Radio Freethinker

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Posts Tagged ‘USA’

RFT Ep 257 – Sex Sells Redux Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on June 24, 2014

Download the episode here! 

<NOTE: Due to technical issues, CiTR's pod-casting server is down. The show can still be enjoyed via the link above...sorry for the inconvenience>


This Week Whine – The Iraq Dilemma and Globalized Ethics


This past couple of weeks has brought to light the very precarious nature of the idea of an Iraqi nation…and it does not look good. We provide a quick historical context for the civil war in all but name that has resurfaced in Iraq. We also look at the UN’s Responsibility to Protect…a high point for humanity where we no longer limit people to be citizens of a nation but citizens of the world with rights the global community is charged to protect. Alas, we discuss how Iraq shows the utter failure of the UN, NATO, The US and the global community in general to actualize these rights…to ACTUALLY protect people from military violence.


The New Prostitution Bill…oy vey


In the wake of the Supreme Court striking down Canada’s prostitution law, the Harper government has presented to parliament a replaced based on the so called “Nordic Model”.

We review the reason the previous law was struck down and how this new law makes matters worse for sex workers. We deconstruct Justice Minister Peter McKay’s regressive, paternalistic sexist misogynistic law and the real reasons Harper is introducing a law he knows will be struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Further Reading:

The Case to Legalize Brothels


In the previous section, I asserted that prostitution and more specifically brothels were not innately harmful…well, to be a good skeptic…we take a moment to review the evidence out there and see if the proposition – legalizing brothels makes sex work and sex workers safer is justified or just dogmatic.

Further Reading:

How Class Works


Based on a presentation given by Richard Wolff, an economist who has studied class issues for more than 40 years.

Wolff explains what class is all about and applies that understanding to the foreclosure crisis of 2007–2011. He argues that class concerns the “way our society splits up the output [and] leaves those who get the profits in the position of deciding and figuring out what to do with them… We all live with the results of what a really tiny minority in our society decides to do with the profits everybody produces.” As you watch and listen, consider what we know from research about disease and illness patterns among groups with lower income, more stress, and less control of their lives. Consider how investment decisions in neighborhoods, over transportation, school facilities, parks, location of grocery stores, quality of affordable housing, etc. influenced by powerful interests, affect the quality of life for large segments of the population.


This was produced by the National Association of County and City Public Health Officials (NACCHO) as a part of their Roots of Health Inequality Project. The project is a web-based course for the public health workforce and “How Class Works” is one section of the course.

Further Reading:



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RFT Ep 223 – Atheist Identity Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on September 4, 2013


This week an extended interview with Randolph Richardson from the Atheist Frontier.

Download the episode here! 

Clay Bennett editorial cartoon

Don’s Rant about Syria, Chemical weapons, crimes against humanity, The UN’s Responsibility to Protect, Russia intransigence, and how the US’s history has come to haunt the world.


We also have an intensive discussion about is there an atheist identity, what does that mean and should we embrace it or run for the hills. Also, are Atheist moral and how does an Atheist parent frame teaching ethics to their children?


Next week we plan to have Jason Fernando from The Carl Sagan Association for the Communication of Science.

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Korean War Redux

Posted by Don McLenaghen on April 5, 2013


Unless you have been hiding in a bomb shelter or perhaps were visiting another planet, you probably have heard that it appears that North Korea and South Korea are at a state of war…again!

To be fair, they have been at war ever since North Korea attempted a ‘manual’ unification of the Korean Peninsula in 1950.


“Let’s drive the US imperialists out and reunite the fatherland!”
North Korean propaganda poster

I say war but definitions differ depending on who you are. The North Koreans see it as ‘liberating’ their own people/territory from capitalist imperialism. China and Russia think it an ‘internal dispute’. The USA sees it as the prelude to Vietnam (and then gets very sad and introspective). And then there are the South Koreans who see it as…well a war.

The rest of the world though sees it as something unique. It’s a police action. North Korea was charged with a “breach of the peace” by the UN and member nations were asked to help restore the peace…with of course… their guns.

Security-Council-reformIt is unique in that it is one of the few times the Security Council has authorized what most of us would call a war, especially when the belligerent is/was a strong ally of the USSR which has a veto on the Security Council. The only other comparable example I could find was the 1990 ‘police action’ after the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq.

This happened because the USSR was boycotting the Council at the time in protest of Taiwan being given the ‘China’ seat on the Council. So the USA managed to get the Council to pass Resolution 82…and ensured that the USSR would be present at every Council vote thereafter.

The Korean conflict, as those who watched the classic show MASH are familiar… had the North reduce the South to a few hundred square KM, then the UN forces pushed back to the Chinese border only to be repelled well south of the 48th parallel to end up with a stable front about at the 48th parallel.


Now, most of us think that the war is old news…I mean, didn’t it end in 1954? Well, yes and no.

