Thursday, August 31, 2006

This is the domestic terror threat?

A recent essay in the influential Foreign Affairs journal argues that the domestic terrorist threat is over. The author argues that the reasonable -- but rarely heard -- explanation is that there are no terrorists within the United States, and few have the means or the inclination to strike from abroad.

This raised hackles of fury from the perpetual war crowd who, in the absence of a serious counterargument, resorted to the usual intonation of the numbers 9 and 11.

I'm not sure if the domestic terrorist threat is really over. Given the explosion of anti-American hatred created by the Bush administration's disastrous policies, it's hard to believe that the will isn't there. Perhaps the means are there but then again, the last terrorist attack in the US required not fancy weaponry, but box cutters.

Then again, we've certainly sacrificed our own freedoms in response to the perceived threat to a far greater extent than the terrorists would ever be able to achieve directly. The self-imposed hysteria is so fanatical, it makes you wonder if the actual threat isn't really minimal.

Just look at some of the hysteria in the news. I read for example that a human rights activist was banned from boarding a plane. Not because he said some weapons or chemicals. But because he was wearing a t-shirt. The t-shirt had words in Arabic and English. Not 'Death to America' or 'Hail Osama.'

The English words were "We will not be silent." The Arabic words said the same thing.

Apparently the presence of Arabic letters freaked out some of the other passangers and officials.

One of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (or Islamofacists or Muslim Barbarians or whatever the vapid fearmongering catchphrase of the day happens to be) has arrived and he was wearing an anti-war t-shirt.

Send him to Gitmo!

One of the morons in charge of 'security' reportedly told the passenger that "going to an airport with a T-shirt in Arabic script is like going to a bank and wearing a T-shirt that says, `I'm a robber.'"

I know 'we will not be silent' is a radical statement in a country where silent obedience to a 'war president' was the social expectation for several years. (Or since the administration's insistent demands for imperial powers, perhaps it's only the word president that should be in quotes)

However, if the most dangerous thing airport security people have to worry about is some inoncuous t-shirt, then are we really on the verge of Armageddon? All these millions spent on security and they're going after a guy wearing a t-shirt?

I suppose it sounds coherent enough to be a plan of this administration. I'm sure Bush apologists will praise the 'restraint' of officials for not summarily executing the guy on the spot.

Admittedly, I'm not a security expert. But if people really are trying to blow up planes, I don't think they'd be able to hide them in the silk-screen printing of Arabic (but not English) letters on a t-shirt.

What's next? Are they going to arrest someone for wearing a 'Peace on Earth' t-shirt? Oh wait, that's already happened.

If you want to convince me that there's a real terror threat to citizens in this country, you're going to have to find something more substantive than a darker skinned guy wearing a human rights t-shirt with squiggly letters.

Update: A friend of mine, who travels a lot internationally, took issue with parts of this essay. He pointed out a suspicious incident that he'd observed while in German airport that was dealt with by officials there. One of the important differences between what he witnessed was suspicious ACTIONS by a passenger while the above essay deals with a t-shirt.

Recently, I read an article in
The Boston Globe on airport security in Israel, which of course has a lot of experience in combatting potential terrorism. Israeli officials don't deal in RACIAL profiling. This makes sense because terrorists are nothing if not adaptable and will use non-Arabs if Arabs only are profiled. After all, Richard Reed was an Anglo and Jose Padilla a Hispanic.

Instead, they use COMPORTEMENT profiling. Focusing not on people who look suspicious but people who ACT suspicious. That makes far more sense. Israel's pristine record on airline security seems to back that up.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

"If you're not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin"

I often use the phrase 'Theocracy Brigade' in reference to practitioners of American politicochristianity. Maybe I should use the phrase 'Christianism' since it mirrors Islamism, which is politicized Islam.

In any case, I've been occasionally criticized for my use of the phrase 'Theocracy Brigade.' Such people really don't exist, I'm told. Just because people are Christian doesn't mean they are theocrats.

And of course, that goes without saying. Though many have implied that all Muslims are terrorists, I've never said or implied that all Christians are theocrats. Though about 3/4 of Americans describe themselves as Christians, certainly not all of them are theocrats.

However, it's flies in the face of reality to deny that such people exist. Being a theocrat doesn't mean being Christian. Being a theocrat means believing your religion should be the basis for public policy in this country.

A good example of such a person is Rep. Katherine Harris, who's running for the US Senate.

Harris first became infamous for her role in the controversial 2000 presidential election race, in which she, as Florida's supposedly neutral secretary of state, aided fellow theocrat George W. Bush.

Recently, she launched a scathing attack on opponents of the Theocracy Brigade.

According to The Washington Post, Harris said this week that God did not intend for the United States to be a "nation of secular laws" and that the separation of church and state is a "lie we have been told" to keep religious people out of politics.

This is one of the most delusional statements I've ever heard. All I can say is that if the separation of church and state was designed to keep religious people out of politics, it's failed miserably. The US has the most religious-tinged political climate of any western country. (Think of it this way: can you imagine an avowed atheist being elected president)

She went one step further. She said that non-Christian legislators are responsible for all the immoral laws on the books; that non-Christian legislators are incapable acting in a moral law.

"If you're not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin," she explained.

I have no problem with Christians serving as public officials. I do not believe that you must check your religion at the door, especially since religion has a large influence on the morality and conscience of believers. Personally, I was raised a Catholic and it helped define a large chunk of my moral code, particularly with respect to issues of social justice.

To check your religion at the political door is in many cases tantamount to checking your morality at the door. Too many politicians, especially self-proclaimed Christian ones, do that already and one only needs to look at Iraq and Lebanon for the consequences.

However, a legislator's job is to represent the best interest of his or her constitutents. ALL of the constitutents, not just the Christian ones. Any person who's so fanatical as to equate electing non-Christians with legislating sin is completely unfit to serve as dog catcher, let alone as a US Senator.

The Harris campaign defended her comments by stating, "Congresswoman Harris encourages Americans from all walks of life and faith to participate in our government."

Except apparently for those sin-promulgating non-Christians.

The fact that someone like Katherine Harris has a good chance of winning a statewide election in one of America's most populous states is proof that the Theocracy Brigade is no figment of anyone's imagination.

'Democracy promotion' in action

The Nation ran a good column this week on the Israel assault on southern Lebanon, an assault which was disastrous for everyone (Israelis and Lebanese civilians) except for Hezbollah.

A year ago, Lebanon's opposition leader and former prime minister was assassinated and this provoked a popular uprising (called the Cedar Revolution) that forced out Syrian troops, which had been occupying the country for over a decade. The Nation piece reminded readers that when the Cedar Revolution broke out, neo-conservatives seized on it to claim it was a shining vindication of the Bush administration's foreign policy.

The 'liberation' of Iraq was to be only the first step in their so-called democracy promotion efforts. According to them, a democratic Iraq would inspire the rest of the Arab world to rise up and liberate themselves. The Cedar Revolution was supposedly the first manifestation of this.

Ironic then that the Bush administration would be complicit in the destruction of the this country that supposedly vindicated its strategy. The only country in the Arab world which is both democratic and pro-western.

In reality, this demonstrates how democracy promotion was never really an objective of the Bush administration in the first place.

There are three more or less democratically governments in the Arab world. Lebanon, the occupied Palestinian Territories and Iraq.

