Thursday, September 30, 2004

Muslims Welcome Ruling Against Patriot Act

A key part of the USA Patriot Act that allows the FBI to secretly demand information from Internet providers violates the U.S. Constitution, a federal judge said Wednesday in a ruling that could have a broad impact on government surveillance. U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero barred the FBI from invoking that portion of the law in the future, saying the mandatory gag orders amount to an "unconstitutional prior restraint of speech in violation of the First Amendment." However, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said on Thursday the Bush administration was likely to appeal against a U.S. District Court ruling that part of the Patriot Act was unconstitutional.

How would the world vote on Nov 2? According to a recent Program on International Policy Attitude poll of 35 countries on their election preferences, in only three (the Philippines, Poland, and Nigeria) was George Bush by relatively close margins the preferred candidate; in two (India and Thailand), the vote was split; in the rest the response was resounding. Kerry, for instance, swept Latin America and took Europe, Poland aside, by enormous margins (Norway, 74% to 7%; Germany, 74% to 10%; France, 64% to 5%; Italy, 58% to 14%; Spain, 45% to 7%; and Tony Blair's UK by a remarkable 47% to 16%). Overall, Kerry was favored globally by a 2-to-1 margin. Even in most countries whose governments had contributed troops to Iraq, significant majorities favored Kerry and believed strongly that U.S. foreign policy was "on the wrong track." This may simply be an accentuation of the anybody-but-George vote in the United States raised to a global level and magnified. Buckle up & get ready for the first presidential debate tonight. This Christian Science Monitor reports that the pressure is mostly on Kerry. Apparently, neither Bush nor Kerry has ever lost a debate, so it will be interesting to see what they both have to offer, without their advisors, campaign ads & sound bytes.

The latest round of violence in Iraq has resulted in deaths of several children according to this piece of news from the BBC: "Officials said at least 34 children were among 37 or more people killed when bombs were detonated near a water treatment plant as US troops passed by. At least 130 more were injured, many from the crowds gathered to watch an opening ceremony at the plant."Informed Comment: Iraqi President Ghazi al-Yawir strongly protested US air strikes against Iraqi cities, comparing them to Israeli tactics in Gaza and branding them a form of "collective punishment." Collective punishment was a Nazi tactic during World War II, and was forbidden as a tool to occupying powers in the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949. Al-Yawir's condemnation of the US use of the tactic is the strongest to date from a high-level Iraqi politician. The comments seem likely to create a diplomatic crisis, and bode ill for Bush administration plans to pursue a scorched earth campaign against Fallujah and other cities in al-Anbar province in November. Al-Yawir is from a Sunni tribal background. Wire services report that ' Thirteen people have been killed since Tuesday night in drive-by shootings, ambushes and grenade attacks south of the capital and elsewhere. 'In one incident, guerrillas attempted but failed to assassinate a local leader of the Shiite Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. The US used a howitzer to kill three guerrillas who had been firing mortars in Baghdad.


Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Pakistan & Jordan on Iraq

Recently, two key US allies in the Middle East cast doubt on the state of Iraqi affairs. King Abdullah II of Jordan said, "It seems impossible to me to organize indisputable elections in the chaos we see today. Only if the situation improved could an election be organized on schedule. If the elections take place in the current disorder, the best-organized faction will be that of the extremists and the result will reflect that advantage. With such a scenario, there is no chance the situation will improve."

President Parvez Musharraf too did not present a pleasant scenario, saying Iraq "Iraq had brought more trouble to the world. Musharraf said the US is only fighting terrorism in "its current context," which is "not very farsighted." Check this article that appeared in my university newspaper, A new Iron Curtain threatens to divide. At the opening of the UN General Assembly last week, "borrowing a prophetic phrase from a 1952 speech by Winston Churchill, Musharraf asserted that Muslim grievances must be addressed “before an iron curtain finally descends between the West and the Islamic world.” That Cold War allusion is well chosen. Decades of blind U.S. support for Israeli and Arab dictators have laid a solid foundation for anti-Western sentiments among Muslims. Now the war in Iraq risks hardening the Islamic-Western divide even further. Five-hundred-pound bombs dropped in Fallujah might wipe out Iraqi insurgents, but they also create a new generation of Muslims embittered by U.S. actions. As if in response to Musharraf, Zapatero (Spanish Prime Minister) called for an “alliance of cultures” to strengthen political and cultural ties between Western and Islamic nations."

On a happy note, this week has seen the release of several foreign hostages in Iraq. Also, oil prices that had reached a level of $50 a barrel seems to be easing - many analysts were blaming it on the evacuation that was caused by the hurricanes & storms, along with instability in Iraq and renewed political crisis in Nigeria. "Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter, had earlier attempted to reassure markets, saying it would raise production capacity by 1.5 million barrels to 11 million barrels a day."

Kudos to Market Place from National Public Radio on their investigation report, Power Trips: "Whether it is a weekend in Florida - or a week-long tour through the south of France - Congressional trips give lobbyists and their clients a chance to mingle with members of Congress in relaxed surroundings. Now an investigation for Marketplace by American Radio Works shows members of Congress have taken trips totaling more than $14 million in the last four years. The bill is picked up by outside interests doing business in Washington. This may just be a sliver of the hundreds of millions of dollars special interests spend each year to influence the political process. But paying for congressional travel has an outsized impact."

Also check this out from the NY Times: More than 120,000 hours of terrorism-related recordings have not been translated by the F.B.I., and computer problems may have erased some Al Qaeda recordings.


Remembering Edward Said - a year later

September 25 marked the first anniversary of Edward Said’s death. This is what I wrote about him last year: It was shocking for me to hear about Edward Said's death earlier this week - he died of leukemia. For many, Edward Said is nobody, but to hundreds of Palestinians, Arabs, scholars & students of the Middle East, he is a hero. Born in East Jerusalem, and later a professor at Columbia University, USA, he was one of the very first scholars who started writing the truth about Arabs & Palestinians in the late 70's: his most famous book was "Orientalism," where he talked about how the West looks at the "Eastern" world in a racist manner, thus allowing them to colonize & dehumanize the people of the "Orient." "The Question of Palsetine" was another book that was one of the first books to analyze Zionism and give a voice to Palestinians and their cause. He was a renowed professor & will be sorely missed by his admirers all over the world. I pray that his good work continues on & May God rest his soul in peace. Ameen.

In two weeks, Afghans will be going to the polls - well, at least we hope so. The lack of security & widespread corruption does not pave the way for "free & fair" elections. The story in Iraq is no different - from Informed Comment:
"Time Magazine reports that the Bush administration had had a plan to use the Central Intelligence Agency to funnel money to candidates it favored in the forthcoming Iraqi elections. The rationale given was that Iran was bankrolling its own candidates.This plan was apparently derailed in part by the intervention of Democratic Minority Leader in the House, Nancy Pelosi, who remonstrated with National Security Adviser Condaleeza Rice about it...this sort of behavior by the Bush administration fatally undermines the ideal of democracy in the Middle East."

