Friday, October 29, 2004

Will Palestine be different without Arafat?

Arafat's sudden illness & trip to France for treatment raises questions whether he will live or not. I strongly believe that Arafat has been obsessed with power and has deviated from the Palestinian cause - he has been the main obstacle for major reform in the Palestinian leadership. I also think it is very important for Israel for Arafat to live: As long as he is alive, his government is corrupted & the US is unwilling to deal with him, Israel is free to do what it likes. From the Haaretz: "The demise of Arafat would also mean the demise of the Palestinian "non-partner,"the loss of the excuse for all of Israel's main political decisions being taken unilaterally, without negotiating with the Palestinians or reaching an agreement. From Sharon's standpoint, it is preferable for the next stages o fhis plan to be carried out unilaterally, with a weakened Arafat peering out from the Muqata at the unfolding events. The timing of the severe deterioration in Arafat's health seems to have been orchestrated by a political maestro. It happened just as a majority of members of the Knesset confirmed Sharon's disengagement plan for the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria, and when the United States is facing elections that may usher in a new president, John Kerry, or alternately, Bush may decide on a new policy line after Arafat. The conjunction of these three factors might create a new political opportunity, with the rise of a Palestinian leadership who will act to put an end to terror and to reform the Palestinian security organizations. But a negative scenario is also possible: Arafat's illness incapacitates him, and the leadership is paralyzed because no one will dare to take steps leading to real change, such asending the violence and renewing negotiations with Israel. Another negative scenario would be a vacuum created in Arafat's absence, leading to a battle over the inheritance, which could deteriorate into gang warfare."

"If Arafat goes, Israel is likely to hear from Europe and others that it should reopen negotiations with the new Palestinian leadership over the disengagement plan. If Abu Mazen takes the Palestinian throne, Israel will have a chance not to repeat past mistakes and to assist him immediately, and generously, so that he becomes a serious partner without the shadow of Arafat hovering over him. The same applies to Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Ala, who consistently avoids taking any real action. The obligations do not exist only on the Israeli side. They also confront the entire Palestinian leadership after Arafat. From Israel's point of view the first Palestinian obligation is to end terror, and to combat Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which don't want to end the war with Israel. Here Egypt has a central role to play, in brokering a cease-fire among the Palestinians and a general cease-fire. Second, the Palestinians must carry out the reforms they committed to under the road map. The reforms include reducing the number of security organizations to three, all answerable to the Palestinian PM or the Interior Ministry of the PA."
However, Electronic Intifada's Ali Abunimah said on FOX News: "Anyone who thinks that it makes a jot of difference whether Sharon...or Arafat is removed...will be very disappointed when they see that the conflict grinds on and the only thing that will resolve the conflict is dealing with its root causes: military occupation, settlements and Israel's determination to hold on to as much Palestinian territory as possible."

Arab media: the US punching bag? From The Jordan Times: "[NY Times columnist] Thomas L. Friedman's piece last Sunday said he found "a steadily rising perception across the Arab-Muslim world that the great enemy of Islam is JIA -- `Jews, Israel and America' -- lumped together in a single threat." Here, he too participates willingly in bashing the favourite American punching bag -- the Arab media, particularly television networks and especially Al Jazeera...Friedman charged that this anti-JIA "trend has been fanned by Arab satelliteTV stations, which deliberately [emphasis added] show split-screen images of Israelis bashing Palestinians and US forces bashing the Iraqi insurgents". What escapes Friedman's analysis, surprisingly, is the fact that these two subjects are indeed the Arab world's prime concern...He certainly must be aware, for example, that the American media have hardly exposed Israeli machinations in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip...For a start, the American media can investigate Israel's lame excuse by highlighting the underground tunnels it said the Palestinians had dug across the Israeli-controlled Palestinian-Egyptian border to smuggle in arms. Or they can examine the deplorable living conditions of the Palestinians in the UN-run refugee camps which served as killing fields for the marauding Israeli troops...Another Times columnist, William L. Safire... is concerned that the "stunning reversal of opinion within a growing voting bloc [of Arab and Muslim Americans] is having an impact" in the presidential election. There are about half a million Arab Americans in Michigan, one of the battleground states, and he reports that, according to the Arab-American Institute, "most have turned anti-Bush"... Safire offers a lopsided cover-up: "... most Jewish Americans quite properly base their vote on the issues like social justice, civil liberty, economic fairness and not primarily on what may be good for Israel."Hogwash. I will bet my last dollar that had Senator John Kerry, the Democratic challenger, come out for a fairer consideration of the Palestinian position, the Jewish American community would have backed Bush, come hell or high water."

This may come as a shock to many, but according to this BBC report, a study by a respected Brtish medical journal is reporting that the war in Iraq has claimed the lives of 1000,000 Iraqi civilians. "Scientists from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in the US city of Baltimore gathered data on births and deaths since January 2002 from 33 clusters of 30 households each across Iraq. They found the relative risk of death was two-and-a-half times higher for Iraqi civilians after the 2003 invasion than in the preceding 15 months. That figure drops to one-and-a-half times higher if data from Falluja - the scene of repeated heavy fighting - is excluded. Before the invasion, most people died as a result of heart attack, stroke and chronic illness, the report says, whereas after the invasion, "violence was the primary cause of death." ... most individuals reportedly killed were women and children. The sample included randomly selected households in Baghdad, Basra,Arbil, Najaf and Karbala, as well as Falluja. Unofficial estimates of the civilian toll had varied from 10,000 to more than 37,000." From Informed Comment: "The troubling thing about these results is that they suggest that the US may soon catch up with Saddam Hussein in the number of civilians killed. How many deaths to blame on Saddam is controversial...it is often alleged that Saddam killed 300,000 civilians. This allegation seems increasingly suspect. So far only 5000 or so persons have been found in mass graves...The methodology of this study is very tight, but it does involve extrapolating from a small number and so could easily be substantially incorrect. But the methodology also is standard in such situations and was used in Bosnia and Kosovo.I think the results are probably an exaggeration. But they can't be so radically far off that the 16,000 deaths previously estimated can still be viewed as valid...The 16,000 estimate comes from counting all deaths reported in the Western press, which everyone always knew was only a fraction of the true total...The most important finding from my point of view is not the magnitude of civilian deaths, but the method of them. Roberts and Burnham find that US aerial bombardments are killing far more Iraqi civilians than had previously been suspected...Spencer Ackerman at TNR's online blog on Iraq has a long interview with Burnham about the study, in which Burnham is quite humble about it not being definitive."

Halliburton has been in the news quite often due to corruption accusations and the organization's past connection to Dick Cheney. From the NY Times: "The Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating whether the Army's handling of a large Iraq contract with the Halliburton Company violated procurement rules, according to lawyers for an Army official who made the charges of improprieties. F.B.I. agents have requested an interview with the official, Bunnatine H. Greenhouse, the chief of contracting with the ArmyCorps of Engineers, on her allegations regarding a 2003 contract with Halliburton to repair Iraqi oil fields...The oil contract was awarded in early 2003 without competition to the Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root, as the American-led invasion of Iraq began, and was initially for five years and up to $7 billion...After a public outcry over the large contract with Halliburton, the Pentagon did cut short the agreement after less than a year and $2.4 billion in expenditures and put the remaining work out for bid...One aspect of the company's performance - the importation of high-priced fuels into Iraq soon after the invasion - had already attracted the attention of Pentagon auditors, who say the government may have been overcharged by $61 million...It is unclear whether the decision to question Ms. Greenhouse reflects an expansion of the criminal inquiry on fuel charges into the broader, more politically explosive allegation of favoritism in the initial award."


