The big domestic news today is the Conservative Political Action Committee conference, or CPAC, where dozens of major Republican and conservative thinkers (from Minority Leader John Boehner to Glenn Beck) are speaking to 10,000 members of their base. The big news out of CPAC is the Mount Vernon Statement, a commitment to Constitutional-conservative positions with signatories including Grover Norquist, Edwin Meese, and Tony Perkins.
Here is an excerpt:
Each one of these founding ideas is presently under sustained attack. In recent decades, America's principles have been undermined and redefined in our culture, our universities and our politics. The selfevident truths of 1776 have been supplanted by the notion that no such truths exist. The federal government today ignores the limits of the Constitution, which is increasingly dismissed as obsolete and irrelevant.
Some insist that America must change, cast off the old and put on the new. But where would this lead -- forward or backward, up or down? Isn't this idea of change an empty promise or even a dangerous deception?
The change we urgently need, a change consistent with the American ideal, is not movement away from but toward our founding principles. At this important time, we need a restatement of Constitutional conservatism grounded in the priceless principle of ordered liberty articulated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
The Mount Vernon Statement draws support from a number of conservatives, including many members of the Tea Party movement. Here's the problem. The Mount Vernon folks espouse sticking to the letter of the Constitution. But many of them also vocally support some things the Constitution does not -- like military commissions for enemy combatants and closed borders.
According to the Constitution, enemy combatants should be tried in civilian courts. And the Declaration of Independence lists the British crown's restriction of free immigration as one of its grievances: "[The king] has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands."
Some Constitutional conservatives -- like Norquist -- do not attempt to square this circle. They instead support free immigration policies and trying terrorists in civilian courts. Others, it seems, reconcile themselves to an elastic constitution in some circumstances. Either way, it is the subject of feisty debate among conservatives.
U.S. President Barack Obama has indicated that he will not make any recess appointments next week, while senators are back in their home states for the president's day holiday. Earlier in the week, Obama had signaled he might make the direct appointments -- circumventing the molasses-slow senate confirmation process, currently holding up scores of nominees, via this constitutionally granted executive privilege -- after senators approved 27 nominees yesterday.
Now, confirmation math is notoriously tricky. The numbers constantly change as the White House nominates and Congress takes appointees up. But some numbers we know for sure. At the one-year marker, George W. Bush had 70 nominees pending. Obama had 171. During Bush's first year, only three nominees waited for confirmation for more than three months. Forty-five of Obama's have waited more than four months; nine have waited more than six.
And the Republican minority has thrown sand in the gears of vitally important national security nominees -- who are, by congressional tradition, generally not subject to the absurd congressional tradition of holds. During wartime, Republicans held up the nomination of Gen. Stanley McChrystal and Sec. of the Army John McHugh, a Republican. Even after the failed Christmas Day bombing attempt, Sen. Jim DeMint kept a hold on Obama's nominee to the Transportation Security Administration, Erroll Southers. Even after yesterday, Philip Goldberg, Obama's nominee to lead the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, remains at home -- despite Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid taking to the floor to demand his confirmation.
So, even if the Senate confirmed 27 nominees yesterday, it is hard to argue it has been keeping pace. As far as I can figure, Obama got nothing in return for not making recess appointments this go-around -- it isn't as if the Republicans will let go a hold on another appointee or send him a fruit basket. And he has only further alienated the labor left and frustrated Dems on the Hill. Nobody's happy, vital security and diplomatic nominees are still pending, and I can't see the decision as anything but bizarre.
The Haitian government estimates approximately 230,000 died in the quake
It estimates a further 300,000 people have sustained injuries
An unknown number of others have died from untreated sepsis, illness, and injury
One million remain homeless
Fifty thousand families have received tent-type emergency shelters
Tents donated by the Cirque du Soleil might soon house the Haitian government
More than 500,000 children are orphans
More than 20,000 children under the age of five are severely malnourished
The Miami-Dade School District has enrolled 1,000 Haitian children
Most of Port-au-Prince's schools are planning to reopen
Doctors have treated more than 100,000 people, performing 2,000 to 4,000 amputations
More than 7,000 babies have been born
Eighty percent of Port-au-Prince remains without power
One thousand planes are waiting for permission to land at Port-au-Prince's airport
Haiti's airport, under the direction of the U.S. Air Force, is landing 100 airplanes a day; prior to the earthquake, it handled three to five
Cruise ships continue to dock in gated zones in northern Haiti
The drive from the Dominican Republic, which formerly took six hours, now takes 18
Economists estimate the earthquake impacted half of Haiti's GDP
International donors have committed at least $3 billion to the rebuilding effort
The United Nations Development Program has started an initiative to pay Haitians $3 a day to clear rubble and help rebuild, to infuse cash into the economy
Nearly half of American families have donated to Haitian disaster relief organizations
The United States has caught the first ship of 78 Haitians attempting to immigrate into the United States illegally -- it sent them back
The United States might cut non-Haiti disaster programs by 40 percent, possibly leading to smaller programs for Congo and Sudan.
The rainy season has just started, soaking Port-au-Prince, collapsing many temporary homes, and increasing risks from water and sewage-borne illnesses
Mario Tama/Getty Images
With the Winter Olympics starting tomorrow in Vancouver, Andrew Swift and Kayvan Farzaneh, our excellent researchers, put together a beautiful photo essay of athletes from warm-climate countries, like Taiwan, Israel, and Ghana: the outliers.
