Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Richard Falk on the Israeli assault on Gaza

Writing in the Nation Richard Falk had this to say:

The Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip represent severe and massive violations of international humanitarian law as defined in the Geneva Conventions, both in regard to the obligations of an Occupying Power and in the requirements of the laws of war.

Those violations include:

Collective punishment: The entire 1.5 million people who live in the crowded Gaza Strip are being punished for the actions of a few militants.

Targeting civilians: The airstrikes were aimed at civilian areas in one of the most crowded stretches of land in the world, certainly the most densely populated area of the Middle East.

Disproportionate military response: The airstrikes have not only destroyed every police and security office of Gaza's elected government, but have killed and injured hundreds of civilians; at least one strike reportedly hit groups of students attempting to find transportation home from the university.

Earlier Israeli actions, specifically the complete sealing off of entry and exit to and from the Gaza Strip, have led to severe shortages of medicine and fuel (as well as food), resulting in the inability of ambulances to respond to the injured, the inability of hospitals to adequately provide medicine or necessary equipment for the injured, and the inability of Gaza's besieged doctors and other medical workers to sufficiently treat the victims.

Certainly the rocket attacks against civilian targets in Israel are unlawful. But that illegality does not give rise to any Israeli right, neither as the Occupying Power nor as a sovereign state, to violate international humanitarian law and commit war crimes or crimes against humanity in its response. I note that Israel's escalating military assaults have not made Israeli civilians safer; to the contrary, the one Israeli killed today after the upsurge of Israeli violence is the first in over a year.

Israel has also ignored recent Hamas diplomatic initiatives to re-establish the truce or ceasefire since its expiration on 26 December.

The Israeli airstrikes today, and the catastrophic human toll that they caused, challenge those countries that have been and remain complicit, either directly or indirectly, in Israel's violations of international law. That complicity includes those countries knowingly providing the military equipment including warplanes and missiles used in these illegal attacks, as well as those countries who have supported and participated in the siege of Gaza that itself has caused a humanitarian catastrophe.

I remind all Member States of the United Nations that the UN continues to be bound to an independent obligation to protect any civilian population facing massive violations of international humanitarian law--regardless of what country may be responsible for those violations. I call on all Member States, as well as officials and every relevant organ of the United Nations system, to move on an emergency basis not only to condemn Israel's serious violations, but to develop new approaches to providing real protection for the Palestinian people.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Ahmedinejad as mediator

The News reports:
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad is dashing to New Delhi early this week for talks with the Indian leaders with regard to the alarming situation prevailing in the neighbourhood. He may visit Islamabad immediately after concluding his discussions in the Indian capital. The Iranian president, who is deeply concerned about the rising tension between the two neighbouring nuclear states on its southeast, has been maintaining interaction with both the countries termed friends by Tehran.

The Iranian president will convert his endeavour into shuttle diplomacy if he gets encouraging signals from both the capitals. Pakistan will welcome such an effort. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehar Mottaki has already spoken to his Pakistani and Indian counterparts about the situation separately.
Iran has always had friendly relations with India supporting India against Pakistan in the Organization of Islamic Countries. Given that Pakistan has already acquiesced and that Indian approval is likely, the Iranian mediation might actually happen. The wildcard here is the US which probably will not like Iranian involvement, however useful it might be.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Forever more

The Guardian reports:

Israel stood defiant last night in the face of mounting international condemnation, as it vowed to continue a massive bombing offensive against key targets in the Gaza Strip that left 205 dead and 700 others injured.

As world leaders called for an immediate end to the biggest air assault on Gaza since 1967, Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, refused to rule out a ground invasion in the next few days saying that the retaliation against rocket attacks by Hamas had only just begun. "It won't be easy and it won't be short," said Barak. "There is a time for calm and a time for fighting, and now the time has come to fight."

And in the spirit of supreme sacrifice in a move reminiscent of our own John McCain:

He said he was withdrawing from campaigning for Israel's February elections to focus on the operation.

But not to worry:

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the operation "may take some time" - but he pledged to avoid a humanitarian crisis.

Richard Falk, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian Territories would probably have some difficulty believing that pledge. Here is what he had to say about the Israeli occupation of Gaza in June of 2007:

There is little doubt that the Nazi Holocaust was as close to unconditional evil as has been revealed throughout the entire bloody history of the human species. Its massiveness, unconcealed genocidal intent, and reliance on the mentality and instruments of modernity give its enactment in the death camps of Europe a special status in our moral imagination. This special status is exhibited in the continuing presentation of its gruesome realities through film, books, and a variety of cultural artifacts more than six decades after the events in question ceased. The permanent memory of the Holocaust is also kept alive by the existence of several notable museums devoted exclusively to the depiction of the horrors that took place during the period of Nazi rule in Germany.

Against this background, it is especially painful for me, as an American Jew, to feel compelled to portray the ongoing and intensifying abuse of the Palestinian people by Israel through a reliance on such an inflammatory metaphor as ‘holocaust.’


Is it an irresponsible overstatement to associate the treatment of Palestinians with this criminalized Nazi record of collective atrocity? I think not. The recent developments in Gaza are especially disturbing because they express so vividly a deliberate intention on the part of Israel and its allies to subject an entire human community to life-endangering conditions of utmost cruelty. The suggestion that this pattern of conduct is a holocaust-in-the-making represents a rather desperate appeal to the governments of the world and to international public opinion to act urgently to prevent these current genocidal tendencies from culminating in a collective tragedy. If ever the ethos of ‘a responsibility to protect,’ recently adopted by the UN Security Council as the basis of ‘humanitarian intervention’ is applicable, it would be to act now to start protecting the people of Gaza from further pain and suffering. But it would be unrealistic to expect the UN to do anything in the face of this crisis, given the pattern of US support for Israel and taking into account the extent to which European governments have lent their weight to recent illicit efforts to crush Hamas as a Palestinian political force.

Even if the pressures exerted on Gaza were to be acknowledged as having genocidal potential and even if Israel’s impunity under America’s geopolitical umbrella is put aside, there is little assurance that any sort of protective action in Gaza would be taken. There were strong advance signals in 1994 of a genocide to come in Rwanda, and yet nothing was done to stop it; the UN and the world watched while the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of Bosnians took place, an incident that the World Court described as ‘genocide’ a few months ago; similarly, there have been repeated allegations of genocidal conduct in Darfur over the course of the last several years, and hardly an international finger has been raised, either to protect those threatened or to resolve the conflict in some manner that shares power and resources among the contending ethnic groups.

But Gaza is morally far worse, although mass death has not yet resulted. It is far worse because the international community is watching the ugly spectacle unfold while some of its most influential members actively encourage and assist Israel in its approach to Gaza. Not only the United States, but also the European Union, are complicit, as are such neighbors as Egypt and Jordan apparently motivated by their worries that Hamas is somehow connected with their own problems associated with the rising strength of the Muslim Brotherhood within their own borders. It is helpful to recall that the liberal democracies of Europe paid homage to Hitler at the 1936 Olympic Games, and then turned away tens of thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany. I am not suggesting that the comparison should be viewed as literal, but to insist that a pattern of criminality associated with Israeli policies in Gaza has actually been supported by the leading democracies of the 21st century.


