Strange News

While the American press is doing its best to ignore the elections in Iraq, and try to figure out under what authority the President can order wiretaps, a surprising event may have happened in Iran.

So far, I have only found one news story (and at least one blog post) concerning this event. The facts given are thin.

It appears that a bodyguard and driver in the motorcade of Iran's President Ahmadinejad have died. Both men are said to have been in the lead vehicle, which fell under attack while the Iranian President's convoy approached the town of Zabul in a southeastern province of Iran.

Supporting detail is given, but it is detail which I have no way of verifying. Reputedly, the region has a troublesome minority (the Baluchi) who have long been at odds with the ruling SunniShia majority in Iran. [Thanks to the commenter who pointed out my mistake.]

I am assuming from the outset that the Iranian President was the target of the attack.

No mention is given of the perpetrators of the attack. However, given that no mention is given of destroyed vehicles, I would guess that they had a supply of rifles and ammunition, but no significant explosives. I suspect that if they had RPG's, many more deaths would have occured.

I also notice that the President's location during the attack is left unknown. He was probably not in the lead car in the procession, but that really can't be known.

The facts of the case don't lead me to believe that the attackers had outside suppliers. I infer this from my thoughts about the weapons used. I do wonder if they had outside training to help them set up an ambush. However, the ambush doesn't seem to have been set up by someone with the ability to seriously threaten the life of the Iranian President. They don't appear to have had the tools or planning in place to do that.

In the background of this story are the Baluchi, the embittered minority who desire autonomy.

I get the impression that the Baluchi in Iran are in the position that the Kurds of Iraq were a decade or two ago. They want autonomy from the leaders of Iran. The United States might gain from troubles that they cause for their ruling government. However, the US has little cause to directly aid the Baluchi, and much reason to deal carefully with the Iranian government.

In that one factor, Iran stands in a different position than Iraq did even a few years ago. We know that the Iranian government has an active nuclear program, while we could not dependably verify the status of Saddam Hussein's nuclear program.

Which again leads me to believe that outside help wasn't at work in this attack. If any support that could be traced back to the US is found, we're suddenly in hot water for attempted assassination.

However, it is interesting news that the President of Iran has come under attack. This is a country that has been eclipsed in international headlines by Iraq, despite Iran's efforts to build a nuclear bomb and their connections to terrorism around the globe.

More Post

More From The Post:

As of this morning, I see the "Experts Cautious" story is still about the fourth story, rather below the story about the perils of icy roads in the D.C. area. And then there is this story, which for some reason they think is worth a headline: "Four... Vikings Charged in Boat Incident." Well, what did you expect?

They also have a link to an opinion piece which link states that "The struggle for Mideast democracy will be a human triumph if it succeeds -- but not, by itself, a victory for American national security." Emphasis added.

The Post's link is more negative than the article itself, which is the point. The editors are playing up the negatives. The author, Susan E. Rice, is raising the still-unresolved question of whether liberty is enough:

As the joyous display of purple fingers in Iraq again attests, the national struggle for democracy is a moral good and, if it succeeds, a human triumph. But it is not by itself a victory for American national security. We need a policy based on the recognition that democracy in the Middle East and beyond is definitely desirable, maybe necessary but hardly sufficient to secure our future.
The terms "necessary condition" and "sufficient condition" are from the discipline of logic. Let's say that you want to have a fire. In order to do so, you need oxygen. The presence of oxygen is a "necessary condition" because you can not have fire without it.

It is not a sufficient condition, however, because the presence of oxygen doesn't guarantee fire. Rice says that the presence of a successful democracy in Iraq and the Middle East doesn't guarantee American security. That remains to be seen (even Rice says that "the jury remains out"), but let's grant the point.

If it is still a necessary condition, then there is no point in arguing over it. Even if it isn't enough, we still have to have it. We can't give up on the oxygen. It's necessary.

Her suggestions are "flawed in another way," as she says about Bush's policy:
From Mali to Tanzania, from Bangladesh to Indonesia, poverty hobbles many nascent democracies, which cannot prevent terrorists from operating on their territory or contain outbreaks of disease. To strengthen weak states, we must do more than promote democracy. We must join with others to build state capacity, in substantial part by helping to alleviate poverty.
Of course Ms. Rice will have noticed this year's efforts to "build state capacity" in the wake of the tsunami. But, being a senior fellow of the Brookings institute, she must also know that the U.S. leads the world in real dollar donations of foreign aid.

