Tuesday, March 30, 2004

YOU WILL EAT YOUR BROCCOLI AND YOU WILL LIKE IT
The Washington Post reports on Senate hearings concerning cable television rates. The paper notes: No U.S. cable or satellite company offers what are called "a la carte" plans... That may change, if some lawmakers and consumer groups get their way, as the cable industry finds itself under increasing scrutiny. Lawmakers report that their constituents are angry about cable bills that have risen at three times the rate of inflation since the industry was largely deregulated in 1996. Others want government to do something about the rising incidence of profanity and nudity found on pay-television systems. One possible solution being proposed is a la carte cable, a way to give consumers more choice over what they watch and how much they pay for it. But it's not an answer the cable industry will swallow easily, if a Senate Commerce Committee hearing yesterday on cable rates is any indication.

"When I go to the grocery store to buy a quart of milk, I don't have to buy a package of celery and a bunch of broccoli," Committee Chairman Sen. McCain said in an interview. "I don't like broccoli."

I doubt that government intervention of this sort is a good idea, but the cable company that does offer a la carte would get my business instantly... assuming it was in my city. Unfortunately, deregulation hasn’t increased competition.

Cable companies sign franchise agreements with municipalities. Infrastructure investment makes it expensive for there to be more than one cable company in all but the largest cities. As a result, there’s an understanding between cable providers that while they will compete with each other to get the franchise to individual municipalities, once a franchise has been awarded to one, others won’t bid for a second. In other words, no competition.

In my area, not a single municipality offers consumers more than one cable choice. (Satellite services only offer packages too). There’s so little to watch on TV anyway, I wouldn’t waste $45 (?) on regular cable or $60+ on digital, especially since the latter offers 200-something TV channels and who-knows how many music and home shopping channels but not a single French-language one. Still, I’d be happy to pay a higher per-channel fee and only get the few that are actually worth watching, like the soccer channels and Sundance.

People need to understand that de-regulation and competition are not synonymous. Regulation isn't always the answer. But de- or anti-regulation proponents on specific issues need to not be disingenuous by suggesting that non- or de-regulation automatically leads to more competition.

Monday, March 29, 2004

KILL THE TAXPAYERS, BUT DON’T STEAL THEIR MONEY
In 1991, a military coup in Mali overthrew the 22 year old dictatorship of Moussa Traore, one of the most bloodthirsty leaders in a time when Africa had far too many. Shortly after, the new junta handed over power to a democratically-elected government. The civilian government decided to prosecute Traore for his political crimes. He was convicted and sentenced to death, though this was commuted to life in prison by the civilian president who opposed capital punishment. In 1999, Traore and his wife were also convicted of embezzling the relatively small figure of $350,000 (though prosecutors claimed it was $4 million). Though this was also commuted to life in prison, it struck me as odd that mere theft can carry a penalty as severe as the death penalty.

But then I remembered that bad guys are often done in on the financial end of things. Al Capone and many other big Mob bosses were caught not for murder or extortion, but for tax evasion on their ill-gotten gains.

I was reminded of this upon reading of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s troubles. Israel’s chief prosecutor has recommended to the country’s attorney general that Sharon be indicted for corruption. A businessmen is accused of paying the Sharon family to promote a tourism project, among the accusations. Though many want Sharon indicted in the Hague for his alleged role (negligence, it seems) in war crimes committed during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and others condemn him for human rights violations against Palestinian civilians in the Occupied Territories. It looks like Sharon might be done in simply because he might’ve gotten a little too greedy.

Of course, this isn’t a particularly foreign phenomenon. Though there were many grievances in the Declaration of Independence, the American Revolution was fundamentally a tax revolt. In contrast to, say, the Russian and French Revolutions which were fundamentally about equal civic rights for all men (not women), even if the promises of both were eventually betrayed. This is why the French, in their political discourse, refer to themselves as citizens. This is also why Americans, here in the Republic of the Consumer, are far more likely to refer to themselves as taxpayers (which is telling since nearly every citizen pays tax in some form anyway).
THE WORD OF GOD (c) XXXI - REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE
From: St-Paul (MN) Pioneer Press

Comment: ""What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but doesn't have works? When we look at what is happening in America today, where are the works of compassion?" -Sen. John Kerry.

Indignant response: "John Kerry's comment at New Northside Baptist Church was beyond the bounds of acceptable discourse, and a sad exploitation of Scripture for a political attack." -Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt.

The Bush team is angry about the exploitation of Scripture for political reasons. This makes sense. Kerry apparently didn't notice the small type in the corner of his Bible that reads (c) XXXI - Republican National Committee.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

OBSERVATION OF THE WEEK

News item: The White House argues that [National Security Advisor Condoleeza] Rice, as a member of the White House staff, should not be called to testify publicly [before the 9/11 Commission] under the principle of executive privilege. -As reported by CNN.



Observation: "They don't want Rice to testify publicly under oath but they're more than happy to have her talk on nearly every Sunday TV program." -My father.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

KERRY AND THE 10 MILLION NEW JOBS
In 2000, then-Gov. Bush apparently promised he’d create (er “create”) 2.4 million by 2004. It seems the ECONOMY has failed to produce that many jobs and Pres. Bush has egg on his face. So you think his Democratic rival Sen. John Kerry would’ve learned from this. No, of course not.

Instead, Kerry has pledged to create 10 million new jobs in his first four-year term.

I saw a speech on TV where Kerry said that the president can do everything BUT create jobs. So this begs the question: if the president can do everything short of creating jobs, why is Kerry promising to create jobs?

This shows, if there was an iota of doubt before, that Kerry is a standard politician who peddles the standard b.s. just like the others. He’ll be slightly less bad (or slightly less good, depending on your perspective) than the current occupant of the White House.

Sure, a President Kerry is unlikely to attend a fundraiser where a friendly governor talks on his cell phone to "God" before the microphones and cameras and notes that he understands how "God" can't endorse the governor's candidate. And Kerry will probably be suck up to Europe a little more when he feels like invading random countries. But really, nothing is going to fundamentally change, just around the edges.

As I’ve written before, government is not in the business of creating jobs (except for defense contractors). It can make marginal changes around the edges and trade policy is the only place where it can have a big effect quickly. But any candidate who promises to create 10 million jobs is begging to not be taken seriously.

