01 December 2008

Homage to my hometown by LIFE magazine

I stumbled upon this archive of LIFE magazine photos today, and so typed in my lovely hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee. And what did I find?

Of the four pages of images, one of them consisted entirely of photos of George Wallace (from his inglorious presidential campaign days) in my fair city.

If that doesn't help explain some of the hurdles I had to jump through in my youth, I don't know what does.

05 November 2008

It Begins Now

Tonight I went to watch election results with some friends, but started to walk back home as we were nearing time for California and the rest of the West Coast to be called. I knew when all was said and done when seemingly in unison, whole apartment buildings started screaming. Fireworks started going off. There was literally singing on the streets. Cab drivers were going up the street honking their horns, pedestrians were cheering each other on. It was a beautiful sight.

Eight years of misrule were repudiated tonight right here in the streets of DC. As I walked the mile or so from Woodley Park to Adams Morgan where I live, the wave of joy continued to overtake me and all those around me. As I neared the busy intersection of 18th and Columbia, I could literally hear a roar of excitement. People were walking down the streets singing the "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours!"

This night is historic on so many fronts that I don't even know where to begin, and don't think I will. President-elect Obama (!!!!) hasn't gone on stage yet, but we've already heard an exceptionally gracious concession speech from Senator McCain, and I truly wish we had heard more of that John McCain during the campaign than we did.

Yet the hard work now lies ahead of us, in spite of the hard work of the past two years. Electing Barack Obama as President of the United States is the first step towards correcting this country's course, not the last. We'll need to fight to hold this president accountable, just like all the others.

But for now, we celebrate. This is our time, and this is our future. If nothing else, we've already seen tremendous progress based solely on the fact that some 100 million Americans are believed to have voted in this election. That's a damn site better than we've had before, and that's a tremendously good sign. Now let's keep up the momentum, and push ourselves to greatness.

I've been repeating this all week, and perhaps it's trite, but hard work like this is how we grant ourselves peace.

04 November 2008

This Election Shall be Live Blogged

It's 8am Tuesday and I just got back from voting! I arrived at my polling place at 6:50am, and the line was already wrapped around the block. By 7, when the doors opened, there were probably a hundred or so more people behind me. Of course, all this calls for photos!

Where I started in line.

Where the line ended when the polls opened 10 minutes later (you can't see it!).

Made it around the first corner.

Made it around the second corner. Still a long way to go.

A good sign along the way (that's my neighborhood, y'all).

So close you can smell the democracy.

At the door!

All in all, for a line that absurdly long, the wait wasn't bad at all, and I even had time to come back home for a snack. Once again, if you haven't voted yet, today is your last chance. Go vote, and grant us peace.

Dona Nobis Pacem: Go Vote

Folks, the time is now. Tomorrow morning the polls will open for a truly momentous election. If you're an American citizen, you've registered to vote, and you haven't voted yet (in places where early voting is allowed), we implore you to get out tomorrow. Lines are expected to be long, and the weather may not be entirely cooperative, so dress warmly and dryly and bring a little reading material, or, better yet, chat up your fellow voters. Regardless of how you intend to vote in a given race or on a particular issue, the democratic process brings disparate people together every couple of years and asks for their opinion on the critical issues of the day. Take advantage of this unique form of fellowship to get to know a few new people. Challenge each other's assumptions and celebrate your commonalities.

I, for one, believe strongly that participatory forms of government are essential foundations for peace. This country isn't quite peaceful yet, and hasn't been for centuries, but we're further along than a lot of places. In the past year, we've seen tense elections in places like Bolivia, Paraguay, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Russia and even Canada. In some of those places, people died for their votes. In others, their votes were canceled out by corrupt authorities. In still others, people felt a real sense of liberation after all was said and done.

Tomorrow and later in the week we'll start to analyze how this election impacts issues of peace and social justice around this world. If I can swing it, we'll even get to hear from someone on the ground at the winning candidate's victory celebration.

But for now, your charge is simple: Go to your polling place, stand in line, and cast your ballot. And vote on everything, not just the next president. In my own neighborhood, the race for our representative on the school board could mean a lot for how justice expands through the local population. All these issues matter; that's why they're on the ballot. Go out and vote your conscience, and thereby grant us peace.

EDIT: Persons in some corners are expressing concerns about voter suppression. If you experience trouble at the polls (e.g. your registration or ballot are challenged) and you think you need help, call 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683) and they'll provide assistance, including on-site legal aid, if necessary.

03 November 2008

Is that a voting guide in your pants?

Because I'm a dork, I several hours this weekend doing my usual pre-election candidate research. If you haven't done that yourself yet, I recommend you get started.

Looking at the presidential race, my mind was basically made up there, and the wealth of information available through all types of media, as well as questionnaires the candidates have answered and items on their websites reaffirmed my choice. There being no ballot issues in my jurisdiction, and since I live in a colonized city-state, I didn't have that much to do.

I'm not going to tell you every single person I intend to vote for, though I will mention a few. Especially useful resources were the Washington Post (the voter guide moreso than their endorsements), the DC chapter of the League of Women Voters (find your local chapter -- they do great stuff!), and the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, which is a local, not national, organization.

After reading that stuff, plus candidate websites (where I could find them), I found myself having to seriously think about two races: the At-Large DC Council race (two seats), and the Ward 1 State Board of Education race (1 seat). Ward 1, where I reside, is not voting for a ward rep to the DC Council this year (stay tuned for 2010). Other local races for shadow senator and shadow representative don't excite me because none of the candidates excite me, the at-large seat on the Board of Education is a one person race, so you either like him or not, and the delegate to the U.S. House is a pretty easy choice when you compare the candidates.

So that at-large race: there are 2 open seats, one of which needs to go to a non-Democrat (under the law that states that 2 of the 4 total at-large seats need to be held by someone of the non-majority party). The Democratic incumbent is Kwame Brown. The official Republican candidate is Patrick Mara. The Republican incumbent, Carol Schwartz, is running a write-in campaign. There are also three independents (Michael Brown, Mark Long, and Dee Hunter), and Statehood Green Party candidate David Schwartzman. Personally, I really like Carol Schwartz, especially after the way she's acted on the issues I raised in my last post (writing the mayor in opposition to proposed changes, grilling Peter Nickles at his confirmation hearing). She's also a fiscal conservative in a city that frankly needs more of that. We certainly don't agree on everything, but she believes in holding government accountable, so she gets my vote (write in her name, and connect the arrow).

That leaves me one other choice. My research leads me to support David Schwartzman, but since he's also a non-Democrat, that vote would basically cancel out my vote for Schwartz. Thus I'll also vote for Kwame Brown, the incumbent Democrat, since a vote for him won't count as a vote against Carol since he's already in the majority party. The other so-called independents are basically job-seeking Democrats, and Micheal Brown seems hell-bent on running for every office open until he gets on. And Patrick Mara just seems shady, especially after having met him. As an aside, why oh why can't we vote for these two seats entirely separately, instead of all lumped together?

The other race then is the State Board of Education seat. This reconstituted Board advises the State Superintendent of Education (not the DC Public Schools Chancellor) on issues related to academic standards and compliance with federal law. The Board and State Superintendent oversee all public education institutions in DC, including DCPS and all charter schools. Here in Ward 1 we have one of the few contested races for a seat on this new Board. Two of the four choices, Pamela M. Johnson and Dotti Love Wade, get incredible props for being concerned parents/community activists, however their grasp of the issues they'll face seems a little weak. That leaves Lillian Perdomo and Shelore Williams, both with long records on education issues and a firm grasp of what they'll be doing and where they want to go. Yet it's Perdomo's record of engaging parents through her grassroots multicultural outreach work and her committment to social justice issues that put her on top for me. Read her bio and see for yourself.