The photo essay reminded me of some choice commentary from the last winter Olympics by FP contributor (and Brooklyn-bred Bangladeshi) Reihan Salam. For those considering the racial and global socioeconomic implications of the oh-so-white winter games, the Slate piece "White snow, brown rage" is a must:
Like the Augusta National Golf Club, the Winter Olympics is "exclusive." Paul Farhi, writing in the Washington Post, has described it as "almost exclusively the preserve of a narrow, generally wealthy, predominantly Caucasian collection of athletes and nations." Growing up, I forsook the lily-white Winter Olympics for the multi-culti Summer Games. I still vividly recall the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, when my middle sister and I cheered on every wiry, diminutive American athlete of a darker hue. When you squint, a fearsome Latino bantamweight looks not unlike one of the burnt ochre Salams.
Now, let's compare that image of a powerful brown-skinned pugilist with that of my Winter Olympic role models. In 1988, we of course had the Jamaican bobsled team, immortalized in the classic film Cool Runnings. Given the team's lackluster performance, Stool Runnings might have been a more apt characterization. Pluck and determination count for something, to be sure. And yes, Jamaica has no snow, leading some softhearted types to give its Winter Olympians a pass. But even as an 8-year-old, I was hoping for something more. Specifically, I was hoping to see this Third World band of brothers humble their colonialist oppressors with furious bobsled action. Instead, I was told that merely finishing the race was a "triumph of the human spirit" for these stumbling boobs. Meanwhile, pasty and perfumed Hanz and Franz were high-fiving each other on the medal stand. Call it tribalism of the basest sort, but I will never apologize. I want some brown sugar, on ice.
Surely globalization, the world getting flatter, has meant that more countries have started competing in winter games, as their athletes can train abroad. I think this calls for a chart.
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
The Gaggle blog over on our sister site Newsweek notes that Canada's parliament has shut down for two months (?!) for the winter Olympic games.
For those of you who have gotten behind on your Canadian politics, here’s a basic rundown. Prime Minster Steven Harper, who leads the Conservative Party, was facing a lot of difficult issues: an inquiry over maltreatment of Afghan detainees, economic woes hosting the Olympics. So he announced in December that he was basically shutting down, or proroguing, Parliament until March 3, 2010, the day after the Olympics ends. And, when they come back to session next month, the agenda is basically reset: any bill that was on the table is done and gone away with. This has lead to numerous prorogation protests across the country, despite Canadians being generally known for their politeness. A one-week shutdown due to a massive snowstorm isn’t looking so insane, now is it?....
As a Canadian citizen, I generally don’t like to slam on my native land; I’ll definitely root for Team Canada come this Friday. But in terms of ridiculous government deadlock and partisanship, unfortunately, we have already claimed the gold medal.
Which makes complaining about Congress feel a bit silly.
TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images
The Toyota logo is displayed on a box of auto parts at City Toyota February 5, 2010 in Daly City, California. Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda issued an apology today for saftey issues that have prompted the recall of nearly 4 million Toyota cars and trucks that could have accelerator pedals that can stick.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
To summarize, David and I are discussing whether debt relief for Haiti is A) a good thing and B) should be a priority -- we agree on A (yes) and disagree somewhat on B. David argues that debt payments aren't going to be an issue in the foreseeable future, and that countries like Venezuela shouldn't get points for relieving relatively small sums of debt -- particularly if they aren't also providing significant aid, which is more important in the near and medium term. I say there's a short window in which to ask for countries to throw in the kitchen sink, so why not, particularly given debt's historical choke-hold on Haiti and given that three or ten years from now, Haiti will still be poor and in debt. Lots of others have good commentary on the subject, including Daniel Altman and Alex Tabarrok.
Ultimately, I still believe there's room and reason to ask for debt forgiveness -- if not now, then when? But it made me wonder about aid effectiveness -- if you're giving x dollars of aid, what provides the maximum benefit: debt forgiveness, direct governmental grants, funding specific programs, ending agricultural subsidies?
Development economists, of course, research this question, well, exhaustively. And the answer? It's now always clear -- or, there's no general rule. Academically, a dollar of debt relief is worth more than a dollar of granted aid. In reality, the level of indebtedness, degree of governmental corruption, relevant economic fundamentals, and the entities doing the lending all matter considerably.
But there's consensus on what other countries can be doing, should be doing, and are doing now. Haiti needs material support (water, batteries, medical supplies, etc.) and cash aid. But the United States, especially, should also think about remittances and immigration. Here, Michael Clemens and Amanda Taub argue for giving Haitians temporary protected status in the States. In the longer term, the United States might consider taking a close look not just at debt, but also at rice.
Until recently counter-terrorism officials weren't worried about jihadi pundits having much of an influence in the United States itself, where they believed that a higher degree of Muslim-American assimiliation, social mobility and economic well-being would act against such influences. It turns out however, that this isn't always the case.
In an article in New York Times Magazine, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Andrea Eliot profiles the captivating transformation of an all-American boy from Alabama, Omar Hammami, who is now fighting with Al Shabaab in Somalia.
Despite the name he acquired from his father, an immigrant from Syria, Hammami was every bit as Alabaman as his mother, a warm, plain-spoken woman who sprinkles her conversation with blandishments like "sugar" and "darlin'." Brought up a Southern Baptist, Omar went to Bible camp as a boy and sang "Away in a Manger" on Christmas Eve. As a teenager, his passions veered between Shakespeare and Kurt Cobain, soccer and Nintendo. In the thick of his adolescence, he was fearless, raucously funny, rebellious, contrarian. "It felt cool just to be with him," his best friend at the time, Trey Gunter, said recently. "You knew he was going to be a leader."
