Monday, 30 April 2007

Multivoice poem: three fronts related to the GWOT

Intense: three battlegrounds, three stories, one event tying them all together
1. Sweat dripped down the interior of his damn clothes.
2. Sweat dropped from his brow as he stared at endless letters on the screen.
3. A bead of sweat swam down the darkened shoulder of the Marine.

1. Why must I wear these shameful rags, if only to fit in, he thought… it is a necessary disguise for the attack.
2. This is it, he thought, the reason he had become an analyst: to stop the terrorists who killed his mother.
3. Why the hell did he answer the call of patriotism from within him, why did he listen to that recruitment poster, he thought — who was this war protecting? He had enrolled after the terrorist attack; how could he be so naïve?

1. Was everything in place? He hoped so. The attack was soon.
2. He saw the sign, the attack is near; he raced to the office of his superior.
3. Another roadside bomb, another brother killed – more innocents too.

1. He fantasized more: Soon he would be in heaven, these infidels one and all burning in the flames of their own damnation.
2. The proof was in front of him, but no one would listen; arrogant national security bureaucrats cannot be reasoned with.
3. After the spike of adrenaline everyone must have felt, he slowed the vehicle down.

1. His brothers looked like they were soon to begin the operation.
2. He kicked the glass door, it did not break, but his toe hurt like hell, he didn’t know whether that was good or bad — there were more important things than a screwed toe about to happen.
3. Bullets rained upon the convoy, death followed in their trail.

1. A prayer was said; and then the attack began.
2. An hour later breaking news flashed across the television screen: terrorist attack.
3. War is a machine of death, killing those around you — killing those you know, and those you don’t. He was one of the lucky ones though. But why was he lucky? If only there were more.

Sunday, 29 April 2007

Do we really not care about Somalia?

Do we not care about Somalia?

There has been ever more fighting in Mogadishu this past month, taking the lives of over 1,000 people. Nearly half a million have fled the capital since the beginning of this year, and the situation is looking bleak. One one end is the traditional warlords, only interested in their own power, and the Ethiopian forces fighting against the Council of Islamic Courts, fueled by ideology, along with other militants. The Islamists are weak, but some more radical Islamists, possibly even some members of al Qaeda, might be pouring in to assist their 'brothers' in the fight against foreign troops, the warlords, and the very weak secular government. Somalia is a hotbed for extremist insurgency; terrorist recruiters are just waiting to turn a group of disgruntled citizens to the radical side. The UIC was forced out earlier this year, but traces remain.

Ultimately there are the Somalian troops and police, the US-backed Ethiopian troops, what's left of the UIC and some radical supporters and their militias, warlord-led militias, and the ordinary citizens stuck in the middle. Sounds a lot like Iraq: foreign troop involvement, militias and parties interested in ideology and power, an influx of radical Islamic terrorists, and a weak government. Is Mogadishu becoming the next Baghdad?

The US government has shown some interest, but only in combating Islamic forces — which has so far only empowered (more) radical movements — in the 'war on terror'. America has even aided the menacing North Korea in breaking sanctions to do so.

Just as is the case in Iraq, Sudan, Burma, and Somalia, we pay less attention to the ordinary citizens effected most than any other involved party. In Iraq a soldier's death is greeted with much more attention than the death of 10 innocents. Somalia is once again receiving more of the tragic spotlight because of 'war on terror' battlefield ties it holds.

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Democrats wasting time with Iraq politiking?

Good symbolism on an issue (Iraq) the White House thought it was the only American political power in control of, but it's now time for the Democrats to move on...

AP via Guardian:

A defiant Democratic-controlled Senate passed legislation Thursday that would require the start of troop withdrawals from Iraq by Oct. 1, propelling Congress toward a historic veto showdown with President Bush on the war.

At the White House, the president immediately promised a veto.
The 51-46 vote was largely along party lines, and like House passage of the same bill a day earlier, fell far short of the two-thirds margin needed to overturn the president's threatened veto. Nevertheless, the legislation is the first binding challenge on the war that Democrats have managed to send to Bush since they reclaimed control of both houses of Congress in January.
The $124.2 billion bill requires troop withdrawals to begin Oct. 1, or sooner if the Iraqi government does not meet certain benchmarks. The House passed the measure Wednesday by a 218-208 vote.

The Democrats have already reached enough benchmarks as far as Iraq war political symbolism goes, isn’t it time to call it a day? Everyone knows the bill requiring withdrawal is going to get vetoed by President Bush. Why not work with the president on issues like alternative energy and immigration, issues the Democrats and president can agree on and accomplish things on, instead of just pushing a legislative agenda only to show Bush what he already must know: the Iraq war effort is going badly and many Americans — Republicans included — are now against it. Executive v. legislature isn't going anywhere also.

I like debate, especially on an issue such as Iraq, but an open debate this is not. It has been muddled by partisan politics, as usual, and the Democrats are not acting that much mature than their Republican predecessors.

Pelosi had her 100 hours of progress and political limelight in the House, but the Dems apparently did not plan much else useful after their initial entrance to office with the exception of political maneuvers: challenging the White House on Iraq and investigating the executive branch’s misdeeds. All together neither of those major actions have been very useful, and real progress needs to be made on issues dealing less with political props and more with bettering America, its people, and the world.

Even on issues the White House and Congress do not agree on — health care, climate change, bioresearch, education, judicial reform, etc. — there can still be compromises, and progress, made. I do not think either branch of the government is out to hurt the American people; I doubt Bush has a strong vendetta against blacks and I doubt the Democrats do not 'support the troops'. However I doubt both party’s abilities to accomplish anything other than filling the political vacuum with baseless political rhetoric, and a bunch of symbolic chess moves on Iraq — moves that are, in Congress' case, only symbolic.

While the White House’s power needs to be checked and its behavior put in line, Congress needs reforms of its own: basic ethics, campaign financing, limit on pork-barrel spending, an end to tacking on unrelated amendments to bills in order to affect — or rather, exploit — the process, and the streamlining of the process, making it more transparent to the people so they can not just cluelessly watch on the sidelines but take action. But knowing this is politics, especially American politics, concessions must be made by all sides. I think this administration’s handling of the Iraq war has been despicable, but little good comes from wasting valuable time and political capitol on an issue that Congress can frankly, in the end, do little about.

Thus far, the president runs the war game, and as nice as it is that that status quo seems to be changing (a political surge?), the Democrats could be doing better things with their majority. They were supposedly elected back in November because of Iraq, now it is time to stop rubbing Iraq in the administration’s face, and start taking action on other issues. Of course Iraq is a major issue, but the president, for better or for worse, gets the final say. He has the veto power over Congress and the Democrats do not have nearly enough votes to override that veto. The Dems should either find a new road to fixing Iraq policy — circumventing the White House, in a way — or put the troop matter on the sidelines and focus on something they can accomplish.

Coincidentally, I am not the only one describing this latest string of questionable, if hasty, Congressional moves on Iraq as 'politiking', the Iraqi foreign minister thinks so too.

As far as investigating pre-war intelligence goes (see the recent Congressional subpoena of Condi Rice), there is no use picking open old wounds. The investigation should continue, but there should also be a focus on, as I said, issues on which real progress can be made. The whole Iraq issue might now even bite back at the Democrats in the 2008 election, contrary to what they believe, because the White House does have more popularity with and respect from the people than Congress. No doubt, however, Iraq will play a large role in the election, but that will not be the only issue, which the Democrats need to grasp.

