Opinion L.A.

Observations and provocations
from The Times' Opinion staff

Category: Blowback

The Sierra Club's leadership conflict that isn't [Blowback]

Pope
Robin Mann and Larry Fahn respond to The Times' Nov. 19 article, "Sierra Club leader departs amid discontent over group's direction." Mann is the president of the Sierra Club's board of directors; Fahn is a board member and the group's past president.

If you would like to write a full-length response to a recent Times article, editorial or Op-Ed, here are our FAQs and submission policy

The Times mis-characterizes Carl Pope's continuing transition from deep involvement in the Sierra Club to a more limited role as a trusted adviser and fundraiser. Contrary to the article's premise of abrupt change amid tumult, this years-long transition has been remarkably graceful, and as a result, the Sierra Club is bigger, stronger and more effective than it has ever been.

Pope notified the club's board in mid-2008 of his intention to retire from a hugely demanding job after 16 years of exemplary service. At age 65, he had almost 40 years as a club employee and was largely responsible for many of its achievements during those years. The board conducted a comprehensive year-long executive search and ultimately selected a superlative candidate as its new executive director. 

Michael Brune was offered the job in early 2010 and took the reins in March 2010. Brune and the board asked Pope to remain in a senior advisory post as chairman so that he could help introduce the club's new leader to major donors, key allies, elected officials and the many hundreds of volunteer leaders around the U.S., and ensure a smooth transition. Pope graciously accepted and fulfilled that transitional role with sage professionalism for almost two years.

Although he is now leaving the club's full-time employ as planned, Pope will continue to raise money for the Sierra Club's 2012 political program. He will also provide other advisory services in a consultant role. This fact alone might have made The Times question its story's dramatic but unfounded theme.

Like most leaders, Pope and Brune have their own styles and approaches. But Pope's departure had nothing to do with the club's decision to develop relationships with green businesses or any of the inevitable debates that are part of the lifeblood of a democratic grassroots organization. With Brune building on the group's 120-year legacy -- a legacy Pope was instrumental in advancing -- the Sierra Club's 1.4 million members and supporters continue not only to enjoy, explore and protect wild places, but we continue to make history with our unprecedented success in confronting the coal, oil and gas industries' domination of our nation's politics and economy while helping to move the country to green energy prosperity.

ALSO:

Carl Pope's resignation email

Let birds and butterflies occupy L.A.

Did Coca-Cola trash a Grand Canyon litter plan?

Sierra Club leader departs amid discontent over group's direction

-- Robin Mann and Larry Fahn

Photo: Carl Pope, the leader of the Sierra Club, is stepping down. Credit: David Butow / For The Times

Saving libraries but not librarians [Blowback]

65657484
Dan Terzian, a fellow at the legal clinic New Media Rights and a lecturer at the Peking University School of Transnational Law, responds to The Times' Oct. 26 Op-Ed article, "Libraries can't run themselves," on saving librarians' jobs. If you would like to write a full-length response to a recent Times article, editorial or Op-Ed and would like to participate in Blowback, here are our FAQs and submission policy.

The views expressed here are the author's own and do not represent those of the organizations he is affiliated with.

The digital revolution, while improving society, has gutted many professions. Machines have replaced assembly-line workers, ATMs have replaced bank tellers, Amazon has replaced bookstores and IBM's Watson may even replace doctors and lawyers. And now, the Internet is replacing librarians.

Or at least it should be.

The digital revolution has made many librarians obsolete. Historically, librarians exclusively provided many services: They organized information, guided others' research and advised community members. But now, librarians compete with the Internet and Google. Unlike libraries, the Internet's information is not bound by walls; from blogs and books to journals and laws, the Internet has them all. And Google makes this information easily accessible to anyone with an Internet connection.

All but the most heady research can be performed by a Google, Google Books or Google Scholar search. Have a question about whether you should be paid overtime? Just Google "overtime pay California" without quotes, and the first result is a California government website with an answer to your question. Even many college students' first -- and often last -- source for research is Google. Only after Googling fails would the students seek a librarian's guidance.   

The Internet can even advise community members. For example, Goodreads assists you in finding books to read, Penelope Trunk teaches you how to write a resume, the Berkeley Parents Network advises you how to raise teens, pre-teens and young adults. Whatever your question, you can find an answer through the Internet (and Google).

The digital revolution should spark library evolution. Libraries should bifurcate. Some, such as college libraries, should employ classically trained librarians -- those educated with librarian graduate degrees -- to safeguard historical materials and assist others' research. They would serve as a backup when people require more extensive research than the Internet can currently provide.

