Monday, February 27, 2006

Ohio Politics

As primary season starts to get under way developments in Ohio made this post possible. The debate within the Democratic Party over the Iraq War is as decisive as the debate that occurred forty years ago with Vietnam.

As the Vietnam War progressed critics of the Johnson Administration’s policy were seen at first as being un-patriotic. As large-scale opposition developed in the later half of the 1960’s, especially after 1968 the debate within the Democratic Party and between Democratic politicians crystallized. A similar event of liner proportions is occurring. After supporting the President and invasion of Iraq due to fear of being called unpatriotic, the Democratic opposition is still trying to play both sides of the argument: opposition to the war and having a plan to conduct the war. While Democrats entangle themselves in debate the Republicans have used this perceived indecision to their collective electoral advantage. If Democrats want to reverse this trend having recent veterans from the War run for office is one of their best options.

Committed veterans who know the realities on the ground and are uniquely insulated from the attack on their patriotism; these are people the Democrat’s need to have in the races. One such Democrat is Paul Hackett. The tough-talking Iraq combat veteran turned a special-election fight in Ohio’s Second District into a political sleeper hit back in 2004. On election night, Hackett pulled 48 percent of the vote in a district where John Kerry got a mere 36 percent. Soon afterward Hackett met several times with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Chuck Schumer, chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), both of whom encouraged him to run for the seat of Ohio’s senior senator, Republican Mike DeWine, in 2006. Hackett agreed after being told by Ohio Congressman Sherrod Brown that he wasn’t planning to run. This spring, Sherrod Brown called informing Hackett he’d changed his mind: he was running after all. Then Schumer called, “Schumer didn’t tell me anything definitive,” he says in a Mother Jones article. “But I’m not a dumb ass, and I know what he wanted me to do.” Hackett says of the Party, “The Democratic Party is like an addict. They’re addicted to failure. I want to help the party. The question is how do you help someone that doesn’t want help?”

The most difficult decision to understand is why support for Hackett has been retracted. It should not be due to his rhetoric, Howard Dean, one-time Democratic presidential hopeful burst into the national spotlight with very similar language and, though, he did win the party’s nomination he is the national chairman. It should not be over the issue of electability. Senior Democrat officials make this explanation irrational by the support, indeed, the request that Hackett run in the first place. The only explanation left is one that is unfortunate, but most likely true. Congressman Brown, after deciding against a Senate run, chose to run and due to prior Congressional experience mixed with internal party politics and a large war chest to spend on a primary, Hackett was forced to step aside for the Party insider.

In side-lining a potential candidate the Democrat’s show that as they are ineffectual in being the honorable Opposition to the Republicans they are ineffectual in choosing candidates that can articulate alternative ideas, strategize and win the hearts of the electorate. An electorate of which, fifty-six percent, in a recent Gallop poll, voiced dissatisfaction with the handling of the war in Iraq. The question is whether or not Brown’s decision was right. Brown says he wouldn’t be giving up a safe congressional seat unless he knew he could beat DeWine, Hackett counters, “If Democrats want to start winning races, they might need a dose of boot-camp discipline: “How come this doesn’t happen in the Republican Party? It’s because they sit down guys like Sherrod and put him in a corner and make him wear the dunce cap.” The question is do Democrats want to win?As long as the Opposition is self-muted, the Republicans will continue the policies that are largely seen as ineffective but are accepted because there is no alternative.

Friday, February 24, 2006

The Bookends

The president was impeached today. Not THE president, but the president that guided America through the early stages of Reconstruction, following the Civil War. President Andrew Johnson, who, like President Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives, but not convicted by the Senate, though, in Johnson’s case the final vote was very close. One vote saved him from removal.

This being Friday, I find it appropriate to contemplate the historical bookends of this week. On Monday, the nation celebrated President’s Day; a holiday that most adults remember because the mail is not delivered and children know through the mythical Washington and Lincoln. Today should be remembered for the success of the democratic process, though it is not.

When the House of Representatives issued articles of impeachment against President Johnson, uncharted waters were explored. This was the first time that a sitting President was impeached. Democracy in the American tradition is about improvising and compromise. This tradition began with Washington where every action established precedent and carried through with Lincoln who improvised throughout the Civil War.

This tradition was not present when Congress impeached Johnson or over one hundred sixty years later when Congress impeached Clinton. The democratic process however was. The fact that such precedent existed from President Johnson is proof enough.
To paraphrase from The American President, citizenship is not easy. It makes us work for it. As this week closes, it is fascinating to look at two historical bookends and see the true significance in them.

