Creative Destruction

April 27, 2008

Security State

Filed under: Current Events,International Politics,Politics — Brutus @ 9:28 pm

Although this blog has been left for dead by its group of writers, it continues to draw a number of readers. Comments are also mostly dead. However, the post below (cross-posted at my personal blog, The Spiral Staircase) may be of interest to readers who still wander in here. Comments here or there are welcome.

Creeping fascism has been a problem for some years now. Without much recourse short of armed revolt, considering how ineffectual the election process is for instigating real change, many citizens (including me) stood idly by and watched their rights and civil liberties ebb away on a daily basis as the state consolidates its control over all aspects of daily life. The precedent for today’s emerging fully operational security state (or surveillance society, as I’ve seen it called) lies in the early days of the Cold War. Having just emerged triumphant from WWII yet seeing ongoing threats on all sides, many in government began assembling a paranoid and invasive apparatus for gathering intelligence and protecting American interests. It’s almost inevitable that spending one’s life addressing external threats (and increasingly, internal ones) would warp one’s perceptions and judgment, and accordingly, it’s fair to suspect that many operatives both then and now suffer from what the French call a déformation professionnelle.

If you think this is mere hyperbole, I submit you haven’t been paying attention. A quick visit to the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) website quickly gives readers the sense that the country is under siege. Its mission statement reads as follows:

CBP is one of the Department of Homeland Security’s largest and most complex components, with a priority mission of keeping terrorists and their weapons out of the U.S. It also has a responsibility for securing and facilitating trade and travel while enforcing hundreds of U.S. regulations, including immigration and drug laws.

My visit to the website was for a simple customs issue, but navigating the site and perusing its content was more than a bit spooky. The front-and-center pointer to terrorists and weapons, while a legitimate concern of the agency, may not be a primary concern of the citizenry except for the agency’s Orwellian interest in keeping everyone constantly on edge. Blissfully missing was a flashing banner with the current alert level status, which is discomfiting enough when it blares over PAs at airports and transportation hubs, as though travelers had any meaningful response. (Reminds me of the air raid sirens tested on the first Wednesday of each month during my youth — rather needless in retrospect, since no one was every really coming for us.) Indeed, the website appears to be equally informational and public relations efforts, with public opinion toward its mandate being shaped heavily.

More significantly, consider that many functions of state security and surveillance are now being handled by InfraGard (isn’t the misspelling of guard rather cute?), a private organization with chapters throughout the U.S. that works in conjunction with the FBI. This is from its website:

InfraGard is an information sharing and analysis effort serving the interests and combining the knowledge base of a wide range of members. At its most basic level, InfraGard is a partnership between the FBI and the private sector. InfraGard is an association of businesses, academic institutions, state and local law enforcement agencies, and other participants dedicated to sharing information and intelligence to prevent hostile acts against the United States. InfraGard Chapters are geographically linked with FBI Field Office territories. Each InfraGard Chapter has an FBI Special Agent Coordinator assigned to it, and the FBI Coordinator works closely with Supervisory Special Agent Program Managers in the Cyber Division at FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

This arrangement has been criticized by The Progressive as effectively deputizing private industry to spy on people and granting business leaders unwarranted access to “an FBI secure communication network complete with VPN encrypted website, webmail, listservs, message boards, and much more.” As with privatization of many former functions of the military, this is more than a little bothersome.

But it gets worse. A book by Nick Turse titled The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives describes how fully the Pentagon has infiltrated and coopted everything for its purposes, which bears comparison to the movie The Matrix as a comprehensive thought control experiment brought to life. A lengthy excerpt appears in an article in TomDispatch.com with preliminary commentary, from which I quote this portion:

At one point in his farewell speech, Eisenhower presaged this point, suggesting, “The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — [of the conjunction of the military establishment and the large arms industry] is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government.” But only Hollywood has yet managed to capture the essence of today’s omnipresent, all-encompassing, cleverly hidden system of systems that invades all our lives; this new military-industrial-technological-entertainment-academic-scientific- media-intelligence-homeland security-surveillance-national security-corporate complex that has truly taken hold of America.

And yet more bad news was delivered over the weekend, at least if you subscribe to the famous Benjamin Franklin quote: “Those who would sacrifice essential liberties for a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Articles in The Washington Post and The New York Times (and elsewhere) describe how the Justice Department, rather than acting as a check on the excesses of the Executive Branch, has given support to Bush’s authoritarian interpretation of the Geneva Conventions, stating that interrogation techniques used would be judged on a sliding scale depending on the identity of the detainee and the information he or she is believed to possess. I’ve blogged before on the use of torture by our government, and despite its repugnance to most of the public, different branches of government — in defiance of international treaties — still insist upon it as a necessary tactic.

It’s difficult for me to imagine the motives behind authoritarian types for whom the modern security state would have been the wet dream of budding Cold Warriors. Are they benevolent tyrants, protecting the population for its own good, or mere profiteers, gathering riches, power, and influence to themselves? And is there some point at which the moment will crystallize into a realization by the general public that the U.S., with its gargantuan military budget and astonishing level of incarceration, has devolved into a fascist state run by a despotic oligarchy?

October 5, 2007

Free Burma


Free Burma!

More about the campaign here; via Amp, who continues to set new and interesting parameters for “not blogging”.

