Friday, November 12, 2004

 

Clay Swisher interview

There is an interview with Clay Swisher, author of The Truth About Camp David: The Untold Story About the Collapse of the Middle East Peace Process, up on Electronic Intifada. Having read the book and met Swisher a couple of times, I must say that I am very glad that there is a counter-narrative to the Dennis Ross/Ehud Barak account of what happened at Camp David and especially from somebody with his skills and his interest in attacking the truth from all angles. As he says in the interview:
as I tell serious researchers and students of the conflict wherever I speak, they would be foolish not to read Ambassador Ross's account--and President Clinton and Madeleine Albright's for that matter. Any good investigator looks at all the evidence. It goes without saying that a good investigator and analyst would likewise weigh each account against the normal balance of interests, personal and political, while similarly weighing the dissenting accounts by others who were directly involved (and less outspoken). In my book, I have tried to give the full range of views that exist by the key players who were directly involved. It was indeed interesting for me to hear them recall events so radically different in some cases.
But for those who may not have the time to read Swisher's 400-page book, Ross's 800-pager, Albright's 575, or Clinton's 1,000 pages, read the interview: it's short and sweet. Jeez, looking back on those numbers, you also have to congratulate Swisher for writing the shortest book of the four. Unless you're not into the whole brevity thing.

 

Two-headed tortoise born (from the Guardian)

 

Mark LeVine, on point once again

Mark LeVine has another great guest editorial on Informed Comment, in which he discusses what he calls the "myth of new beginnings" after the death of Yasir Arafat. Specifically, LeVine calls out the American pundits lauding this "opportunity" for the growth of a new Palestinian non-violent movement and leadership. LeVine writes:
As the Bush Administration and America’s pundocracy search for a new generation of pragmatic and non-violent Palestinian leaders, they should be heartened to know that they won’t have to look very hard to find them. But that’s because so many are either in the hospital, jail or exile. And like Arafat shriveling away in his besieged Muqata’a (which will now be his tomb), the Palestinian peace movement will continue to wither as long as Israel is more comfortable confronting Hamas than Ahmed Awad.
Ahmed Awad, whom LeVine refers to, is the founder of the non-violent Committee for the Popular Struggle against the Separation Fence. Recently he has been jailed by an Israel military court
on the accusation he constituted a “threat to security.” The judge who handed down the order hoped that his detention would lead him to “turn away from th[is] bad road with its unhappy ending,” although its hard to see whom his stated goal of “letting the world understand that there can be coexistence between us and the Jews” threatened.
It is vastly ineffective, defeating, and a bit hypocritical, for American pundits to call for a non-violent movement to emerge in Palestine, while refusing to support in any way those non-violent movements, groups, and activists that do exist. Non-violence doesn't exist in a vacuum. It is a tool to influence those with power to exert pressure on the source of oppression. If those with power do not wish to exert this pressure or, even, do not see the source of oppression as doing anything untoward, then non-violence in and of itself is of no use. Anyhow, read LeVine, he is more eloquent than I.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

 

Hamas vs. Barghouti?

In an article exploring the role of Marwan Barghouti in the post-Arafat Palestinian political arena, Amira Hass reports that there is widespread sentiment among the Palestinian prisoner population that only Barghouti can diffuse the support for Hamas and essentially prop up a Fateh government headed by Abu Mazen or Abu Alaa.
Security detainees and Barghouti associates hope that Israel will scrutinize the public opinion surveys, which they feel prove that the Barghouti alone can compete with Hamas representatives planning to run for election. Barghouti himself has held back from announcing whether he intends to participate in elections either for president or for the Palestinian Legislative Council, although it is thought he will run.

Prisoners and confidants expressed hope yesterday that Barghouti will be released, perhaps through understandings with Egypt, because only his return to the political arena can thwart the strengthening of Hamas. They believe that Barghouti is the only person who can provide Mahmoud Abbas with the legitimacy of grass-roots support.
I think there is a lot to this, and that Israel would probably be better served by a Marwan Barghouti playing a key role in a new Palestinian leadership than Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Still, I think that we may not be far enough removed from the Barghouti trial for his release to be a possibility. While there is the possibility of a prisoner release as a "confidence building measure" with a new Palestinian leadership, I think there would need to be a change in the Israeli government before Barghouti would be released (specifically, I don't see it happening with Sharon as Prime Minister).

 

Vanunu in detention

This is probably going to go unnoticed with Arafat's death, but Israel has once again detained nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu. After 18 years of imprisonment in an Israeli jail, Vanunu was released on the conditions that he couldn't leave Israel for one year and he couldn't talk to anybody about anything. Despite the fact that everybody knows that Israel has nuclear weapons and that Vanunu doesn't have any new information other than that which was leaked to the Sunday Times of London leading to his capture and imprisonment, Israel continues to act as though its security, its state secrets, are somehow being threatened whenever Vanunu gives an interview.

