Saturday, December 24, 2005
Anonymous GOP Senator Holds up Intelligence Bill
When I wake up in the morning, I go through 9 web sites just to see what is interesting going on in the world. Any articles catch my eye I open it up and read them after my review. CNN, ABC News, Ha’aretz, ESPN, Jerusalem Post, Palestinian Chronicle, Philadelphia Inquirer, ZDNet, and the Drudge Report, that’s normally the run I go through every morning. Thus, I was shocked when as important an article as this one wasn’t listed until Drudge.
Basically, an Intelligence authorization bill, which determines policy and spending for our intelligence community domestically and abroad, was voted for on Friday. The bill is an important piece of legislation, and has been passed on time for 27 consecutive years. The bill included amendments which required briefings on overseas detention sites and the release of classified intelligence documents on Iraq, and apparently because of these amendments one anonymous GOP Senator has held up the bill.
Ok, I must say that it takes a lot of nerve to hold up important legislation like this anonymously. We are at war, and our intelligence policies and budget are key. Perhaps a bit more attention to our intelligence could have avoided the mess we have now in Iraq. For one senator to block this type of legislation, which was expected to pass unanimously, and then not even identify himself is just atrocious. Be a man (or woman….ok, just be an adult) and admit when you’ve done an action like this; you’re an elected official, you owe that much to your constituency.
Posted by Scottage at 6:09 PM /
Peace Between Israel and Palestine: Hamas a Partner for Peace?
A friend gave me this very disturbing article the other day, and I’ve been trying to figure out how to respond to it. Part of me wants to start examining every fact, providing my opinion which most history books, by sources on both sides of the political spectrum, are specifically opposed to the author of this piece. But of course there are always multiple sides to every issue, multiple opinions, and who’s to say mine is more correct than his.
It does raise an interesting question, however. Hamas is mainly representative of the Palestinians who have left the country since the 1967 war, and I’ll call them Diaspora Palestinians. Yasser Arafat was a Diaspora Palestinians, and many of the great leaders that were associated with the Palestinian Authority were Diaspora Palestinians. Generally speaking, these Palestinians were often the more recognizable, carried out the huge military/guerilla actions, and as such they have been Israel’s primary partner for peace, such as it were, throughout the Palestinian peace process.
Hamas is also backed by Syria, and I addressed the Syria issue in a post yesterday, and the concept of returning the Golan in exchange for peace with Syria. When Hassan Abu Nimah says “Hamas should not be opposed to a decent peace settlement with Israel where the Palestinian rights, as defined by the UN resolutions, are respected”, Abu Nimah is referring to the return of the Golan, and perhaps the return of some of Jerusalem.
Well, let’s put the cards on the table. The elections taking place in Palestine right now are over this issue, and really none else. Every vote for Hamas is a vote for inclusion of Hamas, and their resistance movement, in the peace process. Also, each vote for Hamas is a vote against any peace agreement that does not give Palestine a part of Jerusalem for their capital.
Conversely, every vote for the PA is a vote for a better quality of life, even if Jerusalem is sacrificed for it. It’s a vote against violence, for the most part, with the hope that life will become more secure, more predictable, and less occupied.
It is not for me, and Israeli/American, to say which side is the better side to support. I have my opinions, but they have no bearing here. As far as which side the Palestinians choose to support, they need to decide who will provide them with the best long-term future. Abu Nimah’s points are well articulated and convincing, we’ll see who the Palestinians decide to back on January 25th.
Posted by Scottage at 5:29 PM /
Friday, December 23, 2005
Peace Between Palestine and Israel: The Crown Prince Abdullah plan
In 2002, Crown Prince Abdullah submitted a plan for peace between Israel and the entire Middle East. It basically called for Israel relinquishing all land occupied by Israel since the 1967 war, including the Golan heights, in exchange for full normalization between the Arab world and Israel. This would, theoretically, provide the solution for all conflicts, including the conflicts with both Palestine and Syria.
This makes sense for Syria, who has been, to some extent, cut out of peace process as Israel works with its most immediate threat, Palestine. But as Palestinians of the Gaza Strip seem more content with the lack of Israeli occupation, and as West Bank Palestinians see the glimmer of hope of a better tomorrow, the biggest threat to tenuous cease fire has been, and will continue to be, Syrian-backed Hamas.
