Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The News Can’t Be All Bad; Can It?

The News Can’t Be All Bad; Can It?

Before everyone gets excited by this decision, and there is cause for some joy as this gives the Obama Administration even more time to come to their Afghanistan senses, but one should revisit the Elizabeth Rubin article below as a reminder of what we’re dealing with when say "Karzai and his political allies"!

Karzai Accepts Afghan Runoff Vote
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Karzai In His Labyrinth

By ELIZABETH RUBIN | Published: August 4, 2009

On a sunny June morning in Kabul, I sat among hundreds of turbaned men from Afghanistan’s Helmand and Kandahar provinces in a chandeliered wedding hall where they had gathered for a campaign rally to re-elect President Hamid Karzai. War was raging in Helmand and Kandahar. And yet there was an atmosphere of burlesque about the place. Waiters hammed up their service, skidding across the floor balancing mounds of rice, bananas and chicken, whirling shopping carts of Coke and Fanta. The organizer of the event and master of ceremonies was none other than Sher Muhammad Akhundzada, the five-foot-tall ex-governor of Helmand and probably the country’s most infamous drug trafficker. From a velvet couch he barked out to the speakers: “Not so many poems! Keep your speeches short!” — but no one was listening.

At my table, an elderly Helmandi engineer described how awful things were in his region — families killed in coalition airstrikes, villages overrun by the Taliban. So why more Karzai? “If we choose someone else, it will only get worse,” he said through an interpreter. Another man said that at least Karzai had brought education and unity. “They are all lying,” a third said in English. He was the son of a prominent Kandahari elder who, a year before, was assassinated outside the family’s house. He’d also lost his uncle, brother and 45 other members of his extended family, he told me. He blamed the government. He was shaking his head at the spectacle in the wedding hall. “I told the men at my table, ‘You just came to show your faces on camera so if Karzai wins he will give you privileges.’ ” He laughed and said, “They told me they just came for lunch.” I asked what he thought would happen during the election in Kandahar. “Fraud,” he said. He himself claimed to have made 8,000 fake voter-registration cards. They were selling for $20.

After lunch, in a downstairs room filled with mannequins in pink and green wedding gowns, I had a chat with Akhundzada, the ex-governor. He is campaigning in the south for Karzai. First he wanted to explain that the nine tons of drugs found in his compound in 2005 were planted there by the British to frame him. Then he changed tack: “If people think I was a smuggler, O.K. But at least I spent the money on government and soldiers! Now the money goes to the Taliban and kills British and Americans and Afghan soldiers.” This is the same logic that Karzai used to try to get Akhundzada reinstalled as governor of Helmand. The British would not accept it. This seemed distinctly unfair to Akhundzada, given the other characters on the political stage: “They don’t take Fahim out of elections? Dostum is not criminal? Mohaqiq is not criminal? Just me?”

It was a comical and sinister and telling performance — a prominent Karzai backer damning key members of the president’s re-election team (locally dubbed “the warlord ticket”). The ethnic-Tajik Muhammad Fahim is running as Karzai’s first vice president (having previously served in the same post and as defense minister); the ethnic-Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum is returning from Turkey to deliver Uzbek votes to Karzai; and the ethnic-Hazara politician Muhammad Mohaqiq is a key Karzai ally to whom Karzai pledged five ministerial posts.

“I swear,” Akhundzada went on, eyes agog, “I have not killed a cat in all my life.” With that he took off with his rifle-toting guards and disappeared into his armored S.U.V.

Karzai applauds himself for his big-tent, forgive-and-forget approach. But his opponents are thrashing him for it. “If the goal is to consolidate a group of drug dealers as the government of Afghanistan so that you have relative peace, then what is the vision?” asked Ashraf Ghani when we met at his gracious villa on the southwestern edge of Kabul in February, a few months before he decided to run for president himself. “Is that what the 20-year-old girl who wants to become a computer engineer or doctor has in mind? Or the 22-year-old Afghan who won two gold medals in computers? Can they become stakeholders in an Afghanistan run by Sher Muhammad Akhundzada?”

