Sunday, November 23, 2008

Richardson unfit for Obama cabinet

Recent signals suggest that the Obama transition team has Bill Richardson in line to be the Secretary of Commerce.

This could be regarded as a good news/bad news kind of a joke if the consequences weren't so serious for the U.S.

The good news is that apparently he is not being considered for the Secretary of State post. The bad news is that he is being considered at all.

The last cabinet post he held was as Secretary of Energy under the Clinton Administration and his performance was decidedly dismal.

Instead of courage, he showed cowardice under pressure. Instead of challenging the right wing for outrageous accusations of the Clinton administration, he appeased them by leaking the name of Dr. Wen Ho Lee to the media as the alleged spy for China.

To this day, he stands by his misconduct. A summary of this case can be found elsewhere on this blog.

Please join us in signing the petition calling attention to why Richardson is unfit to serve in the Obama administration.

See a recent report of the petition and protest from the community in the San Jose Mercury.

See Youtube summary of the Wen Ho Lee case for a refresher.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Taiwan's Chen Shui Bian, political prisoner or just crooked politician?

A historic moment is being recorded in Taiwan, albeit not a proud one. After months of dodging and weaving, former Taiwan president Chen Shui-bian was finally taken to jail on November 12 to face charges of corruption.

Chen is accused of embezzling NT$14.8 million (about $400,000) in secret state funds, laundering US$21 million in funds abroad and accepting as yet undetermined millions of New Taiwan dollars under the table from Taiwan businessmen.

He admitted that his wife transferred $21 million to secret Swiss accounts, but without his knowledge. Furthermore, he had done nothing wrong and the money rightfully belonged to him anyway.

Besides proclaiming his innocence, he mounted an offense accusing the prosecution and the judiciary of acting as pawns of the ruling Kuomingtang (KMT) to turn him into a political scapegoat. Chen claimed that by discrediting him, the KMT hoped to discredit his party, the DPP, before the people of Taiwan.

While the leaders of the DPP opposition have protested the “undignified” arrest of Chen and questioned the necessity of having to handcuff him like a common criminal, no one among the DPP leadership has stepped forward to vouch for Chen’s integrity and veracity.

Chen was the 12th in the series arrested in connection with the investigation of corruption during his term of office. All the arrests that preceded him were members of his staff, officials that reported to him, or friends and family. Other members of his immediate family including his wife have been forbidden to leave Taiwan pending further investigations and court appearances.

The week before his arrest, there was another historic event when Chen Yunlin, Beijing’s chief cross-strait negotiator came to Taiwan to sign several breakthrough agreements and meet briefly with Ma Ying-jeou, the current president of Taiwan. It was a first for a Beijing official to meet with the elected leader of Taiwan since the Nationalist government fled the mainland and set up in Taiwan.

The agreements will increase daily flights from Taiwan to more destinations on the mainland and all flights will be direct and not have to detour over Hong Kong airspace. Direct shipping will be allowed as well as improved mail service and better assurance of food safety. This became known as the “four agreements.”

The agreements could prove to be historically important in furthering cross-strait economic cooperation. The meeting with Ma could mark the symbolic beginning of the eventual cross-strait unification.

For weeks leading up to this cross-strait summit, the DPP had staged a number of public protests in opposition and in the name of Taiwan independence and sovereignty. Chen Shui-bian, though uninvited by the organizers, was active and prominent in these agitations. The DPP led mob even trapped Chen Yunlin in a hotel where a hosted banquet took place and the Beijing official was not allowed to leave for eight hours.

Despite such vociferous protest by the opposition, polls taken later revealed that less than 17% of the Taiwanese population opposed the four agreements. Less than 26% of the people supported the DPP protest while over 59% did not.

After Taiwan’s security force came to arrest Chen Shui-bian, he made one last attempt to avoid jail by complaining that he was injured by the rough handling police. He was promptly taken to the hospital where the doctors diagnosed a slight muscle strain due to over exertion of his shoulders. He strained his shoulders trying to show his handcuffs to the media.

