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Israel's Power

| Tue Jan. 13, 2009 9:30 AM EST

I really don't want to ignite a firestorm in the comments by posting this, but the degree to which Israel's leaders see America as in their back pocket is pretty remarkable. When people across the Arab world feel like they will never get a fair shake from America, it is in part because of episodes like this.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel said Monday that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had been forced to abstain from a United Nations [cease fire] resolution on Gaza that she helped draft, after Mr. Olmert placed a phone call to President Bush. "I said, 'Get me President Bush on the phone,'" Mr. Olmert said in a speech in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, according to The Associated Press. They said he was in the middle of giving a speech in Philadelphia. I said I didn't care: 'I need to talk to him now,'" Mr. Olmert continued. "He got off the podium and spoke to me." ...
Mr. Olmert claimed that once he made his case to Mr. Bush, the president called Ms. Rice and told her to abstain. "She was left pretty embarrassed," Mr. Olmert said, according to The A.P.

Forget what you think about Israel: no country in the world should have this sort of sway over our president and secretary of state. (H/T Andrew)

Guantanamo Update

| Tue Jan. 13, 2009 1:45 AM EST

GUANTÁNAMO UPDATE....The latest on Guantánamo:

President-elect Barack Obama plans to issue an executive order on his first full day in office directing the closing of the Guantánamo Bay detention camp in Cuba, people briefed by Obama transition officials said Monday.

But experts say it is likely to take many months, perhaps as long as a year, to empty the prison that has drawn international criticism since it received its first prisoners seven years ago this week. One transition official said the new administration expected that it would take several months to transfer some of the remaining 248 prisoners to other countries, decide how to try suspects and deal with the many other legal challenges posed by closing the camp.

This doesn't surprise me in either respect. That is, it doesn't surprise me that Obama plans to issue the order immediately, and it also doesn't surprise me that he thinks it will take upwards of a year to actually complete the shutdown. It will.

So far, Obama has been as good as his word on a wide variety of subjects, which means he deserves the benefit of the doubt here. Figuring out what to do with detainees at Guantanamo really is a tough problem, and suggesting that it will take several months to resolve is just a recognition of reality. Still, we'd all like something a little better than "trust us," and Hilzoy suggests a couple of things that would help:

Luckily, the Obama administration can help us out here, by doing a couple of things that would clearly demonstrate good faith, and that the administration could do by fiat. First, it could suspend ongoing trials under the existing system of military commissions. That system is a joke. There is no reason to go on using it.

Second, it could accept the Uighurs into the United States. The Uighur detainees at Guantanamo have been found not to be enemy combatants. They have never taken up arms against the United States. The Uighur community in DC is prepared to help them out, as are religious communities in DC and Tallahassee. A judge has ordered them to be released into this country. There is no earthly reason not to do so; after holding them for seven years, it's the least we can do.

Last month the Washington Post reported that several European countries have quietly made it known that once Obama takes office they're willing to consider resettling some of the Guantanamo detainees who can't be returned to their home countries. But one thing they want first is for the United States to take at least a few of the refugees itself as a show of goodwill that will help them sell the program to their own citizens. Apparently, though, the Bush White House has resisted the idea:

In interagency discussions, the State Department has argued that the Uighurs be brought to the United States to help persuade Europe to resettle other detainees. But a State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the departments of Homeland Security and Justice, as well as White House officials, considered resettlement in the United States a "red-line" issue.

Hopefully Obama can remove this red line, resettle the Uighurs, and get this program going.

Video: Corn on Hardball Debating Gitmo

| Mon Jan. 12, 2009 9:51 PM EST

AP reported on Monday that President-elect Barack Obama, after moving into the White House next week, will issue an executive order to begin the process that would lead to the closing of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay. With that in the news, I was asked to appear on Hardball to debate conservative talk-show host Michael Smerconish, who supports the use of waterboarding. Here's the clip:

At least Smerconish, a lawyer, agreed with one basic point: the US government, despite what the Bush-Cheney administration has contended, has no right to hold anyone--not even enemy combatants--indefinitely. Perhaps Obama is right: conservatives and liberals--that is, those of us who don't take our constitutional advice from Dick Cheney's office--can find some common ground.

Is America Post-Racism?

| Mon Jan. 12, 2009 7:00 PM EST

Short answer: No.

CNN reports the latest study showing anti-black racism in action. It's one of those scenarios where a white says something horribly racist after the lone black leaves the room and none of the whites react. The beauty part of this study, though, was later asking participants who they wanted to be paired with on another exercise—the black who'd been dissed 'without his knowledge,' or the white who'd done the racist dissing. Guess who most whites chose.

It's reasonable to expect lots of folks not to speak up when hearing racist doggerel, even if they object to it. But to then choose the racist as a partner over the black he insulted pretty much settles the question.


| Mon Jan. 12, 2009 6:56 PM EST

ANALOGIES....Matt Yglesias warns us about the use of analogies, especially historical analogies:

I did a post the other day that used an anecdote from my real life to illustrate a point about the concept of self-defense. Since the point was relevant to the debate over the fighting in Gaza, I tried to explicitly say that I didn't want the story to be read as an analogy since I don't believe in trying to conduct arguments by analogy. Well along comes Michael Moynihan to point out that the facts in my story don't precisely parallel the situation in Gaza.

This, though, is why I don't believe in analogies. If you make an argument that hinges on an analogy then people fire back by pointing out some respect in which the situation you described isn't precisely analogous to the thing you're arguing about. It then becomes a contest to specify the analogy so as to exactly mirror the situation you're debating. In which case you may as well just debate the situation. Long story short — these analogy fights are stupid.

