writer who spent the last seven weeks of the electoral campaign trying to convince undecided voters to vote for John Kerry, explains some of the general conclusions he formed as a result of his experiences.

Hayes comes up with five conclusions, which I’ll mention below:

  1. Undecided voters aren’t as rational as you’d think.
  2. Undecided voters care about politics, they just don’t enjoy politics.
  3. A disturbing number of voters are crypto-racist isolations.
  4. The worse things got in Iraq, the better they got for Bush.
  5. Undecided voters don’t think in terms of issues.

I think the first four points are relatively simple. The first one speaks to voters who are misinformed and unwilling to listen to the facts. This refers to issues that aren’t debatable, like which candidate might have better fought the “war on terror,” but instead deals with stories such as that of a woman who switched from Kerry to Bush because Bush supported stem-cell research. There is really no way to argue that Bush supports stem cell research more than Kerry does. Several factors ranging from the media to general discourse to one’s upbringing have combined to influence a person’s viewpoint in a way that makes it impossible to try to stimulate debate by introducing new facts to the equation.

The second point states that these people do care about politics as they mean to vote, but they just view it the way most of us view laundry or the dishes. They are going to wait until the last possible moment to do it, and not spend as much time on it as many other people.

The third point makes the unsurprising and troubling point that many people view the world in a Samuel Huntington mindsight. These are the people you encounter who suggest, “Nuking the Middle East,” or just going in there without any concern whatsoever for human life that isn’t that of an American soldier. While this occurred more commonly with undecideds who leant towards Bush, it also occurred with a number of Kerry supporters.

From what Hayes encountered many conservatives were more than willing to recognise the failures of the Bush administration in Iraq, but these failings had the weird effect, probably helped by a less-than-clear picture from Kerry, of stimulating support for Bush. People viewed the situation as one that would not see progress in a long time. They saw the failures and instead of wanting to hold Bush accountable they said, “Well, things won’t get any better over there so what’s the point in switching.”

The last point is the most interesting, I think. Hayes claims that he encountered a whole set of undecided voters who were unable to make the distinction between what is political and what is not. They drew the line so narrowly they were unable to see the wide-ranging effect politics has on almost every aspect of your life.

More often than not, when I asked undecided voters what issues they would pay attention to as they made up their minds I was met with a blank stare, as if I'd just asked them to name their favorite prime number.

The majority of undecided voters I spoke to couldn't name a single issue that was important to them. This was shocking to me. Think about it: The "issue" is the basic unit of political analysis for campaigns, candidates, journalists, and other members of the chattering classes. It's what makes up the subheadings on a candidate's website, it's what sober, serious people wish election outcomes hinged on, it's what every candidate pledges to run his campaign on, and it's what we always complain we don't see enough coverage of.

But the very concept of the issue seemed to be almost completely alien to most of the undecided voters I spoke to. (This was also true of a number of committed voters in both camps--though I'll risk being partisan here and say that Kerry voters, in my experience, were more likely to name specific issues they cared about than Bush supporters.) At first I thought this was a problem of simple semantics--maybe, I thought, "issue" is a term of art that sounds wonky and intimidating, causing voters to react as if they're being quizzed on a topic they haven't studied. So I tried other ways of asking the same question: "Anything of particular concern to you? Are you anxious or worried about anything? Are you excited about what's been happening in the country in the last four years?"

These questions, too, more often than not yielded bewilderment. As far as I could tell, the problem wasn't the word "issue"; it was a fundamental lack of understanding of what constituted the broad category of the "political." The undecideds I spoke to didn't seem to have any intuitive grasp of what kinds of grievances qualify as political grievances. Often, once I would engage undecided voters, they would list concerns, such as the rising cost of health care; but when I would tell them that Kerry had a plan to lower health-care premiums, they would respond in disbelief--not in disbelief that he had a plan, but that the cost of health care was a political issue. It was as if you were telling them that Kerry was promising to extend summer into December.