Other libraries, by contrast, need few -- if any -- classically trained librarians. Instead, their librarians may be made up of English or other liberal arts majors who yearn for the literary librarian lifestyle. These librarians won't safeguard historical texts, nor will they advise patrons on how to comprehensively research esoteric topics like the 13th century Yuan Dynasty. Instead, they will teach patrons basic research in the information age.

After the digital revolution, California's budget woes turned obsolete librarians into unemployed ones. But librarians are not alone in their suffering. Budget cuts have claimed many victims. University students suffer from ever-increasing fees, state and city employees lose retirement benefits, and teachers lose jobs. Countless other examples exist. Librarians must realize that they are not special; they too bear this burden.

But slashed budgets need not lead to libraries suffering. Libraries should innovate, just as the New York Public Library has. Facing multimillion-dollar budget cuts, the library does not flounder, it flourishes through innovation. Its digital strategy -- including e-publications, crowdsourcing projects and a user-friendly online library catalog -- has increased the number of its patrons. The strategy also helped accomplish the seemingly absurd: The library actually makes more money than it spends.

Other opportunities for innovation abound. The closing of big-box bookstores, for example, presents an opportunity to increase library attendance. Many bookstore customers don't actually buy books; they browse. They lounge in armchairs and read books off shelves -- maybe they even buy a cappuccino. As big-box bookstores close, where do these browsers turn? The answer should be the libraries.

Libraries should embrace the digital revolution, even though it entails the loss of librarians. The purpose of libraries -- the purpose of librarians -- is to spread knowledge. The growth of the Internet changes how we pursue this purpose. We no longer need librarians in the same way and in the same number as before. It's understandable why librarians bemoan this; nobody wants to see their profession fade into obscurity. But libraries do not serve the egos of librarians; they serve the people. And in the information age, serving the people requires evolving and innovating.

ALSO:

California must value librarians; libraries can't run themselves

West Hollywood's Standup Librarian isn't laughing

West Hollywood Library's new addition

-- Dan Terzian

Photo: A visitor to the new West Hollywood Library looks for a book. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Why Calif. students should know that Harvey Milk was gay [Blowback]

Milk
Lorri L. Jean and C. Scott Miller respond to the Oct. 19 and 26 editorials "Gaps in the LGBT lesson plan" and "A textbook case of politicization." Jean is chief executive of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, and Miller co-chairs the California Teacher Assn.'s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Caucus.

If you would like to write a full-length response to a recent Times article, editorial or Op-Ed, here are our FAQs and submission policy

It's true that those who cannot learn from history are condemned to repeat it. That is one of the reasons students learn about the Holocaust and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. And that is one of the reasons The Times deserves an "F" for its editorials against the FAIR (Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful) Education Act. 

The historical contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people should not be excluded from classrooms, and those lessons belong in history books, not in high school sex education classes.

San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, posthumous recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, is just one example of an openly gay leader who contributed to the rich fabric of California. Before being assassinated, he helped lead the fight to protect the right for gay men and lesbians to teach in California's schools; it's outrageous that the story of his accomplishments isn't taught in those same schools. 

Milk's full story, which isn't at all about sex, can't be told without mentioning his sexual orientation. He was California's first openly gay elected official. His sexual orientation is just as essential to his story as the religious faith and ethnicities of those killed by the Nazis is to the story of the Holocaust.  And just as we teach all students about the Holocaust (not just Jews), all students should learn about the accomplishments of historical figures, whatever their sexual orientation. 

And how many young people today know that in California and other states, police imprisoned LGBT people simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity?  Learning the full and sometimes sordid history of our great state will help students understand how far we've come in the effort to create a more accepting society. 

That's why in previous amendments to the state education code, the California Legislature has required schools to teach about the contributions made by people from a wide variety of groups that have faced discrimination, such as women and people of color. 

The FAIR Act simply ensures that the historic accomplishments of LGBT and disabled people are no longer excluded from social study lessons. Nowhere does it mandate the teaching of "issues" related to LGBT people. It's simply because we have a responsibility as a society to teach children fair, accurate and inclusive history in a respectful environment that the governor signed into law SB 48.

Though the FAIR Act amends the state education code, the real action happens at the local level, with parents, teachers and school boards making decisions about age-appropriate materials. Yes, teachers need support, guidance and the resources to educate themselves and their students. That's why it's up to each school district to determine what specific support is necessary. 

And make no mistake, this is a law about social studies education, not sex education. LGBT people, like all other people, are about much more than their sexuality, and people such as Milk, Barbara Jordan and Bayard Rustin have made undeniably significant contributions to society that should never have been kept out of social studies lessons. To tell their stories without disclosing their sexual orientation suggeststhere's something so wrong with being LGBT that discussions about us, like racism and sexism, must be kept out of the schools. 

