Tuesday, November 30, 2004

America's Immigration Problem

Bring us your poor, your tired, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. - Inscription on the Statue of Liberty.

Whatever happened to the meaning behind that inscription? Long before 9/11, the United States has not been very welcoming of new immigrants, but in the years since that unfortunate event, the prospects for new immigrants to the United States has been absolutely horrific.

Obtaining permanent status (a "green card") in this country can take several years, and usually requires the assistance of a lawyer, and an employer willing to sponsor you. So, most people who come to the United States to work (legally) do so under one of the temporary worker programs (H1B, H2, J1, L1, TN, etc.) while their green card is pending. These programs require the applicant to navigate through a labyrinth of legal paperwork, and do not provide a clear path to permanent status. In fact, the H1 and L1 programs (which most skilled temporary workers enter on) are valid for only 3 years and can only be renewed once. At the end of that 6 year period, if the worker has not obtained permanent status (a "green card") through other means, he/she must pack up and leave.

While a worker on one of these temporary programs is in America, he is treated by the system like an indentured servant. Every time he travels outside the country, he must stand in the "visitors" line at the airport and be subject to a number of humiliating questions and the risk that an immigration officer in a bad mood may choose to deny him entry - and since 9/11, the risk of this has grown substantially. A worker on a temporary program here in America also does not qualify for unemployment insurance: if he loses his job, he is screwed. He has just a few days to find another job (who is willing to sponsor him), or must pull his kids out of school in the middle of their school year, pack up his belongings, and leave the country on short notice.

Another problem is posed for the worker's dependents. Under most programs, the spouses and dependents of the workers are allowed to live here, and go to school here, but are not allowed to work. This causes a ripple effect: the Social Security Administration won't issue a social security card to anyone who is ineligible to work, and since social security numbers in the United States are used for all sorts of things it creates a myriad of problems. Without a social security number, you cannot get a bank account, credit card, credit rating, car loan, or mortgage; and since 9/11, a number of state governments have been requiring applicants for a drivers' license to show their social security card, so it is very difficult to get a driver's license without a social security card. In essence, someone without a social security number is virtually a non-person in America.

So, in short, a person who comes here on a temporary work visa must go through a huge amount of legal paperwork, expose his family to risk, his wife must sacrifice her career and become a virtual non-person for the duration of her husband's stay here, and there is no easy path to permanent status. Does this sound like an appealing lifestyle? I think not.

What bothers me is that the United States is so lax in cracking down on illegal immigrants, and yet at the same time does not provide a straightforward method for people who are here legally on a temporary program to transition to permenent status.

One thing many Americans do not realize is that America's eduction system does not produce enough people trained in science to fill the demand in the marketplace, and for the past several years has depended on importing the necessary talent to fulfil demand. And yet, the American government has cut the quota numbers for the H1B program, and has erected barriers sufficient to deter all but the most determined prospective immigrants.

Another factor that will act to deter immigration is the value of the US dollar. Until recently, the US dollar was strong, but it has weakened considerably against other currencies in the last two years. For instance, when I came to America, the Canadian dollar was worth about 62 cents US. Now, it is 85 cents. As a result, a prospective immigrant to America can now obtain a comparable salary in other countries (Canada, England, etc.) without having to deal with all of the administrative nonsense and jump through all the hoops he would need to here in America.

On the short term, this has already impacted many American ivy-league schools (Harvard, Yale, etc.) that have seen waning demand from foreign students wanting to study there. On the longer term, if this trend is not reversed, it will impact America's competitiveness. In the future, high-paying jobs will go to locales where concentrations of highly skilled workers live, and if the current trends continue, this may cause an outflux of these high-paying jobs from America to other countries (Canada, Europe, China, India, etc.) that better focus on science in their educational systems, and are more welcoming to skilled immigrants.

I hope someone in the US government recognizes this trend before it is too late.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Watering down Christmas

It's that time of year again here in America: the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Unofficially, Thanksgiving is considered the start of the Christmas season here, a time of year when stores start offering pre-Christmas sales and people start shopping for Christmas presents. It's also the time of year I start getting invitations for corporate Christmas parties.

Or in New York's politically correct mentality, corporate "holiday parties", or for those wanting to be even more sterile, "year-end parties." Ugh.....

