Thursday, July 31, 2008

Connected? Sure, but quick, where's Tonga?

Being off-line for more than a month one would figure there'd be tons to write about, injustices to rail against, lies to expose and untold stories to tell. Alas, I'm afraid I was pretty spot on in my last post-dated post, nothing much seems to have changed; Mugabe was sworn in as president of Zimbabwe and any UN sanctions were vetoed by Russia and China, prices are still rising all over, people are still being killed needlessly in Iraq and Afghanistan and Iran is still going ahead with their nuclear ambitions. As usual, the US election is just too easy a target to mock, the two-party system too flawed and its people too easily manipulated. So, still being in vacation mode (yes, I'll be doing nothing for more than a month) I think I'll transport the post to Tonga.

If you answered the question asked in the title, you're ahead of the pack. Tonga is a small island chain in the south Pacific somewhere between New Zealand and Hawaii. It's in the news today because they're crowning a new king in a 4 day coronation ceremony, King George Tupou V. The whole idea of a hereditary leader might seem a little strange to most of the world, in fact Tonga is the last remaining monarchy in Oceania, but there are still countries who follow this ancient custom. There are constitutional monarchies, many of which are in Europe like those in Spain, and a few absolute monarchies, such as Saudi Arabia. There's been lots of news surrounding the legitamacy of monarchs of late; the Catalans in Spain upset over Juan Carlos' rule over their land, the abolishment of the monarchy in Nepal, and the constant arguments in Canada and Australia over keeping the British monarch as the figurative head of state. So, what's the point of a king or queen in the 21st century?

The Tongan Prime Minister's justification for spending over 2 million pounds on the ceremony is that it is crucial to getting the country's tourism sector up and running properly.(?!) "The other countries in the Pacific that have lost their royal families - they regret it now". Protection from evil-minded prime ministers is another oft-mentioned reason, having someone in power who is above politics. Or maybe just the whole idea of having a king or queen is what matters? The idea of checks and balances is well established today, given the United Statesan system, and that is just what a good monarch is supposed to do, check the power of maniacs and balance the decisions made by parliaments. All this seems crucial to an island nation as powerful as Tonga, so go on roast a few more pigs!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The more things change...

Maybe if he just changed the batteries in the remote...

As you may or may not know, I've been on vacation for the past month, unable to keep up with the news and keep my blog up to date. A couple of post-dated posts are all I've been able to put up. So, given my lack of news (yes, no internet access) I thought it might be fun to see what the news headlines from my final "connected" day were and ask you to see what's come of these stories. It's been my experience from past years of occasional media withdrawal that with the exception of the odd major events, the same stories get recycled, re-spun and repackaged for our intake. Some of the headlines from Reuter's on June 24th, 2008 were:
1. Pressure mounts to call off Zimbabwe election
2. Home prices extend record slide in April
3. Bomb kills 6 Iraqis, 4 Americans in Baghdad
4. Dow Chemical sets new price hikes, cuts output
5. Iran says EU sanctions could hurt nuclear diplomacy
6. Voters and candidates react to higher energy costs
7. First contractor convicted under US military law in Iraq
8. Economy on brink of recession, Greenspan says
9. Border farmers seek change on guest workers
10. Group denies misleading media over Amazon tribe

Now, my theory is the things don't change too much, the news seems to run in a loop. Here's a list of corresponding stories I've written in the past three months (with numbers matching above):
1. Starving Billionaires; Zimbabwe, somewhere in Africa; Zimbabwe update #3
2. On Dollars and Dinars
3. Where to start?
4. Look out! It's a dinosaur from the 70's!?
5. When Talking Became a Bad Thing
6. When first we practice to deceive - lies part 2
7. Extra! Extra! America Violates International Law! (post-dated at time of writing, you can find it yourself)
8. What a Tangled Web We Weave - Lies Part 1
9. Fear of the Other
10. Attack From Above

Ok, ok, the stories don't all match up exactly, I've only been at this blogging thing a few months. What is interesting to examine though is how much news changes over time. Looking at my original posts and the headlines today (June 24th), there isn't much difference. So, dear reader, if I was to log on today, would I find that the story has changed in the past month? Somehow I doubt it, but let me know in the comments below. See you at the beginning of August!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Extra! Extra! America Violates International Law!

Might is right. Thus it comes as no surprise to hear that they are killing people without due process in America. Imagine your surprise, when you! some difference, Reece's Peanut Butter Pieces inside. oops, sorry, a bit of a flashback from cartoon days... Anyways, the latest kerfuffle comes via Mexico. Can you imagine that, the Mexicans complaining about American mistreatment? What? 160 years after the US stole much of the south from them? Thank God (large G or small g, as you wish) the Canadians finished the railroad in time before Manifest Destiny kicked in.

