Posts tagged ‘Afghanistan’

Deceptive Chart of the Day from Kevin Drum and Mother Jones to Desperately Sell the "Austerity" Hypothesis

Update:  OK, I pulled together the data and did what Drum should have done, is take the graph back to pre-recession levels.  Shouldn't it be even better if the increase in spending came during the recession rather than after?  See update here.

Kevin Drum complains about US government austerity (I know, I know, only some cocooned progressive could describe recent history as austerity, but let's deal with his argument).  He uses this chart to "prove" that we have been austere vs. other recessions, and thus austerity helps explain why recovery from this recession has been particularly slow.  Here is his chart

Austerity_2_WM_630

This is absurdly disingenuous.  Why?  Simple -- it is impossible to evaluate post recession spending without looking at what spending did during the recession.   All these numbers begin after the recession is over.  But what if, in the current recession, we increased spending much more than in other recessions.  We would still be at a higher level vs. pre-recession spending now, despite a lack of further increases after the recession.

In the time before this chart even starts, total state, local, Federal spending increased from 2007 to 2008 by 10.2%.  It increased another 11.1 % from 2008 to 2009.  So he starts the chart at the peak, only AFTER spending had increased in response to the recession by 22.5%.  Had he started the chart at the correct date and not at a self-serving one, my guess is that it would have shown that in this recession we increased spending more than any other recent recession, not less.  So went digging for some data.

I actually have a day job, so I don't have time to create a chart of total government spending since 1981, so I will look at just Federal spending, but it makes my point.  I scavenged this chart from Factcheck.org.  The purple bars are the year that each of Drum's data series begin plus the year prior (which is excluded from Drum's chart).  Essentially the growth in spending between the two purple lines is the growth left out just ahead of when Drum started each data series in his chart.  The chart did not go back to 1981 so I could not do that year.

click to enlarge

Hopefully, you can see why I say that Drum is disingenuous for not going back to pre-recession numbers.  In this case, you can see the current recession has an unprecedented pop in spending in the year before Drum starts his data series, so it is not surprising that post recession spending might be flatter (remember, the pairs of purple lines are essentially the change in spending the year before each of Drum's data series).  In fact, it is very clear that relative to the pre-recession year of 2008 (really 2007, but I will give him a small break), even after 5 years of "austerity" our federal spending as a percent of GDP will be far higher than in any other recession he considers.  In no previous recession in this era did post recession spending end up more than 2 points higher (as a percent of GDP) than pre-recession levels.    In this recession, we are likely to end up 4-5 points higher.

By the way, isn't it possible that he has cause and effect reversed?  He argues that post-recession recovery was faster in other recessions because government spending kept increasing over five years after the recession is over.  But isn't it just possible that the truth is the reverse -- that government spending increased more rapidly after other recessions because recovery was faster, thus increasing tax revenues. Congress then promptly spent the new revenues on new toys.

Let's look at the same chart, highlighted in a different way.  I will circle the 4-5 years included in each of Drum's data series:

spending-2

You can see that despite the fact that government spending in these prior recessions was increasing in real terms, it was falling in two our of three of them as a percentage of GDP (the third increased due to war spending in Afghanistan and Iraq, spending which I, and I suspect Drum, would hesitate to call stimulative, particular since he and others at the time called it a jobless recovery).

How can it be that spending was increasing but falling as a percent of GDP?  Because the GDP was growing really fast, faster than government spending.  This does not prove my point, but is a good indicator that recovery is likely leading spending increases, rather than the other way around.

Punitive Bombing

I grew up in the 1970's, a time when a lot of Americans post-Vietnam were questioning the value, even the sanity, of war.  Opinions were certainly split on the subject, but one thing I remember is that the concept of "punitive bombing" was widely mocked and disdained.  Which is why I find it amazing to see bipartisan, multi-country support for exactly this tired old idea as applied to Syria.  Has bombing ever done anything but radicalize the bombed civilian population against the bombers?  The reaction to the London Blitz was not to have the English suddenly decide that they had been wrong in supporting Poland.  Nor did Germans or Japanese generally reprimand their leaders for the past policies as as result of our firebombing Tokyo or Dresden.  Or look at drone strikes in Afghanistan -- do you get the sense anyone there is saying, "Boy, have we ever been taught a lesson."

In the comments, readers are welcome to contribute examples of countries who "learned their lesson" from punitive air strikes and changed their behavior.

PS-  Apparently the reason we "must" have at least air strikes is that we have established a policy that we will "do something" if countries use chemical weapons.  And if we don't have air strikes, the world will think we are weak, right?  But the problem is that this logic never ends.  If the country then ignores our air strikes and behaves as before, or perhaps performs an FU of their own by using chemical weapons openly, then what?  Aren't we obligated to do something more drastic, else the world will think we are weak?

Moral Hazard in the Drone War

I missed Tom Junod's original article on targeted killing, but his response to Andrew Sullivan's defense of the Obama Administration is terrific:

I did not -- and do not -- condone the use of torture any more than Sullivan does. But the moral risk of torture is not so different from the moral risk of targeted killing. Indeed, the moral risk of torture provides a template for the moral risk of targeted killing. What was introduced as an option of last resort becomes the option of first resort, then the only option. Sullivan always understood that torture was a temptation, and that the day would come when it was applied not in emergency, "ticking-clock" situations, but as a matter of routine. Well, that day has come, only now with targeted killing, where the option of first resort meets the court of no appeal.

Yes, killing is a part of war, and torture isn't. But what if the the kind of militant who was captured and tortured under Bush is the kind of militant who is simply being killed under President Obama? The Obama Administration vigorously denies this, just as it vigorously denies that it is combating terrorism by practicing a policy of extermination against terrorists. But the numbers -- the thousands killed by drone and raid against the single high-value asset captured and interrogated outside the theater of war in Afghanistan -- tell a story that can't simply be shrugged off. Interrogation has been replaced by assassination.

Moreover, I talked to a source familiar with the targeting process who told me that the people involved in the life-or-death decisions of the Obama administration often do not know the credibility of intelligence sources. This was a highly informed and involved source who, when asked the most essential question -- "how good is the intelligence?" -- paused and finally couldn't answer. In fact, when I raised the question of whether those who were once captured are now being killed, the source suggested that it was the wrong question:

"It's not at all clear that we'd be sending our people into Yemen to capture the people we're targeting. But it's not at all clear that we'd be targeting them if the technology wasn't so advanced. What's happening is that we're using the technology to target people we never would have bothered to capture."

Unfortunately, I think targeting killing is here to stay, by the "only Nixon could go to China" logic.  By having a Democrat start this policy, it has avoided a lot of critique from the usual defenders of humanity against arbitrary power, for the simple reason that many of these folks consider Obama to be "on their team."  Just look at Andrew Sullivan, for God sakes, defending the practice.   The Left spent more time criticizing Bush over looting at the Bagdad museum than it has over Obama's targeted killing (Glen Greenwald being a notable exception).  Having set the precedent under Obama, there will be no going back under either party in the future.

Our Confused Policy in Afghanistan

There are a lot of ways to parse this story about the alleged video of soldiers urinating on corpses in Afghanistan.  It seems ugly, but desecration of corpses has a long history in Afghan conflicts (often consisting of cutting off male-only body parts).  And it's bizarre to see people more upset about peeing on corpses than with corpsifying them in the first place.

But at the end of the day this is what I think is broken about the Afghan conflict.  You don't send warriors into a brutal guerrilla war with no rules and simultaneously expect them to be goodwill ambassadors as well.  Given that these are two activities whose Venn diagrams of skills and mindsets have so little overlap, the military does a pretty good job trying to do what its being asked, but over the long run it's a losing game  (somewhere in here there is an Ender's Game reference about trying to meld empathy with killer instincts).

By the way, exactly what is our goal in Afghanistan, will someone remind me?  We have been successful when __________________ ?

History Repeats Itself

This was a real time warp for me: (NY Times via Cato@Liberty)

As President Obama prepares to release a review of American strategy in Afghanistan that will claim progress in the nine-year-old war there, two new classified intelligence reports offer a more negative assessment and say there is a limited chance of success unless Pakistan hunts down insurgents operating from havens on its Afghan border.