  

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Saudi-American running for US office

A middle-aged schoolteacher living in southern California, Ferial Al Masry, is waging an uphill election campaign to become the first Saudi-born American to hold elective office in the United States. From ABC News, "Person of the Week": "Masry is deeply involved, like many Americans, in national issues. She is against the war in Iraq, even though she's running in a district that favors it. Her son Omar is an Army sergeant who just returned home after serving in Iraq for a year and a half...She was born in Mecca, in western Saudi Arabia, which was the birthplace of the prophet Muhammad. She is one of seven children. Her mother never learned to read or write; in her day, women were not permitted an education. But she sent her girls to be educated in Egypt. In Saudi Arabia, her success has not gone unnoticed. "I was the first woman ever to be on the cover of a Saudi magazine without a headscarf," she said. Masry would like to be an inspiration to Saudis, as well as Americans. "I think a lot of people are watching, especially women," she said. "It gives them hope and courage to ask for their rights." Even with all of her energy and optimism, Masry is a long-shot for November. Her district usually votes Republican. " I was listening to her story on National Public Radio this morning, and a local newspaper endorsed Bush for president & several other Republican candidates but endorsed Al Masry's candidacy too. Check out other Arab-American candidates at the Arab American Institute (AAI) website. Many of them tend to be Christian Arabs who have been a part of American history for a while, like Ralph Nader. Personally, I am really happy but can't wait for the day when a Muslim in Hijab (headcover) runs for something even more ambitious like the US Congress or Senate - to prove to the world that even behind the veil, we can do it. Also check out AAI's Voter Guide: the most comprehensive guide available to where the presidential candidates stand on civil liberties, Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and immigration. The most interesting are the the responses of Bush and Kerry to AAI's candidate questionnaire.

Speaking of religion, a new book is out by an author Craig Winn called Prophet of Doom:
Islam's Terrorist Dogma in Muhammed's Own Words. One thing is clear that the author has not studied Islam in great depth, the life of the Holy Prophet, his exemplary life and has taken many of his teachings and verses from the Muslim scripture, out of context to conclude: "The depiction of the prophet by the most revered Muslim sources reveals behavior that is immoral, criminal, and violent. The five oldest and most trusted Islamic sources don't portray Muhammad as a great and godly man. They confirm that he was a thief, liar, assassin, mass murderer, terrorist, warmonger, and an unrestrained sexual pervert engaged in pedophilia, incest, and rape. He authorized deception, assassinations, torture, slavery, and genocide. He was a pirate, not a prophet. According to the Hadith and the Qur'an, Muhammad and his henchmen plundered their way to power and prosperity. And by putting the Qur'an in chronological order and correlating it with the context of Muhammad's life, we find that Allah mirrored his prophet's character. Muhammad's god condoned immoral and criminal behavior. Allah boasts about being a terrorist. He claims to have deceived men, to have stolen their property, to have enslaved women and children, to having committed acts of murder, genocide, and sadistic tortures. " Mr. Winn, a businessman, who according to Amazon.com's own editorial review knew nothing about Islam prior to 9/11, reveals his lack of knowledge and poor scholarship in his fictitious writing. Revered leaders of all times including Gandhi have talked highly of Prophet Mohamed- sign this petition to protest this inaccurate reflection of the Holy Prophet Muhammed and an attempt to incite hatred towards Muslims.

I would highly recommend all of you to read this interview from Asia Source on Mahmood Mamdani, a third generation East African of Indian origin, [who] discusses the arguments in his most recent book, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror: "To understand terrorism, we need to go beyond self-defense, beyond the violence of liberation movements, beyond the violence of anti-colonial struggles and liberation movements. To understand non-state terror today, we need to understand the historical relationship between state terrorism and non-state terrorism. The suicide bomber, however, has been widely understood in the western media as a throwback to pre-modernity, either as adult irrationality or as a response of adolescents coerced by patriarchal authority. I think this explanation may be too easy and too self-serving. The reality is more likely the opposite; the suicide bomber is more likely born of a youth revolt than of patriarchal authority. The suicide bomber comes out of the history of the Intifadah. The first Intifadah in Palestine was coterminous with the Soweto uprising in South Africa. Both were testimony to youth revolts on two fronts: against both external authority - such as the apartheid or the Zionist order - and the internal authority of the generation of their parents, a generation they saw as having capitulated to external authority by accepting the conditions of apartheid and occupation as normal. It is not very different from American youth during the civil rights and the anti-war movement of the 1960s. This is how I recall Bob Dylan's ode to the youth of the '60s: "Come O Mothers and Fathers of the land Get out of the way if you can't lend a hand Your sons and daughters are beyond your command For the times they are a-changing"...when Bush speaks of "good" Muslims and "bad" Muslims, what he means by "good" Muslims is really pro-American Muslims and by "bad" Muslims he means anti-American Muslims. Once you recognize that, then it is no longer puzzling why good Muslims are becoming bad Muslims at such a rapid rate...This is connected to my claim that political identities are not reducible to cultural identities. Political Islam, especially radical political Islam, and even more so, the terrorist wing in radical political Islam, did not emerge from conservative, religious currents, but on the contrary, from a secular intelligentsia. In other words, its preoccupation is this-worldly, it is about power in this world. To take only the most obvious example: I am not aware of anyone who thinks of bin Laden as a theologian; he is a political strategist. My real discomfort with using the two interchangeably - political Islam and Islamic fundamentalism - is that "fundamentalism" is a cultural phenomenon and I want to zero-in on a political phenomenon...Until Ayatollah Khomeini created a state-wide clerical authority in Iran, there was no such institutionalized religious hierarchy in Islam and it still does not exist elsewhere. Without the existence of an institutionalized religious hierarchy parallel to a state hierarchy, the question of the proper relation between two domains of power, that of the organized church and the organized state, a central question in Western secularism, has been a non-question in Islam...[In Iraq, Ayatollah] Sistani's is a secular, religious perspective. His view is that Shi'a clerics are scholars; they should be the conscience of society, not the wielders of state power. So when political Islam develops - unlike political Christianity - it is not the result of the movement of religious intellectuals into a secular domain but rather the reverse move, that of secular intellectuals into the religious domain."

In the news from
BBC: "The Knesset [Israeli Parliament] voted 67-45 in favour of the proposal, with seven abstentions. Mr Sharon had to rely on the support of the main opposition Labour party. Tuesday's move marked the first time the Israeli government had voted on the principle of removing settlers from occupied Palestinian land. The BBC's Barbara Plett in Jerusalem says the prime minister will now have to either heal the rifts within Likud or change his coalition government in order to carry out the plan. Under the disengagement plan, Israel will withdraw all its settlers - and the troops protecting them - but will maintain control of Gaza's borders, coastline and airspace. " This was one of the reasons why the peace accords between the two parties in 200 failed. "Four West Bank settlements are also to be evacuated. The proposed evacuations are to be carried out in phases - and each phase will require approval with a cabinet vote. But a leading Palestinian negotiator said the Israelis were "negotiating with themselves". "We've been watching [them] discussing our future, the future of our children, the future of the Palestinians, with one factor - us - being absent." I haven't come across more detailed analysis on this move yet, but from previous readings, the concern is that Sharon's action is merely as smokescreen to allow him to build more permanent Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Another interesting move by a political leader came from Pakistan's
Parvez Musharraf on the disputed territory of Kashmir: "President Pervez Musharraf made an appeal for new thinking to end the two countries' dispute over the divided territory by peaceful means. Among the options the Pakistani leader suggested were joint rule over the territory or its re-division. He also said Pakistan's traditional demand for a referendum was impractical while India's bid to create a permanent border between the two parts of Kashmir was unacceptable. An alliance of six Islamic parties, Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), called the plan a "betrayal of the Kashmir cause". "It's a U-turn, a roll-back of Pakistan's policy on Kashmir since independence," MMA deputy leader Hafiz Hussain Ahmed told AFP news agency. "Whatever the ideas, he should have put them forward in parliament." BBC News Online's Sanjoy Majumder, in Delhi, says Indian officials believe President Musharraf likes to score political points in public but is unyielding in his negotiations in private...In the Pakistani-administered part of Kashmir, Prime Minister Sardar Sikandar Hayat said he was disappointed..."We believe in a plebiscite, the one which was promised to us by both Pakistan and India," he said, referring to a 1948 UN Security Council resolution calling for a referendum which was accepted by both states. "Now, after five decades, they are talking about disintegration of Kashmir into six, seven parts." In the Indian part of Kashmir, the leader of a hardline faction of the separatist All Party Hurriyat Conference, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, said his supporters stood by their demand for self-determination. However, the leader of a moderate faction of Hurriyat welcomed President Musharraf's proposals. Abdul Gani Bhat said they would be acceptable to India, Pakistan and the Kashmiris alike, and could usher in lasting peace and an era of prosperity." BBC News Online looks at possible solutions for Kashmir. Click on the maps.

