Friday, December 30, 2005

And they wonder why the administration's credibility is nil and falling

"This is a limited program. This is not about monitoring phone calls designed to arrange Little League practice or what to bring to a potluck dinner. These are designed to monitor calls from very bad people to very bad people who have a history of blowing up commuter trains, weddings and churches."
-White House spokesman Trent Duffy on the White House's legally questionable spying domestic program.


Bad people like Quakers. Bad people like vegans and Catholic anti-poverty activists. And, shockingly enough, anti-war protesters.

So naturally, the Justice Department is most concerned not with the legality or not of the spying but with who spilled the beans about the dubious program to The New York Times.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Wanted: a good copy editor

Here's a great example why copy editors are important and why a single, imprecise word can change the whole meaning of a sentence.

Take this BBC News story;

The article began about how Chad's leader Idriss Déby called for next month's African Union summit to be moved from Sudan (against whom Chad recently declared war) to Nigeria. Déby accused Khartoum of backing a Chadian rebel group.

The BBC wrote, Sudan's foreign minister told the BBC that Sudan's army had fought with Chadian rebels when they refused to either disarm or leave Sudan.

Does the phrase "Sudan's army had fought with Chadian rebels" mean they fought alongside the rebels or against the rebels?

You can probably figure out from other parts of the article what was meant but it made me do a double take.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Global warming in Europe

The United States has taken an avalanche of criticism for its refusal to join the Kyoto process on reducing the greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. Perhaps the US could've avoided a lot of the criticism by becoming part of the process and then simply not bothering to reach the Kyoto reduction targets, like almost all of Europe. Maybe all the hot air from self-righteous European politicians hurt the continent's efforts against global warming.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

The 'war on Christmas' in Muslim Senegal

This essay is part of a weekly feature on my blog that presents interesting stories from elsewhere in the world, particularly Africa, that are little reported in the American media. It's part of my campaign to get people to realize there is a lot going on in the world outside the US, Israel and Iraq.

You hear a lot about a mythical 'war on Christmas' that's allegedly plaguing America, even though I've never met anyone who's been offended by 'Merry Christmas,' nor have I met anyone who knew anyone who was offended by the phrase. So I was intrigued to read this piece in South Africa's Daily Mail and Guardian paper about how Christmas is celebrated in the Republic of Senegal, West Africa.

Senegal is approximately 95 percent Muslim, but it hasn't stopped the selling of inflatable Santa Clauses and Christmas trees.

"It's our tradition, this cohabitation. When we're born and baptised, our Muslim neighbours are there. They help us all the way, even into the grave," explains one worker in Senegal's capital Dakar. "We're all the same before God, who allows us to recognise him in all others."

A neighboring merchant adds that Muslim extremists elsewhere are sullying Islam's reputation with their false interpretation of the Muslim holy book, the Qur'an.

"The Qur'an says Muslims mustn't force their religion on others. Aggression has no place in Islam," he says.


He added, "Officially, we Muslims don't celebrate Christmas. But the Catholics are our neighbours. So, we all celebrate all the religious holidays."

As someone who's lived in Senegal, I find this piece pretty accurate. In Senegal and Guinea, where I also lived, religious tolerance was the norm. While both countries are overwhelmingly Muslim, they were very open to and engaging of non-Muslims. They seemed to have more trouble wrapping their mind around the concept of a non-believer than of accepting someone of a different faith. Senegal's also a very conservative, traditional country, which makes this article even more intriguing.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Protecting America from Quakers and other violent Evil-doers

"We're trying to protect America," say the president and his defenders. "Anyone who believes that we'd spy on ordinary Americans are just a bunch of paranoid, Bush-hating leftie whackos. We only spy on people who are Evil-doers, not on law-abiding Americans. Just trust us."

Yes, trust them.

The only people spied upon are Evil-doers, like those notoriously violent Quakers. There's no way they'd spy on completely harmless people like vegans and Catholics

I guess the spied upon should feel honored: Nobel Peace Prize winner Martin Luther King Jr, a civil rights and anti-war activist, was long spied upon as well.

So why exactly should we trust the people running this country? After they've given us so many reasons to do the opposite.

If the administration is doing nothing wrong, then they can stand up, defend their policies and expose them to the light of day. It seems to me that if the domestic spying were so important, wouldn't the administration want to shout about it from the rooftops? Wouldn't this be an effective means of deterrence, of scaring the terrorists, of telling them, 'Don't plan anything here because we'll catch you.' If they were convinced of the program's legality, wouldn't they do this?

Instead, the administration demanded that The New York Times not run a story on this arguably illegal domestic spying. Sadly, The Times aquiesed to the bullying for over a year.

Some apologists will say that Bush can do whatever he thinks necessary to protect us. Law and the Constitution don't matter in times of (undeclared) war. And it's up to the president alone to decide when the law and Constitution can be suspended and when they can be re-instated. It's up to the president alone to decide when the (undeclared) war begins and ends.

Apologists argue that only whiny partisan Democrats complain about it. Whiny Democrats like Rep. Roscoe Bartlett and Sen. Arlen Specter. Oh wait, they're Republicans. The apologists add that secretly briefing a couple of Congressmen and claiming unlimited executive authority is sufficient to void a legally adopted statute and that if the briefed Democrats had a problem with it, why didn't they object before? Oh wait, they did.

It's not just Democrats, progressives, spy court judges, civil libertarians and independent-minded Republicans who have concerns about the domestic spying and the way it's being carried out.

Some NSA [National Security Agency] officials were so concerned about the legality of the program that they refused to participate, the Times said. Questions about the legality of the program led the administration to temporarily suspend it last year and impose new restrictions, notes the AP.

As one commentator notes, the possibly illegal domestic spying is bad enough but there's something more dangerous.

[T]he administration relies on its own notions of its legal authority (courtesy of the White House counsel and the attorney general) and invokes its responsibility for protecting American lives. The administration line is this: The legal points are arguable, the Congress has been told, and the court of public opinion will vindicate the president.

This is what becomes genuinely disturbing: This blanket assertion of authority has no discernible limits. Accepting it confers on this president -- or any president -- the powers of autocracy.


The most disturbing is the administration's belief that it alone decides what powers it has. But after claiming to have the right to torture, this belief isn't new. Yet it's still extremely dangerous. The only reason for hope is public opinion. While Americans were eager to give the president a blank check for most of the last four years, Americans are generally starting angry about the inevitable excesses and abuses.

It's about time!



Update: Speaking of lawlessness and its consequences, an Italian court has issued a European Union wide arrest warrant for 22 CIA agents accused of kidnapping a Muslim cleric in Milan and sending him to Egypt where he was allegedly tortured. The CIA has refused to comment on the case. International arrest warrants were instituted following the 9/11 attacks as a tool to fight terrorism.


Second update: And just to prove the administration's claim that the war on terrorism truly isn't a war on Islam, federal law enforcement officials have been engaging in warrantless spying in mosques. I'm sure that will encourage law-abiding Muslims to want to go out of their way to volunteer information to the authorities. Or Else!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Driving to oblivion?

As I've mentioned before, I choose not to drive. I also choose to live in a small city where it's feasible not to drive. It's true that my town is certainly not paradise for pedestrians, especially in winter. And while walking or bicycling does have its disadvantages, is not, for me, the cross to bear that most imagine.

As a result, issues of municipal planning interest me, since pedestrians are rarely taken into account. I was intrigued to read this article in The New York Times about the exurbs. Exurbs are basically the suburbs of suburbs.

The article profiles Frisco, Texas (also the new home of Major League Soccer's FC Dallas). One resident said that the school system now has more employees than the entire town had residents only a few decades ago.

"Used to be, a drive into Dallas was a 30- to 40-minute event, something you could do on a whim," said one resident. "But now, it takes 20 minutes just to get out of town."

Spending an hour or more in a car (one-way) to go to work is something inconceivable to me. It takes me less than 15 minutes to bike to work. Even in the worst case scenario, on foot on unshoveled sidewalks, it usually takes no more than 45 minutes. And at least I'm getting some fresh air and a little exercise.

There may be economic benefits to living in the suburbs/exurbs, though even those are surely diminishing with the high (for us) cost of gas and exploding cost of living. But what are the costs?

Suburbs and exburbs are, for the most part, places without centers, without focal points. And most are without souls. And it's not just because of cookie cutter strip malls and homogenized housing developments. As a result of all the time spent commuting, people no longer have time for volunteerism or other civic activities.

"We have now a generation of people who would rather say, I'll give you some money instead of volunteering," says an insurance salesman from Frisco. "It's harder to get the year-round commitment, the joining and the being part of something. People are too jealous of their time, because they have to be."

Because this is the life they've chosen.

