Saturday, August 28, 2010

Mexico: It's Not Just a Problem for the United States

From today's news:Mexico is a mess.

I discussed Mexico earlier this summer. (June 17, 2010) The bottom line is that Mexico's troubles connect with the war on terror - not because Mexicans don't look like "real Americans," but because the criminal groups who apparently control much of the country are killing people - and the violence occasionally spills over into America.

If Mexico's national government goes down the drain - a real possibility - we'll have an analog of Somalia, right across the border from California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. That would be a very real problem for America - and a worse one for those Mexicans who aren't involved in illegal activity.

Mexico is a serious threat to folks in other parts of the Americas, too. A CNN article discussing the missing criminal investigator (and another law enforcement official) told a little about what Mexico's chaos does to people looking for a better life:
"...Authorities have identified 31 of the 72 migrants whose bodies were found on a ranch near San Fernando, the attorney general's statement said. Of those identified, 14 came from Honduras, 12 were from El Salvador, four were from Guatemala and one from Brazil, the official said.

"A young man from Ecuador who led navy personnel to the scene of the massacre said he escaped after pretending he was dead. He suffered a neck wound and remained hospitalized Friday....

"...Central American migrants traveling through Mexico on their way to the United States are often the victims of violence and other crimes.

" 'Every year, thousands of migrants are kidnapped, threatened or assaulted by members of criminal gangs,' Amnesty International said in a report this year. 'Extortion and sexual violence are widespread and many migrants go missing or are killed. Few of these abuses are reported and in most cases those responsible are never held to account.' "
(CNN (August 27, 2010))
My ancestors came to America from northwestern Europe, not Central America: but most of them had the same motive as the people murdered recently in Mexico. They weren't satisfied with the limited economic opportunities in their homelands, and thought they could do better in America.

Happily, they didn't have to walk through Mexico: so I'm here today, writing about what folks with the same dreams face today.

As for what I think of strangers moving in with their foreign ways? So far, it's meant a new selection of food in the grocery my family goes to, and some new faces in church: both of which are fine by me.

Related posts:In the news:

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Ground Zero 'Mosque:' What was He Thinking?

I prefer to assume that folks mean well, and are savvy enough to understand the difference between something like 'freedom of expression' and playing a stereo full blast at 3:00 a.m.

That's why I've been quiet about what's (with debatable accuracy) called the "ground zero mosque." It's an election year, with less than three months to go before the polls open: and I've come to expect quite a lot of crazy ideas to surface at times like this. And wildly intemperate slogans.

In my opinion, efforts to build this "cultural center" close to where Islamic fanatics killed several thousand people may be an incredibly tone-deaf effort to 'reach out' to those infidels who aren't just like the imam involved. Or maybe it's a deliberate effort to inflame anti-Muslim sentiment, giving the imam a legitimate grievance.

There are other possible motives - but I see those as the top two most likely.

The West is At Fault, of Course

From today's news:
"The controversial imam at the center of the debate over the construction of a mosque near Ground Zero says his goal is to create coalitions across the religious divide, but during a 2005 conference in Australia, he said America may be worse than Al Qaeda.

" 'We tend to forget, in the West, that the United States has more Muslim blood on its hands than Al Qaeda has on its hands of innocent non-Muslims,' said Imam Fiesal Abdul Rauf, speaking at the Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Center during a question and answer session dedicated to what sponsors say was a dialogue to improve relations between America and the Muslim world.

" 'You may remember that the U.S.-led sanctions against Iraq led to the death of over half a million Iraqi children. This has been documented by the United Nations,' said Rauf, who called himself a spokesman for Islam...."
(FOXNews (August 24, 2010))
Up to this point, I'd been willing to consider the possibility that the folks who wanted to but an "Islamic center" near ground zero of Al Qaeda's blow against infidel America were essentially well-meaning. Clueless, ignorant of American culture and recent history, monumentally certain of the righteousness of their cause and blind to the possibility that any decent person else might not see things their way: but well-meaning.

As for that "goal is to create coalitions across the religious divide?" There's some room for hope there: he apparently didn't identify all non-Islamic Americans as infidel dogs.

In fact, the fellow has - again apparently - shown a certain amount of insight:
"...He explained that frustration and emotions can lead to terrorism, actions he condemned.

" 'Acts like the London bombing are completely against Islamic law,' Rauf said. 'Suicide bombing, completely against Islamic law, 100 percent, but the facts of the matter is that people, I have discovered, are more motivated by emotion than logic. If their emotions are in one place and their logic is behind, their emotions will drive their decisions more often than not.'

"Raud added that having homes and lives destroyed does not justify 'bombing innocent civilians' or 'actions of terrorism.'..."
(FOXNews (August 24, 2010))
And then, it was right back to the tired old "western oppression' line.

