de Souza's Daily Digest
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
Death by dinner
Nicholas Kristoff is bang on the money once again, this time over Russia. The New York Times columnist was writing about Darfur while others were jumping on the Iraq bandwagon. He's now again filling in the gaps that others are leaving behind, noting the little reported fact that the pro-reform, pro-democracy, pro-West candidate in Georgia's disputed presidential election, Viktor Yushchenko, dined with the Ukranian Secret Service the night before he was poisoned.
Coincidence? More worrying is that the SBU, as it is called, has close connections to the Russian security services, which are at the whim and fancy of Russia's increasingly authoritarian leader, Vladamir Putin. Alarmist conspiracy theory it may seem, until the facts are considered. First, Swiss doctors have indeed confirmed that Yushchenko was poisoned. Second, Russia's secret service has previous when it comes to assassinations. As Kristoff points out, two Russian secret agents recently murdered a former president of Chechnya in Qatar by blowing up his car as he left a mosque. Nice.
"The bottom line is that the West has been suckered by Mr. Putin. He is not a sober version of Boris Yeltsin. Rather, he's a Russified Pinochet or Franco. He is not guiding Russia toward free-market democracy, but into fascism... If those brave Ukrainians can stand up to Mr. Putin [by voting for Yushchenko], so can we."
Wednesday, November 17, 2004
Humanitarian crisis in Darfur; the election of a right-wing president, who despite what the naïve optimists write, will not moderate his policies at home or abroad over the next four years; environmental catastrophe looming for Indonesian rain forests and the ozone layer... It all seems a bit glum at the moment.
So, as is the tradition at DDD, here is some much-needed, light-hearted relief. The Miami Herald in conjunction with Associated Press, brings you Weird News:
A world toilet summit has begun in China. Smells funny, don't it?
Fans of eBay can bid for half of a 10-year-old grilled cheese sandwich that its owner says bears the image of the Virgin Mary.
The Convicts Cookbook will soon go on sale in all good book stores, courtesy of inmates doing time at Washington State Penitentiary - "Cell Block Fudge or Jail Mix, anyone?"
Tuesday, November 09, 2004
Four more wars, is how a good friend of mine and Kerry supporter described Bush's victory last week. Will it be Syria, North Korea, Iran? Any of these could be targets for a newly invigorated, right-wing administration. Sudan should be on that list, too. Even scholars at Bush's favourite think tank, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), are calling for greater involvement:
"As Americans gathered peaceably to vote on Tuesday [2 November], Sudanese soldiers and police were storming the Al Jeer Sureaf refugee camp in the western province of Darfur, beating and tear-gassing its 5,000 inhabitants, burning their makeshift shelters and forcing at least 250 families into trucks for forced relocation. Al Jeer Sureaf is Sudan's Srebrenica — the Bosnian town and U.N. "safe haven" made infamous in July 1995 when Serb militias overran Dutch peacekeepers and slaughtered 7,000 Muslim refugees."
The scholars continue: "Just as the Clinton administration could no longer credibly claim in the aftermath of this massacre that its policies for the former Yugoslavia were working, Tuesday's attack in Darfur likewise marks a turning point for the Bush administration's Sudan strategy. In both cases, U.S. policymakers attempted to outsource responsibility for stopping a genocide to the U.N. and ill-equipped regional allies. And in both cases, the results were disastrous."
Why has the international community largely failed to call what is happening in Dafur by its proper name - genocide? It would then be obliged to intervene by law, perhaps? The EU particularly, is conspicous by it silence, happy to take the moral high ground (some of its members at any rate) over Iraq, but unwilling to say much about a conflict where it really needs to take action. Or maybe the duty to intervene that a "genocide" definition would eschew could expose the likes of Germany and France to ridicule. It is quite clear they are not capable, militarily at least, of changing things on the ground.
So it falls on the US to do something, anything, to prevent further bloodshed. While the Republican right is not known for its humanitarian works, it is known for its political shrewdness. Engaging in Sudan could win it friends and allies, something the US desperately needs. This does not necessarily have to entail a huge ground assault - the mere threat of force could have the desired effect on the slippery Sudansese authorities. Other interventions in Africa, such as the British experience in Sierra Leone, have not required thousands of troops.
Sudan could allow the Bush administration to throw off its tarnished image of a bunch of cowboys riding roughshod over human rights, and show to the world it cares about the oppressed and is willing to fight for a higher cause than oil.