-- Lorri L. Jean and C. Scott Miller

ALSO

A textbook case of politicization

Gaps in the LGBT lesson plan

California schools scrambling to add lessons on LGBT Americans

Photo: San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, left, and Mayor George Moscone are shown in the mayor's office during the signing of the city's gay rights bill in April 1977. Credit: Associated Press

Poor teaching standards keep students behind on civil rights [Blowback]

65582057
Maureen Costello, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Teaching Tolerance program, responds to The Times' Oct. 24 Op-Ed article "Testing students'  knowledge of the civil rights movement." If you would like to write a full-length response to a recent Times article, editorial or Op-Ed, here are our FAQs and submission policy

When the Southern Poverty Law Center conducted research for its report "Teaching the Movement," we found that most states set low and ill-defined standards for the teaching the civil rights movement in public schools -- if they set any standards at all.

The result, we said, is that for too many students, their civil rights knowledge boils down to two people plus four words: Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and "I have a dream."

In his Times commentary, Stanford education professor Sam Wineburg accuses us of maligning, even libeling, students with our report. He states that they know far more than we give them credit for. His evidence? A survey of 2,000 students that shows many of them can cite three names: King, Parks and Harriet Tubman.

Wineburg also takes issue with the question we cited from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) U.S. history exam, which is administered to 12,000 students. It found that only 2% high school seniors in 2010 could answer a question correctly about the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education that desegregated public schools.

Wineburg protests the NAEP's stingy scoring of the question, suggesting that far more students can answer it. What he doesn't note is that, even if every partial response -- such as the one he described -- were given full credit, it would still leave 73% of students unable to identify the social problem that the Brown case was supposed to correct.

In our report, we wrote that "the Southern Poverty Law Center is concerned about the overall decline in history education." We noted that one of the main reasons for the low scores on NAEP was that history "has been crowded out of the classroom."

Since the passage of the No Child Left Behind law, the curriculum has narrowed. Wineburg agrees.

His sole issue with the report, in fact, seems to be that we didn't go to the trouble of directly querying a sample of the nation's 54 million students to determine exactly what they know about the civil rights movement and, presumably, to ascertain that the NAEP exam got it right.

But there's a good reason for the approach we took. For the last 20 years, there's been universal agreement among educators, reformers and policymakers that rigorous standards laying out what teachers are expected to teach and what students are expected to know are needed for student achievement.

Without strong state standards, the likelihood of a student getting a complete picture of the civil rights movement is left to chance. Too often, it's a matter of having the good fortune of being assigned to a history class where the teacher is willing and able to rise above a state's meager standards. And, as Wineburg himself noted in a Times Op-Ed article he wrote in 2005, "Among high school history teachers across the country, only 18% have majored (or even minored) in the subject they now teach."

Stronger state standards for teaching history are needed. The 2010 NAEP exam in U.S. history shows that students don't know much about history. Only 12% of the 12,000 high school seniors who took that test scored "proficient." Wineburg might quibble with the way the NAEP is scored, but no scoring system will rescue the 55% of students whose knowledge was considered "below basic."

When states don't set high expectations, we should not be surprised to discover that what most students learn is two names and four words. And it's not something we should be proud of. We're not sure why Wineburg is taking issue with us for calling attention to it.

-- Maureen Costello

ALSO

Testing students' knowledge of the civil rights movement

Gaps in the LGBT lesson plan

A textbook case of politicization

East Jerusalem school textbooks are a war of words

Photo: Firefighters in Birmingham, Ala., douse civil rights activists in 1963. Credit: Bill Hudson / Associated Press

Raising taxes: Why California needs its two-thirds rule [Blowback]

Sac
Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., responds to state Sen. Kevin de León's Oct. 18 Op-Ed article on removing the Legislature's two-thirds vote requirement to raise taxes, "End minority rule in California." If you would like to write a full-length response to a recent Times article, editorial or Op-Ed, here are our FAQs and submission policy

State Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) seems to mistake our Golden State for the Goose That Laid the Golden Egg, as he claims California could be returned to prosperity if only it were easier for politicians to raise taxes.

De León's "solution" to California's terrible economy and resulting revenue shortfalls is to eliminate the two-thirds vote requirement for tax increases, a taxpayer protection put into place by Proposition 13.  Without the two-thirds requirement, the political establishment could raise taxes through a system of one-party rule, in which far-left Democrats impose punishing tax increases without a single Republican vote and even bypass more clear-thinking members of their own party.