To cite one example: I had a conversation with an undecided truck driver who was despondent because he had just hit a woman's car after having worked a week straight. He didn't think the accident was his fault and he was angry about being sued. "There's too many lawsuits these days," he told me. I was set to have to rebut a "tort reform" argument, but it never came. Even though there was a ready-made connection between what was happening in his life and a campaign issue, he never made the leap. I asked him about the company he worked for and whether it would cover his legal expenses; he said he didn't think so. I asked him if he was unionized and he said no. "The last job was unionized," he said. "They would have covered my expenses." I tried to steer him towards a political discussion about how Kerry would stand up for workers' rights and protect unions, but it never got anywhere. He didn't seem to think there was any connection between politics and whether his company would cover his legal costs. Had he made a connection between his predicament and the issue of tort reform, it might have benefited Bush; had he made a connection between his predicament and the issue of labor rights, it might have benefited Kerry. He made neither, and remained undecided.

In this context, Bush's victory, particularly on the strength of those voters who listed "values" as their number one issue, makes perfect sense. Kerry ran a campaign that was about politics: He parsed the world into political categories and offered political solutions. Bush did this too, but it wasn't the main thrust of his campaign. Instead, the president ran on broad themes, like "character" and "morals." Everyone feels an immediate and intuitive expertise on morals and values--we all know what's right and wrong. But how can undecided voters evaluate a candidate on issues if they don't even grasp what issues are?

We aren’t talking about a sizable percentage of the population here, so I don’t think the Democrats should be radically altering their electoral approach to appeal to these sorts of voters. However, this raises the very interesting question of how do you reach out to someone who fundamentally doesn’t grasp the nature of politics? At this point I’m really not sure how you’d do that. I’ve always thought it was clear when listening to political speeches or reading analysis exactly how different parties have different approaches that lead to different results. It seems that it’s not, and I don’t know how, or even if, one can address that point.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Terrorist Haven?

The Bush administration has often mentioned how Iraq has become a terrorist haven. Members and supporters of the administration have framed their fight against Iraqi insurgents as a battle against foreign terrorists seeking to restore tyranny to Iraq in the post-war scenario. The Iraqis, it is said, welcome the American troops and want them to succeed; it is foreign terrorists and remaining Saddam loyalist who are perpetrating the attack against the liberators.

However, as the L.A. Times reports less than 5% insurgents captured are foreign freedom fighters. From a November 16th article regarding the Falluja surge:

Of the more than 1,000 men between the ages of 15 and 55 who were captured in intense fighting in the center of the insurgency over the last week, just 15 are confirmed foreign fighters, Gen. George W. Casey, the top U.S. ground commander in Iraq, said Monday.


But despite an intense focus on the network of Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab Zarqawi by U.S. and Iraqi officials, who have insisted that most Iraqis support the country's interim government, American commanders said their best estimates of the proportion of foreigners among their enemies is about 5%.

The overwhelming majority of insurgents, several senior commanders said, are drawn from the tens of thousands of former government employees whose sympathies lie with the toppled regime of Saddam Hussein, unemployed "criminals" who find work laying roadside bombs for about $500 each and Iraqi religious extremists.

"Over time, it's the former regime elements that are the threat," said Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who joined Casey for a visit to bases in
Baghdad and outside Fallouja before meeting with interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

Before the battle,
U.S. officials frequently stressed the role of foreign fighters in Fallouja. Last week, as the battle got underway, Myers told reporters that the city was "a major safe haven for former regime elements and foreign fighters, in particular Zarqawi and his folks."

I can see a potential counterargument in that maybe more Iraqis would have stayed behind to try to defend their hometown or homeland, whereas foreign insurgents would be more likely to flee the city, as they can attack American troops from another location in the country. However, I don’t see that as a compelling reason to see such a drop from the way the insurgency is often portrayed by Bush and co. to a number like 5%. If it wasn’t already, it’s becoming increasingly clear the insurgency is fuelled by unhappy Iraqis, not America-hating terrorists.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Condi and the 9/11 Commission

As you’re well aware, Condoleeza Rice has been named to replace Colin Powell and National Security Advisor. In case anyone forgot, it’s time for a quick look at her exchange with the 9/11 Commission. First, the infamous Presidential Daily Briefing of August 6, 2001.

