Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Iron Curtain

No, this is not a post about the Cold War or about communism. On the contrary, it's about my recent sleep patterns and the inadequacy of the existing curtains in my bedroom.

Lately I've been waking up each morning--Saturdays and Sundays included--at the precise moment--6:08 today--that the sun rises over the ridgeline and shines through my thin curtains and equally thin eyelids. It's not a huge problem--I'd have to get up soon after that anyway most mornings and there is, after all, something virtuous about being up with the sun--but certainly on Saturdays it would be nice to be able to sleep a little later. So, I've been wondering where I could get a piece of the Iron Curtain to replace my flimsy cotton (or polyester or rayon or who knows what) curtains.

What does this have to do with international relations (besides being the pretext for a very lame joke related to the Cold War)? Daylight saving time arrives this Sunday morning to give me an extra hour before the sun shines in my eyes each morning and, more importantly, to give us all an extra hour in the evening to watch baseball, cook out on the grill, read by natural light, and watch more baseball. What, I ask again, does this have to do with international relations?

Daylight saving time saves energy. As a nation, we turn on our lights (and our TVs and other appliances) later each evening and we engage in more outdoor activities that burn body fat rather than fossil fuels. And Americans aren't the only ones. Europeans push their clocks forward a week earlier each year than we do here in the United States.

In today's New York Times, David Prerau argues on the basis of data demonstrating that more evening daylight saves both energy and lives (because traffic accidents and crime are reduced) that we should extend daylight saving time by at least another week or two. I'm all for it--unless it turns out I can get me a piece of that Iron Curtain real cheap.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Global Dimming

It appears that we're not as bright as we used to be. I don't mean that we're getting dumber, although that's certainly possible (and it would explain how you-know-who ended up in the White House). The world is simply not receiving as much sunlight as it used to and this "global dimming" may be temporarily mitigating the effects of global warming. This, at least, is the contention of climatologists whose studies were presented on the BBC science program Horizon. (The transcript of the program is available here.)

According to Dr. David Travis, an American climatologist, when air travel was suspended in the United States for three days after 9/11, the temperature range across the country increased one degree centigrade. In climate terms, this was a surprisingly large and sudden increase. Dr. Travis attributes the increase to the rapid decrease in the amount of water vapor (contrails) deposited by aircraft into the atmosphere.

What is the relationship between global dimming and global warming? Dr. Peter Cox addresses this question in the BBC program:

We've got two competing effects really, . . . the greenhouse effect, which has tended to warm up the climate. But then we've got this other effect that's much stronger than we thought, which is a cooling effect that comes from particles in the atmosphere. And they're competing with one another. And we know the climate's moved to a warmer state by about 0.6 of a degree over the last hundred years. So the whole thing's moved this way. If it turns out that the cooling is stronger than we thought then the warming also is a lot stronger than we thought, and that means the climate's more sensitive to carbon dioxide than we originally thought, and it means our models may be under sensitive to carbon dioxide.

In other words, we may be underestimating the true impact of global warming because of global dimming's cooling effect. If you're thinking this means we don't have to worry about global warming, then perhaps we should discuss the possibility that we're not as bright as we used to be.

(Via Kevin Drum.)

The Benefits of Higher Gasoline Prices

As the price of the higher grades of gasoline at service stations in Malibu pushes up against the $3.00 barrier, it's difficult to think that even higher prices might be desirable. Nonetheless, that's the argument that Michael Mandelbaum of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies makes in Newsday.

Several points are worth noting about Mandelbaum's case for higher gasoline prices. First, it is an argument that has been made many times before. In fact, it forms an important part of the conclusion in Michael T. Klare's recent book entitled Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing Dependency on Imported Petroleum.

Second, higher gasoline prices might not be necessary if the government were willing to impose conservation measures by other means. Higher corporate fuel economy standards, luxury taxes on gas-guzzling vehicles such as the Hummer and the Escalade, the end of tax credits for "farm vehicles" driven by people who have never set foot on a farm, and so on would all encourage conservation, which is the purpose of Mandelbaum's proposal to raise gasoline prices.

