Saturday, May 31, 2008

My Thoughts on Gender Politics and the US Election

US voters, pundits and Hillary Clinton herself are simmering about whether sexism has affected her chances of winning the democratic nomination. Yes, it certainly has. But I think the picture is more complicated than the general media story. On the one hand, nearly every Hillary supporter I know boils down their position to "it's time for a woman to have a chance." (Of course, that's a small-N, unrepresentative sample. But let's face it, sexism - or the desire to move beyond it - can work to a woman's advantage.)

And of those who are voting against Hilary in the primary because she's a woman, only a small minority, I warrant, will be doing it out of pure sexism. Here are two other ways that gender tips the balance in the absence of overt sexism:

1) Democrats want an electable candidate. Democrats who may themselves not be sexist but who put electability above political correctness would not choose a woman over a black man, for purely tactical reasons. After all, black men have broken every formal glass ceiling in the US long before white women. They had the right to vote 52 years earlier. They were allowed to serve in the military earlier. They were allowed into higher education earlier. If you had to choose between putting a black man or a white woman up against an old, white guy in a Presidential election and you cared about your party's win, you'd nominate the black guy. In other words, taking the reality of sexism into account in a primary season mitigates against nominating a woman to run against a man, regardless of whether you're personally sexist.

2) Democrats and Republicans both want a change candidate.
There is no other way to explain McCain's nomination or Obama's wild popularity. Because Clinton has been perceived as a status quo candidate for supporting the war in Iraq, she could no more have won the general election than she will win the nomination. So why wasn't the first viable female Presidential candidate a candidate for change? Again, because of gender politics. Women in leadership roles, especially those breaking glass ceilings, typically cannot afford to situate themselves too far to the feminized left of the political spectrum. Particularly in a hyper-masculinized political culture like the U.S., where military service is equated with leadership, Clinton's best strategy was to play up her foreign policy experience, national security credentials, and hawkishness. This would have worked brilliantly at many other historical moments. But not when the country is ready to end an unpopular war, reassess its foreign policy, and send a strong message to the world that they are shuffling off the Bush Administration's mortal coil. Gender politics, in short, had Hillary between a rock and a hard place. In this sense, because it would have been impossible for her to govern well even if somehow she were elected, and since future women's electoral chances hinge in many respects on her performance, it's probably a good thing for women that she won't take office.
This is true in another sense as well. If I had to guess, our first female President will not be a Democrat. And this will ultimately give the lie to those who assume that electing a female is equivalent to feminist politics. Don't forget, it was a female minister in Rwanda who orchestrated the mass rape of Tutsi women during the genocide. If you want to overcome a sexist society, a candidate's gender politics should be more important than his or her biological sex. To read about feminists for Obama click here and here.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Friday Star Trek Blogging

Back by popular demand.

Above, James T. Kirk on imperial overstretch.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Happy UN Peacekeepers Day

Hat tip to International Law Observer for publicizing this holiday and the work these people do.

Climate Change Redux

So a former student of mine wasn't too pleased with my take on climate change and the US elections. After some back and forth, he's convinced me to rethink / refine my original, fairly flippant argument to that effect.

My original argument (OK, more of an off-the-cuff assertion validated by a Comedy Central clip than an argument) hinged on two claims: 1) US voters care more about climate change than they did previously, and this concern cuts across the red/blue divide and 2) Obama is speaking to this constituency better than McCain.

Here is evidence to back that up. A PIPA poll in 2006 showed an emerging bipartisan consensus around addressing climate change, among other issues. And regarding McCain's climate platform v. Obama, see, among other things, this post by Matthew Yglesias.

My former student / now friend and colleague's best critique of my argument isn't actually based on refuting either of these claims. It is the following: that even if that's true, climate change will be eclipsed in the November election by other concerns that voters care more about, and that do not cut across the red/blue divide. He supports this claim with the following polling data from last February, showing "the environment" only 13th on a list of issues that voters consider "extremely important." Still, I could say that the fact it's on the list at all is suggestive. And it does show that 27% of the country thinks of it this way. The question is whether these are voters who would swing Democrat over this issue alone.

Problem with Gallup polls is they don't seem to do iterated polls asking the same questions. The actual rebuttal to my claim is not, where was climate change four months ago, it is, in what direction is it trending? And is the red/blue gap shrinking on this issue or not? Unfortunately, neither Gallup nor Pew nor PIPA can tell me whether or not I can prove my friend wrong.