A decade later, Hammami has fulfilled that promise in the most unimaginable way. Some 8,500 miles from Alabama, on the eastern edge of Africa, he has become a key figure in one of the world's most ruthless Islamist insurgencies. That guerrilla army, known as the Shabab, is fighting to overthrow the fragile American-backed Somali government. The rebels are known for beheading political enemies, chopping off the hands of thieves and stoning women accused of adultery. With help from Al Qaeda, they have managed to turn Somalia into an ever more popular destination for jihadis from around the world.
And there are some downright chilling portions of the article:
In a recent propaganda video viewed by thousands on YouTube, he is shown leading a platoon of gun-toting rebels as a soundtrack of jihadi rap plays in the background.
He is identified by his nom de guerre, Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki, "the American," and speaks to the camera with a cool, almost eerie confidence. "We're waiting for the enemy to come," Hammami whispers, a smile crossing his face. Later he vows, "We're going to kill all of them."
Getting native-born Americans to join the jihadist cause is a coup for groups like al Qaeda or al Shabaab. An American jihadi can increase a group's legitimacy, add appeal to radicalizing youth in Western countries and can teach foreign jihadis about American culture. Having an American passport also allows for freer travel.
Although Omar Hammami isn't the first American to reach the higher echelons of a radical Islamic organization (California native Adam Gadahn is a top spokesman for al Qaeda), Eliot's article is a uniquely in-depth look into the details of such a metamorphosis. It's definitely worth a full read.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
After months of resistance against international pressure to overturn Uganda's now-notorious Anti-Homosexuality Bill, Uganda's politicians seem to be pulling back. In early January, Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni expressed concern that the bill was too harsh and on Jan. 12th noted:
"Because it is a foreign policy issue, it is not just our internal politics, and we must handle it in a way which does not compromise our principles but also takes into account our foreign policy interests."
The U.N. and the U.S. government, along with countries such as Britain, Canada and Sweden, have expressed their strong disapproval of the bill. Their displeasure has had an effect: during a January 19th cabinet meeting, the Ugandan government agreed to form a committee to amend the bill, with cabinet members citing the possibility of aid cuts by Western governments as a chief reason behind their reservations. The bill's author, MP David Bahati, held strong for a little longer. That is, until today when he expressed willingness to change some key clauses of the legislation.
Of course, none of this means that gay Ugandans will be getting a fair shake anytime soon -- especially when 95 percent of those surveyed in the country believe homosexuality should continue to be criminalized.
Although the U.S. government has condemned the bill, the American evangelical influences behind it are widely known. For example, Rick Warren, who advised most of the bill's leading supporters (such as Pastor Martin Ssempa), was barely ahead of Museveni in distancing himself from it. Also heavily circulated were the allegations by Jeff Sharlet that President Museveni, his ethics minister Nsamba Buturo and David Bahati, all have ties to U.S. politicians linked to The Family (a secretive evangelical organization with plenty of political influence).
Now, with human rights activists and journalists fully in the mix, friction over the bill has led to a proxy battle over the U.S.' cultural influence in the region.
WALTER ASTRADA/AFP/Getty Images
Today, Sen. Christopher Dodd, Democrat of Conn., announced that will not seek re-election this year. Dodd, suffering from a low approval rating and bashed for his perceived closeness with fat-cat bankers, wasn't expected to win a sixth term.
Dodd was primarily known as a domestic policy guy, and a powerful one at that -- a longtime Hill veteran, the head of the Senate Banking Committee, and at the center of the financial regulations storm.
But Dodd was also an important foreign policy thinker -- especially regarding Latin America. In the 1970s, just out of college, Dodd served with the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic. Once on the Hill, he maintained an interest in the region, becoming one of the loudest progressive voices regarding policy for the countries he always insisted were not "America's backyard" but "America's neighborhood." Back in the 1980s, he -- along with Sens. John Kerry and Tom Harkin -- spoke out against the Reagan administration's military and financial support of anticommunist groups, like the contras in Nicaragua. He later advocated for taking a soft-glove approach with countries like Cuba and Venezuela. (This won him plenty of opprobrium from the right, particularly during the Bush administrations.) More recently, he has won plaudits for his vocal support of policies to aid the human-rights disaster in Darfur.
As for Dodd's seat's future -- the Connecticut Democratic and Republican primaries are upcoming. Richard Blumenthal, the state's very popular attorney general, is expected to gain the Dem nod and Dodd's seat in the Senate. He'll likely face Republican Linda McMahon, the head of the WWE wrestling federation. No word yet on her views on Chavez.
Poor Nigeria. As if it didn't already have a terrible reputation, the alleged terror attempt by a 23-year-old Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab yesterday on a flight from Amsterdam to Detriot seals the deal. But as you're reading the news, a few caveats to remember:
First, much of the information coming out about the suspect's origin comes from the Nigerian newspaper This Day. While often a good source of initial information, this report probably shouldn't be taken as fact without other confirmation. The press in Nigeria, while vibrant, growing, and home to countless incredible journalists, has still been known to exagerate or assume at times. I have no reason to believe that is the case this time, but skepticism is warranted.
Second, if the suspect does indeed come from a family of means, as his residence in London suggests (forgive a generalization, but anyone who is anyone in Nigeria has got a house in London), it says much about where the real terror "threat" is (and is not) coming from in Nigeria. Security analysts have been worrying about Nigeria since the Sept 11. attacks -- fearing that this about half-Muslim country of 140 million people would be a potential host to extremists. But at the end of the day, something that I've learned about Nigeria is that it takes money and connections to get things done. Just think back to the violence earlier this summer by the Boko Haram sect. The mostly-impoverished members of the group raised hell in the local context ... but that was it. Taking "jihad" international from Nigeria is still a long ways and a lot of financing off (if it is on the way at all).
