Saturday, March 31, 2007

Feminism and the Iranian crisis

Faye Turney was among the fifteen British sailors and marines seized by Iranian warships a week ago Friday for allegedly entering Iranian waters. They have been held captive ever since, paraded before television cameras and may face some sort of Iranian legal proceedings.

Setting aside for the moment the issues of the Iranian government’s allegations and treatment of these captives, it is interesting to consider the significance of a woman in this role being held captive in a country where women do not traditionally serve in this role.

Women in the military do represent, however imperfectly, progress women have made in society in general. Progress, by that measure, has been considerable in the West. According to the Independent, “In 1961 there were just 30,000 women in NATO uniforms; today there are more than 288,000.” It would be interesting to know how this compares to the role of women in a cross section of Muslim countries.

In Iran, there is a struggle between cosmopolitan elements of the population supporting some degree of modernism on the one hand and, on the other hand, reactionary forces led by clerics seeking to impose traditionalism that, among other things, limits the role of women in society. In the eyes of the Iranians as well as others around the world, Seaman Turney is not merely a Brit in uniform who finds herself in an unfortunate situation but woman in uniform equal to the men she serves with. She is a symbol of the best or the worst – depending on your point of view – of the modernism the West has come to represent.

This is Janice Turner’s assessment in the London Times:
What a perplexing and alien creature Seaman Turney must appear to this Iranian regime. A young woman working close-knit with men, proud to perform her dangerous task of piloting speedboats as well as any one of them. A wife and mother, moreover, away from her small daughter, who has put military career before marital and maternal duties.

The Iranians were satisfied to have her 14 male comrades surrender as sailors or Marines: Seaman Turney had to surrender also as a woman. While the men were free to eat their pitta bread and lamb stew with weary resignation, she had to work out how best to appear adequately humble, grateful and submissive. She must submit not just to Iran’s military authority but its patriarchal might.

After all, here she stood, the end-product of 100 years of bitterly fought — and now mostly unacknowledged — Western female emancipation. In Britain our own reactionaries may finger-wag at the unnatural spectacle of a mother in a warzone, distracting our male warrior caste. One strain of feminism can question why womankind — Nature’s peacemakers, oh Mother Gaia! — would want to fight men’s wars, particularly this one.

While another might point out the sham of Seaman Turney’s equality: the sexual harassment endured by almost all women military personnel and their ban from the front line.

And the tiresome buzz of these debates can distract us from the wholly magnificent truth: the freedom of Seaman Turney and of all of us, our right to make choices — and mistakes — to fight, to study, to work, to stay home, to have children, to remain childless, to wear what the hell we like — whether basque or burka — to live unenslaved by our fertility, our fathers, our husbands, to have equal rights before the law. So languid are we in this warm bath of freedom, that International Women’s Day — March 9 — doesn’t even figure on our calendar. It is some vestigial Seventies feminist joke. We’d be marching for what, exactly? Is there really anything left? Er, more women on the boards of FTSE 100 companies?

In Iran, however, International Women’s Day is as perilous as patrolling any Iraqi foxhole. A week before, to forestall protest on the day itself, police rounded up and arrested 33 women involved in the Campaign for Equality, which aims to get a million signatures on a petition calling for the end of discrimination in Iranian penal and family codes.

In Iran a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man, her murder requires only half the punishment, girls as young as 9 may be stoned for adultery and mothers after divorce only have custody rights over their children until they reach 7 years old.

On March 9, the few women who dared to gather peacefully outside the parliament building were dispersed or arrested. Any prominent woman lawyer, journalist or politician speaks out at grave personal risk. Five feminist leaders are currently on trial for “propaganda against the system” and “acting against national security.” Compared with their subjugated Saudi sisters, Iranian women have comparative liberty, being permitted to drive, vote and stand for office. Indeed more than half of university graduates in Iran are women. And it is this weight of numbers, a growing confidence and sense of entitlement among these educated women, that threatens the male leadership and has precipitated a recent crackdown.
You can read her entire article here.

Creation Science 101

The song says it all.

Friday, March 30, 2007

The Chinese are counting on loss of interest in Tibet after the Dalai Lama dies

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) invaded and seized control of Tibet in late 1949. Approximately half of Tibet was incorporated into surrounding Chinese provinces in 1950 and the remaining country was formally annexed by the PRC in 1951. An uprising by Tibetans against the Chinese occupation began in 1956 and spread until it was finally crushed in 1959. Tens of thousands of Tibetans were killed and the Dalai Lama fled to exile in India along with an estimated 80,000 refugees. During the Cultural Revolution in the 1960’s, the Chinese Red Guard conducted a campaign to destroy Tibetan cultural sites. During this period an estimated 6,500 Buddist Mondastaries were destroyed and only a few of those left standing were not vadalized. Opposition to Chinese rule flares up from time to time and is always burtally suppressed.

The Dalai Lama became, and remains, Tibet’s best-known international spokesperson. However, he is 71 years old. China is calculating that international interest in Tibet will wane after he dies.

This is from Der Spiegel:
… the Dalai Lama strides through the crowd. He doesn't sit down in a wide chair that has been placed there for him. The 71-year-old remains standing, speaking into an orange microphone for about an hour.

His speech is more political than religious. "You are part of our struggle. You continue it. You keep the Tibetan spirit and culture alive. You are the keepers of faith and identity," he encourages his audience.

The Dalai Lama quotes Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. He insults the Chinese and at the same time praises them. China has undergone "great changes" in recent years and will not cease reforming itself, he says. That's why there is still hope that Tibet can free itself from the Chinese yoke, he continues.

The Dalai Lama makes such public appearances once or twice a month. The aim is to provide everyone who comes from Tibet the opportunity to be able to see him. He seems cheerful and relaxed -- and doesn't give the impression of a man whose time is running out. But he also knows that the chances of him ever returning to Lhasa are dwindling with every passing day.

No progress is being made in the negotiations with the Chinese on the future of Tibet. Both sides have simply "clarified their positions" over the past three years, meaning that the Dalai Lama doesn't pursue independence any more. Now, as he told DER SPIEGEL in an interview, Beijing has signalled that it wants to continue the dialogue, but it hasn't set any timeframe for doing so.

Beijing is betting that time will work to its advantage. It obviously wants to wait patiently until Tibet has lost the Dalai Lama -- and the world has lost a teacher who for almost 50 years has acted as Tibet's greatest PR agent, establishing close contacts with Washington, Brussels and Hollywood.

The Chinese are calculating that once the 71-year-old passes away, Western interest in the mystical place that is Tibet will wane, the quest for Shangrila will cease and the political pressure on Beijing will melt away like the butter candles on the altars of the local monasteries.
You can read the entire article here.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

“Voter fraud” fraud

“Vote early and vote often” is typical of the clichés heard around election time expressing a cynicism about the fairness of our electoral system. However, the cynicism is based not only more on myth than reality but it can be used to justify efforts to suppress voter participation. One of the excuses given for the firings of U.S Attorneys as part of the Purgegate scandal is that some of them failed to prosecute voter fraud. Unfortunately for them, they decided their prosecution priorities based upon evidence rather than press releases from the Republican National Committee. According to Michael Waldman and Justin Levitt who have a column in this morning’s Washington Post:

Those investigating the U.S. attorney firings should ask what orders went out to other prosecutors in the run-up to the 2006 election. Prosecutors are not hired-gun lawyers on a party payroll. They have a special duty to exercise their power responsibly, particularly in the context of a heated election. Pressure on prosecutors to join a witch hunt for individual voter fraud is a scandal, not just for the Justice Department but for voters seeking to exercise their most basic right.