The charge against the U.S. on foreign aid is that it doesn't donate as large a percentage of its GNP as other nations. If you follow that link, you'll find two bar graphs, one that shows real dollar amounts, and the other that shows percentages. The U.S. donates about 0.15% of its GNP in foreign aid, much less than Norway. Yet the U.S. donates $18,999,000,000 in real dollars. If you combine the next two top countries (Japan and France), you don't get that much. Norway, however generous their government may be as a percentage, donates less than 1/8th as much.

Where else do we see this situation? A situation where a lower rate of donations actually leads to far higher real numbers? Why, right here: in the U.S. tax system, which is also condemned because it doesn't demand 'a large enough percentage of the incomes of the richest.'

Again, a chart: the percentage is down, the receipts are up. This is not a coincidence. It's an economic law. People who complain about the "rate" of giving apparently believe that we can raise the "rate" of giving without negative impact on the total production. It's not so. Take fuel out of the economy, and it produces less.

The U.S. could raise its taxes, or spend less on internal improvements and more on gifts to the world. But if it did, it would have negative consequences for our economy. In spite of the improved percentage of foreign aid, the real dollar amounts would drop.

Whatever. If the most serious charge against Iraq that can be raised now is that we must give more aid in addition to achieving victory, I'll call that a win.

Gotta Kidding

You've Got To Be Kidding:

OK, so I saw the reports that leftist bloggers weren't talking much about the elections in Iraq. Fine -- they're open partisans, they've got their agenda and they don't hide it. No problem.

So here are the headlines from The Washington Post at this hour:

Top headline: Bush Allowed Domestic Spying in 2002 Order
(No kidding. We were just talking about that yesterday. Now, what might have happened just prior to that 2002 order which could have inspired him to do such a thing?)

Second headline: Sen. McCain Takes the Lead
(Ah, torture. Yeah, great of Senator McCain to stand up on the moral high ground, by granting the US Military the right to define torture. So now the Army can define torture by editing its field manual. Instead of, you know, Congress passing a law. That's called "Delegation of Constitutional Legislative Authority," and until the FDR administration it was considered unconstitutional.)

Third Headline: Stem Cell Fakery Admitted

Fourth Headline: Experts Cautious on Iraq Vote
Subheadline: ...not a turning point...

Good Lord. If I were the man I was ten years ago...

Iraq Elections

A Great Day:

The main body of Iraq voting is now underway. Pajamas Media has Omar and Mohammed of Iraq the Model, plus reports from contacts around Iraq. Threatswatch has a report from Bill Roggio, and The Mudville Gazette has the usual impressive collection of reports from around the MilBlogs, as well as a few other things.

I'm afraid that today is going to be a very busy day for me at my "real" job, so you probably won't hear much more from Grim until tomorrow or the next day. The PJM site looks good here, though -- I think they've got a good lineup, so if you're looking for something interesting that you won't see in the newspaper, drop by.

All the best to Iraq and her people.


Camp Katrina and the AP:

Specialist Van Treuren is annoyed with the AP on Rush Limbaugh's behalf. He compares how Rush's drug problems are treated compared to a Hollywood star -- at least, the Specialist says he's a star. I've never heard of him, but I rarely get out to movies these days.

Well, Rush can probably take care of himself; and, also, the AP system is a little different from a traditional newspaper in terms of how it purchases news stories from journalists. You can't expect the same editorial consistency from a wire service that you get from the LA Times, say (which, given the quality of the Times, has to be marked down as a plus for the wire services).

What would be a really useful comparison would be to look at a collection of articles about each of these two cases; and then also to collect on a third case, some poor jerk who also got addicted to pain meds following back surgery but who didn't have any important friends. It would be interesting to have a "nobody" to use as a control for the experiment. Would the "nobody" be treated worse than both, thus proving that fame and fortune exempt you from bad treatment? Or would he be treated better than Rush but worse than the Hollywood star?

If anyone feels inclined, go for it and good luck.

