Big Brother & the Internet

I suppose the oft-bleated excuse that “9/11 changed everything” will be blamed for why the man who warned against Big Brother has become Big Brother. Here’s then-Sen. John Ashcroft’s thoughts on the Internet and the Bill of Rights back in 1997.

There is a concern that the Internet could be used to commit crimes and that advanced encryption could disguise such activity. However, we do not provide the government with phone jacks outside our homes for unlimited wiretaps. Why, then, should we grant government the Orwellian capability to listen at will and in real time to our communications across the Web?

The protections of the Fourth Amendment are clear. The right to protection from unlawful searches is an indivisible American value. Two hundred years of court decisions have stood in defense of this fundamental right. The state’s interest in effective crime-fighting should never vitiate the citizens’ Bill of Rights.

… read more

Back in the USSA

In today’s “Best of the Web,” James Taranto pokes fun at Mikhail Gorbachev for finally admitting the obvious about the Soviet war on Afghanistan; now, I’ll poke fun at Taranto for failing to see the obvious parallels:

The Soviet Union’s 10-year invasion of Afghanistan was a mistake, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev acknowledged on the eve of the 15th anniversary of Soviet withdrawal.

“The fact that we moved our troops into Afghanistan was a political mistake, which had to do with the Soviet Union’s ideological approach to international policy in those years,” Gorbachev was quoted by Interfax as saying.

“An attempt to force an extraneous social model on a country that has deep traditions of its own is always doomed to failure,” Gorbachev said.

Taranto misses the real joke because he hasn’t been reading his Weekly Standard:

A smaller nation might appropriately feel that its national interest begins and ends at its borders, so that its foreign policy is almost always in a defensive mode. A larger nation has more extensive interests. And large nations, whose identity is ideological, like the Soviet Union of yesteryear and the United States of today, inevitably have ideological interests in addition to more material concerns.

Such as, say, bankrupting themselves to force extraneous social models on countries that have deep traditions of their own?

The Amiriyah Shelter bombing

“Riverbend” is the alias of a 24-year-old Iraqi woman who started her own blog, Baghdad Burning, back in August of last year to write about her day-to-day experiences and thoughts in the aftermath of the Iraqi invasion. In her entry for February 15th, 2004, she speaks about the bombing of Baghdad during Gulf War I, focusing on the deaths of hundreds of mostly women and children huddled for safety in a bomb shelter in the Amiriyah district.

Amiriyah itself is an area full of school teachers, college professors, doctors and ordinary employees- a middle-class neighborhood with low houses, friendly people and a growing mercantile population. It was a mélange of Sunnis and Shi’a and Christians- all living together peacefully and happily. After the 13th of February, it became the area everyone avoided. For weeks and weeks the whole area stank of charred flesh and the air was thick and gray with ash. The beige stucco houses were suddenly all covered with black pieces of cloth scrolled with the names of dead loved ones. “Ali Jabbar mourns the loss of his wife, daughter, and two sons”; “Muna Rahim mourns the loss of her mother, sisters, brothers and sons”
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Authors speak out on Iraq

Many thanks to the Guardian(UK) for putting together this fascinating collage of opinions on the Iraqi War in their article True Colors. It’s an interesting read.

In 1937 WH Auden and Stephen Spender asked 150 writers for their views on the Spanish Civil War. The result was the book Authors Take Sides. Jean Moorcroft Wilson and Cecil Woolf have repeated the exercise, asking literary figures if they were for or against the Iraq war and whether they thought it would bring lasting peace and stability.

… read True Colors

Travels in the South – Iraq

James Longley recently traveled to Nasiriyah filming the story of a sheik in Moqtada Sadr’s religious-political movement. This is a narrative of his journey, with a side trip to Al-Garraf, a nearby town.

There is only one full-time doctor working in the medical center that services 150,000 people. There are almost no facilities and the doctor’s role is limited to prescribing medication and administering first aid in emergency cases. All long-term patients are moved to the hospital in neighboring Nasiriyah. Many essential drugs are not available at all. In fact, all the medicines in the Al Garraf medical center pharmacy came from the warehouse in Nasiriyah, and are leftover supply from before the war 9 months ago. No new medicine has been supplied to the city medical center since the U.S. forces entered Iraq, with the exception of a few drug samples given to them by the Italians.

Those I talk with in the medical center agree that conditions there are worse now under U.S. occupation than during the UN sanctions against Iraq. “At least before we had some drugs coming in through the Oil For Food Program.” says Qablan.

The largest employer in Al Garraf was a carpet factory not far from the medical center. It even made carpets for Saddam’s palaces. Now all the equipment has been removed to prevent theft and the structure stands idle. “It would only take about $10,000 to get this place running again.” says Qablan, “But now nobody is certain who has the right to buy or sell the factory, because it was previously owned and operated by the state. It can only be decided after a legitimate government has been elected. Until then we will have to wait.”

…read more

When Did Saddam Hussein Become a Dictator?

He was apparently just first among equals back in 1991, when the U.S. government deliberately destroyed Iraq’s infrastructure:

Among the justifications offered now [shortly after Gulf War I], particularly by the Air Force in recent briefings, is that Iraqi civilians were not blameless for Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait. “The definition of innocents gets to be a little bit unclear,” said a senior Air Force officer, noting that many Iraqis supported the invasion of Kuwait. “They do live there, and ultimately the people have some control over what goes on in their country.”

This passage is quoted in a recent James Bovard essay on the murderous economic/diplomatic war that filled the space between the two invasions. Chew on this: The definition of innocents gets to be a little bit unclear. Americans and Britons: How different are your governments’ foreign policies from those of Osama bin Laden? Go ahead and send the hate mail, but give an honest minute’s reflection to the question first.