Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Iraq Shiites Killed By Fear, Not Actual Terrorists

As reported by Bloomberg, this horrific incident happened in Baghdad today:
At least 640 Shiite Muslim pilgrims were killed in a stampede on a bridge spanning the Tigris River in north Baghdad today prompted by an attack by insurgents on a nearby mosque, Iraqi National Assembly adviser George Sada said.

"When people heard that the mosque had been attacked, they panicked and rushed toward the bridge to get out of the area,'' Sada said by telephone from the capital. "There were so many people on the bridge that many fell over its sides and drowned in the Tigris, others were crushed.The force of the crowd broke the bridge's barriers."

Other accounts said people in the crowd reacted to rumors of a suicide bomber among them. The victims were among 3 million pilgrims who massed in the Khadimiya neighborhood for an annual ceremony commemorating the death of Musa al-Khadhim, a revered Shiite Imam, Defense Minister Saadun al-Dulaimi said during a televised news conference from Baghdad at about 6 p.m. local time.
This brings into painful focus the awful reality that human animals, when striken by fear, are nothing more than mere cattle. The capacity for reasonable thought is far too often clouded by the red ink of mob mania, where each individual thought becomes group-think and every phobia is magnified a thousand-fold.

If a terrorist bomb doesn't destroy this world, I fear it is the hysteria and ensuing blind hatred that will.

Katrina Devastates Southern US

As I held my breath over the last 2 days, Katrina has only proven more devastating by the hour than previously considered. I am grateful that my family decided to evacuate New Orleans when they did. They could have been among the floating dead or the desperate survivors, finding against violent looters.

The LA Times detailed the situation on the ground:
The landscape between New Orleans and Alabama was transformed by wind and surf into stretches of churning floodplain. In New Orleans, two levees broke, leaving 80% of the city flooded.

Hundreds of stranded survivors atop roofs waved frantically to Coast Guard helicopters for salvation from rising waters. At least 3,000 people were rescued in New Orleans, where low-lying neighborhoods were swamped by threatening currents from Lake Pontchartrain, public safety officials said. An untold number of people were missing.

"We've got desperate people shooting in the air, using flares to identify themselves," said New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin. "It's a surreal situation, almost like a nightmare. I hope we wake up from it."

New Orleans reeled from miseries that mounted by the hour: A forlorn Nagin said police and National Guard patrols reported numerous bodies floating in flooded streets. Storm-whipped currents toppled the twin-span bridges over Lake Pontchartrain. An oil tanker ran aground near the city docks.The city's horizon darkened with black smoke from dozens of fires sparked by downed wires and erupting gas lines. Geysers of gas-fed flame burst out of the water. Houses burned but firefighters were unable to get through blocked roads and freeways.

Crowds broke into stores at will, even making raids on shops in the French Quarter, wheeling off stolen goods in shopping carts while overwhelmed police officials pleaded for public compliance with mandatory curfews. At least 50 people were arrested for looting.

Weakened to a tropical depression and tossing off tornadoes as it unraveled through Tennessee, Katrina left more than 4 million people without electricity, utility officials reported.

Analysts estimated storm damage could cost insurers more than $25 billion, the most catastrophic natural disaster in U.S. history. Uninsured losses could add $4 billion to $10 billion more, they said.

"At first light, the devastation is greater than our worst fears. It's just totally overwhelming," Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco said at a news conference. "We know many lives have been lost," she said, although she had no numbers of confirmed fatalities.

There was no need to guess about deaths in the Mississippi coastal towns of Biloxi and Gulfport and surrounding Harrison County. Katrina leveled a direct hit. Harrison County emergency officials confirmed that 100 people had died, at least 30 in the collapse of a Biloxi apartment house during the height of the storm.
The magnitude of this catastrophe has even forced Bush out of vacation day early. Though the government might provide its task forces and needed infrastructure, it is through generous citizens of this country that really provides monetary and relief aid.

There are many legitimate sites to make your online donation, but I highly recommend the UCC Disaster Response website for their excellent organization skills and quick response time. Regardless, whether you volunteer your time, suppliers or money, I hope we can all pull together as a nation even when their is no identifiable foe to rally against.

I also hope we as a country become more sensitive to other natural disasters elsewhere in the world with a renewed sense of empathy. Beyond the obvious long-term effects, I hope Hurricane Katrina's damage will provide an awakening of America's generosity and much-needed improvements of its core infrastructure.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Burma Gets A Taste Of Free Press

Burma, whose government ruthlessly censors its media and maintains over 1350 political prisoners, got a taste of free press on Monday. Now, millions of Burmese can tune into an independent television news station (Democratic Voice of Burma) run by Burmese exiles in far-way Norway. By broadcasting such a distance from Burma, Khin Maung Win and his team avoids the central government's harsh censorship. While the editorial team supervises in Oslo, television journalists risk arrest filming footage and smuggling their tapes out of Burma.

Burma (Karen Region)

Khin Maung Win is hopeful that their efforts will bring the oppressed populace what they need:
We are focused on information and education, such as the plight of Burmese migrant workers abroad, the HIV/Aids situation, the environment situation. This is all information all the people in Burma need. The government chooses the programmes that seem to be beneficial to them, but we will choose the programmes that are beneficial for the viewer and the people.
Khin Maung Win is unconcerned with the military attempting to disrupt the weekly 2-hour TV broadcast. He claims the generals will tune in, as they did to his previous radio station:
At the beginning they jammed our radio, but later on they became our regular audience, because they wanted to get real information, even about their own country.
They cannot rely on reports from their subordinates. So they have to listen to our radio to get real information, or to measure the feeling of the grassroot people. We believe that will happen with television also.
According to Reporters Without Borders, Burma ranks third worst on media freedom, behind North Korea and Cuba, respectively.

Hopefully, this effort will not only educate the masses, but wake them out of decades of lethargy and brutal oppression. Perhaps, this taste of free press will only whet the Burmese appetite for liberation.

US-Iraq War Debate Rages

Pro-war demonstrators rallied in Serra Mesa Wednesday to counter Cindy Sheehan's Camp Casey anti-war protest in Crawford. They are expected to wind their way down to Texas and confront the thousands-strong Sheehan anti-war movement. Already, the sparks are flying.

Cindy Sheehan, returning from her California hiatus back to Camp Casey, had this to say about the enormous growth of the movement since leaving:
And one good thing about Camp Casey and what we started here is that when I left: it didn’t end. When I left it thrived and it grew, and it’s because I am not alone. I am not the only one that wants the answers to these questions.

There is the people standing behind me here, but there’s thousands of military families, hundreds of Gold Star families who want the same answers to the questions. You know, and I never, ever got up here and said I speak for every single Gold Star family, I speak for every single military family; I’ve never said that. But I know I speak for thousands of them, I know we speak for thousands of them, and we want to know what is the noble cause our children died for, what is the noble cause they’re still fighting for and dying for every day.
In stark contrast, Gary Qualls has swallowed whole the Bush Administration's bait, and faithfully attacks Cindy's character:
This is not an immoral war. This is for what the Americans stand up for. And for what Cindy Sheehan believes in, she’s already said in public statements to the world, that this country’s not worth fighting and dying for. And yet she can’t be more totally wrong. She has totally disrespected all fallen heroes and all the soldiers that are fighting for a good cause. And yeah, she has not been able to decipher the difference between her wants and needs. We know what she wants, but does she truly know what this country needs?
Unbelievably, ABC News presented these statements as valid opposing views on a contentious issue. It is the clear there is no argument in Quall's diatribe. He doesn't justify the "immoral war" or clearly addresses how Sheehan's actions have "disprespected all fallen heroes and all the soldiers," but instead claims that by not supporting the war, one becomes unpatriotic.

His last vain attempt at rhetoric falls flat on its face: "does she truly know what this country needs?"

Does anyone? Certainly not Bush and Company.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Two Speeches, Two Wars, One Justification

After listening to President Bush's Iraq War speech yesterday in Idaho, I looked back at one of LBJ's Vietnam War speeches in 1967. There was some startling parallels! They clearly illustrate the similarity in how LBJ justified Vietnam and how Bush explains his war in Iraq.

First, excerpts from LBJ's address at Johns Hopkins University, 1965:
Viet-Nam is far away from this quiet campus. We have no territory there, nor do we seek any. The war is dirty and brutal and difficult. And some 400 young men, born into an America that is bursting with opportunity and promise, have ended their lives on Viet-Nam's steaming soil.

