Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Congress disappoints in Clemens steroid case, and the media follows along

Gasp! One of America's baseball stars committed perjury?!

A congressional committee asked the U.S. Justice Department to review whether pitcher Roger Clemens lied when he testified he never used steroids.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform sent a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey today requesting a perjury investigation relating to Clemens's deposition and testimony for a Feb. 13 hearing on performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball.

So the Justice Department will investigate this, but not the lost CIA torture tapes, or the torture itself? It will go through the records on a sports star, but it won't investigate the shady dealings of the executive? Wow.

Even worse than the fact Justice is wasting it's time on the Clemens case is the fact this steroid drama was brought before Congress in the first place. The House Oversight Committee. Should be cleaning up the government, right? Doing its job tackling national issues?


The biggest political/sports story of past month had nothing to do with the government, and, in fact, shouldn't be on the front page.

I know it would be nice to clean up America's pasttime, which also happens to be the world's most steroid-infested sport, but I fail to see how this is the government's job and not that of the MLB. What right does Congress have to question Roger Clemens on his steroid use? Why waste its time?

And what about the media in all of this? They're having a field day! I have seen no article in the mainstream media questioning whether these hearings should be happening, whether Congress should be wasting its time, or whether this story is over-reported — which it is.

The hearings are being turned into a partisian show, with Republicans being sympathetic to Clemens and Democrats attacking him. The chair of the committee, Democrat Henry Waxman, regrets holding the hearings in the first place.

Congress should be spending its time more wisely, as it has a worse approval rating than even President Bush. In addition, the media should focus on real news — not mix sports with front-page politics — and MLB should clean up its act.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

China and Sudan: bedfellows in evil?

In another piece of bad news coming from the Sudan region...

The Sudanese military is said to have renewed its aerial bombing campaign in the west of the Darfur region.
The joint United Nations African Union mission in Sudan, Unamid, said it had received reports of aerial bombings in the Jebel Moun area of the region.

A Unamid spokesman said there was grave concern for the safety of thousands of civilians in the area.

The reports came as China's envoy for Darfur, Liu Guijin, began a five-day visit to the country to push for peace.

China has come under increasing pressure to use its influence with Sudan to end the fighting.

Mr Liu will travel to Darfur on Tuesday, the fifth anniversary of the start of the conflict which has left 200,000 people dead and 2.5m homeless.

This visit comes after it was revealed that China sold more weapons — both light and heavy arms — to Sudan.

One can see China's influence within Sudan as the up-and-coming superpower tries its best to gain political support in the whole of Africa — in a way filling the void there — as well as taking advantage of the continent's energy resources. While China is helping development there, it is also overlooking major human rights abuses, and, in some cases, encouraging them.

Bejing's relationship with Khartoum, as well as its human rights abuses at home, has led such heavyweights as Stephen Spielberg to denounce China and call for a boycott of the 2008 Summer Olympics. Try as it may to play down human rights fears, but there are supporters of human rights just as stubborn as the abusers — i.e. the Chinese government — themselves.

It's time to get serous with China about its support of the genocidal Sudanese regime. However, powers such as the US should not isolate the emerging giant in its race for economic supremacy or they will find themselves in a tough spot once China has the upper hand.

Friday, 22 February 2008

America's troubling abstinence program in Africa

President Bush has been on a tour of Africa, where he maintains at least a modicum of popularity due to his aid programs there (although that aid sometimes makes things worse). Also on the American leader's agenda was dealing with China's growing influence in the region, fueled by its thirst for oil in nations such as Nigeria and Sudan.

The New York Times reported

Mr. Bush used a news conference to address the widespread suspicion that the United States planned to establish military bases in Africa as it expanded its strategic role on the continent. And for the first time, he suggested that he might consider dropping a requirement that one-third of AIDS prevention dollars be spent on abstinence programs — but only if he was convinced that the approach was not working.
Mr. Bush faced tough questioning from an African reporter about his administration’s requirement that one-third of the AIDS initiative’s prevention funds be spent on programs promoting abstinence.

The independent Institute of Medicine has said the abstinence requirement is hindering prevention efforts. Democrats in Congress, debating reauthorization of the initiative, want it dropped.

A president needs to be elected who won't require a certain amount of money be spend on abstinence programs. People will continue to have sex no matter what, and that means the spread of STDs and unwanted pregnancies. Contraception and overall sexual education should be one of the highest priorities for HIV/AIDS prevention programs.

Belief in abstinence-only programs —  confusing teachers, harming schools, and not properly educating people — is one of Bush's more dangerously irrational religious beliefs, which exists primarily to gain the support of the supposed millions of people who believe that condoms are the devil. Why do you think America has the highest teen pregnancy rate in in the developed world (see map)? In fact, "pro-life" people should like contraception, since it would lower the rate of abortions and terminations of unwanted pregnancies. America's domestic program of withholding important sexual information and instead supplying abstinence-only programs has been listed as a human rights concern by Human Rights Watch.

