Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Colin Powell Says My Last Post Is Okay 

Thank goodness the world's foremost authority on propriety has given us all the go-ahead to criticize Israel, free from the tag "Anti-Semitic". The Miss Manners of Diplomacy, he is!
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told an international conference on anti-Semitism Wednesday that while censure of Israel was legitimate, "the line is crossed" when critics employ Nazi symbolism to do so.

The summit, called by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and attended by 600 top officials from 55 nations, remained split Wednesday on whether criticism of Israel should be seen as a form of anti-Jewish bias, amid warnings Jews faced growing threats.

The conference at the German Foreign Ministry in Nazi Germany's former central bank comes after rising attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions in some European countries over past years.
Israel swiftly moved to center stage of the meeting, with German officials saying a debate was raging behind the scenes pitting some Arab countries and Turkey against most of the Western nations.

Well I'm sure glad Secretary Powell, for whom I have the utmost respect, especially after his honorable service to our country and the people of Iraq over the past two years, has the decency to tell us exactly where the line is, and when we'll be crossing it. I sure as hell couldn't figure it out on my own.

What a sticky issue this Anti-Semitism is, eh? No one wants to be labeled it, so no one talks about it. All we hear is that there is a wave of Anti-Semitism, that Anti-Semitism is catching on like wild fire the world over. I hope this isn't true, though I don't quite know what antisemitism is. The term is so nebulous and so politically charged that I fear its meaning has dissolved.

It is certain that the Jewish people have been through hell in the past century, and long before. Though many, many other peoples share the experience of prejudice and genocide, the scope, horror, profile and proximity of the Holocaust seems to black out all others. But should it? Should we not remember all of those who are subject to that kind of hate and systematic abuse? In Rwanda, in Turkey, in Iraq, in America. I fear, in fact, that throwing the term Anti-Semitism around so loosely disrespects what they've been through. It's a push button, a fear response, a conditioned and almost automatic sense of "outrage" that I think is often disingenuous.
President Moshe Katsav lashed out Wednesday at anti-Semitism in all its forms, calling anti-Jewish sentiment an urgent issue of global proportions.

"Any revival of anti-Semitism is a matter that affects the entire world," Katsav said told the Berlin summit.

"France is up against a wave of anti-Semitism," said Simone Veil, Auschwitz survivor and former president of the European Parliament.
Katsav's remarks were made after he emerged from talks with German President Johannes Rau, who earlier warned that anti-Semitism is often cloaked in criticism of Israel.

Katzav praised Rau for his remarks, calling the German president "the best friend that Israel has in the world."

A U.S. participant said an important step was made late Tuesday when Russia provisionally accepted the interpretation of anti-Israel criticism as a form of anti-Semitism[!!!].

This issue will be a key element of the final declaration the OSCE conference has to adopt unanimously Thursday when the two-day meeting ends.

What happens if the two things, criticism of Israel and Anti-Semitism, merge, as many seem eager to do? Carte blanche? More animosity and resentment among Arabs? Why must we run around terrified of this terrible designation simply for disagreeing with Israel? It's oppressive and scary. Pundits and politicos here do it with Anti-Americanism when people disagree. Or Patriotism, a term that applies only to those who agree with everything the government does. This is the same territory, and it needs to be addressed. Some who criticize America are Anti-American and some who criticize Israel are Anti-Semitic, but criticism should not be the victim here. Anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel can exist independent of one another. If not we live in a thought prison.

Because Anti-Semitism certainly exists. It is very real. We should all be concerned. I am. It's disgusting and scary, the lowest form of human thought and action. But what about hatred toward Arabs? Why does this almost pedantic term "Anti-Semitism" for some loosely-held idea of hatred or racism apply only to Jews? There is no Anti-Arabism. In fact, my bringing the idea up may even classify me as Anti-Semitic. Am I? ask my Israeli friends. Ask my Arab friends. I can't tell, because I may be by whatever definition any one person chooses to use at any given moment. And once the label is on, like pedophile or communist, it sticks and that is that.

I do not believe that many of the politicians and pundits who throw the term around so much have any real connection to what it means. They use it for their own agendas because they recognize what a powerful weapon it is. But I criticize the Israeli government -- not in all affairs, but when I disagree. Like I criticize the US government, the French government, the Russian government, the North Korean government and the friggin Trinidadian government. The term Anti-Semitism and the awareness of it should not go away; the politicizing of a people's tragedy really should, however. It disrespects all of us.


Fun With Nuclear Weapons! 

That pesky regulating entity, the International Atomic Energy Agency, is sending its top dog to Israel this summer.
Chief UN nuclear inspector Mohamed ElBaradei will in July visit Israel, which has refused to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and is believed to have up to 200 nuclear weapons, to promote a "nuclear weapon-free zone" in the Middle East.