Can any of you? I'm willing to be convinced.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Global War on Terrier

In an article aptly titled "Terror Law's War on Dog Poo,"The Age reports:

An English local council has come under fire for using a surveillance law designed to combat organised criminals and terrorists to catch dog owners whose pets foul the grass.

Brian Binley, Conservative MP for the Northampton South constituency in central England, condemned his borough council for employing the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, which is intended for use "in the interests of national security", to track down dog owners who do not clean up after their pets. He said "some semblance of sanity" needed to be restored."

After hearing about the Northampton case, Mr Binley said he would lobby the council to stop the law being used inappropriately.

"I am perfectly happy to give police powers in order to fight terrorism and very serious crime, but when it gets to this level you really have to question it."

In April, Poole borough council, also on the English south coast, came under fire for using the act's powers to tail a family round the clock in order to check whether they had lied about their address to win a place for their child at a school. They had not.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Crime and What Punishment?

One of the big stories in the world this past week, until Clinton opened her mouth, was the spate of apologies issued by the US Government (first by Brig. Gen. Jeffery W. Hammond and then by President Bush )for a US soldier's use of a Qu'ran for target practice in Iraq.

At least there is some general consensus that apology was an appropriate response. The NY Times reports a general bipartisan consensus the act was wrong, and the apology the right thing to do. It's also the smart thing to do: social science evidence documents the importance of formal apologies for smoothing over relations between aggrieved groups, and reproducing collective standards of appropriate behavior. Some of it is documented in this book.

So an apology was in order. But was it be enough? Seems not. Interestingly, the dance of contrition seemed to be more of a news-story than the shooting itself. The USG has emphasized the apology but carefully protected the identity of the offending soldier and whisked him(her?) out of the country.

Iraqis didn't ask for a mere apology and Afghani protesters don't seem satisfied with one. The Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars made a very simple request: that the soldier receive the "most severe punishment possible." It's worth considering what that would be.

Though it is often said (and I seem to have read)that desecrating religious objects is a crime under international law, I've had a hard time identifying the clause in the laws of war that would actually cover this type of behavior. Even if it does, it would not be considered a "grave breach" of the Geneva Conventions, so the US isn't actually required under treaty law to prosecute the individual in question.

So the question becomes: how will Soldier X be tried under the Uniform Code of Military Justice? I am not well versed in military law (Cleitus?) but it strikes me that since Lieutenant William Calley got only three years of house arrest, and a quick pardon, for butchering 500 civilians, and since the US has decided not to prosecute those responsible for the deaths of that the "most severe punishment possible" under US law for shooting a Koran might not be as severe as Iraqis hope.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Global Terrorism on the Decline

According to the Human Security Report Project, an academic institute now housed at Simon Fraser University, global terrorism has declined dramatically, challenging the expert consensus that terrorism is on the rise. The key findings are outlined in its press release:

Fatalities from terrorism have declined by some 40 percent, while the loose-knit terror network associated with Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda has suffered a dramatic collapse in popular support throughout the Muslim world.

There has been an extraordinary, but largely unnoticed, positive change in sub-Saharan Africa’s security landscape. The number of conflicts being waged in the region more than halved between 1999 and 2006; the combat toll dropped by 98 percent.

The decline in the total number of armed conflicts and combat deaths around the world that was reported three years ago in Human Security Report 2005 has continued.
The entire report can be accessed here.

Does this mean the global war on terror is working? Perhaps not. Consider the results of another study reported today by the University of Texas: researchers there have studied the cost-effectiveness of anti-terror policies, finding that the most expensive yield the lowest payoff:
The research found that increasing homeland security worldwide by 25 percent resulted in a payback of about 30 cents on a dollar.

Increased offensive measures, like those against the Taliban after 9/11, had a payback of 8 to 12 cents on a dollar. The biggest benefits came from increased cooperation among police forces and governments. This approach paid back $5 to $15 per dollar spent, depending on cost assumptions.

A Better Investment Than A Mars Mission?

Lisa Chamberlain reports on a strategy to -eed the burgeoning urban population o the 21st century and stem climate change. The article abstract:

"A Columbia professor believes that converting skyscrapers into crop farms could help reduce global warming and make New York cleaner. It’s a vision straight out of Futurama—but here’s how it might work."
From New York Magazine.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Why Not Save the Children?

