Category Archives: Opinion

Temporary people

They serve native populations, once fishermen and tradespeople, as poor as their own ancestors, now made outlandishly rich by the world’s dependence on oil — a happenstance of geography. The fiction book reviewed below, Temporary People, humanizes the “neocoolies” of the present-day international order — those who do the dirty-job work for the wealthy in the Arabian Gulf.

It’s worth pointing out that these individuals are the same men and women who find service as subcontracted workers on America’s military bases throughout the region. Though the wages earned would drive a soldier to mutiny, and have been the subject of controversy, they remain, relative to home opportunities, high enough to continue to lure economic migrants from the poorest of India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Pakistan.

The DoD is aware of the exploitation that can be part of employing such temporary people and has taken steps to train soldiers and contractors to report abuse.

Stories of Fragmented Lives in the Emirates

TEMPORARY PEOPLE By Deepak Unnikrishnan227 pp. Restless Books. Paper, $17.99. Deepak Unnikrishnan’s novel-in-stories narrates a series of metamorphoses. Guest workers dissolve into passports, a man begins “moonlighting as a mid-sized hotel” and a sultan harvests a fresh crop of laborers.

 

— Marcus

Keep quiet so he may live

‘Total Catastrophe of the Body’: A Russian Story

After a week in critical condition, the young Russian journalist and pro-democracy activist Vladimir Kara-Murza has been improving. He remains hospitalized in Moscow, with a diagnosis of “acute intoxication.” Kara-Murza has been a vocal proponent of individual sanctions-so while most Russians have probably never heard of him, he has made a record number of enemies among the people who run the country.

When leaders of a state — or for that matter subordinates operating without accountability within states — abuse powers to harm citizens who question policy and legitimacy, so are planted the seeds of unrest; these seeds, however long they lay dormant, grow, in time, to great stands of resistance.

“And what country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance?”

Thomas Jefferson, Traitor to King George, President of the United States of America

— Marcus

 

United States Ship

Our new commander-in-chief had the good instincts to appoint a man to lead the Armed Forces who opposes stooping to the values of our enemies, who stood his ground against unexamined impulses and offered wise counsel when asked about torture. The new Secretary of Defense also skillfully assures America’s allies that the crew of the United States ship of state will avoid sailing her into uncharted waters at the whim of her new captain. Below, an internet link said to be former general and current Secretary of Defense James Mattis’s recommended reading list from his days in command — worth a look for those who wish to understand (and perhaps learn a thing or two from) a key leader in the new administration:

Lt. Gen. James Mattis Professional Reading (75 books)

75 books based on 15 votes: Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae by Steven Pressfield, The Rommel Papers by Erwin Rommel, One Bullet…

 

Another source is here.

Secretary Mattis writes about the value of reading here.

— Marcus

Lead by example

When America claims moral superiority over regimes that torture, murder and imprison their own, we must recognize that these claims carry with them a duty to set a higher standard for ourselves. The use of isolation and long-term sentencing in our prisons is therefore a shame we must correct, just as was the use of torture to gain intelligence information.

When we are the example for the world to follow, we embolden dissidents who fight for enlightened, humane democracy, encourage brave citizens to expose authoritarian regimes, and cast aside the sophistry of those who point to hypocrisy within our borders to excuse oppressive systems without.


(National Research Council via Washington Post)

Below, a New York Review of Books article explores the cruel and unusual effects of prison isolation. This BBC Future post also covers the subject.

America’s Invisible Inferno

Approximately 400,000 people in our prison population move in and out of solitary, and many of America’s over two million prisoners know they can be put in solitary even if they are jailed for the most minor offenses. Between 80,000 and 120,000 men and women are held in solitary confinement every day.

 

— Marcus

This we’ll defend

defend

America will no doubt survive the election of a celebrity with dubious qualifications and temperament to her highest office, but if our experiment in self-rule is to continue unblemished, if not humbled, let us keep our eyes wide open to the effects of Mr. Trump’s ascendancy, and make every effort to stand up for the rights his unexamined impulses threaten.

