All That Happens In The Middle East Can’t Be Explained By Religion
January 16, 2011, 8:56 pm
Filed under: Middle East, Muslim World | Tags: , , , , ,

Uncertainly rules the day in Tunisia. Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the country’s strong-armed and authoritarian ruler since 1987, is in Saudi Arabia while the interim government struggles to restore some semblance of order.  “Confusion, fear and horror in Tunisia as old regime’s militia carries on the fight,” reads on headline in the Guardian. To be sure, the days, weeks and months ahead are likely to be just as tumultuous.

But the New York Times, which has otherwise done a decent job of covering the story, can’t seem to report the facts on the ground without breaking into the quite-familiar and largely-contrived secular/religious divide that seems to always explain events in the Middle East. For instance, in its description of transpiring events, Times reporter David Kirkpatrick includes this bit of insight:

Tunisia is far different from most neighboring Arab countries. There is little Islamist fervor there, it has a large middle class, and under Mr. Ben Ali and his predecessor, Habib Bourguiba, it has invested heavily in education. Not only are women not required to cover their heads, they enjoy a spectrum of civil rights, including free contraception, that are well beyond those in most countries in the region.

Tunisia, of course, is one of the most unfree societies on the face of the planet. Ben Ali was an autocrat in every sense of the word. But as the Times seems to suggest, the fact that contraception is readily available and that women aren’t forced to cover (they aren’t mandated to do so in most of the Muslim world), is supposed to make up for, soften, or perhaps, rationalize the repression. It’s an entirely bankrupt approach that fails to explain the complex nature of Tunisian affairs.

Writing in Religion Dispatches, Haroon Moghul illustrates why the secular/religious explanation is not only lazy and hackneyed, but often, useless in understanding people’s grievances. He writes:

There must be an explanation for why a journalist would make such a broad, unsubstantiated statement, and it returns us to the simple need to define Arabs as either secular (like us) or religious (unlike us), an effect of which is a confused causation. Namely, because many Arab states aren’t democracies, they must be Islamist states, where of course women must have to cover their heads.

This assumption lazily equates the public practice of Islam with all things undemocratic, whereas we are inclined to view secularism–even when enforced by a dictator–as explicitly preferable, even though in the experience of many Arabs (and Muslims), secularism is the ideology which justifies control of their lives, religion, and politics.

Moghul’s piece is excellent. Read it all here.

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Insured Feel Strain of Health Costs
May 5, 2008, 1:52 am
Filed under: Health | Tags: , ,

From Sunday’s New York Times

The economic slowdown has swelled the ranks of people without health insurance. But now it is also threatening millions of people who have insurance but find that the coverage is too limited or that they cannot afford their own share of medical costs.

Many of the 158 million people covered by employer health insurance are struggling to meet medical expenses that are much higher than they used to be – often because of some combination of higher premiums, less extensive coverage, and bigger out-of-pocket deductibles and co-payments.

With medical costs soaring, the coverage many people have may not adequately protect them from the financial shock of an emergency room visit or a major surgery. For some, even routine doctor visits might now take a back seat to basic expenses like food and gasoline.

“It just keeps eating into people’s income,” said James Corbin, a former union official who works for the local utility in Tucson.

Mr. Corbin said that under their employer’s health plan, he and his co-workers are now obliged to pay up to $4,000 of their families’ annual medical bills, on top of about $1,600 a year in premiums. Five years ago, they paid no premiums and were responsible for only about $2,000 of their families’ medical bills.

“That’s a big jump,” Mr. Corbin said. “You’ve just lost a month’s pay.”

Already, many doctors say, the soft economy is making some insured people hesitant to get care they need, reluctant to spend a $50 co-payment for an office visit. Parents “are waiting longer to bring in their children,” said Dr. Richard Lander, a pediatrician in Livingston, N.J. “They say, ‘The kid isn’t that sick; her temperature is only 102.’ ”

The problem of affording health care is most acute for people with no insurance, a group expected to soon exceed 48 million, but those with insurance say they too are feeling the pain.

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Carter on Pariah Diplomacy
April 28, 2008, 2:20 am
Filed under: Politics | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Today’s New York Times includes a thoughtful and enlightening op-ed by President Jimmy Carter. The former president recently met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as well as exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshal and quite expectantly, he was attacked by both the U.S. and Israel governments for meeting with Meshal (here). Representative Sue Myrick (R – NC, 9th District) asked Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to revoke Carter’s passport and more recently, Dan Gillerman, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations called Carter a ‘bigot’.

Nevertheless, Carter’s international standing has increased and much to the chagrin of U.S. and Israeli officials, it seems that Carter’s trip was a success. Carter defends his trip and argues against what he calls ‘pariah diplomacy’, the Bush administration’s counterproductive policy that punishs political factions or governments that refuse to accept United States mandates. Indeed, as he notes, this sort of diplomacy makes it less likely that such factions or governments will work with the U.S. in the future. Jimmy Carter, always a class act!

A COUNTERPRODUCTIVE Washington policy in recent years has been to boycott and punish political factions or governments that refuse to accept United States mandates. This policy makes difficult the possibility that such leaders might moderate their policies.

