Filed under: Crime, Terrorism, US | Tags: Al-Qaeda, Hamas, Joseph Stack, Like Stack, Saudi Arabia, Terrorism, United States, Warfare and Conflict
I hate to disagree with Kevin Drum, but I think his demurral at the use of the term “terrorist” for Joseph Stack is wrong. On the other hand, I think it’s also true that we wouldn’t normally call Stack a terrorist in quite the same way that we would use the term for the 9/11 Al-Qaeda teams, or (to keep things ideologically balanced) for the Stern Gang team that blew up the King David Hotel.
Drum points to Dave Neiwert’s citation of the FBI definition of terrorism:
Domestic terrorism refers to activities that involve (1) acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any state; (2) appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (3) to influence the policy of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and (4) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States. [18 U.S.C. § 2331(5)]
He demurs on two points. On 2), he says that Stack’s suicide note didn’t make it entirely clear whether he wanted to intimidate civilians, because he may only have wanted to kill himself to make his statement. I don’t really understand this objection. First, IRS staffers are “civilians”; the FBI definition is clearly just trying to say that an attack isn’t clearly terrorist if it targets military personnel. But clearly we would consider an attack on, say, Congress to be a terrorist attack, not a legitimate military action. In any case, Stack’s message (“Nothing changes unless there is a body count…I can only hope that the numbers quickly get too big to be white washed and ignored that the American zombies wake up and revolt”) make it clear that he was trying to inspire massive violence against the IRS. If he had set himself on fire in the middle of the street, that’d be one thing, but he flew a plane into a building during working hours. I mean, c’mon.
Second, Kevin objects on 3) because:
Stack doesn’t really have a policy he wants changed. He’s mad at the government, he’s mad at paying unfair taxes, and he’s mad at the turns his life has taken…”Jews out of Palestine” is a policy grievance. Ditto for “abortion is murder,” “freedom for Tamil,” and “Jim Crow forever.” But all Stack has is a vague and inchoate rage.
I think if you consider this a disqualifying objection, you would have a hard time indicting the 9/11 hijackers for terrorism. It has never been clear what their precise goals or demands were. That the US withdraw troops from Saudi Arabia? That Israel withdraw from the West Bank, or cease to exist? That the Caliphate be reestablished? Like Stack’s, the motives of Al-Qaeda terrorists are a baffling swirl of resentments and half-formed, incoherent demands. The actual, rational objectives of those who organize such terrorist attacks are strategic or tactical: Al-Qaeda may have aimed to provoke the US into a military intervention in Afghanistan, which it thought it could use to bleed its enemy; Hamas often aims to torpedo peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and so forth. But these aren’t generally the motivations of those who actually carry out the attacks.
So I think that on definitional grounds, you have to grant that Stack’s suicidal plane attack on the IRS was an act of terrorism. But at the same time, we don’t put it in the same league as attacks by trained agents of Al-Qaeda or the Stern Gang, because it’s not part of an organized campaign of violent intimidation that furthers the aims of a political organization. The Oklahoma City bombing, with its clear links to the militia movement and its explicit (if crazy) ideology, was more like the terrorism we see from Al-Qaeda or the Qassam Brigades. Stack’s act was more like what the Unabomber was up to: the lone act of a disturbed man with no coherent vision of how his desired political change could come about. But, again, we’d all call the Unabomber a terrorist.
Filed under: Science | Tags: Activism, Climate change, Creative Commons, Environment, Hilaire Belloc, Impacts and Indicators, Policy, United States
I think my feelings about the community of climate change skeptics are aptly summed up by referring to this Hilaire Belloc line, penned in 1900.
But Scientists, who ought to know,
Assure us that they must be so….
Oh! let us never, never doubt
What nobody is sure about!
The line comes from a children’s poem entitled “The Microbe”, and those pompous Scientists are being ridiculed for subscribing to the germ theory of disease. Which, in case the point needs any further explication, is correct.
