Thursday, 30 August 2007

More posts coming soon...

I've been really busy the past week or so. Expect September to be an active month for In Perspective, though.

The Abu Ghraib scandal continues

The continued scapegoating in the Abu Ghraib prison abuse case.

The acquittal of a US army colonel on charges relating to the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib means no officers have been found criminally guilty.

The episode stained the reputation of the US military and may well have acted as a recruiting agent for insurgents.

Virtually all senior members of the US military have gotten off scot-free. From what I know of the case, Maj-Gen Miller should be punished for his major role in the human rights abuses (i.e. torture) at various United States military-led prisons, including in Guantanamo and the now-closed Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Education and globalization: the case against protectionism

Protectionism is all the rage in the United States nowadays, fueled by xenophobia from nativists (because of hot topic of immigration, especially from Central America), isolationists (partially because of foreign policy fiascoes like Iraq), and, most of all, anti-free-traders (anti-China; those seeking an enemy to blame for the loss of US manufacturing jobs).

America cannot stick its head in the sand just because of some foreign policy screw-ups, a trade deficit and loss of blue-collar jobs to places like China, and the influx of immigrants — many to do jobs Americans probably wouldn't. Pretending a problem doesn't exist or enacting a quick 'fix' isn't the answer. Politically, the Republicans are more anti-immigration; the Democrats more protectionist. But, as many financial experts warn, protectionism or xenophobia is not the answer to America's economic woes. Globalization isn't something new, and don't expect it to go away either.


Southern U.S. states should improve workers' skills to compete in the global economy rather than look to trade restrictions for protection, three Federal Reserve bank presidents said.

Barriers to commerce can backfire and hurt the economy as overseas partners retaliate by imposing their own restrictions against U.S.-made goods, the Fed chiefs from Dallas, St. Louis and Atlanta told a meeting of the Southern Governors' Association in Biloxi, Mississippi, today. The Fed presidents didn't discuss the current economic outlook or monetary policy.

``The answer is not protectionism,'' Richard Fisher of the Fed Bank of Dallas said in his speech. ``Rather than labor fruitlessly to protect your constituents from foreign competition, you and your legislatures must prepare them for it.''

Fed officials have been touting the benefits of free trade as members of Congress call for restrictions on imports from China, accusing the world's fastest-growing major economy of keeping its currency artificially cheap to benefit exporters.

The officials' comments don't just apply to the American south, but the whole of America and numerous other developed countries seeing the effects of globalization on the industrial workforce, and the economy in general.

The importance of people of developed countries to learn
As China and other emerging economies are using the mostly-positive forces of globalization to scoop up manufacturing jobs, America and other developed countries are in more need as ever for educated, skilled workers. If jobs are being lost, more need to be filled or created. Since many people cannot afford or achieve a high-level college education, there should be at least some government-run instructions.

More and more people seem to not be prepared for the real world. And as economic globalization increases the US and others are in need of innovative thinkers and service industry workers. Education has to start from childhood and continue through adulthood — from primary school to job training.

For a developed economy like America's, tariffs are counter-productive. They hurt the consumers because they raise prices, and lower competition and quality. They do, however, help the businesses they affect; but, in general, strong tariffs are not a good thing. In addition they are almost always politically-motivated (special interests) and are very rarely used appropriately. Ironically the pro-business politicians in the United States that used to support tariffs now favor their own brand of 'free trade' (e.g. Bush), like CAFTA, but bend the rules now and then.

Fair is (often) free
Note: Just because I believe in free trade, that does not mean I am against regulation, including in the case of fair trade. The exploitation of the poor by the rich is not what the free market is about. Sadly, that's what it has become. On economic issues I am somewhere to the left of the centrist weekly The Economist. Protectionism and idiotic tariffs are not the equivalent to fair trade; the protection of third world workers sorting through our trash is.

Monday, 27 August 2007

What a magazine cover says about Putin's Russia

Does the cover of this week's Economist say a lot about Russia under Vladimir Putin?

  • Atmosphere of photo: Shady and mysterious.
    Reality (of today's Russia): True.
  • Picture of Putin: Emotional status: happy (things are going his way), smiling and smug; empowered (clenched fist). [Is it me or is he quite James Bond-esque?]
    Reality: True.
  • Other elements of cover spread: Secretive and of a deeper political complexity, (people working in the background, secretly... ignore the his fellow ex-KGB men working to help Russia); a new, brighter Russia under Putin.
    Reality: True.

    In my mind, this cover has a duel meaning. To show Putin as new, fresh, and alive is one of them, with the Soviet era behind him and his country. The other is that while Soviet Communism and all its horrors is gone, the men secretly working in the background might not be — the KGB was part of Soviet Russia, and it continues to be, operating under a new guise, in new clothes.

    Maybe the editors at The Economist only intended the photo to illustrate a new Russian leader using old tricks; or perhaps they wanted to show that while Putin is alive, so are aspects of Russia's past. They even might have intended it to show both the old (black and white) Soviet era with Putin and his spies as an element of that, the duel meaning I interpret it as giving off. In short, maybe the cover shows Putin in the forefront and his spies behind him (in a way), or it just shows him with the past behind him.

    Overall I think the cover touches most upon the 'neo-KGB state' the magazine fears Russia to be heading into, with Putin leading the charge for the supremacy of Russia, and of himself.

  • Gonzo's gone

    Just heard the news this morning...

    Washington Post:

    Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales announced his resignation today, ending a controversial cabinet tenure that included clashes with Congress over the firing of nine U.S. attorneys and over the use of warrantless wiretaps in the war on terror.

    About time!

    Gonzales will step down on Sept. 17. In a brief statement, he called his 13 years in public service a "remarkable journey," but he gave no explanation about why he chose to resign now after resisting months of pressure to quit.
    "I do not find your testimony credible," Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) told him flatly in a July hearing on the surveillance program.

    "Under this Attorney General and this President, the Department of Justice suffered a severe crisis of leadership that allowed our justice system to be corrupted by political influence," Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), said as news of Gonzales' resignation circulated. "I hope the Attorney General's decision will be a step toward getting to the truth about the level of political influence this White House wields over the Department of Justice and toward reconstituting its leadership."

    (The Washington Post article also brings up the matter of Gonzales' Hispanic ethnicity several times. Honestly it shouldn't be such a big deal.)

    Many Bush loyalists didn't even support Gonzales as his plight increased this year due to questions of competence and ethics by Democrats and Republicans alike. For the last few months, it seems as if only, and I mean only, the White House supported the attorney general, if that.

    The Democratically-fueled congressional investigations into the practices of the White House — e.g. the politically-motivated firing of US attorneys, illegal anti-terror tactics, etc. — are getting into murkier political waters. Key Bush administration aide Karl Rove, who departed earlier this month, was also under pressure from long overdue probes into this secretive administration.

    The trend of major administration figures leaving shows the dire — if not confusing — state the White House is in. When these figures leave, they also seem to be vague as to why they are leaving and who made the decision; additional details remain as secret, as is the standard with this non-transparent government.

    We may never know the full details of the many devious plots both Rove and Gonzales have been charged with spearheading, but there is one question we can expect an answer to, albeit not immediately: Who is going to replace Gonzales? Since the White House is so politically weak, even with its own party (remember also presidential appointee confirmation voting has also been along party lines and the Democrats have a rough majority in Congress), it might be a struggle to get another poor, un-judicial, un-independent AG confirmed, at least not at the yes-man level Bush will want them at.

    Technorati technorati tags: , ,

    Sunday, 26 August 2007

    If only Bush were as lucky as Mugabe

    Zimbabwe's dictator, Robert Mugabe, has done far worse than the unpopular US President George W. Bush, who has lost support at home and abroad.

