A Government of Laws and not of Men

by Kieran Healy on May 30, 2004

Archibald Cox, the Watergate special prosecutor whom Richard Nixon attempted to fire in the “Saturday Night Massacre”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/national/longterm/watergate/articles/102173-2.htm has “died at the age of 92.”:http://edition.cnn.com/2004/ALLPOLITICS/05/30/cox.death.ap/index.html I use a video about those events in my social theory class, when we read “Weber”:http://www.faculty.rsu.edu/~felwell/Theorists/Weber/Whome.htm, because it nicely illustrates Weber’s views about authority and “bureaucracy”:http://www2.pfeiffer.edu/~lridener/DSS/Weber/BUREAU.HTML.

As the video goes on, you can draw an organizational chart of the official relationships between the main players — Nixon, Agnew and Haig in the White House; Cox, “Elliott Richardson”:http://clinton4.nara.gov/Initiatives/Millennium/capsule/richardson.html, “William Ruckleshaus”:http://oregonstate.edu/dept/ncs/newsarch/1998/Oct98/ruckles.htm and “Robert Bork”:http://www.mediatransparency.org/people/robert_bork.htm at the Justice Department — and see how Nixon’s efforts to fire Cox were, in effect, an effort to act like he was the King rather than the President. Nixon didn’t have the authority to fire Cox even though he had the authority to fire Cox’s superiors. After Attorney General Richardson and his deputy Ruckleshaus had refused Nixon’s demands and themselves been fired, Robert Bork — then Solicitor General and third in line at Justice — agreed to do the job. Weber’s analysis of office-holding is nicely illustrated in Richardson’s refusal: “Methodical provision is made for the regular and continuous fulfilment of these duties _and for the execution of the corresponding rights_ … When the principle of jurisdictional ‘competency’ is fully carried through, hierarchical subordination — at least in public office — does not mean that the ‘higher’ authority is simply authorized to take over the business of the ‘lower.’ ” In the video, Bork is interviewed about his decision and in his defence says “Cox had done nothing wrong, but the President can’t be faced down in public by a subordinate official.” When paired with Cox’s famous statement that night — “Whether ours shall be a government of laws and not of men is now for Congress and ultimately the American people” — you get a perfect articulation of the difference between “traditional and legal-rational authority”:http://www.wordiq.com/definition/Authority in a democracy.

The interesting thing is that you don’t have to stop there. Because it’s clear from the video that Richardson’s great personal integrity (Nixon called him a “pious son of a bitch”) carried him through Nixon’s efforts to pressure him, and the following day Richardson got a standing ovation from the staff at Justice as he formally announces his resignation. So two other Weberian ideas — that office-holding is a vocation, and that charisma can persist in bureaucracies — are also relevant.

It’s an effective way to teach this bit of Weber, because he isn’t the most charismatic writer in the world himself, and although the students have heard of Watergate, the details of the constitutional crisis that culminated in the Saturday Night Massacre are new to them.

by Ted on May 30, 2004

About two weeks ago, Boston City Counselor City Councilor Chuck Turner (Green Party) and Nation of Islam representative Sadiki Kambon held a shameful press conference. They distributed photographs, allegedly of American soldiers raping an Iraqi woman, and said “The American people have a right and responsibility to see the pictures.” The pictures were fakes, taken from a pornographic website, and it was extremely irresponsible and offensive to make such a serious accusation without a more careful double-check. (This is assuming that they made an honest mistake.)

The Boston Globe ran a story about this press conference. Here’s the link. The story is 316 words long. By my count, 191 of those words are a sceptical discussion of the authenticity of the photographs. Here are those 191 words:

The images, depicting men in camouflage uniforms having sex with unidentified women, bear no characteristics that would prove the men are US soldiers or that the women are Iraqis. And there is nothing apparent in the images showing they were taken in Iraq. Unlike the photographs widely publicized last week, the images appear to have been taken outdoors in a sandy area with hills in the background.

A woman who answered the phone at Nation of Islam’s US headquarters in Chicago declined to give further information about the photographs, Muhammad, or his whereabouts. Local Nation of Islam minister Don Muhammad did not return messages left at his place of business.

A spokesman for the US Department of Defense, Lieutenant Colonel Joe Yoswa, said the department could not confirm the authenticity of the photographs.

“I would caution that there are many fake photos circulating on the Internet,” Yoswa said.

