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Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

A friend posted a clip from Rachel Maddow titled (on YouTube, anyway) “Michigan is Screwed.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AUpO1QFMDtM&feature=player_embedded

For further reading on the tax legislation – the one taking $1.7 billion from the elderly, poor, and publicly-minded and giving $1.8 billion in tax breaks to businesses – see this article from the Detroit Free Press. And oh, by the way – that legislation? It’s protected from being repealed by a voter referendum because it contains a $100 appropriation. This is legitimate, Lt. Gov. Calley claims, because it will “be raised eventually to cover the cost of implementing a rewritten tax code.”

But the tax legislation isn’t what’s incensing most people; it’s the possibility of workers and voters losing their democratic rights. Similar situations are taking place in Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida, as Maddow says; in each state, the newly-elected Republican governments are quickly stripping away the rights of the people in a totally unprecedented – and unforeseen – manner. Yes, Republicans are typically for businesses and against government spending, etc., but taking away workers’ collective bargaining rights? Undermining the very foundation of the country’s system of government – democracy – by passing legislation (the House already has, and the Senate is on the verge of doing so) that would allow the governor to claim any city/town or school district to be in a “state of financial emergency” and, basically, swoop in and take over (replacing the current officials, elected by the people to represent the people’s wishes, with Snyder-selected individuals or corporations). These Snyder-selected officials would have the power to “reject, modify, or terminate the terms of an existing contract” that may have been in existence in the town already. That’s partial control of the economy and the majority of the budget right there. “…or a collective bargaining agreement.” Workers’ rights? Who needs ’em? (Oh, right, the workers. Not that there are many left in Michigan, but still.)  The ’emergency manager’ will also have the power to suspend or dismiss elected officials. Guys, this is not okay. If this piece of legislation passes, which it unfortunately probably will, it is very likely that voting citizens in certain towns will lose the right to elect their local government. This goes against every fiber of the foundation of our government – of the people, by the people, for the people…  The bill says, and I quote, that the manager will also have the power to “Disincorporate or dissolve the municipal government.”

Now, I mentioned briefly that all these new powers could be held not by an individual, but by a corporation instead. Excuse me? I do not want my town to be taken over by a corporation with only its interests. In what way, shape or form would that be good for anyone other than the business? How is that legal? How is this being allowed?

And how is this not getting the immense amount of national attention that it verily deserves?

Now, to be fair and balanced, it’s also likely that Snyder will use these ’emergency managers’ to swoop in and make positive changes in some corrupt or really far-gone areas that could use the help.  As for the tax cuts – pensions are distributed to a large number of Michigan’s population, especially with the age gap increasing, and taxing that isn’t a totally bad idea. However. It makes far more sense (to me, at least) to implement a budget-wide 4% cut, which would eliminate the $1.8 billion deficit without cutting too deeply into any one area.

No politics are perfect – but sometimes, some politics are less perfect than others.

Further reading:

http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2011/03/gov_rick_snyder_discusses_emer.html
http://www.mlive.com/grandblanc/index.ssf/2011/02/grand_blanc_superintendent_cal.html
Great breakdown of Snyder’s budget
Official list of budget elements

~ r

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Egypt’s Mubarak -hopefully soon to be ex-president – just wrapped up his speech (video, transcript) in which he announced that neither he nor his son would seek election in the next election, and that he would speed up the election process. However, he also tried to paint a picture of himself as a great leader, keeper of safety and protector of the public – definitely not what he’s been for the last three decades. He also subtly implied that the Egyptian people had a choice between security, stability and chaos – him or the next government, whether it be the Brotherhood or otherwise. A clever turn of phrase on his speechwriter’s part, but it obviously wasn’t good enough for the protesters (it’s long been used by the regime as a way to prevent or counter any opposition – the idea that if anyone but Mubarek were to run the government, the country would collapse). Those in the streets of Cairo and Alexandria are not satisfied; chants of “Leave, leave!”, “Not enough, not enough!”, “Revolution until death!” and “Get out, Mubarek!” are still being chanted by the thousands. Even as Mubarak was speaking, the crowd was booing and heckling. When Mubarak said that he’d lived on Egyptian soil and he would die on Egyptian soil, it could be read as a counter-threat, almost: Mubarak will not be another Ben Ali. But the crowds countered that with their own “Revolution until death!” chant. They want their change now, not in September, and they’re sticking to their demands. But Mubarek wants a clean exit, an honorable one – not being ousted by protesters and forced from his country. But someone will have to give.

