Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Sudanese regime that doesn't know how to blush.

A friend of mine recently said he recoiled when he saw yet one more report by Nicholas D Kristof about human rights violations. I had to confess that I myself sometimes have turned away from reports of violent and cruel abuses of women and the murder of unarmed helpless civilians. Outrage fatigue.

But then what would the world be like if there were no reporting on the abuses of power in the world. How many other incidents have taken place that have not been reported on? And how many powerful figures, even in the face of the evidence, lie, denying what they have done to vulnerable human beings in their paths? We live in a broken world, and without serious reporting few would have even a clue about what is going on.

Even so, I’m appalled at the shameless behavior of some regimes. Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, Iran, North Korea – in these countries and others the regimes in power will do anything to their own citizens to stay in place.

Now we hear about Sudan – again. Yet again we hear of a government that will send its troops into a community to brutalize, rape, and burn. Have they no shame? We can only invoke the language of one of the greatest social critics of all time: "Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they are absolutely shameless. They do not even know how to blush." [Jer 8:12]

Here is a link to today’s report by Kristof: what would we do without him?
"Yet again in Sudan."

Monday, June 27, 2011

Are our politicians running the country over a cliff?

Does it seem strange to anyone the way politicians are proposing to fix the economy? So far, the only solution that either party seems to propose is to reduce the deficit. How is that supposed to produce a viable economy? I am not an economist but I believe we are in for a year of campaigning about deficit reduction solutions that won't solve anything.

What turns on my worry is the latest edition of Investment Outlook written by Bill Gross, manager of [what is said to be] the largest mutual fund in the world.

This is what I get from his new Outlook.

Both parties seem to believe "that balancing the budget will magically produce 20 million jobs over the next 10 years."

"over the past 10 years, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, only 1.8 million jobs have been created."

In the mean time
"the available labor force has grown by over 15 million."

So what miracle power will enable any administration to produce 20 million jobs in the next 10 years?

At a time when interest rates can go no lower, we as a country are "untrained, under-invested and over-indebted relative to our global competitors."

At the same time,
"politicians feel that fiscal conservatism equates to job growth." However, "if implemented too quickly [it] could stultify economic growth."

Here is Bill Gross -- the guy who manages the largest bond fund in the world -- saying
"government must take a leading role in job creation.... In the short term, no rational observer can believe that global or even small businesses will invest here when the labor over there is so much cheaper. ... Our labor force is too expensive and poorly educated for today's marketplace."

He quotes the former Washington University economist Hyman Minsky --
"a modern-day economic godfather who predicted the subprime crisis. 'Big Government,' he wrote, should become the 'employer of last resort' in a crisis, offering a job to anyone who wants one -- for health care, street cleaning, or slum renovation."

What the politicians seem to miss -- and our country will ignore at a terrible cost, I fear -- is these
"dominant headwinds that cannot be dismissed: 1] Labor is much more attractively priced over there than here, and 2] U. S. employment based on asst price appreciation/finance as opposed to manufacturing can no longer be sustained. The 'golden' days are over."

Western civilization prides itself on its rationality, it's ability to assess pitfalls ahead and adjust. So, where is the adjustment? Is anybody thinking about where this country is going? One of the problems with the power of interest-driven arguments is that the various interests involved in state building are preoccupied with short range benefits. Our system is set to re-assess, rethink every four years. Four years of planning driven by powerful corporate interests may drive the country over the cliff. Can there be a return?

Here is Bill Gross's assessment:
It is clear, however, that neither party has an awareness of the why or the wherefores of how to put America back to work again.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Juan Cole is now as admired as Owen Lattimore