American voter participation is embarrassing low for a country that brags about its commitment to democracy. Voter suppression is not the only cause of low turnout. Because of redistricting, very few legislative races at the national or state level are competitive. Because of the Electoral College, very few states are competitive in Presidential elections. Why go to the trouble of cheating when it is unlikely to make any difference anyway? Allegations of voter fraud assume votes cast by most citizens actually makes a difference. This is not to say there are no competitive elections – obviously there are but way, way too many are rigged to pre-determine an outcome (gerrymandered districts) or to minimize participation (the Electoral College). The real scandal isn’t voter fraud but the system we use to choose our representative government.

That said, the topic at hand is voter fraud. Waldman and Levitt discuss the myth of voter fraud:
Before and after every close election, politicians and pundits proclaim: The dead are voting, foreigners are voting, people are voting twice. On closer examination, though, most such allegations don't pan out. Consider a list of supposedly dead voters in Upstate New York that was much touted last October. Where reporters looked into names on the list, it turned out that the voters were, to quote Monty Python, "not dead yet."

Or consider Washington state, where McKay closely watched the photo-finish gubernatorial election of 2004. A challenge to ostensibly noncitizen voters was lodged in April 2005 on the questionable basis of "foreign-sounding names." After an election there last year in which more than 2 million votes were cast, following much controversy, only one ballot ended up under suspicion for double-voting. That makes sense. A person casting two votes risks jail time and a fine for minimal gain. Proven voter fraud, statistically, happens about as often as death by lightning strike.

Yet the stories have taken on the character of urban myth. Alarmingly, the Supreme Court suggested in a ruling last year (Purcell v. Gonzalez) that fear of fraud might in some circumstances justify laws that have the consequence of disenfranchising voters. But it's already happening -- those chasing imaginary fraud are actually taking preventive steps that would disenfranchise millions of real live Americans.

Identification requirements often sound simple. But some types of paperwork simply aren't available to many Americans. We saw this with the new Medicaid proof-of-citizenship requirement, which led to benefits being cut off for many longtime citizens. Some states insist that voters provide photo IDs such as driver's licenses. But at least 11 percent of voting-age Americans, disproportionately elderly and minority voters, lack the necessary papers. Required documentation such as naturalization paperwork can cost as much as $200. By contrast, when the poll tax was declared unconstitutional in 1966, it was $1.50 ($8.97 in 2007 dollars).
The electoral system in the United States is a work in progress, not a finished product. It is a shame that the red herring of voter fraud receives more attention than the electoral system that sorely needs fixing. Of course, maybe that's the point.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Community organizing and the revitalization of democracy

We have witnessed a decline in civic engagement during the past few decades. Television and suburbanization have helped fragment communities and isolate people. It’s the “bowling alone” phenomena and it is a threat to democracy because merely having elections, while important, is not enough to maintain democratic culture.

Community organizing came about in the 20th Century in response to the growing power of a small number of wealthy individuals who were exercising decisions impacting upon the majority of people in the country. Community organizing energized democratic culture at the local, and occasionally the state level, and in some ways paralleled what was going on with labor as the country industrialized. Community organizing, much like organized labor, has experienced some decline in recent years.

Marshall Ganz has written an interesting article at TPM Café about community organizing in the United States – a brief history, its strengths, its rise, its decline and its potential for the future. He sees the potential as important because, as he puts it, “the promise of democratic politics is in people’s ability to enter into relationships with one another to articulate common purposes and act on them.”

First, let me share a little background on my interest on the subject of community organizing.

I came to Virginia in the mid-1970’s to work as a community organizer with the Virginia Community Development Organization or, as we referred to it, VCDO. We organized “Assemblies” in the Black community mostly in Southside Virginia and Eastern North Carolina. These were in rural areas with the exception of the city of Portsmouth.

Donald L. Anderson founded the organization in the late sixties. It was structured in layers so that members participated in a conference of 50 people that elected a representative to the countywide Assembly. Representatives of each Assembly did meet annually to discuss state or regional issues but most of the action was at the county level. The idea was, in part, to follow-up on the gains of the civil rights movement. The right to vote had been gained but there still was a need for a mechanism to register and turn out voters – particularly among the poor. (You can find an explanation of it at the E. F. Schumacher Society website.)

VCDO had its challenges – not the least of which was to move beyond initial successes -- and later changed its name to the National Community Development Organization (or NCDO). The long-range goal was to organize the entire South. Anderson died in 2004 and I am not sure what the status of the organization is. (I will share more details in the future about my experiences with the group.)

VCDO was one of many groups organizing on the neighborhood level around the country. Saul Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation is probably the best known as well the Citizen Action network associated with the Midwest Academy and ACORN. There were and continue to be many others. Organizing philosophies and tactics varied from group to group but the common link between them all was the emphasis on interpersonal relationships and the empowerment of individuals through communal action. The outcomes of actions are almost secondary to the process of involving people. Important as outcomes are, it is the process that empowers by developing social relationships that can be used in communal actions working towards a common good..

Ganz explains how community organizing developed during the 20th Century but by the 1980’s money was overtaking participation as a measure of membership. Citizenship became a form of consumerism. Democracy was becoming a spectator sport and a not very exciting one at that.

However, he sees hope for the immediate future of American democracy that organizing can help remedy as it pertains to the electoral arena:
So what has changed that may be giving organizing a new lease on life, especially in electoral politics? I’d suggest four reasons.

First, elections have been very, very close. Even the most media oriented of political consultants recognizes that in close elections, effective grassroots mobilization can influence outcomes. And when conducted by people with ties to one another – as opposed to bussed in canvassers – it is more effective. The commitments people make to people with whom they maintain relationships are far more reliable than answers given to an anonymous caller, over the phone or in person. This is especially true of the presidential primaries in small states like New Hampshire and caucus states like Iowa.

Second, the promise of “connectedness” via the Internet is an invitation to a dance that has yet to begin. The Internet is a market place, not an organization. As such it offers motivated participants an opportunity to give money, exchange information, and market causes. Organizations, however, as Alinsky organizers know, are built of interpersonal commitments people make to each other of their time, money, and energy. With skilled leaders, organizations have the capacity to strategize, motivate, and engage in purposeful effective action – and develop more skilled leaders. But in the last election, opportunity created by the Internet was only intermittently translated into action because there were few organizers. This time, perhaps it will be different.

Third, the recommitment to organizing by the labor movement during the 1990s, especially by SEIU and its associates, afforded thousands of young people an opportunity to learn organizing skills, acquire experience, and make a real difference. This is true not only of young people recruited from colleges, but also new immigrants, one of the most energized constituencies in America and which has only begun to develop its political potential. Similarly, some campaigns offered unique training grounds for organizers, such as the New Hampshire Dean campaign, the Iowa Kerry campaign, and others.

And finally, at some level, we may finally be coming to understand what De Tocqueville saw – the promise of democratic politics is in people’s ability to enter into relationships with one another to articulate common purposes and act on them. Organizing to bring people back into politics is not a cost, but an investment in rebuilding the democratic infrastructure of our public life under assault for far too many years.
I recommend you read his entire article that can be found here.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Darfur aid is threatened

Think the situation in Darur couldn’t get any worse? Think again. It is now becoming more and more difficult to deliver aid to victims because of resistance from the government of Sudan.

This is from today’s New York Times:
John Holmes, the under secretary general for humanitarian affairs, had come to Darfur to see the world’s largest aid effort in action — a nearly $1 billion-a-year operation involving about 14,000 aid workers helping 3.8 million people dependent on handouts of food, medicine and water.

But he did not get very far. He was turned back by soldiers at a military checkpoint on the road to the Kassab refugee camp in North Darfur, despite high-level assurances from the Sudanese government that he would be given unimpeded access to Darfur’s dispossessed.

“I find this quite extraordinary,” Mr. Holmes said as he stood on the dusty spot of his rejection. “We’ve come to visit a camp where the U.N. system is keeping people alive and we are not allowed access. It is quite an incredible event and I am quite frustrated and angry.”