Friday, March 26, 2004

’APPEASER’ TO SUPPORT US ANTI-TERROR EFFORTS IN AFGHANISTAN
Spain’s prime minister-elect Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is getting a taste of what happens when you defy the fiats of the Bush administration. As his fellow European, the now vindicated Hans Blix knows all too well, American neo-conservatives don’t play nice. All their nice rhetoric about liberty and democracy might lull you, but it shouldn’t. Democracy and liberty are fine for these folks, so long as it produces the desired result.

Spanish voters were accused of appeasing terrorists by exercising their freedoms. According to the neo-cons, it seems democracy doesn’t include getting rid of a government that one believes is pathologically dishonest. In reality, Americans should be inspired by the example that voters still actually matter a little bit.

Then, the neo-cons went apoplectic at Zapatero’s statement that he would withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq. As I mentioned earlier, this rage was based on a willful and dishonest misrepresentation of Zapatero’s position. He didn’t state that Spanish troops would necessarily withdraw; he stated that they would withdraw UNLESS the US handed over authority on 30 June like they promised.

Neo-cons said Zapatero’s position on Iraq (as they distorted it) was bad because it sent a message to al-Qaeda that bombings can weaken resolve. Except that the Socialist position (to withdraw from Iraq unless there was UN control) was the same before the Madrid massacre. The bombings changed Socialist policy not one iota. Maybe the neo-cons don’t know how to recognize a political party keeping its promises.

Given this virulent smear campaign, it’s hardly surprising that the neo-cons give no credit to Zapatero when they should. The prime minister-elect recently announced that Spain may add peacekeepers to Afghanistan. Not surprisingly, this announcement did not bring waves of approval from neo-con pundits. Grace is not part of their modus operandi.

Perhaps what really frosts neo-cons is that Zapatero’s announcement further underlines how little the invasion of Iraq had to do with fighting international terrorism.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

NOT ALL CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY ARE CREATED EQUAL
One of the most common phrases heard in the wake of 11 September 2001 was “the world has changed.” Of course, the world did not really change on 9/11. It was the United States’ PERCEPTION of the world that changed. America’s reaction to 9/11 changed the world far more than the 9/11 attacks themselves. Terrorism was a problem long before 2001. The only thing truly unique about 9/11 was its spectacular nature (skyscrapers crashing down in the heart of the financial capital of the world).

One of the other common phrases heard in the wake of 9/11 was that all things considered, it wasn’t really a big deal. “Only” 3000 people died. After all, this is a pittance compared to the number of people who die of AIDS every day. Even malaria claims about 2700 victims on a daily basis. Furthermore, this was a pittance compared to the number of foreigners Americans have killed in [insert speaker’s foreign policy cause celebre]. Some argued that 9/11 was America’s own fault because of their government’s foreign policy decisions.

Some people get outraged when I call 9/11 a crime against humanity. As a progressive, I'm supposed to toe the left-wing orthodoxy that America deserved 9/11. But because I'm a progressive, I can't.

Due to some inexplicable mental contortion, critics think that if you call 9/11 a crime against humanity, you’re somehow acting as an apologist for the Salvadoran death squads, Augusto Pinochet and every dictator the US has every supported.

This disgusts me. If you believe in and speak the language of human rights, you must do so consistently. Those on the left MUST be as forceful in condemning a crime against humanity like 9/11 as they are in condemning, say, the Israeli occupation.

First, it’s thoroughly disingenuous to equate an unintentional tragedy like AIDS to something intentional like mass murder. Anyone who’s read my essays knows I’ve written frequently about the AIDS crisis in Africa. But I’ve never used it to diminish crimes against humanity.

Second, it angers me that many of those who unwittingly act as apologists for 9/11 are vocal critics of the civilian cost of the Iraq invasion. It baffles how one can be angered about the UNINTENTIONAL deaths of Iraqi civilians but casually brush aside the INTENTIONAL murder of American civilians. There’s some perverse logic in this that I don’t understand. Sadly, this sort of hypocrisy gives real ammunition to those who wish to tar all liberals and progressives as "America haters."

Third, there’s the numerical argument. 3000 killed in 9/11 is a “blip” compared to other things, notes one of my readers. The implication is that it’s not a big deal because it’s “just” 3000. When tragedies are measured by numbers rather than intent or effect, it’s thoroughly dehumanizing. Rwanda saw “only” 800,000 slaughtered, which was a far cry from the millions of the Holocaust. This was one of the justifications used to avoid intervention (“it’s not genocide, just a little ethnic bloodletting”). The number of people murdered in Srebenica was only 1% of Rwanda’s number; does this mean Slobodan Milosevic’s trial should be abandoned as a result?

I’ll be more than happy to accept the statement “9/11 was bad, but let’s not forget there are other bad things going on too.” I won’t accept the statement, “other bad things are going on too so 9/11 was nothing to care about.”

But really the most despicable implication is that the people killed in 9/11 somehow deserved it because of past decisions their government had taken. When Serbs used historical grievances to justify their ethnic cleansing of the Bosnians and Kosovar Albanians, liberals were outraged. When Hutu extremists used historical grievances to justify their genocide of the Tutsis, liberals were outraged. Yet, these people were the first to use historical grievances to “explain” and minimize the nature of 9/11.

To say that a crime against humanity depends not on the nature of the horror but the nationality of the victims is totally antithetical to what any decent human being should believe.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

WESTERN SUDAN ‘RESEMBLES RWANDA’
There’ve been some shocking reports of so-called ethnic cleansing coming out of the western Sudanese region of Darfur.

As Amnesty International described the situation, Men, women and children are being killed and villages are burnt and looted because the central government is allowing militias aligned to it to pursue what amounts to a strategy of forced displacement through the destruction of homes and livelihood of the farming populations of the region.

Amnesty condemned the government of the Sudan for failing to ensure the protection of civilians. This is not a situation where the central government has lost control... For the past year, no member of the Janjawid [militia] has been arrested or brought to justice for a single unlawful killing., claimed the London-based organization. The government is still severely restricting humanitarian aid in Darfur, and appears unwilling to address the human rights crisis in the region... Neither have [aid organizations] been able to reach tens of thousands of people sheltering in rural towns or in the bush with hardly any food and shelter and no medical supplies.

