Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Herman Cain, Really?

Rick Perry has been hailed as the frontrunner of the Republican presidential race for weeks. This status has been questioned following a loss to Mitt Romney in a straw poll in Michigan and an even more head scratching loss to Herman Cain in a straw poll down in Florida.

 I can understand a loss to Romney in Michigan given Mr. Romney’s connections within the state, but losing to Herman Cain anywhere is unacceptable. Was there a Godfather’s Pizza van parked near the polling location? If Rick Perry is such a frontrunner why is he losing to such a long shot?

Now one could argue that most of the major candidates did not really compete in this poll. That could provide a potential problem come election time as you’ve now told a group of very important voters that you only care when a nomination or electoral votes are on the line.

With all due respect to Mr. Cain’s success, this smacks of a protest vote from a population that feels unrepresented, a maybe a hair disrespected, by the current crop of Republican candidates. But than again, this is probably why the name of tough talking New Jersey Governor Chris Christie remains on the lips of many Republican pundits.

Vladimir is Our Man

Over the weekend, Vladimir Putin announced his intention to run for president of Russia in 2012, which he will assuredly win because United Russia will almost certainly win sixty percent of the vote, at least. I come as a man of mixed feelings to this news.

As a democracy advocate, I’m saddened that United Russia through Putin-Medvedev has been able to retain power in such a manor through high tresholds and outright exclusion of opposition parties. However, the Russian people seem to like Mr. Putin and his policies and honestly looking at the American government at the moment, I got no right to complain.

There is a good side to the continuation of Putin policies in Russia. Russia has a wide range of politicians that express a range of views including many rabid nationalists. Although not a tremendous fan of Putin, I am wise enough to understand that Putin has specific policies and that although they are not exactly Western friendly in some cases, they are at least tolerable. This is more than I can say for some of his rivals. Besides as long as most Russians don’t mind politics this way, who am I as an outsider to judge?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Another Russian-Ukrainian Gas War

In the background of the Tymoshenko trial, there may be yet another Russia-Ukraine gas war brewing. Last week, Prime Minister Putin flipped the switch on the first stage of a triple-threaded Nord Stream pipeline underneath the Baltic Sea that Russia hopes will eventually allow it to deliver all its’ gas directly through Europe bypassing the old Soviet pipelines that travel throughout Ukraine and Belarus, who have tried to play politics with Russia over gas. Fortunately, for Ukraine and others the second and third pipelines are on the drawing board at best, meaning Russia is still dependent on Ukraine.

Ukraine already stands to lose a quarter of gas pumped to Europe meaning a substantial loss in transit fees. This as Ukraine fumes at having to pay prices higher than Germany for gas. This is an estimated 20% of the national budget and a five to six billion dollar overpay according to Ukrainian officials. President Yankovich wants to renegotiate the deal but the Kremlin will probably demand concessions Kiev is unwilling to make. Source: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Europe/2011/0908/Nord-Stream-pipeline-gives-Russia-edge-in-European-gas-wars.

I don’t want to see anyone frozen out through use of the energy weapon by Russia, Ukraine, or any other country. And all of this gas tit for tat makes for epic villains and no heroes. I wish this situation a peaceful end.

Tymoshenko on Trial

The former Prime Minister of Ukraine and the “princess” of the 2005 Orange Revolution in Ukraine has now been put on trial for abusing of office in signing a gas deal with Russia in 2009. Much of the western press has declared the actions of Vicktor Yankovich as an unjust persecution and drew the tag team rebuke of Russia who views the charges as an indirect attack on Prime Minister Putin, who signed the deal and the European Union who benefited from the deal. Source: http://www.economist.com/node/21525974

It’s hard to escape what President Yankovich would gain from convicting Ms. Tymoshenko in preventing her from running for the presidency against him again. By eliminating a key rival, conventional wisdom would dictate a potentially easier road to the presidency. High praise for someone with a criminal background. The whole thing sounds north of ridiculous.

It’s described by CSM as "collusion with Vladimir Putin in striking a bargain that was detrimental to her countries interests." Logically, why would she cut a deal with Putin what was exactly “in it” for her, if not national interest? Furthermore, Russia-Ukraine relations weren’t exactly sterling when Tymoshenko was PM. The Orange Revolution unseated the Kremlin-popular Leonid Kuchma, why would the Kremlin want to aid Tymoshenko so much, unless they engineered the whole thing to facilitate her fall from power…Oh great, not another Russian conspiracy theory.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Do We Want Arab Democracy?

Arab democracy is the hot trend throughout the Middle East as many previously stable autocratic regimes have quaked under popular protest. My question today is: Does a wave of Arab democracy benefit the national security interests of the United States?

 Before you brand the question as the crazy ramblings of a college student blogger, consider what true democracy would mean throughout parts of the Arab World. Public perceptions of the United States within the Middle East were positively woeful throughout the Middle East particularly in Saudi Arabia and Jordan (where we prop up the monarchies) we’re talking under ten percent favorable ratings under George W. Bush and I don’t think there’s been a great resurgence under Barack Obama.

If our friendly dictators fall and free elections are allowed to take place throughout the Arab world, the resulting governments are likely to be quite hostile towards the American self interest and Americans in general. That’s why an unfettered flag waving for democratic processes in the Middle East hasn’t been undertaken by Washington because they understand that the Middle East could become a simmering pool of resentment for Americans…if democracy movements are not checked somewhat.

 Of course, the United States still has to appear to support human rights and freedom, while wondering “what if x falls”? With more than a passing concern in their eyes.

Amnesty for the LRA

There’s an ongoing debate currently ongoing in Uganda about the constitutionality of the Ugandan government’s Amnesty Act of 2000, which provides a vital tool for encouraging LRA commanders and rank-file fighters to leave the group. Source: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Africa/Africa-Monitor/2011/0909/Uganda-looks-to-strike-down-LRA-amnesty-law.

This is a rough issue, because were dealing with a group that has abducted numerous children and forced them to fight. The efforts to rehabilitate these children are truly heartbreaking. Setting aside the tremendous humanitarian impact this conflict has caused, do we eliminate the Amnesty Law or uphold it.

On one hand, amnesty has indeed enticed many to leave the L.R.A. This amnesty law has not however had the effect of ending the conflict. Joseph Kony will just find a way to find my fighters, probably through force of violence. It has also created a culture of immunity for men who have committed horrible atrosities and terrorized average Ugandans. But if you don’t have amnesty then you run the risk of prosecuting child soldiers who were coerced or drugged into becoming killers. Furthermore, I’m not confident the Ugandan justice system is strong enough to survive the mass influx of potential criminals connected to the conflict.