The lack of security in Iraq is a constant problem - here's a report from The Christian Science Monitor about "six million students are expected to begin school Saturday in a key test of officials cite dramatically improved teacher salaries as one of the major accomplishments of the postwar period. A primary school teacher who made 3,000 dinars a month before the war now makes 240,000 - about $165. Other improvements include new text books improvements include new textbooks in some subjects and grade levels, new teacher-training programs, dropout outreach, and accelerated learning for gifted students - some of which are programs either initiated or partly funded by the US Agency for International Development." Many parents & educators are optimistic that children will come because parents & relatives want a better future for their children & believe education will fill their despair with hope.

What worries me is that the fate of Iraqi children will be similar to those of Palestinian school children who become victims of crossfire or stray gun shots. A 10-yr old Palestinian girl,
Raghda al-Assar, who was injured by Israeli gun fire in her classroom on September 7, died a few days ago. "UNRWA's official statement issued on September 7 said that Raghda was shot by Israeli gunfire. A sea of crying and shouting filled UNRWA's Elementary C Girls School when her classmates saw blood stains sprinkled in the class. "It was the first lesson that day, Raghda put her ruler beside mine, we arranged the desk together . . . I was listening to the English teacher and she was writing. The sound of the gunshot filled the area. We kept silence for a moment, then a bullet struck Raghda in her head, her blood covered her face and neck, her English book and copybook were also tainted with spots of blood," Hanin Assaf, 10, Raghda's classmate, said."

A friend of mine published an article criticizing the Dept. of Homeland Security barring of Muslim scholars such as Yusuf Islam & Tariq Ramadan (
recognized by Time magazine as one of the 20th century’s top-100 innovators, from his position as a professor of religion, conflict and peace-building at Notre Dame University): "What more does the administration want from Muslim intellectuals? In turning away Ramadan and Islam, mainstream Muslims worldwide will understand that even those who seek peace and condemn terror are not fit to enter the United States." It looks like however, that Yusuf Islam was barred in error due to a spelling mistake in names! I've heard two versions of this department: Dept of Insecurity & Dept. of Holy Land Security - take your pick!


Sunday, September 26, 2004

Political rally at Augsburg college

Today, the 'Road Map out of Iraq' campaign I had worked on in the summer took off in a big way today - the rally was held at Augsburg college & about 540 people attended! We had several guest speakers: a couple who have two sons deployed - one in Kuwait, the other in Iraq - an Iraqi veteran of the 1991 Shia uprising & another Iraqi American. We also had several Minnesota politicians speak at the event: Congresswoman Betty McCollum (who has visited Iraq twice), Congressman Jim Oberstar, Minneapolis Mayor R.T.Rybak, DFL State Rep. Keith Ellison, and Minneapolis Council Member Dean Zimmerman. Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich (former presidential nominee) had a video message for us showing his support for our campaign, he has also pledged to introduce it amongst his colleagues in Congress! The local politicians talked about how the lack of funding due to the war, has affected social programs for Minnesotans. Although it may seem that the campaign is targeted mostly towards Democrats, it has been introduced to all Minnesota's congressional leaders (Republicans: Congressmembers Jim Ramstad, John Kline, Mark Kennedy & Sen. Norm Coleman) & they were all invited to speak at the event. We also attracted media such as Minnesota Public Radio! Unfortunately, neither of the two main metro newspapers - Star Tribune & Pioneer Press - were not present.

When I first started out with this grassroots campaign, I didn't have much hope in Phil Steger's (my boss) vision. But the success of this campaign has taught me the power of people to mobilize & influence change - we have proved that it is possible.

Some quotes from the event:

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who are hungry and and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron."
~Dwight D. Eisenhower

"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."
~Martin Luther King, Jr.

The only bad thing about the event - I got my 1st parking ticket for $33! :o(


Saturday, September 25, 2004

Whose economic recovery is it?

If you hear Bush and Kerry, it is very likely that you get two very different opinions on the situation. So who is right? Minnesota Public radio produced a series called, Whose recovery is it? , interviewing several Minnesotans. What they found is the lower one is on the socio-economic ladder, the worse off they were. "The truth is, this recovery has been unusual in certain ways. Nearly three years on, there are still two job hunters in Minnesota for every one open position. Even as production grew, real hourly earnings fell over the past year. As you might expect, the economic recovery is very much in the eye of the beholder." However, Republicans yesterday made sure that Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy were firmly in place - I'm sorry, but I just don't agree with the "trickle-down" effect. From the NY Times, The Republican-controlled Congress easily passed legislation on Thursday that would extend expiring provisions of last year's tax cuts for families as well as about 20 business tax cuts, at a cost of about $146 billion over 10 years. Even though Democrats protested that the tax cuts would worsen the federal deficit and should be paid for with spending cuts or other tax increases, party leaders gave their members free rein to vote for the bill rather than incur the wrath of voters just a few weeks before Election Day." I agree with Kerry when he says there's nothing conservative about running a record federal deficit that is in danger of exploding in our faces if things don't change in Iraq.

Iraqi Prime Minister, Ayad Allawi, was in Washington DC; the trip was presented by the Administration as a symbolic return of normal relations between the two countries - of course, the US has no problem as along as Iraq (or any other Muslim/Arab country) heels to American orders. I'm sure Bush also wants us to ignore the fact that Allawi is unpopular in Iraq, and an exile who has had connections to the CIA in the past. He thanked America for bringing freedom to his people, promising fair & free elections in January & pretty much reiterated Bush's rosy picture of Iraq - Gimme a break!!

What needs to be taken into consideration that Allawi has himself admitted that due to extreme violence in some provinces, not all of them will participate in the elections - as one US politician put it, it's like saying, New York, Florida or California can't vote in November, but that the elections are still free & fair. Unfortunately, Afghanistan has faced the same problems where elections have been postponed several times. From Informed Comment: "Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani continues to be concerned as to whether elections will be held in January in Iraq, and whether the outcome will reflect the Shiite majority in Iraq. He is worried that the system adopted, of nation-wide party lists, favors a small set of parties, mainly expatriate. Since the six major parties listed include the two (Sunni) Kurdish parties and the largely Sunni Iraqi National Accord (primarily ex-Baathists) led by Iyad Allawi, as well as the mixed Iraqi National Congress, I think Sistani is afraid that the al-Da`wa and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq--the two main Shiite parties-- could end up with a minority in parliament.Both Bush and Allawi affirmed on Thursday that elections would be held as promised. Donald Rumsfeld, whose uncontrollable mouth is sometimes useful insofar as he lets the truth slip, said that elections might not be possible in all the provinces. Allawi minimized the violence, saying that it was confined to 3 of Iraq's 18 provinces. This assertion is simply untrue, and is anyway misleading because Baghdad is one of the three Allawi had in mind! Could an election that excluded the capital, with at least 5 million inhabitants, be considered valid? ...The Allawi/ Rumsfeld logic, moreover, presumes that the guerrilla resistance is only able to disrupt the elections in the Sunni Arab provinces. But they have repeatedly demonstrated an ability to strike all over the country...The real reason for the current plan to raze Fallujah in November or December is the hope that doing so will dramatically reduce the operational capability of the guerrillas, forestalling the Nasiriyah scenario I just mentioned. I don't think that the guerrillas are so geographically limited or concentrated, however, and very much doubt that this Carthaginian strategy in al-Anbar will work.Moreover, not having elections in al-Anbar and West Baghdad would be a disaster. The red areas are where the Sunni Arab former ruling minority is situated. They are the backbone of the guerrilla war. If they feel unrepresented by the new government, what incentive do they have to cease their warfare?On the other hand, if the elections are not held or if their results are widely considered illegitimate, there is a danger that that result will radicalize Sistani and cause him to bring the masses into the street.