Both the Israelis and Palestinians have been coming to grips with the territory being demarked by the fence as Palestinian land, current jostling over the path of the new sections of the West Bank fence aside. If the situation with Syria could be resolved, Israel could enjoy the first true period of quiet in its existence.
The Golan Heights is one of the most beautiful places on earth, and beyond that there are serious security advantages to holding the heights. But in no way would I consider the Golan Heights to be worth more than peace. If this peace agreement could be forged with the boundaries being utilized by the fence, isn’t it worth at least re-examining this peace plan, and seeing if it could bring about the brighter future we all hope for?
Posted by Scottage at 6:01 PM /
George W. Bush Nominated as Person of the Year
My first perusal of the headlines this morning had me looking at Time Magazine’s nominees for Person of the Year. Condoleezza Rice would be my selection, Lance Armstrong and Steven Jobs would also be strong selections in my opinion. The Clintons, together, Pope Benedict, and J.K. Rowling would also be great selections. The option of Mother Nature as person of the year made me laugh. But the name at the top of the list was no laughing matter,
How in the world could CNN think about George W. Bush as the man of the year? The audio program on his nomination indicated that the leader of the free world should always be on this list, which he was at the center of all the top headlines from the year 2005. But is the person of the year supposed to be in the center of the big stories, or is the person of the year supposed to be making positive steps, doing good things that help our society?
George W. Bush’s year was marked by failures more than successes. The failure to provide support to the people affected by Katrina in a timely fashion (and the related failure to listen to Mayor Nagin’s pleas for help before and after the storm). The failure to find an exit strategy in Iraq, or even to acknowledge that this is a war without a recognizable path towards victory. The failure to find Osama Bin Laden. Failures in filling the supreme court with his personal allies. And failure to protect working Americans, whether they work for Wal-Mart or are members of the AFL-CIO.
Perhaps Time thinks that Bush’s movement from a 37% approval rating to a 41% approval rating merits his nomination as person of the year. Maybe it was his violation of the first amendment rights of hundreds of protestors outside his ranch as he had them arrested for protesting the Iraq war. Or maybe his great golf games on the Monday and Tuesday following Katrina, golf games that delayed both Nagin and FEMA director Brown from reaching the president following the storm justify Bush’s nomination as person of the year.
As for me, I would think there’s more merit in giving the award to one of the people who, at their own peril, went down and saved lives in Katrina-stricken New Orleans. I could even support giving the award to a US soldier in Iraq, who went there to fight a war which I can’t support, and which has no positive outcome in sight. I could support a nomination for Mahmoud Abbas, who moved his people closer to peace then they’ve ever been before. I would even support nominations for George Bush Sr. and Bill Clinton for their efforts to provide support for the Tsunami and Katrina.
But my apologies, I can not justify, in any way, shape or form, support George Bush as man of the year. Let’s wait until he does something positive for his constituents, citizens of the United States, or even does something positive for the world around him. Until then, my apologies, but I cannot support George W. Bush as a nominee for Person of the Year. To me, it’s a disgrace to the whole process.
Posted by Scottage at 1:07 PM /
Israel Stepping Up Targeted Assassinations
IDF has decided to step up targeted assassinations of Islamic Jihad leaders in response to the recent Qassam rocket attacks. The article linked to above shows this as a great act of restraint by the Israelis, while the attacks themselves caused only minor injuries to 5 soldiers.
Qassam rockets have had limited effect on Israel due to their lack of range and accuracy. The maximum distance traveled by a Qassam is 5 miles, and with hundreds of Qassam rockets fired at Israel since its development, only 6 deaths have occurred. The Qassam’s predecessor, the Katusha rocket, never recorded a death despite over 10 years of use against Israel. After Israel found and detonated the primary weapons lab for Qassam rockets in Jenin in March, 2005, there was only one rocket attack until September, marking 6 months of minimal attacks.
From living in Israel, I know the rage we all feel at these horrible attacks disrupting our daily lives and stealing away the lives of family and friends. But I believe it’s clear that these attacks are aimed at derailing all the steps that have been made towards peace over the past few months. It’s an invitation to re-engage in violence, and to give Islamic Jihad a legitimate excuse to step up their armed resistance to the Israelis.
