43 thoughts on “Sandpit

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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?

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. @Katz

    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.

  9. @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.

  10. @Katz


    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?

  11. 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.

  12. @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

  13. 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.

  14. @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.

  15. @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?

  16. @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.

  17. @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.

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