Black Shards Press – Electronic Gumbo is Our Specialty

Bolton says U.S. Should Take Out Iranian Nukes

30.09.2007 (9:48 pm) – Filed under: Iran ::

In the U.K., the Guardian reports that John Bolton, the former U.S ambassador to the United Nations, told Tory delegates that “he saw no alternative to a pre-emptive strike on suspected nuclear facilities in the country”.

More:

Mr Bolton, who was addressing a fringe meeting organised by Lord (Michael) Ancram, said that the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was “pushing out” and “is not receiving adequate push-back” from the west.

“I don’t think the use of military force is an attractive option, but I would tell you I don’t know what the alternative is.

“Because life is about choices, I think we have to consider the use of military force. I think we have to look at a limited strike against their nuclear facilities.”

He added that any strike should be followed by an attempt to remove the “source of the problem”, Mr Ahmadinejad.

“If we were to strike Iran it should be accompanied by an effort at regime change … The US once had the capability to engineer the clandestine overthrow of governments. I wish we could get it back.”

It’s unlikely that the U.S. is going to send troops into Iran because, as Jason said earlier, there aren’t sufficient American troops to do the job.

At the same time, Bolton isn’t the only one saying that Iran needs to be reigned in.  Last week French President Nicolas Sarkozy said that is is clear that Iran “is trying to equip itself with a nuclear bomb.”  But what Sarkozy is really talking about are more economic sanctions:

he said diplomatic pressure has spurred other countries to give up nuclear weapons programs before.

“How can we convince them to renounce this project, like the international community convinced Libya and North Korea? By discussion, dialogue and sanctions.”

Sanctions could put the pressure on the Iranian leadership if conditions deteriorate inside that country. But discussion and dialogue are unlikely to produce results.  Unlike Libya and North Korea, the powers in Iran really believe their own shtick and, like North Korea, it’s unlikely that the Iranians would negotiate in good faith, if they were to do so at all.

A “limited strike” on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be a better option than invasion.  But what are the chances of success?  Presumedly the Iranians have planned for the eventuality of a strike on their facilities and, not being stupid people, given their projects a good chance of surviving a long-range air attack. 

Bolton also raises the question of regime change in Iran.  From this writer’s perspective that does not seem like an option with enough chance of success to make it worth discussing.  Bolton may lament the loss of that particular club from Bush’s bag, but even if it were available aiming it at Ahmadinejad would be rather a waste of effort because he is not the real power in or problem with Iran. 

In the past I’ve wondered if Bolton is serious or if he’s simply playing “bad cop” with an uncooperative world so the official U.S. government doesn’t have to.  In this case, I’m inclined to think he’s simply keeping the Iranians on their toes by stating the obvious – that the U.S. is keeping its options open.

h/t memeorandum

A Review of Richard Wright’s Native Son

30.09.2007 (7:59 pm) – Filed under: Book Reviews ::

I decided to read Native Son as a result of Michael posting a notice about Jess’s Book Club at Monsters and Critics.  While I’d heard of Wright before this is the first book of his that I’ve read.

The Marc’s Notes summary of the book follows:

“Bigger” Thomas, a twenty-year old do nothing is offered a relief job as a driver for the wealthy Dalton family.  He is of a mind to lay about instead and is forced to take the job lest his mother, brother, and sister lose their government relief money. 

On his first day on the job the socialite daughter of the family named Mary has Bigger take her to a communist party meeting, then out to eat at a slum restaurant with her boyfriend and fellow commie Jan.  All get drunk and Mary passes out, forcing Bigger to carry her up to her room, whereupon Mary’s blind mother catches them.  Fearing to be caught in her room, Bigger keeps Mary quiet by smothering her with a pillow and she dies.

Her mother goes away and Bigger disposes of her body in the estate’s furnace.  Taking advantage of Mary’s impending trip he send her trunk ahead to her destination, plots to frame Jan for her disappearance, and returns to his job.  Through a bit of bad luck and his own incompetence with the furnace he is found out.  Bigger runs with the police hot on his tail.

When his sometime girlfriend Bessie proves unreliable Bigger murders her too.  Soon after the police dragnet surrounds him and he is taken after injuring a cop and firing at others.

