Friday, July 31, 2009

Knockin' em Back at the "Table of Equality"

This New York Times picture of President Barack Obama sitting on the White House lawn, sipping beer and chatting about race relations with Professor Henry Louis Gates and Sgt. James Crowley, the policeman who arrested him last week, made me think of another incident that involved an invitation to sit at the White House table.

On October 16, 1901 the newly-elected President Theodore Roosevelt invited black leader Booker T. Washington to dine with him at the White House. This simple act ignited a firestorm of resentment and bigotry. Outraged Southern newspapers maligned the president and questioned his wisdom and patriotism for "mingling the races." Hate mail and death threats came pouring in. South Carolina Senator Benjamin Tillman said, "The action of President Roosevelt in entertaining that n****r will necessitate our killing a thousand n****rs in the South before they will learn their place again."

These two tables, a century apart, symbolize the progress America has made on its slog through the mire of race relations. We've come a long way and we still have far to go but at least we're talking.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Blame it on Jack Bauer

It scares me that U.S. interrogation policy during the Bush administration was more influenced by Jack Bauer from the TV show "24" than it was by the U.S. constitution.

The legal team that established U.S. policy, along with people like Michael Chertoff, Secretary of Homeland Security, thought they were setting a prudent, rational course for America when they cited the TV show in legal opinions and allowed military personnel to follow the example of the gung-ho, take-no-prisoners-and-follow-no-rules TV character in places like Guantanamo.

Slate Magazine's Dahlia Lithwick wrote that Jack Bauer was "the prime mover of American interrogation doctrine" and "the most influential legal thinker in the development of modern American interrogation policy."

Didn't these people realize the real world is not a prime time TV show and real people were suffering real consequences while they were busy playing super-spy?

Even the Supreme Court got into the act. In 2007, Justice Antonin Scalia defended Jack Bauer's torture of terrorists to save Los Angeles. "Are you going to convict Jack Bauer?" he asked at a judicial conference in Canada. “Say that criminal law is against him? ‘You have the right to a jury trial?’ Is any jury going to convict Jack Bauer?”

A Supreme Court Justice using the plot of a TV show to justify torture?

Next stop, "The Twilight Zone."