Political MoJo

Why Collective Punishment is Wrong

| Mon Jul. 17, 2006 2:53 PM EDT

Israeli troops are re-entering Gaza, according to the Washington Post. This passage, though, illustrates an important point:

Mariam el-Selgawi, a neighbor who fled her home with her eight children and elderly in-laws, said she knows why the Israelis are back.

"Because of the rockets, everyone is launching rockets" from the agricultural areas inside the Gaza Strip over the border at Israeli towns, she said. "Days before, there was a group trying to shoot a rocket, and they were hit by a missile from a drone, and all of them died.

"All the time I get in fights with them when they come. They know it will bring Israel back to the area," she complained of the Palestinians firing the projectiles. "The last time I said: 'The Israelis are going to come and kill us. Aren't you afraid you're going to make us orphans?' And one of them said: 'We will launch the rockets from your house. You deserve it,'" and they fired it from outside her fence, she said.

Her father-in-law, Ali el-Selgawi, 76, sat forlornly on the linoleum schoolroom floor that is the family's latest bed, sipping juice and shaking his head. "You can't talk to them, or they just hit you," he said.Perhaps someone can prove me wrong, but I doubt they're the only people in Gaza who feel this way, or are trapped by the situation, and it certainly lays bare the sheer immorality of Israel's practice of collectively punishing all residents of Gaza by knocking out their electricity, sewage treatment plants, and water wells.

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No Way Out in Lebanon?

| Mon Jul. 17, 2006 2:28 PM EDT

As we know, Israel wants Hezbollah off Lebanon's southern border so that the rocket attacks on its civilians will end. The Lebanese government was supposed to disarm Hezbollah over the past few years and deploy its own army on the border, but it's been much too weak to do so, and has been reluctant to confront Hezbollah for fear of triggering another civil war. (Nor, for that matter, has the Lebanese government received much help from the international community towards this end, despite the fact that UN Security Council Resolution 1559 explicitly calls for the disarmament of Hezbollah.)

So that's where things get tricky. Besides being immoral, Israel's current strategy—bombing lots of suburbs and killing a bunch of civilians—doesn't appear likely to achieve its goals. If the IDF couldn't eradicate Hezbollah during its occupation of southern Lebanon from 1982 to 2000, it's unlikely to do so now. And it seems especially unlikely to do so by turning northern Lebanon into rubble, which will only weaken the Lebanese government vis-à-vis Hezbollah.

But what else can be done? Kofi Annan and Tony Blair are calling for an international peacekeeping force to enter Lebanon, and quell the fighting. But what then? It's not even clear that an international force could disarm Hezbollah, as Israel seems to desire (simply moving the militia—and its long-range missiles—away from the border won't put an end to the underlying issue here). The U.S. can't even disarm Shiite militias in Iraq and it has over 100,000 troops there. Hezbollah is still very popular among Shiites in Lebanon's south. This seems like the sort of thing that ought to be tried, at least, but it's also possible that this entire mess really is as intractable as it seems.

Fifty Ways to Save the Ocean

| Mon Jul. 17, 2006 2:13 PM EDT

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Overfishing, pollution, global warming, species extinction: it's hard to overstate the seriousness and scale of the problems facing our oceans; just as it's tempting to assume there's little or nothing we can do about them. (See, for example, this classily written, highly informative, but paralysingly depressing inventory of oceans-related woes by Julia Whitty in a recent Mother Jones.)

But don't be too quick to curl into the fetal position! There are (at least) 50 things you can do to save the ocean, from being a smart seafood consumer, to keeping your home aquarium ocean friendly, to joining in a coastal cleanup, to supporting local marine education. These suggestions come from an important and recently updated book, "50 Ways to Save the Ocean," by David Helvarg, president of the Blue Frontier Campaign (www.bluefront.org), with illustrations by cartoonist Jim Toomey. Click on the cover image to go check it out.

(And don't forget: there's another way you can do your bit for the oceans—by signing up for Mother Jones' Ocean Voyager campaign, a five-part virtual journey—complete with stunning photos and spectacular video footage—to the world's ocean hotspots.)

Bush's "Simple" Syria Strategy

| Mon Jul. 17, 2006 2:05 PM EDT

There's more coverage and analysis of the current inferno in the Middle East than can really be summarized in a few short blog posts, but I'll note Dear Leader's deep thoughts on the subject, expressed in private at the G-8 summit and picked up by a wayward microphone:

"See the irony is that what they [i.e., the UN] need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this s--- and it's over," Bush told Blair as he chewed on a buttered roll.
Okay... On a related note, Michael Oren in The New Republic has a piece today arguing that Israel should attack Syria in order to convince Bashar Assad to cut off funding for Hezbollah and deter Iran from meddling with militant groups. But as Haggai of American Footprints points out, Oren's own book on the Six-Day War shows that massive military strikes aimed at cowing foes can have dire and unexpected consequences. As the past five years should've taught everyone. It's all well and good to say that Syria is evil and behind Hezbollah's every move—although that, as far as I can tell, isn't an absolute certainty—and another to think realistically about what broadening the war would actually mean in practice.