Since Chen became inmate #2630, he began a hunger strike, protesting that he had become a political prisoner of the KMT. Shih Ming-teh, former chairman of DPP and former political prisoner under KMT, dismissed Chen’s antics saying that his refusal to eat will not transform Chen from a suspect in corruption and money laundering into a political prisoner.

History will only have to wait for the actual trial when the case against Chen is presented in court to examine the full extent of Chen’s offense. If convicted, he could spend the next 10 to 30 years of his life in prison. If not, Chen will become the martyr of his dream.

The importance of Ma’s meeting with the Beijing official will take longer to assess. If the historic meeting and four agreements become the foundation of ever closer integration across the straits, the memory of first meeting will fade and be replaced by a succession of higher profile summits and official proclamations.
An edited version appeared on November 17, 2008 in New America Media.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Exploring Jordan and Syria

Sometimes we go on vacation to enjoy nature’s lush scenery, other times to meet the local people and experience their cultures. A visit to the Biblical lands of Jordan and Syria, which we did recently, is to be reminded of the vital importance of water in shaping civilizations.

As we looked over the once mighty River Jordan, now reduced to a modest stream a few meters wide, the crucial role of water in the making and breaking of civilizations really came home to me. Control of access to vast amounts of water was a necessary condition to the creation of great empires such as Petra in Jordan and Palmyra in Syria. Trade was the other necessary condition that assured their greatness. So long as overland caravans needed to pause and replenish, Petra and Palmyra extracted their pound of flesh and accumulated great wealth.

From wealth came power and the luxury to pursue finer things in life such as erecting elaborate temples and memorials to celebrate their accomplishments and to remind future generations of the greatness that once stood. The building material of choice from antiquity until fairly recent times was stone. Stone provided an aura of permanence like nothing else could. In the case of Palmyra, the stone structures and colonnades remained pretty much intact and partially crafted stone blocks could still be seen in the nearby quarry where they laid for well over a thousand years. Being an oasis, Palmyra ruins were free from predations of successive generations harvesting blocks from preexisting edifices rather than quarrying from scratch.

Petra had an even greater staying power since their tombs were carved right into the rocks of the hillside that ringed the town. Today, not much is left that would show how the Nabateans lived in Petra—hardly anything remains of their living quarters--but plenty of tombs showed how they died. A thrill not to be missed is to take the donkey ride up to the highest point to the massive tomb known as the Monastery. The ride would cut the two hour trek by at least half. The ride up was merely hard on one’s bottom. The ride back down was an exercise in terror as the donkey seemed to go out of its way to find the biggest drop for prancing down while the rider held on for dear life. Dismounting after the ride despite wobbly legs felt wonderful for having survived the experience.

Without water, there would be no Fertile Crescent, widely attributed to be one of the birthplaces of civilization. While much of the Crescent is in Iraq, northern Syria is also part of the Crescent thanks to the Euphrates River. Only a small part of one horn of the Crescent makes it down to Jordan which is why Jordan is 70% desert. But all is not well in this Semitic paradise. It is drying up. Even Syria, though much greener than Jordan and obviously more agriculturally bountiful, is now 58% desert.

The towering waterwheels, several stories high, situated near Hama once rotated tirelessly, driven by the fast flowing Orontes River to convey river water upwards and spilling onto a network of Roman aqueducts. When we drove by to see them, the few surviving waterwheels sat motionless in stagnant pools of water waiting for decay to administer the ultimate coup de grace. I could not think of a more appropriate symbol of the dilemma that our over populated world is facing today than these forlorn waterwheels resting on dry river beds. In this part of the world, the Dead Sea is getting saltier; the rivers are dwindling into creeks and dry beds and people having to reach ever deeper to find ground water. Sooner or later, other parts of the world will face the same hurdle.

Special thanks and acknowledgement to:
Ms. Rita Zawaideh, president of Caravan-Serai Tours, who made this trip possible.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

President elect Obama

Barack Obama is not only intelligent but has consistently shown a willingness to listen to diverse range of views. If he stays true to rejecting unilateralism, America stands a good chance to right itself and rejoin the world community. Certainly the rest of the world is rejoicing in the election of a man of color.

America has always claimed to be a fair and egalitarian society. The election of Obama is a huge affirmation that the claim just might be true.