Tuesday, April 29, 2003

I've often commented to my brother that the Israelis and Palestinians seem to follow a script whenever something bad happens. Does any of this sound familiar?

Israeli govt spokesman: The Palestinians MUST do more to fight terrorism. Sure, they're a rump authority with control only over parts of the Palestinian territories. Sure, their security services are 1/10 as sophisticated as the Mossad. Sure, they have no money. But we still expect them to crush terrorism in a way that the powerful Israeli authorities have not been able to do in 35 years. We also believe the rain storms that drenched Jerusalem could also have been stopped if terrorist Yassir Arafat had the will to do so.

Palestinian spokesman: We condemn terrorism in all its forms... except when it's justified. But terrorism will continue so long as the Israelis brutalize our citizens and target women and children and the residences of civilians. Sure, those houses are used by suicide bombers. Sure, those children use crayons to draw pictures glorifying the bombers and are more than willing to be the next martyrs. It's all the Israelis' fault. Terrorist Ariel Sharon must change. And as 24 UN resolutions have stated clearly, rain in Jerusalem has always been the fault of the Israeli government.

Of course, if there's some atrocity by the Israeli Defense Forces in the Occupied Territories, then the order of the script is reversed.

There was another suicide bombing in Tel Aviv today and the script was followed to a t. The Israeli government spokesman said that it represented "a complete failure" of the new Palestinian prime minister and government. The government that had been installed literally a few hours prior to the bombing.
In recent months, I have certainly been very critical of President Bush and especially his advisors. I do not need to repeat myself as to why. However, I have to give credit where credit is due. Occassionally, the administration does get something right.

Last Friday, the president signed the Clean Diamonds Trading Act passed by Congress. This law brings the US in line with the international Kimberly Process.

The Kimberly Process was initiated to combat the scourge of 'blood diamonds.' The export of diamonds from conflict zones have been used to fund some of the African continent's most brutal civil wars, especially ones in Angola and Sierra Leone which have recently ended (one hopes).

The alleged 'blood diamond' links between Sierra Leone's RUF rebels and Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda probably didn't hurt the efforts by humanitarian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to convince Congress and the president as to the importance of this legislation. Given that Americans buy as much as 70% of the world's diamonds, passage of this law was particularly important.

You also may remember the commitment the president made in his state of the union address concerning funding for programs to fight the AIDS pandemic in Africa. Some called it a cynical move to soften up moderates and progressives (that along with the call for funding hydrogen fuel cells research) in the speech before launching his hard-line rhetoric against Iraq.

The president was scheduled to announced today support for a $15 billion plan to fight AIDS/HIV around the world, however the plan is being targeted by conservatives who want to derail the initiative. As you might expect, hard-liners object to programs that include needle exchanges, contraception and other things that many conservatives object to. We may shortly be able to gauge the depth and sincereity of the president's commitment to this issue.

Hopefully, the president will find it as beneficial to spend a multi-billion dollar amount fighting the world's worst disease as he found it to spend a multi-billion dollar amount fighting one of the world's worst dictators.

Thursday, April 24, 2003

One of the most divisive issues facing the American left (what remains of it) is whether Ralph Nader should make another run for the presidency of the Green Party ticket. There was a long article in Salon.com about it.

Not surprisingly, Democrats think he should forego a run. Greens are mostly split on the issue. Some argue that we are in a time of "national emergency" due to the dangerous extremist actions of the Bush administration. Others think that the long-term solution, a viable third-party, requires the Greens continue their momentum, momentum which would be stalled by not running a candidate in 2004.

Most Greens are naturally disinclined to consider the first option, which smacks too much of the "lesser of two evils" line. Greens for years have be pointing out that the lesser of two evils is still an evil. On the other hand, many are considering it because of how dangerous the Bush administration is. There's no point in worrying about the long-term, goes the argument, if it ends up being destroyed beyond redemption by short-term events.

I don't buy into the line that there is no difference between the Republicans and Democrats. I think there is NOT ENOUGH difference between the two. The Republicans believe largely in bad ideas, but at least have the guts to defend those ideas. The Democrats believe mostly in the right ideas, but show no guts in defending those ideas. What good is being right if you're not going to stand up for it? Democratic acquiescence in the face of the conquest of Iraq and the war on civil liberties only shows how dangerous this lack of a backbone has proven to the country. Their lack of backbone is due to their fear of being labelled unpatriotic. Rather than trying to change the terms of the debate, they cravenly accept it and going along for fear of their jobs. If elected Democrats aren't up to the constitutional resposibility of checking and balancing, then surely we need people in Congress who are up to the job.

I really would be loathe to campaign for the Democrats. Far from making me regret my votes for Green candidates, the inertia of the Democrats in the last two years in the face of the astonishing extremism of the Bush administration only makes me more certain that America needs a real opposition party. If the Democrats aren't that party, then the Greens should be.

But I am still conflicted. While only one Democrat would be a good president (Howard Dean), almost all of the others, even conservative Democrat Joe Liebermann, would be significantly less bad than Bush and his team. While voting Democrat might not put us on the path to good health, it would at least stop the hemoraghing.

Yet the presumptousness of the Democrats in the face of all this astounds me. They just ASSUME that anyone on the left should vote Democrat, even if Democrats have pissed on progressives and Greens for years.

Recently, the local committee to elect Howard Dean approached a friend of mine, who's the chair of the local Greens organization. They wanted him to give his support for Howard Dean. He asked what could Dean do for the Green movement and why Dean would be a better candidate than, say, Nader. They responded by blaming Nader for the 2000 election. It's this arrogance that angers me and other progressives. They didn't answer why Dean would be the best candidate. Instead, they played the blame game. Rather than offering a positive forward-looking vision, they came out with the old-fashioned backward looking negativity.

If you're a Democrat organizer reading this, get this through your skull: if you want progressives to support you, give us a POSITIVE reason to do so.

We are not a bunch of lemmings. Nor are we a group of malcontents with no other options. Don't bully us because you think you have a god-given right to our vote no matter how badly you treat us.

In order for me to even consider a temporary Democrat-Green coalition, it also ABSOLUTELY IMPERATIVE that there be conditions. Not along the lines of vague promises of "advancing this or that" but something far more concrete: cabinet posts.

Negotiate just like they do in other western democracies. If the Democrats want Green support, offer the Greens the leadership of the Justice Department, Health and Human Services Department and Environmental Protection Agency. Maybe a fourth. I'd love to see Attorney General Ralph Nader.

Basically, Democrats want Green support for free, but it's not going to happen. It's been made eminently clear that they can't be trusted to act progressively on their own.

This sort of compromise is the best way to ensure the progressive agenda is at least somewhat advanced. Of course, it would also require that they nominate a half-way decent candidate, which means no Joe Liebermann (Bill Bennett's favorite Democrat) and no John Edwards (an empty suit and shill of the trial lawyers). Dr. Howard Dean is clearly the best Democrat out there, by far. He is a serious candidate and has a good progressive record as a chief executive (governor of Vermont). John Kerry or Bob Graham could be acceptable. I might hold my nose and vote for Dick Gephardt if I knew Greens would be in the cabinet.

I'm not sure this is going to happen because it would require Democrats to swallow their pride and acknowledge that Greens are actually a force that increasingly need to be taken into account. But they should be willing to engage in such compromise for the sake of the nation.

If the Democrats refuse such negotiation, it will demonstrate as clear as day for all to see that they are only interested in hoarding all the power for themselves. So Democrats, it will soon be time to put up or shut up.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Even in the best of times, the American media's coverage of foreign affairs is of little value. For years, consistent media coverage of international issues was pretty much limited to the Middle East (with the occassional sidetrip to the Balkans). Sure, there could be mass popular uprisings in Latin America, a famine menace in eastern and southern Africa and the threat of war between nuclear powers Pakistan and India, but one person burning an American flag in Gaza was sure to garner 10 times more media attention.

The conquest of Iraq has only exacerbated that problem. If you want to have a good idea about what's going on in the world outside the US and Middle East, you must read, watch or listen to non-American media sources. It's that simple. The American media simply doesn't do the job, especially television; this is all the more ironic given that we have a trio of "news channels" with 24 hours a day to fill! Sadly, they've become a classic example of the principle, "More information, less informed."

But fear not, faithful readers. The Popeye Chicken press review service will not let you down. Below, are some stories you likely did NOT hear about in the "mainstream" American media.