There’s no easy answer…but we cannot let a culture of impunity to reign supreme, or risk being branded just another African country that is corrupt, war-like, and can’t deal with its’ own problems. I think an absolute amnesty law is the wrong approach and hasn’t changed the bottom line of the hostilities. Every person should have their day in court and let whatever justice system in Uganda take its’ course, whatever may come it. Through immunity, only comes further criminality.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Danger of Twitter in Mexico

Mexico’s out of control drug war has compelled many of the traditional print media outlets to cease covering the conflict out of safety for journalists. In this information vacuum has stepped a variety of bloggers and social networking websites like Twitter. Recently commuters discovered two tortured bodies hanging from a footbridge in Nuevo Laredo a northern city that has experienced much fighting related to the drug wars. Near the bodies was a note saying “This will happen to all gossips on the Internet.” Drug cartels aren’t the only threat though. The government arrested on terrorist charges after spreading false Twitter rumors that children were being kidnapped from schools. Source: http://www.economist.com/blogs/americasview/2011/09/free-speech-mexico

This presents an interesting question for governments, how do you deal with social networking sites since the law is obviously foggy in this area. You don’t want to shut out what has proven to be awesome tool for information sharing…or maybe you would given the bloody nature of this conflict. But we also cannot opt for a culture that allows for any rumor to become absolute fact. There needs to be some element of human accountability here and realize that the actions you take on social networking websites can have real world consequences beyond our lens of vision.

Death Penalty Inc.

The Christian Science Monitor has posted a list of the top five death penalty utilizing countries since 2007. You can view the article here: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Global-Issues/2011/0918/Death-penalty-Top-5-countries-to-execute-the-most-people/

The top five countries in descending order: Pakistan, The United States, Iran, Iraq, and China. This really isn’t a list the United States wants to be on, surrounded by three dictatorships and an Iraq that has been unquestionably influenced by Iran.

 Human rights advocates and death penalty opponents are liable to have a field day with this one because they now have certifiable proof that the United States is among the most barbaric nations of the world, at least in one category. I personally don’t like the fact that the United States is on this list and think that the death penalty doesn’t really accomplish much.

With all due respect to death penalty advocates and those who’ve lost relatives and friends in the most heinous of ways, the death penalty gives criminals the easy way out.

Think about it, wouldn’t it be more punishing to make capital murderers sit in a jail cell for a lifetime thinking about the things they’ve done locking them into their thoughts that have the power to torture. As opposed to a death penalty, where in mere minutes its’ over after the years of appeals. It doesn’t bring the person who died and in a way you offer a quick escape card to cold blooded killers. But maybe commenter’s can show me the errors of my ways.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Mind Over Martyr

The title for this blog comes from Jessica Stern’s article of the same name that appeared in Foreign Affairs January-February 2010. While I’m unprepared to discuss the successes and failures of de-radicalization programs she describes, I think the central points she makes about countering terrorism are on quite sound footing. No military will ever kill their way to victory because the ideas themselves never exactly die. What we can do is identify is what makes someone more likely to be attracted to these radical terrorist ideas and take steps to correct these societal imbalances.

The picture of a terrorist painted by Stern is an immigrant who moved to the West in search of a better life. Instead of that better life, they are relegated to the most menial jobs and that’s even if they find a job, they feel like and are often marked as outsiders or others within their new community and perhaps discriminated against. Others have expierianced serious psychological trauma and humiliation…highlighted by the Palestinians who feeling humiliated and degraded by a lifetime of Israeli occupation turn into suicide bombers to reclaim some power, even in death.

In order to combat these problems, we need to increase our programs of integration for new immigrants to America, provide better job opportunities, and just in general make them feel welcome. Terrorist ideologies thrive among the isolated and those largely ignorant of religion. We have to fight this war on two fronts: one a military front…the other a domestic preventative front, if we fail in either arena, than the War on Terror will become about as successful as the War on Drugs.

Palestine: A State Not Yet?

I’ve tossed this one back and forth for weeks because on one hand, I believe that the Palestinians deserve their own state, just like the Israelis. My concern is the timeframe of it all.

Palestinian leadership is headed to the United Nations with an application for statehood…amid Israeli consternation and the United States threats to cut off foreign aid and veto the application if necessary. There are many questions that I have of the Palestinian Authority who is pressing forward with this application. The first of these questions revolves around economic concerns. Most states have something that can point towards that drives their economy.

The Palestinians are highly dependent on foreign aid and face the prospect of losing chunks of it, if this application goes through. Israel of course, still occupies the West Bank making any sort of economic development difficult. When your economy is foreign aid, that could be a problem, given the current economic conditions.

Furthermore, does the Palestinian Authority have the people with them on this question? The last thing we need is to recognize Palestine and than have an immediate civil war for control between the PA and Hamas for control. There is a sizeable base for support for Hamas within the area, so I’m not sure who to go with here.

Some people are against the statehood application because it undermines the peace process. Yeah, a peace process that has been particularly effective in solving the conflict for sixty plus years…that sucker needs to be undermined on some level because we’ve made little tangible process on the Israeli-Palestinian issue because often one or both sides have been more concerned about preservation of their own self images than actually bringing peace. But given the infrastructure, economic, and group dynamics, I’m not quite ready to endorse Palestinian statehood, even though I think they deserve it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Spongebrain No Pants?

Haters of Sponge Bob Squarepants have new ammunition after a recent study that declared that children who watched nine minutes of frenetically paced cartoons like Nick’s favorite sponge did worse afterward on tasks that focus and self control than kids who watched slower paced shows or colored.

This hasn’t been the only red flag study for young television watchers. A 2009 study found that television time decreases back and forth between parents and children that can be crucial to development. Kids in this study watched television than were asked to move disks from one peg to another, a Simon Says Like Game, repeating number sequences, touch body parts and other tasks. Source: http://www.csmonitor.com/Science/2011/0912/SpongeBob-study-Do-fast-paced-cartoons-impair-kids-thinking

Too much of anything is never a good thing. Young children should be out playing with friends getting out in fresh air…etc. Not trapped behind a box, this could be a great deal of the childhood obesity epidemic in this country.

Personally, I’ve always thought SpongeBob was one of the most bizarre shows on television. Although in the interest of full disclosure I was raised on Pee Wee’s Playhouse, which was creepy enough for everyone. It makes sense that there would be effects from watching these types of shows.

The question is what do parents do about this? Do they moderate children’s television habits or does their own convenience in a fast paced world trump the detriment of their children?

The Democratic Alien Theory

Some of my friends are frankly surprised at some of the views I express on this blog because I’m a Democrat. For some people, its’ as if I’ve splashed down from another planet or the spaceship in Roswell. The reality is that I like small towns more than big cities and count many Republicans among my friends. It is my greatest hope that this allows me to understand a broad range of positions. None of my friends are zealots or whack jobs. And for my part, I’m not a New Deal Liberal Democrat. The reality is that there aren’t just two political parties rather two parties with millions of different combination of belief sets. You’ll never see me bend down to kiss a politicians backside or beat the drum for two largely disinteresting political parties. If this makes me an alien than call E.T. cause I need to phone home.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Innovators Not Orators

Both sides of the train wreck that is our United States government have offered ideas on how to fix the mess that is the United States economy. After hearing both sides, I need a nap because you guys are boring me to death with all your tired, out of touch, proposed before solutions.