Violence and bureaucracy are threatening to derail what has been perhaps the only success of the Darfur conflict: the humanitarian effort. For the past four years, Darfur has been a place of bloodshed and banishment, with at least 200,000 killed and more than 10 times as many pushed from their villages into camps and the wilderness by soldiers, pro-government militias and, more recently, clashes between rebel groups.

These people have been kept from dying in the arid moonscapes of Darfur by the aid effort — thousands of workers for dozens of agencies from Sudan and abroad who swiftly set up camps, dug wells and latrines, and handed out food. Those actions helped to slash death and malnutrition rates among the displaced, put hundreds of thousands of children in classrooms and give millions basic health care.

But now that effort is in peril, aid officials in Darfur say. In the past year, a dozen aid workers have been killed, dozens of vehicles stolen, compounds robbed and workers beaten, harassed and sexually assaulted. A United Nations map of a no-go area, where conditions are too dangerous for workers, shows a shrinking arena of operations, with wide swaths of territory off limits. More than 900,000 people are living or hiding in those areas.

Here in Deribat, a rebel-held town in the Jebel Marra mountains, help can arrive only by helicopter because government officials have closed off the road.

“They are strangling us,” said Ali Adam, a medical assistant who runs a clinic in Deribat, adding that 21 children have died here in the past three weeks of pneumonia because they have no antibiotics. “We are under siege.”

In other places, like Gereida, a vast camp of 130,000 people in a rebel-controlled area, violence has forced almost all aid workers to retreat. In December, armed men raided an aid organization compound, raping two women and stealing cars, satellite phones and computers.

Even in the areas supposedly within reach of relief organizations, like Kassab, bureaucratic stonewalling by the government keeps aid workers out much of the time. Aid agencies say their operations are tied in endless ribbons of red tape. Rather than being chased from the country by violence they are more likely to lose heart from the endless bureaucracy — a slow death by a thousand paper cuts.

“Many organizations are saying that the bureaucratic obstacles are the No. 1 problem and may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” said one senior aid official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of government retaliation.

The mountains of paperwork — including trips to government ministries to obtain official stamps and permissions for visas, travel permits and import tax exemptions — take up so much time that one large aid organization with operations across Darfur employs five full-time workers whose only job is to navigate the bureaucratic maze.

The government signed an agreement with the United Nations in 2004 that eliminated most restrictions on aid workers. But that agreement has been repeatedly violated: a United Nations list of incidents compiled in the first two months of the year cited more than two dozen cases of workers being forced off aid flights, turned back at checkpoints or denied paperwork and visas.

Visas are issued for a few months at a time, if at all. Exit visas are required for workers staying more than a month, but these, too, can take weeks to come through and cost $120 each. The cost of a single worker’s paperwork can add up to $1,000 a year.

Government officials say they are not obstructing aid workers and have lived up to the agreement to allow free access.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Will Guantanamo go with Gonzales?

The Guantanamo detention center has become a black eye for the United State to friends and foes alike. The secretive goings on at this off-shore base has become a symbol of how the United States has turned its back on the American tradition (or perception) of justice. As a result, recent confessions of al-Qaeda operative Khalid Sheik Mohammed have been met with almost indifference due to the lack of credibility of U.S. interrogators.

It would then seem quite obvious that Guantanamo has become a liability and it is in the U.S. interest to shut it down as soon as possible. In fact, as reported in today’s New York Times, that is exactly what Defense Secretary Robert Gates tried to do soon after he replaced Donald Rumsfeld. Unfortunately, President Bush chose to ignore Gates and instead took the advice of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to keep the facility active. Gonzales, of course, has been instrumental in determining White House policies regarding Geneva Convention protections for prisoners, the redefinition of torture and warrantless domestic eavesdropping program among others that have damaged America’s reputation.

However, there is still hope. With the growing likelihood Gonzales will be shown the door, the issue of closing the Guantanamo detention facility may have a second chance.

This from the New York Times:
In his first weeks as defense secretary, Robert M. Gates repeatedly argued that the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, had become so tainted abroad that legal proceedings at Guantánamo would be viewed as illegitimate, according to senior administration officials. He told President Bush and others that it should be shut down as quickly as possible.

Mr. Gates’s appeal was an effort to turn Mr. Bush’s publicly stated desire to close Guantánamo into a specific plan for action, the officials said. In particular, Mr. Gates urged that trials of terrorism suspects be moved to the United States, both to make them more credible and because Guantánamo’s continued existence hampered the broader war effort, administration officials said.

Mr. Gates’s arguments were rejected after Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and some other government lawyers expressed strong objections to moving detainees to the United States, a stance that was backed by the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, administration officials said.

As Mr. Gates was making his case, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice joined him in urging that the detention facility be shut down, administration officials said. But the high-level discussions about closing Guantánamo came to a halt after Mr. Bush rejected the approach, although officials at the National Security Council, the Pentagon and the State Department continue to analyze options for the detention of terrorism suspects.

The base at Guantánamo holds about 385 prisoners, among them 14 senior leaders of Al Qaeda, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who were transferred to it last year from secret prisons run by the Central Intelligence Agency. Under the Pentagon’s current plans, some prisoners, including Mr. Mohammed, will face war crimes charges under military trials that could begin later this year.

“The policy remains unchanged,” said Gordon D. Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council.

Even so, one senior administration official who favors the closing of the facility said the battle might be renewed.

“Let’s see what happens to Gonzales,” that official said, referring to speculation that Mr. Gonzales will be forced to step down, or at least is significantly weakened, because of the political uproar over the dismissal of United States attorneys. “I suspect this one isn’t over yet.”
You can read the entire article here.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Using children as terrorist tools

Yesterday brought this awful bit of news from Iraq:
Insurgents detonated a bomb in a car with two children in it after using the children as decoys to get through a military checkpoint in Baghdad, an American general said Tuesday.

Speaking at a news briefing at the Pentagon, Maj. Gen. Michael Barbaro, deputy director for regional operations at the Joint Staff, said American soldiers had stopped the car at the checkpoint but had allowed it to pass after seeing the two children in the back seat.

“Children in the back seat lower suspicion,” he said, according to a transcript. “We let it move through. They parked the vehicle. The adults run out and detonate it with the children in back.”
The horror of these bombings is bad enough but the thought that children are used to advance these murderous deeds is appalling and sad. However, children are important to certain movements both to indoctrinate for the future and to use for propaganda purposes.

A couple of weeks ago the Hamas television station, al-Aqsa, aired an interview with the young children of Rim al-Riyashi (a.k.a. Reem Riyashi). She was a suicide bomber for Hamas who was responsible for the deaths of four and the injury of many others in January 2004. She was also a mother with two children -- a son, Obedia, and daughter, Doha – aged three years and 18 months at the time of the attack. The interviewer had the children recite the poem, Mama Rim, and asked them how many Jews she killed.

Yesterday al-Aqsa broadcast a music video of an imagined song from one of her children to her. The clip concludes when the child finds the mother’s explosives and vows to follow her. It was aired during children’s programming. You can read about it and see the video here at FP Passport.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Message of gay and lesbian tolerance deemed “inappropriate” for teens

When a friend of high school sophomore Megan Chase disclosed to her that he was gay, she felt moved to write an opinion piece for her school newspaper about the importance of tolerance of those who seek out same sex relationships. After the piece was published, Principal Edwin Yoder declared it inappropriate for students at the school and ordered the journalism teacher, Amy Sorrell, to submit all future editions of the paper to him in advance of publication for his approval. Assistant Superintendent Andy Melin said school officials did not have an issue with the topic but felt the article, calling for tolerance, lacked balance.

The school, Woodlan Junior-Senior High School, is located in the northeastern Indiana community of Woodburn not far from Fort Wayne. The Allen County school includes grades 7 through 12.

The students attempted to comply with the principal’s new policy but failed to receive their draft back in a timely manner in order to publish it. They have now given up publishing the paper. Since then, student advisor Amy Sorrell has been placed on paid leave while she is being investigated for allegations that could lead to her dismissal. She has not been informed of what the allegations are. Yesterday, at least three students quit the newspaper staff after being informed by Principal Yoder they must resume publication of the newspaper naming him as the publisher.