Let Them Go To Hell!

I am sure that it does not get any more plain than that. (She reminds me of my dear departed Grandmother, accent and all.)

The Political Teen has the video. (via Instapundit.)


The Nation of Volunteers:

This is a link to a very lengthy post by Kim and Connie du Toit, which begins with a long description of financial woes and other serious problems. Most of you will not be all that interested with that part, and should skip to the part "below the fold." It is worth noting, however, that the financial woes they mention arose from their participation in the blogosphere, where Kim's page has been a great resource for many enthusiasts of the shooting sports. I have often linked to his reviews of firearms, because I know they can be relied upon. Yet, due to the fear among corporations of being linked to anything controversial, just blogging under his own name wrecked his career. While we ponder the dangers of "domestic military counterintelligence," let's remember the danger to one's life and career of plain damn cowardice among corporate bodies.

The piece goes on to propose the erection of a nonprofit company designed to sponsor firearms instruction and homeschooling according to Jefferson's Goals of Education. I think it's worth a look, and I hope you'll take the time.

Military Domestic Spying

Domestic Military Counterintelligence:

Pajamas Media has a roundup on blogger reaction to this MSNBC story on the domestic counterintelligence function of the US military. Longtime readers of Grim's Hall remember discussing this last year, when the excellent Secrecy News had a piece on USNORTHCOM's Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA).

The directive establishing CIFA is here, by the way. Jack Lewis is right: you may not like it, but it's perfectly legal.

It's absolutely reasonable to be concerned about this -- as long as the concerns recognize the necessity of Counterintelligence work in the post-9/11 world. I admire and trust the officers of the US military I've met and worked with over the years. Nevertheless, there is a real problem with domestic spying by any government agency: not privacy, but secrecy. Just as false information can get in your credit report, false information can get into any secret CI records about you. If you don't know what they say, you may not know to correct the false impression it creates about you. Just as you could end up not getting a loan or a job because of a falsehood in your credit report, even one created by identity theft, you could end up with serious problems created by a secret CI report about you.

MSNBC quotes people calling for a review process. What there needs to be is a provision of access to data, so that you can review your record and correct any misinformation it may contain. This must obviously go through a process similar to FOIA, so that data collection techniques and agents are not compromised. Still -- and I in no way mean to single out the military, who are surely more trustworthy for these purposes than most government agencies because of their embedded culture of honor -- we're talking about information that can have an impact on your life. You ought to be able to know what's been said about you, and have a forum for correcting it.


Paging Dr. Dean:

I'm told he has a call on line 1.


Punishment: Theory and Practice

In the comments to the post on execution, below, we have had several thoughts on how execution ought to work in theory, and does work in practice. Eric, for example, noted that "I'm not in principle opposed to the DP, but in practice, I find it more trouble than its worth."

In that spirit, I'd like to suggest a discussion of alternatives -- not just to the death penalty, but to the entire punitive system. What I would like to see is an argument from first principles. What should the justice system be attempting to do with criminals, and how can it best accomplish that thing?

This isn't an idle project. Just such a discussion is why we have a prison system at all. We didn't always. In the old days, prisons were normally only used to hold people until trial. If they were convicted, they were dealt with at once and let go: either fined, or subjected to corporal punishment such as whipping, or killed, or exiled. The idea of keeping people housed in a prison for years or decades did not exist, except for certain members of the nobility who were too important to kill, and too dangerous to release.

The prison system grew out of a debate that decided that the goal of the justice system should be "rehabilitation." In the early days of what we have come to call psychology, many believed that people were much more suceptible to conditioning. If, instead of traditional punishments (whipping, execution, fines) you put people in prison, you might be able to reform them. The idea was to confine them, so they would have nothing to do or think about except what you provided. Then, you provided prison guards to serve as an example of all that is best in society: a crisp uniform, a devotion to law and order, good manners. Then, as people began to reform themselves along the lines of the "good example," you could introduce other opportunties -- education, training.

Well, we see how that worked out. Our prisons compare favorably to Egypt's, say, but they are certainly not at all successful at achieving what they were designed to achieve. The rehabilitation model is an almost complete failure.