Winning By Losing

| Fri Jul. 14, 2006 8:17 PM EDT

I meant to link to these a few days ago, but forgot. Anyway, both Amanda Marcotte and Scott Lemieux shoot down the view that "the New York Court of Appeals' upholding of New York's discriminatory marriage law was really a victory for the side that lost."

The End of Emergency Care As We Know It?

| Fri Jul. 14, 2006 8:10 PM EDT

Billmon has an excellent (if extremely dire) post about Israel, Lebanon, and Gaza up on his site, but I'd also encourage people to read this one speculating on the coming health care crisis. Basically, the health care industry is doing very poorly on the financial front these days. That's partly because, thanks to the rising cost of health care, people are avoiding getting treatment altogether, and partly because the rising ranks of the uninsured are usually forced to seek emergency care at hospitals as a last resort when they get sick—and then can't pay for it. Those two trends spell bad news for the industry.

Eventually, of course, health care corporations are going to start lobbying Congress to do something about this. And since "doing something" probably won't entail actually fixing health care in this country, it might mean that Congress will come under pressure to repeal those laws that require hospitals to take in anyone seeking emergency care, even if the patient can't pay for it. Perhaps we'll return back to the good old days when poor patients were left to die in parking lots. Who knows, but it's a situation very much worth keeping an eye on.

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NATO to get a new commander--guess who?

| Fri Jul. 14, 2006 5:50 PM EDT

He is Gen. Bantz Craddock. If that name sounds a wee bit familiar, it should. Craddock is the chief of U.S. Southern Command and the person who oversees the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Craddock will replace Gen. James Jones.

In March of 2005, Craddock, testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, stated:


This command has continued to support the War on Terrorism through detainee operations at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where approximately 550 enemy combatants in the Global War on Terrorism are in custody. A significant number of these enemy combatants are highly trained, dangerous members of al-Qaida, its related terrorist networks, and the former Taliban regime.

We now know, of course, that the "significant" number of al Qaida fighters is somewhere around 8%, 16% fought for the Taliban, and the vast majority of the prisoners at Guantanamo have not been accused of committing any hostile acts toward the U.S. or its allies.

Craddock also told the committee:

In performing our intelligence mission, we continue to emphasize the U.S. government's commitment to treating detainees humanely, and to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of Geneva.

Among the many questionable--and outright inhumane--practices approved by Craddock at Guantanamo was the force-feeding of prisoners who were on a hunger strike. Craddock said the result of force-feeding was that refusing food "wasn't convenient." According to reports, however, detainees vomited, bled and--in at least one case--one was thrown to the floor.

Financial Monitoring At Best an Open Secret

| Fri Jul. 14, 2006 5:01 PM EDT

Is there any limit to the cunning of our enemies? There are troubling signs that terrorists might have been aware the U.S. government was monitoring their financial activities even before the New York Times treasonously gave the game away. They could, for example, have found a way to to learn of testimony at a House subcommittee hearing five months after 9/11 attacks, where plans were openly discussed to give the feds "a highly secure, real-time electronic capability to request and receive data from financial institutions about suspected terrorists or terrorist organizations."(Washington Post) Jokes aside:

The testimony was one of several examples where government and industry officials have publicly described how counterterrorism agencies access financial records to track terrorists and shut down their funding, leading some lawmakers and counterterrorism specialists to doubt assertions that the most recent revelations have significantly helped al-Qaeda or other terrorists by disclosing valuable new information.

Just a little context for the loud calls that Bill Keller be publicly executed and the news media (further) domesticated...

America's Chapter 11

Fri Jul. 14, 2006 4:58 PM EDT

Batten down the hatches, mates; it's almost over. According to a new report an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the U.S. government is bankrupt—or, at least, it will be soon. Battered by a growing budget deficit spurred by tax cuts we can't afford and an unsustainable commitments to welfare and pension pay-outs, the authors say, the country is nearing insolvency.

So what to do? An article in The Telegraph recounts the report's "terrifying" suggestions: "One solution is an immediate and permanent doubling of personal and corporate income taxes. Another is an immediate and permanent two-thirds cut in Social Security and Medicare benefits." Right… well, for those of you willing to go down with the ship, just stick tight and keep paying your share of the damage. I'll call you from Tehran.

Israel Ready to Negotiate?

| Fri Jul. 14, 2006 4:34 PM EDT

Behind the scenes, are Israeli ministers trying to find a negotiated solution to the situation in Lebanon? Via Garance Franke-Ruta, it sure sounds that way from this story:

There are already Israeli government ministers discussing the need for some sort of prisoner exchange, despite Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's declared steadfast opposition to such a move. Peretz, The Jerusalem Post has learned, believes Israel should be willing to release prisoners in what he has called a "gesture" to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, if Shalit, Goldwasser and Regev are released. …

"A military operation will not solve the Hizbullah problem," a high-ranking Northern Command officer said. "The international community needs to get involved and place pressure on the Lebanese government to disarm Hizbullah. That is the only way out."That's encouraging to hear.