PRESIDENTIAL BRIEFING, 8/6/01: (paragraph 7) Al Qaeda members—including some who are U.S. citizens—have resided in or traveled to the U.S. for years, and the group apparently maintains a support structure that could aid attacks….

(8) A clandestine source said in 1998 that a bin Laden cell in New York was recruiting Muslim-American youth for attacks.

(9) We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a [REDACTED] service in 1998 saying that bin Laden wanted to hijack a U.S. aircraft to gain the release of “Blind Sheik” Omar Abdel Rahman and other U.S.-held extremists.

(10) Nevertheless, FBI information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.

(11) The FBI is conducting approximately 70 full field investigations throughout the U.S. that it considers bin Laden-related. CIA and the FBI are investigating a call to our embassy in the UAE in May saying that a group of bin Laden supporters was in the US planning attacks with explosives.

Now, here’s Condoleeza’s testimony, under oath, to the 9/11 Commission.

RICE, OPENING STATEMENT: I want to address in some detail one of the briefing items we received, since its content has frequently been mischaracterized.

On August 6, 2001, the president’s intelligence briefing included a response to questions that he had earlier raised about any al Qaeda intentions to strike our homeland.

The [PDB] reviewed past intelligence reporting, mostly dating from the 1990s, regarding possible al Qaeda plans to attack inside the United States. It referred to uncorroborated reporting that—from 1998—that a terrorist might attempt to hijack a U.S. aircraft in an attempt to blackmail the government into releasing U.S.-held terrorists who had participated in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. This briefing item was not prompted by any specific threat information and it did not raise the possibility that terrorists might use airplanes as missiles.

And here are selected exchanges with Richard Ben-Veniste, the head of the 9/11 Commission.

BEN-VENISTE: Isn’t it a fact, Dr. Rice, that the August 6th PDB warned against possible attacks in this country? And I ask you whether you recall the title of that PDB.

RICE: You said, did it not warn of attacks? It did not warn of attacks inside the United States. It was historical information based on old reporting. There was no new threat information, and it did not, in fact, warn of any coming attacks inside the United States.

BEN-VENISTE: As of the August 6th briefing, you learned that al Qaeda members have resided or traveled to the United States for years and maintained a support system in the United States. And you learned that FBI information since the 1998 blind sheik warning of hijackings to free the blind sheik indicated a pattern of suspicious activity in the country, up until August 6th, consistent with preparation for hijackings. Isn’t that so?

RICE: You have other questions that you want me to answer in—as part of the sequence?

BEN-VENISTE: You have indicated here that this was some historical document. And I am asking you whether it is not the case that you learned in the PDB memo of August 6th that the FBI was saying that it had information suggesting that preparations—not historically, but ongoing, along with these numerous full-field investigations against al Qaeda cells—that preparations were being made consistent with hijackings within the United States.

RICE: May I address the question, sir? The fact is that this August 6th PDB was in response to the president’s questions about whether or not something might happen or something might be planned by al Qaeda inside the United States. He asked because all of the threat reporting, or the threat reporting that was actionable, was about the threats abroad, not about the United States.

This particular PDB had a long section on what bin Laden had wanted to do—speculative, much of it—in ’97, ’98, that he had in fact liked the results of the 1993 bombing. It had a number of discussions of—it had a discussion of whether or not they might use hijacking to try and free a prisoner who was being held in the United States, Ressam. It reported that the FBI had full field investigations underway. And we checked on the issue of whether or not there was something going on with surveillance of buildings, and we were told, I believe, that the issue was the courthouse in which this might take place.

Commissioner, this was not a warning. This was a historic memo—historical memo prepared by the agency because the president was asking questions about what we knew about the inside.

Now, it should be obvious to anyone reading that Dr. Rice, for all intents and purposes, lied to the 9/11 Commission under oath. While the PDB of August 6, 2001 didn’t warn directly of an upcoming attempt by Al-Qaeda to crash an airplane into the World Trade Centre, it certainly is a “warning” of an upcoming attack, despite protestations from Rice. Read paragraphs 9 and 10 again, if you want. They warn about “bin Laden wanting to hijack U.S. aircraft”, “activity consistent with preparations for a hijacking” and “surveillance of federal buildings in New York.” In hindsight it’s possibly easier to put together than it was at that point.

