Saturday, December 31, 2005 at 10:53 AM
It boggles the mind to think that Americans are as divided over whether it’s appropriate for the government to spy – without judicial warrants – on U.S. citizens suspected of having ties to terrorists, as they were over whether Al Gore or George Bush should have been elected president in 2000. But, that appears to be the case.
Not surprisingly, however, many partisans reduce the debate to a simplistic Hobson’s choice of either spying in the interest of “Homeland Security” or not spying in the interest of “Civil Liberties”. But I invite you to read this article and see if you can figure out what all this wiretap fuss is about….
Friday, December 30, 2005 at 11:15 AMWhen Egyptian authorities threw political dissident Ayman Nour in prison last week, he became only the latest opponent of a benevolent despot to be jailed under dubious circumstances. Yet, except for reporting the event as just another news story, international media made little mention of the fact that Nour’s imprisonment confirmed Egypt’s notorious retreat from the path toward democracy, which President Hosni Mubarak promised his American and European benefactors he would follow. (Incidentally, the U.S. government has given this zealously pro-American tyrant almost $50 billion dollars during his 25-year reign….And he has shown his gratitude – from time to time – by extracting information from renditioned prisoners the Americans were too squeamish to “interrogate”.)
Of course, some of us remember well how, during the Cold War, imprisoned political dissidents like Natan Sharansky (in Russia) Aung San Suu Kyi (in Myanmar) and Nelson Mandela (in South Africa) were causes celebres for political activists around the world. (I certainly participated in my share of “Free Mandela – End Apartheid” rallies in college.) But even western governments seemed unrestrained by diplomatic protocol as they spewed moral indignation at the totalitarian regimes that jailed these martyrs for democracy.
Therefore, it is more than a little ironic that – despite the wave of democracy washing over the world – there are more political dissidents in prison today than there were back then. (And, in its oxymoronic attempt to keep a leash on political freedoms as it unleashes free enterprise, China probably has more political dissidents behind bars than all other countries combined….) But it is profoundly disheartening that neither political activists nor western governments seem terribly troubled by the plight of these victims of political oppression.Indeed, agitation on behalf of the politically oppressed appears to have fallen out of fashion along with greasy jerry curls and disco music….
Nevertheless, for overindulged college students who are conscientious enough to appreciate that there’s more to extra-curricular activities than cruisingMy Space, here’s a little collegial advice: Research the high-profile dissidents featured below (or any others you deem worthy), then organize campus freedom rallies for their cause. I guarantee that you will not only become a better student (and human being) for doing so but, in due course, you will also rekindle widespread moral outrage against the repression of political prisoners – just as rallies for clemency for Stanley “Tookie” Williams rekindled outrage against the death penalty. (And Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger found out just how influential such protests can be when his native Austria rebuked him – by revoking his national honours – after he signed Tookie’s execution order).Political prisoner Mikhail Khordokovsky
As if to dramatize hiszero tolerance of political dissent, Russian President Vladimir Putin – the man President Bush lauded for having a good democratic soul – decided to make an example of the richest man in Russia (who, not insignificantly, is also a Jew). As a result, one day in October 2003, Mikhail Khodorkovsky went from running one of Russia’s most profitable companies and funding democratic reform campaigns, to being arrested and thrown in prison on charges of fraud and tax evasion. Khodorkovsky is now serving a 9-year sentence, no doubt in a dingy cell in the infamous Russian Gulag Archipelago).Political prisoner Ayman Nour
Western leaders still consider Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak a pioneer for democracy in the Arab world – despite the fact that during his 25 years in power he never allowed a single candidate to oppose his “re-election” as president. But it was only this year – when democratic reforms in Iraq and Palestine made him look like the dictatorial dinosaur he is – that Mubarak deigned to “ask his country’s parliament to change the constitution and permit multiparty popular elections.”
Yet, even as he made this request last February, Mubarak had already begun his campaign of repression against his most formidable opponent Ayman Nour. Nonetheless, Nour’s Tomorrow Party made a relatively respectable showing in the September national elections by winning 12% of the vote against 89% for Mubarak’s egregiously misnamed National Democratic Party (down significantly from its customary 100%).
But, evidently, Mubarak found this prima facie fraudulent margin of victory too unnerving. Because just this week, hisrubber stamp judiciary found Nour guilty of those stale charges and sentenced him to 5 years in prison (which, in a truly Machiavellian bit of political stagecraft, means that Nour will be out just in time to serve as Mubarak’s foil for his next round of multiparty elections.)
Political prisoner Kizza Besigye
Notwithstanding almost universal support amongst democratic leaders, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni is as much a pioneer of democracy in Africa as Mubarak is in the Middle East. And, in a recent article on the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit in Malta, I noted with derision that:
“…delegates spent almost as much time defending their decision to allow Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni to host their next summit as they did spinning the platitudes about trade and good governance contained in their joint Communiqué into something approximating substantive achievement.”
Of course, they felt obliged to defend that decision because only weeks before this summit, Museveni’s government had arrested opposition leader Dr Kizza Besigye on a potpourri of charges ranging from terrorism to rape. However, none of these Commonwealth leaders could say with a straight face that Besigye’s arrest was not timed to prevent him from running against Museveni in national elections scheduled for next February.
Yet, they not only refused to censure Museveni but actually reaffirmed their intent to honour Museveni by allowing him to host their 2007 summit in Uganda – since everyone obviously believes his reelection is a fait accompli.
