Friday, March 31, 2006

Condi Rice Admits US Made Thousands of Errors in Iraq

I know that I’m all alone as the one Democrat who doesn’t loath and detest Condoleezza Rice. I guess I’ve always thought that she took her position because she wanted to make a difference, similar to my own views on life, and not because of political cronyism with the Bush family. And the fact that she is now coming out with some truth on Iraq makes me like her even more.

While in England today, with Jack Straw visiting his home town of Blackburn, Rice told large crowds for the small town that she recognized that the US had made mistakes, but she still though the war was justified.

"Yes, I know we have made tactical errors, thousands of them," she said in answer to a question over whether lessons had been learned since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. "I believe strongly that it was the right strategic decision, that Saddam had been a threat to the international community long enough," she added.

Wait, roll that back again. It sounds like Rice is admitting that the real reason the US entered Iraq was to depose Saddam Hussein. Now I can’t say that I necessarily agree with that, as I think there were worse people around the region who need or needed to be deposed (can you say Ahmadinejad?). But it’s refreshing, almost liberating, to hear someone in our government speak the truth about anything, especially about this terrible war.

Let’s face it, mistakes happen. They happen to individuals like me, groups, companies, and even governments. I don’t necessarily like that, but I can live with it. I have much more difficulty, however, living with lies from our government, and so far that is what we’ve had. Even after all the reports came out saying there were no WMDs, our government still said that they knew the weapons were there and they were going for them. Nice that Rice was honest enough to say, hey, it was time for Saddam to go. Like the decision or not, it’s nice to hear the truth.

Now don’t get me wrong, I hate that we are in Iraq, and no amount of talk will change the evil of our occupation there. But at least a member of the George W. Bush Administration is being honest, admitting the mistakes, and saying the true primary objective about the invasion. And that’s a good start. Of course the second side to this is, now that you’ve recognized that we went in there to oust Saddam, and that our other reasons for entering were mistakes, isn’t it time to get out of Iraq as well?

Rice’s trip was also marked by many angry protests, including large protests from the Muslim community, which cancelled a planned visit to a local mosque. One of the more creative placards seen during Rice’s England trip said “How many lives per gallon”, a phrase which I hope catches on over here in the states. However, Rice was apparently unbothered by the protests.

"Oh, it's OK, people have a right to protest and a right to make their views known," Rice told the teenage student. Each individual all over the world has the God-given right to express themselves. I'm not just going to visit places where people agree with me. That would be really unfortunate."

Sorry all you Rice haters out there, this is not the sounds of your typical member of the Bush administration; this is a voce of reason amidst an administration that sees candor as a character flaw, while apparently seeing the American people as a guinea pig to determine just how long you can lie to a whole population and still get away with it. Considering the crowd Rice runs with, these statements are rather extraordinary, I believe. Check out these comments Rice also made today:

"I know that there is a lot of concern in Britain, as well as in Europe and in other parts of the world, that the United States is not adequately guaranteeing both our need for security and our respect for the law. We in America welcome the free exchange of opinions with our allies about this issue, especially here in a place like Britain. But I also want today that no one should ever doubt America's commitment to justice and rule of law."

I know there are many, many Democrats out there who disagree with this statement, but to me, this is leadership. I’m not an elected official, and I never will be, and the people who are elected make the decisions on where the US expends their power. As stupid as I think our involvement in the Iraq is, it is not my decision to make. I have to put my faith in the people I helped elect to make these decisions, even if I didn’t vote for them.

But we are not a monarchy, either. Our government has checks and balances, and is responsible to the American people. A government cannot lie to us, misinform us, or omit key aspects of the truth. The government is required to report on these issues fully, and the American people are urged to use their freedom of speech to alter the government’s actions if they are unwelcome. We can and must be the balances for our executive branch, being the voice of dissent when that branch betrays the values this country is based upon.

As such, it’s not my decision to go to war or to remain in a war, it’s the government’s decision. My government’s decision! All I have the right to expect is truthful information about our involvement in a war (or other major activity), and I like many have believed until this day that the government has lied with its rhetoric of WMDs. I may not like when Rice says that she feels the goal of removing Hussein was an important one and made the mission worthy, but at least it’s honest. And that’s a huge step up from the rest of the Bush Administration’s rhetoric on Iraq.

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Posted by Scottage at 11:39 AM / | |  

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Iran to Conduct Massive War Games

Today, word came from Tehran that, starting tomorrow, Iran will be conducting massive armed war games in the gulf beginning tomorrow. The games are geared towards helping Iran “gain the necessary and needed readiness to decisively reply to any kind of threats." The games will include 17,000 soldiers and sailors, as well as a wide variety of fighter planes, helicopters, and missiles.