However, the testimony of Dr. Rice seems like an attempt to cover up the cavalier way the Bush Administration had viewed the memo. It certain does warn of upcoming attacks in the United States, and though no one could have guessed their severity at that point, the Bush Administration knew Al Qaeda was planning something. The Bush Administration could have done a far better job in handling Al Qaeda, like I’m sure Clinton’s could have, too.

The resignation of the moderate Colin Powell and the appointment of another ideologue in Dr. Rice is not good news. Alternatively, it might be great news depending on how you view the world.

This Isn't a Fallujah Palooza

Any discussion about war must include a discussion of the humanitarian consequences of war as well as a discussion of the humanitarian consequences of not going to war. The abuses under Saddam's regime have been moderately well-documented for a dictatorial regime, but little video or pictoral evidence of them exist.

The humanitarian consequences of the current war are not going to be truly know for a while, although I think the figure in the Lancet provides a better estimation of it than what people from ABC or NBC. Regardless, since Al-Jazeera is basically not allowed to be broadcast inside Canada, we only recieve filtered images of the Iraq war. This blog provides the most accurate images of what is going on inside Fallujah. Compare those images to what was in the Toronto Star on Monday, for example. Again, thanks to Chris for the head's up.

Iraq Wrapup - Nov 16, 2004

R.I.P. Margaret Hassan

Apparently Margaret Hassan, British aid worker has been murdered. This maybe the most despicable of all the killings by Iraqi militants. Hassan had lived in Iraq for 30 years and spent the past 12 years heading the Iraq chapter of Care International, an aid agency. She didn't flee during the first Gulf War and she stayed in the country throughout Saddam's regime. She urged the British government not to join in the current war, but returned to Iraq to help aid the humanitarian crisis she believed would result. Read a biography here.

U.S. Soldier Kills Wounded Insurgent

From the BBC:

The US military has announced it is looking into whether an American marine in Falluja shot dead a severely wounded Iraqi insurgent at point-blank range.

Television footage shows US soldiers entering a building as injured prisoners lie on the floor.

The soldier, who has not been identified, has been removed from the field and faces possible charges.


"Then one of the marines points his rifle at the head of one of the injured, an old man, saying, 'He's faking he's dead'," Mr Sites' description continues.

"The sound of a shot is then heard. And in the background, another soldier says, 'Well, he's dead now'."

Anybody who doesn't think there are problems with the manner in which the U.S. Army conducts itself is kidding themselves. First, Abu Ghraib and now this, and I've read other reports of civilians and insurgents getting very harsh treatment at the hands of the U.S. soldiers. If this incident hadn't been captured on video would we have ever heard about it?

Saddam Made $21 billion from Oil for Food Program

Still more from the BBC:

Saddam Hussein's Iraq made more than $21bn (£11.3bn) from illicit oil sales and kickbacks in breach of UN sanctions, the US Senate has heard.

The figure is double the $10bn quoted in a CIA report on Iraqi weapons.


Out of a total of $21.3bn, $17.3bn came from abuses during the oil-for-food programme. Within this:
$9.7bn from oil smuggling
$4.4bn in kickbacks from contracts for humanitarian goods
$2.1bn from substituting low-quality goods for high-quality ones
$403m from overseas investment of illicitly earned funds
$241m from surcharges on oil sales

Sunday, November 14, 2004

It's In You to Give

I don't usually post human interest stories, but I thought this one was particularly relevant.

Two years ago, Len Geiger was near death, suffering from a severe case of genetic emphysema. On Saturday, Geiger participated in his first marathon, accompanied by the father of the 14-year-old girl whose lungs were used in a double-lung transplant to save his life.


In 2002, Geiger's lungs were barely functioning and his hip bones had deteriorated from his steroid medication, requiring a total hip replacement.

At the same time, Shroyer's once-vivacious daughter, Korinne, lay in a hospital, about to die from what Shroyer said was a Paxil-induced suicide. The government has warned that the anti-depressant may be linked to an increased risk of suicide in children.