Why must we take this painful road? Why must this Nation hazard its ease, and its interest, and its power for the sake of a people so far away?

We fight because we must fight if we are to live in a world where every country can shape its own destiny. And only in such a world will our own freedom be finally secure. This kind of world will never be built by bombs or bullets. Yet the infirmities of man are such that force must often precede reason, and the waste of war, the works of peace.

We are also there to strengthen world order. Around the globe, from Berlin to Thailand, are people whose well-being rests, in part, on the belief that they can count on us if they are attacked. To leave Viet-Nam to its fate would shake the confidence of all these people in the value of an American commitment and in the value of America's word. The result would be increased unrest and instability, and even wider war.

We are also there because there are great stakes in the balance. Let no one think for a moment that retreat from Viet-Nam would bring an end to conflict. The battle would be renewed in one country and then another. The central lesson of our time is that the appetite of aggression is never satisfied. To withdraw from one battlefield means only to prepare for the next. We must say in southeast Asia--as we did in Europe--in the words of the Bible: "Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further."
Now, President Bush's speech at the Idaho Center yesterday (2005):
I made a decision -- America will not wait to be attacked again. Our doctrine is clear: We will confront emerging threats before they full materialize.

The stakes in Iraq could not be higher. The brutal violence in Iraq today is a clear sign of the terrorists' determination to stop democracy from taking root in the Middle East. They know that the success of a free Iraq, who can be a key ally in the war on terror and a symbol of success for others, will be a crushing blow to their strategy to dominate the region, and threaten America and the free world.

The battle lines in Iraq are now clearly drawn for the world to see, and there is no middle ground. Terrorists will emerge from Iraq one of two ways: emboldened or defeated. Every nation -- every free nation -- has a stake in the success of the Iraqi people. If the terrorists were to win in Iraq, the free world would be more vulnerable to attacks on innocent civilians. And that is why, for the sake of our children and our grandchildren, the terrorists will be defeated.

We will stay on the offense. We'll complete our work in Afghanistan and Iraq. An immediate withdrawal of our troops in Iraq, or the broader Middle East, as some have called for, would only embolden the terrorists and create a staging ground to launch more attacks against America and free nations. So long as I'm the President, we will stay, we will fight, and we will win the war on terror.
Uncanny, isn't it? Both speak in terms of absolute good and evil, claim war will lead to a greater peace, and both believe withdrawal will pull the world into deeper anarchy and ultimate defeat. Neither addresses real progress or action, both intended to bolster support and exude ideology rather than comfort the rational mind.

Perhaps there are more parallels between the Democratic LBJ and our current Republican president than either would be willing to admit. They both demonstrate flagging approval ratings and find themselves embroiled in a war neither wishes to admit as wrong.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Nuclear Issue With Iran

The large Western Powers (the US, Israel and EU specifically) have been debating back and forth methods to gauge and ultimately mitigate Iran's nuclear ambitions. There have been some rumors in the US that the Bush Administration is laying the groundwork for another "pre-emptive" strike and/or invasion, while the EU has been leaning more towards a diplomatic compromise based on political and economic stimuli. There is not only doubt of Iran's nuclear capabilities, but also ultimately of its intentions. Add a healthy amount of US and Iranian jingoism and this becomes a clear recipe for confrontational disaster.

If one is to take the Iranian argument on face value, Iran simply wishes to exercise its right, according Article IV of the the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty (NPT), "to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes." After all, freeing up the country's petroleum dependency will dramatically increase energy sector revenues. Iran has stated its claim to have 7,000 MW of nuclear power online by 2020, 10% of its total production. That kind of power cannot be achieved by petroleum alone and the EU knows it. Despite the EU's attempts to offer other nuclear technologies and enforce peaceful nuclear activities alone, Iran still insists on enriching uranium.

The US, of course, is not convinced that Iran is even interested in the peaceful application of nuclear energy. The nuclear watchdog group IAEA is slated to release its report, refuting the origin of bomb-grade unranium traces in Iran and claiming they came from contaminated centrifuges imported from Pakistan. Today, Sean McCormack made the claim that despite this new information, Iran still poses a serious nuclear threat:
[That was] one part of this overall set of questions that not just the United States has, but the rest of the world has about Iran's nuclear program.
McCormack went on to say the US has other "unresolved concerns outside of the issue of the contaminated centrifuges," including Iran's dealings with "clandestine nuclear procurement networks." The Bush Administration's lack of credibility aside, there is no clear indication whether Iran plans to develop nuclear weapons or is simply leaving the option open.

What is fairly obvious is the degree to which Iran is willing to protect its nuclear program. Kaveh Afrasiabi's opinion piece in the Asia Times attempts to explain this unhealthy obsession:
Certainly, the Iranian hardliners are aptly playing the nationalist card with the nuclear issue, with the new man in charge of nuclear negotiations with the EU-3, Ali Larijani, comparing it to Iran's struggle to nationalize its oil industry during the 1950s. This is, indeed, a tid-bit removed from Larijani's earlier discourse on theory of the Islamic revolution of 1979, aiming to make Iran into the "motherland" (umm-al ghara) of the abode of Islam, yet there is ample evidence of a "return to authenticity" zeal and crusade on the part of the new politicians in charge, playing up the themes of recognition and exaltation of the original ethos of the Islamic revolution.

The new "ethics of authenticity" in Iran is indisputably a modern phenomenon, directed to the subjectivity of the Iranian Muslim population, yearning for the acceptance of their nuclear rights by the world community. And if there has been hardening of the Iranian position on this issue recently, it is precisely because more and more, or to put it differently, deeper and deeper, the nuclear matter has been bound up with national identity. This is in light of its prestige-enhancing effect in empowering ordinary citizens with a new sense of pride - and the fact that Iran is only one of 10 countries in the world in possession of nuclear fuel technology.

"The world has to accept that Iran has joined the nuclear club," said Iran's Foreign Minister Kemal Kharrazi in New York last May, and other high officials of the Iranian government have similarly prided Iran for having turned into a "nuclear fuel technology holder". Indeed, a matter of pride not just for Iran but also for the whole Muslim World and the Third World, notwithstanding the growing North-South technology gap. It is where the ideology of progress meets nuclear populism.
A sobering thought, indeed! Another "us vs. them" dichotomy that may reduce the world's nations to a smaller subset of diplomatic tools. Does anyone feel safer in a nationalism-driven world?

"The rules of the Game have changed"

Apparently, according to Charles Clarke, if someone hurts your country, you are allowed to send someone who they might have been encouraged by to be tortured. Hmm.
After the attacks in London, which killed 52 people, "the rules of the game" changed, according to Mr Clarke.

Fomenting, justifying or glorifying terrorist violence
Seeking to provoke terrorist acts
Fomenting other serious criminal activity
Fostering hatred that might lead to inter-community violence

At-a-glance new measures
Deportations could spark legal battles
He ordered an immediate review of his powers to exclude and deport people, saying he wanted to ensure that any non-British citizen suspected of inciting terrorism was deported immediately.

Publishing the results of that review he said the first deportations could happen "very quickly - in the next few days".

"Individuals who seek to create fear, distrust and division in order to stir up terrorist activity will not be tolerated by the government or by our communities," said Mr Clarke

"By publishing the list today I make it absolutely clear that these are unacceptable behaviours and will be the grounds for deporting and excluding such individuals from the UK."

As part of a raft of measures to crack down on "preachers of intolerance and hatred", a new database will be drawn up of foreign-born radicals accused of encouraging acts of terrorism.

The problem with this is, other than that no civillised country should send someone where they may well be tortured, if we have a problem with these people- if we truly think they are encouraging terrorism, and can prove that they do, we should arrest them and try them. That is what a country that believes in the rule of law should DO. Just because some extremists want to ignore this, doesn't mean we should sink to their level.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Peace In Iraq, Not An Exit Strategy

Normon Solomon wrote an excellent article (Don't Give Bush An Exit Strategy) at yesterday pointing out the fallacy in the "exit strategy" prong of the peace movement. The danger of attacking the ends of the war (no victory in sight, etc.) rather than the means could lead to an US military escalation. Solomon summarizes the rational with the following:
A big ongoing factor is that George W. Bush and his top aides seem to believe in red-white-and-blue violence with a fervor akin to religiosity. For them, the Pentagon's capacity to destroy is some kind of sacrament. And even if more troops aren't readily available for duty in Iraq, huge supplies of aircraft and missiles are available to step up the killing from the air.

