Friday, October 08, 2004

 

Weekend Reading

Here is a little bit of weekend reading for anybody who has the time and the patience. Ha'aretz published the compelete interview with Dov Weisglass in its Friday Magazine. It's got the quotes about how Gaza disengagement means freezing the peace process as well as some sickening details about his relationship with Condy Rice (she calls him Dubie, he calls her Condy... gag me with a spoon). Also, the UN OCHA just published a report called Gaza on the Edge about the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza with some very sobering statistics presented clearly and concisely (only 4 pages, in pdf format).

Also, I just noticed that I've gone over 200 posts on this blog and have had 3,285 visitors (although probably 40 percent of those come from myself, my lovely girlfriend Amanda, and my wonderful Aunt Deb). I mean, I'd like to say that I write this blog without caring whether people read it or not, but that's not really true. I'd like to think that people read what I write here, or what I link to here, and think it's worthwhile. I must say that in writing a blog I have definitely increased my reading, both of online news sources and other blogs. Anyhow, I really want to thank all the people that visit my blog, especially repeat visitors. I want to thank the great people who have linked to my blog, especially Gabe, Aunt Deb, Oliver, Atrios, Peter at That Good Night, James at Ctrl+Alt+Destroy, and Cloudstrifer (especially those of you I do not know personally). I am honored that people would link to this site and am more than happy to return the favor. Also, I appreciate all comments that people have made. I will continue to try to make this blog better and more interesting, although sometimes it is hard work (just as the President about that). Finally I'd like to thank Amanda, whose idea it was that I start writing this in the first place. Thank you all and Jah bless.

 

Somebody didn't get the memo

What's that I hear? Is it the sound of democracy spreading? Yes, ladies and gentlemen, on the eve of elections in Afghanistan (the first in 5,000 years! says Dick Cheney... and that's a long time), the freedom is already eminating from that bright beacon. In fact, it's neighbor Pakistan, never wanting to be outdone, has decided to push democracy forward by banning religious gatherings. Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Sherpao also "said there would be no ban on political gatherings but prior permission from the authorities would be necessary even for such meetings."
The minister said it should be the responsibility of the district governments to inform their provincial governments before giving permission for such gatherings and the provinces should take guidance from the federal government so that decisions could be taken in the national interest.
Yes, sweet success! In fact, even if the Iraq war weren't already justified by the weapons report that stated that Iraq produced no WMDs after 1991, it would undoubtedly be justified by these kinds of sweeping democratic reforms in the region. And with Afghanistan prepared to become El Salvador ca. 1983, we can only hope that the part of the world we here in the United States affectionately call "over there" will soon be just like Central America in the 1980s only bigger and with more dead (democratically so, of course) bodies.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

 

Let me know when Colin Powell stops being a sucker

Sometimes I feel bad for Colin Powell, because he is often used by whoever to defend some of the most ridiculous actions or statements or positions that you almost know that he can't possibly believe himself. For example, "United States Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters while visiting Grenada on Wednesday that the U.S. does not doubt Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's commitment to the road map." But then I stop feeling bad and just realize that he is a shill for the administration who seems to have little to no integrity and little to no remaining credibility. Then I feel bad for him again for being that. Then I don't again because I figure he can make his own choices. Yep, that's pretty much the way the hamster spins the ol' wheel, if you know what I mean.

 

"October Plan"

There is an article in the Daily Star about the FBI and Homeland Security's plan to step up "aggressive surveilance" of Arab and Muslim Americans leading up to the election, what they are calling the "October Plan."
[T]he initiative will include "aggressive - even obvious - surveillance" of individuals "suspected of being terrorist sympathizers, but who have not committed a crime."... Furthermore, "other 'persons of interest,' including their family members, may also be brought in for questioning," and "mosques will be revisited and members asked whether they've observed any suspicious behavior."