Watch a live feed from various major Egyptian cities on Al Jazeera’s English live stream.

State-run news shows are now running a kind of video montage in tribute to Mubarak.

This is a ridiculous situation – or, if not ridiculous, certainly historic. First Tunisia (Ben Ali), then Egypt (more than 200 protesters killed in the past week), now Jordan (the king revamped his cabinet), Syria, and Yemen. Absolutely a domino effect. Until this gets settled – however long that might be, days, weeks… – my eyes and the eyes of the world will definitely be glued to Egypt (and Al Jazeera).

CNN has a helpful page full of breaking updates in chronological reverse order (newest first). Here.

~ r

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So my topic for the UM Honors College essay is: “Is the US becoming more divided?” I’ll post my actual answer on here once it’s all done – and so far, it’s a doozy – but I came up with this in the meantime. I probably won’t attach it with the official essay, as it may be considered offensive to some (coughcoughconservativescough, harrumph).

(To see the full version that you can actually read, click on it.)

~ r

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The war in Afghanistan: a big, broad topic that can’t be covered in one forum post. Over the past few years, particularly in conjunction with the Iraq War, the United States’ presence in Afghanistan has become more and more controversial. The root of this seems to be, primarily, confusion: many people tend to inextricably link the Iraq and Afghanistan wars when, really, they are two utterly separate enterprises. Before we get into details and debate regarding this decade’s Afghanistan war, though, let’s look briefly at the history of US involvement in Afghanistan (with the Taliban and Osama bin Laden). In the 1980s, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan; the Taliban, who had an extremely large presence in the country, fought back (they took control of the government in 1996 and were later overthrown). At the time, the United States’ relationship with the Soviet Union was still very much estranged – the Cold War was still tapering out, really. It seemed to make sense, then, for the US to back the Taliban in fighting the Soviets. The US armed and supplied the Taliban; after all, isn’t the enemy of our enemy our friend? Anyway, once the Soviet Union retreated, so did the US: we stopped the funds and supplies, but never bothered to really keep track of the sub-machine guns, grenades, and rocket launchers we gave to the Taliban. (Bit of an oversight there, I feel, though it would have been impossible to thoroughly do so.) As was previously mentioned, in 1996, the Taliban took control of the Afghani government; however, in November 2001, Kabul fell and the Taliban régime was officially over. Fighting continued, obviously, as an interim government was established; we all know that fighting still continues there today.

Right. Having given that small history, now we can discuss the Afghanistan war today. We went there after 9/11 for obvious reasons: retaliation against attack and a commitment to tracking down and eliminating terrorists. This action was deemed justifiable and reasonable by both the nation and the world; the nation gave Bush an approval rating of about 85 percent in November 2001, and Canada, France, Germany, and Australia pledged future support in Afghanistan. (According to NATO, in 2009, 42 countries had active troops in Afghanistan.) The US’s invasion of Afghanistan, at the time, was viewed as a necessary violent response: had we not responded as such, other terrorist attacks may have occurred. So in that sense, certainly, the Afghanistan war is rightly justified.

The trouble (confusion) arises when people forget that the US invaded Afghanistan for a reason; or, alternatively, that Iraq was responsible for 9/11. It is imperative that they be kept separate: Afghanistan was invaded as a reaction to 9/11, and Iraq was invaded to destroy weapons of mass destruction (which, we later discovered, didn’t technically exist).

