Sunday, May 5, 2013

Five Stories Of The Week: Ending May 4, 2013


News & Commentary



Here are five stories that shaped my world this week:

Chemical Weapons In Syria: An article in The New York Times raises the question on how much the United States ought to get involved in this mideast internal dispute, and it is in every way internal, and in every way a dispute. For the Republicans the answer is always simple: military intervention.
The lawmakers’ comments came after revelations last week that the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, is believed to have used chemical weapons against his own people. On Sunday, several leading Republicans — including Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona, both of whom are members of the Armed Services Committee — used appearances on television talk shows to warn that failure to intervene in Syria would embolden nations like Iran and North Korea.
“If we keep this hands-off approach to Syria, this indecisive action toward Syria, kind of not knowing what we’re going to do next, we’re going to start a war with Iran because Iran’s going to take our inaction in Syria as meaning we’re not serious about their nuclear weapons program,” Mr. Graham saidon the CBS News program “Face the Nation.” Mr. Graham added, “There’s nothing you can do in Syria without risk, but the greatest risk is a failed state with chemical weapons falling in the hands of radical Islamists, and they’re pouring into Syria.”
Mr. Obama has previously said the use of chemical weapons in Syria would be a “red line” that would set off an American response. On Friday, one day after his administration disclosed that it believes Mr. Assad’s forces have used sarin gas against Syrian citizens, the president called it “a game changer.” The White House has said it wants to establish who used the weapons and whether their use was deliberate or accidental before deciding whether a red line has been crossed.
So far, the United States has taken limited military steps in Syria but has sent supplies like night-vision goggles and body armor to the rebels fighting the Assad government. Now Mr. Graham, Mr. McCain and others would like the United States to do more, possibly by arming the rebels or establishing a no-fly zone to neutralize Syria’s air defense, though they disagreed on the particulars.
That Syria’s government might be using chemical weapons against its people should come as no shock in a two-year-old civil war that has claimed more than 70,000 lives and displaced many more; all such wars lead to much death and destruction, including of innocents. There is a danger in both doing something (arming rebels, many of whom are Isalmists) and not doing anything (chemical weapons falling into the wrong hands, i.e., Islamists). Such is the conventional view, and it is not without merit. I think that there are other views, one that will not lead to American ground troops in Syria, a foolish idea that will lead to negative unintended consequences.

Change Of Views In Iran: An AP article, by Nasser Karim, published in The Huffington Post says that potential presidential candidate Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has stated that Iran is not at war with Israel, depsite previous statements to the contrary made by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Karim writes:
Iran’s influential former president says his country is not at war with archenemy Israel, the media reported Monday, in the latest departure by a high-profile politician from the strident anti-Israel line traditionally taken by many senior Iranian leaders. The remarks by Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani follows calls from figures across the political spectrum to repair the damage to Iran’s international reputation they said had been caused by outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who called Israel a doomed state and questioned the extent of the Holocaust.
Several of them, including Rafsanjani, are considered possible contenders in June elections to replace Ahmadinejad as president. “We are not at war with Israel,” said the ex-president, quoted by several Iranian newspapers including the pro-reform Shargh daily. He said Iran would not initiate war against Israel, but “if Arab nations wage a war, then we would help.”
Comments on Iran’s policies on Israel must tread a fine line. While it’s possible to question Ahmadinejad's remarks, it’s dangerous to be seen as contradicting Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has called Israel a “cancer” in the region.
The remarks are unable to herald any significant changes in Iranian policy, but may indicate the assessment of politicians that Ahmadinejad's particular brand of strident anti-Israel rhetoric may hurt him with many voters. Rafsanjani is considered a political centrist, attractive to some reformists but not a candidate who would challenge the dominance of the clerical establishment. He has not ruled out a run at the presidency himself, but is more likely to throw his considerable influence behind a center candidate and may be burnishing his moderate credentials.
Clerical conservatives, who once backed Ahmadinejad but turned on him after he challenged the authority Khamenei in 2011, also want to distance themselves from the president.
I disagree with this writer’s analysis that “the remarks are unable to herald any significant changes in Iranian policy.“ In a place like Iran, airing such views does send a signal to the international community that Iran wants to change its previous ill-advised course, and possibly establish some sort of (initally perhaps low-level) diplomatic relations with Israel.

Such would be good news, both for the peoples of Iran and Israel, who I sense long for good diplomatic relations, both with Israel, and more important, with the United States. This might be a harbinger of things to come.

Parliamentary Brawl In Venezuela: An article, by Jorge Rueda, in ABC News says that parlimentarians became more aggresive than is typical in legislative debate, taking to physical violence over the much-disputed election results.

