Monday, 31 December 2007

2008 US election poll leaders (pre-Iowa caucuses edition)

This will probably be the last poll-related post until the January party primaries...

Iowa will hold its caucuses* on January 3rd. That makes this coming Thursday the most important date so far for the bagful of candidates hoping to become president.

The Des Moines Register's Iowa poll, lauded as the most accurate, came out tonight. Here are the results:

Barack Obama has stormed ahead of previous frontrunner Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side, thanks, the Register says, new caucus-goers and independents. This might give Obama the national push he needs. John Edwards is a mere percentage point away from Clinton.

As you can see, Mike Huckabee has slightly widened his lead over second-place Mitt Romney in the Republican race. Giuliani is choosing to sit out the ever-important Iowa caucuses for a more national focus.

To find out more about how caucusing works, see the Des Moines Register's page on the Iowa caucus.


Nationally Clinton still maintains a relatively wide lead among the Democrats; Giuliani is still first among Republicans. Huckabee has done well in the polls, whereas Romney has invested most out of all the GOP candidates in both Iowa and another of the first primaries, New Hampshire, just to see his investment slip. As for Ron Paul, he's barely being mentioned in the mainstream.

Other points of focus:
  • The rise of Huckabee the Arkansas governor/Baptist minister in Iowa;
  • the vulnerability of Dem still-leader Clinton;
  • the hope for Edwards, strong against Republicans in Iowa;
  • GOP hopeful Thompson doesn't live up to dying hype;
  • Bhutto's death has used by Giuliani, Clinton, and McCain. Clinton argued for experience, Obama for judgement.

    See more primary stats on Slate's election scorecard and national averages on RealClearPolitics. Some people consider political trading more accurate than polls, since it just measures preference. One popular trading site is Intrade.

    Need help reading or understanding all these polls? The Washington Post published five tips from the directors of polling at WaPo and ABC. The tips include:
    1. Throttle back on the horse race.
    2. Consider the source.
    3. Watch for consistent change and a meaningful narrative.
    4. Don't be seduced by averages.
    5. Be skeptical of post-election scorecards.

    In these coming weeks, we will no doubt see several candidates fall as the top three or four from each party vie for the position of leader. Remember: things are far-from predictable in races this close and mixed. Let the '08 election games (truly) begin!

    * Correction: Word changed in title and blog post for accuracy. Iowa holds caucuses, not primaries.

  • Saturday, 29 December 2007

    The problems with Ron Paul

    He is treated like a god by many on the web. A independent-minded Republican representative from Texas, Ron Paul is thought to be a potential wonder candidate of the 2008 presidential election. I have crowned Paul 'the web candidate' due to the fact that most of his support comes from the internet, and most of his supporters spend much of their lives in cyperspace.

    Ron Paul is better than Bush (but that's not a very high standard, now is it?). However, he is an inexperienced paleo-conservative libertarian who wants to abolish everything from the IRS to FEMA — that's just not practical! He and his supporters seem to be living in their own dream world impervious to the reality that that kind of libertarianism doesn't work, especially in today's modern world. You cannot just shut yourself off from everything because of some bad experiences.

    If you thought the response to Hurricane Katrina was bad, how would getting rid of FEMA help? Sure thanks to incompetence and a slew of negative traits associated with the Bush administration FEMA did a terrible job in the Gulf Coast, but getting rid of the organization all together is not the answer. Imagine: under Ron Paul's ridiculous vision for America there would be no federal response to something like Katrina, many more would suffer and the conditions there would be far more abysmal as they were following Katrina in 2005.

    SO for all those praising Paul as the answer to America's political woes — he's not.

    What's so special about Ron Paul? Well, according to this Salon article...

    [Paul's] the only Republican candidate who wants to end U.S. involvement in Iraq and withdraw the U.S. Navy from the waters off the Iranian coast. He wants America to pull out of the United Nations, NATO, the International Criminal Court, and most international trade agreements. He wants to abolish FEMA, end the federal war on drugs, get rid of the Department of Homeland Security, send the U.S. military to guard the Mexican border, stop federal prosecutions of obscenity, eliminate the IRS, end most foreign aid, overturn the Patriot Act, phase out Social Security, revoke public services for illegal immigrants, repeal No Child Left Behind, and reestablish gold and silver as legal tender.

    Which of those do I consider meaningful? Nearly all of them. NATO, the ICC, FEMA, DHS, the IRS, Social Security... the list goes on. Ron Paul would be fine in the 1800s, in fact, he sounds like a good ol' 1890s Populist with the gold and silver idea, but his ideas wouldn't work this day in age. He wants to turn America into an isolationist, closed-off, libertarian haven — that kind of system just won't work in a culturally and economically globalized world. Isolationism isn't too much better than neoconservative interventionism. Ron Paul would work years ago, but not anymore. Under Paul, and without income tax, homeland defense and security, and social welfare, the US would be going back in time more than it has even under the Bush administration. I don't want that.

    Too all those hell-bent on rooting for Dr. Paul, I issue you this challenge: Explain to me how it would work if we got rid of FEMA, the IRS, the DHS, and other agencies that the United States would go to hell without?

    Ultimately, we don't no government, we need a better government

    Thursday, 27 December 2007

    Benazir Bhutto assassinated!

    BBC News:

    Pakistani former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has been assassinated in a suicide attack.

    Ms Bhutto - the first woman PM in an Islamic state - was leaving an election rally in Rawalpindi when a gunman shot her in the neck and set off a bomb.

    At least 20 other people died in the attack and several more were injured.

    President Pervez Musharraf has urged people to remain calm but angry protests have gripped some cities, with at least 11 deaths reported.

    Security forces have been placed on a state of "red alert" nationwide.

    There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the attack. Analysts believe Islamist militants to be the most likely group behind it.

    Bhutto was playing a major role in Pakistan's hopefully democratic political future. She led the powerful opposition PPP party and recently returned from exile. This surprise-killing should be seen as a sign that instability is not over in Pakistan, even as Musharraf makes security laws more lenient after initiating emergency rule this fall.

    The fate of Pakistanis is as unclear as ever following following the death of one of their more famous political figures. She has escaped several near-death experiences over the past few months; I guess it was a matter of time before either Musharraf's camp of the Islamists killed her.

    I'm back

    My flight was delayed (we ended up waiting four hours for a flight only a bit over four hours) so I got back home at 4:30 AM last night. Needless to say I haven't had a great amount of time for blogging in the past couple days, but I do have some plans for posts in the last few days of this year...

  • Conflict Map (Iraq slightly downgraded; Lebanon political turmoil; Afghanistan steady...)
  • [The ever-popular] 2008 US election poll leaders Pre-primary edition. this will probably be the last post on polls until the January party primaries (the rise of Huckabee the Baptist minister/Arkansas governor/homophobe, weightloss guru, etc. in Iowa, the vulnerability of Dem still-leader Clinton, the hope for Edwards in Iowa, GOP hopeful Thompson doesn't live up to dying hype; Edwards strong against Republicans in Iowa; Romney's religion factor)
  • Pakistan
  • Religion in US politics (Romney and the religion test; past couple decades of religious lobby)
  • 305 men in legal limbo, the fates of whom will be decided by Americas highest court (Gitmo)
  • EU-Africa
  • McCain comeback
  • Ron Paul
  • Putin: Time's Man of the Year
  • My China trip:
    -developing cities
    -civilian population
    -political freedom
    -sites to see/landmarks/touristy stuff
  • More messed up US foreign aid
  • Thailand's return to democracy (?)
  • Kenya and other elections
  • Israel-Palestine

    Hope you all had a merry Christmas — if you celebrated it. I look forward to a new year of blogging.

  • Saturday, 22 December 2007

    Does freedom mean happiness?

    Apparently not.

    Stumbling and Mumbling reports the findings of a new report on the correlation between freedom and happiness. Among the points made:

    1. We're bad at forecasting our future tastes. In particular, we fail to foresee that we'll adapt to our new circumstances.
    2. We have positive illusions. We think we're better than we are; we exaggerate our ability to control our environment; and we are too optimistic.
    3. We value hard, quantifiable, things like money more than less quantifiable but important things - which might explain why people prefer the drudgery of long hours in factories to rural life.
    4. Because we're loss averse, and value what we have, we stay in situations where we're unhappy, like frogs who stay in water getting gently hotter until they boil to death.

    Blind optimism and poor foresight seem to be two of the major reasons we are less happy when free, arguments such as the one above assert.

