Friday, April 28, 2006

Democracy Now: two important interviews. Noam Chomsky and Stephen Kinzer.

I have become quite desillusioned about living in the US. There are things going on in terms of democracy and civil liberties that should concern people a whole lot, but they don't. People are leading in general comfortable lives, with the pop culture of tv making everyone feel that fame and fortune is still something to be attained. There are plenty of talking heads talking loud and clear and dismissively about 'those liberals' or those whatevers . And in the meantime, there is almost a sort of schizophrenic activity of what goes on, and what goes on in the background unnoticed by the masses.
But then, there are people who are critical. Critically trying to hold their own government and institutions accountable. Some quietly so, some loudly so. Then there are people who continue to promote what they believe their founding fathers as they call it here, intended. True democracy.

Here are two interviews from Democracy Now thatI think are worthwhile reading, or listening to;

First, Amy Goodman's interview with Noam Chomsky.
Secondly, AG's interview with Stephen Kinzer.

So who should not have nuclear arms?

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Marching into history

Well, this is not considered a good thing by me, an immigrant myself, but pro-immigrant activists have organized marches and demonstrations for the first of May all over the US. Estimates expect a few million latinos to pour the streets of Los Angelos in demand for amnesty of illegal aliens.
Other cities that expect high turnouts are Chicago, Phoenix, New York, Fresno and Tuscon. Some businesses are even voluntarily closing down for the day in New York so that their workers can attend and a big agribusiness company called Cargill Inc. is planning to close seven of their meat packing businesses to facilitate workers to go and march.

Not everyone in the Latino community apparently is behind this blanket demand for amnesty and even fear backlashes from , as it is called, Middle America. Well, consider all over America. I think it is absolutely ridiculous to even consider this notion and to me, for those who will participate, I think they show not to have any brains at all to even think that that is something they can expect. But, we are not talking about the highly educated masses of course. More or less, whipped into a frenzy by extreme activists I feel.

No extreme demand or solution in any given situation will work or be accepted when you deal with more than , oh say, 4 people. So to me this is just a futile exercise if amnesty is expectd to be granted. However, the organizers could very well have long term notions and use this as a way to bring this issue to a head. Either way, I don't think it will do the ordinary, hardworking illegal alien any good in the short or long term. It is already a hot button issue for certain communities who have been adversly affected by illegal immigration (losing jobs or increase in crime or property damage by crossing illegals) and this will put oil on a fire.

Something needs to be done but as I mentioned before, the situation needs to be addressed in Mexico as well as the US. I sure hope there will not be a backlash or some violent reactions to people who are just trying to work and live in peace, because often, they are the ones who will bear the brunt of the incendiaries.

No felony status for illegal aliens, but no blanket amnesty either.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

From high gas prices to the local economy

I am just rambling at this point because I have not done any thorough research so..

I am thinking globalization. Globalization forcing prices down of certain goods, also forcing people in poor countries to work and make things for pittance. I am thinking that since the gas prices have gone up, and that being blamed on China and India coming into the fray needing more oil for their increasing energy needs, I think..hmm...could we in a way go from globalization to a centralization of certain economies?

Could we become that kind of local economy again such as those in Medieval times where the farms around the castle/city grew and sold foods and supported the local structures? Tomatoes from Florida are costly, thanks to whichever hurricane. These avocadoes have gone up because they're coming all the way from California or Mexico and the gas prices have gone up. Never mind the peak oil argument for a moment, but, I would suspect that they aren't coming down either.

Can local economies who use oil for heating up north switch to some other alternative source that is local and would make them more sustainable?

This global interdependence has major drawbacks aside from political ones. Can cities themselves break away from the major dependencies (oil for heating and transportation, food stuffs, certain kind of building materials etc) and brace themselves by thinking of becoming more self sustaining and sustainable?

Just thinking. And before you react, let me tell you I am NOT thinking of turing any city into a castle walled defensive of sorts, I am talking about viable sustainable incorporated changes, not total changes..

hmmm...I'll think some more.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Political pet peeves

One of my pet peeves is the fact that lobby groups are legal. I can't wrap my brain around the fact that the American public does not actively seek to redress something that by nature goes so much against the democratic process. Here are some books and links that look into this business of lobbying.

