Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Never Again: Again and Again

This week's item from the Coalition for Darfur.

In her 2001 article "Bystanders to Genocide," Pulitzer Prize winning author Samantha Power recounts how President Clinton was shocked and outraged by an article written by Philip Gourevitch recounting the horrors of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, prompting him to send the article to his national security advisor Sandy Berger with a note scrawled in the margin reading "Is what he's saying true? How did this happen?"

After taking office, President Bush reportedly read Power's article on the Clinton ministration's failure to intervene during the genocide. He too scrawled a message in the margin - "NOT ON MY WATCH."

Yet we are now faced with another African genocide, this time in Darfur, and the United States and the rest of the world are responding exactly as they did during Rwanda - with paralyzed inaction.

Though there are many key differences between what is taking place in Darfur and what occurred in Rwanda a decade ago, there are also many similarities.

In 1993, the world watched "Schindler's List" and wondered how such horrors could unfold and why they were not stopped. In 2004, it watched "Hotel Rwanda" and asked the same questions. In each case,those questions went unanswered.

Just as in Rwanda, the international military force on the ground in Darfur is far too small, poorly equipped and operating under an extremely limited mandate that does not allow them to protect civilians at risk.

Just as in Rwanda, the genocide is taking place against a backdrop of "civil war," leading the international community to focus more on establishing a cease-fire than protecting those being killed.

Just as in Rwanda, the death toll is nearly impossible to determine.

Just as in Rwanda, the United Nations is more or less paralyzed as individual nations seek to protect their own national interests rather than helpless men, women and children.

Just as in Rwanda, media coverage is almost nonexistent, Congress is all but silent, and the human rights community is having difficultyget the nation to pay attention to a genocide in progress.

Just as in Rwanda, a genocide is unfolding - but this time it is happening on our watch.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Super-rich hide trillions offshore

Nick Mathiason has an interesting article about tax havensin the March 27 Guardian:

The world’s richest individuals have placed $11.5 trillion of assets in offshore havens, mainly as a tax avoidance measure. The shock new figure — 10 times Britain’s GDP — is contained in the most authoritative study of the wealth held in offshore accounts ever conducted.

The study, by Tax Justice Network, a group of accountants and economists concerned at the escalating wealth held in offshore locations, shows that the world’s high-net-worth individuals earn $860 billion each year from their assets.

But there is growing alarm among regulators and campaigners because exchequers worldwide are missing out on at least $255bn of tax each year. Governments appear unable, or unwilling, to prevent the rich employing aggressive strategies to minimise their tax liabilities.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Basra students strike against Islamists

I had meant to comment on George Packer's February 28 New Yorker article "Letter from Basra: Testing Ground," but didn't get around to it. Packer fine reporting discussed the conflict in the Shiite south between Islamists and secularists struggle over Iraq’s future

“The Iran-backed parties had a strategic vision, which was more or less to take over the south politically, coƶperate with the coalition, enhance their religious position in Najaf, and then be in a position to get national power,” a British official told me. “I think they’ve succeeded without wide support, which is why they’ve overstretched themselves. Not that many people in the south support the parties.”

Since returning from Iran, the religious parties have imposed their strict ideology on Basra, alienating many residents in the process. Upon arrival, armed militias began assassinating Baathists, harassing women who dared to forgo the veil, and forcibly shutting down Basra’s DVD emporiums and Christian-owned liquor shops.
Packer's article is good background to this story from the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions.
...students from Basrah and Shatt Al-Arab universities in Basra City have been on all-out strike for the last three days as a reaction to the attack on 15 March by religious hardliners and Mahdi Army militiamen on students organising a field trip or a picnic at Al-Andalus park in the Al Makhal area of Basra.


The Kuwaiti arabic newspaper Al-Qabas also reported that hooded men assaulted the students with rubber cables and truncheons which resulted in severe injuries to an Armenian Christian girl, Zihoor Ashour who lost one eye because of being beaten on her head very hard with a thick stick of wood. Another student (a boy) who came to her rescue after militiamen had torn off her clothes and were beating her was shot in the head and died subsequently from his injuries.

One Iraqi email correspondent writes: "It was a tragedy. The students of all colleges are in what you can say a revolution because of this. They made many demonstrations against Al-Mahdi army and Al-Sadr demanding to remove their offices from the universities and also a group of the students went to Sayid Al-Sistani to make him talk to Al-Sadr and advise him to be sensible in his actions."

Students say that their belongings, such as mobile phones, cameras, stereo players and loudspeakers, were stolen or smashed to pieces by the militiamen. Girl students not wearing headscarves, most of them Christian, were severely beaten and at least 20 students were kidnapped, taken to Sadr's office in Al-Tuwaisa for 'interrogation' and were only released late at night.

Students also say the police and British soldiers were nearby but did not intervene.

A Sheikh As'ad Al-Basri, one of Sadr's aides in Basrah, stated that the 'believers' of the Mahdi Army did what they did in an act of 'divine intervention' in order to punish the students for their 'immoral and outrageous behaviour' during the 'holy month of Muharram, while the blood of Imam Hussein is yet to dry.' He added that he had sent the 'group of believers' to observe and photograph the students, and on witnessing them playing loud music, 'the kind they play in bars and discos', and openly talking to female students, the 'believers had to straighten things out'.