So, where’s the outrage?
College students of today, it’s time to find your Nelson Mandela, put away your ipods and protest…goddamn it!
Thursday, December 29, 2005 at 10:54 AM“UPDATE II (Dec 24, 5:15am): In Memoriam…Organized labor in America is dead!
I was wrong about the determination of the ostensibly powerful TWU to match wits with the MTA – not only for the benefit of its members but also for the sake of laborers all over America who corporate managers today regard as all too dispensable. Because, as it turns out, the TWU blinked and abandoned this principled standoff – for naught – in the face of derisive and imperious insults from the MTA (and Mayor Bloomberg) and uninformed and misdirected scorn from the just-wanna-go shopping public!”
This is the lamentation I wrote after leaders of the NY Transit Workers Union (TWU) called an abrupt end to their strike last week. In the article to which it was appended, I expressed complete solidarity with the TWU and even predicted that:
“This strike will be over by the day after Christmas and all of the TWU demands will have been met, more or less….”
But when it ended, the TWU seemed to have gotten nothing it demanded and even less respect for its principled strike from political leaders like NYC Mayor Bloomberg who called its leaders “greedy [and] thuggish” or from fellow New Yorkers who considered them little more than Christmas Grinches!Of course, news reports indicating that TWU strikers returned to work in shame, with their tails between their legs, did little to resuscitate my forlorn hope for organized labor. I also thought it an ominous sign that brother unions around the country offered virtually no public support for the TWU. But when a member of its own executive board said on TV at the time that “it’s ridiculous, we got nothing…Christmas was our only leverage and we caved”, the strike seemed an abject failure…
However, given the terms of deal, as reported yesterday in the New York Times, it is not at all disingenuous or misleading for both sides to claim victory. Because, from my reading, Roger Toussaint (right) – the ridiculed and maligned TWU leader who announced the strike – can be lauded for standing firm on pensions since:“The MTA scrapped a proposal to raise the retirement age for new hires or require new employees to contribute more to their pensions.” (ie. The TWU pension plan remains unchanged!)
Indeed, Toussaint seems to have stayed true to his word that he “would never accept a contract that would sell out our unborn – one that treats future workers worse than current ones.”
Conversely, I suppose the MTA (already sitting on more than $1 billion in profits generated by TWU members this year alone) can be commended for extracting increases in premium payments from TWU members to help “rein in its fast-rising benefit costs.” Indeed….
Nonetheless, it is clear that the TWU proved more than capable of matching wits with the MTA. And, I am happy to concede that my declaration that organized labor in America is dead was somewhat exaggerated: It’s actually still on life support. But hope springs eternal….
Note: If you think my reading of the settlement is suspect, click here to read the art of the TWU-MTA deal and see if you can determine a clear winner.News and Politics
Wednesday, December 28, 2005 at 10:53 AMEven though it may be some time before the winners are announced, the biggest loser in Iraq’s historic December 15 elections will undoubtedly be Ahmed Chalabi (shown here with a look of utter despair, indignation…disbelief!). And, his shocking failure to win a seat for himself in Iraq’s new National Assembly (to say nothing of winning enough seats to head a new government as was widely expected) will be every bit as newsworthy as the capture of Saddam Hussein, and just as salutary for Iraq’s democracy.Indeed, in this recent article, I lamented the Bush Administration’s jumping on the Chalabi-for-prime minister bandwagon when it seemed he was navigating Iraq’s Byzantine and internecine political maze with unparalleled skill. But just as Saddam Hussein knew when he seized power (and proved a willing American stooge to destabilize the Islamic Republic of Iran), Chalabi knew that his leadership would be far more secure with America’s blessings.Almost every political pundit thought, however, that Chalabi had burned his bridge back to Washington after CIA agents accused him of deliberately feeding them the bogus “intelligence” about Saddam’s WMDs that induced America into a “preemptive” war against Iraq. (And, flaunting his courtship with the Mullahs in Iran certainly did not endear him to these pissed-off Americans.) Yet, as I proffered, it seems that after Administration officials realised they could not beat Chalabi (with feckless dirty tricks like arresting him based on equally bogus intelligence about embezzling millions), they decided that they’d better join him.
That’s why we were treated to the unseemly spectacle of Chalabi being fêted all over Washington – on the eve of the elections – like a temperamental mistress whose charms could not be denied…at least in America. Because if preliminary results are correct, it seems the Iraqis have no desire to embrace this conniving political cad!Alas, Chalabi is still (a) born leader waiting for a country to lead…
Note: There can be no more hopeful sign that Iraq’s future will be determined by an informed electorate than the summary rejection of Chalabi as a contender for power.
News and Politics
Tuesday, December 27, 2005 at 11:52 AM
It is a curious thing that so many black Americans – who insist on calling themselves African Americans – know so little about their uniquely American heritage…to say nothing of their African ancestry. I am acutely aware, however, that “black pride” is as ethereal and subjective as religious faith. And, that it has its reasons which reason cannot understand.Nonetheless, just as Martin Luther King Jr. taught us the objective value of judging a person not by the colour of his skin but by the content of his character, I humbly suggest that pride should be based not on faith but on substance. And, it is in this spirit of racial enlightenment that I celebrate Kwanzaa (December 26 to January 1).I honour the Afrocentric Dr Maulana Kerenga who founded this annual observance in 1966 “not to substitute for Christmas” but to reaffirm what it is to be an “African-American”. Because if we endeavour to live according to the seven guiding principles (Nguzo Saba) of Kwanzaa, then having black pride will entail far more than expressing faith in things not seen:
Umoja (oo-MO-jah) Unity stresses the importance of togetherness for the family and the community, which is reflected in the African saying, “I am We,” or “I am because We are.”
