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Archive for the ‘United States’ Category

FP just released the latest version of its Terrorism index. They surveyed 100 “experts” from various branches of govt, white house staff, intelligence, defense and scholars. Their results are pretty bleak from an American perspective. Not much that’s surprising really.

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Hurtful food aid

I’ve got a draft that i’ve been meaning to work on for a while on health aid. Soon. Anyway, in an encouraging sign, according to the iht, CARE, one of the largest international development and aid NGOs, has announced that it will stop participating in the US gov’t’s food aid programs. Or at least the ones that use a process known as monetization:

Under the system, the U.S. government buys the goods from American agribusiness, ships them overseas on mostly American-flagged carriers and then donates the goods to the aid groups. The groups sell the products in poor countries and use the money to fund their anti-poverty programs there.

While this income must often be critical, CARE and others are beginning to wonder if this limits economic development.

The question is whether small-scale sunflower farmers like Otieno would have done better if nonprofit groups had not sold tons of American crude soybean oil, a competing product, to the same Kenyan company that purchased Otieno’s meager crop. CARE and some other experts say the answer is a clear yes.

As with much of development, in general, the shortfalls and inefficacy of donor-driven agendas are increasingly clear.

But Peter Matlon, an agricultural economist based in Nairobi and a managing director of the Rockefeller Foundation, said converting American commodities into cash for development was a case of “the tail wagging the dog,” with domestic farm policies in the United States shaping hunger-fighting methods abroad.

There are other problems such as “how risky it was to manage projects financed in fluctuating commodities markets.” It’s good to see high profile organizations try and wean themselves off of this dependence. The article concludes:

“What’s happened to humanitarian organizations over the years is that a lot of us have become contractors on behalf of the government,” said Odo of CARE. “That’s sad but true. It compromised our ability to speak up when things went wrong.”

Indeed, it is a frightening phenomenon. But it gets worse. Increasingly, these contractors seem to be for-profit companies. It’s no wonder really. With so much demand for observable, quotable results, the increasing bureaucratization of aid and development has made it more and more difficult for non-profits to win these contracts. In fact, i’ve noticed that in recurrent tenders, there is a trend towards eligibility requirements being expanded to include the private sector in addition to the traditional non-profit and education restrictions.

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More on the eavesdropping legislation.

However, the law’s wording — underscored by conversations with administration officials — shows the rules governing when and how Americans’ calls and e-mails will be monitored have changed significantly.

Communications that can get caught up in intelligence collection require a spectrum of approvals, depending on the circumstances. Generally, such calls, e-mails, text messages and other electronic exchanges fall into three categories:

• Purely foreign overseas communications. The NSA can monitor these calls and e-mails without any signoff from a judge or a senior government official.

• Domestic conversations between two Americans. The Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure requires that the government get approval from a court before eavesdropping on these exchanges.

• Communications between an American and a foreigner, a more complex, gray area. If the American is the target of the investigation, then a court must approve the surveillance, the White House says. However, if the foreigner is the target, no court approval is necessary under the new law. Instead, Gonzales and McConnell will decide together whether to go ahead with the work.

It’s this area — when an American is talking to a foreign suspect — where the Bush administration has acquired powers it didn’t have before.

Like I said, poor Americans, letting what most of the world yearns for slip away.

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I pointed to the recent legislation on warrantless wiretapping. Here‘s more on the executive order issued by bush in 2001. Apparently the “Terrorist Surveillance Program” (ie warrantless wiretapping of communication overseas) to which Bush admitted in Dec 2005 wasnt the only thing authorized by the order. And it’s all dressed up in good ol’ american partisan crony politics.

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.. of communications between foreigners routed through equipment in the US [bbc]. Poor America continues to concede rights and compromise its principles.

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Apparently the US and EU have just signed a treaty, replacing temporary provisions, to force airlines to send a host of personal information about all passengers traveling to the States within 15 minutes of take-off. Apparently, “most of the treaty relies on the US to follow the rules and notify Europe later.” And, according to the article, “Skeptics say the European negotiators should have pushed for more concessions, especially given the US track record on data protection.” Ouch. But, true. Although i’d have to go back and look at the exact provisions, the USA PATRIOT Act does some serious harm to the protection of private data, both in terms of granting non-court-approved access to private data as well as (and this is probably what’s being references by the critics) reducing (ie removing) restrictions on the transfer of such data between intelligence agencies.

I think it’s great to see the US and Europe are finally waking up to what arab leaders have known all along.

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I’ve been meaning to write something about recent energy and environment politics, especially in light of the G8 summit and all the recent unilateral initiatives from some of the worst polluting countries (eg US, China, Australia).  Unfortunately i dont have time.

I did, however want to point to the Democrats’ perhaps recent legislative pushes. They’re working on a bill to remove federal tax breaks than benefit the oil companies such as for oil and gas exploration and channeling the money towards renewable energy sources.

Naturally the oil companies and Bushies arent very happy. They’ve raised the same bull claims about dependence on foreign oil (hello, it’s several decades old and non-reversible). And how we have no substitutes for oil-based products (exactly, dumbass, that’s why you need to find alternatives). Or how it will kill thousands of jobs (the money isnt being burnt, it’s going somewhere else). I pity the people that fall for the same rehashed proclamations.

The other direction they’re working on is raising fuel efficiency standards for US automobiles. Personally, i think it’s about god damn time. Americans need to wake the hell up from the magical 50s and 60s which is ultimately what set this all in motion. Dirt cheap oil combined with (and perhaps helping to catalyze) the suburban boom and America’s all-consuming lust for bigger harder better faster more more more more have led to absurdly low fuel efficiency. Despite a brief slowdown in the 70s, this unrealistic and, frankly, extremely shortsighted trend has continued relentlessly for 6 decades and really needs to be reversed. I mean there are two main global oil demand peaks: the winter led by US and Euro heating fuel and the summer because of the US road trip season.