The ethnic cleansing occurs as the Arab-dominated government and the black African Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army are allegedly close to reaching a settlement to end the 20 year old civil war in the south of the country.

Regional analysts point out that there is a growing sense of regional identity among diverse communities sharing the same experience of marginalization, according to the IRIN news service.

The Sudanese central government is infamous for tolerating slavery in the south of the country, a practice conducted almost exclusively by a government backed militia, according to Human Rights Watch. So it’s hardly surprising that the regime in Khartoum stands accused to turning a blind eye to ethnic cleansing in the west.

The situation is so dire that the UN's humanitarian coordinator for Sudan,compared human rights violations going on in Darfur to what happened in Rwanda in 1994. He said the only difference between the two were the numbers of dead, murdered, tortured and raped. [He] said more than 10,000 people had been killed in the fighting. Additionally, some 100,000 people have fled the fighting in Darfur into neighboring Chad.




’MENTALLY SLOW’ BOY PAID $22 TO BE HOMICIDE BOMBER
I read a sickening article in the liberal Israeli paper Haaretz. The daily reported that a 14 year old Palestinian boy was caught at a roadblock wearing a belt of explosives. The boy, who his family described as mentally slow, was reported paid NIS 100 (about $22) to commit the attack, which was thwarted by Israeli soldiers.

According to Haaretz, the boy told soldiers of his dream of receiving 70 virgins in heaven, which his dispatchers had promised him, and said that he had been tempted by the promise of sexual relations with the virgins. He said that he had been bullied at school for his poor academic performance and that he had wanted "to be a hero."

This succinctly demonstrates the paradox terrorists exploit. Terrorists freely exploit women and children to perpetrate homicide bombings. Just last week, soldiers found an explosive charge on a cart pushed by a 10-year-old Palestinian boy at the same roadblock, the paper added. The soldiers released the boy after it transpired that he did not know what was in the bag he was carrying through the barricade.

Yet if, in these cases, the Israelis had insisted on searching women and children, there’d be international condemnation of their supposed barbaric insensitivity to local customs.

The boy’s mother has her own thoughts on local customs. "Hussam left home this morning to school, and this was the first we hear of what happened," she told Reuters. "This is shocking. To use a child like this is irresponsible, forbidden.”

It’s hard to write this. When you criticize anything done by Palestinian terrorists, you are frequently accused of being an apologist for the Occupation or a pal of Ariel Sharon/George W. Bush. (Just like anytime you criticize the Israeli government, you risk being labeled anti-Semitic). But I don’t see how anyone believes in and uses the language of human rights should set that belief aside merely to conform with some leftist dogma that states that the Palestinians are automatically right and the Israelis necessarily wrong. If you can’t make the unqualified statement that exploiting retarded children to make them into murderers is unambiguously disgusting, then you have no right criticizing anything Sharon or Bush does.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

TORY LEADER: SPANIARDS 'COWARDLY' FOR EXERCISING DEMOCRACY
Apparently, the British Conservatives have joined the American right's anti-Spanish smear campaign. Tory leader Michael Howard slammed the decision of Spaniards to punish what they viewed as the deceitful actions of their government. Howard insisted, "We cannot buy ourselves immunity by changing our foreign policy. Apart from the moral cowardice of that position, it can never work in practice."

Someone seriously needs to tell these guys to go [jump off a bridge].
YASSIN ASSASSINATION TO RADICALIZE HAMAS?
I see the Israeli military assassinated Cheikh Yassin, "spiritual leader" and co-founder of Hamas. The decision was roundly condemned by the international community, save the United States' government which said it was 'deeply troubled'.

Critics argued that the assassination would make homicide bombings more likely. Residents of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are braced for an interruption of the decades of peaceful solitude their cities have enjoyed.

Critics also argued that the murder of Yassin would radicalize the organization. A Hamas statement in response to the murder pledged to destroy the state of Israel. It noted that the Yassin assassination represented a death sentence for hundreds of Israelis on every street and every inch of land occupied by the Zionists. The statement is far more menancing than Hamas' previous objectives... to kill Israelis and destroy the state of Israel.

Incidentally, I noticed that the new leader of Hamas is a pediatrician. I wonder how calling for the murder of innocent Israelis squares with that whole Hippocratic Oath thing.

[To repeat: my solution to the problem is: a) give the Palestinians their own state while simultaneously b) making Israel a member of NATO. Getting Ariel Sharon out of power would certainly be helpful. But, as I've stated before, neighboring Arab countries don't actually want a solution to the problem; they want the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as an issue, as a scapegoat to deflect their populations' anger over their own corruption, mismanagement and autocracy. This is why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has persisted so long.]

Monday, March 22, 2004

GOP OFFERS PREVIEW OF ITS FALL STRATEGY: ACCOUNTABILITY = APPEASEMENT
House Speaker Dennis Hastert has offered a preview of what will likely be an integral part of the Republicans' campaign strategy this fall. Hastert condemned the result of the recent Spanish general election. "Here's a country who stood against terrorism and had a huge terrorist act within their country and they chose to change their government and to, in a sense, appease terrorists," said the man third in line to the presidency.

This certainly corresponds with the message the GOP wants to resonate with voters: change = weakness.

Spanish voters rose up against a government with huge credibility problem for their questionable decisions. No wonder Republicans are afraid of the precedent and are trying to equate accountability with appeasement.

Friday, March 19, 2004

THE SPAIN LEADER'S APPEASEMENT THAT WASN'T
First, they attacked Scott Ritter. Then they did a nice character assassination on the now-vindicated Hans Blix. Then entire country of France was freedom fried out of linguistic existence. Now, the latest target of the punditocracy's smear campaign is Spain's prime minister-elect Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

American press reaction over Zapatero's comments has been nothing short of hysterical. American and some European public reaction was outraged by the statement by Zapatero that Spanish troops would definitely withdraw from Iraq. Editorials frantically condemned Zapatero's decision as appeasement to terrorists in the wake of the Madrid massacre. Facile comparisons were casually tossed about equating Zapatero's words and Neville Chamberlain's infamous "peace in our time" speech after the ill-fated pact with Hitler. [You could almost be forgiven for thinking Iraq invaded the West given the frequency of such analogies]

There is a problem with the statement by Zapatero that Spanish troops would definitely withdraw from Iraq: he didn't actually say this.