Kujichagulia (koo-gee-cha-goo-LEE-yah) Self-Determination requires that we define our common interests and make decisions that are in the best interest of our family and community.
Ujima (oo-GEE-mah) Collective Work and Responsibility reminds us of our obligation to the past, present and future, and that we have a role to play in the community, society, and world.
Ujamaa (oo-JAH-mah) Cooperative economics emphasizes our collective economic strength and encourages us to meet common needs through mutual support.
Nia (NEE-yah) Purpose encourages us to look within ourselves and to set personal goals that are beneficial to the community.
Kuumba (koo-OOM-bah) Creativity makes use of our creative energies to build and maintain a strong and vibrant community.
Imani (ee-MAH-nee) Faith focuses on honoring the best of our traditions, draws upon the best in ourselves, and helps us strive for a higher level of life for humankind, by affirming our self-worth and confidence in our ability to succeed and triumph in righteous struggle. [LA Times – Everything About Kwanzaa]
Note: Given its guiding princples, I think all blacks would do well to embrace and celebrate Kwanzaa the way Jews observe Hanukkah! (Perhaps then we could assign the affirmative action dispensation that is “Black History Month” to Hispanics – until “Hispanic pride” renders “Hispanic History Month” so redundant as to be absurd as well….)
Monday, December 26, 2005 at 10:52 AMIn almost all Commonwealth countries, the Boxing Day Holiday is usually observed on December 26 (the day after Christmas). But whenever Christmas falls on a Saturday or Sunday (as is the case this year), then Boxing Day is actually celebrated on the next 2nd weekday (the 1st reserved for Christmas, of course). Which means that Christmas will be celebrated today and Boxing Day tomorrow, December 27….Got it!
Now, for the anglophiles who wonder not when, but what Boxing Day is, click here….
Monday, December 26, 2005 at 4:15 AM
Sunday, December 25, 2005 at 12:00 PM
Saturday, December 24, 2005 at 10:43 AM
Friday, December 23, 2005 at 11:43 AM
The South African Large Telescope (SALT) Observatory
Despite all of the good things happening in Africa these days, media reports invariably focus on the blights of famine, disease, corruption and violence. Therefore, I take great pride in sharing news of a recent event which marked a stellar achievement for Africa by universal standards.The event was the 10 November inauguration of the SALT by a superstar amongst world leaders – President Thabo Mbeki. The SALT is the “largest optical telescope in the southern hemisphere” and was built by an international consortium of universities and government agencies lead by the National Research Foundation of South Africa. And, its intergalactic window to the night skies of this hemisphere should inspire pilgrimages to South Africa by star gazers and star trekkers from all over the world to experience unprecedented forays back and forth throughout space and time.
Indeed, the truly remarkable feat of the SALT is that, from its position on earth (in the Northern Cape), it gives us a direct view of celestial images and formations that rival the wonder and majesty of anything the Hubble space telescope beams back to us from its satellite perch orbiting the earth. [See samplings below] For the more astronomically inclined, however, President Mbeki himself assures that the SALT will answer such fundamental questions as:
What was the universe like when the first stars and galaxies were forming? [Indeed, the origin of the universe]What kind of worlds orbits other suns?How are the stars in nearby galaxies different from those in the solar neighbourhood?What can these stars tell us about the scale and age of the universe?How do quasars and gamma rays outshine trillions of stars like the sun?The SALT clearly demonstrates the world-class ingenuity and capability of South African scientists. And, it shall stand as a beacon and serve as a clarion call for children all over Africa to pursue an education in science and engineering.Therefore, here’s to South Africa for taking this giant leap forward that is as significant in mankind’s quest to discover stars and galaxies beyond the Milky Way as man’s first step on the moon. (In fact, the digital SALTICAM is so powerful that it “can detect objects as faint as a candle flame [and certainly that languishing American flag] on the moon.”)
So, for your pilgrimage to experience this earth-bound intergalactic travel, click here to book now!
Note: In addition to visiting the SALT observatory, I recommend exploring the new Cradle of Humankind Interpretation Centre attached to the renowned Cradle of Humanity World Heritage Site at Sterkfontein. Because world-renowned anthropologists have declared that:The Centre will facilitate access to knowledge about the evolution of humanity from its distant past, relying on hominid fossils found in the irreplaceable Valley of Ancestors centred on the Sterkfontein caves. Several of the world’s most famous and important hominid fossils have been discovered here, including Mrs Ples (now believed to be Master Ples), dating back 2.5 million years, and Little Foot, an almost complete ape-human skeleton that is 3.3 million years old.
News and Politics
Thursday, December 22, 2005 at 11:29 AM
In this article, published just 7 weeks ago, I predicted that:
“Despite a rate of growth that is the envy of the world, China’s economy is, in fact, a ticking time bomb. Because the 1.3 billion people providing cheap labour to fuel its boom represent mushrooming fuel demands that portend its bust.”
