Saturday, May 08, 2004


Mon Dieu! Européens n'aiment pas le Président Bush!

To no one's surprise (except those Republican pundits who insist that John Kerry must be lying) the New York Times reports that most Europeans in a wide swath of countries can't wait to see Bush thrown out of office:

Across Europe, anti-Bush feeling has contributed to a consensus that the coming American election is of singular importance: for the United States, certainly, but also for the rest of the world. Anxieties about the direction America is going are accompanied more often than not by a passionate desire, cutting across national borders and party lines, to see President Bush voted out of office in November.

Europeans are in general more liberal than Americans, and among Europe's mainstream liberals, rejecting Mr. Bush is a matter of course. But a strange thing seems to have happened to many conservatives, who would ordinarily be the American president's cheerleaders. Even those who favor him seem loath to admit to wholehearted support, tempering their praise with caveats and qualifications.

It is as if admiring Mr. Bush is seen as slightly shameful among thinking Europeans, like confessing a preference for screw-top wine bottles.

"I must say, he's not very popular," said Sergio Romano, an Italian teacher and commentator who has served as ambassador to NATO and to the former Soviet Union. "It's quite understandable that he wouldn't be popular with the bulk of the center-left European intelligentsia, but he's not very popular with the conservatives or moderates either."
. . . . .

In poll after poll, Europeans have shown themselves to be fervently anti-Bush. In Britain, America's staunchest ally in the war in Iraq, a poll of 1,007 people taken last month for The Times of London by the British polling company Populus found support for Senator John Kerry over President Bush by a margin of 56 to 22 percent.

From America, a poll of people in nine nations conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in March found that opinion of the president and, by extension, the United States, had plummeted across Europe since Mr. Bush took office.

In France, the poll found, the president had an 85 percent negative rating; in Britain, 57 percent; in Germany 85 percent; and in Russia, 60 percent.

"People say, 'I'm very frustrated that I can't vote in the U.S. elections, because these are the ones that affect my way of life more than anything else,' " Ken Dubin, a political scientist at Carlos III University in Madrid, said in an interview.

Referring to the prewar meeting last year of President Bush, Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain and José María Aznar, who was then the prime minister of Spain and whose recent election loss was attributed to antiwar feelings by Spanish voters, Mr. Dubin said, "I've heard the comment, 'One down, two to go.' "

In an editorial in March, the left-leaning British newspaper The Guardian put it more starkly. "Senator Kerry carries the hopes not just of millions of Americans but of millions of British well-wishers, not to mention those of nations throughout Europe and the world," the newspaper wrote. "Nothing in world politics would make more difference to the rest of us than a change in the White House."
. . . .

"The thing that Europeans cannot understand is how you can vote for a liar," said Peter Schneider, a German essayist and novelist. "Here is somebody who lies about something that leads to a war where tens of thousands of people's lives are involved."

Nor are Europeans thrilled about the American values they feel Mr. Bush has encouraged, in which anti-Europeanism is applauded as a virtue, people boycott French wine in protest at the French position on Iraq and Senator Kerry is ridiculed by the Republicans for being able to speak French.

"The idea that you have a leader of the U.S. who's not interested in listening to his allies is important in the way people perceive Bush," Guillaume Parmentier, director of the French Center on the United States at the French Institute of Foreign Relations, said in an interview. "He has a very simplistic view of the world, which we find difficult to accept. In fact, that we find dangerous."

Meanwhile, John Kerry is enjoying support in Europe, not because of his policies, but simply because he isn't Bush.

I think it's a mistake to believe that the tensions with Europe will completely disappear if Bush loses the election. American and Europe will continue to have different interests on many subjects. The real question is whether there will be a more constructive way to deal with those differences. Moreover, the Administration has so badly handled American-European relations that the many common ends that Europe and America continue to possess-- and which formed the cornerstone of the European-American alliance for decades-- have been overshadowed in the process. The tolerance and goodwill that keeps mutually beneficial alliances together in good times and bad has been systematically squandered. This combintation of senseless beligerence and incompetence is among the Bush Administration's greatest foreign policy failings. It is one thing if the Administration's policies address real differences with European allies that cannot be papered over. It is quite another if the Administration's policies foment differences and disagreements that really shouldn't be there in the first place.


Red Cross: Abuse of Prisoners Widespread in Iraq

U.S. Officials were warned about a broad pattern of prisoner abuse tantamount to torture a year ago, according to the Red Cross:

The international Red Cross documented cases of severe mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners far more numerous and far earlier than previously was known, U.S. and Red Cross officials said Friday.

The Red Cross repeatedly warned the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department in confidential reports and closed-door meetings since last spring that U.S. troops were abusing inmates at various military-run prisons in Iraq.

The now-infamous photos of U.S. military police abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib were taken in November, and a classified report of the Pentagon investigation largely focused on incidents at Abu Ghraib beginning in October.