Now, your homework is to Google all of the above, as I'm too tired to look up all those links to individual candidate sites again. I'm happy to help if you get stuck.

Happy voting! Polls in DC are open from 7am to 8pm Tuesday, and you can still vote early tomorrow.

P.S. This week I'm leading the election coverage over on Practical Peaceniks. Be sure to check out my introductory post, and check back there throughout the week. And don't worry, I'll always save my most irreverent bile for this space. :)

Update on LGBT rights in DC

I realize blogging has been light this month, and for that I apologize, but I did want to (perhaps belatedly) alert your attention to some very local issues that have been going on.

The DC Trans Coalition (DCTC) has been running a long campaign to improve human rights protections within the district for transgendered and gender non-conforming individuals. While the DC Human Rights Act now includes those protections, and progress has been made in getting the Metropolitan Police to improve their policies in this area, engaging the DC Department of Corrections (DOC) has been far more challenging. This summer, after an Inspector-General's report found the DOC to be out of compliance with the law, and after DCTC and DOC had already been negotiating some, the DOC convinced the Office of Human Rights to propose new regulations that would exempt it from the Human Rights Act, which would magically clear up the little problem of their not-complying with the law.

Clearly, this couldn't stand. During the comment period, dozens of local and national organizations wrote to oppose the regulatory change, and DCTC also collected comments from around 200 citizens through an online petition. Out of all that, not one single response agreed with the proposed rules, and thus the Office of Human Rights and the DC Commission on Human Rights did not move forward with enactment. A local resident had also filed a complaint against DOC policy, and received a response in early October that made several specious arguments aimed at proving that the DOC was doing nothing wrong, and in fact was exemplary in its choice of housing people based on their genitalia and nothing else.

All of these various documents pointed the way back to the desk of DC's acting attorney general Peter Nickles. The mayor's general counsel until he forced the resignation of then-attorney general Linda Singer, Nickles has been a controversial character on any number of counts, including his failure to actually live in the District. But his fooling around with the Human Rights Act and a legal opinion he wrote opposing a clarification of domestic partner parenting rights led the DCTC and the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA) to oppose his nomination to be permanent AG.

Showdown: DC Council Chamber, Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, October 17. Nickles' confirmation hearing ran for roughly eight hours that Friday, and included some 20 or more witnesses, including representatives of DCTC and GLAA. DCTC members in the audience came equipped with bright neon stickers that said "No to Nickles" which garnered the attention of some Council members. After testimony, each member grilled Nickles on this issue, and expressed extreme concern that he would mess with the Human Rights Act, which is cherished as being among the most progressive in the nation.

Since then, DCTC, GLAA and others have met with 8 of the 13 Council members' offices, and had an initial meeting with Nickles himself. We can be hopeful for a positive outcome, but there is much still to be done. Regardless, this issue has received scant media attention since this summer, so I thought I would bring it to light.

02 November 2008

Peaceniks Forum: The Election that Changes Everything that Ever Was

Perhaps that's a bit of an overstatement, but that seems to be the way most Americans are acting right now. So let's have a bit of discussion. What matters to you this time around? Why is this election so important? If you're one of our growing contingent of international visitors, what outcomes do you want to see from the U.S. election? Will anything good come of it for you?

Here at Practical Peaceniks, we've already weighed in on how we think McCain or Obama will promote peace in the world (or not). We've also touched on how some of the rhetoric surrounding the campaign has caused people like us who are dedicated to peace and social justice to cringe/want to spit venom. As virtually anyone has noticed by now, the campaign has only gotten more heated, especially as one side pulls ahead while the other seems to be spiraling downward. Is this a positive trend? Further, is a campaign process that has taken nearly two years and cost two billion dollars really good for this country, or any country?

For my own sake, I want to see a government for the people that brings an end to the degradation of civil liberties and demonstrates a renewed emphasis on expanding civil rights to all individuals in the United States (I use that construction intentionally). I want a government of the people that takes to heart the advice of Nobel Laureate, former Secretary of State, and fellow Tennesseean Cordell Hull, who said in 1945, "There is no greater responsibility resting upon peoples and governments everywhere than to make sure that enduring peace will this time -- at long last -- be established and maintained." Finally, I want to see a government by the people, that does not engage in unjust wars (with victims at home and abroad) and refuses to compromise our core values by torturing and illegally detaining individuals suspected of acting against us.

This election is important to me because I feel strongly that the country has been on a downward spiral. It's not just a matter of U.S. standing or influence in the world -- I don't really care about that. It's that within our own borders, we are a society that has lost the ability to value anything other than ourselves and our material wants. Too many Americans lack healthcare. Our schools need support, investment, and love. Our economy needs to be reconstructed so that injustices meted out by the privileged few don't get perpetuated when those same privileged few get bailed out while their victims get nothing. And looking abroad, this is a nation of remarkable power, and we should truly scrutinize whether we are using that power -- hard, soft, or whatever you want to call it -- in a responsible, compassionate way that still somehow manages to further our interests and keep us safe.

As for the electoral process, I tend to agree that it was wrong for Obama to break his promise to accept public financing in the general election. However, in so doing, he may well have uncovered a new approach to public financing. Having over 3 million donors and an average donation of just $85 may indicate that public interest in financing campaigns is growing, and we just need to rethink how the current public finance process works. The time this whole soiree has taken, though, is ludicrous. I've frankly stopped paying attention to the news for much of the past month simply because I was tired of it all. When the campaign process drags on for so long, we lose sight of issues and instead start deconstructing every syllable that comes out of someone's mouth. The 24-hour news cycle only exacerbates this problem. And only having two major candidates hurts too, I think. Maybe the Barr, McKinney and Nader campaigns have something to offer the country. If they do, we certainly haven't had a chance to hear about it. If they don't, we haven't even heard that either.

Consider this the opening salvo (definitely not a peaceful term) of your Practical Peaceniks election coverage this week. As always, we welcome your thoughts, and encourage you to join the conversation.

10 October 2008

My hat goes off to these guys

I just stumbled upon Rednecks for Obama, a group founded by a couple of older gentlemen down in Missouri. All I can say is, good work.

Sometimes we (self included) kid ourselves by thinking of the predominantly white inhabitants of the rural South as being backward, gun-toting, God-fearing, died in the blood Republicans. Here is excellent evidence that they're neither backward nor Republicans (though certainly the middle two probably still apply). So for those of you who have a picture of some Southern monolithic populus in your head, think again.

Check out their guestbook to see the thoughts of folks from around the country. It's inspiring, really.

And gentlemen, should you feel the need to pass through Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee, I'm sure I can dig up some relatives to fix you somethin' good to eat.

With that, I think I'll order a t-shirt. After all, I've gotta head to TN myself soon.

Hat tip: Princess Sparkle Pony

01 October 2008

Bring it on, Palin

Look folks, Sarah Palin got interviewed by Katie Couric for the 47,000th time, and she of course lost, again. [How one continues to "lose" at interviews should illustrate the Governor's particular level of skill.] Yet this time she got personal, with some ridiculous blather about her lesbian friend's poor life choice about... you guessed it... being a homo! I dare not repost the actual text, as I don't want to sully my blog (read the last three paragraphs of the link above), but I do want to offer a few general comments, as is my wont:
  1. This whole "it's a choice" rhetoric is only a loosely veiled method of classifying queer people as second class (or worse) citizens, as in "I shor do feel for those dumb homos who can't live their lives right, like responsible (read: godly) people."
  2. If, then, denigrating language is displayed on national television by a (like it or not) important public official, it's only encouraging more people to think that way, and to believe that such dehumanizing thinking is acceptable. This leads to hateful thinking, and hateful acts, all justified by some bizarre conception of the divine, as sanctified by the good governor.
  3. I can handle the fact that Palin can't tell Paris, Tennessee from Paris, France., because I'm certainly not going to vote for her anyway. But don't start dishing out ignorant, mean-spirited, hateful crap on TV. She should limit her ignorance to countries and concepts, and leave basic human rights out of it.
  4. I hope her "good lesbian friend" becomes her less good lesbian friend.
  5. Finally, to all my fellow homos who are still steamed that Hillary lost and are thinking of voting for McCain because your diva lost, and he picked another one (who is a horrific replacement, mind you), I hope this kind of crap causes you to finally come to your meth-addled senses.
Clearly, this week's news is bad for my blood pressure. Good thing I'm now just avoiding the economy, or I would've blown a gasket.

