The Atrocious UN Security Council

Amnesty International called for the five permanent members of the UN Security Council to give up their veto power in cases of atrocity. Those members are the UK, the US, France, China, and Russia. Each of these countries can veto any action by the UN Security Council. Now, you might also recognize those countries as the top five weapons exporters in the world. That’s right. But that’s just one small part of it.

They’ll never give up their advantages in the highest arena of power politics. As the Amnesty International secretary general stated, those five countries used the veto power to “promote their political self-interest or geopolitical interest above the interest of protecting civilians.”

While it’s a noble effort, China doesn’t have an elected government, so no amount of citizen pressure could change that. Russia and the others do technically have representative governments, but even still, there’s no way they’d let go of that veto power. Furthermore, even if they did, the simple fact that China couldn’t be pressured means China would never let it go, and the whole idea would never work unless they all agreed.

Dead on arrival.


Austrian restrictions on Islam: Why it’s worse than you think.

Austria just passed a bill putting restrictions on Islam. The two most notable portions break down like this: Imams are required to speak German, which is intended to integrate them into the society, and the law bans foreign funding for mosques, which is intended to prevent influence from Iran and Turkey on Austrian Muslims. Of course, the overall aim is to combat radicalization of Muslim youth.

That said, Austria is one of the few places in Europe that doesn’t have much a problem with its Muslim population. Why, you ask? Well, it boils down to a longstanding relationship with Muslim communities. All throughout the last thousand years, the influence of the Ottoman Empire brought Islam to a great many peoples in the Balkans and and up near Austria. In 1912, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire passed a law that made Islam an official religion.

This was a bid to draw Muslims into the armies, because years of politics and war had stitched together a great many dissimilar peoples under one government. Without unity, the empire would never be able to fend off the Russians under the Czar or the Ottomans. Indeed, two years after the law was passed, World World One began. By the end of the war, the empire had fragmented. For the first time in a long time, Austria became a single country, yet it managed to maintain this 1912 law of inclusiveness.

And here we are in 2015, at a time when Austria enjoys a remarkable degree of religious tolerance and togetherness for a European nation. And here Austria tries to destroy what has taken so long to develop. Over a hundred years of progress can’t disappear all at once, however, so maybe they’ve got a chance to survive the backsliding.

Further reading/sources: An article about a different form of the law from November; background on the 1912 law (search the page for 1912 to jump to it); a BBC brief; a more detailed article from The Local in Austria.

Reforming the data-driven justice system

Optimism is a crutch for those who can’t handle the crushing weight of reality. And by that I mean, I really hope some good comes of this.


This article from the New York Times really interests me. It’s entitled Unlikely Cause Unites the Left and the Right: Justice Reformand although it doesn’t specifically mention “data driven” approaches in justice reform, it describes “emerging proposals to reduce prison populations, overhaul sentencing, reduce recidivism and take on similar initiatives.”

I think this sentence, especially the reference to reducing recidivism, is code for the evidence-based sentencing that my friend Luis Daniel recently posted about. I recently finished a draft chapter in my book about such “big data” models, and after much research I can assure you that this stuff runs the gamut between putting poor people away for longer because they’re poor and actually focusing resources where they’re needed.

The idea that there’s a coalition that’s taking this on that includes both Koch Industries and the ACLU is fascinating and bizarre and – if I may exhibit a rare…

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Meddling in Yemen

The UN security council “demanded” the Houthis relinquish control of the Yemeni central government. Unfortunately, they don’t actually control the central government, they’ve merely made it impossible for it to work. In Yemen’s second biggest city, Aden, forces loyal to the former president attacked Houthi positions. Elsewhere, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) have taken control of various places within Yemen. AQAP is generally recognized as the most powerful branch of al-Qaeda.

So here we have the Sunni government that’s worked very closely with the US, where they received a great deal of funding and operational support. We have AQAP, which as a part of the al-Qaeda network, it gets significant support from hardline Sunnis. Then we have the Houthi, an Iranian backed Shia group. And anyone wonders what’s wrong with Yemen.

Maybe if the world didn’t meddle so much, Yemen wouldn’t be so fucked up. The US part is dubious, at best, but it does have a secular goal. AQAP and the Houthi, however, are fighting sectarian struggles and were funded exactly to do that. Of course, secular meddling sucks, I’ll be the first to say it. The US really fucked up Central America and that’s just the tiniest tip of the iceberg. But intentionally stoking tensions between the disparate ethnic and religious groups? That’s low and that’s exactly what happened in Iraq. Recall the sectarian struggles between the Sunni and Shia. And who was involved? Al-Qaeda and Iran.

Iran is working for regional influence and it directly benefits them to cause human rights abuses on a mass scale. We should keep that in mind. We should remember that Assad’s regime still stands because of Iranian funding and direct military support. And what prevented the UN from acting? It was Russia’s veto, because Russia was having a grand old time selling Assad weapons to get t sweet Iranian cash. In fact, Russia and Iran and great allies. They’re like best buddies in the global atrocity game.

Commando Coups

There was an attempted coup in Venezuela. It was a whopping 10 soldiers and a retired general. There were others implicated, of course, politicians and business people. But their plan was to attack the presidential palace, among other targets.

In 2004, there was an attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea, which was intercepted by police and 79 soldiers were arrested (in two different countries). Most recently in Gambia, a small group attacked the presidential palace. Reports are the fighting was much more difficult than they expected.

Even had any of these coups successfully captured a presidential compound and managed to kidnap the president, they don’t control the government. What makes them think that would work? The rest of the government isn’t going to install a puppet regime for 10 people, presidential hostage or not.

A Mediterranean Nightmare

There was another tragedy on the Mediterranean. This time, over 300 migrants have died. These deaths are directly caused by gross and utterly vicious Libyan (and other) people-smugglers who leave migrants with no food or water, drifting. As usual, it was the Italian navy who found and rescued a few survivors.

Is the Italian Navy obligated to do this? They used to patrol all of the Mediterranean Sea, looking for migrants, but the program stopped last year. Between budget issues and questioning whether it was a good idea to encourage migration, the Italians pulled back closer to their coast. So here we are, tragedy upon tragedy, yet what moral obligation does Italy have to save them?

While it’s true that a concentrated effort to save them is the human thing to do, this comes at a time when Italy has plenty of its own problems. I would think that saving migrants from greedy human traffickers would be the right thing to do, but I can’t say that Italy holds any obligation to do it. Perhaps what is really needed in a UN or EU mandated task force dedicated to saving migrants and relocating them. That, however, smacks into the nasty issue of where. Where do they go? How much financial, social, and spacial resources can truly be spared? At what point does moral authority infringe on local sovereignty?