Tuesday, December 30, 2003

A poll released Monday indicated that the most admired man and woman in the United States are President Bush and Senator Hillary Clinton.

It's a testament to how polarized the United States is that the two most divisive political figures of the last decade are the country's two most admired people.

Are there any non-abrasive people Americans can look up to? I mean, President Bush was most admired by 29%, Sen. Clinton was named by 16%, the Pope only got 4%.

Monday, December 29, 2003

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been under fire the last few days. Heck, he's been under fire ever since he joined President Bush's campaign to conquer Iraq. But he's taken a particular amount of heat recently.

First, he was criticized by two senior leaders of the Church of England. The archbishop of York warned that the prime minister would have to answer before God for collaborating in the Iraq invasion. The bishop of Durham compared the American and British leaders to "a bunch of white vigilantes" while noting "This is not to deny there's a problem to be sorted, just that they are not credible people to deal with it."

President Bush and Prime Minister Blair have pursued the Iraq conquest with a troubling messianic certainty. The kind that surpasses mere self-confidence or decisiveness and approaches fanaticism. Self-assured people have the confidence to listen to others. Leaders LEAD, not pull, drag, bully, coerce, threaten or slander. It's good that these religious leaders spoke out against these two heads of government who lace their language so liberally with religious references and justifications. Pro-war people don't have a monopoly on wisdom or morality.

The Independent also noted another setback for Mr. Blair, who critics diagnose as being afflicted with Bush's Syndrome (primary sympton: playing fast and loose with the truth). The prime minister had claimed "massive evidence of a huge system of clandestine laboratories" had already been uncovered in Iraq.

But this was countered by Iraq viceroy Paul Bremer. "I don't know where those words come from, but that is not what David Kay [head of the Iraq Survey Group] has said. I have read his reports, so I don't know who said that.. It sounds like a bit of a red herring to me. It sounds like someone who doesn't agree with the policy sets up a red herring then knocks it down."

The paper then noted Mr Bremer was forced to backtrack after being told that Mr Blair had made the claim, in a Christmas broadcast to British troops in Iraq.
The Bush administration is now asking Japan and China to reduce Iraq's debt, insisting that such reductions are essential to re-starting the Iraqi economy. Years of activism in favor of reducing or cancelling the debt of African and Latin American countries to help them economically has made little headway. Perhaps the only way debt relief for developing countries can get on the agenda is if Washington invades the entire Southern Hemisphere?

Monday, December 22, 2003

I was reading a newspaper article which included a great quote. The quote inspired this entry that I've been meaning to write for a long time.

Many people, notably libertarians and strict constitutionalists, will inject to nearly any debate: "So-and-so is bad because the Founding Fathers wouldn't have wanted it." They almost inevitably cite passages from the Federalist Papers, written by James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, to justify inertia. If it was good enough for the people of 1788, it should be good enough from here to eternity.

To these folks, the Constitution is not something that should reflect the evolution of society. It is something akin to the Ten Commandments, something written in stone. I think the Founding Fathers (I think Joseph Ellis' phrase Founding Brothers is more accurate but that's another debate) were a bunch of fairly intelligent and very wise men who deftly negotiated a document to address the particular problems facing the country in the late 18th century. But the strict constitutionalists think the Founding Fathers [FFs] were a group of secular saints, whose every word shall be revered and taken as Gospel now and forever more. Preachers may quote from the book of Luke, strict constitutionalists from the book of Madison.

Yet this canonization of the FFs is dangerous. It prevents the Constitution from evolving. Now, the document shouldn't be changed willy nilly to incorporate every fad du jour. But the document is designed to be extremely hard to change. It seems like we should be able to debate certain things on their merits. But some people simply invoke the words of an FF as though merely mentioning a name is enough to trump the argument. Saint Jefferson wanted it, therefore it is so. The end.

