Sunday, April 30, 2006

John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006)

John Kenneth Galbraith, described in a Boston Globe obituary as "a towering figure in American intellectual life whose astringent wit and elegant iconoclasm graced the academic and political scene for seven decades," has died at the age of 97.

Galbraith was an economist who wrote bestsellers, dabbled in politics, and advised presidents from FDR to Clinton. Under President Kennedy, he served as the United States ambassador to India.

In 1989, Galbraith said (with his customary flair), "In all life one should comfort the afflicted, but verily, also, one should afflict the comfortable, and especially when they are comfortably, contentedly, even happily wrong." It is excellent advice.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Terrorism in 2005

Earlier this month, the National Counterterrorism Center issued its annual report on terrorist incidents. The NCTC Report on Incidents of Terrorism 2005 (available here as a PDF file) notes that there were over 11,000 terrorist incidents in 2005 resulting in over 14,500 deaths. Fifty-six Americans were killed in terrorist attacks, forty-seven of them in Iraq. (By definition, terrorist attacks are aimed at non-combatants; consequently, American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan are not included in the total.) Worldwide, approximately 80 mosques were targeted in terrorist attacks.

The top ten countries by number of fatalities in terrorist attacks for 2005 were the following:

  1. Iraq (8,299)
  2. India (1,357)
  3. Colombia (810)
  4. Afghanistan (682)
  5. Thailand (500)
  6. Nepal (462)
  7. Pakistan (338)
  8. Russia (237)
  9. Sudan (157)
  10. Dem. Rep. of the Congo (149)

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Lesser of Two Evils

"One must remember that in choosing the lesser of two evils, one still chooses evil."

--Hannah Arendt

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Human Trafficking: A New Study

On Monday, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released a new report entitled Trafficking in Persons: Global Patterns (available here in PDF format). According to the report, there are 127 countries in which human trafficking originates, 137 countries that are destinations for human trafficking, and 98 countries that serve as transit points for trafficking. The United States is listed as one of the ten top destination countries.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Easter 1916

Ninety years ago today, Ireland's Easter Rising began. For almost a week, starting on the Monday after Easter, militant Irish republicans occupied several key buildings in Dublin and proclaimed the existence of an independent Irish Republic. Poorly organized and outgunned, the Irish revolutionaries were quickly defeated by the British. The leaders of the movement were executed or imprisoned.

In spite of the military failure of the Easter Rising, Britain's harsh reprisals stirred Irish support for independence and created an atmosphere in which it was possible for Eamon de Valera and Michael Collins to organize the War of Independence, which began in 1919.

William Butler Yeats eulogized the martyrs of the Easter Rising with a poem entitled "Easter 1916," which follows.

Easter 1916

I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

That woman's days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our winged horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road.
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone's in the midst of all.
Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven's part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse -
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Amnesty's Scorecard

Last week, Amnesty International introduced a new website providing information on the human rights records of those UN member states that have announced their candidacies for a seat on the new Human Rights Council. The site provides information on each state's human rights record, the status of its acceptance of international human rights treaty obligations, and its record of cooperation with UN treaty-monitoring bodies.

Presidential Preventive War

Historian and former presidential adviser Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. writes today in the Washington Post that "there is no more dangerous thing for a democracy than a foreign policy based on presidential preventive war." The essay, "Bush's Thousand Days," examines the possibility of a third war for President Bush before he leaves office.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

American Prometheus

J. Robert Oppenheimer, one of the most fascinating--and important--figures of the twentieth century, was born on this date in 1904.

Oppenheimer is best known as the "father of the atomic bomb." When the United States Government began in 1942 to consolidate its research into the possible military uses of atomic fission, an effort code-named the Manhattan Engineering District and better known as the Manhattan Project, Oppenheimer was selected by Gen. Leslie Groves to head the central laboratory at Los Alamos, New Mexico. Research and design work at Los Alamos, together with uranium enrichment efforts at Oak Ridge, Tennessee and plutonium production at Hanford, Washington, culminated in a successful test on July 16, 1945, at a location in the New Mexico desert that Oppenheimer called the Trinity site. (At the time he was asked to name the site, Oppenheimer had just read John Donne's Holy Sonnet XIV, which begins, "Batter my heart, three-person'd God.")

