Showing posts with label Foreign Relations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Foreign Relations. Show all posts

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Bill Maher and Coronavirus Controversy

It's rare that Bill Maher and I are on the same side of the issue. But Maher recently pointed out something that was previously posted on this blog. The coronavirus apparently started in Wuhan, China. It is not racist to say that.

Maher did not put on yellowface and say that the virus started in China. He didn't pull up the sides of his eyelids, use racial slurs for Chinese, or deliberately affect a bad Chinese accent. Maher didn't start ranting that the pandemic proved that Chinese were inferior and should be repatriated from Western nations or exterminated altogether. 

Thursday, December 6, 2018

French Fuel Tax Protests

"Let me tell you how it will be/It's one for you and nineteen for me. Because I'm the taxman." 
The Beatles
It's very hard to determine ahead of time when people have had enough. Often the  fuse is lit but no one knows when the bomb will explode. Governments and dissidents alike would love to have the answer to that question. It would make their work a lot easier. If you're a repressive but smart government official you might want to keep the proverbial pot warmed just enough so that the frog doesn't realize he's being cooked.

If you're a dashing would be freedom fighter you don't want to waste your time, good looks, energy, youth and life trying to rally apathetic people to the barricades who would rather be home watching sports or downloading NSFW material. In France recently we had a reminder of what happens when governments get a little too far ahead of what populations will accept. After three weeks of protests and riots which saw three people die as French police and civilians attacked each other with hammers, tear gas and water cannon, the French President Macron announced that there would be a six month suspension of a 25 cent gasoline tax increase. This tax was sold in part as a green initiative required by the Paris Climate Accords but because Macron has cut taxes on the rich this tax wasn't exactly popular with people of more modest income or wealth or those who live in rural areas and have less access to public transportation. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

German Far Right Raises Profile

Although the United States is not officially a nation based primarily on lineage and blood and soil, Germany is. There are apparently more than a few Germans who do not like the idea of sharing their country with non-Germans one bit. At all. The relatively recent influx of mostly non-European immigrants and migrants into Europe has been the single biggest boost to right-wing, reactionary and downright fascist political parties across the continent. As the video below the fold makes clear, as dislike for immigrants becomes more acceptable to vocalize, Nazi sympathizers and actual Nazis successfully shift the Overton window far enough to the right to include some even uglier ideas. Although for obvious historical reasons Europe in general and Germany in particular get most of the media attention for this sort of stuff there are places all over the planet where people make it clear that they aren't overly fond of THOSE people. THOSE people can of course be of any race or ethnicity and could even be (to me) visually indistinguishable from the people yelling for their expulsion. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the idea of Black South Africans chasing down and assaulting Black Nigerian or Black Zimbabwean immigrants or refugees.

It's important to keep in mind that we're not all the same, we can't all get along, and nations aren't disappearing any time soon. The noxious Steve King had it right when he said that European right-wingers and Nazi sympathizers would be Republicans if they were Americans. I think that most Germans have enough sense not to politically support would-be Nazis. That said though mass immigration from the Third World into Europe will continue to be a politically destabilizing event.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Italy turns away migrant ship

One of the hot button topics across what is referred to as the "West" is immigration, particularly illegal immigration and refugees. This issue was part of why Trump was elected. It was also behind the electoral success of some right-wing politicians across Europe, including, Italy. The new government in Italy made news recently when it refused to accept a French NGO ship crammed with apparent African and Arab refugees. France ostentatiously criticized Italy's decision but also refused to take in the migrants, something that caused the Italians to go off on the French hypocrisy and arrogance. The Spanish stepped up to take in the ship. Nationalists across Europe cheered Italy's decision.

PARIS — A boat crowded with hundreds of Africans sailing across the Mediterranean after being turned away by Italy this week has exposed anew the shaky fault lines in Europe’s approach to the migrant crisis. On Sunday, Italy’s new far-right interior minister, Matteo Salvini, ordered the Aquarius, a rescue ship operated by humanitarian groups, to stop 35 nautical miles off the coast of Italy, refusing to let it dock.

The ship is now on its way to Spain, which showed up its neighbors by solemnly announcing that it would “respect its international engagements” and accept the boat after Malta, too, refused it, and France stood idly by. Brussels, the seat of the European Union, looked on in relative silence. There was no common policy to receive the Aquarius and no authority to impose one if there were.

The Italian refusal to offer safe harbor to a ship loaded with what aid groups described as 629 migrants — including 123 minors, 11 small children and seven pregnant women — was intended to underscore a long-simmering grievance.

The Italians have bridled for years that they have been left alone by their European Union partners on the front line on the Mediterranean with an unmanageable burden of migration that Mr. Salvini pledged to reverse in his recent election campaign. But his refusal to accept the boat did more than pit humanitarian necessity against political expediency. It roiled tensions with European allies in ways that made President Trump’s performance at the G-7 summit last weekend look almost diplomatic by comparison.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Demise of the Nation State???

The British Indian novelist and essayist Rana Dasgupta recently wrote a very long earnest piece about the alleged demise of the nation-state. You should read it. Dasgupta makes a few good points. It is true that many rights which we don't normally allow governments to violate (at least in theory or without a really good reason established via due process) are "violated" every single day by corporations. Corporations have become powerful enough to begin to unfetter themselves from meaningful oversight or control by some of the nations where they do business. It's true that for some countries that globalization has caused greater diversity and in others raised average incomes. Dasgupta badly missteps when he argues that globalization in its current form is inevitable or that the increasing nationalism in some countries is merely a reactionary last gasp against needed permanent change to political, economic and cultural systems. Dasgupta tips his hand near the end of this piece. Dasgupta doesn't evince much interest in independently occurring nationalist, sectarian, ethnic or racial feelings outside the West, though their intensity can rival anything in today's West. 