Third, gasoline prices have increased--and will continue to increase--even in the absence of the policies that Mandelbaum and others advocate. Market-driven increases, however, will put more money in the pockets of OPEC members and the oil companies while gasoline taxes would insure that higher prices would result in more money being available for socially beneficial purposes.

Mandelbaum's argument is certainly one that deserves to be debated in the United States. Chances are, though, that it won't be.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Murdering Prisoners with Impunity

Tomorrow's New York Times reports that the Army will not prosecute seventeen soldiers believed to be responsible for the deaths of three prisoners. Army investigators had recommended prosecution. This decision leaves twenty-one soldiers facing possible prosecution for the deaths of twenty-eight prisoners under American custody in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Romero's Legacy

It was twenty-five years ago this week that Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated while saying mass in the chapel of a hospital in San Salvador. More than a decade of political repression and civil war would pass in El Salvador before anything close to the kind of social change that Romero advocated would occur, but, during the bleak decade of the 1980s, his memory inspired not only Salvadorans but oppressed peoples throughout Latin America.

Many people today regard Romero as the patron saint of the struggle for human rights, even if he has not been officially canonized. In 1998, a statue of Romero, along with those of nine other twentieth-century martyrs (including Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dietrich Bonhoeffer), was added to the front of Westminster Abbey.

For more on Romero and his legacy, see this article by Richard Higgins in yesterday's Boston Globe.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Murdering Prisoners

Please read Thomas Friedman's column in the New York Times today. He is, justifiably, outraged by the deaths of at least twenty-six prisoners in American custody, apparently due to torture. He writes:

Yes, I know war is hell and ugliness abounds in every corner. I also understand that in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, we are up against a vicious enemy, which, if it had the power, would do great harm to our country. You do not deal with such people with kid gloves. But killing prisoners of war, presumably in the act of torture, is an inexcusable outrage. The fact that Congress has just shrugged this off, and no senior official or officer has been fired, is a travesty. This administration is for "ownership" of everything except responsibility.

It is time for the "culture of life" coalition that brought Congress into session on Palm Sunday to legislate on behalf of Terri Schiavo to address the matter of torturing prisoners to death. Distinctions between the guilty and the innocent, often noted when the subject is the death penalty, are irrelevant here. None of those prisoners killed has been found guilty of anything other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Apparently when President Bush said yesterday that government "must err on the side of life," he intended to exempt the hundreds of Muslim men who have been swept up by the American military since 2001.

Killing prisoners has been regarded as murder for centuries. In the confusion of battle at Agincourt, King Henry V ordered the killing of French prisoners merely as an expedient. Shakespeare makes the order a matter of reprisal after the French killing of the English boys attending the camp, but still condemns it. Gower, in Henry V, Act IV, Scene vii, says,

'Tis certain there's not a boy left alive; and the cowardly rascals that ran from the battle ha' done this slaughter: besides, they have burned and carried away all that was in the king's tent; wherefore the king, most worthily, hath caused every soldier to cut his prisoner's throat. O, 'tis a gallant king!

We are to understand the commentary as ironic. "O, 'tis a gallant king!" is uttered with a sneer by every Gower who understands his role. Neither Shakespeare nor Holinshed, the chronicler on whom he relied for his material, considered the killing of prisoners to be justifiable.

It is no more justifiable today.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Reforming the Commission on Human Rights

On Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan released his plan (entitled In Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security and Human Rights for All) for reforming the United Nations as the Organization approaches its sixtieth anniversary. Reform of the Security Council has, rightly, attracted the most attention in the press (see the links here), but the proposal for an enhanced Human Rights Council may be equally important.

As the following statement from the report (paragraph 183) makes clear, the Secretary-General has chosen not to suggest a specific institutional form for the proposed Human Rights Council. The report states:

If the United Nations is to meet the expectations of men and women everywhere--and indeed, if the Organization is to take the cause of human rights as seriously as those of security and development--then Member States should agree to replace the Commission on Human Rights with a smaller standing Human Rights Council. Member States would need to decide if they want the Human Rights Council to be a principal organ of the United Nations or a subsidiary body of the General Assembly, but in either case its members would be elected directly by the General Assembly by a two-thirds majority of members present and voting. The creation of the Council would accord human rights a more authoritative position, corresponding to the primacy of human rights in the Charter of the United Nations. Member States should determine the composition of the Council and the term of office of its members. Those elected to the Council should undertake to abide by the highest human rights standards.

