Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Quote of the Day

This made me snort:
Hanson glibly mentions former segregationist Republican Strom Thurmond's "wandering hands," which is a euphemism for "former white supremacist who fathered a black child out of wedlock and managed to keep it a secret until after his death."
That's Adam Serwer over at Mother Jones dismantling Victor Davis Hanson's screed about, inter way-too-much alia, how much it sucks to be Herman Cain. I think Adam may be a bit hard on Hanson for this quote, cuz I mean, "wandering hands" really is so much more economical for word count...

...and for glossing over what wretched human beings Thurmond and his ilk really were.

bellum medicamenti delenda est

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

"Made in the U.S.A." Is Not the Problem

I was watching the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearing today on the oversight of the Department of Justice. The sole witness was Attorney General Eric Holder, who would be called upon to answer for "Operation Fast and Furious," a failed DOJ/ Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) program that was meant to snare cartels in gun trafficking. I tweeted the first part of the hearing, but I wanted to discuss an op-ed by two state attorneys general that Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT) had put in the Congressional Record (courtesy of Emptywheel's @bmaz):
Congress and the media have understandably focused on the missteps of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in the “Fast and Furious” sting operation that allowed suspected “straw buyers” to purchase weapons and transport them to Mexico in order to build cases against drug cartels.
However, the covert operation was terminated abruptly after its possible connection to the tragic death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was revealed. Unfortunately, most of the recent criticism about the operation seems to be serving as a means to attack Attorney General Eric Holder and destroy the ATF, rather than to hold those behind Fast and Furious accountable.

The focus should be on the real public safety problem underlying this controversy: keeping arms from the Mexican drug cartels and protecting the security of the United States. However, many of the roadblocks faced by ATF and the Department of Justice are not being built by international criminals, but by Congress. (Emphasis mine)
The piece goes on to explain the prolific violence in Mexico and that 95% of the guns recovered from Mexican drug violence 'can be traced to the United States.' This sounds troubling, but it's really smoke and mirrors.

As I've detailed in the past, drug violence in Mexico is indeed rampant and unspeakably brutal. People are kidnapped, murdered, often tortured, strung up from overpasses, disemboweled, and/or beheaded. Does it really matter whether the murderers bought their ropes and machetes from stores in Tuscon or Tijuana?

It's the murderers, stupid.

If we could magically keep American guns out of the hands of the cartels, people would start being gunned down with a greater percentage of AK-47s sold in other countries than AR-10s made and sold in America, but they would still be gunned down. The cartels have planes, boats, and more than enough money to get whatever they want through their expansive networks. Making it marginally more difficult to acquire weapons may be good policy insofar as we want better, more sensible gun laws in this country, but it's hardly the "real public safety problem" facing our law enforcement agencies and the public at large.

The cartels make astronomical profits from selling the drugs banned by the United States' global prohibition policy. That money gets them access to the entire planet and all its terrible weapons that make their line of work so bloody. Ramped up interdiction efforts just make drug dealing more dangerous, but also more lucrative, and thus more enticing. So, when you think about it, the real public safety problem is the one that enables and incentivizes the cartels to commit heinous crimes in the first place: the Drug War itself.

Arguing about where the cartels bought their guns is like arguing the make of the bus that just hit you: it's trivial, at best, and probably a sign you have brain damage.

bellum medicamenti delenda est

UPDATE: This isn't meant to be a dismissal of the ineptitude that plagued Operation Fast and Furious. This was a post about the underlying problems, not the highly questionable tactics employed in that operation.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Smokin' Joe Frazier, RIP

Because of other projects and responsibilities tomorrow, I'm not going to have the time to write up everything I wanted to say about Joe Frazier, who died tonight of liver cancer. However, I wanted to implore the people who may otherwise not pay attention to the coverage about his life to pay attention to his relationship with Muhammad Ali.

I'm not sure I've ever written here about my deep affinity for The Greatest, but suffice it to say that there was not an athlete I admired more than Muhammad Ali--even though all of his meaningful fights happened before I was born. But Joe Frazier's legacy will always be told in tandem with his professional and, more to the point here, personal fights with Ali. And despite my profound admiration for Ali as a fighter and as a man, Ali's treatment of Frazier was utterly disgraceful.

