February 28, 2006

Please Stop the Bloodshed!

Toll in Iraq's Deadly Surge: 1,300
Morgue Count Eclipses Other Tallies Since Shrine Attack

By Ellen Knickmeyer and Bassam Sebti
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, February 28, 2006; A01

BAGHDAD, Feb. 27 -- Grisly attacks and other sectarian violence unleashed by last week's bombing of a Shiite Muslim shrine have killed more than 1,300 Iraqis, making the past few days the deadliest of the war outside of major U.S. offensives, according to Baghdad's main morgue. The toll was more than three times higher than the figure previously reported by the U.S. military and the news media.

Hundreds of unclaimed dead lay at the morgue at midday Monday -- blood-caked men who had been shot, knifed, garroted or apparently suffocated by the plastic bags still over their heads. Many of the bodies were sprawled with their hands still bound -- and many of them had wound up at the morgue after what their families said was their abduction by the Mahdi Army, the Shiite militia of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

"After he came back from the evening prayer, the Mahdi Army broke into his house and asked him, 'Are you Khalid the Sunni infidel?' " one man at the morgue said, relating what were the last hours of his cousin, according to other relatives. "He replied yes and then they took him away."

Aides to Sadr denied the allegations, calling them part of a smear campaign by unspecified political rivals.

By Monday, violence between Sunni Arabs and Shiites appeared to have eased. As Iraqi security forces patrolled, American troops offered measured support, in hopes of allowing the Iraqis to take charge and prevent further carnage.

But at the morgue, where the floor was crusted with dried blood, the evidence of the damage already done was clear. Iraqis arrived throughout the day, seeking family members and neighbors among the contorted bodies.

"And they say there is no sectarian war?" demanded one man. "What do you call this?"

The brothers of one missing man arrived, searching for a body. Their hunt ended on the concrete floor, provoking sobs of mourning: "Why did you kill him?" "He was unarmed!" "Oh, my brother! Oh, my brother!"

Morgue officials said they had logged more than 1,300 dead since Wednesday -- the day the Shiites' gold-domed Askariya shrine was bombed -- photographing, numbering and tagging the bodies as they came in over the nights and days of retaliatory raids.

The Statistics Department of the Iraqi police put the nationwide toll at 1,020 since Wednesday, but that figure was based on paperwork that is sometimes delayed before reaching police headquarters. The majority of the dead had been killed after being taken away by armed men, police said.

The disclosure of the death tolls followed accusations by the U.S. military and later Iraqi officials that the news media had exaggerated the violence between Shiites and Sunnis over the past few days.

The bulk of the previously known deaths were caused by bombings and other large-scale attacks. But the scene at the morgue and accounts related by relatives indicated that most of the bloodletting came at the hands of self-styled executioners.

"They killed him just because he was a Sunni," one young man at the morgue said of his 32-year-old neighbor, whose body he was retrieving.

Much of the violence has centered on mosques, many of which were taken over by Shiite gunmen, bombed or burned.

In the Shiite holy city of Najaf, aides to Sadr denied any role in the killings.

[continue reading article here]

February 25, 2006

How to Market Your Suffering

I came across this great article via Idealist which discusses the reasons why some humanitarian crises get more attention than others. I've always wondered why we suddenly become so concerned about Darfur for example, and then a week later, when it slips off the tv screens and the newspaper headlines, it's as if nothing ever happened there. That is part of the problem, as the author points out: the role of the media in publicizing the large numbers of human suffering around the globe. He also focuses on the role that NGOs play and the pressures they face in seeking to help millions of people around the world afflicted with disease, famine, war, and other humanitarian crises. The article is based on a book by the author, Clifford Bob, entitled "The Marketing of Rebellion: Insurgents, Media, and International Activism."

I like the way the article was introduced by YaleGlobal,
In an era of human rights accords and global benefit concerts, international tribunals and rubber wristbands for any cause, attention to humanitarian crises seems both pronounced and profuse.

Clifford Bob quotes under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland who told The New York Times:
I don't know why one place gets attention and another not. It's like a lottery, where there are 50 victimized groups always trying to get the winning ticket, and they play every night and they lose every night. I myself have said that the biggest race against the clock is Darfur, but in terms of numbers of people displaced, there are already more in Uganda and the eastern Congo.
He goes on to add,
Even cursory observation shows that many of the world’s worst problems remain off the international agenda. Civil and inter-state war in the Congo since the mid-1990s has scarcely registered overseas, notwithstanding millions of deaths. For much of the 1980s and 1990s, Sudan’s North-South confrontation, with similarly horrific casualties, also remained little known. In recent decades, smaller-scale conflicts and human rights violations from Mauritania to Indonesia to Colombia, have likewise remained relatively invisible outside their home states despite large human losses.
It's really disturbing to know that one has to dig through the news headlines to find anything about the drought crisis in the Horn of Africa that threatens the lives of millions in civil-war-torn Somalia and neighboring countries. The situation is getting worse by the day, and immediate action is needed to stem the possibility of millions of deaths, with some people already forced to drink their own urine to stay alive!

The author continues,
The main reason is that resources devoted to international issues are simply too small to meet the needs of the world’s poor, diseased, and conflicted. Even the largest NGOs complain of too few funds – and constantly campaign for more. For its part, the United Nations annually highlights a handful of “forgotten crises.”
We don't have enough resources devoted to these crises at the moment, but that does not mean that the nations of the world are incapable of devoting large sums of money to help these millions. In 2004, for example, the United States was ranked #22 in the world for its "Official Development Assistance", with 0.17 PERCENT of its GNP going to development assistance. Countries such as Greece, Italy, Spain and others ranked way above the most economically powerful country in the world in terms of their contributions to development assistance. More recent figures will show that the US has contributed larger amounts, although this money will by and large go to reconstructione efforts in Iraq, as well as to "allies" in the war on terror, such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Jordan, and Israel. Indeed, much of this "aid" that the US gives goes to benefit its military and economic interests rather than to assist in humanitarian crises.