I also stated that:
“…the affectations of modernity and freedom in China’s big cities are designed to divert attention from the feudal, barren and collectivized rural areas where most of its billion plus people still reside.”
Well, it’s more than a little ironical that the great proletarian revolution Karl Marx predicted for capitalist societies is finally brewing in communist China. Because as urban sprawl supplants rural areas and further alienates poor farmers (who have seen only hardship from this economic boom), the simmering tensions between the haves and have nots will cause China to implode, inevitably.
But images (like this one) depicting village riots that are already erupting all over China must be taken surreptitiously because, although they allow more freedom of commerce these days, authoritarian leaders of the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) still strictly forbid freedom of the press. Yet, one can get a sense of the powder keg potential these tensions have from reports by China’s own ministry of propaganda which confirmed earlier this year that the “number of riots has risen sharply in China, reaching more than 70,000 in 2004 and developing into a major concern for the government.”
Therefore, I was not at all surprised by the report in yesterday’s Washington Post that:
“The rebellion to protest the confiscation of the villagers’ land for a new power plant attracted thousands of defiant villagers who clashed with riot troops and People’s Armed Police, resulting in gunfire and bloodshed.”
Unprecedented urban development, at mach speed, cannot be fueled by rice farming. Moreover, where limited energy resources are likely to cause the relatively stable American economy to contract in due course, fuel shortages compounded by widespread rebellion amongst poor, gentrified and disaffected farmers are clearly sowing the seeds of China’s economic destruction.
I fear, however, that the CPC’s Sisyphean efforts to stem this inexorable tide of proletarian rebellion will make the massacre at Tiananmen Square look like a Sunday picnic.
“Both our children have left the village to work in the cities. The central government leaders just care about themselves – not about the masses, not about the people. The local officials only pay attention to the one child policy, so that they can collect fines from those who have more than one child. If families don’t have enough money to pay, they take things from their houses. If we become sick this will be a disaster for the family.”
Note: Many delegates at the recent Montreal Global Warming Summit (including former U.S. President Bill Clinton) berated the United States for doing so little to curb the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Meanwhile, another combustible side effect of China’s rapid development is its emission of greenhouse gases that makes what the U.S. emits look like the relatively harmless smoke from one puff of a cigarette!
Indeed, what you see hovering over Yao Min’s head in this picture is not smoke from a camp fire (or the riots); it’s smog from industrial development…
Wednesday, December 21, 2005 at 2:04 PM
Preliminary report from National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) officials indicates that this fatal crash may have been caused by a crack in the right wing of the aircraft. But this report comes as little consolation to those who are now suffering unimaginable grief this holiday season.
I pay heart-felt condolence to all Bahamian families and friends affected…
Click here to read the Caribbean Net News report on this tragic event.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005 at 10:55 AM
I publish today in solidarity with members of the Transport Workers Union (TWU) whose long-simmering grievances with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) finally compelled them to take strike action in NYC yesterday. I have no doubt that workers everywhere can relate to the TWU’s well-founded concerns about Pension Benefits, Fair Wages, and Health Insurance and Security (given the terrorist attacks in Madrid and London) amongst other issues.
Therefore, if you happen to be personally inconvenienced by this act of mass civil disobedience, we beg your patience and understanding. But with corporate managers raiding pension funds and cutting (earned) employee entitlements with relative impunity, this strike was the only leverage available for the TWU to force the MTA to bargain with some semblance of fairness and good faith.
However, CBS News is reporting that the TWU’s International leadership (think corporate managers masquerading as union bosses):
“…is considering taking over the local and seeking a settlement with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.”
At any rate, here’s to a speedy resolution of this contract dispute that gurantees TWU members the financial benefits they have earned and confers upon them the dignity and respect they deserve….
The Strike in pictures:
NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg (C) is in an untenable position: He surely knows that the MTA is trying to screw the TWU but, since the strike violates NY state law, he cannot express solidarity with these long-suffering workers. (Although, why he has chosen to impugn the integrity of the local TWU leadership is confounding and disappointing, to say the least.) Nevertheless, he showed his true blue-collar heart by joining the ant colony of New Yorkers hoofing it to work yesterday. And, to his credit, the mayor’s walk was more than a typical photo op. Because, despite being the richest politician in America, he routinely takes the subway to work (as the picture below left shows)
Perhaps the reason Mayor Bloomberg is the richest politician in America is because he recognises good value for money. And, no one can deny the NYC mass-transit system offers the best value for money for getting around the city. All the more reason, of course, to resolve this strike in favour of TWU members
As if getting good-faith bargaining out of the MTA were not challenging enough, Local 100 President Roger Toussaint – who announced the strike – is having to contend with overweening bosses from the international TWU who probably have more sympathy for MTA corporate managers than for the transit workers Toussaint represents
Note: A NY state judge ruled late yesterday that the TWU shall be fined $1 million a day for the duration of this strike. But the city will lose $400 million a day if Bloomberg’s estimates are correct. Therefore, who do you think will blink first? This strike will be over by the day after Christmas and all of the TWU demands will have been met, more or less….
UPDATE (Dec 22, 11:45 am): Reports crossing the wires just now indicate that the strike is over! I predicted a relatively quick end but I thought it would take at least a few more days before the MTA and city officials “blink”. Of course, both sides will claim vindication. But, unless one reads the fine print in the new TWU contract, there’s really no way to tell who blinked. Let’s just hope the pro-worker principles the TWU took this action to uphold will not be ignored!
