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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2015: The World is a Safer Place

Certainly we've seen some disturbing events in 2014: Russia's takeover of Crimea and its muscling of Ukraine, the rise of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and the continued scorched-earth terror of Boko Haram in Nigeria.  China's menacing attitude toward disputed islands in east Asia can't be overlooked, either.  But on the whole, we live in peaceful times.  Major destructive wars are become rarer.  Violent crime is on the downturn.   Steven Pinker examines the evidence here: The trend line is less violence

He's right: those who are constantly saying the world is becoming more dangerous need to prove it, empirically.

Happy New Year!   Have a safe--and great--2015.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Support Our Troops--But Don't Worship Them

James Fallows the "Atlantic" reporter and longtime observer of things military, posts this lengthy but worthwhile article on why we need to be less reverent, and more critical, about our military and military affairs: the-tragedy-of-the-american-military  Fallows argues that lack of public attention and engagement with our military just conditions us to endorse wasteful spending and futile wars.  It should be a huge scandal about how costly the flawed F-35 fighter has been, but hardly anyone even knows about it. 

He thinks we have a "chickenhawk" culture that encourages people to say "thank you for your service" to the troops, but would never dream of making such a sacrifice themselves.

Lots of points in his essay are debatable, and some are just wrong.  For one, he thinks General Shinseki was some kind of whistleblower when, as Chief of Staff, he said he thought the Iraq war would take hundreds of thousands of troops.  Shinseki wasn't involved in the planning, which he wouldn't have been, and he admitted that.  And he hardly was sidelined; he retired at the end of his term in 2003.  As for another: SecDef Rumsfeld, in fact, fought the Pentagon to cut a lot of wasteful programs, like the Crusader.  Also generals have been relieved for cause:  General Casey pretty much was in Iraq, as was McKiernan in Afghanistan.  Others less knowns have too:  see Robert Gates's memoir for examples.

Likewise, the public attitude toward the military now is a heck of a lot healthier than it was after Vietnam.  We treat our veterans with much more respect, as they deserve. 

Also, Mr. Fallows, the military did not lose the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  It achieved what it could achieve with the political constraints on it.  It won all the battles.  Unfortunately the goals were always vague and open-ended, if not outright utopian.

Nevertheless, it is a piece worth reading and debating.  Anyone who has served in the military as I have knows that there is a lot of waste and timeserving officers.  He's right that we should pay more attention to bloated programs like the F-35.  And his point about the "political engineering" used to keep these programs going is right on the mark.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Cuba Common Sense

A lot of people see normalization with Cuba as making sense.  Establishing formal diplomatic relations would improve communications and would give us more visibility into island affairs.  It will be interesting to see how long this process will take.  The Cubans severely restrict US government visas and they don't permit diplomats to travel outside Havana very far. 

The Cubans will have a much harder time shrouding their human rights practices if we have more of a presence on the island.

Another added benefit might be the ending of the weird and unfair "wet foot, dry foot" emigration policy that has been in place for 20 plus years.  (If a Cuban immigrant makes it to US territory, we accept him.  If we find him coming to the US, we send him back.  We do this for no one else.)  This policy was a compromise after the second big boat lift in 1994.  The sad Elian Gonzalez case of 2000 was the consequence of this jerry-rigged policy.

George Will, in this column, puts his finger on the problems for both sides in discussing Cuba: cuba-derangement-syndrome-strikes-again  Yes, we have to be open to change, and yes, we have to realize that establishing freer trade won't open up the political system anytime soon.  (If ever.  Look at Vietnam and China.)  But we need to get something out of Havana for this.  Right now, it seems like our initiative is unilateral: we are asking Raul Castro to do a thing.

Many commentators don't understand that our Cuba policy's goal has been stability, not regime change.  We don't want thousands of boat people, punto final!  We are throwing the dice now.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Moral Preening about CIA "Torture"

The media insists on inaccurately calling the CIA harsh interrogation program torture.  Fine.  But that loaded word obfuscates the story.  Most of the reporting on this program has been shoddy enough to make Rolling Stone blush.  CIA sought authorization for harsh interrogation because it wanted to comply with the law against torture.  It was trying NOT TO torture anyone! The Justice Department ruled that some forms of harsh interrogation were not torture.  If you believe all forms of harsh interrogation are torture, that's your right.  But I wouldn't want you defending our country. 

All easy to criticize this now, ten years after the fact with the threat receded.

Personally I think the harsh interrogation program probably achieved what it could achieve.  It was shut down when it wasn't going to produce any more results.  We didn't slide down a slippery slope. The extreme stuff--waterboarding--was reserved for three hard cases, one of whom was Khalid Sheik Muhammad,  the 9/11 mastermind.  Some Hollywood actors and journalists have voluntarily submitted to waterboarding.  Our special forces operatives undergo it as part of their training.