Shroyer and his wife Kristie, overwhelmed with grief, drew on their faith and decided to have Korinne's organs donated. Her lungs went to Geiger, a 45-year-old from Gainesville, Ga.


And though their relationship was born out of tragedy, Shroyer said Geiger's chance at a new life was the most positive thing to come out of his daughter's death.

"As a result of losing our daughter, I feel like I've kind of adopted a brother," Shroyer said. "And he's part of our family, whether he wants to be or not."

Organ donation rates in this country are quite low, and I'm sure the same is true all over the world. There is no reason in this day and age, given the population we have, why anybody should die on a waiting list for an organ transplant. If you don't have personal or religious objections to donating organs, please let someone you love (yes, it sounds cheesy) know that you'd like to donate some organs after you die or, better yet, sign an organ donation card. Frankly, even if you have religious or personal objections, that doesn't cut it with me if someone dies. In my books, there's not really any excuse not to be willing to donate your organs if needed. You're dead, for Christ's sake.

Organs, they're in you to give.

Also, over at Batter's Box I've got a new article up about the best relievers in the NPB. If you're interested in baseball, check it out.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

The Media and Yasser Arafat

In the days since Arafat’s death, I’ve heard people decry the “leftists” who defend Arafat. However, I have yet to encounter anyone who actually defends his actions in any broad sense of the word. The “liberal media” certainly is defending him by any reasonable definition of the word. (WARNING: Long piece, feel free to skip to the conclusions if one so desires.)

Take the Globe and Mail. Today’s editorial page is filled predominantly by a large column by Margaret Wente. Entitled, “Greatest Con Man of the Age” it’s an description of Arafat’s legacy. It includes such lines as

This is Yasser Arafat’s legacy – a world where teenagers are poisoned by hate.


Mr. Arafat used high-school girls, pregnant women and mentally retarded adolescents ad human bombs.


Mr. Arafat conned much of the world into believing he was a partner for peace. By the time we finally realised we’d been duped, he had created an enduring myth of the Palestinians as the most cruelly martyred people on Earth.


Their delusions were stoked by Mr. Arafat, who promised that, one day, the Jews would pack up and disappear and that all of Palestine from the Jordan River to sea would be theirs again.


For Mr. Arafat, the struggle was never about the Jewish occupation of Palestine. It was about the existence of Israel.

For the leftish intellectual elites of Europe, Canada and the United States the Palestinians took the place of the black South Africans in the essential modern narrative of colonial oppression. In this narrative, Israel is the stand-in for America, brutally oppressing a helpless population that yearns to be free.


Yasser Arafat was the worst enemy the Palestinians ever had. And most of the Western world was his enabler.

The Globe restricts it’s online content, so I’m not provided links, nor will I extensively quote from the November 12th issue, but I will provide a summary of the Arafat columns in the paper. For the same reasons as above, I won’t go back in the Globe another day or two, because I don’t have the hard copies around.

In “Success, Failure, Funeral” Rick Saultin praises Arafat’s ability to bring the cause of the Palestinian people onto the world and how “it became seen as legitimate and urgent.” Salutin goes onto call Arafat “a PR nightmare” and says “yet he failed, in his lifetime, and his cause may fail, too.” Like others Saltuin criticises Arafat’s inability to negotiate. However, he did say the Camp David accord was portrayed far better in the media than it actually was, and he denies Arafat is “the founder of modern terrorism.” He calls him a terrorist but points out that Nelson Mandela was once a terrorist, too. He’s the staunchest defender of Arafat you’ll find in the Globe.

Jeffrey Simpson writes about how Arafat led the Palestinian people “so poorly”; that he pursued his convictions with “disastrous tactics and an awful strategic sense”; that Arafat is “an avowed terrorist” whose renunciation of terrorism we couldn’t believe; that he never tried to stop terrorist acts of the Palestinian people and he criticises him for not accepting Camp David.

Shira Herzog writes about how Ariel Sharon must signal whether he wants to negotiate with new Palestinian leaders in “Is Peace Cleared for Takeoff?” In the article she talks more about the Israeli side, but she justifies Sharon’s refusal to talk to Arafat as long as he dismissed the Gaza plan, casting him again as someone not interested in peace.