Filed under: Health, Human Rights | Tags: Advocacy Organizations, Amnesty International, Barack Obama, Congressional Budget Office, Health care, Human Rights, Human Rights and Liberties, United States
Amnesty International is a great organization. But I sometimes wonder whether its senior officers believe that politics is the art of taking ludicrously unrealistic moral stands, failing to accomplish anything, and preening. This evening I received an email from the director of Amnesty’s Demand Dignity Campaign, Sameer Dossani:
Our policy experts have been watching this legislation develop and the proposed outcome does not look good. Right now, the Senate is hotly debating its version of the bill, but they’re way off track. The Congressional Budget Office projects that around 24 million people will still be uninsured in 2019!1 That is unacceptable.
Because this month is a crucial window for media attention on the health care system, we’ve got to push the debate further to include human rights as a key focus. It’s up to human rights advocates to point out how the proposed reform falls short of true universality, equity and accountability.
I beg to differ: it’s up to human rights advocates to point out that if the Senate bill does not pass, the number of uninsured in America will likely rise past 50 million in the next few years, and tens of thousands of Americans per year will continue to die because they lack adequate insurance. The only thing this sort of holier-than-thou nonsense accomplishes is to help the for-profit insurance industry defeat health insurance reform. If it doesn’t get done now, it’s certainly not going to get done next year after Democrats have lost their 60-vote supermajority in the Senate, nor will it get done after Barack Obama is defeated in 2012 due to his failure to deliver on major legislative goals.
It’s crucial to have some relatively absolutist human-rights advocacy organizations that continue to push for first-best solutions on moral grounds and to oppose compromises. But it’s not crucial for them to intervene after it’s too late to make changes, when they can only contribute to cynical efforts to defeat reformist legislation. In fact, it’s crucial, at such moments, for them to keep quiet and store their powder for the next moment when they can actually make a positive difference. I mean, seriously. How pure is the ivory in Amnesty International’s tower?
Filed under: Afghanistan, World | Tags: Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda, Hamid Karzai, United States, United States armed forces, US, War in Afghanistan, Warfare and Conflict
Matthew Yglesias on why the views of Leah Farrell, the Australian anti-terrorism expert formerly of the Australian National Police who thinks more US intervention in Afghanistan is playing al-Qaeda’s game, have no constituency:
Meanwhile, Spencer Ackerman says that Leah Farrell, former al-Qaeda specialist for the Australian National Police, has a blog that’s “attracting ever-more attention in U.S. defense circles.” That said, I think we can predict here and now that she’s going to stop attracting attention in U.S. defense circles since she thinks we should withdraw from Afghanistan and that al-Qaeda attacks on U.S. forces are a deliberate ploy “forcing a surge in American troop numbers” and creating a situation in which “Mullah Omar’s legitimacy would be jeopardised were he to publicly disassociate from al-Qa’ida and guarantee he would not again provide it sanctuary.”
She’ll stop attracting attention because, as Spencer writes in that very same post, there’s absolutely no constituency for withdrawal of American forces inside the Obama administration. Instead, the debate among civilians runs from “we should stick with the increase in troop levels that Obama has already executed” to “we should engage in large additional increases in troop levels.” And within the uniformed military it seems that everyone wants large additional increases.
Probably true. But here’s NPR’s story yesterday, after the big Obama-war council meeting:
After the 2 1/2 hour meeting Wednesday, administration officials said the president does not plan to accept any of the options in their current form. The officials said the president is pushing to clarify how and when U.S. troops would hand over responsibility to Afghan security forces — and raising questions about the credibility of the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Obama wants to make clear that the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan is not open-ended, one source added.
Filed under: Crime, Terrorism | Tags: Al-Qaeda, Fort Hood, Islam, Ted Bundy, Terrorism, United States, United States armed forces, US
David Brooks has a strange column today on the response to the Fort Hood massacres that rambles on for a while about how people construct narratives to make sense of their lives, then drops the Islamic-extremism bomb and makes a vague and irritating connection between Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan and “political correctness”. Fortunately Marc Lynch rebutted Brooks’s column yesterday before Brooks even wrote it, correctly explaining:
A lot of people — some well-meaning, some clowns or worse — evidently want the American response to the Ft. Hood shootings to revive the post-9/11 “war of ideas” and “clash of civilizations” anti-Islamic discourse. It’s a jihad, they shout, demanding careful scrutiny of the loyalty of American Muslims. That’s what they seem to mean by the demand to throw away “political correctness” and confront the ideological menace. The overall effect of their recommendations, however, would be to revive the flagging al-Qaeda brand and to greatly strengthen the appeal of its narrative.
