Dec 052008

A few days ago I wrote a piece about Sears and their holiday wish lists for United States military personnel and feedback has been poring in ever since. I knew I’d get feedback on the post, but was a bit surprised at the angle several of the responses took. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

The Sears Heroes at Home Wish Registry is a program Sears is heavily promoting that appears at first glance to be a way for those on the homefront to support soldiers overseas by helping them purchase much needed items for the holidays.  You know, things like kids’ coats, dresses for little girls, boys’ pants, Nintendo Wii’s, booster seats for baby and flat screen televisions.  Yes, you read that right:  Nintendo Wii and flat screen TV both made the top 100 list of items that U.S. servicemen need this Christmas.

So are you starting to see why I might have a problem with this program aside from my general distaste for the government stealing my money in order to oppress innocent people abroad?  I further took Sears to task over the fact that they aren’t putting their own money into the program, and aren’t even helping supply these so-called necessities.  They’re just offering to collect your money, turn it into Sears Gift Cards (which can obviously only be used at Sears), and hand it over to a select group of soldier’s families.  They didn’t even go to the trouble of setting up a charity to do so which means that your so-called donation isn’t even tax-deductible.

Back to the responses…

I expected much more of the “why do you hate the troops” and “you’re a communist idiot” type of feedback than I received.  In fact, a majority of it (by a narrow margin, but still a majority) was positive.  And I’m not just talking about from my anarchist and freedom-loving brethren.  No, even from much more traditional corners. As I wrote yesterday, I can still be a fan of Sears and be wholly against this program.  Just as I can still support the soldiers as people and detest what they’ve chosen to do for a living.  I would like nothing more than to have all of the U.S. military personnel home safe for the holidays.  I think the Iraqis and Afghanis would probably appreciate that as well. Then everyone could have a happy holidays and Sears would have quite a few more customers as well 😉


Dec 012008

Apparently, Sears thinks the government isn’t sending enough of our money to the soldiers and they’re ready to do something about it with their Sears Heroes at Home Wish Registry.  Make sure you read that title correctly.  Sears isn’t offering to send the soldiers more money.  No, they’re asking that you send more of your money to soldiers and their families in the form of Sears gift cards.  And they’re making it easy by setting up a web page (linked above) for just that purpose.

At first glance it may seem that Sears will be providing holiday gifts to needy military families.  But nothing on the site actually says this.  All it says is that donations are not tax deductible (which means they aren’t charitable donations of any kind under law) and that the funds will be used to purchase Sears gift cards to distribute to all “registered families”. It then provides a box into which you can enter the dollar amount you’re willing to give to Sears in order for it to be passed on to “registered families”.  I could not find anywhere to register to become one of these families, so have no idea what the criteria is, but there are even more problems with this Heroes At Home program.

There’s also a list of the Top 100 items that “military families told us they really need this holiday season”.  Number 13 is a Nintendo Wii, #16 – an ATV, #24 – Nintendo DS,  #31 – Giant Four Story Dollhouse, #42 – Sony PSP, #68 – Flat Screen TV,  #93 Video Camera, and #100 Automatic Pet Feeder.  Sorry, Sears, but no one (military or not) “really needs” a single one of those items.

Besides, as I always say when confronted with these “Support Our Troops” so-called charitable events: 1) they aren’t my troops, and 2) I’m already supporting them – my taxes are forcibly taken to pay their salaries.  If these families can’t afford to buy the stuff they want for the hoidays they should find themselves another job that pays what they think they deserve.

If Sears wants to supply selected military families with gift cards no one is stopping them, but I find it somewhat sickening that you’re asking others to do what you’re not willing to and profiteering off it in the mean time by forcing the recipients to shop at your stores. That’s not charity, it’s advertising.


Nov 122007
Part of the Anarchy Case Studies Series - Previous in series         Next in series

Wow, it’s been almost a month since I added to the Case Study of Somalia. I apologize for the delay. I’ve been slowly working my way through Michael van Notten’s The Law of the Somalis: A Stable Foundation for Economic Development in the Horn of Africa. Van Notten was born in the Netherlands and received his Law degree from Leiden University. He married into the Samaron clan of Somalia in 1990 and, as a Western educated member of a Somali clan, shares his amazing insights into the structure of laws and customs that allows the Somali people to survive without government. This is not a book of anarchist theory. Rather it is a text on the reality of a functioning anarchist “state”.

According to van Notten, the Somali law system (or Xeer) consists of seven building blocks-

  1. Six major principles
  2. Rules of conduct in society
  3. Organizations that adjudicate and enforce the rules
  4. Procedural rules
  5. Rules of insurance
  6. Verdicts of the law courts
  7. Doctrines developed by learned men

In this post I’m just going to deal with the Six Major Principles of Somali law. I will address the other six building blocks in part 3 of this case study.