Thousands of students have been demonstrating in front of the Basrah Governorate building in Asharr for the last three days, shouting 'No to political Islam', 'No to the new tyranny' and 'No to Sadr'. The police (who are loyal to Da'wa in Basrah) reportedly attacked the students in order to disperse the demonstrations.

One iraqi blogger writes: "The Governor of Basrah appeared on Fayhaa TV on Sunday 20 March claiming that problems with Sadr's office had been resolved peacefully. The Governor (who is a member of Da'wa) apparently met with representatives from Sadr's office under the mediation of Shia Islamic parties in Basrah (Da'wa, SCIRI, Fadheela, Thar Allah) and it appears that Sadr's aides agreed to 'punish the guilty parties under a special religious court that would convene for this purpose' and to compensate the students and to return all stolen items to the students. The Governor claimed to have met with the family of another Christian girl who was badly injured, 'generously' offering her free treatment in any country she chooses.

"No mention of the rule of law here. No involvement of Basrah's civil courts at all. The whole incident was mopped up in a tribal-religious meeting, but this time at the Governorate level. The guilty parties were sinisterly assigned the job of punishing themselves. A great lesson in democracy. But then, no one was punished for the executions and torture at religious courts in Najaf the last time anyway.

"What is even worse, the official statement from Sadr's office in Basrah. It asks for the names of the students that were 'allegedly mistreated' in order to compensate them. And listen to this; 'Sadr's office in Basrah offers to provide the universities of Basrah with groups to protect the students in their future field trips.' This following Sheikh As'ad Al-Basri's fiery statements that the students had 'disobeyed his orders, and the stick was for those who disobeyed,' alasa limen asa. He also alleged that the students had shouted 'No to Islam' in their demonstrations this week, insolently adding that the students should be punished for their 'blasphemy'.

"The Governor literally appointed Sadr's office as judge, witness and law-enforcer. We might even say that the Sadrists were in fact rewarded for their vile act...

"The students of Basra have made their demands clear; bringing the Sadrist militiamen to a public trial in the presence of representatives from Basrah's student groups, banning Islamist armed groups from entering campus or running Islamist student groups, and the dissolution of the infamous 'Security Committee' which operates in most of Basra's colleges, and which is reminiscient of the Ba'ath's 'University Security' but taking a Shi'ite Islamic appearance instead of a fascist nationalistic one.

"Student groups from Baghdad, Arbil and Suleimaniya have sent statements of support to Basra. Incidentally, four students were injured in Suleimaniya during demonstrations that have been taking place for the second week in row against the privatisation of educational institutions in the Kurdish region.

"Still no condemnation from the the Hawza, when the attack against the students was done in its name."

The Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI), the other major union federation in Iraq, has also issued an appeal in support of the Basra students. It can be found at the Solidarity with Iraqi Workers website

Schiavo: Nader Allies with Christian Right

Doug Ireland reports

Ralph Nader has joined the Christers in opposing the removal of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube--and has linked up with a right-winger with unsavory connections to do it.

You may recall Ralph's unprincipled hooking up with the cult-racket formerly known as the New Alliance Party to help get him on the ballot for his '04 presidential campaign. Well, now he's up to his old tricks of making an unholy alliance, this time with the conservatives.

Nader's intervention in the Schiavo case came in a joint statement with one Wesley J. Smith. And who, you may well ask, is Mr. Smith? A conservative bio-ethicist who contributes to the Weekly Standard and the National Review, Smith is a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute--one of whose co-founders and prime movers is the ultra-conservative economics writer George Gilder, famous for his anti-feminist rants ("This is what sexual liberation chiefly accomplishes-it liberates young women to pursue married men") and anti-homosexual ravings. (Gilder is also noted for such statements as "A successful economy depends on the proliferation of the rich," and "Real poverty is less a state of income than a state of mind.") Gilder's views are endorsed and promoted by Focus on the Family's James Dobson.The Discovery Institute is also a promoter of the so-called "intelligent design" movement, which posits the creation of the universe by an intelligent Supreme Being and opposes teaching evolution. Nader ally Smith's official bio also lists him as a "special consultant" to another right-wing think-tank called the Center for Bioethics and Culture, peopled by Southern Baptists and other Christers, and whose national director, Jennifer Lahl, is an associate of born-again convicted Watergate criminal Charles "Chuck" Colson, (now an evangelical minister), and Lahl is also an adjunct fellow of Colson's Wilberforce Forum.

Now what does Ralph say in his joint statement with the dubious Mr. Smith? Among other things:

"A profound injustice is being inflicted on Terri Schiavo," Nader and Smith asserted today. "Worse, this slow death by dehydration is being imposed upon her under the color of law, in proceedings in which every benefit of the doubt-and there are many doubts in this case-has been given to her death, rather than her continued life."

