Sunday, April 29, 2012

Economically Emerging Philippines

The Philippines is beginning to share its vast, hard-working, educated young workforce with the international community, while on their own geography.  It is not just India now that is benefiting from call centre jobs and bookkeeping at a remove for international businesses looking for cheaper English-speaking labour from low-wage structure economies.

But it will be a long time before the country's overseas workers are overtaken by those remaining at home in helping the country's economy.  Eleven million of the country's 105-million workforce works overseas.  Representing roughly 20% of the working-age population.  Most are doing work as caregivers, and domestic workers in Hong Kong, Singapore and the Middle East. 

And a substantial number, trained as nurses and nursing assistants, fill in the ranks in hospitals and senior car residents in Canada and the United States.  Canada alone is host to over a half million Filipinos.  Emigration from the Philippines has caught up and overtaken China and India as Canada's major source of immigrants from Asia.  Winnipeg, Toronto and Vancouver now boast robust Philippine expatriate communities.

And it is from those communities that about $20-billion a year is send back to the Philippines, accounting for about 13% of the country's GDP.  Helping immeasurably to balance off those provinces in the Philippines with little to no employment other than subsistence rice farming and fishing. 

Foreign investment in the country is hampered by its geographical setting, making it vulnerable to typhoons and floods, and volcanic eruptions.  The country's old and overcrowded ferries carrying its population between islands are prone to maritime disasters.  And it copes as well with violent insurrections by Maoist and Muslim rebels.

On the positive side, there are huge oil and gas deposits in waters within the country's 200-mile exclusive economic zone.  And on the hugely negative side there are the aggressive rumblings and denials emanating from China, posting territorial claims to much of the South China Sea, even though the Philippines' areas of claim are 800-miles distant from China.

But the economy is growing, at a greater-than-modest rate; better than growth posted by any of the European countries, or by North American standards.  The Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corp. predicts that the Philippines is set to climb from the world's 45th-largest economy to 16th by 2050.

If anything can hold the Philippines back from growth and prosperity it might be the traditional nepotism and cronyism of public life.  Let alone the heritage of succession with political dynasties the order of government and electoral fraud still rampant.

Labels: , , , ,

The Will Sought The Way

"My wife, mother and children are still in their evil hands."
 Blind from birth, unschooled until he reached maturity, Chen Guangcheng has demonstrated the courage of supreme conviction in openly criticizing his government.  Knowing full well that his government does not brook criticisms lightly.  The forced abortions and sterilizations that took place in his native province of Shandong, although not a huge secret of the Communist government striving to control population growth, does represent an institutionalized abuse of human rights.

From imprisonment for trying the patience of the government, to house arrest, the self-trained lawyer refused to be intimidated, although he did learn to stifle his stridency and muffle it in a caution that would throw off the guards that policed his home and victimized his family through shared physical punishment.  Who would expect a blind man to make good an escape that would be difficult to achieve for someone who was sighted?

He went alone because his wife was not in very good shape, recovering from the latest beating administered by their guards.  "He injured his leg when he landed and it took him 20 hours to make his way around eight roadblocks.  He told me he fell over at least 200 times, before he got picked up on Monday and driven to Beijing."

It was Sunday when Mr. Chen made his escape, climbing over the wall around his house in pitch darkness both external and internal, eluding the notice of the guards.  He spent three nights in Beijing, driven there by a friend, before the rest of his planned journey took place; driving to the U.S. Embassy for safe haven on Friday.  His brother and nephew were later arrested as well as his friend, He Peirong, who drove him to the embassy.

His stay there is meant to be temporary.  He has no intention of leaving China.  He plans to continue mounting his opposition to the government, and has called upon Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to punish those who were responsible for the physical abuse he and his wife, and his mother were subjected to while he was under house arrest.

"Their actions are so cruel it has greatly harmed the image of the Communist Party", he said, as he asked Mr. Wen to consider the injustice of the "despicable crimes" committed against his family.  Mr. Chen is safe for the time being.  The huge embarrassment this event has caused to Beijing still coming to terms with the Bo Xilai revelations, fixing the public eye on rampant corruption, may impel Mr. Wen to act.

As discomfited Beijing feels over this occurrence, the United States does, as well.  They have no wish to add to Beijing's travails, nor do they wish to become embroiled to the extent where their embassy and diplomatic relations will receive the brunt of distempered anger from Beijing.  It would most certainly place in peril upcoming high-level talks scheduled between U.S. and Chinese officials on economic and political linkage.

Both risk losing credibility and usefulness to one another in the short term, should they choose to act in a manner that will end up saving face for one while adding to the embarrassment of the other.  It's one of those unfortunate webs that result from ill-chosen and -pursued ventures that redound in unanticipated yet perfectly foreseeable ways.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Which Enemy Would That Be?

"It was hacked again by enemies and foreign intelligence services.  The enemy tries to push its propaganda.  The enemy is worried by what gets published in our webpage.  It's confusing for them, so they try to react."  Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahi

It's an interesting world we live in.  Not only do adversaries meet one another on the battlefield, plant IEDs to blast the unwary into oblivion, encourage dupes to wear suicide vests and blow up their opponents, acquire opium riches to fund operations, prey on schoolgirls for their breach of Muslim etiquette in attempting to have an education, but they also mount propaganda efforts on the Internet.

Government security and defence arms like the military and the national police in Afghanistan are being trained by Western forces in modern warfare to enable them to mount operations to meet the attacks of the Taliban and frustrate them in their efforts.  They are learning how to mount patrols efficiently and usefully, how to detect and disarm attackers, how to protect their population independent of the help of foreigners.

And they are also, it would appear, learning how to make use of new technology in other ways.  Such as interfering with the El Emara Taliban website, replacing the usual insurgent messages of victory over adversity with images and messages of their own, effectively counter-acting the propaganda, replacing it with evidence of Taliban vicious brutality.

Examples of photographs of women being shot in the head or hanged by Taliban executioners.  Another showing two women in full-coverage burkas being beaten.  "Violence is wrong in all its forms, especially the encouragement by the Taliban of cowardly betrayal and the senseless murder of innocent civilians", claims an Afghan Pajhwok News clip, in English.

"The Afghan Security Forces are accountable to Allah and the Afghan people, and seek to restore peace as the foreigners leave the land", said the message further.  A deplorable state of affairs, according to the Taliban who admitted their website was hacked, then repaired, then breached again and put out of commission for a considerable length of time.

Anti-government and anti-NATO messages have been used by the Taliban to distribute their propaganda through mobile phone networks and Twitter, while claiming successes leading to the departure of foreign combat troops.  A network of spokesmen distribute messages, including the use of their own mobile radio broadcast service.

Twitter claims of the destruction of NATO armoured vehicles, the deaths of western or Afghan security forces by the Taliban has led NATO to recognize the need to counter these claims with messages of their own, conveyed by those who will gain by them the most, the Afghan Security Forces.

Labels: , , , , ,

The Historical Unknown

 As hard economic times hit more European countries their governments are increasingly confronted by hard-right opposition groups who have found new popularity levels among the indigenous populations concerned about new austerity measures being imposed upon them by international banks insistent that in exchange for monetary support to avoid bankruptcy social programs be sacrificed.

In Greece and In France the rise in popular support of far-right parties has been noted as a worrying trend.
Hungary, once a part of the powerful, imperial Austro-Hungarian empire, has long since been reduced in territory, with a remaining population of just over ten million people.  During the Second World War, and the German occupation, the Hungarian Arrow Cross Party and Hungarian police deported 440,000 Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz.

Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who ended up in a Soviet prison after the war and was never heard from again, managed to save the lives of a large number of Hungarian Jews, providing them with Swedish passports on his personal initiative.  One of the leaders of the Hungarian Aid and Rescue Committee, Rudolf Kasztner negotiated with SS officers to permit some Jews to escape in exchange for money, gold and diamonds.

And while other diplomats went out of their way to provide humanitarian relief for Hungarian Jews through the provision of false papers and safe houses in the capital Budapest, hundreds of ordinary Hungarians were executed by the Arrow Cross Party for sheltering Hungarian Jews.  There is a different kind of war now, one of economic hardships and adversity, with many Hungarians feeling that membership in the European Union has availed them little despite their expectations that membership would aid them.

While EU membership following the breakdown of the Soviet Union did not bring prosperity to Hungary, the current straitened financial circumstances throughout the European Union member-countries has turned the country's dependence on the West to new questions about what else Western-oriented membership has imposed on Hungary.  The tolerance of the presence of Jews, gays and Roma has provoked anger, reawakening the traditional Hungarian clasp of scapegoats during hard times.