Down with the auto and oil industries!

Ahem… I’ll end the rant there for now. But i’m sure to revisit.

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Just caught an article in the March Harper’s by Ken Silverstein. It’s one of the most measured looks at “Islamist” movements/parties in the region and the West’s (particularly, the US) approach to dealing (or, rather, decidedly not) with them.

Naturally, he touches on the oxymoronic so-called “Bush Doctrine”:

Notwithstanding President Bush’s new “forward strategy of freedom,” the United States has marshaled nothing more than a few hollow demurrals against the antidemocratic abuses by its allies, and it maintains close partnerships with all of America’s old authoritarian friends in the region. When reaching out to opposition figures, it has chosen pro-Western elites such as Nour in Egypt or Ahmed Chalabi in Iraq, both of whom are more admired in Washington and London than they are at home.

And the US’s refusal to even listen to Islamist of any color:

Today, there are dozens of active Islamic political parties, both Shiite and Sunni, with diverse political and ideological agendas. Their leaders are certainly not liberal democrats, and some, like Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon, maintain armed wings. But it is not entirely accurate to describe them, as is frequently done in the United States, as fundamentalist or backward or even necessarily conservative.

The new Islamic movements are popularly based and endorse free elections, the rotation of power, freedom of speech, and other concepts that are scorned by the regimes that currently hold power. Islamist groups have peacefully accepted electoral defeat, even when it was obvious that their governments had engaged in gross fraud to assure their hold on power. In parliaments, Islamists have not focused on implementing theocracy or imposing shari‘ah but have instead fought for political and social reforms, including government accountability.

The article goes into the Egyptian MB and Hezbollah in some detail and then returns to the matter of policy and engagement.

Those favoring some sort of engagement, or at least accommodation, with political Islam argue that political exclusion breeds radicalism whereas participation requires negotiation, compromise, and moderation. Hence, the West should encourage political participation by Islamist movements—in the same manner that other groups from recent history, for years rejected as “terrorists,” in fact eventually became mainstream political forces, among them the Palestine Liberation Organization, the African National Congress, and the Irish Republican Army.

I would argue further that if one bothers to look closely enough at these groups, it becomes obvious that these changes are already taking place and have been for decades. One need only look at the evolution of the MB in Egypt from the violence of the 40s and 60s to the electioneering of the 80s onwards. Or at Hizbullah whose rhetoric and actions have become more nuanced since joining the cabinet. Or even Hamas for a brief moment in time.

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[PLEASE NOTE: If this letter has been forwarded to you, and you would like to sign on or have questions, please send an email to depaul.letter@gmail.com]
[To sign this letter, please send an email with your name and any academic, professional, or other affiliation to depaul.letter@gmail.com]

The letter’s after the jump.

UPDATE: thought i would point to the solidarity campaign blog.

(more…)

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Google on Immigration

Google entered the US immigration debate as business leaders testified in congress. Generally my inclination is to agree that in order to keep up with international competition in knowledge-based industries, particularly ICT, the US will as ever have to rely on human imports. There’s no way they can keep up with India, China, SE Asia and even Egypt, which is increasingly trying to push IT as its economy-driving industry.

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this is really funny.

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Apparently the DoD just blocked access to MySpace and YouTube for “bandwidth” reasons. I’m not so sure it’d be crossing that fine line between skepticism and conspiracy theory to say: “My ass it’s for bandwidth!”

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Funny animation on the Bush Admin’s recent ME diplomacy by Mark Fiore.

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A round up of some recent stuff on Active Islam.

First, the super-evil al-Qaeda. Bruce Reidal from the brookings institute (and a 29-year career in the CIA and political intelligence and security posts) writes in Foreign Affairs on the resurgence of al-Qaeda across the globe and what the US, NATO and other allies should do about it. The article is both reasonable and alarmist(-ing?). It manages to be intelligent despite suffering from some of the ridiculous American myths. For example:

The country’s infrastructure must be improved in order to develop a mainstream agricultural economy that can compete with illicit poppy cultivation, which breeds crime and corruption [so far so good] and strengthens the jihadi subculture [why was that necessary?].

I think it’s safe to claim that it’s a generally accepted fact that poppy production in Afghanistan was at its lowest during taliban (jihadi culture right there) reign. And last time i checked, the dirka-dirka jihadists didnt puff on the bubbly while strapping on tnt.

Worth reading despite.

Moving along, apparently our very own Cairene and al-Qaeda #2, Al Zawahri, has released a tape that includes appeals to black Americans to not fight for their white oppressors, or something of the sort. I don’t think it’s very important in terms of their being on the move. But if the author’s assessment of the tape is reliable, the high-tech media-savvy aspect is what’s most interesting.

Oh and in one of the past, present and future failed-state refuges of the newly resurgent global al-Qaeda, the official (read: American- err.. Ethiopian-backed) government has placed a ban (i’m not complaining) on face veils because the islamist terrorists disguise themselves in sheep’s clothing. (Al Jazeera)

Finally, I will point you to the Arabist where Issandr took look at the major attention on the MB in Egypt at the moment, particularly from the US. It’s a couple of weeks old (the trial mentioned has been recently overruled in court.) but, through the articles linked to and his own input, the post raises some of the critical questions that need to be tackled.

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OpinioJuris (an excellent law blog) has an interesting post on the USG’s response to the 2005 5k+ page “report” by the ICRC on Customary International Humanitarian Law.

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