No the main point that Dasgupta wants you to take away from this 6000 word essay is something that he initially obfuscates but ultimately just can't resist bluntly stating. He thinks that citizenship itself is manifestly unfair. To be precise, Dasgupta thinks that citizenship in the West and especially citizenship in the United States is unfair. And he wants to end it, primarily to make people in the Third World wealthier.
The history of the nation state is one of perennial tax innovation, and the next such innovation is transnational: we must build systems to track transnational money flows, and to transfer a portion of them into public channels. Without this, our political infrastructure will continue to become more and more superfluous to actual material life. In the process we must also think more seriously about global redistribution: not aid, which is exceptional, but the systematic transfer of wealth from rich to poor for the improved security of all, as happens in national societies.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

President Obama: No Boots On the Ground In Syria!

One of the things that drives me crazy in any sort of relationship whether it be professional or personal is when someone changes their mind and/or does the exact opposite of what they said they were going to do. That's bad enough. But hey people change. Facts on the ground change. That's life. I can deal with that. We all have to deal. But, to paraphrase H.L. Mencken what can make me spit on my hands, hoist the black flag and start running berserk is when the person who has just changed their mind or reversed themselves has the sheer audacity to lie to your face and tell you that no they're not changing their mind. You just misunderstood them. Apparently you are just that stupid. It's not their problem that you apparently have a leaky brain. Actually they should get a medal for having to deal with your dumb behind. When dealing with people like this, black is white, up is down and good is evil. It literally does not matter what sort of proof you have of the person making declarative statements that they weren't going to do something. You can provide signed and notarized triplicate forms of the person telling you to do or not do something. Rest assured that none of that matters. The person will simply ignore reality until you agree that yes they were right all along. These folks are odious pious devotees of the Church of Cover Thy A$$. No matter what they are always right. If they predicted rain yesterday but it doesn't rain then as far as they were concerned they didn't predict rain. They are always right. Bottom line. It's easier to avoid these sorts of people in my personal life but unfortunately they are tremendously over represented among upper management and Presidents.

Remember that President Barack Obama made definitive statements that he would not put boots on the ground in Syria. Period. End of story. Also remember that after a rather public Hamlet like internal debate President Obama tried and failed to get Congress to authorize ground troops in Syria. Now in a functioning republic that's the end. Unfortunately we lack a functioning republic. We have one in which Presidents (Obama wasn't the first and won't be the last) have seized for themselves the right to attack, bomb and invade countries without any sort of Congressional permission. So yesterday we saw White House spokesman mouthpiece Josh Earnest announce that US Special Forces troops would be on the ground in Syria (they're probably already there). According to Mr. Earnest this didn't contradict the President's prior assertions. Also according to Mr. Earnest this didn't fall under the War Powers Act. Mr. Earnest claimed this was legal despite the fact that the government of Syria didn't invite US Special Forces. Mr. Earnest claimed that the 2001 AUMF gave the President all the authority he needed. That the President believes that a law created for one country and one organization gives him authority to interfere in another country without Congressional or for that matter United Nations approval is telling.

Anyway, here is what the President said on a prior occasion. His hardcore defenders, just as they did with the "If you like your doctor you can keep your doctor" statements will likely tie themselves in knots as Earnest did yesterday, trying to find some obscure loophole that apparently justifies this change. I'm tired of this. There aren't any good options in Syria. Nobody has clean hands. Some of the people we're assisting are Al-Qaeda affiliates. Others are considered terrorists by our NATO Turkish allies. It's okay if the President changed his mind. But he should admit that he changed his mind. Don't p*** on my head and tell me it's raining. And he should get Congressional approval before sending in troops. That is the law, even if no one bothers to obey it any longer. One of the really infuriating arguments which Earnest and presumably President Obama tries to put across is that if Congress doesn't do what the President wants (in this case give him an authorization for military action in Syria) then he has the right to act because Congress has "failed". Again, that is not how our system works.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Iran Sanctions Deal: Good for US or not?

First off just to state the obvious. No one can see the future. One can make informed guesses about it and presume that most states will act in what they perceive to be in their best interest but that's about it. So whether the new proposed deal concerning Iran's nuclear energy program is good in the long term or not I can't say. I believe that both Iran and the US worked out a win-win situation in which both sides talked tough for domestic constituencies but really didn't offer a whole lot that was new. To the extent that Iran "won", it maintained its right as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to continue uranium enrichment. This was a red line for the Iranians.They weren't going to formally give up rights to which they were entitled by international law. And for a lot of rather obvious reasons the US didn't want to talk too much about fidelity to international law. 
Some of the agreement highlights include

  • Iran will continue to enrich uranium, but at less than 5%.
  • Higher enriched uranium will be eliminated and/or converted to non-weapons grade uses.
  • The agreement is an interim one which lasts for six months.
  • The Iranian heavy water research facility at Arak will not be activated. This wasn't supposed to happen until 2016 anyway and was behind schedule.
  • Iran will receive sanctions relief of roughly $7 billion, about half or more of which is frozen Iranian assets.