-Nigerian elections. Last weekend, Africa's most populous nation held presidential elections. After spending most of its history under military rule, this is the first time a democratically-elected government organized elections. It was pretty much a two-man race between the incumbent President Gen. Olesegun Obansanjo and former head of state Gen. Muhammadu Buhari. Both are former military heads of state (in the late 70s and mid 80s respectively). The voting passed off relatively peacefully in most parts of the country. Gen. Obasanjo has been all but declared the official winner. The opposition alleged massive fraud. International observers lauded the peacefulness of the voting but in at least half a dozen states, fraud was so widespread as to make the result not credible. In one state, the incumbent was credited with over 99.9% of the official vote. It remains to be seen how the opposition will respond. This election may tarnish the international image of Pres. Obasanjo, who gained a reputation not only as a democrat (in 1979, his military regime handed over power to a civilian elected administration) but also as a pan-African statesman implicated in many continental projects, including the African development project NEPAD. His domestic image has already been tarnished largely by his inability to get the chronically broken country working again. It was always going to be a momumental task, given that corruption was so deeply rooted throughout Nigerian society after 40 years of mostly military dictatorship. But some resent the time he spent on grand continental ideas at the expense of fixing domestic problems. [For more info, see: The BBC's report or The BBC's Q&A on the elections].

-Big sugar vs. the World Health Organization. The World Health Organization (WHO) is the body responsible for public health on the planet, as the name suggests. It is involved in coordinating vaccination efforts, the fight against infectious diseases and just about anything else related to public health. It does not implement these things, for the most part; that is left to national health ministries (or the private systems). However, the WHO is responsible for coordinating these efforts, issuing guidelines on public health, doing research and the like. Recently, they issued a report suggesting that sugar should form no more than 10% of a person's diet. As you might expect, the American sugar industry sees things differently. No brownie points for guessing if the thinks the number should be higher or lower... 25%. According to the sugar lobby, this number was reached by the National Academy of Sciences' Food Nutrition board in Sept. 2002. The radio version of this report suggested that the sugar lobby was going to put pressure on Washington to slash or eliminate the United States' contribution to the WHO. [For more info, see, BBC news report, WHO report on diet and chronic disease or Sugar lobby's reaction to WHO guidelines].

-Threat of famine in eastern and southern Africa. A threat to international peace and security, according to the executive director of the World Food Program, in an address to the UN Security Council. He notes that the WFP's humanitarian operation in Iraq will spend $1.3 billion over 6 months to feed 27 million people. He pointed out that over 40 million people in eastern and southern Africa were "in greater peril." If even 5% of those 40 million die, it would surely be more than the number killed at the hands of Saddam's regime and the "collateral damange" of the American invasion put together.
Yet, there is little hope of any massive humanitarian intervention by either the militaristic United States or self-righteous Western Europeans to address this crisis. The WFP's director asked, "How is it we routinely accept a level of suffering and hopelessness in Africa we would never accept in any other part of the world?" Indeed. [For more info, see: the text of the WFP director's address to the UN Security Council at AllAfrica.com].

-Peace in the DR Congo?. A few weeks ago, a(nother) peace accord was signed to end the 5 year old civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (ex-Zaire). The war is believed to be the deadliest war in the world ever fought since the end of World War II. Over 3 million people are estimated to have died as a direct or indirect result of the hostilities. The war, not surprisingly, is about natural resources and the revenue generated from them. The DRC has one of the largest mineral caches in the world. Diamonds, copper, gold. You name it, it's there. Natural resources are the bane of many an African country. The most stable countries tend to be the ones with few resources, like Senegal and Benin. No one wants to literally fight for peanuts (Senegal's main cash crop). The DRC has to be one of the most ungovernable countries in the world. Covered by enormously thick forests, it has few roads and a harsh tropical climate. Most notably, it is a gigantic territory approximately the size of western Europe. It is quite possibly ungovernable by modern standards, but "national" pride will preclude it from being broken up into more manageable states.

This is ironic. Many Africans complain, quite rightly, about the historical legacy of colonialism. They note how at the Berlin Conference of the 1880s divided Africa up amongst the European empires, borders were drawn arbitrarily and without regard to preserving the unity of different ethnic groups. Yet, when most African countries gained their independances in the late 50s and early 60s, these arbitrary borders were never discussed. In fact, the sanctity of those arbitrary borders was a founding principle of the continental Organization of African Unity. Secessionist movements in Biafra (eastern Nigeria), Katanga (eastern DRC) and Eritrea (eastern Ethiopia) were fought viciously and with widespread continental support. When Ethiopia finally granted independence to Eritrea, according to a provision of their new constitution, it was hugely controversial but right. I'm afraid only innovative thinking of that kind might possibly end the miserable situation long imposed on the Congolese people. Yet the Congolese are sorely lacking such innovative leaders that could pull it off. [For more info, see: Christian Science Monitor article].

-South African cemeteries overflowing due to AIDS deaths. A disease that's cost a few more lives than the couple hundred caused by SARS. [For more info, see: AllAfrica.com].

-Ethiopia faces social services collapse due to AIDS. Ditto. [For more info, see: Daily Mail and Guardian of South Africa.

-Legalize torture. In order to better regulate it, says civil libertarian guru Alan Dershowitz. Not sure I agree with it but it gives you something to think about. [For more info, see: Radio Netherlands].

Monday, April 21, 2003

I was listening to a fascinating BBC World Service interview with a British member of Parliament. As a practicing Catholic and a Liberal Democrat [which, in Britain, is like a social democrat with a civil libertarian streak], the woman spoke a bit about the relationship between religion and politics.

To her, the September 11, 2001 attacks were like "a political rape" of America. I've never been able to fully put into words to foreigners the full effects of 9/11 on the American psyche. I think her phrase, "political rape," is the best brief description I've heard of the psychological impact of the attacks.

There was shock and shame. For the first time, the American giant was at risk. Americans had always felt invulernable to the influence foreign powers, at least since the War of 1812. The feeling of vulnerability is something new to Americans. And we're reacting the only way we know how: militarily. We're not good at making friends. We're not good at diplomacy. We are good at war. Americans felt violated and now we're lashing out in anger. It doesn't matter who we hurt, as long as we hurt someone. It doesn't matter that Saddam had nothing to do with Osama (the guy that actually "raped" us). We took out a bad guy and it makes us feel good inside. In our minds, we took out another guy who might have potentially "raped" us in 1 or 5 or 100 years time.

This is why Europeans wonder why we're making such a big deal out of it. Countries like Britain and France and Spain have been living with terrorism for decades: they don't go around invading random countries.

In the early- and mid-90s, France was hit by a spate of terrorism inspired by Algerian Islamist extremists. When we proposed to invade Afghanistan, we invoked NATO's collective defense clause. Yet, when France was suffering frequent terrorist attacks, it never invoked that collective defense clause to suggest "regime change" in Algiers. France viewed it as crime, not as an international incident.

France viewed the mid-90s attacks as analagous to organized violent crime. The US viewed 9/11 as a "political rape." This goes some way to explaining the different ways each approached the problem (although France's 1954-62 war in Algeria, their equivalent to our Vietnam, surely lingered in memories).

Though it's worth noting that, despite these difference, supposed "axis of weasel" member France not only unequivocally supported our invasion of Afghanistan but sent troops over there. Maybe it's time we Americans stopped pissing on our friends. Or we soon might not have any left!
There was an intriguing piece in a recent New York Review of Books entitled America and the World. It was a review of five interesting books dealing with that very topic.

It picked apart the now famous essay/book Americans are From Mars, Europeans are from Venus by Robert Kagan, a theory which has gained some weight in international affairs circles recently.

There are some cogent points made about American and European attitudes toward power. To say that Europeans prefer institution building while Americans prefer a more aggressive approach to international affairs would hardly be an original observation. Nevertheless, this piece addresses how neither of these attitudes should be mutually exclusive.

During the Cold War, Western Europeans essentially ceded their collective defense to the United States. This decision contributed to the divergence in opinions on either side of the pond. First, allowing the US to worry primarily about the continent's defense meant that Europeans were free to work on building continental institutions, who've most notably evolved into a continental governance structure: the EU regulates consumer goods and industries, has its own court of human rights and issues its own currency. Secondly, letting the US defend Western Europe meant that European countries had more money to spend on education, health care and other social programs. The triumph of European social democracy (a capitalist base tempered by modest social equalization measures) is quite extraordinary. Not even center-right conservative parties in Western Europe would propose, for example, the wholescale privitization of the health care system à la the US. That everyone deserves access to medical care is a given.

This has worked for them. Despite the depictions of American conservatives, of creaky, bankrupt "welfare states" on the verge of socio-economic collapse, Europe is surely the place with the world's highest continental standard of living. Unemployment is a bit higher than in the US, though much lower than in most other places. Social conditions are much better than in the US. Although it has different social mores than the US, Europe is as prosperous by its own values and priorities.