Additional reports suggest that the DHS component of this initiative will include a massive immigration sweep in major metropolitan areas with the purpose of detaining those who are "out of status." DHS's Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will concentrate its efforts on individuals who had to report as part of the Student Visitor Information System (SEVIS), the National Security Entry/Exit Registration System (NSEERS), and the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology Program (U.S. VISIT). It should be noted that NSEERS, or Special Registration, required citizens from 24 Arab and Muslim countries and North Korea to register with immigration authorities. The national origin based program was suspended by DHS in December 2003.
So even though the program that required registration with Homeland Security (not Immigration, but Homeland Security) based solely on one's national origin was discontinued, it is now going to be used to "protect" us from terrorism. As one might imagine, the Arab American Institute, as well as other Arab and Muslim American and civil rights groups, are none too pleased about this "October Plan."
"We oppose ICE's use of selective enforcement at this time. While doing little to prevent terrorism, these tactics will further alienate Arab and Muslim Americans, the very people with whom law enforcement needs to build trust," said James Zogby, President of the AAI. "We are also concerned, given the pre-election nature of this initiative, that these tactics may have a chilling effect on the participation of some segments of the Arab American and American Muslim communities in the coming election," he added.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

 

A whale of a mischaracterization

I couldn't believe that Dick Cheney brought up El Salvador twenty years ago in the debate last night given the United States' horrendous record in Latin America during the 1980s. On CommonDreams, Stephen Zunes has a nice piece addressing "the most misleading foreign policy statements" made by both Cheney and Edwards. Here is what Zunes writes about El Salvador (which Cheney compared to Afghanistan and Iraq):
Cheney: “Twenty years ago we had a similar situation in El Salvador. We had -- guerrilla insurgency controlled roughly a third of the country, 75,000 people dead, and we held free elections. I was there as an observer on behalf of the Congress. The human drive for freedom, the determination of these people to vote, was unbelievable. And the terrorists would come in and shoot up polling places; as soon as they left, the voters would come back and get in line and would not be denied the right to vote. And today El Salvador is a whale of a lot better because we held free elections.”
First of all, the United States was not supporting freedom in El Salvador twenty years ago. According to the United Nations Truth Commission and independent human rights organizations, the vast majority of those killed in El Salvador during this period were civilians murdered by the U.S.-backed junta and its allied paramilitary organizations Secondly, the Salvadoran elections Cheney observed in the 1980s were not free elections. The leading leftist and left-of-center politicians had been assassinated or driven underground and their newspapers and radio stations suppressed. The election was only between representatives of conservative and right-wing parties. Thirdly, despite threats from some of the more radical guerrilla factions, there were very few attacks on polling stations. Fourthly, people repeatedly lined up to vote because they were required to. Failure to get the requisite stamp that validated the fact that you had voted would likely get one labeled as a “subversive” and therefore a potential target for assassination. Lastly, El Salvador finally did have free elections in 1994, only after Congress cut off aid to the Salvadoran government and the peace plan initiated by Costa Rican president Oscar Arias – which was initially opposed by the Republican administrations then in office in Washington – was finally implemented.
Ah yes, you can't love freedom any more than Dick Cheney, alright.

 

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words


I absolutely love this photo of Hossein Mousavian, Iran's chief delegate to the IAEA, that accompanied this story about Iran processing "several tons of raw 'yellowcake' uranium to prepare it for enrichment — a key step in developing atomic weapons — in defiance of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency." Amazing.

 

Israel to back off its allegations against UNRWA

This week, Israel accused UNRWA of using its ambulances to transport Qassam rockets in the Gaza Strip, pointing to video footage that they claimed showed an UNRWA employee putting a Qassam into the back of a UN vehicle. UNRWA claimed that this accusation was false:
Hansen told Haaretz that the IDF video shows two people approaching two ambulances, with one of the men carrying "something that can't weigh more than one kilogram. Not even Goliath could run while carrying a heavy Qassam rocket in one hand."

Hansen said he looked into the matter "with the help of (internet search engine) Google that a Qassam is 1.8 meters long and weighs 50 kilograms."