The presidential campaign has put Karzai’s style of politics on trial. There are 41 candidates running in Afghanistan’s second-ever presidential elections, which take place on Aug. 20. Karzai’s main competitors are two of his former ministers — Ghani, who was finance minister from 2002 to 2004 and an adviser to the World Bank for 10 years; and Abdullah Abdullah, an ophthalmologist who became a close adviser to the legendary mujahedin commander Ahmed Shah Massoud (assassinated by Al Qaeda just before the 9/11 attacks) and served as foreign minister under Karzai until 2006. When I asked Abdullah what he’d do to stop drug smuggling, he said, “I wouldn’t let my brother touch it.” He was referring to Ahmed Wali Karzai, the president’s half-brother, who is accused of running Kandahar like a mafia don and overseeing one of the local drug cartels. “Seriously, you lose your legitimacy if the perception is that your brother is doing it and benefiting from millions of dollars.”

Ghani, on his Web site, has branded the Karzais a mafia family, “Karzai Incorporated.” “The largest threat to Afghanistan now is this government,” he told me recently. “Just take one figure: last fiscal year from March 2007 to 2008, the Ministry of Finance collected 40 billion Afghanis, which is equivalent to around $800 million. The same ministry declares that the real revenue should have been 120 billion Afghanis. They are acknowledging that, due to corruption, 80 billion is being lost.” That, he said, worked out to $1.6 billion. “We go beg the entire world: ‘Please give us budget support; we need to pay our poor teachers and civil servants.’ If the revenue was collected we wouldn’t have needed a cent from the international community for the budget.”

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Is The US Turning Isolationist?

By Ole Ole Olson


Oct 20, 2009

The reaction in the press and general public in the United States to Barack Obama being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for diplomacy and efforts to rid the world of nuclear arms is symptomatic of a disturbing and growing trend towards isolationism in the country. Former right wing ideas about leaving the UN, stopping immigration, and turning our backs on the world except for military solutions are catching hold on independents, and present a dangerous sign of troubles ahead.

Reaction to Obama Nobel Peace Prize Win
Barack Obama
won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday. Normally this would be a cause for celebration, and for most of the world, it was. They have high hopes for the man, and sincerely appreciate the fact that the leader of the most powerful nation on the planet is no longer a delusional war-monger. Obama is the world’s most respected leader, ranking ahead of even the Dalai Lama.

However the world perception goes far beyond the relief that there is no longer a conservative wingnut with his finger on the button. Obama has hit the reset button with Europe, Russia, the Muslim world, Africa, Latin America, and Asia. We live in a community of nations that is like a neighborhood, and the US has been that neighbor with the cars on blocks in the yard, the neighbor with the kids that egg other houses, the neighbor that throws raucous parties until dawn. A reset in relations was severely needed.

Beyond a mere reset, instead of being the bully on the block, We are once again talking to our neighbors and consulting their opinions on things, instead of dictating to them what is going to happen. This diplomacy is essential in this world which seems to shrink more every day, where resources are become increasingly scarce and inevitable differences of opinion could always spill over into open confrontation and bloodshed. We need to talk to each other, and use that as the primary source to not only resolve conflict, but to prevent it in the first place.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Obama has been recognized as being a bold leader in terms of nuclear disarmament. During the Cold War, the US and USSR amassed tens of thousands of these weapons of mass destruction, even though by some estimations, only 100 detonations spaced evenly around the planet could lead to the extinction of our species, and explain theFermi Paradox once and for all. While the Bush regime antagonized Russia by abandoning the ABM, chemical weapons accords, and other bedrocks of international arms control, Obama is clearly in favor of strengthening them and building new safeguards of international peace. He gave the powerfulspeech in Prague last April where he set out his ambitious agenda for this, and short of some international crisis, expect to see some deep cuts in our arsenal by the end of his presidency in 2016. A few excerpts:

“To reduce our warheads and stockpiles, we will negotiate a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with the Russians this year. …To achieve a global ban on nuclear testing, my administration will immediately and aggressively pursue U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. After more than five decades of talks, it is time for the testing of nuclear weapons to finally be banned. And to cut off the building blocks needed for a bomb, the United States will seek a new treaty that verifiably ends the production of fissile materials intended for use in state nuclear weapons.”