Strategically, involvement in Sudan would be more justified than Iraq. "As one of seven countries on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, Sudan has courted nearly every rogue regime and hosted almost every significant terrorist organization in the region," writes the AEI's Thomas Donnelly and Vance Serchuk. "Sudan provided a base for Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda during the 1990s, while Hamas and Hezbollah continue to operate in Sudan to this day. When the U.S. retook the Iraqi city of Samarra from insurgents this fall, the Iraqi defence minister reported that 18 of the 24 foreign fighters captured there were Sudanese."
The political, humanitarian and strategic case for greater involvement in Sudan grows stronger by the day. Bush's friends at the AEI recognise this - will he?
Thursday, November 04, 2004
Reaching out to the base
Don't worry, optimists say. Reagan built nuclear missiles in his first term then ended the cold war in his second. Perhaps Bush will discover multilateralism as Reagan did. Then again, Reagan had to. He was faced with a hostile Congress controlled by Democrats, baying for blood over the Iran Contra affair. Bush finds himself in different waters. Republicans now control all three branches of government - the legislature, the executive, and most alarmingly, the judiciary, his appointments to which can shape public policy for a generation.
As for multilateralism, the early signs aren't good. Take the comments of Myron Ebell, the president's adviser on climate change. Appearing on this morning's Today Programme, he portrayed proponents of Kyoto as "alarmist" and accused the EU of having a hidden agenda when it came to environmental law, which is, he declared, designed to "hamper the competitiveness of US companies". So much for cooperation on issues of common concern.
"It is deeply disturbing and worrying that one of the first acts of the Bush administration, following the election, is to deny climate change and portray it as a European conspiracy, " retorted Liberal Democrat spokesman Norman Baker. Perhaps Kerry's running mate John Edwards best sums things up: "We can be disappointed, but we cannot walk away, for this battle has just begun." Ebell's comments highlight this fact.
Rove was right
So was DDD, well partly. George Bush won the popular vote and the presidency (see previous post for DDD's prediction and click here for a quick guide to the US electoral process). Karl Rove's strategy for this election was perfect, contrary to what DDD had first thought. The president's chief of staff targeted four million evangelical Christians who, he claimed, did not vote for Bush last time. Many doubted these people existed. Bush's margin of victory over Kerry: nearly four million votes. Perhaps they did exist, after all.
Tuesday, November 02, 2004
A Kerry victory, though Bush may win the popular vote. Now that would be poetic, wouldn't it?
Tuesday, October 26, 2004
Should juries be given a defendant's previous criminal history to help them decide whether the accused is guilty? The police and victims groups have always said yes. Well, they would, wouldn't they? Now the UK government has weighed in on their side.
There can be nothing more gut-wrenching for a victim of a crime to see the perpetrator walk free. When the police have painstakingly put together a case and know what the jury does not know, that the defendant has previous, that the person accused of child abuse has a molested innocents before. There can be few things as frustrating.
"On too many occasions, my colleagues have watched the devastation and anger on the faces of victims and the astonishment of juries as a whole catalogue of relevant previous convictions are read out at the end of a trial as the defendant walks free." Rod Dalley, Police Federation
Yet there can be nothing more damaging for an innocent man being sent to prison for a crime he did not commit. Giving juries information on a defendant's criminal past will prejudice a trial before it has ended an increase the likelihood miscariages of justice.
It will allow perception to cast a shadow over fact, certainty to replace reasonable doubt. It presumes people will never turn over a new leaf. More worryingly, it encourages police to round up the usual suspects, safe in the knowledge that if their case is flawed, the juries can fill in the gaps with a brief glance at the defendant's record.
"A jury should consider each offence on its individual evidential merits - moving the legal goal posts to make convictions easier is not to improve the standard of justice." Mark Leech, founder of ex-prisoners charity Unlock
Monday, October 25, 2004
A Kerry landslide?
My old boss Lance Knobel has stuck his neck out and predicted that John Kerry will not only win next week, but win decisively. There are a few good reasons to suspect this. The polls have grossly underestimated voting intentions of new voters and young people, since few polling companies call mobile phones. An increasing number of young people do not have fixed phone lines. Given that young people tend to vote for left-leaning parties, Kerry's tie in the polls with Bush could be underestimating his true support.
There is little doubt that Americans who have registered to vote, who didn't do so in 2000, are overwhelmingly anti-Bush. They are registering in large numbers, too.
The president's strategy of appealing to the Christian right appears misguided, since conservative voters tend to vote Republican regardless of whether the candidate is moderate or right wing. The Republican's core base is more reliable at turning out to vote than the Democrat's. In short, Christians vote, poor people and minorities don't (not is such large numbers), so why has Bush not moved to the centre ground and reach out to moderates when the people he appeals to will vote for him anyway?
Perhaps he presumes America has moved to the right. Has it? Would Bush have beaten Clinton, if the former president was allowed to stand for a third term?