As we have seen, the unstable conditions have allowed terrorists to infiltrate & commit atrocious kidnappings and executions of foreigners. I'm sorry President Bush, but I can't seem to see Iraq through the red, white & blue glasses that you do...

Minnesota is holding it's second Arab Film Festival through Mizna & Intermedia Arts. Movies & documentaries from several Arab film makers will be screened - I hope I can make it to some, but I doubt it with my super-busy weekend. The literary organization is devoted to give Arab Americans a voice. "Mizna," which in Arabic means "the cloud of the desert. This cloud, or Mizna, shades, protects, and cools the desert traveler from the sun, making the journey bearable; Mizna guides the caravan safely to its destination. The journal represents the 3 to 4 million strong Arab-American community in the U.S., a community whose roots span over a century in America. It successfully organized a play called, "With Love From Ramallah," in June, a story about a Palestinian grocer in the West Bank, Minneapolis & his fiance in Ramallah, Occupied West Bank. Here's an article that was posted in the magazine, Woman, about the organization. Another article from my university newspaper, Phantoms in the darkness reports, "The four-day festival will open doors to Arab realities rarely talked about on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, said Mazher Al-Zo'by, a festival co-organizer. For many of us in America, to imagine the Middle East as a space where love stories can emerge is not really common,Al-Zo'by said. But such stories do occur. In fact, many of the festival's best films deal mostly with personal dilemmas - sex, marriage, rather than the larger, historical issues some Westerners might expect from Arab filmmakers... a paramount goal, Al-Zo'by said, is to break away from Arab stereotypes and let emerging voices in Arab cinema represent themselves in the ways they want to be represented. The Minnesota event is one of only a handful of Arab-focused film festivals in the nation. Others are held in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Seattle.


Thursday, September 23, 2004

Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) barred entry to the US

This came as shocking news to many that Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, was refused entry to the US. From the BBC: Mr Islam, who converted to Islam in 1977, was on United Airlines Flight 919 when it was diverted 600 miles (1000km), landing in Maine. After being interviewed by US officials, he was denied entry into the US. A spokesman for the US Department of Homeland Security, Garrison Courtney, told the AFP news agency that Mr Islam's name "was placed on watch lists because of concerns that the US has about activities that can potentially be related to terrorism." The Council on American-Islamic Relations said in a statement that the move "sends the disturbing message that even moderate and mainstream Muslims will now be treated like terrorists." British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw is also understood to have raised the issue with the US Secretary of State in New York. Here's a link explaining how Cat Stevens became Yusuf Islam. This action by the Dept. of Homeland Security is indeed a dangerous precedent & gives a clear message to moderate Americans, why it is important to vote Bush out of office, so Kerry has a chance to appoint moderate cabinet members.

Signs of life at the UN? From The Jordan Times, "UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has caused a storm with hisrecent admission to the BBC that the US invasion of Iraq was "illegal." One ought to welcome Annan's comments as a belated attemptto redress his past dereliction. But he will need to follow up vigorously, as his words carry a responsibility for action. If the United States acted illegally, then he ought to spell outwhat consequences should ensue under the charter. Annan ought to remind those he has accused of conducting an illegal war that when Saddam Hussein committed the historic crime of invading and occupying Kuwait, not only did the UN endorse an international coalition to throw Iraq out, it also imposed and administered devastating sanctions which killed hundreds of thousands of children by the UN's own estimates. Iraq was forced to pay compensation to every foreign national, corporation and statethat was harmed by its actions, and despite Iraq's devastated condition, it is still having such compensation subtracted from its meagre oil revenues."

Why should sympathizers of the Palestinian cause not support Sharon's withdrawal from Gaza? The reason Amira Hass, an Israeli actvist and columnist of the Israeli liberal newspaper, Haaretz, says, "the disengagement is a dangerous part of the plan because it enables Sharon and his partners in his world view to continue executing their real plan and to do so without public criticism, without protests, without effective opposition. Their goal is control over as much of the West Bank as possible, without Arabs or with as few Arabs as possible, and the continued expansion of settlements that separate Palestinian population centers from each other. In that vision, the Palestinians are not a nation with national rights over their land, which is entirely under Israeli control, but a collection of individual communities, and the Israeli ruler is preparing a different future for each one of those communities: two of them, in Gaza and the northern West Bank, will soon enjoy an Israeli "withdrawal." Sharon himself has made openly clear his intentions in the disengagement plan. As he said in the Rosh Hashanah issue of Yedioth Ahronoth, the disengagement "frees Israel from pressure to adopt one or another plan that would have been dangerous for it."

Did Bush lose a chance to woo other nations to support re-construction of Iraq at the United Nations? This NY Times editorial says, "We did not expect President Bush to come before the United Nations in the middle of his re-election campaign and acknowledge the serious mistakes his administration has made on Iraq. But that still left plenty of room for him to take advantage of this one last chance to appeal to an increasingly antagonistic world to help the Iraqis secure and rebuild their shattered nation and prepare for elections in just four months. Instead, Mr. Bush delivered an inexplicably defiant campaign speech in which he glossed over the current dire situation in Iraq for an audience acutely aware of the true state of affairs, and scolded them for refusing to endorse the American invasion in the first place." Sometimes I wonder how many of the officials supressed a sarcastic smile when Bush talked about how great everything is in Iraq now that the Iraqis have been liberated!!


Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Is Kerry finally taking the bait on Iraq?

While Bush went in front of the UN today defending the invasion of Iraq, he has called the international community to support the cause. How does he expect his old allies to come back after he snubbed them so rudely last year?! On the other hand, Kerry has been providing encouraging signs that he is finally ready to use Iraq as a campaign issue, a relief to many, although many of my colleagues have resigned to a Bush victory in November. An editorial in the NY Times: Finally, Kerry Takes a Stand, reports that he said the United Nations must play a central role in supervising elections. He said other nations should come in to protect U.N. officials. He called for an international summit meeting this week in New York, where other nations could commit troops and money to Iraq. He said NATO should open training centers for new Iraqi soldiers. He also stated that Iraq was never a serious threat to the United States, that the war was never justified. Second, Kerry argued that we are losing the war in Iraq. Finally, Kerry declared that it is time to get out, beginning next summer. The message is that if Kerry is elected, the entire momentum of U.S. policy will be toward getting American troops out of Iraq as quickly as possible and shifting responsibility for Iraq onto other countries. I hope this message will shine through all the summer chaos, especially during the 3 upcoming national debates.

