Bill Humphrey

About Bill Humphrey

Bill Humphrey is the primary host of WVUD's Arsenal For Democracy talk radio show and is a Senior Editor for The Globalist. Follow him @BillHumphreyMA on twitter.

Military coup in Niger

It’s unclear what’s going on, but apparently there’s been a military coup d’état in the West African nation of Niger:

Soldiers in Niger assaulted the presidential palace in a coup attempt on Thursday while the government was meeting inside, according to officials and diplomats.

After a day of gunfire, explosions and nonstop military music on the radio in Niger’s capital, Niamey, the whereabouts of the president, Mamadou Tandja, remained unknown.

“There’s been a coup d’état,” said Boureima Soumana Sory Diallo, a high official at the state media regulatory agency under Mr. Tandja.

“I don’t know where he is,” Mr. Diallo said of the president. “They told us he has been taken by the soldiers.”

A spokesman for the American Embassy in Niamey, Robert Tate, said, “We’ve gotten several unconfirmed reports that he is in the custody of the insurgents.”

Late Thursday, a colonel who claimed to represent the coup leaders said on state media that they had decided to suspend the Constitution and dissolve the nation’s institutions, news agencies reported.

 
The president had allegedly been taking unpopular anti-democratic actions of late, so the military may claim to be protecting democracy. Food shortages due to US and regional sanctions had destabilized the government, along with opposition protests. It’s unclear how this development might affect the security of the country’s large uranium deposits, if at all.

We have to be careful here in analyzing the situation because as we saw with the 2009 Honduras coup, the pro-coup people tend to spin the situation to claim the democratically-elected leader was going to become a dictator without military intervention. I don’t know if there’s a possibility that some foreign powers might be backing this coup to gain control over the uranium mines, but there are often allegations of that sort of thing when military coups occur. I’ll look into it more.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

The problem with GDP

Gross Domestic Product (or GDP for short) has been a good blunt instrument since the 1930s for getting a quick reading of economic growth in an country. However, with every passing year, it has become waved around more and more as an accurate measurement of the economy, even as criticisms of its flaws mount. It’s become used for way more than it was ever intended, and that causes policy problems. David Moberg wrote a good piece last week for the newspaper In These Times, in which he laid out some of the major criticisms of GDP as a measurement and looked at some of the possible solutions people are developing. Here are some of the main problems:

Before the crash, GDP reports were just as out of sync with people’s experiences [as they are now with GDP growing again and jobs stagnating]. GDP rose throughout the Bush era, but people were largely unhappy with the economy. Most people’s real incomes weren’t growing, just those of the rich. It became clear that much of the GDP boom was an illusion. It was composed of a bubble of housing assets and funny-money financial derivatives. And since current growth is creating a climate crisis, it is also environmentally unsustainable.

One of the key problems with GDP as a measure of national welfare is that it treats “bad goods (and services)” the same as “good goods.” If it costs $100 million to clean up a toxic waste dump but only $1 million to avoid it, the clean-up directly contributes 100 times as much to the GDP as the prevention, making the country “wealthier.”

In other words, waste and inefficiency can make GDP bigger but leave people worse off. For example, healthcare expenditures rose rapidly in recent years, but overall care and health outcomes did not keep pace. A single-payer system could have provided better health at lower cost, but the GDP would have been smaller in the short term.

Also, the GDP does not distinguish between the long-term significance of different types of economic activity. (That fact didn’t bother Michael J. Boskin, chairman of President George H. W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers, who said that “it doesn’t make any difference whether a country makes potato chips or computer chips.”) Likewise, the GDP does not recognize the loss of value when a dead-end job replaces one with more meaning. And it does not distinguish between egalitarian societies and those, like the United States, where the rich have recently captured most of the GDP growth.

 
It’s a serious issue because policymakers need something simple and easy to understand when writing legislation… and GDP is both, but wildly inaccurate. The fact that — and this is hypothetical, though I’ve heard it proposed — knocking down and rebuilding a foreclosed neighborhood has more GDP value than trying to help people adjust their mortgages so they can stay and improve the neighborhood is deeply troubling to me. The similar example above about pollution cleanup having more GDP value than preventing the pollution is a classic scenario among critics.

Fortunately, according to the article, some big politicians (e.g. French President Nicolas Sarkozy) are pushing for a change, and there are some big name economists (Amartya Sen and Joseph Stiglitz) out there drafting alternatives to Gross Domestic Product. There are already some ideas floating around that haven’t caught on, including the Index of Sustainable Welfare:

Ecological economists Herman Daly and John Cobb developed an Index of Sustainable Welfare, which expanded the GDP to include indicators such as income distribution, natural resource depletion, environmental damage and the values of leisure. Their index showed that “sustainable welfare” tracked the GDP fairly closely in the United States until the late 1960s, then was flat or declined through the late 1980s, even as GDP grew.