"The revolutionary guards corps navy and air force in collaboration with (Iran's regular) army, navy, (the volunteer militia) Basij, and the Iranian police will start a manoeuvre from 31 March until 6 April in the Persian Gulf and Sea of Oman," said Rear-Admiral Mostifa Safari.

We are talking about a very volatile region, and the areas included in the war games border on Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates. I wonder how these groups feel about hearing last-minute about these war games. What’s more, Iran made very clear that a part of the war games would be the strait of Hormouz, which 80% of the Persian Gulf’s oil is shipped through.

The obvious thought is that these war games are designed to send a message to the West, that Iran is ready for any attacks that might come over their weapons program. But what if they have even loftier goals? They told the world about these games too late for the world to do anything, although I’m not sure there’s anything we could do. But certainly the thought of these war games in such a volative region makes me more than a little uneasy. How about you?

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Posted by Scottage at 7:11 PM / | |  

Success! Transparency International Backs Down against Moni

So Goliath falls again. This time Goliath was massive company Transparency International, who has provided a statement, in writing, to Moni stating that the law suit against Moni will not go forward. The letter has not been published, but Moni’s lawyer, Udo Vetter, is satisfied that this case is now closed.

Notice that I, and most of the German bloggers out there, are claiming success. But success did not come from the rehiring of Moni’s friend, because that was not the issue, though many missed that. The issue was one of free speech. The issue was a company so dedicated to open, honest, and fair practices by companies and governments suppressing any opinions about the company. DW-World quoted Moni as saying:

"To be honest I had actually expected that they would welcome a critical comment," Moni told "After all, Transparency International, as anyone can read on their Web site, explicitly approves whistle blowing."

For their part, it appears that it’s finally beginning to dawn on Transparency’s governing body that they made a mistake in attacking Moni. TI’s General Manager said that they were sick of being the most searched for company on the web, at least so long as all the searches maintain a negative connotation. He goes on to say:

"We simply asked our lawyer to get involved in the case," she said. "It's definitely possible to debate if the extent of the action was appropriate." When asked what TI's next steps would be, Jochen Bäumel, a TI board member, replied "nothing. It doesn't matter what we do, it will be wrong," he added. "Maybe we shouldn't have reacted at all."

Yes, Dagmar, that is the point. You should not have reacted at all. You have the right to decide to hire or fire, and what wages and hours to offer. But you never had the right to try to intimidate someone for questioning your decisions. And that is where the company erred.

Larko points out that this will not be the last incident of its kind. He is right on target when he says that censorship takes place all over the internet, and that most cases go unpublicized. He stresses the importance to remember those people who fought to preserve their free speech, people like Moni, who are true heroes. And Sapere Aude points out that already another case of free speech for a blogger is brewing.

But while I have not received a good translation of the new case yet, the translation I have received makes it quite clear that Keine Panik a blogger who was told to remove content from his blog, would have let it pass, would have let his right to free speech be violated, had he not read about Moni, not seen that he does have rights as a blogger, and as a person.

And that’s where the whole Moni incident is so important; it tells people everywhere that they have the right to speak their mind on their blog, and that in Western countries, that right is protected, both by the laws of these societies, and by the blogging community itself, who sill not stand idly by while censorship occurs. That’s how Moni made a difference!

Now that the case is closed, I want to take one moment to thank three people: First, Larko, a great Estonian blogger who has been helping me make sure my translations are accurate. Second, Sapere Aude, who’s passion for this case has been obvious as he consistently greets my posts with more news and updates.

And finally, Moni, a brave woman who stood up for her right to free speech. She wasn’t looking for money or fame, she just wanted to be treated fairly. Like so many other heroes, Moni never wanted to be a hero, but she did what needed to be done, and helped protect the rights of millions of bloggers around the world. Thank you, Moni, I will not forget you!

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Posted by Scottage at 12:01 PM / | |  

Tag, I'm It

Much thanks to El Patro for tagging me. Without further ado, my answers!

1) What were you doing 10 Years Ago?

I was working on a Kibbutz in Northern Israel, called Beit Hashitah. It was really a cool position; I worked in the largest tree nursery in Israel, growing trees from sappling to full-grown tree, then transplanting the trees to locations around Israel, where trees didn’t grow indigenously, and setting up irrigation systems. Wonderful job.

2) 5 Years Ago?

I was in Boston, MA, Director of Sales for a company called Basis Technology, who is largely responsible for the development of Japanese, Chinese and Korean capabilities in computers today.