Which brings me to one more point about extremism in Nigeria. Much of the religious violence that the country has seen in recent years has been less about religion and more about a country rife with corruption and wanting for institutions. When sharia law was introduced in the North earlier this decade, most analysts believe that it had more to do with a desire for the law -- any law -- to function. Since the secular government had failed for years, many sought refuge in the laws of religious fundamentalism.
And that brings us back to the alleged terrorist in questioning today. His grievances are different from these, one might imagine, since the lack of rule of law often works in favor of (rather than against) the elite. In short, what I'm trying to say is that there are two different phenomena going on here: mass dissatisfaction among many impoverished in the country's Muslim North, and the different brand of extremism that would incite a well-off 23-year-old to blow up a plane in Detroit.
Finally, in the time that I've written this blog post, I have recieved several requests from news agencies and papers to help me connect them with reporters in Nigeria. An unfortunate reminder that the press in my former-resident country is drying up. And with each correspondent that leaves, it is trickier and trickier to piece together developments that unfold. For the last two years, editors have asked me why Nigeria matters. Case and point.
It's not clear what Hillary Clinton was aiming for exactly last Friday, when she warned Latin American countries "that if people want to flirt with Iran, they should take a look at what the consequences might well be for them." If she expected South American leaders to suddenly about-face, she got it really really wrong.
Clinton carefully avoided mentioning Brazil when she listed countries such as Venezuela and Bolivia accepting Iranian overtures. Given Brazilian President Lula's recent high-profile meeting with his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, it's hard to believe they weren't being alluded to. The only response has been from Lula's special advisor for international affairs, Marco Aurélio Garcia, who said "It was not a message for Brazil. If it was, it was the wrong message."
But actions speak louder than words, Clinton's assistant secretary for western hemisphere affairs, Arturo Valenzuela, is in Brazil now, and has not been granted a meeting with Lula or his Minister of Foreign Affairs, Celso Amorim. He is pictured above meeting with Garcia instead.
The ham-handed "warning," combines with regional anger at the US accepting (with weak caveats) the results of the Honduran election -- Brazil and other Latin American leaders are still saying Zelaya must be reinstated -- and ill-will towards the American bases in Colombia.
In the context of Honduras, Clinton's pedantic explanation of democracy in her speech --
we do worry about leaders who get elected and get elected fairly and freely and legitimately, but then, upon being elected, begin to undermine the constitutional and democratic order, the private sector, the rights of people to be free from harassment, depression, to be able to participate fully in their societies"
-- is offensive, and does nothing to reverse the feeling that the U.S. only notices the region as its backyard. Not a great way to woo allies.
In that vein, Valenzuela is scheduled to be similarly rebuffed when he goes to Argentina tomorrow. While as a victim of Iranian sponsored terrorism the country won't be bonding with Ahmadinejad, the administration seems annoyed at Washington's stance in the region, and officials are whispering to the press that Obama has not lived up to the change he promised.
EVARISTO SA/AFP/Getty Images
The brunt of yesterday's hearing in the House committee about lifting the U.S. travel ban on Cuba came down the following: will allowing American visitors spread word of democracy, or will tourist dollars will just prop up the Castro regime? That is the wrong question according to a a Human Rights Watch report out this week, which documents how the Cuban government uses Orwellian laws to silence dissent and has become more abusive in recent years.
Other governments must also revise their stance towards Cuba with the aim of fomenting human rights, said the report.
Not only have all of these policies -- US, European, Canadian, and Latin American -- failed individually to improve human rights in Cuba, but their divided and even contradictory nature has allowed the Cuban government to evade effective pressure and deflect criticism of its practices."
The report lambasts the United States for allowing Cuba to play David to its Goliath, but it also critiques the ineffective Candian and European policies, and the pedestal/blind eye attitude of Latin American countries, whose silence:
[C]ondones Cuba's abusive behavior, and perpetuates a climate of impunity that allows repression to continue. This is particularly troubling coming from a region in which many countries have learned firsthand the high cost of international indifference to state-sponsored repression."
The ambivalence and outright support for Castro coming from Latin America speaks to the curious distinction people in the region often make between undemocratic regimes of the right and those of the left: those who support the coup in Honduras are the same ones who scream about Castro, whereas those who tolerate Castro are apoplectic about Honduras.
The idea then, as a European Union official said earlier this month, should not be regime change, but rather human rights. Jorge Castañeda, former Mexican foreign minister, urges a similar policy, calling on the U.S., Europe and Canada to work together. In short: the United States must back down and lift the embargo not only to help Cubans directly, but also to uncouple support of human rights from regime change, thus enabling the strong multilateral approach called for by Human Rights Watch.
ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images
Earlier today, Yoani
Sanchez posted questions to U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro regarding U.S.-Cuban relations on her blog, Generación Y. Sanchez, who was recently denied a visa
to visit New York City to attend an awards dinner after she was awarded
a Marie Moors Cabot Prize from the Columbia University Graduate School
of Journalism, received a direct response from Obama himself.
Obama addresses each point with steadfast poise, sticking to his administration's usual positions on the topic. He categorizes Cuban affairs as a domestic and foreign policy issue for the U.S. and emphasizes democratic rule, freedom of speech, and human rights, familiar rhetoric from the president. He also does not rule out a visit to the island in the future, not to work on his tan, but rather as a "diplomatic tool":
I look forward to visit a Cuba in which all citizens enjoy the same rights and opportunities as other citizens in the hemisphere.No word yet if Castro intends to reply. However, his mind may be on other things after Human Rights Watch's release of the report "New Castro, Same Cuba," condemning his regime:
In his three years in power, Raúl Castro has been just as brutal as his brother. Cubans who dare to criticize the government live in perpetual fear, knowing they could wind up in prison for merely expressing their views.Pete Souza/White House via Getty Images
I just participated in a telephone conference call held by the Council on Foreign Relations, explaining why the decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, suspected Sept. 11 mastermind, in a federal court is a good plan in terms of national security and public relations.
