Archive for the ‘international relations’ Category

Helping Haiti

January 15, 2010

The world is abuzz with the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti. It’s hard for someone like me to really comprehend the scope of the tragedy of many of the stories coming from devastation. Most of us are not in a position to ourselves go and help out, but there are a number of worthy organizations participating in the rescue and recovery to which you can donate. They include:

(this list is hardly comprehensive; there are plenty of other legitimate options. You can find others, and research their reputation and integrity through CharityNavigator or NetworkForGood.)

But as important as this disaster relief work is, hopefully we will do more. I hope we can take this opportunity to consider what allows this sort of catastrophe to occur—not the earthquake, of course, but the social conditions which allow the natural disaster to wreak such devastation. We as individuals can engage long term with the non-profit organizations which are working to foster long-term and sustainable changes to those conditions. And we can participate as citizens to encourage our government to adopt a foreign policy agenda more conducive to such change. Bill Quigley, Legal Director at the Center for Constitutional Rights and a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans, has suggested ten suggestions.

One. Allow all Haitians in the US to work. The number one source of money for poor people in Haiti is the money sent from family and workers in the US back home. Haitians will continue to help themselves if given a chance. Haitians in the US will continue to help when the world community moves on to other problems.

Two. Do not allow US military in Haiti to point their guns at Haitians. Hungry Haitians are not the enemy. Decisions have already been made which will militarize the humanitarian relief – but do not allow the victims to be cast as criminals. Do not demonize the people.

Three. Give Haiti grants as help, not loans. Haiti does not need any more debt. Make sure that the relief given helps Haiti rebuild its public sector so the country can provide its own citizens with basic public services.

Four. Prioritize humanitarian aid to help women, children and the elderly. They are always moved to the back of the line. If they are moved to the back of the line, start at the back.

Five. President Obama can enact Temporary Protected Status for Haitians with the stroke of a pen. Do it. The US has already done it for El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Sudan and Somalia. President Obama should do it on Martin Luther King Day.

Six. Respect Human Rights from Day One. The UN has enacted Guiding Principles for Internally Displaced People. Make them required reading for every official and non-governmental person and organization. Non governmental organizations like charities and international aid groups are extremely powerful in Haiti – they too must respect the human dignity and human rights of all people.

Seven. Apologize to the Haitian people everywhere for Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh.

Eight. Release all Haitians in US jails who are not accused of any crimes. Thirty thousand people are facing deportations. No one will be deported to Haiti for years to come. Release them on Martin Luther King day.

Nine. Require that all the non-governmental organizations which raise money in the US be transparent about what they raise, where the money goes, and insist that they be legally accountable to the people of Haiti.

Ten. Treat all Haitians as we ourselves would want to be treated (Bill Quigley, “Ten Things the US Can and Should Do for Haiti,”, 01-14-2010).

Rob Bishop: “The Plane! The Plane!”

July 31, 2009

Utah representative Rob Bishop proudly insists that he is a fiscal conservative. He rejects “massive government spending on bloated federal programs that puts our country deeper into debt.” Judging from his statement on the floor of the House in 2006, one might suppose he was determined to critically review government programs and spending based on their effectiveness, working to ax those which didn’t pass muster.

Except, seemingly, when it comes to glamorous military equipment such as the F-22.

No, Rob Bishop is proud to have played a role in saving the F-22, a weapon which is many times as expensive as the fighter it is supposed to replace, requires far more frequent and costly maintenance, is vulnerable to rain, and which appears completely unqualified for the sorts of warfare in which we seem likely to be engaged in the future; after all it has never flown a mission in Iraq or Afghanistan during its four years of service. Does anyone really expect the sort of full-scale conflict with another large, military power in which these flashy fighters might shine to come around in the foreseeable future? (see R. Jeffrey Smith, “Premier U.S. Fighter Jet Has Major Shortcomings,” The Washington Post, and Jeff Huber, “Sticker Shock and Awe,” The American Conservative).

Nevermind any critical analysis of the program. Bishop is apparently willing to overlook this expensive government program and it’s questionable impact on national defense because, as Bishop’s website proudly announced, his defense of the F-22 “scored some significant victories for Utah’s military installations and personnel.”