What happened in 1953 was an armistice…which is NOT a peace treaty but an agreement on the cessation of hostilities. The idea of course being that the parties would then sit down and come up with a permanent solution to their problems and then sign a for-real peace treaty.

It’s been 60 plus years and there is still no peace treaty, so North Korean and South Korea are still technically at war. I say technically but more than that and this leads to a lot of the current headlines in the news today.

The border between the two nations is an armed no-man’s land 4 miles wide with each side having thousands of troops ready to resume battle.

DMZ looking SouthIronically enough, the KDMZ or Korean Demilitarized Zone has created one of the most important ‘wild life’ preserves because no one is allowed to live in the zone (there are two minor exceptions…but mostly no-man’s land). So, endangered creatures like the Korean Leopard have found safe refuge on the world oldest war front.

Okay, so besides the presence of military forces, the USA has regularly held joint military exercises with the South Korean military.

From the South’s point of view, this is to ensure that the North will never catch the South flat-footed like it did in 1950.

Conversely, the North has seen the exercise as the South’s preparation for an attack on the North.


“Do not forget the US imperialist wolves!”
North Korean Anti-US propaganda poster

The North has always seen itself as the David of David and Goliath fame. Before the Vietnamese, the North Koreans stood up to the US and its UN allies and, in its eyes, won. And it only did this by being aggressive and showing the world it will not be pushed around.

AXISThere was a rocky warming of relationships between North and South during the 90’s but when in 2002, GW Bush included North Korea in its “Axis of Evil” the recent downward spiral began.

With the collapse of the USSR and the ever closer relationship between the US and China, North Korea figured it was time to renew serious efforts to develop the ultimate deterrent to the American provocations – the bomb!!

The US has organized a global effort to impose sanctions on North Korea to stop it developing nuclear weapons…an effort we know failed.

In the last few years, and especially with the ascension of Kim Il-Un, there has been a ratcheting up of tensions between the North and South.

It is a common belief that North Korea is a backwards, poor, isolated nation ruled by a cadre of fanatical nut-bags.


Well, they maybe many things but they are not crazy.

North Korea has managed to remain staunchly independent by a very flexible, pragmatic and at times Machiavellian diplomatic policy. The current leadership of Kim Jung Un has managed to consolidate power internally while keeping US and Chinese imperialist at bay.

The USA has tried to cut North Korea off but it has not isolated the nation.

North Korea has a large disparage between the urban and rural people and the farmers still experience starvation…but rarely.

South Korea bans trade with NorthThat said, it has a higher GDP than Nicaragua, Niger, Bahamas, Kenya, Cambodia…don’t get me wrong, compared to Canada or even South Korea, their economy is nothing but considering the international sanctions, one must be impressed with how well it is doing

And it is not China that is propping it up. The constant refrain that North Korea is isolated and must ‘lock in’ its people ignored the fact that thousands travel to China and Mongolia to work in factories. Others work in Russia’s lumber industry. Kuwait hires them for major construction projects. The North Koreans are building the visitor pavilion at Amkor Watt in Cambodia.

Part of that project includes 3D interactive attractions which leads me to mention one of the areas North Korea has gained a favourable reputation is in computer programming  Pyongyang is the center of an information technology sector that is an outsourcing destination for other countries, even developing software and apps for the iPhone.

They are still famous for their animation…just check out the Simpsons for proof.

167856051It’s also important that from day one, North Korea believed in the philosophy of self-reliance…that it should be able to supply all of its own needs. This is one of the reasons that when natural disasters hit the North, there is such great suffering.

The flip side of this coin is when ‘international sanctions’ are applied, their effect on the North is limited at best. It literally doesn’t need anyone’s business. Unlike China, Canada or the USA.

Of course some assume that China could just snap its fingers and North Korea…apparently dependent, as we just said this is not completely true…one snap and North Korea would act nice.

Well, again North Korea has been playing this game a long time and knows how to play one side against the other and work on the insecurities of countries like China who only want stable borders with peaceful neighbours. North Korea has been using the “loud bark” and hinted bit for generations to punch FAR FAR above its weight.

In its eyes, it has defeated a super power…the US…cow-towed another…China…and feels very much in a corner where only more the same will ensure its independence and prosperity…

Last word, should we be afraid of North Korea?

As Canadians, no. Although they brag they have rockets that could hit the lower 48 States, evidence shows the technology they have could barely reach the USA (and accidentally hit Canada)…and that tech would be limited in numbers and likely easily shot down.

As a Korean…not that I am but let’s pretend…or even Japanese; well then I would say yes, be afraid. I don’t think Pyongyang WANTS a war, but when you play chicken, sometimes you get hit.

north-korea-parade-missile-660North Korea has nuclear weapons that could hit Seoul maybe even parts of Japan. North Korea has a military of over a million and reserves that number above 8 million. If it wanted to smother South Korea, it has the manpower.