"Ideological idealism drives successful movements, but idealism that ignores practicality cannot forward ideals and can even be counterproductive in the struggle to realize them. Recognizing this, we've formed the committee and ask progressive students in swing states to support Kerry." This article appeared in my university newspaper by 2 recent graduates David Segal, minority leader of the Providence, R.I., City Council & Austin King, an alderman in Madison, Wisconsin. Interestingly, they are both members of the Green party!

I came across a really depressing report in the Christian Science Monitor - at a time, when educated Iraqis are needed the most to rebuild their country, many of them are fleeing.This truly is a tragedy because the people who are leaving have skills that are vital for a stable society. "Officials say they have issued more than 500,000 passports since sovereignty was restored in June. Iraqis speak worriedly of a brain drain that is denying Iraq apart of the educated, moderate, and entrepreneurial population required to move forward. It's a reversal, in the 18 months since the war, of the euphoria that brought thousands of exiles back for the opportunity to build a new Iraq." Many university professors have left due to threats from an unknown source - estimates are as high as 2000 since the war & about 10,000 since the war in 1991.

Iran has been feeling the heat by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Over the weekend, the IAEA's governing board unanimously passed a resolution that demanded for the first time that Iran freeze all work on uranium enrichment, reported the Associated Press. The IAEA "expressed alarm at Iranian plans to convert more than 40 tons of raw uranium into uranium hexafluoride - the gas that when spun in centrifuges turns into enriched uranium," reports AP. However, a news article in The Guardian says, Of course Iran wants to develop nuclear weapons - and has the legal entitlement to do so, which gives an interesting historic background after WWII about nuclear proliferation.

For those of you interested in the CBS fiasco about forged documents that the network aired regarding Bush's military service, check this NY Times editorial out: "The government and the courts have no business forcing journalists to reveal sources. But no ethic requires a journalist to protect a source who lied. Accordingly, Dan Rather went to the Texas ranch of his source and telecast Bill Burkett's admission of having falsely "thrown out the name" of someone who gave him the false evidence. Burkett now claims his real source was some hard-to-find mystery woman. What benefit did the Bush-hating Burkett gain from CBS in return for his fake documents? One plausible answer: he got coveted access to someone high up in the Kerry campaign."


Monday, September 20, 2004

Wacky Madonna makes a fool of herself in Jerusalem

If you have not been following Madonna's ever-changing lifestyle, she is now Esther & claims to be a follower of Kabbalah (means "received wisdom" in Hebrew), a form of Jewish mysticism. She is visiting the Holy Land to celebrate the Jewish New Year. This is a report from The Guardian: Kabbalah is fashionable among some wealthy young Israelis but some Orthodox rabbis say Madonna has debased Judaism's deepest mystical tradition. An American rabbi, Philip Berg, popularised the texts in the 60s. Today they draw adherents such as Britney Spears, Demi Moore and Roseanne Barr. Some of Madonna's religious critics have not forgiven her for her "Die Another Day" video, in which she bound phylacteries to her arm, a Jewish custom usually reserved for men, and ran from an electric chair on which God's name appeared in Hebrew. Also, protesters have rallied outside the singer's hotel to object to her visit to Rachel's tomb in Bethlehem, in the occupied West Bank, without meeting the neighbouring Palestinian communities behind the controversial "security" wall. They sang "Don't cry for me Palestina", and a version of Madonna's hit song Holiday. "While you're on your holiday, take some time to educate," they sang.

Despite recent attacks on Iraqi security forces and their facilities, American officials say Iraqis in search of work are still signing up in large numbers. This is not surprising considering the huge unemployment rate in the country. However, efforts to train new Iraqi Army is facing delays as this NY Times article reports.

From Agence France Presse: "They equate resistance with terrorism." An Islamic conference organised by a group calling for resistance to the US-led occupation of Iraq was on Monday banned from taking place in Berlin by the regional authorities. The website of the "first Arab Islamic Congress in Europe",planned to take place on October 1-3, carries the title "No to US occupation of Iraq, no to Zionist occupation of Palestine". A Lebanese citizen who is one of the organisers was deported from Germany on Saturday following an investigation into his membership of 'questionable organisations'.The man, Fadi Madi, said on arriving in Beirut said that, "The high command of US forces in Europe put pressure on Berlin to attempt to have the conference cancelled." The Central Council of Muslims in Germany and the Islamic Council of Germany have distanced themselves from the event, saying they had not been invited to attend and did not know the organisers.

Having their bylines appear in newspapers is an unexpected bonus for news agency reporters. But now Reuters has asked Canada's largest newspaper chain to remove its writers' names from some articles.The dispute centers on a policy adopted earlier this year byCanWest Global Communications -- the publisher of 13 daily newspapers including The National Post in Toronto and The Calgary Herald, which both use Reuters dispatches -- to substitute the word ''terrorist'' in articles for terms like ''insurgents'' and ''rebels.'' ''Our editorial policy is that we don't use emotive words when labeling someone,'' said David A. Schlesinger, Reuters' global managing editor.


Sunday, September 19, 2004

Voter registration activity in Muslim communities

Just wanted to share this article from the Christian Science Monitor where UN Secretary General, Kofi Anan has called the invasion of Iraq illegal - as you can imagine, the US isn't too happy!

I can safely say that 9/11 has changed the lives of American Muslims forever. Many Muslims who were not politically active before are today & plan to vote if they can. Muslim organizations, centers and mosques all over the country are pushing Muslims to vote in the November elections - it is not an easy job & kudos to all those who try! My friends & I held the first ever voter registration drive in our mosque last week. We managed to get 26 people to register, although it will be a challenge to get all of them to the polls on Nov 2! Many still feel that their vote doesn't count, or that Kerry does not offer a true alternative. It is hard to explain to them that political activism is a long-term strategy that requires patience & determination, not a mere 2-month activity. As expected, more men were willing to register than men for several reasons: some women felt they needed their husband's permission, some were not citizens, while others did not have a political conviction. One woman felt that the political candidates were equivalent to "Satan" and discouraged us from getting politically active - well, everyone to their beliefs eh?

We held another one at the Iraqi Shia mosque in the Twin Cities & it was well received - many who were interested were under 18 or not citizens yet! Here's an interesting article from Newsday about getting immigrants to the poll.