A local businesswoman recently told me that the happiest day of her life was the day she and her husband closed down their furniture store and retired. California's high taxes and meddlesome bureaucrats made running their store such a headache that it was no longer worth it. One attorney I know likes to joke that he's a Dr. Kevorkian for businesses, because so many frustrated entrepreneurs retain his help to close up shop, the business version of suicide.

Indeed, in the last decade California lost one-third of its industrial base as factories packed up and moved to more welcoming nations or more welcoming states such as Texas, where pro-jobs policies enabled the state to create more than half the nation's new jobs over the last five years. A survey of CEOs by Chief Executive magazine ranked California the worst in the nation in which to do business; we have the highest sales taxes, the highest gas taxes, the third-highest corporate taxes and energy costs that are 50% higher than the national average.  Our unemployment rate is near 12%, the second highest in the nation.

Yet even as overtaxed and overregulated businesses commit figurative suicide, shutting down and laying off California workers, De León thinks the answer is even more taxes. Perhaps as scary as the consequences of higher taxes on job creation is the fact that De León does not understand the basic fact that tax increases are a burden on struggling families, those on fixed incomes and on the small-business owners who are our main driver of economic growth. De León cannot have resources for the generous government services he wants without a healthy economy. He is in effect proposing that the political establishment kill the Goose That Laid the Golden Egg when the Goose is already on life support.

De León also makes the absurd claim that the Legislature's Republican minority thwarts the electorate's will. But when the voters are actually asked if they want higher taxes, they repeatedly vote no. In fact, in 2009 voters rejected by nearly 2 to 1 a $16-billion tax extension proposal that De León still wants to impose.  Since 2004, California voters have rejected every tax increase proposal on the ballot.

"The Gipper" may have rolled over in his grave when De León bastardized his famous quote, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall," to call the two-thirds taxpayer protection a "Berlin Wall" keeping California from returning to prosperity. De León writes, "Mr. and Mrs. Voter, please help us tear down this wall."

Ronald Reagan addressed sticky-fingered politicians such as De León when he said: "Government is like a baby. An alimentary canal with a big appetite at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other."

De León's article proves Reagan's point.

RELATED:

End minority rule in California

Newton: A meeting of California minds

Yes to the California Dream Act

-- Jon Coupal

Photo: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times

Drug war: What prohibition costs us [Blowback]

Weed
Stephen Downing, a retired deputy chief of the Los Angeles Police Department and board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, responds to The Times' Oct. 5 Op-Ed article, "Prohibition's real lessons for drug policy." If you would like to respond to a recent Times article, editorial or Op-Ed in our Blowback forum, here are our FAQs and submission policy.


Drug prohibitionists like former White House drug czar staffer Kevin A. Sabet seem to be in a panic over Ken Burns' PBS documentary broadcast "Prohibition" because of its clear and convincing parallel to today's equally disastrous war on drugs. The earlier experiment lasted less than 14 years, but today’s failed prohibition was declared by President Nixon 40 years ago and has cost our country more than $1 trillion  in cash and much more in immeasurable social harm.

As a student of history and a retired deputy chief of police with the Los Angeles Police Department, I can attest that the damage that came from the prohibition of alcohol pales in comparison to the harm wrought by drug prohibition. In the last 40 years drug money has fueled the growth of violent street gangs in Los Angeles, from two (Bloods and Crips) with a membership of less than 50 people before the drug war to 20,000 gangs with a membership of about 1 million across the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Justice. These gangs serve as the distributors, collection agents and enforcers for the Mexican cartels that the Justice Department says occupy more than 1,000 U.S. cities.

Sabet, a former advisor to the White House drug policy advisor, ignores these prohibition-created harms, making no mention of the nearly 50,000 people killed in Mexico over the last five years as cartels have battled it out to control drug routes, territories and enforce collections. When one cartel leader is arrested or killed, it makes no impact on the drug trade and only serves to create more violence, as lower-level traffickers fight for the newly open top spot.

U.S. law enforcement officials report that as much as 70% of cartel profits come from marijuana alone.  There's no question that ending today's prohibition on drugs -- starting with marijuana -- would do more to hurt the cartels than any level of law enforcement skill or dedication ever can.

Worse than being ineffective, though, the war on drugs creates dangerous distractions for police officers who would rather focus on improving public safety. For example, the LAPD announced this week that it will take 150 police officers off the streets to accommodate the state's shuffling of prisoners to the county level. The state must do this to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court's order to cut our drug-war-induced overcrowded prison population by 30,000 -- and our state has already laid off thousands of teachers thanks in part to funding diverted to building more prisons and hiring more guards.  