Lebanon is in ruins and its democratic government seriously destabilized.

The Palestinian Territories face an international embargo because the western world didn't like their democratic choice. The Palestinians learned that having a democracy doesn't mean choosing a government that you want; it means choosing a government that the western world wants. (Of course, the Israelis and Americans consistently undermined the previous, less ideological Fatah government as well, a weakening which lead to that election of Hamas. Yet another policy that backfired.)

Iraq is in civil war.

And then there are repressive dictatorships like Saudi Arabia and Egypt who remain US allies.

Ordinary Arabs look at what's happening in their world, they associate authoritarianism with stability and democracy with destruction, starvation and chaos.

Americans like to equate democracy with freedom and dictatorship with Evil. But the Bush administration's actions is sending the exact opposite message.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Bush should be prosecuted for aggressive war: Nuremburg prosecutor

President Bush should stand trial for starting a war of aggression. This assertion was made not by some far left agitators but by an American chief prosecutor at the Nuremburg war crimes trials of former Nazis.

A lot of people think that punishing crimes against humanity was the sole purpose of the Nuremburg trials. In fact, holding the Nazis account for their wars of aggression were in fact a main objective of the trials.

Benjamin Ferencz, who secured convictions for 22 Nazi officers for their work in orchestrating the death squads that killed more than 1 million people, told OneWorld both Bush and Saddam (Hussein) should be tried for starting "aggressive" wars--Saddam for his 1990 attack on Kuwait and Bush for his 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Clearly, the unprovoked invasion of Iraq, for excuses that were dubious even at the time and throughly discredited now, constituted an aggression. A "pre-emptive" war against a non-imminent threat is, by definition, a war of aggression.

Ferencz deplored the US government's hostility toward international institutions.

If the United States showed more of an interest in building an international justice system, they could have put Saddam Hussein on trial for his 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

He noted that any effective semblance of an international justice system must treat all violations equally, not based on the global power of the perpetrators.

Forget boogeymen like Michael Moore and the Dixie Chicks. When the guy who convicted Nazis thinks you belong in the dock, that's a pretty serious indictment.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Laugh of the week

CBS News was one of many media outlets to report on Milwaukee being named the 'drunkest city' in America. But one line in the article caught my eye.

Milwaukeeans have plenty of other ways to entertain themselves without drinking alcohol, said Dave Fantle, a spokesman for the group. He noted a new convention center and baseball park had been built and the Milwaukee Art Museum expanded in recent years.

As any fan knows, baseball parks are famous alcohol-free zones. Especially in Milwaukee where the team is named the BREWERS and the stadium is named Miller Park, after a beer company.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Democracy 1, Fear Mongering 0 (2nd half)

There was much buzz about the Connecticut US Senate primary which saw Democrat Ned Lamont upset incumbent Joe Lieberman. The Iraq aggression was the main issue in the race. Lieberman has backed it enthusiastically. Lamont opposes it strongly. Since most Democrats are anti-war (that's rank-and-file Dems, not necessarily elected ones), it's hardly shocking that they voted for an anti-war candidate (except to the extent that Senate incumbents almost never lose primaries).

But the right saw it as a blow to a man who was more sycophantic toward the president on the Iraq debacle than most Republicans. Since the loss, the president and vice-president have heaped praise on Democrat Lieberman, despite the presence of a Republican in the race.

Hysterical right wing commentators fell over themselves referring to the defeat as a purge. Even Vice-President Dick Cheney got into the act. Columnist Michael Reagan referred to the Democrats' hate-America Stalinist policies. 'Purge' is a phrase more appropriate in referrence to the North Korean or Zimbabwean dictatorships than to an electorate who freely voted for a candidate that best reflected their position on a critical issue.

Adopting the same tactic as used following anti-war left's victory in the 2004 Spanish legislative elections, Vice-President Cheney played the contemptable smear card by insinuating that a Lamont victory in the general election would give aid and comfort ot the terrorists. He frothed that the al Qaeda types … are betting on the proposition that ultimately they can break the will of the American people."

After the destruction of Southern Lebanon (with a democratically-elected government) and the international embargo against the Palestinian Territories (with another democratically-elected legislature, over a quarter of which has been kidnapped by Israel in recent months), this is yet another example of this administration's utter contempt for the democratic process. If Cheney and others are serving as a model for Iraqis on how to react when your guy loses a free election, then that country's future is bleak.

The vice-president and his allies fail to accept the fact that when your candidate loses a free election, it's democracy, not a Stalinist purge. If the vice-president wants Connecticuters as a whole to vote for Lieberman, then he should CONVINCE them that Joe is the best candidate, rather than blackmail them with stark warnings of against voting for 'the terrorist appeaser.' Persuasion is for democracies. Coercion is for autocracies. Cheney is vice-president, not vice-emperor.

The administration claims it wants the American people to be united against 'the terror threat.' But how can it be united when honest, fair-minded minded Americans who differ with the administration's policies are tarred as enemies of the state?

Connecticut voters should stand up to the shameless fear-mongering and vote for the best candidate.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A bit of this and that

Some stories that caught my eye during my Big Picture break...

-Army Guard units said not combat ready, according to Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum's testimony to Congress. The budget won't allow the military to complete the personnel training and equipment repairs and replacement that must be done when units return home after deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan, say Army officials. This was after his colleagues revealed that two-thirds of the ACTIVE Army's units are not combat ready either. Let's hope we don't have a real national emergency in the interim.

-While units are not combat ready, personnel stretched to the breaking point due to the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq and military recruiters cutting corners to meet numbers, you'd think the military would welcome any qualified potential member into its ranks. But no, they insist on purging qualified gay soldiers from the ranks under the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' farce. The number of gays discharged from the armed forces in 2005 increased 11 percent from the year before. Some 11,000 of 'our heroes' have been kicked out of the military solely because of their sexual orientation since this ridiculous policy was implemented. Maybe instead of going after soldiers for being gay, they should focus more on rooting out rape and other sexual assault. Maybe they should focus on actions instead of beliefs.

-One gutsy US Military Academy student wrote a controversial thesis challenging 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' He rightly argued that the policy was not only immoral but harmed the Army. To its credit, West Point gave the cadet an award for the best senior thesis in the art, philosophy and literature major in the academy's English department. So maybe there is hope that the arguments against this counterproductive policy will get a fair hearing.

-The far right attacks on al-Jazeera have baffled me. Well, they don't baffle me so much as they further expose the far right's well-known contempt for a free and independent press. When al-Jazeera first appeared, it was widely praised by the west. It was praised because for the first time, there was a serious and credibile alternative to the state-controlled broadcasters that dominate the Middle East. Al-Jazeera regularly hosted talk shows and other shows which featured critics of the various Arab dictatorships and were widely vilified in the official state media outlets for exactly that reason. In many ways, the arrival of al-Jazeera was one of the most important things to happen in the Middle East in the last 10 years before it introduced the concept of (gasp) criticizing your government. To a large extent, al-Jazeera is the democratic reflection of Arab street, the first true pan-Arabic forum for exchanging ideas. American officials rightly praised this. But once al-Jazeera started offering criticisms the American government's foreign policies, the 'democracy' advocates of the neo-con charade flipped out. Suddenly, al-Jazeera wasn't the embodiment of a free press or the new Middle East; it was bin Laden's mouthpiece. Some can never break the simplistic 'either you're with us or you're with the terrorists' dichotomy. Yes, al-Jazeera reflects the cultural assumptions of its viewership just as any commercial network in any country does. A good piece in Foreign Policy systematically rubbishes the neo-con attacks on the network. Al Jazeera’s programs about Western politics have done more to inform Arabs about democracy than any nation or station. Why? Because it has credibility. It has credibility because it's not a mouthpiece of Arab governments. It would lose that credibility if it became a mouthpiece of the Bush administration.