Furthermore, the integration of Europe that has occurred in the last 55 years is an accomplishment whose magnitude can not be overstated. This is a continent whose countries were in perpetual war for centuries. The concept of Germany again invading Holland and Poland is inconceivable in 2003. The concept of war period in Western Europe is inconceivable in 2003. It's not just that Western Europe happens to have peace, but that war is inconceivable at this time. THAT is one of the greatest accomplishments in a long time.

And the European Union evolved with values that would be familiar to Americans: democracy, rule of law, religious tolerance, open markets.

This occurred not with American indifference, contempt or but with American help being integral. Not just the invasion of Normandy so often invoked by "hyper-patriots" but even more so, the Marshall Plan. It didn't do this because America was nice. The Marshall Plan was done because a free, democratic and friendly Western Europe was in our national interest. The alternative was certainly not in our interest.

The great achievements of European institution building resulted from it becoming a de facto military protectorate of the US. The US realized that American security could not be ensured by isolationism or unilateralism. By helping the Europeans economically and politically, we won "their hearts and minds." Basically, we needed them as much as they needed us. Furthermore, the great international institutions were built, in large part, because of American engagement. The UN Declaration of Human Rights, most notably. Even the much-hated (in US foreign policy elite circles) International Criminal Court [ICC] was actually the original vision of those Americans (and others) who participated in the Nuremberg trials against the Nazis.

The US has benefited from the existence of these international institutions. The US is better off with Syria blowing off steam by venting its anti-Israeli, anti-US vitriol in the General Assembly that with Syria invading Israel or harboring al-Qaeda.

Europeans in 2003 tend prefer deferrence to international institutions to military conflict. Given European history of the 2nd millenium, this is probably a good thing overall. Nevertheless, they need to come up with a coherent answer to the question: what should be done when countries reject international institutions and international norms?

When the imperialists in Washington ask this question, the European response too often is, "Yeah, [x] is violating international norms but the US and Israel are doing it worse." Which, even if you accept this as true, is really a non-response. Changing the subject rather than answering the question. It allows the imperialists in Washington to dismiss Europeans out of hand as being un-serious.

Americans in 2003 tend to prefer diplomacy so long as we can get their own way. If we can't get our own way on merits, we use bullying tactics to achieve the end (ICC) or we simply take our ball and go home (Kyoto). We are a not as reticent to go to war to achieve those ends because there hasn't been a full-fledged war against another country on American soil in nearly 200 years. Europeans remember vividly Dresden and the Battle of Britain. While many American soldiers fought in the war in Europe or Asia, there is no societal COLLECTIVE memory of war in our towns and villages.

A few years ago, there was all this "* of the century talk." Person of the century. Event of the century. Invention of the century, etc. I argued that World War II was the most influential event of the 20th century. Not only for what it was, but for what it's implications were. Only a few of which were: the Cold War, the end of the Europe's African and Asian empires, the successes of the civil rights' and women's rights movements in the US, the founding of the international institutions and the enshrinement of the principles of basic human rights.

But it also had another consequence. To Americans, World War II continues to serve as an example of war sometimes being right and just. To Europeans, World War II continues to serve as an example of war always being wasteful and devastating.

Maybe. just maybe, all four of those things are correct.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

The Supreme Court recently heard arguments on the University of Michigan's affirmative action policy. Affirmative action's opponents usually present it as a policy of quotas when this is not the case. Affirmative action simply means allowing race as one of the factors in admission (in this context).

The policy's supporters say that is necessary to ensure racial diversity. Opponents say that merit should be the only criteria used in admissions.

I happen to think affirmative action is fine. Bear in mind, that affirmative action only pertains to admissions, not to graduation. It simply affects who gets in, not who graduates. It has no bearing on the value of the university's degrees or its standards. If a minority can't hack it, he or she will quit, just like a white. Where exactly is the problem? Affirmative action doesn't guarantee anyone success. It's just giving them a chance. It's not allowing anyone to cut in line, only to get into line in the first place.

Critics suggest that someone who gets into a college "only because" of affirmative action is "stealing" a place from a qualified applicant. Are they? Affirmative action is meant to supplement, not replace, academic criteria. When affirmative action is applied, it allows qualified minorities to get in, perhaps over slightly more qualified whites. It might be a black with a 1400 SAT score getting into Yale and a white with a 1430 being on the wait-list. Can anyone say that the guy with the 1400 SAT score doesn't belong? The idea of the unqualified even being involved in the process is a myth.

Furthermore, critics scoff at allowing racial diversity a value in and of itself. Yet, the university takes measures to ensure geographic diversity. If everyone at Yale came from Connecticut, it would be a pretty boring place. The point of diversity is that it allows you to meet people with different opinions and from different backgrounds, thus hopefully permitting your own point of view to evolve and expand.

People act like this is superfluous, but in fact it's at the heart of the university experience. The goal of education is not simply to teach students specific stuff, but to teach them how to learn. A good university teaches you how to think, so you can educate yourself once your formal schooling is over, so you can think critically for yourself. If you go to a bad university, then you simply stop learning once you graduate. Learning how to think is a prerequisite for learning any particular topic.

When I went to college, I was a pretty standard partisan liberal. But my roommate of three years was a libertarian and grandson of a famous conservative newspaper columnist. Because of knowing him, I was exposed to views that I'd never heard of in my little circle of friends in high school. As a result, my political views were somewhat different, and more profound, than they were when I entered college. All of this had nothing directly to do with my particular major, math, but I was a more educated human being as a result.

Nevertheless, I could accept race being eliminated from the admissions process. But only under the following condition: that all other criteria, other than purely academic, be eliminated as well. No critieria for geographic balance. No preferences to those whose relatives donated lots of money. No preferences to those whose fathers were famous alumni (the president is perhaps the most famous beneficiary of this preference that conservatives conveniently ignore). No preferences to people simply because they can shoot a basketball or throw a football 70 yards. Eliminate all preferences other than grades and test scores and I'd be happy to concede the dismantlement of affirmative action.

Until then, I don't want to hear anyone complain that affirmative action is wrong but these other, equally arbitrary and non-merit based, preferences are acceptable. Be consistent, one way or the other.
The government announced that so far, the Iraq invasion has cost about $20 billion ($20,000,000,000). It estimated that the occupation of Iraq would run $2 billion ($2,000,000,000) per month. That's money funded by taxpayers like you and me. Thus, even a five-month occupation would push the total bill to over $30,000,000,000. That's 30,000,000,000+ of our tax dollars that will not be spent on education or health care or police or tax cuts or anti-drug efforts. The president himself did not say that Iraq was an imminent threat, but that it might conceivably possibly theoretically have been a threat in 1 or 5 or 100 years. So if you were in favor of the war, was it worth $30,000,000,000 of your tax money?

$30,000,000,000 means that the war will have cost approximately $100 per person. So the next time you cry about your taxes, don't whine about public broadcasting ($410 million in FY2002 or $1.37 per capita). Don't whine about the US Postal Service ($2.6 billion or $8.67 per capita). Instead, you can thank that war against the phantom threat that you wanted.

Yet, normally anti-big government conservatives were the strongest pushers of this war. They don't trust the government to educate our kids. They don't trust the government to provide national health care. They don't trust the government to do anything with our tax money... except make war, it seems. The miltary can have all the money it wants for its toys. If the president decides the military should spend billions of dollars invading random countries to root out phantom enemies, "patriotic Americans" must not ask questions. "Shut up and be submissive" are what public school SHOULD be teaching, if the neo-conservatives had their way.

I've heard it suggested that because of our overwhelming military dominance, war has become too easy. We can intervene in Kosovo with nary a casuality. We can conquer such a "dangerous and threatening" country like Iraq with a hundred or so deaths. Because it's so easy, we talk of it with alarming casualness. Sure, a few of our people get killed but nothing like World War I or Vietnam. Frankly, I'm glad that not a lot of our soldiers get killed.

Some pro-warriors have said, "Now that we've used our big stick, hopefully we won't have to use it again." If that's the lesson that ends up being digested in Washington, then hopefully the long-term damage will be limited. But what is coming out of the chest-beaters quarters now is this: if it was so easy in Iraq, let's do it somewhere else too. "Iraq went well, maybe Syria's next. Maybe the Libya." You'd think they were talking about a football game.

THIS casualness, more than anything else, is what scares the rest of the world, including our friends. We're the 500 pound gorilla. We're worried about stubbing our toe. The rest of the world is worried about not getting crushed.