If I am honest with myself I have to admit that I am profoundly envious of Juan Cole. I have long admired his work. He writes richly documented scholarly works and he runs a blog in which he demonstrates every morning that he has already read everything in Arabic and Persian that was published that day. He must read and write in his sleep.
Yes, it’s envy: I only wish I could have done half as much fine work as he has, and that I could maintain an informed, up-to-the-moment commentary on even a small sector of the world comparable to his blog. But now he has now been elevated to an unparalleled level of scholarly greatness by the revelation that someone in the George W Bush administration tried to sabotage his career.
Few scholars ever get such an honor. The only other one so honored that I know of was someone else I have long admired, Owen Lattimore. Lattimore was the most eminent scholar on Chinese affairs in the 1940s and 1950s. He wrote some of the greatest studies of all time on the influence of the frontier on social affairs. His Inner Asian Frontiers of China was one of the great works in a field now given a name, political ecology. He had a powerful influence on American foreign policy in his day, as he was Roosevelt’s adviser on East Asian affairs. But what distinguished him above many other worthy scholars of his time was Joseph McCarthy’s attack against him during the 1950s. McCarthy accused him of being a Communist sympathizer, “a top Russian spy.” At the moment of the attack Lattimore was en route to Afghanistan where he had been designated the new head of the United Nations Mission there. When he arrived in Kabul and read a telegram notifying him of McCarthy’s charges, he got back on the same plane and went home. In Washington he vigorously defended himself and when the hearings were over he published a book, Ordeal by Slander, written in three months, no doubt in a fit of anger.
So now it turns out that Juan Cole has been elevated to such a stature. Only in his case no one will admit to trying to dig up dirt against him. Yesterday’s New York Times only indicates that someone in the G W Bush administration was asking Glenn L. Carle, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer, to gather sensitive information on Juan Cole. Who would that be? We know that the office of the Vice President was up to such shenanigans – that’s why Scooter Libby went to jail.
Whatever the situation it has now elevated Juan Cole into the class of most envied scholars. He is now on a par with Owen Lattimore.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Siddique on the corrosive power of politics on Pakistan's military

Abubakar Siddique of Radio Free Europe has a great statement of the problem with Pakistan's military: It has long been not only rich [holding land, many companies, large trust funds, investment funds, etc.] but also politically entrenched. The combination of wealth and political power is corrosive everywhere. Siddique describes the extant problem [see also Tariq Ali, "The color Khaki"]. RLC

Radio Free Europe: Feature article
Pakistan: Armed With Power, Perks, And Privileges
June 04, 2011
By Abubakar Siddique

It has been a turbulent month for the Pakistani military.

First came the May 2 killing of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, on Pakistani soil, by American commandos. The raid led to questions of how the Al-Qaeda leader could find a safe haven alongside Pakistan's elite military training academy, and how such a raid could be successfully carried out unbeknownst to the armed forces.

Then came the deadly insurgent attack on a naval base in Karachi on May 22-23, which took 16 hours to contain and which resulted in the death of at least 10 military personnel and four militants. Eyebrows were raised over how the armed services could fail to protect a key military installation.

Capping off the month was the kidnapping on May 29 of journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad. His abduction in the capital came shortly after he had written an investigative piece alleging that the Karachi attack stemmed from a breakdown in secret negotiations between the navy and Al-Qaeda.

There have been allegations that journalist Syed Salim Shahzad was tortured and killed by Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency.
Days after Shahzad warned that he had received threats because of his report, his tortured body was discovered far from the capital. Suspicions turned toward the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, considered an integral part of what Pakistanis refer to as the "military establishment."

Human rights campaigners and journalists are clamoring for investigations into Shahzad's death as well as reports he had been threatened by the ISI, which the intelligence agency denies.

An Old Debate Rekindled

It is far from open season on the military, which takes the lion's share of foreign aid, possesses enormous wealth, and has dominated political and economic life in Pakistan for decades.

But lawmakers, the media, and the public have now become emboldened enough to rekindle an old debate about the considerable perks and privileges enjoyed by the country's powerful military.

Why, they ask, are immense resources being used to prop up bloated security institutions while a growing and impoverished population is left wanting?

The grumbling can be expected to get louder in the coming days.

"There are a lot of questions about where the resources are going," says Islamabad-based author and journalist Zahid Hussain, who asks "whether the huge military budgets are properly utilized?

"There are also questions about the…military's own professionalism," he says. "Professionalism in dealing with this kind of situation. Particularly, there are questions about the army running other businesses and not concentrating on their professional duties."

These are the type of questions that Hussain has suffered personally for asking in the past.