With respect to Trump’s support for tortureleaders who want to return to a dark era must be convinced that such a path is unwise. Remember, sirs, we tried torture already. It did not lead to the end of Al Qaeda, but did convince fence sitters to join the jihad, creating additional death and chaos. America is tougher, “greater”, when we rebuke the calculated savagery of Islamic extremism. They aren’t like us. Let’s not be like them.

With respect to unconstitutional police actions, while we must keep secrets secret, we must not spy on ourselves. The 4th amendment exists because of state overreach.  Our forefathers fought and died for this right. Let’s honor that sacrifice and reject the surveillance state.

We must be vigilant. We must reward competence. We must be purposeful when we have information about a threat, act on leads, and crucially, hold trials where judges, weighing evidence, condemn the worst of the worst, imprison enablers, and, with courage, free the innocent. Let’s remember: Trials and systems are what civilization does, cruelty and caprice are the manners of savagery. When we are the model for other states to follow, cooperation will improve with our neighbors. Such cooperation is the key to our security.

Let us hope that thoughtful citizens now come forward to assist Mr. Trump, help him understand that his primary role is to defend what really matters about AmericaBrave men and women can advise Mr. Trump to think beyond impulse and instinct, and to uphold the principles that have already made America great, namely:

Amendment I

Freedoms, Petitions, Assembly

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment II

Right to bear arms

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

 

Amendment III

Quartering of soldiers

No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

 

Amendment IV

Search and arrest

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

 

Amendment V

Rights in criminal cases

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb, nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

 

Amendment VI

Right to a fair trial

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed; which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

 

Amendment VII

Rights in civil cases

In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

 

Amendment VIII

Bail, fines, punishment

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

 

Amendment IX

Rights retained by the People

The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

 

Amendment X

States’ rights

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

— Marcus

Internet access – a human right?

Alongside reasonable, affordable access to health care (whether through private or public means, we can leave it up to the politicians to debate) there’s an argument to be made that internet access should be a right. When the state controls access to information, the result is more often than not oppression:

Robert Mugabe Seizes on the Latest Political Threat to His Zimbabwe: WhatsApp

Zimbabwe has joined a growing list of African nations that have curbed social media in the last year. Fearing the power that social media gives to rivals, activists and ordinary citizens, governments in Gabon, the Republic of Congo, Chad, Uganda, Burundi and Ethiopia have switched off access to the internet for days or weeks, including during elections.

 

— Marcus

An interesting question…

“Some were fed watermelon to fill their bladders, they said, and then had their penises tied.”

Besides the Kingdom’s uncomfortable taste for torture, the article below reveals that some tolerance for diversity, however limited, also reflects the modern Saudi state. Such tolerance suggests that pluralistic political reform, while surely distant, may one day come to America’s long-standing gulf ally:

In Saudi Arabia: Can It Really Change?

Thirty-five years after Wahhabi forces saved the Saudi monarchy, foreign descriptions of Saudi Arabia remain for the most part remarkably bleak. The writers of the four books under review examine the domination of the al-Saud dynasty with the fascination with which a zoologist might regard a black widow snaring its prey.

— Marcus

 

Does terrorism work?

No, not really, the book review below asserts. One reason, in my view, that terrorism does not work is that there are free nations with citizens who are willing to fight and to die for the cause of order over anarchy, for a national culture that celebrates the positivism of religiosity, be it humanist or spiritual in origin, over the nihilism of religious extremism and antitheism of totalitarianism. Absent such freedom, such noble citizens, terror could mesmerize a population, instill the fear it intends, and achieve the political aims of its authors.

Is Terrorism Effective?

There might well be thousands of books on terrorism, which means that it is extremely difficult to imagine something new. But Richard English’s Does Terrorism Work? A History , due to be released next month, differs from most discussions of the terror phenomenon.

— Marcus