In 2002, the US military was allocated $343.2 billion (thus belying the cries of "military fiscal starvation" that was heard in the 90s) in 2002

Our potential enemies (Iran, Syria, N. Korea, Libya, Cuba and Sudan) spent* a combined $13 billion.
All of our allies combined (NATO, Japan, S. Korea, Australia) spent a combined $212.6 billion.
Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Taiwan spent a combined $127.5 billion.

Iraq, Syria, N. Korea, Libya, Cuba, Sudan, Japan, S Korea, Australia, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Taiwan and the 18 member countries of NATO. Those 32 countries COMBINED spend only about 1.03% more on the military than the United States by itself.

These numbers, combined with the president's well-known contempt for international law and institutions, require no further commentary from me.

*-military spending figures for 2000, except Sudan (1999) and USA (2002).

Source: http://www.cdi.org/products/almanac0102.pdf
If you can only listen to one media source, can I suggest that it be the BBC World Service (http://www.bbcworldservice.com).

In the few news briefings I've caught on the C-SPAN or the President's News Channel (FNC), the BBC reporters are the only ones asking real, probing questions. I was listening to the BBC last night and they were interviewing a spokesman from Centcom (US Central Command) about the looting in Baghdad. He gave the typical pat answers about how it's too bad about the looting but we're LIBERATING them and that it's too bad about the looting but we should remember that Saddam Hussein was evil. The BBC journalist did not let him get away with these pat answers; he really pressed the spokesman.The spokesman said that it was too bad about the looting but it was sort of inevitable when you consider that they were being LIBERATED from decades of oppression and they wanted to blow off a little steam. The journalist countered that if this was so foreseable, how come the US military didn't have a plan to deal with it? The spokesman replied by saying yea, there's shooting in Baghdad, but there's also shooting in London and you're not attacking the British police. The journalist, again, wouldn't let him get away with that canard, noting that there's far more shooting in Baghdad than in London. The spokesman said that this was understandable since it was just recently a war zone.

I happen to think that there is an element of inevitability in such looting. I also think the US military is in a difficult situation. If they aggressively crack down on looters, then the al-Jazeera and "drop Bush, not bombs" crowds freak out and scream about American oppression. If they don't crack down aggressively, then they're accused of allowing rampant criminality.

Nevertheless, it's important these questions be asked. If for no other reason than to pressure the occupying forces to restore law and order as quickly as possible. I felt that this exchange left me better informed than before. I don't get very often from the American media who's usually more interested in telling us what the government feeds them or shoving vapid, yapping heads screaming simplistic nonesense at the top of their lungs down our throats.

The difference is that you probably wouldn't hear such issues seriously and sanely discussed on American television. And if you did, no American reporter would dare ask questions as tough as the BBC journalist did for fear of being labelled an "America hater" or "unpatriotic" by the rabid crowd.


My dad was watching a news broadcast of Syrian state television on CSPAN. I asked him why he was watching this and he said "for a different perspective." He can do what he wants but his idea of being informed is switching from one propaganda machine (US cable news) to another. Anyways, the broadcast explained the Syrian government's desire for the American occupation to end as soon as possible and for Iraqi sovereignty to return to Iraqis. This is ironic coming from the country who's controlled a puppet government in Lebanon for a quarter century. Then again, Arab countries (like those repressive dictatorships are only concerned about human rights' abuses when it's against the Palestinians) are well-known for the sense of irony.


Tony Blair should beware.

In late 2001, we were thanking our European allies for their solidarity in the wake of 9/11. The French were saying "we are all Americans" and we were thanking them for standing on the side of civilization against evil. A few months later, the Europeans almost unanimously supported our invasion of Afghanistan against the Taliban-supported al-Qaeda. French and German troops fought alongside Americans and French and German troops REMAIN in Afghanistan making sure the enemies of America don't return there. They were alongside us fighting against those who had proven to be threats to America. We thanked them.

Then, Pres. Bush thought this wasn't enough. He decided to launch his crusade against a ruthless dictator, but one who was no threat to America. Even the president himself didn't say Iraq was an imminent threat to America. Only that it might conceivably possibly in some theoretical sense be a threat to us in 1 or 5 or 100 years. Countries like the French and Germans balked at this imperial adventure. They were with us when it was a question of security, but against us when it was not a question of an imminent threat. Those who had fought so valiantly against America's enemies in Afghanistan suddenly became the "axis of weasel" in the neo-conservative circles. I wonder how many French and German troops died in Afghanistan for this ingratitude.

Tony Blair stood alongside us because he somehow became convinced that it was the right thing to do. Neo-conservatives heaped praise on the British prime minister. He's a great man, a true statesman, they insist. They talk of him like he's the 21st century's Churchill.

But what happens if Blair opposes Bush's next imperial adventure? You can be sure that he will be put squarely in the "axis of weasel" alongside Chirac and de Villepin. He will go from being the 21st century's Churchill to its Chamberlain.

You're already seeing signs of strain with the internationalist Blair insisting on a central role for the United Nations in rebuilding Iraq. He realizes that this would give international legitimacy to the operation and counter charges made by those, including myself, that the invasion was an imperial adventure of economic conquest. It would counter the "to the conquerors go the spoils" mentality of neo-conservatives like Bill O'Reilly.

But Tony Blair should beware. He's the darling of the chest-beaters in Washington right now, but that could change in a heartbeat. And, at some point, almost certainly will.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

An interesting article appeared in the The New York Review of Books recently. It was a letter from a career diplomat to Secretary of State Colin Powell detailing the reasons he had chosen to resign.

Some notable excerpts of his letter:

"The policies we are now asked to advance are incompatible not only with American values but also with American interests. Our fervent pursuit of war with Iraq is driving us to squander the international legitimacy that has been America's most potent weapon of both offense and defense since the days of Woodrow Wilson. We have begun to dismantle the largest and most effective web of international relationships the world has ever known. Our current course will bring instability and danger, not security."

"The sacrifice of global interests to domestic politics and to bureaucratic self-interest is nothing new, and it is certainly not a uniquely American problem. Still, we have not seen such systematic distortion of intelligence, such systematic manipulation of American opinion, since the war in Vietnam. The September 11 tragedy left us stronger than before, rallying around us a vast international coalition to cooperate for the first time in a systematic way against the threat of terrorism. But rather than take credit for those successes and build on them, this administration has chosen to make terrorism a domestic political tool, enlisting a scattered and largely defeated al-Qaeda as its bureaucratic ally."

"We should ask ourselves why we have failed to persuade more of the world that a war with Iraq is necessary. We have over the past two years done too much to assert to our world partners that narrow and mercenary US interests override the cherished values of our partners. Even where our aims are not in question, our consistency is at issue."

"But our closest allies are persuaded less that war is justified than that it would be perilous to allow the US to drift into complete solipsism. Loyalty should be reciprocal. Why does our president condone the swaggering and contemptuous approach to our friends and allies this administration is fostering, including among its most senior officials?"

"I urge you to listen to America's friends around the world. Even here in Greece, purported hotbed of European anti-Americanism, we have more and closer friends than the American newspaper reader can possibly imagine. Even when they complain about American arrogance, Greeks know that the world is a difficult and dangerous place, and they want a strong international system with the US and the EU in close partnership. When our friends are afraid of us rather than for us, it is time to worry. And now they are afraid. Who will tell them convincingly that the United States is as it was, a beacon of liberty, security, and justice for the planet? "

After my Peace Corps service ended, I'd seriously considered joining the foreign service. Living in other countries and learning about other cultures seemed like the kind of thing I could enjoy. But I could never reconcile my deeply held skepticism of many aspects of American foreign policy with the role of a diplomat who's job is to defend those policies. I realized that I would never agree with ALL aspects of American foreign policy; that was unrealistic. But there had to be a substantial acceptance of the goals and conduct on my part in order for me to, in good conscience, be a representative of the American government. Under the Clinton administration (who was in power when I was considering this), I thought the stated goals of their foreign policy were reasonable but their conduct bore little resemblance to those stated goals. Under the present administration, I am in substantial disagreement even with their (imperial) goals.

It is sad that we Americans consider ourselves to be beacons of freedom and liberty but, for most of the last 100 years, have engaged in a policies that were directly antithetical to those beacons. That which we profess to be here in America bears no resemblence to our government's actions abroad. This chasm did not begin with the current administration, but the gap has expanded to an unprecedented width.

The scary part is that as talented, committed multilateralists diplomats like this leave the foreign service because they feel so alienated, because they feel they can't represent our government in good conscience, who will they be replaced by? Who will be the new face of America abroad? Will they counter the messianic cavalierness of the administration or amplify it?

