Sunday, June 11, 2006

Israel-Palestine Update

Back on the eve of war, President Bush promised England and Spain that in exchange for their support for invading Iraq he would make a "personal commitment" to leaning on the Israelis to make a fair two-state settlement. More generally, Bush implied that our imagined new hegemony in the region, obtained by attacking one Arab country, would allow us the luxury of insisting on some justice for the Palestinians. Of course the Iraq war is not going well, and three years and three months after its start, Israel-Palestine is still in turmoil.

On Thursday, the Israelis attacked and killed the head of security for Hamas, who they blamed for Gaza-based rocket attacks on Israel. When Hamas responded with more rocket attacks, Israel commenced using missiles and artillery to target militants in Gaza. On Friday, in an apparent accident by the Israelis they shelled a beach in Gaza, killing eight people including a family of seven with infants and children. (Israel says the incident is under investigation and that they have not confirmed that their artillery caused the beach explosion.) In response to the Gaza beach incident, Hamas called off a 16-month truce. Saturday they launched at least 15 rockets plus mortars at Israel, and Sunday Israel launched air strikes that killed two Hamas fighters “while they were preparing to launch rockets.”

In the meantime, Palestinian President Abbas of the Fatah party is holding a referendum on July 26 that would effectively recognize Israel. The government-controlling Hamas party opposes the vote, and 17 Palestinians have been killed in Hamas-Fatah gunfights and skirmishes in the past few weeks...

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Crime Roundup

Mahmoud Maawad, a 29 year old Egyptian who has been here “illegally since 1999, when his visitor’s visa expired" has pled guilty in Federal Court in Memphis to fraud for buying “merchandise from a company that sells aviation-related training materials” using a “depleted bank account.” The case sounds more serious than your average internet shopping faux pas: A search of Maawad’s apartment turned up “charts on the layout of the Memphis airport and DVDs on pilot training, including one titled ‘How an Airline Captain Should Look and Act.’”

In Santa Ana, two more defendants were added to the case of an apparent family of spies. In what could be another case of undercharging, the five family members are all charged with making false statements and being an unregistered agent of China. One of the original defendants, Chi Mak, is alleged to have purloined information from the "Anaheim defense contractor where he was lead engineer on a sensitive research project involving propulsion systems for Navy warships" with the intent to send it to China.

Chi's brother Tai Wang Mak apparently encrypted some of the data for storage in a hard drive. The evidence includes “lists in Chinese asking [Chi] Mak to get documents about submarine torpedo technology, electromagnetic artillery systems, weapon standardization, early warning technology used to detect incoming missiles, and defenses used against nuclear attack.” Chi Mack’s wife Rebecca Laiwah Chiu, his brother Tai Wang’s wife Fuk Heung Li, and Li’s 26 year old son Billy Mack are also charged

Jerry Buck Inman

1888's Jack the Ripper may have been the first serial killer, and the question of why this kind of violence came into being is an interesting one. The most likely offenders seem to be the heightened anonymity of the new urban landscapes, the lack of fixed social norms and gender roles, and the end of thousands of years of both 1) male ownership of women, and 2) the existence of a social role for the sociopathically or violently inclined man. For most of human history, brutal and personal combat was normal for at least some members of society. So it doesn’t seem that surprising that our recent move in the West to a more remote kind of killing, by closing off a path to controlled violence, could inadvertently make monsters.

In South Carolina Jerry Buck Inman, 35 has confessed to the murder of a 20-year old Clemson University student and at least two other crimes. Murder victim Tiffany Marie Souers had been “found wearing only a bra on the bedroom floor of her apartment. She was strangled with [a] bikini top and her wrists and ankles were bound.” Inman also confessed to a “May 23 incident in which authorities said he broke into a home and tried to attack a 24-year-old woman after she came home for lunch.” Authorities expect to charge him with a May 24 rape. Inman is a registered sex offender, having been released in 2005 after serving a 16-year Florida prison term. Inman’s lawyer said that Inman “is overwhelmed by the attention this case has received so far," and that "I think he's a little shell-shocked by everything that has gone on so far."

Lastly, in Houston, the evidence that we have a dysfunctional society continues to mount: “About two dozen gang members armed with baseball bats and tire irons attacked a 14-year-old in a city park, and a teenage girl in the group stabbed him to death, police said.” There have been no arrests.

UN to Investigate US War Crimes?

