Home > Regular Features > Sandpit


March 4th, 2013

A new sandpit for long side discussions, idees fixes and so on.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:
  1. Jim Rose
    March 4th, 2013 at 22:16 | #1

    Would hawke or keating undertake a royal visit to western sydney as Gillard is doing.

  2. Ikonoclast
    March 5th, 2013 at 06:40 | #2

    I am really not sure what Julia Gillard is doing. Her whole approach to politics is so out of touch with reality that it is quite bizarre to observe.

    It seems to me that the difference between Liberal and Labor can now be characterised in this manner. The Liberals firmly believe in their own views. Their views are demonstrably wrong on objective grounds (a claim which would require a post in itself to support) but the Liberals do fundamentally believe in their own professed views.

    Labor on the other hand have lost all faith and belief. Traditional Labor values have been left behind because they are perceived (rightly or wrongly) as not being values that the electorate will vote for any more. Thus Labor has put on a new coat of beliefs (general acceptance of the neoliberal paradigm) but inside this coat their core is empty. They no longer have any real political program of their own. It’s a classic case of form without substance.

    Julia Gillard is, in a sense, the perfect leader for such a party. She believes in nothing other than personal opportunism and she has no intellectual substance. Thus she is the perfect leader for a party of no real beliefs and no real substance. Rudd presented and present a problem because he has an intellect, can think for himself and has a politically consistent position. In the common parlance he has political “beliefs” though a better way of putting it would be to say he has political views and positions that are structured, consistent and buttressed by logic and analysis.

  3. Bring back Birdy at Catallaxy
    March 5th, 2013 at 09:24 | #3

    Today is the 30th anniversary of the election of the Hawke Labor Government.

    In his victory speech, the first words Bob Hawke had to say about his incoming government’s policy agenda were “the dam will not be built”. This was in reference to the Tasmania Government’s proposed Gordon-Below-Franklin dam in the south-west Tasmanian wilderness.

    This marked the political victory of Australia’s greatest environmental movement campaign to that time. The High Court confirmed the victory legally about two months later.


  4. Hermit
    March 5th, 2013 at 12:07 | #4

    A TV news item showed the concern of fishers over the dredging as part of the expansion of Abbott Pt coal terminal in Queensland. That is one of three coal ports on the Qld coast to be expanded as well as which three new coal terminals are planned. This has led UNESCO to query whether the Great Barrier Reef should be regarded as endangered.

    Reef aside what about the simple hypocrisy of expanding coal exports while pretending to care about global emissions? Our exported coal produces over 700 Mt of CO2 annually while domestic net CO2 from all sources has been in the 500-550 Mt range for 30 years. Some want coal exports to triple which is on the cards if north Asian domestic production has peaked.

    My question is; why do we bother with carbon tax? It seems like holier-than-thou self flagellation while we disapprove of all the environmental sinners that are out there. For hypocrisy it rivals a weekday crack dealer teaching Sunday School. Suggestion..we export less not more coal.

    If the Europeans hadn’t made a dog’s breakfast of their ETS we could join them to carbon tax imports from China. As it stands the global carbon pricing mechanism is impotent and until we fix it perhaps we should forego all right to complain about climate change.

  5. John Quiggin
    March 5th, 2013 at 12:39 | #5

    “Reef aside what about the simple hypocrisy of expanding coal exports while pretending to care about global emissions? ”

    There are plenty of campaigns against new or expanded coal mines (Wandoan, Warkworth etc), which would welcome more supporters. I helped on some of these before joining the Climate Change Authority, but am leaving that kind of activism to one side for the moment.

  6. Jim Rose
    March 5th, 2013 at 16:30 | #6

    Ikonoclast, objectivity is an interesting way of looking at issues of distributive justice.

    more than a few aspects of history and society are open to interpretation and the weighing of clashing evidence and values.

    see this taxonomy of disagreement from http://www.hks.harvard.edu/fs/rzeckhau/Robert-Zeckhauser-preprint.pdf

    Positive disagreements can be over questions of:
    1. Scope: what elements of the world one is trying to understand
    2. Model: what mechanisms explain the behavior of the world
    3. Estimate: what estimates of the model’s parameters are thought to obtain in particular contexts

    Values disagreements can be over questions of:
    1. Standing: who counts
    2. Criteria: what counts
    3. Weights: how much different individuals and criteria count

    for climate change, the taxonomy of disagreement fleshed out to:

    Positive disagreement: scope
    • Unit of analysis: global, regional, or national? Actors: which persons, institutions, polities? Costs and benefits: at what level of disaggregation?
    • Consider: which policy interventions? …political feasibility? …non-market or relative-price effects? …strategic and behavioral responses to policy?

