Saturday, October 09, 2004


Note: please see here for the main election post.

I promise I'll be blogging up storm tomorrow - but just wanted to quickly let you know:


While of course it's very early on (8:15pm) and no one has officially claimed anything, but it looks like the Howard government has been returned to power for the fourth term. Not just that - there has been a swing towards the government and it looks likely that the government will be returned to power with an increased majority of seats.

What a glorious night.

You'll have to excuse me while I go off and celebrate for a few hours. Tomorrow - many stories to tell.


Friday, October 08, 2004

Which part of "wanted to recreate Iraq’s WMD capability" don't you understand? 

Predictably, the media is in a state of "BUSH LIED!!!!!!" frenzy following the release of the Iraq Survey Group report on Weapons of Mass Destruction. In a world of never-ending spin and bias it would be nice to expect that at least our papers would not resort to printing statements purporting to be reporting but which in reality are outrightly and demonstrably false. I'm sure we can each point to an example from our local newspaper, and here's one from mine; Brisbane "Courier Mail":

"Saddam Hussein was not a threat when the US led the invasion of Iraq, America's top weapons inspector has found...

"Iraq had no chemical, biological or nuclear weapons when the war began on March 19, 2003, and no plans to build any."
This is not a misrepresentation or misreading - this is nonreading of Duelfer's work. Never mind the actual rich contents of the report; you don't need to go further than page 1 of "Key Findings" to read:

"Saddam wanted to recreate Iraq’s WMD capability—which was essentially destroyed in 1991—after sanctions were removed and Iraq’s economy stabilized, but probably with a different mix of capabilities to that which previously existed. Saddam aspired to develop a nuclear capability—in an incremental fashion, irrespective of international pressure and the resulting economic risks—but he intended to focus on ballistic missile and tactical chemical warfare (CW) capabilities."
Yet the media keeps getting away with it.

As I've
written before, I can't imagine a better strategic decision than to remove from power someone who's nearly succeeded in conning the world (most of the world, of course, wanted to be conned, didn't care if they were, or worse still, weren't conned but pretended they were) with his "reformed WMDholic" act, and was about to return to his bad old habits as soon as the world's gaze was off him again. Hey, but that's just me, a crazy neo-con tapping into collective Polish memory of what happens if you allow a nasty piece of work to re-arm at leisure while hoping that international institutions and rationality will prevail.


Scams - Nigerian and Iraqi ones 

I have to confess I'm a bit of collector of Nigerian scam emails. I must have by now at least 1,000 examples of this "developing world's ingenuity meets the developed world's naivete" phenomenon, coming from just about every country in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, from every relative of every newsworthy deposed dictator, and from every real and fictional banking and government institution from Lagos to Lahore. I've seen it all, yet there's always something new out there to amuse me, like the latest one "FROM THE DESK OF BARRISTER, WILLIAM SMITH", associated, of course, with "the NIGERIAN NATIONAL PETROLUM COPORATION":

"I am BARRISTER WILLIAM SMITH, a personal Attorney to Mr. Hasan Farouk, and a National of your Country. He was also a Contractor with one of the Government Prostates."
I understand that in some countries you need to do a lot of ass-kissing to get a good job, but this strikes me as a bit too much.

Judging by the
recent revelations, quite a few foreign governments must have answered one of these emails:



"This letter might come as a surprise to you, as we are both complete strangers. I got your name and contacts from a business associate of mine who recommends you as a trustworthy person. Due to my position as President of the Republic of Iraq, and due to generosity of the United Nations, I'm in a position to search discreetly and diligently for a foreign partner that could assist us concerning a business matter, which will be of mutual benefit to all. We do require your assistance in the disposition of some US$10,000,000,000.00 (ten Billion United State Dollars) coming into our account as part of the Food For Oil programme."
It was a scam, alright, but the proposal was real. You could even say that the email reproduced above is fake but accurate.

Update: Speaking of Nigerian and other scams, readers recommend 419 Eater - a website about annoying the scammers and maybe even scamming them in return.


Only one day to go 

Tomorrow, October 9, Australia goes to the polls to decide whether the Howard government will be re-elected for the fourth term, or whether Labor's Mark Latham will be my country's new Prime Minister. As you can imagine, the stakes are very high, not just in terms of Australia's international position, but also for the economic future of Down Under.

I won't be blogging tomorrow, as I'll be out whole day lending my little hand towards the re-election of the Liberal Party government. After eighteen hours on my feet (literally) it's unlikely that I'll have much energy left to write anything. But on Sunday morning (Saturday evening for the American readers), I plan to bring you up to date with the day's events, the results, and what it means for Australia and the world. The events of the last few years have definitely put countries like Australia and Poland on the American radar, resulting in much higher levels of interest about the affairs of the Willing. This is something that's pretty clear to me, both through my blog and through other media (thank you, at this point, to readers who over time have expressed so many positive sentiments through me - in my dual "capacity" as an Australian blogger of Polish origin - for my country of residence and my country of birth). So, stay tuned until Saturday night.

I have refrained so far from making any predictions about results, partly because I don't claim any special insight or access to information that's not available to any pundit, and partly because it's generally pretty difficult to make sensible predictions. Let me just say that the result tomorrow might surprise many.