September 18, 2007

Indigenous Peoples Resolution

I recently learned about a resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly on September 13. From the news report at the above link:

Despite strong objections from the United States and some of its allies, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution Thursday calling for the recognition of the world’s 370 million indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination and control over their lands and resources … An overwhelming majority of UN member countries endorsed the Declaration, with 143 voting in favor, 4 against, and 11 abstaining … The United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand stood alone in voting against the resolution. The nations that neither supported nor objected were Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burundi, Colombia, Georgia, Kenya, Nigeria, Russia, Samoa, and Ukraine.

The UN has a permanent forum on this issue, and numerous organizations exist for the primary purpose of promoting noninterference with indigenous peoples. (Manifest destiny has been invalidated, much like colonialism and empire building, but the same essential practices continue under the banners of “globalization” and “economic development.” Both terms read to the critical eye as euphemisms for theft and exploitation that has continued unabated for centuries, if not millennia.)

The first thing that stands out about the resolution is the small group of dissenting countries. What possible moral high ground can be claimed by the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand — each with its own unique indigenous culture (largely destroyed by now) – by insisting (by inference) that they should be able to remove “indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination and control over their lands and resources”? It’s like children saying “We want what we want, and those people are in the way, so they have no rights.”

The other strange thing is that my Google search revealed no report, now four days later, on any of the major media outlets (MSNBC, CNN, ABC News, WSJ, NYT, Fox News, etc.). The reports that do show up are all foreign news, small news aggregators, and a handful of blogs. It’s impossible to believe that these reporting omissions have no motivation.

February 18, 2007

U.S. Agents on Trial in Italy

Filed under: Current Events,International Politics — Brutus @ 12:55 pm

This article in the NY Times reports that 26 Americans, mostly CIA agents, are to stand trial in Italy for kidnapping a terrorism suspect in Milan in 2003, transporting him to Egypt, and torturing him. That the torture apparently happened prior to enacting the Torture Act (sorry, that’s just what I’m gonna call it, because that’s what it is) would see to me to invalidate any defensive claim that agents were just following orders. Even today, I think agents should probably refuse to follow that sort of order, but that’s just me.

So we’re finally being told, by a foreign power no less, that no, it’s not OK to kidnap and torture. We could learn that lesson from most 8-year-olds. Why do I have the sense that the message will be lost of most of the people in the U.S. — both citizenry and government officials? We seem to have this apocalyptic vision of ourselves as the underdog victims in a global conspiracy to destroy us and that the only way to combat bad men intent on bad deeds is to become bad men ourselves, or badder men as the case may be. That’s just dumb.

February 11, 2007

Rape During the Balkan Conflict

David:

…I didn’t blame the people who made up all that crap about rape rooms in the Kosovo war. They were playing to their audience. The west doesn’t care about men dying so let’s give them women raped. Much more effective.

(I do blame the muslims (KLF) for starting that whole war of course and it’s possible the rape room propaganda idea was actually hatched in an American focus group)

The victim populations unquestionably played the “women and children” card, but the underlying allegation about mass rape wasn’t made up. The most authoritative source on the subject of rape in the Balkan wars, and quite possibly in any conflict, is Annex IX (Summary) of the Bassiouni Report, which documents these crimes meticulously. Claims by the victim populations (and by feminists) about the severity of the atrocities perpetrated against women are not exaggerated – indeed it would be hard to exaggerate them. For example:

There are reports of one more camp in the primary school in Kalinovik. *252 On 2 July 1992, drunk Serb militiamen reportedly broke into the school. One witness reports that they said, «Look at how many children you can have. Now you are going to have our children. You are going to have our little Cetniks.» They reportedly selected 12 women, took them to the Hotel Kalinovik, forced them to clean the hotel, and then raped them. The women were then returned to the school. Reportedly, 95 women were raped in the next 26 days. Pregnant women were spared, and women who became pregnant were reportedly thereafter spared. One witness stated that the first night, the militiamen randomly selected teenagers and raped them in bathrooms next to the gymnasium. After that, they selected women by name. On 29 August, the detainees were exchanged, and at least 15 women terminated their pregnancies in Mostar and Jablanica. *253

That example wasn’t deliberately chosen. All I did was move the scroll bar to a random place within the report and cut&paste the first paragraph I came to. It’s a typical, not an extreme example.

However the simple picture of men raping women isn’t the whole story. There were a small number of female perpetrators, and not just in minor or incidental roles:

The victim selection was reportedly well organized at Luka camp. Several reports suggest that young Serbian woman was responsible for its administration. *115 Reportedly, she brought a nurse to Luka to «prepare the girls and make them calm». According to the nurse’s report, she watched as the Serbian administratrix stabbed a girl in the breast and vagina with a broken bottle for resisting instructions. The girl subsequently bled to death….

The report also includes many, many cases of men being sexually abused and tortured by male and, in a small number of cases, by female perpetrators (italics are my comment.):

…The most graphic of the reported castrations [at the Strolit Camp in Odzak] involved a named Croatian woman. She is reported to have ordered a Great Dane to attack naked detainees and bite off their genitals.

[...]