    Just to name a few of Mugabe's — ahem — achievements: he has run his country's economy into the ground. For example, inflation is in the many thousands (percentage-wise) and the IMF warns it could reach 100,000% by year's end. His economic and political policies have resulted in the death of many, and the starvation of many more. And yet he still stands as leader nearly three decades after he helped oust British colonial occupiers — he still plays the neoimperialist scare card every time Britain, America, or others shun him and his destructive leadership. One would think Mugabe would be a pariah among Africans, seen as one source of the continent's political and financial woes, and that other African states would want him gone. However, he stays lucky (to an extent).

    Despite an economy in turmoil, four-figure inflation and the exodus of millions to neighbouring countries, Zimbabwe's president can rely on the support of his African peers.
    There was certainly no hint that this was a head of state under intense domestic pressure.

    So people skip photo-ops with America's president — sometimes for fear of the political damage done by being seen as pro-US — but line up to meet Zimbabwe's despot. Crazy world, eh?

    Thursday, 23 August 2007

    Burmese protests crushed as usual

    The tyrannical, isolated authoritarian state of Myanmar, aka Burma, has finally made its way into the headlines. As usual, the news is not entirely positive. Following a rare rally against the government in relation to soaring energy costs and low-as-usual standards of living, the military-led government cracked down on protests led by several participants of a 1988 student uprising.

    Myanmar's military junta arrested 13 prominent dissidents and put gangs of spade-wielding supporters on the streets of Yangon on Wednesday to halt protests against soaring fuel prices and falling living standards.
    Despite the clampdown and the overnight arrest of the activists, 100 people staged an hour-long march before being dispersed. Five women and a man were arrested, although there was no violence, witnesses told Reuters.

    "Onlookers applauded but failed to join the march," one said.

    In a rare announcement in all state-run newspapers, the junta said the 13 dissidents were arrested for "agitation to cause civil unrest" and "undermining peace and security of the state" -- charges that could put them in jail for up to 20 years.

    It's time for the world to be serious with Myanmar's military junta and stop bending the embargoes (e.g. India may be supplying the Rangoon regime with military helicopters) put in place to harm the government — though not the people.

    The south-east Asian state is home to one of the most brutal regimes in the world and its tens of millions of people have suffered for years. Perhaps their plight would be the subject of more public and political attention if Myanmar was lucky enough to have vast oil resources. Nevertheless, Myanmar has one of the worst human rights records and any dissent to its authoritarian rulers is met with oppression. It's time for the state that holds Aung San Suu Kyi and many other political prisoners to be shown for what it is to the international community: a regime more than worthy of the label repressive.

    Wednesday, 22 August 2007

    Bush's Iraq-Vietnam comparison could easily backfire (like the war itself)

    So Bush compares Iraq to Vietnam (sort of)... isn't that what many in the anti-war camp have been doing all along? And when you're trying to push victory in a war, I don't think Vietnam, largely seen as a military and political failure for the United States, is the best thing to cite.

    President George W Bush has warned a US withdrawal from Iraq could trigger the kind of upheaval seen in South East Asia after US forces quit Vietnam.

    "The price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens," he told war veterans in Missouri.

    The price of America's occupation was also payed by the lives of many, in both Vietnam and Iraq. (And what about the Cambodians bombed needlessly and the other casualties of the horrendous, often covert, US policy of the Cold War?)

    Mr Bush said the Vietnam War had taught the need for US patience over Iraq.

    Patience, or the unneeded costs — in a humanitarian as well as a monetary sense — and blowback wars like Iraq and, notably, the old Soviet war in Afghanistan result in, not to mention loss of political face at home and abroad for those on the losing end(s) of such wars.

    President Bush had already made a connection between the US-led occupation of Iraq and the Cold War-era Vietnam conflict in October of last year.

    A sketchy connection of past conflict to present conflict
    Semi-neocon Christopher Hitchens disputes the Iraq-Vietnam link, offering plenty of contrasts between the Iraq and Vietnam wars, which I myself have my reservations about. In a way, one can compare the Cold War against 'communism' to the global 'war on terror'; Vietnam and Iraq were major fronts of those 'wars', respectively. They both have ideologically-driven parties involved — one might say Saudi Arabia and Iran are Iraq's China, etc., during the Vietnam war. However, the parties involved in the current Iraq conflict are even more of a blur, and at this point America is fighting insurgents while trying to get Iraq to be able to walk with its own too.

    Another shared trait of both wars is the unorthodox guerrilla warfare used by the insurgents/communists. Then again, things are much more wishy-washy in Iraq and there is no one enemy. Also Iraq fell with Saddam; America never fully conquered Vietnam (the north ended up taking the south).

    Bush's logic that the 'terrorists' will take over Iraq just as the communists did in Vietnam has plenty of holes. For example, just the fact that there is no one group of insurgents hurts his argument. In addition, his new comparison of Iraq to Vietnam, mostly in a domestic political sense, makes it all too easy for those on the other side of the spectrum to argue that Iraq is a failed war, like Vietnam, and even the president who has constantly pursued the war can make that connection.

    Not apples to apples
    Iraq is complex. With so many outcomes, and so many parties involved or allegedly involved, the policy debate will no doubt rage on in Washington and Baghdad. Iraq can be compared to Vietnam. But it's not a comparison where all the common traits — or at least enough to make a good case — match up.

    There are plenty of other comparisons and non-comparisons of the Iraq war to Vietnam, but saying Iraq 'is' Vietnam or saying the reverse (i.e. 'it isn't at all') gets a but too absolute. Things are not that clear cut. Jumping to polar extremes is one of the things that got the United States into this Mideast quagmire in the first place. Hopefully others won't make similar errors in their logic.

    Tuesday, 21 August 2007

    The government's power of fear

    'Strong' leadership
    People who wouldn't dare put anything short of symbolic political control on the hands of the people (i.e. the general public) stroll down the corridors of power in search of their next enemy, the next scapegoat that will either get them out of trouble or make the people fear their country is in trouble, thus ceding any freedom or power they have left to the people at the top of the nation's power pyramid.

    The people want, and need, a leader; a leader wants power. That's the natural order of human governance. Political leaders will cover up their blunders with anything they can — deceive the public, rig elections, create imagined or exaggerated enemies — just to get their greedy hands on more of the controls.

    Fear the power
    Fear and democratic, representative government (except one well on its way to being an autocracy) can be a dangerous concoction, spreading potent irrationality into the forum for social and governmental debate, poisoning a nation-state, tilting the power balance, and empowering those who can exploit the fears of the public best, and can get away with it.

    Fear can unite or divide, depending on how the government's cards are played, the condition of the public, and the enemies they think they face, as hyped up by the government. Fear can be a motivating force (of course it depends what it motivating people to do), or something that makes people (feel) helpless, i.e. a debilitating force. Sometimes the use of fear can even backfire, which is probably what would happen if America tried to use military pressure on Iran, evoking fears of invasion and proving to be a rallying cry for extremists against the US. In some cases the government makes an enemy of themselves, resulting in the people fearing their own government.

    Beginnings and ends
    Political machines — no stranger to the cronyism and unchecked power — are best served in a sea of fear, ignorance, irrationality, and/or apathy. They are like oil is to water when mixed with education, freedom, or truth. However, when enough injustice is felt by the people and an anti-establishment movement comes onto the scene, that machine might just be torn apart, if it doesn't implode on its own.

    This is a post in my topical Ideas about Democracy series.

    Friday, 17 August 2007

    Peru's quake disaster

    Hundreds dead. An entire city wiped out.

    No, this isn't Iraq, which is still experiencing bomb attacks — like the one a few days ago in the north part of the country — that kill hundreds. This is the South American nation of Peru:

    The death toll along Peru’s earthquake-ravaged southern coast climbed to 510 today, a top fire department official said, with at least 17,000 people displaced and wide areas without power, telephone service or road access.

    The city of Pisco was hit especially hard; its mayor estimated that 70% of the city is now wiped out. At least 300 have died in port city Pisco, which is located "about 125 miles south of Lima", the nation's capitol, says the NYT (above).

    Aftershocks have continued on Peru's coast.

