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Archive for September, 2011

As far as I have seen, one’s overarching vision about how the US should conduct itself in the conflict with al-Qaeda determines one’s view on the killing of Anwar al-Aulaqi. Those viewing al-Qaeda as a criminal enterprise and favoring a law enforcement approach are likely to view the al-Aulaqi killing as unlawful assassination, the presidency overstepping its bounds, and yet another affront to a clearly laid out constitutional order.

In contrast, those viewing al-Qaeda as combatants in an armed conflict against the US will see the al-Aulaqi killing as falling in line with the dictates of the laws of armed conflict; the rules of necessity, distinction, and proportionality having been satisfied al-Aulaqi’s killing is both lawful and legitimate. There is also the possibility of viewing the conflict with al-Qaeda as a hybrid, seeing the need for using elements of both approaches, in which case it’s a tossup as to how to interpret al-Aulaqi’s killing. I’d place myself in the hybrid category.

Thus I was interested in reading views from multiple perspectives. Glenn Greenwald expresses outrage at what he views as a violation of core 5th Amendment due process guarantees; Jason Kuznicki expresses similar concerns, highlighting a Ryan Alford piece at Cato Unbound. From this perspective, there is nothing less than the danger of tyranny. Kenneth Anderson believes the US is on solid ground in targeting al-Aulaqi, concluding by pointing to distinctions Benjamin Wittes highlights at Lawfare. To quote verbatim Anderson’s summation of the points relevant in the al-Aulaqi case:

  • taking up operational roles in armed conflict against the United States;
  • fleeing to places beyond the bounds of law enforcement that might serve to arrest Al-Aulaqi if he had been in the territorial US;
  • the existence of robust domestic legal authorities for undertaking lethal action even against a US citizen (it is not as if this was not understood as a possibility in the Cold War);
  • acknowledgment that the US was willing to consider ways to accepting surrender and coming into custody that would allow judicial review; and
  • a lengthy judicial opinion that refused to take a simplistic view of due process in this very case (in either direction, simply targetable combatant or US citizen denied due process) irrespective of whether one thinks the outcome correct or not.

I think Anderson and Wittes have the better argument. Yes, it would be better if the President and Congress constructed a more robust architecture to fit these actions under, preferably with the participation of the judiciary (as Wittes argues). I think it would be more legitimate to have the public discussion and legislation on the matter. But clarifications and additional safeguards with respect to these powers have not been forthcoming. That more explicit grants of authority and defined boundaries for the presidency would be more legitimate does not mean that the president’s actions are illegitimate. Either the right of the US to self-defense or the Authorization for the Use of Military Force provide backing for targeting those targeting the US. As Obama made clear in his Nobel lecture,

But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by [Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi] their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism – it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

I agree with those who argue if al-Aulaqi wanted to exercise his rights and challenge his status as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, he needed to surrender. Al-Alaqui’s father attempted to challenge the designation on his son’s behalf. The judge dismissed the case, finding that the father did not have standing to bring the case. The judge remarked (emphasis in original, pdf),

All U.S. citizens may avail themselves of the U.S. judicial system if they present themselves peacefully, and no U.S. citizen may simultaneously avail himself of the U.S. judicial system and evade U.S. law enforcement authorities. Anwar Al-Aulaqi is thus faced with the same choice presented to all U.S. citizens.

Al-Aulaqi made his choice.

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Video of the Aurora Australis taken by the crew of Expedition 29 on board the International Space Station. This sequence of shots was taken September 17, 2011 from 17:22:27 to 17:45:12 GMT, on an ascending pass from south of Madagascar to just north of Australia over the Indian Ocean.

(via NASA)

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For want of beauty

The Kiss, Gustav Klimt (1907-8)

Every so often I come across something that makes me think, “What an interesting civilization we have.”

Sometimes the expression comes to mind disapprovingly. Other times, my reflection stems from the juxtaposition of two events. For instance, the 9/11 attacks and the photo from the International Space Station, brutal violence as well as space station – the start of a multi-billion dollar effort to sit on the equivalent of Earth’s front porch.

This week, there was again a violence and yet technology occurrence – NASA proposals to build a rocket to reach Mars (NYT) and yet an hours long gunfight in Kabul (BBC). The events aren’t really connected to each other, its just my awe that our civilization could at once encompass the hopeful and the hateful. Civilization meaning all of humanity, a near Kardashev scale type view.

Most recently, Zed Nelson’s collection of photographs Love Me elicited this, “What an interesting civilization we have”, reaction. I came across Nelson’s work via a Sociological Images post by Lisa Wade, Cosmetic Surgery and Being Normal. Wade connects the collection of photographs with the work of Kathy Davis, Wade writes,

In Reshaping the Female Body: The Dilemma of Cosmetic Surgery, Kathy Davis upended the common sense view that people undergo plastic surgery because they want to be beautiful or handsome. Instead, she found that most people sought cosmetic correction because they felt ugly or strange. They didn’t want to be great-looking, or even good-looking, they wanted to be normal, unremarkable, to blend in with the crowd.