For example, I've long argued for the elimination of the Electoral College [EC]. I believe is archaic and un-democratic. But the FFs knew it was un-democratic when they designed it. THAT was the point. To be a check on the democratic will off the population. It may have served a useful purpose in 1788, but is it still relevant today? The trouble is that canonization of the FFs makes it so we can't even ask the question! No one would ask if Jesus' Good Samaritan tale was still relevant today because, after all, he was Jesus. No one (save a few people deemed 'sore losers of the 2000 election') questions the continuing validity of the EC.

I believe the EC promotes divisive regionalism. I doubt it even accomplishes its primary (original) goal of getting attention for small states. Yet some people won't even engage in a debate of this nature. If it was good enough for Jefferson and Madison, it is good enough for them. That the EC was a last minute compromise to save the Constitutional Convention, many of these people probably aren't aware of and probably wouldn't care if they were.

The point of the Constitution, our Constitution, is to serve the country and its people. It was designed in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.

Nothing was said about it being the final draft. They weren't trying a perfect union, but a MORE perfect union. The FFs were wise enough to know they didn't know everything. They were wise enough to know that their solutions were the best they could do for current problems but they trusted their children and grandchildren to be able to deal with future problems as they arose. They knew the Constitution needed the flexibility to adapt to a changing America; that's why they gave it provisions for amendment.

And I leave you with the following words:

Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them . . . too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment . . . [As] manners and opinions change with the change of circumstance, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilised society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.
--Thomas Jefferson.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

...and defeats for the Bush administration.

First, a federal appeals court ruled that authorities do not have the power to detain an American citizen arrested on US soil as an "enemy combattant." The panel added that the administration was free to transfer him to civilian courts.

We are as keenly aware as anyone of the threat al-Qaeda poses to our country and of the responsibilities the president and law enforcement officials bear for protecting the nation, noted the US Second Court of Appeals. But presidential authority does not exist in a vacuum. [emphasis mine]

Later in the day, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that detainees at Guantanamo Bay should have access to lawyers and the US court system. 660 people are being held indefinitely and without charge at the base as "enemy combattants."

The court declared, Even in times of national emergency... it is the obligation of the judicial branch to ensure the preservation of our constitutional values and to prevent the executive branch from running roughshod over the rights of citizens and aliens alike.

Hopefully, neither of these verdicts will be overturned by the US Supreme Court.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

In the United States, there are regular battles on the fine line between freedom of religion and freedom from religion. The generally accepted line is that the state is not supposed to actively promote one religion or even religion in general but that individuals are free to express their religious beliefs. Agents of the state are free to express their religious beliefs outside their job but are severely restricted in the workplace.

In France, they are going much further: any religious expression in a state-sponsored institution, even by those who aren't state agents, is about to be outlawed.

The French government is about to pass a law banning 'conspicuous religious signs in schools'. Although skullcaps and large crosses are also affected, the primary target of the bill is the headscarf worn by many girls and women of France's large Muslim population. 'Discreet' medaillons would be allowed.

French society is much more vehemently secular than American society. A French politician leading regular prayer breakfasts would be denounced. American polticians. The last French prime minister, Lionel Jospin, was an avowed atheist, something that no high-ranking American elected official would ever admit. The 1904 French law enshrining the separation of church and state was the fruit of a century-long bitter struggle to diminish the political influence of the Catholic Church in that country.

As a result, secularism means something different in the US than it does in France. Here, separation of church and state simply means the state should be neutral, that it shouldn't take sides. In France, separation of church and state means the state should actively promote secularism and discourage overt displays of religiosity, even by individuals.

But the looming French ban on headscarfs, supported by more than 2/3 of the population, is too much. Naturally, it's perceived as being a slap in the face to the French Muslim community; no public furors have erupted from skullcaps or crosses being worn to school. More fundamentally, it is against the spirit of a liberal, democratic society.

I also wonder how the ban squares with European and international law.

