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.

Systematic ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan?

The situation in southern Kyrgyzstan is growing rapidly worse, as what seems to be systematic ethnic purges against Uzbeks began today (NY Times):

Rioting spread across the south of this strategically important Central Asian nation on Sunday as the authorities failed to contain mobs that appeared to be increasingly engaging in targeted ethnic violence.

The official death toll from four days of clashes neared 100 people, though the unrest seemed so widespread that the figure is likely to go far higher. Reports from the region said bands of ethnic Kyrgyz were seeking out Uzbeks, setting fire to their homes and killing them.

Thousands of Uzbeks have fled to the nearby border with Uzbekistan, and the authorities were said to have lost control of Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s second largest city.
[…]
“The situation in the Osh region has spun out of control,” Kyrgyzstan’s acting president, Roza Otunbayeva, said Saturday. “Attempts to establish a dialogue have failed, and fighting and rampages are continuing. We need outside forces to quell confrontation.”
[…]
“It was raining ash the whole afternoon, big pieces of black and white ash,” said Andrea Berg, a Human Rights Watch employee holed up her apartment in the city. “The city is just burning. It’s totally out of control.”

The rioters at one point commandeered two armored personnel carriers from troops stationed in the city, said Timur Sharshenaliyev, a spokesman for the government there. Soldiers were able to take only one back.

The provisional government passed a decree giving the police and soldiers permission to open fire on rioters to prevent attacks on civilians and government buildings, according to a statement on the government’s Web site.

 
Russia is moving slowly on a request for peacekeeping troops and plans to take up the matter before the Collective Security Treaty Organization this week. For more on that and for more background, you can read my post from last night: “Kyrgyzstan requests Russian peacekeepers.”

The New York Times has pointed out that in 1990, acts of reciprocal genocide in the same region were only halted by Soviet troops rolling in, but that was when Kyrgyzstan was still part of the USSR, which made such an intervention much easier. Even then, hundreds died before the troops arrived.

This post originally appeared at Starboard Broadside.

Kyrgyzstan requests Russian peacekeepers

In a potentially troubling development, the provisional government of Kyrgyzstan has formally requested the intervention of Russian peacekeeping troops to impose order as the country erupts again in ethnic violence. Russia has already offered civilian-medical aid relief. Nearly 80 people have been killed so far in the clashes, and a public health spokesman reported almost a thousand injuries.

The Russian government said it would consider the request carefully before acting, especially to determine the legality of such an intervention under a security alliance treaty of former Soviet states. NY Times:

“A decision about deploying peacekeeping forces to Kyrgyzstan can only be made collectively with all members of the C.S.T.O. [Collective Security Treaty Organization],” the spokeswoman, Natalya Timakova, said Saturday evening. She also said that Russia was continuing to ship humanitarian assistance, including medicine, to Kyrgyzstan.

To that end, Russian President Demetri Medvedev consulted with some of the CSTO leaders, including the presidents of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, which neighbor Kyrgyzstan. Undoubtedly the possibility of a Russian intervention will lend credence to the conspiracy theorists who claimed Russia instigated the April popular overthrow of the ruling government of Kyrgyzstan for its own gain and to dislodge the United States from the Manas Air Base that supplies NATO in the War in Afghanistan.

However, since the violence is threatening to spread to neighbors, there is some real justification for an intervention:

It remained unclear what started the violence, which threatens to undermine the already fragile provisional government that took power in April after rioting deposed the country’s president. The interim government has never fully established control in parts of the south, where supporters of the ousted president, Kurmanbek S. Bakiyev, have frequently clashed with those loyal to the new government. The recent politically inspired clashes in the region have reopened a historic ethnic fault line there, with gangs of heavily armed Kyrgyz youths clashing with members of the region’s sizeable Uzbek minority. Much of Mr. Bakiyev’s base in the region, his ancestral home, is Kyrgyz, while many Uzbeks support the new government.

 
The Kyrgyz military, which has been moving troops around the South in armored vehicles and buzzing around in helicopters, said it had opened part of the border with Uzbekistan to allow women and children to flee, but they didn’t actually consult with Uzbekistan’s government before doing so.

Uzbekistan said it was “extremely alarmed and concerned” about the situation. The Uzbek Foreign Ministry said in a statement that violence against Uzbeks was being carried out in a manner calculated to provoke ethnic conflict.

“We have no doubt that all this has occurred at the instigation of forces whose interests are absolutely far from the interests of the Kyrgyz people,” the ministry said.
[…]
Similar violence between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in Osh in 1990 left hundreds dead and only abated when the Soviet government sent in troops.

