Blog of Mass Distraction

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Our Values

In the course of my regular surfing I came across a funny description of the current Bush international policy plan, that is, an "Orwellian nightmare". I can see what he means with the US international face being Condi Rice, John Bolton, Wolfowitz and of course Bush himself. But I don't think this type of positioning of hard right wingers is totally new. Most of the key players in Bush's cabinet are recycled Reaganites and Bush Sr was little better. Now granted Bolton did say "there is no such thing as the United Nations" and "If the UN secretary building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference",1 Rice (who announced his appointment) noted that some of the best ambassadors have been ones with the strongest voices like Jeane Kirkpatrick.2 Kirkpatrick was the US Ambassador to the UN during Reagan's time and is noted as saying the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is "a letter to Santa Claus", completely unrealistic and useless.
Wolfowitz for his part says his credentials for the new role include, among other things, his time spent as ambassador to Indonesia. This was during Suharto's leadership, so I'm sure Wolfowitz got lots of first hand experience as he watched Indonesia develop East Timor. In the prolonged annexation, occupation, and massacre more than 10% of the population of the tiny half-island was killed. The US supported the genocide right through the 90s and vetoed 9 security council resolutions that condemned Indonesia's campaign.

On another note, Bush's current popularity has dropped severely because of his personal involvement in the case of Michael and Terri Schiavo. Michael Schiavo claims her wife Terri has been in a vegetative state for over a decade and told him she would not want to live in such a condition. So he's gotten permission to remove the feeding tube that's currently keeping her alive. This is against the wishes of her parents and many supporters (most of them being conservative Christians) who want to keep her alive. Because of the appeal the family made, the US house and senate passed a last minute bill to save her life and restore the feeding tube. Bush was awoken in the middle of the night to sign the bill into law. The federal and presidential involvement is causing a lot of controversy because Michael Schiavo had already won several court battles, including the Florida Supreme Court, with Terri's parents and family who are trying to keep her alive. The action taken by Bush and the federal politicians is seen as federal intervention in state authority. The United States is just that, a union of states which are each meant to have their own autonomy. Moreover, it's a legislative interference in a state judicial matter, another intervention between the three independent branches of government. While many in the Christian right have supported the move to save Terri Schindler Schiavo, both Republicans and Democrats have denounced the actions of government interference. Moreover, this much involvement int the case of a single person sets a very bad precedent for future such cases.
Ironically, this one instance of where the Bush administration has tried to sustain a person's life (whether she wanted it sustained or not) is causing more trouble for many americans than the many tens of thousands of lives his previous actions have cost.

1. Said by Bolton in 1994 a Federalist Society forum.

2. Kirkpatrick is known for having shown great arrogance towards the rest of the world.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Straining Relations

The blockades in Bolivia have ended as Carlos Mesa agreed to raise taxes on exported natural gas. Rather than the 18% he initially proposed, or the 50% demanded by the populace, the tax will instead be set at 32%.1 Bolivia's energy minister has called the increased tax 'economic suicide'. With news of the tax change the opposition leader Evo Morales asked his supporters to end the blockades. President Mesa, who had his offer of resignation refused by government, has called for early elections which would effectively end his term in office.

US President George Bush has nominated Paul Wolfowitz as the next president of the World Bank. Other names that were bouncing around for the position were ousted HP CEO Carly Fiorina, and U2 lead man Bono. Many international stakeholders in the decision are upset by Bush's choice since Wolfowitz has virtually no experience in development or finance. This is seen as a signal to the rest of the world that the Bush administration still cares nothing for what the rest of the world thinks and will do whatever it wants. This move was even more controversial than the recent appointment of John Bolton as the new US ambassador to the United Nations, Bolton being a harsh critic of the UN and a strong advocate of US global hegemony. Wolfowitz is currently the Deputy Secretary of Defense and a staunch supporter of the push for a US invasion of Iraq. He's widely expected to bring his neo-conservative agenda to his position in the international development organization. Let's just hope he uses more than spit to maintain stability in the developing countries.2

1. Mesa has given enough leeway for Morales to call off the blockade.
2. Wolfowitz was seen using saliva to style his hair at the beginning of the Michael Moore documentary Fahrenheit 9/11.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Verdict is In

Two men have been found not guilty in the longest, most protracted trial in Canadian history. Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri were both acquitted on charges of being involved with the 1985 bombing of Air India flight 182. The verdict, which was some 20 years in the making, crushed the hopes for justice for families of the victims. During the course of the trial there were many calls for an inquiry by the Canadian government into what was, until 9-11-2001, the worst act of airplane terrorism in the world. But those calls were dismissedd pending the outcome of the extended trial; now the calls are being dismissed because the trial was so extensive it's already covered everything, or so says Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan. The cases against Bagri and Malik were known for some time to be circumstantial at best because of problems with the witness testimony. The crown has not decided about an appeal yet. A third man, Inderjit Singh Reyat pleaded guilty to making the bombs that were meant for the Air India planes. He's serving out his sentence.