Thursday, October 07, 2004

Victim of own success 

Hasn't this turned out to be one of the major strategic and political miscalculations of the century:
"The [Iraqi Survey Group] report... states that Saddam kept up the pretence that Iraq still had WMD capability to frighten Iran, rather than the US or Britain. 'He explained that he purposefully gave an ambiguous impression about possession as a deterrent to Iran,' the authors wrote."
The problem for Saddam was that he did such a good job at "the pretence" that arguably he not only managed to frighten or deter Iran but he also in the end managed to provoke the United States into action. How easy it is to become a victim of one's own success. Ironically, the deception program seems in hindsight to have been the most effective branch of Saddam's military-security apparatus.

There are some other interesting quotes:
"The report said that [Saddam] thought WMD saved the regime many times. He believed that during the Iran-Iraq war chemical weapons had halted Iranian ground offensives and that ballistic mis sile attacks on Tehran had broken its political will. Similarly, during Desert Storm Saddam believed WMD had deterred coalition forces from pressing their attack beyond the goal of freeing Kuwait.

"When asked, during a custodial interview, whether he would have reinstituted a WMD programme after sanctions were lifted, his answer implied that Iraq would have done what was necessary."
And as the report also concluded:
"Saddam wanted to recreate Iraq's WMD capability -- which was essentially destroyed in 1991 -- after sanctions were removed and Iraq's economy stabilized, but probably with a different mix of capabilities to that which previously existed."
Which pretty much agrees with Charles Krauthammer's assessment of why Iraq was still - and increasingly - a danger.


The climate of fear grips America 

In Florida:

"A group of protestors stormed and then ransacked a Bush-Cheney headquarters building in Orlando, Fla., Tuesday... [S]everal people from the group of 100 Orlando protestors face possible assault charges after the group forced their way inside the Republican headquarters office."
In Wisconsin:

"More than 50 demonstrators supporting Democrat presidential candidate John Kerry stormed a Republican campaign office in West Allis at mid-day today, trespassing, creating a disturbance through the use of a bullhorn in the office and then refusing to leave when asked."
In Tennessee:

"An unknown suspect fired multiple shots into the Bearden office of the Bush/Cheney re-election campaign Tuesday morning. According to Knoxville Police Department (KPD) officers on the scene Tuesday, it is believed that the two separate shots were fired from a car sometime between 6:30 am and 7:15 am. One shot shattered the glass in the front door and the other cracked the glass in another of the front doors."
And West Virginia:

"Republican supporters in Huntington were watching their candidate accept the party's nomination when a gunshot rang out right in the middle of George W. Bush's speech. Witnesses tell police that someone fired a shot at the Republican Headquarters office at 1402 4th Avenue around 10:30pm Thursday night. Twenty five people were inside facing the window, watching the speech on TV, when the shot was fire. The bullet went over their heads."
No wonder we're seeing more and more incidents like these taking place around the country in the climate of fear whipped up by the extreme right Republican Administration. As we all know, where inflammatory words by shock-jocks and politicians go, deeds soon follow. Is there nothing that the gun-totting GOP goons won't stoop to, to frighten and intimidate the opposition?

...oops. Sorry. Wrong script.

(hat tip: Mikael van Loon)


Transatlantic Intelligencer 

John Rosenthal, who writes on international affairs, for the "Policy Review" among others, recently decided to join the blogosphere and has just started up Transatlantic Intelligencer, whose principal purpose will be "to 'overcome the language gap' - or at least some of the language gaps - preventing Americans (and other 'Anglo-Saxons', as the French media, tellingly employing a racial category, tend to describe British, Australians, Americans, etc.) from forming an accurate assessment of European political realities."

To get the ball rolling, John has a long and excellent post - an article really - titled "The Legend of the Squandered Sympathy", which demolishes one of the stock standard Democrat attack points against the President, namely that by "going unilateral" into Iraq, Bush has squandered all the moral capital and international support America enjoyed in the immediate aftermath of S11. As John shows, if this was sympathy, I would like to see what malice is like.

Check out John's blog, it's a worthwhile addition to the blogosphere.


Wednesday, October 06, 2004

The UN panel member: Bush is Lord Voldemort 

Harry Potter's nemesis, Lord Voldemort, is widely referred to as "You Know Who" by the magic folk who are generally too afraid to say his name. Gareth Evans, Australia's former Labor Foreign Minister, is not a cowardly sort of fellow, but in his latest incarnation on the panel of an United Nations committee looking at legality of pre-emption, he also can't bring himself to name names:

"A central reason for our appointment was concern that the U.N., and indeed the whole multilateral security system, was really at a crossroads with the resurgence of unilateralism from you know whom, and increasing willingness to bypass the Security Council."
Evans, fondly remembered in Australia as Gareth "Gareth" Evans for his driving ambition to replace Boutros Boutros-Gali as the UN Secretary General, as well as his affair with a leader of a minor party which precipitated her defection to Labor, has recently shared his thoughts on the committee's work at a recent appearance at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. There was no word from Evans whether this 16-member High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change will be able to provide John Kerry with the final version of the "global test" in time for the November election.