Several reports describe a camp in a shoe factory in Karakaj. There a female guard, a member of Arkan’s troops, ordered men to have sexual intercourse with her. (Good thing she didn’t try to rape them). When they refused, she shot them. *628 One report called the factory the «Glinica» factory, and stated that 48 girls and women were raped there. *629

Another camp was at a theatre in Celopek, where 163 men were housed. One day, three «Cetniks» came to the camp. One called out the names of seven pairs of men. The men were mostly fathers and sons or close relatives. The guard forced seven of the men to kneel down and bite off the penises of the other seven. Three of the men died. *630 The other prisoners were forced to watch. A week or 10 days later, another of the guards cut off a man’s penis with a knife. *631 According to another source, the guard made this man eat his severed penis. *632 The same source reported that this guard beat a prisoner with a wooden stick and shoved the stick into the man’s anus, causing the victim to bleed profusely. He stated that the guard, who was often drunk, forced prisoners to perform sex acts with each other. The prisoners were taken to Batkovic in late June and finally released in February 1993. *633

Finally the report also notes that sometimes men acted to protect women:

There also are many cases where female victims are protected by someone from the same ethnic group as their attackers. Men take women out of the camps to protect them from rape and sexual assault, tell other guards or soldiers that the women are «taken», or help them escape. Women hide other women or bring them contraceptives. There is insufficient information on the sexual assault of men to determine a similar pattern.

My emphasis. These details disappear when you look at mainstream and feminist derivative sources which whitewash anything which doesn’t fit into the ‘men are perps, women are victims’ mould. But for this whitewashing, we would perhaps been less surprised at the pictures of Lynndie England abusing male prisoners in Abu Ghraib, to which some of the above accounts bear a remarkable similarity. On the other hand, had those pictures not emerged, England’s involvement in the abuse would most likely have been similarly whitewashed.

The Kosovo war didn’t break out until after this report had been published, but the patterns of male detention, torture and slaughter were similar, and I’d be surprised if the treatment of women was any different. Antifeminists and Feminist Critics are rightly incensed by typical feminist propaganda, such the claim that “men make war and women are the victims” and “women’s bodies [are] the battlefields on which vendettas and threats are played out.“, which, in the light of the overwhelming burden of torture and murder borne by non-combatant males, is not just victim-blaming, but holocaust-denial.

But that’s no excuse for replying in kind. The best response to falsehood is truth.

(Also posted at Feminist Critics)

February 5, 2007

Steamrollers

Filed under: History,International Politics,Navel Gazing,Philosophy — Brutus @ 7:53 pm

I remember watching the street in front of my boyhood home being repaved. The bulk and power of the construction equipment made a lasting impression on me, as bulldozers, cranes, steam (or hydraulic) shovels, pavers, and dump trucks are pretty imposing pieces of machinery. But the one that really fascinated me was the steamroller. What the steamroller lacks in majesty, compared to the glacier anyway (a natural process, I note), it makes up for in fanciful temporal reconceptualization. Watching the steamroller work requires one to think in terms of slow process. It’s also a well-worn cliche in cartoons that villains and heroes alike are frequently flattened by steamrollers only to reappear in the next scene no worse for wear. Roadrunner, Tom and Jerry, The Naked Gun, A Fish Called Wanda, Austin Powers, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? all have steamroller bits in them, always slapstick in tone.

The implied threat of the steamroller, which is different from other heavy equipment, is not merely the specter of death but a slow, agonizing, bone-by-crunching-bone crushing accomplished not by stealth, strategy, or speed but by slow, steady, obvious, undeterred, mindless force. I don’t know of any sort of irrational fear that stems from steamrollers, though, unlike the silent scream or catatonia some experience faced with other looming threats. Because the steamroller works in slo-mo, one feels safe knowing that it’s possible to play in the streets and alight out of harm’s way at the last moment. So being caught under a steamroller represents either a grave miscalculation or the mark of rather extreme stupidity.

So what steamrollers are figuratively bearing down on us at the dawn of this new millennium? I can think of a few. (more…)

January 11, 2007

Carter Center Board Resigns En Masse

Filed under: Current Events,International Politics,Politics — Robert @ 2:33 pm

14 members of an advisory board for the Carter Center have resigned en masse, personally addressing former President Carter and telling him “you have clearly abandoned your historic role of broker in favor of becoming an advocate for one side” in his recent book on the situation in Israel.

This follows on the heels of the high-profile resignation of Kenneth Stein, a longtime Carter adviser, for similar reasons.

January 8, 2007

Sublimated Hostility

Filed under: International Politics,Popular Culture,War — Brutus @ 5:38 pm

At the Indian-Pakistani Wagah border, a strange example of pageantry has evolved where the border guards put on a chest-thumping, foot-stamping display of sublimated hostility. Personnel appear to be chosen specifically for their impressive height, which is amplified to great effect by the headdresses on their helmets. Michael Palin has a brief YouTube review of the festivities:  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a7HPP_QduWI 
(tried to embed the link but it didn’t display properly)

It’s wishful thinking, of course, to wonder what the world would be like if we could act out our disputes and hostilities ritually the way these guards do. It’s a nice daydream, though.

The significant number of people on hand to witness the boarder closing each day and the bleachers erected on at least one side of the boarder indicate that this has become an institution and a tourist destination.

December 18, 2006

The Developing World: Why Women Need To Be Empowered Within Their Households

Filed under: Feminist Issues,International Politics — Ampersand @ 11:12 am

un_report_women.jpgI’ve been looking through the UN’s “State Of The World’s Children 2007″ report (pdf link), which seems to concentrate mostly on children in the developing world. The entire report is well worth reading, or at least skimming the summaries included at the start of each chapter.

