Archive for December, 2004

Iraq’s Kurds Enjoy Self-Rule and Are Trying to Keep It

Friday, December 31st, 2004

ERBIL, Iraq – Even at night, on a busy thoroughfare in this Kurdish city, the sedan is an easy mark for the Kalashnikov-toting police at the checkpoint. It has Baghdad license plates and, more alarmingly, Arabs in the front seat. “What are you doing here?” the police demand, motioning the car to the side.

It was a routine exchange, but one that reveals how far Erbil and the entire Kurdish region have drifted from the rest of Iraq and toward an informal but unmistakable autonomy that Kurdish leaders are determined to preserve.

…The Kurds have veto power over most laws passed by the central government in Baghdad and have their own 80,000-member military, the pesh merga, whose troops are far better disciplined and skilled than most of their new Iraqi counterparts.

…The Kurds’ desire for autonomy promises to tear at the unity of the new Iraq that the election planned for late January is supposed to help build. The voters are to choose a legislature to write a new constitution. But some Iraqi leaders have already expressed resentment at the most important safeguard of Kurdish independence: the power to veto the new constitution.

For now Kurdish officials appear unwilling to coexist on anything but their own terms, which means bolstering their autonomy and preventing outside interference, whether from Baghdad or another country.

Hamid Afandi, the minister of pesh merga for the Kurdish regional government based in Erbil, outlined one possible strategy: take control of Kirkuk – the disputed oil city north of Baghdad, where Kurds are even now wresting land from the Arabs who were settled there by Saddam Hussein – grab a far larger share of Kirkuk’s oil revenue than the Kurds now get and use that to triple the size of the pesh merga force.
Full Article:

Thai Tsunami Tourist Toll 2, 200 and Rising

Friday, December 31st, 2004

KHAO LAK, Thailand (Reuters) – The known toll of foreign tourists killed around Thailand’s Khao Lak beach neared 2,000 and was still rising on Friday as Asia’s tsunami catastrophe resonated beyond the Indian Ocean into European hearts.

…Environment Minister Suwit Khunkitti appealed for more refrigerated containers to store the thousands of bodies. “Many firms are shutting down during this holiday season. Please send refrigerated containers or dry ice to help us store these decomposing bodies,” Suwit told Bangkok radio while supervising the search on Khao Lak.

…The grounds of City Hall on the island — one of Asia’s premier beach resorts — just south of Khao Lak are a gathering place for hundreds of people looking for loved ones.

Their biggest hope may be the forensic experts flown in from half a dozen countries who know they face a huge task in identifying the dead.

“It will be challenging,” said Karl Kent, head of a 17-member forensic team from the Australian Federal Police of the kind sent to Bali in the wake of the 2002 bombings that killed 202 people.
Full Article:nytimes/reuters

Refrigerated trucks and forensic pathologists: in Banda Ace they are bulldozing the bodies into mass graves. The three major network news programs last night all featured a Swedish father reunited with his son. My daughter was 20 miles up the coast from Phuket, and only a stomach virus kept her from certain injury or even death that day. But all through the process of waiting to hear from her for three days that felt like a lifetime, it was impossible not to note the comparitive value of one American girl and the hundreds of thousands who lived there and are lost. Where were their forensic pathologists? Somehow grief and tragedy are not real to us in privilege unless they are ours. I suppose someone could argue that this is natural and human, but it’s just the opposite. No one should be surprised at the US wrangling with the UN about who will be ‘leading’ the rescue efforts. For them, it’s all about spin and their ‘position in the world.’ It is impossible for them to behave any differently at this point. Acting like it’s some big sacrifice of mercy to scrape together a few paltry millions. How about cancelling the big inaguration bash and sending those millions. Unthinkable. Meanwhile, American media consumers have a heartstring-tugging distraction from the continuing disintegration of Iraq. It’s entertainment. One of the ‘upsides’ to imperialism that is often noted is that in some peculiar way it united the world and made a global vision possible. Today we see the lie of that. This disaster shows that the West is only morally capable of seeing the world as it always has: as a theater for its efforts. The natives are merely objects of Western ‘concern,’ with its pity and mercy and charity. This is the best-case scenario. I suppose that compared to the Iraq theater this could be seen as an improvement. But the self-serving illusions are the same.