Title 1, Article 9 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms states:

Section 1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

2. Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

And Article 18 of The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights notes:
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Imposing a state religion or religion in general on a diverse populace is wrong. But attacking the right of individuals to quietly express their faith is also wrong. Secularism means preventing religion from dominating politics. It doesn't mean eradicating religion altogether.
I was reading an article on presidential envoy and former cabinet secretary James Baker's visit to Paris. During the trip, he tried to persuade the French government, so smeared by the administration this year, to reduce Iraq's debt. The "cheese eating surrender monkeys," whose paratroopers rescued hundreds of Americans in the Ivory Coast a few months ago, agreed to the reduction.

Baker justified the appeal by stating "The French and the U.S. government want to reduce the debt burden on Iraq so that its people can enjoy freedom and prosperity."

Perhaps the US, France and other western countries can also write of the crushing debts of African and Latin American countries as well so that they too "can enjoy freedom and prosperity."

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

I see President Bush's envoy, former cabinet secretary James Baker, is in Paris asking the French to write off Iraqi debt. The visit occurs only days after the administration announced that France, among other countries, could not bid on reconstruction contracts for Iraq.

Translation of the administration's message: "You're a bunch of craven dictator-appeasing idiots, now could please give us a hand here?"

Still further evidence that they just don't get it. I don't know if they could be more obtuse if they were actively trying to anger the rest of the world.

Monday, December 15, 2003

I read an interesting article in South Africa's Daily Mail and Guardian concerning the Zimbabwe situation* entitled Tutu 'baffled' at Zimbabwe debacle. In it, Nobel Peace Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu didn't think the decision to continue Zimbabwe's exclusion from the Commonwealth was unjustified (a point now academic, due to Zimbabwe's withdrawal from the organization).

He disagrees with his country's president, Thabo Mbeki, who claimed that Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe was treated badly. President Mbeki even reportedly suggested that Mugabe's seizure of white owned farms was "perhaps inevitable" (even though this is perhaps the least direct of his many crimes). The South African leader also suggested the Commonwealth's decision was designed to protect "white, settler, colonial kith and kin" thus deflecting attention from the miserable failure of his so-called 'softly softly' policy for gently persuading Mugabe to become a warm and fuzzy teddy bear. You'd think President Mbeki would be leading the charge to pressure Mugabe since Zimbabwe's collapse has a direct effect on South Africa's economy; further, Mbeki's spirited defense of a thug like Mugabe is at odds with the South African leader's vision of an 'African renaissance.'

Archbishop Tutu, for his part, noted:

"We have great expectations of the peer-review system of the African Union but it will be a futile exercise if we are not ready to condemn human rights violations unequivocally without fear or favour whatever the struggle credentials of the perpetrator. Human rights are human rights and they are of universal validity or they are nothing. There are no peculiarly African human rights. What has been reported as happening in Zimbabwe is totally unacceptable and reprehensible and we ought to say so regretting that it should have been necessary to condemn erstwhile comrades."

*-For more on the domestic situation in Zimbabwe, see Mugabe to cede favorite scapegoat? Unlikely..
I was reading some of the Christmas cards and letters my parents received. Instead of a letter, one of the families sent a little questionnaire thing where each member of the family answered a dozen or so questions. Like favorite movie of the year, favorite place to be, etc.

The 14 year old of this family noted...

Scariest moment: Learning that anyone can become president in America. That's a problem.

And it struck me as a profound observation. I mean, we're taught lots of earnest pieties in school (as Ralph Nader noted, "we're taught to believe, not to think"). Most of these pieties bear little resemblance to reality. Like the way a bill becomes a law.

But it turns out that one of them, that anyone can become president, is actually true. And it makes you feel warm and fuzzy and proud. Until you realize the implications. Being president is a damned hard job. I consider myself a fairly intelligent person but I sure as hell couldn't do it. But if anyone, any ordinary joe with few qualifications, can become president, what happens when he finds out how bloody hard the job is? When he discovers that he's in over his head?

