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Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Paul Ryan’s Cramped Vision – NYTimes.com

In Politics, Really?!? on August 11, 2012 at 13:47

Paul Ryan’s Cramped Vision 

Mitt Romney’s safe and squishy campaign just took on a much harder edge. A candidate of no details — I’ll cut the budget but no need to explain just how — has named a vice-presidential running mate, Paul Ryan, whose vision is filled with endless columns of minus signs. Voters will now be able to see with painful clarity just what the Republican Party has in store for them.

RAs House Budget Committee chairman, Mr. Ryan has drawn a blueprint of a government that will be absent when people need it the most. It will not be there when the unemployed need job training, or when a struggling student needs help to get into college. It will not be there when a miner needs more than a hardhat for protection, or when a city is unable to replace a crumbling bridge.

And it will be silent when the elderly cannot keep up with the costs of M.R.I.’s or prescription medicines, or when the poor and uninsured become increasingly sick through lack of preventive care.

More than three-fifths of the cuts proposed by Mr. Ryan, and eagerly accepted by the Tea Party-driven House, come from programs for low-income Americans. That means billions of dollars lost for job training for the displaced, Pell grants for students and food stamps for the hungry. These cuts are so severe that the nation’s Catholic bishops raised their voices in protest at the shredding of the nation’s moral obligations.

Mr. Ryan’s budget “will hurt hungry children, poor families, vulnerable seniors and workers who cannot find employment,” the bishops wrote in an April letter to the House. “These cuts are unjustified and wrong.”

Mr. Ryan responded that he was helping the poor by eliminating their dependence on the government. And yet he has failed to explain how he would make them self-sufficient — how, in fact, a radical transformation of government would magically turn around an economy that is starving for assistance. At a time when state and local government layoffs are the principal factor in unemployment, the Ryan budget would cut aid to desperate governments by at least 20 percent, far below historical levels, on top of other cuts to mass transit and highway spending.

Those are the kinds of reductions voters of all income levels would actually feel. People might nod their heads at Mr. Romney’s nostrums of smaller government, but they are likely to feel quite different when they realize Mr. Ryan plans to take away their new sewage treatment plant, the asphalt for their streets, and the replacements for retiring police officers and firefighters.

All of this will be accompanied, of course, by even greater tax giveaways to the rich, and extravagant benefits to powerful military contractors. Business leaders will be granted their wish for severely diminished watchdogs over the environment, mine safety and food quality.

Mr. Romney had already praised the Ryan budget as “excellent work,” but until Saturday the deliberate ambiguity of his own plans gave him a little room for distance, an opportunity to sketch out a more humane vision of government’s role. By putting Mr. Ryan’s callousness on his ticket, he may have lost that chance.

 

Half a day with the “last Arab Jew” | The Chronikler

In News, Politics on August 7, 2012 at 07:48

Half a day with the “last Arab Jew” 

Sasson Somekh, critic and friend of the late Egyptian Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz, believes literature transcends politics and can bridge cultures.

Wednesday 1 August 2012

These are troubling times for Arab-Israeli relations. Arabs watch on with rising alarm as Israel continues to cement its hold on the occupied Palestinian territories and toys with the idea of denying that there even is an occupation. Meanwhile, Israelis look on with mounting apprehension as Egypt elects the unknown quantity of its first Islamist president and Syria slips further into civil war.

Amid all this uncertainty and distrust, one man insists on keeping his feet firmly planted on both sides of this chasm. Sasson Somekh describes himself as both a Jew and an Arab, as both Iraqi and Israeli.

This poet, academic, writer and translator of Arabic literature into Hebrew invited me to spend “half a day” with him, in a witty allusion to a little-known short story by Egyptian Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz. Penned in the latter years of Mahfouz’s prolific career, this allegorical tale relates the events of just half a day in which the narrator enters the school gate for the first time as a young boy in the morning and emerges as an old man in the afternoon.

“How could all this have happened in half a day, between early morning and sunset?” the elderly narrator asked, perplexed.

I wondered the same, as this sharp-witted tortoise of a man, slow of body but swift of mind, snailed through time and space to take me on a riveting journey from the contemporary Israel of his silver years, back to the disappeared world of his youth, Jewish Baghdad (which he eloquently evokes in the first part of his memoirs, Baghdad, Yesterday), via the literary salons of his middle age in Egypt.