    Are we really unable to make choices that maximize our happiness when presented with a wide array of choices? What does this say about our favored system of government, democracy? And what about choice and the free market? Ultimately, are we free humans really too inept to make the right choices? I do wonder whether there are better options. Perhaps we glorify freedom and democracy a bit too much — especially in the area of happiness — but what realistic conditions of existence would be better?

    Wednesday, 19 December 2007

    Bush tells everyone to back off on CIA tape probe


    The Bush administration wants a federal court and congressional committees not to pursue investigations into the destruction of videotapes showing CIA interrogations of two al Qaeda suspects.

    It says the inquiries would interfere with an ongoing probe by the Justice Department in collaboration with the CIA.

    Defense attorneys for some terror suspects have asked U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy to look into whether the tapes' destruction violated a June order.

    The measure requires the government to preserve evidence and information regarding detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

    A bit disturbing, but not at all surprising. (See background.) The Justice Department has also dodged questions on the destruction of CIA tapes showing extreme interrogation — e.g. torture. The White House is strongly against all forms of oversight. One wonders what it has to hide...

    Tuesday, 18 December 2007

    Leaving for LA

    I will soon be departing for Los Angeles, California for a one week vacation. I should be able to catch up on blog posts there.

    Sunday, 16 December 2007

    Government transparancy enters the 21st century

    From Daily Kos:

    Americans had a hard time finding out where their hard-earned tax dollars went. Until 2 days ago.

    Now, thanks to, a site created by the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 by Tom Coburn and Barack Obama, anyone can discover the pockets of federal dollars. The site tracks contracts, grants, earmarks, and loans.

    Check out the website for some interesting data. The Kos diary found
    7 examples (contracts with KBR/Halliburton, Tom Delay's pork, no bid contracts with defense contractors and even the government of Canada, spending on guided missiles, maintenance of dams, and stranger things including flags, perfumes, and hand tools).
    and there is much more shady funding out there — in addition to a lot, and I mean a lot, of pork. Naturally, data sensitive to national security (or "national security") is not included on the site. (I sort-of blogged about the reality of a website to track government spending a bit over a year ago.)

    Thursday, 13 December 2007

    The other side of China

    While my China trip was great — the people friendly, the culture vibrant, the food amazing (I've lost weight since being home), and the sights breath-taking — there were three major things that bothered me. My three Ps: poverty, politics (i.e. lack of political freedom), and pollution. None of those are unique to China; of course all three are present in many other nations around the world. But if I had to pick three negatives about that amazing country of 1.3 billion, it would be those.

    The above is a picture of a large slum right near a portion of the Great Wall in Qinhuangdao. Bordering the sprawl was what looked like a huge factory, seen in the upper-left of the image.

    Beauty and poverty, side by side; one, something China is eager to show off, the other is something that, under this government, goes unspoken.

    Even in major cities like Beijing it was not uncommon to see a modern, expensive building right next to a shack. This is an adjustment I had to make from my American viewpoint that poverty and luxury are often walled off from each other — sometimes literally.

    More China posts coming soon. Sorry for the delay!

    Tuesday, 11 December 2007

    A different kind of interrogation...

    The CIA head will have to answer some tough questions about the destruction of tapes showing torturous interrogation.

    The CIA director will face two days of questioning by the House and Senate intelligence committees in a probe into the agency's destruction of videotapes showing interrogation techniques used on terror suspects, panel leaders said.

    CIA Director Michael Hayden is set to appear in closed-door hearings Tuesday before the Senate panel and Wednesday before the House committee.
    U.S. officials said the recordings were made as "an internal check" on the CIA's use of harsh interrogation techniques, thought to include waterboarding -- which involves restraining a suspect and pouring water on him to produce the sensation of drowning. The practice has been considered torture since the days of the Spanish Inquisition and was prosecuted as a war crime after World War II.

    Here's what I would ask Hayden if I were in a position to do so:
  • Did you know about these tapes?
  • If so, did you learn of their destruction?
  • Did you give the order for their destruction?
  • Has your agency committed acts of torture?
  • Do you consider waterboarding to be a form of torture?
  • Will your independent investigation look into evidence of torture?
  • Why do you think the destruction of these tapes is not a serious matter?
  • What warranted — or could warrant — this destruction?
  • To your knowledge, did the tapes portray anything illegal — that includes torture?
  • Who gave the order to destroy the tapes? Was it really a low-level official?
  • How could you — or whoever destroyed the tapes — be blind enough to believe that they might not be used in future legal cases?
  • Do you know the extent of the Justice Department's knowledge of the tapes?
  • In your mind, is torture ever warranted? This is especially pertinent to the actions and atmosphere of your agency as an ex-CIA agent recently stated that the US had used torture, and, in his view, it worked. The agent's statement on torture directly contradicts your assertion that the CIA does not torture.

    There are of course more questions; but many of the above will doubtless not be asked, or at least go unanswered, over the next couple of days.

  • Monday, 10 December 2007

    The argument for speed over law in the fight against terrorism

    Should speed trump legality in America's 'war on terror'?
    Just as Elaine Scarry stated that the assertion that speed is necessary for security — e.g. 'not having time' to go through the courts or get a formal declaration war, which has not been done in the US since WWII — has taken power away from the people and given it to an increasingly centralized government (see "Citizenship in Emergency"), which doesn't always do the best thing with its power, it is easy to make the case that Vice President Dick Cheney and allies, such as close advisor David Addington, used speed and the daunting enemy of terrorism as an excuse for the creation of the unitary executive, among other things. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the White House went as far as ignoring Congress, the courts, and even its own departments (e.g. Justice) to get the national security policy it wanted. The need to counter terrorism in a speedy manner has been used by the Bush administration to justify programs like unauthorized NSA domestic wiretapping (ignoring the FISA court), or interrogation tactics that ignore the ruling of Congress and international law.

    Defending the homeland has become a battle against existing expectations of legal due process, governmental checks and balances, and personal freedom. As former Justice Department official Jack Goldsmith told Frontline,

    [The Bush administration] decided in the fall of 2001 that speed was more important than these other values. I can't say in the fall of 2001 that they were wrong. I don't know exactly what they thought they were going to do in military commissions, but early on the imperatives to get things done trumped the normal processes of deliberation and consultation. In emergencies that often happens. I think as time went on, the circumvention of the normal processes of deliberation and consultation, maybe the balance tipped; that speed and quick decision making may have been able to go slower on that in exchange for more deliberation and consultation.

    Detention and torture of terrorism suspects and warrant-less wiretapping, two infamous tools of the 'war on terror', both of which have been direct results of an argument for speed in the fight against an often-invisible, unorthodox enemy. The courts were too slow and Congress' restrictions too inconvenient for 'aggressive interrogation' not to be used on terrorism suspects — the information needed to be gotten, and fast, from the terrorists, supporters say. FISA was bypassed in the case of the wiretapping; the program's defenders said that the FISA court was too slow, and thus, the White House had to act without the consent of neither the legislature nor the judiciary. Communications are moving too fast for judicial oversight; terrorist attacks need to be prevented, beats the drum of former Bush administration legal architect John Yoo. Thanks to Democratic timidity, the NSA wiretapping program was made legal over the summer.

    If America is to continue as a (semi-)functioning democracy, her citizens should not let their rights be subdued for the sake of speed or supposed security. Scarry wrote in her article that,
    The most frequent argument used to excuse the setting aside of the Constitution is that the pace of modern life simply does not allow time for obtaining the authorization of Congress, let alone the full citizenry.

    Over six years after the 11 September attacks, speed has become the excuse for countless questionable actions taken by the president and his staff. No longer should anyone fall for it.

    Sunday, 9 December 2007

    America's commitment problem

    Over this weekend, committal issues arose at the Bali climate change meeting in Indonesia.

    The United States will come up with its own plan to cut global-warming gases by mid-2008, and won't commit to mandatory caps at the U.N. climate conference here, the chief U.S. negotiator said Saturday.
    Watson's comments reaffirmed that the Bush administration views its own talks as the main event in discussions over climate change.

    This is not only unfortunate for the UN's emissions cap plan, but shows how the Bush administration thinks: 'our talks are more important than the international ones'. Environmental groups say that Washington hopes to sideline and subvert international summits just as it stood alone as the only developed nation not agreeing to Kyoto.

    Meanwhile the EU agreed to reduce emissions 20% by 2020...
    Midway through the two-week Bali conference, many of the more than 180 assembled nations were demanding such firm commitments from Washington as well, as the world talks about a framework to follow Kyoto when it expires in 2012.

    Wednesday, 5 December 2007

    And the presidential candidates I agree with most are...

