Blog of Mass Distraction

Sunday, January 30, 2005

The Devil you know

The Iraqi electoral polls have closed and the day came off without a hitch. Sure there were a couple of small explosions but, compared with the regular level of escalating violence, it was comparitively quiet. There were reportedly 10 suicide bombs, but that was still less than the normal level before the election. And turnout was apparently good...
Reaction from people about the election was varied but generally positive. The same can be said for a lot fot he Arab media as well (which was highly critical of the US occupation and what they considered a farcical election). Ironically, the success of the election, which was resoundingly touted early on in the process by the Bush administration, was seized upon by the Democrats. They said it would be the perfect time to now develop an exit strategy and let the Iraqis get to the business of ruling themselves.
While it will be some time before polls return, there was also a lot of skepticism about the eleciton, particularly among the Sunni Arabs. They felt the process was not fair or useful, particularly since they knew nothing about most of the parties, their platforms, or the candidates they were fielding. The election outcome will determine the representatives in the 275 seat parliament which will be selected by representative democracy. So the number of candidates a party gets into government will be determined by how many votes that party gets rather than by getting people elected in different districts.

There's also been some moves to reconciliation between the Sharon government and Abu Mazen and the Palestinian Authority. This is also right before a report which is to be released apparently citing a decade of unauthorized construction funding for illegal settlements in the West Bank (ummm, are there any other kind?). But hey, can't be a perfect day can it?

I've also watched the documentary "Shake Hands with the Devil" about Canadian general Romeo Dallaire and his UN mission in Rwanda during the slaughter there a decade ago. Dallaire stayed in Rwanda and witnessed the massive genocide even though he could do nothing to stop it. As those who know me best know, I've been deeply interested in Africa for years. I've been wanting to go for ages and finally got the chance a little while ago. My trip was just about the best thing I've ever done, but when you go there and see the horrible condition most of Sub-Saharan Africa is in, it's very trying on your spirit. On top of the unbelievable violence and bloodshed propagated by people like president Kagame in Rwanda1, AIDS has razed entire generations there. Many countries now have average life spans around 35 years because so many people have died. With infection rates around 20%, it's staggering if you consider it... 1 in 5 adults would have AIDS. Social structure and function in these countries is falling apart as well. There just aren't the people to fill roles as teachers, nurses, police or the other important functions of society. It's a strange thing watching millions of people, entire nations even, die slow and miserable deaths.
I did see some news about the success in prevention of mother to child transfer of the disease. Prevention in the US that is, the number of babies being born with AIDS went down from about 2000 to about 200. This is due to the number of successful medicines that can be used to prevent passing the disease to the child (which normally should only happen during childbirth, since the blood of the mother and child never mix before then). These drugs, however, are available in the US, but Africa is another story.

1. Rwandan President Paul Kagame was found to be responsible for the rocket attack on an airplane that instigated the mass slaughter of 800,000 Tutsis by the majority Hutus.
BBC News