In a 2002 article for "Newsweek" magazine, he documented how the Pakistani military had carved out a corporate and real-estate empire that gave the then-ruling generals enormous wealth, power, and advantages.

'Military Generals Play Golf All The Time'

In response, Hussain was banned for years from covering the press conferences of President General Pervez Musharraf, who held office from 1999-2008.

Others have suffered more for going against the grain in the nuclear-armed Islamic nation, which has been ruled by military dictators -- Musharraf being the last -- for more than 30 of the years since its founding in 1947.

Sixty-year-old Pakistani lawyer Asma Jahangir has spent most of her life campaigning for the rights of religious minorities and landless farm workers effectively bound to a life of modern-day slavery.

Her work has placed her in direct opposition to the military's dominance of the Pakistan's decision-making process. For this she has been imprisoned and placed under house arrest.

Peaceful demonstrations she has orchestrated have been met with harsh police violence, and her family's businesses have suffered as her patriotism has been questioned.

Nevertheless, Jahangir continues to be one of the most vocal public voices questioning the perks enjoyed by the military.

"These military generals play golf all the time," she said on a popular night-time talk show on May 26. "And then they talk about where they will get plots [of land]. Please tell me how a marriage hall can operate in a sensitive [military] installation such as the [naval base] that was attacked in Karachi recently. Have you heard this happening anywhere else?"

An Immense Economic Machine

Jahangir's comments have attracted angry press statements and letters to the editor from former senior military officers, as have more subdued criticisms lodged on other TV talk shows and newspaper columns.

It will take a lot more than public questioning to put a dent in the military's immense economic machine, however.

Under the country's annual budget released on June 3, the military gets a major slice of the pie -- about 25 percent. Healthcare and education, by contrast, receive only a sliver -- less than 5 percent combined.

. . . [For more, click on the title above]

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Iranian government thugs beat a famous woman scholar, who collapsed of heart attack

Haleh Sahabi's death was not accidental but deliberate, by a regime that has been reduced to showing its true character. The story of her death as she mourns the death of her father is told by Hamed Dabashi, Al Jazeera, June 3, 2011.
Haleh Sahabi: Our Antigone in Tehran: Haleh Sahabi defied human law to defend moral, divine law; her life writing a heroic legend of the future. AlJazeera [6/3/11]
Haleh Sahabi, 54, was a distinguished Quranic hermeneutician, a religious comparatist, a women's rights scholar, and a committed activist to the cause of her people's civil liberties. Haleh Sahabi was sentenced to a two-year prison term after she had joined a rally in front of the Iranian parliament in the aftermath of the contested presidential election of 2009.

While serving her term in jail, Haleh Sahabi was informed of her father's impending death. He was the prominent Iranian dissident Ezzatollah Sahabi (1930-2011), a revered democracy activist, known and admired for his mild manner, open-minded generosity of spirit, a liberal demeanor, and a commitment to non-violent activism on a religious-nationalist platform for over half a century.

Haleh Sahabi was briefly allowed out of prison to be present for the final days of her father's life. Ezzatollah died, at the age of 81 on May 31, 2011. Millions of Iranians in and out of their homeland were saddened by his death, deeply grateful for his moderate and caring positions, even those who did not agree with him.

His funeral began on the following day, June 1, under tight security control, and - according to a number of reliable eyewitness accounts- including those of Ahmad Montazeri, the son of the late Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, and Ahmad Sadr Haj Seyyed Javadi, an aging opposition politician - a band of organised plainclothes security forces began to disrupt the funeral, ridiculing and humiliating the attendants, and moved to snatch the body of the deceased from those who were carrying it for a proper burial.

Haleh Sahabi, leading the funeral, tried to prevent the disruption, while holding on to a picture of her father. The picture was violently taken away from her by a security agent and she was hit on her side. She fell to the ground in the scuffle and soon after died of a cardiac arrest.

