IPS Blog

The Low-Key Weekend Faceoff

If we know that some of the biggest and most important demonstrations in Washington DC only get a smidgen of news coverage, then it’s no surprise that things deserving at least that much get no coverage at all. Last Saturday, May 22nd was one of those demonstrations brought to you by an IPS exclusive.

Because the Cuban Interest Section (CIS) is located here, DC has seen this one before and it’s usually a fairly interesting spectacle.

Three (3) anti-Castro Cubans protested across the street from the Interest Section to “honor” the birthday of Jose Marti and to protest the Cuban government. In response two or three dozen people opposed to US policy toward Cuba and in solidarity with the Cuban people counter demonstrated on the other side, in front of the CIS. Apparently the petition that had circulated toward the end of last year, “Acting on Our Conscience: A Declaration of African American Support for the Civil Rights Struggle in Cuba” didn’t affect the support from the significantly African participation of the counter-demonstrators. The whole group, in fact, was reasonably multi-ethnic.

The anti-Castro Cubans say that Cuba is a tyrannical dictatorship, claiming that hundreds of political prisoners languish in prison there. They cited the example of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died in prison recently due to a hunger strike. The counter demonstrators expressed gratitude for Cuba’s humanitarian assistance around the world and condemned the US for harboring Cuban terrorists and jailing of Cuban fighters of terrorism.

Take a listen to this to get a flavor for the counter demonstration. And we would be remiss if we didn’t provide you with something from the other side (MP3).

Reader’s Challenge: ‘Ritual Nick’ — Preventive Measure or Cultural Relativism?

Earlier this month, as you no doubt have heard, the American Academy of Pediatrics moderated its policy on female circumcision. As a preventive measure to keep families from taking their daughters outside the country for full circumcision procedures, its committee on bioethics suggested that doctors perform a “ritual nick.” Right or wrong, it provides plenty of fodder for the hard right. For example, at Jihad Watch, blogger Marisol wrote:

This decision — to approve of the idea of a “ritualized nick” on a girl’s genitalia — is as pointless as it is dangerous. For those who insist on following prescribed degrees of mutilation, which are primarily enforced in Muslim countries, a token gesture will not be enough to keep them from traveling overseas or seeking a more severe form of the practice wherever they can. And the girl still suffers the trauma of a ritualized sexual assault — potentially twice, if, for example, the “nick” is the parents’ ruse to throw health care providers off the trail of further intended damage, or if they simply change their minds.

It’s probably academic since U.S. federal law prevents “any nonmedical procedure performed on the genitals” of females. But do Focal Points readers agree with Jihad Watch in this instance? Is this cultural relativism run amok? Or does the American Academy of Pediatrics have its heart in the right place?

Pundits Cheered Drilling Shortly Before BP Oil Disaster

Oops. Why did the Deepwater Horizon explosion, which triggered an environmental catastrophe seem so out of the blue? Well, for starters, if you were relying on the major media for any information about offshore oil drilling’s safety, you would have known not to fret. OtherWords partner Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) has compiled a list of at least 10 examples of prominent examples of ill-timed industry boosterism, which followed President Barack Obama’s lead when he declared a new push for offshore drilling on March 31 and asserted that “oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills” on April 2. Here are a few of the most striking comments.

“Some of the most ironic objections come from those who say offshore exploration will destroy beaches and coastlines, citing the devastating 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska as an example. The last serious spill from a drilling accident in U.S. waters was in 1969, off Santa Barbara, California.”
–USA Today editorial (4/2/10)

“Drilling could be conducted in an environmentally sensitive manner. We already drill in an environmentally sensitive manner.”
–Sean Hannity, Fox News’ Hannity (4/1/10)

Oil Rig“And even in terms of the environment, we’re going to consume oil one way or the other. It’s safer for the planet if it’s done under our strict controls and high technology in America as opposed to Nigeria…. We’ve got a ton of drilling happening every day today in the Gulf of Mexico in a hurricane area and it’s successful.”
–Charles Krauthammer, WJLA’s Inside Washington (4/4/10)

“You know, there are a lot of serious people looking at, “Are there ways that we can do drilling and we can do nuclear that are–that are nowhere near as risky as what they were 10 or 15 or 20 years ago?” Offshore drilling today is a lot more safer, in many ways, environmentally, today than it was 20 years ago.”
–David Gergen, CNN’s Situation Room (3/31/10)

Fighting War Funding

Activists are urging Congress to stop wasting so much money on what increasingly look like futile wars. New websites are springing up to oppose the latest “emergency” $33 billion supplemental budget that would bring the total tab so far on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to $1 trillion, while supporting candidates who want to stop the endless fighting. Some lawmakers are already on board. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL), for example, recently introduced the War is Making You Poor Act which would force the Pentagon to pay for the wars out of its regular budget (which currently stands at $549 billion). Some of the savings would cut the budget deficit by $16 billion. The rest would enable American taxpayers to exempt their first $35,000 in earnings from taxes. “The purpose of this bill is to connect the dots, and to show people in a real and concrete way the cost of these endless wars,” Grayson wrote in a Daily Kos blog post.

