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May 24, 2013

A new Legal Framework Needed to Address Drones

May 11, 2013 by

A MQ-9 Reaper unmanned drone comes into land at Kandahar Airbase in Helmand, Afghanistan. Source: UK Ministry of Defence

To what extent should a country preserve the rights of its citizens abroad who plan attacks against it? This question led some to protest the targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlaki in 2011, an American citizen and high-ranking al-Qaida member. Writing in the Daily News in 2011, Ron Paul, former Texas congressman and former presidential candidate, argued shortly after a drone strike killed the al-Qaeda leader, “Awlaki was a U.S. citizen. Under our Constitution, American citizens, even those living abroad, must be charged with a crime before being sentenced. As President, I would have arrested Awlaki, brought him to the U.S., tried him and pushed for the stiffest punishment allowed by law. Treason has historically been judged to be the worst of crimes, deserving of the harshest sentencing. But what I would not do as President is what Obama has done and continues to do in spectacular fashion: circumvent the rule of law.”

In dealing with terrorists linked to the September 11 attacks or involved in planning future attacks like al-Awlaki, the United States relies heavily on the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), a joint resolution passed by the U.S. Congress in 2001 following the September 11 attacks. Although the document addresses the country’s position regarding foreigners involved in terrorism, it lacks the procedure for dealing with Americans engaged in terrorism abroad. As a result, it is unclear whether the United States has an obligation to uphold certain guaranteed rights, specifically due process.

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The Non-Closure of Guantánamo

May 2, 2013 by

Obama again renewed his calls for the closure of the Guantánamo Bay detention facility

“I think at this point they feel their only way out of Guantánamo is in a coffin.”

– Pardiss Kebriaei, Attorney with Centre for Constitutional Rights, May 1, 2013

Guantánamo’s resplendent carceral facilities remain a classic example of double realities, the co-existence of totemic impulses and the reflex of taboo. On the one hand, it has become an institutional reminder of the extensive, vague and indefinite “war” on terror, a foolish, reactive statement to calamity. On the other, it has assumed the most negative connotations, a rebuke to law, extra-legal subversions and a mockery of the legal system. To close it, however, would be deemed a violation. To keep it open similarly remains a violation of principle.

The Obama administration promised to close it but caved in under pressure from Congress and pro-camp advocates. As with so many matters, the power of the budget spoke volumes. Furthermore, these detainees, kept wrongfully in many instances without a tissue of evidence against their name, might well have a crack at the United States once they leave. Ever was there a disgruntled person made a criminal by a prison. Governments from other countries similarly balked – why should they receive such damaged cargo?

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Irrational Rhetoric of Boston, Brazil and Islam

May 1, 2013 by

Street placard on Boylston Street. Photo by Rebecca Hildreth

During his talk sponsored by the New American Foundation in March 2008, author Parag Khanna addressed the rising challenges facing the US’s global hegemony. According to Khanna, China and the European Union are the new contenders with the battlefield being a global ‘geopolitical marketplace.’

Aside from Khanna’s insight, one statement particularly puzzled me greatly. “Why am I talking about Europe, China, and the United States? What about Russia, what about India, what about Islam…what about all those other powers?” Initially, I thought it must have been an error. The speaker must surely realize that Islam is a religion, not a political entity with a definable ‘geopolitical marketplace.’ But it was not an error, or more accurately, it was a deliberate error. Khanna went on to explain that Islam doesn’t have ‘that kind of coherence’ that allows it to spread its power and influence, unlike the dominant other powers which he highlighted. According to that odd logic, Islam and Brazil were discussed in a similar context.

This sort of twisted reasoning has flourished as an academic discipline-turned-industry since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Sure, it existed prior to this date, but its ‘experts’ and their then few think-tanks were largely placed within a decidedly pro-Israel, Zionist and right-wing political orthodoxy. In the last decade or so, the relatively specialized business multiplied and became mainstream wisdom. Its numerous ‘experts’ – who are more like intellectual purveyors – became well-known faces in American news networks. Their once ‘politically incorrect’ depiction of Arabs, Muslims and the non-western world at large, became acceptable views which were then translated into actual policies used for invading countries, torturing prisoners and flushing Holy Korans down toilets.