A Deserved Gold

On Thursday night, a graceful display of perfection took place in Turino, Italy. On Tuesday of this week, during the woman's short program for figure skating Shizuka Arakawa, a leader of Japan's female figure skating team, completed her program, walked over off the ice, saw her scores and left. She did not display the business-like attitude of Russia's Irina Slutskava or the self-motivated attitude that America's Sasha Cohen continually muttered to herself. Rather, there was a void of attitude all together.

After the short program on Tuesday night Arakawa was third behind Slutskava and Cohen. After the first two groups went, Cohen skated. She fell, twice. Hamilton and Co. speaking optimistically five minutes previous were reduced to state the obvious. Once again, Cohen had choked. Then Arakawa put her brilliant spins on display and finished a flawless program. The commentary mentioned none of this only cautiousness; giddy expectancy for Slutskava claiming the gold the undertune to every word uttered. When Irina Slutskava took the ice she had truly a golden opportunity, but a sub-par skate, that included a fall, left her with the bronze and shell-shock.

A fan of Olympic skating since boyhood, I was continually confused by the analysis of the new scoring, and would have preferred to mute the commentary of Dick Button, Scott Hamilton, et., al, if not for wanting to listen to the music that accompanied the skaters. What I was most upset about was the lack of constructive i.e. positive commentary on the woman who won the Gold, gave Japan its first gold medal in the games, and Japan's first for the sport. There was no documentary before she skated or after she had won. There was no interview, which I would have at least expected, and the news in today's papers make the win seem more like a gift than hard work. This is more than unfortunate. It poorly serves the Olympic tradition and American tradition for loving hard-won victories. Maybe the reason is because Arakawa's skate in its flawlessness, though deserving of commentary, hide the hard work. I would hope this is the reason. Arakawa made the win look easy, which it was not, and in doing so has shown how an ideal Olympian should be.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Opportunity in Rubble

More than 100 people are killed in the aftermath of a bomb attack on the al-Askari shrine in Samarra, a key Shia Muslim shrine in Iraq. Everyone in Iraq - and across the Middle East - knows that a full-blown civil war would be much worse. It is for that reason that Jalal Talabani, the President of Iraq, was worried enough to go on television to warn how dangerous such a conflict would be. Iraq does not have a civil war, but it has the makings of one.

Long before the golden dome of the mosque in Samarra was destroyed there were serious incidents, between Iraq's different communities, which involved large loss of life. Though all sides have suffered it is the Shia who have arguably lost the most with thousands of people dead in hundreds of sectarian attacks. In the past twenty-four hours responsible leaders have recognized the danger, and have not allowed their country to slide into the nightmare called Lebanon after 1975. However, the destruction of the al-Askari shrine takes the danger of a civil war in Iraq to a new level and why we all should hold our collective breath.

This bombing has produced bigger protests than the killing of humans did and presumably could multiply the danger and the violence. The reason is that the holy places in the Middle East are very special for the people who consider them sacred, and that applies to all the different religions and sects. These holy places are a vital part of the way that people see themselves. In short, the attack on the shrine was seen as a direct assault on the identity and rights of the entire community.

A lot now depends on the Shia leaders, especially Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the top religious leader, and the radical nationalist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who broke off a trip to Lebanon to fly home as soon as he heard what had happened in Samarra. They have both called for national unity, and for Shia people to defend themselves if the authorities cannot.

The West should be concerned with the action (bombing) but not the result (protesting). Arab culture is such where it is natural to express rage and sadness, collectively, on the streets. The challenge for Iraqi political and religious leaders is to control and channel the anger, to let it be expressed but not to get out of control. This is where the West should be concerned. If the Iraqi citizen through channeled protests does not show force against the insurgency, in essence, reclaiming the country from them and the Coalition forces, then the cycle of violence will enter a new level, unimaginable till now. Most Iraqis, of all sides, do not want Civil War and why some extremists do, and are trying as hard as they can to make it happen. This is the moment for the Iraqi people to collectively stand up, silent no more, and take what is rightfully for them—their country.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

U.S. Port control--A foreign matter

Republicans and Democrats are working together to try and stop a deal that would transfer control of six U.S. ports to an Arab company from the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The Bush administration is facing criticism this week over its decision to let a subsidiary of UAE government-controlled maritime management firm Dubai Ports World run ports in New York and New Jersey; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Baltimore, Maryland; Miami, Florida; and New Orleans, Louisiana

The administration argues the deal was properly approved and poses no security threat. Speaking from Air Force One, President Bush said lawmakers need to explain why they have called for the deal to be blocked. The president also threatened to veto any bill that would hold up the agreement.

Does the president really not understand the objection? It is not because a foreign company will operate the port; the U.S. had a deal with a British company do so just that. In politics, the perception of the truth is often accepted than the real thing. In short, image, is very important in expressing the message, spinning the story, and handling damage control.

