Body and Soul

Thoughts on the body politic, the human soul, Billie Holiday songs (and other people's) -- with a lot more questions than answers

Friday, January 31, 2003

Don't miss:

Tim Dunlop on the value of the inspections process and the danger of forgetting about the important stuff.

Lisa English on recent developments in faith-based opposition to war.

I can't remember the last time I bought Starbucks coffee. But my coffee pot died this morning, and, unable to face the day without caffeine, I fed the addiction at the strip mall Starbucks up the street. As I was about to toss the cup, these words caught my attention:

Building Relationships With Coffee Growers

Relationships? That sounds good. You don't keep people locked in cycles of debt and poverty if you have "relationships" with them. At least I would assume that caring about people's welfare would go along with having a "relationship." That's generally the way it works with most people I know.

I peeled off the cardboard heat protector to read the words underneath:

By traveling to origin countries and talking with coffee growers about the quality we seek, we create truly global partnerships. It is these valued friendships, built over many years, that allow us to offer the world's most exceptional coffees.

Aw, that's sweet.

Maybe I'm over-interpreting, but I have a strange feeling that all that stuff about "valued friendships" and "truly global partnerships" is supposed to suggest to me and all the other glassy-eyed suburban mommies in line that Starbucks has nothing to do with this. We may be addicts, but we really don't like the idea that the people who are growing this absurdly priced coffee are pulling their children out of school and cutting back on food and medicine because the price Starbucks is paying for the coffee is below the cost of producing it.

They don't come right out and say that they buy fair trade coffee, but, after all, the coffee growers are their friends. Surely we can assume they pay their friends a fair price so that they can earn a living wage?

Starbucks got some good p.r. a couple of years ago when they announced they'd sell some fair trade coffee in their stores, but they haven't always kept their word, and fair trade coffee is only a tiny portion of the company's business. There's still a campaign on to pressure them to brew the stuff every day and offer it to customers. Theoretically, they brew it once a month -- but there's some question as to whether they're actually carrying through even on that meager promise. But why bother keeping your promises, and paying people for their labor, if you can blather about global friendships. It sounds good. It makes the caffeine addicts feel good. And who has time to check if it actually means anything?

It's the corporate equivalent of a State of the Union address: No one actually listens to a president speak. You're clearing the table and washing dishes and keeping one ear focused on the bathroom, where the seven-year-old is taking a bath (hey, no dancing in the bathtub, sweetheart, you could slip) and you hear blah, blah, efficiency and conservation... blah, blah, blah...Clear Skies legislation... blah, blah, blah...Healthy Forest Initiative...and you think, wow, the environment is clearly in good hands, and you can forget all about it and go check on the dancing princess in the tub, who obviously needs your attention more than the forests do.

Because who has time to check if the words actually mean anything?

By way of Kieran Healy's Weblog, I found Who Dies for Bush Lies? -- which I think pulls together, in an especially striking way, information about the lies the Bush Administration has told about Iraq, the cost of war (in money and lives), and who will benefit from the war.

And speaking of the cost of war...

From the New York Times:

On national security, Mr. Cheney has been consumed by planning for the political reconstruction of a post-Hussein Iraq. The plan, so far, is for an American military commander to run the country alongside a civilian administrator, with an eventual transition to an Iraqi-led government. Toward that end, Mr. Cheney met for 45 minutes in his office in mid-January with Barham Salih, the prime minister of the eastern Kurdish zone in Iraq and one of several potential future leaders of that country.

Does anyone feel encouraged knowing that a man who has made a career doing business with thugs seems to be in charge of planning what's going to happen in post-war Iraq?

I don't know what to make of this, but it's interesting. The next chairman of the board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria will be Tommy Thompson.

One of the biggest problems in the AIDS proposal Bush made in the SOTU is that Bush seems to want to control how the money is spent (brand name drugs to keep the drug companies happy and abstinence education for the fundies?), and so is not putting enough of it into the UN's Global Fund. The Washington Post calls Thompson's chairmanship "a move that could presage much larger U.S. contributions to the new organization." Maybe. My fear is that it could presage less pressure to relax patent laws that keep the cost of antiretroviral drugs high, and that it could offer the administration one more opportunity to return a little something to its contributors.

Thursday, January 30, 2003

Don't miss Liberal Oasis on the word games the administration is playing with the AIDS proposal.

The Global Aids Alliance and Africa Action also express some skepticism about the plan, particularly about the failure to adequately fund the Global Fund to Fight Aids, the lack of awareness of the connection between AIDS and debt (Africa's debt drains $15 billion per year out of the continent), the lack of commitment to generic drugs (without that commitment, Bush's plan becomes not much more than a welfare program for the pharmaceutical companies), and the fact that some of the most heavily affected countries were left out of Bush's proposal.

I'm beginning to feel like Charlie Brown, and Bush is Lucy, grabbing away the football once again.

Pro-war or anti-war, we all share our beliefs with some people we'd rather have nothing to do with.

(Via The Better Rhetor)

The Institute for Public Accuracy has a point-by-point analysis of the State of the Union speech, making extremely good use of hyperlinks. Their comments on the AIDS proposal especially interested me. Yesterday I was torn between hope and cynicism. Today cynicism is winning.

(Quotes from the SOTU are italicized.):

Today, on the continent of Africa, nearly 30 million people have the AIDS virus, including 3 million children under the age of 15. There are whole countries in Africa where more than one-third of the adult population carries the infection. More than 4 million require immediate drug treatment. Yet across that continent, only 50,000 AIDS victims -- only 50,000 -- are receiving the medicine they need.

Raj Patel (policy analyst at Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy, and a visiting fellow at Berkeley): "It is important to remember here that the epidemic might have been mitigated much earlier by increased public health expenditure. Unfortunately, at the very time that the pandemic was seeping through the poorest countries in the world, the U.S. dominated World Bank and IMF were urging cutbacks in health expenditure under their structural adjustment plans. The timing could not have been more disastrous."

Because the AIDS diagnosis is considered a death sentence, many do not seek treatment. Almost all who do are turned away.

A doctor in rural South Africa describes his frustration. He says, "We have no medicines, many hospitals tell people, ‘You’ve got AIDS. We can’t help you. Go home and die’."

In an age of miraculous medicines, no person should have to hear those words.

AIDS can be prevented. Anti-retroviral drugs can extend life for many years. And the cost of those drugs has dropped from $12,000 a year to under $300 a year, which places a tremendous possibility within our grasp.

Ladies and gentlemen, seldom has history offered a greater opportunity to do so much for so many.

Diana Zuckerman (president of the National Center for Policy Research for Women and Families): "If we are to prevent HIV/AIDS in Africa, the Caribbean, or anywhere else, the Administration will have to embrace the kinds of prevention programs that work. That includes condoms, not just abstinence education, and not just treatment of people who are already ill. And yet, the Administration has been rejecting these kinds of comprehensive prevention programs at home."

We have confronted, and will continue to confront, HIV/AIDS in our own country. And to meet a severe and urgent crisis abroad, tonight I propose the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a work of mercy beyond all current international efforts to help the people of Africa.

This comprehensive plan will prevent 7 million new AIDS infections, treat at least 2 million people with life-extending drugs and provide humane care for millions of people suffering from AIDS and for children orphaned by AIDS.

I ask the Congress to commit $15 billion over the next five years, including nearly $10 billion in new money, to turn the tide against AIDS in the most afflicted nations of Africa and the Caribbean.

Jacqueline Cabasso (executive director of the Western States Legal Foundation): "This sounds like a lot of money, but it’s important to put it in perspective. The U.S. military budget, at nearly $400 billion a year ($396.1 billion for FY 2003) is larger than the military budgets of the next 26 countries combined ($394.2 billion); and 35 times larger than the combined military budgets of the "Axis of Evil" countries (Iraq, Iran and North Korea -- $11.8 billion). U.S. nuclear weapons research, development, testing, and production, at $5.9 billion for 2003, is significantly higher than spending during the average Cold War year, for directly comparable activities ($364 billion). This does not include delivery systems. How could this money be better spent to ensure real human, national and global security?"