Earlier this week, an important new biography of Oppenheimer--American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin--was awarded the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Biography.

For an excellent on-line biography of Oppenheimer, see the site created to honor the centennial of his birth by the University of California at Berkeley (where Oppenheimer taught physics before World War II). The Avalon Project at Yale Law School includes some of the documents associated with the decision of the Atomic Energy Committee to withdraw Oppenheimer's security clearance in 1954.

Another Milestone

Crude oil prices closed above the $75 per barrel mark yesterday on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Traders are predicting even higher prices due to tight supply and uncertainty over Iran, the second-largest oil producer in OPEC. (For information on the relationship between crude oil prices and gasoline prices, see this Department of Energy site.)

Friday, April 21, 2006

Thursday, April 20, 2006

China's Organ Trade

My brother's business is spreading violence among schoolchildren all over North Texas. (Did I say violence? I meant violins.) He imports the instruments from the People's Republic of China.

China's violin trade, however, is quite different from its organ trade. It's the latter that has been the subject of scrutiny by doctors and human rights activists.

The British Transplantation Society has issued a report condemning China for the sale of human organs taken from the bodies of executed prisoners according to The Guardian. A statement [Word document] issued by the organization of surgeons said that "an accumulating body of evidence suggests that the organs of executed prisoners are being removed for transplantation without the prior consent of either the prisoner or their family."

Transplants in China, said to range in cost from $62,000 for a kidney to $140,000 for a heart, are apparently attracting Japanese, Korean, and Chinese-American patients unable or unwilling to wait for organ donations. The China International Transplantation Network Assistance Center advertises services geared toward foreign patients with an English-language web site that states, "Viscera providers can be found immediately!"

Moisés Naím's Illicit: How Smugglers, Traffickers, and Copycats Are Hijacking the Global Economy addresses the trade in human organs in the context of trafficking in "niche" products such as art works, endangered species, and hazardous wastes. On the organ trade in China, Naím writes,

Prisoners have been used for organ supply under dictatorships at various times in Argentina, Brazil, and Taiwan. Today the Chinese prison system is a major supplier of organs for both the domestic and international market. On Hainan Island an intermediary offered a bulk deal to the activist Harry Wu, who was working undercover: fifty prisoners' organs over a year, at prices ranging from $5,000 for a pair of corneas to $25,000 for a liver. In another case, a doctor reported witnessing both kidneys being extracted from a still-living prisoner due to be executed the next morning. The proceeds of prison organ harvesting go to the authorities. Some researchers suspect that the lucrative organs market is one additional reason that China has broadened the range of capital offenses: more executions mean more profit. (p. 162)

Incidentally, President Bush hosted President Hu Jintao of China at the White House today.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Kristof's Pulitzer

The 2006 Pulitzer Prize winners were announced yesterday. New York Times foreign affairs columnist Nicholas Kristof, who has probably done more than any other person to try to get Americans to care about genocide in Sudan, won the prize for commentary. The citation reads:

For distinguished commentary, in print or in print and online, Ten thousand dollars ($10,000).

Awarded to Nicholas D. Kristof of The New York Times for his graphic, deeply reported columns that, at personal risk, focused attention on genocide in Darfur and that gave voice to the voiceless in other parts of the world.

With his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, Kristof won a Pulitzer Prize in 1990 for reporting on the Tiananmen Square demonstrations in Beijing.

War with Iran?

Will the United States go after suspected nuclear facilities in Iran? Ivo Daalder concludes that the Bush administration faces many more obstacles to a war with Iran in 2006 than to a war with Iraq in 2003. But he acknowledges that there are no guarantees with Bush, because "good arguments, huge potential costs, and the absence of political and international support have never been decisive in his calculations."

