the watch
bush lied, people died. escalate nonviolence.

Evict Bush!

Saturday, October 26, 2002  

I was recently chastised by an anti-Idiotarian for not being open-minded.

WHEREAS: Open-mindedness is a 'virtue' generally prized by people seeking converts, and is claimed almost exclusively by individuals that could never possibly be accused of it...

WE DECLARE: That this was a great compliment. Thank you. You know who you are.

On a more serious note, another member of the discussion posted a link to an article about the likely aftermath of the war, titled "The Fifty-First State?' Covers some interesting possible aftermath scenarios, and makes a good case for a Marshall Plan type rebuilding. I have some doubts that we would be willing to go that distance, handle the diplomacy properly, and commit 50,000 - 75,000 troops indefinitely. God only knows what their neighbors will say.

posted by Natasha at 1:49 AM | PERMALINK |

Some Afghans feel that they were better off under the Russians. I don't understand, how can they fail to appreciate what a service we did in saving them from the godless communists and leaving them to the mujahideen?

posted by Natasha at 1:11 AM | PERMALINK |

After having loaned out my previous copy to a friend (a sure-fire way to lose a book), I again have a copy of "Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do", by Peter McWilliams. One of its advantages, besides unusual lucidity in defense of personal liberty, is an intimidating collection of corner quotes. Some of my favorites:

Nothing is less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all. - Peter Drucker

He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression. - Thomas Paine, 1795

When the tyrant has disposed of foreign enemies by conquest or treaty, and there is nothing to fear from them, then he is always stirring up some war or other, in order that the people may require a leader. - Plato

posted by Natasha at 12:28 AM | PERMALINK |

Friday, October 25, 2002  

In what can only be described as a major tragedy for the good guys, Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MN) died in a plane crash today that killed his wife, daughter, and five others.

posted by Natasha at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK |

Simon Tisdall makes a less tortuous argument than I did as to why our current policy regarding a UN resolution is bad on many levels.

posted by Natasha at 8:18 AM | PERMALINK |

The course of recent discussions with Andrew Olmstead, among others, has led me to believe that I should clarify my position on war in general and the upcoming war on Iraq in particular. So here goes:

States are a necessary consequence of large populations. They exist because people tend to behave badly when there are no consequences for their actions. They are conferred with (or assume) certain authorities because this is generally a more effective way to deal with problems than leaving every person to themselves. The rights reserved for states are those which society holds (rightly or wrongly) to be too disruptive for everyone to exercise on their own, but would otherwise be the province of individuals. This is important because the actions of states can only, imo, be accurately discussed in human terms.

A state supercedes other human organizations, because one of the main responsibilities conferred on a state is the judicious use of the authority to take life. It is in the power of every person to kill another, even though relatively few people desire to do this. The main benefit of putting up with each other in these arrangements is the decreased risk of death that comes with concentrating this power of decision. The main threat to the integrity of a state is by allowing such a high rate of death that members have nothing to lose by turning on it, or simply deserting if that option is available. The untimely death of another person is considered a failure of the society, as war is considered a failure of diplomacy.

Yet there is the recognition that in some cases, only war will allow society to survive, as killing may be necessary to an individual's self-defense. There is also the acceptance that a person or state may act on behalf of the defenseless to save a life, and have the resultant killing still fall under the accepted category of self-defense.

The question of whether the point of self-defense has been reached is serious, and it should be the goal of everyone to see that it happens less and less frequently. Social contracts only work in the long-term when the substantial majority of potential signers-on stand to gain more by participating than by opting out. They cease to function as soon as they stop providing benefits, and one of the benefits of our international social contract has been that outright invasion has gradually become a less and less acceptable political tool. This reduces one of the major risks of statehood, as well as the typical intensity of conflict. One of the downsides has been the increasing omnipresence of the American military, which drains our resources and frequently causes contention abroad. It has not eliminated conflict, civil war, or many other despicable practices, but progress has been made.

The first Gulf War, self-serving though it may have been, fell within the confines of the consensus. An invasion took place and was repelled. An invasion now, otoh, constitutes a significant breach. (Pre-emption could aptly be titled 'the strategy formerly known as unprovoked invasion'.) Moreover, this breach will be committed by a key stakeholder, with the undeniable power to do it again whenever and wherever we like. Our military is tolerated in countries around the globe because we are nominally trusted to use naked displays of force only for the common good, or at least not to do too much direct harm. Because cooperation provides benefits of one sort or another to those willing to go along.

This position of trust we presently occupy, wherein our military installations are allowed in sovereign nations around the world, was not conferred on us by the Almighty. It did not come to us because people around the world woke up one morning and said, 'hey, those Americans are so swell, we should just let them run the whole joint.'

We are in our singular position today due to a geographical accident that left our main territory untouched at the end of a brutal conflict spanning several continents. WWII was principly the result of a state so failed by the prevailing social contract that their collective citizenry decided anything was better than being kicked around some more. Our actions afterwards were to punish the leaders of the aggressors, while rewarding the people of those countries with a social framework and support that turned two 'backwards' countries into prosperous and well run societies. We favored our allies by helping them rebuild their own countries, and helped everyone generally by organizing and enforcing a broad (if patchy) consensus that invasion was a Bad Thing.

