Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Gates And The Monteiro Case

Submitted to The Boston Globe on 07/21/09:

The arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates at his home in Cambridge last week occurred at a moment when Cambridge was bogged down in a lawsuit entailing charges that racial discrimination exists at every level of its city government.

The lawsuit, known as the Monteiro case, likewise involved the Cambridge police, but its tentacles reach much further, into every department of the city and ultimately into the office of powerful City Manager Robert Healy. In her suit, Malvina Monteiro, a Cape Verdean immigrant hired in 1990 as Executive Secretary of the Police Review and Advisory Board, charged Healy with racial discrimination when he fired her in 2003, allegedly because she had, five years before, attended a course on city time without his permission. The case was brought by Monteiro and four other women of color, hired during the 1990’s to fill professional and management positions, who found that they faced retaliation whenever they took action against the city’s everyday discriminatory practices. Later the case was severed, two of the women moved away, and charges by the other two still lie ahead.

In 2005, a Middlesex Superior Court jury dropped charges of discrimination but let stand the charge that Healy had retaliated against Monteiro after she filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. And in May of this year, Superior Court Judge Bonnie Macleod-Mancuso upheld the lower court’s $4.5 million dollar award to Monteiro and criticized Healy for “incoherent testimony” and “reprehensible” behavior. Overall, the case to date has cost the city an estimated 6.7 million dollars and is likely to cost millions more in legal fees and interest charges before the appeals process has run its course.

With elephantine costs and two comparable cases in the wings, it would appear to make sense for the city to try to negotiate its way out. But the City Council has no power to initiate such a process, its only power being to hire or fire the City Manager. And by all accounts Manager Healy is deeply dug in. He is convinced that the charges against him are outrageous and that he will be vindicated on appeal (the city filed an appeal on June 17). City Councilors, running for re- election in the fall, thus face a choice between going along with the Manager and facing costs of an appeal that could go on for years, or firing him and making the outsized payments stipulated in his contract.

In the view of most observers, the city’s prospects in court do not look good. Sworn depositions and testimony in the case so far paint a devastating picture of a City Hall in which poorly qualified whites are consistently favored over better performing blacks, a policy that emanates from the City Manager and is carried out by his deputies in nearly every department. Speaking in January, 2000, in words that evidently remain true today, three-time Mayor Kenneth Reeves commented that, “Bob has a suite of offices that is closed off from the rest of the building, and he and [Assistant City Manager] Richard Rossi … and one or two other favored people are the bunker. All of the other department heads are outside, and then all the other employees are outside [of that]. There is a groupthink in that city, and there’s no person of color in it.” Noting that the manager is responsible because he is “the only person who hires anybody,” Reeves added that Healy “refuses to use search firms. There are some very good search firms that are very good at producing a diverse pool of candidates. He consistently has refused to use them.“

Reeves’ observations are echoed, although not quite so colorfully, by another former Mayor, Alice Wolf, who lamented the city’s failure to hire minority members and treat them properly. And William Gomes, the city’s former Affirmative Action Officer, testified that “the Manager, and his assistants, would sometimes get hostile to me for having raised such concerns, with the City Manager often raising his voice or pointing his finger at me for bringing such issues up and questioning their hiring. In my years of experience the city, as an employer, has resisted treating people of color equally.”

These comments, and scores of others, bring us back to the unhappy experience of Henry Louis Gates on his arrival home from China. Malvina Monteiro was hired by Healy in 1990 as Executive Director of the Cambridge Police Review and Advisory Board because, at the time, he was under extraordinary political pressure to hire minorities. His reluctance to hire a black woman in a supervisory role can only have been the greater because the Cambridge police are known to hold a special place in his heart. Sure enough, during her thirteen years at the department and as the pressure on Healy eased, Monteiro found her assignments cut back and her status diminished. For historical reasons, and because of Healy’s affection, the police department is therefore the “whitest” of any in Cambridge, with the “bunker mentality” ascendant.

That was the mentality that confronted Gates and his helper last week. What the arresting officers saw was two black men trying to break into somebody’s house in the full, improbable, light of day. Another decade, another city, and possibly they would have seen a small, graying man in spectacles who looked frightened.

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Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Obama Administration and Nuclear Weapons Policy

The fledgling Obama Administration has already made two attempts to change things in the nation's troubled nuclear weapons establishment.

The week following the Inauguration, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) told the Departments of Energy and Defense to assess the pros and cons of taking the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which manages the weapons complex, out of the Energy Department and placing it in the Department of Defense. The Administration aims to release the Energy Department from the burden of nuclear weapons, which has lately taken up as much as 70% of its budget, and free it to focus on its real mission, producing power for civilian uses in an era of accelerating climate change.