The International campaign for Human Rights in Iran holds the plainclothes security forces responsible for Haleh Sahabi's death, and has called for an official investigation. "The shameful actions of government thugs in this incident reveal a deep contempt for traditions that belong to all Iranians, and they have resulted in a tragedy," said Hadi Ghaemi, spokesperson for the campaign. Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian Nobel Peace laureate, has declared Haleh Sahabi's death,"intentional murder".
[Click on the title for the whole article]

Monday, June 06, 2011

The ISI had been threatening the journalist that turned up dead and mutilated

Now it comes out that the ISI had threatened Saleem Shahzad, bureau chief of Asia Times Online, several times. He disappeared and his body showed up on May 31 badly mutilated. He was not only killed but tortured. Shahzad was of course a Pakistani citizen who of course should have been protected by the ISI; that the organization threatened him was reason for him to share some of the evidence with others who now have brought it into the open. Would we expect whoever did this to admit to have brutalized a journalist for not revealing his sources? It is no surprise that the ISI has denied it. RLC

04 Jun 2011, NewAgeIslam.Com
Why the ISI is Lying By Hameed Haroon
It has come to my notice that a spokesman of Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) while speaking to the official national news agency in Islamabad yesterday has questioned the “baseless allegations” levelled by Human Rights Watch on the basis of an email from Saleem Shahzad, the bureau chief of the Hong Kong-based Asia Times Online, in their possession. Shahzad was murdered three days ago near Islamabad after being abducted by unknown persons.
I wish to state on record that the email in the possession of Mr Ali Dayan, the monitor for Human Rights Watch (HRW) stationed in, Lahore Pakistan, is indeed one of the three identical emails sent by Mr Shahzad to HRW, his employers (Asia Times Online) and to his former employer, myself. I also wish to verify that allegations levied by HRW at the ISI are essentially in complete consonance with the contents of the slain journalist’s email.
In their denial issued Wednesday, an anonymous spokesman from the ISI has questioned the “baseless allegation” levelled against ISI by Mr Dayan of HRW. I wish to state on the record for the information of the officers involved in investigating journalist Saleem Shahzad’s gruesome murder that the late journalist confided to me and several others that he had received death threats from various officers of the ISI on at least three occasions in the past five years. Whatever the substance of these allegations, they form an integral part of Mr Shahzad’s last testimony. Mr Shahzad’s purpose in transmitting this information to three concerned colleagues in the media was not to defame the ISI but to avert a possible fulfillment of what he clearly perceived to be a death threat. The last threat which I refer to was recorded by Mr Shahzad by email with me, tersely phrased as “for the record”, at precisely 4:11am on October 18, 2010, wherein he recounted the details of his meetings at the ISI headquarters in Islamabad between the director general-media wing (ISI), Rear-Admiral Adnan Nazir, with the deputy director general of the media wing, Commodore Khalid Pervaiz, also being present.
The ostensible agenda for this meeting was the subject of Mr Shahzads’s story in Asia Times Online with respect to the Pakistan government freeing of senior Afghan Taliban commander, Mullah Baraadar. Mr Shahzad informed the senior officials that the story was leaked by an intelligence channel in Pakistan, and confirmed thereafter by the “most credible Taliban source”. The senior officials present suggested to Mr Shahzad that he officially deny the story, which he refused to do, terming the official’s demand as “impractical”.
The senior intelligence official was “curious” to identify the source of Mr Shahzad’s story claiming it to be a “shame” that such a leak should occur from the offices of a high profile intelligence service. Mr Shahzad additionally stated that the rear-admiral offered him some information, ostensibly “as a favour “ in the following words: “We have recently arrested a terrorist and have recovered a lot of data, diaries and other materials during the interrogation. The terrorist had a hit list with him. If I find your name on the list I will certainly let you know.” Mr Shahzad subsequently confirmed to me in a conversation that he not only interpreted this conversation as a veiled threat to his person, he also informed me that he let an official from the ISI know soon thereafter that he intended to share the content of this threat with his colleagues. ....
Source: The Indian Express URL:
[For more click on the title above]

I realize that Manvendra Singh is an Indian criticizing a Pakistani organization, but he has described the real reason for this crime well:
Last Updated : 05 Jun 2011 10:53:28 AM IST

Saleem Shahzad was killed because his writings affected the image-building of an institution that is being devoured from within. His writings didn’t affect the image of the militants of Al-Qaeda or the various shades of the Taliban. The truth didn’t hurt them one bit. Rather it only exposed their infiltration of the armed forces, for which the militants groups are not in the least bit sorry. His writings irritated only the image-makers of the Pakistani military ‘establishment’. For their well-cultivated image of being in control of the destinies of the institutions as well as that of the country has taken a serious beating. . . . Establishments and governments don’t like the truth as news items, discussion points, power presentations etc. They know the truth well, but like it concealed from the public conversations.
[For the source, go to Establishment paranoia and Shahzad’s murder

Friday, June 03, 2011

What the Syrian police did to a thirteen year old child.