Around Christmas time it seems it's not even politically correct to wish people "Merry Christmas" anymore. Everyone seems to just say "Happy Holidays" in a politically correct type of way. If only they knew how much the words "happy holidays" grate on me and send shivers up my back like fingernails on a chalkboard. It irritates me that we need to be so bloody politically correct in this place, and that people get so touchy over things like that.

In the movie theaters, there is an ad going on right now for Virgin Mobile that seems to be the epitome of PC. It reads, "Happy Chrismahanukwanzah". OH MY GOD, what kind of abomination of a word is that?

Earlier this week, I heard on the news about a school in New Jersey that has banned Christmas carols. I wonder if Ebenezer Scrooge himself is the principal of that school.

I think multiculturalism is a lesson that the United States could really learn from Canada. I lived in Toronto (one of the most diverse cities in the world) for a number of years, and lived around people from a variety of backgrounds: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, etc. One thing I really liked about Toronto is that each culture would keep most of its traditions, but would be very willing to share those traditions with others. Christmas is a very popular holiday in Toronto, because most people there (not just the Christians) like the tradition behind it. I remember asking a Sikh colleague of mine in Canada about what he did growing up, and I was surprised to learn his family put up a Christmas tree every year and exchanged gifts, even though that was not their custom. And, they don't mince words up there: if you meet up with someone on Christmas day, he/she will wish you a merry Christmas!

It boggles my imagination how someone can get offended by a holiday. I mean, personally, I'm a Christian, but if someone wishes me a happy Eid, or happy Hannukkah, I'm not going to get offended. In fact, I am quite happy to learn about and partake in holiday traditions from other cultures: in my lifetime, I have spun a dredil with a Jewish couple for Hannukah, danced on a beach in Rio de Janeiro for Carnaval, attended afternoon prayer with some Muslim friends, and joined a parade behind a dragon for Chinese New Year. As I grow older and travel more, I hope to add more experiences to that list. But, if I spin a dredil with someone for Hannukah I'm going to call it Hannukah out of respect for them, and if I give someone a present at Christmas time, I'm going to call it a "Christmas Present", not a "Holiday Present". I embrace diversity, and I like different traditions, but I think to be fully appreciated, these traditions should not be watered down.

I really do not like what they do here in America (or at least here in New York), where people have allowed political correctness to eviscerate such an enjoyable holiday as Christmas: sanitizing Christmas greetings, relegating Christmas carols to churches, and robbing our children of the fond traditions we grew up with. I only hope this trend can be stopped before it is too late.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Israel and the Palestinians: Sanitizing History

I am going to write a series of posts about a very touchy topic: the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I know this topic is a real political lightning-rod that tends to inflame emotions on both sides of the argument, and I'm sure some of you are wondering if I'm crazy for even bringing the topic up. However, it is an important topic to discuss: this long-smoldering conflict is the true root of much of the instability and violence we currently have in the Middle East and beyond. If we ever find a permanent solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, it will likely herald the arrival of a new era of world peace.

One real problem with having a sane discussion with people about the Israeli/Palestinian dispute is that the news and history we read about the conflict tends to be filtered through the viewpoint of the person telling it. If you talk to an Israeli, you will hear horror stories about Palestinian terrorists blowing up buses, sending suicide bombers into crowded restaurants, and killing innocent people, and if you talk to an Arab, you will hear horror stories about the Israeli army knocking down houses, shooting missiles and tank rounds at crowds of people, and killing innocent people. Who is right? Both of them: everyone loses something in a war, but nobody likes to talk about the atrocities committed by their own side. And, in this war, neither side is innocent.

I grew up in Canada, and while I was a child the only context I ever heard the word "Palestinian" used was in conjunction with the word "terrorist". I heard horrific news stories about Palestinian terrorists murdering passengers on the Achile Lauro cruise ship, blowing up airplanes, and murdering innocent people. Is all of this news valid - yes, absolutely. But, it's not the only side to the story.

The side I never heard growing up was about the Palestinian people the same age as me who had never known life outside of a refugee camp. People who grew up with little hope of having a successful career, or raising their family in peace and stability, because of the unrelenting grip of the Israeli army and the inconclusiveness around their citizenship. I also never heard about the Jewish terrorists forcing Palestinians out of their homes in the years before the formation of Israel. If you talk to an Arab, he will tell you all about this, but he will be less aware of the murderous acts committed by terrorists representing the Palestinian cause.