Back in the United States, while the growth of anti-war sentiment is apparent, much of the criticism - especially what's spotlighted in news media - is based on distress that American casualties are continuing without any semblance of victory. In effect, many commentators see the problem as a grievous failure to kill enough of the bad guys in Iraq and sufficiently intimidate the rest.

But some questions are based on assumptions that should be rejected - and "What is it going to take to win?" is one of them. In Iraq, the U.S. occupation force can't "win." More importantly, it has no legitimate right to try.
Amen. The entire reason the Bush administration is hanging by a thread due to its mismanagement of the Iraq War is because of the focus on results, on winning. Even when there are no spoils left to claim. True opposition to the Iraq War needs to challenge not just the reasons for war, but the fundamental tenant that this war should be won.

Rather than bickering on how the US ended up in Iraq and how to make the best of it, there needs to be a plan to leave, not based on winning, but based on losing the very rationale behind this war: to guarantee safety there and abroad. This war cannot and should not be won. Its outcome was determined the moment US forces attacked, and lost the moment after the insurgency began. Let it go.

Monday, August 22, 2005

US Warhawks Continue Sheehan Smear Campaign

Not surprisingly, the simplicity of a mother demanding government accountability for the death of her son (as represented by Cindy Sheehan) is anathema to the warhawks. This is especially true for the neo-conservatives who doctored Iraqi pre-war intelligence and bungled the ensuing occupation and inevitable insurgency. Even as the Sunnis are left out of the new draft Iraqi Constitution negotiated by the Kurds and radical Shiites, Mark Styn in the Chicago Sun-Times makes the effort to vilify Sheehan and all other like-minded activists for their patriotism:
[I]n the wreckage of Pat and Cindy Sheehan's marriage there is surely a lesson for the Democratic Party. As Cindy says, they're both Democrats, but she's "more liberal" and "more radicalized." There are a lot of less liberal and less radicalized Dems out there: They're soft-left-ish on health care and the environment and education and so forth; many have doubts about the war, but they love their country, they have family in the military, and they don't believe in dishonoring American soldiers to make a political point. The problem for the Democratic Party is that the Cindys are now the loudest voice: Michael Moore, Howard Dean,, and Air America, the flailing liberal radio network distracting attention from its own financial scandals by flying down its afternoon host Randi Rhodes to do her show live from Camp Casey. The last time I heard Miss Rhodes she was urging soldiers called up for Iraq to refuse to go -- i.e., to desert.

On unwatched Sunday talk shows, you can still stumble across the occasional sane, responsible Dem. But, in the absence of any serious intellectual attempt to confront their long-term decline, all the energy on the left is with the fringe. The Democratic Party is a coalition of Pat Sheehans and Cindy Sheehans, and the noisier the Cindys get the more estranged the Pats are likely to feel.

Sorry about that, but, if Mrs. Sheehan can insist her son's corpse be the determining factor in American policy on Iraq, I don't see why her marriage can't be a metaphor for the state of the Democratic Party.
What Mr. Steyn fails to address in his column is the Republican Party's own set of loonies (American Taliban). Of course, it is easier to attack a grieving mother than the policy makers.

Questions Remain After Gaza Withdrawal

This important step in Middle Eastern peace was no easy task, both politically and socially. The process that was suspected to take months has taken a little less than a week. The incoherent bloodshed that was predicted by Israeli hardliners has failed to take place. The last of the 85,000 residents in the 21 Gaza settlements are leaving Netzarim. Though the 600 residents and unknown sympathizers held up for hours in a Netzarim synagogue under a life-size menorah, the 2,000 Israeli troops were able to evacuate and dismantle the settlement today.

Bulldozing Netzarim

As Israel nears the end of its Gaza Withdrawal plan, the world's attention turns to the West Bank. 2 of the 4 West Bank settlements have already withdrawn, but over 2,000 extremists (mostly non-residents) have set up base in the remaining two: Sanur and Homesh. Some 5,000 troops have been redeployed from Gaza to the West Bank in fear of greater resistance. This was confirmed yesterday when eight masked Jewish extremists attacked an army tractor near the settlement of Kedumim, slashing its tires and setting it on fire while a soldier was still in the vehicle. Just a day earlier, a 100 or more protestors attacked army bulldozers in Sanur as they attempted to level the evacuation staging area.

The mainstream media seems more concerned with the withdrawal process itself than the aftermath. The reason behind these drastic actions involve the future of the Palestinian state, but yet the focus is instead on Israel's unilateral withdrawal. Meanwhile, Palestinian Leader Mahmoud Abbas is still struggling against his own radical group Hamas in planning the future of Gaza. Though currently agreeing to a ceasefire during the evacuation, Hamas leaders have both taken credit for Israel's disengagement and vowed to continue armed resistance to reclaim all of Palestine. A spokesman for Hamas had this to say in Gaza City:
Gaza is not Palestine. As for Jerusalem and the West Bank, we will seek to liberate them by resistance just as the Gaza Strip was liberated.
These security concerns aside, many economic and property issues plague the Palestinian government. As Daoud Kuttab points out in his article at, Israel, Palestine and other countries like the US and Britain need to move beyond the unilateral actions of Ariel Sharon into a multilateral model of discussion and lasting peace. Despite the political expediency given to both Abbas and Sharon, a single nation alone cannot dictate the peace:
[T]he day after the completion of the Gaza withdrawal, Israelis and Palestinians will be confronted with important unresolved questions. There is no doubt that the evacuation of Jewish settlers in areas that Israelis consider part of their God-given territory represents a huge ideological reversal. But after years of preaching and practicing one of Zionism's main tenets, will the removal of settlements continue in the West Bank, or will this be a one-time exception?

Palestinians, for their part, will be expected to answer questions - in deeds, not just in words - about their ability to build a modern pluralistic state. How will the Palestinian body politic deal with the growing power of the Islamic movements that undoubtedly will expect a significant share of power in post-withdrawal Gaza?

The international community also will have to answer some key questions. According to the Palestinian Economic Council for Reconstruction and Development, annual per capita income in Gaza continues to average roughly $700, while Israelis enjoy incomes averaging a $16,000 per capita. In the absence of relatively well-paying jobs, what will happen to the lines of unemployed Gazans? The potential flight of employment seekers - a formidable force worldwide - is only one problem. More immediately, if Gazan families are not well fed, the recurrence of cross-border violence, if not the eruption of a third intifada, will only be a matter of time.

While the economic situation in Gaza is a critical issue, the future of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will be determined mainly by the next steps in the peace process. Permanent-status issues concerning borders, the West Bank, Jerusalem, and refugees must be dealt with bilaterally. Any serious observer of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will no doubt acknowledge that there can be no unilateral solution to these issues.

I can only hope the US has learned its lesson in Iraq: freedom and democracy cannot be brought by unilateral force and occupation. Only through multilateral negotiation and compromise can any lasting peace exist between Israel and Palestine.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Someone should be fired

As you may well have heard, an innocent man, Jean Charles de Menzes was shot dead by the police a few weeks back now. Initial reports seem to completely contradict what apparently actually happened. Despite this, despite an innocent man having been shot, and the police seeming to have been lying to us, John Prescott has this to say:

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott told BBC News Sir Ian had his support.

When asked if the police commissioner had his "full and unqualified confidence", Mr Prescott replied: "Yes".

I hate that. Unqualified support is never a good thing. It may well be that Sir Ian Blair was always being honest with us, and had nothing to do with the blurring of the facts seemingly attempted, but that is for an inquiry to find out. The fact is, something has gone horribly wrong with the police's "shoot to kill" policy, and it must be someones fault. I cannot see the public's confidence, indeed my confidence, restored without a full inquiry, and someone losing their job. Preferably several people. It is the tendency of organisations like the police to, when there is a mistake, shroud themselves in secrecy and pass blame, and it is no wonder that people do not trust them. If the police want us to cooperate with them, they must be open about their mistakes, and someone must bear the blame for them.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Good news! Now the cops will always know what's on your mind!

Bill would let police monitor your e-mail

Judge's permission would not be needed 

Tim Naumetz

CanWest News Service
Friday, August 19, 2005

OTTAWA - The federal cabinet will review new legislation this fall that would give police and security agencies vast powers to begin surveillance of the Internet without court authority.