And Bob concludes,
In sum, the allocation of international activism has logic. But, contrary to the despair of Jan Egeland and the optimism of NGO cheerleaders, it is grounded in vast differences in power between NGOs and the needy groups they selectively assist. In this context, local groups are far from helpless. Marketing matters - but only a fortunate few will gain major support.
[Read full text here]

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February 21, 2006

From the Land of the Free: Oppression and Injustice at Its Best!

I came across this article which includes an interview with the not-yet-convicted-but-still-jailed-because-he's-Arab/Muslim/Palestinian professor Dr. Sami Al-Arian on the progress of his trial and what he's been through for the past 3 years.

I highly recommend that this interview be read carefully by anyone interested in human and civil rights violations by the US government since 9/11.

The treatment of this professor is unbelievable... hands cuffed and feet shackled, he was made to walk 1/2 mile bending down with his defense materials balanced on his back so that he could see his lawyer...not allowed to make any calls for 6 months...then one 15-minute call per month....23 hours of solitary confinement everyday for more than 2 years as he awaited his trial...

NO, we're not talking about an Iraqi prisoner during Saddam's Baathist regime or an Afghan prisoner under the Taliban. YES, this is in the blessed US of A...
a man guilty until proven innocent (and even when you're acquitted, we're still going to try to convict you over and over again because WE CAN!).

If this is happening on mainland USA, what is happening off shore in Guantanamo Bay?

This is the example we set as the world's superpower. Thank you Bush, Ashcroft, and Gonzalez...what would the American justice system do without you?!

Excerpts from the interview:

"I am allowed a radio, and I do get a newspaper. Of course the conditions of confinement are extremely restrictive, particularly restrictive. I’ve spent three years now in solitary confinement, two of them in one of the most restrictive environments you could ever have in a federal penitentiary. It’s called the special housing unit, and it is no different really from what Guantanamo is. If you know how Guantanamo people are treated, (it’s) pretty similar to it with one exception, and that is that you can get weekly visits.

And when I was there for two years at Coleman, I was the only pretrial detainee in that unit. That unit is designed for federal convicts who have disciplinary problems. That unit is not even designed for normal prisoners. If you are in the general compound and you knife somebody or you have a fight with a guard or you have any other kind of disciplinary problem, they will transfer you to that unit for disciplinary purposes, and normally you stay there for a month or two. I was there for two years. Even those people are allowed contact visits. I was never allowed a contact visit. Normally, if you are in the compound you have about 60 minutes a day of phone call privileges. Over there you have 15 minutes a month. That is one call a month. If you misdial or get the wrong number or don’t find your folks, that’s it and you’re on to the next month. I wasn’t allowed to even make a phone call for six months.

It was designed basically as psychological torture against me. I was the only person who was pretrial in the whole facility of 75,000 people.

And these kinds of restrictions, I can tell, you were designed to hamper my defense. When I was in the federal system for two years, I wasn’t allowed at the beginning even to have much legal material in my cell, and whenever I would meet with my lawyers, they were not allowed to bring in a lot of material when they met with me. And when you go to them, you really had to walk a lot of distance (with) legs shackled, hands cuffed behind your back, and they would refuse to carry your legal material. So for a couple of months, I had to carry them on my back. So I had to bend over with my legal material on my back and walk all the way from my cell to where my lawyer would be, which was about close to half a mile of walking distance. I walked like that for two months until the captain saw me one day and was extremely angry with the guards for the way they had been doing it. Then they changed it, and at that time they started hand cuffing me from the front with a chain around the waist where I could carry my legal stuff with my hands. All these were unnecessary, but it’s part of the system, I guess, to put whatever pressure they can on you."

More on this issue:

Growing Up Al-Arian
Vigil in Support of Arian
Amnesty International on the acquittal
Free Sami Al-Arian
St.Petersburg Times Coverage

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China, Microsoft, and the Bloggers

Bloggers Who Pursue Change Confront Fear and Mistrust

BEIJING -- When Zhao Jing moved his blog to Microsoft's popular MSN Spaces site last summer, some users worried the Chinese government would block the entire service. The censors had blacklisted the last site where the young journalist had posted his spirited political essays, and he seemed unwilling to tone down his writing at the new address.

But Zhao, better known by the pen name Anti, told fellow bloggers not to worry. If the government objected to his blog, he predicted, Microsoft would "sell me out" and delete it rather than risk being blocked from computer screens across China.

He was right. Four and a half months after he began posting essays challenging the Communist Party's taboo against discussing politics, Zhao published an item protesting the purge of a popular newspaper's top editors. Officials called Microsoft to complain, and Microsoft quickly erased his blog.

The December incident sparked outrage among bloggers around the world, and in Washington, members of Congress vowed to scrutinize how U.S. firms are helping the Chinese government censor the Internet. But the reaction inside China's growing community of Internet users was strikingly mixed...

Continue reading full here.

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February 20, 2006

In Honor of President's Day

In recognition of everything that you have given to this country, Mr. President, the least we can do is thank you. Thank you for the laughs that you provided for us over the past 5 years.

But more importantly,
thank you for making us cry.

Thank you for making Iraqi men, women, and children cry over the thousands of innocents killed by your "moab's" and "precision bombs."

Thank you, Mr. Commander-in-Thief, for liberating them and then leaving their timeless, priceless artifacts to be looted by thugs while your boys were guarding the Oil Ministry.

Thank you for staining the history of ancient Mesopotamia with your dirty wars.

Thank you for defiling the image of America by hiring security contractors and allowing torture in Abu Ghraib and other secret prisons around the world.

Thanks for flicking off the international community when you brushed off Kyoto and the International Criminal Court.