    Today I quickly tried out the Washington Post's new interactive candidate quiz to see who my views match up with most — apparantly.

    For the Democratic version I got a score of 12 for Edwards, 15 for Clinton, 21 for Obama, 1 for Dodd, and, finally, 4 for Richardson, making my ideal candidate Obama. However many of the options are the same, only phrased with different rhetoric (Iraq was the worst). On some issues, such as affermative action and Iraq, none of the options suited my views. Overall, Democratic standpoints were populist, geared towards middle and working class as they warn of rich elite; there wasn't much moderation, or at least as much as I hoped for.

    For the Republican (gasp!) version of the quiz, Giuliani (Mr. 9/11) was my candidate, if only because of social issues. On controversial social issues (e.g. abortion), Giuliani is often the only half-decent choice — but then even he takes much of the weight off his back by doing what many other candidates do: say 'leave it to the states'. My specific results were 6 points for McCain, 8 for Ron Paul, 9 for Huckabee, 5 for Romney, 7 for Thompson, and 20 for Giuliani. There were no options I felt comfortable choosing on such issues as overall priorities, immigration, or wealth/taxes. Like the reality of the GOP presidential front, my results were more evenly spread (almost neck-and-neck) than for the Dems. Some candidates have OK views on climate change, but all focus too much on national security and on cutting 'big government' without recognizing any consequences of such cuts.

    Tuesday, 4 December 2007

    The hyped-up Iranian nuclear threat

    Not to rain on the hawks' parade, but apparently Iran stopped nuclear weapons production back in 2003.

    In a blow to Bush administration hawks demanding military strikes on Iran, a US intelligence report reveals that Tehran's secret nuclear weapons programme was shut down four years ago.

    The finding which has come as a surprise to friends and foes of the US concluded: "We do not know whether [Iran] currently intends to develop nuclear weapons." That is in sharp contrast to an intelligence report two years ago that stated Iran was "determined to develop nuclear weapons".

    US officials said the report showed that the Bush administration was right to conclude that Tehran intends to develop nuclear weapons in the long term. They also said that Iran was forced to end its secret programme because of financial sanctions and diplomacy backed up with the threat of force.
    Perhaps peaceful means such as diplomacy and sanctions (creating political pressures within a country) work after all.

    The report is sure to cause a stir within the hawkish White House, but the NIE did put in a few good words about the Bush administration, just to ease the strain of conflicting views.

    Here are some facts about the National Intelligence Estimate report.

    President Bush, after spending years raising the hype around Iran's nuclear program, found a way to twist the tension-relieving report into just another warning about the Iranian threat. Never mind the evidence his jousts with Iran over nukes have been relying on have been pulled out from under him; I am sure hawks are not too pleased either with the recent intelligence report.

    If anything it is good news that there is less pressure on all parties to make a move in the Iran nuke stalemate. But even though Iran may have stopped developing nuclear weapons for now, it's good to keep up the pressure, says a Guardian commentator. Iran may have suspended its program, but that doesn't mean it cannot, or will not, start it up again. What Bush predicted as WWIII with Iran seems very unlikely at this point.

    Monday, 3 December 2007

    Karl Rove gives campaign advice... to Barack Obama

    The former Bush White House strategy guru gives guidance to none other than Democrat Barack Obama. Subject: How to beat Hillary Clinton in the 2008 presidential race.

    Not that you have asked for advice, but here it is anyway: Iowa is your chance to best her. If you do not do it there, odds are you never will anywhere. You are way behind her in most national polls. The only way to change that is to beat her in Iowa so people around America take another look at you. You did a smart thing organising effectively in the early primary states. But you can take advantage of that only if you win Iowa and keep her from building an overwhelming sense of invincibility and inevitability.
    I do not like Karl Rove, but his political views from a strategic standpoint are interesting. Rove's directions to Obama are to-the-point, making the article actually a good read. (I hope the Obama campaign reads this.)

    Meanwhile, Clinton slams Obama in Iowa; Obama starts a website to log attacks by Clinton; and everyone — including the media — continues to miss the point when skirmishing over healthcare.

    Russia's undemocratic election

    So it looks like Putin has rigged — and won in — yet another Russian election. United Russia appears to have won the parliamentary election overwhelmingly, with turnout up to a suspiciously high 98-99% in some regions. There are many parallels being drawn between Putin's current authoritarian rule and the Soviet era. Come to think of it, Russia — like China — has never really been democratic.

    The New York Times:

    A day after his party secured an imposing victory in parliamentary elections, President Vladimir V. Putin today declared that the results were a “sign of trust” that had conferred new legitimacy on the government. But European monitors and opposition parties harshly criticized the balloting, saying that it had been neither free nor fair.

    The final tally showed that Mr. Putin’s party, United Russia, received 64.1 percent, giving it roughly 315 seats in the 450-seat Duma, or lower house of Parliament, which would be enough votes to amend the constitution. Far behind was the Communist Party, with 11.6 percent, or 57 seats. Two other parties allied with Mr. Putin — the Liberal Democrats and Just Russia — are also to receive seats.
    The end of the parliamentary campaign is expected to intensify discussion in Russia about who will be the next president. United Russia is holding a meeting in two weeks at which Mr. Putin might designate a candidate to run in the presidential election in March, and whoever he names will automatically be the front-runner.

    Mr. Putin cannot run again because of a constitutional term limits, though United Russia’s strong performance on Sunday renewed speculation that he might ask the Parliament to amend the constitution.

    If he does not, what he will do after March remains a mystery. He has said he wants to continue wielding influence over the nation, but how he will do that — and what his relationship will be with the next president — is unclear.

    Even as Mr. Putin was hailing the election, European monitors on Monday were taking a different view, contending that there had been “a clear abuse of power and a clear violation of international commitments and standards.”
    Luc van den Brande of Belgium, leader of the mission from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, said Mr. Putin had improperly used the Kremlin to help United Russia. “There are a lot of concerns about the evolution of democracy in the country,” Mr. van den Brande said.
    With the nationalistic Liberal Democratic Party clearing the 7 percent threshold to enter Parliament, one of its new leaders, Andrei K. Lugovoi, is expected to receive a seat.

    Mr. Lugovoi is a former K.G.B. officer accused in Britain in the fatal radiation poisoning of Alexander V. Litvinenko. Britain has sought Mr. Lugovoi’s extradition, but Russia has refused. Once he enters Parliament, Mr. Lugovoi would have immunity from prosecution in Russia.
    Overall in Russia, the turnout was about 63 percent.

    After the rise of Putin and his ex-KGB buddies, it is no surprise Lugovoy, the prime suspect of an important murder investigation (Litvinenko, the Russian dissident and ex-spy killed mysteriously last year in London), is going to win a parliamentary seat, thus making him immune to any investigation.

    Election results have been highly contested and the elections, like many of the happenings in modern day Russia, bare resemblance to those of the Soviet era.

    President Putin recently replaced the prime minister with a man people know little about, but is suspected as being just another puppet for the president, who cannot run again this coming election as that would exceed term limits. Even though Putin may make an effort for the presidency during 2012 election, the Russian political elite is already working on a successor to the man who has transformed 'new Russia' into a power worthy of respect — or fear — because of its energy resources.

    Chavez's 'revolution' hits a roadblock

    Voters said no to letting Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez rule as president-for-life, in a referendum held over the weekend.

    A humbled President Hugo Chavez was left reeling Monday after Venezuelan voters rejected a raft of constitutional reforms that would have allowed him to seek re-election indefinitely.

    His defeat in a referendum Sunday was a political earthquake in Venezuela, an unprecedented blow to Chavez's hopes of turning his oil-rich OPEC country into a lynchpin of Latin American socialism.

    "Now, Venezuelans, let's put our trust in our institutions," the 53-year-old leftist president said after reluctantly accepting results that showed his changes were rejected 51 percent to 49 -- the narrowest of margins.

    This is good news. Frankly I'm surprised that the vote turned out this way, considering Chavez's recent authoritarian impulses (masked as 'socialism' and helping the common man against enemy America). The "Socialist Revolution" has hit its first major roadblock for the Venezuelan leader, a close admirer of Cuba's Fidel Castro and friend of Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — all of whom do everything they can to inflame relations with the United States as much as possible. Anyone who still thinks Chavez is good for Venezuela should stop and think for a second; this statesman is nothing short of a dictatorial Castro wannabe.

    Saturday, 1 December 2007

    World AIDS Day

    Today is World AIDS Day.

