Saturday, January 30, 2010


Pres. Barack Obama continues to surprise and disappoint in foreign policy. It's hard to believe that he approves the U.S. sale of over six billion dollars of armaments to Taiwan. This move is sure to incite the government of China as well as the billion plus people in China to apoplexy and anti-American sentiment.

The BBC reports:

"Beijing said it would suspend military exchanges with the US, impose sanctions on companies selling arms, and review co-operation on major issues.

"Ties are already strained by rows over trade and internet censorship."

I voted for Obama principally because of what I thought (erroneously) as his pacific approach to American dealings with foreign countries. I did not vote for him so that he could facilitate a sale of missiles, war planes and tanks to Taiwan.

Imagine the reaction of the man in the street in the U.S. if Russia agreed to sell six billion dollars of arms to Cuba. We have seen the negative and hostile approach of U.S. lawmakers to Russia's sale of helicopters to Venezuela. The hostile reaction of China to this latest deal is perfectly understandable and reasonable.

I call upon Pres. Obama to cancel this deal. Stop the production and sale of weapons that are designed to kill.

Friday, January 29, 2010


I have long called for the Obama administration to end those notorious 2 AM raids on Afghani homes and villages. They inspire fear and generate deep and lasting animus towards Americans and the United States. When American troops bust in late at night, they violate the privacy of Afghani families and show disrespect for Afghan women, not to mention causing abject terror to Afghani children.

Andrew Lebovich blogs on this subject in Steve Clemons' The Washington Note. Writes Lebovich:

"The use of night raids by ISAF and non-ISAF American forces are among the most controversial aspects of the war effort in Afghanistan, because they sometimes result in the deaths or imprisonment of innocent Afghans.

"And while NATO has recently put in place new rules for night raids that are intended to prevent accidental deaths and cause less anger among Afghans, the raids will likely continue. As Gopal points out, many of the raids are carried out by American Special Operations Forces, who operate outside of NATO command and often with little oversight."


I don't understand the rationale behind U.S. sanctions restricting gasoline imports to Iran. I thought that both Sec. Clinton and Pres. Obama said that any possible sanctions would not target Iranian civilian society. But everyone uses gasoline. By cutting off gasoline supplies, these sanctions potentially impose harsh penalties on Iranian civilians.

Ladane Nasseri and Alexander Kwiatkowski write for today:

"Iran, the world’s fourth-largest oil producer, has to import at least a third of its fuel because it lacks refining capacity. It introduced gasoline rationing in 2007 to cut imports and domestic consumption."

Sunday, January 24, 2010


"There but for the grace of God . . ." How many times have we heard this platitude from believers? But what does it mean?

James Wood writes an op-ed in today's The New York Times about people's attributions of natural disasters to God, such as now when Haiti has just suffered the most awful earth quake.

Wood makes the point that attributing such natural disasters to "God" has the logical inference of making "him" into either a totally capricious force that snuffs the life of thousands of Haitians, many of them children and infants, sort of by accident, or that the deity is mean and vindictive, intent on ending people's precarious lives, probably because they or their nation committed a great sin or sins and so deserve divine wrath and retribution. (See Pat Robertson's comments.)

Enter now comments, certainly made in good if unthinking faith, by Pres. Barack Obama, where he says that, "but for the grace of God, there we go."

Writes Wood:

"In his speech after the catastrophe, President Obama movingly invoked “our common humanity,” and said that “we stand in solidarity with our neighbors to the south, knowing that but for the grace of God, there we go.” And there was God once again. Awkwardly, the literal meaning of Mr. Obama’s phrase is not so far from Pat Robertson’s hatefulness. Who, after all, would want to worship the kind of God whose “grace” protects Americans from Haitian horrors?

"The president was merely uttering an idiomatic version of the kind of thing you hear from survivors whenever a disaster strikes: “God must have been watching out for me; it’s a miracle I survived,” whereby those who died were presumably not being “watched out for.” That President Obama did not really mean this — he clearly did not — is telling, insofar as it suggests how the theological language of punishment and mercy lives on unconsciously, well after the actual theology has been discarded.

"Or has it? If the president simply meant that most of us have been — so far — luckier than Haitians, why didn’t he say that? Perhaps because, as a Christian, he does not want to believe that he subscribes to such a nonprovidential category as luck, or to the turn of fate’s wheel, which is really a pagan notion. Besides, to talk of luck, or fortune, in the face of a disaster seems flippant, and belittling to those who have been savaged by such bad luck. A toothache is bad luck; an earthquake is somehow theological.

Why God should favor Americans and keep them safe but disfavor Haitians and kill them in the thousands seems to be lost in Obama's comments. But as Wood points out the tradition of thanking God after natural disasters seems rooted in the religious point of view that ascribes God's providence and handiwork to all human events. If I were Haitian, I would resent not only Robertson's accusation of sinfulness or evil but also the line taken by those believers who thank God for sparing them, and too bad for those unfortunates who happen to be among those injured, killed or damaged by the quake.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Once again we receive reports that Iraq is imposing the death penalty on people convicted of major crimes.

Nada Bakri writes in today's The New York Times:

"A Baghdad court sentenced 11 Iraqis to death on Thursday for planning and carrying out a series of devastating attacks last summer.

"The bombings, on Aug. 19, struck Iraq’s Foreign and Finance Ministries in the heart of the capital and embarrassed the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki ahead of important parliamentary elections in March. the attacks also came less than two months after American combat troops withdrew from Iraqi cities, raising fears among many Iraqis that their security forces are not capable of maintaining security yet."