In other words, it’s about pork, a game which the military-industrial complex has become experts at playing with Congress (see the insightful documentary Why We Fight).

We can’t have government “waste” on energy efficiency, environmental protection, or health care. We must reserve that instead for the war-toys which set warhawk hearts aflutter and keep people employed in production of dubious value. Just keep in mind the warning of President Eisenhower:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals.

It is some 50 miles of concrete highway. We pay for a single fighter with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.

This, I repeat, is the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking.

This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron (“A Chance for Peace,” American Society of Newspaper Editors; April 16, 1953).

Obama and the Iranian Election

June 26, 2009

Obama has been getting quite a bit of flack for the way he has handled the recent Iranian election fiasco. From the inflammatory neocon pundits like Limbaugh, Hannity, and Coulter, to the Republican politicians like Dana Rohrabacher, Richard Perle, Mitt Romney, Lindsey Graham, Charles Grassley, and John McCain are angry that Obama has not been more aggressive in responding to the Iranian tragedy. Even hawkish Democrats like Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden think that the president should be more forceful in his reaction.

Why? What purpose would it serve? No one has directly suggested military intervention, or even new economic sanctions. They simply seem to want the President to be more forceful in condemning the election results and the government crackdown, or in expressing support for the dissidents. Do these people think that simply by uttering his disapproval, Obama can undo the election? “If Obama would only disapprovingly shake his finger at them, they’d learn they’re lesson!” Have they caught Obamania that much?

While it is extremely unlikely to help the situation, stern words could make things worse. As Obama himself mentioned in his recent press conference, Iran’s government would have no hesitation to play up any US rhetoric for the extremist crowd which is their base. Worse, saber rattling by its very nature implies the potential for drawing that saber. Such a stance might well escalate and draw the nation into yet another Middle Eastern military fiasco. Yet if he refused to back his words with deeds, Obama would look weak and ineffectual.

(I suppose this might well be the strategy of the neocons attempting to goad Obama into a more belligerent stance; either they get the further interventionism they desire in order to create their “New American Century,” or they get the president to make himself look weak.)

In 1991, fresh of his victory in the first Gulf War, President H.W. Bush heartily endorsed dissident factions in Iraq and encouraged the overthrow of the Hussein regime. Emboldened by the implied support of the US, the Kurds and Shia began a revolt. The military support which they assumed backed Bush’s words never came. The revolt failed, and the dissidents were slaughtered.

Is it worth the risk of seeing the same thing in Iran just to satisfy the egos of those who want to see the US play John Wayne?

My thoughts, wishes, and prayers are with these brave Iranian protesters who are fighting for a nation which respects the will of the people and individual rights. I’m inspired, as I’ve been by the “Tank Man” and others at Tiananmen Square, by their courage and determination. But I am no less suspicious of the path of interventionism in Iran than I’ve been in Iraq, Afghanistan, or any other nation. We can not hope to impose democracy from without. We have not the capacity, especially now. Nor is it the role of the US to play nanny to the rest of the world. Obama has made essentially the right decision in this situation. Let’s hope that Obama is able to continue to ignore the taunting of the militarists, and that the Iranians are able to find the power within themselves to liberate themselves.

Where’s that New World Now the Fighting’s Done?

February 4, 2009

So the latest struggle surrounding Israel came to a tense and fragile close with the cease-fire a couple weeks back. And what has each party accomplished? Has Hamas eliminated Israel or forced Israel to acquiesce to Hamas’ demands? Has Israel vanquished their foe, killing or incarcerating the leaders of Hamas and forcing the organization to surrender their arms?

Of course not. Israel’s political elites were probably able to use the exercise to score the political points they wanted for their election. With Palestinian resentment over the conflict will largely turn towards against those whose troops destroyed their homes and killed their families, Hamas will surely be able to reap a bountiful harvest of recruits to maintain their ranks. Other than that, we’re back at the status quo—minus thirteen Israelis and one-thousand, three-hundred Palestinians. Several thousands more were uprooted by the violence, and who knows how much property was demolished.

In other words, neither side won, but humanity lost.