Israel is currently stiffening the boycott on economic relations that has brought the people of Gaza to the brink of collective starvation. This set of policies, carried on for more than four decades, has imposed a sub-human existence on a people that have been repeatedly and systematically made the target of a variety of severe forms of collective punishment. The entire population of Gaza is treated as the ‘enemy’ of Israel, and little pretext is made in Tel Aviv of acknowledging the innocence of this long victimized civilian society.

To persist with such an approach under presentt circumstances is indeed genocidal, and risks destroying an entire Palestinian community that is an integral part of an ethnic whole. It is this prospect that makes appropriate the warning of a Palestinian holocaust in the making, and should remind the world of the famous post-Nazi pledge of ‘never again.'
At that time our compassionate leader Obama had also chimed in with a letter decrying how the Gaza siege had been forced on Israel.

Dear Ambassador Khalilzad,

I understand that today the UN Security Council met regarding the situation in Gaza, and that a resolution or statement could be forthcoming from the Council in short order.

I urge you to ensure that the Security Council issue no statement and pass no resolution on this matter that does not fully condemn the rocket assault Hamas has been conducting on civilians in southern Israel…

All of us are concerned about the impact of closed border crossings on Palestinian families. However, we have to understand why Israel is forced to do this… Israel has the right to respond while seeking to minimize any impact on civilians.

The Security Council should clearly and unequivocally condemn the rocket attacks… If it cannot bring itself to make these common sense points, I urge you to ensure that it does not speak at all.


Barack Obama
United States Senator

And now that he is the President-Elect
Brooke Anderson, Obama's national security spokeswoman, said only that Obama "is closely monitoring global events, including the situation in Gaza."
Probably trying to develop his understanding further.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The divine rule of kings

Rick Perlstein, who it seems is a liberal journalist, has this to say of the shoe attack on W

Liberals should not make light of or license the physical assault on the leader of a sovereign state, no matter how much he's deservedly hated. This is not how we do politics, unless we're in favor something tending toward anarchy, or fascism.

This seems open and shut to me: the Iraqi journalist should go to jail for a rather long time.

To which Bernard Chazelle, an actual intelligent person, says:

Whenever a liberal "of impeccable credentials" shouts "long prison sentence!" I reach for my deconstruction toolkit. First, a rhetorical question: Should Marylin Klinghoffer, of Achille Lauro fame, have gone to jail for a rather long time after she spat in the faces of the terrorists who murdered her husband? After all, no one wants to make light of or license the physical assault on any man, no matter how much he's deservedly hated. This is not how we do justice, unless we're in favor of something tending toward anarchy, or fascism.

The question is useful because it disposes of the rejoinder: "You're not being serious by defending shoe throwers." For Perlstein, the parallel stops there. He is clear about it. It's not about the person but the authority behind it: a "leader of a sovereign state, no matter how much he's deservedly hated" deserves respect. Two interesting points: first, Perlstein presumably confines his sphere of respect to "our kind of leaders" (not Pol Pot, Kim Jong-il, Saddam, etc.) Second, Kant's theory of respect-for-persons as an end in itself is neatly swept aside. It's OK to spit at a terrorist but not at a president. Why? Because, as liberal bloggers write, out of spectacular ignorance, one should "despise the man but respect the office." Do they realize the essence of the Enlightenment was to reach precisely the opposite conclusion? That shoes should be aimed at kings and presidents, not at the persons behind them.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Meet the new boss - environment edition

From a NYT article on the appointment of Ken Salazar as Interior Secretary:
He must deal with the sharp tension between those who seek to exploit public lands for energy, minerals and recreation and those who want to preserve the lands.

He will be responsible for ending the department’s coziness with the industries it regulates.
The industries don't seem to fear any end of the coziness:
Oil and mining interests praised Mr. Salazar’s performance as a state official and as a senator, saying that he was not doctrinaire about the use of public lands. “Nothing in his record suggests he’s an ideologue,” said Luke Popovich, spokesman for the National Mining Association. “Here’s a man who understands the issues, is open-minded and can see at least two sides of an issue.”

Mr. Popovich noted approvingly that Mr. Salazar had tried to engineer a deal in the Senate allowing mining companies and others to reclaim abandoned mines without fear of lawsuits. (The legislation is pending.) He has also supported robust research on technology to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal-burning power plants, something the coal industry favors.

He also backed a compromise that would let oil companies drill for natural gas in limited parts of the Roan Plateau in northwestern Colorado, a plan that most environmental advocates opposed.
And the environmentalists don't seem to be looking forward to an excess of warm and fuzzy feelings.
“He is a right-of-center Democrat who often favors industry and big agriculture in battles over global warming, fuel efficiency and endangered species,” said Kieran Suckling, executive director of Center for Biological Diversity, which tracks endangered species and habitat issues.

Daniel R. Patterson, formerly an official of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management and now southwest regional director of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, an advocacy group, said that Mr. Salazar has justifiably become the most controversial of Mr. Obama’s cabinet appointees.

“Salazar has a disturbingly weak conservation record, particularly on energy development, global warming, endangered wildlife and protecting scientific integrity,” said Mr. Patterson, who was elected last month to the Arizona House of Representatives from Tucson and who supports fellow Arizonan Mr. Grijalva for the Interior job. “It’s no surprise oil and gas, mining, agribusiness and other polluting industries that have dominated Interior are supporting rancher Salazar — he’s their friend.”

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"cravenness of those who enabled it"

Is Paul Krugman talking about the new administration?
Right now, there’s a major effort underway to flush the sheer crazy/vileness of the Bush years — and the cravenness of those who enabled it — down the memory hole. We shouldn’t let that effort succeed. The fact is that an American president deliberately misled the nation into war, probably for political gain — and most of the country’s elite went cheerfully along with the scam.
Vice President-Elect Joseph Biden supporting the Iraq War Resolution:

Yes, Mr. President, you have that power to go to war; you can do that within 1 year. If, in fact, you go to war in 1 year, you can extend that 1 year.

Susan Rice UN Ambassador designate:

Obama's nominee to serve as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, had this to say February, 2002, after then-Secretary of State Colin Powell made a wholly absurd presentation a plenary session of the United Nations Security Council regarding the supposed threat posed by those Iraqi imaginary weapons of mass destruction.

"I think he [Powell] has proved that Iraq has these weapons and is hiding them," said Rice, a former Clinton administration State Department aide, "and I don't think many informed people doubted that."

So said Rice in an interview with National Public Radio on February 6, 2003.

For the record, that was one day after Powell made his "case" for war to the U.N.

On that day, major newspapers in Europe had already debunked Powell's key arguments

Secretary of State Designate Hillary Clinton:

Here is senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in December 2003: “Now that we’re [in Iraq], we have no choice. We own this issue. There is no doubt that we’re going to be there for years,” and “Whether you agreed or not that we should be in Iraq, failure is not an option.”