The new measures would allow law-enforcement agents to intercept personal e-mails, text messages and possibly even password-secure websites used for purchasing and financial transactions.


I think - just maybe - we should put a stop to this crap! Don't you?

Friday, August 19, 2005

Mo Mowlam passes away

Hi, I'm going to be posting here, mostly about UK politics. Thanks a lot to the prisoner for inviting me.

Mo Mowlam, an ex-cabinet minister in Tony Blair's cabinet sadly passed away this morning. She has been fighting health problems for a long time. One of Blair's most independent cabinet members, as is mentioned in the article, she helped contribute to the current improvement of the situation in Northern Ireland (I can only hope that, with the current stale mate, things improve, and don't degrade), she was also a critic of the government's policy on Iraq.

With Robin Cook, this makes two ex-cabinet ministers who strongly opposed the government's war on Iraq who have passed away recently. While I am not about to suggest that this was in any way the government's doing, it is an unpleasent coincidence.

Ecuador Shuts Down Oil Production

Ecuador in RevoltEcuador has declared a state of emergency after recent protests have dropped oil production by 65% and forced Defence Minister Solon Espinosa to resign. Since last Sunday, the protesters are demanding higher wages, more jobs for locals, and the construction of schools, roads and health clinics. They also want the immediate exit from the country of EnCana and Occidental, and the expulsion of Petrobras of Brazil from the Yasuni National Park.

The military has been called in to restore order and claimed they had secured the eastern provinces of Orellana and Sucumbi­os, which produce three-quarters of state oil production and about half of private oil production. The constant back-and-forth between the rich Spanish aristocracy and the indigenous population has exploded into the streets, bringing into sharp focus the foreign benefactors of the oil empire in Ecuador and its poverty-stricken local population. Revolution is spreading quickly.

Meanwhile, US crude oil rose $1.63 to $64.90 a barrel due to this news and the recent Jordanian attack today.

Al Queda Attacks US Ship in Jordan

Ripped straight from the BBCNews site:
Two rockets missed the USS Ashland, an American naval ship docked in the port. A Jordanian soldier died when one of the two missiles hit the dockside. The third missile landed near Eilat airport in neighbouring Israel, causing no injuries.

An internet statement, purportedly from a group which says it has links to al-Qaeda, said it was to blame. The statement, allegedly from the Abdullah al-Azzam Brigades, said the attacks were the group's first attack in Jordan and were aimed at both the US and Israel.

"The Zionists are a legitimate target and we warn the Americans, who are spreading their corruption throughout the world and who have stolen the wealth of the Muslim nation, to expect even more attacks," it said.
USS Ashland in Jordan

The world has riled the hornet's nest. I surely hope the next headline won't involve a dirty bomb.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Republicans Before Iraq War

As often as the flip-flop charge has been lodged against Democrats, Republicans like all politicians have been just as guilty, especially when the President is a Democrat. Here are some quotes from prominent warhawk Republicans against the Bosnian War when Clinton was commander-in-chief:
"Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is."
-- Governor George W. Bush (R-TX)

"You can support the troops but not the president."
-- Rep Tom Delay (R-TX)

"Well, I just think it's a bad idea. What's going to happen is they're going to be over there for 10, 15, maybe 20 years."
-- Joe Scarborough (R-FL)

"Explain to the mothers and fathers of American servicemen that may come home in body bags why their son or daughter have to give up their life?"
-- Sean Hannity, Fox News, 4/6/99

"[The] President . . . is once again releasing American military might on a foreign country with an ill-defined objective and no exit strategy. He has yet to tell the Congress how much this operation will cost. And he has not informed our nation's armed forces about how long they will be away from home."
-- Sen. Rick Santorum (news, bio, voting record) (R-PA)

"I had doubts about the bombing campaign from the beginning . . I didn't think we had done enough in the diplomatic area."
-- Senator Trent Lott (R-MS)

"I cannot support a failed foreign policy. History teaches us that it is often easier to make war than peace. This administration is just learning that lesson right now. The President began this mission with very vague objectives and lots of unanswered questions. A month later, these questions are still unanswered. There are no clarified rules of engagement. There is no timetable. There is no legitimate definition of victory. There is no contingency plan for mission creep. There is no clear funding program. There is no agenda to bolster our over-extended military. There is no explanation defining what vital national interests are at stake. There was no strategic plan for war when the President started this thing, and there still is no plan today."
-- Rep Tom Delay (R-TX)
If only they said the same things now. The consistency and backbone isn't there.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Babies Banned From US Planes

It seems that now toddlers pose a threat to US national security. According to the AP (via BBC News), there are at least two reported cases where young children were among the supposed thousands of names on the US "no-fly" list. This again proves the adage that "zero tolerance" really means "zero intelligence."

Ingrid Sanden, after having her one-year-old daughter was stopped in Phoenix last November, told this to the AP:
I completely understand the war on terrorism, and I completely understand people wanting to be safe when they fly. But focusing the target a little bit is probably a better use of resources.
That is the sort of common sense the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other privacy advocacy organizations hope the US government will begin to adopt. It is one thing to create reasonable criteria for a "no-fly" list and quite another to simply add names out of ignorance or absence of tangible evidence. Hopefully, once Americans realize that the line the government walks between terrorist suspect and the average citizen is fuzzy at best, they will demand the return of their freedoms.

But until that day, fear will continue to overwhelm the larger role of personal liberty. Until the freedoms are lost to the government, people will continue to trade their privacy and integrity for safety and security. Of course, they will fail to blame themselves for letting them go. It was the terrorists' fault we lost freedom, right?!

Lend Your Voice to the village

All right. This is my 101st post on your village. Since I began my foray into the blogosphere back in March of 2005, I have satisfied my need to rant, inform and analyze current events in the global village. Sometimes, it was with subtle wit and intelligent sources. On other occasions, I was too judgmental. I was sometimes driving the news and other times distinctly behind the curve.

All in all, I've immensely loved it. But your village hasn't become what I wanted it to be: a blog from and about the world. Since I live in the US and the other contributors(leftyjones, hope for one) do as well, this blog both skews toward US issues and sometimes entirely ignores other concerns. I also have my front-burner issues and focus on them too much or too little if I believe there is something more newsworthy.

Your Village VoiceTo conclude, we need more voices. Especially those of you who live outside of the US. I need more diverse opinions, especially more libertarians, anarchists, traditional conservatives and intelligent liberals. I need your village to become your village. What we need are more individuals willing to cross political lines and speak from their own soapbox.

If you're interested, comment on this post. Include your email address and a link to some of your work, whether you have a personal blog of interest or contribute to another online source. I do want to review all entries, but it is just for quality not content. Diehard Democrats or Republicans being the exception. I have little tolerance for those who walk a party line just because it is their party.

Go ahead. Lend your voice to the village...

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Iraqi Constitutional Crisis

After a Sunday deadlock over key issues in the proposed draft of its constitution, Iraqi National Assembly leaders decided to push back their deadline to August 22nd. The key issues that provide the impasse include the following:
  • Federalism -

    Sunni Arab groups reject a separate Shia nation in the oil-rich south, though both Sunni and Shia groups support Kurdish autonomy in the north. Determining the amount of Kurdish autonomy is a major stumbling block with some groups supporting demarcated boundaries, revenue control and local defense forces, and other radicals pushing for complete Kurdish independence.

  • Islam -

    Delegates have agreed that Islam will be the official religion, but are at a crossroads as to the involvement of Muslim clerics and Islamic law in Iraqi legislation. The Shia United Iraqi Alliance (the majority party) believes all laws should be based on strict Islamic law (known as Sharia). This role is complicated by the differences in the interpretation of Sharia by Sunni and Shia Muslims. Sunni Muslims favor a strict interpretation of the Qur'an, whereas Shiites typically value the role of Muslim clerics and local customs as well.

  • Resources -

    Distribution of the world's largest oil reserves is another contention. The Kurds want to annex oil-rich areas around Kirkuk, while Shia Iraqis want a share of revenue from southern oilfields.

  • Women -

    Under Sharia law, females would become second-class citizens, being worth only half that of a man.
Meanwhile, the Bush administration has been trying to ignore the weight of these serious issues, having put so much political capital into the importance of deadlines. Last night, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice emphasized the constitutional process despite the increasing insurgency:
We have to remember that this is an enormously important document. And what you have here is a people who are trying to build a common future after decades of tyranny.