 

Isn't that nice

They're going to wait until after the funeral before unleashing a propaganda attack campaign. From Ha'aretz:
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said yesterday that after the funeral of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, Israel will launch a propaganda campaign against him. The political-security cabinet yesterday approved the proposed plans to bury Arafat in Ramallah.

"It is feared that after his funeral Arafat will become a national hero and freedom-fighter," Sharon said. "We will launch a tough struggle to portray his murderous character and the fact that he is a strategist of world terror who hurt innocent people, both Israelis and American diplomats," he said.
Oh wait, I forget. How is this different than what's been happening for years?

 

Great Policy

From a Daily Star article about Canada and Hizballah:
According to [senior council in the Canadian Department of Justice Joseph] Rikhof, the criminal code allows the cabinet to designate certain organizations as terrorist.

"When this happens, we don't have to prove that this organization did terrorist acts in order to ban its members from entering Canada. Any member of an organization which is viewed as terrorist will be automatically denied admission to the country," he said. "So far, there are 32 organizations labelled terrorist in Canada and denied admission to Canadian territories."
That makes a lot of sense. So you don't have to actually be involved in terrorist acts to be labelled a terrorist - you just have to be viewed as terrorist.

 

If only

It is time for George Bush to put his money where his mouth is. With the passing of Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian Authority is supposed to hold presidential elections within 60 days. That's two months, so it will be sometime in January. Guess who else is supposed to have elections in January? Iraq. If Bush can get behind elections in Afghanistan and Iraq, then he needs to get behind elections in Palestine. There needs to be no bullshit about how you can't have elections with violence. One need only look at Iraq and see the statements from Rumsfeld and Bush about elections there to know that this is not the way that the Bush administration sees it. Talking yesterday, President Bush said:
"There will be an opening for peace when leadership of the Palestinian people steps forward and says, `Help us build a democratic society.'

"And when that happens and I believe it's going to happen because I believe all people desire to live in freedom the United States of America will be more than willing to help build the institutions necessary for a free society to emerge so that the Palestinians can have their own state."
Well, that's happening now (and actually has been happening for a while, with no help from the US). What the US needs to do is put pressure on Israel to let elections happen. Because you cannot have an election with no freedom of movement, with checkpoints and closures and curfews. It's impossible. And Israel is not going to just stop everything so that the Palestinians can have elections. You need the US and to a lesser extent the Europeans (you already see Tony Blair saying a word or two about this, though nothing substantial) to get behind this and walk the walk of democracy in the Middle East. If it does not, it will become clear that invasion by the US military is the prerequisite for "democratization."

I went to a talk by Nathan Brown yesterday about Palestinian succession after Arafat and I came away with three key things.
1) The key to having a Palestinian leadership that can engage in the peace process with legitimacy is US pressure on Israel to support a) elections in the Palestinian territories and b) engagement with the Palestinians on Gaza disengagement, so that it becomes a bilateral step and not a unilateral action.

2) The way the position of Prime Minister was written into the PA actually makes it a very powerful position. Under Arafat, this power existed really only on paper, as the presidency was obviously the only office that mattered. But with Arafat gone, it is conceivable that an individual could rule from the Prime Ministership and the Presidency would be more of a ceremonial position (very much like within Israel).

3) Everything really depends on the Israelis. It does not matter who the Palestinians choose as their leader or which leader emerges. If the Israelis refuse to engage with that person, there will be no change. There can be no elections without Israeli acquiescence. The list goes on.
So, yes, there is an opportunity here. But it is not only to have a new Palestinian leadership. The opportunity exists for the US and Europe to exert pressure on Israel to engage with the Palestinians, to work together to have democratic elections, and all that other great stuff. If only.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

 

Umm... Yes, that would do it

From a New York Times article about the resignation of John Ashcroft:
In his first months as attorney general, some officials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation accused him of being inattentive to concerns about the threat of terrorism, but the Sept. 11 attacks appeared to energize a Justice Department leadership struggling to find its way.
Hmm... let's see... how do I put this... wouldn't it appear that by then it was just a little, you know, too freakin' late!? I mean it's well and good to be attentive to concerns about terrorism after the biggest terrorist attack in the history of the United States, but one can't help but think that maybe it would have been even more useful before 9/11. Or maybe I'm just asking a little too much of appointed officials.

 

Ralph Nader - doing something useful?

