Bill Humphrey

About Bill Humphrey

Bill Humphrey is the primary host of WVUD's Arsenal For Democracy talk radio show and is a Senior Editor for The Globalist. Follow him @BillHumphreyMA on twitter.

One Trillion Dollars

Bold rhetoric from Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL-08), as the cost of the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq crosses the one trillion dollar mark, with another $33 billion allocation coming up for a vote soon. Excerpt:

The war money could be used for schools, bridges, or paying everyone’s mortgage payments for a whole year. It could be used to end federal income taxes on every American’s first $35,000 of income, as my bill, the War Is Making You Poor Act, does. It could be used to close the yawning deficit, supply health care to the unemployed, or for any other human and humane purpose.

Instead, it will be used for war. Because, as Orwell predicted in 1984, we’ve reached the point where everyone thinks that we’ve always been at war with Eastasia. Why?

Not because Al Qaeda was sheltered in Iraq. It wasn’t. And not because Al Qaeda is in Afghanistan. It isn’t. Bush could never explain why we went to war in Iraq, and Obama can’t explain why we are ‘escalating’ in Afghanistan.

So, why? Why spend $1 trillion on a long, bloody nine-year campaign with no justifiable purpose?

Remember 9/11, the day that changed everything? That was almost a decade ago. Bush’s response was to mire us in two bloody wars, wars in which we are still stuck today. Why?

I can’t answer that question. But I do have an alternative vision of how the last 10 years could have played out.

Imagine if we had decided after 9/11 to wean ourselves off oil and other carbon-based fuels. We’d be almost ten years into that project by now.

Imagine if George W. Bush had somehow been able to summon the moral strength of Mahatma Gandhi, Helen Keller, or Martin Luther King Jr, and committed the American people to the pursuit of a common goal of a transformed society, a society which meets our own human needs rather than declaring “war” on an emotion, or, as John Quincy Adams put it, going “abroad, in search of monsters to destroy”.

Imagine.

Imagine that we chose not to enslave ourselves to a massive military state whose stated goal is “stability” in countries that never have been “stable”, and never will be.

Imagine.

“Imagine all the people, living life in peace.”

 
I post this here not to say I agree with everything he says, as this is a political statement and not necessarily sound policy, in my view… but I do feel it’s important to acknowledge another awful milestone in the interminable wars. His Nineteen Eighty-Four reference is brilliant, and one I use often myself.

And while I would disagree with the assertion that we are enslaved to a massive military state, it is troubling that it’s so easy to summon endless funded and unfunded allocations for military endeavors, while it is difficult to get the votes to increase spending by anywhere near the same amounts for social programs and societal improvement projects, such as those he mentions. In other words, had we not gone into these wars, we never would have spent all that money on anything. It’s ok to spend heaps on wars but not on things that make America stronger at home in the long-term, such as improved education or a clean-energy revolution.

I make this criticism as someone who actually does advocate an active military stabilizer/intervention force that can halt humanitarian crises and genocides, and as someone who supported the original Afghan invasion and opposed the Iraq War. We need to re-prioritize. Of that, I am sure.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Icelandic joke party wins capital election

Normally few people outside Iceland would care about the election results from the capital, Reykjavik, but today’s outcome was worth a glance. Best Party (Besti flokkurinn), a “joke party” that is only six months old, captured a plurality of the vote and won 6 of the 15 city council seats, leaving the rest of city council to more mainstream parties. The BBC writes:

The Best Party, founded by comedian Jon Gnarr, secured 34.7% of the vote, ahead of the Independence Party’s 33.6%.

Its campaign video featured candidates singing to the tune of Tina Turner’s “Simply The Best”.

Key pledges included “sustainable transparency”, free towels at all swimming pools and a new polar bear for the city zoo.

The party also called for a Disneyland at the airport and a “drug-free parliament” by 2020.

As well as specific pledges, its video promised change, a “bright future” and suggested that it was time for a “clean out”.

 
It’s not too surprising when you remember how screwed up Icelandic politics got during the past couple years after the financial meltdown sent it to hell. This is a protest vote, it’s clear, and possibly a resounding desire for a polar bear at the capital’s zoo. Or a Disneyland at the airport, because why the hell not?

