Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Taking a break

I am taking a break from blogging. My life is currently very busy but I am drafting future blog posts, and will continue to do so during my break. Look for new posts a week from Friday (i.e., the 1st of February), although I may blog a bit before then.


An issue I expect to remain in the headlines — and one that is monitored continually — is the possibility of an economic recession in the United States, thus generating shockwaves in the world markets.

Recent dips in stock markets — in the US as well as internationally (will Asia be hit hard?) — have increased fears about the instability of the American markets, thanks, in part, to the subprime loan debacle (which I will blog more on soon).

I am not an expert in economic matters, but I think it is easy even for a layperson to say that the near future is not bright for the US economy and world markets. After years of prosperity, negative economic trends may be among us. As the World Economic Forum is held this week in Davos, Switzerland there is certainly a contrast between last year's hope — especially in regards to the rise of Asia — and this year's fear. The bigwigs in Davos are worried, as are market analysts everywhere from New York to Hong Kong.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

A new 'modest proposal'

Jonathan Swift recommended we eat and use the children of the poor as goods, as opposed to letting them be a burden on Ireland's sizable poor. Now there is a new "modest proposal": eliminate trans-Atlantic travel to the US. The DHS is already on the case...

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

US intelligence chief contradicts White House on water-boarding's status as torture

BBC News:

US national intelligence chief Mike McConnell has said the interrogation technique of water-boarding "would be torture" if he was subjected to it.
He told the New Yorker there would be a "huge penalty" for anyone using it if it was ever determined to be torture.
The US attorney-general has declined to rule on whether the method is torture.
In December, the House of Representatives approved a bill that would ban the CIA from using harsh interrogation techniques such as water-boarding.
President George W Bush has threatened to veto the bill, which would require the agency to follow the rules adopted by the US Army and abide by the Geneva Conventions, if the Senate passes it.

The administration seems to believe that torture works as a means of getting information. On the contrary, the assertion that harsh interrogation works is proved false by many studies. In addition public knowledge of torture — which is inevitable in such a high-profile 'war' — hurts the world's perception of the US and breeds more terrorists. But what right does the US have to police the world and detain foreigners as it pleases, especially not in anything close to a war zone?

Saturday, 12 January 2008

First step towards Iraqi political reconciliation?

BBC News:

The Iraqi parliament has passed legislation allowing former officials from Saddam Hussein's Baath party to return to public life.
The US had been urging Iraq's Shia-led government to approve the move in a bid to reach out to minority Sunni Arabs.

It will allow thousands of former party members to apply for reinstatement in the civil service and military.

The new law was passed as US President George W Bush, who is in the Gulf, said hope was returning to Iraq.

Now they have to find a way to get all the experts and bureaucrats who either fled or are in hiding to come back and help repair Iraq. De-Baathification and the disbanding of the Iraqi military were two major mistakes made early on by the US government. The Baath party may have been heinous, and it may have provided for the rise of the tyrant Saddam Hussein, but the loss of officials from the previous government not only created a power vacuum but left the US with few experienced politicians to work with.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

New Hampshire won by Clinton and McCain

For the Democrats, Hillary Clinton has won New Hampshire, the nation's first primary, with nine delegates and 39% of the vote, while Barack Obama was nipping at her heels with 37% and the same number of delegates. Edwards finished poorly with 17% of primary votes. It was surprising Obama did not win, since pre-primary polls put him 10% ahead of Clinton. The exit polls are very interesting to analyze; Clinton supporters are more traditionally Democratic and have more faith in their candidate than do the supporters of any other candidate on the Democratic side.

My preferred Republican in the race, John McCain, swept New Hampshire with 37% of the vote and seven delegates. He was followed by Romney with 31% and Huckabee with 11%. (You know American politics are in trouble when Ron Paul is polling in nearly double-digits in New Hampshire.)

One under-covered primary was Wyoming's. Romney won it, so he has more delegates than anyone else on the GOP side, 24. He is followed by Huckabee with 18 and McCain with 10. Obama has 25, Clinton 24, and Edwards 18.

Up next is the Michigan primary on 15 January. The Dems will soon have to make a choice, probably between Obama and Clinton (Edwards still has a small chance); the GOP race is still wide open.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Up next: New Hampshire!

New Hampshire primary results should come in tonight. Romney has poured a lot of money into this state; will his losses grow? And what about Giuliani, who snubbed Iowa? Will Obama's Iowa momentum help him against Clinton? And can Edwards, after an impressive second place showing in Iowa, keep up?