Oh, and thanks for spreading democracy across the Middle East and then punishing citizens for who they voted for because you "misunderestimated" them.


Bush's Speech Writer [by way of Nas].

Bush's Escape Plan

"I think we are welcomed. But it was not a peaceful welcome." —George W. Bush, defending Vice President Dick Cheney's pre-war assertion that the United States would be welcomed in Iraq as liberators, NBC Nightly News interview, Dec. 12, 2005 [photo link]

"Wow! Brazil is big." —George W. Bush, after being shown a map of Brazil by Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Brasilia, Brazil, Nov. 6, 2005

"If it were to rain a lot, there is concern from the Army Corps of Engineers that the levees might break. And so, therefore, we're cautious about encouraging people to return at this moment of history." —George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., Sept. 19, 2005

"Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job." —George W. Bush, to FEMA director Michael Brown, who resigned 10 days later amid criticism over his job performance, Mobile, Ala., Sept. 2, 2005

It seemed like to me they based some of their decisions on the word of — and the allegations — by people who were held in detention, people who hate America, people that had been trained in some instances to disassemble — that means not tell the truth." —George W. Bush, on an Amnesty International report on prisoner abuse at Guantanamo Bay, Washington, D.C., May 31, 200

"See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda." —George W. Bush, Greece, N.Y., May 24, 2005

"I can only speak to myself." —George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., April 28, 2005

"In this job you've got a lot on your plate on a regular basis; you don't have much time to sit around and wander, lonely, in the Oval Office, kind of asking different portraits, 'How do you think my standing will be?'" —George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., March 16, 2005

"You work three jobs? … Uniquely American, isn't it? I mean, that is fantastic that you're doing that." —George W. Bush, to a divorced mother of three, Omaha, Nebraska, Feb. 4, 2005

I don' t know if I will ever take the American presidency seriously again.

February 17, 2006

Shutdown the Gitmo!

The past week was the 4th anniversary of the opening of the controversial Guantanamo Bay security prison by the US. From the beginning, this highly secured detention facility has been under scrutiny by various human rights organizations and has faced a lot of criticism from the international community. However, none of the pressure has been enough to shut down the prison or even bring that possibility to serious consideration by US officials.

The problem with the prison facility (Camp Delta) is that it is located off the coast of Cuba, not on US territory and not really international territory either. Its a "black hole" in terms of the American judicial system, in addition to the fact that detainees are listed as "enemy/illegal combatants" and not "prisoners of war", which the US claims do not have the same rights under international law (this is disputed).

This naval base is not new. It was 1898 when the US obtained control of Cuba from Spain, and occupied this bay area. Although the Cuban and US government signed a treaty on the issue of Gitmo bay, the Cuban government says it was forced into signing this treaty and that it should be considered null and void. Ironically, Cuba is one of the few countries that does not have diplomatic ties with the US.

In 2002, the US began using part of the Camp Delta prison facility to hold suspected al-Qaeda militants captured in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and later in Iraq. Prisoners in this facility are being held without any charges, and until now do not have the right to a military or judicial hearing.

As of July 2005, the US was holding 510 "foreign terrorism suspects"-- 100 or more are from Saudi Arabia, about 80 are from Yemen, about 65 are from Pakistan, about 50 are from Afghanistan, and 2 from Syria (Wiki). Some are citizens of the UK and other European countries were detained without charges and some later released.

Many prisoners have attempted suicide in protest of the inhumane treatment they have been facing. Various human rights organizations have attempted to visit prisoners and find out more about the conditions which they live in, but US officials have prevented most from entering the facilities. Nevertheless, the UN (pdf), ICRC, and Amnesty International have all released reports condemning the facility, decrying its 'black hole' status, and calling for the immediate closure of the camp.

Camp Delta on Gitmo Bay should be close immediately. The nature of the detentions and the ambiguous legal status of detainees is an embarassement at the least and a human rights violation at best. It is a sad fact that the world's superpower and the champion of democracy and human rights continues to operate such a facility that is marred by accusations of torture and other HR violations. The American PR machine should remember the influence that such images have on the rest of the world, and specifically the Arab and Muslim world, before pouring millions into projects such as failed radio and tv stations which are seen as American propaganda machines. The Bush administration needs to wake up! Rumsfeld has disgraced this country for the past 5 years and needs to be fired.

Enough is enough! But it's not enough to just read this post, or sing a petition on Amnesty's website. We need to speak out. Those who 'support the troops' need to know that these images hurt the troops and put them in danger. The credibility of the US is on the line. Our senators and congressman need to step up the plate, and *check* the power of the executive branch that is taking our country down a dangerous path. Call them, email them, fax them, and write to them. They need to know that we care. We need to know the truth. This has to stop...or else every American will be responsible for the consequences of these shameful policies...and it will be too late anyway.

BBC Q&A on Gitmo Bay
BBC Anniversary Report
Amnesty International-- Guantanamo Page
Wikipedia Guntanamo Bay
JURIST article--Why Americans Should Care About Gitmo
Kuwaiti Prisoners in Gitmo Bay
Photos from Gitmo Bay

February 16, 2006

More on the Cheney Fiasco

The problem with the Bush administration tends to be that when they make a mistake, they don't admit it right away. They attempt to cover it up for a while. Then when they talk about it, they do something really stupid that makes it an even bigger scandal!

After mistaking his 78 year old lawyer friend for a quail and spraying him in a hunting accident, Cheney's press office took its time before letting the public know. Then when pressure mounted on the Dickmeister, he decided to TALK! To none other than the eminent FOX NEWS...hip hip hooray! What kind of statement does that show other than the fact that he is too scared to talk to the whole press corps? If you had the urge to feel bad for this idiot, then please remember how much he made fun of other people (ie: John Kerry) for not knowing how to hunt.

Grow up Dick, and for God's sake just admit you were wrong for once, it might help your heart problem!

On a lighter note, here's the spoof on this drama.