Arab countries that are members of the IAEA have complained that Israel's alleged nuclear weapons program is not being investigated, at a time when countries like Iran are under intense scrutiny from the UN agency.

ElBaradei said in an interview in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz in December that Israel should give up its nuclear arsenal.

He called for discussions to be engaged between Israel and its regional neighbours in order to establish a de-nuclearised zone and avoid further development of weapons of mass destruction.

No, Israel has not signed the treaty. Nor has it admitted to having a nuclear program. It's kind of one of those things we don't talk about. Overt racism is best left unsaid; the US doesn't mind too much that Israel has some 200 bombs -- though I'm sure they worry from time to time what would happen if Israel ever decided to use one -- because Israel is the Only Democracy in the Middle East, that wonderful phrase that's thrown around in place of theOnly White People in the Middle East. The double standard is obvious, what with el Baradei having gone to Tehran this year to get Iran to stop their programs. I do always hear the argument that we're better off with a democracy that has nukes amid a sea of totalitaian states, that these despotic leaders are madmen with no control. But Israel tends to act rather harshly from time to time as well. And, rather than deter neighboring countries, Israel's program (coupled with the US invasion and overthrow of Saddam Hussein) probably only serves to convince leaders of rogue states that they had better come up with some big bombs or they'll find themselves in a spider hole, too.

If we take a look at some of the signatories of the Nonproliferation Treaty, this is who we find: Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. In short, every country in the Mideast except Israel. While the US barks down Arab countries' throats, Israel poses the greatest physical threat to the region. Why wouldn't its neighbors seek a deterrant?

Not that signing the treaty means it will be honored. After all, the US signed it and we're talking about developing some adorable mini-nukes, in direct defiance of the document.

What el Baradei is saying, I think, is that now is the time, when tensions are highest, to make some real headway toward disarming the whole region of the world. Then we can move on to the Korean peninsula, Russia, Europe and the US. If no one wants nuclear war, why do so many countries want the bomb? Because the guy with the bomb gets to call the shots! Including who he thinks gets to have the bomb! It's a Catch-22 for those countries not in the club. And as long as Israel keeps it weapons, its neghbors will seek it out for themselves; and their populations, frustrated with the world's double standard, will likely continue to support their despotic leaders -- at least they're standing up to the big boys. And as long as the US is the sole protector of this awesome technology, the same applies.

So there's the world in black and white.


What the Eff(fff)?! 

The world's best bad guy is now holding the civilized world's moral compass? This must be postmodernism. Khadaffi says we should all work toward PEACE.
On his first visit to Europe in 15 years, Libyan leader Moamar Kadhafi trumpeted his "lead" in promoting world peace by renouncing weapons of mass destruction and called on others, including the US and China, to follow suit.

"Libya calls all other countries from America to China to discard and get rid of all weapons of mass destruction, programmes of mass destruction," he added. "Libya has become an example to be followed," he added.

During his landmark visit to Brussels the maverick Libyan leader -- an international pariah until only recently -- said Tripoli and other nations now faced common enemies.

Kadhafi, clad in his trademark flowing robes and flanked by a quartet of female bodyguards, underlined the need for reconciliation.

"We need peace, stability, development. Now we are facing different and new challenges, which are common enemies to all of us ... who fought each other at some time," he said.
O-kay... What the hell is happening here? Maybe Khadaffi is right. Maybe he's earnest. And frankly, I see no reason why not. He's been, as Agence France Presse says, a pariah, and he's had to fold to the superpower, so why shouldn't he play this card? If nothing else it puts him at the top of the heap. He probably feels -- rightly -- that there is no more power, land, or money for him to have, so he may as well gain some peripheral influence. After all, he's the forgotten terrorist right now.

And isn't he right? If the civilized world is truly in a war against terrorism shouldn't we all at least find a middle ground to start from before we embark on this epic battle? Shouldn't we all put our cards on the table? What does Khadaffi have to win? He's not gonna take over America or China. He's not even gonna take over Egypt. Maybe he's turned over a new leaf -- cypress or otherwise.

In an ideal world, we'd listen to this man (and in an ideal world, Lockerbie would never have happened, so...).

Either way, it's pretty interesting. If nothing else than that his bodyguard were all women


I Think I'm Gonna Do It 

Thousands of Iraqis and dozens of Americans continue to die, but I think of myself first. I think I'm gonna take this job dubbing tape for The Apprentice Thursdays at 9pm on NBC. What do y'all think...?


Monday, April 26, 2004

Privatization Rocks Iraq! 