I think Raud may think that he means well, and that what he's doing will somehow convince non-Islamic Americans that Muslims can deal with a world that isn't 100% up to the standards of the nearest imam.

Still: Would building an all-white church on the site where several thousand blacks had been slaughtered by the KKK (a hypothetical situation, BTW) make American blacks feel all nice and fuzzy about white Christians?

Tolerance: It Goes Both Ways

Given the sort of rants I've seen, representing several sorts of viewpoints, a little clarification may be in order. In my opinion:
  • Tolerance
    • Is a good idea
    • Is
      • Not killing people who don't agree with you
      • Not saying "I hate [group of people]"
      • Letting others express views without
        • Killing them
        • Shouting them down
        • Saying "I hate [group of people]"
      • Taking into account the culture and history of others
        • Even if they are part of a group which is in the majority in the country where you live
    • Is not
      • Stifling your own views if someone else doesn't agree
      • Supporting one set of views while suppressing all others
      • Blaming everything on
        • Western oppression
        • American imperialism
        • Jews
        • Christians
        • Muslims
        • Space aliens
        • Whatever
  • America
    • Is
      • A place where people may
        • Worship as they see fit
        • Not worship if they see fit
        • Build churches, temples, mosques, cultural centers or bowling alleys as they see fit
          • Zoning, regulations, and economics permitting
        • Reach out to their neighbor in friendship
        • Cluelessly alienate their neighbor for any reason
          • Or no reason at all
    • Is not
      • Perfect
      • All bad
That isn't a complete expression of my views, but I think it'll do for this post.

Related posts:Background, another case of (cluelessness?):

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Iran, an Unmanned Bomber, Nuclear Weapons, and No Simple Answers

In today's news:
"President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has unveiled Iran's first domestically-built unmanned bomber aircraft, calling it an 'ambassador of death' to the country's enemies.

"The 4m-long drone aircraft can carry up to four cruise missiles and will have a range of 620 miles, according to a state TV report - but not far enough to reach arch-enemy Israel.

" 'The jet, as well as being an ambassador of death for the enemies of humanity, has a main message of peace and friendship,' Mr Ahmadinejad said at the inauguration ceremony in Tehran...."
(Press Association)
This carrier drone is impressive. On the other hand, Iran has had the X-55 LACM in its arsenal for years. ( That cruse missile has a range of 3,000 kilometers, or about 1,864 miles. America's comparatively safe from an attack using the X-55 LACM. Southern Russia? Not so much. I've written about that before.

Middle East: Where Pre-Industrial Cultures Face the Information Age

I've made the point before, that many people in the Middle East had been out of the loop for centuries - millennia in some cases. After the fall of the Persian and Roman Empires, with a few relatively brief exceptions, events in the rest of the world went on without troubling customs which had been old when Abraham moved out of Ur.

Then people in Europe and North America developed technologies that required petroleum. Lots of petroleum. Suddenly outsiders came, bringing strange new ideas with them.

The old-school cultures of the Middle East might have weathered that, but a few decades ago the Information Age started. I've managed to adjust to a world where I can communicate with people on the other side of the world: but I'm an American, and my ancestors had already gotten used to changing technologies.

It's not just technology, although today's infotech is affecting folks in the Middle East.

Again, my ancestors came from Europe and settled in America: where they learned how to deal with other folks who didn't have exactly the same set of cultural preferences. Without killing them.

I have some sympathy for the old-school folks, who were dragged from a comfortably insulated society of burqas and honor killings to a world of bikinis, beer and dog food commercials. It must be a terribly unsettling experience.

Andy Capp, Iran, and Nuclear Weapons

There's an old Andy Capp comic strip, where a police officer is repeating what Mr. Capp told him: something like 'I thought he was going to hit me, so I hit him back first.'

That's funny, I think.

That's not, as a rule, a philosophy which I think should be applied to international diplomacy.

It'd be nice if Iran really did use their new robot bomber strictly as a deterrent. Then they might feel a little safer from the Jews and the Great Satan America.

My concern is that they'll decide that someone in range of their various short-, medium-, and long-range weapons is a threat; or is insufficiently Islamic, or whatever: and have a shot at killing some of the offending parties.

From what shows up in the news from time to time, my guess is that I'm not the only one with that sort of concern.

Can America 'hit him back first?'

In strictly practical terms: probably. Almost certainly, in fact. And then there would be cries (self?) righteous indignation from most of the national governments whose bacon we kept from frying. Unless there wasn't much of Iran left, there would probably be attacks against everyone and anyone within reach.

Not a good situation.

The alternative isn't too pleasant to contemplate, either: but there's the chance that the Ayatollahs will finally mismanage their government into oblivion, and let someone else have a crack at running the country.

Stranger things have happened.