UPDATE II (Dec 24, 5:15am): In Memoriam…Organized labour in America is dead!
I was wrong about the determination of the ostensibly powerful TWU to match wits with the MTA – not only for the benefit of its members but also for the sake of laborers all over America who corporate managers today regard as all too dispensable. Because, as it turns out, the TWU blinked and abandoned this principled standoff – for naught – in the face of derisive and imperious insults from the MTA (and Mayor Bloomberg) and uninformed and misdirected scorn from the just-wanna-go shopping public!
Tuesday, December 20, 2005 at 11:54 AM
“I am not a drug trafficker….I am a coca grower. I cultivate coca leaf, which is a natural product. I do not refine [it into] cocaine, and neither cocaine nor drugs have ever been part of the Andean culture.” [Bolivian President-Elect Evo Morales]
This quote alone should explain why so many poor, indigenous and politically marginalised South American farmers have heralded the rise to power of native son Evo Morales. Beyond supporting the cultivation of their cash crop, however, President-Elect Morales has vowed to emulate his political mentor Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez by not only nationalizing Bolivia’s petroleum industry but also extracting a more equitable share of oil profits to redistribute amongst poor Indians whose ancestral lands have been “exploited by American imperialists.”
But the real story of his election is what it signifies and portends for the political landscape in the Americas. Because, as President Bush was on television last Sunday night pleading with fellow Americans to have faith in his crusade to spread democracy throughout the Middle East, President Chavez was on television welcoming Bolivians as the latest converts in his crusade to spread socialism throughout Latin America.
Indeed, it is a remarkable and ironical fact that in the geopolitical chess game between these adversarial political ideologies, the socialism Chavez champions has captured more pawns. After all, since 9/11 – the precipitating event for Bush’s democracy crusade – the overwhelming majority of governments elected throughout the Americas (including Uruguay last March and Chile just weeks ago) have pledged solidarity with Chavez and vowed to implement his socialist agenda.
Moreover, this map highlights “Latin America’s year of elections ” during which this left-leaning trend is likely to be reinforced by the democratic election (or reelection) of Chavez-style leaders in most countries – despite (or perhaps to spite) Bush’s push for American-style democracies. And, given the restive spirit amongst the indigenous people of Ecuador, it would not be at all surprising to see a native son assume the presidency in that country as well.
Alas, it may be that the Bush Administration can only concentrate on one insurgency at a time. But this socialist insurgency clearly reflects America’s shrinking sphere of influence throughout the Americas. And, it portends even more dire consequences for the American way of life than the pestering distraction of Islamic Jihadists. (Are you aware that America imports more oil from Latin America [Mexico and Venezuela] than it does from the Middle East?)
Note: I respect Morales for defending the national and natural right of indigenous Bolivians to cultivate coca. And I think he’s right to reject the extra-territorial presumptions that have allowed the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to destroy thousands of hectares of coca harvest in recent years; especially since the Bolivians have other legal and commercially viable uses for their coca leaf (eg. for tea and traditional medicines). Although, ironically, the more hectares the DEA destroys, the more lucrative the crop becomes….
Therefore, instead of trying to wipe out coca farming in South America, the Bush Administration would serve the American people better by trying to wipe out demand for cocaine at home.
Endnote: In the few years since it overthrew the Taliban, the U.S. has given millions to the government of President Hamid Karzai to subsidize a crop substitution program for poor farmers in Afghanistan. Yet, eventhough these farm subsidies were aimed at wiping out the country’s poppy cultivation, the Associated Press reported just last week that:
“…opium production has boomed since the fall of the Taliban, stoking fears that Afghanistan – source of 80 percent of the world’s heroin – is becoming a narco-state.”
In fact, according to U.S. Gen. James L. Jones “the number one problem in Afghanistan [is not the Islamic terrorists; instead it] is drugs.”
Nevertheless, given the billions in dubious no-bid contracts the U.S. gave his former company Halliburton, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney probably thought it prudent not to question Karzai about why the poppy eradication program is yielding such poor value for money during his stealth visit to Afghanistan on Sunday.
Monday, December 19, 2005 at 11:13 AM
Political opportunism is de rigeur in Washington. And the more politicians declare that “this is an issue too serious to politicize”, the more that issue becomes politicized. Therefore, it is not at all surprising that debates over the role (and fate) of American soldiers in Iraq or on national security are distinguished more by political gamesmanship than by political principles.
But it seems unconscionable – even in this context – for Democrats to be feigning sanctimonious outrage over revelations that President Bush authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to begin spying on Americans in the aftermath of 9/11. And, this is especially so because the New York Times did not publish these revelations yesterday pursuant to its hallowed duty to keep the public informed; instead, these revelations (which the editor of the Times has known about for over a year) were timed to help maximize advance sales of the book containing them that was written by one of the paper’s own reporters – James Risen.
Notwithstanding these political and mercurial motives, however, most Americans would probably find this NSA spying initiative itself unconscionable – at least upon first impression. That is why it was to the credit of this swaggering, press-be-damned President that he faced the cameras over the weekend to explain himself. And, here’s what he said:
“The activities I have authorized make it more likely that killers like these 9/11 hijackers will be identified and located in time….And the activities conducted under this authorization have helped detect and prevent possible terrorist attacks in the United States and abroad.”