The reports, one on Afghanistan and one on Pakistan, say that although there have been gains for the United States and NATO in the war, the unwillingness of Pakistan to shut down militant sanctuaries in its lawless tribal region remains a serious obstacle. American military commanders say insurgents freely cross from Pakistan into Afghanistan to plant bombs and fight American troops and then return to Pakistan for rest and resupply.

The findings in the reports, called National Intelligence Estimates, represent the consensus view of the United States' 16 intelligence agencies, as opposed to the military, and were provided last week to some members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees. The findings were described by a number of American officials who read the reports' executive summaries.

Perhaps someone who knows better can accuse me of making a shallow comparison, but doesn't this sound exactly like the situation that plagued the US Army in Vietnam, where enemy fighters would hide out across the border in Cambodia?  From Wikipedia:

The People's Army of Vietnam had been utilizing large sections of relatively unpopulated eastern Cambodia as sanctuaries into which they could withdraw from the struggle in South Vietnam to rest and reorganize without being attacked. These base areas were also utilized by the communists to store weapons and other material that had been transported on a large scale into the region on the Sihanouk Trail. PAVN forces had begun moving through Cambodian territory as early as 1963

Still Missing the Point

Discussions about Guantanamo still seem to focus on moving the prisoners to another facility.  This is exactly the danger I warned about several years ago -- that focusing too much on Gitmo itself as a facility was missing the whole point.  The problem was indefinite detentions without due process, not the facility per se.  But since so much of the press latched onto Gitmo itself as the problem, it as allowed the administration to say that it is solving the problem by eliminating Gitmo and moving the prisoners  (either to Illinois or Afghanistan, the plan keeps changing) while still clinging to the position that it should still have the power to detain people at the President's pleasure.

Dhalia Lithwick has a good article on just what a mess we have created at Gitmo.  Are there potential, even past, terrorists there?  Probably.  But I could probably say that there are current or past criminals in any random 1000 people I might sweep off the street.  That doesn't justify locking them up  -- as a country, we have always said that it is better to free the innocent at the cost of potentially missing some of the guilty.

And please don't hammer me again in the comments with "there is a war on and these are just POW's."  Sorry, they are nothing like traditional POW's.  They were not caught on the battlefield, were not in uniform, in many cases were just turned in by other people for a bounty.  I think I would accept that maybe slightly different rules apply to these folks than to a person arrested on 5th Avenue in New York, but on the other hand supporters of their detention need to admit that some extra scrutiny needs to exist vs. traditional POW rules, as in this case their very combatant status is unclear, something that was not the case in, say, with most POW's in WWII.

GWB: Leftish Icon?

If it wasn't for his reactions (Patriot Act, Gitmo, Iraq, Afghanistan) to 9/11, shouldn't GWB be a leftish icon?  (source)

200912_blog_edwards291

Ironically, the current Congress renewed most of the Patriot Act, Obama will most likely not close Gitmo any time soon, I see no movement out of Iraq, and Obama has doubled down on Afghanistan.    GWB may have been the worst president in recent memory (since at least Nixon) for libertarians, though Obama seems to be on a trajectory to surpass him.

This Argument Works for a Libertarian...

I think this kind of argument might work for a libertarian, but I am not sure it is a very strong argument for a liberal Democrat that wants to do more rather than less of what Congress and the GWB administration did over the last 8 years to worsen the recession.

Personally, though, I'd say Obama has been remarkably restrained about the whole thing, especially when it comes to our disastrous fiscal situation.  In a mere eight years, George Bush and the Republican Party managed to take a thriving economy and a federal surplus and turn it into a hair's breadth escape from Great Depression II and an endless fiscal sinkhole.  Rome may not have been built in a day, but it didn't take much longer than that for the modern Republican Party to bankrupt America.

Particularly hilarious is that Drum blames the cost of the useless but expensive stimulus bill on GWB.  Huh?  And blaming Republicans for Fannie and Freddie is a real joke.

As you might imagine, the deficit in his world is all from tax cuts and not above-inflation increases in spending.  The basic picture he shows is absurd - money is fungible, so any trillion dollars of the government spending could be blamed for the deficit - it just depends on what spending you consider incremental.  Stupid analysis.  Though it is interesting that at least two of the major drivers even by their slanted analysis - Bush tax cuts and Afghanistan - are policy issues Obama was presented with opportunities to reverse and chose not to.

News Flash: People Being Tortured Sometimes Confess to Anything to Stop the Torture

It is pretty amazing to me that 500 years after the Spanish Inquisition it is somehow a revelation that people who are being tortured will say about anything to make the torture (or the threats thereof) stop:

On Friday the government declassified an opinion in which U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ordered the release of a Kuwaiti held at Guantanamo since 2002, saying he was imprisoned based on coerced confessions that even his interrogators did not believe. Fouad Al Rabiah, a 50-year-old aviation engineer and father of four, was captured as he tried to leave Afghanistan in December 2001. He said he came to Afghanistan that October to help refugees, an explanation the judge found credible....

Later four Guantanamo inmates made several implausible accusations against Al Rabiah"”claiming, among other things, that the engineer, who had worked at Kuwait Airlines for 20 years, suddenly became a leader of the fight against U.S. forces in Tora Bora. Kollar-Kotelly noted that the charges were either inconsistent or demonstrably false. The Pentagon eventually stopped relying on these wild claims to justify Al Rabiah's detention, but by then interrogators had used the charges, along with sleep deprivation and threats of rendition to countries where he would be tortured or killed, to extract confessions from him. In the end, the interrogators concluded that Al Rabiah was making up a story to please them. "Incredibly," Kollar-Kotelly wrote, "these are the confessions that the government has asked the Court to accept as truthful in this case."

I have argued for years that indefinite detention of anyone, citizen or not, is an affront to the principles on which this country was founded.  Just to make my position entirely clear, I am willing to risk letting 40 dangerous people go free (assuming we can't actually prosecute them) to avoid having one person detained wrongly.  If you think this is naive or wrong, then you need to ask yourself what you think about our entire legal system, which is predicated on a similar presumption, that we would prefer some guilty or dangerous people go free rather than tilt the system such that innocent people rot in jail.

Other posts from this topic here and here

Airplane Crash Lawsuit Dropped, but CEO Subsequently Stoned to Death For Having Female Flight Attendants

Apparently, Blackwater wants to be tried under Sharia law:

I learn that Blackwater has filed a motion in a lawsuit claiming
that since the mishap they're being sued for (a plane crash) happened
in Afghanistan, the lawsuit should be adjudicated via sharia law, not
U.S. law. That's ironic enough on its own merits, but the explanation is even better:

In
April, Blackwater asked a federal judge in Florida to apply Islamic
law, commonly known as Shari'a, to the case. If the judge agreed, the
lawsuit would be dismissed. Shari'a law does not hold a company
responsible for the actions of employees performed within the course of
their work.

LOL, my guess is that they really don't want the precedent set that Blackwater will henceforth be held to Sharia law in Afghanistan.  By the way, don't miss your chance to buy some gear or posters in the Blackwater company store.  I found it randomly checking out their site.  They actually have some really good looking posters, much better looking than the stuff sold in company stores where I have worked.

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Ex Post Facto Guilt

You gotta love those vaunted MSM fact-checkers.  I mean, I am all for criticizing George Bush, but this seems to be going a bit too far  (Guardian via Q&O):

Ministers insisted that British secret agents would only be allowed to
pass intelligence to the CIA to help it capture Osama bin Laden if the
agency promised he would not be tortured, it has emerged.

MI6 believed it was close to finding the al-Qaida leader in
Afghanistan in 1998, and again the next year. The plan was for MI6 to
hand the CIA vital information about Bin Laden. Ministers including
Robin Cook, the then foreign secretary, gave their approval on
condition that the CIA gave assurances he would be treated humanely.
The plot is revealed in a 75-page report by parliament's intelligence
and security committee on rendition, the practice of flying detainees
to places where they may be tortured.