Kids in such places are almost completely dependent on their parents to get anywhere. So they stay home and play video games or the computer instead of going outside and exercising. Spontaneous baseball or soccer games? Unheard of. Biking around? Too dangerous to go very far. Wait until an organized playdate with friends can be arranged by parents/chauffeurs.

For its faults, when you drive through the center of my city, you know exactly what municipality you're in. Kids can walk or bike to school, to the parks and playgrounds, to the woods. Probably 95% of city residents live within a mile and a half (30 minutes of foot, if you walk slowly) from the public library. It's important that kids have a degree of independence, a little freedom to explore.

A friend of mine from a neighboring town lives virtually around the block from his school. But school policy requires that he take the bus, rather than walk the quarter mile or so. Fresh air and a little exercise? Pft!

This is the irony of the suburb/exurb. People move there thinking it will enhance their quality of life, only to find they have less time and are more disconnected from their community.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Conservative judge says 'intelligent design' is not science

Last year, a school board in Dover, Pennsylvania approved the inclusion of intelligent design to be mention in their science classes. Intelligent design is a version of creationism that claims that human beings are so complex that they couldn't possibly be the result of completely natural evolution and that it must've resulted from the intervention of a higher power.

People certainly have the right to believe in intelligent design just as they have the right to believe in creationism or astrology or voodoo. But it's not science. Intelligent design could easily be debated in a philosophy class or a current events class, but not science classes. Science deals with natural explanations that can be demonstrated or proven. Belief in the actions of a higher power is something entirely different from science, by definition. Well, by most people's definition.

A federal judge, a Republican and George W. Bush appointee nonetheless, ruled that the school board's action unconstitutional in a scathing decision.

Perhaps what made this case an even more straightforward violation of the separation of church and state is that the school board voted to include a brief statement as part of the ninth-grade biology curriculum that questioned the Darwinian theory of evolution, and referred students instead to a Christian textbook titled "Of Pandas and People.". [emphasis mine]

I think the Dover school board made it more complicated than it needed to be. Instead of approving something that clearly did not fit the definition of science in Pennsylvania, they could've lobbied the state to simply change the definition of science. After all, Kansas did exactly that.

Meanwhile, some activists are lobbying for schools to teach 2+2=5 as an alternative theory of mathematics. Others want Holocaust denialism and the writings of the Ayatollah Khomeni to be taught in history classes as well. "We just want it part of the discussion," they insist. "What is the politically correct, liberal elite afraid of?"

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

UN peacekeepers to leave Sierra Leone

This essay is part of a weekly feature on my blog that presents interesting stories from elsewhere in the world, particularly Africa, that are little reported in the American media. It's part of my campaign to get people to realize there is a lot going on in the world outside the US, Israel and Iraq.

The IRIN news service reports that the UN peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone is winding down.. Once the largest peacekeeping mission in the world, UNAMSIL has disarmed and demobilised over 72,000 combatants and collected and destroyed over 30,000 arms, explained head of mission, [Daudi Ngelautwa] Mwakawago.

During the 1990s, Sierra Leone was destroyed by arguably the most savage civil war in modern times.

Mwakawago warns that the peacekeepers' departure is just the first step in a long road to recovery. “If you imagine that UNAMSIL was spread over the country like a beautiful carpet, well now the time has come to roll that carpet back, and what you might find underneath may not be very good,” he explains.

The UN mission has trained over 9000 new national police officers and helped the central government reestablish authority throughout the country. These will be critical in helping the country return a stability necessary for the ruined economy and obscene rate of unemployment to improve.

However, there is certainly precedent for hope. In the early 90s, Mozambique had just seen the definitive end of a long civil war that left the country in ruins. But thanks to a lot of help from the UN and international non-governmental organizations as well as the willingness of the former warring factions to buy into the basic tenets of electoral politics, Mozambique is now a stable, if imperfect, democracy experiencing excellent economic growth. Sierra Leone has the same potential if its political class is willing to accept the same norms and to fight corruption.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The plague of the secularists!

Here you have these God-fearing folk trying to preserve traditional values and they're getting all kinds of flack from the politically correct, secularists and radical feminists!

Outrageous!

The spirit of the season

The English soccer press has been largely dominated this season by a row between the bosses of the country's two best teams: Chelsea's Jose Mourinho and Arsène Wenger of Arsenal, both London clubs. The dispute between the two top managers in Britain (neither of whom are British) has descended first to the comical and now to the farcical.

Chelsea is far and away the best team in England, and the most disliked. Mourinho's team manages the neat trick of scoring a lot of goals while still being boring. But their mechanical efficiency has worked: In 55 league games since the self-described 'Special One' took over, Chelsea have lost only two. They spend a lot of money. They win almost all their games. They are disciplined and technically flawless. Mourinho gets paid to win trophies, not entertain. No one got excited to watch the old Soviet hockey team and no one gets excited to watch Chelsea.

Before Wenger took over, Arsenal were the archetype for the ugly, boring, thuggish soccer that fits the popular stereotype of the English game. Now, the Gunners play beautiful, attractive soccer that can be breathtaking to watch. I am not an Arsenal fan per se, but I'd rather watch them than any other team in England. Unfortunately, Arsenal can't adapt their game when conditions are bad, the officiating lax or the opponents hackers. That Arsenal can't 'win ugly' is a charge that would've been inconceivable 15 years ago; back then, they were the very definition of winning ugly.

The feud between the two started as nothing more than the little mind games managers often play against each other, but quickly descended into something as juvenile as anything you'd see on an elementary school playground.

To recap:

-Jose said he's kept a dossier of all the bad things mean old Arsène has ever said about him and his club.

-Jose called Arsène a 'voyeur'.

-Arsène responded by threatening legal action.

-After the most recent game between the two, Jose refused to shake Arsène's hand, a traditional post-match gesture.

-Jose claimed he did so out of anger of a Christmas card snub. He said he sent Arsène a Christmas card to apologize for the 'voyeur' comment and apparently Arsène didn't acknowledge it. He thought Arsène should've approached him to shake his hand before the game, a non-traditional gesture.

-A member of Arsène's staff reportedly questioned if Jose really wrote that Christmas card.

Yes, they're fighting over a Christmas card.

I'm not sure why Mourinho is so worried about playing mind games with a team that's 20 points behind his own. Maybe despite Arsenal's horrific away form, he still fears them more than more highly placed teams like Liverpool and Manchester United.

But it's still hard to believe that these are two allegedly grown men and highly respected professionals. Maybe they should start acting like it.


**

The BBC has a good piece on the 10th anniversary of the Bosman ruling. Prior to the Bosman ruling, a player remained indefinite property of his club, even after the contract was fulfilled. The player was not free to sign a contract with another team without permission for his previous club (who often required the new club to pay a large fee). This system was essentially the same as the reserve clause system that operated in North America's Major League Baseball until the 1970s. The Bosman ruling, by the European Court of Justice, essentially created free agency for European soccer players.

Many predicted that the Bosman ruling would destroy soccer, just as some baseball teams did when the reserve clause was eliminated. But soccer remains Europe's most popular sport by a mile. The sport has certainly changed and it's certainly harder for smaller clubs to compete with bigger clubs. But other changes have made domestic leagues less parochial and more skillful by expanding the talent pool.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Colin Powell: even I was misled on Iraq intelligence

Many politicians who voted for the Iraq war are now having serious doubts about both the way it’s been implemented and about the intelligence they were shown before the invasion. Defenders of the aggression angrily insist that Congressmen and Senators were shown the same information the president used to make his decision: nothing more, nothing less.

That assertion was implausible for the longest time. But now it’s been rendered almost inconceivable in the light recent statements by Colin Powell.

You haven’t heard about those statements? Hmm… there was nothing about it in The Washington Post. Nothing in hawkish The Chicago Tribune. And only a little wire story (about which Powell’s claims were only an incidental part) buried in The New York Times and Los Angeles Times… each paragons of the so-called ‘liberal media.’ Thank goodness I listen to the BBC so I can know what’s going on not only in the world, but in my country. This is why I’ve always said that if you want to informed, you can not rely on a single media source and you need have at least one source outside the mainstream US newspaper and TV press.

The former secretary of state told the BBC that even he wasn’t made aware of doubts in the intelligence community about the reliability of information used to make the case to invade Iraq.

''What really upset me more than anything else was that there were people in the intelligence community that had doubts about some of this sourcing, but those doubts never surfaced up to us,'' Powell said.

"I was deeply disappointed in what the intelligence community had presented to me and to the rest of us, and what really upset me more than anything else was that there were people in the intelligence community that had doubts about some of this sourcing, but those doubts never surfaced up to us," he added.

He also claims that the State Department staff drew up detailed plans for the post-war period and that those plans were ignored by the War Department.