Gangs of America: The Rise of Corporate Power And The Disabling of Democracy by
Ted Nace
Downsizing America:How America sidelined its citizens and privatized its public by Matthew A. Crenson and Benjamin Ginsberg
Overdosed America: The Broken Promise of American Medicine by Dr. John Abramson

What do you think contributes to this lethargy with the American people to not try to undue this very undemocratic process? (and please, give me something else other than 'money' because this country came about by the determination that attracted support and finances and willing bodies to fight..there has to be another answer..)

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Rolling brown outs, broken down airconditioning oh my..

I have to bow out for the next couple of days, but hopefully not longer than monday. Last week our upstairs airconditioning went on the fritz but since we have a downstairs one, ours won't be looked at until monday. Let's hope the technicians will come then. Our computer is upstairs and during the day it gets pretty toasty what with it being 90F outside!

So, in order not to mess with the computer which needs a certain amount of 'cool' in order to function properly, I will just wait for this to pass and then come back again.

Friday, April 21, 2006

US hedging strategy just another congagement

Yesterday in the WSJ, an article talked about the current hedging strategy in place towards China. The hedging is in essence a combination engagement and containment strategy. Even though the U.S. will continue cultural, business, scientific and diplomatic relations, it will at the same time focus on military build up to 'ensure that China doesn't rise too fast'.That got me thinking.

Currently, we have one super power in essence dictating foreign policies for the most part. Iran is messing things up a bit by providing an alternative source of legitimacy and finances for Hamas but other than that, the U.S. is 'it'.I am assuming that most reasonable people can see that this is not a healthy situation. We already have the Iraq war to show how unilaterally (well, not 'officially' but with some arm twisting in the back by the US/UK alliance) a super power can decide to take up arms even in the light of internationally disagreement (never mind international law). At home, more and more people are worried about the federal government (especially the Bush administration but some see patterns in Clinton's as well) taking away too many freedoms and infringing on people's rights.

Is it a wonder that Iran is concerned about the United States and wants to seek nuclear ability to be able to do their own containment? The United States wants to be the only kid on the block. It is so used to thinking that everyone else who has power will be (eventually) be a threat that it looks at the world as those who are friendlies (read, willing to be economically profitable) and those who are not. Anyone who is concerned about America's aggressive stance is automatically framed as a threat that is readying to take over, rather than someone who's considering containment by way of military acquisition.

China in essence, in my opinion anyway, does not seem to have a motive for wanting to have super power abilities a la US. It is trying to cope with domestic issues, their need for energy to provide for their growing economy and they don't have a motivating factor like spreading communism (even as admitted by the Bush administration) or spreading the word of Buda. (luckily, in buddhism there is no call to arms ever correct me if I am wrong)

Hedging is just another tomayto-tomahto. The colour is still red and it signifies not stop, but go, like a bull going forward towards a singular target. The target in my view; economic dominance by the United States.

Again, is it any wonder other countries want to hedge a way around themselves?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

From terrorist group to political legitimacy

As promised, a bit more info regarding the potential of Hamas. Most things not being black and white, only the future (yes, how cliche) will tell us, event by event, if Hamas will make that transformation other terrorist organizations have made into becoming an internationally accepted political entity. Check here for an article from the Council of Foreign Relations on several successful examples.

I do believe that if Hamas or better put, the moderates within the organization want to fully function as a recognized political entity, that it/they will need to re-dress their charter first.
It makes sense as a document for a terrorist group, but not as a political one that needs to function fully within the frame work of democracies and international (financial, aid and otherwise) exchanges. The all or nothing mentality in any democratic setting is just plain counter to working with or for people who believe differently. Diversity and acceptance of such provides a stabilizing factor in a functioning, well working democracy.

Of course, as can be suspected, the mostly fundamental Arab countries will no doubt try to support the new government, if not for the sake of looking good themselves, than to perhaps counter the possible influence of Iran, which has pledged $50 million in assistance.