    World AIDS Day, observed December 1 each year, is dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection. AIDS has killed more than 25 million people, with an estimated 38.6 million people living with HIV, making it one of the most destructive epidemics in recorded history. Despite recent, improved access to antiretroviral treatment and care in many regions of the world, the AIDS epidemic claimed an estimated 3.1 million (between 2.8 and 3.6 million) lives in 2005, of which more than half a million (570,000) were children.

    Even though AIDS fears have been slightly downgraded recently, the disease is still one of the most pressing global health issues. Over 33 million people worldwide live with HIV/AIDS, the majority (22.5m) in Sub-Saharan Africa. The country with the largest AIDS problem is South Africa, followed by Nigeria and India.

    More and more resources are being pledged in the fight against the AIDS pandemic, but some issues — such as poverty, lack of education, and the Catholic Church and other religious conservatives being opposed to safety measures such as condoms — continue to plague the anti-HIV/AIDS effort. Governments also need to stop denying they have an AIDS problem, like we've seen Russia, China, and many African governments do. We need to teach about, treat, and prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS; there must be a coordinated effort between local and national governments, NGOs, and religious and community authorities in this mission.

    Thursday, 29 November 2007

    Parisian protests finally cool down

    Violence has died down after several days of violent protest in France. How did it all begin?

    ...two teenagers, riding a mini-motorbike without crash helmets, were killed in a collision with a police car on November 25th. How it happened is unclear; a judicial inquiry has begun. But by nightfall, rioters were on the rampage. Over two nights of violence, they torched scores of cars and rubbish bins, a police station, a nursery school, a library, shops, a car dealer and a McDonald's. Other banlieues north of Paris and in Toulouse saw car-burnings. Some 130 policemen were wounded, several seriously.

    These latest French riots, reminiscent of the ones two years ago, bring up an important sociological question: Why do riots like this happen more in France than other places? France certainly is not the only developed nation with discontented poor and minority groups. France is a nation of protests and strikes. Recent example: the transport strike.

    Why don't these stands against authority (more the recent riots than the strike) happen to this extent in America or Britain, cultural differences aside? A partial answer — and only a partial answer — is that while the US and UK embrace a multicultural society, the French prefer a more homogenized culture. That does not answer the full question, but rather the underlying issues that provoked the flair-up between people and police. I guess more subtle differences explain why the French protest so much.

    The lack of organized protest to the Iraq war (as compared to, say, the anti-Vietnam war protests in America) is interesting. Civil protests are a good thing for democracies. They can relieve pent-up tensions, they let opinions be aired, showcase public opinion, and generally help get out the word of the people. But too much protesting can get out of hand, as can violent demonstrations like the ones so often seen in poor French suburbs.

    President Sarkozy took a different, if less tactful, route to describing the clashes than most. He
    risked inflaming tensions in Parisian suburbs by declaring violence this week was the result of a "thugocracy" of criminals, not social deprivation.

    Two years ago, then-Interior Minister Sarkozy was borderline-racist in his handling of the riots and subsequent comments. I don't know if he is handling these too much better as president, but at least the security response was adequate.

    Tuesday, 27 November 2007

    What can the Annapolis peace talks accomplish?

    There are hopes that Annapolis will pave the way for a 2008 peace treaty between Israelis and Palestinians.

    The US, Israeli and Palestinian leaders have voiced hope that a conference in Maryland could produce a starting point for serious peace negotiations.

    Bush said that peace was 'worth it to try' and that he 'work[s] the phones' in the peace process.

    This peace conference is the first of its kind since 2000. The US is actively taking a role in the talks, after sitting on the sidelines on many previous occasions.

    Israel has argued that initiatives that have isolated the Palestinian territories are needed for its security. The general pattern of Israel-Palestinian skirmishes is militant fires rocket into Israel or attacks army, Israel responds with raids which result with civilian deaths, more rocket fire and retaliations by Palestinians, and collective punishment upon already-angry Palestinians by Israel. This is how it has been for years.

    There are several firsts for this conference. Syria will be in attendance — a first for the dictatorial, terror-supporting-yet-marginalized (and under-utilized) nation. The country will, of course, be on the side of the Palestinians and is still pushing for the return of its Golan Heights from Israel. As a reminder, Syria is on President Bush's "axis of evil". This will also be the first big job for British PM turned peace negotiator Tony Blair. Lastly, Saudis and Israelis will be sitting at the same table — but Israeli diplomats beware: the Saudi representative has stated he will not shake hands with you.

    A total of 40 countries are attending the summit in Annapolis, Maryland. Hamas, which rules Gaza, will not be coming. In fact, it wouldn't see the point in such a meeting as it neither recognizes Israel nor diplomacy as a good way to achieve results.

    This is an odd, if possibly inappropriate, time for peace talks. Tensions are high over Iraq; the Bush administration faces hurdle after hurdle with shear incompetence and poor diplomacy. Perhaps Bush is making a last-ditch effort at setting the stage for the creation of a free and independent Palestinian state, an aspiration of his. Secretary of State Condi Rice may be vying for a good diplomatic spot in history, odd since she helped block former Sec. of State Colin Powell's attempts at a similar Mideast peace conference.

    CFR's Richard Haass argues that one will have to wait for the time to be right before a real drive for peace can be effectively made. But talking in the meantime can't hurt. It isn't good to be impervious to reality just for the sake of optimism.

    There is an overall mood of skepticism as talks get underway. The best and most realistic hope is that some progress can be made in bringing Israel and Palestine out of decades of conflict using diplomacy. Hopefully both sides will make valuable concessions, but considering Palestinian Authority President Abbas only has control of the West Bank, his options are even more limited. Seven years ago US President Clinton made a large effort at Mideast peace — it failed miserably. Even though I don't care at all for this White House or its historical legacy, I hope this summit's results aren't the same.

    Sunday, 25 November 2007

    Rudd beats Howard

    After over a decade of rule, John Howard is no longer the prime minister of Australia. Howard, noted for being a major Bush administration supporter on issues such as climate change, terrorism, and the Iraq war, conceded defeat to his opponent, Kevin Rudd, last night. Rudd's Labor Party looks like it will take a majority in parliament over Howard's Liberal-National Party. Rudd, who will probably be sworn in next week as PM, told of his center-left agenda following his win at the polls.

    Rudd looks like someone who will take action on the environment and Iraq, so this is good news, along with the fact John Howard wasn't a great person anyway (it's good to have as few tools of the White House as possible in major political positions).

    Friday, 23 November 2007

    Multiculturalism, 'affirmative action', and those darn hyphens

    Roger Kimball offers some thoughts on American multiculturalism and the semantics and policies surrounding 'affirmative action'.

    What is your favorite bit of Orwellian Newspeak? Near the top of my list is “affirmative action.” It’s such an emollient phrase, so redolent of cheeriness (savor the word “affirmative”) and practicality (“action”). What it really means is “discrimination on the basis of sex, skin color, or some other item in the contemporary lexicon of victimology.” But you can—almost—forget that while the pleasing phrase “affirmative action” echoes in your recollection.
    But what began as a Presidential Executive Order in 1961 directing government contractors to take “affirmative action” to assure that people be hired “without regard” for sex, race, creed, color, etc., has resulted in the creation of vast bureaucracies dedicated to discovering, hiring, and advancing people chiefly on the basis of those qualities. White is black, freedom is slavery, “without regard” comes to mean “with regard for nothing else.”

    You may not wholly agree with Kimball — I don't — but his argument is interesting. I oppose division by skin color or ethnicity and think that a level playing-field is not one of reverse, or 'positive', racism. Then again I see nothing wrong with recognizing one's heritage and I am for a liberal immigration policy. Sometimes it's important to read writing that contrasts with your own views, to help you better understand and develop them.

    To Kimball, the hyphen (e.g. African - American) represents the evil of multiculturalism's anti-patriotic sentiment.
    Multiculturalism and “affirmative action” are allies in the assault on the institution of American identity.

    His liberal-bashing gets a bit old towards the end of the essay as he laments the "rainbow" developed under American multiculturalism, and warns of non-homogeneous bureaucracy like the European Union. The xenophobia card is played when Kimball expresses his distaste for non-English languages in a largely English-speaking country.
    Every time you call directory assistance or some large corporation and are told “Press One for English” and “Para español oprime el numero dos” it is another small setback for American identity.

    How is the sensible offering of another lingual option on a call menu a foe of "American identity"? Other countries print signs in a variety of languages to make, say, driving easier (not that the translations are always fantastic, as I found out in China). When you're in a country whose inhabitants speak the same language — for the most part — it makes sense to learn enough of that language to get by. However it is also only logical for that country to accommodate to people more familiar with another language, especially when they are present in large numbers. There is room for more than one language in the United States, and those afraid of Spanish becoming the de facto language should know their fears are unfounded anyway.