Hungary's far-right political party, Jobbik, with its resurgent, quite overt anti-Semitism, and hostility to other minorities is making many Hungarians uneasy.  Above the authoritarian nationalist tenor in the country, a new strain of bigotry has surfaced.  Tough economic times never failed to fan the flames of racism and discrimination.  Jobbik has introduced a bill referring to homosexuality as a perversion, banning its 'promotion'.

The party has 46 seats in the 386 seats of the Hungarian Parliament, so although it has a certain amount of influence as a party with the third-largest seat numbers, at this juncture it can only submit bills that it intends to use to encourage the rise of bigotry to satisfy its ideological priorities.  For the time being its influence with the governing Fidesz party of Prime Minister Viktor Orban remains limited.  But that may not be forever.

Jobbik encourages closer relations with Iran.  One of its members of Parliament, Marton Gyongyosi, described Iran as "an extremely peaceful country".  The same Jobbik MP, while being careful to insist he doesn't question the existence of the Holocaust, claims it not to have been "exceptional and above all sufferings" and genocides.  And that the only reason it is held to be so horrifyingly exceptional is because Jews keep it front and centre.

The Jobbik party has its own magazine, where it derides the "Deviant West", as opposed to the acceptability of the traditional values of the "Normal East".  The party made an effort to bring a halt to Budapest's gay pride parade, labelling it a degenerate event tolerated in other EU countries, but an assault on Hungarian sensibilities.

That same issue of the Jobbik magazine made mention of the Jewish blood libel; historical accounts of Jews purportedly using the blood of Christian children in rites, or to prepare matzo with: "Whether this is true or not", however, the story went on, is unknown.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Ample Guilt/Blame To Share

Syria insists it is "terrorist" bomb-makers who were responsible for a huge explosion that killed sixteen people in Hama.  The disintegration, not too slow, and certainly persistent, of the UN-brokered ceasefire continues apace.  With Kofi Annan deploring the fact that the regime of President al-Assad has not honoured its promise to withdraw troops and tanks from city centres.

But then, why should they, since the enemy has certainly not been laying down its arms, according to Syria's Information Minister Adnan Mahmoud who accused the rebel militias of violations of the ceasefire.  Damascus, therefore, was "reserving the right to respond to any violation or attack". 

While the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights was unclear who was responsible for the latest explosion, they verified the death toll of 16.  Contrasting hugely with the Local Co-ordination Committees who claim over 50 people to have been killed by what it insists was a military rocket.

That does sound far more likely since Hama has been a centre of protest against President Bashar al-Assad from the outset.  How likely is it, after all, that the 'terrorists' would target their own, even for the grisly end of pointing a finger of accusation at the regime, and in the process sacrificing their own. 

Unless, of course, 'their own' are not their own because the attack resulted from a conspiracy on the part of foreign 'terrorist' forces for whom Hama civilians are very expendable.

France, the leading Western hawk in Syria as it was in Libya, insists that tougher action is called for.  It will invoke a "Chapter 7" Security Council resolution which could permit the Security Council to authorize active intervention should Damascus continue to defy the Annan prescription for a ceasefire.

As far as Russia and China are concerned, that won't happen any time soon thanks to their veto.  They've no wish to see a Libya intervention echoed in Syria.  For that matter, most NATO members feel similar reluctance to become involved.  Russia is intent on maintaining its presence as a staunch supporter in the Middle East, and its ties to the Assad government is its ticket to that end.

In fact, both China and Russia have been happy enough to accept the Syrian-based accusations of 'terrorists' being entirely responsible for any and all attacks against both themselves and the rebels.  For they are guilty of nothing whatever, other than their logical assertions that they are defending the fatherland, just as (some) Syrians expect them to do on their behalf.

And Russia, exploiting its position as a calm interlocutor, trusted by Syria though reviled by the opposition, is not loath to demonstrate its even-handed neutrality in quasi-support of the UN cease-fire: "We call upon the Syrian side to carry out in full its obligations", expounded Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich.

"Nonetheless ... there is another side in Syria, opposition groups, which have in essence shifted to tactics of terror on a regional scale."  And therein lies the very acceptable truth of the matter.  Take it or leave it.  Or simply accept that both sides are adept at, and happy to visit 'terror' on one another.

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, April 27, 2012

Greek Reaction

Greece's economy has hit the country hard, miring it deep in an economic and social crisis.  Apart from riots in the streets, protesting new austerity measures undertaken by the government in a desperate attempt to save the country from complete economic collapse, there has been a rise in what is being termed 'far-right' politics. 

A new political party is gaining strength, one with the innocuous-enough-sounding name of Golden Dawn.  Its ideology attracts young Greek men who shave their heads and war black Tee-shirts, reminiscent of skinheads in Germany and Britain, and with a somewhat similar agenda of xenophobic exclusion of foreigners.

"We want all illegal immigrants out, we want to take their stench out of this place", explained one candidate for the ultra nationalist party.  "They shouldn't be here and they will leave one way or the other - the good or the bad way", he said ominously at a meeting in Piraeus.

Most illegal immigrants arriving in Greece entered by land or sea mostly by way of Turkey.  Greece is not the only European Union country that has been the recipient of these people seeking asylum from disruptive situations in their homelands.  Many of them arrived in Italy representing people in flight from the Arab Spring turmoil. 

People from West Africa, from Afghanistan, Pakistan and North Africa crowd the country and its city streets. Greece, a country of 11 million people now has over one million immigrants, both legal and illegal. Many immigrants view Greece as a temporary stop on their way to more prosperous areas of the EU.

Golden Dawn's candidates include farmers, shepherds, workers and retired army officers, not just disaffected youth.  Its leader, Nikolaos Mihaloliakos, served in the Greek special forces.  When he was elected to the Athens city council in 2010 he gave the Nazi salute on his first official appearance.  Little wonder it has been linked to racist, anti-immigrant attacks.

And it is preparing to sit in parliament.  Polls indicate the party can expect to take between 4.1 and 5.7% of the popular vote in next month's elections.  The party has a tried-and-true strategy to increase its visibility and its popular appeal. In working class neighbourhoods of Athens, Golden Dawn represents itself as a useful group to hard-pressed people.

Party members give needy families bags of rice and pasta, olive oil and clothing.  The cartons containing these gifts have labels reading "I vote for Golden Dawn to clean up the place", and "for Athens to become Greek again".  A cancer-stricken patient was given large bags of food, reducing her to tears.  "I hear they are doing nice things for people.  Why not vote for them?" her elderly husband said.

"It's the first time someone has brought us clothes and food.  Only the church has helped us so far", said another woman suffering from epilepsy and who supports her family on welfare benefits.  "'I'll vote for Golden Dawn, maybe it's time for something new."  There's nothing new about this technique; it was pioneered by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, and practised by its offshoots Hamas and Hezbollah.

The party's manifesto insists that illegal immigrants must be arrested and deported.  Legal immigrants too are to be expelled.  Crimes committed by immigrants should fall under a special category, with sentences committed to special detention centres where the immigrants are to be put to work. 

Politicians responsible for Greece's economic crisis should have their properties confiscated and they to be jailed.  Any Greek citizen who refuses to join the conscript army should be stripped of citizenship and exiled.

"For the Communists we are Nazis, for the Socialists we are fascists and for the conservatives we are extreme right.  Let them call me what they want.  I do what I do with honour", proclaimed one Golden Dawn member anonymously.

Labels: , , , ,

Rising To The Occasion

A colossal litany of horrendous human rights abuses.  Whatever grotesque and gruesome atrocities human imagination can think of, appears to have been committed under former Liberian president Charles Taylor.  A quarter million people died during seven years in Liberia when civil war tore the country apart after Mr. Taylor took power in 1996. 

That was for starters, an equal number died, while uncountable others were de-limbed in the following decade in Sierra Leone.

Charles Taylor certainly distinguished himself from other capriciously ruthless dictators in Africa.  Quite like other tyrants he took great care to amass wealth said to be in the billions, while he outdistanced them by preying on West Africa, turning it into a bleak place of corruption, poverty and mass death. 

He had his soldiers hack off peoples' limbs, ears, noses and lips.  They were instructed to rape, pillage and abduct children to induct them into the military as child soldiers, and to force them to perform atrocious acts of human degradation.

