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Archive for May, 2009

Anti-choice Terrorism

[ 0 ] May 31, 2009 |

Horrible, horrible news, as the courageous Kansas abortion provider George Tiller was shot.

Kansas, as I’m sure some of you know, was at the center of the epidemic of anti-choice terrorism, with at least tacit support from some prominent public officials. Congressional intervention in the mid-90s helped curtail this attempt to use violence to deny women their rights greatly, but can’t eliminate it altogether. Tiller’s courage was remarkable. R.I.P.

…I wish I could say I was surprised by this. But…

…and, of course, Ann is right about the effects.

…more wingnuttery summarized here.

Off to Florida…

[ 0 ] May 31, 2009 |

I am about to leave for Florida, on my annual pilgrimage to the ETS AP Comparative Government scoring session. I don’t consider this a full vacation, and may still blog sporadically; posting will be at a much lower rate than normal, however. Filling in will be UW trained political scientist David Brockington, who is all things to all people. Please extend every courtesy yada yada blah blah etc.

Happy Birthday to Us!

[ 0 ] May 31, 2009 |

This blog went live five years ago today. I have updated our FAQ to reflect the changes since the last update of the FAQ. As always on these occasions, I’d like to thank the commenters, the lurkers, the trolls, all of the bloggers who have linked to us over the years, and everyone else who has spent even a bit of their valuable time at Lawyers, Guns and Money. We deeply appreciate, and we all thank you for making LGM what it is today.

In the interest of adding a crass commercial element to this touching moment, if you’re a wealthy social maladroit who can only express sentiment through money, we have options for you! You can purchase any number of fine LGM products through our Cafe Press store; just click the Elmo humping cat on the right sidebar. If you don’t want any of our crappy products, you can donate directly by clicking on the “donate” button, also on the right sidebar. If you’re only interested in supporting one LGM blogger (examples might include “That Farley is a moral idiot; I don’t want my money going to him,” or “I like LGM, but I’m worried that if I donate, my money might end up in the hands of Canadian terrorists”) the right sidebar also contains links to each blogger’s Amazon wish list.

From Colony to Superpwer Wrap Up

[ 0 ] May 31, 2009 |

Erik has some concluding thoughts on our series on George Herring’s From Colony to Superpower. For my part, I enjoyed reading the book and commenting on it. Patterson is considering using From Colony to Superpower on next year’s Summer Reading List, although we’ll may start at the beginning of the twentieth century, rather than with the Founders. This is necessary, but a bit unfortunate; I most enjoyed the early chapters, because I was reading about foreign policy episodes that I had previously been unfamiliar with. In any case, I heartily recommend the book, and it would make very solid summer reading even if you aren’t a student of US foreign policy.

Question…

[ 0 ] May 31, 2009 |

At this point, knowing that the North Koreans are facing hard limits on fissile material, wouldn’t it make sense just to dare them to conduct additional nuclear tests?

Chinese SSBNs

[ 0 ] May 31, 2009 |

Check out this fabulously informative article on Chinese SSBNs. The PLAN is building between four and six Jin-class nuclear ballistic missile subs, which when complete will constitute a deterrent on the same order as that possessed by France or the United Kingdom. According to the author, the Chinese believe that SSBN launched missiles can render a missile defense system useless, at least for the current generation of missile defense technology.

I am curious about what the boats mean for the future of Chinese naval doctrine. Whereas British, French, and US SSBN practice has focused on hiding, Soviet naval doctrine envisioned a layered defense of SSBN home areas. The Soviets believed (correctly) that Western attack submarines could detect their SSBNs, and as such structured air, surface, and subsurface doctrine around the idea of protecting base areas from incursion by US subs and surface vessels. It seems unlikely to me that these Chinese submarines will be able to reliably avoid interception and tracking by US submarines, which makes me wonder whether the PLAN will adopt measures similar to those of the Red Navy in the second half of the Cold War. This is relevant because the Soviet naval buildup was misinterpreted until the late 1970s; it took a long time for the USN to figure out that the expansion of Soviet naval capabilities was, in substantial part, oriented around defense of boomers.

The Least Worst Place

[ 0 ] May 30, 2009 |

I just finished reading Karen Greenberg’s excellent The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo’s First 100 Days, a book that is (for obvious reasons) relevant to the hyperventilating spasms currently being mistaken for a “debate” about what to do with the crown jewel of Bush administration lawlessness. It takes a more narrow approach to questions of law, detention and interrogation than recent work by Jane Mayer or Philippe Sands — whose books serve well as companions to Greenberg’s — but the book is a valuable reminder of why the facility (and the legal theories that gave birth to it) need to dismantled as soon as possible.