While the world reaction to the Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to President Barack Obama has been enthusiastically received by most of the planet (outside the Taliban), as a well deserved honor, the news in the USA didn’t carry this message. Instead, main stream media outlets like CNN adopted the theme based on the right wing talking point questioning whether he really deserves this award. The MSM seemed to repeat over and over that this was ‘controversial’ and continued to ask if Obama has actually done anything to merit this award. The infamous Fox ‘news’, known for their blatant record of disinformation, went so far as to call the Nobel Committee ‘a well known leftist organization’. In that perhaps they are correct, since only 6% of the nations scientists are Republican (usually but not always equated with conservatism), and peace certainly tends to be the dominion of the left (while military aggression is core to right wing philosophy). While foreign invasions are counter to isolationist philosophy, the reasons why conservatives have latched onto this will be detailed later.

Why would there be such a discrepancy between the media coverage between the US and the rest of the world? The answer boils down to the disturbing trend in America towards an openly isolationist mind set.

Right Wing Origins of Isolationism
Much of this attitude tends to stem from the right wing. Although the conservatives in America have traditionally been more isolationist than interventionist, including both WWI and
WWII, their rationale is a bit different today. The conservative base of the Republican party has pushed for cuts in UN funding, even withholding payments on occasion. They also oppose reforming the UN Security council structure, where a single veto from any permanent member can kill any resolution, after which they criticize the UN for being ineffectual. Many conservatives today even advocate a complete withdrawal from the world body that we helped found. ‘US out of the UN’ is one call, UN out of the US is another.

The right wing in America was the ones who pushed for unilateral withdrawal from important international treaties such as the ABM and not joining others like the World Court. The right wing was the ones who virtually unilaterally invaded the sovereign nation of Iraq under false pretenses and manufacturedevidence. UN Chemical Weapons inspectors were actively searching for the supposed WMDs that Bush claimed there was solid, yet secret evidence about. The ‘Coalition of the Willing’ was not a true international alliance. The right wing continues to support US involvement in torture and rendition, things that are a clear violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, although this is far too rampant from many nations around the world, and to be honest, Obama is guilty of not being bold enough to quicken the pace of ending such practices.

Either way, unilateralism is a form of isolationist philosophy in the sense that instead of reaching out to work with others around the world, backs are turned on cooperation.

There is also the issue of the military. 4.5% of the world’s population lives in the United States, yet it consumes 25% of its resources, and spends 50% of the world’s military budget. In other words, the US spends as much as the rest of the world combined on the military. Despite this, conservatives in both parties continue to push for even greater funding for military projects and further military intervention in foreign lands, today that push being for strikes on Iran. Although this may seem to be counter to an isolationist policy, it is a form of it if one considers that unilateral military actions turn their back on international diplomatic efforts.

Speaking of unilateralism and its impact on the world around us, the lack of participation by the US in an international legal body speaks volumes about isolationism. The US withdrew from compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice in 1986 under Reagan. The International Criminal Court in The Hague, The Netherlands prosecuted Slobodan Miloševi? for war crimes under intense US pressure, yet despite Clinton signing the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the conservative George W. Bush quickly halted our mandatory participation in it. How can a country use an international legal body to prosecute others, yet not be held by the same standard for violations of human rights?

Most societies have a conservative side that is rooted in traditionalism resistant to cultural change. In terms of migrations of populations, this conservatism tends to frame this as ethnocentrism, viewing cultural and ethnic diversity with suspicion and sometimes hostility. In modern day Anglo-America, this has translated into prejudice against any new group immigrating to the country, today, that being predominantly Latino.

This is perhaps the way in which the conservative xenophobia is best illustrated. The right wing media, especially talk radio has been spreading conspiracies against the danger’ of the fictional North American Union [NAU] and the equally as hallucinatory common currency called the Amerofor many years. Although the creation of the European Union certainly demonstrates the emergence of stronger international treaties and larger supra-national cooperative entities, it is still a paranoid delusion to think that there is some New World Order conspiracy to forge a NAU. In fact, the fears of a North American Union seem to be a guise under which an anti-Latino prejudice is cloaked.

