JOHN RIEWE

Archive for August 2006

They Took the News Lightly

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That might be said of us soon. Our real lives are good, gas prices are bearable despite the fact many would have you believe otherwise. The dominant themes in the news (aside from tabloid material like the JonBenet Ramsey killer that we seem to have found isn’t) are the war in Iraq and to an increasingly lesser extent how the cease-fire will play out in Lebanon; and now there is a bit of Katrina thrown in for good measure, which should last all of a week if that. None of these affect our daily lives.

So why should we care? We can form opinions about what we hear, but all in all we haven’t enough of a sense of exigency to act on them.

I fear if this continues to be the case, as is likely in America, we risk the consequences of not paying due attention to the real problems at hand. According to Stanley Kurtz of National Review, the happy time is almost over.

“American politics is about to undergo a sea change. Our lives are going to be transformed on a more personal level as well. Sometime between now and five-to-ten years from now we’re going to be forced to choose between preemptive war with Iran, and living in a post-proliferation world. War with Iran will probably mean casualties on American soil. Iran has likely placed terrorist agents in the United States, with instructions to retaliate against civilian targets in the event of war. We’ll also likely see attacks on Persian Gulf oil shipments, and therefore a huge spike in the price of gasoline, with major economic consequences.”

I urge you to read his piece entitled “Our Fallout Shelter Future.” I detest opinion writers who proclaim imminent doomsday; I think Kurtz is not. His piece is pragmatic and sensible.

And a little sinister. Read it.

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Written by John Riewe

August 30, 2006 at 2:34 am

Absolving Ourselves of Responsibility

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Responsibility for ones actions was once a cut-and-dried concept. It clarified our value systems if the roots of those values were otherwise murky. One’s adherence to a religion might have instilled in him a set of values that said that murder was wrong, for instance. And if the imminence of the fiery pits if Hell were insufficient to remind him of this, at least the threat of retaliation from either the law or the victim’s kin might give him second thoughts. Suppose it was something less heinous. One might speculate on land or stocks, and soon thereafter see the market fall flat. No injustice was done; he was aware of the risks, and as such must take responsibility for them and find some way to eat in the absence of all the money he lost. So it goes with many choices in life, be they moral or fiscal choices.

In the modern age, however, this concept is beginning to unravel as technology and social norms offer alternatives to taking responsiblity for ones actions. In some cases there are arguably benefits to these alternatives. Government-provided aid keeps many from starving to death who might be penniless either from simply bad luck or bad choices in life. Safer cars might allow a commuter who causes a wreck in the process of driving and talking on a cell phone to walk away instead of being perhaps killed. Medical technology can save the life of someone suffering a heart attack caused by a lifetime of poor diet choices. These are but a few examples; there is one example however that is far more controversial, but all the same in that it allows one to make mistakes without facing the consequences.

On Thursday August 24, theUS Food and Drug Administration ruled that the “morning-after pill” which provides contraception up to 72 hours after unprotected sex, would be available sans prescription for women 18 and older. It will only be sold in pharmacies, however. Women under 18 may still be able to obtain the pill with a prescription. The pill, marketed under the name Plan B, is said to actually prevent pregnancy, unlike the much more controversial RU-486, which takes effect after pregnancy and causes an abortion up to 49 after pregnancy occurs.

Women’s advocacy groups considered the decision a victory, but one such group, Planned Parenthood, echoed the concerns of many in expressing dismay over the age restriction, saying it “is troubled by the scientifically baseless restriction imposed on teenagers. The U.S. has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the western world — anything that makes it harder for teenagers to avoid unintended pregnancy is bad medicine and bad public policy.” FDA head (pending almost certain Senate confirmation) Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach contended that “there isn’t enough scientific evidence that young teens can safely use Plan B without a doctor’s supervision.”

And so now, where once unprotected sex carried with it a significant possibility of pregnancy, well, one can always go to Plan B if things got a little out of hand the previous night and the contraceptives were forgotten. Teen pregnancy ostensibly will fall with this ruling, and that would be nice. That’s so American, to be able to make a bad choice and to be able to sidestep the consequences by spending a few bucks.

Maybe that’s okay. I’m just pointing out a trend.

Written by John Riewe

August 25, 2006 at 4:17 am

Nothing Happened

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Well, August 22’s nuclear announcement from Iran came and went, and did so without incident. So benign was it in fact that on the evening of August 22, the story did not appear on the cnn.com homepage. Regardless of the absence of hoopla in the wake of the announcement, it actually arrived as Iran promised. It was none too surprising, and full of the ambiguities expected.

Iran has not publicly annouced yet whether it will agree to stop enrichment of uranium, though sources hint that Iran is likely not to agree thusly. The major focus of the response was the opening of dialogue on the issue. Iran evidently is ready for “serious negotiations” on the subject of nuclear development. That ought to be fun. Iran may act at times irrationally, but all the same it is well-versed in some pieces of diplomacy, notably stalling tactics. One can only imagine that the “dialogue” Iran seeks to engage in will be just that.