My message to the Democrats: the honeymoon is well over, you’ve proved your point on Iraq, the people get it, the administration gets it; its alright to continue, but focus on more pressing, realistic topics at hand — and stop acting like your majority will last forever. As Congress locks horns with the Bush administration on Iraq, with gridlock galore, other issues are ignored.

Bottom line: Bush will veto this new bill; and then what?

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Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Going too far: Bush does not equal Hitler

Feminist Naomi Wolf has a provocative article in The Guardian, "Fascist America, in 10 easy steps", where she compares George Bush to the likes of Hitler. She raises interesting points, but gets a bit extreme.

From Hitler to Pinochet and beyond, history shows there are certain steps that any would-be dictator must take to destroy constitutional freedoms. And, argues Naomi Wolf, George Bush and his administration seem to be taking them all.

Yes, America and many other countries are facing civil liberty restrictions in the name of fighting terrorism. However it is hard to compare these restrictions to the ones faced by those under Nazi rule. (Of course anyone well-known claiming to be speaking for a set group of people (e.g. women, Muslims, gays, etc.) is often extreme extreme.) There are, in fact, parallels between the Bush administration and Nazi Germany, just as there are parallels between other like topics. Bush is an unpopular leader; Hitler is a (now) unpopular leader. Both Nazi Germany and Bush's America paint a picture of evil in a war against a broad group — albeit the 'war' of the Nazis was not at all justified in any way (i.e. the "Final Solution"). Wolf's list contains items (or 'steps') as broad as "7. Target key individuals".

It is a joke to call America 'fascist', just as it's ridiculous to come up with claims of "Islamofacism". It is likely Wolf wanted to get attention by choosing an extreme-sounding stance and provocative premise — activists, writers, bloggers, and all sorts of other people speaking out do it all the time. She is right to point out we should learn from history to see where we have gone wrong and how we can do better, but by automatically labeling Bush a dictator, she dilutes and discredits a large part of her argument.

I can go out and protest against Bush if I want to; I can criticize him freely too. There is no way one could do such actions if they were under the rule of despots like Hitler or Pinochet. Last time I checked Americans can vote and exercise tools of democracy too. While I will not dispute the fact civil liberties are being treaded on in a number of countries — including the US — Wolf and like-minded commentators go too far in their claim of American authoritarianism.

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Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Don't just blame the superpower

It's really easy to blame the United States — and just the United States — for a number of things. It's a perfect target. The world's sole superpower, the US makes foreign policy mistakes frequently. Of course it is also easy to blame the big guy: the most powerful, most senior, most vulnerable for criticism, etc. On the subject of greenhouse gas emissions, however, it might be a bit harder to put the whole of climate change blame on the US. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has stated that China could very soon overtake the US as the leading greenhouse gas emitter. Greenhouse gases play a role in global climate change.

The IEA says China will give our more CO2 than the US by 2010. Of course China is developing, less wealthy and more unable to enforce or create environmental standards, and just harder to blame than America. Even staunch free trade activists say that wealth leads to environmental enlightenment (and wealth comes from the exchange of goods, i.e. trade). China is no doubt being reckless in its massive industrial endeavors, but it does acknowledge climate change. But like the Sudan issue (generally), there is more rhetoric than action.

A big issue is the use of coal powered power plants. America also uses coal as a primary power source; coal is one of the dirtiest sources of power. Both economic giants must act now more than ever — especially the developed, wealthy US — to reduce coal dependence and enforce, not just promote, clean environmental policies. At the risk of sounding like a Green: we only have one planet, let's treat it wisely or future humans will pay the price. China and the United States are both huge countries with plenty of wind power potential, plenty of sun, and plenty of coastline and rivers for water-powered energy. I'd say its more cost effective to dish out some money for solar panels and wind turbines than to destroy your planet, thus destroying any economy. Why not pay the relatively small price now so we don't have to pay it later — when it will have a cost in currencies other than dollars, euros, yuans or yen.

When one considers all the factors, America has more of a responsibility to take action on its environmental policies, but China could save itself plenty of money (not to mention other things) if it acted sooner rather than later. At the risk of sounding like Al Gore: it's time for governments to act, now, on global warming. How does it hurt to not destroy our only habitat as much anyways?

I'll be covering alternative energy more soon, as well as free trade.

Monday, 23 April 2007

The future of Scotland, and the state of a Union

It would be hard to believe that the land united for hundreds of years with England and Wales could become independent some day soon. But it may be a reality.

Although the Scottish Parliament is weak compared to the British parliament, one might compare the power to that of an American state, albeit more deluded, England does not have its own separate legislature — just Westminister. Therefore lies the argument by English nationalists: Scotland gets more powers from political devolution, and England has even less of a say. Put simply: Scotland has its own MPs in the House of Commons, it also has its own parliament; England just has its MPs in the Commons. They both also have representation in the mostly-symbolic European Parliament. Do only the Scots deserve partial domestic rule, or should the other parts of the union of Great Britain (England, Scotland, Wales) and Northern Ireland get similar devolution too, as odd as it sounds. I'll discuss that — the fairness, practicality, and my 'solution' — later.

The Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP), an up-and-coming political force in Scotland, may at first sound right-wing, like BNP. However, it is a progressive center-left party whose primary goal is Scottish independence. I skimmed through their policies and other writings on their website, and I must say I'm impressed. One issue might be if Scotland does reach independence, what's to keep the SNP from not following through on its bold promises? What will it have to work for — besides reelection? Right now SNP is working hard for Scottish independence, not just pressing for devolution yet also not being militant about it. When their primary goal is accomplished — if ever — how do we know they will act as they promise when their basic political premise has been accomplished. (Alas, therein lies the problem with party politics.) People ranging from businessman Sir Tom Farmer to world-famous actor Sir Sean Connery have voiced their support for SNP, and Connery has provided plenty of funds also — that is, until regulations prevented him from doing so. SNP is doing well in the opinion polls.

The SNP may even take power in the Scottish local and Parliamentary elections on 3 May. The election ironically falls two days after the 300th anniversary of the union of England and Scotland (i.e., with Wales, the United Kingdom). If SNP stays in the minority, a referendum on splitting the union — one that could officially take place as early as 2010 — would be pointless. As of now, no other major political party supports such an independence referendum, and even though SNP is up in the polls, no party is likely to come out with a clear governing majority.* Gordon Brown*, British chancellor of the exchequer, heir-apparent to the prime ministry later this spring, and a Scotsman himself, has stated a Scottish split from the union would be devastating economically for Scotland. Others seem to view the same of the SNP's proposed economic policy. I guess he also wouldn't have a constituency in the British parliament if Scotland were independent... At least England would be an independent Scotland's 'biggest pal'.

In my mind, if further Scottish devolution is to take place, why shouldn't England, Northern Ireland, and Wales* get their own parliaments? They would only deal with local matters, and be pretty powerless. Britain is a unitary state, with a central government; if there would to be devolution for lands other than Scotland in the Union, maybe there'd be less resentment to the Scots and xenophobia in England, and less problems between Westminister and Wales and N Ireland. It seems only fair. Either that or a push for Scottish independence. But a 300-year union is a hard one to break. Let's see how things play out at the polls in a couple of weeks. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has emphasized the upcoming Scottish election's importance. He is right to do so: the state of the Union is at stake.

