Trust the Law

The Trust Issue:

There is a basic failure of trust in the American court system among many of us, including me. Not for no reason! (H/t: Southern Appeal).

The originally named defendants were 70,787 pounds of spiny lobster tails. Less than 5 percent of them were, horror of horrors, too short – which may or may not have been a violation of Honduran sea-harvest laws.

Even worse, the dastardly tails entered Bayou La Batre, Ala., not in the required cardboard containers, but in plastic. Again, Honduran law may have been violated.

U.S. prosecutors, perceiving a dangerous conspiracy, stopped bothering the lobsters and threw their net at the lobster importers. Using something called the Lacey Act, which makes it illegal in the United States to import goods in contravention of another nation’s laws, the prosecutors began building their case.

And if it were an illegal import, well, that made it “smuggling,” right? And if the importers used the money they earned to buy any goods in the United States, well, that turned the case into “money laundering.”

Suddenly, the allegation of minor civil violations became a major criminal case. Three defendants were given sentences of – get this! – eight years each. In federal prison. To enforce a foreign regulation. About undersized lobsters.

Never mind that the importers openly took the lobsters through Customs, seemingly unaware they were doing anything wrong. Never mind that the U.S. Department of Commerce published an official price list for Honduran lobsters of the very sizes supposedly outlawed.

Never mind that one of the importers was a Honduran businessman, David Henson McNab, who willingly returned repeatedly to the United States to defend himself, apparently thinking it was all a misunderstanding.

And never mind that from the very start, there was conflicting, expert testimony about whether Honduran law was violated at all. The original trial judge, citing a midlevel Honduran official, allowed the trial to continue, all the way to convictions.

Later, when the attorney general of Honduras (!) wrote to say the regulations at issue had been repealed four years before this case began, the appeals court said it was too late.

“There must be some finality with representations of foreign law by foreign governments,” wrote the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

So: Prison! Even though no existing law had been violated.
Meanwhile, apparently we can't keep people in prison who've actually tried to kill us.

How are we meant to allow ourselves to be governed by courts that behave in this way? The same way we are governed by Congress, I suppose.

UPDATE: I was flip in my dismissal of the SCOTUS case, not wishing to add to what Cassandra had already said about it. It doesn't really say we "can't keep people in prison," but just that we must apply Habeas rights to them as if they were (a) citizens and (b) not unlawful combatants captured in a foreign war zone and never on US soil.

That's madness, in my opinion; but I've disagreed with the whole line of SCOTUS cases here. My reading is that we should be applying the Geneva Conventions as ratified, which offer very few rights to unlawful combatants of nonsignatory nations. They have a right to a hearing on their status, and if they are found to be unlawful combatants, not much else.

The SCOTUS has consistently been expanding their rights and access to the courts, which strikes me as a terrible mistake.

The overlap between this case and the lobster case is that both of them have to do with a blurring of the line between US and foreign law. The US courts here are undertaking to enforce Honduran law -- which they understand imperfectly at best, and whether or not the regulations were actually in force at the time. They are going hog wild looking for ways to make crimes out of ordinary behavior.

The SCOTUS case is a case where people are being treated as if American citizens' rights applied to everyone, everywhere. This is not so, has never been so, and really ought not to be so. American citizenship carries with it rights but also duties, and a debt to the nation that supports those rights. If you want those rights, you should take the lawful steps necessary to apply for immigration.

You shouldn't get them for waging war against us. If you do so honorably, you are entitled to POW protections under the Geneva Conventions. If you do so dishonorably, you are not even entitled to that.

Except, now, you are.

Haggis!

Haggis!

BillT is apparently under the impression that he can talk us out of our haggis. In fact, nothing could be a better feast for us.

The haggis is frequently assumed to be Scottish in origin though there is little evidence for this, and food writer Alan Davidson states that the Ancient Romans were the first people known to have made products of the haggis type. A kind of primitive haggis is referred to in Homer's Odyssey, in book 20, when Odysseus is compared to "a man before a great blazing fire turning swiftly this way and that a stomach full of fat and blood, very eager to have it roasted quickly." ...