What Zapatero really said, the part that continues to be so wildly misrepresented, was:

The occupation of Iraq was ill-conducted and that's why I have said clearly in recent months that, unless there is a change in that the United Nations take control and the occupiers give up political control, Spanish troops will come back, and the limit for their presence there is June 30.

Thus what Zapatero actually said was that Spanish troops would withdraw from Iraq UNLESS the US coalition gave up control of Iraq by 30 June. If the US fulfillls its promise to hand over sovereignty to a domestic Iraqi interim government by 30 June, this would seem to fulfill Zapatero's requirement. So why much ado about nothing?

It makes you wonder why there was such a hysterical reaction to a demand about something that has been promised to happen anyway. Were people simply too careless to read his actual words in their entireity? This is possible since several columns condemning Zapatero referred to him as the Spanish president (Spain is a monarchy, not a republic, and its head of state is a king).

More likely, I suspect, is that his statement was willfully misrepresented by those with an interest in whipping everyone up into a frenzy.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

I DOUBT ANY GAYS WOULD WANT TO LIVE IN NEANDERTHAL COUNTY ANYWAY
I read an Associated Press article that a county in Tennessee wants to pass an ordinance banning gays from living there. But it's not just any county, it's the one that was at the center of the notorious 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial.

"We need to keep them out of here," said a county commissioner of gays, apparently under the impression that it's still 1925.

When I first read this story, it seemed so ludicrous I could only laugh. I rolled my eyes and figured it was merely a few Christian extremists just adopting the same tactics as their Islamist theocratic breathren.

When northern Nigerian states use the pretext of Sharia law to send women back to the 13th century, most Americans are rightly outraged. And though Christianity is the predominant religion in the United States, most Americans would probably be disgusted to learn that an American jurisdiction was trying to ban law-abiding citizens from living there. A majority of Americans may call themselves Christian, but the intolerant kind are certainly in the minority. At least nationwide.

It's one thing for people to be bigoted. You can hope individuals change but you can't really force them. It's another thing to legally mandate bigotry, like segregation did. Except as bad as the Jim Crow laws were, they didn't actually ban blacks from living in southern states. (That some African-American organizations are angered that gays are trying to "usurp" civil rights language, as though such principles are the exclusive property of blacks, may be a future entry)

Monkey County's efforts are really the sexual orientation equivalent of ethnic cleansing.

Imagine if the ayatollahs tried to ban Christians from living in Iran. Imagine the furor that would provoke in the national media. But if Monkey County's proposed gay ban were more widely covered, I'm sure it would be apologized away as a "backlash to the gay marriage controversy."

But I'm sure the courts won't do anything if the ban is passed. Because after all, the courts should never interfere with the will of the people as expressed by their elected representatives, no matter how unconstitutional the action.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

SOCIALISTS TAKE POWER IN SPAIN: VICTORY FOR AL-QAEDA?
Spain’s general election gave victory to the opposition Socialists, a result which would’ve been considered a long shot a week ago. The center-right prime minister, Jose Maria Aznar, piqued the ire of Spaniards by supporting the Iraq invasion even though 90% of the country was opposed (and even though his decision totally bypassed parliament). However, this did not seem to be the decisive factor since this was the case well before the election and the ruling Popular Party (PP) long had a comfortable lead in the opinion polls.

Instead, analysts generally attribute the surprise to the ruling government’s perceived mishandling of the aftermath of the Madrid massacre. The government instantly blamed the Basque separatist group ETA and seriously downplayed the possibility that it might be related to al-Qaeda. The logic behind this was simple. If it were ETA, it would anger Spaniards and strengthen the PP’s hard-line policy against Basque nationalism. If it were al-Qaeda, then Spaniards would feel that they were targeted because of the prime minister’s unpopular decision to support the American invasion of Iraq. It’s obvious which position the PP had an interest in advancing.

But when al-Qaeda claimed credit for the massacre and arrested several Moroccans in connection with the attacks, people got pissed off. It was likely this anger that proved the decisive factor. The PP had about a 4% lead in the polls before the bombings, but ended up losing the election by approximately the same amount.

The government is perceived to have tried to manipulate the tragedy to their political advantage, or at least to avoid it being to their detriment. And they were caught and punished for it.

Now, Spain’s prime minister-elect has said that Spanish troops will withdraw from Iraq unless the US leaves by 30 June.

This whole situation has brought predictable howls of outrage from the new Terrorist Warriors (heirs apparent to the old Cold Warriors). They claim all this sends a horrible message, that al-Qaeda can do a bombing and cause a change of government. They claim that al-Qaeda will think the bombing caused Spanish troops to withdraw from Iraq.

This conveniently ignores the fact that the Socialists were calling for such a withdrawal long before the Madrid massacre. Before, critics called this “misguided” (a fair expression of a differing opinion). Now, it’s “terrorist appeasement,” which is a somewhat nastier pandering to macho emotion over cool-headed analysis.

The other, equally serious, implication is that any change of government by the Spaniards would be seen as a victory for al-Qaeda. This suggests that democracies aren’t allowed to change governments during a war without “sending the wrong message” to the enemy. What garbage! American voters changed the party of the president five times during the Cold War.

The main issue that cost the Popular Party was not the bombing, contrary to the Terrorist Warriors would self-servingly have you believe. The main issue was the PP’s REACTION to the bombing. Richard Nixon learned that the cover-up is often viewed worse than the crime. Jose Maria Aznar was sent the same message.

The perceived cover-up and manipulation was perpetrated by the PP. Why should Spaniards be condemned for holding their government accountable?

Oh the horror!

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

RANDOM OBSERVATIONS ON RANDOM NEWS ITEMS
Interesting doings in the the (former Soviet) Republic of Georgia. The newly elected Georgian president was denied entry into the semi-autonomous region of Ajaria. It’s basically a power struggle between the Ajarian leader and the Georgian president, who aren’t particularly on friendly terms.

