Monday, February 28, 2005

Iraq's WMD in the Bekaa Valley???

Roger L. Simon hints (last item in the post) at something I noted on my old blog only four and a half months after U.S. forces toppled Saddam.

A stretch? Possibly. But you never know.

Never thought we'd hear this

Orin Kerr, of the Volokh Conspiracy (which is probably the best law-related blog in the blogosphere) reports this interesting bit of news from the American Civil Liberties Union (hat tip, The Corner):

"ACLU Approves Of Overwhelming Majority of Patriot Act: One of the odd things about debates over the Patriot Act is that even its harshest informed critics actually only oppose a very small part of the Act; the overwhelming majority of the statute is uncontroversial among the fairly small number of people who understand what's in it. As best I can tell, this has been a well-kept secret for the last 3+ years mostly for tactical reasons: If you want to get the public very worried about a topic to help advance your cause in future legislative debates, you can't very well admit that your objections are actually quite limited.

"In light of that, it's good to see that ACLU President Nadine Strossen apparently has admitted that the ACLU approves of more that 90% of the Patriot Act."

The Middle East Playground

In Tom Friedman's Sunday column in the Times he writes:

"Indeed, in the Middle East playground - as Friday's suicide bomb in Israel reminds us - tipping points are sometimes more like teeter-totters: one moment you're riding high and the next minute you're slammed to the ground. Nevertheless, what's happened in the last four weeks is not just important, it's remarkable. And if we can keep all three tipping points tipped, it will be incredible."

Today's bombing in southern Baghdad, killing well over 100 people, is another example of being "slammed to the ground" the next minute. But you cannot deny, as I said last week, the winds are a-changing in the Middle East.

Today in Lebanon, from the AP:

"BEIRUT, Lebanon - With shouts of "Syria out!," more than 25,000 flag-waving protesters massed outside Parliament on Monday in a dramatic display of defiance that swept out Lebanon's pro-Syrian government two weeks after the assassination of a former prime minister.

"Cheering broke out among the demonstrators in Martyrs' Square when they heard Prime Minister Omar Karami's announcement on loudspeakers that the government was stepping down. Throughout the day, protesters handed out red roses to soldiers and police."

This is history we are watching. If you don't want to accept, or make excuses about what is really going on in the Middle East, it's really too bad.

UPDATE...

Tom Barnett and Andrew Sullivan weigh in on the encouraging trends coming out of the Mideast.

The NYT's Greatest Discovery: "Winston Churchill, Neocon?"


Thank you New York Times for becoming another conspiracy theorist of neoconservative principles. As if neoconservatism can be easily defined anyway, you have once again proven your stupidity by practicing the age-old screwup of manipulating history with modern terms. I guess this sudden relevation changes everything now, huh? Sure some notable neoconservative authors have claimed that Churchill was an influence in the development of the neocon persuasion; however, the portrayal of President Bush as an idol-worshipping fool to a bronze bust is ludicrous. Too add to the hilarity of this article, the above picture was also included. A good laugh for all at the NYT.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

New "Bar-Code" Logo

I just found this on the internet, and I sure hope it's a joke. But according to Ananova News, European Commission president Romano Prodi commissioned Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas to create a new design for the EU flag. This is the result. I'm sorry, but this spastic design is simply inviting parody.


''We are a nation that has a government - not the other way around.'' - the late R.R.

Mark Steyn on Europe. Sit back and enjoy.

"Bush shows a steady but reasoned touch with Putin"

Tom Barnett breaks down the news coverage of the Bush-Putin summit like no one else can.

Note: If you're unfamiliar with Barnett's lingo - "connectivity"; "Core"; "Gap" - keep reading his blog and buy his book.

"Truth Commission" on Franco

Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon has called for a "truth commission" to investigate crimes against humanity committed during the years of Franco's dictatorship from 1939 until his death in 1975.

Garzon is most famous for his building of criminal cases against Latin American military regimes and al Qaeda. While this may be of some sort of condolence to the Spanish people, I believe that perhaps investigation into the truth should perhaps begin with the teaching of the Civil War in Spanish schools. That may be a more logical starting point before launching a nation-wide project which may provide negligible results. Check out the full article here.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Mubarak wants election reform

It'll be interesting to see if Mubarak is actually serious about this:

"CAIRO, Egypt - Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Saturday ordered a revision of the country's election laws and said multiple candidates could run in the nation's presidential elections, a scenario Mubarak hasn't faced since taking power in 1981.

"The surprise announcement, a response to critics' calls for political reform, comes shortly after historic elections in Iraq and the Palestinian territories, balloting that brought a taste of democracy to the region. It also comes amid a sharp dispute with the United States over Egypt's arrest of one of the strongest proponents of multi-candidate elections."

It's also critical to note this tidbit of information:

"The move also comes amid a dispute between Egypt and the United States over the recent detention of an opposition leader.

"Ayman Nour, head of the Al-Ghad Party, was detained Jan. 29 on allegations of forging nearly 2,000 signatures to secure a license for his party last year. He has rejected the accusation, and human rights groups have said his detention was politically motivated. The prosecutor general has denied that charge.

"His detention has been strongly criticized by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Rice canceled a Mideast visit that had been planned for next week, a decision believed to be in protest of Nour's detention."

Is Mubarak throwing us a bone here, or is he serious about opening up the political process in Egypt? I think the former, but at least Mubarak is "talking" about democracy. There is definitely a change in the winds in the Middle East (thanks in large part to Iraq), but don't expect those winds to blow over the authoritarians overnight. They'll fall when they fall and the Mubaraks know their time is coming.

A by-product of the Bush-Putin summit?

From the AP:

TEHRAN, Iran - Last-minute disputes Saturday forced Iran and Russia to postpone the signing of an agreement to supply Iran with fuel for its first nuclear reactor, a deal strongly opposed by the United States.

The countries' top nuclear officials had been set to sign the agreement on Saturday morning, a day after a summit between the U.S. and Russian presidents.

But after hours of delay, Yacoub Jabbarian, an official at Iran's Atomic Energy Agency, told reporters that talks had been prolonged and it was not clear when the signing would take place. He did not give the reason for the delay.

An Iranian nuclear official speaking on condition of anonymity said "deep differences" had arisen, but would not elaborate.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Something you don't see in Europe everyday

A pro-American, pro-Bush, and, even more shocking, pro-Israeli demonstration in Mainz, Germany that welcomed W's visit (via Instapundit).

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Disagreeing with Mr. Bush

Since I have began to really study international affairs on a regular basis (which has been about two and a half years) I have made it a goal of mine to never stop questioning what I believe in. I identify my perspective on foreign policy as that of the ''neoconservative persuasion.'' However, I qualify my neoconservativism only to, as our blog sub-title reads, ''where it counts,'' which today happens to be the greater Middle East. Outside of the Middle East, I have realized over time that I am no neocon. This is especially true with regard to China. Neocons are especially fearful of a rising China, who's economic growth in the past twenty years rivals America's and who's governmnet is spending billions to modernize their military. One of the princple beliefs of neoconservatives on foreign policy is unparalled American supremacy. Any power that seeks to rival the U.S. economically and especially militarily is considered a threat, according to neoconservative thought. And China is certainly on her way to rival-status.

But I believe (I know Jon doesn't) that we should welcome China's emergence and that we should seek to shape a relationship with the Chinese that enhances our economic relationship (don't forget that the U.S. is China's biggest export market) and establishes a strategic-security relationship that will allow us to deal with North Korea. Much of my belief in this unconventional approach to China policy is due to Dr. Thomas Barnett and Tom Friedman's book The Lexus and the Olive Tree. Both authors talk about the importance of globalization in seeking a safer and more prosperous world, and it has become apparent to me that our saber-rattling toward China is a lost cause. Barnett, whose new book The Pentagon's New Map is an unparalled look at the world today, has a piece in the February Esquire (which you gotta read, too) about what he thinks should be President Bush's agenda for his second term. The section on China is important to understand where I'm coming from on all this. It is as follows (it's pretty long, but definitely worth spending 10 minutes reading):

TO UNDERSTAND CHINA TODAY, you have to remember what it was like for the United States back in the early years of the twentieth century. Here we were, this burgeoning economic powerhouse with a rising yet still relatively small military package, and all the old-school powers worried about us as an up-and-coming threat. While the European form of globalization predominated at that time, our upstart version ("We don't need no stinkin' empire!") would come to dominate the landscape by the century's midpoint, primarily because Europe decided to self-destruct all its empires via two "world" wars that in retrospect look like the European Union's versions of the American Civil War.

China is the United States of the early twenty-first century: rising like crazy, but not really a threat to anyone except small island nations off its coast. (God, I miss T.R. and the Rough Riders.) Hu Jintao, China's current president and party boss of the country's fourth generation of leaders, has tried to calm global fears by proposing his theory of Peacefully Rising China, a tune that, frankly, none of the Pentagon's hardcore neocons can carry.

Why? The far Right is still gunning for China, and precious Taiwan is its San Juan Hill. Nixon burned Taiwan's ass back in the early seventies when he effectively switched official recognition from Taipei to the mainland, so the price it demanded was the continued "defense guarantee" that said we'd always arm Taiwan to the teeth and rush to its rescue whenever China unleashed its million-man swim of an invasion.