 
Although I find it somewhat concerning that Russia could use the crisis as an opportunity to tighten control over the former-soviet sphere-of-influence and could end up occupying Kyrgyzstan, the idea would be similar to United Nations interventions in Africa and Asia that consciously involve peacekeeping troops from former colonial powers. However, it is unclear whether this would be a UN authorized intervention or more akin to the NATO intervention in Kosovo in 1999, which Russia will probably cite if the CTSO authorizes an intervention. Russia might use the CTSO to circumvent United Nations Security Council roadblocks, just as Britain and the United States did in Kosovo to get around the Russian veto threat then.

In fact, last February the CTSO established a new “Collective Rapid Reaction Force” (the KSOR), meaning Russia could even request this operation be a true multilateral force under Russian direction, rather than a purely Russian force. Uzbekistan is not a KSOR participant, however, and has expressed reservations about the existence of such a force in the CTSO, but it’s probably more in their interests to have a multilateral force instead of what amounts to a Russian invasion of Kyrgystan. This could be Russia’s chance to prove itself a responsible major power in the international community of the fragmented post-Cold War world, but it could also be exploited for ulterior motives.

Also of possible concern at some point is that China also borders Kyrgystan, and it remains to be seen how they will react to both this situation and the idea of a Russian/CTSO peacekeeping mission or perhaps a United Nations operation (over which both China and the United States would have veto powers).

This post originally appeared at Starboard Broadside.

A Long War

Recently, we crossed the trillion dollar threshold for Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, the War in Afghanistan is officially longer than the Vietnam War, in length of American military presence, clocking in at 104 months long. Rick Hampson, USA Today, wrote on this milestone on May 27th this year:

Three months after 9/11, every major Taliban city in Afghanistan had fallen — first Mazar-i-Sharif, then Kabul, finally Kandahar. Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar were on the run. It looked as if the war was over, and the Americans and their Afghan allies had won.

Butch Ivie, then a school administrator in Winfield, Ala., remembers, “We thought we’d soon have it tied up in a neat little bag.”

But bin Laden and Omar eluded capture. The Taliban regrouped. Today, Kandahar again is up for grabs. And soon, Afghanistan will pass Vietnam as America’s longest war.

The Vietnam War’s length can be measured in many ways. The formal beginning of U.S. involvement often is dated to Aug. 7, 1964, when Congress passed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, giving the president a virtual carte blanche to wage war. By the time the last U.S. ground combat troops were withdrawn in March 1973, the war had lasted 103 months.

 
Hampson visited several American communities particularly affected in the two wars (and in the Iraq War) and wrote about them in his article.

It’s long since time to bring the troops home.

Don’t forget all those who have died during the wars but were not soldiers and weren’t Americans.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

The Right-Wing Alternate Universe

I’m working on a longer post on the specific news story in question here, but I wanted to point out this segment by Jon Stewart that shows the alternate universe FOX News creates for its viewers:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Glenn Beck Airs Israeli Raid Footage
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

Actually, it’s really true of all the right-wing media. They get people to watch/listen to their news exclusively because they create whole alternate universes that tell you can only get that news from them. Now, other networks will tell you CNN=Politics or whatever or that they’re the best source of coverage, and sometimes they’ll claim to have a story exclusively… but few non-conservative media outlets go to such lengths to tell you can literally not find the news anywhere else because of pervasive bias and conspiratorial propaganda flooding the other airwaves.

People who only listen to right-wing radio and only watch FOX News to get their information often seem to live in their own shared world. I’m betting this is probably strongly a function of the alternate universe presented by right-wing media that constantly reminds them that not only will they miss critical news by checking elsewhere but that they will hear only propaganda by listening to or watching anybody else.

What are the consequences? First, the audience begins to think the vast majority of Americans share their political views and policy aims, when that’s not the case, and then they begin to turn to deeply-rooted conspiracy theories to explain how forces of evil are keeping their (minority) agenda at bay for so long, and the right-wing media feeds it. It’s the only possible explanation when you get your politics from a source espousing the same view and never showing that others might disagree or why.