The free speech issue here is pretty clear. Courts have consistently ruled against censorship of public student newspapers in the past, as they should. We can only hope the Indiana Civil Liberties Union jumps in before too much damage is done.

What is particularly alarming is that the message of tolerance for a segment of the community should be controversial at all. That the principal believes a plea by a high school sophomore for tolerance of gays and lesbians is inappropriate and the assistant supervisor believes lacks balance says a lot about the bigotry that is very much alive in this day and age. It is not the teacher and students who should be on the hot spot but the school authorities who abuse their positions to advance their own prejudices.

Here is the Woodlan Tomahawk editorial (via the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette) written by Sophomore Megan Chase:
We live in a world where we grow up being taught that it is only acceptable for a boy and a girl to be together. So how do you think you would feel if as you grew older and more mature you started noticing people of the same sex as you, rather than the opposite?

I can only imagine how hard it would be to come out as homosexual in today’s society. I think it is so wrong to look down on those people, or to make fun of them, just because they have a different sexuality than you. There is nothing wrong with them or their brain; they’re just different than you. I’ve heard some people say that they think there is a cure to being homosexual. I can’t believe anyone would think that. It’s not a disease, or something that you catch from someone else; it’s something that they don’t have control over. In saying that, I also believe that homosexuality is not a choice. Almost everyone that I talk to says that a person chooses to be gay or straight. That, again, is something that I believe to be very wrong. If people made the choice to be homosexual, there wouldn’t be anyone who committed suicide because they were too afraid of what people would think of them, and kids wouldn’t be afraid of being disowned if they came out to their parents.

There is also the religious aspect to the argument, where people say that if someone is homosexual, they are automatically sent to hell. To me, that seems extremely unfair. So what are homosexual Christians supposed to do? The answer that I constantly get to that question is, “Just don’t acknowledge that they’re homosexual and live a ‘normal’ life.” Excuse me? So they’re just supposed to never find a partner, or marry someone of the opposite sex, have kids, and pretend they’re “normal?” I don’t think that’s right, or fair. I wouldn’t want to believe in something that would condemn me over something that I didn’t even choose.

It is fact that as many as 7.2 million Americans under the age of 20 are homosexual, and of those that have already come out, 28% of them felt compelled to drop out of school due to the constant verbal assault that they experienced after people found out. Now, if you think that is terrible, this is even worse: According to, every day 13 Americans from the ages of 15-24 commit suicide, and homosexual youths make up 30% of the completed suicides. I don’t understand why we would put so much pressure on those people, that they would feel that they have to end their lives because of their sexuality. Would it be so hard to just accept them as human beings who have feelings just like everyone else? Being homosexual doesn’t make a person inhuman, it makes them just a little bit different than the rest of the world. And for living in a society that tells you to always be yourself, it’s a hard price to pay.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

It is time for South African leadership in dealing with Zimbabwe

Opposition to the rule of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe is stepping up but so is the violence of the government against dissidents. However, there are reports the some security forces are becoming reluctant to carry out attacks against opponents. The time may be ripe for international pressure and South Africa is ideally suited for the leadership role in dealing the problems created for south-central Africa by the Mugabe tyranny.

It is time that South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki to use his influence to persuade Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe it is time to step down and, failing that, rally other African countries to pressure the Mugabe regime in favor of the democratic opposition.. Zimbabwe’s archbishop, Pius Ncube, has been critical of South Africa for failing to act. According to him, "They [South Africa's leaders] are in the best position to put pressure on Zimbabwe, to call for sanctions if necessary."

This from the editorial page of the New York Times:
Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, has spent much of his 26-plus years in power suppressing all opposition, persecuting defenseless minorities and destroying a once-promising economy. He has shamelessly tried to deflect all blame for the disastrous consequences — including a man-made famine and a catastrophically mishandled H.I.V./AIDS epidemic — onto international scapegoats, chiefly Britain and the United States.

Now, the 83-year-old Mr. Mugabe seems to have descended into total power-madness. He has barred opponents from leaving the country, ordered his thugs to literally crack the skulls of opposition leaders, accused his own party’s youth group of plotting against him, and told Western critics to “go hang.” Last week, he threatened to run again in 2008 for another six-year term.

With hyperinflation making its currency almost worthless, Zimbabwe is running short of basic commodities like milk, cooking oil and gasoline. Fewer than one in four Zimbabweans have jobs, and life expectancy, nearly 60 in 1990, has plunged into the 30s.

Will no one rescue Zimbabwe? The United States and Europe have limited influence, and risk playing into Mr. Mugabe’s racist rhetoric when they try to use it. But President Thabo Mbeki of neighboring South Africa — the region’s most prestigious political leader — has enormous leverage, and he should be using it. South Africa is Zimbabwe’s main trade partner, a big investor and the source of more than 40 percent of its electricity.
Unfortunately Mr. Mbeki has done nothing, apparently out of a misplaced sense of liberation-struggle solidarity. Zimbabwe is struggling to liberate itself from Mr. Mugabe’s deadly misrule. Its people desperately need all Zimbabweans, and the influential Mr. Mbeki, to show real-life solidarity with them — and not with their rampaging dictator.

The price of torture

Awash in a sea of bad news, the administration released a report that captured al-Qaeda operative Khalid Sheik Mohammed had confessed to masterminding the September 11th attacks, murdering journalist Daniel Pearl and being responsible for a variety of other crimes. In fact, it seems he was everywhere and involved in everything. All that was missing was his admission to involvement in the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa and to being the second assassin on the grassy knoll in Dallas.

The news of his confessions was met with an almost universal indifference. Of course he confessed. He’ll confess to anything. He was tortured.

Was he really tortured? Reportedly he was initially but we don’t know to what extent his confessions were coerced. Are his confessions true? He most likely had some greater or lesser involvement in many of the crimes he recited. But the point here is there is widespread belief his confessions were coerced under torture and therefore are doubtful.

When the Bush administration took this country down the slippery slope of cutting corners on the treatment of prisoners-of-war deemed enemy combatants and by engaging in torture or the threat of torture they did more than carry us out over moral thin ice. The net effect has been to weaken the United States by destroying American credibility both at home and abroad. It has become a common assumption U.S. authorities torture, whether they do or not, to the point that our closest allies distance themselves from us. The virtues of credibility and moral leadership are not abstract; they are as empowering as the number of tanks on the battlefield or aircraft carriers on the sea. The fact these virtues are in doubt makes us a weaker nation than we have been since the beginning of World War II. Others will not follow because we think we are the good guys, others will follow because they think we are the good guys. That’s power.

Anne Applebaum discusses about the issue in today’s Washington Post:
Here is one thing nobody predicted back in 2003: that when the notorious Mohammed eventually stood before a Guantanamo Bay military tribunal and took responsibility not only for the Sept. 11 attacks, the deadliest crime ever carried out on American soil, but also for the horrific death of the journalist Daniel Pearl and some two dozen other operations, the world would greet the confessions with skepticism and indifference.

The Daily Telegraph, normally the most pro-American newspaper in Britain, wrote that it hardly mattered whether Mohammed was guilty, since whatever conclusion is drawn by the military tribunal that will try him, "the world will condemn the procedures by which the verdicts were reached." Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung concluded that "the Bush administration has nobody but itself to blame for the fact that the actions and motives of the perpetrator are now playing second fiddle to the practices used by the Americans in fighting terrorism." In many places, the confessions, which took place nearly a week ago, still have hardly attracted attention.

