As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, July 02, 2004

Annan can't find the refugees in Sudan

As if proof was needed that the ruling government in the Sudan was not exactly playing straight with the world about its growing humanitarian crisis, there's this bit of news from yesterday:

MESHKEL, Sudan, July 1 -- After U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan visited one of the best-maintained refugee camps in this war-rattled region of western Sudan on Thursday, he climbed back into an SUV and headed down a bumpy desert road.

He was scheduled to tour a scene of even greater desperation in what has been called the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, this time a camp that has not received any international aid.

But when his convoy arrived at the settlement, the 3,000 people who had been living there Wednesday afternoon were gone. Instead, there was only a muddy field with a few soldiers stepping through the muck.

In a move that befuddled U.N. officials, the Sudanese villagers in the camp were moved overnight and in the morning, said Jan Egeland, the U.N. undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs. They were loaded into government trucks "apparently to be dumped," he said, at the gates of the already overcrowded Abu Shouk camp, 12 miles away, where 40,000 people live in a stretch of open desert. A U.N. team confirmed that the villagers had been moved to Abu Shouk.

The Sudanese government is trying to hide the extent of this crisis. It is well-known that, with the rainy season about to emerge, hundreds of thousands of refugees are at risk of sickness and death in the camps if they remain. Abu Shouk is nothing more than a show camp, designed to prove to the international community that the refugees are cared for well. Most of the camps are in embarrassing disrepair. And none of these refugees can return to their homes, because of the unchecked aggression and violence from Arab militiamen.

The world community needs to be more forceful and less accepting of the Sudanese's repeatedly false claims. Incidentally, Passion of the Present is a good compendium of updated news about the Sudan crisis. And The Washington Post, who has taken the lead on this story domestically, has an excellent analysis of who could be doing more to head off this crisis. I thought the study of Arab government's unwillingness to intervene was particularly enlightening:

"What are the Arabs doing about this atrocity in their own back yard?" ask the editors of the Daily Star in Beirut, Lebanon.

"The answer, of course -- as usual -- is nothing. At the conclusion of this year's annual Arab League summit just a few short weeks ago, a statement was issued. On Sudan, the statement 'reaffirm(ed) ... the Arab states' solidarity with the sisterly Republic of Sudan and their keenness to preserve its territorial integrity and sovereignty and reinforce all peace initiatives started by the Sudanese government with the international and regional parties.' "

"We are sick of vacuous statements," the Daily Star editors concluded. "The time for action is now. In fact, the time for action was yesterday, last week, last month, last year, last decade."

The Arab League is the same coalition that allows virtually no Palestinian immigrants into their repsective countries, preferring to let them rot under occupation. They deserve some blame.


Turning on a Dime

It was only a few weeks ago that the Bush administration did a 180 away from trumpeting their foreign policy "successes" and toward the economy, which had sustained job growth for 3 straight months, after the loss of 3 million jobs from 2001-2003. We had ads about how America was getting back to work, we had economists exclaiming that the recovery was complete, the Fed even raised interest rates for the first time in four years to try and "slow down" the breakneck economic pace. And the President was crowing about the "record" growth in the labor market.

Well, today's jobs report for June shows anemic growth, a net gain of under 100,000 jobs, when in fact you have to gain around 150,000 a month to keep up with the maturation of the work force. In fact, the unemployment number has not changed all year, holding rock steady at around 5.6%, and of course that doesn't include those whose benefits have run out. So are the Bushies still talking about that amazing growth?

WASHINGTON -- President Bush, defending his handling of the economy as he seeks a second term, told a White House audience: "We don't need a boom-or-bust type growth."

"The economy of the United States has been through a lot," Bush told a group of business executives at the White House in late morning. "It's remarkable to be able to stand up and say to you that our economy is strong and getting stronger."

"We're witnessing steady growth and that's important," he said. "We want just steady consistent growth so that our fellow citizens will be able to find a job and so that the small-business sector will feel confident about expanding."

Short version: Did I say record growth? I meant steady growth. As long as there aren't bread lines, we're OK, right? Right?

By the way, I've always suspected where these new jobs were coming from. Here's one answer:

Temp firms have added 306,000 new jobs since April 2003...

Isn't it great to be an American? Ah, the land of opportunity... the opportunity to wear ill-fitting ties and file forms in a cold office where you don't know anyone for 8 hours a day. The only difference between temping and prostitution is that, as a hooker, at least you get to keep a little of your self-respect.

