Friday, August 29, 2003

EFFICIENT USE OF PUBLIC FUNDS?

Every time cities bid on the Olympics or some other big sporting event, local opponents contend that too much public money will be wasted on venues instead of on other services they deem more important. A few years ago, the city of Manchester, England hosted the Commonwealth Games, an Olympics-style event for Britain and its former colonies. 110 million pounds (about $173 million at today's exchange rate) was spent on the architecturely beautiful but not-so-creatively named City of Manchester Stadium. The stadium was built to the Games but with the expectation that after the competition's conclusion, it would house the city's Manchester City soccer club (not to be confused with its more illustrious and more loathed cross-town rival Manchester United). There was only one problem. English soccer fans are used to being right on top of the field and the presence of the running track meant the front row was back some distance from the grass. The same thing happened after Montreal's Olympic Stadium was reconfigured for baseball after the '76 Olympic Games. So after spending, millions of dollars installing a world-class track, they spent additional millions ripping out the track and installing new seats. But Manchester city councilor Richard Leese allayed concerns by noting that that council tax increases would remain below the rate of inflation for the next three years. A report claimed that the Commonwealth Games boosted Manchester's economy by 18 million pounds (over $28 million) a year, though no indication of how many years; this was after 160 million pounds (over $250 million) was spent on all venues.



WHAT A GROWTH INDUSTRY!

There's been much made about the so-called "prison-industrial complex" in the United States, including a piece in Mother Jones magazine. This phenomenom sees small, economically-struggling towns accept to have prisons built in their backyard because they provide a financial trickle-down benefit. This has been a growth industry in recent years as the US prison population has skyrocketed, despite the national crime rate reaching its lowest levels in 30 years in 2002, with violent and property crimes being almost halved as compared to 1973. A Brookings Institute report on the slow population growth of upstate New York shows the impact of the prison-industrial complex. It noted that [n]early 30 percent of new residents in Upstate New York in the 1990s were prisoners... an increase that was accompanied by a growing number of prison staff, as well as inmates' relatives.



AFRICAN STATES FIGHT FOR AFFORDABLE MEDICATIONS

A fight is going on in the World Trade Organization that may signal a key point in the continent's battle against its two biggest causes of death: AIDS and malaria. African states are lobbying the WTO counterparts to back a deal that would allow poor countries to import generic drugs to fight AIDS, malaria and other diseases. Pharmaceutical multinationals were concerned that generic drugs might eat into their profits; they were also concerned that generic drugs would flourish to treat less serious conditions and would hurt sales of highly profitable drugs like Viagra. A compromise appeared to have been struck that would've allowed generic drugs to be exported poorer countries but prevented their importation by developed countries. However, negotiators hit a snag over interpretation that has delayed the accord. Hopefully they will work everything out before the meeting dissolves.
WE KNEW SADDAM WAS NO IMMINENT THREAT: BLAIR'S CHIEF OF STAFF

Last week, British Prime Minister Tony Blair's chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, testified before the public inquiry looking into the circumstances surrounding the apparent suicide of Dr. David Kelly. Dr. Kelly was at the center of a storm about the government's case for the Iraq invasion between the prime minister's office and the BBC.

I'm not shocked that Powell's testimony didn't make news here in the US last week; we were more worried about Kobe Bryant and Arnold Schwazenegger. I'm surprised however that I missed this story when it came out as I usually read and listen to enough foreign media to avoid such lapses.

Shortly before the government's dossier making the case for the invasion was published last September, Powell wrote, "We will need to make it clear in launching the document that we do not claim that we have evidence that he [Saddam Hussein] is an imminent threat" to the west or even his Arab neighbors, reported The Guardian. Powell also wrote an email to the chairman of the joint intelligence committee stating the dossier "does nothing to demonstrate a threat, let alone an imminent threat from Saddam."


This was written a week before the prime minister's impassioned speech to the House of Commons where he described Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program as "active, detailed, and growing ... It is up and running now."

Given the close coordination with the White House that the prime minister conceded of before the same inquiry, it's worth wondering how much of this the Bush administration was aware of when they hammered into us that Saddam presented a serious menace to ordinary Californians, Iowans and Rhode Islanders. Either they knew and didn't tell us or they were not informed. Either way, this certainly calls into question either the judgement or the competence of the Bush administration. To put it charitably.

It also makes you wonder. Without a suicide, there is no public inquiry. So if Dr Kelly hadn't apparently killed himself, would any of this have come out?

The full text of the illuminating and highly recommended article can be found by clicking here.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

THE PRICE OF EVERYTHING
Iraq viceroy Paul Bremer has announced that the Iraq occupation and re-construction will cost "tens of billions" of dollars over the next several years. $2 billion ($2,000,000,000) to meet current electricity needs. $16 billion ($16,000,000,000) over the next four years to deliver clean water. Then there's the $4 billion ($4,000,000,000) A MONTH that the Pentagon is spending on ongoing military operations. As I've said before, this is why the Europeans got out of the Empire business. It was too dang expensive.

Bremer poo-poo'ed more United Nations' involvement. "What exactly is it that happens on the ground that makes things better if the U.N. is in charge of reconstruction?" Bremer said. "How does the situation on the ground get better?"

No wonder Washington is having such difficulty trying to spread around the bill.

The answer of course is that the UN has far more experience in "nation building." They successfully did it in Mozambique and East Timor. Cambodia has its problems but it's certainly a safer place than it was 15 years ago before the UN was involved. Despite many difficulties, they're goign in the right direction in former hellholes like Angola and Sierra Leone. Further, the more the UN is involved, the more the expenses are shared.

The US has very little experience in "nation building" precisely because the concept was long maligned and mocked by the foreign policy establishment. The US last major attempt at nation building was over a half century ago. And in West Germany, it was dealing with a population much of whom actually had memories of life under a liberal democratic system.

So as a result, we're going to have a record deficit. We are going to spend tens of BILLIONS of dollars re-building Iraq's infrastructure but we "can't afford" to improve access to health care, we "can't afford" improving public transportation, we "can't afford" increased aid for college students and we "can't afford" to upgrade our electricity grid to benefit the American people.

I don't object to us helping out in Iraq. But the administration's intransigent unilateralism has alienated our allies and made it so few others with deep pockets wants to help us out.

But now that we've committed irreversibly ourself to Iraq, it's too late to pull out. We made the mess worse in the short term, so we have to clean it up for the medium- and long-term. We charged ourselves with the divine mission to save Iraq, we have to finish the job. No matter how many tens of billions of our taxpayer dollars are going to subsidize corporate welfare for American defense and reconstruction-related companies. But hey, most Americans were gung ho about the war so I guess they can't complain.