It is true that the administration has now stated clearly that torture, at least by the administration's definition, was not used in Mohammed's interrogation. ("We don't do torture" is how the White House press secretary cavalierly put it.) But even if we were to give the administration the benefit of the doubt, which hardly anyone will, the circumstances of Mohammed's detention have been unacceptable by American standards. Even if he was not tortured, he was held in secret, extralegal and completely unregulated conditions, possibly in Eastern Europe or the Middle East, certainly under nothing resembling what we in the United States normally consider the rule of law, either international or domestic. The mystery surrounding his interrogation -- when it was carried out, how and by whom -- renders any confession he makes completely null, either in a court of law or in the court of international public opinion.

This is concrete proof, as if more were needed, that it is not merely immoral to operate outside the rule of law; it is also ineffective and in fact profoundly counterproductive: There is no proof that it produces better information but plenty of evidence that it has discredited the United States. Indeed, there could be no more eloquent condemnation of the Bush administration's torture and detention policies than the deafening silence that followed Mohammed's confession: Who could have imagined, in September of 2001, that one of the deadliest terrorists in history would admit to the destruction of the World Trade Center -- and that the world would shrug its shoulders?
Her column also appeared in Slate and you can read the entire piece here.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Iraq: The fourth anniversary

U.S. involvement in the conflict in Iraq now surpasses the time the U.S. fought in World War II. The initial victory toppling the tyranny of the Baathist regime has eventually been overshadowed by the incompetence of the occupation, the failure to recognize the breakdown in the country, and the failure to act in a timely manner to correct course. Unemployment of approximately one-third of the population and the absence of security forced people to turn to the private militias of religious zealots for protection.

A poll by the BBC/ ABC/ USA Today of Iraqi citizens reveals a loss of the optimism many held in the early days following the downfall of Saddam Hussein. Thirty-nine percent of Iraqis said things are good in their lives now compared to seventy-one percent who responded affirmatively to the same question in 2005. Those who expect things to be better for their country is now forty percent as opposed to sixty-nine percent two years ago. The poll also revealed a polarization in opinions between Shia and Sunni Arabs with the former being somewhat optimistic.

(Northern Iraq – Kurdistan – is the exception to what is going on in the rest of the country. It is relatively peaceful in large part because it has become a state within a state by keeping central and southern Iraq at arms length. Michael Totten has an interesting report here.)

The repercussion of the war for the United States is great. According to the Washington Post, the drain of the Iraqi conflict is leaving the U.S. military seriously weakened with no strategic reserve of troops or equipment to respond to a major crisis elsewhere in the world. And, of course, there is the matter of the war in Afghanistan that this administration seems to have forgotten or simply doesn’t care about.

Today, the President gave a pep talk marking the anniversary of the war in Iraq. He warned of hard days ahead. After years of denial about the social and political breakdown in the country resulting in sectarian violence, the administration came up with a plan – the “surge” – as an attempt to preserve the status quo through use of the military. This administration, of course, uses the military as a one-size-fits-all solution to any problem. Aggressive diplomacy with Iraq’s neighbors as well as with the warring parties within Iraq is out of the question. Calling for international assistance to help quell the violence is out of the question. Recognizing the reality of the divisions of Iraq and urging reorganization (i.e., some degree of a partition) is out of the question.

Fred Kaplan sums up the President’s speech in Slate:
"Success will take months, not days or weeks," he said—the exact reverse of Vice President Dick Cheney's insouciant assurance on March 16, 2003, three days before the invasion, that the war would be over in "weeks rather than months."

In the meantime, Bush said, "there will be good days and there will be bad days"—the exact same words he used in a campaign speech in Pennsylvania on Oct. 7, 2004.

"Today the world is rid of Saddam Hussein"—that was the lead of the speech. A great bit of news indeed, but, much like the events in Iraq itself, the speech went downhill from there.

Imagine that President Harry S. Truman had not put into motion the Marshall Plan, the Bretton Woods Agreement, NATO, and the various other institutions that propped up Western freedom in the destructive wake of World War II—and that, on the fourth anniversary of V-E Day, the greatest boast he could make was: "Today the world is rid of Adolf Hitler." It would have been a great boast, but beside the point as Paris and Rome collapsed amid poverty, despair, and subversion.

So it is with George W. Bush, whose failure to repair postwar Iraq is particularly disgraceful, since this war was launched at his initiative, not as a response to aggression.

In his speech today, President Bush warned, "If American forces were to step back from Baghdad before it is secure, a contagion of violence could spill out across the entire country" and possibly "engulf the region."

He's right, but it's clear the U.S. Army can't block this contagion all alone—not in Baghdad or the rest of Iraq, much less across the Middle East. The surge falls far short of the required troop levels, as calculated in Gen. David Petraeus' own manual on counterinsurgency. And, given the supply shortages, maintenance backlogs, and overextended troop rotations, it's unclear that even this surge can be sustained through the end of the year.

So, what is President Bush's plan for outreach? Where is his initiative for regional security? If Maliki can go talk to the tribal elders of Ramadi, when will Bush go meet with the leaders of Iran and Syria?

The fourth anniversary of the invasion presented an opportunity for reassessment and bold moves. Instead, it was used as yet another midmorning prayer call for unearned patience and trust.

Iraq: The details will take care of themselves

This week marks the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. The overthrow of the regime of Saddam Hussein was easier than anticipated. However, the ideological blinders imposed upon American efforts by the Bush administration guaranteed failure in the long run. The absence of security around Iraq gave power to extremists as Iraqis sided with those who would provide protection even if it meant turning against their neighbors. The Iraqis were freed from tyranny but delivered to chaos and civil war.

Will the “surge” turn things around? Given the absence of an international effort to step in and lend credibility to peace-making, the over-reliance on the military to solve political problems, and the history of this administration’s incompetent leadership, it is very unlikely the current infusion of troops into Baghdad will do much more than quiet things down temporarily. After four years of war, the United States is still not on war footing – the military is stretching to come up with the additional troops called for, they will likely go into battle under-equipped, and our military and veterans’ hospitals are not prepared for the influx of wounded returning from the Middle East to name just a few of the stumbling blocks we are facing.

The lead editorial in yesterday’s L.A. Times sums it up:
…. Any confidence the American people or Congress once had in the administration's capabilities has long since been depleted.

It wasn't always so. Early on, this administration was perceived — by ideological friends and foes alike — as a paragon of competence. Names like Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell and even Rice (who knew?) were supposed to signal steady, experienced leadership. How far we've come.

The botched, ill-planned occupation of Iraq will go down as the administration's capital blunder. It stemmed from a cavalier arrogance, a belief that when you are on the right side of history, the details will take care of themselves….

Friday, March 16, 2007

Democratic opposition confronts Mugabe

Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of Zimbabwe’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), was released from the hospital earlier today following a brutal beating he received from police on Tuesday. Authorities have been cracking down on dissent against the dictatorship of President Robert Mugabe in the impoverished country.

According to the BBC over 80% of Zimbabweans live in poverty, with chronic unemployment and inflation runs at more than 1,700% - the highest in the world. The resulting death rates from the brutal policies of the Mugabe regime amounts to little more than genocide.

Dissent in the country has been growing and hopefully the end of the regime is within sight. According to opposition lawmaker and MDC activist Nelson Chamisa, "Zimbabweans are ready to fight. They are definitely ready to fight. The regime's days are numbered." (Post)

Mr. Tsvangirai had a piece published in today’s Independent in which he says,
Yes, they brutalised my flesh. But they will never break my spirit. I will soldier on until Zimbabwe is free.

…Democratic change in Zimbabwe is within sight. Far from killing my spirit, the scars they brutally inflicted on me have re-energised me. I seek no martyrdom. I only seek a new dispensation in my country in which citizens live freely in prosperity and not in fear of their rulers.
This is from today’s New York Times:
Zimbabwe's main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai left hospital on Friday, saying he was still in pain from an ``orgy'' of police beatings but would keep battling President Robert Mugabe's authoritarian government.

Tsvangirai, head of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), had been treated for what his party said was a suspected skull fracture since Tuesday, two days after he and scores of supporters were arrested in an anti-Mugabe protest.