3) 1 Year Ago?

In Buffalo, NY helping a friend redevelop his gardening company.

4) Five snacks you enjoy:

Can I just name Ben & Jerry’s five times? 2.5 if you count each one of them? Well, chocolate cream pie is my favorite but I have it rarely, gotta love ice cream, but since I’m watching what I eat, I’m more apt to eat Snyders Hard Pretzels, Peanuts, and South Beach Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies.

5) Five songs I know by heart but wish I didn’t:

I know a million songs by heart, and there’s none of them I wish I didn’t know. You never know when you’re going to need a spare lyric.

6) Five things I would do with a LOT of money:

Start a company that could really make a difference in the world, something that would be self-perpetuating and would really do some good; buy a house, something nice but not extravagant, buy a new car, get something really nice for my girlfriend, and get my credit all settled up.

7) Five things I would never wear:

You know, this is a tough questionnaire for me, because I’m not into regrets and I’m not into never. I bet you if there was anything I would say I would never wear, someone would challenge me to wear it and I inevitably would. So I guess there’s nothing that fits the criteria.

8) Five things I should never have worn:

Same here. I’ve worn some goofy stuff, the Halloween pimp costume, way too many tie-dyes and these magic-markered jeans to go along with them, things like that, but really no regrets.

9) Five things I enjoy doing:

Making a difference, playing guitar, blogging, teaching, and spending time with the gf

10) Five bad habits:

Singing tunes to go with anything anyone says, being impatient, procrastinating are the three I think of…I can give you a list of people to ask for the other two.

11) Five people that must fill this out:

Steve (Desert Peace)
Lydia (Lydia Finch)
James (James Heaney)
Brad (Brad’s Brain)
Matt (Melt water, Torrents, Meanderings, Delta)


Posted by Scottage at 1:16 AM / | |  

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Lost No More: Evangeline Lilly Finds Herself on Hit Show

CNN Entertainment did a story on Evangeline Lilly, the steamy starlet of the ABC hit “Lost”, which I have to say is one of my favorites. And I was struck by how lost Lilly was before she came to the show, versus how together she seems today, not only in her rolls but in her interviews.

Lilly was a student at University of British Columbia in Vancouver a few years ago, paying for it by doing television commercials. From the way CNN tells it, you could see the talent immediately. But she wasn’t happy with it, and abandoned it to study International Relations full time. Soon, though, money became a problem, so Lilly went back towards acting, this time as an extra in films.

"Being an extra, ironically, turned out to be something I loved," she says with a laugh. "I could go in when I wanted. Do my homework. Read books. Eat their food. Rest. That was my job and I got paid for it!"
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

So at this stage, she’s making much less money, not really moving ahead her career any more, but she’s focused on her studies. But a friend made a comment that stuck with her, and stuck with me as well:

As Lilly tells it, she finally saw the light when a friend observed how "you claim to believe in destiny, and yet you're ignoring what appears to be all the signs of destiny. Doors are opening for you, but you're afraid of your own success."

That’s a powerful statement, isn’t it? Ignoring your destiny, it brings up many questions in my life, probably in everyone’s life. I don’t know about you, but I have not figured out what my destiny is yet. I have some thoughts, some things I love doing, some things that seem to come naturally to me, but I haven’t found my destiny. I’m 38 already, so maybe I won’t ever find my destiny, I don’t know for sure.

Perhaps I’ve ignored my own destiny, and ran away from it. Or perhaps I’m running towards it but haven’t pinpointed it yet, but with each new step I get closer. I don’t know for sure, but I do hope I achieve my destiny, and find the sense of fulfillment that Lilly goes on to describe in this article, and realize that I’ve accomplished something, made a difference, but the time it’s all done.

The article’s a good one, and it obviously got me thinking. It goes on to describe Lilly’s challenges in trying to find her identity as an actress while not being told exactly what her character on the show was, a result of the veil of secrecy around the “Lost” set. And it describes her finding herself, and her love of acting, through the role and the new challenge. I recommend it.

But it also got me thinking about our own destinies, and finding ourselves. Amazing how a fluff piece can so quickly turn into food for thought.

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Posted by Scottage at 2:54 PM / | |  

Quick Update on Moni v Transparency International

A quick Moni update, and then on to a new subject for today. As I mentioned last night, an office manager named Dagmar Schroder (thanks for the info Ingmar) said yesterday that the company would not be pursuing a lawsuit against Moni. However, today the company refused to provide notice in writing to Moni’s lawyer that a suit would not be pursued, leaving ambiguity in the Moni camp. What’s more, TI went back on the offensive, as a member of their board took interviews with two online magazines, claiming that Moni was 100% wrong in her depiction of the events.

