Monday, February 28, 2011

What Kind Of Day Has It Been

  • Libya counterattacks. It is difficult to see the use of aircraft as anything other than (1) a tremendous mistake; and (2) an invitation to international intervention, coming so close in time to multifarious discussions of No-Fly Zones. Aside: the evolution of the popular uprising in Libya is a veritable case study in international humanitarian law.

  • Somali pirates hijacked a vessel carrying 3 Danish children. The very real threat of Somali pirates received a great deal of attention after Somali pirates murdered 4 Americans on a yacht. DCExile has previously argued that recognition of Somaliland will prevent the expansion of piracy.

  • Republicans are doubling down on DOMA because . . . discrimination places them on the right side of history? 

  • Republican spending plan will put 700,000 workers out of their jobs through 2012. By way of comparison, between June 2010 and January 2011, only 284,000 jobs were added to the economy.

Friday, February 25, 2011

What Kind Of Day Has It Been

The Short List - February 25, 2011

  • As the international community works to respond to the situation in Libya, a day of protests is expected in Tripoli.  In Benghazi, where the rebellion began, opposition groups are working to sustain the rebellion, but also govern Libya's second largest city.  The Economist gives a thoughtful piece on how the West deals with dictators.

  • Iraqis took the the streets in several major cities to protest for better government services.  Some of the protests turned violent and reports indicate people have been shot by government security forces.

  • The Economist considers what the Arab Spring may mean for oil prices.

  • A NATO supply convoy in Pakistan was attacked today killing 4.

  • The Washington Post chronicles the challenges freshmen congressmen face after voting to cut spending.

  • Daily Graph combo: China's provinces' GDP as countries and then U.S. states' GDP as countries.  Both Arkansas and Jiangxi province have a GDP close to Kazakhstan.  Illinois, meanwhile, is only bested by Guangdong province and has a higher GDP then Turkey.  

Thursday, February 24, 2011

What Kind Of Day Has It Been

The Necessity and Future of Unions

As the situation in Wisconsin lurches forward, the blogosphere has come alive with articles discussing the future of unions, both public and private.  Will Wilkinson has been writing a series of posts laying out the differences he sees between public and private unions.  Just yesterday, though, he took a break from that to defend the basic utility of unions.  He took the time to try and convince skeptics on both the right and the left that you can be a libertarian and a union supporter.

He considers what unions could be, the value they create for their members, and urges an adjustment to the legislative framework that encourages corporations and unions to be adversarial.  Perhaps a bit surprisingly, Andy Stern, former head of SEIU has some similar ideas.  Mr. Stern argues that the old antagonistic framework of unions is outdated and obsolete in the face of a truly global economy.  And he notes, “quality is our only job security in the long run. You can use lots of things like politics and the natural slowness of change, but in the end, if people are waiting on long lines at the DMV, something will happen eventually.”

I think both private and public sector unions still know their core responsibility, which is to serve the interests of their members, but over time serving their members has come to mean pursuing more salary, more benefits, and more job security.  It isn’t a holistic approach and has alienated a public that knows fewer and fewer union members.

Perhaps the showdown in Wisconsin will compel unions to take a look at how they do business, to adapt, and to make concessions to the state government (and corporations), but also request concessions from corporations and governments that go beyond compensation.

As a side note to this post, Stephen Stromberg points out, Gov. Walker’s rhetoric doesn’t match his actions.  If you’re serious about the deficit you don’t hamstring the state’s ability to raise new taxes.  And as mentioned here at DCExile a few days ago, there are two sides to the ledger.  We’re going to need to change both sides to balance state and federal budgets.  As David Leonhardt tells us on Tuesday, you can’t just cut your way to growth.

The Short List

  • Qaddafi is gathering forces loyal to him in Tripoli as violence continues in Libya.  Oil prices have hit $100 a barrel in trading already today.

  • Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh has ordered the Yemeni police to protect demonstrators, whether they are pro- or anti-government.

  • Pakistan's ISI is ready to split from the CIA.

  • A British court has ordered the extradition of Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, to Sweden to face charges of sexual assault.  Assange's legal team can and will appeal the order.

  • Two main labor unions in Greece staged a general strike protesting austerity measures.  A group of young protesters broke off and turned violent.