The full text of this illuminating letter can be read by clicking here.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

I read an Associated Press article about how the US aided Iraq's nuclear weapons program. "I found a nice gift from the US Atomic Energy Agency Project at the library -- the Manhattan Project Report," Khidhhir Hamza, a nuclear physicist who defected in 1994, said Thursday.

I wish this surprised me, but it doesn't. The US has a history of siding with odious fellows only to have such support bite them in the rear end. There seem to be two popular scenarios.

The first is that we support a despicable regime so blindly that it forments revolutionary conditions and gets overthrown. The new regime is far more hostile to us than the old one. Castro in Cuba. The Sandanistas in Nicaragua. The Ayatollah Khomeni in Iran. One might could also argue Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.

The other popular scenario is to blindly adhere to the "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" canard. It is the collorary to the famous statement by FDR's Secretar of State regarding the Dominican Republic's dictator, "He may be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch."

As a result of slavish believe in this principle, we supported the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan against the Soviets... the Mujahadeen who became the Taliban. We supported Saddam Hussein against Islamic fundamentalist Iran. We supported Manuel Noriega in Panama. This wasn't passive support, it was active. We gave Saddam nuclear documents. We armed him. Most of you have seen the notorious picture from the 80s of a smiling Donald Rumsfeld (now Secretary of War) shaking hands with Saddam. Noriega was trained at the CIA-run School of the Americas (nicknamed the School for Torturers due the infamy of many of its alumni). As you know, we subsequently demonized all three of those regimes and invaded all three of those countries.

We found out too late that once someone stops being OUR son of a bitch, he remains A son of a bitch. Yet, we have yet learned our lesson. It hasn't even given us pause for caution. We alienate civilized countries like France and Germany and court repressive dictatorships like Saudi Arabia.

How many more Frankensteins are we going to create before we are going to figure things out? Even Pavlov's dog figured things out faster... and he was a canine. Human rights abusers are not reliable partners. Those who show contempt for freedom at home can not be trusted in any fight to spread freedom abroad.

Remember, the lesser of two evils is still an evil.

Monday, April 14, 2003

USA: The guy who's quarterback and captain of the football team. He is convinced that the world would collapse without his grandeur. He gets annoyed by those who don't genuflect before the awesomeness of the contribution he makes to the school. Everyone complains about his overbearing arrogance but if push came to shove, most would rather be in his shoes. He knows he's immune from the school board's rules because he's the quarterback and captain of the football team.

The "blindly support the president" crowd: The folks who organize shrill pep rallies and berate the lack of spirit when only a quarter of the students paint their faces in school colors.

Britain and Australia: The linemen who do much of the quarterback's dirty work but get none of the glory.

Italy and Spain: The waterboys who suck up to the captain of the football team in the hopes of some small reflected glory.

The rest of the "coalition of the willing": The fat kids who toady up to the captain of the football team in the hopes of not getting the shit beat of them.

France and Germany: The artistic types who constantly complain about the arrogance of athletes. They are certain they are morally superior than the superficial jocks and cheerleaders, but their self-righteousness gets on people's nerves almost as much as the captain of the football team's. They're the ones that everyone makes juvenile taunts to because they think it makes them look cool.

Russia: The captain of the football team 10 years ago. He used to be really important and still is in his own mind. He's become a middle-aged slob with a beer gut.

China: The captain of the swim team who always bitches about how the captain of the football team gets all the attention.

Canada: The football team's punter who thinks the captain is an idiot but doesn't want to piss him off too much because he knows who stands where on the pecking order.

The UN: The school board. Is beset by petty politics but has very little actual power but is the scapegoat when things go wrong.

The "drop Bush not bombs" crowd: The Student Council. They always complain about the way school is allegedly mis-run but the most substantive improvements they propose are "Abolish homework" and "Make school fun." After unanimously agreeing on this, they content themselves with talking about how dorky the principal is. Then when no one listens to them, they cry that no one takes them seriously.

Saddam Hussein: The third grade bully. No real threat to high schoolers but he made the mistake of picking on the little cousin of the captain of the football team.

The rest of the Arab world: The third-grade bully's toadies who scream about how terribly the third-grade bully is now being tormented by the captain of the football team and how unfair this mistreatment is.

Africa: The first- and second-graders who wonder when they are going to be "liberated" from their bullies.

Humanitarian relief agencies: The school nurse. Has no control over school policies but has to clean up the messes created by others regardless.

Sunday, April 13, 2003

For months, there have been pro-peace and support the troops/president (or, if you prefer, pro- and anti-war) demonstrations in my city's downtown. One of the main organizers of the "support the troops" rallies has been a guy claiming to be a Korean War veteran. Yesterday, the local paper revealed that the organizer had in fact lied about his military service. The Army unit which he claimed to have served with was inactive from 1947-1963.

He in fact served in the National Guard, which he seemingly dissed. He was quoted, "You think those combat veterans would follow a National Guardsman? National Guardsmen were homefront guys, they weren't combat soldiers then. They were like a Boy Scout group."

So instead, he lied. Judging from what I know about my brother, a Marine veteran, telling bald-face lies doesn't seem to be part of what most people associate with military honor. Why did he do then?

The paper explained [Name] said he didn't think his efforts would be noticed if he had not served in the military.

I've heard and read countless comments implying that only military veterans have a right to an opinion on this issue. And even then, somehow military veterans who oppose the war have less of a right to their opinion than those who support the war.

It is unfortunate that this guy felt the only way he could be taken seriously was to lie. However, this is a direct result of the bullying tactics some in the pro-war camp have used. They have suggested that only those who've served in the military have "earned' the right to be taken seriously. Saying you've served has become like an innoculation. You can make ridiculous statements like, "We must enforce UN resolutions" or "We're invading to uphold international law" but once you say you're a veteran, you get a free pass. They don't really deal well with veterans who are against the war.

This organizer was apparently a victim of this bullying. But he wasn't the only victim. Many anti-war demonstraters have trouble being taken seriously as well. Those anti-warriors who make similiarly ridiculous statements don't get the same free pass. Those who make intelligent, substantive arguments usually don't get heard. Guess which one gets more air time on TV.

The difference is that, in our community anyways, none of the leaders of the anti-war protests have lied about their military service to get favorable PR. (At least not that we know of)

So how did this gentleman react, with typical gracelessness. His kill-the-messenger comment was, "I guess someone don't [sic] like me doing these rallies and they're trying to discredit me personally." Well, sir, if you TELL THE TRUTH, then you don't have to worry about someone discovering your dirty little secret.

He added, "My personal life has nothing to do with the rallies." And he's right. He could've just as easily done those rallies without evoking his imaginary military service. But, he chose OF HIS OWN FREE WILL to inject his (fictious) personal life into and now he's whining that someone called his bluff. If his personal life has nothing to do with the rallies, then why did he inject his personal life into the rallies in the first place?

But people in my area must have a thing for guys who exagerrate their military service. Our former congressman, the late Rep. Gerald Solomon, saw his political career skyrocket. Somehow, it got out that Solomon was a combat veteran. Many people assumed this because of his strong advocacy for veterans and his ferocious defense of all military spending (while decrying others' "pork"). The belief in Solomon's role as a combat veteran was widespread, yet Solomon was more than happy to let this myth flourish, never countering it. Solomon had in fact served in the Marines, but as a domestic MP.

[Solomon was another to play fast and loose with the truth. He once said in a House debate that his wife needed to have an assault weapon because she "lives alone five days a week in a rural area in upstate New York." I've passed their house countless times and it's in a swanky suburban neighborhood about 3/4 of a mile from the busiest traffic intersection from Albany, NY to Montreal]

I've crosswed swords, metaphorically, with the lying pro-war organizer before. He had said at one of his rallies that anti-war people were "responsible for our troops getting killed over there." I had a letter to the paper published criticizing him for this slander.

I'm glad this guy got exposed. He shouldn't have felt the need to lie in the first place. But if it means the discrediting of the disturbing, un-American principle of "only veterans have a right to an opinion," then it might be for the best.
I was flipping around and the History Channel had a debate with several historians about what future historians will say about Iraq. Leaving aside the inherently dubious concept of predicting what people in the future will say about the past, it was interesting. One pointed out that it will depend on if it's an American historian or an Arab historian doing the talking.

But another suggested that the conquest/liberation of Iraq would be seen as "one of the great triumphs in American history." There was also a column in the local newspaper saying how "liberation tastes like crow to liberals."

I think this is American triumphalism of the type that makes us SO beloved around the world. Why don't they see that we are righteous, selfless crusaders liberating their miserable people from tyranny and oppression? In your face. A total lack of any grace. The concept of being humble is as alien to our nature as walking around the block when you can take a car. We're the best therefore everyone else is a bunch of pathetic loooooooosers.