The US congress can still torpedo this deal, at least as far as the United States is concerned while Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu has been scathing in his denunciation of the deal. In a rather obvious temper tantrum and diplomatic slap in the face to the United States, Israel announced yet more settlements in the occupied West Bank. Israel would like the sanctions on Iran to remain in place and be increased. It also demands removal of Iranian nuclear technology, infrastructure and know-how in toto. This last is implausible of course unless you intend to kill or lobotomize a number of Iranian scientists/physicists and engineers. The Israeli Prime Minister may be more popular in the US Congress than President Obama is right now. He has shown a previous willingness or even eagerness to leverage bi-partisan support for Israel's interests, or rather what the right-wing Netanyahu perceives as Israel's interests. It is here rather important to point out that Israel, which does have nuclear weapons and thus a nuclear weapon program is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, while Iran which according to the US intelligence released, does not have a nuclear weapons program, is a signatory. What happens next depends on the Congress as well as diplomats in the US and in Israel.  
“I spoke last night with President [Barack] Obama. We agreed that in the coming days an Israeli team led by the national security adviser, Yossi Cohen, will go out to discuss with the United States the permanent accord with Iran,” Netanyahu told members of his Likud party.
I think it would be counterproductive for people concerned about Israel's security or Sunni vs. Shia rivalry to go to the mat over this deal. This deal doesn't change very much, doesn't last very long and certainly is not something which should lead to anyone attacking anyone else. It's not 1939 and this is not "peace in our time". It's critical to remember that Iran engaged in a long fruitless war with Iraq that more or less ended in stalemate. That would be the same Iraq that the US wiped the floor with. Israel and the US will continue to maintain conventional and nuclear weapons supremacy over Iran. This agreement is not major. It is just the equivalent of picking up the phone and talking to someone you don't like. Netanyahu has stated that Israel is not bound by any agreement. True. Israel is free to attack Iran any time it likes and place its soldiers in harm's way.  Saudi Arabia or any of the other Gulf States voicing concern can also spend their own blood and treasure if they want to.

Friday, June 7, 2013

China-The New Frenemy

There is a long ugly history of Yellow Peril in American and Western literature and thought. This phenomenon generally looks at the much more numerous Chinese and/or East Asian peoples and sees in them not only unfathomable cultural and racial differences but also finds an insidious threat to the American way of life. This fear and hatred was once so great and well respected that authors like Jack London  (Call of The Wild) could write fiction calling for the complete and utter annihilation of Chinese-total genocide. Obviously no one is calling for such steps today but people from across the socio-political spectrum are starting to realize that while China may not quite be a threat but it's very much not a friend to the United States. China may be something a bit more dangerous than a competitor. Some have pointed out steps that the US must take to aggressively pursue its own desires vis-a-vis China.

These calls to action are not necessarily based in racist thought but in the very real fact that China's rise to economic prominence, its relentless demand for natural resources and its increasingly muscular foreign policy is not necessarily in the United States' or even the world's best interest. And when I say United States' best interest I am referring to the military-security state, the corporate superstructure, and the generally muted concerns of labor and environmentalists.

All of these groups' concerns are somewhat endangered by China's growth and behavior over the past few decades. Labor's concerns are obvious. Cheap Chinese labor reduces job and wage growth within the United States. The corporate sector was generally in favor of this of course but some corporations have belatedly realized that China simply does not believe in intellectual property protection in the same way that the US does, at least not for foreigners. And the military-security state may finally be reaching a point where it's not only concerned by China's rather pugnacious statements about several Pacific regions, including but not limited to Taiwan but also worried about the allegedly successful and ongoing penetration of corporate and government databases by Chinese hackers. When Vietnam, Japan, S. Korea and The Philippines are all trying to get closer to the US to get backup against Chinese bullying and over the top territorial claims, it may be that China is overplaying its hand. With rising inequality in China, the state may be deliberately fanning nationalist furies to take people's eyes away from internal problems. Imagine that.

Because President Obama is meeting with Xi Jinping this weekend, there have been a remarkable series of analysis pieces and op-ends detailing what's going on and what the nature of the US-China relationship will and should be going forward. I'm only going to link to two. If you can find it there is a great piece on China in the latest ISR (International Socialist Review). The ISR piece is longer than the two I've linked here but takes the view that China is now acting as a classic imperialist power just as the United States has. It details more of the history and interactions between the two countries.