Six Major Principles of Somali Law (dulaxaan) –

  1. The law is separate from politics and religion
  2. The law has a built-in method for its development
  3. There is a plurality of jurisdictions and norms
  4. Government personnel must abide by the law
  5. The law originates in the reason and conscience of the community
  6. Judges are specialists, each with his own method of analyzing the law

1. The law is separate from politics and religion-

“One can change ones religion; one cannot change the law”

“Between religion and tradition, choose tradition.”

-Somali proverbs

Somali politicians and religious leaders not only have no role in the creation of laws, but have no say in establishing courts, and may not participate in the legal system. There are no exceptions to this rule when it comes to politicians, but religious leaders can serve two limited purposes-

  1. family matters (those relating to marriage and inheritance) are often settledusing Koranic law, and
  2. When a judge is having difficulty determining the extent of a victims injuries he may ask a religious leader to investigate and testify as to the extent of the injuries. Even in these cases, the religious leader is more of an “expert witness” then anything else. All decisions are still reserved exclusively to the judge.

Even when asked to say a few words at the opening of a court session, religious dignitaries will not comment on the ‘crime’ itself, but rather speak about about the need to settle the dispute in order to maintain order within the community.

2. The law has a built-in method for its development

Since Soamali law originates not with judges or politicians, but with the people themselves, it is a set of broad principles applicable to any type of conflict and judges will never say that the law is silent or unclear on a specific issue. The Somalis acknowledge that people constantly innovate so precise rules cannot exist for human situations. As a result, the law develops along with the nations values and judges are always able to assess whether conduct is lawful or not and the law is always adapting.

3. There is a plurality of jurisdictions and norms

Just as the United States has Federal, State , County and Local laws, Somalia has a plurality of jurisdictions full of various rules – households, businesses, towns, even recreational associations all have their own sets of rules. This is all essentially contract law in that the rules only apply to that specific geographical region or social construct which all members are free to vacate if they don’t feel they can follow the specific rules required of them. Rules violations may be resolved by the head of household, in in-house judge or arbiter, or by any means determined within the contract itself.

When rules become common or widespread enough, they eventually gain recognition as laws. Typically, these are transgressions that are timeless in nature, such as the more “serious” crimes of murder, rape and robbery. These are universal “wrongs” and easily seen as such. Somalia has innumerable independent courts of law that recognize and adjudicate these laws. When varying courts disagree in their opinions of what the law is, these differences will be ironed out over time as the society as a whole makes a determination as to which ruling was “more” correct. This occurs as judges are chosen by the relevant parties in each dispute, meaning that judges known to have made rulings that go against current social norms will not be called upon to give further rulings.

On top of all these various jurisdictions, most Somalis are Muslim, so generally agree that matters regarding marriage, divorce and inheritance should have Koranic law applied. Generally the customary law takes precedence over Koranic law even in these instances unless a particular religious rule would settle the matter more expediently and to the community’s satisfaction. Finally, Somalis are completely free to settle disputes without conferring with a judge at all. Such a deal, however, cannot create a precedent under Somali law.

4. Government personnel must abide by the law

Somali judges have no more power or standing than any other clansmen. In fact, a judge who violates the law suffers heavier fines and penalties than a non-judge would in the same situation. This is because judges are expected to have a deep and unfailing respect for the law and be exemplary in their behavior.

5. The law originates in the reason and conscience of the community

Following the above logic, Somali judges are not believed to have superior intellect or wisdom, therefore they do not create law themselves. Rather they settle disputes by applying the rules of behavior that the general populace already observe. In other words, the law is not judicial, religious, or political, but that it originates in the actions of the people themselves.

Whenever a verdict is rendered the people of the community discuss it at length. Should they determine that the ruling was out of line with the society’s norms they will mention this to the judge himself. Should the judge continue to disagree with the people they will lose faith in him and he will no longer be called upon to render judgements on any issue.

Somali law has little in common with the laws of its nearest neighbors and even less in common with law systems anywhere else in the world. Additionally, legal terminology from other languages and cultures is almost entirely absent. These facts, combined with the lack of any research indicating the system was adopted means that it is safe to conclude that it is wholly a matter of Somali origin.

6. Judges are specialists, each with his own method of analyzing the law

There is no such thing as a Somali law school. Still, judges are specialists, albeit self-educated ones. They learn by attending court sessions and listening to the people analyze decisions. When they are ready to, people in conflict will come to them seeking judgement. Typicall, therefore, judges are already the head of their extended family, for it is always the wisest of people that are sought out in such cases.