South Korea has a large army itself and much more advanced weapons. Although outnumbered, the North Korean army may turn out to be the paper tiger Saddam Hassan army proved to be.

The nightmare scenario is that North Korea will launch a surprise…with US surveillance tech, I am unsure HOW they could, but let’s again pretend. Like in 1950, they swamp the South Koreans but this time there is no Inchon and the whole country falls.

The North installs a new puppet government in the South that either surrenders or calls for reunification.

spreadthin_500Of course the rest of the world will condemn the action but there will be no UN Security Council resolution. The US will not be able to ‘come to the rescue’ if too much of the South is lost, it is already involved in three war fronts, not to mention its Global ‘war on terror’.

China will welcome the increased stability a unified Korea would offer. And depending on how North Korea deals with the South…will it be like Israel and bleed it into submission or like China and Hong Kong where given enough rope to subdue itself…only time will tell.


Note: I was looking at one of the photos of North Korean border guards and I noticed he was filming the photographer…well, you would think film…that cellulite they used in the old days but what passes as high-tech in the backwards north…well, he was using a current model Sony camcorder.

120409030549-north-korea-cameraman-map-horizontal-gallery e9f1111220051615-north-korea-dmz-story-top
       We think their
tech in 1950’s
      But the reality is
they have modern tech

Note: In late 2009 North Korea revalued its currency, effectively confiscating all privately held money above the equivalent of US$35 per person. The revaluation effectively wiped out the savings of many North Koreans. Days after the revaluation the Won dropped 96% against the United States Dollar. Pak Nam-gi, the Director of the Planning and Finance Department of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party, was blamed for the disaster and later executed in 2010. And what did the US do when its financial leaders did something like this? Nothing! No, they gave them bonuses….

Note: It’s important to note that the US use of the B-52 and the B-2 Stealth bomber signals a significant ‘raising of the stakes’. North Korea has stated that “Nuclear weapons were the life’s blood of the nation” and threatened to use them in “self-defense”. This is the first time that the US and South Korea has threatened ‘right back’ and threatened to use their bombers to drop nuclear bombs on North Korea.

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Radio Freethinker Episode 183 – Islamic Bomb Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on September 25, 2012

This week:

– Prayed to death,
– Religious intolerance on the rise,
– Iran and the Bomb
, and
– The Black Death

Download the episode here!

Prayed to death

Not funny but true!

Yet another couple who killed their child with prayer gets a slap on the wrist. We discuss the Oregon parents who received 5 yrs probation for allowing their child to suffer an extremely painful death from appendicitis because they believed prayer was a better healer than REAL medicine.

Find out more:

Religious intolerance on the rise

We have talked the new report from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Affairs which shows greater intolerance as religion is used as a means of authoritarian control in nations across the world. The world is become a much more repressive place to live and religion is the shackles of its enforcement.

Find out more:

Iran and the Bomb

There has been much talk about the looming threat of the Islamic Bomb. We cast our skeptical eye on the reality of Iran developing nuclear weapons. And for the record, we in NO way support nor endorse any nation attempting or achieving nuclear weapons status, just in case it seemed unclear in the show.

Find out more:

The Black Death

Reports have flooded the internet about the ‘discovery’ of the body of Richard the III in a parking lot in England…well, under the parking lot…and the only evidence its Richard is curved spine body badly beaten to death. We talk about how they plan to ‘firm up’ the identification and the ulterior motives of some to promote this ‘discovery’.

Find out more:

Skeptical Highlights:

Beneath the Sands of Egypt

Archaeologist and Egyptologist Donald P. Ryan will share some of the discoveries from the Pacific Lutheran University Valley of the Kings Project. The Project has excavated several of the small, little-known, undecorated tombs in the Valley, some of which have revealed fascinating surprises and controversial mummies (Hatshepsut? Relatives of Tut? A mass grave?).

When: 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM, Thursday, September 27, 2012
Where: Alliance for Arts & Culture – 938 Howe St, Vancouver
Cost: FREE

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Radio Freethinker Episode 179 – Bad Science Watch Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on August 21, 2012


This week:

– What is political Asylum

– Egg-travagant myth about cake mix

– The on-again off-again sexual affair between Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals

– Interview with Bad Science Watch executive director Jamie Williams

Download the episode here!

What is political asylum

This week, there has been a lot of discussion and political turmoil over the granting of political asylum to Julian Assange by Ecuador and the possibility of the UK storming the Ecuadorian embassy to seize. Don decided that it might be a good opportunity to ask what is political asylum, is it real or convention? What is the status of embassies and are they real ‘foreign soil in a host nation’?

Find out more:

Egg-stravagant cake mix myth

Ethan hates the story about adding an egg to cake mix was done to alleviate the guilt of homemakers. Is it a myth or just evil marketing?