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Reshaping the Global Banking Industry

April 25, 2013 by

Home in foreclosure

The subprime crisis – and the following global crisis – set in when a bank considered “too big to fail” was actually allowed to fail and go bankrupt. Despite five years of reform efforts, the too-big-to-fail syndrome is far from a memory, and it is imperative that economic decision-makers do not divert their attention from this issue so easily. On the contrary, more research into analyzing the costs and benefits of various structural reform schemes would help monetary authorities put the world’s financial system back on the right track.

Prior to the subprime crisis, 29 large global banks saw their ratings raised to just over one point by credit rating agencies because markets expected that they would be able to get state support. Today, those same behemoths benefit from hidden support of nearly three notches, and expectations of public funds support have tripled since the beginning of the crisis.

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Gimme Shelter: Jordan’s Refugee Past Makes for an Unsure Future

March 23, 2013 by

Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter meets with Jordan’s King Abdullah II at the Royal Palace compound in Amman, Jordan, Feb. 5, 2013

President Barack Obama rounded out his recent visit to the Middle East with a quick stopover in Jordan. Over the course of the Arab Spring, Jordan has remained the peaceful outlier in Middle Eastern politics, but recent events have put that position in grave peril.

As governments in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Syria underwent violent upheaval or regime transition over the past two and a half years, Jordan has thus far defended itself against all challengers. Surrounded by conflict on all sides - Iraq to its east, Syria to its north, and Israel and Palestine to its west - Jordan now may be rightly viewed as the eye of the storm rather than its safe harbor.

Decades of war have resulted in a deluge of Palestinian, Iraqi, and Syrian refugees taking up residence and valuable resources in the capital, Amman, and across the country. Already lacking sufficient supplies of water and having to import all of their gas and oil, Jordanians are not prepared to spare what little they have, according to the International Monetary Fund.

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Hamid Karzai: Champion of Alienation

March 14, 2013 by

Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul

Although Afghan President Hamid Karzai would like the world to perceive him otherwise, Karzai finds himself in an untenable position. As the U.S. prepares to withdraw the majority of its remaining troops, the country’s security forces remain woefully unprepared to assume responsibility for the country’s security, corruption remains endemic, and many observers admit that Afghanistan is in reality little better off today than it was when Karzai assumed power in 2004. With his leadership slated to end next year, there is little reason to believe that his successor will do any better in meaningfully addressing Afghanistan’s plethora of problems.

Hamid Karzai has never hesitated to challenge the U.S. publically, whether for a domestic or international audience, but the pace at which he is forcefully challenging the U.S. now is unprecedented. Equating the U.S. with the Taliban as forces working to undermine the government really is over the top, particularly given the tremendous resources the U.S. has provided to Karzai’s government over the past decade – and that he owes his position, as well as any progress that has been made to date – to the U.S. It is a little late to be attempting to change his image as “America’s Man”. We find ourselves wondering why he would be trying to do so in the first place. His legacy is clear to all. No pandering to domestic political interests is going to change that.

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In Praise of American Political Dysfunction

March 7, 2013 by

President Barack Obama speaks with Speaker of the House John Boehner during a meeting with bipartisan group of congressional leaders in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC. Photo by Olivier Douliery/ABACAUSA

The lamentable state of American political parties has become common sport amongst the chattering classes in Washington and beyond, although one wonders whether this political dysfunction has really been such a bad thing when considering how united bipartisan “responsible” action always seems to result in yet more budget cuts.  By virtue of the fact that Congress and the Obama Administration couldn’t agree on much for the past few years, America’s deficits got large enough to put a floor on demand. The transfer payments via the automatic stabilisers worked to stabilise private sector incomes and allowed a general, albeit tepid, recovery in the economy.

But since the beginning of the year, Democrats and Republicans have put aside a lot of their differences, and what has been the result? Well, first we got the deal to avert the so-called “fiscal cliff”, the upshot being tax increases (and not just on wealthy people, but via the regressive payroll tax hike) which took around .5% out of GDP. This despite the fact that the deficit as a percentage of GDP had already fallen from 10% to 7% – one of the fastest 3 year falls on record.

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The NRA and the Next Stage of Gun Control

January 21, 2013 by

President Barack Obama, with Vice President Joe Biden, delivers a statement about the Administration’s gun policy process in the wake of the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. Pete Souza/White House

“Yes, civil discourse can be uncivil. But don’t let internet trolls and television zealots stop you from participating in this vital discussion.”