On the bright side, there was no nuclear attack on Israel.

Written by John Riewe

August 23, 2006 at 3:49 am

The Night Journey

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Back some months ago, before there was a war in Lebanon, one of the key concerns in the Middle East outside of Iraq was Iran’s nuclear program. European nations offered a juicy incentive package to Iran in exchange for a promise not to enrich uranium for military purposes. After much filibustering on the part of Iran, that nation responded to the West’s demand for an answer by June 29. They responded by setting their own deadline, August 22. Having no choice but to wait an additional couple of months for the results of Iran’s prolonged pontification, the world did so. In the meantime, focus shifted away from that story and to an escalating conflict in Lebanon. Iran then was only mentioned in the context of being the backer of Hizballah, the protagonist in the Lebanese conflict. The nuclear issue was temporarily forgotten.

Now a very tenuous cease-fire has been implemented in Lebanon. The relative calm that has ensued has afforded us a chance to look at other possible newsworthy items. And just as we emerge from our month-long fixation on the war in Lebanon, it seems that Iran’s self-imposed August 22 deadline for a response to the European nuke deal is suddenly here. And there is much reason for concern.

The Assosciated Press reports that on Monday Iranian officials turned away UN inspectors who sought to observe a subterranean nuclear facility. This consitutes a breach of the Nonproliferation Treaty according to the UN. The officials called the refusal by Iran “unprecedented,” and warned that this “could seriously hamper international efforts to ensure that Tehran is not trying to make nuclear weapons.” It seems we have seen this song and dance elsewhere before in a neighboring country once run by a man named Saddam Hussein.

And to provide further concern for the implications of Iran’s announcement Tuesday is its curious concidence with a certain date on the Muslim calendar. This from frontpagemag.com:

Farid Ghadry, the president of the Reform Party of Syria, has offered a provocative explanation for this delay. He asserts that the Supreme National Security Council of Iran chose the August 22 date “for a very precise reason. August 21, 2006 (Rajab 27, 1427) is known in the Islamic calendar as the Night of the Sira’a and Miira’aj, the night Prophet Mohammed (saas) ascended to heaven from the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on a Bourak (Half animal, half man), while a great light lit-up the night sky, and visited Heaven and Hell also Beit al-Saada and Beit al-Shaqaa (House of Happiness and House of Misery) and then descended back to Mecca.…”

Iran has promised to provide a “multi-faceted” response to the calls for a halt to nuclear proliferation. Realistically, this is probably a highly detailed response on paper, full of minutiae that will afford Iran the luxury of quibbling with the West over every word while nuclear enrichment goes on also. However, frontpagemag.com, ever the more alarmist type, has offered a much more ominous possible scenario:

…according to Ghadry, Ahmadinejad is planning an illumination of the night sky over Jerusalem to rival the one that greeted the Prophet of Islam on his journey. What the Iranian President, he says, is “promising the world by August 22 is the light in the sky over the Aqsa Mosque that took place the night before. That is his answer to the package of incentives the international community offered Iran on June 6.”

Whatever the answer is, we shall know on Tuesday. What we know now is this–regardless of what Iran says or does Tuesday, it will continue to be a proverbial thorn in our side for some time to come.

Written by John Riewe

August 22, 2006 at 12:04 am

Stupid Stuff

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Arab leaders Sunday requested more time from the UN for Sudan to lay out a plan for quelling violence in Darfur. Give them more time? Just how long are they willing to wait? Give me a break.
Story at Reuters

The ongoing cease-fire in Lebanon was greatly endangered over the weekend as Israeli forces attacked a Hizballah target. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was none too pleased, and Lebanon threatened to halt its troop deployment to the south. Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr didn’t go further with that threat, but said that if anyone incited more violence with Israel was an ally of the enemy Israel. He also announced that “all militant groups [will be assured] of harsh measures and a traitor’s fate if they incite Israeli retaliation.” This does not extend, however, to Hizballah; for Murr insists that “we consider that when the resistance (Hezbollah) is committed not to fire rockets, then any rocket that is fired from the Lebanese territory would be considered collaboration with Israel to provide a pretext (for Israel) to strike.”
Story at Forbes

Congressman John Kline (R-Minnesota) has offered an apology for his response to the Haditha incident where Marines allegedly killed a number of Iraqi civilians. “This was a small number of Marines who fired directly on civilians and killed them. This going to be an ugly story,” Kline said after hearing about the incident. Problem is, this hasn’t gone to court yet-he stated as fact what are as yet only accusations. Hey Kline, ever heard of innocent until proven guily? The initial outcry from Kline was just the kind of energetic pandering that so many GOP congressman engage in these days. This time, one got burned. Now if in the end he was right, may those guilty pay in full for committing such atrocities. But you get the point.
Story at Time

