Monday, April 30, 2007

BBC: Nightmare in Somalia

I think we should become increasingly concerned with developments in Somalia. There have been 300 hundred deaths there recently:

It is a complicated and bloody struggle.

In the past few days more than 300 have been killed and since the turn of the year 2,000 have died, most of them civilians caught in crossfire.

Many thousands have been injured.

The appalling violence has led to one of the largest mass migrations in recent times.

Somali residents of Mogadishu pile their belongings onto a cargo truck
An increasing number of people continue to flee the volatile capital

Hundreds of thousands of people who were living in Mogadishu have grabbed what few possessions they could carry and headed for places of safety.

Some have moved to the outskirts of the capital away from the fighting.

Others have gone out into the Somali hinterland.

They have travelled into an environment that cannot sustain them, into villages dotted along dusty roads in the scrubby, scruffy bush of southern and central Somalia, into communities which were hit in the past year, first by drought and then by flooding.

There is little stored food, goat and cattle herds are only just recovering and the capacity to feed and care for thousands of displaced people does not exist.

And in the past few days the annual rains have started.

At the best of times Somalia poses huge problems for aid agencies.

Now it is, as one aid worker put it to me, "a total nightmare".

Fighting, poor infrastructure and flooded muddy roads are impeding the movement of food and medical supplies and the transitional government has been accused of deliberately blocking some aid because they feared it might end up in the hands of their enemies.

Cholera is now seeping through the displaced thousands, picking off the young and the weak.

In the rain and misery, hundreds have died.

And all because of foreign intervention in reaction to the Islamist presence in Somalia:

Just a few months ago, Mogadishu and much of Somalia were enjoying their most stable period for 16 years.

Under the brief control of the Islamic Courts Union, the grip of the warlords was loosened and some of the basic expectations of an organised life were being restored.

Schools were opening, police were being trained, roadblocks were removed and litter was even collected from the streets.

Many Somalis were unhappy with the more extreme rules of the Islamic Courts: closing down the cinemas, banning music and insisting women were veils.

But the Islamists were able to spread their power steadily through more of Somalia and this alarmed the government in neighbouring Ethiopia who have long feared a radical Islamic group in control of the country.

It worried the Americans too, who feared the Islamic Courts were harbouring al-Qaeda elements.

So with tacit American approval and with other international governments looking on, Ethiopia sent troops into Somalia to support the weak transitional government.

Ethiopia is now trapped.

It wants to get out of Somalia, but cannot go until what it calls the "Islamist threat" is eliminated.

But every moment Ethiopian troops spend in Somalia stirs up more resentment and their presence acts as a compelling recruiting sergeant for insurgents, who say they will die trying to rid their country of the Ethiopian invaders.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Darfur Rally in Vancouver, Sunday, April 29

Find the event in your area. Here's mine.

Global Day of Action for Darfur

Vancouver Art Gallery

April 29, 2007

2 pm-4 pm

The week of April 29 marks the grim 4-year anniversary of the conflict against innocent civilians in Darfur in Sudan. We need your voice to demand that the Canadian government pressure all sides to stop the violence, respect the ceasefire and encourage the UN-African Union force to be deployed in Darfur.

Join us on this Global Day of Action for Darfur to unite together to continue to send a strong message that concrete action must be taken in Darfur. Too little has been done for far too long and every second wasted, a young girl gets raped, a husband is murdered or a village is burned down.


1. Bob Waisman, Holocaust survivor

2. Ahmed Amit: Darfur and President of Sudan-Canada Association

3. A Liberal MP

4. Maria Ang, Heritage Wood Secondary

5. Melody Tabatabaian, Gleneagle Secondary School

6. Nadia Khan

7. Rod Downing


1. Edith Wallace

**More speakers and performers will be confirmed shortly**

We need your voice. Join us in an act of solidarity for the people of Darfur. Confirmed speakers and performers will be announced shortly.

In the mean time, find your MP here to urge the Canadian government to: 1. End the violence in Darfur and implement a robust-international protection force

2. Condemn the Government of Sudan for its flagrant disregard of past agreements

3. Condemn the Government of Sudan for failing to take seriously the recent ICC naming of two Sudanese suspects for war crimes and crimes against humanity

4. Significantly increase funding for Darfuri refugees and urge other countries to do the same.

Write to your MP and after 3 days when they don't respond, send a follow up, and keep following up until you hear back from their office. It's time to make our voices heard.

See also:

Bill Moyers on Democracy Now!

Bill Moyers was on Democracy Now! today. He describes his new TV series on PBS, "Buying the War."