It is clear from paragraphs 165 and 166, however, that the Secretary-General would prefer to see a strong, independent Human Rights Council occupying a position roughly equivalent in stature to the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council. The report speaks of a need "to restore the balance" that was originally designed to exist among the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, and the Trusteeship Council, "with three Councils covering respectively, (a) international peace and security, (b) economic and social issues, and (c) human rights." Replacing the Trusteeship Council with a body focused on international justice requires, according to the report, "a far-reaching overhaul and upgrading of our existing human rights machinery."

The Secretary-General is asking for action on his proposals in September of this year. In the next six months, it is imperative that human rights NGOs and other civil society groups examine carefully proposals for a Human Rights Council and then work to generate public support for their preferred plan. Reform of the U.N.'s human rights machinery has the potential to move enforcement of international human rights law to the next step, but not if the Bush Administration is able to take the same approach to a new Human Rights Council that it has taken with the International Criminal Court. Surveys consistently show that the American people approve of the U.N. and international efforts to promote human rights. That support will have to be translated into political pressure between now and September.

Sunday, March 20, 2005


This past week, the Senate--by a 51-49 vote--defeated an effort to remove from the budget bill a provision that will permit drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. That act of folly calls to mind these words from a recent essay by the poet, novelist, and essayist Wendell Berry:

We Americans are not usually thought to be a submissive people, but of course we are. Why else would we allow our country to be destroyed? Why else would we be rewarding its destroyers? Why else would we all—by proxies we have given to greedy corporations and corrupt politicians—be participating in its destruction? Most of us are still too sane to piss in our own cistern, but we allow others to do so and we reward them for it. We reward them so well, in fact, that those who piss in our cistern are wealthier than the rest of us.

["Compromise, Hell!" Orion, November/December 2004]

Reforming the United Nations

Tomorrow, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan will present to the General Assembly a series of proposals for reforming the United Nations. The proposals, drawn primarily from last November's Report of the Secretary-General's High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, include two different options for expanding the Security Council, reform of the Human Rights Commission, and the establishment of a new Peacebuilding Commission. The recommendations to be presented are also said to draw from the Task Force Reports of the Millennium Project, a U.N. initiative aimed at reducing global poverty.

On Friday, the Secretary-General's spokesman, Fred Eckhard, said that "the elements of the Monday report are viewed as a package deal, with something to offer to everyone." U.N. member states will be asked "to accept it as a package" when the report, entitled "In Larger Freedom," is taken up at the General Assembly Summit in September. Whether the United States, with its bull-in-a-china-shop approach to the U.N., will be willing to accept the complete package remains to be seen. Certainly the element relating to the Human Rights Commission is specifically designed to address American criticisms, but adding additional permanent states to the Security Council--states such as Germany, Japan, India, and Brazil--even without veto power is unlikely to please the Bush Administration.

For more on the proposals, see yesterday's frontpage Los Angeles Times story or the story in today's New York Times. Links to the Secretary-General's report will likely be available through this site tomorrow.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Mark Fiore on Darfur

Genocide is not an easy subject for a political cartoonist to address. Mark Fiore, however, is one of the best. Here, in one of his animated cartoons, he takes on the situation in Darfur.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

George F. Kennan (1904-2005)

America's most influential diplomat of the twentieth century, George F. Kennan, has died at his home in Princeton, N.J. at the age of 101. Kennan is best remembered as the author of the "Long Telegram" and the Mr. X article, an essay in the July 1947 issue of Foreign Affairs entitled "The Sources of Soviet Conduct." These two documents were instrumental in establishing the intellectual foundations of the American policy of containment.

Here's the obituary in the New York Times.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Film Watch

Currently in limited release is Gunner Palace, a documentary that depicts two months with the Army's 2/3 Field Artillery unit deployed in Baghdad.