This follows on the heels of another reallocation of police resources in Los Angeles when the LAPD and the L.A. Sheriff's Department woke up to a three-year backlog of rape kits. Police labs have only a finite amount of resources, and drug testing often takes priority over other cases that demand attention. Detectives (and victims) waiting for lab results related to rape and other serious crimes stood in line for months while tests for custody-related possession of pot and other drugs took precedence.

There's no doubt that the violence, the growth of cartels and gangs, the overpopulation of our prisons and the squandering of our police resources would not occur if we eliminated illegal drug profits and implemented a non-criminal approach to regulating drugs. We did this once with alcohol, and there's no reason we can't do it with other drugs today. 

-- Stephen Downing

ALSO:

Prohibition's real lessons for drug policy

End drug prohibition [Most commented]

Putting pot in its place

Obama defends Atty. Gen. Eric Holder amid Fast and Furious probe

Photo: A glaucoma patient smokes a marijuana cigarette. Credit: Don Ryan / Associated Press

KFI's John and Ken: The Dream Act and The Times [Blowback]

65120865 
John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou of KFI respond to Friday's article, "Groups want 'John and Ken' show off the air." If you would like to respond to a recent Times article, editorial or Op-Ed in our Blowback forum, here are our FAQs and submission policy.

The Times accepted uncritically all the charges against us and our show made by a number of community activists, and as a result, its story is extremely misleading. Let us try to set the record straight:

Jorge-Mario Cabrera's supposedly private cell number is listed regularly by his organization, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, on official communications to the media.

The California Dream Act is hugely divisive and engenders great passion on both sides of the issue.

We have a right to oppose the California Dream Act, just as Cabrera has a right to advocate for it.

While we encouraged our listeners to exercise their 1st Amendment rights by calling Cabrera, we did not -- and would never -- encourage anyone to make threats or intimidating remarks. We disavow them and have said so repeatedly on the air. As the targets of threats ourselves, we are extremely sensitive to language that could be viewed as inciting threats or violence.

We don't expect to convince Cabrera or other advocates for illegal aliens, and he should not expect to convince us. But the 1st Amendment protects our right and his to express our opinions.

One thing we do expect, however, is a story that is fair. The Times writes: "While illegal immigration has long been a particular focus of the show, it's only one of several favorite targets -- the hosts have railed against taxes, labor unions and other pet causes for years with equally incendiary rhetoric."

What incendiary rhetoric? Not a single example is cited -- because there aren't any to cite.

-- John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou

ALSO

Groups want "John and Ken" show off the air

Alabama's win, our loss

Yes to the California Dream Act

Photo: John Kobylt, left, and Ken Chiampou host an afternoon show on Los Angeles' KFI-AM (640). Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times

Drug overdose deaths: Common-sense solutions [Blowback]

RX 
Meghan Ralston, harm reduction coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance, responds to The Times' Sept. 17 article, "Drug deaths now outnumber traffic fatalities in the U.S., data show." If you would like to respond to a recent Times article, editorial or Op-Ed in our Blowback forum, here are our FAQs and submission policy.

The Times broke a major story this month about the skyrocketing number of drug-related deaths now appearing to exceed the number of car accident fatalities nationally. Indeed, the overdose crisis in the U.S. is exploding, largely due to prescription painkiller drugs like hydrocodone and oxycodone. Some well-intentioned officials are now publicly addressing the problem.

However, it's more than just a bit disheartening to hear, "We don't know a lot about how to reduce prescription [drug] deaths," as one public health expert told The Times.

In fact, we do know how to reduce the number of overdose deaths. We have a range of solutions that work and cost taxpayers nothing.

Prescription drug overdoses result from lack of information, fear of police, bad policy and a range of other factors. In the public health world, the solutions and responses to the overdose crisis are not just extremely well known, they're also already being widely implemented in a variety of states and communities across the country.

Naloxone is the "life or death" medicine, the antidote for people experiencing an overdose from an opiate such as oxycodone or heroin. It's usually the last-ditch effort, and it works in the majority of cases. Naloxone has been the first line of defense against opiate overdose in emergency rooms and ambulances across the country for more than 40 years. Its safety and efficacy are so well known and so well documented that it's now being made available to opiate users by physicians in dozens of communities across the country. Naloxone works, saves lives and usually costs less than $20 per dose. Every person in America who uses any kind of opiate shouldn't just know about it, they should have it at home right now.

States across the country have passed what are known as "Good Samaritan 911" laws, which encourage people witnessing or experiencing an overdose to call 911 without fear of arrest for minor drug law violations. New York, New Mexico and Washington have already adopted this common-sense reform, and other states should follow suit.