 This crisis is one that most of us have never seen before, as the economy has been in relatively sound shape since World War II with a few hiccups during the 1970’s and 80’s. It has become clear to me and many others on Main Street that governmental rhetoric and toddler style squabbling will not get us out of this mess and is quite likely to make this worse before their better.

We need innovators like Steve Jobs who can create new products and change the landscape of the world. New ideas that can blast the tired old retreads trotted out by our so called leaders.

 The solutions to the world’s problems do not come from politicians, they are created within the walls of the globes best research and development companies…you name a problem someone is probably working on something as I type these words. It is our task to either find the people with these groundbreaking ideas or even better create them for ourselves. Anyone expecting government to solve this problem, is foolish.

The Battle for Reagan’s’ Mantle

The current crop of Republican candidates for the 2012 Presidential Nomination are battling each other, and Barack Obama, but there’s a ghost in the debating halls throughout this country and his name is Ronald Reagan.

Regardless of anyone’s opinion of President Reagan, no one can deny that his legacy still stamps the Republican party, much as John Kennedy still stamps the Democratic party in my view. No Republican will win the White House or a guest house without making the proper appeals to the Reagan Republicans. That’s why his name is so prevalent on the lips of virtually every candidate in the race.

What should bother us is that we have to look back at leaders like Reagan and Kennedy with an almost respectful sadness because it doesn’t look like we have leaders who are willing to step up and lead just those whose only skill is shooting flaming balls of dragon rhetoric at the other side.

It’s great to invoke the leaders of our not so distant past, but all this constant invoking leads one to question “If you’re the candidate for office, why are you bringing up Reagan every third comment…why should we vote for you"?

And most importantly to the Republican candidates: There was and will only be one Ronald Reagan and none of you have shown me you’re the innovator we need now.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Will Riots Come to America?

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has indicated that there is a strong likelihood of riots in the United States similar to those throughout Athens and London, if the politicians in Washington don’t do something to create more jobs in this country. Bloomberg is right here, the elements are simmering perfectly for large scale riots throughout the streets of this country.

There’s a title-wave of discontent over the inability of government to do much of anything, scores of middle class Americans out of work for months and years with few prospects for gainful employment, and an ever growing population of young college educated graduates who also can’t find jobs.

I’m not advocating rioting in the streets, that would be a great tragedy and really solves nothing. But are we really that far from the protesters that brought about the Arab Spring? Think about it, they protested governments that where viewed as unresponsive to their people’s needs. The protesters were largely young, many reasonably educated and jobless. Peoples wants are largely basic: they want to be secure and they want the ability to provide for their families in a dignified manner.

I’m calling on our political leaders to listen to the growing poverty rates, foreclosures, and general strife and do something. I’m very much afraid our politicians will miss the signals and not see the protests coming…then again neither did Mubarak.

Violence is for Barbarians

The title for this blog comes from a Tweet I posted at approximately 3:00 AM Thursday.

The previous day, I had attended my graduate seminar and during the break, the topic turned to the IRA somehow. My professor who is British, told those of us in the room that the IRA bombed his hometown once and killed two little kids and described the IRA as barbarians. I’ve covered the topic before on the blog, but this point needs to be hammered home.

There are a great many levels on which terrorism is beyond the grasp of the rational mind and this one of them. Two little kids? How exactly does that forward your goal? What act of British domination did they commit? I can’t voice my contempt for barbaric actions like these.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

When Bringing A Terrorist Book to Jury Duty

Much of this stuff on terrorism is quite depressing, given the anywhere anytime nature of the enterprise. So I wanted to add just a dash of humor into the fray. Last August, I was summoned for the great American civic activity of jury duty that serves as a microcosm of life. Your given a tiny stipend somewhere between $9 and $12 to pay for parking and a bite to eat…unfortunately after parking and the price of a decent meal that isn’t charcoaled to the point of needing a food appraiser to determine what it may have been in some past life…you discover that you’ve earned -9 dollars.

As your made to sit there for long periods of time…a book is a good idea, though I don’t recommend the Al Qaeda Reader as you can apparently get thrown off airplanes for reading that on a flight. So what’s a guy like me supposed to read in the long drawn out seat cushion smashing contest that jury duty turns into? I went safe and chose The Mind of The Terrorist: The Psychology of Terrorism From the IRA to Al Qaeda by Jerrold M. Post- an enlightening look at what motivates terrorist groups to do the things they do. It’s the perfect book because it brands you as serious and opens a conversation topic, while not painting you as a terrorist sympathetic whack job.

The Burning World of Free Markets and Democracy

Free Markets and Democracy have been presented to the Global South/Developing World as the cure to all their problems. Ironically, this is where the problems begin as outlined in Amy Chua’s book World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability.

The argument of the book is that free market economic policies championed by the West concentrated wealth in the hands of a tiny hated ethnic minority at the expense of majority populations. These market dominant minorities like Jews in Russia, Croats in the Former Yugoslavia, Chinese in Southeast Asia become the targets of extreme hatred and are often exploited by adept politicians exploiting ethnic nationalism for their own political gain.

I believe strongly in Chua’s argument. Free Markets and Democracy are no more a cure all than Islamic Extremism, Communism, or Nazism were before that. Ideas of free market democracy sounds fantastic on paper, but paper burns pretty damn easy.

In the West, we have a bad tendency to sometimes project our reality onto the rest of the world with brutal results like Chua outlines. We have in many cases imposed the free market democracy idea on the rest of the world without regard or care for what the repercussions may be. Well for the blind proponents of free market democracy here they are:

Small class of wealthy ethnic minorities + large impoverished ethnic majority + democratic elections that bring to power a president who played the nationalist card = brutality in the streets.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Islamic Bomb

Al J. Venter has written an interesting book Allah’s Bomb: The Islamic Quest for Nuclear Weapons outlying the various ways in which Islamic countries and terrorists have sought to acquire nuclear weapons. These links include Iran acquiring nuclear power, poorly guarded nuclear material throughout the former Soviet Union, the AQ Khan nuclear smuggling operation that had dealings with North Korea and others, and South Africa’s completion of a uranium enrichment program meant for Kaddafi’s Libya. I don’t dispute the reality that some terrorist elements would have the desire for a nuclear weapon, but is the threat of an Islamic nuclear bomb real?

Iran despite toxic rhetoric knows a nuclear attack against the West would be met in kind and probably wouldn’t act as a sovereign state in the endeavor. So lets say we scratch individual states from the list because of the threat of mutual assured destruction. Do our Islamic enemies have the manpower or knowledge to carry out a nuclear weapons attack? While they may have knowledge, these Islamic groups want the war to end times…we are talking decades or centuries. Therefore, by detonating a nuclear bomb they would end the world in a chain reaction of events within moments, it just doesn’t seem their style.

They’d prefer to bleed the U.S. and our partners slowly as they’ve done in Iraq and Afghanistan while perpetrating smaller scale attacks throughout the globe against selected soft targets. There is something so final about a nuclear bomb and I don’t believe a modern state or terrorist group is willing to press for the endgame.