Rueda writes:
Venezuela's postelection tensions erupted into a brawl between lawmakers Tuesday night that left at least one opposition member badly bruised and bleeding. Pro-government legislators started throwing punches after members of the opposition coalition unfurled a banner in the National Assembly protesting a postelection ban stripping opposition lawmakers of most of their legislative powers, opposition lawmaker Ismael Garcia told The Associated Press. Video showed groups of legislators shoving and pushing each other on the floor.
Assembly member Julio Borges appeared on an independent television station soon after Tuesday night's brawl with blood running down one side of his swollen face. The opposition said at least 17 of its allies and five pro-government deputies were injured.
Pro-government legislators appeared on state TV accusing opposition members of attacking them.
The opposition has refused to accept President Nicolas Maduro's narrow April 14 victory, saying the government's 1.49 percent margin resulted from fraud like votes cast in the names of the thousands of dead people found on current voting rolls.
In retaliation, the government-dominated assembly has barred opposition lawmakers from public speaking and sitting on legislative committees. Tuesday's fight was the second in which opposition legislators said the other side attacked them for protesting the ban. Since the election the government has arrested dozens of protesters, mostly students. Most have been released but many say there were subjected to physical abuse and humiliation while detained.
There might be truth in the opposition's accusations of an unfair election and the anger is not only informed the actions of students who normally and easily take to such protests, but also to elected officials, Given that the elections have already taken place and the decision made by Venezuela’s electoral body, there is little likelihood that the results will either be reviewed or over-turned.

This makes for a political unstable period in Venezuela’s history. But such tactics might be necessary in a corrupt regime to persuade President Maduro.to incorporate some of opposition members into his cabinet.

May Day Protests In Europe. An article, by Felicity Morse, in The Huffington Post reports on the many worker protests happening around the world:
May Day protests are taking place on the streets of Europe, Tokyo, Jakarta, Moscow and Bangladesh, as people around the world mark International Workers' Day. In Greece, a general strike by the two largest trade unions, GSEE and ADEDY, in protest against the tough austerity measures are severely disrupting public services, including hospitals and transport.
Ferries and trains are at a standstill and hospital staff have walked out as hundreds of Greeks gather on the streets protesting against the highest unemployment in the EU.
According to statistics released on Wednesday, 27.2% of Greece's workforce are unemployed, and 59.1% of the under-25 age group are out of work, seeking employment. It follows a bill approved by parliament on Sunday which will leave 15,000 civil servants out of work by the end of next year.
Alexis Tsipras, the head of the Syriza opposition party, joined the thousands workers marching through Athens, holding banners. One sign calls for solidarity with foreign workers, the plight of which hit the headlines last month after farm foreman opened fire on a group of migrant strawberry workers who were protesting after not being paid for six months. As many as 29 strawberry pickers, mostly Bangladeshi immigrants, were injured in the attack with seven taken to hospital.
Police in Spain are also bracing for anti-austerity protests after rioting on the streets last year.
While In Germany Labour union representatives and other groups marched in support of fairer employment conditions and a minimum wage.Protests were also seen on the streets of France. The unemployment rate in France rose again last month, with 3.2 million people out of work.
Bangladeshi garment workers are protesting on the streets of Dhaka, the nation's capital, demanding better working conditions after a building collapsed. The death toll has now passed 400 with scores more still missing. Many are demanding the death penalty for the owner of the building, who has been arrested after going on the run from police.
May 1st, or May Day, is traditionally a day when workers take to the streets to celebrate their victories, including more on-the-job rights, better pay and better working conditions. This year, in the face of brutal austerity measures that many European governments have imposed, there is little to celebrate.

A symbol of what’s wrong with the world current form of capitalism can be found in Bangladesh, home to many of the world’s clothing factories—where slipshod construction and the need to make a fast buck gets in the way of proper construction codes and standards. The working conditions are retrograde and inhumane, reminiscent of 19th century America and Britain. For the wealthy western purchasers of cheap labour, all is fine in the world of commerce. Human life, in their estimation, is cheap. That’s capitalism, baby!

First Website In The World: It was twenty years ago, on April 30rd, 1993, that the first website was launched on what became known as the World Wide Web, an information network that has become so much part of our lives that it seems that it has already been with us.

In an article in Forbes, Larry Magid writes:

The web was far from the first Internet service. The Internet itself has been around since the late sixties. But until the advent of the web, the net was mostly the province of scientists and engineers. Even by the early nineties, when the web was opened up to civilians, it was dauntingly complex. In my 1994 book, Cruising Online: Larry Magid’s Guide to the New Digital Highways, I wrote “I’m not sure which is more difficult, trying to describe the Internet or learning to use it.”
In that book, I described a myriad of web applications including Gopher, news readers and Internet Relay Chat, all of which were eventually replaced by web technology.:On April 30th, 1993, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) announced that it was creating the World Wide Web “to make an easy but powerful global information system” that ”consists of documents referring to each other by links.” The source code from the “web” was made available on a royalty free basis. CERN has re-posted what is believed to be one of the first websites and is sharing a copy of an early advertisement about the web. The web itself was invented by British physicist Tim Berners-Lee.
If the web has done anything, it has empowered people and allowed worldwide communication. It has removed the power from the state and from major media, de-centralizing authority, The state, true to its nature, continues to try to control the web through clumsy and foolish legislation, often unethical. But this too will ultimately fail for the same reasons that all inhumane actions fail. It does not serve the needs of the majority of people.