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.

Car bombs rock Nigerian capital

In a clear sign that the next presidential election in Nigeria will once again not be peaceful, two car bombs were detonated in the midst of a capital event last week with President Goodluck Jonathan, the country’s former vice president who is seeking his own term after assuming the presidency during a succession crisis earlier this year.

President Jonathan, who took over running the country shortly before President Umaru Yar’adua died in May, survived last week’s attack apparently unharmed, and met with ex-rebels the next day to discuss ways of reducing violence. Such an attack is new to the capital, though terrorist and militant strikes are common in the much-abused Niger Delta region. The Economist:

All that was left of two cars packed with explosives was their smouldering chassis after they had been blown up on October 1st near Eagle Square in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, while surrounded by unsuspecting citizens celebrating the 50th anniversary of their country’s independence. At least 12 people died and dozens were injured in this year’s most worrying act of political violence. A well-known rebel group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), which is most active in the oil-producing south, claimed responsibility but blamed the government for the deaths, insisting that it had ignored back-channel warnings given 24 hours before the blasts.

The attacks took place close to President Goodluck Jonathan, as he was reviewing a parade a few hundred yards away in front of invited dignitaries. Shortly before the bombings he had declared: “There is certainly much to celebrate: our freedom, our strength, our unity and our resilience.”

 
This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Guinea’s Election Debacle

June (me, “Promise and Peril in Guinea“):

Cautiously optimistic scenes in the West African nation of Guinea as the population prepares for its first free elections in its history, tomorrow. There are 24 presidential candidates, and so far election observers from around the world say everything looks like it’s in order.

After independence from France two military dictators ruled consecutively from 1958-2008, after which the country faced instability and violence (including a large massacre of civilians) under a new military regime, until Gen. Sekouba Konaté – then Vice President of the new junta – took control of a transitional government, in an agreement sponsored by nearby Burkina Faso this past January. He quickly scheduled democratic elections for the Republic of Guinea, pledging to stay out of them himself, and the army has stood down and plans to remain in its barracks during the election tomorrow.
[…]
So that’s the promise. The peril is, of course, the unfortunate possible outcome after the election. Even if there is no widespread violence or military intervention in the first-round or the runoff in this election, there is still the possibility of future instability, whether by popular discontent with the slow grind of democracy or by some overzealous or power-hungry military officer. Statistically speaking, from what I have read, the failure rate for developing country democracies in their first couple decades remains extremely high. So the odds are against Guinea.
[…]
So, let’s hope for the best, and keep the 10 million people of Guinea in our minds tomorrow. If they pull this off successfully and continue without instability, they could become a seriously strong role model for democratization around the third-world, since the story of the Republic of Guinea is one seen time and again all across Africa and the developing world.

 

In July, the results came in, with the usual basic fraud allegations here and there, but overall the election was deemed a success. The top two candidates then had to go to a runoff election, scheduled for tomorrow (9/19) and that’s where the trouble finally began.

Tuesday (AP/NYT):

Supporters of the leading candidate in this weekend’s historic presidential runoff election called Tuesday for Guinea’s prime minister to step down, as doubts grew about whether the West African nation would go ahead with the vote.

[…] Over the weekend, street fighting between supporters of rival political parties left one person dead and 54 others wounded.

Only days before Sunday’s vote, hundreds of thousands of voting cards have not yet arrived and the trucks needed to transport materials to distant villages are still idling at a warehouse in the capital.

Supporters of front-runner Cellou Dalein Diallo accused Prime Minister Jean-Marie Dore of favoring the underdog candidate and said late Tuesday that Dore should resign or be dismissed from his duties.
[…]
The first round of voting in June was met with excitement, but the multiple delays since then have cast a pall over the runoff. Diallo has accused the government of purposely delaying the vote in order to give the No. 2 finisher Alpha Conde a chance to catch up in the polls.

 
Wednesday (AP/NYT):

Guinea’s interim president said he fears that the ”republic is in danger” due to ethnic and political divisions ahead of the upcoming presidential election.

Gen. Sekouba Konate’s remarks late Wednesday on state TV marked his first address to the nation since violent clashes erupted over the weekend between supporters of rival political parties that are divided on ethnic lines. The general’s comments also come as the country’s electoral commission has said it would not be ready to hold the much-anticipated presidential run-off on Sunday due to missing voting material.

 
Current situation, as of Thursday (Reuters/NYT):

Guinea’s electoral commission failed to meet Thursday to set a date for a presidential election runoff, casting doubt on the country’s bid to return to civilian rule. The commission had on Wednesday postponed the election, which had been scheduled for Sunday. Officials gave no reasons for the postponement of Thursday’s meeting.