    This summer has been crowded with natural disasters: floods in South Asia (which has affected millions; probably the worst disaster of the year, plus it was ignored by some areas of the MSM), heatwaves in Eastern Europe, and other incidents, including some in already-famished North Korea, not to mention this earthquake in Peru. These past few months have also seen carnage caused by humans: bombs in Iraq; the usual killing sprees around the globe resulting in destruction and woe for many.

    Depressing as this all is, the best one can do is see if one can help: donate time or money, or at least alert others to the humanitarian plight of others. It may not be the cheeriest of subjects, but ignoring world events won't do anyone any good. One cannot just turn a blind eye to the blood being split and do nothing and expect things to fix themselves. If you can do something to help, then why not do it?

    Now who's leading in the 2008 US presidential polls?

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

    One of the most popular posts on this blog the past couple months has been my analysis of the latest poll data for the 2008 United States presidential election. I thought it a wise idea to follow up that post with the latest August polling.

    Romney's poll numbers paint him out as the underdog. Not so. The under-polled former Massachusetts governor is looking stronger than ever, and is probably going to win one, if not two, of the big upcoming party primaries: Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. Giuliani — the frontrunner so far — is also looking at at least one primary win. Over-hyped, little-substance star Fred Thompson better get in the game or he will soon find himself unable to win his party's nomination.

    My bet right now is that Romney will win Iowa and New Hampshire, and Giuliani will take home South Carolina. That will pit them against each other for the Republican Party's presidential nomination, a nomination that may break precedent from the look of things. Romney has a near-perfect track record, whereas Giuliani has spotty social views and a poor political history of bullying, cronyism, thinking of himself as above the law, and political mongering and showboating.

    At this time we know almost nothing about Thompson or his political views, which is probably the reason he is doing so well. Once he does truly enter the race, expect his numbers to fall. The Republicans have not done as well in their campaign fundraising as their Democratic counterparts; John McCain seems to be almost out of the race because of his lack of funds. McCain's campaign has fallen apart these past few months and it is very unlikely that he will bounce back in full.

    Not much has changed on the Democratic front. Obama and Clinton are still duking it out for the rights to the presidential nomination, with Sen. Hillary Clinton coming out on top still. Sen. Barack Obama has made plenty-a-gaff while Clinton still acts like a political robot with more shallow policies than her Illinois senatorial counterpart (i.e. Obama).

    John Edwards, who actually has a plan for healthcare in America as opposed to his Democratic opponents, is still stuck in third place and foreign policy guru Bill Richardson, blaming jet lag for him saying that he thinks homosexuality is a choice (I'll have to dock him a few points in my book), is staying pretty far down there when it comes to popular support.

    Graph data source: RealClearPolitics poll averages, as of 17 August (note: since all the poll numbers did not add up to 100%, I entered the remainder in as "[Other/Undecided]".). For more election 2008 polls, see Polling Report. To see the candidates' stance on various issues, check out this helpful table — it's a good political resource for a hot election season (even though the election is over a year away).

    Thursday, 16 August 2007

    Smile! You're on satellite camera

    The United States is moving up in the world in terms of state surveillance...

    The Bush administration has approved a plan to expand domestic access to some of the most powerful tools of 21st-century spycraft, giving law enforcement officials and others the ability to view data obtained from satellite and aircraft sensors that can see through cloud cover and even penetrate buildings and underground bunkers.

    A program approved by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security will allow broader domestic use of secret overhead imagery beginning as early as this fall, with the expectation that state and local law enforcement officials will eventually be able to tap into technology once largely restricted to foreign surveillance.

    Administration officials say the program will give domestic security and emergency preparedness agencies new capabilities in dealing with a range of threats, from illegal immigration and terrorism to hurricanes and forest fires. But the program, described yesterday by the Wall Street Journal, quickly provoked opposition from civil liberties advocates, who said the government is crossing a well-established line against the use of military assets in domestic law enforcement.

    Does its implications against freedom cancel out the good it does for security (see security v. freedom); or is there nothing to worry about? And what is up with the WSJ getting all these major political news scoops?

    Although the federal government has long permitted the use of spy-satellite imagery for certain scientific functions -- such as creating topographic maps or monitoring volcanic activity -- the administration's decision would provide domestic authorities with unprecedented access to high-resolution, real-time satellite photos.
    Oversight of the department's use of the overhead imagery data would come from officials in the Department of Homeland Security and from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and would consist of reviews by agency inspectors general, lawyers and privacy officers.

    No warrants are needed for this kind of spying, and yet it is my personal view that the NSA wiretapping program is probably a larger infringement on civil liberties. However, both these spy programs can be easily abused for political motives because the oversight comes from those within the Bush administration. Many of the people overlooking these spy programs, such as officials in the DHS and DoJ, have already proven themselves to be political appointees, cronies, incompetent yes-men, and by no means objective like they should be. And all they ever seem to want is more power to spy on Americans.

    I think it is a good idea to update America's satellite imaging system, just as I believe a FISA for the 21st century was a good goal, but the lack of oversight is alarming for both of these surveillance programs. At least the NSA program will have audits and this new spy program will be reviewed by a number of people who hopefully will prevent abuse of this important and slightly worrying technology. Still, it is up to the courts, Congress, and, ultimately, the people to keep the executive in check, and that includes its more sensitive programs.

    The good, the bad, and the Congress

    What did the United States Congress accomplish in the weeks leading up to its August recess?


  • House energy bill — environmentally sensible, or as much so as one can expect from this particular Congress, however it faces a veto by Bush (why can't he veto anything bad?);
  • long-overdue ethics reform — although it did not strongly tackle earmarks and some lobbying and campaign contribution issues... can't have everything!;
  • healthcare for children — which faces, along with some environmental bills, a veto by Bush.

  • NSA surveillance bill, now signed into law;
  • tobacco regulation legislation.

  • Deadlock central;
  • threat of veto and opposition from policymakers of both parties on almost any progressive legislation;
  • Democrats try to not look weak on national security by actually being weak on civil liberties and putting the Bush administration in check;
  • GOP fractured, especially on Iraq and Gonzales, but holding up still;
  • Iraq will remain prime issue, albeit a largely symbolic one;
  • remember: Congress holds the purse of the federal government.

  • Wednesday, 15 August 2007

    When charity hurts

    I'm not referring to dependency, such as when the unemployed get dependent on welfare or the starving on the food of others, but to the allegedly counter-intuitive African food aid policies America has practiced.

    CARE, one of the world's biggest charities, is walking away from about $45 million a year in federal funding, saying American food aid is not only plagued with inefficiencies, but may hurt some of the very poor people it aims to help.

    Its decision, which has deeply divided the world of food aid, is focused on the practice of selling tons of American farm products in African countries that in some cases compete with the crops of struggling local farmers.

    "If someone wants to help you, they shouldn't do it by destroying the very thing that they're trying to promote," said George Odo, a CARE official who grew disillusioned with the practice while supervising the sale of American wheat and vegetable oil in Nairobi.

    Under the system, the U.S. government buys the goods from American agribusiness, ships them overseas on mostly American-flagged carriers and then donates the goods to the aid groups. The groups sell the products in poor countries and use the money to fund their anti-poverty programs there.

    As Congress considers a new farm bill, neither the Bush administration nor representatives are looking to undo the practice, known as "monetization." In fact, some of the nonprofit groups say it has worked well and are pressing for sharp increases in the tonnage of American food shipped for sale and distribution to support development programs.
    "What's happened to humanitarian organizations over the years is that a lot of us have become contractors on behalf of the government," said Odo of CARE. "That's sad but true. It compromised our ability to speak up when things went wrong."

    If CARE is correct, what the United States is doing is helping, not hurting, the people it is giving 'charity' to. It seems that instead of focusing on the task at hand — helping the poor, namely in Africa — US politicians are trying to milk this 'monetization' deal for all it's worth: by courting the struggling and already ridiculously subsidized US farming and agriculture industry. The Democrats wouldn't dare hurt the grasslands vote, nor would the Republicans or the environmentally-inefficient and counterintuitive corn ethanol-loving Bush administration.