Benefit of the doubt, says Ralph? Why, before the Bush-Rove-DeLay intervention by ukase in the Schiavo case, in the eight years that Terri's husband has been seeking to legally fulfill her wishes not to live as a vegetable, the case was before 19 different courts. Seven different neurologists appointed by those courts found that Schiavo is, in essence, already dead in everything but name. The cortex of Schiavo's brain, they all affirmed, was completely "liquefied, and she can neither feel, sense, nor think," as the Washington Post wrote in summarizing their findings. Since the Washington Republicans' attempt to interfere with the intimate, private decision made by Schiavo and her husband, the Schiavo case has been before half a dozen more courts--including the U.S. Supreme Court, which found no reason to review the findings of the lower courts, thereby effectively affirming them. Schiavo has already had many, many more hearings than your average prisoner on death row (not that I'd begrudge them a single one).

But Ralph and his new right-wing buddy insist that, "This outrageous order proves that the courts are not merely permitting medical treatment to be withheld, it has ordered her to be made dead." No, Ralph, the courts have ordered that Schiavo be treated in the manner she wished, and in the merciful manner that her own doctors have recommended for eight long years--that she cease to be kept artificially in a simulacrum of life because doing so makes the religious nuts, including her parents, feel better. The courts have ruled that her doctors be allowed to let her escape from the lifeless prison of her body.

Nader and Smith's press release asserts that, to know "whether Terri can be improved with therapy....there is only one way to know for sure- permit the therapy." But, in the first seven of Schiavo's 15 years as a vegetable, she had that therapy, extensively. As ABC News reported in its profile of Schiavo's husband:

"When doctors determined that Terri had entered a persistent vegetative state, Michael flew Terri to California for experimental surgical treatments, sleeping on a cot in her hospital room.

"Even after doctors in California determined surgery would do nothing to help Terri, Michael continued to seek help. He admitted Terri to a Florida brain-injury center and hired an aide to take her out to parks and museums, in the hope it might stimulate her reawakening. It didn't." Fortunately, it now appears that science and reason have triumphed over religious superstition and anti-rational knownothingism, and that Terri Schiavo's 15-year long Calvary --which encompasses the trauma inflicted as well on her loyal, loving husband and her daughter -- will soon be over. I've previously written about my deep conviction that an individual has the right to choose death with dignity, which is what the Schiavo case is, in part, about. It's sad that Nader now casts his lot with those who oppose this right.

Ralph will do almost anything these days, and ally himself with almost anyone, to get attention. Nader's stomach-turning intervention on the side of the irrational in the Schiavo case is just one more piece of evidence of the path to kook-dom on which he has placed himself. I deeply regret having endorsed him for president twice (in '96 and 2000), given where he's ended up, and how he's misled the many well-meaning but politically innocent young who've considered him a leader--first into the orbit of Fred Newman's cult-racket, now into the obscurantist world of the religious extremists.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Marriage Amendment:License for Domestic Violence?

Ohio Gay Marriage Ban Affects Law By CONNIE MABIN, AP

CLEVELAND (AP) - Domestic violence charges cannot be filed against unmarried people because of Ohio's new constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Stuart Friedman changed a felony domestic violence charge against Frederick Burk to a misdemeanor assault charge.

Prosecutors immediately appealed.

Judges and others across the country have been waiting for a ruling on how the gay marriage ban, among the nation's broadest, would affect Ohio's 25-year-old domestic violence law, which previously wasn't limited to married people.

Burk, 42, is accused of slapping and pushing his live-in girlfriend during a January argument over a pack of cigarettes.

His public defender, David Magee, had asked the judge to throw out the charge because of the new wording in Ohio's constitution that prohibits any state or local law that would "create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals."

Before the amendment, courts applied the domestic violence law by defining a family as including an unmarried couple living together as would a husband and wife, the judge said. The gay marriage amendment no longer allows that.

John Martin, who supervises appeals in the public defender's office, said the office was pleased with the ruling but would not comment further because of the appeal.

Because Burk had a prior domestic violence conviction, the latest charge was a felony that could have resulted in an 18-month jail term; a misdemeanor assault carries a maximum sentence of six months.

"This case is a good example of why we need a domestic violence law. A misdemeanor assault doesn't carry with it a significant enough penalty for repeat domestic violence abusers," said Matt Meyer, an assistant Cuyahoga County prosecutor.

Some opponents of the amendment have said they hope the conflict over the domestic violence law would result in the gay marriage ban being repealed.

Seventeen states have constitutional language defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Ohio's is regarded as the broadest marriage amendment of those passed by 11 states Nov. 2 because it bans civil unions and legal status to all unmarried couples and gay marriages.

Here's the Ohio marriage amendment

Section 11. Only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this state and its political subdivisions. This state and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effect of marriage.
Compare to the proposed Kansas marriage amendment
(a) The marriage contract is to be considered in law as a civil contract. Marriage shall be constituted by one man and one woman only. All other marriages are declared to be contrary to the public policy of this state and are void.

(b) No relationship, other than a marriage, shall be recognized by the state as entitling the parties to the rights or incidents of marriage.
Looks to me like moderate Kansans should be worried about what conservative activist judges might do if the amendment passes.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Marriage Amendment Vote Could Be Closer Than Expected

SurveyUSA has released a poll done for KWCH in Wichita on the so-called marriage amendment to the Kansas Constitution. The poll was taken March 19-20.