After getting knocked around like a rag doll by Democrats since he decided to run again for President in this past election, Ralph Nader may actually be doing something that could bring a little bit of a smile to some Democrats' faces. He's asking for votes to be recounted by hand in order to see if there were any problems with the Diebold voting machines in New Hampshire.
"We have received reports of irregularities in the vote reported on the AccuVote Diebold Machines in comparison to exit polls and trends in voting in New Hampshire," Nader wrote Secretary of State William M. Gardner. "These irregularities favor President George W. Bush by 5% to 15% over what was expected."

New Hampshire uses Diebold machines at 132 polling places. Gardner's office received Nader's fax at 4:59 p.m. Friday, one minute before the deadline. Under state law, if a candidate requesting a recount finished more than three percentage points behind, he must pay for the process. Gardner said that if the Nader campaign sends a check for $2,000 and promises to pay any additional charges, he will round up the ballots and initiate a hand count.

Spokesman Kevin Zeese said Nader was planning to send the check yesterday. "Either it will allay people's fears about the results, or it will open the door to looking at other states," Zeese said.
Democrats should be happy about this and here's why:
1) John Kerry can't ask for recounts because he already conceded and he doesn't want to look like a sore loser. Democrats asking for recounts would probably hurt the Democratic party in terms of PR. So this way, somebody is asking for a recount and it isn't the Democrats. Check.
2) As Zeese says, this could "open the door to looking at other states," which is what this is really about, right? I mean nobody cares about New Hampshire, but if New Hampshire is going to get a recount going in other places (Ohio) then this is helpful to Democrats.
3) I think it is pretty obvious that Nader didn't do anything to help Bush win in this election. The votes he got, and there were not many, were die-hard Nader supporters who would not have voted for Kerry no matter what. And while he accepted help and money from Republicans, where do you think that $2,000 check is coming from? Is that not delicious irony or what?

So while personally I am not really moved by the voting irregularities story, those Democrats who are should be ready to thank Ralph Nader for this move. And if they still hate him from 2000, at least they can maybe let a little bit of that go. Let's face it, life is too short to spend too much time hating Ralph Nader - it's just not worth it.

 

The War on Science

Laura Meckler of the AP reports today that women considering abortions in Texas, Louisiana, and Kansas are given information and have to sign a form indicating that they've been told that having an abortion could increase their risk of breast cancer. Legislation that would put this system in place has been introduced in 14 other states. The only problem? The medical research does not back it up.
More than a year ago, a panel of scientists convened by the National Cancer Institute reviewed available data and concluded there is no link. A scientific review in the Lancet, a British medical journal, came to the same conclusion, questioning the methodology in a few studies that have suggested a link.
This is absolutely unconscionable. Can you imagine some other medical procedure where the state would be allowed to force you to sign a form that gave false medical information for over a year after the information was shown to be false? To add insult to injury, the argument that proponents of this bullshit is that it is needed to "inform" the women of the consequences of their decision.
"We're going to continue to educate the public about this," said Karen Malec, president of the Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer, an anti-abortion group.
Umm... not really. It seems that you are going to continue to miseducate the public about this - claiming a link that no medical evidence suggests exists.
The brochures still in circulation tell women the issue "needs further study."
That is absolutely ridiculous. I could claim that eating coconuts causes cancer. And maybe there is no credible evidence that suggests this. And maybe there have been medical studies that suggest that, actually, there is no link. Does it "need further study"? Well, maybe further study is worthwhile, but it would be absolutely irresponsible of me to claim that it was true and that I was only waiting on "further study" to prove me right (considering that further study may never prove me right).
"They can do further research on their own and determine which of those studies they should put most attention on," said Sharon Watson, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. "We're just trying to provide all the information it's possible to provide."
Oh, you better believe I am calling bullshit on this. First of all, it should not be up to a patient to do his or her own medical research. That is ridiculous. It is not a bad idea for a patient to do a little bit of looking into what he or she is going to have done to them. But the responsibility to provide the patient with the best medical information is really up to the medical professionals. And the duty of the state is not to provide "all the information it's possible to provide" but THE BEST information that it's possible to provide. This goes to the heart of this same ridiculous line of "balance" (in the media, in academia, in science, etc.). Should we be taught that the sun revolves around the earth simply because there exists a theory that supposes this? Should we all be taught about Nature's Harmonic Simultaneous 4-Day Time Cube simply because this stuff exists? It's not about providing "all the information" it's about providing the best information. PERIOD. When it comes to a person's medical health, that's the issue. Unbelievable.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

 

2 articles about Arafat

The Conflict without Arafat by As`ad AbuKhalil (San Francisco Chronicle)
The truth is that Yasser Arafat died years ago by Robert Fisk (The Independent)

 

Wow

I just finished reading Joan Didion's Politics in the 'New Normal' America from the October 21 issue of the New York Review of Books. It's quite long, but if you have the time, do read it. I simply adore Joan Didion.