-Maybe al-Jazeera were more sycophantic to the Bush administration like Fox News (sic), the far right wouldn't be so upset. After all, two Fox news producers recently resigned because what they consider to be the channel's grotestquely biased coverage of the Israeli attack on Lebanon. In their resignation letter, they wrote to their former bosses, "Not only are you an instrument of the Bush White House, and Israeli propaganda, you are war mongers with no sense of decency, nor professionalism." Bear in mind, these aren't liberal activists but people who know FNC from the inside.

-Al-Jazeera is even trumping Rupert Murdoch in England. The Arabic network's English service is increasingly drawing viewers away from Murdoch's Sky Sports because of its better coverage of English soccer.

-Another conservative boogeyman is Venezuela's democratically-elected leader Hugo Chavez. I've never been a huge fan of Chavez, simply because of my deep suspicious of populist demagogues who shroud themselves in a cult of personality. His frequent attacks on the United States seem more designed to bring attention to himself and boost his own ego than anything else. Which is not to say his antipathy toward US government policies is irrational; the Bush administration did back a coup to topple the Venezuelan president (further hypocrisy from the so-called neo-con 'democracy' advocates). Despite my contempt for el presidente's flamboyance, life is slowly improving for the oil-rich country's large masses of poor people because of his government's policies. A good article in AlterNet takes a look a Venezuela which is more than just Hugo, Hugo, Hugo. In rhetoric, you could call Chavez the Western Hemisphere's Robert Mugabe. But unlike the Zimbabwean dictator, Hugo has actually improved his country's standard of living.

-Finally, props to New York Gov. George Pataki for signing a bill that strengthens the state's freedom of information law (FOIL). In the past, municipalities could deny FOIL requests arbitrarily without consequence. For example, when the Fort Ann town government denied a FOIL request about a destroyed dam based on bogus 'security' reasons. Now, governments could be fined for such obstructionism and coverups if they had no 'reasonable basis for denying access' to public records. The state's newspapers will see it as a victory as they editorialized heavily encouraging Pataki to sign the bill.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The First Church of the Middle Ages

A Watertown church has fired a Sunday school teacher for being a woman, despite her having taught the classes for half a century. Females, according to the pastor of the northern New York congregation, are "to keep silent."

The Taliban and other Muslim 'barbarians' would concur.

(Disturbingly, the pastor is also a member of the city council)

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Big Picture: The Trade In Light Weapons

This week (and a half), I will be taking a break from this daily grind of politics and offer a broader look at a handful of important issues that are having a serious impact on millions of people around the world. Today's final topic: the destabilizing effects of the trade in small arms.

One of the most underappreciated problems of recent times is the widespread proliferation in the trade of light weapons and small arms. This group of weapons includes not only revolvers, pistols and shotguns, but also grenade launchers, anti-aircraft weapons and the Kalashnikov, iconic in so many African conflicts.

The proliferation in small arms has had serious consequences. As a result, many rebel groups (and terrorist groups) have enough light weaponry to not be routed by larger national armies, but not enough heavy weaponry to win decisively. Such stalemates lead to conflicts going on ad infinitum. Think Northern Uganda or Sri Lanka.

Traditionally, those want to start a rebellion had two serious disavantages against formal national armies. Funding for armaments and manpower. The flood of light weapons in recent years have evened the playing field in both areas.

First, small arms are cheaper than heavy weaponry. And since they are lighter, the weapons can be used by people who are physically smaller. To use a bad pun, smaller arms can be used by smaller arms. That's why they have fueled another plague I wrote about last week: child soldiers (who, in turn, are disproportionately responsible for a third crisis I've written about: the targetting of humanitarian aid workers).

Light arms are used to kill an estimated 1000 people per day. That doesn't include many times more injured or maimed. In many countries, light arms represent a veritable public health crisis.

Terrorists have killed about 3000 Americans in the last 5 years. Small arms kill that many people in the world more than twice every week. The proposition that these arms are used primarily to promote freedom and uphold human rights is made laughable by a cursory look at the numbers.

Why is the small arms trade allowed to continue unrestricted if it enables so much instability and destruction? Remember, we're not talking about a revolver for someone to defend himself against a burglar. We're talking about weapons designed to kill as many people as possible in a short period of time.

The reason is one that won't surprise you: money.

I'm not sure what the breakdown is between light and heavy weaponry, but the arms trade is the most lucrative industry in the world and in the US: at $900 billion annually. $900,000,000,000.

(By comparison, that's one hundred times more than the entire UN spends, who does far more good for humanity and who is, to a large degree, responsible for cleaning up the mess caused by weapons.)

As with any savvy business, the arms industry is constantly trying to expand into new, untapped markets in the developing world. The fact that many of these places are relatively unstable makes them a perfect target for these merchants.

Of course, any talk of restricting the global arms trade runs into rhetorical hurdles. In the US, many see such talk as the first step onto a slippery slope that would inevitably ban all private gun ownership. Many contend that we need to restrict the global movement of human beings not weapons; a strawberry picker is more potentially dangerous than a Kalashnikov, apparently.

Even the inventor of the Kalashnikov would probably disagree. He recently deplored the widespread proliferation of his weapon. "Whenever I look at TV and I see the weapon I invented to defend my motherland in the hands of these bin Ladens I ask myself the same question: How did it get into their hands?", the 86 year old Russian asked.

Many Americans will invoke the 2nd Amendment as some kind of defense . Some even invoked a Christian basis for posessing small arms: Jesus said it was ok.

The bottom line is that the 2nd Amendment only protects the rights of gun owners in the United States. The US Constitution only applies on US territory (and in some cases, not even there, according to the Bush administration). Restrictions on the international trade in light weapons will not cause a ban on private ownership any more than European restrictions on genetically mutated food have lead to famine in the EU. Restrictions on international trade do not imply restrictions on domestic ownership. Those who insist on the unregulated trade in guns must concede that such freedom also allows a company in Mugabe's Zimbabwe to send weapons to Hezbollah, Sudanese genociders or Kim Jong Il.

A coalition of non-governmental organizations have united to fight for better oversight of the small arms trade. This is a coalition comprised primarily of organizations who are responsible either for health care or international development. Doctors organizations, women's associations, religious charities. In other words, groups whose job it is to pick up the pieces, whose job it is to help people and societies recover from the devastation caused by these weapons.

Specifically, it wants (s)trict controls on export, transit and import of weapons are essential to prevent the further proliferation of small arms and their abuse by those violating human rights and international humanitarian law.

Not a global ban on private ownership, mind you. But restrictions on their trade across international borders.

In July, there was an international conference discussing ways to regulate the trade in such weapons. But not much came out of it. Participants proposed a global treaty setting out international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms.

But critics decried its lack of teeth.

"It is crucial that the creation of an Arms Trade Treaty is formally on the UN agenda," said Brian Wood, Amnesty International's Arms Research Manager, "but if the Treaty does not prevent arms transfers to countries where they are likely to be used for grave violations of international human rights law, then it simply won't help save enough lives and deliver better security in most countries."