There is a real dichotomy between the news presented by the mainstream media here in America and that presented in the Middle East. Likewise, another dichotomy exists in the history lessons taught to children in school - teachers teach only one side to this issue, not both. A child can easily grow up learning only one viewpoint, and grow up into an adult understanding and advocating only that one viewpoint. The news media and history books grandly emphasize the good points, and gloss over the bad points based on whatever side of the argument their author is on. This dichotomy is the result of pure economics: the news media are in the business of selling newspapers, and presenting unpopular viewpoints is a good way to lose sales. Likewise history books that present unpopular viewpoints are not likely to be purchased by school officials for fear of alienating voters. The easy solution for publishers is to "tow the party line" and to present only popular viewpoints; sanitizing history and wiping clean the collective memory of society in the process.

This sanitizing of history that is being done on both sides of this dispute does neither side any good. It only serves to prolong the conflict by producing a generation of extremists with an impaired understanding of the other side's viewpoints.

To reach a permanent solution to this conflict, people on both sides of the dispute need to gain a deeper understanding of the other side's background and viewpoints. The Internet is a great enabler of this: anyone in the world can publish their thoughts and opinions, just as I publish this blog. By surfing the Internet, it is very easy to find viewpoints on all sides of an argument and to form an educated opinion of one's own. I hope that as the Internet continues to develop and more people around the world gain access to it, it will help people to gain a real understanding of the cultures in the world around them, and will help to solve disputes like the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Search Engine SNAFU

I am laughing my head off right now. I just had a look through the site statistics today and couldn't believe my eyes. I had a hit today from someone who found this blog through Yahoo. The words he/she typed to find this blog: "flight attendant sex service".

What the hell?

Those search engine programmers at Yahoo really need to lay off the marijuana or whatever else they may be smoking over there.....

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Margaret Hassan's Murder

A few weeks ago I put up a post about the kidnapping of Margaret Hassan, the director of CARE International in Iraq. Today, a video came out showing her cold-blooded murder. To quote a BBC story:

The video apparently shows a militant firing a pistol into the head of a
blindfolded woman wearing an orange jumpsuit.

When I heard this news earlier today, I felt sick to my stomach. As I mentioned in my post a few weeks ago, Margaret Hassan was a truly decent human being - almost like an Islamic version of Mother Teresa. I am truly saddened by her murder.

It irritates me that the mainstream news media like the BBC continue to embrace political correctness and use terms such as "militants" or "insurgents" to describe Ms. Hassan's murderers. These people murdered an innocent human being in cold blood. To call these bastards "militants" or "insurgents" is an insult to the legacy of all freedom fighters throughout history.

These cowards hide behind their religion, and use Islam as a justification for their murderous actions; and yet their actions go totally against the teachings of their religion. The woman they kidnapped was also a Muslim who had dedicated her life to helping the poor and helpless. They murdered this helpless woman in cold blood, and blocked a major charity from helping the children of Iraq. On its own, this act is one of unspeakable evil. But, the fact that it was carried out in the name of God makes it far worse.

The thugs and butchers who perpetrated this diabolical act are by far the lowest form of life on the planet. Swamp scum looks down on them in their ignominy. Dogs and pigs are clean compared to them. And, when they die, I'm sure God will save a particularly miserable part of hell for them in return for their dishonoring Him by committing such a heinous crime under His name.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Yasser Arafat is dead - now what?

Yasser Arafat's leadership in the Palestinian territories was a classic cult of personality, all revolving around Arafat, and leaving no clear successor. Except today, Arafat is dead and buried - now what?

Arafat leaves a big pair of shoes to fill, but there are a lot of people who would like to try to fill them. Mahmoud Abbas is there, but some Palestinians consider him either corrupt, a puppet, a pushover, or all three. Hamas may be planning to nominate a candidate - it will be interesting to see who.

The most interesting candidate who's thrown his hat into the ring is Marwan Barghouti, who is currently serving five consecutive life terms in an Israeli jail for murder. Barghouti has publicly advocated violence against Israel, and Israel has indicated they have no intention of releasing him.

Barghouti is popular among the Palestinians, and I suspect much of that popularity stems from the fact that he is in an Israeli jail. A person who is in jail is like a legend - he can do no wrong (partly becuase he can't really do anything while he's in jail). Plus, there is the saying, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend", and some Palestinians may be tempted to vote for Barghouti just because they know the Israelis don't like him. For them, each vote for Barghouti is their own private way of sticking it to Israel; sending a personal message to Israel saying, "GO F&#K YOURSELF!"