– Terri Francis, CNN Wire, Jan 17, 2013

This is a war waged at high intensity, a vicious tonic of propaganda, fear and suspicion. It should not be, but the battle over guns in the U.S. has taken various turns in recent weeks. President Obama is promising to be firmer this time. Commentators are weighing in from as far as Australia on how the next chapter on gun control will be written. In addition to moving on assault weapons, Vice President Joe Biden has suggested a stricter regime of background checks at stores and gun shows, and the outlawing of high capacity magazine clips that hold more than 10 rounds.

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Iran’s Inroads in Latin America

January 3, 2013 by

Reading the text of a bill that was recently signed into law by President Barack Obama would instill fear in the hearts of ordinary Americans. Apparently, barbarians coming from distant lands are at work. They are gathering at the US-Mexico border, cutting fences and ready to wreak havoc on an otherwise serene American landscape.

Never mind that crazed, armed to the teeth, homegrown American terrorists are killing children and terrorizing whole cities. It is the Iranian menace that we are meant to fear according to the new law. When compounded with the other imagined threats of Hezbollah and Hamas, all with sinister agendas, then the time is right for Americans to return to their homes, bolt their doors and squat in shelters awaiting further instructions, for evidently, “The Iranians are coming.”

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President Obama’s Statement on the Fiscal Cliff

December 29, 2012 by

President Barack Obama said he is “modestly optimistic” that a deal can be reached over the fiscal cliff.

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Congressional Self-Assessment Board Necessary to Preserve National Security

December 6, 2012 by

In recent years, political agendas have begun to trump the best interests of the nation. The United States Congress is in a constant state of gridlock and seems unable to put party politics aside to invest in a strategic vision to protect and advance U.S. interests. In order to strengthen U.S. national security, Congress must be a fully functioning and cohesive entity. In the current state of U.S. politics, however, Congress is abdicating its responsibility to play this vital role. Reforming Congress should be a priority in the coming years, spearheaded by an intensive review conducted by its members. Without internal reform, Congressional paralysis will continue to directly threaten U.S. national security.

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The Susan Rice Train Wreck

November 28, 2012 by

The likelihood of a quick confirmation hearing in the Senate vanished following a sit-down between Ambassador Susan Rice and acting CIA Director Michael Morell on Capitol Hill with Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH). The meeting was an attempt to address any concerns the lawmakers had about Ambassador Rice and to insure that her confirmation hearing would be less bruising. That attempt, according to interviews given after the meeting by McCain, Graham and Ayotte, was not successful.

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The Fiscal Cliff and the American Economy

November 24, 2012 by

Looking at the latest US data, business sentiment and capital spending have been eroding, and given the lagged impact of capex, that trend looks set to continue for the next few months. Against that, a number of consumer sentiment indicators remain upbeat and housing looks like it is in a firmly established uptrend, after a 5 year bear market. In fact, the existing home inventory to sales ratio is as low as it ever gets, and that is with still very depressed sales. If sales pick up further, given low inventories and with new housing starts still below the replacement rate, home prices could lurch forward.

That said, the markets have been fairly upbeat given the rising perception of a deal to avert the US falling off the ‘fiscal cliff’. But even a deal that drains, say, 1-1.5% of GDP will have negative consequences for the US economy. Bear in mind that the U.S. still has a very high ratio of private debt to GDP. Therefore any such fiscal restriction as contemplated by the two parties may result in a significantly lower economic growth rate than the average 3% rate of the last five quarters (which is what the revised economic data of the past few quarters will eventually show).

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A Carbon Tax for Fiscal and Climate Stability

November 18, 2012 by

President Barack Obama and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie look at Hurricane Sandy storm damage along the coast of New Jersey on Marine One, Oct. 31, 2012. Pete Souza/White House

The White House currently confronts a rare coincidence of environmental and fiscal pressures. Hurricane Sandy has raised the visibility of climate change as a national issue; the storm was the latest in a series of extreme weather events over the past ten years. Ocean surface temperatures have increased over the past few decades, and this trend contributed to Sandy’s gargantuan size and strength. Many scientists attribute this ocean warming to global climate change abetted by human activities.

Meanwhile, the imminent “fiscal cliff” threatens to end the U.S. economy’s recovery.

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Africa Needs a New Approach

November 13, 2012 by

In August 2012, Secretary Hillary Clinton made a ten day visit to nine African countries: Senegal, Uganda, South Sudan, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana and Benin. The common thread in Secretary Clinton’s remarks were the building blocks of the new “Presidential Policy Directive” (PPD) for sub-Saharan Africa, to strengthen democratic institutions; spur economic growth, trade, and investment; advance peace and security; and promote opportunity and development.

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