Mormons, Native Americans, and Israel

I found this article to be, well, peculiar!

Bedrock of a Faith Is Jolted

From the time he was a child in Peru, the Mormon Church instilled in Jose A. Loayza the conviction that he and millions of other Native Americans were descended from a lost tribe of Israel that reached the New World more than 2,000 years ago.

"We were taught all the blessings of that Hebrew lineage belonged to us and that we were special people," said Loayza, now a Salt Lake City attorney. "It not only made me feel special, but it gave me a sense of transcendental identity, an identity with God."

A few years ago, Loayza said, his faith was shaken and his identity stripped away by DNA evidence showing that the ancestors of American natives came from Asia, not the Middle East.

For Mormons, the lack of discernible Hebrew blood in Native Americans is no minor collision between faith and science. It burrows into the historical foundations of the Book of Mormon, a 175-year-old transcription that the church regards as literal and without error.

For those outside the faith, the depth of the church's dilemma can be explained this way: Imagine if DNA evidence revealed that the Pilgrims didn't sail from Europe to escape religious persecution but rather were part of a migration from Iceland — and that U.S. history books were wrong.

Critics want the church to admit its mistake and apologize to millions of Native Americans it converted. Church leaders have shown no inclination to do so. Indeed, they have dismissed as heresy any suggestion that Native American genetics undermine the Mormon creed.

Yet at the same time, the church has subtly promoted a fresh interpretation of the Book of Mormon intended to reconcile the DNA findings with the scriptures. This analysis is radically at odds with long-standing Mormon teachings.

Full article here.

February 13, 2006

British Troops Caught Red Handed

In yet another military abuse scandal in Iraq, News of the World has published a short video showing some British soldiers mercilessly kicking and punching a few rioting Iraqi teens. The cameraman is heard laughing and encouraging the soldiers to kick harder. He even joins the "fun" as he approaches a corpse of an Iraqi man and begins to kick the dead body in the face.

It's a
sickening video that shows that the Abu Ghraib scandal was not the end of the story. This should be the icing on the cake for the Muslims around the world who are already infuriated by offensive European cartoons depicting Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist.

This will only add fuel to the fire.

February 12, 2006

Cheney Sucks...at everything!

What's left? He failed on the war, on Halliburton, he has a machine to run his heart, and now he shoots a poor 78 year old! You'd think these idiots who champion the right to bear arms would actually learn how to hold one...jeeez.

Cheney looking a little too giddy as
he accepts gun at NRA meeting

Snowy Sunday

(start from the bottom)And that's the hill right behind my house that I went sledding on... the only problem is it has a steep ending, which doesn't make for a comfortable landing, lol, especially after an hour of shoveling the driveway!

In the 'woods' behind my house.

This winter has been the mildest I've seen in this area in years! We haven't had snow since early November, and the cherry blossom in front of our house was starting to show its buds until the snow came and covered it. How pretty :)
This is what most of the Northeast woke up to this Sunday morning. Although I can't say that every city/town in the Northeast had roads this clean! The DMV was actually prepared for this (!) in Northern VA, and we didn't get as much as NY or Phili did, probably 6 inches at my house.

February 11, 2006

Dirty Tricks: Playing the Terror Card

Maureen Dowd bitfesh el 2alb! The latter phrase is an Arabic saying which can't accurately be translated into English, but in general it means "hit the right nerve." So Maureen Dowd hit the right nerve! I love her writing style, oozing with sarcasm, it gets the message across in such a clear and unique way.

Dowd writes this op-ed for the NYTimes (which isn't fully available online, but here it is for your enjoyment!). Dowd discusses the latest Bush administration flops anywhere from domestic spying, to New Orleands levees, to Jack Abramoff. I don't think we will ever see another administration as unique as this one in American history... Unique in the prevalence of scandals, lies, hypocrites, cheaters, and of course, "genius" cover-up PR jocks. I'll let the Dowd explain...

Smoking Dutch Cleanser

Vice President Dick Cheney bitterly complains that national security leaks are endangering America. Unless, of course, he's doing the leaking, tapping Scooter Libby to reveal national security information to punish a political critic.

President Bush says he will not talk about specific security threats to America. Unless, of course, he needs to talk about a specific threat to Los Angeles to confuse the public and gain some cheap political advantage.

The White House says it has done everything possible to protect the homeland. Unless, of course, it hasn't. Then it can lie to hide the callous portrait of Incurious George in Crawford as New Orleans drowned.

The attorney general can claim that torture and warrantless wiretapping are legal, and can mislead Congress. Unless, of course, enough Republicans stand up and say, as Arlen Specter told The Washington Post, that if that lickspittle lawyer thinks all this is legal, ''he's smoking Dutch Cleanser.''

The president doesn't know the Indian Taker Jack Abramoff. Unless, of course, W. has met with him a dozen times, invited him to Crawford and joked with him about his kids.

The Bushies can continue to claim that the invasion of Iraq was justified because Saddam was a threat to our security. Unless, of course, he wasn't, and the Cheney cabal was simply abusing the trust of Americans to push a wild-eyed political scheme.

At the Bush White House, the mere evocation of the word ''terror'' justifies breaking any law, contravening any convention, despoiling any ideal, electing any Republican and brushing off any failure to govern.

Asked yesterday by Senator Susan Collins why the administration had reacted in slo-mo on Katrina, with ''people dying, people waiting to be rescued,'' Michael Brown replied that if FEMA had declared that a terrorist had blown up the 17th Street Canal levee, ''then everybody would have jumped all over that and been trying to do everything they could.''

Instead of just going after the 9/11 fiends, as W. promised with his bullhorn, the president and Vice President Strangelove have cynically played the terror card to accrue power and sidestep blame. They have twisted our values, mismanaged crises, fueled fundamentalist successes and violence around the world, and magnified a clash of civilizations.

