Thursday, June 28, 2007

Surprise! It's An Empire!

The House passed a resolution last week condeming Iran's (fictitious) attempts to create nuclear weapons. Two Representatives voted against it: Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul.

Arthur Silber takes the opportunity to remind us that the U.S. is, in fact, an Empire:
And that, as they say, is the ball game. In this manner, the Democratic House concedes, sanctifies, and gives its nearly unanimous support to the major propaganda point of the Bush-Cheney-Israel drive to war with Iran.

Thank God the Democrats took back Congress. That's all I can say. Otherwise, who knows what might have happened! Why, we might be on our way to a nuclear world war!


Kucinich does make one serious mistake in his comments, when he says, "The United States House may unwittingly be setting the stage for a war with Iran." C'mon, Dennis. The United States has a long history of aggressive war -- the Spanish-American War and the Philippines occupation, Vietnam, numerous covert operations all over the world (including endless such operations in the Middle East ever since World War II), the Clinton interventions of the 1990s -- on top of which, every leading national politician, including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, agitates endlessly for confrontation with Iran. There is nothing remotely "unwitting" about any of this. Endless wars and unceasing slaughter didn't just "happen" while we were minding our business elsewhere. We believe we are entitled to world hegemony. It is our destiny to rule the world. We will have our way. "Unwitting"? Please.


Of course, if the Democrats actually disagreed, there are a number of actions they could take. But they do not disagree, so they won't take those actions. In the same way, there are a number of actions leading liberal and progressive bloggers could take in an effort to get Democrats to at least try to prevent Armageddon. But they have done next to nothing, other than endlessly blather about how awful it would all be (with nary a mention of the invaluable aid to the Bush-Cheney-Israel war program now provided by the Democrats themselves), and there is no indication they ever will. So I say again that, if the worst should happen, I don't want to hear a single goddamned word from any of these people.
In case anyone ever asks you why you don't vote Democrat if you hate Bush so much, link 'em here and tell 'em why.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Darkness, Imprisoning Me

For democracy, any man would give his only begotten son:
TAMPA, Florida: He lies flat, unseeing eyes fixed on the ceiling, tubes and machines feeding him, breathing for him, keeping him alive. He cannot walk or talk, but he can grimace and cry. And he is fully aware of what has happened to him.

Four years ago almost to this day, Joseph Briseno Jr. was shot in the back of the head at point-blank range in a Baghdad marketplace. His spinal cord was shattered, and cardiac arrests stole his vision and damaged his brain.

The 24-year-old is one of the most severely injured soldiers — some think the most injured soldier — to survive.

"Three things you would not want to be: blind, head injury, and paralyzed from the neck down. That's tough," said Dr. Steven Scott, head of the Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center at the Tampa VA Medical Center, where Briseno has twice been hospitalized for extensive care. In recent days, Briseno was hospitalized yet again, this time at the Washington, D.C., VA Medical Center.


He has had other trials: surgeries, procedures and medications for bladder problems, high blood pressure, the opening for his breathing tube, dead tissue on his tongue — even an ingrown toenail. The latest is the bone disease, osteoporosis.

He can respond to questions by grunting or grimacing, and occasionally can say "mom" or "go," but not consistently. He often opens his mouth.

"We believe he is very frustrated because he wants to say something. Those are the hardest times for us, especially when he's sick or not feeling well. He just lays there. We don't know what's wrong with him," Joseph Briseno said.

They pray that he will continue to improve, not get worse. And they hope to move to Tampa, where they believe their son can get the best care.
These are always and everywhere the spoils of war.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Neither Korea, Nor Vietnam, Nor Fish, Nor Fowl

Jim Henley lays it down regarding America's "long-term commitment" to Iraq:
1. 50,000 troops isn’t enough to “prevent” shit. Eric Martin points out that three times that many troops isn’t stopping an ongoing meltdown along the Turkish border.

2. American troops are not epiphytes. They can’t hang on trees and get their sustenance from the air. 50,000 troops will require massive daily supply convoys, or, to use the military term, “targets.” If the US doesn’t “patrol” beyond the bases, the bases will be even more subject to mortar attacks than they are now.

3. So long as American troops are in Iraq, everyone is going to believe that America still owns the place and is responsible for whatever happens there - the pressure, domestic and international, to get out of those bases and deal with whatever badness is going on at the moment will be massive.