  • Gov. Scott Walker has urged other governors to challenge public employee unions for major concessions.  ** Editorial Note:  It is no small difference to ask for concessions while also removing the ability to collectively bargain.  You can gain concessions, without eliminating collective bargaining.  Indeed, why call for concession if you're going to kill the union anyway?**

  • GM posted a profit in the fourth quarter of 2010, following its emergence from bankruptcy.  **Editorial Note:  A government bailout and good will negotiations with the UAW prevented the total liquidation of GM, saving roughly 200,000 jobs.**

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What Kind Of Day Has It Been

The Short List

  • The situation in Libya remains opaque to the rest of the world, but at this point there appears to be a race to chaos and violence which looks set to engulf the country.

  • Following on the heels of the Wisconsin protests, union members in Ohio protested a similar bill in that state that would greatly weaken collective bargaining by state employees.  In Indiana, another bill appeared to have died as Democratic lawmakers state away.

  • In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie laid out a budget plan that would assail public workers, including teachers.  **Editorial Note:  I liked Gov. Christie, but promises of shared sacrifice seem to be only empty rhetoric and his claims to have inspired the governors of New York and California seems conceited.**

  • Rahm Emanuel won the Chicago mayoral race last night, receiving 55% of the vote in a 6-way race.

  • Somali pirates killed four Americans they had taken hostage aboard a yacht on Tuesday.

  • The search continues for survivors in Christchurch, New Zealand following yesterday's earthquake.  Seventy-five people have been reported killed.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What Kind Of Day Has It Been

Looking at Revenue

House Republicans rejected an amendment to their spending bill that would have corrected an error that will cost taxpayers $53 billion over 25 years.  Matthew Steinglass breaks down the situation more here, but the issue is leasing rights on public land for deepwater drilling.  An oil company would pay royalties to a private landowner, typically, for the rights to drill on their land.  The government decided to grant free leases on otherwise commercially nonviable lands.  The commerical viability of the land was contigent on the price of oil, and thus the leases should not have been given out after the price of oil reached a certain point. Through a Minerals Management Service error, free leases were given when they shouldn't have been.

The amendment, offered by Rep. Markey, would have corrected the lease free error going forward.  It would not have sought payment for passed royalties.  According to GAO, it would netted the government $53 billion in revenue over 25 years.  You can mock the original error, but to use the error to exonerate the oil companies from paying the leases in the future seems like a stretch.  We have been hearing constantly about how we have to cut spending, but there are two sides to the ledger.  Passage of this amendment would have done very little to help the deficit, but the revenue collected would have fully funded USAID every year, according to figures taken from the Republican Study Committee.  If Speaker Boehner and his House Republican colleagues were truly serious about addressing the deficit, you would think they'd support an amendment that collects royalties from oil companies, especially since these same oil companies pay royalties to use private land.

The Short List

Monday, February 21, 2011

Libya, Briefly

Former British Foreign Minister David Owen today called for a UN No-Fly Zone to be adopted and imposed on Libya. Owen’s call came in the wake of the defection of two senior Libyan air force pilots and reports of the state’s use of airstrikes against protesters in Tripoli. Along with the defection of the two pilots, several Libyan diplomats resigned in protest over the state’s use of force against protesters. At the same time, protesters in Benghazi have declared their city liberated from the regime.

Targeted Killing Justifications and Revelations

Recent revelations about the procedures used by the United States in its targeted killing program indicate that the U.S. views individuals selected for targeted killing as legitimate targets at all times. That is, once identified, a targeted individual may be subject to the use of force at any time thereafter. However, such continuous targetability calls into question the ability of the United States to rely on self-defense as one of its two legal justifications for its targeted killing program. Strikes against these continuously targetable individuals would then only be lawful within the context of an armed conflict. Any targeted killing outside of an armed conflict or valid self-defense would be an illegal, extrajudicial execution.

The United States defends the legality of its covert targeted killing program on the basis that those killings fall within the paradigms of armed conflict or self-defense. Both justifications afford a state the right to use force against another state, non-state actor, or arguably an individual. Both justifications are subject to strict requirements and limitations.

International law admits only two categories of armed conflict: international and non-international. International armed conflicts occur whenever there is a resort to force between two states. Non-international armed conflicts occur between states and non-state actors, or among non-state actors, and are distinguished from riots or domestic disturbances by the level of organization of the non-state actor and the intensity of the hostilities between the parties. When engaged in an armed conflict, a state may lawfully use force against enemy combatants or civilians who directly participate in hostilities.