Hat tip: Princess Sparkle Pony.

EDIT: My former prof Dan Chong has another fun take on this.

28 September 2008

My own bailout request

Now that my attitude has chilled slightly from my last rant on the subject, I have but a simple request: please include in the bailout legislation a federal moratorium on using the words "Main Street" and "Wall Street" in the same sentence. [Also, my student loan debt is still soul-crushingly high, but looks miniscule when compared to $700 billion. If I incorporate as the Bank of Buster, can I get govermnent money by claiming my debt as a bad investment?]

Frankly, this whole mess is so mind-numbingly confusing to anyone without a deep background in high finance that even a theoretically well-education person like me is left thinking, "So what's the real problem here? How did this happen? And why the hell do all us ordinary folk have to pay for it?" I still have no answers to these questions, and the legislation will move forward tomorrow. A great big thanks to all you legislative types for reaching out to your constituents. [Oh wait! MY congressperson can't vote! Of course...]

Meanwhile, in trying to wrap my head around the problems associated with this whole mess, these pieces (here and here) have been helpful on this particular morning. If I could remember where I found a well-formed argument about why the bailout is wholly unnecessary in its current incarnation, I'd link to that too. You'll note that I'm basically linking to conservatives here. This is because I agree with these guys on this point. We (the average schmuck) are spending a boatload of Chinese held dollars to bailout idiots who made bad decisions. And we get nothing.

24 September 2008

As the world falls down and goes boom

This article in today's Post poses the question of whether or not Americans today (particularly the young folk) are apathetic, or just making use of new tactics to express discontent with the seemingly perpetually declining state of our Union. There are a few hypothoses here:
  1. Americans protested like all hell in the 1960s because the sick combination of a military draft for a pointless war and blatant, sickening racial discrimination brought things to a boiling point. Draft them, and they will protest.
  2. Anti-establishment rhetoric has been mainstreamed, and thus no longer motivates people.
  3. Burning down several cities in 1968 seemed only to usher in roughly 40 years or so of rule by people who almost wholly disagreed with those who carried torches, making violent protest seem pointless.
  4. Americans are increasingly politically active, it's just harder to get a real grip on the level of online and other, less traditional forms of expressing discontent.
Oddly, the first theory was raised in a conversation I had last week, and while there is merit to it, I think that given the unlikelihood of a draft coming anytime soon, we can't expect that motivator. The other three points seem basically true, but note that I added the word "violent" under proposition 3. No, violent protest didn't work. In fact, I (and others) would go so far as to posit that it was the turn to violence that killed the mass appeal of "bring 'em onto the streets" organizing.

Thus I have a few questions for viewers like you:
  • Is all this online/door-to-door activism a good representation of using different forms of non-violent strategy? If so, are organizers intentionally trying to act non-violently, or are they merely using convenient tools that happen to not be violent?
  • The year 1968 gets bounced around a lot for obvious reasons, but is it the wrong example? Isn't, say, 1963 a much better year to demonstrate non-violent protest?
  • Given the two questions above, if we are not seeing people try to intentionally be non-violent, and we are simultaneously holding up the wrong example of what protest looks like, how do we (the peace movement, educators, whatever you think you are) build cognizance around non-violent ways to challenge our exceptionally trying times?
Looks like this turned out more intellectual than I originally anticipated, but I welcome your feedback.

23 September 2008

Let's go mansion squatting

So yours truly went on a business trip that kept me very, very busy. Trying to catch up on news upon my return, I've realized that apparently I've decided to buy a few failing banks with $700 billion of my hard earned money. Apparently, you have too.

I'm fully convinced that this is a sound decision, and it won't bite me in the ass later. Further, I can do it all by myself, with no one looking over my shoulder, because I know what I'm doing. Or at least Hank Paulson thinks so.

And why am I so sure of myself? Because I hear that France did it once, and look how it's worked out for them, what with their roaring economy and all. If only I could get the execution right...

Hrmm... perhaps this isn't such a good idea. How's about another idea or three, Hank:
  • The top billion or so executives at all these major companies should lose the15 mansions (only 1 or so more than John McCain has) they each own. Much like homesteading in the nineteenth century, the government should grant squatters rights, on a first-come, first-served basis. Think of the fun of having Sooners on Long Island!
  • All these Mercedes that line up at these crisis meetings of pitiful executives should be distributed among the urban and rural poor. Of course, I'll get one too, since I thought of the idea. A cute black convertible is my style. Don't forget the heated seats.
  • Since we work so close to each other, I think I'll roll up to your office one day this week with one hand open and the other holding my exorbitant student loan bills. Since you're so generous with all your Wall Street friends, surely you could spare some change for me.
  • Oh hey! The Single Moms Working Three Jobs of America Society just called me, and said they would like to know how they're feeding their children this week. Think of all the corn-based, pasteurized, processed McDonald's food you could shove down their starving throats with $700 billion. Hell, you could probably even make them meals of fresh fruits and vegetable for the whole damn year with that amount of cash. Just sayin'....
Now, if I didn't already have a decent enough reason to vote for Barack Obama this year, I now know the full meaning of his saying "you're on your own."

Thanks, Hank.

EDIT: Never trust spam.

14 September 2008

Live from PJSA - Day 3

Today was the final -- and perhaps most productive -- day of the conference. The morning plenary wasn't terribly interesting, but I then went into a sizeable (for this event) workshop on building peace studies curricula in community colleges. It was incredibly fascinating learning about different approaches, the terrific array of opportunities that are in some ways unique to the community college population, and the trials and tribulations of getting courses and programs approved. Of course, I also enjoyed being able to shed some light on the internationalization of this kind of work. I followed up the workshop with a meeting by the higher education outreach person at a major peace organization, and we had a great time brainstorming ideas.

At lunch time, we were quite lucky that the Portland farmers market was being held right outside the conference building, so I had a tasty, fresh, mostly organic lunch, and then stocked up on food for the plane ride tomorrow. There not being much on the conference program of interest for a few hours, I took a long walk through town, which helped me get a slightly better feel for the place.

I wrapped up the day at a small session on creating social change agents through study abroad programs, which is exactly the kind of information I came here to get. There were just a few of us, but the programming the presenters described sounded exceptional, and is probably a good model for making international student exchange about something more than just going someplace where you can enjoy tasty new food and fine art.

All in all, the conference has been what I had hoped it would be. There are clearly some organizational issues that need to be worked out, but since this is still a slightly new event hosted by a pretty small association, that is to be expected. On the whole, it was quite worthwhile.

We now return to our regularly scheduled peaceniks programming, already in progress.

13 September 2008

Live from PJSA - Day 2

The morning began with an incredible plenary session on "colorizing and localizing" the peace movement. The two speakers made a point of stressing an issue I've grappled with for some time, namely the peace movement's complete failure to deal with issues of race. The [predominately white] movement even refuses to admit to its own racism. Of course, this makes building a truly broad and inclusive peace movement impossible. One of the two also pointed out that the peace movement needs a strategy for moving forward. He noted that while the vast majority of the American public is now opposed to the continuation of the Iraq war, the movement has offered no viable way to end it, other than saying "end it." If so many agree on that, why can't the peace (and perhaps separately, the conflict resolution) community offer some suggestions for next steps?