Born in Baghdad in 1933 into a well-to-do, middle-class Jewish family, Somekh remembers summers spent swimming in and loungingby the majestic Tigris, the river along whose banks some of the first human civilisations were born. When temperatures soared and water levels dipped, a patchwork of small islets would emerge, providing ideal seclusion for family picnics, consisting primarily of fish grilled on a special covered Iraqi barbecue. “Those were the most enjoyable days of my life,” he recalled wistfully.

At the time, Baghdad was a very Jewish city, with Jews – who were active in all walks of life, including commerce, the professions, politics and the arts – comprising as much as a third of the Iraqi capital’s population. “When you walked down Baghdad’s main street, al-Rashid, half the names on the shops and offices were Jewish,” he noted.

Iraqi Jews were so enmeshed in their country’s social fabric that they described themselves, and were regarded, as “Arabs”, and viewed Judaism as a religion and not an ethnicity. As Somekh put it, he grew up with Arabic as his mother tongue and Arab culture as his reference point.

The ancient Jewish presence in Iraq led to some interesting cultural symbioses: Iraqi Jews traditionally wrote Arabic in Hebrew script and Baghdadi Jews spoke a vernacular that had died out among Muslims and Christians. Jews also affected Iraq’s daily life. For example, Somekh recalls, some Shi’ites, who worked for Jewish businesses switching their own day of worship to Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, during which Muslim neighbours often helped perform tasks Jews were ritually forbidden to carry out, such as lighting stoves.

Despite the image in Israel of Middle Eastern Jews being very traditional and religious, the educated or wealthy Jewish elites did not keep Sabbath and were very secular. Somekh, whose father was a senior clerk at a British bank, grew up knowing very little about his religious heritage, which was not even taught at the Jewish schools he attended.

During his teenage years, Somekh was a promising young poet who hung out in Baghdad’s vibrant literary salons and managed to get some of his poetry published. But his youthful dreams of a glittering literary career in his homeland were rudely interrupted by history and the shifting tectonic plates of geopolitics.

Though the vast majority of Iraqi Jews played no part in what befell the Palestinians, they were nonetheless blamed for it. And by 1951 the situation had become untenable.

Iraqi Jewish refugees in Israel were, like the Palestinians, settled in makeshift camps, a huge step down for the Somekhs from the comfort and prestige they had enjoyed in Baghdad. But eventually the family got back on its feet, and the young Sasson Somekh refused to give up on his literary dreams. “Literature is literature. Politics does not enter into it,” he told me with disarming simplicity.

Somekh not only became involved with the only Israeli literary magazine in Arabic at the time, one run by the Israeli communist movement, he also redoubled his efforts to learn Hebrew so that he could translate Arabic poetry into this new-old language.

Somekh’s crowning achievement was to become one of the foremost authorities on Naguib Mahfouz. When Somekh first took an interest in the Egyptian novelist, Mahfouz was almost unknown outside the Arab world. As there was so little information available on Mahfouz’s literature in English, the Nobel committee, according to Somekh, relied heavily on his PhD thesis to assess the Egyptian novelist’s work.

Intellectual interest soon blossomed into an improbable and controversial (given the Arab boycott of Israel) friendship between the Egyptian writer and his Israeli critic. The two men kept up a correspondence for years, and the pen pals were finally able to further their friendship when Somekh moved to Cairo in the mid-1990s, to head the Israeli Academic Centre.

“Our two peoples knew extraordinary partnership,” Mahfouz once confided in Somekh. “I dream of the day when, thanks to the co-operation between us, this region will become a home overflowing with the light of science, blessed by the highest principles of heaven.”