"The marriage contract is to be considered in law as a civil contract. Marriage shall be constituted by one man and one woman only. All other marriages are declared to be contrary to the public policy of this state and are void. No relationship, other than a marriage, shall be recognized by the state as entitling the parties to the rights or incidents of marriage."

If you were standing in the voting booth right now, would you vote "Yes", to amend the state constitution? Or "No", to leave the constitution unchanged?

No 42

1800 Kansas adults were interviewed by telephone 3/18-3/20. Of them, 1614 were registered to vote. Of them, 465 were judged to be "likely" voters

Survey USA analysis is that "Those who favor the Amendment are more certain to vote than those who do not. If voter turnout is high, the margin of victory will be closer, but the Amendment will still pass."

Equality Kansas has a statement arguing that the Amendment "isn't what you think" but I think these Top 10 Reasons to Oppose the Amendment from the Mainstream Coalition might be more persuasive.

Darfus: Humanitarian Workers at Risk

The Coalition for Darfur is an effort of bloggers to riase wareness about the terriblle tragedy in the Darfur region of the Sudan. Forty-four bloggers have joined and made a commitment to post at least one item a week from the CfD. Here's this week's item. I have also added a button to the right so that readers can make a contribution to Save the Children's relief efforts in the Sudan.

Last week, the United Nations was forced to withdraw its staff from parts of western Sudan after the Janjaweed militia declared that it would begin targeting foreigners and U.N. humanitarian convoys.

Yesterday, a 26 year-old USAID worker was shot in the face when the clearly-marked humanitarian convoy she was traveling in was ambushed in broad daylight.

It is still unknown just who carried out this ambush, but Sudan expert Eric Reeves reported yesterday that he had "received from multiple, highly authoritative sources intelligence indicating that Khartoum has ambitious plans for accelerating the obstruction of humanitarian access by means of orchestrated violence and insecurity, including the use of targeted violence against humanitarian aid workers."

If such a plan is truly in the works, it will have dire consequences for the people of Darfur. Last year, Jan Egeland, the UN Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, warned that as many as 100,000 people could die in Darfur every month if those providing humanitarian assistance were forced to withdraw due to insecurity.

Save the Children has already lost 4 of its aid workers in the last year, yet they continue to provide medical care, food, water, shelter, and protection to more than 200,000 children and families in Darfur each month.

Friday, March 18, 2005

A First for Women in Islam

Mona Eltahawy writes in today's Washington Post

NEW YORK -- Today, somewhere in New York, a Muslim woman will give the sermon that precedes the congregational noon prayers, called Jum'ah, that mark the highlight of the Muslim week. She will then lead men and women in prayer, becoming the first woman on record to lead a public, mixed-gender Friday prayer.

I can't tell you where the prayer will be held because I don't know yet. The location is being kept secret because the original venue backed out after it received threats for opening its doors to such a service.

But I can tell you that the courage of Amina Wadud, a professor of Islamic studies at Virginia Commonwealth University who will lead us all, is impossible to describe. And I can tell you what a thrill it will be to stand before God as the spiritual equal of the male congregants -- praying together, not behind the men and not in another room -- with a woman leading us.

Not surprisingly, conservative scholar Yusuf Qaradawi has condemned the mixed-gender prayer on his weekly show on al-Jazeera. But we were not waiting for his blessing or anyone else's. Many male scholars and clerics have let the Muslim world down. Their apathy and disinclination to speak out -- be it against misogyny or against violence in the name of Islam -- long ago turned many of us off.

Several Muslim organizations in the United States have either condemned Amina Wadud's decision to lead the Friday prayer or have remained silent, choosing to stay on the sidelines of an event that embodies the aspirations of Muslim women to be recognized as men's spiritual equals.

Gibson's Passion Recut--but still fosters anti-Semitism

From the Anti-Defamation League

New York, NY, March 15, 2005 … In the recut of his film "The Passion of the Christ," now in theaters, Mel Gibson removed six minutes of violence, but chose to leave untouched the anti-Jewish elements of the original, including scenes where Jews are portrayed as villains and responsible for the death of Jesus.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) expressed concern that the newly released film, "The Passion Recut," will now become the definitive version of the Passion story for the holy season.

Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director, issued the following statement:

As we come into the Christian holy season, it is troubling that Mel Gibson made changes to "The Passion of the Christ" to de-emphasize the violence, yet made no effort to mitigate or remove the film's anti-Jewish elements.

"The Passion Recut" demonstrates that Mr. Gibson indeed has the power to make changes. His recut is selective to accommodate concerns of excessive violence, but not those of the Jewish community and concerned Christians disturbed by his offensive portrayal of Jews that leads viewers to believe Jews are responsible for the death of Jesus.

Our concern is that Gibson's "Passion of the Christ" and "The Passion Recut" will become the definitive version for the holy season, bringing to life on screen the most vicious anti-Semitic elements of traditional Passion Plays. It will continue to play again and again, year after year to audiences around the world without the benefit of the very public discussion that surrounded the film's initial debut in February 2004.