It’s easy to say Powell should’ve known better, and I’ve said exactly that. And maybe this is a case of buyer’s remorse, of him being rightly embarassed about that with which he was complicit. But nevertheless it’s telling: if the most important cabinet member of international issues, handpicked for the job by the president, was kept in the dark about the intelligence’s unreliability, then it’s impossible to believe that ordinary Congressmen and Senators were properly informed.

I’ve often said that the biggest flaw in the Bush administration is not its ideology, but it’s closed-minded decision-making process. Though I suppose it’s that extreme ideology that makes the decision-making process closed-minded in the first place. I’ve often said that the administration decides what it wants to do and then finds the information to justify those decisions. It plays up the information that supports its pre-conceived notions and suppresses the rest. It lets the decisions drive the facts, instead of vice versa. The way it misled Powell is a perfect example. For an administration that values personal loyalty over all else, including competence, it’s ironic that the archetypal good soldier was treated so badly. If he’d known that this was going to be his reward for loyalty, I wonder if he would’ve done it.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Darfur genocide over because there's no one left to kill

This essay is part of a weekly feature on my blog that presents interesting stories from elsewhere in the world, particularly Africa, that are little reported in the American media. It's part of my campaign to get people to realize there is a lot going on in the world outside the US, Israel and Iraq.

South Africa's News24 carries a foreboding piece on the economic difficulties of the African Union peacekeeping operation in Darfur, Sudan. Apparently, the AU mission there will run out of money within four months unless more funding is found.

On Friday, the European Union donated some 70 million Euros (US$84 million) but the mission still has a shortfall of some $50 million. The AU's peace and security commissioner noted that in May, donors pledged $200 million to the mission, but obviously much of that has not been received.

For his part, Christopher Hitchens denounces the failure of the international community to adequately respond to the genocide in Darfur (though beware: the piece is filled with the distraction of not-so-subtle jibes at the anti-Iraq war arguments). He chillingly claims that the genocide is basically over... because there's no one left to kill.

As I've mentioned before, Darfur was the perfect opportunity to combine two oft-mentioned calls: for American multilateralism and for African solutions to African problems. I firmly believe that an American or western military intervention in Darfur would've been a disaster and would've resulted in much the same problems as are seen in Iraq. However, an African Union intervention might've avoided many of those problems. Of course, an AU intervention would've required logistical and financial support from the United States and European Union. (The Arab League could've been another candidate, but it serves no other purpose than to bash Israel)

I'm not a big fan of military interventionism but cases of genocide are one exception I unambiguously and unapologetically make.

The fledgling AU, the US and the Europeans all dropped the ball. None of this is surprising. Those who dared hope the AU would be different than its talking shop predecessor the Organization for African Unity have been bitterly disappointed. As with Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and other crises, the AU has been largely silent for fear of offending anybody. The Bush administration ignored the Darfur genocide for a long time, focusing on helping resolve the southern Sudanese civil war; this was admittedly an admirable effort and one that pleased Bush's religious conservative base but those in Darfur got short shaft. The silence was deafening until then Secretary of State Colin Powell called the situation there genocide, the first time an American administration had ever used the word. Then Powell resigned and normal service (silence) was resumed. The EU had other internal issues at the time, such as the absorption of a bunch of new members into the Union and the drafting of a new (and ultimately rejected) constitution.

The usual international response to genocide is this
1) ignore it while it's going on except for a few empty threats
2) try assuage international guilt by prosecuting a few people after the fact.
3) hold hand over heart and proclaim 'Never again' with enough fake solemnity so people think you mean it
4) when the next genocide occurs, return to step 1

Sadly, Darfur seems to be no exception.

Friday, December 16, 2005

A great week for freedom... almost

It seemed like a great week for freedom, but nowadays, you learn to not count your chickens before they hatch.

First, the Senate was going to require the White House to explain itself on the existence of alleged secret prisons overseas. European allies were angered to read reports of these alleged secret prisons and of claims that the CIA illegally transported abductees across European borders.

Then, the White House was finally shamed and humiliated into ceasing its sickening opposition to a proposed ban on torture by the Republican-controlled Congress. The US is already a signatory to the international Convention on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Today, the Senate refused to make permanent several expiring provisions of the so-called Patriot Act. Opponents claimed that the provisions were an unacceptable infringement on civil liberties.

Observers are shocked to discover the presence of vertebrates on Capitol Hill after an absence of several years. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales called the provisions "essential to our efforts in the war on terrorism and their loss will damage our ability to prevent terrorist attacks. Our nation cannot afford to let these important counterterrorism tools lapse." Which makes it all the more curious that the administration rejected efforts by a bipartisan group to extend the provisions by another three months to strengthen civil liberties protections. If the Act is so essential according to the administration, isn't a temporary extension better than none at all?

Supporters of the big government Patriot Act insist that the provisions are necessary for national security. They insist that we must blindly trust that no excesses or abuses of power could possibly occur. And, most importantly, there must be no oversight of this exercise of massive power.

So perhaps the effort to renew these provisions of the Patriot Act were hampered by recent revelations that President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying.

And despite sniffing about the 'liberal media' and 'Bush-hating press' of which The New York Times is allegedly a pillar, The White House asked The New York Times not to publish this article, arguing that it could jeopardize continuing investigations and alert would-be terrorists that they might be under scrutiny. After meeting with senior administration officials to hear their concerns, the newspaper delayed publication for a year to conduct additional reporting.

Notably, The previously undisclosed decision to permit some eavesdropping inside the country without court approval was a major shift in American intelligence-gathering practices, particularly for the National Security Agency, whose mission is to spy on communications abroad.

I hope Iraqis don't use our president's conduct as their model for good governance and the responsible exercise of power. Secrecy is the enemy of democracy. And secrecy is the guiding principle of this administration.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Realizing Rights

The most recent program of the BBC World Service's The Interview featured a fascinating talk with former UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson, a woman I've always had a great deal of respect for. Though human rights is an unpopular topic in the post-9/11 world, the former Irish Republic president recently founded an non-governmental organization (NGO) devoted to the area: Realizing Rights.

What's interesting is this. Rather than opposing globalization (a hideous term so broad as to be almost meaningless), Ms. Robinson's organization recognizes the exceedingly dominant international power of multinational corporations and seeks to pressure them into ethical behavior. I've always believed that compulsory or punitive action against corporations should be a last resort and it's more effective (and realistic) to appeal to their enlightened self-interest, such as the creative use of shame, to improve their behavior. Corporations, by their very structure, are amoral: they will always act in their perceived self-interest. Realizing Rights and other NGOs hope to persuade those corporations that doing the right thing is in their own self-interest... and doing the wrong thing is not.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

President admits a mistake! (sort of)

President Bush admitted a mistake.

My initial instinct was to shout, "STOP THE PRESSES!!!"

I thought for a second that accountability, a fate more painful than Ebola, had infected the White House.

But then I realized he was admitting a mistake made not by himself, but by the intelligence community.

"Many intelligence agencies judged that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and it's true that much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong," he said in a speech today.

He also insisted, "Saddam was a threat, and the American people and the world is better off because he is no longer in power."

So if Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction, then how was he a threat to the American people?

Or maybe I should starting 'supporting our troops' by ceasing these infernal logic-based questions about their commander-in-chief's incompetent decisions that puts them; incompetent decisions that put them, more than anyone else, in harm's way.

Maybe I should stop giving 'aid and comfort to the enemy' by pointing out that the president's insane policies have made us far less safe and far more vulnerable than before. Sure, Bush's belligerence has been a Godsend to the terrorist recruiters, but I can't talk about that for some inexplicable reason.

Maybe if I turned off my brain, slapped a flag pin on my shirt, slapped a 'Nuke 'em all and let Allah sort 'em out' bumper sticker on my car; maybe I should just intone the phrase 'support our troops' while supporting policies that do the exact opposite. Then I might be seen as a good American by the patriotically correct class.

Instead of being submissive, I think I'll opt instead for being a responsible American and repeat my question: Mr. President, if Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction, as you acknowledged today, then how was he a threat to the American people? If you can't answer that question, then why should we trust your decision making in the future?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Global Voices

I recently found a great new site called Global Voices. It's a site that basically collects entries from bloggers all around the world, particularly from countries that are not often represented in the mainstream western media.

From its website:

A growing number of bloggers around the world are emerging as “bridge bloggers:” people who are talking about their country or region to a global audience. Global Voices is your guide to the most interesting conversations, information, and ideas appearing around the world on various forms of participatory media such as blogs, podcasts, photo sharing sites, and videoblogs.
Our global team of regional blogger-editors is working to find, aggregate and track these conversations. Each day they link to 5-10 of the most interesting blog posts from their regions in the “daily roundups” section. A larger group of contributing bloggers is posting daily features in in the left-hand Weblog section, shedding light on what blogging communities in their countries have been talking about recently.