The report criticises the Bush administration's approval of practices
which would be illegal if carried out by British agents. It shows that
in 1998, the year Bin Laden was indicted in the US, Britain insisted
that the policy of treating prisoners humanely should include him. But
the CIA never gave the assurances.

LOL.  It seems like Bush has been president forever, but I am pretty sure that Hillary's husband was in the White House until early 2001.

A Quick Thought Experiment

Which country has more power over us?  Is it China, who could suddenly try to sell our assets back to us at cut rate prices, thereby, uh, taking a huge financial loss for themselves to temporarily roil our markets.  Or is it Venezuela, who can (and has) simply seized all the assets in their country owned by Americans and repudiated its debts?

Not clear enough?  OK, lets go back to the cold war.  Let's say the USSR had lent our government a trillion dollars or so, thereby holding lots of dollar denominated US government debt.  Let's say they also made massive investments in US land and buildings.  Would we have said, "boy, they have us now?"  No.  I mean, hell no!  We'd have their money, they'd just hold our paper.  If the Russki's got adventurous in Afghanistan, we could just say, sorry, we are going to stop paying on all those bonds you hold until you get out.  This situation is so clear that in fact it was the USSR's strategy to do just the opposite, ie to borrow as much as possible from the west, taking western money to fund their economy while creating a threat of loan default they could use strategically.  American hawks argued that it was insane to lend to the USSR, because this gave them leverage over us. 

Sanction of the Victim

This has been an incredible week in the ongoing culture clash between the western democracies and radical Islam.  In a series of events right out of the Onion or Monty Python, radical Muslims around the world protested the Pope calling them violent with ... waves of violence.  Once his remarks were proven right in such an obvious and public way the Pope reacted by ... apologizing for his remarks.**   

I am tired of apologizing to radical Islam (for some silly, bland cartoons, for god sakes!)  I am tired of bending over backwards into pretzels to give them the benefit of the doubt.  I am extremely tired of being told these folks are just aggrieved and in reality they share my values, because it is very very clear that they don't share my values.  I am tired of being told most Muslims are peaceful --  when these peaceful folks give their sanction and support to the violent ones and accept the most radical as their leaders. 

Radical Islam is, with the downfall of soviet communism and the painfully gradual opening up of China, the most illiberal force in the modern world. By a long shot.  It treats individual life with contempt, has no concept of rights, and in particular treats women far worse than apartheid South Africa ever treated blacks.  The theocracy we fear from certain Republican 700 Club folks is like 3.2 beer compared to full 200 proof Islamic theocratic fascism. 

I don't know why the left in this country has been hesitant to call out illiberal practices in the Middle East as vociferously as they have in other circumstances.  A part of this hesitation is probably opposition to the Iraq war, and fear that denouncing radical Islam for its faults might somehow give the administration a stronger mandate for more military adventures.  A less charitable explanation is that the hesitation is an extension of political correctness and cultural relativism run wild).

Well, I opposed the Iraq war:  The Augean stables are just too dirty to clean up by sending the military from dictator to dictator. I will go further and say I actually think the terrorist threat is exaggerated (and yes I do remember 9/11) in order to keep giving the FBI more powers and help politicians get elected.  Get tough on terrorism is sort of the new get tough on crime election speak.

But I don't think the threat to liberal values posed by Islamic fundamentalism is exaggerated.  And the first step in fighting it is to not give it, as Ayn Rand would say, the sanction of the victim.  People sometimes email me and say "who are we to talk -- America is not clean."  I will agree we have our warts - and much of this blog is taken up with pointing some of them out.  But what I always tell people, and still believe, is the following:

The US does harm when we fail to live up to our values.  Radical Islam does harm when they successfully pursue what they value.

**Postscript:   I don't pretend to understand all the 13th century quotations in the Pope's speech.  I don't think it matters.  If he had simply said "radical Islam preaches too much violence and it has to stop" he would have gotten the same reaction.  By the way, every person in the world seems to say bad things about the US, many of these comments are untrue or apply only to a minority of our leaders and not to myself. I can't remember anyone ever apologizing to me.   This story  that Muslims will do more violence unless the Pope apologizes some more reminds me of Sir Robin in the Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  "Perhaps if we run away more..."

And here is my message to the right -- I acknowledge that radical Islamic leaders treat apologies, backing-down, etc. as weakness to be exploited rather than preludes to reasonable compromise.   For this reason, I thought the invasion of Afghanistan was a necessity.  However, this general fact does NOT automatically justify the Iraq war.  If it did, it would also justify invading any Islamic country we want.  I still don't understand the strategic sense of Iraq and now we are stuck there, because I agree that once in, backing off will only embolden the radicals in the area to further hi-jinx.

Confirming What We've Suspected

I usually try to wait a while to let sources like this get vetted.  With the proviso that it may turn out that this guy didn't have the access he says he had, this certainly is pretty damning, though I don't think many Bush critics will be surprised.  This is a quote in a local paper from an interview of Brigadier General Mark Scheid, who claims to be one of the top planners for the Iraq war (Hat tip:  Orin Kerr at Volokh, emphasis added)

A day or two [after 9/11], Rumsfeld was "telling us we were going to
war in Afghanistan and to start building the war plan. We were going to
go fast.

Then, just as we were barely into Afghanistan ... Rumsfeld came and told us to get ready for Iraq." . . .

Planning was kept very hush-hush in those early days.

"There was only a handful of people, maybe five or six, that were
involved with that plan because it had to be kept very, very quiet."

There was already an offensive plan in place for Iraq, Scheid said. And
in the beginning, the planners were just expanding on it.

"Whether we were going to execute it, we had no idea," Scheid said.

Eventually other military agencies - like the transportation and Army materiel commands - had to get involved.

They couldn't just "keep planning this in the dark," Scheid said.

Planning continued to be a challenge.

"The secretary of defense continued to push on us ... that
everything we write in our plan has to be the idea that we are going to
go in, we're going to take out the regime, and then we're going to
leave," Scheid said. "We won't stay."

Scheid said the planners continued to try "to write what was called
Phase 4," or the piece of the plan that included post-invasion
operations like occupation.

Even if the troops didn't stay, "at least we have to plan for it," Scheid said.

"I remember the secretary of defense saying that he would fire the next
person that said that," Scheid said. "We would not do planning for
Phase 4 operations, which would require all those additional troops
that people talk about today.

"He said we will not do that because the American public will not back us if they think we are going over there for a long war."

If true, this is hard to defend.  I guess the administration could argue that they didn't want to clutter up their core planning effort with contingencies.  Beyond this being pretty bad planning practice, it also makes no sense because at the time this planning started, according to the administration time line, the Iraq War itself was just a contingency.

I Have Government Derangement Syndrome

Alex Tabarrok of Marginal Revolution makes a point I have been trying to communicate for some time now:

It's naive to only blame particular people (Bush, Cheney et al.) and
depressing when people at CT claim that if only "our guys" had been in
power everything would have been ok.  When you see the same behaviour
again and again you ought to look to systematic factors.  And even if
you do believe that it is all due to Bush, Cheney et al. it's not as if
these guys came to power randomly, they won twice.  The worst
get on top for a reason.  As a result, government ought to be designed
(on which see further below) so it works when the knaves are in power and not just when the angels govern.

I made a similar point in this post:

Over the past fifty years, a powerful driving force for statism in this
country has come from technocrats, mainly on the left, who felt that
the country would be better off if a few smart people (ie them) made
the important decisions and imposed them on the public at large, who
were too dumb to make quality decision for themselves.  People aren't
smart enough,they felt, to make medication risk trade-off decision for
themselves, so the FDA was created to tell them what procedures and
compounds they could and could not have access to.  People couldn't be
trusted to teach their kids the right things, so technocrats in the
left defended government-run schools and fought school choice at every
juncture.  People can't be trusted to save for their own retirement,
so  the government takes control with Social Security and the left
fights giving any control back to individuals.  The technocrats told us
what safety equipment our car had to have, what gas mileage it should
get, when we needed to where a helmet, what foods to eat, when we could
smoke, what wages we could and could not accept, what was and was not
acceptable speech on public college campuses, etc. etc....

the technocrats that built our regulatory state are starting to see the
danger of what they created.  A public school system was great as long
as it was teaching the right things and its indoctrinational excesses were in a leftish direction.
Now, however, we can see the panic.  The left is freaked that some red
state school districts may start teaching creationism or intelligent
design.  And you can hear the lament - how did we let Bush and these
conservative idiots take control of the beautiful machine we built?  My
answer is that you shouldn't have built the machine in the first place
- it always falls into the wrong hands.