That still hasn't stopped some formerly pro-war people from making these complaints. Nor has it stopped some of them from saying we have too many casualties in Iraq and we must bring the troops home immediately.

Maybe next time they want to launch us into a nice little war, they'll stop beating their chests and slandering the "long-haired freaky people" long enough to consider the potential consequences BEFOREHAND. Not everyone who urges caution is automatically unpatriotic.


[On a totally coincidental note, you can also read the article shockingly entitled "Haliburton's deals greater than thought" by clicking here]

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

PONDERING PVT LYNCH
I was reading about the honorable discharge of Pvt. Jessica Lynch today. I don't know if it's unique to this country or maybe it's just human nature but something struck me. Pvt. Lynch is almost universally lauded as a "national hero" (Associated Press) or some variation of that theme. Everyone knows who she is. She got a big movie of the week deal and a book deal. A parade in her honor. The whole shebang.

Now, I have nothing against her. I don't even know her. I have no reason to believe she's anything other than a pleasant person, which is likely the case since she wants to be a kindergarten teacher. But the whole deal with her being canonized bothers me a little. How did she become toast of the town? By becoming a prisoner of war. Her group made a wrong turn, got into an accident and was captured. They made a mistake. This doesn't mean they're horrible people or stupid; in a difficult situation like war, people will make mistakes. But why is she being lauded when the only reason the public knows who she is is because of that mistake? Simply put, if her unit hadn't made the error and if she hadn't been captured, no one would know who she is?

As for the people who actually did something, the special forces unit that rescued her, no one knows who they are. Regardless of allegations that the Pentagon unnecessarily melodramatized her rescue, the fact remains that the special forces unit had a job to do and executed it well. Yet the members of that unit remain unknown. No movie deal. No book deal. No appearance on Good Morning America. No cover of TIME or Newsweek. No mess up = no glory? If firemen pulled a child out of a burning building, wouldn't it seem weird if they held a ceremony to honor the child but not the firemen?

I think the rah-rah military thing is massively overdone. But if it's going to be occur, why omit those who most deserve it?

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

GREENS: DEMOCRATS' ENEMIES OR PARTNERS?
Rather than taking cheap shots at Ralph Nader and belittling the beliefs the efforts and beliefs of Greens, perhaps the Democratic leaders might decide to work WITH the Greens to defeat Bush in 2004. Several months ago, I proposed a Democrat-Green coalition arrangement in which the Greens would not run a presidential candidate in 2004. In exchange, Greens would be named, in the case of a Democratic victory against President Bush, to head the Department of Justice, the Environmental Protection Agency as well as the Health & Human Services and/or Interior Departments. That way the two parties would work together their common desire to prevent four more years for the radical Bush administration but would go some way to ensuring that a progressive agenda would be advanced at least to a certain degree. I've yet to hear anyone else propose or even comment upon such an arrangement, which is the norm in most other western countries. Hopefully the Democrats will stop whining about 2000 and scapegoating Nader and his followers long enough to realize that getting rid of Bush is in the interests of both parties. And the country.

An example of what might be done is occuring in Vermont.Vermont Public Radio reports that "Democratic and Progressive Party leaders say they're interested in working together on certain legislative and statewide races during the 2004 election," thus assuring that two progressive-minded candidates don't split the vote.

Importantly, Vermont Progressive Party Chairwoman Martha Abbott noted Given that we've established ourselves in the last few years as a real force in Vermont politics, we certainly hope that it works both ways and that the places where the Progressive Party is strong and has strong candidates that Democrats will respect that and not run against us as well. It's very important that it be a two-way street and not a one-way street.

Hopefully, the national Democrats will realize that the Green Party isn't going to disappear between now and November 2004. If the Democrats start treating Greens as a partner to work with rather than a scapegoat to demonize (which is easier than looking in the mirror), perhaps they might unify to advance a progressive agenda in America. If the Democrats do not realize this, we might be stuck with four more years of reckless "bring it on" neo-conservativism. Or more.
FOX NEWS (sic) DROPS LAWSUIT AGAINST 'UNFUNNY' (tm) FRANKEN
I read that foolish Fox News (sic) dropped its lawsuit against satirist Al Franken.

"Fox contended that some people might be tricked into thinking the book was a Fox product because the cover includes the words 'Fair and Balanced' and a picture of Bill O'Reilly, the network's top anchor," noted the Associated Press.

I wonder if there's anything in Franken's book that will make me laugh harder than this.

According to Salon.com, papers filed to the court by Fox described Franken as, "neither a journalist nor a television news personality. He is not a well-respected voice in American politics; rather, he appears to be shrill and unstable. His views lack any serious depth or insight."

Salon further noted "Fox alleged that Franken was 'either intoxicated or deranged' when he attacked the network and conservative host Bill O'Reilly at an April press correspondents dinner. The lawsuit also says that Franken has been described as 'increasingly unfunny.'''

I really feel that even my humble powers of sarcasm would be wasted on such a shooting-fish-in-a-barrel reply.

Franken graciously thanked Fox for "for all the publicity," before warning, "And by the way, a few months ago, I trademarked the word `funny.' So when Fox calls me `unfunny,' they're violating my trademark. I am seriously considering a countersuit.'"



Friday, August 22, 2003

FORD AND ITS MODERN 1912 TECHNOLOGY
I was at the library last night reading Harper's magazine. If you're not familiar, in each issue, they have something called Harper's Index, where they post a list of numbers, stats and figures culled from various news sources. (They cite the sources at the end of the issue). Anyway, here are some interesting figures from the Index in the most recent issue of the magazine

-Number of times Democrat Howard Dean mentioned Iraq in announcing his candicacy for president this year: 0

-Amount Pat Robertson* has invested in Liberian gold mining: $8,000,000

-Number of times he cited the country's leaders* as wrong Christians on his TV show while President Bush was in Africa: 3

-Maximum number of miles that Ford's most fuel efficient 2003 car can drive on a gallon of gas: 36

-Maximum number its 1912 Model T could: 35

-Percentage of Americans in June who favored US military action to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons: 56

-Percentage in July who disapproved of the United States waging preemptive attacks on any country: 58



*-For more info on Robertson's opinion of disgraced Liberian dictator, former warlord and indicted war criminal Charles Taylor, click here.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

DEVELOPING COUNTRIES FOR OPEN MARKETS
Developing countries have at last gotten their act together in the area of trade. According to an Inter Press Service article, a group of countries that includes Argentina, Brazil, China, India, and South Africa is pushing a new initiative, backed by 16 developing nations, [which] demands a definitive end to all export subsidies, reductions in subsidies to farmers and greater access to agricultural markets.