Secretary of State-Designate Robert Gates

Friday, December 5, 2008

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Meet the new boss -- Justice edition

Eric Holder the Attorney General designate in the days before torture became unpopular:

Asked whether terrorism suspects could be held forever, Holder responded: "It seems to me you can think of these people as combatants and we are in the middle of a war," Holder said in a CNN interview in January 2002. "And it seems to me that you could probably say, looking at precedent, that you are going to detain these people until war is over, if that is ultimately what we wanted to do."

Just weeks later, Holder told CNN he didn't believe al-Qaida suspects qualified as prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions.

"One of the things we clearly want to do with these prisoners is to have an ability to interrogate them and find out what their future plans might be, where other cells are located," said Holder, the former deputy attorney general during the Clinton administration. "Under the Geneva Convention, you are really limited in the amount of information that you can elicit from people."

Holder said it was important to treat detainees humanely. But he said they "are not, in fact, people entitled to the protection of the Geneva Convention. They are not prisoners of war." He also downplayed criticism that prisoners were being mistreated.

"Those in Europe and other places who are concerned about the treatment of al-Qaida members should come to Camp X-ray and see how the people are, in fact, being treated," he said.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Which Faridkot

Indian media is reporting that the one remaining terrorist from the group that carried out the Mumbai atrocity is Azam Amir Kasav from Faridkot in Pakistan. The Dawn newspaper in Pakistan decided to check on the various Faridkots and could not find an Azam Amir Kasav. The poor villagers in one particular Faridkot also got a visit from the local police eager for an international feather in their cap and Pakistani intelligence.

Faridkot, a settlement in the south of the Punjab province, has been overrun by Pakistani intelligence agents and police for the past three days after it was reported by Indian officials that the lone gunman captured alive in Mumbai came from a place called Faridkot.

Agents from Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) were still questioning locals yesterday.

"All the agencies have been here and the (police) special branch," said village elder Mehboob Khan Daha. "We have become very worried. What's this all about?"

The Faridkot link is a key plank of India's accusations against Pakistan. The captured gunman, variously named as Ajmal Amir Kamal, Azam Amir Kasav or Azam Ameer Qasab, is said to come from Faridkot, which is described as being near Multan. He is said to speak fluent English and a clear photograph of him shows a young man in western clothes. Shown a picture of the alleged militant, Daha said: "That's a smart-looking boy. We don't have that sort around here."

In Faridkot, no one appeared to be able to speak much English; most could only converse in a dialect of the provincial language. None of the villagers recognised the face in the photograph.

An interesting discussion on the attack on Mumbai is available at DemocracyNow.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Karachi on the brink

The biggest city in Pakistan is on the brink of violent conflagration. Karachi is a mixture of neighborhoods (slums) belonging to different ethnic groups including the local Sindhis, Pashtoons, and Muhajirs (refugees). The Muhajirs are descendants of people who migrated from India after the 1947 but still identify themselves as refugees. They are the dominant political class in the city and the goverment of the city is the MQM a thuggish group which counts the muhajirs as their base. However, there has been an increasing shift in power to Pashtun drug lords. The whole-hearted support the MQM gave to Musharraff - a fellow Muhajir - is probably not helping them now either. There is increasing tension between the Pashtun and the Muhajir bosses and this is being reflected in increasing violence between the ethnic groups.


The MQM representing the Muhajirs and the ANP representing the Pashtoons have called for calm. However, other reports say that they have not taken any steps beyond the call.

Sources said that, on Sunday, neither did the three parties’ leaders meet nor had the Coordination Committee constituted by Sindh Governor Dr Ishratul Ibad held its first formal meeting to review the city situation.

The committee was constituted to point out the problems and come up with proposals to improve the situation.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

One could always hope

From an Andrew Bacevich editorial from July (h/t Think Progress).
The challenge facing Obama is clear: he must go beyond merely pointing out the folly of the Iraq war; he must demonstrate that Iraq represents the truest manifestation of an approach to national security that is fundamentally flawed, thereby helping Americans discern the correct lessons of that misbegotten conflict.

This is a stiff test, not the work of a speech or two, but of an entire campaign. Whether or not Obama passes the test will determine his fitness for the presidency.

Andrew Bacevich's recent interview with ThinkProgress.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Meet the new boss - torture and wiretap edition (updated below)

The [Obama/Biden] intelligence-transition team is led by former National Counterterrorism Center chief John Brennan and former CIA intelligence-analysis director Jami Miscik, say officials close to the matter. Mr. Brennan is viewed as a potential candidate for a top intelligence post.
Wall Street Journal "Intelligence Policy to Stay Largely Intact," 11/11/2008

BRENNAN: Well, the CIA has acknowledged that it has detained about 100 terrorists since 9/11, and about a third of them have been subjected to what the CIA refers to as "enhanced interrogation tactics." And only a small proportion of those have, in fact, been subjected to the most serious types of enhanced procedures.

SMITH: And you say some of this has born fruit.

BRENNAN: There has been a lot of information that has come out from these interrogation procedures that the agency has, in fact, used against the real hardcore terrorists. It has saved lives. And let's not forget, these are hardened terrorists who have been responsible for 9/11, who have shown no remorse at all for the death of 3,000 innocents.

SMITH: John Brennan, we thank you very, very much for enlightening us this morning. We really do appreciate it.

John Brennan on the CBS Early Show, 11/2/2007

Q: Assess the debate in Congress and with the administration over reforming the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. [Democratic lawmakers allowed the temporary extension of that law, the Protect America Act, to expire, over the vehement objections of the White House.] Why has it come to this point where politics has arguably pulled things off the rails?

Brennan: There is this great debate over whether or not the telecom companies should in fact be given immunity for their agreement to provide support and cooperate with the government after 9/11. I do believe strongly that they should be granted that immunity, because they were told to do so by the appropriate authorities that were operating in a legal context, and so I think that's important. And I know people are concerned about that, but I do believe that's the right thing to do.

Insider Interview John Brennan, National Journal 3/7/2008

Frontline: You were involved in creating the terrorist watch list through the NCTC, right? ... Does it work?

Brennan: It works, I think, very well.

Frontline "The Enemy Within"

The government's centralized terrorist watch list passed the 900,000 name mark this month, according to the ACLU, which estimated the new total by relying on Congressional testimony from the fall that the sprawling list was growing by 20,000 names a month.
Wired 2/27/2008

Update: (h/t Talkleft)

John Brennan, President-elect Barack Obama's top adviser on intelligence, took his name out of the running Tuesday for any intelligence position in the new administration

Brennan wrote in a Nov. 25 letter to Obama that he did not want to be a distraction. His potential appointment has raised a firestorm in liberal blogs that associate him with the Bush administration's interrogation, detention and rendition policies.

An Obama adviser said Brennan made the decision to withdraw on his own and that he will remain heavily involved in the transition. The adviser is not authorized to discuss internal deliberations so asked not to be named.

However, a group of about 200 psychologists published an open letter to Obama on Nov. 22 opposing Brennan's leadership of the CIA. They cited several media interviews in which they deemed Brennan insufficiently opposed to rendition and harsh interrogation to make a clean break with the Bush administration's policies.

They noted that he told the National Journal in March that he would favor "continuity" in intelligence policies in the early days of the Obama administration.