As Lynch says, US military and government officials, in emphasizing that Islam has nothing to do with Hasan’s attack, are enhancing American security by refusing to play Al-Qaeda’s religious polarization game.
Brooks’s column begins with four paragraphs of vague “stories create meaning” stuff, and then launches into a kind of Dirty Harry-era whine about political correctness and the “rush to therapy” somehow letting Hasan off easy:
A shroud of political correctness settled over the conversation. Hasan was portrayed as a victim of society, a poor soul who was pushed over the edge by prejudice and unhappiness.
There was a national rush to therapy. Hasan was a loner who had trouble finding a wife and socializing with his neighbors.
This response was understandable. It’s important to tamp down vengeful hatreds in moments of passion. But it was also patronizing. Public commentators assumed the air of kindergarten teachers who had to protect their children from thinking certain impermissible and intolerant thoughts. If public commentary wasn’t carefully policed, the assumption seemed to be, then the great mass of unwashed yahoos in Middle America would go off on a racist rampage.
That’s not patronizing. What’s patronizing is to believe that Americans are incapable of holding two points in their heads simultaneously: Hasan was a loner who had trouble finding a wife and socializing with his neighbors, he was under stress because of a certain level of stigma and teasing apparently experienced by a lot of Muslims in the US military, he was worried about being deployed, and he responded to these stresses by becoming increasingly attracted to radical Islamicist ideology. It is hardly revolutionary to note that people who become terrorists tend to be males who are socially ill-adjusted, often sexually unsuccessful, and under various kinds of stress.
This doesn’t “absolve” Hasan of “responsibility” for adhering to radical Islamicist ideology and then killing a lot of people. The idea that people who engage in acts of spectacular terrorism tend to be a little crazy and this contributes to their adoption of radical ideology really isn’t hard for most Americans to get their heads around. But it appears to be hard for David Brooks to get his head around. Brooks’s column gets weirderer and weirderer as it goes on:
The conversation in the first few days after the massacre was well intentioned, but it suggested a willful flight from reality. It ignored the fact that the war narrative of the struggle against Islam is the central feature of American foreign policy.
Wha…? There must be some kind of copy-editing mistake here. I’ll withhold comment until I see whether Brooks explains his point in a correction. But this isn’t even the craziest part of the column. That comes at the end:
It denied, before the evidence was in, the possibility of evil. It sought to reduce a heinous act to social maladjustment. It wasn’t the reaction of a morally or politically serious nation.
Assuming you like to use the word “evil”, how is someone who kills multiple people because of “social maladjustment” — Ted Bundy, say — not doing something “evil”? Why is a serial killer less evil than a terrorist? Or if you take more of a Christian position and posit that it’s not the sinner, but the sin, how was the random slaughter practiced by the DC Sniper, who was scheduled to be executed today, less evil than what Nidal Malik Hasan did?
Look: there is a difference here. The difference is that the existence of radical Islamicist ideology contributes to the propensity of some very upset and socially maladjusted individuals to shoot American soldiers, just as the existence of radical anti-abortion ideology contributes to the propensity of other very upset and socially maladjusted individuals from a different socio-ethnic background to shoot American obstetricians. And the appropriate response is to talk about how to combat the spread of such hateful ideologies. This has exactly nothing to do with “political correctness,” or with assigning more or less “blame” or “responsibility” to Nidal Malik Hasan. I don’t even know what Brooks is trying to say. It’s like some weird grab-bag of late-1970s conservative anti-counterculture resentment. It’s not, as Brooks would put it, “morally or politically serious” thinking.
Filed under: Politics | Tags: Barack Obama, Democratic, Matthew Yglesias, Montana, Open Left, Politics, Progressivism, United States
I have another interpretation of the Open Left map of the white male vote that went for Obama in different states:
The take home message: expanding voting rights – a progressive position – resulted in the ability to elect more liberal politicians.