    In fact all of Capitol Hill seems to be scrambling to court the farmers. And while they say they're helping the environment and reducing dependence on foreign oil (e.g. ethanol), or saving starving children in Africa, in reality they are making it all worse while reaping in the political benefits, whatever they may be, of having American agricultural sector on their side(s).

    We already know corn ethanol is counter-intuitive (it takes more net energy to make it than it gives out), although billions have already been wasted on it and it has resulted in higher prices of corn (among other commodities); is much of the US's foreign food aid the same way? Maybe Odo's wrong, but the allegations make sense.

    Who's a Wikipedia editor?

    Anyone! (with internet access).

    Many have heard the stories of American politicians editing their own pages on Wikipedia, the online, open-source wiki encyclopedia that everyone knows about, to make themselves look better. Turns out the good ol' CIA has done the same to its enemies.

    An online tool that claims to reveal the identity of organisations that edit Wikipedia pages has revealed that the CIA was involved in editing entries.

    Wikipedia Scanner allegedly shows that workers on the agency's computers made edits to the page of Iran's President.

    It also purportedly shows that the Vatican has edited entries about Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams.

    The tool, developed by US researchers, trawls a list of 5.3m edits and matches them to the net address of the editor.

    The Pope editing an article on the political wing of the IRA? America's intelligence community spamming up the profile of Iran's president? Does anyone have anything better to do than wiki-spam? (I myself am an active editor on Wikipedia.) I always figured the majority of people who mucked up the all-mighty Wikipedia were either people with radical views on the subject at hand or middle schoolers who were able to get past the site blockers in their school computer lab. It turns out everyone from Congressional staffers to holy men at the Holy See are in on it.

    Tuesday, 14 August 2007

    Security v. freedom

    This month's poll (Aug 11 to Sept 11) asks whether you, if given a choice, would choose either security or freedom. In political quizzes, security and freedom are often metered as polar opposites: 'security' to the extreme is an authoritarian police state, the greatest 'freedom' is a sort of libertarian anarchy with neoliberal economic policies.

    In other words, people choosing to die for freedom are choosing freedom over security. People willing to give up basic democratic rights for a dose of safety — real or imagined — are the kind of drones who are fine under a dictatorship (until they realize how bad it is — if they do — and the rest flows from there), or at least fine with the principles of one.

    The people are sure to demand security. But it's the government's duty to insure freedom and not to entertain the more irrational wishes of the public and exploit their irrationalities for own power or wealth. Time and time again the general population chooses security over freedom, often after being coned by governing leaders; time and time again they regret that choice. Freedom's benefits are reaped over time, whereas security's effects are seen instantly: 'no new attacks' or 'attack stopped, but threat still there'; people are scared away from their own freedom.

    Coincidentally, since the poll will end on the sixth anniversary of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks upon the United States, the limiting of freedom for the sake of security — and vice versa — will be something to think about all the more. The freedoms of people are often limited during wartime; following 9/11 the Bush administration, and other governments around the world, worked to curb certain liberties in the name of security. The abuse of power under the deceiving namesake of 'security' is yet another thing to think about: we've seen it under a rainbow of despots, from the Emperors of Ancient Rome to McCarthy in Cold War-era America.

    Does one need security to allow freedom to flourish? Or is true security granted only when freedom exists? Can the two coexist — even in theory?

    Also coming up in a little less than a month is the one year birthday of In Perspective.

    Monday, 13 August 2007

    Bush's 'brain' has left the house

    ...or at least he will by the end of August
    This morning we learned of yet another devastating blow to the Bush administration. No, it had nothing to do with Iraq or Bush's fishing trip with Sarkozy — it's bigger than that.

    'The decider' looks to have lost his decider: Mr. Karl Rove, king of Bush advisers and duke of GOP strategy.

    A few hours ago, Rupert Murdoch's new conservative crown jewel, the Wall Street Journal, broke what will probably be the biggest American political story of the week: Karl Rove's resignation.

    "He will move back up in the polls," says Mr. Rove, who interrupts my reference to Mr. Bush's 30% approval rating by saying it's heading close to "40%," and "higher than Congress."

    Looking ahead, he adds, "Iraq will be in a better place" as the surge continues. Come the autumn, too, "we'll see in the battle over FISA" -- the wiretapping of foreign terrorists -- "a fissure in the Democratic Party." Also in the fall, "the budget fight will have been fought to our advantage," helping the GOP restore, through a series of presidential vetoes, its brand name on spending restraint and taxes.

    As for the Democrats, "They are likely to nominate a tough, tenacious, fatally flawed candidate" by the name of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Holding the White House for a third term is always difficult given the pent-up desire for change, he says, but "I think we've got a very good chance to do so."

    If that quinella pays off, however, Mr. Rove will have to savor it from somewhere other than his West Wing office. He's resigning effective Aug. 31 -- 14 years after he began working with Mr. Bush on his campaign for Texas governor, 10 years after they began planning a White House run, and after 79 months in the political cockpit of a tumultuous presidency.

    "I just think it's time," he says, adding that he first floated the idea of leaving to Mr. Bush a year ago. His friends confirm he had been talking about it with others even earlier. But Democrats took Congress, and he didn't want to depart on that sour note. He then thought he'd leave after the State of the Union, but the Iraq and immigration fights beckoned. Finally, Chief of Staff Josh Bolten told senior White House aides that if they stayed past a certain point, they were obliged to remain to Jan. 20, 2009.

    "There's always something that can keep you here, and as much as I'd like to be here, I've got to do this for the sake of my family," Mr. Rove says.

    Splitting the party poles
    Rove is the master of polarizing America and making the political discourse all the more irrational. He led the effort of painting the Democrats as weak on national security, an allegation they still even cave into Bush and break the Constitution to fend off. He learned how to push the right partisan buttons in his years in the White House; he pushed those buttons quite well. Besides getting caught up in the Plame investigation and a silly dance (MC Rove!) on YouTube (and a series of congressional probes), Rove pretty much got away with all the trash he inserted into the beltway.
    As the debate gets going, Mr Bush and the Republicans will surely miss Mr Rove, who was quick to seek partisan advantage by tarnishing Democrats’ reputation on security. This injected added acrimony into American politics, such as when in June 2005 Mr Rove accused the Democrats of being fainthearted in their response to terrorist attacks on September 11th 2001.

    Questions to consider on the implications of this latest development in the George W. Bush presidential saga:
  • What will the departure of key political guru Karl Rove mean for the Bush administration?
  • What are the reasons behind his resignation?
  • Will this throw the embattled President Bush into more political chaos?
  • Will the departure of the 'architect' cause the West Wing to cave in?

    The Guardian Newsblog has a nice roundup of who's saying what about the resignation of Rove.

    And who says everything bad happens in August? Take that David Plotz of Slate! Karl Rove leaving is most certainly a good thing for America. Of course he will probably enter the private sector and further muck up the nation's political lobby...

  • Saturday, 11 August 2007

    UNI: UN in Iraq

    While Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) remains a strong negative — albeit over-hyped — actor in the country, maybe the UN will be a positive one.

    A united force in Mesopotamia?
    About time the Security Council took action to widen the United Nation's reach in Iraq...

    With a show of 15 hands, resolution 1770 was adopted unanimously at the UN Security Council, paving the way for a wider, political role for the UN in Iraq and a bigger presence inside the war-torn country.

    The number of staff will only increase from 65 to 95 - a small but very symbolic step for the world body, which withdrew most of its 600 staff from Baghdad four years ago, in the wake of a massive attack on its headquarters.

    Under the new resolution, sponsored by the US and the UK, the UN will now be authorised to help the Iraqi government to promote national reconciliation and regional dialogue on issues such as border security, energy and refugees.

    It will also help settle disputes over internal boundaries - all tasks in which the US is seen to have failed so far in Iraq.

