Category: Governance

Israel (Again) Bars UN Investigators But How Can U.S. Complain?

The government of Israel has once again denied the United Nations Human Rights Council the freedom to conduct an investigation of alleged abuses by the Jewish state during the recent war in the Gaza Strip. Like many of my progressive colleagues and friends, I tend to become indignant when our alleged ally tramples the rights of Palestinians and repeatedly ignores UN resolutions and defines the rule of international law when it suits them.

But the position of American critics of Israel was severely weakened earlier this year when the same council that has just been rebuffed by Israel charged the United States with a wide range of human rights abuses. It’s hard to call foul on your neighbor when your own hands are unclean.

Still, a friend who forwarded the news item about Israel’s most recent flouting of international law asked rhetorically, “So when do we stop spending $3B a year on military aid to Israel?” Ally or no, Israel is very frequently a bad actor on the world stage. Yet they are seldom if ever held accountable beyond the occasional bluster of the odd DC lawmaker who feels like s/he can afford to piss off the Jewish-American lobby by saying something vaguely critical.

Our policy toward Israel is one of the biggest reasons we have engaged in such folly over the past couple of decades in the Middle East. Any review of our policy in that region must include a complete re-thinking of our unquestioning support for Israel. I still favor some support, but we have a right to expect certain things in return. It’s time we began to demand those quos in return for our quid.

 

Stabilizing Iraq? Are These Guys for Real?

Top Pentagon officials said Thursday that the U.S. military strategy in Iraq and Syria remains an “Iraq-first” approach aimed at stabilizing that country. (From a wire service report.)

I want some of whatever these guys are smoking.

First, Iraq hasn’t been stable in many years. The “stability” it “enjoyed” under Saddam Hussein was illusory and imposed by force.

Second, a large part of the reason for the current instability is the misguidedenss our our last attempt to stabilize the region.

Third, nobody can stabilize a country they neither understand nor appreciate and whose only value to them is economic.

 

How About Crowdsolving as an International Pressure Point?

One of the newer buzzwords being bandied about the technosphere these days is “crowdsolving.” As you can undoubtedly discern, it is a portmanteau (isn’t that a beautiful word?) of “crowd” and “solving” and attempts to describe a social-media modeled process in which large groups of people use collective media to discuss and find solutions to huge and complex problems. As far as I can tell, it first came into use in 2013. There are not yet any books about it, surprisingly. It is a variation on “crowdsourcing”, though, so perhaps those books cover it as well.

After my earlier post on the failures of the United Nations, I began to think about whether modern technology might provide an alternative to the increasingly arcane idea that governments — and I don’t confine this to the US — can be expected to solve any problems any more. Maybe the Universe is aligning to tell us that it is time that we used the global consciousness and collectivist tools that are now at our disposal to take government — or at least the problem-solving and decision-making aspects of it — into our own hands. To return (or perhaps establish) democracy to the real grass roots: the people themselves. Perhaps it’s time to take the “representative” out of “representative democracy” on some levels and in some ways and places.

The biggest problem I see in this at the moment is that the collective would have no more effective means of enforcing the adoption of its considered solutions to problems than do world governments in the present scenario.

Still, I think there’s something seriously interesting and worth pursuing in this.

 

Supreme Court Critic Suggests Some Interesting Reforms

The United States Supreme Court is the only federal institution not to have undergone any structural or functional revision in its entire 226-year history. That fact alone should give us Americans great pause, particularly given the Court’s increasing influence of American life.

Edwin Chemerinsky, Supreme Court's Supreme Critic

Edwin Chemerinsky, Supreme Court’s Supreme Critic

As the Court’s new term began last week, one of the Court’s primary critics,Erwin Chemerinsky, who wrote a book called The Case Against the Supreme Court, renewed his call for significant reform. Chief among his suggestions:

  • instituting merit-based selection of judges, beginning with a bipartisan panel that would present a list of candidates from which the President would then make his or her selection;
  • reforming the confirmation process in some unspecified way;
  • establishing term limits for justices (which would require a Constitutional amendment, of course);
  • requiring that SCOTUS justices comply with all the same ethical standards as other Federal court justices (and presumably subject them to the same penalties for their violation, including removal from the bench).

Other than the vagueness of the second suggestion, I’m in favor of all of these steps on some level.

However, I feel like I should also remind my Liberal brethren that back in the day when Earl Warren ran the Court, the Right was sputtering furious at him for his liberal, activist decisions. “Impeach Earl Warren” was a real — and large — national movement. It will be a long, long time before there’s any chance of a Liberal court again in our history and perhaps that fact alone mitigates in favor of instituting some reforms to prevent its horrendous excesses.