That promise is still on the books, like some blue law from a bygone era. Does anyone seriously think we'd sacrifice tens of thousands of American troops to stop China from reabsorbing Taiwan?

I know, I know. China's still "communist" (like I still have a full head of hair if the lighting's just so), whereas Taiwan is a lonely bastion of democracy in an -otherwise...uh... increasingly democratic Asia. So even though the rest of Asia, including Japan, is being rapidly sucked into China's economic undertow (as "running dogs of capitalism" go, China's a greyhound), somehow the sacredness of Taiwan's self-perceived "independence" from China is worth torching the global economy over? Does that strike anybody as slightly nuts?

Here's the weirdest part: China's been clearly signaling for years that it's perfectly willing to accept the status quo, basically guaranteeing Taiwan's continued existence, so long as Taipei's government maintains the appearance of remaining open to the possibility of rejoining the mainland someday.

Now I know people say you don't read books, Mr. President, but being a Southerner, you know something about the Civil War. Imagine if Jefferson Davis and the leftovers of the Confederacy had slipped away to Cuba in 1865 to set up their alternative, nose-thumbing version of America on that island. Then fast-forward to, say, 1905 and imagine how much the U.S. would have tolerated some distant, imperial power like England telling us what we could or could not do vis-á-vis this loser sitting just off our shore. Imagine where old Teddy Roosevelt would have told the Brits they could shove their defense guarantee.

My point is this: In a generation's time, China will dominate the global economy just as much as the United States does today. (Don't worry, we'll be co-dominatrices.) The only way to stop that is to kill this era's version of globalization—something I worry about those neocons actually being stupid enough to do as part of their fanciful pursuit of global "hegemony." That nasty, far poorer future is not the one I want to leave behind for my kids, and I expect you feel the same about yours. China won't go down alone; it'll take most of the advanced global economy with it. So on this one, let's go with those vaunted American interests I keep hearing about and look out for number one.

This may seem a back-burner issue, but there's credible talk of Taipei doing something provocative like adding the word Taiwan in parentheses behind its official name, the Republic of China. That may not seem like much to us, but Beijing's reluctant hand may be forced by this act. Seems crazy, doesn't it?

Again, how much of the global economy—how many American lives—are you prepared to sacrifice on your watch just so Taiwan can rejoice in this moment of self-actualization?

I vote for zero. Zip. Nada.

Take America's defense guarantee to Taiwan off the table and do it now, before some irrational politician in Taipei decides he's ready to start a war between two nuclear powers. Trust me, you'd be doing Taiwan a favor, because it's my guess that our defense guarantee would evaporate the moment any Taiwan Straits crisis actually boiled over, leaving Taipei severely embarrassed and Beijing feeling excessively emboldened.

Let's lock in a strategic alliance with rising China at today's prices, because it's got nowhere to go but up over the coming years. Buying into this relationship now is like stealing Alaska from the czars for pennies on the dollar; it'll never be this cheap again.

More to the point, preemptively declaring a permanent truce in the Taiwan Straits is the quid we offer for Beijing's quo in the solution set that really matters in East Asia today: the reunification of Korea following Kim Jong Il's removal from power.

"Que tal amigo?"

After a brief exchange in Brussels, Zapatero said he hoped meetings between European leaders and President Bush marked a new chapter in transatlantic relations. "I am confident that today marks the beginning of a new phase," he told a press conference after the EU-US summit. According to the Prime Minister, Bush greeted him in Spanish asking, "Hola, que tal amigo?"
Zapatero answered, "Muy bien, y tu?"

I watched the clips of the NATO meeting and this appeared to be the extent of the conversation. If Zapatero considers this to be groundbreaking developments in Spanish-Amerian relations, he better take a course on diplomacy. I also saw Zapatero with his "crazy-eyes" creeping in the background circling Bush. Strange.

Later during the press conference, Zapatero remarked "A relation of understanding and cooperation between Europe and the United States is key for maintaining peace and security in the world... And so that those bridges are solid, there needs to be two balanced pillars on each side of the Atlantic."

If only he would demonstrate actions that appear to support his own words. Europe is one thing, Spain is undoubtedly another.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Want Lindsay Lohan´s phone number?

According to the news story which started to flood the internet nearly six hours ago, and as filed by Matt Drudge,

Private telephone numbers of celebrities have been unleashed on the Internet after an apparent hacking into Paris Hilton's T-MOBILE SIDEKICK Address Book, the DRUDGE REPORT has learned.The FBI has opened an investigation into the hack, a government source said. The DRUDGE REPORT has confirmed the authenticity of many of the unlisted and super-secret numbers: Private phone numbers and email addresses of Eminem, Lindsay Lohan, Christina Aguilera, Andy Roddick, Ashlee Simpson, Victoria Gotti, Vin Diesel, Anna Kournikova and many others!One top star reached Sunday morning expressed total outrage at Paris."I gave her my number after we met in Miami, I did not know she f**king kept it on her cellphone!" the star explained.A website posted the digits over the weekend, with the message: "I'm Sorry Bitch :) GG FGT SLT BTCH! HACKED BY THE NIGGAS AT DFNCTSC"Also splashed in the hack, Paris Hilton's private notes, listed by date.From Hollywood to Vegas to New York -- and back, Paris Hilton's notes, road directions, hotel and airline preferences are exposed.

In other news, perhaps Lindsay Lohan´s dad was already aware of the information. Maybe he was so infuriated with the fact that his ´´innocent´´ daughter was in cahootz with Hilton that he decided to get plastered and DWI. Lohan´s dad was arrested on Saturday after he wrecked his car while intoxicated; luckily, he was able to escape unharmed before the car burst into flames. Read more about this story.

Herbert asks, ¨What was this war all about?¨

New York Times op-ed columnist Bob Herbert asked this question in his column today, titled ¨Iraq, Then and Now.¨ This was perhaps one of the most frustrating, and at the same, one of the most immature pieces of literature that I have ever seen grace the pages of the Times. The arguments made by Hoover, seem to have come from some of the most surface-level thinking that could have only been inspired by the ten-minute brain storming session during his trip to the office. Bob, you have reminded me of a funny T-Shirt I once saw, for today, you have proven that, you ¨...bring nothing to the table.¨

Primarly, Herbert uses arguments such as that of a counterintelligence official who states, ¨An American invasion of Iraq is already being used as a recruitment tool by Al Qaeda and other groups. And it is a very effective tool. ¨He further takes a statement out of context from C.I.A. Director Porter Goss by quoting, ´¨¨Islamic extremists are exploiting the Iraqi conflict to recruit new anti-U.S. jihadists... the war has become a cause for extremists.¨

Well gee thanks Bob, ya think? I wasn´t aware that this is the common reaction of human beings, to be enraged when they are the target of bombs, laser-guided missiles, and the most powerful army in the world (note the sarcasm). But please Bob, don´t suggest that you too, like so many others, will try and pretend to once again live on the fantasy island of pre-9/11. Certainly we can´t turn back to our stagnant policies following the end of the Cold War. We were living in a dream world, these terrorists, these immediate threats, existed when we were too blind to see them, and as they have proven, will continue to survive for the forseeable future. They were scheming, gathering strenghth, and planning to stab us while we were leading the most ¨dysmal¨ ten years of foreign policy to date, according to AEI´s David Frum.

Then you state, ¨So tell me again. What was this war about? In terms of the fight against terror, the war in Iraq has been a big loss. We've energized the enemy. We've wasted the talents of the many men and women who have fought bravely and tenaciously in Iraq. Thousands upon thousands of American men and women have lost arms or legs, or been paralyzed or blinded or horribly burned or killed in this ill-advised war. A wiser administration would have avoided that carnage and marshaled instead a more robust effort against Al Qaeda, which remains a deadly threat to America.¨

I am shocked and awed. I could go on much further but to do so would simply be a waste of my time, and besides I have to go to my history class. So I am putting the article out for all bloggers to read and analyze. There is no doubt in my mind that a columnist for the New York Times should be able to produce more intelligent writing than this, or at least something more original than what I am already capable of reading on millions of anti-war blogs and propaganda websites.

´´Cancer, you´re fired´´

For those who do not attend Penn State or do not live in proximity to Pennsylvania, I would like to take a few minutes to direct your attention to the most successful student run charity in the United States, THON. This year, THON raised a record breaking total of $4,122,483.65 for the Four Diamonds Fund -- $574,768 more than last year's total. I am proud to claim that among the 52 fraternities at Penn State, my fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon finished 7th with our sister sorority, Alpha Phi.

According to the official website, Thon is ´´...the largest student-run philanthropy in the world, the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon (THON™)! THON is a year round fundraising event benefiting The Four Diamonds Fund, Conquering Childhood Cancer, at the Penn State Children's Hospital in Hershey, PA. The year culminates in a no-sitting, no-sleeping, 48-hour dance marathon held every February. Over the past 30 years, the students of THON have raised over $30 million and have helped thousands of children and families fight pediatric cancer.
During THON weekend, 700 students and thousands of supporters come together in the hopes of one day finding a cure for pediatric cancer. Whether standing for 48 hours as a dancer, entertaining the crowd, taking care of the facility, or even sitting in the stands, every person at THON plays a small part in creating an amazing atmosphere of love, compassion, and understanding. This atmosphere inspires the students to fundraise throughout the year and tells the families of The Four Diamonds Fund that they have the care and support they need. This collective effort, involving over 10,000 students, has become one of Penn State's greatest and most unifying traditions.´´

Read more from the Penn State Daily Collegian.