 
Argh. So much for the optimism.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Federal Intervention

One of the more popular stances this election cycle for teabagger candidates to take has been to openly call for the abolition of the U.S. Department of Education. All the mainstream people I talk to seem totally confused as to why this would be necessary or a good idea. The short explanation is that this is a logical extension of the States’ Rights Conservatism that had sort of gone underground for a couple decades.

Via DailyKos, Ken Buck, Republican U.S. Senate nominee from Colorado, adopted the anti-Department of Education position, too, although not very gracefully. While there are real and serious problems with education in America today, the educational system is much improved over what it used to be. Ken Buck, however, falls into the “Back in the Day” trap, wherein a person is convinced that everything was significantly better before and has gone to hell now, and the explanation he sees is the increased Federal involvement in education.

In what was either a very unfortunate slip of the tongue or an intentional historical allusion, he identified the 1950s — at least twenty years prior to the establishment of the Department of Education — as the decade when Federal involvement in education began a long decline (as he perceives it) toward the reduced standards, poor graduation rates, and other problems he sees in our current education system nationally… From ColoradoPols (emphasis from the source, video available there):

Question: [brief lead-in] What plans do you have to make public education better in America?

Buck: “Let’s talk about that [education] folks. In the 1950s, we had the best schools in the world. And the United States government decided to get more involved in federal education. Where are we now, after all those years of federal involvement, are we better or are we worse? So what’s the federal government’s answer? Well since we’ve made education worse, we’re gonna even get more involved. And what’s gonna be the result? It’s kinda like health care. We’ve screwed up health care–Medicare–we’ve screwed up all kinds of other things, so what are we gonna do? We’re gonna get even more involved in health care. What are we going to do? We’re gonna get more involved in education.

 
Again, there are many, many problems with that entire answer, including that our education system actually sucked by and large in the 1950s and was not the best in the world. But the bolding is what most interests us. It’s possible he just grabbed that decade randomly or accidentally, but it seems unlikely. Presumably he had a reason to choose to cite it, and that reason is what we should establish.

As you might have worked out by now, the only really noteworthy, historic, and well-known times the “United States government decided to get more involved in Federal education,” during the 1950s was in desegregation-related episodes: Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and the Federal intervention of U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division paratroopers in Little Rock to integrate Central High School in 1958.

Actual Federal education/curriculum type programs didn’t really start until the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations in the 1960s. And even most of those small early programs like the Presidential Phyiscal Fitness Award could hardly be credited with launching the decline of Western Civilization American public education. If you’re talking about “Federal involvement” in education before the 1960s, you’re pretty much only talking about integration.

So what exactly did Ken Buck mean when he blamed Federal involvement in the schools beginning in the 1950s to a decline he perceives in our education system? Does he think government-enforced integration was bad? It’s a fair question, given a similar position from Republican US Senate nominee from Kentucky, Rand Paul, on desegregation.

 
This post was originally published at Starboard Broadside.

Rising seas threaten coastal drinking water

Here’s a global warming impact you may not have considered: saltwater contamination of drinking water in some coastal areas. It’s especially worth discussing, to me at least, because of my longstanding interest in water policy and because I just completed an environmental geology course, where we discussed the science behind drinking water supplies and coastal processes.

Basically, due to rising sea levels brought on by global warming, millions of Americans (and presumably people around the world) face possible destruction of reliable water supplies in low-lying areas. This can happen due to saltwater intrusion into the groundwater — something that has been occurring on Long Island for some time now as wells deplete the aquifers — or by saltwater further penetrating coastal marshes in estuaries, reaching into the non-tidal freshwater marshes. Also individual incidents such as storm surges, which often contaminate drinking supplies and treatment facilities, are going to be exacerbated by higher sea levels.

I’m particularly concerned because the state where I currently live (Delaware) has a coastline that is mainly an estuary, which was the subject of a new study on the impending problem. The potentially affected freshwater found in the coastal regions along the lower Delaware River and estuary provides drinking water for several million people in Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. I caution you that the blog post I’m about to quote has some glaring errors, but I’ve tried to fix/remove them here:

Fresh water that now is flowing to the sea in the Delaware estuary is threatened by future sea-level rise resulting from rising temperatures caused by greenhouse gas emissions, a new study finds. As sea levels rise, salt water will move inland up the estuary.
[…]
The Partnership for the Delaware Estuary studied impacts [PDF] on drinking water, tidal wetlands and shellfish like the local oysters and freshwater mussels in “Climate Change and the Delaware Estuary” and how people can adapt to help protect the threatened resources.

Drinking water, tidal wetlands and shellfish are key resources for the estuary; and all three are vulnerable to effects of climate change, including warmer temperatures, higher sea levels and saltier water. Oysters alone brought about $19.2 million into the [region] in 2009.
[…]
Currently a “narrow fringe of freshwater wetlands” protects the freshwater, but the wetland marsh plants are very susceptible to rising salinity.