People then trusted us because we had demonstrated by a kind of uber-potlatch, that we would not use this newfound advantage to occupy the shoes of the governments we helped dispatch. We had achieved a higher status than any country before us because we were more generous and merciful than anyone expected.

We were given further power because we were willing to put a lot of energy into preventing another aggressive country from going so far as to begin an even larger world conflict than the last one. Yet over the years we've gradually lost this trust; on the basis of which our government was originally given more authority than others in deciding when killing may be employed as a political strategy. We were, by fact of this authority, given a meta-state role. Now with more than fifty years gone by, and the other scary monster hollowed out, our actions might very well indicate to others that we can no longer be trusted with the authority to decide for everyone when intra-national killing is appropriate.

There will probably not be immediate repercussions from even a major breach of contract on our part, if only because of our military might, but they will come. It will be increasingly difficult to get unaligned nations who have power in their own right to go along with us. Our stronger allies will start looking for more loyal friends, and will be less likely to be moved by 'all for one' when there is no 'one for all'. There will probably be increases in trade disputes, and a loss of overall negotiating power. Our troops will be less welcome in other countries, and pressure on local governments to rescind our base permits will step up. Maybe we won't even pay much attention as we busily gobble up influence in poor central asian countries who don't have a friend in the world. And this will all happen because instead of trusting us, people will begin to fear that we are the biggest threat to their security.

The end of empire won't necessarily be like the slap of a storm that you can build a wall against, but probably like the erosion of the ground beneath your feet when the tide goes out.

posted by Natasha at 8:04 AM | PERMALINK |

Courtesy of Easter Lemming, discovered this link to an ACLU quiz regarding the implications of the Patriot Act, and the true extent of John Ashcroft's disregard for the Constitution. I won't spoil it for you, but is it ever creepy.

posted by Natasha at 4:28 AM | PERMALINK |

Thursday, October 24, 2002  

Chechens seize hostages in Moscow as part of an attempt to bring world attention to their plight. It failed to gain US media interest during the evening's Sniper coverage, but we must have our priorities. While I wouldn't want to overquote R.A. Wilson he did say something particularly apt on September 29th regarding the Chechnya situation (scroll down after you click, long page):

I turned on CNN a few days ago and a White House robot announced that the rebels in Chechnya "were" no longer freedom fighters but "are" now terrorists with "clear" links to Osama bin Laden.

CNN provided no details about whether the transformation occured in a sudden miraculous flash like the transubstantiation of the host in a Catholic mass, or happened slowly and gradually like Darwinian evolution.

In a related bulletin, Russia pledged its support in the War Against Some Terrorists, and will presumably start with those bastards in Chechnya.

The 'sudden miraculous flash' option seems more plausible, personally. By a magical transfer of political capital, our humble subordinates receive the power to rewrite media opinion in their favor.

posted by Natasha at 2:06 AM | PERMALINK |

For those of us who feel an overwhelming urge to throw something heavy at the television every time those 'this is the joint that Dan bought' ads come on, Arianna Huffington gives us this column entitled 'Got Oil':

...Last week, talking to my friend Scott Burns, co-creator of the "Got Milk?" campaign, I was delighted to hear that he already had two ad scripts ready to go. The first one feels like an old Slim Fast commercial. Instead of "I lost 50 pounds in two weeks" the ad cuts to different people in their SUVs: "I gassed 40,000 Kurds," "I helped hijack an airplane," "I helped blow up a nightclub," and then in unison: "We did it all by driving to work in our SUVs."

The second, which opens on a man at a gas station, features a cute kid's voice-over throughout: "This is George." Then we see a close up of a gas pump. "This is the gas George buys for his car." Next we see a guy in a suit. "This is the oil company executive who makes money on the gas George buys." Close up on Al-Qaeda training film footage: "This is the terrorist organization supported by money from the country where the oil company does business. " It's followed by footage of 9/11: "We all know what this is." And it closes on a wide shot of bumper to bumper traffic: "The biggest weapon of mass destruction is parked in your driveway."...

The auto industry that's fighting fuel efficiency is using the same tactics and reasoning that it used to resist including seatbelts and other safety measures as standard features in cars. And they're as wrong now as they were then.

While this Sierra Club article seems to have been written at the height of the 2000 price crunch, it's a good outline of the issues involved in raising efficiency standards. With a war looming near the oil producing centers of the world, the issues are certainly valid today. A chart is included outlining the potential yearly savings to the consumer in terms of fuel costs, purely by using relatively cheap and currently available technology.

The technology to make cars (even SUVs) more fuel efficient exists today. It isn't some misty-eyed fantasy, but something that could be rolled out of factories within a year. In the spirit of the preceding post regarding rising expectations, there is absolutely no good reason why people should have to choose between driving comfortably to work and weaning the country from its oil addiction. And no reason why it should be incompatible with decreasing air pollution.

posted by Natasha at 1:49 AM | PERMALINK |

In reading this article about a method developed in Iceland to produce electricity from hot water created by waste heat from other processes, I'm reminded of a Robert Anton Wilson quote that I found on his website recently. While I recommend reading the whole thing, the following snippets make the case:

...Consider the following widely-published and widely believed propositions: "There isn't enough to go around." "The Revolution of Rising Expectations, since the 18th Century, was based on fallacy." "Reason and Science are to be distrusted; they are the great enemies." "We are running out of energy." "Science destroys all it touches." "Man is vile and corrupts Nature." "We must settle for Lowered Expectations."