We are entering the fifth year of this war. The casualties keep mounting. April was the deadliest month so far. The deadliest day occurred in April. And the press, which was very much responsible for creating the momentum for the war, has yet to understand it's role. So I wanted to look, with my producer Kathy Hughes, at what are the lessons we can learn from what happened in the build-up to the war, so that we might not see it happen again. This is an example of what happens when the press surrenders its independence and suspends its skepticism and becomes a cheerleader for an administration. And I don’t care what administration it is -- Democratic or Republican. When the press gives up its power to scrutinize what power is doing, then we’re all in trouble.

Read the whole interview.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Chomsky and Zinn on Democracy Now!

Fans of Howard Zinn and/or Noam Chomsky will be interested to know that Amy Goodman of Democracy Now conducted wide-ranging interview in two parts in Boston with Chomsky and Zinn. Here they are:

Part I
Part II

For those interested in hearing Chomsky on Pelosi's trip to Syria:

The only thing wrong with it, it was that it was the third person in line. I mean, if the United States government were sincerely interested in bringing about some measure of peace, prosperity, stability in the region instead of dominating it by force, now they would of course be dealing with Syria and with Iran. Pretty much the way the Baker-Hamilton report proposed except beyond what they proposed because they proposed, they should be dealing with it in matters concerning with Iraq. But there are regional issues. In the case of Syria, there are issues related to Syria itself, but also to Lebanon and to Israel. Israel is in control of, in fact has annexed in violation of Security Council orders, has annexed a large part of Syrian territory, the Golan Heights. Syria is making it very clear that they are interested in a peace settlement with Israel, which would involve, as it should, the withdrawal of the Israeli troops from occupied territories.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The arrest of Kasparov

The famous chess player Garry Kasparov was arrested among others at a protest in Moscow. They were arrested for holding a rally that had been banned because the space had been reserved for a pro-Kremlin group simply to block Hasparov's group from using it.

Kasparov and some other activists were detained near Pushkin Square almost upon their arrival and were placed on a police bus. As he was being driven off, Kasparov managed to shout out an open window, "This regime is criminal. This is a police state. They arrest people everywhere."

His lawyer later said Kasparov had been charged with "shouting anti-government slogans in the presence of a large group of people," the Russian news agency Interfax reported.

He was released late in the evening after being fined $39 for violation of public order.

Around the same time that Kasparov was arrested, other protesters began approaching the police who had cordoned off Pushkin Square.

"Why are you not allowing people to get together and hold rallies as the constitution provides?" one man, who later identified himself as Yevgeny Shimenkov, 67, said to an officer.

"The constitution is for you. For us, there are orders of our commander," the policeman replied.

"You must know your orders are criminal. Your commander is a criminal and you are his accomplices," Shimenkov said.

We hear your cries, Kasparov.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Noam Chomsky puts Iran in context.

From TomDispatch, here's Noam Chomsky, very aptly putting the whole US "should we go to war with Iran" line in context.

This "debate" is a typical illustration of a primary principle of sophisticated propaganda. In crude and brutal societies, the Party Line is publicly proclaimed and must be obeyed -- or else. What you actually believe is your own business and of far less concern. In societies where the state has lost the capacity to control by force, the Party Line is simply presupposed; then, vigorous debate is encouraged within the limits imposed by unstated doctrinal orthodoxy. The cruder of the two systems leads, naturally enough, to disbelief; the sophisticated variant gives an impression of openness and freedom, and so far more effectively serves to instill the Party Line. It becomes beyond question, beyond thought itself, like the air we breathe.

The debate over Iranian interference in Iraq proceeds without ridicule on the assumption that the United States owns the world. We did not, for example, engage in a similar debate in the 1980s about whether the U.S. was interfering in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan, and I doubt that Pravda, probably recognizing the absurdity of the situation, sank to outrage about that fact (which American officials and our media, in any case, made no effort to conceal). Perhaps the official Nazi press also featured solemn debates about whether the Allies were interfering in sovereign Vichy France, though if so, sane people would then have collapsed in ridicule.

In this case, however, even ridicule -- notably absent -- would not suffice, because the charges against Iran are part of a drumbeat of pronouncements meant to mobilize support for escalation in Iraq and for an attack on Iran, the "source of the problem." The world is aghast at the possibility. Even in neighboring Sunni states, no friends of Iran, majorities, when asked, favor a nuclear-armed Iran over any military action against that country. From what limited information we have, it appears that significant parts of the U.S. military and intelligence communities are opposed to such an attack, along with almost the entire world, even more so than when the Bush administration and Tony Blair's Britain invaded Iraq, defying enormous popular opposition worldwide.

He also places the issue of a nuclear armed Iran in context, and puts the hypothetical Iranian shoe on the American foot.