The Administration's proposal appears to be stillborn because the Pentagon does not want to be saddled with the mismanaged weapons bureaucracy and because no one in Congress is promoting it. Indeed, Jeff Bingaman, the powerful senior Senator from New Mexico, where two of the major weapons labs are located, said that he would fight the project "tooth and nail."

The Administration has addressed another problem as well -- but this one may very well come back. The nuclear weapons establishment has been pushing something called the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW), a $100 billion program to replace the nuclear weapons now in the nation's stockpile with a newly designed warhead supposedly more reliable than the older models we depend on now. The National Academy of Sciences and the Jasons, a group of highly regarded scientific advisers to the government, have said the new warhead is not needed, and President Obama has said that he does not want to produce any new nuclear weapons. Although the RRW had earlier been rejected twice by a Congressional appropriations committee, it still was backed by the Energy Department and Defense Secretary Gates. But in early February OMB informed the Defense Department that the RRW program had been cancelled "both explicitly and implicitly." The President's budget for FY 2010 contains no appropriation for the RRW, and similarly Congress' spending bills for 2009 and 2010 likewise omits any money for the warhead.

But the story may not have ended there. The push to build the RRW comes from the Los Alamos, Livermore and Sandia labs, where weapons designers want something new and interesting to work on, and from the entrenched weapons bureaucracy, which has powerful supporters in Congress. This year or next, the Administration will be seeking ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which Congress rejected in 1999. If the vote were held today, the treaty would probably receive 60 votes, but ratification requires 67, or two-thirds of the Senate. When the treaty comes up again, conservatives, led by right-wing Republican Jon Kyl of Arizona, are likely to require a method of replacing older weapons with newer ones as the price of a yea vote. At that point the RRW, dressed up in another misleading name, may very well make a comeback.
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Monday, June 16, 2008

Hillary's Gaffe

Shock ran through many of us recently when Hillary Clinton raised the specter of Robert Kennedy’s assassination just forty years ago, in June, 1968. Although Mrs. Clinton regarded her comments as innocent, they were shocking precisely because fear for the safety of Barack Obama has been a disquieting undercurrent throughout the primary season. That Mrs. Clinton, whose White House years ought to have made her acutely aware of the danger of assassination, should have made such a slip is more than shocking. It was, unfortunately, an incitement.

While writing a biography of Lee Harvey Oswald, I learned that there is a web of associations in the mind and emotions of the assassin that leads him toward his victim. Almost anything can contribute. Oswald, for example, may have begun to consider committing an act of political violence around New Year’s, 1962, when he was living in Minsk, USSR. There, he heard a relative of his wife, Marina, recount in hushed, frightened tones the details of a shooting attempt on Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev that had just taken place at a nearby hunting lodge. Commenting on the secrecy that surrounded the attempt, Oswald said, “If this had happened in America, it would have been in all the newspapers and everyone would be talking about it.”

Shock ran through many of us recently when Hillary Clinton raised the specter of Robert Kennedy’s assassination just forty years ago, in June, 1968. Although Mrs. Clinton regarded her comments as innocent, they were shocking precisely because fear for the safety of Barack Obama has been a disquieting undercurrent throughout the primary season. That Mrs. Clinton, whose White House years ought to have made her acutely aware of the danger of assassination, should have made such a slip is more than shocking. It was, unfortunately, an incitement.

While writing a biography of Lee Harvey Oswald, I learned that there is a web of associations in the mind and emotions of the assassin that leads him toward his victim. Almost anything can contribute. Oswald, for example, may have begun to consider committing an act of political violence around New Year’s, 1962, when he was living in Minsk, USSR. There, he heard a relative of his wife, Marina, recount in hushed, frightened tones the details of a shooting attempt on Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev that had just taken place at a nearby hunting lodge. Commenting on the secrecy that surrounded the attempt, Oswald said, “If this had happened in America, it would have been in all the newspapers and everyone would be talking about it.”

For Oswald, another suggestive event appears to have occurred on June 12, 1963, when civil rights leader Medgar Evers was slain by a sniper outside his home in Jackson, Mississippi, a city close to New Orleans, where Oswald by then was living.

But the associations that affected Oswald most had to do with President Kennedy himself. Oswald was attracted by Kennedy’s youth and the spirit of hope he conveyed. And there were personal resemblances. Kennedy was, like Oswald during the summer of 1963, a husband and father of a young daughter, with another child expected soon. We know that these similarities were in Oswald’s mind because he talked about them to his wife Marina. When the Kennedys’ son Patrick was born prematurely in August and died, the Oswalds took it very much to heart and were afraid that something similar would happen to their child. Oswald had often told Marina that he wanted enough children for a “whole football team,” like the Kennedy family, and, during the summer of 1963, boasted that he would be “President” or “Prime Minister” some day.