One of the Nationalists' primary goals is entry into the EU and UN as a proper nation-state, of course that is yet another barrier for those yearning for an independent Scotland. Might their dreams look better on paper and manifestos than as a reality?

Thanks to Anonymous for informing me that Wales 'already has devolution', it is the Labour Party that has a deal with the Liberal Democrats in Scotland, and that I once again misspelled "Brown" (I am used to spelling it 'Browne' on account of a family name).

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Sunday, 22 April 2007

Sarkozy v. Royal: the final chapter begins

Some new updates on the presidential election in France...

Although votes in this close election, which has enjoyed high turnout, are still being tallied, it looks as if there will indeed be a left-right battle in the second round of the French presidential election.

Centre-right Nicolas Sarkozy will meet Socialist Segolene Royal in the run-off of France's presidential election on 6 May, according to initial results.

Mr Sarkozy, a former interior minister, came first with 30%, ahead of Ms Royal, who is bidding to be France's first woman president, on about 25%.

Centrist Francois Bayrou got 18%, and far-right Jean-Marie Le Pen 11%.

Voting throughout the day reached record numbers, with turnout put at 85% - the highest for nearly 50 years.

On a bright spring day, disillusionment with politicians and their promises did not translate into apathy, reports the BBC's Caroline Wyatt in Paris.

For such a close election, these results look almost identical to what the candidates were polling in the days leading up to today's vote.

Campaigning will restart on 27 April, with the second round of voting on 6 May and the final results coming four days later. One should prepare for an intense campaign as left meets right in the nation that came up with the political identifications of "left" and "right" — a country that shows that history in its oft-partisan politics.

Royal, according to the aforementioned preliminary results, polled higher than previous opinion polls had speculated, in part because of the old-fashioned manner polling is done and the fact Royal has many young supporters.

It is very good that turnout was so high, as a politically apathetic France would hardly be the France we know. In a democracy the people must take action and that's what we've seen — for better or for worse — today in France. And even though centrist, left-right bridging Bayrou did not make it to the second round, his decent support has shown a politician in the middle can make it somewhere. Maybe someday that gap between left and right will be bridged for the Fifth Republic, whether by Bayrou or by someone else. It would have been interesting if Bayrou could have made it to the run-off. He was polling higher than Sarkozy in head-to-head polls before the election.

More worrying, however, is the support for extreme rightist Le Pen: one in 10 voted for him. At least this time he didn't make it to the second round, though. The fact Le Pen still enjoyed such support only illustrated further the political repair France is in dire need of.

Now: I am still torn between the gaffe-prone, old left-styled Royal and the xenophobic, right-wing-courting, 'mini-Bush' Sarkozy.

It's official...
Nicolas Sarkozy - 30.78%
Segolene Royal - 25.32%
Francois Bayrou - 18.47%
Jean-Marie Le Pen - 10.89%
Source: French Interior Ministry at 2100 GMT

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What they should have said: in the wake of recent attacks

Following the shootings at Virginia Tech (see here)...
Bush apparently pushed politics aside as he became what one reporter dubbed the 'Consoler in Chief', bringing together a scarred nation after a time of tragedy — thus emphasizing the positive aspect of a president whose approval ratings are in the 30%s. Unsurprisingly the mainstream media dared not attack the president for mourning with his nation, just as it didn't after 9/11. It would make the look bad, and the president, with the upper hand, would attack them back, thus making public perception of the (not so) 'liberal media' even worse. However, in 9/11's case the president did indeed exploit a tragedy for his own political gain. Bush told the mourners at Virginia Tech, "people all over this country are thinking about you, and asking God to provide comfort for all who have been affected."

Funny how he got to the college promptly, whereas his visit to New Orleans after the disastrous Hurricane Katrina hit was very delayed. Yes the shootings were a horrible act, but didn't Katrina cause much more damage, especially under Bush's incompetent watch? I guess he would have no place to address the mourners in the wake of Katrina; the city of New Orleans was virtually destroyed.

In my world Bush would have, instead of just drowning the mourners with sympathy and partaking in soft politics, used this event to emphasize the need for gun control and a society that helps its members, especially those needing help the most (e.g. the mentally ill). He would not need to exploit the Virginia Tech massacre to be able to use it as an example of a fusion of society failing its peers and, more notably, the all-to-easiness in acquiring a firearm. Instead of saying the shootings were unimaginable, and that one cannot grasp with why or how a human could perform such a heinous act, Bush could bring attention to the need for families, friends, and authorities to see warning signs in troubled behavior — which had been true in the shooter's (Cho Seung-Hui) case.

Most importantly — and at least — Bush could have said that it was a time for unity and reflection upon our society and governmental policies instead of just playing the sympathy card and mentioning 'God' a few times.

In the White House press briefing following the shootings, the cautious statements Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino (Press Secretary Tony Snow is being treated for cancer) provided a great example of this administration's stubbornness on gun control. Even before she was asked about 'gun rights', Perino brought them up.

In my world there would be no objection to gun control, but that's not the case here. At the very least Perino could have stonewalled in a different manner by saying it was 'not right to exploit this tragedy with a hot-button political issue'. Knowing how the press corps seem to operate following a national tragedy, they probably wouldn't object. Even if they did, Perino would end up looking better than she did.

If you're going to exploit a tragedy, why not do it for the better? If not, just don't exploit it at all.

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La France vote 2007: haute assemblée dans la première étape de l'élection présidentielle

Or: France votes 2007: high turnout in first stage of presidential election

The French election is still unpredictable.

BBC News covers the news well...

French voters have been streaming to the polls to cast their ballot in a presidential election seen as the nation's most unpredictable in decades.

With three hours to go, nearly 74% had already voted, exceeding the total turnout for the last elections in 2002.

Twelve hopefuls are seeking a spot in the second-round run-off on 6 May.

The leading candidates are centre-right Nicolas Sarkozy, socialist Segolene Royal, centrist Francois Bayrou and far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.

At 1500 GMT, turnout stood at 73.87%, according to the interior ministry, the highest rate in a first round since at least 1981.

Correspondents say many French voters approached the election in a mood of mingled fear and hope, believing France needs change after 12 years under President Jacques Chirac but unsure which direction to opt for.
There are more than one million newly registered voters, the biggest increase in 25 years.

1600 GMT - 22 April: Polls begin to close
1800 GMT - 22 April: Early exit polls
1800 GMT - 25 April: Official results
27 April: Campaigning restarts
6 May: Second round poll
10 May: Final official results

Whoever wins, says the BBC's diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus, it will mark a change of political generation and perhaps a shift in French international priorities, making this election matter even to those outside France.

BBC News has an interesting feature, now common for many major news stories, showing the views of an array of 'ordinary' people on the issue at hand.

I'd say my views are most on par with Muriel Calvez, who states:
Sadly, I feel that my vote will probably be more of a vote against a candidate - or several candidates - rather than a vote in favour of anyone.
The problem with the rest of the candidates is that they represent extremes - either the extreme left or the extreme right.

I consider myself more of a centre-left voter, but I cannot find any candidate that truly represents my views.

I feel like there is a lot of choice - but also no choice at all.
She said she will most likely vote for Segolene Royal or Francois Bayrou.

Hazem Eseifan also makes some strong points on the two candidates he is torn between: Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Bayrou.
I will watch both candidates closely between now and election day. I would like to see Sarkozy softening up a bit and for Bayrou to sharpen up.