"I would argue for continuity in those early stages. You don't want to whipsaw the (intelligence) community," Brennan said. "I'm hoping there will be a number of professionals coming in who have an understanding of the evolution of the capabilities in the community over the past six years, because there is a method to how things have changed and adapted," he said.

In a 2005 interview on "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer," Brennan defended rendition as "an absolutely vital tool."

National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell in 2007 had Brennan on a short list to become his principal deputy director, the second-highest position at the organization.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Meet the new boss ....

From the memory hole:

Remember the aborted attempt by the Democratic congress to insert a clause in the defense appropriation bill which would have required the president to come to congress before initiating military action against Iran. We all remember what happened to that. From a contemporaneous account by Philip Giraldi

Much has been made of the pressure AIPAC successfully exerted to drop a clause in the recent defense appropriation bill for Iraq and Afghanistan prohibiting an attack on Iran without congressional approval. One Democratic congressman, Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, even promised prior to any debate on the matter that the offensive language would be removed. The elimination of that clause erased the one possible impediment to White House plans to bomb the Islamic Republic. Pelosi, who is clearly aware of the overwhelming antiwar sentiment of the Democratic Party base and who wished to include the prohibition on expanded military action, was booed by the AIPAC audience when she criticized the conduct of the war in Iraq. Getting the message very clearly, she bowed to AIPAC's force majeure and quickly supported the deletion of any reference to Iran in the pending legislation. (emphasis added)

And then there was Emanuel's opposition to anti-war democrats. In a 2006 piece entitled "How Rahm Emmanuel Has Rigged a Pro-War Congress" John Walsh summarizes Emmanuel's attempts to stack the deck against anti-war candidates by pouring money into primary campaigns in support of pro-war candidates, some of whom he personally recruited. This makes sense given Emmanuel's view of the Iraq war. He was for the war just not for the inefficient way it was conducted. From a Tim Russert interview in 2005:

MR. RUSSERT: You voted--you said you would have voted for the war if you had been in Congress.


MR. RUSSERT: Now, knowing that are no weapons of mass destruction, would you still have cast that vote?

REP. EMANUEL: Yes. Well, you could have done--well, as you know, I didn't vote for it. I still believe that getting rid of Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do, OK? But how you go about it and how you execute that war is the problems we face today.

Later Russert quotes from a speech by Emanuel from 2003:

"I had the fortunate experience of serving in the White House; I knew firsthand what a solitary and difficult decision it is for a President to send our Armed Forces into harm's way. I will remember some of the members of this body, in the midst of conflict, attacking the President--the commander-in-chief-- even even as he worked day-and-night to complete that mission and bring our servicemen and women home safely. It was wrong then. It would be wrong now. I, for one, will not do that to our President ... to our commander-in-chief. I want him to succeed. We should all want him to succeed. So as long as our troops [are] engaged, we should suspend the debate over how and why, focus on the mission, unite as a country, in prayer and resolve, hope for a speedy resolution of this war with a minimum of loss. God bless America." (emphasis added)

and this from a United Jewish Community profile:

During the congressional campaign, he indicated his support of President Bush's position on Iraq, but said he believed the president needed to better articulate his position to the American people.

And there is always good old Dad (from the Jerusalem Post)

In an interview with Ma'ariv, Emanuel's father, Dr. Benjamin Emanuel, said he was convinced that his son's appointment would be good for Israel. "Obviously he will influence the president to be pro-Israel," he was quoted as saying. "Why wouldn't he be? What is he, an Arab? He's not going to clean the floors of the White House."

Change you can believe in.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Hedges and Nader

Chris Hedges has a post on why he will vote for Nader rather than doing the practical thing and voting for Obama..

I can’t join the practical because I do not see myself exclusively as an American. The narrow, provincial and national lines that divide cultures and races blurred and evaporated during the years I spent in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Europe and the Balkans. I built friendships around a shared morality, not a common language, religion, history or tradition. I cannot support any candidate who does not call for immediate withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan and an end to Israeli abuse of Palestinians. We have no moral or legal right to debate the terms of the occupation. And we will recover our sanity as a nation only when our troops have left Iraq and our president flies to Baghdad, kneels before a monument to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi war dead and asks for forgiveness.

We dismiss the suffering of others because it is not our suffering. There are between 600,000 and perhaps a million dead in Iraq. They died because we invaded and occupied their country. At least three Afghan civilians have died at the hands of the occupation forces for every foreign soldier killed this year. The dead Afghans include the 95 people, 60 of them children, killed by an air assault in Azizabad in August and the 47 wedding guests butchered in July during a bombardment in Nangarhar. The Palestinians are forgotten. Obama and McCain, courting the Israeli lobby, do not mention them. The 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza live in a vast open-air prison. Supplies and food dribble through the Israeli blockade. Ninety-five percent of local industries have shut down. Unemployment is rampant. Childhood malnutrition has skyrocketed. A staggering 80 percent of families in Gaza are dependent on international food aid to survive.

It is bad enough that I pay taxes, although I will stop paying taxes if we go to war with Iran. It is bad enough that I have retreated into a safe, privileged corner of the globe, a product of industrialized wealth and militarism. These are enough moral concessions, indeed moral failings. I will not accept that the unlawful use of American military power be politely debated among us like the subtle pros and cons of tort law.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Here is an interview with Naom Chomsky from the Real News Network. As only Chomsky can do he uses the health care disaster, and the response of the political classes to the public's desire for comprehensive health care, to illustrate how US democracy works.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


It has been a year since Riverbend's last post. The destruction of her life and the lives of millions of others is a crime that is difficult to really comprehend. Anglachel has some thoughts.

Howard Zinn

There is an interview with Howard Zinn on the Real News Network on the election and beyond.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Is it 2006?

From the News
Chaudhry Nisar [leader of the opposition in the Pakistani Parliament] made it clear that it was not Pakistan’s war but was imposed on us. “The people gave us a mandate for change but so far the same old policies were being pursued.”
Snark aside, the article shows how the government of Pakistan is between a rock and a hard place. The economy is on the verge of collapse and very dependent on US aid. The foreign exchange reserves are at a record low - just enough for a month and a half of imports. There has been a massive flight of capital and in this time of tight credit the government has been unable to float bonds needed for its own functioning. In this environment the US has enormous leverage and the government cannot afford to ignore US desires. It was US backing that resulted in pledges of 4 billion dollars from international donors to help stave of bankruptcy - for now. On the other hand as evident from this report there is also enormous pressure from the people not to go along with the US demands. If the government could somehow reduce the economic hardships of the people it could ignore their wishes as far as collaborating with the US was concerned. This was what allowed Musharraf to stay in power. However, given the dire situation of the global economy it is not likely that the economic condition of the people will change for the better any time soon. So, I would look for signs of Zardari and his buddies preparing their various villas in Britain and the US for occupancy.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Fun facts

There are the asserted knowns

In last Thursday's Vice Presidential debate, Democrat Joe Biden said "the history of the last 700 years" showed the Iraqi people could never get along with each other.
And then there are facts

After World War I, one-third of Baghdad was Jewish. After World War II, Jews served in the Iraqi cabinet, its Parliament, and on its High Court of Appeal.

