Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Ken Loach: anti-Semite or Left looney?

Five hundred bucks is apparently the going rate to perpetuate the blood libel. At least, that amount of money -- donated to the Edinburgh International Film Festival by the Israeli Embassy to the UK -- that film director Ken Loach believes makes the EIFF complicit in Israeli "massacres and state terrorism in Gaza."
A donation – believed to be in the region of £300 – was to have been used to pay travel costs to the capital for Tali Shalom Ezer, a graduate of the film and television department at Tel Aviv University, who directed a short feature film, Surrogate.

SPSC, which campaigns in Scotland against Israel's attacks on Gaza, orchestrated a torrent of e-mail protests from people opposed to the move. But festival organisers refused to budge. EIFF managing director Ginnie Atkinson said not accepting support from one particular country "would set a dangerous precedent by politicising a cultural and artistic mission".

The SPSC then enlisted the support of Mr Loach, well known for his support of Palestinian human rights.

Mr Loach released a statement through the SPSC which read: "I'm sure many film-makers will be as horrified as I am to learn the Edinburgh International Film Festival is accepting money from Israel. The massacres and state terrorism in Gaza make this money unacceptable. With regret, I must urge all who might consider visiting the festival to show their support for the Palestinian nation and stay away."

The following day the EIFF – which has since been in talks with Mr Loach – did a U-turn. It said: "The EIFF are firm believers in free cultural exchange and do not wish to restrict film-makers' abilities to communicate artistically with international audiences on the basis that they come from a troubled regime.

"Although the festival is considered wholly cultural and apolitical, we consider the opinions of the film industry as a whole and, as such, accept that one film-maker's recent statement speaks on behalf of the film community, therefore we will be returning the funding issued by the Israeli embassy."

One hopes that Tali Shalom Ezer will get the money directly for travel expenses, and will show up at the EIFF to spit in Ken Loach's eye (figuratively, of course).

Monday, May 18, 2009

Assumptions, linkage, priority

From their meeting at the White House, it's clear that Barack Obama has one set, Binyamin Netanyahu has another.

Iran is Netanyahu's priority, on the assumption that it is determined to develop nuclear weapons with which to annihilate Israel. The Palestinian state is Obama's priority, on the assumption that the Muslim world will become pacific once there is peace between Israel and the Palestinians (and that a Palestinian state would necessarily be at peace with Israel).

On Iran:
Following four hours of talks with Obama, Netanyahu told Israeli reporters gathered across from the White House that there are no green, red or yellow lights from the US but rather a shared sense that Iran must not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapons capacity.

Speaking side by side at the Oval Office earlier in the day, Obama stressed the importance the US places on Israeli security and its recognition of how the Jewish state perceives the threat from Teheran, even as he defended his policy of engagement.

Obama rejected the notion of "artificial timelines" in negotiations with Iran, which he indicated he expected would begin in earnest after the Iranian election on June 12 and could subsequently expand to include direct talks between Washington and the Islamic republic.

At the same time, he stressed that "we're not going to have talk forever" and allow Teheran to develop a nuclear weapon while negotiations go on, offering that "we'll probably be able to gauge and do a reassessment by the end of the year."

He also noted that "we are not foreclosing a range of steps, including much stronger international sanctions, in assuring that Iran understands that we are serious."

Israel has been pushing for a timeline on the United States's diplomatic efforts out of concern that Iran could use the talks to run out the clock. The notion of a timeline was just one subject where differences were expected to emerge between the two leaders as they sat down for their first meeting as respective heads of government in a visit deemed crucial for determining the contours of their relationship and personal rapport.

On a Palestinian state:
Asked about reports in the media that Israel felt progress on Iran needed to be linked to progress with the Palestinians, Obama explicitly rejected the formulation, saying, "If there is a linkage between Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, I personally believe it actually runs the other way: To the extent that we can make peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis, then I actually think it strengthens our hand in the international community in dealing with the potential Iranian threat."

But he added that both issues needed to be addressed independently on their own merits.

And Netanyahu, with Obama nodding along, said each issue could be helpful in reaching a positive conclusion on the other, but that there was no "policy linkage." Netanyahu also thanked Obama for his willingness to keep all options on the table when it comes to Iran.