I thought of Davis’ book when I scrolled through Zed Nelson‘s photographic commentary on beauty, Love Me, sent in by zeynaparsel. There’s a lot to see there, but here I’ve pulled out some of the pictures that I think resonate with Davis’ findings.

Wade’s selection is worth a look. I’d also suggest browsing the photos and then reading Nelson’s worthwhile Introduction. Several of Nelson’s photos made me wonder at the object of beauty and the means used to attain it. I’ll close by saying I was fascinated by the foot X-ray accompanied by the comment,

“I’ve had three toes shortened – a portion of bone removed between the joints and fixed together with metal rods. I like to wear Jimmy Choo’s, three-inch heels with a pointy toe.”

Foot X-ray. Toe reduction surgery.
Kristina Widmer, 36.
New York, USA

What an interesting civilization we have.

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Ten years and a day

St. John Passion, Zerfließe, mein Herze

Zerfließe, mein Herze,
in Fluten der Zähren
dem Höchsten zu Ehren!
Erzähle der Welt und dem Himmel die Not:
Dein Jesus ist tot!

Dissolve then, my heart,
in floods of tears
as your tribute to our God.
Tell earth and heaven the sad news,
your Jesus is dead!

On September 11, 2001 I was in the midst of beginning my sophomore year of college about seven miles north of the World Trade Center. I was up early getting ready for my class on Colonial Latin America. Listening to NPR.

I remember hearing the news on the radio that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center and thinking, “Well that must be an accident, a plane had accidentally crashed into the Empire State Building before.” I didn’t know the details of the Empire State Building crash but these things accidentally happen. Not exactly New York nonchalance, but this was not rupture. Still listening to WNYC in my dorm room, typical of early reporting after an accident there were confused reports. I remember the journalist trying to find out from people with sight of the World Trade Center how big the plane was. Was it a Cessna or was it a jetliner?

Only later when a second plane flew into the World Trade Center did the thoughts of accidents evaporate. This was intentional. This was rupture. Odd thinking back on it, but I still went to class that morning. Leaving my suitemates and CNN in the lounge behind, and the World Trade Center still standing, billowing smoke but still standing, I took the short walk across campus to learn about Colonial Latin America.

Class over, I remember hearing about the collapse of one of the towers on my way back to my dorm. Hearing and disbelieving. Skyscrapers are permanent, or semi-permanent. They’re not just here one moment and gone the next. The remaining events of 9/11 ran their brutal, heartrending course.

The sound of fire trucks headed downtown in the morning. The closing of the subway lines, and bridges and tunnels. Being on Manhattan and not able to leave. Not that I was going to go anywhere, but liberty to move from where you are is such a delicate thing. When it’s taken away, you know it. The airspace of the United States being closed. The fear. The relief of seeing a jet fighter in the skies above Manhattan.

So many events, rushing past, all at once. In a single day. Certainly not time on the day to process anything. To make any sense of this Pearl Harbor in my lifetime. Pearl Harbor before my eyes. Not staid, safe Pearl Harbor in history books or memorials, Pearl Harbor of black and white photos, “A day that will live in infamy”, but infamy of decades ago and poor audio quality. Not only was this color, not only was this live and on Manhattan, this was multiple camera angles, the view from buildings in Midtown, the view from across New York Harbor. Eventually, the aftermath of 9/11 as seen from the International Space Station. This was watching people die in replay, after replay, after replay.

All those dead people in lower Manhattan. On the day of, who could know how many. Tens of thousands worked there. I remember a tour guide had said the towers had their own zip code. However many people a zip code is, that many. That many dead or buried alive.

9/11 was shock. 9/12 was pain. Not the pain of anyone I know being dead or missing. An uncle in the NYPD, unharmed. A college friend’s parent who worked in the World Trade Center, safe.

Grief and pain all the same.

"Visible from space, a smoke plume rises from the Manhattan area after two planes crashed into the towers of the World Trade Center. This photo was taken of metropolitan New York City (and other parts of New York as well as New Jersey) the morning of September 11, 2001. 'Our prayers and thoughts go out to all the people there, and everywhere else,' said Station Commander Frank Culbertson of Expedition 3, after the terrorists’ attacks." (NASA)

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St. Matthew Passion, Wir setzen uns

Wir setzen uns mit Tränen nieder
und rufen dir im Grabe zu:
Ruhe sanfte, sanfte ruh’!
Ruht, ihr ausgesognen Glieder!
Ruhet sanfte, ruhet wohl!
Euer Grab und Leichenstein
soll dem ängstlichen Gewissen
ein bequemes Ruhekissen
und der Seelen Ruhstatt sein.
Höchst vernügt,
schlummern da die Augen ein.
We sit down in tears
and call to you in the grave:
Rest softly, softly rest!
Rest, you weary limbs!
Rest softly, rest well!
Your grave and tombstone shall be
to the troubled conscience
a comfortable pillow,
and for the soul a resting place.
In highest contentment,
there my eyes close in slumber.