See also a LRB article on the elections and, a NYT article on how the poverty of immigrants and the troublesome suburbs will play such a large role in the elections.

Sarkozy is disliked by the immigrants; liked by the tough 'law and order' types and xenophobes. He is trying to shift to the right to court some of Le Pen's lighter supporters. Royal's political weaknesses, along with Sarkozy's right-tilt, have empowered centrist Bayrou.

Even for non-voting, third parties such as myself it is a hard choice. Sarkozy will no doubt reform the reform-needy French system, but are some of policies too hard? Royal is ambitious and, at first glance, seems like a model modern liberal, but she is really just aligned with the policies of the Old Left — not in sync with the modern politik (which France ever more needs to be). Bayrou looks decent too, but, like the other two, has interventionist tendencies. He also believes in subsidized farming. France needs to open up and move its economy forward, not remain closed and keep slowing down.

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Friday, 20 April 2007

Bring a real terrorist to justice

It's not often I side with the likes of people like Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro, but it is time for the United States to bring a real terrorist to justice instead of running around, accusing and aimlessly charging the Jose Padillas -- the 'war on terror' phony political examples -- out there.

AP via CNN

Venezuela plans to ask the United Nations to investigate why the United States has failed to prosecute or extradite Cuban militant Luis Posada Carriles on charges he masterminded the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner, a lawyer for the Venezuelan government said Friday.

Venezuela also plans to join other countries in appealing to the Organization of American States and challenging the U.S. government's actions in international courts after the 79-year-old posted bail and was freed from jail Thursday, lawyer Jose Pertierra told The Associated Press.

Posada is awaiting trial in the U.S. on immigration fraud charges.

In Cuba, relatives of the 73 people killed in the bombing off Barbados held a vigil in front of a U.S. mission, while the government accused the White House of arranging Posada's release to cover up past CIA secrets.

President Hugo Chavez's government made an extradition request for the United States to hand over Posada nearly two years ago to be tried for the bombing, allegedly planned in Caracas. Pertierra accused the Bush administration of flouting a 1922 extradition treaty with Venezuela.

Not only is this bad foreign politics for America, its bad legal ethics. Isolation only empowers the 'enemy' — whether Iran or Cuba — but the Bush administration just does not get it.

And, alas, this is not the only case where the US has a known or alleged terrorist in its custody. (I guess the White House wouldn't want to dispel the Muslim/Arab stereotypical terrorist it has worked so hard on implementing.)

And George Bush wonders why Latin American opinion is so much against his country? A combination from an arguable continuance of Cold War-ish policies and the president's ignoring of his southern neighbors is one solid set of reasons.

America and its Soviet rival did enough damage to the world during the Cold War, fostering undemocratic regime changes, supporting maniacal dictators, and instigating proxy wars to the harm of the third party. It is time for the United States to come to terms with its past demons and initiate something other than so-called free trade talks with its fellow countries in the Americas. The days of Pinochet and the CIA puppet governments are over. Why can't the US open its eyes to that?

On the other hand people like Venezuela's Chavez, who is becoming more and more of a dictator like his Cuban idol, need to lay off the conspiracy theories, or the real issues and actual sources of tension, like in the case of Luis Posada Carriles, will not be reckoned with or taken seriously by the international community.

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Too close to call: French vote unpredictable

The first round of the French presidential election draws nearer. After today, opinion polls can no longer be published as to not compromise the vote.

Roughly 40% of the French electorate are still unsure of who they’ll vote for. The question is, how many of that 40% will vote?

At this time Sarkozy still has a good lead overall (nearly/about one-third of the vote), with Royal also following in the 20s (%) and Bayrou with not even 20% of the overall vote. Of course, since many are undecided, this election is looking very close, especially in the second round. Bayrou ruled out an alliance with Royal — and vice versa — against their center-right challenge, Nicolas Sarkozy. It is scary how a racist, extreme rightist like Jean-Marie Le Pen can still hold on to 14% support.

Polls indicate that in a second round run, Sarkozy would clearly beat Royal, and Bayrou would beat Sarkozy. However, since Royal is likely to beat Bayrou to get to the second round, who knows. The French will go to the polls to vote for a range of 12 candidates this Sunday the 22nd. Whichever two come out on top will face off on 6 May.

This election is one of the closest in recent history – and whoever wins will be the most powerful person in France.

The Economist

Reigning large in this election are major issues such as immigration (see 2005 minority riots, which showed Sarkozy's ugly side) and law and order; the economy (unemployment is up, job security and massive civil service sector is a problem, as is lack of liberalization); the shunning of aspects of the EU (which the leaders need to take initiative on nonetheless even if the people do not understand); and big government, in which the current French bureaucracy trumps (corruption included). Another political matter is the divided French left; considering France is a typically left-leaning country, that is an issue. One thing I have noticed is the lack mention of foreign policy by the candidates.

Where the three main candidates stand on issues shows their contrast, and similarities. Many of Bayrou's proposals are attractive, but, as The Economist touches as in their leader supporting Sarkozy, he is not a political heavyweight. Good news about Sarkozy: he does stand for reform; France needs all the reform it can get at this point.

No doubt change will be on its way.

News sites in depth on election:

  • BBC News
  • The Economist
  • Financial Times

    Blogs to watch:
  • Prospect Magazine's France Profounde
  • French Élection 2007

  • Can’t forget Wikipedia!

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  • Thursday, 19 April 2007

    Apparantly Bush is starting to focus more on foreign policy...

    I wasn't aware he ever had stopped putting a great deal of focus on foreign policy, but apparantly USA Today thought so. Much of George W. Bush's presidency — from the very beginning — has been dominated by foreign politics. He won the 2004 election on foreign, not domestic, policy. His one 'great' mark, a not-so-great change in the Social Security system, went badly enough, as did his abomination of an education plan, No Child Left Behind.

    Even if one includes Iraq, his stronger political front — in his eyes and in the eyes of his supporters (some not so much — is that abroad. The 'war on terror' is the primary reason for this, and much of the so-called war's focus has not been that of homeland security. Thus, the 'war on terror' arguably is, and has been made out to be, a foreign policy operation. Bush courts neoconservatives (neocon hawks) for his policy abroad; social conservatives (Christian right) for his policy at home.

    Since the new Democrat-led Congress took power, he has also been locking horns with the legislature over his bottomless war in Iraq. So far Bush keeps coming up on top.

    Hurricane Katrina's devastation of the American Gulf Coast and the amazingly poor response from the government is another example of how domestic services have taken a turn for the worse under this president. An incompetent political appointee — and I don't mean Bush, I mean Brown — does not make a great FEMA head. Nor is a non-independent attorney-general acceptable (just ignore Gonzales, he has lied enough lately and is finally being questioned by a Senate panel), especially considering the prescient on the independence of the Department of Justice. Believe it or not, DoJ has maintained some measure of distance from the White House in the past, allowing it to do its job without petty political pressures.

    Another aspect of his political identity is the moral, religious part. From pushing from stem cell bans, to fighting against abortion, to other moves nudging church closer to state, this president has plenty of street cred (per se) from the religious right.

    Here is one good thing about Bush: he is showing some toughness on Darfur, threatening more UN sanctions. Unsurprisingly he is not looking at the real problem: other countries, especially China, including America, are only propping up the genocide-instigating regime in Sudan. He also needs to stand behind the United Nations if he wants anything to be done on the humanitarian side of things.