In a critical act of independence the Iraqi government is calling for a UN investigation of ongoing US war crimes. The next step will probably be for them to ask us to leave, and, with no other good options in any event, we may have to take them up on it.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Liberalism is Killing Blacks

In San Francisco there is an ongoing crisis of black-on-black murders. Recently a man was killed in front of a group of children at one of the city’s main African-American community centers, and within weeks another man was killed a block away. In 2005, 60 percent of 96 homicide victims were African-American, in spite of the fact that the city is less than 5 percent black. Police Department records show that a similar proportion of perpetrators were black, but the exact figures are hard to find: many research sources indicate the racial make-up of homicide victims but do not indicate the ethnicity of the perpetrator.

Liberal orthodoxy, especially in San Francisco, essentially holds that the antidote for murder is increased spending for social programs, a philosophy reflected in a homicide prevention measure on today's ballot. If we accept the view that institutional racism and related deprivation is the cause of black crime, these prescriptions might make sense. But the African-Americans who were one or two generations out of slavery had lower crime rates than blacks today: at a time when the US was more racist, slavery was a more recent wound, and African-Americans were poorer, the black crime rates were lower.

And the focus on a social-service model of crime reduction is contrary to what has worked in other communities. For example, Compton just had a 65 percent reduction in homicides after the sheriff “flooded the streets with 100 deputies and detectives, more than doubling the number assigned to the city. He dispatched the officers in patrol cars and community 'impact teams' that address complaints such as graffiti, loitering and street-corner drug sales.”

The idea that taking a zero tolerance perspective towards minor quality of life crimes will create an environment that will reduce the number of violent crimes, the “broken windows” theory, was also effective in New York City. And while many liberals decry such polices as oppressive or racist, the many young black men who have not been murdered because of tougher law enforcement would, or at least should, disagree.

Monday, June 05, 2006

US Loses in Somalia

“Islamic militias declared victory over Somalia’s traditional warlords in the battle for control of Mogadishu.” We have been funding the traditional warlords, so we probably aren’t starting off the best foot with the militias. With Islamic fundamentalists in control in southern Iraq and rapidly re-taking Afghanistan, we seem to be losing the GWOT.

Terror Arrests in Canada

News that 17 Canadians have been arrested for alleged homegrown terrorism stinks. It seems possible that the arrests were timed by Canada’s conservative prime minister to boost the GOPs polling. And the case appears to center on evidence originating with the Royal Canadian Mounties.

The suspects include 12 men and five boys. Initial reports are sketchy, but we know that the police provided the group with three tons of ammonium nitrate (several times more than that used at Oklahoma City) and then arrested them. News accounts include the fact that “some of the younger members forged letters about a bogus school trip to give to their parents so they could attend” training in a local field.

The Mounties say that they had to act fast before the group attacked, but the group couldn’t attack until they got the fertilizer from the same Mounties. More facts should be forthcoming, and then we will see if the case involved people who were going to be a danger no matter what, or whether the suspects were, on the other hand, facilitated in doing something worse than that for which they were initially inclined.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Haditha, Ishaqi, and Baghdad

First we have last November's massacre of 24 people in Haditha, now we have the unlawful killing of 11 in Ishaqi in March and the murder of one near Baghdad in April. If there is a good side to the number of these incidents, it is that they provide forensic evidence of the criminality of the whole war.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Abortion, a Right, a Wrong, or Both?

If human life begins anywhere, it begins in the creation of an individual genome and a protoplasmic being at the moment of fertilization, so it is morally wrong to abort a pregnancy. Because a human is a special being, we rightly consider it wrong to end the life of one. But if being a free person means anything, it means that we have the right to control our own body, so it is morally wrong to force an unwilling potential mother to continue a pregnancy she does not want. Because a human being is a special being, we consider it wrong to take away the freedom of one.

Given the contradiction between the interests involved, it is understandable that an unwanted pregnancy is something of a legal and ethical battlefield. It might seem that a public compromise to the fact that abortion is ethically wrong, but legally necessary, could create consensus, but there are practical and political issues that prevent such a social accord.

On a practical level, to hold that abortion is morally wrong means that as a society we should try to do all we can to reduce their numbers. But where abortion is rare the infrastructure needed to make it available to women who choose it tends to diminish or disappear. In our polarized views of the issue we tend to create geographic zones where abortion is provided in a dignified and readily available fashion and where it is not. Another practical issue that is just as critical is money. There are close to 2,000,000 abortions per year in the US (several states, including California, do not report abortion statistics, so the actual number of abortions is unknown), and two-thirds of women who have abortions report that economic resources are a factor in their decision. (This figure is no doubt higher for African-American women in light of racial disparities in income; in 2002 Black women had 32 percent of all abortions in spite of making up 12 percent of women.)