Find out more:

The on-again off-again sexual affair between Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals

We have in the past reported about the possible genetic evidence that our ancestor and neanderthals were more than just neighbors…friends…you know…they were having sex! Well, in a new paper questions that assumption and put forward the case that the shared DNA comes from a common ancestor. Don is not amused!

Find out more:

Interview with Bad Science Watch executive director Jamie Williams

We have a virtual interview with Jamie Williams and ask what is the mission of Bad Science Watch and it current programs.

Find out more:

Skeptical Highlights:

Stop the war on whistle-blowers : Julian Assange

CFI Freethinker’s Book Club

Science, Sense and Nonsense: 61 nourishing, healthy, bulk-free commentaries on the chemistry that affects us all,’ by Joe Schwarcz, PhD.  Saturday, September 8th 2012 at 1:00 pm at The Grind & Gallery Coffee Bar, on Main Street, Vancouver BC

Skeptics in the Pub – Downtown

Every month, skeptics gather around the watering hole for camaraderie, stimulating discussion and to enjoy a pint or two. The next event is next Tuesday at 7:30 ish, in the back room at the Rail Way Club second floor at the corner of Dunsmuir and Seymour.

Skeptics in the Pub – Richmond

Every month, skeptics gather around the watering hole for camaraderie, stimulating discussion and to enjoy a pint or two. The next event is next Thursday at 7:30 ish, in the back room at the Legends Pub, 6511 Buswell Street, Richmond BC.

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Canada’s Nuclear Highway

Posted by Don McLenaghen on December 30, 2011

Recently there has been much buzz in the media about the ‘revelation’ that Canada is sending its nuclear waste to the USA and NOT informing the public about the when-&-where of it all. Now, as most know by now I am no fan of the current  Harper government. One of my biggest issues with government (any government) is its secrecy and inability to enforce basic regulations on industry. You would think then I would have a problem with this news; well surprisingly I don’t really. Why? Let me explain.

Currently we do nothing (but store) the ‘waste’. Our storage, like most of the plants in the world is ‘temporary’; temporary storage…a cooling off period of about a decade (i.e. the point where when exposed to air it would not spontaneously combust), then placed in various forms of concrete like boxes where it awaits a final home. Currently there is no real long term storage plans for our waste. In fact one of the larger expenses of a power plant is to maintain these storage facilities indefinitely with their costs to protect the environment, maintaining infrastructure and providing anti-terrorist security.

We could develop reactors that use this material in breeder reactors which would effectively reduce the waste to nothing (yes, I mean nothing relatively still there will be waste). This is done in France, Japan, Russia and the US. It is also done in India and Pakistan but largely to produce nuclear weapons not to reduce nuclear waste; so this is not a perfect solution globally but would work here. However, thanks to Fukushima, it is unlikely a nuclear power plant, breeder or otherwise, will be built in Canada this century.

As implied above, our waste could be used to make nuclear weapons via reprocessing. Thus, some could argue we are helping the US make nuclear bombs…of course this is a straw man of sorts because the USA has more nuclear waste of its own creation that it needs not more from us. They want our waste for fears that “terrorist” will attack Chalk River and carry off a kilo or so for a dirty bomb or worse.

Now, it does make sense from a Canadian perspective to let the Americans worry about what to do with all that waste. They DID (although currently don’t) have a plan to store all their waste at Yucca Mountain. In a cynical sense, it is better they spend their money trying to store it than we spend ours.

Of course things are never simple. As I mentioned the US does not currently have a plan for long term storage…well at least a place. We in Canada do have a plan; the Nuclear Waste Management Organization has a plan called Adaptive Phased Management to deal with our waste long term. However (from my research) our plan lacks a home as well.

Lastly, the secrecy around the transportation of the waste does warrant some comment. We live in a democracy where citizens are expected to be informed…especially about hazards that can have a life-threating impact on their life – I think this qualifies. That said, this is no ordinary risk like hazardous chemicals. There is the added risk of an ‘on purpose’ accident.  I don’t think “terrorism” is a credible threat at storage facilities; they seem to have adequate security features (arguable I agree, but so far so good).  I don’t think we needed to move it for fears of “al Qaeda” attacks regardless of how much the Americans lie awake at night worrying about that.

However, an attack en-route (more likely from environmentalist than ‘terrorist’) is very likely. It has happened in France and Germany (nothing worse than delays but could have been worse). So keeping the shipments a secret does not seem unreasonable in spite of the fact it does seem ‘undemocratic’ and more of ‘government keeping secrets from the public’. I do think that the details should be kept under wraps. We already knew (and should have known) beforehand the shipments would be made because they were part of a publicly available ‘trade’ agreement between the US and Canada. Our government should also inform us afterword about the shipment with a complete report about potential risks and the actual ‘outcome’ (i.e. were there any radioactive leaks) of the transportation.


