The Human Rights Hoax

Every time a US president visits his Chinese counterpart, or vice versa, there’s always the same tired chatter in the media about “human rights,” as in: “President Red White & Blue is expected to give a stern talking-to to President Red over his country’s human rights violations.”  Alas, this time is no different:

The formal White House arrival ceremony – the 21-gun salute is reserved solely for visiting heads of state — was a display of pomp and circumstance that stood in stark contrast with the tough rhetoric the Obama administration is employing in its relationship with China on issues from trade to currency and human rights.

And indeed, Mr. Obama did not entirely abandon that rhetoric Wednesday morning. After promoting the virtues of Chinese and American cooperation, the president – the 2009 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize – used the ceremony to deliver a gentle reminder to China, which is holding the 2010 winner of the prize, Liu Xiaobo, as a political prisoner.

“We also know this,’’ the president said: “History shows that societies are more harmonious, nations are more successful and the world is more just when the rights and responsibilities of all nations and all people are upheld, including the universal rights of every human being.’’

Ooh, boy.  Watch out for that “tough rhetoric”!  Of course, Hu could just as well have lectured Obama, and Shrub before him, about the human rights violations committed around the world by the United States on a daily basis, otherwise known as US foreign policy, but apparently Chinese politicians don’t have quite the same appetite for hypocrisy that American ones do.  Not to mention that if Obama were really concerned about “the universal rights of every human being,” he might give a little shout-out to, in addition to the political prisoner du jour, the virtual slaves who toil their lives away in Chinese factories so Americans can stay awash in cheap consumer goods.

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You don’t mind if I borrow that Predator Drone for a second, do you?

The BBC questions the efficacy of the US government’s use of unmanned aircraft to kill “militants” in the tribal regions of Pakistan (by the way, in case you didn’t know, this is a secret war)—essentially, Are the drones effective in hitting their “targets,” or do they kill too many “civilians” (thereby undermining the policy by providing a free recruiting tool for the Taliban)?  This is accompanied by some dubious figures and claims by US govt spokesdrones about, respectively, the number of non-militants killed and the accuracy of these weapons.  Nowhere, though, does the article question the legitimacy of the policy itself.  Nowhere does it ask: Why is the US shooting missiles from remote control airplanes at people who couldn’t possibly be any threat to the United States?  About as close as it comes to asking that question is when it quotes an “expert on militancy in northwest Pakistan”:

“How many people do you want to kill to get Osama Bin Laden?” he asks.

“How many common militants who may not have done much harm to the US or its allies do you want to kill to get Dr [Ayman] al-Zawahiri [Bin Laden’s deputy]? That is the question.”

Of course, he hedges a bit with that “may not have done much harm” and by granting that all of this has anything to do with killing Bin Laden or his “deputies.”  Add to that a little grousing by Pakistani officials about violations of their sovereignty, and what you have, all in all, is a tepid and largely unnoteworthy “critique” of the GWOT, South Asia edition.

Except for this little nugget tucked in at the end:

What Pakistan says it wants is for the drone strikes to continue, but under its ownership, not that of the US.

“The US should just give us the technology,” says Rehman Malik. “If we do it ourselves, Pakistanis won’t mind.”

Ah, yes: Let us have a turn playing with the big shiny toy.  The Pakistani people won’t mind so much if we’re the ones killing them.

This is a pretty good illustration of the idea that when it comes to disputes between rival governments, or even negotiations between supposed allies, you can rest assured that, no matter the outcome, the people on both sides (or in the middle) are going to get the shaft.

The Drive-By Media

I caught this interview the other day on NPR, and this particular question by interviewer Melissa Block jumped out at me (from the transcript):

BLOCK: I wonder, Governor Barbour, if this oil gusher is testing your political philosophy in any way. You and many of your fellow Republicans champion smaller government, less regulation, more freedom for industry. Do you think maybe there is a role looking at what’s happened in the Gulf for robust intervention for regulation?

Now Barbour’s pat response that more regulation doesn’t necessarily mean better regulation, and that equating the two is “suspect,” and, further, that the “market system” will work it all out is suspect itself, considering that the market system is rigged, by the very regulations that are supposed to govern it, in order to shield companies like BP from having to pay the full costs of their reckless behavior.

But nevermind all that.  The thing that occurred to me when I heard this is that you’d never hear NPR, or any other major news outlet, ask a proponent of more regulation whether the oil spill is testing their philosophy.  Can you imagine Melissa Block asking such a question to, say, Chuck Schumer?

BLOCK: I wonder, Senator Schumer, if this oil gusher is testing your political philosophy in any way. You and many of your fellow Democrats champion bigger government and more robust regulation. Do you think maybe there is a role looking at what’s happened in the Gulf for less government intervention?

You can rest assured it will never happen.