Premiering Saturday (March 19) on HBO is another film about the Rwandan genocide, Sometimes in April. Although fictional, this movie is said to use dialogue taken from the transcripts of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Privately Funded Humanitarian Intervention

A group of Swarthmore College students led by Mark Hanis and Andrew Sniderman has begun raising funds to purchase supplies for the African Union's peacekeeping mission in Darfur. Why? To end the genocide. Isn't this something the governments of the world are supposed to do? Of course. But they're not. And so those who believe that the international community has an obligation to take action against genocide are forced to sell raffle tickets and hold bake sales to buy walkie-talkies and flak jackets for peacekeepers.

A couple of months ago, Sniderman explained an important part of what the Genocide Intervention Fund (GIF) is all about in an op-ed published in Swarthmore's campus newspaper:

To be sure, private citizens cannot provide the requisite financing to field an entire peacekeeping mission. That is why the GIF hopes to leverage its financial contributions into a powerful lobbying tool to pressure governments to pursue a comprehensive action plan to end the genocide in Darfur. The GIF seeks to strengthen and catalyze government and U.N. action, not replace it.

There are, of course, many problems inherent in private funding of military operations as this recent comment in the Boston Globe points out. Nonetheless, this effort is primarily about "naming and shaming." The Genocide Intervention Fund seeks to make people aware of what Sudan's government is doing and what our government is not doing.

Friday, March 11, 2005

11 M

One year ago today, on a day now remembered as "11 M," Spain suffered its worst terrorist attack in history as 191 people were killed in a series of bomb explosions on trains during the morning commute. The Spanish newspaper ABC provides a series of images from today's commemoration.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Tokyo, March 1945

Exactly sixty years ago, on the night of March 9-10, 1945, the United States conducted a bombing raid that reduced Tokyo to a smoldering ruin. Using incendiary bombs in a deliberate attempt to generate a firestorm in a city filled with wooden buildings, the raid by 334 B-29 bombers resulted in the deaths of 100,000 people and left 500,000 homeless. One of the American pilots reported being able to smell burning flesh while flying over the city at an altitude of 5,000 feet.

Over the next five months--culminating in the use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945--the U.S. killed half a million Japanese--mostly civilians--in bombing raids on seventy cities. General Curtis LeMay, the architect of the campaign, later said, "If we had lost the war, we would have been tried as war criminals."

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

More Unilateralism

The United States is withdrawing from a protocol to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations that grants the International Court of Justice jurisdiction over disputes arising under the Convention after having lost a case brought by Mexico involving 51 Mexican nationals on death rows in the U.S. The details are here.

Bull in a China Shop

On Monday, President Bush nominated John R. Bolton to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Just a few weeks ago, Bolton's ouster from his position as Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security was being viewed as a sign that the neo-cons would have less influence in the second Bush Administration. Throughout his career, Bolton has repeatedly expressed nothing but contempt for the U.N. and its work. As I noted in a comment on a previous post, he was the one who wrecked the U.N.'s effort in 2001 to regulate the international trade in small arms and light weapons (SALW).

The Guardian stated, "European hopes that the Bush administration would bring a more multilateral approach to its foreign policy were dealt a blow yesterday with the nomination of an outspoken hawk as America's ambassador to the UN." It also noted that Bolton said in a public address eleven years ago, "The secretariat building in New York has 38 storeys. If it lost 10 storeys, it wouldn't make a bit of difference." According to the BBC, Bolton "has in the past been quoted as saying there is no such thing as the United Nations."

Bolton has been implacably hostile toward the International Criminal Court. In the Winter 2001 issue of Law and Contemporary Problems, Bolton wrote, "America's posture toward the ICC should be 'Three Noes': no financial support, directly or indirectly; no cooperation; and no further negotiations with other governments to 'improve' the ICC. Such a policy cannot entirely eliminate the risks posed by the ICC, but it can go a long way in that direction." He reportedly asked to be permitted to sign the letter "unsigning" the Rome Statute for the ICC in May 2001 and said that doing so was "the happiest moment of my government service."