Ever feel like the board member is missing the point? TI was legally allowed to fire Moni’s friend, I don’t think anyone questions that. Some might say it’s not nice, and I would agree; others might even think it’s immoral, and I would think that’s going too far; But no one disputes that TI had the right to fire the original worker. What TI did not have the right to do, what TI never had the right to do, was to intimidate Moni to take down the posts. And that is what the world is objecting so strongly to. And frankly, the letters from TI to Moni, which have been published, are proof that Moni was correct, at the very least, on that part of the story.

How factual the initial story isn’t as important as the intimidation, which is substantiated. People are fired without just cause all the time, and often the reasons given move from not fair to immoral. As free societies, we have the right to let our opinions be heard on these subjects, just as TI has the right for their opinion to be heard. But the intimidation is the real problem, and TI has not come to grips with this yet. As a result, Moni’s lawyer has filed a countersuit against Transparency International. I am not sure of the specifics of the suit, but I would guess it is simply a suit to require written confirmation that no suit will be filed against Moni. Time will tell.

One final note is that Moni has been receiving a great deal of hate male, and part of it is a result of my posting a picture of her with her child yesterday. I would like to offer my deepest apologies for causing any additional harm to Moni, as my intention was never to try to raise additional sympathy for Moni or her situation, but rather to show what I think is a brave and charming family. Moni did not suggest I post that picture, but rather gave me access to her Flickr account, at my request, to find a picture I liked, and that was what I chose.

As such, if you have any problems, you should bring them to me instead of to her, she did not post the photo, and she is not trying to garner international support. I don’t know Moni at all, but I see this as a case that goes to the heart of free speech, and I further believe that questioning it provides strong access to some fundamental questions about our society and our motivations. I have requested the information, from Moni, from Larko, from officials at Transparency, and from other people blogging about the incident.

So instead of being a coward and sending hate mail to a person who is already defending herself from a huge company with infinite resources, how about sending that hate male to me, where it really belongs. I may not be as nice about it as Moni will be, but then, if you really feel the problem is the photo or the international coverage, you’re at least going after the right source. Or alternatively, you can get a grip, and realize that this is a case of some big company trying to bully an individual, and getting caught with their hand in the cookie jar. And the only reason you don’t want the photo or don’t want the international coverage is because you’re embarrassed to be defending actions like these.

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Posted by Scottage at 2:09 PM / | |  

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Updates: Moni v. Transparency International and Israeli Elections

I’m running off to teach, but I stopped at home and found that there were a couple updates which needed posting.

First, the office manager and Transparency International – Germany came out with a public statement about the issue of Moni’s blog. In it, she indicates that Transparency International has decided not to continue legal action against Moni. "We want to go back to doing our work", the office manager said (sorry I don’t have a name, the German is tough for the translation engine).

At this point, Moni and her lawyer have not been contacted by the company to assure that the lawsuit is off, but both hope they are out of the woods. Moni says “Still a little uneasy about believing it just by this source - but I think it's true!” Congratulations Moni, I’m glad the threat is over, but I do hope that they contact you to confirm that you have nothing to worry about, and who knows, maybe even apologize? Heaven forbid!

And in the other story I reported on recently, Israel project that Kadima will indeed win the elections in Israel today, probably gaining between 29-32 seats, as opposed to 20-22 seats for Labor, and a meager 11-12 seats for Likud (sorry Bibi). Even Yistrael Beiteinu pulled in more seats than likud, it appears, grabbing 12-14 Knesset seats. A large center blog has emerged with 62-66 seats, meaning an endless number of coalitions could form, including many possibilities that exclude Kadima.

Well, perhaps not endless possibilities. The right-wing block of LIkud, NRP, Yisrael Beiteinu, Shas, and United Torah appear to have earned around 50 seats, 11 short of the amount needed to block a Kadima government. But don’t be surprised to see that block working with a group like the pensioners, who appear to have earned a wopping 8 seats.

Votes are not final, and official tallies probably won’t be available until sometime tomorrow. However, the tally that is official is that voter turnout was a meager 57%, leading to some questions as to the legitimacy of the election. How valid can the results of an election be when the party with the least votes would not need the majority of the unregistered votes to surpass the party who retained the most votes?