Judging a state’s reliance on self-defense is more difficult—particularly when it is invoked as a justification for a covert or unacknowledged state action. Self-defense must be predicated on an imminent or ongoing armed attack. The force used must be necessary to disrupt that armed attack and the force used must be proportionate  the need to repel or deter that armed attack. Moreover, to be invoked against an imminent armed attack, that attack must be more than a mere threat. This difference in threat versus imminent armed attack is the difference between the 1967 Israeli strike against the Egyptian air force—valid as self-defense—and the 1981 Israeli strike against the Iraqi Osirak nuclear reactor—not valid as self-defense.

Here, then, lies the particular difficulty of evaluating the lawfulness of a targeted killing justified by self-defense. These attacks are covert and are based on classified intelligence information. How are those of us outside of government to adjudge whether a targeted killing satisfied the requirement that the United States faced an imminent armed attack? The question is impossible to answer directly, so we are forced to rely on public characterizations of the targeted killing program and the procedures on which it is based.

Public characterizations of the United States’ targeted killing program suggest that there are in fact two distinct programs: one operated by the U.S. military and the other by the Central Intelligence Agency. Public characterizations have further indicated that the CIA’s program, at least, maintains a list or bullpen of individuals who are targeted and remain targetable until killed. It is this continuous targetability that calls into question the United States’ reliance on self-defense.

This is not to say that a state, a non-state actor, or an individual cannot be continuously responsible for imminent or ongoing armed attacks. However, such a scenario better describes armed conflict and its attendant intense hostilities than self-defense. Of course, armed conflict provides the authority to use force against these individuals. Moreover, those hostilities would be observable to the general public and would likely look a lot like what is going in Northwest Pakistan—such frequent resort to targeted killings that hostilities between the United States and non-state actors likely place the United States in an armed conflict there.

The same cannot be said for U.S. involvement in Yemen and Somalia, for instance. The United States reportedly uses force in those locales only sporadically. The individuals it targets there may be continuously plotting against the United States. They may be continuously recruiting potential attackers. And they almost certainly present a significant threat to the United States. However, it is unlikely—given both the sporadic use of force by the United States and the sporadic publicly known actual or attempted attacks against the United States—that these individuals are continuously responsible for imminent armed attacks within the meaning of self-defense.

Without the ability to rely on self-defense as a justification for a targeted killing, the United States’ must rely on the existence of an armed conflict for the authority to employ force. If no armed conflict exists where and when the United States employs a targeted killing, and that targeted killing does not satisfy self-defense, then such action can only be described as an extrajudicial execution—a gross violation of international law and human rights norms.

Friday, February 18, 2011

What Kind Of Day Has It Been

  • A bloody one in Bahrain where the government continued to crackdown on protesters and protesters remained defiant. Protests also continued in Libya and Yemen.

  • And the U.S. vetoed a UN Security Council Resolution that would have accurately described Israeli settlements in the West Bank as illegal. The other 14 members of the Security Council voted in favor of the resolution.

  • The U.S. Government shutdown appears more likely.

  • Sen. Bingaman out. Democrats in the Senate appear bound and determined to retire themselves into the minority.

  • Wisconsin. **Editorial Note: Solidarity, Brothers and Sisters.**

Public Sector Unions in Wisconsin

I'm afraid I don't have time to properly break the situation in Wisconsin down fully.  I'm hoping to find some time over the weekend, but here's an aggregation of posts out there and then some brief commentary.
  • Will Wilkinson on the situation.  I'm disappointed he fails to address how collective bargaining will be affected if the law passes, as that seems to be the most objectionable part of the legislation.

  • Ezra Klein on what the bill would actually do if passed.

  • The Washington Post with today's article on the situation.

  • Harold Meyerson writing at The American Prospect yesterday.  This is the piece that drew me into the issue.

  • Will Wilkinson and Matt Steinglass actually discussed this issue about a week and a half ago.  Here is WW's and MS's pieces respectfully.
Commentary:  This is a very specific issue that has led to a major debate over the role of unions, the role of public sector unions, political favoritism, and addressing fiscal crises.  Some bulleted thoughts:
  • Unions serve a valuable purpose in our economy, and while the private sector has largely eliminated unions I would suggest that has not been a net positive for workers.