Now, apart from the self-evident truth of his statement, you would think that Democrats accusing Bush of high crimes and calling for his impeachment knew nothing about this spying programme. But you’d be wrong!
Because, barely containing his justified outrage, Bush insisted that:
“…congressional leaders had been briefed on the operation more than a dozen times. That included Democrats as well as Republicans in the House and Senate.”
Moreover, after a little reflection, most Americans would probably consider claims by Democrats that they are shocked, shocked to find there’s spying going on in America about as credible as the claims by Republicans that they were similarly shocked to find there was bribery going on in Washington.
But the disingenuousness surrounding this issue is compounded even further by the fact that corporations spy on Americans for purely commercial reasons (and private citizens spy on each other often for prurient reasons) far more than the government does for national security reasons. For example, the book “SPYCHiPS“ details how:
“…big companies like Wal Mart, Proctor& Gamble, Exxon- Mobil, Benneton, Philips, Gillette, Max Factor…to name a few…are already using traceable chips all the better to spy on you.”
And, if you think Microsoft, Google and Yahoo! are any more respectful of the privacy expectations of American citizens, then you probably believe in Tooth Fairies and Santa Claus. But to get some appreciation of the depth and breadth of spying in America, I recommend reading George Orwell’s “1984” before exposing oneself to the harsh realities of SPYCHiPS.
As for Bush the eavesdropper-in-chief, I don’t care if he wants to screen my correspondence to ensure that I’m not conspiring with my friend Mohammed in Pakistan to blow-up the empire state building, any more than I care that Google and Yahoo are monitoring every key stroke on my personal computer to set me up for targeted spam from their corporate advertisers. Indeed, if truth be told, I find it rather comforting to know that the government is spying on Americans for signs of terrorist conspiracies. (Especially since I often wonder how many Timothy McVeighs are still out there in Middle America….)
Because I cannot imagine a more terminally boring job, however, I shall consider it my modest contribution to the fight against terrorism to have NSA eavesdroppers monitor my dirty phone chats and erotic emails just for a little titillation.
Seriously though, here’s the potentially dangerous bottom line on this story:
“As a result, our enemies have learned information they should not have….The unauthorized disclosure of this effort [probably by one of the Senators who was briefed about it years ago and is now accusing Bush of high crimes] damages our national security and puts our citizens at risk.”
Admittedly, issues like WMDs and the CIA leak investigation have Bush running a worsening credibility deficit. But on this point, I think he’s absolutely right. Therefore, I admonish pollyannaish Democrats to reconsider their political posturing over this NSA programme. And, I urge Big Brother Republicans to appreciate that Democrats are no more unpatriotic for trying to hold Bush accountable for spying on Americans than (war hero) Republican Sen. John McCain is for holding his feet to the fire for torturing captured terrorists.
Note: For every legal expert who claims that President Bush superseded his Constitutional powers by authorizing domestic eavesdropping, one can find another expert to assert that Bush acted properly. Given the stakes involved, however, there’s no sense in making a federal case over a little harmless snooping.
UPDATE: This 60 Minutes report [unearthed by Matt Drudge] confirms my assertions about the commonplace nature of spying in America. Moreover, it shows that spying on Americans preceded 9/11 and even Bush’s election as president of the United States.
Sunday, December 18, 2005 at 11:34 AM
Saturday, December 17, 2005 at 12:37 PM
“Attacking people on the basis of their race, their appearance, their ethnicity, is totally unacceptable and should be repudiated by all Australians irrespective of their own background and their politics.”
This was Prime Minister John Howard’s sensible reaction last weekend, after Australians were shocked, shocked, by the KKK-style beating white locals gave a few non-white residents who dared to “trespass” on their, evidently, “whites only” beach.
But for years, I’ve been pricking the conscience of my white Australian friends by arguing that it’s easy for them to accuse white Americans of virulent racism from their lily white haven down under; i.e., that they could sit on their high horse only because the few blacks (or non-whites) in their midst were so passive.
However, I always found their accusations against Americans especially hypocritical considering that these self-righteous stone casters were (indeed are) still forcing Australia’s Aboriginals to live under Apartheid-like conditions – with nary a peep of condemnation from the international community.
But with the recent influx of “uppity minorities” from other parts of the world, many Australians are now finding that they are no different from the American racists they despised – as last weekend’s racial rampages revealed for the world to see. Nonetheless, Australian authorities fear that white thugs intend to continue their rampages “to reclaim their territories.” (And, they’re even are inciting latent racists in New Zealand to beat-up local “foreigners” in solidarity with them.)
Of course, given the recent riots in France, perhaps these white Australians could defend their brand of ethnic cleansing as justified preemptive action….
Friday, December 16, 2005 at 10:45 AM
Even partisan critics of President Bush’s leadership on Iraq had to have been impressed, even if politically resentful, by television images of Iraqis praising and hailing him as liberator as they flocked to polling stations to cast their votes in yesterday’s historic election. Although, the inspiration these images provided had to have been diminished ever so slightly by the revelation that a surprising number of these grateful and exuberant Iraqis were actually casting their votes right here in the land of the free and the home of the brave (Detroit in fact!).