The proposal seeks to reform agricultural policies in order to establish a fair international trade system, one that is guided by markets. It also aims to harmonize the diverse interests of the developing world through the adoption of the ”special and differentiated treatment” mechanism for poor countries and authorization to implement protection measures for products considered strategic for their economies, noted the article.

A spokesman for the group noted that developed countries have the means to subsidize farmers and agricultural products thus putting poorer countries at a distinct disadvantage. He noted that the average COW in the European Union receives $2.5 a day in government subsidies; a large percentage of the world’s HUMANS live on less than $2 a day.

A European official tried to discredit the developing countries’ effort as class warfare. He deemed the effort a “reinvention of the 1970s slogan of South versus North.”

I applaud the developing countries’ proposal. They have finally realized they must band together if they are to improve the lives of their people. I contend that foreign aid, while useful in the short term, has not BY ITSELF made a significant long term difference in development anywhere in the last 30 years. This is because of trade policies that are vastly unfavorable to developing countries. What the west gives with one hand (aid), it takes away with the other (trade policies) and then some. If western countries were to drop subsidies and open their markets to raw materials from Africa, Asia and South America, those developing countries could see their standard of living improve faster and more durably than any amount of charity would provoke.

Western countries have long banded together to protect the interests of their farmers. It’s past time developing countries did the same.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

LIES, DAMN LIES AND POLLS
From tragically absurd to ordinary absurd. Michael Long, chairman of New York state's Conservative Party, recently blasted the state's US Senator Chuck Schumer for having an "anti-Catholic bias." Long's objection is Schumer's opposition to a few of President Bush's more conservative judicial appointees who happen to be Catholic.

"I believe the sign is in front of the [Senate judiciary] committee door saying you need not apply here," said Long. "He has an anti-Catholic bias when it comes to the principles, traditions and beliefs of the Catholic Church. I'm not saying Chuck Schumer doesn't like Catholics, but I am saying that if a Catholic possesses those views, Chuck Schumer is going to make sure you can't advance in the judicial system."

Translation: Schumer, the ostensible liberal, opposes appointees he considers to be extreme conservatives. In much the same way conservatives opposed Clinton appointees they considered to be extreme liberals. Did Sen. Jesse Helms rush to the defense of Lani Guinier? Were those who opposed Guinier's political opinions anti-black?

"Everyone knows Chuck has voted to confirm more than 90 percent of President Bush's nominees, including dozens of both Catholic and pro-life nominees such as New Yorkers Richard Wesley and Reena Raggi," said Schumer spokesman Phil Singer. "However, Schumer will continue to oppose judges who are way out of the mainstream, either on the far left or the far right, regardless of their religion, gender, or race."

In the face of the allegations by Long (a Catholic), Schumer (a Jew) was lent support by Republican Staten Island boss Guy Molinari (also a Catholic), a former Congressional colleague of Schumer. "As a Roman Catholic myself, I'm outraged by what my friend Mike Long had to say about Chuck Schumer. ... There is no place in the real political world for this kind of stuff," added Molinari.

I've read enough about Northern Ireland for this gratitutous throwing-around of religious labels to make me very uncomfortable.

But this episode is quite revealing. Not just for the questionable tactics of Michael Long, which are not new. But for what it shows is how polls are conducted. According to Newsday, WAMC and several other sources, a poll commissioned by Long went like this. Respondents were asked something like*, "If it could be proven Chuck Schumer had an anti-Catholic bias, would you support or oppose him?"

Give me a break.

If you asked, "If it could be proven that Brian beat his girlfriend, engaged in bestiality and was a child molester, what would your opinion of him be?", heck I'm sure even my mom would give an unfavorable answer.

That demonstrates how polls can be easily manipulated. That's why whenever a big poll comes out, not that I'm a huge fan of polls, I always like to read not just the press write up, but the exact text of the question(s) asked. The precise phrasing can make all the difference in the world.

*-I tried unsuccessfully to find the exact text of what was asked. If anyone is aware of where to find it, please let me know.




SERGIO VIERIA DE MELLO: 1948-2003
It was a bloody Tuesday yesterday. I'm not sure if yesterday was actually more bloody than a normal day, only that the attacks causing that blood were more high profile. Public perception of a tragedy depends in large part on where it occurs more so than how many people died or how viciously they were murdered. For every two people killed in the 9/11 attacks, five people were slaughtered in Srebenica in 1995. The main difference is that one took place in a remote eastern town in eastern Bosnia and the others in the economic and political capitals of the world's most powerful country.

The first attack took place in Baghdad, except not against American or British troops. A truck bomb destroyed the United Nations' complex in the Iraqi capital killed 16, including the mission chief Sergio Vieria de Mello. Vieria de Mello was a highly respected diplomat from Brazil who'd served as UN Human Rights Commissioner, led another successful UN mission that helped East Timor's transition to independence and had spent much of his career in with the UN High Commission for Refugees.

The blast represents the "worst attack the UN has ever suffered," according to the BBC. It is a blow against the organization, which was involved in such "controversial" tasks as food distribution and rehabilitating sewage pumping stations; the UN also plays no part in the formation of the future Iraqi government, a process which is run by the Americo-British coalition.

Then there was another suicide bombing in Israel, Jerusalem specifically. The Script* was dutifully followed by the Israelis and then the Palestinians. There were the usual Israeli condemnations of the Palestinian Authority. The PA condemnations of the Israeli occupation. Finger-pointing galore. Same old stuff. People keep dying and suffering. The Holy Land has rarely seemed less holy.


*-The Script is a copyrighted phrase of Brian referring to the standard text followed by Israeli and Palestinian leaders whenever and wherever there's a problem; the actual problem is of little relevance to the content of The Script, as the actors merely change a noun here and a date there. There, I finally copyrighted a common everyday phrase. Hopefully, Fox News (sic) hasn't beaten me to the punch.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

ROAD TRIP
"A writer doesn't have to be the smartest person in the room, only the most observant." -F. Scott Fitzgerald

This weekend, my mother and I took a trip to Vermont and northern New York* (yes, there is a part of NY that's even more north than us). I wanted to go to Vermont because I love the state. I'd probably move there if I didn't like my hometown so much. Vermont is sort of old-fashioned and traditional yet moderately progressive. VT is largely rural and community-orientated without being backward or insular. It clings to its identity without being chauvinistic. When you cross the state line, there's a sense that in many ways, things really are different there.

