23 January, 2009

No-so unforseeable consequences--Gaza's tunnels re-open

And now they are ALL under the control of Hamas.  No more wasting time with the smuggling of consumer goods; weapons have priority everywhere.

JERUSALEM - The Israeli military bombed hundreds of tunnels during the Gaza war -- to shut down Hamas' weapons-smuggling routes, and to put pressure on Egypt to the militants from getting more. But just days after the battle's end, those tunnels are re-opening, with Hamas in charge.

"Hamas has seized control of all the smuggling tunnels under the Philadelphi Corridor in southern Gaza and has been moving additional arms into the Strip since Operation Cast Lead ended on Sunday morning," the Jerusalem Post reports. Those passages, "are usually run by local Palestinian clans, and Hamas's decision to take control is believed to be part of the group's attempts to reestablish its regime in Gaza. Hamas can now decide what is smuggled into the Strip and give priority to weapons and explosives."

The Israeli’s may have figured the Gazans would have turned on HAMAS, though how they would believe that I can’t understand.  Maybe Israeli wants to force Egypt to get more active in blocking the smuggling from the Egyptian side of the border.  If so, that shows a remarkable lack of understanding of both the economics of smuggling and the politics of Egypt.

Force was used in much the same way as the Americans tried to “shock and awe” their way to victory in Iraq.  It ain’t that easy.  Meanwhile, the action has the effect of removing the unlucky, incompetent, and uncommitted from the opposition, leaving a core from which to build that is more capable and more radical.

Think of it as evolution in action.

Gaza's Tunnels Re-Open, With Hamas in Charge | Danger Room from Wired.com

22 January, 2009

Thank god.

A good start:

Saying that “our ideals give us the strength and moral high ground” to combat terrorism, President Obama signed executive orders Thursday ending the Central Intelligence Agency’s secret overseas prisons, banning coercive interrogation methods and closing the Guantánamo Bay detention camp within a year.

Obama Orders Secret Prisons and Detention Camps Closed - NYTimes.com

20 January, 2009

Government and industry

Fabius Maximus posts a graph of the changing numbers of Americans in manufacturing jobs and in government jobs.


Assuming the data is valid (and I have no reason to doubt the general trend), American has crossed another symbolic threshold.  (See the prior post on Atlas Shrugged.)

America passes a milestone! « Fabius Maximus

14 January, 2009

Liberal security and the limits to coercion

Glenn Greenwald does the service of contrasting Tom Freedman’s (approving) analysis of Israel’s tactics in Gaza, versus one of the standard definitions of terrorism. Freedman, on the Gaza campaign:

Israel basically said that when dealing with a nonstate actor, Hezbollah, nested among civilians, the only long-term source of deterrence was to exact enough pain on the civilians — the families and employers of the militants — to restrain Hezbollah in the future.

Israel’s military was not focused on the morning after the war in Lebanon — when Hezbollah declared victory and the Israeli press declared defeat. It was focused on the morning after the morning after, when all the real business happens in the Middle East. That’s when Lebanese civilians, in anguish, said to Hezbollah: “What were you thinking? Look what destruction you have visited on your own community! For what? For whom?”


In Gaza, I still can’t tell if Israel is trying to eradicate Hamas or trying to “educate” Hamas, by inflicting a heavy death toll on Hamas militants and heavy pain on the Gaza population. If it is out to destroy Hamas, casualties will be horrific and the aftermath could be Somalia-like chaos. If it is out to educate Hamas, Israel may have achieved its aims.

The U.S. Department of State, in 2001:

No one definition of terrorism has gained universal acceptance. For the purposes of this report, however, we have chosen the definition of terrorism contained in Title 22 of the United States Code, Section 2656f(d). That statute contains the following definitions:

The term "terrorism" means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant (1) targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience. . . .

(1) For purposes of this definition, the term "noncombatant" is interpreted to include, in addition to civilians, military personnel who at the time of the incident are unarmed and/or not on duty.

Feel some dissonance? There seem to be three ways out.

First, simply assume that States can’t do terrorism (as the State Department does, by omission). Second, assume that “legitimate” States (ours and our allies) can’t do terrorism. The first means going back to the pre-Nuremburg (Westphalian) standard that governments owe nothing to civilians—their own, or anyone else’s. The second denies the idea of universal standards of law: law is what we impose on them, not something that applies to us.

Actually, classical realists have been facing this problem for millennia. Their answer: the world sucks; deal with it. Morality and law are for members of a community. Those fighting for survival must—and should--observe no limits on what they do to survive.