I am particularly amazed of late at the popular leftish criticism of Bush that he was too slow after 9/11 (spending 10 extra minutes with the school kids), too slow during Katrina, and too slow entering the diplomatic fray in Lebanon.  I can't remember who, but someone lately was quoted publicly saying that they were frustrated with Bush taking vacations and that they would never vote for someone with a ranch.  Is that really the dual criticisms that people have of Bush?  That 1) he is evil and an idiot and 2) they want him to get involved faster and more aggressively in more types of problems?

Here's something everyone should know, which I have embodied in Coyote's Second Law (here's the first) which states:

Any person elected to government office has their effective IQ cut in half

I don't know if politicians wake up from this fog when they leave office or not.  I can easily imagine Bill Clinton, a man who is supposed to have a high out-of-public-office IQ, slapping his head and saying "did I really go running into Somalia and running right back out after the first casualties?' or maybe even better "jeez, I can't believe I turned down the chance to take Bin Laden into custody -- what was I thinking".  Whichever the case, governments are always stupid, even those made up of people provably of high IQ in their private lives.  Tabarrok has this humorous but depressing observation:

The Pentagon is the Post Office with nuclear weapons

Like Tabarrok, I think the bar has to be pretty high to send our military into battle, and I never thought the situation in Iraq justified the excursion.  However, perhaps differing from Tabarrok, I am sensitive to historic precedent and thus doubt that defense can always just end at our borders.  While I think the Bush administration is overly optimistic to think that Iraq will become a shining beacon of democracy that will help rally the democratic forces in neighboring countries, I also think Bush opponents are overly optimistic when they say that terrorists and Middle Eastern fascists will leave us alone as long as we just keep our distance.  There are too many historical reminders that the latter is not true.  Sometimes you do have to go over there to kick their ass before they come over here.  Afghanistan probably met this criteria, but I don't think Iraq did - Iraq feels more like the Gulf of Tonkin, a war certain people in power wanted to fight and for which they needed a public excuse.

All this means that I think that the number of times we need to go out and fight wars overseas is greater than zero and less than what we actually do.  I'm not smart enough, I guess, to make a clearer policy statement, but I would be really interested to ask all those who think they would have prevented Israel and its neighbors from going to war for the 47th time if only they had been in office what their coherent policy statement would be.

Reviewing Detentions

Back when there was all that controversy about flushing Korans at Gitmo, my general reaction was that the charges of outright torture were overblown.  In fact, today I think all this focus on torture-lite was counter-productive, diverting attention from the core question of "no matter how well they are treated, do we have a right to indefinitely detain them at all?" 

The main theme in my posts both on detentions as well as NSA wiretaps has been that our current problems with terrorism do not justify the relaxation or overriding of our core principles of separation of powers.   If we are are going to detain people, it should be following rules laid out by Congress and with clear points of review or appeal to the judiciary.  The exact rules for Habeas Corpus may be different for people captured in Afghanistan than in Omaha, but they can't be thrown out all-together by administration fiatThe rights protected by our Constitution and its amendments are our rights as humans, not just as Americans.  Our rights not to be locked up indefinitely or not to be subject to invasive searches without a warrant predate government - they are protected by the government, not provided by the government.  As such, even foreigners, who presumably are human, possess these rights too.

It turns out that the Gitmo detentions, years after they began, are starting to get the third party scrutiny that you and I expect to get after 48 hours of detention.

If accurate, this National Journal cover story is scandalous.  Stuart Taylor's Journal column sums up the major points:

  • A high percentage, perhaps the majority, of
    the 500-odd men now held at Guantanamo were not captured on any
    battlefield, let alone on "the battlefield in Afghanistan" (as Bush asserted) while "trying to kill American forces" (as [press secretary Scott] McClellan claimed).

  • Fewer than 20 percent of the Guantanamo detainees, the best available evidence suggests, have ever been Qaeda members.
  • Many scores, and perhaps hundreds, of the detainees
    were not even Taliban foot soldiers, let alone Qaeda terrorists. They
    were innocent, wrongly seized noncombatants with no intention of
    joining the Qaeda campaign to murder Americans.

  • The majority were not captured by U.S. forces but
    rather handed over by reward-seeking Pakistanis and Afghan warlords and
    by villagers of highly doubtful reliability.

Maybe an actual government body that does not report to the President, such as the judiciary, can finally enter the fray and habeas some of their corpuses. 

And by the way, I am soooo fed up with the counter-argument, "coyote, you are more interested in the rights of terrorists than security".  I answered this here, but in the case of detentions it is perfectly clear to me that the goal of detaining demonstrably dangerous folks does not require avoidance of judicial review.  I am sure this administration like any other does not like the courts or Congress looking over its shoulder, but they have to get over it.  The Administration has decided that the other branches of government can't be trusted, and the theme of many of their recent actions has been to fight against any separation of powers restrictions on the administration.

Related thoughts:  I see decent support in polls for these detentions and wiretaps.  My sense is that people who trust Bush are OK with him taking on these powers, and people who don't trust him are horrified.  The history of the Patriot Act is illustrative of this.  Most of the Patriot Act was originally proposed by Bill Clinton in response to Oklahoma City and the first bombing of the WTC.  At that time, Republicans opposed it, eventually defeating it in the Senate with the opposition led by... John Ashcroft.  Yes, I know the argument the world changed on September 11, but I think an even more important explanation of this turnaround for Republicans is that they did not trust Clinton, so didn't give him the power, but do trust Bush.  Of course the short-sightedness of this approach is stunning, since we know no party stays in power forever.  To Republicans, if you are comfortable with Bush being able to detain people of his choice without review and to wiretap without warrant, then you need to also be comfortable with Hillary Clinton, Howard Dean, or maybe Patty Murray having the same power some day.  Are you?  Really?  Because I am not comfortable giving the power to either party.

Yes, the world may have shifted on its axis on September 11, but not enough for us to throw out separation of powers.

UpdateMore here.

Whose Civil Liberties am I Protecting?

I generally don't get worked up by the memes that fly back and forth between various political blogs.  However, one of late is starting to irritate me.  I have seen it all over the place on conservative blogs, but I will quote from James Taranto because I saw it on Best of the Web most recently:

Related to the terrorism-is-no-big-threat claim is the argument that American lives are less important than the civil liberties of terrorists.

Its not the lives vs. liberties part that works me up -- there probably is a real trade-off in there somewhere.  What irks me is portraying concerns about the Patriot Act, indefinite detentions without trial, and eavesdropping outside of the normal separation of powers checks and balances as "concern for the civil liberties of terrorists".

I am sure that there is a name for this kind of semantic trick, though I can't remember it, but I will say its bush league, right out of high school debate.  You could just as easily stump for repeal of the fourth amendment because it is only concerned with the "civil liberties of criminals".

No one except a few crazies cares much for the civil rights of convicted criminals and terrorists.  After all, what could be more of a violation of their civil rights than incarcerating them, but I have seldom seen a bond issue for more prisons that people won't vote for.

No, the problem is with the civil rights of the rest of us who are innocent.  We don't want our email read just in case we are terrorists.  We don't want our houses broken into at night just in case we are drug dealers.  And if we find ourselves in police custody, we want our habeas corpus rights respected and we want to get our due process or be released.

You see, that's the nagging little problem.  Because the people the administration and their law enforcement arms are detaining and eavesdropping on are only "suspected terrorists", or I will even grant you "strongly suspected terrorists".  And there is a whole great world of difference between even a strongly suspected terrorist and a convicted terrorist.  That is what due process and the presumption of innocence is all about.  We have a legal term for a person "suspected" by the police of crime or terrorism:  Innocent citizen.