A three-judge panel of judges at a special court in The Hague concluded a five-year legal determination to deliver their verdict of guilty as charged.  There were eleven charges, including mutilation, rape, murder, sexual enslavement and recruitment of child soldiers. 

Mr. Taylor plundered Sierra Leone's diamond mines, destabilised the country and its government.

He led the Revolutionary United Front rebels who celebrated their prowess by hacking off civilian limbs.  He supplied the 'rebels' with weapons, ammunition and supplies, in exchange for diamonds.  All the charges, according to Mr. Taylor represent "diabolical lies". 

Irrespective of the presence of dozens of witnesses who identified Mr. Taylor as the source of the unspeakable mayhem, ordering systematic rape, murder and mutilation of tens of thousands of people.

One of the witnesses described himself as Mr. Taylor's death squad commander.  He felt no compulsion to hide the fact that he murdered and maimed hundreds of people; including pregnant women, children and old women. 

The troops were expressly ordered to rape and loot.  Severed heads were posted on sticks along highways and human intestines strung across roads to frighten people. "He [Taylor] made us understand that as guerrillas you have to play with human blood, so that the enemy forces would be afraid of you."

This trial assumed its official operation in 2007, then took a full year to begin to hear evidence.  The Special Court for Sierra Leone organized by the United Nations and Sierra Leone was criticized by Mr. Taylor for allocating a mere $2-million for his defence.  Over a two-year period 115 witnesses were heard.  It has taken over a year for the judges to consider their verdict.

Testimony amounted to 50,000 pages and 1,520 exhibits had to be perused, discussed and analyzed.  Mr. Taylor will serve his sentence in a British jail.  Since there is no death penalty he will not suffer cessation of life, but remain incarcerated. 

The evil one man is capable of sullying the world with could not be accomplished without other men sacrificing their consciences to believe in what they do.

Paradoxically, this is a man whom then-South-African-president Nelson Mandela invited to a formal dinner, where he was introduced to supermodel Naomi Campbell, gifting her with "dirty stones", aka blood diamonds.

Taylor is accused of helping Sierra Leone's RUF rebels wage a terror campaign between 1991 and 2001 (AFP/File, Pascal Guyot)

It is difficult to absorb the horrors that human beings can deliver in destroying other peoples' lives in the most inhuman ways possible.  But human beings prove time and again that they are more than capable of rising to the occasion.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Forget The Corruption

"I am not saying that corruption is not important.  This is perhaps the most sinister enemy from within Afghanistan's democracy and Afghanistan's state building process.  What I'm saying is it's more effective for us to be able to do it.Jaweed Ludin, Afghanistan's Deputy Foreign Minister

What, in fact, he is saying, is nothing new.  President Karzai has long been critical of the fact that international aid to Afghanistan has not gone directly to him and his council.  The fact that corruption is endemic, traditional and a way of life in Afghanistan should not be an impediment, as far as he is concerned, to entrusting the billions of humanitarian aid funding that streams into the country.

Instead of funding foreign entities, international humanitarian aid groups, who then filter the funding in consultation with the government, Hamid Karzai feels far more could be accomplished, more effectively, given directly to him to allocate.  How this makes sense to anyone but himself is questionable, but international donors aren't buying it, and never have.

Kabul, Jawed Ludin insists, will get around to making an anti-corruption effort.  After all, the people of Afghanistan loathe their current government for many reasons, one of which is the established level of corruption.  Other reasons are the perceived and actual ineptness of government at providing services and security to its people, outside of Kabul.

Possibly Mr. Karzai feels he would garner greater public respect if he were in charge of foreign-funded money transfers.  Possibly, he's right.  Possibly it won't happen, because the international community feels enough of its funding goes to graft and corruption and will continue to do its utmost to limit it as much as is feasibly possible.

But Mr. Ludin (formerly Ambassador to Canada) is critical of foreign investors; their focus on graft in his country has been "unhelpful".  At the very same time as international spending has managed to inflate the cost of the decade-long war and reconstruction.  Inevitably, graft and corruption in a corruption-prone society has its reflection in the relations between contractors in that society and contractees of the foreign community.

Afghans themselves chafe against official corruption and the bribes extracted from them for every conceivable interaction and transaction conducted within the country.  Afghanistan's rank as one of the most corrupt countries in the world is not for nothing.  The country is so aid-reliant it would simply collapse into complete dysfunction from its current semi-dysfunctional state if foreign investment in aid were to be removed.

Hamid Karzai's half-brother, along with members of his parliament were involved when the country's Kabul Bank was hollowed out, its liquidity vanished after senior executives had 'lost' $300-million in failed real estate investments.  Still, insists Deputy Foreign Minister Jawed Ludin, control of spending should become more "indigenized".

As far as he, the main architect of Afghan foreign policy is concerned, the United States government - from whom President Karzai expects $2-billion annually, for a total of $4.2-billion from the entire international community in annual support - should consider its financial commitment as an investment in the future; the "big bargain".

That bargain is inextricably wound up in the premise that Afghanistan would remain a democratic, strategic U.S. ally in that impossibly turbulent part of the world.  Much as the United States depends upon Pakistan as its focal ally in its 'war on terror', by funding its military and secret service to the tune of $2-billion annually.  With all the intrigue and back-stabbing inherent in that association.

"My advice", he says serenely, "is that they should just leave the rest to Afghans themselves to sort out."

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Privileged as Presidential Material

"Michelle and I, we've been in your shoes.  Like I said, we didn't come from wealthy families.  When we married, we got poorer together.  ... We only finished paying off our student loans about eight years ago."

It was, of course, Mitt Romney, "born with a silver spoon" in his mouth, not Barack Obama.  Although Mr. Obama did all right, and so did Michelle.  Ivy league educations, and opportunities galore because they represented the aristocracy of the black community in the United States.  She, a high-powered lawyer, and he a state senator, both pulling in a respectable income.  Not your average middle-class couple.

Their income last year was fairly hefty; not many voters who will cast ballots for President Obama earn in the neighbourhood of two, two-and-a-half million.  Of course, Mr. Romney's wealth is considerable.  But while he started off from a grandly funded point, he also used his business sense to earn the $250-million he is now worth.  And the simple truth of the matter is, it takes a whole lot of money to get anywhere in American politics now.

Another truth: the gap between poor and rich is growing exponentially.  And, sadly, the middle-class is diminishing as some of the former middle-class is now joining the poor.  Unemployment is an ill that has not yet recovered its former health.  And if the strategy to imply that Mitt Romney, the Republican-candidate-adversary for the presidency cannot engage with nor understand the needs of the public who are anything but wealthy, is to work in Mr. Obama's favour, it's a thin thread indeed.

It's not as though the scions of wealth have never before sought public office and attained to the highest office in the land.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt came from a wealthy background and he became a much-celebrated president.  And the Kennedy clan had a succession of might-have-been presidents after the death of John F. Kennedy.  And then more recently there was oil-rich George W. Bush, after his father G.H.W. Bush.

But it does have some potential value, to be sure, to sell that story to the voting public.  There are an awful lot more voters among the poor - if they can be encouraged to get out there and vote and forget about lethargy and procrastination - than there are wealthy voters.  And President Obama more or less inherited the sagging economic outlook that led to the depression. 

Not his fault entirely that rising health-care costs, diminished housing values and 8% unemployment persists.  He has blamed the previous administration and that is certainly partly true, although his decisions and choices were more aligned with Wall Street than Main Street in attempting to drag his country's economy back into a position of recovery. 

His story about his and Michelle's student loans will have resonance with current students for whom Congress will extend a program limiting interest rates on student loans.  President Obama knows all about that kind of pressing need.  A need that Romney supports as well, but he cannot present a story of sympathy from personal experience. 

And since all's fair in political debate, class warfare is currently on the agenda.

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What Scandal?

Eleven Secret Service personnel, ten U.S. military personnel, all involved in indulging their testosterone-fuelled self-entitlements.  Because of their elite status in their professions, feeling themselves simply reaching for the satisfaction of taking whatever appeals.  And what appeals more to cocky, self-assured men who have proven their physical and mental prowess in the service of their country by securing the safety and security of the highest-echelon representative of state than consorting with the forbidden?

But it's fine, it's all right, this is merely the expression of misconduct of a "couple of knuckleheads", according to President Barack Obama, putting a brave face on the Colombia prostitution imbroglio.  He has every trust, as president of the United States, in the professionalism and dedication of the U.S. Secret Service.  The vast majority of those agents, after all, perform their work in the most admirable manner.  They would never permit anyone unauthorized to approach the president or his family.