Our first stop, on the way, was a general store. I LOVE general stores. Maybe some day, I'll write an article for a general-interest magazine about general stores. I am attracted to them partly them because you never know what you're going to find, although excellent pastries are usually a good bet. But mainly I love general stores because they are so incredibly reflective of their region and community. The one I was in had a dozen different varieties of maple products. There was fresh milk. The cheese on sale came from the famous Vermont creamery Cabot. There was stuff from the local teddy bear factory. General stores are a marker that exemplifies place. If you went into the same general store I was in, there'd be no doubt that you were in Addison County, Vermont. Although we live in a world of increasing standardization, corporatization and strip malls, it remains unlikely you could go to a megamarket in San Diego or Miami and find maple barbecue sauce. That's what's great about general stores: the act as a barrier, however tiny, against mass homogenization.

I'm also a newspaper junkie. When I travel, I always make a point to pick up the local newspaper of, not only where I'm going, but of any places I happen to stop on the way. I find it fascinating to learn about what issues people in other parts of the state/country are worried about. Not so much on how they feel about national issues; CNN is fine for that. But what sorts of local issues are driving the regional agenda. What local issues people are passionnate about. What regional newspapers consider worthy of their column inches. It's part of the variety that makes this such a diverse country. [Some time later, I hope to have a review of the Vermont press of the last few days, based on the papers I picked up]

On Saturday, we went to the fascinating Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, VT (not far from Burlington). According to its website the museum is one of the nation's most eclectic museums of art, Americana, architecture, and artifacts. Thirty-nine galleries and exhibition structures display over 150,000 objects spanning four centuries. Outstanding collections of folk art, decorative arts, tools, toys, textiles, and transportation vehicles are exhibited in tandem with paintings by artists such as Monet, Manet, Cassatt, Degas, Andrew Wyeth, Thomas Cole, Winslow Homer, Grandma Moses, and many others. The museum's 25 19th-century structures include a covered bridge, a round barn, a lighthouse, and a 220-foot restored steamboat that is a National Historic Landmark. We spent over three hours wandering the grounds of the museum and still didn't see all of it.

On Sunday, we visited the breathtaking Ausable Chasm on the Ausable River, near Keesville, NY (not far from Plattsburgh). It was a quite magnificient place. Water carved the stunning Ausable Chasm. Water carved the Grand Canyon. It's amazing to ponder, as my mother pointed out, the power of that resource.

In between, we took a ferry across Lake Champlain from Vermont into New York. It afforded a beautiful view of the lake as well as both the Green and Adirondack Mountain ranges. There was one transcendent moment on the ferry. One time, I was looking down at the water and I noticed something from where I was standing. Whenever the waves crashed into the side of the boat and rebounded back outward, it created a little, brief, rainbow in the water. At first I saw it and thought it was an optical illusion related to my shades or just a freak one-off thing. But then I kept noticing it, then I took my sunglasses off and it kept happening. It was really amazing to behold. As a friend of mine sort of put it, "It's like nature's way of saying 'Hey Brian, thanks for taking the time to notice. These rainbows is your reward.'"



*-Note: whenever I say New York in my entries, New York State is implied. I will explicitly say New York City or NYC if I'm referring to that municipality.
LITTLE BALL
Are you ready for some... baseball?

Mid-August means it's that time of year again. Time for the Little League World Series (LLWS) in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.. I absolutely love watching the LLWS. Watching Major League Baseball on television doesn't hold a candle to the LLWS. The main reason I enjoy watching it so much is simply because the players enjoy playing it so much. And their joy comes across plain as day. They are fully invested in the Game. Not the game, but the Game. To these kids, it's not just a job. They don't want to do well for the sake of professional pride. They just want to do as well as they can because it's a game they love and so they can spend longer enjoying the great atmosphere at Williamsport. And win or lose, they let their emotions run freely. It's not a sterile atmosphere. When you watch LLWS, you feel the humanity involved in the game.

I must admit there's part of me that's ambivalent about the whole thing. Ambivalent that a kid's game is being broadcast around the world. All Little Leaguers make errors and strike out; some of them cry after unfortunate plays or losses. But most don't have their embarassing or painful moments shown live to an international television audience. It's almost a little voyeuristic, in a way. Then there's the part about LL being yet another intrusion of adult structure into the world of kids' exploration and discovery. I suppose it's ok here, as I'd say 11 or 12 is about the earliest that kind of structure is appropriate, in my opinion. I'm less comfortable with the kind of hyper-structure for sports for kids of 6 or 7. The final, albeit less significant, downside is that you have to suffer TV announcers prattling on about how pure Little League is, blah blah blah. It may be true but it gets tiresome to hear constantly. Although, in fairness, you hear it less over the course of a dozen LLWS games than during one Army-Navy football game.

But that said, I still enjoy watching the LLWS. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves, and that's the most important thing. Even most of the coaches seem to have a pretty good attitude. Even in the course of the game, they are teaching the kids and most of them do a good job in maintaining a positive, constructive and sportsmanlike attitude. This isn't always the case in youth sports; fortunately it seems to be the norm in Williamsport.

The Little League oath, recited before each game, goes:

I trust in God
I love my country
And will respect it laws
I will play fair
And strive to win
But win or lose
I will always do my best


It's interesting that 19 years after my last Little League game, I still have that committed to memory.

Friday, August 15, 2003

WHY THEY DIDN'T BARGAIN FOR IT
My brother served several years in the Marines, so on the internal workings of the military, I tend to defer to him. He responded to my essay "...more than they bargained for" as follows:

The issue regarding the National Reserves has been an ongoing issue since the military downsizing that started post-Gulf War I. Usually the Guard worked w/domestic police actions in national emergencies cases like natural disasters or the annual riots that grip LA whenever one of their teams win a World Championship. The Guardsmen are usually part-timers but can be called to active duty at the governor/president's prerogative. They like everyone else like to at least know how long their mission...or at least their deployment is going to be. I think the frustration comes where you're told that you'll be deployed for 3 months only to find that 8 months later you're still sucking sand in a land where people don't want you there. Now a POSSIBLE solution to this is cut down the expense on the number of "smart-weapons" & invest them in more active duty troops, thereby reducing the need to constantly callup the Guardsmen. The troops, Guardsmen & active duty personnel, are more than happy to do their mission but only want our elected officials to be straight w/ them. Despite what they may think, we are big boys & girls. We can handle the truth.

Thursday, August 14, 2003

GET GOVT OUT OF THE MARRIAGE BUSINESS
The leader of Canada's center-right Progressive Conservative Party has come up with what he believes is a solution to the gay marriage debate: getting government to get out of the marriage business. According to the CBC, Tory chief Peter "MacKay's plan would leave the traditional definition of marriage alone, but would leave it up to the churches. The government would recognize the union of two people - any two people - with a different name."