John B. Bellinger III, a Council on Foreign Relations fellow and former Bush administration advisor, downplayed security concerns, and instead emphasized the importance of a fair trial, best served by a civilian setting.
Bellinger also stressed that he does not think the debate between using federal courts versus military commissions is one that can be answered -- and that the government should go on a case-by-case basis. "As with everything in the detainee debate, people tend to make it look like it is black or white," he said.
For K.S.M., against whom there is plenty of evidence (as with Timothy McVeigh and Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman), Bellinger supports the use of the federal justice system. On the other hand, he said it is difficult to imagine anything but military commissions in the case of certain crimes committed abroad and by actors captured by soldiers also off U.S. soil, such as alleged militants "pulled out of caves in Tora Bora."
Steven Simon, also a CFR fellow, argued that while justice might be equally served by both systems, the U.S. will be fostering vital public relations by holding the trial in a federal court. He said trying K.S.M. in New York might have a similar impact as the Nuremburg Trials against the Nazis. "Whether this will have an effect and how big the effect will be remains to be seen. We know that the election of Barack Obama was greeted with some enthusiasm as a sign of change and a break with the past," he said. "The trial of K.S.M. could draw a similar bright line."Janet Hamlin-Pool/Getty Images
A "scurrilous idea" -- better known as the Tobin tax, a levy on foreign-exchange transactions -- seems to be taking on a life of its own.
This week U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio is expected to propose a tax on all financial transactions (like stock purchases -- excluding those connected to health, education, and pensions). The idea of funding job creation in this way has the backing of a variety of groups, including the NAACP, AFL-CIO, and the National Council of La Raza.
Although the idea of a financial transactions tax has been floating around since Nobel economics prize winner James Tobin proposed it in the 1970s (to stabilize currencies), it has gained recent traction since Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown brought it up at a meeting of G20 finance ministers meeting earlier this month. He discussed using some form of a tax on all financial transactions, to stabilize whole markets.
Much of the debate focuses on justice, the idea seems to be to tax the bad guys and use the money for any number of just causes. It's hard to argue with that sort of logic. As Brown pointed out, the banks should have to bear some of the costs of the massive bailouts they received.
It cannot be acceptable that the benefits of success in this sector are reaped by the few but the costs of its failure are borne by all of us."
At the request of the G-20, the IMF is preparing a report on the tax -- despite opposition by IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Opponents avoid philosophy and stick to economics, arguing that countries instituting such levies might risk pushing financial operations into friendlier markets and that it would be technically difficult to implement.
In the meantime, Brazil has unilaterally implemented a tax on currency transactions, intended to stabilize the real by reducing speculation.
Jonathan Ernst/Getty Images
With more than 2,000 killings this year in Ciudad Juarez, pictures of gunshot victims strewn about the streets and bulletproof-vested shopkeepers attending terrified customers, potential paramilitiary group formation, calls for UN peacekeeping troops and dire predictions of the violence spreading north the United States-Mexico border is increasingly looking like an all out war zone.
Perhaps it is because of this that I was surprised this morning to attend a conference calling for recognition that the transborder region is increasingly more a region than a border. Speakers at "Rethinking the U.S.-Mexico Border," came from both sides of the border, but it's more accurate to see their flawless bilingualism as an expression that they truly do view the area as a region that must work as one in order to harness the potential of what is already a $300 billion economy.
Among the recommendations presented by one group, the "Binational Task Force on the United States-Mexico Border," was the need to target demand for illicit drugs on both sides of the border (20 percent of drugs produced in Mexico are consumed there, most of the rest goes to the US), as well as the creation of parallel border agencies (such as the synergy between Canada and the US) facilitating coordination between the two countries. Importantly, they called for a reinstating of the American ban on assault weapons, and more work on preventing arms and cash smuggling south. They also advocate immigration reform in the US and more focus on development in Mexico to stem flows north. On the flip side, Mexico also needs to start taking illegal immigration seriously.
Given that NAFTA is now 15 years old, none of this should sound very surprising. But remembering that a lot of the talk about the border in recent years has involved walls (electrified or otherwise), vigilantes, and how to make everybody just stay put on their own side, this all sounded pretty good. As most of the speakers emphasized, it's not about philosophically agreeing with unilateral solutions or not, they simply don't seem to work.
Jesus Alcazar/AFP/Getty Images
"And they shall beat their swords into plowshares," could easily be turned into, "And they shall dismantle their nuclear warheads into enriched uranium for nuclear power plants."
The New York Times reports 10 percent of electricity in the United States is generated from old nuclear bombs. For comparison, hydropower accounts for 6 percent and solar, biomass, wind and geothermal combined account for 3 percent. No data exists for how much power bunnies contribute.
In recent years, disarmament has generated a wealth of nuclear fuel. As the New York Times article says, "the fuel from missiles that may have once been aimed at your home may now be lighting it."
45 percent of nuclear fuel in American reactors comes from old Soviet bombs. The problem is that the fuel is running out, and in order to keep powering 4.5 percent of the United States more disarmament is needed.
The old program, known as Megatons to Megawatts will end in 2013, but because nuclear plants need to buy fuel three to five years in advance, the issue is of utmost importance right now. A new supply of fuel would become available if the United States and Russia would agree to renew the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which expires in December. Currently the USA has 2,220 warheads and Russia has 2,800.