    Positive disagreement: model
    • The physical science. Quantifying and valuing economic impacts.
    • Projecting interventions’ economic costs and benefits.
    • Accounting for uncertainty.

    Positive disagreement: estimate
    • Physical science parameters.
    • Quantification and valuation parameters.
    • Intervention projection parameters.
    • Uncertainty parameters, including the pace of learning.

    Values disagreement: standing
    • National vs. international analysis.
    • Generational time horizon.

    Values disagreement: criteria
    • Market impacts.
    • Non-market or relative price impacts.
    • Fairness and justice.
    • Political feasibility.
    • Respect for nature.

    Values disagreement: weights
    • Interpersonal: poor vs. rich, in terms of both countries and individuals.
    • Intertemporal: present vs. future generations; time preference or discount rate.
    • Uncertain or irreversible outcomes.
    • Errors of commission vs. errors of omission.

  7. ros
    March 5th, 2013 at 17:55 | #7

    @Jim Rose
    Became a lurker rather than a commenter on this site many years ago Jim but did enjoy your one liner encapsulation of PM Gillard.
    having struggled through some of her speech at UWS I would add, if they had they certainly wouldn’t have been so silly as to tell the audience at UWS that they understood the west’s yearning for respect and recognition, and then trot out as proof of understanding the stories of 2 chaps from western Sydney who had made good by attending Sydney University.
    To paraphrase another female PM, the lady is not for learning.

  8. Katz
    March 5th, 2013 at 18:08 | #8

    Yep. Julia Gillard is the worst possible PM.

    Except for her most likely successor.

  9. sunshine
    March 5th, 2013 at 20:43 | #9

    hermit – everything cant happen at once (frustrating – i know, as life is short ) , we have the carbon price in law now – hopefully china will soon , then the nay-sayers will have to shut their traps. australia ranks very highly (usually top 10 – if not top 5 ) in soft power lists .we have more imfluence than deniers realise .

    ikon- you are on the money – but i think there is still some substantial difference between abbot style coalition and gillard (or rudd) style govt . eg ; labor would try to claw back howards middle class welfare and give it to those more deserving . but yes both parties are right of centre (and way too similar ), the only ones to the right of coalition are extremists .

    my comment – is that there is alot of speculation about where labor went wrong – most of it has some merrit . but surely the single biggest factor BY FAR is the campaign run by the murdoch press on behalf of the coalition since before rudd won .why is this factor not spoken of much ?
    apparently labor may still win here in vic – thats a real testament to the electorate here in the face of that campaign .
    murdoch still sets most of the news agenda , they look like determining the outcome of the next election – and i think they may manage the one after that too , but thats it . its over to the internet then , power will shift a bit (finally ) to younger people (hopefully they wont be so selfish ) .
    i think journalism has let us down bigtime over the last 15 years . what have they been teaching them at university ?

  10. Bring back Birdy at Catallaxy
    March 6th, 2013 at 12:12 | #10

    ABC News 24 cut from its coverage of the International Women’s Day National Press Club panel discussion to a press conference on the economy with Wayne Swan. The announcer told us that we could continue to watch the NPC discussion on ABC1. Clicked to ABC1 – no NPC address there, or on any other ABC TV channel. As I type Swannie is still on ABC24 and no NPC IWD discussion is on ABC 1, 2 or 3. Testicles should roll for this f***-up.

  11. TerjeP
    March 10th, 2013 at 07:10 | #11

    Rand Paul spoke for 13 hours in the US senate to highlight that the US President does not have the legal power to assassinate citizens. For weeks he had asked for confirmation of this view from the Presidents nominee for attorney general. When he didn’t get it he filibustered. More people should champion limits to executive power. Meanwhile Rand Paul deserves credit for standing out from the crowd.

    Luckily you don’t need to watch 13 hours of footage to see what he is on about. The first 7 minutes is sufficient.


    The filibustering worked. He raised the profile of the issue. And he won. He subsequently got a written acceptance that the US president does not have the legal power to assassinate citizens.