But never mind the indignation that questions why the young Iraqi men jumping in line to vote in America were not standing in line to fight in Iraq with the Americans risking their lives to liberate that country. Because, yesterday, President Bush reminded those who remain incredulous about America’s presence in Iraq that:
“…we need to remember that these elections are also a vital part of a broader strategy in protecting the American people against the threat of terrorism.”
And eventhough Iraq’s march towards democracy continues to be such a bloody, disorganized and embarrassing mess that even war heroes are calling on him to cut America’s losses and retreat, Bush is still championing his manifest destiny for this Muslim nation with the dogged determination of an idiot savant.
But only history will tell whether the burdens and sacrifices borne by Americans in this crusade was for a just and necessary cause. For now, however, no one can deny that yesterday in Iraq was a proud day for Iraqis, a noble day for Americans and a hopeful day for peace in the Middle East.
Note: It will be weeks – perhaps months if this summer’s vote for a provisional authority is any guide – before a new government is brokered amongst the competing ethnic and religious factions in Iraq. Meanwhile, more American (and even more Iraqi) lives will be lost as the Iraqis continue their march to forge a more perfect union. But anyone who professes support for democratic freedoms – especially those of us who opposed the ivasion of Iraq – must acknowledge a vested and enlightened interest in the successful completion of this march.
Thursday, December 15, 2005 at 12:05 PM
I find it incredulous when people accuse the Israelis of paranoia and unwarranted aggression in dealing with their Arab neighbours. And my incredulity is only exacerbated when the people making these accusations are otherwise reasonable, intelligent and fair-minded.
But after watching Harvard Law Prof. Alan Dershowitz and MIT Linguistics Prof. Noam Chomsky debate the topic – “Israel and Palestine After Disengagement: Where Do We Go From Here?” – on C-SPAN last Sunday, I am convinced that disabusing anyone of political bias in this context is a quixotic notion. Because, after 90 minutes of provocative but surprisingly ad hominem exchanges, neither one of these brilliant men conceded an inch of rhetorical territory for the sake of peace.
Minutes into their debate, it became clear that Prof. Dershowitz (left) and Prof. Chomsky (right) would completely ignore the rules of engagement as they “disagreed vigorously on most issues, including the diplomatic history of the dispute, the validity of each other’s sources of information, and the details of the current proposals for a two-state solution” [Staff Photo Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard News Office]
To be fair, however, at least Dershowitz acknowledged that their respective intransigence reflects the curious fact that American supporters of Israel (like him) tend to be more Jewish than the Israelis and American advocates for a Palestinian state (like Chomsky) tend to be more Palestinian than the Palestinians.
Despite Chomsky’s passionate defense of his cause, however, I have no doubt that he would condemn Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s anti-Semitic remarks about the state of Israel and the Holocaust that sounded so macabrely familiar to European leaders (especially German Chancellor Angela Merkel who summoned Iran’s ambassador last Friday to receive her government’s official protest). After all, it seems a genocidal delusion and utterly counterproductive for Ahmadinejad to profess his support for a Palestinian state by declaring that Israel “should be wiped off the map”. (In keeping with Dershowitz’s acknowledgement, this Persian president is clearly posturing as more Palestinian than the Palestinians.)
But then, perhaps to demonstrate that – like Adolf Hitler – his delusions about the Jews are grounded in a strategic geopolitical vision, Ahmadinejad merely compounded international alarm on Monday when he expounded on his final solution for Peace in the Middle East by offering that:
“…the Jewish state should be moved to Europe or North America. They have invented a myth that Jews were massacred and place this above God, religions and the prophets.”
Of course, it is contemptible (and threatening) enough that the president of Iran seems religiously committed to denials about the fact that 6 million Jews were massacred in the Holocaust. (In fact, notorious historian David Irving was recently arrested in Austria for making similar public denials). But Jews cannot rely on condemnations to ensure that history does not repeat itself in this horrific context. Because if ever there were a case where fighting words should trigger the categorical imperative of (preemptive) Lex Talianos! (a principle which holds that “we will destroy you not only if you mess with us but also if we just think you’re going to mess with us!”), Ahmadinejad’s words clearly qualify.
(Indeed, anyone remotely familiar with the recent history of the Middle East knows that in 1981, based on this principle, Israel launched strategic attacks in Iraq to destroy its nuclear facilities when Saddam Hussein failed to provide adequate assurances that he harboured no military aggression against the Jews.)
Therefore, it seems exceedingly foolhardy for Ahmadinejad to continue provoking Israel in this manner. Yet the case for preemptive strikes was only strengthened on Tuesday when Iran’s Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged Palestinians to reject Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s historic and seismic overtures for peace because:
“The experience of the past 50 years shows that compromise with the Zionist occupiers and negotiations with them will not improve the situation….We therefore conclude that victory will be achieved only through resistance.”
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad kissing the hand of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who, with the consent of his council of Mullahs, has blessed and even abetted Ahmadinejad’s genocidal anti-Semitic crusade
I am profoundly troubled by these developments because, as this previous article on Ahmadinejad’s election as president will attest, I supported Iran’s nuclear ambitions. I did so because I believe it is untenable and unsustainable for the United States and other nuclear powers (the nuclear club) to determine so arbitrarily which countries can possess nuclear weapons. After all, not too long ago, the nuclear club held that Pakistan and India were “prohibited”; yet today, both countries are bona fide members of the club.