In a column in today’s LA Times, Chemerinsky, who is Dean of the UC-Irvine School of Law, offered the most blanket and damning indictment of the Court I’ve ever read as an amateur Court Watcher:

I wish I could say that last year was an aberration. But, over the course of American history, the court has repeatedly failed at its most important tasks and at the most important times.

He and I have the same view of the Court so it’s not surprising I’d agree with him. But if you read that piece (and if you’re a Court aficionado, I highly recommend it), even if you are farther to the right than I am, I think you’ll agree that there is cause for alarm.

Net Neutrality = Government Takeover of Internet? Seriously?

One of the most disingenuous public petitions I’ve seen has gathered 2.4 million signatures from people allegedly opposed to Net Neutrality. Just one small problem: the petition never mentioned the term “net neutrality” or anything resembling it. Instead, the entire petition signature prompt was:

“The Internet is not broken, and does not need to be fixed. Left-wing extremists have been crying wolf for the past decade about the harm to the Internet if the federal government didn’t regulate it. Not only were they wrong, but the Internet has exploded with innovation. Do not regulate the Internet. The best way to keep it open and free is what has kept it open and free all along—no government intervention.”

This is one of the most disgusting attempts at misleading the public I’ve seen since…well…the last election in California. And the same basic people are behind it: conservatives who think any government regulation is too much government regulation. These people think that, left to their own devices, the greedy unregulated corporations who run this country will do the fair and equitable thing. We’ve been engaged in an experiment for the past 150+ years proving the folly of that opinion.

Faced with the proposal above and ignorant of what the Internet is and what FCC regulations are at stake, I might have signed it as well. But 3.7 million people who were actually aware of what they were asking for not only signed petitions, they sent individual comments to the FCC on the subject.

Let’s hope informed opinions prevail over propaganda.

Stephen Pizzo on Why We Should Stay Completely Out of the Middle East

I agree with Stephen Pizzo on this point.

Well the simple fact is that we let the metaphorical genie out of the box when we decided we could drag an entire region out of its 10th-century cocoon and into the 21st. We couldn’t. And we can’t. Only they can do that, and the process won’t be pretty to watch. All we do by interfering is further muddle matters and further confuse the issues they, and only they, must confront.

We keep thinking, in our misguided belief in American Exceptionalism, that we have all the answers, that we know what’s best for every other country politically, socially and economically. We keep believing that we can by sheer dint of military might resolve an essentially historical-political-cultural conflict.

As Pizzo says, we can’t.

This is the Islamic world’s fight. it is their problem. As we’ve learned over the years, no matter who is fighting whom, they clamor to sell us their oil, which is the only thing we ultimately desire from them.

anti-warWhile Pizzo argues that he calls “unregenerate Islam” is the sole root cause of all the issues, I am aware that there are other triggers, causes and concerns. Many Christians and other non-Muslims will be caught up in the mess they make. We should offer them strictly humanitarian aid and refuge. Israel’s interests are also at stake; we already provide them with more than enough military and economic aid. We don’t need to fight their battles for them, particularly when they never consider what’s in our best interests or in the best interest of world peace when seen from any but an Israeli perspective. That’s their right. But that also makes it their fight.

As Pizzo says at the end of his newsletter: “So, get out, stay out, stand back, watch.”

How Many More Ways Can Obama Disappoint? Now He’s Re-Engaging the Arms Race!

mushroom_cloudAccording to this piece in the New York Times today, the Obama Administration is engaged in a trillion-dollar refurbishment and extension of our nuclear weapons storehouse and facilities.

This is the same man who came to office on a promise of ending nuclear proliferation. The same guy who won a clearly vastly premature Nobel Peace Prize (there’s a scandal there that will come out next generation) before the ink was dry on his acceptance speech for the White House. The same guy who has been heralded around the world for his efforts to reduce tensions and spread peace and love and hope. The same hypocrite.

The nation is engaged in a largely invisible, unpublicized effort to update “aging weapons that the United States can fire from missiles, bombers and submarines,” according to reporters William J. Broad and David E. Sanger. “It is part of a nationwide wave of atomic revitalization that includes plans for a new generation of weapon carriers. A recent federal study put the collective price tag, over the next three decades, at up to a trillion dollars.”

My God, Mr. President! Have you gone mad? Have you lost your compass? Or are you just being manipulated by badly chosen and malevolent advisors bent on creating a new war footing for an economy they sank? I’m actually starting to entertain the idea that the economic collapse of the early 21st Century wasn’t a standalone conspiracy but part of a broader effort to more firmly establish “American exceptionalism” the way it was first claimed: with death and destruction and war.