    This week Rand Paul is a hero.

  12. Katz
    March 10th, 2013 at 08:13 | #12

    If US citizen human shields advertised their intention to live with and travel about with leading al Qaeda figures, would any drone attack targeting the al Qaeda figure that killed these human shields be regarded as assassination or as “collateral damage”?

  13. Ikonoclast
    March 10th, 2013 at 08:33 | #13


    “More people should champion limits to executive power.”

    I agree in the case of the USA. Executive (Presidential) power is very excessive in the US and very anti-democratic.

    Australia’s constitution is different. Executive power is more subject to parliamentary control. I am not saying our system is perfect or moderates executive power sufficiently but it is far superior to the US system with the possible excepetion that we have no express citizen rights clauses in our constitution.

    You have to draw the distinction between reducing executive power and reducing democracy by hobbling the legislature in a democratic system.

    So many Americans loathe government and it is easy to see why. Their constitution and system mean that government is really the servant of the oligarchs not the servant of the people.

  14. Julie Thomas
    March 10th, 2013 at 08:35 | #14


    I agree that the effect of the relentlessly negative msn reports about Julia and the Labor party have had a very significant effect on the electorate. Perhaps we who don’t read these sources forget how much influence they have on the many people who still get all their news from mainstream sources.

    Ikon has very high standards so he would find Julia wanting but I’m not so sure she is a dud, I think she has the potential to develop some character and a sense of where to go. The stark difference in upbringing and circumstance between Julia and Tony (Julia working class and Tony a ‘silverrtail’) have been ignored by the msn but this fact is sufficient for me to think that Julia would be someone who has a better idea of how I think and feel. I just know so clearly that Tony has nfi and no interest in finding out either.

    People develop empathy for someone when they see them unfairly targeted and I see a bit of disgust, in my neighbours, with the behaviour of the West Sydney woman who yelled abuse at Gillard. I see some smidgen of respect for Julia developing on the back of the increasingly obvious unfairness of the attacks on her.

    From what I see in my neighbours – regional voters in a safe national party seat – they are losing their certainty. There is more willingness to really listen to my story about how the neo-liberal ideology is wrong, and particularly the dairy farmers require no persuasion to see an actual conspiracy between govt, woolies and coles.

    Furthermore, our state member has jumped ship from the LNP to join Katter’s Mad Hatters and ‘we’ are not happy about that. We think he should have stayed on as an independent and stood up for our regional area. LOL as if that was going to happen.

    Terje, I really don’t understand why you think Rand Paul deserves any respect for this little ‘stunt’. Honestly, surely you see how hypocritical it is and how it is nothing? He does not demonstrate any integrity or show that he understands that ‘libertarians’ have been the most appalling hypocrites for the past 30 or so decades. They have consistently chosen to put their own self-interest ahead of ‘doing the right thing’ or standing up for any freedom except the freedom to rip people off and now, this pathetic attempt to salvage something is a joke.

  15. Katz
    March 10th, 2013 at 08:59 | #15

    In both the US and the Australian systems the executive is finally disciplined by the electorate.

    However, were Australia to have a program that assassinated citizens, it would be far more difficult to scrutinise it, given a workable majority in the lower house.

    Paul has a forum because

    1. The Obama administration does not command a super majority in the Senate.

    2. The Administration must seek ratification for its nominees in the Senate.

    These features of the US Constitution give minorities in the Senate more power than they have under the Australian Constitution.

  16. Will
    March 10th, 2013 at 09:12 | #16

    The filibustering worked. He raised the profile of the issue. And he won. He subsequently got a written acceptance that the US president does not have the legal power to assassinate citizens.

    The loony right make it sound like little Debbie is just sitting down at the coffee shop and then suddenly BOOM the whole place goes sky-high because Obama had a bad day at the office and wants to take out his anger on something. I really wish they would stop with this moronic hyperbolic nutjobbery.

  17. Fran Barlow
    March 10th, 2013 at 09:21 | #17


    I’m rather tired of the “but X would be even worse” argument on PMs and parties.

    Let me be clear: as a matter of general principle, I favour opting for the least of all harms. It’s one element of rational decision making and I’ve relied on it in practice in both my personal life and political advocacy.

    When one endorses such a principle though, there is a palpable hazard — that one’s disgust at suffering some short term negative outcome may incline one to privilege the temporally proximate over the temporally distant. When discerning the ‘least of all harms’ it is important to properly weight medium and longer term harms rather than zero- or near-rate them.