It’s About Aid, and an Image

Friday, December 31st, 2004

CRAWFORD, Tex., Dec. 29 – As Asia suffers through a 9/11 of its own – a natural calamity instead of a man-made one, but at least 25 times more deadly – President Bush’s response in coming weeks may well determine his success in repairing relations strained by three years of relentless American focus on terrorism.

It took 72 hours after the tsunamis washed away countless villages and tens of thousands of lives before Mr. Bush appeared in public to declare that the United States had the rudiments of a plan for addressing “loss and grief to the world that is beyond our comprehension.” His aides said it took that long to understand the magnitude of the tragedy and to plan a recovery effort that must stretch from remote villages of Indonesia to the eastern coast of Africa.

But the aid effort that has now begun presents Mr. Bush with an opportunity to battle, with action rather than just words, the perception that took root in his first four years in office that he is all about America first.

“It’s a tragedy but it is also an opportunity to demonstrate that terrorism doesn’t drive out everything else,” said Morton Abramowitz, who served as American ambassador to Thailand a quarter century ago and went on to become one of the founders of the International Crisis Group, which helps prepare governments to respond to unexpected shocks. “It’s a chance for him to show what kind of country we are.”

Mr. Bush and his aides have long argued that the administration’s reputation around the world is undeserved.
Full Article:

“Zionism Has Exhausted Itself”

Friday, December 31st, 2004

An Interview with Amos Elon

By Ari Shavit
The young people at the news desk weren’t quite sure who he was. The name sounded familiar but they weren’t sure from where. A few had heard about one of his books. A few had once used another book as a textbook. But many people don’t really know who Amos Elon is. The man who was once the preeminent journalist in Israel has been totally erased from the memory. The man who was the chief chronicler of the Israeli story has ceased to register in the Israeli consciousness. He is much better known to readers of the New York Review of Books than to readers of Ha’aretz.

He was born in 1925, in Vienna, and immigrated to Mandatory Palestine with his family in 1933. In the 1940s, he was one of Tel Aviv’s prominent young intellectuals – and was close to Uri Avnery and influenced by him. He wrote a patriotic book about the War of Independence which he’d rather forget.
In the early 1950s, Amos Elon quickly became a star. For Haaretz, he wrote several outstanding series of articles on subjects such as the rift among the kibbutzim, the life of immigrants and the “second Israel” (the underprivileged sectors of Israeli society). Elon became the protege of Haaretz publisher and editor-in-chief Gershom Schocken, was sent to Europe and later spent six years as Ha’aretz’s Washington correspondent. In 1970, he published his book, “The Israelis,” which was an immediate international success (it was published in English in 1971 as “The Israelis: Founders and Sons”), and subsequently left the paper. In 1978, in wake of the peace process with Egypt, he returned to Ha’aretz and remained with the paper until 1986.

In the small Italian village where he lives, Elon wrote his books about Herzl, the Rothschild family and the history of German Jewry. The current publication of the Hebrew version of “The Pity of it All: A Portrait of the German-Jewish Epoch, 1743-1933” (which was published in English in 2002) is coinciding with a significant biographical moment: Last month, Elon packed up the apartment that he still kept in Jerusalem. Our conversation took place among the piles of objects slated to be given away and the piles of books due to be sent home, to Tuscany.

He looks much younger than his 79 years. He once wrote that Israeli faces tend to wrinkle as if from a lot of gazing straight at the sun. His face, however, is almost smooth.

If Elon has feelings, he keeps them hidden deep inside. At least outwardly, he is serious, German, stern. A devotee of human rights but not overflowing with brotherly love. Seemingly devoid of warmth and empathy, he is a man of high standards. A man of high-level journalism and high culture. His erudition is enviable.

A few of Elon’s friends say something about him that he himself isn’t ready to admit: His decision to leave Israel essentially derives from deep despair. From a sense that Israel doesn’t have a chance. But it’s also the man’s personality structure that has made him not want to belong. Not to participate. To be an observer from a distance.

Maybe the young people at the news desk are right: Amos Elon doesn’t interest anyone here anymore. He’s no longer relevant. But maybe they’re wrong. And not only because Elon is a supremely gifted journalist. Not only because the international intelligentsia still perceives him as a thoughtful Israeli voice. And not only because he is an inseparable part of the history of this newspaper. But because Amos Elon epitomized an attitude that characterizes a large part of the Israeli elite. In his words and his life, Amos Elon expresses the deep aversion to the new Israel. The nationalistic, religious, un-European Israel. This is apparently the reason why Amos Elon is leaving us. He is turning back the clock, going back to being a European Jew.