Prime Minister Sharon, you had it right the first time. Israel has an incredibly developed intelligence network, and it’s not easy to hide a bomb factory for bombs that are over 200 cm in length and 90 kg in weight. Leave no stone unturned, find the factory and eliminate it. But don’t engage in more violence, don’t take the bait, it is there for one reason alone, to help strengthen the position of militants on the Palestinian side of the fence.
Posted by Scottage at 1:55 AM /
Thursday, December 22, 2005
Rape in Houston Convention Center after Katrina
After publishing a Hurricane Katrina Aftermath post last night, I went to a chat room for Katrina survivors, and began chatting with some people who had been through serious challenges following the storm. Many conversations were heartbreaking, but none was as disturbing as a story about a young woman who was raped in the Houston convention center after having been evacuated there from New Orleans.
The 22 year old was a college student living at home, and had been separated from her family in New Orleans, thus traveled to Houston alone. In the convention center, conditions were horrible, with a few thousand residents and no police or security at all. There were a few American Red Cross workers, but no protection for the people relocated to the convention center.
In the night, the woman was attacked while sleeping by multiple men. It was completely dark, and she could not see their faces. But she could hear other similar events transpiring all around her; and worse, she heard no sounds of people defending the victims of these attacks. This woman was sure that, as she could hear the attacks, the other people could hear them as well, and yet no one lifted a finger to help.
Now admittedly, this story came to me by way of a chat, so it’s hard to say if it’s true or not. But other stories were circulating with a similar nature, and they all raise some very serious questions about how our “enlightened” western society handles crisis situations.
In March of 1997 I was outside of Café Apropo in Tel Aviv when it was blown up. I, like all the people on the street, went to help survivors, and I was struck by the three Palestinians working side by side with me to help the victims of this crime. Contrast that with the Houston Convention Center, where people actually attacked other victims. Pretty sharp contrast, if you ask me.
Yes, Americans have come together during other catastrophes, and perhaps Katrina was some sort of anomaly. But it certainly requires consideration, when the basic principles of humanity seem to go out the window during a situation like the one we faced after Katrina.
Posted by Scottage at 5:50 PM /
Peace Between Israel and Palestine: Palestinian Propensity for Peace
In a recent response to one of my posts, I was asked about published press indicating the desire for peace on the Palestinian side. A friend of mine, Todd, sent me the link above, and while it’s formatted poorly, it’s the compilation of a number of surveys of the Palestinian people, and it’s extremely informative. It clearly indicates that the majority of the Palestinians are in favor of peace, though they don’t realistically see it happening any time soon.
Perhaps most indicative is “Are you with or against the resumption of the negotiations with the Israeli side for reaching a final settlement of the conflict”, where 75% of surveyed Palestinians in Gaza and 59.5% of all surveyed Palestinians are in favor of negotiations. 74.3% of the Palestinians surveyed support truce agreements that prevent attacks on Israeli targets, and 81.9% of the surveyed Palestinians support and “end to internal insecurity and arms chaos”.
64.7% of the surveyed Palestinians said both the Israelis and the Palestinians have a right to live in peace and security. 76.5% strongly support or somewhat support the continuation of calm with the Israelis. And even as far back as March, 57.4% of the surveyed people supported the ongoing peace process. These are the indicants of a people who favor peace over war, at least in general.
On the flip side, the same people indicated their lack of satisfaction with the present state of affairs. 55.2% of all people feel secure after Israel’s departure from Gaza. 76.7% of all people believe Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza will deepen Israel’s control over the West bank. 46.8% of the surveyed people think that withdrawal from Gaza wont lead to ending the problem of illegal weapons and chaos, and 64.1% believe it wont lead to the easing of the closure on the west bank.
Take a look, and I believe you’ll agree that these numbers clearly show the Palestinian propensity towards peace although it also indicates their skepticism as a result of the direction recent events have turned out.
Posted by Scottage at 5:23 PM /
Euthenasia Following Katrina at New Orleans' Memorial Medical Center?
Once again we are seeing allegations of euthanasia having been committed by members of the medical staff which remained on duty after Hurricane Katrina. Hospital workers allegedly put to rest the most critical patients as well as some patients with Do Not Resuscitate orders.