Not only does a chain of suggestion frequently lead an assassin to his victim: the act of assassination itself is, to an appalling degree, contagious. As convicted bank robber named James Earl Ray watched reports of President Kennedy’s assassination on a rickety television set at the federal penitentiary in Jefferson City, Missouri, in 1963, he jumped up, a fellow convict later reported, and shouted, “I’m going to kill that nigger King.” Less than five years later, he did.

There are other signs pointing to the contagious nature of assassination, among them the sequence of events from the Evers shooting of June, 1963, to that of John Kennedy in November the same year, to those of Malcolm X in 1965, Martin Luther King in April, 1968, Robert Kennedy in June of that year and, finally, the attempt on former Alabama Governor George Wallace in a Maryland shopping center in 1972.

Not only is the crime of assassination contagious: most people, at some level, know it. That knowledge accounts for the curtain of silence that until recently has enveloped the anxiety many people – and not only blacks -- feel about the peril that constantly confronts Barack Obama. Even the dismay that greeted Mike Huckabee’s careless gaffe before the NRA failed to inhibit Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton, who has been protected by the Secret Service since 1992, raised the taboo subject, and in a way that could only lead emotionally troubled members of the public to thoughts of her rival for the nomination.

The trouble is that because of the contagiousness – and, for many, the parricidal appeal – of the act of assassination, Mrs. Clinton’s intentions do not matter. A remark such as hers only compounds the atmosphere of suggestion.

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Saturday, May 3, 2008

Steve Aftergood's Testimony to Senate Hearing

On April 30, at Senator Russ Feingold’s senate hearing on Secret Law, Steven Aftergood testified and provided a catalog of current forms of “secret law” and its consequences such as promoting arbitrary government behavior and shielding malefactors from accountability. His posting on the Secrecy News from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy is reproduced here, with his permission, with links intact.

Many thanks to the FAS project and Steve Aftergood for their great work on fighting unnecessary government secrecy, a great concern of this author and this blog.

Secret Law Debated in Senate Hearing (From the FAS Web Site by Steve Aftergood)

Secret law that governs the conduct of government activities but is inaccessible to the public is “a particularly sinister” phenomenon that is “increasingly prevalent,” said Senator Russ Feingold today at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution.

The hearing produced a particularly rich record on the subject of secret law from a broad and diverse set of perspectives (including one view that “there is no such thing” as secret law).

In my own testimony (pdf), I provided a catalog of the many current forms of “secret law” and some of their objectionable consequences.

“If the rule of law is to prevail, the requirements of the law must be clear and discoverable,” I suggested. “Secret law excludes the public from the deliberative process, promotes arbitrary and deviant government behavior, and shields official malefactors from accountability.”

The classification of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memorandum of torture authored by John Yoo was “one of the worst abuses of the classification process I have seen during my career,” testified J. William Leonard (pdf), the former director of the Information Security Oversight Office.

More generally, “OLC has been terribly wrong to withhold the content of much of its advice from Congress and the public,” said Prof. Dawn E. Johnsen (pdf), former head of the OLC, “particularly when advising the executive branch that in essence it could act contrary to federal statutory restraints.”

Current OLC director John P. Elwood (pdf) contended that current OLC disclosure policy “is consistent with the approach of prior Administrations.”

Brad Berenson (pdf), a former associate counsel to the President, articulated “legitimate interests in secrecy” and cautioned against disclosure initiatives that could have unintended consequences.

Prof. Heidi Kitrosser (pdf) explained the constitutional framework within which secrecy disputes take place and urged more “effective congressional oversight” to restrain abuses of secrecy.

Attorney David Rivkin, a frequent defender of Administration policies, said that the “law of war” paradigm with all of its attendant secrecy remains the appropriate one.

Sen. Sam Brownback expressed skepticism about new disclosure requirements, while Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse probed the destabilizing implications of the Administration view that executive orders can be “waived” by the President without notice to Congress or the public.

The prepared statements from the Senate hearing are available here.

For all of the differences of opinion, there was also a provisional consensus that the executive branch should be required to report to Congress when it significantly interprets or reinterprets a statutory requirement.

Chairman Feingold announced that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence had notified him that several long-sought opinions of the Office of Legal Counsel concerning interrogation of enemy combatants would be provided to the Senate Intelligence Committee and possibly, in some form, to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sen. Feingold said he would continue to seek public disclosure of the opinions, a move that is not currently contemplated by the Administration.