The final third of the book is devoted to Bigger’s trial, with vivid descriptions of the lynch mob salivating for a chance to get a hold of Bigger to exact their revenge, an over-eager state attorney with an inter-racial rape phobia, and Bigger’s attorney Max, an ardent communist and friend of Jan, the dead girl’s boyfriend whose ideology trumps any righteous anger he might have felt toward her killer.

In the end Bigger pleads guilty, Max offers a unique defense that claims societal forces are responsible for Bigger’s acts, and the state prevails. 

Bigger’s sentence?  You’ll have to read the book to find that out.

Native Son is written in 3 parts which are essentially the crime, the chase, and the trial.  The first is the most interesting as it shows Bigger in his native environment, that of the hardscrabble Chicago slums.  Bigger is at this point a stereotypical black ne’er-do-well who would rather steal than work, would rather talk tough about stealing than actually steal, and would rather jerk off in public theaters rather than do either.  In short his character is entirely unsympathetic save for one redeeming quality:  he dreams of being a pilot.  However, his lack of schooling and discipline make that impossible even without the constraints of his skin color.

It’s unclear why Bigger and his gang never contemplate the idea of working to better themselves or, failing that, working to provide a better way of life for their eventual offspring.  This concept seems to be far beyond them and explains much about Bigger’s eventual failure as a human being.

When Bigger accepts the job as the Dalton family’s driver and comes into contact with the white socialites his demeanor shifts to a passive-aggressive nervousness that renders him almost helpless, particularly as Mary and Jan befuddle him with their dreams of a race-neutral communist utopia.  Bigger understands none of this and displays no intelligence whatever in regard to abstract concepts such as freedom, equality, and political power.

It’s only after he kills Mary that a glimmer of intellect comes out.  Desperate to save his live Bigger suddenly becomes clever in the book’s second part and is shown to be somewhat resourceful in his attempts to dispose of the body and throw the police off his trail and onto Jan’s.

When Bigger is about to be discovered as the killer and slips away he becomes an animal on the run.  It is not clear why he insists on taking Bessie with him as he flies and this soon proves to be a mistake.  Rather than simply leave her Bigger bashes her head in with a brick, killing a second time and removing from this reader any remaining empathy for his character.

This second section of the book is dull stuff, that of an ordinary crime novel and not as well done.  It’s necessary to get to the trial sequence but of no particular interest in itself.

After being caught Bigger flirts with religion and rejects it, choosing instead to turn inward to the self-loathing and paranoia that define his attempts to interact with the white world.  He knows only that he wants to be something other than what he is.

Enter Max as a crusading lawyer whose desire to equalize social iniquities is manifested in his efforts to spare Bigger from the death penalty despite his obvious and self-admitted guilt.

The purpose of Native Son is to set up the trial that is the core of the third section.  The trial pits Max’s crusade for social justice against the state attorney’s racist agenda of death and is an obvious condemnation of mainstream America’s implementation of justice at the time. 

Max scores good points as he describes the impact of Bigger’s tough childhood and its relationship to the crime.  However, in my opinion Wright goes too far when he has Max state that Bigger should be spared from death lest the black population of America rise up in another, even more ill-advised Civil War, as if this threat should stand against applying the law to a man who killed two women.

Opposing Max is a cardboard cutout of a 1930s KKK member who acts as a prosecuting attorney by day.  His speeches are, to my post-baby-boomer mentality, hideously racist and offensive both to blacks and to anyone with a sense of fair play.  To the modern reader these views are a flashback to a past that whites should be ashamed of and that would best be forgotten.  His efforts to railroad Bigger via an overly speedy trial are disgusting, though this in fact had no relationship to the punishment ultimately handed down, the facts of the case being what they were.

In summary, I would describe Native Son as being highly derivative of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, substituting race conflict in place of class struggle, though not as well-written, suspenseful, or entertaining.  The glimpse into race issues in pre-Jackie Robinson times is interesting though ultimately not compelling reading.

The Wikipedia article about Native Son says this:

Wright’s protest novel was an immediate best-seller, selling 250,000 hardcover copies in its initial run. It was one of the earliest successful attempts to explain the racial divide in America in terms of the social conditions imposed on African-Americans by the dominant white society.