"The elements we found were tantamount to torture," Pierre Kraehenbuehl, operations director for the Swiss-based International Committee of the Red Cross, told reporters in Geneva. "They were clearly incidents of degrading and inhuman treatment."

He said the ICRC investigations showed "a pattern, a broad system" rather than "isolated acts of individual members of the coalition forces."

Kraehenbuehl said the "concerns … were regularly brought to the attention" of the U.S.-led coalition "throughout 2003."

He said the ICRC communicated "orally and in writing" with U.S. officials. The ICRC also had expressed concern to British authorities about inmates in British detention camps in Iraq, Kraehenbuehl said.

U.S. officials said the ICRC reports said that Iraqi prisoners in some cases were severely beaten by guards, some inmates were kept naked in dark concrete cells for days, and coalition forces had shot and killed at least seven inmates during prison disturbances.

Red Cross teams inspected 16 coalition-run prisons and interviewed tens of thousands of inmates between March and November last year, including a surprise inspection of Abu Ghraib in October. After the U.S. military replied Dec. 24 to its report, the ICRC returned to Abu Ghraib for four days in early January and again in March.

After each visit, the teams filed confidential reports of their observations and recommendations to prison commanders in Iraq, as well as to Bush administration officials in Washington. ICRC officials held separate meetings in February with L. Paul Bremer III, head of the occupation, and Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq.

"We had regular meetings with the Pentagon, the State Department and the White House to discuss these prison conditions as well as other issues," said Christophe Girod, the chief ICRC delegate in Washington. "It was part of our dialogue."

Under the Geneva Conventions, the ICRC monitors treatment of prisoners and detainees in war zones. The organization delivers its confidential reports directly to governments that run the prisons, however, and they rarely reach the public. ICRC officials said they were unhappy that details of their reports had leaked to the press.

Girod confirmed details cited in a Wall Street Journal report Friday that described a confidential 24- page summary of last year's prison visits.

The summary report, which was written in January and submitted to U.S. authorities in February, concluded that abuse of prisoners was widespread in Iraq.

Thursday, May 06, 2004


Reaping What You Sow

Both the civilian contractors accused of mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Jose Padilla are United States citizens. The contractors are entitled to the usual protections of the Bill of Rights, including the presumption of innocence, the right to counsel, the right to know the charges against them, and the writ of habeas corpus to test the legality of their detention if they are placed in jail. According to the Bush Administration, however, Jose Padilla, who has never been charged with any crime, is not entitled to any of these protections.

We are likely to see more revelations in the mistreatment of prisoners, in Iraqi, in Afghanistan, and in Guantanamo Bay. Numerous reports of mistreatment have surfaced over the past several months. But until now there have been no pictures to prove these allegations, only the statements of prisoners, which can easily be dismissed because they come from people who are deemed enemies of the state. We have no idea how many more instances of mistreatment and possibly torture have occurred, because the treatment of prisoners has largely been shrouded in that secrecy with which this Administration is so fond.

The Administration, and particularly Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, have been cavalier about American obligations under international law, including the Geneva Convention. International law and transparency, we are told, are unnecessary because, unlike all of the other countries in the world, we are Americans, and we naturally believe in human rights and the rule of law. We need no special incentives to be good. But if history teaches us anything, it is that when governments, no matter how well they think of themselves, decide to free themselves from constraints, they become unconstrained, and when they refuse to make themselves accountable, they abuse their power. The only thing that has been lacking until now has been the proof of what everyone should already have known: that unchecked power leads to hubris, hubris leads to corruption, and corruption leads to violations of human rights.

Americans are proud of their devotion to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. But these cannot exist without institutional preconditions: they cannot exist if government officials insist on complete secrecy, mock international covenants, and refuse to allow their actions to be tested and constrained by law.

This Administration wanted secrecy. It wanted to be free of legal constraint. It wanted to do whatever it wanted whenever it wanted without ever having to be called to account for it.

Now it is reaping what it has sown.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004


The Soft Censorship of Corporate Expectations

The New York Times reports that the Walt Disney Company is preventing its Mirimax division from distributing a new Michael Moore documentary that criticizes President Bush's actions both before 9/11 and explores Bush's connections to prominent Saudis:

Disney, which bought Miramax more than a decade ago, has a contractual agreement with the Miramax principals, Bob and Harvey Weinstein, allowing it to prevent the company from distributing films under certain circumstances, like an excessive budget or an NC-17 rating.

Here's the key quote:
Disney came under heavy criticism from conservatives last May after the disclosure that Miramax had agreed to finance the film when Icon Productions, Mel Gibson's studio, backed out.

Mr. Moore's agent, Ari Emanuel, said that Michael D. Eisner, Disney's chief executive, asked him last spring to pull out of the deal with Miramax. Mr. Emanuel said Mr. Eisner expressed concern that it would endanger tax breaks Disney receives for its theme park, hotels and other ventures in Florida, where Mr. Bush's brother, Jeb, is governor.