´´Si´´ to the European Constitution

In what may be a sign of things to come, during Sunday´s referendum, Spain became the first country to agree to the new European Constitution. According to statistics released by the interior ministry, just over 42 percent of the electorate turned out to vote, with nearly four in five of those casting ballots voting in favor. As an invitation to neighboring EU states, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero stated, ´´Our vote is a message to our fellow EU citizens who were awaiting our decision. Today Europe won, the EU constitution won, Spain won.´´

As expected, votes in favor were high across the majority of Spain, while dipping significantly in the northern Basque region and Catalonia. Due to worries of a possible attack on behalf of the ETA, heavy security was on hand across Spain with some 106,000 police on duty. Read more at from the Times.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

The Shia Myth Part II

In his Washington Post column, Robert Kagan echoes my earlier sentiments about the uninformed opinions on the Iraqi Shia and their intentions in the new Iraqi government by drawing the interesting parallel to when conservatives during the Cold War saw all communists as part of one big, ''monolithic'' force.

According to Kagan, during the Cold War, liberals pointed out that ''Not all communists were stooges of the Soviet Union, as China and Yugoslavia demonstrated. And not all national liberation movements were led by communists. More often, they were led by nationalists. Then there was the whole kaleidoscope of the global left: the socialists, the euro-communists, the trade union leaders, the advocates of a "third way" between East and West. It was a mistake to lump them all together as 'communists'.''

Today, the roles are reversed: ''Compare liberal and journalistic open-mindedness during the Cold War, when the subject was communism, with the remarkable rigidity from these same quarters today when it comes to a very different group of people: Shiite Muslims.''

That's a pretty interesting dynamic. Read the whole thing.

Friday, February 18, 2005

´´Bush sets out to woo European allies´´

The Euro-trip begins on Thursday. Read more.

End of embassies as we know it?

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero seems to think so...

According to Zapatero during a Spanish radio interview, he believes that embassies will be replaced by European missoins answerable to Brussels. “We will undoubtedly see European embassies in the world, not ones from each country, with European diplomats and a European foreign service.” Particularly, this statement was made toward the British government. I´m not to sure England would be too happy about all of this. This talk is assuming that the EU referendum passes in all the member countries, beginining with the crucial vote in Spain this Sunday.

However, the referendum is expected to pass with ease with all of the major Spanish parties campaigning for a ´´yes´´ vote. According to polls, more than 90% of the population is estimated to be ´´pro-European.´´ Read more from today.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Tourists threatened by ETA letter sent to KLM

The offices of Dutch airline KLM in Spain received a letter from the ETA, supposedly sent from Vitoria, which said, ´´We cannot guarantee the security of foreign citizens.´´ Not only does this raise the possibility of future attacks on tourist sites throughout Spain, but also the new fear of aggression involving air travel. Read more.

9/11 Conspiracies Alive and Well in Spain

I was particularly fascinated by the cover story in the March edition of Popular Mechanics, titled, "9/11: Debunking the Myths." The article was especially fascinating due to an apparent discrepancy in opinions, which only served to further back my belief in the ever-present hatred of America in Spain. The issue deals with a mysterious "object" that may have been located under the wing of the United Airlines Flight 175, according to photographs before impact with the WTC.

From Popular Mechanics,

CLAIM: Photographs and video footage shot just before United Airlines Flight 175 hit the South Tower of the World Trade Center (WTC) show an object underneath the fuselage at the base of the right wing. The film "911 In Plane Site" and the Web site LetsRoll911.org claim that no such object is found on a stock Boeing 767. They speculate that this "military pod" is a missile, a bomb or a piece of equipment on an air-refueling tanker. LetsRoll911.org points to this as evidence that the attacks were an "inside job" sanctioned by "President George Bush, who planned and engineered 9/11."

FACT: One of the clearest, most widely seen pictures of the doomed jet's undercarriage was taken by photographer Rob Howard and published in New York magazine and elsewhere (opening page and at right). PM sent a digital scan of the original photo to Ronald Greeley, director of the Space Photography Laboratory at Arizona State University. Greeley is an expert at analyzing images to determine the shape and features of geological formations based on shadow and light effects. After studying the high-resolution image and comparing it to photos of a Boeing 767-200ER's undercarriage, Greeley dismissed the notion that the Howard photo reveals a "pod." In fact, the photo reveals only the Boeing's right fairing, a pronounced bulge that contains the landing gear. He concludes that sunlight glinting off the fairing gave it an exaggerated look. "Such a glint causes a blossoming (enlargement) on film," he writes in an e-mail to PM, "which tends to be amplified in digital versions of images--the pixels are saturated and tend to 'spill over' to adjacent pixels." When asked about pods attached to civilian aircraft, Fred E. Culick, professor of aeronautics at the California Institute of Technology, gave a blunter response: "That's bull. They're really stretching."

However, what I discovered, and I found really hilarious, is that the "prestigious" daily newspaper of Catalonia, La Vanguardia, also ran an investigative series; however, their studies produced slightly different results. According to Eduardo Martín de Pozuelo and Xavier Mas de Xaxàs, two of the most well-known columnists for La Vanguardia, they concluded,

Various aeronautical engineers at official Spanish centers have found no clear explanation for the reflections or shapes which can be observed on the hijacked plane. However, a contour-detection digital analysis of the stills, carried out at the Escola Universitària Politècnica de Mataró, concludes that the "objects discerned cannot be due to shadows caused by the angle of incidence of the sun upon the plane as they always appear as the same shape and size, although their luminosity varies." This result was reached having subjected the photographs to a digital image process "which would respond to changes in luminance" which can be seen with the naked eye and which, in principle, would make no sense, given that the fuselage of commercial airplanes is cylindrical and flat, according to the cited technical report.

The author, who has had extensive professional experience in digital image processing, artificial neuronal networks and biometry, says in the report that "the same treatment" was applied to each of the photographs "using three standard digital image processing algorithms", the technical data of which are detailed at length in the dossier. Having clarified that "the images studied are taken from different angles of observation", it establishes that the "objects detected present distinct luminosity as they are in relief" and adds that "this is the only possible explanation", finally pointing out that "the objects detected can be clearly distinguished from the landing gear."

Now that is some interesting stuff.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Do a jig or something!

Since my phoneline is still broken, and the monopolistic evil empire of Telefonica has decided to repair it at their leisure, I will divert from my normal political rantings to something of less importance. However, this is something that has bothered me since I arrived here. Barcelona has the worst bums in the world! So after a couple of weeks here, I offer some pointers to those who feel the need to constantly stick their dirty hands in my face while I am eating my bikini and sipping some sangria.

1.) Don´t wear designer square-toe shoes (we know that you´re not poor)
2.) If you stay in the same place everday, don´t switch your begging cup (when it changes from McDonalds to Burger King to Starbucks, I know you´re eating)
3.) Don´t wear nicer clothes than the people that you are asking money from (i.e. gypsies)
4.) Don´t use hair gel, it makes you look too clean
5.) While begging for money from table to table, make sure that the infant that you are holding is not already chowing down on a double-cheeseburger
6.) DO SOMETHING! Laying on the ground, rocking back and forth with your hand out is the most unattractive thing I have ever seen, and it is very unlikely that will earn any income

So I hope this helps. Not only I am trying to aid the bums of Barcelona in their daily pursuits, but I am trying to improve the scenery. So bums, if you want my money, be proactive! Dance, sing, play an instrument... and if you can´t do any of the above activities, do jumping jacks or push-ups! I´m always willing to throw down some euros for effort.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

'Back from Battle'

Great column from David Brooks.

Still No Internet and Re: Micheal Moore

Our internet is still down at our apartment. Not cool. However, the upside is that I´m getting my homework/studying done at a reasonable hour! So for now, posting will be intermittent from our undisclosed location in Barcelona.

I want to thank Joe Gandelman of TheModerateVoice who found our blog and linked to my Michael Moore story on Dean´s World where he guest blogs on the weekends. We appreciate it very much.

I turned in my `response´ to Michael Moore´s Bowling for Columbine on Monday. Here it is below. I´ll let you how my professor´s response.
_____
14 February 2005
EC 342

Before I even consider answering the questions raised by Michael Moore’s documentary, Bowling for Columbine, and the legality of the right to bear arms, I must ask a simple question.

What do these particular topics have to do with European regional economies? Tell me what a Michael Moore documentary about guns and violence in America has to do with European regional economies. I’d really like to know the answer. I’d like to know why an entire class period was devoted to viewing a documentary that not only has nothing to do with what is found the EC 342 course syllabus, but is full of lies and distortions on pretty much every topic Mr. Moore addresses (if you’d like to see a full documentation of those lies and distortions, I refer you to http://www.bowlingfortruth.com). Why should my parents’ hard earned money go toward your paycheck when you, on a whim at the request of a student, agree to set class time aside for something that, again, has absolutely nothing to do with regional economies in Europe?