  

Monday, October 25, 2004

In memory of Paul Wellstone...

For many Minnesotans, Paul Wellstone, his wife & kids were heroes. Unlike many other politicians, he truly cared about people and won his senate seat through grassroots campaigning in 1990. He used a green bus to campaign around Minnesota & even drove in it to DC when he was sworn to the US Senate in 1991. He was up for re-election in a close race in 2002, when the vote for the Iraq war was proposed. I wrote to him voicing my opposition. Two days later, he e-mailed me back saying he disagreed with it too. Along with our other senator, Dayton, he and 3 other Minnesota congressmembers voted NO. On Oct 25, 2002, 10 days before the mid-term election, he, his wife & daughter were killed in an airplane crash. Like thousands of Americans, I was devastated. I was angry at God & asked "Why him? Why now?" I still tear up when I think of him and admire the hope he has instilled in the lives of people he touched. His campaign workers didn't quit - instead they have created Wellstone Action: a non-profit organization dedicated to continuing Paul and Sheila Wellstone's fight for economic justice and progressive social change. As their sons Mark & david said, "Paul and Sheila Wellstone can never be replaced. But others can be taught to walk in their footsteps. That's the first order of business for Wellstone Action." They organize intensive camps around the country teaching grassroots activity, how to mobilize & organize, how to be successful & even run for office. The camps are always booked & I haven't yet had a chance to enroll. Paul Wellstone, thank you & we will never ever park the green bus....

Iraq continues to be a place for tragic loss of innocent lives. From The Independent: "49 Iraqi soldiers executed in attack designed to send message to US. They were a group of unarmed army recruits, young Iraqis who had volunteered to help build a force capable of providing their country with security when the international troops had returned home.But, to the insurgents, they were seen as traitors working hand -in-hand with the hated powers of occupation. And so, they were massacred...in one of the most brutal acts of violence in the current rebellion...Although hundreds have died in bombings and mortar attacks, this is the first time they had carried out a planned operation with such a high number of casualties...a group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi...claimed responsibility for the attack...Iraqi politicians, including those in the government, have begun to express doubts about whether, with rising attacks, viable elections can be held at all in January. The United Nations, which is supposed to play a main role in organising the elections under a Security Council resolution, still has fewer than 40 personnel in the country. Attempts to get member countries to supply troops to protect UN personnel so more officials can come has failed to produce any offers...Instead of the hoped-for return of foreign investment and aid organisations which left the country as the violence stepped up,the exodus has grown with the spate of kidnappings with Margaret Hassan, the head of the charity Care International in Iraq, the latest victim."

Today the NY Times reported that "nearly 380 tons of powerful conventional explosives - used to demolish buildings, make missile warheads and detonate nuclear weapons - are missing from one of Iraq's most sensitive former military installations.The huge facility, called Al Qaqaa, was supposed to be under American military control but is now a no man's land...United Nations weapons inspectors had monitored the explosives for many years, but White House and Pentagon officials acknowledge that the explosives vanished sometime after the American-led invasion last year." From Informed Comment: "Josh Marshall is suspicious that this major screw-up has been known to the Bush administration for some time, and that it may have pressured the Iraqi government not to mention it. If Bush cannot even protect our troops from explosives at a sensitive facility in a country he had conquered, how is he going to protect the American public from terrorists who have not even yet been identified? The disappearance of these explosives is yet one more disaster caused by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's mania to send a small military force into Iraq. Rumsfeld over-ruled the officers in the Pentagon, who wanted hundreds of thousands of troops and knew that many would be needed to secure the country after the war...Only two weeks ago, The International Atomic Energy Commission reported that not only had dual-use equipment been stripped from an old Iraq nuclear weapons facility, but even the buildings had been stripped and dismantled. Muhammad al-Baradei said that some of the nuclear material stolen from facilities in Iraq has already begun showing up in other countries. Bush is making us safer? The American public trusts him to fight terror more effectively than Kerry? On what record? Bush appears to have all but just called up Usamah and Khamenei and told them where Saddam's old stuff was in case they needed it for their programs. And he politely made sure that no pesky US troops would be around to impede their access. Bush administration spokesmen are being careful to say that the hundreds of tons of explosives stolen from al-Qaqaa are not themselves useful as fissile material, i.e. they are not enriched uranium or plutonium.But the fact is that one of the first such "missing deadly weapons" scandals to break in Iraq had to do with the disappearance of radioactive materials from Tuwaitha. This theft was known already in the summer of 2003, and worries were expressed that that material could be used to make a dirty bomb....whether the existence of all this equipment and dangerous explosives doesn't prove that Saddam still had an active weapons program. The answer is a categorical "no." A lot of this stuff was left over from the 1980s when there had been such active programs, but which were abandoned after the Gulf War. Ironically, the bits and pieces Saddam still had were useless to a major state. But they could be stolen and cobbled together by a small band of terrorists to deadly effect."

From the Washington Post: "At the request of the CIA, the Justice Department drafted a confidential memo that authorizes the agency to transfer detainees out of Iraq for interrogation -- a practice that international legal specialists say contravenes the Geneva Conventions...The 1949 treaty notes that a violation of this particular provision constitutes a "grave breach" of the accord, and thus a"war crime" under U.S. federal law..."For these reasons," ... It says that even persons removed from Iraq retain the treaty's protections, which would include humane treatment and access to international monitors. During the war in Afghanistan, the administration ruled that al Qaeda fighters were not considered "protected persons" under the convention. Many of them were transferred out of the country to the naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and elsewhere for interrogations. By contrast, the U.S. government deems former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party and military, as well as insurgents and other civilians in Iraq, to be protected by the Geneva Conventions...It is not clear why the CIA would feel the need to remove detainees from Iraq for interrogation...Rashul, a suspected member of the Iraqi Al-Ansar terrorist group,was captured by Kurdish soldiers in June or July of 2003 andturned over to the CIA, which whisked him to Afghanistan for interrogation. Goldsmith [head of the Office of Legal Counsel] ruled that Rashul was a "protected person" under the Fourth Geneva Convention and therefore had to be brought back to Iraq...The CIA was not happy with the decision...when transferring Rashul back to Iraq, then-CIA Director George J. Tenet asked Defense Secretary Donald H.Rumsfeld not to give Rashul a prisoner number and to hide him from International Red Cross officials...As a "ghost detainee," Rashul became lost in the prison system for seven months...His current status is unknown. "What they are doing is interpreting an exception into an all-encompassing right, in one of the most fundamental treaties in history," Byers [a professor and international law expert at the University of British Columbia] said. The Geneva Convention "is as close as you get to protecting human rights in times of chaos. There's no ambiguity here."

Also from Iraq: "Far from a limited number of pro-Saddam resistance groups fighting coalition forces, well-funded cells and militias representing a spectrum of Islamic groups are now spread across Iraq.They include Sunni resistance groups, Ba'athist groups loyal to the ousted Saddam regime, Shi'ite resistance groups, and other terrorists groups that have moved into Iraq from Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Pakistan and Egypt since the occupation began in the spring of last year. The documents show that terrorist and militia activity is spreading across Iraq and is not just limited to Baghdad and Fallujah...In the run-in to the US presidential election, one of Bush's key messages is that a democratic Iraq will make the world a safer place. That claim is key to the White House's justification for the invasion. The more the claim looks suspect, the likelihood is that swing voters - crucial to the outcome of the election race - could turn to Bush's challenger, Senator John Kerry."

