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Archive for March, 2006

A bit more on the stabbing in the back…

[ 0 ] March 1, 2006 |

What’s most pathetic about the Goldstein and Hanson pieces is the predicable transparency of the arguments. I am more disappointed in Goldstein than Hanson; “Victor Davis Hanson”, “transparent”, “predictable”, “asinine”, and “puerile” are more or less synonyms in my book. This is a line of attack that has been in preparation since 2002, and that we have expected for nearly as long. If this war went south, everyone knew that the damn dirty liberal hippies would be to blame, just like they were in Vietnam. That the conservative account of Vietnam bears no resemblance to the actual history of that conflict is irrelevant; blaming the critics of a war for its failure has been a remarkably successful political strategy for the right wing, and not just in the United States.

People like Buckley make this strategy a little bit more difficult to execute, because they force Goldstein and company to distinguish between good, “loyal” critics and bad, “disloyal” critics. Nevertheless, the chutzpah surrounding this effort really is astounding. In advance, they manage to have terrified Democrats from Peter Beinart to Hillary Clinton into acquiesence with a manifestly absurd war. Everyone knew this was coming, and they still expect it to work. It’s remarkable, really.

I guess the next question is whether they can actually pull it off. I’m mildly optimistic. A fair portion of America did manage to forget the creeping ineptitude of the Vietnam War in time, but I don’t see it happening as readily in this case. For one, the culture war does not loom as large now as it did in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Opposition to this war is personified not in some anonymous, doobie smoking hippie, but (at worst) in people like Cindy Sheehan and Michael Moore. Conservatives have done their very best to discredit Sheehan and Moore, but they can’t fundamentally transform them into something alien. Moore and Sheehan look like the rest of us; indeed, they look almost like proto-typical Americans. It will be harded to create the impression that anti-war forces are somehow alien and un-American when they very much resemble ordinary Americans.

…more from Glenn Greenwald.


Relive Your Rape Or Go To Prison (While Your Rapist Goes Free)

[ 0 ] March 1, 2006 |

Jessica points us to this extraordinarily disturbing story:

A Naperville woman who on Tuesday refused a judge’s order to view a videotape of her alleged rape could be jailed on a contempt of court charge if she does not change her mind Wednesday, and the judge is considering a request to drop sexual assault charges against the Burr Ridge man on trial.

“I am ordering you to answer these questions,” Judge Kerry Kennedy told the woman after an hourlong recess to discuss her refusal. “The consequences are that you would be held in contempt of court, with incarceration possible. Are you still refusing?”


While conceding that the story is horrifying, iocaste offers a modest defense of the judge in this case. It’s true that defendants accused of rape do not give up their right to confront their accuser, and that given the videotape arguing that the sex was consensual is essentially the only defense strategy available. I assume it’s true that the judge is within his legal discretion. Having said that, however, Sixth Amendment rights are not absolute–defendants are legally preventing from presenting types of evidence in any number of ways. While of it is in the self-interest of the defense to grasp at every conceivable straw, it’s the judges role to consider the other rights and interests at stake as well. And in this case, I just can’t agree that the balance of interests is even particularly close. The defense has been allowed to confront the witness–the only question is the very narrow one of whether she should be compelled to watch the tape, and I just can’t see what value this would have that would outweigh the obvious intention to intimidate the victim. In comments, iocaste suggests some potential bases for the claim that forcing her to watch the videotape might have probative value: “Well, for one thing, she claims she doesn’t remember — but she was apparently conscious. What if the tape can jog her memory? What if she remembers it was consensual? What if she recognizes her own behaviors as consensual? Would we even ask the question of the relevance if this were any other kind of crime?” I’m sorry, but I just don’t see any real value here. Let’s consider what the videotape shows:

The videotape was viewed in the March 2005 trial of Christopher Robbins of Brookfield, who was acquitted of sex charges after arguing she consented to sex with him in an incident that wasn’t videotaped. Robbins allegedly is seen on one segment of the tape, but not engaging in sex with the woman.

Prosecutors allege that the videotape first shows another defendant, Burim Berezi of Brookfield, having sex with the woman, then it shows Missbrenner. They say the tape shows her unconscious as people spit on her and write derogatory words on her naked legs and abdomen.