Images of a badly bruised and limping Tsvangirai entering the hospital earlier this week fueled international outrage and threats by the United States and other nations to tighten sanctions against Mugabe and other senior Zimbabwean officials.

A Tsvangirai spokesman said on Friday that the MDC leader would now rest at home.``He is still swollen and in pain, but he feels it's better to recuperate from home ... he is still not himself,'' William Bango said. An MDC spokesman said Tsvangirai was still suffering from dizziness. Doctors have not confirmed a fracture.

Tsvangirai and others who were arrested in the crackdown face charges of public violence and convening an illegal rally, defense lawyers say. The charges usually lead to fines not jail.

A court hearing on Tuesday was aborted after a state prosecutor ordered that the MDC leader and other injured detainees be taken to hospital for treatment.

Zimbabwean officials have said the government will brook no dissent on the streets, vowing to use a ``heavy hand'' to enforce a three-month ban on political rallies and protests in Harare.

Mugabe, who frequently blames Zimbabwe's economic problems on sabotage by Britain and the United States, told his Western critics on Thursday that they could ``go hang.''

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The “sexual cleansing” of Iraq

Being gay or lesbian in Iraq can be like carrying around a death sentence that can be imposed at any time by almost anyone. The rise of religious extremists in a region already known for its intolerance of sexual minorities and the widespread violence of the Iraqi civil war have contributed to the “sexual cleansing” of the country as gay and lesbian people are either murdered or flee for their lives.

Ali Hilli, is a gay refugee from Iraq, and Middle East Affairs spokesperson for the UK-based LGBT human rights group, OutRage! Below are excerpts from a speech he gave on February 17th in London reprinted in the recent issue of Democratiya:
I speak on behalf of Iraqi LGBT – an underground network of LGBT activists that we have established inside Iraq. Our members – and all Iraqi LGBTs - are at daily risk of execution by the Shia death squads of the Badr and Sadr militias. Members of these militias have infiltrated the Iraqi police and are abusing their police authority to pursue a plan to eliminate all homosexuals in Iraq. This is happening with the collusion of key ministers in the Iraqi government.

The Badr and Sadr militias are the armed wings of the two main Shia parties that control the government of Iraq. These governing parties – particularly the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq - are complicit in the widespread execution of Iraqi LGBTs.

What is happening today in Iraq is one of the most organised and systematic sexual cleansings in the history of the world. Attacks have escalated into unprecedented levels of homophobic violence, including targeted assassinations. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) has recently, for the first time, confirmed that there are organised campaigns to kill gays in Iraq. These killings are taking place on the order of Iraq's Shia leaders. The UNAMI Human Rights Office recently reported that it was 'alerted to the existence of religious courts, supervised by clerics, where alleged homosexuals would be 'tried,' 'sentenced' to death, and then executed.'

One of the self-appointed religious judges in Sadr City believes that homosexuality is on the wane in Iraq. 'Most [gays] have been killed and others have fled,' he said, insisting that the religious courts have 'a lot to be proud of. We now represent a society that asked us to protect it not only from thieves but also from these [bad] deeds[same-sex relationships].'


I will give you just one example of the homophobic terror Iraqi LGBTs are facing. Five activists in Baghdad were discovered in a safe house and abducted at gunpoint on 9 November last year. Nothing has been heard of them since then. It is feared that death squads operating within the Iraqi police may have murdered them. The kidnapped men all were members of our group Iraqi LGBT. For the previous few months these activists had been documenting the killing of lesbians and gays, and relaying details of homophobic executions to our office in London. I have no doubt that they were targeted – not just because they were gay – but also to stop them exposing to the outside world the anti-gay pogrom that is happening in Iraq today.

The Iranian Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who is the world leader of Shia Muslims, clearly states that gays and lesbians should be executed. This gives direct religious sanction to the murder of LGBTs by the Badr and Sadr death squads. Sistani is giving the killers divine authority.

The urgency now is to protect LGBT people in Iraq. We need action by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Red Cross and Red Crescent, and by other international aid agencies and human right organisations. The UNHCR is failing to support Iraqi LGBTs who have fled to Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. It should be providing them with shelter and subsistence. It should be giving them travel documents, so they can seek refuge in safe western countries. So far, this is not happening.

The West, which caused much of the current chaos in Iraq, should be giving refuge to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Iraqis. Right now, the US and Britain are turning down asylum claims by Iraqi LGBTs.
You can read the entire speech here. You may also visit the Iraqi LGBT website here.

Cult of death from generation to generation

Here is a clip of an interview with the children of a young Palestinian woman, Rim al-Riyashi, who blew herself up on January 27th murdering four and wounding ten Israelis in the process. She pretended to have an injured leg and needed assistance. Relying on the sympathy of Israeli soldiers, she was taken into a building at an Army checkpoint for medical assistance when she detonated the bomb in the midst of those who tried to help her.

The interview with her children aired on March 8th on Al-Aqsa TV, broadcast in the Palestinian territories:
Interviewer: "What would you like to recite for us? Have you heard the poem 'Mama Rim'? Go on then, recite it for us."

Dhoha: "Rim, you are a fire bomb."

Interviewer: "Go on, recite it."

Dhoha: "'Your children and submachine gun are your motto.'"

Interviewer: "Muhammad, go ahead and recite..."

Muhammad: "I'm in kindergarten."

Dhoha: "That's it, I'm done."

Interviewer: "OK, do you want to go to Mama?"

Dhoha: "Yes."
The complete transcript of the interview can be found here.

Thanks to Harry’s Place for the tip.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Blogging as a criminal activity in Egypt

The conviction of blogger Abdel-Karim Suleiman -- previously reported here and here -- was upheld by an appeals court on Monday. Suleiman is a secular-minded Muslim who uses the name Kareem Amer on his blog. Kareem was sentenced to serve four years in prison for insulting Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak and Islam on his blog.

This is a very bad precedent for blogging and freedom of speech.

This from the Gulf Times:
An Egyptian appeals court yesterday upheld a 4-year jail sentence against a blogger convicted of insulting Islam and President Hosni Mubarak.

Abdel-Karim Suleiman, 22, last month became the first Egyptian to be jailed for his writing on the Internet in what human rights groups and bloggers described as a dangerous precedent that could limit online freedom in the country.

“This was not a verdict issued on a legal basis,” said Gamal Eid, a human rights activist and one of Suleiman’s lawyers. “This is a religious verdict similar to those of the Inquisition.”

The court in the port city of Alexandria also allowed a group of Islamist lawyers to file a separate lawsuit against Suleiman demanding compensation on the grounds that his writings had harmed them as Muslims.

The Islamist lawyers criticised Suleiman’s lawyers during the proceedings for defending him.
“You are an infidel,” one of the Islamist lawyers shouted at a member of Suleiman’s defence team after the trial, sparking a shouting match between the groups.

The case against Suleiman, a secular-minded Muslim who uses the name Kareem Amer on his blog, was based on a complaint by Al Azhar University about eight articles written since 2004.
Suleiman accused the conservative Sunni institution of promoting extremist thought and described some companions of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as “terrorists”.

He also compared President Hosni Mubarak to the dictatorial Pharaohs of ancient Egypt.

Suleiman stood at the defendant’s pen yesterday wearing a blue prison uniform. He did not deny writing the articles but said they represented his views.

Ahmed Seif al-Islam, one of his lawyers, said the defence team planned to take the case to the Court of Cassation, Egypt’s highest appeals court.

He said the lower court’s ruling rested on articles in the penal code that did not justify the sentence. “The problem in these kind of cases is that the people who distinguish between their religious feelings and the law are few,” he said.
More information on the case and how you can help is available on the Free Kareem website.