 
There’s also the oft-mentioned “Gross National Happiness” measurement in use in Bhutan, but it wouldn’t export well. In any case, it’s unsustainable to keep using GDP, so there needs to be something better put into place fast if we want to operate a good society.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Nigerian VP assumes control

The National Assembly finally formally declared Nigeria’s Vice President Goodluck Jonathan the acting president, earlier this week, resolving the constitutional crisis of who was running the OPEC member nation that represents over 15% of Africa’s entire population, in the somewhat mysterious absence of President Umaru Yar’adua. Most of the American media had ignored the fact that the president had been in Saudi Arabia for medical treatment with no defined plans to return SINCE NOVEMBER. Nigeria’s Senate finally agreed to promote VP Jonathan after a BBC interview with President Yar’adua was released a month ago, in which he sounded very weak and again gave no indication of an imminent return. President Yar’adua repeatedly refused to issue a statement regarding a transfer of power for over 70 days.

The United States rushed to welcome him as Acting President because of the growing threat of instability as the political crisis continued. The US relies on Nigerian oil more and more every year.

I’m still baffled as to how this happened and why it wasn’t made into a big deal, as it should have been. In addition to an attempted major terrorist attack by a Nigerian, the country has faced some serious violence and rebel attacks, while the president has been gone.

Also, for the human interest angle, check out this article [dead link] on the amazing luck Acting President Goodluck Jonathan has had his whole life. He’s a zoologist and a hydrobiologist, who was an environmental minister briefly and fortuitously became governor after being chosen as a lieutenant governor in his state under a corrupt governor who resigned; then he was unexpectedly chosen as running mate by the outgoing president orchestrating the 2007 PDP ticket that won, and now he’s suddenly President. And what a boss hat he wears.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Torture him or he won’t talk!

Oh, wait, never mind. Regarding the Christmas Day underwear bomber in civilian custody, “Official Says Terrorism Suspect Is Cooperating,” just like he was right after he was arrested.

As I said in a previous post, Republicans suddenly seem to think that civilian courts and regular interrogation for terrorists are somehow not good enough, even though we’ve been doing it that way effectively for decades. It’s absurd.

Glenn Greenwald shows just how absurd it really is:

To see how radical our establishment consensus in this area has become, just consider two facts. First, look at the Terrorism policies of what had previously been the most right-wing administration in America’s history: the Reagan administration. In this post yesterday, Larry Johnson does quite a good job of documenting how Terrorism by Islamic radicals had been a greater problem in the 1980s than it is now. There was the 1983 bombing of our Marine barracks in Lebanon, a 1982 and 1984 bombing of Jewish sites in Argentina, numerous plane hijackings, the blowing up of a Pan Am jet, the Achille Lauro seizure, and what the State Department called “a host of spectacular, publicity-grabbing events that ultimately ended in coldblooded murder” (many masterminded by Abu Nidal).

Despite that, read the official policy of the Reagan Administration when it came to treating Terrorists, as articulated by the top Reagan State Department official in charge of Terrorism policies, L. Paul Bremer, in a speech he entitled “Counter-Terrorism: Strategies and Tactics:”

Another important measure we have developed in our overall strategy is applying the rule of law to terrorists. Terrorists are criminals. They commit criminal actions like murder, kidnapping, and arson, and countries have laws to punish criminals. So a major element of our strategy has been to delegitimize terrorists, to get society to see them for what they are — criminals — and to use democracy’s most potent tool, the rule of law against them.

 
It was also Ronald Reagan who signed the Convention Against Torture in 1988 — after many years of countless, horrific Terrorist attacks — which not only declared that there are “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever” justifying torture, but also required all signatory countries to “ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law” and — and Reagan put it — “either to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution.” And, of course, even George W. Bush — at the height of 9/11-induced Terrorism hysteria — charged attempted shoe bomber Richard Reid with actual crimes and processed him through our civilian courts.

How much clearer evidence can there be of how warped and extremist we’ve become on these matters? The express policies of the right-wing Ronald Reagan — “applying the rule of law to terrorists”; delegitimizing Terrorists by treating them as “criminals”; and compelling the criminal prosecution of those who authorize torture — are now considered on the Leftist fringe. Merely advocating what Reagan explicitly adopted as his policy — “to use democracy’s most potent tool, the rule of law against” Terrorists — is now the exclusive province of civil liberties extremists.

And there you have it, folks, Ronald Reagan was a radical leftist president endangering Americans, according to the Republicans in Washington.

This post was originally published on Starboard Broadside.

Heavy fighting in Yemen

Just days after President Obama said he had “no intention of sending U.S. boots on the ground” in Yemen or Somalia, US-supported and armed Saudi and Yemeni forces began heavily “cleansing” Yemeni villages of rebel forces.