"We wouldn't call it marriage," MacKay noted. "We would call it a union; we would call it a registered domestic partnership. There is another description, that would have the same status, same legal definition, same level of equality under the law."

This chances of this plan passing seem slim. The Tories only have a handful of seats in the federal House of Commons. The centrist Liberal government, which has a substantial parliamentary majority, is pushing a bill that would allow gay marriages. I happen to prefer the Tory plan as it gets government out of a business which really belongs to churches. Let the government sanction civil unions, which is really akin to a contractual partnership.

Some will deplore the idea of the venerable institution of marriage being reduced to a contractual partnership. But I disagree that MacKay's proposal would do that. To a certain extent, it's reflective of how society has changed. More and more people are living together and having long-term relationships outside the context of marriage. Furthermore, the institution of marriage is best defended not by government, but by churches. It's the role of houses of worship to promote individual morality and help protect our immortal souls; it's not the role of secular government.

I don't think the government should be blessing, condemning or otherwise morally judging any couple in a matter unrelated to the law. The government represents law (in theory); religion represents personal morality (ditto). If two consenting adults want to get a civil union, so be it. If they agree to dissolve the civil union, so be it. The only government role should be to legally recognize that domestic parternship as they would a business partnership. Nothing more, nothing less.
"...MORE THAN THEY BARGAINED FOR"
I was listening to a report on the BBC last night (the text of which can be found here) which talked about a burgeoning movement calling for the immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. The movement calls itself Bring Them Home Now and comprises many military veterans and families of US soldiers. (That its name is similiar to the anti-war protesters' slogan "Support the Troops: Bring Them Home" will hopefully moderate some people's virulence against the 'warmed over 60s hippies')

That the group wants to internationalize the occupation is a welcome change from the attitude of "screw the rest of the world" which gripped American public opinion 6 months ago.
One Vietnam veteran and member of the group fumed, "I'm tired of America's sons and daughters having to do all of the policing of this world."

This comment certainly piqued my interest since America didn't HAVE to police Iraq, it chose to. In fact, it chose to do so not because of international pressure but despite it. And let's not forget, while the government may have made the decision to go to war, this self-imposed "obligation" was wildly popular among the broad American public.

As I've written before, the frustration is due in large point to initial expectations that were unrealistic. Occupation is never a short term deal. Even the post-World War II occupations and re-constructions of Germany and Japan lasted several YEARS. We've only been in Iraq a few months and people are getting impatient. Americans rightly figured winning the war would be quick. They either didn't know or didn't fully comprehend that winning the peace would be substantially more challenging... and more time consuming.

I hope the American people have learned a lesson about getting swept up in a wave of emotion at the expense of foresight. The next time the president decides to invade a random country against international public opinion and with hardly any serious military allies, I'd urge my fellow citizens will pause to fully ponder the long-term implications of that decision.

Concluded one mother, "My son has a job, he has a life - he had a life before he went to Iraq. I think they gotten much more than they bargained for."

Indeed.

But it begs the question, when they joined the military reserves, what exactly DID they bargain for?

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

WHAT ARE AMERICA'S NATIONAL INTERESTS?
In foreign policy, I consider myself an internationalist. I believe in the UN system. The UN system is definitely flawed (some of those flaws being built into the system by the big powers) but hardly discredited. But, as the best, or least bad, system out there for facilitating international relations and encouraging stability, it should be reformed, not scrapped. I believe in humanitarianism, of which the UN is often the central coordinator. I believe in fairness, broadly defined, in international relations as something that we should strive for. I recognize that all nations' power will never truly be equal in the real world. But while we will never achieve this ideal, we should constantly be trying in that direction. I believe in a proper equilibrium among indigenous cultural traditions, respect for individual and human rights and local sovereignty; all in noting that such balance is not easily definable. I believe that richer nations have a moral obligation to help out poorer nations; and I believe it's in the richer nations' economic interest to do so as well. I believe that in return for such help, richer nations should have no qualms in expecting poorer nations' governments to use that help in the interest of their people.

Some people oppose the internationalist philosophy. The two largest camps seem to be the isolationists and the unilateralists. Of course, any such broad generalization is going to be lacking in nuance. I recognize that some people might not think they fit into any of these descriptions. With that in mind...

*The unilateralists, via the neo-conservative movement, are presently in control of the foreign policy agenda. They believe that America should act on its own, to advance its values and interests, without regard to what the rest of the world thinks. They would contend that they don't hate the rest of the world and that America should accept foreign help when offered, only that the US shouldn't be "held hostage" by international opinion. They believe that American values should be pre-eminent.

These positions have created many problems. While most Americans likely believe American values are the best, the neo-conservative unilateralists extrapolate this one step further. To them, it's not enough to let American values to triumph on their own, those values must be imposed by force, militarily if necessary. They do not recognize the incongruity of imposing liberty and freedom via occupation and the barrel of a gun. Furthermore, while they claim not to be overtly hostile to international opinion, in the last year and a half, it seems many have gone out of their way to antagonize other countries. Not just "terrorism lovers," as they might call them, but our longtime friends and allies who share our values. The US could've disagreed with France or Germany on the Iraq war without launching a national character assassination of those countries; it's of note that most European opposition targeted their criticism to the person of President Bush (the person who made the objectionable policy) rather than attacking the American people as a whole. While we may be able to antagonize international opinion in a specific case if the administration thinks it necessary, it will surely be disastrous as consistent, long term policy.

*The isolationists, and I believe I'm stating this accurately, tend to believe that America should never act unless her interests or territory are directly threatened or attacked. They place the concept of national sovereignty above all others. While they often have personal sympathy with the plight of people in worn-torn countries or under the thumb of despots, they do not believe it's America's role to solve these problems.

But both isolationists and unilateralists base their positions upon what's in our national interest, in contrast to internationalists who focus on international stability. Yet, the phrase "national interest" is one that's almost always undefined. Like obscenity, it seems, you can't define it but you recognize it when you see it. I don't believe this is satisfactory. If this is going to be the cornerstone of one's foreign policy, it should be explicit and well-defined.

The reason I say this is because "national interests" has historically meant economics. There have certainly been exceptions, for when the national territory was attacked. But more often than most people realize, "national interests" have been defined as what's in the interest of American corporations. This is not new, or unique to the Bush administration. The economic vitality of American fruit, sugar and rubber companies have played a critical role in the US' relations with Latin America. Economics and trade are why we annexed the previously independent Hawaii, why we helped Panama secede from Colombia, we why effectued "regime change" (long before anyone knew of Saddam) in countries with nationalistic, democratically-elected governments. The US government hasn't supported countless corrupt, brutal dictators because any president liked corruption and brutality; it did so, almost invariably, for economic reasons.