As usual, many in the blogosphere have leapt to the defense of their favored side. Here in the U.S, particularly among the LDS, that side is typically Israel. Hamas broke the cease-fire, so they claim; it is Hamas which is indiscriminately targeted civilians with their rockets, while Israel took extraordinary precautions to try to avoid civilian casualties. However, the defense of Israel wore thin when evidence surfaced that Israel was using white phosphorus as a weapon, and as people such as Israeli expatriate Avi Shlaim noted that Israel was the real culprit in breaking the cease fire.

The important thing to remember is that there was a ceasefire brokered by Egypt in July of last year, and that ceasefire succeeded…Before the ceasefire came into effect in July of 2008, the monthly number of rockets fired—Kassam rockets, homemade Kassam rockets, fired from the Gaza Strip on Israeli settlements and towns in southern Israel was 179. In the first four months of the ceasefire, the number dropped dramatically to three rockets a month, almost zero…

…The new story said that Hamas broke the ceasefire. This is a lie. Hamas observed the ceasefire as best as it could and enforced it very effectively. The ceasefire was a stunning success for the first four months. It was broken not by Hamas, but by the IDF. It was broken by the IDF on the 4th of November, when it launched a raid into Gaza and killed six Hamas men…

…ever since Hamas captured power in Gaza in the summer of 2007, Israel had imposed a blockade of the Strip. Israel stopped food, fuel and medical supplies from reaching the Gaza Strip. One of the terms of the ceasefire was that Israel would lift the blockade of Gaza, yet Israel failed to lift the blockade, and that is one issue that is also overlooked or ignored by official Israeli spokesmen. So Israel was doubly guilty of sabotaging the ceasefire, A, by launching a military attack, and B, by maintaining its very cruel siege of the people of Gaza (“Israel Committing “State Terror” in Gaza Attack, Preventing Peace,” Democracy Now).

Some may interpret my criticism of Israel’s government as implicit support for Hamas. To do so would be missing the point. At worst, Hamas is intrinsically anathema to the state of Israel and is more concerned with maintaining its power than with the plight of the people in Gaza. At best, even if Shlaim and Rabbi Michael Lerner are correct that Hamas is pragmatically willing to accept a long-term cease-fire and de facto peaceful coexistence with Israel, Hamas has repeatedly proven itself perfectly willing to sacrifice the lives of innocent civilians—both Gazan and Israeli—in pursuit of their goals.

Both sides, Hamas and Israel’s mainstream political elite, are slaves to this siege mentality. Both refuse to back down. Both are apparently committed to the path of violence and brutality. As long as we excuse the actions of either side as the lesser evil and accept their false premises that violence is the only language which the other will understand, all we will accomplish is the perpetuation of this cycle of destruction. If there is any hope of a long-term peace and reconciliation in the land of Palestine, it will come through supporting those who are determined to chart a new course. Groups such as Gush Shalom, which support a more just and peaceful resolution to the conflict, and the courageous Shministim who stand as the future leaders of a new and more honorable Israel, hold the promise of such bold navigators. Certainly there must be Palestinians who share that vision of cooperation and peace, people who can be nurtured into leadership roles on the other side of the divide.

Ron Madson of The Mormon Worker proposed an idea which is almost unheard of in our martial world today:

I would seek to destroy the Palestinians in the very way Christ taught us how to destroy our enemies. I would do what Gush Shalom proposes and then more: I would flood Palestine with food, economic relief/opportunities, water (no longer cut of their water supplies in any way). I would return good for evil aggressively and unrelentingly. I would meet with their leaders—including terrorists (they call themselves defenders, but no matter) and I would beg for forgiveness for all wrongs that Israeli has done in any way. I would council with them and when they ask for such and such I would consider ways to practically double their request. I would find ways to give the Palestinians the dignity and respect that any human being deserves. I would destroy their war
narrative (“What Would You Do If you were the Israeli PM?“).

A radical idea? Certainly. Given track record of the conventional “solutions,” perhaps it is time for a radical strategy based on hope and charity. Only then might we see the seeds of a new world, a more beautiful one, in the Middle East.

President Bush Deregulates Coal Mining Debris Disposal

December 13, 2008

Despite what the headlines seem to suggest, President Bush is not yet inconsequential. His executive powers are maintained for another few weeks, and like the last several of his predecessors, he is spending that time issuing eleventh hour executive orders and regulatory changes. Among the most distressing of the changes is one which lifts many restrictions on the disposal of mining waste. In truth the rules regulating that disposal have widely been ignored for years. Lifting those restrictions will allow mining operators even greater freedom to dump their mining refuse into nearby streams and valleys. Mining runoff contains high levels of selenium and other hazardous chemicals, which threatens not only local fish and wildlife, but the local communities.

