Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Rush Loves The Lord's Resistance Army

Last week, the Obama Administration announced they would be sending 100 military advisers – primarily US Special Forces troops – to Uganda to help their military to deal with a shadowy insurgent group known as the Lord's Resistance Army (or LRA). According to Foreign Policy, radio host Rush Limbaugh was quick to take to the airwaves to condemn the move, accusing Obama of, among other things, forcing the US to take arms to help an oppressive Muslim regime to hunt down a noble band of Christians fighting for their right to live and worship in peace. According to Rush: “[The] Lord's Resistance Army are Christians. They are fighting the Muslims in Sudan. ....[The] Lord's Resistance Army objectives. I have them here. ‘To remove dictatorship and stop the oppression of our people.’ Now, again Lord's Resistance Army is who Obama sent troops to help nations wipe out.” The subtext of Rush's rant is that this is yet another battle in President Obama's, who is really an African and a Muslim, ongoing war on Christianity.

The problem with Rush's deft analysis, beyond the obvious, is that the LRA has nothing to do with either Christianity or fighting for liberty against an oppressive regime; one writer aptly described the LRA as a “death cult”. Their leader, Joseph Kony, might possibly be the vilest human being on the planet, and his core followers aren't much better. For nearly two decades the LRA has plagued Central Africa. Favored tactics of the LRA include mutilating people by cutting off their noses, ears and limbs as a way of spreading fear, or to descend on a village, slaughtering the adults and carrying away the children, pressing boys as young as nine or ten years old into their militia and allowing members to take similarly aged girls as “wives”. The LRA has nothing to do with the Lord, or resistance, but is really just a mechanism to keep Kony alive.

Of course Rush didn't seem to know any of this when he began his tirade. Limbaugh was acting as what we euphemistically refer to today a “low information individual”, or what in a less PC time we'd call a friggin' idiot, when discussing the LRA. Apparently at some point during his show, according to FP, one of his underlings must have looked the LRA up on the Internet and saw that they weren't quite the good Christian group Rush made them out to be. Limbaugh made a semi-retraction saying that they needed to do more research on the LRA – though anyone who has spent any time at all on Africa could have told him right off the bat that the LRA had more in common with the Manson Family than Jesus; the LRA was also the subject of an in-depth piece last year in The Atlantic.

But Rush was following that old adage of “why let the facts get in the way of a good story”, especially a story that so neatly played to the prejudices of his listeners.
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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Today's Editorial Cartoon

Pretty funny editorial cartoon today by way of Facebook:

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Newly-minted top-tier Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain actually injected foreign policy into the seemingly-endless Republican nomination battle this past weekend; of course the way he chose to do it was pretty sad indeed.

When asked about so-called “gotcha” questions put to presidential candidates – those questions that the candidate really shouldn't be expected to know the answer to, yet by not knowing they look unprepared for the job – Cain said, basically, that in running for president he doesn't really need to know who the leader of Uzbekistan is; his reply referencing a question posed to George W. Bush that started the whole “gotcha” campaign question phenomenon. Now in a broad sense, I think Cain has a point. There are 193 member-nations in the UN, I don't think it is right to expect someone running for the US presidency to know the leaders of them all, though I would expect a candidate to know, in broad terms at least, what kind of relationship the US has with the country in question and the larger regional issues surrounding it. Unfortunately Cain didn't make that simple point, rather he said it didn't matter if he knew who was the president of “Uzbeki-beki-beki-stan”. Way to make a valid point while sounding like a jackass there Herman...

I suppose it would come as a surprise for Mr. Cain to learn that Uzbekistan is an vital ally in our War on Terror operations in Afghanistan: the Uzbeks operate a link in the Northern Supply Route that ships material into Afghanistan, so if the Uzbeks were to decide to drop out of the Route, we'd have a really, really hard time keeping our 100,000 troops in-country clothed and fed – you would kind of think that makes Uzbeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan at least worth a little of his attention (the president, by the way, is Islam Karimov).