    Whether you're a 'terrorist by birth' or a 'liberal baby' bawling about how bad it is to lose your heritage,* there are always people hoping to generate skepticism of multicultural coexistence to enforce their point: that America is losing its identity.

    So again we wonder what it truly means to be American in a country known for its status as a melting pot. If the US removes multiculturalism from its societal fabric, racial/ethnic tensions could skyrocket as the people of an entire nation find their culture and individual identities forcibly homogenized; those who carry on their own way will be outcasts. I would like to see Kimball's idea for a monocultural society — no doubt it would be 'vanilla'.

    * — Note: Those phrases are used to illustrate the language of the right-wing viewpoint I oppose. Of course someone cannot be born a terrorist, which is why we should not stereotype and ignore the origins of terrorism. Extreme fear has fueled racism; racism has fueled anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment. The 'liberal baby' part is there because of the aforementioned liberal-bashing by multiculturalism opponents like Kimball.

    Thursday, 22 November 2007

    Pakistan's state of mayhem

    So President Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency on 3 November, justifying the need to secure the state for his blatant repression of anything free in Pakistan (security over freedom). One might even call this a second coup. Needless to say, any deal with Benazir Bhutto is off the table. Her period of house arrest has ended, but other political opponents to Musharraf and human rights proponents have been jailed.

    Meanwhile the United States government has been protecting Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. Bad idea for a country on the brink of total instability, teeming with radical Islamic fundamentalists to have an unsecured collection of nuclear weapons, so I see the need for the US to do so. The US has urged Pakistan's leader to end his rule of martial law.

    A less helpful foreign policy move has been America's friendly position with Gen. Musharraf in the first place.

    Today Pakistan was again rightfully suspended from the Commonwealth.

    I hope everyone who celebrates Thanksgiving had a nice one!

    Tuesday, 20 November 2007

    The battle over gun control goes to the Supreme Court

    It's been 68 years since the High Court ruled on gun rights in America. The case over Washington, DC's handgun ban will break the court's silence on the Second Amendment...

    The Supreme Court announced today that it will decide whether the District of Columbia's ban on handguns violates the Constitution, a choice that will put the justices at the center of the controversy over the meaning of the Second Amendment for the first time in nearly 70 years.

    The court's decision could have broad implications for gun-control measures locally and across the country and will raise a hotly contested political issue just in time for the 2008 elections.

    The court will likely hear the case in March, with a decision coming before justices adjourn at the end of June.

    For years, legal scholars, historians and grammarians have debated the meaning of the amendment because of its enigmatic wording and odd punctuation:

    "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

    Gun rights proponents say the words guarantee the right of an individual to possess firearms. Gun-control supporters say it conveys only a civic or "collective" right to own guns as part of service in an organized military organization.

    Considering the Supreme Court is majority-conservative, it will probably decide in favor of the gun advocates on this politically charged issue. According to a variety of polls, a majority of Americans — albeit a slim majority — are in favor of stricter regulation of firearms, with roughly one-third favoring the status quo. The implications of a ruling are vast: between 30% and 40% of Americans own guns (see aforelinked polls), and handgun deaths are higher in the United States than many other nations. Personally, I am for gun control, for reasons outlined in this post.

    Read more about the case at ScotusWiki.

    Monday, 19 November 2007

    Is education a measure for world power?

    Considering post-industrial economic might is so influential in our globalized world, education is more important now than ever before (see this post). China, already a rising industrial power, is looking to become the next world leader in services that require an educated workforce — as are many other emerging and developed nations.

    What defines a global "superpower"? In the past, it was the size of national armies or possession of nuclear weapons.

    But now there is a more important (and peaceful) benchmark: the size and prestige of university systems.

    And, while the US is still the global higher education "superpower", China will soon be knocking it off top spot if current trends continue.
    China is now the largest higher education system in the world: it awards more university degrees than the US and India combined.

    Hopefully as China's population becomes educated they will make a further push towards democracy. Under free conditions, education will surely flourish even more as more people are given the opportunity to study and the system becomes less corrupt and restricted, hopefully with available aid from the government.

    Sunday, 18 November 2007

    New global climate warnings


    United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has challenged governments to act on the findings of a major new report on climate change.

    That aforementioned report is the fourth major report the IPCC has released on global warming.

    The panel suggests societies need to adapt to future impacts, as well as curbing emissions.

    Without extra measures, carbon dioxide emissions will continue to rise; they are already growing faster than a decade ago, partly because of increasing use of coal.

    The IPCC's economic analyses say that trend can be reversed at reasonable cost. Indeed, it says, there is "much evidence that mitigation actions can result in near-term co-benefits (e.g. improved health due to reduced air pollution)" that may offset costs.

    The panel's scientists say the reversal needs to come within a decade or so if the worst effects of global warming are to be avoided.

    Recently there have been some new initiatives like CO2 trading and emissions caps, but the majority have either been weakened by politicians and industry, or not widely followed.

    In early December, new climate change talks will begin in Bali. Hopefully America will take a more progressive and cooperative stance than it has in the past. Now that many developed governments seem to have a mandate by their general populations and the scientific community to get to work, there is no excuse in backtracking on such an important environmental, humanitarian, and, ultimately, economic issue as global warming.

    Update: See here for more on cap-and-trade.

    Friday, 16 November 2007

    I'm back!

    Visiting China was a very eye-opening experience, but it's good to be back home. I'll post more about what I found China's culture and politics to be like soon; 16 hour plane rides don't exactly aid the blog post brainstorming and writing process. As much as I loved China, I am glad to now be back in a country where I can speak my mind — for the most part — and access whatever news websites I want to (i.e. the US).

    Sunday, 4 November 2007

    Greetings from China!

    So it turns out I am able to access the web... (see post)

    I arrived in China late last night. I am currently in Qinghuandao and the time here is 3:37 PM. While the culture differences are for the most part dramatic, many things are the same; I think a lot of people have misconseptions about this vast nation. Wherever one goes in the cities, one observes growth and development.

    Hopefully I will be able to post more politically-relevant content later, although I don't know when I will be able to use the computer next. Search engines and news websites are hard to fully access due to government censorship; it's a wonder Blogger works!

    Anyway, that's enough for now.

    Oh, and Musharraf has worsened his dictatorial hold on Pakistan.

    Friday, 2 November 2007

    Two week hiatus!

    My trip to China
    Today, Friday, I leave for my two week long trip to the People's Republic of China. I cannot assure any posts until the 16th of November. I don't know whether I will have the time or the internet access to blog while I am in China. (Check back a couple times during the later part of the trip and I may have some posts up courtesy of Beijing's internet cafes.)

    My visit comes as the country is experiencing extreme economic growth, but also continuing practices that lead to environmental degradation and the violation of human rights and political freedoms. In addition China will be hosting the Olympics next summer.

    At first I will be in the coastal city of Qinhuangdao; then ancient capital Xi'an to see the Terracotta Army and climb a mountain; then current capital Beijing to do and see a number of things. I'll post some of my experiences — including photos and analysis of the country's change and what I observed — after the trip.

    Zai jian (再见) for now!

    Wednesday, 31 October 2007


    Over a million people were evacuated in Southern California last week, but, as this Economist article wisely says, there are simple, 'low-tech' solutions to this mess. Plus, it's a wonder people act so surprised these fires ever happen, considering they are

    an integral part of nature, the mechanism by which much of vegetation regenerates itself.
    (Remember 2003?) Even the arsons are exaggerated due to the overabundance of tinder.

    How do you think Mexico manages their fires? Prescribed burning to prevent massive wildfires (the other 'fire paradox'), along with some common sense measures. Alas, as the article concludes,
    everyone seems more concerned about their roses than their roofs.

    Sidenote: the sunny state isn't even on the list of worst forest fire areas.

    Tuesday, 30 October 2007

    Turkish incursion in Iraq

    Threats abound as Turkey continues its assault against the Kurdish rebel group, the PKK, based in the relatively stable Kurdish area of Iraq.

    Turkey can use different tools for fighting the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, including diplomacy, economic and military means as a last resort, [Turkish Foreign Minister] Babacan told reporters. ``All options are on the table.''
    Babacan called for ``friends' support'' against the PKK, a separatist group, designated terrorists by the U.S. and the European Union, fighting Turkey from bases in northern Iraq.