Monday, April 17, 2006

Carroll on Iran Policy

The end-of-the-semester grading crunch is making it difficult to post much this week, but let me recommend James Carroll's column in today's Boston Globe.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Pardoning Rumsfeld?

Former U.N. ambassador Richard Holbrooke examines the revolt of the generals and says Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld must go:

The major reason the nation needs a new defense secretary is far more urgent [than accountability alone]. Put simply, the failed strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan cannot be fixed as long as Rumsfeld remains at the epicenter of the chain of command.

Notwithstanding President Bush's recent vote of confidence for his embattled SecDef (something along the lines of "You're doing a fine job, Rummy!"), Yale Law professor Jack Balkin thinks the only question now is whether Bush will send Rumsfeld out with a presidential pardon.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Text Messaging Crackdown

According to The Guardian, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently received a misdirected text message containing a joke suggesting Iran's leader might need to bathe more often. The dissident web site Rooz Online reports that the head of Iran's mobile telephone service has been fired and four people have been arrested as a result of the incident.

For a sampling of jokes making the rounds in Iran, see Robert Tait's story in The Guardian.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

William Sloane Coffin Jr. (1924-2006)

William Sloane Coffin Jr., a minister and social activist, died yesterday. Rev. Coffin was a Freedom Rider in the early 1960s, an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War while serving as chaplain at Yale University, and an advocate of nuclear arms control while serving as the senior minister of the Riverside Church in New York City. He was also the model for Rev. Sloan in Gary Trudeau's comic strip, "Doonesbury." Rev. Coffin described his frequent dissent from the policies of the United States government as a "lovers' quarrel."

On June 1, 2002, Rev. Coffin said, "President Bush rightly spoke of an 'axis of evil.' But it is not Iran, Iraq and North Korea. Here is a more likely trio calling for herculean efforts to defeat: environmental degradation, pandemic poverty and a world awash with weapons."

In a sermon once he said: "The world is too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love."

And then there's this line: "No nation, ours or any other, is well served by illusions of righteousness. All nations make decisions based on self-interest and then defend them in the name of morality."

Rev. Coffin's obituary in the New York Times is available here. For a 2004 interview conducted by Bill Moyers, go here.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Franz Jägerstätter

Franz Jägerstätter was someone who possessed the extraordinary courage necessary to resist the "banality of evil" of which Hannah Arendt wrote in her account of the Eichmann trial.

An Austrian farmer, Jägerstätter was the only person in his village to vote against the Anschluss--Hitler's annexation of Austria--in 1938. In 1939, he was drafted into the German army but refused to serve. As a consequence, he was imprisoned, first in Linz and then in Berlin. On August 9, 1943, he was beheaded for his defiance of the Nazi regime.

The pacifist scholar Gordon Zahn brought Jägerstätter's story to light in 1968 in a book entitled In Solitary Witness: The Life and Death of Franz Jägerstätter. It is said that Daniel Ellsberg read the book and was inspired to leak the Pentagon Papers to a reporter in hopes of hastening the end of the Vietnam War.

Currently on stage at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles is the English version of a powerful play by Israeli writer Joshua Sobol recounting Jägerstätter's final days. The play--iWitness--raises the same kinds of questions about conscience and authority that Sophocles' Antigone raises. It is well worth seeing.

Jägerstätter's basis for resisting authority is summed up in this statement from one of his letters from prison: "For what purpose, then, did God endow all men with reason and free will if, in spite of this, we are obliged to render blind obedience?"

Eichmann in Jerusalem

On this date in 1961, the trial of Adolf Eichmann began in Jerusalem. Eichmann, who had been abducted by Israeli agents from Argentina the previous May, was tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity based on his role in Nazi Germany's campaign to exterminate the Jews.

Eichmann was convicted on all charges in December 1961. In May 1962, he was hanged.