Side note, added 11:57 PM US ET: I think cleansing is a surprising choice of words, especially since this is a Shia group with ethnotribal elements. So is Saudi Arabia admitting to ethnic cleansing? (Assuming this has been translated correctly.)

Two rebellions in rural, mountainous regions have grown in strength this year and pushed the Yemeni government’s attention away from terrorism and back to the rebellions, just when the United States expects the former to be a priority. Saudi Arabia, feeling threatened both by cross-border rebel attacks and by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (which has flourished in rebel-protected safe havens), launched a military offensive into Yemen in early November 2009.

Oddly, Yemen is still saying that they will not allow foreign troops into Yemen, despite the presence of Saudi Arabian troops right near Yemeni operations. The US has been sending arms and money to the Army, as well, and conducted missile strikes in mid-December on alleged al Qaeda sites. Yemen receives military training from US special forces advisers and the CIA is active in various covert or semi-cover operations there. Even before the Christmas Day bombing attempt was linked to Yemen, drawing renewed attention to the problem of terrorism there, Yemen had been (fairly successfully, if questionably) trying to cast the struggle against the rebels as part of the global war on terrorism, in an effort to secure funding.

Houthi rebels allege that the Yemeni Army has been bulldozing village houses to force rebels out. The central government of Yemen, which prematurely declared the war over in 2008, is insisting that they will wipe out the rebels once and for all.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Somehow not good enough

I still don’t understand why Republicans suddenly think that civilian court is not good enough for alleged terrorists, even though President Bush himself did that in quite a few cases and we’ve been prosecuting terrorists that way for decades now. What is especially preposterous here is that the Nigerian trust-fund terrorist case (Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab) is nearly identical to Richard Reid’s case with the December 2001 shoe-bombing, as Jon Stewart pointed out the other day. Both attempted bombings used the same kind of explosives, both made their attempts on transatlantic flights, both weren’t Arabs (or any other typically profiled race or nationality), both were stopped by passengers and subdued, and both attempts failed completely. The only difference was that Reid put the explosives in his shoe, and Abdulmutallab put them in his underwear.

Reid was convicted in US Federal Court and he’ll be in jail for quite a while. Problem solved, by the Bush Administration no less. And yet, the Republicans keep carrying on and on about how Abdulmutallab, in a virtually identical case, doesn’t deserve due process and civilian court and how we should have tortured him. He faces life in prison from his civilian indictment on six serious counts by a federal jury, but that’s somehow not good enough for Republicans.

Here’s the Republican version of reality, 2009/2010 Edition:

“We have learned the hard way that trying terrorists in federal court comes at a high price, from losing out on potentially lifesaving intelligence to compromising our sources and methods,” [Senator] Bond said. “We must treat these terrorists as what they are — not common criminals, but enemy combatants in a war.”
[…]
That theme was also amplified on Wednesday by Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina who said in a statement, “If it had been bin Laden himself on that plane, would we read him his Miranda rights and try him in civilian court?”

 
Which is to say, their reality demonstrably doesn’t match anyone else’s reality:

But several administration officials said on Wednesday that the Federal Bureau of Investigation did not initially read Mr. Abdulmutallab his Miranda rights nor provide him with a lawyer when agents interrogated him.

Law enforcement officials had concluded that because they had a planeload of eyewitnesses who could testify against Mr. Abdulmutallab, they did not need to worry about the fact that if he made any self-incriminating statements before being read his rights, they would not be admissible in court.

The White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs, has said Mr. Abdulmutallab provided “useable, actionable intelligence,” but declined to specify what it was. A law enforcement official said Mr. Abdulmutallab explained who gave him the bomb, where he received it and where he was trained to use it, among other things.

Eventually, Mr. Abdulmutallab stopped talking and asked for a lawyer, which he received about 30 hours after his arrest. It was not clear when in that timeline that the F.B.I. read him his Miranda rights.

 
The civilian court system that worked perfectly in very similar cases is somehow not good enough anymore. I wonder if it’s too soon to ask obnoxiously why Republicans hate our freedoms and the founding fathers… because that’s what they’ve been doing for several years now for us.

This post was originally published on Starboard Broadside.

Party-switching has consequences

U.S. Rep. Parker Griffith (R-AL-05), who switched parties two weeks ago after serving just under a year as a conservative Democrat in the House, is facing consequences. His consultants immediately bailed, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has asked for their $1 million back from the 2008 cycle, and today almost all of his Congressional staff resigned in protest, just in time for a the 2010 session of Congress to begin.

Oh and Republican activists don’t like him and plan to do anything to keep him from surviving the primary this year. Smart decision there, Congressman.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.