That's the irony of our fascination with "ordinary" politicians. Even patricians like Howard Dean, George W. Bush and John Kerry have to prove they can suck down a beer and shoot the breeze with Joe Sixpacks from Bangor to Cheyenne. A politician who spoke more of Beethoven than NASCAR, who watched PBS or the History Channel rather than Joe Millionaire or American Idol, they'd be dismissed as, gasp, an ELITIST!!

We venerate politicians who are ordinary people, or who at least play them on TV. Then we expect them master distinctly un-ordinary situations. Joe Sixpack may wax lyrical on the finer points of Dale Earnhardt Jr once he's sucked down a few Buds, but do you really want his finger on the nuclear trigger?

Sunday, December 14, 2003

A combatative neo-conservative guest on the BBC pontificated on the potential effect of Saddam's 'encapturation.' Apparently, right wingers worship of the president extends to language. Imaginize that!

Said guest insisted that even if we didn't find weapons of mass destruction, the war was still a wonderful thing because "24 million Iraqis were liberated."

I'm sure it'll be great for the Iraqis, once they get water, electricity and other basic services restored. It'll also be good for international justice, assuming he's given something vaguely resembling a fair trial. Hopefully, this will bury once and for all the notion that a former head of state has some sort of imm/punity for crimes against humanity.

Yet I personally don't feel any different. The weapons of mass destruction are still unaccounted for and they were supposedly the primary reason we went to war.

If we can't find them, then this means one of two things. Either a) they're still out there, unaccounted for, possibly still in the hands of `cbad guys or b) they never were there to begin with, in which case the war was based on either an overt lie or horribly inaccurate intelligence.

Bye bye Saddam. One dictator down, a few dozen to go.

Incidentally, was it just me or did dissheveled Saddam bear a striking resemblance to the Unabomber?

Friday, December 12, 2003

I read how Haliburton was criticized for overcharging the US government to the tune of $61 million for gasoline imported from Kuwait to Iraq. Haliburton is a corporation formerly run by Vice President Dick Cheney. The company is not accused of profiting from the overcharge. It reportedly paid too much money to a subcontractor in Kuwait and will probably have to eat the loss. However, the real eye-opener here is that the vice president's former company was award the $15.6 billion (15,600,000,000) contract on a non-competitive, no-bid basis.
I was saddened to learn of the passing of the great writer Ahmadou Kourouma at 76 years. Native of the north of Cote d'Ivoire, he lived in exile after having angered the regime of the late Felix Houphouet-Boigny and more recently, of the current head of state Laurent Gbagbo, Houphouet's sworn enemy. His first work is considered one of the great classics of African literature. Published in 1970, Le Soleil des indépendances (The Sun of the Independances) addressed the sensitive topic of what had become of the newly sovereign African states. He also received literary prizes for his excellent book En attendant le vote des bêtes sauvages (Waiting for the Vote of the Savage Beasts) which skewered the autocratic party-state system and for the powerful Allah n'est pas obligé (Allah is Not Obliged) on the tragic life of a West African child soldier. I strongly recommend all three.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Interesting story from northern California. Democrat Gavin Newsom was narrowly elected mayor of San Francisco is a tight runoff with Green Party candidate Matt Gonzalez, who heads the city's board of supervisors. The near-win by Gonzalez, who reportedly got a majority of votes cast on the actual runoff Election Day, is amazing considering what he was up against.

San Francisco is an overwhelmingly Democratic city with about 54% of registered voters belong to that one party. Gonzalez spent about 1/9 of the $3.6 million spent by the Democrat. Newsom received ensorsement from both of the city's major newspapers, the outgoing Democratic mayor and nearly every high ranking Democratic official in California as well as Bill Clinton and Al Gore. But despite Greens only accounting for 3% of San Francisco's population, Gonzalez received 47% of the total vote and, as mentioned earlier, a majority of votes cast on the actual day of the vote.

Christopher Scheer, of AlterNet, wondered, How many times must the public send the message before the Democratic Party decides to stop shooting the messenger? The Gore-Bush contest of 2000, the 2002 mid-term elections, the California recall, and now the astonishing near-defeat of Gavin Newsom in San Francisco's mayor's race, each contain the same crystal-clear message: choosing Republican Lite-weights to represent the Democratic Party makes a lousy political strategy.