Doubtless Iran's government merits harsh condemnation, including for its recent actions that have inflamed the crisis. It is, however, useful to ask how we would act if Iran had invaded and occupied Canada and Mexico and was arresting U.S. government representatives there on the grounds that they were resisting the Iranian occupation (called "liberation," of course). Imagine as well that Iran was deploying massive naval forces in the Caribbean and issuing credible threats to launch a wave of attacks against a vast range of sites -- nuclear and otherwise -- in the United States, if the U.S. government did not immediately terminate all its nuclear energy programs (and, naturally, dismantle all its nuclear weapons). Suppose that all of this happened after Iran had overthrown the government of the U.S. and installed a vicious tyrant (as the US did to Iran in 1953), then later supported a Russian invasion of the U.S. that killed millions of people (just as the U.S. supported Saddam Hussein's invasion of Iran in 1980, killing hundreds of thousands of Iranians, a figure comparable to millions of Americans). Would we watch quietly?

It is easy to understand an observation by one of Israel's leading military historians, Martin van Creveld. After the U.S. invaded Iraq, knowing it to be defenseless, he noted, "Had the Iranians not tried to build nuclear weapons, they would be crazy."

Surely no sane person wants Iran (or any nation) to develop nuclear weapons. A reasonable resolution of the present crisis would permit Iran to develop nuclear energy, in accord with its rights under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, but not nuclear weapons. Is that outcome feasible? It would be, given one condition: that the U.S. and Iran were functioning democratic societies in which public opinion had a significant impact on public policy.

As it happens, this solution has overwhelming support among Iranians and Americans, who generally are in agreement on nuclear issues. The Iranian-American consensus includes the complete elimination of nuclear weapons everywhere (82% of Americans); if that cannot yet be achieved because of elite opposition, then at least a "nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East that would include both Islamic countries and Israel" (71% of Americans). Seventy-five percent of Americans prefer building better relations with Iran to threats of force. In brief, if public opinion were to have a significant influence on state policy in the U.S. and Iran, resolution of the crisis might be at hand, along with much more far-reaching solutions to the global nuclear conundrum.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Share Power: Make Canadian companies respect human rights

I am a member of the Business and Human Rights working group of Amnesty International at the Pacific Regional office in Vancouver.

We promote respect for universal human rights standards on the part of Canadian companies. Our focus is usually on those who operate in other countries, especially those in developing countries. We engage in advocacy as well as awareness-raising and education to meet pursue this end. One of our key programs is called Share Power.

I have pasted some info from the Amnesty Canada site to explain the campaign. Tara Scurr, Business and Human Rights Camgaigner for the Pacific Region, you have the floor.

SHARE POWER is a project of Amnesty International’s Business and Human Rights campaign, which harnesses the powerful connection between individuals and companies to advance corporate responsibility for human rights.

SHARE POWER shows you what you can do to hold companies accountable for human rights.

No matter who you are, where you work, or where you study, you can find your connection to powerful multinational corporations and pressure change from the inside! Share Power helps you find this connection and use it to help end corporate abuses of human rights.

All members of the public have the right to send a direct message to the CEO of any company to raise concerns about their company. This is one technique that we can all use. For Share Power to be most effective however, we will use a variety of campaigning techniques.

By approaching companies indirectly, through our connection to other people and institutions that hold shares in those companies, we have a great potential for impact. This approach to corporate change is called shareholder activism and it is a key component of the Share Power campaign.

Please visit the site today to sign the letters on-line. For more information, please go to: The companies profiled in Share Power this year are:

1. Dow Chemical (AI-USA) issue: Bhopal
2. Chevron (AI-USA) issue: Environment
3. Power Corporation issue: Human Rights in China
4. Nortel Networks issue: Human Rights in China and Iraq
5. Weyerhaeuser issue: indigenous land rights in Canada
6. Canadian Natural Resources issue: Human Rights in Gabon and Ivory Coast 7. Ivanhoe Mines (2 resolutions) issues: Human Rights in Mongolia and Environmental clean-up in Burma

There is also a letter-writing action to the Canada Pension Plan, which invests significantly in each of these companies.

Please feel welcome to contact us with questions, suggestions or comments at We’d also love to hear your own stories of your campaigning efforts!

Many thanks,
Tara Scurr
Business and Human Rights Campaigner

IPCC summary for governments released

The International Panel on Climate Change released its summary report on climate change for policy makers. It makes it clear that climate Change real, it's happening and we're contributing to it, but that it can be mitigated.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

New era of diplomacy?

Perhaps it is undue optimism. Perhaps it is highly premature. However, in light of events over the last couple of days, I have to wonder, or at least I have to hope, that we have entered a new era of international diplomacy on the part of Western nations in their dealings with the Middle East.