Salih Booker (executive director of Africa Action): "Bush’s announcement would be the height of cynicism if the president does not now request at least $3.5 billion of his new total for funding this year. This is the U.S. share of what is urgently needed to fight HIV/AIDS now. According to the White House, the President’s request for additional funds to fight HIV/AIDS will not affect the 2003 budget, and will only begin in 2004, with an increase of just $700 million. The real measure of the president’s sincerity will be in the budget numbers for 2003 and 2004. Large numbers for 2007 are meaningless to people who will die this year without access to essential medicines. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is the most important vehicle in the effort to fight the pandemic and the U.S. should contribute a far greater share. The new commitment of only $1 billion to the Fund, over a period of 5 years, would actually undermine Africa’s greatest hope. Africa’s illegitimate external debts are draining $15 billion a year from the War on AIDS. The spirit and logic of the President’s own initiative demand the immediate cancellation of these debts."

This nation can lead the world in sparing innocent people from a plague of nature.

Raj Patel: "This policy is disingenuous to its core. Under existing World Trade Organization legislation, countries can already ‘compulsorily license’ drugs, waiving the patent protection of pharmaceutical companies in the interests of public health. It is, in fact, U.S. sponsored legislation at the World Trade Organization that prevents those countries in the third world which lack the production capacities to produce generic retroviral drugs from importing them from other countries. This compassion for the third world doesn’t pan out either. In December, the United States was alone among members of the World Trade Organization in its opposition to an expanded list of diseases which waives reimportation rules. What looks like a moment of heartfelt generosity on the part of the Bush regime is, in fact, a hard-nosed recognition that pharmaceutical companies around the world aren’t winning the PR battle to justify their monopolies. To put it more simply, this is a $15 billion subsidy to the U.S. pharmaceutical industry, in lieu of political battles lost at the WTO by U.S. negotiators. It remains to be seen quite how much of this new-found largesse will go to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, which last year was on the verge of bankruptcy."


Go read the whole thing -- both for the rebuttal of the other sections of the speech, and the priceless links.

War Crime and Punishment (Part 2)
There are few things I believe more firmly than that people -- including the most powerful -- should be held accountable for crimes against humanity. Unfortunately, there are few more important goals I think less likely to be fully accomplished in my lifetime.

I think war crimes trials are a move in the right direction. I'm especially heartened by the establishment of the ICC (despite US opposition), creating a permanent court where victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity can be heard. In fact, I think that's one of the most important benefits of   courts set up to deal with atrocities. As important as achieving justice is, and as important as it is to discourage genocide in the future by making it clear that perpetrators will be called to account for their crimes, it is equally important that victims get a chance to tell their stories. The most horrible crimes are made worse when the victims are silenced. And it isn't just a matter of the pain the silence causes. Behind that silence, a need for vengeance often builds, giving birth -- as soon as the opportunity arises -- to more atrocities.

And yet, I share most of the objections and concerns about war crimes trials that Donald Johnson and John Steppling brought up in the letters I posted recently: They're inevitably political, and far from being -- as conservatives fear -- aimed at the US and Israel, they go after the weak (the despicable weak, but the weak nonetheless) and don't deal with the crimes of the powerful. But I also think that the whole concept of international justice and accountability for human rights violations is in its infancy -- and whether it will be a source of real justice or just another weapon in the hands of the powerful is still undetermined.

There's a debate in Belgium at the moment that may offer some clues about that. Since 1993, Belgian courts have become extremely hospitable to atrocity victims who have no other place to take their cases, because that year Belgium gave its courts the power to investigate atrocity charges, even if the accused was not in the country. Technically, almost all countries subscribe to the international law principle of "universal jurisdiction" -- that countries have to either prosecute, or extradite for prosecution, anyone in their territory accused of war crimes. The idea is that for certain heinous  crimes, there should be no "safe haven." But few countries had laws as broad and liberal as Belgium's. Cases have been brought in Belgium against Saddam Hussein, Augusto Pinochet, Fidel Castro, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani, Yasser Arafat, Ariel Sharon, and many others. So far, the only convictions have been of four Rwandans sentenced in 2001 for their role in the 1994 genocide of the county's Tutsi minority.

It was the Sharon case that shook Belgium's law. In 2001, survivors of the Sabra and Shatila massacres filed a complaint against Sharon, who was minister of defense at the time of the massacres, in a Belgian court.. Not surprisingly, the United States and Israel attacked the decision to accept the case. And clearly the U.S. interest was not just protecting Sharon, but insuring immunity of the powerful. If you can try Sharon, who's next -- Kissinger?

Last June, a Belgian appeals court dismissed the case against Sharon, and declared that foreigners cannot be tried unless they are in the country. There are currently two bills pending in the Belgian Parliament to restore the original law and nullify the court's decision. Guy Verhofstadt, the Belgian prime minister, has come out in favor of the bills. American and Israeli diplomats are lobbying against them.

They're not lobbying against them because they believe that the only potential those laws have is to put a few obscure and unimportant Rwandans in prison. They're lobbying against them because they see a real potential to go after even powerful people. And in the long run, I suspect they're right.

I'm not Belgian. I'm not a lawyer. I'm not remotely qualified to weigh in on the subject of international law. Even I can see problems with trying people who aren't there (Human Rights Watch has an interesting analysis of this issue.) And the complexities of the issue that even I'm capable of understanding are more than I can squeeze into a single post (if you want to know more about the Belgian anti-atrocity law, however, HRW has a good backgrounder.) But my bleeding heart, layperson's, quick reading of the issue is that if Israelis fear that Ariel Sharon could be asked to explain his role in Sabra and Shatila, I think that is a very good thing. If he has to avoid Belgium, or any country that has an extradition treaty with Belgium, so much the better.

It's also a good thing that men like Pinochet and Kissinger have as much need for their lawyers as they do for their suitcases on foreign trips. I agree with Donald Johnson that we're never going to see Henry Kissinger facing a war   crimes tribunal. But he's wanted for questioning in Chile, Argentina and France, and there are countries where he can't travel, because they can't guarantee his immunity from legal proceedings. If you believe -- as Robert Bork seems to -- that Americans should be above international law, that's frightening. If you believe in justice, the fact that Bork is worried about it is encouraging.

For awhile I suspect all we'll see will be trials of leaders like Milosevic, who aren't sitting on valuable resources and have no value to major powers. Or people like Saddam, who have resources, but have outlived their usefulness to us (and a trial of Saddam, if it wasn't controlled by the United States, would be fascinating -- because how can you deal with his crimes without questioning his accomplices ?)

The existence of courts to try human rights violators makes the lives of powerful criminals more difficult. Laws defining crimes against humanity cause people to ask, if we can try a Milosevic, why not a Kissinger? It's not going to happen in the near future, but it's a good question. A lot of progress begins with good questions.

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

That's entertainment
I want to watch the next State of the Union speech at Julia's house.

No comment...

(Via Alas)

A woman is in jail in California because she refuses to tell a court where her two daughters are. Because of her refusal to co-operate, a court awarded custody of the children to their father -- an alcoholic, convicted child molester, and illegal alien who has been ordered deported back to his native Chile. The D.A. says, get off his back, "he's led an honorable life." The honorable gentleman has been arrested for molesting another child. Read the rest of the story.


Inmate punished for sex with guard

A mentally ill inmate at Taycheedah Correctional Institution who was impregnated by a prison guard overseeing her was ordered to serve nearly a year of solitary confinement as punishment.

The guard, Matthew Emery, 24, was fired, but he cannot be charged criminally: Wisconsin is one of only four states in the country that does not explicitly prohibit sexual contact between prison staff and inmates.

Legislators from both parties described prisoner Jackie Noyes as a victim and expressed outrage at the way she was treated. Noyes, who has a well-documented history of mental problems, told her family that she believed the prison guard loved her...Prison officials found her guilty of "sexual conduct, soliciting staff."


Vatican to Publish Buzzwords Dictionary

The Vatican has compiled a dictionary of words like "reproductive rights" and "gender" in a bid to clarify what it says are neutral-sounding terms that can mask anti-Church meanings.

The 1,000-page Lexicon, containing 78 key terms about family, life and ethical questions, is due to be published soon, according to Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family... Lopez Trujillo said that a basic word like "gender" takes on other connotations in international meetings and "is used to signify a radical ideological feminism."

I have to admit Bush surprised me last night.