Amos Elon, looking over the list of books you’ve written in the past decades – “The Israelis,” “Herzl,” “The Rothschilds,” “The Pity of It All” on German-Jewish history – it’s like the Zionist movie is being rewound; the whole trajectory is from Israel backward.

Elon: “From Israel outward. And the reason is very simple. It’s also related to my leaving Haaretz. Nothing has changed here in the last 40 years. The problems are exactly the same as they always were. The solutions were already known back then. But no one paid attention to them. And I found myself repeating them. I found myself saying the same thing all the time. And I started to bore myself. The dialogue wasn’t fruitful. It was a useless dialogue. I was a lone voice in the wilderness.”
Full Interview:

Disappearing Act: Fallujah and the Media

Friday, December 31st, 2004

by Mike Whitney
“We headed to the area where we live and saw some bodies lying about the streets. I entered my neighbor’s house and found him lying on the ground, nothing left of him but some bones.”
Abd al-Rahman Salim, Fallujah resident

“The role of a free press is to be the people’s eyes and ears, providing not just information but access, insight and, most importantly, context.”
Jon Stewart, from “America” (The Book)

The extent of America’s war crimes in Falluja is gradually becoming apparent. On December 24, approximately 900 former residents of the battered city were allowed to return to their homes only to find that (according to BBC) “about 60% to 70% of the homes and buildings are completely crushed and damaged, and not ready to inhabit. Of the 30% still left standing, there’s not single one that has not been exposed to some damage.”

The siege, which began on November 8, was intended to rid the city of an estimated 5,000 insurgents who were using it as a base of operation. The results have been devastating. Over 250,000 people have been expelled from their homes and the city has been laid to waste. The US military targeted the three main water treatment plants, the electrical grid and the sewage treatment plant; leaving Fallujans without any of the basic services they’ll need to return to a normal life. Many believe that this was done intentionally so that major US corporations and constituents of the Bush administration can rebuilt the city at some future time.

Most of the city’s mosques have been either destroyed or seriously damaged and entire areas of the city where the fighting was most fierce have been effectively razed to the ground.

So far, the army has only removed the dead bodies from the streets; leaving countless decomposed corpses inside the ruined buildings. A large percentage of these have been devoured by packs of scavenging dogs. The stench of death is reported to be overpowering.
Full Article:

Earthquakes, Tsunamis and Nuclear Testing

Friday, December 31st, 2004

By Lila Rajiva
In the aftermath of a cataclysm like the Asian tsunami, speculation can run wild. Reserving judgment until we really know what happened, here is a list of salient questions and answers that I,ve compiled from news reports, government and other reliable sources.

Q: What set off the gigantic tsunamis that devastated coastal south-east Asia?

A: An undersea earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale with its epicenter about 160 km from the northern portion of the island of Sumatra in Indonesia on Sunday, December 26.

Q: How soon after the quake did the tsunami hit?

A: The earthquake hit Indonesia at 6:58 a.m; the tsunami arrived as much as 2 1/2 hours later, without warning, suggesting that it might not have been caused directly by the quake but by some other change triggered by the quake.

Q: How large was it?

A: It was the largest since the 9.2 quake in Prince William Sound in Alaska in 1964 and the 4th largest in the century. The quake moved the entire island of Sumatra about 100 feet toward the southwest and even disturbed the Earth’s rotation. It was the first tsunami in the Indian Ocean since 1883. Waves of around 30-40 ft in height and even greater were widely reported.

Q: What caused the undersea earthquake?

A: Compression between the Indian and Burmese tectonic plates. Scientists believe that one plate that comprised the landmass from India to Australia has broken up into two. The initial 8.9 eruption happened near the location of the meeting point of the Australian, Indian and Burmese plates

Q: What made the plates shift?

A: It may have been set off by another quake of about 8.1 on the Richter scale on the other side of the plate about 900 km SE of the coast of Tasmania on Thursday, December 24, which caused no serious damage however. The causal relationship is not proved but the time sequence is striking and some seismologists have considered it quite possible.

Q: Were tsunamis expected from that earlier quake?

A: The U.S. government’s Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said on its Web site that “widely destructive” tsunamis from the quake were possible in the open ocean

Q: Have there been similar earthquakes set off the South East of Tasmania before?

A: Yes, in 1998 a very large earthquake occurred south of Australia and New Zealand, between Macquarie Island and Antarctica on March 25 about 2,300 km south of Hobart in Tasmania, and 500 km north of the Antarctic coast

Q: Did this generate tsunamis?