Abu Ghraib and Loss of the Moral Imperative

Philip Gourevitch collaborated with renowned filmmaker Errol Morris to create the book Standard Operating Procedure about the ramped abuses that were committed by U.S. troops at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The pictures have become etched into the memories of many a political science student and outraged countless Americans when they were splashed across every major network news broadcast, several years ago.

 Many would claim that the waging of war articulates special rules that would in fact allow for such behavior as displayed in those pictures. I’ve said on this blog previously that terrorists occupy a certain sub humanity, but at Abu Ghraib the Americans didn’t have the faintest concept whether they had blood lusty jihadists or innocents. The reprehensible behavior displayed at Abu Ghraib may have created more terror than it prevented.

In committing these abuses, the United States largely lost the moral imperative that comes with democracy. Democracies have certain expectations like respect for human rights, rules of war, and basic human dignity. By treating everyday Iraqis as though they are dogs, you’ve in effect placed yourself on similar or the same moral footing as Saddam Hussein, which is a ground no democracy can afford.

The U.S. was supposed to be granted as liberators from Saddam’s tyranny…but Abu Ghraib creating an open question “If the liberators can commit such brutal acts, than what are we being liberated to. Human rights and public opinion mean a lot in this war. If we lose the battle for the hearts and minds of Iraqis or Afghanis, than we might as well go home.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Egyptian-Israel Future

The Arab Spring threw a change-up in the relations between Israel and Egypt. A line of autocratic rulers from Sadat to Mubarak have guaranteed Israelis protection through a wide variety of treaties and statements. Now that Egypt has thrown out Hosni Mubarak and made a turn towards democracy, some basic realities need to be confronted. On the Egyptian street, there’s at best a healthy mistrust towards Israel--and at worst complete and utter hatred. While most international observers expect Egypt to maintain international obligations, there’s no dispute that it will be an election issue and that Israelis Mubarak era relations are over.

Last Fridays violent protests at the Israeli embassy might be just the tip of a larger iceberg depending on what government eventually comes to Egypt. Representative governments are much more susceptible to popular pressure at the ballot box than Israel’s previous dictator friends. How the new leaders respond to the healthy hatred of the populace towards Israel is a key question. If their seen as too nice towards Jerusalem, they could be voted out or worse. But if their seen as overly hostile and antagonistic towards Israel, then we could run the risk of another Middle East war. Israel will be one of the greatest foreign policy questions for the new leaders of Egypt.

The Taiwan Problem

The United States Congress will be faced with a request to purchase 66 F-16 C/D fighters that many analysts expect them to turn down. Still it puts directly in the spotlight the complex dilemma the U.S. faces in Taiwan. In 1979, America signed the Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character. China can claim that we violate the Third Communiqué signed with them in 1992 that basically restricted U.S. arms sales to nothing greater than those approved in recent years.

 Amid this backdrop, the Chinese military has expanded rapidly, providing a greater threat to Taiwan. Meanwhile, China is a chief holder of U.S. Debt. Adding another wrinkle, under the KMT government China-Taiwan relations have improved, but could be overturned in January’s elections. Source: http://www.economist.com/node/21528256.

There are several options 1. Retrofitting of previously purchased 1992 weapons (most likely), 2.we could give Taiwan a lesser order of new weaponry at risk of irritating our debt holder. 3.But if we don’t give them anything, than we may be leading them to slaughter given China’s military rise as we may not be able to help them.

The question is hard, but considering that the threat they face depends on who governs them, I would give Taiwan a smaller quantity of the newer weapons, as they are facing a potentially hostile neighbor with some of the best weapons in the world. This way, you still hold your agreement with Taiwan because they have weapons, while you can go back to China and claim that you haven’t violated your agreement with them.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Lessons From 9-11

1. You have to take action on your own. Despite first responders best efforts and no doubt best intentions, the people who survived the attacks, largely took action on their own while those who waited to be rescued are not here today.

2. Terrorism is a global phenomenon and no nation is exempt from its’ effects. Before 9-11, there seemed to be this American ignorance to the problem of terrorism. Through 9-11, terrorism was brought to our shores…so that we can no longer exclude ourselves from the problems of the world.

3. Terrorists will exploit any opportunity we give them, they are crafty and inventive in a sickening way. Therefore, we need to be just as creative in the solutions that we propose in dealing with them. Terrorism cannot be defeated through guns and bombs alone.

4. On the plus side, when the chips are down, the global community did manage to show that for the bitterest of passing moments, they can come together. If we stay together, we can fight any enemy, but if we continue to divide ourselves through partisanship games, than we shall be defeated.

The Middle East That Wasn’t

George W. Bush spoke of a democratic domino theory of sorts occurring throughout the Middle East once Saddam Hussein was toppled. Dictators throughout the rest of the region would fall spurred on by the American military example in Iraq.

This was supposed to be the added benefit of toppling the Al Qaeda sympathizing, WMD possessing Saddam Hussein. These were the grounds that the war was sold upon (rightly or wrongly). Unfortunately, we ended up trapped in a sectarian civil war with a questionably democratic government that may have only ended up only benefiting the hated government of Iran.

I’m not a Democrat who hates on George W. Bush. Many presidents from both parties have had these grand visions that have gone to tears when confronted with the reality of war. But the current Middle Eastern reality following the Arab Spring is coated in irony here.

Bush envisioned the democratic Middle East coming through American military might. The Arab Spring was largely driven through protests and demonstrations against dictators friendly to America. They largely succeeded when the national military stood down and or joined demonstrators. Many of these people claim to want better relations with the West based on mutual respect.

The Arab Spring is a confirmation of what I have come to accept about democracy. Democracy cannot be achieved through guns and bombs alone. Its’ the people of Iraq and Afghanistan that will ultimately decide the success or failure of democracy. No matter what efforts the United States puts forward.

Excepting Libya, the United States has largely been sidelined offering statements of support for democratic freedom. Although democratic governance has many advantages, its’ best for everyone if democratic movements are citizen driven from inside, rather than imposed from outside.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

When 80% just isn’t good enough

Gotta give props to my former professor Dr. Daniel Kempton for this bit of counterterrorism truth. It goes something like this: If you get an eighty percent on a exam as an undergraduate, you’d be pretty thrilled with that result. If you’re tasked with stopping terrorist attacks, and you only manage to stop eight out of ten, you absolutely blow at your job and need to find a new career. Counterterrorism is an occupation that demands absolute perfection because the stakes are so high. If you fail once, your failure can cost three thousand lives…its’ a hell of a burden that only the very best are capable of holding and I wish them well in their efforts.

The Terrorist Theory of Self Fulfilling Prophecy

Every terrorist group has a goal. For example, Al Qaeda wants to set up a global Islamic caliphate. In order to attract supporters to their cause they need to offer a rationale and an ideology for the actions they take against the perceived or actual enemy. One of the most interesting aspects of terrorist ideologies is this notion of a self fulfilling prophecy.

Al Qaeda has talked for years about a war between Islam and the Western crusaders whom they brand as infidels and declare to their followers that their seeking to invade Islamic lands, capture their wealth through puppet rulers, and enslave the Islamic world.