Deregulation has always been a central tenet of conventional free market theory as a means to maintain freedom for society. The argument is in theory very persuasive. Why is it that in practice deregulation so often means keeping producers free to pass off the true costs of their production onto others; free contaminate the private property and health of the less powerful, as well as the public property on which we all rely, in their pursuit of profit? So much for the people downstream being “free to choose.”

Somalia Revisited

December 8, 2008

A couple of years ago, I wrote the post “Somalia and U.S. tendencies in Foreign Policy.” In the essay, I criticized the US response to the turmoil in Somalia. That response involved support for warlords against the Islamic Courts Union, which had recently formed a government and begun to establish some semblance of peace in Mogadishu and the surrounding area. Given that the ICU and the Somalia Muslim community was considered by most experts to be rather moderate, I insisted that the U.S. policy of undermining the ICU was ultimately self-defeating.

Since that time, the U.S. made a change. Sadly the change was only tactical, not policy. Rather than relying on Somalian thugs, the administration heavily supported Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia to oust the ICU.

And as one might well have guessed, US intervention in Somalia—albeit by proxy—has been about as successful as their other fronts on the “War on Terror.” The latest reports indicate Ethiopia has failed dismally to erect any sort of peace through their occupation. It should not be terribly shocking that Somalians do not appear to appreciate the intervention of a historic nemesis, and have galvanized quite an insurgency. Ethiopia is unable to maintain the occupation, announcing that they will withdraw shortly. Worst of all, the conflict has greatly strengthened the hands of radical Islam. The militant Al-Shabaab has taken the reigns of the Muslim movement in Somalia, winning control of the southern regions and creeping northward. Foreign radicals have flocked to Al Shabaab’s aid.

How long until we realize that interventionist policies do not succeed? How many times must we kick the hornet nests before we learn?

If neo-con grand-poobah Bill Kristol has his way, at least once more. Using the escalation of Somalian piracy as an excuse (can anyone doubt that the fiasco shoreside has something to do with rise in piracy?), Kristol recommends that the president invade.

…perhaps he [President Bush] could tell various admirals to stop moaning about how difficult it would be to deal with the pirates off the coast of Somalia (isn’t keeping the shipping lanes open a core mission of the Navy?) and order the Navy to clobber them. If need be, the Marines would no doubt be glad to recapitulate their origins and join in by going ashore in Africa to destroy the pirates’ safe havens (“Before He Goes,” Weekly Standard)

Retired Navy Commander Jeff Huber heaps well-earned scorn on Kristol’s hair-brained scheme.

It was only a matter of time before Long Bill Kristol and his scurvy dogs of war used piracy as an excuse to goad young Mr. Bush into invading one last country before the door hits him. In the latest gurgitation of the Weekly Standard, Bill suggests that the best thing young Mr. Bush can do in his final days as commander-in-chief is send the Marines into Somalia to deep-six those pesky buccaneers. Now: if we can’t identify and capture pirates while they’re plundering ships on the bounding main, I’d like to know how the yo-ho-ho Bill thinks the Marines can tell the pirates from the rest of the poor starving Somalis once they go ashore.

Bill also remarks how Bush can do the nation a service “by reminding Americans of our successes fighting the war on terror.” One wonders if Bill is no fooling unaware that terrorists are on the verge of a sparking war between two nuclear powers, or that a congressionally mandated task force has reported that “it is more likely than not that a weapon of mass destruction will be used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by the end of 2013,” or that, according to the respected analysts at the Rand Corporation, Mr. Bush’s pursuit of a military-centric counter-terror strategy “has not undermined al Qaeda” and that the terrorist group “has remained a strong and competent organization.”