When I said the invasion of Iraq was done for economic reasons, I was denounced as a crackpot conspiracy theorist. Oil was a factor, certainly, but not the only factor. There is a broader goal of expanding American economic influence in the Middle East. That's why the war took place. My critics reacted with shock and awe, as though economics as a justification for the Iraq war was inconceivable; I contend that this fits in quite well with the historical pattern.

Yet I issue a challenge my isolationist and unilateralist friends. I suspect some of them will not appreciate my characterization of their version of America's "national interests." If they do not believe that the economic vitality of big business should be at the heart of American "national interests," then I urge them to define it for themselves; to give a positive vision of what they believe should guide American foreign policy. What are our national interests? Not what they aren't, but what they are.

Saturday, August 09, 2003

QUESTIONS FROM A 'CONSPIRACY THEORIST' ABOUT IRAQ AND LIBERIA
I happened to stop on Fox News (sic) Channel for a minute or two. This happens occassionally as it's strategically mislocated between the evil Yankees' (redundant, I know) Channel and MSG Network, both of which sometimes show soccer.

They had two yapping heads talking about Liberia. Surprisingly, they were talking, not shouting. They engaged the standard, fact-free UN-bashing.

One guy, Mort Kondrake I think, was outraged. "How come it's taking the UN 4-6 weeks to send peacekeepers to Liberia?" he thundered. Then they went ranting on about the UN incompetence. The other guy not only didn't correct him but agreed with him. Like I said, standard b.s. Only the Kondrake knows if he is ignorant or willfully deceptive.

Newsflash to those two "experts" on FNC: THE UN IS BANNED FROM HAVING A STANDING ARMY.

This is what annoys me about the UN-bashing in this country. It's mostly uninformed. These "experts" were talking as though the UN had a standing army. Critics here talk about the UN as though it has any inherent authority on its own. As though the Secretary-General (S-G) is something like the president of the world. It's a bunch of nonsense. But what annoys me is that there are people out there listening to these yapping heads who don't know the difference and believe them.

The UN Secretary-General is a figure head, sort of like the Pope in a way. His power is pretty much limited to moral authority. Kondrake acts like the S-G can simply snap his fingers and have troops be somewhere the next day. The S-G has no divisions, as Stalin famously noted of the pontiff. And this is exactly how the US and the other big powers want it.

Some conservatives in this country complain that the UN has too much power, that it's leading us to one world government. Then when it doesn't bend to whatever Washington wants, they deride the UN as weak and incompetent. So my question is this: how can the UN simultaneously be too powerful and ineffectual?

Any deployment of UN peacekeepers requires not only the approval of the Security Council but, and this is the key point, the volunteering of troops by member states. In most UN missions, troops are primarily supplied by less powerful countries like India, Bangladesh and Uruguay.

So when anyone speaks of "the UN," you should ask what that means. "The UN" is many things. To Americans, it's peacekeeping, the Security Council and, to some, "one world government." To people in other countries, "the UN" is the people who feed and house the refugees or organize vaccination campaigns.

Ultimately, "the UN" is whatever member states, especially the rich ones, want it to be. Or not be. This is why I often put "the UN" in quotes. "The UN" is its member countries. Nothing more, nothing less. It's barely an entity in itself..

In answer to Kondrake's question, the reasons it's taking "the UN" is taking 4-6 weeks to send troops to Liberia are these. 1) It took the Security Council a while to authoritze said mission and 2) member states, including the United States, aren't exactly rushing to volunteer peacekeeping troops for the mission.

"The UN" most certainly has its flaws. Some are of its own making (like a New York City-heavy bureaucracy) and others imposed from outside (the slowness of the Security Council and powerlessness of the General Assembly were designed precisely to not give it too much authority at the expense of the big powers). But criticism should at least be informed in order to be taken seriously.

Anyways, either Kondrake or the other commentator opined that President Bush was right to be reticent about sending troops to Liberia because, in his opinion, it would be risking "another Somalia."

Now warnings against another Somalia are what some people automatically use to argue against any deployment of troops in Africa, whether the analogy is accurate or not. This warning was used to scuttle against any possible mission in the Rwandan genocide, even though the situations in Somalia (total chaos) and Rwanda (meticulously planned and executed slaughter) were polar opposites. But given what I know about Liberia and the factions there, this is actually not a totally unfounded fear.

Nevertheless, the argument is ironic. In Somalia, 18 American servicemen were killed on the streets of Mogadishu. It is argued that Americans must, at all costs, avoid "another Somalia," no matter how great the human suffering that we could prevent. 18 American servicemen killed in Africa is unacceptable.

Yet the public was gung ho about invading, conquering and occupying Iraq even though it was all but guaranteed that far more than 18 servicemen would die there, which has proven true.

We've had more than 18 die since President Fighter Pilot declared the end of major hostilities. There have been demonstrations against the occupation in Iraq. In Liberia, the people are IMPLORING us to come. Not just the public either. Both the government and the rebels have invited us. Yet, we go where we're not wanted but refuse to get where they're begging us.

Revisionists in the administration say, "Hey, it's no big deal we can't find weapons of mass destruction, the primary justification for the war. At least we got rid of an evil dictator and that makes us righteous and good." Well, Charles Taylor certainly qualifies as evil dictator. And an indicted war criminal to boot. And he's destabilized more of his neighbors than even Saddam did. Is that enough comparisons to satisfy you?

What's the difference? For those who insist that the Iraq invasion had no economic motive whatsoever, what is the difference? We "conspiracy theorists" are curious.

Friday, August 08, 2003

INDICTED WAR CRIMINAL DEMANDS RESPECT FOR INTERNATIONAL LAW
A long time ago, I stopped regularly watching American TV news but I'm quickly becoming a fan of CNN's Newsnight normally with Aaron Brown, as it actually seems worth an hour of my time. I still watch it in addition to listening to the BBC World Service radio, which is sometimes complicating as the BBC's only newcast of more than 5 minutes in the evening also starts at 10 PM. Sometimes the Internet resolves that conflict.

Last night wasn't one of Newsnight's better performances. They spent the first 40 (!!) minutes of the broadcast going on about California. Sure, a recall effort in the nation's largest state is a pretty big deal and a lot certainly happened in that story yesterday. It wasn't totally unreasonable for it to be the lead story. But to spend 2/3 an hourlong broadcast on this one story, three or four different segments, was massive overkill. (Memo to Ahnold: try to avoid lame jokes using titles of or lines from your movies).