In addition to Open Left’s take-home and to Matthew Yglesias’s other take-home (“progressive politics is badly disadvantaged by a situation in which the overwhelming majorities of political leaders and prominent media figures are white men”), I would note that there seems to be an opportunity for the Democrats to turn Montana blue with a few more part-time residences for liberal movie stars.
Filed under: Afghanistan, Health, Politics | Tags: Freddie, Healthcare reform, Medicare, Medicare Part D, Prescription drug, Republican, Sarah Palin, United States
“Look, I think we all know why the prescription drug bill wasn’t fought against where health care reform is:,” writes Freddie, and then finishes: “the elderly are a protected political class, and those without health care are not.”
Um…sort of. But mainly, it’s because Medicare Part D was proposed by a Republican president commanding unprecedented party loyalty. Democrats didn’t object to including prescription drugs in Medicare because, erm, prescription drugs should be covered under Medicare. Democrats did object to paying for the drugs through private insurers, thus adding a pointless markup to the price of coverage, and to preventing Medicare, by law, from negotiating a good deal for the taxpayer. But those were objections to the shape of the bill, not to its existence. So if Republicans aren’t objecting for partisan reasons, and Democrats aren’t objecting because they believe in the goal, then you get…no objections.
Similarly, if you had a Democratic president proposing some kind of unwise foreign military adventure, then you might see even Sarah Palin coming out in support of it, while Democrats…would still be protesting, because Democrats have lousy party discipline. So there ya go.
Filed under: Afghanistan, World | Tags: Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda, Anne Applebaum, Barack Obama, Pakistan, Taliban, United States, War in Afghanistan
Equally universal (and bipartisan) are the complaints that the war’s aims are unclear or unrealistic. A British defense official resigned last week on the grounds that he no longer believed the nation would accept the government’s justifications for the war, which have ranged from “fighting terrorists” to controlling heroin exports. Tom Friedman demanded to know “what it will cost, how much time it could take, [and] what U.S. interests make it compelling.” Others grumble that we should be focused on the “real” problems, such as Pakistan, or on an “achievable” solution, whatever that may be.
Which is, when you think about it, all rather strange, since the goals of the war have never been in doubt in any European or North American capital. “Winning” means we leave with a minimally acceptable government in place; “losing” means the Taliban takes over and al-Qaida comes back—and no one has ever pretended success would be easy.
We have a minimally acceptable government in place, and the Taliban isn’t coming back to power. Keeping them from doing so might require a bit of bombing support and some military aid to the government and associated warlords. Is Applebaum saying we can pretty much leave now? Obviously not. Rather, she does not really understand or believe in her own war aims, and has not thought out what they actually imply.
Filed under: Business, Health, Politics | Tags: Business, Health, Health care, Health insurance, Medicare, pharmaceuticals, United States, US
Essay question: The US’s drug market is at least as artificial and overregulated as the European one. But in the US, the regulations create higher drug prices, while in Europe they create lower ones. Discuss.
Here’s the deal. In European countries, national drug price regulating bodies set the maximum price at which pharmaceuticals can be sold. They do so based on the average price at which the drug sells in other European countries. (For new drugs, the regulations are looser and based on cost-benefit analyses, to promote innovation.) Is this some kind of Soviet-style non-capitalist system? Of course not. There are still lots of different buyers of drugs; it’s just that these buyers have all banded together into cooperatives at the country level to leverage their purchasing power. And they all insist that they get the same price the other cooperatives (countries) get. That’s the same thing you do at the supermarket when you assume that you’ll pay the same price for a tube of toothpaste as the next guy in line, rather than have the cashier look you over and say “You look richer than him — for you, the price is ten bucks.” There are lots of markets in which the only buyers are a few large cooperative organizations. Iron ore, say. And the steel companies that buy iron ore presumably negotiate pretty hard to ensure they pay the same price as the other steel companies, without anybody accusing them of restricting the actions of the free market. The European market for pharmaceuticals is basically the same thing, but at the level of countries. It’s not an unfree market; it’s a free market with 25 large, powerful buyers (the EU countries) who each insist they get roughly the same price as the others.