Our Latest: Calderon, Thailand, and the Myth of Overtaxation

Obama doesn’t appear to be altering his predecessor’s policy toward Mexico, Manuel Perez-Rocha says, after Calderon’s visit last week.

“We in Haiti are committed to staying a county where organic, biological agriculture dominates. We know that Clinton and the multinationals, the IMF and the WTO, have another plan for us – one based on the import of GM seeds and food aid, one based on making us grow for export, including growing for agro-diesel. But we’re putting on pressure to say: no, that’s not what Haiti needs, here is what popular Haitian organizations want, here is our agenda.” Part of an interview by associate fellow Bev Bell.

People in the Marshall Islands have sacrificed their health and their homeland for U.S. national security interests, writes Bob Alvarez. The Obama administration should correct this injustice.

FPIF columnist Walden Bello explains how and why the riots in Thailand occurred.

Is overtaxation our phoniest problem? Associate fellow Sam Pizzigati explores the myth in his Too Much Online blog.

IPS friend and ally Antonia Juhasz asks, “How far should we let Big Oil go?”

Extreme Energy

If you can’t join us at IPS to see noted author and Hampshire College professor Michael Klare, whose latest book Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet describes the geopolitics of the energy crisis, talk about the causes behind the Gulf oil spill, join us for the online webcast from 12-1:30.

http://www.ustream.tv/channel/the-perils-of-extreme-energy

Kyrgyzstan: Tinderboxes and Tangled Webs

For most Americans, Kyrgyzstan is the most unpronounceable of the six “stans” that constituted the former Soviet Union’s southern flank. It has little in the way of wealth or natural resources, but it has what every real estate agent looks for: location, location, location. Bordered by Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and China, the mountainous nation is the U.S.’s wedge into Central Asia, and its umbilical cord to the war in Afghanistan.

Supporters of KyrgyzstanMuch of the oil and fuel that keep the U.S. war machine running comes through Kyrgyzstan’s Manas Air Base, a sprawling complex close to the country’s capital. In March of this year, 50,000 U.S. and NATO troops moved through the base. Indeed, without Manas, it is hard to conceive how the U.S. could support the current surge of troops into Southern Afghanistan.

Because Afghanistan is landlocked, the logistics of supplying fuel, food and weapons to U.S. troops is daunting. While it costs about $400,000 a year to support a soldier in Iraq, the price tag in Afghanistan is $1 million. According to U.S. Marine Gen, James T. Conway, gasoline costs $400 a gallon in Afghanistan.

It now appears that since 1991 the U.S. has been bribing Kyrgyz politicians through two shadowy companies, Mina Corp. Ltd and Red Star Enterprises, both registered in Britain and British-controlled Gibraltar. The latter is little more than a big rock and a tax dodge.

According to The New York Times, the ousted president skimmed as much as $8 million a month off the no-bid contracts. So far, the Obama administration is stonewalling the bribery charges, but the House National Security Oversight Subcommittee is sniffing around the issue.

But the U.S. is interested in more than fuel costs in Central Asia.

Kyrgyzstan borders China’s volatile Xingjian Autonomous Region, where local Uyghur anger at the growing influx of Han into the area has touched off several riots over the past few years. There is also a nascent Islamic resistance movement in parts of the region. If the U.S. wanted to stir up trouble for China in its restive west—and maybe peek into its military deployment in the area—Kyrgyzstan is the place to be.

So far, Beijing has been quiet on the recent revolution, merely commenting, “China hopes that relevant issues will be settled in a lawful way.” China is Kyrgyzstan’s number one trading partner, and it is clearly concerned about the quarter of a million Uyghurs residing in Kyrgyzstan.

There is certainly suspicion by the Russians that the U.S. would like to rope countries along its southern border into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a distrust for which one can hardly fault them. In spite of assurances given to the Russians that NATO would not expand into former Soviet states, or recruit ex-members of the Warsaw Pact, NATO now counts Poland, Bulgaria, Albania, the Czech Republic, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia among its members and was on the verge of recruiting Georgia before its 2008 war with Russia.

Following a February tour of Central Asia, Richard Holbrooke, the U.S.’s special representative to Afghanistan, proposed expanding NATO’s reach into the region as a foil to organizations like al-Qaeda. A recent NATO report calls for the Alliance to “help shape a more stable and peaceful international security environment,” the rationale for its current deployment in Afghanistan.

The U.S.’s sponsorship of the Islamic radicalism to destabilize Afghanistan in the 1980s is certainly in the back of the Russian’s mind, which is already concerned about Islamic extremism in places like Chechnya. The region has a number of Islamic groups in the wings, and if the Afghan War really does wind down, there will be plenty of battle-hardened recruits coming home to fill the ranks of those groups.