Up to 20% of the cost of rebuliding Iraq could be lost to corruption according to a new report published in the Christian Science Monitor.. Twenty Percent(!) That's worse than Chicago, for Pete's sake!
Iraq's private companies routinely pay bribes to get reconstruction contracts – often to Iraqi officials but sometimes to employees of US contractors. That's one of the allegations that has been made by a special investigation undertaken by public radio's Marketplace and the Center for Investigative Reporting, and funded by The Economist magazine.

Meanwhile, the report also documents the failure of the US government to effectively oversee expenditures in a reconstruction effort that the reports says costs 10 times more per capita than the Marshall Plan (the US-led effort to rebuilt Germany after WWII).

In Washington, congressional initiatives that would have sent a strong anti-corruption signal to contractors in Iraq were derailed by the House Republican leadership and the White House. These included amendments to the Iraq appropriations bill last fall that would have criminalized war profiteering and required ongoing audits by the General Accounting Office of contracts over $25 million. "The fact [those measures] were made and defeated signaled, 'We don't agree [this] oversight is necessary,'" says Jeffrey Jones, former head of the Defense Energy Support Center, in charge of purchasing fuel for the Pentagon. Jones watched as gasoline bills doubled when part of his job was outsourced to Halliburton. "So, it's laissez faire. That's the message that was sent."

The report found rampant graft within Iraqi establishment as well. I'd almost expect that, however, being a fledgling government floating atop billions and billions of dollars in free spending. In the past three months, more than $1B in contracting fees has been disputed by US investigators.

The war is a cash cow. For Hallibuton, for Bechtel, for Lockheed Martin, for the Bushes, for the bin Ladens, and for God knows who else. Profiteering in real time, and no one is surpsised. I'm just amazed it's as bad as it is


Maybe We Really Should Let Them Rot... 

North Korea is refusing aid from their neighbors to the south because they don't want trucks crossing the border. So just like several years ago, when his people were starving so badly they were eating their own dead, Kim Jong Il is apprently too paranoid to accept help for this disaster. Sweet!
The $1m worth of aid promised by South Korea has been blocked by the unwillingness of the notoriously secretive North to allow trucks across its border. The frontier between the two the countries, which are technically still at war, is one of the most heavily militarised in the world.

The alternative to the four-hour road journey is a much longer sea crossing.

UN officials in North Korea said aid from the Chinese, who also promised $1m, was reaching Ryongchon but that a lot more help was needed.

"At the hospital, they are overwhelmed. They have very little in the way of equipment and the necessary drugs and medicines," Gerald Bourke, a spokesman for the UN world food programme (WFP) in North Korea, told the Reuters news agency.

The North's hospitals are impoverished and aid workers who visited victims at the nearby Sinuiju provincial hospital described great suffering.

I really don't know what to do about Kim Jong Il. I do not necessarily believe in "humanitarian wars," because it's absolutely impossible to have such a thing. There's always a debate about the ends and the means; I just think our moral system is far too malleable and we are such a clever people that we can justify anything. But Kim needs to go. Lots of people do, but he is one of them. I wish it would happen sooner, but any change or revolutions must come from within. It's unnatural to invade from afar and pretend like everything is going to be all right. Especially with a group of people as apparently indoctrinated as the North Koreans appear to be. Then again (and as usual) I have no idea what I'm talking about.


More Stuffy Brits 

Since Spain, Honduras and the Dominican Republic have announced plans to bail Iraq, stalwart US ally Great Britian may soon have to shoulder the burden.
Up to 2,000 extra British troops could be sent to Iraq to fill the gaps left by Spain's departing soldiers, it was reported today.

The move would see UK soldiers, currently based in the relatively calm Basra region in the south, deployed in the more troubled areas of Kerbala and Najaf, where US forces have taken over a Spanish-controlled base to prevent it from falling into Shia militia hands.

The Times reported that senior Whitehall officials have drawn up a series of options to expand Britain's current 7,500-troop commitment. Possibilities range from sending extra soldiers to the central south zone to taking control of the multinational division there.

Indeed, it is that "special relationship" Winston Churchill talked about in his "Sinews of Peace" speech -- the one in which he coined the term Iron Curtain -- that keeps our two dear nations locked at the hip. Basically what it meant was that we Anglo-Saxons should stick together lest some Communists or worse (colored people) take over the world.

And I must admit, Britain has been a loyal partner. Were it not for them I don't think we could have pulled off the invasion of Iraq, and we'd be in a lot of trouble there very soon. (Not that 7,500 troops is such an amount, but still.) Sending more troops from the US, I think, would eventually hurt the President and lessen support for the war, and I'm pretty sure it would do the same thing in England. Of course there numbers are much lower, but even the small amount from Japan has caused a general uproar; granted they have a different relationship to the military and to war than the English, but still, this invasion was unpopular everywhere. It will be interesting to see what happens as this thing turns slowly into a whirlpool.


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