April 16, 2005

T.Bogg links to an attack by one of the Powerline bloggers, on some hapless college professor who wrote a column in the Christian Science Monitor about the thirtieth anniversary of the Khmer Rouge coming to power in Cambodia. The Boggster is steamed about a rather silly attempt by the co-Blogger of the Year to whitewash the crimes at the torture camp at Abu Ghraib, but what really sticks out in that post, which is entitled "A Very Sick Professor", is its pure disingenuousness:
Reader Jim Mason called my attention to this piece by Alex Hinton, a professor at Rutgers University, that appeared in the Christian Science Monitor and was picked up by Real Clear Politics. Hinton warns that our government's prosecution of the war on terror is causing us to become like the Khmer Rouge, the criminals who ran Cambodia at one time. Their rule saw the mass extermination of ordinary Cambodians in the name of a crazed Communist ideology. So Hinton must have evidence that the Bush administration has killed Americans pursuant to the war on terror, right? Of course not. Nor does he present evidence that we have intentionally killed foreign terrorists in our custody -- you know, the folks who actually are trying to exterminate Americans. Hinton does point to abuses at places like Abu Graib. But it's obscene to compare the disgusting but non-lethal tactics of the rogue guards at that prison to genocide. For the most part, the reported tactics did not even involve the infliction of physical pain.

Genocide has taken place in Iraq. But the perpetrator wasn't the U.S. government, it was Saddam Hussein, the fellow our soldiers overthrew and captured. Also, while it may have escaped Professor Hinton's notice, the U.S. has brought about free and fair elections in Iraq and Afghanistan. I don't recall the Cambodian analog to these shining events. Hinton, however, may think he sees one when he refers to the "era of new fanaticisms." Perhaps he regards President Bush's quest to promote democracy in the Middle East as fanaticism.

It would be nice to think that Hinton's piece represents off-the-chart lunacy. However, he's far from the only leftist to have compared Bush to Hitler -- for example, moveon.org found merit in two such amateur campaign ads. If Hitler, then why not Pol Pot? Perhaps that's what the Christian Science Monitor thought when it published the piece, a decision that further shows that Hinton's lunacy is not necessarily outside the hard left mainstream.

The hatred of folks like Hinton for the U.S. knows no discernible bounds.
Those of you who know and love Powerline can probably guess that the column in question, in fact, does absolutely nothing of the sort. Professor Hinton does not write that George Bush is just like Pol Pot, or that the war on terrorism is comparable to the Cambodian genocide of the mid-70's. Bush is not compared to Hitler in the column; the name "Hitler", in fact, is not even mentioned in the column. In fact, the tone and substance of the piece is not of Ward Churchill-style America-bashing, but of calm, reasoned historicism: an event like the "Killing Fields" does not occur in a vacuum, is not something that happens overnight, and that tragic historical events often are motivated by idealism, albeit in a fanatical, corrupted form. Hinton's point is that the best way not to travel down that slippery slope is to remember the past, and to be wary when our leaders seem to be tolerating a curtailment of our rights, a demonization of others, in the name of some higher goal.

But I guess what really irks me about that post is that it was written by a practicing lawyer. As I wrote last year in the context of the "Swift Boat Vet" fraud, perhaps the most troubling aspect behind the bloggers who were hyping the story was that so many of them were members of the bar. As an attorney, I am obligated to obey certain ethical guidelines, such as not bearing false witness, or not distorting evidence, even when I'm not representing a client. Lawyers lose their license to practice all the time because they are convicted of felonies, regardless of whether the crime had anything to do with their practice. Using their blog to smear Prof. Hinton does not seem consistent with the privileges accorded officers of the court in the practice of law.

Hopefully, the writer just had a bad day, or was sloppy in summarizing Prof. Hinton's column (Powerline seems to have had a bad month in that regard, although this is far more serious than wrongly speculating as to the authorship of the Schiavo Memo before the truth came out). There is simply no other way to justify that sort of mendacity.