    Oh, and if I were to give Bush a political grade — from both my standpoint and the popular standpoint — it'd be a 1.5/10 or 2/10. He got some positive limelight from his speech following the Virginia Tech shootings, though not in my eyes. While he has a 32% or so approval rating, remember if he were to be put head-to-head with most politicians that percentage would rise, so he still has a bit of popularity. Iraq still going horrible; 'war on terror' still a disgrace; American scientific power is down; government is overpowering of the people and don't give back (positively) in return; transparency is moot and fundamentalist ideology reigns in the Oval Office. But people still like the president more than Congress...

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    Finding, and missing, political targets

    The religious right demographic will, as usual, play a large role in this election; the GOP is scrambling to find a good, staunchly socially-conservative god-faring candidate. Right now, the leading Republican candidate is Rudy Giuliani, a perfect example of an enemy of the religious right: not very religious, not very socially conservative, etc. John McCain has been making amends with the religious right; for example, kissing up to extremists like Jerry Falwell.

    McCain is still far behind his competitors, but what matters is who gets more votes during the election, not a year and a half before. Nevertheless, polls are good indicators, and McCain needs help if he wants to even have a good chance at the vice-presidency. We have been hearing less and less about him too.

    In addition, the Democratic party has fissures of its own with, like the Republicans, the Iraq war dividing members and candidates. Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama are rivals in both poll numbers and fundraising amounts.

    There are also plenty of largely unknown candidates from both sides.

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    Wednesday, 18 April 2007

    Iraq announcement followed by massacre

    The Iraqi prime minister, Nouri Maliki, has said that Iraq's security forces will take over securing the devastated country from the United States and others by end of 2007. The forces, sections of which allegedly have strong ties to militias (e.g. Sunni soldier helping Sunni insurgents and fighting opposing Shias). There are roughly 325 thousand Iraqi security forces, including police and law enforcement.

    In more violent areas, Iraq's military is weak at best. However, much of the country, notably the Kurdish north, is relatively tranquil.

    Car bombings killed up to 200 in Baghdad following the announcement — the bloodiest attack since a step up by the Iraqi government and American military in February (remember the 'surge'?).

    The chain of events is probably a coincidence, because there is little reason for the bombings unless they were a sectarian attack or an attack against America or Iraqi government in general. In addition, the Maliki announcement will be welcomed by most in Iraq.

    If it's not a coincidence, the attack could be an omen of bad things to come in the civil war; a war that will hopefully end soon. The next couple of years will see policy shifts by the Iraq government and those of America and its allies as pressure increases on governments and some have already begun change in their policy on Iraq.

    This is an amazingly bloody war being fought in Iraq, with the death toll going up every day. Let's not forget the innocent civilians who are, for the most part, bystanders to this carnage. And what is the objective of the sides? Sunnis against Shias, Shias against Sunnis, and various other groups only stirring up the violence. Unlike the foreign 'freedom fighters' (e.g. 'al-Qaeda in Iraq'), domestic insurgents (e.g. al-Sadr's Mahdi Army), and foreign military presence (e.g. US, Britain), the ordinary people of Iraq did not volunteer to die; they did not volunteer to be put at risk. Just like we have seen in the North Ireland conflict of ages past, in many uncivil civil wars, no body really wins, but lives are lost — see BBC Newsnight's intriguing Iraq 2020 debate.

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    Tuesday, 17 April 2007

    The right to bare arms, but not the right to murder

    CNN does some decent reporting for a change (I know, it's a long quote)...

    The U.S. is the world's largest maker, buyer and seller of guns but the country's constitutional right to bear arms comes at a high price -- one that gun control advocates say the whole world is paying.

    Monday's shooting at the Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Virginia, that ended in the deaths of 33 people was symptomatic of a global gun crime epidemic, campaigners said.

    "The U.S. stands out as the developed country with by far the highest levels of gun deaths and gun homicides," Alun Howard, a spokesman for the International Action Network on Small Arms, told CNN.

    The White House defended the right to bear arms at a press briefing Monday.

    "As far as policy, the president believes that there is a right for people to bear arms, but that all laws must be followed," said Dana Perino, a spokesperson for President George W. Bush.
    According to an IANSA report published in 2006, gun-related incidents result in 300,000 fatalities and one million injuries worldwide every year. Many of those guns come from the U.S.
    ...While most developed nations react to incidents of gun crime with legislation to insure stronger control measures on the sale and flow of firearms, the gun culture in the U.S. has resisted change.

    Weapons manufacturers and pro-gun government officials have consistently rejected efforts by domestic as well as international bodies to regulate and control the flow of arms in and out of the country.

    A report released by Amnesty USA noted that the governments of the U.S., China and Russia saw new regulations as "limiting their commercial and foreign policy options," while arms manufacturers feared "a threat to their bottom line."

    According to the report, small arms manufacturing in the U.S. is a $2 billion-a-year industry. Companies profiting from that business, as well as powerful lobby groups like the NRA have consistently blocked efforts to clamp down on easy access to firearms.

    International reaction

    World leaders Monday responded to the Virginia massacre with messages of condolence as well as calls for change.

    "Like everyone, I am deeply shocked by the terrible loss of innocent lives at Virginia University," said British Prime Minister Tony Blair, expressing condolences to the families of the victims.

    Australian Prime Minister John Howard was more candid in his remarks, offering his sympathies, but condemning U.S. gun culture as a negative force in society.

    Howard, who staked his political leadership on pushing through tough laws on gun ownership in Australia after a lone gunman in his country killed 35 people, said the Virginia shootings were a tragedy of a kind he hoped would never be seen again in Australia.

    "We had a terrible incident at Port Arthur, but it is the case that 11 years ago we took action to limit the availability of guns and we showed a national resolve that the gun culture that is such a negative in the United States would never become a negative in our country," he said.

    Among the victims in Virginia was a professor from India. His death brought a strong response from K. Subrahmanyam, a former member of India's National Security Council.

    "It's not a question of an Indian professor getting killed in the firing. This is related to the American gun laws," he said.

    "We can't do anything about it. It is something which has happened in the United States. They have got to change the law."
    Interesting that Howard, ever so chummy with America, spoke out strongly against its domestic laws. Handguns are banned in the United Kingdom. And in many other developed countries there are great restrictions, including the need for people seeking a firearm to provide a valid reason (e.g. Italy), or if it is for hunting purposes (e.g. Sweden).

    President George Bush visited today the site of the massacre at Virginia Tech university in Blacksburg, Virginia. "It's impossible to make sense of such violence and suffering", he said. It is actually possible to make sense of the violence: a disturbed student, possibly a bullying society, but not like the totally isolationist one of Columbine, where the most vivid student massacre in US history took place almost eight years to the date of the killings yesterday. Bush is amazingly thick if he cannot recon with rampant depression in Americans, which has next to nothing to do with lack of religion, and the easiness of acquiring a firearm.

    I know, there is usually no reason to be so hostile to a man (George Bush) who already looks so bad. But really, this is a man who has fought against any measure of firearm regulation; a man who received large amounts of money from disgusting organizations like the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the Gun Owners of America, organizations who, I might point out, care not about the rights of Americans, but about the profits of gun makers, plus a possible touch of sadism. The American gun culture and the politics associated with it are influential in Washington: lobbying groups like the NRA often get their way.