Speaking of which, a new poll shows 58 percent of Arab-Americans (not necessarily Muslim) in Michigan support Democrat John Kerry for president while 21 percent support Republican incumbent George W. Bush and 9 percent support independent Ralph Nader, the son of Lebanese immigrants. Twelve percent are undecided. Michigan houses the largest population of Arabs in the US.

For those of you who haven't heard, there was a controversy in the Florida University women's basketball team - a Muslim convert wanted to wear long pants & her headcover. Although, she was initially refused, she was later given permission & then quit due to hostility. The report made it global! For people who doubt that hate crime against Muslims is exaggerated, I would recommend you to visit the website of the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR) for updated news on the issue. Students, employees are constantly harassed & discriminated against, while anti-Islamic news, letters, and attacks on places of worship are widespread.


Thursday, September 16, 2004

Bush vs. Kerry: Does it make a difference on Europe?

Yesterday, I had a chance to attend a lecture by Hans-Ulrich Klose , who is a member of the German Bundestag (Parliament) & has been involved in international politics for a while. It was one of the most inspiring & visionary political speeches I have heard in a long time. He didn't allude anyone to any miracles in the future, but talked about the importance of diplomacy, grass-roots international exchange to promote peace & security. Throughout the lecture, I kept thinking how nice it would be if some of our politicians were as intelligent, diplomatic & visionary as he was! The main points I got from his presentation were:

  • There has been a growing sense of anti-Bushism amongst Europeans, and he fears that it will turn to anti-Americanism & anti-Israelism if unchecked. About 80% of Europeans would prefer another US president.
  • Although Americans & Europeans have similarities in goals such as human rights, democracy, etc., the first term of President Bush has increased a a sense of "European identity" to differentiate themselves from Americans.
  • Differences in policies between America and Europe didn't start with Iraq: right after the Cold War, and the reunification of Germany, there was a shift in geo-strategic issues for both regions.
  • The "Middle East" for America is the "Near East" for Europe, because it is closer to the region geographically & it is vital for Europeans to see it stabilized.
  • Will anything change if Kerry became president? Not in political or economic terms. It also isn't very likely that Kerry will sign the Kyoto Protocol or join the International Court of Justice.
  • What may change is the language and philosophy. Europeans are weary of Bush because his language & philosophy is all about right & wrong, black or white. To most Europeans, this is a dangerous approach. Due to the bloody religious history in the region, many Europeans are also fearful of Bush's political beliefs & his will to impose it on others as God's mission. Kerry's diplomatic & multi-lateral approach to global issues probably is closer to Europeans than Bush.
  • Europeans seek for long-term solutions, rather than the "instant gratification" approach of most Americans. They don't believe that conflicts can be solved by military force - Mr. Klose emphasized that Afghanistan was the exception & not the rule to the "War on Terror," because terrorism is a political problem. Iraq was not a terrorist haven before the invasion.
  • The strict travel & visas rules have benefited Europe, especially Germany in two main ways: more Arabs come to Germany & other European countries for medical treatments. In fact, the popular Mayo clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, has felt the negative impact. Additionally, more Arabs are going to Europe than the US for education. Mr. Klose also pointed out that the "brain-drain" of Europe to the US has slowed down dramatically after 9/11 and the war in Iraq.
  • He was pessimistic about Iraq: he hopes that the country will stabilize within the next 10 years but realizes that it will take a great amount of commitment & support from the international community. He did not agree with the strategy of targeting & destroying houses in Iraq, because it is a misguided policy & not effective. Germany is helping train Iraqi security forces in the United Arab Emirates, and will train pioneer units in areas such as reconstruction. Another goal, it is pursuing under NATO is the removal of landmines - this has not yet begun.

Mr Klose's most important message was that the United States needs to partner with other nations for common causes and that it is vital for the US to regain respect in the world that it has lost. He was not hopeful that the European nations would act as a unified nation in the near future, but that it would be possible in another 20-25 years. He said that the progress most European nations have made after WWII is remarkable & could stay that way if the right decisions are made in the future.


Tuesday, September 14, 2004

US kills scores of civilians in Iraq on Sunday

Under-reported in the US, other sources have reported a deadly attack on civilians in Haifa Street, Baghdad. The BBC reports that on Sunday, due to a US air strike "at least 13 people were killed and about 60 others were wounded by US helicopter fire as they milled around the burning wreckage of an American armored vehicle that had been ambushed by insurgents early in the morning." Note these were curious innocent Iraqis who were fired at because the US wanted to destroy the American vehicle due to concern of looting & theft of sensitive equipment & info. The US Army backed away from this explanation & said they returned fire after being fired at, although none of the TV footage or press pictures showed armed people at the scene or recorded any gunfire. A 12-year old girl was killed along with a Palestinian journalist working for Al-Arabiya & Al-Ikhbariya while he was preparing to report. Today, a car bomb has exploded close to an Iraqi police station in central Baghdad, killing 47 people, health ministry officials say. Iraqis are furious at the US forces & Iraqi interim govt for failing to provide security & protect police stations - many Iraqis line up at recruiting centers to earn income - at least 60% of Iraqis are still unemployed creating an atmosphere of humiliation, frustration & desperation.

As expected, Russian President Putin's response to the hostage crisis last week has been severe. According to this news story in the Christian Science Monitor, "Among Putin's reforms announced Monday: the country's 89 regional governors will no longer be elected by popular vote. Instead, he will appoint them and regional assemblies would approve the appointments." Several newspapers & institutions have criticized Putin's "reforms" in an attempt to consolidate his power, by giving the Kremlin more power than any other time since the fall of the Soviet Union. The EU has urged him to respect democracy & human rights, while The Economist has suggested that Putin stop comparing the Chechan cause with Al-Qaeda because the two are more different than similar.

Believe it or not, the combined presidential campaigns look like they will break the billion dollar mark! The prominent role that money plays in US elections is disgusting & it doesn't seem to get any better. Although it is now illegal for huge corporations to contribute huge amounts of money to any candidate, "the very wealthy have exploited the yawning loophole in the law which allows unlimited money to flow to organizations independent of the campaigns, but working parallel to them." This article from The Guardian does a good job of explaining "hard" & "soft" money & how it all filters out to both campaigns.

I'm taking a class this Fall called, "American Democracy in Crisis," where we discuss elections: candidate image, partisanship, ideologies, etc. Interestingly, Americans judge whether a candidate is competent or has integrity. In 1964, Lyndon Johnson overwhelmingly defeated Goldwater although he was not known to be honest: that shows that Americans choose what they perceive as competence over integrity. I can only pray it won't be the case this time with Bush because I don't think he fits in either category! We will also be discussing the issue of race - I don't believe that racism has been solved in the US, it's just more subtle & "underground" today. Speaking of elections, it was largely ignored that today were primary elections to vote for candidates within a party for some state & House seats.


Monday, September 13, 2004

God, Guns & Gays!