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Libya, the UN and what we have lost…

Posted by Don McLenaghen on October 24, 2011

I think it’s time.

He’s dead and in a tangential kind of way we, those of us on the show, asked for it to happen.

There are many adjectives that have been applied to Moammar Kaddafi…revolutionary, dictator, Pan-African federalist, opportunist, Arab nationalist, mad man, anti-American freedom fighter, killer of his own people…whatever label you may apply it seems true that he was unique, anti-colonial and absolute ruler of Libya. I think it’s not a stretch that at least for Libya itself, his death is believed to be a good thing. What follows may be better or worse…time will well. Egypt seems to show that removing the dictator does not guarantee a ‘western-style free democratic society’ (whatever that may mean). Recent hints from the elections in Tunisia and the Libyan leaders point to a more theocratic government based on sharia law with blasphemy laws, curtailed freedom for women and a stricter adherence to religious dogma (maybe as extreme as the ‘based on biblical law’ of the current GOP/Tea Party).

Although I do care what happens now, the focus of this blog is my personal sense of responsibility (as minor and ethereal as it may be) for what happened…what we as “the west” did at first for and then to Libya. As our loyal listeners may remember we did a segment a number of months ago about the intervention of the UN (via the NATO). In that segment we attempted to dissect the issue of intervention.


At the heart of the debate was, as we saw it – innocent citizens being ‘murdered’ by their own government. These ‘innocents’ were the spontaneous uprising hoping to liberate themselves from a ‘hated dictator’. The local flowering of the Arab spring that had seen the removal a despised dictator in Tunisia and Egypt…who were in no small way encouraged by those of us in the free nations hoping for the same in Libya. Unlike Tunisia or Egypt and more like Syria; Libyans were not able to achieve the overthrow in a (relatively) peaceful way.

Some (maybe most in Canada?) didn’t care (it’s their problem not mine), a few thought the west (and especially the USA) was spread too thin as it was with Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, and Africa. There were some who thought we (the west, NATO, the USA…) should invade with troops and put in a ‘better’ (for the West) regime.  Most people (I would like to think) thought that intervention, for humanitarian reasons, was a valid option.

The humanitarian argument was that life should be protected…that just because one is a member of a state, that the state does not have a right to kill its own citizens…in fact if a state kills its own citizens it loses its legitimacy.

That said, it is one thing to say that an illegitimate government should be deposed by its people (as it has happened in Tunisia and apparently in Egypt) and an entirely different (?) thing to have external powers (i.e. NATO, UN, USA) to commit regime change.

As stated, the majority (?) of those in favor of humanitarian intervention do not support (external) regime change.

Racism against black Africans in Libya. Guest workers equated to 'Kaddafi Mercenaries'

In spite of the moral argument a number thought  it still wrong to intervene, not because the cause was just but that once the ‘west’ was involved, our ‘ennobled’ leaders could not resist the temptation to use the military power given them to go beyond humanitarian support and use it to remove a thorn (justifiable or not) in ‘the wests’ side; that once the UN authorized military intervention, the US and Europe (and Canada) would go beyond humanitarian support and act as a proxy air force for the ‘rebels’. Implicit in this is that in supporting the rebels, UN forces (via NATO) would kill numerous ‘innocent’ people in their drive to remove Kaddafi.  As we have seen, although NATO would claim it bombed discriminately, many innocent civilians died from bombing, ‘rebel’ attacks and revenge killing (by the rebels the NATO eventually explicitly supported).

The fear went beyond just the loss of innocent life or even the hypocrisy of the ‘west’. For those who believed in humanitarian intervention but feared regime change, the biggest danger was that the UN was the author of the intervention. That if ‘humanitarian intervention’ was seen to be secret code for ‘regime change’; any attempt by the UN to ACTUALLY promote human rights…to protect the innocent…to take meaningful and concrete actions for ‘good’ would be fatally harmed by this action. That it was for the greater good that we let Kaddafi do what he would to ensure that the UN only flex its muscle for genuine (?) humanitarian causes.

Well, as I said it’s done…regime change done…revolution complete…the chickens will soon come home to roost.

We did not save lives – arguably…did we promote human rights – no…did we remain above petty politics for the sake of grander moral principles – NO! NATO (via the UN) saw an opportunity to remove a thorn and Libya is (perhaps) free of a dictator.

The cost?

The UN…

One thing that is constantly, and justly, raised is why Libya and not Syria (or Bahrain)? IF the UN were to be the neutral protector of BASIC human rights, it should have done something not only in Libya but also in Syria. Libya was easy…it did not have a ‘military’ institution (something seen as a criticism in Libya and a hindrance in Egypt).

Who stands to gain.