Maybe it can be done better -- but maybe it can't. Or maybe it shouldn't be the goal of the justice system at all. For example, if we are a society founded on human freedom, we undercut our real goal if we have a justice system that is built upon the idea that certain kinds of thinking and acting ought to be drummed out of you through mental "adjustment." If maximizing human freedom is the goal of the justice system, as it is for the government at large, perhaps we should move to a system based on exile -- what was called "transportation" in the days when the British sent criminals to Australia. Then, we have a system that preserves even criminals' right to think their lives through and live them out as they please -- just, elsewhere.

(Indeed, even the death penalty is better than prison on these grounds. At least when you hang a bandit, you're accepting him for who he is.)

Yet another alternative would be that punishment should be the goal of the justice system. I've heard anti-death penalty arguments arising from this: that the death penalty is too easy, and what folks want is a system that maximizes pain for murderers and other evildoers. This is what Captain Ed proposes as an alternative, for example: "When we have the person locked up, he should stay locked up -- and I mean locked up for good, and none of the Club Fed treatment, either. Three hots and a cot, and anything else depends on how well the prisoner behaves."

I am frankly unsympathetic to that idea. I have no desire to maintain a system meant to maximize human misery, even within the confines of the 8th Amendment. Maximizing misery does not strike me as a proper function for the government (even if it is the most likely function of government, and not just in the prison system).

The system wasn't designed for that purpose anyway. The system we have was designed to improve people, not to hurt them. We're accepting "human misery" as an acceptable goal because rehabilitation failed. Oh, we still make efforts -- we have prison ministries and prison psychologists, and education programs. It doesn't work with any sort of regularity, and we know it. Indeed, it only works on those who personally choose to be rehabilitated. The project of reforming people who do not wish to be reformed has been a complete failure. That says something fine about the strength of human nature, but it leaves us investing ourselves ever more heavily in a system that we know does not work as designed.

So, start from the ground up and tell me what we should do. What should our relation to criminals be? Do we want to try to improve them, or alter them, or simply house them apart? Should we seek their comfort, or their misery? Would it be better to hang the cruel and violent, while simply fining or putting into community service those who commit nonviolent crimes? Are we after punishment, or rehabilitation, or just a society from which those given over to crime have been removed? Once you are sure about what you want, how do we get there?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

On Executions

On Executions:

Captain's Quarters has posted a remarkable argument from economic principles in favor of the death penalty. CQ is itself opposed to the proposition, but was impressed enough by this letter to post it in full.

Suppose we have a career criminal with a long record of violent felonies, what we in California would call a "three-striker", who knows that he will be sent to prison for the rest of his life if he is ever caught committing a new offense. When he goes to rob the local convenience store, he doesn't want to hurt anyone - he just wants the money. But he also knows that, as there is no death penalty, he will face the exact same punishment (life imprisonment) whether or not he kills the clerk, the only witness to his crime. He would be a fool not to do so. If he happens to bump into a police officer on the way out, he may as well kill him too - there is no extra charge, so to speak.

If we somehow manage to catch the "three-striker" and place him on trial, it will be in his best interest to sabatoge his own trial by killling witnesses, jurors, prosecutors or judges. After all, if we can't convict him, he goes free. (Remember that scene from the movie Traffic, where the druglord walks?) And even if we manage to successfully prosecute him for one of these new murders, he will still only face the same life sentence that he was sure to get in the first place. If we do manage to put a murderer like Tookie away for life, he can then kill anyone he wants to - inside or out of prison - with complete impunity.... I would not want to be the legislator who had to explain to a prison guard's widow that we knew that we had created a system of justice that refused to set any punishment for the lifer inmate who killed her husband.
There is something to be said for this argument. It is true that this would, in a sense, create open season on prison guards. There are administrative punishments to be had in prison, but the Eighth Amendment sets limits on them: you can sentence someone to solitary confinement, or perhaps to reduced rations, but you can't do much more than that.

The problem grows out of even these limits when you consider the problem of prison gangs. When it is no longer individual actors, but rather groups with an internal and self-reinforcing motivation to violence, you could easily get serious violence both between gangs and in terms of gangs versus the guards. There would be, for many of these violent gangsters, nothing to lose.

