Tuesday, February 28, 2006


why is it ok to profile a country's government because of what some of the people from that country have done but not ok to profile the people from that country? If we, say, subjected people from Dubai to extra security in the airport because two people from that country were among the 9/11 hyjackers the ACLU would be up in arms.

Personally, I am all for subjecting people to extra scrutiny becuase of the country they come from but when I voice that opinion I am a racist. Why is it then OK when it is a company from that country?

Whatever else you can say, it would seem that President Bush himself has been consistent. He has backed these non-discriminatory, non-profile based security procedures. It would appear to still be against FAA regulations to search more than two passengers that appear to be Arab or Muslim on any given flight. We can't act on the assumption that the people from that part of the world present any extra risk when they get on airplanes but we can when they run companies. Where is the logic in that?

I am also puzzled by this 'tone-deaf' meme (I am sorry, but the word is just so useful) that has become the obligatory preface of talking headdom when they are about to conceed that almost everything we heard about the deal when the ruckuss was first raised is, how do you say, not true? The same Congress that has had no problem with the Saudi Arabians running ports in the US for years is now suddenly insenced that they were not given a heads up on the Dubai deal? Isn't the fact that the bureaucracies (or, the experts, as they are called when they disagree when they disagree with the Bush administration) signed off on the deal without deeming it necessary to bring to the attention to the political appointee level an indication that there really isn't a problem?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Central Asian politics

From the Central Asia Report Vol. 6, No. 6, 16 February, comes this shocker:

“Omurbek Tekebaev, the speaker of Kyrgyzstan's parliament,set off a political furor when he referred to President Kurmanbek Bakiev as a "disgrace" and a "dog." The remarks came in the midst of rising tension between the president and parliament.”

Now a seasoned observer of Central Asia like me would be about to infer the second sentence from the first. You can’t really call the President a “dog” without there being some increase in tension. Still, it is nice of the Observer to clarify things for those new to Asia's version of the Wild West.

Still, that is the great thing about Central Asia, people say what they mean. Seriously, you could take such rhetorical overkill as a bad sign for democracy,but in fact it is the sign of a healthy democracy. The political rhetoric of the 19th Century US was of about the same tone as the war of words between the Parliament and the Presidency we are seeing now. It was a sign then that people we then that people felt free to speak there minds and it indicates the same thing now. It might be better if some of these rhetorical excesses were toned down, but it might also be a sign that people were afraid to speak their minds openly.

Open hatred is a lot better than hidden intriguing, not to mention a lot more entertaining.

McElvaine’s Column

McElvaine weighs in on the NSA controversy:

“Remember when conservatives wouldn't have bought the argument that giving up freedoms is good for us?”

Now are we really giving up a freedom bequeathed to us by our forefathers to have our foreign cell phone conversations unmonitored? I don’t think that Jefferson would have automatically had a position on the issue. “Should we allow the Bey’s (that is the guy that we had our first war with, “...to the shores of Tripoli,” guy that young men with cylindrical hair cuts have been boasting about trouncing for a couple hundred years) men to send messages to the ears of people on our shores?” The question really hadn’t come up, but it is not clear what his answer would have been.

In the context of a war where the enemy targets civilians by having sleeper cells in the US who scrupulously follow our laws until they don’t , until they kill us, it may not be such a good idea to allow unfettered messaging from people we suspect of being the enemy.

At a deeper level, the tone of the statement is a bit off. Giving up freedoms is often quite a good thing, especially if it leads to an increase in other freedoms, like freedom from getting killed by a guy that was your smiling neighbor until the signal came in from his bosses.

It is the determined refusal to take the issue seriously that has given the Democrats such a bad reputation on security. To pretend that there is no question to be asked about trade-offs between liberty and safety when we are under attack by an enemy whose main tactic is to use those freedoms to engineer mass murder is just naive. Taking every procedural constraint on the government’s ability imposed by courts over the last fifty years as a “freedom” handed down from time immemorial is somewhat tendentious.