I think this could turn this whole Palestinian situation into a 'Muslim' (read, fundamental) versus the West kind of thing. I hope moderates on all sides will overcome the forces of 'all or nothing', otherwise, again, the ordinary Palestinian citizens will carry the burden of yet another unsolved certainty of a peaceful daily life.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Today's power outage

I saw an interesting little blurb about Iran promising Hamas 50 million dollars in aid. Well, I repeat myself..isn't this an expected outcome of 'the West' trying to get Hamas to do away with renouncing Israel? Having said that, Western donors cannot be expected to financially support in assistance a government that does not renounce violence towards Israel. I don't quite remember how Sinn Fein turned from a terrorist group to a political one and when and how they stopped taking up arms.
If only I would have had time to check on that today Austin there was some funky power outages and even my computer geekie husband stayed late at work because of the trouble it caused with their gezillion dollar computer systems.
I will follow up on this tomorrow..

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Rule of Law article by Ibrahim Mugaiteeb in Wall Street Journal

As a former expat to Saudi Arabia, I am still interested in news pertaining to the kingdom and its people. Hence I visit daily the Religious Policeman and Saudi Jeans.
So I was quite pleased to read an article in the Wall Street Journal by Mr. Mugaiteeb, who was assisted for this article by Christoph Wilcke. Mr. Wilcke is a researcher for the Human Rights Watch organization.

Mr. Mugaiteeb tells us of the many instances where the rule of law is arbitrarily "wielded" by the regular police.(not to be confused with the religious police)He gives many examples. For instance, the jailing of two young men because they were wearing red for Valentine's Day. Excuse me? That does sound like the workings of the religious policeman, but let me continue.

A Western expatriate was involved in a hit and run (him having been 'hit'). After waiting a few hours in vein for the police to show up, he goes to the police station to report it. Well, what do you know, he gets arrested for leaving the scene of a crime. Excuse me again?? (btw..if you are involved in any fender bender, you have to report it to the police by law)

Ibrahim Mugaiteeb tells stories of many people jailed without charge or having gone to trial. Some people are in jail just for having received a text message from an opponent in exile. He tells of a judicial system that hasn't codified the Shariah law that is practiced in KSA and how judges at their discretion can interpret it how ever they want, and how strict to whomever they want.

Unfortunately, I cannot link to his article as I am only a newspaper subscriber to WSJ, but that doesn't include online access. Short of duplicating the whole thing, I think the main and important gist of this article, specifically printed in or for the WSJ is this;

Washington needs to put pressure on the Saudi government to truly impart reforms that address the many (human rights) abuses and discrimination that happen on a daily basis.If Washington considers the KSA vital to their oil interest or the supposed stability in the region, the US government needs to recognize that abused and discontented people will turn against them. We already have plenty of proof from saudi mujahideen doing their grandioze killing deeds in Iraq and formerly in Afghanistan.

As the United States does not make serious demands for the improvement for democratic reforms in Saudi Arabia, the people of the country will continue to see a super power that makes (reform) demands of other countries as it suits them. Not exactly something the United States ought to do, and behooves to do with all that terrorist activities coming out of that country. Which is a shame, because I know there are plenty of ordinary saudi citizens, sunni and shia (sp?) alike who just want to live, real ordinary lives. In Sha'Allah.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Hamas' perfect position

This is going to be a very short post as I am too busy today.

I read a brief 'blurb' in the Wall Street Journal that Hamas went to visit Iran. Iran just announced more specifics about what they are doing/intending with their uranium. Hamas is visiting Iran because they have a few things in common; both officially want Israel wiped of the map, both are out of grace by Western countries. Since Hamas'financial support got cut off by 'the West', Hamas turned their full focus on Iran who no doubt would only be more than happy to oblige in assistance of any kind. Perhaps even a wee nuclear bomb thingy if they can fenagle it, but I am merely speculating and thinking waaay ahead. (or am I)

Anyway, when I read the brief blurb in WSJ, I somehow immediately had visions of the good old days of the Cold War. Countries in between actually had choices. Choices tend to be considered as good. If one choice fell through, then naturally one opted for the second door. And that is where Hamas' position is. Through the second door. After all, if you think that perhaps you might get one of those nuclear thingies as a bonus in one of those surprise goody bags (and thank you for coming to our party wink wink nudge nudge) , wouldn't you rather pick and go through door number 2?