The ongoing impasse in the abortion debate, and the possibility that the new Supreme Court could radically upset current law and policy, call for fresh attempts to resolve the conundrums of abortion. Maybe a compromise between conservative pro-life women and liberal pro-choice women is possible. For the pro-choice, the right to abortion must be guaranteed before they are willing to bother promoting the idea that abortion is wrong, because their instinct rightly reminds them that heretofore any equivocation on their part will be used to limit this right. For, pro-lifers a recognition from their opposition that abortion should truly be rare is a prerequisite to serious engagement.

One package of policies that both sides might be able to find in common could include: 1) an open admission that abortion is ethically unsound as regards the interests of the fetus and a related campaign to reduce the number of abortions, 2) a nationally-guaranteed and subsidized right to a safe and dignified abortion in every community, and 3) subsidies for women who want to give birth and adopt out and for those who want to raise a child (obviously welfare re-reform will be a hard sell). Liberals would be much more willing to discourage abortion if there was a guarantee that it would still be available everywhere, and any policy which could put a dent in the one million abortions motivated by financial factors would be attractive to right-to-lifers.

Paradoxically, and in what would have to be a deliberate suspension of supply and demand, a new policy framework 1) could make increased abortion availability go along with a reduction in the number of abortions, and 2) would require ensuring the supply of abortion services while at the same time working towards a reduction in the demand for abortion. The policies under consideration have the potential to build ties between feminist and socially conservative women: they are feminist because they would guarantee not just as an abstract right, but as a practical reality, access to abortion services, and they are conservative because by guaranteeing special rights to women they recognize that they, women, are, in fact, different from men.

Given that in most times and places men have owned women’s bodies, it is understandable that feminists feel particularly protective of their infant legal status as equal to men and of their concomitant jurisdiction over themselves. And the reality of legal and moral reasoning about abortion will always be different from the more immediate reality of being a woman in a body that is pregnant. But if women worked together, across political lines, a set of solutions that could both increase access to and reduce the numbers of abortions are possible.

On a sidenote, economists insist that we need the one million Mexicans who illegally enter the US each year in order to maintain our economy and our Social Security system, so maybe a policy that birthed a million new Americans could help resolve more than one of the conundrums of the moment.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Last Straw?

The November 19 Haditha massacre by US Marines, and the subsequent official attempts to cover it up, could be one insult too many for the new Iraq government. All available evidence points to a cold and calculated set of revenge killings by a team of soldiers who themselves had been pushed over the edge by one IED too many. The soldiers will certainly face courts martial, and the charges will probably include murder.

Assuming the truth of the allegations, the military proceedings will be one significant step towards justice. But the military chain of command should also be held accountable. In tort law, when multiple parties take part in action which causes harm they are held to account on a “joint and several liability” basis. For example, if two people throw rocks at a window and only one rock causes damage, they will both be held responsible. Like most crimes, the Haditha case presents two sets of blame: one for the individuals who committed the act and one for the social framework in which they acted. Just as a typical instance of crime is, from the largest perspective, the joint responsibility of the criminal and the society that produced them, the Marine Corp and the military in general should not escape blame.

In addition to military proceedings, the soldiers could conceivably face murder charges in an Iraqi court. Even though the military would no doubt decline to bring its Marines back to Iraq to face charges, a decision by the Iraq government to charge them could represent the tipping point to open hostility between their government and ours. At the various stages of transition to sovereignty for Iraq, the US sought a “status of forces agreement” (SOFA) from the Iraqi (proto-) government. Generally, our military will not operate in a foreign country without a SOFA, and one key element is always the granting of immunity for actions of soldiers committed in the course of their service.

But we were never able to negotiate a SOFA, so this line of defense to an Iraq prosecution is closed. Instead we placed a purported absolute immunity for our troops in Coalition Provisional Authority Order Number 17, part of the hybrid colonial-transitional law instituted by the US after the 2003 invasion. It is an open question whether this Order is binding on the Iraq government that is now being formed. If not, or if Iraq argued that the massacre was outside “the course of service,” charges could be filed in an Iraqi court. As the facts about this case and the apparent cover-up attempt percolate around the world, the killings could become the last straw in the relations of the US and Iraq governments.