You should bookmark it.

Riots and counterriots in Australia

This essay is part of a weekly feature on my blog that presents interesting stories from elsewhere in the world, particularly Africa, that are little reported in the American media. It's part of my campaign to get people to realize there is a lot going on in the world outside the US, Israel and Iraq.

Much was made in the national and international media and in the blogosphere about the shameful, counterproductive riots in France's suburbs last month. Fair-minded essays and reports pointed out the poor treatment of Arabs by native Frenchmen, how many people have their job applications summarily rejected simply because of their Arab surname or family name and the failure of Arab immigrants to integrate into French society, a failure for which both Arabs and native French share blame. The violence was not helped by the reckless, inflammatory remarks by France's interior minister, the sleazy and ambitious Nicolas Sarkozy.

Banalyses blamed the rioting on various factors depending on the political biases of the writer. Alleged causes included: the inherent violence of Muslims, the inherent disregard for the law of Arabs, France's allegedly socialist economic system and France's opposition to the aggression in Iraq (ie: their 'appeasement' of extremism).

Fox News [sic] even referred to the violence as 'Muslim riots,' even Islam had nothing to do with it. It was about as disingenuous as if one had referred to the 1992 violence in Los Angeles as "Christian riots."

Given the massive media attention on the violence in France, it makes you wonder when and if the press will notice the rioting going on in the suburbs of Sydney, Australia.

There is one big difference between the violence in France and the violence in Australia: the rioting in Sydney has been directed AGAINST Arabs and Arab owned businesses... as well as people wrongly assumed to be Arab.

The premier of New South Wales, the state in which Australia's largest city is located, says violence over the weekend in Sydney's south was the ugly face of racism, with the State Government confirming that so-called "white supremacists" were involved in the riots, reports the Australian Broadcast Corporation.

The initial anti-Arab violence not surprisingly provoked counter-rioting by Middle Eastern mobs.

Much like in France, some Australians will surely deny that social conditions and attitudes are unfavorable toward those of Arab descent, but such a willfully blind approach will not help address underlying social tensions.



Update: I have this extreme right-wing Christian fundamentalist acquaintance who rationalizes the Australian riots in such breathtaking terms.

The loss of the Christian faith is the center of the downfall of culture in Europe and Australia. No longer are children brought up with Christian morality, no longer are they taught right and wrong from a scriptural perspective. Instead they are taught that right and wrong changes over time and really it's all up to you and your "heart" anyway. This post-Christian thinking makes it ok to attack Muslims just for the fun of it. The people involved in these riots have no idea that what they're doing is wrong, rather they think it is quite right. Why, they believe in their hearts that attacking innocent people without justification is ok. Thus is life in a post-Christian society. In a Christian society, those wrongdoers would in the very least understand that what they are doing is evil and there will and should be punishment for it.

It's hard to know where to begin with such self-delusional insanity..

We all know how stable and peaceful Europe was from the Middle Ages until the mid-1940s back when Christianity was the undisputed power of the continent. The continent is much worse off now with its peaceful democracies and well-fed people. Oh the horror!

In the past, it was INCONCEIVABLE that people attack Muslims in, I don't know, a Crusade-like manner. It didn't used to be ok to attack innocent people without justification: back then, you needed the decency to invent a justification like them being Jewish or Protestant or witches. In a Christian society, like America, wrongdoers at the very least understand that what they are doing is evil and that there will and should be punishment. Maybe this is why so many Americans have changed their minds about the Iraq aggression.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Bush admin to UN: our torture is none of your business

Louise Arbour, a former Canadian Supreme Court justice and highly respected former head of the UN war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, is now the UN human rights' chief. Arbour recently criticized the US government for its ambiguous (at best) position on torture.

Well, its position on torture by its own representatives is ambiguous; it often condemns torture by other countries, such as the former Saddam dictatorship in Iraq.

Arbour noted that the "absolute ban on torture, a cornerstone of the international human rights edifice, is under attack." This confusion has been amplified by the Newspeak that's passed for the administration's position of the day on torture.

The administration's designated UN loudmouth John Bolton got his panties into a twist following Arbour's reasonable comments.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton criticized the statements, the [Washington] Post reported, saying Arbour had no proof of the allegations other "than what she reads in the newspapers."

I agree. Commenting on newspaper reports is not the best way to handle the situation. Instead, surely Bolton would concur that a proper UN Security Council or International Criminal Court investigation would be a better option, eh?

"I think it is inappropriate and illegitimate for an international civil servant to second-guess the conduct that we're engaged in in the war on terror," Bolton sniffed.

And this exemplifies better than anything else why the Bush administration's moral credibility has completely vanished.

Questioning dubious human rights practices is EXACTLY what the UN human rights' chief should be doing.

Early this year, the Bush administration launched a full scale attack on the UN Human Rights Commission for not being forceful enough. Yet when it IS forceful, the administration tells it to shut up, in much the same way as Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe.

Why would Arbour criticize the US when there are a million other bad things going on that deserve her attention."The UN only picks on America," bellow the uninformed and the willfully ignorant. But as usual, it's usually the uninformed and the willfully ignorant who bellow the loudest. They're wrong... but you probably already knew that.

When critics called the UN Human Rights Commission toothless, Arbour (and myself, for that matter) agreed. She, like Secretary General Kofi Annan, want a smaller Human Rights Council with more strength and authority to replace the bloated Human Rights Commission that's held hostage by repressive regimes like Libya and Zimbabwe. As a former judge and prosecutor, she realizes the Human Rights Commission is too dysfunctional, too sclerotic and has no authority and ought to be restructured..

It's obvious that the Bush administration doesn't want a restructured human rights body, especially one that might be independent enough to criticize... the Bush administration. A serious watchdog must criticize all human rights abuses, not just those committed by regimes hostile to the US government. But the far right doesn't want a watchdog; it wants a scapegoat.

Bravo to Ms. Arbour. Her intrevention was very important in upholding the principles of international human rights' standards and values. Standards that the United States has not only voluntarily accepted, but were crucial in formulating. If the United States can't invoke 'terrorism' in order to justify human rights' abuses, then dictators won't be able to either.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

'Happy holidays' and other capitulations 'to the worst elements in our society'

Whether it's so-called adults trampling each other to get the latest toy or electronic fad or people spending ridiculous amounts of money on gaudy Christmas decorations, December in America is silly season.

The White House recently sent out greeting cards to whoever's on their list. The card said, "Happy holidays."

This seems inocuous enough.

Unless you have way too much time on your hands. William A. Donahue, the apparent cartoon-like figure who serves as president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. is just such a person.

Donahue was livid that the card didn't mention the word Christmas, even though it contained a passage from the Biblical Old Testament. So much so that he threw the card in the trash.

"This clearly demonstrates that the Bush administration has suffered a loss of will and that they have capitulated to the worst elements in our culture," he fumed.

Just ponder those words for a moment...


... then ask yourself how he expects anyone to take him seriously in the future when he makes bufoonish statements like this.

Personally, I won't spend a single second figuring out whether I say 'Happy holidays' to someone or 'Merry Christmas,' nor will a spend a second worrying about what others say to me. The worst elements in our culture are professional victims like Mr. Donahue who waste our time with angry rantings about nothing.

The self-described bleeding heart liberal Adirondack Musing blog has had a series of entries devoted to the so-called war on Christmas. There was the essay about how 42% of Americans surveyed think there is a War on Christmas, according to a Fox poll. As well as one about the history of the holiday.

One can reasonably argue that the purpose of Christmas has been lost in the avalanche of consumerism, gluttony and avoidable stress. Though even that's a stretch considering we celebrate it in much the same way we celebrate other birthdays (presents, dinner, etc), just on a much grander scale. That great opponent of secularism, Bill O'Reilly, argues that every businessman in America should scream 'Merry Christmas' because the holiday is so central to the American economy. He's right, but venerating Christmas as a business bonanza seems far more secular than saying 'Happy holidays.'

So what IS the purpose of Christmas then? For me, it's the idea of spending time together with my family in a more or less relaxing manner. Is this expression of family values a secular one? Yes. Is it a capitulation 'to the worst elements in our culture'? I think not.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Does private property exist?

Earlier this year, the US Supreme Court approved New London, Connecticut's attempts to forcibly seize several private homes so the city could sell the land to a developer who wanted to build a huge commercial complex. This was a result of the Court's refusal to be 'activist' and of its reflexive deference to legislatures at the expense of individual Constitutional rights. Do rights really exist if they can be erased by a few politicians? I objected to this on several levels.