In a world where anti-Semitism is on the rise and the classical canard that "the Jews killed Jesus" is being promulgated, Mr. Gibson has unfortunately become a contributor.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Wayne Shorter Biographer on KMUW

Michelle Mercer, author of a new biography of the great Wayne Shorter, will be a guest on Barry Gaston's "Moonglow" program on KMUW-FM (89.7) on Friday March 18 at 9:00 PM.

Shorter was part of the great Miles Davis Quintet of the late 1960s and co-leader of Weather Report.

If I heard correctly, Barry said that Michelle is a "Wichitan." I don't know if that's past or current. It should be worth listening.

Peace lecture in Italy canceled

JTA reported (March 14)

A lecture at the University of Bologna by a Palestinian and Israeli peace activist was canceled.

Samar Sahhar, a Palestinian Christian, and Rome-born Israeli Angelica Calo were to have spoken Wednesday on dialogue and coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians. The university said it was forced to cancel the meeting for fear of protests similar to those launched by leftist students against Israel’s ambassador to Italy when he spoke at the University of Florence last month. In October, leftist students also tried to prevent an Israeli diplomat from speaking at the University of Pisa. Sahhar and Calo are on a speaking tour of several Italian cities.

The Martin Buber Jews for Peace group, one of the sponsors of the tour, said the two women planned to speak in all the other scheduled venues. “As you see, those who want peace inspire fear, and in this way another type of violence is used, to shut people up,” the women were quoted as saying.

In remembrance of Anfal and Halabja

On 16th March 1988, over 5,000 Kurdish civilians were gassed to death by Saddam Hussein’s forces as part of the ethnic cleansing campaign known as the Anfal operations.

Human Rights Watch, GENOCIDE IN IRAQ

This report is a narrative account of a campaign of extermination against the Kurds of northern Iraq. It is the product of over a year and a half of research, during which a team of Middle East Watch researchers has analyzed several tons of captured Iraqi government documents and carried out field interviews with more than 350 witnesses, most of them survivors of the 1988 campaign known as Anfal. It concludes that in that year the Iraqi regime committed the crime of genocide.

Anfal--"the Spoils"--is the name of the eighth sura of the Koran. It is also the name given by the Iraqis to a series of military actions which lasted from February 23 until September 6, 1988. While it is impossible to understand the Anfal campaign without reference to the final phase of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War, Anfal was not merely a function of that war. Rather, the winding-up of the conflict on Iraq's terms was the immediate historical circumstance that gave Baghdad the opportunity to bring to a climax its longstanding efforts to bring the Kurds to heel. For the Iraqi regime's anti-Kurdish drive dated back some fifteen years or more, well before the outbreak of hostilities between Iran and Iraq.

Anfal was also the most vivid expression of the "special powers" granted to Ali Hassan al-Majid, a cousin of President Saddam Hussein and secretary general of the Northern Bureau of Iraq's Ba'ath Arab Socialist Party. From March 29, 1987 until April 23, 1989, al-Majid was granted power that was equivalent, in Northern Iraq, to that of the President himself, with authority over all agencies of the state. Al-Majid, who is known to this day to Kurds as "Ali Anfal" or "Ali Chemical," was the overlord of the Kurdish genocide. Under his command, the central actors in Anfal were the First and Fifth Corps of the regular Iraqi Army, the General Security Directorate (Mudiriyat al-Amn al-Ameh) and Military Intelligence (Istikhbarat). The pro-government Kurdish militia known as the National Defense Battalions, or jahsh, assisted in important auxiliary tasks. But the integrated resources of the entire military, security andcivilian apparatus of the Iraqi state were deployed, in al-Majid's words, "to solve the Kurdish problem and slaughter the saboteurs."

The campaigns of 1987-1989 were characterized by the following gross violations of human rights: · mass summary executions and mass disappearance of many tens of thousands of non-combatants, including large numbers of women and children, and sometimes the entire population of villages;

· the widespread use of chemical weapons, including mustard gas and the nerve agent GB, or Sarin, against the town of Halabja as well as dozens of Kurdish villages, killing many thousands of people, mainly women and children;

· the wholesale destruction of some 2,000 villages, which are described in government documents as having been "burned," "destroyed," "demolished" and "purified," as well as at least a dozen larger towns and administrative centers (nahyas and qadhas);

· the wholesale destruction of civilian objects by Army engineers, including all schools, mosques, wells and other non-residential structures in the targeted villages, and a number of electricity substations;

· looting of civilian property and farm animals on a vast scale by army troops and pro-government militia;

· arbitrary arrest of all villagers captured in designated "prohibited areas" (manateq al-mahdoureh), despite the fact that these were their own homes and lands;

· arbitrary jailing and warehousing for months, in conditions of extreme deprivation, of tens of thousands of women, children and elderly people, without judicial order or any cause other than their presumed sympathies for the Kurdish opposition. Many hundreds of them were allowed to die of malnutrition and disease;

· forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of villagers upon the demolition of their homes, their release from jail or return from exile; these civilians were trucked into areas of Kurdistan far from their homes and dumped there by the army with only minimal governmental compensation or none at all for their destroyed property, or any provision for relief, housing, clothing or food, and forbidden to return to their villages of origin on pain of death. In these conditions, many died within a year of their forced displacement;

· destruction of the rural Kurdish economy and infrastructure.