Not surprisingly, serious controls on the export of light weapons was opposed by the United States, Russia and other major arms exporters.

1000 people are killed every single day of the year by light weapons. Without question, these are the real weapons of mass destruction.

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Big Picture: Targetting Aid Workers

This week, I will be taking a break from this daily grind of politics and offer a broader look at a handful of important issues that are having a serious impact on millions of people around the world. Today's topic: the targetting of humanitarian aid workers in war zones.

The profession I admire most is that of humanitarian aid workers. These are people that could easily have remained in their air-conditioned apartments in London or Los Angeles or New York. But they voluntarily choose to leave that comfort for some of the least hospitable places in the world. Choking on the dust of Darfur. Wilting in the oppressive heat of the Western Sahara. And increasingly, they're dodging bullets too. They did so not to destroy anything or to kill anyone but to heal, feed and shelter those in desperate need. They do not take sides, except the side of humanity.

In the past, aid workers were generally considered off-limits by combattants. Tragically, this is no longer the case. Some warring parties do not accept the premise that anyone can be neutral. To echo the president of the United States, they think that if you're not in overtly in favor of their struggle/liberation/crusade/jihad, then you are against it. And in a way, aid workers are against it. They are against war because they are ones almost exclusively responsible for repairing the damage of war. They are the ones who pick up the pieces broken by the war fetishists.

This mentality is sometimes inadvertantly abetted by political rhetoric. One supporter of the Iraq aggression told me that as far as he was concerned, there was no moral distinction between the insurgents trying to kill occupying American forces and trying to kill aid workers, because they are both allegedly trying to achieve the same purpose. Such thinking clearly implies a green light for attacks on aid workers.

Like other civilians, aid workers have always been 'collateral damage' in wars. But what's different is that recently, warring parties have actively targetted these heroes. Just Google the phrase 'aid workers killed.' Some of the results"

-8 in Darfur in July.
-7 in Afghanistan in a single May day.
-17 massacred in cold blood in a single incident in northern Sri Lanka earlier this month.

And that's just in the last few months and it's only killings, not including countless kidnappings or anything else.

Violence against aid workers is done for various reasons. Some groups want to scare aid workers into leaving so they can commit their atrocities without any foreign witnesses, such as the Darfur genociders. Others may want to obstruct help for populations they consider hostile or indifferent to their cause. Aid workers are often kidnapped for ransom but other times it's just to spread fear and terror; if even the foreigners are vulnerable...

In Iraq, some aid workers are seen as an extension of foreign domination, as I alluded to in the previous paragraph. In 2003, 15 high ranking officials, including the highly respected UN Human Rights Commissioner Sergio Vieira de Mello, were murdered when terrorists blew up the United Nations' headquarters in Baghdad. (An ironic and obscene expression of anti-occupation sentiments given the well-documented tension between the US and the UN).

This plague reflects a greater trend of increased indifference or downright hostility in combat. I wish I had documentation but I've read numerous times that in the wars in history through World War I, the casuality breakdown was typically 90 percent military and 10 percent civilian. In 'modern' wars, it is reversed: typically 90 percent of casualities in wars today are civilian and 10 percent are combattants.

Improved killing technology is a major reason for this. There is also an increased reluctance to take heavy casualities because of domestic political considerations so many military operations rely heavily on air power, which is far less discriminate than ground troops (the use of which carries international political implications as well). Concerns about civilian casualities are brushed as 'unfortunate but inevitable' and 'collateral damage.' Worse yet is when warring groups use civilians or aid workers as human shields, a gross violation of international law.

It's not a big step to go from this to actively targetting aid workers. Why? All this reflects something broader, which has serious implications for aid workers.

Specifically, the line between civilian and combattant is being blurred, if not erased altogether. Some groups don't admit that they kill civilians simply because they do not recognize the concept of a 'civilian.' They don't recognize neutral parties, like aid workers, because in their mind, it's impossible to be neutral. You're either friend or enemy, nothing in between. Since aid workers usually help people on both/all sides of a war's divide, they are often seen as the enemy by all combattants.

Aid workers were once considered untouchable by combattants. And it's crucial that this become so again. Valliant id workers perform yeomen's work in the harshest conditions for the sole purpose of saving people's lives, health and well-being. All warring parties, especially those that claim to be acting with some popular mandate, must let these heroes do their jobs in safety.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Andijan massacre: one year later

The BBC World Service's Assignment program did a compelling piece on the Andijan massacre. Last May, the Uzbekistan regime put on trial 23 businessmen accused of religious extremism. Thousands of people took to the streets in the eastern town of Andijan in an unprecedented protest against these alleged show trials and against the dictatorship in general The Uzbek regime claimed that these protesters were trying to forment an Islamic revolution and insecurity forces rioted attacked the protesters. They claimed that the protests were "a group of criminals" trying to overthrow the government. The regime claimed that only 9 died, all extremists; most news organizations believe hundreds were massacred, including women and children.

I know I promised this week to take a week long break from such entries but this show was good and the audio will only be available online for a week.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Big Picture: Child Soldiers

This week, I will be taking a break from this daily grind of politics and offer a broader look at a handful of important issues that are having a serious impact on millions of people around the world. Today's topic: child soldiers.

One of the most troubling phenomena is 'modern' warfare is the increased exploitation of young boys to do the fighting (and young girls to serve as sex slaves for the soldiers). While this is a particular problem in some African countries, the plague has also been seen in countries around the world like Sri Lanka, Russia and Colombia. This involves not just 16 or 17 year olds, but children as young as 8.

I became sensitized to this issue when I lived in Guinea, West Africa. Guinea's southern neighbors, Liberia and Sierra Leone, were each in the midst of devastating civil wars, wars in which all sides were accused of using child soldiers to commit atrocities. I believe that the Liberian civil war, which began in 1989, saw the world's first widespread use of child soldiers in conflict. Child soldiers in Sierra Leone, where a a war destroyed that country for most of the 1990s, were forced to be especially brutal, with the rebels there infamous for amputating the arms or hands of victims.

The way in which child soldiers are treated is particularly hideous. Take Sierra Leone. Countless villages were destroyed in the fighting and hundreds of thousands of people were forced to flee. Often, families were separated in the chaos. In many cases, children were kidnapped by the rebels and forced to fight. Other times, rebels exploited lost children by offering them food, protection and companionship... in exchange for fighting. Many such children were forced by rebels to kill or rape their own family members or burn their own villages, literally destroying the established order of a very traditional society. This Machiavellian tactic completed the shredding of social cohesion and ensured that child's loyalties would remain with the rebels; after all, chidlren would no longer have a village to go back and their relatives would either be dead or would not want anything to do with them. Many of the worst atrocities in the Sierra Leone war were committed by young children, drugged up by the rebels to eliminate their inhibitions.

While peace has returned to Sierra Leone, it has not yet reached northern Uganda. There, a fanatical pseudo-Christian rebel group called the Lord's Resistance Army has kidnapped over 30,000 children for its forces, forced the displacement of over a million and a half people and generally terrorized everyone in the region. An important new documentary called Journey Into the Sunset explores this tragedy. The Invisible Children movement works to help children affected by this war.