Whether mouthed by the Club of Rome or Friends of the Earth, this ideology has one major social effect: people who are living in misery and deprivation, who might otherwise organize to seek better lives, are persuaded to accept continued deprivation, for themselves and their children.

That such resignation to poverty, squalor, disease, misery, starvation, etc. is useful to ruling elites has frequently been noted by Marxists a propos pre-ecological mysticism; and, indeed, people can only repeat the current neo-puritan line by assuming that the benefit to the Yankee oligarchy is totally accidental and not the chief purpose of the promulgation of this ideology....

...For perspective, it should be remembered that the ideology of Lowered Expectations arrived on the historical scene immediately after the upsurge of Rising Expectations. That is, after the Utopian hopes of the American Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man, almost as if in reaction, an employee of the British East India Company, Thomas Malthus, created the first "scientific" argument that the ideals of those documents could never be achieved. Malthus had discovered that at his time world population was growing faster than known resources, and he assumed that this would always be true, and that misery would always be the fate of the majority of humanity.

The first thing wrong with Malthus's science is that "known resources" are not given by nature; they depend on the analytical capacities of the human mind. We can never know how many resources can be obtained from a cubic foot of the universe: all we know is how much we have found thus far, at a given date. You can starve in the middle of a field of wheat if your mind hasn't identified wheat as edible. Real Wealth results from Real Knowledge, which is increasing faster all the time.

Thus the second thing wrong with Malthus's scenario is that it is no longer true. Concretely, more energy has been found in every cubic foot of the universe than Malthus ever imagined; and, as technology has spread, each nation has spontaneously experienced a lowered birth rate after industrializing. ...

...We live in an age of artificial scarcity, maintained by ignorance and fear. the government has been paying farmers not to grow food for fifty years--while millions starve. Labor unions, business and government conspire to hold back the microprocessor revolution-- because none of them know how to deal with the massive unemployment it will cause. (Fuller's books could tell them.) The utilities advertise continually that "solar power is at least forty years in the future" when my friend Karl Hess, and hundreds of others already live in largely solar powered houses. These propaganda advertisements are just a delaying action because the utilities still haven't figured out how to put a meter between us and the sun. ...

We need to go back to Rising Expectations. To accept nothing less than economic success and environmental cleanliness, both at once, is not a contradiction but a new stage in our development. If anyone tells you that these goals are mutually exclusive, don't be persuaded.

posted by Natasha at 1:27 AM | PERMALINK |

PLA details several instances of our current US regime's tendency to "take liberties with the truth" in spite of their public image as the defenders of character. Whatever that means.

Body and Soul speaks about the US record regarding freedom and democracy. Yet another person who thinks that a humanistic approach should not be equated with 'doing nothing.'

posted by Natasha at 12:56 AM | PERMALINK |

Wednesday, October 23, 2002  

Indications are that The Onion has also noticed Shell Oil's spate of 'green' commercials. Good send up, as usual.

posted by Natasha at 11:02 PM | PERMALINK |

Mr. Denbeste posts these statements, based on articles from the Washington Post and the WSJ:

And for that reason, once we've won and taken control, we absolutely should unconditionally repudiate all debts owed to both Russia and France, and repudiate every economic agreement made by them with the existing government. Because of their behavior in this episode, they must suffer the maximum financial pain so as to serve as a deterrent to future behavior of this kind by them and anyone else. This will in part be a war of object lessons, and we'll need to make object lessons of both nations due to their behavior in this.

The message must be clear: we will not be stopped or impeded, and everyone who tries to get in our way will suffer deeply for it. Once that becomes clear, "international cooperation" will suddenly appear out of nowhere, like mushrooms on a pile of horseshit after a rainstorm.

Translation: In order to secure maximum future cooperation, we must dish out as much punishment as possible so that our allies know that we will not hesitate to screw them over on the slightest pretext. After securing Iraq's rich oilfields for ourselves alone, we will demonstrate to everyone that spoils will only be shared with absolute toadies, because we have become a law unto ourselves. We feel confident that this behavior will secure more allies in the future.

Not exactly a recipe for winning friends and influencing people. While I've spoken before about the obvious self-interest France and Russia have in securing their loans, we have no less in the way of self-interest involved. Our only claim to a moral high ground in this case would be if we let all development and profits go directly to the rebuilding, but they will likely be used to pay for our significant military bill. We might even want to consider that France and Russia, in desiring to secure their own interests, could be powerful deterrent forces against any behavior on Hussein's part that would lead to his inability to pay up. If in fact France and Russia's main concerns are loan repayment (may or may not be the case), why not promise that Iraq's debt obligation will remain, no matter what the outcome? We surely aren't avoiding it out of some deeply felt sense of propriety.

The premise of this argument seems to be that the US is right because it only has moral concerns. In fact, we have significant financial concerns at stake, and so do our best buddies in Britain. While this isn't an argument for or against going to war all in itself, it is one that makes a willingness to dismiss legitimate claims from theoretical allies seem pretty opportunistic. These bullying tactics may win us grumbling cooperation for a while, but growing resentment is the only possible long-term outcome.