Clarissa Dickson Wright repudiates the assumption of a Scottish origin for haggis, claiming that it "came to Scotland in a longship [ie. from Scandinavia] even before Scotland was a single nation." Dickson-Wright further cites etymologist Walter William Skeat as further suggestion of possible Scandinavian origins: Skeat claimed that the hag– part of the word is derived from the Old Norse hoggva or the Icelandic haggw, meaning 'to hew' or strike with a sharp weapon, relating to the chopped-up contents of the dish.
Odysseus! The Romans! The Vikings! The Scots and the Icelendings! Why, it's everything a dish should be to enjoy its celebrated place at a great feast.

It's also really good, if you make it right. The canned type tastes rather like any other canned meat-and-vegetable concoction, corned beef or what have you. But a real haggis, with good oatmeal and fresh onions, and a dram of golden whiskey poured atop it just at the point of serving, is delicious.

Of course, we also do steaks, biscuits, beans and beer here at the Hall.

UPDATE: Cassandra, meanwhile, wants you to know about Utilikilts. I've never had one, but I've seen them around. They seem like outstanding garments.

Americans First

Americans First:

I see that Senator Obama has started a webpage aimed at fighting rumors.

I'm glad to link to it, as I wish to see him defeated, but fair and square. In return, I trust the Senator will use it fairly, to fight honestly when he is being misrepresented, and not misrepresent his opponent's words in turn.

OK, I don't really trust that he will do that -- I see the site already characterizes every misunderstanding as a "LIE." Still, as intemperate as that is, let's make sure to get the details right as we can. There's reason enough in his Iraq policy alone to believe he is unsuitable for the office; and plenty of other reasons also.

Only Sleep Democrats

Republicans are Sick:

For Cassidy, a video that suggests Republicans are unclean. Being a Democrat myself, I have no dog in the fight. It's amusing, though.

Here's the counter-question I'd offer: which approach offers a chance at a wife who will be with you thick and thin, through the hard times that life cannot but offer?

I realize the young think not that far. But for me, a wife with a Glock who will watch over my shoulders is worth ten thousand women who have neither the heart, nor the arms to carry the day. I married her in part because she carried a knife, and had taught winter survival on the plains of Indiana.

Take a lesser woman, if you want.

What Scouts are For

What Scouts are For:

Grim's Hall wishes to express our condolences to the families of those affected by the tornados of last night. I also wish to praise the Boy Scouts, individually and as an organization for doing exactly what they were created to do:

Boy Scouts who came to each others' aid after a tornado that killed four of their comrades and injured 48 people were hailed as heroes Thursday for helping to administer first aid and search for victims buried in their flattened campsite....

Ethan said the scouts' first-aid training immediately compelled them to act.

"We knew that we need to place tourniquets on wounds that were bleeding too much. We knew we need to apply pressure and gauze. We had first-aid kits, we had everything," he said.

Ethan said one staff member took off his shirt and put it on someone who was bleeding to apply pressure and gauze. Other scouts started digging people out of the rubble, he said.

The injured were taken to Burgess Health Center in Onawa, Alegent Health Clinic in Missouri Valley and Creighton University Medical Center in Omaha.

Defense in depth.

A Lesson in Scottish History

A Lesson in Scottish History:

In celebration of this weekend's upcoming Scottish Highland Games in Blairsville, Georgia, let's talk a bit about Scottish history. A good starting point is this review of historian Trever-Roper, perhaps the most hostile to the mythology of Scotland.

The myths that bothered him were alike in this way: each made Scotland seem less a part of European civilization than it really had been. You can see the result in Braveheart, a movie actually filmed in Ireland, whose extras were provided by the Irish Army Reserves. William Wallace is depicted in a kilt, which he certainly would not have worn. The article above suggests the kilt was invented in the 19th century, but that is not quite right. What we call the military kilt was, that is, the skirt that is a separate garment. The Great Kilt, which is a huge bolt of cloth belted around the body, is ancient in origins; but it was the dress of the poor, who literally belted their bedclothes around themselves for warmth in the daytime. William Wallace was a knight.

Braveheart also has William Wallace wear woad, which was too late -- the Picts did that, in Roman times. Trevor-Roper, who survived long enough to have seen it, must have been beside himself.

The Scots were noted as having a unique character, however, in the Middle Ages. That character is different from how we imagine it today.