Ali was a young, brash, anti-authoritarian man of great pride and braggadocio. Ultimately, I think his overabundance of confidence was one of his greatest strengths--of which there were many. But he went too far with Frazier--humiliating him and calling him a Tom and Gorilla, among many other awful things. I understand that Ali was trying to get into Frazier's head, but whatever line there is between trash talk and humiliation, Ali crossed it repeatedly with the exuberance and glee of a bully.

Frazier took it--and took it to Ali.

Their relationship was important to note because, much more than it was with Sonny Liston, the Ali-Frazier feud was used as a metaphor to describe the social turmoil among blacks emerging from the Civil Rights Era: was our identity to be one of patriotism and patience (Frazier)? Or was it to be of proud, unyielding defiance of authority (Ali)?  Of course, we all forge our own identities as individuals, and fittingly, these two men surpassed the narrative arcs assigned to them to become the more complicated sports icons and historical figures we acknowledge today.

In time, Ali apologized for what he said and did over the course of their intertwined careers. I read recently that Joe had publicly forgiven him--which is a testament to the kind of man Joe Frazier was. No man should take the verbal abuse and humiliation he took from Ali--and Joe Frazier was so much the better man for that forgiveness.

Smokin' Joe Frazier, RIP.

UPDATE: A few people flagged an article on Twitter. Following the Thrilla in Manila, this was filed on deadline at Sports Illustrated. This is what sports journalism should look like.

bellum medicamenti delenda est

The Government's Addiction

Charlie Savage reports that the DEA is ramping up its militarization efforts around Latin America:

The D.E.A. now has five commando-style squads it has been quietly deploying for the past several years to Western Hemisphere nations — including Haiti, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Belize — that are battling drug cartels, according to documents and interviews with law enforcement officials.

The program — called FAST, for Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team — was created during the George W. Bush administration to investigate Taliban-linked drug traffickers in Afghanistan. Beginning in 2008 and continuing under President Obama, it has expanded far beyond the war zone.

“You have got to have special skills and equipment to be able to operate effectively and safely in environments like this,” said Michael A. Braun, a former head of operations for the drug agency who helped design the program. “The D.E.A. is working shoulder-to-shoulder in harm’s way with host-nation counterparts.”
 The DEA has hit-teams now. What could possibly go wrong?
“It could lead to a nationalist backlash in the countries involved,” [University of Miami professor Bruce Bagley] said. “If an American is killed, the administration and the D.E.A. could get mired in Congressional oversight hearings. Taking out kingpins could fragment the organization and lead to more violence. And it won’t permanently stop trafficking unless a country also has capable institutions, which often don’t exist in Central America.”(emphasis mine)
In short, the Obama administration's answer to the Drug War is to get more violent and put more agents in harm's way, the benefit of which will be...more violence. It's not like this hasn't been tried before:

The FAST program is similar to a D.E.A. operation in the late 1980s and early 1990s in which drug enforcement agents received military training and entered into partnerships with local forces in places like Peru and Bolivia, targeting smuggling airstrips and jungle labs.

The Reagan-era initiative, though, drew criticism from agency supervisors who disliked the disruption of supplying agents for temporary rotations, and questioned whether its benefits outweighed the risks and cost. The Clinton administration was moving to shut down the operation when five agents died in a plane crash in Peru in 1994, sealing its fate.
Best case scenario: country A sees a wave of US-backed military raids and violence. This country restores its "capable institutions" and  after countless firefights with law enforcement and one another, leaving scores of innocents dead, the resident drug operation finds more fertile ground to operate in country B, which lacks similar capable institutions. America still gets its drugs and the bloody fight continues in a new country. This predictable and oft-repeated result is called the "balloon effect."

Like a gambler at a casino who just doesn't know when to quit, the United States continues to double-down on its hopeless efforts to use violence to solve its 'drug problem.' Any objective observer of the situation can clearly see its futility and the consequences of pursuing this course of action. Yet the gambler continues, thinking this time it's gonna work. Any short term gains are completely illusory, but they are used to justify even more of the same.

It's time we start thinking about an intervention.

bellum medicamenti delenda est