I would!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Planet in Peril..worthy topic of discussion

No, it is not the 'alternative' types, or the 'greens' who are being alarmists. Scientists such as NASA's James Hansen, the chief climate scientist of the Goddard Institute of Space studies, rang the bell even in the face of being muzzled by the White House/Bush administration. He was ordered to take information down from his website and was not given press access. Of course, can you keep that down? After it came to light that he considers the climate to be at a tipping point, he has had plenty to talk about and talk to. Read his interview with Time magazine.

One of the people who are vocal about the global warming notion being nonsense is the author Michael Crichton. In his book "state of fear" he negates the facts behind global warming which Hansen thinks ridiculous. People, he basically says, who are the most vocal behind this anti-global warming notion tends to have connection to the fossil fuel industry. Big surprise there. If we were to have a discussion amongst bloggers from other countries, I'd bring back up the lobby groups and their power. Back to the global warming.

Le monde diplomatique writes about our "Planet in Peril" extensively and gives a great overview of topics that are of concern for all people all over the world.
Please check it out and educate yourself. That's the key behind understanding anything; read, read and read some more. And read critiques as well.
For thos of you have can spare a mere $10, you can buy the map of Planet in Peril which gives a great visual understanding of where what how and why.

To think that people are still involved in tribal, religious and ridiculous warfares while this is the time to be involved and to get readied.. that alone is perilous enough!

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Global Voices online and Good luck Nepal!

In the beginning when I joined, I tried to look for interesting blogs and I would click on that section that was newly updated. Blog after blog I would read either very uninteresting topics/entries (to me), or it was too personal a blog that only those who knew the blogger could appreciate. Of course, the latter one is kind of the reason numerous people get into blogging in the first place.

Then, I stumbled upon Saudi Jeans. Having lived in KSA for a few years, I have an affinity for the place and the people so my interest was definitely peaked. Ahmed is a pharmacy student from Hassa studying in Riyad. I have been enjoying Ahmed's writings ever since. And then, as is the case in the blogosphere, one reading let to another when Ahmed mentioned that Cerebral Waste interviewed the religious policeman. Knowing that the religious policeman in Saudi aren't the 'amenable' type, I was thinking what the heck kind of interview that would be (on top of that, a technically inclined religious policeman? Joining the 21st Century AND being a mutawa?? hard to imagine), my curiosity got the better of me.

So naturally, I discovered another great blogger with the writing style and humour and intelligence on par of Jon Stewart from the Daily Show. Both Saudi Jeans and the Religious Policeman have their own loyal following, among them yours truly.

Then through Saudi Jeans, I discovered another great gem (for me as the poli sci person) and that was the Global Voices Online site. If there ever is an interesting citizen media report from the ground all over the world blog..this is it. Never mind your newspaper or your foreign news content on the tv station..this is it.

So, I have been hooked to that as well. A few months ago I read something interesting in the National Geographic about Nepal and lo and behold, things are coming to a head now. The Nepali blogs are buzzing with info about the revolution that is happening and for those of you who prefer to get the news from the source closest to it, here are some blogs that I found through global voices online;
United We Blog
Mero Sansar (in nepalese but with video clips) that has pictures that speak a thousand words
and if you want to check out more details..
please visit the Global Voices online. Every region of the corner is represented and check out also the different region directors.. on top..our very own Ahmed 'Saudi Jeans'...!

Thank you Paramendra Bagat for being the voice and sometimes translator for the South Asia/Nepal region. And to the people of Nepal... Good Luck!