According to the AP, Save the Children has reported that thousands of children in Myanmar face imminent starvation if food is not distributed quickly. The Myanmar government has permitted relief supplies to enter the country, but will not allow aid workers to distribute them. Although it claims it will distribute them itself, there have been reports that the military is hoarding relief supplies and that deaths from malnourishment and communicable disease among the most vulnerable are rising.

The situation led France to suggest last week that armed intervention might be warranted. This question has been taken up by Peter Howard in a post at Duck of Minerva, titled "Why Not Invade Burma"? Commenters to the post make various arguments against, most on pragmatic grounds.

"'Junta.' Do we have a Junta? Or is it just them?"

"Geography. There are certainly worse places to fight in the world. But not many."

"I think the equally interesting question here is how on earth the French government thought this was even remotely feasible, simply from a logistical and military point of view."
Hank of Eclectic Meanderings asks the important prior question:
"Is it legal? Burma is not developing weapons of mass destruction; it is not attacking a neighbor. It connot even threaten a neighbor. It just wants to mind it's own bussiness without outside intervention. The UN charter guarantees National Sovereignty."
The answer is that sovereignty ain't what it used to be. The concept has been progressively redefined to be contingent on a responsibility to protect one's people. This principle was agreed to by consensus in the 2005 UN Millennium Outcome Document, and while it's not binding one can argue that it enshrines a new understanding of sovereignty that could be invoked in this case.

Also, the UN Security Council can override sovereignty anytime 2/3 of its members can agree without a veto from a Permanent Member. (Though it's likely China would veto in this case.)

The humanitarian case for an intervention here is at least as compelling as Operation Restore Hope in Somalia in 1991. The US government and a few other nations, under the authority of the United Nations Security Council, deployed forces to ensure the distribution of aid to starving famine victims. The operation went sour when the began to fight back; but in the meantime numerous civilian lives were saved.

An invasion of Myanmar would have to be just that, and would involve many of the very logistical and political drawbacks mentioned; but these should not be confused with a moral argument for standing by while children starve to death because a brutal regime is standing by indifferently. There is every ethical rationale for doing something more than continuing to negotiate; there is simply, as Peter explains in his post, no political will.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Child Detainees

According to the Washington Post:

"The United States has detained approximately 2,500 people younger than 18 as illegal enemy combatants in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay since 2002, according to a report filed by the Bush administration with the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child."
Read all about it here.

The 33 comments, some advocating genocide against those whose children risk their lives to protect kin and country, are here. An interesting and depressing commentary on the state of debate.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Hitler and the US Election

I put this video up yesterday because it made me laugh, but then I poked around on YouTube videos that were linked to it, so I thought I'd expand the post.

Apparently, Hillary just acts like Hitler in parody (that is, no one thinks the video above is anything but a joke, but Obama's polices (like nuclear disarmament and health care)are actually equivalent to Hitler:

Though, since the person who created this video clearly cannot spell, s/he can be excused I suppose for not seeming to understand what Hitler actually did. (What with our President setting such a shoddy example both on grammar and on historical analogies of late, who can blame the average citizen?)

Ann Coulter has made more direct claims in recent weeks. In April, she asserted that Barack Obama is "a racist" based on her reading of his autobiography, "Dreams o My Father," which expresses anger at racism, and which she compares to Mein Kampf.

Then there was the brou-ha in February over Tom Sullivan's remarks in response to a caller to his right-wing radio show, who said that Obama's speaking style seemed reminiscent of Hitler:

"I understand that Hitler is hated by, and should be, by most everybody in civilized society. ... But the point being, you must remember something. Adolf Hitler was able to gather a country of people and get them excited about whatever it was that he was talking to them about. He was a very fiery, enigmatic -- I'm not sure -- I mean, he was -- I mean, he really got the people all thrilled..."
I can see why this rankles, but frankly I was more troubled by Keith Olberman's response - he criticized Sullivan for making even the slightest comparison between Obama and Hitler:

But they are comparable in some ways, aren't they? Both human beings. Both mortal. Both male human beings, or Pete's sake - feminist theorists argue this along can explain a little. Both working their way into political inluence against a background of hardship. And yes, both eloquent public speakers who excite an response from their audience through the use of redundance and emotive cliches. I'm willing to say it, as someone who will be pleased to support Obama in November's election, and I think it's silly for left-wing pundits to be so scared by the comparison on these completely irrelevant criteria. Obama is a gifted orator who makes many people share his vision, and that is not a curse, it is what will enable him to exercise leadership and unite the country in precisely the way he promises. Hitler had the same gift, as have many great leaders.

