can’t see the forest

Iran to Obama: Change in words not enough

Posted in foreign policy, Iran, Israel, middle east, Obama, Politics, U.S. News, US, World News by Curtis on 3/21/09

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In a video message to Iran delivered to coincide with the spring holiday of Nowruz, U.S. President Barack Obama may have departed significantly from Bush-era policies by opening the door to constructive dialog between the two nations. But his overtures disappointed many and were less than warmly received by the government in Tehran largely because they seemed to embody a continuation of carrot-and-stick diplomacy oriented toward rewarding a sovereign nation for “good behavior” rather than truly engaging it as an equal.

The BBC reports on the response from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini:

Speaking to a large crowd in the holy city of Mashhad, Ayatollah Khamenei said Iran had “no experience with the new American government and the new American president.”

“We will observe them and we will judge,” he said.

“If you change your attitude, we will change our attitude.”

In the speech, which was carried live by Iranian television, he said Iran was yet to see such a change.

“What is the change in your policy?” he asked.

“Did you remove the sanctions? Did you stop supporting the Zionist regime? Tell us what you have changed. Change only in words is not enough.”

Matters were not helped, perhaps, in that Obama preceded his address by extending certain sanctions against the Islamic republic for one year, citing threats to U.S. national security.

Iran is due to hold presidential elections this summer. Former President Mohammed Khatami, a figure widely viewed as more open to reconciliation with the West, was at one point slated to run for reelection but then withdrew from the race. Whether or not current President Amahdinejad, seen as a foreign policy hardliner, is ousted from office, the U.S. and Israel need not expect the election to bring any major changes to the political climate.

It is good that the new White House is willing to engage in dialog with Tehran, but the fact remains that, if the U.S. wishes genuinely to create goodwill and a sense of cooperation with Iran, it must itself take steps toward enacting several policy changes:

  1. First and foremost, the U.S. must openly rethink its complete and unmitigated support for the government of Israel, particularly as it pertains to the occupation of the Palestinian territories. Since the U.S. is largely responsible for the arming and funding of Israeli military operations, and has traditionally backed Israel diplomatically against all odds, it is seen as a de facto partner in the blockades and military offensives which have recently crushed millions of innocent Palestinians in response to rocket fire from a relatively small number of militants. The U.S. could help matters by intensifying its commitment to a political solution for Palestine.
  2. The U.S. must recognize Iran’s right to develop peaceful nuclear energy, and must adopt a policy of “innocent until proven guilty” towards its suspicions that Iran might be seeking to develop nuclear weapons. There remains no concrete evidence that Iran is working towards a bomb, but the hysteria over the idea continues to mount as Israel considers using missiles to destroy enrichment efforts. Iran may be willing to accept reliance on fuel enriched outside its borders, but not for nothing in return.
  3. The U.S. must work to end U.S. and U.N. sanctions against Iran. This could be made dependent on eliciting cooperation from Tehran on security issues in Iraq and Afghanistan, which the government may or may not be willing to give. But as long as such sanctions are in place, Iran is justified in feeling that it is being addressed as less than an equal, and little progress is likely.

In return, the U.S. should expect Iran to soften its support of Hezbollah and Hamas, to tone down its anti-Israeli rhetoric and provocative missile tests, and to become more receptive to cooperation in Iraq and Afghanistan. But, to keep realism on the table, we must remember that Iran reasonably views itself as a state under threat, surrounded on both sides by ongoing U.S. military operations and continually threatened by talk of missile attacks from Israel.

Obama’s latest move certainly signifies the hope of change, but it is not yet, for many, change we can believe in.

If it’s THAT broke, don’t fix it

Posted in economy, human rights, money, US by Curtis on 3/17/09

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The signs of recession are everywhere. At university, there is talk of combining classes and even of laying off untenured instructors. Air conditioning in the school buildings gets cut off at night and on weekends. Tuition rates are rising faster than usual. My drive from home to school is peppered with newly built strip malls, which are mostly vacant. Some families I know that were already living on the edge are not sure how they’ll make it through the year. Job loss is up, and new home sales are down.