Like Nazi Germany, the Iraqi regime concealed its actions in euphemisms. Where Nazi officials spoke of "executive measures," "special actions" and "resettlement in the east," Ba'athist bureaucrats spoke of "collective measures," "return to the national ranks" and "resettlement in the south." But beneath the euphemisms, Iraq's crimes against the Kurds amount to genocide, the "intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Continued Assassinations of Iraqi Union Leaders

US Labor Against the War Condemns the Murders of Abu Fahad and Ahmed Adris Abbas

US Labor Against the War (USLAW) strongly condemns the condemns the continued assassinations of Iraqi union leaders. On February 18, Ali Hassan Abd (Abu Fahad), was murdered. He was a leader of the Oil and Gas Workers Union at Baghdad's Al Doura refinery, an affiliate of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions. His assassination was especially brutal, as he was walking home with his young children when gunmen ran up and shot him.

Less than a week later, on February 24, armed men gunned down Ahmed Adris Abbas in Baghdad's Martyr's Square. Adris Abbas was an activist in the Transport and Communications Union, another IFTU affiliate. The murder of the two followed the torture and assassination of Hadi Saleh, the IFTU's interational secretary, in Baghdad on January 4.

Abu Fahad, Ahmed Adris Abbas and Hadi Saleh were all courageous activists, who sought to organize their fellow workers to win the elements of a better life, the same basic things sought by workers in the US and around the world. Iraqi workers need a living wage that can support their families, not the oppressive $35/month imposed by the occupation. They need secure and safe jobs and lives, and an end to violence and terrorism. Their unions need an end to the 1987 law banning bargaining in the public sector, where most Iraqis work. Iraqi unions seek to stop the US-initiated privatization of their workplaces that would put control of the Iraqi economy in the hands of powerful multinational corporations, not Iraqi workers or Iraqi society. They want the occupation to end. They want to determine for themselves, free of outside interference, the future of Iraq.

These are the ideals that Abu Fahad and Ahmed Adris Abbas lived for. They are the demands they died for. As trade unionists committed to solidarity, we in USLAW offer our sincere condolences to their families and coworkers. We share their desire for a democratic and peaceful Iraq free of occupation and terrorism. USLAW recommits itself to ending the occupation -- which is the principal cause of destabilization in Iraq -- and the immediate return of all US troops to their homes and families.
This is a very fine statement, especially when compared to the silence of most of the US movement and the moral confusion, to put it mildly, of the British. However, there are problems of analysis and prescription in the last sentence.

First, the problem with the analysis. USLAW asserts that the occupation is the principal cause of the destabilization in Iraq. There is a difference between proximate and principal. To say that the US occupation is the principal cause strikes me as a willful ignorance. After all, the conflict between Sunni and Shi'a is centuries old. The frustration of Kurdish national self-determination is nearly a century old. The legacy of Saddam's brutal repression of the Shi'a and Kurds just might have something to do with the instability in Iraq. As might the relunctance of the privileged Sunni groups and Baathists to give up power.

Wadood Hamad in his excellent essay ("Unraveling Iraq: The Sociopolitical and Ethical Dimensions of Resistance") in the latest New Politics comments that "ever since the formation of the Iraqi state, ethnosectarian chauvinism has been instituted in governance and the state structure."

Hamad, who opposed the US intervention in Iraq, continues
The ruptured social fabric -- namely, tribalism -- and the eruption of primitive ethnosectarian claims to power in Iraq are an outcome of an imbalanced power structure that characterized the Iraqi polity even prior to independence in 1921. It is not an epiphenomenon of imperialism per se. More precisely imperialist forces have used and manipulated these contradictions that have originated and been perpetuated internally through constant reshaping, which effectively resulted in the decline of the concept of citizenry and the erosion of civil society -- without which the former finds no real avenue for effective, meaningful expression, and is thus rendered vacuous.
The second problem is the call for an "immediate" return of all US troops. The Shi'a based United Iraq list which won nearly 50% of the vote in January's election, altered its platform and did not call for the immediate withdrawal of US and allied troops or even a negotiated timetable.

Hamad argues "we must demand a timely schedule for the withdrawal of occupying forces from Iraq over a fixed, limited period. But, measures to address existing (and ensuing) chaos must receive important consideration, as well. No simple answers are available to the serious examiner..."

Mona Eltahawy, New York-based columnist for the pan-Arab publication Asharq al-Awsat, concluded her recent op-ed in the Washington Post with this comment
Brave Arab men and women have for decades toiled, often without credit, for the sake of rights and better lives for their compatriots. Their work must be acknowledged and supported. The conversation about change in the Arab world must be about them and about ordinary Arabs, not about scoring points for or against the Bush administration.

California Court Ruling:

Lawrence blogger Mike Silverman (Red Letter Day) thinks the California court ruling ordering same-sex marriage was " a very poorly-planned and strategically stupid court case [which] may end up undoing decades of civil rights progress in the Golden State."