It’s clear the authors believe it’s impossible to discuss improving the state of the world’s children, without also discussing the state of the world’s mothers. The rest of this post is quoted from the summary of chapter two:

(more…)

December 5, 2006

The Democrats Taking Congress Might Save Tens Of Thousands Of Lives In The Third World

Filed under: International Politics — Ampersand @ 5:55 am

I’ve blogged a few times about the UNFPA — the UN Population Fund – over the years. To review: The UN Population fund doesn’t fund or provide abortions. But they do save thousands of women’s lives, and tens of thousands of newborn lives, each year by providing medical care for women in 140 of the world’s poorest countries. They’ve also been more effective at improving reproductive choice of all kinds for Chinese women, than any other western agency.

But they also provide birth control (which prevents thousands of abortions). In the eyes of the Population Research Institute (PRI), a radical “pro-life” anti-birth control group, this makes UNFPA evil. So the PRI falsely accused the UNFPA of supporting coercive abortions in China. No subsequent investigators — not even the one sent by the Bush administration’s state department, nor the one that was led by a pro-life British politician — found the PRI’s accusations credible. (More details about that in this post).

Nonetheless, based on the PRI’s false accusations, the Bush administration has withheld the US’s contribution to the UNFPA for the past five years — $34 million a year, about 13% of the UNFPA’s annual budget. The UNFPA estimates that “$34 million applied to family planning programmes could prevent some 800,000 abortions, 4,700 maternal deaths and 77,000 infant and child deaths annually worldwide.”

I’m posting about this now is to point out that there’s a chance that the UNFPA’s funding will be restored in 2007, thanks to the Democrats taking Congress.

In 2005, a bill sponsored by Congresswoman Carolyn Mahoney (D – NY) and others would have restored US funding to the UNFPA, but failed 233-192. (A similar measure passed the Senate). Looking though the list of “no” votes, I count 20 Republicans who lost their seats to Democrats in the November elections, and also three Democrats won open seats. In addition, six Republicans who voted in favor of UNFPA lost their seats to Democrats.

If all these new Democrats vote in favor of UNFPA in 2007, then funding for UNFPA should pass in 2007, by 225 to 203. That’s a big enough margin to survive even if there are a handful of anti-UNFPA voters among those new votes. ((In 2005, 95% of Democrats in the House voted in favor of restoring funding to UNFPA.))

Even if a funding restoration bill passes, Bush could veto — this is an issue that pro-life groups care a lot about. But there will also be pressures on Bush, and on the Republicans, to move away from the extremism that contributed to their loss in the 2006 elections. There is, at least, reason to hope UNFPA’s US funding will be restored next year.

You read more about the Republican ban on money to help poor women and infants by reading the “Alas” UNFPA posts archive; or by reading posts at Miss Pen Name, Republic of T, Population Matters, Peace, Love, Pancakes, and others; or by browsing through the documents and links about UNFPA on Congresswoman Mahoney’s website.

November 30, 2006

Are We Anti-Muslim?

Filed under: International Politics,Political Correctness — Tuomas @ 9:07 pm

According to a survey by Pew Global Attitudes Project, not really.

(more…)

November 27, 2006

Depths of Depravity

Filed under: Feminist Issues,International Politics,War — Tuomas @ 6:23 am

Don’t read this story if you are easily disturbed. It contains violence and sexual assault triggers.

“No one wanted to believe it at first,” says Lyn Lusi, manager of the HEAL Africa hospital (formerly called the Docs Hospital) in the eastern Congo city of Goma. “When our doctors first published their results, in 2003, this was unheard of.”

Here’s the full Newsweek article from Congo.

What is there to say?

(Specializing in what?)

November 16, 2006

The Men of Beit Hanoun

Filed under: Feminist Issues,International Politics,War — Daran @ 7:26 am

While preparing a post about the attack on the women’s protest in Beit Hanoun, I came across this remarkable claim, (via Chuckie’s comment at the Woman of Color Blog).

…Beit Hanoun was left with no men between the ages of 16 and 45 in the wake of a massive forced round-up by the Israeli army last Thursday night amid helicopter gunfire, tanks and artillery shelling.

The systematic wholesale internment of entire populations of adult men is by no means unheard of in wartime, but I’ve never heard of the Israelis using this tactic. I became suspicious when, on searching, I could find no news report of this claimed round-up independent of the Guardian’s original piece. I suspect the direct source was this article, also published in the Guardian, by Jameela al-Shanti, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council who led the women’s demonstration.

For days, the town has been encircled by Israeli tanks and troops and shelled. All water and electricity supplies were cut off and, as the death toll continued to mount, no ambulances were allowed in. Israeli soldiers raided houses, shut up the families and positioned their snipers on roofs, shooting at everything that moved. We still do not know what has become of our sons, husbands and brothers since all males over 15 years old were taken away last Thursday. They were ordered to strip to their underwear, handcuffed and led away.

This was published the following day, but the Guardian’s editors certainly would have had it in hand when they published the earlier report.

It’s not clear what “all males over 15″ refers to in the above. The editors appear to have understood it to refer to every man in the city, but it could just as well be interpretted to refer to all the men in the raided houses, or even just those men known personally to al-Shanti.

I wanted to get to the bottom of this, so I carried on searching. The most detailed incident-based reports of the invasion of Beit Hanoun that I was able to find are from the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), both of which publish weekly summaries. The PCHR report makes no mention of any kind of mass detention, while the The OCHA (PDF link) reported the following (page 11):

1-6 November: More than 2,000 people including women were detained by the IDF in the Agricultural School. Most were released, but it is not clear how many in captivity.

[...]