So, having clarified all this, today’s Afghanistan War can be addressed to a slightly better degree. Now that troops are being pulled out of Iraq, there seem to be two major views on Afghanistan: one, that we should not be there now – that we’re not doing any good and that the Afghanis don’t want us there – and two, that we should stay in Afghanistan long enough. How long is long enough, though? Until the baby democracy really takes root and begins to sprout of its own accord, as any beginning government should? Until the Taliban is put down once and for all? Until peace is established?

It comes down to what our goals are, militaristically and politically, for the “new” Afghanistan. It seems incredibly unlikely that the Taliban will suddenly be snuffed out and peace will be established; on the contrary, the Taliban is probably the most resilient, determined group in that region – even the world. It would be unrealistic to believe that the world will ever fully be rid of them. As long as there is a Taliban presence in an area, though, any government established by an outside force (i.e. the US or the Soviet Union) is likely to teeter for a while before either being actively overthrown or simply crumbling; with either of those two results, one outcome is constant and that is a reigning chaos. The Taliban thrives is chaos; it is how they derives their power. As long as there is no central pillar (a powerful, dependable government) for the people to turn to, they are easily manipulated by insurgent forces like the Taliban.

This cycle is the true root of the seemingly insurmountable problems in Afghanistan. Despite having had a presence of one sort or another there for nearly three decades, the United States has not managed to make too much permanent, deep-seated change. Certainly, some good has been done, but the fact remains that despite attempts by the US (or any military, foreign or Afghani), the Taliban will retain their order and reform. Today, they’ve all but vacated Afghanistan (to some extent), but they’re not disbanded – they’ve simply moved next door to Pakistan (talk about the neighbors from hell!)

The big question being asked today, then, is whether or not we should still be in Afghanistan. A nation only supports a war as long as they feel it is both justifiable and, more importantly, winnable. Vietnam is the classic example for this: a war that dragged on and on, seemingly endless, sucking away at America’s youth, economy, and enthusiasm. There were troops overseas for years on end, and what did they have to show for it? Nothing. Nothing except a miserable defeat at the bitter end, a defeat which both the veterans and the country may have chosen to forget. No one wants a repeat of Vietnam; however, it seems to be that we’re well on our way to just that.

So will the Afghanistan war be “won”? It depends on perspective. “What the troop-contributing countries want to see is progress…” Gen. Petraeus says in the MSNBC clip. “I didn’t come out here to carry out a graceful exit or something like that; I came out here committed to achieving our objectives and doing everything can to do that.” Which means: we’ll have troops here until our objectives are reached. But what, the public wants to know, are those objectives, exactly? If it’s totally ousting the Taliban and their influence, removing Karzai and his corrupted government and replacing it, and bringing Afghanistan into the twenty-first century, there doesn’t seem to be much hope for that.

Afghanistan hasn’t been totally negative; we did go there with a purpose in the beginning. Once we branched out into Iraq, though, things got fuzzy – to say the least. The US experience in Iraq has definitely negatively affected the public perception of the Afghanistan war, and in situations like this, public perception is a large part of how things get played out. If the people want to leave Afghanistan and we don’t, then the country seems much more likely to turn to a Vietnam feeling of hopeless rage and, eventually (hopefully), protest.

For as long as my – our – generation can remember, Afghanistan has been synonymous with war, chaos, horror, and tyranny. Generations before us have known that and the generations to follow will know that. In the short-term view of things – say, the next decade or so – some positive progress may be made in terms of quelling the Taliban’s influence in the region and installing some semblance of a democratic government. However, in the long run, it seems inevitable that the country will fall back to its former ways – to the despair of the public and the world. Is this victory?

~ r

A few links for your reference and perusal:
Vision of Humanity’s 2010 Global Peace Index. (Afghanistan is ranked third most violent; Iraq is first.)
The Taliban in Afghanistan.
US in Afhganistan timeline.
Pie chart of troops in Afghanistan (by country).
Number of troops per country (overall, not just in Afg.)
Bush poll ratings.
Recent NYT article: election fraud in Afghanistan.