I once heard a liberal say that Republicans were all about "God, Guns & Gays!" I laughed at the time, but it unfortunately is truer than ever. Not to say that I support gay marriages because I don't - but I hate the way the Administration is using this issue to exploit people's values when it has no intention or political clout to ban gay marriages or change the Constitution. However, today our dear President allowed the ten year ban on the sale of assault weapons to expire: the assault weapons ban prohibits, by name, the sale of 19 kinds of semiautomatic weapons that have the features of guns used by the military, and also outlaws magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition (NY Times). Although Bush has paid lip service that he supports the ban, he has done nothing to stop the law from expiring - as you can imagine, his friends at the National Rifle Association are very pleased. The supporters of the lobby group argue that it is "People, not guns that kill people." I'm sorry but I don't agree. People may not succeed in killing people if weapons were not so accessible. My 19-yr-old brother helps sell them at the retail store he works at!! Kerry has criticized the President saying, "George Bush chose to make the job of terrorists easier and make the job of America's police officers harder, and that's just plain wrong." This reminds of me Michael Moore's movie, Bowling for Columbine and his argument that compared to other Western Countries, the United States tends to be very violent. I respect the Bill of Rights, but I doubt the Founding Fathers wrote the Second Amendment to allow the liberal use of guns as it is today. Just as they didn't mean to protect pornography under the First Amendment!

A Newsweek article indicated that about 40% of Americans still believe that Saddam Hussein was connected with the 9/11 attacks. With such ignorance widespread amongst Americans, it is not surprising that most of them still don’t feel like they know the presidential candidates & their issues. The reason? Most of them depend on network TV that don't provide them more than sound bytes & campaign das don't do the job! Check this
article on the Christian Science Monitor (CSM).

Wondering why Florida & the other islands have been hit by so many hurricanes this year? Here's a great
environmental report from the (CSM). "Hurricane Ivan (155 m/hr), has devastated Grenada and Jamaica. According to Red Cross estimates, 60,000 people on Grenada are homeless and 34 people have died. On Jamaica, where an estimated 500,000 people ignored warnings to evacuate, at least 11 were killed. Interestingly "while hurricane activity is more or less readjusting to its long-term averages after a period of relative quiet, more people are placing themselves, their houses, yachts, and office high-rises in storm paths when they move to hurricane-prone states and their geologically fragile shorelines. In 1926, a hurricane struck Florida that - if it were to happen today - would cause $100 billion in damage, notes Roger Pielke Jr., with the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado at Boulder."

Juan Cole has this scary analysis of how Bush's post 11 policies have helped Bin Laden's Vision Becoming Reality. As for Iraq, there has been violent clashes especially in Fallujah: At Least 80 Civilians Die in Iraqi Violence; U.S. Helicopter Fires On Crowd in Baghdad according to this Washington Post article. And if things couldn't go worse, Chalabi (yes, the same Bush Admin darling) is promoting Iraqi-Israeli relations. Many elements in Iraq are interested in diplomatic ties with Israel, according to Mithal al-Alousi, an aide to Ahmed Chalabiand a member of Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress Party. I don't know if I believe that! Most of them probably associate their situation with the Palestinians...


Friday, September 10, 2004

Commemorating 9/11

What exactly is the right way to mark the third anniversary of 9/11? I am not really sure. I just feel that it is unfortunate how polarized the day has become & is exploited in full by the Republican Party & the Administration. Playing on people's heartstrings and fear to attain a personal agenda is disgusting because it truly was a tragedy. I don't want to sound like Bush's mouth-piece, but the world HAS truly changed a lot since 9/11/2001. In light of all the recent attacks on innocent civilians, check out this article in The Daily Star, Fight Terror with less force and more flexibility. It reports that "On Sept. 6, the day after Sharon's phone call to the Kremlin, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arrived in Israel to be greeted by Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom with the words: "The terrorism that struck Russia is no different from that which struck New York, Tel Aviv or Madrid." Russian and Israeli intelligence and security agencies are now to cooperate closely against what they see as a common threat." The article discusses how such hawkish measures are ineffective in truly fighting the threat of terror that affects us all.

On Iraq, a pretty stark reality report on the chaos, crime, rape, prostitution, drugs & other crime that have taken hold in the country due to the lack of security or legitimate governance and a complete breakdown of civil society. When President George W Bush declared the end of "major operations" in
Iraq on 1 May 2003, he said that the world has become a safer place for America." He apparently didn't consider Iraqis or even Americans in Iraq! There has been continued violence in Iraq where US has killed several Iraqis in an attack on Fallujah.

The Guardian reports what we already know that
the long-awaited final report of the Iraq Survey Group concludes there were no weapons of mass destruction in the country at the time of the US-UK invasion. Maybe Vice President Cheney ought to read it to clear his fuzzy head - he still tries to claim a link between 9/11 & Iraq!

Those of you still holding your breath on charges being pressed against the perpetrators of Abu Ghraib prison will be disappointed with this NY Times article, No Accountability in Abu Ghraib. With election season, corruption & conspiracy amongst the "higher ranks," it is doubtful anything will come out of the investigations on the torture techniques that the
US is accused of in Iraq, Afghanistan & Guantanamo Bay. Another disturbing article from the newspaper on how C.I.A. Hid More Iraqis Than It Claimed.

Fall tends to be a festive season for Jews as they celebrate their holidays & a hellish time for Palestinians in the
Occupied Territories. Here's an article from the Christian Science Monitor stating "Israeli troops sealed the West Bank and Gaza at dawn Friday, imposing a ban on Palestinians entering Israel until the end of the Jewish holiday season next month." Also wanted to share this interesting article on how education in Palestine has in the past, been used as a propaganda tool against Israel. Although, the same can be said for Israeli schools, reforms have been made.

Enter South Africa, is an interesting article on the increasing relations that the county is seeking with the
Middle East. I hope the path it followed to end apartheid & set up a reconciliation committee, can be an example for Palestine & Israel one day. "Trade and economy is the prime objective for
both sides. But political coordination, Arab officials and Ntsaluba agree, is the core of any serious progress of relations...
The crux of the ideas that Pretoria is currently considering is based on promoting dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis. South Africa, Ntsaluba said, has much experience when it comes to peaceful co-existence and it wants to share this experience with both the Israelis and Palestinians."

On a domestic level,
Florida has been consistently hit with hurricanes & storms - just wanted to share this blog of a friend who lives in Florida:

I have added an 'e-mail to friend' feature (the envelope at the bottom of the post) so you can share my postings with others.

Have a great weekend!


Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Are Chechans part of the "War on Terror"?

With the horrific attack on innocent school children & women in Russia, President Putin is most surely going to be more aggressive towards the Chechans than before using Bush's "war on terror" as an excuse. What was not much reported is that extended family members of the hostage-takers were taken into custody by Russian officials - this included few-month-old babies to old people. They were released after the situation was under control. It is the same strategy that Sharon uses in the Occupied Territories: they are exploiting the global situation for their own political gains because no dissident wants to look "weak" against terrorism. Interestingly, radical Islamic groups or nationalistic groups are using Al Qaeda's war on the West as their forefront too, even though they may not be connected to the group. This has created an extremely complex & sensitive situation, explained Nick Hayes, professor of history at Saint John's University in Minnesota on public radio today. He has studied & traveled the region extensively. If you are interested, here's a link to Human Rights Watch: Russia and Chechnya and Carnegie Moscow Center. The Christian Science Monitor has taken a more conservative approach to the situation.