Friday, April 07, 2006

Civic society and Muslim participation

Last night in Austin, it was 'First Thursday'. It is a monthly event that covers a certain strip of South Congress where the stores stay open a few hours longer; bands play dispersed throughout in front of establishments or inside of them, like this Cuban sounding band inside a Mexican import store. (sorry, it sounded Cuban because they played some Cuban music aside the Mexican ones) The church on that street has people out front offering snow cones to passers by and some give you some church hand out but nothing pushy. There is a section with street vendors selling all kinds of stuff. People with a petition board for getting Kinky Friedman on the ballot as an Independent (yes, wanting to run is not enough, you have a few obstacled to hurdle over in TX) Another Independent was running for getting on the Texas Supreme Court (hurrah, says this one). And one of the tables set up was by the Central Texas Muslimaat organization.
That reminded me that even though there is plenty to criticize here in the US re. politics or the "evil" things that go on here according to some Iranian or other Arab Muslim sheikhs , there is that one thing that makes this place so much better than any of the Arab countries; a thriving civic society where everyone and anyone can participate.
Check out the ladies from the Muslimaat. They are a worthy cause and a great example. In some Muslim countries, they would not be able to pursue this.
Check out also the Freedom and Justice Foundation.

I really appreciate diversity and living peacefully together with people who are unlike me. It makes life so much more interesting.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


Last night, at the annual board meeting of our HOA (home owners association), I was reminded of the topic I wanted to get into today. Lobbying for getting someone's vote, one of our homeowners who is running for a seat on City Council in a month was handing out flyers about his candidacy and 'pressin' the flesh' as they say.

Lobbying is done automatically in all forms when you try to get someone's attention and there are generally unspoken rules about how far you can or should go to influence someone for your benefit.

I would think that's called ethics. Some might call it boldness. How far are you willing to go for whatever cause? Does the end justify the means? Or does the context of the political, or just plain work environment excuse you and justify you to do as everyone else does?

As a political scientist (can I claim to be eventhough I don't have a graduate degree) it totally irks me to read about lobby groups meeting with this or other politician and I cannot for a minute imagine that America's founding fathers would have approved of this. It seems to be the anti-thesis of democracy yet it openly happens. Mind you, my mom from the Netherlands said that she figured that there would be wheeling and dealing going on in the background even if is supposed to be illegal.Such cynicism. Now you know why I turned out the way I did, ha!

So, lobbying. It is so openly spoken and written about here in the US. But apparently, not so in Europe. See here. And here.
In Canada, where I thought it was illegal, there still seems to be a concern that it is happening.

And in one shape or form, it does.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

lobby groups; should they be legal or not?

Due to lack of time today, I will only touch upon this. Tomorrow I will expand my thoughts.

Here in the US, lobby groups are legal. Hence, so many bills that are being passed, or are being attempted to pass, are influenced by lobby groups. To me, that seems totally counter to the democratic process. That probably seems very logical to some people but never count on something being accepted by others something that seems so reasonable to you. So with issues like these (legality of lobby groups, wasn't legal in Canada when I lived there, now I don't know) I wished I had my own group of eight to see how other bloggers would view this.

Tomorrow, I will get into this and hopefully, after tonight's annual meeting, I might be still on the board of directors of our lil' HOA...

hence I know; don't take for granted that "everyone" is as reasonable as you. You can only hope

Monday, April 03, 2006

The unrepresented presented

When I was perusing for something interesting to write, I stumbled upon this site. It is the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization. It made me think of the time when the U.S. demanded that they'd have a bigger say in the UN as they were the biggest contributors. That did not sit well with a lot of people who were not too happy with the one superpower unbalanced act.

Then, my mother from the Netherlands complained to me once about the European Union and how 'they decide' for other countries in Europe while the Dutch are the biggest contributor per capita and did not have a say at all.

The Dutch are outspoken and want to know they have a voice politically and otherwise. On the World Democracy Audit, they rank a respectable 7, some countries aren't so lucky. Back to the unrepresented peoples and nations. Compare that with for example Iran; an unhealthy number 132 (out of 150). The Ahwazi, an Arab indigenous people who used to be autonomous until 1925, when the former Shah Reza Khan subjugated them. Currently, they fare no better;

On 15 April 2005 in the provincial city of Ahwaz, security forces reportedly opened fire on thousands of peaceful demonstrators killing at least 61 men, women and children, injuring over 800 and arresting thousands, according to Amnesty International (AI), Human Rights Watch (HRW) and BBC.9 There have been reports of incidents of torture according to AI, HRW and other human rights organizations and several appeals for urgent action have been issues based on reports of fear of torture, ill-treatment, and incommunicado detention and incidents of arbitrary arrest and detention. 10