Kaddafi was not reliable…there was a moment of opportunity for regime change to a more malleable leader. Keep an eye open in the coming months for talk about ‘rebuilding Libyan infrastructure’…code for western takeover of Libyan oil. Kaddafi was a bastard but he did nationalize most of the petroleum industry and use that money for (what HE saw as) Libyan interests.

Syrians die because they have a ‘real’ air force…Syria is politically ‘complex’…Syrian lives are not as important as Libyans…Kaddafi was more embarrassing to the west than Assade…Assade had support from Iran, Kaddafi only African nations…Bahrain has the base for the US Navy’s 6th Fleet…ultimately, the cost to profit ratio was not worth it…Bahrain’s Spring…Syrian’s Spring…postponed because it was not easy!

Kaddafi is dead. The dead is done. I am unsure if I would still support UN intervention in Libya. If my concern was simply Libya I think I would not hesitate with my support for intervention. IF my concern was the UN…human rights…the world…I am not sure I could remain as confident.

Kaddafi is dead and with him any chance the UN will ‘forcefully’ intervene JUST BECAUSE of human rights…human suffering is involved…just because it’s the moral and right thing to do. The UN is a great idea, sadly it doesn’t seem to work as well in practice.

I mourn today, not for Kaddafi but for humanity as a whole.

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Missed Movement of Opportunity

Posted by Don McLenaghen on May 25, 2011

Recently there has been an icy wind between Israel and the USA over comments made by President Obama. In a speech made on May 19th and a position he has reiterated several times since, Obama stated that the time was now for Israel and Palestine to come together and settle their differences, that at least they should be able to settle what will constitute the borders of the two states. Let’s hear what Obama said in his “Moment of Opportunity” speech.

The conflict between Israelis and Arabs has cast a shadow over the region…this conflict has come with a larger cost to the Middle East, as it impedes partnerships that could bring greater security and prosperity and empowerment to ordinary people.

For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure.

As for Israel, the status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace. The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation.

Now, ultimately, it is up to the Israelis and Palestinians to take action. No peace can be imposed upon them. But endless delay won’t make the problem go away. A lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples.

So while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, a secure Israel.

We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state. As for security, every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself.[1]

To get a tone of how this was received let’s hear a clip of Israeli President Netanyahu respond to one point in the speech.

So it’s not going to happen.  Everybody knows it’s not going to happen.  And I think it’s time to tell the Palestinians forthrightly it’s not going to happen.[2]

When I first heard this quote I was taking it out of context and only wanted to use it to show the tone of the reception of Obama’s comments. However, in a speech to a joint sitting of congress, Netanyahu made it clear that peace would be largely dictated by Israel and that the Palestinians should be thankful for that. In the speech he stated:

We must also find a way to forge a lasting peace with the Palestinians. I publicly committed to a solution of two states for two peoples — a Palestinian state alongside a Jewish state.

We’ll be required to give up parts of the ancestral Jewish homeland. And you have to understand this: In Judea and Samaria[3], the Jewish people are not foreign occupiers.

We’re not the British in India[4]. We’re not the Belgians in the Congo. This is the land of our forefathers, the land of Israel — and boy am I reading a lot of distortions of history lately — no distortion of history could deny the 4,000-year-old bond between the Jewish people and the Jewish land.[5]

The Palestinians share this small land with us. We seek a peace in which they’ll be neither Israel’s subjects nor its citizens. They should enjoy a national life of dignity as a free, viable and independent people living in their own state.

The Palestinians have been unwilling to accept a Palestinian state if it meant accepting a Jewish state alongside it. They continue to educate their children to hate[6]. They continue to name public squares after terrorists. And worst of all, they continue to perpetuate the fantasy that Israel will one day be flooded by the descendants of Palestinian refugees.


I stood before my people and I said, “I will accept a Palestinian state.” It’s time for President Abbas to stand before his people and say, “I will accept a Jewish state.”[7]


The status of the settlements will be decided only in negotiations, but we must also be honest. So I’m saying today something that should be said publicly by all those who are serious about peace. In any real peace agreement, in any peace agreement that ends the conflict, some settlements will end up beyond Israel’s borders. Now the precise delineation of those borders must be negotiated. We’ll be generous about the size of the future Palestinian state[8].

Israel will be generous on the size of a Palestinian state but will be very firm on where we put the border with it. This is an important principle, shouldn’t be lost.

Jerusalem must never again be divided. Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel.

It’s therefore vital — absolutely vital — that a Palestinian state be fully demilitarized, and it’s vital — absolutely vital — that Israel maintain a long-term military presence along the Jordan River.  

The Palestinian attempt to impose a settlement through the United Nations will not bring peace.

Peace cannot be imposed. It must be negotiated.[9]

What are the issues Obama is raising that has created such controversy?