"Michael Eisner asked me not to sell this movie to Harvey Weinstein; that doesn't mean I listened to him," Mr. Emanuel said. "He definitely indicated there were tax incentives he was getting for the Disney corporation and that's why he didn't want me to sell it to Miramax. He didn't want a Disney company involved."

Disney executives deny that accusation, though they said their displeasure over the deal was made clear to Miramax and Mr. Emanuel.

A senior Disney executive elaborated that the company has the right to quash Miramax's distribution of films if it deems their distribution to be against the interests of the company. Mr. Moore's film, the executive said, is deemed to be against Disney's interests not because of the company's business dealings with the government but because Disney caters to families of all political stripes and believes Mr. Moore's film could alienate many.

"It's not in the interest of any major corporation to be dragged into a highly charged partisan political battle," this executive said. (italics added).

This is the soft censorship of corporate expectations. The issue is not so much the film's politics but the fact that it has a politics that might either offend advertisers or government officials who, in turn, can decide to dry up the various spigots of wealth that advertisers and governments provide to very large media companies. All other things being equal, media corporations like their political messages bland and innocuous, and not clearly directed against particular politicians that might hurt them. This feature is perfectly consistent with media products having ideological slants. The issue is not whether they have a slant-- they very often do-- but whether they have the sort of slant that will get them into trouble and cost them profits.

The soft censorship of corporate expectations suggests a generally unremarked problem with media concentration: It is often argued that media concentration can actually help foster diversity, because a monopolist will have an economic incentive to produce a diverse menu of media goods in order to capture an increasingly large audience share. But this reasoning neglects the fact that as media become vertically and horizontally integrated, they may become held responsible by politicians and advertisers for *everything* that they do. That leads them, all other things being equal, to avoid the kinds of attacks and controversies that will get them in hot water with politicians. Thus, although media concentration may produce products that are increasingly diverse from one perspective, they may be increasingly shallow from another. Conversely, in a world in which there are a large number of different players, the chances become higher than one of them is willing to risk the wrath of the powers that be.

Sunday, May 02, 2004


Showing A Little Knee

Jonathan Knee's op-ed in the New York Times argues that the government should make it a crime to pay or receive money for sex acts in order to wipe out pornography on the Internet. He argues that such a law would have no First Amendment implications. But of course it would. It is true that general rules that are not aimed at protected speech but that nevertheless have collateral consequences on freedom of speech may be constitutional. But if the avowed purpose of the law is to restrict protected expression, it violates the First Amendment.

It is also clear that Knee's purpose is not simply to protect children-- the standard justification for restricting pornography these days-- but to prevent adults from obtaining constitutionally protected material: As he puts it "the problem isn't only what minors see. With 70 percent of men aged 18 to 34 visiting a pornographic Web site at least once a month, this material affects everyone."

Pause and consider this last quote. What exactly are these effects on everyone other than the fact that people seek out things they want to see? Later Knee remarks that "one might want more empirical evidence of actual harm from the increased exposure to pornography before taking so radical a step." Indeed. If Knee thinks that pornography causes harm, other than offense to his moral sensibilities, he might consider that studies have repeatedly failed to show much desensitization (or indeed, much other harm for that matter) from non-violent pornography-- i.e., pictures and movies of couples who are not maiming or killing or torturing each other, but simply having sex-- and it is non-violent pornography that Knee wants to ban. In fact, the studies indicate that the desensitization from exposure to violent pornography comes not so much from the sexual content of the pornography, but from its violent content. R-rated slasher films do just as good a job as hard core violent porn. And these studies only show the possibility of desensitization among college students who were the test subjects, they do not show that exposure to even violent pornography causes an increase in crime.

If Knee is really serious about the effects of media representations, he should forget about pornography and focus instead on violence, although even here the studies are inconclusive. But then, of course, he would be taking on not the pornography industry, but the mainstream media itself.

Knee's proposal to ban pornography does not reach nude modeling, or simulated sex acts. This also undermines his claims of harm. If he thinks that non-violent pornography causes harm to adults, he's given no reason to think that exposure by adults to these other forms of pornography does not share the same bad tendencies. Indeed, if Knee really wants to prohibit speech that corrupts minds, desensitizes adults and leads them to do very stupid and wicked things, I'm afraid that the pornography industry is not the first place he should be looking to censor. There are many other, far more powerful influences.

In any case, a general principle of first amendment law is that the government is not permitted to prohibit adults from reading or watching expression because of the fear that adult minds will become corrupted. Conceivably Knee's own editorial might cause harm, because it might desensitize adults to the importance of freedom of speech and lead some officials to engage in behavior that subverts the First Amendment. Thankfully, this is not a sufficiently good reason to censor it.