Remember the pulverized body of the young man Emit Till? He was tortured and brutalized by a racist mob in the United States. In Syria it is the government that does such things -- even to children.

The brutal treatment of the Syrian people by their government reveals what it is: inhuman, brutal, unfeeling, bestial. Nothing reveals to the world what controls conditions in Syria better than the revelation of what Syrian police did to one of their 13-year old future citizens. From Al Jazeera.

Tortured and killed: Hamza al-Khateeb, age 13. The mutilation and death in custody of a 13-year-old child has sparked further furious protests in Syrian city of Daraa.
Hugh Macleod and Annasofie Flamand 31 May 2011 AL JAZEERA

Hamza al-Khateeb used to love it when the rains came to his small corner of southern Syria, filling up the farmers' irrigation channels enough so that he and the other children could jump in and swim.
But the drought of the last few years had left the 13-year-old without the fun of his favourite pool.
Instead, he'd taken to raising homing pigeons, standing on the roof of his family's simple breeze-block home, craning his neck back to see the birds circling above the wide horizon of fields, where wheat and tomatoes were grown from the tough, scrubby soils.
Though not from a wealthy family himself, Hamza was always aware of others less fortunate than himself, said a cousin who spoke to Al Jazeera.
"He would often ask his parents for money to give to the poor. I remember once he wanted to give someone 100 Syrian Pounds ($2), and his family said it was too much. But Hamza said, 'I have a bed and food while that guy has nothing.' And so he persuaded his parents to give the poor man the 100."
In the hands of President Bashar al-Assad's security forces, however, Hamza found no such compassion, his humanity degraded to nothing more than a lump of flesh to beat, burn, torture and defile, until the screaming stopped at last.
Arrested during a protest in Saida, 10km east of Daraa, on April 29, Hamza's body was returned to his family on Tuesday 24th May, horribly mutilated.
The child had spent nearly a month in the custody of Syrian security, and when they finally returned his corpse it bore the scars of brutal torture: Lacerations, bruises and burns to his feet, elbows, face and knees, consistent with the use of electric shock devices and of being whipped with cable, both techniques of torture documented by Human Rights Watch as being used in Syrian prisons during the bloody three-month crackdown on protestors.
Hamza's eyes were swollen and black and there were identical bullet wounds where he had apparently been shot through both arms, the bullets tearing a hole in his sides and lodging in his belly.

Hamza's mutilated, castrated corpse was riddled with bullet holes and burn marks [YouTube/SFP]
On Hamza's chest was a deep, dark burn mark. His neck was broken and his penis cut off.
"Where are the human rights committees? Where is the International Criminal Court?" asks the voice of the man inspecting Hamza's body on a video uploaded to YouTube.
"A month had passed by with his family not knowing where he was, or if or when he would be released. He was released to his family as a corpse. Upon examining his body, the signs of torture are very clear."
[Click on the title above for a link to the source and access to the whole article.]

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

The murder of Syed Saleem Shahzad: Pakistan's intelligence service is implicated

Many journalists have been killed in Pakistan, so the murder of Syed Saleem Shahzad can be considered more of what we have seen there for so many years. It was only last year that Pakistan was declared the most dangerous country on earth for journalists. But what makes his murder so much more heinous is that he was last seen in the custody of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI. This is an outfit that Shahzad’s research could never trust because he was trying to declare to the world what the ISI and other secretive elements of the government were doing. That he died in their hands reveals what they are: A brutal gang all their own; as some have said, “A state within a state.” Note that it was not enough to silence him; not enough to kill him: they had to brutalize him, pulverize his body. Such is in store for anyone who want to reveal what the ISI is doing.