"From the picture it is possible to conclude that the width of the suspicious item is five centimeters, while the Qassam's diameter is 17 centimeters," Hansen said.

"From the picture one can also discern the material," he said. "In other words, this is an ambulance stretcher."
Also, I can't remember where I read this, but the individual accused of carrying the Qassam said something like "Why would I have thrown it into the back of the ambulance if it were a rocket? I would have placed it gently." In any case, all evidence seemed to point to it being a stretcher, but the UN ordered an investigation into the matter and now, according to the Guardian, "the [Israeli] army said it was 'reviewing' the footage and UN officials said they understood Israel would retract the allegation."

 

Shame on us

In an interview with Ha'aretz, which will be published in full on Friday, Dov Weisglass, senior advisor to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said the following:
The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process. And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem.

Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda. And all this with authority and permission. All with a presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress.

The disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.
While the information does not come as much of a suprise (let's face it), the shock is the ability of a top aid to Sharon being able to come out and say this in the open. While Israelis on the left are furious, I doubt there will be any outcry from the US. Maybe a statement from the State Department that we still believe in the road map. But Weisglass is essentially correct in stating that this comes not just with "a presidential blessing" but also with "the ratification of both houses of Congress." Neither party presses for a resumption of the peace process. You could hear that in the Vice Presidential debate last night. You can see it in the ridiculously one-sided resolutions passed by the House and the Senate which are passed for no other reason that to express their encouragement of Israel's abandonment of negotiations and involvement with the Palestinians. Shame on us for letting this happen. More from Weisglass:
That is exactly what happened. You know, the term `peace process' is a bundle of concepts and commitments. The peace process is the establishment of a Palestinian state with all the security risks that entails. The peace process is the evacuation of settlements, it's the return of refugees, it's the partition of Jerusalem. And all that has now been frozen.... what I effectively agreed to with the Americans was that part of the settlements would not be dealt with at all, and the rest will not be dealt with until the Palestinians turn into Finns. That is the significance of what we did.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

 

It's not the Islam

The militants are impoverished and uneducated. Lifelong religious fervor drives them to embrace jihad. Al Qaeda aggressively recruits and brainwashes the men.

Those ideas are tempting but incorrect, argues Marc Sageman, a CIA veteran turned forensic psychiatrist. In a book based on 172 case studies of so-called holy warriors, Sageman concludes that social bonds are a more vital force than religion in molding extremists. [LA Times]
So it's not just Islam after all, is it? You mean it's not just a clash of civilizations? We love life and they love death? The Qu'ran teaches them to be like this? What a shock!
With the exception of Persian Gulf Arabs raised mostly in devout households, many extremists became religious as young adults, Sageman found. This reinforces his view of the decisive role of the loneliness and alienation of the immigrant experience.

Whether expatriate engineers studying in Germany or second-generation toughs on the edges of French cities, young Arab men find companionship and dignity in Islam. The social connection usually precedes their spiritual engagement, he says. In mosques, cafes and shared apartments, religion nurtures their common resentment of real and imagined sufferings, Sageman says.
Thanks to the Angry Arab for finding this one.

 

As free as the Koreans

The prospect of another Netanyahu term as Prime Minister is not something that I have really thought about, but given the political divisions within Likud, Netanyahu is seen by many as the leader of the opposition to Sharon and, if Sharon falls, is undoubtedly the face of Likud after Sharon. Given this, Avirama Golan breaks down the possibility of Netanyahu as Prime Minister, specifically referencing an interview with Yedi'ot Aharonot in which Netanyahu said the following:
A diplomatic agreement [with the Palestinians] is not necessary. South Korea, for instance, has developed without peace with North Korea, but with a separation fence, a strong army and a free economy.
Golan takes exception with the analogy, perhaps hoping for something better for Israel than South Korea.
The comparison is, of course, false, and perhaps even maliciously false. The conflict between the two Koreas stems from the Cold War. The north was the spearhead of the former Soviet Union and the south was America's well-tended garden. The north, which President Bush included in his "axis of evil" and which, according to media reports, has recently been conducting chemical experiments on human beings, is one of the darkest corners of the earth. Is Netanyahu comparing the Palestinians to the North Koreans? Or Yasser Arafat to the murderous tyrant Kim Il Sung? It could be. After all, he himself described Arafat as "worse than Bin Laden."