The Globe also included a section of quotes from around the world, mainly a representation of world leaders, Arab groups and Jewish groups commenting on Arafat. There was one quote from a Palestinian mother who had twins she named Yasser and Arafat which said she was proud to name her sons after Arafat, which stood in contrast to the quote from the Palestinian on the main page that said, “No one will say this to you – not today – but in his heart every Palestinian is thinking that this is the best gift we could have received from God for Eid.”

There seems to be very little defence of Arafat here. But how does this compare to American newspapers? Such as the “liberal” New York Times.

On November 11th, there was an editorial praising both the Israelis and Palesitians for agreeing on where to bury Arafat and compromising, with no mention of his legacy.

On November 12th the paper had a rather long piece on Arafat, where they talked about his legacy.

The Palestinians… have used…Mr. Arafat's immovable presence as the all-purpose explanation for everything from internal corruption to suicide bombers.


If [Ariel Sharon] wants to avoid Mr. Arafat's fate - dying as a former hero turned obstacle to his people's progress.


Mr. Arafat's successors will be under extraordinary pressure to follow Mr. Arafat's path by talking to the West about peace while allowing the terrorists to dictate actions at home.

I didn’t see any columnists publish opinion pieces about Arafat after his death, but William Safire published one on November 10th.

The only lifelong terrorist to win a Nobel Peace Prize lies comatose in Paris


Israelis should remember Arafat's one "good deed": four years ago, a soon-to-be ousted Israeli prime minister and a Nobel-hungry U.S. president made the Palestinian Authority an incredibly generous and dangerous offer: dividing Jerusalem, handing over almost all of the West Bank, and even partially establishing a "right of return" for some Palestinians who fled an Arab invasion of the new Jewish state a half-century ago.


“Thanks to worldwide disgust at Arafat's all-or-nothing demand and his refusal to stop the killing of innocents on school buses...

Safire’s article also praises the security fence ruled illegal by the ICC; translates Tony Blair’s request to President Bush to work on solving the problem of this conflict as though Blair proposes it will end all the fundamental Islam violence in the world and, as seen above, assumes the right of return is a fictionalised concept. This is one of only two editorials by columnists in the New York Times on Arafat’s death, and it places all the blame for the Israel/Palestine conflict on Arafat and the Palestinians.

The other is by Thomas Friedman. It includes such quotes as:

It is a sad but fitting coda to Yasir Arafat's career that the prospect of his death seemed to unlock more hope and possibilities than the reality of his life.

His corrupt, self-interested rule had created a situation whereby Palestinian aspirations seemed to have gotten locked away with him, under house arrest in Ramallah, well beyond the reach of creative diplomacy.


He was a bad man, not simply for the way he introduced a whole new level of terrorism to world politics, but because of the crimes he committed against his own people. There, history will judge him very harshly.


His obsession was with Palestinian "land," not Palestinian "life." Google the words "Yasir Arafat and martyrdom and jihad," and the matches go on for pages.


The fact that he didn't was not a mistake in judgment but an expression of character. For him, it was better to die in Paris, and have two generations of Palestinians die in exile, than be the Arab leader who officially and unambiguously agreed to share Jerusalem with the Jews. I can understand why stateless Palestinians would revere Arafat for the way he put their cause on the world map - but that became an end for him rather than a means, which is why his historical impact will be as lasting as a footprint in the desert.

This is the other, and as you can see Friedman is distraught by Arafat’s death.

We’ll try one more paper. The L.A. Times has been called liberal many times. On November 11th they had an editorial on Arafat’s death entitled, “A Second Chance in the MidEast.”

But Yasser Arafat's death offers Palestinians the historic opportunity to obtain a state of their own. They aren't likely to get as much as they would have under a deal Arafat foolishly rejected four years ago, but at least a people whose territory has been occupied by Israel for the last 37 years will get a chance to live in peace and freedom on their own land.


The president should publicly support elections and push Sharon to help clear the ground for the balloting. Israel and the U.S. say they want a peaceful, democratic Palestinian state. With Arafat gone, the chance presents itself again.