First, there is the British hostage crisis in Iran (even though they're technically not hostages). US Marines have said that if they were in place of the Britons, they would have gone down fighting. Indeed, of course, they would have gone down. John Bolton has harshly criticized the British government for its diplomatic approach. We have since learned that the hostages have been released without harm, and Tony Blair uttered the following words:

To the Iranian people I would simply say this, we bare you no ill will. On the contrary, we respect Iran as an ancient civilisation, as a nation with a proud and dignified history. And the disagreements we have with your government we wish to resolve peacefully through dialogue.

Second, there is Nancy Pelosi's trip to Syria, to meet with the president of Syria, with the good wishes of Israeli president Olmert. BBC says of the comments made by Pelosi:

Speaking in Damascus after the talks, Ms Pelosi praised Mr Assad's attitude towards Israel.

"We were very pleased with the assurances we received from the president that he was ready to resume the peace process," she said.

"He's ready to engage in negotiations for peace with Israel. The meeting with the president enabled us to communicate a message from Prime Minister Olmert that Israel was ready to engage in peace talks as well."

She said that she and other members of her congressional delegation raised concerns about Israeli soldiers held captive by Hamas and Hezbollah.

Syria's relationship with the militant Islamist groups was also discussed, she said, as well as the issue of fighters illegally entering Iraq from Syria.

Earlier, Ms Pelosi met Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem and Vice President Faruq al-Shara.

The trip to Syria of course occurred over the predictable objections of the Bush administration, and moreso John Bolton. Also predictable is the reaction of the conservtive media, saying she is giving a gift to the enemies.

While I'm on the subject, Conor Clark of the Guardian does and excellent piece on the reaction oof the neoconservative right to Pelosi's visit:

It isn't surprising. Attempts to score political points usually aren't. But it is confusing: the conservatives' fury comes in two flavours, and neither makes much sense. First, the right seems to be upset because Pelosi wore a headscarf when she visited a Syrian mosque. Like clockwork, the conservative blogosphere has transformed itself into an army of feminists and taken to the battlements. "This picture disgusts me. What message is Nancy Pelosi trying to send?" writes the New Editor. "The modern Democratic leadership," telegraphs Little Green Footballs, over a picture of Pelosi's sartorial choice. "How ... quaint."

They're grasping at straws. For one, Pelosi's critics ignore the inconvenient fact that First Lady Laura Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have also, on several occasions, worn headscarves while visiting mosques. I suppose you could make a fetish of consistency and say that all of these women are wrong for engaging in flights of multiculturalism. But why? No one would argue that elected officials should indulge every cultural peccadillo on a trip abroad. (Genital mutilation? Cannibalism?) But it would be equally foolish to argue that culture is totally non-negotiable: Sometimes the benefits outweigh the harms, and, in the grand scheme of things, the headscarf seems trivial. It's both silly and desperate to say, as one blogger did, that she could have just worn a hat.

The second flavour of conservative ire is that Pelosi's trip makes for bad foreign policy. National Review argues that the speaker's congressional majority is doing "its best to raise the white flag over the Middle East" by indulging a murderous regime like Assad's. "We can't believe that a majority of Americans - impatient though they are with the Iraq War - thought they were voting for this last November."

Well, believe it. In a poll released in December 2006 - just after the election the National Review cites - the Program on International Policy Attitudes found that three out of four Americans - including seven in ten Republicans - supported holding talks with both Iran and Syria. And, of course, diplomatic engagement with the two countries was also the centrepiece of the Iraq Study Group's report - an exercise in ostentatious bipartisanship if there ever was one. You can still make the argument that engaging with Syria is a mistake, or that the message of Pelosi's visit is the wrong one. But please, don't pretend that most Americans agree with you, or that the trip is the work of a crazed radical.

In fact, such trips happen all the time. Three Republican congressmen met with Assad over the weekend. Yesterday's papers reported that New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson - a Democratic presidential candidate! - will soon head a bipartisan mission to North Korea. Nor do these visits always happen at the president's pleasure: When Jimmy Carter, Sam Nunn and Colin Powell visited Haiti to broker a last-minute peace deal in 1994, President Clinton was furious. He even ordered a military strike - called off in the nick of time - while the three were still in the country.

But partisan football isn't a game that's played with facts. "Nancy Pelosi tends to forget that there is an executive branch," chortles the National Review. Well, America's executive branch tends to forget that there's this thing called diplomacy. Which is worse?

Now, my optimism is certainly tempered by a consideration of reality. I recognize that these events in themselves do nothing to diminish the power of the military-industrial-complex. Indeed, it has, and will continue to have, its slimy tentacles all around both major US politcal parties. Until it crumbles, the peaceful and just world I envision will never be realized.

Nevertheless, these events provide hope that the extremely aggressive militaristic posture of the Bush administration will soon be a thing of the past.