    The US cautioned the Turks not to meddle in Iraq's affairs; but Turkey stated it was only defending itself after recent — and long-running — terrorist attacks by the PKK. Iran has used this incident to play the 'good guy' card, championing diplomacy and its neighbor's right to security, while making America look all the more foolish for telling Turkey it cannot fight its own 'war on terror'. Opinions remained mixed. Turkey says that fighting is the only option left — which tells us a lot about the (failure of) diplomacy in matters relating to Iraq, and not just with America's foes (Turkey is an ally).

    Monday, 29 October 2007

    Bush warns of WWIII with Iran

    And he calls Al Gore an alarmist?

    New York Times:

    Mohamed ElBaradei, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, urged the Bush administration on Sunday to soften its statements about Iran while maintaining diplomatic pressure to halt the nuclear enrichment that could lead to the production of a nuclear weapon.

    But American lawmakers appearing on Sunday television talk programs were divided on whether efforts to influence Iran had been helped or hindered by the administration’s tough talk.

    “We cannot add fuel to the fire,” Dr. ElBaradei said on “Late Edition” on CNN. “I would hope we would stop spinning and hyping the Iranian issue.” He also expressed frustration about the Israeli bombing in September of a building in Syria that analysts say may have contained the beginnings of a North Korean-designed nuclear reactor.

    “To bomb first and ask questions later,” he said, was decidedly unhelpful.

    In an Oct. 17 news conference, Mr. Bush said President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran had “announced that he wants to destroy Israel,” referring to Mr. Ahmadinejad’s comments that Israel “will disappear soon.” Mr. Bush also said he had “told people that if you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.”

    World War III? Bush's rhetoric was extreme enough before, but this is going way too far. Equating the 'Axis of Evil' to the WWII 'Axis' may be a next step for the Bush administration, drawing more parallels between the fake 'war on terror' and the 'Great War', the Second World War. Russia and Iran both pose potential threats, but neither is close to harming America enough to beat the war drum for. Some people, especially Republicans, are beating the same drum as the president, and that is worrying. You'd think they would have learned their lesson in the years of needless war in Iraq since 2003.

    Baradei is right: the hype echoing from the White House and elsewhere can only make things worse. As far as scaring Iran into submission, the US has pursued some form of that policy for years, and look how it has worked out. People are as riled against the United States as ever, and an attack against Iran would surely not only be disastrous, but counterproductive. As for Russia, Putin is primarily posturing — although Moscow's partnership with Tehran is worrying.

    I don't know about you all, I do not want another war waged against a nation on false premises and neoconservative spin.

    Sunday, 28 October 2007

    The latest 'crime against humanity': biofuels

    Last week, a UN official declared that biofuels result in worse effects than their fossil fuel counterparts.

    The UN special rapporteur on the right to food, Jean Ziegler, said he feared biofuels would bring more hunger.

    The growth in the production of biofuels has helped to push the price of some crops to record levels.

    Mr Ziegler's remarks, made at the UN headquarters in New York, are clearly designed to grab attention.

    He complained of an ill-conceived dash to convert foodstuffs such as maize and sugar into fuel, which created a recipe for disaster.

    Food price rises

    It was, he said, a crime against humanity to divert arable land to the production of crops which are then burned for fuel.

    He called for a five-year ban on the practice.

    Within that time, according to Mr Ziegler, technological advances would enable the use of agricultural waste, such as corn cobs and banana leaves, rather than crops themselves to produce fuel.

    As the world's population grows, and nations develop at record rates, more food and energy is needed. Sadly, many people are too short-sited to see the affects of the use of ethanol and the over-use of other energy sources as counterproductive and harmful. I hope that the ethanol bandwagon crashes soon, because at least here in the United States we are already seeing the negative economic effects of corn biofuels. Bio-waste fuels make far more sense.

    Is waiting five years too much to ask? Or is our thirst for energy too great? We still have plenty of oil left, and currently using corn ethanol takes more energy to create than it releases, and is thus neither environmental nor economical. Sadly the politicians in capitols like Washington are all-too-eager to appease the agricultural special interests.

    Darfur peace talks, if only...

    Peace talks for Sudan's genocide-ravaged Darfur region opened on Saturday in Libya — home to leader Colonel Qaddafi, the dictatorial, pan-African, 'we have no right to intervene in their business'-ist. The Sudanese government pretended that they were the good guy by declaring a ceasefire; many key rebel groups are boycotting the meeting. The government has been both directly and indirectly supporting and encouraging ethnic cleansing in Darfur, while hampering humanitarian efforts there.

    A peace deal is vital to the success of UN forces arriving in the region later this year.

    Friday, 26 October 2007

    Sick planet: the Geo-4 report

    Recently, the United Nations released its major Global Environmental Outlook report.

    As this BBC News article explains,

    Geo-4 covers the whole range of environmental issues, and the links between them.

    In these climate-obsessed times, it is often forgotten that issues like forestry, fresh water supplies, agriculture, biodiversity, and the spread of desert land all connect to each other and to climate change.

    In the language of James Lovelock's Gaia theory, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that have punctuated 2007 allowed us to take the planet's temperature; Geo-4 shows us what is going on in the blood supply, the lymph system, the intestines and the immune defences.

    Third, it explores the links between social trends and environmental decline in a way that is not often done. Which other body, for example, asks whether the divergence we are seeing in the wealth of the richest and the poorest is good or bad for the environment?

    This is a major report that should be brought to the attention of the public. Scientific evidence of our planet's declining state is not some alarmist liberal conspiracy, but a fact-supported plea for action. Often the ones who could take action most easily and effectively are some of the world's most affluent, and thus powerful, people, organizations, and nations, not to mention the big polluters and those who value short-term economic gain over long-term environmental livelihood (which greatly affects economic well-being too, not to mention mere human lives). Let's not value money over the planet that sustains — barely, at this point — our actions.

    I hope to talk soon about the GEO report, as I skim it for eco-friendly living ideas (I've decided to move it from Mondays to Fridays). In the environmental complexities of today's world, it's good to look at the big picture.

    Wednesday, 24 October 2007

    It's UN Day!

    Today — 24 October — is the anniversary of the founding of the United Nations in 1945, UN Day.

    The UN is an important actor in international affairs. While it has plenty of faults — e.g. corruption, ineffectiveness because of it's too tough not tough enough, lack of agreement among member nations and support from the world's peoples, lack of scope in missions — the United Nations has overall made the world a better and safer place.

    Climate change will be its biggest, truly global challenge yet, spanning its political, humanitarian, and scientific (policy) realms. Capturing the hearts and minds of the public while managing bickering nations are among other major, continuing challenges. The organization is dependent on its members. America especially must not lose hope in the organization and it, along with other world nations, should increase funding, which the UN is short of.

    Happy 62, UN, hopefully the state of the world will improve in the years to come.

    Tuesday, 23 October 2007

    A look at 'Islamofascism'

    In a recent Slate article, Christopher Hitchens tried his hardest to defend what has so far only served as a term for political — not objective or scholarly — use: 'Islamofascism', a mix of Islam, which some people fear, and fascism, which virtually everyone dislikes (I'd like to think so, at least). The word is a neologism, a pejorative term has taken the political right by storm.

    Let's just look at definitions for a minute; maybe the dictionary can help sort this out. The OED defines "Islam" as:

    noun 1 the monotheistic religion of the Muslims, regarded by them to have been revealed through Muhammad as the Prophet of Allah. 2 the Muslim world.

    and "fascism" as:
    noun 1 an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government. 2 extreme right-wing, authoritarian, or intolerant views or practice.

    Adolph Hitler was a fascist; he advocated a specific system of government; Osama Bin Laden leans towards a theocracy following a twisted version of Islam (his terrorist orginization, Al Qaeda, and its followers are but fractured cells of fear- and hate-fueled Muslims who use terrorism to accomplish political and (pseudo-)religious means). But both figures inspire fear and hatred, making 'Islamofascism'. It is more than a stretch to call Al Qaeda fascist. Even the semi-theocracy of Iran probably couldn't be considered fascist.

    Fascism is a centralized, authoritarian system of government; fascists are those who advocate such a government. So how are Osama and his crazed followers fascist? 'Islamofacism' is clearly not the right term to describe these terrorists. As despicable as they are, as a whole, the terrorists we are talking about are neither advocating what could be considered fascist governance nor are part of such a government.

    The person who claims to have first used the word, Stephen Schwartz, wrote in the Weekly Standard, a conservative American publication, professing to the word's lack of objectivity while explaining it in his terms. Schwartz put the meaning of 'Islamofascism' in clear terms:
    In my analysis, as originally put in print directly after the horror of September 11, 2001, Islamofascism refers to use of the faith of Islam as a cover for totalitarian ideology.