After CNN was done speculating on weighty questions like Arnold Schwarzenegger's alleged womanizing, they moved on to more trivial stuff like peacekeepers in Liberia, plans for nuclear proliferation in the US and an embassy bombing in Baghdad.

The California situation seemed like a bad joke until, in the Liberia segment, they played comments by the country's indicted war criminal/dictator Charles Taylor. Taylor complained that an American military helicopter landed in the US embassy complex but that US officials didn't have the courtesy to inform his government.

Normally, they would have sent us a note that there are Black Hawk helicopters landing at the embassy, sniffed the despot. That's what you do if you respect international law. But we have no choice. We still accept American presence here, but people have to learn to do it properly.

(as quoted here)


To hear a man allegedly responsible, either directly or indirectly, for destabilizing four countries, for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and for ruining the lives of millions more yammer on about respecting international law and proper process was a pretty difficult thing to do while eating dinner. Even more amazing, Taylor made the complaint in conjuction with his efforts to void international law by getting the war crimes indictment against him quashed. You couldn't make this stuff up.

It was hard not to laugh. Except that it's so serious. What's next? Idi Amin lecturing on the importance of respecting human life?

Thursday, August 07, 2003

CALIFORNIANS: MAY THEY GET WHAT THEY WANT
The recall effort directed against California Gov. Gray Davis is entirely legal. There, I said it. And I'm sure I'll repeat it again several times during the course of this essay. Because every time I say the recall is a bad idea and a waste of money the state doesn't have, someone will inevitably "counter" that it's fully within California law. Which is, of course, neither here nor there. Legal and foolish aren't mutually exclusive, as the existence of the electoral college attests to.

The whole concept of recall gives me mixed feelings. I like the idea of holding politicians accountable. I'm hesitant about it being used by a bunch of sore losers to target the person that beat them. I see elections as a contract. We elect someone giving them the expectation that they will have a specific number of years to do their job. What incentive does a true leader have to take tough decisions early in his term if he knows it might force him out of office before his term is up (by which time the longer-term benefits might kick in). In a regular contract, you can't unilaterally change the terms. But recall allows the public to do exactly that. On a related note, I also don't like elected officials who quit before their term is up because they got a better offer.

Perhaps recall should only be allowed if there is specific misconduct alleged. Perhaps it should be allowed for any reason but only after the official has served at least half his term (it still violates the elections as a contract principle but it's less egregous than the California system). Perhaps California officials should serve for two years like elected officials in many New England states; that creates its own difficulties but addresses the accountability issue. Perhaps recall is simply a well-intentioned, but unworkable idea.

The specifics of the California case are even more farcical. Yes legal, but still farcical. The recall effort is proceeding only 9 months after Californians re-elected Davis with 47% of the vote (a higher percentage than Bill Clinton got in '92 and the same as George W. Bush got in '00, although Davis won a plurality). To annul that victory after only 9 months is highly dubious, even if Gray Davis is one of the least inspiring politicians around. I'd love to be rid of President Bush, say, yesterday, but I'm still glad we don't have national recall.

Some point out that prime ministers have to face votes of confidence, why not governors? The difference is that governors don't have the same powers as prime ministers. In a parliamentary system, the prime minister will almost always have the support of, if not the majority of the legislature, then at least its largest party. In California, both houses of the legislature are majority-controlled by the party in opposition to the governor. In such a setup, a governor can obstruct or he can encourage tweaks the opposition legislature's proposals but he can do very little to drive the agenda. He can do very little constructive on his own. That is the downside of the separation of powers. Or, as others might counter, that is the whole point of the separation of powers.

Ultimately, the farce in California is an excellent example of why America is a republic (indirect democracy), rather than a direct democracy. It is really the fault of the people, far more so than the elected officials. In the late 70s, Californians launched a tax revolt; now, as the result of a voter-initiated law, any tax increase requires a 2/3 vote of the state legislature. But now they're upset that their education system ranks last in the nation. They want their public schools, hospitals and roads to be of high quality but don't want to pay taxes to support those services. This is the paradox any elected official, anywhere, has to face: everyone wants a free lunch. But it's most acute in California. The ease of initiative ties the hands of legislators with unreasonable demands and then recall is the stick used to punish those who don't meet those unreasonable demands.

The Green Party is in favor of initiative and referendum [I/A]. I'm not sure I want them to be too easy. The mess in Albany (New York's state capital) is cited by many advocates as why this state needs I/A. I can barely imagine a state government more closed, more opaque and less accountable than New York's. Everyone knows Albany is a joke, that every major decision involves only the two legislative leaders and the governor: the infamous "three men in a room" decried by the current governor when he was a challenger. But the two parties (each of whom has controlled one house of legislature for years) have done a brilliant job of self-preservation, of manipulating electoral law to ensure lack of accountability. In fact, California's I/A and recall was developed precisely to counter the machine driven politics of the east coast. But it's gone too far to the other extreme.

Perhaps the most ridiculous aspect of the California system is this. Gov. Davis could get far more support than anyone else and still lose the governorship. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that 44% vote to maintain Davis and 56% vote to get rid of him. There will probably be a few hundred candidates trying to replace Davis, the most famous being Schwarzenegger and porn magnate Larry Flynt. Even, in the unlikely event that any one of the hundreds of candidates gets half of the anti-Davis vote, half of 56% is only 28%. In such a situation, that person would become governor. Davis, with 44%, would be evicted from office by someone who got a substantially smaller 28% (if Californians think 28% > 44%, then their schools really are that bad). Even the electoral college couldn't produce a result so farcical.

Again, this would be entirely legal and, as a non-Californian, it doesn't affect me directly. But it would also make California a national and international laughingstock. And since the state seems to be the birthplace of many national trends, for better or worse, I will be watching this vote with interest. The people of California are getting what they want. I hope it satisfies them.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

BIG BROTHER 1975
I was reading Samantha Power's Pulitzer Prize book A Problem From Hell. The chapter on Cambodia is really quite chilling. The fact that any chapter in a book about genocide can be more chilling than the others is something! According to the book*, life under the Khmer Rouge (1975-79) entailed:

-Citizens could not move. Travel passes were required even to cross town. Cities were evacuated at gunpoint.

-They could not learn what they chose. Only KR [Khmer Rouge] tracts were permitted. Libraries were ravaged. And speaking foreign-languages signaled 'contamination' and earned many who dared to do so a death sentence.