It is number 71 on the American Library Association’s list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000.  The Modern Library named it #20 on their list of the 100 best novels of the 20th Century.

In my opinion that is giving a competently-written, somewhat interesting book too much credit.

8 Transferred out of Guantanamo

30.09.2007 (12:56 pm) – Filed under: National Security ::

The Houston Chronicle reports:

Eight detainees were transferred from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the custody of Afghanistan and Middle Eastern governments, a Pentagon spokesman said today.

Six detainees were transferred to Afghanistan, and one each to Libya and Yemen, said Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, a Defense Department spokesman. Their identities were not released.

“All detainees at Guantanamo are considered a threat to the United States — to include those transferred yesterday,” Gordon said. “As a condition of repatriation, nations accepting detainees must take steps to prevent the return to terrorism, as well as providing credible assurances of humane treatment.”

According to the article about 330 detainees are still being held in Guantanamo.  This is less than half of the total population held in the facility since the War on Terror began since over 400 detainees have been sent to other countries.

Interestingly, Human Rights Watch recently had this to say about returning prisoners to their countries of origin:

“Closing Guantanamo provides the United States one of the best opportunities to help rebuild its moral authority and international good will,” said Jennifer Daskal, senior counterterrorism counsel for Human Rights Watch. “Washington should not squander that chance by forcibly repatriating detainees to countries with known records of torture and abuse.”

Of the 355 detainees the US is still holding in Guantanamo, approximately 50 come from countries such as Algeria, China, Libya, Tunisia, and Uzbekistan – all countries with known records of torture – and have told their attorneys that they are so fearful of torture or other abuse that they do not want to return home. Another nine who are either unrepresented or never met with their lawyer come from such “at-risk” countries, and may also have valid repatriation concerns, as may others because of personal circumstances. The Convention against Torture, to which the US is a party, prohibits returning anyone to another state where “there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.”

Evidently there are worse things than being held in U.S. custody, media criticism notwithstanding.

Hillary: $5000 for Every Baby! (and a Car in Every Garage)

28.09.2007 (6:16 pm) – Filed under: Finance,Politics ::

Devlin Barrett writes:

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday that every child born in the United States should get a $5,000 "baby bond" from the government to help pay for future costs of college or buying a home.

The New York senator did not offer any estimate of the total cost of such a program of how she would pay for it.

No, I expect that Ms. Clinton did not bother to explain that.  Why hamper the process of buying votes with other people’s money??

Since I’ll be paying for this little ditty if Hillary gets elected I whipped out my little calculator post haste.  I figure that it’s going to cost around $84 billion per year.  Feel free to check my numbers.

   Average stock market return:  about 8%

   Value of $5000 in 18 years at that rate:  about $21,000

   Babies born annually:  > 4,000,000

   Total:  about $84,000,000,000 annually

Nice.

For perspective, this is about 5.5 times NASA’s current budget and 2.3 times the current amount spent on Food Stamps, which is to say a pretty big chunk of change.  Where’s that money going to come from? 

Here’s an idea:  We could set that money aside now, in a sort of trust fund, so it grows with the economy.  Then we won’t have to come up with a huge lump sum two decades down the line. 

Sadly, we’re broke at the moment because of Iraq.  Besides, the pork-barrel crowd would just raid the trust fund and spend the money on bridges to nowhere, etc., making us even worse off than if we didn’t plan ahead at all.

More:

Clinton said such an account program would help people get back to the tradition of savings that she remembers as a child, and has become harder to accomplish in the face of rising college and housing costs.

"I think it’s a wonderful idea," said Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, an Ohio Democrat who attended the event and has already endorsed Clinton. "Every child born in the United States today owes $27,000 on the national debt, why not let them come get $5,000 to grow until their 18?"

Hill and Steph, it’s a bummer about the little problem we have with a national debt and all.  It’s a minor detail, just a few trillion dollars, no biggie.

Personally, I say we need to eliminate that – hell, just stop the yearly bleeding, for Pete’s sake – before we start doling out the federal largess.

