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The U.S. Base on Diego Garcia: An Overlooked Atrocity
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Blog, Commentary and Articles - Foreign Policy, Military and War
Written by Sheldon Richman   
Wednesday, 05 June 2013
The U.S. Base on Diego Garcia: An Overlooked Atrocity
by Sheldon Richman
 
The largest criminal organizations in the world are governments. The bigger they are, the more capable of perpetrating atrocities. Not only do they obtain great wealth through compulsion (taxation), they also have an ideological mystique that permits them uniquely to get away with murder, torture, and theft.
 
The U.S. government is no exception. This is demonstrated by, among many other things, the atomic bombings of noncombatants in Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World II. But let’s examine a lesser-known case, one we might know nothing about were it not for David Vine, who teaches anthropology at the American University. Vine has written a book, Island of Shame, and a follow-up article at the Huffington Post about the savage treatment of the people of Diego Garcia, part of the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean. Americans may know Diego Garcia as a U.S. military base. It “helped launch the Afghan and Iraq wars and was part of the CIA’s secret ‘rendition’ program for captured terrorist suspects,” Vine writes.
 
What’s not widely known is that the island was once home to a couple of thousand people who were forcibly removed to make room for the U.S. military. The victims’ 40-year effort to return or to be compensated for their losses have been futile.
 
Great Britain claims the island. According to Vine, African slaves, indentured Indians, and their descendants had been living on the Chagos islands for about 200 years. “In 1965, after years of secret negotiations, Britain agreed to separate Chagos from colonial Mauritius (contravening UN decolonization rules) to create a new colony, the British Indian Ocean Territory. In a secret 1966 agreement, Britain gave U.S. officials base rights on Diego Garcia.”
 
But it did more than that. Britain “agreed to take those ‘administrative measures’ necessary to remove the nearly 2,000 Chagossians in exchange for $14 million in secret U.S. payments.”
 
The British kept their end of the bargain. In 1968, Britain began blocking the return of Chagossians who left to obtain medical treatment or to go on vacation, “marooning them often without family members and almost all their possessions,” Vine writes.
British officials soon began restricting food and medical supplies to Chagos. Anglo-American officials designed a public relations plan aimed at, as one British bureaucrat said, “maintaining the fiction” that Chagossians were migrant laborers rather than a people with roots in Chagos for five generations or more. Another British official called them “Tarzans” and “Man Fridays.”
Then, in 1971, the final order came down, reminiscent of a Russian czar expelling Jews from their village. “The U.S. Navy’s highest-ranking admiral, Elmo Zumwalt, issued … a three-word memo.… ‘Absolutely must go.’”
British agents, with the help of Navy Seabees, quickly rounded up the islanders’ pet dogs, gassing and burning them in sealed cargo sheds. They ordered … the remaining Chagossians onto overcrowded cargo ships. During the deportations, which took place in stages until May 1973, most Chagossians slept in the ship’s hold atop guano — bird crap. Prized horses stayed on deck. By the end of the five-day trip, vomit, urine, and excrement were everywhere. At least one woman miscarried.
Arriving in Mauritius and the Seychelles, Chagossians were literally left on the docks. They were homeless, jobless, and had little money, and they received no resettlement assistance.
Remember, this was happening, not in the 18th or 19th century, but in the late 20th century. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the last of the expulsions.
 
The personal toll has been great. The Chagossians remain poor, and many suffer from illnesses traced to their dispossession. “Scores more Chagossians have reported deaths from sadness and sagren,” or “profound sorrow,” according to Vine.
 
Five years ago the Chagossians had some ray of hope when three British courts declared the deportations illegal. But the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom overruled the lower courts. “Last year,” Vine adds, “the European Court of Human Rights dismissed the Chagossians’ final appeal on procedural grounds.…”
 
“A day after the European court ruling, the Obama administration rejected the demands of an online petition signed by some 30,000 asking the White House to ‘redress wrongs against the Chagossians.’”
 
The British were adequately looking after the matter, the administration said.
 
Here is government in all its glory.
 
Sheldon Richman is vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Va. (www.fff.org).
 
Obama’s Willful Foreign-Policy Blindness
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Blog, Commentary and Articles - Foreign Policy, Military and War
Written by Sheldon Richman   
Thursday, 30 May 2013
Obama’s Willful Foreign-Policy Blindness
by Sheldon Richman
 
Republicans are upset about President Obama’s May 23 foreign-policy address, yet politics aside, it’s hard to say why. “We show this lack of resolve, talking about the war being over,” Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told Fox News Sunday.
 
But four days later in his Memorial Day remarks, Obama said, “Our nation is still at war.”
 