    The Iraqis have welcomed the resolution, but said they realise the onus was on them as well.

    This is relatively good news for Iraq. Borders, energy, and refugees are some of the biggest issues facing Iraq. They're also complex and often multinational issues that need to be dealt with on an international level, not by an incompetent occupier seen as imperialistic and out to steal Iraq's oil wealth (I think that notion was disproven long ago). Iraq's borders is a matter of security; foreign extremists and terrorists are seeping in through the borders daily to worsen the situation in Iraq. Energy is a political and economic issue. Iraq has many refugees; more and more flee the country every day and they are becoming a major focus for humanitarian groups.

    Terrorists crossing Iraq's borders into the country, a lack of economic progress and energy insecurity, and the instability in Iraq and bordering nations caused by refugees (which also breeds extremism) all combine to make a very volatile and dangerous Iraq. All three fuel Iraq's civil war and each has its own area: security, economy/politics, and humanitarian. There is no magic fix, but the UN will certainly be able to work those issues out better than America. In addition, nations like Saudi Arabia and Iran launching proxy wars in Iraq and supporting terrorist movements may be dealt with better by the international diplomatic community — in conjunction with involved parties — than by the US.

    Some questions about this symbolic move:
  • Will it increase international support and legitimacy for the US-led occupation?
  • Will the US really do its job in protecting the UN staff; will fighters target it or let it be to help their own political image?
  • Is it really as important symbolically as it seems?
  • Will it pave the way for more diplomatic progress on war-torn Iraq?
  • Will there be more expansion?
  • Are peacekeeping operations coming soon? Whose backing would they have? Is there enough support, money, and troops for an effective peacekeeping force? (The best case for the above question would be if peoples who Iraqis feel little animosity towards took a large role in the operations. Muslim-majority states like Indonesia were apparantly open to the option a while back, but since the situation on the ground in Iraq, especially Baghdad, has worsened, and America remains defiant of its occupation, that option is shrinking.)

  • Thursday, 9 August 2007

    Pakistan's state of emergency postponed

    As it turns out, Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf did not impose emergency rule (see this post for background) — which would have quelled more civil liberties and pushed the elections back to who-knows-when — possibly due in part to pressure by Condi Rice.

    "My focus in terms of the domestic scene there is that he have a free and fair election and that's what we have been talking to him about and hopefully they will," Mr Bush said at a White House news conference.

    A Pakistani government spokesman said there was pressure on Gen Musharraf to declare an emergency but that he had decided not to because he was "committed to democracy".

    Since we're already on the topic of Pakistan's president/military dictator, it's relevant to note that...
    Mr Bush said he expected Gen Musharraf to act against al-Qaeda leaders who the US says are sheltering in the areas. Pakistan has called the US warnings "irresponsible and dangerous".

    Gen Musharraf pulled out of the three-day Afghan council, or peace jirga, on combating the Taleban, citing commitments in Islamabad.

    One of the reasons the US is probably still sticking with Pakistan as a GWOT ally is that its one of the only allies it has at its disposal. If Pakistan and America weren't tied that could mean more extremism because of lack of external support for Musharraf; on the other hand we have seen more extremism develop because of the US-Pakistan relationship. Sort of like with the controversial topic of troop pullout from Iraq: the US leaves there are almost no security forces and Iraq could become even more of a black hole of turmoil with Iran and the Saudis squaring off unchecked; on the other hand foreign occupation provides radicals with a rallying cry for insurgency and fuels Islamic terrorism.

    Democratic elections in Pakistan are due later this year. Whoever wants to bet that Bush's wish that they'll be 'free and fair' will come true has the odds against them.

    Wednesday, 8 August 2007

    Musharraf: another political victim of the 'war on terror'

    Will one of America's major allies in the 'war on terror' fall into the sea of turmoil devouring parts of his nation?

    Dictator Musharraf is growing unpopular, and neither the US nor the Taliban is helping. Someone who both works with terrorists — namely by condoning the hotbed of extremism on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border — and an unpopular nation seen as a hegemonic power, while also ruling undemocratically, is bound to run out of luck sometime. Musharraf has faced a series of debacles, including the taking of the Red Mosque in Islamabad by fundamentalists and backlash to his sacking of Pakistan's chief justice and critic of the regime (although he was reinstated).

    It has just been reported that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf may declare a state of emergency, although that is denied by the government.

    A member of the inner circle of the Pakistani leadership told Reuters, however, that U.S. ally Musharraf was considering the option, which could allow him to extend the tenure of the national and provincial assemblies by 12 months and delay elections due by the turn of the year.

    The government could explain such a step by citing growing insecurity because of the threat posed by Islamist militants allied to the Taliban and al Qaeda after a series of attacks, many of them by suicide bombers, in the past month.

    Political analysts and opposition leaders, however, have feared that Musharraf, who is going through his weakest period since coming to power in a 1999 coup, might resort to an emergency because of difficulties he faces in getting re-elected by the sitting assemblies, while still army chief.

    Many have lost political support by cooperating with America. To make up for that, in certain cases the US gives massive amount of aid, like in the case of Saudi Arabia, but most still keep their distance.

    Portrayed by extremists as an imperial occupier bent on the destruction of Islam and working with its Zionist pal Israel to achieve that goal. Obviously that is a misconstrued perception meant to radicalize the population, but it makes it all the more easier to see why it is not good to be seen as a puppet of the United States, not least in the Middle East [and the Muslim world in general].

    Pakistan has proven itself to be not only a hotspot for extremism because of the extremists there, but also because of Musharraf and gang are seen as friends of the Great Satan (i.e. America). In addition it, along with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and other undemocratic nations, is a perfect example of American neocon hypocrisy on outsourcing democratic principles while also working closely with and giving massive amounts of help and aid to — with few positive results — horrible regimes. How is it OK justify the invasion of Iraq as removing a tyrant (Saddam Hussein) if you are giving billions in military aid to governments almost as condemnable?, has become a common question.

    I believe that, under President Bush, America has taken the wrong path to ridding the world of Islamic extremism. It has been made all the more powerful by actions by Washington and its allies that have just fueled the fire paradox.

    While his pall Mubarak looks to be doing fine turning Egypt into a full-fledged police state, Musharraf faces a darker future. The religious extremists don't like him, believers in liberal democracy hate him too. US presidential candidate Barak Obama has even jumped on the Musharraf-hate bandwagon, it seems, naive move of course and one he will regret.

    Pakistan, a nuclear power, runs the risk of being taken over by extremists. America has once again chosen security over freedom in supporting dictatorship over democracy, although, in its defense, both seem like pretty bad options (think: the democratic election of Hamas). It as failed in principle and seems to be failing in practice. What is needed is stability, a hard thing to come by in the turbulent [extended] Mideast region.

    Delaying the democratic process is bad enough. It is all the more worse, for Musharraf and democratic principles, if America assists him in maintaining his dictatorship, as it has in other so-called allies in the GWOT. It's probably going to end up being a lose for Musharraf, a lose for the US and its 'war', and a lose for democracy. Meanwhile, the Pakistani government appears to be falling apart... perhaps declaring a state of emergency is redundant at this point.

    Globalization: A very old trade

    What we know today as 'globalization' has actually been around for tens of thousands of years, says Nayan Chanda in his new book, Bound Together: How Traders, Preachers, Adventurers, and Warriors Shaped Globalization, reviewed recently in The Economist:

    Nayan Chanda, director of publications at the Yale Centre for the Study of Globalisation, provides background facts for less lazy thinking in a lively book that is packed with incident, anecdote and derring-do.

    He points out that globalisation is a new word to describe an old process. The word was introduced in the late 1970s and had gained widespread currency by 1999, the time of Mr Bové's visit to McDonald's. Many thought it described a wholly novel phenomenon. But globalisation really began about 60,000 years ago, when the first migrants walked out of Africa. Human history ever since has been a process of growing interconnectedness.