And what "free economy" is he talking about? The best economists in the world define Korea as a "developing nation," whose dominant leadership defined its breakthrough into Western markets as a national economic goal and for this purpose increased government intervention in the economy to the brink of danger, including giving loans to private companies on the verge of collapse. Israel was once a country just like that, during the period of finance ministers Eshkol and Sapir and through the mid-1970s, including in its investments in labor-intensive industries. Samsung enjoys the same backing that Solel Boneh and Koor did in their day.
It is nice to see such a strongly reasoned refutation of such a false analogy, and only wish that this were more often the case (especially in the United States). And next time some politician offers all the freedoms of the Koreans, it's time to think again.

 

Michael Moore's letters from Iraq

The Guardian has letters sent to Michael Moore by soldiers who have served or are currently serving in Iraq. They will be published in Moore's upcoming book. All I have to say is: good for Michael Moore for publishing these letters, because you damn well aren't going to read this kind of thing elsewhere (even if you have a friend or relative in Iraq, you might not get them to open up in this kind of way). I am posting the first one, but you should read them all.
From: RH
To: mike@michaelmoore.com
Sent: Monday, July 12, 2003 4:57 PM
Subject: Iraqi freedom veteran supports you
Dear Mr Moore,
I went to Iraq with thoughts of killing people who I thought were horrible. I was like, "Fuck Iraq, fuck these people, I hope we kill thousands." I believed my president. He was taking care of business and wasn't going to let al Qaeda push us around. I was with the 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry, 3rd Infantry division out of Fort Stewart, Georgia. My unit was one of the first to Baghdad. I was so scared. Didn't know what to think. Seeing dead bodies for the first time. People blown in half. Little kids with no legs. It was overwhelming, the sights, sounds, fear. I was over there from Jan'03 to Aug'03. I hated every minute. It was a daily battle to keep my spirits up. I hate the army and my job. I am supposed to get out next February but will now be unable to because the asshole in the White House decided that now would be a great time to put a stop-loss in effect for the army. So I get to do a second tour in Iraq and be away from those I love again because some guy has the audacity to put others' lives on the line for his personal war. I thought we were the good guys.

UPDATE: 4:32 pm Tuesday: So my dear friend Maha, a George Mason alum, just sent me this article about George Mason University canceling a scheduled speaking appearance by Michael Moore. And why did they do this? Loudoun County Del. Richard L. Black, "who has one of the General Assembly's most conservative voting records," wrote a letter to the university protesting the appearance because of Moore's speaking fee. First of all, plenty of speakers at universities across this country charge appearance fees. And plenty of them are clear about their political beliefs and that's fine. But whether or not Black likes Moore's politics or his books or his films, the fact remains that Moore is a filmmaker who has won several very prestigious awards and is a bestselling author. To pressure the university to cancel his appearance is to play petty politics. Finally, Moore has offered to attend and speak without receiving his fee, which is pretty cool. You'd wish that George Mason University would have a bit more backbone, but apparently they are a bit lacking in that department.

 

Rumsfeld on Iraq/al-Qaeda connection

The Guardian does us a nice service by posting a quick little timeline of Rumsfeld quotes on the Iraq/al-Qaeda connection as well as the full text of Donald Rumsfeld's statement trying to backtrack from his comments today at an appearence before the Council on Foreign Rleations where he said, "to my knowledge, I have not seen any strong, hard evidence that links the two."

Here is your handy Rumsfeld timeline:

August 2002: Mr Rumsfeld claims "there are al-Qaida in Iraq", and accuses Saddam of "harbouring al-Qaida operatives who fled the US military dragnet in Afghanistan".