And Cain's pithy answer illustrates at least a partial answer to that oft-asked US foreign policy question: “why do 'they' hate us?” In part, it is because of the stunningly arrogant view some (or many) Americans have towards the wider world; that not much of it really matters, so why should we care how others feel? We Americans think nothing of chest-thumping exhibitions of patriotism, yet we never seem to think that other people from other countries might be just as proud of their homelands as we are of ours; even folks from Uzbeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan. On a personal note, a friend of mine was recently traveling to Central Asia and told me she'd be traveling on Uzbekistan Airways; the image that immediately popped into my head was of Borat and a biplane. But she assured me Uzbekistan Airways was a modern operation, and a quick check on Wikipedia showed that indeed it is – their fleet is made up almost entirely of Boeings and Airbuses, most of which are newer than those aircraft flown by domestic US airlines. I felt appropriately chastised.

But I'm also not running for president. If the current crop of Republican candidates, Mr. Cain included, are truly the best our nation has to offer for the most-important job in the land, maybe we shouldn't feel so proud.
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R.I.P, Al Davis

Al Davis, the iconic leader of the NFL's resident bad boys, the Oakland (nee LA, nee Oakland) Raiders passed away this weekend. That reminded me of my own memorable brush with Al a few years ago, a story my friend Dan said was too good not to share, so here it is:

I was taking a Southwest Airlines flight from LA to Portland, via Oakland. Southwest's policy at the time was that there were no assigned seats on their flights; instead you got a number at check in, boarded the plane in order and took any available seat, all of which I dutifully did when my number was called. I took an aisle seat in a three-seat row. I noticed that the older man sitting at the window was kitted out, head-to-toe in Raiders gear, and thought to myself “Wow, that looks like Al Davis.” I decided that it couldn't really be Al since a) I didn't think he'd so blantantly advertise by dressing like an advert from a Raiders gear catalog and b) why would Al Davis fly Southwest? So I settled into the little self-imposed cocoon I go into when I fly and got ready to endure the next few hours of travel to Portland.

A few moments later a boarding passenger noticed my aisle-mate and said “its great to meet you Mr. Davis,” they shook hands. A second passenger soon did the same. I noticed Al glance at me like he was expecting me to also pay my respects. I looked at my magazine instead, though I did notice that along with all the Raiders catalog gear, he was also wearing a huge bracelet with “AL” spelled out in diamonds on an onyx background – the Raiders colors, of course. As the plane filled a third, fourth and fifth person all paid their respects to Mr. Davis, who kept glancing at me, expecting me to do the same. By this time, I was feeling pretty self-conscious; I also would have felt like a real tool saying “Oh hi Mr. Davis” at this point, so I kept silent instead.

During the flight a few more people stopped by to say hello, talking to their icon over this strangely mute guy on the aisle who had the honor of sitting one seat away from Mr. Davis Himself (Al had announced earlier to one boarding passenger that he had in fact bought two seats for the flight so he could have the one directly next to him empty). When we landed in Oakland, Al got up to leave but not before our eyes locked and he gave me this long look that said, YOU REALLY DON'T KNOW WHO I AM?!?

And thus was my brush with the man, the legend, Al Davis, in the world of football, he will be missed.
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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

NATO's Humanitarian Hypocrisy

Reports coming out of Sirte, Libya point to an ongoing humanitarian disaster as a pitched battle for control of the coastal city drags on. Residents say that neighborhoods are bombed and shelled indiscriminately, doctors in the overwhelmed hospitals complain of shortages of everything from medicine to fuel for their generators, while tens of thousands of people remain hunkered down in their houses, fearful of retribution if they leave the city limits.

This sounds like exactly the type of situation NATO intervened in Libya to prevent as part of their “humanitarian” mission, except many of the bombs falling on Sirte are being dropped by NATO aircraft. Sirte is the hometown of Moammar Gadhafi, and is the largest remaining stronghold of support for the old regime. The Libyan rebels have launched several attacks trying to drive into the center of Sirte, but so far all have been turned back. So they appear to be falling back to the old Gadhafi-era tactic of just blasting the city to pieces. Rebel leadership claims that the civilian population of Sirte has fled and the only people left are militias loyal to Gadhafi; or alternatively that any civilians left in the city are being used by Gadhafi militias as “human shields”.