P.S. Anyone see Colin Powell singing YMCA in Indonesia today? Does this mean Powell is part of that homosexual agenda? Boy, he is out of touch with the Administration.


Thursday, July 01, 2004


Feeling his name recognition slipping away, John Kerry is rightly making an effort to thrust himself back into the limelight. Credible reports claim that he'll announce his vice-presidential candidate as early as next Tuesday. After letting Bush twist in the wind for a couple months while fund-raising and airing bushels of commercials, this seems like good timing to announce the Veep early in July, as the convention later in the month will provide a further bounce.

The odds-on favorites according to the reports are NC Sen. John Edwards, Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt, and Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack. All three are from battleground states (a recent poll in North Carolina has the state almost even with Edwards factored into the race). Barring a surprise, it's going to be one of these three guys (unless Saddam Hussein can sweet-talk Kerry into a shot, the way he sweet-talked his way through that Baghdad courtroom today).

Obviously, there's some personal concerns about putting Edwards on the ticket; otherwise, I think he'd definitely be the choice. He's bright, energetic, seems to be an excellent campaigner, cuts down Bush on economic issues (now looming as, jeepers, Bush's strength, and would add a jolt of liveliness to what is sometimes perceived as a moribund Kerry campaign. It's either Kerry and Edwards don't like one another, or Kerry's afraid of being overshadowed by a better politician. Gephardt's almost the polar opposite; obviously he has a lot of personal affinity for Kerry, but I think that adds no energy to this campaign. Plus, I'll never forget Gephardt standing there in the Rose Garden in 2002 as co-author of the Iraq resolution, and how as the minority leader he completely bungled the midterm elections. Then there's Vilsack, who's the compromise choice. A bit of an unknown on the national stage, he likely helped out Kerry big-time in Iowa, and this consideration is a kind of payback.

I still wouldn't rule out former Senator Max Cleland, the Vietnam Vet who's been at almost every Kerry campaign stop this year. Ultimately, I don't think these things matter all that much anymore; as much as you can blather that Edwards "will help us take the South" or Gephardt "secures Missouri," ultmimately the race is between the two at the top. That being said, Gephardt makes my skin crawl. Just a personal opinion.


Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Sudan update

After meeting with Kofi Annan and Colin Powell, Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Ismail promised that more security forces will be sent to the Darfur region to combat the Janjaweed militia who are murdering, raping, and displacing millions of indigenous Africans in the region. He also promised to lift restrictions on humanitarian groups who are trying to provide aid to the Darfur refugees. This is not the first time the Khartoum government has paid lip service to curtailing the ethnic cleansing going on in Darfur.

I have to give a little kudos to the US government for attempting a diplomatic solution to the problem in the Sudan. Secretary Powell's statements about inevitability ("There will be many more deaths") and unwillingness to send in UN forces (because they would have little effect in a vast region roughly the size of France) are troubling, however. Also, the UN sanctions proposed by the Security Council are completely toothless. (An arms embargo on an ARMED milita?) I hope we don't accept the Sudanese government's claims to stop the violence at face value. There's a line from Paul Theroux's Dark Star Safari where he's discussing the Sudan with an African diplomat. "The Sudanese," says the diplomat, "Great people, terrible rulers. It's the African story."

Meanwhile, The Washington Post has more on the disturbing trend of mass rape in Darfur as a form of reproductive ethnic cleansing. Go read.


Losing Our Way in The Sudan

The problem with the Bush Doctrine lies in its relativism. We have no intention of invading every country that harbors terrorists; we're not invading every country that owns or is seeking weapons of mass destruction; and we're not invading every country ruled by brutal dictators who massacre their own people. The saddest example of this is the Sudan, where all of this is taking place.

Over 30,000 indigenous Africans have died in the war-torn Darfur region in the last 16 months, with over 1 million residents driven from their homes, and almost 2 million in urgent need of aid. Arab milita known as the Janjaweed have been uprooting and killing African farmers in the southern and western desert, a form of ethnic cleansing. Few American papers have reported on the crisis, which the UN's commissioner on human rights admits is "bordering on genocide." Colin Powell, who is as disassociated from this government as Jesse Jackson, did visit a refugee camp in the country today, which he called "horrific" and "catastrophic." UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan accompanied Powell to Sudan today, and is attempting to put diplomatic pressure on the ruling Muslim government to stop the killing. Annan has considered sending in international troops if Sudan's government can't safeguard its people, telling reporters that the international community "cannot sit idle and complain that yet again we have had mass killings."