The image of an Arab (Muslim) country controlling (operating) not one, but six major sea ports as our soldiers fight Arab insurgents in Iraq, that two of the hijackers in the September 11, 2001, attacks came from the UAE and that the hijackers drew funds from bank accounts in Dubai, the financial center of the Persian Gulf, should make anyone wonder what the Administration is thinking? One thing is for certain, the Democrat’s have been handed another weapon in the elections this fall. It will be interesting to see if they will.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Unholy protests

Wearing vests covered in military patches, a band of motorcyclists rolls around the country from one soldier's funeral to another, cheering respectfully to overshadow jeers from church protesters.

These bikers calling themselves the Patriot Guard Riders, number more than 5,000 strong, were formed to counter anti-gay protests held by the Rev. Fred Phelps at military funerals.

Rev. Phelps believes American deaths in Iraq are divine punishment for a country that he says harbors homosexuals. His protesters carry signs thanking God for so-called IEDs -- explosives that are a major killer of soldiers in Iraq. The bikers shield the families of dead soldiers from the protesters, and overshadow the jeers with patriotic chants and a sea of red, white and blue flags.

I struggle with trying to decide what is more sad. The funeral, the Christian protestors, or the bikers who make the journey to these funerals and shield mourning families. Rev. Phelps and the protesters, most rational people will agree, are un-Christian, missing the true teaching of Jesus and like with most social issues seen within the moral-social prism today, chose the Old Testiment intrepretation of God rather than one taught by Christ in the New Testiment. It is this misintrepretation that may be the deepest dimension of saddness. The mourning families will have their wounds heal in time. The bikers, remembering the brothers dead in faraway lands and honoring the host of new dead from across the globe, hold their sadness close to the heart, wrapping it around them, like the flag they hold and, like the families, never forgetting. The protesters however will never experience the sadness. Through the language of hate and the action of disrespect they nullify every positive action and word undertaken in the name of Christianity, and add fuel to comparasions of fanatical Islamic minorities.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Haitian preference

Revolutions bring with it images of blood and death. The sibling suicide of America circa 1775 the guillotined heads in France, Reds against Whites in 1917, the pot marked streets of Madrid, Bucharest and Prague. Revolutions are also known to be the forerunner to civil war.

A revolution took place last week and the world did not take notice. The island nation of Haiti, so often seen as a troubled place politically and economically voted in the first round of presidential and parliamentary elections. The first part of the revolution erupted peacefully. Haitians turned out in record numbers. Some 63% of the 3.5 million registered voters cast ballots, far more than in any other election held since the Duvalier clan was ousted from power in 1986.

The second part of the Revolution was important for what did not happen. After initial confusion around some polling stations, there was little violence on the day of voting. The voters showed a clear preference for Rene Preval, the man who was president from 1996 to 2000 and heads the L'Espwa (The Hope) movement. Unfortunately, Mr Preval has failed by a small margin to win the presidential contest outright. Supporters of Mr Preval have taken to the streets, protesting that he was robbed of an outright victory. They say the "international community" - principally the United States and France - does not want to see him back in power because in the past he has been a loyal supporter of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. If this is true, the United States should look at Mr. Preval's record.

President Preval's four years in office were a period of relative calm, with some improvements in the Haitian economy, a more or less functioning parliament and efforts to revive local government. More importantly, and most unusual for a politician, Mr Preval kept out of the political violence of 2003-2004, and in the run-up to these elections has stressed that he is now his own man.

By voting in such massive numbers, the Haitian people have shown that they support the political process supervised by the United Nations. The 8,000-strong UN force should continue to maintain the peace over the coming weeks as the second round of voting takes place and the United States should accept the apparent winner--Mr. Preval. In the often dicey Anglo-Haitian relationship, Mr. Preval is the only former Haitian president with a positive record.

Royal reform in Japan

News that Princess Kiko, the 39-year-old wife of the emperor's second son, is expecting a child in the autumn may save Conservatives within Japan's hidebound imperial household from their worst fear - the prospect of women ascending the Chrysanthemum Throne.

For months Japan has witnessed a mounting debate over whether the Imperial Household Law - which allows only male heirs - should be amended. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who had pledged to get the succession law changed by the end of Parliament's current session in June, has turned more cautious. "It's desirable that the legislation be enacted when everyone can support it," he said one day after news of Princess Kiko's pregnancy caught Japan by surprise.

Caution is not Mr. Koizumi's style and with months remaining before he steps down in September he should not begin to exhibit the behavior now. Though he may be worried that pressing ahead will endanger his plans for other reforms he only need to remember his political strength-the Japanese public. The Japanese public seems broadly supportive of letting women take the throne, according to opinion polls

The same political capital--public support--that enabled him to win a stunning parliamentary election last year should be used again. It will not only assist in ensuring him in Japanese political history, but also enable Japan, a culturally cautious country, to take a bold step forward.