Yes, I understand that for the police to do their business, they need to be able to investigate suspected criminals.  As I wrote here, we have a process for that - the legislature sets the rules for investigations and searches, the Supreme Court tests the rules against the Constitution, the administrative branches follow the rules, and the courts have various review roles, from approving wiretaps and search warrants to being a source of appeal for habeas corpus violations.  That is why I stated that though I opposed provisions of the Patriot Act, at least it followed this separation-of-powers script.  It is when the administration claims new powers for itself without legislative authority or judicial review that really gives me the willies.

And yes, I know that the counter-argument is that we are at war and the administration and the President as commander-in-chief have the abilities under their powers to do, uh, whatever it takes I guess to prosecute a war.  After all, you can't run to Congress for a vote every time you want to move the troops in a war, can you?

There is a major problem with this argument.  To the extent that the President has all this extra wartime power, the founding fathers put in a very sensible Constitutional provision that the Senate must make a declaration of war before the President has these wartime powers.  And you know what -- the Senate of this country has not declared war since about 1941 on anyone.  Even if I give GWB credit for all the best motives in the world, we cannot have a government where the President can assume all kinds of magic wartime powers AND unilaterally declare war himself (and no, the Senate authorization for military action in Afghanistan was not a declaration of war, at least in this sense).  Effectively the Administration is asking us to a) allow the Administration to define when and who we are at war against; b) allow the Administration to identify, without outside review, who the combatants are in this war; and c) allow the Administration to search or indefinitely detain these combatants that they identified, indefinitely and without review outside of Administration-controlled organizations.

No way.  And I don't think a President has these powers to arbitrarily name who is a threat and detain them without due process even in a declared war - I mean, does anyone remember the embarrassing Japanese internments in WWII?  Were the Japanese internments any different, except in scale, from the powers the administration is claiming today?

Supporters of the war in Iraq have defended that Iraq is better off despite the high ongoing civilian death toll from terrorist acts.  They argue that the people of Iraq are willing to pay the price of dealing with these terrorist attacks in order to gain the status of a free and open state.  I would ask, then, aren't we in the US just as willing to deal with some increased risk of terrorism in order to maintain a free and open state?

I don't consider myself a tinfoil hat guy.  I think many of the security concerns behind the administration's actions can be addressed with some respect to separation of powers, if the administration was just willing to try.  However, it is my observation that the administration gave up trying to work with Congress about 2 years into his first term.  GWB hasn't tried to push any kind of legislative agenda.  He hasn't tried to bring any adult supervision to the gross display of spending excess going on.  He hasn't even used his veto pen once.  It strikes me that the Bush administration decided in about 2002 that Congress wasn't serious (I can sympathize with that) and that they were going to go off on their own and run things by themselves.  Sorry, but no matter how good your intentions, it does not work that way.

Alien and Sedition Acts Return

I fear that this administration has effectively reenacted the much-hated Alien and Sedition Acts of the early 19th century.  Using the "war" on terror as its excuse, the Bush administration is rapidly expanding its ability to grab and hold people indefinitely without charge or trial.  This is not a huge surprise -- many presidents have tried to do similar things in time of war or in reaction to internal security threats.  Much of the Patriot Act was originally proposed by Bill Clinton, after all.

What is new is that the courts and the opposition party are letting him get away with it.

The Sept. 9 court ruling concerning Jose Padilla, an
American citizen locked up in a military prison in South Carolina for
three years, is a case in point. The ruling should send shockwaves
through the American public since the decision seriously undermines
constitutional rights.

A federal appellate court ruled that constitutional rules
that apply to the police do not apply to military personnel.... The federal
government has been given a green light to deprive Americans of their
rights to due process. No arrest warrants. No trial. No access to the
civilian court system. You may not be able to see it on television, but
this court decision is the equivalent of a legal hurricane-and it is no
exaggeration to say that this is a level 5 storm with respect to its
potential havoc for civil liberties.

Federal agents arrested Padilla at O'Hare International
Airport in Chicago just after he arrived on a flight from Pakistan. The
feds claim that Padilla fought against U.S. troops in Afghanistan,
escaped to Pakistan and returned to the United States to perpetrate
acts of terrorism for al-Queda. Instead of prosecuting Padilla for
treason and other crimes, President Bush declared Padilla an "enemy
combatant" and ordered that he be held incommunicado and interrogated
by military and intelligence personnel.
Padilla has not yet had an opportunity to tell his side of
the story. For two years the government would not even permit Padilla
to meet with his court-appointed attorney, Donna Newman. Newman has
nevertheless defended Padilla's rights, arguing that the president does
not have the power to imprison Americans without trials.

Bush has not made any dramatic televised address to the
country to explain his administration's attempt to suspend habeas
corpus and the Bill of Rights, but his lawyers have been quietly
pushing a sweeping theory of executive branch power in legal briefs
before our courts.

I actually am fairly radical on this - I don't think the fact that he is a citizen or not should even make a difference.  Citizenship does not confer rights, and governments don't hand them out -- rights are ours based on the fact of our existence.   While some of the rules of due process may change for non-citizens, just the fact that they are from a different country doesn't give us the right to lock them in a room indefinitely.  This is why I support free and open immigration - there is no reason why a person born in Mexico should have fewer rights to contract with me for a job or a home than an American citizen.  The right to associate, to contract, to agree on wages, to buy a particular home, all flow from being human, not from the US government.

So I wouldn't support Padilla's treatment if he was a Iranian citizen and I certainly don't support it for an American.  Yeah, I know, he may be a bad person.  But we let bad, dangerous people out of jail every day.  Our legal system is structured based on the premise that it is worse to lock an innocent person away than let a guilty person go free.  Its a trade-off that we have made for hundreds of years and I for one am pretty comfortable with.

I also get the argument that we are at war -- in Iraq.  If someone is captured in Iraq, that may be another story.  But Chicago is not in the war zone, by any historic definition of that term (unless you want to use WWII Japanese internment as a precedent, which I doubt).  Just calling it a "war on terror" does not make Chicago a war zone any more than declaring a "war on drugs" makes Miami a war zone where suspected drug users can be put in jail without trial.  Perhaps if Bush could get Congress to officially declare war, he might have firmer legal footing, but I don't think that's going to happen.  As I wrote here:

Yes, I know that there is a real risk, in fact a certainty, that
dangerous people will be let out on the street.  But that is the bias
of our entire legal system - the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard
and other protections of the accused routinely put bad people back on
the street.  We live with that, because we would rather err in putting
bad people back on the street than in putting good people behind bars
for life.  Give them a trial, deport them, or let them go.  Heck,
airdrop them into Paris for all I care, but you have to let them get
due process or go free.

Sure, terrorists are using our free and open society against us, and its frustrating.  But what's the alternative?  I just don't think there is a viable alternative which says that we should destroy our open society in order to save it.  We've got to learn to be smart enough to work within the rules, and it may be that we have to expect that in the future our freedom comes at some statistical increase in the danger to ourselves (by the way, isn't that exactly the trade-off we have enforced on Iraq, without even asking them -- citizens are much freer that under Saddam but at  an increased risk of terrorism?).

By the way - where the hell is Congress?  Stop grandstanding in confirmation hearings and get to work reigning this stuff in.

Update on Iraq

Here is my update on Iraq:  We are still there, and will be there for a while.  And we are still spending nearly every available financial and human resource, not to mention all of our national attention and available goodwill, on the effort to make Iraq a prosperous and successful free and independent nation, to the exclusion of being able to bring much change about anywhere else in the world.

I can't tell you whether the effort in Iraq is going well or poorly.  Certainly if I pay attention to the major media alone I would assume it's a disaster, but we all know the media has a bias toward negativity that trumps any political biases it might have (after all, your local news station learned long ago that "your kids are happy and healthy, story at 11" is not a very good way to tease the evening news).  Being familiar with alternate sources on the Internet, I know that there are successes as well as failures on the ground.  In fact, you can even sort of deduce the successes from the major media coverage.  When the NY Times stops writing about blackouts in Iraq, you know that the electrical system is fixed.  When the WaPo stops writing stories about shortfalls in re-enlistment rates, you can infer that the rates are back up.