Yet Powell, in a shocking admission of helplessness, said to reporters, "The death rate is going to go up significantly over the next several months." While the US has offered a Security Council resolution proposing sanctions against the Janjaweed militia, the resolution takes no action against the Sudanese government, who most suspect support the militia. In addition, the resolution seeks mainly to impose an arms embargo and travel ban on the Janjaweed. Um, the Janjaweed already have weapons, they don't need any more, and where exactly would they want to go? I don't think reducing the Janjaweed's vacation plans helps the situation.

The notion that you can separate the militia from the government is patently ridiculous. John Heffernan in The American Prospect quotes a refugee from Darfur:

“At around 5 a.m., helicopters and Sudanese military Antonovs circled the village,” she said. Later, four men wearing Sudanese military uniforms entered her house and took all her property, then set the house on fire.

"My husband had fled first for fear that he might be killed,” she continued, describing what appears to be a common pattern among Darfurian villagers attacked over the last several months. As the men in the village get wind of impending attacks, they flee at once -- knowing that they will be killed if they stay -- leaving the women and children behind. The male villagers know that the women will be raped, but probably not killed. That is unless they resist.

This is state-sponsored terrorism from a country that housed Osama bin Laden for 8 years. Bin Laden built the only main road in the country, which leads from Khartoum north to the Egyptian border. The Clinton Administration bombed an aspirin factory outside of Khartoum in 1998 in response to the African Embassy attacks, based on intelligence that believed the factory was producing WMD.

But Sudan's links to al Qaeda and WMD are almost beside the point. This is very much reminiscent of the massacre of Tutsis by Hutus in Rwanda in 1994, during which UN peacekeepers were powerless by mandate to intervene in the murders, and the US government stood idly by and did nothing. So far, Powell's visit at least signals the possibility that we will learn from our mistakes. However, all the diplomatic efforts to head off the possible genocide look remarkably similar to Rwanda in 1994. This is not inevitable, as Powell has said. We can make a difference. The problem is that maybe we have no troops to help, given the fact that we've just called up the Individual Ready Reserve to fill in the gaps in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is another way in which Bush's reckless foreign policy has made the world less safe.


Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Do You Know

That the US Embassy in Iraq is being built out of one of Saddam Hussein's old palaces?

(Insert clip of Hecubus from The Kids in the Hall) Irony!!!!!


The Rule of Law

The Supreme Court, fresh off saving Dick Cheney from shame by eliminating his need to hand over his energy task force documents, actually preserved their status yesterday as reasonable individuals who answer to the Constitution rather than the executive branch. Well, at least all of them but Scalia and Thomas, anyway. The Supremes actually recognized that citizens have rights by ruling that enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay can challenge their detentions in court. This is a major defeat for the Bush Administration and a major victory for due process. Whether or not you believe that terror suspects should be detained, you have to actually charge them with something rather than hold them in prison without possibility for release.

The reason the Bushies got bitchslapped for this one, in my view, is that they overstepped their boundaries. You can't tell judges who can and cannot go to court. That's their turf. And when the Justices feel their turf is threatened, they strike back with rhetorical fury. Here's Justice Stevens:

"At stake in this case is nothing less than the essence of a free society. Even more important than the method of selecting the people's rulers and their successors is the character of the constraints imposed on the Executive by the rule of law. Unconstrained Executive detention for the purpose of investigating and preventing subversive activity is the hallmark of the Star Chamber. Access to counsel for the purpose of protecting the citizen from official mistakes and mistreatment is the hallmark of due process. Executive detention of subversive citizens, like detention of enemy soldiers to keep them off the battlefield, may sometimes be justified to prevent persons from launching or becoming missiles of destruction. It may not, however, be justified by the naked interest in using unlawful procedures to extract information. Incommunicado detention for months on end is such a procedure. Whether the information so procured is more or less reliable than that acquired by more extreme forms of torture is of no consequence. For if this Nation is to remain true to the ideals symbolized by its flag, it must not wield the tools of tyrants even to resist an assault by the forces of tyranny."

The sound you might hear is me giving a standing ovation. The thing is, the rule of law seemed just as applicable to me in the aforementioned Cheney case, and withholding documents seems just as much a tool of tyranny, if to a lesser degree than withholding citizens. Can you realistically invoke executive privilege twice, and have it be right once, and wrong the next? I'm not as up on my law studies as I need to be, I guess, because that's contradictory to me.