    Yes, it would be a dark day indeed in this country’s affairs were Tony Abbott to become PM. It would be an embarrassment to us all. It would be as if the larger part of the population had piled all of its reason and insight onto a bonfire fuelled by fear and loathing and set it alight. We would surely be a laughing stock.

    On the other hand, if that is indeed where the larger part of the population is right now and at election time, then apart from trying to talk down these evidently disturbed folk from picking up the flaming torches by appealing to their sense of self, there is little one can do about it. Joining them in their cognitive dissonance, and telling them that Ms Gillard represents something like progress and theat she is to be relied upon as an authentic voice for legitimate public policy, when we know this not to be the case taints us all, because it puts us into a similar position ethically as the ALP itself, which has done such a good job of convincing itself that pandering to ignorance and stupidity is ethically defensible in the name of acquiring office that it no longer stands for anything. It may well be that some of them even beleive their own party’s cant. The price for this has been a holllowed out party that is no use at all, even in better times than one now sees. Mark McGowan began his disastrous campaign in WA by disavowing carbon pricing. He dared not have even the pandering PM in his bailiwick, and as it turned out the main ‘issue’ in WA became where to put a football stadium. Sadly for McGowan, when a couple of football players from WA backed Barnett’s preferred ground location option, the campaign for ‘progress’ was delivered the coup de grace. To describe McGowan’s campaign as ‘sewer socialism‘ greatly dignifies what went on. Sewers are at least useful.

    Yes, Tony Abbott would be repulsive — more so even than Ms Gillard as PM. But if the price of trying to prevent him from becoming PM is to reinforce the paradigm that has made him and others to follow that are like him and Ms Gillard the persistent outcome of elections, then IMO, the game is not worth the candle. Perhaps having Tony Abbott as PM is not, in the medium to long run the greatest of all harms. And if ethical people — people who can see that Abbott and Gillard are not qualitatively different, but merely playing to a slightly different but overlapping audience — are forced to perjure themselves and dissemble over matters like war, the environment, welfare and equity, human rights and so forth in the short term, and that in a lost cause — then surely the campaign against Abbott comes at too great a cost.

    We on the left must remain true to ourselves and our values, criticising Gillard and Abbott on grounds that are consonant with the empowerment of the working people of the planet and their social allies. This alone can ensure that when people finally understand the dreadful short-term consequences of an Abbott victory, and look at themselves with shame and disgust, that there will be plenty of us with standing to explain how that moment of madness arose, and to account for the ALP’s role in it. The larger part of the population must be able to pledge not merely, Never Again! to Abbott, but Never Again! to the paradigm which seemed to force a choice between two such egregious options.

  18. Will
    March 10th, 2013 at 09:21 | #18

    Oh, and further, due to right-wing bubble media reporting breathlessly on how Obama apparently wants to go Judge Dredd and perform the duties of judge, jury and executioner i would bet everything I have that this will cause yet another surge in gun sales by the easily frightened and panicky Repub electorate. Combine this piece of news with news of the (easily avoidable) sequester and North Korea aggression, and that’s the world’s safest bet.

  19. Chris Warren
    March 10th, 2013 at 11:29 | #19

    Without detracting from the Rand Pauls efforts – given the covert nature of such activities surely written advices from US presidents are not worth very much. Presumably such a written acceptance provides no basis for families of Operation Phoenix victims to claim compensation?

    Or, was Rand Paul’s aim related just to assassination of “American” citizens? This was the subject of a recent Civil Liberties action;

    On 30 August 2010 the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed a lawsuit challenging the government’s asserted authority to carry out “targeted killings” of U.S. citizens located far from any armed conflict zone. They stated that “The authority contemplated by the Obama administration is far broader than what the Constitution and international law allow, the groups charge. Outside of armed conflict, both the Constitution and international law prohibit targeted killing except as a last resort to protect against concrete, specific, and imminent threats of death or serious physical injury. An extrajudicial killing policy under which names are added to CIA and military “kill lists” through a secret executive process and stay there for months at a time is plainly not limited to imminent threats.”