4 November: IDF ordered all men aged between 16 and 40 years living in the Al Masreen and Al Bora areas in Beit Hanoun to evacuate their homes. They were all detained by the IDF in the Agricultural School

The School appears to have been used by the IDF as a temporary holding area. Presumably those not released would be moved to more secure locations. It’s not clear whether the mass arrests on 4 November were included in, or in addition to the more than 2000 people detained there during the week.

The 4 November action, however, does not appear to be the one that al-Shanti was referring to. Aaccording to her, the detentions happened “last Thursday”, i.e., 2 November, the day of the Mosque seige. I began to search for news reports for that day, and found two syndicated stories by Reuters and Associated Press.

Reuters:

Witnesses said soldiers using loudspeakers had ordered all residents over 16 years of age in the town of Beit Hanoun to present themselves at a school for questioning. The town of 30,000 people is effectively under an army curfew, they said.

Associated Press

Amid the clashes, men between the ages of 16 and 40 were ordered over loudspeakers to gather in one of the main squares of Beit Hanoun, but few complied.

Those who arrived in the square were taken by soldiers in trucks to another area of the town and questioned to find out if they were involved in terrorist activity, said the army, which took over the town Wednesday. Some were released and others were taken for more questioning, it said.

Compare with this report from Al Jazeerah:

Israeli occupation forces, on Thursday afternoon, transferred the males of Beit Hanoun aged between 16-45 in a convoy of large trucks to unknown destinations.

Security sources reported that the Israeli occupation forces called the men through loudspeakers, and gathered them in front of An-Nassr mosque in the north of Beit Hanoun.

No mention there that the call had been largely ignored, or that some of the men had been released. Note also the reference to the Mosque – the same one that had been liberated by the women that day.

October 24, 2006

A Proposal to Republicans

Filed under: Human Rights,International Politics,War — Robert @ 2:47 am

Let’s go for a twofer.

The Republican Party ended slavery in this country. (Lots of other people helped, to be sure.)

Let’s end slavery in the world.

You have read the same depressing news stories as I have. Slavery is on the verge of making a transcontinental comeback.

How should we do it? It beats the hell out of me. This is a “man on the moon” type decision.

But we could do it, probably much as the British did it once – with fire and steel. (Although it would be nice if we could do without the fire and steel for once.)

It’s a job worth doing.

October 22, 2006

They Haven’t a Clue

Filed under: International Politics,Iraq,War — Daran @ 6:21 pm

If leading counterterrorist officials within the American Government don’t even know the difference between Shiite and Sunni, what hope do they have of being able to coordinate an effective response?

October 17, 2006

Threats of Population and Nuclear War

Filed under: Current Events,International Politics,War — Brutus @ 3:07 pm

While many of the recent posts and comments on Creative Destruction have been busy thrashing and gnashing about how someone has misstated, misinterpreted, misdefined, misconstrued, etc. some tiny bit of feminism or statistical data, I note that today is the day the U.S. population passed the 300 million mark. What does that mean, really? Not much, at least to some. It’s a milestone, a big round number of which we take note, shrug, and move on. I think the term population pressure ought to be of some concern to us, as capitalist dependence on continued expansion is known (though scarcely acknowledged) to be unsustainable.

population

Similarly, we take note of the fact that we may already be in an undeclared state of war with N. Korea over it nuclear ambitions (if we allow N. Korea to define that for us or note that no peace treaty was signed at the conclusion of the Korean War — only a cease-fire is in place) or are at least poised to reenter a phase of nuclear brinkmanship not experienced since the 1960s, but I guess we’re more interested in sniping at each other about pomo deconstruction of political correctness.

Even in the face of dire and imminent threat, I realize that life goes on: we still eat, sleep, love, make love, and yes, hate. But we currently face some pretty major threats to human survival both on our doorstep and perched over the horizon. I don’t want to think about them, either. But who will if not us? I’ve lost faith in our government(s) providing stewardship. They’re too consumed with electioneering and serving their top 5% constinuencies. Ugh.

Update: Even before any substantial comments, I’m already feeling silly, sheepish, and a little ashamed. While it’s true that I’m getting personally disoriented and dispirited about the current state of the country and world, getting shrill and antagonistic is the sort of thing that leads to moving to a shack in Idaho, writing a 35-page manifesto for publication in the New York Times, and eventual self-immolation on the sidewalk in front of the White House because NOBODY IS LISTENING TO ME! I don’t want to go any further down that road. So we return you to your regularly scheduled program. Go back to what you were doing.

October 16, 2006

More Oppressed Than Ever

Filed under: Feminist Issues,International Politics — Tuomas @ 3:34 am

In which country is the officially endorsed policy of the former ruling party (until very recently):”women are systematically and structurally subordinated to men”?

The answer is, obviously, Sweden (I’m sure what everyone is thinking now: “Damn, I knew that!”)

From Wikipedia article on Feminist Initiative::

One of the foundation of the party’s policy platform is the concept called könsmaktsordning (literal translation: Gender Power Hierarchy), a term used within Swedish feminism for the belief that women are systematically and structurally subordinated to men. This concept is also endorsed by the Social Democratic party.

(my emphasis)

This is feminism at it’s best: Being the Officially Accepted Truth,(=being in power) and having already achieved it’s supposed goals, all the while denying having any actual power, living in “patriarchy”. An endless revolution of the proletariat women as class against the oppressive capitalism patriarchy.