    Why not just use Islamic extremism, or a more descriptive and accurate term than 'Islamofascism'? Because 'Islamofascism' (yes I will continue to put it in inverted quotes) is yet another political buzzword in the 'war on terror's lingual campaign towards spin supremacy.

    There always has to be a 'war on' something. War is an emotionally-evocative and politically-charged word, as is terrorism (see definitions). 'Islamofascism' is yet another way to tie Islamic extremism to the so-called war on terror; it's just another lingual technique with political motives that advocates use to slant the debate (see surge), or as Jack Shafer, also writing in Slate, calls it, 'unspeak'.

    US President Bush has used the word to describe Muslim terrorists, which inflamed religious sentiment in areas of the world that often need no more inflammation — i.e. the word was perceived as advocating a 'war on Islam', another reason against its use. In addition, calling the extremists a "fundamentalist empire" as Bush did is entirely misleading. There is no one enemy, despite what the White House would want us to believe. The conservative historian Niall Ferguson has denounced the term as "misleading" because it is meant to connect the "Great War" of WWII with the non-war of the 'war on terrorism'; it is an emotional, feel-good idiom that also serves for political use.

    Monday, 22 October 2007

    Rise and fall of the European far right

    As Latin America has largely taken a turn to the left recently, Europe's right-wing has been on the rise, fueled in part by xenophobia and fear of the "Islomofascism" — a politically-charged, misleading, and ambiguous term which I personally avoid — descending upon their continent.

    Good and bad political news came out of Europe over the past few days. The good is that Poland's far-right, nationalist Kaczynski brothers were defeated in the Polish polls by the center-right Civic Platform party. These rightists exploited fears of the EU among other things.

    Meanwhile, the racist (xenophobic at the least), far-right Swiss People's Party (SVP) won a plurality in a parliamentary election. Running on an anti-foreigner platform...

    the populist campaign was dominated by the single issue of immigration.

    His party's election posters featured three white sheep standing on a red and white Swiss national flag kicking a black sheep out of the country. Alongside ran the slogan "More Security!"

    How could these maniacs be in control of one-third of Switzerland's federal legislature? Still wondering whether they're anti-everyone-but-white-native-Swiss-people?
    The party also wants to enforce a ban on the building of minarets.

    Interestingly enough, over one in five Swiss people are foreigners, making this electoral victory even more sad.

    Saturday, 20 October 2007

    Iran's diplomatic voice of moderation silenced

    One semi-moderate hardliner (Larijani) is dismissed as another ultra-hardliner (Pres. Ahmadinejad) stands

    Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, viewed by the West as a moderating influence in Tehran, resigned before crucial talks with Europe this week over Iran’s nuclear program, signaling that officials here may have closed the door to any possible negotiated settlement in its standoff with the West.

    How will the resignation of Larijani affect the already-deadlocked negotiations between Iran and the West over its 'peaceful' — which UN Security Council veto-welder Russia troublingly believes it is — nuclear program. Will the Islamic state become more radical — and rogue?

    A BBC News reader summed this all up best: "The Iranian president obviously feel[s] he holds the all the aces". When — if ever — will the ayatollah step in to help relieve the massive tension between Iran and the international community, as he has before (e.g. with the recent temporary release of a jailed scholar)? Has the tipping point for US-Iran relations come to pass, meaning a potentially successful one-on-one meeting is not a possibility whatsoever? (Stubbornness on both sides is to blame.)

    Iran has been offered a huge amount of incentives by American and European diplomats; it has played games and refused to take the rational action. Ahmadinejad is probbaly just waiting out for a sweeter deal, as diplomacy is currently at a virtual standstill, similar to the one worked out with North Korea. But whereas N Korea had only nukes, Iran, which is still in the early stages of nuclear development, has plenty of something everyone wants: oil.

    What if the Nazis had won WWII?

    Oftentimes when reading about World War II, I ask myself, 'What if Hitler would have successfully conquered Europe?' This map and explanation provide an answer — one of many — to that fascinating 'what if?'.

    Friday, 19 October 2007

    Eco-friendly living tip: cease the beef

    Eight years ago, general science magazine New Scientist said this:

    IT IS hard to measure the methane in a cow's farts. But Dieter Ehhalt has made an estimate. It is hardly an easy task to count how many cattle there are in the world. But the West German chemist has tried to do that too. Ehhalt's answers are, respectively, 200 grams per day and 1300 million. Together, they suggest that the world's cattle emit into the atmosphere approaching 100 million tonnes of methane each year, enough to warm up the planet.

    Today global warming is all-the-more pressing. CO2 may be the prime culprit in the eyes of environmental do-gooders, but methane is also a factor in the human-encouraged changing in our planet's climate. It is amazing to look back nearly a decade ago and see that nobody but 'environmentalist nuts' — as they are so often stereotyped in mainstream culture — heeded the warnings of scientists; now the general public is becoming more aware. Still, we see some hardly scientific denials every now and then, and many are still not even pretending to take action, but the thought of the precious polar bear dying out and the Manhattan of 2020 being a tourist spot for scuba divers has changed some minds. Where am I going with this? Well the topic of that old news article is the "Earth-friendly living tip of the week", albeit a few days late — methane, in specific the methane emitted from cows.

    Why red meat isn't bad just for your heart...
    Cows not only require a huge amount of food and water, considering especially how much food they provide, but also produce large amounts of methane, a key and harmful greenhouse gas that plays a role in global warming. Thus beef consumption is far from a good thing for the Earth.

    As was written in the Christian Science Monitor,
    American meat eaters are responsible for 1.5 more tons of carbon dioxide per person than vegetarians every year. ... Livestock are responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions as measured in carbon dioxide equivalent, reports the FAO. This includes 9 percent of all CO2 emissions, 37 percent of methane, and 65 percent of nitrous oxide. Altogether, that's more than the emissions caused by transportation.

    Beef is a big part of the livestock problem; a study earlier this year reported that
    A kilogram of beef is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution than driving for 3 hours while leaving all the lights on back home.

    It can seem daunting that the steak you so enjoy is just as bad for the planet as a long drive in a SUV or 4X4, but it's about true. I'm one of those people who would love to be a vegetarian but just loves meat too much to kick the habit. However, I have lowered my beef intake, especially recently. This is more of a sacrifice than shutting off your computer or television, or changing a few light-bulbs; nonetheless it's something to consider. Lowering beef consumption is better for both health and environment, it seems.

    Note: Usually I do the Earth-friendly living tip of the week on Mondays. Since this week has been a bit hectic, it's being done today instead.

    Wednesday, 17 October 2007


    New posts coming later this week.

    I leave for China on 2 November.

    More soon...

    Monday, 15 October 2007

    Is now the time for a Palestinian state?

    Even as political tensions rise and the situation on the ground worsens, America seems to (finally) be pushing for an independent Palestinian state, if just in foreign policy rhetoric.

    "Frankly it is time for the establishment of a Palestinian state," Ms Rice told reporters in a news conference which she held with the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

    One unique thing about the Bush administration is that it has always expressed a wish for a Palestinian state, something even the Clinton-led White House wasn't willing to do in public. Rice's wish for a sovereign state conflicts with the very slanted policy the US has held in favor of Israel, especially under President Bush.

    Israel has attacked Syria; Hamas has offered to at least try to kiss and half-heartedly make up with its rival Fatah — news, both good and bad, has been coming out of this area of the Middle East. In the midst of all of it, I am frankly surprised to hear such a bold, but not bad, statement from the American secretary of state.

    Rice hopes for a diplomatic meeting between Israeli and Palestinian leaders on American turf. I don't know what to make of that idea. On one hand, there is a desperate need for a peace settlement that results from concessions from both sides. One the other hand, assuming the proposed talks fail is this just an excuse for the US to say, 'Well, we gave it a try'? Will important Palestinian factions be kept out of the meeting, thus further alienating many and helping the radicals? I neither want to be too optimistic nor too pessimistic. United States isn't the only external party in this diplomatic picture: the Quartet, of which it is a member, has acted incorrectly at the wrong times — where is it when it's most needed and why can countries not be more flexible?

    This summer the major unresolved issue (besides security) that prevented any progress between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators was refugees; now it looks like land rights in Jerusalem, a holy city to both Muslims and Jews, is a central focus.