After that fun, there was a fascinating session on using English as a second language classes as a means to teach peace studies, which fits in very neatly with the day job (and is why I'm here). Another plenary followed, which was rather run of the mill until the inimitable Betty Reardon started going over her latest theorizing around issues of patriarchy and the war system. One of many money quotes: "I saw a magazine cover last week that said 'Sarah Palin: the new face of feminism.' If that's the case, I'm post-feminist." This was followed up with a smaller breakout with Reardon and a colleague of hers on patriarchy and peace pedagogy, which was great, but sadly didn't have enough time. A final afternoon session proved... well....

On the whole, I've made some good contacts and have been able to talk to a few people about my work project. The event is pretty small -- maybe 300 or so participants -- but there are some good connections to be made. I even ran into the director of the peace and conflict studies program at my alma mater, where I was too indecisive to major in peace and conflict studies.

Finally, a few critiques:
  • The program needs to list session abstracts.
  • The 50-minute sessions are too short.
  • They're trying to cram a bit too much into a day.
  • They need some dedicated networking space, and perhaps some meet and mingle events.
Tomorrow is another full day, with a few meetings to have, and a few more sidebar conversations to seek out.

12 September 2008

Live from PJSA - Day 1

There isn't a whole lot to report today. I got here a bit too late to catch much, though I did see a bit of the "take back 9/11" rally that was being held. After dinner with a colleague (much needed as my east coast body had yet to have a proper meal), I'd missed the opening plenary event, and don't much feel like peace music tonight, so it's bed time.

A checklist, just so we feel at home:
  • Old hippies dancing with funny hip motions: check.
  • Drums: check.
  • Curious fashion: check.
  • Leaflets for all manner of causes: check.
Basically, your standard order peace event so far. But it seems fun. Tomorrow is a full day, and I'm trying to get a few meetings set up. Hopefully there will be some decent networking space, but I'm not quite sure.

Bedtime for now.

10 September 2008

Transitional justice in Zimbabwe?

So apparently some folks at the Institute for Security Studies have proposed that Zimbabwe go through a transitional justice process. I've yet to read the full report in detail, but it seems to me that this isn't the best idea in the current situation. Yes, I grant that the crimes committed under both the Rhodesian and Mugabe regimes need to be investigated and those responsible held accountable. Yet at the same time, Mugabe is still in power, so clearly 20 years are off the investigatory table. Plus, a big long unburying of Rhodesia era atrocities would be just what Mugabe needs to convince people he's still relevant.

This reminds me of Uganda's attempt at running a reconciliation commission back in the 1980s. The process got stalled when it had the audacity to question anything done by people acting under current president Museveni, either as a revolutionary leader or head of state. Eventually, the thing was shut down years after its reporting deadline, and not much resulted from the process. With lessons like this, it's probably best for Zimbabwe to wait until it isn't under the fist of one repressive regime seeking justice for another.

09 September 2008

Peaceniks on the Road

Howdy friends! Stay tuned later this week for an exciting adventure in conference liveblogging. I'll be at the annual meeting of the Peace and Justice Studies Association (PJSA) this Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and will be providing daily updates here on Practical Peaceniks. I'm going for work, so most of the things I'll be attending will be skewed toward building peace studies (etc.) in post-seconary education, but I'll try to point out other, less targeted highlights along the way. Do let me know if there is anyone I should say hi to.

04 September 2008

Sometimes political blogging is hard

Especially when all the good stuff is said by other people. As the Sarah Palin drama has unfolded in all its "the Clampetts go to Jerry Springer" glory, you will note that a mere whiff of a notion of a possible bit of a critique of Governor Palin's record is immediately refuted by "that's sexist" from people (read: fat old rich white guys) who couldn't even find sexism in the dictionary before last Friday. Rather than say more on this hypocrisy, I'm simply going to defer to Jon Stewart.

30 August 2008

Things campaign advisors shouldn't say

It's been a big week in politics, what with the Obama soiree and all (btw, I think he said everything he needed to say, and that the Biden addition makes for a really strong ticket). Then, yesterday, as expected, John McCain announced his running mate, who was not as expected.

This prompted the following quote from a McCain aide, which made it into the NYT article above:
“She’s going to learn national security at the foot of the master for the next four years, and most doctors think that he’ll be around at least that long.”
If that kind of idiocy doesn't get you fired these days, I don't know what will.

26 August 2008

Peaceniks Forum: How will an Obama/Biden Administration Promote Peace in the World?

Note: This is the first of a two-part series centered around the major political party conventions taking place in the United States. This week the Democrats are up. Next week we'll pose the same question for the McCain ticket. We also are aware that we generally lean to the left here, but hope to give fair treatment to both campaigns.

With the Democratic Convention well underway, and Saturday's selection of Joe Biden as Barack Obama's running mate, we here at Practical Peaceniks thought it would be worthwhile to take a look at how an Obama/Biden administration will promote peace in the world. However, rather that just give you our opinion, we thought we would open the floor to our (growing number of) readers. Please feel free to have your say in the comments, and a few of our contributors might pitch in with more in-depth thoughts as the week progresses.

A few general comments to start us off:

Obama's foreign policy could probably best be summed up as pragmatic global engagement. As others have noted, the selection of Joe Biden for vice president reinforces that theme. This is a foreign policy that doesn't seem to fit neatly within traditional international relations constructs. Rather, the presidential responsibility to keep America safe is seen as one and the same with actively partnering with the rest of the world politically, economically, and socially. Ideological maxims are largely cast off in favor of doing what works, and Obama's foreign policy team reflects those aims. Also of note is that Obama doesn't buy into the old mantra that in order for Democrats to convince people they aren't weak in national security, they have to espouse an especially tough foreign policy. This is a refreshing turn of events worth noting.

Now, what are your thoughts?

25 August 2008

Peaceniks in Print

In today's Christian Science Monitor you'll find a letter to the editor from our very own Diana about the Russo-Georgia War.

Check it out!

21 August 2008

Remind me why Somaliland doesn't get formal recognition

I continue to be entirely baffled by the whole planet's complete refusal to recognize Somaliland as an independent state. As I recall, there were some rumblings that the Pentagon would like to go that way sometime last year, but nothing seems to have come of it. Anyway, today we have two news stories that nicely contrast Somaliland and the officially recognized Somalia.

Exhibit A: There is currently a food and monetary crisis in Somaliland, as in much of the world. The national government has convened a high-level task force to produce an action plan, and has conducted a study of the depth of the problem with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. What we have here is a functioning government, seeking to take care of its responsibilities while having virtually no resources.

Exhibit B: The fractious Transitional Federal Government of Somalia (in its latest iteration) has once again signed a peace agreement with a rebel faction (notice the word faction), which has led to the extension of the UN backed AMISOM peacekeeping force (one in a succession). By my count, this is peace agreement #1,907,685.3, or some such since my pre-pubescent years.

All I'm saying is that maybe, maybe, it might make sense to officially help out the folks who seem to have their shit together, instead of being hampered by some antiquated notion of a sovereign state that ceased to effectively function nearly two decades ago.

19 August 2008

Sarko goes to Moscow

Did anyone else find this morning's op-ed by Nicolas Sarkozy to be just a wee bit laughable? I mean, of course it was self-serving and self-congratulatory -- it was a statement by a politician -- but still, M. le President's grasp on reality seems a touch questionable.