They didn't change the [constitutional] process. They didn't walk out of the process. They didn't try to go around the process. Instead they have remained committed to a process to bring this together for all Iraqis. And I think it's pretty impressive what they've achieved so far.
It seems clear that the Bush Administration has no alternative but to wait with apprehension the result of a forced invasion and increasingly bloody occupation. The hope that these failed means will reach some justifiable ends is all the US Administration has left. Without a plan towards an acheivable goal, it is a horrifying waiting game where behind one door lies a deep three-way civil war and the other, yet another radical Muslim regime in the Middle East. Many neo-conservatives pray for yet a third less obvious and possible goal: a peaceful, US-loving Iraq.

I only hope the Iraqis have more faith in themselves.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Aceh Peace and Gaza Withdrawal

Today, Indonesia and the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) signed a peace deal in Helsinki, ending 30 years of civil war in the Aceh province. Over 12,000 people have died in Aceh since 1976 due to the war and over 130,000 people are missing or dead since last year's tsunami.

Both sides had to give concessions to the other. GAM had to give up full Aceh independence and mold their differences into a viable political party. The Indonesian government had to release political prisoners and offer them farmland to help reintegrate into civilian life.

Meanwhile, in Israeli Gaza Strip, the withdrawal looms. As unarmed troops attempted to deliver eviction notices in Neve Dekalim, tearful Jewish settlers locked gates, formed human chains and burned tires to stop them. Over the next few weeks, Israel plans to evict and dismantle 21 settlements in Gaza and 4 in the West Bank, giving the land over to the Palestinian state for distribution.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz had this to say about the evictions today:
It's a painful and difficult day, but it's a historic day.
My thoughts and prayers are with these brave peoples, attempting to repair decades of violence and chaos. I've said it before and will continue to say it: peace is worth the sacrifice. Until opponents are able to come to a consensus, there will be nothing but senseless violence and needless murder in its place. We need more peacemakers.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Friday Silence

With all of the heavy news this week both in the US and across the world (Bush Refuses Mother's Pleas, Britain Aids Bin Laden, Kansas and Evolution, Iraq Causality Numbers, Hiroshima 60th Anniversary), I thought I might offer some silence and peace to a chaotic week. With my upcoming birthday this weekend, I feel very reflective as I did over three years ago when I wrote this:


Too – silent.

Jumping glows illuminate
   far-away windows

   Barred doors stand shut
      to stretched clouds on a blank sky

Wait; listen.

      Droplets tap in low cadence
   with distant shadows

   Wet leaves rustle
as creaking trunks heave and sigh

Pendulum – calm.

Echoes slump on a long cart
   pulled with even pace
   by a cloaked face
Whose muted lips finally part:

“This … is all.”

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Bush Refuses Mother's Pleas

Since this Saturday, Cindy Sheehan has been waiting outside of US President Bush's Crawford vacation home pleading to have her voice heard. Since then many other protestors have joined her vigil, demanding some time of the President away from his advisors. Cindy had this to say earlier in the week:
The president says he feels compassion for me, but the best way to show that compassion is by meeting with me and the other mothers and families who are here.

All we're asking is that he sacrifice an hour out of his five-week vacation to talk to us, before the next mother loses her son in Iraq.
Bush not only refused this plea, but again found it an occasion to pontificate on his resolve in sending more troops to the slaughter:
I sympathize with Mrs. Sheehan. She feels strongly about her position. She has every right in the world to say what she believes. This is America. She has a right to her position. And I've thought long and hard about her position. I've heard her position from others, which is, `Get out of Iraq now.

And it would be a mistake for the security of this country and the ability to lay the foundations for peace in the long run if we were to do so.
I think the only mistake Americans are waking up to is in re-electing George W. Bush. It is sad that it takes a grieving mother to make any kind of impression in the mainstream media. That it takes over 9,000 US deaths later for the US public to take notice. But these desperate times require desperate measures and the actions of those who have lost more than their pride. I salute you, Cindy Sheehan.

If you have a loved one currently in active service in Iraq, donate to or become a member of Gold Star Families For Peace. If you want to protest or help current Crawford protestors, check out the Crawford Peace House.

Britain Aids Bin Laden?

UK_flag_burningI have been pondering over the reactions to 7/7 in Britain with sadness and the recent proposed changes in British law with increased incredulity. How easily is the British government cowed by these terrorists into giving up the sworn liberties of its citizens!

Last Friday, with the introduction of the "Kill 'Em All" strategy in dealings with bomb suspects, the straw broke the camel's back. I could barely contain my response in the form of intelligible discourse. Today, the Guardian found some of the words I lost that day:
No one will be more pleased than Osama bin Laden with the new measures announced by Tony Blair. He will be even more pleased should the prime minister succeed in turning his plans into legislation. There are two reasons for Bin Laden's satisfaction at what doubtless looks to him like a historic victory.

First, he will believe he has succeeded in forcing Britain to abandon a number of hard-earned achievements in the fields of justice and liberty - achievements that took centuries of struggle and evolution to accomplish. Bin Laden will rejoice because he has forced society into forsaking these values. This, he believes, will leave the west open to eventual defeat at the hands of Muslims.

Both moderate and jihadist Islamist activists have long recognised the values of justice and liberty within western societies as the foundation of western dominance in the past few centuries. A dictum attributed to Ibn Taymiya, a renowned Muslim scholar born seven centuries ago, states that God will lend victory to a just nation even if it is infidel and bring defeat to the unjust even if it they are Muslim. When the west loses its values of justice, it will be defeated in the long run.

The second reason for Bin Laden's satisfaction is that his strategy is based on absolute polarisation. The world is to be split into two opposing camps: a bloc of Muslims with no infidels in their midst and one of infidels with no Muslims in their midst.

The measures advocated by Blair and the accompanying atmosphere of racial hatred might cause many Muslims living in "infidel" western nations to leave for good. The harsher the measures adopted by Britain and other western societies, the nearer we will get to fulfilling Bin Laden's strategic aim.

It is perhaps not surprising that Bin Laden was able to manipulate the cowboy element in the American political structures to his advantage, turning them into his own PR outfit, which influenced huge numbers of Muslims to become supporters of his group. What is surprising is that European, in particular British, political establishments should take up the American methods, enabling Bin Laden to score similar successes on the European front.
How many more freedoms must the world cede to the terrorists before people realize giving up these freedoms only strengthen Al Queda's cause? I am becoming more convinced that this great clash between terrorist fear and Western infidel fear will lead to the destruction of us all. The more posturing and hatred, the greater our mutual demise.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Kansas Weakens Evolution Curriculum

After months of debate, the Kansas Board of Education with a 6-4 vote on Tuesday approved a draft standard declaring evolution largely unproven and possibly damaging to religious dogma. The core aspects of evolution and the curricula that required it have been reduced, though there is no movement to force the teaching of creationism or intelligent design. The board is sending the drafted standard to a Denver-based education consultant before a final vote in September or October.

Evolution made to work with creationism.

First, let me admit I am not a scientist, only a failed biology major who loved genetics in high school but couldn't cut it in college. Second, I am a Christian, though far from being a conservative one. Third, I believe that science and religion can coexist without one having to trump the other. Ultimately, religion and science ask different questions: religion attempts to grapple with the grand question of "why" while science by using quantative observations is focused more on the "how." So that being said, I really do not understand why this debate is raging like it is.

I am not going to attempt to justify evolution as many others have done that work for me. The honest truth is that the very basis of evolution is evidenced in observation for me as it was for Charles Darwin as he traveled the world in the HMS Beagle. What he saw and all of us see everyday is a world in constant flux, changing and evolving from one state to another. Species become extinct, they mutate into new species and the fossil record provides links between these disparate species, emphasizing our common origin with the rest of the planet. Beyond this, evolution has provided a framework by which we have come to understand genetics, viral and bacterial diseases, platetectonics, archeology and countless other sciences. So, not only has evolutionary theory attempted to grapple with deep questions of origin, it is the basis for a working science that improves health and life in general. In other words, this theory has led to cures, better environmental awareness, space exploration, and other practical accomplishments outside the purely scientific world.