Most recently a report (AI Index: MDE 13/006/2006) issued on 1 February 2006, concerns the whereabouts and safety of Reza Haidari, aged 11, Kazem Sayahi, aged 14, Hashem Jassem Sawari, aged 18 Hadi Washahi, aged 17, Said Manabi, aged 20, Saleh ‘Abidawi, imam Sheikh Saleh al-Haydari, imam of Da’ira mosque and several others. These persons, all members of Iran’s Ahwazi Arab minority were reportedly arrested in the city of Ahvaz in Khuzestan province on 11 and 12 January 2006. It is feared that they are held incommunicado and at risk of torture or ill-treatment. 11

The arrests took place after clashes in Ahvaz between Iranian security forces and members of the Arab Ahwazi community, in the context of an initially peaceful demonstration on occasion of the Muslim festival of ‘Id al-Adha on 11 January, led by Sheikh Saleh al-Haydari, imam (prayer leader) of Da’ira mosque in Ahvaz. According to reports, demonstrators were demanding an end to the persecution of Arabs, poverty and unemployment among Arabs, and the release of political prisoners arrested since April 2005 following unrest in Khuzestan province.

IFPRERLOM notes with concern the tension that has mounted among the Arab population since April 2005, after it was alleged that the government planned to disperse the country's Arab population or to force them to relinquish their Arab identity. As the cycle of violence in the Khuzestan province threatens to intensify, IFPRERLOM appeals to the Commission on Human Rights

So many people, not only unrepresented, but unnoticed. Learn more about the Ahwazi's plight, and the peoples with no voices.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Explaining permaculture

When in the 'about me' I referred to myself as a 'permie', I figured that people who weren't in the know were going to be wondering what the heck that is.

People who practice permaculture refer to themselves as 'permies'. It is so much shorter than to say 'permaculture practitioner'. Plus, it sounds cooler. PLUS, it sounds very australian, which is it.

Here is a brief history.
Two Australians, David Holmgren and Bill Mollison came up with the term permaculture as an alternative to the monocropping agriculture that they saw severely depleting soils, and as a replacement to the way people looked at agriculture philosophically, economically and practically.

If you are not sure if you even want to read further, I say, ok, don't. BUT... if there is anything that could visually make you see where this is heading, check out Geoff Lawton's online video of when they changed the agricultural practice in a part of Jordan by the dead sea. I think you'll be amazed and excited about the ramifications if growing food where there is precious little water is done differently that currently is the case. Please check out Geoff Lawton!

No two permaculture definition is the same because it encompasses many aspects of sustainable living approaches. The one my instructors Dick Pierce and Selwyn Polit gave is ;

An ethical design system for ecological living

For example;

One of the aims is to reforest the Earth. Think for example of mangroves. In certain parts of Asia, cutting away the mangroves has lead to thousands of deaths due to tsunamis. Mangroves are an obstacle of the water and on top sustain a multitude of life.

Another goal is to reclaim the soil. Monocropping practices dictate that fruits and vegetables are grown in straight rows in order to allow machinery to drive in between and pick the food. The paths in between are not mulched which leads to nutritional depletion of the soil from the sun plus the soil gets stirred up and gets lost by way of dust.

Yet another very important one is to grow the food where people live. That one is very significant for local economies and places that have farmer's markets. It makes for healthier grown food (organic plus the longer fruits and vegetables take to your plate, the more nutrition it loses), plus it supports local farmers and diverse growing practices.

A major part of permaculture is ethics. The three major ones is to take care of the earth, care of the people who live on it and give away the surplus.

As you can imagine, practicing permaculture is not solely about growing food organically. It requires a belief system that goes against the current economic thinking. It is not liberal in the literal sense. It is communal and inclusive.

For those of you who live in countries that are economically burdened, or who rely on foreign aid, you can imagine what difference it can make if the outlook of the West changed from market driven, only profit driven system,to one that I would say is more Islamic and takes care of the community. Well, in the Islamic way how it is proposed in the Koran anyway.