Sudan: No peace

Millions of Sudanese still live in fear of violence, a year after the peace deal ended 21 years of war between north and south.

Many Sudanese have little to celebrate due to continual conflict in the western province of Darfur and insecurity in the south and east.

The recent death of long-time southern rebel leader John Garang just three weeks after he had been sworn in as Sudan's vice-president is particularly troublesome. In short, the peace dividend has not been delivered. Reconstruction is impossible when in reality there was nothing there to start with.

Rebecca Dale from the International Rescue Committee said that some of those who have returned to their homes in south Sudan have since returned to the capital, Khartoum, because they found so little infrastructure. She said that 25% of children in the south die before they reach the age of five, there are very few schools and there is only one doctor for every 100,000 people.

The disputes in Sudan were far more complex than realized by the international negotiator who pushed north and south to reach a deal, ignoring the problems in Darfur. The only major study of deaths in Darfur so far has been conducted by the UN's World Health organization which estimated that as many as 70,000 people had died of disease and malnutrition caused by the conflict between March and October 2004. This ignores the the deaths due to violence. Amnesty International's best estimate for how many may have died from violence since the conflict began - which took account of attacks on hundreds of villages - is 50,000. Since the beginning of 2005, US academic Eric Reeves estimates the figure at 340,000. UK-based Dr Jan Coebergh, who once worked in Darfur, has examined a range of aid agency health surveys. He puts the figures slightly lower at about 300,000. The UN says that more than two million of the estimated six million population have fled their homes, but the organization is reluctant to suggest how many might have died in total.

International differences on Darfur have also contributed to a non-number as well as inaction. The UN Security Council remains unable to agree on how to sanction the government or the perpetrators of abuses from all sides. The small African Union force meant to monitor a ceasefire is ineffective and under strength.

The important thing is that the deaths stop. When President Bush meets with UN Secretary General Annan an opportunity for discussion on Sudan and on Darfur, in particular, is possible. Moreover, though Iraq and Iran will lead the discussion, the important thing is that the deaths stop. The question that remains is how many more will die while the international community argues?

Terror Laws

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has scored both a strategic and tactical victory in his attempt to outlaw the glorification of terrorism.

With a perfectly healthy majority of 38 - more than twice the size of the majority the first time it came before MPs, the British House of Commons reversed the House of Lords decision to remove the glorification section of the Terror law. This victory without opposition from Labour backbenchers who have caused problems for the Prime Minister in the past help position the public perception that Labour is more concerned about national security than the opposition. Though the Tories claim the prime minister was playing politics by deliberately picking an argument in order to suggest that they were soft on terrorists, perception or illusion is, for the moment, accurate.

This was a tactical victory for the prime minister as well. He had the vocal support of Chancellor Gordon Brown who is seen as adopting an increasingly prime ministerial role. This victory indicates that Tony Blair is still in control of his party in Parliament, still a viable leader on the national scene, and that it is the wrong time to try and undermine him.

Pakistani Protest-Musharraf Silenced

At least three people died in a third day of protests and clashes with police -- two in Peshawar and one in Lahore. Authorities said dozens had been injured. Police responded with tear gas as authorities called in Pakistani paramilitary forces to calm the disturbance.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has been silent. This proves one simple fact. A close ally to the United States in the War on Terror, controversial Muslim leader, and one person who could help calm tensions arisen throughout the world of Islam is mute.

Whether this is purposeful or forced is immaterial. What is important but not yet mentioned is the fact that no Muslim head of state has stepped forward and tried to calm the protests. The current situation is not specific to any individual country in the world of Islam, rather the outrage is justified, but not the subsequent actions. The Muslim leader, president, premier or imam, who speaks out against the rioting and violence would show what the Dutch cartoon did not. The true personification of Muhammad.

Katrina Truth

Today, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff will field tough questions from senators today about how he dealt with Hurricane Katrina.

The nation's emergency management chief should be open, frank and honest. National media has exposed much of the mismanagement onsite and at the national level. This is an opportunity for Secretary Chertoff to take responsibility for the failure of response, failure of FEMA in sending the trailer homes to the displaced people who needed them and complete mismanagement of the millions of tax payer dollars. This is the only viable option that the Secretary has.

The hope is that Mr. Chertoff will not hide behind bureaucratic double-speak and string along blame to the far corners of the relief effort. The American public deserve the respect of Secretary Chertoff and history shows the public is equally forgiving to those who accept honest ownership of mistakes.