Why did the earlier speech set off Republicans? He acknowledged that terrorism can never be completely eliminated and that a risk-free society is impossible. He conceded that U.S. military action breeds enemies. He admitted that not every foreign violent organization is a threat to Americans. He even quoted James Madison: “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”
 
Indeed, Obama said some things that need saying, but will he do what needs doing? More precisely, will he stop doing what shouldn’t be done?
 
The speech provides no reason for optimism. For one thing, his premise is wrong: The U.S. government was on a perpetual war footing before the attacks of 9/11, intervening one way or another in many places. The “war on terror” has just been more visible.
 
Obama says he wants to understand the roots of terrorism, but he just repeats bromides.  “These threats don’t arise in a vacuum,” he said. “Most, though not all, of the terrorism we face is fueled by a common ideology — a belief by some extremists that Islam is in conflict with the United States and the West.”
 
But this implies the “extremist ideology” arose in a vacuum. Obama shows no understanding that Muslim violence has been a response to generations of Western and most recently American efforts to maintain hegemony in the Muslim world.  These efforts have consisted in direct overt and covert intervention, backing for brutal and corrupt dictators and monarchs, and enabling of Israel’s repression of the Palestinians. From Osama bin Laden on down, the perpetrators of anti-American violence have consistently said so.
 
Despite Obama’s acknowledgement of the dangers, to Americans and others, of perpetual U.S. warfare, one strains to find signs of change in the speech. He says “our response to terrorism can’t depend on military or law enforcement alone,” but he still envisions a large role for the military: He says the first order of business is to finish the work of defeating al Qaeda and its associated forces.” And, “Beyond the Afghan theater, we only target al Qaeda and its associated forces.” But “its associated forces” is a conveniently vague justification for continued U.S. militarism. It goes beyond Congress's 2001 authorization for military force.
 
While Obama promises only to narrow the use of drones and shift responsibility from the CIA to the Pentagon, we can’t be sure even this will happen – or matter. His “presidential policy guidance” is classified, and he reserves the authority to target alleged militants who pose a “continuing and imminent threat” when he decides that other alternatives are unavailable or are too risky. Yet his administration has drained the word “imminent” of meaning
 
“Before any strike is taken,” he added, “there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured — the highest standard we can set.” But he conceded that his administration has killed an undisclosed number of noncombatants. Independent sources say several hundred have been killed -- while entire villages live in terror of the next strike. This will not change.
 
Remember that administration targets are only accused of planning attacks. There is no due process, and an oversight board would not change that.
 
Obama defended his killing of American Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen on the grounds that al-Awlaki had helped plan attacks, but Obama offered no proof, and investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill says the first efforts to kill Awlaki preceded the terrorist plots he is allegedly linked to. And what about the separate drone killings of al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son and other Americans?
 
Obama also renewed his long-dormant call for closing Guantanamo -- but not before the mass hunger strike and force-feedings that the whole world is watching.
 
This all looks more like legacy preparation than real change in policy. Witness Syria and Iran.
 
So why are Republicans fussing? Obama said, “We cannot use force everywhere that a radical ideology takes root.”
 
For Republicans, that's un-American.
 
Sheldon Richman is vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Va. (www.fff.org).
 
Bangladeshi Workers Need Freed Markets
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Blog, Commentary and Articles - Economics and Financial Services
Written by Sheldon Richman   
Tuesday, 28 May 2013
Bangladeshi Workers Need Freed Markets
by Sheldon Richman
 
Since November, more than a thousand Bangladeshi garment workers have perished in two tragic factory calamities: a fire in Tazreen and a building collapse in Savar, outside the capital, Dhaka. Bangladesh is a major exporter of apparel to the West and “is set to become the world’s largest apparel exporter over the next few years,” the Economist reports. Wages are lower there than most places, including China, and a large percentage of the 4 million garment workers are women.
 
Are dangerous factories the price of progress? A passionate debate now rages over whether international safety standards should be enforced against manufacturers in the developing world and their Western retailers. Proponents of standards argue that the costs would be small and the benefits great. An Accord on Fire and Building Safety has been signed by major retailers in Europe and a few in North America, but the Huffington Post says that 14 other North American retailers have refused to endorse it.  “Some retailers, like Walmart, claim they are working on separate initiatives to improve conditions and workplace safety in Bangladesh,” the online publication states, but this claim has been met with skepticism.
 
Opponents of government regulation argue that artificially raising the costs of manufacturing in poor countries would harm intended beneficiaries by destroying jobs. If so, workers would face worse options, including life on the streets and prostitution.
 