Creationism has attempted to place itself as an alternate theory. Creationists believe that the beginning of all things is documented in the book of Genesis and take the Torah literally. Some creationists do not believe in science of any kind and reject almost all common scientific theories including the geological history of Earth (claiming the Earth is only as old as humans are), the formation of the solar system (some even insist the Earth is center of it, not the Sun), and most importantly, the origin of life from non-life. Other creationists debunk these theories using quasi-science to justify their biblical history, seeming to believe that faith can be supported by science. These creationists are the hypocrites. They claim that science can prove their faith, but when it is convenient, they abandon science to fill some of the logical leaps with unobservable faith. My belief is that creationism attempts to reinforce religion in an increasingly secular scientific world. However many Christian scientists reject creationism for the same reason non-believers do: it is based upon faith, not science.

What is perhaps most troubling about creationism is its insistence on destroying evolutionary theory without any regard to providing a true scientific alternative. As a matter of fact, one wonders if Genesis was ever meant to be taken literally and if trusting on English translations of Hebrew won't skew variations on creationist theory. After all, recent biblical experts found the time-honored Number of the Beast is not 666, but 616. Could there not be other errors in the Torah? I believe that is the danger in making literal translations of a human-created book; there are bound to be mistakes, mistranslations. Faith should be bound up in the meaning behind the words, not the words themselves.

Then finally, there is Intelligent Design (ID). ID doesn't disagree with evolution at all, except on one minor point: natural selection. ID theorists believe that a higher being created life from non-life and directs the constant mutations, controlling the selection process. ID "scientists" typically use probability statistics to prove their point that there must be something out there controlling evolution, because the chances this all happened by chance and through random events is slim. They epitomize Einstein's observation that God does not "play dice." Many ID theorists believe in a God as the "prime mover" behind the universe, but others claim it is the work of alien beings. ID is fairly harmless, but as equally unfounded as creationism. As a Christian, I find ID an interesting belief system, combining the observable with the unobservable, but my beliefs aside, it has no place in science directly.

The major problem I have with creationism and ID is that they propose theories against evolutionary theory, but provide no working alternative. I cannot fathom coming up with a cure to cancer based on creationist theory or how ID would help scientists better piece together the fossil record. The reason is because they are not based on quantative observation and so thus have remained the same since their inception. Even evolutionary theory has altered over the years since its embrace, and will continue to evolve as new observations are documented. Nothing is left unchallenged in science as hypotheses are proven and disproven and theories are embraced and then later abandoned. Unlike organized religion, which is typically founded on absolute unprovable truths, science is a constant flux of ideas where logical proof and observation reign supreme. That is how it should be.

This is really a non-issue. If scientists need to abandon evolution, it will be disproven scientifically, not theologically. Science will never justify faith nor will faith ever have a place in science. That having been said, I wonder if perhaps some religious fanatics should observe more and judge less what they do not want to understand.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Pentagon Cooks Iraq Causality Numbers?

According to, there is reason to believe the US causality numbers in Iraq as reported by the government are much lower than the actual casualties:
We have received copies of manifests from the MATS that show far more bodies shipped into Dover AFP than are reported officially. The educated rumor is that the actual death toll is in excess of 7,000.

Given the officially acknowledged number of over 15,000 seriously wounded (and a published total of 25,000 wounded overall,), this elevated death toll is far more realistic than the current 1,800+ now being officially published. When our research is complete, and watertight, we will publish the results along with the sources In addition to the evident falsification of the death rolls, at least 5,500 American military personnel have deserted, most in Ireland but more have escaped to Canada and other European countries, none of whom are inclined to cooperate with vengeful American authorities. (See TBR News of 18 February for full coverage on the mass desertions)

This means that of the 158,000 U.S. military shipped to Iraq, 26,000 deserted, were killed or seriously wounded. The DoD lists currently being very quietly circulated indicate almost 9,000 dead, over 16,000 seriously wounded (This figure is now over 24,000 Ed) and a large number of suicides, forced hospitalization for ongoing drug usage and sales, murder of Iraqi civilians and fellow soldiers, rapes, courts martial and so on.
Wait... 9,000 deaths vs. the reported 1,800? What is going on?

More Iraqi casaulties than the government reports.The reason the Pentagon is able to get away with this numbers game is because they are only counting the US casualties on the ground. If a soldier is fatally wounded and then dies in another country or even in the helicopter from Baghdad, that causality is not counted officially. The reason for the cover-up suggests the unmanagability of the Iraq War overall. The war is taking a much heavier toll on US forces than what the Bush Administration wants to admit. Otherwise, the conclusion is painfully clear: the Iraq War is in chaos.

Of course these numbers are at least reported however "cooked" they may be. The Iraqi civilian death toll is at best only an estimate. Just since July 2004 through January 2005, the civilian casualties have been the following:
  • 3,274 people were killed and 12,657 injured in violence related to the war
  • 2,041 died as the result of military action (including insurgents, and Iraqi security forces)
  • 1,233 were killed after "terrorist" incidents
What all of these numbers suggest is a situation out-of-control. The insurgent effort to re-take Fallujah is simply further evidence that the US military presence, despite its successes, has not provided the sustaining order the Iraqi fledgling democracy needs. It could be perhaps suggested that the US Occupation has simply fanned the flames of insurgent violence and recruitment.

This brings into serious question Bush's "shooting gallery" strategy and how the Iraq War could possibly aid US foreign policy against terrorism.

UPDATE 8/12/2005: Ted Rall recently retracted his political cartoon based on the information. I still stand by my assessment though I admit the numbers might not be quite as accurate as I had previously believed.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Dead Soldier's Mom Waits For Bush

It seems with the falling poll numbers last month and an increasingly violent insurgency, the War in Iraq is now more of a thorn in Bush's side than a triumph of his War On Terror strategy. When he arrived home in Crawford, TX, protestor Cindy Sheehan was waiting for him:

Alex Ryabov, 22, of Brooklyn, N.Y., sits with a group of protestors who attempted to march to President Bush's ranch outside Crawford, Texas, on Saturday.The mother of an American soldier killed in Iraq, Sheehan, 48, of Vacaville, Calif., is camping near US president's ranch in Crawford, Texas. She's set up on a narrow strip of land between the hardtop of Prairie Chapel Road and a drainage ditch.

"I plan on staying here the entire month of August or until he comes out to talk to me," she says. Bush is spending five weeks at his ranch.

Spc. Casey Sheehan, 24, was killed in Baghdad on April 4, 2004, five days after he arrived in Iraq. An Eagle Scout who trained as a Humvee mechanic, he volunteered to help bring in soldiers wounded in an ambush. He died after his convoy came under attack.

Bush met with the Sheehan family and other families of fallen troops in June 2004 at Fort Lewis near Seattle. Cindy Sheehan has said she didn't get across to Bush how misguided she believes his policies are, so she decided to act against him.

Sheehan has been involved in protests against Bush since last year. She founded Gold Star Families for Peace, described on its Web site as made up of "families of soldiers who have died as a result of war." She is being supported by the Crawford Peace House, which has facilitated about two dozen protests in the town since 2002.

Cindy epitomizes the tenacity US citizens need to have if they are going to have any influence on ending this war. Only its US citizens can end a US war before it becomes too late to extricate from the situation. Let us all help Cindy in her efforts.

If you have a loved one currently in active service in Iraq, donate to or become a member of Gold Star Families For Peace. If you want to protest or help current Crawford protestors, check out the Crawford Peace House.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Hiroshima 60th Anniversary

Today is the 60th Anniversary of the Allied dropping of the atomic bomb on the bustling metropolis of Hiroshima during World War II. August 9th will mark the 60th of Nagasaki.

Hiroshima after the blast 60 years ago.

The AP reports the details of this event in Japan:
For a brief moment, the trolleys will stop and the city will fall silent. Then, with water and flowers for the dead, Hiroshima will remember how a flash in the early morning sky 60 years ago turned life to death for more than 140,000 people and forever changed the face of war.

To mark the 60th anniversary of the world's first atomic bomb attack, more than 50,000 people were expected to gather Saturday in Peace Memorial Park, a sprawling, tree-covered expanse that for one day each year becomes the spiritual epicenter of the global anti-nuclear movement.
The atomic bomb is dropped on Hiroshima 60 years ago today.Let us all pause in our daily lives and offer our own moment of silence. Perhaps in this reflection, humanity might find a way to redirect its wartime hatred and energies by scrapping these weapons and taking up the more difficult path to peace. The death of so many innocents surely proves the end that beckons us all if we continue developing nuclear weapons and following aggressive leaders that fill our brains with fear and hatred.