But to me, all this back and forth over success and failure in Iraq is only peripheral to my main problem with the war.  Let's for the sake of argument posit that things are going swimmingly, and we are able to start removing assets and support from Iraq next year.  That will mean that for four or five years, the entire attention and resources of the only country in the world that is able to substantially influence the behavior of other countries will be focused on just one country. 

During the Iraq war and occupation, we have not had the "bandwidth", either in attention or moral authority or resources, to help stave off Sudanese genocide, to steer Zimbabwe off its destructive path, to influence the course of events in Iran or North Korea, to change the behavior of terrorist sponsors like Saudi Arabia, or even to head off Russia's apparent slide back toward totalitarianism. 

Now, one could easily argue that its not our job to fix these things.  And I go through phases of agreeing with this.  However, our invasion of Iraq is predicated on the assumption that it should be our foreign policy to try to fix the worst of these problems.  And if it is, does it really make sense to invest everything we have and more on one country for four or five years (or more?)  From the first days of the war, I have called this my "cleaning of the Augean stables argument".  There are just too many messes in the world to head them all off by military invasion.  Afghanistan probably justified such a military effort, given its direct connections to 9/11, but I am still confused as to why Iraq justified this attention more than 20 or so other nations I could name.  Afghanistan  convinced the world that the US was ready to use the military if it had to, and helped to reverse the perception of weakness left by Carter's response to the Iranian hostage takers, Reagan's bailing out of Lebanon, and Clinton's running form Somalia and refusing to respond to the Cole attacks.  9/11, for all its horors, gave us a certain moral authority in the world to try to clean things up.  This credibility and authority could have given new life to non-military efforts, but we chose not to use them.

Now that we are there in Iraq, I tend to be in the stay the course camp.  There are too many recent examples, such as those cited above, where bailing out has created a perception of weakness that have encouraged our enemies to more boldness.  The situation we are in with the Iraqi people is much like the obligation the police have to a mafia informant that the police have convinced to turn state's evidence with the promise of protection against retribution.  If you suddenly throw the guy back out on the street to be killed publicly, its going to be really hard to get anyone else to trust you in the future.

I will confess that there are two things that from time to time cause me to have some doubts about my  stance.

The first was the seeming cascade of good news from surrounding countries in the middle east last January, as a successful Iraqi election emboldened opposition forces in a number of countries, including Lebanon, Egypt, and Iran.  If the neocons are right, and successful democracy in Iraq leads to a cascade effect in the surrounding nations, then my argument about spending too much time and effort on one country loses some of its power.

The second and perhaps more powerful input that sometimes causes me to rethink my opposition to the Iraq war is the insanity that tends to emerge from others who are anti-war, and with whom I do not want to be associated.  Take Cindy Sheehan and her beliefs, since she seems to have been adopted as a spokesperson and mascot by much of the vocal anti-war left. (I promised myself I would never mention Cindy Sheehan in this blog, but if she can meet with the president once and later claim that the president won't meet with her, then I guess I can write about her once and then claim I won't ever mention her).

Ms Sheehan has stated, as have many others in the anti-war movement including Michael Moore, at least five reasons for their being anti-war that drive me nuts:

Insurgents are Freedom Fighters:  Sorry, but no.  Most of the insurgents are ex-Baathists or Muslim extremists who want to reinstate a fascist state in the mold either of Saddam's more secular version or Iran's more fundamentalist version.  The insurgency is the equivalent of what Germany would have been like had the SS followed through on its promise to continue fighting a guerrilla war from the Bavarian Alps.  The world is a better place without the Baathists in power, and the insurgents do not have good aims for the Iraqi people.  Period.

Its all a Jewish plot:  Everything old is new again, and this particular brand of anti-Semitism, seeing Jewish cabals everywhere pulling strings of the government, seems to be back in vogue.  However, is there any particular reason Israel would want to shake the tree in Iraq?  After all, the last and only time they were attacked by Iraq directly was the last time the US went to war with Saddam.  Israel is still surrounded by enemies, with or without Saddam in power in Iraq.  In fact, one could argue that what Israel should really want is for Iraq and Iran go back to beating the crap out of each other in war after war.

It was all for oil:  How?  People always say this, but they can never explain to me the mechanism.  If it was to put US companies into ownership positions over Iraqi oil, we did a damn bad job since the Iraqi's seem to still own all their own oil (though we did head off the French from grabbing the oil).

War is never justified:  I don't think war was justified in this case, but never?  If you make this statement, then it means you have to be willing to live with anything, from genocide to totalitarianism, up to and including in your home country.  As long as there are people who only know how to live by force and wish to rule me, war always has to be an option.

Iraqis were better off under fascism when they had security:  I am not an Iraqi, so I won't try to make this trade-off for them.  However, I would like to point out a huge irony about the folks, mainly on the left, who make this argument.  The very same folks who make this argument for the Iraqis have been faced with the same choice themselves over the last few years:  Would you rather an increased risk of domestic terrorist attack, or greater security at the cost of reduced freedoms via the Patriot Act, more random searches, profiling, surveillance, etc. etc.  Most on the anti-war left have shouted that they will take the extra risk of violent attack in order to retain their individual liberties.  I agree with them.  The difference is that I don't project exactly the opposite choice onto the Iraqi people.

Update:  Professor Bainbridge seems to be in roughly the same boat.

Not the Comfy Chair! (Updated)

Well, Newsweek has admitted that it screwed up.  Big time:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Newsweek magazine said on Sunday it
erred in a May 9 report that U.S. interrogators desecrated the
Koran at Guantanamo Bay, and apologized to the victims of
deadly Muslim protests sparked by the article.

Editor Mark Whitaker said the magazine inaccurately
reported that U.S. military investigators had confirmed that
personnel at the detention facility in Cuba had flushed the
Muslim holy book down the toilet.

The report sparked angry and violent protests across the
Muslim world from Afghanistan, where 16 were killed and more
than 100 injured, to Pakistan to Indonesia to Gaza. In the past
week it was condemned in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh,
Malaysia and by the Arab League.

On Sunday, Afghan Muslim clerics threatened to call for a
holy war against the United States.

"We regret that we got any part of our story wrong, and
extend our sympathies to victims of the violence and to the
U.S. soldiers caught in its midst," Whitaker wrote in the
magazine's latest issue, due to appear on U.S. newsstands on
Monday.

It is not Monday morning quarterbacking to say that they should have known better -- many observers noted the danger right off the bat of posting such an inflammatory story based on only a single anonymous source.

The point I want to make is a different one than the obvious MSM-continues-to-slide-into-the-abyss observation.  That is:  We really, really seem to have dumbed down the whole "torture" thing.  When I grew up, torture was pulling out someones fingernails or whacking their genitals with a stick while they were tied to a cane chair or maybe starving them in a pit for a few weeks. 

Here is my fervent hope:  If I ever find myself imprisoned by hostile forces, I pray that they will torture me by sitting me in a chair and having me watch them flush books down the toilet.  The toughest part will be acting like I am really suffering watching a copy of some document I respect, maybe the US Constitution or Atlas Shrugged or the latest Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue, swirling down the pipe.  Then, if that does not work, I hope and pray that they then resort to stripping me naked and taking pictures of me in a human pyramid with other prisoners.  I just hope they don't find out that I already did something similar in college.

By the way, while we are inventing a kindler-gentler torture, can we also tone down our dedication to icons?  I have never understood the need to ban Koran flushing or American flag burning.  Both the Koran and the flag are symbols that have meaning to each individual.  If someone wipes their butt in public with the American flag, my  respect for the US and what it stands for is in no way tarnished - only my opinion of the flag-wiper has changed.

UPDATE:  WOW!  How did I miss this one?  I really, REALLY hope they choose this torture for me:

One female civilian contractor used a special outfit that included a
miniskirt and thong underwear during late-night interrogations with
prisoners, mostly Muslim men who consider it taboo to have close
contact with women who aren't their wives...

The female interrogator wanted to "break him," Saar adds, describing
how she removed her uniform top to expose a tight-fitting T-shirt and
began taunting the detainee, touching her breasts, rubbing them against
the prisoner's back and commenting on his apparent erection....