He writes

California has been a model for the expansion of equal rights for gay couples. Over the past decade, the state legislature has passed several domestic partnership laws, gradually expended the rights of domestic partners so that what was once a limited symbolic registry with few rights is now pretty much a system of civil unions, granting same-sex couples almost all the rights of marriage in California. These rights have come with little backlash, and since they have been passed by the state legislature, they enjoy a legitimacy absent from some court-ordered solutions.

The final step in the volution of equal rights is the passing of a law allowing same-sex marriage. A bill allowing this has been gaining support over the past few years and will likely pass the legislature sometime the next couple years.
The likely outcome
this decision will likely spur on anti-gay radicals to use California's ridiculously easy constituional initiative process to get an anti-gay measure on the 2006 ballot which will not only reverse the marriage ruling, but also repeal those hard-fought domestic partnership rights passed by the legislature.

It will also help to swell the vote in favor of the anti-civil constitutional amendment on April 5 in Kansas.

Composers Poll

Norm Geras has released the results of his latest musical poll. Norm asked for ranked votes (5 points for first,4 for second, etc.) for favorite/greatest/best classical composers. The results were mainly unsurprising, he reports. The top three way ahead of the rest finished in a virtual tie: Beethoven (350), Mozart (345) and J.S. Bach (335).

Norm boldly proclaims "the only unique position that can be said to have been established authoritatively on the basis of this poll is that Schubert is the world's fourth favourite composer."

Schubert garned 119 votes, putting him far ahead of the closely pack 6-11 finishers - Chopin (59) Wagner (57) - Mahler (54) - Brahms (52)-Haydn (51), Shostakovich (49).

My vote (unranked) was Bach, Beethoven, Gershwin, Stravinsky, and Copeland. Gershwin and Stravinsky made the Norm poll "Top 30," but Copeland didn't.

Here's another web poll, this time of the top 100 classical composers. It  puts Schubert at number seven  and tracks fairly closely with Norm's poll, though no Gershwin.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Brownback Addicted to Pornography

A new report from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) reveals that some of the Members of Congress who publicly rail against the evils of pornography are only too happy to accept political contributions from those who derive income from the sale of pornography. These Members allege support for legislation penalizing obscenity one moment and fill their campaign coffers with pornography profits the next. It is this rank hypocrisy that this report exposes. Very prominent among the rank hypocrites is

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) accepted $17,000 in contributions from corporations and executives who profit from pornography. As chair of the Senate Commerce Committee’s Science, Technology and Space Subcommittee, Sen. Brownback held a hearing on pornography addiction in November, 2004. After hearing testimony from experts about how porn affects the brain, Sen. Brownback said, “[i]t is the crackcocaine of sexual addiction” and “its pervasiveness affects our families.” In early 2005, Sen. Brownback praised U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales when he announced he would appeal the dismissal of federal criminal indictments against a California pornography producer, stating “[t]he Justice Department’s decision indicates a renewed effort to go against purveyors of pornography, whose products are so damaging to our culture, our families, and our nation.”

You might also be interested in my post on Brownback's pseudo-science hearing on pornography.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Neo-Nazis Come to Kansas City

Judy Thomas reports in Thursday's Kansas City Star, "Neo-Nazis Setting Up Base in KCK"

The Aryan Nations — one of the most notorious neo-Nazi groups in the United States — is moving its national headquarters to Kansas City, Kan., causing alarm among civil rights groups.

The group's members, who believe that Jews are “the children of Satan” and African-Americans are “beasts of the field,” chose Kansas City, Kan., because of its central location, said “High Counsel” August B. Kreis III.

Kreis, who lives in Florida, said Wednesday that the Aryan Nations national director, Charles Juba, recently relocated to the metropolitan area from Pennsylvania with the aim of enlisting new members.

It was unclear how significant the move is, because the group has never revealed how many members it has and it is in the process of rebuilding after its leader was bankrupted as the result of a lawsuit in 2000.

A spokesman for the FBI in Kansas City could not be reached for comment. But those who watch the radical right said area residents should be concerned about such groups.

“I can say without equivocation that the (Aryan Nations) is the most violent wing of the white supremacist movement,” said Leonard Zeskind, president of the Kansas City-based Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, and a board member of the Jewish Community Relations Bureau. “He (Juba) has vowed to rebuild the organization …”

More information on the Aryan Nations

Update March 5

Man at Center of Neo-Nazi Move Resigns
The man who recently relocated the national headquarters of the Aryan Nations to Kansas City, Kan., says that he is quitting the neo-Nazi organization.

Charles John Juba, who was national director of the white supremacist group, posted the announcement on the Aryan Nations' Web site early Friday.

“My decision is of a personal nature, as I will no longer hold office, represent or be a member of Aryan Nations,” Juba said. “For those kinsmen who know me at a personal level, understand my reasoning for this abrupt move, and I thank them for their support.”

Juba said he was appointing the group's high counsel, August B. Kreis III, of Sebring, Fla., as his successor.
There's still reason to be concerned, though.
“Regarding the abandonment of Kansas City as a base of locations: I reference you to al-Qaeda (The Base of Jihad) — whether they are operating out of a cave in Tora Bora or a training camp in the Sudan … the end result is the same,” Hall wrote.