    Okay, so the constitution allows the right for individuals and/or state-run militias — depending on one’s interpretation — to keep and bare arms. Great: if a government conspiracy strikes against you I’m sure your Magnum will do a fine job defending you against a couple dozen AKs and a handful of tanks. If a mugger strikes you on the street, yeah I’m sure whipping out and unlocking your small handgun would be a faster defense than a squirt of legal, and non-lethal, pepper spray. For all those who don’t undersand the concept of sarcasm, that was it.

    Self defense is fine, but would it not be easier to just paralyze or harm in a minor way the perpitrator? There are plenty of options: from mace to the Taser to a less dangerous firearm.

    Americans generally think of Mexico as a violent place, at least relatively to their society. Here's an interesting fact: "80% of guns in Mexico originate from the US".

    The easiness involved in getting a gun makes it the weapon of choice for disturbed Americans, especially teens going through their more turbulent times, to commit suicide or harm others.

    The majority of firearm deaths in the US are from suicide, a number around 70%, the same percentage representing homicide as a cause of gun deaths in other developed countries. Nearly half of all households in America have one of more firearms. One in three American households has a handgun (i.e. one could also consider it a gun not used for hunting or sport, more likely for crime or 'self defense'). Around one in ten of the at least 200 million guns in the US are used for hunting purposes.

    However, in some categories violent gun deaths have dropped in the United States, and more regulation of certain types of rifles, namely semi-automatics and automatics, along with more locking features and child protection, has played a role. In the United States, the lifetime odds of dying from suicide by firearm is, as of 2003, one in 222; of assault by firearm, one in 314. There are over or around 30,000 deaths by firearm each year in the US.

    Back to the Virginia Tech shooting: there was administrative incompitance abound as it took two hours for students to finally be alerted of the first shooting event. By then, it was too late. There is an investigation into whether the primary shooter of a confirmed 30 people (killed) had an accomplice in the first shooting, which killed two.

    For some legal analysis, see Jack Balkin's timely overview of the Second Amendment of the US Constitution and how it relates to things like the 'war on terror'. He concludes:
    Although there are abundant rhetorical similarities, I don't think that the issues arising from the Virginia Tech shootings and 9/11 are at all the same. What I do think they have in common is a tendency for overreaction: a tendency for salience-- and a sense of emergency-- to displace good public policy. If there is anything we should have learned from 9/11, it is that a sense of emergency can justify all sorts of bad decisions that we will come to regret later on.

    Although Michael Moore is usually just annoying, this humorous-yet-informative cartoon scene from his documentary Bowling for Columbine is interesting, and funny:

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    Monday, 16 April 2007

    Good news about Darfur, or more deception from Khartoum?

    A promising, yet not confirmed, statement from a government that has supported and instigated the murder, rape, and plundering of many...

    BBC News:

    More than 3,000 United Nations troops will be allowed into Darfur, according to Sudanese Foreign Minister Lam Akol.
    The apparent change of heart comes after months of international pressure, but there is no UN confirmation so far.

    Mr Akol told a news conference that Sudan has now fully accepted the second phase of a UN plan to support 7,000 struggling African Union troops there.

    Under the plan, UN attack helicopters and armoured personnel carriers will also be deployed to help AU forces.

    The four-year Darfur conflict between rebels and pro-government Arab militia has seen more than 200,000 deaths and at least 2.4 million displaced.


    Phase 1 - UN financial backing for AU mission
    Phase 2 - UN sends logistical and military support
    Phase 3 - UN takes joint command of hybrid force

    UN officials said they were aware of the Sudanese announcement, but had not yet been told anything officially.
    "This is the greatest concentration of human suffering in the world and an outrage that affronts the world's moral values," Penny Lawrence, Oxfam's international director said after a tour of Darfur.
    "Nearly 1 million people are not getting any aid at all and in some areas the aid efforts is under threat due to increasing insecurity," an Oxfam statement said.

    Visiting US official John Negroponte had also warned Sudan of isolation if it fails to stop harassment of humanitarian workers and rejects the deployment of UN peacekeepers in the war-torn region.

    "The denial of visas and harassment of aid workers has created the impression that the government of Sudan is engaged in a deliberate campaign of intimidation," he said at the end of his tour of Sudan.

    Let's hope that this announcement is true; the people of Darfur deserve no more pain. Its hard to morally comprehend how things like the Darfur genocide can happen — but the matter of fact is that it's happening. The solution is political: China has deep ties to the Sudanese government, especially in oil exchange, and has refused to put real pressure on the African nation, besides shallow rhetoric. America can also do more. Individual nations as well as world bodies, such as the United Nations, need to do their part.

    However, there is another catch: the government might be as restrictive with the UN peacekeepers, even resorting to allowing attacks on them, as they have been with most other humanitarian operations.

    Note: the apparent change of heart by Sudan on the matter of UN peacekeepers came after new, unprecidented pressure from Beijing.

    Focus on Hillary Clinton

    I'm going to start a new, reoccurring blog post series focusing on politicians in the news, their backgrounds, political analysis about their actions, and, of course, an arbitrary grade of that policy-maker's performance — from my perspective, their peer's perspective, and the view of the voters.

    Senator Hillary R. Clinton (D-NY) is leading the Democratic pack in terms of funds and popular support.

    Hillary Clinton has lost the support of some liberal supporters because she has refused to apologize in any way about her support for the Iraq war. She remains ambiguous on her real views on hot topics like Iraq. Clinton tries to please so many different groups: from the anti-violent video game parents to the anti-war collegians. She'll have to make a conscious choice about who her real target audience(s) will be if she is to prevent herself from stretching further her ambiguous views on big issues.

    Iraq is a huge issue, not only among the voters: whoever wins the election will inherit Bush's disaster of a war.

    The Democrats already get more of the female votes than the Republicans, but Clinton's gender, alas, will no doubt be an issue. Pundits and other politicians trying not to sound sexist, but who actually are sexist, will be making plenty of stealthy jabs: the same we've seen against France's Segolene Royal.

    Clinton has raised record funds so far, but no doubt her spouse, former President Bill Clinton, has helped her gain a large amount of those funds. The younger, more youth-savvy and fresh Barak Obama is chasing at Clinton's heels, and John Edwards is not out yet.

    Clinton's refusal to admit the wrongs of her vote on the Iraq war — which seems to have some hypocrisy to it — shows negatively on her political grade, and she has no new visions or ideas, even modest like those of Obama, to offer the voters. However, she has plenty of money and is still the Democratic frontrunner for 2008. Her grade stands at a B(-), or roughly 6/10 or 7/10 — 10 being excellent, one being unbelievably pathetic (e.g. Al Gore has an 8/10, but at the time of his Oscar, etc, boom it was more like 9/10; Obama has maybe 7/10 or 8/10... still working out the grading system).

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    Sunday, 15 April 2007

    Baghdad: one big red zone

    'Nowhere is safe'
    Following a suicide bombing in the ultra-secure and guarded Green Zone of Baghdad, in Iraq, there is an increased feeling of unease among those protected in the Green Zone since the invasion by a US-led coalition in 2003. Is this incident a symbolic move showing the security situation is getting even worse in Iraq's capitol, or is it an isolated incident?