The most straightforward objection is that the ruling was based on a misinterpretation of a fairly straightforward constitutional clause. New London used eminent domain to seize the houses. The 5th Amendment to the document concludes: nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Eminent domain is authorized in the Constitution, but not in the way New London used it. Typically, eminent domain is used for infrastructure projects like roads and bridges, stuff that is open to and used by the public.

The developers New London wanted to give the forcibly seized land to wanted to build a hotel, health club and offices. The idea is that the public will derive a benefit because these commercial enterprises will generate more tax revenue than would simple houses. That tax revenue could be used to improve services or lower the property tax rate.

There's one problem: the Constitution authorizes land be taken for public USE, not simply for some alleged public BENEFIT. Unless New London residents can stay for free in the hotel or use the health club for free, then the complex is not intended for public USE. If the complex's owners can ban protesters or other expressions of free speech (something that can't be done on public land), then the complex is not intended for public use.

I also opposed this because I was afraid eminent domain would be used for social engineering, to kick out poor or middle income residents and replace them with rich people or with businesses that cater to rich people.

"Far-fetched, Chicken Little rantings!" you say.

It's already happening in Riviera Beach, Florida, according to this article in The Los Angeles Times,

In what has been called the largest eminent-domain case in the nation, the mayor and other elected leaders want to move about 6,000 residents, tear down their homes and use the emptied 400-acre site to build a waterfront yachting and residential complex for the well-to-do.

According to the city, the project create a city respected for its community pride and purpose and reshape it into a most desirable urban [place] to live, work, shop, and relax for its residents, business and visitors.


Almost 20 percent of the city's population would be forcibly evicted (with compensation, because apparently that makes it ok) as a result of this social engineering monstrosity.

Economic conventional wisdom tells us that respect for private property is the anchor of our entire capitalist system, a main reason why the US is more prosperous than African and Latin American countries. But does private property really exist if the government can just seize it to you and give to big developers on a whim?

Friday, December 09, 2005

Thanks for nothing FIFA!

Could someone explain to me this?

The US has won two of their last three competitive matches against Mexico, including a famous 2-0 win in the last World Cup in Korea. The US won the most recent CONCACAF (North/Central America and Carribbean) championship with Mexico crashing out at the quarterfinal stage. The US also won the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying group, ahead of Mexico. Yet somehow Mexico got a top seed for the 2006 World Cup qualifying draw and the US didn't. (In reality, neither deserved it, but certainly Mexico was less deserving)

As a result, the US got paired with European powerhouses Italy and the Czech Republic as well as four-time African champions Ghana.

Mexico will have to face perpetual underachiever Portugal and minnows Iran and Angola.

Thanks for nothing FIFA!

(Incidentally, several non-seeded countries, like the Czech Republic, Holland and the US, were ranked above seeded countries like England and Italy, in FIFA's computer rankings. I realize that the rankings generated by soccer's world governing body are completely worthless from a sporting perspective. But if FIFA is not even going to use them to figure out seeds, then why bother having them at all? What's point of saying the Czechs are #2 in the world if six lower ranked teams are going to get preferential treatment come seeding time?)

Clear as mud

On Wednesday, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice insisted that rules against torture apply to American personnel, whether they are inside or outside the United States.

It's very charitable of her, but I don't know if how much it really clarifies

After all, high-ranking administration officials can't even agree amongst themselves about what those rules are!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Paper to pedestrians: Drop Dead!

The outgoing mayor and council in Glens Falls approved a multi-million dollar roundabout for the five-corner intersection in the city's downtown. Mayor-elect Roy Akins said he would revisit the boondoggle. He was taken to task for it in a snide little editorial (do they write any other kind?) in The Post-Star.

The paper writes:

Read this out loud.

One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. Three Mississippi. Four Mississippi ...

... five Mississippi. Six Mississippi. Seven Mississippi. Eight Mississippi. Nine Mississippi. Mississippi. 11 Mississippi. 12 Mississippi. 13 Mississippi. 14 Mississippi. 15 Mississippi. 16 Mississippi. 17 Mississippi. 18 Mississippi. 19 Mississippi. 20 Mississippi. 21 Mississippi. 22 Mississippi. 23 Mississippi. 24 Mississippi. 25 Mississippi. 26 Mississippi. 27 Mississippi. 28 Mississippi. 29 Mississippi. 30 Mississippi. 31 Mississippi. 32 Mississippi. 33 Mississippi. 34 Mississippi. 35 Mississippi. 36 Mississippi. 37 Mississippi. 38 Mississippi. 39 Mississippi. 40 Mississippi. 41 Mississippi. 42 Mississippi. 43 Mississippi. 44 Mississippi. 45 Mississippi. 46 Mississippi. 47 Mississippi. 48 Mississippi. 49 Mississippi. 50 Mississippi. 51 Mississippi. 52 Mississippi. 53 Mississippi. 54 Mississippi. 55 Mississippi. 56 Mississippi. 57 Mississippi. 58 Mississippi. 59 Mississippi. 60 Mississippi. 61 Mississippi. 62 Mississippi. 63 Mississippi. 64 Mississippi. 65 Mississippi. 66 Mississippi. Mississippi. 67 Mississippi. 68 Mississippi. 69 Mississippi. 70 Mississippi. 71 Mississippi. 72 Mississippi. 73 Mississippi. 74 Mississippi. 75 Mississippi. 76 Mississippi. 77 Mississippi. 78 Mississippi. 79 Mississippi. 80 Mississippi. 81 Mississippi. 82 Mississippi. 83 Mississippi. 84 Mississippi. 85 Mississippi. 86 Mississippi. 87 Mississippi. 88 Mississippi. 89 Mississippi. 90 Mississippi. 91 Mississippi. 92 Mississippi. 93 Mississippi. 94 Mississippi. 95 Mississippi. 96 Mississippi. 97 Mississippi. 98 Mississippi. 99 Mississippi. 100 Mississippi. 101 Mississippi. 102 Mississippi. 103 Mississippi. 104 Mississippi. 105 Mississippi. 106 Mississippi. 107 Mississippi. 108 Mississippi. 109 Mississippi. 110 Mississippi. 111 Mississippi. 112 Mississippi. 113 Mississippi. 114 Mississippi. 115 Mississippi. 116 Mississippi. 117 Mississippi. 118 Mississippi. 119 Mississippi. 120 Mississippi.

One hundred-twenty seconds. Two minutes. That's how long it can take for just one turn of the traffic light at the five-way intersection in downtown Glens Falls. That's how much time you waste sitting in your car waiting to get to your destination. And that's assuming you get through the intersection the first time. If you don't make it, you have to start the count over. One Mississippi. Two Mississippi ...


In a roundabout, traffic is moving constantly. That's the roundabout's appeal.

It's also its downfall.

While non-stop traffic is great for drivers, it's hell for pedestrians. How can you cross the street if there's never a break in traffic?

If the roundabout is constructed, pedestrians may have to wait through SEVERAL '120 Mississippi' in order to simply cross the street, especially during rush hours.

And before dismissing such analysis as the ideological rantings of a leftie/Green/utopian as some might, it's worth noting one simple, indisputable fact: in order to be a customer at any downtown business, except Burger King's drive-thru, you must leave your car and WALK into a building. (Unless you're one of those countercultural freaks who doesn't drive everywhere in the first place)

But this fact wasn't considered when the roundabout was being discussed.

And this really gets to the heart of the debate over downtown's future: pedestrians (and bicyclists and users of public transportation) are never taken into consideration when such discussions occur.

(Actually, the editorial did make a token reference to pedestrians. The essence was "It's already hard for pedestrians to cross the street and they're used to the hassle, so who cares if it gets a little harder?")

The outgoing administration and The Post-Star aren't overtly hostile to pedestrians; they're not advocating walkers be run over. Pedestrians simply don't enter into their mindset. They just don't factor pedestrians in to any equation. And it really doesn't make sense.

As I mentioned before, in order to be frequent a downtown business, you MUST become a pedestrian. Yet the roundabout's purpose is to make it easier to drive through the business district without stopping or slowing down?

The roundabout will make it harder for people to be pedestrians and thus frequent downtown shops and restraurants while making it easier to drive past those places without giving them a second look. The Northway (Interstate 87 from Albany north to the Canadian border) offered the same 'convenience' and we see how it ruined the business districts of countless Adirondack towns.

So why does The Post-Star think this is such a brilliant idea?

The incoming mayor shouldn't revisit the counterproductive boondoggle roundabout; he should summarily rubbish the idea altogether.


Update: The very same issue of the paper notes that the city's debt is approaching $17 million. The roundabout boondoggle would add at least another $3 million to that total.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Pro-war pols visit upstate New York

Two visits yesterday by political illuminati made news in upstate New York's media today.