The problem for Al Qaeda was that the West hadn’t actually invaded an Islamic country since they were invited by the sitting government to set up military within their countries borders. Enter September 11th 2001, planes slam into World Trade Center, Pentagon, and Pennsylvania. In the aftermath, a Western based coalition invades Afghanistan, and then Iraq. This chain of events creates a terrorist theory of self-fulfilling prophecy. Of course, they ignore the fact that it was their actions, rather then a divine act of god that drew the Western response, but why split hairs?

This self fulfilling prophecy reaps benefits for the terrorist leader as he can now claim to have something of a god like capability, which will endear him to followers, possibly creating a personality cult and increase recruitment to the organization. It also may increase his worldwide prestige. Make no mistake, terrorists are as big a group of ego-maniacs as any politician. Why do you think that we have so many groups claiming responsibility for one attack?

 If as a terrorist leader, you can give yourself a godly air than you have essentially the justification to do any deed on this Earth, and that’s why self fur-filling prophecy is so dangerous.

Monday, September 12, 2011

ATM’s to Terrorists

The least surprising leak to come out of the WikiLeaks to date was the declaration that Saudi Arabia and Yemen are essentially terrorist ATM states. What is surprising is the fact that the news media decided to report this fact as though it were some shocking development when the story broke several months ago.

Here’s a newsflash boys and girls, beyond the royal family in Saudi Arabia, Americans are pretty much hated there and I think Yemen is self explanatory given all the news footage. Saudi Arabia and Yemen have large young populations that are disaffected with little hope for a meaningful life. Al Qaeda and their surrogates play on such notions and even offer a target for their anger: The West.

The Al Qaeda message is persuasive, it has to be otherwise people wouldn’t so freely give of their money and their lives. It is in these disaffected areas of the world that meaningful counter-terrorist operations need to occur. The fact that we have terrorist ATM states flush with cash and human capital for the cause, denotes a failure of civilization that has remained fixed in place for a long time.

 We have autocratic rulers who are more concerned with their own bases of power than providing meaningful economic development and jobs to its’ people because that would lead people to question the autocrats grasp on power. As long as such patterns continue: the ATM will continue to flow openly.

The Bin Laden View Since September 11th 2001

September 11th 2001, was a big victory for Osama Bin Laden because of what he was able to compel The United States into. On the basis of 9-11, the United States has launched two costly wars and spent itself into debt in the process. The financial crisis was just icing on the cake. By engaging Bin Laden and his allies in the battlefield, we’ve given him exactly what he wanted. His allies have been able to bleed the Western coalition of some six thousand lives and tire out an increasingly war weary public, while costing the West a great amount of material wealth. He’s also been able to bring able to full fruition his vision of a great conflict between his version of Wahhabi Islam and the West.

This makes terrorist propaganda become something of a self fulfilling prophecy. I’ll have more on this later this weekend. So far it sounds mint for Al Qaeda, but at the cost of declining support within the Middle East and broader Arab world where they need to draw support to survive because of their attacks against fellow Muslims. Further while the West’s efforts have proven costly to itself, it has increasingly marginalized Al Qaeda into smaller bases of operation, most notably Yemen. Yet as a check on CIA director Leon Panetta’s’ dangerous statement about America defeating Al Qaeda, isolated doesn’t equal defeated. One man has the ability to destroy thousands.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

My 9-11 Story

I was 14 years old, a high school freshman at Auburn High School. I was my second hour World History class with Sandy Kliendienst when Allen Okerlander came to the door and whispered something in her ear. That’s how I found out about the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Matt Cascio was the one who broke the news that the Twin Towers had collapsed.

The other big thing I remember about that day was the televisions in the commons, they where all turned to FOX or CNN or something like that and there were students standing around as though mesmerized by the sights of the plumes of smoke rising from the dust of Ground Zero or the hole of the Pentagon. I’ve never seen anything like it since.

That was when I started caring about the news, it wasn’t just far off stories that had no relation to me. Something inside of me broke open that day. 9-11 left no American untouched. For the few briefest moments, America was unified under the banner of simply being an American…there was something beautiful about it. We weren’t Republicans or Democrats, just Americans in a state of utter shock that we had experienced something, painfully clear to much of the rest of the world.

 I’m saddened for the thousands of people who died, the children who will never know their mothers and fathers and vice versa of course. However, I’m sadder that we seem to have forgotten the greatest takeaway of that September day…togetherness.

Don’t we understand, if we continue to remain divided, the terrorists have won?

Letter to a Pennsylvania Field


I honestly don’t understand how this afterlife stuff works, but I can only hope these words somehow reach heaven or wherever you guys are these days. Thank you for your sacrifice on September 11th 2001, your actions probably saved thousands of lives. People conceive of heroes as these mythical figures like Superman or Batman. Or they turn celebrities into false idols. But in those fateful moments, you showed America…the qualities of true heroes. Heroism has nothing to do with brute strength or how much money a person has. The true hero does the right thing when the right thing isn’t the easiest thing to do. America is forever in your debt, a debt we will never truly be able to repay.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The American View Since September 11th 2001

How has America changed since the September 11th attacks?

 Not the world’s easiest question to answer. It would be almost simplistic to be bitingly cynical and chirp that nothing has gone right, citing the Iraq and Afghan wars, the Financial Crisis of 2008, the ugly economic conditions, and a group of elite politicians who largely fail to understand the problems confronting Middle America.

 Yet this proposition cannot be absolutely dismissed as defeatist or fear mongering because its’ pretty damn hard to be positive and happy when your without a job and the cost of everything has been strapped to a rocket ship soaring ever higher, as Joe Main Street struggles to hang on.

Yet there has been much positive since those horrible days of early September, when the America that we had all known was changed. Without question, the civilized world is a better place without Osama Bin Laden in it. We’ve made a number of successes in fighting the former War on Terror, killing and capturing many Al Qaeda leaders.

Most importantly, we haven’t had another terrorist attack. We’ve come perilously close though as the Underwear Bomber and the Time Square Bomber. It’s worth noting that we owe a great debt to the vigilant everyday citizen for their parts in foiling these attacks.

America: where a hot dog vendor and airline passengers can become heroes at a moments notice.

As long as we still have average people willing to go beyond expectations, I have to believe that no matter how bad things get, we will find to make things better.

The World According to September 10th 2001

Here were the events of September 10th 2001 as reported on by the Los Angeles Times. The full list is available here: http://articles.latimes.com/2001/sep/10. Of course the next day, 9-11 blew much of this stuff away, but its’ an interesting contrast at the world before 9-11 and after. Posted below are some of the more notable events with a brief explanation of each:

Ahmed Shah Massoud - A key opposition figure fighting against the Taliban is killed by two men posing as journalists who detonated a bomb inside a television camera. As we all know, Afghanistan would soon occupy the world stage as the United States sought to dislodge the Taliban. How things would’ve been different had Massoud been around in a post Taliban Afghanistan, is an interesting and unfortunate what if question.