I can't compare his speech to any previous State of the Union addresses, because, to be honest, I've never been able to sit through one -- and this was no different. After about ten minutes, I decided doing the dishes would be a lot more interesting. I happened to finish the dishes just as Bush started talking about AIDS in Africa. It was one of those situations where if I didn't yell back at the television, I'd burst.

As our nation moves troops and builds alliances to make our world safer, we must also remember our calling, as a blessed country, is to make this world better. Today, on the continent of Africa, nearly 30 million people have the AIDS virus, including 3 million children under the age of 15. There are whole countries in Africa where more than one-third of the adult population carries the infection.

And you're going to brag again about how the United States gives more money than any other country to the cause, aren't you? Even though, given the size of our economy, our contributions put us at the bottom of the heap. And it's not even a big heap.

Anti-retroviral drugs can extend life for many years. And the cost of those drugs has dropped from $12,000 a year to under $300 a year.

It could drop even more if you'd stop letting your contributors in the pharmaceutical industry protect their precious patents at the cost of people's lives. It wouldn't hurt if you'd dump your anti-antiretroviral foreign aid chief, either

I ask the Congress to commit $15 billion over the next five years, including nearly $10 billion in new money, to turn the tide against AIDS in the most afflicted nations of Africa and the Caribbean.

Did he say $15 billion?

Jesus, he did.

Fifteen billion dollars is real money. Divided evenly, that's $3 billion per year, which is pretty damn close to the $3.5 billion that Physicians for Human Rights and other activists have said is needed.

This is Bush, Inc., of course, so I turned off the television thinking there was a catch somewhere. They're talking about some miserly amount this year, with a promise of an increase in future years (which will magically disappear when the budget gets tight), right?

It doesn't look like it -- although there's certainly some reason for skepticism. According to the fact sheet on the White House web page, the program will start somewhat small -- with $2 billion next year. AIDS activists are reading the fact sheet as promising that half of that money would go to the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, which is important because there is a need for one large scale, comprehensive program, not a lot of small programs competing for the same money, and repeating each others' efforts, and the U.S. has repeatedly been accused of not contributing its fair share to the Global Fund. Even $1 billion isn't enough. It's better than the $500 million we previously pledged, but still well under the $2.5 billion that we'd need to give to make our contribution equal that of Europe in terms of the size of the economy. And looking at the fact sheet -- where the language is somewhat ambiguous -- I'm not even sure they're right about the $1 billion. The White House promises that $1 billion out of the $10 billion in new spending will go to the Global Fund. Does that mean $1 billion stretched out over 5 years? Does it mean that the vast majority of the programs will be new U.S.-controlled programs (don't want the UN to get any credit, or hand out any condoms)? I don't know, but I'm not the only one who's concerned about the ambiguity. Dr. Paul Zeitz, Executive Director of the Global AIDS Alliance, worries that the contribution the United States is talking about will still "leave the fund vastly underfunded and undermine its success."

I don't know. Maybe The Washington Times is right and it's just a cynical attempt "to reach out to the black community, the Democrats' most loyal voting bloc." (Has anyone noticed that conservatives are at least as cynical about conservatives' motives as liberals are?) But it's money, real money, triple what we had previously committed to, for a cause that desperately needs the money. So I'll save cynicism and mistrust for tomorrow, and today just join the applause.

UPDATE: I really didn't want to be cynical about the president's AIDS proposal, and did my best to hold off on the mistrust for a day, but I'm pretty convinced by the suggestion at Liberal Oasis that it's reasonable to be concerned that only $1 billion of the new money is earmarked for the Global Fund. The GF purchases cheaper generic drugs. U.S.-tailored programs can spend the money -- waste the money -- on American goods and patented drugs. That means less medicine for people who need it, and more money for drug companies.

Via Blue Streak, I learned that Bishop William K. Wiegand recently told Governor Gray Davis to either oppose abortion or stop taking Communion. It's the first step in a plan to target out-of-step Catholic politicians.

Kevin Drum suggests that the campaign will backfire, reminding Catholics who disagree with the Church on this issue (and I don't have any statistics at hand, but the polls I've seen suggest Catholic opinion on abortion is similar to overall American opinion) how unwelcome they are, and making the Church look overly politicized to other Americans. I think he's right on the political analysis, but I have to disagree with something else Kevin says: " It's hard to criticize the church on practical grounds since it considers this to be a purely moral issue."

I don't find it the least bit hard to criticize the Church on moral grounds over this issue. I realize there's a difference between the Church's stand on birth control and abortion -- teachings that must be accepted by practicing Catholics -- and on the death penalty and war (both of which the Pope and the American bishops -- among others -- have opposed), but if the Church has any moral authority on abortion (and I'll probably surprise some people here -- but I think it does), it grows out of its consistency in arguing for the importance of valuing life, all life. When it pulls out one strand of the web, and insists on enforcing that, without mentioning any of the other elements, the whole thing unravels, and it becomes very obvious that it's not an issue of morality at all, but an issue of power.

UPDATE: Digby and Kevin Raybould have more thoughts on the subject.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

The latest chapter of The Story Point is up.

Most of the time a rant is just getting something off your chest. Sometimes it's poetry.

The Slacktivist: George Will suggests that domestic violence is no big deal, and thinks it's silly to remind people that it's a crime.

Tim Dunlop, over at The Road to Surfdom has a good memory that leads him to some important questions. Shortly before Christmas, a German newspaper revealed that the Iraqi weapons report given to the non-permanent members of the UN security counsel was incomplete. The United States had edited 8,000 pages out of an almost 12,000 page document. Among the cuts was some embarrassing information about Western (including American) companies that had helped Saddam Hussein build his weapons program. I wondered at the time why the American press virtually ignored this story and misstated the facts when they mentioned it at all.

Tim brings up the issue again, not only to castigate the American press for ignoring it, but to point out that the omission now has further importance: "If the US has removed 8,000 pages of the declaration, and it hasn't shown those pages to anyone, how is the UN meant to decide if Iraq has disclosed all relevant information?"

I'm not sure about that "hasn't shown those pages to anyone" part. According to The Guardian, the five permanent members of the security council have seen the full report. It's still a good question though. How can the UN decide what the truth is, if its most powerful member is allowed to snip out inconvenient facts?

Dear President Bush:

I seldom write letters to politicians for the same reason I seldom call radio stations – because too many other people are trying to do the same thing at once, my voice is most likely going to be lost. Why bother? But given the gravity of the current situation I don't feel that I can, in good conscience, remain silent. I feel I need to try to get through, even though I most likely will not.

Just to give you some background about myself, I'm a 39 year old male Ph.D. candidate in English at Drew University. You spoke here near the end of your election campaign and was warmly received; I remember the hundreds of people lined up across campus, off the campus, and down the street to get into the Simon Forum to hear you speak. You've recently named the President of my university, Tom Kean, to serve on your 9/11 committee, and for that I'm grateful. I'm confident you've made a good choice and that he will do his duty without compromise. I've also voted Republican in every election since 1984, including the election that put you into the White House.

But to be perfectly honest, the Republican Party is on the verge of losing me....

Monday, January 27, 2003

Jesse's back! And if you've ever been embarassed by the sappiness and silliness of some of the peace movement (as my son complained to me about an anti-war rally he went to in Santa Cruz recently, "Mom, they had puppets. Jesus. Giant puppets."), read Jesse's link and be grateful you don't have to wallow in the other side's kitsch.

Zizka pulls together the case (including essential links) against trusting George Bush to get anything right in "Why I Fear Bush More Than Saddam"

This is what war looks like.

A future I don't want to be around to see...
Scientists are exploring ways to medicate away the conscience.

The Christian Science Monitor has an interesting article on US attempts at "regime change" over the past 50 years -- which don't exactly inspire confidence in the long-term outcome of a war in Iraq.

Bush and Company Strike Another Blow Against Human Rights...

Bush Moves to Restore Military Ties With Indonesia
The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has moved a major step closer toward normalising military ties with the Indonesian military (TNI), which it hopes will be a key ally in its ''war against terrorism'' in Southeast Asia.

The Senate voted 61-36 Thursday to defeat an amendment that would have barred funding for enrolling Indonesians in Washington's International Military Education and Training (IMET) programme until it cooperates fully in an investigation into the killing of two U.S. teachers in West Papua last summer.