Vice-President Dick Cheney paid a visit to Fort Drum, near Watertown, in northern New York. He offered the usual strident rhetoric about fighting against Evil, struggling for freedom and liberty (said breathlessly) and the like. No mention of how torture (which he so eagerly defended) fits into that whole freedom and liberty thing.

He offered the usual vague platitudes like 'Stay the course' and 'Don't cut and run' without bothering to get specific about what that course is. He surely hopes that the self-righteous indignation in his tone will mask the lack of substance of his words. To the administration, warmed over cliches, obfuscation, deception and belligerent rhetoric are substitutes for a real, well-thought out plan.

Near the end of a North Country Public Radio report on Cheney's visit, a reporter interviewed an anti-war protester who'd gathered some distance away (because of 'security reasons'). The protester said he had a sign that read, "Torture and prisoner abuse is never justified."

He said one genius passerby rolled down his window and told the protester, "If you don't like it, why don't you move to Iraq?"

That's about as brilliant as saying, "If you don't like traffic, why don't you move to Los Angeles?"

Closer to home, Sen. Hillary Clinton attended a local Democratic county fundraiser and a few other events.

Clinton was met by a number of Democratic and liberal anti-war activists protesting her support for the Iraq aggression.

Well, she would've been met by the protesters except she slipped in the back door so as to avoid them. Perhaps she has more in common with the president than she realizes.

One man was protesting separately Clinton's position on partial birth abortion. If he believes that the procedure constitutes the killing of innocent human life, then perhaps he has more in common with the anti-war protesters than he realizes.



Update: Rather than work on a viable resolution to the Iraq mess, Clinton has been busy pandering to the right (her natural consistuency, of course) by proposing a ludicruous bill criminalizing flag burning. Rather than address serious problems, she's spending time on this never-was-an-issue.

[T]he senator's staff did not have any immediate examples of actual New York flag-burnings in the recent past, notes a
New York Times editorial. It's telling that an almost non-existent thing like flag burning outrage her but war does not. Political protest should be criminalized, but not international aggression.


Hurting a veteran's feelings may be socially unacceptable, but it shouldn't be a criminal offense... though this seems to be the direction the country's going in.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Absolute power corrupts absolutely

"All power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely." -Lord Acton


One of the hallmarks of the Bush administration is its refusal to listen to anything that goes against its preconceived notions. Another is its use of overt politicization and cronyism to ruin previously competent organizations.

The results of cronyism at the Federal Emergency Management Agency became apparent during Hurricane Katrina. It was reported that five of the top eight officials [going into Katrina] at FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, had little experience in handling disasters and owed their jobs to their political ties to Bush..

It is unprecedented to appoint friends to high ranking positions? Of course not. But a smart president will make sure such appointees are surrounded by well-qualified deputies.

The administration also sabotaged the previously non-partisan Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). The CPB was designed to be a shield for public broadcasting from political pressure. But former director Ken Tomlinson was a beacon of partisanship, hiring G.O.P. consultants as ludicrous bias-control monitors, notes a New York Times editorial. Ludicrous to the point that Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican and friend of the president, was absurdly labelled by Tomlinson's snoopers as 'anti-Bush.'

Furthermore, the monitoring activity concluded PBS (public television) liberal bias primarily on the basis of a single program, NOW with Bill Moyers, instead of looking at the totality of PBS' public affairs output. The same applied to National Public Radio and the Diane Rehm Show. Conveniently, alleged liberal bias in public broadcasting is something the far right has complained about for years. The monitors concluded exactly what they were paid to conclude. Pre-conceived notions were affirmed.

Even more ludicrous is that Tomlinson recruited as his successor, Patricia Harrison, a former co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee. So a woman who was named to lead what's supposed to be non-partisan corporation held a previous job whose SOLE PUPROSE is partisan activity. It would be as if a future Democratic president appointed Howard Dean to the same position.

Tomlinson was involved in the creation of a PBS show, the conservative Journal Editorial Report, in violation of the CPB's own guidelines. This, according to a report issued by the CPB's independent inspector general.

Now we find out another example of Republican corruption: "gerrymandering in Texas.

Bush Justice Department lawyers concluded that the landmark Texas congressional redistricting plan spearheaded by Rep. Tom DeLay (R) violated the Voting Rights Act, according to a previously undisclosed memo obtained by The Washington Post. But senior officials overruled them and approved the plan, reports The Washington Post.

The lawyers are civil service bureaucrats there on merit. Senior officials are political appointees of the administration of the day.

(Former GOP majority leader DeLay has since been indicted on money laundering and conspiracy charges)

Gerrymandering isn't a uniquely GOP phenemon. Here in New York state, it's a bipartisan affair. Senate Republicans collude with Assembly Democrats to protect incumbent majority party legislators as much as possible. The difference is that they are clever enough to do it in a way that barely passes the legality test.

Though not particularly 'sexy,' I happen to think gerrymandering is a big issue. Legend has it that because of this manipulation, the New York state legislature has a higher incumbent re-election rate than the communist Chinese National Assembly. In the 2004 elections, four incumbent senators (there are 62 seats in the chamber) were defeated at the polls... and this was considered a revoution! Gerrymandering is the best way to minimize accountability for legislators and it must not be tolerated.

That's why each state should have an independent electoral redistricting commission, instead of having it done by partisan legislators who have a vested interest in preserving their jobs. To my knowledge, Iowa is the only state that has such a commission... and it has the highest proportion in the country of competitive Congressional races.

And a finally come these comments from Rep. John Murtha. The hawkish, pro-military Democrat made waves recently by calling for a speedy (not immediate) withdrawal from Iraq. But the more interesting remarks came yesterday. He claims that US commanders on the ground in Iraq support withdrawal but are afraid to make their position known to the president for fear they will be fired. It is more than plausible, in a Bush administration that equates disagreement with disloyalty.

Unfortunately, it's precisely the administration's refusal to consider unpleasant facts that led to the mess in Iraq in the first place.

Some critics of the president maliciously revel in calling him an idiot or stupid. I don't know what his IQ is and I really don't care. To belittle his intelligence is not only mean-spirited and reflects worse on the taunter than on the president, but it completely misses the point. The biggest character flaw of both the president and the vice-president isn't their intelligence; by all accounts, the vice-president is extremely smart and intelligence isn't an issue of character anyway. Their grossest character flaw is that they are closed-minded.

Everyone makes poor decisions, but closed-minded people make them more often and more grieviously because they won't listen to anyone else. And closed-minded people choose not to see their mistakes, or simply refuse to acknowledge that they make any. As a result, their mistakes are prolonged by their refusal to change course when cirumstances would logically dictate as much. Staying the course isn't courageous when it means beating your head against a stone wall a few hundred more times in the hopes that your head is so special and your will so strong that you can defy the laws of physics; it's simply stupid.

Friday, December 02, 2005

If only Bush had listened to... himself

Forget the fact that the president didn't listen anyone else who didn't tell him what he wanted to hear on Iraq. Imagine how much trouble would've been avoided if he'd simply listened to... himself.


"Our military is meant to fight and win war. That's what it's meant to do. And when it gets overextended, morale drops. I strongly believe we need to have a military presence in the [Balkan] peninsula, not only to keep the peace in the peninsula, but to keep regional stability. And I strongly believe we need to keep a presence in NATO, but I'm going to be judicious as to how to use the military. It needs to be in our vital interest, the mission needs to be clear, and the extra strategy obvious."

-George W. Bush, presidential debate, October 11, 2000.



Other choice quotes from him on that date:

"I'm not so sure the role of the United States is to go around the world and say this is the way it's got to be."

"I'm worried about overcommitting our military around the world. I want to be judicious in its use."

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Trade Mike O'Connell!

Usually when I write about sports, it's about soccer. But I'm going to touch on a little ice hockey news today.

I was floored to read this morning that the Boston Bruins had traded Joe Thornton. The B's sent their captain, best player, team leader and public face of the team to San Jose for three average players.

Boston has been struggling this year, due mainly to their inability to win close games; they're 2-11 in games decided by one goal. Their defense is weak and they lack players with grit and character. So the solution is to get rid of their leading scorer, a player who combines skill and power. Their solution is to get rid of the one player who strikes fear into the heart of opposing defenses and coaches. Their solution is to get rid of such their only player capable of carrying the team when necessary.

This is a way for the team to say to it's fans, "We're throwing in the towel already and admitting that this is going to be YET ANOTHER wasted season." Years of patiently building a team around captain Thornton have been thrown out the window and Bruins fans will suffer at least five more years of "re-building" that the management will probably fine some way to screw up in the end as well.

Harry Sinden served as Bruins' general manager from 1972, a few months after Boston's last Stanley Cup title, until 1996. Current GM Mike O'Connell apprenticed under Sinden and then succeeded him. Sinden was legendary for making stupid moves that screwed up successful teams. And apparently he passed his "knowledge" along to protégé O'Connell.