Intellectually, the answer is elegant. Ugly, yes, but clear. However, it completely obscures the question “survive as what?” If there is any meaning to life beyond simple survival, it is necessary to consider what brutality does not only to the victims, but to the brute.

We live in a world where moral absolutes have to give ground to the realities of what can be done. Sometimes, very, very rarely—there can be an evil so horrendous and options so limited that one must accept the responsibility for doing things that would normally be unthinkable. But even then, we are still responsible, and should be willing to pay for our crimes. Otherwise, we slide down a slope of self-justification that brutalizes ourselves almost us much as the harm we do to others. For a freedom-loving society, the goal has to be not only to provide “security” at any cost, but to achieve liberal security—protecting our lives while maintaining the values that give those lives meaning.

Tom Friedman offers a perfect definition of "terrorism" - Glenn Greenwald - Salon.com

12 January, 2009

Ayn Rand Shrugged

There’s a lot to criticize in the work of Ayn Rand—she’s always seemed to me to be a better novelist than political theorist, largely because of her tendency to think in absolutes when absolutes are inappropriate. Perhaps that’s why I’ve preferred The Fountainhead to Atlas Shrugged.

But I must admit that Atlas Shrugged is, in many ways, a lot more true to life today than it was in 1957, and it’s because Rand recognized some fundamental tendencies in American (and global) politics and economics. Industrialists are not all heros; politicians are not all corrupt or idiots. Nevertheless, there are some ways in which the profession of politics selects for the corrupt or the idiot.

An op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal makes the point:

Many of us who know Rand's work have noticed that with each passing week, and with each successive bailout plan and economic-stimulus scheme out of Washington, our current politicians are committing the very acts of economic lunacy that "Atlas Shrugged" parodied in 1957, when this 1,000-page novel was first published and became an instant hit.

Rand, who had come to America from Soviet Russia with striking insights into totalitarianism and the destructiveness of socialism, was already a celebrity. The left, naturally, hated her. But as recently as 1991, a survey by the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club found that readers rated "Atlas" as the second-most influential book in their lives, behind only the Bible.

For the uninitiated, the moral of the story is simply this: Politicians invariably respond to crises -- that in most cases they themselves created -- by spawning new government programs, laws and regulations. These, in turn, generate more havoc and poverty, which inspires the politicians to create more programs . . . and the downward spiral repeats itself until the productive sectors of the economy collapse under the collective weight of taxes and other burdens imposed in the name of fairness, equality and do-goodism.

'Atlas Shrugged': From Fiction to Fact in 52 Years - WSJ.com

08 January, 2009

Who is (was) at Guantánamo?

The Brookings Institution has come out with a best-guess, based on open sources, on the numbers and identities of the current (and past) detainees held at Guantanamo.  A nice job of collection and evaluation.

Human Security Gateway - The Current Detainee Population of Guantánamo: An Empirical Study

The selective blindness of "political" economists

Economist Arnold Kling puts something into words far better than I have been able to when he draws parallels between today's standard prescriptions for bailouts and the god-awful military tragedy that was the Battle of the Somme.  After listening to a discussion by Joseph Stiglitz and Martin Feldstein, interviewed by Charlie Rose, Kling notices that the experts were unwilling--or unable--to draw the obvious conclusion that what they were proposing hadn't worked, and instead argued for much more of the same:

I was reminded of the Battle of the Somme, one of the worst policy blunders of all time. Having experienced nothing but failure using offensive tactics up to that point, the Allies decided that what they needed to try was....a really big offensive. Just as Feldstein and Stiglitz pay no attention to the on-the-ground the housing market, the British generals ignored the impact of machine guns on men advancing over open fields.

My guess is that in 1916, anyone who doubted his own ability to direct an enormous offensive involving hundreds of thousands of soldiers would never have made it to general. Similarly, today, anyone who doubts the ability of a handful of technocrats to sensibly allocate $800 billion would never make it into government or the mainstream media.

The Stimulus and the Somme, Arnold Kling | EconLog | Library of Economics and Liberty

"Homeland security": threat or menace?

Tonight ABC's so-called "reality" show "Homeland Security" begins.  Maybe it will become such a laughing-stock that it will be pulled, but I fear the possibility of a new "Cops," and we all know how long that's been going on.

Meanwhile, the Obama transition appears to be serious about getting rid of the White House apparatus for Homeland Security established after 9/11, folding it back into the NSC system (where appropriate) or disaster preparedness.  If so, it's a step in the right direction.

Now we need to dismantle the Department of Homeland Security--and do it now.  Bureacracies tend to grow more rigid and more insular over time.  This may be the last chance to fix one of the most collosal blunders of the past eight years.

Obama Is Reported Set to Revise Counterterrorism Efforts - NYTimes.com