What I found interesting was that, as the BBC noted, The Russian government, meanwhile, has involved itself and warned Georgia not to use force against Ajaria. First off, why is the Russian government meddling in Georgian domestic affairs? (American leftists think only Washington does this sort of thing).

This is ironic for two reasons. First, the Putin government in Moscow recently brushed off international criticism of the conduct of Sunday’s presidential election and the preceding campaign. They don’t like foreigners interfering in their internal affairs.

The other irony, quite obviously, is that Russia is using a great deal of force in some semi-autonomous place called Chechnya. Again, Moscow resists international calls for restraint in Chechnya telling the world (especially the European Union) to mind its own damn business. But Putin has no problem sticking his nose in Georgian politics.




France and Rwanda have been trading accusations. First, French authorities have accused then rebel leader (now Rwandan president) Paul Kagame of ordering the shooting down of the plane carrying the then Rwandan and Burundian leaders in 1994. This event was the pretext the Rwandan regime’s extremists were looking for as an excuse to implement their pre-planned genocide that eventually killed at least 800,000 people. Kagame denied the accusation and accused France of ‘direct involvement’ in the genocide.

Kagame told Radio France Internationale, “They [the French] trained the genociders. They were in positions of authority over the armed forces who committed the genocide. They also participated directly in the operations: by infiltrating roadblocks to identify people by their ethnicity, in punishing Tutsis in favor of Hutus. All this was done in plain site, at the roadblocks. We have everything on video, numerous proofs of French participation. Not the Frenchpeople, but certain elements who were acting on the order of the government and who managed roadblocks during the genocide.”

Strong stuff. Unfortunately, plausible too, considering the close relations between Paris and its client regime in Rwanda and considering the military operation the French launched to help the genociders escape to then-Zaire.




I was listening to a piece on NPR on the 50th anniversary of Edward R. Murrow’s famous See It Now show taking on Sen. Joseph McCarthy. What was most interesting, and powerful, about the show is that it consisted not of Murrow attacking the senator from Wisconsin, but almost entirely of footage of McCarthy’s own words. Rather than editoralizing, Murrow gave McCarthy enough noose to hang himself. He let McCarthy speak for himself and the viewers could draw the obvious conclusion. One extract was McCarthy saying in 1950 that the fight against communism was a bipartisan fight and that America needed two strong parties. That was followed by him saying in 1954 that one party, the Democrats, was being treasonous in the anti-communist struggle. When I heard McCarthy making these last comments, I understood why Ann Coulter (author of Treason : Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism) considers him such a wonderful role model.

Monday, March 15, 2004

THE CAMPAIGN FINANCE LAW AND CONSTITUTIONALISM
Since the passage of the campaign finance law, there’s been concern expressed in some quarters about the law’s potential effects. Many fear that the law will stifle common “free” speech activities like donating millions of dollars to a political party with the expectation of nothing in return. These expressions of “free” speech are purely ideological and not business transactions, as we all know.

Given the unprecedentedly early barrage of attack ads, if the law has stifled “free” speech, it’s barely perceptible.

The common argument against the law is less with the law’s specifics than with the mere principle of regulating “free” speech. After all, why does the government have the right to tell me I can’t donate my money however I want?

The answer is very simple: the government has a compelling interest in ensuring the representatives of the people actually represent the people they are elected to represent. I know this will elicit waves of hysterical laughter. But this is the principle. And since we’ll give everyone the benefit of the doubt and assume they’re operating on good faith, let’s go with this theory.

Why should the government have the right to regulate the “speech” of political donations but not other kinds of speech? (Of course, they do regulate other kinds of speech but that’s another essay.)

The answer is very simple, and may mollify strict constitutionalists. They are only two crimes for which a federal official can be impeached that are explicitly mentioned in the federal Constitution. One is treason. The other is bribery.

To follow the anti-campaign finance regulation crowd’s reasoning, I should be able to walk up to my Congressman and say, “If you pass a law making my birthday into a federal holiday, I will donate $100,000 to your re-election fund.” After all, why should the government regulate how I spend my money?

The answer is Article 2, Section 4 of the US Constitution. The Constitution states unambiguously that the government has an compelling interest in deterring treason and bribery as well as the ill-defined “high crimes and misdemeanors.” If Congress can have laws trying to deter treason without popular objection, then why is there such an uproar with them doing the same to try to deter bribery?

Admittedly, such bribery will still occur. But few of the law’s critics oppose it because it’s too weak. Those who want to use money to buy influence, I mean “express their ‘free’ speech rights,” will always find a way to do so. But there’s no reason we can’t make it more difficult. Although such bribery will still occur, hopefully the law will deter the most brazen acts. I’m not holding my breath, but it’s worth a try.

Friday, March 12, 2004

JOHN KERRY'S CRIME
President Bush has launched an attack ad targetting his presumptive Democratic rival in November Sen. John Kerry.

In it, an announcer begins, "A president sets his agenda for America in the first 100 days. John Kerry's plan: To pay for new government spending, raise taxes by at least $900 billion."

This is Kerry's main crime in the eyes of the Bush people. He would have the government, gasp, PAY FOR NEW GOVERNMENT SPENDING rather than running up huge deficits for future generations to deal with (plus interest). I know paying for spending as you go is not a virtue the administration is familiar with.

Then again, if you consider college and car loans, mortgages and credit cards, most Americans aren't either.

Of course, the Bush administration can't even claim to be shrinking the size of government, like most conservatives supposedly prefer.

Kerry launched his own attack ad. today. It slammed the president for running negative ads.

You can expect a lot of this in the upcoming campaign. Lots of ads with the theme, "My sleazebag opponent should present a positive vision for the future like I am. The warmonger/taxlover should avoid the negative campaigning and trashy mudslinging he's currently poisoning the airwaves with."

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

SANCTIONS AGAINST SADDAM: A PROGRESSIVE INTELLECTUAL TRADITION BETRAYED?
I am certainly to the left of the political center, at least here in the United States. I have many friends and acquaintances who are left of center. But sometimes, they profoundly confuse me.