The way Sarkozy sees it, he stood up and led Europe into action (albeit about 3 days late, according to his timeline) to stand up to the big, bad, overly exuberant Russians and the strategically inept Georgians and tell them who was boss. He even foolishly suggests that now that the hard work of signing cease-fire has been taken care of, the UN Security Council can step in and make things better, as though that has any chance of happening given the Council's membership. To his credit, Sarkozy suggests that not everything in his six-point plan is going along on schedule, but no matter, Europe proved its muster and is now ready for an even bigger Brussels-based bureacracy that can be even faster than Sarkozy and Kouchner (yes, I too thought that leap was a bit much).

What really seems to have happened is that the young Napoleon didn't talk to big, bad Russia; he talked to little, bad Russia. Meanwhile, the Russian army seems to have confused the words"retreat" and "advance." So you enjoy patting yourself on the back, Sarko (you too, Condi). I think the rest of us non-politician types will stick with paying attention to actual events.

16 August 2008

Guess who said this

Time for a fun new game! Guess who uttered the following words:
“Bullying and intimidation are not acceptable ways to conduct foreign policy in the 21st century.”
As well as this gem:
“Only Russia can decide whether it will now put itself back on the path of responsible nations,” he said, “or continue to pursue a policy that promises only confrontation and isolation.”
If you guessed George W. Bush, you win! How he said this stuff with no sense of irony whatsoever is beyond me. Then again, I'm just a guy with a blog, not the leader of the "free" world.

13 August 2008

Speaking of the Olympics and Human Rights

Andrea made the point earlier this week that perhaps by allowing the Olympics to take place in a less than "free and democratic" country, we may well help promote the respect for human rights and the rule of law by casting such a massive spotlight on the host country. In light of recent events, it's worth pointing out that Sochi, Russia has been selected as the host of the winter Olympics in 2014.

If you click the city's name above, you'll note that Sochi is quite close to the (never on Google, contrary to speculation) Georgian region of Abkhazia, one of two main battle zones in the past week's war. Also worth mentioning is the tradition of declaring an "Olympic truce" every two years during the summer and winter games.

Take a wild guess as to two of the most egregious violators of the Olympic truce during the 2008 games. That's right, Georgia and Russia. And yet, Russia is slated to host the games in 2014, within spitting distance from Georgia.

It's one thing to use the Olympics as a way to nudge less progressive regimes into the fold of international legal norms, but it's quite another to allow the games to go forward in a country that has flagrantly violated the very basic tenets of Olympism. (Granted, one could argue that Salt Lake City shouldn't have hosted the 2002 games and that London shouldn't host the 2012 games because of the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, respectively, during those events or when those countries were selected as hosts.)

So does this mean that Sochi is scrapped and we go back to the drawing board for 2014? It probably should, especially if the IOC wants to polish up the tarnish laid upon its image as a result of the Beijing games and all the mess that has come with them. Chances are though, convenience will trump ethics, and everything will go right along as planned.

10 August 2008

Start a war and watch the rest of the world disappear

I realize I've probably lodged this before, but have you ever noticed how one little war starts off somewhere, and the rest of the planet basically falls off the international news radar screen. This is especially true if the war in question involves white people.

Now I certainly don't mean to downplay the events unfolding in Georgia right now. They're tragic, and after spending the afternoon reading about all I can get my hands on about the subject (it's not my area, thus I have a steep learning curve), it seems to me that the whole thing is pretty damn senseless. My general impression is that the Georgians tried something they thought they could get away with, in the interest of pleasing the West, and now it's bitten them in the ass royally. Prospects for any sort of decent peace seem a little slim.

But back to the rest of the planet, as that's my beef, right? Let's see, some iffy stuff in Kashmir, a coup in Mauritania, alleged progress in Zimbabwe negotiations, and a seemingly destabilizing Bolivia.

07 August 2008

Thinking about the Hamdan verdict

I was going to do a little write-up on yesterday's Hamdan decision, but the NYT editorial page expressed my various thoughts (including outrage) so well, that I'm just going to link to them.

For a more detailed account of why the verdict is bunk, check out Opinio Juris.

27 July 2008

Cease-fire in Korea lives on

Back in the dark ages of my youth (read: about three years ago), I wrote up a paper analyzing why it took more than two years of wrangling to get a cease-fire drawn up to end the Korean War. That document was signed, finally, 55 years ago today, but the process had begun -- initiated by the Soviets, ironically -- in 1951 before the conflict was even a year old.

The standard argument I found at the time (read this for a good example, I have yet to read a more recent account that may find otherwise) was that negotiating over the exchange of prisoners of war was an exceptionally contentious point. Generally, POW exchanges are all-for-all, but it was well known that North Korean and Chinese forces had impressed men into service during both of their major advances into the South, and those on the United Nations side thought it would be improper to return combatants to a country that had not willingly fought for. A rather elaborate evaluation scheme was eventually set up, though it was never carried out quite properly. Anyhow, that score settled, the fighting could be ended. Or so the story goes.

My thesis, though, is that the domestic political situation within the U.S. slow eddown the talks. President Truman and his State Department were on the defensive against Senator Joseph McCarthy's rampant accusations of communist infiltration in the government. After the "fall" of China in the late 1940s, State's East Asia bureau came under particular assault. Militarily speaking, an end to the Korean War that maintained the status quo antebellum was about the best that could be hoped for, as Chinese forces dramatically outnumbered UN forces, in spite of the latter's technical superiority. Without going nuclear, stalemate was about the best that could be acheived. But Truman and his crew realized that by throwing in the towel, they would be seen as being weak on communism at a time when that was a politically lethal charge. They raised the prisoner of war issue, then, as firm stance against returning "free" people (Syngmhan Rhee's South Korea was hardly unoppressive) to the "slavery" of the communist North.

Immediately after his election to the presidency, Dwight D. Eisenhower took a pre-inauguration trip to Korea to meet with commanders and see the situation for himself. His belief that the war needed to end was confirmed by the trip, and he said so publicly, which infuriated Truman. By early 1953, too, McCarthy was losing influence, and Eisenhower made it clear to the Senator that as President, he would tolerate no baseless attacks on his administration. Thus with Eisenhower's ascent, the political space was created to actually sign a deal (various drafts similar to the final piece had circulated for some time).

Of course, the "political parley" to take place following the cease-fire never ocurred, and on paper anyway, the official war continues, the demilitarized zone is still enforced, and fighting could theoretically resume at a moment's notice. There are positive signs, though, that progress can be made, as sustainable peace (contrary to some observers) this most definitely is not.

Curious Approach to Development in Liberia

BET founder Robert L. Johnson's plan to build a luxury hotel in Liberia strikes me as a particularly strange approach to post-conflict development. On one hand, his assessment that providing would be investors with a posh place to sleep will probably help convince them to spend their money in Liberia is probably not far off the mark. Yet on the other hand, this project probably won't do much for Liberians in the area of the hotel.

Arguments against the project would probably include the following:
  • Yes, it will create short-term construction jobs, but long-term will likely only offer a relatively small number of low-paying service jobs, which won't do much to foster economic growth.
  • Think of how many schools that could be built and wells that could be dug with $8 million.
  • Isn't it just downright offensive to build a place that luxurious that is surrounded by so much poverty?
Then again, maybe he's onto something here. No, this project may not in itself do much to boost the Liberian economy, and because it will employ mostly service workers, won't do a whole lot to boost educational and thus economic achievement in the surrounding area. Then again, jobs are still hard to come by in Liberia, and people will probably take what they can get. Furthermore, as an exceptionally wealthy corporate executive himself, Johnson probably knows how to entertain his peers. He may be quite correct in his belief that without a nice place to stay, would-be investors would never come for a visit, and thus probably would spend their money and build their projects in other countries. Is this, then, a backdoor approach to development, or is it just the precursor to the development of another Western enclave in a non-Western country -- self-contained and disinterested in its surroundings? Time will tell, but one can only hope it works.