But now I believe that Ahmadinejad’s irrational and irresponsible threats have effectively forfeited Iran’s right to possess nuclear weapons. And, whatever the merit of Iran’s “negotiations” with the EU (pursuant to the Tehran Declaration of October 2003) about the intended use of its nuclear facilities, it is patently fatuous for oil rich Iran to claim that its going nuclear solely to provide energy for the Iranian people.
(Just one nuclear bomb could accomplish in an instant for Ahmadinejad what the Holocaust and all of World War II could not for Adolf Hitler….If you were an Israeli Jew, wouldn’t you be paranoid?)
Therefore, given that Ahmadinejad’s openly hostile rhetoric appears to reflect official state policy, I believe it would be wise, if not categorically imperative, for Israeli PM Sharon to invoke the law of preemptive Lex Talianos to deal with Iran just as Israel dealt with Iraq over 2 decades ago.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005 at 12:08 PM
The United States has the most rigorous prescription drug approval protocols in the world. Indeed, American pharmaceutical companies often complain that they operate at a distinct disadvantage because of the exhaustive research, peer reviews and prolonged clinical trials the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mandates before any prescription drug goes to market. And the fact that more and more Americans are foraging through Canada and Mexico for drugs that are not only cheaper (because of far less rigorous protocols) but also available years before they are sold in America adds credence to corporate whining in this regard.
But, in keeping with the schizophrenic nature of most things American, many of these same pharmaceutical companies rake in billions in profits by selling dietary supplements with virtually no established protocols to ensure their safety and effectiveness. In fact, almost every day new dietary supplements are marketed that promise morbidly obese and pathologically vain Americans miraculous weight loss or non-surgical body sculpting without one morsel of evidence to support these claims.
The lack of regulation in this $40 billion industry is especially troublesome, however, given that more Americans have been injured and / or induced to their deaths by the undocumented and even fraudulent health claims of dietary supplements than from the side effects of prescription drugs.
For example, there’s considerable controversy in the U.S. today surrounding the prescription drug Vioxx (for arthritis pain). Concerns about the health risks associated with this drug forced its manufacturer Merck to pull it off the market over a year ago. And recent revelations that company officials hid information about patients who suffered heart attacks during clinical trials for Vioxx have pharmaceutical, legal and corporate experts predicting doomsday scenarios for Merck; especially considering it has already lost over $30 billion in market value and is facing Vioxx lawsuits in perpetuity).
By contrast, over 100 deaths were associated with the (weight loss) dietary supplement fen phen that saturated the U.S. market in the early 1990s. Yet its manufacturer, American Home Products, was able to settle all claims for the relative paltry sum of $4.83 billion; despite charges by the FDA that its officials knew of the dangers of fen phen long before it was withdrawn from the market.
And, these were hardly the only deaths associated with unregulated dietary supplements in recent years. After all, just over 2 years ago, the FDA was compelled to prohibit the marketing (and advise against the use) of all dietary supplements containing ephedra. But this action was taken only after belated questions were raised about its effectiveness and studies of over 16,000 “adverse events” found that the ephedra was the sole precipitating cause of numerous heart attacks, strokes, and deaths.
Now comes Hoodia! It is the latest miracle dietary supplement that fat, gullible and lazy Americans have been consuming since last year like the San Bushmen of the Kalahari devouring their first catch in over a week. And, they can thank anorexic-looking Lesley Stahl of the popular TV news programme 60 Minutes for her first person account extolling the virtues of hoodia for turning them onto this new weight loss fad.
Ironically, the fact that hoodia is a cactus plant that grows wild only in the Kalahari Desert of South Africa seems to imbue it with marketing credibility. Because the shrewd white men who “discovered” it as a natural appetite suppressant that “fools your brain into believing you are full” have convinced yoyo dieters that just taking hoodia will give them that very fashionable starved-Bushmen look.
However, what consumers get in their hoodia supplements today is a matter of pure conjecture. And, what results they see may stem entirely from that well-documented phenomenon known as the placebo effect. Because, as is the case with almost all dietary supplements, there are no established protocols to determine what amount of hoodia, if any, is effective.
Of course, it seems completely lost on this fast-food, supersize-everything nation of couch potatoes that the reason hoodia seems to work for the San Bushmen is because they do not have a McDonalds on every corner, do not sit on their asses all day (they have to hunt for food after all) and, for days, hoodia is all they have to eat!
Nevertheless, as a former ACE certified fitness trainer, I couldn’t care any less about quick-fix junkies who waste their money trying to get into shape by popping pills. But I am particularly indignant about this hoodia fad because it exploits the unavoidable privations of poor Africans for dubious health and crass commercial purposes. Although, admittedly, my indignation would be appeased considerably if I knew the San Bushmen were benefiting in any meaningful way from the processing and sale of their aboriginal cactus plants.
But it does not bode well in this respect when multinational corporations are fighting over hoodia patents and lots of money is being made, but local representatives for the San Bushmen are being told:
“…just be patient. Help [from thousands of years of oppression, poverty, social isolation and discrimination] is at hand….”
Note: Despite hoodia pills selling like hotcakes in health stores and on the internet for some time now, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer gave up its development and marketing rights to hoodia almost 2 years ago when “making a pill out of the active ingredient seemed beyond reach.”
That left a smaller, less resourceful English pharmaceutical company called Photopharm still pursuing the holy grail of a weight loss potion by marketing hoodia in its natural form, “in diet shakes and bars.”
Be patient indeed….