But the Democratic establishment would rather blame Nader and the Florida freaks. Blame Arnold and the Recall Repubs. Blame last-second progressive S.F. mayoral candidate Matt Gonzalez and his hipster horde. Blame "Mean" Dean and his Internet machine. Blame 9/11, late-night GOP roll-call votes ... anybody, in fact, but itself.

The sad, mostly unacknowledged fact is that in the shadow of Bill Clinton's enormous charisma and political brilliance, the Democratic Party has been steadily receding in influence across this country for more than a decade. Congress, gubernatorial races, city elections – you name it, and they've lost it. And the reason is simple: because the Democratic Party is too busy raising money to connect with the American people.

Gonzalez's near win in one of the most overwhelmingly Democratic cities in the country certainly puts a large dent in the myth that Greens should make themselves disappear from the political spectrum because are "unelectable."

In a related note, a USA Today/Gallup poll released in October found that 23% of those surveyed felt that Ralph Nader should run for president in 2004. The same poll also found that 52% rejected the idea that Nader's 2000 run cost Democrat Al Gore the election (vs 41% that agreed) and that 28% said they've voted for an independent or third party candidate for president. I'm sure some will focus on whether Nader should run in 2004 and others, especially Democrats, will continue to look backward and whine about 2000, but this is missing the bigger picture.

Assuming the representativity of the poll (which is always questionable), this suggests that about 1/4 of voters feel the need to look outside the two biggest parties. 1/4 feel that smaller parties have something to offer that Democrats and Republicans do not. Instead of smearing these people or minimizing their relevance like the Democratic Leadership Council types would do, perhaps the two major parties would do better listening to the views of these folks.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

I see now that the US government is now going to formally ban from reconstruction in Iraq businesses from any country that didn't fully support the conquest. This just proves how much the Bush administration doesn't get it.

Deputy Secretary of War Paul Wolfowitz said that contracts were being restricted to protect America's "essential security interests." Which is as believable as when the movie theaters ban you from taking in backpacks for "security" reasons.

From a purely emotional standpoint, this is sensible. I mean, they didn't lick the president's boots, so why should they get any part of the booty? But as with most things, the administration is penny-wise and pound foolish (or cutting of its nose to spite its face; you have your pick of aphorisms).

This could be a perfect opportunity for the administration to show American magnamity. To show that Bush is not the bloodthirsty warmonger so many people in all parts of the world think he is. To show we didn't conquer Iraq to enrich American corporations.

(I wonder how banning companies from bidding on contracts fits in with the adminstration's free trade ideas)

But although the snitfit may be emotionally satisfying, it's infinitely counterproductive.

-It does nothing to boost anyone's trust that the conquest was done for benevolent reasons and gives a further boost to those, especially Arabs, who say the motive for the invasion were purely economic.

-When the Bush administration pleads for international cooperation in re-building Iraq or addressing the humanitarian, what incentive are "dissenting" countries going to have to listen? Canada, a large contributor to Iraq reconstruction, has already said it would be difficult for them to keep donating money if such a ban remains. To exclude Canadians just because they are Canadians would be unacceptable if they accept funds from Canadian taxpayers for the reconstruction of Iraq noted the country's deputy prime minister.

-When the Bush administration pleads for more non-American troops in Iraq, what incentive are "dissenting" countries going to have to listen? There's talk of bringing NATO into Iraq to relieve the burden on American troops. But governments of key NATO members France, Germany and Turkey all raised questions about the manner of the invasion.

-When the Bush administration pleads for more international cooperation and non-American troops for Afghanistan (remember that place?), what incentive are "dissenting" countries going to have to listen? Do you think the Germans appreciate how much they've been smeared on the Iraq question after they dutifully contributed large number of troops to the Afghanistan cause at the request of President Bush? I wonder how Germans can be ok for American security in Afghanistan but not Iraq?