You obviously – by sharing with us on the first day of class your thoughts on President Bush – have your opinions on the issues of the day. That’s fine. But what is your motivation for showing a group of American students a film critiquing American culture in a way that leaves the viewer thinking the United States is a place where whenever a kid has a bad day or can’t take the teasing anymore goes around murdering his classmates? Is this the way you look at the United States? Is this how you want us to look at our own country? I think it’s safe to assume you agree with Mr. Moore’s thesis and Mr. Moore in general considering the film you showed in class, Bowling for Columbine, was not the intended documentary you had originally planned to show. Too bad we missed out on an even more distorted and twisted documentary by Mr. Moore. That being said, I hesitate in even answering your prompt because, as I’ve inquired earlier, what does this have to do with European regional economies? Why am I spending time on what is basically a pointless assignment when I should be doing a class reading or homework for some other class?

Anyway, I still want to tackle some of the issues you asked to address. The shooting at Columbine High School happened during the spring of my freshman year at my junior high school in Murrysville, PA. About two weeks after the 20 April shootings in Colorado, when the horrors of that day were still fresh in everyone’s minds, somebody wrote on a bathroom stall in my school that bombs would go off on May 5. Upon discovering the warning, school officials said May 5 would be an “optional” day of school. My parents told my younger brother and sister and me that we would be going to school that day because it was silly to let some prankster play on our fears. Plus I had a freshman baseball game that evening, and if I didn’t go to school, I wouldn’t be allowed to play. So on May 5, we arrived at school and found police everywhere. They had conducted thorough sweep of the school with a SWAT team and bomb-sniffing dogs. Nothing was found. We had a normal day of school, except for the fact that close to – if my memory is correct – 90% of the junior high school student population chose to take advantage of the “optional” day of school.

Since those crazy weeks in the spring of 1999 in Columbine, at my junior high school, and at hundreds of other schools across the country, there have not been mass student shootings across the United States. Sure, there have been isolated incidents of violence since, but nothing even remotely close to Columbine. Most of my country was convinced we’d see more Columbine-style shootings in the months and years ahead. But we didn’t. In effect, what Mr. Moore fails to do in his film is give the viewer perspective.

Using the cover of a “documentary,” in which the filmmaker is obligated to not exclude any bit of information that may go against the documentary’s thesis, Mr. Moore’s film takes one day of tragedy, compounds the viewers’ fears to the nth degree by portraying half the country to be some gun-obsessed, red-neck freak show, throws in some unsubstantiated numbers about murder rates in the U.S. and other Western countries, and adds the fact that we dropped more bombs on Kosovo on the day of the Columbine shooting than on any other day during that conflict (without even explaining why those bombs were being dropped)[1], and we’re supposed to accept Mr. Moore’s assertions and observations as factually accurate?

Finally, you asked to consider the legality of the right to bear arms. Until either the Supreme Court of the United States rules the Second Amendment to the Constitution unconstitutional, or if two-thirds of Congress and three-quarters of the state legislatures decide to pass an amendment to the Constitution that repeals the Second Amendment (which will never happened), I’m not going to even bother with this question.

Again, if you’d like to get a full critique of Mr. Moore’s documentary, I refer you to http://www.bowlingfortruth.com.
Also, if you’d like a blistering take-down of the documentary we were supposed to watch, Fahrenheit 9/11, you can read Christopher Hitchens’ review here: http://www.slate.com/toolbar.aspx?action=print&id=2102723


[1] So why were American warplanes dropping those bombs? It was just another day at the office for the U.S. Air Force, who was called in by ineffectual European NATO forces to help them neutralize the genocide of the Bosnians and Kosovars at the hands of Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic. Like he did when U.S. forces toppled the regimes of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Mr. Moore in excusing Milosevic’s mass murder in Bowling for Columbine, serves as the world’s most popular apologist for tyrannical governments.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Windsor Building, Madrid

For an American, watching the blazing inferno consume the Windsor building in Madrid was eerily similar to the scenes of 9/11. Undoubtedly everybody in Spain has already heard the news, but for those who have not, here it is.

The 31-story Windsor office building in the financial center of Madrid was completely destroyed by a fire that lasted for nearly 20 hours, finally being extinguished shortly after 8:00 PM on Sunday evening. Although the building was a landmark image of Madrid, concerns about the stability of the structure have led to a plan for demolition.

This was undoubteldy the largest fire in the city's history, with insurers estimating the loss at nearly 84.2 million Euros (at 2003 prices). Although the exact cause of the fire is not yet known, evidence has suggested faulty wiring. However, the fire was aided by the fact that the fire alarm system failed to activiate, causing a disruption in the automatic water sprinklers.

Apologies

We´ve had some internet connection issues at our place. Hopefully it´ll be fixed today and we´ll get back to posting.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Spain & US, A-OK?

In a relationship that is constantly remembered for being soured by Zapatero's announcement to withdrawal from the US-led coalition last year, "The Shoemaker" stressed the friendship between the US and Spain by stating that they hold common ground despite their differences.

In a meeting today in Brussels between Condi Rice and Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos, vital issues were discussed involving the relationship, and afterward, Maratinos stated that he would travel to Washington soon to "mend ties." Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Spanish Defense Minister Jose Bono were also in attendance.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Closer than we think?

American and European relations, that is, according to Jim Glassman. Everything Glassman says is spot on, but I'm not fully convinced our European friends - especially the European public as a whole - are on board with American policy yet. I think, as Glassman writes, "They have finally come to understand that, with his re-election, Bush is here to stay." Therefore, they better at least give him the time of day to see if his Middle East democracy project is something they want to be apart of. But I look at the EU's intention to strategically align with the Chinese (and end the arms embargo). I look at, at least from what I've seen and read here in Spain, the European media and its persistence in portraying the U.S. as this neo-colonial power controlled by the power-hungry neoconservatives. I look at the European publics on the whole and see a culture that values paid-holidays and easy unemployment compensation over work incentives and an entrepreneurial outlook on life. I look at look at modern Franco-American history. I look at the political power of the anti-Americanism phenomenom. I look at all these things and realize how different Americans and Europeans really are, and in turn, wonder what will become of these differences. This is something I hope to better understand as I continue to live and learn here in Barcelona and as events unfold around us. But for right now I need some sleep.

3/11, Aznar and Wimping Out

During one of my classes we were talking about the 3/11 attacks and I wanted to follow up on Jon's earlier post on the 3/11 attacks with some thoughts on Aznar's response.

We know that the government's initial response was that ETA was responsible, but when more information became available (i.e. no warning call preceding the bombings) it became increasingly clear that the Madrid bombings were the work of Islamist terrorists. The public was outraged at Aznar's government's insistence the bombers were ETA, and for his lack of honesty. As a result, goes this argument, the Spanish people voted him out for Zapatero's Socialist government (who, by the way, campaigned on pulling out Spanish troops from Iraq).

The other line of thinking is that Aznar lost precisely because al Qaeda, or one of their offshoots, attacked Spain for putting troops in Iraq, and based on Zapatero's campaign promise, those troops would come home with a Socialist victory. My personal view is that al Qaeda, did in fact, successfully alter the outcome of a democratic election. I don't believe al Qaeda thought Aznar would initially put blame on ETA, which is why I believe Aznar wimped out.

I am quite sure al Qaeda's strategic planning forecasted a resolute Aznar identifying the attackers as Islamic jihadis, denouncing their attack, and pledging a la George W. Bush to hunt them down and bring them to justice. Yet instead, Aznar did what was politically expedient, as he had a majority of the public's for his anti-ETA terror policies. But what I want to know is, if at any point immediately after the bombings, did he realize it was al Qaeda and did he still opt to put the blame on ETA? If Aznar knew from the outset it wasn't ETA (because there was no ETA-style warning) and that it was al Qaeda and chose to blame ETA instead, then Aznar deserved to lose the election - let me be clear here - for not being honest, but for not being able to acknowledge it was al Qaeda and that they had attacked because Spanish troops were in Iraq. If Aznar was as tough on terror as George W. Bush, myself and the rest of his American supporters believed him to be, I would like to think he would have said something like this in the immediate aftermath of the attack:

"Yes, al Qaeda hit us because we do have troops in Iraq doing the brave work of helping to bring about a democratic society in the heart of the Middle East. The idea of a democratic Iraq emerging in the heart of the Middle East is what al Qaeda fears the most because it is the antithesis of their radicalism and because they know Iraqis would rather live in an open, democratic society than under their 7th century Caliphate. Al Qaeda knows the war in Iraq is unpopular here in Spain. They know my opponent, Mr. Zapatero, has pledged to pull our troops out of Iraq if he is elected on March 14. Al Qaeda has put two and two together and seeks to win your vote so our troops will be withdrawn from Iraq, making the effort to establish a democratic beach head in the Middle East that much more difficult. Let me be clear. I do not seek to equate Mr. Zapatero and his supporters to al Qaeda. Unfortunately the Socialists' plan coincides with al Qaeda's plan. If you believe it is wrong our troops are in Iraq, and that we risk more attacks from al Qaeda by keeping our troops in Iraq, then vote for my opponent. However, it is my firm belief that the bombings in Madrid are the price we pay for attempting to win the war against Islamic terror. It is NOT my government's fault al Qaeda attacked us. It is al Qaeda's fault because they know the beginning of their demise begins with the emergence of a democratic Iraq, as it will act as a catalyst for progressive political change in the Greater Middle East. If you want the scourge of Islamic fascism nullified it is imperative we stay the course in Iraq."