In addition, such a stance could politically isolate a new Iraqi government. They will be unable to secure alliances on their own behalf, as others will have every reason to fear that the US could step in at any time and negate the agreement out of spite. An inability to acquire new trade and solid allies, except on the basis of their dependence on us, would ultimately destabilize a replacement regime. Their neighbors would be uneasy about them, and other major oil producing nations could be wary of investment. While this might be good for the US in the short term, later down the road it could leave Iraq in the same position Saudi Arabia finds itself in. A government forced to make unhealthy agreements with internal agitators in order to avoid civil war. After 9/11, this prospect should disturb us even more.

posted by Natasha at 10:41 PM | PERMALINK |

Links and transcript of Rich Lowry's argument for nuking Mecca. Though these comments are from a little while back, the noises about where our 'next stop' (you mean *after* occupying Iraq) should be can only disconcert people. Now that war seems imminent, it may be a good time to look at just where the giddiness of victory could take us. Lowry, the editor of the National Review, went on to describe the moderate position. The opinion held, it seems, by those who think that nuking Mecca right off could be a tad too aggressive.

“Baghdad and Tehran would be the likeliest sites for a first strike. If we have clean enough bombs to assure a pinpoint damage area, Gaza City and Ramallah would also be on list. Damascus, Cairo, Algiers, Tripoli and Riyadh should be put on alert that any signs of support for the attacks in their cities will bring immediate annihilation.”

And people wonder why some see this as a war against Islam. Hard to imagine where they could have come up with such a conclusion. I mean, just because popular conservative voices casually discuss turning foreign capitals into smoking craters, nothing to be concerned about. ...

If I was living in one of those countries, and thankfully I'm not, I can see being terrified that the US will just never quit. That after the proposed takeover of Iraq (and all those countries look alike to the Americans anyway) they'll just start with their next enemy and work down the list. If the US had maintained a previous pretense that any of these countries were our allies, well, tough luck for them. They have regimes, after all, and that's always a good argument for throwing nuclear weapons around with abandon.

The problem with all this of course, is that backing a whole region up against a wall can get people pretty scared. As people who have probably all done something stupid out of fear should relate to, this is not a good position to put millions of people in. It is, by any sane definition, terror. The threat that you could be next, and that you have no way to predict or stop the deadly force bearing down on you. If we're really worried that these people are dangerous, how much more dangerous will they be when they are all threatened down to the last one?

While it's pure speculation to guess what public opininion over there would be at such a time, which of the following sounds more likely:

  • A) 'now would be a good time to start a secular democratic revolution' or,
  • B) 'these crazy americans will kill us all'

Though the Bushies seem to be banking on A, it seems unlikely that a terrified populace will respond to threats of overwhelming force with a collective decision to turn against the government nominally in charge of protecting them. It would be delightful if spontaneous democracy broke out over there tomorrow, but the usual reaction of a group is to hold together in the face of outside force. It's a survival mechanism, and one that America invokes frequently here at home.

If we want to kill these governments, Europe's approach of doing it with kindness may be a better option. It wasn't an embargo that softened Cuba's stance towards capitalism, but the desires of the citizens for a better life. The common people of the Middle East, when they stop having any reason to fear the outside world, will demand better. They will demand it because, religion and all, the majority there is no different from us. When their governments can no longer make them believe that the big, bad West is out to get them, they'll start pushing for reform. But they're afraid now, and they have every reason to be.

posted by Natasha at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK |

Giles Fraser suggests that it's unwise to trust a Christian cowboy.

posted by Natasha at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK |

Heh. On a lighter note this morning, Warblogger Watch gives us this delightful send up of anti-Idiotarianism. We are very amused.

posted by Natasha at 10:57 AM | PERMALINK |

Tuesday, October 22, 2002  

The Rittenhouse Review scoffs at Republicans as the party of fiscal irresponsibility. He points out that they could only be called fiscally responsible if by that you mean, 'will give boatloads of tax cuts to the rich.' He gives the ultimate reply to the constant insistence by conservative pundits that 'rich' could be defined as anyone who makes over 50K a year or so, which of course everyone aspires to. Emphasis ours:

...Ah yes, the inheritance tax, a tax the Republicans with stunning disingenuousness refer to as “the death tax” in their effort to gain support for repeal of the measure from the general public, and most important from their base of affluent, but not wealthy, and completely misled and misguided suburban voters, without owning up to the fact that a repeal of the inheritance tax would benefit, according to most honest estimates, a grand total of 10,000 Americans, very few of whom are among the previously mentioned affluent, but not wealthy, and completely misled and misguided suburban voters...

Further detail can be found in this Business Week article put out before the disputed tax cut was passed.

posted by Natasha at 5:05 PM | PERMALINK |

Jeanne D'Arc of Body and Soul posts a list of advances made by Muslim women towards gaining equal rights and protection under the law. Especially notable, women in Bahrain now have the right to vote and stand for office, even though they won no seats in a recent election.

posted by Natasha at 4:27 PM | PERMALINK |

Lisa Rein posts text and links to a Florida columnist's description of the Bush-whacking of Florida. It seems that even as Florida is worse off, by nearly every indicator, than it was before that other Son of a Bush became governor. We should all be very afraid of having to pick up the check for his brother's national tenure.

posted by Natasha at 4:15 PM | PERMALINK |

On Sunday the 20th, a Eric Raymond posted (no working permalink) the anti-idiotarian manifesto to his blog, Armed and Dangerous. This is one of those titles, like 'the Patriot Act' which seems calculated to put opposers on the wrong side, a classic hallmark of things which should be examined more closely. Unfortunately, there's only room to examine the very worst of many offenses against fact in this document:

...THAT Western civilization is threatened with the specter of mass death perpetrated by nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons placed in the hands of terrorists by rogue states;...

