July 20, 2012
This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.
July 20, 2012
“It’s going to take a long time to win this war,” President George W. Bush told a group of Pentagon employees on September 17, 2001, six days after the terrorist attacks that marked a new era in global history. “Americans should not expect one battle but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen,” he said, three days later, at a joint session of Congress. Bush was right. More than a decade after 9/11, Osama Bin Laden is dead and many of his top associates have been killed or captured. And yet the endless war against Islamist terrorists—already the longest war in American history—continues on several fronts, in several countries, with no end in sight.
An endless war, and an endless emergency too. “A national emergency exists by reason of the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center, New York, New York, and the Pentagon, and the continuing and immediate threat of further attacks on the United States,” Bush declared, three days after 9/11. Bush renewed the emergency declaration every subsequent year of his presidency. President Barack Obama renewed it as well every year in office. “The terrorist threat that led to the declaration on September 14, 2001, of a national emergency continues,” he proclaimed. “For this reason, I have determined that it is necessary to continue in effect . . . the national emergency with respect to the terrorist threat.”
War and emergency invariably shift power to the presidency. Permanent war and permanent emergency threaten to make the shift permanent. George W. Bush’s counterterrorism initiatives—warrantless surveillance, targeted killings, detention without trial, military commissions, limitations on habeas corpus, aggressive interrogations, and much more—were unthinkable on September 10, 2001. Bush succeeded in preventing another attack on the homeland, an accomplishment he described as the “most meaningful” of his presidency.
But many believe that his success came at an unacceptable cost to American legal traditions, and that he destroyed the constitutional separation of powers by violating scores of laws and snubbing Congress. “Decades from now,” said Republican Senator Arlen Specter at the twilight of the Bush presidency, “historians will look back on the period from 9/11 to the present as an era of unbridled executive power and Congressional ineffectiveness.”
Barack Obama campaigned against the Bush approach to counterterrorism and came to office promising to repudiate it and to restore the rule of law. “As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals,” he said in his inaugural address. But in perhaps the most remarkable surprise of his presidency, Obama continued almost all of his predecessor’s counterterrorism policies. “Presidents don’t tend to give back power on their own volition,” remarked Princeton historian Julian Zelizer, nine months into the Obama presidency. “While there have been some changes it is difficult to conclude that the election made a serious dent in the strength of the executive branch.”
Spector and Zelizer—a mainstream politician and a progressive professor—reflect the widely held view that 9/11 was the death knell for the separation of powers and for presidential accountability. For many, James Madison’s famous concern that “no nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare” has been realized. Books such as Bomb Power, The Decline and Fall of the American Republic, Madison’s Nightmare, and The Executive Unbound argue that 9/11 brought a dramatic shift of power to the President. These books differ in the details of their arguments and in their normative stance. But they generally agree with law professors Eric Posner and Adrian Vermeule, the authors of The Executive Unbound, that in military and national security affairs we live “in an age after the separation of powers, and the legally constrained executive is now a historical curiosity.”
The Revolution in Presidential Accountability
The problem with the conventional wisdom about the expansion of presidential power is that it tells only half the story. The rest of the story is a remarkable and unnoticed revolution in wartime presidential accountability that checked and legitimated this growth in presidential power.
The U.S. Constitution creates a system of “checks and balances” that gives other institutions—Congress, the courts, and the press—the motives and tools to counteract the President when they think he is too powerful, pursues the wrong policies, or acts illegally. Far from rolling over after 9/11, these institutions pushed back far harder against the Commander in Chief than in any other war in American history. The post-9/11 Congress often seemed feckless, especially in its oversight responsibilities. But it nonetheless managed to alter and regulate presidential tactics on issues—interrogation, detention, surveillance, military commissions, and more—that in previous wars were controlled by the President.
Congress was often spurred to action because the American press uncovered and published the executive branch’s deepest secrets. It was also moved by federal judges who discarded their traditional reluctance to review presidential military decisions and threw themselves into questioning, invalidating, and supervising a variety of these decisions—decisions that in other wars had been the President’s to make. Judicial review of the Commander in Chief’s actions often left him without legal authority to act, forcing him to work with Congress to fill the legal void.