The US's foreign policy relating to aid for AIDS program not only needs more funding — one improvement this administration has brought about — but the abstinence requirement must be dropped. Who knows how many have contracted STDs and died because of lack of proper education of sex, and lack of options. There is nothing promiscuous about governments handing out condoms or information on contraception. Withholding those devices and that information is harmful to cause of most of us who want to stop the spread of AIDS and let a woman choose whether she wants to get pregnant.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Another Muslim cartoon row

BBC News:

Hundreds of Danish Muslims have been demonstrating in Copenhagen against the reprinting of a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad they consider offensive.

The cartoon depicts the Prophet with a bomb in his turban.

All major Danish newspapers decided to republish it after Danish intelligence said it had uncovered a plot to kill one of the cartoonists.

Over-sensitive Muslims of the world: Get over the Danish cartoons depicting your profit. It's called free speech; get used to it. For those who don't remember the riots and death threats two years ago, see here.

Just remember, there's a difference between tolerance and absolute accommodation. If they want to survive in free societies, religions will need to be able to stand up to criticism — or shut up. No death threats; no fatwas; let's settle this in a civilized manner, not by evoking religious barbarity. Up until now, most modern societies have given into religious insanity far too much.

Monday, 18 February 2008

The end of Musharraf?

Pakistan held elections today, the results of which are flowing in as we speak...

The Times:

President Pervez Musharraf’s supporters conceded defeat last night in a landmark parliamentary election that could seal his political fate and resurrect democracy in Pakistan after eight years of military rule.

But while the two main opposition parties appeared to have swept the vote, neither was expected to win an outright majority, setting the stage for a coalition government in this chronically unstable country.
Final results are not expected until tomorrow, but preliminary figures suggest that the PPP will win the most seats followed by the Pakistan Muslim League (N) led by Nawaz Sharif, another former Prime Minister.

One can only hope an opposition party will emerge as winner in this election, and that the dictatorial Musharraf will finally face impeachment. Most Pakistanis want him out anyway.

Meanwhile, a NYT op-ed warns that instability in Pakistan is a problem to all of us — the south Asian country holds active nuclear weapons (not to mention that it's a hotbed of Islamic terrorism).

Sunday, 17 February 2008

An independent Kosovo

Angering Serbia and its allies, such as Russia, Kosovo, already a semi-autonomous province, proclaimed its independence from Serbia today, in a long-awaited move.

Kosovo's parliament has unanimously endorsed a declaration of independence from Serbia, in an historic session.
The declaration, read by Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, said Kosovo would be a democratic country that respected the rights of all ethnic communities.

The US and a number of EU countries are expected to recognise Kosovo on Monday.

Serbia's PM denounced the US for helping create a "false state". Serbia's ally, Russia, called for an urgent UN Security Council meeting.

To understand the reasons for the Kosovo divide, one must understand the problems the former Yugoslavia faced, and is still facing right now (i.e. the Kosovo War).

This will add to the strain in relations between Russia and the West.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

More posts coming soon...

I would like to apologize to all my readers for not posting much the past month or so, but expect regular postings from today on! I am also working on a series of essays about religion and other fundamental topics, and I hope we can have an open debate about these pressing philosophical issues. In addition, more eco-tips will be coming as we enter March.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

An overlooked Chad inherits regional problems

Thousands of Darfur refugees have spilled over into Chad, adding to the instability.

"Since Friday, following the bombing in west Darfur, 12,000 people have crossed from Darfur to Chad in an area called Birak," said Helene Caux, a spokeswoman for the UNHCR.
Chad may turn out worse than neighboring Sudan, where much of this trouble originated in (see final paragraph).

Meanwhile the UN is attempting to provide aid to the tens of thousands of Chadians fleeing their capitol.

Even as there is fighting in the capitol, there are fears of a cross-border war between Sudan and Chad.
A senior UN official on Friday warned that a reported proxy war between Sudan and Chad through rebel groups on each side of their border threatened to destabilize the region and could lead to a wider conflict.

Jean-Marie Guehenno, the French head of UN peacekeeping operations, made the remarks to the Security Council as Sudanese troops attacked three communities in western Darfur, killing dozens of civilians, according to a Darfur rebel chief.

This is all likely to raise Chad's rank on the Failed States Index, as divisions within the country ignite in violence, and conflict from Sudan reaches across Chad's eastern border.

In all three of these stories, the UN is involved, which is — for the most part — a good thing.