I quote Sidney Lanier -- for whom, north Georgia readers, our Lake Lanier is named -- from his redaction of Froissart. Lanier, the Georgia poet, created this for boys -- Froissart was a French author, who composed his history by riding about the country and talking to knights who had fought in the great wars he chronicled. It remains a wonderful read today; Lanier's version updates the language to modern English, but there are other good ones.

Robert the Bruce, that greatest king of Scotland -- and gentleman of Christendom, whose life is discussed in The Dangerous Book for Boys -- had grown old at the time of Froissart's wars. He sent his companion Douglas to lead this defiance of the English, whom he had fought so often and for so long.

The Scots are bold, hardy, and much inured to war. When they make their invasions into England, they march from twenty to four and twenty miles without halting, as well by night as by day; for they are all on horseback, except the camp-followers, who are on foot.

The knights and esquires are well mounted on large bay horses, the common people on little galloways. They bring no carriages with them, on account of the mountains they have to pass in Northumberland; neither do they carry with them any provisions of bread or wine; for their habits of sobriety are such, in time of war, that they will live for a long time on flesh half sodden, without bread, and drink the river-water without wine.

They have, therefore, no occasion for pots or pans: for they dress the flesh of their cattle in the skins, after they have taken them off; and being sure to find plenty of them in the country which they invade, they carry none with them. Under the flaps of his saddle, each man carries a broad plate of metal; behind the saddle, a little bag of oatmeal: when they have eaten too much of the sodden flesh, and their stomach appears weak and empty, they place this plate over the fire, mix with water their oatmeal, and when the plate is heated, they put a little of the paste upon it, and make a thin cake, like a cracknel or biscuit, wich they eat to warm their stomachs: it is therefore no wonder they perform a longer day's march than other soldiers.

An army marching on short rations and sobriety is not how we imagine the Scots of old, but it is how they won their wars at Bannockburn and elsewhere.

We also don't recall how deeply tied Scotland was to the rest of Christendom at the time. The Declaration of Arbroath, which -- whatever Trevor-Roper said about it -- is one of the most noble and beautiful letters ever composed, was addressed to the Pope. And upon his death, Robert the Bruce charged that same Douglas to cut out his heart, embalm it, and carry it on Crusade. Douglas was killed crusading against the Saracens in Spain, when he led a charge against the King of Grenada that the Spanish neglected to support. Bruce's heart, and Douglas' body, were recovered and returned to Scotland.

The Scots have a powerful history in the highlands of America, where they emigrated in force. Many of what we call "Scots-Irish" were either Scots or northern English, who went first to Ireland seeking land under the plantation laws of James I of England (who was also James VI of Scotland). Much of America owes itself in part to them, under one name or another: the Volunteers of Tennessee who supported the Texans; the Scots who formed Georgia's Highland Mountain and Coastal Rangers in the time of James Edward Oglethorpe; the "overmountain men," victors of the Battle of King's Mountain; who fought the Indians with Andrew Jackson; who migrated West in the greatest numbers after the Civil War; and so forth.

Their history is ours, partly.

Rebel Roots

Rebel Roots:

Such is the title of this Politico piece on Jim Webb's writings on the Confederacy. Of course, all Americans have rebel roots -- Washington was a rebel that George III would have gladly hanged -- but of course it is the Confederates that are the cause of the journalistic complaint.

[Webb] has suggested many times that while the Confederacy is a symbol to many of the racist legacy of slavery and segregation, for others it simply reflects Southern pride.
I wasn't aware this was a controversial statement. It's obvious from the number of re-enactment groups that people remain not merely interested in the Civil War, but proud of the gallantry of their ancestors who fought in it -- this is true for the descendants of both armies, and indeed, many people (including me) had family on each side of the conflict. Webb himself is descended from Confederate officers.

What is the alternative position to Webb's "suggestion"?
Webb, a descendant of Confederate officers, also voiced sympathy for the notion of state sovereignty as it was understood in the early 1860s, and seemed to suggest that states were justified in trying to secede.
It's plain that the Confederates themselves thought they were justified. Webb, among other things, is a historian. If you were writing a history that treated the Civil War, wouldn't you want to explain why the Confederates thought so?