The administration's eagerness to restore military aid and training to Indonesia - first restricted in 1991 after a well-publicised massacre in East Timor, and then cut off entirely in 1999 when TNI-backed militias ransacked the former Portuguese colony - has made it a top foreign-policy priority since the Sep. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against New York and the Pentagon.

The administration has claimed that Indonesia, the country with the world's greatest Muslim population, remains a key recruiting ground and possible safe haven for al-Qaeda and its sympathisers... But there has been substantial opposition to renewing military ties with the TNI, which is widely considered by international human rights groups as one of the world's most abusive and corrupt national military institutions... In October, eight major Indonesian human rights groups wrote to members of Congress expressing ''great alarm'' at the administration's efforts to lift restrictions on U.S. aid, including training, for the TNI.

''Irreparable damage will be done to our efforts at reform,'' the groups warned. ''Any further attempts by the TNI to change old practices will almost certainly end'' if Congress provides IMET training or other forms of military aid, the letter said.

Rights groups here, such as Human Rights Watch, also actively opposed renewing IMET funding, and expressed outrage at Thursday's vote.

''The Indonesian military has sabotaged international efforts to attain justice for crimes against humanity committed in East Timor, exonerated itself of the strong implication that its elite Special Forces recently murdered two U.S. teachers and beat a U.S. nurse - yet the Senate voted to give the military a level of support not seen in more than a decade,'' said Kurt Biddle, Washington coordinator of the Indonesia Human Rights Network (IHRN). ''Why is the Senate rewarding this behaviour?''

''Human rights groups understand perfectly well that if there is to be any real reform in Indonesia, you've got to get the army out of politics, and renewing ties now is not going to help that,'' according to Dan Lev, an Indonesia expert at the University of Washington in Seattle. ''On the contrary, it's going to boost the army's political clout.''

Saad Eddin Ibrahim, the Egyptian democracy and human rights advocate who was imprisoned last year for his activities, and freed last December, after international pressure on the Egyptian government (his retrial is set for February 4), will take part in an on-line chat at the Digital Freedom Network this Thursday at 11:30 Eastern Time in the DFN chat room.

Dr. Ibrahim is a professor of sociology at American University in Cairo and founder of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Developmental Studies, a research organization that promotes democratic reform in Egypt and the Arab world. He was first arrested in the summer of 2000 on charges related to a grant he received from the European Union to encourage participation in Egyptian elections. His activities included making a documentary film on fraud in the Egyptian electoral process. In May 2001, he was convicted of accepting foreign funding without governmental approval, and defaming Egypt by spreading false information.

If you have questions, but aren't able to make the chat, you can e-mail them here and DFN will mail Dr. Ibrahim's response back to you.

I'm almost speechless, so bear with me while I write in childishly simple sentences, trying to get a hold of this story :

There is a strike in Venezuela. We aren't getting enough oil from Venezuela. The price of oil is going up. We need to get more oil. We double imports from a country we are about to bomb.

We double imports from a country whose leader we consider the epitome of evil?

No, it doesn't help. No matter how simply I put it, it doesn't make sense.

(Via Tom Tomorrow)

From the e-mail box


I posted a long piece last week on the issue of trying Saddam Hussein for war crimes, which grew out of an essay on the topic by Iraqi-American jurist Sermid al-Sarraf. Al-Muhajabah and Salam Pax have more thoughts on the essay, which also inspired some interesting ideas from readers. I plan to come back to this issue soon, but in the meantime, I'd like to share my readers' thoughts:

Donald Johnson writes:
The problem I have with war crimes trials is that in practice, the only people who are tried tend to be dictators who have either outlived their usefulness to us or never were our friends at all. I think you could make a serious case for trying various famous Americans (not just Kissinger, though I grudgingly admit Hitchens has done a good job summarizing other people's research), but at the moment this seems unlikely to ever happen. Kissinger is avoiding certain countries, but if he ever were arrested while overseas there would be intense pressure from the US for his release and that would be the end of that. Even the prospect of forcing him to testify about what he knew about Latin American death squad activity seems rather remote.

Some of the liberal American supporters of the ICC don't inspire me with confidence either. For a long time conservatives claimed they were opposed to the ICC out of fear that American servicemen overseas would be subjected to political trials, but then some months back I remember the NYT publishing a story where the Bush Administration admitted their real fear -- high-ranking Americans like Kissinger might become targets. (I didn't clip the article, unfortunately.) The problem with some American liberals is that they would respond by saying that there were safeguards in the treaty to prevent that from happening. I want safeguards too -- no one wants false accusations made against Americans. But by defending the ICC in this way and avoiding the Kissinger question, these ICC supporters give the impression that no real case could ever be made against an American.

In the end, I do support trials for people like Milosevic and Saddam Hussein, because, to paraphrase what you said, just because you can't fight every evil in the world doesn't mean you shouldn't fight any. The victims of Hussein and Milosevic deserve justice, even if other victims don't get any. But in the end, that kind of justice is little more than another well-intentioned idea twisted to serve the needs of the powerful. It won't stop the US from supporting future Husseins when convenient, or from punishing a country's innocent civilians for the crimes of their tyrannical leader.

UPDATE: The NY Times article that Donald Johnson mentions can be found here.


John Steppling writes:
I wanted to comment on the argument about Saddam is bad, but so are a lot of other leaders. I've used that argument, so I have to defend it a little. The reasoning, I think anyway, goes like this: to selectively pick oil rich Iraq (Saddam) and not, say, Mugabe or Charles Taylor, or allies like The House of Saud or Favored Nation Trading Partners like China is to be hypocritical (not to mention the greatest threat to anyone, which is Pakistan). Also, the fact that there are endless tyrants around the world makes the idea of policing and liberating the people under them a bit fatuous. Even the US cant police everyone -- though it may try to under Bush.

Does that mean one won't still be doing some good by getting rid of Saddam? Well, I doubt it. In theory it might, in practice it never has. So I doubt one can assume at all that Iraqis will be better off. But even if they were, even if they were "liberated", the final tally on intervention is really bad, and I think that this notion of "us" telling anyone who is good or bad is a questionable practice...

I think by saying Saddam is bad and so are countless others, what one is really saying is that selective justice is not justice. This is also why I am against all international criminal courts -- because they are always selective and political and can never be anything but political and weighted by bias and self interest. I don't think you can do good, or help a population suffering under a tyrant, by selectively picking one regime and ignoring others. It's just in bad faith. And such bad faith ends up self destructing -- in part because it
is in bad faith. Unless the US said, ok, the world must be totally democratic, must adhere to our notion of universal liberal democracy and transparent due process (which not even the US practice) then to pick out an easy target that serves one purpose is pure hypocrisy. There are many bad leaders, to my mind, and probably to most of the people living under them, so lets pick --uh -- this one, and the hell with the rest of them. This sounds like a good way to make a whole lot of people resent and dislike the US even more. But maybe the real argument (meaning Saddam is bad but so are many others) was to simply point up the selectivity...

I am constantly amazed at how little is discussed about the political nature of [military trials]. I argue it all the time. The Hague, or the Maddie Albright Court as one might better describe it, is a farce, and Milosovic's trial is a sham. I signed on to defend Milosovic just because I found the coverage and the process so offensive. The Serbs were bad, but so was everyone in that conflict, and the reporting became a kind of "received wisdom" process where nobody (almost) challenged the assumptions being handed out by NATO. Milosovic cant be convicted because there is no evidence -- and if they convict him on what scant evidence they do have, then Westmoreland should be brought up on charges, not to mention Kissinger and Sharon. One cannot have international courts that are impartial or fair -- it's just not possible. And the US refused to sign on to the International Court anyway. Not that I blame them, because, actually, the Bush people were right that US soldiers
would get singled out, such is the international dislike of America. The Milosovic trial hasn't found it necessary to look into any of the NATO collateral damage nor, more importantly, into the other parties in the conflict, but perhaps my bottom line feeling is that International Courts are a way to sanitize war, to make war legal and accountable -- as if war need not have horrible killing and maiming, as if war were somehow something else, and one could assuage one's guilt (or faux guilt) by convicting a symbolic villain (much like the death penalty, come to think of it). Milosovic goes on trial and is convicted (which I don't think he will be, but...) and then everyone can say, see, the Balkin conflict was handled well and we made those atrocities accountable -- even if the actual people who did the killing will not be brought to trial because that is impossible. And never mind the big corporate deals in arms that fueled much of that conflict.