    Mr Chanda organises his argument around what he takes to be the four groups that have done most to bring about this interconnectedness: traders, preachers, adventurers and warriors. Though the motives of these groups—to profit, convert, learn or conquer—have usually been selfish, the overall effect of their actions has been to draw us all closer together.

    Globalization has its pros and cons. Pros include the spread of knowledge — scientific/technological as well as artistic/cultural, also the factual and the theoretical — and the trade of goods. Cons include the effects of the trading of goods: the spread of diseases, or non-native plants and animals that damage the environment, or the exploitation of a less powerful country by a more powerful one, or the proliferation of negative ideologies and movements. It opened the door for imperialism and colonialism, but also for the spread of gunpowder from one civilization to another. It brought European diseases like smallpox to the 'New World' while also enabling a vaccine invented in Switzerland and manufactured in America to help people in Indonesia confront the latest pandemic.

    Globalization helped bring about today's global warming, but might also be the key to solving it. Cooperation, however, is essential. Part of globalization is of when one party dominates, conquers, or forces another to accept their terms; part is an indirect and/or unintentional (or intentional) spread; part is a mutual acceptance and awareness.

    Globalization allows people in Argentina read a blog written by a United Nations peacekeeper in Palestine — heck, without an international network there wouldn't be a true UN. Sure globalization is primarily associated with an economic connectivity ("to profit"), but we also see cultural hegemony ("to convert"), a more pacified spread of ideas ("to learn"), and the most abrasive ("to conquer").

    We meet globalization's challenges and reap its benefits, and never do we see it relinquish its status as a controversial phenomenon. If humans are naturally curious, then globalization is our way to connect and spread all aspects of our society, and sometimes to accomplish individual aims — invade country X, seek new riches, convert the people of land Y to religion A.

    Nowadays we view globalization as the reason Pakistanis suffer in sweatshops to make our Nikes or why France's traditional fine tastes are being corrupted by American fast-food. We sometimes think only of the traders and warriors. Globalization has an ugly past too, such as the African slave trade, but we are all the more aware of its effects now, ironically because of it: the spread of this knowledge, a result of communication which itself is a result of globalization. Sometimes we miss the bigger picture. Without globalization, would I be writing or you be reading this blog?

    Tuesday, 7 August 2007

    Congress legalizes Bush's NSA wiretapping program

    An inept Congress hands Bush his NSA wiretapping program legalized on a silver platter...
    Quiz time! What is the one of the last things Congress did before taking a four-week August recess? Hand more power to the Bush administration and slash away at the US Constitution, of course! Another sting to civil liberties courtesy of the 'war on terrorism' and the American government. Enter the Protect America Act of 2007 (Senate vote info; House votes). All links in this post are, in my opinion, quite important to understanding this complex issue.

    Secrecy, spying, and a false 'war'
    Why did the United States Congress cave in to (NYT) President George Bush on the expanded wiretapping bill? If this were the Clinton years I might think secret deal or tradeoff (i.e. you pass my stuff and I don't veto yours). However, that system hasn't been as prolific in the relationship between Bush's White House and the majority-Democratic Congress.

    One would think this new bill would finally resolve the legality of the Bush administration's controversial domestic surveillance program. How could any self-respecting legislator approve it — let alone a Democrat? The answer appears to be fear, on both sides, especially Democratic, of appearing soft on terrorism.

    The Dems have already spent — for better or for worse — so much political energy on symbolic jabs at the Bush administration on the subject of Iraq. But when it comes to something real, impacting, non-symbolic, and relevant, but by no means routine, they give George W. Bush the kind of victory he hoped for. The NSA wiretapping program — revealed in 2005 by The New York Times — has been ruled illegal again and again. It sidesteps an already troubling statute: the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, or FISA, whose secret judges grant secret warrants for secret searches or wiretaps, secretly. The Bush administration was forced to but the NSA program under the domain of FISA in January, resulting in a still-secret ruling that the program was illegal and placed restrictions, or something of the sort.

    But the word 'illegal' is not in Bush's dictionary...
    This bill, signed into law by Bush this weekend, validates the illegal wiretapping program that he has even admitted exists (in his own special way, plus it gave him a chance to attack the so-called liberal news media). It has a decent reach too. One of the administration's excuses for its until-recently-illegal eavesdropping program was that the current FISA court only deals with old means of communication, not modern ones like email and calls over fiber optic cable. Naturally, instead of requesting the then Republican-controlled Congress update the legislation (especially for the post-9/11 world, for which which the administration claims the illegal secret programs are essential), the White House decided to launch its own secret programs — legal or otherwise.

    Extension of power
    So what's wrong with this law just updating FISA to keep up with the times? Well, keeping up with technology is not the only changes this law puts into place...

    Just as before, the FISA court only issues the search warrant after the search/wiretap is carried out — troubling, I know. But this legislation goes a bit further by removing more power from the courts, albeit secret ones that almost never take issue with clandestine spying on a domestic level. Now the searches can be carried out at the discretion of the attorney general or intelligence director.

    That is all the more troubling considering the political yes-men Bush keeps in his cabinet and staff, and the fact that Alberto Gonzales is known for politically-motivated (in)justice. The horror! And as if the fact that Gonzales can now order secret searches, legally this time, isn't enough to make you a bit queasy for the disregard of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, keep in mind that under this new law the AG and head of intelligence have plenty of discretionary leeway when it comes to ordering secret surveillance. Plus, it's all secret; I'd expect nothing less transparent from this administration.

    The sorta good news
    A positive is that the AG will indeed have his power checked to a certain extent by internal audits, which have proved their worth in the past. That aspect of oversight is one the White House doesn't like.

    One sliver of good news is that because of lawsuit threats that only increase under this legislation, telecommunications companies and ISPs are less likely to be bullied into invading their customers' privacy under pressure by the Bush administration. In fact, as I understand it this law removes the shield the White House has desperately tried to use to protect the telcos, which is bad news for the industry. Still, Gonzales has less leeway to invade our phone and internet records, though more to wiretap if the conversation might (emphasis on might) be with someone outside of the United States. Nonetheless, the telcos are as scared as ever of being sued for disclosing private details of their customers, as the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday, as did the NYT (linked above):

    The law also gave the administration greater power to force telecommunications companies to cooperate with such spying operations. The companies can now be compelled to cooperate by orders from the attorney general and the director of national intelligence.
    In fact, pressure from the telecommunications companies on the Bush administration has apparently played a major hidden role in the political battle over the surveillance issue over the past few months.

    Worse than FISA
    FISA was scary enough — but maybe understandable and, to an extent, justifiable — but putting the secret search rights into Bush's political cronies (yes, that's what Gonzales, among others, is) is going more than a tad overboard. Justifying it with national security is puzzling. The least Congress could do is get rid of Alberto Gonzales, which would take a bipartisan effort; many, many Republicans are on board with the idea and the Democrats have been jabbing at it for months. This new law will last six months or so, ending in early February 2008.

    Just to make this more confusing, this all ties back to the legality of the 'war on terror':
    With minor exceptions, FISA authorizes electronic surveillance only upon certain specified showings, and only if approved by a court. The statute specifically allows for warrantless wartime domestic electronic surveillance—but only for the first fifteen days of a war. 50 U.S.C. § 1811. It makes criminal any electronic surveillance not authorized by statute, id. § 1809; and it expressly establishes FISA and specified provisions of the federal criminal code (which govern wiretaps for criminal investigation) as the "exclusive means by which electronic surveillance...may be conducted," 18 U.S.C. § 2511(2)(f) (emphasis added).[2]

    The Department of Justice concedes that the NSA program was not authorized by any of the above provisions. It maintains, however, that the program did not violate existing law because Congress implicitly authorized the NSA program when it enacted the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against al-Qaeda, Pub. L. No. 107-40, 115 Stat. 224 (2001). But the AUMF cannot reasonably be construed to implicitly authorize warrantless electronic surveillance in the United States during wartime, where Congress has expressly and specifically addressed that precise question in FISA and limited any such warrantless surveillance to the first fifteen days of war.