The country that has put the largest quantities of powerful weapons in the hands of dangerous states (via 'enemy of my enemy') logic is the US, and a couple other states who make bank in the international arms trade. None of these recipient states has yet elected to share their toys with others, which puts them leagues ahead of the reigning superpowers by way of long-term planning.

...THAT they have sought, and on plausible evidence found, alliance with rogue states such as Iraq, Iran, and North Korea; states that are known to have active programs working towards the development and delivery of weapons of that would multiply the terrorists' ability to commit atrocities by a thousandfold;...

'Plausible evidence' of what? There is no evidence that Iran has had any dealing with the people responsible for 9/11. Their Shiite government is a mortal enemy of Al-Qaida and the former Taliban, and still have touchy relations with Hussein who waged war on them for eight years. As for N. Korea, the only people Bin Laden hates more than secular westerners are godless communists, the sort of people the CIA trained him to fight on ideological grounds. And, as mentioned yesterday, the Czech government has retracted all claims that terrorist mastermind Mohammed Atta met with an Iraqi official. There is simply no evidence that Al-Qaida had the support of any governments besides the deposed Taliban and the Pakistani military leadership, which is now busy training mujahideen in Bangladesh. The support of wealthy Saudi citizens does not truly constitute governmental aid.

...WE HAVE AWAKENED; we have seen the face of evil in the acts of the Bin Ladens and Husseins and Arafats of the world; we have seen through the lies and self-delusions of the idiotarians who did so much to enable and excuse their evil. ...

Demonstrating that he, like our president, can't tell one thing from another. Even when allegedly awake. Though he elsewhere decries 'moral equivalence', whatever that means, he declares as morally equivalent the actions of three totally different groups and ideologies. Al-Qaida is a fanatical, theocratic terrorist group which aspires to destabilize (by definition) every government. The Iraqi Ba'ath party is a secular dictatorship bent on holding on to regional power and control of a wealthy, (formerly) stable country. The PLO is a secular would-be dictatorship fighting (however much their methods may be disagreed with) to have their own state.

Al-Qaida hates the secular Hussein, Iraq fears and loathes Al-Qaida, and neither of them have previously done a thing to help the Palestinians except to use them as a banner for their own depravity. Hussein's recent offering of cash compensation to the families of suicide bombers was pretty widely recognized as a publicity ploy, and an attempt to direct world attention anywhere but Iraq. The various groups fighting to liberate Palestine couldn't give a rat's ass about any of the rest of them, and only dislike us to the extent that we're over there and in the way of their narrow goal.

To not know these things, while spouting off about policy goals for the region, is no less embarassing if you're the president or a pundit. (Though admittedly less dangerous in a pundit.) Especially when the 'solution' for everything is war. It's so typical of proto-Libertarian 'not conservatives' that war and tax cuts are viewed as panaceas for good times and bad, though in their world, times are always bad. A middle ground claimed on the basis of rejecting a bible-thumping theocracy is no middle ground at all. If it talks like a conservative, advocates the same policies as a conservative, but loudly claims objectivity... it must be a Libertarian that always votes Republican.

For the record, I refuse to claim any kind of objectivity, whatever. This is a Liberal blog, and unless I come over all Christopher Hitchensy some morning, such it will continue to be. (No serious aspersions intended against Mr. Hitchens, who still appears capable of sane argument, if royally ticked.)

posted by Natasha at 4:01 PM | PERMALINK |

Reinhard Meier describes Ariel Sharon's policy as reprisal without vision. He includes an excellent summary of the contradictions inherent in Israeli policy, after noting at first that no serious person could really believe that if Yasser Arafat were spirited away tomorrow, all attacks would stop:

In any case, Sharon's violent moves against the PA chief are contradictory enough. On the one hand, last December the Israeli prime minister declared that Arafat was "irrelevant." On the other hand, this ostensibly irrelevant individual has been kept militarily bottled up in Ramallah for months and his headquarters destroyed, reduced to a pitiful remnant by tanks and bulldozers. The Israeli army has repeatedly moved into almost every West Bank city in recent months and, according to its own claims, largely paralyzed Arafat's government apparatus. Seen against that background, Sharon's insistence that Arafat bears full responsibility for the latest terrorist attacks is hardly convincing. Then there is the question of why the Israeli army does not take Hamas political leaders in the Gaza Strip into custody itself - these are men who openly call for terrorism against Israel - instead of merely lamenting over the omissions of Arafat's amputated police force.