Oh, I forgot. It’s a Big Tent and there is no “one true feminism”. All are accepted.

October 13, 2006

Playing with Fire

Filed under: Current Events,International Politics — Brutus @ 5:54 pm

A fairly spooky blog entry at Victor Davis Hanson’s blog Works and Days offers a brief though rambling analysis of the current campaign by N. Korea to develop nuclear capability and suggestions for a proper response. The first thing that caught my eye was his reference to “this wider war against Islamism.” Linking N. Korea with Islam is silly enough, but the blogger apparently believes we’re in the midst of a religious war. Some of the fundamentalists in U.S. government responsible for the war undoubtedly believe the same thing, but it’s not generally acknowledged that the clash of cultures and values we more commonly refer to as the War Against Terror (of which the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are merely symptoms) is specifically aimed at fighting Islam of one type or another.

Comments on China’s certain intransigence about sanctions against N. Korea were untrue even before the entry was posted, as USA Today  and The Washington Post both reported. If China’s attempt to brake some of the more virulent calls for extreme sanctions are heeded, it may actually forestall an overreaction that could well destabilize N. Korea to everyone’s detriment.

The most dangerous observation in the post is about brinkmaship, namely, that it works (for N. Korea at least, and by extention, for the U.S.). Commenters on the post, who mostly come across as a gang of cheering sycophants, waste no time recommending that the U.S. adopt a lunatic posture of unpredictable recklessness, perhaps by nuking someone/something. It’s a chilling scenario that could easily plunge the world into — literally — a fight for survival once the genie it let back out of the bottle. It’s a strategy that would likely make the world less safe rather than more secure.

Considering the stakes involved in geopolitics, we might do well to practice considerable self-restraint and enter into armed conflict only with the most extreme reluctance. Twentieth-century wars have provided ample instruction in that regard, and some countries have learned those lessons and chastened themselves. Unfortunately, the U.S. continues to act with extraordinary hubris and is apparently unwilling to learn much from its own costly and failed wars since 1950. When I read others’ calls for further military expansion (as though our military doesn’t already dwarf everything else arrayed against us) and a willingness to destroy our enemies, I can’t help but feel at a loss, unable to fathom how cruel, unfeeling, and even barbaric we are in pursuing our interests around the globe.

September 27, 2006

Chavez Might Not Be Antisemitic, But He Embraces Woman-Hating Iran

Filed under: Feminist Issues,International Politics — Ampersand @ 11:02 am

In a previous post, I asked “Alas” readers about the translation controversy regarding Chavez and antisemitism. In the comments, Elana, who is a professional Spanish translator, said the real issue is “do references to ‘Christ killers’ and ‘gold and silver’ have the same connotations in their culture as they do in ours?”

Since then, I’ve come across an article which convincingly suggests that “Christ-killers” does not have the same antisemitic connotation in Venezuela. The article was originally printed in the Forward, an American Jewish magazine that I think is generally credible.

Here are the most relevant bits (emphasis added by me):
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September 9, 2006

Are America’s Poor as Well Off as Sweden’s Poor?

Filed under: Economics,International Politics — Robert @ 1:33 pm

Interesting article at TCS about comparing Sweden to the United States (always a favorite pastime in our household, when we get bored of trying to guess how many yellowjackets the yellowjacket trap will kill today). Bottom line (but read the article): after transfer programs and such are taken into account, the poorest 10% of Americans earn about 39% of the US median income. The poorest 10% of Swedes earn about 38% of the US median income. In standard of living terms, anyway, it appears that poor Americans are infinitesimally better off than poor Swedes, despite all the transfer programs and such.

The exercise by the TCS author doesn’t, as far as I can tell, talk about the psychic benefits that the stability provided under the Swedish model provide. That is, I imagine (and it seems reasonable) that it’s mentally easier to be poor in Sweden than it is to be poor in the United States. I doubt that poor folk in Sweden worry overmuch that the state is going to fall in Republican hands and that things will get a little tougher in the free hospitals, whereas I know that poor people in the US do worry about that kind of thing. How much that’s worth in terms of “social justice” I don’t know.

August 30, 2006

The Left and Islam

Filed under: International Politics,Political Correctness — Tuomas @ 4:30 pm

I have to break the hiatus briefly just to show this.

Have you ever wondered why does the progressive left seem to treat Islam with far more nuance than it gives to Christian fundamentalism? It is a constant source of exasperation to me, at least. Wonder no more. I see someone translated an excellent article by Jussi Halla-aho in English, complete with percentages of immigrants and votes to left (from Sweden, which has numerous immigrant ghettoes).
Baron Bodissey even has a graph:

For Kista the figure is slightly lower because of the relatively high percentage of immigrants from other EU countries, but otherwise the multicultural suburbs are significantly more interested than average in the state of the working class, women’s rights and environmental issues.

Right. I love the sarcasm. But read the whole thing (and don’t get scared by the site, I’m not asking anyone to agree with the politics of the folks at Gates Of Vienna, but Mr. Halla-aho’s facts are solid).

[edited to remove some generalized left-bashing]

August 25, 2006

National Security and the War on Terrorism

Filed under: Current Events,International Politics,War — Brutus @ 12:37 pm

Michael Scheurer answers some questions for Harper’s on U.S. involvement in the Middle East and its implications for national security and the ongoing war on terrorism. His credentials appear to be directly related to these topics, and his answers read as pragmatic rather than ideological. I’m especially impressed that he takes an historical view, noting that we are in our current situation as a result of actions and policy positions taken and not taken back in the first Arab oil embargo of 1973.