Unfortunately, the debate is unnecessarily narrow. What needs discussing — and radical changing — is the country’s political-economic system, which benefits elites while keeping the mass of people down. The economists are correct that under the status quo, imposing safety standards would raise costs, cause unemployment, and aggravate poverty. But we can’t leave the matter there. We must go on to examine how the political-economic system constricts people’s employment opportunities, including self-employment, and otherwise stifles their efforts to improve their lives. Thus, a debate over whether garment factories should be subject to safety regulations, while the status quo goes largely undisturbed, misses the point.
 
According to a report (PDF) written for the Netherlands ministry of foreign affairs, most Bangladeshis, unsurprisingly, are victimized by a land system that has long benefited the rural and urban elites. “Land-grabbing of both rural and urban land by domestic actors is a problem in Bangladesh,” the report states.
 
Wealthy and influential people have encroached on public lands…, often with help of officials in land-administration and management departments. Among other examples, hundreds of housing companies in urban areas have started to demarcate their project area using pillars and signboard before receiving titles. They use local musclemen with guns and occupy local administrations, including the police. Most of the time, land owners feel obliged to sell their productive resources to the companies at a price inferior to market value. Civil servants within the government support these companies and receive some plot of land in exchange.
 
Women suffer most because of the patriarchy supported by the political system. “Women in Bangladesh rarely have equal property rights and rarely hold title to land,” the report notes. “Social and customary practices effectively exclude women from direct access to land.”
 
As a result,
 
Many of the rural poor in Bangladesh are landless, have only small plots of land, are depending on tenancy, or sharecropping. Moreover, tenure insecurity is high due to outdated and unfair laws and policies.... These growing rural inequalities and instability also generate migration to towns, increasing the rates of urban poverty.
 
Much as in Britain after the Enclosures, urban migration swells the ranks of workers, allowing employers to take advantage of them. Since Bangladesh does not have a free-market economy, starting a business is mired in regulatory red tape -- and worse, such as "intellectual property" law -- that benefit the elite while stifling the chance for poor individuals to find alternatives to factory work. (The owner of the Savar factory, Mohammed Sohel Rana, got rich in a system where, the Guardian writes, "politics and business are closely connected, corruption is rife, and the gap between rich and poor continues to grow.") Moreover, until the factory collapse, garment workers could not organize without employer permission.
 
Crony capitalism deprives Bangladeshis of property rights, freedom of exchange, and therefore work options. The people need neither the corporatist status quo nor Western condescension. They need radical land reform and freed markets.
 
Sheldon Richman is vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Va. (www.fff.org).
 
Abolish the IRS — and the Income Tax with It
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Blog, Commentary and Articles - Economics and Financial Services
Written by Sheldon Richman   
Monday, 20 May 2013
Abolish the IRS — and the Income Tax with It
by Sheldon Richman
 
The Internal Revenue Service has been caught engaging in political profiling while processing applications for tax-exempt status. In this case it was against organizations with “tea-party” or “patriot ” in their names and other right-wing groups. Next time it could be libertarian or left-wing antiwar and pro-civil-liberties groups. No dissenter can ever rest assured he is safe from the arbitrary power of the IRS.
 
Nothing will have been learned from this scandal if all that happens is the firing of some IRS administrators and the issuance of new guidelines on 501(c)(4) applications. That is not nearly enough.
 
Obviously, tax exemptions exist only because individuals and some organizations are subject to income and other forms of taxation. Congress levies a tax on incomes, then in its “wisdom” chooses to exempt certain activities but not others. This is social engineering, with Congress seeking to encourage some kinds of organizations — while not forgoing more revenue than necessary. The IRS then writes rules to carry out the directions of Congress.
 
Where possible, people will naturally strive to qualify for exemption by pushing the boundaries of the regulations. That incentive will always be strong because a nonprofit organization that is exempt from taxation will have more resources with which to pursue its mission. Since the language of statutes and regulations is inevitably vague, the IRS will have room to interpret when ruling on who qualifies and who doesn’t qualify for exemption. The line between vigilance and harassment is not bright, and the potential for abuse is great.
 
It should be apparent that this power, which is inherently arbitrary, ill suits a society that sees itself as free.
 
Take the current controversy. The IRS says that to qualify for 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status, a nonprofit organization must “be operated exclusively to promote social welfare.” To do that the “organization must operate primarily to further the common good and general welfare of the people of the community (such as by bringing about civic betterment and social improvements).”
 
What exactly constitutes the common good and general welfare of the people of the community, or civic betterment and social improvements? The IRS will let you know. What does “primarily” mean and how does it relate to the seemingly contradictory exclusivity requirement? This is subject to a “facts and circumstances” test — that is, the IRS will decide. Approved activities are generally regarded as educational, but how broadly or narrowly that term is interpreted is left to the IRS and, if challenged, to the courts. Lobbying for “legislation germane to the organization’s programs is a permissible means of attaining social welfare purposes.” However, direct or indirect participation in political campaigns is not regarded as promotion of social welfare — although an organization “may engage in some political activities, so long as that is not its primary activity. However, any expenditure it makes for political activities may be subject to tax.”
 