    Althpugh the quality of evidence varies, in general, America (with MI6 and other OECD powers) is an machine of assassinations and plots – Nasser (plot; Egypt 1958), Bandaranaike (Ceylon 1959), Lumumba (toothpaste plot, Congo 1960), Mondlane (Mozambique 1969), Cabral (Guinea and Cape Verde 1973), Allende (Chile 1973), Rahman (Bangladesh 1975), Ngouabai (Congo, 1977), plus un-countable attempts and schemes using false flags and proxies (Ananda Marga, Dalai Lama, mafia, Pakistan and Israeli security forces, rightwing factions in Afghanistan and Indonesia) right across the globe, particularly many failed attempts against Castro (Cuba) and many others. The CIA ran a generalised assassination resource development program known as “ZR RIFLE” until exposed.

    Australia is also hand-in-glove with such machinations see: Norman Abjorensen’s “ASIS recruit says she took part in killing …”, Canberra Times, 17 December, 1993, p2.

    Even today questions are being asked about the deaths of Arafat and Chavez – eg:


    David B. Rothman’s book “Mr Death” appears to corroborate the fact that the CIA was a assassination machine.

  20. Alan
    March 10th, 2013 at 12:45 | #20


    The differences between presidential and parliamentary systems are grossly exaggerated. If Australia possessed similar global reach and technology, it’s really hard to imagine an institution as feeble as our house of representatives restraining a prime minister from using it. Our parliament eagerly passed anti-terror laws, usually with Labor support, after 911 that would have been ruled unconstitutional in the US.

    There are presidential systems like Brazil that function a whole lot more progressively and democratically than the US. There are parliamentary systems that function a whole lot more democratically and progressively than Australia.

    Proportional representation makes a big difference. Ditto a contemporary bill of rights like Canada’s or South Africa’s.

  21. Jim Rose
    March 10th, 2013 at 13:56 | #21

    chris, as part of lawfare, fathers have applied for US court injunctions to stop drone attacks on their wayward sons.

    They failed and they were reminded by the court that if they were so worried, their sons could pop down to any U.S. embassy to discuss their fears i.e. surrender for extradition.

    The fathers’ claims were unreviewable under the political question doctrine inasmuch as he was questioning a decision that the U.S. Constitution committed to the political branches. The Judge said:

    “How can the courts, as plaintiff proposes, make real-time assessments of the nature and severity of alleged threats to national security, determine the imminence of those threats… and ultimately decide whether, and under what circumstances, the use of military force against such threats is justified? …

    [such decisions] involve delicate, complex policy judgments with large elements of prophecy, and are decisions of a kind for which the judiciary has neither aptitude, facilities, nor responsibility.”

    See http://www.lawfareblog.com/category/targeted-killing/targeted-killing-drones/ for more discussion by legal experts

    The battlefield is world-wide as is the application of the 9/11 authorisation to use military force. There is no dispute by the courts that the U.S. is in a state of armed conflict with Al Qaeda and its co-belligerents, wherever they may be.

    the existence of an ongoing armed conflict means that the US military can strike, assuming the target is a lawful one, whenever it wants without warning or any attempt to capture.

    Plenty of American citizens died in the american civil war, and a few in Nazi uniforms, so attacking combatants who are citizens is not new.

  22. Chris Warren
    March 10th, 2013 at 16:30 | #22

    @Jim Rose

    Not the best logic. what happens if Al Qaeda uses the same standards ie “world-wide battlefield”, no dispute within their courts over armed conflict with the US and its co-belligerents wherever they may be, etc. etc.

    If there is an existence of ongoing armed conflict – does this give the right to Al Qaeda to strike lawful targets whenever it wants without warning?

    Who decides lawful targets? Who verifies that only lawful targets are attacked?

    Wikileaks has released video where the opposite occurred.

    If your logic is driven by:

    Plenty of American citizens died in the american civil war, and a few in Nazi uniforms, so attacking combatants who are citizens is not new.

    what happens when the Taliban reflects on the fact that plenty of their families died in the American invasion(s) so attacking American combants who are citizens, is OK??

  23. Alan
    March 10th, 2013 at 16:55 | #23

    @Chris Warren

    Indeed and what happens when drone technology becomes ubiquitous? About AU$300 gets you a short range (under 500 metres) camera drone that you can fly with an iPad. How long until one gets weaponised?

  24. Chris Warren
    March 10th, 2013 at 16:59 | #24



    the only solution is for America to get out now, admit their mistake, and try to repair the damage.

    But it all goes back to the stupid President Carter and games played in 1979.