Child soldiers are also part of the wars in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, though hopefully the recent elections in the DRC will bring all the madness toward an end. The Salon blog has a moving piece on the efforts to reintegrate child soldiers into Congolese society via song, but a piece tinged by anger about the war's causes.

Not coincidentally, the eastern DRC and northern Uganda are generally considered the two worst humanitarian crises in the world.

Children participating in war is not a new phenomenon. I've read stories of Americans who were 16 and 17 years old joining the Army during World War II. What's new is the scale of the problem and the increasingly young age in which it's occuring. In the past, the guns used in war were somewhat heavy and carried a big kick when fired. As a result, the weight of the rifles necessarily required the soldiers to have a fair degree of upper body strength to use them effectively. In recent years, improved killing technology has made such rifles much lighter. As a consequence, younger children can now use these weapons that would've been too heavy for them in the past.

This is why many conflicts see the widespread participation of pre-adolescent boys, as young as 10 years old in the DRC. In other conflicts, 8 year old soldiers have been reported. Girls are not immune from the violence either as many are kidnapped and forced to be sex slaves.

War inherently strains social cohesion to the break point. The way in which child soldiers are forced to act rips it apart entirely. Child soldiers committed hideous, unspeakable acts but were forced to do so under penalty of death or beating or starvation. They are seen as criminals by the society but are really victims who will be scarred for the rest of their lives just as much the people they committed atrocities against. Furthermore, many of these kids have spent their whole lives with a power and authority that most adults don't have. They are used to getting whatever they want via threat of force. All this makes child soldiers particularly hard to reintegrate into normal society. But since children represent the next generation of teachers, doctors and farmers, it makes their reintegration all the more vital.

There are many organizations working valliantly to facilitate such reintegration such as War Child. But it's an extremely tough job.

In Côte d'Ivoire, carers of the former child soldiers said their charges were violent, excitable, deeply susperstitious and easily sexually aroused by the sight of women. They had only the vaguest notion of what they were fighting for. But most were proud of their military achievements and expressed nostalgia for the prestige and power that a gun once gave them... The carers described their charges as violent and temporamental youths, who were often high on drugs when they were sent to the frontline and who still thought of themselves as real soldiers. "Children who have cracked under the strain of war are prone to sudden outbursts of violence," said Gregoire Tchobo, one of two carers who looks after the former child soldiers at night in their hostel... "They deny that they used to take drugs, but in fact they were drugged," Tchobo said. "They were either given injections or they were handed amphetimine tablets."

I've thought that those who recruited and exploited child soldiers were the lowest of the low. People truly vacant of any shred of humanity. This partly explains my particular hatred of Charles Taylor; the former Liberian dictator, warlord and indicted war criminal introduced the world, or at least West Africa, to this scourge. The use of child soldiers is unquestionably one of the worst, most destructive forms of terrorism in the world today.

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Big Picture: Malaria

This week, I will be taking a break from this daily grind of politics and offer a broader look at a handful of important issues that are having a serious impact on millions of people around the world. Today's topic: malaria.

Diseases of the developing world get very little attention in the US media. The only one that does is AIDS and that has more to do with the fact that can fit in neatly with the American ideological fault lines surrounding reproductive freedom and religious morality. So those groups invoke AIDS for their own agendas. Malaria doesn't really fit into a morality or rights' paradigm.

The other peculiarity about malaria is that its effects are far less obviously visible. An AIDS patient slowly wasting away in a hospital bed makes for better television. An 12 year old AIDS orphan roaming the streets of a major city trying to provide basic sustinence for her younger siblings makes for a better story.

Malaria is caused by a parasite carried by mosquitoes. But it's only carried by one type of mosquito, which is why the disease is no longer present in North America.

Malaria affects between 350 and 500 million people every year, killing a million of them. So that means the overwhelming majority of malaria patients live, but suffer greatly in the process. Typical symptoms include fever, chills, headaches and flu-like illness. Even after recovery, there's a general 'blah' feeling, a lack of energy.

Many people in malarial regions get sick every year or most years.

The economic impact of malaria is staggering. The World Health Organization (WHO) notes that Economists believe that malaria is responsible for a ‘growth penalty’ of up to 1.3% per year in some African countries. When compounded over the years, this penalty leads to substantial differences in GDP between countries with and without malaria and severely restrains the economic growth of the entire region.

It further burdens already weak public health systems with massive costs required to treat malaria victims. Some malaria-heavy countries spend as much as 40 percent of their health care budget on that single disease.

WHO adds: The indirect costs of malaria include lost productivity or income associated with illness or death. This might be expressed as the cost of lost workdays or absenteeism from formal employment and the value of unpaid work done in the home by both men and women. In the case of death, the indirect cost includes the discounted future lifetime earnings of those who die.

WHO offers a more detailed analysis of the economic impacts here.

Bear in mind that the 500 million infected each year represents 9 percent of the entire human population.

And even the one million deaths represents a staggering number. The killing of fewer than 1000 civilians in Lebanon has led to massive international condemnation. Genocide in Darfur leads to world indignation. Malaria kills more people each and every day of the year (for years on end) than died in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

But 90 percent of malaria victims are in Africa, a place where many have minimal access to health services of any kind.

And that gets to the heart of the issue. Diseases of the developing world get very little attention in the US media but far more importantly, they get very little attention with western pharmaceutical drug manufacturers.

Because 90 percent of malaria victims are from the world's poorest continent, western pharmaceutical multinationals do not see an incentive to invest in research in tropical diseases. As a result, far more research and development money is spent on improving or lowering the cost of drugs that address conditions of the rich world (like erectile dysfunction) than those of the poor world (malaria).

Fortunately, socially conscious foundations and governments are stepping up to fill the massive void left by the profit-driven pharamaceuticals. The international community created The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

The US government is the leading contributor, providing a quarter of the Global Fund's revenues this year (that's money paid to date, not merely pledged). Private individuals and foundations have contributed almost $267 million, most of it from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, with Kofi Annan being one of the biggest individual donors.

However, the Global Fund is solely a funding mechanism. It's up to local and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as well as national health authorities to implement anti-malaria programs.

The preferred anti-malaria drug combination is called ACT. It costs anywhere between $0.40 and $2.40 per treatment. That doesn't sound like much, even to someone who only earns a dollar a day. But if they have to pay for transport to get to a health center (double or triple if it's a parent with kids), then it can represent a significant amount.

The other difficult part is that since the symptoms of malaria mirror those for the flu, the disease is often misdiagnosed. When malaria drugs are misprescribed in such cases, it increases the likelihood of drug resistance developing.

What is being done and what needs to be done?

Some have argued that DDT spraying is needed eliminate mosquitoes. While this might cut back on malaria, DDT causes its own problems, such as fetal development problems, premature birth, premature puberty. And mosquitoes will be much harder to eliminate in moist, hot, tropical Africa and Asia than in the cooler, dryer climates of North America and Western Europe... thus more DDT. Some contend that the risks of DDT are minimal compared to the actual problems and deaths caused by malaria, but this must be fully debated. Before investing in such an enormous program, we must make sure that the cure is not worse than the disease.

There has been much made of programs to distribute to Africans anti-mosquito bed nets dipped in insecticide. This is not a bad idea, but it's a band aid, not a solution. Obviously, bed nets only protect people when they are asleep. That certainly helps, but is not a cure all. Mosquitoes are most prevalent arround dawn and dusk. Most Africans are outside, not in bed, around dusk. Furthermore, it's my understand that the bed nets have to be re-dipped in insecticide every so often, which is obviously not something that everyone is going to do.

