Monday, May 31, 2010

Confiscated "Weapons" From the Flotilla

I got a chance to see the confiscated "weapons" from the flotilla.

A few matched sets of galley knives, a kirpan, and a few utility knives do not an arsenal make.

Yep, the US Rolled Over

Here's the official response:

The United States is deeply disturbed by the recent violence and regrets the tragic loss of life and injuries suffered among those involved in the incident last night aboard the Gaza-bound ships.  We are working to ascertain the facts.  We expect a credible and transparent investigation and strongly urge the Israeli government to investigate the incident fully.As I stated in the Chamber in December 2008, when we were confronted by a similar situation, mechanisms exist for the transfer of humanitarian assistance to Gaza by member states and groups that want to do so.  These non-provocative and non-confrontational mechanisms should be the ones used for the benefit of all those in Gaza. Direct delivery by sea is neither appropriate nor responsible, and certainly not effective, under the circumstances.
The United States remains deeply concerned by the suffering of civilians in Gaza, and the deterioration of the situation there, including the humanitarian and human rights situation.  We continue to believe the situation is unsustainable...
The rest is inconsequential babble about the peace process that Bibi could give a shit about.
Definitely a roll-over. Did not mention the piratical nature of the attack, did not condemn the Israelis for either violating their RoE or for having ridiculous RoE to begin with, and did not acknowledge any of the vital materiel that the Israelis are not letting through.

This might just be State boilerplate awaiting a real White House response, but I don't believe so. The lesson is clear. Netanyahu can now act however he chooses, confident that Barry will have his back. No matter what he does.

Sullivan on the Flotilla

Andrew Sullivan isn't exactly an Israel-hater, but here he is on the footage of activists trying to fight off the commandos:

They are engaging in self-defense. More to the point: they are civilians confronting one of the best militaries in the world. They killed no soldiers; their weapons were improvised; the death toll in the fight is now deemed to be up to 19 - all civilians. It staggers me to read defenses of what the Israelis have done. They attacked a civilian flotilla in international waters breaking no law. When they met fierce if asymmetric resistance, they opened fire. And we are now being asked to regard the Israelis as the victims.

This is like a mini-Gaza all over again. The Israelis don't seem to grasp that Western militaries don't get to murder large numbers of civilians because they don't like them, or because they could, on a far tinier scale, hurt Israelis. And you sure don't have a right to kill them because they resist having their ship commandeered, in international waters. The Israelis seem to be making decisions as if they can get away with anything. It's time the US reminded them in ways they cannot mistake that they cannot.
I'm still very, very skeptical that the U.S. will do a damned thing. I'd like to be wrong, but I don't expect to be.
And, yes, Sullivan is right. Since the blockade has not been accepted under international law—nor could it be, considering that Gaza is in fact under Israeli control and not an enemy state—Israel had no right to attack those ships. Israel has always maintained that acts of violence are only illegal under international law if they are aggressive in nature. They maintain that defensive violence and territorial acquisition is legitimate, in order to justify the settlements in occupied lands.

Well, that's what's happened here: defense. Even if the activists had fired on the descending commandos, they still would have had the right of it, because it was the commandos who are the aggressors. They didn't, of course, and apparently there is footage out there of the Israelis firing long before their first commando hit the deck of the Mavi Marmara. But it's still important to be clear about the irrelevance of the "debate".

Bibi's Doubling Down

Well, according to Fox (no link. Ever.) it looks like Bibi's doubling down. He's saying that the attack was entirely "self-defense", that the activists were all Al Qaeda stooges, and that the military has his "full backing". He probably has to, since the "they had sticks! STICKS!" line just isn't going to cut it, not when people bring up the problem of this being pretty naked high-seas piracy.

(If not an act of war against Turkey.)

But he must be really confident that Obama's toeing the Israeli line.  He's pretty much left Obama twisting in the breeze. Either Barry backs Bibi to the hilt and loses the entire Muslim world and any hope of positive influence in the middle east, as well as any lingering remnants of his mystique as a peacemaker and fair broker—or he criticizes Israel and the apologist wing in the United States goes insane. He can't stay on the fence, either, since both sides will claim that it confirms their worst instincts about the man.

All this as oil continues to pour into the Gulf of Mexico, too. Obama isn't even really responsible for that, that's entirely the result of Republican ideology, policies and practices, but he's being forced to wear this. He did not need this, and would be entirely justified in telling Netanyahu to shove it. But I suspect that he won't.

Legality of Israel's Flotilla Attacks

Forget the whole "they came at us with knives, so we gunned them down" defense that Israel is putting forward for their attacks on the Gaza relief flotilla.

They attacked the flotilla in international waters. You do NOT do that. It is just about as illegal as anything can be in international waters. It is pretty much an act of war. It's also blatantly stupid besides, since it means that your civilian ships are now fair game.

That all this was pulled to stop humanitarian aid from reaching Gaza is just insane.