  25. Katz
    March 10th, 2013 at 17:27 | #25

    Here are the provisions under which these drones are unleashed:

    The Authorization of Use of Military Force:

    (a) IN GENERAL- That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons

    1. Clearly the Authorization states that limits apply to what the President may do. The Supreme Court, by enforcing International Treaties, has the duty to enforce limits.

    2. Clearly these powers have a sunset clause, that is the AUMF is current until acts of international terrorism against the US are deemed to have been prevented. Again, the Supreme Court is the only body qualified to make that determination.

    3. The AUMF enables use of military force only against INTERNATIONAL terrorism. By definition, from the point of view of the US, American citizens can only engage in DOMESTIC terrorism, a threat explicitly excluded by the AUMF. The Supreme Court is entitled to enforce that limitation.

  26. TerjeP
    March 10th, 2013 at 20:46 | #26

    Rand Paul was pretty clear in his line of questioning. Watch the video where he outlines the question he has been asking.


    Rand Paul fully acknowledges that if somebody is pointing a grenade launcher at the White House and taking shots at it, or some such thing, then the President has the authority and a duty to act. This authority was never in question. What Rand Paul asked, and what he was stonewalled on until after the filibuster, was about the authority of the president to kill citizens not currently engaged in combatant hostilities. Something the presidents nomination for attorney general refused to answer for weeks.

    The link above to the opening of the filibuster should be watched if you don’t understand the question posed by Rand Paul. It’s quite clear.

  27. paul walter
    March 10th, 2013 at 23:07 | #27

    I think the use of drones in the USA itself is a logical extension of all the other recent attacks on accountability and ultimately, habeas corpus. Why must we retreat to dark ages rule by fiat?
    What strange decision President Obama made in passing EO/arbitrary detention, also.

  28. Mel
    March 11th, 2013 at 02:06 | #28

    Capitalism and free trade are at times such progressive and glorious things:

    “Jordan Siegel of Harvard Business School reports that foreign multinationals are recruiting large numbers of educated Korean women. In South Korea, lifting the proportion of a firm’s managers who are female by ten percentage points raises its return on assets by one percentage point, Mr Siegel estimates.

    South Korea is the ideal environment for gender arbitrage. The workplace may be sexist, but the education system is extremely meritocratic. Lots of brainy female graduates enter the job market each year. In time their careers are eclipsed by those of men of no greater ability. This makes them poachable. Goldman Sachs, an American investment bank, has more women than men in its office in Seoul.”


    A sophisticated Marxian (not Marxist) analysis would not take fright at such a suggestion or squeal when confronted by the supporting evidence; sadly, however, sophisticated Marxians are about as rare as sophisticated libertarians. That is a great pity.

  29. Alan
    March 11th, 2013 at 04:31 | #29

    Obama has actually done a profoundly evil thing. Having one president committed to extraordinary measures is a misfortune. Having two presidents prepared to apply extraordinary measures seems like carelessness. What was unthinkable under Bush II has become a regular course of conduct under Obama.

    The Obama administration has continued a set of decisions adopted by Bush II which essentially extended the ‘dirty war’ theory of the the grim juntas of the 60s, 70s and 80s into regular US official conduct.

    When Abu Ghraib broke a number of people asked (and were never answered) why relatively uneducated people managed to come up with torture regimes that were so specific and so similar without any official direction. If you have been seized in, say Buenos Aires in 1969, you would have been stripped, sexually humiliated, anonymised, silenced, taunted, and then subjected to brutal beatings, electricity, psychotic drugs. The two torture regimes are identical. The military leadership that commanded these practices learnt from the School of the Americas, a US military finishing school for dictators in the former Panama Canal Zone. They are now slowly, and often too late, being held accountable in courts in places like Brazil, Chile, Argentina.

    Until the Brazilian coup in 1964, the vast majority of Latin American coups were relatively brief, often bloodless, and the return to civil power followed within 1 or 2 years. That pattern did not apply in long-lived Central American tyrannies like the Somozas or the Trujillos. After 1964 the Brazilian military did not go back to the barracks until 1988. They did this under a set of ideas known as the Doctrine of National Security which was elaborated in the US military/intelligence communities and spread through training courses offered at the School of the Americas and other US institutions for the training of latin American military officers.

    The US is now applying the same doctrine in countries like Afghanistan.