More on the Israeli spy scandal: AIPAC is suggesting that the investigations are a malicious intent to undermine US-Israeli relations. From the Washington Post: "In a lengthy letter to supporters and allies, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee charged yesterday that the "very essence" of relations between the United States and Israel is under assault as a result of reports that the FBI is investigating whether AIPAC officials passed classified information to Israel." A very critical article from the Washington Times on US-Israeli relations has earned the newspaper criticism from AIPAC & other groups. I don't doubt that AIPAC is guilty & is trying to cover up the mess as fast as possible using all kinds of excuses including anti-semitism. Unfortunately, I do not see anything coming out of the probe because the lobby group is bound to pump tons of money to both campaigns.

Just wanted to share this touching story of the immense challenges that these Palestinian soccer players face. Also, a pessimistic story about why non-violence won't work in Palestine. I don't agree, but it's an interesting perspective.

On Iraq: a report from NY Times that top Pentagon officials said Tuesday that insurgents controlled important parts of central Iraq and that it was unclear when American and Iraqi forces would be able to secure those areas. From most of the people I talk to, they are extremely disappointed with Kerry's silence on Iraq. It is pretty frustrating - the latest I heard is that he is promising to bring the troops home within 4 years (his first term) whereas Bush hasn't made any commitment. My only hope is that Kerry is known to be a ferocious last-minute campaigner & the debates, but it definitely is not looking good for him. Here's an article about Muslims becoming more politically active & another one about their dismay with Kerry.


Tuesday, September 07, 2004

US Army death toll reaches 1000

A grim milestone if you will, but the death toll of American soldiers that have died in Iraq has reached 1000 with the lastest violence in Baghdad killing 13 US troops. The Christian Science Monitor reports that August has been the worst month for US troops since the invasion, with an average of 100 attacks a day. It is sad because it was a waste of life, not a worthy cause as President Bush claims it to be. He acts like he cares for veterans, but really does not baecuse he has made cuts for their helth care & other benefits - a professor of mine who is also a Vietnam war veteran confirmed it. I think of those parents, family members and friends like the one in Fahrenheit 9/11, who have to deal with their irreplacable loss. I know many of you want to say, what about the thousands of Iraqis who have died? Yes, that is sad too, but death in a war is not a competition. Every innocent victim of war is a tragedy and deserves to be mourned & treated with respect.

The article goes on to say that "Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, one of the highest-ranking US generals in Iraq, did not dismiss the concept of holding January elections throughout the country while "leaving out any lone rebellious enclave." This would seriously undermine the elected officials taht come into power & throw the country into further chaos. In Najaf, residents took to the streets Monday calling on radical cleric Moqtada Sadr and his Mehdi Army militia to leave the holy Shiite city.

From Informed Comment: "Meanwhile, Deutsche Press Agentur via al-Zaman reports that Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani held his first explicitly political meetings on Monday at his office, seeing in turn Najaf Governor Ali al-Zurfi, young radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and a representative of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, Amar al-Hakim. Sistani had earlier intervened to stop Iraqi National Guards from surrounding Muqtada's house. The discussions focused on the security situation in the city, and on means of implementing the security agreement that ended the siege of the city. Sistani's spokesman said the Grand Ayatollah urged all the parties to adhere to the agreement, and to maintain national unity and avoid bloodshed. (It is interesting that a grand ayatollah should make his plea based on "national unity" rather than on Islam or Shiite Islam). Sistani had begun the day by leading dawn prayers on Monday in the mosque of the Shrine of Ali for the first time in 20 years, signalling a return of the city to stability."

Speaking of death, just a comment that even if it doesn't make the news, countless number of Palestinains die every day and their homes destroyed due to Israeli aggression. I would urge you to check out the website for UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) that works with Palestinian refugees in the Occupied Territories & neighboring refugee camps. You can also sign up for their mailing list for updates every couple of weeks. It is amazing how even UN operations are seriously thwarted by the Israeli military: for instance their latest complaint is that Isreali soldiers broke into a UNRWA girls school to use it as a detenetion & interrogation facility for males aged 16-40. Another news report today is about a young girl who was hit in the head by a bullet from Israeli shooting nearby. I beleive education is the best way to overcome violence, but how are Palestinians expected to progress if educational institutes are also targeted.

In other news, South African President Thabo Mbeki on Tuesday welcomed members of Israel's governing Likud Party as "friends" with whom South Africa wants to work closely as he opened talks aimed at sharing his country's experience of reconciliation.The visit by the eight-member delegation from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's party marks the first time that the Likud Party was holding official talks with South Africa on efforts to bring peace to the Middle East. It will be interesting to see how that goes. In more news, three Palestinian factions that boycotted the last elections gave their backing Sunday for plans to hold fresh polls in the West Bank and Gaza Strip next year.

As the world especially Russians try to deal with the horror of the deaths at a school, this article from the NY Times is completely out of line - the writer claims that "Muslim terrorists" enjoy a "Cult of Death" that allows them to massacre innocent people, without taking into consideration that the hoplessness & tragedy that befalls the perpetrators. Such violence is never justified, but there is a reason for the problem & the roots of most of them are Western injust policies. The quicker we get to the root, the faster the problem will be solved.

Polls are indicating that Bush has gained lead after the Republican National Convention, but like in 2000, it doesn't matter who wins the popular vote - it is the swing states like Ohio, Michigan & Minnesota, that will determine the winner.


Sunday, September 05, 2004

UN appreciates Bollywood film

I am a big fan of Bollywood movies, although I criticize most of them! However, I have to admit that since last summer, new producers & directors have come up with fresh story ideas. Last night, I went to watch Phir Milenge (loosely based on Philadelphia starring Tom Hanks)with friends - I have to say, it is the most sensible movie I have watched in my entire life. It deals with Shilpa Shetty (the main actress) being infected with HIV & trying to prove to her society that she still should be respected & not ostracized. She does a superb job of confronting her illness & conveying her pain. I am so glad she has finally got a role to prove herself as a good actress rather than a song-item or "blonde-like" roles. Abishek Bachan (the son of the Living Legend, Amitabh Bachan) does a great job as her lawyer.

I admire the producer to take on such a sensitive issue to teach the Indian audience about the infection, the misconceptions on how it spreads and discrimination in such a subtle non-preachy way. It is a must-watch movie. Although I wish there were fewer scenes in English, since many Indian viewers may not speak the language. Unfortunately, it had a poor opening in India, but I am interested to see how well it will be received by Bollywood fans. Here is a detailed review from The Times of India. Here's another article from the newspaper on UN's appreciation of the film maker's use of film to educate people about HIV and AIDS.