And following the meeting with Obama, he told the Israeli media that he sensed a seriousness in the new American administration to push the Arab states to take meaningful steps toward peace with Israel that he had not seen before.

In his remarks to the press, Obama said "there is a recognition that the Palestinians are going to have to do a better job providing the kinds of security assurances that Israelis would need to achieve a two-state solution, [and] gain additional legitimacy and credibility with their own people, and delivering services."

He also said, "The other Arab states have to be more supportive and be bolder in seeking potential normalization with Israel."

But he cautioned Israel that it would have to make difficult steps, too, including improving the humanitarian situation in Gaza, and stressed that "there is a clear understanding that we have to make progress on settlements; that settlements have to be stopped in order for us to move forward."

Each regards the other as basing policy on flawed assumptions: Obama regards Iran as a problem but not an immediate existential threat to Israel, and Netanyahu regards a prematurely-born Palestinian state as a breeding and staging ground for war against Israel. It seems that Netanyahu's assumptions are more grounded in real-life experience and knowledge of the Middle East.

Although the meeting seemed friendly and fruitful, the deep differences in how they see the exigencies of the situation are likely to lead to severe tensions between Israel and the United States. Where Israel sees immediate action against Iran as vital to its own survival, the United States will put pressure on Israel to make immediate concessions to the Palestinians. The inevitable clash of assumptions, priorities and linkage will sorely test the US-Israeli relationship.

Friday, May 15, 2009

I blame science shows on TV

For the first time since the Gallup Poll began asking the question in 1995, more Americans identify themselves as pro-life than pro-choice.
A new Gallup Poll, conducted May 7-10, finds 51% of Americans calling themselves "pro-life" on the issue of abortion and 42% "pro-choice." This is the first time a majority of U.S. adults have identified themselves as pro-life since Gallup began asking this question in 1995.

The new results, obtained from Gallup's annual Values and Beliefs survey, represent a significant shift from a year ago, when 50% were pro-choice and 44% pro-life. Prior to now, the highest percentage identifying as pro-life was 46%, in both August 2001 and May 2002.

The May 2009 survey documents comparable changes in public views about the legality of abortion. In answer to a question providing three options for the extent to which abortion should be legal, about as many Americans now say the procedure should be illegal in all circumstances (23%) as say it should be legal under any circumstances (22%). This contrasts with the last four years, when Gallup found a strong tilt of public attitudes in favor of unrestricted abortion.

You know, with all of those shows on TLC and the Discovery Channel showing how fetal viability is being pushed earlier and earlier, not to mention showing the simple images of fetal development, it's not surprising that more and more Americans are thinking of unborn children as people with rights, rather than clumps of cells akin to tumors or parasites.

It seems that the people who think that the GOP is swinging too far right for the American people on social issues are the ones who are out of touch with the pulse of the people. They seem to be bitter and clinging to their 1970s attitudes.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Is Paris burning? Not yet, but...

Two men in an Italian prison were overheard plotting to blow up Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. Oh, and British targets, too.
Italian police on Tuesday arrested two alleged al-Qaeda terrorists suspected of planning attacks on Britain and France from inside prison as part of a Europe-wide network.

During wiretapped conversations the men discussed an attack on Charles De Gaulle airport outside Paris and spoke of the need to "strike at the British", Italian police said.

Bassam Ayachi, 62, a Syrian imam with French citizenship, and Raphael Frederic Gendron, 33, a Frenchman who converted to Islam, were allegedly part of an al-Qaeda cell operating in Europe.

They have been in prison in Bari, a port town in southern Italy, since November, when they were arrested on suspicion of smuggling five illegal immigrants into Italy aboard a camping trailer.

Ayachi is a well-known extremist preacher based in Belgium and mentor to Malika el-Aroud, a leading female figure in al-Qaeda whose first husband was killed in an attack against Ahmed Shah Massoud, then leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance.

El-Aroud was arrested in Belgium a month after Ayachi and accused of planning a suicide attack while Prime Minister Gordon Brown was attending a meeting of European leaders in Brussels.

Italian officers placed a listening device in the cell shared by Ayachi and Gendron.

In one bugged conversation, the pair discussed "striking the British" and launching a Sept 11-style attack using an aircraft, although the target was not specified.