Is the pen really mightier than the sword? I would hope so. I deeply admire the courage of many Pakistani journalists who continue to describe the world as they find it, in a country so threatening to those who would purvey the truth as they as they best can. It’s a dangerous place and what they do is a dangerous game. It is easy to criticize journalism, especially in retrospect, but at least such courageous people are out there, digging around to find out what is really happening, not just what those in power want tell the world in their own interest.

We grieve not only for Mr. Shahzad and his family, but also for the many other journalists who must be terrified by his murder. And we grieve for the Pakistani people. No one deserves the kind of government they have. I have despaired of writing one more time that Pakistan is the most dangerous place on earth. Its government is inept, weak, subject to the intimidating pressures of its own military-industrial complex, which is notoriously duplicitous. The Pakistani people don’t deserve such leadership, and yet they continue to be endlessly subjected to it; to a misinformed – no, a deliberately dis-informing – government.

And what hope is there for a realistic and fair solution to the Afghanistan war as long as this Pakistan regime has an influence on the issue?

Some links to recent reports:
Carlotta Gall in the New York Times
Pakistani Journalist Who Covered Security and Terrorism Is Found Dead.
A well-known Pakistani journalist has been found dead after being abducted over the weekend in an upscale neighborhood here and receiving repeated threats from Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency. … He disappeared Sunday evening in the center of this capital just two days after writing an article suggesting that a militant attack on the navy’s main base in Karachi on May 22 was carried out because the navy was trying to crack down on cells from Al Qaeda that had infiltrated the force. Pakistan’s armed forces, specifically the navy, have been highly embarrassed by the 16-hour battle that ensued at the base when six attackers climbed over a wall and blew up two American-made naval surveillance planes. Ten people were killed in the attack, and American and Chinese technicians working on the base only narrowly escaped injury as they were driven out through a hail of bullets. … Coming soon after the American raid on May 2 that killed Osama bin Laden, which caught the Pakistani Army and Air Force flat-footed, the attack on the naval base has shocked the entire country. The armed forces chiefs have been deeply angered by the humiliation they have suffered from both episodes, and in particular the many questions raised about their competence by Pakistan’s increasingly rambunctious news media. . . .

Al Jazeera:
… Syed Saleem Shahzad had earlier told a rights activist he had been threatened by the country's intelligence agencies. He was found dead on Tuesday, and police said his body showed signs of torture. Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan representative for Human Rights Watch, said Shahzad had told him that he was under threat by Pakistan's military intelligence agency. "He told me he was being followed and that he is getting threatening telephone calls and that he is under intelligence surveillance," he told Reuters news agency. "We can't say for sure who has killed Saleem Shahzad. But what we can say for sure is that Saleem Shahzad was under serious threat from the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) and Human Rights Watch has every reason to believe that that threat was credible." … His death underscores the dangers of reporting in Pakistan, which in 2010 was called the deadliest country for journalists.

Foreign Policy Online:
Pakistani police yesterday found the body of kidnapped journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad in a canal in the Mandi Bahauddir area of Gujarat district southeast of the capital Islamabad, from where Shahzad had been kidnapped on his way to a TV interview nearly two days before (NYT, ET, Tel, LAT, BBC, Reuters, Daily Times, WSJ, AJE, AFP). Shahzad's body reportedly bore extensive signs of torture, including broken ribs and wounds to his face, abdomen and internal organs (AFP). He was buried today in Karachi, his hometown (AP). Suspicion for the kidnapping and killing has fallen on Pakistan's intelligence services, who according to Human Rights Watch researcher Ali Dayan Hasan had threatened Shahzad as recently as last October (Post, Reuters, The News). Hasan told reporters Monday that he had been able to confirm through anonymous sources that Shahzad was in the custody of the intelligence services (NYT). Shahzad wrote a story Friday for the Asia Times alleging that al-Qaeda was responsible for last week's attack on a Pakistani naval base after Shahzad said navy officials refused to release sailors arrested for their alleged links to al-Qaeda.