The crucial difference is the use to which such power is put. The idea that liberals should be frightened of or reactionary toward such comparisons is ludicrous.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Responsibility to Protect

I was recently asked to post a bit of background on the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine (aka R2P).

This concept was first articulated by an Independent Commission established by the Government of Canada to attempt to resolve the tension between the norm of state sovereignty, on which the entire UN Charter regime rests, and the protection of civilian populations from grave human rights abuses at the hands of their own governments – a parallel set of principles also espoused by the UN Charter preamble and articulated in two further sets of treaties – human rights law and international humanitarian law.

The tension between these principles had become evident in the 1999 Kosovo crisis, which posed a choice between two competing principles: 1) do something to prevent what many thought to be a looming genocide and 2) do something legally. Under the UN Charter regime, military intervention in a sovereign state is never legal unless authorized by the UN Security Council, which requires a 2/3 vote and no vetoes by those holding Permanent Status on the Council (the US, UK, Russia, China and France). Because the Council is split on the legitimacy of intervention even in cases of genocide, such consensus is rarely forthcoming.

The International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS), peopled by prominent scholars and jurists, produced a landmark report in 2000, redefining sovereignty as responsibility. Previous, sovereignty had been understood as a claim to absolute autonomy within one’s territorial borders. The R2P doctrine places the burden of proof on the state to govern responsibly so as to protect its civilian population. If it fails to do this or directly threatens its citizens’ bodily integrity rights, it sacrifices its claim to sovereignty; at that point, the responsibility to protect is transferred to the international community.

The seemingly brilliant concept has worked well as a rhetorical device. It has been legitimated through adoption in a number of UN documents, including the High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change in 2004 and the 2005 UN Millennium Conference Outcome Document. However, it does not really provide a road-map to the mechanism for triggering a legitimate intervention. The criteria it gives for an appropriate intervention do not improve on just war theory, which dates back at least to Augustine. Its lofty language of “just cause,” “right intention,” “last resort,” “proporotional means” and “reasonable prospects” already framed the debate on Kosovo. And the section on “what do to when the Security Council will not act” lists primarily the exact same types of non-coercive operations that currently exist as band-aid efforts to mitigate suffering of civilians in armed conflicts.

Since “grave human rights abuses” are in the eye of the beholder, the big question of who should decide when violations of sovereignty are justified remains unanswered and a subject of controversy among governments. This is the context for Nikolas K. Gvosdev’s recent suggestion at the Washington Realist that the norm be revised to apply only to non-democracies. But I think that idea only skirts the same issue: who should decide who counts as a democracy?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Nuggets From the Slop Bucket

Let's see, what happened in the blogosphere while I was away?

Kenneth Anderson reported on robot spiders, soon to be gathering intelligence on the battlefield. Though, his post seems to take for granted BAE Systems' line that they will "save thousands of lives." Gather countless bits of intel, perhaps, but whether lives are saved or lost as a result is in the hands of weapons-bearers and state-makers.

Nicholas Gevosdev at the Washington Realist suggested that R2P doctrine might be applied only to nondemocracies, as a way of gaining support from Southern democracies like South Africa and India. Commenters seem skeptical the idea would sell, but give little consideration to whether it's ethically preferable.

According to Daniel Graeber, the USG has rejected Omar Khadr's defense that he was a child soldier when he tossed a grenade at a US soldier in a firefight. A shame and an outrage, but I wonder if his defense hasn't missed the boat by focusing on Khadr's age. The USG wants to try him for murder, but he was in a firefight. Hello.

And Dan Drezner writes admiringly, and erringly, of Hillary's stick-to-it-ness:

"her performance over the past few months has managed to shift perceptions about her in ways that salvage her reputation as a politician of national standing."
This is nonsense on stilts. Her refusal to drop out of the race has been widely interpreted (falsely in my view) as hurting her party. Her seemingly self-serving intransigence against all reason has recalled the worst of bull-headedness in recent Presidents. That voters now value reason over cowboy antics as a result of the failures of the Bush presidency is the evident in this week's primary results and will become blindingly obvious in November.

Monday, May 5, 2008


But, too jet-lagged to write much. Instead, I give you this:

For what is it a metaphor? I'm not sure, but I do like it.

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