Interestingly, Kerry has been using more faith-based language in his rallies to compete with Bush's religiosity. From The Christian Science Monitor: "To convince undecided voters - particularly religious moderates in swing states - that he stands for their deepest concerns, the Democratic candidate is speaking more frequently in the language of faith. Framing the issues in moral terms and showing how religious values undergird his policy choices, Senator Kerry hopes to broaden the values debate and to show that he is as much a man of faith as is President Bush.
But the Democrats are playing catchup on the religion front, and the question is whether this effort, including the speech Kerry gave Sunday devoted to religious ideals and values, will give voters a more satisfying glimpse of the candidate, or be "too little, too late." "A fault line runs through the denominations ... with moral absolutists on the one hand versus those who see shades of gray on the other," according to Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention. "Religion's role is increasing and will only continue to increase." Pollsters say that many religious moderates - whether Catholic, Evangelical, or other - are still up for grabs. "One reason Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania are so competitive is that they ... have a lot of 'centrist' groups"...Recent polls suggest Kerry is making some headway. According to the Pew Research Center, white Catholic voters, who have consistently favored Bush over the past month, now lean toward Kerry by 50 to 43 percent...At the center was the quote from the book of James that he used in the third debate: "It is not enough, my brother, to say you have faith when there are no deeds ... Faith without works is dead." Kerry also speaks of the Good Samaritan as related to issues of health care and poverty, and of "stewardship," as it relates to the deficit and preserving the environment. On Sunday he emphasized seeking the common good and the moral obligation to care for the less fortunate."


The US has a long history of immigration, symbolized by the Statue of Liberty. Over the past two centuries, America [has] accepted tens of millions of immigrants from around the world. What are the candidates' positions on immigration? According to the Christian Science Monitor, "There are at least 8 million illegal aliens living in America today - and their numbers are growing by at least 400,000 a year. Maybe 500,000. No one knows for sure...Public opinion on this issue diverges from the positions of both President Bush and Senator Kerry. Neither presidential candidate calls for a slowdown on legal immigration. Yet a Gallup poll earlier this year found that 49 percent of Americans prefer a decrease in legal immigration, while only 8 percent want an increase of the kind supported by Mr. Bush. It is illegal immigrants, however, who raise the most concern among many voters, as well as security experts. The 9/11 commission, in its 567-page report on the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, noted that in an age of terrorism, "the challenge for national security is to prevent the very few people who may pose overwhelming risks from entering ... the United States undetected." Senator Kerry claims "the borders are more leak[y] today than they were before 9/11. The fact is, we haven't done what we need to do to toughen up our borders. And I will." At the same time, Kerry promises to help illegal aliens who are already here. He vows within 100 days of taking office to rush through legislation that would allow millions of people who have already entered the US illegally to move toward legal status - a move that President Bush quickly criticized as "amnesty." Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, says of Bush and Kerry: "As far as the parts of their immigration plans that are most often discussed, there is no difference. They both favor amnesty for illegal immigration. Bush says his is not, but that is just 'spin.' "

  

Friday, October 22, 2004

Seeing John Kerry last night...

Before the weekend, here is a barrage of my news-picks:

John Kerry was in Minnesota yesterday for a rally very close to my university. So, I decided to go. He was not speaking until 6:30pm but the gates opened at 4:30pm. Because I had a class until 5. I didn't make it there until 5:40 and had to wait for over an hour to get inside! I am so glad it didn't rain nor was it very cold. 30,000 people showed up to support him! Buses, trains, and the streets were filled with people wearing Kerry-Edwards buttons or carrying signs, and there was a general spirit of joy. From where I was standing at the back, I had to tip-toe to see Kerry and he still was the size of my thumb! We could also barely hear him from the loudspeakers, but I doubt he was saying anything new. There were several cute kids in the crowd chanting his name - one kid beside me was sitting on his father's shoulders and said "Look at all these people just in Minnesota who are going to vote for Kerry!"Looks like political education begins at home. A friend of mine was standing close to the stage and got to shake his hand. It's amazing how we treat our politicians as celebrities when they are in fact, supposed to be working for us! Minnesota is considered a swing-state because Gore won it by a narrow margin in 2000, so both candidates have been wooing Minnesotans. I doubt Bush will win the state - if all those people voted Gore in 2000 (before 9/11 & Iraq), many more will vote against Bush! I don't really trust polls because they don't capture new voters or people who have become more politically aware after 9/11 & the war in Iraq & are very upset by Bush. Voter registration has been taking place in record numbers all over the country, and new registrations usually favor Democrats because they are by students, women & minorities. The military usually votes Republican, but I wonder how many will vote Kerry because of Bush's disastrous policies.

Speaking of voting, many states have "early voting," where some people can vote before Nov 2. One of them is Florida & on the first day, problems arose. Unfortunately, there have been reports nation-wide about fraud where groups act like they are registering voters but destroy the cards, so many people who will turn up to vote on Nov 2 will find out they can't because they have not registered. This has been taking place more by Republicans to disenfranchise Democratic voters, rather than the other way around. In many swing states, the Secretary of State is Republican giving him or her power to decide how the elections should take place (just like in Florida in 2000). An alarming report by the Guardian sheds light on such problems in Florida, Nevada, Ohio, Wisconsin, New Hampshire and South Dakota. Incidents include jamming phones when Democrats have been phone-banking for support, printing fewer ballots, destroying registration cards, phone calls to people telling them their polling station has been relocated...the list is endless & an obstruction to the democratic process. Only time will tell how the election will go. John Kerry has already been preparing a team of lawyers and other officials to fight back if the situation in 2000 repeats itself.

Interestingly, the
Committee of Concerned Journalists, a consortium of reporters, editors, producers, publishers, owners and academics, has surveyed its own membership about the quality of election campaign coverage this year, and the results aren't pretty. Nearly three quarters of respondents gave the press a C, D or F grade, and only 3% gave an A. By large majorities they felt the news media has become sidetracked by trivial issues, has been too reactive and has focused too much on campaign strategy rather than substance. They gave particularly low grades to television and much higher grades to newspapers and online coverage. The online news sites in fact got more A grades than any other medium.

I am a big believer of personal stories instead of political theory & rhetoric - because after all, politics is about the people. This is a gruesome
story (with pictures) from Electronic Intifada describing the after-affects of the recent Israeli incursion (Days of Penitence) into Gaza: "It smells unbelievably bad here. To walk down any street, if you dare to, you skirt, or sometimes unavoidably walk through, pools of blood. There are shreds of human flesh, some of them unrecognizable as human remains -- all over, on rooftops, plastered to broken windows, on the street. The stench of rotting blood mixes with the more acrid odor of flesh burnt to black char by the rockets fired by the Israeli Army's American-made Apache helicopters...Funeral processions are everywhere, and "houses of mourning" the tents bereaved families set up in which to receive their families and friends...nothing protects you from the sounds, the tears and laments of the mothers and fathers, husbands, wives and children of the dead, the screams of the injured, the wail of ambulance sirens, sniper fire, the thud of tank shells and the too-frequent explosions as another Apache shell lands." The Israeli army, with utter impunity, has killed more unarmed Palestinian civilians since September 2000 than the number of people who died on September 11, 2001.

Oil prices in the US has been steadily going up in the past few months and is currently about $55 a barrel. One of the blatant remarks by Kerry has been that the US needs to break ties with Mideast oil & the Saudi family. The solution? Alternative energy. According to this
article in the Christian Science Monitor, "the alternative-energy movement is moving well beyond the novelty phase. It is becoming more ingrained in the nation's power grid and in middle-class homes as technologies improve. Consumer demand has Toyota predicting the sale of 100,000 of its Prius hybrid cars in the United States next year. Even solar panels and windmills, often associated with the Jimmy Carter cardigan sweater days, are showing up in more suburban neighborhoods and other unexpected places...Although alternative fuels still make up a small fraction of US energy supplies, they are growing at a 30 percent rate compared with 4 percent for oil and 6 percent for natural gas. The projects are especially popular among states with governors opening up new wind farms and farm-belt ethanol refineries...Even oil companies are jumping on board, using ethanol to augment gasoline supplies." Personally, I don't own a care of my own yet, and I have vowed that my first care will be environmentally-friendly.