There is no blameless side over there anymore (if there ever was), and it's time for everyone to realize that the fighting will never stop so long as peace is held hostage to an endless game of 'more aggrieved than thou'.

posted by Natasha at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK |

George Monbiot explains why it's dangerous for places like Bali to only be featured as vacation spots. It opens:

For the past nine months, priests and tribal leaders in West Papua, the easternmost province of Indonesia, have been trying to warn the world that an Islamic fundamentalist movement is using their land as a training ground. Laskar Jihad is commanded by a man trained by al-Qaida in Afghanistan. Some of its members have already been involved in terrorism in the islands of Ambon and Sulawesi. Since January they have established seven bases in West Papua. With the help of the Indonesian police and army, they have been stockpiling arms, recruiting Javanese immigrants and training them for combat.

Since the jihadis arrived, Neles Tebay, a Papuan journalist, has been sending urgent messages to newspapers and broadcasters around the world, desperate to attract attention to this protected terrorist network. But even when eight Pakistani mojahedin arrived, his warnings failed to generate any response in the newsrooms of either Europe or North America. The Papuans, ignored and abandoned by the rest of the world, have been reduced to begging the Indonesian authorities to uphold the law and disarm the jihadis before they attack. ...

Gosh, you mean that those places with all the nice beaches can have political concerns!? I couldn't be more shocked if you told me that anything ever happened in Honduras besides banana growing...

posted by Natasha at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK |

Czech president Vaclav Havel's government has let the US know that the alleged meeting between hijacker Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi representative in that country never took place.

posted by Natasha at 12:21 AM | PERMALINK |

Monday, October 21, 2002  

Reuters releases this story on the new UN resolution proposed by the US. The following notable change was included in today's release of a new wording:

...The latest U.S. proposals drop explicit authorization to use force against Iraq and delete a proposal for inspectors of the five permanent council members with veto power -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China -- to accompany the U.N. arms inspectors, the envoys said....

As the article notes, some wording has been left to provide wiggle room for military action in the case of 'material breach', but does not explicitly authorize the use of force. It could be suspected that in the grandest Orwellian fashion, even this retreat will be touted as a great victory. But senior officials are still cautious to speculate that a settlement is near, though France appears to have changed its mind regarding the propasal of their own resolution. It might be too early to say that this change in wording is yet entirely to their liking.

If the resolution is accepted in the current form, it will fortunately prevent inspections teams from being hijacked by US intelligence agents. This was the reason for Baghdad's previous dismissal of inspections. The lack of US personnel would hopefully prevent such accusations being leveled again, tainting the process.

posted by Natasha at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK |

Simon Tisdall rakes Blair over the coals for supporting Bush so uncritically. He points out that world opinion is beginning to turn against Britain as it has America:

...This bewilderment at Blair's policy is felt in Britain, too. But it also extends across a once anglophile Arab world and is even shared, despite their 12-year battering, by many ordinary Iraqis. It is to be found, too, among the citizens and governments of most of Britain's European partners, in Commonwealth countries and the non-aligned movement, as last week's UN debate on Iraq showed. Is everybody wrong or should Blair pause and think again? Is it really in the British national interest to alienate and antagonise so many influential and valuable allies? Would not a more independent, less uncritically pro-Bush approach be wiser?...

In point of fact, British support for Bush on Iraq is jeopardising British interests across the board. Blair's position has allowed France's Jacques Chirac to put himself forward as a champion not just of Arab concerns but of those of Europeans, too. Blair, who wanted so much to place Britain at the heart of Europe, has on this watershed issue set it significantly apart. What a contrast is presented by Chirac's triumphant Middle East tour last week, during which the 55 nations of La Francophonie backed him on Iraq, and Straw's demeaning traipsing around Arab capitals where he was seen, at best, as Colin Powell's messenger boy. What a difference between European perceptions of Blair as Bush's mouthpiece and of Germany's Gerhard Schröder, the man who refused to "click his heels". ...

It is indeed pretty puzzling how far Blair has just gone along, in spite of fmr. President Clinton's assertion that Blair has been critical to bringing the US administration into contact with the outside world. Blair should perhaps remember that several major hotspots of today, India-Pakistan, Israel-Palestine, and Iraq-Kuwait, are the outcome of Britain's sloppy retreat from empire. While this puts them in a good position to be a cautionary, they'd be held in less esteem today if the cold war hadn't catapulted new superpowers into view. Britain owes its international goodwill to its renunciation of imperialism, and carefully built reputation for multilateralism. Should Blair really tear all this down for the sake of a widely loathed US administration?

posted by Natasha at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK |

Paul Krugman tears out the soft underbelly of the 'Inequality is a Myth' arguments. My favorite part is the response to bashers of the European 'welfare state':

...It was one of those revealing moments. Responding to an e-mail message from a Canadian viewer, Robert Novak of ''Crossfire'' delivered a little speech: ''Marg, like most Canadians, you're ill informed and wrong. The U.S. has the longest standard of living -- longest life expectancy of any country in the world, including Canada. That's the truth.''

But it was Novak who had his facts wrong. Canadians can expect to live about two years longer than Americans. In fact, life expectancy in the U.S. is well below that in Canada, Japan and every major nation in Western Europe. On average, we can expect lives a bit shorter than those of Greeks, a bit longer than those of Portuguese. Male life expectancy is lower in the U.S. than it is in Costa Rica. ...