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Before I get into the issue – which really shouldn’t be an issue at all – I’d like to share this image and caption, found on Boston.com’s fantastic photography blog, The Big Picture.

Photo #38: Open doors, open minds: Emiratis and expats share an Iftar and talk about Islam and about the things that make us different and the things that make us all same – at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, in Dubai on September 3rd, 2010. (© Borisz Merei)

I strongly encourage everyone to go and look at the 40-odd public-submitted photos of the month of Ramadan. Having said that…

(Note:  debate is welcome, but keep it civil.)

The building of this mosque (and community center) is obviously an extremely inflammatory issue. Many Americans – 61%, according to a recent TIME poll – believe that building the mosque four blocks away from Ground Zero would be wrong: some merely view it as an action disrespectful towards those who lost their lives saving others’, while others go to an extreme, calling it a “monument to terrorism.” Because it is such a personal issue for so many, I’ll first delve into the purely legal aspect.

Freedom of religion is one of the most important beliefs in the US, one of the cornerstones of the Constitution. The freedom to practice any religion here is not limited to being allowed to enter a church, synagogue, mosque, or any other worship space. It also forbids anyone from being subjected to discrimination based on religious beliefs. If the ongoing debate over whether or not a mosque should be allowed to be built isn’t an example of religious discrimination, then I don’t know what is. Freedom of religion is freedom of religion no matter what the circumstances. The question posed is “Should the government allow the Islamic Center and Mosque to be built?” That should not even be a question. It is not the government’s right to censor, in any way, which religious buildings can be built. The matter of sensitivity is an entirely separate argument; however, that is the argument with which most people have come to associate the proposed mosque and community center.

One of the sadly ironic points of this situation is the fact that those who protest the mosque are exercising their freedom of speech to the fullest extent; however, rather than using that fought-for right to further promote justice and freedom, they are using it to condemn a religious group that is doing no more than exercising its right to freedom of religion. Why should one group be protected by both of those rights while another group is criticized and rebuked for doing the same?

Now on to the opinion/emotional aspects of the issue. Just like the Floridan pastor Terry Jones does not accurately represent the views of his entire religion, the 9/11 bombers – and indeed, every other radical Muslim – do not represent the beliefs of Islam’s followers or, necessarily, the Qur’an’s teachings. ‘The squeaky wheel gets the grease,’ the saying goes. Terry Jones received a ridiculous amount of attention for his stunt; now, religious (and otherwise) radicals across the country are planning Qur’an burnings of their own. Amazing how similar the situation is to that of the Islam extremists: the suicide bombers, hijackers, flag burners (hmm…) and crazed rally-holding members end up in the news, on television, and ultimately in people’s heads. The Muslims who say their prayers and don’t blow things up don’t get on the news. Consequently, the only image many Americans have of Muslims is that of the extremists. All Muslims are not related to al-Qaeda, just like all Catholics are not pedophiles. (Disclaimer: yes, I am Catholic. No offense meant to anyone else.) One’s perspective on an entire culture cannot be based off of a few of that culture’s outliers.

Another perfect analogy for the “Islamaphobia” today is the Japanese internment camps of World War II. While the US hasn’t quite reached that stage of unwarranted fear and hate, the situation is scarily similar. After Pearl Harbor, all Japanese Americans were viewed with suspicion. They were not to be trusted; they were viewed as threats to our safety. This wasn’t a matter of mere stereotypes, this was a matter of sweeping generalizations about an entire culture, an entire people. Now, we see the same thing happen with Muslim Americans. After 9/11 – and still to this day – there is an unfortunate (to say the least) generalizing view that all Muslims want to wave guns around a burning American flag, chanting “Death to America.” An infinitesimal minority of that culturedoes feel that way; however, the vast majority – the other 1.5 billion Muslims in the world – are just like us, simply living their lives and adhering to their religious beliefs.