One would hope that given the enormous influence he wields, Bill is at least partially cognizant of the world around him, that he just talks that way because he’s a master of Socratic dialectic who recites gibberish until people agree with him so he shuts up…

Seemingly aware of his limitations, Long Bill normally delegates the hardcore humbuggery required of any given subject to one of his more gifted mateys, and the pirate issue is no exception. Seth Cropsey’s “To the Shores of Tripoli…” is a standard neocon compendium of fuzzy premises and fear and loathing and the sort of logic that insists ear is to hearing as nose is to face.

The first thing that struck me about the piece was Cropsey’s apparent alarm over the estimated $30 million ransom money the Somali pirates raked in this year. Cropsey must have shared a cryogenic chamber with Dr. Evil. We’re chaffing $10 freaking billion into Iraq every month, which isn’t a pismire compared to the $7 freaking trillion we’re going to spend trying to fix the freaking economy, and Cropsey wants to send the Marines ashore for $30 measly million that didn’t even belong to us?

…Only slightly less ludicrous is Cropsey’s admonition that “Americans ought to know the limits of relying on naval power alone to stop piracy as a result of the nation’s experience in the Barbary Coast wars.” Comparing the present Somali pirate situation to our Barbary Coast wars of the early nineteenth century is as tidy an apples-to-elephants analogy as you’ll ever find…

…Thomas Jefferson’s America also didn’t possess a couple fistfuls of fixed wing aircraft carrier strike groups, two of which, with their E-2 Hawkeye surveillance aircraft and the rest of their air wings, could turn the whole Indian Ocean into a no-pirate zone faster than you can say “Avast.” Yeah, at first blush it’s overkill to use more than $10 billion worth of carrier and air wing and escorts to stop a few measly millions worth of piracy, but what else do the carrier groups have to do right now: bomb Muslim weddings in the Bananastans? Heck, the Navy’s got cruise missile equipped nuclear submarines to bomb Muslim weddings with.

And if it ever happens that the nuclear submarines can’t bomb Muslim weddings any more because, oh, what…because they run out of fuel when the Iranians go and gobble up the whole world’s supply of uranium, say, well we have a whole separate service branch that pick up the Muslim wedding bombing slack. It’s called the Air Force, which has these really, really expensive things called, oddly enough, bombers.

…Plus, if the Navy can solve the pirate problem, there’s no need to get our land forces tangled up in another pointless quagmire, which Cropsey admits a Somali invasion would be. “Somalia’s descent into turmoil began almost two decades ago,” he writes, and is “unlikely to be reversed” by military intervention.

…And as if the article weren’t already sufficiently stunning, Cropsey closes with the neocons’ favorite propaganda ploy, the taunt. Failing to hit the beaches of North Africa “will increase the jihadists’ contempt for us.” Psst. Ahmed over there just called you a booger nose. What are you going to do about it??

Thanks for the info, Crops. Oh, did Ahmed tell you your fly is open?

It’s well and good to have a good laugh at Kristol’s unholy crew of blobs, buffoons and bull feather merchants. They not only deserve ridicule, they demand it. It is vital to the continued health of our nation that we lay bare the absurdities inherent in the neoconservative philosophy early and often and forever.

But it’s also imperative to remember that this collection of ideological sideshow amusements steered our ship of state and dictated the fates of nations for eight years, and that some of the people in Barack Obama’s national security team still take them seriously (“Shiver Me Neocons,” Pen and Sword, emphases in the original).

Let us pray that Bush isn’t delusional enough to consider Kristol’s advice. Let us also hope that Obama will be true to his word to provide change; change from the policies of interventionism which so many of his predecessors have foolishly pursued. In this time of global economic struggle and international tension, the world cannot afford the consequences of more of the same.

Bush, China, and Free Speech

August 8, 2008

So President Bush has chosen to take the opportunity afforded by publicity of the Olympics and his trip to China to advocate greater freedom of expression in that nation.

It is certainly a worthy goal. Freedom of speech is one of the most essential freedoms we can hold.

However, given the lengths to which this administration has gone to insulate itself from dissenting expression ( “free speech zones,” extensive audience screening at speeches and events), President Bush may not be the most persuasive credible advocate around.

The Iraq Status of Forces Negotiations: Exposing the Republican Lie

June 19, 2008

For five years now, Republicans high and low have scoffed at the Iraq War skeptics. They’ve routinely protested any suggestion that the conquest had anything to do with oil or empire. This is a war of liberation, an act of benevolence to free an oppressed people, a noble act to spread Democracy. The regrettable use of military force was necessary, but was merely temporary. Our forces will be removed as soon as the legitimate government of Iraq no longer needed or wanted our services.