It's one thing to being proud of your country, but pride to the extreme is dangerous. Hitler made Germans feel proud. Saddam appealed to Iraqi pride for decades to prop up his regime. In fact, most dictators exploit national pride for their nefarious purposes. Pride goeth before the fall, as they say; one of the seven deadly sins. But as with most other things, America doesn't do pride in moderation.

First, I am not interested in the ramblings of some yapping head shrieking "I told you so." If she beats her chest any harder, she might crack her sternum. When the next terrible terrorist attack happens (which I and most Americans believe is MORE likely because of the invasion), I will try to refrain from saying "I told you so." But if it does not happen in the next decade, I will be more than happy for someone to say to me in 2013 that I was wrong.

Second, let's get something straight. From a purely military perspective, the invasion of Iraq was fairly quick and efficient with a relatively small number of casualties (civilian and military) as compared to most other wars. But to call it "one of the great triumphs in American history" is stretching it beyond credulity.

We toppled an unpopular regime isolated from most of the world. We beat a third-rate army deprived by a decade of sanctions and weakend by frequent bombing in the "no fly zone." We did so with by far the most powerful military in the world, a military which is funded better than the next 15 highest-spending national militaries COMBINED. It was a mismatch from day one. It was the New York Yankees against a tee ball team.

The US military did its job, and if you're pro-war, you can be happy about that. Say, "nice job." But to call it one of the greatest triumphs in history, that's laughable. Somehow, I don't think historians are going to mention the liberation of Bagdhad in the same sentence as, say, D-Day.

There's a war for the "hearts and minds" of the moderates in the Arab world. Every triumphalist statement and action gives further ammunition to those who want to hate us and makes it harder and harder for our friends in that region to maintain their position. So if you are one of those who think the capture of Bagdhad validates your position, be happy if you must but I ask you to please keep your testosterone in check. For everyone's benefit, including mine and yours.

Friday, April 11, 2003

Exclusive from Popeye Chicken's betting house.

Odds of who will next place the Bush administration "liberated" from their oppressor
Syria: 2-1
Libya: 5-1
Iran: 10-1
North Korea 25-1
Cuba 50-1
Saudi Arabia: 75-1
Haiti 150-1
The staff of Yankee Stadium: 200-1
The staff of the Justice Department: 5000-1

The scoop
Syria: Overwhelming favorite. Surrounded by US allies, led by Baa'thist regime, weak military, despotic regime. Plus Iraq could serve as a launching base for the invasion.

Libya: Much more vast country than Iraq, but main population centers are along the coast. They have a crackpot as dictator who is easily demonizable, plus they have lots of oil.

Iran: They might choose instead to encourage reformers in their battle against conservative clerics.

North Korea: This regime was always more of a threat than Iraq and have a crackpot leader, but the fact that they have nukes gives them serves as a strong disincentive to invade.

Cuba: Old news. Castro has outlasted 9 US presidents already. Besides, we already tried the invasion thing there.

Saudi Arabia: A regime as repressive as Saddam's and probably more corrupt. Most of the 9/11 hijackers came from there. But they sell us cheap oil so we will probably wait for the House of Saud to crumble and pray it isn't replaced by an Islamist regime. If it is, THEN we might invade.

Haiti: We already "liberated" them back in 1994, when we re-installed the democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. There were huge cheering crowds welcoming the US troops in the capital at that time. Haiti's answer to Grover Cleveland is now in his second, non-consecutive term and is proving that democratically-elected does not mean democratic. Human rights are becoming increasingly non-existent. Political violence is common place. Corruption levels are breathtaking. The standard of living is well below what it was in 1986... at the demise of the hated Duvallier regime. Is this what Iraq will look like in 2013? See the excellent article in The New York Review of Books on what Aristide's Haiti has become.

Yankee Stadium: Pres. Bush is a former Major League Baseball owner so he is unlikely to abandon his solidarity with a certain George Steinbrenner.

The Justice Department: The attorney general is firmly in the "our son of a bitch" camp.

I honestly do believe that Syria will be next if the messianic neo-conservatives get their way. I didn't think much could surprise me in politics anymore, but their disdain for any sense of gravity is truly astonishing. They talk about invading countries in the way that decent people talk about their sports' team playing another sports' team.

A column in today's Globe and Mail of Toronto noted, "Though Secretary of State Colin Powell has assured Arab leaders that the United States has no intention of rolling on to Damascus, Mr. Rumsfeld has been less conciliatory. 'It depends on people's behaviour,' he said this week when asked if Syria was next. 'Certainly I have nothing to announce.' His hawkish deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, told an interviewer last Sunday that 'there's got to be a change in Syria.' The Syrians, he said, should "get the message" from events in Iraq and stop supporting terrorism and seeking weapons of mass destruction."

The Secretary of War didn't even go through the motions of saying a war on Syria is "unlikely" or "we hope the Syrians will get the message." "I have nothing to announce" comes across as "I don't deny that an invasion of Syria is in the works."

And when Mr. Wolfowitz says, "There's got to be a change in Syria," somehow you get the impression that he doesn't mean dictator Assad should switch from Coke to Pepsi.

Thursday, April 10, 2003

I saw a National Geographic/PBS documentary last night on blood diamonds. It's an issue I've followed for some time, but images are still very powerful.

For those of you who don't know, in some countries, rebel groups exploit the illicit diamond trade to subsidize their rebellion. As a result, campaigners trying to curb this illegal trade have dubbed these gems "blood diamonds" or "conflict diamonds" in an attempt to stigmatize the diamond industry into self-regulation. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia and Angola are just three of the countries that have been hit by this scourge. But the epicenter of the blood diamond question has long been the West African country of Sierra Leone.

I have a personal interest in that country for two reasons. It borders and has close ties to Guinea, a country I lived in for two years, and Sierra Leone's stability directly affects Guinea's stability. Additionally, I have several Sierra Leonian friends who had to flee the diamond-fueled civil war that ravaged their country throughout most of the 1990s.

Numerous non-governmental organizations [NGOs] worked throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s to bring the blood diamond issue to public light. As a result of their efforts, they successfully pressured the diamond industry to participate what became known as the Kimberly Process. This was a process which would institute a standardized certification process in the diamond world. Diamond exporting countries would have to certify that diamonds leaving their country legally were mined in an appropriate way. Crucially, diamond importing countries were required to ensure that they only permitted legally certified diamonds into their markets.

The Peace Corps "alumni" group Friends of Sierra Leone [FOSL] is one of that NGOs that have spearheaded the effort to persuade Congress to pass the Clean Diamonds Trade Act, in order to bring the US into the Kimberly Process.. Friends of Guinea, an organization I'm a part of, has been involved in a very secondary role; you could say we were part of anti-blood diamonds "coalition of the willing."

I'm happy to report that the excellent and tireless work of FOSL and others has resulted in the House of Representatives overwhelmingly (419-2) approving passage of the Clean Diamonds Act. The Senate is expected to take up a similiar bill soon. I have not heard if President Bush intends to sign the bill, though I can't see why he wouldn't. The fact that al-Qaeda has been linked to the blood diamond trade in Sierra Leone should help.

This bill (nor the whole Kimberly Process) will totally choke off blood diamonds. However, considering that half the world's diamond jewelry is purchased in the United States, the Clean Diamonds Trading Act is certainly an enormously important step in stopping this scourge.

Learn more
Global Witness: an organization that works "to highlight the links between the exploitation of natural resources and human rights abuses." The focus primarily on the link between such abuses and timber, diamonds and oil.

American Radio Works did an excellent series on conflict diamonds, the marketing-driven mystique of diamonds and the trade in diamonds.

Radio Netherlands English service's dossier on Sierra Leone.

AFP article on the passage of the bill

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

At the end, I include actions you can take about this issue.

From: The BBC

DR Congo: Africa's worst war
The four-and-a-half year conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo [DRC] has been described as the worst since World War II.
An estimated 3.3 million people have died as a result of the war making it the "tragedy of modern times", according to a report issued by the International Rescue Committee aid agency.

The IRC said that only about 10% of the victims died violently, with the vast majority dying from starvation and disease due to the activities of the various armed groups operating in the country.

"This is a humanitarian catastrophe of horrid and shocking proportions... Yet, the crisis has received scant attention from international donors and the media," says IRC President George Rupp.

Africa's worst ever war began following the invasion of the north and east of the country by Rwanda and Uganda, to, as they said, prevent armed groups attacking them from Congo's territory.

This brought in armies, which have now left, from other countries to fight on the side of the Congolese Government.

However, ethnic clashes between the Hema and Lendu in the troubled north-eastern province of Ituri remain a potential stumbling block to peace.