If you're going to be fair to that argument, you should note just how frequently it had come up. After all, northern states had threatened to seceed before the Civil War, South Carolina had nearly come to blows with Andrew Jackson over it, and so forth. There were a number of parties in early America who honestly believed it was a retained power of the states, and that the right to withdraw from a union that had become a tyranny to you was implied by the Founding. It's hard to read the American Revolution as anything other than a successful secession, and the Declaration of Independence is fairly clear that this is something that could happen just frome time to time ("When in the course of human events..." doesn't imply, "Just this once").

Another thing:
Ron Walters, director of the African American Leadership Center at the University of Maryland and a professor of political science there, said Webb’s past writings and comments on the Confederacy could dampen enthusiasm for the Democratic ticket, should he appear on it.
We've all observed the enthusiasm black America has for the Obama campaign, and we all understand the reasons for it. I have a tremendous sympathy for their feelings on the subject, given their shared history -- just as I have for Webb's sentiments, given the history of which his family was a part. That said, given the history, does anyone seriously believe that 'African American... enthusiasm could be dampened' for the Obama ticket by... well, anything?
He doesn’t defend the war at all or the practice of slavery. He does make arguments about why the South seceded,” said Denny Todd. “The individual Confederate soldier, for the most part, did not own slaves. They weren’t wealthy landowners. Webb simply talks about why these men — mostly poor and white — stepped up and answered the call to serve.”

The distinctions Webb makes, however, tend not to receive a full airing in the heat of political debate.
Yeah, I was noticing that.

Optimism on Iraq

Optimism on Iraq:

Now available even in newspapers:

But recent substantial gains by the Iraqi army, flagging insurgent violence and civilians reclaiming a sense of confidence have produced expectations that are higher than at any time since 2003.

It’s increasingly reasonable to assume that Iraq’s security environment will continue to improve…

Even if recent events don’t portend a permanent change, nearly all the numbers the past few weeks suggest that Iraq’s center finally may be holding. Of most interest to Americans is the figure 19: the number of U.S. troops who died here in May….

Evidence of near normalcy is widespread.

“It’s a perfect storm of conditions on the ground right now,” says Michael Noonan , the managing director of the Program on National Security at the Foreign Policy Research Institute , who served as an Army Reservist captain in northern Iraq in 2006-07.
Esmay says:
Iraq isn’t Shangri-La by any means, but by virtually all measures it has improved since 2002 (GDP doubled, potable water access doubled, access to sewage systems doubled, electricity nearly doubled (albeit thanks mainly to private generation), ten times as many phones, one hundred times as many cell phones, internet access from nonexistent to widely available in cafes, thousands of free TV, radio, and newspaper, right of speech and assembly and to vote, freedom to purchase cars without paying exorbitant tariffs) and will continue to do so.
The focus on 2002 as a baseline is important, because then we're not just talking about how the Surge made things better than they were in the worst days of the war. We're talking about how the war has made things better overall.

One of Dean's commenters adds:
And let’s not forget another vital measure: since 2002, the number of murdering tyrants running the country and terrorizing the people has dropped precipitpously.
A 100% decline, yes.

Reasonable Discourse

Reasonable Discourse:

Snowflakes in Hell has some thoughts about the success of reasoned discouse in the gun rights movement. (h/t Gwa45).

You’ll notice that, for the most part, our side is appearing with facts, and reasonable arguments, and their side is slinging personal insults, stereotypes, and various other manners of prejudices.

I think the reason for the vitriol is that we have unwittingly hit on a nerve. The LA Times article presented gun owners in a human light. For those who have their identities wrapped up in who they are not, which is ignorant, paranoid, rednecks compensating for some kind of inadequacy and reacting to an irrational fear of crime stoked by the right wing establishment, it’s horribly destabilizing to a smug sense of self to read that those types of people might actually have things in common with you.
The huge unspoken truth about political positions is that they are social. You are likely to have positions that are acceptable to your friends. More, you are likely to take seriously positions you don't advocate yourself if any of your friends do. Having even one friend who desires gay marriage makes it more likely that you will consider this a reasonable position on which people can disagree; after all, you want to make space for your friends. The gay marriage agenda has proceeded from victory to victory on this score, and will eventually succeed -- very few Americans who oppose gay marriage really want to demonize gays, despite much concern to the contrary.