The incumbent mayor’s Independence Party came in second, and Jon Gnarr (BF) is insisting that he become the new mayor now. Here’s the party’s official music video, with subtitles, as referenced above:

If you’re not too up on past and present joke parties elsewhere, the best joke party in history is probably the now-disbanded “Rhinoceros Party of Canada”, which has had some amazingly brilliant platforms. Some of their past pledges include:

– Repealing the law of gravity
– Tearing down the Rocky Mountains so that Albertans could see the Pacific sunset
– Making Montreal the Venice of North America by damming the St. Lawrence River
– Abolishing the environment because it’s too hard to keep clean and it takes up so much space
– Annexing the United States, which would take its place as the third territory in Canada’s backyard (after the Yukon and the Northwest Territories — Nunavut did not yet exist), in order to eliminate foreign control of Canada’s natural resources
– Ending crime by abolishing all laws
– Adopting the British system of driving on the left; this was to be gradually phased in over five years with large trucks and tractors first, then buses, eventually including small cars and bicycles last.

 
The Rhino Party never won any seats sadly, and unlike the Best Party of Iceland, they had pledged to call fresh elections if they ever won an overall parliamentary or provincial election.

We eagerly await the delivery of campaign promises to the people of Reykjavik by the Best Party, now that they have so many seats on the city council. Unfortunately, having pledged not to honor a single campaign promise, don’t expect a new polar bear any time soon.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

A Rwandan Genocide legacy (continued)

Recently, I wrote a lengthy post on the repressive legacy of the post-genocide government of Rwanda. The New York Times has continued their investigation (which prompted my original post), and there’s a new article today: “For Rwandan Students, Ethnic Tensions Lurk.” Much of my earlier post discussed how the Rwandan Patriotic Front (the Tutsi rebels who replaced the radical Hutu government) has been shielded from many criticisms of their actions during, preceding, and following the genocide by the simple fact that they were the only armed force in the world that acted to stop the genocide. Victors write the history, and liberators get even better treatment because of their heroic actions. But the RPF-led government of Rwanda continues to use that as an excuse to cover up their own abuses, as the article explains:

According to the law, once a student is convicted of genocide ideology, the student can face jail time and will not be readmitted to school, a policy that has students keeping their opinions to themselves.

The ban on genocide ideology also encompasses accusations that the Tutsi rebels killed civilians in 1994, despite the finding by a United Nations research team that the rebels killed up to 45,000 people. A mention of those killings can land a jail term. The genocide, the law says, was committed only against the Tutsis.

The official narrative, students say, amounts to a kind of denial of history. Or as Denise Kajeniri, a 21-year-old Tutsi economics student, describes it, “pretend and move on.”

 
I raise this not to minimize the horrors committed by their Hutu genocidaire opponents (see my other post for more on that), but because it is important that we confront all the facts — not just those that make one side play the pure villains and the other side the untainted heroes. The world does not divide evenly like that. Just as the United States has been slow to confront the abuses and crimes it committed during the liberation of Europe and the Pacific in World War II, this process will take time in Rwanda. But it is a necessary step if they are to have real reconciliation and healing.

This article originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Nigeria’s president is dead

This is not altogether unexpected, as he had been in very poor health for some time now, but Nigeria’s President Umaru Yar’adua has passed away, an aide confirmed to the BBC. President Yar’adua had returned two months ago after a lengthy and mysterious health trip to Saudi Arabia, but Acting President Goodluck Jonathan (the Vice President) remained at the helm, as he has been since February. Yar’adua’s death should help resolve the lingering constitutional questions that threatened to destabilize the political scene in the oil-rich west African nation that contains about 15% of the continent’s entire population. President Yar’adua had been in Saudi Arabia for about 90 days, refusing to meet with or speak to officials, before the Nigerian government agreed to transfer power formally to Vice President Jonathan. By the time he returned to Nigeria to live out his final days, he had been out of the country and unaccounted for, for approximately three months.

Yar’adua’s death also seals the amazing storybook rise of Mr. Jonathan, which I summarized in February, when he was made Acting President:

He’s a zoologist and a hydrobiologist, who was an environmental minister briefly and fortuitously became governor after being chosen as a lieutenant governor in his state under a corrupt governor who resigned; then he was unexpectedly chosen as running mate by the outgoing president orchestrating the 2007 PDP ticket that won, and now he’s suddenly President.

 
UPDATE @ 10:27 PM: The NY Times has posted their summary of the Yar’adua presidency. Mixed reviews but some positive (small) steps toward governmental reform, basically.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

A legacy of the Rwandan Genocide

It can be tough to criticize the liberators, the people who stop a genocide. They are heroes to many, and it’s easy to disregard the people who disagree as the oppressors. Hell, it took us long time in the United States to begin coming to terms with some of the inhuman military actions we took in World War II while liberating Europe and Asia from brutal, genocidal regimes. Rarely are the liberators perfect or unsullied.