I frankly lack the expertise to provide much comment on his views on a point-by-point basis (nor am I particularly interested in scoring points against people the way recent commenters have indulged themselves). However, I do think Scheurer’s remarks present a terrific summary of the issues and suggest they be read and considered.

August 15, 2006

UNIFIL Gets Teeth

Filed under: International Politics — Off Colfax @ 3:26 pm

I finally broke down and got my grubby little paws on S/RES/1701. For those of you not fluent in UN nomenclature, this translates as Security Council Resolution 1701. (EDIT: Link changed to non-PDF version. The UN’s site is on crack when it comes to tracking cookies.)

To keep you from getting headaches, I’ve gone through and selected the five main high points of the resolution for you.
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July 24, 2006

Innocence Is Drowned

Filed under: International Politics,War — Off Colfax @ 9:47 pm

Well, folks. Looks like it is going to happen.

As I said here, “in the realm of military action, there are few coincidences.” And there is absolutely zero room for coincidence in this report.

The bodies of Iranian Revolutionary Guard soldiers killed by the Israeli army in Lebanon have been transported to Syria and flown to Tehran, senior Lebanese political sources said.

Israeli and Egyptian security officials confirmed the news, which follows a report that first appeared in The New York Sun, that Iranian forces posted to southern Lebanon have been aiding Hezbollah terrorists in their attacks against Israel, including helping to fire rockets into Israeli population centers.

Got the important part of the lede? Here, let me point it out, just in case someone can’t see it from way up in the cheap seats.

The bodies of Iranian Revolutionary Guard soldiers killed by the Israeli army in Lebanon have been transported to Syria and flown to Tehran, senior Lebanese political sources said.

Now, you are probably wondering why Iranian units, nominally stationed in Syria, are taking up positions in southern Lebanon.

(Assuming you have read through this far. Which some of you probably won’t, because you worry more about the stagnant-yet-constantly-FUBAR’d situation in Iraq than a whole new crop of bloodshed in Israel. But that’s okay. I’ve got glazed meatloaf and garlic mashed potatoes: the ultimate comfort food.) (I did mention I knew how to cook, didn’t I?)

Unfortunately, the answer is simple. And not really what I suspected at first. I display some of my international relations geek-ery after the jump.

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July 22, 2006

The Lancet Article

Filed under: International Politics,Iraq,Statistical Method — Adam Gurri @ 1:44 pm

As I unintentionally walked into a debate on this issue, I thought I’d take the time to look at it by itself.

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July 20, 2006

Opposing Equal Rights To Send A Message To The Middle East

Filed under: International Politics,LGBT Issues — Ampersand @ 3:18 pm

A new addition to the list of the stupidest arguments against marriage equality. From the New York Times article on the House of Reps debate over same-sex marriage:

Another Georgia Republican, Representative Phil Gingrey, said support for traditional marriage “is perhaps the best message we can give to the Middle East and all the trouble they’re having over there right now.”

I’m trying to imagine what would have to be going through someone’s mind to make “we should ban same-sex marriage to send a message to the Middle East” seem like an even remotely rational argument.

Was he thinking that if there’s anything wrong with the middle east, it’s that the culture there is too accommodating of homosexuals, and so we must set a good example by not accommodating our local queers? Was he thinking that the reason people kidnap Israeli soldiers is because lesbians and gays in Massachusetts are getting married, and so we should therefore attempt to placate them by assuring them we hate gays, too? Was he too high on crack to be thinking anything at all? It’s a mystery.

UPDATE: By the way, this is far from being the most repulsive, bigoted, anti-queer statement to come out of an elected Republican this week.

July 14, 2006

Blood-Dimm’d Tide

Filed under: Current Events,International Politics,War — Off Colfax @ 12:33 am

I find myself with the poetry of William Butler Yeats running through my head again. After all, things have been almost to the boiling point for the last few days over on the Levant Coast, and today’s developments are certainly not going to ratchet down the tension.

“Dozens” of rocket attacks occur throughout northern Israel, believed to be hand-held Soviet-era Katyuskas, some of which land in the Israeli port city of Haifa.

Israel bombs the crap out of Hezbollah targets in Lebanon. And they were very specific in what they were going after, too. The Israeli military went so far as to drop “leaflets in the area warning residents to avoid areas where Hezbollah operates.” This sounds to me like all they wanted was to get the organization who has been abducting their soldiers, and not simply add a bunch of innocent civilians into the meat-grinder.

President Ahmadenijad of Iran warns Israel that if they commit “another stupid move and attack[ ] Syria, this will be considered like attacking the whole Islamic world” an hour or so after the bombing occurs. Which sounds to me like standard breast-beating and “Go Team!”-style cheerleading, much like we’ve been hearing from certain members of the American population.

And then, not hours afterward, a report from Fox News (As streamed on the blog Hot Air.) suggests that is was not a hand-held rocket that hit Haifa, which would be at the extreme range of a Katyusha unless fired from a coastal site. Instead, it was an Iranian-manufactured missile called an al-Fadja 7 (Note: Spelling may be incorrect. Name translated as “Dawn” according to FOX reporter.) and it was the Iranian Revolutionary Guard units in southern Syria that launched it. (Post from LGF says that CNN has run the story as well. Not yet on website.)

(Point of parlimentary inquery: Can one call shennanigans on an elected official outside of one’s own country?)