Related posts:In the news:

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Piracy: 'Everybody Knows' What It is, Legal Definitions Vary

Pirates are guys who dress funny and wave swords around while cracking jokes - in perfect 21st-century American English. In the movies.

Pirates are other guys who dressed funny, and lived hundreds of years ago.

Pirates are Somalians who plunder ships.

Very few people, I think, really approve of pirates: although they make dandy characters in adventure stories. But trying to nail down what makes a person a pirate, and make the definition stick in a court of law: that's not so easy.

Thrashing out what, exactly, is piracy - and who, exactly, is a pirate is a very practical matter for some lawyers in Norfolk, Virginia:
"Who's a Pirate? In Court, A Duel Over Definitions"
Law, The Wall Street Journal (August 14, 2010)

"Not since Lt. Robert Maynard of the Royal Navy sailed back triumphantly to nearby Hampton Roads in 1718 with the severed head of Blackbeard swinging from his bowsprit has this Navy town been so embroiled in the fight against piracy.

"For the first time since the Civil War, accused pirates will be put on trial this fall in a federal courtroom. The defendants are six Somali men fished out of the Gulf of Aden, between Somalia and Yemen, in April after allegedly firing on a U.S. Navy ship, which blew apart the tiny skiff they were on.

"Prosecuting pirates, rather than hanging them from the yardarm, is the modern world's approach to the scourge of Somali piracy that has turned huge swathes of the Indian Ocean into a no-go zone for commercial vessels.

"But there's a problem: Some 2,000 years after Cicero defined pirates as the "common enemy of all," nobody seems able to say, legally, exactly what a pirate is.

"U.S. law long ago made piracy a crime but didn't define it. International law contains differing, even contradictory, definitions. The confusion threatens to hamstring U.S. efforts to crack down on modern-day Blackbeards.

"The central issue in Norfolk: If you try to waylay and rob a ship at sea-but you don't succeed-are you still a pirate?..."
What, exactly, is a pirate?"

This isn't a silly question - and it's not, I think, something dreamed up by bleeding-heart liberals or [insert your favorite conspirators] to subvert truth, justice, and the American way.

Three centuries back, when Captain Edward Teach/Blackbeard (1680-1718) made his way into the history books - and America's cultural memory - defining a pirate seems to have been fairly straightforward. In the European colonies, at any rate.

A pirate was someone who harassed or plundered your monarch's interests. Or someone identified as a pirate by your monarch. The system was simple, fairly straightforward, and - for the most part - effective.

That was then, this is now.

Corny as this sounds, America is a country that's ruled by law, not the whims of whoever's in charge at the moment. Yes, I know that stupid, wrong things have been done in the past - and will continue to be done. I'm not talking about the comparatively few times that the system hasn't - and doesn't - work. I'm talking about the way it is supposed to work. And, eventually, does.

(For example: we finally outlawed slavery - after about a century, and a major war; and the federal government got around to acknowledging that rounding up people because their ancestors had lived in Japan was stupid and wrong.)

Blackbeard and the other pirates whose activities inspired adventure stories have been dead for a long time. Piracy? Not so much.

(ICC International Maritime Bureau, via The Wall Street Journal, used w/o permission)

Piracy is still a very real problem: and it's not limited to waters off Somalia.

Dealing with piracy, while working within a framework of law that's intended to protect us from each other and - importantly - from whatever impulse seizes our leaders at the moment.

Besides a quick overview of the last few thousand years of piracy, The Wall Street Journal gives this look at 20th-century lawyers trying to sort sense out of accumulated laws and regulations:
"...The prosecution has leaned heavily on a 1934 ruling by Britain's Privy Council, which pondered the case of a similarly failed attack at sea, near Hong Kong. In that case, the jury found the defendants guilty, but said its verdict was subject to the question of whether it's really piracy if no actual robbery occurs. The court in Hong Kong said it isn't, and acquitted the attackers.

"The Privy Council members, however, after hacking through thickets of legal technicalities, ultimately reached a different conclusion. 'Actual robbery is not an essential element in the crime of piracy,' they said; 'A frustrated attempt to commit piratical robbery is equally piracy.'

"They added, with more than a hint of exasperation: 'Their Lordships are almost tempted to say that a little common sense is a valuable quality in the interpretation of international law.'..."
I'm inclined to agree with them - but realize that "common sense" depends on what a culture assumes about the nature of reality and human affairs: and, in cases like this, the ideological quirks of leaders.

Friday, August 13, 2010

WikiLeaks, Real Journalists, and Common Sense

Reporters Without Borders / Reporters Sans Frontières apparently doesn't think that WikiLeaks should dump tens of thousands of classified documents. Apparently the reporters-rights group realizes that releasing the names of Afghans who cooperated with coalition troops might not sit well with the Taliban and others.