    Up to a few days ago, any major attacks within the Green Zone were very rare — it was secure, one of the only secure areas in a city in as much turmoil as Baghdad. Worse yet, the security breach was a terrorist act against Iraq's fledging democratic government. However there is a silver lining: maybe this attack will bring the divided lawmakers of Iraq together. Many have ties to militias, or their parties do anyways. Even more represent their own ethnicity or religions denomination, not the people they were elected to represent and not Iraq in general.

    The Iraqi government has failed in most aspects, although it is quite a young one in one of the most violent, destroyed nations on earth. Unity is Iraq's only option if it wants to keep itself from becoming an all-out failed state. Sectarianism is at fault; if only the politicians did something (constructive) about it.

    Rhetorical questions from recent news

  • Supermassive (legal) black hole
    Amnesty International says new conditions in Guantanamo are even worse.
    Could it be any worse?

  • It’s getting hotter in here
    Climate change striking sooner than expected, says the new UN IPCC report — which is not good news. The impact is vast too.
    Can you feel it now?

  • Bush asks Congress to allow more eavesdropping
    Reuters: "The Bush administration asked Congress on Friday to expand the number of people it can subject to electronic surveillance...also protects companies that cooperate with spy operations." Such a change would modify the existing 1978 law.
    Isn't there enough already?

  • Deal or no deal on nukes
    North Korea's got the money it wanted from a frozen bank account, and everything about the oft-rogue state's deal with the international community to close down some of its nuclear facilities seems to be going alright, except the whole closing down the facilities part.
    DPRK: Compliant or defiant?

  • And an irreverently irrelevant question:
    What if Bush was a Democrat?

  • Wolfowitz in hot water

    As if things couldn't get any worse for World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, it was announced today that aid to poor countries was projected to be down for a second year in 2007.

    Aid to poor nations will probably decline for a second year in 2007, setting back efforts to halt the spread of AIDs and reduce poverty, World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz said today.

    Poor nations received $103.9 billion in development assistance from the governments of wealthy nations last year, down 5 percent from the previous year and the first drop since 1997, according to the World Bank.
    Africa, where 300 million people live on less than $1 a day, would be hard-hit by the slowdown in giving, which puts into jeopardy a two-year-old promise by developed nations to double aid to $50 billion by 2010.

    Wolfowitz is already embattled in controversy, and his job is at risk. He was one of the original neocon hawks pushing for the Iraq war within the Bush administration when he was Deputy Secretary of Defense from 2001 to 2005. He had some of the more destructive ideas and policies for the Bush administration's "war on terror".

    In 2005 he was nominated by the US to president of the World Bank — which meant he was practically guaranteed the presidency. This nomination met opposition from big economic names like Jeffrey Sachs and Nobel prize-winner Joseph Stiglitz. However much Wolfowitz is tough, especially on corruption, he still was probably not the right man to lead one of the largest international financial organizations — one that provides aid to developing nations.

    Earlier this month controversy surrounding his personal life sparked into a scandal, one that is threatening his job. He apparently gave his girlfriend, Shaha Ali Riza, who worked at the Bank before Wolfowitz took power, a pay raise (leading her to make more than Secretary of State Condi Rice, whom she now works for because of her status as the World Bank president's partner). It is all a bit complicated, however. The World Bank is currently reviewing the case and may ask Wolfowitz to step down.

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    Thursday, 12 April 2007

    Political stability against extremists: the real Mid-East danger

    Iran is in the news more and more. Between its capture of 15 British sailors, to the advancement of its nuclear weapons program and defiance of sanctions. Much of it — from anti-Zionist rhetoric to nuclear politics — might just be an act. Like Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, Iran's Ahmadinejad is populist and very showy.

    At the risk of sounding like I'm in Shakespeare's time: How will this all fadge?

    I think there are many factors that cause discomfort on both sides — Iran and the United States — one issue being the Iranian president's harsh anti-Israel rhetoric, another being the allegations of meddling in Iraq (which could just be a scapegoat excuse for the Bush administration, who often create false scapegoats), along with Iran's refusal to halt its nuclear program. I think if Iran, Israel, the US, and Palestine all were more open-minded, a treaty of peace and political recognition could be in order and would help relations between all of the countries — including those between Israel and the US and the Arab and Muslim world.

    Iran still needs to at least let IAEA inspectors in. But with the political situations at home for America, Iran, and even Israel and Palestine, who knows who will next be in charge and how that will shape this nuclear diplomacy we are seeing more and more of. I think the US would rather have the prospect of its own security — even if that is only a sense of security — than the prospect of peace. American foreign policy has consistently focused more on preventing aggression than promoting peace. There are still plenty in the government who think peace is best achieved by though military force.

    Ahmadinejad may think his hard-line rhetoric is helping him win over supporters abroad, but it is not helping him at home. Respect is an issue all sides need to learn, for without it, real diplomacy cannot take place and real progress cannot be made. It is now in the mutual interest of both Iran and the United States to work together on Iraq. It is in the interest of the US and Israel (since they are allies) to work with Israel's neighbors; peace between Israel and the Arab world also helps lower international terrorism and Muslim extremism, as does quelling the sectarian violence in Iraq. The Israel-Palestine conflict, as well as the civil war in Iraq, have both spread Islamic fundamentalism and created new waves of hopelessness, aggression, and, thus, terrorism and irrationality to those lands in such strife and their allies and supporters.

    A big issue is political stability. If the current hardline government is taken over by extremists — because the government isn't delivering what the people want (thus the radicals get public support) or some other reason — those extremists may have an industrial level nuclear program in their hands. That is not good. The same thing goes for Pakistan. In that case, the US is close to the country (Pakistan), which empowers the extremists in a way. Pakistan is already a nuclear state — imagine if Islamic terrorists got hold of nuclear weapons. However, in Iran's case there does need to be a level of dialogue. Isolation would empower extremists even more than seeing their country talk to a country they despise would.

    In short: the US needs to talk with Syria to get it away from Iran; needs to talk with Iran for plenty of other reasons; and needs to talk to all in the Middle East because of the Iraq issue, along with the problem of terrorism. Syria, Pakistan, and Iran are all oppressive governments with ties to militias. However, all three view terrorism as as much of a threat as the United States does, if not more (extremists are in their own backyards).

    Israel and the US alike need to stop ticking off those in the Middle East and empowering radicals, the opposite of their goals but nonetheless they are direct products of their policy. All parties need to learn from history. A closed, aggressive, hardline state cannot last long in the modern world of politics — at least it cannot when extremist movements more conservative than their own governments are brewing within and close to their borders. A regional power, but outcast, cannot continue annoying its neighbors, nor can it concede.

    The world's superpower, seen as imperial and bad as ever by those in the Mid-East, cannot continue in its rogue anti-terroirsm fight when it makes the terrorist situation worse for itself and others (fire paradox again). It's perfect to choose the US as the face of evil: its big and powerful, yet faulty, as the Iraq debacle has shown, and does not position itself as benevolent or afraid to use preemptive force. It also sides with Israel through thick and thin.

    America finds Iran as easy a scapegoat (for Iraq troubles) and poster-child for evil (see 'war on terror' and 'axis of evil') as Iran does for America ('death to the great Satan). That kind of politics doesn't help anyone but the extremists and the Manichaens like Bush and Ahmadinejad. Neither is doing swimingly at home either. (Keep in mind Ahmadinejad is not the most powerful person in Iran. Although he is the most internationally visible, he is probably roughly third on the chain of command.) Supremacy in a region as volatile as the Middle East is a tour de force. That being said, it often requires either massive brute force or political ingenuity.