As this demonstrates, once government undertakes to tax income, it acquires even more power through its authority to define “income,” “taxable income,” subsidiary terms, and the rules of exemption. There is no escape from arbitrariness and caprice.
One might propose to remove the government’s arbitrary power by ending tax exemption. But that would make the tax burden worse. And besides, politicians aren’t likely to agree, because they would be giving up the power to dispense favors that manipulation of today’s tax code affords.
 
There’s a better way to go that’s demanded by liberty and justice. Since taxation is nothing less than the confiscation, under threat of force, of what belongs to productive individuals, it has no place in a free society. In other words, everyone should be exempt from income and other taxation. (Americans lived without income taxation for more than 125 years.) If something can’t be accomplished through consent, contract, and cooperation -- without aggressive force -- we should ask whether it is worth doing.
 
When the income tax was first proposed in America years ago, opponents always had the same word of warning: inquisitorial. How right they were.

Sheldon Richman is vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Va. (www.fff.org).
 
Christians Rebuke God
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Blog, Commentary and Articles - Religion and Spirituality
Written by Jacob G. Hornberger   
Thursday, 09 May 2013
Christians Rebuke God
by Jacob G. Hornberger
 
One of the primary justifications for the welfare state comes from Christians. They say that the welfare state demonstrates the willingness of the American people to fulfill God’s commandments with respect to human relationships.
 
The Ten Commandments include “Thou shalt honor thy mother and father.” In the New Testament, Christ tells us that the second-greatest commandment is “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” God exhorts people to show compassion and care toward their fellow man, especially those in need.
 
Social Security and Medicare, it is said, demonstrate the willingness of Americans to honor their parents and other elderly people with retirement pay and free health care. Medicaid, public housing, food stamps, and education grants show the care and compassion that Americans have toward the poor. The welfare state in general, many Christians hold, shows that Americans are a good, caring, compassionate people, people who are fulfilling God’s will.
 
Actually, however, it’s the exact opposite. In actuality, the welfare state constitutes a rebuke of God. Here, in a nutshell, is the message that Christian statists give to God with their embrace of the welfare state:
 
Lord, we understand how You want us to behave toward our fellow man, including our parents, the poor, and others in need. You want us to show compassion and care toward such people. You want us to lend a helpful hand to them.
 
But the problem, Lord, is that You made a big mistake when You vested mankind with free will. Don’t feel bad about that, Lord. Everybody makes mistakes.
 
When You gave people the great gift of free will, You obviously believed that people would use their freedom to choose rightly and correctly. Such has not turned out to be the case, however. If people were free to decide for themselves whether to honor their mother and father — to care for them in sickness or old age — the discomforting truth is that most of them would say no. The same goes for helping the poor and others in need. People are just too selfish, Lord. You should never have trusted them with so much freedom.
 
But don’t worry, Lord, because we have corrected Your mistake. We have constructed a system in which everyone is forced to participate, a system in which people are mandated to help the elderly, the poor, and others in need. It’s called the welfare state.
 
The beauty of our system, Lord, is that, unlike your way, individual choice is removed from the equation. If someone refuses to pay his income taxes or Social Security taxes, both of which fund the welfare state, he goes to jail.
 
In that way everyone is forced to participate. Under the welfare state, everyone has been made good, caring, and compassionate. We are pleased to tell You that we figured out a way to avoid the horrible consequences of Your gift of free will. God bless America!
 
But God’s way isn’t founded on force or compulsion but instead on freedom of choice and exercise of conscience. By vesting man with free will, God wanted people to have the right to reject their neighbor and even Him. He understands that the essence of free will entails, by necessity, the right to say no.
 
Thus, while God tells us what He expects of us with respect to compassion, care, and charity, He does not force us to obey. He leaves the choice up to us. His process is a natural one, one based on freedom of choice and voluntary action.
 
Do some people choose the wrong way under God’s system? Of course. But that’s what freedom of choice is all about. Interesting enough, however, it is through that process — making the wrong choice and then grappling with one’s conscience — that people are often led in the correct direction, but without the application of any force.
 
Thus, the welfare state, with its system of coercion and compulsion, constitutes a denigration of God’s way. By denying people freedom of choice with respect to care, compassion, and charity toward others, the welfare state actually serves to mock God and His natural system of free will, voluntary choice, and exercise of conscience.
 
Jacob Hornberger is president of the Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Virginia (www.fff.org).
 
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