But there’s another bigger consequence, regarding the content itself, not just the frame constraining that content. Intellectual critics, including those on the right, accuse the right-wing media of feeding a closed information loop, which sometimes even feeds itself so directly that it’s hard to tell when the media personalities (Beck, Limbaugh, Hannity, etc.) eventually believe their own lies or still lie consciously. A recent example of a rigidly closed information loop is how the right-wing media, which loves to demonize the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and has made it quite the boogeyman over the years, willfully ignored what the ACLU was actually doing so it could create an alternate reality where it was doing what their preconceived expectations said the mythical-demon ACLU would do…

Conservative blogger (and critic of the closed information loop) Conor Friedersdorf wrote up the details on Trueslant last week:

On May 5, aka Cinco de Mayo, five students at a high school in Morgan Hill, California wore American flag attire to class. “The vice principal asked two of the boys to remove American flag bandannas that they wearing on their heads and for the others to turn their American flag T-shirts inside out,” the local NBC affiliate reported. “When they refused, the boys were ordered to go to the principal’s office.” The story got picked up in the national media, bloggers debated whether the boys were being patriotic or deliberately insensitive, and almost everyone at least agreed that in this country they were well within their rights to wear the American flag.

I am very interested in one aspect of the discussion that followed this story. The conservative blog Stop the ACLU is a natural place to begin. “Cinco De Mayo Means Suspension of Free Speech and Patriotism,” their post began. “At least in Morgan Hill, California where they live by the rules of political correctness gone crazy.” The ultimate reaction: “Absolutely ridiculous! Where is the ACLU?”

From there, Friedersdorf next almost exhaustively examines (and you should read the post), big-name to small-name right-wing media personalities/op-ed writers/bloggers to their random commenters — all of whom access the same information loop — and finds the right wing uniformly echoed this view: Limbaugh, News Real Blog, Ralph Wenzinger, Speak Now America, Elijah Friedman, Pirate’s Cove, The Old Jarhead, etc. etc… They all demanded to know where the ACLU was on this or claimed the ACLU was defending the school. And as he conclusively showed further, the ACLU was not only already on the case and defending the boys’ right to wear the shirts, but they have historically already served as legal counsel in four separate cases on the exact same issue.

It being extremely rare for authorities to crackdown on American flag wearing in the United States, it says something that the ACLU has invested resources in four separate instances of this behavior.

It’s almost as if the conservative media complex is systematically misleading its audience about the nature of the ACLU, so much so that right-of-center commentators across the Internet spontaneously mocked the organization for failing to intervene on the right side of this case, despite it being precisely the kind of case where the ACLU reliably does exactly what the critics themselves would want.

Perhaps the confusion comes from listening to talk radio hosts and reading blogs that cast all of American politics as a grand struggle between the left and the right, liberals and conservatives, tyranny and liberty. The rank and file, rightly judging that the ACLU operates on the left, automatically concludes that they are the enemy in any case worth caring about.

His conclusion? When a blog called Stop the ACLU is leading the charge in creating an alternate reality of a specific incident and lying about or being unaware of what the real ACLU was actually doing, the information loop (or as I call it, an alternate universe) not only exists but exists as an imperviously closed system. And he sounds like he pities the people who are closed inside the system:

The right cannot adeptly navigate a political environment that it is systematically misled about.

As much as the adherents of Beck, Limbaugh, et al. make me want to tear my hair out most of the time, I do almost feel sorry for them. It’s so delusional.

Some people, of course, try to create false equivalences and say that this happens on the left as well. That’s simply not true. There’s a reason why FOX News is the “highest-rated” cable news network: the left fragments to multiple competing sources or goes to a variety of media for news. Yes, most of us could broaden our horizons, but our frame of reference is nowhere near as constrained, unified, or repetitive. (Even on this blog, with a bunch of writers from basically similar backgrounds, we often sharply disagree with each other and read different sources with different views on the same events or policies.) The American right sticks to a narrow range of sources that all feed on each other in a continuous loop of opinions and alternate realities of events, and that loop tells the audience not to go elsewhere so as not to corrupt their minds with propaganda. Thus that’s where the average listener and viewer is getting virtually 100% of his or her political information. Rush Limbaugh doesn’t call his loyal listeners “dittoheads” for nothing.

And, sadly, they’re busy trying to run all the rational/intellectual conservatives out of town, thereby purging their ranks of people who aren’t engulfed in the system, people who might moderate their excesses and find ways to compromise and still get conservative agenda items passed. They accuse these intellectual conservatives of being elitists or brainwashed by the mainstream “liberal” media. What’s left isn’t pretty.

It’s a struggle to have a rational conversation with a person who lives and breathes that information system because they walk into the discussion with a completely different set of “facts.” Why is there no common ground these days in both family political arguments and the broader American political scene? Because a large chunk of the participants working from a different planet altogether. If not a separate right-wing alternate universe.