A: Very large long-period surface waves were recorded in the hour after the earthquake.

Q: What connection if any is there between Tasmania and Antarctica?

A: Its capital Hobart on the South East coast is the base for the administration of Australia’s Antarctic program. The French regularly resupply their Antarctic base at Dumont d’Urville from the port, and American, Chinese, Russian and Italian ice breakers regularly visit.. Through its exploratory, commercial and scientific associations with the sub-antarctic and Antarctic regions, Hobart possibly enjoys a longer continuous Antarctic connection than any other spot on the planet.

Q: What are some other disturbances that can cause tsunamis?

A: Landslides or explosions such as underwater nuclear testing.

Q: Is underwater nuclear testing common?

A: Yes, The United States has conducted 1,054 tests of nuclear devices between July 16, 1945 and September 23, 1992. Before 1962, all the tests were atmospheric (on land or in the Pacific or Atlantic oceans) but overall the majority – 839 – were underground tests. From 1966 to 1990, 167 French nuclear test explosions have been performed on two atolls in French Polynesia, Morurua and Fangataua. Of the 167 tests, 44 were atmospheric. Atmospheric explosions were carried out until 1974, but only underground tests after that. The underground tests have been conducted at the bottom of shafts bored 500-1200 meters into the basalt core of the atoll. Initially these shafts were drilled in the outer rim of the atoll. In 1981, most likely due to the weakening of that rim, the tests with higher yields were shifted to shafts drilled under the lagoon itself.
Full Article:

Venezuela signals clear warning to the US government to back off on interference; offers the Chinese almost unlimited access to massive oil and gas reserves

Monday, December 27th, 2004

Signaling a clear warning to the US government to discontinue its several years interference in Venezuela’s domestic political affairs, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez Frias has turned to the Chinese government offering almost unlimited access to Venezuela’s massive oil and gas reserves.

The offer forma a major part of a new trade deal between the Venezuela and China which will allow China preferential terms and conditions to operate oil fields in Venezuela and invest in new Venezuelan refineries.

Venezuela will supply 120,000 barrels of oil a month to China, in a deal which may well see a reduction in 60% exports to the United States while remaining the world’s 5th largest oil exporter.
Full Article:

Iraq Rejects U.S. Talk of Adjusting Vote Result

Monday, December 27th, 2004

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraq’s election body rejected a suggestion in Washington it adjust the results of next month’s vote to benefit the Sunni minority if low turnout in Sunni areas means Shi’ites win an exaggerated majority in the new assembly.

Speaking of “unacceptable” interference, Electoral Commission spokesman Farid Ayar said: “Who wins, wins. That is the way it is. That is the way it will be in the election.”

U.S. diplomats in Baghdad, at pains to keep their role in the election discreet, declined comment on a New York Times report from Washington which said Sunnis might be granted extra seats if the community’s vote was judged to have been too low.
Full Article: nytimes/reuters

Why Some Politicians Need Their Prisons to Stay Full

Monday, December 27th, 2004

by Brent Staples New York Times
The mandatory sentencing fad that swept the United States beginning in the 1970’s has had dramatic consequences – most of them bad. The prison population was driven up tenfold, creating a large and growing felon class – now 13 million strong – that remains locked out of the mainstream and prone to recidivism. Trailing behind the legions of felons are children who grow up visiting their parents behind bars and thinking prison life is perfectly normal. Meanwhile, the cost of building and running prisons has pushed many states near bankruptcy – and forced them to choose between building jails and schools.

Seldom has a public policy done so much damage so quickly. But changes in the draconian sentencing laws have come very slowly. That is partly because the public thinks keeping a large chunk of the population behind bars is responsible for the reduced crime rates of recent years. Studies cast doubt on that theory, since they show drops in crime almost everywhere – even in states that did not embrace mandatory minimum sentences or mass imprisonment. In addition, these damaging policies have done nothing to curb the drug trade.

Changing prison policy, however, is no longer a simple matter. The business of building and running the jailhouse has become a mammoth industry with powerful constituencies that favor the status quo. Prison-based money and political power have distorted the legislative landscape in ways that will be difficult to undo.