Already, these hospital workers appear to have been convicted in the public’s eye. Without trial, OpEd pieces are already portraying these workers as inhuman or uncaring, certainly in violation of their Hippocratic Oath, and not fit to be medical workers. I believe this is far from the truth.
All accounts show that the situation was more than dire; there was not enough food, non-polluted water, or caregivers for all the critical patients. There was no electricity for life-sustaining machines. And right outside of Memorial Medical, the situation was deteriorating, with looters taking control of the area in the absence of police or army. This is 4 days after Katrina, and without communication, workers must have been wondering if help was coming at all.
These workers have been trained for their whole life to save lives, and I don’t believe that any doctor wanted to kill the critical patients. But at a certain point, difficult decisions needed to be made, in order to save as many patients as possible. These decisions must have been horrible to make. But the decisions had to be made to save what lives could be saved. And while I am against murder, I can’t help but see these actions, in such a harsh situation, as somewhat heroic.
I am sure that in upcoming months these hospital workers will be hung out to dry, punished by a society that is far too anxious to assign blame and to enter the litigation process that comes with assigning blame. These workers, who have worked their whole lives to save people, will probably loose their licenses to practice medicine and may even face jail time.
But before we assign blame to these hospital workers, let’s take a moment to remember the position they were in, and who put them in this position. If any blame is to be found here, certainly it lies with FEMA and the federal government in general, who left hospital workers to fend for themselves and their patients in the worst possible conditions, with no timetable for rescue and no hope in sight. If we have to assign blame, perhaps this is where it should be assigned.
Posted by Scottage at 2:48 AM /
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Iraqi Election Results: A US and UK Nightmare
The Independent this morning reported what everyone has feared and what I have expected: that first results show fundamentalist-backed parties won the elections in Iraq, while the secular and nationalist parties had a poor showing.
The Shia Coalition took 58% of the vote in Baghdad, and they are no friend to the Bush or Blair. The Shia Coalition is an ultra-fundamentalist religious party with strong ties to Iran. A leader in the party is nationalist cleric Maqtada Sadr, Who spent time on the US's most wanted list last year. He'll now be one of the most powerful political and religious figures in the country.
The Sunni party, who campaigns on active armed resistance, earned the second-most representation to the Shia coalition. It should be noted that most Iraqi's voted with their own people, so it was no surprise that the Shia or Sunni parties took their respective percentages. Only the US and UK were surprised citizens didn't vote for a nationalist leaders. US ambassador Zilmay Khalitzad:
"It looks as if people have preferred to vote for their ethnic or sectarian identities," he said. "But for Iraq to succeed there has to be cross-ethnic and cross-sectarian co-operation."
Already, the well-funded American-backed candidates are protesting the election, citing fraud. But let’s come to grips with reality. Times are far worse for your average Iraqi today than it ever was under the leadership of Saddam Hussein.
What have we, the Americans, given to the Iraqi people save the destruction of their homes and cities, massive poverty, scarcity of food, and the threat of being caught up in the nearly daily suicide attacks perpetrated by the extremist groups that are about to win the elections?
Perhaps we need to take a careful look at the conflict, and come to terms with the truth: that most Iraqis consider the Americans an unwelcome guest in the Iraq, and the hope of getting these people to vote for a pro-American government is highly unlikely.
Posted by Scottage at 10:57 AM /
Peace Between Israel and Palestine - Can Sharon be a Player?
Ariel Sharon has been promoting himself and his new party, Kadima, as the champions of peace with the Palestinians, and the only option for peace with security. Sharon trots out his return of Gaza to the Palestinian people as proof of his commitment to "two nations two states" and the "Road Map for Peace". But will the Palestinians ever trust Sharon as a negotiating partner?
For years, Israel refused to negotiate with Yasser Arafat because of the atrocities he committed against Israeli women and children. Eventually, Arafat was the only partner for peace Israel could find, but it was apparent that Israel never trusted him, and lobbied for a replacement whenever possible.
The Palestinians have legitimate objections to Ariel Sharon as a Partner for Peace, primarily centering on his role in the Sabra and Shatilla massacres. Most Palestinians I've spoken with consider Ariel Sharon a mortal enemy, and a person who can never, never be trusted.
If Ariel Sharon really values peace so highly, he would push for Shimon Perez or another dove to be Prime Minister, and take a high ranking Ministry. This would provide a true Partner for Peace, an active and trusted participant in the peace process.