For example, people on the left of center tend to hold the following positions on human rights:

-Human rights is a good thing, is universal and should not be made subservient to economic considerations. Progressives like to think of themselves as being in the forefront in the fight for human rights, in contrast to those amoral pro-business types.

-Human rights must be defended aggressively. Declarations on pieces of paper mean nothing if they’re not enforced. Human rights violators should be punished in some way.


They also tend or tended to hold the following positions on Iraq:

-Saddam had a horrific human rights’ record dating back to the 1980s when he was chummy with the Reagan administration.

-Sanctions against the Saddam regime during the 1990s was bad. Some called it genocidal and claimed that western leaders “were responsible” for the deaths of every Iraqi who ceased living during that period.

-Foreign-sponsored ‘regime change’ against the Saddam regime was a bad idea. America should never be in the regime change business as it inevitably has counterproductive effects.

-Invading Iraq to remove Saddam was illegal, immoral and done solely for oil. In short, a horrendous idea with horrendous consequences.



This is what leaves me confused. Sanctions against Saddam’s regime were bad. Regime change was bad. Invasion was bad. Then what COULD the international community do to express its disapproval of the way Saddam flagrantly violated both Iraqi domestic law and international law?

Isolationists would say “Nothing.” They contend that it’s not our business to solve everyone else’s problems. This is perfectly logical in following with the isolationist tradition. They are being intellectually consistent.

But for a progressive to say “we shouldn’t do anything” is antithetical to the progressive tradition on human rights that I noted above. If progressives believe human rights is universal and must be defended aggressively, then saying “tough luck Iraqis brutalized by Saddam” is not an option.

Neo-conservative imperialists seized on this intellectual paralysis by insisting, “Well since Saddam’s evil and sanctions are supposedly bad, then we must ‘liberate’ Iraqis by invasion.” Progressives were unable to offer a pro-active alternative to sanctions, invasion or laissez-faire.

Two interesting things about sanctions. First off, it was Democratic legislators (the slightly left of center party in the US) who lead efforts to impose sanctions on the Saddam regime during the late 80s after its genocide against the Kurds.

Second, a great many of the people who called 1990s sanctions against Iraq a “crime against humanity” were the same as those who insisted that 1980s sanctions against South Africa were indispensible in bringing down the apartheid regime.

What’s the difference? American and British conservatives generally opposed sanctions against apartheid in South Africa and supported 1990s sanctions against Saddam. Many progressives are reflexively opposed to anything advocated by conservatives.

Frankly, if the Occupation regime in Iraq were to decree equal rights for women, universal health care and mandatory public and secular education, I'm sure many on the American and European left would still find a way to criticize it.

This is how sanctions against a monster became a bad thing in the eyes of many progressives. Intellectual tradition be damned.

Monday, March 08, 2004

WESTERN EFFORTS TO REHABILITATE GADAFFI HIT ROADBLOCK
The chief prosecutor for the UN special court for Sierra Leone made some diplomatically sensitive and totally accurate comments today. David Crane today reminded the world that Libyan strongman Muammar Gadaffi developed and implemented a detailed plan to destabilize the entire West African region and implant new leaders beholden to him.

The plan effectively destroyed the countries of Sierra Leone and Liberia, spilt over into Cote d’Ivoire which was engulfed by civil war and at one time threatened to consume Guinea as well. The lives of tens of millions of West Africans were ruined by the machinations of Gadaffi and his henchmen like the former Liberian dictator (and indicted war criminal) Charles Taylor.

"We know that, specifically up until last year, that there was a 10-year plan to take down Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cote d'Ivoire, then move to Guinea and then elsewhere as the situation developed," Crane said. “The 10-year plan was to put in surrogates who were beholden to Muammar Gaddafi,"

The prosecutor did not rule out the possibility that Gadaffi himself might be indicted by the court.

These comments come as absolutely no surprise to followers of West Africa. The Libyan leader’s hand in West Africa’s tragedies has been an open secret for years. But it certainly causes discomfort to the Americo-British efforts to rehabilitate Gadaffi, particularly since Britain and the US have been the strongest backers of the Sierra Leone court.

Friday, March 05, 2004

WE CAN’T CHANGE LEADERS IN THE MIDDLE OF THE WAR? CAN WE AFFORD NOT TO?
The American electorate is fortunate President Bush has run these re-election ads exploiting the few thousand men and women killed during the 11 September attacks.

These ads perfectly encapsulate the cheap fear-mongering that has marked the last two and a half years. Some of us have known for a long time that the people in charge of the country have no shame. Now, a lot of others are learning it as well.

I heard one of the ads. Bad things happened [insert images from ground zero], Americans responded, strong leadership. Politicians habitually use such non-sequiturs in self-promotion but most don’t exploit the worst terrorist act in American history in doing so. The political world is home to many unpleasant things but there are lines that we expect even politicians shouldn’t cross.

Essentially the ad’s message was, "Something terrible happened on my watch. Americans responded magnificently to the challenge. I had nothing to do with this but I'll try to take credit anyway."

The ads were condemned by many families of 9/11 victims. The International Association of Fire Fighters was equally scatching, “We're not going to stand for him to put his arm around one of our members on top of a pile of rubble at Ground Zero during a tragedy and then stand by and watch him cut money for first responders [emergency services],"

Supporters and apologists say that the reminding people terrorists attacks is a legitimate device. 9/11 was a "a defining moment” in the course of the administration’s policies, noted the president’s spokesman.

The Iraq invasion was the other hugely pivotal event in the course of the administration’s policies. Will the Bush team run ads showing images of coffins coming back from Iraq? Or of soldiers rehabilitating after losing a limb? Or how about Secretary Powell’s speech to the UN “proving” that Iraq not only had weapons of mass destruction but that these mythical WMDs were so potentially dangerous we had to invade?

I'm glad this tempest has erupted. Americans are finally be showing that such crass manipulation may no longer work.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

DUMB JOCKS? NOT ON MY TEAM!
One of the best parts of coaching is the fascinating kids I meet (and the stories they provide me with).

For whatever reason, the soccer program in my school tends to attract kids that are really smart. I like to think the reason is that smart kids naturally gravitate toward good coaching, but I could be biased.