Thanks to Harry’s Place for tip on the current event and for helping keep this issue alive.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Ballad for Scooter Libby

Here is a real gem by poet Stan Balter published on Octogenarian:

Ballad for Scooter Libby


Stan Balter

Said Rove to Libby and Cheney-um,

Saddam must have bought some uranium.
Send Joe Wilson to try
To find where and why.
We'll have us a swell casus belli.

Said Libby to Rove to Dick Cheney,
This Wilson, he really does pain me.
The reports from this man
Don't fit in with our plan.
They're not what the White House demands.

Said Rove to Libby to Cheney-ous,
Reality and truth are extraneous.
No problem, relax,
Manufacture some facts,
And shout "terror." That always distracts.

Said Cheney to Libby to Rove-r,
Wilson's wife, she works under cover.
If Joe won't play our game
We'll leak Val Plame's name.
The reporters will know whom to blame.

Said Cheney: You know our agenda.
There's no one out there to defend her.
If we hurt the CIA
That's a small price to pay
As long as King George gets his way.

Get to Miller and Cooper and Russert.
Be coy but be sure to discuss it.
They'll do the job for us,
They'll join in the chorus.
That's good, 'cause our case is not flawless.

Armitage could help spread the word
By telling some things that he heard.
He might talk to Bob Novak.
That would help get us back
At Joe for his op-ed attack.

What? You say that our plans are imperiled
By Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald?
He'll look into the leak,
But his case will be weak.
The reporters will not want to speak.

But Fitzgerald continued his probing,
Found proof of official misquoting.
I'm sure Libby's lyin'
I think that he's tryin'
To protect someone way up the line.

Said Cheney and Karl Rove to Libby,
Scooter, just be a bit fibby.
It's just common sense,
You forgot some events.
Use the "who me?" amnesia defense.

So tell 'em: I can't recollect.
After all, what do you expect?
My day job's real tough.
I have more than enough
To be bothered with trivial stuff.

Tell 'em: I just can't recall
The nitty and gritty and all,
The when's and the who's,
And everyone's views.
I forget, you'll just have to excuse.

Perjury's Fitz's contention.
Memory lapse is Libby's invention.
Fitz says Scooter's lying
With repeated denying.
He's obstructing the case Fitz is trying.

But Russert and Miller and Cooper
All said that you're telling a blooper.
Cheney's note makes it clear
That the story is queer.
There's obstruction and perjury here.

Just forgetful? The jury said no.
That's not what the facts clearly show.
Though not yet admitted,
Perjury was committed.
No way can this man be acquitted.

The jury says you are a felon
Because of the lies you've been tellin'.
Your tale's out of sync
You belong in the clink
In spite of your close White House link.

So Scooter, you're taking the fall.
Were you really running it all?
The chief orchestrator?
And main obfuscator?
Were you the whole scheme perpetrator?

I suspect that this story's not over.
What happens to Cheney and Rove-r?
They must bear some blame
For outing Val Plame
And besmirching Joe Wilson's good name.

Fitz says there's a cloud over Cheney.
(Was the whole plan really so brainy?)
From the whispers we hear
It's really quite clear
There must be a chief puppeteer.

Shame on you Karl and on Dickie.
Your scheming is overly tricky.
Your leaks are erroneous,
Your actions, felonious,
Your cover-up, full of baloney-ous.

Thanks to Mort Reichek for permission to reprint.

Democracy: Has politics become war by other means?

Have we become so polarized in this country that politics has become war by other means? Or is it the other way around? The way we practice politics contributes to polarization.

This blog has discussed the shortcomings of the U.S. constitution, the reluctance of many Americans to share their rights other Americans, measuring the United States with a democratic yardstick, and the myth of democracy in the United States. This writer believes that democracy as practiced in this country has serious shortcomings, not only structurally but also culturally. Our national government is put in place through an incredible Rube Goldberg electoral system, which is bad enough, but the clunky electoral system is then corrupted by money. And public debate about serious issues is frequently almost childlike in its lack of sophistication – e.g., debate about American policy regarding the civil war in Iraq usually degenerates into arguments about “supporting the troops.” American democracy is a work in progress needing attention that unfortunately is seen by many as a finished product.

Ronald Dworkin believes that while we go through the motions of practicing democratic procedures, the foundations are very shaky. Here are his thoughts from the Guardian:
Democracy doesn't mean just majority rule. There is no intrinsic value in the bare fact that more people favour one particular party or policy than another. Democracy is a value worth fighting for - it makes power legitimate - only when it means government through the majority on behalf of and for all the citizens. …

These conditions can easily be set out in very abstract terms. Government must respect human rights, it must respect religious freedom and other forms of freedom of conscience, it must distribute its wealth so as to give everyone a fair stake in its economy and, above all, it must conduct its elections and other political procedures argumentatively so that each citizen is treated as someone worth convincing not just outvoting.

The United States fails by all these standards, and Britain does not do much better. We fail most dramatically in the character of our politics. Our politicians treat us as ignorant consumers; they entertain us with slogans and sound bites rather than arguments. In America, a very pessimistic explanation of this degraded politics is now fashionable. Americans are supposedly divided into two radically opposed cultures: the red culture that wants its religion public, drinks beer, lives in the middle, and votes Republican, and the blue culture that keeps its religion (if any) private, drinks white wine, lives on the coasts and votes Democratic. Genuine argument requires some common ground from which argument can start, and the conventional wisdom now holds that these two cultures are so fundamentally divided, in every respect, that there is no common ground. Politics is doomed to be war by other means.

I don't agree with this pessimistic conclusion. There are two very basic ethical principles that I believe are firmly part of western culture now and that are shared across the allegedly unbridgeable political divide. These hold, first, that it is objectively important that a human life, once begun, succeeds rather than fails, and, second, that each person has a non-delegable personal responsibility for identifying and pursuing success in his or her own life. If we all accept those basic principles, then we can reconstruct political argument as an argument about which political policies pursue the most attractive interpretation of these basic ethical requirements.

I think we need a distinctly liberal interpretation, which includes an understanding of human rights that makes our treatment of many terrorist suspects a violation of those rights. There are two general models of religion and politics - a choice between a religious state that tolerates dissent and a secular state that tolerates religion - and I believe that the basic principles, properly understood, require the secular state. To this end, I have explored a scheme for judging whether the level of a community's redistribution of its wealth through taxation is legitimate - in my view taxation in the United States and in Britain is illegitimately low.

The quality of political debate in the United States and Britain could be improved by, for example, a mandatory course in contemporary political issues in all secondary schools in which the most divisive issues are discussed against the background of the best rival arguments. This is the kind of argument our countries now lack.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Are we better off?

The world certainly faces no shortage of problems. War. Famine. Global warming. But compared to the past are we better off?

Robert Crampton seems to think we are in a piece in the London Times (via Harry’s Place):
Somewhere, right now, a newspaper olumnist is whingeing. Even Matthew Parris has succumbed. Moaning has become the default temptation for the hard-pressed opinion-former. It’s cheap, it’s easy — but it’s wrong. On balance, the world is a far better place than it was, say, 30 years ago, when I was the age my children are now. Here are some reasons to be cheerful. Feel free to add your own.

Communism is all but gone. Even Castro is almost dead. Fewer countries are run by tyrants of any stripe. Fewer people do dirty, dangerous, soul-destroying, health-destroying or just plain boring jobs. Military casualties come at a much higher political cost: in 1972, when I was my daughter’s age, 134 British soldiers were killed in Northern Ireland, exactly the number that have died in four years of war in Iraq.

Clothing and food are cheaper, better and more likely to be made of natural ingredients, though neoprene, Gore-Tex, Lycra and Velcro are more than welcome. Tinned mandarins are no longer part of our staple diet. My children eat delicious stuff I hadn’t heard of until I was 25.

Obesity, narcissism and living too long are much less serious problems than hunger, disease and not living long enough. My children’s grandparents are all alive. Three of mine were dead before I was four. Viagra has been invented. Fifty is the new thirty.