...But the main point is that though Sweden may have lower average income than the United States, that's mainly because our rich are so much richer. The median Swedish family has a standard of living roughly comparable with that of the median U.S. family: wages are if anything higher in Sweden, and a higher tax burden is offset by public provision of health care and generally better public services. And as you move further down the income distribution, Swedish living standards are way ahead of those in the U.S. Swedish families with children that are at the 10th percentile -- poorer than 90 percent of the population -- have incomes 60 percent higher than their U.S. counterparts. And very few people in Sweden experience the deep poverty that is all too common in the United States. One measure: in 1994 only 6 percent of Swedes lived on less than $11 per day, compared with 14 percent in the U.S.

The moral of this comparison is that even if you think that America's high levels of inequality are the price of our high level of national income, it's not at all clear that this price is worth paying. The reason conservatives engage in bouts of Sweden-bashing is that they want to convince us that there is no tradeoff between economic efficiency and equity -- that if you try to take from the rich and give to the poor, you actually make everyone worse off. But the comparison between the U.S. and other advanced countries doesn't support this conclusion at all. Yes, we are the richest major nation. But because so much of our national income is concentrated in relatively few hands, large numbers of Americans are worse off economically than their counterparts in other advanced countries.

And we might even offer a challenge from the other side: inequality in the United States has arguably reached levels where it is counterproductive. That is, you can make a case that our society would be richer if its richest members didn't get quite so much...

Read it, the whole thing.

posted by Natasha at 12:35 AM | PERMALINK |

Sunday, October 20, 2002  

The Economist puts Bush administration partisanship in full view. They can be thanked for helping stick us with it, though, as he was the candidate they endorsed in 2000 after ceaselessly painting Gore as untrustworthy.

It's good to see we ended up with the more 'honest' candidate. Mistakes and trivial personal cover-ups are 'lies and damned lies.' Major untruths that jeopardize the premise of informed consent are just diplomacy, or something like it. Ahh, how fondly I remember their "Smear Gore" issue, compared to the light dusting they gave sonny boy.

posted by Natasha at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK |

From the BBC online:

In a much awaited outcome, Irish voters have approved EU expansion according to the terms laid out in the treaty of Nice. This is the second time the question has been put to them, resulting in a rejection the first time around. Ten countries are on the expansion short list, a group which the Economist compared in this (premium content) article to the US accepting Mexico as a 51st state. Apparently Mexico and the 10 eastern european countries (considered as a whole) have similar levels of per capita income and comparable populations. This move is widely expected to break Europe's commitment to agricultural protectionism, probably a good thing, but will hopefully not reduce it's commitment to the environment.

In a rare spot of multilateralism, the Bush administration plans to consult other countries regarding the best course of action in North Korea. The matter is apparently too delicate to be solved by bombing, which is an unalloyed Good Thing.

Terrorist attacks in Pakistan continue this week, with local militants blowing up Pakistani civilians at market to protest their governments involvement with the US war on terror. Whatever happened to those demonstrations with the burning effigies?

Indian police in Andhra Pradesh are seeking the prayers of all citizens, both Hindu and Muslim, in a call for support in that region's ongoing guerilla war. The article closes, "...The conflict has so far claimed the lives of 6,000 civilians and more than 400 policemen", and has apparently been going on for about 20 years now.

In a move largely seen as a PR ploy, Saddam Hussein has declared an amnesty for all prisoners in Iraq. (Except murderers, who may only be released on the say so of the victims families.) It's unknown how widespread this release really is, or how many of the numerous political prisoners taken over the years are even still alive. The country claims to have 'lost track' of captured Kuwaitis from the Gulf War days.

Editor's Note: On the Democracy Now radio broadcast of Tuesday, Oct. 22nd, clarified the story on the Iraqi release of prisoners. Apparently individuals convicted of spying for the US or Israel were also excluded from the amnesty.

Iran's president Khatami has presented two bills to parliament insisting that the constitution of the country be applied to everyone (ie, the Council of Guardians), and that political candidates would not be selected according to the personal taste of any individuals (ie, the Council of Guardians). While the popularly elected parliament is expected to pass the bills, the Council of Guardians is expected to oppose them. Khatami can hardly avoid this confrontation, as the people who elected him did so in the hopes that he would fight this fight. It will be interesting to see what happens next.

posted by Natasha at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK |

The Paper of Record's op-ed page had some gems today, enjoy:

The Souffle Doctrine... Wherein the Boy Emperor requests that Richard "Prince of Darkness" Perle answer some confusing questions:

"But why are we going after a lunatic in Iraq for planning to make a bomb and not a lunatic in North Korea who already has bombs?" ..."But if North Korea can deter us by brandishing a nuclear weapon," the Boy pressed, "why can't we deter Saddam by brandishing a nuclear weapon?"..."Why are we mad at North Korea for flouting its international agreements when we flout our international agreements?" ..."

Tony Judt says that we're picking the wrong war at the wrong time, saying:

We are seeking a fight we can win instead of concentrating on the war that we must win...."

The worst thing about Mr. Bush's pre-announced war with Iraq is that it is not just a substitute for the war against terrorism; it actively impedes it. Mr. Bush has scolded President Megawati Sukarnoputri of Indonesia for not cracking down on Islamic terrorists. But thanks to the war talk spilling out of Washington, heads of states with Islamic majorities are in an impossible position.