    So even under FISA the NSA program is questionable. No wait, the White House says it doesn't follow FISA rules because of the 'war on terror' powers given to the president by Congress. No worries: this new law legalizes all that existing wiretapping junk and then some.

    There's balance, it's just all tilted towards the White House, (and the only checks are top secret)

    In the war against terrorism there's no need to bother with those pesky courts of Constitutional practice anymore, says the White House. Congress seems to have fallen in line with that logic. And this isn't the first time. Remember the horrendous Military Commissions Act of 2006?

    Isn't Congress supposed to oversee the operations of the executive? Has everyone forgotten the fundamental idea of checks and balances? With this law Congress has only given more power to the bloated, unpopular, unitary executive Bush administration that a majority of it claims to hate. It also cuts away further at the notion that Americans have rights guaranteed to them by their constitutional, and that civil liberties come with those rights. Freedom trumps security — or at least it should. But in a police state as well as in a certain way modern America (though nothing near a police state), fear rules all.

    Soft on civil liberties
    If the Democrats are so afraid of being painted as weak on national security, than actually being weak on civil liberties is not a very good fix. Are they more worried of what their opponents think of them and will paint them as than what they are actually doing? That's just sad.

    When it comes to the reaction to national security — GWOT and its consequences — the Democrats have been disappointing. Does what your opponents think of you matter more than doing the right thing? Enjoy your recess, Congress. Hopefully you'll come back to Capitol Hill with more brains and balls.

    Balkinization offers brilliant legal analysis and opinion on the 'proposed FISA "fix"', as they call it.

    This post is over 1,500 words. Eventually I will probably cut it into shorter, more specific posts then expanding them. So don't be alarmed if you see a post with parts of this essay in the future.

    Bad Russia!

    Russia has been vying for world news headlines. First it tries to steal the North Pole away from Santa (or so George W. Bush's thought process goes). Now Moscow has apparantly fired a missile at neighbor Georgia. Georgia, a former Soviet state in Central Asia, does not have the best of ties with Russia, with recent allegations ranging from energy bullying to spying to all-out imperialism echoing from Tbilisi.

    Russia denies, well, everything bad it's been accused of: bullying states like Georgia and Estonia, making aggressive land grabs in the Arctic, cooperating with Iran (etc.), being close to genocidal in its own Chechnya, messing with Ukraine, covering up or even committing the murder of dissident Alexander Litvinenko and being uncivil with Britain about it, and killing and intimidating dissidents, including journalists, and much, much more.

    Putin's Russia seems to be executing its authority on many fronts — domestic and foreign. And the outcome has largely been negative.

    Update: Due to recent misconceptions about the message I hoped to convey with the title of this post, I would like to clarify what I meant by "Bad Russia!". As I said in a comment below... 'The "Bad Russia!" statement is the kind of attitude the West is holding towards Russia: treating it, in a way, like an insubordinate child.' In addition, Russia is acting out, perhaps rebelling on purpose, in its attempts to prove itself as a world power to be reckoned with [see this post].

    Monday, 6 August 2007

    Back home

    No longer will I take a constant, easily-accessible high speed internet connection for granted (I thought I'd already learned that lesson!). It has too many secure wi-fi networks... but nonetheless Southern California is very nice. The three-hour time difference can be a drag, especially on the return. Just as I get back from (my final) summer vacation, it seems everyone has left for late July and August: governments, ordinary people, etc. At least on the political front it's some time to spend jotting down smear ideas against your opponents while enjoying the beach.

    If you think Europe's heat wave and Britain's flooding have been bad, take a look at perhaps one of the more underreported stories of late: torrential rains and flooding in South Asia. This year's monsoon season has been disastrous. In the recent wave, hundreds have been killed and millions possibly affected by flooding.

    Also take a look at what else to expect in the news this week.

    Will Sudan weasel out of this one?

    Late last month, the United Nations Security Council finally agreed to send UN peacekeepers to Darfur, in Sudan. In the western region of Darfur, what some (including me) call genocide has raged on since 2003, resulting in the deaths of a minimum of 200,000 people and the rape of many more. Millions have exited Darfur, seeking refuge, and the conflict appears to have spread to neighboring Chad, destabilizing the region.

    Khartoum has remained defiant, as I've blogged about, and the current AU force there is unable to do its job because of the government's undermining tactics. Although a hybrid UN-AU force was agreed upon earlier this year Sudan's government has been doing everything possible to prevent it from helping its people — pressure from China was essential for the plan to go through.

    Compromised operation
    Resolution 1769 was passed unanimously. It has been called weak by some, probably because the need to placate China, which has a permanent seat on the Security Council and has ties to the Sudanese government (Sudan has what everyone wants: oil). However, it's better to have some than none and sometimes, even on humanitarian issues, concessions are needed to see the plan through. Diplomacy's all about compromise; China's vote was needed for this resolution and the people of Darfur have waited and suffered long enough.

    BBC News:

    The mandate for the 26,000-strong force was watered down to appease critics and it will only be able to protect civilians deemed to be under threat.

    The new UN-AU mission head welcomed the move but urged a political solution "as there needs to be a peace to keep".

    The warring factions in the four-year conflict are due to meet on Friday.
    The mission, to be known as Unamid - the United Nations African Union Mission in Darfur - is expected to cost up to $2bn (£1.1bn) a year and will be world's largest peacekeeping force.
    UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described the mission as "historic and unprecedented".
    The new force will not have the right to disarm the militias and it does not have the powers to pursue and arrest suspected war criminals indicted by the International Criminal Court.

    In a recent update:
    Most of Darfur's rebel groups have agreed on a common position and want "final" talks with Sudan's government within two or three months.

    A political solution is needed, though, and the Darfur groups rebelling against the government know that. The rebel groups often shift positions following agreements so this is by no means a final accord.

    Resolution lacking resolve (?)
    This new international force will be able to actually use force and defend local citizens and the foreign workers there from state-backed rebels and even state forces themselves (a key reason humanitarian work there has been stinted). It will number around 26,000 and, as stated above, consists of United Nations and African Union peacekeepers. The first of the troops should arrive in October. Everyone but the leaders in Khartoum have been pushing for a peacekeeping force in Darfur — the civilians, the aid agencies, the rebels, foreign governments. The Darfur rebel groups seem to be content with the resolution.

    Sanctions — which were suggested by the Bush administration a while back (all talk, no action) — have been taken off the table with this resolution. So what leverage does the peacekeeping force have over Khartoum? Next to none, it seems.

    The fact that it is fueling the genocide aside, isn't it reprehensible that the Sudan is keeping even the most basic and essential aid from reaching its own citizens? In the end of all this, who will get off scot-free, and who will have to face justice?

    Sunday, 5 August 2007

    Your daily dose of sarcasm

    This was a not-too-surprising revelation in the news from a few days ago: "Anti-terror chief 'misled' public"

    Big surprise there. The government never misleads its citizens on terrorism for their own political gain. Nope.

    Well at least there are real investigations into the deception the government uses, especially when it comes to terrorism and the effort against it.

    Russia's continued icy relations

    Russia breaks the ice with Canada... by annoying it
    What does the latest update in the chilling relations between Russia and others (e.g. America, Britain, Georgia, Estonia, and now Canada) mean in the long term? As usual, the implications may be as murky as the waters of which Russia seeks control in the Arctic [see post].

    Tit for tat
    Russia is trying to show the world that, along with its new-found energy wealth, it has bigger muscles it can flex. Many recent Russian moves of rebellion are meant to distance itself from others and show it is strong enough on its own, or so the theory goes. The former Soviet nation has produced a few surprises, such as (apparently) calling Bush's bluff on the missile shields and proving more a bully than ever with its natural gas.