I think by now everyone is familiar with the theme and variations which have been presented to explain the economic ‘crisis.’ These explanations sound, to my ear, a bit more complicated than necessary. Is it the fault of starry-eyed first-time homeowners looking to begin their lives fresh out of college with the kind of spacious, effulgent lifestyle mom and dad worked 25 years to attain, or is it the fault of the beady-eyed lenders who agreed to finance them? Are the big banks to blame for using questionable mortgage securities as a profit scheme, or is the government responsible for allowing that investment paradigm to blossom unhindered?

These rhetorical questions dance around complex issues, but in and of themselves, I’m afraid their answers don’t speak to the central problems in the modern economy, which are systemic rather than specific, ideological rather than individual. There are lessons to be learned by inquiring into what went wrong where, but time marches on, and it seems to me that we ought to focus on things we can fix in the future, going forward.

For one, free market, capitalist economies require perpetual growth in order to remain stable. This means, above all, a growth in consumption; people are immersed in an environment in which products are seen as the answers to their problems, and when there are no more problems, new ones are created. This is a favorite strategy of tech gadgeteers and big pharmaceuticals. Yes, it’s funny how medical diagnoses like Restless Leg Syndrome or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder seem to enter into parlance at about the same time as the drugs which treat them. You might as well not even own a cell phone if it can’t spit out the latest baseball scores or play your favorite MP3s at the touch of a button. Advertising and marketing people are, regrettably, something like the shamans of our shiny new civilization. The way to drive the economy forward is through ever-increasing consumption, even when it outstrips expendable income. The condition of being broke, after all, is merely the stepladder to a whole new level of product promotion and consumption: the product of credit.

Economies like ours also require continual growth in the pool of available resources, and continual shrinkage in pesky overhead costs, such as labor (with the recent trend being to divert a lot of those costs to marketing). This is why we have long, explosive, bloody, multi-trillion-dollar wars in places like Iraq, why we support states like Israel and Saudi Arabia while decrying the human rights records of states like Iran, why Nike runs massive production facilities in Indonesia in which the costs of grossly underpaid labor operations are calculated down to fractions of a second, and why veritable crises in humanitarian wastelands like Darfur or Palestine aren’t very interesting to policymakers.

The new U.S. administration’s solutions to the problem have mostly entailed government spending: hundreds of billions of dollars to wealthy corporations just to keep them afloat for another quarter, mortgage relief to beleagured homeowners, and the creation or beefing-up of social programs, some of which are sorely needed. But one wonders what kind of band-aid such policies represent, and how long it can hold together. Talk of increased regulation is interesting and welcome, but what about a more fundamental discussion of what is being regulated, and why? I was taught that a state in which the government enters into a limited, supposedly need-based fiscal partnership with large-scale industry is practicing fascism. I guess that’s not the case when we do it.

Maybe it’s time that we began thinking of a healthy economy not as one which continually grows and deepens of its own accord (“It’s alive! It’s aliiiiiiive!”), but as one which maintains a healthy equilibrium with nature and promotes well-being and security across society, not just to the top-earning 1 percent or so. Let’s develop tenably altruistic concepts like microcredit and equitable distribution of resources. Perhaps accounting curricula need to be rewritten . . . maybe the numbers we’re tracking aren’t the right ones.

In any case, it’s easy to lust for quick fixes and immediate relief when we’re living with the reality of economic recession. But think of the hundreds of millions of people in the world who are hungry, thirsty, and ridden with disease. For them, there are no quick fixes and there is no way forward. How many meals or vaccines would an iPod or a Blackberry be worth to one of those individuals? The way we conduct our state and our economy are, in many senses, directly responsible for the plight of the world’s less fortunate, and they outnumber us perhaps 5 to 1, speaking optimistically. So is this economy worth fixing?