To use an arbitrary measure, over 90% of the kids on the two middle school soccer teams made honor or merit rolls in the year’s first marking period (during the season). Ironically, I’ve been told by several parents that their sons actually do better academically during soccer season than in the off-season.

But like I said, some of the kids are really fascinating. A lot of them have huge reservoirs of curiosity and creativity. They are fortunate that such qualities manage to survive the relentless pressure caused by society’s deification of statistics.

New York state’s educational system is run by fundamentalist believers in the God of the standardized test. The premise for this is that if it can’t be quantified, it doesn’t exist. Learning how take tests has overwhelmed the learning of content, with emphasis on critical thought and the flexible mind being relegated to Dennis Kucinich-like status. Fortunately, some kids still manage to maintain their curiosity in spite of the standardized test fetishists’ best efforts.

Such inventiveness was on display last weekend.

Although the competitive soccer season is in the fall, I run unofficial pickup sessions more or less every week between the New Year and the end of the school year. Obviously, our current sessions are indoor, in the gym. Near the ceiling, there is a long, rectangular ventilation something or other. During each of the last two weeks, balls got stuck on top of the ventilation thingie. You couldn’t try to knock the ball over the back because there was a little wall in the back (making an L shape) preventing this. I pretty much figured the balls were lost to humanity, absent janitorial intervention.

One of my kids didn’t accept this. Instead, Zack (age 13) came to the most recent session and declared that he had an invention that was going to get the balls down. It was a long rope with a golf visor tied to the end. I laughed and said, “I hope this invention doesn’t end up with me calling an ambulance for you.”

He shrugged me off and insisted it would work. “If you get both of the balls down, I’ll buy you a Gatorade,” I said, confident that my wallet wouldn’t be affected but also wanting to challenge his legendary stubborn streak.

He and another 8th grader spent 10 minutes or so vainly trying to toss the visor up to the ventilation thingie. It was too light. Both of them are in Odyssey of the Mind, a program that provides creative problem-solving opportunities for students (that emphasis on creative problem-solving is a separate program for a few rather than integrated into the general curriculum backs up my earlier assertions).

As a result, I wasn’t surprised that this failure motivated, rather than deterred, them. They then attached to the end of the rope about half a dozen little plastic discs used in soccer drills. That added enough weight. After 10 more minutes of trial and error, they were able to get the rope up on top of the ventilation system and used the visor to drag one of the balls over the edge. A few minutes later, they got the other one down.

I’m out three bucks for the Gatorades, but it was worth it just to be impressed by this manifestation of creativity and persistence.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

THE REAL MUSLIM-HATERS
I certainly oppose the American occupation of Iraq but when I hear the steady drumbeat of how Americans or the American government hates Muslims or is anti-Muslim, it annoys me.

Where were the "Americans are anti-Muslim" cries when Americans tried to feed the Somalis or intervened in favor of the Bosnian Muslims or in favor of the Kosovar Muslims?

And now, some terrorists fired mortar rounds into a mosque in Baghdad as Shia Muslims celebrated the holiest day of their year. At least 50 were killed and over 100 injured. Hundreds of people were in the main mosque at the time. After the blast, thousands of worshippers' shoes and sandals were strewn across the street outside, reports the BBC.

But Americans are the real Muslim-haters...

Monday, March 01, 2004

DEMOCRATICALLY-ELECTED VS DEMOCRATIC
This weekend, Haitian leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide fled the country, for temporary exile in the Central African Republic. (That a deposed leader who was arguably democratically-elected, but thoroughly undemocratic went into exile in the CAR is an irony surely not lost on anyone familiar with the central African country’s recent history)

Not surprisingly, the events provoked a firestorm of criticism by those with an axe to grind with President Bush. Though I am hardly a fan of the president, he is not to blame for everything and the bad weather. His critics need to beware of the ‘boy who cried wolf’ syndrome.

Predictably, Democrats were at the president’s throat. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi insisted that “actions should have been taken to end the violence before it spread to Port-au-Prince." [Always beware when politicians use the passive voice].

Democratic presidential front-runner Sen. John Kerry surprised no one by stating, "This president always makes decisions late after things have happened that could have been different had the president made a different decision earlier.”

More pap! Rep. Pelosi and Sen. Kerry are suggesting that international troops should’ve been sent to Haiti while the uprising was in full swing. History has shown that international peacekeepers work only when there’s a peace to keep. They work only when both/all warring parties consent to outside intervention. If they go into a situation where’s not even a cease-fire, then they are almost always adding to the problem, rather than solving it.

This is why the president was right not to intervene earlier in Haiti and why, as much as I wished otherwise, he was right not to intervene in Liberia while the fighting was still going on. Such intervention should only be done if it’s likely to actually improve the situation. Intervention must never be done solely to assuage our conscience. “We must do something,” scream some. “Not if it will make things worse,” I maintain.

Essentially, the administration’s position was to not take sides. This was the right position considering the situation. Which side were they supposed to support? The rebel thugs or government thugs? Aristide ran an administration that was corrupt, autocratic and that increasingly promoted a cult of personality around him.

Take the comment by Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland. He said in a statement, ""By the inaction of the United States government and our allies over the last several years, the democratically elected president of Haiti has been undermined and forced to leave his country,"

Many people, like Rep. Cummings, fetishize elections. 'Democratically-elected' is the highest praise they can lavish, one that offers immunity from all other crimes. (That the phrase 'democratically elected' even applied to Aristide’s second term is highly questionable)

Democratic elections are essential, but they are not the be all and end all. Rule of law, constitutionalism and respect for institutions are just as important as the actual exercise of holding an election. Without these things, you’re simply electing an autocrat. The complaints of Rep. Cummings and others do not recognize the simple fact that 'democratically-elected' and 'democratic acting' are not synonymous.

Some leftists claim that the events in Haiti constitute US sponsored regime change. Their essential argument is that the US in general, and the Bush administration in particular, never liked Aristide, therefore the attempt to get rid of him MUST have been US-backed. This argument panders to anti-Americanism and anti-Bushism. It's plausible and conforms to pre-conceived notions about the administration's motives. It COULD be true, according to these folks, so it MUST be true.