With or without the added Soviet fuel, the US is investing heavily in the old-bombs-to-new-fuel strategy, as a factory is being built in South Carolina to dismantle American warheads. It will be able to recycle 34 tons of nuclear fuel that can power a million homes for 50 years.
United Nations Photo/Flickr
Russian analyst and ex-KGB operative Igor Panarin wants the U.S. to enjoy its last eight months. Because after that, the world's sole superpower will be embroiled in a civil war that will destroy it. This message has found an audience in the radical right wing Tea Party movement.
Mass immigration, economic decline, racial tensions and moral degradation will spark the war that leads to this civil war and subsequent splitting of the United States. These are same fears expressed at Tea Party rallies throughout the US.
In Panarin's dystopia the south will go to Mexico. The Northeast will go to the E.U. The Midwest will go to Canada. The West Coast will go to China and Alaska will go back to Russia.
Fans of irony take note. The people who say the U.S. is headed toward Socialism, or Fascism, or both, or whatever, are paying an ex-KGB academic to speak at their conferences. At a speech in Houston, Panarin said Texas' talk of secession -- consisting largely of Chuck Norris' offer to run for president and the controversy surrounding immigration is a sign that the end is nigh for the U.S.A.
Image via Richard Conn Henry/Wikipedia
Like many in Washington, I spent Saturday night at home watching C-SPAN as the House debated and ultimately passed a major healthcare reform bill. It was about as exciting as the legislative process gets: a special weekend session, with heated debate over a controversial amendment, impassioned statements from virtually every House heavyweight, and a vote that came down to a thin margin, with a single crossover.
This banner moment marks the closest that the United States has ever come to overhauling its woefully expensive, inefficient, and incomplete healthcare system -- and it felt like a victory. But it marks just one step in what promises to be a long and detailed legislative process. Now, the Senate votes on its healthcare bill, then the two bills are merged, and then both chambers vote again. The remaining process will be highly prone to filibusters from Republicans (and, sigh, Joe Lieberman), and will require extensive negotiation. And this comes after months of wrangling in the Senate and House committees.
While healthcare reform takes its time to pass, two other big bills wait on the sidelines, and governments across the globe wait with them. Indeed, the Senate is, in effect, filibustering the world.
The first back-burnered issue is immigration reform. During his campaign, Obama promised that he would enact comprehensive legislation during his first year in office. It was a heady pledge -- President George W. Bush tried to pass reform during his final term in office, and failed. But it won Obama the support of organizations like the National Council of La Raza and plaudits from governments in Central America, Mexico, and Canada. Then, earlier this year, Obama ingloriously shelved it, laying down a big-bill priority rank with immigration reform taking the bronze. Congress hasn't even started to tackle the issue -- no bills, cosigners, or committee votes yet -- spurring disappointment across the United States' borders and further afield.
The second and vastly more important issue is cap and trade. The House bill passed in June, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi pushing it onto the floor as soon as she had the votes. But leaders in the White House and Congress decided to cool it to preserve votes for healthcare, and Congress won't make law until sometime early next year.
This delay means that the United States will be something of a weak actor at next month's U.N. Copenhagen conference on climate change. Global leaders will hash out the details of a worldwide plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions and to attempt to stave off anthropogenic climate disaster. Obama will not be one of them because of, well, Congress.
The United States has said any climate change agreements it makes must comport with U.S. law, and U.S. law isn't ready yet. So, Obama has said he will not attend. In the meantime, the United States has actually attempted to weaken many of the most important measures. Washington, under Obama as under Bush, remains the most recalcitrant major player on climate change, even more so than big-emitter Beijing.
European governments, as well as many others, are bewildered if not piqued. During her address to both chambers of Congress last week, for instance, German Chancellor Angela Merkel implored lawmakers to tackle climate change "without delay." It was a futile plea, and half of the lawmakers didn't bother to clap.
This isn't to say that Washington should have different legislative priorities, or should have put climate change or immigration reform before healthcare. It isn't to say that Obama should have stepped out on those issues before Congress enacted law. It isn't even to say that Congress should move faster, though I often wish it would.
It is simply to note that the United States is used to waiting for its legislative process to work. The rest of the world isn't. On climate change, especially, the Senate is not just holding up U.S. legislation, but global action. And it remains unclear what that means for foreign policy.
There are breaking reports of a deadly massacre at a massive U.S. military base, Fort Hood, 60 miles north of Austin, Texas.
One or three perpetrators -- reports differ -- killed at least 12 and injured dozens more inside the base. One alleged shooter is dead, Major Malik Nadal Hasan, age 39; two other people are in custody. The shooter or shooters allegedly used handguns in a facility for soldiers preparing to head to Afghanistan and Iraq.
It is just a horrifying, tragic situation.
There is going to be a Muhammad biopic. Yes, that Muhammad. Many readers may wonder: How is that possible, with the whole he-shall-not-be-depicted rule? Well, it's pretty simple; the movie will never show him.
Due to start shooting in 2011, producer Barrie Osborne of Matrix and Lord Of The Rings fame will throw $150 million into a movie that he said is, "an international epic production aimed at bridging cultures. The film will educate people about the true meaning of Islam."
Osborne has enlisted Egyptian cleric Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi to help guide the film's positive portrayal of Islam as a religion of peace and tolerance, though it should be noted that Qaradaw is also barred from entering the U.K. because he defended suicide attacks on Israelis as "martyrdom in the name of God."
KARIM JAAFAR/AFP/Getty Images
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton slammed an effort by Islamic countries to ban religious criticism last week.
The Organization of the Islamic Conference pressured the U.N. Human Rights Council to ban defamation of religion, like this cartoon that inspired the measure. Secretary Clinton fired back, "Some claim that the best way to protect the freedom of religion is to implement so-called anti-defamation policies that would restrict freedom of expression and the freedom of religion," she said. "I strongly disagree."