One of the most important things that can be done in the short- and medium-term is to increase access to anti-malaria prophylactic drugs. Prophylactics are something you take on a regular basis that builds up the body's resistance to the malaria parasite. Such drugs either prevent you from getting sick or diminish the severeity if you do get infected.

Such drugs cost about $2.40 per treatment in the public and non-profit sector but much higher in the private sector. And while ACT is a one time only curative drug, such prophylactics are preventitive and thus need to be taken regularly. The regular expense is something most people in poor countries can not afford.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

More from the 'Americans hate soccer' file

Matchnight reports: 92,650 at the LA Coliseum Sunday witnessed a doubleheader of 1-1 draws between Chivas USA/New England and FC Barcelona/Chivas de Guadalajara. 77,550 at Reliant Stadium saw Barcelona tie Club America Wednesday. And despite only three weeks to sell tickets, 66,830 turned out at Qwest Field in Seattle to see #1 ranked [in the US] DC United draw world titan Real Madrid Wednesday night. Give Americans a spectacle and they will come.

While Ives Galarcep reports on the challenges faced by Major League Soccer to bring 'Eurosnobs' into the fold. A little tip: referring to them as 'Eurosnobs' probably won't help the cause.

In a related note, there was a big stir caused when an MLS Select XI (all-star team) upset the world all-star team known as Chelsea 1-0 during a friendly in Chicago.

Most MLS fans realized the mitigating circumstances surrounding the game. It was only Chelsea's second match of the pre-season and they were integrating several new players into their squad. MLS players were in the middle of the season and had much better match fitness.

So the MLS bashers within the US soccer community did what they always do whenever an MLS team gets a win or draw against a big European visitor: makes excuses.

But the whiners ignore other facts. For example, MLS was missing several of its best players for various reasons: Landon Donovan, Ante Razov and Clint Dempsey would've been sure starters against the London side. For example, I suspect that Chelsea pays more in salary to their star midfielder Michael Ballack than MLS spends not only for the 11 all-star starters, but on every player in the entire league combined. And also bear in mind that Chelsea wasn't facing a team, but a collection of individuals who'd never played together before. So while admitting that this doesn't prove that MLS has eviqualent quality to the English Premier League, can't one concede that it was a good result on the day?

No MLS fan pretends that DC United's 1-1 draw with Real Madrid proves that the two sides are equal. But can't you say that it was a great result for the MLS leaders? If you do, then the MLS bashers will accuse of you of claiming that DC and RM are at the same level.

It's obnoxious.

Strangely enough, whenever the big European side beats an MLS team, that PROVES how terrible MLS is. But when the MLS side wins, it proves nothing. Talk about trying to have it both ways.

And at the end of the day, who cares what it 'proves' in the mythical world of reputation?

The DC United-Real Madrid game was a hugely entertaining match to watch. Isn't that enough?

Saturday, August 12, 2006

In praise of diplomats

In much the same way some people rever soldiers, I've always had a great deal of respect for foreign service officers. Or at least since I served in the Peace Corps and came to know some of them. While humanitarian aid workers are my greatest heroes, diplomacy is also a high calling. These are people who basically represent our country to the rest of the world. It's unfortunate they don't get more press because they certainly put on a better face of America to the rest of the world than do our 'leaders' in Washington.

It's important to bear in mind that diplomats are NOT humanitarians like Red Cross or UNHCR workers. They are not development workers Oxfam folks. They are not out to spread a better image of the United States like Peace Corps volunteers. Their primary job is to represent and advance American interests, however those are defined. I seriously considered joining the Foreign Service following my Peace Corps service but decided against it. I concluded that I could not in good conscience be a spokesperson for a foreign policy that I considered morally flawed on far too many levels... and this was BEFORE George W. Bush became president.

But there are a great many good and decent diplomats in the Foreign Service. They do not get parades when they come home but when properly supported by the political powers that be, they do far more enhance America's international reputation (and thus its security) than all the tanks and bombers put together.

Most importantly, when diplomats do their job (and are allowed to do their job), they prevent soldiers from having to risk their lives. Every war that is NOT fought is due in no small part to the hard and unappreciated work of foreign service professionals.

NPR ran a good story on the dangerous life in the Foreign Service and another about its effects on families of diplomats.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The two faces of militarism

"Islamic fascists... will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom."

"This country is safer than it was prior to 9/11."

These two comments were made by the same person (Pres. Bush) on the same day.

It also underscores the fundamental tension with the militarists' strategy: they want us to be afraid so they can smear the opposition, silence dissent and have an excuse to ram through another foreign excursion. This is why Sen. Joe Lieberman said terrorism represents a bigger threat than Nazism or the Soviet Empire and that his primary election loss is a victory for the terrorists. This is why Iran's head of state is compared to Hitler and prominent anti-war Americans to Stalinists.

(Funny how calling the president 'Hitler' or 'fascist' sends people into conniption fits but calling his opponents 'Stalinists' doesn't even make the radar screen)

But the militarists also want to transmit the image of competence so that people will trust their judgement in those future foreign excursions and assaults against civil liberties.

That's why in the same breath, they swear up and down that the Iraq aggression has made us safer while insisting that we are in the opening stages of World War III. It's a tricky balancing act and considering how good as they usually are at such tasks, it's reassuring that they are having trouble selling the public this bill of goods.

What is Israel accomplishing?

The Israeli rape of southern Lebanon and Hezbollah's use of human shields continues to aggravate a grave humanitarian crisis, one exacerbated by a growing fuel shortage which is threatening hospitals. A shortage due to an Israeli blockade of Lebanon's ports.

Israel faced a real security threat, but its grotesque overreaction has only harmed its security both in short term (as evidenced by the Israelis hunkered down in bomb shelters) and in long term (as the war's excesses gives further ammunition to terrorist recruiters). Israel had two soldiers captured by Hezbollah and has responded by laying waste to all of southern Lebanon and parts of its capital. Israel's actions are akin to someone being kicked in the shin and responding by beating that person within an inch of their life.

Some of Israel's defenders ask what would the US do if Mexico had kidnapped American soldiers? Let's look at the closest historical parallel: the 1916 expedition of Gen. John Pershing into Mexico. The Mexican Pancho Villa had been launching raids into the southern United States and killed several people. Pres. Woodrow Wilson ordered Pershing and 12,000 US troops into Mexico to capture Villa. The expedition is notable for what did not happen. The US did not impose a naval blocked on Mexican ports. It did not bomb roads or train lines. It did not destroy entire villages simply because it suspected a single Villaista was hidden there It did not lay waste to all territory between the Rio Grande and Mexico City.

We know what Israel says it's trying to accomplish: the elimination of Hezbollah's threat to the Jewish state. But how do its current actions advance that goal? It seems that in its haste, the Israeli government has gotten itself into something that it has no idea how it's going to get out of. It seems that Israel has put itself in a corner where its only options are bad ones: continue to fight an aimless, counterproductive war that jeopardizes short and long term security (a la Iraq) or withdraw and be accused by some of handing a moral victory to the terrorists.