Another article that mentions Arafat as the defining roadblock to peace in the MidEast, which, along with terrorist, seems to have become a theme. This one, like so many others, doesn’t even mention the fact he brought publicity to the Palestinian cause or tried to unite the people into one cogent voice.

Let’s see what else the Times offers.

One article is entitled “Palestinians Need a Gandhi, Not a New Arafat.” Obviously, this article advocates Palestinians using non-violence to resist the Israeli occupation. While this article doesn’t comment on Arafat, per se, the implications that he was responsible for the violence and that the violence is wrong, is clear.

Max Boot comments in, “How Arafat Got Away With It"

It is considered bad form to speak ill of the dead, but I will make an exception for Yasser Arafat, the pathetic embodiment of all that went wrong in the Third World after the demise of the European empires.


Arafat benefited from this deference ever since taking over the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1969. He and his cronies pocketed billions of dollars and kept their grip on power through the cruel application of violence against various enemies and "collaborators." In return, Arafat reaped worldwide adulation and a Nobel Peace Prize.


If Arafat had displayed the wisdom of a Gandhi or Mandela, he would long ago have presided over the establishment of a fully independent Palestine comprising all of the Gaza Strip, part of Jerusalem and at least 95% of the West Bank.


His refusal to compromise, his unwillingness to give up the way of the gun consigned his people to economic and moral suicide. The current intifada, launched in September 2000 after Arafat turned down a generous peace offer from the Israelis at Camp David, has claimed three times as many Palestinian as Israeli victims.


And let us not forget his fan club among the Western intelligentsia, many of whom even now weep for his passing as if he were a great man instead of a criminal with a cause.


Now that Arafat has gone to the great compound in the sky, there will be pressure on Bush to resume the pointless "peace process," but it will be premature to do so as long as the terrorist kleptocracy spawned by Arafat continues to exist.

The second-last column written on the day of, or since Arafat’s death is by Martin Peretz. Another love-in with Arafat, it reads:

The rais — or chief, as Arafat was known — was a cruel, conniving and utterly corrupt man. Yet despite all the multiple murders he had planned and paid for, including the deaths of U.S. diplomats as well as thousands of noncombatant Israelis, President Clinton and Prime Minister Ehud Barak decided at the end of the year 2000 to offer him a Palestinian state the likes of which no Israeli government will agree to ever again. (For what it's worth, I opposed those offers as perils to Jewish life.) But there was no one in the Palestinian polity to force his hand to accept them. Arafat was, in fact, a tyrant, much like his hero Saddam Hussein.


What he did achieve over the course of three decades was to keep the Palestine problem at the center of the world arena. But he sorely confused, as many Palestinian intellectuals also do, an endless array of anti-Israeli resolutions in the U.N. General Assembly and the Human Rights Commission with the real, meaningful, reasonable steps required to create a viable home for his people.


An independent Palestine will eventually emerge, too. But thanks in part to the leadership of Yasser Arafat from 1969 until today, its press will be intimidated. Its courts will not be independent. Its schools and universities will be centers of ugly racist and anti-Jewish doctrine. Its sciences will not be curious. Law will be determined by which faction is most cruel. Women will suffer the historical onus of their gender in Islam. Gays will try to escape to Israel. Its economy will be crippled because Israel will be wary of allowing Palestinians to come in and work. A fitting tribute to Yasser Arafat, his legacy to the Palestinians.

Here, finally, is an opinion piece written by Robert Malley. I’ve never heard of him before, but Robert Malley was President Clinton’s special advisor for Arab-Israeli affairs, and was involved with the Camp David negotiations. Interestingly, he offers the only editorial in an American paper I’ve read that seems to be even moderately praising Arafat.

It took Yasser Arafat many years to persuade his fellow Palestinians of the wisdom of the two-state solution, and it took longer still to convince Americans and Israelis of the genuineness of his views.


Those talks failed, and in the aftermath a myth was born that has had a lasting and devastating effect: that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak made the most generous offer possible, but that Arafat summarily turned it down. He did so, the story goes, because he never really believed in the Jewish state's right to exist in the first place and because he had never really hoped to reach a just, comprehensive and lasting peace with Israel.