The moral equivalence of the day 

Today's award goes to Clare Short, the former international development secretary in the British Labour Cabinet. In a recent interview, Ms Short has condemned killing civilians but declared the Iraqi insurgent's case to be just: "I understand the anger and the demand for action and it's not good enough for the world to say state violence is OK and non-state violence is not OK," said Short, who last year resigned from the Cabinet in protest over Tony Blair's position on Iraq.

Short might indeed understand the anger in Iraq, but she has problems understanding history:

"The American public fought against British colonialism with violence, the free French fought against German occupation with violence, the Palestinian people are entitled to resist occupation. I mean, it's in international law [and] the Iraqi people are entitled [to resist occupation]."
The far left never tires of making these comparisons and I never tire of pointing out how odious and ignorant they are. The American revolutionaries fought to set up a parliament of their own and to give the people of the colonies constitutionally guaranteed freedoms - of conscience, of speech, of association - as well as rights, not the least, to pursue happiness. The French fought against the vile Nazi totalitarianism and to restore their liberal parliamentary democracy. "The Iraqi people" - many of whom are not actually Iraqi - who are "resisting" the "occupation", at best want a return to a socialist Sunni dictatorship where the Kurds were gassed, prisons kept full, and people like Short, who resigned from the Cabinet over a difference of opinion with the leader, buried in unmarked graves. At worst, they want to create a new Talibanesque Iraq, where Short would be a second-class burqa-clad citizen whose daughters wouldn't be able to get education, whose homosexual friends would be stoned to death, and whose own parliamentary career would be sadly cut short by the lack of parliament.

It takes a mental age of three to notice that some things ("the French shooting guns at foreign troops" and "the Iraqis shooting guns at foreign troops", for example) are alike; it takes a moral age of three to maintain that they are therefore the equally valid and commendable.


Political slogans galore 

My reader Dan was very excited by the news that Saddam is considering a political comeback in democratic Iraq. So much so that Dan has offered some slogans for the Hussein'05 campaign:

"Saddam: Because Everyone Makes Mistakes"

"Saddam and Gommorrah: Together Again"

"Saddam: Are You Really Better Off Now Than When I Was Gassing You?"

"Now 100% Uday Free!"
A few more spring to mind:

"Forty more years!"

"Saddam - Your Republican (Guard) Candidate"

"It's Baath time again!"
But why stop in Iraq? At a recent town hall meeting in New Hampshire John Kerry evaluated on his "global test": "The test I was talking about is a test of legitimacy — not just in the globe, but elsewhere." Thus creating an impression that it is not just international, but intergalactic in scope. Here's a few ideas for TV ads in swing states:

"Bush's allies are from Mars, Kerry's allies are from Venus"

"We'll appease the Alfa Centaurians, too!"

"Getting the green light from the little green men"

"John Kerry: proudly representing Extraterrestial-Americans"
More suggestions welcome.


Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Poland - still willing, despite the media feeding frenzy 

I knew it was going to be a major story - and a large club to whack Bush and Howard over their heads - when the dumb FM radio station I was listening to on the way back from work decided to make it the only piece of international news in their bulletin: Poland is withdrawing from Iraq! There we go, I thought, prepare for all the "Coalition of the Willing crumbles" and a "blow to the President" stories.

"Poland announced overnight that it would pull its 3,500 troops out of Iraq by the end of next year," said breathlessly Australia's public broadcaster ABC. The story - and all the details - are somewhat more complex - more nuanced, some would say) than that:

On Monday, Polish Defence Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski told the "Gazeta Wyborcza" daily that Poland might scale back its involvement in Iraq over the course of next year: reducing the current force of 2,500 by 40% to 1,500 in January, around the election time, and possibly withdrawing most - but not necessarily all - of the remaining troops by the end of the year. Szmajdzinski thought that this date was appropriate as it coincides with the expiry of the UN resolution 1546 authorising the Iraqi election, and that more than ten months after the election Iraq would have much less need for overseas troops.

Szmajdzinski got instantly rapped on the knuckles for making his statement. The Prime Minister Marek Belka says he was not consulted, and Szmajdzinski later admitted that he was merely putting forward his personal opinion. Belka says (link in Polish, my translation) that no decision has been made, but "the more we all speculate about it, the more we're inviting Al Qaida." Elsewhere (link in Polish, my translation) Belka said that while the Polish contingent will be reduced in size in January, "Minister Szmajdzinski is an optimist if he thinks that the situation in Iraq will become sufficiently normal by the end of 2005 that there won't be any more need for our troops."