I don't care what the crime, governments should not be allowed to punish by taking a criminal's life. No matter if the convict is a mass murderer, the state should not be allowed to respond and take an eye for an eye. One evil does not justify the state to impose the same evil on the convict.

Furthermore, the death penalty is harsh and cruel. It has no place in a modern liberal democratic society.

Besides Iraq, other countries that still allow the death penalty include Saudi Arabia, Iran, Japan, China and the United States.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


The New York Times has a report in today's paper by Dexter Filkins on the Afghan protests against combined U.S./Afghan military raids conducted several nights before. Afghan police apparently fired on the demonstrators and eight fell dead.

Writes Dexter Filkins:

"When the riot was over, at least eight protesters were dead and about a dozen wounded, shot by Afghan intelligence officers. Much of the town of Garmsir blamed the Americans.

"The episode, which American officers said they were investigating, highlighted how easily suspicions and resentment can flare out of control in an area as contested as the Helmand River Valley."

Juan Cole in his post today in Informed Comment places blame on the Taliban for inciting the villagers to near riot. Writes Juan Cole:

"Similar controversies over Qur'an desecration provoked anti-American rallies by the Muqtada al-Sadr group in Iraq some years ago. This cycle, of charges of foreign blasphemy, big rallies to protest it, and then the shooting of protesters, is a deliberate ploy by the Taliban to turn locals against NATO and the Afghan army."

I don't disagree with Juan Cole on the influence of the Taliban to stir up hornets nests against the American military. But I also feel that the American practice of conducting raids in the middle of the night which entail storming into homes of suspects, rousing the whole family, scaring the children, wrecking furniture and personal belongings, must of necessity lead to resentment and feelings of being humiliated.

Furthermore, many Afghans see American raids at 2 AM as violating the sanctity of their homes and especially offending their wives and women. This is no small matter in Afghan or Muslim society.

Dexter Filkins describes the events and aftermath of the raid:

"The protest began when several thousand Afghans gathered in the central bazaar in Garmsir, after reports of abuse by American servicemen during a raid at a nearby village two nights before. Local officials said the protest was organized by the Taliban’s shadow governor for Garmsir, Mullah Mohammed Naim.

"“The Taliban were provoking the people,” Kamal Khan, Helmand Province’s deputy police chief, said in a telephone interview. “They were telling the people that the Americans and their Afghan partners are killing innocent people, bombing their homes and destroying their mosques and also blaspheming their religion and culture.

"“The Taliban were telling the people, ‘This is jihad; you should sacrifice yourselves.’ ”

"No witnesses to the disputed raid could be located; it took place Sunday night in the village of Darweshan. American officers in Kabul said that Afghan soldiers conducted a nighttime operation in the village, with the Americans in support. But they said that no shots had been fired and that no one had engaged in any inappropriate conduct."

I thought Gen. Stanley McChrystal and Gen. David Petraeus were aware of the severe and lasting damage to U.S. interests that raids at 2 AM can cause. Consider how you would feel if foreign troops banged on your front door at that hour and forced their way into your home, saying that they were searching for weapons or other contraband. How would your children react?

That's why I want to see Pres. Obama order an immediate end to U.S. forces entering anyone's home after 9 PM.

Monday, January 11, 2010


The BBC reports that Israeli premier Netanyahu is ordering the building of a wall along the Israeli/Egyptian border to stop "illegal aliens" from changing Israel's identity as a Jewish democracy. How can a modern liberal state define itself in religious terms? And how can Netanyahu think that a wall will stop immigration of those wishing to better their economic lives?

The BBC reports:

"On Sunday, Mr Netanyahu said he had approved the construction of sections of barrier that would block the main infiltration routes along the 266 km (166-mile) frontier, and the installation of advanced surveillance equipment.

"The project is set to cost $270m and take several years to complete.

""I took the decision to close Israel's southern border to infiltrators and terrorists. This is a strategic decision to secure Israel's Jewish and democratic character," the prime ministers (sic) said in a statement.

"Mr Netanyahu said Israel would "remain open to refugees" from conflict zones, but added: "We cannot let tens of thousands of illegal workers infiltrate into Israel through the southern border and inundate our country with illegal aliens.""

Sunday, January 10, 2010


The situation with persons caught up by ICE in immigration detention is beyond belief, like something horrible in Dostoevsky or Kafka.

Nina Bernstein describes many horrible events in today's The New York Times.

Writes Bernstein:

"The Obama administration has vowed to overhaul immigration detention, a haphazard network of privately run jails, federal centers and county cells where the government holds non citizens while it tries to deport them.

"But as the administration moves to increase oversight within the agency, the documents show how officials — some still in key positions — used their role as overseers to cover up evidence of mistreatment, deflect scrutiny by the news media or prepare exculpatory public statements after gathering facts that pointed to substandard care or abuse.

"As one man lay dying of head injuries suffered in a New Jersey immigration jail in 2007, for example, a spokesman for the federal agency told The Times that he could learn nothing about the case from government authorities. In fact, the records show, the spokesman had alerted those officials to the reporter’s inquiry, and they conferred at length about sending the man back to Africa to avoid embarrassing publicity."

I hope that Pres. Obama takes decisive action in reforming the antiquated and medieval practices in the Immigration Service. But I must say so far, Obama has seemed to put immigration on the back burner. He has dissed Latinos by sending in U.S. troops to be based in Colombia, and he has shown no inclination to review the failed Bush policy to the Castro brothers and Cuba. Furthermore, he has let Janet Napolitano, head of Homeland Security which includes ICE, continue with the harsh policy of immigration raids on workers suspected of being without proper documents.