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    Wednesday, 11 April 2007

    Who's leading 2008 election polls?

    See new December 2007 polls, days before the Iowa primaries!

    Source for party primary polling and (averaged) chart data: Polling Report (various polls) for Democratic '08 candidates.
    In most primary polls for Democrats, Clinton seems to have a definite lead over her closer rivals (often scoring in the 30s in terms of percentage), Obama and Edwards. Obama bested Edwards.

    Sorce for primary polling and (averaged) chart data: Polling Report (various polls) for Republican '08 candidates.
    For Republican primaries, Giuliani’s numbers are quite good. His averages in the 20s or 30s (percentage), with McCain lagging behind in the 10s or 20s. Gingrich and Romney often lag behind runner-up McCain and the leader, Giuliani, with high single-digit percentages. However, in some polls Fred Thompson, who has seen a resurgence in popularity, is at third place with percentages as high as 10 (he is not listed on most polls).

    Gingrich was also not included in some polls, so I averaged up those both Thompson and Gingrich were in. Overall, the numbers lean towards a clear first-place — for the time being — Giuliani, with McCain in second place and Romney in a more distant third. Like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Fred Dalton Thompson has not announced his candidacy yet, but his recent admission that he has cancer leads one to suspect he is getting things off his chest that could hurt him later in his campaign.

    Edwards has definitely seen a boost in his popularity as of late, but Obama still looks like a runner-up to clear-leader Clinton. Some polls' inclusion of Al Gore as a choice bumped down Edwards and Obama to an extent. I did not use the polls where Al Gore had a standing, although he usually polled third far below Obama and in front of Edwards by a small amount. In GOP polls without Fred Thompson, Giuliani had a solid win over McCain, who had a solid win over Gingrich, who had a minor lead over Romney.

    Remember people participating in such primary polls either are registered with the party or support the party. In these polls, a pollster would not ask a Democrat about a Republican candidate, though in head-to-head and general (national) polls that can be the case.

    From national polling during various times of March and late February, some results are surprising.
    Source: RealClearPolitics averages of various major head-to-head 2008 presidential candidate polls (e.g. Time, Newsweek, Zogby, Rasmussen).
    Giuliani beats anyone — Clinton, Obama, or Edwards — in the head-to-head polls. McCain beats Clinton and narrowly beats Obama. Giuliani’s win over Obama is slimmer than that of his wins over Edwards or Clinton. In the RCP average, Edwards beats McCain; Clinton smashes Romney but Edwards and Obama demolish him with a lead of 20 or so percentage points. Romney may be weak but Edwards does have more head-to-head strength than his overall.

    Other party nomination data:
    For the GOP nomination from highest percentage to lowest: Giuliani, McCain, Thompson, Romney (Gingrich not included). For the Dems: Clinton, Obama, Edwards, Gore. Gore’s run is extremely, extremely unlikely, especially since everyone is already electioneering more than usual. He has not stated his candidacy and pretty much will not.

    Money and fundraising are major issues in this election. In the US one needs a massive amount of money to run a campaign, not that that's the only thing a candidate needs. This race has already broken plenty of records.

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    Tuesday, 10 April 2007

    Just for show? Bush invites Dems for Iraq talks

    Gridlock was a key word ringing around after the Democrats took both chambers of US Congress last November. Many issues have seen gridlock between Congress and the White House — though the president yields veto power, the Dems have a weak majority and often a lack of will. Iraq is arguably, along with executive power, one of the big issues the Democrats have challenged the president on. It is also a big reason they got elected. The occupation of Iraq recently turned four and American public opinion continues to frown upon the loss of American lives in Iraq — even though the casualties have been relatively few.

    American President George Bush offered a meeting on Iraq to members of both parties in Congress. If the Democrats wouldn’t have declined (see below), such a meeting would take place at the White House and would include discussion on the deadlock between Congress and the Bush administration over Iraq policy, specifically US troop pull-out and funding. If this is anything like offers of previous dialog, the discussion would be one-sided. The Bush White House hates any calls contrary to its policy, and doesn’t do well listening to other opinions, even those of experts. They often disregard fact too.

    The problem, for the Dems at least, lies in the politics of perception. The White House will accuse the Democrats of being closed and not open to resolving the war between the executive and legislature over Iraq. The Democrats are already facing enough problems: they are split on troop pullout, and their limit on funding in order to instigate withdrawal of American forces from Iraq could greatly backfire and make them look like they are not 'supporting the troops' — which is ridiculous, but is being used well by their political opponents. The anti-Iraq war side accuses the Dems of being soft. That group should not expect results anyways: the president will certainly veto the Congressional bills calling for pullout.

    Bush wants control of the debate, and although the Dems are resisting a debate on his terms, it may come back to bite them.

    President Bush invited congressional leaders of both parties to the White House next week to talk about legislation to pay for the war in Iraq, but Democrats promptly dismissed his offer because it carried a condition that Congress drop a timetable for withdrawing American forces from Iraq.

    "The clock is ticking for our troops in the field," Bush told an American Legion post in this suburb about 20 miles west of the White House. Without quick action by Congress, he said, the military would within months be forced to redirect funds from training and repair work to pay for the war.

    The president also complained that the separate war-spending bills passed by the House and Senate included considerable pork-barrel domestic spending as well as about $100 billion for the war. He invited congressional leaders to a White House meeting next week to work on what officials said would be a "clean" measure providing money just for the war.

    Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada complained that Bush was setting conditions for the White House talks with congressional leaders.

    "He wants a clean bill," Reid said after consulting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco). "That's not negotiating." He said Bush was used to a "rubber-stamp" Congress that approved everything he sought, but that things have changed since Democrats took over control in last November's elections.

    Bush said that if Congress does not provide the funds he seeks for the war--without deadlines for ending the troops' deployment--some forces already in Iraq would see their missions extended because there would be insufficient money to train replacements, and other units already trained would see their time at home shortened before being sent back there.

    The Senate and House have each approved measures that would give the administration about $103 billion in new money for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Each sets timelines for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.

    Bush has repeatedly said he would veto legislation that cut off money to pursue the wars, and although Democrats hold majorities in both houses, their margin is too slim to provide sufficient votes to override a veto.

    The Senate bill sets a nonbinding target of all combat troops withdrawn by March 31, 2008, while the House bill sets a deadline of Aug. 31, 2008, for complete withdrawal. Democratic leaders in both chambers are negotiating a compromise version to send back to each chamber for final passage.

    A White House official, writing an e-mail message on the condition of anonymity, said the session should not be seen as a negotiating meeting.

    Bush is playing the Dems` Iraq policy for what its worth, and will end up slapping down a veto nonetheless.

    Now, the Democrats will look bad for not accepting an invitation for talks with the White House on such an important, and politically viotile, issue. This will not sit well with many people, I am sure. Although it is interesting how so many can be opposed with Pelosi, a Democrat, talking to Syria, yet not to Republicans talking to Syria, and, at the same time, opposed with Congress not accepting the White House’s probably one-sided invite for talks. Moreover, the conditions are unfair, just like when the White House sets conditions for diplomatic talks. The conditions are unilateral and one-sided, not to mention the administration is often either aggressive or blindsiding in talks.

    Of course the Dems have set possibly-unfair conditions of their own for debate on Iraq policy in Congress…

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