Federation of American Scientists: http://www.fas.org/blog/secrecy/2008/04/secret_law_deb.html Read More......

Monday, April 28, 2008

In Memoriam: John Archibald Wheeler

John Archibald Wheeler, who died on April 13, 2008 at the age of 96, was one of the great physicists of the 20th century. Not only that, he was one of the great minds of the 20th century.

In 1933, at the age of 22, Wheeler went to Copenhagen to study with the great Danish physicist, Niels Bohr. It was the beginning of a collaboration that was to last until Bohr¹s death in 1962. In 1939, in Princeton, Wheeler and Bohr came up with the liquid drop model, an explanation of the way fission of the atomic nucleus occurs which became the basis for building the atomic bomb.

That same year saw the first of Dr. Wheeler¹s disagreements with Robert Oppenheimer when Oppenheimer, working with Hartland Snyder, produced a theory of the way stars die. While at first he rejected the theory, later on, after it had been mathematically vindicated, Wheeler accepted it and gave the collapsed star its name, the “black hole.”

Wheeler unintentionally played a fateful role in Oppenheimer¹s career. In 1949 and 1950 the two men, who were both based in Princeton, differed over the wisdom of developing the hydrogen bomb and, in early 1953, the Joint Congressional Committee on Atomic Energy, under the aegis of its staff director, William Borden, produced a paper purporting to show that Oppenheimer had tried to delay development of the weapon.

In violation of secrecy regulations, Borden entrusted a ten-page condensation of the paper to Wheeler for vetting. But Borden reckoned without the scientist¹s well-known absent-mindedness – Wheeler lost the paper on a night train from Trenton to Washington D.C. The document, which contained highly classified secrets of the hydrogen bomb program, was never recovered, and when President Eisenhower learned after his inauguration that secrets of the atomic energy program had been compromised, he subjected his top atomic energy advisers to a withering display of anger.

Months afterward, in what may partly have been an effort to repair the damage to his career, Borden, who had long harbored doubts about Robert Oppenheimer, wrote a letter to the FBI charging that Oppenheimer’s opposition to the hydrogen bomb had been motivated by disloyalty and that he was in all likelihood an agent of the USSR. Borden¹s letter, dated November 7, 1953, led to the 1954 security proceeding in which Oppenheimer was deprived of his security clearance.

The punishment suffered by Oppenheimer for no known breach of security contrasts sharply with the treatment accorded Dr. Wheeler. He continued to be trusted by officialdom in Washington and in 1958, as adviser to the government at arms negotiations in Geneva, he accidentally left his briefcase in the headquarters of the Soviet delegation. The chairman of the delegation immediately called his U.S. counterpart and, with some amusement, sent back the briefcase.

There are rumors of still a third “Wheeler incident” involving a breach of security: if such rumors are true, the facts still are classified by the U.S. government.

The government continued to seek Wheeler¹s advice despite these unheard of violations, and not only because it felt safe with his staunch right-wing views. Atomic energy officials argued that his attributes as a physicist were so unique that he was indispensable to the H-bomb program. Outside government, in the scientific community, he was a beloved figure despite his politics and was viewed as a reconciler who tried to revive the comity that had existed worldwide among physicists prior to World War Two.

He had nothing against Oppenheimer: indeed, he was probably abashed at any part he may inadvertently have played in Oppenheimer¹s fall from grace. While the author was doing research for this book, he pointed her to documents at Princeton which he believed would show that Oppenheimer had tried to obtain university funds for Project Matterhorn, Wheeler¹s special contribution to the H-bomb program, and thereby disprove the old charge that Oppenheimer had tried to obstruct the program.

The first time the author interviewed Wheeler, he allotted time after a hectic conference to talk with her in a taxicab to the airport. The conversation went so swimmingly that he escorted her aboard his plane and, had the stewardess not swept her out moments before takeoff, she would have found herself conversing with Dr. Wheeler all the way to Houston. As she left the plane, he handed her a token to help her return home on the subway.

Personally as well as politically, Wheeler was extremely close to Edward Teller and, when Teller was ostracized among physicists for his role in the Oppenheimer case, Wheeler did his utmost to bring Teller back into the good graces of the scientific community. And when Teller died in 2003 Wheeler, aged 92 and more absent-minded than ever, flew across the country and delivered a memorial address that brought tears to the eyes of those who heard it.