All eyes are on the first primary in the 2008 race for the presidency.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Terror suspect sues torture mastermind

Jose Padilla, who was held in a South Carolina military brig for years under suspicion of terrorism, only to be convicted on lesser charges unrelated to the original accusations, is suing former Bush administration legal mastermind John Yoo.

Chicago Tribune:

In the latest legal contest over the treatment of detained terrorist suspects, attorneys for Jose Padilla filed a suit in a California federal district court this morning against John Yoo, the former deputy assistant Attorney General whose legal opinions formed the basis for Padilla's detention and the interrogation techniques used against him that the attorneys call torture.
Padilla was eventually tried, and convicted in a federal district court in Miami last year, but on lesser charges that he was part of an overseas terrorist conspiracy-no mention of a planned dirty bomb attack inside the U.S..

The suit filed this morning in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco, turns the spotlight of blame on Yoo, the author of a series of legal memoranda known collectively as the "Torture Memos." Drafted in 2002, when Yoo was a deputy assistant Attorney General in the Justice Department, they provided the legal justification for the interrogation techniques used on suspected Al Qaeda operatives that many, from former generals to presidential candidates, have since decried as torture.

"John Yoo is the first person in American history to provide the legal authorization for the instiution of torture in the U.S.," said Jonathan Freiman, an attorney representing Padilla in the suit. "He [Yoo] was an absolutely essential part of what will be viewed by history as a group of rogue officials acting under cover of law to undermine fundamental never would have happened without the legal green light. That made it possible."

There are few people I'd like to be brought down in a lawsuit over torture than John Yoo. His actions — which not only circumvented the Constitution and established laws over checks-and-balences but broke a handful of international agreements the US was a party too — brought shame to the reputation of America and showed just how much the administration is willing to break the law and disregard human rights in its 'war on terror'. Yoo also had a hand in the administration's domestic wiretapping program.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

The dizzying effects of mass consumption

Check out this great opinion piece in the New York Times by the man who brought you the fantastic book Guns, Germs, and Steel (read it!), Jared Diamond. It is about consumption. It will appeal to anyone interested in environmental matters, the rise of the developing world (especially China), and the wastefulness of the developed world (especially the United States).

The average rates at which people consume resources like oil and metals, and produce wastes like plastics and greenhouse gases, are about 32 times higher in North America, Western Europe, Japan and Australia than they are in the developing world. That factor of 32 has big consequences.
If India as well as China were to catch up, world consumption rates would triple. If the whole developing world were suddenly to catch up, world rates would increase elevenfold. It would be as if the world population ballooned to 72 billion people (retaining present consumption rates).

Spiderman teams up with the UN

The United Nations has teamed up with comic book producer Marvel in order to use popular comic characters such as Spiderman to promote its humanitarian mission, starting in 2009.

When critics attack the United Nations, they often accuse the world body of being a web of bureaucracy.

Considering the UN's lack of popularity in the US and elsewhere, this could be a good idea. At least its a unique way to inform children about the mission of this vastly under-appreciated international behemoth.

Friday, 4 January 2008

Huckabee and Obama take Iowa

As predicted by the polls, Mike Huckabee and Barack Obama seen to have won the Iowa caucuses for their respective parties. They both won in the 30%s. Huckabee won the conservative vote in his Republican party whereas Obama took the independent and more progressive blocs.

The candidates hope this will raise their national rank. Obama polls at number two; Hillary Clinton still maintains control of the Democratic race. I had hoped McCain — the only bearable Republican in the race — would win, but I guess Huckabee's rise was inevitable, since GOP caucus-goers wanted a conservative choice. Iowa was a bad investment for Republican Mitt Romney, who has put millions into his Iowa campaign.

According to CNN, entrance polls say Huckabee won the backing of women and evangelical Christians who feel alienated by most of the other picks; and that the Democratic race is between experience and change — it seems like for now Obama's 'change' has trumped Clinton's 'experience'.

Dodd and Biden have both abandoned their White House campaigns.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Happy New Year!

In 2008 we will witness events as gargantuan as the 2008 US presidential elections and the 2008 Summer Olympic games in Beijing, China. We will also see how issues like climate change play out in both local and international arenas. In Europe, we will witness the aftermath of the signing of the EU treaty; in America we will see several major Supreme Court cases decided; in Burma we will stand by for more uprisings against the military junta. We will see whether post-election Kenya turns to turmoil and worry about the fate of Pakistan following the death of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto. Economically the worldwide reverberations of the US sub-prime mortgage crisis will be felt, most of all in the United States. How will the rising price of oil affect the markets, as well as individuals? Hopefully 2008 will be a year of peace in the Middle East — will the insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq finally be quelled; will Israel and its neighbors resolve disputes?

I look forward to blogging about all these matters in 2008.