Blog of Mass Distraction

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Dumping Ground

Haiti is in turmoil in the wake of the recent Presidential election. The election marked a hoped return to democracy but has now been blemished by scandal and corruption. The most popular candidate has been former President, and ally of the deposed Jean Bertrand Aristide, Rene Preval. Large groups of people, predominantly the country's poor, have been saying they don't care about the official results, they know Preval won. Regardless of his popularity however, a majority is required to win the presidency. Preval has apparently close to 50% of the vote, but not the 51% needed to win outright. Or so says the government. This caused protest and anger among the many Preval supporters. Moreover, recent discoveries have revealed corruption and fraud in what were thought to be free and fair elections. There have been thousands of ballots cast without any candidate selected. This is highly unusual when you consider the effort required and the many hours Haitians must spend queueing for a chance to vote. There were also thousands of ballots, most of which were marked for Preval, found smouldering in a dump. The dump was used to bodies during the military junta rule and simply for rubbish later on. With these new revelations protests have broken out in the streets. The UN group overseeing the election claimed to have preserved over 90% of the ballots, though that's easily enough to give Preval a clear victory. Though the next candidate after him only has about 12%, if the scandal is not resolved in Preval's favour it will force a runoff vote. That would not be taken well by Preval's popular support base. Thus in an attempt to prevent mass riots the Brazilian delegation in has proposed having the other candidates concede the election to Preval. This is being discussed, but the situation is tense and could easily erupt.

US Vice President Dick Cheney went quayle hunting over the weekend and accidentally shot his friend, a well known Texas lawyer, in the face with his shotgun. The Vice President and the Whitehouse made no statement or even news releases about the incident until some 24 hours after it happened. The incident was finally reported, not by the Whitehouse, but by a local Texan paper which heard from the owner of the ranch where the shooting took place. The victim is doing well after getting hit with buckshot and subsequently suffering a mild heart attack. Cheney was interviewed a few days later on a local Fox News station and admitted blame for the incident and said it was the worst day of his life. Cheney, who is a major supporter of the gun lobby, said the shooting was his fault and that it was definitely an accident. The Vice President also was given a warning since he did not possess a required hunting permit and he had also been drinking that day.
Aside from the roasting from many comedians on the subject, this is an examplary incident for the anti-gun lobby. How can the Vice President talk about responsible gun use when he shot a man in the face and summarily caused him to have a heart attack. How can anyone talk about 'responsible' gun use when guns are used solely for killing? How do you responsibly kill people? Considering how much money is thrown away on killing people or devising new ways of killing people, I'd be all in favour of banning gun ownership or use outside of the police and military. The $900 billion dollars spent on arms and military each year could be put to much better use. Or at the very least, used for something other than killing people.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Let's Be Civilized

The row over some cartoon's published in a Danish newspaper of Muhammad the Prophet of Islam has grown enormously over the past couple of weeks. The newspaper which requested artists for the drawings published them in efforts to fight for free speech and in opposition to growing fear of backlash for publishing something against Muslims. After the publication many Muslim countries, including most Arab countries, sent complaints to the Danish government and started boycotting Danish products. The boycott resulted in billions of lost revenue for Danish companies and the newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, eventually printed an apology for offending so many Muslims but the cartoons were summarily reprinted in several other newspapers across Europe including France Soir, Die Welt and Magazinet (a Christian paper in Norway). The owner of France Soir fired the editor for the reprinting. The cartoons were also reprinted in New Zealand and in Jordan.
Since that time the dispute has escalated and a few Arab countries have closed their embassies. Other Danish and Norwegian embassies have been attacked in Syria and Lebanon (in Beirut the Danish consulate was burned down).
This massive controversy really demonstrates how a small number of people (hundreds or some thousands) can incite anger and cause problems for hundreds of millions if not billions of others. This kind of stupidity simply adds new recruits to the ranks of extremist and xenophobes on both sides. In fact the vocabulary for the discussion is even a problem since it's viewed as something between two sides. This goes back to writings like that of Huntington's Clash of Civilization. That controversial book was considered by some to be a visionary work of prose. But Huntington demonstrated his outright racism in his more recent book Who are We? in which he derides the growing use of Spanish across the US and the influx of Latin Americans.

In addition to the cartoon scandal, Iran will be referred to the UN Security Council after a vote in the IAEA approving the move. The vote in the IAEA Board of Governors was 27 to 3 (with 5 countries abstaining). The votes against were from Syria, Cuba and Venezuela. With the referral confirmed Iran has officially stopped its voluntary cessation of uranium enrichment and stopped its cooperation with IAEA officials. The US and Israel insist that Iran should not be allowed to have nuclear technology and that Israel remain the only nuclear power in the Middle East (with some 200 atomic weapons). The rhetoric of President Ahmedinejad hasn't helped the situation. Still the referral comes without justification since Iran has not broken any of its signed treaties and insists the nuclear technology is strictly for peaceful purposes.

Venezuela too has been getting increasingly harsh criticism from the US. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld compared Chavez with Hitler and the Nazis and gave warnings against populist leaders such as Chavez and newly elected Evo Morales. The warning against them is rather silly of course since they were elected with strong majorities. In the case of Chavez, his popular support has carried him through an attempted coup and a recall of his Presidency. Chavez has warned his countrymen for a long time that if anything happens to him they would know who is responsible. He's also warned that if any actions are taken against him he'll cut off oil shipments to the US. He's also compared George Bush to Hitler and said Venezuela needs to be better defended against possible attack from the US. The US supported the failed coup against Chavez; this was evidenced in declassified documents that showed US knowledge of the coup well in advance.

Finally, the Liberal Party seems to be struggling to find leaders. The interim house leader is Bill Graham. But leadership hopefuls Frank McKenna, Brian Tobin, Allan Rock and John Manley have all bowed out. This apparently leaves Michael Ignatieff, Belinda Stronach and now St├ęphane Dion. Of the three I think Stronach would be absolutely out of the question and I might prefer Dion to Ignatieff.