Sharon will never do this, because Sharon's priority is not peace, Sharon's priority is power. In the upcoming election, Israel needs to question if Sharon can truly accomplish the agenda he is setting forth, or if his past well prevent his success.
Posted by Scottage at 12:16 AM /
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Schwarzenegger Chooses Principles Over Prestige: Well Done!
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, when facing the issue of whether to grant clemency to Stanley Tookie Williams, was apparently blackmailed by his hometown to grant clemency. Graz threatened to remove Schwarzenegger's name from a local stadium, revoking an honor they had bestowed on him in 1997.
In a remarkable response, Schwarzenegger chose to revoke his permission to use his name, either on the stadium or in any advertisements for the city. Basically, he said that if honoring the Governor meant they could second-guess his decisions, he didn't need to be honored.
"In all likelihood, during my term as governor, I will have to make similar and equally difficult decisions," Schwarzenegger said in the letter. "To spare the responsible politicians of the city of Graz further concern, I withdraw from them as of this day the right to use my name in association with the Liebenauer Stadium."
Further, he is the returning the city's ring of honor, presented to Schwarzenegger in 1999.
"Since, however, the official Graz appears to no longer accept me as one of their own, this ring has lost its meaning and value to me. It is already in the mail," the governor wrote.
Personally, I applaud the move, 100%. I do not support the death penalty, and was hoping that Schwarzenegger would provide clemency to Williams. But as the elected official, the governor has to make the decisions to best serve his constituency and his conscience. And we would hope his decisions would not be influenced by this type of pressure.
All too often our politicians are influenced by greed, making decisions based on prestige, wealth, and power as opposed to making the correct decision for the situation. Perhaps I should be more cynical, and ask what political gain Schwarzenegger gets from removing his name from the city.
But instead I'll choose a more altruistic opinion: Schwarzenegger did not want his city influencing his decisions, so he gave back the honors which they had given him, which they held over him. Many politicians, I think, would never have made the move. I have to say kudos to Schwarzenegger for doing it.
Posted by Scottage at 12:29 PM /
Monday, December 19, 2005
Pilgrimage to Bethlehem; A Trek Towards Peace?
This past week, Mahmoud Abbas called for a pilgrimage to Bethlehem, to Rachel's tomb, to Bilal's Mosque. While some considered this an insignificant plea, unlikely to be followed, this is actually a very important step for the Palestinian people.
Rachel's tomb is one of the holiest sites in the Muslim world. Some Palestinian friends say that while there are disparities between Mecca or the Dome of the Rock and Bilal's Mosque, those same people ask whether the Mosque would be in the same ilk if it had be more adorned and more revered. The Mosque is seen as a national treasure to the Palestinians, and a potentially similar treasure to the whole Muslim world.
I should preface this by saying that most of the Palestinians I knew were national Palestinians, Palestinians that had lived in Israel, the West Bank or Gaza Strip after the 1967 war. These people had lived through Israel's occupation, through their tyranny and through their oppression.
I mention this because the goals of the National Palestinians are often different from the goals of, for lack of a better term, Diaspora Palestinians, or the Palestinians that left the country after the war, heading to Egypt, Jordan, or Lebanon. According to my reading (i.e. not first hand), Diaspora Palestinians strive for the return to a Palestinian Jerusalem and the borders approved in UN Resolution 181, passed in November 1947.
But the national Palestinians I spoke to spoke of freedom from tyranny and a government that represented their needs. They spoke of the right to live their lives and support their families in peace and without the fears associated with day-to-day life in Palestine today. On the topic of Jerusalem, I commonly heard that Jerusalem is rightfully Palestinian, but I don't hear that Jerusalem has to be the capital of the Palestinian state. That seems to be of secondary priority.
To these Palestinians, who simply look to create a better life than the one they've been suffering through for the past 40 years, Jerusalem is more than the home of one of the holiest sites in the Muslim world; it is a destination for millions of Muslim people annually. Jerusalem becomes the dominant source of revenue for many of these people in a country with minimal natural resources.
Bethlehem could have the same draw. The city needs development, and either Bilal's Mosque needs to be built up in the type of splendor that will draw the Muslim world or a new Mosque of amazing splendor needs to be built in Bethlehem, but there is no question of the Muslim significance of the city, and, with new borders opening to the Palestinian territories, I believe the Muslim world, as well as the Christian world, will come to see the holy city.