Am I being unrealistic? Woud this course of action been too politically risky? I don't know. You tell me. Zapatero did win, after all. Keep in mind George W. Bush's willingness to risk it all. Let me leave you with Fouad Ajami on Bush's "lucky streak":

"You know, he's made three bets and he's won three times. He made a bet in Afghanistan there would be elections. He made a bet in Palestine that he would not have to deal with [former Palestinian Authority President Yasir] Arafat. The death of Arafat and the success of [President of the Palestinian Authority] Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] in the elections earlier in January were a vindication of the Bush policy. Now come the elections in Iraq.

"Here is the president, a few days earlier, being ridiculed by the "realists" and by other people presumably "in the know" when he said he had planted the flag of liberty firmly, and people ridiculed him for saying he had planted a flag of liberty in Iraq, of all places. Well, now the elections vindicate him. But, I add, there is much danger for this policy still. The victory is not total and final, but grant this administration these three good outcomes--Afghanistan, Palestine, and Iraq."

Spain = The Twilight Zone

Shock, amazement, bewilderment… horror. These are only some of the emotions that I felt this afternoon when I was faced by the most mind-boggling situation to date since I have arrived on this side of the Atlantic. For those of you who have not yet read my previous article outlining the theory of “WT” or “Wounded Testicle” please do so now, for as Rod Serling famously stated, “You're about to enter another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind… Next stop, The Twilight Zone!”

Note to self: WT does in fact certainly exist
Another note to self: Spain needs to ice those WT’s down because they are swollen as hell.

I am now completely convinced that I am living in an alternate universe. If I was skeptical at how strange Spain’s regionalistic cleavages and customs first appeared to an American studying aboard, I am now fully going out of my mind. Given the substantial weight of this matter, I’m not sure how to prep you my fellow bloggers, but here we go.

In art history today, when discussing Picasso’s masterpiece “Guernica” (1937) and the historical context in which it was created, our teacher revealed to our class something that made my jaw hit the floor. She told us how, as a Canadian who had moved here a number of years ago, she was forced to teach herself about the Spanish Civil War, for in many respects it remains to this day a taboo subject. Then, in the fateful moment, she revealed the indoctrinating factor of future generations of WT suffering Catalans and Spaniards. In her words, “I learned that in many schools, the Spanish Civil War is not taught. Professors will teach history up until 1936 and then say, ‘Time for the final exam!’” Matt is in fact also in my class, so when we heard this, we stared at each other in disbelief with the “deer-in-the-headlights” look. No wonder this country suffers from WT, they are too ashamed to even discuss their own history, let alone modern history, history containing events within the lifespan of less than two generations of Spaniards! Ultimately who is else to blame but the nut-kicker himself, Franco, for the deeply divided and regionalistic nature of Spain today.

To investigate firsthand, I asked my Catalan roommate if he ever learned about the Spanish Civil War. He responded by saying, “… a little bit, but not until last year.” This is coming from a first-year college student. Not only was the subject not until his final year in high school, he went on to further say, “The teacher was bad though. When we got to 1936 we had the final exam.” ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I couldn’t believe my ears, and I still can’t comprehend what I heard. I’m sorry but I need to take a break. Perhaps I will go repeatedly pound my head against the wall for several hours while listening to Rammstein. I’ll be back later when I can collect my thoughts… but I’m truly speechless. For the time being, do as Mike Myers would say, “Talk amongst yourselves.”

Mahmoud Abbas: the next Gorby?

Timothy Garton Ash draws some interesting parallels in The Guardian.

"Iraq is our Iran policy"

Another good column from Tom Friedman.

North Korea's Nukes Go Public

North Korea, a card-carrying member of the distinguished Axis of Evil club for its efforts in amassing the world's fourth largest army at the expense of its populations' desire to have a decent meal, publicly admits it has nuclear weapons. No real surprise here as they privately told U.S. diplomats the same thing last year. NK also said they won't be returning to the bargaining table anytime soon either.

What was rather interesting was the hermit kingdom's rationale for maintaining its nuclear program (from the AP):

It [N.K.] said Washington's alleged attempt to topple the North's regime "compels us to take a measure to bolster its nuclear weapons arsenal in order to protect the ideology, system, freedom and democracy chosen by its people."

Ok, you guys can stop kidding yourselves now. You just admitted publicly that you have nukes. Why can't you come full circle now and admit you starve and mutilate your own people, too. You may as well.

I don't know if this public revelation will change U.S. efforts to move forward with the six-party talks. It looks like they know they're going to get a lot more stick than carrot from the U.S. right now and want to give the U.S. and our allies in this process a taste of our own medicine. Keep in mind, this saber-rattling comes on the heals of the successful Iraqi elections and President Bush's public warning to Iran yesterday to stop developing nukes. So despite progress elsewhere, this tussle is definitely a major, major headache and I believe, if something dramatic (for the better, that is) doesn't happen soon, we're going to go to the brink with the North Koreans on this.

On the other hand, Nicholas Kristof, whom I normally don't always agree with, had some pretty good points about this issue in his column yesterday:

"The other option is the path that Richard Nixon pursued with Maoist China: resolute engagement, leading toward a new 'grand bargain' in which Kim Jong Il would give up his nuclear program in exchange for political and economic ties with the international community. This has the advantage that the best bet to bring down Mr. Kim, the Dear Leader, isn't isolation, but contacts with the outside world.

"A terrific new book on North Korea, 'Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader' by Bradley Martin, underscores how those few glimpses that North Koreans have had of the outside world - by working in logging camps in Russia or sneaking trips to China - have helped undermine Mr. Kim's rule. Yet Westerners have in effect cooperated with him by helping to keep his borders sealed.

"At least China and South Korea have a strategy to transform North Korea: encourage capitalism, markets and foreign investment. Chinese traders, cellphones and radios are already widespread in the border areas, and they are doing more to weaken the Dear Leader than anything Mr. Bush is doing."

Obviously we have a long way to go here.

Benchwarming Terrorists: The B-Team ETA

An interesting discussion on the ETA arose today in my political science class regarding the topic of regionalism in Spain. After we did a quick evaluation of the history of the ETA, surveyed a summary of some statistics relating to the geographical location of targets and the different periods in which acts of violence were most prevalent, a thought dawned on me. The ETA has existed for over thirty years, and according to the objective study of terrorism and the acceptance of their most prevalent objective, the granting of the Basque Autonomous Community the status of a “free associated state,” I sat back and realized, “The ETA seems to be for the most part, a failure.”

However, I did not arrive at this conclusion through mere whimsical deductions and charismatic contemplation. For the past three years, I have become increasingly passionate about the study of terrorism, enhanced by the fact that I have taken numerous classes at Penn State studying in detail this phenomenon. In order to quickly explain the rationale for my comment on the ETA, I took into consideration several key features of terrorism that often determine the successfulness of operation.

1.) Clear objectives – although the ETA appears to have one main objective, that of autonomous status, historically they have pursued this goal through less than precise means (indiscriminate bombings, alternating targets, etc.) leading to the belief that their motives may be mixed or fluctuating.
2.) Public factor – the goal of terrorists is to obviously influence an audience. In the ETA’s case, the state of Spain, and in particular the Spanish government. However, there is a crucial balance that they appear to have lost. For the most part, the Spanish people seem to have reacted adversely to the Basque separatist cause, therefore, the “sympathy call” has not been elicited. Further, nearly 50% of the people within the Basque country do not agree with the actions of the ETA; this cannot be a good start.
3.) Means – this is where I am stuck. The ETA has been for the most part, unsuccessful, and for this I may conclude that it is due to their tactics.

And so, the question that I asked my professor in class was, “Having observed the immediate appearance of al-Qaeda terrorism in Spain (i.e. 3/11) and the ability to instantly achieve its goal, why has the ETA perhaps not tried elevating the violence of their attacks?” Discussion ensued for several minutes, and what I was able to decipher was that the ETA has been largely dissolved due to police involvement and the initial ban on the Batasuna. Despite this response, I’m not sure I buy this argument considering the extensive cell network that exists throughout Spain and into France. Although this was simply an observation made out of the blue, I am sincerely interested in this new interplay created by the visible appearance of Islamic terrorism in Spain. Hopefully, this will be a subject that I continue to write about in the future, until then, I will continue to search.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The Shia Myth

I was watching SecState Rice's speech in Paris on c-span.org (is it too obvious that I really like Condi Rice? Oh, btw, check out Dick Morris) and the first question she got after her prepared remarks was from a student who asked: "Iraq Shiites want Islam to be the only source of legislation. Do you think it's a positive thing?" Rice gave a very good, diplomatic answer, touching on all points of the unfolding political scene in Iraq.