Those who monitor the extremist movement said the community should not let its guard down at the news of Juba's resignation.

“It should be noted that in Juba's resignation letter, he does not distance himself from racism and anti-Semitism and the group's core ideas,” said Leonard Zeskind, president of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. “What it looks like to me is a temporary retreat in the face of massive public opinion.

“And all of us in the metropolitan area need to remember that the problem of organized bigotry has not reached a solution,” he added.
According to this KC Star story, the new headquarters for Aryan Nations will be Sebring, Flordia.
Kreis, who will take over as national director, said Juba would remain in the organization. Kreis did not know whether Juba would stay in Kansas City.

“He's not leaving the movement,” Kreis said. “He's just no longer the national director.”

Throughout the day Thursday — before Juba stepped down — reaction to the Aryan Nations' planned move to Kansas City, Kan., ranged from community outrage to promises from law enforcement agencies to monitor the group.

WNTMWK II: Topeka Voters Reject Anti-Gay Measure

Time magazine said " thanks to the Phelps family, this small, gossipy city [Topeka] can perhaps lay claim to being the homophobia capital of the U.S." So it was quite significant that an anti-gay ballot measure failed on Tuesday.

Voters on Tuesday upheld an ordinance that prohibits discrimination against homosexuals in municipal hiring, turning back a repeal movement led by a minister known for picketing the funerals of AIDS victims.

One of the minister's granddaughters, meanwhile, fell far short in her efforts to unseat an openly gay member of the City Council.

The Rev. Fred Phelps Sr. was seeking to remove from the books a city ordinance that prohibits discrimination against gays in municipal hiring. The repeal measure would also bar Topeka from reinstating such protections for 10 years.

In final, unofficial results, 53 percent opposed the repeal, with 14,285 voting "no," and 12,795 voting "yes."

The Topeka Capital Journal added

Topeka's voter turnout Tuesday was the highest for a city primary election since Richard M. Nixon was president.

Shawnee County Elections Commissioner Elizabeth Ensley said Wednesday that turnout for Tuesday's primary was about 36.6 percent -- the highest since 42 percent of local voters cast ballots in the 1971 city primary.

Ensley attributed Tuesday's high number of voters to the presence of a ballot question that would have banned the city from recognizing homosexuals as a protected class for at least 10 years. The question failed, with almost 53 percent of voters coming out against it.

The issue brought national media attention to Topeka. An article in Tuesday's New York Times told about incumbent Tiffany Muller, Topeka's first openly gay city council member, and her race in west Topeka's District 9 against challengers who included Jael Phelps.

Phelps -- a member of Westboro Baptist Church, which conducts anti-homosexual picketing -- earned about 5 percent of the vote while taking fourth in the four-person race. Topeka lawyer Richard Harmon and Muller finished first and second, respectively, and will face off in the April 5 general election.

Here's MSNBC's report and the New York Times.

Of course, it's unfair to tarnish an entire city as the "capital of homophobia" because of the presence of one camera hogging, hate spewing, Bible mis-quoting bigot.

I've encountered Fred Phelps and his family church of bigots several times when I've made trips from Wichita up to Topeka. I recall once for a state Democratic Party function and once for a concert by classical guitarist Chistopher Parkening. There was only a handful of protestors, most of them presumably related to Phelps. And, while there was important organizing done in Topeka over the years to counter Phelps, which no doubt laid the groundwork for Tuesdays' vctory, my impression is that in recent years most residents regarded him as a nut case.

And with good reason, what is probably not so well-known is that Rev. Phelps is also an anti-Semite or that he was friendly with Saddam Hussein. or he says Gods hates America and deserved 9/11. (No link because I won't link to a Phelps site).

Kansans will face a ballot measure in April on whether to amend the state constitution to prohibit gay marriage and civil unions. I wonder whether the most effective message that might be crafted against the amendment is one that featured the Rev. Phelps endorsing it.

I think that only a minority of Kansas voters are ready to accept gay marriage, but I think there is a larger group that would support civil unions or whatever. Can the issue be reframed from "do I approve of gays (marrying)" to "do I approve of discrimination" in the minds of enough voters to make a difference?

Probably not. I think it will be difficult to replicate Topeka's level of organization in the other big cities, not to mention reaching small town and rural voters.

What's Not the Matter With Kansas I: Evolution

John Richard Schrok, writing in the Wichita Eagle, opines that Kansas Schools are getting a bum rap on evolution.

So what is the rate of creationist belief among Kansas high school biology teachers? I conducted a survey made before the 1999 debate using the same questions from surveys of teachers in several other states.

The percentage of Kansas biology teachers who believed creationism had a valid scientific basis was lower (25 percent), not higher, than in the other states surveyed (Ohio was 38 percent, and South Dakota was 39 percent).

When it came to giving equal time for creationism, Kansas teachers remained the lowest at 25 percent, while teachers in other states surveyed higher on equivalent questions: Georgia (30 percent), Illinois (30 percent), Kentucky (69 percent) and Louisiana (29 percent), and U.S.-wide surveys range from 39 percent to 45 percent.