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An On V Update to Old Ideas

Mistakes in the U.S. judicial system haunt me. In my mind, nothing embodies injustice better than a poor, probably minority, suspect trying to prove his innocence in the face of a system spending millions to ensure his death. After listening to a series of Frontline articles on both Afghanistan and wrongful convictions, I made the connection that “Intelligence is Evidence”--mistakes on the battlefield and in the courtroom are more similar than they are different.

While I’ve (mostly) finished my series “Intelligence is Evidence”, the justice system hasn’t stopped making mistakes, so Eric C and I decided to post a link drop updating various topics we’ve covered here at On Violence. If today’s post has a theme--especially in light of the Republican presidential campaign--it is that wild mistrust of government can’t just apply to social policy; it has to apply to the whole kit and caboodle.

Especially to the use of violence.

Update to “Intelligence is Evidence”
Our theme comes from an excellent Dahlia Lithwick article from a few weeks back. She trenchantly shows how Republican nominees from Perry to Romney to Paul rail against government waste, mismanagement and general incompetence. Except when it comes to killing people.

Her article preceded Troy Davis’ execution in Georgia, the biggest piece of capital punishment news in the last few months. Plenty of words were printed on this topic, but our favorite is this piece by Trymaine Lee. (Lithwick and Andrew Cohen covered the execution too.) On the other hand, some states have dismissed notable capital cases, including the Memphis Three (read about it at On The Media here). McClatchy also wrote a great series about how the military poorly prosecutes capital cases as well.

All of the news about capital punishment has the same ring to it: we just don’t know. Some commenters said that “intelligence has a lower threshold for proof than evidence” when we first published “Intelligence is Evidence”. Well, it seems like “evidence” has a pretty low threshold for proof too. More than anything, these cases show that the power of the state can easily overwhelm poor and uneducated suspects.
The burden of proof is so hard to prove because so many of our beliefs about the criminal justice system don’t hold water. For instance, The Economist had a great article about how easily people confess to crimes they didn’t commit. The science isn’t definitive, but the idea that no one would confess to a crime they didn’t commit is just a belief, not fact. If we overturn that principle, plenty of convicted criminals would go free. This Slate article shows how easy it is for eyewitnesses to make mistakes too.
Update to Contracting

Right now Representative Darrell Issa is holding hearings about the bankruptcy filings of Solyndra, a solar panel maker that went bankrupt after getting 500 million dollars or so worth of government loans. Bill O’Reilly made the same point about Solyndra on The Daily Show, using Solyndra as the raison d’etre for why we need less government.

But what about the contracting decisions made by the Department of Defense? A few months back we wrote about some of the irrational spending overruns by defense contractors. Representative Issa, please check out the Department of Defense too, the single largest spender of the discretionary budget. Check out cases like this one.

Or this one.

Or start reading DangerRoom on a regular basis.

Update to Terrorism

Continuing with our “faith in government theme”, I’ve been stunned how loosely the Republican candidates define “government”. Apparently mandatory health care is creeping socialism; anything that keeps citizens “safe” is perfectly constitutional--no need to worry about tyranny or fascism in those sectors. Plenty of candidates love the second amendment, but forget about the first, third, fourth...and so on amendments. This article by The Economist’s Lexington columnist--one of my favorite weekly reads--explains how the trinity of wars on terror, crime and drugs have eroded civil liberties. (It’s a bit late but I can’t believe I never linked to it before).

Last spring, Eric and I went on a bit of a kick about how terrorism is not worth the amount of money America spends on it. The anniversary of 9/11 brought a host of articles echoing this theme:

- NPR had a fantastic series about counter-terrorism at work at the Mall of America.

- Fresh Air also had a great piece asking, “Where is the language legacy of 9/11?”

- The LA Times came to a simple conclusion: the biggest result of 9/11 is more domestic surveillance.

- The NY Times calculated the cost of terrorism at 3.3 trillion.

- As George Will noted the spending and decisions made after 9/11 were mistakes in and of themselves.

- Finally, John Mueller of Ohio State and Woody Hayes broke down exactly how likely we are to die of terrorism.

Update to Language Training

Thomas Friedman’s 9/11 column echoes one of our core arguments about the post-9/11 world: America let a great opportunity go by. He even made the same Eisenhower and the Cold War analogy. He didn’t mention language training, but recommended everything else we did. This SWJ post does lay out a way forward for language training and cultural immersion; I’m skeptical the Pentagon will ever embrace it though. We might write about this topic again in a few weeks.

Update to Art
Friend of On Violence Matt Gallagher wrote a spirited defense of Once an Eagle by Anton Meyer for the “Battleland” blog at time.com. I agree with him that the novel isn’t as bad as the press it receives, and we are going to get resident art reviewer Eric C on it. I will write a post eventually comparing the treatment of revolutionary/irregular war to conventional war, a fascinating undercurrent in the novel.  

Update to Sympathizing with Warren Buffett

This last update doesn’t have anything to do with violence. Warren Buffett wrote a controversial op-ed in The New York Times, saying billionaires and millionaires should pay more in taxes. A common refrain was, “Fine, why doesn’t he just pay more then?” We got a similar response with “I Didn’t Deserve My Combat Pay”. I just love that so many Americans--especially some really smart pundits--resort to such a silly rhetorical argument that is essentially, “I’m going to ignore the merits of your argument while I insult you with a ridiculous proposition.”

Stay strong Warren, we know how you feel.

two comments

I still disagree with the use of the word “trenchantly”

I think I let the Defense Department off easy. If we do another round of articles, I am going to collect a few more examples.