 

Low-lying wetlands of the lower Delaware River and estuary. Key: Red=Tidal wetland, Green=Nontidal wetland. NVCS map via the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary.

It looks like there’s a pretty noticeable correlation between some of those freshwater wetlands and the population distribution on the New Jersey side…

If they become tidal wetlands instead of freshwater, that’s a big problem.

If you’re at all familiar with the disaster-ridden English colony at Jamestown, Virginia, then you probably know that, “the colonists soon discovered that the swampy and isolated site was plagued by mosquitoes and tidal river water unsuitable for drinking, and offered limited opportunities for hunting and little space for farming.” While the hunting and farming issue is not as much of a problem for the coastal United States these days, rising sea levels could basically expand a lot of estuaries and make much more of the seaboard’s water “unsuitable for drinking.” I know Jamestown had more problems than its drinking water, but everybody needs clean, freshwater to survive, and there are a lot more of us now living in threatened areas than ever before. We don’t want to repeat Jamestown if possible.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Free & fair? Not likely.

The results are in from Rwanda’s presidential election, during which many voters said they felt intimidated and the Opposition candidates were weak or restricted. Ten years into the job, President Paul Kagame has been re-elected to another seven years:

Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, who has been in control of this country since 1994 and helped resurrect it from genocide into one of the most orderly nations in Africa, appeared to have been re-elected on Monday by a staggering margin, according to partial election results released early Tuesday.

Mr. Kagame won 93 percent of the votes cast in 11 out of 30 districts, the National Election Commission said, and total countrywide results were expected by the end of the day.

 
Anyone who tries to tell me that this was free and fair is either stupid or willfully blind. Nobody wins elections with 93% of the vote in a true democracy.

In my series on the abuses of the Kagame government and the RPF over the past two decades, I wrote:

With very close ties to the United States government and military, President Paul Kagame has been able to get away with many things, in large part because he liberated Rwanda from the extremist Hutu dictatorship that was precisely carrying out a genocide against the Tutsi minorities. It’s pretty hard to criticize the person that finally ended one of the very worst genocides of the 20th century, after over 900,000 people had been systematically murdered nationwide, with the world watching and doing nothing.

 
Yes, he did a heroic, monumental thing in his life once. I recognize that. But it’s not a lifetime get-out-of-blame card.

Who really believes that just because you’ve stopped a genocide in progress and upgraded your country’s infrastructure (to have fast internet and good roads) means you should be permanently shielded from criticism, despite committing numerous atrocities of your own, repressing freedom, assassinating political enemies across a continent, abducting children, and arresting foreign lawyers who represent your opponents?

I explained in my second post why I am so intent on exposing the RPF’s abuses:

I raise this not to minimize the horrors committed by their Hutu genocidaire opponents … 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.

 
Some people still think it does.

 
Editorial note: This post was originally published (in a longer form) at Starboard Broadside. It was moved here and cut down in June 2015.

Another Failed Senate Bill Attempt (or Why I Blame Harry Reid)

I had, perhaps foolishly, higher hopes than usual for the latest attempt to pass climate legislation in the US Senate. Harry Reid killed that completely, formally, yesterday. So I was very frustrated for the rest of the day. I’ve been discussing these multi-faceted frustrations with many of the environmental bloggers I know and trying to work out the next course of action, on what I consider to be the most important policy issue of the era. I will be discussing this more during the coming days, in lieu of my planned action/public lobbying posts (I canceled the one on Thursday about calling Senators and won’t be doing the one today about lobbying the White House).

But I think DR Grist (David Roberts) had an excellent post-mortem on the dead climate legislation attempt, in which he made a number of strong points. The two linked points I choose to highlight today are these… first:

Every cowardly senator repeats it like a talisman to ward off the terrible threat of having to act: “We don’t have the votes.” Two things to say about that. First, of course you don’t have votes for something this controversial before you go to the floor and force the issue. Pelosi didn’t have the votes before she took the House bill to the floor. She got the votes by twisting arms and making deals. She forced the issue. That was the only way the Senate vote could ever work — if the bill was put on the floor, the issue was forced, and Dems united in daring the GOP to vote against addressing the oil spill. There’s no guarantee that would have worked, but at least it would have been a political rallying point. It would have put senators on record. And it’s not like the wimpy avoidance strategy is producing better results.

 
We will never know if the votes are there or not unless we bring these provisions up for votes. It seems inconceivable to me that the Democrats could be taking a political bigger risk at this point by holding and losing big policy votes than by getting nothing done for two years. After all, the public elects them to cast votes and after a while will lose patience with the idea that they can sit there for six years and not cast any major votes in order to avoid casting risky votes. The Senate Democrats are risking their majority by not getting anything done, and they are not getting anything done because they are sure that they will risk their majority by voting on potentially controversial things and losing… somehow.