And, what is impressive, Reporters Without Borders realizes that the folks running the Taliban are inclined to kill people they don't approve of. And, that letting these Afghans get killed wouldn't be nice - even though they did help free their country from the Taliban.

Beware Unintended Consequences

Reporters Without Borders also seems concerned over what the American government might do in response to dumping these documents. With, I think, good reason.

On the whole, I prefer living in America and think that this country offers a great deal protection for freedom of expression than, say, North Korea, Sudan, or Somalia. I also think that America's leaders aren't perfect: and can make serious mistakes.

Like clamping heavy controls on what people are allowed to publish and read on the Internet.

I'll admit to having a personal stake in this: I maintain 10 other bogs, besides this one. At this time, I am free to do so. I don't have to pay a government agency for a permit to publish, I don't have to pass a background screening and loyalty test: and I rather hope that continues to be the case.

I like being free to speak - or, rather write - my mind.

Endangering the lives of people who helped free their country from religious crazies - even for the groovy reason of 'ending the Afghan war' - could give the American government reason - or excuse - to take control of what so far has been a free medium of communication.

I don't agree with everything that everyone puts online - but I don't want to be "protected" from folks who don't agree with the administration, either.

Here's that open letter from Reporters Without Borders / Reporters Sans Frontières:
"Open letter to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange: 'A bad precedent for the Internet's future' "

"Julian Assange

"Dear Mr. Assange,

"Reporters Without Borders, an international press freedom organisation, regrets the incredible irresponsibility you showed when posting your article 'Afghan War Diary 2004 - 2010' on the Wikileaks website on 25 July together with 92,000 leaked documents disclosing the names of Afghans who have provided information to the international military coalition that has been in Afghanistan since 2001.

"Wikileaks has in the past played a useful role by making information available to the US and international public that exposed serious violations of human rights and civil liberties which the Bush administration committed in the name of its war against terror. Last April's publication of a video of the killing of two employees of the Reuters news agency and other civilians by US military personnel in Baghdad in July 2007 was clearly in the public interest and we supported this initiative. It was a response to the Obama administration's U-turn on implementation of the Freedom of Information Act. The White House broke its word in May 2009, when it defied a court order and refused to release photos of the mistreatment of detainees in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"But revealing the identity of hundreds of people who collaborated with the coalition in Afghanistan is highly dangerous. It would not be hard for the Taliban and other armed groups to use these documents to draw up a list of people for targeting in deadly revenge attacks.

"Defending yourself, you said that it was about “ending the war in Afghanistan.” You also argued that: “Principled leaking has changed the course of history for the better; it can alter the course of history in the present; it can lead us to a better future.” However, the US government has been under significant pressure for some time as regards the advisability of its military presence in Afghanistan, not just since your article's publication. We are not convinced that your wish to 'end the war in Afghanistan' will be so easily granted and meanwhile, you have unintentionally provided supposedly democratic governments with good grounds for putting the Internet under closer surveillance.

"It is true that you said that 'a further 15,000 potentially sensitive reports' were excluded from the 25 July mass posting, that they were being 'reviewed further' and that some of them would be released 'once it was deemed safe to do so.'

"Nonetheless, indiscriminately publishing 92,000 classified reports reflects a real problem of methodology and, therefore, of credibility. Journalistic work involves the selection of information. The argument with which you defend yourself, namely that Wikileaks is not made up of journalists, is not convincing. Wikileaks is an information outlet and, as such, is subject to the same rules of publishing responsibility as any other media.

"Reporters Without Borders has for years been campaigning for a federal 'shield law' protecting sources, one that would apply not only to the traditional media but also to the new Internet media without exception. This is why we condemn all forms of harassment of Wikileaks contributors or informants – such as the recent arrest of Wikileaks researcher Jacob Appelbaum – by government agencies and immigration officials. We also condemn the charges brought against US army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning, who is suspected of leaking the video of the Baghdad killings. However, you cannot claim to enjoy the protection of sources while at the same time, when it suits you, denying that you are a news media.

"The precedent you have set leaves all those people throughout the world who risk their freedom and sometimes their lives for the sake of online information even more exposed to reprisals. Such imprudence endangers your own sources and, beyond that, the future of the Internet as an information medium. A total of 116 netizens are currently in prison in a dozen countries because of the comments they posted online. Can you image the same situation in the country of the First Amendment?

"Wikileaks must provide a more detailed explanation of its actions and must not repeat the same mistake. This will mean a new departure and new methods.

"We look forward to your reply,


"Jean-François Julliard
"Reporters Without Borders secretary-general

"Clothilde Le Coz
"Reporters Without Borders representative in Washington DC"
(from,38130.html, used w/o permission)
Related posts:In the news:

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.