4. For just a moment can we acknowledge the grotesque moral bankruptcy of a policy that amounts to “We’re going to take up space in your country but we don’t give a flying fuck what happens to you people?” Because that’s what the “residual force” while “abandoning the effort to stop sectarian violence” means. At least have the decency to not crash on Iraq’s couch if you’re going to ignore the family feud.

No one who is not a party hack should accept this “residual force” nonsense for half a second. I’d call it a betrayal of the ever-growing antiwar movement if I thought the Dem front-runners gave a damn about the antiwar movement in the first place.
Point out the gross incompetence with which the United States has conducted its Iraq adventure, to say nothing of the sheer immoral arrogance with which the U.S. abrogated the right to dictate the affairs of nations, and you'll get a lot of sympathetic nods from the so-called anti-war left. "Yeah," they'll say, "but things would just get worse if we left now."

How? How could things possibly get worse? Shia, Sunni and Kurd slay each other with abandon, and gleefully turn their guns on any American GIs who interfere. There are two inevitable end states from the current situation:

  • Shia and Sunni continue violently feuding, as they have since shortly after the Prophet's death, while the Kurds pick away at the fringes; or
  • One side emerges triumphant and subsumes the whole of Iraq in nationalist fervor.

The presence of Americans can only delay one of the above outcomes. They cannot alter it.

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

How Civilized Men Might Live

Over on The Volokh Conspiracy, an attorney for the recently ruled-on Al-Marri weighs in on the nature of terrorism and security:
Whether one trusts or distrusts President Bush and the manner in which he has prosecuted "The War on Terror," the powers he has asserted to himself (to the Executive Branch) -- the power to detain an individual lawfully present insde the United States based solely upon a Presidential edict and the triple hearsay declaration of a Pentagon bureaucrat -- could easily be abused by him or a future resident of the White House. Of course, while anything is possible, it is fair to say that to date no terrorist has obtained (much less detonated) a nuclear weapon anywhere in the world, whereas elected leaders routinely abuse power; such is the history of man. I do not think of myself as an alarmist, but I am alarmed that educated people can characterize as "bizarre" the possibility that government powers could be abused. Indeed, it was in response to such abuses that the Bill of Rights was amended to the Constitution in the first instance.

[...] I should add that I am the "Mark Berman" who is identified as al-Marri's "Next Friend" in the caption of the Fourth Circuit case, and have represented him since he was a run-of-the-mill criminal defendant, charged in the Southern District of New York with credit card fraud and possessing of constitutional rights. My views are those of an advocate. As a personal aside, however, I have spent the past year "commuting" back and forth from Israel where my family has been living. Israel, of course, is a very small country that lives not only with the threat of terrorism and war on its home soil, but actual terrorism and war on its home soil almost every day. It is surrounded not by giant friends and allies like Canada and Mexico but by hostile neighbors in Lebanon, Syria, Gaza, and the West Bank. All of its borders (including those with Jordan and Egypt) are porous. Until it built a security/border wall and fences, Israel's Palestinian neighbors would successfully send their youth to blow themselves up in Tel Aviv cafes, Netanya hotels, and Jerusalem buses. Rockets launched from Gaza fall on Sderot and surrounding areas daily, almost two years after the last Israeli left. Plus, there is the growing threat of complete nuclear annihilation by Iran. All to say that Israelis have a lot to be afraid of in actuality, and not only hypothetically.

[...] Yet, one does not often see or hear the sense of panic and fear mongering that has become charcteristic of American discourse regarding terrorism and its suppression (by politicians and the media, and which is implicit in the hypo which started this discussion). Israel is not a country that has a Constitution or a Bill of Rights like ours, yet, even here, fully justified fear of future terrorist attacks has not led to a police-state system inside of Israel in which people can be detained indefinitely without charge simply because the Prime Minister says so. The police are free to act aggressively to protect the population, but there is still a legal process with recourse to the courts; whether that process should be more robust or applied more even-handedly can be debated, but the point is that the decision to idefinitely detain an individual is not left to executive say-so alone, which is the authority President Bush has asserted under our Constitution.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Why Rich Nations are Rich, Why Poor Nations are Poor

Eric Falkenstein on Mahalanobis says it best:
Jeffrey Sachs in this Vanity Fair puff piece. "We have enough on the planet to make sure, easily, that people aren't dying of their poverty. That's the basic truth."