"That speaks to a culture, that despite the images that dominate the headlines, was really quite civilised, sophisticated and cosmopolitan and multicultural well before that was a term that university professors and liberals like to use," Sabar [..] told IPS.
Ariel Sabar is the author of a book describing his father growing up in Northern Iraq,
My Father's Paradise: A Son's Search for His Jewish Past in Northern Iraq. Life for Jews in Iraq turns brutal after 1948 and it certainly hasn't been a peaceful place since then but 700 years?

Friday, October 10, 2008


What is frustrating about so much of the conversation about Afghanistan is the refusal to take into account the fact that actual people live in Afghanistan. And that how they have been effected by the US invasion might actually have an impact on the outcome of the US mission there. Since the early bombings from 50000 feet of wedding parties people have been warning of the effect of civilian casualties. But the idea that other people may not like their loved ones killed any more than we do doesn't seem to quite click. That people may not like to have their villages liberated by bombing them seems a foregn concept. Anand Gobal has a piece up on TomDispatch.com which provides some graphic description of what our war is doing to the Afghans and how some of them are reacting. He makes clear that the last thing the place needs is more foreign troops:

When, decades from now, historians compile the record of this Afghan war, they will date the Afghan version of the surge -- the now trendy injection of large numbers of troops to resuscitate a flagging war effort -- to sometime in early 2007. Then, a growing insurgency was causing visible problems for U.S. and NATO forces in certain pockets in the southern parts of the country, long a Taliban stronghold. In response, military planners dramatically beefed up the international presence, raising the number of troops over the following 18 months by 20,000, a 45% jump.

During this period, however, the violence also jumped -- by 50%. This shouldn't be surprising. More troops meant more targets for Taliban fighters and suicide bombers. In response, the international forces retaliated with massive aerial bombing campaigns and large-scale house raids. The number of civilians killed in the process skyrocketed. In the fifteen months of this surge, more civilians have been killed than in the previous four years combined.

During the same period, the country descended into a state of utter dereliction -- no jobs, very little reconstruction, and ever less security. In turn, the rising civilian death toll and the decaying economy proved a profitable recipe for the Taliban, who recruited significant numbers of new fighters. They also won the sympathy of Afghans who saw them as the lesser of two evils. Once confined to the deep Afghan south, today the insurgents operate openly right at the doorstep of Kabul, the capital.

But Obama plans to march more troops in as does McCain. So according to Einstein's definition of insanity - doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results - are these folks insane? Or is Afghan life simply not important enough to consider? Probably both.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Politics as team sport

Shankar Vedantam has a nice article at WaPo on the current state of affairs in partisan politics. (h/t Bob Somerby).

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Pakistan, Laos, and Cambodia

Updated Below (I and II)

In a recent Asia Times article Saleem Shahzad compared the current policy of the US towards Pakistan to the actions taken by the US against Laos and Cambodia in 1969. Then with the situation worsening in Vietnam Nixon turned to bombing campaigns against North Vietnamese sanctuaries in Laos and Cambodia leading to disastrous consequences for the region and its peoples. Now with the situation worsening in Afghanistan the US is again lashing out with possible dire consequences for the region and its people. Shahzad's pieces tend to hyperbole but the way things are going maybe he isn't too far off.

It is not entirely clear who is in charge of US policy towards Pakistan. During the summer it seemed that the US supported the idea of Musharraf serving out his term albeit with little or no power. Zalmay Khalilzad had other ideas and with the classical neocon predilection for making a bad situation worse he provided Zardari with the backing to make a successful bid for the presidency. In Zardari we have a leader totally beholden to the US. This is not a good thing. While we can be certain he will accommodate us to the fullest extent possible what we actually need in that part of the world is an ally with some local credibility - not a paid goon. And Zardari in Tariq Ali's words "is the worst possible slice of Pakistan's crumbly nationhood." With a popularity rating of 14%, despised by his own party activists, he is not someone who will be useful in winning hearts and minds for the US in Pakistan.

The conflict we are now facing with the Pakistani army is one of the unintended consequences of Zalmay's grand adventure. The military has been unhappy for some time with the role it has been assigned by the US. There have been mutterings of US perfidy and rumors, especially in military circles, that the US is playing the jihadi card against Pakistan and secretly backing Beitullah Mehsud and the Pakistani Taliban. There is a Turkish saying that the thief fears for his house and the pimp for his woman. So this is probably a case of worrying about being done by as you did. While the US has done some stupid things in that region backing our own jihadi forces against the Pakistanis would be beyond moronic. However, the fact that such rumors are being spread and believed by people who should know better shows the depth of suspicion engendered by the US. The recent US incursions into Pakistan provided an opportunity for the senior officers in the military to show their displeasure with the policy being pursued by the government. Musharraf could probably have contained it. Zardari cannot. And Kayani is too new to command the kind of loyalty from the corp commanders that Musharraf did. What we are witnessing is pretty close to a revolt within the army against the Chief of Army Staff. This is an extremely dangerous situation. Unfortunately, all indications are that things will only get worse. US policy towards Pakistan is no longer being managed by the State department. All indications are that without effective civilian leadership the US military is making policy. With all due respect to the US military, militaries by their very nature focus on the short term sometimes to the detriment of the long term. As for the presidential candidates I leave you with Tariq Ali's recommendation to Obama (h/t A Tiny Revolution)


It seems Kayani is doing some housecleaning. (h/t Cernig) I don't know how effective that will be in the long term if the current US policy continues.

Update 2

There are unconfirmed reports that Beitullah Meshud has died apparently of natural causes. If true this gives the Pakistan Army some breathing space. On the other hand it might just be a ruse to relieve some of the pressure being felt by the Pakistani Taliban.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

AKP Survives

The constitutional court's decision not to close down the AKP is being viewed with relief in most of the west. "Turkey steps back from the brink ..." said the Independent and the view was widely shared by most western media. However, the relief might be premature. The closure case was the latest round in the struggle between the AKP and the secularist forces in the country.

While in the beginning the danger to democracy was more from the secularist forces, I think now the threat is more from the majoritarian impulses of the AKP. This trend was clear after the nomination of Gul for president by the AKP even though Prime minister Erdogan had previously agreed on consensus candidates (from within the AKP) with opposition parties. That lead to a crisis - early elections and a further strengthening of the AKP. Since then the AKP has tried to pack various government ministries with its supporters, and has mainly played to its base - giving up its promises of further democratization. The bill to lift the headscarf ban was the last straw for the secularist and they tried to hit back with the suit to close the AKP. The attempt failed and the question now is whether the AKP will take its latest victory to mean that it can continue with its majoritarian policies or whether it will return to what was its initial promise of being the government of the entire country.

It would be good for both AKP and Turkey if it takes the latter course. The AKP won 47% of the votes in the last elections , a huge plurality in the context of Turkey, but that still means that there are 53% who preferred others to AKP. Given that the platform of the opposition was basically a negative "anyone but AKP," that means that a majority of the population is suspicious of the AKP. This is especially true of educated women - both of the female justices on the constitutional court (Fulya Kantarcioglu and Zehra Perktas) voted for closure - and women have been complaining of "neighborhood pressure" from local AKP supporters to dress "modestly." If the AKP continues its push for a "permanent majority," a'la Rove it will only increase polarization within the country.