Economics professor and gadfly Peter Morici's piece  has a list of steps that the US can and must take in a variety of places to, if you will, stop the Chinese batter from hogging the plate. There's nothing like a brushback pitch high and inside to get someone's attention.
Again, the Obama Administration turns to diplomacy, and China responds with denials. If not to change China then at least insulate the U.S. economy and national security from reckless and cynical behavior, the Obama Administration needs to act more aggressively. Moderate and progressive economists, such as Fred Bergsten and Paul Krugman, as well as this conservative voice, have advocated direct action on the currency issue: U.S. market intervention to raise the value of the yuan, slash the bilateral trade deficit, boost manufacturing and accelerate growth.
Limit Chinese investments to those sectors posing no security threats and to only minority stakes—no wholesale purchases of U.S. assets without reciprocity for U.S. businesses seeking to participate in the Chinese economy. If China wishes to engage in cyber warfare, after fair warning and without not much delay the United States should do more than harden defenses, but rather go after China's commercial secrets and security defenses as well. 
Be plain, demand transparency and engage in talks from a position of strength. Through fruitless diplomacy U.S. presidents have permitted China to become stronger and bolder—the lessons of history regarding appeasement are clear. Only stronger recognizable actions that impose costs on China may bring real change in its conduct and cultivate Beijing to act more responsibly and constructively.
The NYT piece points out that China's state financed economic model is in the short run defeating the US' market driven one. This is not a good thing as it will lead to misallocation of resources and an even more unpleasant changes in US worker expectations.
It is important to remember what is really behind China’s global economic expansion: the state. China may be moving in the right direction on a number of issues, but when Chinese state-owned companies go abroad and seek to play by rules that emanate from an authoritarian regime, there is grave danger that Western countries will, out of economic need, end up playing by Beijing’s rules. 
As China becomes a global player and a fierce competitor in American and European markets, its political system and state capitalist ideology pose a threat. It is therefore essential that Western governments stick to what has been the core of Western prosperity: the rule of law, political freedom and fair competition.
They must not think shortsightedly. Giving up on our commitment to human rights, or being compliant in the face of rapacious state capitalism, will hurt Western countries in the long term. It is China that needs to adapt to the world, not the other way around.
However it turns out I think from self-interest more and more people are thinking twice about the Chinese-US relationship. But the barn door is already open. We can't go back to the 1970's vis-a-vis China. And Chinese cheap labor will continue to be quite attractive to US and European corporations. The question is how do people outside of China deal with what has been described, fairly or not, as a devouring dragon. We have to find a way to ensure that continued interaction with China is beneficial to both countries and the entire planet, not just for one nation or for a small number of elites within each country. I like the idea of raising the value of the yuan and taking steps to make China pay for any hacking.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

North Korea: Crazy Like a Fox?

Have you ever used public transportation on a regular basis? I used to when I was younger. Fortunately I don't any longer. The problem with public transportation is the public. Most people are okay but there is often some joker at the back of the bus who stinks of excrement and body odor and spits when he talks. This person will often be carrying on a complex conversation with nobody in particular. Of course like most sane people you try to ignore this person but every now and then this person notices you. And they start a profane commentary about you, what you look like, who you're probably sleeping with (or not sleeping with), how much money you make or what a loser you are and how (occasionally depending on your gender) they would either sleep with you or knock you the f*** out. This last can escalate into threats and fights. Remember the epic bus man video or the woman who thought it was a good idea to hit the bus driver after a torrent of insults. But in most cases the person who's running his mouth all the time is generally harmless. His right hook is usually not as dangerous as his unwashed aroma. So you keep your eyes to yourself or laugh it off as the ravings of a lunatic and curse yourself for not getting a new BMW so you won't have to share rides with idiots like this. Often it's not worth getting into it physically with the crazy nut because the police might put both of you in jail or you might be late for work or the nut might have even crazier friends. Unless of course this person either assaults you or makes a credible threat to do so. Then, well you f*** with the bull, you get the horns.

In the world today that crazy bus vagrant with the killer bo would appear to be North Korea or more precisely its new leader Kim Jong Un.

North Korea has long had a reputation for unstable behavior that appears odd to those outside its borders. The new dictator, Kim Jong Un appears to want to keep up the family tradition.
He has been making threats against the US, Japan and South Korea and speaking of war as a distinct possibility. He's told foreigners that he can't guarantee their safety. He has taken more steps to put his country on high military alert. All in all he's been talking a LOT of smack, sounding similar to an East Asian Jim Jones. His neighbors Japan and South Korea are getting VERY nervous and starting to ramp up their own military readiness. Even the US is flexing muscles to show off its much greater capacity for organized violence. Everyone wants to be ready...just in case. As Sonny Corleone said in The Godfather "I don't want him [Michael] to come out of that bathroom with just his d*** in his hand!". If it's about to go down hard you probably want to get in the first shot. That's what I was always taught anyway. That's what Han Solo and Raylan Givens would do. And that's how nations tend to operate too if they can.

The problem however though is that North Korea has nuclear weapons although it may not have consistent delivery devices. So if anything like a nuclear exchange or conventional attacks did happen, it would likely be limited to the Korean peninsula and the surrounding area. As much of the surrounding area includes a little place called China, the Chinese government rather atypically released a statement that was interpreted by most observers to be a warning, or as I like to consider it, a collar pop, to North Korea.
The new Chinese President Xi Jinping, appeared to make an unusual veiled rebuke of North Korea on Sunday. "Countries, whether big or small, strong or weak, rich or poor, should all contribute their share in maintaining and enhancing peace," Xi said at an international conference, the Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua reported. No one should be allowed to throw a region into chaos for selfish gains, he said, according to Xinhua.

The question then is why would North Korea act in a seemingly "crazy" way? Well there are a number of hypotheses, some of which overlap with each other.

  • Kim Jong Un really is crazy. Full Stop. He is someone that should have been locked up and pumped full of thorazine and ritalin every 6 hours. 
  • Kim Jong Un is young and unproven. He hasn't made his bones. As a result, similar to some Western politicians, he's searching for an easy "win", one that will prove to his domestic military establishment and any ambitious subordinates who may be considering a sudden and permanent change of leadership that Kim Jong Un is no punk. He's got guts and isn't going anywhere.
  • Kim Jong Un is peeved about increased sanctions against North Korea and is throwing a temper tantrum to attempt to get these sanctions reduced or only enforced in theory.
  • Kim Jong Un has been deliberately let off leash by the Chinese to show the Americans that there are costs to confronting the Chinese about their own massive hacking and spying operations, financial manipulations, economic protectionism, intellectual piracy and nationalist expansionism in the Pacific Ocean.