If they line up with the Bush administration against Saddam Hussein, they risk alienating a large and volatile domestic constituency, with unpredictable consequences. (Witness this month's elections in Pakistan, where two provinces adjacent to Afghanistan are now controlled by a coalition of religious parties sympathetic to Osama bin Laden.) But if they acknowledge popular opposition to a war with Iraq, they will incur Mr. Bush's wrath. Either way the war on terror suffers...

Thomas Friedman presents drilling for freedom, wherein he takes the administration to task for not taking steps towards decreasing our dependency on oil. He argues that the only reason ineffective theocracies have prevailed in the Middle East is because they can compensate the otherwise huge financial burden of poor policy making with the benefit of lucrative oil supplies. In his words:

Think of it like this: There are two ways for a government to get rich in the Middle East. One is by drilling a sand dune and the other is by drilling the talents, intelligence, creativity and energy of its men and women. As long as the autocratic leaders of Iran, Iraq or Saudi Arabia can get rich by drilling their natural resources, they can stay in power a long, long time. All they have to do is capture control of the oil tap. Only when a government has to drill its human resources will it organize itself in a way that enables it to extract those talents — with modern education, open trade, and freedom of thought, of scientific enquiry and of the press.

posted by Natasha at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK |

From the Nation:

Hector Timerman Argentinian state terrorism explains why he feels he can't forgive an army that has been unrepentant after the murder of his father and many others. Mr. Timerman is a peaceful citizen of his country and his sentiments probably ring true for victims of state terrorism everywhere.

Tim Robbins speaks out against all forms of fundamentalism.

Richard Falk and David Krieger discuss the effects of two decades of American UN bashing, culminating in the current administration's attempted body slam of the international organization. It pains me to think that there are people who forget what the UN was originally for, namely, to establish a framework for international relations that would greatly lessen the likelihood of another world war. So far, it's pretty much succeeded in keeping global conflict at a low simmer, as everyone at least feels they can be heard and there is some semblance of the rule of law. Now that our country is busy tearing it down with a wrecking ball, we have to ask ourselves whether a fractious congregation of nations is really worse than a fracas of nations.

posted by Natasha at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK |

A German newspaper, NZZ Online, examines another dictatorial country in the region, Iran. It goes over the dynamics of the political discussion going on at present, with some background. I'd add a caveat to their conclusion that the Iranians are the only people in the area who might welcome a US overthrow of their regime, and that's this: If we left afterwards. Immediately and without condition.

As much as they want their government gone, they don't want a CIA puppet installed, they want a democracy. I can say this with assurance, because at their last election, they had a higher voter turnout rate than the US did in its last presidential election. People threw their votes behind a reformer, and if they're disillusioned with him, it's because of slow progress in the face of clerical resistance. Women play a significant role in the reform movement, and are even winning some clerical support. They hold several seats in parliament and local governments, and are lobbying heavily for the repeal of one-sided legislation that favors men.

Analysts generally agree that the theocracy won't even last as long as the doddering mullahs who now run it. It would be better for everyone, most likely, if this particular drama was allowed to take its natural course. The people there think fondly of Americans (whatever their gov't says, and even with the resentment over the Shah added in), and will likely have the best possible relationship with us if we let them work it out on their own. As Thomas Friedman said in a recent television interview, 'They've had a lot of Islam, and they want less of it. They've had a little democracy, and they want more of it."

There's also this piece on the structure of Shiite religious organizations, and not just in Iran, which is really kind of interesting. It's a window into a whole other world of social organization, influence, and obligation. And I'd be surprised to find a piece in a US newspaper that beats it for scope and objectivity.

posted by Natasha at 1:21 AM | PERMALINK |

Slate brings us this examination of the Japanese occupation in relation to the present day situation in Iraq.

...The occupation reforms extended beyond politics, including measures that might not prove palatable to American conservatives this time. The United States created a new educational system, abolishing rote memorization in favor of a more progressive American curriculum. They guaranteed academic freedom and coeducation. MacArthur's men confiscated the land of wealthy property owners and distributed it among the people, resulting in a more equitable allocation of wealth than the United States had itself. The relative equality helped Japan remain stable and democratic during the Cold War.

The United States also gave Japanese laborers power they had never had before, as reformers insisted that workers have the right to organize, strike, and bargain collectively. The nation's financial houses, called zaibatsu, were broken up, though not dissolved entirely as initially planned. Leading executives were removed from power. Even with these radical reforms, it should be noted, Japan's democracy today remains deeply flawed and captive to its bureaucracy, and its economy still favors government industrial planning over free enterprise. ...

Other important points are that Japan still had functional political parties which were able to be adapted to a more democratic framework and the emperor was left in place. The new constitution was ratified by an elected parliament, after public debate and feedback which allowed the Japanese to feel that it was their own.

Iraq doesn't, as the article points out, have even the semblance of democracy any more. And it's hard to imagine our current government implementing the sort of progressive agenda that helped get Japan back on its feet. Our common tactic in recent years has been to reward some dictator handsomely for keeping the peasants in line. They also mentioned another comparison, which should concern everyone, and that's Germany. Harsh treatment of the German people after WWI turned the country towards Nazi control. Rebuilding along a democratic model after WWII has left them a firmly democratic state with a strong economy ever since.

posted by Natasha at 1:03 AM | PERMALINK |