The IRC's report was released as the United States and Britain condemned a massacre of some 1,000 villagers in Ituri province.

The reported massacre near Bunia last Thursday, came just a day after a peace agreement was signed in South Africa marking the end of 19 months of talks between the government, opposition parties, civil groups, militia and rebels.

The US has called on Uganda to exercise its responsibility to protect civilians in Ituri where the killings occurred and to ensure that no violations of human rights or atrocities are committed.

On Monday, a Ugandan army spokesman denied any involvement in the massacre, saying his troops had been at least 15 km away.

Both US and UK have also called on all parties in the conflict to cease hostilities immediately and support a committee set up to end the fighting and make the area safe.

The committee resumed talks on Monday, despite the massacre.

On Monday, President Kabila was sworn-in as a transitional head of state for a period of two years before elections.

A new transitional government should be formed soon, including representatives of rebel groups who control eastern DR Congo but they were not present at Monday's ceremony in the capital, Kinshasa.

On Tuesday, Reuters news agency reported that people in Ituri were fearful of reprisal attacks.

"This is really hell. We are not secure, even here . Anything could happen," Emmanuel Ralonji said in Bunia, not far from the scene of the massacres.

[end of quoted article]

What can you do?

-One World, an excellent humanitarian non-governmental organization (NGO) website
-MONURC, the UN mission in the DRC.

-IRC, the International Rescue Committee, author of the report in question.
-ICRC, the International Committees of the Red Cross.
-MSF, aka Doctors Without Borders.

To whomever you think might be interested in this. As I've said before, you can't be form an opinion or act about something if you don't know it's happening. Obviously, the American corporate media isn't covering much else besides Iraq and when they do, it's on critical issues like Michael Jackson and American Idol. So if you want to inform people about this, word of mouth and the Internet are the way to go.

Monday, April 07, 2003

Letter sent by my father to TIME magazine in regards to an article entitled 'First stop Iraq.' (See: http://www.time.com/time/covers/1101030331/wroad.html)
To the Editor:
I have been asking myself and others who support this war, "What gives the United States the right to effect 'regime change' in other countries?" Your article, First Stop, Iraq, answered that question very chillingly.
If one thought underscores the thinking of President Bush's advisors, it has to be this one: "The U.S., neo-conservatives believe, is unique in its power and its principles. It cannot allow its mission to be tied down by international agreements that diminish its freedom of action." [citing part of TIME's article]
This thinking might explain why the U.S. is reluctant to sign on to international agreements like the Kyotoa accords or the International Criminal Court or the International Land Mine Treaty.
Yes, the U.S. has the power. Yes, the principles we try to operate under are worth emulating all over the world. Looking back at the "regime changes" and attempted "regime changes" the U.S. has been involved in over the last 50 years, there is a chasm between the promise and performance of our actions.
But the statement in the story also begs another question. What happens to accountability? Who or What can hold a great power accountable when it screws up?? Looks like no one. I find that scary.
[Popeye's Dad]
Part of this blog's mission is to give out information about and comment on stuff that is happening is regions of the world poorly covered (or not at all) by the North American and European medias. Places that are off the beaten path, if you will. It's based on the premise that you can't form an opinion about something that you don't even know is occurring.

In that spirit, below is an article about the destabilizing activities of Liberian warlord/dictator Charles Taylor by the British non-governmental organization (NGO) Global Witness.

This is a sensitive subject to me because one of the countries Taylor wishes to destabilize is the Republic of Guinea, a place where I lived for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer. I lived there during the worst period of Liberia's own civil war, a war where Taylor's troops (many of them child soldiers) committed most of the worst atrocities. He's already supported the limb-hacking Revolutionary United Front rebels which destroyed Sierra Leone and he's accused of back the rebels now in control of much of Ivory Coast. He's already destabilized two of Liberia's three neighbors. Guinea's next on the list.

Here's hoping the Hague can make room in Milosevic's cell for Taylor.

Source: UN Integrated Regional Information Network via AllAfrica.com

Global Witness Accuses Liberia of Destabilising Neighbours

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
April 1, 2003
Posted to the web April 1, 2003
An international non-governmental organisation (NGO) has accused Liberia's government of destabilising West Africa by supporting and arming rebels in Cote d'Ivoire and Sierra Leone. In a report issued on Monday, Global Witness also accused the government of Liberian President Charles Taylor of regularly importing weapons in violation of UN sanctions.
The report, titled: 'The Usual Suspects: Liberia's Weapons and Mercenaries in Cote d'Ivoire and Sierra Leone' charges that Liberia's government has been backing two rebel groups that operate in the west of Cote d'Ivoire since late November 2002: the Popular Movement of the Ivorian Great West (MPIGO) and the Movement for Justice and Peace (MJP). Liberia, it added, planned to use mercenaries to destabilise Sierra Leone.
Global Witness urged the UN Security Council to renew existing sanctions against Liberia - which cover the sale of weapons to Monrovia and trade in its diamonds - and to extend them to include Liberian timber. The timber industry, it said, continued to be the Liberian government's primary source of financial and logistical access to international markets for weapons and mercenaries.
"We have uncovered information showing the Liberian government is still actively involved in the illegal arms trade, and is the driving force behind the training, arming and deployment of the Ivorian rebel groups MPIGO and MJP, with Liberian President Charles Taylor calling the shots from Monrovia," said Alice Blondel, a Global Witness campaigner. "The 'usual suspects', including President Charles Taylor and former RUF commander Sam 'Maskita' Bockarie, who have been involved in previous regional insecurities, are now involved in the Cote d'Ivoire crisis and are planning to undermine the fragile peace in Sierra Leone".
According to the report, the Liberian timber industry provided the government with the means necessary to maintain its supplies of fighting forces and illegal arms, which, Global Witness said, it receives from eastern Europe via France, Libya and Nigeria.
Cote d'Ivoire's MPIGO and MJP rebels, the NGO said, were made up mainly of Liberian and Sierra Leonean mercenaries. It added that the MPIGO and MJP fighters were organised in Liberia before deployment into Cote d'Ivoire, and were commanded by close associates of Taylor.
And in Sierra Leone, Liberia's government is now implementing a destabilisation strategy so as to disrupt the operations of the Special Court, "by which President Charles Taylor and other key figures in Liberia expect to be indicted for war crimes committed during Sierra Leone's civil war", the NGO said.
Global Witness is an NGO that works to expose the link between natural resource exploitation and human rights abuses. It operates in areas where environmentally destructive trade is funding conflict or human rights violations.
[The report can be found at http://www.globalwitness.org/reports ]


It's not just the American media who cover the news of some regions of the world poorly or not at all. Last week, the factions of the war, often known as Africa's First World War, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo [DRC] signed a peace accord in South Africa. The accord called for the implementation of a national unity government, future elections and, of course, an end to hostilities.

According to the Belgium paper La Libre Belgique, "The RBTF [Belgian state television] only required a few seconds to report on the accord signed on April 1 in Sun City, South Africa, between the Kabila government and the rebel factions. A brief report. In the guise of images, a map of the region. As if to say that the event wasn't worth sending a journalist to the area or even an after-the-fact analysis. But even if weapons are still heard in the east of the Congo, in Ituri province, this accord is a strong symbolic gesture for the population who has continued to pay a high price in tribute to the different warlords in that region of central Africa."

One is wise to be skeptical of this 1000th peace accord. However, this episode demonstrates clearly the power of imagery. It's almost impossible to send cameramen to the isolated and distant jungles of eastern Congo. Much easier to send reporters to follow in the footsteps of wherever western troops are located. The European and North American publics are thus much more informed about the problems of Iraq or Kosovo or Bosnia, but hardly at all about the estimated 2 million deaths attributable (directly and indirectly) to the war in the DRC since the beginning of the conflict 5 years ago.

You often hear the rationalization that the western public isn't interested in foreign news except when their country's nationals are somehow involved. How can the public be interested or disinterested in something it doesn't even know is in the process of consuming an entire region? It's impossible to get indignant about something you don't even know is occurring!

The full text of the article in question (in French) can be found by clicking here.
Today is the 9th anniversary of the beginning of the Rwandan genocide, which started on April 7, 1994. It is estimated that between 800,000 and 1 million people were killed in massacres that lasted approximately 100 days. There was a large push, particularly by neighboring states, for internationally sanctioned intervention to stop the slaughter (as provided for in the anti-genocide treaty). However, such intervention was blocked by France, Belgium and the United States, each for differing reasons.