Finally, here's Bolton's view of the Security Council: “If I were doing the Security Council today, I’d have one permanent member because that’s the real reflection of the distribution of power in the world.”

Clearly, John Bolton perfectly embodies this administration's values. As Press Secretary Scott McClellan said on Monday, “The person that he has selected to nominate to the position of Ambassador to the United Nations is someone that shares the President’s strong commitment to making sure that multilateral organizations are effective.” Okay.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

International Women's Day

Today is International Women's Day. This would be a good time to recall that

  • 600,000 women per year--one every minute of every day--die of causes (mostly preventable) related to pregnancy;
  • three-fourths of the world's refugees and internally displaced persons are women;
  • 70 percent of the world's illiterates are women;
  • women produce 80 percent of the world's food while receiving under 10 percent of the world's agricultural assistance; and
  • the United States has still not ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

ICTY Update

Another high-ranking official--the sixth since October--has decided to surrender himself to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to face war crimes charges. This time it is Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj of Kosovo. During the 1998-99 war in Kosovo, Haradinaj commanded Kosovar guerrillas. He is alleged to have ordered the killing of Serbian civilians and Albanian "collaborators" during the Kosovo conflict.

Why are so many officials now deciding to turn themselves over to the ICTY? Kosovo is seeking independence from Serbia and needs international support for its efforts. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the secretary general of NATO, said that "Kosovo is entering a crucial period during which it will be judged on its progress meeting the standards set by the international community. Cooperation with the tribunal is one of those standards." Elsewhere, leaders in Serbia and Bosnia are anticipating their countries' efforts to join the European Union, efforts that will also require "meeting the standards set by the international community."

It would be difficult to find a better example of what Joseph Nye calls "soft power."

Da Nang, 1965

Forty years ago today, 3,500 Marines went ashore at Da Nang in South Vietnam. By the end of the year, there would be over 180,000 U.S. troops in South Vietnam.

The deployment in Da Nang, the first insertion of American combat troops into the country, came in response to a request by Gen. William C. Westmoreland, commander of the U.S. Military Assistance Command in South Vietnam. Up to this point, Americans in Vietnam were involved principally in training the South Vietnamese Army. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution adopted by Congress the previous summer had opened the way for more extensive U.S. involvement in the war.

By the time South Vietnam's capital Saigon fell in 1975, a total of 58,209 American troops had been killed in Indochina.

U.S. Marine, Da Nang, March 1965

Monday, March 07, 2005

Hans Bethe (1906-2005)

Hans Bethe, one of the twentieth century's greatest theoretical physicists and most articulate peace activists, died today at the age of 98 at his home in Ithaca, N.Y. A key figure in the Manhattan Project, Bethe later worked tirelessly to try to reduce the threat posed by nuclear weapons. In 1967, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics for his theoretical work explaining the process that fuels the Sun and other stars.

Born in Strasbourg in 1906, Bethe studied in Frankfurt and Munich as a young man. In 1932, he joined the faculty at the University of Tubingen. When Hitler's government adopted a civil service law banning Jews from teaching and other government jobs, Bethe, whose mother was Jewish, was dismissed. In 1935, Bethe joined many of Central Europe's greatest scientists by leaving Europe for the safer shores of the United States. He joined the faculty of Cornell University where he would teach for six decades.

When theoretical physicists suggested, in 1938, that it might be possible to develop an atomic bomb, Bethe and many other physicists trained in Central Europe worried that the Nazis might be moving forward on such a project owing to Germany's ascendancy in the field of theoretical physics. J. Robert Oppenheimer was asked by the United States Government to establish a project to develop an atomic bomb and, in 1943, Oppie appointed Bethe to be the head of the theoretical division at Los Alamos where the Manhattan Project was headquartered. Bethe, like many other scientists, overcame his opposition to war and his objections to the development of nuclear weapons because he feared what might happen if Hitler won the race to develop an atomic bomb.

After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Bethe concluded that nuclear weapons had to be controlled. He spent much of his time after World War II trying to convince policy makers that the arms race had to be stopped.