While the Darfur conflict in Sudan is roughly localized to a specific region, the fighting and instability in Chad affects the entire country, including the capitol, thus endangering a larger number of people. Not to play down the seriousness of Sudan's genocide, of course. But at the moment, since a UN force is already forming in Darfur, Chad looks to be a more pressing issue. Instability doesn't stop at the border. Khartoum isn't in flames; but Ndjamena practically is.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Super (Tuesday) aftermath

The primary results tonight solidified the campaign of Republican John McCain; he currently almost triples Romney in number of delegates. McCain won delegate-rich states such as New Jersey and New York, and is on track to win California. It looks like Huckabee supporters in the realist camp chose (i.e. defected to) McCain after all. However, Super Tuesday only intensified the campaign on the Democratic side between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Clinton currently is ahead of Obama in the crucial state of California, and has already taken such states as New Jersey, Massachusetts, and New York; whereas Obama found his strength in the south, taking Georgia. Candidates on both sides are in a near tie in the telling bellwether state of Missouri. Obama won his home state of Illinois, another important state delegate-wise. (When I say 'won' I mean either solidly won or is projected to win. Either way they'll take it.)

Points have been made about Obama's liberalness (e.g. National Journal report — see this post), but the labels "liberal" and "conservative" are more complex than we take them to be. Political Compass, a site I've written about before, has a new graph up of all '08 candidates positions on a two-dimentional political chart.

When examining the chart it is important to note that although most of the candidates seem quite different, in substance they occupy a relatively restricted area within the universal political spectrum. Democracies with a system of proportional representation give expression to a wider range of political views. While Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel are depicted on the extreme left in an American context, they would simply be mainstream social democrats within the wider political landscape of Europe. Similarly, Hillary Clinton is popularly perceived as a leftist in the United States while in any other western democracy her record is that of a moderate conservative.

Obama is more 'liberal' on Iraq — in reality, all current candidates fail on Iraq in my book; there is a lack of moderacy — whereas Clinton has more left-leaning domestic initiatives, such as healthcare.

I have yet to support a Democrat, although I am starting to lean towards Clinton because I'm getting sick of Obama's pledge for yet-undefined 'change'. Overall the Democrats have failed to not disappoint this election season. I stick to my support of McCain on the Republican side, although he is, after all, a conservative.

For more results, see CNN.

P.S. I promise to devote the rest of this week to non-election news and issues. It's so easy to get carried away...

Super Tuesday

The deciding day of the primary season — the period before party nominations — is today. 42% of total delegates from both parties cast their votes in some 24 states, including California, New York, Illinois, Georgia, and New Jersey, holding their primaries on this "Super Tuesday".

Here are some helpful links:

  • BBC News live coverage and guide to Super Tuesday
  • CNN election coverage.
  • See here for pre-poll speculation.
  • Will superdelegates significantly shape the race?
  • CNN's Super Tuesday background.

    I will post later tonight as the results flow in.

  • Monday, 4 February 2008

    And then there were two...

    Only Clinton and Obama remain as Edwards steps down.

    Obama is gaining momentum on the Democratic side of the race.
    We have lost John Edwards — the major anti-corporation, anti-lobbists, focus-on-poverty campaigner. Sadly, Edwards didn't have a chance (he was a bit too populist for my tastes anyways). It remains thus unclear where Edwards' support goes. In recent debates he sided more with Hillary Clinton, but since his supporters tend to be more left-leaning, it makes sense that a large number of them would go to Obama.


    Mr. Edwards, after running as the sunny son of a mill worker in 2004, returned last year as the angry spear carrier of the hard-line left, running on a dark, conspiratorial form of populism and swapping in corporations for Republicans as the villain in his us-versus-them construct. Mr. Obama, on the other hand, has not just been selling possibilities and opportunities, but reconciliation and unity -- and, god forbid, promising to work with Republicans to meet the country's challenges. (Not surprisingly, throughout 2007, Mr. Edwards was the runaway favorite in the regular Kos reader straw poll -- besting Mr. Obama by 21 points as late as Jan. 2, 2008.)

    The issue of race in the 2008 campaign has reached its peak with everyone from the news media to the candidates themselves endlessly blabbing about it — especially on the side of the Democrats. It has gotten ridiculous — nobody's focusing on racial issues; the larger focus has been on whether Bill Clinton was the 'first black president' (to answer that, one needs only to look at his skin color; the debate just enforces racial stereotypes and the color divide). Since we're on Bill Clinton, there has also been ample media speculation about the role he has played in his wife's campaign. Yes he was an above-par president, but will he meddle in his wife's affairs and further polarize the base?

    Obama has been racking up endorsements, like his fellow up-and-comer on the other side of the aisle, John McCain, notably from most of the Kennedy family. He was also ranked the most liberal senator by the nonpartisan National Journal (which isn't saying much considering the conservatism in American politics). This could be used against him in ridiculous ways like in the case of the right smearing John Kerry in 2004.