September 2002: "We do have solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of al-Qaida members, including some that have been in Baghdad," Mr Rumsfeld says. "We have what we consider to be very reliable reporting of senior-level contacts going back a decade, and of possible chemical and biological agent training."

October 2002: He tells a Pentagon briefing he had already been informed there is "solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of al-Qaida members".

March 2003: Mr Rumsfeld says the US-led coalition has solid evidence that senior al-Qaida operatives had visited Baghdad in the past, and that Saddam had an "evolving" relationship with the terror network.

September 2004: The defence secretary confuses the jailed Saddam and the fugitive Bin Laden in a speech to the US National Press Club: "Saddam Hussein, if he's alive, is spending a whale of a lot of time trying to not get caught. And we've not seen him on a video since 2001." He corrects himself when asked for clarification.

October 2004: Rumsfeld tells the Council on Foreign Relations in New York that "to my knowledge, I have not seen any strong, hard evidence that links the two" and he had seen intelligence on the Saddam-al-Qaida question "migrate in amazing ways" during the past year, adding that there were "many differences of opinion in the intelligence community."

 

Two Peoples, One State?

I would like to take a quick look at Michael Tarazi's op-ed in the New York Times yesterday. In it, Tarazi argues for a situation in which all people, Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, living within Israel and the occupied territories are guaranteed the same rights. Interestingly, this is different than calling for a single state (or the "One-State Solution"), which he does not go so far as to advocate. After all, Tarazi is a legal advisor for the PLO, whose agenda is the two-state solution. Also, however, Tarazi's main point is that the entire state-focused way of approaching the Palestinian question has essentially failed.

In asking for a state, negotiations have stalled over borders and territorial rights. In this matter, the Palestinians' refusal to give in to Israeli demands has been portrayed as rejectionist because of the way the conflict is viewed. Land and borders are viewed as negotiable whereas human and civil rights are viewed in more absolutest terms. Demanding 100 percent of the West Bank and Gaza can be viewed as an absolutist, unrealistic position, whereas demanding 100 percent of one's human and civil rights is more easily viewed as noble and stoic. Furthermore, given the way Israel's "withdrawal" from Gaza is going, I don't know how much more land Palestinians can afford to get back.

I think that, in a way, the headline of Tarazi's piece is misleading. Tarazi does not openly call for one state for two peoples. Instead, he asks for one set of laws and rights for all peoples. The expansion of human and civil rights to the Palestinians does not deny the possibility of a two state solution. Indeed, this is an essential step toward achieving any kind of solution, whether one state or two, and I believe that Tarazi states the case pretty damn effectively.

I'm sure that the New York Times is now flooded with letters and emails about publishing a piece calling for the destruction of Israel. Still, there are many voices that say that granting the Palestinians a state is tantamount to calling for the destruction of Israel. And quite honestly, Michael Tarazi has done no such thing.

Monday, October 04, 2004

 

Must have got some mixed messages or something

So it seemed that in terms of the debates, Bush was at rock bottom. He was getting slammed during the debate by John Kerry, he was getting slammed after the debate by everybody else. What else could go wrong? Well, it seems that the "coallition" partner in Iraq that Bush seemed to emphasize the most, Poland, has announced today that it intends to withdraw all their troops from Iraq over the next year. According to Agence France-Press:
Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski said after talks in Paris that Warsaw wants to withdraw all its 2,500 troops from Iraq during the course of next year.
You'd think for the hours they probably spent coaching Bush on how to pronounce Kwasniewski's name, they might have done a little bit of checking around to see what was coming up in the next week (I doubt an announcement like this comes based on a decision made overnight). Pretty amazing.

(All due props to Deepak for sending this to me.)

 

UNRWA in trouble

It seems that Peter Hansen, Commissioner-General of UNRWA, seriously put his foot in his mouth. He is quoted on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation website as saying:
Oh I am sure that there are Hamas members on the UNRWA payroll and I don't see that as a crime.

Hamas as a political organization does not mean that every member is a militant and we do not do political vetting and exclude people from one persuasion as against another.