Other solutions that experts have been advocating for years include requiring drug treatment facilities to teach their clients about overdose prevention, recognition and response. Jails and prisons should also be required to do so upon a prisoner's release. High schools and colleges should incorporate such lifesaving information in their current alcohol and drug abuse prevention curricula.

These are just a few of the low-cost, practical responses to this crisis we could implement right away. So why don't most people know about them? Even more curiously, why aren't government officials promoting these reforms? 

Sadly, the prevailing war on drugs ideology requires bureaucrats and politicians to ignore the obvious and stick to the punitive. Public health officials who know better are drowned out when talking about an approach to drug use that focuses on keeping people alive and healthy and keeping families intact. Prescription drugs are already plentiful throughout the United States. Limiting access to them alone cannot address the harms caused by their misuse and does nothing to address any addiction issues that may be driving their use.

We need to hold officials accountable not just for the skyrocketing overdose death rate but for their refusal to advocate proven, low-cost solutions that go beyond simply making it harder for people to get prescription drugs. We have to admit the complexity of the problem and start aggressively pursuing better strategies.

-- Meghan Ralston

ALSO

Drug deaths now outnumber traffic fatalities in U.S., data show

Needle exchange: Preventing HIV shouldn't be against the law

Healthcare's rising costs

Cost-cutting consumers could be taking risks with medicines

Needle exchange proudly flouts the law

Photo: Chris Hondros / Getty Images

Drone strikes: What the U.S. could learn from Israel [Blowback]

Drone

Amos N. Guiora, a law professor at the University of Utah and author of a forthcoming book on targeted killings (Oxford University Press, 2013), responds to The Times'  Sept. 25 editorial, "A closer look at drones." If you would like to write a full-length response to a recent Times article, editorial or Op-Ed, here are our FAQs and submission policy

The Times raises profoundly important questions regarding the drone policy initially implemented by President Bush and significantly increased by President Obama. The editorial, while not condemning U.S. drone policy, suggests that moral and legal questions must be addressed, particularly regarding "the process by which the military and the CIA determine who belongs on a target list."

The U.S. could learn a lot from Israel's policy on targeted killings. I know -- I was involved in its implementation.

I support using drones to eliminate terrorists, but I believe their legality and morality depend on the development and implementation of a criteria-based decision-making model. The Israel Defense Forces take such an approach to targeted killings, going to great lengths to gather and verify intelligence to ensure that potential targets are, in fact, still actively involved in terrorism. As has been documented extensively, excessive collateral damage both violates international law and provides effective recruiting posters for terrorist organizations.

In any targeted killing decision, three important questions must be answered: First, can the target be identified accurately and reliably? Second, does the threat the target poses justify an attack at that moment or are there alternatives? And finally, what is the extent of the anticipated collateral damage?

To answer these questions using the criteria-based process, extensive intelligence must be gathered and thoroughly analyzed. The intelligence community receives information from three different sources: human (such as individuals who live in the community about which they are providing information to an intelligence officer), signal intelligence (such as intercepted phone and email conversations) and open sources (the Internet and newspapers, for example).

One of the most important questions in putting together an operational "jigsaw puzzle" is whether the received information is "actionable;" that is, does the information warrant a response? This question is central to the criteria-based method, or at least to a process that seeks  -- in real time -- to create objective standards for making decisions based on imperfect information (as almost all intelligence is). It is essential that intelligence information, particularly from humans, be subjected to rigorous analysis.

The first step in creating an effective counterterrorism operation is analyzing the threat, including the nature of the threat, who poses it and when it is likely to be carried out. It is crucial to assess the imminence of any threat, which significantly impacts the operational and legal choices made in response.

To ensure both the legality and morality of drone strikes, I propose the following standards:

1) A target must have made significant steps directly contributing to a planned act of terrorism.

2) An individual cannot be a legitimate target unless intelligence action indicates involvement in future acts of terrorism.

3) Before a hit is authorized, it must be determined that the individual is still involved and has not proactively disassociated from the original plan.

4) The individual’s contribution to the planned attack must extend beyond mere passive support.

5) Every effort must be made to minimize collateral damage. However, the willful endangerment by the non-state actor of its own civilian population need not be a deterrent from implementing an authorized act of preventative self-defense.

6) Verbal threats alone are insufficient to categorize an individual as a legitimate target.

The Obama administration's articulation that mere "likelihood" of membership in a terrorist organization justifies defining a target as legitimate is highly problematic in the context of criteria-based decision-making. A criteria-based model facilitates necessary redirection away from the Obama administration's targeting of suspects who are only "likely" to be engaged in terrorist activity. "Likelihood," after all, casts an unacceptably wide net; the criteria-based process above narrowly and specifically defines a legitimate target.

