Friday, October 23, 2009

Weekend Special

It's just not easy being green. Here's a secret for you all. One of my dream jobs is to work on Sesame Street!!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Human Rights Watch

I happen to have a lot of angry moments that have to be constrained because I'm in a public place. For instance, tonight I was sitting in the "quiet" wing of the library reading the NYT's op-ed section and I ran into an article that just made my blood boil. Usually I would grab the nearest person and explain my grievances, but given my circumstance and the fact that the english major next to me wouldn't have understood, I restrained myself.

The article I'm referring too was written by the founder of the Human Rights Watch, Robert Bernstein. The former chairman basically outlines why the HRW should stop critizing Israel and begin focusing more on crimes committed in other middle eastern countries. Bernstein believes that the HRW should focus on "closed" societies e.g. North Korea, Iran, Sudan. In a response officials at the HRW said,
"If that were the case, we would not work on US abuses in Guantanamo Bay, police abuse in Brazil, the "untouchables" in India, or migrants in South Africa. "Open" societies and democracies commit human rights abuses."

The other point to consider here is that who determined that Israel is an "open" society, the policies enacted by the Knesset have proven to me that it is not. Those living in the occupied territories are forced to pay taxes, yet they have no voting rights. Walls and checkpoints are constructed each day that limit the mobility and livelihood of those living in the OT. And still to this day land policies discriminate against Arabs in the OT. For instance in East Jerusalem Arabs are forced to apply for residency each year, if they fail to renew they are evicted.
Bernstein says that through vigorous public debate and an adversarial press, democracies can change by themselves, yet over the last 60 years not much has changed for those living in the OT's and Palestinian refugee camps longing to return to their homes. So while Palestinians continue to live in third world conditions where water, electricity and food are luxuries the Human Rights Watch should have an obligation to report on any further crimes committed against them. Because in the end their mission statement reads:

We stand with victims and activists to prevent discrimination, to uphold political freedom, to protect people from inhumane conduct in wartime, and to bring offenders to justice. We investigate and expose human rights violations and hold abusers accountable. We challenge governments and those who hold power to end abusive practices and respect international human rights law. We enlist the public and the international community to support the cause of human rights for all.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Held By The Taliban

I wanted to link you all to this great article in todays NYT's. David Rohde was captured by the Taliban in November of 2008 outside Kabul, Afghanistan. Today's piece is the second in a five part series detailing his capture and imprisonment. If you read Dexter Filkins first hand account of his time in Iraq and Afghanistan you will really enjoy this series. Its unreal to think these are factual events, imagining yourself in these situations is near impossible.  


Thursday, October 15, 2009

C-o-l-a cola.

So it turns out Obama is proposing that we spend an additional 13 billion this year to give seniors the bonus they won't be receiving through COLA. Since the cost of living didn't increase for the first time in 40 some years social security recipients will not have their benefits increased. A professor of mine lashed out at the policy decesion today citing that it was a waste of money, if the cost of living did not increase why would recipients need more money.

I tend to go along with the Administration on this one. Besides the fact that this gets the AARP off Obama's back and decreases a little pressure from seniors over the proposed medicare cuts, we still have to remember we're recovering from a recession. 401ks are still in the gutter, and recipients are bound to spend this money on the essentials. I doub't most will be saving it for a rainy day, considering its been raining for the last 12 months. If anything this is a stealthy stimulus that can gain support from both sides of the aisle.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Changing views on Afghanistan.

If you woke up today it was hard to miss the differing analyses on the war in Afghanistan. Dexter Filkins wrote a piece on the challenges facing McChrystal over the next 24 months, Thomas Friedman laid down an argument calling for a stronger US hand against Karzai's courruption, and the Times reported again on Vice President Biden's "specialized security" strategy.

If you didn't read all of Filkin's piece on McChrystal I don't blame you, it was about as long as a small book. Although if you did, you noticed he pointed out some interesting characteristics of the strategy being deployed in Afghanistan. McChrystal is focusing on three new goals, protect the Afghan people, build an Afghan state, and make friends with whoever you can. Its obvious if we want to "win" we need to gain the support of the local population, to do this the commander has decided to back off from engaging the enemy. Instead new tactics will revolve around making the insurgents come to us, if the insurgency revolves around people, McChrystal says "What I want to do is get on the inside, looking out — instead of being on the outside looking in.”