Manning the Gate

Matt Yglesias on why it’s bad that Kentucky voters nominated a “lunatic” like Rand Paul to run for the Senate, even though it helps the Dems’ chances of winning the election:

My view of how politics works is that there are very strong forces at work in the two party system driving it toward long-term equilibrium. Ideological extremism, tactical blundering, bad luck, etc. can hurt a party and reduce its odds of gaining power. But ultimately the odds don’t ever stray all that far from 50-50. So it matters a lot what’s going on. I’m sure David Axelrod is hoping Sarah Palin gets the Presidential nomination in 2012 since she’ll be somewhat easier to beat than the alternatives. I’m hoping the GOP nominates someone who stands some chance of doing a decent job if he or she wins.

First off, of course he doesn’t bother elaborating on just what exactly makes Rand Paul a “lunatic”; this is supposed to be self-evident, I guess.  (In fairness, I don’t read Yggie very often, so he may well have gone into this before.  Also, I’ll admit I don’t know much about Paul either—I’ve seen a video of one of his campaign ads, which was peddling the usual conservative mix of jingoism and xenophobia—so Yglesias’ assessment may well be correct.)  However, my suspicion, based in part on the passage quoted above, is that what makes Paul a nutjob is that his views fall outside of the pathetically narrow confines of “acceptable opinion,” which, when you get down to it, is the line of shit that people like Yglesias are peddling—“long term equilibrium,” “odds [that] don’t ever stray all that far from 50-50”—in other words, a mushy, middle-of-the-road, vanilla-flavored centrism that eschews any even slightly controversial position for fear of being viewed as some kind of “extremist.”  This is the way things are, and the way things ought to be.  Opposition to imperial wars and the national security state?  How about idiotic drug laws that imprison thousands of people for a victimless crime?  Nah, those are positions that only a nutbar would take.  Back to the center folks, between the painted lines.  I mean, why not dispense with the charade altogether and just come out and say it: What we need is a one-party system—of an enlightened, “progressive” variety, of course.

The “Liberal Media” Plumps for War (again)

According to NPR, “experts” are “at odds” over how to deal with Iran’s alleged desire to acquire nukes.  On one side, we have former foreign policy advisor to John McCain and research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Kori Schake, who thinks “military attacks on the Iranian nuclear infrastructure may eventually be necessary”; on the other, we have  self-proclaimed neo-con Michael Rubin, who opposes military attacks because they “would set back regime change” (which would be achieved by “supporting independent trade unions, setting up a clandestine communication system and recruiting defectors”) by causing Iranians to “rally behind their government.” 

“Anyone who says that the Iranian people might rise up and support bombing their country has never been to Iran nor talked to Iranians,” Rubin says.

I had no idea that a desire to not have bombs dropped on their heads by a foreign government is a character trait unique to Iranians.  But then, I’ve never been to Iran or talked to Iranians.  Having been to Iran and talked to some Iranians apparently also makes one uniquely qualified to determine what’s in the best interest(s) of the 70 million or so people who live there:

“We don’t know where the chips will fall if everything collapses,” Rubin says. “But we should at least have a discussion first about where we would like to see Iran, and then walk backwards from that in policy to determine what we can do to sort of push and nudge the Iranian people and any post-Islamic republic government in that direction.”

A third “expert,” Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, suggests flaccidly that regime change might not work, pointing to Cuba as an example.  If he has any doubts about the efficacy (forget about the morality) of dropping bombs, the article doesn’t mention them.

So here we have NPR, the supposed epitome of all things despicably librul, telling us that the U.S. has only two options for how to deal with Iran: overt war or covert war.  And since the latter “might not happen,” it may just have to be bombs away by default.  Missing from the discussion, of course, is anyone who opposes meddling (of either variety) in yet another Middle Eastern/South Asian country.  Clearly no expert would take such a ridiculous position.

Defending My Freedom to Write This Post

Here’s that WikiLeaks video, aptly titled “Collateral Murder,” that’s making the rounds.  I saw it on Scott Horton’s blog last night, and this morning NPR did a piece on it.  What’s striking about it, aside from the fact that it depicts several real people being mowed down by machine gun fire, is the casual, detached attitude of the soldiers doing the killing, the way they cheer each other on while they’re doing it and the way they talk about the actual human beings on the ground as if they were mere graphic images in a video game.

Of course, NPR, while acknowledging that the video is “troubling, riveting and sad,” did its best to downplay the sheer cold-bloodedness of it by portraying it as the regrettable kind of thing that happens in the “fog of war.”  The piece was also quick to point out, in the opening paragraph, that some weapons were found on the bodies, even though what the soldiers in the helicopter initially thought were guns turned out to be cameras (it’s hard to see when it’s so foggy, you know).

But the most despicable display of excuse-making comes from the soldiers themselves.  After the initial round of shooting, a van drives up to pick up one of the wounded men, and, after some back-and-forth on the radio to get permission to “engage” this deadly threat, the machine gun opens fire.  When ground soldiers arrive on the scene and discover two wounded children in the bullet-riddled van, one of the soldiers on the audio says, “Well, it’s their fault for bringing their kids into a battle.”  To which another responds: “That’s right.”

So there you have it.  Bottomless self-justification.  What exactly constitutes a battle, you ask?  Why, it’s anytime we happen to start shooting, anywhere, for whatever reason.