Friday, July 18, 2003

The Buck Stops Where?

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Been in the netherworld known as migraine for the last day or two-- and taking a quick break from work since I'm feeling a bit tired and disconnected. Yes-- I know, even more spaced than usual :-)

I've been meaning to post this for a while:

As many of you know, my mother is a first grade teacher. See "The Wonder Readers" link in the Beyond the Pale section of my blog. To reward the student who has worked the hardest and been the best behaved, Sparky (a stuffed dalmatian in fireman regalia) whispers into my mother's ear and tells her who he wants to go home with for the week. That child then brings Sparky back, tells the class what s/he did with Sparky and writes about it in their daily journal. Here's a wonderful story my mother sent me that I just had to post:

Last Wednesday Sparky couldn’t decide who to choose, until his glance fell on Edon, the sweetest, smallest, squeakiest, specialest child in the class. When Edon heard his name, he almost exploded to his feet with an enormous grin on his tiny face. After Sparky had made his choice, we remembered that Edon would be absent the next day for Yom Kippur, so I asked Edon to teach Sparky about how his family celebrates that holiday, and then to tell us about it on Friday.

When Edon returned, his brother brought him to the classroom door before class, and told me, “Sparky got something.” Edon pulled Sparky out of his bag, but instead of his fire hat, he was wearing a yarmulke!!! On Sparky, it covered his whole head and came down over his eyebrows, but still, it looked quite authentic. Edon and his brother were very proud.

When the class came in, they immediately noticed, and shrieked, “Sparky has a new hat! Sparky has a new hat!” When Edon told the class about Sparky’s adventures, he told about buckling Sparky in the seatbelt to go to Temple (they didn’t take him in) and that the ‘hat’ is called a “kipa” and is worn only by men or boys and is worn when praying. Then Edon told us that Sparky had learned a new word in Hebrew: “Shalom.” I asked him what it meant and he said, “Well… it means ‘hi.’” The children were totally fascinated and easily related to the unfamiliar religion. What an opportunity!

For what it's worth, this is just one of millions of examples of how public education is working despite the strident chorus claiming otherwise.

Sunday, July 13, 2003

Happy Hamster! And twins to boot! :-)

You are a Siberian Dwarf Hamster!

What Breed of Hamster Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla
And now for something completely different: A serious post (!).

W Is His Own Worst Enemy

Two of Bush's main foreign policy drives turn out to be (surprise!) directly incompatible.

Whatever your feeling about the 'coalition of the willing,' it seemed this spring that W was bent on rewarding those countries who pleased him and vice versa, if only in the most infantile ways. A free trade treaty with Chile (who spoke out about the US' position on Iraq) was delayed for months because of supposed difficulty in translating it from Spanish, for example. But even the countries that are supposedly on the US' 'good list' are finding out that W is less than serious about their relationship even without the help of Haliburton.

Enter the International Criminal Court. The US has for years been working with the international community to set this kind of thing up, being one of the main negotiators for the Rome Statute (the ICC's founding agreement), responsible for its underpinnings being almost identical to the US Bill of Rights, and signed by President Clinton in 2000. W changed all this in going back on the US signature of the Rome Statute. His ongoing tantrum against the ICC is driving a dagger into the back of the US' supposed 'coalition of the willing' and other 'friends' by yanking military assistance from nearly all parties to the ICC (like the majority of the states coming in to NATO; Colombia, our 'partner' in the drug war; regional powers like South Africa, etc.). There are only a few 'waivers' for huge countries like the UK and Germany.

Before the ICC, there was no established way to legally hold individuals accountable for causing genocide, war crimes, or crimes against humanity (which have all been specifically defined and agreed upon by all countries in international law). The International Court of Justice (an original part of the United Nations) is set up only to hear cases between national governments (border disputes, problems with the control of international resources, etc.) The only way the world could deal with individual criminals like the Nazis, Slobodan Milosevic, and Rwandan genocidaires was to create entire court structures from scratch, supremely expensive, logistically nightmarish, and only really possible after a massive tragedy (political will, etc).

When the Allies set up the Nuremburg tribunal, they assumed that the proceedings would only need to be temporary and limited to crimes committed in relation to the war since the world would surely not allow anything like that to happen again. Oops. In only a few special cases, there was enough political momentum to reinvent the wheel (an entire legal system) only after a huge conflagration and without any established material or financial support. This is basically what happened after the Yugoslav and Rwandan genocides, whose tribunals have come under strong criticism, largely because of the restrictions I just mentioned.

Some conservatives see the court as a threat to truth, justice and the American way but others just think it will sap their precious bodily fluids. In the last Congress, a provision was tacked on to one of the omnibus foreign relations bills that took a very critical view of the court. Called The American Servicemembers Protection Act (ASPA) by its supporters and The Hague Invasion Act by its detractors, the amendment (now law) refuses to recognize the ICC (which has entered into force with well over the 60 necessary countries ratifying it), takes punitive action against member countries. It also authorizes the president to prevent, by force if necessary ("all means necessary and appropriate"), the investigation of any American, or person the government takes an interest in ("covered allied persons"), by the International Criminal Court. Picture W taking "all means necessary" in the middle of The Hague (where the court is based) in the Netherlands (which is incidentally a member of the 'coalition of the willing').

Any individual even gathering information for the ICC in the United States is subject to arrest. Nobody can use US funds to speak with the court or meet with other countries to address the ICC. According to provisions in this "Hague Invasion Act," the US can't even share information with any other government or body that might conceivably, in any way and at any time, be made available to the court.

Floor debate on the issue included a detailed and sarcastic description of how US forces might carry out this "Hague Invasion Act" should a 'US or allied person' create enough evidence of their involvement in premeditated genocide, war crimes, and/or crimes against humanity to convince a three-judge panel (with each judge from a different region) first that there's a compelling case and second that the US is unwilling or unable to mount a good faith investigation into that evidence. The court can only act on those three crimes, on crimes that occur after its formal establishment on July 1, 2002 (that means that Kissinger is safe folks), and after all good faith domestic legal options have been exhausted.

Not only has W done his best to ruin an important means of bringing future individuals like Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden et al to justice, his misplaced hysteria condemns a body that has been tailor made by US negotiators to be both as similar to the US justice system and as narrowly defined as possible.

But even as the current US administration is lunging at shadows, it is doing real damage to the coalition and its standing in the world that they say they want to protect. Countries thinking they could stand with the US against terrorism and other horrendous crimes that seemed ever more likely after September 11th now find the basis of their preparedness kicked out from under them and bilateral relations even worse than before. All this because they agreed that there needed to be a way to address three equally terrible crimes while still maintaining the rule of law. Even countries that haven't even touched the Rome Statute are getting shoved around. Washington is leaning hard on any country it can (including Micronesia, Nepal and Bolivia) to force them to sign bilateral Article 98 agreements (a US-negotiated back door to the Rome Statute) and force the country to ignore the Rome Statute when the US is involved. So much for compassionate conservatism.

So let's see. W is yanking from ICC countries in ASPA the very assistance that he is counting on in the 'coalition of the willing.' All the other countries in the ICC are getting kicked in the teeth and left with the equivalent of a third-grader-drawn happy face on notebook paper. Countries that don't fall under ASPA are treated even worse than usual.

Wow, Bush and company is talented! They've got themselves in a no-win situation pretty much singlehandedly.

It's a pity Jean de Brunhoff couldn't talk directly to Bush about the world. "This is not a toy, Mr. Elephant."