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski (he, ignored by John Kerry) said subsequently that Poland might indeed start scaling back its forces in January 2005 and finish withdrawal in late 2005, but - and this is a big but - nothing has been decided yet and won't be for another few months. This is what Kwasniewski actually said:
"I hope the election will happen. Then the election will give (Iraq) a new government with a strong mandate, and then we will speak with the new Iraqi government about the presence of international forces -- including Polish forces -- in the year 2005... That's the reason why we are speaking with the Iraqis, with our coalition partners, with the United States about reduction (in) the first of January 2005, and maybe to finish our mission to the end of 2005, but both elements are question marks because the discussions are ongoing." [my emphasis]
The talk of withdrawal has to be seen in the context of internal Polish politics at the moment. The current left-wing minority government is facing a vote of no confidence in the Parliament on October 15. The Alliance of Democratic Left's minor coalition partner in the government, the Union of Labor, has asked the Alliance to start thinking about withdrawing troops, otherwise it will start thinking about withdrawing its support. Not surprisingly, the government is feeling rather stressed at the moment.

The government is on its nose politically - and Iraq is the least of its problems; the Alliance is expected to be annihilated at the election sometime mid next year. Most importantly, the right-wing opposition, which is likely to form the next government, is not very happy about the Defence Minister's ideas either (link in Polish, my translation): Bronisław Komorowski, the leader of the Citizens Platform has this to say: "This is sheer irresponsibility... These sorts of fundamental foreign policy decisions have to be made in consultation with the Parliament and announced by the Prime Minister or the President. Minister Szmajdzinski is de facto trying to bind the new [post next year's election] government and the new president now, as it won't be his decision then."

Elsewhere (link in Polish, my translation), Komorowski says "It's shameful to be trying to escape from one's responsibility, in the circumstances where Poland officially took over administration of part of Iraq and never gave any inkling that it intends to pull out prematurely." Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the Law and Justice party (the Citizens Platform's likely future coalition partner) adds: "If we are to withdraw, it must be coordinated withdrawal, not an escape, which will embarrass us and destroy everything that we worked for. If we're already in Iraq, if Polish soldiers died there, then we can't let that go to waste. Our presence in Iraq is politically beneficial." Kaczynski adds (link in Polish, my translation): "The new government [next year] will make its own decisions... Thanks to our involvement in Iraq Poland has entered American 'political market' and has won a lot of sympathy there. Now the government wants to waste all that good will for own political benefit." Kaczynski obviously thinks that the talk of withdrawal is a cynical and opportunistic ploy to win back the deeply unpopular government some public support.

Polish Army is also taken aback by the whole controversy (link in Polish, my translation). One General Staff officer is quoted as saying that normal rotation, without any decreases in size, is currently being planned for the Polish contingent. Another officer says that the mission in Iraq is quite beneficial to Polish soldiers: "our soldiers are coming back as true professionals, whose expertise gained in Iraq we can then use in other missions."

A final comment from me: while too much has obviously been made of various comments by Polish government officials, and while the opposition, if anything, remains strongly committed to the mission, it has to be said that involvement in Iraq is becoming increasingly unpopular among the Polish people. Partly this is because the government has spent a lot of money on Iraq during difficult economic times, partly because America's good will and gratitude have so far failed to translate into anything tangible, such as less stringent visa requirements, more military aid, relocating US bases or greater economic cooperation. I hope that this is something that the White House can address - the sooner the better.


Israel and Iraq 

In Israel, Dave at Israellycool is really on the roll regarding the controversy surrounding the possible use and abuse by terrorists of UN facilities (for background see here). Is it a stretcher or is it a rocket? We might never know. Is Hamas a welfare group or a terrorist organization? Both, since it helps Palestinians and blows up Jews. Can the UN cooperate with one section while not being tarred by the association than the other? Ironically, if the tables were turned, Hamas and their ilk in Iraq wouldn't distinguish between the Americans doing security duties and those doing charity and reconstruction work.

(by the way, speaking of "Hamas and their ilk in Iraq", there are
reports that Iran and Al Zarqawi have started to outsource some of suicide attacks in Iraq to Hamas, who are currently rather strapped for cash.)

In Iraq, a certain somebody with a famous moustache wants to make a
political comeback:

"Saddam Hussein now seems to have found faith in the democratic process. Saddam's lawyer has told a Danish newspaper that the ousted dictator will run in Iraq's elections with the view to become president again, media reported. Giovanni di Stefano has reportedly said that there is no law preventing Saddam from taking part in the election for the interim National Assembly."
I don't see any problem with Saddam contesting the elections as long as he runs to represent the Seventh Circle of Hell.


Another day in homeland security 

Not that long ago an Australian plane was forced to do an emergency landing after a piece of paper was found onboard with "BOB" written on it. Initially thought to stand for "bomb on board", the consensus later emerged that instead it was an abbreviation for "best on board", in the aircrew speak the designation for the best looking male of female on the flight.

Today, Australia gets one better in the war on terror, as a local airport in Mackay, Queensland, is evacuated because of a vibrator:
"The 'personal device', as Mackay police Inspector Roger Lowe delicately put it, was placed in a rubbish bin at the airport as the man checked in for a flight. But instead of remaining discreetly discarded, it somehow managed to turn itself on, emitting a lively buzzing sound.

" 'It was rather disconcerting when the rubbish bin started humming furiously,' kiosk manager Lynne Bryant said. An alarmed Ms Bryant and other staff contacted airport security who declared the vibrating bin a security risk. They contacted police who declared an emergency situation."
If only all suspected bomb defusion jobs were as easy as removing batteries.