In November, in response to an AP request, the military described an
April 2003 incident in which a female interrogator took off her uniform
top, ran her fingers through a detainee's hair and sat on his lap. That
session was immediately ended by a supervisor and that interrogator
received a written reprimand and additional training, the military said.

Please, no.  Anything but that.  Las Vegas better watch out or it may start losing visitors to Gitmo.  I wonder if this is going to cause a problem for the ACLU, which has been opposing these interrogation techniques at Gitmo.  After all, doesn't this woman have a right to free expression?

Postscript:  By the way, I am serious that I think the media has purposefully dumbed-down the definition of torture to improve their story, and in the process has hurt the US internationally.  However, while I find most of the torture accusations a joke, I still absolutely oppose the whole Guantanamo Bay indefinite detention camp concept.  I don't like allowing US authorities to set up a civil-rights-free zone, and I think it is an incredibly slippery slope that we are climbing on.   And yes, I say this with full knowlege that some bad folks could be released back into the wild.  Guess what -- the American justice system does this all the time.  We have 200 years of history of preferring to let guilty parties go free rather than letting innocent parties rot in jail, and I am not ready to overturn our pretty succesful precendent on this matter.

UPDATE: And to be clear, this is torture, or close enough.  Its good these folks are being brought to justice.   I encourage the media to keep up the pressure on true misconduct -- the gratuitous "wrapped-them-in-the-israeli-flag non-tortures just dillute our focus.  I guess I would also encourage those of you who want to extrapolate from these events to a condemnation of the US military as a whole to inform yourself.  The US military, like any institution of human beings, has criminals in it.  However, that being said, our military has been by far the best behaved occupying force in history, bar none (And, if you don't think they should be occupiers at all, well, blame the politicians that sent them).  For every story of atrocious behavior by a US soldier are 20 stories of soldiers being fair and kind.  The fact that these 20 other stories don't make the paper doesn't make them any less true.

Women's Rights Groups Have Lost Their Way

It is not uncommon that advocacy groups struggle to declare victory.  The problem with crossing the finish line for such groups is that their leaders will lose power, influence, and face-time on the news, and rank and file members may lose jobs.  Also, it is always possible to point to some instance where victory has not been secured, though these instances are often trivial compared to the original problem the groups were organized to fight.

Such seems to be the case with women's groups today.  Their shift from women's issues advocacy to groups trying to maintain their political stature probably began in the Clinton administration, where most women's groups chose to support their political ally (Clinton) rather than their traditional issue (sexual harassment in the workplace).

This trend seems to be accelerating.  Here are some other indicators:

  • Increasingly, women's rights seem to have become a euphemism for abortion rights.  I don't have any problem with people organizing to support abortion rights, but it strikes me that women have more rights than this.  What happened to free speech and property and religion and bearing arms?  Aren't those women's rights?  But press most women today who say they are concerned with the erosion of women's rights, 95% of the time they will be talking narrowly about abortion rights.  The majority of the articles on the NOW site are related to abortion and Roe v. Wade, not any other discernable consitutional rights.
  • At the same time that the US Government was in the process of freeing millions of Afghan women, opening up to them for the first time the right to vote and go to school, womens groups in the US were mostly opposing these actions.  In fact, their main focus at the time was instead on trying to get one female millionaire into a country club in Georgia.  This contrast both points out the trivialization of the battles left to fight for women in this country who can mostly claim victory, as well as the loss of focus on the most fundamental of women's rights that are still denied to women all over the world.  For many women in the world, women's rights aren't getting an abortion or joining a country club, they are not getting beaten with impunity by your husband, not getting stoned to death for minor offenses, being able to vote, or read, or be educated, or even to show some skin every once in a while.  Women have far fewer rights in islamic nations than blacks had in aparteid South Africa.  African-American groups in the US actively opposed apparteid in South Africa -- where are womens group's voices on islamic fascism?
  • Women's groups have lost any consistent philosophical focus.  With abortion, they were of one mind - our bodies are private, the government can't tell us what to do with them.  Great, I'll buy that.  But, along comes the breast implant scare, and suddenly women's groups are all for banning women from doing certain things to their body (mainly because women's leaders see breast implants as frivolous and not something real women should do).  So, you can do whatever you want with your body as long as women's leaders agree with your decision- making.  Don't believe me?  Here is the spot on the NOW site urging women to complain about that the government is micro-managing their bodies by denying them certain medical items, and here is an article urging woment to complain that the government is not micro-managing their bodies enough by making certain medical items too available

And now comes this story on banning Walmarts and other big box retailers from certain parts of Maryland.  I won't even get into the ridiculousness of this rank protectionism for unions and small retailers - other blogs have attacked it well enough, example here.  I was struck by this line:

Officials of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400, meanwhile, organized labor, education and women's rights advocates to testify with them in front of the council in October [in favor of the ban].

Huh?  Women's groups are out campaigning to ban Costcos and Walmarts?  Is it somehow hurting women to go to one place to do all of their shopping rather than 4 or 5 smaller stores?   Is it a fundamental right of women not to be tempted by lower prices?  Are women somehow genetically more susceptible to those large boxes of cereal?  Yes, I know that women's groups are opposing some hiring and promotion practices at Walmarts, but is this really a valid reason to have the government ban construciton of all large retail establishments?

The fact is that womens groups have just become another generic liberal advocacy group, jumping in on whatever hot topic is out there to keep them in the press, but with little connection to the original issues that energized their formation.

If women's groups want some valid women's causes, here are some suggestions:

  • Support women in their transition from slave to citizen in Iraq and Afghanistan.  You don't even have to sanction the war - just accept the situation as-is and help tens of millions of women who are trying to be free
  • Protest the UN's treatment of women, including widespread rape, in the Congo
  • If they want a cause closer to the US, support the women whose husbands are stationed overseas in war zones.  Or, if you would rather support the troops than their wives, petition Congress for more budget to ensure women soldiers have the tools they need to survive and be victorious

On Totally Losing Perspective

I had this turly over-the-top article from Mark Morford in SF Gate forwarded to me via email, with the forwarding comment "This about sums it up..." After today, I will return to more business topics from politics, but this article gives me the excuse to write my own post-election recap.

Its hard to do this article justice in excerpting it, so I encourage you to follow the link above and read the whole thing, but hear are some choice highlights (bold emphasizes some particular passages I will comment on)

And now Kerry's conceded and the white flag has been raised and we are headed toward the utterly appalling notion of another four years of Bush and another Republican stranglehold of Congress and repeated GOP chants of "More War in '04!"

Which is, well, simply staggering. Mind blowing. Odd. Gut wrenching. Colon knotting. Eyeball gouging. And so on.

You want to block it out. You want to rend your flesh and yank your hair and say no way in hell and lean out your window and scream into the Void and pray it will all be over soon, even though you know you're an atheist Buddhist Taoist Rosicrucian Zen Orgasmican and you don't normally pray to anything except maybe the gods of really exceptional sake and skin-tingling sex and maybe a few luminous transcendental deities that look remarkably like Jenna Jameson.

It simply boggles the mind: we've already had four years of some of the most appalling and abusive foreign and domestic policy in American history, some of the most well-documented atrocities ever wrought on the American populace and it's all combined with the biggest and most violently botched and grossly mismanaged war since Vietnam, and much of the nation still insists in living in a giant vat of utter blind faith, still insists on believing the man in the White House couldn't possibly be treating them like a dog treats a fire hydrant....

This election's outcome, this heartbreaking proof of a nation split more deeply and decisively than ever, it simply reinforces the feeling among much of the educated populace: It is a weirdly embarrassing time to be an American. It is jarring and oddly shattering and makes you rethink what it really means to be a part of this country. The answer: It doesn't mean much at all. Not really. Not anymore...

Maybe we're not all that sophisticated or nuanced or respectable a nation as we sometimes dare to dream....

Maybe, in fact, we're regressing, back to the days of guns and sexism and pre-emptive violence, of environmental abuse and no rights for women and a sincere hatred of gays and foreigners and minorities. Sound familiar? It should: it's the modern GOP platform....