Written by John Riewe

August 21, 2006 at 2:29 am

Sustainable Peace, or Not

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As the conflict in Lebanon waged for some four weeks the calls for the US to institute some immediate cease-fire were very loud and well-intentioned; these were met a cautionary response from Washington DC that stressed the importance of developing an agreement that would provide for a “sustainable peace,” or one in which some months, weeks, perhaps days later fighting would not erupt anew. The Administration took some flak for this posture from many quarters, but remained wary nonetheless of a cease-fire that would soon fall apart after implementation. At last, over last weekend, the US and France collaborated to develop a UN resolution for a cease-fire. A force of some 30,000 peacekeepers comprised of 15,000 UN personel and a like number of Lebanese troops would occupy the south of Lebanon as Israeli forces withdrew. Most importantly, Hizballah would be disarmed. This was the key to allaying Israeli fears of a similar incursion to the one that precipitated the war, and to promoting the sovreignty of the Lebanese government.

Initially, Hizballah promised to comply, and Israeli troops began to slowly withdraw. The peace was tenuous, but more and more were optimistic as each hour passed without major incident. But then things began to get dicey.

As of today, no concrete plans have been set for the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force. It will be at least a week until the first 3500 arrive, but that even is still uncertain. France initially appeared eager to lead the peacekeeping efforts, but is quibbling over what powers it will be given in that capacity, namely vis-a-vis disarmament of Hizballah. Worse still, France this afternoon announced that its initial contribution to the force will be only 200 troops, far short of the numbers many expected. On the other hand, Lebanon for one is upholding its end of the bargain, beginning it troop deployment in the south. However, a point of concern is this force’s vow to not engage in disarmament, or any conflict with Hizballah.

Hizballah itself has stepped up to further provide cause for concern. It has promised to provide housing for all displaced Lebanese, and to take the lead in reconstructing Lebanon in general. This is yet another piece of brilliant PR maneuvering by Hizballah, and serves to strengthen the group, contrary to the weakening of it as desired by the UN resolution. And furthermore, Hizballah today said today that now is “not the time to talk about disarmament.”

And finally, today US officials reported that Iran is actively working to replenish the military supplies of Hizballah.

These, undeniably, are not the ingredients for a sustainable peace in theh region. One would have expected that the details of the makeup and timeline for action for the UN peacekeeping force would have been outlined prior to the approval of the cease-fire. Fortunately, the poor Lebanese and Israeli civilians are enjoying a respite from daily bombings. But the current situation appears more of a time bomb than the foundation for long-term peace. One gets the feeling that the UN resolution was rushed, in a sort of shoot-first-ask-questions-later approach. This cease-fire cannot be said to be healthy, even in its very young age. It stands the risk of collapse at the feet of an increasingly impertinent UN that is itself in poor health. In that case, the losers are none other than the Lebanese and Israeli citizens that this hastily clapped-together cease-fire was meant to aid. From a diplomatic standpoint, the US could have hardly waited much longer to put together a cease-fire; but in rushing things it failed to achieve a sustainable one. Perhaps none is attainable. But the prospects for peace based on the current resolution look grim indeed.

Written by John Riewe

August 18, 2006 at 3:19 am

Why all the Fuss?

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Today authorities nabbed the man who evidently was the killer of JonBenet Ramsey, the 6-year old beauty pageant queen murdered in 1996. Her parents have been cast as suspects for most of that time, but this new arrest will purportedly absolve them of such accusations. Story here.

My question is this: Why is this such a big deal?

I am sure that you now think I am cruel and heartless; but hear this. How many people of the world have died in the last ten years? Why do we focus on JonBenet Ramsey, and place so much importance on this case? The deaths of the 42,000 or so that perished in car accidents in 2004 were no less tragic. Nor were the almost 100,000 rapes that year. Or the over 16,000 murders.

The point is,admittedly at the expense of covering a morbid subject, that there is a lack of proportionality in the news. JonBenet was singled out because here parents were rich and she was an underage pageant queen. This is the kind of story that sells. In fact, if the media had treated it more in the way it treats most murders (very briefly), perhaps here bereaved parents would have been saved their being dragged through the proverbial mud by all media from tabloids to what we consider more reputable publications.

I’m glad that Mr. Ramsey and his late wife are no longer subject to the suspicion that plagued them for ten years, redoubling the pain of having their daughter murdered. I just think that this story is completely overblown, and really gives undue attention to one over many thousands of others who faced tragedy but were somehow less glamorous or scandalous. Do that make sense?

In other news, check out www.americanrevolutiononline.com and the new RING section. send in your submissions of articles, random thoughts, etc. and get them posted in THE RING.

Written by John Riewe

August 17, 2006 at 3:51 am