Marc’s Prez Pick

28.09.2007 (1:09 pm) – Filed under: Politics ::

According to this poll, my top candidate for 2008 is…drum roll, please…

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (R)

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (R)

  81.25% match

This is the second poll that has pointed me to Romney.

The Mercenary Problem

28.09.2007 (12:33 pm) – Filed under: Iraq ::

In reference to American para-military contractors in Iraq, Paul Krugman at the NY Times writes:  "mercenaries, whom Machiavelli described as ‘useless and dangerous’ more than four centuries ago", saying that mercenaries are back in vogue once more.  More:

As far as I can tell, America has never fought a war in which mercenaries made up a large part of the armed force. But in Iraq, they are so central to the effort that, as Peter W. Singer of the Brookings Institution points out in a new report, “the private military industry has suffered more losses in Iraq than the rest of the coalition of allied nations combined.”

And, yes, the so-called private security contractors are mercenaries. They’re heavily armed. They carry out military missions, but they’re private employees who don’t answer to military discipline. On the other hand, they don’t seem to be accountable to Iraqi or U.S. law, either. And they behave accordingly.

A family acquaintance who has been to Iraq in such a role foreshadowed the recent Blackwater fiasco months ago and, judging from previous comments, would not find much to dispute with Krugman’s take:

We may never know what really happened in a crowded Baghdad square two weeks ago. Employees of Blackwater USA claim that they were attacked by gunmen. Iraqi police and witnesses say that the contractors began firing randomly at a car that didn’t get out of their way.

What we do know is that more than 20 civilians were killed, including the couple and child in the car. And the Iraqi version of events is entirely consistent with many other documented incidents involving security contractors.

For example, Mr. Singer [Peter W. Singer of the Brookings Institution] reminds us that in 2005 “armed contractors from the Zapata firm were detained by U.S. forces, who claimed they saw the private soldiers indiscriminately firing not only at Iraqi civilians, but also U.S. Marines.” The contractors were not charged. In 2006, employees of Aegis, another security firm, posted a “trophy video” on the Internet that showed them shooting civilians, and employees of Triple Canopy, yet another contractor, were fired after alleging that a supervisor engaged in “joy-ride shooting” of Iraqi civilians.

Krugman goes on to question the relationship between military contractors, political capital, and, of course, money – all interesting points.

But the real issue is the absence of accountability and the lack of control the real U.S. military has over their hired guns. 

That these independent soldiers are under-prepared and under-armed is demonstrated by Peter Singer’s new report that says, “the private military industry has suffered more losses in Iraq than the rest of the coalition of allied nations combined.”

It’s hard to argue with Machiavelli.

Chris Matthews: Difficult to Debate a Woman?

28.09.2007 (8:57 am) – Filed under: Politics ::

Amanda at ThinkProgress writes that:

During last night’s post-Democratic presidential debate analysis, MSNBC host Chris Matthews was hung up on the fact there is a woman running for president. After questioning Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) about Sen. Hillary Clinton’s (D-NY) position on entitlement reforms, he then asked Dodd, “Do you find it difficult to debate a woman?” Dodd, not surprisingly, said, “[N]ot at all.”

The question gets dismissed by Rachel over at HuffPo:

Watch how he can’t wait to ask the burning question that’s been on his mind all night: "Do you find it difficult to debate a woman?" After, he reveals where his mind is when he thinks of what Hillary Clinton called her "36-year conversation" with her husband and partner. There is no other word for this than "Sheesh."

Actually the question is a lot more interesting than these writers allow.  Many men have been instructed since birth to be considerate of women’s feelings, not to direct harsh words and language at a woman, and generally not behave aggressively toward the fairer sex.  These niceties, however, while desirable in most situations, do not apply to the political stage.

Dodd’s answer was obligatory – none other is permitted, in truth – but was he being entirely truthful?  Probably.  Candid?  No.

Politics is all about mind, be it the intellect of integrity and ideas, the cleverness of political angling, or the brilliance of polished oratory skills.  In a battle of minds Hillary (and other female candidates) are their opponents equals, at least.  Any Republican who thinks that he can cow Clinton with a bombastic verbal attack will quickly be disabused of the notion.  As a friend of mine says, "She can be meaner than a junkyard dog!"