Friday, January 28, 2005

Target Iran

There's been some speculation about covert operations the US is conducting in Iran. A lot of focus has been put on Iran as the next target for freedomization.1 The nuclear weapons program has apparently been put on hold thanks to that agreement with the EU, but Iran is continuing it's nuclear power programs (which is what the US has been covertly investigating). When this was brought up however, the Bush administration denied such acts and said even if they were conducting such acts they would be classified and wouldn't be discussed. Yeah... that's subtle.
But in spite of all this controversy and discussion, I seriously doubt that the United States would invade Iran. Now you might ask, what on earth would stop them? Well aside from the US military already being stretched at having to deal with Afghanistan and Iraq, the US doesn't normally attack a country where it's likely to lose a large number of troops. Up until this last war, the US predominantly participated in aerial wars (where it can reign supreme). That or the US uses other people and simply supplies the weapons, resources, intelligence and so on.
I certainly believe the US may try to incite revolution there, or use intelligence agents and perhaps try to foment a coup. But sending troops into Iran would be utterly stupid. Sure the US could win a typical war by bombing the hell out of the country and sending troops to the capital. But the US couldn't occupy Iran without ten times the trouble that it's had occupying Iraq. It's true that there are some people in Iran that would be happy to see the US come in, but I feel they are a minority. There are certainly some that want to see the authoritarian religious government overthrown, but I doubt that many of them are anxious to see what's happened in their two neighbouring countries (Afghanistan and Iraq) happen to them. Besides, I don't think Iranians have forgotten who supported the Shah and who supported the overthrow of their democratically elected leader Mossadegh. If the US sent troops to Iran, they would suffer heavy casualties and the US doesn't like losing American soldiers.
Also, if the US decided to bomb targets in Iran, it would be doing so without any justification and completely as the aggressor. The US calls Iran a terrorist state, but how many countries has Iran invaded? How many democratic leaders has Iran overthrown? How many ruthless dictators has Iran provided military and intelligence support for? The US has done all these things and much more (in fact it did the latter two to Iran).2 But when the Shah was booted out of several Americans were captured and held hostage in the US embassy for over a year.3 They were all eventually released and alive and unmolested, which is a lot more than you can say for those captured by American troops (that is of the people they decide to capture).
The other example of Iran's support for terrorism is their support of Hezbollah. Hezbollah, however, fought the Israeli invasion of Southern Lebanon.4 Hezbollah also happens to run hospitals and schools and apparently has a popular news network. Their attacks are considered terrorist, but any similar such attacks by allied forces are always just and noble.
So if the US did bomb targets in Iran, it would draw massive international criticism, which the current administration perhaps wouldn't care about. But it would have some very serious consequences, especially since China has allied itself with Iran as a vital energy supplier. Furthermore, Iran might not be able to strike back directly at the US (though I wouldn't rule it out if it has long range ICBMs), but Israel would certainly feel the brunt of a retaliation, and I seriously doubt the US wants that.

1. CNN: U.S. planning for possible attack on Iran

Monday, January 24, 2005


Some of the details about President Bush's visit to Canada were revealed recently; specifically about his insistence on Canada cooperating with ballistic missile defense. Martin was hard pressed trying to get Bush to understand the majority of Canadians don't want ballistic missile defense. A little more disconcerting is that the Liberal government was quite willing to go along with missile defense before the election. There were talks with the US before, and the government was already moving in that direction when it agreed to allow NORAD rules to change to go along with the BMD plans. There's also been high level discussion back and forth between the two governments.1 I guess the crushing defeat to a minority wasn't expected back then given the landslide majorities that Chretien was able to win.
There are several arguments against missile defense, like the instigation of another arms race. While Russia still has a considerable military, China is the real growing tiger and it would certainly feel threatened by a missile defense shield. If there were a working North American missile defense shield, what would stop the US from launching missile attacks against others if it knew they couldn't attack back? Certainly saves on American soldier's lives...
But I'm going to be honest and say that that's not the main reason I oppose missile defense. Sure that is a reason, but it's not my main reason. Frankly, I just don't think missile defense is feasible. If a country can launch one missile at North America, what's to stop it from launching 10 missiles? And not all of them have to carry actual warheads. The success rate of missile defense is spotty at best and utterly ridiculous in reality. Shooting down a missile with another missile is a rather foolish presumption and the most recent test failure is only one more to add to a long list. Scientists have been ridiculing missile defense for years as a terrible waste of money. If a couple of missiles get past the shield carrying warheads, then what the hell is the point of spending billions of dollars for nothing? Think of what another billion for health care can do.

1. Talks began shortly after Martin took control between Defence Minister David Pratt and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

That didn't take long

The Indonesian military has reportedly been attacking, and has killed, a number of people in Sumatra. The attacks were said be to against rebel fighters. This is why they've been trying to keep the movements of journalists and foreigners under strict control. But without foreigners and journalists in the area, the only source they have is the Indonesian military and given its history, that's not a terribly reliable source. This is also the reason they are trying to get foreigners, particularly foreign military personnel, out of Sumatra as quickly as possilbe. News of these altercations actually came out earlier this month... I guess I haven't been checking sources often enough.