    The ‘dirty war’. The ‘proceso’. Random seizures of civilians. Disappearances. Mass murder. Torture. Terror. At the end of the process nations like Chile would have been ‘remade’ or ‘renewed’ and the threat of Communism would have ended forever. What actually happened was that Communism ended itself and in most countries when the process ended social democrats took power and eventually the impunity laws (themselves another US invention) were eventually reversed by courts or parliaments. Dilma Roussef, the current Brazilian president was herself tortured in the dirty war.

    The arguments advanced by the Obama administration are identical with those advanced by the Bush administration and by the juntas in the dirty war.

    The Latin American nations advanced the Convention on Disappearances after the dirty war to try and ensure that it would never happen again. The take-up in ratification and signature is vastly slower than with most human rights conventions, but it is happening.

    I say Obama has come dangerously close to a criminal violation of the Convention on Torture. The US has signed and ratified that convention. The US constitution makes ratified treaties part of the supreme law of the land.

    That convention ends any claims for a terrorist exception, whether accompanied by portentous Latin or not.

    Article 2

    Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction. (bold face mine)

    No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

    An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.

    Because of Article 2 the Bush administration, in its legal arguments, could not not advocate a terrorist exception so instead they tried to redefine torture any which way. We do not know the Obama administration arguments because they refuse to release them. But US dirty war is identical with Brazilian dirty war or Salvadoran dirty war.

    If there is a hostis humani generis, it is the torturer as well as the pirate. there is, by contrast, no authority for the proposition that the the terrorist falls within the definition. There is also no authority beyond pious rhetoric for the proposition that the whistleblower falls within the definition.

    The Torture Convention goes further. Impunity, as practiced by both dirty war juntas and the Obama administration, is itself prohibited in terms of Articles 5 and 7 of the convention and it is that offence for which Obama himself could face prosecution. Torture, as Pinochet learnt to his cost, is an offence of universal jurisdiction.

    If you had said to Jorge Rafael Videla, during the time he claimed to be president of Argentina, that he would one day face trial and prosecution, he would have laughed in your face. He will spend the rest of his life in jail.

  30. Chris Warren
    March 11th, 2013 at 08:25 | #30

    Capitalism and free trade are at times such progressive and glorious things:

    This is just dogma. In fact capitalism and free trade are destroying humanity and threaten worse in the future. As Marx demonstrated – under capitalism labour exploitation increases:


    And capitalist profiteers are engorging themselves like never before:


    A sophisticated Keynesian analysis should take fright at such evidence. Sadly however honest Keynesians are as rare as honest capitalists.

    Do they deserve pity?

  31. Paul Norton
    March 11th, 2013 at 10:32 | #31

    Mel @28, you’ve touched on an interesting and complex topic. I personally think that it is true that there are systemic tendencies of capitalism which tend to undermine patriarchal relations and that there have been some significant synergies between the dynamics of capitalism and some feminist agendas in recent decades. However I think it is also the case that there are dynamics of capitalism (especially in its neoliberal variant) which work against other feminist agendas and against efforts to create new social positivities based on democratic gender and family relations, principally those dynamics that tend to cannibalise and commodify the time and leisure of both men and women, and impede efforts towards better work/life balance.

    As you say, sophisticated Marxists, neo-Marxists and post-Marxists could have some important things to say about this.

    Capitalism and free trade are at times such progressive and glorious things.

    A couple of German lads with big beards wrote a little book called The Communist Manifesto that expands upon this point.

  32. Katz
    March 11th, 2013 at 11:24 | #32

    The interesting question here is whether there is more than one form of capitalism.

    It could be argued that there is only one form of capitalism and a myriad forms of rent seeking.

  33. Chris Warren
    March 11th, 2013 at 11:52 | #33


    I suppose if you go back to first principles, there is only one form of capitalism and rents are only funded from one source – surplus value.

    In essence, rents are only temporary returns on capital – a transitory state until they are competed away. Any permanent payment for the use of capital represents wages for the provider of capital and depreciation.

    Monopoly rents are another matter.

  34. Katz
    March 11th, 2013 at 12:25 | #34

    @Chris Warren

    But all states, regardless of the form of political economy, engage in redistributionism in some form. The mechanisms of this redistributionism are manifold, from taxation policies to genocide.