    McCain endorsements are becoming a trend

    Last summer, people thought his campaign was over, just as they believed Fred Thompson would become a frontrunnner. Even recently his ratings haven't been good, far behind (previous) national frontrunner Rudy Giuliani. Now John McCain is looking stronger than ever, his eyes set on winning the ultimate political prize: the Oval Office.

    Rudy Giuliani, former national Republican fruntrunner, is endorsing McCain "from the heart". California Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger endorced him after the GOP debate on Wednesday.

    McCain is in the lead, eclipsing Romney, who he clashed with strongly on Wednesday.

    Sunday, 3 February 2008

    Parallels between fictional barbarians and today's Islamic terrorists

    Parallels between fictional barbarians and today's Islamic terrorists

    In Booker- and Nobel Prize-winning author J. M. Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians, the 'barbarians' are very different compared to the terrorists the United States and its allies are fighting today. The barbarians are a set group, compared to the more ambiguous terrorist enemy. Also, they seem to attack when directly provoked (actually, during the course of the story there isn't concrete, objective proof of a barbarian attack on the Empire). They are a fairly peaceful, simple, nomadic people who live in fear of the Empire and suffer because of its expansion. However, there are some parallels between the barbarians and Islamist extremists. Many modern Islamic terrorists are waging jihad against the US because of its occupation of lands they see as sacred, belonging to Muslims, as well as its diehard support of occupiers of Mideast land like Israel. America is tainting these lands for its own profit (oil), or so their line of thought goes.

    The stronger parallel between the Empire's wrath for the barbarians and America's 'war on terror' is the chilling aspect of torture used gratuitously by the Empire in the book and — to a lesser, more secretive extent, directly or indirectly — by the United States today. My personal view is not that the US is an empire in the way the one in the book is; whether it is at all is a point of contention among experts. Of course the US looks out for its own economic interests in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere, as do all nations who rely on energy supplies from that region. It is the reality of men and nations that we take care of ourselves first and make sure our well being is well provided for.

    The thing that has brought the world's sole superpower into such a great mess is security. Although oil has played an indirect role, those drawing such a strong line between Iraq and Exxon should reevaluate their logic. America supported the mujahideen in Afghanistan during the 1979 Soviet invasion and ensuing war to fend off its Cold War arch-rival. Today it faces the same people it supported in Afghanistan in a globalized 'war.' However, unlike the war in Waiting for the Barbarians, one side is ambiguous in the 'war on terror': the terrorists. This ambiguity allows the US more leeway in its 'war,' but also leads to more trouble: anyone could be a terrorist. These terrorists either operate relatively alone with influences from groups or in cells, often under the authority of others. What unites them for the most part is ideology, but there are devisions even within that radical anti-American foundation. The Bush administration has clumped its 'barbarians' together into one massive group of pure evil. It's 'us against them'.

    Torture is made into entertainment in the book. The public is put at ease at the sight of a few innocent barbarians being abused and sometimes killed. The army turns fear into hate and allows the public an outlet for that hatred. In Waiting for the Barbarians the man plagued by this lack of human decency, the town judge, is displaced by all this mess as he attempts to take on the torture machine. He is arrested at the circumvention of the law — emergency powers are in the hands of the military because of the barbarians are apparently ready to pounce. The people in the remote frontier town in Waiting for the Barbarians are in constantly terrorized by the threat of a supposedly imminent barbarian invasion, yet another similarity between their society and America's (among others).

    The us vs. them seen especially during wartime is seen in the book: "The soldiery tyrannizes the town. They have held a ... meeting to denounce "cowards and traitors" and to affirm collective alliance to the Empire" (Coetzee 130). There are elements of absurdity in the story of torture in Barbarians, but that same absurdity is seen in real life in the political rhetoric condoning torture. Innocent people — people who share fear if any ties with the enemy — are tortured needlessly for no real point. Whereas the fictional barbarian situation came to an end and just rule was reinstated, the terror subsided, there is no assurance that the same will happen in America's 'war on terror.'

    Friday, 1 February 2008

    America isn't the only country with an election this year

    We seem to get so wrapped up in the US election sesson ever time the presidency is up for grabs — there are still eight or so months until election day!

    2008 is a big year for a number of countries. Will Pakistan's February election see turmoil? How will the handpicked successor to Vladimir Putin in Russia fare as yet another political puppet? Will Robert Mugabe maintain his iron grip on power in Zimbabwe as citizens go to rigged polls (like in Russia) in March? Can the elder statesman continue his near three decades of rule? And what about Iran, where the fiery Ahmadinejad will have to defend his place as Iran's president as legislative elections come in March and presidential in 2009.