Two notable examples are in Nepal and the Middle East. About 12 years ago, Maoist guerrillas took up arms in an effort to overthrow the monarchy and change the nation’s political and social life. Although the United States declared the revolutionaries to be terrorists, the Carter Center agreed to help mediate among the three major factions: the royal family, the old-line political parties and the Maoists.

In 2006, six months after the oppressive monarch was stripped of his powers, a cease-fire was signed. Maoist combatants laid down their arms and Nepalese troops agreed to remain in their barracks. Our center continued its involvement and nations – though not the United States – and international organizations began working with all parties to reconcile the dispute and organize elections.

The Maoists are succeeding in achieving their major goals: abolishing the monarchy, establishing a democratic republic and ending discrimination against untouchables and others whose citizenship rights were historically abridged. After a surprising victory in the April 10 election, Maoists will play a major role in writing a constitution and governing for about two years. To the United States, they are still terrorists.

On the way home from monitoring the Nepalese election, I, my wife and my son went to Israel. My goal was to learn as much as possible to assist in the faltering peace initiative endorsed by President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Although I knew that official United States policy was to boycott the government of Syria and leaders of Hamas, I did not receive any negative or cautionary messages about the trip, except that it might be dangerous to visit Gaza.

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Pentagon’s hidden hand
April 20, 2008, 2:17 am
Filed under: Iraq War | Tags: , , ,

Is there was ever an captivating article about deceit and propaganda, this is it. In Sunday’s New York Times, reporter David Barstow offers an investigative piece detailing how military analysts that have appeared on television since the start of the Iraq War were in fact groomed by the Pentagon, putting the credibility of their statements in question. This VERY long article is worth your time and offers an in depth look at yet another way we have been manipulated.

Like every other scandal though, it will get no more than a yawn from the ordinary American, who, according to ABC, is more concerned with a lapel pin than deceit.  If this story is not quickly brushed aside, look for the Right to charge the New York Times with treason.  Than again, given that this article implicates the media, which sat by idly and put these men on night after night, something tells me that the main stream media is not going to give this story the coverage it deserves.

In the summer of 2005, the Bush administration confronted a fresh wave of criticism over Guantánamo Bay. The detention center had just been branded “the gulag of our times” by Amnesty International, there were new allegations of abuse from United Nations human rights experts and calls were mounting for its closure.

The administration’s communications experts responded swiftly. Early one Friday morning, they put a group of retired military officers on one of the jets normally used by Vice President Dick Cheney and flew them to Cuba for a carefully orchestrated tour of Guantánamo.

To the public, these men are members of a familiar fraternity, presented tens of thousands of times on television and radio as “military analysts” whose long service has equipped them to give authoritative and unfettered judgments about the most pressing issues of the post-Sept. 11 world.

Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity, though, is a Pentagon information apparatus that has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance, an examination by The New York Times has found.

The effort, which began with the buildup to the Iraq war and continues to this day, has sought to exploit ideological and military allegiances, and also a powerful financial dynamic: Most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air.

Those business relationships are hardly ever disclosed to the viewers, and sometimes not even to the networks themselves. But collectively, the men on the plane and several dozen other military analysts represent more than 150 military contractors either as lobbyists, senior executives, board members or consultants. The companies include defense heavyweights, but also scores of smaller companies, all part of a vast assemblage of contractors scrambling for hundreds of billions in military business generated by the administration’s war on terror. It is a furious competition, one in which inside information and easy access to senior officials are highly prized.

Records and interviews show how the Bush administration has used its control over access and information in an effort to transform the analysts into a kind of media Trojan horse — an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks.

Analysts have been wooed in hundreds of private briefings with senior military leaders, including officials with significant influence over contracting and budget matters, records show. They have been taken on tours of Iraq and given access to classified intelligence. They have been briefed by officials from the White House, State Department and Justice Department, including Cheney, Alberto Gonzales and Stephen Hadley.

In turn, members of this group have echoed administration talking points, sometimes even when they suspected the information was false or inflated. Some analysts acknowledge they suppressed doubts because they feared jeopardizing their access.

A few expressed regret for participating in what they regarded as an effort to dupe the American public with propaganda dressed as independent military analysis.

“It was them saying, ‘We need to stick our hands up your back and move your mouth for you,’ ” Robert Bevelacqua, a retired Green Beret and former Fox News analyst, said.

Kenneth Allard, a former NBC military analyst who has taught information warfare at the National Defense University, said the campaign amounted to a sophisticated information operation. “This was a coherent, active policy,” he said.

As conditions in Iraq deteriorated, Allard recalled, he saw a yawning gap between what analysts were told in private briefings and what subsequent inquiries and books later revealed.

“Night and day,” Allard said, “I felt we’d been hosed.”

The Pentagon defended its relationship with military analysts, saying they had been given only factual information about the war. “The intent and purpose of this is nothing other than an earnest attempt to inform the American people,” Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said.

It was, Whitman added, “a bit incredible” to think retired military officers could be “wound up” and turned into “puppets of the Defense Department.”

Many analysts strongly denied that they had either been co-opted or had allowed outside business interests to affect their on-air comments, and some have used their platforms to criticize the conduct of the war. Several, like Jeffrey McCausland, a CBS military analyst and defense industry lobbyist, said they kept their networks informed of their outside work and recused themselves from coverage that touched on business interests.

“I’m not here representing the administration,” McCausland said.

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