Divorce is not stigmatised. Neither are mixed-race children. Corporal punishment is against the law. Very few people think homosexuality is a sin or that women are inferior or that racism is a bit of a laugh. More than 50 per cent of doctors are women. Bullying is taken seriously by schools. Domestic violence is taken seriously by the police. Parents, especially fathers, have warmer, friendlier, closer relationships with their children.

Shops open longer. Ikea, Decathlon and TK Maxx benefit millions. More people than ever are writing, recording, painting, creating. The cinema, books and newspapers are still very cheap. Museums are free and more interesting. Modern architecture is rather nice to look at. Good taste in matters great and small has percolated down. Duvets are preferable to blankets. The great cities of the North of England are rising again.

Very few people smell. Lidos are reopening. Canals are being dug once again. Unleaded is normal. There are salmon in the Thames, wildflowers in the hedgerows and farmers’ markets in the high street. You can get to Paris by train in three hours. Many of the world’s best footballers play in England. Immigration is up, emigration is up, the internet is utterly wonderful, the word “sir” is falling into disuse, ties are being cast off, almost everyone is on first-name terms.

And spring is nearly here, and many types of cancer are in headlong retreat, and our kids will live a very long time, and Doctor Who will soon be back on the telly.

So, given all that, why the long face?
So what do you think?

Friday, March 09, 2007

Genocide in Zimbabwe

Robert Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980. He has ruled as a tyrant and his economic policies, set up to reward political supporters, have been an absolute disaster. The country once known as the “bread basket” of Africa now must import food. The population is starving with over one-third of the population suffering from malnutrition. Life expectancy has dropped from 62 in 1990 to 34 for women and 37 for men – among the lowest in the world. Women dying in childbirth numbered 42,000 last year up from less than 1000 ten years ago. The regime has undertaken efforts to force the urban poor, who have not been supporters of Mugabe, out of their homes and into the countryside to fend for themselves however they can. Aid is blocked to Zimbabweans who do not support Mugabe.

This is really nothing short of mass murder.

James Kirchick has this assessment in this week’s New Republic:
The conditions Mugabe rendered in Zimbabwe do not merely stem from idealistic economic and social policies gone awry. He has undertaken a campaign of violence and starvation against political opponents, the fallout of which is killing tens of thousands, if not more, every year. In 2005, there were roughly 4,000 more deaths each week than births, a rate that the famine has surely increased. This is worse than brutality. The United Nations says that "deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part" constitutes genocide, and that is exactly what Robert Mugabe has wrought.

The genocide in Zimbabwe is not as stark as others. There are no cattle cars and gas chambers. There are no machete-wielding gangs roaming the countryside. There are no helicopter gunships or Janjaweed. The killing in Zimbabwe is slow, oftentimes indirect, and not particularly bloody. But Mugabe's campaign of mass murder against those who oppose him has been no less deliberate than any of the other genocides in human history.

It all began with Mugabe's land seizures in 2000, in which he booted white farmers from the property they owned and replaced them with political hacks who have no interest in agriculture. The results were disastrous. Zimbabwe annually requires 1.8 million metric tons of maize. Yet, in 2006, for instance, it faced an 850,000 metric ton deficit -- of which planned imports would cover just 60 percent, with only 28 percent of that delivered by December. The country also requires 400,000 tons of wheat annually, yet, last year, it produced only 218,000 tons by the government's count -- meaning the true total was likely far less. As early as 2002, the BBC was reporting that people in Matabeleland, the southern region of the country where the minority Ndebele tribe lives, were starving. That same year, on the eve of a massive drought, the Minister of Zimbabwean State Security said, "We would be better off with only six million people--with our own who support the liberation struggle. We don't want all these extra people." Today, according to the World Food Program, 38 percent of Zimbabweans are malnourished.

The fallout has rippled through society: Zimbabwe has the world's highest inflation
rate (1,600 percent annually, expected to hit 4,000 by the end of the year) and an HIV prevalence of at least 18 percent, and probably higher. It also has the lowest life expectancy, by far, in the world: 34 for women and 37 for men (it was 62 in 1990). Last year, 42,000 women died from childbirth; less than a decade ago, this figure was under 1,000. The weekly death rate exceeds Darfur's.

Meanwhile, Mugabe's party, ZANU-PF, is wielding the food shortage as a weapon against the opposition. The government's Grain Marketing Board frequently denies food aid to people in districts that voted against Mugabe in recent elections; only those with ZANU-PF membership cards are able to get rations. Several people I spoke with in Harare's poor township of Hatcliffe told me that the army and the police regularly interfere with food distribution from USAID, UNICEF, and other international aid groups. In 2002, USAID director Andrew Natsios publicly scolded Mugabe for manipulating American food aid, a practice that has continued unabated. And a 2004 Amnesty International report warned that "[T]he government has used the food shortages for political purposes and to punish political opponents."

Then, as if starvation weren't bad enough, Mugabe unleashed more destruction in May 2005. Operation Murambatsvina (Shona for "Drive out Filth") aimed to "re-ruralize" some 1 million Zimbabweans--mostly poor, urban shanty dwellers from areas that voted against Mugabe in parliamentary elections just weeks earlier. Mugabe's henchmen forcibly cleared the slums. A United Nations report filed by a special representative of the secretary-general, found that the operation was "carried out in an indiscriminate and unjustified manner, with indifference to human suffering, and, in repeated cases, with disregard to several provisions of national and international legal frameworks." The Fourth Geneva Convention considers the "deportation or forcible transfer of population" to be a crime against humanity.

There is historic and legal precedent to warrant calling these policies genocide. In 1996, U.N Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali declared that Rwandan Hutu refugees living in Zaire might be potential victims of "genocide by starvation." In December of 2006, the former Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam (also known as the "African Pol Pot") was found guilty of genocide by a court in his own country after a twelve-year trial. His government was convicted of having "conspired to destroy a political group and kill people with impunity"--not only through actual murder, but by creating and prolonging the 1984 Tigray famine, in which some 1.5 million people died. In 1991, Mariam escaped from Ethiopia, finding asylum in, of all places, Mugabe's Zimbabwe.

Incidentally, the starvation and transfer of Mugabe's opponents isn't the first time he has has unleashed a genocidal campaign against his own people. Not long after taking power, in the mid-'80s, Mugabe's North Korean-trained ZANU-PF army killed an estimated 25,000 Ndebeles (the minority tribe to Mugabe's own Shona majority) in an operation known as the Gukurahundi (Shona for "the early rain which washes away the chaff"). The Matabeleland massacre ended, once and for all, any Ndebele challenge to Mugabe's power.

People are finally beginning to call it like they see it in Zimbabwe. R.W. Johnson, an Oxford-trained academic and for many years the London Sunday Times' southern Africa correspondent, declared in a recent dispatch that "A vast human cull is under way in Zimbabwe and the great majority of deaths are a direct result of deliberate government policies. Ignored by the United Nations, it is a genocide perhaps 10 times greater than Darfur's and more than twice as large as Rwanda's." (Johnson reported the widely published number of three million Zimbabwean refugees in South Africa and one million who have fled elsewhere, leaving a population of 14 million in Zimbabwe. But the government itself publishes an official figure of 12 million citizens, leaving 2 million people "missing.") And Arnold Tsunga, chairman of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (an NGO devoted to democracy and the rule of law in Zimbabwe), called Mugabe's policies "smart genocide," because they have taken place unnoticed by governments, aid organizations, and the international press.

Will anything come of it? This month, South Africa took over the rotating U.N. Security Council presidency. Although it's a perfect opportunity to publicize Mugabe's crimes, South Africa, the regional power, has emboldened Mugabe by endorsing every instance of his election-theft (flying in the face of international observer teams), supplying him with economic aid, and strengthening the countries' military alliance. So it's likely nothing will happen.
You can read Kirkick’s entire article here. You can also read previous posts on Sisyphus about Zimbabwe here, here and here.