Not understand what I mean? Well start with Kadima, the winner, who, in retaining 29-32 seats received approximately 652,000 of the 2,565,000 votes. Compare them to United Toray Judaism, which only received I mild 6 seats, or 128.250 votes. Well, with approximately 1,935,000 votes uncast, and UTJ only 523,750 votes behind Kadima, if there were a runoff between the two parties, there is a strong possibility that UTJ takes that runoff (anyone want the probabilities? Just finished the GMATs, I can do that junk). And the probability of Kadima losing such a runoff increases with each party that received more seats than UTJ.

The point is clear: Kadima has shown no majority approval here, and building a coalition will be extremely difficult as a result. We can only hope the country wont suffer as a result.

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Posted by Scottage at 3:49 PM / | |  

Transparency International – A Company in Chaos Stalls while Moni Waits

Yesterday, after publishing my latest post, I sent of an email to 5 members of Transparency International’s media team, including their Director of Communications and their Senior Press Officer. Admittedly, I’ve never requested a response before, since I don’t consider myself a journalist, so I apologize if I sounded a bit like an idiot. But this is the email I sent.

Hello Ms. Clay (and others),

Let me start by apologizing for corresponding with you, as I am not a journalist, but rather a blogger. However, I am looking for a response to a series of posts on my web site regarding the incident in German revolving around the dismissal of a single mother over the terms of her new contract. You can read my writings on the subject at .

Frankly, I’ve never asked for a response to a posting before, but I have received over 300 emails wanting to know if I had been contacted, since I was the first person to write on the issue in English. Furthermore, when MSNBC picked up the post on my blog yesterday, I guess it peaked peoples’ curiosity. My daily volume of page views has gone up 10 times since I first published the post.

Understand I hold no value judgment towards the decision not to retain the worker; two parties were unable to agree on terms for a contract, and decided to part ways. But I, and evidently a ton of other readers, would like to know if Transparency here in the United States has any reaction to the two letters by Dr. Jurgen Marten threatening to sue the single mother and the blogger if they did not immediately remove the postings mentioning Transparency International.

To me, and to other bloggers who visit my blog, this appears to be a clear case of using intimidation to stifle free speech, which seems to be exactly the opposite of what Transparency is all about. And we were hoping someone in your office would have some comment on the issue. I’m sorry to bother you, as I’m sure you have a great deal on your plate, but I do appreciate any response you could give me. Thank you for your time.

All the best,

Scottage (I used my real name, not Scottage)

P.S. – In general, I think that Transparency International does excellent work, and I am a huge supporter of your mission. You guys do great things for the world. I guess that’s why I’m so sheepish about bringing this to you.

Right before crashing last night, I received a response from TIs Press and Marketing Officer, Gypsy Kaiser, which was obviously not intended to come to me. This was what I received.

O.K. It seems this thing is getting out of control. As this is spreading beyond TI Germany, I think they need to provide an explanation. I am sure there is a perfectly legal –and not an aggressive- reason why TI Germany issued this legal warning. Let’s just find out what happened.

After some thought, I decided to wait to publish it until they had a chance to correct their mistake and provide a more complete response to the incident. After all, I’m not trying to flame this company who is trying to do some good in the world. But I do believe that such a company cannot be hypocritical, cannot support free speech and fight intimidation to the public, and then practice intimidation and stifle free speech in private. Sorry, to me that just isn’t right.

Well, when I woke up this morning I found this in my inbox:

Dear Mr. Scottage,

As you’ve probably noticed, I inadvertently included you in my internal response to your message regarding Transparency International’s German chapter. Unfortunately the details of the situation are unknown to us at this point, but we are concerned and are looking into the matter.

It is important to note that Transparency’s German chapter, like all other TI chapters worldwide, is an independent NGO whose work is supported by Transparency International’s Secretariat. Please do not consider this or my previous message a formal response, as we are still gathering information. Thanks for your message and support of our anti-corruption work.

Best regards,

Gypsy Guillén Kaiser

So basically Gypsy is saying that, since TI Germany is an independent NGO, we don’t really need to worry about it. We’ll get a press statement out at some point, but it’s not our problem. Well, I’m hoping everyone will make this Transparency International’s problem.

TI has not responded to Moni since the second threatening letter. They issued a press release last night speaking out against the woman who was fired, publishing confidential information on her. They later realized this and retracted the article, but not before significantly embarrassing the worker. And the worker is not the issue! Moni, and her right to free speech, is the issue!

Three German newspapers are running stories, and you can check them out (in German) here, here, and here. Two more are on the way today. And all the while, Transparency International says nothing to Moni, a single mother of a handicapped child that is spending her money on a lawyer instead of on her son. Stop this now, Transparency! Tell Moni that you are not here to disrupt her freedom of speech, and stop the campaign of intimidation. These are the values your company is built upon, you should practice them!