Sunday, January 26, 2003

It's eerie how seemingly unconnected stories intertwine. Last week, I mentioned the latest news about women in Nigeria fighting oil companies -- Chevron in particular -- who pillage the country and give nothing back. This morning (in the post immediately below this one), I wrote about the fortune Dick Cheney made off of human rights violations. I just figured out that in some ways, those are aspects of the same story.

In 1999, Human Rights Watch did a report on the role major multinational oil companies have played in human rights violations in Nigeria's oil-producing communities. Oil production has damaged the environment of the Niger Delta. Large oil spills have killed fish, destroyed crops and polluted water. Oil companies have also expropriated land for oil production under laws which allow no effective due process protections for landowners. Oil companies provide very little local employment, and spend little on local development.

Protests against this situation have been widespread, and suppression of the protest has been draconian. Human Rights Watch found:

repeated incidents in which people were brutalized for attempting to raise grievances with the companies; in some cases security forces threatened, beat, and jailed members of community delegations even before they presented their cases. Such abuses often occurred on or adjacent to company property, or in the immediate aftermath of meetings between company officials and individual claimants or community representatives. Many local people seemed to be the object of repression simply for putting forth an interpretation of a compensation agreement, or for seeking effective compensation for land ruined or livelihood lost.

One of the worst incidents happened in 1997, in Opuama, a community whose local fishing grounds had been destroyed by a canal dredged by Chevron. In protest, a group of youths stopped a barge belonging to a Chevron contractor, blocking access to a Chevron facility. The authorities sent in the notoriously brutal Mobile Police (whom Nigerians have nicknamed "kill and go" because of their history of murdering innocent people with impunity). They killed one of the protestors, a young man named Gidikumo Sule. According to HRW, Chevron expressed no concern about the actions of the Mobile Police and took no steps to avoid similar tragedies in the future. The contractor whose barge was the center of the controversy decided to overlook the serious human rights problems in the area and increase its business dealings there.

The contractor was Halliburton. It's CEO at the time was Dick Cheney.

Everybody knows this already, but a quick review --

Dick Cheney was Secretary of Defense in 1992 when the Pentagon paid Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, to study how it could save money by contracting with private companies -- like Brown & Root -- to do some of the military's work. After he left office, Cheney became CEO of Halliburton. The company has been doing government work since the 1940s, but with Cheney's help, the value of its Defense Department contracts grew from $300 million per year to $650 million per year. Cheney was useful not only for connections that gave Halliburton, and Brown & Root, an inside track on government contracts, but also in devising creative ways get around sanctions, so that the company could do business with a few of the more despicable dictators on the planet. I don't have to tell anyone about Halliburton's business with Saddam Hussein. (If you want a re-cap, Molly Ivins wrote one of her best pieces on the subject), but Cheney hasn't been picky about dealing with monsters. Brown & Root has also serviced Muammar Qaddafi (which makes the recent U.S. opposition to Libya's chairmanship of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights both right and mind-bogglingly hypocritical.) The still evolving Bush Wars have also been good for Brown & Root. Contracts for building everything from bases in Djibouti to detention facilities at Gitmo could be worth more than a billion dollars in the next decade.

The Los Angeles Times briefly frets that Cheney's history provides "fodder" for "conspiracy theorists." I'm not prone to conspiracy mongering, but can anyone give an innocent reading of those facts? The simplest explanation is that death and human rights violations have provided Dick Cheney with a very good living. It doesn't seem to bother Cheney's conscience at all, so I'm not sure why we have to whisper about it. The LA Times lays out most of the facts, but shrinks from the obvious conclusion.

Despite that lapse, the Times piece is a good summary of the problems involved in our increasingly privatized military.

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. -- Matthew 23:27

Here's a nice story. Our surgeon Senate Majority leader, with his well-polished reputation for caring about AIDS victims in Africa, just eeked out a victory in the Senate by twisting the arm of a fellow Republican who had the audacity to consider voting for famine relief for southern Africa.

"Congratulations to our leader for holding a tough group together," commented Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.

I don't know -- somehow I'm not impressed. I just don't think convincing Republican politicians to be mean and hypocritical is a major accomplishment.

Saturday, January 25, 2003

Please tell me that either the newspaper got something wrong, or I'm misreading this. An article in today's LA Times on Governor George Ryan's mass commutation of death sentences in Illinois, and its effect on victims' families, contains a section on how prosecutors are responding:

Prosecutors... were going to great lengths to skirt Ryan's order, in some instances searching for technical legal glitches -- the kind they usually lament for freeing the guilty -- in the hope of sending some who received clemency back to death row. They were combing old records to see if perhaps sentencing papers had not been signed or otherwise properly processed, on the theory that if an inmate had not been legally, technically, sentenced to death he could not be granted clemency from that sentence.

They're looking for people whose death sentences were technically illegal to send back to death row, because if someone's sentence wasn't legal to begin with, they can't be given clemency (but can be executed)?

How do lawyers manage to hang on to their sanity?

If I don't stop reading the LA Times, I could easily turn into a manic depressive. Yesterday's lead story had Bush, under pressure from skeptical allies (not to mention a skeptical American public) backing down a bit on letting the inspections run their course. It wasn't much, but it offered a little hope. Today's lead story, however -- Prepare for War With Iraq, Bush to Tell America -- along with the news that the Pentagon is considering (and preparing for) using nuclear weapons in Iraq, sucked all the air out of yesterday's optimism.

Alas, a blog has a well-written and well-researched post demonstrating how little negative effect affirmative action has on white college applicants. It's fascinating stuff, a must-read.

I can't remotely match Barry's research skills, but a few personal experiences suggest to me that not only does affirmative action have very little negative effect on whites, sometimes the effect is positive.

I was an affirmative action admit to Berkeley in the seventies. I didn't know it at the time -- all I knew is that my getting in didn't make a lot of sense: My grades weren't close to being good enough for any UC, let alone the jewel of the system. It was only when UC was eliminating affirmative action, and I read about the types of things they took into account besides race -- single parent families, income below poverty level, parents who didn't go to college (or, in my father's case, even high school) -- all of which applied to me, that I understood why I'd been accepted. My grades were bad, my SATs were close to perfect -- an affirmative action program allowed UC to decide that meant something.

When I was eighteen, I thought they were nuts. I looked at my peers with their good grades from good high schools, and stacks of awards for one thing or another, and, above all, their overwhelming confidence (I'd sell my soul for a small portion of the confidence affluent teenagers have), and thought an enormous mistake had been made, and I couldn't possibly compete with them. It took me a long time to get past that belief. In some ways I think I still haven't gotten over it.

But I was wrong. You can do well in high school by filling in the blanks and doing what you're told. My problem in high school was that I was terrible at that kind of thing. I had a habit of leaving multiple choice tests blank, turning them over, and writing essay answers to the multiple choice questions on the back. (That's still my habit, isn't it? Ask me to choose between option A and option B, and my answer will always be "Don't you realize how many other options there are?") I only had one teacher in high school who turned the paper over, read what was on the other side, and didn't assume that knowing more than what was on the test was a bad thing. But at UC, that love of writing and passion for ideas -- which most of my high school teachers hated, or at least didn't understand -- turned out to be a good thing. And a lot of students with high grades discovered that their ability to give the "right" answer didn't mean much any more. In college I did a lot of tutoring of people who were, on paper, much smarter than me.

Without affirmative action, I wouldn't have had that chance.

Hesiod raises an issue that has bothered me as well. I've read several times that one of the first priorities after an invasion of Iraq will be to destroy Saddam's stores of chemical and biological weapons (Hesiod has a link to the latest variation on the theme.) But in order to do that, we'd have to know where those weapons are, right? So, what's going on here? Are we basing plans for war on a fantasy scenario (as soon as war starts, information about where the weapons are will magically drop from the sky), or are we withholding useful information from inspectors because we really don't want them to find anything? Very weird.

Friday, January 24, 2003

These women are my heroes and my inspiration.

Last summer, a group of unarmed women from Itsekiri and Ijaw communities in southern Nigeria took over ChevronTexaco's main oil terminal in Escravos, demanding jobs, schools, town halls, roads, electricity, potable water and other necessities for their neglected communities. If the story doesn't sound familiar, you might remember them as the women who threatened to take off their clothes if their demands weren't met. Naked women protestors -- that was the angle a lot of the Western press latched on to.