Other than occasionally, on a few occasions when party-crashers dress to the nines and brazen their way through to the illustrious gatherings for a little casual mingling.

"What these guys were thinking, I don't know.  That's why they're not there anymore", allowed President Obama on NBC.  They were thinking, needless to say, about having their own very special ball.  And they went right ahead with their spontaneous plans and had that ball.  And if 24-year-old Miss Dania Suarez hadn't been so enraged by that insult to her dignity by that cheapskate Secret Service agent's gesture of $24 for her $800 services, none of that would have been made so embarrassingly public.

But the 21 U.S. public servants involved in this mess were innocent of the knowledge that they had invited prostitutes escorts back to their Hotel Caribe rooms.  How were they supposed to know?  They were just these lovely, fetching women that happened to be at the bar.  And anxious to please, by accepting the proffered invitations.  And of course these agents were the advance team, dispatched to do their thing before the arrival of the presidential entourage.

So these super-alert, highly trained, expert people-handlers who can flick their eagle eyes across a crowded room and pick out the potential trouble-makers who might just represent a threat against the President of the United States have a little problem with their radar in distinguishing Colombian ladies of the night from ladies just visiting a nightclub.

Just a few pints short of a full measure.

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Muslims Face Discrimination: Amnesty

Focusing on Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland, Amnesty International deplores the state of affairs whereby their immigrant Muslim populations appear to have been targeted.  The group has urged European governments to 'do more' to challenge negative stereotypes and prejudices against Islam.

Do they then feel that European governments should defend the gradual diminishment of their culture and heritage to aid their Muslim immigrant populations to feel more comfortable in a social environment that will have been altered to more closely reflect that of majority Muslim countries?  Don't most host countries feel loathe to surrender their national identities as a sacrifice in welcoming those from other cultures?

Does it not seem more sensible for the indigenous culture and heritage and values to prevail, with the welcomed immigrant population adapting to the prevailing social priorities in an effort to fit into the existing social compact?  And since it is an observable fact that once enough Muslims have entered a country they feel entitled to seek to impose their religious values on those around them through a move toward imposition of Sharia law, it can hardly be surprising that backlash results.

In particular the Amnesty report criticized countries that have taken steps to remove the more visible symbols of Islam's presence in their countries, through the bans on face-covering veils or the use of religious symbols in schools.  "Rather than countering these prejudices, political parties and public officials are all too often pandering to them in their quest for votes", according to Amnesty's expert on discrimination.

"Muslim women are being denied jobs and girls prevented from attending regular classes just because they wear traditional forms of dress, such as the head scarf.  Men can be dismissed for wearing beards associated with Islam.  EU legislation prohibiting discrimination on the ground of religion or belief in the area of employment seems to be toothless across Europe, as we observe a higher rate of unemployment among Muslims", asserts Marco Perolini.

Assimilation would certainly go a long away to solving those stated problems.  The wearing of the head scarf is rarely the problem; hiding facial features with the use of a face veil is.  Although this is classed as a religious symbol, it is not; it is a purely cultural one.  On entering a new majority culture that dismisses the segregation of women in favour of gender equality, the onus should be on the newly-introduced to a country to adapt to new cultural values.

Host countries generally go out of the way to welcome newcomers.  There is a reciprocal responsibility on the part of emigrants to another country to demonstrate their respect for and willingness to adopt new values reflective of those of the welcoming country.  When separate enclaves result, and the new demographic spurns the values and priorities of the host, this is when polarization takes place.

All the more so, when the immigrant community insists on its entitlement to remain separate yet expectant that it will derive all the benefits that accrue through new residency and citizenship without making an effort to appreciate these new social benefits through adaptation to social/cultural features dominant within the new society.

Labels: , , , , ,

The Weight of Sanctions

Instead of shipping out its oil to its traditional buyers in Europe and Asia, Iran has a glut of oil in storage.  Its huge oil tankers sit in harbour, full of oil, with nowhere to go.  Its land reservoirs are full of oil, waiting to be shipped out.  Waiting, but not moving.  The sanctions are having their effect, and the economy is notably wilting.

And now its main oil terminal, along with other parts of its energy infrastructure has been assaulted by a fresh cyber-attack.  The oil terminal on Kharg Island near the Gulf, its central oil ministry and the country's national oil company were targeted by a computer worm.  But all's well, regardless; the country's officials assure that the attack has not affected oil exports or processing. (exports? see above)

Moreover, this attack and earlier attacks like Stuxnet have inspired Iran to create a special Supreme Council of Cyberspace to deal with these attacks.  Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is on the case and all will be settled in due time, with Iranian experts meeting the challenge to solve the problem, and the systems will soon be back up. 

The Islamic Republic of Iran, OPEC's second largest exporter after Saudi Arabia, is heavily reliant on crude oil sales which represent 80% of its foreign currency.  And over half of its government finances.  So this state of affairs does definitely not represent much to celebrate. 

However, as Stuxnet had a limited effect on Iran's nuclear plans, this too shall pass, and "viper" in its turn will be neutralized.  The devious, deviant hand of Israel is obviously involved.  There will come a time that is known as pay-back; leave it to Iran's Ayatollahs, the intimates of Allah.

It is most definitely vexing that the country's fleet of crude carriers sit at anchor as floating storage.  And it is beyond irritating that this new computer worm has been enabled to slow down the 'export of oil'.  On the positive side, Tehran decoded the hard drives and databases on the U.S.'s RQ-170 Sentinel drone that had come down on its territory.

And the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps are prepared to share their decoded, top secret technology acquired so serendipitously with its good friends, China and Russia, while itself having "started manufacturing models of the captured U.S. spy plane".

You lose some, then you win some.

Labels: , , , ,

Harvest Time

Countless Afghan men and boys are jubilant; it's harvesting time.  Imagine yourself in a field of stunningly exquisite blooms, and it is the flowers that take your attention; in fact it is the flowers that are to be harvested.  This is an illegal activity. 

And the United States' military and other NATO forces were heavily involved in plowing under those lovely flowers.  Trouble was, as soon as one field was plowed under, another popped up somewhere else.

Afghan farmers are committed to growing poppies.  Not because they are so much enthralled by their beauty, but because they are convinced that growing poppies will allow them to escape the endemic poverty that is their lot.  Poppy cultivation is worth far, far more than growing, tending and harvesting grains for human consumption. 

It may make little practical sense to most farmers living elsewhere in the world to sacrifice arable land to grow flowers whose resin dries into solid opium residue, when they could instead grow crops that would provide them and their communities with food, instead.  But money is a powerful motivator.  And so are threats that if poppies are not sown and grown, one's family's lives will be forfeit.
"We are aware why these people are going to Helmand and we even know that some of them are Taliban fighters who have temporarily laid down arms to work on poppy fields.
"But we cannot detain them as they will simply deny the charges and accuse us of bothering them for no reason."

Besides which, the police officer who spoke these words to an curious interlocutor who meant to publish them in the foreign press, is most likely eager for his share of the profits through the system of corruption that twists and turns throughout Afghan society and culture.  Afghanistan provides the world with 90% of its illegal opium.

And Helmand province accounts for 60% of that opium production.  5,800 tonnes of opium was produced in 2011.  Two-thirds of farm income from poppy growth and opium production flows to local Taliban as protection money.  The one-third left to the farmer still leaves him well off due to the demand for the product both in local and foreign markets.

The lucrative trade in poppies doesn't stop at making Afghan farmers wealthy, provide a tidy wage in a mere 15 to 20 days for eager villagers happy to work on the vast poppy fields earning them an average of $800, a handsome sum for the country. 

It satisfies the greed of politicians at every level, including those sitting in the country's parliament.  The harvesting of an illegal crop, the bane of law enforcement and the hopelessly addicted throughout the world, represents a celebratory harvesting event in Afghanistan.

Labels: , , ,

UN Amb. Prosor Explodes ‘Myths’ of PA-Israeli ‘Struggle’
by Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu Prosor Explodes ‘Myths’ of PA-Israeli ‘Struggle’

Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Ron Prosor broke down several myths Monday in an “Open Debate on the Situation in the Middle East" in the United Nations Security Council.

After quoting Winston Churchill’s statement, “In the time that it takes a lie to get halfway around the world, the truth is still getting its pants on,” Prosor methodically brought up and broke down myths that he said have fertile ground in the Middle East. “Facts often remain buried in the sand. The myths forged in our region travel abroad – and can surprisingly find their way into these halls,” He said.

