No Winning In Syria

No Winning In Syria




The U.S. and the U.K. have now said explicitly that they are prepared to take military action against Syria without authorization from the United Nations Security Council. Congress is currently in recess until September 9, but members are asking President Obama to get their approval before intervening in Syria. Other members, such as former Democratic senator and anti-Vietnam-war protestor John Kerry are beating the war drums, saying in a news conference Monday that the alleged actions of the Assad regime are a “moral obscenity.”

Other, more circumspect, lawmakers — such as Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., of Washington — have warned against allowing the U.S. to involve troops in a Syrian civil war.

Moral obscenity or no, candidate Obama recognized that it’s Congress, not the UN, which must authorize military action. He even told The Boston Globe in late 2007 that “the president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”

Even should Congress authorize military strikes out of an understandable willingness to keep the Assad regime from committing war crimes, intervention is likely to have terrible consequences.

First, there’s a lot we don’t know about the attack which killed possibly more than 1,000 Syrians, including just how many were killed and which weapons which were used. The Assad regime authorized a U.N. convoy to inspect the sites of the attacks to determine whether chemical weapons were used. However, the convoy was not able to inspect the sites because it was met with sniper fire on the way. The Assad regime has denied responsibility for this as well.

Before inserting ourselves into a civil war, it’s reasonable to expect more than John Kerry’s alluded-to-but-as-yet-unseen footage to prove that the attacks involved chemical weapons and that the Assad regime is responsible.

The second big issue concerns the basis on which President Obama would supposedly go to war with Syria. On Monday the office of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, claimed Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons meant the nation had crossed Obama’s “red line” for military intervention.

This is an odd place to draw lines. What’s interesting as terms like “red line” get thrown around is that President Obama never actually laid one down. He used the term, but then didn’t detail what would constitute crossing it, making it meaningless in practice.

“We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized,” Obama said at a news conference last August was this. “That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”

The Assad regime is very likely committing human rights violations and does not appear to be fully cooperating with international law. And yet, there are many nations around the world of which this could be said. The U.S. is broke, and our international reputation is in tatters. Now is not the time to involve ourselves in conflicts in which we do not have an immediate and pressing stake.

But perhaps the most complicating factor is that the rebel forces that stand to benefit from U.S. military intervention have strong ties to Al-Qaeda.

Both sides of the conflict in Syria are extremely problematic. This probably factors into why only 9 percent of Americans support military intervention. It’s time for our senators and representativesSto respect the will of the American people and respect the Constitution, instead of talking about imaginary and arbitrary “red lines” and “moral obscenities.”

This piece was originally posted at Doublethink magazine. 

Miley Cyrus Is Trying to Tell Us Something About Objectification

Miley Cyrus Is Trying to Tell Us Something About Objectification



She shouldn’t over-sexualize herself because it undermines her talent, her accomplishments, and her natural beauty – and it reverses the conversation about women back to their bodies.

That’s the thrust of a take on Miley Cyrus from the conservative Independent Women’s Forum.

Coupla issues here. First, when does sexualizing cross the line into over-sexualizing? This line is a pretty important one to identify, since crossing it apparently “undermines [a woman’s] talent, her accomplishments, and her natural beauty.” I guess her “natural beauty” is separate from her sexuality. How does that work exactly?

As far as reversing the conversation about women back to their bodies, that ship has sailed, and slut-shamers are at the helm. If you’ve decided you can dismiss what a woman is saying based on poorly-defined-but-rigidly-enforced rules about what she should be putting in or on her body, you’re part of the problem of objectification, not the solution.

I’m loathe to use Miley Cyrus as a touchpoint to criticize slut-shaming, because to me her performance was pretty disturbing from an aesthetic and racial standpoint, see Jezebel for more on that point. But, having been asked to comment on Mileygate, I’ll try to use her performance to clear up some misconceptions about feminism.

When you objectify someone, you stop considering them as a full person with agency who deserves respect. Objectification is wrong. Some people have a difficult time seeing someone as a sexual being and a full person at the same time. One solution to men who can’t see a woman as a sexual being and a person at the same time is to hide away women’s sexuality from these men. See burqas in Africa the Middle East. Another solution is to encourage women to wear what they want, even if it’s a teddy-bear teddy at the VMA’s, and educate men and women that inside that teddy is a real person with real thoughts and feelings.