But they don't submit themselves to electric shocks with car batteries.  That's torture.

If you want to read about a real torture policy, check out "The Battle of the Casbah."  No one wanted to go down that road. 

The fact is, we were at war.  Sometimes harsh measures are required.  The effects of a Hellfire missile fired from a drone at a terrorist target aren't too pretty, either.  Neither, I bet, are the post mortem photos of Osama Bin Laden.  I've posted a few good articles rebutting the general press view below:

Here's a good rebuttal by Jonathan Tobin moral clarity in wartime

Former attorney general cites the laws, here: mukasey-the-cia-interrogations-followed-the-law-

For CIA's intell successes related to the interrogation program, see here: senate-interrogation-report-distorts-the-cias-success-foiling-terrorist-plots/2014/12/09/de5b72ca-7e1f-11e4-9f38-95a187e4c1f7_story.html

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Phony Gang Rape Story at UVA?

Like you, the Mighty Whig is busy.  He can't follow closely every news story.  So, when he saw a few weeks ago that an article had been published about an alleged gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity, and that the university had acted swiftly to investigate and to suspend the fraternity, he thought, sounds like I can move along from this one: nothing more to see here.

Not so fast!  It seems now that some journalists are starting to dig into this story, suspecting another media "feeding frenzy" driven by false, or potentially false information.  Hmmm, time to read the original source of the frenzy and figure this out.

Here's the Rolling Stone article: Rape on Campus   I read it, and now suspect it is a hatchet job against a great university.  The relevant facts:
  • The heart of it is about a girl "Jackie" who allegedly was gang raped by several men (boys?) at a frat party in September 2012. She supposedly is still trying to pursue justice, but she never went to the police and didn't approach the administration about the incident for months.
  • She was beaten up, cut with glass, and raped, but her female friends urged her not to complain. 
  • A dean in charge of investigating such complaints apparently slow-rolled the case.  The author of the piece suggests she part of a conspiracy of silence.
  • Throughout the piece we learn that the University of Virgina (UVA) is a place of privelege where frats rule, with lots of permissive drinking and exploitative sex, and with an antiquated honor code that urges students to snitch.
  • The piece brings up a lot of stories not necessarily relevant to this case, but meant to portray UVA in a negative light: like the lacrosse player who killed his girl friend and the medical worker who apparently killed a UVA student a few months ago.
Okay, a few of my objections:
  • The main case seems implausible.  A freshman girl raped at a party for three hours by numerous young men.  Nine of them, all of whom have no moral compass whatsoever.  None of whom has gone to the police and confessed.  No one heard anything.  There was no light in the room so she can't identify anyone.  The one person she can identify the author never interviews.  Supposedly this was an initiation ritual. In September?
  • She didn't report this for months.  Okay, I understand many women don't do that out of shame, or other reasons.  But many do report:  in fact tens of thousands do every year.  And the conviction rate is pretty high.  And why wouldn't any of her friends have reported it for her?  This was allegedly a horrible crime!
  • She didn't even go to the hospital afterwards.  Why not? 
  • No evidence that she told her parents.  (Didn't the author try to interview them?)  And she is still attending the university. Why on earth for?    Wouldn't a normal person want to leave, especially since her violators are still at large there?  Wouldn't her parents pull her out of there?  Wouldn't you??
  • Why didn't the author try to interview anyone besides the victim?  Why not anyone from the fraternity?
  • UVA is quite sensitive to sexual assault charges.   In 1993 or so, when I was enrolled there, I attended a town meeting on one that had allegedly occurred at a frat house back.  A young woman was accosed at a party and screamed.  That was enough to bring help to her.  The perpetrator (not a frat member) fled.  We had a big town hall over this event, with lots of hand wringing and accusations thrown around.  This was over a non-rape, by the way.
  • The author of the piece really lays it on thick against the culture of the university.  Well, here's a news flash for her:  lots of universities "party hardy."  Check out the Princeton guide for the top ones: UVA isn't one of them.  Lots have a fraternity system.  Usually the university administration looks for ways to punish them.  (Except in this case, it would seem.)  Lots of universities have honor codes.   And lots of young people are outside the frat system and don't think they are the "be all and end all."   Lots of universities have rich kids.  UVA isn't even closed to being a rich kid haven like some Virginia universities are. 
I have sympathy for the young woman.  Something tramatic may have happened to her. I hope she finds justice and healing.  I hope we learn the truth about this case.  And I truly hope this all hasn't been a giant smear campaign by another Rolling Stone journalist on the make.