What if Israel were willing to pay for this type of development, as a first step towards peace? To help in the type of development that would contribute not only to the existence of the Palestinian people, but to their livelihood, to their lifestyle and their happiness. Don't the Israelis owe this to the Palestinians? And isn't it a good first step towards real repayment for past actions?
Posted by Scottage at 2:22 PM /
Bush Does Not Understand The Goals of the Iraqi Conflict
"My fellow citizens, not only can we win the war in Iraq, we are winning the war in Iraq,"
- George W. Bush
One of the first things you realize when living in the Middle East are that the rules, whether they be the rules of war, business, politics, love, or whatever, the rules of Western civilizations do not apply in the Middle East. Middle Eastern countries, whether Muslim, Christian, Jewish, or Druse, all live by a completely different rule book then the US and Europe. And if you play in the Middle East, you better read the rulebook or expect trouble.
In war, we are trained to believe that by killing or neutralizing more of our enemies then troops than are killed or neutralized on our side, we are winning. We are also trained to believe that if we control strategic locations, military installations, and other areas coveted by our adversary, we are winning.
But in the Middle East, you can control a location militarily, or you can control a location by owning the hearts and minds of the people. The people themselves, with limited support from any established national military, can be a weapon of great destruction against an adversary, and their existence in and amongst the total population makes your enemies impossible to find.
I know, this is pretty basic stuff to everybody by now. We have all come to the same conclusion I'm sure. But evidently, Bush hasn't.
It may be true that, in the traditional sense we are winning the war in Iraq. But does that mean we can win the war? I doubt it. Hatred for America and our way of life only grows as our troops are stationed there, practicing our beliefs without respect for Iraqi values, destroying their country, defiling their holy locations.
The longer we remain in Iraq, the more likely it is that any government that has truly been democratically elected in Iraq will be sworn enemies of the US and all the values we hold sacred. If winning the war in Iraq means helping stabilize the region and insure the long-term safety of the US and Europe from Iraq, I don't believe that we can ever win this war.
Posted by Scottage at 11:30 AM /
Sunday, December 18, 2005
My First Blog
OK, never written a blog before, so I'm not 100% sure of how to format it, or how to begin. So I figure I'll tell a bit about myself here, and then move on to some of my perspectives in a new post. Ease my way into it, and all that type of stuff. So if this isn't how most people start their blogs, you'll pardon my inexperience. Everyone has a topic, something that really interests them, excites them to not only talk about it but hear alternative perspectives. For me, that's emerging societies. Sound weird? Not as weird as you may think. Any time a society evolves, it's a very exciting period. Many changes happen simultaneously, and people have a real opportunity to make a different.
And it doesn't matter how big or how small the society is. A family is a society, so is a company. Professionally, I specialize in developing the business side of small companies, and I love my work. It's exciting because there's always something going on, something crucial. You always have the opportunity to really make a difference. I love the pace, love the work. And I think that it many ways I do very well at it, though I can rub people the wrong way at times.
And of course, bigger societies can be more rewarding. In college I double majored in political science and economics, and with the school went to the Soviet Union in 1989 to study the faltering communist economic structure, as well as the developing democratic political system. It was an amazing experience!
Israel was great as well. I arrived shortly after the second antifadah ended, and right before the killing of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. I lived on a kibbutz for over a year, which is a whole other type of developing society. Then I helped create an organization called the Israel Export Institute, with the goal of helping Israel trade internationally.
From there, I helped build up two technology companies in Israel, the second of which made it possible for any computer anywhere in the world to work in any language. That was an amazing project, and through that company I traveled around and came into contact with a variety of cultures. Again, it was an amazing experience.
I continued the same type of work in Boston, this time focusing more on the Pacific Rim, and then moved on to ISO 9000 work, again mainly with small developing companies.
All of this experience has given me some, I think, unique insights to the world. Of course, maybe this will teach me that my perspectives are not as unique as I thought; I'm more than interested to find out. In the mean time, I think this will be a great place to spit out some of my thoughts, and track some of the evolutions of my perspectives. Feel free to come along for the ride.
Posted by Scottage at 9:28 PM /