The Toronto Star noted that some 60 percent of Lebanon's hospitals are expected to shut down within a week if the fuel crisis is not alleviated. Contrary to Israel's self-delusions, the Lebanese are not going to blame Hezbollah for this. They are not going to blame Hezbollah because Israel's bombers have attacked the country's electrical grid and the power supply is faltering, leaving hospitals to rely on generators for several hours every day. Or at least they're not going to blame Hezbollah alone.

"The number of children that have died well exceeds the number of militants and combatants," noted the UN's humanitarian coordinator David Shearer, who add that "the targeting of civilians and essential social infrastructure [airports, power plants, bridges] is a violation of international law."

This begs the question: what is Israel accomplishing? For a moment, let's remove this completely from any moral context and look at it solely from the purpose of Israeli self-interest.

Around 1000 Lebanese have died during the war (along with 3700 injuries and almost a million internally displaced people). Shearer estimates tha about 90 percent of casualties have been civilian, a figure that jives with most 'modern' wars. So doing the math, one can infer that Israel has killed about 100 Hezbollah fighters.

The Lebanese painstakingly rebuilt their infrastructure over the course of a decade following a long civil war and now it's been ruined in a few weeks. A quarter of Lebanon's population has had to flee violence. They no longer have access to the basic necessities of life. The Jewish state's most moderate, democratic and cosmopolitan neighbor is now in chaos thanks to Israel and its government seriously destabilized. Do you think the Lebanese resent Israel for it? Do you think this will dampen or inflame anti-Israel sentiment in Lebanon? Do the moderates in Lebanon's politics stand any chance in the near future? Do you think that terrorist recruiters are thanking the heavens for Israel's actions? All this for a few dozen dead Hezbollah.

Is it worth it?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

'None of the above' in 2006!

When I was in college, my roommate suggested that a good way to improve voter turnout was to make 'none of the above' an option on every ballot. And if 'none of the above' got more voters than any of the pretenders, there would have to be a new election with all new candidates. That might encourage candidates to reduce the mudslinging. The race for New York's 20th Congressional district exemplifies why such a change would be welcome.

I wrote earlier about the plethora of fake issues that have dominated the race between Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand and GOP incumbent Rep. John Sweeney (I think there's a libertarian running to but he never gets any press attention)

The Post-Star reports on the latest non-issue to surface in this farcical race. The Sweeney campaign contends that the Gillibrand campaign has a volunteer stalking the Congressman with a video camera. They claim the would-be stalker has been following Sweeney into grocery stores, restaurants and to the thoroughbred track at Saratoga.

The paper also noted that several pro-Sweeney men have attended Gillibrand rallies with signs supporting their candidate.

Some might criticize the paper for giving this much ink to such garbage, but I think the daily is performing a service in highlighting just how little each candidate is talking about real issues that affect voters in the 20th district.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Big Picture (preview)

For several months, I've intended to do something that I've never quite gotten around to. But finally, I have. Starting this weekend, I am take a week-long break from this daily grind of politics and offer a broader look at a handful of big issues that are having a serious impact on millions of people around the world.

I'm still accepting suggestions from readers on issues to study. I have several in mind already but I am open to others. Bear in mind I'm looking for issues of global (not uniquely American) to explore, rather than a particular conflict to focus on.

Sinden out as Bruins' president

Great news in Beantown. Harry Sinden has stepped down as president of the National Hockey League's Boston Bruins. Sinden took over as general manager of the club following their last Stanley Cup win in 1972. He stepped down in 1996 in favor of his hand-groomed protege Mike O'Connell, but stayed on as club president. Sinden's time at the helm of the Bruins has coincided with the longest Stanley Cup drought in team history... not coincidentally. The departure of Sinden along with the earlier firing of O'Connell means that what has long been the second-worst run organization in the NHL might have a chance to re-ignite flagging interest in what was once a hotbed of professional hockey.

Did Bush order 9/11?

I've never subscribed to the conspiracy theory that the Bush administration engineered the 9/11 attacks as a pretext for launching the Iraq aggression. I have no reason to doubt assertions that they were looking for a pretext to invade Iraq, as a former Bush cabinet member claims.

Even if they were so inclined, there's no way they'd have been competent enough to pull it off. Everything these guys have touched has turned to lead. What makes anyone think they could successfully execute such an intricate plan AND keep it secret?

NPR ran a good segment on why this is almost impossible to believe. Specifically, with the number of people that would've had to have been involved in such a plan, it's virtually inconceivable that it could've been pulled off with no leaks, even for an administration as secretive and opaque as this.

There have been conspiracies in the past. Watergate and Iran-Contra come immediately to mind. But each of those were brought to light precisely because somebody involved spilled the beans. The idea that the government could've engineered the mostly deadly murderous attack on American civilians in history without a single participant in the planning having enough qualms to tell someone is virtually inconceivable, even for the most cynical anti-Bush types.

The administration may be immorally indifferent to human life, but there's no way they could've done something like this without somebody talking.

Monday, August 07, 2006

FIFA's 'Republic of cousins'

Soccer is one of the most lucrative parts of the entertainment industry in the world. Just to give you a tiny idea of how much money is involved, US broadcasters recently paid $425 million just for the rights to air six month-long tournaments, the overwhelmingly majority of which was for only two (the 2010 and 2014 men's World Cups). And that's just the broadcast rights for one country, a country where soccer is hardly the biggest thing on the sport radar screen.

Yet for an industry with so much money involved, there sure are a lot of shady dealings.

Take the case of the Trinidadian Jack Warner. Warner is the president of CONCACAF, the regional confederation that governs (if you can call it that) soccer in North and Central America and the Caribbean. He is also a vice-president for the international soccer federation FIFA. As such, he was instrumental in seeing his home country awarded the 2001 World Youth Championships. According to The Trinidad Express, Warner was allegedly involved in some curious business practices surrounding stadium construction and renovations for the tournament.

The paper reports that along with some partners, Warner formed a company called Concacaf, which conveniently had the same acronym as the confederation he heads but for a different purpose: to arrange stadium construction and renovation. The budget for the projects skyrocketed more than 2 1/2 fold after the involvement of Concacaf (the company). The Trinidad and Tobago government is still repaying the loan, having been a guarantor. Subcontractors have complained that Concacaf (the company) has demanded they pay an extra two and a half percent for the development of Trinidad and Tobago's national soccer team. They were told in writing that they would not get contracts in the future if they failed to comply.

Warner has also been found guilty of violating FIFA's code of ethics (snicker) because of his involvement with a travel agency that sold tickets to this year's World Cup in Germany.

That story was also broken by The Trinidad Express as well as a report that Warner was misrepresenting the amount that the Trinidad and Tobago soccer federation would receive for qualifying for the recent World Cup.

As for the reporter who broke all of these stories, Warner tried to deny him accreditation to cover to World Cup, but FIFA overruled him.

This sort of greed and ethically challenged 'leadership' is why the Gold Cup, the most prestigious tournament in CONCACAF (the confederation), is not available on free television in English in the United States. This is why American TV viewers can watch Deportivo Quito try to win the Ecuadorian league or Trabzonspor's quest for the UEFA Cup but not the US national team's attempts to win North America's continental championship.

After such embarassment, you'd think the international governing body would try maintain at least the appearance of propriety. Yet, The International Herald Tribune reports that of all the people who could've been chosen to head a Swiss company that trades in soccer's lucrative broadcasting rights, the 'best' person they could find for the job was none other than Philippe Blatter... son of FIFA's Swiss president Sepp Blatter.