-- Myth number one: “The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is the central conflict in the Middle East. If you solve that conflict, you solve all the other conflicts in the region.” Prosor told the Council members. “The truth is that conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Egypt, Bahrain, and many other parts of the Middle East have absolutely nothing to do with Israel.

“It is obvious that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict won’t stop the persecution of minorities across the region, end the subjugation of women, or heal the sectarian divides. Obsessing over Israel has not stopped Assad’s tanks from flattening entire communities. On the contrary, it has only distracted attention from his crimes.

"Thousands are being killed in Syria, hundreds in Yemen, dozens in Iraq — and yet, this debate again repeatedly is focusing on the legitimate actions of the government of the only democracy in the Middle East. And dedicating the majority of this debate to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, month after month after month after month, has not stopped the Iranian regime’s centrifuges from spinning.

-- Myth number two: “There is a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.”

The Ambassador pointed out that even the Deputy Head of the Red Cross Office and “numerous international organizations have said clearly that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza.”

He added,  Gaza’s real GDP grew by more than 25 percent during the first three quarters of 2011. There is not a single civilian good that cannot enter Gaza today. Yet, as aid flows into the area, missiles fly out. This is the crisis in Gaza.”

-- Myth number three: “Settlements are the primary obstacle to peace.”

Prosor said he can save time for the UN Human Rights Council, which has proposed another ‘fact-finding’ mission to Israel – this time to explore Israeli settlements. He said that “the facts have already been found,” explaining that when Egypt and Jordan controlled Judea, Samaria and Gaza between 1948 and 1967, “The Arab World did nothing – it did not lift a finger – to create a Palestinian state. And it sought Israel’s annihilation when not a single settlement stood anywhere in the West Bank or Gaza.

Prosor charged that the Arab world’s “primary obstacle to peace is not settlements [but]…is the so-called ‘claim of return’ – and the Palestinian’s refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

He said that claims that Israel is “Judaizing Jerusalem” are “accusations [that] come about 3,000 years too late. It’s like accusing the NBA of Americanizing basketball.” Prosor also said that the percentage of Arab residents in  Jerusalem has grown from 26 percent in 1967 to 35 percent during the period that Israel supposed has been exercising “ethnic cleansing.”

-- Another myth the Security has overlooked for the past 64 years, when Israel was reestablished as a state. is the “one great untold story, or – to be more specific – …more than 850,000 untold stories [of] Jews…uprooted from their homes in Arab countries,” he said.

Prosor pointed out, “These were vibrant communities dating back 2,500 years [but]…were wiped out. Age-old family businesses and properties were confiscated. Jewish quarters were destroyed. Pogroms left synagogues looted, graveyards desecrated and thousands dead."

“The pages that the UN has written about the Palestinian refugees could fill up soccer stadiums, but not a drop of ink has been spilled about the Jewish refugees.

-- He told the Council he “saved the most obvious myth for last: the myth that peace can somehow be achieved between Israelis and Palestinians by bypassing direct negotiations. History has shown that peace and negotiations are inseparable."

“Palestinian leaders continue to pile up new pre-conditions for sitting with Israel. They are everywhere except the negotiating table.“ 

As published online at ArutzSheva, 24 April 2012

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, April 23, 2012

One For All, and All For One

As long as it is fully understood that all must fall into line behind the aspirations and force of the Muslim Brotherhood.  Since it appears that this simple plan does not reflect the needs and desires of Syria's other groups opposing the regime of President al-Assad, it seems there is no cohesion and shared purpose behind the Syrian National Council.  Giving it the legitimacy it seeks to impress the international community into recognizing it as the legitimate voice of the Syrian people.

A fact which the Friends of Syria had, in any event, recognized on its own, leading it to withhold its elevation of the Syrian National Council to the status it sought, as the legitimate voice of dissent and the future of the governing of a Syria freed from the oppressive regime of President al-Bashar.  NATO, as an example, must surely have learned a valuable lesson from its unquestioning support of the Libyan National Council.

Which managed, during the revolt in Libya, to present a fairly united front, until the regime was overthrown.  The Syrian National Council, in contrast is beset with defections, split factions and ideological divisions, to an extent that simply cannot be ignored.  As dysfunctional as the various Libyan groups were in combining their forces to the end they sought, the Syrian groups are infinitely more disjointed, it would appear; well before the fall of the Alawite regime.

Burhan Ghalioun, the SNC leader's email account was infiltrated by pro-regime hackers who delighted in exposing the factional infighting and ideological splits that have rendered the SNC ineffective in being able to speak with a single voice of authority.  The deputy president of the SNC, who is also leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria demanded of Ghalioun that Bassma Kodmani, Ghalioun's spokeswoman be removed.

"She should stop her statements that are harming the council", he warned.  For she had expressed her opinion that the presence of Israel was now a 'necessity' in the Middle East.  And since the Muslim Brotherhood is in possession of fully 25% of the SNC's 270 seats, they do have a certain amount of influence.  That influence has managed to alienate other factions in the group.

The Syrian Kurdish opposition absented itself from the umbrella group when the SNC refused to include a passage in its mission statement about the rights of Syrian Kurds.  Since they represent roughly 10% of the Syrian population, the loss of their support within the larger group speaks of a disastrous fragmentation of the Syrian opposition.

Turkey, the U.S., Britain, France and the Gulf States, all of whom comprise the Friends of Syria group, have been constrained in recognizing the Syrian National Council as the legally-constituted government in exile, as it wished to be recognized.  Instead, they characterized it as "a legitimate representative of the Syrian people."

Which situation has not been helpful to the SNC in gaining popular acclaim on the Syrian street.  This remains the background to the reality of a ceasefire that has failed because regime troops and tanks continue their storming of Damascus suburbs, and of Idlib and Homs.

Labels: , , , , ,

The Spoils of Happenstance

What has become a serendipitous occasion for one party represents a hollowing out of a valuable technological formula for another.  What wouldn't Russia and China give to take possession of the kind of science that results in American stealth technology?  They would not surrender their support of the ambitions of Iran, for one.  Since one never knows...

And possession being nine-tenths of the law of acquisition, Iran is now in possession of a truly valuable technology by which it has been afforded the opportunity to repay its benefactors for their patience and forbearance, supporting its own move toward achieving its own technological and scientific breakthroughs.  With a little bit of help from its friends, Iran has come far.

Mind, it was a bit of a downer when its scientists were present in North Korea for the spectacular send off of the last ballistic missile purportedly carrying an information satellite which fizzled into the sea, and for that it's back to the drawing board in eager anticipation of a new and vastly improved rocket system that will indeed result in all the bragging rights North Korea indulged in precipitously.

For the time being, Iran, China and Russia are more than satisfied with the chance encounter with an American spy drone that has favoured them with access to a technology that had, until then, evaded them.  To prove Tehran's contention that it had succeeded in decoding hard drives and databases on the RQ-170 Sentinel, Brigadier-general Amir Ali Hajizadeh, illustrious commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps aerospace forces was pleased to give details of the spy drone's operational history.

American technicians will not go out of their way, needless to say, to helpfully verify that the accessing of records was successful, thus validating Tehran's claims to have gained access to this very top secret technology.  But the brigadier-general's gloating presentation of the drone's history, inclusive of its flight over Osama bin Laden's Pakistan hideout sounds genuine enough. 

That hard-working piece of equipment had also gone into the shop to have its sensors tested near Los Angeles after having suffered a technical break-down of sorts.  "Had we not accessed the plane's software and hard discs, we wouldn't have been able to achieve these facts", prodded the brigadier-general, delightedly poking the Great Satan in its bloodshot eye.

Its hard-working and valuable "eye in the sky" whose advanced sensors have sent back impressive amounts of imagery and electronic intercepts are now in the hands of those who fully intend to clone its secrets, deciphering the formulae that have made it such a resounding success in spy management in the 21st Century. 

It did represent rather a misfortune that the drone settled intact inside Iran's border.

Speculation that it might have been programmed to self-destruct, shielding its secret technological advances from the possibility of falling into exultant alien hands whose own level of expertise might be sufficient to make sense of the data encryption appears to have been wishful thinking. 

Ah, more's the pity.

Labels: , , , , ,

 Provoking Nature

From being a marvel of engineering, a technological feat as yet unsurpassed in its magnitude and power, the massive Three Gorges Dam reservoir now represents a project that is producing more than its anticipated share of headaches for the Chinese government.  Its bold plan to secure the reservoir at huge social displacement and immense cost did result in providing a large energy source to the energy-hungry giant.