These problems are on vivid display in New York, which started mass imprisonment when Gov. Nelson Rockefeller persuaded the Legislature to pass the toughest drug laws in the nation at the start of an ill-starred “war on drugs” 30 years ago. The Rockefeller laws introduced the country to mandatory sentencing policies that barred judges from deciding who goes to jail and for how long. Instead, the laws required lengthy sentences – 15 years to life – for nonviolent, first-time offenders, many of whom would have received brief sentences, drug treatment or community service under previous laws.

Nearly all of the prisoners ended up in upstate New York, where failing farms and hollowed-out cities offered a lot of room for building. Politicians in these sparsely populated districts caught on quickly and began to lobby to have the new prisons located in their communities. As a result, nearly 30 percent of the people who were counted as moving into upstate New York during the 1990’s were prison inmates.

The influx of inmates has brought desperately needed jobs to the region and resulted in districts whose economies revolve around prison payrolls and whose politics are dominated by the union that represents corrections officers. The inmates also helped to save political careers in areas where legislative districts were in danger of having to be merged because of shrinking populations. Inmates, as it turned out, were magically transformed into “residents,” thanks to a quirk in the census rules that counts them as living at their prisons. Although people sentenced under the drug laws frequently serve long sentences, many prisoners remain behind bars only briefly before returning to homes that are often hundreds of miles away.

Felons are barred from voting in 48 of 50 states – including New York. Yet in New York, as in the rest of the country, disenfranchised prisoners are included in the population counts that become the basis for drawing legislative districts.

An eye-opening analysis by Prison Policy Initiative’s Peter Wagner found seven upstate New York Senate districts that meet minimal population requirements only because prison inmates are included in the count. New York is not alone. The group’s researchers have found 21 counties nationally where at least 21 percent of the “residents’ were inmates.

The New York Republican Party uses its majority in the State Senate to maintain political power through fat years and lean. The Senate Republicans, in turn, rely on their large upstate delegation to keep that majority. Whether those legislators have consciously made the connection or not, it’s hard to escape the fact that bulging prisons are good for their districts. The advantages extend beyond jobs and political gerrymandering. By counting unemployed inmates as residents, the prison counties lower their per capita incomes – and increase the portion they get of federal funds for the poor. This results in a transfer of federal cash from places that can’t afford to lose it to places that don’t deserve it.

Lately, polls have shown growing support for drug law reform. In November, prominent New York Republicans ran into trouble when they faced candidates who made Rockefeller reform an issue. In response, the State Senate endorsed a plan that cut sentences for drug possession crimes, which was the easy part. But it stonewalled on the crucial change, which would have returned to judges the discretion to sentence at least some offenders to drug treatment instead of prison.

While other political forces support the mandatory sentences – most notably the powerful local prosecutors – prison rights advocates have recently begun to argue that prison district politicians are more concerned about keeping the prisons full than about crime. The idea of counting inmates as voters in the counties that imprison them is particularly repulsive given that inmates are nearly always stripped of the right to vote. The practice recalls the early United States under slavery, when slaves were barred from voting but counted as three-fifths of a person for purposes of apportioning representation in Congress.

From America With Love: Ukraine’s new first lady knows what freedom really means.

Monday, December 27th, 2004

In the most peaceful revolution since South Africa ended its apartheid regime by electing Nelson Mandela president in 1994, Ukraine has just elected opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko president of the former Soviet satellite republic. The victory comes for the pro-Western leader after a dirty campaign that saw him poisoned and only after hundreds of thousands of demonstrators filled the streets to protest voter-fraud. “We peacefully, beautifully, elegantly and without any drops of blood changed Ukraine,” Mr. Yushchenko told cheering supporters.

What many Westerners do not realize, however, is when Mr. Yushchenko takes the seat of power, at his side will be a tough minded, savvy American-raised businesswoman. His wife, Kateryna Chumachenko Yushchenko, is the daughter of Ukrainian immigrants who grew up steeped in the traditions of her ancestral homeland.

…In the late 1980s and early 1990s she worked in the human rights office of the U.S. State Department. She also worked for the first President Bush in the Treasury Department. But her dream was always to help Ukraine become independent. So after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 she moved to Kiev. Her business degree from the University of Chicago helped her land a job with KPMG, the U.S. international auditing company, and she prospered training the country’s economists in Western practices. She met Viktor Yushchenko when he was part of a delegation of central bankers she brought to Chicago. “He understood free markets, had a firm faith in God and knew what the right path for the country should be,” she told me. The two married in 1998, and they now have three children.
Full Article: wall street journal

From America, yes, but I doubt that love has anything to do with it.