The general also believes that he can make many of the insurgents switch sides. Much like Iraq in 2007 when large groups of insurgents became police officers (aka we paid them to switch sides), McChyrstal believes the insurgents in Afghanistan could be handled in similar fashion. I tend to go along with this theory too, the Pashtun's like any people are looking for a stable, safe environment, they are not ideologically driven so they will flock to whoever offers them that haven.

McChrystal likes to talk about the 2 different ways of fighting the war. There is the hard side and soft side, for the general and his commanders the "hard side" necessitates an increased number of soldiers in the country that can provide security to civilians, while they rebuild their government. The soft side focuses on training soldiers, the problem here is that a large percentage (something like 1 in 4) of Afghan's are illiterate. Imagine training soldiers that cannot read or write, it took nearly four years to create Iraq's security force. Not to mention you have to consider funding a force of around 200,000, that would cost about 4 to 5 billion dollars, the Afghan yearly revenue is more in the ball park of 600 million.

Building a stable government that provides basic services for Afghani's was the other key to McChrystal's success. This leads us to the valid point that Friedman brought up in his op-ed today.

"This is crazy. We have been way too polite, and too worried about looking like a colonial power, in dealing with Karzai. I would not add a single soldier there before this guy, if he does win the presidency, takes visible steps to clean up his government in ways that would be respected by the Afghan people."

This problem is not going to be fixed by military leaders, international pressure needs to be applied to the Karzai gang. Freidman pointed out that he is basically running his own form of the mafia. You scratch my back I scratch yours. You piss me off, you end up wearing cement shoes. Until the corruption at the top is cut off, the people will continue to look for service's from outside influences (Taliban.)

I've written a number of post's on Afghanistan and most have concluded with an argument in favor of American withdrawal from the conflict. Biden's plan calls for special forces and drones to keep Al Qaeda down for the count. I really believe that can work, the CIA has already been able to kill 11 of the top 20 Al Qaeda leaders. Yet if our troops withdrawal from the countryside it is certain that the Taliban will again take over. We may be able protect our own interests from terrorist threats, but we won't be able to protect the lives and rights of the Afghans we leave behind. Obama like any good idealist has spread the values of democracy across the world during the last 9 months, last week he won a Nobel Peace Prize for it. We should only hope that the President will insure that those ideals are spread to the people of Afghanistan, they've waited thirty years for peace, and we've already come this far.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

George Will and Rights

George Will wrote an outrageous op-ed in the Post Sunday. Throughout the piece Will finds a way to put down activist's that speak out for the rights of minorities. As he calls them "Rights talkers" are inherently aggressive, tend toward moral inflation and hold preemptive resentments. Yet the last time I checked it was groups of these activists that gained women the right to vote, brought civil rights to the forefront of 60's politics, and more recently have spread the ideals of equal rights for all american's regardless of sexual orientation. I'm sure if the founding fathers sat at home "non-aggressively" we would have formed this nation that is based on rights.

So thats the other point, Will complains about "the inability of people nowadays to recommend this or that health-care policy as merely wise or just. Each proposal must be invested with the dignity of a right." I'm thinking Will missed the 5th grade class that covered the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. The fact is we argue over our rights, everyday legislation is debated over how those rights will affect our daily lives. Somewhere in the DofI it notes that "life" is one of our unalienable rights, well George I would imagine thats why policy makers are debating healthcare in the context of "rights."

In 1944 FDR suggested that the nation should recognize a Second Bill of Rights, he included a job with a living wage, education, and health care. With unemployment reaching almost 10% and our education system in shambles (cough, cough NCLB) health care seems like the most promising objective we can reach for. If it takes some whole foods shopping "rights talkers" in congress to reach one of FDR's goals, go for it. George Will is mistaken "rights talkers" don't tend toward moral inflation we create it. In the 1960's a vast majority of Americans disagreed with the Civil Rights movement, but through moral inflation we not only passed legislation but eventually changed the mind set of the public. Can the same not be done for Same-Sex marriage and Healthcare?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Gone Hiking

I'll be doing some hiking in the Shenandoah for the rest of the week. Lucky for me I'll be free from the forces of the internet, unfortunate for all you the progressive blogging will be limited. I'll try to upload some pictures... proof I wasn't just blowing you all off. Until Sunday I recommend Klien and Drum (see the link over on the right side of the screen.)