The issue we are faced with is a matter of narrow-mindedness and lack of acceptance – for the most part. For those who lost a loved one on 9/11, building the mosque so close to Ground Zero may seem insensitive. However, insensitivity – a purely subjective thing, I might add – does not make the Muslims who would like a mosque terrorists. That view is simply a bigoted, uninformed one that should not hold as much weight as it currently does; it should not influence the implementation of a fundamental right.

~ r

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Quite an exciting day. After a (mere!) month of US-style debates and general public-pandering, Britain’s top dogs battle it out… etc… Labour and Conservative are neck-and-neck at the moment, but I need to go to sleep (first 9-miler since November has me totally wiped out), else I’d stay up to find out. Yeah, I’m kind of a dork  🙂

For more on the election – results and such, once they come in – check out the BBC and NYT.

For market info, I refer to the ever-trusty NYT Market Overview. Basic summary of what happened: Greece’s economic disaster (debt, bailouts, etc. – the whole deal) and resulting riots combined with the euro’s lowest value in over a year AND Proctor & Gamble’s accounting/stock estimates errors all led to sudden, drastic, worldwide stock drops.

(article at NYT here) – Market Drops Fueled by a Crisis, Anxiety and an Error.

And don’t even metion the Gulf of Mexico.

Right, off to bed. Night.

~ r

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So after all the controversy over this health care reform/overhaul/selling our souls to the devil/whatever you call it, it’s been passed. Or some skeletal structure of the original bill has. But hey, it’s a start. And for those of you who cry “Socialism!” – what’s so bad about that? Libraries, schools, roads, MediCare and Medicaid – it’s no different. And, as has been pointed out countless times over the past year (decade… whatever), we are among the last developed countries to not have socialized health care. It’s my personal opinion that those who argue that they don’t want to have to pay for others’ health care – that, to quote a classmate of mine, “shit happens” and people should deal with it – these people (in general) have questionable morals in my mind. They’re saying they don’t care about others, that they value money and the freedom to go bankrupt themselves over health care costs* rather than spread the cost over the country and have an equal bill.
*It seems to me that most people who protest the bill already have health care (IN GENERAL). How many uninsured single-parent types do you hear saying, “No! They’re going to insure us! Nooo! Freedom!” etc.?

For a handy little rumor-squashing 10-bullet summary of what the bill will bring about, check out PolitiFact’s article.

Well, now I’m all incensed about this. But, to change the subject:
Today at school, there was a presentation for Invisible Children and it made me want to do something. I’m not sure what, though… but I’ll think of something… That on top of the UN study that reported that more people die annually from contaminated water and contaminated water-related illnesses than all other forms of violence combined. That seems like it should be – is – a basic human right that needs to be amended as soon as possible. I mean, peace is desirable but war is inevitable – clean water is doable. Then there was Big Picture’s World Water Day photo series that drilled the point home. Take a look, people. It makes you think and look outside your own safe haven of a world and look at things that you probably don’t consider on a daily basis.


A boy swimming in a trash-filled lake in Manila Bay. (Reuters)


Determination in northern Kenya. After carrying gallons for miles, the women who gather these buckets compete with livestock to drink. (Nat’l Geo.)


Northern Kenya. (Nat’l Geo.)


A man drinking from a pipe in the ravaged city of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (Getty Images)


Mahendra Kumar surfaces to catch his breath as he dives into a polluted section of the River Yamuna to scavenge for ornaments and coins left by Hindu rituals at the river bank, in New Delhi, India, Monday, March 22, 2010. Officials say factories are ignoring regulations and dumping untreated sewage and industrial pollution, turning toxic the river that gives the capital much of its drinking water. (AP Photo)


A man paddling through a sea of dead fish in a tributary of the Amazon River. (Reuters)

Striking and thought-provoking, no?

~ r

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