Uh huh. But developing countries need more than peace and technocrats, they need the rule of law and property rights, which Sachs's donations really don't address. For example, there's this anecdote on one of Sachs's little experiments in Africa

Today, Ahmed Mohamed, the leader of Dertu's Millennium Villages Project, is trying to explain to the local people the benefits of hay. If you gather and dry the tall grass now, he tells them, you will have food for your animals the next time the drought comes.

It's hard for me to believe that no one has thought about cutting grass and saving it. I'm sure they are uneducated but that's a pretty basic idea for someone who lives off the land. Rather, it is probably very difficult to save because of the lack of law and order, including the ability to store things without theft, or have the right to then sell them in a future drought (at, presumably, higher than-average prices). Then again, if they really never have thought of cutting and saving grass, they really have zero chance of becoming a modern society on their own.
Falkenstein's observation is an excellent example of why capitalism is what will make the poorest countries in the world rich. Consider:

(1) What makes some countries wealthier than others? It's not natural resources: tiny Luxembourgh and middling Ireland share the top 10 with the U.S. and the United Arab Emirate. It's not labor supply: China and India have had more laborers than the U.S. for years, but are only recently starting to be competitive (and even then we're not holding our breath).

What makes some countries wealthier than others is capital. The ability to turn unskilled labor into a manufacturing powerhouse, to produce in hours what used to require days, to turn ideas into reality - that's what makes wealth.

(2) Capital requires savings. Robinson Crusoe, stranded on a desert island, must set aside time to make a net. This net will allow him to catch exponentially more fish, but he has to forego consumption for a brief time in order to make it. A net is a primitive example of capital - and you have to save up to get it.

In a modern society, you don't have to do the saving yourself. You can get a loan from a bank and borrow someone else's savings. But the same principle applies: someone had to forego consumption at some point in order to give you access to capital.

(3) Savings require security. There's no point to saving money, food or any resource if you don't think you're going to be around tomorrow. You can't forego consumption if you're struggling to eke out the minimum that you need to survive. "Live every day as if it were your last" is a romantic sentiment in first-world countries; it's a comic joke in poorer ones.

Further, savings requires some security on what you actually save. As Falkenstein comments, there's no point to stockpiling hay if some unscrupulous neighbor is just going to steal it. Who would dream of starting a farm in Zimbabwe? Or opening a factory in Venezuela? Why put money into something that you can almost count on seeing destroyed?

(4) ... sadly, at this point we run out of easy answers. Security can be imposed through brute force, with cops and armed soldiers, but this is often a pretext for more coercion and seizure (see: Mugabe; Chavez; etc). If everyone looks to his own security, the situation can easily deteriorate into civil war and rioting.

As Steven Landsburg has pointed out, the immense wealth and quality of life that the human race has experienced in the last 300 years is a fluke in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps feuding and barbarism are our species' lot in life.

Let's hope not, though.

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Some Small Hope

In the context of Captain Keith Allred's decision to dismiss the case against Salim Hamdan (one of the more infamous Gitmo detainees), Scott Horton of Harper's draws some interesting historical parallels
I think for instance of Edmund Burke’s Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol, a minor masterpiece which is not read and appreciated as it should be today. And reading Judge Allred’s opinion, for some strange reason, I kept hearing the words of Edmund Burke in the background, growing louder and louder with each subsequent paragraph.

The Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol is a simple document – the transmission to two law-enforcement officers of his constituency of an act that the government of Lord North has put to Parliament. The act suspended the great writ of habeas corpus - not for the good burghers of Bristol, of course, but only for a group of murderous insurrectionists who then stood in open and bloody revolt against their lawful sovereign. And the act went further, namely, it provided that these miserable wretches, whose insolence and defiance now extended to the seas, could be labeled pirates at the King’s discretion, and thus robbed of the right to be tried in courts. They would be dealt with in a summary fashion by the King’s military. And the act also provided that these miscreants could be transported across the ocean to England and held there to await their summary disposition – a step which justified the suspension of habeas corpus, since otherwise an English court might demand an accounting for their brutal treatment and incarceration.


Let the Great Writ stand, said Burke, and from this point be suspicious when the Government employs the label “pirate” to shorten the rights of those it sees as enemies. These words reflect the sum and the spirit of the rulings out of Guantánamo. They reflect the spirit of liberty.