Uh, if she is shown this horrific tape, she will suddenly remember and announce in open court that (despite being a highly inebriated 16 tear-old) she consented to have strangers spit on her while she was naked in public? Please. That would have to accrue several levels of probability to rise to the level of being “implausible.” We all know what’s going on here: the defense wants to show the videotape to intimidate (and punish) the victim, and given the less-than-trivial probative value the balance of interests shouldn’t even be close. Unless the transparent goal of intimidation is given essentially no weight at all, I don’t see how the balance can favor permitting this defense strategy.

Moreover, I think it’s worth noting that rape is not like any other crime, and since Tennessee Illinois [thanks to commenter Gordon] (like 48 other states) has a rape shield law this concept is embedded within public policy. It is hardly uncommon for patriarchal assumptions to manifest themselves in judicial decisions. The state has (correctly) determined that given the great disincentives against going forward with sexual assault charges, and the way in which rules of evidence have been routinely exploited to put victims on trial, defendants in rape trials should face some constraints in terms of the evidence they are allowed to present. In a historical vacuum, perhaps the judge’s decision is defensible; once the broader context of sexual assault is considered, I believe the judge’s decision is every bit as outrageous as it appears on first glance. The defendant should not be compelled to watch the tape of her assault, and that she might end up on jail while her attacked goes free is utterly unconscionable.

UPDATE: Accroding to Shakes, the judge has backed off his threat to send the accuser to jail. She also has some objections to the Tribune’s coverage. iocaste clarifies that she felt that the jail threat was “over the top” but maintains that dismissing the case is a defensible judgment call. More discussion at Feministe .

Help! Help! I’m being stabbed in the back!!!!

[ 0 ] March 1, 2006 |

Ah, Jeff Goldstein…

Goldstein is smarter than the average wingnut, and takes care to avoid many of the pitfalls normally associated with a “Stab in the Back” argument. He allows that people in a free society have every right to oppose the war. Nevertheless, he contends, the questioning of the Iraq War has objectively damaged the war effort; while people may be free to argue against the war, it is not wise for them to do so. To vocally oppose this war is not traitorous, but is to be without rectitude and oblivious to the benefits of presenting a “unifed front” in the War on Terror. Indeed, Goldstein’s critics are guilty of the following:

Face it: my critics know [that showing a united front against the terrorists would weaken the insurgency]. And so all these smarmy and utterly tranparent attempts to suggest that I am trying to “blame leftists” for a loss in Iraq is simply the manifestation of guilty consciences bursting like boils and oiling up the internet with so much pus-thickened epiphany juice.

Uh… yeah.

One wonders what precisely the role of the loyal opposition during war would be to a guy like Jeff Goldstein. He doesn’t make it completely clear, although, from what I can tell, it has something to do with being Bill Buckley rather than Juan Cole or Paul Krugman. I’ll confess that I don’t see the difference; the three above are convinced that US action in Iraq is pointless and destructive, and have used the media resources available to them to make their views known. Goldstein tries to parse the difference with this:

It is clear that the post took issue not with critiques of the particular strategies and tactics (which I note quite clearly in the piece proper), but rather with those whose hatred of the campaign and the current administration turned them into de facto propagandists for the enemy, especially insofar as they were willing to repeat lies as truths (because, as Glenn Greenwald argued) the ends justify the means.

Although, again, the difference escapes me as anything other than an effort to discredit left-wing critics while excusing right-wing critics. Jesse Taylor=De facto propagandist for the enemy; Bill Buckley, even though he makes more far reaching claims regarding the defeat of the United States=Critique of particular strategy and tactic. I suppose in the end the question for Goldstein comes down to tone; if you’re nice, respectful, and like the President, you’re a legitimate critic. If not, your guilty conscience is bursting forth like so many pus-filled boils.

The fact is that democratic governments, when they decide upon war, must account for the possibility of opposition. This is the heart of democracy; the decision to go to war is perhaps the most crucial that a democracy can make, and must, accordingly, be given the weightiest of democratic deliberation. It’s not as if opposition to war in democratic countries is something that started in 1967, although conservatives would like to think so. Vigorous anti-war movements have taken place in virtually every war that the United States has conducted since the American Revolution. Nor is the United States unusual in this; anti-war movements were common in European democracies, as well. When the war is as obviously ill-conceived, poorly executed, and poorly prepared for as the Iraq adventure, the criticism will be correspondingly harsher.

Long story short, when a democratic country engages in a manifestly stupid war in an egregiously inept fashion, you can expect to take some heat.

Goldstein also makes this claim,

The fact is, the insurgency simply cannot succeed militarily. And Iraqis have voted in spectacular numbers for an attempt at democratic governance.