These traditional forces received crucial support from something new and remarkable: giant distributed networks of lawyers, investigators, and auditors, both inside and outside the executive branch, that rendered U.S. fighting forces and intelligence services more transparent than ever, and that enforced legal and political constraints, small and large, against them.
On the inside, military and national security lawyers devoted their days and many of their nights to ensuring that the Commander in Chief complied with thousands of laws and regulations, and to responding to hundreds of lawsuits challenging presidential wartime action. These lawyers’ checks were complemented by independent executive-branch watchdogs, such as inspectors general and ethics monitors, who engaged in accountability-enhancing investigations of the President’s military and intelligence activities. These actors were empowered by a culture of independence that had grown up quietly in the previous three decades. And they enforced laws traceable to 1970s congressional reforms of the presidency that most observers assumed were dead but that turned out to be alive and quite fearsome.
On the outside, nongovernmental organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights connected up with thousands of like-minded lawyers and activists in the United States and abroad. Together, these forces—often, once again, invoking laws and institutions traceable to decades-old legal reforms—swarmed the government with hundreds of critical reports and lawsuits that challenged every aspect of the President’s war powers. They also brought thousands of critical minds to bear on the government’s activities, resulting in best-selling books, reports, blog posts, and press tips that shaped the public’s view of presidential action and informed congressional responses, lawsuits, and mainstream media reporting…
July 20, 2012
Count Harry Kessler received the news in the officers’ mess of his army regiment from a fellow officer going through dispatches. On October 25, 1900, Friedrich Nietzsche, who had famously announced the death of God, had himself died.
During the previous decade, Nietzsche’s writings had taken German culture by storm. One of Kessler’s friends joked that “six educated Germans cannot come together for a half hour without Nietzsche’s name being mentioned.” Nietzsche had become a hero—and cult figure—to those who wanted to reimagine Germany; and a villain to those who remained attached to Germany’s Protestant roots and traditional order.
The philosopher’s tragic decline only added to his mystique. Nietzsche had suffered a major mental breakdown in 1888, just as his ideas were catching fire outside of academic circles. The once brilliant scholar and philosopher, reduced to the mental cognition of a child, had no understanding of how famous he’d become.
As Nietzsche’s ideas were being adapted to various and contrary ends by avant-garde artists, psychoanalysts, and racial ideologues, his death provoked a battle over his legacy. Kessler, a prominent patron of culture and a well-connected operator on the European art scene, took part in the fight.
The count was a man of voracious intellect and endless charm, as well as a deeply committed diarist. At the age of twelve he started keeping a journal, creating a treasure trove for historians writing about the artistic forces of Wilhelmine Germany and the Belle Époque. Kessler seemed to meet or know everyone of importance—more than forty thousand names appear in fifteen thousand pages written over fifty-seven years. With the discipline of a great reporter, he recorded countless remarkable moments that describe, in intimate detail, the seismic political shifts that rocked Europe from the turn of the century to the Third Reich. Laird M. Easton, Kessler’s biographer, has edited and translated selections from the count’s early years to create Journey to the Abyss: The Diaries of Count Harry Kessler, 1880–1918 (Knopf). Nestled among its many stories is Kessler’s encounter with the life and legacy of Nietzsche. When Kessler was a young man, Nietzsche’s writings provided him with a framework for thinking beyond the staid categories of his bourgeois upbringing. Over time, Kessler fashioned himself first into a remarkable aesthete and later a diplomat and a spy. W. H. Auden, who considered Kessler a friend, called him “probably the most cosmopolitan man who ever lived.”
In the years leading up to the First World War, Kessler channeled his organizational talents into designing and raising money for a memorial to honor Nietzsche. But he wasn’t the only one with a keen interest in the philosopher’s legacy. Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, the philosopher’s sister, had her own ideas about how her brother’s work and life should be used.
THE LIVES AND LOVES OF FRITZ AND ELISABETH
Close in age, Fritz (as he was known to friends and family) and Elisabeth shared a bond made all the stronger by the loss of their father, a Lutheran minister, who died in 1849, when Fritz was four and Elisabeth was three. As the boy, Fritz received a fine education, one that encouraged his interest in literature and music. In 1864, he enrolled at the university in Bonn, switching to Leipzig the following year, leaving Elisabeth behind with Franziska, their domineering mother. Fritz’s studies and exposure to the wider world led him, in another sense, away from his sister and his family. He came to question the place of God and religion, and then abandoned theology in favor of philology. His disenchantment with Christianity caused the first of many rifts with Elisabeth, who found his rejection of their father’s faith disconcerting.