It used to take an Israeli incursion to inflame the Arab world. Now all it takes is a cartoon in Denmark.

W. and Vice have wasted hundreds of billions of dollars, turning Iraq into a terrorist training ground, leaving the 9/11 villains at large, and letting cronies and losers botch the job of homeland security.

Brownie, one of the biggest boneheads in U.S. history, considered the homeland security chief, Michael Chertoff, so useless that he deliberately didn't call him right away about the suffering in New Orleans.

''The culture was such that I didn't think that would have been effective and would have exacerbated the problem, quite frankly,'' Brownie told the Republican senator Bob Bennett, who called the statement ''staggering.'' A telephone call to his boss, Brownie said, ''would have wasted my time.''

The doofus who frittered away lives e-mailing colleagues about being a ''fashion god'' and wondering how he looked on television may have just been engaged in self-protective spin. Or has the Homeland Security Department simply created another set of paralyzing turf battles?

The most dysfunctional man in government is calling the government dysfunctional.

W.'s sophomoric ''Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job'' line makes even Brownie cringe. ''Unfortunately,'' the former FEMA chief complained, ''he called me 'Brownie' at the wrong time. Thanks a lot, sir.''

In the new Foreign Affairs, Paul Pillar, who was a senior C.I.A. official overseeing Middle East intelligence assessments until October, says the obvious conclusion that should have been drawn from the intelligence on Iraq was that war was unnecessary. He says the White House ''went to war without requesting -- and evidently without being influenced by -- any strategic-level intelligence assessments on any aspect of Iraq.''

He calls the relationship between the intelligence community and the policy makers -- you guessed it -- politicized, damaged by bureaucratic rivalries and dysfunctional.

A final absurd junction of dysfunction was reached on Wednesday, when Republican Party leaders awarded Tom DeLay with a seat on the Appropriations subcommittee overseeing the Justice Department, which is investigating Jack Abramoff, including his connections to Tom DeLay.


February 10, 2006

Cartoons Oh Cartoons

If I hear one more report about this issue, I think I'm going to explode! I particularly don't like hearing about this controversy on TV shows because I don't think the news (American or Arab) has enough time to cover the nuances of the story or even analyze it. That's why I prefer op-ed's by rational people, like Tariq Ramadan, who wrote this one for the Boston Globe.

Most of what I have heard and read has been too extreme, on both sides. There are those who staunchly advocate freedom of expression and feel that the Muslim reaction around the world is aimed at destroying this freedom. On the other hand, Muslims have also been reacting wildly with many who argue that this is part of the "plan" against Islam, and that it is a turning point for Western-Islamic relations.

And of course there are the crazies burning embassies and threatening Europeans in the Middle East. I wish those people would carry signs saying "I AM CRAZY AND I ONLY REPRESENT MYSELF AND NOT THE ENTIRE POPULATION OF 1.3 BILLION MUSLIMS." The media in the West has been picking up on these violent reactions and focusing on them because, well, they're so visible and they're good for ratings. Anyone who tries to argue that those cartoons were irresponsible and inciteful, and that Muslims are angry because to them Prophet Muhammad represents a blessing for humanity and one of the most peace-promoting beings ever created, they will be bombarded with those who say that the violent reactions just prove that Islam is a violent and barbaric religion...

There are some people who were just waiting for something like this to happen so they can tighten laws on immigration in Europe, or censorship laws in the Middle East, or to simply "prove" that our buddy Sam Hutington was right when he said that a "clash of civilizations" was imminent.

Thankfully, people like Tariq Ramadan and Robert Fisk are debunking those claims with unparalleled clarity and sound reasoning. Fisk ("This Isn't Islam vs. Secularism") writes:

For Muslims, the Prophet is the man who received divine words directly from God. We see our prophets as faintly historical figures, at odds with our high-tech human rights, almost cari-acatures of themselves. The fact is that Muslims live their religion. We do not. They have kept their faith through innumerable historical vicissitudes. We have lost our faith ever since Matthew Arnold wrote about the sea's "long, withdrawing roar". That's why we talk about "the West ver-sus Islam" rather than "Christians versus Islam" - because there aren't an awful lot of Christians left in Europe. There is no way we can get round this by setting up all the other world religions and asking why we are not allowed to make fun of Mohamed.

From what I heard from average Americans as well as journalists and news commentators, they just don't seem to get why people get so angry over a bunch of cartoons. This just proves to me how much of a gulf really exists in the understanding of cultures between these two massive civilizations. Muslims don't quite understand the whole concept of unlimited freedom of expression, and neither does the West understand the relationship most Muslims have to Prophet Muhammad. That's why I'm saying there needs to be more awareness and education.

Tariq Ramadan also debunks the clash of civs argument, adding that certain people on both sides of this argument are benefitting from this fiasco:

A few Danish Muslims recently visited some Middle Eastern countries and fanned the flames of resentment. Governments, only too happy to prove their attachment to Islam, took advantage of this and presented themselves as champions of the great cause. On the other side, this was just what some politicians, intellectuals, and journalists needed to paint themselves as champions of the great struggle for freedom of expression and resistance fighters against religious obscurantism in the name of Western values.

He adds:

No, this is not a predicted clash of civilizations. This affair does not symbolize the confrontation between the principles of Enlightenment and those of religion. What is at stake at the heart of this story is a measure of whether or not the parties have the capacity to be free, rational (believer or atheist), and, at the same time, reasonable.

The fracture is not between the West and Islam but between those who, in both universes, are able to assert who they are and what they stand for with measure in the name of a faith and/or a rational reason and those driven by exclusive certainties, blind passions, reductive perceptions of the other, and hasty conclusions. These character traits are shared by some intellectuals, religious scholars, journalists, and the ordinary people on both sides. Facing the dangerous drifts these attitudes entail, it is urgent to launch a call for wisdom.

Will somebody please listen to these rational voices instead of the empassioned editors and religious fanatics?