The two state solution.  First there are radicals, more now I think in Israel than in the Palestinian one, which opposes this and believe in a ‘one state’ solution[10]. Some do not believe Israel has no legitimacy of existence, however due to the actual existence and power of Israel this group are currently seen as radical extremist. On the other side, there are groups who believe in ‘greater Zion’, holding that Israel should not only annex (and of course ethnically cleanse the West bank and Gaza…in a humane manner) but also re-capture the Sinai in order to restore the biblical borders of Israel.  In reality a growing number of Israeli believe that settlement in the West Bank should be increased with the eventual goal of annexation once it has become suitably Jewish not for religious reasons but security and economic reasons. However, for the moment both one-staters are a minority.

Most people accept, including the majority of Israelis and Palestinians, that eventually there will be two states – one Israel and one Palestine; the crux of the issue is what those states will look like – geographically, economically and politically. A number of people forget that during the apartheid era in South Africa, there was created a number of ‘independent’ states as homelands for the ‘blacks’. These states were called Bantustans[11].

Bantu States - homelands generously created by South Africa

Bantu States. These were set up as semi-autonomous homelands for the native population of South Africa. These states were ‘internal’ often no-contiguous states that were intended to ensure the Blacks could not enjoy the rights of South African citizenship (making them more vulnerable to ‘security’ measures and economic pressure). A quick comparison of the map of the current Palestinian controlled lands to that of the Bantustan states[12] does seem rather similar and making such fears of Palestinians that their ‘homeland’ will be little more than a labour pool ghetto intended to insure Israel dominance and control without the legal obligations annexation would entail.

As stated, I get the impression that the current Israeli government (if not national sentiment) is to ensure that the two-state solution is not two EQUAL states. That said, western leaders, the UN and Israeli ‘official’ policy is the creation of two independent equal states…however the boundary of those states was the ‘flash point’ seen in Obama’s speech.

What Obama stated was the same things every President and most of the world (including several UN resolutions) have been saying for decades; that the border between Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 border.  Of course when you say 1967 border it is important whether you mean pre or post 1967 war.

Jerusalem.  Prior to the 1967 war, East Jerusalem was part of the “state” of Palestine however during the war Israel managed to capture all of Jerusalem and later annexed the ‘unified’ city. This is a big issue because both the Israelis and the Palestinians see Jerusalem as their capital.  If the starting point for negotiations is Pre-1967 war, then Jerusalem is open for negotiations, something Israel has stated it will never do and something the Palestinians insist upon…they do not understand why East Jerusalem cannot be the capital of Palestine and “west” Jerusalem Israel’s capital.

Religion. One of the reasons both sides are struggling over East Jerusalem is because it is the “old city’ and the location of three of the most important religious sites – The Wailing Wall which for the Jews is the part of the Second Temple; the Dome of the Rock which for Muslims is where Mohammad assented to heaven and lastly it’s the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where Christians believe Jesus was crucified.

Irrespective of which line you use to create the two states, there is a lot of resistance on the Israeli side. This is because of three directly related issues and one indirect.

Security. Although much of the fighting between Israel and Palestinians has been lopsided, it is still true that Israelis feel a genuine fear of violence – be it suicide bombers, rocket attacks or simply mobs. The first two are perhaps realities they will always face…as long as the conflict exists; as I stated earlier, one-staters are a minority on both sides but as long as the issue is unresolved, attacks on Israel will persist.  The mobs (the intifadas for example although protests, mostly peaceful, occur weekly throughout the occupied territories) are the result of occupation; an issue that will disappear with the creation of Palestine and the removal of occupation forces.

Hamas. As part of the security issue, is often used by Israel as an excuse not to negotiate…and to be fair, Hamas has played hardball with the religio-political rhetoric. That said there are three main complaints with Hamas; first it refuses to recognise the state of Israel…however, it has indicated it will when Israel recognizes the state of Palestine with ‘appropriate’ borders. That it will not renounce violence…however Israel still practices ‘targeted killing’. That it will not recognize international agreements…unlike Israel which has dismissed innumerable UN declarations or international law.

BUT I don’t what to really defend Hamas, I think Gaza would be better without it (democracy failing again…Hamas was democratically elected) and feel disheartened conditions in Gaza are so harsh as to allow what I accept a radical group to rise to power (I shall resist the pull of Godwin on this one).

Even if we accepted that Hamas is as evil as Israel claims, the idea it is an actual or existential threat to the Middle East’s only nuclear power…a military giant claiming it fears the noisy mouse that is, at best, Hamas has a hollow ring.

That said, Hamas is in Gaza…an established border; it has little to do with the West Bank…the place where the border issue is discussed. Israel’s refusal to negotiate about borders with Fatah (the government of the West Bank) because the Palestinians are attempting to re-unify after a split in 2009, seems to be more of an excuse to not negotiate…not that I do not think that Hamas’s attitudes toward the state of Israel will not at some point be the main topic of discussion, the point Obama was making is that the location of the border could and should be negotiated now…that perhaps with the ‘land deal’ in hand, these other issues may just solve themselves with the main source of irritation being removed.