When a Picture Is Worth 1,000

Posted in Israel, middle east, Palestine, Politics, US, World News by Curtis on 11/26/07

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The headline, from BBC news, is “Bush hopeful for mid-East peace.” Israeli and Palestinian leadership—the latter widely disparaged among some of its own people as unrepresentative of real Palestinian interests—meets this week in Annapolis to discuss prospects for peace.

The picture:

Bushmert

What Bush and Olmert are most likely hopeful for is that Abbas and the Palestinian delegation will obediently agree to terms which will in no way result in an end to Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Sadly, it is through cheap mainstream press ops such as these that the wider world becomes ever more dumb on the seldom-mentioned larger context within which these debacles take place. Thankfully, though, there are many working on the web and at large in the world to educate people on the root causes of political instability in the Middle East.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

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Here, for your perusal (and courtesy primarily of this page, among other resources), is a list of the UN Security Council vetoes by the U.S. from 1972 – 2002 which have involved Israeli/Palestinian/other Middle-Eastern issues. While the Soviet Union was the primary user of the veto before its collapse, the U.S. has since come to the fore as naysayer-in-chief, and a preponderance of its vetoes have been concerned with Middle Eastern issues.

Year Resolution Vetoed by US
1972 Condemnation of the killing of civilians by Israel in Syria and Lebanon
1973 Affirming Palestinian rights and calling for Israeli withdrawal
1976 Condemnation of Israel for attacks on Lebanese citizens
1976 Condemnation of Israel for building settlements in Palestinian lands
1976 Call for Palestinian self-determination
1976 Affirming Palestinian rights
1978 Criticism of Palestinian living conditions
1978 Condemnation of Israel’s human rights abuses in occupied territories
1979 Calls for the return of all inhabitants expelled by Israel
1979 Demand that Israel desist its human rights abuses
1979 Request for report on Palestinian living conditions in occupied lands
1979 Offer of aid to Palestinian people
1979 Discussion of sovereignty over natural resources in occupied lands
1979 Inclusion of Palestinian Women in the UN Conference on Women
1980 Request for Israel to return displaced persons
1980 Condemnation of Israeli policy regarding Palestinian living conditions
1980 (3x) Condemnation of Israeli human rights abuses in occupied lands
1980 Affirming Palestinian rights
1981 (18x) Condemnation of Israeli human rights abuses and Iraq raids
1982 (6x) Condemnation of Israeli invasion of Lebanon
1982 Condemnation of the Israeli massacre of 11 Muslims at a holy shrine
1982 Call for Israel to withdraw from the Golan Heights
1984 Condemnation of Israel for occupying/attacking southern Lebanon
1985 Condemnation of Israel for occupying/attacking southern Lebanon
1985 Condemnation of excessive Israeli force in occupied territories
1986 Call for all governments to observe international law ( ! )
1986 Condemnation of Israel for its actions against Lebanese civilians
1986 Call for Israel to respect Muslim holy places
1986 Condemnation of Israeli skyjacking of a Libyan airliner
1987 Call for Israel to abide by the Geneva Conventions
1987 Call for Israel to cease the deportation of Palestinians
1987 (2x) Condemnation of Israeli military operations in Lebanon
1987 Call for Israel to withdraw forces from Lebanon
1987 Cooperation between the United Nations and the Arab League
1987 Measures to investigate causes of international terrorism
1988 (5x) Condemnation of Israeli human rights abuses of Palestinians
1989 Opposing the acquisition of territory by force
1989 Call for a resolution to Arab-Israeli conflicts
1990 Request to allow three UN observers into the occupied territories
1995 Affirmation that East Jerusalem is occupied territory
1997 (2x) Call for Israel to cease settling in occupied territories
2001 Request to place unarmed monitors in Gaza, West Bank

Nowhere in the mainstream media will you find even the slightest suggestion that this track record might possibly correlate with a less-than-sterling opinion of U.S. foreign policy in the Muslim world and elsewhere.