Australia's Channel 7 of course couldn't help itself with the headline "Bomb scare ends in anti-climax".


Plugging myself 

If you are a political junkie and a denizen of the Internet and the blogosphere you probably think - with some justification - that politics can get pretty dirty, rough and dangerous. Spin and counter-spin, pundit against pundit, flame wars and moonbats; it's not pretty out there - but it's all in the open. Having been for over ten years involved in politics behind the scenes - in the kitchen, so to speak - I can tell you from experience: it's even dirtier, rougher and more dangerous, particularly when you sometimes fight your own.

So in case you're interested, here's a little plug for something that a good mate of mine and myself have written a few months ago, trying to put down in the form of ten commandments some basic lessons we've learned during our involvement in party politics; lessons we wanted to pass on to the next generation of young and enthusiastic activists (link in PDF). Just remember that in Australia the Liberals are the good guys - everything else, I think, remains as true in Brisbane, as it is in Boston or Bristol or Berlin.


Monday, October 04, 2004

The troops choose their Commander-in-Chief 

OK, it's not as legit as normal polls, but the results are pretty convincing anyway:
"An unscientific survey of U.S. military personnel shows they support President Bush for re-election by a 4-to-1 ratio. Two-thirds of those responding said John Kerry's anti-war activities after he returned from Vietnam make them less likely to vote for him.

"In the survey of more than 4,000 full-time and part-time troops, 73% said they would vote for Bush if the election were held today; 18% said they would vote for Kerry. Of the respondents, 59% identified themselves as Republicans, 20% as independents and 13% as Democrats.

"The survey was conducted Sept. 15-28 by the Army Times Publishing Co., which distributes the weekly newspapers Army Times, Navy Times, Air Force Times and Marine Corps Times. (Army Times Publishing is owned by Gannett, which also publishes USA TODAY.)

"Army Times Publishing sent e-mails to more than 31,000 subscribers and received 4,165 responses on a secure Web site. The publisher cautioned that the results are not a scientific poll. Its readers are older, higher in rank and more career-oriented than the military as a whole."
Looks like a pretty convincing vote of confidence from those who actually put their lives on the line. These people are professionals, of course they will serve whoever gets elected this November, but there's little doubt who they trust more to lead them. For all the talk by the left about chicken-hawks lining up behind Bush to wage war, it seems that there's plenty of real hawks who do too.


Good news from the Islamic world 

Some recent positive developments along the road to greater democracy, freedom, free market and tolerance.

Afghanistan: For the latest round-up of good news from Afghanistan, see my
earlier post.

Egypt: President Hosni Mubarak has been in power for the past 23 years with a prospect of few more, as he is expected to be given a fifth term following a single-candidate presidential referendum in September next year. The Egyptian leader, although a spritely 76 years old who appears to be "in good health" after some recent scares, must be however starting to think about succession and his son, the 41-year old Gamal Mubarak looks like a safe bet.

Gamal, while denying he is to replace his father, has certainly played a dominant role at last week's national convention of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). From this account, he doesn't sound like a bad replacement for Mubarak Sr:

"Gamal... consolidated his image as being at the vanguard of the NDP's new, liberal -- at least economically -- way of thinking. [He] polished his image as a modern manager, worlds apart from the NDP's old guard, with the president's son repeating once more his opposition to the inheritance of power... Younger NDP members refer to him as a republican heir-apparent, who will put himself forward at elections at the right moment, and then be embraced by the electorate."
Egypt badly needs economic reform - but a genuine, democratic election would also be a good move for Gamal, if and when he steps into his father's shoes.

Indonesia: The
Presidential election in the world's largest Muslim country, and one of the world's largest democracies-in-the-making, went well and fair. Indonesians had their first chance to vote for their leader directly (as opposed to the Parliament doing the job for them), and they have elected Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, American-educated former General, widely regarded as being tough on terrorism and an economic reformer.

Fundamentalist parties performed badly,
moderates had their day:

"Those calling for the establishment of an Islamic state couldn't gather enough popular support to qualify for the nation's first direct presidential election. Of the five who did, none called for diluting the secular nature of the state.

"The two Islamist candidates got trounced in the first round in July. And the third, Gen. Wiranto - like many Indonesians, he goes by one name - had a vice-presidential running mate from the country's largest Muslim organization, Nahdlat-ul Ulama, with 40 million members."
The second round saw the face-off between the two most moderate candidates in the field.

Iraq: For the latest round-up of good news from Iraq, see my
earlier post.

Changes at the top are likely to have a positive trickle-down effect:

"The emirate is preparing to name Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah as the new crown prince, replacing the ailing Sheikh Saad al-Abdullah al-Salem al-Sabah, Gulf diplomats said here... [A] Kuwaiti analyst said: 'This change will concentrate more power in the hands of the liberal-leaning Sheikh Sabah who has been pushing hard for reforms, especially after his appointment as prime minister and following the overthrow of (former Iraqi president) Saddam Hussein'...

"Since Sheikh Sabah was appointed premier in July 2003, Kuwait has carried out a number of economic reforms including a Foreign Direct Investment law, allowing private airlines and privatising petrol stations.