"They are key figures in al-Qaeda's European organisation," said Giorgio Manari, the chief of police in Bari. The wiretap evidence had enabled investigators to "nip the plot in the bud", he said.

The men were served warrants charging them with criminal association linked to international terrorism and will remain in custody.

They were also suspected of recruiting militants for suicide attacks in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Police said the pair had for years lived in Belgium, where Bassam was an imam at an extremist Islamic centre and one of al-Qaeda's "spiritual guides", while Gendron, a computer expert, was the "media propaganda point man, via the internet, for the French-speaking community."

I'm gonna go out on a limb and guess that these aren't the only two Islamic terror plotters in Europe. What with the totally botched raid on the Easter bombing plotters in Manchester, UK,, it seems that it's only a matter of time before the luck of European law enforcement runs out. It makes one wonder how much luck is left in the reservoir of American law enforcement....

Sunday, May 10, 2009

All's well that ends well, right?

Except the ending of Roxana Saberi's story hasn't yet been written, and there is no assurance whatsoever that it will end well: Iran hears appeal of jailed American journalist.

Iranian judges yesterday heard the appeal of the American-Iranian journalist whose eight-year jail sentence for spying has threatened to derail attempts to improve relations between the two countries.

Roxana Saberi was taken to court from Tehran's Evin prison early on Sunday morning wearing blue chador and looking pale and gaunt, according to witnesses.

But her lawyer, Abdolsamad Khoramshahi, said the case was heard in a "good atmosphere" and that he was hopeful that the sentence would be changed. He also said the verdict would probably be handed down later this week.

"They gave us enough time... to present our defence," he said. "They also gave enough time to my client to defend herself."

The court is expected to deliver its verdict this week.

Miss Saberi was born to an Iranian father and Japanese mother and grew up in the United States with dual nationality. She was at first charged with buying alcohol and with continuing to report from Iran after her press accreditation expired, but at the trial she was accused of espionage.

She was sentenced not long after President Barack Obama had made an online video address to the Iranian people arguing for a new start in relations between the two long-standing diplomatic adversaries.

While President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton wait for Iran to unclench its fist, they might reflect on the fact that said fist is clenched around Roxana Saberi's throat. It's unclear why her safety and freedom are any less of a concern than that of Capt. Phillips: the only difference in the cases is the nature of the pirates who seized the captives.

UPDATE: Roxana Saberi has been released from Evin Prison, her 8-year sentence commuted to 2 years, suspended. She has yet to leave Iran, however, and is likely not safe until she does. Interestingly, President Obama made more note of her release than he did of her captivity.
The release of Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi from Tehran's infamous Evin prison has been welcomed by rights groups and Western governments, including U.S. President Barack Obama, who called it a "humanitarian gesture."

Yet many questions remain about how Saberi's initial detention on a relatively minor charge evolved into a conviction for espionage and an eight-year prison sentence.

While analysts might not agree on the reasons behind Iran's decision to free Saberi, there is broad agreement that the case was politically motivated.

The rapid escalation of the charges against the 32-year-old journalist, followed by a fast-track appeals process that resulted in a lesser sentence, hint at the political nature behind the case.

The initial charges leveled against Saberi in late January related to the purchase of a bottle of wine, which is illegal in Iran. Those charges quickly widened into charges of spying for the United States, which in turn resulted in a guilty verdict and an eight-year prison sentence handed down by a revolutionary court.

Finally, amid international outcry over Saberi's imprisonment, an appeals court ruled on the case within 24 hours of hearing it, resulting in a two-year suspended sentence that leaves Saberi free to leave the country.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The revolutionary side of Pete Seeger

Mark Newgent in The Examiner (Baltimore edition) comments on the 90th birthday celebration for Pete Seeger.
Iconic folk singer Pete Seeger turned 90 last week and the occasion was marked by a concert at Madison Square Garden featuring musical luminaries Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews, John Mellencamp, Joan Baez and Ani DiFranco, and even a letter from President Barack Obama delivered to thousands of adoring fans.

Newgent points out that Seeger has been a lifelong Communist, as in member of the Communist Party USA. Like all CPUSA members, in the late 1930s, Seeger vehemently opposed U.S. involvement in Europe's mounting preparations for war against Hitler - because of the Molotov-Von Ribbentrop pact that made Hitler and Stalin formal allies in the partition of Poland between Germany and the Soviet Union. However, when Hitler turned on Stalin, Seeger became a gung ho proponent of the U.S. joining the war against Nazi Germany.