In late October 1990, the “Rwandan Patriotic Front,” a ethnic Tutsi minority rebel army suddenly stormed the Rwandan border from Uganda. Once the invasion began Uganda felt compelled to support it. The rebels were largely Rwandan only by parentage and were seeking the right of return and political control of the country after what they saw as decades of injustice by the Hutu majority in the post-colonial period. The authoritarian Hutu-controlled government of Rwanda went into a state of emergency and began crackdowns and reprisals, and elite Zairian and French troops quickly arrived to back the Hutu government. The invasion was a failure and the rebels retreated, with their leadership disintegrating especially as Uganda’s government arrested some of them. Another RPF leader, Major Paul Kagame, was immediately recalled from the United States, where he had been receiving extensive military training during the preceding months, and he took command, planning out a guerrilla long-war strategy. By 1992, the Rwandan regime had been forced to enter a cease-fire settlement with the rebels, although the rebels remained in a weak position. After several months the RPF invaded again because the government was allegedly conducting “small” massacres, but French troops arrived again to arm and support the regime, which ended the invasion and resulted in another cease-fire, this time with UN peacekeepers and a plan for power-sharing. It must be noted that well over a million Hutu civilians had become displaced during the conflict due to RPF massacres.

In April 1994, the presidential plane was hit by a surface-to-air missile of unknown source and the Hutu generals initiated a violent coup within hours and began political purges. Within days, the general massacres of Tutsi civilians were rolling along as the Hutu hardliners had planned for months, and around a dozen Belgian UN troops were killed, prompting Western nations to send in rescue troops to evacuate all their personnel, leaving the ordinary Tutsis (and moderate Hutus) to their fate. Over the course of the next three months, the Rwandan military and an extremist militia committed systematic genocide, killing one person approximately every five minutes on average. (The final victim count was estimated at 800,000 to well over a million. The RPF puts the figure at 937,000).
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Nigerien junta preserves Chinese alliance

It’s about time to do a follow-up post on my informal series of posts on the February military coup in Niger, and along comes a NY Times article on the matter. The Chinese had been underwriting the (previous) Tandja government, according to detractors, and the article says the Chinese made a “smooth” switch to the new regime, which is led by military officers who insist they are cleaning up government in Niger and have pledged elections in the (unspecified) near future. With basically the only significant export being uranium – Niger has some of the world’s largest deposits – the coup government recognized quickly that they needed to maintain the Chinese alliance to prevent collapse and chaos. Add to that the Western pre-coup sanctions that remain in effect until the elections, there was no other option.

China, reportedly, had been supplying the increasingly dictatorial regime with hydroelectricity installations and resource extraction sites that could eventually improve the country’s economy but in the short-term served to bolster the President Tandja. Shortly after the coup, Chinese projects and operations in Niger returned to normal. Tandja remains under arrest.

No word yet on whether China will put up the $132.9 million adequate food to head off an impending hunger crisis, as reported by the United Nations’ news service. Seems unlikely.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

The traveling exile of a deposed president

They should seriously consider remaking “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” with this guy, if things progress at the current rate:

The deposed president of Kyrgyzstan, who was ousted following bloody antigovernment riots this month, is being harbored now in Belarus, that country’s president, Aleksandr Lukashenko, said Tuesday, though authorities in Kyrgyzstan said they would press for his extradition.

Kurmanbek Bakiyev, the former president of Kyrgyzstan, resigned last week and left Kyrgyzstan for neighboring Kazakhstan in a deal brokered by the presidents of the United States, Russia and Kazakhstan. The deal was meant to shore up Kyrgyzstan’s provisional government and halt further violence in the strategically important Central Asian nation, which hosts an American military base crucial for supplying troops and equipment for the NATO mission in Afghanistan.

Where will he go next? Dubai seems to be a popular location for exiled world leaders these days…

Oh, and a related fun fact I just learned by brushing up on the TV show I referenced above: the whole first season was taped right before the 1991 breakup of the USSR (which included all three of the countries named above), and by the time the series premiered many of the locations cited and all the maps used had become totally inaccurate. A few other countries also broke up over the next few seasons.

This post originally appeared at Starboard Broadside.