"The government is expected to submit 10 key economic bills to parliament when it reconvenes in late October, covering privatisation and income tax -- seen as vital for economic transparency. It is also planning several political reform bills, including granting women full political rights and changing the country's electoral map to promote more democratic elections."
The report concludes: "Kuwaitis, who set up the Gulf region's first parliament more than four decades ago, have been pressing for more economic and political reform. Their calls have increased in volume since the April 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in neighbouring Iraq." The cynics, meanwhile, continue to snigger at Bush's argument that liberation of Iraq will help spread freedom and democracy throughout the Middle East.

Qatar: The Emir of Qatar recently had some
home truths to share with the international community:

"Political reform in the developing world, including the Middle East, is a 'necessity,' Qatar's ruler told world leaders at the United Nations, addressing an issue that has come to the fore with the U.S. push to turn Iraq into a democracy.

"The absence of democracy and 'prolonged slackening of political reform in quite a few countries in the south' are at the root of the region's trouble, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani said at Tuesday's opening of the U.N. General Assembly's ministerial session.

"The emir, who heads the Group of 77, an organization of mainly developing nations and China, has repeatedly called for democratic reforms in the Middle East, arguing that Arab states should not use the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a pretext for maintaining authoritarian rule.

"Qatar promulgated a new constitution on Tuesday, introducing a measure of parliamentary rule to the Gulf state. It provides for a 45-seat parliament, two-thirds elected and the remainder appointed by the emir. Parliamentary elections are expected to be held later this year. 'Political reform and the people's participation in decision making are no longer an option, but a necessity,' the emir said. He said history has shown that those states 'most committed to the exercise of democracy' have had the greatest economic achievements."
The Emir also sees the continuation of good relations with the United States in the future:

"Qatar plans to supply the US market with about 23 million tonnes of LNG in the next few years and make the State of Qatar a strategic ally of the United States, the Emir H H Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani said... [i]n a speech at a dinner banquet hosted by a group of US oil companies in Houston, Texas...

"In an address, the Emir asserted that relations between Qatar and the US were very strong and attributed the ties to the joint commitment shared by both countries towards peace, welfare and stability in the Middle East and the world at large."
It is expected that a free trade agreement between Qatar and the United States will be signed within the next twelve months.

Meanwhile, Dr. Abd Al-Hamid Al-Ansari, former dean of the Faculty of Shari'a at the University of Qatar, has in a recent article in the Qatari daily "Al-Raya"
criticised the prevalent conspiracy theories which see Mossad as responsible for the S11 attacks.

Turkey: Due to the European Union pressure on Ankara to harmonise their laws before they can be considered for the EU membership,
Turkish women have recently won some long-overdue legal victories:

"[Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan's government dropped plans to jail errant spouses and rushed through parliament a reform package that introduced ground-breaking rights for women... Among other amendments, the new penal code introduced life terms for perpetrators of 'honor killings,' criminalized spouse rape, defined systematic domestic violence as a kind of torture and toughened penalties for incest. It also weeded out from the books an infamous article that allowed rapists to go unpunished if they agreed to marry their victim."
"It is a triumph for us, a great leap forward," said Hulya Gulbahar, one of Turkey's leading women's activists. But a lot remains to be achieved and laws are only the first step, as another activists, Nebahat Akkoc, cautions: "The problem in our region is that people do not respect the official laws... We have to change mentalities and ensure that the laws are implemented."

An unidentified Arab country: Gets on the
wrong side of Hamas:

"Hamas charged Friday the intelligence service of an Arab country offered Israel classified information about the group and its leaders. Osama Hamdan, the militant group's representative in Lebanon, said in an interview with Beirut's daily al-Mustaqbal, the cooperation between Israel's intelligence agency, Mossad, and the intelligence service of an Arab country helped Israel assassinate a Hamas activist in Damascus last week. 'We had taken extra security precautions before we were tipped about that cooperation ... We later found out that the security services of an Arab country that is a neighbor of Palestine provided Israel with all the information about Hamas,' Hamdan said."


From Emperor to Blessed 

Controversy erupts in Europe, as the Pope once again fails to make everyone happy:

"The last emperor of Austria, Karl I, will be beatified by the Pope tomorrow amid fierce political and religious argument over how saintly he really was.

"While Austrian monarchists are delighted to see the first member of the defunct Habsburg dynasty set on the path to sainthood, critics claim that Karl I was an alcoholic adulterer who advocated the use of poison gas in the First World War."
You can read a bit more about Karl (or Charles) here. My hometown of Krakow, together with the rest of southern Poland, was a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire for more than a century, after Austria, Prussia and Russia helped themselves to Poland and partitioned the country between them in the late eighteenth century. As far as foreign occupations go, the Austrian one was the best (or at least the least worst) of the lot, the Austro-Hungarian empire having had a reputation for relative liberalism. For any visitors to Krakow, there's a good pub on Florianska Street devoted to the life and times of the Empire.

Having said all that, I don't have a particular opinion on this controversial Papal choice. Russia's last Tsar Nicholas II and his whole family have been, of course, made saints by some sections of the Russian Orthodox Church, on the account of their martyrdom at the hands of Godless Bolsheviks. If we have to beatify the First World War's loser monarchs, I think Karl I is a better choice.