Friday, September 03, 2004

Slavery is not dead, just less recognizable

I am currently reading Alex Hailey's (famous for his book Roots) "Queen" which focuses mainly on slavery, and the post Civil War era. Most of us think of slavery as blacks being tied in chains, whipped & working on plantations. We also believe that slavery is over. Interestingly, the Christian Science Monitor published an article titled, Slavery is not dead, just less recognizable. It talks about how slavery means bondage & it exists even in today's world; "today, 27 million people are enslaved, more than at the height of the transatlantic slave trade...the majority are bonded laborers in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal." They give up their bodies as collateral, which is bonded for generations at times. For instance, human trafficking especially girls and women for sexual trade is very common. Very interesting read!

Reading this book, I was surprised by how many "good Christian folks" believed that blacks did not have souls. That they had been cursed by God & turned black after Noah's son Ham, disobeyed his father. However, many slaves at the time were devoted Christians & read the same bible but interpreted it differently. I attended an interesting discussion group yesterday where the topic was the separation of church and state. Many right winged Republicans feel their religious rights are being infringed upon by secularists. But, it made me realize that it is how one interprets it. The Ten Commandments being posted on a government building may be offensive to non-Christians. I think America is the great nation it is because of the First Amendment of the US Constitution: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Interesting article in the NY Times about hospital gowns being made to accommodate Muslim women when meeting male doctors at the Maine Medical Center. It will be available to all patients - I hope this practice will be followed by clinics & hospitals around the country!

Grave news coming from Russia - about 200 hostages have been killed. I don't quite know what the circumstances were or how the government handles the situation. The Kremlin tends to be very secretive in its operations & was highly criticized in the theatre hostage incident in 2002.

In other news, Sudan has refused a Darfur peacekeeping force to assuage the situation. What can be done to help the victims, I am not sure, The world seems so occupied with Iraq & other events, Sudan is slowly slipping from the radar screen.

The Republican National Convention has come to a close with Bush rallying his right winged ideas. Here's an article on Bush's speech from the NY Times & Michael Moore's commentary on Day 4 from USA Today.

Bill Clinton has been admitted for a bypass surgery which has caught many by surprise - hope that will go ok !

The Labor Day holiday is on Monday, so it's going to be a long weekend - hope you all enjoy the last of Summer!


Thursday, September 02, 2004

Israel spy scandal runs deep

The more I read about the scandal regarding espionage by AIPAC (American Israel Political Action Committee) on behalf of Israel, the more I realize how deep it is. However, considering the strong lobbying ties the group has & with election year, I doubt there will be any serious repercussions. For those asking how it could happen? Well, the 9/11 commission hearings focused on the Administration's failure to listen to warnings about the attack - the Administration is so incompetent & wrapped up with Iraq, I'm not surprised. That's why we need Kerry to win - to get rid of "National Security Advisors" such as Condoleezza Rice. The Washington Post reports that "AIPAC has been one of the most active advocates for Israeli interests in the United States and a central element in fostering that relationship. Its lobbyists maintain close relations with officials at the highest levels of both governments." The NYT focuses more on Israel's interests to intervene in Iran. As a country suspected of developing nuclear weapons, Iran is a major threat to Israel's interests and domination in the Middle East. For in depth analysis on ongoing discussion about this scandal and Iraq, visit Informed Comment. What is more, some Jewish groups are coming to the aid of AIPAC saying the FBI investigation is bordering anti-semitism - give me a break!!! Hats off to the FBI agents who have taken on such a sensitive investigating. One of my colleagues had once commented that she had not seen such level of corruption in the government since Nixon. Speaking of which, Arnold Schwarzenegger said Nixon was the reason he became Republican - is it me or does that sound scary?!

Just because the siege of Najaf is over, it doesn't mean the violence has ceased. More than 12 people (women & children) were killed in a US air strike trying to get Islamic militants. This strategy has proved such a failure by both the US & Israel, I don't understand why it is still pursued. So much for "precision attacks"!

And here's Day 3 on the Republican National Convention, by Michael Moore, who's providing commentary for USA Today. Bush speaks today & I have to be honest: I haven't been able to hear any of the speeches - they make my blood boil! From the little coverage that I have paid attention to, it looks like the chosen speakers are moderate such as Governor Schwarzenegger from California. And putting Laura Bush & their twins (never mind their problems with alcohol & drugs) to speak, I guess the organizers are trying to portray a personable image of Bush. I have to give it to Moore on Bush's claim that he miscalculated about Iraq: "That must be some comfort to the parents of nearly 1,000 brave soldiers now dead because of his "miscalculation." If I made a miscalculation and ran over a child on the street, what do you think would happen to me? Do you think the cops would simply say, "Hey, Mr. Moore, you did your best driving down this street, you made a miscalculation, the kid is dead, but you are trying to save the world, so be on your way?" Something tells me this is not what would happen. What I don't get is that Mr. Bush makes his mistake and thinks he has a right to continue in his job."

I don't believe in polls, but is frightening to see the President gaining lead. It will be interesting to see the 3 national debates - from what I've heard, neither have ever lost one!


Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Hostage crisis in Iraq

Sad news coming in from Nepal: 12 hostages were killed in Iraq. The lack of security for foreign workers and journalists has led to several kidnappings; the waltzed one of 2 French journalists. The kidnappers are demanding that the rule banning women/girls from wearing headscarves to state schools be overturned. The Nepalese are in great shock, which led to a riot where protesters attacked Kathmandu's Jama mosque.

There has been violence in Russia, blamed on Chechan dissidents. The two planes that crashed last week is being suspected to be the work of two Chechan women, whose relatives did not claim the bodies. BBC reports that armed gang has taken about 150 people, most of them children, hostage. Yesterday, a suspected suicide bombing killed 10 people in Moscow. More than 100 hostages died in a Moscow theatre siege in 2002. I do not know much about the region except that after the fall of the Soviet Union, heavily Muslim dominated Chechnya like others wanted to be an independent country. However, Chechnya is rich in resources & Russia did not want to let it go. Thus, a violent uprising to fight for independence has been underway for several years. So far, President Putin has used heavy handed techniques towards the Chechans & has been unable to resolve the situation. In Chechnya's election last Sunday, In last Sunday's election in Chechnya the Kremlin virtually appointed its candidate Alu Alkhanov to lead the republic and barred more popular candidates from the poll.

As expected, the Republican National Convention is talking about freedom & democracy in Iraq & Afghanistan & the good work that Bush is doing. One thing that has come as a disappointment to me is John McCain. Despite Bush's ugly campaigning during the 2000 primaries against McCain & McCain's friendship with Kerry, he has come out in strong support of the President. USA Today has asked Michael Moore, a strong liberal & producer of Fahrenheit 9/11, to comment on the RNC - very amusing!