Most the nations in the region are tied together in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), whose meeting this June in Tashkent will likely focus on the situation in Kyrgyzstan. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a military alliance that also includes a number of countries in the area, has been working to stabilize the situation. Kazakhstan currently chairs the OSCE and had already sent a representative to Bishkek.

If the current situation remains regional, then there are organizations in place that can play an important role in defusing the instability. But if Kyrgyzstan becomes a pawn on a larger board, then the “Great Game” will shift from Afghanistan and Pakistan to the rest of Central Asia, with all the pain and misery that follows in the wake of imperial maneuvering.

Worst Fears May be Realized In Iraq

In December, 2002, the talk of our holiday gathering was the looming possibility of the invasion of Iraq. The conversation was not just political — it was personal. For one of us, born in Baghdad, the faces of those back home were imagined and fears for their future gripped like a vise.

But it was not just the immediate future that cast the deepest shadows across their imagined faces. It was the fear that once Saddam fell, US strategy would never allow for a full Iraqi exit. Heated debates over if the invasion would occur ensued at that gathering in 2002, but no one could believe that the fears of continued occupation would ever be realized.

Now, in 2010, a drawdown of troops in the barely organized chaos of Iraq marches towards benchmark dates. But with the sharply decreased American media coverage of Iraq, much of the news has focused on random bombings around the country and partial coverage of the recent Iraqi elections. How many average Americans are aware that while troop numbers come down, contractor numbers go up? The number of troops in Iraq is supposed to go down by this August to 50,000 but with contractors the number would be 125,000. Can you imagine that candidate Obama would have campaigned on the promise of having 125,000 personnel in Iraq by the end of summer 2010? How many total U.S. personnel would be left by the end of 2011? Is the number by end of 2011 zero as promised, or 50,000 or more? Who is reporting about special operations in Iraq involving troops that are not Iraqi-based, but merely sweep in, do their work, and sweep out again?

In order to understand policy implications, Americans need information about the current status of Iraq, as well as the impact of policies as changes are anticipated. Should we keep large numbers of U.S. troops in Iraq for an extended period to ensure security in Iraq? Should we withdraw as quickly as possible so that Iraqis fully determine the outcome of their country? Is our oil policy good for Iraq or good for America and the West or both? Do policies based on sectarian divisions in Iraq promote fairness — or rabid sectarianism? These are the kind of questions that many Iraqis are asking and Americans must openly discuss. Democracy in our country and in Iraq depends on information, and with that, open and honest discussions.

Much of the mainstream media coverage of the war in Iraq has focused on the impact on American military personnel. By withdrawing many of the journalists from Iraq, America’s mainstream media has turned their backs on Iraqis. With 2.5 million refugees outside the country, 2.0 million displaced in the country, and many of the country’s most educated professionals gone for good, Iraqis are determined, hopeful — but suffering and still in shock. As American policy shifts, Americans need information to debate and deliberate in order to steer a moral and humane course. Without it, hope is as fleeting today as it was in 2002.

Nicholas Kristof: Moonshine or the Kids?

NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof is almost always a pleasure to read. He’s thoughtful and balanced while at the same time bold in calling for meaningful change, particularly for women and children around the world.

Kristof rarely spares details or truths from his trips, and his Sunday column, “Moonshine or the Kids?” is no different. But his thesis is an uncomfortable one: “If the poorest families spent as much money educating their children as they do on wine, cigarettes and prostitutes, their children’s prospects would be transformed.”

He’s quick to qualify the observation – even admits it sounds “sanctimonious” – but his interviews with locals (in Congo, this time) open up another facet of the already-tangled development debate, involving cultural and societal mores vs objective long-term well-being. The Malaria Policy Center has a post on this as well.

What do you think?

From the Frontlines: May 24th, 2010

Busboys and Poets owner Andy Shallal (full disclosure: also an IPS board member) on the proposed DC budget cuts: “Sure, raising taxes for this reason is in my self-interest. I’m a business owner in this city, and I want more customers to have money to spend at my restaurants. Having a city with a widening gulf of haves and have-nots simply doesn’t bode well for my long-term business plans.”

Are fines in the millions enough to deter reckless and damaging behavior from oil giants like BP? (Hint: Probably not.)

Activists in London stage some creative protests against Tate Modern, which has ties to BP.

The DISCLOSE Act, which would “ensuring that new disclosure reports detailing electioneering and independent expenditures will be electronically filed and disclosed on the FEC’s website within 24 hours,” passed out of committee a few days ago. Would be a great win for transparency if it went any farther.

ProPublica has new details on the Times Square bomber investigation.

And while we’re on the topic of investigations, CPI’s latest blog post has an entry on some of the other investigations going on around the world – particularly the Balkans, Mexico, and U.S. for-profit colleges.

Where’s taxpayer money in the defense budget going? Not to health care for vets, under our current system. But Alan Grayson’s “War Makes You Poor” Act, just introduced, would “make the DoD work within its means, and the money would instead be used for an across-the-board tax cut that would make the first $35,000 each American earns tax-free.”

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