Yet Matthews’ question is relevant at just this point.  Hillary and her positions must be countered with an intellectual force equal to her own.  But at no point can there be even a hint of physical aggression toward her, for an unconsidered hand motion or inadvertent step forward could generate thousands of sympathy votes in her favor.

Will it be hard to debate Hillary?  Yes, on many levels.

No Gays in Iran

27.09.2007 (2:33 pm) – Filed under: Gay Rights,Iran ::

I absolutely had to preserve this for posterity!

image

Pat Bagley, Salt Lake Tribune

h/t The Moderate Voice

Vancouver Muslims Smoke, Canucks Don’t

27.09.2007 (12:28 pm) – Filed under: Immigration,Law,Stupidity ::

Mark Steyn writes that a proposed city bylaw in Vancouver, Canada would exempt Muslim "hookah lounges" from the no-smoking ordinance:

In Vancouver, infidels can’t smoke but Muslims can:

Vancouver’s hookah-parlour owners are celebrating after winning an exemption Thursday from a proposed new bylaw that will ban smoking on most sidewalks in commercial districts, in bus shelters and even in taxis passing through Vancouver.

In giving the bylaw unanimous approval-in-principle, Vancouver city council members bowed to arguments that hookah lounges…are essential for immigrants from hookah-smoking cultures, because it helps them deal with the depression common for newcomers and gives them places like they have at home.

This is ridiculous.  First, government entities should not be in the business of banning any legal action and smoking is, for the moment, still within the domain of the permitted.  By all means, allow us non-wheezers to have clean spaces to eat, drink, and recreate in.  I despise smoking – it is disgusting.  But city-wide bans?  That is not the purpose of government. **

Second, any law, whether good, bad, or indifferent, should be applied equally to all people under its sway.  Wasn’t that the purpose of civil rights marches, to eliminate preferential treatment based on skin color?  Now it’s suddenly acceptable to extend "courtesies" to a small minority based on their religious preference?

Third, though immigrants to Vancouver may well be homesick, particularly during the rather dreary winters that seem to last forever in the Pacific Northwest, that is not a valid reason for applying a double-standard to public behavior.  Indeed, the anxiety immigrants experience is a necessary precursor to assimilation into the culture of their new home.  Temporary disorientation is normal, expected, and on the whole, quite desirable.  Those who adapt to it become better citizens; those who fail will return home.

Which is as it should be.

 

** Side Note: Mark Silva says that Hillary supports local smoking bans, Obama, while preferring local control, would support a nation-wide bad, and Crazy Kucinich says, "I’ve been breathing a lot of second-hand smoke here.  You bet I’d support a national law.")

Patriot Act Unconstitutional, in Part

26.09.2007 (8:22 pm) – Filed under: Law,National Security ::

The WaPo reports that a U.S. District court ruled earlier today that two provisions of the Patriot Act are unconstitutional because warrants issued under FISA may not demonstrate probable cause:

U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken ruled that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, as amended by the Patriot Act, “now permits the executive branch of government to conduct surveillance and searches of American citizens without satisfying the probable cause requirements of the Fourth Amendment.”

“For over 200 years, this Nation has adhered to the rule of law _ with unparalleled success. A shift to a Nation based on extra-constitutional authority is prohibited, as well as ill-advised,” she [Judge Aiken] wrote.

While this decision will not make the Bush administration or security hawks happy I believe that it is the correct ruling. 

Though much has happened since the tumultuous times after 9/11, it’s still crystal clear in my mind how the administration redefined patriot to mean a person who agreed, without question, in their plans to secure the nation, regardless of what Constitutional compromises might be required.  Republicans, led by Bush and Cheney, proceeded to use patriotism as a club to beat down dissent, a heavy-handed tactic that only worked because of the word’s new meaning. 

The Patriot Act was one of the primary products of that politically brutal effort and one that I think history will show to have been a mistake for the nation.

Probable cause, like habeous corpus, is a central tenet of the justice system.  It should not have been skirted for the last 5 years and should be restored to its rightful place as a right held by all Americans, the sooner the better.