I propose that everyone stop listening to the news and reading tabloid-like papers whose only goal is to make money with "hot" stories rather than really get the news out and the right analysis of this incident which has been blown way out of proportion.



February 7, 2006

Israel & South Africa: The Apartheid Connection II

In the second part of his special report, Chris McGreal investigates the clandestine alliance between Israel and the apartheid regime in South Africa at the highest levels of authority. Here are some excerpts:

Reitzer saw no contradiction in surviving the Holocaust only to sign up for a system that was disturbingly reminiscent in its underpinning philosophy, if not in the scale of its crimes, as the one she had outlived. She vigorously defended apartheid as a necessary bulwark against black domination and the communism that engulfed her native Yugoslavia. Reitzer let slip that she thought Africans inferior to other human beings and not entitled to be treated as equals. I asked if Hitler hadn't said the same thing about her as a Jew. She called a halt to the conversation.

Israel was openly critical of apartheid through the 1950s and 60s as it built alliances with post-colonial African governments. But most African states broke ties after the 1973 Yom Kippur war and the government in Jerusalem began to take a more benign view of the isolated regime in Pretoria. The relationship changed so profoundly that, in 1976, Israel invited the South African prime minister, John Vorster - a former Nazi sympathiser and a commander of the fascist Ossewabrandwag that sided with Hitler - to make a state visit.

Vorster, whose army was then overrunning Angola, told his hosts that South Africa and Israel were victims of the enemies of western civilisation. A few months later, the South African government's yearbook characterised the two countries as confronting a single problem: "Israel and South Africa have one thing above all else in common: they are both situated in a predominantly hostile world inhabited by dark peoples."

The biggest secret of all was the nuclear one. Israel provided expertise and technology that was central to South Africa's development of its nuclear bombs. Israel was embarrassed enough about its close association with a political movement rooted in racial ideology to keep the military collaboration hidden.

"At the UN we kept saying: we are against apartheid, as Jewish people who suffered from the Holocaust this is intolerable. But our security establishment kept cooperating."

By the 1980s, Israel and South Africa echoed each other in justifying the domination of other peoples. Both said that their own peoples faced annihilation from external forces - in South Africa by black African governments and communism; in Israel, by Arab states and Islam. But each eventually faced popular uprisings - Soweto in 1976, the Palestinian intifada in 1987 - that were internal, spontaneous and radically altered the nature of the conflicts.

Stepping into modern Israel, anyone who experienced the old South Africa would see few immediately visible comparisons. There are no signs segregating Jews and non-Jews. Yet, as in white South Africa then and now, there is a world of discrimination and oppression that most Israelis choose not to see.

Israeli soldiers routinely humiliate and harass Palestinians at checkpoints and settlers paint hate-filled slogans on the walls of Arab houses in Hebron. The police stop citizens who appear to be Arabs on West Jerusalem streets to demand their identity cards as a matter of routine.

February 6, 2006

Israel & South Africa: The Apartheid Connection

The Guardian's Chris McGreal, who spent years in Jerusalem and Johannesburg, writes the first of a two-part series on Israel's policies that are reminicent of apartheid South Africa. This is one of the most detailed and informative accounts that I have read, as it addresses various aspects of this phenomenon. Here are som excerpts:

Jerusalem's council forces Rhateb to pay substantial property taxes on his house but that does not give him the right to live in it, and he is periodically arrested for doing so. Rhateb's children have been thrown out of their Jerusalem school, he cannot register a car in his name - or rather he can, but only one with Palestinian number plates, which means he cannot drive it to his home because only Israeli-registered cars are allowed within Jerusalem - and he needs a pass to visit the centre of the city. The army grants him about four a year.

There are few places in the world where governments construct a web of nationality and residency laws designed for use by one section of the population against another. Apartheid South Africa was one. So is Israel.

As far back as 1961, Hendrik Verwoerd, the South African prime minister and architect of the "grand apartheid" vision of the bantustans, saw a parallel. "The Jews took Israel from the Arabs after the Arabs had lived there for a thousand years. Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state," he said. It is a view that horrifies and infuriates many Israelis.

"Apartheid was an extension of the colonial project to dispossess people of their land," said the Jewish South African cabinet minister and former ANC guerrilla, Ronnie Kasrils, on a visit to Jerusalem. "That is exactly what has happened in Israel and the occupied territories; the use of force and the law to take the land. That is what apartheid and Israel have in common."

According to the Israeli human rights group, B'Tselem, Jerusalem's Jewish population, who make up about 70% of the city's 700,000 residents, are served by 1,000 public parks, 36 public swimming pools and 26 libraries. The estimated 260,000 Arabs living in the east of the city have 45 parks, no public swimming pools and two libraries.

Democracy Gone Wrong...AGAIN!

Once again, voters participated in elections across the Middle East that resulted in yet another upset victory. Ibrahim Al-Hakami won the title of "Superstar" in a closely contested race by 53% of the vote over the young Shahad Barmada. International observers reported problems in various SMS voting systems as well as the online system, but called on all parties to remain calm. Future, the Lebanese satellite channel that airs the show (an Arabic version of "American Idol"), warned viewers from engaging in any violent acts. Analysts fear that Syrians might continue their embassy burning rampage by heading to the Saudi embassy in Damascus to protest the results of the election. Syrian president Bashar al-Assad warned that there might have been foul play from the Lebanese producers of the show who he claimed all had grudges against Shahad because of her Syrian nationality. No word yet on reaction from the Saud royal family or the religious establishment in Saudi Arabia both of whom appear to be afraid of the repercussions of such a democratic and immoral contest.



February 5, 2006

Become Republican!