I tend to lean towards the last explanation though the second makes a lot of sense to me as well. I don't think that Kim Jong Un wants to be vaporized in a nuclear exchange or see his toilet bowl nation routinely bombed with impunity. But in diplomacy it can often be useful to give the impression that you're crazy just to get what you want. Over the next 6 months let's watch US and UN policy very closely towards China and North Korea to see if there are any alterations or tips toward those two countries. This all may be a big game. As anyone who's ever been in a serious verbal conflict knows sometimes a person says things that can't be unsaid or does things which require a physical response. And the next thing you know you're either on your way to jail for hurting someone or experiencing the wrong end of a brutal beatdown, simply because you couldn't let something go. I hope this doesn't turn out to be the case here. Let's hope that Kim Jong Un is just running his mouth. This is why I sometimes think we should have let General MacArthur finish the job all those years ago but that's life...

What are your thoughts?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Pakistani Muslims Riot Over Blasphemy Charges

Here we go again. Let's just be blunt. There are a lot of things the US Founding Fathers and later judges and politicians got wrong when they created the legal and social standards for our country but refusing to create a state church and generally enforcing a separation of church and state wasn't one of them. I am not religious. The issue with most religions is that many creeds feel that they have a monopoly on "truth". I totally get that. I disagree but as long as they don't bother me I won't bother them. But in some countries, and Pakistan is one of them, there isn't quite a relatively robust separation of church and state. Religion may not run the state but it has entirely too much influence.

In the US or most of what's referred to obliquely as "The West" if I want to make a movie or write a book mocking Jesus or making fun of Moses or criticizing Muhammad I can do so. I may be insulted or mocked in turn but generally speaking no one is going to try to burn my house down. Police won't charge me with blasphemy. No one will try to shoot my wife or children. You can't say the same about Pakistan. In fact you don't even have to have been convicted of committing "blasphemy", just have someone in the majority group (Sunni Muslim) accuse you of having committed blasphemy and the lynch mob is ready to go.

LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) — Hundreds of people in eastern Pakistan rampaged through a Christian neighborhood Saturday, torching dozens of homes after hearing reports that a Christian man had committed blasphemy against Islam's prophet.
Blasphemy is a serious crime in Pakistan that can carry the death penalty but sometimes outraged residents exact their own retribution for perceived insults of Islam's Prophet Muhammad. Pakistan is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim and people of other faiths, including the nation's small Christian community, are often viewed with suspicion.
The incident started Friday when a young Muslim man accused a Christian man of committing blasphemy by making offensive comments about the prophet, according to Multan Khan, a senior police officer in Lahore.
A large crowd from a nearby mosque went to the Christian man's home on Friday night, said Khan. Police registered a blasphemy case against the man after the crowd gathered and demanded action, the officer said.
Fearing for their safety, hundreds of Christian families fled the area overnight.Khan said the mob returned on Saturday and began ransacking Christian homes and setting them ablaze. He said no one in the Christian community was hurt, but several policemen were injured when they were hit with stones as they tried to keep the crowd from storming the area.
But Akram Gill, a local bishop in the Lahore Christian community said the incident had more to do with personal enmity between two men — one Christian and one Muslim — than blasphemy. He said the men got into a brawl after drinking late one night, and in the morning the Muslim man made up the blasphemy story as payback...Only in Christian cases will violent mobs punish the entire community for the perceived crime of one Christian...Two prominent politicians were assassinated in 2011 for urging reform of the law. The killer of one of the politicians was hailed as a hero, and lawyers at his legal appearances showered him with rose petals.
Unfortunately in places like Saudi Arabia or Pakistan or other portions of the Muslim world freedom of speech and freedom of religion are not considered to be important human rights. They are often though to be dangerous foreign imports. Well the world is a big and often ugly place right? It's full of countries that don't have US values and don't want US values thank you very much. Why should we in the US or the more rational parts of the planet care what a bunch of Pakistani morons do? Well we should care because injustice anywhere in the world is wrong and should be challenged. Although the particulars are different the underlying human evil is the same. The majority seizes on a flimsy pretext to bully, humiliate and occasionally kill the minority. On that level it's no different than what might have occurred in 1920s Alabama or in several other places or times around the world. In-group, out-group: the names change but the game is always the same.

We should also care because the sorts of people who think that blasphemy is a serious crime are not content with either staying in the backwaters of Pakistan or having blasphemy laws only apply in similarly benighted places. No. Not only are some Muslim immigrant communities in Europe aggressively seeking to have blasphemy laws reinstated there, some majority Muslim countries are attempting to create an international standard blasphemy law.
Although I think every human being on the planet is of equal worth, more or less, every idea isn't. Blasphemy is incompatible with freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the freedom to think what you want to think or say what you want to say. Although I think for simple politesse it's usually best not to insult people needlessly the fact remains that some people (a small violent minority?) in the Muslim world tend to take almost any statement about Islam that's not cloyingly complimentary as an insult. This is no good. There is no reason in my view to grant Islam deference that I wouldn't grant other religions. And a rioter's veto is not a reason. Pakistan's ambassador to the US was accused of blasphemy. It's insane. Blasphemy is a stupid idea promulgated by stupid people. The idea that your God needs the state to protect him is asinine. 

