Archive for March, 2010

Let Us Relax Ctd: Look at me in the Eyes

March 30, 2010

An art project from 1997 used shoes of various heights to make everyone the same height:

Berlin-based artist Hans Hemmert (famous for his work with balloons) threw a party where guests wore shoe-extenders to make them all the same height of 2 meters. Aside from bringing the partygoers all to a common eye level (and eliminating the awkward postures of party talk between the tall and the short), the gathering is lent an infographic nature by the shoes: all made from blue foam, the person’s real height is read in the visual uniformity of the sole instead of at the head—like a walking bar graph.

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The Rage Is Not About Health Care

March 28, 2010

It was obvious to me, and to most people I know, that the rage we’ve witnessed since Obama won the Democratic nomination in 2008, was a symptom of the profound societal changes our country is going through rather than a reaction to any specific political issue. I am talking about the fact that we will soon be in a situation where white Anglo-Saxons will represent less than 50% of the population for the first time in this nation’s history.

I was surprised that no preeminent columnist and/or political analyst dared to clearly frame the situation in those terms. New-York Times Frank Rich seizes the opportunity of the completely irrational reactions to the passing of Health Care Reform legislation to put them into a broader context:

That a tsunami of anger is gathering today is illogical, given that what the right calls “Obamacare” is less provocative than either the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or Medicare, an epic entitlement that actually did precipitate a government takeover of a sizable chunk of American health care. But the explanation is plain: the health care bill is not the main source of this anger and never has been. It’s merely a handy excuse. The real source of the over-the-top rage of 2010 is the same kind of national existential reordering that roiled America in 1964.

In fact, the current surge of anger — and the accompanying rise in right-wing extremism — predates the entire health care debate. The first signs were the shrieks of “traitor” and “off with his head” at Palin rallies as Obama’s election became more likely in October 2008. Those passions have spiraled ever since — from Gov. Rick Perry’s kowtowing to secessionists at a Tea Party rally in Texas to the gratuitous brandishing of assault weapons at Obama health care rallies last summer to “You lie!” piercing the president’s address to Congress last fall like an ominous shot.

If Obama’s first legislative priority had been immigration or financial reform or climate change, we would have seen the same trajectory. The conjunction of a black president and a female speaker of the House — topped off by a wise Latina on the Supreme Court and a powerful gay Congressional committee chairman — would sow fears of disenfranchisement among a dwindling and threatened minority in the country no matter what policies were in play. It’s not happenstance that Frank, Lewis and Cleaver — none of them major Democratic players in the health care push — received a major share of last weekend’s abuse. When you hear demonstrators chant the slogan “Take our country back!,” these are the people they want to take the country back from.

They can’t. Demographics are avatars of a change bigger than any bill contemplated by Obama or Congress. The week before the health care vote, The Times reported that births to Asian, black and Hispanic women accounted for 48 percent of all births in America in the 12 months ending in July 2008. By 2012, the next presidential election year, non-Hispanic white births will be in the minority. The Tea Party movement is virtually all white. The Republicans haven’t had a single African-American in the Senate or the House since 2003 and have had only three in total since 1935. Their anxieties about a rapidly changing America are well-grounded.

Great Man With a Huge Sense of Humor

March 25, 2010

Here’s what Gen. David Petraeus had to say on Wednesday during a press conference prior to a scheduled speech at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, on speculation that he might be run for president:

“I thought I’d said no about as many ways as I could. I really do mean no. We have all these artful ways of doing it. I’ve tried Shermanesque responses, which everybody goes and finds out what Sherman said was pretty unequivocally no. I’ve done several different ways. I’ve tried quoting the country song, ‘What Part of No Don’t You Understand?’ I mean, I really do mean that. I feel very privileged to be able to serve our country. I’m honored to continue to do that as long as I can contribute, but I will not, ever, run for political office, I can assure you. And again, we have said that repeatedly and I’m hoping that people realize at a certain point you say it so many times that you could never flip, and start your career by flip-flopping into it.”

It must be nerve wrecking for someone as no-nonsense as Gen. David Petraeus to be constantly asked this same stupid question by the punditocracy.

Winston Churchill was a Bolchevik

March 25, 2010


Or at least that’s what our American “Conservatives” would say of him. In effect, Salon’s Joe Conason reminds us of the important role Winston Churchill played in setting up the British National Health System (NHS):

Perhaps it is a forlorn hope that facts and history can make any impression on the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Chuck Grassley, or Bill Kristol, but let’s try anyway — because it is worth understanding that despite the low quality of our own so-called conservatives, there was once another kind.

Churchill was renowned as a politician who put country and civilization above party. The government he led during World War II was a broad coalition of the British parties, from his own Conservatives to the democratic socialists of Labor. Midway through the war, Churchill’s government asked Sir William Beveridge, a Liberal Party social reformer and economist to study systems of social insurance that could reduce poverty, disease, unemployment and illiteracy in Britain.