Watch this video and you will get an official license to become a liberal-hating, war-mongering, Jesus-lovin', rifle-bearing, truely patriotic American :)

February 3, 2006

Praying for the Victims

Ferry Disaster Claims More than 1,000 Lives

EGYPTIAN authorities admitted last night that a ferry that sank in the Red Sea with more than 1,400 people on board was unsafe and did not have enough lifeboats. Nearly 1,100 were feared dead.

The Al Salam Boccaccio 98, a 35-year old vessel driven out of European waters by stringent safety regulations, went down suddenly early yesterday morning local time, 57 miles from its destination at the Egyptian port of Safaga. Coast Guard ships pulled about 185 bodies from the sea, and at least 324 survivors escaped on lifeboats.

“The speed at which the ship sank and the fact that there were not enough liferafts on board confirm that there was a [safety] problem but we cannot anticipate the results of the investigation,” Suleiman Awad, President Mubarak’s spokesman, said.

Survivors said that a fire had broken out aboard the vessel about 90 minutes after she left Saudi Arabia. “It was like the Titanic on fire,” one told reporters.

About 140 survivors were brought to the resort of Hurghada. They walked off the ship down a ramp, some of them barefoot and shivering, wrapped in blankets.

Some shouted to waiting journalists, angry that their rescue had taken so long. “They left us in the water for 24 hours. A helicopter came above us and circled, we would signal and they ignored us,” one man shouted. “Our lives are the cheapest in the world,” another said.

Winds were high and seas heavy, but it should have been a routine trip across the busy, well-policed waterway — a 120-mile journey of four to five hours. Instead, nearly halfway through the journey, something calamitous happened.

The vessel simply vanished from the radar, unable even to send out an SOS. It was UK Mission Control Centre at RAF Kinloss that raised the alarm at 23.58GMT when a young corporal in the darkened search-and-rescue base near Inverness saw an electronic blip on his screen, followed by a ringing sound.

The Egyptian military sent four rescue vessels but, according to some reports, ten hours elapsed before they reached the scene. The stricken ship’s owners diverted three of its passenger vessels, a conventional ferry and two high-speed craft, to the area.

(Full Story)

Wrong is Wrong, but Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right

There's been so much written about the Danish cartoon controversy, so I hope I add something new to this debate. I've been disturbed by the reactions of some Muslims and non-Muslims, but I also see hope and positive reactions by others. The cartoons published by the Danish Jyllands-Posten depicting the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as a terrorist and in other offensive settings was irresponsible journalism. Adding to the controversy, French, Italian, and Spanish newspapers showed "support for freedom of speech" by republishing the cartoons that have already caused anger across the Muslim wold. The decisions by these newspapers were irresponsible and inciteful. As someone who puts a great value on freedom of the press, I was offended to see that such a freedom, which is so hard to attain in many parts of the world, is being abused by some individuals. Any freedom (speech, religion, press, etc) must have limits, or it will constitute a license to do whatever one wishes, even if it compromises the freedom of others. Freedom of speech has limits: slandering, lieing, and hate speech are not rights because they invade another preson's freedom to live in peace and security. Freedom of the press also has limits, and they should be respected. There is a difference between censoring news and opinions just because they offend an individual or group of people. However, refusing to publish an article, cartoon, or photo because it is inciteful shows responsibility and respect for the freedom of press by not allowing it to be abused by certain individuals.

That said, the reactions of Muslims across the word to these hate-filled cartoons were mixed. Some decided to use a powerful tool-- money-- to make their voices heard, that is by boycotting Danish goods, which has proved to be very effective in terms of losses for Danish companies. On the diplomatic side, ministers of various Arab and Muslim countries have met to condemn the publications and call on the newspapers and governments to apologize.

Some of the worst reactions, however, have been violent protests in various Muslim countries such as Indonesia and the Palestinian territories, where Danish and European officials have been threatened, flags burned, embassies vandalised, etc. These reactions are just as wrong as the publishing of the cartoons, as they only add to the growing stereotype of Muslims as violent and barbaric.

Although the boycott is an effective way that usually scares companies into doing what the consumer wants, it's not effective in explaining the reasoning behind the Muslim anger over the cartoons. Neither are the violent protests. Muslims should depict the essence of Prophet Muhammad's life (pbuh), in showing that the power of the word is much stronger than the power of the sword (or the wallet for that matter). Education is the main way that we can overcome ignorance and hate across the world, and Muslims need to contribute more to educating the West about our traditions and beliefs, so that bin Laden will not take it upon himself to do that in the ugliest possible way. Indeed, the Islamophobic cartoons will soon give OBL and his henchmen something to yap about in their next video that will actually appeal to the Muslims around the world. This is extremely dangerous, and many moderate and educated Muslims have been trying to tell the West that such actions will only isolate the average Muslim and intensify already prevalent anti-Western feelings.

Other prominent media outlets around the world have tried to avoid this controversy by opting not to publish the cartoons. CNN has decided not to publish them: "Muslims consider it sacrilegious to produce a likeness of the Prophet Mohammad. CNN has chosen to not show the cartoons in respect for Islam." (You can thank CNN for their decision here).

As for the BBC, the decision to not publish the cartoons has not saved the news organization from criticism from various European and British sources that argue the BBC is censoring the news and disrespecting the freedom of the press.

Peter Horrocks, the editor of TV News, said it had been a difficult dilemma.

"Obviously the BBC does not want to give offence to anyone on either side of this debate, so if people - whichever side of the argument they fall within - have taken offence, I am obviously concerned and apologise for that," he told NewsWatch.

"We've taken the view that still images that focus and linger on the offending cartoons would be excessively offensive so we haven't used those in our television news pieces."

That international perspective was also an important consideration for the news website, according to Steve Herrmann, editor of BBC News Interactive.

"When we cover any sensitive issue we have to balance our duty to report the story faithfully with our responsibility not to unnecessarily shock or offend our audience.

"It is not always an easy balance to strike, and much discussion and thought goes into decisions like these, but in making such judgements it is the interests, needs and expectations of our audience as a whole which are our guiding principle."