Deciding  to authorize a legitimate drone strike depends on a process that analyzes the nature, identity and imminence of the threat. Trying to make a targeting decision in the absence of narrow criteria and specific guidelines highlights the concerns The Times’ editorial correctly raised.

Addressing these issues will significantly contribute to operational counterterrorism firmly rooted in legality and morality.

-- Amos N. Guiora

ALSO

A closer look at drones

With an ally like Pakistan, who needs enemies?

Changing the direction of U.S.-Pakistan relations

War on terror: What are we paying for?

Photo: A protester in Karachi gestures during a rally last June against drone attacks within Pakistan. Credit: Athar Hussain / Reuters

Palestinian statehood: Many Palestinians want to be Israelis [Blowback]

Abbas
German Israeli citizen Petra Marquardt-Bigman, a historian whose blog is published by the Jerusalem Post, responds to Saree Makdisi's Sept. 22 Op-Ed article, "Palestinians' U.N. gamble could backfire." If you would like to write a full-length response to a recent Times article, editorial or Op-Ed, here are our FAQs and submission policy

Warning that the "Palestinians' U.N. gamble could backfire," Saree Makdisi explains that there is a difference between Palestinian aspirations for self-determination in a state of their own and the much broader Palestinian cause.

Understanding this difference is crucial to understanding why an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement has remained so elusive.

Makdisi's main concern is that a Palestinian state would only represent its citizens, whereas the Palestine Liberation Organization enjoys international recognition "as the sole legitimate representative of the entire Palestinian people." According to Makdisi, the groups that make up the Palestinian people include "those living under occupation, those living in Israel and those living in exile or as refugees."

Obviously enough, for those Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, the establishment of a Palestinian state should mean a vast improvement of their situation. The same should be true for Palestinian refugees: Just as the newly established Jewish state took in hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing discrimination and persecution in Arab countries, the newly established Palestinian state could provide a haven for those Palestinians who have been kept in refugee camps for generations.

But while the Palestinians garner worldwide sympathy for their plight as an occupied and stateless people, Makdisi is not primarily concerned with ending the occupation and statelessness; instead, his priority is the preservation of the PLO's claim to represent "the entire Palestinian people."

The most notable aspect of this claim is the PLO's ambition to represent Israeli citizens. Makdisi apparently believes that this is an internationally recognized claim, and he asserts that there are "1.5 million Palestinians living as second-class citizens of Israel." This is inaccurate on two counts: Not all of Israel's 1.5 million Arabs define themselves as Palestinian, and Israeli Arabs are not "second-class citizens," even if, like minorities elsewhere, they may often face disadvantage or discrimination.

While we can only speculate how many of Israel's Arab citizens would like to be represented by the PLO, it seems unlikely that this would be an attractive proposition for an Israeli Bedouin who is a career diplomat, like Ishmael Khaldi, or Israeli Druze soldiers who serve with distinction in the Israeli Defense Forces. Doubts about the eagerness of Arabs in Israel to be represented by the PLO seem warranted in light of polls showing that even among the Arabs of East Jerusalem -- claimed by Palestinians as their capital -- many would prefer Israeli citizenship to Palestinian citizenship.

In any case, Makdisi's concerns are justified insofar as Israeli citizens who consider themselves Palestinians would obviously not be represented by a Palestinian state, unless these individuals acquired Palestinian citizenship. However, the "Palestine Papers" published in January reveal that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas believes Israeli-Palestinians should not be entitled to apply for citizenship. Characterizing his response as "strategically" motivated, Abbas explained during a meeting in March 2009 that a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship was already living in his homeland and did not need a passport "to prove" his Palestinian identity.

Makdisi may well share this view because he argues that "U.N. resolutions do not limit the Palestinian people or their rights merely to the territories occupied in 1967; General Assembly Resolution 194, for example, expressly recognizes their right of return to homes in what is now Israel."

Leaving aside the contentious questions about the validity of Palestinian claims to a "right of return," Makdisi's argument implies that establishing a Palestinian state may not be desirable if this risks diminishing the chances of the descendants of Palestinian refugees to claim Israeli citizenship. But when Israeli citizenship is prized higher than the citizenship that would come with a Palestinian state, Palestinian refugees become mere pawns in a political poker game. Likewise, the claim that Israel's Arab citizens need the PLO to represent them is revealed as rank hypocrisy.