But I wish she would have instead come out and said, "There is this myth that Iraq Shia want what Iran has. They want, the myth goes, a rule of law based upon a strict interpretation of the sharia, the Islamic law. Let me repeat, this is a myth." It seems as if it's become common knowledge that Iraqi Shia want to import an Iranian-style of governance now that they will eventually hold a majority in the transitional government. But anyone that has followed the Iraqi political process unfold since April 2003 certainly knows that the Iraqi Shia have looked to Ayatollah Ali Sistani, their leading cleric and probably the most influential religious/political figure in Iraq, for guidance and leadership in their new, post-Saddam Iraq. And any observer also knows that Sistani has declared time and again that he does not wish to see religion and politics mix in a new Iraqi government. Sistani wants the antithesis of what's in Iran.

Yet, in the wake of the Jan. 30 elections and subsequent assertion of Shia political power in the new government, uninformed voices and naysayers have reignited the Shia-impose-the-sharia myth. They've worried out loud so much so that Sistani's representatives have had to put the rumors to rest (hat tip - Barcepundit):

"Hamed Khafaf said Ayatollah Ali Sistani believes Iraq's new constitution should respect what he described as the Islamic cultural identity of Iraqis. Shia success in the election led to speculation that the ayatollah wanted a constitution based on Sharia law. Mr Khafaf said the speculation was baseless.

"He insisted that Ayatollah Sistani's position had not changed. In Ayatollah Sistani's view, his spokesman went on to say, it was up to the elected representatives of the people in the new National Assembly to decide the details."

But I think as this process moves ahead, we're going to have to get used to all the worrying, second guessing, and doubting. Should be fun to watch, though!

39 Injured in ETA Bombing

This morning, a car bomb was detonanted by Basque separatists at a conference center in the outskirts of northeast Madrid. Characteristic of the ETA, a threat was made via telephone by an anonymous individual thirty minutes before the blast, which occurred at 9:35 AM; however, despite the call, thirty-nine people were reported injured. The confence center was to open today with the ARCO contemporary art fair, hosted by King Juan Carlos in the presence of President Vincente Fox of Mexico. For more information.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Condi's Euro-Mideast trip update

By Dawn's Early Light (via Roger L. Simon) has a solid round-up of Condi Rice's tour through Europe and the Middle East. What caught my eye was this comment from Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul during a presser with Rice:

"And I would just say to the countries of the Middle East that we recognize, and President Bush recognized when he was at Whitehall in Great Britain, that for too many years administrations, Democratic and Republican, were not sufficiently attentive to the aspirations of the people of the Middle East to live in freedom and liberty."

Not to toot my own horn, but was Messr. Gul reading my columns from Penn State?

From my 8 December 2003 column in the Centre Daily Times Blue (State College, PA) on President Bush's visit UK visit Gul is referring to, I wrote:

"In an honest attempt to earn the trust of skeptical Europeans and an even more skeptical Muslim populace that still sees the United States as hypocrites for our past policies, the president declared that, 'We must shake off decades of failed policy in the Middle East. Your nation and mine in the past have been willing to make a bargain: to tolerate oppression for the sake of stability. Long-standing ties often led us to overlook the faults of local elites. Yet this bargain did not bring stability or make us safe. It merely bought time while problems festered and ideologies of violence took hold.' And that failure was finally recognized on September 11, 2001."

And from my 28 October 2004 column in Penn State's Daily Collegian, I referenced Bush's Whitehall speech again:

"But the most telling part of the address was when the president acknowledged America's and Britain's 'decades of failed policy in the Middle East.' This failed policy, of course, was our longtime coziness with authoritarian dictators, choosing 'to make a bargain, to tolerate oppression for the sake of stability. The president added, 'Yet this bargain did not bring stability or make us safe. It merely bought time, while problems festered and ideologies of violence took hold.' And ultimately, these 'problems' and 'ideologies of violence' manifested themselves into what we watched the morning of Sept. 11."

Yeah, I said basically the same thing twice, but the point must be made. Critics of Bush's democracy promotion plan love to say how the U.S. has supported dictators in the past, which, in their minds, means we really don't intend to spread democracy today - the flowery rhetoric is only a cover for other nefarious, more sinister reasons like siphoning Middle East oil or colonizing the poor Arab people. To the critics' dismay, the Iraqi elections (along with those in Afghanistan and Palestine) prove that our support for the establishment of representative government in the Arab-Muslim world is sincere. And we do so not only for the benefit of the Arab-Muslim world, but for our own national security as the opportunities in a democratic society provide a viable and hopeful alternative to radical Islam's call to jihad.

It's an unsettling mystery to me why Democrats and liberals in the U.S. and their counterparts in Europe can't comprehend this new reality because U.S. policy now promotes and send troops into battle for the very causes that are so near and dear to their left-leaning hearts: tolerance, human rights (and woman's rights, for that matter), and freedom. Honest liberals like Sen. Joe Lieberman, Thomas Friedman, and Christopher Hitchens understand this vision and their voice from the other side of the aisle is vital to our public debate on this issue. We're still waiting for the Howard Dean-Michael Moore crowd to hop on the democracy train, but my gut says they'd rather be left behind at the station.

"It hurts when the other guy states your problems with excruciating gentility..."

John Vinocur has an insightful column in the IHT on the forecast for Europe in the National Intelligence Council's recently released "Mapping the Global Futures" report.

Terrorism Denial Syndrome?

Daniel Pipes published a column and a weblog today both titled "More Incidents of 'Denying Terrorism" in regards to what appears to be an ongoing trend; fascinating in that it lists thirteen factual cases in which authorities' first response was to deny a connection to supposedly Islamist terrorism.

Zapatero's Paradoxical Polices

I found this Miami Herald article quite striking, considering how succinctly it outlines some of the "Shoemaker's" more interesting foreign policy decisions since taking office last year. As mentioned by the article, his troubles probably began by the freezing of relations with Washington following the immediate removal of troops from Iraq. As if to add to a basic anti-Americanism, he childishly remained seated while an American flag passed during a parade. The following are the points emphasized by the article:

  • After assumming power, Zapatero backed out on a deal in order to supply Colombia with several old airplanes and a few armored vehicles in order to help defeat the communist narco-guerrillas and the paramilitaries. He then suddenly flip-flopped to a tree-huggin' hippy style and used the argument "Those were machines to kill, and what Colombia needed was peace and harmony." HOWEVER, Zapatero sells Chávez's Venezuela several heavily armed warships that were built in good ole' Galicia. Come on now bud...
  • Zapatero's foreign policy has now been redirected toward the EU in an effort to "ease its moral and political pressure on the Cuban dictatorship." Immediately assuming power, Cuban diplomats fled to Zapatero asking to eliminate some "symbolic" sanctions that were harming the morale of their ruling structure. Zapatero agreed; nevertheless, the Czech diplomacy, through the aid of the EU, weakened the move to the point at which it became useless.
Within diplomatic circles around the world, Zapatero's Spain increasingly has become subject to feelings of distrust, and disgust "when it comes to principles that are not even coherent when defining its objectives... To be anti-American and antiwar in Iraq but pro-Chávez and warmongering in Latin America was inconceivable. To insist on bailing out Castro after almost half a century of dictatorship was inexcusable."

Barcelona: City for the "Year of Food"

On a lighter note... Roger Peterson of the Associated Press through the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has claimed that in the "Year of Food," Barcelona is the place to be. See this article for numerous topics including "What to Visit" and "Best Dining Bets."

Monday, February 07, 2005

Making Penn State proud

From the New York Times:

"TEL AVIV, Feb. 7 -Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, will make separate statements at a historic summit meeting in Egypt Tuesday that are intended to achieve an eventual lasting cease-fire, Israeli and Palestinian officials said today.

"Word of the planned statements came not long after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, renewing direct American involvement in the Middle East, announced the appointment today of a "senior security coordinator" to help train and equip Palestinian forces and monitor Israeli and Palestinian promises to suspend military actions against each other.

...

"The security coordinator named by Ms. Rice is Lt. Gen. William E. Ward, deputy commanding general of the United States Army in Europe. He is to have several roles, Ms. Rice said, including overseeing the consolidation, reform and upgrading of Palestinian security forces under Mr. Abbas, monitoring any violent incidents on both sides and making sure that Israel takes steps of its own, including withdrawing armed forces from West Bank population centers.

"It really is to provide a focal point for training, equipping, helping the Palestinians build their forces and also for monitoring and, if necessary, to help the parties on security matters," Ms. Rice said at the Palestinian headquarters.

"General Ward, a specialist in training security forces in Bosnia, was chosen because of that experience and also his service in Egypt, whose military will also help set up Palestinian forces and forge a unified command for more than a dozen different units of varying loyalties and abilities."

As a student at Penn State, I am proud to say that Gen. Ward is a member of the Penn State family. The three star Army general holds a Masters degree in political science from Happy Valley.

Godspeed, general.

"Forgive Russia. Ignore Germany. Punish France."

Is it all in the past?

The increasingly awkward relationship between the United States and France resembles a Young and the Restless episode more than that of a discourse between two of the world's foremost international players. However, in the dramatic series of ups and downs that have marked the discourse between Chirac's France and the Bush administration, there is yet another twist in the road. In regards to Condi's power statement when made as National Security Advisor, Mr. Barnier, the French foreign minister recently stated that, "The situation has changed... What's important now is neither to punish nor to give lessons. My line is to look ahead." Nevertheless, now that Rice has become the primary American diplomat, the tides may be turning. Check out the New York Times article for more in-depth information regarding the dynamic Franco-American relationship and the involvement of C. Rice.