But the people who were originally displaced from their traditional familial farms and homes never did receive the compensation and the assistance to settle elsewhere that the government promised them.  Those promises served as a demonstration to the international community that China respected human rights, that it could be counted on to do the right thing by its people.

Feasibility studies were done, and environmental studies as well to ensure that the Three Gorges Dam would be a success in harnessing power and making it available as required for a growing economy.  There were not feasibility studies done on the practicality of removing hundreds of thousands of people from their homes and having them settle elsewhere in the country.  The government would take care of the details.

The details that have since emerged include concerns about the effects of earthquakes occurring near the site.  And the suspicion that some of the earth's movements might be connected to the immense strain being placed upon the mantle of the crust as a result of the tremendous weight of that gigantic dam.  Moreover, cracks in the dam have been in evidence for quite some time, a rather worrying concern.

In 2010 the reservoir reached its high-water mark, causing landslides - and accidents have risen 70%.  "Due to the complexity and uncertainty of the problems, the pattern of geological disaster cannot be accurately predicted.  It's difficult to know what's going on", admitted Liu Yuan, who operates the Land and Resources Ministry's Three Gorges Geological Disaster Prevention Office.

As though naming a government arm a 'geological disaster prevention office' could conceivably have any ameliorating effect on a geological upheaval that may occur, resulting in the collapse of the reservoir, flooding areas never meant to be inundated, causing untold deaths.  This is a disaster years in the making. 

While China celebrated its massive technological feat in building the dam, nature is now responding.

There were 46,000 nearby residents who were moved from relative proximity to the reservoir site.  And the government is now considering that it will have to act to relocate another 100,000 area residents in anticipation of continuing rising water levels which have created increasing instability in lands adjacent the reservoir.

The unpredictable events leading from an unprecedented interference with the Earth's geological features can be fearsome. 

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Afghanistan's Insurgents

They are insurgents, they're not terrorists or anything truly awful like that.  They are Afghans who find fault with the current government and who feel that the 'democratic' values that NATO has tainted the government of President Hamid Karzai with, a disgusting notion that must be eradicated at all costs.  And the costs are never too high.

The costs include destroying schools that will educate Afghan girls so that Afghan women will no longer know and accept their rightful place in society, and that is quite simply intolerable.  But these are Afghans whose concern is to maintain the integrity of their traditions, and such traditions have delineated heritage customs enshrined in Islamic precepts, that women must be protected from their baser instincts.

To protect themselves they must be heavily attired, leaving nothing to the inspecting eyes of men whom they do not know, who are not part of their family, and who must not view them.  Men cannot be blamed for responding to women's wiles, which results in a need for women to be sequestered, to remain in their homes, obedient to society's needs for total conformity.

To that end, and to restore original values, ten thousand kilograms of explosives were smuggled into Kabul.  That amount of explosives would create quite an impression.  In fact, there would have been, as planned, large-scale bloodshed with their detonation in crowded areas of the capital.  But the Afghan security forces have done their job and apprehended the five insurgents involved.

Who had hidden 400 bags stuffed with explosives under piles of potatoes, on the outskirts of the city, at the back of a truck.  The men, evidently, claim to have been trained by the Pakistan Taliban, anxious to support their brethren, the Afghan Taliban.  No such thing, claims the government of Pakistan, they have not supported and would not be involved in such an explosive plan.

"Three Pakistani terrorists and two of their Afghan collaborators who placed the explosives under bags of potatoes in the truck were caught", insisted Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security spokesman Shafiqullah Tahiri.  "If this amount of explosives had been used, it could have caused large-scale bloodshed."

But then, that's the business of insurgents, isn't it?  Large-scale bloodshed.  It's the way they get their point across.  That point being, of course, that irrespective of how vigilant the security forces may be, there comes a time when all it takes is for one truckfull to get through and then the fireworks begin. 

And the Afghan 'insurgents' have the opportunity to demonstrate just how dedicated they are to deadly assaults against their own.

Despite which, the President of Afghanistan will continue to call them his 'brothers', and to decry the 'inhumane', and 'unforgivable atrocities' committed by NATO troops against the people of Afghanistan.

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, April 21, 2012

"Officials were told not to bring their mobile phones into the room, not to make any notes, just to listen."  Evidently they did, avidly, quietly, taking note, but not taking any notes.  No interruptions, quiet reigned but for the drone of a description detailing how the most influential politician and official in Chongqing, the powerful party secretary, Bo Xilai had unravelled his career.

 His police chief, Wang Lijun had committed the cardinal self-immolating sin of relating to Mr. Bo how his wife was implicated in the poisoning death of British businessman, Neil Heywood. Intrigue and sinister playback for greed that surpassed expectations. 

In assuming that Mr. Heywood would be satisfied with the payment allocated to him for his trouble in taking charge of spiriting the Bo family ill-gotten gains out of the country for safe-keeping from snooping eyes; outrage when he insisted he would not hesitate to betray them if he were not given a more generous slice of that pie. 

One might almost claim the man to have engineered his very own end.

Which happens when people become too self-assured, too satisfied with themselves, in the process failing to consider the bigger picture than what they imagine it to be.

As for Mr. Wang, a brute of a police chief for whom no love was lost among his underlings, fear was quick to set in when his news had the entirely expected effect of infuriating his good friend and mentor, Mr. Bo.  Fleeing to the U.S. consulate for haven, he will now be charged with treason by the Communist party's Central Committee. 

Who would far have preferred that he had come to them to express his fear and anguish, not reveal to an alien country details that would prove to be complex, irritating and embarrassing.

Mr. Wang knew well what to fear; in his brief absence, his colleagues, implicated in the affair, were picked up by Mr. Bo's security team.  They suffered the extremes of too-close attention to pick their minds clean of precisely what they knew, how they knew it, and to whom it was disclosed.  Five survived the torture they had undergone, two did not. 

Mr. Wang had no wish to be among them at this juncture in their professional careers.

All officials and party members were made familiar with the unsavoury details of what had transpired following the death of Mr. Heywood, inclusive of the elements concerning the events that had occurred leading to his death.  The purpose being not only to alert and inform, but to do so in a manner that would definitively paint Mr. Bo and his wife, Gu Kailai as unsalvageable damaged goods of no further use to the Communist party, let alone to the country itself.

Losing face is not a popular condition in China; the more elite the company, the less acceptable the fall from grace.  And doing so through such a gruesomely violent setpiece with its accompanying failures has created an impression in the international community that there is very little to admire in the political, bureaucratic culture of the country.

The official investigation continues, pulling down more members of the circle that Mr. Bo and Mr. Wang favoured, and spreading ripples beyond their close affiliation to throw suspicion upon others, more elevated who had supported and acclaimed their value to the Central Committee of the Communist party whose ranks may have reason to become very nervous indeed.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Friday, April 20, 2012

Friends of Syria

Friends of Syria, a 14-member international group, definitely feels no friendliness toward the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who has revealed himself in the past year to be extremely unfriendly to those among his subjects who object to his continued rule.  His is basically a Shiite-offshoot-led tyranny over a majority-population Sunni country.  It might be thought that in the current climate of social unrest in the Middle East, the time is ripe for certain changes to develop.

However, President al-Assad strenuously disagrees with that assessment.  Tribal and religious animosities are common enough in the Middle East, and they are responsible for horrendously bloody events when one rises against the other in sectarian hatred.  Which explains in good measure why most Middle East countries are ruled by dictators who maintain a firm hold on their populations to ensure their ruling longevity.

Egypt was ostensibly liberated from the iron fisted rule of a former general, and in his absence the military itself has taken control on a temporary basis that it seeks to mesh with an elected administration to somehow maintain the military power base.  Libya's dictator was deposed, and the Libyan National Council now faces the problem of how to become a national government representing the interests of all the tribes, all of which insist on their right to sovereign rule.

Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Turkey all juggle the demands of disparate ethnic, tribal and sectarian groups who feel ill done by.  Syrians no less so; in fact more so.  The Syrians who protest that they are in support of democracy will wind up with a democracy modelled on the one that Hamas has instituted in Gaza, and that the Muslim Brotherhood plans for Egypt; bearing scant resemblance to Western democracy but satisfying the needs of fundamentalist autocrats.