It really is that simple. And if you can’t see which is the better option, for women and for men, I don’t really know what to do for you.

California To Force Feed Prisoners Who Protest Their Torture

California To Force Feed Prisoners Who Protest Their Torture




Some have defined the state as a monopoly on violence. Now California wants to be sure it monopolizes coercion as well. It’s almost too ironic that the justification given for ignoring hunger striking inmates’ Do Not Resuscitate requests and force feeding them is the entirely unsupported claim that some of them have been “coerced” into hunger striking and signing the DNRs in the first place.

Make no mistake that solitary confinement is torture, and that prisoners are right to protest its use. Sarah Shourd was once held in isolation by the Iranian government and describes solitary confinement thusly:

It’s the most extreme isolation in the history of humankind: some 80,000 people in America’s prisons are being held in solitary confinement. They are people who haven’t shared a meal with someone else for years. Others haven’t experienced physical contact—or even seen a tree—for decades. They are isolated from almost everything, living in small, box-like cells surrounded by high walls and heavily guarded fences.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has stated that solitary confinement constitutes torture, a view which is shared by many human rights groups including Amnesty International. The UN also found that being confined for more than 15 days can result in permanent psychological damage. Yet, the United States keeps more humans in solitary confinement than any other nation. California’s illegally overcrowded, illegally sterilizing prison system keeps record numbers of prisoners in solitary confinement, mostly for the offense of having been accused of gang membership by other prisoners.

If there was any doubt about how prisoners feel about solitary confinement, it’s helpful to realize that protesters are near death from hunger. They knew that could happen before the torture stopped, which is why they signed the DNRs in the first place. So not only has this judge stripped from the protesters the right to choose death with dignity, but he’s authorized that their rights be violated with forced feedings. If you’ve forgotten what force feeding looks like, here’s Mos Def undergoing the procedure.

Maybe you’re having trouble empathizing with the protesters because they’re criminals. Maybe it would be helpful to know that 15% of California’s state prisoners are incarcerated for drug offences. America has one million people incarcerated right now for non-violent crimes.

Maybe it doesn’t matter what these people did because it’s still not okay to torture them, and then force feed them (another form of torture) when they protest their torture. Regardless of their crimes, whatever danger well-treated prisoners pose is far exceeded by that of judges and bureaucrats who feel perfectly comfortable locking sovereign citizens in soundproof cages, strapping them to chairs and forcing tubes up their noses and down their throats.

This post originally appeared at Thoughts on Liberty.

Google Says What The Government Thinks

Google Says What The Government Thinks



In the course of a class-action lawsuit filed against Google in California, the company claimed its Gmail users have “no legitimate expectation of privacy.” Now the internet is in an uproar. Consumer Watchdog, which brought the case, and the quote, to the attention of the web on Tuesday, called the admission “stunning” and “wrong-headed.”

Google’s argument is hardly a surprise, though. The company’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, signaled their position in a 2009 interview with CNBC, as the Katherine Mangu-Ward recalled:

If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place,” Schmidt said. “But if you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines, including Google, do retain this information for some time. And … we’re all subject, in the United States, to the Patriot Act, and it is possible that that information could be made available to the authorities.

In addition, Google’s Terms of Service states clearly that for Gmail users “advertisements may be targeted to the content of information stored on [Google’s] Services, queries made through [Google’s] Services or other information.” And Google’s Privacy Policy spells out that users’ data may be used to “provide, maintain, protect, and improve services (including advertising services) and develop new services.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but when you look at your Gmail, you see Google display ads which are customized to relate to the content of your emails. And even if you somehow missed it in your inbox, the practice has been covered extensively by the news media. So it’s “stunning” to hear any Gmail user claim to have thought that the content of their emails is private.

Now it is true that Google has claimed that only robots, and not humans, read your email. But that’s only true until the government makes a request for the data.

Indeed, Google’s lawyers aren’t stating their policy on their users’ privacy, they’re citing a 1979 Supreme Court decision, Smith v. Maryland. It is a court decision which helped give law enforcement the right to read your email without a warrant, which is now known as “third party doctrine.”