But, this is exactly the reason Barghouti is the wrong choice for them. Not only would Barghouti be incapable of contributing any value to the political process from prison (other than as a ceremonial figurehead), his infamy in Israel would severely impair his ability to negotiate any sort of peace agreement with the Israelis.

This was the same problem Yasser Arafat always had: with his background, many Israelis still thought of him as a terrorist and did not trust him.

What the Palestinians need is a real leader. A leader who is incorruptable. An strong willed and independent-minded leader who can stand up for the viewpoints of the Palestinians and not be considered anyone's puppet, patsy, or pushover. A leader whose hands are not stained with the blood of innocents. A leader like this could earn the admiration of the Palestinian people as well as the respect of the Israelis, and would be the best chance the Palestinians have to negotiate a lasting peace and achieve their dream of their own independent state.

Will this happen? Will the Palestinians be able to elect a leader like that? Watching the events around Arafat's funeral, I am not hopeful: the Palestinians are just too angry right now. By law the Palestinian election must happen within 60 days, and I don't think they will have calmed down much by then to be able to think logically about who to vote for. Many will probably allow their anger to vote for them, and choose the candidate they think the Israelis will like the least; and we will be in for another few years of intifada and bus bombings, Israeli bulldozers razing neighborhoods, and lots more suffering on both sides of the conflict.

For the sake of world peace, I sincerely hope I'm wrong.....

Friday, November 12, 2004

Relief and sadness

This morning I felt a wave of relief wash over me as I noticed my friend Najma had put up a post this morning. That relief was quickly replaced by sadness and concern as I read her words and saw through her eyes the nightmare her life has become in the last two days with all the violence going on in Najma's city of Mosul.

I also feel bad for the fact that tomorrow night is the start of Eid al-Fitr (the biggest feast in Islam), which is almost like the Muslim equivalent of Christmas, and Najma and her family will probably have to spend the whole time hiding in their house.

Najma's blog is very valuable. As the first comment on Najma's post this morning said, her blog "puts a face on the war" - significant, when you consider it was a US soldier stationed in Mosul who wrote it. I'm sure there are a number of soldiers in Mosul and other parts of Iraq who read Najma's blog. Najma's words have a power to help them understand what they are (or should be) fighting for, and perhaps to encourage them to exercise a little extra professional care in what they do - wondering if maybe that tall skinny silhouette they see in their gunsight could be Najma, or perhaps a member of her family, or one of her friends. As any hunter or soldier will tell you, it's way too easy to shoot the wrong thing if you don't take that little bit of extra time to get a good look before pulling the trigger.

I would encourage anyone reading this to go visit Najma's blog and read her post from this morning, appropriately titled Crying with no Tears. I would also encourage you to put a post on Najma's blog wishing her a happy Eid - I'm not sure how happy it will be under the circumstances, but maybe a few good wishes will help.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Getting worried about some friends

I have been reading some very troubling news reports today about an upsurge of violence in Mosul, in northern Iraq. Some recent headlines:

USA Today: Fighting explodes in Mosul
The Times of London: Rebels spread chaos to Mosul
Reuters: Clashes erupt in Mosul

There are three young bloggers from Mosul (Najma, hnk, and Maas), who are also regular readers of this blog, and who I have not seen or heard from in more than two days. Frankly, I'm getting a bit worried about them, and I pray to God they are okay, and that things calm down again in Mosul soon.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Yasser Arafat's Burial Place

A few days ago, I wrote another post about Yasser Arafat's impending death and what it would mean for Middle East peace. In that post, I had surmised that Arafat was possibly in a brain-dead state from last week, but that there might have been some reluctance to pull the plug and announce Arafat's death due to controversy around where to bury him. According to Muslim custom, a person should be buried within 24 hours of his/her death, which would be difficult with people haggling over where to bury Yasser Arafat: his final wishes were to be buried in Jerusalem, a wish the Israeli government is unwilling to grant.

The "compromise" that was finally reached (if you can call it a compromise) has Arafat's funeral being held in Cairo (so Arab leaders who are sworn enemies of Israel can attend) followed by Arafat's burial inside the same Ramallah compound where he has lived for the past two years as a virtual prisoner under house arrest.