The AKP was the first national party in years to beat out the ethnic Kurdish parties in the Kurdish heartland and one had hoped they would be responsive to the problems faced by Kurds in the Southeast. However, with their focus on their base the AKP has pretty much ignored the Kurds. This has been a missed opportunity that Turkey might rue if the separatists start regaining traction.

Finally, it should be noted that the vote of the constitutional court was close. It required seven of the eleven justices to agree to closure - the motion for closure had the support of six justices. If the AKP continues on its current course the next attempt to close it might succeed. At least until Gul can change the composition of the court the threat to the AKP is real. All in all the action of the constitutional court was not an ending. Hopefully, it will be a beginning.

Thursday, June 5, 2008


And within minutes of the first word of Hillary Clinton's suspension of her campaign, I saw talking heads reaching out and giving America a big ole hug of self-congratulation for Obama's victory. "I think this speaks very well of us as a people," said one earnest commentator, a no-doubt "progressive" academic eagerly supplying a soundbite through his neatly-trimmed beard. "I think it makes us look great!" enthused no less an expert than Jim "Ace Ventura" Carey, who was collared at some sort of green consciousness event and asked his opinion of the historic development. The conventional wisdom "takeaway" was already solidifying: America is uniquely great and divinely special, because we've allowed a black man to win a presidential nomination -- and he's still alive! That's the kind of people we are. USA! USA!

From Chris Floyd.

"This unit sets up this traffic control point, and this 18 year-old kid is on top of an armored Humvee with a .50-caliber machine gun," remembered Sgt. Geoffrey Millard, who served in Tikrit with the 42nd Infantry Division. "And this car speeds at him pretty quick and he makes a split-second decision that that's a suicide bomber, and he presses the butterfly trigger and puts two hundred rounds in less than a minute into this vehicle. It killed the mother, a father, and two kids. The boy was aged four and the daughter was aged three.

"And they briefed this to the general," Millard said, "and they briefed it gruesome. I mean, they had pictures. They briefed it to him. And this colonel turns around to this full division staff and says, 'If these f---ing hajis learned to drive, this sh-t wouldn't happen.'"

From Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian via TomDispatch.com.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Banality of evil

Sometimes the expression "the banality of evil" strikes home. Listening to this interview I kept feeling I was living in an alternate universe. Are we truly this unaware of the evil we do?

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Ergenekon Probe widens

From the Turkish Daily News:

The police investigation that began with the seizure of several hand grenades in a shanty house in Istanbul was broadened to include more public figures yesterday, including daily Cumhuriyet's lead columnist İlhan Selçuk, Workers' Party (İP) leader Doğu Perinçek and former Istanbul University Rector Professor Kemal Alemdaroğlu.

This is getting into dangerous territory. The police have detained some very well known members of the secularist left for involvement in the Ergenekon investigation. This was an investigation into a plot to assassinate various members of the government, and intelligentsia (Orhan Pamuk's name keeps getting mentioned in the news reports) and the creation of conditions conducive to the overthrow of the government. Previously people detained included a retired general academics and lawyers. The latest arrests up the ante considerably. Ilhan Selcuk is a very big name among the Kemalists. Dogu Perincek is a old time Maoist communist whose Workers Party is one of the few that survived the 70's. The secularists are already portraying these detentions as a plot by the government against the Kemalist. This has the potential to get very bad very quickly.


Ilhan Selcuk has been released and told not to leave the country. The prohibition on an octagenarian leaving the country has been greeted with some disgust in the media. Erdogan made a plea for unity and the rule of law.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Propaganda pays

I remember being floored by the fact that the New Yorker had actually published this piece by Jeffrey Goldberg back in 2002. But then, the elite media was hungering for some action. There was the adulatory interview of Kenneth Pollack by Terri Gross later that year and "liberal" journalists were falling over one another in their rush to prove their "toughness." But that Jeffrey Goldberg article stayed with me as an example of truly slimy propaganda. Goldberg has since gone on to a highly paid position at the Atlantic. Spencer Ackerman at the Washington Independent looks at Goldberg's mendacity and how it has benefited him here and here. I found the article via Jonathan Schwarz at A Tiny Revolution who also points to this quote from a debate at Slate in October 2002:

There is not sufficient space...for me to refute some of the arguments made in Slate over the past week against intervention, arguments made, I have noticed, by people with limited experience in the Middle East (Their lack of experience causes them to reach the naive conclusion that an invasion of Iraq will cause America to be loathed in the Middle East, rather than respected)...

The administration is planning today to launch what many people would undoubtedly call a short-sighted and inexcusable act of aggression. In five years, however, I believe that the coming invasion of Iraq will be remembered as an act of profound morality. [emphasis Jonathan's]

The fact that these people are not only still able to show their face but are actually profiting from their actions is a depressing thing. One can only hope that somewhere in the journalist ranks there are more Ackermans who will keep trying to expose these truly disgusting people.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Sezer's revenge

In the last days of his presidency the militantly secularist Necdet Sezer appointed Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya as the chief public prosecutor. Sezer had fought against the efforts of the AKP to remove some of what it considered to be anti-religious rules - the headscarf ban in universities and government offices being the most prominent. (The AKP had never tested the headscarf ban given that Sezer was clearly going to veto any such effort). After the AKP had put its own Abdullah Gul in the presidential palace it moved to remove the headscarf ban from universities. Teaming up with the right wing MHP it had the numbers needed to amend the constitution to get rid of the headscarf ban at universities. In this action they have had the support of most of the Turkish people with the opposition coming from the secularist old guard. Now, it seems the old guard has hit back. Yalcinkaya in his role as the chief prosecutor has initiated a case against the AKP demanding that it be closed down because of its "anti-secular activities." He has also demanded that leaders of the AKP including the prime minister and the president be banned from holding public office for five years. The stage is now set for a real constitutional crisis.

Some of the arguments and counter-arguments are amusing. One of the arguments for the closure is that the mayor's office of Istanbul prevented the display of billboards containing the bikini clad picture of a Czech supermodel. One of the arguments being used against Yalcinkaya is that under Turkish law you are not allowed to insult the President. Trying to remove the president from office can definitely be construed as an insult. Based on which AKP supporters are asking for the removal of Yalcinkaya for not following the law!

Hold onto your hats. This looks to become interesting. One sign that things are a bit different from the past is that Yalcinkaya waited to make his announcement until after the markets closed. There was a time when this would have been considered frivolous. The full text of the indictment (in Turkish) can be found here. If I have some time later I will try and post some excerpts in English. As might be expected the action has aroused the ire of much of the intelligentsia. I have had a hard time finding support for the prosecutors actions. Even the head of the staunchly secularist opposition Republican Peoples Party has kept uncharacteristically silent.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Elections in Pakistan

This was posted over at the Newshoggers. But just in case my two readers didn't see it.