Syria's dilemma is that of the entire Middle East.  It is an instance of maintaining the devil one knows or gambling with the potential of welcoming a far more troublesome demon to take the place of the previous one.  The United Nations Security Council minus China and Russia feels the time is ripe to risk the unknown demon to rescue Syria's protest movement from ongoing slaughter.

Ban Ki-Moon and Kofi Annan have requested of the Security Council authorization for an expanded mission of unarmed military observers in view of the fact that Mr. al-Assad has reverted to type against all fanciful hopes otherwise.  Turkey, beset by an incursion of Syrian refugees, smarting over Syrian troops' attack into their border area, flirts with its NATO membership and its charter provisions; one for all and all for one.

And the noble "Responsibility to protect" provision whereby United Nations members may seek to intervene when a nation's head abuses its people is beginning to tempt some Western nations who initially hesitated to re-visit a Libya-style intervention.  Perhaps French President Nicolas Sarkozy feels that by emphasizing his intent to bring NATO to act, he may enhance his chances in the upcoming French presidential election.

"The solution is the establishment of humanitarian corridors so that an opposition can exist in Syria", he claims.  The thin edge of the wedge was France and Britain agitating for NATO involvement in Libya with the express approval of the UN, to create an aerial protection for Libyan protest militias and bombing government troops and armoured tanks to favour the revolution's success.

There are those who warn that full escalation into civil war in Syria will ultimately ignite the whole of the Middle East.  There are those who warn that doing nothing in Syria and permitting events to play themselves out will ultimately ignite the entire Middle East in a similar all-inclusive conflagration. 

Take your pick.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Thursday, April 19, 2012

 'Brothers' Billing NATO

"You did nothing for Islam, you did not work for Afghanistan's independence and you did not work for its people, freedom and development.  You worked to prolong a foreign presence, you gave foreigners an excuse to stay", Afghan President Hamid Karzai said, scolding his Taliban 'brothers', in a speech meant to commemorate 150 years since the birth of an Afghan reformer.

It was the Taliban insurgency he was addressing, imploring them to think of the good of their country.  Their violent actions against the presence of NATO and ISAF troops, simply, he insisted, ensures that they will remain longer in Afghanistan, to try to ensure eventual stability.  The Taliban, his brethren, whom he is prepared to negotiate with, to invite them into his government and parliament.

They are, in a very real sense, brothers, as Hamid Karzai names them to be.  For most of the Taliban are recruited from among the hugely populous, ancient tribe of Pashtun.  And Hamid Karzai's family also, is Pashtun by origin and heritage.  They do have much in common.  Hamid Karzai chose to represent his country through the Northern Alliance in direct confrontation with the Taliban.

And Western interests, backed by the United Nations and led by the United States and NATO, supported and elevated Hamid Karzai to the presidency of his country, and he chose among his parliamentarians former war lords whose record of corruption and abuse of human rights has not exactly been of sterling reputation. 

And, of course, it is Hamid Karzai who went on rounds of Western capitals to implore them to remain steadfast with his 'democratic' government, and foursquare against the Taliban which in power oppressed the people of Afghanistan, committing no end of human rights infractions upon the population.  And it is to these 'brothers' that he now claims responsibility for the ongoing presence of foreign troops.

His Taliban brothers, among other human rights abuses banned girls' education while they were in power.  Their members throw acid in the faces of girls and their teachers to demonstrate how much they are reviled for choosing to educate themselves.  They burn down schools that foreign human rights and NATO members have built.  And they poison drinking water to teach Afghan schoolgirls a lesson.

Of course he is right in a very real sense.  And of course what is occurring in Afghanistan is a war against the civilizing effects of Western values and culture making its incursion through concerns relating to violence against the West by the wildly militant religious aspirations of the fanatical Islamists that brought the West to Afghanistan to begin with.  They honoured other 'brothers' who fought with them against the Soviet occupation and who later took the name al-Qaeda.

Pakistan's own viral ambitions to weaken the very prospect of an independent and socially, politically, economically advanced Afghanistan represents the fount of the problems that Afghanistan faces today.  It is severely divided between those who aspire to make of themselves something approximating a modern society with Islam as its social-religious fulcrum, and the medievalist fundamentalist Islamists mired in the past.

Afghanistan has a need/hate relationship with the West.  And the West has a conscience-stricken relationship with Afghanistan.  A reflection of what usually pertains when a civilized group of countries comes head on to the ravening needs of a developmentally-delayed country with the background both share of a historical colonialist-occupying situation of blame-and-regret.

NATO countries are anxious now to finally withdraw from the sinkhole of backwardness that Afghanistan represents.  They are fatigued from sinking treasury into the country in a quasi-successful attempt to civilize it, and they must answer to their populations with respect to the sacrifice of their military personnel losses - and the fact that Afghans chafe at their presence, deploring it.

Planning for the agreed upon final withdrawal in 2014, pledges of financial assistance to maintain Afghanistan's national military and police at a level that may ensure their promise to support themselves militarily, is a drawn-out process.  Typically, only a handful of NATO members will pledge significant amounts of assistance.  In practical terms it may be for naught in any event, for the Taliban will return.

As Poland commented, more of the burden should fall to Afghanistan's neighbours, and to countries that hadn't contributed to the military operation.  There is a certain paradox at play here, that non-Muslim countries feel the full brunt of support of a fundamentally Muslim country in distress, in that condition largely because of the actions of another Muslim country, and threatened by other Muslim countries.

Yet at no time have any majority-Muslim countries stepped forward to make an attempt at 'normalizing' or 'civilizing' or practically aiding a member-Muslim country.  And nor does Afghanistan appear to expect for example, the wealthy Gulf States to step forward to aid and assist his country financially. 

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is on record as having stated he 'wants at least $2-billion a year' from Washington, after 2014.  (Karzai does have the U.S./Pakistan example to rely upon, where Pakistan receives billions annually from the U.S. Treasury for its duplicitous military.)  For its part, the U.S. hopes to draw additional annual contributions valued at $1.3-billion from NATO allies and partners.

And NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen feels an annual cost of $4-billion represents "a good planning base", with which to fund Afghanistan after the 2014 NATO withdrawal.  "I would expect NATO allies and ISAF (NATO-led international Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan) to commit themselves to pay a fair share of the total bill."

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

The "Door of Evil"

"British courts have found that Abu Qatada is a dangerous man.  He is a risk to our national security and he should be deported to Jordan.  I believe the assurances and the information we have gathered will mean we can soon put Qatada on a plane and get him out of our country for good."  British Home Secretary Theresa May.

Based on the assurances from Jordan that Jordanian-born cleric Abu Qatada - who has been under house arrest because a court claimed his detention without trial was unlawful, ensuring his release from a British prison - would there receive a fair trial, Britain plans to finally rid itself of the man once described as Osama bin Laden's "right-hand man in Europe".

There is no reason quite yet to breathe a sigh of relief at ridding themselves of his poisonous presence.  He remains as yet at his family London home.  Where he has been since the European Court of Human Rights ruled he would not receive a fair trial if deported to Jordan, since as they take it, evidence against him might have been gathered with the use of torture.

Of course fanatical Islamists who subscribe to the unshakable obligation of pious Muslims to join in violent jihad against non-Muslims have no such caveats themselves.  They do not hesitate to inflict pain and torture on those whom they despise, much less death.  Their idea of how they may conduct themselves in accord with Sharia law, reflects little of what Western countries consider "civility", as in civilization.

Britain has satisfied itself that its conscience will be clear, deporting this threat to the country back to whence he came.  Not that Jordan is happy to welcome him back other than as a terrorist threat to themselves as well, for it is not only infidels whom al Qaeda and other Islamist fanatics target, but Muslims as well, whose lacklustre attention to Islamism they deplore.

That's the thing about Western societies.  They revel in their high degree of civilized behaviour, their respect for justice, for objective and non-negotiable human values.  And even toward those whose intention it is to do them viciously irreparable harm, they intend no malice, simply to disarm them and pack them off where they hope they can do no further harm.

It has been over a decade since British authorities have been trying to deport this man, Omar Othman, better known as Abu Qatada.  Videotapes of his sermons implicated him by association with three of the jihadists who took part in the al-Qaeda-led September 11, 2001 attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

This man represents himself as an innocent father of five, denying any links with al-Qaeda.  Oddly enough, al-Qaeda has given warning to Britain that should it proceed with its plans to send Mr. Qatada to Jordan, it would effectively serve as a signal to fling open the "door of evil" upon Britain.