The Israeli justice minister Yosef Lapid aptly summed up the Israeli government's feelings with his statement that Arafat "will not be buried in Jerusalem becuase Jerusalem is the city where Jewish kings are buried and not Arab terrorists." Mr. Lapid is correct about Jerusalem being the burial place for Jewish kings. It is also the burial place for a lot of more ordinary Jewish people: Jewish laborers, Jewish housewives, Jewish professionals, Jewish janitors, and even a few Jewish whores and murderers and thieves sprinkled in the mix too. And, it is also the burial place for countless Arabs, including those buried in the 1400 years Jerusalem was under Muslim rule. With all these others buried in Jeruselem, why can't they make a little room for Yasser Arafat? The answer is simple: pure spite.

The Israeli government is so caught up in the cycle of violence with the Palestinians they cannot see logic through the veil of their own hatred. They cannot see that they are missing a real opportunity to plant a seed of permanent change in the Middle East. You see, Arafat's death will undoubtedly result in change in the Palestinian position as new leaders take the stage. The only question is whether things will change for the better or for the worse.

The Israeli government is missing a real opportunity to hold out an olive branch to the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world, to say to them that Israel is willing to compromise and put aside their differences with the Arab world if the Arab world is willing to do the same for Israel. It would be foolish to think that a single act such as this would result in peace, but acts of kindness and respect do have a tendency to generate reciprocal acts of kindness and respect. By granting a 75 year old Palestinian man his final wish to be buried in Jerusalem, Israel could possibly entice at least a few of their "sworn enemies" to come to Jerusalem for the funeral, and perhaps pave the way for some further dialogue.

By relegating Arafat's burial place to the same compound in Ramallah where he has spent the last two years in a building surrounded by Israeli tanks, the Israeli government has created some unfortunate symbolism. Instead of Arafat's tomb in Jerusalem being a perpetual reminder of Israeli kindness, Arafat's tomb in Ramallah will be a perpetual reminder to Palestinians of Israeli repression and cruelty: a symbol to Palestinians representing the reason many of them have chosen to fight against Israel, and a symbol inspiring future generations of Palestinians to fight. It didn't have to be this way.

Arabs tend to be big on symbolism. The current Palestinian intifada was sparked by a single act of disrespect: Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount (also known as al-Haram al-Sharif, the third holiest site in Islam) with an escort of a thousand armed Israeli soldiers. The same logic suggests that a major act of respect and kindness like allowing Arafat's funeral and burial in Jerusalem could have the same magnitude of effect, but in the other direction. If only the Israeli government could understand this logic.....

Achieving true lasting peace in the Middle East is a long journey, and it gets even longer when we're walking in the wrong direction.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

The Battle of Fallujah Begins

As I predicted a few days ago, the United States military launched its ground offensive into Fallujah yesterday, securing its two main bridges over the Euphrates river and the city's main hospital.

The Battle of Fallujah will likely be the bloodiest offensive of the war, and possibly the bloodiest single battle the US military has fought in a generation. The closest thing America has seen to urban warfare in recent memory is dropping bombs on Belgrade from 30,000 feet, or extracting the crew of a downed Black Hawk helicopter from Mogadishu. To see real urban warfare, we need to look back to the Vietnam War in 1968, where the American army fought a bloody street-to-street urban assault in the city of Hue. In that battle, 119 American and 363 American-allied South Vietnamese troops were killed, and (thanks to superior American artillery and air support) about 7500 North Vietnamese soldiers were killed. In that battle, thousands of Hue civilians were killed by bombs, artillery and stray bullets, and about 120,000 were left homeless.

There are a lot of parallels between Hue and Fallujah. In Hue, the American military was more concerned with minimizing their own casualties than preserving the historic city of Hue, and thus made heavy use of air and artillery support, resulting in significant damage to the ancient city. In Fallujah, with less historical significance and a greater worry of suicide-bomb attacks, the Americans will likely to be even more reliant on air and artillery attacks.

It is likely no coincidence that the Battle of Fallujah commenced just five days after the American presidential election. In the 1960s, the Hue battle resulted in considerable negative press attention, with photos of wounded marines and civilian casualties: not the type of fare a war planner would have wanted American voters to be considering in the runup to the US presidential election. But, now that the election is over, the administration has four years to undo any negative publicity that may result. And, as I mentioned in my previous post, the main worry of a second-term president is securing his place in history through actions that will bring potential long-term benefits, even if some short-term negative publicity may result.

While the Battle of Fallujah may be ugly, sadly I do think it is a necessary action under the present circumstances in Iraq, no matter how painful it may be to carry out. For the planned elections to be a success, all areas of Iraq must be able to freely exercise their democratic right, and without areas like Fallujah under the rule of law and order, this would be impossible.