The progressive movement has been trying for a while to purge itself of people who don't share a particular range of viewpoints, and this is the reason. To allow anyone into the circle of friends is to accept a whole range of possibilities as at least potential -- however undesirable -- alternatives.

Snowflakes goes on:
Politics isn’t war. Sometimes you can win by humanizing yourself to the other side. Ultimately we will win by breaking down stereotypes and fighting ignorance, just like every other civil rights movement in recorded history. The Black Panthers didn’t end Jim Crow, that was ended by African Americans humanizing themselves to America, and demanding fair treatment.
It is a good thing about the American model that this has so often worked. Here is the corresponding cloud to the silver lining:

The way to persuade someone that a political position is not on the table is to demonize its adherents. If you can drive them out of the social circles entirely, then you have a situation where your preferred solution is not just more likely, but the only one accepted as reasonable.

You can see the effects of this by reading New York Times editorials. They use terms like "out of the mainstream," or "commonsense" not in any relation to what the actual mainstream of America believes, or what sense of things may really be common. Rather, it is to define not an argument, but a social circle.

Once defined, the social circle excludes whole rafts of positions actually quite popular with Americans. One of these is gun rights: concealed carry laws, already far too loose in 1988 for the NYT's standard for "commonsense", have been loosened further in almost every state in the union over the last twenty years.

At some point, it becomes necessary to decide if you prefer political victory or friendship. If friendship is the higher value, you are going to lose some things you care about politically. By allowing advocates of positions you disagree with to be friends, you are letting the nose of the camel into the tent. A good part of the whole camel is likely to follow.

Here we prefer friendship. This is one reason that Grim's Hall -- just as old as many another blog that discusses politics -- has never grown very large. People know instinctively that accepting the rules of reasonable discourse means losing a great deal that they care about. You can believe a man is wrong, and very badly and disasterously wrong, but if he is also your friend, often you'll let him be wrong rather than use the courts or the police to force his compliance with your will.

Perfect nonsense

Obama on Iraq:

CDR Salamander is looking today at the four point plan for Iraq on Obama's web page. He is up in arms about the fact that one of those four points is a push to prosecute "war criminals," on the assumption that he means only the US military.

Insofar as that's correct, it's the only part of the plan that makes any sense at all. We already do exactly that. US servicemembers suspected of war crimes are investigated in several ways, and prosecuted when evidence suggests strong enough reason to believe a crime might have been committed.

Meanwhile, several of the major parties to reconciliation are heads of organizations that have been guilty of severe war crimes, off the scale of anything the Coalition has ever contemplated. Any reconciliation in Iraq will have to include a certain willingness by all sides to shake hands and agree to try to forgive what has passed, in the hope of a better future tomorrow.

This is the plan we already operate under. It's the one thing Obama is suggesting that makes something like sense. We have a civilization that is built upon holding our own to very high standards of honor. Iraq is trying to piece together a future out of war, and there is no potential of bringing its parties to a final peace if the leadership of every faction expects prosecution following any successful conclusion of the process.

The other parts of the plan are the problem.

Immediately begin to pull out troops engaged in combat operations at a pace of one or two brigades every month, to be completed by the end of next year.
Such a pace would lead to the rapid destabilization of the entire country. A single US brigade, 2/1 Armor, stands in the territory of Iraq from the Iranian border to Baghdad's eastern edge, as far south as al Kut and as far north as Narhwan.

The same unit holds Salman Pak, once one of the worst parts of the insurgency, but now having a rebirth. This is a city that is coming out of chaos, with a new bridge connecting it across the Tigris, new courts open, the judges returned to the city, law instead of chaos.

But forget the fate of the Iraqis of Salman Pak, or al Kut. Let's just talk about the effect on American forces, and pretend we owe the Iraqis nothing.

Pull out just that one brigade, and the whole east of Baghdad is opened to however many rockets and mortars and EFPs Iranian smugglers want to provide. The remaining brigades, several in Baghdad, are exposed to increased heavy weapons' fire and armor piercing EFPs. While they wait for their month to leave, their losses will spike -- and for no reason, since they are no longer trying to achieve stability in Iraq. They're just waiting their turn to leave. You would be better to simply saddle everyone up and march them to the sea, all the brigades at once.