-When the Bush administration demands cooperation on fighting international terrorist groups, will "dissenting" countries return the snub back to Washington? For example, has the government in Paris received any kudos from either Washington hawks or the sensationalist press for the numerous arrests of al-Qaeda suspects in France? No, but the French arrested the suspects anyway. Fortunately, they weren't put off by the 1st grade level insults from the other side of the pond but the administration's legendary ability to lose friends and influence people against it does not bode well for it or for us.

The people of this administration just don't get it. They gratiutiously piss off our allies then have the audacity to ask those same allies for help. They preach "the spread of democracy" to the Arab world but rage against European governments for representing the democratic will of their people. They limit contracts to cohorts and then get indignant when anyone suggests it amounts to conquest for plunder. They anger the rest of the world with obtuseness, bluster and self-righteousness and then are truly surprised at the anti-Americanism that ensues.

So much of our foreign policy ills could be rectified if we did a little less preaching and a lot more listening. We don't do that very well. Maybe we should learn.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

-An article in the Israeli daily Haaretz reported on the visit to the country of Daniel Cohn-Bendit, famous (or infamous depending on your point of view) for his role in the May 1968 general strike in France. Anyways, "Danny the Red" offered an intriguing idea for the seemingly intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to him, The United Nations should vote on the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, deploy an international force in the region and make Israel part of NATO.

To me, this seems like reasonable The real question is whether those opposed to a fair resolution (notably Israel's far right and most Arab states, both of whom need scapegoats) will continue to hold sway.

-Since the hasty adoption of the USA PATRIOT act by most Congressmen who didn't even read the bill, the legislation has been under fire from civil liberties groups who question the very constitutionality of many of its provisions. These critics have been derided as 'chicken littles' and 'unwitting terrorist appeasers' by some and as 'decrying phantoms of lost liberty' by the attorney general of the United States. However, the latest 'chicken little' to express concerns about the government's anti-terrorism policy is none other than the chief architect of the Patriot act, a former top assistant to Attorney General John Ashcroft.

- A poll published in October reported that nearly a quarter of those surveyed wanted Ralph Nader to run again for president in 2004. The 23% number is surprising since Nader received only 3% of the vote in the 2000 election. Although it's doubtful all 23% would actually vote for Nader but it suggests that many voters are looking for someone else to vote for besides Democrats and Republicans. The poll also reported that a majority rejected the notion that Nader's 2000 candidacy cost Al Gore the election. 28% of those surveyed said they'd voted for independent or smaller party candidates, thus demonstrating that a notable percentage of voters appreciate having more than two choices.

Monday, December 08, 2003

An article in the British paper The Independent carried a startling admission. A senior executive of GlaxoSmithKline, one of the world's largest pharamaceutical giants, has admitted that most prescription medicines do not work on most people who take them.

Dr. Allen Roses noted The vast majority of drugs - more than 90 per cent - only work in 30 or 50 per cent of the people. I wouldn't say that most drugs don't work. I would say that most drugs work in 30 to 50 per cent of people. Drugs out there on the market work, but they don't work in everybody.

Most pharmaceutical giants defend their huge price increases, which go up much, much faster than the rate of inflation, by saying they saying they need to recoup the cost of research and development (even though they reportedly spend far more on advertising). This is also the same reason big pharmaceuticals oppose the development of reasonably priced generic AIDS drugs to fight the greatest scourge of humanity. Sadly, Dr. Roses' admission may bolster domestic African critics who say AIDS drugs do more harm than good or that they're a waste of money.

So this begs the question, if most drugs don't work on 50-70 percent of the people, then how effective is this R&D? And why are the prices so high for something that's so ineffective?

Friday, December 05, 2003

So the present meeting of the Commonwealth (former British colonies) in Abuja, Nigeria, is being dominated by the question of Zimbabwe. The Southern African state was suspended from the organization last year because of rigged presidential elections.