Fear and hatred will only lead to oblivion; the only viable path is hope and peace.

For more debate on the fateful US decision to drop the bomb, check out the LA Times article today - The Myths of Hiroshima.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Kill 'Em All

According to Reuters, the International Association of Chiefs of Police issued new guidelines to its 20,000 members a mere two weeks before British authorities repeatedly shot a Brazilian suspect in the head.

The new guidelines: use deadly force to deal with suspected bombers. Shoot them in the head. Don't even bother asking questions and forget about investigating their answers. Kill 'em all.

So, what a are the guidelines for ascertaining whether a suspect is a bomber? They are fairly general:
Among signs to look for listed in the police organization's behavioral profile are wearing a heavy coat in warm weather, carrying a backpack with protrusions or visible wires, nervousness, excessive sweating or an unwillingness to make eye contact, the Post said.

The new guidelines also say the threat does not have to be "imminent" -- as in traditional police training -- an officer just needs to have a "reasonable basis" for believing a suspect can detonate a bomb.
The threshold has been lowered from "imminent danger" to "reasonable basis", from "arresting a suspect" to "killing a suspect". The establishment of what constitutes a "reasonable basis" is equally questionable. According to the above signs, a homeless person with an old coat might be a target. Anyone carrying a walkman or iPod would constitute a bomber. As for the person who demonstrates "nervousness, excessive sweating, or unwillingness to make eye contact," that could describe almost anyone who still uses public transit these days. Though now, it's not just the terrorist threat that creates this "nervousness," it's the possibility that the police will mistakenly shoot them in the head as well.

I know "Kill 'Em All" advocates will argue that though some innocent individuals could be killed, it will still drastically reduce the hundred that would have died from the bomber's blast. But I challenge the assumption of that argument. Besides the morality of equating suspicion to absolute guilt and finally execution, I believe there is no proof that such a system will prevent suicide bombers. As a matter of fact, the list of suspicious activity can either be avoided or completely ignored by using groups rather than individuals. The concept that terrorists continually use one technique over and over again is ludicrous. Even in Iraq, terrorists and insurgents are constantly evolving.

The final point is this: by giving into hysteria, the world is admitting defeat. The goal of terrorism is to cower a population by fear. The fear that causes groups to abandon their rights under freedom, to report location of terrorist cells, and the fear to continue turning the world economy.

This violent reaction to the London Bombings and terrorist violence worldwide will only serve to justify the terrorists. By not sticking to the guns of democracy and giving into fear and intimidation, the terrorists can rightly claim the democratic world is made up of hypocrites. As Benjamin Franklin so aptly put it:
They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

US "Secret" Detainment Facilities

Today, Amnesty International released yet another report on US abuses, this time highlighting "secret" worldwide detainment facilities. Back in June, Amnesty International delegates visited two Yemeni detainees said to have recently been transferred from the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. This is a synopsis of their findings.

map of detention camps

Two individuals, Mahummad Faraj Ahmed Bashmilah and Salah Nasser Salim after 1.5 years were transported to a detainment center in Jordan for four days. They were held in solitary confinement with no explanation, visits from family, lawyers, diplomatic representatives or Red Cross members. While in Jordan, both were tortured and held only by request of US authorities.

Salah Salim (27) was detained in August 2003 in Jakarta by authorities. He was held for 4 days, handcuffed, blindfolded and without food. After repeated attempts, his wife was told he was held by immigration authorities, and she had to pay money for his release. After his passport expired, he was told he would be transported to Yemen via Thailland and Jordan. He was later detained by Jordan authorities in a torture "hotel" where he was beaten, sodomized and underwent electric shocks.

Muhammad Faraj Ahmed Bashmilah (37) also lived in Indonesia. In October 2003, he travelled to Jordan with his wife to be with his mother and was detained at Amman airport by Jordanian immigration authorities. After re-collecting his passport three-days later, he was asked if he had ever been to Afghanistan. He said "yes" and was thenwhiskedd away to be interrogated by both Jordanian and US interrogators. After a year and a half later, he was transferred to Yemen.

Both men were transported to a secret facility run by US forces. These prisoners "disappeared" from the international radar for 1 year and half. Amnesty documents the use of this technique as against UN regulations:
"Enforced disappearances" are described in the 3rd preambular paragraph of the UN Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances as taking place when,

"... people are arrested, detained or abducted against their will or otherwise deprived of their liberty by officials of different branches or levels of Government, or by organized groups or private individuals acting on behalf of, or with the support, direct or indirect, consent or acquiescence of the Government, followed by a refusal to disclose the fate or whereabouts of the persons concerned or a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of their liberty, which places such persons outside the protection of the law."
Thousands of detainees remain held in US custody in Iraq and hundreds remain in US custody in Afghanistan, with some of them detained without trial and virtually incommunicado for more than a year. Several thousand other detainees are believed to be held in the custody of other governments at the behest of the USA.

Help Amnesty International deal with this epidemic and call to action the following governments:

Jordan: Call on the Jordanian Authorities to Stop Torture in Detention Centers
Yemen: Urge Yemen to Stop Secret and Incommunicado Detentions and 'Disappearances'
Egypt: Detainees at Risk of Torture in Unknown Locations

Also, let your senators know how you feel about torture in the name of US Liberty and Justice.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Bush Waxes Philosophical on CAFTA

Yesterday, President Bush signed the US-Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) after a contentious Senate battle (56-44) and a razor-thin victory in the House (217-215). Despite concerns of US job loss, corporate tax evasion, and international labor exploitation, Bush decided to shift the focus to national security and his "freedom is on the march" philosophy. He again confuses capitalism with democracy as is common in a Cold War mentality. According to the US President's speech, it is economic forces alone that drive the "democracy domino" effect:
CAFTA is more than a trade bill; it is a commitment among freedom-loving nations to advance peace and prosperity throughout the region. As the oldest democracy in the Western Hemisphere, the United States has a moral obligation and a vital national security interest in helping democracies in our neighborhood succeed, and CAFTA advances this goal.

By strengthening the democracies in the region, CAFTA will enhance our nation's security. Two decades ago, many of the CAFTA nations struggled with poverty and dictatorship and civil strife. Today, they're working democracies, and we must not take these gains for granted. These nations still face forces that oppose democracy, seek to limit economic freedom, and want to drive a wedge between the United States and the rest of the Americas. The small nations of CAFTA are making big and brave commitments, and CAFTA is a signal that the United States will stand with them and support them. By helping the CAFTA nations build free societies, we'll help them eliminate the lawlessness and instability that terrorists and criminals and drug traffickers feed on. And this will make our country safer.
Yeah, right . . . I feel safer. Everyone knows the reason why terrorists exist is because of trade tariffs and government's ignoring the rights of their businesses. Perhaps, worker unions have become the new breeding grounds for terrorist training! Thank God CAFTA will save the day. It is the international USA Patriot Act we need to fight the "War on Terror."

Seriously, this speech does belie the basic tenant of Bush Philosophy: the equality of corporate interests to individual interests. The assumption is there is no tension between labor and business or consumer and business, and especially no tension between the government and business. The concept that business might exploit its labor force, take advantage of customer ignorance or stash profits for the rich few is not understood in Bush World.

This is not the case in true Straussian neo-conservative ideology which understands these things and intentionally hides it from the ignorant public. But to be honest, George W. Bush was never really a neo-con, despite the majority of his cabinet. And now his Paul Wolfowitz has moved forward into the World Bank to corrupt it just as thoroughly as the current US Administration with these ideals of well-intentioned deception and individual subjugation to the greed of power.

But, I digress. Perhaps a discussion on Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind will have to wait until a future post.

What disturbs me most is the juxtaposition of what Bush said on signing CAFTA and what Clinton stated on signing NAFTA. Whereas Bush seems focused on the far-reaching future, Clinton described the current US economic situation fairly accurately:
But I want to say to my fellow Americans, when you live in a time of change the only way to recover your security and to broaden your horizons is to adapt to the change, to embrace, to move forward. Nothing we do -- nothing we do in this great capital can change the fact that factories or information can flash across the world; that people can move money around in the blink of an eye. Nothing can change the fact that technology can be adopted once created by people all across the world, and then rapidly adapted in new and different ways by people who have a little different take on the way the technology works.
That is it. The "adapt to the change, to embrace, to move forward" part was missing from Bush's speech. But to be honest, both Clinton and Bush and many presidents before them have failed to take the initiative to move the US workforce into the future, blindly believing that the invisible, magic forces of free-competition and capitalism will somehow transform US businesses.