25 July 2008

Shameless plug: Go read Practical Peaceniks

Yesterday some friends and I launched Practical Peaceniks, a new blog aimed at "promoting peace with a bent towards reality." I definitely encourage you to check it out and subscribe via whatever medium you prefer.

I'll still be blogging here too, and as you might have noticed, I'm trying to get back into the swing of posting regularly. So look forward to more of my rants, now with two homes.

24 July 2008

A too familiar storyline

Yesterday's IRIN article, "Homophobia fuelling the spread of HIV," outlines an eerily familiar course of events surrounding HIV transmission rates among African men who have sex with men (MSM).

To be blunt, the situation sounds remarkably like that in the United States in the 1980s, right down to the criminalization of gay sex part. You have governments that don't act (though admittedly most African states lack the public health resources the U.S. had even 20 years ago), politicians who don't care, and a small but fierce group of activists trying hard to make a dent in the problem.

In short, the story was tragic in this country then (and still is), and the same is true in Africa and elsewhere. It's times like these when the international development community could probably make some significant impacts, but seems disinterested. Somebody prove me wrong. Please.

Minor crow eating

So remember last week how I got all uppity about the ridiculousness of planning the presidential transition while the campaign was still ongoing?

Apparently I underestimated the Obama monolith.

[Hat Tip: Passport]

23 July 2008

Welcome to Practical Peaceniks!

You have stumbled upon the Web's newest voice discussing promoting peace, justice and understanding in the world. But we're not your ordinary peaceniks, we're the Practical Peaceniks. We realize that building peace is like building a house, and you have to start with the foundation. In a world where there are usually at least 60 armed conflicts going on at any one time, we realize that the road to peace is challenging, and frought with difficult -- even unpleasant -- decisions. Yes, we may sing a little Kum-bah-ya every now and again, but we also recognize that singing with warlords probably won't get many negotiators very far. We are pragmatists with a purpose, and that's why we're the Practical Peaceniks.

This blog was conceived by five graduates of the International Peace and Conflict Resolution program at American University's School of International Service. We each come from different backgrounds and bring different perspectives on what a peaceful world looks like, and how we get there. In time, we might add some other voices, but for now, your contributors are:

Over the coming weeks, months, and years, we will be sharing our views on peace and conflict issues and events throughout the world. Each week we'll also provide an in-depth look at a particular issue that we think is worthwhile and perhaps doesn't garner much attention in other spheres. Diana got us off to a great start yesterday, and we hope you'll join us in our conversation as we move forward. We hope you'll enjoy the ride as much as we will.

22 July 2008

I leave town for 36 hours

... And all this happens.

On the first thing, good. About time. Curious to see if he makes it to The Hague though.

On the second thing, I'm not holding my breath.

And on the third thing, I'm wondering what happens next, as this is a thing I don't know much about but has piqued my interest.

18 July 2008

The media and torture

This morning I was glumly reading the NYT's article about the Hamdan case moving forward (an issue which I won't weigh in on as I lack sufficient knowledge of the relevant laws) when I stumbled upon this lovely gem of a quote in the bit covering former attorney general John Ashcroft's testimony on Capitol Hill yesterday:
“I don’t know of any acts of torture that have been committed,” [Ashcroft] said, adding that all the techniques fell within legally approved guidelines, including waterboarding, in which water is poured into the mouth and nose to produce a feeling of drowning.
My beef isn't with Ashcroft's denial of authorizing or know about acts of torture taking place -- that's to be expected from current and former members of the Sleaze Administration. What bothers me is the part that goes "to produce a feeling of drowning."

Let's be clear, waterboarding doesn't cause "a feeling of drowning." It actually entails drowning someone, hopefully stopping before someone has actually fully drowned, and is thus deceased. How many more journalists have to volunteer to get waterboarded (Christopher Hitchens being the most recent example) and how many more videos of 16-year-old kids held at Guantanamo do we have to release before the media actually stops believing whatever horse swill Bush and company throw at them?

Maybe this person will be a helpful critic of this kind of crap. Time will tell.

17 July 2008

Is the world really that scary?

The NYT ran a curious op-ed this morning by Jamie Gorelick and Slade Gorton, formerly of the 9/11 Commission, calling for a complete rethink/reallignment of the current presidential transition process (to the extent that any real process exists). While the idea of having presidential nominees line up people for key national security posts before they've won the election, and having those people be given access to lots of sensitive information well before November sounds nice at first blush, I wonder if the proposal is worthwhile or even plausible.

Candidates at this juncture are rightly concerned with campaigning. To be able to name their future cabinets in the summer before the election, they would have to expend incredible resources and take time off the trail, when they should be meeting with the American people writ-large, and not a few bright national security and foreign policy luminaries. Both McCain and Obama had difficult primary campaigns to endure, and it just doesn't strike me as realistic that they could name a whole slate of people for cabinet posts when it takes a few months just to identify a running mate. This is not to say that presidential candidates shouldn't think about who their final teams should be -- indeed, their campaigns likely reflect the inner circle that will follow into an administration -- but the timing may not be right. Further, is it a good idea to name the cabinet early on, and thus create bad blood among those who might be useful for the campaign?

The other major question I have about the proposal is whether or not it's smart to be doling out sensitive information to two potential National Security Councils before the election takes place. While I'm no fan of the Bush administration's secretive policies, at the same time there is some intelligence information out there that is rightly distributed to a limited audience. It seems to me that the dangers of leaks and all the rest grows higher if you put highly politicized people (campaigning campaign advisors/cabinet members to be) into that fray.

I do agree, though, that key posts need to be filled early on, and that the Senate should confirm as many nominees as possible on January 20. Yet doesn't this usually happen? Have we ever really gone weeks without a Secretary of State or Defense in recent memory?

The proposal has good ideas, I guess, but is maybe a little too far removed from reality to be useful.

11 July 2008

Who knew clean water could be so easy?

This little tidbit yesterday caught my eye. Apparently scientists in Switzerland have discovered that you can get clean, drinkable water by simply sticking it in a bottle outside.

Ok, there's more to it than that. The bottle has to be clean, clear plastic, no larger than three liters. It needs lots of sunlight and heat, which can be enhanced by setting the bottle on a sheet of corrugated iron, steel or aluminum. The variable then is the amount of sun the bottle catches. The process can take anywhere from six to 48 hours.

Nonetheless, a fascinating development for development.

Sudan and the ICC

As expected, we learned today that the International Criminal Court will indeed bring charges of genocide against the president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir. Part of me says "fantastic!" Yet my more pragmatic side thinks that the road ahead will be fraught with disaster.

For some far more detailed analysis than I could ever hope to provide, see this post by Alex de Waal over at Making Sense of Darfur. It includes a synthesis of the posts he solicited last month on what might happen if Bashir is indicted. Very much worth taking a look at.

We're all still monkeys

A friend of mine sent me this terribly fascinating piece today. Here's a quote to lure you in:
And although human males might not be inflexibly polygamous or come with bright red butts and six-inch canines designed for tooth-to-tooth combat, it was clear that our species had at least as much in common with the violent primates as with the gentle ones.
Basically, the author, Robert M. Sapolsky, tries to establish a biological history of peace and conflict in primates, including human beings. I'll admit to having been in the "we're the only beasts in the forest that line up and kill each other" camp, but have realized over time that's incorrect. Sapolsky goes on to explore not only instances of violence in different primate species, but also forms of conflict resolution, including this teaser line:
And then there is the sex.
The piece is long, but worth the read. It certainly casts a unique perspective on this whole peace business.