In 1869, after a riding accident cut short his military service, Nietzsche accepted a position teaching classical philology in Basel, Switzerland. That same year, he met composer Richard Wagner. Despite an age difference of three decades, the two men forged an intellectual connection through their love of music and an appreciation of the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer. In The Birth of Tragedy, published in 1872, the young thinker argued that western culture had reached its pinnacle under the Greeks, but Wagner’s operas had come closest to embodying the Greek tradition in modern terms.
Fritz’s health had never been robust and his mania for work frequently left him spent and vulnerable to illness. His body was also slowly being consumed by syphilis, which he had contracted from a prostitute. Worried by letters recounting migraines and stomach problems, Elisabeth journeyed to Basel in 1870 to care for her brother. Over the next eight years, she spent long stretches managing his household so that he could teach and write.
Fritz’s relationship with Wagner, over time, assumed a father-son dynamic—and the son began to chafe at the father’s overbearing influence. After attending the Bayreuth Festival, inaugurated in 1876 to celebrate Wagner’s music, Fritz experienced a conversion: Wagner’s operas were not the reawakening of Greek culture as he first thought, but spectacles pandering to the basest impulses of the newly unified Germany. He also had doubts about Schopenhauer’s pessimism and the anti-Semitism that permeated Wagner’s worldview.
In 1878, Nietzsche published Human, All-Too-Human, which featured a critique of Christianity and anti-Semitism. The book upset Elisabeth, who was distraught that Fritz may have made her persona non grata to the Wagners and their social circle. The strain led Elisabeth to abandon her brother and return to Germany. Unable to maintain his own household, Nietzsche resigned his post at Basel and became an itinerant philosopher.
Next, the siblings began to quarrel over each others’ love lives. In 1882, at the age of thirty-seven, Fritz fell hard for Lou Salomé, a twenty-one-year-old Russian who was as smart as she was beautiful. Fritz found her mind intoxicating, relishing their never-ending philosophical discussions. Elisabeth, who prized respectability and was fiercely protective of her relationship with Fritz, regarded the unconventional Salomé as a threat. She objected to Salomé’s plan for a “philosophical convent,” in which Salomé, Fritz, and philosopher Paul Rée would create a platonic household. And she cringed with mortification when Salomé shared a photograph—one that depicted Salomé, whip in hand, driving a cart pulled by Fritz and Rée—with their social circle.
In Friedrich Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography, Julian Young suggests that Nietzsche staged the scene as an homage to the enslavement of both him and Rée to Salomé’s charms. The photograph also serves as the inspiration for the notorious remark in Thus Spoke Zarathustra: “Do you go to women? Don’t forget the whip.”
Angry at his sister’s meddling, Fritz accused her of “dirty and abusive” behavior. Fritz had his own issues with Elisabeth’s engagement to Bernhard Förster, a leading figure in Germany’s anti-Semitic political movement. In 1881, Förster masterminded an unsuccessful petition drive demanding that the government register all Jews, limit Jewish immigration, and ban Jews from teaching. When Förster’s political activities cost him his teaching job, he decided to pour his energy into launching Nueve Germania, a racially pure German colony in Paraguay. While initially skeptical of Förster’s radicalism and his colonial project, Elisabeth came to embrace his ideas, finding them more palatable than her brother’s rejection of God. By 1884, the siblings ceased to speak to each other. “This accursed anti-Semitism . . . is the cause of a radical breach between me and my sister,” Nietzsche wrote a friend.
Over the course of the next year, they reconciled. Elisabeth even asked Fritz to serve as best man at her wedding. He refused—standing up at the ceremony meant endorsing the marriage, something he couldn’t do. Elisabeth married Förster on May 22, 1885, the anniversary of Wagner’s birthday. At the end of October, Fritz wished Elisabeth well before she departed for Paraguay, secretly happy to put both physical and philosophical distance between himself and Förster. It was the last time Elisabeth saw her brother in his right mind.