The elections were reasonably free and fair as I had assumed they would be. I never quite understood the somewhat hysterical insistence by normally well informed individuals like Ahmad Rashid that there would be "massive" vote rigging. The reason the military had allowed Benazir and Nawaz Sharif back into the country was because they needed a partnership with the feudals. As I have written earlier there are only two real power centers in Pakistan, the military and the feudals (some include the bureaucracy as a third power center - I don't). The military was clearly unable to meet the challenges posed by the jihadis without the support of the feudals. Their support of The War Against Terror (tm) had resulted in their involvement with disappearances of individuals - tactics that had previously mainly been associated with civilian governments in Pakistan - which had led to genuine opposition from civil society in the form of the lawyers movement. By allowing the exiled politicians back into the country the military was suing for peace. The elections were the mechanism by which the feudals were going to elect the team which would partner with the army. I t would have been counter-productive from the military's standpoint if they had then proceeded to rig the elections. The results of the elections have been reasonably satisfactory for the military. As can be seen from the graphical representation of the election results, outside of the PML-Q the PPP has emerged as the only truly national parties with significant representations from all four provinces.

And the PPP is not too anxious to bring back a judiciary which seemed on the way to voiding the ordinance that Musharraf had signed dropping the corruption cases against the late and current leaders of the PPP. Which means the feudals and the military are united against the lawyers' movement. The PML-N, because of Nawaz Sharif's personal antagonism towards Musharraf, might have taken some anti-military stance. But despite the significant presence of PML-N in the National Assembly it has become a provincial party - albeit from the most significant province. Almost all the National Assembly seats for PML-N are from Punjab. In the provincial assemblies I couldn't find a trace of PML-N in the Sindh and Balochistan provinces and only a few seats in the Frontier province. Finally, while I do not equate the military with Musharraf. If the military as an institution needed to sacrifice Musharraf they would not hesitate - though based on tradition they would try and ease him out in the most graceful manner possible. However, even if the PPP had wanted to impeach Musharraf it is difficult to see how they could garner the two thirds votes needed to do that. So, all indications are that Musharraf will remain - at least for now.

The really bad news about the elections was the low level of voter participation. Compared to the rather tumultuous election campaigns of the past the current season was not exceptionally violent. The lack of enthusiasm of the people of Pakistan for their rulers - both civilian and military - does not bode well for the future. As long as people believe they have a voice they do not turn to violence. It is only when they see avenues of expression blocked that they turn to more desperate measures. The coming years are not going to be economically comfortable as a global recession will have a severe impact on the poorer countries of the world. This will be a time of maximum opportunity for strife. If the people feel that the government feels their pain they will be less likely to take matters into their own hands. The election turnout seems to suggest that their faith in the processes of government is limited.

But there are also several positive messages from the elections. The first is of course the rout of the religious parties - the MMA. They were swept from power in both Balochistan and the Frontier. And the rout was a lot worse than the loss of seats. If you look at the detailed election results you will find that not only did they lose - they didn't even come in second! Furthermore, they lost often to people they had previously won against. The return to power of the ANP canonly be viewed as positive both from a Pakistani point of view and from a US/NATO point of view. The MMA had been providing cover for the Taliban in Afghanistan. The ANP has a secular and progressive history. They will have no love for the Taliban. As Pashtoon nationalists they will also be in a good position to collaborate with the pashtun majority in Afghanistan. The PPP which holds the second largest number of seats in the Frontier Assembly has promised the ANP their cooperation and I think they will keep to their word. The PPP has bigger fish to fry elsewhere.

The second is the election of independents. According to this wikepedia entry, 3 independents were elected in the 2002 elections to the National Assembly. This year there are 28 independents elected to the National Assembly. Even excluding the ones in the Frontier areas where most candidates did not have a party affiliation that is still a healthy increase. I have no idea about the character of these candidates. However, just the fact that they were able to successfully mount independent runs says something good about the vitality of electoral politics.

Finally, in the National Assembly there are seats reserved for women. However, this time there were quite a few (by Pakistan standards) women contesting general seats - 64 for the National Assembly and 116 for the provincial assemblies. Most of them lost but there were still quite a few that won. That is definitely a positive sign. Change in Pakistan will depend to a great extent on the participation of women in the political process. One of the good things that has happened under Musharraf is the rise of civil society organizations in which women play a substantial role. More participation of women in politics can only be a good thing.

In the final analysis I am cautiously optimistic. Superficially the election results are a return to the status-quo ante 2002. However much has happened in the last six years to inform the centers of power. Hopefully they will have learned something and Pakistan will not return to the downward spiral of those years.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Quid pro quo?

The latest Turkish incursion into Iraq has seemed different for several reasons. First, there is the timing. The mountains, difficult terrain under the best of circumstances, still have plenty of snow on them which makes it very hard for conventional forces to maneuver. My recollection is that all previous incursions have taken place under much more favorable weather conditions. For the army to move in now seems to suggest that it had actionable intelligence which justified the additional weather related hazards. Second there seem to be indication that the attack was coordinated with both the US authorities and Talabani - but not with Barzani. The US has confirmed that they were informed in advance. The foreign minister of Iraq Hoshyar Zebari claims they were informed at the "last minute." but his protests were not as strong as that of Massoud Barzani, the head of the Kurdistan regional government. And I haven't seen anything from Talabani himself. Also Talabani was invited to Ankara, something he had wanted for some time but which had been blocked by the previous nationalist president Sezer.

Talabani and Barzani have been long time rivals fighting some pretty nasty wars among themselves in which Barzani even allied himself with Saddam supposedly to offset a Talabani alliance with Iran. Barzani has been a prickly ally for the US and I have wondered if US patience with him would run out. The invitation to Talabani might be an indication that there might be movement in this direction. In the past Barzani has shown himself to be tactically astute while lacking somewhat in strategic thinking. Talabani, on the other hand, has generally tried to take the long view. In the long term the future of the landlocked Iraqi Kurds is strongly dependent on Turkey. It would make sense for Talabani to develop contacts with Turkey - hence his desire to visit Turkey as the president of Iraq. I wonder if whatever intelligence prompted the Turks to move originated was prepayment. Or it may be that I have an overactive imagination.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Prediction check

So how did the empty predictions do - pretty darn well if you look at the last one!

  • In Sind the thuggish MQM will win in Karachi and the PPP will take the rural areas. Check.
  • The religious parties will lose their governments in the NWFP and Balochistan. Check.
  • Punjab is going to be where, at least in the short term, the future of Pakistan will be decided. To be seen.
  • The elections will be reasonably fair Check
  • but the losing groups will claim otherwise. Check [this out]
I will try to put together some kind of analysis of the results - but it may take a bit. Until then watch the PPP step back from its anti-Musharraf rhetoric. The dance continues.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Election Results

Results for the elections in Pakistan can be found at this Dawn site. It is very early but it sure looks like the religious parties are not doing too well. Seats that had been won by the MMA (which was the coalition of religious parties) in 2002 are going to the PPP (or the PPPP to be exact).