Hannah Arendt published an account of the trial in a series of New Yorker articles later collected in a book entitled Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Arendt described Eichmann as a follower, "a leaf in the whirlwind of time." For this reason--Eichmann's ordinariness--Arendt wrote in the end of "the lesson that this long course in human wickedness had taught us—the lesson of the fearsome, word-and-thought-defying banality of evil."

Great crimes, Arendt argued, can arise out of the ordinary impulses of people and can be resisted only by acts of extraordinary courage.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Against "Christian Politics"

There are many unanswered questions in the essay (e.g., What does it mean to be the "salt of the earth"?), but Garry Wills--a Catholic, a historian, and a social critic--provides considerable food for thought in this op-ed published in yesterday's New York Times.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The Diplomat's Dilemma

"A Foreign Secretary is always faced with this cruel dilemma. Nothing he can say can do very much good, and almost anything he may say may do a great deal of harm. Anything he says that is not obvious is dangerous; whatever is not trite is risky. He is forever poised between the cliche and the indiscretion."

--Harold Macmillan, Foreign Secretary (and later Prime Minister) of the United Kingdom, 1955

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


Kevin Phillips, the former Republican strategist who helped Richard Nixon win the presidency in 1968, is not happy with the Bush Administration's energy policy. In fact, part of his critique in his newest book, American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century, echoes the critique offered by Michael Klare in Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing Dependency on Imported Petroleum. Phillips writes (p. 78):

Old-fashioned colonialists, regal and unembarrassed, took physical control of territories, sent in ostrich-plumed governors, minted coins, and printed local postage stamps on which kings or queens gazed proudly over scenes of natives cutting cocoa pods or harvesting tea. By contrast, petro-imperialism--the key aspect of which is the U.S. military’s transformation into a global oil-protection force--puts up a democratic facade, emphasizes freedom of the seas (or pipeline routes), and seeks to secure, protect, drill, and ship oil, not administer everyday affairs. Still, the way in which the United States has begun to organize its national security and military posture around oil is hardly new in spirit, albeit unprecedented in scope.

Yesterday's radical critique has become today's conventional wisdom. Even President Bush has now acknowledged (in the State of the Union address) the dangers of being "addicted to oil."

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Losing a Continent

The BBC's Gavin Esler writes:

It is one of the most important and yet largely untold stories of our world in 2006. George W. Bush has lost Latin America.

While the Bush administration has been fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, relations between the United States and the countries of Latin America have become a festering sore--the worst for years.

Virtually anyone paying attention to events in Venezuela and Nicaragua in the north to Peru and Bolivia further south, plus in different ways Mexico, Argentina and Brazil, comes to the same conclusion: there is a wave of profound anti-American feeling stretching from the Texas border to the Antarctic.

And almost everyone believes it will get worse.

It's difficult to identify any place in the world where the foreign policy of the current administration has improved American standing.

Preemptive vs. Preventive War

Former senator Gary Hart has recently published a book on international security entitled The Shield and the Cloak: The Security of the Commons. It makes many of the same points that Dan Caldwell and I make in Seeking Security in an Insecure World, but it focuses more specifically on the security policies of the current administration than Seeking Security does.

Hart writes the following on the distinction between preemptive and preventive war, a topic I took up here many months ago:

Dependence on an ancient right to preemptively forestall an imminent attack is based on several conditions. The first is that we can know when an attack is being prepared. The second is that we can distinguish between a theoretically possible attack and an attack that is threatened imminently. If it is the first, as was not the case in Iraq, then a first strike is not preemptive, it is preventive, an entirely different and considerably more dangerous doctrine. In either case, highly reliable intelligence is required to know which states have weapons of mass destruction and the ability to deliver them and which states have those weapons, the means to deliver them, and the intent to do so within a reasonably foreseeable time period. (63)

The distinction between preemptive and preventive war is one we need consider more carefully in the context of Iran than we did in the context of Iraq.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Taylor's Plea

Former Liberian president Charles Taylor, on trial for war crimes, entered a not guilty plea today in his initial hearing before the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Taylor is charged with recruiting rebels in Sierra Leone's devastating civil war. The war, which ended in 2002, resulted in the deaths of 50,000 people and the maiming of thousands more.