Their other argument is that the rebels are a bunch of bad guys so, by extension, Aristide must be wonderful. Their contention seems to be that there was absolutely no popular discontent in Haiti against Aristide’s rule except from malevolent interests. Artiside’s clique claimed that that US was evening arming the rebels.

California Rep. Barbara Lee wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell, "Our failure to support the democratic process and help restore order looks like a covert effort to overthrow a government.” Aristide was an autocrat, not a democratic president. When Washington pressured him to reform, it was accused of meddling then too. Aristide’s successor and close friend (and some would say puppet) Rene Préval suspended Haiti’s democratically-elected (there’s that phrase again) parliament in 1999 and started ruling by decree. Aristide continued ruling by decree when he took over again in 2000 and did not hold parliamentary elections until December 2003. Are these democratic actions?

Even the Montreal daily Le Devoir, a normally reliable assailant of American foreign policy, welcomed Aristide’s departure.

The organization Human Rights Watch, hardly a popular group in neo-conservative circles, assessed Aristide’s rule as follows:

President Aristide, who returned to office for a second term in February 2001 (following the presidency of René Préval), is credibly accused of responsibility for serious human rights abuses. During his tenure, police and pro-government thugs have committed numerous forced disappearances and extrajudicial executions; the Haitian National Police have lost their residual political independence; judges and prosecutors have been threatened, and a network of government-linked political gangs has used violence to repress demonstrations by the political opposition and intimidate the independent press... The opposition has also been the target of violent attacks, notably in December 2001, in which buildings associated with opposition parties and leaders were burnt down by pro-government gangs. Witnesses reported that the police refused to intervene to prevent the attacks.

and:

The third factor in the political opposition are organizations that are generally to the left of the G-184 [a coalition of civil society and business organizations], including anti-globalization groups, feminists, and a national peasant movement. It was only in December 2003, after government-sponsored attacks on protesting students, that these groups endorsed calls for Aristide’s resignation

and for the elections’ fetishists:

The November 2000 presidential election that returned Aristide to office was boycotted by credible opposition candidates. The opposition boycott resulted from the government’s failure to remedy the deeply flawed results of legislative and local elections held in May 2000, a factor that also led the Organization of American States (OAS) to refuse to monitor the balloting

and for those who think that all we needed to do was to “get” Aristide to reform:

During meetings with U.S. Special Envoy Anthony Lake in December 2000, then President-elect Aristide committed to addressing the country’s problems. The reforms he promised—which included remedying the results of the May 2000 elections, professionalizing the police and judiciary, and strengthening democratic institutions—were urgently needed. But while Aristide repeated these promises, in varying form, during later negotiations with the OAS, he has made little serious effort to follow through on them. In response, the international community suspended direct aid to the Haitian government.

This is the regime some would’ve had us send troops to prop up. Why is it some people are quick to assail pro-American despots, allegedly in the name of human rights, but seem happy to act as apologists for dictators perceived to be anti-American? I find this contemptuous.

The answer is pretty simple. Bush didn't like Aristide therefore, by these people's definition, Aristide must've been the second-coming of Mandela. They are so eager to bash President Bush that they are more than willing to toss their human rights' advocacy and supposedly liberal ideology out the window

Opponents of President Bush need to avoid two-faced nonsense like this that's so easily discredited. Otherwise, no one will take them seriously when they offer legitimate criticism. The president was right not to intervene in Haiti while the war was raging simply to appease the 'do something, damn the consequences' crowd. Even if he'd done what these folks wanted, they still would've found reason to attack him.
HAPPY PEACE CORPS DAY



Moms and dads have their day. Old presidents have their day. So do labor unions and medeival saints. Soldiers have two official days plus numerous 'support our troops' rallies. Even bosses and secretaries have days, according to Hallmark. So why not Peace Corps volunteers?

Today is Peace Corps Day. It's the 43rd anniversary of the day President Kennedy signed the executive order creating the Peace Corps.

Some people think the Peace Corps is a military organization. In fact, it's quite the opposite. It's an organization which sends volunteers to developing countries to engage in such activities as teaching, public health, environmental management and small business development. Volunteers receive a living allowance to cover their basic expenses and are provided housing, but are otherwise not paid.

The goals of the Peace Corps, according to the organization's website, are three:

1. Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.

2. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.

3. Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of all Americans.


Suffice it to say, all three goals have been important since the organization was created but #2 seems particularly crucial in the era of post-9/11 and random invasions. Though increasingly, it feels like a "one step forward, three steps back" routine.

There have been many books on "the Peace Corps experience" (which is about as broad a generalization as "the American mentality"). Nevertheless, several themes tend to be pretty common among them.

-Go to God-foresaken country with the expectation to save the noble savages.
-Learn that they are not savages and that they are noble/ignoble in more or less the same proportion as Americans.
-Sense of loneliness in a totally alien culture.
-Learn that life without TV/computer is not the apocalypse.
-Leave with the realization that you learned more than they did.
-Sadness when they have to leave their village/city.
-Transmit these themes interspersed with a lot of humorous anecdotes.
-Commentary on the impact of American foreign policy, French foreign policy and the IMF/World Bank may be included.

Common themes for volunteers who served in sub-Saharan Africa are as follows:
-Annoyance at people who call you 'toubabou' (or whatever the local language word for 'white person' is); "My name isn't 'toubabou'," fumes the author. "My name is John!"
-Agitation that everyone wanted you to marry their sister/brother/son/daughter or get them a visa to go to America.
-Rage at the dichotomy between the fabulous wealth of the political elite and the overwhelming poverty of the masses.
-Observation to the effect that "[nationality] are so poor monetarily but so rich in spirit/culture/community."
-Elogies about how welcoming [nationality] are to strangers.
-A brief history of the country and the legacy of European colonialism.
-Maddening anecdotes about dealing with corrupt officials, musings on heat, mosquitoes and hygeine and comical (or frightening) travel stories.
-General commentary about "the African condition" may be included.

The best book I've ever read about "the Peace Corps experience" was George Packer's The Village of Waiting. It was a wonderfully written book in its own right. But I enjoyed it even more because, even though it was set in Togo and I served in Guinea, it was pretty much the story of my experience. Reading The Village of Waiting is why I decided not to write a strictly autobiographical account of my experience: it had already been done.