Lingering Corruption in Afghanistan
December 16, 2009, 2:11 am
Filed under: Afghanistan | Tags: , ,

Corruption is one of the main factors behind the increasingly dire situation in Afghanistan.  Since 2001, billions of dollars have poured in and yet, there is little to show for it.  To a large extent, much of what hinders the present Afghan government is its inability to tackle systemic cronyism and bribery.  In fact, as more aide money comes in, such corruption has become more pronounced.  As the Washington Post noted a few weeks ago, “although [Afghan President Ahmed Karzai] announced a new anti-corruption unit this week, the president has been reluctant to fire scandal-tainted ministers in the past, and it is unclear whether he is ready to do so now.”  Because of ubiquity of the problem, writes the Post’s Joshua Partlow, “Afghans’ perceptions that they are ruled by a thieving class have weakened support for the government and bolstered sympathy for the Taliban insurgency.”

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Evo Morales Scores Again
December 7, 2009, 9:21 pm
Filed under: Election, Latin America, Politics | Tags: , ,

Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, has secured reelection by a landslide. In fact, the victory gives him an even greater mandate than the one he previously enjoyed.  Unofficial results show that Morales received 63 percent of the vote, an increase of almost 10 percentage points from his win in 2005.

His main rival, Manfred Reyes, exceeded analysts’ predictions and garnered 25 percent of the vote.  Not surprisingly, Reyes performed much better in Departments that have long been hostile to Morales.  In Santa Cruz Department, the capital of the countries opposition, Reyes won an estimated 44 percent of the vote to Morales’ 39 percent.
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Galbraith: 2nd Stimulus Needed
December 3, 2009, 11:10 pm
Filed under: Economics | Tags: , , ,

University of Texas economics professor James Galbraith appeared on Al Jazeera today to discuss his vision for economic recovery.  The first priority, said Galbraith, is to fill state budget gaps.  While the concern over of the growing deficit and the national debt is important, ultimately, “unless they increase the scale of their effort, which means increasing the deficit and the debt in the short-runt, they’re not going to have a significant further effect.”

With unemployment at 10.2% and several states, including California, on the cusp of bankruptcy, swift action is urgently needed.  Today’s White House jobs summit is a clear indication that the administration does not want to sit idly by as the economy deteriorates.

A second stimulus, though politically unpopular, would fill some of the holes not filled by the initial round of spending.  Earlier in the week, Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) told The Free Republic’s Noam Scheiber that additional funding to states was on the table.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics will be releasing November unemployment numbers on Friday.

University of Texas economics professor James Galbraith appeared on Al Jazeera today to discuss his vision of economic recovery.  The first priority, notes Galbraith, is fill state budget gaps.  While the issue of the growing deficit and the national debt are important considerations, ultimately, says Galbraith, “unless they increase the scale of their effort, which means increasing the deficit and the debt in the short-runt, they’re not going to have a significant further effect.”

With unemployment at 10.2% and several states, including California, on the cusp of bankruptcy, swift action is urgently needed.  Today’s White House jobs summit is a clear indication that the administration does not want to sit idly by as the economy deteriorates.

A second stimulus, though politically unpopular, would fill some of the wholes not filled up the initial round of spending.  Earlier in the week, Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) told The Free Republic’s Noam Scheiber that additional funding to states was on the table.



Lingering Racism Against African-Iraqis
December 3, 2009, 5:55 pm
Filed under: Middle East, Racism | Tags: , ,


Today, the New York Times posted a rather disturbing article about the level racism in Iraq.  There are an estimated 1.2 million African-Iraqis. By and large, nearly all are treated like second-class citizens.  In fact, the discrimination is so engrained “that they are commonly referred to as “abd” — slave in Arabic.”  NPR, which also covered the issue today, notes: “Although they have lived in Iraq for more than 1,000 years, the black Basrawis say they are still discriminated against because of the color of their skin.”

It is a disturbing topic, which many Iraqis are not willing to admit in public.  The Times piece quotes Ahmed al-Sulati, deputy chairman of Basra’s provincial council who says “there is no such thing in Iraq as black and white.” While he himself may see it that way, for the people who experience such discrimination, the color blind society many Iraqis describe is a mirage.