Although it's land "re-distrbution" policies (which seizes land owned by white farmers and gives it to high-ranking officials of the ruling party) has gotten more press in the west, its the least of most Zimbabweans' concerns compared to the government's horrific human rights' record. Church leaders in the country have accused Robert Mugabe's regime of running "re-education" camps and harassing those religious leaders who speak out. It also stands accused of using food aid as a political weapon. Its attacks on protest marches, its war (literally, not just figuratively) on what remains of a domestic free press and its banning of foreign journalists seem mild by comparison to these other things.

Whatever decision is taken on Zimbabwe's Commonwealth status is going to have no impact on the appalling conditions in the country. Suspending it hasn't changed anything. Southern African leaders' "softly softly" approach of flattering the rogue only massages his huge ego and hasn't changed anything either. Mugabe has said he would rather leave the Commonwealth than cede any of Zimbabwe's independence (ie: his absolute personal power).

Although I understand no one likes their neighbor to be criticized by outsiders, Southern African leaders vehement defense of Zimbabwe's apartheid state is shameful. They should be in the forefront of pressuring the dictatorship since it is their countries, not Britain or Australia, who are most directly impacted by Zimbabwe's collapse into chaos. How can these leaders demand the west do more to help suffering Africans (AIDS, peacekeeping interventions, malaria) if they serve as apologists for a brute like Mugabe whose causes a great deal of suffering for Africans?

Thursday, December 04, 2003

An article in British paper The Observer noted, "Israel has been described as the top threat to world peace, ahead of North Korea, Afghanistan and Iran, by an unpublished European Commission poll of 7,500 Europeans, sparking an international row. The survey, conducted in October, of 500 people from each of the EU's member nations included a list of 15 countries with the question, 'tell me if in your opinion it presents or not a threat to peace in the world'. Israel was reportedly picked by 59 per cent of those interviewed."

It's not often that a news article can leave me truly speechless, but this one did. You don't have to agree with the policies of the Israeli occupation or the Sharon government, and I detest both. But for 59% of Europeans polled to think that Israel represents a threat to world peace is dumbfounding. And a telling example of the power of symoblism, rhetoric and political exploitation. This is how what's really nothing more than a local territorial dispute far less bloody than dozens of conflicts elsewhere in the world has become THE worldwide cause celebre and conduit for the fury of those thousands of miles away.

No wonder a siege mentality envelops Israeli society. It's one thing to deal with hatred stoked by neighboring autocracies. It's another to learn of such a staggering level idiocy in the self-professed heart of the "enlightened" western world (in contrast to a crude gorilla like the US or provincial backwaters like Australia).

This might not be a manifestation of anti-Semitism but it certainly defies belief. And it shows that ignorance is truly the greatest threat to peace in the world.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Today is World AIDS day. It's a day to inform people about the pandemic which represents by far the greatest threat to humanity. Over 39 million people are presently infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. About 14,000 are infected every day.

Susan Hunter, former consultant for the organization UNAIDS, has compared AIDS to the black death that swept across Europe centuries ago, though AIDS has already killed numerically more people. In a radio interview, Hunter did demographic studies which showed that only two other events in the last 2000 years provoked as cataclysmic a loss of life as the present AIDS pandemic: the black death and the European conquest’s eradication of the Native American populations.

Nearly 3,000,000 people have died of the disease this year alone; the Holocaust took several years to achieve death of that magnitude. To put it another way, twice as many people died of AIDS every single day this year as died in the 9/11 attacks. That’s three millions people in a single year eliminated by a disease that’s manageable, if not curable.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted that many governments had described AIDS as a security threat but had devoted barely a fraction of the resources used to fight terrorism or search for weapons of mass destruction. I feel angry, I feel distressed, I feel helpless... to live in a world where we have the means, we have the resources, to be able to help all these patients - what is lacking is the political will.

Annan also ripped some African leaders who he said were too timid or embarrassed to confront the disease head on.

Click here for access to a plethora of stories on the topic.