Another way this xenophobia is disguised is in the frame of anti-illegal immigration. Anytime there is a serious economic discrepancy between nations, there is going to be the motivation for those seeking a better life for their loved ones to migrate. The disparity in wealth between the US and Mexico/Central America is quite large, and considering the immense time frames and bureaucratic nightmare that taking the permitted path is, there should be no surprise as to the number of undocumented immigrants. Someconservative outlets have even gone so far as to liken this wave of immigration as an invasion. This quasi-racist fear is making serious inroads into the general public, with rhetoric openly hostile towards Latin American culture becoming commonplace in conversation, especially in the South.

There could be the temptation to misconstrue the trend towards cultural diversity as simply being opposed to the current dominant culture, but this oversimplification mischaracterizes the situation. For instance, I am particularly proud of my Nordic and Germanic roots, and try to honor my ancestors by remembering where I came from and being the best human being I can be. However, I do not let this reverence consume my vision, and feel it is important to explore and celebrate the differences of culture that exist in this world.

In domestic terms, we are a melting pot, and should have nothing to fear from mixing the best elements of a new culture into ours.

Evidence of how this ethnocentrism is taking root can also be found in the recent debate over reforming the health care system in America. There is an unsubstantiated claim that the current bill will give free health care to illegal immigrants. This irrational fear has been spread by Republican leaders, including the rude outburst by Joe Wilson when Obama was addressing a joint session of congress. It has also made the rounds in conservative media, although would never have taken root with such a large percentage of the population unless this isolationist ethnocentrism had not previously taken hold of the minds of millions of Americans.

Other Areas of Spreading Isolationism
This growing isolationism is evident in other areas as well. Many are not only
doubtful of man-made global climate change despite an overwhelming body of evidence supporting it, but see it as an international conspiracy to implement a new tax in America. The recent outbreak of the H1N1 virus (Swine Flu) has been met with open skepticism, with some people claiming the Center for Disease Control (CDC) is a tool of the World Health Organization (WHO).

After 911, the government implemented mandatory photographing and finger-printing of foreigners entering the country from many places around the world, even those who were just changing planes. Yet when countries such as Brazil adopted this policy for Americans as a result, it caused an uproar. This policy only underscores a greater underlying arrogance from the US, who often view foreigners with suspicion.

Even though there are some geographic barriers between Anglo-American culture and other parts of the world, Americans tend to shun exploring the cultures on other continents, including our neighbors to the south. Places like Cabo and Cancun don’t count, they are sheltered colonial resorts which do not represent the greater culture of Mexico. Those who have traveled to far off lands and explored other cultures can find their stories sometimes fall on deaf ears when they return home. Americans travel less, and when they do, usually do not visit other countries.

Most people in the US only speak one language: American English. Most people on the planet speak multiple languages.

This cultural arrogance even extends to sports. The most popular sport in the world is football (called soccer in America), yet it has failed to catch on in most parts of the United States. Notable exceptions would be Seattle Sounders and a few others in more liberal areas who seem to have quite an enthusiastic following. American football, while being an intense game, is only popular in the US and Canada. The NFL did try to set up an expansion into Europe in the 90s until 2007 (called NFL Europa), but the sport failed to catch on. This strategy has worked to an extent in baseball, where other countries in the America’s and Japan have become fans, but often American sports enthusiasts soundly reject most sports of other countries.

One area where American isolationism does not seem to be prevalent is in the area of cuisine. Although our diet has evolved from primarily English and German tastes, early dishes and spices were influenced by African, Caribbean, Central American, and Asian palates. This is true today, with Chinese and Indian restaurants being found in some smaller towns on the plains, and a cosmopolitan menu offered in almost every urban center.

Isolationism is Dangerous
The dangers of this isolationist philosophy are multifaceted.