Edit: There appears to be a video of the beginning of the attack, and it appears to show the commandos firing first.  And what the hell is going on with twitter? They seem to be blocking hashtags about the incident. They were all over Iran.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

"A Stark and Potentially Durable Change in Politics"

So here's Politico on last night's establishment bloodbath:

The anti-establishment, anti-incumbent fevers on display Tuesday are not new. The ideologically charged, grass-roots activists flexing their muscle in this week’s primary showdowns are the same breed as primary voters who four years ago stripped the Democratic nomination away from Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who later won as an independent.

What’s now clear, in a way that wasn’t before, is that these results reflect a genuine national phenomenon, not simply isolated spasms in response to single issues or local circumstances.

This is a stark and potentially durable change in politics. The old structures that protected incumbent power are weakening. New structures, from partisan news outlets to online social networks, are giving anti-establishment politicians access to two essential elements of effective campaigns: publicity and financial support.

In effect, the anti-institutional forces that coalesced in recent years now look like an institutional force of their own.
All I have to say is: Good. Been pointing out for years now that the activist wings are more powerful than they know, or that D.C. will admit. Well, now they know. And so does D.C.

Anti-Incumbent, Anti-Elite

Well, looks like it's abundantly clear what's going on right now. Sestak beat Specter in Pennsylvania, Rand won in Kentucky, and Arkansas' Democratic primary is going to a runoff.

 Why? Simple. People wanted a change and didn't get it. I think there is a serious danger that people will misinterpret this as some sort of vindication of the teabaggers. It's not.

It is, instead, an indication that people are pissed off about how betrayed they feel by their own elites.  They sense that the people at the top are not looking out for them, but just looking out for themselves. The teabaggers are getting manipulated into being ticked off at the wrong people—the ones who aren't just anti-Dem reactionaries—but it's being motivated by the same basic problem.

And, yes, that problem is the economy.  Unemployment is still far too high. Opportunity is still lacking. People are still desperately insecure about their own financial future. And, most importantly, the only people who are benefiting from economic and productivity growth are the wealthiest 1%. That ain't right, and people sense that that ain't right, but they've been so thoroughly indoctrinated to fear and despise "class warfare" that they're casting about for other justifications. So they rage about Obamacare, and about TARP, and about cap-and-trade, and everything else that is so "elitist".

Thing is, they are right. They are being screwed over and betrayed by an elite. They're just being mislead as to who that elite is. They're angry at an elite, but it's not the right elite. So it doesn't accomplish anything.

In the meantime, though, they're still ticked, and so incumbents (an elite) are still going to take it on the chin. Bad news for the Dems; but then again, they've richly, richly earned this.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Jeffrey Goldberg is a Goddamned Idiot

How stupid do you have to be to write this:
All of this analysis would be true if America were using its drones to launch unprovoked attacks against targets in Pakistan. But it is not. These attacks are provoked. And who is doing the provoking? Jihadists, who, for all the obvious reasons, want us to believe that it is our actions that cause the violence they inflict on us. Ask yourself this question: Did American drone attacks in Pakistan cause 9/11? Or the attack on the U.S.S. Cole? Or the embassy bombings in Africa?
No. Really. HOW? How is it possible?

It is the most trivially obvious thing in the world to realize that people are going to pay one hell of a lot more attention to attacks on their friends and family than they are to attacks that happened almost a decade ago and almost a world away, and they are sure as hell not going to pay much attention to this sort of reasoning when the attacks are being made on people who were not directly connected with either the Cole or 9/11 bombings? Yes, they might be jihadists—though predators aren't exactly the most accurate platform in America's arsenal so there's a good chance that many might not be—but they are not going to agree with Goldberg's reasoning, any more than Goldberg would believe that blowing up a building in DC is acceptable because of what America got up to in, say, El Salvador.

Look, idiot, this is absurdly simple. The whole "predator attacks cause more retaliatory attacks" idea is based on the notion that they don't care whether or not you think your actions are justified. It's not a normative argument, it's a factual argument: bombs drop, they get mad, they "respond". The fact that the bombing is a response to something that they did does not mean that they aren't responding in turn to what you did. That's what escalation IS: response building on response building on response. Nobody gives a shit about "he started it!"

That's why one has to be thoughtful about any sort of military response to terrorism: even if it is justified, it's going to carry consequences, and you have to recognize and understand those consequences before making those decisions. Saying "he started it!" is what a CHILD does.

(Not that it's surprising to see someone from the Atlantic acting like a child. They provide a platform for Jane Galt, after all.)

The truly hilarious part of the story is here:
"No terrorism group has the word 'terrorism' in its name. They see themselves as reluctant fighters, always retaliating, never initiating."
Well, nobody should say that terrorists never learn. Looks like they learned that little trick reeeeal well.