First it was war, then it was the 2000 map of Palestine to that of the Bantu States above

Settlers. Of course, Israel cannot remove its occupation forces as long as it has Jewish settlements in the West Bank[13], a lesson learnt in the Gaza Strip. The settlements are perhaps the most formable obstacle to peace. I should point out that the settlements themselves are highly illegal accounting to several international laws[14] and opinion. Sadly this is a classic (if unintentional?) tactic used by the Nazis[15], Soviets[16], Chinese[17] and other to settle ‘nationals’ on newly acquired territory so as to ensure pacification and permanent control. It also explains the resistance of Israel to ACTUALLY use the 1967 line, be it pre or post war, because if one looks at a current map of the West Bank, more than ½ of it is under settler control. IF Israel were to reconstitute the 1967 border with equivalent land swaps…well there isn’t enough land in Israel to really do that.

The Archipelago of Palestine - the view if non-Palestinian land were seen as water, what would the "state" of Palestine look like?

Right of return. This is an indirect issue and a red herring but one that gets played out in the border argument. When Israel was created a significant number of Jews and Arabs were displaced from their ancestral homes.  Most Jews emigrated willingly to the first Jewish state in millenniums while Arabs were unwilling and have been waiting for their own homeland in refugee camps for decades. Most Palestinians wishing to return to their ‘lost homes’ accept the existence of Israel and are willing (more or less) to become Israeli citizens as the price of return. Israel will never allow this to happen because of the number of Arabs claiming a right to return would so alter the demography of Israel so as to recast it as a second Palestinian state. However, most Palestinians claiming ‘right of return’ are second or third generation and do not actually expect to return to their land. They are looking more for an acknowledgment of and restitution for that loss. In this they have moral weight however I think it should be the burden of the “post WWII powers” that created Israel, largely out of guilt for the Holocaust, who should pay this restitution…being the ones ultimately responsible for the appropriation of the land.

It should be noted that Palestine was NOT created in 1967 or 1956 or 1948 because of Israel but because of Jordan and Egypt which occupied the lands the UN declared to be Palestine.

Lastly, why now? Why did Obama choose this moment to make the speech? Well, first there is not much new in the speech that has not been said before. If you look online, G.W. Bush said something similar during his presidency. It is essentially what was accepted in the Oslo Accord of 1993 and Camp David Summit of 2000.

It was also a good time because of the ‘Arab Spring’ which has seen the great apparent growth of freedom and secular democracy. However, this may not be as good as you might think. Israel, although perhaps morally opposed to the Middle Eastern dictatorships had learned to work with most of them. Their over thought has left Israel worried about threats ‘free and open’ elections might have on its own security.

However the biggest impetus for this “Moment of Opportunity” is the expected vote in September by the UN general assembly on the Palestine statehood. Palestine is planning to recognize, for the first time, the STATE of Palestine. It does this in an effort to shame Israel to the negotiation table as well as allow it greater rights under international law. It remains to be seen where this opportunity may play out but it cannot be denied it has set a fire under the Israeli government.


[4] By stating it this way, there is an implied denial of Palestine’s right to exist. IF we accept that the Israelis are not the British but the Indians, then this implicitly cast the Palestinians as the British…invaders who have not legitimate right to the land.

[5] A claim that is historically dubious, let us remember Israel ‘conquered’ the promised land from peoples whom the Palestinians could claim heritage. That said, the modern context (allowing modern to go back centuries), the lands Israel occupy now are NOT theirs…they are more akin to Americans or Canadians. That said, the state exists and as a reality has as much legitimacy to exist as Canada.

[6] This is a term that is based on perspective. Americans ‘taught’ hatred of imperial Britain before independence.

[7] This statement is equivalent, not to get all Godwin, to recognizing Germany and an Aryan State…states defined by race are innately racist and should be, even in this historically unique case, rejected. Both should recognize each STATE not racial states.

[8] He used the term ‘negotiate’ a lot and yet he seems to be dictating terms. That the state of Palestine will be a (reluctant) gift given (or taken away…if security requires it) to the Palestinians.

[13] Settlements on occupied territory are against several international laws. T

[14] (Geneva Convention-2001;UN General Assembly resolution 39/146-1984; UN Security Council Resolution 446-1979;International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion-2004…)

[15] Germans were encouraged to settle “unused” agricultural lands in Poland and Belarus as part of the “Lebensraum” principle.

[16] Russians were encouraged to settle in the Baltic countries (and to a lesser extent Central Asian countries) to help strengthen “communism”.

[17] Tibet has complained about the  high rates of Han Chinese the Chinese government has encouraged to settle Tibet.

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