You also make wastes of the lives spent in the Surge; but I understand Obama intends to do that in any case.

There are battalions that can be withdrawn at less cost, one at a time, as their AO is stable. To pull a whole brigade, every month? It'll create huge holes in the security of Iraq. It's too fast, and too artificial.
Call for a new constitutional convention in Iraq, convened with the United Nations, which would not adjourn until Iraq's leaders reach a new accord on reconciliation.
Throw out the compromises already made, and start from scratch? We'll skip the part where the United Nations is invoked, like a magic word, suggesting against absolutely all evidence that the UN's involvement might aid the process. Just consider the idea that the Iraqi constitution should be thrown out, as well as all the progress so far achieved -- as all those compromises are laws based on the constitution to be thrown out.

It's no wonder that Obama has been so little interested in examining any of the evidence of progress in Iraq since 2006 or 2007. None of those things affect his plans, which are to throw out any reconciliation or benchmark laws, and the whole constitution with it. The hard-won compromises and slowly built trust, the complex agreements and safeguards for parties distrustful because of years of tyranny? They are to be tossed aside.

This is the plan.
Use presidential leadership to surge our diplomacy with all the nations of the region on behalf of a new regional security compact.
This will be the part where we negotiate with Iran, from a position of ever-increasing weakness. Every month they delay, one or two fewer brigades will be there to help us achieve our goals. No doubt this will work out well for American interests in the region -- confidence that talks would serve "American interests" being the non-precondition precondition that Obama now says he'd insist on for talks with Iran.
Take immediate steps to confront the humanitarian disaster in Iraq, and hold accountable any perpetrators of war crimes.
We've talked about the second half of this before. But consider the first part.

It may -- I guess, surely will -- come as news to the Senator, but there are already people in Iraq taking immediate steps to confront the humanitarian issues. They're doing things like this. They were building water treatment plants through the spring, so this summer there will be water for the people of Mahmoudiyah; water pumps in the Tigris river valley; schools across Iraq; helping rebuild hospitals and medical centers, when they weren't providing medical care themselves; rebuilding towns; providing microgrants to small businesses; establishing agricultural unions to give farmers coop resources to capitalize the fertile Tigris and Euphrates river valleys; refurbishing factories that make tractors, like the one in Iskandariyah's industrial complex; and working to increase Iraqi government capacity to do these things for themselves in the future, from the local to the provincial level and from the provinces to the capital.

These are, by the way, the very people who are going to be rapidly stood down and withdrawn from Iraq. One or two brigades a month.

This plan would be better for America if we just dissolved MNF-I in January 2009 and marched every single servicemember out of the nation. At least then American soldiers and Marines wouldn't die for a certain failure in Iraq, which is what the rest of this plan guarantees.

Iraqi provincial elections are coming in October. The ISF has shown tremendous gains in capacity in Basra and Sadr City. American deaths in May were the lowest of the war. The ISF has taken over most of the fighting. Patience will make this work.

It is still possible to wreck it all by leaving too soon. It's possible to do that even without actually taking a sledgehammer to the progress Iraq has made. Can you imagine how Iraqis would feel if, after their long-awaited provincial elections finally come off in October 2008, in 2009 the new American administration forces their government to toss out the government they've just elected, and the constitution it was based on?

Good gracious.

Kiki Wake

Kike Wake:

From Taisen Deshimaru, The Zen Way to the Martial Arts, a question and an answer. It is the question that lingers ever in my mind.

Last year in Kyoto, I watched a contest between two kendo masters who were about eighty years old. They stood face to face, sword in hand, sword-tip against sword-tip, without moving, absolutely not moving, for five minutes. At the end of five minutes the referee declared a tie, kike wake.
No, on second thought, the answer doesn't matter. It is only that question, phrased with no question mark, that matters.

There are times when we meet things stronger than we are. There are times when we meet things as strong. We do, or do not do. We act, or do not act. Strong as we are, wise as we might be, we may change nothing.

Yet you may be a master. Remember.