In 1995, Bethe headed up the Atomic Scientists Appeal, which called upon "all scientists in all countries to case and desist from work creating, developing, improving, and manufacturing further nuclear weapons--and, for that matter, other weapons of potential mass destruction such as chemical and biological weapons."

Saturday, March 05, 2005

The Strange Case of Giuliana Sgrena

Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena is back in Italy after having been taken hostage, released, and then fired on by American troops on her way to the Baghdad airport. The Italian secret service agent who negotiated her release, Nicola Calipari, was killed by the Americans. According to Sgrena, the man who rescued her died in her arms.

The editor of Sgrena's paper, Il Manifesto, wrote today:

Pochi minuti, tanto è durata la nostra gioia. Il tempo che passa tra una telefonata e l'altra: quella che ci annuncia la liberazione di Giuliana e quella che ci precipita nell'assassinio della persona che più di ogni altra ha lavorato per liberarla.

[A few minutes--that's how long our joy lasted. The time that passes between one phone call and another: one that told us of Giuliana's freedom and another that was occasioned by the assassination of the person who, more than any other, had worked to free her.]

Sgrena, whose reporting had been consistently critical of the American military's action in Iraq, insisted that the assault on the car in which she was riding was completely unprovoked. American sources say that the car was approaching a checkpoint very fast and ignored signals to slow down. But how likely is it that Italian secret service operatives would ignore signals to slow down when approaching heavily armed American troops in Baghdad?

Here, according to the Observer, is the Italian version of events:

Sgrena told colleagues the vehicle was not travelling fast and had already passed several checkpoints on its way to the airport. The Americans shone a flashlight at the car and then fired between 300 and 400 bullets at it from an armoured vehicle. Rather than calling immediately for assistance for the wounded Italians, the soldiers' first move was to confiscate their weapons and mobile phones and they were prevented from resuming contact with Rome for more than an hour.

I do not want to believe it, but I fear there may be more to this story than we will ever see in the American press, nothwithstanding President Bush's promise to the Italians of a full investigation.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Two Views of Democracy

Mohandas K. Gandhi:

"I understand democracy as something that gives the weak the same chance as the strong."

Albert Camus:

"Democracy is not the law of the majority but the protection of the minority."

Thursday, March 03, 2005

International Law and the U.S. Supreme Court

The last section of the majority opinion (written by Justice Anthony Kennedy) in the case of Roper v. Simmons (No. 03-633), which finds the imposition of the death penalty on juveniles to be unconstitutional, refers to international norms and their relavance to constitutional issues in the United States. (For more on this case, go here.) Here are portions of that section of the opinion:

Our determination finds confirmation in the stark reality that the United States is the only country in the world that continues to give official sanction to the juvenile death penalty. This reality does not become controlling, for the task of interpreting the Eighth Amendment remains our responsibility. Yet at least from the time of the Court's decision in Trop [v. Dulles (1958)] the Court has referred to the laws of other countries and to international authorities as instructive for its interpretation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of "cruel and unusual punishments."

* * *

Respondent and his amici have submitted, and petitioner does not contest, that only seven countries other than the United States have executed juvenile offenders since 1990: Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and China. Since then each of these countries has either abolished capital punishment for juveniles or made public disavowal of the practice. . . . In sum, it is fair to say that the United States now stands alone in a world that has turned its face against the juvenile death penalty.

* * *

The document sets forth, and rests upon, innovative principles original to the American experience, such as federalism; a proven balance in political mechanisms through separation of powers; specific guarantees for the accused in criminal cases; and broad provisions to secure individual freedom and preserve human dignity. These doctrines and guarantees are central to the American experience and remain essential to our present-day self-definition and national identity. Not the least of the reasons we honor the Constitution, then, is because we know it to be our own. It does not lessen our fidelity to the Constitution or our pride in its origins to acknowledge that the express affirmation of certain fundamental rights by other nations and peoples simply underscores the centrality of those same rights within our own heritage of freedom.