09 July 2008

About Jason

Jason currently works in the wonderful world of international education and exchange. He holds an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution from American University, with a focus in peacebuilding in Sub-Saharan Africa. His graduate field work involved working on a community reconciliation project for Liberian refugees at the Buduburam camp in Ghana. Jason received his bachelor's degree in history and political science from Guilford College. He also has a long history in working with Model United Nations programs, and blogs at Is that a gavel in your pants?

Areas of interest:
  • Peace education
  • Peace operations
  • Promoting the rule of law
  • Refugees
  • Transitional justice and reconciliation

25 June 2008

Electoral problems you don't hear about every day

We typically hear lots of stories about problems with running elections in developing countries: lack of technical expertise, lack of transparency mechanisms, lack of cash, erroneous voter rosters, etc. Of course, these problems lead to voter intimidation, ballot stuffing and the like. But sometimes things are worse than that.

First, in Zimbabwe, this story of how opposition supporters are concocting elaborate ruses as pro-Mugabe citizens in order to maintain their own security.

More disturbing is this piece from Cote d'Ivoire, about the increase in child abductions in the run-up to elections there, as candidates seek to perform human sacrifices to enhance their chances of winning.

Just goes to show that sometimes the basic problems just barely scratch the surface.

20 June 2008

U.S. Africa policy quick takes

This is what happens when you do nothing for far too long.

This is the kind of thing we should be doing when things goes wrong (give that man a medal).

And this is what we end up doing because we lack sufficient credibility to do anything else.

I think that's all pretty self explanatory.

21 April 2008

A discussion you should follow

FP's Passport and UN Dispatch (see sidebar) have teamed up to run a special blogging series, aka Peacekeeping Salon, featuring thoughts on the state of United Nations peacekeeping operations and imperatives for the next U.S. administration. The conversation is just starting, but it's worth a read. Click here to visit, and be sure to glance at the background paper here (pdf).

EDIT: If you need some convincing as to why the U.S. should be fully engaged in and supportive of UN peace operations, read this.

Dr. Livingstone, I presume?

The spiraling situation in Zimbabwe is of course a gross violation of virtually every tenet of democracy, but the rhetoric surrounding the whole affair may be even more frustrating for the casual observer like me. Just today, EU leaders lectured a SADC meeting about the need to do something to bring Mugabe into line and accept defeat. Yet for all the high-flying rhetoric about how somebody should do something, nobody seems to know 1) who should do said something, and 2) what that something might be. The West seems fairly certain that the SADC countries and/or the African Union as a whole should do the ambiguous thing, but haven't really said what the thing is. Meanwhile, the whole thing does have whiffs of colonialism floating about. The West says to the Africans "jump!" and then get annoyed when they don't respond with "how high?"

Basically, Mugabe, and more importantly, the security apparatus that supports him, are going to have to be engaged -- perhaps even threatened -- over the consequences of perpetuating their electoral farce. Rather than passing the buck as to who should act in some ambiguous way, some other nation needs to step up to the plate. South Africa is the logical choice here, but clearly that's not going to happen. Meanwhile, continuing declarations to the effect of "this is someone else's problem" doesn't do anyone in Zimbabwe any good.

Intestinal fortitude, anyone?

11 March 2008

Yet another example of a derailed national security policy

I applaud these women up in Greenbelt for their efforts to help military families stretch their incredibly limited resources. However, I continue to be sickened that we can't seem to provide a decent salary to the individuals (many of whom were already low-income) we send into the line of fire in wars with no clear objective and no end in sight.

That is all.

24 February 2008

Attempting to make sense of U.S. policy on African peace and security

For the past week or so, I've been trying to wrap my brain around U.S. policy toward Africa, in light of a presidential visit, the FY09 budget request, and the development of events on the ground.

First, an incredibly brief synopsis of the current security situation in Africa. The Ethiopian/U.S. intervention in Somalia has basically failed to bring security to the country, and has possibly made it worse. The whole point of supporting intervention in the first place was to root out terrorist threats there, but that obviously can't be done in a context of more generalized fighting. Just up the road, Ethiopia and Eritrea are in a period of heightening tensions, with Eritrea basically thwarting the UN peacekeeping mission along the border. Looking a little further west, implementation of the CPA in Sudan is more precarious than ever, the Darfur peacekeeping operation is pretty much stalled, fighting continues in Chad and C.A.R., which has led to refugees now flowing into Cameroon, and the EU peacekeeping mission for Chad/C.A.R. is basically on hold. There's a bit of hope that we might soon see some positive progress in Northern Uganda, and if so, that process might require some greater international assistance. Things in the eastern Congo are still tenuous. Who knows what will happen in Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, the countries of the Mano River Basin in West Africa are on the long, slow road to recovery, and need support.

In this context (or, perhaps, in spite of it), the Bush Administration has proposed a dramatic cut to its financial support to UN peacekeeping, which of course is in addition to our existing arrears to the peacekeeping fund. Instead, they propose focusing more exclusively on various troop training/peacekeeping capacity building programs through bilateral agreements. These programs have existed for several years now, under a huge variety of names, but generally focus on generating more professional armed forces that are trained in the intricacies of peace and stability operations. Although some somewhat shady partners get help through these programs (like Ethiopia), in general I think they're a good thing.

So what's the problem then? It's pretty simple, actually. All the trained troops in the world won't make a peacekeeping operation effective. Those troops need equipment, transportation, weaponry of various types (beyond the assortment provided through the programs above), and most importantly, civilian leadership in each mission. What's the point of having a bunch of trained troops if there aren't any missions to send them to? A peace operation is usually a pretty complex undertaking, and well-trained, professional security forces are but one part of them. With the number of UN and African Union peace operations continuing to increase in Africa, it is essential that the Administration look at the whole picture when making policy and budgetary decisions of this sort.

If, then, the Bush Administration thinks they're somehow promoting peace and stability in Africa through their robbing Peter to pay Paul funding logic, they definitely have another thing coming. If their proposal makes it into the actual 2009 budget (and based on last year's stunning performance by Congressional Democrats, it likely will), this will become yet another foreign policy mess that the next administration will have to clean up.

10 February 2008

Silly southern states... and I learned something

I was catching up on my blog/news reading today, and saw where the State of Georgia is working on legislation to redefine part of its northern border with Tennessee as a backhanded attempt at getting access to Tennessee's more abundant water resources. This in itself is a sad, yet bizarrely amusing development (as evidenced by the reaction to the news in Nashville). Yet I figured that since I grew up in the area in question, I would blog about a funny little bit of related history that only a local would know.

See, the section of border in question falls along the northern line of Dade County, Georgia, which is the state's most northwestern county. The old legend about "the State of Dade" is that at the beginning of the Civil War, residents of the county were pissed about the whole thing, and seceded from both Georgia and the Union. Some say this is because Georgia didn't secede fast enough (not really plausible given the Western half of the Southern Appalachians pro-Union tendencies), and others say (much more plausibly) that the county wanted to stay in the Union, and the only way it could think to do so was to secede from Georgia. Nobody would really notice the county being gone anyway, as there wasn't a road that connected it with the rest of Georgia until 1939 (you had to go through Tennessee or Alabama). In an elaborate ceremony in 1945, Dade County officially rejoined both the Union and Georgia -- allegedly Harry Truman even placed a phone call to the county to welcome them back. This was such a humorously big deal, that an article about it even ran in the New York Times.

So today while I was poking around the net looking for an actual link to point you to about all this hilarity, I learned that I was wrong. Dade County never did secede, and was indeed very pro-Union, like most poor mountain areas in the Tennessee River basin. Next time you and yours visit my old stomping grounds at Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, enjoy debunking one of the few old guides who might still tell the story of Dade County's secession (it always gets a fun reaction).