Although I disagree with many of Bush's policies, one thing that scares me the most is that he will get to appoint judges to the Supreme Court in his next term - for life. From the
NY Times: "Mr. Bush's ambitions for the courts are clear, but his record is mixed. He has succeeded in placing staunch conservatives on the bench in many cases but has been foiled in others by Senate Democrats like Charles E. Schumer of New York who charge him with trying to "create the most ideological bench in history."The conflict between the White House and the Democrats has been particularly sharp, in part because Democrats reasoned that Mr. Bush could not claim any mandate to remake the courts, given his contested victory over Al Gore. With the nation now preparing to elect a president who will almost certainly have an opportunity to name at least one Supreme Court justice, Democrats and Republicans remain deeply entrenched in their positions over who belongs on the bench...Of the 45 or so appeals courts candidates who have gone to the Senate floor, the Democrats have blocked 10, going so far as to use a filibuster, or threat of an extended debate, to stop consideration on all 10. The Republicans hold a slim majority with 51 votes, but overcoming a filibuster requires 60 votes...The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, based in Richmond, Va., is widely regarded as the nation's most conservative appeals court...The current administration has tried to have as many terrorism-related cases as possible brought in that circuit, precisely because its conservative members tend to favor presidential authority...Prof. Sheldon Goldman of the University of Massachusetts, a leading authority on judicial selection, said of "even more so than his father's, his administration is clearly coordinated and is expending its resources to place on the bench those who share his philosophy."... also noted that Mr. Bush had the best diversity record of any Republican in history...roughly a third of Mr. Bush's district and appeals court nominees had been women or minorities or both...most of Mr. Bush's nominees come before the Senate Judiciary Committee with clear conservative records."

Following careful consideration of overall U.S. interests, interaction with presidential campaign officials and extensive input from the Islamic community, the
American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections - Political Action Committee (AMT-PAC) is calling on Muslims nationwide to cast a protest vote for Sen. John Kerry due to Bush's disastrous policies. However, "while the Kerry campaign has critiqued a number of Bush administration polices, it has so far failed to explicitly affirm support for due process, equal justice and other constitutional norms. We are also disappointed that his campaign has shied away from expressing unambiguous support for principles enshrined in the U.S. Constitution that prohibit use of ex post facto laws, secret proceedings and secret evidence."

More political movies on the scene: this time. a conservative reply to Michael Moore,
Celsius 41.11 - "the filmmakers cut from an image juxtaposing Michael Moore with Hitler straight to an image of John Kerry and John Edwards. If the juxtaposition weren't so shameless, if the political climate were not so scurrilous, if the country were not actively at war and men, women and children were not dying in that war, this composite triumvirate of Moore-Hitler-Kerry might be easy to laugh off...the filmmakers behind "Celsius 41.11" spend surprisingly little time actually going after Mr. Moore. What Mr. Knoblock, Mr. Chetwynd and Mr. Steinberg want to do with their movie is make you afraid — very, very afraid. And so, in between talking heads expounding on American policy and international politics and extolling the vision and virtues of President Bush...the film presents a vision of the world verging on the apocalyptic...The film opens with the image of the second World Trade Center tower being hit by a plane, and returns to the attack, with the towers in flames and then tumbling, again and again. The filmmakers make their political line of reasoning clear when they soon follow this Sept. 11 imagery with snippets of antiwar demonstrations."


  

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Islam on stem cell research

Stem cell research is a hot topic during this election because it is seen as a possible cure for heart diseases, diabetes, Parkinson's. Ahlzeimer's, etc. There are two types: adult stem cell research & embryonic stem cell research. The former is merely taking cells from a living adult and matching his/her cells to another person. The latter however requires the destruction of embryos (fertilized egg). Bush is against it because he thinks it is paramount to abortion, while Kerry supports this scientific advance. Interestingly, according to Shiite Islamic law, embryonic stem cell research is allowed. As long as the embryo is extracted before it attaches itself to the uterus (few days after a sperm has fertilized an egg) it is not considered a baby - it is also within this time, that Shia Islamic law allows abortion. Once the embryo has been implanted in the uterus, it is considered a baby and it is a sin to destroy it. This I believe is a Sunni perspective which is similar: "According to the Shari’ah we should make a distinction between actual life and potential life. Also we should make a clear distinction between the fertilized ovum in the dish and the fertilized ovum in the womb of its mother. Indeed an embryo is valuable. It has the potential to grow into a human being, but it is not yet a human being. Similarly there is big difference in having something in a test tube or dish or something in the body of a human being. Our answer is that the embryo in this stage is not human. It is not in its natural environment, the womb. If it is not placed in the womb it will not survive and it will not become a human being. So there is nothing wrong in doing this research, especially if this research has a potential to cure diseases. However, it is important that we establish strict rules against the misuse of embryos."

This may come as a surprise, but from BBC, Bush says he would accept an Islamic Iraq: "I will be disappointed. But democracy is democracy," he said during an interview given on Air Force One."If that's what the people choose, that's what the people choose," he said...Correspondents say Mr Bush's comments appear to clash with earlier remarks from his administration which rejected calls soon after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime for the creation of an Islamic state similar to that of its neighbor, Iran."

Unfortunately, kidnappings of important officials continue. This time the victim is a woman from
Care International, "Margaret Hassan, who holds British, Irish and Iraqi citizenships,was seized early yesterday on her way to work in western Baghdad after gunmen blocked her route and dragged the driver and a companion from the car...Ms Hassan, who is in her early 60s, is among the most widely known humanitarian officials in the Middle East and is the most high-profile figure targeted in the wave of kidnappings that has swept Iraq in recent months...Ms Hassan has helped to supply medicines and other humanitarian aid in Baghdad, where she has lived for three decades, and spoken out about Iraqis' suffering under international sanctions during the 1990s." According to the Associated Press, Care has suspended operations but its staff has not yet been evacuated.

From
LA Times: "Republicans are making a strong play for one of the nation's most reliably liberal and Democratic constituencies: Jewish voters. But the president's firm support for Israel and his aggressive response to the Sept. 11 attacks - and concerns about the Democratic commitment to these causes - have earned Bush a second look from some Jewish voters...Sen. John F. Kerry, the Democratic candidate, is not taking Jewish voters for granted. During a swing through Florida on Monday, Kerry vouched for his record on Israel, saying he had steadfastly supported the country...Not everyone agreed that Bush's support for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had been good for Israel, or that U.S.policy toward the Jewish state was the most important issue."Bush has done a lot for Israel," said Norm Foxman, an optometrist. "But a lot of us feel Bush has done a lot of negative things for the United States." In reality, neither of them will withdraw support from Sharon because it would be political suicide.

Whenever the topic on Palestine & Israel arises, politicians talk of the "two-state" solution. However, many scholars in the field are rejecting the idea because it is impossible with the growing number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank. The solution? One state for Israelis & Palestinians. Jordan is very concerned that the failure of a two-state solution would have a negative affect on the country. An interesting perspective from
The Jordan Times: "The Jordanian concern stems from the fact that if a Palestinian state is not established in the West Bank and Gaza "another solution will be sought at [Jordan's] expense", in Muasher's words, which, according to Haaretz's interpretation, might mean that "[the Palestinian state] will ultimately arise in Jordan...The Palestinian National Authority has also repeatedly voiced its concern over the slipping opportunity for a two-state solution, and warned that Palestinians may shift their strategy from seeking independence to demanding annexation in a single democratic binational state. But it is obvious that any such threat is often meant to urge Israeli attendance to the changing peace plans rather than truly opting for the single state option...The strongest opposition to the idea of the single binational state comes from Israel because this idea destroys the Zionist dream of creating in Palestine a purely Jewish state, without sharing the "promised land" with any other people." In addition to an ideoligical standpoint, Israel fears that due to the higher birth rate of Palestinians, Jews would become a minority. Demographics plays a huge role in Israel's policy towards the Palestinians.