Interestingly, Makdisi emphasizes that the U.N. has already recognized a "very broad set of Palestinian rights." But in his determination to safeguard these rights, he seems blind to the fact that whatever rights the Palestinians can legitimately claim, the "right" to deny the Jewish people their right to self-determination is surely not included.

-- Petra Marquardt-Bigman

RELATED:

Abbas' U.N. fantasy

Face-off at the U.N.

Mahmoud Abbas: An honest whiner

Palestinians' U.N. gamble could backfire

Photo: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks before the General Assembly at the United Nations in New York on Sept. 23. Credit: Dennis Van Tine / Abaca Press 

Warning that the “Palestinians’ U.N. gamble could backfire,”[i]Saree Makdisi explains that there is a difference between Palestinian aspirations for self-determination in a state of their own and the much broader Palestinian cause.

Understanding this difference is crucial to understanding why an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement has remained so elusive.

Makdisi’s main concern is that a Palestinian state would only represent its citizens, whereas the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) enjoys international recognition “as the sole legitimate representative of the entire Palestinian people.” According to Makdisi, the groups that make up the Palestinian people include “those living under occupation, those living in Israel and those living in exile or as refugees.”

Obviously enough, for those Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, the establishment of a Palestinian state should mean a vast improvement of their situation. The same should be true for Palestinian refugees: just like the newly established Jewish state took in hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing discrimination and persecution in Arab countries, the newly established Palestinian state could provide a haven for those Palestinians who have been kept in refugees camps for generations.

But while the Palestinians garner world-wide sympathy for their plight as an occupied and stateless people, Makdisi is not primarily concerned with ending the occupation and statelessness; instead, his priority is the preservation of the PLO’s claim to represent “the entire Palestinian people.”

The arguably most notable aspect of this claim is the PLO’s ambition to represent Israeli citizens. Makdisi apparently believes that this is an internationally recognized claim, and he asserts that there are “1.5 million Palestinians living as second-class citizens of Israel.” This is factually inaccurate on two counts: not all of Israel’s 1.5 million Arabs define themselves as Palestinian,[ii]and Israeli Arabs are not “second-class citizens,” even if – like minorities elsewhere – they may often face disadvantage or discrimination. While we can only speculate how many of Israel’s Arab citizens would like to be represented by the PLO, it seems unlikely that this would be an attractive proposition for an Israeli Bedouin who is a career diplomat like Ishmael Khaldi[iii]or Israeli Druze soldiers who serve with distinction in the IDF.[iv] Doubts about the eagerness of Arabs in Israel to be represented by the PLO seem also warranted in light of polls showing that even among the Arabs of East Jerusalem – claimed by Palestinians as their capital – many would prefer Israeli citizenship to Palestinian citizenship.[v]

In any case, Makdisi’s concerns are justified in so far as Israeli citizens who consider themselves Palestinians would obviously not be represented by a Palestinian state, unless these individuals acquired Palestinian citizenship. However, the “Palestine Papers” published in January 2011 reveal that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas believes Israeli-Palestinians should not be entitled to apply for citizenship. Characterizing his response as “strategically” motivated, Abbas explained during a meeting in March 2009 that a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship was already living in his homeland and did not need a passport “to prove” his Palestinian identity.[vi]

Makdisi may well share this view since he argues that “U.N. resolutions do not limit the Palestinian people or their rights merely to the territories occupied in 1967; General Assembly Resolution 194, for example, expressly recognizes their right of return to homes in what is now Israel.”

Leaving aside the contentious questions about the validity of Palestinian claims to a “right of return,” Makdisi’s argument implies that establishing a Palestinian state may not be desirable if this risks diminishing the chances of the descendants of Palestinian refugees to claim Israeli citizenship. But when Israeli citizenship is prized higher than the citizenship that would come with Palestinian self-determination, Palestinian refugees become mere pawns in a political poker game; likewise, the claim that Israel’s Arab citizens need the PLO to represent them is revealed as rank hypocrisy. Interestingly, Makdisi emphasizes that the UN has already recognized a “very broad set of Palestinian rights,” but in his determination to safeguard this “very broad set” of rights, he seems blind to the fact that whatever rights the Palestinians can legitimately claim, the “right” to deny the Jewish people its right to self-determination is surely not included.

Connect

Advertisement

In Case You Missed It...

Video


Categories


Recent Posts
Reading Supreme Court tea leaves on 'Obamacare' |  March 27, 2012, 5:47 pm »
Candidates go PG-13 on the press |  March 27, 2012, 5:45 am »
Santorum's faulty premise on healthcare reform |  March 26, 2012, 5:20 pm »

Archives
 


About the Bloggers
The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.



In Case You Missed It...