By 1888, Nietzsche was becoming remarkably well known. The University of Copenhagen hosted a series of lectures about his philosophy, and translations of his key writings were in the works. So promising was the outlook that he made inquiries about buying back his oeuvre from his publisher.
But most of his fame lay abroad, he complained: “In Vienna, in St. Petersburg, in Stockholm, in Copenhagen, in Paris, in New York—everywhere I have been discovered; but not in the shadows of Europe, Germany.”…
July 20, 2012
When faced with the explosive fury of multiple wildfires torching hundreds of homes like so many Roman candles, journalists can perhaps be forgiven for hyperbole — including stories that begin with statements like “the State of Colorado is on fire.”
But in truth, the facts speak loudly for themselves: As of July 12, 76 active wildfires were burning across more than 2.1 million acres of the American West — an area nearly as large as sprawling Los Angeles County.
And the heart of the fire season is still ahead of us.
The fires have predictably followed six months of paltry precipitation and near record warmth in large parts of the region. In Colorado, what little snowpack there was had fallen into a death spiral of rapid melting by March, more than a month earlier than average.
So as one fire after another seemed to pop up in the parched and sun-baked region in June and early July, reporters, bloggers and opinion writers began trying to move the story beyond the details of breaking news to causes and context. There was much to discuss.
Freelance journalist Michael Kodas distilled the context of this furious burning season to its essence in an article in OnEarth. “Even among skeptical firefighters and usually cautious scientists, there’s little doubt anymore: forest management and development issues have been priming the West for epic fires, but it was this year’s climate-driven drought and heat that lit the fuse,” Kodas wrote.
In their stories on causes and context, journalists and commentators chose to emphasize different parts of that equation. Some examined decades of forest management policies that have left many forest ecosystems overgrown and fully fueled for intense fires. Others examined the climatic factors that lit the fuse, as Kodas put it. Some missed the mark in their coverage, with over-simplification and lack of appropriate skepticism. Many others added important information to public discourse on this increasingly critical issue.
Scientists and journalists alike have pointed to a multimedia package co-produced by Kodas for the independent, non-profit iNews Network as an exemplar of good reporting. In “Red Zone: Colorado’s Growing Wildfire Danger,” Kodas, along with investigative reporter Burt Hubbard and videographer Carolyn Moreau, documented the impact of one factor that can be drowned out in discussions of the role of climate change in wildfire activity: explosive population growth in forest zones at very high risk of fire.
Combining an analysis of census data with mapping, interactive features, video and good, old-fashioned narrative journalism, the iNews team alerted citizens to a concerning trend: “In the past two decades, a quarter million people have moved into Colorado’s red zones – the parts of the state at risk for the most dangerous wildfires,” they wrote. “Today, one of every four Colorado homes is in a red zone.”
According to Laura Frank, the founder and director of iNews, the story ran in just about every major news outlet in Colorado, potentially bringing an under-reported aspect of wildfires in the West to the attention of hundreds of thousands of Coloradans. “I think they’ve nailed this,” commented Andrew Revkin, the New York Times Dot Earth blogger and Pace University professor. While climate change is clearly an important context for the wildfires, “there wouldn’t be a story if there weren’t people living in these fire zones,” he said.
That may be a bit of an overstatement, since increasing wildfire activity in the West and elsewhere is highly newsworthy all on its own — as a phenomenon wholly consistent with what scientists have been expecting from climate change.
Much of the region has been warming faster than the globe as a whole. And research has shown that with the warming temperatures and an increasingly early onset of spring, large wildfire activity in the West began to increase dramatically in the mid-1980s, bringing more frequent and longer lasting large fires, and a more drawn out wildfire season as well. Moreover, for large portions of the West over the past two decades, “the minimum burned area has been increasing quite a bit from year to year,” said Anthony Westerling, a scientist with the Sierra Nevada Research Institute at the University of California, Merced.
So the climatic context is certainly one important part of the story. How prominent has it been in national coverage? At least during June, not very, according to an analysis by Media Matters for America of wildfire stories in major print and broadcast outlets. The study found that only 3 percent of wildfire coverage mentioned long-term climate change or global warming…