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Posted by Scottage at 11:20 AM / | |  

Predictions for the Israeli Elections: All Sides Lose

It’s after 7:00 am Tuesday March 28th, do you know where your favorite Israeli is? At the polls, of course. Elections began this morning at 7:00 am, and Israelis take their elections very seriously. And that’s no surprise, since these elections are monumentally important. But how many of them will make it to the polls today? I suspect it will be much less than were seen in recent elections, and will send a clear signal to all parties that there is no real winner in this election, and that all the parties, and the Israeli people, will lose because there is no outstanding candidate running.

Unlike the US, where success or failure is determined by which party you back, I always got the feeling while living in Israel that success or failure was dependant on turnouts; When I voted for in 1996 and 1999, anything under 75% voter turnout would have been considered an abomination, even though there were always plenty of people like me today who are eligible to vote but refuse to vote if not living in the country. Today, 65% turnout is expected, a shockingly low number for such an important election.

Yesterday Ehud Olmert, the Kadima candidate and front runner leading into the election, made an appeal to Israelis, saying that a vote for Kadima was a vote for Israeli the withdrawal from the West Bank, utilizing the plan laid out by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Sharon formed the Kadima Party around his own specific views for the future of the country before slipping into a coma on January 4th, 2006.

Olmert made the appeal to voters he feared would either not show up for the election or voters he feared would switch to the parties they traditionally voted for , since this is the first election Kadima has participated in. Unfortunately for Olmert, his statements emphasized the two main weaknesses of the Kadima Party: 1) Ehud Olmert is not Ariel Sharon; and 2) there is more to this election than just the withdrawal from the West Bank.

The Kadima Party expected 40 seats in the 120 seat Knesset two months ago, a number that certainly would have risen with Ariel Sharon at the helm of the party; but on the eve of the election, last minute opinion polls showed them receiving 34-36 seats. While it’s true that Israel has never given a party a clear majority in any Prime Ministerial election, the recent ambivalence towards the vote is indicative of the growing crisis arising from the demise of the leaders in the state of Israel.

"If Sharon were in charge, we would have gotten 50 seats," a senior official in the Prime Minister's Office said. "Everyone knew and respected him and the Russian immigrants voted for him. But Olmert is suitable and, with enough
support on Election Day, he will be able to run the country."

Most Israelis that I’ve spoken to are ready to get out of the West Bank and ready to set borders that will allow for some definition of the borders of the country. Sure, there are those who do not like where the borders have landed, but that would have been the case with any chosen borders. Still, most Israelis recognized that the move has to be made. However, there is a big difference between pulling back from the West Bank with Ariel Sharon as Prime Minister and pulling back from the West Bank with Ehud Olmert as Prime Minister.

Ariel Sharon was a brilliant military strategist, and while his tactics were always insensitive to the needs of the Palestinians, often brutal not only to combatants but to innocent civilians, sometimes pre-emptive and unwarranted, and occasionally even immoral, they served to keep the Israeli people safe during a long uprising. Ariel Sharon was the great father to many Israelis, the protector, keeping them safe from the dangers they could not see but they knew were out there. And certainly similar dangers were expected from a West Bank Withdrawal.

But Olmert has shown none of the same prowess, and instills minimal confidence in the security of the country. Since Sharon slid into his coma in January, the Gaza Strip, which Sharon withdrew from last year, has fallen into chaos. Qassam rockets are being fired regularly from Northern Gaza into Israel. Kidnappings are par for the course. Basically, the area has grown out of control, and I don’t believe I’m alone in thinking it would not have been that way if Ariel Sharon had been Prime Minister of Israel.

And while the pullback from the West Bank is tremendously important, this is also a very important time in Israel for other reasons. The Israeli economy is in shambles, in large part due to the lack of tourism in the country during the recent anti-fatah. The welfare system in Israel needs to be restructured to pay for the vast welfare required by the still-young nation that has been in many too many wars, leading to many people dependant on the state. And the defining of the borders of the nation also requires the defining of the nation itself, and questions as to the identity of Israel suddenly have to be answered. Plus, it is not unreasonable to expect that the next Prime Minister will have to address the issue of a nuclear Iran.

The great leaders that came out of Israel, leaders like Sharon, Rabin, Perez, Ben Gurion, Meir, these are names of the past. Olmert, Peretz, Netenyahu, and Elon are the names of the present, and they are not names that inspire a great deal of faith. I liked the Netanyahu years, but because he prevented bad things from happening, not because he was able to bring about the positive change the country needs now. And while I have little faith in the others, I suspect I am not alone, and that is why voter turnout will be so poor.