New Mideast Attacks Put Truce Talks in Doubt A wave of attacks by Arab militants killed seven and wounded many more, putting peace talks that were scheduled for that week in doubt given Israeli nerves over a spate of recent suicide bombings. Several people within Israeli blamed Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat for the attacks, despite the PA condemnation of them. Never a good sign given that any deal would’ve gone through Arafat. Ten years later, the fighting continues.

5 Killed; Heavily Armed Man Sought- Apparently, California was having a run on rampage killers in the Summer of 2001. Joseph Ferguson gunned down five people after vowing to out-due a previous killer, Nikolay Soltys who had struck the capital city weeks earlier. Ferguson was “packing a cache of high-powered weapons and a satchel of pipe bomb components and wearing a bulletproof vest.” For some reason typing this, I was having Criminal Minds flashbacks.

Bomb Blast Mars Independence Day - A bomb blast rocked the center of Tajikistan's capital, Dushanbe, near the site of low-key celebrations to mark the 10th anniversary of the nation's independence from the Soviet Union. The blast, which killed the bomber, came one day after Culture Minister Abdurakhim Rakhimov was shot and killed. I just threw this one in as an indicator to show how volatile the region that contains the STANS can be, a fact we know all too well.

Belarus President Claims Victory-  Alexander Lukashenko received 75% of the vote and dismissed the allegations of fraud from his competitors, who promptly called on the West to declare the results illegitimate. Ten years later, and the “last dictator of Europe” is still perched on his throne, with two more elections that very much followed the script of the 2001 affair.

How one day can change the world...

Thursday, September 8, 2011

When Sanctioning a Dictator

The international communities favorite weapon against the worlds most detestable regimes is the economic sanction. This usually takes the form of restricting oil imports from a Middle Eastern countries like Syria and Iraq throughout the West. But who are we really punishing when we pursue a regime of sanctions against a country?

Most would argue the dictator, but we can’t really say that because the dictator doesn’t face electoral sanction and likely doesn’t give a damn if his people starve in the streets…see Kim Jon Il in North Korea. Indeed, Saddam Hussein was able to survive sanctions for decades before he was deposed in the Second Iraq War. Sanctions are often felt most acutely by the masses whom the international community least wants to hurt, by making life even less bearable.

The international community relies too much on sanctions in trying to moderate a dictators behavior. I say this because if the dictator has the power, then he has most of what he wants anyway. The sanctions deprive the already desolate of important things and you’ve allowed the dictator to secure propaganda points by declaring that the Western imperialists are the cause of all the peoples problems. In the minority of societies were the information is one sided, these very rhetorically charged arguments can hold sway to a population that has been largely kept ignorant by their dictator father figure.

What is the answer beyond sanctions and blowing the dictator out of the sky? I wish I knew, but the blanket application of sanctions hasn’t proven as useful as hoped.

Should the World Intervene in Syria?

The conflict in Syria has been largely veiled thanks to the upheaval in Libya, but an estimated 2,200 dead according to United Nations estimates. Opposition forces are pinning their hopes on an international intervention that has been slow in coming. The European Union and U.S. have imposed sanctions, while the EU is set to impose a ban upon Syrian oil entering European markets.

At this time, though the international community does not appear willing to perform an operation like the one that has helped remove Gaddafi in Libya at this time. Perhaps this is because the two largest cities in Syria: Damascus and Aleppo haven’t joined the protests and the merchant class has remained uncommitted to either side. Source: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2011/0901/Can-Syria-avoid-civil-war

Given these two pieces of information, I cannot advocate a Western military intervention in Syria, no matter how much the bloodshed in the streets saddens me. The two largest cities in Syria house half the population of the country. If they are not involved to a large extent, than we can’t say that Assad has lost the right to rule over his people, the way Gaddafi had. Just because Assad is a bad guy is not a reason to overthrow him. Every president has gone to the American people and outlined a case for why military action was necessary against ________________.

I just don’t see how we can build such a case when at least half the country is sitting on the sideline. Situations change quickly though, so I could easily change my mind, but as long as the majority stand silent, I don’t see any good choices here.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Russian Jet Crash

I would like to take a few brief moments and pass along my condolences to the entire country of Russia. For those unaware there has been a plane crash there today that has killed at least 45 people, including most of the members of Lokomotiv Yaroslavi- one of Russia's leading ice hockey teams. This tragedy is truly global as Russians, Germans, Swedes, and Canadians were aboard this flight. May peace find the souls we have lost today and bring comfort to those left behind to grieve.

Intervention vs. Isolation: Why the Debate Isn’t so Simple

I am not a proponent of the American military intervention in every locale throughout the globe because I think it uses valuable resources that could be better served at home and is very costly economically that we simply cannot afford amid the current economic climate. Further, it denotes an arrogance on our part that our conception of the world is the only right one.

 Throughout the world, there are many intelligent people with great intentions who are better suited to determine the future of their countries better than we are. Overthrowing dictators should not be our business, we’ve seen dictators fall throughout the Middle East…the spark for those movements was domestic, even if we supplied much firepower.

Yet, we can’t isolate either, at least not in the sense of the 1920’s and 30’s. The economy is too global now and the events of the world can creep over us quicker than ever through the Internet and modern air travel. If we do take a step back in the arena of global affairs and work our domestic debt trouble, it doesn’t end our problems because Al Qaeda will still find rationale to attack us, and there will still be situations that require international interventions like genocides, and natural disasters.

Some people view intervention as an absolutist solution. Newsflash: this isn’t 1930 boys and girls. We can’t disengage with the rest of the world fully without creating the inverse problem to what currently exists an overexposed military that has it’s nose too many places.

Small Plane Theory

The FBI and other agencies came out with a warning that terrorists may attempt to use smaller planes, which are typically softer security targets to attack the United States in the lead up to the tenth anniversary of 9/11. They were quick to note that they didn’t have any word of an imminent threat, but just to be watchful. Remembering back though, is this threat anything new? I seem to remember in 2002-03 in the wake of 9-11, federal officials were very concerned about the threat of smaller planes and crop dusters because they were perhaps less secure and had sprayer mechanisms that could be used to initiate a chemical attack against The United States. This threat is not new, the question that needs to be asked is “Have we done nothing about this problem in the last ten years”?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Making Peace With Drug Cartels?

The latest idea coming out of the Mexican war against the drug cartels that have turned Mexico into a tourist peril has me laughing at the sheer ridiculous nature of it. Former Mexican President Vicente Fox, perhaps illustrating why he’s the former president argues that the “levels of cruelty that we are seeing and experiencing are enormous” and that the solution is to call violent groups to a truce and evaluate the advantages of an amnesty law.” Source: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Americas/Latin-America-Monitor/2011/0902/Why-a-truce-between-Mexico-and-the-drug-cartels-makes-no-sense.

The very well written commentary mentions several factors that would make an 1980’s early 1990’s style truce difficult: the splintering of two drug cartels into hundreds of localized groups, more adversarial political climate, and simply Mexican democracy, as the public has no appetite for a truce with the cartels.