"Born in Iraq, raised in America"

Thanks to our buddies at IraqTheModel.com, I found one of the most inspiring stories to come out of the Iraq war. It comes from Sminklemeyer, an Army journalist who was stationed in Mosul. I'll let "Desert-Smink" take it from here:

Below is the best story I wrote over the past year. We sent it to People Magazine and various other media outlets, all of whom said "great story, but we really can't use it." Enjoy…

Born in Iraq, raised in America: Stryker Brigade Soldier’s passion to help comes from his past

QAYARRAH, Iraq – Pfc. Husam Razaq Almusowi was born in Iraq, but raised in Dearborn, Mich. When asked: Where are you from, he replies “that’s a difficult question.” According to his fellow Soldiers in the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, Almusowi’s journey to become an American Soldier is an unforgettable tale of courage and sacrifice.

A young boy

Born in the southern Iraq city of Samawi, Almusowi lived the life of a prince. His room was covered in marble and his peers treated him like a god. In the Arabic culture, the name Almusowi is of great prominence. All Almusowis are thought to be descendents of the Islam Prophet Mohammed. Even as a child, grown men would stand to their feet when Almusowi walked into a room and call him sir. “My family name garners great respect from Muslims, both the Shia and Sunnis,” he said.

His father commanded a tank division for the Iraqi army, a position that contributed to the reverence of the Almusowi name. Although he was a brigadier general in Saddam’s army, Almusowi’s father did not believe in Saddam Hussein’s leadership.“My father never had a bad thought of any man except for Saddam,” he said. “All I knew about Saddam was that he was not good for Iraq.”

Almusowi’s father knew a lot about Saddam Hussein and he didn’t hide his feelings about the former dictator. Weeks before the first Gulf War in 1991, he and several other men attempted to overthrow Hussein’s regime and end the decade of tyranny his people had endured. Saddam’s Republican Guard discovered the general’s plan and a judge sentenced Almusowi’s father to death. “The judge told my father that he would do him a favor by hanging him while he was young, so he wouldn’t sit in prison for the rest of his life,” Almusowi said.

On day one of the Gulf War, the United States bombed Iraqi military facilities in Samawi and the prisoners escaped during the chaos. Almusowi was scheduled to be hung on the day he walked out of prison, but he would not see his wife, three boys and two girls for another five months.

The journey

As the bombing continued in the first days of the war, Almusowi could feel the impact of bombs and could see the billowing clouds of smoke from the window of his room. “I was just a kid,” he remembers. “I was too young to know what was going on and too young to be scared.” Escaping the bombs, large groups of Iraqis, mostly women and children, fled to Saudi Arabia, where they hoped to find safety at a refugee camp.

Almusowi remembers the journey as if it were yesterday. “We hitchhiked and walked all the way across the desert,” he said. “We camped out in the desert of southern Iraq and in the desert you can’t see anything at night. I remember finding a star and didn’t know what it was.” When Almusowi awoke, he still had the metal insignia of a star in his hand. The morning light revealed the horror of their surroundings.

“There were dead soldiers all around us and the star was an officer’s rank,” he said. “We spent the next day burying them and then we continued to move toward the border.” Once they reached Saudi Arabia, the group was lost. “All we saw was desert, but we kept moving, hoping we’d find somebody or one of the camps.” With little water and food, the women and children walked through the endless desert for five days.

Then, when it felt like his feet couldn’t take another step, Almusowi heard a thumping sound from a distance. “American Soldiers driving Bradley’s found us,” he said. “They were so kind to us. My father always spoke highly of the Americans.” Almusowi’s first introduction to an American was a U.S. Army Soldier handing him a Meal Ready to Eat (MRE). “I’ll never forget it. I ate the Skittles,” he said.

The Soldiers transported Almusowi and his group to Rafah, Saudi Arabia, where he would spend the next 10 months living in tents, away from the only country he knew and separated from his father. He was 11 years old.

The United States

Almusowi can’t remember the exact day he was reunited with his father, but he does recall being overwhelmed with emotion. “When my uncle and father showed up in our camp, I was so happy,” he said. “My family was together again.” As he’d done for so many years, Almusowi’s father comforted his children, assuring them every thing would be all right. He was right.

Each family at the refugee camp selected a country where they wanted to live. Almusowi’s father selected the United States. “Dad chose the United States because it was like the promised land, where nothing was impossible,” Almusowi said. The day the Almusowi family boarded a plane to the United States was also the first time Almusowi saw the earth from the clouds. “My first plane ride was for three days all the way around the world,” he said.

When Almusowi’s feet touched American soil, he began to embrace his new surroundings. “The first week we were there, a bunch of the Iraqis went to the beach,” he said. “It wasn’t a culture shock seeing women in bikinis for the first time, but it was definitely different. Iraqi men jumped in the ocean in blue jeans. We were all just so happy to be in the United States.”

The Almusowi family moved to Dearborn, Mich., where a large Arabic population resides. Almusowi began to learn English immediately. “The first thing I saw on television was the show Cops, and the words to the song “Bad Boys” were the first words I ever spoke in English,” he said. The next 11 years of his life would be much different than his first 11. Almusowi became an artist, played soccer for Fordson High School and received a bachelor’s degree in history from Michigan State University. He married and witnessed the birth of his child. He was living the American dream as a citizen, yet his homeland remained in shambles.

Returning to Iraq

Almusowi joined the U.S. Army when the United States was threatening war against the regime of Saddam Hussein in an effort to give something back.“I wanted to give back to the country that gave me so much opportunity and to help the country that gave me life,” he said. In basic training, drill sergeants frequently asked Almusowi if he was ready to go to war in Iraq. Almusowi always said yes, but with a follow up statement. “I always said we’re not at war with Iraq. We are at war with Saddam Hussein, the Ba’ath Party and the terrorists, who do not represent Iraq,” he said.

When he re-entered the country seven months ago with the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team), Almusowi drove through his hometown of Samawi as the convoy headed north. “During the convoy from Kuwait to Iraq, I was speechless and to this day, can’t fully explain what it feels like being back in Iraq,” he said. “I absorbed every little thing on the trip – from the rocks to the houses to the people on the streets waving at us.”

But the longer he’s stayed in his place of origin, the more he realizes his homeland’s plight. “I see so much hunger, pain and destruction,” he said. “This is not the Iraq I remember.”As an interpreter, Almusowi does not settle for what he sees. He’s in Iraq to make a difference. On many occasions, Almusowi is the lead interpreter for important meetings between Coalition leaders and top Iraqi government officials. Considering Arabic and English are complex languages with few similarities, his leaders place a lot of faith in his abilities. “He’s a great interpreter and a good kid,” said Capt. Matthew Lillibridge, the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps liaison officer for 5-20. “He definitely has a lot more responsibility placed on him than your average private first class.”

There are times when Almusowi doesn’t sleep because he’s translating letters thought to be written by terrorists. In his spare time, he teaches ICDC soldiers how to read and write Arabic and English. In the town of Qayarrah, Lillibridge said Almusowi has won over every Iraqi he’s spoken to. “He receives instant respect from the Iraqis because he’s an Iraqi and an American Soldier,” Lillibridge said. “Almusowi is an invaluable asset to our efforts in Iraq because they can see the passion he has for the Iraqi people when he talks to them. He’s won the respect of his fellow Soldiers as well for his commitment to the United States.”

Almusowi’s passion for the present comes from his past. “I don’t want what happened to me to happen to another kid. If I can make a difference in one person while I’m here, I’ve done my job,” he said. “Who knows where I would have ended up if the American Soldiers didn’t find us 13 years ago? “The way I look at it, I’m doing my duties as a Soldier and a little bit more because I am Iraqi.”

News from Happy Valley

Why I sometimes miss Penn State:

"The State College Police Department warned a 22-year-old man early Sunday for streaking in the area of the 100 block of East Fairmount Avenue. Police reported that the individual was naked and running around a house at about 3:30 a.m. The individual disrobed because he lost a bet, police said.

"He was warned for disorderly conduct but not charged."

Heh.

"This girl's tough"

Really cool story from the Washington Post (via Ann Althouse) on Condi Rice and her love affair with football. Not only is she an intellectual powerhouse, she is a football genius. Unfortunatey, for the first time in 38 years, Rice missed the Super Bowl. She was in the Middle East negotiating the peace settlement with the Israelis and the Palestinians. Just another day at the office, right?

From the last three graphs of the story:

"...Rice spokesman Sean McCormack says the new secretary is worried the sleep deficit would compromise her meetings Monday in Jerusalem and the West Bank. She is having the game taped, he says.

"I suggest she get Sharon to watch it with her," [former National Security Adviser Zbigniew]Brzezinski says of Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, "and wear him out and negotiate with him Monday morning."

"For the record, Rice predicts the Patriots by three points on a late field goal by Adam Vinatieri."