Like the House Democrats as a caucus, some individual Senate Democrats have put out themselves on the line publicly supporting climate policy provisions that will be unpopular with special interests, only to find the Senate as a whole isn’t planning to even hold a vote, let alone pass it so they have something to show for their courage. Mark Begich of Alaska, for example, is a moderate freshman Democrat from a conservative oil-producing state and he supported this plan publicly; that kind of willingness to take political risks shouldn’t be rewarded with another failure from lack of even trying.

And to finish quoting David Roberts’ related point:

Second, senators need to stop talking about “60 votes” as though it’s in the Constitution that the U.S. Senate — unlike every other legislative body on the planet — has a supermajority requirement. It’s not in the Constitution. It’s an accident, an informal rule that Republicans have taken to relentlessly abusing, not to extend debate but simply to degrade the Senate’s ability to act. The filibuster is anti-democratic and it is thwarting the country’s will. The American people need to be told this and senators who still want their institution to be minimally functional need to start getting angry about it.

 
This was not only another failed climate bill attempt, but one more failed bill attempt in general for the Democrats because of the myth of 60. The blame for this latest failure lies with them almost as much as with the ever-obstructive Republicans. I have condemned many of these Senate Democrats individually over the past year and half, but I reserve my strongest condemnation of failure for Harry Reid on this one. It was his (great) idea to merge the must-pass Spill Bill with climate and energy legislation. We knew it would be limited, but he got our hopes up by claiming (along with others like Kerry and Lieberman) that the caucus was uncharacteristically totally united behind this effort… and then he failed to deliver on this and by extension the job he is most required to do: lead. Now, having failed to unite his own caucus, let alone gather bipartisan support, he has punted climate legislation to November or beyond, when it will have even less chance of passage.

The extent to which I despise the pathetic failure of a US Senate Majority Leader we have right now has now reached unfathomable levels. I don’t say that lightly. I don’t despise the man himself, but the job he is doing (or not doing, more accurately) as “Leader.” When he uses the phrase “we don’t have the votes” — or lets others in key committee roles use the phrase — or refuses to pursue filibuster reform actively, it’s like he expects that votes will materialize when they feel the time is right, and that if we keep vaguely chopping legislation down without any real give-and-take negotiations, eventually 60 lost Senators will wander back to the fold and agree to vote for whatever half-assed stone soup has been assembled (or still remains).

One never gets the feeling that Harry Reid is shepherding the flock toward anything in particular or that he even has a bell to lead them home. They’re more like free-range chickens. That’s why I say he’s a pathetic failure as Majority Leader. And because his Republican opponent is out-of-her-mind crazy, he’ll be re-elected this year, which means at least another two years of his leadership, since he’s unlikely to step aside and won’t be challenged (or at least not successfully, since his hands-off style is exactly what most of the ego-maniacal Democratic caucus members love in a majority leader). Sure, the White House should get some of the blame too for not taking a more active role in pushing the Senate on these things, and that’s probably a function of President Obama’s tenure as a legislator himself for many years, but Harry Reid’s very title should command some level of reasonable expectation that he will lead the caucus.

For now, it will be time to re-evaluate on climate change mitigation efforts, perhaps by supporting inclusion of a strong renewable energy standard, as DR Grist suggests (although Reid also doesn’t want that), or by defending the Environmental Protection Agency vigorously as it works to regulate CO2 emissions without Congressional action. To be continued, as they say, but I wanted to make some initial comment on this Senate failure first…

This essay was originally published at Starboard Broadside.

OSCE may send advisers to Kyrgyzstan

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has announced the deployment of a small team of police advisers to Kyrgyzstan, in response to the widespread reports from ethnically Uzbek Kyrgyzstani civilians of police and military abuse by Kyrgyz Kyrgyzstanis over the past few months in southern Kyrgyzstan. From the OSCE press release:

The agreement [with Kyrgyzstan’s government] said the group would comprise 52 [unarmed] police officers with the possibility to send an additional 50 officers at a later stage. The group would be in Kyrgyzstan for four months, with a possibility to extend as needed and agreed.

“The tasks of this mission is first of all advising the Kyrgyz police. The Police Advisory Group will have contact with all parts of the population in southern Kyrgyzstan,” Salber said. “They will be assisting and also monitoring the Kyrgyz police. They will accompany them in their work with the communities there with the objective of strengthening the confidence in this area, in particular between the police and the population.”

 
These monitors would, best case scenario, serve to deter further abuses or acts of genocide against the Uzbek population while they are present. Sadly, it likely won’t be enough… After all, one of the worst atrocities during the Bosnian War happened in front of 400 United Nations peacekeepers inside sanctuary zones, but the rules of engagement, lack of supplies, and ratio of combatants to peacekeepers prevented intervention. But I guess this is better than nothing.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.