Oh yes. Exactly who were those vermin insurgents who by Lord North’s design were to be stripped of habeas corpus, subjected to military trials with no rights and held in the crudest and most abusive conditions? They were the Americans, and the conflict was our Revolution.
We urge you to read the article entire, but thought it germane to draw eyes to these salient points.

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Friday, June 08, 2007

The Moral High Ground

The CIA's favorite form of torture
According to news reports, the White House is preparing to issue an executive order that will set new ground rules for the CIA's secret program for interrogating captured al-Qaida types. Constrained by the 2006 Military Commissions Act, which contains a strict ban on abuse, it is anticipated that the order will jettison waterboarding and other brutal interrogation techniques.

But President Bush has insisted publicly that "tough" techniques work, and has signaled that the CIA's secret program can somehow continue under the rubric of the Military Commissions Act. The executive order will reportedly hand the CIA greater latitude than the military to conduct coercive interrogations. If waterboarding goes the way of the Iron Maiden, what "tough" techniques will the CIA use on its high-value detainees?

The answer is most likely a measure long favored by the CIA -- sensory deprivation. The benign-sounding form of psychological coercion has been considered effective for most of the life of the agency, and its slippery definition might allow it to squeeze through loopholes in a law that seeks to ban prisoner abuse. Interviews with former CIA officials and experts on interrogation suggest that it is an obvious choice for interrogators newly constrained by law. The technique has already been employed during the "war on terror," and, Salon has learned, was apparently used on 14 high-value detainees now held at Guantánamo Bay.
The Salon article goes on to describe how sense-dep has already been used and the potential side effects (hallucinations, psychosis, etc).

Also, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch released some documentaton on America's gulags:
In the most comprehensive accounting to date, six leading human rights organizations today published the names and details of 39 people who are believed to have been held in secret US custody and whose current whereabouts remain unknown. The briefing paper also names relatives of suspects who were themselves detained in secret prisons, including children as young as seven.


The 21-page briefing paper, “Off the Record: US Responsibility for Enforced Disappearances in the ‘War on Terror,’” includes detailed information about four people named as “disappeared” prisoners for the first time. The full list of people includes nationals from countries including Egypt, Kenya, Libya, Morocco, Pakistan and Spain. They are believed to have been arrested in countries including Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia and Sudan, and transferred to secret US detention centers.


“Off the Record” highlights aspects of the CIA detention program that the US government has actively tried to conceal, such as the locations where prisoners may have been held, the mistreatment they endured, and the countries to which they may have been transferred.

It reveals how suspects’ relatives, including wives and children as young as seven years old, have been held in secret detention. In September 2002, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s two young sons, aged seven and nine, were arrested. According to eyewitnesses, the two were held in an adult detention center for at least four months while US agents questioned the children about their father’s whereabouts.

Similarly, when Tanzanian national Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani was seized in Gujarat, Pakistan, in July 2004, his Uzbek wife was detained with him.

The human rights groups are calling on the US government to put a permanent end to the CIA’s secret detention and interrogation program, and to disclose the identities, fate, and whereabouts of all detainees currently or previously held at secret facilities operated or overseen by the US government as part of the “war on terror.”
What makes the U.S. a better nation than Pakistan, Iran or Afghanistan under the mujahdeen? Its secular tradition? Its respect for human rights? Its sterling civil liberties record? Its adherence to the Western Enlightenment tradition?

What about the United States is worth defending?

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Republican Debate Nonsense

Unqualified Offerings are on a roll today.

Who would Jesus nuke?
The most chilling part of last night’s debate was, of course, when 10 of the 11 candidates fell all over themselves to assert that they aren’t afraid to pre-emptively nuke Persians. But the most inspiring moment was when Ron Paul labeled our embrace of pre-emptive war as the biggest moral crisis of our time. Since he was speaking before a Republican audience, he remarked that this was an abandonment of Christian notions of “just war.”

Interestingly, on the question “what is the biggest moral crisis of our time?”, all of the other candidates spoke about abortion. Meanwhile, the only obstetrician on the stage preferred to talk about war.
Killing unborn children: bad. Bombing civilians: acceptable.

Also, we have a Modest Proposal:
Didn’t see the Republican debate tonight [...] Mrs. Offering had to watch it but she was good enough not to tell me about it when I got home. My suggestion is, let’s save time. Just have the candidates torture each other and give the nomination to the last one to break.

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