It’s also a lame idea because in my eyes, drug cartels are terrorist groups and we haven’t declared a truce against Al Qaeda, so why should the drug cartels who have littered Mexican streets with bodies get this treatment?

The drug cartels would like to turn Mexico into a absolute narcotic playground, a country-wide sorting, packaging, and distribution center for drugs throughout the world. Obviously if the Mexican government wants to be seen as legitimate, they must beat back the cartel challenge somehow and provide security to the populace. So if we can’t give the cartels what they really want, a truce is likely to just be a breather in a long war with no end in sight.

Wars Money Pit

CSM ran a story earlier this week about wartime contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan has resulted in at least $60 Billion in waste and fraud. Contractors were viewed throughout the Bush administration as an integral part of the military of the future--with smaller more specialized forces and government contractors picking up many of the tasks previously performed by military forces or government agencies. Unfortunately, the new system of private contractors appears to be just as fishy as any of the previous ones.

The main problem here as noted in the article, is a lack of oversight on what these contractors are actually doing. Without government oversight contractors are making money hand over fist…something sure to continue given troop pullouts and decreasing government budgets. Source: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Global-News/2011/0901/US-commission-finds-widespread-waste-and-corruption-in-wartime-contracts

The implications are plentiful for the United States. Domestically, we just had this brutal war over the debt ceiling in Congress…a war that sixty billion dollars would be a nice start in fighting…but no, its’ been wasted in Iraq and Afghanistan probably lining the pocket of some warlord that is only loyal to us because we have money.

Then we sit in Congress and bitch about entitlements, while making very wealthy contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sounds to me like instead of quibbling about relatively small pools of money, if our politicians gave a damn about debt, they’d clamp down on such horrendous spending habits.

Setting aside the impact on the United States, lets put ourselves in the shoes of the average Afghani. You were promised a better life after the Taliban was dislodged, but instead of freedom, they’ve been replaced by the semi-friendly Western government of Harmid Karzi which ranked by Transparency International as the second most corrupt government of the world.

Meanwhile government contractors who are supposed to be producing meaningful infrastructure repairs and instead you don’t even have basic services in many outlying areas. You’d just throw your hands up and mutter “More of the same.” Reports like these do not help the United States win the hearts and minds, we desperately need in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The CIA and Gadhafi

The uncovering of documents by Human Rights Watch that allegedly details involvement with the recently toppled Gadhafi regime is only really surprising to those who cannot grasp the murky underworld of national security. From what I understand, these interactions would’ve occurred in 2003-4 as the Bush administration was seeking greater intelligence capabilities. Enter Extraordinary Rendition- the process where one country, presumably a democratic country who has signed the Geneva Convention, will send a suspected terrorist to another country who can use harsher interrogation tactics because they haven’t signed and/or don’t believe in such treaties.

On paper, Gaddafi was the perfect fit for the job, if the allegations in the report are confirmed. Gaddafi had recently renounced terrorism in the wake of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and we had mountains of evidence that he knew how to brutalize anyone who dared to question his rule. It also provided cover for the U.S. because we can always throw the blame back on Gaddafi and it would become just another episode of a mad dictator. And before anyone scoffs that we may have worked with Gaddafi, remember the United States has a wealthy history of befriending dictators who played into our self interest. SEE: The Death of Bastard Diplomacy in June Archive.

Gaddafi and The CIA? I’m not sure, but it wouldn’t surprise me…given all the other shadowy characters we’ve allied with over the years.

Extraordinary Rendition: Extraordinarily Pointless

The above posted discussion of CIA involvement with Gaddafi brought me to consider the practice of extraordinary rendition as a tactic of the War on Terror. Proponents of the tactic argue that terrorists don’t deserve the conventions and treaties that govern the civilized world like The Geneva Convention because their barbarians who think nothing of killing thousands of people. Furthermore, they argue that the operatives we capture have intelligence value that can prevent another terrorist attack against the United States and our allies throughout the world.

I take the opposite view, with all due respect to the well intentioned advocates of extraordinary rendition. If we gain intelligence through these means whose to say its’ of any operational value? Lets take water boarding as an example, the notion of putting a towel over someone’s face and then submerging them in water to simulate the feeling of drowning.

My objection here is quite basic: If you’re a suspected terrorist and you believe your being drowned, your going to confess to anything the interrogators want just to relieve yourself from that situation…whether its’ true or not. You may have actionable intelligence or just fabricated crap made up to make the pain stop. In a world where success or failure is often measured in milliseconds, I’m not willing to take the risk.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Future Shock?

Since this blog is called Book Diplomacy, I figured I better do something on a book. I’d rarely put a work of fiction on a blog about politics and history and such, but this book just grabbed me with its’ depiction of a reality that could be wrapped up in virtual reality that I just had to tell everyone about it:

Video Games and Everything in Between

If your going to make a debut, make a debut! Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is at once an engrossing futuristic novel about a completely virtual world and a biting social commentary for the modern world on the evils of war, energy dependence, and human isolation in a virtual world of books, music, and television. The year 2044 and the world is an increasingly desolate and depressing place as humanity has chewed up the Earth’s natural resources in a series of humanity depleting wars. Populations are exploding creating horrendous overcrowding leading people to live in overcrowded trailers that are stacked sky high.

NEVER FEAR! Because this new world has the OASIS, this amazing online utopia featuring the entire combined collection of human knowledge from history, books, to movies and video games. Many things can be done online so that one never has to leave the virtual world. James Halladay, the co-founder of the OASIS System has died and has placed his vast $240 Billion Dollar fortune and control of the game, all for the finding by groups of puzzle hungry gamers. Enter the main character of Wade Watts and thousands of other gamers who digest every ounce of Watts trivia.

Altruistic gamers aren’t the only ones after the prize money. A detestable corporation known informally in the game world as the Sixes wants the prize so they can turn OASIS into a for pay operation and will do anything to get the prize. The competition is centered on the 1980’s as that was the decade when Halladay was a teenager and virtually every 1980’s pop culture reference is present throughout the book. Shockingly in this highly competitive dog eat dog atmosphere, love blooms between Wade and Art3mis until it gets into the way of competition. Can the gamers get to the prize before the evil multinational corporation only time will tell. Really has everything for the geek, but has serious undertones about corporate greed and human companionship, couldn’t put the sucker down.

Amazon Link: http://www.amazon.com/review/R3D37IO80SSIDM/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

The Lessons Talking Heads Should Teach

With the recent completion of the Casey Anthony trial and the daily appearances of Nancy Grace on my television screen (until the next big case), I have found myself thinking about what Nancy Grace and other television personalities who have shows on cable news channels can actually teach us. I’m aware that the Nancy Graces, Bill Oreily’s and Shawn Hannity have large fan bases, this is not an attack on them per se, but rather a series of factual statements that every American should take away from their highly engaging primetime programming.

1. Never get all your news from these primetime news shows- Much of the content is grounded in opinion which may or may not always have basis in fact. So diversify your news sources and don’t take the word of a talking head as the absolute reality…investigate, learn, and make up your own mind. If as Americans, we need someone to tell us what to think, as a people were screwed.