Martin Kugler, a spokesman for the Habsburg family, defends the emperor as an enlightened ruler:
"As emperor, Karl pushed a comprehensive social programme. He appointed the world's first social affairs minister and protected tenants and children. He instituted worker protection and a family's right to social security. The essence of these measures remain in place today."
Deutsche Welle asks: "A Patron Saint for Politicians?" Maybe a patron saint of the welfare state?


A man who mistook his rocket for a stretcher 

Dave at Israellycool writes:
"[Israeli Defence Force] cameras have caught PLO Arab terrorists doing the inconceivable - loading what appears to be a Kassam rocket into a UN ambulance. As a result of this damning evidence, Israel is demanding the resignation of Peter Hansen, the commissioner-general of UNRWA in Gaza, and a known hater of Israel."
Hansen now responds to the allegations and Dave is there, first off the mark, to fisk him. A dastardly Jewish smear or the world's first example of a rocket-propelled ambulance (an RPA)? Judge for yourself.

Update: The story just keeps getting bigger and bigger and better - Israellycool has got a major update on the latest developments in ambulance chasing.


Protest Warrior in Sydney 

Australia's artz community rallies against the tyranny of the Prime Minister John Howard:
"The End the Lies march and rally, which organizers estimated attracted about 9000 people, was one of the last opportunities for musicians and artists to speak out against the Coalition before the election."
It might be the last opportunity altogether, before their courageous voices are silenced forever by the fascist junta, should Howard get re-elected this Saturday.

I'm happy to report that the "Lies" event has also saw the debut appearance of the Sydney chapter of Protest Warrior. You can read all about the counter-rally and see the photos at Leigh Cartwright's blog. If you live in Sydney and would want to join in next time, drop Leigh an email - you too can be called a "cowardly idiot" or a "provocateur".


Sunday, October 03, 2004

International aid workers: Darfur crisis "wildly exaggerated" 

It's all an American conspiracy:
"American warnings that Darfur is heading for an apocalyptic humanitarian catastrophe have been widely exaggerated by administration officials, it is alleged by international aid workers in Sudan. Washington's desire for a regime change in Khartoum has biased their reports, it is claimed.

"The government's aid agency, USAID, says that between 350,000 and a million people could die in Darfur by the end of the year. Other officials, including Secretary of State Colin Powell, have accused the Sudanese government of presiding over a 'genocide' that could rival those in Bosnia and Rwanda.

"But the account has been comprehensively challenged by eyewitness reports from aid workers and by a new food survey of the region. The nutritional survey of Sudan's Darfur region, by the UN World Food Programme, says that although there are still high levels of malnutrition among under-fives in some areas, the crisis is being brought under control.

" 'It's not disastrous,' said one of those involved in the WFP survey, 'although it certainly was a disaster earlier this year, and if humanitarian assistance declines, this will have very serious negative consequences'...

"While none of the aid workers and officials interviewed by The Observer denied there was a crisis in Darfur - or that killings, rape and a large-scale displacement of population had taken place - many were puzzled that it had become the focus of such hyperbolic warnings when there were crises of similar magnitude in both northern Uganda and eastern Congo."
The report ends with a dig at USAID as having allegedly become "politicised", since "two of its most senior officials have long held strong personal views" about Sudan. God help us that people should have strong personal view about anything. Where will it end? Aid agencies might acquire strong personal views about helping people.

What the aid workers and officials quoted in the "Guardian" article are saying is basically this: yep, Darfur was pretty bad but it's better now, and what's the big deal anyway, since there are many other crises around the world? In other words: move on; nothing to see here.

The US might of course have some nefarious private agenda. Maybe it wants Sudan's oil, or maybe it's on a crusade against all radical Islamic governments in the region. Then again, if that's the case, why hasn't anything actually happened in Darfur? Surely the invasion of Iraq has shown that if the US wants something the US gets it, with or without the UN's permission. If the US is "hyping up" the crisis, conversely the "international community" has all the motives in the world to try to downplay the crisis in Sudan, having done nothing to actually stop it.

According to the United Nations estimates, some 50,000 have died and over a million were displaced in Darfur recently. According to the World Health Organisation between 6,000 and 10,000 people are dying every month among the refugee population of 1.2 million. Meanwhile, the first scientific study of the crisis, led by Evelyn Depoortere of the French medical survey group Epicentre, and done in collaboration with Medecins sans Frontieres (no connection to the USAID), has just been published in the medical journal "The Lancet." It describes the toll from violence and displacement in Darfur as a "demographic catastrophe." And Muireann Kirrane, Emergency Programme Officer with Trocaire, the Irish Catholic Church charity (also no connection to USAID) writes:
"The situation in Darfur is going from bad to worse, with October predicted as the time when death tolls will rise significantly. The dreaded rains arrived in August and with them countless additional problems for the one million people struggling to survive out in the desert. Having spent the past two months in Darfur, I find it increasingly difficult to see light at the end of this tunnel for some of these people."
That's all pretty bad by any standards. But let's talk about America "hyping it up" instead.