So then, to much of Europe, Russia, Asia, Canada, Mexico, the Middle East -- to all those dozens of major world nations who want Bush out almost as much as the educated people of America, to you we can only say: We are so very, very sorry. We don't know how it happened, either. For tens of millions of us, Bush is not our president and never will be. That's how divisive. That's how dangerous. That's how very sad it has become.

We are not, with another four years of what we just endured, headed toward any sort of easing of bitter tension, a sense of levity, or sexual openness, or true education, or gender respect, or a lightness of spirit and of step.

It is important to recognize that this article is insane. Not slightly over the top or humorous exaggeration, but a truly insane loss of perspective.

Continue reading ‘On Totally Losing Perspective’ »

Before We Argue - Lets See If We Are Living In The Same Universe

Back some years (decades, eek!) ago when I was in college, I used to really burn hot in political arguments. I could not let any statement go from anyone without an argument. And, being a libertarian, I could always find something to disagree with someone about. Since then I have mellowed a lot, and can let a lot of things pass.

Today, its hard to resist arguing about the war in Iraq, but I often find myself in the odd position of opposing the war in Iraq but disagreeing with most of the premises and assumptions of other people I meet who are opposed to the war. Though I oppose the war, I find myself sharing assumptions about the world that are more prevalent among proponents of the war. This might have made me uncomfortable at one point of my life, but as a small-government individual-rights libertarian you get used to this kind of thing, after seeing everyone argue if the government should be in the boardroom (Democrats and increasingly Republicans) or the bedroom (Republicans and some Democrats) or both (Pat Buchanan).

Over time, I have devised a couple of tests to get at these conflicting assumptions. These tests have evolved over time but they seem to retain their power to sort out people who are operating in an alternate reality.

Here are the two tests, in their current form (though longer for this print edition). In each case, choose either A or B, based on which seems more correct to you. Elements of both A and B will have been true from time to time and in isolated incidents. Try to choose which represents the fundamental truth to you.

Continue reading ‘Before We Argue - Lets See If We Are Living In The Same Universe’ »

That Awkward Global Test, Part 1

The Duelfer Report has become sort of a political Rorschach test for both opponents and supporters of the war in Iraq. Opponents of the war (examples here and here) will point to the findings that Iraq, at the time of the invasion, did not have WMD's and probably got rid of them soon after sanctions began and that inspections seemed to be working. War supporters (examples here and here) will point to the findings that Saddam was carefully maintaining the capability to produce WMD's in anticipation of restarting the programs when sanctions lifted. Rather than read all these conflicting reports, go to the original - the executive summary of the report is clear and you can get the gist in a page or two.

The point of the post is really not about WMD's, but about other countries and their attitudes about US and the war. As quick background, I supported the war in Afghanistan, because they obviously harbored those who attacked us and I felt it was important to set the example of a strong response to a terrorist act (rather than the weak response to the USS Cole or the first WTC bombing). The fact that Afghanis are having their first election in millennia and tens of millions of people, particularly women, are freed from the shackles of totalitarianism is just gravy. I opposed the war in Iraq, mostly because I did not think it was our job as a country, or my job as a taxpayer, to help clean up the world. I am not dumb -- I get the argument about stopping Hitler in Czechoslovakia, but I was worried that success would be pushing on a balloon - we might push back terrorism and totalitarianism in Iraq, but what about Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Iran, etc?? Hitler was a one-headed monster - Islamic fascism unfortunately seems to be a many headed hydra. I know that President Bush would argue that a free and sortof democratic Iraq could be the seed around which moderation crystallizes in the Arab world. I would dearly love this to be true, but I fear that it is wishful thinking.

However, I will say that I have occasionally wavered in my opposition to the Iraq war. One reason is that I am thrilled to see Saddam gone and the Iraqi's trying to make a go of a free society. I wish them well. I cannot understand nor tolerate people who allow their opposition to the war and/or the president to cause them to root for failure as the Iraqi people try to make a go of it.

Second, as is sometimes the case as a libertarian, I have found myself, in my opposition to the war, uncomfortable with many of my bedfellows.

For example, many folks who oppose the war seem to feel that they actually have to go overboard and defend Saddam and pre-war Iraq. An extreme example is Michael Moore's ridiculous Fahrenheit 9/11, which tried to paint a happy picture of Saddam dominated Iraq. I find that position indefensible. Saddam sucked, and Iraq under Saddam sucked. The lighter version of this position is the Kerry campaign's position that we have substituted one bad thing (Saddam) for another (chaos and violence), with the implication that the Iraqi people are (or should be) unhappy with the trade. This is ridiculously disingenuous. Absolutely no one taking this position, that chaos is worse than dictatorship, would take this position for their own country. The proof? When faced with the choice of adopting a more statist security system in this country (Patriot Act, detentions, etc.) to avoid chaos and violence (e.g. future terrorist attacks) the anti-war crowd opposed these measures. And I promise, for all the talk of Bushitler, etc, these measures are trivial compared to what was done to keep "order" in Saddam's Iraq. So it strikes me as tremendously hypocritical to advocate for the Iraqi's a course no one would consider here in the US.

The other issue on which I disagree with my anti-war brethren is this notion of not building up a sufficient alliance or getting enough global approval. This is actually the point I have been trying to get to in this post. For months, I have suspected that this discussion was both naive and misdirected. Naive, because all along I was pretty sure that France and Russia were Saddam's allies, and no more likely to join a coalition against him than Mussolini was going to join the allies against Germany. Misdirected, because if we are going to wage a war with Islamo-fascists, help from countries like Turkey, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia is probably far more important than getting a few hundred MP's from France or Germany. Recent reports, including the Duelfer report and investigations of the ongoing UN oil-for-food program scandal, have begun to put factual flesh on the bones of my suspicions.

Since this post is going long already, I will continue in part 2.

UPDATE #1

I had a couple of emails already on Iraq. Let me clarify. I do not outright oppose the use of the military, even unilaterally, as a foreign policy tool. Also, I am not one of those idiots that somehow want to believe that terrorists are only attacking us because they have some valid complaints, and if we would just peacefully resolve their valid complaints, they would go away. Most terrorists and the nations that support them are bullies that hate our entire way of life, and who respond to nothing other than force. I have no problem agreeing that fighting terrorism will require military action against sponsoring nations, not just police work.

However, the attack on Iraq and its timing never quite made sense to me. I think of Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, et al as a bunch of teenage boys who have been raising hell in the neighborhood for over a decade. After years of ignoring their crimes or at worst giving them a stern talking to, we suddenly take one aside (and not necessarily even the one most culpable) and shoot him. This made some sense with Afghanistan, since we could draw a direct line of culpability between the Taliban and the 9/11 attacks. But was it time to shoot Iraq? And while there certainly were links between Iraq and terrorists, were they really worse than Syria's or Iran's or Saudi Arabia's. Certainly shooting Iraq got the group's attention, that we can hopefully mine diplomatically over the coming years, but shooting Afghanistan should have had a similar effect, and we never really tried to leverage that before we moved on to Iraq.

UPDATE #2

By the way, leaving now in Iraq and giving up and/or giving in would be a disaster. Reagan's retreat from Lebanon and Clinton's retreat from Somalia were disasters to US Foreign Policy. Our best weapon is to give the opposition no hope of victory. Once you demonstrate there is a point at which you back down, you will always be driven to that point by the opposition. I disagreed with the decision to invade Iraq, but now that we are there, there is no turning back the clock. Our presence is a fact and we must make it a success or it will really be a waste. Good article by Orson Scott Card on this subject here. Relevant quote:

However, there is an element of truth in Roberts's remark. For a time, the humiliatingly rapid defeat of Iraq's military (with the tacit consent of many Iraqi soldiers, it's important to add) will cause angry young men in the Muslim world to enlist in greater numbers in the effort to wipe out that stain on Muslim honor.

But it is not an infinitely expanding cycle. There is not an endless supply of young Muslim men willing to kill -- or die -- to inflict painful but strategically meaningless attacks on a grimly determined America.

But if America is not grimly determined, then that changes everything. Instead of recognizing the futility of giving their lives to kill Americans, these Muslim young men will be filled with hope that their sacrifice might yield results.