Variously naive and duplicitous, these assurances have been proven wrong. We now know that the Bush administration has been in negotiations for a new Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government, one which would permit U.S. forces to maintain dozens of indefinite-term military bases, control of Iraqi airspace, carte blanche to pursue military operations, and immunity from Iraqi law for not only members of the U.S. military, but U.S. contractors.

That is not a mutual aid agreement between sovereign nations. That is a pact turning Iraq into a client state of the U.S.

Yes, the conservatives insist that the bases are intended to be temporary. The bases in Saudi Arabia established during Gulf War I were supposedly temporary as well. So was Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo, but the idea that this sprawling, expensive base will be dismantled anytime soon is rather absurd. As Chalmers Johnson pointed out in his book The Sorrows of Empire, its network of military bases is a primary means by which the U.S. stretches its influence and exerts political pressure on nations throughout the world. This is nothing more than the neo-imperialism practiced by the U.S. for the better part of a century.

You don’t think the war had anything to do with petroleum? I have a hard time believing that the administration didn’t see potential of leveraging the influence of long-term military bases to help assure the pipeline to the U.S.

And what of the desires of the legitimate government in Iraq? They find the U.S. demands to be unacceptable.

We have reached an impasse, because when we opened these negotiations we did not realise that the US demands would so deeply affect Iraqi sovereignty and this is something we can never accept (Iraqi PM Nouri Maliki, from “Impasse in US-Iraqi forces talks,” BBC)

It reminds me a great deal of the agreement between the U.S. and Cuba after the Spanish-American War. Cuba, now “liberated” from Spain, was required to grant the U.S. military bases (of which Guantanamo is a remnant), exempt U.S. entities from Cuban law, and even permit the U.S. government a veto over the Cuban legislature. Some liberation.

It is worth considering that the hubris of the U.S. and their insistence that Cuba become a vassal played a very key role in the resentment which ultimately enabled a meglomaniacal dictator to lead an uprising and defy the U.S. for almost half a century now.

Time for the conservatives to face facts and or own up to the lies. There are clearly ulterior motives at play—motives which must be terminated. The Middle-East is explosive enough right now without pouring more gasoline on the fire.

Then Again…

March 29, 2008

…when I am reminded of McCain’s foreign policy, and the general attitude of the vast majority of the Republicans in that regard, the prospects of voting for McCain dim considerably. While I’m not certain either of the Democratic candidates are as willing to stand for an ethical foreign policy as I’d like, and Clinton seems very willing to take a belligerent stance when it suits her purposes, neither seem to relish the imperator role like their presumptive opponent.

Jeff Huber, retired Navy Commander, is a rather witty commentator on the military and politics in his blog Pen and Sword. He had some rather scathing thoughts on McCain’s recent faux-pas in Iraq.

It must be a kick in the head to base your claim to the presidency on your savvy in foreign affairs only to have it get out that Joe Lieberman knows more about them than you do. I bet it’s a lot like how I feel when my dog corrects my grammar in front of people.

One would like to think that Senator John McCain misspoke when he said in Jordan during his tour of the Middle East that the Iranians have been “taking Al Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back.” He is, after all, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee and the GOP’s designated crown prince, so you’d think he’d be aware that the official rant is that Iran is training Shiite Iraqi militants, not the Sunni al Qaeda guys. But no, McCain made the Iran-al Qaeda accusation four times in just over three weeks, and it wasn’t until Lieberman cooed something in his ear that he said, “I’m sorry. The Iranians are training extremists, not Al Qaeda.”

The question is, of course, whether McCain is really that dumb and/or senile or if he’s just being a diligent echo chamberlain of the neoconservative agenda. It may be that he lives in a bubble even more opaque than the one Mr. Bush occupies. Then again, he may be a Cheney class Machiavellian. As historian and journalist Gareth Porter noted on March 22, “Sen. John McCain’s confusion in recent allegations of Iranian training of al-Qaeda fighters in Iraq is the result of a drumbeat of official propaganda about close Iran-al-Qaeda ties that the George W. Bush administration and neoconservatives have promoted ever since early 2002.”