This is all true, and anyone who's ever used an analogy in a blog post knows exactly what Matt is talking about. The nitpicking is especially annoying since imprecision is inherent in the form itself: after all, if all the facts matched up precisely, it wouldn't be an analogy. It would be a xerox copy.

Speaking generally, though1, there's another side to this. The point of an analogy isn't precision (we have long, little-read white papers to fill that niche), it's to help people understand a situation better by relating it to something they already know and have some opinion about. So the question is: did Matt's analogy succeed at that purpose? If it did, then it probably made some converts to the cause regardless of whether it was perfectly apposite. The people who pick analogies apart know this perfectly well, of course, and that's why they try to pick them apart. They're hoping to irritate their opponents enough that they cave in and stop using an effective rhetorical tool.

But that's obviously no reason to stop using them. If an analogy is bad or ineffective, then sure: toss it out. But if it's good, keep using it regardless. When the other guys are reduced to cavilling over trifles, you're probably on the right track.

1Which is to say, I'm not defending the specific analogy in question. Just making a broad point about the usefulness of analogies regardless of whether or not they get attacked.

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| Mon Jan. 12, 2009 6:23 PM EST

CUSPERS....Debra Dickerson points to an essay at by Marian Salzman about the end of the baby boom era:

After strutting and tub-thumping and preening their way across the high ground of politics, media, culture and finance for 30 years, baby boomers have gone from top dogs to scapegoats in barely a year.

As baby boomers lose their authority and appeal, generational power is shifting one notch down: to cuspers (born roughly 1954-1965), who arrived in style in 2008 with their first truly major figure, Barack Obama (born 1961).

Cuspers! Hooray! I had always thought of myself as a baby boomer and had become resigned to wearing sackcloth and ashes for the rest of my life. But no. As a 1958 baby, I'm a cusper instead, entitled to hold my head high and sneer at baby boomers just like everyone else. I'm relieved.

Of course, you may be wondering why I should trust Marian Salzman on this subject. CNN provides the answer: "She was named among the 'top five trendspotters' by VNU in 2004 and has been credited with popularizing the term 'metrosexuality.'" Works for me! From now on, I'm a cusper. Bye bye, baby boom.

Iraqi Refugees Also Ripped Off By Madoff

| Mon Jan. 12, 2009 5:34 PM EST

George Packer discovers some more innocent victims of Ponzi schemer and penthouse penitentiary dweller Bernie Madoff: two foundations that funded Human Rights First, which provides legal assistance to Iraqi refugees seeking asylum in the US. Now, Packer reports, HRF needs a million bucks to meet its budget. How pathetic that Iraqis who've already suffered the unintended consequences of the invasion of Iraq should now suffer the unintended consequences of our economic free-for-all. And those are the lucky ones. For more on Mother Jones' coverage of the Iraqi refugee crisis, see David Case's "Thrown to the Assassins" and our interview with Kirk Johnson, who's pushing the Obama administration to airlift thousands of Iraqis still waiting to come to the States.

The New Yorker on Breastfeeding

| Mon Jan. 12, 2009 3:07 PM EST

This week's New Yorker runs a natural history of breastfeeding well worth reading in its entirety, even if you've never exchanged business cards with another nursing mom while both of you were hooked up to breast pump tubing during a work conference "break."

Some fascinating trivia from the Age of Reason:

...wet nurses were not nearly as common in Colonial America as they were in eighteenth-century Europe. "Suckle your Infant your Self if you can," Cotton Mather commanded from the pulpit. Puritans found milk divine: even the Good Book gave suck. "Spiritual Milk for Boston Babes, Drawn Out of the Breasts of Both Testaments" was the title of a popular catechism. By the end of the eighteenth century, breast-feeding had come to seem an act of citizenship. Mary Wollstonecraft, in her "Vindication of the Rights of Woman" (1792), scoffed that a mother who "neither suckles nor educates her children, scarcely deserves the name of a wife, and has no right to that of a citizen." The following year, the French National Convention ruled that women who employed wet nurses could not apply for state aid; not long afterward, Prussia made breast-feeding a legal requirement.

Kate Harding over at Salon's Broadsheet found the article's takeaways a bit disturbing; you might too. I was too besotted by the bright, shiny historical details to pay close attention to the mommy war ammo.

I'm looking forward to reading Jill Lepore's book on the broader topic, whenever she publishes it. Write faster, Lepore!

Nuclear Weapons Spending Topped $52 Billion Last Year

| Mon Jan. 12, 2009 3:05 PM EST

According to a new report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (brought to my attention by Steven Aftergood), spending on US nuclear weapons infrastructure and related programs surpassed $52 billion in 2008. "That's a floor, not a ceiling," said study co-author Stephen Schwartz, who noted that the figure does not include costs associated with classified nuclear weapons or intelligence-related programs.

A view of the spending breakdown, provided by Carnegie:


To put this in some context, nuclear weapons expenditures accounted for some 10 percent of all defense spending... and dwarfed the entire federal budget for "soft power" programs like international diplomacy and foreign assistance, which amounted to just $39.5 billion last year.

Of the $52 billion spent on nuclear programs, 55.5 percent went to upgrading and maintaining the existing stockpiles of weapons, whereas just 10 percent was invested in nonproliferation programs aimed at preventing the spread of such weapons around the globe.

For a funny, ground-level look at how the nuclear weapons budget is spent, you might check out A Nuclear Family Vacation by Nathan Hodge and Sharon Weinberger. Find my review here.