Remarkable as he was as a human being, Dr. Wheeler was also without equal as physicist and philosopher. During the 1950¹s he fell in love with general relativity and spent the rest of his life trying with Einstein and others to reconcile relativity with quantum physics. In the effort, as he put it, to “push gravitation physics to its limits,” he wrote three major books, including, with his students Charles Misner and Kip Thorne, the 1,300-page classic, “Gravitation.” Trying to divine what he called the “deep, happy mysteries” of nature, Wheeler claimed that he owed most of his inspiration to his students, and they responded in kind. Kip Thorne, for one, called him the “most influential mentor of young scientists” he had ever known.

In his autobiography, Geons, Black Holes and Quantum Foam, Wheeler wrote, “I have to admit that I never stop thinking about physics. I have never been able to let go of questions like how come existence? How come the quantum? What is my relation to the universe and its laws? Can spacetime be all that there is? Is there an end to time? I have not been able to stop puzzling over the riddle of existence. There is no definable point where the truly curious physicist can say, I can go only this far and no farther.”

There will be a memorial service for Dr. Wheeler at the Princeton University Chapel on Monday, May 12, at 10 a.m. Read More......

Monday, March 10, 2008

Protect US from the "Protect America Act"

In 1954 the AEC held hearings to determine whether J. Robert Oppenheimer’s security clearance should be revoked. Unknown to him or his attorney, the FBI—authorized by J. Edgar Hoover—was illegally wiretapping his nightly conversations with his lawyer and providing the transcripts to the prosecutor every day.

In 2008, Congress is fighting the White House over legislation protecting
warrantless domestic spying. An amendment to the Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Act (FISA), the so-called Protect America Act (PAA) was signed
into law in August of 2007. The PAA eliminated, among other things, FISA's
requirement that government agents procure a warrant before tapping into the
phone and internet communications of people "reasonably believed" to be
outside the United States.

Because of concerns about its long-term implications, the PAA contained a
sunset clause ensuring its expiration on February 17 of this year unless
Congress approved it a second time. It sailed through the Senate two weeks
ago, but faltered in the House. Frustrated by this failure and insistent
that the new version must contain legal immunity for phone companies that
help the government spy, the Bush Administration is now scheming to
bifurcate the measure in an effort to bring it back before the House for
another vote in the coming days.

If the House caves this time, the PAA will become permanent. The government
will have access to Americans' international phone calls and e-mails with no
oversight and no accountability.

The Oppenheimer case teaches us the kind of damage that warrantless
wiretapping can create for unsuspecting Americans. If a spying bill is to pass, it
should only be with the constitutional guarantee that the government must
obtain a warrant in order to spy on an American. Without such protections, the ruin of J. Robert Oppenheimer will merely presage the ruin of many other innocent Americans.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Use of Nuclear Weapons – What have we learned?

One of the most important functions of the study of history is to guide us in the present to avoid the mistakes of the past. The 1949 Advisory Group which Oppenheimer chaired, and which made recommendations to Truman on whether to pursue development of the hydrogen bomb, concluded that the h-bomb met no useful military purpose, and should not be pursued. Truman disagreed, and the arms race was born.

Here is what the current Presidential candidates are saying about the use of nuclear weapons:

Hillary Clinton (D), on 1/5/2008, at Manchester, NH, in the Democratic Candidates Debate, on the use of nuclear weapons:
"You know, deterrence worked during the Cold War in large measure because the United States made it clear to the Soviet Union that there would be massive retaliation. We have to make it clear to those states that would give safe haven to stateless terrorists, that would launch a nuclear attack against America that they would also face a very heavy retaliation."*

John McCain (R), on 8/5/2007, at the GOP Iowa Straw Poll Debate, on the use of nuclear weapons:
"It's naive to say that we will never use nuclear weapons."*

Barack Obama (D), on 8/2/2007, from the Associate Press, on the use of nuclear weapons, while responding to a question by the Associated Press about whether there was any circumstance where he would be prepared or willing to use nuclear weapons to defeat terrorism and al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden:
“I think it would be a profound mistake for us to use nuclear weapons in any circumstance involving civilians. Let me scratch that. There's been no discussion of nuclear weapons. That's not on the table.”*

If you are interested in a historical viewpoint, take a look at these documents on my Web site at http://h-bombbook.com under For Professors and Researchers/Document Archive/Oppenheimer: Oppenheimer’s Farewell Speech to Los Alamos, November 2, 1945; Atomic Weapons and American Policy, July 1953; and the No First Use Appeal of February 14, 1950.

What are your thoughts? What lessons should we have learned from Oppenheimer and history?

*Source: Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (http://www.wagingpeace.org/menu/resources/surveys/2008_pres_cand/cand_quotes_page.php) Read More......