South of the border, former WorldCom (aka MCI) CEO Bernard Ebbers was found guilty of massive fraud. The CEO was convicted of cooking the books at WorldCom (in order to save his personal fortune in stock) to the tune of $11 billion US. While he'll likely appeal the convictions on numerous charges, the only defense that Ebbers could muster was ignorance, he claims he didn't know about the funny math and left running the business to underlings. Ebbers, already in his 60s, could be sentenced to serve up to 85 years in prison. This doesn't bode well for former Enron chief Ken Lay who has yet to go through his ordeal. Both Lay and Ebbers faced similar circumstances and both had their CFOs cut deals for agreeing to testify against them.
Martha Stewart, who was found guilty for other charges in her trial some time ago, has already been released from prison.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Enemies of Democracy

Documents were recently released that show US intelligence officials knew about the planned coup against President Hugo Chavez in April 2002.1 This was widely expected anyway because of the strong support the elite oil managers in Venezuela get from the US. The US also came out strongly in support of the coup after it happened only to get egg on their face when Chavez triumphantly returned. Chavez has said he's not at all surprised by the US involvement and expected even more, to be assassinated even for the reforms he's put in place in Venezuela. Because of the changes Chavez has undertaken, the standard of living has risen in Venezuela and the poor are better off now than before. While the rising standards have been slow, Chavez has been fighting an uphill battle against the wealthy elite in his country which are backed by the US. The US is highly concerned about Chavez, whom the Bush administration considers an enemy of democracy. Anyone whom considers the interests of their own nation rather than the interests of US investors would likely be considered an enemy of democracy.

The IRA has been in the news recently as well because of the murder of one Robert McCartney, 33.2 He was killed in a pub by members of the IRA. The act was condemned by other IRA members and Sinn Fein, political wing of the IRA, but there was criticism for what was seen as a cover up of the investigation into the death. There was a supposed code of silence that wanted to stop the members of the IRA from being found and held accountable for the crime. McCartney's five sisters waged a serious battle to bring their brother's killers to justice, and were supported by Gerry Adams. The killers have since been named and the IRA even offered to execute them, though the family of McCartney refused saying they want justice, not revenge.
many have used the perceived cover up and ensuing outrage to attack the legitimacy of Sinn Fein as a political organization.

Finally, the President of Malawi, a small country in Sub-Saharan Africa, has left his 300 room palace because he thinks it's haunted. The palatial residence, which also houses the parliament, was constructed during the dictatorship of Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda. The current President Bingu wa Mutharika said he feels rodents crawling over him at night and hears ghosts, even though there's nothing there when he turns on the lights. Currently, the President and members of Parliament have moved to other locations and called in some Christian preachers in hopes of getting the spirits exorcised from the palace. Maybe Dr. Mutharika just has some skeleton's in his closet. Or maybe he should just cut down on the methamphetamines...

1. Senior Executive Intelligence Briefs from the CIA were released a little while ago. It says they were approved for release in October 2004, but I'm not sure when they were actually first seen.
2. Robert McCartney, a Catholic living in Northern Ireland was murdered in late January.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Foreign Interests

This past week in Lebanon there was a massive pro-Syrian demonstration organized by Hezbollah with some 500,000 people attending in Beirut. The old guard of Syrian allied government officials seem to be taking hold again as well. There is, however, another anti-Syrian demonstration planned and the majority of people still want more independence from Syria. Generally, from what I understand, support for the Syrians lies mainly with the Hezbollah and Shiites in Lebanon.1 Other groups are supporting the Syrian withdrawal. And though there have been some movements of Syrian troops inside the country, these recent events fly in the face of the US insistence that Syrian influence and troops be removed from Lebanon before elections occur. This is also noted with extreme irony and hypocrisy by Iraqis that are still living under US occupation and just had their own elections.

Also in Iraq, one of the leading judges in the Saddam Hussein trial was assassinated a little while ago. I don't really know if a whole lot came about from that. There was some controversy some time ago about making it public knowledge who the judges in the trial were. There was fear of this exact thing, that if people knew they would be targets for assassination, but that pretty much blew over. And this doesn't seem to have caused a major ruckus either. At least not one that's still visible in North American media.