Whatever the case, McCain is a key component of the disinformation campaign designed to revive the world order we thought we’d put out of its misery at the end of the 20th century (Pen and Sword, “McQaeda” ).

He also tackles Cheney’s duplicity regarding Al Qaeda and the administration’s simian chest-beating over Iran in the same post. Biting, but very shrewd.

Moral Responsibility on Global Climate Change: Take Two

March 14, 2008

In my last post, I used the example of one particularly widespread argument against the Kyoto Protocols as an example of the sort of inappropriate moral relativism which is often used in politics. I made the case that you cannot ethically use the argument that “if they don’t do x, we shouldn’t do x” on this—or any other—issue. And yet, in the comments, one poster completely ignored my argument and rehashed the very position I had been criticizing.

According to the International Energy Agency, as much as 85 percent of the projected increase in CO2 emissions over the next 20 years will be produced in exempt countries like China. As long as China is exempt from Kyoto (or the like), what evidence shows that the rest of us – even in unanimous die-hard commitment- can put a dent in the climate change problem?

Not to put to fine a point on it, this is simply a morally bankrupt argument. Would we argue that because our efforts will not make a dent in the level of global infidelity in society, we should not bother being faithful to our spouses? Others will continue to steal whether or not I do—so why shouldn’t I get mine? My lack of participation hasn’t made any splash in the drunk driving rate, so why shouldn’t I go ahead and get liquored up behind the wheel?

We should expect ourselves to do the moral, the just thing, regardless of what others do, regardless of whether we think it will make a difference. We are called to fight the good fight because it is right.

And will it make a difference? Maybe not. But maybe—just maybe—when the most wealthy and economic power is willing to repent for its monumental contribution to the problem in question (carbon emissions and global climate change) by committing to and achieving massive change, that leadership may inspire other nations to follow our example. I am an idealist, and I do believe in miracles. I could be naive. But I can absolutely guarantee that no dent will be made if nobody is willing to make the committment.

This commentor brings up another issue of morality important to address in all realms of politics and social action.

We have a moral obligation to be good stewards of this earth. I do not feel morally obligated to support international treaties that would slow wage growth, widen the rich-poor gap by eliminating the middle class, or raise taxes. Government action is will coerced. Coerced morality is not morality at all.

People of the libertarian persuasion often bring up the immorality of government coercion in rejecting government action on a given topic. Because government’s authority ultimately comes from the point of a gun, any claims to morality are merely pretense. The only real morality is individual in action.

I agree that freedom is a crucial concern, as I noted in my post “Social Justice III: The Libertarian Criticism of Social Justice”. However, this claim does not trump all other concerns. No libertarian I know of would claim that murder should be legal. I’ve heard of none who would claim that freedom of speech permits people to use that speech to deliberately put others in harms way (the classic “yelling fire in a crowded theater” scenario). No libertarian politician has suggested theft should be decriminalized. No, even libertarians recognize what John Stewart Mill referred to as the harm principle.

That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others (On Liberty)

Government has the authority, granted it by the consent of the people, to restrict the freedom of the people when the exercise of that freedom would result in harm to others. Say what you want about the government’s monopoly on violence; given the widely recognized harm principle, it is fundamentally immoral for the government not to use its power to prevent direct harm to others in the name of freedom.

There is a great deal of evidence that the byproducts of our consumption (the production of the goods we use, the powering and use of those goods, the disposal of those goods, the energy to transport those goods or ourselves, et al) is causing great harm to others. This happens on a local scale (along the Wasatch Front, there are a number of days each winter and summer when we are advised not to breath the air). And I believe that there is pretty comprehensive evidence that this is also happening on a global scale.

As I said in my original post, there are other arguments which can be made the Kyoto Protocols. You may believe that human activity does not impact climate, that our consumption activities cause no direct harm in that regard. If the volume of scientific data and opinion which has come forth in the past couple decades hasn’t convinced you, I’m certainly not about to try here. You may believe that there are other methods are more likely to effect positive change than international agreements or federal legislation. I may disagree with those arguments, but they are morally legitimate positions. The “they’re not, so I won’t” and government coercion arguments are not. When people use those arguments, they undercut any sort of rational discourse and any moral authority they might have.