This despite the fact that all were signatories of the anti-genocide convention. This despite the fact that it was East African nations themselves who were going to volunteer their own troops to do the actual intervention (they just wanted to LEASE EQUIPMENT from the US, but Washington refused). The only intervention was done by France, in an operation whose primary, if unstated, goal was to allow officials from the genocidal regime (threatened by a rebellion) to flee the country into the eastern Congo (then Zaire). This is because the genocidal regime had long been friendly with France and was one of its "client-states."

The genocide started less than a year after the dedication of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. A ceremony in which speaker after speaker, including then Pres. Bill Clinton, solemnly declared 'never again.'

For an excellent article on the topic, read Bystanders to genocide, which appeared in The Atlantic Monthly in September 2001 (a month when the massacre of 3000 people was decried as an atrocious crime against humanity; imagine one of those every 10 hours). The author of the article was Samantha Power, whose most recent, excellent, book is entitled A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

I guess the local peace rally on Saturday was pretty interesting. Apparently, there was no police officer. Bad idea!

The protests occur at a five way intersection in my town. The anti-war people stand on one corner. The pro-war people stand on the corner across the street from them. It's been pretty much the understanding. Every so often, a pro-warrior will come over and exchange words (sometimes unpleasantries) with the anti-war crowd or vice versa, but usually they stay away from each other. Wisely, if you ask me.

Apparently without a police officer, such restraint went out the window last weekend. Although there was no violence, there were reportedly threats. One of the people from our group (Adirondack Greens) was accosted by two pro-war people for having an upside down flag. An upside down flag is a sign of distress, if I remember well. He was told that it was a desecration. Ok, fine.

Then, it seems to have esclated. One of the pro-warriors challenged the guy from our group to "go out behind [the adjoining] Burger King" and have a fight. The other pro-warrior threatened to "immolate" (burn alive) the guy from our group.

Personally, I think the guy from our group should have pressed charges for the threats of physical violence.

Frankly, this is why I don't go to these rallies. I went to one because I was specifically invited by the organizer, who's a friend of mine. But these protests shed heat, not light, as evidenced by the incident I just recounted. I am interested in having a rational, intelligent debate; this doesn't exclude passion, so long as reason and facts and demesure are not excluded. Shouting and screaming and name-calling doesn't do anything for me. I went to one because I was requested and because I wanted to express my opinion in public once, for the record, so to speak. I did it once. I don't regret it. I'm not doing it again, for reasons which I've alluded to in other essays (published elsewhere).

It's impossible to having a rational debate in that context. I didn't have a sign because I couldn't think of a curt little slogan. "Support the troops: bring 'em home" is the best I could come up with but I didn't bother. I've spent countless essays, numerous emails and thousands of words trying to hash out my views. Trying to condense that into one simplistic little phrase? I won't do myself that injustice.

But I hope this little nugget reminds you that there are extremists on all sides of this question, not just among the "long-haired freaky people." (A few of the guy in my group were called fags because they have long hair. That was the level of the discourse)

And don't offer any rationalizations for those twits who threatened the guy from my group. You can't even rationalize that they were veterans indignant at this "disrespect" because there were very young and there was nothing to indicate they were veterans. Furthermore, most veterans I know conduct themselves with a little more dignity and self-respect.

A final irony. One of the guys who complained about the 'desecration' of the upside down flag was wearing an American flag bandana and an American flag pair of pants. This guy was letting the stars and stripes absorb his sweat and rub up against his genitals and butt crack. Is he really in any position to lecture about how to properly treat the flag?

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

I read yet another letter in the paper last week from someone who said we need to support our troops and that when Saddam sees protesters, it's like giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Ugh! More warspeak.

First off, let me address one myth. Does any serious person believe that anti-war protests make Saddam feel warm and fuzzy? I can imagine it now. Saddam's in his bunker dodging Patriot Missles and MOABs, but then he flicks on CNN and sees protesters in Manhattan and goes, "Ah, it makes it all worthwhile." How ludicrous.

And if it does, so what? Any democracy is going to have disagreement; any democracy MUST have disagreement to function properly. If you don't like this fact, move to Syria or Saudi Arabia or some other dictatorship. They don't have to worry about such a pesky thing like dissent. That's the biggest single differences between a "shining beacon on a hill" like the United States and a butchery like Iraq. We don't have to toe the line for fear of being labelled a traitor. Or at least we shouldn't. That's the difference between us righteous crusaders and them evil doers. According to these people, it seems we should suspend freedom while our troops are fighting for freedom.

But the other question is about this supporting the troops thing. It's kind of like the Pledge of Allegiance or the Our Father in Church. It's one of those things that most people mouth without really thinking about it. So my question is this: when you say support the troops, what does it mean?

I'm know that most people would agree that we shouldn't personalize anything against the troops. Even those against the war realize it's the politicians filled with religious fervor (and other questionable motives) that are ordering this tragic policy. It's not the troops who have decided to unilaterally discard centuries of established international relations. It's not the troops who are trying to annihilate 55 years of attempts to patiently construct a sane, legality-based international order to replace it with an old, thorougly discredited way of doing things.

So if the troops aren't the problem, if we acknowledge that they're mostly decent guys handed a deplorable task that even opponents recognize is not of their own creation, if this is the consensus, then what more does support the troops mean? We all want as many of the troops to come home safely as possible and even the most chest-beating war gorillas would prefer few civilian casualties, so how else can we support the troops? If everyone agrees with this, then why must this mantra have to be repeatedly so incessantly?

Unfortunately, to many people, support the troops is warspeak for shut the close your mouth and toe the line. It means does as you're told, follow orders and be a good lemming.

Some people do remember with disgust how Vietnam Vets (many of whom were forcibly drafted) were spat upon and treated with contempt upon their return. For a lot of these people, support the troops really does mean just that, nothing more sinister. They don't want a repeat of these shameful actions. And I agree whole-heartedly.

But for others, support the troops just means shut the heck up. When you're told that by opposing a disastrous policy, you're costing lives of our troops, is it any wonder such virulence helps radicalize some in the anti-war movement? When you're told that it's unpatriotic to try to prevent your country from imposing a world order that will ultimately end being self-destructive, it blows your mind. It's unpatriotic to stop your country from doing something self-destructive? Was Orwell prescient or is human nature that predictable? Based on the nature and history of great powers, my guess is the latter.

When some people say our troops are fighting for our freedoms... except for the freedom to peacibly protest, is it any wonder some people question the real motives? Our troops are fighting supposedly for the rights of Iraqis to disagree with their government... a right some seem to want to deny to Americans themselves? Is it any wonder some in the anti-war movement overreact?

I know three people who have people they know well in harm's way over in the Middle East. My brother, my sister and a friend/ex-colleague. I was relieved to learn that my friend in the Army is still in Missouri undergoing deployment training; he won't be sent over to the Middle East until mid-May, by which time the worst of the crap will hopefully be over. While I realize that my tiny little world is hardly a scientific cross-section of American society, I can't help but noticing that all four of those people (me, my brother, my sister and my ex-colleague) are all against Bush's war. I feel bad for my friend in Missouri; he signed up to defend our country, not to participate in an unprovoked attack on a country that's never done anything to us nor is any kind of serious, immediate threat to us. It's angers you to be told that you hate the troops when you know a soldier in harm's war. Perhaps when one of your relatives or good friends is in or will be in harm's way, you require a slightly higher standard of proof than, "Saddam's a bad guy, he might be a threat to us in 1 or 5 or 100 years, 9/11, 9/11, 9/11."

When those people scream that anti-war people are responsible for our troops' being killed, I wonder how my ex-colleague feels. His brother is in Kuwait... or possibly by now, in Iraq. I'm not sure he appreciates this vile slander. When it's your friend or relative who could be sacrificed for the imperial crusade, maybe it makes you a little less cavalier and a little more circumspect about the whole thing.

I'm often ask what I am politically. I often hesitate to answer because the one insignificant little label will cause people to automatically assume your stances and rationales on all kinds of positions. You know the old saying about what happens when you assume...

Anyway, there are lots of labels. Liberal, conservative, progressive, libertarian, radical, etc. Yes, there is probably one to which I identify with more than the others, but I often finding myself at odds with them. If not on the actual position, then on the often flabby rationale that accompanies (and in my mind weakens) that argument.

So I value critical thought. Rigor. Nuance. Being strident and screechy will get you nowhere. As Billy Joel once sang, "The only people I fear are those who never have doubts." I believe those unwilling to challenge their own opinions are not only ignorant but inevitably among the most dangerous people in any society.

I welcome intelligent, reasoned feedback, even if it's critical. My email is listed in the previous entry. Flames will be ignored.

The first entry in such a journal is always odd because some will jump to assume all kinds of things. Remember, it's only one particular opinion on one particular issue. In that spirit, read away!