The Debate (II)

June 4, 2007

Awesome question on Pakistan. Hurray for random history professors in the audience.

Many of these hypothetical situations are ridiculous. Kucinich handled the question about assassinations well. I don’t his answer is very politically wise, but it’s the best thing to say.

Hillary really tries to turn everything back to being Bush’s fault. This certainly plays well to the liberal base, but it doesn’t always make sense.

Biden is really extraordinary on foreign policy. On Sudan: “They have forfeited their sovereignty by committing genocide.” Amen brother. He and Richardson are talking sense on Darfur, and on Africa.

There’s a lot of hand raising going on. Wolf Blitzer is a blithering idiot. And Hillary called him on it.

Chris Dodd: Boycotting the ’08 Olympics in Beijing if China doesn’t get tough with Sudan is “going too far.” Bullshit.

Biden is too angry to be a good politician, but he gets things right.

Obama rocks on talking about American moral legitimacy as a world leader.


The Debate

June 4, 2007

Kucinich has the best solution for health care. Bravo. Any ‘solution’ to America’s health care problems that feed the insurance companies will continue being terribly inefficient, and citizens will blame it all on the Democrats. Universal health care doesn’t have to be a bloated, hodge-podge design we create as go along.

Why does Hillary always sound like she’s shouting?

It’s unfortunate Obama doesn’t sound quite as articulate in the debates as he does in his books. I still like him the most, and have the most confidence in his personal integrity (largely based on his community organizing work).

I’m amazed at how many different ways there are to dodge questions.

I’ll be even more amazed if any of the debaters will admit that pulling out of Iraq will likely lead to much more violence. That’s a fact of life, and one we must come to grips with (I still think we need to move out–we’re just prolonging the inevitable). There are some realities that are simply unmentionable for a politician.

They need to turn of Wolf Blitzer’s mic when he’s not asking questions. That’s just not professional.


Shooting the Messenger

January 20, 2007

200px-hrant_dink.jpg

Turkish journalist Hrant Dink was shot and killed in broad daylight on a street in Istanbul. Dink had been outspoken about the Ottoman genocide of Armenians at the start of the 20th century. While this may seem like ancient history to present-minded Americans, it plays heavily into regional politics in Turkey and Armenia. Many Turks think the killings were a justifiable part of a civil war, while Armenians see it as genocide (most non-Turkish sources I’ve read agree with the latter).

Being a prominent journalist about an unpopular issue is never an easy task. But in some places the messenger is more likely to get shot than in others. For example, I don’t think Anderson Cooper has gotten many death threats lately. (However, this may be a symptom of how any prominent journalist–especially American ones–pander to the system. If you’re not getting death threats or hate mail, your work might not be that important…)

So how big of a deal is calling the killing of Armenians genocide in Turkey? Evidently it’s illegal to insult the Turkish state (in America it’s mostly legal, just unpopular). From CNN:

Described as a “well-known commentator on Armenian affairs,” Dink had been called into court a number of times on allegations of “insulting” the Turkish state in his writing.

And apparently Dink isn’t the first Turkish journalist to be targeted for unpopular beliefs:

Joel Campagna, Mideast program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said, “Like dozens of other Turkish journalists, Hrant Dink has faced political persecution because of his work. Now it appears he’s paid the ultimate price for it.”

Campagna said that Turkey “must ensure that this crime does not go unpunished like other cases in the past and that those responsible for his murder are brought to justice.”

He said that over the last 15 years, 18 Turkish journalists have been killed — making the country the eighth deadliest in the world for journalists in that period. He said many of the deaths took place in the early 1990s, at the peak of the Kurdish separatist insurgency.

Unlike Anna Politkovskaya, who was likely assassinated by the Russian government itself (for criticism of atrocities in Russia’s war on Chechnya), Dink’s death is more likely that of an Islamist or Turkish ultra-nationalist extremist (the assassin reportedly shouted “I shot the infidel”), categories which can often become blurred, but the Turkish government is anything but blameless for the overall situation:

Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America, told CNN that the case is the “product of the environment that the Turkish government has created” — its persistent denial that the killings of the Armenians last century did not amount to genocide.

How Turkey handles this event, along with its relations with the Kurds, will also inevitably tie into Turkey’s desire to join the European Union. But while this killing raises political questions, it also brings me to a more philosophical inquiry.

Is there really a right to free speech? Do people inherently have an inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Where do any of these rights come from? In the idealistic sense the answer may be yes, we have these rights, but many authors on human rights (Farmer ‘s Pathologies of Power comes to mind) would be the first to admit that they can’t “prove” rights. Nobody truly possessed a right to freedom of speech or freedom of religion until people decided that they had those rights, declared them, and made them a reality.

A right can exist as an ideal that has no real correspondence to actual conditions, but over time the ideal may come closer to realization. Our freedom of speech is still imperfect, but there are arguably more people in the world today who can speak freely than ever before. There will always be people and governments who will shoot the messenger, but if we shed light on and punish those who violate the right to speech, we may move closer to the ideal, if only incrementally. In the same sense, I hold that people have a right to health care–a right that is inseparable from our right to life–but recognize that this right is less realized in America than any other wealthy nation. The act of smoothing over the edges between the ideal and the reality is the whole pursuit of social justice.

Update: A suspect has been arrested in the case.


He’s Dead.

December 29, 2006

The blogosphere is raging with the news of Saddam Hussein’s death.  A sampling of the fascinating reactions:

CNN says yep, he’s dead, and describes celebrations around the body.

Brian says the death should not be celebrated because the act of invading a country, deposing its leader, and executing him sets a terrible precedent.

Read the rest of this entry »


A Change of Fortune?

December 29, 2006

somalia.jpg 

Somali troops representing the UN-recognized government have retaken Mogadishu from the Islamist rebel government, the capital of Somalia. This is a striking reversal in the often-dark recent history of Somalia, a country in the horn of Africa, bordering Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti (see a map of the region).

Read the rest of this entry »


Auschwitz: God on Trial

December 23, 2006

n71000308_30104856_5281.jpg

(Merry Christmas)

While I haven’t read Elie Wiesel’s The Trial of God, I have read his Night. I found Night to be one of the most ghastly things I’ve ever read, due to its simple descriptions and basis in the reality of the Holocaust. In Night, Elie Wiesel describes the hanging of a child in Auschwitz. In A History of God, Karen Armstrong describes the episode thus:

It took the child half an hour to die, while the prisoners were forced to look him in the face. The same man asked again: “Where is God now?” And Wiesel heard a voice within him make this answer: “Where is He? Here He is—He is hanging here on this gallows.”

Read the rest of this entry »


Chess and Foreign Policy

December 18, 2006

karpov.jpg

Garry Kasparov, the Russian chess grandmaster, has become one of the most prominent critics of Vladimir Putin in Russian politics. He publicly praised the recent opposition rally in Moscow. And then Russian federal agents raided Kasparov’s offices for being a voice of dissent, something that seems to be a mark of being someone who matters in Russia. And I guess it’s better than getting shot in the head like Anna Politkovskaya.

Read the rest of this entry »