Dueling Delusions

Steve Coll, author of Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001, has a brief essay in the New Yorker that surveys the Iraq delusion. It draws on the recently published Cobra II by Michael Gordon and Lieutenant General Bernard Trainor and a U.S. Joint Forces Command study of decision-making in Saddam Hussein's Iraq to demolish whatever beliefs might remain that the Bush Administration got something--anything--right with respect to Iraq.

It's a short piece, so go read it. Meanwhile, here's a brief excerpt that illustrates one of the many tragic mistakes of this war:

As for weapons of mass destruction, there were none, but Saddam could not bring himself to admit it, because he feared a loss of prestige and, in particular, that Iran might take advantage of his weakness—a conclusion also sketched earlier by the C.I.A.-supervised Iraq Survey Group. He did not tell even his most senior generals that he had no W.M.D. until just before the invasion. They were appalled, and some thought he might be lying, because, they later told their interrogators, the American government insisted that Iraq did have such weapons. Saddam "found it impossible to abandon the illusion of having W.M.D.," the study says. The Bush war cabinet, of course, clung to the same illusion, and a kind of mutually reinforcing trance took hold between the two leaderships as the invasion neared.

This, in part, is why wars of choice are wrong.

[Via Talking Points Memo.]

Justice, Samoan Style

Can anyone explain to me why Samoa--the Independent State of Samoa (formerly Western Samoa), not the not-so-independent American Samoa--seems to be favored by those who elect judges to serve on international courts? Tuiloma Neroni Slade of Samoa was one of the original judges elected to serve on the International Criminal Court. (He is, however, no longer on the Court.) The presiding judge of Trial Chamber II of the Special Court for Sierra Leone is Richard Lussick of Samoa.

In spite of the fact that international justice is a growth industry, there are not that many positions available for international court judges: fifteen spots on the International Court of Justice, eighteen on the ICC, eleven on the Special Court for Sierra Leone, sixteen permanent judges and nine ad litem judges on both the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. That equals ninety-four. We could throw in a few more for various regional courts, but we're still talking about a pretty small number. And yet, until January of this year, two of whatever that small total is were from Samoa, a country with a population approximately equal to that of Reno, Nevada or Knoxville, Tennessee.

And while we're on the topic of Samoa, can anyone tell me (1) why the caramel/chocolate Girl Scout cookies used to be called "Samoas" and (2) why they're not anymore?

Sunday, April 02, 2006

General Jaruzelski

In 1980, a major crack appeared in the facade of Soviet-style communism when an independent labor union called Solidarity was established in Poland. Solidarity challenged from within the fiction that the states of Eastern Europe were workers' paradises.

As Solidarity's membership grew to over 10 million, the Polish government led by General Wojciech Jaruzelski decided to crack down. In December 1981, martial law was imposed and Solidarity's leaders were arrested.

Last week, Poland's Institute of National Remembrance, a body responsible for investigating human rights abuses under Nazi occupation and communist rule, filed charges against Jaruzelski for his actions in the period from March 27, 1981 to December 31, 1982.

As the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko said, "Justice is like a train that is nearly always late."

[Update: There are several books on justice and reconciliation that deserve a mention here. The Healing of Nations: The Promise and Limits of Political Forgiveness by Mark Amstutz is an excellent scholarly study of what happens (or at least what should happen) in the aftermath of serious human rights abuses. Two journalistic treatments--one focused on Latin America and one focused on Eastern Europe--that are a bit dated but nonetheless quite helpful are Lawrence Wechsler's A Miracle, a Universe: Settling Accounts with Torturers and Tina Rosenberg's The Haunted Land: Facing Europe's Ghosts After Communism.]