For years Western oil companies have been taking billions out of Africa, bribing dictators, and putting almost nothing back into the villages where they operate. The women's siege resulted in a loss of three million barrels of oil production, and an agreement by Chevron to invest in social improvements for the communities. Those naked women may have been a joke to the Western press, but they accomplished more than previous protestors -- who were male and heavily armed.

So a small group of unarmed women took on an oil giant, gained a little ground, and that's the end of the story, right?

Not a chance. The women of the Niger Delta are back. And this time they're taking on the government.

Nigeria is Africa's biggest oil producer, one of the top ten oil producers in the world, and for ten years there have been clashes between police and bands of machete-wielding young men, who frequently kidnapped oil company workers, and stopped production. In response, President Olusegun Obasanjo has moved to protect oil installations by increasing the military presence in the region, vying, apparently, for the title of the George Bush of sub-Saharan Africa.

Hundreds of women, with the strange idea that money would be better in their villages than in building a naval base to protect the oil companies from the people they're exploiting, blocked the waterways to keep construction materials from reaching the site. The navy turned back.

Are these women terrific, or what?

Christian Science Monitor: Turkey hosts antiwar summit: Iraq's neighbors met in Ankara Thursday, hoping to find ways to avert a war that could rattle the region.
Turkish officials say that if European leaders such as France and Germany oppose the use of force, this will make it increasingly uncomfortable for Turkey to fall into step with Washington, considering that one of the government's key goals is an invitation to join the European Union. "Yes, I think it will put Turkey in a more difficult position," Yusuf Buluc, the spokesman for the foreign ministry, says of increased European opposition to the war. Officials in the prime minister's office say that Turkey cannot be on board without another UN resolution and that the stationing of new troops here would have to be approved by Turkey's parliament. "We cannot act unilaterally, even bilaterally. There should be a base of international legitimacy for any action in Iraq," says Ahmet Davutoglu, a policy adviser to Prime Minister Abdullah Gul. "If the answer is 'no' in the parliament," he says of ongoing military cooperation. related to a potential US war in Iraq, "all of these technical developments would be stopped."

Washington Post: Putin Calls Bush, Sides with France and Germany in Resisting War
Russian President Vladimir Putin told President Bush in a telephone call Thursday that the key to future action on Iraq would be found in next Monday's report by U.N. arms inspectors, joining leaders of China, Canada, France and Germany in opposing any rush to war. The spokesmen for the big powers said U.N. weapons inspectors should be allowed to continue efforts to disarm Iraq by peaceful means.

Globe and Mail: PM to Bush: Hold off on war: Canada will break with U.S. if it hits Hussein without mandate from UN
Prime Minister Jean Chrétien says the United States has not yet made the case for war with Iraq, and that he has told U.S. President George W. Bush that Canada does not want the United States to attack without a UN mandate. Arguing that United Nations weapons inspectors should be given more time, a skeptical Mr. Chrétien said yesterday he is not afraid to part company with Canada's closest ally if the United States attacks Iraq without the backing of the UN Security Council. An increasingly frustrated Mr. Bush phoned Mr. Chrétien on Wednesday looking for political support from Canada after a rough day in which France's President Jacques Chirac and Germany's Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder joined together in a sharp challenge to U.S. policy on Iraq.

International Herald Tribune: NATO wavering on war with Iraq
In a new sign of wavering allied will, NATO postponed a decision Wednesday on a U.S. request for six measures to support a possible war against Iraq.
The move followed what was described as a heated debate, with the United States and Britain on one side, and France, Germany and some other members on the other.

"It was a pretty tough discussion," said a diplomat at the Brussels headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Reuters reported. "The arguments were flying."

The 19-nation alliance is expected ultimately to approve the measures, mainly aimed at defending Turkey - which is granting the United States limited basing rights - against a potential Iraqi attack.

But the NATO hesitation, in a forum long dominated by the United States and where an almost pro-forma approval might once have been expected, sent a dramatic signal: The debate about war has taken a bad turn for Washington as some of its closest allies have joined in opposition. This in turn increases the likelihood of a narrower U.S. war coalition with no UN backing.

The Guardian: World opinion moves against Bush
In Spain and Italy, majorities against war are over 60%, despite the expressed support for US policy of the countries' respective leaders, Jose Maria Aznar and Silvio Berlusconi. These largely Catholic countries will have listened to the Pope's recent denunciation of war as a "defeat for humanity".

The developing position in Britain is, in a sense, even more remarkable. For historical and cultural reasons, the British feel a greater affinity with the US than people elsewhere in Europe. Their instinct is to support the US, as the response to September 11 showed.

During the past six months or more, Britons have been repeatedly told by the prime minister, Tony Blair, that the threat posed by Iraq is urgent and must be dealt with, if necessary by force, as the US says.

Mr. Blair's government has published dossiers on Iraq's estimated weapons of mass destruction capability and its human rights abuses in a bid to bolster the case for war. It has also followed the Bush administration's lead in drawing a link, without any evidence, between al-Qaida terrorists and Iraq.

It argues that the worldwide problem of weapons of mass destruction proliferation, and particularly the threat of weapons falling into terrorist hands, will somehow be curbed if Iraq's regime is ousted.

Yet from beneath the weight of this official, and media-backed, scaremongering and arm-twisting, a near-majority of Britons opposed to war is emerging. Over the past three months, those against an attack on Iraq has risen by 10 points to 47%, according to a Guardian poll.

Other polls show that more than 80% of Britons believe clear evidence of Iraqi non-compliance with the UN inspection regime's requirements, and specific UN authority for the use of force, are essential prerequisites for military action.

USA Today: Bush lacks votes in U.N., diplomats say
Mounting criticism from key U.S. allies this week on Iraq isn't just talk. The Bush administration doesn't have enough votes now on the United Nations Security Council to pass a resolution to authorize an invasion of Iraq, diplomats say. That weakness complicates U.S. strategy as polls here and abroad show low support for an invasion unless the United States can rally U.N. support and a broad coalition of allies. Though President Bush has said the United States would act with only a handful of allies to disarm Iraq if it had to, the White House would prefer allied help.

MSNBC: NBC-WSJ Poll: Bush support drops: President’s ratings slip on economy, foreign policy, handling of war on terrorism
President Bush’s popularity ratings — once among the highest of any president in the past 60 years — are eroding across the board, according to a new NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll... The president’s overall approval rating slipped to 54 percent, down from December’s 62 percent... Thirty-six percent of the respondents said the nation is generally headed in the right direction, a drop from last month’s figure of 43 percent and a dramatic drop from January 2002, when 62 percent said the country was moving the right way... Seventy-two percent believe Bush should show evidence of Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction, compared with 22 percent who say he should not. And by a margin of 48 percent to 24 percent, the poll indicates that Americans believe the al-Qaida terrorist network, responsible for Sept. 11 attacks, is more a threat to the country than Iraq. On Wednesday, a senior administration official who has long insisted the White House doesn’t pay attention to polls took the unusual step of acknowledging the numbers are slipping, blaming a period of slow economic growth.

CBS News: Poll: Talk First, Fight Later
Many people think the Administration isn’t so much following a policy as it is reacting to events. 55% believe it is reacting to foreign events as they occur, while 40% believe the Bush Administration has a clear plan for its foreign policy. Similarly, in the campaign against terrorism, just over half -- 53% -- think the Administration is reacting to events as they occur, and 43% say it appears to have a clear plan.

As new reports surfaced about how Osama bin Laden may have escaped U.S. capture last year, respondents were asked how much progress the Bush Administration had made in eliminating the threat of terrorists operating from Afghanistan and other countries. The vast majority of Americans believe it has made at least some progress, though only a few (15%) say it has made a lot.

The threat from Al Qaeda is still on the minds of many and is still seen to outweigh the threat from Iraq. Asked whether Iraq, North Korea or Al Qaeda represents the greater threat to peace and stability, 46% said Al Qaeda, more than double the 22% who said Iraq.