-They could not reminisce. [!!!] Memories of the past life were banned. Familles were separated. Children were 're-educated' and induced to inform on parents who might be attempting to mask their 'bourgeois' pasts. 'Cambodia,' a colonial term, was replaced by 'Democratic Kampuchea.'

-'They could not flirt. Only Angkar [term meaning roughly The System] could authorize sexual relations. The pairings for weddings were announced en masse at the commune assemblies.

-They could not pray. Chapels and temples were pillaged. Devout Muslims were often forced to eat pork. Buddhist monks were defrocked, their pagodas converted into grain silons.

-They could not own private property. All money and property were abolished. The national bank was blown up. Radios, televisions, telephones, cars and books gathered in the central squares were burned.

-And they could not make contact with the outside world. Foreign embassies were closed; telephone, telegraph and mail service suspended.


Incidentally, reports of such atrocities were rubbished at the time by many prominent figures on the left including Noam Chomsky (who I'm not a huge fan of, even if he occassionally makes cogent observations). At the time, they assumed that such reports were the sort of anti-communist propaganda so thoroughly discredited by the Vietnam-era lying. I guess this is an example of why it's important not to sacrifice your principles at the altar of your ideology.

*-A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, Samantha Power, 2002, paperback version, pp. 117-118.

Monday, August 04, 2003

SHOWDOWN: PRECIPITATION
This is a satirical piece I wrote in early March. A friend suggested I submit this to slate.com which I did. though it got no response from them. I still think it's amusing. Bear in mind, this was written in the heat of the debate on the invasion of Iraq, the gratuitous French/UN bashing orgy and general national temper tantrum the United States was undergoing at that time. I felt a little mischievous one Sunday and this was the result.






It rained in my city today. National and international reaction to this cataclysmic event was immediate.

Rush Limbaugh suggested that the rain was linked to the alleged friendship between French president Jacques Chirac and Ecology dictator Mother Nature. Bill O'Reilly wondered if Canadians' fondness for baseball doubleheaders had anything to do with the storm's origin around Hudson Bay.

Secretary of War Donald Rumsfeld echoed these sentiments, condemning "French appeasement" of Nature and Canadian softness on the rain problem.

In a joint press conference with British prime minister Tony Blair, President Bush blasted the United Nations for not doing enough to stop the terrible pain and the havoc the rain is causing to my city's treasured snowbanks. Blair added, "What he said."

Senator Tom Daschle and Congressman Richard Gephardt blasted the president's handling of the crisis, which CNN has been quick to label "Showdown: Precipitation." The legislators said that the president's refusal to deal with the rain question was yet another way he kowtowed to the rich. They proposed a rain tax, under which the rich (those making $20,000 a year or more) would pay a $1000 fee each time water fell from the sky. "This fund," explained Sen. Daschle "would be used to help working Americans buy umbrellas." Rep. Gephardt, however, expressed skepticism about the proposal's chances of passage due to what he called the president's pandering to the influential raincoat lobby. "We must not let Big Raingear override the wishes of the American people."

Presidential candidate Senator Joe Liebermann also criticized the president's conduct. "It's a moral imperative that we act much more quickly to beef up our counter-precipitation activities."

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge changed the nation's alert from code orange to code flourescent grey. No one, outside of three Washington bureaucrats, is certain if this represents an upgrade, downgrade or lateral move on the security scale. Nevertheless, duct tape sales tripled in the hours after Sec. Ridge's announcement.

The political parties were divided. Democrats insisted, "This rain would not have fallen had Nader not cost Gore the election in 2000." Republicans contended that the rain crisis was linked to former President Bill Clinton and/or Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in some unspecified way. An official Green Party statement asked why those two parties opposed legalizing drugs since both are so obviously smoking something.

Enviro-whackos cautiously advanced the notion that the rain was actually natural and should be welcomed. They were quickly denounced by Attorney General John Ashcroft who questioned their patriotism and condemned them for "giving aid and comfort to the rainmakers." The attorney general quickly submitted to Congress the "Truth Protection Act of 2003", sponsored in the House by Rep. Winston Smith; this is the first bill sponsored by Rep. Smith since his election in 1984. The legislation has been nicknamed the "enviro-whacko roundup bill." Passage by Congress is likely since the invertebrate lobby, now the Democrats' most important constituency, has expressed support for the proposal.

Anti-globalization activists argued that the rain storm demonstrates the internationalization of bad weather and called on the WTO to push for more humane atmospheric conditions. The CEOs conference in Davos, Switzerand issued a statement countering that rain was every consumers' free choice.

Reaction to the storm from the Middle East was swift. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon tore into Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat for not doing more to stop international precipitation. Arafat responded that he condemned rain in the strongest, most unequivocal terms but that only an end to Israeli occupation would bring true meteorological peace.

There was rain reported in manyparts of Africa and South America as well, although no Western press reaction has been noted as yet.

Saturday, August 02, 2003

WHERE TO TRY SADDAM?
Yesterday, the UN Security Council voted to authorize a peacekeeping mission to Liberia. The vote was 12-0 with France, Germany and Mexico abstaining. The US inserted a clause into the resolution that would exempt the UN peacekeepers from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, which the Bush administration rabidly objects to. This is ironic since the primary demand of the White House is for the removal of Liberian dictator Charles Taylor, a man indicted for war crimes by and who everyone wants to face justice in front of... an international tribunal: the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone.

The Bush administration also successfully pressured the Belgian governement to quash a controversial law. The law gave Belgian courts universal jurisdiction to prosecute war crimes, genocide and other crimes against humanity regardless of where the atrocities took place and regardless of the nationality of the victim. Washington had warned that it would refuse to send officials to NATO meetings in Brussels if the law were to stand. Lawsuits had already been filed there against such high-profile targets as President Bush, Secretary of War Donald Rumsfeld, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. Under the revised law, only Belgian subjects or people resident in the country for at least three years at the time of the crime will have the right to launch such a suit.

All this leads me to wonder: what would happen if we actually captured Saddam Hussein? Osama bin Laden would be one thing, since the gravest crime he is accused of occurred on American soil (9/11). But since Saddam did not commit any crimes on American territory, American laws surely wouldn’t apply to him.

Since, in Belgian case, the Bush administration rejects the principle of national courts holding universal jurisdiction, we couldn’t try Saddam for crimes he committed in Iraq (or Kuwait or Iran). Since the administration rejects the authority of the International
Criminal Court, we wouldn’t send him there either. And do you seriously believe the occupation authorities would let Saddam be tried by domestic Iraqi courts?

So this begs the question, if American forces captured Saddam Hussein, where would he go on trial? Would the administration condescend to put him on trial? Can they afford not to?