  • I agree with much of Mr. Wilkinson's description of exceptionalism as it relates to public sector unions, but does that mean they should be broken up?  I'm unconvinced at this point.

  • It is unsurprising, but also unseemly, that Wisconsin's Gov. Walker has put in an exemption in the bill for firemen and law enforcement unions.  I think it undermines the governor's ability to be serious about the fiscal crisis when he leaves out the unions it is most political treacherous to confront, and who tended to support him.

  • Clearly many states need to get their fiscal houses in order.  They can't finance debt like the federal government can.  However, I've heard that Gov. Walker did not approach the unions to re-negotiate terms.  This, again, undermines his credibility in my eyes.  If you go to the table and people say "no" then you need to explore other options.  I think he's trying to do this quick and dirty which seems to make it more about politics then fiscal responsibility.
One final thought:  I see something happening in the political discourse surrounding public budget and fiscal crises.  I see the debate being framed by two principles, "Any new public spending is wasteful and reckless," and "Any spending cuts are virtuous and necessary."  This framing concerns me, because it's not true.  Do municipalities, states, and the federal government need to tighten their belts?  Yes.  But we can't forget to invest in the future.  Likewise, many proposals to cut spending are thoughtful and necessary, but many are punitive and seek to cut to a magic number not based on campaign promises.

My feeling to this point, without really diving into the issue, is that Gov. Walker's proposal is overly punitive.  I also believe some concessions will likely need to be made by the public sector unions and if they prove intransigent, then alternatives would need to be offered.

The Short List

  • The funerals for slain protesters in Bahrain became part of the protests in the small country.  There are concerns that the protesters will respond to government violence with violence of their own, escalating the situation.  Additionally, there is a Sunni/Shiite aspect to the protests that makes the outcomes all the murkier.

  • In Egypt, there a concerns that the military is consolidating its already substantial economic interests, which could stymie any economic liberalization.  Human rights groups are confronting the Egyptian military for a series of detainments of civilians, some emerging with signs of torture.  Some have not been released.

  • The Economist discusses protests in Iran and if the Green Movement has been revitalized.  As previously reported, opposition leader Mir Hussein Moussavi remains missing.

  • The U.S. is trying to head off a UN Security Council vote that would declare Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be illegal.  The Economist considers the mood in Israel as the Arab Spring continues.

  • President Obama has waded into the Wisconsin union showdown.  Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker introduced legislation that would eliminate collective bargaining for anything beyond pay.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

What Kind Of Day Has It Been

  • Workers, Unions, and Democrats in Wisconsin stood up for workers' rights.

  • Politico says that Speaker Boehner is playing chicken with a government shutdown.

  • The horror show that is the Palin 2012 Presidential run continues to lurch towards reality.

  • Mir Hussein Mousavi, Iranian opposition figure and leader of the Green Movement, is missing.

  • Sec. Def. Gates admitted to the Senate Armed Forces Committee today that if Bin Laden (or others) are captured outside of acknowledge battle fields (say, Yemen or Pakistan or Somalia), the United States does not have a legal framework under which to work--some 10 years after 9/11.

  • Iran may or may not be sending a 43 year old Alvand class frigate and a supply ship through the Suez Canal.

  • The City of Baghdad is suing the United States for damage inflicted on the city.

The Short List

  • The Bahraini police attacked sleeping protesters in Manama's Pearl Square with shotguns, concussion grenades, and tear gas.  Five people were reportedly killed and over 200 are reported injured.  CIA World Factbook entry on Bahrain.

  • In Basra, in southern Iraq, hundreds protested and demanded the ouster of the local governor.  The protests centered around a lack of jobs and government services.

  • Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has declared elections will not go forward unless the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip is included.

  • The Economist discusses commerce in Mogadishu, neglects to mention Somaliland at all.

  • The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reports that cyber-attacks suffered by the Canadian Finance Department and Treasury Board originated in China.  China's Foreign Ministry dismissed the allegation.

  • IBM's trivia-trouncing computer, Watson, crushed legends Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter on Jeopardy last night on the final day of a three day exhibition.  Mr. Jennings had the best line of the night though, when answering the final Jeopardy question adding on "I for one welcome our new computer overlords."  A magnificent play on the Simpsons line embedded below.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What Kind Of Day Has It Been

  • A Federal District Court in Manhattan sentenced a Somali pirate to 34 years incarceration. He is the only survivor of the April 2009 hijacking of the Maersk Alabama--not to be confused with the November 2009 attempted hijacking of the Maersk Alabama. Somali piracy continues to grow as a threat to international security.