Although she is opposed to the negative depictions of certain faiths, a blanket ban of discourse isn't the right path, she said; instead countries should focus on tolerance.
Her statement came as the State Department announced its annual report on international religious freedom. The OIC has 56 member states, 18 of which were listed in the report as "countries where violations of religious freedom have been noteworthy."
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A large contingent of American bands have joined the Close Gitmo Now campaign in direct protest of the use of their music during torture practices at Guantanamo Bay. The new campaign is led by two retired generals: Lieutenant General Robert Gard and Brigadier General John Johns. Robert Gard has spoken out in defense of the musicians, stating:
"The musicians' music 'was used without their knowledge as part of the Bush administration's misguided policies'."
artists such as REM, Pearl Jam, Bonnie Raitt, Tom Morello, Billy Bragg,
Michelle Branch, Jackson Browne, and The Roots have signed an open letter to Congress requesting the declassification of government records concerning how music was utilized during "futility" interrogation tactics - making the prisoner feel hopeless while exploiting his psychological, moral, and sociological weaknesses.
Tom Morellon of Rage Against the Machine fame has expressed his peronsal rage against Dick Cheney:
"Guantanamo is known around the world as one of the places where human beings have been tortured - from water boarding, to stripping, hooding and forcing detainees into humiliating sexual acts - playing music for 72 hours in a row at volumes just below that to shatter the eardrums. Guantanamo may be Dick Cheney's idea of America, but it's not mine. The fact that music I helped create was used in crimes against humanity sickens me - we need to end torture and close Guantanamo now."
But don't except every rock band to jump on board, some view the use of their music at Gitmo as an honor.
Above, Zach de la Rocha of Rage Against The Machine performs during the 2008 Republican National Convention (RNC) at the Target Center September 3, 2008 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Eric Thayer/Stringer/Getty Images
It appears astrophysics isn't a good prerequisite for espionage. Hot off the heels of this month's arrest of an alleged al-Qaeda operative at the CERN lab, a U.S. scientist was brought down yesterday for trying to sell state secrets to Israel.
Stewart David Nozette, third from the left in the photo, once had top security clearance during his tenure with both the U.S. Department of Defense and NASA. While he worked in the George H.W. Bush administration, he had access to top secret and secret information about U.S. satellites. When approached by an undercover FBI agent, he offered to spill this information if Israeli intelligence could pony up the cash. (The sting's details are here)
The Department of Justice says Israel is in no way implicated in the sting, however Politico points out that Nozette said he expected to be contacted by Mossad at some point, and his former company, Israel Aircraft Industries, has had several employees charged with espionage.
In a statement, Nozette said he thought he was already working for Israeli intelligence while employed by Israel Aircraft Industries, as he thought they were a front. He will be in court today; if convicted, he could face life in prison.
These recent scientist-turned-spy stories remind one of when the two professions interfaced seamlessly.
One small step for science, one giant step for international treaty lawyers. Or something like that anyway.
Amateur astronomers squinted to see the anti-climactic "explosion" Friday morning, but others were far more concerned about the potential impact (and legality) of NASA's scientific experimentation.
The UN Moon Treaty (technically the 1967 Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and other Celestial Bodies), states that:
In exploring and using the Moon, States Parties shall take measures to prevent the disruption of the existing balance of its environment, whether by introducing adverse changes in that environment, by its harmful contamination through the introduction of extra-environmental matter or otherwise."
Only people with colonized minds believe these things are positive, or that this type of "progress" can be beneficial to anyone beyond a small circle of exploiter-elites."
NASA investigators attempted to allay environmental concerns, albeit without addressing the potential international law issues:
The impact has about 1 million times less influence on the moon than a passenger's eyelash falling to the floor of a 747 [jet] during flight," said an investigator.The response won't satisfy the pacifists, but it should reassure the many moon property owners as to the continuing worth of their land.
Last year, Passport made the case for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, hosting the 2016 Olympics over closest rivals Chicago, Tokyo and Madrid.
Today, one Chicago website is making that same case.
"It would be exciting to host the Olympics here in Chicago," ChicagoansforRio.com says. "But you know what would be even better? Rio de Janeiro. Just let Rio host the 2016 Olympics. We don't mind. Honest."
Just eight days until the announcement of the winner, Chicagoans for Rio break down some reasons Brazil would host the games better. For instance:
Statues. Rio has Christ standing. Chicago has Lincoln sitting. (To be fair, Chicago also has statues of Lincoln standing.)
Signature events. Rio has naked people dancing. Chicago has chubby people eating.
Nickname. Rio is the "Marvelous City." Chicago is the "Second City."
The site also points out Chicago has a budget deficit of nearly $220 million; they claim Rio has a $0 budget deficit because, "If you're a Chicagoan, Rio's budget deficit does not matter."
They also say 21 of Athens' 22 Olympic venues remain unused.
It appears the latest victim of recessionomics is the ambition to host the world's second most important sporting event.
ANTONIO SCORZA/AFP/Getty Images
A new book by a former Canadian intelligence officer alleges that Canada is the world's number-one destination for intelligence agents looking to steal political and miltiary secrets:
Led by the Chinese but including intelligence officers from at least 20 nations including allies, the book says, the infiltrators are stealing an estimated $20 billion to $30 billion annually worth of cutting-edge research in products and technologies, other scientific, business and military know-how and political secrets.
Others, it says, are infiltrating ethnic communities, suppressing criticism of homeland governments, recruiting industrial spies, stoking political violence among the diaspora and operating front companies and political lobbies aimed at manipulating government policies.