April 14, 2005

One of the more provocative features of the new bankruptcy law passed by the House this afternoon is Section 106, which requires prospective debtors to seek "credit counseling" as a condition for being allowed to file a Chapter 7 petition. Credit counseling agencies are currently regulated by the states, and the new law will require the United States Trustee, a political appointee in the Justice Department, to approve any non-profit groups permitted to give credit counseling. Federal budgeting being what it is, the likelihood that the U.S. Trustee is going to be given the funds to properly regulate credit counseling agencies is almost nil, so it is more likely that the Trustee will rely on the regulatory powers (if any) currently invested by the states in determining which agencies will be approved.

So far, the states aren't doing a particularly effective job. It is unclear from the language of the bill whether bankruptcy attorneys would be permitted to affiliate with an approved agency; the petition mills that have proven such a bane to the Bankruptcy courts in California may switch business strategies when the bill goes into effect, luring prospective clients by advertising as "credit counseling agencies", then handing the case off to a bankruptcy lawyer who works next door. Moreover, the law contains a glaring exception: when a debtor can show that he was not able to receive counseling within five days of so requesting, he may go ahead and file, and seek "counseling" later. With the disproportionate number of non-English speaking filers in some states, the probability of this loophole being exploited is high.

Section 106 represents probably the biggest change from the current law, in terms of who will be permitted to file in the future (and btw, the "future" won't begin for six months: 180 days of the most spectacular, hedonistic goings-on in the history of my profession, a BK Bacchanalia, if you will). As I noted last month, the much-discussed change in financial eligibility has a loophole so broad that any changes to the current practice of bankruptcy law will be limited to the greater amount of money lawyers like myself will be able to charge. By not providing clear standards for judicial review, Congress is inviting the Bankruptcy Court to set its own; the "special circumstances" that will justify a greater than normal budget will be set judge by judge, circuit by circuit, and based on what I've heard from other local professionals, more than a few of the local judges have no intention of imposing any sort of rigid formula preferred by the credit card industry. Expect to see this issue revisited many times in the future.
For all the frothing at the mouth by the Far Right, it is increasingly becoming clear that the "Oil-for-Food Scandal" was little more than a standard kickback arrangement, typical in Arab countries and Israel, where companies had to "pay to play" with the rulers of a regime to do bidness. In other words, the sort of arrangement that Dick Cheney and Tom DeLay might be comfortable with, a global version of the K-Street Project. In fact, the successor program to "Oil for Food", the Development Fund for Iraq, has potentially billions of dollars in unaccounted-for funds, a level of corruption geometrically greater than the petty bribes involved in the Oil-for-Food Program. The "victims" of Oil-for-Food weren't the people of Iraq (after all, the end of the deal involving "food" came through), but the shareholders of companies like Exxon and Chevron, who got fleeced by yet another third world despot. It certainly does not justify abolishing the U.N.

April 12, 2005

A Snitch in Time: Perhaps the best accounting of the sad decline and utter gracelessness of Christopher Hitchens:
Hitchens might want to insist, contrarily, that although he has changed his allies, he has not changed his opinions. Unlike, say, David Horowitz, he still believes that the Cold War was an interimperial rivalry, the Vietnam War was immoral, the overthrow of Allende was infamous, and American support for Mobutu, Suharto, the Greek colonels, the Guatemalan and Salvadoran generals, the Shah of Iran, and the Israeli dispossession of Palestinians was and is indefensible. He still believes in progressive taxation; the New Deal; vigilant environmental, occupational safety, and consumer protection regulation; unions (or some form of worker self-organization); and, in general, firm and constant opposition to the very frequent efforts of the rich and their agents to grind the faces of the poor. It’s just that he now cordially despises most of the people who proclaim or advocate these things.


Will Hitchens ever regain his balance? Near the end of his Bush endorsement, Hitchens defiantly assures us that “once you have done it”—abandoned cowardly and equivocating left-wing “isolationism” and made common cause with Republicans in their “willingness to risk a dangerous confrontation with an untenable and indefensible status quo”—there is “no going back.”