Obviously there are plenty of people throughout the Muslim world who recognize this, perhaps even the majority of Muslims. I think that most people are basically good. It's important that we stand firm against blasphemy laws and shine the light of truth on to what is essentially state sponsored bullying. I think that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and other such places need an Enlightenment or Reformation. But only Muslims can lead this. Until then it's critical that we reject and prevent blasphemy laws from taking hold in the West. I have no desire to write or say something that some loon finds objectionable and then have my life or home damaged. The people that support blasphemy laws don't seem to realize that they are doing far more damage to Islam's image than any "Islamophobe" ever could. How often in the Mid-East or South Asia do you hear about Christian mobs attacking Muslim minorities because they said something about Jesus? Exactly.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Trucks, Carbon Taxes and Global Warming

There have been a few unfortunate financial setbacks of late but nevertheless if all goes according to Evil Overlord plan I intend to purchase a new vehicle in the next few months. And the vehicle won't be a hybrid. It won't be a small car. It won't be an electric car. It will probably be a large American truck that MIGHT get 18-23 MPG on a good day. Dedicated environmentalists may gnash their teeth and cut sharp looks at me but on this issue I don't care. I want what I want and I'm not interested in other people's opinions on the matter. I drive a minimum 50 mile daily commute, sometimes more, and I would like to do so in a vehicle that is large, safe, comfortable and actually has some extras that I like. If the rest of you want to drive Priuses that is just fine with me but don't expect to see me in one. And someday soon when I get real money then I would ditch the modern truck and get a gas guzzling classic car from the 40s to 70s period. But that's just me-frustrated lowrider and occasional blogger.

If you haven't noticed from the ridiculously mild winter we've been having so far in the US there is a serious problem with human caused climate change.

The amount of heat-trapping pollution the world spewed rose again last year by 3 percent. So scientists say it's now unlikely that global warming can be limited to a couple of degrees, which is an international goal.
The overwhelming majority of the increase was from China, the world's biggest carbon dioxide polluter. Of the planet's top 10 polluters, the United States and Germany were the only countries that reduced their carbon dioxide emissions.
Last year, all the world's nations combined pumped nearly 38.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the air from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil, according to new international calculations on global emissions published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change. That's about a billion tons more than the previous year.
The total amounts to more than 2.4 million pounds (1.1 million kilograms) of carbon dioxide released into the air every second.
There, also either fortuitously or perversely, was recent news that the US may be sitting on more oil than even Saudi Arabia possesses. This was of course attacked and arguably debunked by experts in the field
On Nov. 12, the International Energy Agency’s annual World Energy Outlook report caused quite a stir by asserting that by 2020, the United States would overtake Saudi Arabia as the world's top oil producer. Mainstream journalists eagerly repeated this claim. 
But the truth is that it relied on a very loose definition of "oil." Saying that the United States will surpass Saudi Arabia in oil production is a bit like saying that a 12-ounce latte contains more caffeine than 12 ounces of espresso. It might make for an exciting headline and be useful as political fodder, but it's simply not true.

I can't call it. But I do know this. Despite the current US Administration's enthusiasm for green energy, super high CAFE standards and neutral to negative outlook on fossil fuels the reality is that neither the internal combustion engine or our reliance on oil, coal and natural gas is going away anytime soon. There doesn't look like there's anything yet to replace the big three in terms of cost, reliability, and efficiency. Perhaps a physicist or engineer can chime in on the efficiency question.
That hasn't stopped some more impatient environmentalists from proposing a carbon tax, something the Administration has hinted support for, even as it has refused to follow a EU carbon tax that would have impacted American airliners in Europe. Since pollution is a negative externality (the cost of an activity is not borne solely by those in the market) theoretically a carbon tax would more closely approximate the true cost of using fossil fuels which means people would be less likely to use fossil fuels and thus contribute less to climate change. So everyone wins. Or at least the planet wins.
The issue though is not only would a carbon tax slightly reduce economic activity and hurt the economy but obviously a carbon tax in the US is no good if other countries don't also impose one. Otherwise industry would just move to the areas without carbon taxes. China, India and Brazil are the big new contributors to climate change. They, historically have been less than enthusiastic about the idea of limiting their economic growth because of what the United States or Europe wants to do. It is easy to tell someone else don't do the bad things you did when you still have the benefits of doing those bad things. And if you did bad things to those people (imperialism, colonialism, slavery) you can't really blame them if they aren't eager to listen to your ideas about their economies. It's only when people see a personal/national benefit to taking steps to control climate change that they do so. This is slowly starting to happen. Maybe too slowly.

The big problem of course is that there are a tremendous number of things that contribute to warming the planet. Everyone finds it easier to point fingers at people doing things that they don't like or do while finding excuses for activities they enjoy-thus my example of getting a new truck. If you happen to live in a densely populated urban area with all sorts of mass transit you may say to yourself why shouldn't we discourage single passenger transportation, create outrageously unrealistic CAFE standards and force auto companies to produce carbon friendly vehicles. Someone who lives in the large interior or rural areas of our country may have a different point of view. If you are a vegetarian or vegan you might look at the massive cattle farms and their issues with runoff and deforestation or the horrible overfishing that's occurring and honestly suggest that meat usage needs to be reduced, forcibly or not, as part of a First World diet. 
If you are in the First World, you might cast a worried eye at the massive populations of China, India and Africa, and mutter about planet carrying capacity. You may agree with Agent Smith and point out that the best solution for climate change is that those populations get incentives (or be forced) to stop their growth. Obviously your POV might change were you in the Third World. Then you might become an expert on the incredibly wasteful lifestyle that we take for granted in the US. You might think that Americans needed to lose some weight, drive less and move towards a more "natural" lifestyle, one that may be more common outside of the US or Europe.
So there's the problem. Most people agree that human caused climate change is real and something ought to be done about it. The question is what are you willing to give up? How do we balance economic activity and reduction of carbon emissions?  If someone wants a 4000 square foot home are we going to tell that person he can't have it because heating it is wasteful? And since this is a global problem, how do we get everyone on board? Theoretically the US could twist people's arms raise people's consciousness within our borders. But we can't tell other nations what to do. And their calculations of national or corporate interest may not be what we would like them to be.