It’s hilarious/sad that Consumer Reports claims that Google “violates wiretap laws and other state and federal legislation” because it scans emails to filter for spam, check your spelling and serve targeted ads. There is no wiretap law a Federal agency hasn’t already violated with impunity, and I guarantee you it wasn’t to check your spelling. The problem of illegal wiretapping is so bad that two email services which claimed to provide more privacy recently voluntarily shut down in the face of federal investigations. The fates of Lavabit and Silent Circle reveal that this isn’t a Google problem; it’s a federal government one.

If Gmail users want to get upset about something new they learned through this kurfluffle, it should be that they have “no legitimate expectation of privacy” from the government.

The real scandal here is the fact that, as Mangu-Ward put it, “the Court’s interpretation of the Fourth Amendment has swung so far away from the kind of privacy protections most Americans vaguely believe they enjoy that Google is correct, there is no ‘expectation of privacy.’”

This post originally appeared at Doublethink magazine.

Mother Jones should really read Mother Jones

Mother Jones should really read Mother Jones




Oh, Mother Jones. Sometimes you really get it:

The drug war has never been about facts—about, dare we say, soberly weighing which policies might alleviate suffering, save taxpayers money, rob the cartels of revenue. Instead, we’ve been stuck in a cycle of prohibition, failure, and counterfactual claims of success.

Other times

In the past several years, lawmakers in 25 states have sought to make pseudoephedrine—the one irreplaceable ingredient in a shake-and-bake lab—a prescription drug. In all but two—Oregon and Mississippi—they have failed as the industry, which sells an estimated $605 million worth of pseudoephedrine-based drugs a year, has deployed all-star lobbying teams and campaign-trail tactics such as robocalls and advertising blitzes.

So… drug prohibition doesn’t work, but making pseudoephedrine-based drugs require a prescription to obtain totally will. Seems MOJO itself is “stuck in a cycle of prohibition, failure, and counterfactual claims of success.”

Let’s run it down.

1. Prohibition

Forcing allergy sufferers to get a prescription for medicine containing pseudoephedrine is more prohibition. Duh.

2. Failure

Let’s list a few of the failed attempts to combat meth production:

  • Putting quantity limits on buying drugs with pseudoephedrine
  • Requiring purchasers to show a state-issued ID
  • Forcing manufacturers to change their formulas

To say these efforts have done anything other than make law-abiding allergy sufferers’ lives much harder is actually incorrect. The rise of the infinitely more dangerous “shake and bake” method of meth production is a direct result of this legislation.

3. Counterfactual claims of success:

Since the bill [forcing allergy sufferers to have a prescription to buy drugs containing pseudoephedrine] became law in 2006, the number of meth labs found in Oregon has fallen 96 percent.

Oh, really?

A 2012 study by Cascade Policy Group shows that in Oregon, no decline in meth use was seen as a result of a 2006 policy mandating that cold and allergy medicines could only be purchased with a prescription. This study is incidentally reflective of a national trend that sees an overall decline in meth use and meth lab seizures but not in the availability of the drug itself.

Even if it’s true that such laws decrease the number of meth labs in their states, that’s likely evidence that meth production is being outsourced.

Pseudoephedrine limits have helped shift meth production from local mom-and-pop labs to the large-scale Mexican traffickers who already dominated the business, and they have driven explosive innovation in manufacturing techniques.

None other than the Drug Enforcement Administration estimates that 80% of the meth Americans use isn’t cooked in meth labs, but delivered by large-scale Mexican traffickers.

Trying to force people to stop making and using drugs, including methamphetamine, is a fool’s errand.

And like most prohibition efforts, these laws hurt the poor the most. Cops in Georgia are fighting the war on pseudoephedrine by prosecuting dozens of Indian convenience-store clerks and managers with low English proficiency for selling cold medicine. The clerks faced up to 25 years in prison for selling legal goods. And it’s obviously harder for low-income people, many of whom are uninsured, to get a prescription for allergy medicine. And isn’t the progressive opposition to voter ID laws that low-income people are less likely to have them? If poor folks without ID deserve to vote, they deserve to treat their runny noses.

It’s tragic that Mother Jones will run factually incorrect pieces which support policies they already realize don’t work and ruin lives. But then, “the drug war has never been about facts.”

This post originally appeared at Thoughts on Liberty.