The final run up to the Iraqi election has also come; though it doesn't show much in Iraq. The candidates of the many parties have not been campaigning much if at all for fear of their lives. Daily violence and frequent bombings have been stifling election work throughout the country. The newly inaugurated Bush and Iyad Allawi insist that the elections will go through on schedule.
The violence in Iraq has also caused increasing trouble in other parts of the Arab world. In Jordan increasing anti-American sentiment has caused the government, which staunchly supports the US War on Terror, to crack down on its people. The US administration pledges to continue spreading freedom and democracy and yet Jordan is a constitutional monarchy with a lot of power still vested in the crown. The US complains about the lack of democracy and freedom in the Middle East and yet it supports some of the worst offenders in the region. Monarchies and dictatorships that punish advocacy and outspokeness as treasonous sedition.
At the same time the people in those Arab countries blame their problems and the two major flashpoints in the region, Iraq and Palestine, on the United States. While some blame may be pointed at their governments, the US is the focus of their anger. Yet they also derive benefit from US investment and the relationship between their governments and the West. Both sides draw some benefits and experience many harms from this relationship. So it occurred to me that this is relationship is somewhat like that of a drug dealer and an addict. The addict certainly gets something from the drug dealer and while he may complain about the dealer, he certainly doesn't stop taking drugs from them. The dealer benefits from the weakness and suffering of others. And though there may be a distinction between drug dealers and murderers, many drug dealers would not hesitate to murder others if it were expedient to their desires. While certainly not a perfect comparison, I feel this is a relatively accurate analogy for explaining the situation to someone who may not understand.

On another note, Bush's inauguration cost some $40 million, one of the most expensive presidential inaugurations in US history. Bush didn't mention Iraq at all in his speech but he has promised to bring toghether the people of the US and heal divisions. But appointing Rice as Secretary of State, Gonzales as Attorney General, and keeping on the whole defense crew of Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, Bolton et al, points in another direction. Well at least the US public wasn't footing the bill for the $40 million celebration... it was all covered by corporate donors.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Saving Lives

The amount collected for tsunami relief globally is over $5 billion now. It's amazing that so much money can be found for donations in such a short time. Though, frankly, it's a little disheartening that all the other crisis that were going on before the tsunami which are still happening now, such as Darfur (+100,000 dead), Iraq (+100,000 dead), starvation in North Korea (2 million dead in 5 years) and HIV/AIDS (which kills thousands of people every day); even the other problems such as poverty, malnutrition and malaria which will be exacerbated by the effects of the tsunami, receive so little attention and even less financial aid. It's always terrible to play a numbers game but this is just the reality of the world today.

Indonesia a couple of days ago announced that it wants all foreign military personnel out of Sumatra by March. The foreign militaries there now are assisting with the relief effort (ferrying supplies to remote areas and such); but Yudhoyono's government says they don't need the assistance past March. Already they've asked all foreigners there to register with the government and want to track their movements. They say they are taking all these precautions because of the rebel movement there and don't want people attacked by the rebels. Though no such attacks have happened, the Indonesian government is very wary particularly of cameras and journalists being in the embattled provinces. Before the tsunami several journalists had been killed in the area and the military there had made efforts to expel all foreigners from there.

The United States just announced yesterday that it wants to stop helping in the relief effort. It has been helping particularly in Indonesia (a close ally) but would now like the governments of the affected to take over the operations that they have been managing so they can pull out their people. This decision seems to be in the wake of increasing violence in Iraq in the run up to the elections. In fact the governor of Baghdad was assassinated earlier this month.
Already we've been told that several key actions would break the back of the insurgents. From capturing Saddam over a year ago, to the hurried and secretive handover of power from Paul Bremer to Iyad Allawi, to the razing of Fallujah, and now the election.

In Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas aka Abu Mazan has been elected as leader of the Palestinian people. His election is hailed on both sides of the conflict since he's seen as a moderate and in the wake of Arafat's death, Abbas appears to give a glimmer of hope for peace. Though it remains to be seen if the newly reinvigorated Sharon government will be a real partner for peace. And frankly, I wouldn't bet the farm on it.

A couple of other notes, Ralph Klein wants to push the envelope of what is legal for under the Canada Health Act. He wants major changes to allow private health care. I'm all for considering alternatives and for open and fair markets, but there are certain things that absolutely should not be put under the capitalist market system and health care is one of them (education is another, but that's a different story). Of the most developed countries (particularly the G7), the US is the only one without universal health coverage. The US has a free market system for health and there are some 40 million people with no health coverage at all. Technically, if you're dying you can get immediate treatment to save your life, but for those that are slowly being consumed by cancer, AIDS or other chronic illness, they're just out of luck. Yet the US still spends the most per capita on health care because what little coverage there is, it's also the most expensive place to get health care. That's how health care works under capitalism, if you need an expensive procedure to save your life, are you really going to say no to the cost? There isn't much opportunity to shop around, so your only other option is death.
Also the supposed ring leader of the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal has been sentenced to 10 years and a dishonourable discharge upon release. He still maintains he was following orders from higher up, which memos from soon to be Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would seem to suggest, but Rumsfeld is not going anywhere and Gonzales has already been promoted. That's justice for you...

Monday, January 03, 2005

A pensive new year

The death toll in southern Asia because of the quake/tsunami disaster has apparently gone past 150,000 and will continue to rise. Thousands were lost in southern India and Thailand, and hundreds in the East coast in a couple of African countries. But worst hit were Sri Lanka, which lost close to 30,000 and Indonesia where the current count in Sumatra is somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 dead.
Donations and aid has been plegded and has started arriving to some of the areas, though remote areas are much harder to reach as yet. The first thing being given out is clean water to help the survivors.
The US has formed a coalition to aid the stricken countries which Canada has joined. The coalition is supposed to act under the coordination of the UN. The US initially plegded some $35 million and has since upped it to $350 million. Martin's government initial offered $1 million and quickly increased it to $4 million and then $40 million. These paltry sums simply add insult to injury. Martin was simply trying to get away with offering as little as possible and seeing what the reaction would be. The US is offering $350 million, which is nice until you consider they have spent more than $110 billion destroying Iraq and killing 100,000 people there. The problem is they really get nothing out of helping the affected countries aside from some political good will from others, which is why they're spending as much as they are. Right now US aid is concentrated on Indonesia which is both the worst hit country and a close US ally.

In other events, Yushenko won the second election in Ukraine which international monitors said was fair. This time, however, Yanukovych is complaining about vote rigging and he refuses to relenquish power. Yushenko won with a comfortable majority and his supporters to protest Yanukovych, though there is still fair tension between Yushenko's political supporters and the eatern regions of the country which support Yanukovych and provide a majority of the industrial output of the country.

Otherwise things are slow here since most politicians are off on holidays, though many came back early as a result of the tsunami disaster. One thing that has bothered a lot of people during this holiday season is the increase in drinking and driving. I know people that have driven drunk or after drinking and I don't know how they can possilby justify their actions. The risk of danger to yourself and others is never worth it. How can it possibly be worth a life to just get home a couple of hours earlier? Even for people that think they are sober enough to drive (which they usually aren't) and who don't care about the risk they pose to others (like those who don't care about other human life in general, let along when they're drunk), the risk of getting caught seems to be the only discouraging factor and it's obviously not enough. Drunk driving is a criminal offense and having a criminal record has some very serious implications, especially if you travel. Moreover, if you're caught more than once you can serve jail time; but I suppose that doesn't mean much to the "oh nothing will happen" types...