The Supremes also again blocked enforcement of the Child Online Protection Act, which is a free speech issue no matter how you slice it. Basically the Court said that technology evolves so rapidly that what may be legal in 1999 is no longer relevant today. This discourages lawmakers from ever trying to curtail speech online for fear that it will inevitably become outdated. The majority opinion just seems right to me:

Kennedy’s opinion was based primarily upon the possibility that filtering and blocking software, deployed by the consumer, may be a more effective way to screen children from sexually explicit content than a system of severe penalties would be. And, because the technology that is behind such software has changed so markedly in the intervening years, the opinion concluded, the case must go back to a District Court for a full trial, including new factual development. In the meantime, a preliminary court order forbidding enforcement of the law remains in effect, with the prospect of lasting a few more years.

In other words, the consumer should be empowered to decide what they or their children should be able to watch, not the federal government. That's a victory for free speech. Sheesh, you'd almost think somebody in Washington was reading the Bill of Rights...


Monday, June 28, 2004


After repeating the phrase "June 30th" over and over and over like some crazy homeless person talking to an imaginary friend on the street, the US government in Iraq unexpectedly handed over power two days early, followed within minutes by a sudden airlift of Viceroy Paul Bremer out of the country. The "handover," which is not really a handover at all, but simply changing the face of power from an American one to an Iraqi one (without changing where the seat of power truly lies), was performed without fanfare or ceremony. Most Iraqis were unaware of the handover until reports were broadcast on state-run media after it was over. Incoming US Ambassador John Negroponte (a familiar figure in puppet governments, having figured in several Central American coups in the 80s) arrived secretly, also well ahead of schedule.

Why was this important, "historic" handover done under cover of darkness? Take a wild guess:

The low-key handover ceremony was over before it was announced and came as a surprise to ordinary Iraqis. Its hurried and secret nature appeared to reflect fears guerrillas could stage a spectacular attack on the scheduled date of June 30.

That's how fucked up the security situation is in Iraq. Literally nothing is safe. And Bremer's quick exit is reminiscent of nothing as much as the evacuation of Saigon in 1975.

I fully expect the din of "We've handed over power, it's over, forget about Iraq" to start from the right any day now.


The Heat Is On

I was there on opening night for Fahrenheit 9/11, along with the millions of other Americans that made it the #1 film of the week (in summer blockbuster season, mind you). I saw it as almost a Democratic civic duty to make this film as much money as possible, to get it into more theaters. It is kind of odd, however, if you look as the week's other top films: two dumb comedies (White Chicks and Dodgeball), an adult drama (The Terminal), some romantic comedy (The Notebook), and a couple of fading kid's films (Harry Potter and Shrek 2) which have been out for a month or so. All of the typical movies you'd expect in summer, namely the blockbuster action films and thrillers (Spider Man 2; King Arthur; I, Robot; The Bourne Supremacy; Catwoman), have yet to be released. This was an open slate for F9/11. Now, was that deliberate on the part of the "liberal elite" in Hollywood, or was it that the studios were afraid of this movie? I'm not sure.

What I do know is that this was Moore's best film since Roger & Me, mainly because it offers a cogent argument, rather than casting its net wide and flailing for answers (which I felt was a weakness of Bowling for Columbine). He seems almost reluctant to perform his normal shtick of provoking the powerful: even the couple moments of this in the film (reading the Patriot Act from an ice-cream truck in front of the Capitol, and trying to sign up Congressmen to send their children to Iraq) are jarringly abrupt. It's like Moore knew he had to include this, so he goes "OK, here you go, ha ha, now, back to my point."

And his point(s) are nothing new to those of us who've made the effort to pay attention over the last 4 years. I imagine they'll be very eye-opening to others, like my parents, who called immediately after watching the movie on Saturday, screaming "Do you believe that about the Saudis?" The arguments in the film are very well-researched and well-told, and while Moore can't resist some fun at the expense of the Bushies (like the Bonanza-like open for "Afghanistan"), or posit some questionable alternate histories (I know that some believe the war in Afghanistan had a lot to do with a proposed Unocal pipeline from the Caspian Sea, but the need to demolish an al Qaeda hotbed, or at least put a Band-Aid on it, seems much more plausible), he keeps these to a minimum. I think the film is really targeted to the swing voter, to "conservative Democrats" like Lila Lipscomb, the woman in F9/11's second half who loses her son in Iraq, and staggers with untold grief throughout the rest of the film. In fact, Lipscomb is the moral center, an ordinary citizen whose eyes are opened when the effects of the reckless Bush policies across the globe become personal. This is why F9/11 will succeed to such a great degree. I expect to still be talking about it through the rest of the summer.