The education system is so bad in the US that it takes someone like Bill Gates to point out, "America's high schools are obsolete." The frequency of out-sourcing and off-shoring is so prevalent that there are a slew of companies in business just to help other companies do it as fiscally as possible. Meanwhile, the US workforce is facing sharp competition by cheaper, illegal labor overseas, never mind the illegal labor market within the country. Instead of ramping up for this free-trade agreement and embracing the future, the US is crossing its fingers it will work, hoping that market forces will somehow accomplish what the government and American corporations are unwilling to do.

So the Bush Philosophy on CAFTA is simply a red herring to the real mystery behind free-trade. The real mystery is how Mr. Bush can believe no plan is a good plan and why corporate interests are trumping those of the average US citizen.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

America - "Culture-Free Zone"

According to a Financial Times article on Sunday, America is increasingly viewed as a "culture-free zone" inhabited by arrogant and unfriendly people. It seem among 25 countries polled, America ranked 11th in terms of good brand recognition for businesses:
The US ranked 11th in the Brands Index, which asks people around the world to rate 25 countries according to their cultural, political and investment potential and other criteria. Australia received the highest overall score, with respondents expressing "an almost universal admiration of its people, landscapes and living and working environment", according to the report.

Although the US received high marks for its popular culture, it ranked last in cultural heritage, a measure of a country's "wisdom, intelligence, and integrity", according to Mr Anholt.
This is truly sad. For far too long the general US population has been informed by a decaying education system, blinded by the short glory of rampant consumerism, hoodwinked by fear and anger into spewing hatred across the world. That this one study holds any real sign of America losing its position on the world stage would be mere speculation. But no one can deny that the international community is certainly doubting US dominance in business and potentially, world affairs.

Who will become the new dominant player in the 21st Century? China?

California Rules For Same-Sex Couples

According to the LA Times today, the California Supreme Court decided 6-0 on Monday that businesses must give spousal privileges to registered couples whether they are married or domestic partners. The case involved a lesbian couple who sued a country club in San Diego after it denied golfing privileges given to married couples. The couple claimed the country club was violating a state civil rights law, which ultimately California's Court upheld.

Though a clear victory for domestic partner advocates, there is some concern that this might confuse the same-sex marriage debate. By giving spousal rights to state-registered domestic partners, the main contention for same-sex marriage advocates has now been removed. State Attorney General Bill Lockyer backed the Supreme Court decision, but believes that because same-sex couples have the same rights under domestic partners laws, there is no need for granting these couples the right to marry.

This might become the basis for a prolonged debacle over the discrimination issue and make the right of marriage a moot point. The idea of "separate but equal" might extend the gay marriage ban under the banner of good segregation. Rather than dealing with real prejudices, this decision might lead to a slew of "lesser evil" laws that will still deny fundamental rights to homosexuals but claim that other compatible rights will take their place. This claim assumes that there are irreconcilable differences between heterosexual and homosexual freedoms, so thus only equivalency is possible.

And that is the travesty in this decision. I hope this will be just another step on the long road forward not another step backward into bigotry and discrimination.

Mice Who Elect Cats

I just came across this parable called "Mouseland" today and thought it represents just as well the problem with the political parties in the US as it does in Canada.
As told by Tommy Douglas in 1944

Cat n mouseIt's the story of a place called Mouseland. Mouseland was a place where all the little mice lived and played, were born and died. And they lived much the same as you and I do.

They even had a Parliament. And every four years they had an election. Used to walk to the polls and cast their ballots. Some of them even got a ride to the polls. And got a ride for the next four years afterwards too. Just like you and me. And every time on election day all the little mice used to go to the ballot box and they used to elect a government. A government made up of big, fat, black cats.

Now if you think it strange that mice should elect a government made up of cats, you just look at the history of Canada for last 90 years and maybe you'll see that they weren't any stupider than we are.

Now I'm not saying anything against the cats. They were nice fellows. They conducted their government with dignity. They passed good laws--that is, laws that were good for cats. But the laws that were good for cats weren't very good for mice. One of the laws said that mouseholes had to be big enough so a cat could get his paw in. Another law said that mice could only travel at certain speeds--so that a cat could get his breakfast without too much effort.

All the laws were good laws. For cats. But, oh, they were hard on the mice. And life was getting harder and harder. And when the mice couldn't put up with it any more, they decided something had to be done about it. So they went en masse to the polls. They voted the black cats out. They put in the white cats.

Now the white cats had put up a terrific campaign. They said: "All that Mouseland needs is more vision." They said:"The trouble with Mouseland is those round mouseholes we got. If you put us in we'll establish square mouseholes." And they did. And the square mouseholes were twice as big as the round mouseholes, and now the cat could get both his paws in. And life was tougher than ever.

And when they couldn't take that anymore, they voted the white cats out and put the black ones in again. Then they went back to the white cats. Then to the black cats. They even tried half black cats and half white cats. And they called that coalition. They even got one government made up of cats with spots on them: they were cats that tried to make a noise like a mouse but ate like a cat.

You see, my friends, the trouble wasn't with the colour of the cat. The trouble was that they were cats. And because they were cats, they naturally looked after cats instead of mice.
Presently there came along one little mouse who had an idea. My friends, watch out for the little fellow with an idea. And he said to the other mice, "Look fellows, why do we keep on electing a government made up of cats? Why don't we elect a government made up of mice?" "Oh," they said, "he's a Bolshevik. Lock him up!" So they put him in jail.

But I want to remind you: that you can lock up a mouse or a man but you can't lock up an idea.
This parable has the potential to represent any government that is controlled by only two corrupt parties based solely on capitalism. The good of the people must be represented by those people and not from those who wish to use those people. Government should not control all business, and corporate issues alone should not run the government. The government should be the ultimate arbitrator between the worker and business, but ultimately the government must takes the side of its electorate, not its campaign contributors.

But how do we create such a balance in a democratic society? How can socialism and capitalism coexist without one dominating the other? There is no doubt that the government cannot strangle business especially in a global economy, but there is equally no doubt that capitalism alone cannot satisfy the will of the people. There must be other protections in place.

The amount of protection is the question.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Bolton Appointed to UN Post

After much contentious debate within the Senate, President Bush has decided to use his recess appointment for granting John Bolton the post of US Ambassador to the UN (Bolton - US Ambassor Or Ass?). Bush had this to say about the appointment:
The United States Senate held thorough confirmation hearings, and a majority of United States senators agree that he is the right man for the job. Yet because of partisan delaying tactics by a handful of senators, John was unfairly denied the up-or-down vote that he deserves.

As a result, America has now gone more than six months without a permanent ambassador to the United Nations. This post is too important to leave vacant any longer, especially during a war and a vital debate about U.N. reform.

So today, I've used my constitutional authority to appoint John Bolton to serve as America's ambassador to the United Nations.
Despite the dramatic emergency the President has tried to veil over this appointment, the decision is just another in the long line of the Bush Administration's power stratagem. The move comes as no surprise to most political pundits, nor does this president's incessant use of recess appointments. If one cannot garner the consensus of the Senate, direct appointment through loopholes in the constitution seems a more viable option than compromise. As Fred Kaplan pointed out back in April, the US Senate, even with a Republican majority, seemed unlikely to approve the nomination without much contention:
The most telling thing about today's hearing may be that Bolton displayed not the slightest bit of energy, one way or the other, when discussing the challenges facing international organizations. President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice have said several times, since the second term began, that the United Nations will be a forum where some of the day's central challenges - Iranian nukes, Lebanese independence, an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord - may be played out.

Apart from all the other doubts about Bolton's suitability, does the U.S. Senate really want a U.N. ambassador who seems, at bottom, so uninterested in what goes on there?
So now the US has an ambassador at the UN (until 2006) who believes in foreign policies funded by bad intelligence, who dislikes multilateralism and genocide prevention, and who vehemently hates the institution of the United Nations. On top of that, the consent of the US Senate was circumvented and dilutes the effect such an ambassador will have on the international stage.

And as time will tell, that might be the only good news. Let us all hope the UN will hold strong despite its more contentious members and embrace reform, and escape a US transformation or dissolution.