Labels: , , , , ,

Peres Tells Personal Story at Holocaust Memorial Ceremony
by Elad Benari Peres Tells Personal Story at Holocaust Ceremony

President Shimon Peres told his personal story at the central Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony at Yad Vashem on Wednesday.

“I was born in Wieszniev. Half of the townspeople came to Israel. The other half perished,” said Peres. “After the war, I learned that on Sunday August 30th, a dark dawn had come upon my hometown. The Nazis who had seized it ordered the Jews to pack their belongings and present themselves at their doorsteps.

“The SS officers passed by striking them and told them to proceed towards the synagogue.

“One of them cried out ‘Jews, save yourselves!’ The Germans shot down those who tried to escape. The rest reached the synagogue which was made of wood. The doors were locked. All were burned alive.

“That was the last day of Rabbi Zvi Meltzer, my grandfather, my mentor. He was consumed by fire with his Tallit on his head.

“That was the last Jewish day in Wieszniev.

“Not even a single Jew remained alive.”

Peres recalled his visit to Wieszniev after the war and said, “Not a Jewish mark remains. Not a house, not a synagogue, not a school, not a cemetery, only a heap of stones.

“As I stood there, the last Kol Nidrei prayer emitted by my grandfather's sweet voice rang in my ears.

“My lips murmured the Kadish.”

He added that Hitler chose to identify the Jews as his greatest enemy because “the moral strength of the Jews was more dangerous to him than the military menace of his neighbors.

“The Nazis feared that the Jewish conviction that all men are born in the image of God would damage the fascist lie according to which there is a superior race,” said Peres.

“They feared the prophetic vision may dent the Nazi sword.

“I am proud to be an arch enemy to the Nazi evil.

“I am proud of our fathers' legacy being absolutely opposed to racism.

“I am proud of our belief that there is no one Man superior to another Man.

“There is no superior race, only deep roots.”

Peres reminded the audience of Israel’s non-Jewish citizens and of the importance of them not being discriminated again.

“We are obligated to make sure that none of them are ever discriminated because of their nationality or religion,” he said. “This is the essence of the existence of the State of Israel. Israel is a defense shield, a safe haven and a great spirit. Had the State of Israel existed during those days, I am convinced that things would have been different. We have paid a high price but we have not lost faith.”

Like Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, whose speech at the ceremony focused on the Iranian threat, Peres called on humanity to “learn from the lessons of the Holocaust and stand strong against existential threats before it is too late.”

He added, “Iran is at the heart of this threat. She is the center of terror, she represents a threat to world peace. There is no reason to undermine Israel's capacities to face this threat, whether visible or hidden.”

Peres concluded by saying, “We came today to say Kaddish in memory of our beloved ones who were killed in the Holocaust. We came to say and to swear ‘Never again’. We came to say that we are a peaceful people who can defend itself.

“We can and we will.

“We have built and we shall build.

“We will always remember our 6 million brothers who perished in the Holocaust.”

Labels: , , ,

In Defence of His Culture

"This was the most sophisticated and spectacular political attack committed in Europe since the Second World War.  If one can force the Norwegian Labour Party to change their immigration policy by executing 77 people, that will contribute to holding our values and culture."  Anders Behring Brievik

Given the public venue and the forum to ventilate and explain his ideology, Anders Behring Brievik was happy to oblige.  He had worked for a long time on the details of his lecture to the court in Oslo that is determined to see justice done.  Justice is being done, according to Norway's system, in permitting a mass murderer to explain himself, to read his very own personal statement.

Even without the courtesy extended to this man by Norwegian law, he has made it abundantly clear that he is proud of what he planned and executed.  Coming as close to playing the role of a clearly superior being, able to arm himself with the Angel of Death by his side and living to tell his tale of justification.  He did slaughter 69 young Norwegians in what has been described as 'cold blood'.

He does indeed have the presence of a cold-blooded murderer, for he has no regrets.  Only that perhaps he might have, had his original plans succeeded, managed to murder journalists, not young people at a summer camp on an island, having nowhere to flee to escape from this slayer-of-youth. 

But, even though it would have made great sense to him to kill journalists responsible for catering to the issue of multiculturalism that he so despised, the slaughter of young people belonging to the Norwegian Labour Party that allows mass immigration to his defenceless country would do.

"I acted in defence of my culture and of my people and so I ask to be acquitted", he said proudly. 

Proud to pantomime the Nazi salute at the previous day's trial opening, as well.  And cognizant of the close ideological relationship between fascism and al-Qaeda, admiring of them both.  Osama bin Laden's revolutionary religious politics, he said represented the "most successful revolutionary force in the world".

Hating the Islamists and admiring them at the same time for their resolute determination.  Like his; he is, if nothing else, resolutely determined.  And he doesn't mind apportioning fault for the eclipse of his beloved Norway, blaming "100% of the world's news organizations for pumping out multicultural propaganda 24 hours a day". 

His moral courage, as far as he is concerned, is impeccable, and must be recognized.  He is innocent of the charges brought against him.  At one time he had an Internet company that sold false diplomas, enabling him to amass a profit of $687,000.  He is not, it appears proud of having forged certificates for profit, admitting it to have been "morally despicable".

Slaughtering 77 Norwegians, however, is entirely justified to advance his admirable cause.  Now, all Norwegians, Europeans anywhere, citizens of any country that is not Muslim-dominated, will hesitate before stating their opinion with respect to the unease they feel at the advance of Islam and Sharia law advocated by immigrant Muslim populations that are steadily infiltrating Europe.

He has his pride and he has his prejudices; one cancels out the other; for the latter enlists the former to act, proudly and responsibly.  He is to be thought of as a Knight Templar, riding to the rescue of a culture, a heritage, a nation under siege.  He is entirely justified in adopting the martyrology of the jihadists. 

Surely they must find it in them to reciprocity in admiring his handiwork?

Labels: , , , , , ,

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Dealing With Explosives

"The President believes that all of us who travel abroad represent our country, and the people of the United States need to behave with the utmost, the highest levels of integrity and probity.  If, in fact, it turns out that some of the reported allegations are true, he will be angry about that."   White House press secretary Jay Carney

Not angry enough - at least in public, to rail in disgust at an unseemly display of misbehaviour on the part of those tasked as security professionals and specialists entrusted to protect their president while projecting an aura of respectable intelligence - to embarrass the U.S. Secret Service department which has embarrassed itself by its undisciplined and loutish behaviour.

Because, after all, this is the security branch that the First Family of America must depend upon for its safety and security.  Carefully balancing an attitude of concern over the unfortunate occurrence with a statement that clearly indicates respect for agents who have been trained and who have sworn to selflessly risk their lives in protection of their president.

"They put their lives on the line.  And it's a very, very difficult job.  And [Mr. Obama] acknowledges that and appreciates it". 

And, in turn the Secret Service has been quick to assure the public that their president's safety was never compromised as he attended last week's Summit of the Americas meeting in Colombia.  Nonetheless an enquiry is required and is scheduled to be undertaken into the conduct and performance of those agents involved.

Each of whom was possessed of a secret itinerary outlining President Barack Obama's schedule during his visit to Cartagena for the summit meeting.  These were agents who were sent to the meeting site prior to the start of the meeting as an advance team meant to secure the area.

These were trained professionals from a wealthy privileged country entering a country with an emerging economy that has been historically wracked with the violence of conflicting drug cartels.

They engaged the professional services of Colombian women, inviting the women to accompany them back to their Caribe Hotel from the discotheque where they met, for pre-summit partying.  The women had no idea who these confident men were, what they represented, and they agreed to a price for their services.  It was when one of the women, a 24-year-old single mother was upset that the event unravelled.

She had informed the agent who asked for her services that it would cost him $800, and he agreed.  The following morning he gave her $30.  She argued with him, causing a fuss, calling out to a friend, bringing two Colombian police and a security guard stationed in the hotel to the scene.  They became involved, suggesting she be paid the full agreed-upon price.  She was eventually paid $225.

The women had their own sense of dignity; they were escorts, not common prostitutes.  "You have higher rank.  An escort is someone who a man can take out to dinner.  She can dress nicely, wear nice makeup, speak and act like a lady.  That's me."   She and her friend were obviously high-end escorts, they just happened to come across customers who were of the belief they could run roughshod over Colombian women; prostitutes, after all.

And they were specialists in their field, trained to spot snipers, and to expertly deal with explosive situations.  And, like the specialists they are, they created their very own explosive situation.

Labels: , , , , ,

Follow @rheytah Tweet