Friday, August 25, 2006

Violating First Amendment Rights or Just Plain Common Sense? 

The Blogfather points to a case in New York where a man was arrested for rebroadcasting Hezbollah's satellite channel, al-Manar. The crux of the violation lies in that al-Manar has been designated a "global terrorist entity" and therefore all transactions between Americans and al-Manar are strictly verbotten.

As the good Prof says, this certainly raises First Amendment questions. Can the government legitimately stop Americans from hearing what Hezbollah has to say? Apparently it can, but should it be able to? If it can stop Hezbollah, why not, using similar tactics, silence any other entity it wants? While the professor "favor[s] exempting retransmission of news material, etc., from the statute", is that really all there is to it?

As any reasonable person knows, First Amendment rights to free speech aren't absolute. Besides the most obvious non-protected examples of obscene and libelous speech, there are other recognized exemptions, most notably in this case threats and sedition. I know the latter has seemingly fallen out of favor of late (how else can you explain groups that honestly support, advocate and reward mutinous action by members of our Armed Forces without consequence) and, coming from a foreign source the term "sedition" may not be strictly accurate, but should there be a compulsion for any government to allow open broadcast by its enemies? You can't fault Hezbollah for trying, but neither should one fault the U.S. government for putting a stop to it when discovered.

Finally, the broadcast of any of America's enemies' signals into the U.S. could constitute a real national security issue. If nothing else, the recent rash of "Hezbollah news" busted by bloggers of all stripes indicates that one should expect no better from the official source. It has long been suspected that numerous Iranian and Hezbollah agents may be placed within the U.S. in sleeper cells, so why should anyone think we need allow Hezbollah, and by extension Iran, to broadcast into our own country, possibly providing a means to communicate organizational or directive orders? Simply recall how the radio was used in Rwanda to plan, coordinate and launch the genocide there. Yes, in today's modern age of communications there are many other ways to get word out to agents, but why should we feel compelled to intentionally make it easier for them?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

USS Grunion (SS-216) Found? 

On or about July 31, 1942 the USS Grunion (SS-216) and her crew began their eternal patrol off the Aleutian Islands. Yesterday the decades-long efforts of the Catpain's sons to pay their final respects to their father and his crew may have begun to bear fruit.

The Boston Globe has an excellent article about the search effort and the exciting news Bruce Abele received yesterday morning. More information is available, including pictures, on the Search for the Grunion Blog. Fascinating story.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Megan McArdle Unhinged 

Megan McArdle is guest blogging at Instapundit, and managed to get a mind-nubming rant out front early. Now, I know that economics it her real forte, but Megan has always seemed to me thoughtful and considered in whatever she chose to write about, so I am somewhat at a loss to explain the holes in this post other than to write it off as general anger and frustration over needless deaths and an inabiity to do anything about it. But anger does not a compelling logic make.
"Israel responded to a Hizbollah attack on a military target by killing huge numbers of Lebanese civilians. [...] [Y]ou don't nuke a neighbourhood to catch a shoplifter. [...] Israel's stated aim of using violence to pressure the Lebanese people to reject Hizbollah has eroded the moral edge it normally enjoys over Hamas. [...] The rockets started after the invasion."
It took me several reads to understand that the "military target" she credits Hizbollah with attacking was the initial cross-border raid into Israel and the killing and capture of IDF soldiers. But is it right to say that the Israeli response to this was to kill huge numbers of civilians? There is no doubt that civilians have died, which is a true tragedy (I've heard none but the most rabid and repulsive say otherwise), but claiming that these deaths were Israel's response is akin to saying that the oncologist's response to detecting cancer was to make the patient violently ill and have her hair fall out. Likewise it serves to absolve Hizbollah of the culpability of basing its weapons and fighters in dangerous proximity to civilian populations, an act that is by multiple reports both deliberate and forced upon the very civilians placed in harm's way.

As for the "stated aim of using violence to pressure the Lebanese people," the closest I could come to finding this aim anywhere was an article on uruknet by Stephen Gowans, a statement he attributes to Yoram Peri in the Toronto Globe and Mail, July 14, 2006. In the referenced article, though (available only through subscription), the statement that "Israel is ratcheting up the pressure on the civilian population in an effort to push the Lebanese to reject Hezbollah tactics" is actually made by the article's author, Orly Halpern. The quote by Yoram Peri, who is head of the Chaim Herzog Institute for Media, Politics and Society at Tel Aviv University and not a spokesman for the Israeli government, is that "Israel wants to make Hezbollah a liability to the Lebanese people and the Lebanese government. Israel wants to tell them that the price for Hezbollah's attacks is too heavy and they need to put pressure on Hezbollah to disarm or to change its policies vis-à-vis Israel." The claim that Israel has stated an aim of using violence to pressure the Lebanese people juxtaposed with statements that Israel's response has been to kill civilians creates the impression that Megan believes the Israeli government is actively targetting civiians to punish them for supporting Hizbollah. I don't believe that is the case, nor do I imagine she does so either.

Perhaps it is nitpicking on semantics, but the order of escalation as I understand it is:

  1. Hizbollah invades Israel, killing and capturing IDF soldiers
  2. Israel launched air strikes against Hizbollah and support infrastructure
  3. Hizbollah launches rockets against Haifa an dother civilian targets
  4. Israel continues bombardment and on July 23 cross the Lebanese border.
Normally "invade" is used to indicate the movement of ground forces across a border into another sovereign's territory. For example, during the ten-odd years of Operation Southern Watch we regularly flew across Iraq and even conducted counterstrikes from time to time, but I don't remember a general sense that we had "invaded" Iraq at that time. Again, the use of "invade" by Megan in reference to the timing and progression of violence, especially as regards Hizbollah's intentional targetting of civilians, helps to create an impression that is other than accurate.

When Megan mentions the incident at Qana I think we have finally come to the fulcrum that has moved her lever so strongly. Presented with dead children only the most hardened can turn aside with a shrug, but I have learned that news of any tragedy in the Middle East is best digested slowly. Already there are those casting doubt on the truth of the events put forward by Hizbollah and Lebanon. While I am cautious to dismiss the reports outright, there are several details that lead me to believe the event has been "embellished":

Perhaps the words unnatural and suspicious best sums up the evidence available. I don't doubt that civilians and probably children died in the Israeli airstrike. But looking at the above inconsistencies and knowing the historty of the region and its culture in using bodies for publicity purposes (remember Saddam's dead baby parades?), I am left wondering if the Qana "massacre" might perhaps bear more similarity with Jenin than just the principle protagonist. I would have thought Megan would have shared these doubts. Emotions are always an issue when dealing with war and death, especially death of children, but I think it is an obligation of those who would offer their opinions on important matters to ensure that they do not allow these very human feelings to skew their logic and cognitive skills.

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