    America and Russia don't look like they are in 'Cold War' mode (I agree with Condi Rice) — as some alarmists have speculated — but the rhetoric is clear: the White House thinks Russia is becoming a bullying autocracy; Russia views the United States as an overreaching imperial superpower. Both can learn from their own talking points.

    The most powerful voice in the anti-Russia camp presiding in the Bush administration is none other than that of Vice President Cheney, who has traded jabs with Putin (sometimes similar personalities clash, I guess). Considering his the formidable power he welds in the executive, Cheney might convince Bush to toughen up. Whether that is happening remains to be seen.

    We do know that Russia's antics over the past few years — cutting of gas and launching cyberwars against nations, killing and intimidating state opponents, rebelling against the West — do not look like they will stop anytime soon. Depending on the conditions, things may change with some diplomacy, direct or stealth.

    The big freeze?
    Just because Moscow has called the icy Arctic theirs doesn't mean relations will stay cold. They may turn frozen, or perhaps the thaw will come. Russia views itself as a new world player. It will take tact by western states to balance this new perceived world power seesaw, no matter how politically superficial it seems.

    Russia might fear containment; both sides fear the other's overreach. A new article by the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov intended for publication in Foreign Affairs (no, it wasn't censored) tackles this issue.

    Cooperation or mutual stubbornness is what it comes down to, but it takes two to tango. Both Russia and America, et al, impact their mutual relations. Both will have to fix them or face more diplomatic tension.

    Thursday, 2 August 2007

    The red submarine: Russia's Arctic assertion

    Moscow's icy declaration red-flagged
    Russia has staked claim to the North Pole. With the blessing of the increasingly authoritarian government, a small Russian submarine operating for scientific purposes left a Russian flag under the pole. It is believed that the Arctic seabed holds vast natural energy resources. Recently Canada has also brought up Arctic land rights. All-out Russia v. Canada? I doubt it. More saber rattling between Russia and the West? Probably. Whether the Litvanyenko murder case, anti-missile shield plans, or the matter of who has owns the icy depths, and the energy-rich land on the bottom.

    This comes at a time when the law of the sea, as well as other geographical rights, is under debate in the international community. Control of supposed international areas and outer space is a hot geopolitical topic that will result in many voices clamoring for their fair share in the goods.

    However territorial claim to the far north is a settled issue, says Canada, with a claim of its own in the Arctic. I guess this falls under law of the seabed?


    Canada's top diplomat ridiculed Russia's flag-planting at the North Pole on Thursday as a "15th century" stunt that does not bolster its disputed claim to the resource-rich Arctic.
    "Look, this isn't the 15th century. You can't go around the world and plant flags and say, 'We're claiming this territory,'" Foreign Minister Peter MacKay told broadcaster CTV.
    Earlier, according to reports, a Russian mini-submarine reached the bottom of the Arctic Ocean under the North Pole at a depth of 4,261 metres (13,980 feet), to carry out scientific tests and leave a Russian flag.
    The dive is believed to be the first of its kind and is part of a voyage that started on July 24. It aims to advance Russian claims to a vast swathe of Arctic seabed thought to be rich in oil and gas.
    "Our claims over our Arctic are very well-established," MacKay commented.
    "There is no threat to Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic and as you know, we've made very strong commitments, the prime minister has been there recently, may be there again (soon), so we're not at all concerned about this (stunt).
    "It's basically just a show by Russia," he said.
    A spokesman for Canada's foreign affairs department added: "Canada's sovereignty over the lands and waters of the Canadian Arctic is longstanding, well established and based on historic title."

    The race is on for polar control
    BBC News:
    President Vladimir Putin has already described the urgent need for Russia to secure its "strategic, economic, scientific and defence interests" in the Arctic.

    Moscow argued before a UN commission in 2001 that waters off its northern coast were in fact an extension of its maritime territory.

    The claim was based on the argument that an underwater feature, known as the Lomonosov Ridge, was an extension of its continental territory, but it was rejected and Russia told to resubmit with more evidence.
    Several countries with territories bordering the Arctic - including Russia, the US, Canada and Denmark - have launched competing claims to the region.
    The North Pole is not currently regarded as part of any single country's territory and is therefore administered by the International Seabed Authority.

    With the rise in global temperatures and thus the melting of polar ice-caps, competition has increased for nations seeking claim to the Arctic Circle.

    Why America's Mideast military aid is bad news

    Countering the spread of Iran and terrorism in the Middle East is tricky business. That's why the Bush administration has decided to give Israel US$30 billion, Egypt $13 billion, and Saudi Arabia [see post], Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, and UAE a shared $20 billion in a new arms deal (BBC).

    George and Condi's ill-reasoned idea
    "Rice says Mideast military aid will counter Qaeda" (Reuters). Yes, throwing money at terror-sponsoring states like Saudi Arabia will surely help defeat al-Qaeda... I wouldn't expect any finer logic from the Bush administration.

    How will this military aid help stem the spread of Iran's influence? Won't it make them just want to bolster their military strength? So far the aid doesn't seem to be promoting stability; it is only invoking cries of favoritism and, if anything, destabilizing the fragile state of Mideast diplomacy.

    Is instability the new 'stability'?
    In some ways I see how this military aid can bring stability, but only if it's used in the right way. Does anyone honestly think Israel or Saudi Arabia will use this military aid in a way that reduces tensions and terrorism? Begin on the policy level, then move on to aid; you don't approve a budget before you see what you're budgeting and the planned end product, right?

    America needs assurance these military gifts will be used in a positive manner. Not only that, but we've seen what military force does in the Middle East (and elsewhere). Force is countered by more force, and sometimes breeds terrorism and destabilizes relations. Military force led to increased support for Hezbollah following its skirmish with Israel last summer. Force led to the Iraq war and to — decades ago — the rise of state-sponsored militant groups like what became the Taliban and Hamas. Thinking that military force will bring about peace is the same kind of twisted logic implemented by America and other nations that has resulted in the disaster that is much of the Mid-East.

    Buying allies
    The NYT reported about the White House's request that Congress approve this aid package. It also touched upon the issue of whether this is such a good idea.

    Mr. Burns insisted that the arms package isn’t an attempt to trade weapons for a more cooperative Saudi policy toward the Maliki government in Baghdad.

    “There are no formal quid pro quos in this, but it figures that we would want our friends to be supportive of Iraq,” he said.

    So the US is buying support... but not really? If Saudi Arabia was a true friend it wouldn't need billions in military aid to keep it a non-enemy. Non-enemy doesn't necessarily equal friend either.

    'B' in Rhetoric, 'F' in Logic
    Just by looking at history as a guide — throwing even common sense aside (not Bush's strong point anyways) — is even the Bush White House too blind to recognize the follies it is still committing? It's almost like giving disturbed children guns, when you know perfectly well nothing good will come of it. It also makes the US look worse. The charge of favoritism is yet another thing states like Iran and groups that use terrorism will certainly use against the United States, especially since it is so publicly and so largely supporting the 'Zionist enemy' in its quest for world domination over Muslims (their thoughts, not mine). The last thing America needs is more bad PR.

    I really do hope Rice is right when she says this deal will not destabilize the Middle East. But a glimpse at reality can bring about quite a different view than the one seen by the secretary of state. Over $60 billion is also a lot of money to give away, considering it probably won't be spent wisely, plus many of the recipients are human rights-abusing, malevolent regional actors. Is this their reward?

    Continuing the trend of buying Saudi Arabia's half-hearted support is not the wisest of choices. How will they react, though, when America takes away their allowance? With more terrorism, perhaps...

    Also, what will Congress say? It's they who carry the purse.

    Reposted. Still in California.

    Wednesday, 1 August 2007

    Last trip of the summer

    I'll be gone to Los Angeles (it's in California, for all you geography buffs) for the next seven days or so visiting family. I have no clue as to whether I will be able to connect to the internet, but I imagine I will be able to some time or another. This is my final vacation this summer; the next time I'll be away will be in November, when I take a two-week trip to China.

    Happy first of August.