Greenberg focuses on the first three months of the facility because they coincide with the tenure of Michael Lehnert, the Marine brigadier general tasked with overseeing the initial wave of detainees brought to Cuba in early 2002. Less than a decade earlier, as part of Operation Sea Signal, Lehnert had managed a detention facility at Guantanamo for Cuban and Haitian refugees; there, as Greenberg explains, he developed a reputation for “tending to the spirit as well as the physical health of those in his custody.” In other words, while Lehnert’s earlier experience at Guantanamo (and earlier at Subic Bay) made him an appropriate candidate for managing a wartime detention facility, he possessed a moral sensibility that was completely alien to the people — Rumsfeld, Yoo, David Addison, Jim Haynes among others — who were developing the policies that would soon enough turn camps X-Ray and Delta into laboratories for torture and embarrassments to the rule of law. Lehnert and others in Joint Task Force 160 happened to believe that the Geneva Conventions were not, in fact, “quaint,” and they were by no means horrified (as the Bush administration was) by the suggestion that the Red Cross be permitted access to the facility and its captives. Indeed, to the degree that it would have been possible to create a “humane” situation, it seems that Lehnert and his colleagues were moderately successful at doing so, at least until the White House and the Pentagon clarified that the prisoners at Guantanamo were to be harvested around the clock for intelligence.

Greenberg’s account of Guantanamo under Lehnert is interesting for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that it underscores two of the qualities — (a) an aimless incompetence on policy and (b) an abiding faith in the notion that beating the shit out of people produces decent tactical intelligence — for which the Bush administration will always be remembered. As she points out, Rumsfeld’s office along with the Office of Legal Counsel provided little guidance to Lehnert and his team as they prepared to accept the first round of detainees. He and his staff filled the void, albeit temporarily, with a body of practices that a different administration — one committed to following the law — might have judged acceptable, particularly if that administration had actually been interested in charging and bringing prisoners to trial. But the White House and the Pentagon, because they expected to leave the detainees on the island forever, quickly nudged aside the folks who had originally been assigned to the project, creating an entirely new task force staffed with people who had no qualms about “enhanced interrogations” and accepted the prevailing administration view that Gitmo detainees were insufficiently human to deserve Geneva protections. This parallel unit — JTF 170 — was focused on interrogating prisoners (rather than simply maintaining custody over them); its existence created additional confusion to an already fragmented situation.

Although The Least Worst Place suggests in some ways that the history of the Guantanamo facility could have turned out otherwise, such an outcome would have required a government that actually paid attention to people — like Lehnert — who seemed to have a decent, practical awareness of how to manage complex situations. For an administration that demonstrated continually that professionalism mattered far less than ideology, it’s depressingly hard to imagine how any of that might have come to pass.

Now, Sam Alito, There Was A Guy With the Courage To Tell It Like It Is — That Everything Is Just Fine

[ 0 ] May 29, 2009 |

Adam deals effectively with this jaw-dropping nonsense from Stuart Taylor. It’s worth adding that, as far as I can tell, none of Taylor’s many remarkably non-prescient mash notes to his beloved Sam Alito addressed Alito’s membership in CAP.

Which, of course, brings us to another point. It’s obvious why Alito’s membership in CAP was potentially relevant — it’s obviously troubling for a Supreme Court justice to have belonged to an explicitly exclusionary group. How much weight you want to put on it is debatable, but its relevance to Alito’s critics is obvious. On the other hand, what on earth about Sotomayor’s student activities reflect poorly on her as a Supreme Court justice? Here’s the feeble punchline:

And some [who exactly? The voices in your head? -- ed.] may see Sotomayor’s letter as evidence that she was predisposed to look for the worst, not the best, in the institution that had afforded her such opportunities. She now sits on Princeton’s Board of Trustees.

Leaving aside the feebleness of the evidence that Taylor uses to make this inference, who the hell cares? Is the idea that if you haven’t been a complacent lickspittle your entire life you can’t be a Supreme Court justice? Anyway, I think you can see why Taylor regards Alito as a centrist.