What are you prepared to do?

Is there a global solution?

Friday, November 30, 2012

The UN welcomes Palestine as Observer State

As discussed the Palestinians want independence. They tried and failed to get the UN Security Council to recognize Palestine as a state. So roughly a year after this effort failed in the Security Council the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas tried again in the General Assembly where there is no veto. And this time despite threats of bad consequences from Israel, the United States and a few other nations, the bid for recognition as a state finally passed!

UNITED NATIONS — More than 130 countries voted on Thursday to upgrade Palestine to a nonmember observer state of the United Nations, a triumph for Palestinian diplomacy and a sharp rebuke to the United States and Israel.
But the vote, at least for now, did little to bring either the Palestinians or the Israelis closer to the goal they claim to seek: two states living side by side, or increased Palestinian unity. Israel and the militant group Hamas both responded critically to the day’s events, though for different reasons.
The new status will give the Palestinians more tools to challenge Israel in international legal forums for its occupation activities in the West Bank, including settlement-building, and it helped bolster the Palestinian Authority, weakened after eight days of battle between its rival Hamas and Israel.
But even as a small but determined crowd of 2,000 celebrated in central Ramallah in the West Bank, waving flags and dancing, there was an underlying sense of concerned resignation.

“I hope this is good,” said Munir Shafie, 36, an electrical engineer who was there. “But how are we going to benefit?”
Still, the General Assembly vote — 138 countries in favor, 9 opposed and 41 abstaining — showed impressive backing for the Palestinians at a difficult time. It was taken on the 65th anniversary of the vote to divide the former British mandate of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab, a vote Israel considers the international seal of approval for its birth.
“The question is, where do we go from here and what does it mean?” Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, who was in New York for the vote, said in an interview. “The sooner the tough rhetoric of this can subside and the more this is viewed as a logical consequence of many years of failure to move the process forward, the better.” He said nothing would change without deep American involvement.
Susan E. Rice, the American ambassador to the United Nations, was dismissive of the entire exercise. “Today’s grand pronouncements will soon fade,” she said. “And the Palestinian people will wake up tomorrow and find that little about their lives has changed, save that the prospects of a durable peace have only receded.


Rice's contemptuous declaration is of a piece with other similar statements she's made in the past about the Palestinians and similar to what Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokeswoman, had to say about consequences for the Palestinians seeking status upgrade. "As you know we also have money pending in the Congress for the Palestinian Authority, money that they need to support their regular endeavors and support administration of the territories. So obviously if they take this step it's going to complicate the way Congress looks at the Palestinians".

In other words...Nice little shop you got here Mahmoud.You've got a wife, some kids, a good little business. Now you wouldn't want any accidents to happen, right? So you'll wise up and do the right thing, right? The Don has always thought of you as a friend.

The US, Israel and some other countries tried to prevent the Palestinian Authority from receiving observer state status and having failed to do that then tried to extort assurances from the Palestinian Authority that it would not try to join the International Criminal Court or join other UN agencies or that it would reopen negotiations with the Israelis. The Palestinian Authority turned down all of those "requests". What the US and nations who voted against the resolution failed to realize is that for better or worse the Palestinians need a win. Pride and human dignity demand it. It is simply not possible to keep people under military occupation for 45 years and not have attempts at removing the occupation. Israel has refused to stop settlements in the West Bank or Jerusalem. And at the time of this writing Israel just announced plans for expanded settlements in East Jerusalem. This is of course punishment for the Palestinian Authority's move.
A senior Israeli official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said on Friday that the decision was made late Thursday night to move forward on “preliminary zoning and planning preparations” for housing units in E1, which would connect the large settlement of Maale Adumim to Jerusalem and therefore make it impossible to connect the Palestinian cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem to Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. Israel also authorized the construction of 3,000 housing units in other parts of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the official said.
As we've discussed before you simply can't have a two-state solution and have ongoing settlements. They cancel each other out. I still believe that a one-state solution, which no one will like initially, remains the best way out of a bad situation. If South Africa and Rhodesia could come to accept that the state included more than whites then the Israelis and Palestinians will as well. Eliminationist fantasies on either side will need to be put down. One state, equal rights for all, and special rights for none. What's wrong with that?

A more canny US and Israel would have welcomed a Palestinian "state" on the West Bank since as is obvious such a state would be one in name only. But the need to continually humiliate Abbas and the Palestinian Authority meant that Abbas had nothing to lose by going to the UN. This was especially important in recent times as the Palestinian Authority had nothing to show for "good behavior" except more settlements while Hamas was seen to be fighting back. If you tell people they're going to lose no matter what, often people would rather go down swinging. 