I have the same ethical concerns over capital punishment as most: I don't approve, particularly, of the state killing its own citizens. When I was younger I opposed capital punishment outright because of those concerns. Yet, once again, I think my father was right and I was wrong: there are some people, it is sad but undeniably true to say, who do truly horrible things without remorse or pity. At some point, there is just no other way to control the very worst of mankind.


Defining Deviancy Down:

I was in the District of Columbia last night, and started home at about eleven o'clock at night. On the way out, I got behind a bus that had a huge sign on the back which read:

"Please Drink And Drive Responsibly."

Is it just me, or is that a significant change from previous anti-DUI campaigns?


Iraq Begins the Vote:

First reports via Iraq the Model. As the knights of old used to say, "May God Defend the Right." We won't trouble too much here as to which God you'd like to invoke.


Ahead of the Curve Again:

Once more, if you read Grim's Hall, you're a couple of weeks or more ahead of the curve. On 28 November, we had the big go-around that started with "Treason & Civility," in which I posited that:

We are coming to that binary breaking point on a number of questions. The President is accused by some of such things that, if the charges are believed, demand more than rhetoric or the organizing of a better electoral strategy for next year or three years on. The administration has occasionally been accused of fixing votes, including the 2000 election by which it came to power. The US military is accused -- here by Kimmitt, who is trying to be rational, and who is not defending the fellow accused of treason -- of operating "a network of illegal torture facilities scattered around the world!" "Our Administration kidnaps, tortures, and kills people without oversight," he continues.

If you believe that, and especially if you believe all of it, are you not called to more than blogging? To more than political donations, or organizing? To more than another empty protest march, so common and toothless that they may as well not happen at all? I don't see how anyone could believe those charges, watch the ineffectiveness of the protest movements and political opposition, and not plot insurrection.
Today, the first serious journal of the Left has published a piece calling for preparation for "direct action." From Salon:
At a certain point in the near future, if the current oligarchy cannot be removed via the ballot, direct political action may become an urgent and compelling mission. It may then be necessary for many people in many walks of life to put their bodies on the line. For the moment, however, although pressing and profound questions have arisen about whether the current government is even legitimate, i.e., properly elected, there still remains a chance to remove this government peacefully in the 2008 election. (Or am I living in a dream world?)

I do think this regime's removal is the most urgent matter before the country today. And I do think that at a certain point the achievement of that goal might take precedent over our personal predilections for writing, teaching and the like. We might be called upon to go on general strike, for instance. We might be called upon to set up camp in the streets for weeks or months, to gather and remain in large public squares as the students in Tiananmen Square did, and dare government forces to remove us or to slaughter us in the streets.

This is all terrible and rather fantastic to contemplate. But what assurances have we that it is not all quite plausible? Having discarded the principles that Jefferson & Co. espoused, the current regime seems capable of anything. I know that my imagination is a feverish instrument. But are we not living in feverish times, in times of the unthinkable?
There we have it, then: a call for direct action if the Left loses again in 2008, and additionally some remarks calling into question whether or not the political process is not already entirely corrupted by a secret cabal in the current "oligarchy." "Direct action" is the ultimate in wiggle phrases, as it can encompass everything from general strikes to distributing leaflets to blowing up bombs (consider the famous French Marxist terrorist organization, Action Directe, which for some reason is allowed to operate that website in the UK). But that is part of the point: adopting that phrase as a description of your acts means intentionally putting yourself in the spectrum of resistance fighters, even if you intend yourself to stick to the easy end of the spectrum. You are declaring solidarity with those who do more.

Tennis' advice is hauntingly familiar to students of history:
So what do I advise you to do? I advise you to stay in your position for now. For now, you are where you are supposed to be; you are doing what you are supposed to be doing; you are telling your students what they need to know.
There is only one obvious parallel:
For a brief period during the secession crisis the superintendent was a Southerner, Captain P.G.T. Beauregard. He relieved Delafield on January 23, 1861. A day or so later a cadet from his state of Louisiana called on Beauregard and asked him whether or not he should resign [to join the Confederate military]. The Superintendent replied, "Watch me: and when I jump, you jump. What's the use of jumping too soon?"
This is as plain a declaration as that. What's the use of jumping too soon? Maintain your position as long as it is useful in the greater cause. When I jump, you jump.