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.

Guest Post: Our hung parliament

Matt is currently a university student in Britain, but he attended high school in the US with the co-editors of Starboard Broadside*, and he has provided us with his reaction to the inconclusive results of yesterday’s general election.

Well, Nick Clegg has said he won’t be giving any more speeches today, and after those of us who weren’t shut out of the poll station at 10 p.m (which wouldn’t have been a problem but for the bloody Labour government having all pubs shut at 11p.m.), there’s a prevailing feeling that our votes were denied a definite result. One generally expects when they go out to vote to know who’s running the country the following day. However, as exciting (read: worrying) as the results are, they were far from unpredictable. The “yellow tide” of Cleggmania may have fell short of a tsunami, but that’s only because of the very electoral system which Clegg has been critiquing from the start.

The system in the UK is confusing even to us, but to put it simply for American readers, the Lib Dems did do well for a third party, achieving 23% of the national vote (only 6% less than Labour), but the only thing that matters is the amount of seats that are won. In this “First Past the Post” system, whoever gets the most votes in each particular constituency goes to Parliament and the rest of the votes are thrown away. This is how the Liberal Democrats have only 2 million less votes than Labour but 200 less seats in the House of Commons, and this is why Clegg has been demanding electoral reform from the start. The reason this election is so exciting is because of the very issue of electoral reform which it has brought to the forefront, and which will play a decisive role in how the new government is formed.

Indeed, the chairwoman of the Electoral Commission has described the current system as “Victorian” and demanded an overhaul. While we claim with great pride that the voter turnout increased massively, the country was unable to handle this, and polling stations shut voters out after 10 p.m., leading to sit-ins at polling stations around the country, and even demands for another vote to be held.

The anxiety over the current state (or non-state, rather) of the UK government has negatively affected the British economy, with sterling falling from $1.4732 to $1.4678 during Cameron’s speech – this could not have been more badly timed given the current economic happenings. The fact of the matter is that while this country is currently in need of a strong government, we are now left with a minority one that will rely on either small-scale policy compromises between two parties who’s manifestos are on polar opposites, or something even scarier and more revolution-worthy such as a Labour coalition (and we grow tired of Mr. Brown) or a defunct parliamentary minority. While we may wonder who it was that the country really voted for, we can guarantee it was not a Conservative-Lib Dem quasi-coalition. This election’s most defining aspect is that it has disproved the reliability of our current system, and Britons are demanding change.

From his speech given this afternoon, Cameron is in no way proposing an official coalition, but rather, to use his own words, a government which will “try to find new ways in which Liberal Democrats can contribute” – i.e. making the coffee. Expect a cartoon to surface on the internet within a few days of (forgive the cheeky British banter) Clegg with a big “57” painted on his chest kneeling down and doing rude things to a wryly grinning Cameron sporting an even larger “305,” with a caption somewhere along the lines of “Cameron spurns coalition, opts for ‘special arrangement’ instead.” No one expects this government to last for more than a year (in the UK elections can be called at any time, there are no fixed terms). Cameron has, however, said that he will sate the appetite for electoral reform with an all-party Electoral Inquiry Committee, but anyone who has been following Conservative agenda knows that his only desire is to have constituency borders proportional to population size, which – while still progressive – does not address the issues posed by this election.

And if that prospect doesn’t seem uninspiring enough, we are all faced with the fact that Gordon Brown is still in office! In the situation where there is no clear majority, it is up to the prime minister to tender his resignation to HM the Queen and it is Her role to then invite a new prime minister to form a government. This might mean that if the politicians can’t sort it out themselves, then Buckingham Palace will have to make its own decision.

All in all, between a resurgent monarchy and a weak coalition, the results (or, as of yet, lack there-of) of this election have confirmed our anger with the electoral system and lead the way to a United Kingdom that is even less able to deal with either the ongoing or the impending financial crises.
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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.