  • The Fed revised its 2011 US economic growth projections upwards.

  • The House of Representatives voted 233-198 to cancel an alternate engine for the F-35. Tea Partiers broke with the GOP who, led by Speaker Boehner, sought to preserve the $3 billion expenditure, as it provides 1,000 jobs in his home state. In contrast, yesterday, Speaker Boehner reacted with ambivalence to the possibility of federal employees losing their jobs due to federal budget cuts.

  • Sen. Kerry asked that the U.S. and Pakistan move beyond the diplomatic flap arising from last month's shooting. Friend of DCExile, CHUP!, fleshes out that story.

Egypt - Different Obvious Lessons

Matthew Yglesias, writing in The American Prospect online, advocates for the United States to be on “the right side of history” and reconsider our support of at least un-democratic and at worst authoritarian regimes in the Middle East.  “The status quo in the Middle East is not sustainable and won’t be sustained,” Yglesias declares.  I think the sentiment is right, but the rose-colored glasses with which he reviews the region and revolution gives an incomplete picture.

The first issue is a matter of perspective.  I agree, the status quo is not sustainable and the U.S. concern is what comes next.  Don’t we still fear what will happen in Egypt?  Aren’t we still concerned that of an Islamist emergence a la Iran 1979 will take hold?  I think Yglesias discounts those concerns because he believes, “the longer the U.S. government stays in bed with kleptocrats, the more severe popular discontent against the United States becomes.”  I would contend there are limits to enmity, and a few decades of support to Middle Eastern autocrats builds a level of enmity that takes a long time to erase.  I subscribe to the “in for a penny, in for a pound” approach.  This would seem to conflicts with my post on reevaluating our alliances in the Middle East, but as I said in that post, we can’t turn our backs on these alliances.  From the perspective of the United States, autocrats give stability until they don’t. If the situation changes we will need to recalibrate our allegiances.  I would argue our most recent experience in Egypt is a strong example of the recalibration we can execute if we find a country at its tipping point.

Secondly, we have to work with the countries that are in power now.  Mr. Yglesias would have us side with the dissidents, causing immeasurable harm to our national security projections in some of the hottest corners of the world.  Mr. Yglesias might argue that it is our patronage of the governments in the region that makes them so hot, and I would not entirely disagree, but to my first point, ceasing that patronage would create good will, yes, but also undermine current stability, and limit our force projection in the region.  The cost-benefit analysis just doesn’t add up to a full-scale reversal of decades of U.S. foreign policy.

I’ll end by saying this: what happened in Egypt over the past three weeks may prove to be the turning point for the land of the pharaohs, but the jury is still out.  It’s a momentous thing to see people break the shackles of authoritarianism.  Regardless of the brotherhood I feel with the Egyptian people, from the perspective of the United States we can’t hop on the bandwagon of every protest or every dissident group.

The United States, by most accounts, managed the revolution in Egypt quite well.  I actually have confidence we can manage a similar situation as well, if not better, in the future.  I would like nothing more then to stick it to all the strongmen and monarchs that limit the freedom of their people in the Middle East, but the ideal and the practical are not one in the same.

The Short List

  • The New York Times covers the internet shutdown in Egypt during the protests that failed to stop a revolution, but perhaps precludes the future of government response.  The Economist released a podcast on the same topic.

  • Republicans were largely unhappy with the Presidents FY 2012 budget proposal, but many indicated a willingness to work with the White House.  The Economist considers the utility of a budget proposal that doesn't seek to address entitlements.  **Editorial Note: I wonder if the same spirit of cooperation will be there in January 2013, if Obama wins a second term?**

  • The infamous CIA source code-name "Curveball," Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janadi, admitted to The Guardian that he lied about bioweapons technology in Iraq prior to the invasion.

  • In North Korea, reports indicate Kim Jong-il's son, Kim Jong-un, has been elevated to second most powerful position in the government.  The move, if confirmed, would seem to remove all doubt that Kim Jong-un will succeed his father.

  • The bookstore Borders has filed for bankruptcy, making DCExile happy we didn't upgrade to Borders Rewards Plus.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What Kind Of Day Has It Been