This story ran Sunday morning back in the States. Guess what the score of the game was Sunday night: 24-21 Patriots. Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri kicked a field goal with 8:40 left in the fourth quater to put the Pats up 24-14. The Eagles scored a touchdown with about two minutes left to put the score at 24-21. Without Vinatieri's field goal, the game would have likely gone into overtime. Condi's prediction was pretty much right on. I have a feeling her diplomatic endeavors in Europe and the Middle East will be, too.

Michael Moore and EC 342

I'm not really sure how to address this brewing situation in one of my classes here, but here goes. About a week and a half ago during either my first or second European regional economies class at my study abroad center, during a discussion about defining "regions" as they relate political and economic arrangements, our professor brought up the U.S. election and told the class that she did not like George W. Bush one bit. No surprise there. She then asked the class who we voted for. Of the people that responded, I was the only person who said they voted for Bush. Somewhat surprised at the enthusiasm in which I responded, she asked me why. I said I liked him personally and I agreed with most of his policies. She then, turning her focus away from me, addressed the entire class to tell us, as if we didn't know, that pretty much everyone in Europe has a deep dislike for the American president. I then chimed in, asking if that was because of Michael Moore. He's everywhere here, I said. His books dominated the current affairs and "new non-fiction" sections at all the bookstores in town. At this point the discussion was getting heated (and way off topic from the definition of a "region" in Europe) and the professor told us we'd pick this up at a later point in time.

Then, out the blue, a student suggested that we should watch Moore's film Fahrenheit 9/11 in class sometime. The professor willfully obliged. The class then proceeded to figure out when we could watch it. What Moore's documentary has to do with European Regional Economies I have no idea. How we got to this point in class - our professor allowing us to watch a movie with absolutely no relevance to our course material - is baffling, but says a lot about the motivations of our professor.

Anyway, today was the agreed-upon scheduled "screening" of Fahrenheit. Our syllabus says that today's class was intended to be about the industrialization of Europe. Now that will be crammed into Wednesday's class, along with the other two items - a student presentation and a lecture about the historical perspective of European cities and regions - scheduled for that day. Not sure if we're getting the most "bang for our buck" studying here. Anyway, the professor puts in the movie and is only able to get the Spanish version of the film working. We obviously can't watch that version. No worry! She has Moore's other documentary about guns in America, Bowling for Columbine, and pops it in the DVD player. This one has an English version. Horray!

From the moment Moore opened his mouth to the last scene we watched before the end of class cut the movie short, I quietly sat in my seat trying my hardest not to get up, point my finger in my professor's face and tell her that everything we were watching was utter bullshit (For a dissecting of the distortions and fictions littered throughout Bowling check out Bowling for Truth). Near the end of class, our professor put a homework assignment on the board. Not surprisingly it had nothing to with European regional economies, the industrialization of Europe, or anything remotely close to our intended course of study. We have to write an essay on the differing perspectives of violence, guns, etc. in Europe and the U.S. and offer an explanation as to whether gun ownership - our Second Amendment - should be legal. It's basically our reaction to Moore's movie. It is due next Monday.

I walked out of class absolutely furious. Now I don't mind open debate and all that, but the big problem I have with all this is why should my parents' money be spent on something that it was NOT intended to be spent on? Why should my study abroad program hire professors who don't teach what is required and then give an assignment on something that isn't even in the freaking syllabus? Subsequently, why should we be subject to our professors' biases in the manner in which our class was exposed to our professor's love of Micheal Moore's America-bashing propaganda? I understand that for professors of the humanities and social sciences it is tough to keep their biases to themselves, but my EC 342 prof has intentionally stepped way over the line.

Right now, I'm debating how I should go about all of this. I really want to take on all of this crap in my essay and, in one broad verbal slap across the face, zap my prof and Michael Moore's fiction. We'll see what happens. Definitely will keep you posted - it should be fun!

Immigrant Amnesty in Action

Beginning today, the Spanish government will begin its plan of granting legal amnesty to 800,000 undocumented immigrants who are currently living in Spain. The effort is seen as an attempt on behalf of the Socialist government to control the country's substantial immigration problem.

In related news, the 227 people aboard the vessel that was interecepted off the island of Tenerife on Saturday, are being prepared for deportation by authorities.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Condi the Maximalist

As SecState Rice heads overseas today for Europe and the Mideast, noted Russian expert Stephen Stestanovich has a pretty cool op-ed (reg. required) in the New York Times giving us a glimpse of Dr. Rice's approach to international relations.

On an unrelated note, Jon and I and some friends leave for London tonight for the weekend so no blogging until Sunday.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

SOTU

It's ten after four - in the A.M.! - here in Barcelona and I just finished watching the president's State of the Union live online at c-span.org. Yeah, I know I'm nuts. Anyway, two important observations.

One, on the Federal Marriage Amendment. I'm not too familiar with the legal issues involved, so I'm just commenting based upon my limited knowledge of the matter. I didn't expect Bush to mention it tonight, but he did, so here goes. I understand's the president's belief that marriage is between a man and woman because I share it with him. Yet, on this issue I have gone back and forth so many times because I feel the president, when he addresses this issue, totally disregards the group of people it affects the most: gays. He has never, to my knowledge, attempted to reach out publicly to the gay community and addressed their concerns. I believe most gays understand that many people in our country will always believe marriage - as human history has known it - is between a man and woman. Whether or not gays accept that fact, I do not know. I do know that I could not imagine the conflicting feelings gay people have about all this because, whether you think their sexuality is unnatural or not and whether they deserve to have their marriages recognized by the state, it is their reality and who are we to tell them otherwise?

Therefore, I just wish the president would give the gay community the attention and support he gives to other minority groups like blacks and Hispanics. A couple days before the election, Bush even said he supported civil unions for gays. Why couldn't he mention that tonight? Extend a hand. Open a door. Who knows? Of the few things I'm iffy with Bush, his approach and argument for the marriage amendment is one that irks me the most.

Two, the hug. How could you not tear up when the mother of a fallen Marine embraces an Iraqi woman who is now free because of that mother's sacrifice? This image beats anything the president said tonight. God bless Sergeant Norwood and his family.

Home Sweet Home

I normally don't read Newsweek magazine, but I was on MSNBC.com and I stumbled upon this really cool column by Howard Fineman, the magazine's chief political correspondent. Now, I've lived in Barcelona for just about a month now and I've come to really love the city. The weather, for one, is just beautiful; the night life is outta control (in a good way!); the little bars and cafés on pretty much every block gives locality to such a big city; and my daily ride on the metro and stroll through Placa Catalunya to get to class are just a few of the reasons it's going to be quite hard to leave this place at the end of the semester.

However, it's no Pittsburgh, PA. Pittsburgh's my hometown and I couldn't be prouder - even if we didn't make to the Super Bowl this year. So if you want to get a flavor of my city, my fellow Pittsburghers, and our football team (fútbol americano, that is), I suggest you give Fineman's column five minutes of your time.

Iraq: The New Yankees

Hey world, time to jump on the bandwagon. Now that reports of the Iraqi election have come out declaring the momentus event as a spectactular success, it appears as if everybody is coming out of hibernation to bask in the glory of America's hardwork. Today in Madrid, Spain's Socialist government announced that it is studying the possibility of training Iraqi police officers in Spain in an attempt "to thaw US relations over Iraq." In related news, NATO now believes that it in three weeks it will be able to say "that its entire membership - with hard or soft power - has joined in efforts to stabilize the country." Look for more interesting twists to come.

60 Years After Auschwitz

There is no doubt that there has been a steady increase in the expression of anti-Semitism in Europe. However, among talks such as those in the European Commission where Germany is pushing towards the prohibition of the Nazi swastika, a serious issue arises as to how the Holocaust should be remembered, partly in order to respond to the new racist currents of today. Although Germany's reasoning may seem appropriate for their country, in no way do I believe that this is a suitable way to deal with the current "Jewish Question." Skeletons have been shoved into the closet for far too long. Embarrassment and denial have sunk deeper than is considered comfortable for many European countries (WT strikes again).

However, when I was reading the most recent Economist, I was struck by a comment made by Charles Krauthammer that was simple, yet surprisingly striking in its ability to explain this European phenomena. In 2002, Krauthammer wrote in the Washington Post, "in Europe, it is not very safe to be a Jew... what is odd is not the anti-Semitism of today but its relative absence during the past half-century. That was the historical anomaly."

I agree with Krauthammer, except for the fact that I don't believe that anti-Semitism somehow was "absent." Anti-Semitism has existed for 2,000 years and will continue to exist for another 2,000 years. The problem is that anti-Semitism was simply not expressed externally. For this is the underlying problem, how do you deal with something that is suppressed, invisible, and exists as a truly taboo subject? Undoubtedly, as the caged anti-Semitism of the past 60 years begins to let out its steam, the European community will be faced with many decisive decisions. Hopefully, this time these issues will be dealt with head-on in a timely fashion as to avoid any further embarrasing periods.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Toy hostages

I'm not really sure if this development is a sign of desperation on Zarqawi's behalf or a change in pyschological terror tactics. Nevertheless, Jonah Goldberg offers the approriate response.

(P.S. after you've read Jonah's diktat, read Michael Ledeen's post, "Clarity," right below)