The USA still has the death penalty. Much like the Saudis or Bangladesh, or wait a second, how could you tell me this isn't a test of how far a society has developed. The death penalty is like something out of the Koran or the Bible, look, capital letters and all for you believers. Here's a list of the countries that still perform capital punishment:
Afghanistan, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belize, Botswana, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, China (People's Republic), Comoros, Congo (Democratic Republic), Cuba, Dominica, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea, Guyana, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Korea-North, Korea-South, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Lesotho, Libya, Malawi, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Palestinian Authority, Qatar, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Somalia, Sudan, Swaziland, Syria, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, United States, Vietnam, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe

Ummm, that's kind of long. But look closer at the list, Japan is the only other country there besides the US that is considered a "developed" nation. Back to Mexico, who of course passed the death penalty phase of societal development in... wait a second, don't tell me that Mexico has never had the death penalty...Reader's please let me know if this is false. Anyway, Mexico has made an emergency appeal to the World Court to block the execution of its citizens in the US as they are in defiance or a previous World Court ruling (see below). The complaint is based on the fact that the Americans haven't been letting the accused know that they have the RIGHT to consular assistance. ummm, yeah, believe it or not, if people are accused of a crime in a nation other than their own, they can speak to people from their country before being put to death. Whether or not you believe that capital punishment is right on moral grounds, the biggest problem with it is the chance of mistaken convictions, so due process, no matter how insignificant, is of huge importance. In America alone, there have been 111 people released from death row because DNA evidence exonerated them after they were convicted.

Let's look at the organization of the World Court seeing as it's the first time I've written about it here. The International Court of Justice seems to be a force even too powerful for Google, as it's the Permanent Court of International Justice, the International Court of Justice (the real one now), or the International Criminal Court(genocide only) if you search under World Court (try it, this stuff is confusing). Basically the International Court is the judicial arm of the United Nations, responsible for resolving disputes between nations and at times giving other forms of legal advice. Upon its creation, the court's verdicts were binding on nations, but that is so passe, ever since 1986 when the US withdrew from compulsory jurisdiction. If you're wondering why well, it's, surprise, because the court ruled against America in favour of the Nicaraguan government when it lodged a complaint about the US mining its harbour in support of the Sandanistas.

The Mexicans' cases are quite serious, maybe one of them raped and killed a couple women (funny that's the only case they give any news about in the Reuter's report). The world's judicial forum, the court in the Hague must decide before the execution date of August 5 if a Mexican scheduled to die had his day in court. Oh yeah, there's 51 other Mexicans on death row paying attention to the ruling that could come in time to save their lives. The weirdest angle to the story is that Dubya, as in George W., gave the poor bastards waiting to be offed a bit of help; he ordered the states' attorneys, as in Texas', California's and Oklahoma's, to do a bit of work, to back check after a 2004 World Court ruling the US had violated international law. Somewhat ironically, his home state of Texas refused and then the US Supreme court ruled 6-3 that George didn't have the authority to force state courts to comply with World Court rulings. Dubya had overstepped his authority by saying the US and its states must adhere to its international treaty obligations.

George knows damn well that the US no longer needs to comply with the wishes of most of the world. In fact, shortly after the first World Court ruling regarding the necessity of reviews due to the lack of consular assistance, he quietly had Condeleeza Rice inform the UN that the US was withdrawing from the Optional Protocol to the Vienna Convention on Consular Rights, originally an American proposal from 1963. You can't find many things on the net from before '96, but a lot of it is from the Best of America Soundtrack of not give a fuck what the rest of the world says. Not a big surprise to see countries such as the Sudan now defy orders from the same organization, good example hmmm Darfur anyone? (Crazy Bush is good reporting here). The argument of the Texans is that states need not comply with international law, sounds a bit like the old Guantanamo gambit. At this moment in Guatanamo there are, umm, there were 619 prisoners in 2004, who really knows how many are left and where they're from anymore? (it's really difficult googling for Guantanamo these days, more than 5 years after the camp was set up, so many results, around 270 prisoners remain I believe)

Another strange development has to do with Guantanamo. The same Supreme Court ruled last week the Americans government had to abide by Habeas Corpus, yes, I do mean the accused in Guantanamo will have the right to full judicial review of their detention. Day in court and all that, maybe, 5 years later after being locked up. Of course this is a war on terror stuff that followed hot the heels of the illegal invasion of Iraq. Why else would the US refuse to ratify the treaty that established the International criminal court except for the fact that they know most of the men behind this war would be convicted there.

Back in the 1930's a pair of fascist states walked out of the League of Nations. Germany and Italy were not willing to allow international law to impose itself on their foreign policy objectives. Mussolini and Hitler both had to shake free of any kind of treaties, pact or alliances that would restrict their ambitions. It's not hard to see a parallel with the United States of George W. Bush. The term "unsigning" was practically invented to describe the Americans moves to withdraw from their obligations to the International Criminal Court, the CTBT, a verification protocol for the Biological Weapons Convention, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia the Vienna Convention on Consular Rights and even Boundary treaties with Canada (Almost funny, check it out). Remember how they tried to fool the UN into giving permission for the Iraq War? Well, next time they probably won't even bother to ask.