    It is believable that the White House wants a Palestinian state; I do not doubt that their intentions are good. But after years of poor policy under this president and others, I do not see what can change at this point as long as America has a role in the change. It is time for a Palestinian state; but shouldn't stability and agreement on the basic issues come first?

    Sunday, 14 October 2007

    Blog Action Day + Bush's inept global warming policy

    Today is Blog Action Day, a day for bloggers to focus on the pressing issue of the environment.

    Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day

    Tomorrow, as usual, I will do an "Earth-friendly living tip of the week"; but today I will focus on the political, as opposed to practical, side of global warming...

    Mr. President, define 'flexible'
    At his own climate change meeting a couple of weeks ago, President Bush stated a vague plan that is far from a compromise with even the moderates on the global warming issue. The American president's biggest step to meeting in the middle with the rational people who believe in scientific data instead of what lobbyists and pastors tell them — and this should be an indicator of not only how stubborn this man and his administration are, but how blind their policy is — was speaking of 'flexible' (i.e. industry-written) greenhouse gas targets, which mean nothing. Bush is sticking with White House policy of denying global warming and the human impact on the earth, and occasionally making a side-comment on how America shouldn't have to save the world if no one else will. (Perhaps the last thing he wanted to do was start a scientific debate against him, but that's what happened.)

    Mr Bush stressed that combating climate change should not damage the economy.

    And he again hinted that the US would not commit itself to mandatory CO2 cuts.

    A few points on President George Bush's climate change policy:
  • Bush doesn't to justice to the climate change issue;
  • He pussyfoots the important issue of global greenhouse gas caps;
  • He is trying to appear somewhat eco-friendly to an increasingly aware American and global audience

    Bush does know that global warming will hurt the economy more in the long run than can even be imagined now, right? The costs will be much greater the longer America and the world wait to take action. It's amazing, but not altogether surprising, that such a person of power can value money, an artificial human creation, over nature, a target of man's massive destructive powers.

    Pundits have asked if Bush's latest environmental moves are stunts or real, albeit very small, progress; for now I'm erring on the side of the former.

  • Saturday, 13 October 2007

    Dreary Burmese days

    China may have finally joined much of the world in condemning Burma's brutal regime for its recent actions, but the move is too little, too late. Is most hope already lost for the pro-democracy movement in the nation also known as Myanmar?

    Following protests by monks and others, the military government jailed many religious figures and participants in the uprising. Now, nearly all major democracy activists have been arrested. Virtually no progress has been made in the area of human rights.

    Sadly, it seems that mass protests don't always spark revolution, or even minor political change; but, if the protests are large enough, they do alert the world to the cause of the protesters. Protests can also be countered by pro-government rallies — there was a government-created rally held earlier today, in which tens of thousands participated.

    Meanwhile, on the diplomatic front, the special UN envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, who visited Burma after protests heated up in September, is due to visit the country later this year. The nation's rich natural resources, especially its energy deposits, has allowed it to escape much pressure from international behemoths like China and India. The ASEAN bloc has been overly lax in its condemnation of the military junta, just as south African nations haven't put enough pressure on the deplorable state of Zimbabwe. The least that can be done internationally is ceasing the selling of arms to the nation.

    Friday, 12 October 2007

    An editorial cartoon is worth an entire blog post!

    This editorial cartoon about sums up my feelings on the congressional Democrats' amazing lack of guts and logic the case of their rolling over for the Bush administration and (mostly) agreeing with its horrendous NSA domestic wiretapping program.

    Thursday, 11 October 2007

    Some interesting 'Weekly Review' extracts

    One of my favorite news features is Harper's Weekly Review...

    In Iowa, Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson continued to attest to the existence of WMDs in Iraq. ... Thompson ended his speech
    by asking for applause.

    And this is one of the frontrunners? Number one, nobody knows much about him (which is partially why he is so popular); number two his policies are not only week, but, as even conservative columnist David Brooks admitted, his speeches are really, really boring. I guess the MSM missed the above tidbit (?).

    In England, American gray squirrels were bullying diminutive, mild-mannered indigenous red squirrels.

    How telling.

    American pastors were luring teenage boys to church by installing large-screen game consoles equipped for group sessions of the video game "Halo." Responding to concerns that the explicit and realistic violence in "Halo" is at odds with Christian values, Gregg Barbour, a youth minister in Colorado, stated, "We want to make it hard for teenagers to go to hell."

    I don't exactly understand their reasoning, which, I guess, speaks to their level of faith.

    The Middlebury Institute, a liberal advocacy group opposing the Iraq War, and the League of the South, which displays a Confederate battle flag on its banner, met in Tennessee to discuss their shared goal of secession from the Union.

    Don't you love it when opposite sides come together because of a common cause?

    I regret the lack of posts these past couple of days; I blame the fantastic band Radiohead for releasing such an addictive album as In Rainbows (review and musical recap coming soon).

    Tuesday, 9 October 2007

    Another letdown for civil liberties... thanks to the Democrats?

    So they fight a largely (purely for some) symbolic, somewhat shallow battle over Iraq, but don't bother to stand up to the Bush administration when American civil liberties are threatened? Whose side are the Democrats on? Dems still seem to be worried more about appearing 'soft' on fighting terror than concerns of basic American freedoms.

    Only if one views the 'war on terrorism' as a real war that is serious enough that the US's fighting in it is allowed to chip away at the bedrock of American liberty (i.e. the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution) can one truly not see how troubling the wiretapping expansion promoted by both political parties is.

    From today's New York Times:

    Two months after insisting that they would roll back broad eavesdropping powers won by the Bush administration, Democrats in Congress appear ready to make concessions that could extend some crucial powers given to the National Security Agency.

    Administration officials say they are confident they will win approval of the broadened authority that they secured temporarily in August as Congress rushed toward recess. Some Democratic officials concede that they may not come up with enough votes to stop approval.

    As the debate over the eavesdropping powers of the National Security Agency begins anew this week, the emerging measures reflect the reality confronting the Democrats.

    Although willing to oppose the White House on the Iraq war, they remain nervous that they will be called soft on terrorism if they insist on strict curbs on gathering intelligence.

    A Democratic bill to be proposed on Tuesday in the House would maintain for several years the type of broad, blanket authority for N.S.A. eavesdropping that the administration secured in August for six months.

    Because of their fear of being called wimps in the 'war on terrorism', the Democrats are once again caving into supporting a horrible Bush administration program (this same thing happened last summer too with the approval of the then-illegal White House NSA spying program). Great job guys; you've really served the people who gave you the majority in both houses of Congress well!

    It's time for oversight over the Bush administration; it's time for government contractors in Iraq as well as at home to admit and rectify their misdeeds; it's time for the US to admit errors and mistakes too; it's time for the transparency a working liberal democracy requires to shine through this White House, this Congress, and the courts. If only one of the two major political parties would fight for what the United States needs.

    Monday, 8 October 2007

    Earth-friendly living tip of the week: no standby

    Today I'm starting a new, regular In Perspective feature: weekly Earth-friendly living tips. Having already talked about CFL (swirly florescent) light bulbs, this week I will focus on turning off appliances.

    When you turn of your television, for example, chances are it is not actually turning off. Because of TV components, it takes a few seconds for the tube to power up. So manufactures figured out a way to make TVs (etc.) turn on faster: standby. When your television is on standby, it is still using up a decent about of energy — without being used. It is best to have all large or major appliances — computers, TVs, etc. — hooked up to a power strip.

    What I do every night or once I am finished watching television for a while is turn off that strip in order to conserve energy. I do the same with my computers and other electronic devices it is convenient to unplug. In Europe, more is being done to get rid of standby (many in the UK have the option of using a standby button). However, in America most people don't even know this feature exists; people think that when they turn their TV "Off" it is actually off. As the TerraPass blog says:

    [According to a CNET energy usage report for TVs] the average TV...has a standby mode that consumes 6.5% of the electricity used in full-power mode.

    6.5% might not sound like very much, but even in the average US household (where the TV is on for a staggering 8 hours a day) the standby mode is responsible for 13% of the TV’s energy consumption.

    And an aforelinked BBC article states:
    On average a traditional cathode ray tube (CRT) television set uses 100 watts of power when in use and about two watts on standby.

    Newer LCD and plasma screens are higher users of energy, with the largest models consuming up to 400 watts when in use and about four watts on standby.

    Unplugging things like televisions is just one way to reduce your carbon footprint — and it isn't that hard to flip a switch or unplug a device. Be sure to unplug chargers and other devices not in use; all these things add up, and not just on your electric bill! This week's tip helps both save you money as well as reducing your dent in the environment and, ultimately, our planet's dangerous turn towards global warming.