We demand of our staff, whatever their political persuasion is, that they behave in accordance with UN standards and norms for neutrality.
Even though I tend to agree with Hansen that one's political persuasion should not be a determining factor in whether or not one gets a job, he should know (and, who knows, maybe he did) that this is going to be a political firestorm. Israel and its supporters worldwide have long held that the UN has it out for them, and this is not going to help. Moreover, Hamas has become so synonymous with "terror" in the lexicon of today's world, that very few are going to take the time to understand the difference between one's political affiliation and one's membership in a terrorist organization. It's one thing for Pat Robertson to say that UNRWA is a problem, it's quite another for countries who donate large amounts of money to UNRWA (Canada's $10 million a year were mentioned in the article) to find it politically disastrous to continue this support.

Interestingly (and probably not positively for UNRWA), this coincides with accusations leveled against UNRWA by Israel regarding the use of UNRWA vehicles to transport weapons and Palestinian fighters which included "Israeli Ambassador to the UN Dan Gilerman has sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan demanding the dismissal of Peter Hansen from his post." Although the claims seem to be false based on the evidence, the implication combined with Hansen's comments will certainly be bad news for UNRWA.

 

Pat Robertson Threatens Evangelical 3rd Party

It is a little bit interesting to think of these transatlantic (+Med.) political scenes and how the prospect of abandonment (even to a limited degree) of the "Greater Israel" initiative is threatening to split the Likud party in Israel and now Pat Robertson is threatening to split the Republican party on similar grounds. Robertson, in Israel as part of a kind of rally of some 5,000 pro-Israel evangelicals from around the world, stated, according to Ha'aretz:
"The President has backed away from [the road map] but if he were to touch Jerusalem, he'd lose all evangelical support," Robertson said. "Evangelicals would form a third party" because, though people "don't know about" Gaza, Jerusalem is an entirely different matter.
It may seem obvious to most that the Republicans sure aren't going to "touch" Jerusalem, but I think probably most of these pro-Israel Christian Zionist evangelical types think that Bush is radically anti-Israel (hell, he's practically Yasir Arafat) given his talk of a "Palestinian state" and supporting Ariel Sharon's proposed Gaza withdrawal plan and all that. Some other choice quotes from Robertson, with any editorial comments of my own in brackets:
Robertson urged that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) be abolished, given what he called the organization's active role in the "perpetuation" of the Palestinian refugee problem [more on UNRWA in an upcoming post]. He warned that a Palestinian state would become "a constant source of irritation" that would "endanger the territorial integrity" of Israel.

[...]

In a gathering of more than 4,000 pilgrims at a Jerusalem convention center Sunday, Robertson warned that some Muslims were trying to foil "God's plan" to let Israel hold on to its lands.

[...]

"I see the rise of Islam to destroy Israel and take the land from the Jews and give East Jerusalem to [Palestinian Authority Chairman] Yasser Arafat. I see that as Satan's plan to prevent the return of Jesus Christ the Lord," said Robertson, a Christian broadcaster. [Umm... Yasser Arafat is probably not the person most Islamists want to see controlling East Jerusalem]

[...]

He said he "sends notice" to Osama bin Laden, Arafat and Palestinian militant groups that "you will not frustrate God's plan" to have Jews rule the Holy Land until the Second Coming of Jesus. [You couldn't make this stuff up!]

[...]

"God says, 'I'm going to judge those who carve up the West Bank and Gaza Strip,'" Robertson said. "'It's my land and keep your hands off it.'"
Sorry, just had to throw those out there. This stuff is so nutty and it just blends all these political issues with God and Jesus and all that stuff such that it becomes absolutely impossible to reason or argue on any sort of plane of reality or sanity. Oy vavoy. In a fantasy land, I'd love to see this evangelical third party, seeing as how it would fundamentally reduce the power of both the Christian Zionists and the Republican Party. But seeing as how everybody else sees it the same way, that's exactly why it isn't going to happen.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?