It should be noted that this sort of racism goes against the very core of Islam.

O ye who believe! Avoid suspicion as much (as possible): for suspicion in some cases is a sin: And spy not on each other behind their backs. Would any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? Nay, ye would abhor it…But fear Allah: For Allah is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful. [49:13]



Different Tactic, Same Goal
December 3, 2009, 2:26 am
Filed under: Health Care, Politics | Tags: , ,

For months, Republican in Congress have been hell-bent on undermining President Obama’s most important domestic policy goal: health care reform. But while their goal is the same, House and Senate Republicans have employed different strategies.

In the House, the Republican campaign has largely rested on obfuscation. Death panels, sex clinics and the like. The tactic, though effective, ultimately failed. The House passed the Affordable Health Care for America Act with a 220-215 vote. Rep. Joseph Cao from Louisiana, who represents one of the most Democratic-leaning districts in the country, was the lone Republican casting an aye vote.

In the Senate, the Republican campaign rests largely on obstruction. Much like in the House, Senate Republicans have made it abundantly clear that they will do what it takes to delay and potentially derail health care reform. But while they spew their fair share of misinformation, their opposition ultimately rests not on having a persuasive argument, but on using rules of the Senate.

On Monday, this tactic was clarified when the office of Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire sent a letter to Senate Republicans instructing them on how to obstruct the health care reform debate. Gregg advises Republicans to use procedural tactics to do what House Republicans could not do.

That’s not right. Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Reid, must push health care reform forward in spite of such tactics. As the Boston Globe puts it, “Democrats shouldn’t let it happen. This is a test of their unity and leadership.”

The Hill has more on Gregg’s letter.



Swiss Ban On Minarets Hurts All
December 2, 2009, 2:59 am
Filed under: Human Rights, Religion | Tags: , , ,

Sunday’s vote in Switzerland, where citizens overwhelming supported an initiative to ban the construction of minarets, reveals that the troubling scourge of hate that has unfortunately taken form in Western Europe, is getting stronger. Though passage has emboldened conservative groups throughout Europe, there is little chance that the ban will ultimately stay in place.

A vote that so clearly discriminates against a minority (Muslims constitute some 6% of the population) will unfortunately mire Switzerland’s role as arbiter of global disputes. In such emotionally charged issues, the nuances of the matter often fall by the wayside and so, many might not consider the fact that the Swiss government itself opposed the measure from day one. But the people of that country spoke, and they voted for intolerance and that, at least until it gets overturned, will be the policy of the Swiss government.

But again, it is unlikely that the vote will stick. The U.N. has weighed in on the issue and has called the initiative “clearly discriminatory.”

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay is condemning the Swiss law banning minarets as clearly discriminatory. The U.N. official calls the ban deeply divisive and worrisome.

[…]

Her spokesman, Rupert Colville, says the high commissioner believes this action risks putting the country on a collision course with its international human-rights obligations.

The editors of the New York Times were less diplomatic in their response.

Terrorist attacks by Islamic militants, notably 9/11 and the attacks on London, Madrid and Mumbai, have played a role in the perception of Muslims as a security threat. But the worst response to extremism and intolerance is extremism and intolerance. Banning minarets does not address any of the problems with Muslim immigrants, but it is certain to alienate and anger them.

Supporters of such measures argue that non-Muslims are discriminated against in many Muslim countries. While there is much to lament, the argument does not stick. It is not okay to deny fundamental human rights to people based on the premise that others are denying such rights. Professor Juan Cole writes:

The other problem with excusing Switzerland with reference to Muslims’ own imperfect adherence to human rights ideals is that two wrongs don’t make a right. The bigotted Right doesn’t even have the moral insight of kindergartners if that is the sort of argument they advance.

Well put.



Self-immolation Among Afghanistan’s Women
December 1, 2009, 2:22 am
Filed under: Afghanistan, Society | Tags: , ,

While the practice of self-immolation is unfathomably horrific, it is rather common in Afghanistan where it has been done for decades.  As the condition of Afghanistan’s women continues to spiral hopelessly out of control, this horrendous and desperate attempt at escape will unfortunately become more pronounced.

Al Jazeera’s David Chater reports from Herat.