Olmert will come away from this election with the most seats in the Knesset, and he will retain his role as Prime Minister of Israel. But he loses this election by many standards, because he will not generate the voter turnout or the seats in Knesset to send a clear signal that the country is behind him. Those are my predictions for this election: a clear loss for all parties.

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Posted by Scottage at 2:53 AM / | |  

Monday, March 27, 2006

Moni Becomes the new Norma Rae

If Transparency International keeps this up, it won’t be long before Moni becomes the next Norma Rae. From talking to her it is all too clear she doesn’t see herself in that light. Quite to the contrary, Moni just sees herself as an unemployed woman who knows of an apparent injustice she would like to blog about. But as TI continues their full-court press against the blogger, this woman who wants little more than to be supportive of her friend is beginning to become an icon to the European world for free speech. Perhaps the US should adopt her for the same purposes.


First, a quick overview of the story. An unnamed woman worked on a probationary basis, 20 hours a week, for Transparency International, a watchdog group that combats corruption and pushes for open and honest dialogue from governments and companies around the world. However, the salary was too low to support Andreas and her 3-year-old child, so she took a 2nd job. At the end of her probationary period, they offered her 30 hours at a slightly higher rate, but not enough to offset the loss of wage from the second job. The woman said she could stay at the current rate and hours, or move up to the new hours with a higher rate, but she couldn’t accept TI’s offer as it would not be enough to support her and her child.

The woman told a friend, Moni, who felt much as I do that a big company should be a bit more flexible with a single mother. AndMoni decided to post about the situation on her blog, again, fully within her rights under both German law and the values that democracy is built upon. But Friday, TI set an ultimatum for Moni, telling her she had 48 hours to remove the post or face being sued and paying a hefty fine, at least. And here is the first point where Transparency International really acted unethically.

It’s Friday, so it’s not like lawyers are accessible to discuss the issue. And Moni had no experience in similar cases to draw back upon. Afraid for her own career, Moni did pull down the post on Sunday, just before the deadline, but not before posting the threatening email from Dr. Jurgen Marten, TI’s ethics counselor. Outrage around Europe grew, and there has been no bigger topic over the weekend than TI’s bullying of these two women. People speak of boycotting and withholding the large donations that TI receives annually, and certainly their reputation as the international arbitrator of fairness is more than tarnished.

Still, Moni, the woman and others at the center of the controversy spoke of the important of TI’s role in the world, and urged people not to react yet, but to wait until Transparency had a moment to step back and re-evaluate their position. All parties were sure that this must have been a heat-of-the-moment decision, and that when the company looked at the whole situation objectively, they would allow Moni to maintain her freedom of speech. How could they not? This is an organization that is all about fairness and openness!

Well, time to get with the program, Moni and Andreas. Transparency is like every other company in the world: they’re about greed, money, and power. Instead of recognizing their mistake in trying to stifle Moni, they compounded it by further threatening Moni if she didn’t remove the note from Marten. Again Marten wrote, saying that posting the email was an “infringement of copyright” and giving her 12 hours to remove the 2nd email.

I don’t know if she posted the second letter on her site, but it’s not there now, and the first letter has been removed as well. However, her original post, the first email, and the second letter have all made their way on to other web sites. Moni’s site thanks people for all the support, but indicates that she feels intimidated to keep the posts up. However, she has hired a lawyer, at her own expense, and he has written a response to TI – Germany, which you can read (in German) here.

Understand, I may not agree personally with Transparency’s decision to let Andreas go. It would not have been my choice, but it is their right to take that action. They need to choose the right employees to further grow their company, and the hours and payroll of that staff must be considered. But I do have issues with intimidating Moni to remove the posts from her site. To me, it’s a basic freedom of speech issue, and what’s more is the exact type of free disclosure that Transparency is in existence to protect.

Moni isn’t doing this for publicity, or to drive traffic to her blog, or to get recognized on the street, much like Norma Rae, who was not self-aggrandizing at all. Moni just sees an injustice and thinks that any good person should speak up when they see an injustice. These are my values, just as they were Norma Rae’s in the 70s. And at first Norma Rae was made out to be some sort of criminal or evil person by big business for helping the Unions prevent some of these injustices, much as Moni is experiencing now.

Wasn’t it only a couple months ago that Germany and France were our champions in the whole Mohammed Cartoon controversy, screaming to the world that we can not allow free speech to be intimidated, even in the face of the overwhelming danger from the protests spreading throughout Europe. But here, in a clearly parallel incident, will no one stand up for Moni? Will no one stand up for her freedom of speech? Well, perhaps it will fall to bloggers to protect their own. Count me in!