Riddle me this… Pre-planned escalation on Iran’s part? Target of opportunity? Or just odd coincidence?

My answer: in the realm of military action, there are few coincidences. And unless diplomacy steps up in a big way, we may finally be looking at the state of Israel declaring war upon some sorry bastage.

And may God have mercy on their souls.

July 3, 2006

Rule of Law in SCOTUS Decision on Tribunals

Filed under: Current Events,International Politics,War — Brutus @ 10:47 pm

Having grown tired of arguing about the recent Supreme Court decision almost solely in terms of partisan policy, I decided to read the briefs submitted to the Court, as well as the oral arguments made before the Court. The case in question is Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, et al., Docket No. 05-184, and oral arguments before the Court were made on March 28, 2006. Copies of the briefs in PDF can be found here and a transcript of the oral arguments is found here. This post quotes liberally from the briefs and is quite long.
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June 23, 2006

Brussels Critics The Subject of State Harassment

Filed under: Current Events,Education,Human Rights,International Politics — Robert @ 2:57 am

If this self-report is true, a blogging family (outspoken critics of the EU) in Brussels is being repressed by their local governments.

(Via National Review Online)

May 22, 2006

Regarding the US’s High Infant Mortality Rate

Shortly before Mother’s Day, Save the Children released its annual report on the state of motherhood and infant mortality worldwide. As usual, the US does worse than almost every other industrialized nation when it comes to infant mortality (pdf file – see page 38).

The philosopher John Rawls suggested, as a thought experiment, imagining a “veil of ignorance.” The idea is, we sit around planning how to organize society from behind the veil; and none of us planners know what position in society we will hold, what race, what gender, how wealthy our parents will be, etc.. If the people planning society knew they might be born any race, any class, what society would they plan?

I don’t think they’d plan one in which infant mortality by race looked like this (source – pdf file):

US Infant Mortality, among whites, blacks, Asians, Latinos, and American Indians

As you can see, if you’re a newborn American infant, it kinda sucks to be an American Indian, Hawaiian, Puerto Rican, and the suckitude is simply enormous if you’re Black.

* * *

Unfortunately, the racial aspect of infant mortality in the US is usually ignored in the mainstream media. Instead, the focus is on how bad the US does, compared to other countries. The QuandO blog, like many right-wingers, responds that it’s not that the US does any worse at caring for newborns. Instead, it’s that other countries give up on low-weight and otherwise unhealthy newborns more easily, counting them as “stillborns.” In contrast, doctors in the US work hard to save those infants – but since not all of them live, the result of the superior care here in the US is that our infant mortality rate appears higher.

In an op-ed piece, critics of the Save The Children statistics suggest that we should forestall trying to correct the US’s poor results:

If we want to lower our infant mortality rate so it compares better with that of other countries, maybe we should align our rules with theirs to better determine the actual extent of the alleged “problem.”

(Does calling the problem “alleged” and putting the word “problem” in scare quotes create a sort of double negative problem?)

My first question is, how does this critique account for the enormous racial gap in infant mortality within the USA? (It seems unlikely that in the US, doctors try harder to save babies of color while categorizing similar white babies as stillborn.)

My second question is, how much truth is there to QuandO’s critique? Some truth, but not enough to justify calling the US’s infant mortality rate, compared to other wealthy countries, an “alleged problem.” The OECD Factbook explains:

Some of the international variation in infant and neonatal mortality rates may be due to variations among countries in registering practices of premature infants (whether they are reported as live births or fetal deaths). In several countries, such as in the United States, Canada and the Nordic countries, very premature babies with relatively low odds of survival are registered as live births, which increases mortality rates compared with other countries that do not register them as live births.

Yet Canada and the Nordic countries all have better infant mortality rates than the US. So the difference in reporting practices doesn’t account for all of the US’s dismal performance in this area.

If it’s true that the U.S. does just about as well as other wealthy countries in infant mortality, and we only do worse because other countries move count as stillborn cases that we count as an infant death, then that should show up in higher stillbirth rates for those countries than for the U.S.. This is something we can check; a World Health Organization report issued earlier this year (pdf link) gathered statistics for stillbirths. So lets look at the WHO stillbirth numbers next to the infant and newborn mortality statistics from the Save The Children report:

Infant mortality, newborn mortality, and stillbirth rate per 1,000 live births in seven wealthy countries

The graph includes the five countries Save The Children credited with the lowest newborn mortality rates, plus Canada and the USA. Including stillbirths does make the US look better, and is consistent with the claim that other countries may be count some infant deaths (by US standards) as stillbirths.

However, most of these countries are doing as well or better than the US in all categories, including stillbirths. That’s incompatible with the claim that the US’s infant mortality problem is a statistical illusion caused by different standards for categorizing stillbirths.

To make this clearer, look at a graph combining infant mortality and stillbirth rates. (Newborn mortality is not included because the newborn and infant mortality categories overlap).

Combined Infant Mortality & Stillborn Rates Per 1,000 Live Births In Seven Wealthy Countries

Even when stillbirth deaths are included, the US is still doing significantly worse than countries credited with low infant morality rates. It is therefore impossible that the US’s poor standing is caused entirely by the exclusion of stillborn children from infant mortality statistics (although this exclusion may be a contributing factor). The US’s terrible track record, compared to other wealthy countries, is not an “alleged problem”; it is an atrocity, and one that shouldn’t be swept under the rug rather than addressed.

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