And now for me to stake out my ground in the current controversy: It'll be a cold day in hell before Tennessee shares part of its river with Georgians. It's bad enough that through a fault of geography, we have to share it with Alabamans.

04 February 2008

Did you ever notice...

How American media/attention spans (and to a lesser extent, the Western world more generally), can only focus on one African conflict at a time? After the holidays we had all Kenya all the time, with an occasional burst of news from the DRC when things in Kenya were looking calm. Now that there's been an uprising in Chad, Kenya has disappeared. Meanwhile, some blogs I follow have been practically pleading for people to consistently pay attention to things in places like Sudan, Uganda, and Somalia.

And, of course, there's always the bit about there never being any coverage at all of good news from Africa, but that's a book (several already written, in fact), in itself.

I'm probably roughly 400 years late to this particular parade. And it isn't necessarily something I haven't observed before. Just sayin'...

Meanwhile, today's piece in the Times magazine on Bernard Kouchner was a fascinating read. Check it out. It sheds some light on a few things.

23 January 2008

More good economic news...

Tourists no longer want to come to the United States! Yay!

Cuz... uh... we really don't need all those euros (and loonies)???

Seriously, we need to seriously consider our ass backwards immigration policies if an article in a major European newspaper first tells people that the United States isn't worth the effort, and then offers a list of comparable alternative destinations.

I leave you with this lovely sampling from the above, on the lovely welcome foreign visitors get at our borders:
A preflight e-interrogation, epic queues at immigration, thin-lipped questioning from aggressive border guards, and an outside chance of a rubber-gloved rectal rummage are all part of the fun. So, if Chertoff and co want to tighten Fortress America further, it’s time we considered other more welcoming holiday options. Such as Iran or North Korea.
Chertoff and company: you're brilliant, really.

18 January 2008

Tyrranical, monarchical rabbit announces presidential candidacy

Since I still can't decide who to vote for in the primaries, I've decided to just vote for my bunny, Buster. He immediately agreed to run, and his official campaign announcement is below.

O! Buster '08... The best there is!

You should vote for Buster. Why? Because Buster said to. Buster has a brilliant plan for Amerka. And what about experience? Buster already knows how to run a country, since he's currently the King of the Dutch Bunnies (conveniently/accidentally born in North Carolina for electoral purposes). That means Buster is a candidate you can trust.

So what does Buster stand for?

The EconomyBuster's economic stimulus package consists of having you ship him lots of cardboard to chew on. Think about all the cool stuff you can order online as a service to your country! And Buster "recycles" everything his little body consumes! Al Gore can't even claim that!

HealthcareWe've all had those embarrassing moments when our bodies do unbecoming things, sometimes disturbing those around us. Buster is here to help. According to a fortune cookie he ate tonight, a carrot a day will keep cancer away! By the end of his lifetime term of office, everyone in Amerka will have the healthcare they need.

National SecurityBuster's sheer intestinal fortitude will keep Amerka saferer. No terrorists. No extremists. No communists (are we even still afraid of them?). And no non-exploitable foreign immigrants.

Foreign PolicyBuster will travel the world to restore Amerka's once glowing international reputation. How else would he be able to satisfy his incredibly sophisticated pallet? And all you developing nations out there needn't worry. Buster eats a lot. A state visit will create jobs!

LeadershipUnlike some people who (have) occupy(ied) the White House, Buster knows what to do with a newspaper. That's the sign of a smart guy who's fit to run a country.

But after 8 years of government by idiots, can we really trust him?Of course. Buster's obligatory goofy campaign outfit is way more goofy than anything those other losers have tried on. And besides, you need to prove to your neighbors that you're not speciesist.

O! Buster '08. He'll make everything better!

(This message has been approved by HRH Buster Terry-Edelman, PhD^7, Esq.)

14 January 2008

Kenya: land of 1,000 explanations

As many of you are aware, there's been a bit of turmoil in Kenya since they had some elections that smelled fishy. While apparently most of the violence has calmed down, the situation is apparently still quite tense. But why did things go so bad, so fast, in the first place? I don't have an answer to that question, but I'll gladly point you towards several people who do:
  • Joel Barkan says it's basically a question of competing ethnic groups.
  • Colin Kahl follows down that path and adds agricultural land scarcity into the mix.
  • Stephanie Hanson goes a different route and suggests that the increasingly young Kenyan population is tired cronyism among the older political elite.
  • Also in the "it's politics more than ethnicity" camp are Steven Fish and Matthew Kroenig, who argue that the weak national parliament is to blame.
  • Finally, Aidan Hartley posits that a superficial process of democratization is to blame.
This looks like an especially tricky multiple choice test, doesn't it? Lacking any deep base of knowledge about Kenya, its people and its politics, I'm inclined to believe all of these people are right to some degree -- if for no other reason than that taken individually, their explanations are too simplistic to stand on their own.

However, one can piece these varying explanations into a framework that will probably start to sound familiar. The colonial power established a system of governance that favored a particular group(s) over others. With their hands on the levers of economic and political power, this favored group took advantage of more than its fair share of the country's resources. Realizing that this power was so lucrative, those in charge derailed any sort of democratic process for the sake of their own wealth. With checks on executive power effectively eliminated, the economy is plundered until change is demanded from below. Seeking to provide only enough "change" to keep the masses at bay, the elite "opens up" the political process. However, when real electoral competition sneaks in the back door, suddenly the openness ends and the population -- now bigger and younger than it was when this system first came into shape -- becomes quite disgruntled, and so here we are today.

Of course, this is an overly simplistic model too, and one completely lacking in situational context. But it does try to take into account a deeper historical perspective than often gets tossed around the punditocracy. In short, if you're looking for the root of any given conflict, and don't dig any more than thirty years deep, you're going to come up short. Here too, we see how academic biases to certain points of view color the analysis provided.

But this is also a common problem one finds in conflict resolution generally. There are often seventeen or so correct answers to one problem. In Kenya, the key to resolving this crisis will be to figure out which roots to address, and when.

01 January 2008

A completely speculative list of global things that may or may not occur in 2008

Method? Who needs it! In spite of my absurdly sporadic posting of late, I'm still alive and even still reading the news. And since it's now a new year, I've decided to motivate myself by making off the wall predictions about what I think will or will not happen in 2008. Bear with me, especially since these are in no particular order.
  • The topsy-turvy politico-military balance in Pakistan will likely get topsy-turvier before it gets better. Some people, however, have at least agreed that Benazir Bhutto's son is "cute."
  • In spite of the establishment of UNAMID today, nothing much will change in Darfur, because the P5 are hypocrites.
  • Olympics in Beijing! How many aspiring athletes will choke on smog? My guess is at least 10. Nonetheless, you will see a gold medal worthy PR operation all damn year.
  • The United States may or may not recognize Somaliland. I hope they do. No point in continuing to punish those that can actually govern a piece of land because those that cannot would be cranky.
  • Also in the United States, "U.S. Americans" will make excellent use of our maps and elect one of 16-odd people as president. This person, regardless of party, will most likely be an idiot, but slightly less so than the current incumbent.
  • Hugo Chavez will engage in dirty tricks to hold onto power. This may or may not backfire.
  • Things will get messy in Nigeria should a review panel determine that Yar'Adua's election to the presidency was illegitimate. Then again, the review panel may suddenly end up with fancy cars and houses just before they make their ruling, which might change their minds.
  • Dirty politics is also likely in South Africa, as Zuma and Mbeki try to sway the ANC.
  • Finally, will there ever be durable peace eastern Congo? Probably not this year.
I'm fairly certain I've missed a bunch of things here. Feel free to add to the list in the comments. I'll probably track these events as the year progresses, and if I'm lucky, will actually remember to write about them.