Moni has been kind enough to write me and correct a couple quick points. I'm sure that Moni has a lot on her plate right now, so I really do appreciate her help.

Moni never did publish the second letter on her site, but she did publish excerpts from it, again in German, here. She Also still has the first letter published, which she was ordered to remove by 9:00 is after that in Germany now. And she has re-posted her first post. Her lawyer has indicated that these are not copywrite issues, and that she should repost all the postings.

I think it's very brave on her part. If more occurs I will post it here, and hope that Moni will keep us in the loop.

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Posted by Scottage at 6:55 PM / | |  

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Moni Takes On the Corporate Giant: Follow-Up

First off, I want to thank MSNBC and many others for linking to my other Moni story, and for taking such an interest. We should all put as much support behind Moni and the woman who has been laid off as possible. As a fellow blogger, I sort of consider Moni a kindred spirit, and her friend a victim of corporate greed. Thanks for telling them both that they are not alone.

Moni herself stopped by and mentioned that she's actually 35. 35? Wow! I must say, for 35 years old, Moni is quite cute. Not as cute as my gf, but quite cute.

Second, Moni mentioned I had the salaries wrong. In actuality the salaries were correct, but I had converted them from a monthly salary to a weekly salary since the hours were listed as in weekly form. So recognize that the salaries mentioned are higher in Moni's articles, because they represent the monthly wages received, offered, and suggested, as opposed to the weekly salaries.

Finally, Moni took down her article. I don't blame her; when the big bad corporate wolf is threatening to blow the house down, sometimes you do what you have to do. But what a shame that Transparency has won, at least for the moment. Let's hope that the voice of the people will be heard, and Transparency Internation will do right by Moni and her friend.

Keep blogging, Moni! We love you over here!!!

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Posted by Scottage at 1:24 PM / | |  

Power to the Bloggers: Moni Takes On the Corporate Giant

So you think that words have no power, huh? Well, corporate powerhouse Transparency International probably wouldn’t agree. In what could have been a simple case of a bit of bad press, they have now caused a wave of criticism which appears to be only just beginning.

Transparency International is the leading global organization in combating corruption, political and otherwise. From the Transparency International web site, their mission statement is: “TI's vision is a world in which government, politics, business, civil society and the daily lives of people are free of corruption.” So it’s natural that Transparency would be concerned with their public image. But when they attacked a German blogger to maintain their image, they attacked a large and vocal community with a tendency to protect their own.

I got the full story from the Larko website. {A quick note that all salaries have been converted from a monthly salary, as printed in Moni's article, to a weekly salary to correlate with the weekly hours posted in that story. You know, GMAT stuff....parallel structure and all :-)} It’s a story about a woman with a 3 year old child who was in her probationary period as a transparency employee, working 20 hours a week for 250 Euros ($300). Since the salary was too little to support the woman and her child, she took a second job as a freelance journalist. At the end of her trial period, they offered her a permanent position working 30 hours a week for 350 Euros ($421). This wouldn’t be enough for her and her child, and she wouldn’t have enough time to work as a journalist, so she offered to maintain her present salary and hours or to move to 30 hours at a rate of 500 Euros ($601). Neither was acceptable, so Transparency let the woman go.

Now I think that really sucks, but the company is 100% within their rights, and what is a person to do about it? Well, a friend of hers, Moni, decided to post about it in her blog, which is probably what I would have done too. Do you think she was surprised when she heard from Transparency? You bet your butt! On Friday, she received a threatening email from Transparency International – Deutschland saying that she had until Sunday, today, to remove the post or they were suing her, including large punitive damages.

Moni’s picture is above, and there’s no question we’re not exactly talking about the worldliest looking person here? If she’s over 25, I’m under 25…and it’s been a while since I’ve been under 25. To be given 2 days to determine if she has an obligation to remove the post is just out of hand, and evidently the German bloggers feel the same way. Moni evidently decided she didn’t have much to lose, and posted the email on her site. And German bloggers went nuts, with a flood of posts about this organization, devoted to fairness and justice, who fired a woman who wasn’t willing to be exploited by the company.

Right now, no issue is being talked about on the blogosphere as much as this issue. Bloggers are talking about boycotts, though given the nature of Transparency’s product, I’m not sure they would really feel the effect. But certainly their image is getting slammed, and there has been no indication the post is coming down any time soon. I wouldn’t doubt if, by some time next week, the woman has her job back, and Transparency is apologizing. And it all began with a few words on a blog.

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Posted by Scottage at 2:02 AM / | |