The Sinden/O'Connell 33 year reign of incompetence has exactly coincided with the longest period in team history without a Stanley Cup. When they trade one of their best player for a trio of question marks, you come to understand why.



Update: Widely respected Boston Globe columnist Kevin Paul DuPont offers a dissenting view.


Update 2: I guess this shows how much I know.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The racists are quaking in their boots

This essay is part of a weekly feature on my blog that presents interesting stories from elsewhere in the world, particularly Africa, that are little reported in the American media. It's part of my campaign to get people to realize there is a lot going on in the world outside the US, Israel and Iraq.



England has long had a terrible reputation for racism and hooliganism at their soccer grounds. But this black eye is a holdover from the 1970s ad 1980s when they truly deserved it. While English soccer authorities have made great strides in the last 15 years against the expression of hatred and violence at matches, other European countries have refused to tackle this issue. Racism and hooliganism has diminished in England partly due to efforts by the clubs and partly due to the gentrification of the once strongly working class game. But those illnesses still plague the game not only in Eastern Europe, but in other parts of supposedly sophisticated Western Europe.

Though the problem of racism and violence may not be any worse in Italy than in parts of Eastern Europe, it's more problematic since the Italian Serie A is one of the best and most high profile leagues in the world. As such, it draws a lot of black players, from Africa and Brazil.

A recent match between Messina and Inter Milan saw some Inter 'supporters' (henceforth known as morons) make monkey noises and other revolting chants at Messina's Ivorian defender Marc Zoro.

Zoro was so incensed by the lunacy that he tried to walk off the field in protest... though I'm not sure why he thought this would've displeased the morons. He was persuaded to remain on the pitch by a couple of Inter's black players, Obafemi Martins and Adriano. (That Inter itself has several black players was, not surprisingly, of no conesquence to the morons)

"They were very kind" said Zoro afterwards. "Martins and Adriano both said that this kind of thing happens to them a lot too, and not to let it provoke me. But they seemed more concerned with getting the game restarted and avoiding any complications than anything else. I came back on to avoid causing them problems."

I realize that fans will say a lot of things to unnerve opposing players. That's perfectly fine. But there has to be a line of decency that must not be crossed. Chanting monkey noises at black players is on the wrong side of that line.

The Italian soccer federation reacted as it usually does when faced with a serious issue: by burying its head in the sand.

The federation ordered that the next round of league matches be delayed by five minutes so that players could protest the treatment of Zoro.

So the morons will have five extra minutes to sing racist songs and make monkey noises. I'm sure that'll teach a lesson!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Saddam's trial

Putting aside for a moment what one might think of the US aggression against Iraq, the occupation or even the trial of Saddam Hussein itself, the judicial proceedings against the former dictator have more than their fair share of irony. And that's totally aside from the fact that he's being given a public, transparent trial with high profile defense lawyers, such as a former US attorney general.

One irony is that ordinary people who may or may not be al-Qaeda members and who may or may not have done anything bad, they are not afforded due process at all within the lovely confines of Guantanamo Bay (or Eastern Europe or wherever else the CIA might have secret prison camps). Yet, one of the world's most odious dictators is being given a public judicial trial with a chance to defend himself in front of the eyes of the world. Brutal tyrants are treated more fairly than men who may be guilty of nothing more than being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Another irony is that here you have an autocrat widely accused of genocide, using chemical weapons, torture, arbitrary arrests and generally some of the most unimaginable, stomach-turning atrocities. And during his trial, the former Tough Guy was snivelling about not having a pen and of having to walk up stairs because they elevator was broken.

I'm willing to send him a pack of Bics if he quits whining.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

John Murtha and the intricacies of credibility

The blogosphere was abuzz last week following the comments of Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha. Murtha is a hawkish Democrat who originally backed the Iraq invasion but recently called for called for the quick withdrawal of US troops (not an 'immediate' one as some critics and even some journalists have wrongly attributed to him).

“We’re the targets,” Murtha said in a speech in the Capitol. “We’re uniting the enemy against us. And there’s terrorism all over the world that there wasn’t before we went into Iraq.

“This is a policy wrapped in an illusion.”


This could be more a reflection with the hawk's disillusionment with the way the occupation has been bungled since the start. Though I suppose such a frustration could only occur if you thought it ever had a chance of succeeding in the first place.

I've never been a fan of Murtha and one incident isn't going to magically change my mind (unlike some hypocrites who attack him with cheap shots like 'Hero to zero').

But some reaction has been telling. Dennis, over at the Moderate Republican blog, offered this comment.

You don't have to agree with an immediate withdrawl from Iraq-I don't. But you have to respect his words because he knows of what he speaks. Murtha is a Marine and knows war. If this guy who isn't a Michael Moore/MoveOn lefty, says that we should consider getting out of Iraq, maybe the Bushies should listen. Anyway, if the Bushies were paying attention, they would see Murtha wasn't saying we should totally cut and run... he was calling for withdrawal at 'the earliest practicable date.'

I want to focus on this one particular phrase:

If this guy who isn't a Michael Moore/MoveOn lefty, says that we should consider getting out of Iraq...

I'll qualify my comments by stating that I am not a big fan of Michael Moore or of MoveOn. I find them both extremely shrill and obnoxious. I think they're fairly good at preaching to the choir but I doubt they've convinced any of the undecided.

That said, I find the whole credibility thing curious.

Rep. Murtha voted to authorize President Bush to invade Iraq; like many other Democrats, he was complicit in the launching of this aggression. Now, he changes his mind about the wisdom of that excursion. What was so unexpected about what's happened that caused him to change his mind? And more cogently, WHY was it unexpected to him?

How is it that a guy who was complicit in launching the war has more credibility when he says 'withdraw' than a person or a group who opposed the war from day one? How is it that the judgement of a guy who says 'My bad' is revered but a man and a group who were right all along are blithely dismissed as loony 'lefties'? This is a sentiment I've seen quite a bit since Murtha's comments and it baffles me.

I do not criticize Murtha for changing his mind. Sure, maybe if he'd thought as carefully about it before.... well never mind. But I respect him for admitting his mistake, the refusal of which has been the only consistent principle of the Bush administration. At least Murtha's finally seen this debacle for what it is. Better late than never, right?

Maybe. Maybe not. I'm not quite so sure. There are no mulligans, no 'take backs' when it comes to war. That's why they should be launched only as an absolute last resort. Not because you think there might possibly be some undefined conceivable danger in 10 or 20 or 50 years time.

I'm glad Murtha changed his mind and realized what a mess he helped get us into. I'll give Murtha a smidge of credit for admitting his error. Just not the nearly as much as everyone else seems to think he deserves.

I suppose I should be happy every time a pro-war person sees the light. But I can't help but thinking that if the pro-war position hadn't had such overwhelming support in 2003, President Bush might not have dared launch the aggression in the first place. I know it's a little arrogant of me; I'm not right all the time so I shouldn't hold it against others. It's just frustrating when some people take so long to see what's seemed blindingly obvious for years. I know it comes across as smug, but I can't help it.

Murtha's ambivalence seems to mirror that of the American public. Right before the invasion, some 70 percent of Americans thought the war was a great idea. Now, only 35 percent polled thought that US troops should be kept in large numbers until a democracy is established (a prospect which only 32 percent were confident of). While most Americans were eager to rush into this unnecessary war on a wave of bravado, machismo and 'patriotism' (ie: the replacement for critical thinking), support has dropped once the realized what was really involved in a war and occupation. As they say, no one wants to know how sausage is made.

The response to Murtha did, however, demonstrate even more conservative hypocrisy. While the right normally advocates the propaganda slogan of 'Support our troops and veterans and their families' as a means to silence dissent, they're eager to make exceptions for those who refuse to cease dissent. The Swift Boat smears against veteran John Kerry (hardly a revoultionary firebrand). The 'media whore' charges against mom of a soldier Cindy Sheehan. This was no different.

Before his comments, the hawkish Murtha was a 'war hero' and a 'decorated veteran,' someone to be admired even though he was a Democrat. He reportedly even used to advise Dick Cheney on military matters. Now, some conservatives attack him with cheap shots like 'Hero to zero.'

A pathetic Congresswoman from Ohio read a letter on the floor of the House calling Murtha a "coward." Even more pathetically, she later claimed that she "[n]ever wished to attack Congressman Murtha."

But no, "disagreement, argument and debate" were welcome, according to Vice-President Dick Cheney.

Except from 'lefites,' 'cowards,' 'media whores' and those who have 'dishonored their country.'