Turner and Kambon said they don’t know where or when the photos they distributed yesterday were taken. But Turner said they came from a “very legitimate person.”

“We cannot document their authenticity,” he told reporters. “But you have the ability to do that.”

The Globe ran a photo with this story. They did not run any of the pictures that Turner and Kambon handed out. Instead, they ran a photograph of Turner and Kambon holding a posterboard with four of their pictures. In this photo, pornographic details are visible, with only a little imagination. With a moment’s reflection, it seems obvious that the editors made an error in running this picture. Here’s a scan of it: if in doubt, don’t click.

This photo was run in the early edition of the paper. In later editions, the photo was shrunk to obscure the details in the photo, and finally dropped. They apologized for running the photo the next day. Here’s the apology.

My take is that the Globe made a legitimate choice to cover an incendiary story about the accusations made by a local politician, expressing scepticism as they did it. They also made a serious error in judgement by running this photo, which was compounded by their decision to shrink it, instead of remove it, when they realized that they had made a mistake. I’d think that we can question the judgement and attention to detail of these editors without calling them un-American.

Like I said, that’s my take. For an opposing point of view, here are exerpts from ten Instapundit posts which have referenced the subject.

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What would de Tocqueville think ?

by John Q on May 30, 2004

Tim Lambert has more details on yet another Astroturf operation, the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution, recently in the news for attacking open source software and also a shill for the tobacco industry.

A point of interest for me is that I don’t think you really need detailed evidence in cases like this (though of course, its handy to have the kind of chapter and verse Tim provides). Unless it’s devoted to the life and works of de Tocqueville, an outfit with a name like the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution is bound to be bogus.

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Hostages vs Hardware

by Kieran Healy on May 30, 2004

Before I went to graduate school I worked for a year at an oil refinery — “Ireland’s only refinery”:http://www.hydrocarbons-technology.com/projects/whitegate/, in fact — in East Cork. Reading reports about the “hostage crisis in Khobar”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3761263.stm, I wonder why the terrorists went after the oil workers rather than the refineries they work at. After all, if you’re prepared to plan and execute a heavily-armed attack like this, you could do a lot more damage if you just broke into the plant. Oil refinery hardware is just lots of open-plan exposed pipes, tanks and towers filled with flammable liquids. Popping a few RPGs in the direction of a kero tank or “butane sphere”:http://www.vijaytanks.com/spheres.htm could have spectacular consequences. In the “fractionation towers”:http://www.cii-chemfab.com/gallery/infogalleryprojmgmt1.html the crude has helpfully been vaporized for you in advance. Instead, though, these guys hole up with 50 oil workers in a residential compound and basically wait to get themselves killed. Why? Hostage situations haven’t been reliably successful for hostage-takers since the 1980s. The CNN reports cite the terrorists as saying they are out to get “Zionists and crusaders” who are in Khobar to “steal our oil and resources.” Maybe they hate the workers but love the refineries? Who, exactly, are they trying to send a message to here? Do they think that killing foreigners will garner support whereas the destruction of a refinery would turn Saudi opinion against them?

*Update*: Just as I was finishing this post, I discovered that inquiring minds like “Billmon”:http://billmon.org/archives/001490.html want to know the answer to this question as well.

Lowering the Bar

by Belle Waring on May 30, 2004

Thomas “Airmiles” Friedman, has had enough of pie-in-the-sky democracy-promotion, and is ready for some bracing realism:

We need to rebalance our policy. We still have a chance to do in Iraq the only thing that was always the only thing possible — tilt it in a better direction — so over a generation Iraqis can transform and liberate themselves, if they want. What might an Iraq tilted in the right direction look like? It would be more religious than Turkey, more secular than Iran, more federal than Syria, more democratic than Saudi Arabia and more stable than Afghanistan.

More federal than Syria? Frickin’ awesome! This reminds me of a joke of my grandmother’s on the difference between hell and heaven. In heaven, the cooks are French, the lovers Italian, the cops English, and the bankers Swiss. In hell, the cooks are English, the lovers Swiss, the cops French, and the bankers Italian. Airmiles’ list seems infernal: more democratic than Saudi Arabia? Less theocratic than Iran? Gosh, is such a country even concievable?

And what’s up with the only thing that was always already the only thing possible? To wit, a US-friendly, “democracy-minded strongman“, one imagines? (Now with 50% more mindfulness.) I tell you what: when I go around spending blood and treasure like water, I like a bit more value for money.