Around the world in 39 blogs 

It's that time of the week to check what some blogospheric friends of Chrenk and others have been up to recently. The journey will be shorter than usual, as I'm sick this weekend. By the way, if you have a good post you'd like to share, please let me know in time for the next round-up.

In Australia, Tim Blair writes about Foxgate.

Azazel at Boils My Blood goes to the Liberal Party campaign launch and notes that despite the best efforts of the organisers to turn it into an American-style political extravaganza, the party members are having none of that.

The Currency Lad has a stream-of-consciousness super-post on Australian election.

Adrian at Man of Lettuce conducts another cab poll to gauge the election result.

Slattsnews writes about "free" health care election promises.

Evil Pundit to those offended by American warplanes being painted with cartoon characters with sharp teeth - is this better?

How many blogs can boast contributors who have previously appeared on the pages of "Ralph" magazine? Jericho and Tanner score one.

Yobbo writes: "It really is a sad time to be a fan of barely-legal pop sluts."

The Swanker notes (in four part series) the anniversary of a very bloody event in Indonesian history as communist and anti-communist forces clashed and fought for the future of the country.

In the United States, Powerline writes about the Kerry campaign, the media and the post-debate poll bounces. Winds of Change have more.

Blackfive is sick and tired of the draft talk.

Michelle Malkin asks "How much mobility is there in the blogospheric ecosystem?" And Fringeblog writes on joys of not wanting to get to the top.

Belmont Club takes Andrew Sullivan to task for suggesting Iraq is turning into another Algeria.

The Belgravia Dispatch defends Allawi.

Mudville Gazette write on a Dick Chaney flip-flop that wasn't.

Lt Smash at Indepundit is annoyed at Kerry for misinterpreting presidential leadership in military matters.

The Opinionated Bastard gives us the presidential debate as it should have been. Meanwhile, Opinion Paper has some interesting comments on the debate as it was. And Dean Esmay puts the debates in perspective.

The Bad Hair Blog defends nuclear bunker busting bombs from John Kerry. So does Tex the Pontificator.

Conservatives Anonymous has more thoughts on the problems of containment.

TigerHawk has a very long defence of the decision to go to war in Iraq. Well worth checking.

Nick Coleman of the "Star-Tribune" and Lileks have had a lovely exchange about blogging. Libercontrarian joins in. Eric's Random Musings has more.

Pacetown asks "How Berkeley are you?" (with photos).

Heard Here muses on the Texan War of Independence and the lessons of not cutting and running.

Cartoonblogging - Christopher Blosser has another vision splendid of John Kerry (and another).

In Europe, Barcepundit writes about the creative accounting techniques of Spanish Socialists.

Brit Broadcasting Conservatism has a Middle East news round-up.

Southern Watch watches the growing love affair between Spain and Venezuela.

In the Middle East, Mohammed at Iraq the Model has some thoughts about the Iraqi elections - from the ground.

Israellycool takes a look around the Israeli blogosphere - Protocols of the Bloggers of Zion?

In Asia, Simon World, the Australian tax exile in Hong Kong makes up his mind who he'll vote for at the Australian election, and conducts another Asia-wide blog round-up.

Please welcome two more new kids on the blog: "American Future": Making sense of a world in turmoil, and "Mover Mike" ("Mike is a retired stock broker, and now supports his wife's furniture business. He is her warehouseman, deluxer, and marketing guru. In addition, he writes poetry and finds abundance, health and joy in the world around him while pondering life's little mysteries" - including a lot of politics).

And, as always, don't forget Homespun Bloggers.


Polish President disses Democrat President wannabe 

Kerry's campaign to win friends and influence allies continues to bear fruit around the world. The allies might indeed be bearing only 10% of costs and 10% of the casualties, but they don't even get 10% of respect from Kerry - more like 0.

This is how the Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski (who happens to be an ex-communist) reacted to Kerry's remarks during the presidential debate (
link in Polish, my translation):
"It's sad that a Senator with twenty years of experience does not appreciate Polish sacrifice... I don't think it's a question of ignorance. One thing has to be said very clearly: this Coalition is not just the United States, Great Britain and Australia, but there's also contribution of Polish, Ukrainian, Bulgarian and Spanish soldiers who died in Iraq. It's immoral to not see this involvement we undertook because we believe that we have to fight terrorism together, that we need to show international solidarity, that Saddam Hussein is a danger to the world.

"From such a perspective, you can say we are disappointed that our stance and the sacrifice of our soldiers is so marginalised. I blame it on electioneering - and a message, indirectly expressed by Senator Kerry - that he thinks more of a coalition that would put the United States together with France and Germany, that is those who in the matter of Iraq said 'no'.

"President Bush is behaving like a true Texan gentleman - he's fighting for the recognition of other countries' contribution in the Coalition."
Polish Prime Minister Marek Belka also took Kerry to task for forgetting about the other 30 or so countries involved in the Coalition. He was, however, philosophical about Kerry's rhetoric: "During election campaigns things are said that one shouldn't necessarily take at face value."

(hat tip: Tanker Schreiber who brought to my attention this post from Hundred Percenter, who also provided own translation from Polish).


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