Proportionately, it estimates more spies operate here than in the U.S.
Why Canada? The book alleges that government inaction has made it a soft target compared to other countries of its size and power:
Over the past 15 years, there have been hundreds of prosecutions of foreign spies in the U.S., Britain and France, but not a single one in Canada. "Senior law enforcement officials have taken the hint and placed their priorities elsewhere. Where limited efforts are made, government policy and government actions have not been co-ordinated." In the end, Canadian businesses are largely left to fend for themselves and their market shares against sophisticated and well-funded thieves intent on stealing (or sabotaging) their work and bringing it to market faster and without the enormous research-and-development costs.
Hat tip: Danger Room
In response to Admiral Mullen's testimony on the need for more troops in Afghanistan, Senator Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) asked, "Do you understand you've got one more shot back home? Do you understand that?"
The question is reflective of polls showing distinctly waning support of the war effort in the United States. A Washington Post-ABC News poll has found that only 46 percent of respondents thought that the war was worth fighting; 51 percent said that it wasn't.
It's certainly a dramatic change since the time of the U.S. invasion. According to Gallup numbers, a whopping 93 percent of respondents in 2002 agreed with the decision to send U.S. forces to Afghanistan. That number steadily declined to 72 percent by mid-2004. Between that point and mid-2007, however, that number was remarkably stable, dropping only two percentage points over the course of three years. That might be reflective of Afghanistan's status as "the forgotten war;" people's opinions probably don't change much if they aren't paying attention.
It's interesting to compare this trend to the United States's other war. In the case of Iraq, there's an obvious decline in the number of Americans who think sending troops to Iraq wasn't a mistake (from 75 percent in 2003 to 39 percent in 2009) and an increase in the number of people who think that it was a mistake (from 23 percent in 2003 up to 58 percent in 2009). But whereas opinion on Afghanistan has been steadily declining; virtually every poll on Iraq represents another significant fluctuation. In mid-2004, for example, the percentage of supporters swung from 58 percent down to about 44 percent, and then back up to about 56 percent.
In general, there certainly seems to be decreasing support for any war over time; another Gallup poll suggests that soon after wars end, there is a consistent increase of people who "feel that war is an outdated way of settling differences."
Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
We have received several responses to the post last week about the State Department's struggle to get security clearances for interns. The post was based on this National Journal story. Below are comments by readers identifying themselves as former interns. The consensus so far is that while the process isn't great, the clearance is important.
Matt Born, who served as an intern in Athens in 2007, responded by email, and said that he applied in May 2006, was accepted in September, had his clearance request submitted in October and received an interim clearance in January 2007:
I was a State intern a few years ago, and found the process to be opaque and difficult. I was offered and served as an intern in the political section in Athens, but I can vouch that the clearance process took a significant amount of time and only succeeded after they stopped pursuing top secret clearance and opted for interim secret. I'm on my third passport, and have spent maybe 10 percent of my life overseas, but due to the opacity of the process I don't know whether that had any impact.
Regarding whether interns handle classified material, I can say that it varied. There were times when I had to remind the FSOs that my clearance didn't go high enough to do what they were asking. There were three other interns during my stay in Athens, and some of them never saw a coversheet.
Commenter tbeau85 agreed that access is important:
As a former overseas DOS intern, I had access to classified cables for intern projects. No intern is "running" anything but your reaction does overlook the fact that in reality, "classified" material does not always include "sexy" news. It can be simply politically sensitive discussions--access to which is necessary if an intern is to get a full experience with DOS. Even not related to direct assignments, perusing the cables everyday was one of the best experiences as an intern. If interns could only read UC material, the whole experience would not be nearly the same.
alkenn93 says he/she also received an interim clearance one week ahead of time and that the process was "incredibly difficult":
Yes, it was extremely useful to be able to read classified cables and to attend sensitive meetings, and I wouldn't argue that interns shouldn't have to be granted secret clearance. Still, the difficulty of the process only serves to weed out eager students with relevant overseas experience, and is not proportionate to the actual amount of sensitive work we complete.
Another description of the access provided for cleared interns:
For better or worse, many areas and documents are marked as secret, and I agree that not clearing interns would rather limit their experiences. Cables, NIEs, and other documents that have classified versions offer a lot more insight into the whole process and are a neat perk of the job. Certainly, the process could be improved -- interns who applied nine months ahead of time should be told more than a week before the first day that they will, in fact, be permitted to show up for work -- but the difficulty in obtaining a clearance shouldn't detract from the value of that clearance.
Finally, commenter Guyver describes the frustration of never getting to start:
I was supposed to be a summer intern at State in 2006. I did not get my clearance till end of August, by which time summer was over. Funny thing, I was offered the internship because I have native-fluency in Arabic, but that’s what delayed my clearance, because I spent many years overseas in Arab countries.
Based on these comments, here are some further questions for discussion:
If State Department funding is increased, as has been indicated, will the problems lessen?
Are normal State hires having the same problems with clearance? Or is it easier because training and the first year doing consular leave plenty of time?
Update: A prospective Foreign Service Officer (FSO) wrote in to explain that the clearance process for hires is just as long. She asked to have her name withheld as her employment offer is still in the clearance phase.
As someone with a conditional offer of employment as an FSO, I must note that one cannot be accepted into training without passing the Final Suitability Review, which requires both the top-secret clearance and medical clearance to be completed before the actual hiring can take place. This process takes months to complete.
I asked what prospective FSOs do for the months while awaiting clearance:
I think some people do drop out, but the process to pass the FSO exams is so arduous, and people have invested so much time and energy already, that I think most don't. Most keep working wherever they've been working, or get short-term jobs, things like that.
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