My good friend Tony Seton, a retired broadcast journalist and one of the cooler heads and clearer thinkers I know, is now wondering aloud whether it’s time for us to consider impeaching this President. I haven’t reached that point yet. It’s probably too late anyway. But the fact that I now listen when Tony suggests this indicates how far, in my mind at least, this President has sunk.

“He knows things you don’t know,” is the frequent refrain from the shrinking pool of Obama boosters in my circle of friends. I’d remind them that that’s what Nixon and LBJ and others said during the Vietnam Era.

If the NYT piece is to be believed, Mr. Obama started out with good intentions. He felt that by refurbishing the nuclear arsenal already in place, he would improve the perception of their reliability and thus set the stage for a reduction in new arms development which could then lead to an overall reduction and cutbacks. If that’s the case, he is or was extremely naive and vastly underestimated the political and geopolitical forces that would twist his well-meaning policy into the grotesque picture of an America re-arming for nuclear war.

Frankly, I don’t buy it. When this President took office, he was perhaps too young and too inexperienced. He was certainly too unaware of the political process and the exercise of political power. On reflection, he probably needed some seasoning. But he was a breath of fresh air. Six years into his Presidency, he’s developed halitosis of the worst kind.

We’ll survive him. We survived Bush. But I have to tell you, virtually all of the shine is off his Presidency, and he has unwittingly teamed up with a GOP that is abysmal on so many levels to nearly excise from my soul any interest or hope in politics that might have remained after the Bush Years.

Obama Takes Significant Executive Action on Solar Just Before Big Climate March

President Obama has announced 14 separate Executive Actions and 30+ partnerships of various stripes around renewable energy in one of the biggest news days for the subject in recent memory. Some of the actions actually have immediate or near-term practical consequences; others are just symbolic. But that doesn’t mean they’re not important. Sometimes the non-verbals, the metaphoric have greater impact than the practical.

Cynics will say that he made these announcements all at once to appease his critics from the Left just in time for tomorrow’s big Climate March. I’m sure there’s a lot of that in here. But that’s OK. As someone on Daily Kos pointed out, “That means we can point to it and say ‘We made  you do that.'”

I am somewhat encouraged by these developments. In announcing the initiatives, the White House said they would:

cut carbon pollution by nearly 300 million metric tons through 2030 – equivalent to taking more than 60 million cars off the road for one year – and will save homes and businesses more than $10 billion on their energy bills.

That’s not enough but it’s not nothing either.

 

Laos: The Land of Unexploded Ordinance

I was reading a piece today on former Secretary of State Henry “Big Lie” Kissinger and how he’s out revising history…again…as he travels around promoting his new book. I’m not going to mention the title or link to it.

In the article, I caught this snippet:

At the end of the bombings, an estimated 80 million unexploded bombs remained in the ground just in Laos.

I figured that was a typo. So I went and researched it. According to Wikipedia‘s article on unexploded ordinance:

Some 288 million cluster munitions and about 75 million unexploded bombs were left across Laos after the war ended. Between 1999 and 2008, there were 2,184 casualties (including 834 deaths) from UXO incidents.

In fact, the article begins by saying:

Laos has the dubious distinction of being the world’s most heavily bombed nation. During the period of the American Vietnam War, over half a million American bombing missions dropped more than 2 million tons of ordnance on Laos….

What did Laos ever do to us? We were fighting a secret, covert, anti-Communist war there through much of the Vietnam War Era. No declaration of war (which the President almost certainly could not have gotten). ground troops confined mostly (if the sources are to be believed) to military advisers. And yet we dropped more bombs on this tiny nation during Vietnam than on any other nation in the history of the world?

Unexploded ordinance has rendered millions of acres of fertile ground unsuitable for farming in addition to the thousands of deaths and injuries from ordinance that is still exploding all these years later.

Don’t we have a moral obligation here? What is the excuse or rationale for us leaving this poor country to subsist? We don’t like their government? Really?

 

Admitting Ignorance and Uncertainty Can Bring Hope

In the wake of President Obama’s clearly (and intentionally) misunderstood comment about not having a policy in northern Africa and the Middle East, it is good for us to recall this observation by famed physicist and clear thinker, Richard P. Feynman:

It is in the admission of ignorance and the admission of uncertainty that there is a hope for the continuous motion of human beings in some direction that doesn’t get confined, permanently blocked, as it has so many times before…

In fact, it is the expression of confidence and certainty in delicate, complex situations that is the greater sin here. His opponents like this in neat little bumper sticker sayings because they in turn believe that that is the deepest level of thinking of which their adherents are capable. I judge them to be better thinkers, more insightful in the presence of actual knowledge, which includes the simple act of saying, “I don’t know” when you really don’t.