Well, it wouldn’t be easy. After heavy-handedly insulting so many political opponents, misrepresenting their positions and motives, and generally making an egregious ass of himself, it would require immense, almost inconceivable courage for Hitchens to acknowledge that he went too far; that his appreciation of the sources and dangers of Islamic terrorism was neither wholly accurate nor, to the extent it was accurate, exceptional; that he was mistaken about the purposes and likely effects of the strategy he associated himself with and preached so sulfurously; and that there is no honorable alternative to—no “relief” to be had from—the frustrations of always keeping the conventional wisdom at arm’s length and speaking up instead for principles that have as yet no powerful constituencies. But it would be right.
[link via Crooked Timber] The tendency described in the article, of a formerly left-wing writer joining forces with the Far Right over a series of issues, is one that is typical almost to the point of banality. Weathermen become chickenhawks, just as Communists became McCarthyites and pre-Civil War Abolitionists became backers of Jim Crow. They switch sides, but still don't feel obligated to use an indoor voice.

I'm not sure I buy the rationalization the writer gives for Hitchens' shift: that in order to "speed up" the long and demoralizing process needed to "make the United States an effective democracy", he chose to ally himself with the forces of power (ie., neocons). It's hard to say what exactly motivates people, but one thing that seems to characterize many on the extremes, whether on the right or left, is that they believe their true enemies aren't those on the opposite side of the political spectrum, but rather their more pragmatic cohorts. Hitchens wrote more passionately, and with greater venom, when he was attacking Clinton for adultery than he did when he accused Kissinger of war crimes. If much of the time in your formative years is spent defining yourself as being more pure and virtuous than those of us who have tried all along to work within the mainstream, it's probably easier to identify the opposite side.
What Liberal Media? A survey is released, showing that Jewish voters have gone from splitting 80-20 for the Democrats (in 1992) to 77-22 in the past election, an almost identical total to the margin Al Gore had the last time out, and what's the LA Times headline? "Bush Made Inroads Among Jewish Voters, Study Shows" !?!

Yep, gaining ground at a rate of 3% every dozen years, the GOP will finally "make enough inroads" to be competitive sometime around 2088....

April 11, 2005

Damning with effusive non-praise: I dare you to read the caption on the photo of this article and not feel an intense wave of sympathy for the subject, whose career as a film actress will officially end in sixty days.
For those of you under the age of 35 who watched the tribute to the 1985 L.A. Lakers tonight, that wizened crone who insisted on kissing each of the players after they were introduced was Dyan Cannon. She has no official connection with the team.
Bloggers of the Year: Methinks Powerline's achievement will one day merit the same degree of "respect" that The Greatest Show on Earth's Best Film Oscar has achieved. What a debacle....
Little Green Futbol(II): A pre-game attempt to offer a moment of silence in honor of the death of John Paul II was thwarted by jeering fans in Edinburgh yesterday, before the start of a game between local team "Hearts" and perennial champion Celtic, a team with a largely Catholic following based in Glasgow. After the game, several fans were arrested for their part in the booing, on the rather cryptic charge of "sectarian aggravated breach of the peace".
Michael Kinsley, contrasting the pomp and majesty of the British and American constitutions:
In the United States, we don't split the role of head of government from the role of head of state. In Britain, they do. And this is the best defense of the monarchy: People can express their love of country by adoring the queen without implying any view either way about the prime minister. This is pleasant for the queen. And it's healthy for the prime minister. Keeps him humble. Or at least humbler.

By contrast, the U.S. presidency is an ego-inflating machine. The president moves in a vast imperial cocoon, unsurpassed in grandeur since the pharaohs of ancient Egypt. (And those guys didn't get the really over-the-top stuff until they were already dead.)

It would take a level of humility incompatible with running for public office in the first place for a president not to think, "Hey, I'm a pretty cool guy." Every time George W. Bush hears "Hail to the Chief," the odds go up that some unsuspecting country is going to find itself getting democratized — with all the violence, anarchy, foreign occupation, arbitrary arrests, torture of prisoners, suppression of dissent and random deaths that word has come to imply.