Fortunately, it seems the American forces are taking some steps to mitigate the damage. They had two choices in fighting this battle: the easy way would have been to send in the Air Force to bomb Fallujah into oblivion much like the British did to Dresden in World War II, and (as some extreme-minded people have stated), "kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out." This approach would have resulted in minimal American casualties, but a total slaughter on the ground in Fallujah. The US military has fortunately chosen the the more difficult (and more honourable) option: to go in on the ground and take Fallujah street by street, putting their own lives in jeopardy in the process. This choice will result in greater American casualties, but will hopefully save many innocent lives in Fallujah in the process.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Palestinian Leadership Crisis

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has been languishing in a military hospital in Paris for the past several days, and has been described by representatives of the Palestinian Authority as being in a state between life and death.

The truth is probably somewhat worse than that. Some rumours have described Arafat as being brain-dead, his body being kept alive on life-support systems, with arguments between doctors and Arafat's family about when to pull the plug. One probable cause of this is the Muslim tradition that a person should be buried within 24 hours of their death. Arafat's wishes were to be buried in Jerusalem, something the Israelis are loath to allow. So, until they know where Arafat is to be buried, it is unlikely that anyone would consent to pulling the plug or publicly admitting anything close to his being brain-dead.

If Yasser Arafat does pass away, he will leave behind him a power vacuum in the Palestinian territories that will be difficult to fill. While the Palestinian Authority is ostensibily a democracy, Arafat ran it more like a dictatorship; continually acting to consolidate his own power while squelching potential rivals.

The most recent example of this occurred in 2003. In March 2003, under pressure to divest some authority, Arafat named Mahmoud Abbas as Prime Minister. No sooner had Abbas started exercising his newfound authority than Arafat began attempting to eviscerate the power of the new Prime Minister, undermine his authority, and discredit him. Abbas, not willing to allow himself to be setup for such an ignominious failure, resigned in September, 2003 just six months after taking over the post.

A key problem with Arafat's logic is that potential leadership rivals are also potential successors. A truly insightful leader should be able to envision his country beyond his own death, and should ensure that everything is in place for an orderly succession. Arafat's main problem was that he did not trust anyone enough to bestow the type of authority that would allow a potential successor to gain credibility with the various Palestinian factions.

If Arafat dies, what will happen next? The answer to this question will have a significant impact on the future of the Palestinian territories and the Middle East as a whole. The best scenario would be for a single leader to fill this power vacuum and gain credibility for the various Palestinian factions. For sustainable peace to even be a possibility, the Palestinians need a strong leader who can negotiate on their behalf with the Israelis.

A far worse scenario would be if the Palestinian factions cannot agree on a successor to Arafat, and the Palestinian Authority is plunged into infighting. This type of scenario would only prolong the current conflict with Israel and allow chaos to reign in the Palestinian territories until the infighting can be resolved.

A reassuring sign is that Mahmoud Abbas has taken over some key roles, acting as head of the PLO and Fatah in Arafat's absence. Abbas was very smart when he resigned as Prime Minister in September 2003: this allowed him to keep his head up, salvage his dignity, and protect his reputation from being sullied. Abbas's short stint as Prime Minister gave him some exposure to international diplomacy, and allowed him to develop a reputation with the American and Israeli administrations as a reasonable and credible leader. As a result, Abbas would be in a unique position to negotiate a lasting peace agreement with the Israelis if he were elected as the new president of the Palestinian Authority. But, in order to achieve this, Abbas must first undo some of the damage done to his reputation by Arafat, and must gain the support of the Palestinian populace by being seen as a strong leader and not a puppet of either the Israeli or American administrations. Only time will tell whether Abbas will be successful in this exercise.

The next few weeks will be very interesting indeed.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Second Term Presidents

It was a close one, but barring any real legal surprises, it looks like Bush has won a second term as President of the United States.

A second term president is far more powerful than a first term president. A first term president has to worry about getting re-elected at the end of his term. A second term president has no such worry - he's barred by the constitution from seeking a third term. So, there really is no accountability to the voters - whether he makes popular decisions or unpopular decisions, the results in four years will be the same: someone else will become president.

The main concern for a second term president is cementing his legacy in the history books, and since he does not need to worry about being re-elected, the focus is more on actions that he thinks will produce long-term benefit, than on those that will produce short-term boosts in popularity.

Knowing this, residents of some places like Fallujah are not likely to be sleeping very easy tonight.