Pew Research Center: Public Wants Proof of Iraqi Weapons Programs: Majority Says Bush Has Yet to Make the Case
The Bush administration may face a major challenge in winning public support for the use of force if U.N. weapons inspections yield anything less than evidence that Iraq has been hiding weapons of mass destruction. Only about three-in-ten Americans say they would favor war in Iraq if no weapons program is discovered, even if there is no proof that Iraq is not hiding weapons.

There is greater support for using force if the U.N. inspectors conclude that Iraq has the capacity to make weapons of mass destruction, but does not possess them. But in this case the public is split (46% in favor, 47% opposed). The only possible outcome in which a clear majority backs military action is if the inspections show that Iraq is actually hiding weapons of mass destruction.

Los Angeles Times: Kerry Urges Bush to Go Slow on Potential War With Iraq
The speech also marks another shift in emphasis for Kerry on Iraq. Last year, he accused Bush of ignoring international opinion in the administration's initial moves toward a confrontation with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. But after Bush pledged to work through the U.N., Kerry voted for the congressional resolution in October that authorized the president to use force against Iraq. Kerry now has moved closer to the war's critics, who maintain Bush is once again risking dangerous divisions with allies in repeatedly raising the prospect of invading Iraq, even without U.N. approval. Indeed, the heart of Kerry's speech was a charge that, across the board, Bush has pursued a "belligerent and myopic unilateralism" that has isolated the United States and increased threats to American security.

Los Angeles Times: United States, Britain Give Consideration to Compromise
The outlines of a possible compromise on Iraq began to take shape Thursday, as the United States and Britain seriously considered allowing U.N. weapons inspections to continue for several weeks in hopes of making the case with skeptical allies and public opinion.


Like a lot of people, I've spent months opposing war with Iraq, and not really believing that my opposition, or anyone else's would make a bit of difference. I'm still not sure, but I feel more optimism today than I've felt in a long time. Yes, Bush is throwing tantrums, Colin Powell is starting to sound more like Bush than Bush does, and there's talk of assembling coalitions that slip further and further away, and grand talk of going it alone, but right now -- and God knows this changes from day to day -- this looks increasingly like they're trying to give a war and nobody's coming.

Thursday, January 23, 2003

Wolf Blitzer is trying so hard to get a war on the air, and you people just aren't co-operating. First he tried asking this question:

"Whose views are most like yours when it comes to the Iraqi crisis?"
Your choices: President Bush or Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.)

The last time I checked, the result was 76% in favor of Kennedy's anti-war position.

Well, that must have shaken Wolf up, because he tried a slightly more leading question the next day:

"Would you support a war with Iraq without France and Germany’s support?"

As Jim Capozzola noted, that question leaves a lot of options open. Nevertheless, Wolf still didn't get the answer he wanted. Those things drop off the page too fast to get a final tally, but as of yesterday, Jim noticed NO leading with 72%.

Wolf is getting really tired of you peace-mongers, so now he's trying to make it really easy for you to vote for war. Today's question:

Would you support a war with Iraq if the U.N. Security Council authorized the use of force?

Surely he can get a war going under those conditions, right?

The result right now? Fifty-two percent still say no war.

Tomorrow's question:

Would you support a war with Iraq if Wolf Blitzer promises to be on the front lines?

Go vote. It means so much to Wolf.

Tom Tomorrow has a nice piece up on the death of Bill Mauldin,

I must say, as I read Mauldin's obituary this morning, one passage stood out as symbolic of a passed (and much mourned) era:

Mauldin's characters offered a counterpoint to the clean-cut, gung-ho fighting man put forth by the Army publicity machine. There was no gauzy sentimentality in Willie and Joe, no chest-thumping heroics. They were just doing their job and wanted only to finish it and go home. It was an apt description of America's new military.

"The old professional soldiers didn't care for these new people, these wiseacres who talked backed and didn't show them the proper respect," said Lee Kennett, professor emeritus of history at the University of Georgia and author of "GI: The American Soldier in World War II."

"Mauldin captured the basic attitudes of the GI. He spoke for them in a very clear way."

Mauldin's detractors said he was sowing seeds of discontent. Gen. George S. Patton — whom Mauldin lampooned in a sketch about his insistence that soldiers be clean-shaven and wear ties, even in combat — was so infuriated he tried to stop Stars and Stripes from being circulated among his 3rd Army. Patton called in Mauldin, dressed down the sergeant and threatened to throw him in jail.

But Patton's boss — Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower — interceded. Eisenhower, himself part of the Army's old guard, thought soldiers needed an outlet to vent their frustrations. He told Patton to leave Mauldin alone.

I immediately remembered Donald Rumsfeld recent disparagement of the value of draftees, and didn't really have to wonder which side he would have been on. Along with Bill Mauldin, an era when we all believed that smart-ass citizens were more important than a take-orders military may have passed away.

"Beautiful view! Is there one for the enlisted men?"

I was surprised recently to find a brief but interesting anti-war piece on the State Department's website. I suppose the key is the headline: Iraqi-American Jurist Says Saddam Must Account for His Crimes. Sermid Al-Sarraf's article focuses on the need to indict and try Saddam Hussein for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and devotes quite a bit of space to summarizing independent human rights organizations' cases against Saddam. In the interest of making that case, maybe the State Department decided to ignore the first sentence: "Opposing a war in Iraq is essential because such a war would undoubtedly be detrimental most to the Iraqi people." Or maybe someone at State appreciated the criticism of the anti-war movement that followed:

At the same time, only opposing a war, without anything further, implies that Saddam Hussein should remain in power to perpetuate his well-documented crimes against the Iraqi people and others. In other words, while decrying what might happen to the Iraqi people during a war, the anti-war movement is forgetting that Iraqis are suffering and dying at the hands of one of the most brutal dictators the world has seen since World War II.

That's an argument pro-war people often use, usually in cheap and cynical ways -- don't those anti-war people understand how bad Saddam is? -- and the cynicism with which it's served up invites an equally quick, cheap response: There are lots of bad leaders; we can't get rid of them all. Even though it usually emanates from people I agree with overall, I've never been satisfied with that response. The fact that you can't do it all is a piss poor argument against doing whatever good you can. And it has always seemed to me that there was an element of truth in the criticism, despite the obvious hypocrisy involved in people who've never shown the slightest concern with human rights wielding the charge.

But in this case the argument isn't coming from someone with no genuine concern for human rights, or someone itching for war. Sermid Al-Sarraf begins with a clear opposition to the war -- and maybe that makes what is reasonable in the argument easier to hear.

Al-Sarraf spelled out his idea of the form justice in Iraq should take in another State Department paper last week -- an Iraqi-based tribunal, with international observers. Although promoting an international, not Iraqi, tribunal, Jeri Laber, one of the founders of Human Rights Watch, made a similar case recently, in the op-ed pages of the Los Angeles Times, for trying Saddam for crimes against humanity.

No one can accuse Laber of hypocrisy or opportunism. Human Rights Watch has been pressing for prosecution of Saddam, members of his inner circle, and others, as well as documenting Iraqi genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, since the early 90s -- when no one else was interested. Her account of the difference between trying to get international support for indicting Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein is fascinating and revealing. Milosevic was relatively easy because "Yugoslavia was of no special economic or strategic significance to the outside world," but Saddam was another matter:

France and Russia aspired to commercial dealings with Iraq and threatened to veto the establishment of a tribunal. China, concerned about reaction to its treatment of Tibetans, was disinclined to see the Kurdish issue raised. Corporations in the United States, Germany and various other European countries had been supplying Iraq with advanced technology for its weapons program during the Iran-Iraq war, a war in which the U.S. tacitly supported Iraq as a counterweight to the spread of Iranian fanaticism. Neither was any government willing to take on Iraq in a civil suit before the World Court, for fear of losing business or of alienating Arab governments.

We're not doing much business with Iraq anymore, and it doesn't have any more political leverage, and so the issue can be raised. The fact that it's being raised is a good thing. And yet the way it's being raised is discomforting.