Justice Scalia, in a scathing dissent, sneers at the values of the "so-called international community." While Scalia's dissent is based generally on his abhorrence of what he perceives to be judicial activism, from a foreign policy perspective it is clear that there is something else at play here. Is there an international community with norms that ought to influence, if not bind, its members and, if so, is the United States a part of that community? Increasingly, we will see debates over this question played out in both foreign policy and domestic policy. Should the United States get the approval of the U.N. Security Council to go to war in Iraq, or should we act unilaterally? Should we ratify the ICESCR, CEDAW, the CRC, and the Rome Statute, or should we preserve our freedom to act according to our own standards of law and morality? Should our fiscal policies take into account the needs of the global economy, or is it each president's responsibility to act on the basis of American welfare alone (and can the two be separated)? Over and over again, people like Justice Scalia cling to a world that is disappearing. There is an international community and we ignore it at our own peril.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005


This brings the total number of U.S. military personnel killed in Iraq to 1,500.

March 2, 1836

On this date in 1836, the Republic of Texas declared its independence from Mexico with much lofty rhetoric (covering baser motives) in a meeting held at Washington-on-the-Brazos. Four days later, the Alamo fell, but Santa Ana's hubris (and Sam Houston's army) caught up with him at San Jacinto six weeks later and, on April 21, independence was actually secured.

To Texans (except for the nuts issuing Texas passports in Overton) and non-Texans alike, I'd recommend spending a little time today putting your boots up, opening up a Shiner, and listening to Lyle Lovett (maybe the Live in Texas--read as an imperative--album and especially "You're Not from Texas [But Texas Wants You Anyway]"). If you happen to be in Austin, stop by Iron Works Barbecue, order the brisket plate, and think of me.

Perhaps, having just identified myself pretty closely with Texas nationalism, this is not a good time to mention this, but to those who find Texans a little hard to take, consider this: That's pretty much how people in the rest of the world feel about Americans. Texans, in fact, are just Americans on steroids. The point, I think, is well made by comparing the Texas Declaration of Independence to the Declaration of Independence of the United States. And if you need a further clue to the character of Texans--and Americans--note that the man whose name became synonymous with dissent--Samuel A. Maverick--was among the signers of the Declaration back on March 2, 1836.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Glacial Progress on Human Rights

In 1992, the United States ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 6, Section 5 of the ICCPR states, "Sentence of death shall not be imposed for crimes committed by persons below eighteen years of age and shall not be carried out on pregnant women." Today the Supreme Court brought the United States into conformity with this provision of international human rights law by ruling, in a 5-4 decision, that the use of the death penalty for sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds violates the Eighth Amendment. (Those under sixteen were exempted in a 1988 Supreme Court decision from the imposition of the death penalty.) The Court's ruling sets aside the death penalty in approximately seventy cases nationwide.

How did the United States manage to evade this provision of international human rights law for so long? In 1992, when the Senate gave its advice and consent to the ratification of the ICCPR, it attached a number of reservations, understandings, and declarations (RUDs). One of the reservations stated, "[T]he United States reserves the right, subject to its Constitutional constraints, to impose capital punishment on any person (other than a pregnant woman) duly convicted under existing or future laws permitting the imposition of capital punishment, including such punishment for crimes committed by persons below eighteen years of age." This reservation was an embarrassment to the United States at the time of the ICCPR's ratification. The Supreme Court has performed a noteworthy service by making it moot.

One has to wonder why the United States Senate can't simply have more respect for international human rights norms rather than assuming that if we do it here (at least in a few states), it can't be wrong.

The Soldier's Heart

PBS aired an excellent documentary tonight on the subject of psychological problems affecting soldiers returning from Iraq. "The Soldier's Heart," on Frontline, will be available for viewing on the PBS web site beginning on Friday. Meanwhile, the site associated with the show presents a number of interviews and other materials related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other combat-related psychological problems. Among the findings related on the program (and in documents provided on the web site) is this one: An Army study has found that one in six soldiers returning from Iraq suffers from PTSD, anxiety, or depression.

A bonus on the web site is a selection of war poetry and prose. Especially worth noting (I think) is British poet Wilfrid Owen's "Dulce et Decorum Est" from World War I.