The former Chechen leader Aslan Mashkadov has been killed in a fight with the Russian military. The rebel separatist was widely respected among the Chechen people, but Russia is claiming his death as a victory against terrorism. The small region gained independence and autonomy after protracted fighting with Russia only to lose it again recently with a renewed Russian offensive. Putin has called this struggle a battle against terrorism, like the kind that saw many children slaughtered in Baslan. However he has ignored numerous reports of massive human rights abuses and crimes by the Russian military in Chechnya. Russian reports say that some 200,000 people have died since 1994 from the conflict; this in a region with a total population of little over 1 million. It seems like Chechnya has become Russia's East Timor.

Turmoil in Bolivia continues with massive anti-government protests. This after Bolivian congress voted to reject the resignation of Carlos Mesa.2 Mesa has withdrawn his resignation, which he initially offered over disputes on selling the country's large supply of natural gas reserves. The political opposition and the poor (which make up the majority of the Bolivian population) want fees raised on the sale of gas and oil for export. They want 50% of profits to go to the Bolivian people and Mesa wants only 18%, with possible 32% in taxes. But apparently the latter percentage can be under dispute and can be negotiated away so it is not guaranteed. Mesa is saying he wants to keep the rate low to encourage foreign investment. Mesa says he's been under a lot of pressure from foreign investors to keep the percentage lower.
Personally I don't buy this argument. There is no glut in the world market for gas and oil and having Bolivia as an available source even with increased fuel taxes will only encourage the Bolivian economy. The people in power that general want the lowered taxes on sale of resources for export are generally the wealthy elite in a country that are allied and supported with foreign investors. These investors however aren't worried about growth in the developing economy, but rather capturing these resources for as little cost as possible, with most of the local profits going to the same wealthy elite. The poor in Bolivia have been conducting massive protests and blocking highways to force the law to change, but Mesa has been adamant that he will put it through.
Now some foreign investors have taken drastic actions to punish governments that try to nationalize resources and take care of national interests (rather than helping foreigners make more profit). Sometimes these sanctions have even been violent in nature, but neither course of action (the punishment of the interests of the foreign investors) help the nation's interest. And in many cases, the power and sway of the external players can be limited depending on how much support nationalist movements can muster and maintain.

1. Much support for Hezbollah comes from Syria.
2. Mesa withdraws resignation.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Future Elections

President Bush on Saturday morning called Prime Minister Martin and took a conciliatory tone.1 He wants to move past the disagreement on BMD and on to bettering relations between the two countries. While the US Senate just voted and passed a ban on Canadian beef imports, Bush said he'd use his presidential veto to strike it down. Perhaps they've realized that it doesn't really matter what the official yes or no answer is, because Canada is already doing a lot to support BMD. This news brought great praise for Martin as the Liberal policy convention began this weekend. This along with the passing of Finance Minister Goodale's budget, it appears the Martin government will hold out a while longer.

Syria has announced that it will pull it's troops from Lebanon back to the Lebanon-Syria border. This after the Lebanese leaders dissolved government which should bring elections to the bereaved country.

There's also been some thoughts and predictions about the 2008 elections. Bush winning his second term has put on a scramble for the Democrats to start their recovery and redemption and the Republicans to maintain their status. In this effort, both sides are looking to field super star candidates that can just draw attention, without having to worry about what their platform will be or what they'll actually change. In fact most of the candidates being groomed for said fielding are busy trying to position themselves as centrist as possible to draw broad appeal. The first star race I heard about some time ago was fielding Barack Obama against Colin Powell; which would make it the first serious offering for a black candidate and lead to the first black president. The other I've heard about, both more recently and quite some time ago, was for Hillary Clinton as the democratic candidate.2 The only speculation I've heard about how the Republican's can call out that bid is with current Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. Personally, I don't think Rice has nearly the kind of draw that Hillary can get, but then Condi is a black woman and that in and of itself is something with a lot of pull. Anyway, even if the US finally does get something other than a rich white guy into office, I don't think it will make a whit of difference to the current trend of internal and foreign policy.

1. Bush called Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin on Saturday morning.
2. Hillary is taking a more centrist role to prepare for 2008.

Saturday, March 05, 2005


I watched The Daily Show a day or so ago and John Stewart used the NAMBLA reference again. So while just surfing around, out of curiosity I wanted to check if any NAMBLA urls were being used. I was surprised to find .org actually is! And it's not a South Park fansite (as I would have thought), it's actually a freaking NAMBLA site! The site looks pretty shabby so I thought it might be someone's idea of a joke, but there's nothing funny on the site and it's actually really disturbing.
Other stuff has happened that I'll post about in a bit, but does anyone know if this site and group is for real? That's sooooo creepy...