But reporters from Reuters offer a different view. They have talked with citizens in Sirte and report that while many still support Gadhafi, they are neither fighters nor human shields. Many, instead, are simply unwilling to abandon their homes or are more fearful of rebel retribution if they were to leave town than they are of falling bombs and mortars. There is some evidence supporting their fears; several weeks ago, the UK's Telegraph newspaper reported from Tawarga , a city of 10,000, now turned into a ghost town. Tawarga was a center of support for Gadhafi that fell to the rebels, who promptly emptied it. As one rebel commander said: “Tawarga no longer exists.”

A true humanitarian mission would prevent wanton revenge attacks like this, since in addition to being morally wrong, they also make the eventual process of reconciliation between the warring sides all the more difficult. But as NATO has managed to prove, the humanitarian mission talk was all a front anyway for a policy of ridding the West of a major irritant in Col. Gadhafi. NATO gave up any pretext of a humanitarian mission when they began to act as the de facto air force for the rebel movement, including staging precision bombing runs against Gadhafi's headquarters during the rebel's final assault on Tripoli. The generals back at NATO HQ in Brussels were probably disappointed when the rebels failed to find Gadhafi's body among the rubble.

Staging a humanitarian mission means protecting civilians, all the civilians, not just the ones who agree with your worldview. Through their actions, NATO and its member nations (the United States included) have shown that what's going on in Libya is not an exercise in humanitarian intervention, but rather a perversion of it.
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Africa's New “King Cobra”

Ok, I have to admit that I didn't pay a lot of attention to the recent elections in Zambia, I'm guessing neither did you. I saw that presidential elections were held and that there were protests when the vote counting was taking a suspiciously long time; I was surprised then to read that the challenger won, since long vote counts usually mean that it's just taking the ruling side more time than expected to fill out thousands of bogus ballots. After that, I just filed the Zambia story away and moved on.

That was too bad, since, thanks to this story from The Australian, it turns out the situation in Zambia is far more interesting than a few headlines would make you believe. The elections were indeed won by the challenger, the populist candidate, 74-year old Catholic Michael Sata, who is also known as the “King Cobra” for his sharp tongue, The Australian explains (and just to make the situation a little more interesting, Sata ran on a ticket with Guy Scott, a white Zambian, as his running mate). The main issue in the election turned out to be China.

Zambia is rich in minerals, minerals that China covets to keep their industrial machine rolling. China has had a relationship with Zambia that dates back to the 1970s, but Chinese efforts in the country have exploded in recent years as China's economy continues to grow – more growth means more and more need for the minerals that Zambia has in abundance. This need, combined with some heavy-handed Chinese business practices, has led to a growing wave of anti-China sentiment in Zambia, a sentiment that Sata was able to tap into to draw a line between himself and now-former President Rupiah Banda who is staunchly pro-Chinese. Sata used terms like “infesters” and “bogus” in describing Chinese businessmen in Zambia and played up on ill feelings left by the Banda regime's failure to prosecute Chinese managers who shot Zambian coal miners during a strike.

The situation in Zambia is a big example of a growing unease in Africa about just how deeply China is penetrating into the continent. While many African regimes have welcomed Chinese investment – especially regimes under international pressure like Sudan and Zimbabwe, since Chinese investment typically comes with no strings attached – there are also fears that the Chinese are acting like a new wave of colonists. Chinese projects typically extract raw materials – gold, coal, oil, etc. - either using African unskilled labor under Chinese management, or sometimes with imported Chinese labor. The result is a system that builds little value for the African nations beyond fees paid for the minerals themselves, which reminds some Africans too much of the old colonial days.

For his part, Sata seems unafraid of the mighty Chinese; unlike, perhaps, the South Africans, who canceled a scheduled visit by the Dalai Lama thanks to Chinese pressure. In addition to his sharp words directed at Chinese business interests, he also recently referred to Taiwan as a “country”, a reference that greatly upset Beijing. It will be interesting to see if other African leaders start to follow Sata's lead and look at China a little more skeptically.
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