In other news, from
AP: "The federal government rejected a plea Monday by Muslim groups that wanted a list of preapproved Islamic charities to which they could donate without being suspected of helping fund terrorism. Federal scrutiny has many Muslims in the United States wary of giving to Islamic charities because of raids on high-profile organizations by federal officials who claimed the groups might have been funding terrorism. The request and rejection Monday came in the opening week of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a period when Islam requires giving to the poor."

An interesting
story from a Wall Street Journal reporter: "Being a foreign correspondent in Baghdad these days is like being under virtual house arrest. Forget about the reasons that lured me to this job: a chance to see the world, explore the exotic, meet new people in far away lands, discover their ways and tell stories that could make a difference. Little by little, day-by-day, being based in Iraq has defied all those reasons. I am house bound. I leave when I have a very good reason to and a scheduled interview. I avoid going to people's homes and never walk in the streets. I can't go grocery shopping any more, can't eat in restaurants, can't strike a conversation with strangers, can't look for stories, can't drive in any thing but a full armored car, can't go to scenes of breaking news stories, can't be stuck in traffic, can't speak English outside, can't take a road trip, can't say I'm an American, can't linger at checkpoints, can't be curious about what people are saying, doing, feeling. And can't and can't. There has been one too many close calls."

Is Blair trying to sway the US elections in Bush's favor? According to an article in the Christian Science Monitor: "British troops currently deployed in south-central Iraq are likely "heading for an area called the Triangle of Death" to assist US forces battling to impose order in the strategic region just south of Baghdad...Opposition MPs as well as "several of Blair's most ardent Labour Party loyalists" expressed their worries that such a move could be seen as "the Bush administration... seeking greater British participation as an election ploy to demonstrate to US voters that there is international support for the Iraq campaign," reports the Washington Post. Fear exists among many British MPs that Mr. Blair "is being dragged into a Vietnam-style quagmire by his close ally, President Bush," writes the Post. The redeployment of British troops would free up US forces for an all-out assault on the city of Fallujah, thus implicating British forces with what some believe is the "reckless disregard for Iraqi civilians" shown in the past by US forces."

For more objective news Iraq, I would refer you to Informed Comment by Juan Cole.

  

Monday, October 18, 2004

NY Times endorses Kerry

I did not check my e-mail this weekend, so this morning it was filled with juicy news to share - read away!

The fact that the NY Times endorsed Kerry should come as no surprise, because it is considered a "liberal" newspaper. However, it really bothers me that US newspapers do that - I think endorsing candidates on both ends erodes any trace of objectivity the newspaper has. I don't understand the practice at all!

An interesting story that has been developing is the refusal of about 19 US soldiers who refused to carry out a mission in Iraq because it was unsafe. Read this report from the NY Times that discusses the growing concern that US soldiers are not being adequately protected. John Kerry mentioned this in the first debate where he said, "I've met kids in Ohio, parents in Wisconsin places, Iowa, where they're going out on the Internet to get the state-of-the-art body gear to send to their kids. Some of them got them for a birthday present...10,000 out of 12,000 Humvees...aren't armored. And you go visit some of those kids in the hospitals today who were maimed because they don't have the armament." From Informed Comment: "Bush's only response to the charge that the troops are not properly equipped has been that Kerry voted against the $87 bn appropriation bill submitted last fall. ...The real issue is that the bill passed, but that the money doesn't seem to have gotten to the troops on the ground...Zell Miller (Democrat senator from Georgia) came before the Republican convention with a litany of all the weapons programs that had proved useful in Afghanistan and Iraq. But the fact is that really fancy equipment, aside from the ability to laser-target objectives, was never very useful in Afghanistan."

When the prison torture scandal at Abu Ghraib broke out in May, there was also a lot of talk about prisoner maltreatment at other US facilities in Afghanistan & Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Here is a NY Times report on harsh tactics in Cuba reported by officials & others to The Times: "One regular procedure...was making uncooperative prisoners strip to their underwear, having them sit in a chair while shackled hand and foot to a bolt in the floor, and forcing them to endure strobe lights and screamingly loud rock and rap music played through two close loudspeakers, while the air-conditioning was turned up to maximum levels...The official said that was intended to make the detainees uncomfortable, as they were accustomed to high temperatures both in their native countries and their cells...Such sessions could last up to 14 hours with breaks...The sources portrayed a system of punishment and reward, with prisoners who were favored for their cooperation with interrogators given the privilege of spending time in a large room nicknamed "the love shack'' by the guards. In that room, they were free to relax and had access to magazines, books, a television and a video player and some R-rated movies, along with the use of a water pipe to smoke aromatic tobaccos. They were also occasionally given milkshakes and hamburgers from the McDonald's on the base." Many lawyers & scholars of international law have indicated that this kind of treatment falls under "torture and cruel & unusual punishment" which is a violation of the Convention on Torture even during wartime - a treaty that has been ratified by the United States. "In March 2002, a team of administration lawyers accepted the Justice Department's view, concluding in a memorandum that President Bush was not bound by either the Convention Against Torture or a federal antitorture statute because he had the authority to protect the nation from terrorism. When some of the memorandums were disclosed, the administration tried to distance itself from the rationale for the harsher treatment...At the request of military intelligence officials who complained of tenacious resistance by some subjects, Mr. Rumsfeld approved a list of 16 techniques for use at Guantánamo in addition to the 17 methods in the Army Field Manual in December 2002. But he suspended those approvals in January 2003 after some military lawyers complained they were excessive and possibly unlawful...But the approved techniques did not explicitly cover some that were used, according to the new accounts." In order to escape the rules of the treaty, the Bush Administration has cleverly created the category "enemy combatant" - basically a legal loophole.

Falluja is in the news again: "Residents of the rebel-held city of Falluja in Iraq are packing their bags and leaving town after one of the heaviest US bombardments for weeks...The mood in the city is grim. It is start of Ramadan, but there is nowhere to celebrate and no food to celebrate with. Falluja's most popular kebab restaurant used to be the place to go at the end of the day to break the Ramadan fast - but that was bombed by the Americans this week."

One point of contention between Kerry and Bush is whether to allow cheaper prescription drugs to be imported from Canada. Kerry is in favor while Bush is not. However, according to this report from the NY Times: "many economists and health care experts say that importing drugs from countries that control their prices would do little to solve the problem of expensive drugs in the United States, where companies are free to set their own prices. Even the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that allowing Canadian drug imports would have a "negligible" impact on drug spending. To begin with, there are not enough Canadians, or drugs in Canada, to make much of a dent in the United States. There are 16 million American patients on Lipitor, for instance - more than half the entire Canadian population. Drug makers like Pfizer say they would reduce their shipments of drugs to distributors in Canada and other countries that re-export to the United States. And Canadian health officials, fearing shortages and higher prices of their own, would probably clamp down on their own pharmacists and distributors to keep their drugs from leaking into the United States."

In my last entry, I mentioned an Israeli soldier who had killed a Palestinian girl although she did not pose a threat - in news reports today, that soldier has been released because in this BBC report: "The investigation concluded that the behaviour of the company commander from an ethical point of view does not warrant his removal from his position. But the investigation criticised the officer's leadership abilities...the company commander was suspended from his position, and his future career [in the army] will be decided upon in the course of the next week." Children in such dangerous war zones are deeply affected, when even schools & homes are not safe. The Independent has this story on "Children of the revolution; There is a crisis in Palestinian family life amid the death and devastation in Gaza: "A paper to be published next year by Dr Qouta and a colleague points out that in a recent study of 1,000 school-age Palestinians, 547 were found to have suffered at least one "high magnitude traumatic event" in their lifetime."

  

Friday, October 15, 2004

Burqa for a Halloween costume??!

For all you out there, Ramadhan Mubarak. This month marks the month of fasting (abstinence of food, drink from dawn to dusk) for millions of Muslims worldwide. Why do we fast is a complex questions that reveals physical & spiritual cleansing. It is not only eating & drinking that invalidate a fast - lying, cheating, hurting somebody also break a fast. Fasting is an opportunity for Muslims to discipline themselves to become better human beings. Read this for more on the benefits of fasting. Also, an interesting article from The Christian Science Monitor: "Multicolored strings of lights blink from shopping malls next to large "Ramadan Is Generous" signs. Restaurant stalls are draped with the traditional red, green, white, and black Bedouin textiles. It feels something like Christmas in America. When I arrive at my parents' house there are workers in the garden wrapping tiny colored lights around the palm trees, and inside they're painting the walls and arranging newly upholstered furniture."