That concludes the Six Major Principles of Somali Law. This is a rather complex book and I’m doing my best to distill the information from its scholarly writing into something more accessible to the “average reader”. Questions are not only welcome, but encouraged! I promise to have part three up in much less than a month’s time!

Part of the Anarchy Case Studies Series - Previous in series        Next in series
Aug 302007
Part of the Cool Books Series - Previous in series         Next in series

Major General Smedley Butler was, at the time of his death in 1940, the most decorated Marine in U.S. history. In 1934 Butler testified before the Congressional McCormack-Dickstein Committee, claiming that the American Liberty League was the primary means of funding a plot to overthrow FDR. The main backers were supposedly the Du Pont family, as well as leaders of U.S. Steel, General Motors, Standard Oil, Chase National Bank, and the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. A July 2007 BBC documentary claims Prescott Bush, father and grandfather to the 41st and 43rd US Presidents respectively, was also connected to the plot. Is it any wonder then, that the current President Bush has done so much to further the military-industrial complex?But General Butler was better known at the time for his anti-interventionist book, War Is a Racket: The Anti-War Classic by America’s Most Decorated General, Two Other Anti=Interventionist Tracts, and Photographs from the Horror of It.

I just recently came across a speech General Butler gave in 1933 in which he said, in part-

War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses.

I believe in adequate defense at the coastline and nothing else. If a nation comes over here to fight, then we’ll fight. The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6 percent over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100 percent. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag.

I wouldn’t go to war again as I have done to protect some lousy investment of the bankers. There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket.

There isn’t a trick in the racketeering bag that the military gang is blind to. It has its “finger men” to point out enemies, its “muscle men” to destroy enemies, its “brain men” to plan war preparations, and a “Big Boss” Super-Nationalistic-Capitalism.

It may seem odd for me, a military man to adopt such a comparison. Truthfulness compels me to. I spent thirty- three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle- man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.

While the sentiment is not exactly startling to me today, the fact that even military men have been openly declaring such thoughts for more than 35 years now came as a bit of a shock. How is it that I am constantly surprised at the lengths American’s will go to bury their heads in the sand. More than 200 years ago, another General, George Washington, warned against against political factions and foreign alliances in his farewell address. Less than 50 years ago, yet another General and outgoing President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, made the term “military-industrial” complex famous-

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

A few days ago none other than Rolling Stone came out with an article warning of the same thing-

Operation Iraqi Freedom, it turns out, was never a war against Saddam ­Hussein’s Iraq. It was an invasion of the federal budget, and no occupying force in history has ever been this efficient. George W. Bush’s war in the Mesopotamian desert was an experiment of sorts, a crude first take at his vision of a fully privatized American government. In Iraq the lines between essential government services and for-profit enterprises have been blurred to the point of absurdity — to the point where wounded soldiers have to pay retail prices for fresh underwear, where modern-day chattel are imported from the Third World at slave wages to peel the potatoes we once assigned to grunts in KP, where private companies are guaranteed huge profits no matter how badly they fuck things up.

Despite their poor use of the phrase “a fully privatized American government” (they later make some great points about the funds actually being taken from the lowly taxpayers) is there any chance that American’s will finally listen? I mean, this story was found within the same covers as such hard hitting expose’s as the members of Maroon 5’s heated battle over where their second album, It Won’t Be Soon Before Long, should fall in the sonic spectrum between polished R&B and the chaos of energetic rock and the compelling details of M.I.A.’s childhood crackhead neighbors. Even the most addled American has to take notice now, don’t they?

Part of the Cool Books Series - Previous in series        Next in series
Aug 212007

It’s fairly well-known now that the United States government essentially installed Sadam Hussein in Iraq and that they are responsible for delivering the vast majority of the armaments to both friends and enemies in the Middle East. Many peace activists, and other anti-war types, will be quick to state that the military, or other US government agencies, are still supplying the insurgents, Al-Qaeda and other “enemies of the state” in the area. But when the U.S. Government Accountability Office starts saying the same thing, perhaps people will start to listen. From The Cincinnati Post

The Defense Department has no clue about what happened to at least 190,000 guns – 110,000 AK47s and 80,000 pistols – that it gave Iraqi security forces in 2004 and 2005, according to a GAO report released Monday. And U.S. officials now concede that at least some of the missing weapons are now being used to kill American troops.

“One senior Pentagon official acknowledged that some of the weapons probably are being used against U.S. forces,” the Washington Post reported Monday. “He cited the Iraqi brigade created at Fallujah that quickly dissolved in September 2004 and turned its weapons against the Americans.”