February 2, 2006

Funny Video

If you haven't seen the SOU speech, this one is much better than the original :)


February 1, 2006

State of the Union...much ado about nothing

Every year the media hypes up this event, but this year the event was really a no-event. Bush didn't say anything new. He didn't create another list of 'evil' states, what a bummer. And he didn't yell at HAMAS too much either, double bummer. As I was watching the speech, I started to make a tally of a few things:
-he drank water at least 5 times (less than last year I think)
-he said NUKULUR at least 3 times (less than last year too)- Karl Rove, please teach him how to say the damn word right!
- and he made at least 15 slip-ups, hiccups, whatever you want to call them
The last point is most likely due to the fact that whenever he looked at Sam Alito with such loving eyes, he just lost his train of thought, and when he tried to get back on track, he felt Dick Cheney's eyes on him so he pulled himself together again fearing a spanking in the oval office from the Dickmeister.

On a more serious note, here are somethings that I thought were interesting/annoying/stupid/peculiar about the speech. As a whole, Bush tried to emit rays of optimism through the televisions screens and hopefully to Americans who are sick of the war and sick of paying too much for medical insurance, gas, and everything in between. That's why most of the speech focused on domestic issues.

"And one of the main sources of reaction and opposition is radical Islam -- the perversion by a few of a noble faith into an ideology of terror and death." I hate when he uses such language, it's just so ignorant. He could say radicalized individuals claiming to be Muslim, or even radical Muslims, or those who follow a radical interpretation of Islam, but radical Islam is inaccurate.

"Our coalition has learned from our experience in Iraq. We've adjusted our military tactics and changed our approach to reconstruction. Along the way, we have benefitted from responsible criticism and counsel offered by members of Congress of both parties. In the coming year, I will continue to reach out and seek your good advice. Yet, there is a difference between responsible criticism that aims for success, and defeatism that refuses to acknowledge anything but failure." He's trying to hit two birds with one stone, trying to make two seemingly contradictory statements: that his administration admits to mistakes and accepts advice, but will not allow others to bash them and highlight their failures. Bush doesn't listen. Bush acts, on what Rove & Cheney tell him. Countless congressmen and senators have written letters, made speeches, and asked for him to change his policies but he is firm and unaccepting of their advice.

The great people of Egypt have voted in a multi-party presidential election -- and now their government should open paths of peaceful opposition that will reduce the appeal of radicalism." Yes, an election where state police prevented people by force from voting in certain areas where non-NDP candidates were set to win. Let's open up more and not be too oppressive because then those darn Muslim Brothers will take over with their social programs and then nobody will like poor Mubarak.

The Palestinian people have voted in elections. And now the leaders of Hamas must recognize Israel, disarm, reject terrorism, and work for lasting peace." Let's try this my way: The Palestinian people have voted in elections. The world should respect the will of the people and work with the new government to encourage it to use politics as a means of attaining freedom and independence. And Israel must recognize a Palestinian state, disarm its rutheless IDF, reject state terrorism, and work for a just and equitable peace."

Saudi Arabia has taken the first steps of reform -- now it can offer its people a better future by pressing forward with those efforts." Uhhhh, what? Does he mean the local municipal elections in which only men were allowed to vote and no parties were allowed? Yes, a good start, but we won't push them for any more superficial reforms until 2017 because it's just too much for the Saudis to handle at the moment, and they might just get mad at us, we wouldn't want that now, would we? You guys don't want gas for $3.24 a gallon do you? Yah, that's what I thought.

Democracies in the Middle East will not look like our own, because they will reflect the traditions of their own citizens." Wohooo, almost got knocked off my seat there. Calllmmm down Mr. Bush, don't say something that you will regret later, and that your administration hasn't implemented for the past 5 years as it injected Afghanistan and Iraq with American democracy genes. The result is clear in both countries today: chaos. But hey, maybe you guys just realized this? It's better late than never!

It's all about how you say it. "So to prevent another attack –- based on authority given to me by the Constitution and by statute -- I have authorized a terrorist surveillance program to aggressively pursue the international communications of suspected al Qaeda operatives and affiliates to and from America." Hmmm...terrorist surveillance program or domestic spying scandal? Which one will the average American like more?

"And here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world...Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025...and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past." Ok, sorry, but I'm just laughing too hard to be able to respond! I need a minute... So the solution to cure our addiction to oil to spend a few billion dollars on new technologies and then miraculously get over our hunger for ME oil? HELLO, we're talking about Americans here. We have a unique American addiction to oil. (This is the first piece of truth that he's said throughout the speech). Americans are addicted to big bad trucks, and huge SUVs. We hate public transportation because there are weird people who ride on those buses, and then they might brush their arm against mine, ewww. I need my own car, my own space, my own everything. Even my 10 year old son needs his own car, I mean, he'll start driving soon, right? Americans will never get over this addiction until it's too late. It's a sad reality. We're willing to risk our health and future because we're so possessive about our own spaces and especially cars. Even if gas goes up to $10/gallon, I promise you Americans will cut back on bread and milk before they cut back on using their cars. What we need to encourage is a new lifestyle: more public transportation, less suburban sprawl, awareness about social/economic/evironmental dangers of staying on this gas guzzling path to our demise. And what about ME oil? Actually, I'm sure that was a slip of the tongue, as his buddies are distancing themselves from this claim: "Asked why the president used the words "the Middle East" when he didn't really mean them, one administration official said Bush wanted to dramatize the issue in a way that "every American sitting out there listening to the speech understands." The official spoke only on condition of anonymity because he feared that his remarks might get him in trouble."

Fellow citizens, we've been called to leadership in a period of consequence. We've entered a great ideological conflict we did nothing to invite." This is just the icing on the cake. I love this statement, not nearly as much as I love "they hate us because of our freedoms." I can't even *begin* to comment on this one.

'nuff said.