Update: In a Nov. 30 interview with the BBC World Service's Newshour program, journalist Seymour Hersch theorizes that the rabidly pro-military Murtha may have been echoing the views of the military hierarchy who feels that their views are being ignored or otherwise not heard by the White House.


2nd update: This piece in Alternet echoes some of my comments.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Culture in Glens Falls

While it may be more fashionable to badmouth the place, Glens Falls does have a wide array of cultural activities for a very small city... especially for an old mill town with not a lot of money. New York City it ain't, but then again Glens Falls is one of the safest cities in the country. Let's not forget that Glens Falls' population is not even 15,000 and, if you ask me, has a higher quality of life than most places.

How many cities the size of Glens Falls have a fantastic fine arts museum (The Hyde), a great new theatre, a professional symphony orchestra AND a theatre company that puts out high quality performances? And that's not even counting the historical museum or the children's museum.

However, clearly the most important cultural institution in the Glens Falls or the immediate area is the Crandall Public Library. Voters recently approved a bond issue to expand the cramped library building.

Back in the early 90s, Glens Falls and the neighboring towns of Queensbury and Moreau agreed to create a special library taxation district. That alone is quite astonishing. While taxes are popular nowhere, this part of upstate New York is more anti-tax than most. I still see bumper stickers that read "Queensbury: Taxtown USA." And Queensbury eliminated its town tax a few years ago.

Yet every year (except one) since the taxation district has been in existence, the library budget has been approved by a majority of voters in each of the three municipalities.

An earlier bond issue for expansion failed because it was seen as too "extravagent" (though I certainly didn't come to that conclusion) and the library leadership did a poor job selling it. So they developed a more modest expansion project and engaged in widespread public consultation. This one passed, with almost 60% in Glens Falls and Queensbury (a bit closer in Moreau).

That the famously anti-tax residents of this area would voluntarily increase their own taxes to support this most important cultural institution, instead of relying on 'free money' from Albany or Washington, is a testament to the esteem with which the library is held by the locals.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Correction regarding white phosphorus

During the discussion over the US miltiary's use of white phosphorus [WP] in the attack on Fallujah (which I addressed here), many bloggers initially referred to it as a chemical weapon. Some later corrected themselves stating that WP was an incendiary weapon, not a chemical weapon, though such distinctions were irrelevant to the civilian victims of this horror.

In fact, those corrections were unnecessary. White phosphorus IS a chemical weapon, according to the Pentagon.

Since the US military admitted to using WP in Fallujah and the same military considers it a chemical weapon, then one can fairly say that the US military used chemical weapons in Fallujah.

So what horrors were supposed to be brought to an end by 'regime change'?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Rule of law applied, no sign of Armageddon

For several years since the beginning of the war on civil liberties, some have argued that suspected terrorists can not be tried via the normal judicial system. For some reason, they were convinced that if those detained for suspected involvement in terrorism had to face a judge and jury and was accorded the same due process as any other criminal suspected, Armageddon would thrash us with more fury than a Dick Cheney condemnation.

The government has FINALLY indicted suspected dirty bomber Jose Padilla. Padilla had spent three years as a kidnapee while being imprisoned without charge.

The strange thing is this. The government finally decided to get around to granting Padilla due process and applying the rule of law. Granted, it took the government three years before they granted Padilla the 'right' to defend himself and answer the serious charges against him but contrary to the predictions of the anti-freedom right, the sky has not fallen just because we decided to treat a suspected terrorist in a constitutional manner.


Update: What's even more interesting and curious is this passage from the article:

absent from the indictment were the sensational allegations made earlier by top Justice Department officials: that Padilla sought to blow up U.S. hotels and apartment buildings and planned an attack on America with a radiological "dirty bomb."

Doesn't reflect well on the Justice Department's credibility, does it?

Monday, November 21, 2005

Iraq genocide trial opens

You have to wonder how Secretary of War Rumsfeld and other former Reagan administration officials would react to this piece of news from Radio Netherlands.


Dutchman on trial for Iraq genocide

The trial has opened in The Hague of a Dutch businessman accused of complicity in war crimes and genocide in Iraq and Iran. In 1980s Frans van Anraat allegedly supplied Saddam Hussein with chemicals which were used to manufacture the chemical weapons used by Iraq in the war against Iran and against the Kurds in northern Iraq. A poison gas attack in Halabja killed an estimated 5,000 Kurds.

Mr Van Anraat's defence lawyers claim he had no idea what the chemicals would be used for. However, several witnesses have stated that he knew exactly what the Iraqi regime would do with the chemicals.

The trial is expected to last three weeks.

Burning questions about Fallujah

Here's one story that didn't make much news in the mainstream media: the US military used the incendiary weapon white phosphorus during the 2004 assault on city of Fallujah, in Iraq, to allegedly horrific consequences.

First, a US official insisted that US forces "do not use napalm or white phosphorus as weapons."

Then, the military denied that white phosphorus was used against civilians but defended use of the munition against insurgents.

It's a bit like saying that the US did not intentionally target civilians with the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Or it's like insurgents in Iraq saying that it's okay to bomb hotels because even though there will a lot of 'secondary' carnage of innocent civilians, it's not their primary target. Such crude weapons do not distinguish between civilians and insurgents, unless a scientist or military official wishes to contradict me.

The use of white phosphorus against civilians or against military opponents within concentrations of civilians was banned by a international treaty, though the US did not sign the protocol that specifically dealt with white phosophorus and other incendiary weapons. White phosphorus is normally used as a smokescreen to hide troop movements. However, the heat from the weapons can burn a person to the bone.

It is a highly flammable incendiary material which ignites when exposed to oxygen, and will burn human skin until all the oxygen is used up. A doctor from Fallujah described victims in the US siege "who had their skin melted".

Iraq's acting human rights minister has said that a team from the sovereign government would be dispatched to Fallujah to investigate whether civilians were killed, maimed or injured by white phosphorus.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

And you thought 'Under God' was controversial

Genocide is a very powerful word, especially for one that has only been in the English language for about 60 years.

Mentioning a genocide can get you sued.

Denying one can get you arrested.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Snippets

-Children reared in a foreign country tend to be high achievers.

According to a piece in The Australian: In the 1990s, [Michigan St. Professor Ruth Hill] Useem conducted a survey of adult TCKs [kids who've lived in countries other than their own] that revealed that children reared abroad were different from their peers. Even those who had spent just a year overseas as a child were four times more likely to have earned a bachelor's degree than those who spent all their time at home. They were more likely to study foreign languages or international affairs and to seek jobs in fields that involve travelling, such as diplomacy, banking, trade and teaching. More than one-quarter had studied aboard and one-third established their own businesses.







-Canadians can distinguish between disliking President Bush and disliking America. Let's hope that intellectual honesty filters south of the border.

According to a piece in The National Post: Bush disliked by 73% in Canada. But 68% like Americans.







-The former head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting was accused by the organization's inspector general of meddling in PBS programming and of othersie violating CPB's own internal rules on overt politicking.

Shock of the year!

He resigned under pressure. What lessons were learned from the Tomlinson disgrace? None, apparently. He was succeeded by a former head of the Republican National Committee, an organization whose sole job is overt politicking.








-Think you can have guns AND butter?

Think again.

Demonstrating again that the costs of the Iraq war is not measured solely in thousands of American and tens (hundreds?) of thousands of Iraqi lives, the House passed a bill cutting funding for Medicaid, student loans and food stamps. They tried to sneak in a provision to open up drilling in ANWAR in Alaska, but had to retreat when all the other provisions stirred up controversy.










-American foreign policy talk of freedom is only half right....

Americans must deal with justice as well, if they want to have any hope of convincing moderate Muslims to reject extremist interpretations of their religion. So argues George Perkovich in an excellent piece in Foreign Affairs..

President Bush is only half right to trumpet the spread of freedom as the main objective of U.S. foreign policy; the pursuit of justice is just as important. Broadening the focus would not only befit the United States' political tradition, but also help neutralize opposition from radical Islamists and critics of globalization. With its ringing invocation of "the force of freedom," President George W. Bush's second inaugural address exemplified and updated the long-standing American belief that liberty is an intrinsic human good and that its promotion will enhance the nation's security and prosperity. Critics who scoffed at Bush's attempt to put ethics at the heart of U.S. foreign policy were misguided, because such considerations have been a crucial part of policy debates since the country's founding. What they should have criticized instead was Bush's narrow focus on one particular principle, political freedom, in isolation from other components of the American creed. After all, the Pledge of Allegiance promises not only liberty, but justice as well. Unfortunately, the elision of the notion of justice from the president's speech matches its elision from his foreign policy, with the result that in recent years, U.S. diplomacy -- public and private -- has been limping along on one leg and stumbling.

It's a foregone conclusion that the president will ignore Perkovich's excellent advice but hopefully Bush's successor won't.