The results as of 7:30 am eastern time are

PPPP (Bhutto's party): 87
PML(N)(Sharif's party): 66
PML(Q)(Musharraf's party): 38
MQM (Allied with Musharraf): 19
ANP: 10
BNP: 1
MMA (Religious parties): 3

At first glance this almost looks like the results from 25 years ago which in a way would not be surprising - same old, same old. It will be interesting to look at the results more closely.

In the provincial elections as of now PPPP holds a majority in Sind, PML(N) has a plurality in Punjab, the ANP has a plurality in NWFP and the PML(Q) has a plurality in Balochistan.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Pakistani Elections

Its the big day. Finally Pakistani's will go to the polls. If they had been held a year ago the results would have been predictable - a reasonably good showing for the the king's party - PML-Q. But if Musharraf has shown one thing it is his inability to look more than two steps ahead. Rather than take the opportunity then to call elections he waited and whatever good will he had accumulated slowly leaked away. There was the Chief Justice fiasco, the Lal Masjid fiasco, the movement of Jihadi's into Swat, and now the increasing food prices and lines for wheat. Of all of the reasons the last in some ways is the most important. In this one year Musharraf has become perhaps even more despised than Asif Zardari, the widower of Benazir, and that takes some doing. The polls all seem to point to a rout of the PML-Q - China Hand at American Footprints has been keeping on top of all the developments. But polls have never been very useful in Pakistan - maybe this time will be different. One can still make a few predictions though.

In Sind the thuggish MQM will win in Karachi and the PPP will take the rural areas.

The religious parties will lose their governments in the NWFP and Balochistan.

Punjab is going to be where, at least in the short term, the future of Pakistan will be decided.

The elections will be reasonably fair but the losing groups will claim otherwise.


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Turkish Headscarf controversy

For those interested in the controversy, the Turkish Daily News has a FAQ about the issue.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

This Chair ...

Speaking of funny, Armando Iannucci perfectly explains some of the difficulty I have with Obama. The chair speech in particular is hilarious.

So why does Obama, billed by everyone as a cross between Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln, but without the terrible looks of either, just leave me puzzled? Maybe it's because his is a rhetoric that soars and takes flight, but alights nowhere. It declares that together we can do anything, but doesn't mention any of the things we can do. It's a perpetual tickle in the nose that never turns into a sneeze. Trying to make sense of what he's saying is like trying to wrap mist.

But, rhythmically, it's quite alluring. It can make anything, even, for example, a simple chair, seem magnificent. Why vote for someone who says: 'See that chair. You can sit on it' when you can have someone like Obama say: 'This chair can take your weight. This chair can hold your buttocks, 15 inches in the air. This chair, this wooden chair, can support the ass of the white man or the crack of the black man, take the downward pressure of a Jewish girl's behind or the butt of a Buddhist adolescent, it can provide comfort for Muslim buns or Mormon backsides, the withered rump of an unemployed man in Nevada struggling to get his kids through high school and needful of a place to sit and think, the plump can of a single mum in Florida desperately struggling to make ends meet but who can no longer face standing, this chair, made from wood felled from the tallest redwood in Chicago, this chair, if only we believed in it, could sustain America's huddled arse.'

Friday, January 25, 2008

Saturday, January 19, 2008


Here is Bill Moyers talking about Martin Luther King and Lyndon Johnson. Watch it and be proud of being human. Watch it and be ashamed of being human.

And here is King's speech (thanks to Michael D. at Balloon Juice). It still sends shivers up my spine. I think it always will.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Wheat shortages

The effect of wheat shortages in Pakistan (see below) is now having an effect in Afghanistan. This from Dawn.

Afghanistan closed its border with Pakistan on Tuesday, stopping all kind of traffic and movement of people.
The Afghan border authorities suddenly closed the Friendship Gate at Chaman and deployed extra army personnel.
They said the border would remain closed for an indefinite period.
Afghan border commander at Spin Buldak Abdul Raziq Panjsheri said various cities and towns in southern Afghanistan were facing an acute shortage of flour after wheat and flour supply from Pakistan was stopped.
He said the situation would worsen if the ban was not lifted
“Border with Pakistan at Chaman would remain closed till the decision to ban the supply of wheat and flour is withdrawn,” he said.

This closure is having an immediate effect in blocking supplies to NATO forces. The effects can become a whole lot worse. The shortage of bread will drive a lot of people to the Taliban. Hopefully, the responsible US and NATO authorities are aware of the possible consequences - though one wonders if anyone is responsible anymore.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Warning signs

Much more than the assassination of Benazir Bhutto or the threats from presidential candidates this news should (and probably will) really scare those ruling Pakistan:

There have been queues outside Pakistani shops in towns around the country, and flour prices have shot up.

Wheat flour is a staple foodstuff in Pakistan, where rotis or unleavened bread are eaten with almost every meal.

Last week Afghanistan appealed for foreign help to combat a wheat shortage while Bangladesh recently warned it faced a crisis over rice supplies.
Inflation had been taking a bite out of people's earnings in 2006 but had eased in the first quarters of 2007 which seemed to have brought the government some breathing space, however inflation in basic necessities has sharply increased in the last quarter. FromThe Nation:
The official statistics showed that the Sensitive Price Indicator (SPI) for the income group of Rs 3000 per month [the lowest income group] soared by 15.72 per cent on January 3 as compared to the corresponding period of the last financial year.
This is not sustainable. While the crisis seems to be due to a drought in Australia the people will blame the Musharraf government which is already struggling with the effect of higher fuel prices and a downturn in Foreign Direct Investment.

The State Bank of Pakistan has issued a decidedly somber forecast for 2008. Looks like turbulent times ahead.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

All Hail Jon Schwarz

"The [Schwarz] Iron Law of Institutions (SILI) is: the people who control institutions care first and foremost about their power within the institution rather than the power of the institution itself. Thus, they would rather the institution "fail" while they remain in power within the institution than for the institution to "succeed" if that requires them to lose power within the institution."

The leadership transfer at the Pakistan Peoples Party is a potent example of the Iron Law of Institutions. The PPP is arguably the most popular political party in the country. There are some problems - like the stench of corruption which attached to the Chairman-for-life Benazir Bhutto. But this was outweighed by the fact that there was some genuine affection for her and it could be argued that it was not she but her husband Asif Zardari that was the truly corrupt one. Because she had been out of the country there is actually some second level leadership that has developed in the party. One member of the PPP in particular, Aitzaz Ahsan, though supposedly not without warts of his own, has been doing a creditable job providing leadership. He was front and center in the one popular movement that has occurred in Pakistan in recent years - the fight to reinstate the Chief Justice of the Pakistan Supreme Court after he had been removed by Musharraf. He is a c0-founder of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and has been active in the support of the rights of women in Pakistan - he was the lawyer for Mukhtar Mai. Making him head of the party would have substantially boosted both the credibility and the popularity of the PPP. But it would have decreased the power of the party "leaders" within the PPP. So following the Schwarz Iron Law of Institutions the PPP went with Asif Zardari, a despised figure in Pakistan. To retain the Bhutto name they changed his sons name and named him heir. By doing so they made a mockery of any talk of democracy coming from the PPP and substantially reduced its popularity. SILI rules.