It wasn't until many years later than Seeger realized that Stalin was a monster who destroyed many of his people. But it's hard to admit that you've been that wrong for that long, as evidenced in Seeger's apology:
I'll apologize for a number of things, such as thinking that Stalin was simply a 'hard driver' and not a supremely cruel misleader. I guess anyone who calls himself or herself a Christian should be prepared to apologize for the Inquisition, the burning of heretics by Protestants, the slaughter of Jews and Moslems by Crusaders. White people in the U.S.A. could consider apologizing for stealing land from Native Americans and enslaving blacks. Europeans could apologize for worldwide conquests, Mongolians for Genghis Khan. And supporters of Roosevelt could apologize for his support of Somoza, of Southern white Democrats, of Franco Spain, for putting Japanese Americans in concentration camps.

Pete Seeger was and is a great admirer of Mao Zhedong. He has for many, many years performed a bit called "The Three Rules of Discipline and the Eight Points of Attention," in which he recites the rules for revolution postulated by Mao in 1928 and used as Red Army doctrine in the overthrow of China's government. Seeger recites the Three Rules and Eight Points, then whistles a happy tune. Seeger recites the People's Daily translation:
The Three Main Rules of Discipline:

* Obey orders in all your actions.
* Do not take a single needle or piece of thread from the masses.
* Turn in everything captured.

The Eight Points for Attention:

* Speak politely.
* Pay fairly for what you buy.
* Return everything you borrow.
* Pay for anything you damage.
* Do not hit or swear at people.
* Do not damage crops.
* Do not take liberties with women.
* Do not ill-treat captives.

Certainly the respect Mao's army showed to the peasantry helped him gain popular support over the Kuomintang and eventually victory in his revolution. However, as ruler, Mao presided over the mass famines of the Great Leaps Forward and the mass murders and brutal oppression of the Cultural Revolution.

Seeger recorded The Three Rules on one of his hit albums of a live concert with Arlo Guthrie - in 1975, when the horrors of the Cultural Revolution and the various Great Leaps Forward were well known. As opposed to his regret for Stalin's excesses, Seeger has no apologies for his love of Mao, one of the greatest mass murderers of all time.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

They know how it plays in Madrid, London and DC - if not Peoria

The Taliban in Afghanistan are accused of using hand grenades to ensure that there were civilian casualties to show to the media in the wake of an American air strike: Taliban blamed for 'air strike' deaths.
The claim, based on the account of US special forces involved in the fighting, comes the day after the Red Cross and Afghan officials blamed American warplanes for killing more than 100 people in Bala Balak, a Taliban-held district in Farah province.

The top US and Nato commander in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan, expressed doubt about whether the civilians were killed by American air strikes.

"We have some other information that leads us to distinctly different conclusions about the cause of the civilian casualties," McKiernan said.

US Marine special operations forces, embedded with Afghan soldiers when the fighting erupted, claim the Taliban lobbed hand grenades into civilian houses before pretending the dead were victims of an American air strike, a United Nations official said.

One can hardly blame the Taliban for murdering civilians in this way (if it proves that the allegations are true). After all, they know how willing the press and European public opinion (as well as American public opinion on the two coasts) are to believe that American forces wantonly target civilians. From the Taliban's perspective, it would be a waste not to exploit that propaganda tool.

Another slice of life from southern Africa

Quite literally, a slice that offers hope of life: Botswana to circumcise half a million men in Aids fight.
The southern African country, which has one of the world's highest HIV infection rates, plans to circumcise 460,000 men over the next five years, after a series of studies found that circumcised men were two to three times less likely to contract HIV than uncircumcised men.

"For the public health benefits of the preventive effect of circumcision to be realised, the Ministry of Health is supposed to cover 80 per cent of eligible males in Botswana," said Janet Mwambona, a public health specialist in charge of the project.

Botswana has already benefited from the introduction of anti-retroviral drugs. Botswana's HIV prevalence among pregnant women between the ages of 15 and 24 has stayed between 35 and 37 per cent since 2001. The rate among older pregnant women was 43 per cent in 2003.

Through this latest campaign, Botswana expects to cut that rate further.