 

Journalism in Fallujah

The Guardian has an article about how there are really no Western journalists left in Fallujah except for those embedded with US or British forces.
The few reporters left in Falluja are mainly Iraqi journalists and include two stringers for Reuters Television. But the absence of western reporters has raised questions over the ability of major news organisations to accurately report the assault on the city and its consequences.

Aidan White, the general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, said the situation in Falluja was "hopeless as far as most media were concerned".

"A cloak has been thrown over the whole area and we are in the dark. Any recognisable journalism as we would know it is all but impossible," he said.
For Americans, this will probably not impact the news we get significantly. The majority of American reporters have been limited to Baghdad or embedding with US troops for most of the war in Iraq. It seems that most of the "news" from Iraq comes directly from Pentagon press conferences or official statements from the American military in Iraq. My Aunt Deb pointed to a Yahoo News story the other day that reported that 1) Fallujah has approximately 300,000 inhabitants and 2) it is estimated that approximately 80-90 percent of the city's inhabitants had already left the city and 3) that US troops forbid men aged 15-50 from entering or leaving Fallujah and the surrounding areas. So are we supposed to believe that only 10-20% of Fallujah's 300,000 inhabitants are men aged 15-50? I don't think so. As Aunt Deb wrote to me, "This is the sort of thing that makes you realize that reporters are being wilfully obtuse about this story."

And now we are going to get lots and lotsa "news from Fallujah" on all of our cable news channels, but really how much of it is going to be "news"? and how much of it is really going to be "from Fallujah"? Not a whole heck of a lot, I would guess. When Aidan White says that "Any recognisable journalism as we would know it is all but impossible," it makes me wonder what "recognisable journalism as we would know it" here in the United States really is, and whether it will be "all but impossible" or whether we'll hardly skip a beat. I tend to think the latter.

Monday, November 08, 2004

 

Mosaics on the floor of the cathedral in Otranto--An elephant. (Both photos by my pops.)

 

Mosaics on the floor of the cathedral in Otranto--This is supposedly Alexander the Great trying to entice the gryphons (one on either side) to fly him up to heaven.

 

Anti-Islamic violence in the Netherlands

In Amsterdam, the murder of Theo van Gogh, a filmmaker and relative of Vincent, has set off a wave of anti-Muslim incidents. From the AP:
Vandals threw red paint Saturday night on an Amsterdam center that assists immigrants, many of them Muslim. Abdou Menebhi, director of the Emcemo center, several blocks from the spot where Van Gogh was killed, told AT5 television he "assumed (the vandalism) was done by a racist group of some kind."

In the town of Huizen, police arrested two men allegedly trying to start a fire at the An-Nasr mosque Friday night, the national news service NOS reported. A mosque in the city of Breda sustained minor fire damage in another reported arson attempt.

Earlier this week, a small fire was set at a mosque in Utrecht, police said, and a pig's head was left in a plastic bag outside a mosque in Amsterdam.

NOS reported Sunday that pamphlets with the image of a pig and a slur against Muslims were circulating in Rotterdam.
Also from the AP:
A bombing before dawn Monday blew the front door off a Muslim elementary school in a southern town and extensively damaged the building in what police suspect was a revenge attack for the killing of a Dutch filmmaker last week.
These are especially disturbing considering the reputation that the Netherlands has for being a very progressive society.

 

Hallelujah Fallujah

Ayad Allawi "authorized" US troops to destroy Fallujah today, although I think as of yet they have not "entered the city." This whole weekend, the television talking heads were chomping at the bit over Fallujah. You can feel the erections and the sweaty palms of every salivating Fox News "Military Analyst" through the screen. It is one of the creepiest feelings I have ever had. The feeling that this city has been condemned, that it is Gomorrah, and that the US soldiers are the agents of God's wrath, is pervasive in all the coverage of the pending attack. The announcement that all traffic into and out of Fallujah had been shut off was greeted as a welcome announcement, an indication that we wouldn't have to wait too much longer to see shit explode on our TV screens. It was Christmas Eve, and Santa would be getting us that videogame for Christmas, and we couldn't wait until Christmas day, when we could spend the whole day in front of the TV, blowing shit up. I can't stop thinking of the innocent men aged 15 to 60 who weren't allowed to leave. The old women, wives, grandfathers, handicapped, young children who had not yet left or had chosen to stay. The fact that if they died now it would be OK, because they had their chance to leave. That everybody now inside Fallujah was considered a terrorist. That, as Allawi said, the city would be "cleaned" of terrorists. Rahul Mahajan writes on Common Dreams of the first siege of Fallujah, in April. He also writes:
Even within horror and terror, there are degrees, and we – and the people of Fallujah – ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

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