The elder Blatter insisted that his son's position would not affect FIFA's business relationship with the company.

I'm sure the company only hired the younger Blatter because he dressed well.

You'd think the international federation's code of ethics (snicker) would ban dealings between FIFA and companies run by employees of FIFA or their relatives. But apparently not. This incestuous culture in the world's most popular sport has led one German writer to deride the federation's mindset as a 'Republic of cousins.'

FIFA's motto is 'For the good of the game.' Perhaps they mean 'For the good of the lords of the game.'

Friday, August 04, 2006

'Living With Illegals'

On of the most unfortunate aspects of CNN is that while their international service is pretty good, their domestic American service is filled with the same sensationalist garbage as the other cable 'news' channels. Or perhaps the real unfortunate part is that the international service, which is something approximating a real news channel, is not available to most Americans.

Sadly, it's only CNN International that will be showing this excellent documentary by journalist Sorious Somura entitled 'Living With Illegals.'

Somura, who gained international recognition for his documentary Cry Freetown, joined a group of illegal immigrants trying to make their way into a Spanish enclave north of Morocco. Entry to that enclave gives people access to the entire European Union.

Despite the hideous dangers, the trip attracts massive numbers of African migrants every year.

Somura essentially lived the life an undocumented migrant.

This isn't the first time Somura has 'walked in the shoes' of those he covered. He's experienced hunger, life as a refugee and as an orderly in a Zambian hospital dominated by AIDS patients.

'Living With Illegals' will air on CNN International on Saturday August 5 at 1900 GMT (or if you're one of those few Americans who can get CNN International, that translates to 3:00 PM ET).

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Green US Senate candidate speaks in Glens Falls

Green Party US Senate candidate Howie Hawkins addresses an audience at the Rock Hill Bakehouse Cafe in Glens Falls, NY

On July 22, New York US Senate candidate Howie Hawkins spoke to a fundraising dinner at the Rock Hill Bakehouse Cafe in Glens Falls. Hawkins is the Green Party's standard bearer who will likely face off against incumbent Democrat Sen. Hillary Clinton. Prior to Hawkins' remarks, visitors were treated to the music of local artist CE Skidmore.

Speaking without notes, Hawkins addressed the crowd for a little more than an hour before engaging in an extensive question and answer session with guests. Hawkins, who is a co-founder of the Green Party of the United States, focused on three main themes: Iraq, energy costs and health care.

As one might expect from a Green candidate, Hawkins opposes the continuing US domination of Iraq. He criticized Democrats for their complicity in getting us into the morass in the first place. He noted that historically, Democrats as a party have benefited from the military-industrial complex as much as Republicans. "Expecting Democrats to get us out of Iraq is like expecting a crack addict to turn in his dealer," he quipped.

He also chastized the anti-war movement for not being sufficiently independent in the wake of the launching of the aggression. The anti-war movement inexplicably threw all its eggs into the basket of pro-war presidential candidate John Kerry and it got them nowhere. He urged anti-war people to not repeat the same mistake with his pro-war opponent, Sen. Clinton. He noted that anti-war Democrats could also vote for Jonathan Tasini, Clinton's opponent in the Democratic primary.

But while Hawkins' opposition to the war was expected, his most lengthy remarks concerned US energy policy. Hawkins called for the creation of a national oil company. This would NOT be a nationalization of current oil companies, but the creation of a new company designed to help protect American consumers against the rapidly escalating price hikes for gasoline.

He said that this company should also be mandated begin at once a NASA-like drive to develop wind, solar, and other alternative sources of power. “It could do this because, unlike the oil companies, this publicly controlled company corporation would have no vested interest in stifling renewable energy sources that compete with Big Oil’s fossil fuel reserves."

Interestingly, he also called for a huge investment project that would develop a modern energy public works infrastructure. He said that money for this could easily be found if we extricated ourselves from the Iraq mess.

He called for transferring $300 billion a year in US military spending and investing it in “a global public works program to rewire the plant for the efficient use of renewable energy in 10 years.” Hawkins has said his clean energy transition will address the problems of global warming, peak oil, job creation, trade deficits, energy costs, and resource wars over oil reserves. “The National Oil Company will serve as yardstick competitor to spur renewable energy development as much as it will for stabilizing oil costs,” Hawkins said.

While the amount might be high considering that the Pentagon's entire budget is apparently $462 billion for the upcoming fiscal year, certainly a large chunk of this money could be found if the military were returned to its sole original purpose of protecting the homeland. Hawkins observed that the US has miltiary bases in over 100 countries.

The fact that there are regular blackouts whenever a big heat waves hits the country shows how vulnerable the country is to energy fluctuations and underlines the needed for improved infrastructure and increased efficiency in energy. Hawkins pooh-poohed the Chicken Little notion that energy conservation would plunge us into third world conditions. He notes that although Europe has a similiar standard of living to our country, its energy consumption is half that of America's.

Finally, Hawkins called for a single payer health care system for the United States. He noted that in 1993, Clinton specifically rejected the idea in 1993. Then, she proposed a complicated series of government regulations rather than the more straight forward system used by most developed countries.

Hawkins said that far from having to re-invent the wheel, the basic infrastructure for single payer is already there: Medicare. All that needs to be done is to amend present Medicare legislation to have it apply to all citizens. It would be private health care with public funding.

He pointed out that contrary to popular assumptions, single payer would be far more efficient than the current system. Bureaucratic overhead for the government Medicare system is only 3 percent while bureaucratic overhead for private insurers is ten times higher: a staggering 30 percent!

This blogger, who was recently hospitalized and had his first major foray into the health care system, can attest to the current system's maddeningly byzantine inefficiencies, redundancies and waste.

The US spends more per capita (15.5 percent of GDP) on health care than any other country amd almost double the next highest country. The World Health Organization rates the US health care system 37th in the world in overall performance.


Physicians for a National Health Program estimates that the US would save over $286 billion annually on overall health care expenditures under a Medicare For All plan while extending coverage to all.

Hawkins echoed a common theme of smaller party candidates in criticizing the corporate control of the two major parties. While there are individual Democrats and Republicans of conscience, he implied that the two major parties were marked essentially by a distinction without a difference. They agree on the big issues of militarism, corporatism and hostility toward the working class, differing primarily in degree. They blow up relatively smaller issues (guns, God and gays) to mask these basic similarities. He noted that it was Bill Clinton who got through much of the GOP agenda, such as anti-gay marriage legislation, evisceration of welfare protections and the wholesale deregulation of the telecommunications industry.

One audience member asked Hawkins if he was mainstream enough to win. He replied that his positions were very mainstream in New York state, which is largely anti-war and has a large number of un- and under-insured. His main concern, like that of most smaller party candidates, was whether his message would be covered in anything other than a token way by the corporate media.

All in all, audience members seemed happy that a progressive choice for Senate was going to appear on New York's ballot in November.

Note: Hawkins will the subject of the upcoming episode of the WAMC/Northeast Public Radio program The Capitol Connection. The episode will air on a few NEPR stations and via online streaming on Friday Aug. 4 at 8:30 PM. (Check WAMC's schedule for specifics). It will air throughout the network on Saturday Aug. 5 at 1:00 PM.

Update: The archive of the interview can be found here.

Hawkins with Rock Hill owner and local activist Matt Funiciello. (photos courtesy of David Doonan)