The Washington Post recently reported a plan by several Arab leaders to encourage Saddam to go into exile in exchange for a guarantee that he wouldn't face a war crimes tribunal. Plan B -- in the extremely likely event that Saddam rejected such a proposal -- would be to offer amnesty to high level people in the government and army if they remove him through a coup. The same day State Department spokesman Richard Boucher was asked about the plan and went on to talk about the possibility of a post-war tribunal. He mentioned that the U.S. has provided funding since 1998 for Indict, a British NGO which collects evidence that can be used to prosecute Iraqi war criminals, but no plans have been made for a tribunal. Curiously, while Boucher rejects the idea of Saddam being tried by the International Criminal Court (which the Bush administration has infamously opposed), neither Boucher nor the reporter who asked the question seemed to realize that the ICC has no jurisdiction over crimes committed by countries that have not signed the statute within their own countries, nor over crimes committed before July 1, 2002. There are other, more cumbersome methods, but the ICC isn't even available as a solution. (Human Rights Watch, in fact, suggests that signing the ICC statute should be an early priority for any new Iraqi government, since it would give the country the power to try crimes committed after July, 2002.) I would have thought knowing simple, layman friendly facts about international law would be a prerequisite for being a State Department spokesman.

In any case, on Sunday the administration pronounced itself interested in the proposal -- Donald Rumsfeld called it "a fair trade to avoid a war" -- while remaining understandably skeptical that the plan could succeed. Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice also supported the idea. And Bush himself raised the issue in the form of a threat.

Me? I'm torn. If some plan was hatched to get Saddam out of the country, I'd say a quick prayer of thanks that thousands of lives would be saved. If a coup toppled (and presumably killed) Saddam, I'd say the same prayer, but there'd probably be a nagging coda attached: This was the best solution You could come up with, huh? You trying to encourage more of this kind of thing?

But then I'd start wondering what had been achieved, and what had been given up. Are people close enough to Saddam Hussein to kill him really any better than Saddam himself? In the short term interest of the United States, perhaps -- in the same sense that Saddam was "preferable" to the Ayatollah Khomeini. Those preferences have a short shelf life, though. They stink almost as soon as you set them up. And more importantly, they don't take into account the fact that the people who have to live with the "preferable" leader don't necessarily find him all that preferable. Before the Gulf War, Saddam may have been just fine for the United States, but he was as bad for Iraqis then -- if not worse -- than he is now.

There is also a long-term issue of justice. If there is a single lesson to be learned from the twentieth century I think it is that genocide and other crimes against humanity demand justice. Not vengeance, not retribution -- justice. It has to be clear that genocide is not something you walk away from, that from top to bottom, people will be held accountable. Let's be honest: we're nowhere close to making that a reality. But the existence of organizations like Human Rights Watch, breaking the silence by documenting and publicizing crimes, and the movement toward creating an infrastructure for international justice represented by the ICC, are steps in the right direction. Human rights law is still a pretty fragile, cobbled together, and not entirely respectable, thing. At it's best, it's always got a tinge of victor's justice to it. But it offers a hope for the future -- a hope that's crushed when powerful nations use the threat of war crimes prosecution as a weapon, and amnesty as a prize. The message has got to be that criminals (including powerful ones) will be held accountable, not that war crimes prosecution is another weapon in the hands of the powerful.

From the e-mail box:
I'm a regular reader of your site and I like your style a lot. You're the first to point out the good and the bad evenhandedly, not to mention you always seem to delve a little deeper than most. For that reason alone, I ask that you reflect on the sentence in the subject line ("We have no interest in the obvious violations of women's rights in the Islamic world.")

You couldn't be more right when it comes to Republicans (and some Dems as well) making a farce of most feminist's views, but I took offense to that sentence. I'm Muslim, so I can speak firsthand about the shitty behavior (forgive the language) that most of my "brothers" in Islam conduct in our "favor". It's a gargantuan problem, that has to be dealt with: more for our own sake than for others. But what surprised me was here you had this general statement("the whole Augusta thing..."), and instead of saying something like how women in Third World countries are treated, the Islamic world was specifically mentioned.

I'm not one for being PC all the time (in fact, most of the time it's pointless), but I can't help but think that all the Arab-bashing and Islamophobia (another generic term, I know, but you get the gist) isn't subconsciously rearing it's ugly head. As far as I know, women in every non-Western country face just about (not quite up to par) the same problems as Muslim women do. Healthcare, violence, rape, second-class citizenship, etc., all of that is just as prevalent in the Muslim dominated Middle East as it is in the "Christian or Animalistic" Africa ( I know, Africa has a substantial Muslim population, but again, I think you understand what I mean). Women can't confront their rapists in Yemen, but neither can women who are forced into the Prostitution/Slavery market in Eastern Europe, or Cambodia, or any other countless countries where women and children are the most vulnerable.

Anyway, that's my two-cents, for what they're worth. Thanks for


Sylvia Haider


I couldn't agree with you more, Sylvia. The denigration of women is universal, and extreme forms of it are common throughout the developing world, not just in Muslim countries. I'm not sure if you followed the link to Ampersand's post, which I was commenting on, but that was the reason I specifically mentioned the treatment of women in the Islamic world -- he had linked to an essay arguing that feminists avoided the issue of how women were treated in many Muslim countries, and had demonstrated that that was not true. I was simply reiterating what he said.

The issue of over-emphasizing the mistreatment of women in many Islamic countries, and failing to see it as part of a broader pattern of denigration of women in poor countries, is, I think, a separate one -- but one that's at least as important to raise. We're all drowning in information in the popular media right now about how badly women in Muslim countries are treated. I'm glad people are learning more about that, even if the reasons for raising the issue are less than honest. But as a feminist with a concern for human rights, and someone who pays attention to news about the condition of women around the world, I'm often frustrated with how unaware many people are of how badly women in poor, non-Muslim countries are treated. It's only possible to view the brutal treatment of women Saudi Arabia or parts of Nigeria as unique if you don't know anything about, for example, female infanticide, child marriage, abortion of female fetuses, torture and even murder of women in dowry disputes, and using rape as a means of punishing women for the crimes of their male relatives in India. Or sexual slavery and forced prostitution of poor, migrant women in Greece, Thailand, Bosnia and Herzogivina, Cambodia, and even the United States. Or sexual violence as a weapon of war . Religion is often an excuse for the mistreatment of women, but it's not the cause. Nor is any one religion or culture uniquely guilty.

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

I have a strange mental block when it comes to reading the news. I start with two complementary assumptions: If you are incompetent, you're eventually going to trip up so badly that everyone will notice, and if you're cynical and manipulative, you at least have to be smart to pull it off. I don't know why I hang on to that assumption. It's dumb. I've met plenty of manipulative people with IQs that have to stretch to reach double digits, and smart people who aren't the least bit crafty. But somehow that's a cliche I'm constantly tripping over: You don't have to worry about fools, it's the smart ones you have to look out for.

By the time George Bush leaves office, I might be cured of that blind spot.

Everyone, of course, has read Josh Marshall's masterful skewering of Dick Cheney's bumbling "Mayberry" side. It's a great antidote to the common wisdom that Cheney is some kind of Machiavellian whiz.

We can probably drop the "whiz" part, but we don't want to forget the Machiavellian angle. John Dean published a very good essay recently, The Nixon Shadow that Hovers Over the Bush White House, which nominates Cheney as heir to Richard Nixon's attempted usurpation of power -- a power grab Dean argues would have succeeded if Nixon had not overreached and criminally abused his powers. The attempt to eliminate all checks on the executive branch was picked up again in the Iran-Contra scandal, during which Dick Cheney was the Reagan administration's strongest Congressional supporter.

The essay raises some important issues. One of the most disturbing things about this administration is its naked power-hunger. At some level most Americans are aware of it, and uncomfortable -- if not yet worried -- about it. That's why the polls show 2/3 of Americans against the war unless it's carried out through the UN. That's really pretty remarkable when you consider how uninterested in foreign policy we usually are, and how unconcerned we're reputed to be with what the rest of the world thinks. In fact, the vast majority of Americans don't want to give a president the power to rush off madly making wars wherever he wants, and -- even without paying much attention -- they're aware that that's what he wants.

The Dean piece brings up the domestic equivalent. This administration is treating Congress and the press and the public the same way they're treating the UN -- as mildly annoying impediments to be stepped around or stepped on. Dean sets that attitude in an historical context. We all recoil at the return of the Iran-Contra crowd (and in a few cases the Nixon crowd), but Dean pins down what's important about that -- this same crowd has been trying to turn this into a government without any checks and balances for a generation. They've failed twice, and the same group of people is back to try again. That's really something that's important to keep in the back of your head when you look at their manipulations.