Now, an iron ore miner could look at one steel company and say, wait, we’re not going to sell you ore at that price. You had much higher profits than the other guys last year, so we’re going to charge you more because we know you can afford it. But this obviously wouldn’t work. The steel company could just turn around and buy the iron ore from a middleman, another steel company perhaps, at a tiny markup from their low price. Similarly, if the cashier at the supermarket told you they were going to charge you $10 for a tube of toothpaste, you’d just ask somebody else in line to buy one for you for $1.50. And so you’d figure it would be impossible for pharmaceutical companies to charge Country A more than Country B — Country A would just start buying its drugs from Country B.
So how is it possible that pharmaceutical companies can charge more for their drugs in the US than they can in Canada, or France, or Germany? We all know the answer: because the US bars retailers or health care providers by law from reimporting drugs from other countries. That is a completely artificial market restriction that wildly distorts the prices of drugs in the US. No other commodity or manufactured good is restricted in this fashion in the US — it would be illegal under WTO rules. And the effect is to artificially jack up drug prices in the US, at the expense of US consumers and taxpayers, by allowing pharmaceuticals companies to price-discriminate against Americans.
Many people (not just Megan McArdle) argue that only the US still has a free market for pharmaceuticals, which is why pharmaceuticals companies can make such high profits here, and that the US market is thus underwriting all the R+D in new medicines. Whether the US actually is underwriting all the R+D is still something of a debatable question, but it’s absolutely false that the US has a free market in pharmaceuticals. The US prohibits anyone from buying drugs at low world prices. Meanwhile it pumps government money into buying drugs in the US, through Medicare (which is not allowed to negotiate for lower drug prices with manufacturers) and through the employer health insurance tax exclusion. The natural effect is to drive up drug prices in the US at consumer and taxpayer expense. It may be true that Americans are subsidizing R+D in the pharmaceuticals industry. But that’s because the government forces Americans to pay artificially high drug prices. If you believe free markets are the answer to high health care costs, you have to, at a minimum, allow US retailers to reimport equivalent drugs and medical equipment from Canada and Europe, where prices are lower. Then we can talk.
*Add: Megan points out in comments that this is the way it works for all IP. And she’s right. Good point. I should probably not think up posts on a Sunday while swimming laps. The market in pharmaceuticals isn’t as free as the market in, oh, apples, but it’s as free as the market in DVDs. This is in fact an unavoidable feature of an IP market and if the US went for David Vitter’s proposal to allow reimportation of drugs from Canada, you’d probably just end up with a lot of companies putting clauses in their distribution contracts with Canadian distributors that they’re not allowed to resell back into the US.
I remain somewhat baffled as to why large American drug purchasers are unable to negotiate prices at levels close to those in Europe. Kaiser Permanente says it has over 8 million members. That’s larger than the populations of Belgium or Denmark. Maybe drug manufacturers figure a decision by Kaiser not to buy their drugs would result in Kaiser clients switching to other insurers, which means Kaiser has less bargaining power than Denmark, whose citizens are unlikely to move to Germany just because a few drugs are unavailable. Also, while Kaiser actually might get good prices because it’s an integrated HMO, I would imagine that more traditional insurers would have the problem of separation between the docs who are prescribing the medication and the insurance company deciding whether or not to reimburse it; the insurer, who would be most interested in negotiating the low price, would not actually be the one purchasing the medicine, and that mean there’s no one bargaining agent who has both the client numbers and the strong interest in bargaining down the price.
Filed under: Politics | Tags: Alaska, Executive Branch, Government, Governor Sarah Palin, Health care, Sarah Palin, United States, Vanity Fair
This is good.
Sarah told me she had a great idea: we would keep it a secret—nobody would know that Bristol was pregnant. She told me that once Bristol had the baby she and Todd would adopt him.
But this is better.
Sarah was sad for a while. She walked around the house pouting. I had assumed she was going to go back to her job as governor, but a week or two after she got back she started talking about how nice it would be to quit and write a book or do a show and make “triple the money.” It was, to her, “not as hard.”
Sometimes I think if the health care bill doesn’t pass, we should just elect the lady president, then roll up the country, turn out the lights and call it a day.