I was a member of the U.S. delegation at those talks and have never concealed my frustration with the Palestinians' attitude. Divided, they spent more time backstabbing each other than seeking a deal. Suspicious, they were quick to see potential loopholes and slow to recognize possible leads. Passive, they failed to put forward their own ideas, leaving it to others to present proposals they could then conveniently turn down. In all this, Arafat played his customary role — sitting back, standing still, staying mum.


First, the question is not whether Arafat was up to the occasion — clearly, he was not — but whether his attitude reflected an inherent inability or unwillingness to end the conflict. As many Israeli and U.S. participants in the talks now acknowledge, numerous alternative explanations help account for his behavior: utter distrust of Barak, whom he saw as having humiliated and ignored the Palestinians and who he believed violated commitments; a rushed timetable oblivious to Palestinian political constraints; concern about domestic opposition at the popular level and divisions within the elite; and the absence of support from Arab countries for a deal. Arafat, as anyone who dealt with him knows well, moved only when compelled, preferring the ambiguity of deferral to the clarity of choice. At Camp David he had every reason to postpone and, as he saw it, little incentive to decide.

Second, although Camp David undoubtedly was a breakthrough, and although Israel was prepared to concede far more than in the past, the deal nevertheless didn't meet the minimum requirements of any Palestinian leader. Washington now welcomes the new leadership of Mahmoud Abbas and Ahmed Korei, but it is worth bearing in mind that neither could have embraced the Camp David ideas — and neither did.

A third oft-neglected point about Camp David is that the Palestinian positions, though clearly inconsistent with Israel's, nonetheless were compatible with the existence of a Jewish state: a Palestinian state based on the lines of June 4, 1967; Israeli annexation of limited West Bank territory to accommodate settlement blocs in exchange for the transfer of an equivalent amount of land from Israel proper; Palestinian sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem and over its holy sites; and implementation of the refugees' right of return in a manner designed to protect Israel's demographic interests. Those stances probably went beyond what the Israeli people could accept. But why is that any more relevant than whether Barak's stances went beyond what the Palestinian people could stomach?

Malley goes onto speculate why Arafat also turned down the Clinton parameters of December, 2000.

Arafat, ever the short-term tactician and with his finger invariably fastened to the public pulse, wanted neither to reject the deal nor embrace it, basking in his reinvigorated popular status and unsure whether he could swiftly turn his people's mood from anger at Israel to peace with it.


Whoever succeeds him will lack his legitimacy, and any future peace agreement inevitably will be measured against what, in his people's eyes, would have been his stance. Arafat was a man who resorted to violence and tragically missed several opportunities. But he also was the first Palestinian leader to embrace the two-state solution and recognize
Israel's right to exist. If we wrongly choose to depict Arafat as the man who could only say no, his successors will find it virtually impossible ever to say yes.

Interestingly, the only commentator who was involved with the Camp David talks is the least critical of Arafat. Some might argue this is indicative of how the Clinton administration was too generous to the Palestinians or how they were biased against Israel, or something. However, I think it’s telling that someone involved in the negotiations criticises Arafat for being slow to act, violent and in many ways a poor leader, but he defends how he turned down Camp David and says Arafat was willing to recognise Israel’s right to exist.

Now, I’m not saying that anything written in the numerous articles above is necessarily wrong. However, the “left-wing” element that defends Arafat hardly seems to exist to me. Or maybe they do, but you’d have to read the Omaha Times to find them. I thought the mainstream media were supposed to be part of the “leftist intelligentsia?” Maybe everybody around the world views Arafat like the Palestinian in the Globe does. In that case where are the “leftist intellectual elites” Wente writes about? And if not, why have they have been shut out of commenting on Arafat’s death?

And another thing, most articles talk about how Arafat turned into the voice of his people for the past half-century or so. Might it not be a good idea to get some Palestinians to comment on the man who had become their leader for so long? One would think that would lend a more authentic voice to those commenting on Arafat’s reign, rather than having a bunch of old, white men in their New York City offices deciding how to interpret his legacy.