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Neat box, but do you respect human rights?
(the Apple Store, Fifth Avenue. Via Apple)


A discussion of Steve Job’s tenure as Apple CEO and workers’ conditions at Apple supplier Foxconn prompted an Andrew Sullivan reader to highlight a 1997 Paul Krugman piece in Slate, In Praise of Cheap Labor. The Sullivan commenter accurately summarizes, “what OECD residents perceive as gross maltreatment of workers ($4/day wages, long hours, poor work conditions) is actually raising living standards in these places, compared to subsistence farming.” Indeed, Krugman argues that given the alternatives of rural poverty or life as a cheap laborer, life as a laborer is better.

Krugman explains, cheap labor is only the first rung on the ladder of an export-led growth strategy, opening opportunities for broader economic advancement throughout society. Look at South Korea and Taiwan, Krugman urges us, they have met success traveling down this path. Of course Krugman is not the only one making this argument about awful working conditions being a steppingstone to future prosperity. Using similar arguments his fellow New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has repeatedly praised sweatshops and co-authored a book that opens with similar arguments (Thunder from the East: portrait of a rising Asia). Krugman closes by saying it is our moral duty to think things through. Let’s.

One paragraph stood out in the Krugman piece, particularly given the closing reference to our moral duty:

Workers in those shirt and sneaker factories are, inevitably, paid very little and expected to endure terrible working conditions. I say “inevitably” because their employers are not in business for their (or their workers’) health; they pay as little as possible, and that minimum is determined by the other opportunities available to workers.

Inevitable?
(Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, 1911. Via Wikipedia)

That “inevitably” deserves a great deal more scrutiny.

Leaving aside the false choice of sweatshops equal development while no sweatshops equal no development, the rather forgiving attitude expressed towards employers who abuse their workers should disturb us all. Profit at the expense of workers’ health is profit at quite a high cost. Isn’t profiteering at the expense of the well-being of others price gouging?

The fact that the alternatives for workers present such dire hazards should make us even more sensitive to their vulnerability to exploitation by factory owners. The consequent use of factory owners’ superior bargaining position at the expense of their workers’ welfare is certainly not a cause for celebration. Structures that (re)produce this relationship do not deserve our praise.

Instead of celebrating the sweatshops, we should be focusing on the “Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights” (pdf). I’m aware that the Guiding Principles expressed as such did not exist in 1997, but Krugman’s interlocutors were expressing the underlying values of one of the principles, the corporate responsibility to respect human rights.

Briefly, the Guiding Principles were developed under the leadership of John Ruggie as a UN Special Representative on the issue; they are the result of six years (2005-2011) of research and consultations. They propose a three part framework: Protect, Respect, and Remedy.

the State duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including business enterprises, through appropriate policies, regulation, and adjudication.

the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, which means that business enterprises should act with due diligence to avoid infringing on the rights of others and to address adverse impacts with which they are involved.

the need for greater access by victims to effective remedy, both judicial and non-judicial.

[pdf link above]

UN Human Rights Council
(UN Photo)

There is a sentence from the Guiding Principles whose meaning should resonate with anyone analyzing sweatshops, “the corporate responsibility to respect because it is the basic expectation society has of business in relation to human rights;”. Krugman and company have set their basic expectations of corporate conduct far too low.

It is our moral duty to expect more.

(The UN Human Rights Council endorsed the Guiding Principles in June this year.)

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This is a dangerous time to be a black African in Libya.

Writing at the Times’ Lede blog, Elizabeth Harris sums up the current human rights concern for Libya.

Black Africans generally are being held under suspicion as mercenaries and being targeted for reprisals. Abuses have included imprisonment with little or no evidence and violence like rape or, at one point, lynching (NYT).

Anyone who made a responsibility to protect grounded case for intervention in Libya should be concerned by these human rights violations. We certainly did not support intervention to trade one set of targets of state violence, peaceful Libyan protesters, for another, black Africans.

The human rights situation in Libya deserves the sustained attention of the international community. Reportedly, the Transitional National Council is cooperating with efforts to address these human rights violations,

Human rights advocates have decried what appears to be mistreatment of black African workers, and U.S. Ambassador Gene Cretz, speaking in Washington on Wednesday, admitted it’s a growing problem.

“We’ve seen fairly credible reports that there has been some mistreatment of African migrants,” Cretz told McClatchy. He said the U.S. was trying to work with rebel leaders to prevent abuse, which he blamed on young rebels who are confusing Africans who might have fought as mercenaries for Gadhafi with the hundreds of thousands of sub-Saharan Africans who were working in Libya when the rebels took over.

“We don’t think it’s a systematic or intentional problem on the part of the Libyan authorities,” Cretz said. “It’s something that’s happening at levels below that, which is of considerable concern to us.”

Cretz said the rebels’ National Transitional Council is working with the United Nations and other international relief organizations to ease the situation.

Long-term success in Libya requires concerted effort to ensure that the emerging Libyan regime is a better steward of the nation’s human rights obligations than its predecessor.

(This post emerges from a discussion at Flower & Thistle.)

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