Copyright and Information Asymmetry

I'd been reading Michael Geist's pieces on the new Canadian copyright bill—which looks to be following the DMCA model—and I had a thought about the debate.
The debate over copyright is as much about information asymmetry as anything else.

Information asymmetry, in economics, is the idea that a purchaser and seller have inequal amounts of information about the value of a good. A used-car seller knows more than the buyer about the soundness of the vehicle, for example. The buyer might not know whether or not the car is a "lemon", so the price he pays isn't necessarily going to correspond to the actual value of the car. Ditto with everything from home loans to first dates; people don't know everything they need to know. In a lot of cases, the seller is deliberately keeping them from knowing it.

Creative works, especially narrative creative works, are much the same. If you're buying a game, movie, album or book, you aren't generally going to know how good it is until you've already bought it. By then, of course, it's too late; you can't get your money back at the theatre for a movie you hated, and you can't get a refund on a terrible game. If it's good, then great! But if it's bad, you're stuck.

In turn, the presumption that animates enforcement copyright law is that if you could view a work for free, you wouldn't pay for it. Remember, it's not theft per se; nobody is deprived of the use of a good, just the ability to control who can gain access to the work. You don't pay, you don't watch. (Or listen. Or play. Or whatever.)

Since these creative products are information, then, that means consumers are inevitably and inescapably operating at an information deficit. They don't know that the movie is worth anything to them until after they've seen it—but by then they have already seen it! And if they've seen it, why on earth would they pay for it? The whole industry depends on information asymmetry to work. People can never pay what something is worth to them. They're always at risk of being suckered. Always.

Then again, perhaps it is the presumption that is wrong. Perhaps consumers would, if prompted, pay what they think that something is worth. Homo Economicus wouldn't, since he wouldn't part with a dime he didn't have to if he didn't have a gun to his head. But real people don't think that way.

It makes me wonder. If you took away the barriers, would people pay what something is worth? Is the presumption wrong? Or will consumers always be on the edge of getting suckered?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Krugman: "Why Libertarianism Doesn't Work"

The Krug-man sums it up:

Thinking about BP and the Gulf: in this old interview, Milton Friedman says that there’s no need for product safety regulation, because corporations know that if they do harm they’ll be sued.

Interviewer: So tort law takes care of a lot of this ..

Friedman: Absolutely, absolutely.

Meanwhile, in the real world:

In the wake of last month’s catastrophic Gulf Coast oil spill, Sen. Lisa Murkowski blocked a bill that would have raised the maximum liability for oil companies after a spill from a paltry $75 million to $10 billion. The Republican lawmaker said the bill, introduced by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), would have unfairly hurt smaller oil companies by raising the costs of oil production. The legislation is “not where we need to be right now” she said.

And don’t say that we just need better politicians. If libertarianism requires incorruptible politicians to work, it’s not serious.

The problem with libertarianism (well, one of them) is that economic power almost always translates into political power. That political power gets exploited to build greater economic power, which translates into more political power, ad nauseum.

The only way you can prevent that is to use political power to prevent it. That gets harder and harder over time, as economic power gets concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. And it requires loci of political power that are separate from those of economic power. That's what democracy is supposed to do.

(It isn't, of course. Economic power has been translated into political power, so much so that most people believe that their votes can't really change a damned thing. BP will probably skate on this. But that's the general idea.)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Kagan's the Nominee

So Obama's moving the court to the right, replacing Kennedy with the "ideological cipher" that supports giving the executive branch carte blanche.

Ah, well, not much to be done about it now. As Greenwald said:

Our politics is nothing if not tribal, and the duty of Every Good Democrat is now to favor Kagan's confirmation.  Conservatives refused to succumb to those rules and ended up with Sam Alito instead of Harriet Miers, but they had a much different relationship to George Bush than progressives have to Obama (i.e., conservatives -- as they proved several times late in Bush's second term [Miers, immigration, Dubai Ports] -- were willing to oppose their leader whey they disagreed).  The White House knows that progressives will never try to oppose any important Obama initiative, and even if they were inclined, they lack the power to do so (largely because unconditional support guarantees impotence).
Not much to add to that. Conservatives oppose, and get their wish. Progressives acquiesce, and get trampled.  You'd think the latter would have figured it out by now. But if they had, they'd probably still be calling themselves "liberals".

Friday, May 07, 2010

Britain's Hung Parliament

It's too soon to predict exactly how the British House of Commons is going to turn out. It's quite likely that it will be a "hung parliament" however, where nobody has a majority but one party (the conservatives, likely) have a plurality.

Considering this is the case in Canada as well, and has been for a while, it does raise the question about whether or not this will become the rule of thumb for Westminster systems in general. It also suggests that the main argument for FPTP systems—that they generate stable two-party systems with clear winners—simply does not apply anymore.

At best, you can hope for stable coalitions, and you're as likely to get that from a proportional system. Considering there is literally nothing else that justifies FPTP, the lesson is clear.