Which means the only hope of the insurgency from the start has been to break our will by inflicting casualties, staging spectacular terrorist strikes (that serve the dual purpose of recruiting new insurgents and playing to our sensationalist and largely anti-war media), and fomenting a civil war between Shia and Sunni in an effort to sweep aside the prospect of democratic coalitions forming among long-warring sectarian groups.

which clearly demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of what war, insurgency, and “military” mean. The insurgency can succeed militarily by steadily increasing the costs of the occupation in blood and treasure. This is how an insurgency succeeds; it is very, very rare than an insurgency will move to Mao’s phase three of operations. Typically, in an occupation situation, they don’t need to. Insurgents understand that they will ALWAYS place more value on victory than the occupier; the only question is whether they can exact sufficient costs to drive the occupation forces out. This is a military strategy, one that sometimes succeeds and sometimes does not. It is a strategy which works as well on authoritarian states as it does on democratic ones; the Soviet Union was not “militarily” defeated by the Afghan resistance in 1988, for example. Since Goldstein is obviously a really smart guy (and I mean that in all sincerity; I do respect Goldstein’s blogging) I can only assume that his obtuseness on this point is deliberate.

From the deliberately to the accidentally obtuse, let’s take a look at Victor Davis Hanson, who is manifestly not a smart guy. Hanson repeats the traditional wingnut talking points; the US is winning, the terrorist are desperate, terrorist success is a further demonstration of how desperate they are, etc. Hanson does go farther than Goldstein, and argues that, really, criticism is objectively undemocratic; if the Founding Fathers had questioned George Washington’s military strategy, there would have been no American Revolution.


VDH goes on to make clearer that the kind of second-guessing we’re seeing is akin to refighting Pearl Harbor on the road to Okinawa. VDH, it appears, has talked to the soldiers in Iraq and to the planners in Washington, and remains quite confident.

VDH should perhaps take a closer look at the books on military history that line his shelves; Admiral Husband E. Kimmel did not, in fact, lead the naval war against Japan. Why? Second guessing. Lieutenant General Walter Short didn’t lead the ground campagin. Why? Second guessing. General George B. McClellan didn’t accept Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. Why? Second guessing. The history of democracy at war is repleat with examples of inept military officers and civilian officials who are sacked because of their inability to execute the war properly. This is as it should be; it is one of the reasons that democracies fight well. The other reason is that democracies choose their wars wisely, but it’s too late for that one now….

Feingold: The Cold Strategic Water

[ 0 ] March 1, 2006 |

Lindsay makes the case for Feingold in ’08. I remain very ambivalent about it. Not because I don’t like him; indeed, it seems very likely he will be by far my preferred choice on the merits among the major primary candidates. And given the inherent uncertainty of campaigns and how a candidate will perform, the merits deserve more weight than they’re sometimes given, at least given level of electability. On the other hand, having a Republican take the White House again would be far worse than not getting my first choice as the Dem candidate, so looking at his likelihood of winning is certainly important. But I have concerns that would need to be assuaged in a few areas:

  • The Senate Factor. Granted that presidential campaigns have sample sizes too small to draw definitive conclusions, Senators running for president have a dismal track record, and I believe that this isn’t just random chance. Someone like Feingold, who casts a lot of eccentric principled votes, seems particularly vulnerable to having his long record demagogued and distorted effectively. All things being equal, a candidate from a state executive branch seems preferable.
  • Not From A Red State. While it’s true that Wisconsin is a swing state in the sense that it’s generally in play, it’s a somewhat marginal one, being a fairly liberal upper midwest state carried by both Gore and Kerry. I’m not sure to what extent he would appeal to voters in the more conservative midwestern states or the western states where 2008 will be won or lost.
  • Not Overwhelmingly Popular In His Home State. A related concern is that Feingold isn’t terribly popular even in his home state; his popularity ranking among Senators is 62nd, which seems pretty low for a viable national candidate. (Of further interest is that George Allen–the empty suit many people think the GOP will prop up in ’08–has similarly tepid ratings, while McCain is #1.)

None of these factors are definitive, of course, and everything is contingent on who the Republicans are running and, more importantly, who the other choices are. I would certainly take Feingold over Clinton; if we’re going to have a candidate widely perceived as a staunch liberal, they should at least be staunch liberals. But my first choice would be to hope that a governor or someone with another type of executive experience from a bluer state looks good; I would likely support Feingold only if such an alternative didn’t emerge, understanding that this would entail some compromise on the merits.

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