In 1942, Beveridge issued an far-reaching report that proposed a national health service to provide medical care to every man, woman and child, regardless of means — much as the coalition government had done during the medical emergency brought on by the German bombings of their cities, hospitals and clinics.

Although Churchill endorsed the idea of a national health system, his party lost the first post-war general election in 1945, partly because British voters didn’t trust the Tories to implement the Beveridge report. Instead a Labor government established universal care under the NHS in 1948.

Only three years later, the Tories returned to power with Churchill restored as prime minister. At that point, the NHS could still have been killed — and many members of the Tory party, not to mention the British Medical Association, were eager to do so.

But Churchill asked Claude Guillebaud, a Cambridge economist, to head a committee to study the performance and efficiency of the NHS. The Gillebaud committee found that the NHS was highly effective – and needed additional funding to insure that effectiveness would continue. There was no more talk of dismantling the very popular service, and instead the Tories under Churchill and his immediate successors allocated more money to build additional clinics and hospitals. Even Margaret Thatcher, the most ideological Tory prime minister of modern times, promised voters that “the NHS is safe in our hands.”

Groupama III: Around the World in Less than 50 Days

March 21, 2010

As the bows of the mighty trimaran Groupama 3 passed an imaginary line off of the Créac’h lighthouse at 21:40 UTC on Saturday, the green lady became the fastest boat to circumnavigate the Earth non-stop, ever*. With an all-star crew, and a wind machine he has pushed to the edge and beyond, Franck Cammas has skippered his way around the world faster than any other, and earned one of the most important and coveted awards in sailing, the Jules Verne Trophy.

With a time of 48 days 7 hours and 44 minutes, Groupama 3 comfortably bested the previous record of 50d 16h 20m 4s, held by Bruno Peyron on the catamaran Orange 2 since 2005. This is the same Bruno Peyron who took the original Jules Verne Trophy in 1994 by rounding the world in less than 80 days (the award being based on the Jules Verne Book “Around the World in 80 Days”). This means that in a mere 16 years, the around the world sailing record has been cut nearly in half.

Conservative lawyers criticize attacks on DOJ lawyers

March 8, 2010

Bill Kristol just launched a pre-emptive assault on a statement criticizing his and Liz Cheney’s group, Keep America Safe, which bears the signature of Brookings’ Ben Wittes, a prominent lawyer who’s typically a Cheney ally.

Ben Smith at Politico obtained a copy of the statement:

The past several days have seen a shameful series of attacks on attorneys in the Department of Justice who, in previous legal practice, either represented Guantanamo detainees or advocated for changes to detention policy. As attorneys, former officials, and policy specialists who have worked on detention issues, we consider these attacks both unjust to the individuals in question and destructive of any attempt to build lasting mechanisms for counterterrorism adjudications.

The American tradition of zealous representation of unpopular clients is at least as old as John Adams’ representation of the British soldiers charged in the Boston massacre. People come to serve in the Justice Department with a diverse array of prior private clients; that is one of the department’s strengths. The War on Terror raised any number of novel legal questions, which collectively created a significant role in judicial, executive and legislative forums alike for honorable advocacy on behalf of detainees. In several key cases, detainee advocates prevailed before the Supreme Court. To suggest that the Justice Department should not employ talented lawyers who have advocated on behalf of detainees maligns the patriotism of people who have taken honorable positions on contested questions and demands a uniformity of background and view in government service from which no administration would benefit.

Such attacks also undermine the Justice system more broadly. In terrorism detentions and trials alike, defense lawyers are playing, and will continue to play, a key role. Whether one believes in trial by military commission or in federal court, detainees will have access to counsel. Guantanamo detainees likewise have access to lawyers for purposes of habeas review, and the reach of that habeas corpus could eventually extend beyond this population. Good defense counsel is thus key to ensuring that military commissions, federal juries, and federal judges have access to the best arguments and most rigorous factual presentations before making crucial decisions that affect both national security and paramount liberty interests. To delegitimize the role detainee counsel play is to demand adjudications and policymaking stripped of a full record. Whatever systems America develops to handle difficult detention questions will rely, at least some of the time, on an aggressive defense bar; those who take up that function do a service to the system.

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*Benjamin Wittes*
·Senior Fellow and Research Director in Public Law, The Brookings Institution

*Robert Chesney*
Charles I. Francis Professor in Law, University of Texas School of Law
Nonresident, Senior Fellow, Governance Studies, The Brookings Institution

*Matthew Waxman*
Associate Professor, Columbia Law School
Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs

*David Rivkin*
Partner, Washington, D.C. Office, Baker Hostetler, L.L.P.
Former Deputy Director, Office of Policy Development, Department of Justice, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush Administrations
Former Associate General Counsel, Department of Energy

*Philip Bobbitt*
Herbert Wechsler Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the Center for National Security, Columbia Law School

*Peter Keisler*
Former Assistant Attorney General, Civil Division
Former Acting Attorney General, Department of Justice