For starters, xenophobia is only a short step away from open racism. We have already witnessed many problems that stem from this, including the Minute Men (an anti-immigration group) being accused of thug tactics such as systematic home invasions and murder. There is also the danger of the erosion of freedoms of everyone. The ACLU has documented that two thirds of all Americans live in border zones where constitutional rights are routinely violated. These tactics are clearly illustrated by Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona, whose tactics are unconstitutional and a clear violation of human rights. As long as people in the US continue to view this wave of Latino immigrants as ‘potentially hostile’, they seem willing to surrender their freedoms in a vain effort to stop it.

“Those who give up liberty for security deserve neither”
-Benjamin Franklin

The purposeful shunning of other cultures and nations is quite evident in the stunning ignorance of Americans in terms of geography. For instance, most cannot locate Russia on a map, despite it being the single largest country by area on the planet. This lack of understanding transcends educational enlightenment however, and shines a beacon on the danger of what could happen in the future if we don’t embrace other places and faces on the planet. This could severely hamper efforts to stop the things that our species is doing that negatively impact the environment. It could lead to the loss in the competitive edge in the business realm. It could lead to easily preventable misunderstandings that could escalate into war.

This trend towards an isolationist philosophy in America runs counter to the global pattern of increasing interdependence and will certainly be unhealthy for our nation’s future.

Attack On White House Criticism Of Fox Follows Years Of GOP Assaults On Media

Following White House communications director Anita Dunn's entirely justified criticisms of Fox News as an "arm" of the Republican Party, conservative media figures have attacked both Dunn and the Obama administration. But Media Matters for America has compiled a list of organized and unjustified attacks that GOP leaders -- often aided by Fox News -- have conducted against media outlets over the past decade; those attacks have included boycotts or threatened boycotts of media outlets, efforts to revoke journalists' credentials or ban them from press planes, and even calls to have journalists prosecuted.

In 2001, DeLay reportedly boycotted CNN

In 2002, GOP leadership reportedly threatened or engaged in Crossfire boycott

In 2004, NY Times reporters were excluded from Air Force Two

In 2006, GOP House members sought punishment, possible prosecution of NY Times

In 2008, Bush counselor Gillespie attacked NBC

In 2008, McCain campaign repeatedly attacked press, banned or threatened to ban journalists from campaign plane and bus

In wake of Dunn comments, conservative media attack Dunn, White House

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The Untouchables: Right-Wingers Put Themselves in an Uncompromising 'World Apart'

By Isaiah J. Poole, Blog for Our Future. Posted October 21, 2009.

A Report Issued Friday By Democracy Corps Shows That The Most Conservative Republicans Consider Themselves Part Of An Underdog Minority.

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Commentators, including writers from Blog for Our Future's Sara Robinson and author Neal Gabler, have observed a resurgent brand of conservatism that has taken on the characteristics of religious zealotry. It is a brand of conservatism that cannot be negotiated with because its adherents see themselves as the bearers of the one true faith and as victims of a host of apostate "others" who they feel must not be appeased through compromise.

Elements of that brand of conservatism can be seen in a report issued Friday by Democracy Corps based on interviews with groups of conservatives and moderates in Cleveland, Ohio.

"The self-identifying conservative Republicans who make up the base of the Republican Party stand a world apart from the rest of America," the report says, not because they stand in fervent ideological disagreement with President Obama and the mainstream of the Democratic Party but because they "identify themselves as part of a ‘mocked’ minority with a set of shared beliefs and knowledge, and commitment to oppose Obama that sets them apart from the majority in the country."

Among the characteristics of what the report calls "a world apart":

These conservative Republican voters believe Obama is deliberately and ruthlessly advancing a ‘secret agenda’ to bankrupt our country and dramatically expand government control over all aspects of our daily lives. They view this effort in sweeping terms, and cast a successful Obama presidency as the destruction of the United States as it was conceived by our founders and developed over the past 200 years.