So what does this all mean? As new announcements of settlements show, not a whole lot right now. But whether it's through violence or non-violence, the Palestinians intend to resist the narrative that they don't matter or that they should just fade into irrelevance. There will be renewed spotlight on the occupation and increasing diplomatic pressure to create some sort of solution. The US has done itself a disservice by continuing to enable the most right-wing elements of the Israeli body politic. The Palestinian Authority will seek to make the occupation cost Israel more than it has in the past. Will they be successful? The future's a devious thing to predict. But things that can't go on forever don't. And the occupation is one of those things.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Israel Attack on Gaza: Same Story Different Day in Palestine

BBC correspondent Jihad Misharawi holds his son's body
There are some elements which are wholly predictable in the world. Israeli-Palestinian violence is one of those things. Israel recently assassinated the military head of Hamas, Ahmed Jabari, in the Gaza Strip. This of course led to a coordinated violent response from Hamas which in turn caused an even more violent response from Israel. There has been the normal kabuki dance in which Israeli political leaders say that they won't tolerate acts of violence from Palestinians and reserve the right to defend themselves. And US political leaders have condemned violence from Hamas, and also strongly defended Israel's right to defend itself, while insulting Hamas as cowardly. It is totally predictable that the US mainstream media has wholly accepted the Israeli point of view about the latest violence, which is that Israel was peaceably minding its own business when out of nowhere a bunch of anti-semitic religious nutball Third World savages started to shoot rockets into Israel. And anyone who doesn't conform to that pov will be attacked as anti-semitic or biased. 

Well I have no plans to join any mainstream media or think tanks anytime in the near future. So I can write what I like. And you can call me what you like. As I have written before I think the only fair and possible long term solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an unitary state with equal rights for all and special rights for none. That's not perfect, as South Africa is discovering, but given the circumstances I think it's a baseline. That that solution is becoming less and less likely is a tragedy not only for Palestinians but for Israelis and ultimately Americans who are currently wedded to a bipartisan foreign policy that supports the most right-wing elements of Israeli politics no matter what.

Israel, as its leaders and US partisans emphasize, does have the right to defend itself. If I lived in Texas and Mexicans were constantly lobbying rockets over the border I would expect the US military to show them a little love. But, and you will never ever ever see this concept expressed in any mainstream media or government statement, Palestinians also have the right to defend themselves. If I lived in Mexico and US aircraft were constantly bombarding me I would hope that the Mexican military, no matter how understaffed, inept and outgunned, would try to fight back.
So let's just not freeze frame the last week and look at what Hamas does. You have to look at the past months and even years. There was an informal truce between Israel and Hamas, brokered by Egypt. I'm going to bet that you may not have heard about these events, which are the proximate cause for the latest violence.

On November 4, Israeli soldiers killed an unarmed, possibly mentally ill man who was allegedly walking too close to their buffer zone. On November 8, during another Israeli incursion in the Gaza strip, Israeli soldiers killed a 13 year boy playing soccer near his home. The following day there were rockets fired into Israel. There was another Israeli incursion which resulted in the deaths of Palestinian women and children and the path of escalation was set. One final attempt at a truce was set. Jabari actually received a peace proposal but evidently it was simply a ruse to lure him out into the open. Hamas can not win a military confrontation with Israel. Israel knows this. And despite the bluster about "opening the gates of hell" (Does that sound better in Arabic? Who talks like that???)  Hamas knows it too which explains its attempts to hold to a truce. Of course when you put people in a position where they have literally nothing to lose they will lash out. Gaza is a blockaded hellhole of 1.5-1.6 million impoverished refugees. Noam Chomsky recently visited and described it as an open air prison. This isn't surprising given that a survey showed that a majority of Israelis want preferences for Jews over Arabs in jobs, and would not be in favor of letting West Bank Arabs vote if Israel formally annexed the West Bank.

So why would Israel ignore a truce and then assassinate an opposition's leader, knowing that this would likely lead to an escalation? I think there are a couple of reasons. 
There are upcoming Israeli elections in January 2013. Certainly Netanyahu wants to ensure his party can form a government and outflank any more right-wing parties (or ministers).The other reason is that, as pointed out by the Tehran bureau chief for the NYT , this new violence will greatly complicate any attempt by the US and Iran to reach some consensus on Iran's nuclear program as neither the US nor Iran will want to make deals or even be talking to each other while their proxies are killing and dying. Could a deal with Iran have been possible? Maybe, maybe not. But this report of deals and concessions with Iran certainly would have irritated and worried some of the more right-wing elements in the Israeli body politic. And with the US under President Obama having turned to a kill list and enthusiastically supported the illegal tactic of extrajudicial assassinations there is no way that the US President could do anything other than support the Israeli Prime Minister, even if Israeli actions run counter to US interests. There is a piece by dissident US journalist and civil libertarian Glenn Greenwald that is a must read.

Mira Scharf and family
The latest round of Hamas rocket attacks on Israel have revealed a disturbing (from an Israeli POV) capacity and one that though still militarily pathetic have killed Israeli citizens, including a pregnant woman. So what's the answer? The only short term solution is for the UN security council to force Israel and Hamas to stand down. Beyond that there would need to be UN armed observers in the West Bank and Gaza. But since the UN security council will never act to condemn or restrain Israel I expect that the region will suffer continued. It is ironic that while Israel is bombing people who in the US mindset, do not have the right to defend themselves, Syria is bombing people, who despite having turned to violence in an attempt to overthrow a dictator, have every right to defend themselves. The Syrian rebels have committed some ugly massacres and human rights violations but they (unlike Hamas) happen to be fighting against someone that the US and its European allies don't like. They are thus eligible to receive US support under the table . They've received French recognition and may soon receive open French and US direct arms shipments.
The moral of this story is choose your enemies wisely.


1) How would you fix this latest mideast crisis?

2) Is there a long term solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict?

3) Should the US stop supporting one side?