And as a coda, we have Goldfarb riffing on Taylor – wow, that’s splitting the atom of hackery. I suppose it’s possible that Sotomayor being permitted to lead a seminar while Goldfarb wasn’t is evidence of “special treatment.” Or it could be another piece of evidence that Sotomayor is roughly ten thousand times smarter than Goldfarb. I’ll leave it to you to evaluate the evidence on that one…

UPDATE: You’ll be shocked to know what Goldfarb has no idea what he was talking about. [Via Benen]

Sotomayor and Abortion

[ 0 ] May 29, 2009 |

I had a request in comments to discuss concerns some liberal critics have had about Sotomayor’s record on abortion (which the administration has tried to address.) Fortunately, Filipovic already has the comprehensive version, so just a couple additional points/short elaborations:

  • Sotomayor’s vote in the gag rule case isn’t a major concern for the same reason that Alito’s vote on circuit to strike down a ban on D&X abortions wasn’t a reason for any optimism: the most substantive constitutional challenge to the gag rule was foreclosed by squarely controlling precedent (a precedent, incidentally, on which Souter was the swing vote in the wrong direction.)
  • It will impossible to infer any kind of definitive stance on the constitutionality of abortion from Sotomayor’s record for the obvious reason that 1)since she’s been on the Court the controlling Supreme Court precedent has been clear, and 2)the states under 2CA haven’t (to put it mildly) tried to pass innovative regulations that would test the limits of Casey. The fact that Sotomayor has a general liberal record, though, in itself makes it overwhelmingly likely that she would vote to uphold Roe. While as a matter of formal logic it’s possible for a liberal judge to think that Roe should be overruled, in practice it would be very unusual. Even pretty squishy liberal judges in the contemporary era tend to be strong supporters of abortion rights (cf. Breyer.)
  • As Jill said, Sotomayor’s cautious approach — while less than optimal in some respects — makes it even less likely that she would vote to overrule Roe. The decision has survived because justices a lot more conservative than Sotomayor didn’t have the stomach to overrule a precedent they may well have thought wrongly decided in the first instance. There’s pretty much nothing in Sotomayor’s record that suggests a Thomas-like gusto for overruling landmark precedents even in the unlikely event that she was inclined in this direction.

None of which is to say, of course, that liberals shouldn’t be pressing Obama, or that it shouldn’t be brought up in confirmation hearings (where pro-Roe nominees can be a lot more explicit than anti-Roe ones.) But I’m not worried in the least.

Only Some were Under 18

[ 0 ] May 29, 2009 |

This is probably the best NYT correction ever:

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the number of girls younger than 18 who were allegedly invited to a villa by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy. Mr. Berlusconi is alleged to have invited about 40 women to the villa, but only some of them were allegedly younger than 18 at the time, not all of them.

Hat tip to Matt Duss.

Sugar Free Cookies?

[ 0 ] May 29, 2009 |

Hardened Al Qaeda terrorist succumbs to cookie:

Abu Jandal’s guards were so intimidated by him, they wore masks to hide their identities and begged visitors not to refer to them by name in his presence. He had no intention of cooperating with the Americans; at their first meetings, he refused even to look at them and ranted about the evils of the West. Far from confirming al-Qaeda’s involvement in 9/11, he insisted the attacks had been orchestrated by Israel’s Mossad. While Abu Jandal was venting his spleen, Soufan noticed that he didn’t touch any of the cookies that had been served with tea: “He was a diabetic and couldn’t eat anything with sugar in it.” At their next meeting, the Americans brought him some sugar-free cookies, a gesture that took the edge off Abu Jandal’s angry demeanor. “We had showed him respect, and we had done this nice thing for him,” Soufan recalls. “So he started talking to us instead of giving us lectures.”

It took more questioning, and some interrogators’ sleight of hand, before the Yemeni gave up a wealth of information about al-Qaeda — including the identities of seven of the 9/11 bombers — but the cookies were the turning point. “After that, he could no longer think of us as evil Americans,” Soufan says. “Now he was thinking of us as human beings.”

On the other hand, we could have tortured him into saying whatever we want. That would, after all, be more heroic; I don’t recall Jack Bauer ever wasting time by offering his foes a plate of muffins.

Empathy For Me…

[ 0 ] May 29, 2009 |

Shorter Michael Gerson and Charles Krauthammer: “It’s outrageous that President Obama would suggest that empathy is a useful trait in a Supreme Court justice. And it’s outrageous that Sonia Sotomayor didn’t set aside the law to assist a sympathetic defendant who may or may not have been helped by a different ruling.”

On Ricci, see also Hilzoy and Richard Thompson Ford.

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