2. Some of these shows base their content on sensationalism-Cable news is a cut-throat ruthless market, these people are in competition for your viewer ship every evening along with the Red Sox game, Law and Order rerun, and Jersey Shore. This may lead them to say the most sensational/outlandish things because they want your eyes in front of the television set.

3. That old adage about there being two sides to every story hasn’t changed just because we now have people to scream their opinions at us 24/7. Today there’s far too much conviction via media. It gets to the point where we have a guilty or innocent verdict attached to the case before the trial making it difficult for any trial juror. Which could have tragic consequences for our justice system, if people become too wrapped up in public opinion whipped up by cable news programs.

The Electoral Monster

I was reading a book for my graduate seminar that referred to Belarus and Russia as electoral democracies. Never be fooled by the notion that an election equals democracy hence the creation of term electoral democracy. But still the term doesn’t fit because both elections and democracy imply that a choice exists, were it doesn’t. The rules of the electoral game are pathetically unfair. Any opposition parties are kept weak or intimidated into silence to ensure that United Russia in Russia and Lukashenko in Belarus never lose, unless its’ to candidates and parties they surrogate.

Sadly, elections in many societies are vanity contests for dictators and a giant middle finger to Western countries who pride themselves on democratic institutions. Elections are a useful instrument for dictators because how can any Western government plot to dethrone them, if you’ve won through an election, they very embodiment for democracy, by some pin headed analysts. Elections can be the embodiment of a hopeful future or the legitimizing play-thing of an egotistical madman, democracy advocates would be best served to remember this lesson.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Real Uncensored Thoughts on the RVCMUN

A man wiser than I once declared that truth is stranger than fiction. The bad part about the fiction I am about to set right is that was the guiding force in much of its’ creation, but first let me clear other peoples good name. My mother is nowhere near as strict as I have made her out to be in my own moments of anger.

She doesn’t have a negative opinion of the Model UN just some people who have been members of the RVCMUN who haven’t treated me the greatest, though to be fair that treatment goes two ways. She’d probably welcome anyone interested in being a true friend to me, because she’s worried about my tendency towards being a hermit. I can leave the house anytime I want.

My best friend doesn’t care for the MUN, but would certainly never advise me to not seek their friendship or hang out with them, if the opportunity presented itself. And even if my mother and my best friend absolutely detested it, am I not old enough at twenty four to determine who and what I want in my life?

I have been accused by some of not understanding how MUN works. I want to understand. MUN has been something of a fascination for me over the last couple of years and I’d love to see what you guys actually do for once.

Dr. Martin Quirk, RVCMUN advisor has never been anything less than good to me and I think he’ll have a really good team. Some of them honestly look like their ready for grad school, but I kid out of respect.

There’s a more cohesive feeling to this team than in years past…several of them gather in hallways, doorways, its’ really a good thing to see, reminding me of RVCMUN teams from when I was going there as a full time student.

 Now if they would only dare to talk to me…guys its’ alright to just walk up to me and start talking, I’ll put down whatever I’m reading it really will be alright. Knock the book out of my hand if you need to...

And as for my latest conflict, SN has already been basically forgiven, but I’m not making any further moves on that front, at this time.

What to Do About the LRA?

The Lords Resistance Army (L.R.A) led by Joseph Kony has wrecked havoc against the Azande people throughout the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and The Democratic Republic of Congo. The Azande people are a historically marginalized ethnic group of hunters, herders, and farmers.

 Once again, the United Nations, Western, and African authorities talk a good rhetorical game about capturing Joseph Kony, but fail to deliver enough concrete results. The L.R.A strategy revolves around guerilla tactics with pristine execution, while the U.N. and other peacekeepers provide limited defenses of some civilian settlements, leaving plenty for the L.R.A. attack. Source: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Africa/Africa-Monitor/2011/0823/How-the-US-Ugandan-strategy-of-chasing-the-LRA-backfires

What I envision as a potential solution for this problem is an African version of the Powell Doctrine. We need a large overwhelming force, with a set goal of capturing Joseph Kony while providing meaningful security to the Azande people and others who’ve been targeted by the LRA. As for the national security interest: Remember Rwanda? It’s always in America’s rational self interest to help people who can’t help themselves as the global leader.

Now ask me, what I think we’ll get. In these economic times, no one will give a crap about a few Africans and the world will continue to talk as the African Union troops remain ineffectual and the LRA will continue to stalk their prey.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Russia regrets the Coup?

CSM posted an article 8-22-11 talking about how only 27% of Russians believe the country chose the right path of development following the coup of August 19-21 of 1991 that decimated Mikhail Gorbachev’s legitimacy and dissolved the Soviet Union. The Coup plotters believed Gorbachev had betrayed the principles of the Soviet system in his attempts to reform it. Even today in Russia, there’s a segment of the population that believes Gorbachev is/was a Western agent with orders to destroy the Soviet Union from within.

Where most people would see bad news, I say lets look at the reality of Russia post-coup. Boris Yeltsin rode into power as the great hero on the tank in front of the White House, but reality soon became an absolute mess. Rapid hyperinflation wiped out peoples savings and put many of the newly imported goods out of reach of many. Criminal methods and gangs to protect goods and property became commonplace. Furthermore, previously venerable instruments of state power and Russian pride like factories were sold into the hands of a few wealthy oligarchs, who plundered much of Russia’s remaining wealth.

It has been only in recent years under the Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev that stability has returned, though with a dangerous reliance on the oil and natural gas sectors and dubious implications for democracy. Never underestimate the value of stability for anyone. There isn’t necessarily a nostalgia for communism here, but one cannot escape the reality that the system was reasonably stable, which is not exactly something that can be said for the “democratic Russia.”

Source: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Europe/2011/0822/Why-half-of-Russians-regret-the-1991-August-Coup

Asia’s New Censor Problem

Asia has a lengthy history of authoritarian governments who have made sport out of restricting the flow of information to their citizens. This tradition of filtered information is being increasingly threatened by the prominence of the Internet throughout the world.

 The prime minister of Najib Razak of Malaysia went as far as to declare the tactic of censoring newspapers and magazines is increasingly outdated, ineffective, unjustifiable.” This statement was in response to an Economist article on July 16th about government crackdowns on protestors calling for Malaysian electoral reform. Three passages talking about a mans death from a heart attack, banning of the protest march, and heavy handed tactics were disfigured with black ink. But the internet remained uncensored allowing Malaysians to access the story anyway. Source: http://www.economist.com/node/21526885

Autocratic Asian governments are fighting a new age war of censorship with outdated weapons from the 1950’s and 60’s when information sources were far smaller. Even when governments take the step of turning off the internet in the face of riots and other violence, boom industries occur in neighboring communities who can set up informal internet portals. This is a double problem for Asia because authoritarian governments need to restrict information from the masses, but the world is so global economically that removing oneself from the internet for a significant period of time can cost millions of dollars in lost business that could also serve to fall an autocrat.

Only one thing is absolute certainty: The battle between autocrats and the internet will be damn interesting. Readers what would you do?