Halloween is just around the corner with people fising for fun costumes. I have no problems with that except when the Islamic burqa (the veil like the ones used in Afghanistan) is sold as a unisex costume! Check it out here. Not only is this a disrespect for an Islamic code, it is a taunt to the Afghan women who suffered from brutal practices of the Taliban. Fun isn't a bad thing, but it has its limits. Speaking of which, "Sabrina Varroni, an Italian mother of four and Muslim convert, has been fined $100 for wearing a veil that covers her face in Drezzo, Italy, a small town on the Swiss border. The case has created a dispute involving politicians, civil rights groups and a fashion designer: "It's a question of respect for the convictions and culture of others," Mr. Armani, the fashion designer, said in a statement released late last month. "We need to live with these ideas."Mr. Armani's views were just one of the particularly Italian twists to questions facing much of Europe over its uneasy relationship with Islam.The case of Ms. Varroni is not a simple one about religious freedom...The case has been viewed by some as a telling clash of two ideologies: Islam versus Italian xenophobia."

More than a 100 economists, professors from various acclaimed universities around the country wrote a letter to President Bush: "Nearly every major economic indicator has deteriorated since you took office in January 2001. Real GDP growth during your term is the lowest of any presidential term in recent memory. Total non-farm employment has contracted and the unemployment rate has increased. Bankruptcies are up sharply, as is our dependence on foreign capital to finance an exploding current account deficit. All three major stock indexes are lower now than at the time of your inauguration. The percentage of Americans in poverty has increased, real median income has declined, and income inequality has grown."

Thirst Films and BulletProof Film, Inc. announce the New York City premiere of Patriot Acts, a documentary that explores the human cost of the Bush Administration's controversial National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS, also know as “Special Registration”). Instituted a year after 9/11, NSEERS facilitated the agenda embodied by the USA PATRIOT Act by requiring non-immigrant males, 16 and older, from predominantly Muslim countries to register with the Department of Homeland Security. Patriot Acts penetrates into the heart of a predominantly Pakistani and Indian community on Chicago's North Side and tells the stories of two men...the filmmakers followed Mr. Moti and Mr. Tariq as the two men navigated a maze of controversial, McCarthy-era based immigration regulations while under the constant threat of arrest, detention, and deportation
.

Speaking of movies, "Team America: World Police" is out - it is a puppet film made by the makers of the satirical cartoon "
South Park." I haven't watched it but you can check out the review from Reuters.

In Iraq from Informed Comment: "
Brig. Gen. Muhammad Abdullah Shahwani, the head of the Iraqi secret police, has charged 27 employees in the Iranian embassy in Baghdad with espionage and sabotage...He claims to have seized from "safehouses" Persian documents that show that the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and its militia, the Badr Corps, served as Iranian agents in helping with the assassinations...SCIRI is close to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, and there is some danger that if the neo-Baathists attack this Shiite party they will push Sistani into opposition to the government. Indeed, insofar as most of the neo-Baath are Sunnis, this sort of campaign could finally produce the kind of Sunni-Shiite violence many feared before the war, but which has largely so far been avoided...Personally, I find Shahwani's allegations fantastic...It was clear as soon as Allawi and the neo-Baath faction was put in power by the US in late June that they wanted to target Iran. Defense Minister Hazim Shaalan decried Iran publicly as Iraq's number one enemy this summer...Shahwani is an old-time Baath officer. In 1990 he broke with Saddam, who is said to have killed three of Shahwani's children in revenge. Shahwani came out of Iraq and to join US efforts to overthrow the dictator. This summer, he was appointed head of the Mukhabarat or Iraqi secret police, which the US Central Intelligence Agency is rebuilding with $3 billion. Shahwani is alleged to be a long-time CIA asset who is being groomed as a replacement for caretaker Prime Minister Iyad Allawi should the latter be assassinated."


Violence in Iraq has continued with two bomb blasts within the heavily guarded Green Zone (where the US & foreign nationals & the Iraqi govt operates).

Also, the
Cheneys are angry that John Kerry mentioned their daughter Mary's lesbianism in the third presidential debate. There is a lot of debate whether it was appropriate or not: it may have been a cheeky move, but to me, with Dick Cheney's huge influence on Bush, I don't think he is going to allow a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. I think it's an empty threat by Bush to woo his Christian supporters. "Kerry and his supporters responded that Cheney had been first to discuss his daughter in relation to the issue of gay marriage, at a town hall in August...He also publicly disagreed with Bush about the need for a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriages, saying he preferred that the states settle the issue. Kerry said in a statement: "I love my daughters. They love their daughter. I was trying to say something positive about the way strong families deal with this issue. Several gay rights activists said they felt many Republicans were betraying their discomfort with the issue. They pointed out that Mary Cheney has been open about her sexual identity in political and business endeavors for years. Cheney also made no objection last week in the vice presidential debate when Sen. John Edwards complimented Cheney's "wonderful" willingness to talk about his daughter's sexual orientation."

A news station has been causing an uproar according to this NY Times editorial. "Sinclair, a Maryland-based company that reaches nearly a quarter of American households, would broadcast a propaganda film in the next two weeks that labels Senator John Kerry a liar, a traitor and a "willing accomplice" of the enemy during the Vietnam War. It claims, falsely, that his antiwar statements inspired the North Vietnamese to step up the torture of American prisoners, and it is filled with other distortions about the war in Vietnam. Sinclair has instructed its stations, which are heavily represented in swing states like Florida and Wisconsin, to run the film without commercials in the evening. The company already compels them to broadcast editorials and commentaries favorable to Mr. Bush and his policies." Just as no one can say Fahrenheit 9/11 is an objective news program, nor is Sinclair's Stolen Honor. The owner is a strong Bush supporter and contributes money to the Republican party.

  

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Bush. Vs. Kerry - Part III

A quick interesting note: The New York subway system turned 100 years old yesterday.

Last night was the final time both presidential candidates were on the stage debating issues - this time, domestic policies. Again, I think Bush fared a lot better than the past 2 but Kerry did a brilliant job overall. Bush made some very cheesy remarks like "I don't know" to the question whether homosexuality is innate or a learned behavior. I also don't think he realizes that some networks show both of them at all times even if one of them is not talking - many times when Kerry was talking, Bush was smirking. I was also annoyed at Bush's attempt to claim that Kerry's health policies were "socialist," which it is not. Bush laid out a bait to Kerry that didn't bite, when he referred to Europe & their health system. For one, Western Europeans have better health policies than we do & two, Kerry was smart not to say anything - any reference to Europe's sensible policies would have branded him a "socialist" - something Americans cannot tolerate. Kerry did talk in more religious tones to counter Bush's faith-based supporters.I was very disappointed that the moderator did not have any questions pertaining to the environment or the Patriot Act. With a few weeks left to go before the US Presidential elections, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has quietly begun a series of new interrogations of individuals in Arab and Muslim communities across America. While these "voluntary interviews" (officially called the "Fall Threat Task Force" but dubbed by critics as the "October Plan") are in many ways an extension of the scrutiny of Muslims since September 11, 2001, the political overtones (and timing) have brought charges of an attempt to stifle political expression. Many foreigners feel that the US elections affect the whole world. So, according to this report, some Brits are trying to sway undecided voters in Ohio , to vote for Kerry. "It's called Operation Clark County, sponsored by the 400,000-circulation Guardian newspaper in London. Here's how the paper sees it: "The result of the U.S. election will affect the lives of millions around the world, but those of us outside the 50 states have had no say in it - until now."