Alabama GOP rejects Dem traitor

Rep. Parker Griffith (R-AL-05), who switched parties less than a year after he was elected as a Democrat, lost his Republican primary tonight to keep his seat. Republicans hated him to begin with, and he found little love from his district’s GOP once he switched after the Congressional GOP leaders recruited him, so they could get his vote on key bills in the House more easily. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent over one million dollars in 2008 to get him elected and were infuriated when he switched parties, requesting their money back in full. Likewise, his whole staff quit (down to the D.C. office intern!) and his campaign consultants abandoned him, to punish him for his betrayal of the party and his values.

Madison County Commissioner Mo Brooks (R) led the Republican field tonight and easily pounded the five-and-a-half-month-Republican congressman, avoiding a top-two runoff. Brooks will now go on to run against state legislative aide and businessman Steven Raby (D) in the general election for the seat. Raby was nominated in the Democratic primary tonight there, as well.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Niger Delta always slick with oil

Elisabeth Rosenthal reminds us that while it seems like a big deal to Americans when a giant oil disaster spreads a vast slick across our waters, we seem not to care much when the oil is spilled in somebody else’s waters by our companies supplying Nigerian oil for 40% our current consumption:

But it is important to remember that this mammoth polluting event, so extraordinary here, is not so unusual in some parts of the world. In an article published Sunday in The Guardian of London, John Vidal, the paper’s environment editor, movingly recalls a trip to the Niger Delta a few years ago, where he literally swam in “pools of light Nigerian crude.”

A network of decades-old pipes and oil extraction equipment in the delta has been plagued by serious leaks and spills. “More oil is spilled from the delta’s network of terminals, pipes, pumping stations and oil platforms every year than has been lost in the Gulf of Mexico,” he writes.
[…]
Here in the United States, people express outrage at BP’s actions in the gulf and demand that the oil giant behave responsibly in our waters. But should they also insist that oil companies behave well in the developing countries where their oil comes from? After all, many people insist on “fair trade” coffee and non-sweatshop clothing.

One more excerpt from Mr. Vidal’s fascinating article: “If this gulf accident had happened in Nigeria, neither the government nor the company would have paid much attention,” said the writer Ben Ikari, a member of the Ogoni people. “This kind of spill happens all the time in the delta.”

 
Where eleven employees of British Petroleum were killed in the initial explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig in April, frequent pipeline explosions in the Niger Delta region (sometimes caused by rebels) often kill a hundred or more people at a time, many simply too close at the time. As John Vidal explains in his article, the ensuing spills and leaks destroy crops, pollute drinking water, and kill vital fish stocks. Companies such as Shell and Exxon usually take their light sweet time about fixing the leaks, sometimes springing from ancient pipes that just rusted away. And until the relative recent democratization of the country, anyone who pointed this out faced the possibility of the death sentence from a government getting fat off American oil money. Even now, villagers report attacks from security guards if they get too vocal, while Shell claims villagers prevent them from making repairs to try to get more compensation money. Yeah right.

How much is being spilled or is leaking? Well, right now there are about 300 incidents a year, and that has added up over the decades.

One report, compiled by WWF UK, the World Conservation Union and representatives from the Nigerian federal government and the Nigerian Conservation Foundation, calculated in 2006 that up to 1.5m tons of oil – 50 times the pollution unleashed in the Exxon Valdez tanker disaster in Alaska – has been spilled in the delta over the past half century. Last year Amnesty calculated that the equivalent of at least 9m barrels of oil was spilled and accused the oil companies of a human rights outrage.

According to Nigerian federal government figures, there were more than 7,000 spills between 1970 and 2000, and there are 2,000 official major spillages sites, many going back decades, with thousands of smaller ones still waiting to be cleared up. More than 1,000 spill cases have been filed against Shell alone.

Last month Shell admitted to spilling 14,000 tonnes of oil in 2009. The majority, said the company, was lost through two incidents – one in which the company claims that thieves damaged a wellhead at its Odidi field and another where militants bombed the Trans Escravos pipeline.

 
As stated above, the United States gets 40% of its oil from the Niger Delta right now, and Nigeria is now the third-largest American supplier nation, beating out Saudi Arabia. You should care about this. (Further reading, with incredible photos, here.)

The Gulf of Mexico’s Deepwater Horizon catastrophe is definitely bad, but we need to stop drilling for oil everywhere and change the whole world to clean energy soon… not just the United States. So many reasons to do it, and this is just one more.

Caption: An oil spill from an abandoned Shell Petroleum Development Company well in Oloibiri, Niger Delta. Wellhead 14 was closed in 1977 but has been leaking for years, and in June of 2004 it finally released an oil spill of over 20,000 barrels of crude. Above: Workers subcontracted by Shell Oil Company clean it up.
photo & caption by Ed Kashi, via citisven

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

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.