This concern combines with a profound sense of collective identity. In our conversations, it was striking how these voters constantly characterized themselves as part of a group of individuals who share a set of beliefs, a unique knowledge, and a commitment of opposition to Obama that sets them apart from the majority of the country. They readily identify themselves as a minority in this country – a minority whose values are mocked and attacked by a liberal me- dia and class of elites. They also believe they possess a level of knowledge and understanding when it comes to politics and current events, one gained from a rejection of the mainstream media and an embrace of conservative media and pundits such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, which sets them apart even more. Further, they believe this position leaves them with a responsibility to spread the word, to educate those who do not share their insights, and to take back the country that they love. Their faith in this country and its ideals leave them confident that their numbers will grow, and that they will ultimately defeat Barack Obama and the shadowy forces driving his hidden agenda.

These voters can't be viewed in partisan terms, the report goes on to say. They are as likely to label Republican politicians as political infidels as their Democratic counterparts. Nor, the report says, do the views of this group appear overtly to be racially motivated hatred toward Barack Obama as the first biracial president. Rather, "they are actively rooting for Obama to fail as president because they believe he is not acting in good faith as the leader of our country... [T]hey explicitly believe he is purposely and ruthlessly executing a hidden agenda to weaken and ultimately destroy the foundations of our country."

It sounds to some of us like the stuff that is babbled by mentally ill homeless people, but it's very real to the significant segment of the electorate that gets its framing of the political debate from Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and their ilk. The danger for progressives, and for democracy as a whole, as Gabler wote, is this:

Having opted out of political discourse, they are not susceptible to any suasion. Rationality won't work because their arguments are faith-based rather than evidence-based. Better message control won't work. Improved strategies won't work. Grass-roots organizing won't work. Nothing will work because you cannot convince religious fanatics of anything other than what they already believe, even if their religion is political dogma.

David Corn, writing about this in Mother Jones, believes that it is not Obama that is in the most peril from this wing of conservatives but the Republican Party:

So is this a problem for Obama? Probably not. The White House can dismiss this group as a right-wing fringe. The real dilemma is for the Republican Party. How can it speak to (or appease) these voters without appearing extreme and without alienating reasonable Republicans and independents? After all, GOP chairman Michael Steele, Republican congressional leaders, and the party's 2012 presidential contenders will have a tough time remaining in the real world while courting conservatives who reside somewhere else. But if GOP leaders don't join the underground movement hailed by these conservatives, won't that indicate they, too, are part of the Obama conspiracy?

The report finds that the independent voters they interviewed are not being won over by this group of extremists. They see the Republican Party as one that "advances the interests of the rich and big businesses at the expense of the middle class. They worry about the Democratic Party’s proclivity to spend tax dollars and provide ‘freebies’ to those who do not do their fair share, but they appreciate the Democrats’ focus on ‘the little people’ (among which they included themselves) and the fact that ‘it’s not all about the money.’"

This summer, Sara Robinson wrote a three-part series on what she provocatively called "fascist America." In Part III of her series, Robinson discussed the political contract that through much of American history promised "the upper classes predictable, reliable wealth in return for their investments ... the middle class mobility, comfort, and security ... [and] the working classes fair reward for fair work, chances to move ahead, and protection against very real risk that they'll be forced into poverty if they can't work any more."

For the past four decades, conservatives have done everything in their power to dismantle that essential contract, and thus destroy our mutual confidence in the fundamental agreements that allow any democratic system to function. (None dare call it treason -- but a solid case could be made.) This isn't news: by now, most of us can recite the litany, chapter and verse, of the all the many ways they hacked away at America's essential ability to function as the Constitution intended.

... America's best (and perhaps only) chance to keep the shreds of its tattered democracy intact is to get serious about cutting working Americans back into the democratic contract -- and repair their broken trust by making damn sure those promises are actually kept. Once they're back on board, the system will begin to work again for everyone. Until then, the accelerating breakdown is just going to continue.

In the Democracy Corps report, there is more hope that progressives can win the hearts and minds of independent voters with a message of using the power of government to protect ordinary Americans from the conservative-inspired excesses of capitalism run wild, while putting forward concrete plans for restoring their ability to find good-paying jobs and enjoy an improved quality of life.

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