From AFP: "Senior army officers warned Thursday that Israel's ongoing operation in northern Gaza, which has left more than 120 Palestinians dead since its launch last month, has run on for too long and is now counterproductive." The Daily Star is reporting that "The Israeli Army on Wednesday suspended a platoon commander on suspicion he emptied an ammunition clip into a 13-year-old Palestinian girl from close range after she had already collapsed under fire. The officer was not charged, but came under investigation after fellow soldiers said he engaged in an illegal practice known as "verifying a kill." This means that he shot the girl numerous times to make sure she was dead. While Al Jazeera is reporting that "Unrestrained by the Israeli Government, Jewish settlers in various parts of the West Bank are terrorising Palestinian farmers at the onset of the olive-picking season...The army is well aware of what the settlers are doing. Israeli troops often look on while the settlers attack peaceful Palestinian farmers picking their crops." The settlers employ a variety of intimidatory tactics, including burning down olive groves, shooting at farmers, closing off roads used by Palestinians and, most recently, poisoning water sources in the area. Last year, a number of influential Jewish rabbis issued an edict allowing the settlers to steal Palestinian olive crops." On the other hand, from Haaretz: "For years, the olive harvest in Israel has relied on the labor of Palestinians from the territories, mostly from the region of Yamun near Jenin. However,the large number of security alerts has resulted in a total denial of passage for Palestinian laborers into Israel. The small number of exceptional permits arrived "too few and too late", say the growers."

From The Financial Times: "A leading Republican says President George W. Bush is"mesmerised" by Ariel Sharon, Israel's prime minister, and that the Bush administration's recent co-operation with the United Nations and Nato in Afghanistan and Iraq is a desperate move to"rescue a failing venture". Brent Scowcroft, a former national security adviser and close collaborator of former president George H. W. Bush, told the Financial Times that the US administration's "unilateralist" stance had contributed to the decline of the transatlantic relationship...Mr Scowcroft, who served as mentor to Condoleezza Rice...warned Mr Bush against rushing into a war in Iraq."

"The most senior Muslim terrorists so far captured by the United States are being held in an ultra-secret "ghost" prison in Jordan run by the CIA, according to a report published yesterday by a respected security expert. "Their detention outside the US enables CIA interrogators to apply interrogation methods banned by US law, and to do so in a country where co-operation with the Americans is particularly close, thereby reducing the danger of leaks," Mr Melman wrote. From the Haaretz: "Peres Center for Peace's, Muasher said he"categorically denied" the claim, which he stressed had originated with an American human rights organization. He said the Jordanians had demanded that the organization prove the existence of such a facility."

From Iraq, "Government security forces have repeatedly threatened to shut down the offices of women's organizations for their political activity, including the regional offices of the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq and the Women's Protection Centre. Fern Holland, an American lawyer, went to Iraq in July 2003 to help bring democracy and rule of law to Iraq, advocating human rights through women's centers and organized human rights groups...Women engaged in the defense of human rights must be protected, a maxim that was tragically overlooked in the case of Fern Holland. Her death came as a great shock to everyone involved, a sign that no one, not even those dedicating their lives to help make positive changes in Iraqi lives, is safe."

Lastly, the danger of locusts in Africa has been largely ignored by the media. From The Christian Science Monitor: "when rains are plentiful and the desert foliage blooms, millions of locusts in West Africa merge into massive swarms, change to a dusty-yellow color, and swirl into a munching frenzy.This year, otherwise welcome rains have paradoxically spawned the worst plague of locusts in the region since the 1980s. One swarm is reportedly more than 40 miles long. They eat their weight in food every day - and are denuding what was supposed to be a bumper crop. Now they're moving northward. A few have even reached Italy. The plague may last several years and could, one UN official says, cause more destruction than any current African conflict, including Sudan's humanitarian tragedy. But there is hope of stopping it. Pest-control efforts include locals burying flightless locusts in trenches and scouts with global positioning devices calling in crop dusters, including six from the US that arrived this week. Some $200 million has been spent so far, but experts say more is needed."



  

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Republicans call to arrest Michael Moore

As mentioned in an earlier post, Michael Moore is touring cities on his "Slacker Uprising Tour" to get young people to vote. When they register, the guys get free underwear & the girls Ramen noodles. Well, in Michigan - Moore's home state - the Republican Party has demanded that he be sent to jail for trying to "bribe" students to vote. As far as I know the items he was offering are not considered a bribe because they are not things of great value. For instance, when my friends & I organized a drive at our mosque, we gave out candy. Moore is still on tour avoiding Michigan in case he gets arrested. Check out the story on his website.

The US Congress passed a bill recently calling for $136 billion in new tax breaks for businesses, sparking an interesting debate on who will benefit. Backers say struggling U.S. manufacturers will benefit. Critics say the changes make a bewildering tax code more complex and greatly increase the budget deficit. Hear NPR's Kathy Schalch. But as reports are suggesting, almost any business can claim to be a "manufacturer." For example, because Starbucks sells coffee beans at its retail store & other places, it can be counted as a manufacturer. Furthermore, according to the new corporate tax bill Congress has sent to President Bush, the definition of "manufacturer" has expanded to the likes of plumbers, baristas and architects! From
NY Times: The bill "offers new tax giveaways to everyone from corporate titans like Boeing and Hewlett-Packard to...oil and gas producers, shopping mall developers, wine distributors, even restaurants. Many companies, like General Electric and Dell, are likely to end up with far more tax relief under the new bill than they had ever received from the old tax break. Some, like Exxon Mobil, never qualified for the old tax break at all but will enjoy tax savings now...Movie executives held on to $336 million in tax breaks for movies made in areas with high unemployment...the final bill would also raise more than $60 billion by cracking down on major tax shelters and punishing companies that try to avoid American taxes by moving their headquarters outside the country. But in a gesture of mercy to a handful of oil service companies from Texas, House Republicans gave a green light to companies that moved offshore before March 4, 2003. The beneficiaries of that decision include the Noble Corporation, Weatherford International, Cooper Industries and Nabors Industries - all in or near the district of Tom DeLay, the House majority leader." It is unfathomable that at a time of deep budget deficits and a slow economy, how the Congress passes a bill like that. It will be interesting to see if this issue comes up during the final debate tonight.

In Gaza, Israeli forces have thrust deeper into the town of into the town of Beit Lahiya according to this
BBC report: "Meanwhile, an 11-year-old Palestinian schoolgirl, Ghadir Mokheimer, who was hit by Israeli army gunfire at her school in Gaza's Khan Younis refugee camp on Tuesday has died of her injuries." This is the second such incident in a month.

The disarming of the Sadr movement has made news in the last few days, but in this
story by the Financial Times, Sadr rebels unsure amnesty worth losing weapons: "Hazem Laftah, a fighter in the Mahdi Army...showed up yesterday...to turn in heavy weapons in exchange for cash compensation so that the Mahdi Army could transform itself into a peaceful political movement. "We want to become a political movement, so we can win upcoming elections and be a peaceful resistance," Mr Laftah said. Like other militiamen who showed up at three police stations on the first day of a five-day weapons amnesty, Mr Laftah went away undecided on whether to disarm...Sadrist representatives also said on Sunday that they expected the Iraqi interim government to reciprocate the arms hand over by releasing detainees. Despite such unresolved points the disarmament programme has eased tensions and residents said the last few nights had been free of gunfire."

When I was in Jordan last year, I was a big fan of Radio Sawa - an Arab-language pop music and news station funded by the U.S. government, However, The Washington Post reports that it "has failed to meet its mandate of promoting democracy and pro-American attitudes, according to a draft report prepared by the State Department's inspector general. The report credited Radio Sawa has been so preoccupied with building an audience through its music that it has failed to adequately measure whether it is influencing minds...Two independent panels of Arab-language experts hired by the inspector general's office gave the programming a mixed review,saying it did not match al-Jazeera in terms of quality and that parents would prefer that their teenagers not listen to Radio Sawa because its broadcasts contained such poor Arabic grammar. The draft report said news and information programs represent only 25 percent of Radio Sawa's broadcast, and there appears to be a reluctance among officials to use it as a tool for public diplomacy . The report said Radio Sawa has not fully met the requirements of the VOA (Voice of America) charter to present the policies of the United States "clearly and effectively" and to present"responsible discussions and opinion on these policies."