  35. Chris Warren
    March 11th, 2013 at 13:11 | #35



    All history is the history of such redistributions – from stealing wives in Herodotus, to plunder in Viking lore, to colonial slavery, Australian convict labour, to modern forms. Capitalism just continues this redistribution using new social and economic forms, capitalist ‘rent’ vs normal rents?

  36. Mel
    March 11th, 2013 at 16:37 | #36

    Paul Norton,

    Yes, I’ve long regarded you as one of the more sophisticated Marxian types. I note you’ve described yourself as post-Marxist. I guess my own outlook is semi-Marxian.

    Unfortunately the dunderheads who persist in calling themselves Marxist almost always adopt a uniformly negative and indeed cartoonish view of capitalism that Marx and Engels would almost certainly reject were they alive today.

  37. Jim Rose
    March 11th, 2013 at 18:21 | #37

    @Chris Warren firstly, Al Qaeda does not qualify for immunity for criminal prosecution for deaths in combat unless it can follow international humanitarian law: carry its weapons openly, dress in a uniform recognisable at a distance and observe the laws of war.

    These rules, for example, ensure that the enemy is easy to distinguish from afar so that troops do not get trigger happy around civilians or refugee columns.

    This is the purpose of international humanitarian law: save civilians from the fighting.

    In return for this protection from the fighting, if civilians do engage in the hostilities, they become unlawful or unprivileged combatants or belligerents.

    Unprivileged combatants may be prosecuted under the laws of the detaining state. Both lawful and unlawful combatants may be interned for the duration of the war.

    secondly, international law excludes private wars – terrorist groups are excluded from any prisoner of war protections such as combant immunity from criminal prosecution.

    HT: International Committee for the Red Cross

  38. Chris Warren
    March 12th, 2013 at 11:33 | #38

    Jim Rose

    You will not find those principles enshrined in the assassinations carried out by Australian Secret Intelligence Service, nor in their training.

    You will not find those principles demonstrated by the French terrorists who bombed the Rainbow Warrior.

    You will find that exact opposite principles were used in the many instances explored in the US Senates Church investigations.

    Israeli agents do not follow your odd claims.

    Nugan Hand, BCCI, Oliver North funding was not used for such practices.

    So what is the relevance?

    Are you now saying that your statement:

    the existence of an ongoing armed conflict means that the US military can strike, assuming the target is a lawful one, whenever it wants without warning or any attempt to capture.

    only applies to Americans in uniform carrying their weapons openly?

    Did Americans engaging in Operation Phoenix wear uniforms and carried weapons openly?

    All terrorists know that if are caught they will be tried. All French agents, Israeli, Australian, and American agents know this as well. Even those in uniform are tried. It is not legal to invade another state, or kill civilians, just because you wear a uniform. And this is no basis for faking paper distinctions.

  39. Jim Rose
    March 12th, 2013 at 16:36 | #39

    @Chris Warren you seem to want to change the topic.

    the commitment of some to international law depends on whether it is used to harass and belittle democracies or not.

  40. Chris Warren
    March 12th, 2013 at 17:17 | #40

    @Jim Rose

    I thought you wanted to talk about Americans being able to strike, assuming the target is a lawful one, whenever it wants without warning or any attempt to capture.

    I just want to know how you think this is relevant when this does not happen in practice? As noted in many examples above?

    Do you think that Americans killing civilians in the Middle East is different to terrorists killing civilians in New York?

  41. Chris Warren
    March 13th, 2013 at 09:35 | #41

    Paris Hilton is not too happy


    neither is Sarah Palin


  42. Jim Rose
    March 13th, 2013 at 16:10 | #42

    @Chris Warren you deny one of the most basic and best understood moral distinctions: between premeditated murder and unintended killing.

    as Michael Walzer put it, this denial is not accidental, as if people just forgot or didn’t know the everyday moral world.

  43. Chris Warren
    March 13th, 2013 at 17:18 | #43

    @Jim Rose

    Actually you and the American forces particularly those directing drones onto villages, combine both. This just continues the tradition exemplified by the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    All the attempts against Castro would be clear examples of premeditated murder if they succeeded and you cannot call any deaths that could have arisen from the Bay of Pigs “unintended deaths”. If you invade a country to kill its citizens then you will find that you have combined both premeditated murder and unintended killing. Often enough the citizens will try to do the same to you.

    That’s a direct corollary of the Golden Rule – a moral principle rightwingers always breach.

Comments are closed.