Monday, May 4, 2009

"Where you stand depends on where you sit"

For example, there's where you stood when you sat on a stool at a campaign town hall meeting.

And then there's the view from the Big Chair in the Oval Office, which apparently can make you stand in a very different place: U.S. May Revive Guantánamo Military Courts.
The Obama administration is moving toward reviving the military commission system for prosecuting Guantánamo detainees, which was a target of critics during the Bush administration, including Mr. Obama himself.

Officials said the first public moves could come as soon as next week, perhaps in filings to military judges at the United States naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, outlining an administration plan to amend the Bush administration’s system to provide more legal protections for terrorism suspects.

Continuing the military commissions in any form would probably prompt sharp criticism from human rights groups as well as some of Mr. Obama’s political allies because the troubled system became an emblem of the effort to use Guantánamo to avoid the American legal system.

Officials who work on the Guantánamo issue say administration lawyers have become concerned that they would face significant obstacles to trying some terrorism suspects in federal courts. Judges might make it difficult to prosecute detainees who were subjected to brutal treatment or for prosecutors to use hearsay evidence gathered by intelligence agencies.

Civil liberties and human rights groups accuse President Obama of betraying a key campaign promise.
Anthony D. Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said that Mr. Obama had pledged to return the country to the rule of law and that “continuing with the military commission system would be a retreat from that promise.”

Gabor Rona, the international legal director of Human Rights First, said military commissions would only be necessary if the administration wanted to assure convictions that might not otherwise be certain.

“The administration is making a huge mistake,” Mr. Rona said, “if they believe getting convictions through suspect methods is more valuable than letting justice take its course.”

I hope that these groups hold President Obama's feet to the fire, unflinchingly and unrelentingly, on this issue. President Obama needs to pay the full political price -- not for continuing a policy necessary to the security of the United States and its citizens, but for opposing it out of ignorance and political pandering in the first place.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Iran rushes a woman to the gallows

In case you hadn't noticed, the ruling regime in Iran is a throwback to barbarism. Latest case in point: Delara Darabi.

The prison authorities hanged Miss Darabi, 23, even though the head of Iran's judiciary granted her a two-month stay of execution on April 19 amid international outrage over her case. They also did not give her lawyer the required 48 hours notice.

Horrific new details have emerged of her last desperate plea for help from Rasht prison as jail guards came to lead her away.

Miss Darabi made a tearful call early on Friday to her parents to say she could see the gallows and noose, according to media reports from Tehran.

"Mother they are going to execute me, please save me," she pleaded. But a prison official then grabbed the phone and told her distraught mother: "We are going to execute your daughter and there's nothing you can do about it."

Apart from the rank cruelty of taunting her parents by telephone as they dragged her to the gallows, the regime's treatment of Ms. Darabi has other dark implications.
The execution of a young woman whose case has become an international cause célèbre is a further damaging blow to President Barack Obama's attempts to thaw US relations with the Islamic regime. Roxana Saberi, an American-Iranian journalist, is on hunger strike in a Tehran prison after being convicted of espionage in a show trial last month.

Miss Darabi's case gained widespread attention after moving paintings and drawings that she made in her prison cell were shown around the world. She developed her talent as a painter behind bars.

Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen are the only countries to execute people for crimes committed when they are under 18. Miss Darabi was 17 when she admitted killing her 58-year-old uncle in a burglary in 2003 but she quickly retracted the confession, saying she had taken the blame to save her boyfriend.

I am a firm believer in capital punishment in the USA, and even disagree with the ban here on executing minors -- I think a 16-year-old has the capacity to act as an adult and should be punished as one if he or she is guilty of capital murder.

But I don't support executing a person whose guilt is not conclusively proven, whose due process in the judicial system has not been taken to its conclusion and whose execution violates all of the standards and safeguards that a society places on its own criminal justice system. It's plain that the execution of Ms. Darabi was a political demonstration that the Iranians will do with their citizens and their policies whatever they wish, without regard to outside influence... other than the military kind, that is.

As the article notes, that bodes ill for the American journalist Roxana Saberi. It also bodes ill for the prospect of a peaceful negotiated resolution to the dispute over Iran's nuclear programs. (But I hear tell the Israeli Air Force is practicing long-range air-to-air refueling.)