Israel’s Fading Democracy – NYTimes.com

In News, Politics, Really?!? on August 5, 2012 at 12:34

Israel’s Fading Democracy 

WHEN an American presidential candidate visits Israel and his key message is to encourage us to pursue a misguided war with Iran, declaring it “a solemn duty and a moral imperative” for America to stand with our warmongering prime minister, we know that something profound and basic has changed in the relationship between Israel and the United States.My generation, born in the ’50s, grew up with the deep, almost religious belief that the two countries shared basic values and principles. Back then, Americans and Israelis talked about democracy, human rights, respect for other nations and human solidarity. It was an age of dreamers and builders who sought to create a new world, one without prejudice, racism or discrimination.Listening to today’s political discourse, one can’t help but notice the radical change in tone. My children have watched their prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, kowtow to a fundamentalist coalition in Israel. They are convinced that what ties Israel and America today is not a covenant of humanistic values but rather a new set of mutual interests: war, bombs, threats, fear and trauma. How did this happen? Where is that righteous America? Whatever happened to the good old Israel?Mr. Netanyahu’s great political “achievement” has been to make Israel a partisan issue and push American Jews into a corner. He has forced them to make political decisions based on calculations that go against what they perceive to be American interests. The emotional extortion compels Jews to pressure the Obama administration, a government with which they actually share values and worldviews, when those who love Israel should be doing the opposite: helping the American government to intervene and save Israel from itself.Israel arose as a secular, social democratic country inspired by Western European democracies. With time, however, its core values have become entirely different. Israel today is a religious, capitalist state. Its religiosity is defined by the most extreme Orthodox interpretations. Its capitalism has erased much of the social solidarity of the past, with the exception of a few remaining vestiges of a welfare state. Israel defines itself as a “Jewish and democratic state.” However, because Israel has never created a system of checks and balances between these two sources of authority, they are closer than ever to a terrible clash.In the early years of statehood, the meaning of the term “Jewish” was national and secular. In the eyes of Israel’s founding fathers, to be a Jew was exactly like being an Italian, Frenchman or American. Over the years, this elusive concept has changed; today, the meaning of “Jewish” in Israel is mainly ethnic and religious. With the elevation of religious solidarity over and above democratic authority, Israel has become more fundamentalist and less modern, more separatist and less open to the outside world. I see the transformation in my own family. My father, one of the founders of the state of Israel and of the National Religious Party, was an enlightened rabbi and philosopher. Many of the younger generation are far less open, however; some are ultra-Orthodox or ultranationalist settlers.This extremism was not the purpose of creating a Jewish state. Immigrants from all over the world dreamed of a government that would be humane and safe for Jews. The founders believed that democracy was the only way to regulate the interests of many contradictory voices. Jewish culture, consolidated through Halakha, the religious Jewish legal tradition, created a civilization that has devoted itself to an unending conversation among different viewpoints and the coexistence of contradictory attitudes toward the fulfillment of the good.

 

US food aid programme criticised as ‘corporate welfare’ for grain giants | Global development | The Guardian

In News, Politics on July 19, 2012 at 07:04

Sacks of American wheat destined for Afghanistan being unloaded in Peshawar, Pakistan.

US food aid programme criticised as ‘corporate welfare’ for grain giants | Global development

• Get the data

Two-thirds of food for the billion-dollar US food aid programme last year was bought from just three US-based multinationals.

The main beneficiaries of the programme, billed as aid to the world’s poorest countries, were the highly profitable and politically powerful companies that dominate the global grain trade: ADM, Cargill and Bunge.

The Guardian has analysed and collated for the first time details of hundreds of food aid contracts awarded by the US department of agriculture (USDA) in 2010-11 to show where the money goes.

ADM, incorporated in the tax haven state of Delaware, won nearly half by volume of all the contracts to supply food for aid and was paid nearly $300m (£190m) by the US government for it. Cargill, in most years the world’s largest private company and still majority owned by the Cargill family, was paid $96m for food aid and was the second-largest supplier, with 16% of the contracted volume. Bunge, the US-headquartered global grain trader incorporated in the tax haven of Bermuda, comes third in the list by volume, and was paid $75m to supply food aid.

Together, these three agribusinesses sold the US government 1.2m tonnes of food, or almost 70% of the total bought.

Critics of the US system of food aid have complained for years that the programme is as much about corporate welfare for American companies as helping the hungry overseas.

Eric Munoz, agriculture policy analyst for Oxfam America, said: “This new information makes it abundantly clear that it is massive multinational firms – not rural America and not farmers – that are the direct beneficiaries of the rigged rules governing the US food aid programme.

“The more the reality of who benefits from these deals is exposed to the light of transparency and open debate, the less defensible current policy becomes,” said Munoz.

A USDA spokesman defended the aid programme, however, saying it benefited 33 million people worldwide between 2009 and 2012 while supporting jobs in the US.

“Farming operations of all sizes often sell their grain or other goods to larger entities for storage and distribution (or processing in some cases), benefiting the entire value chain and US economy,” he said.

But aid experts questioned whether the programme represented value for money and was the best way of feeding hungry people in poor countries.

 

Journalists who allow quote approval become complicit in political spin | Jeff Jarvis | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk

In News, Politics on July 18, 2012 at 20:35

Obama speaks to reporters on Air Force One

Journalists who allow quote approval become complicit in political spin 

It’s shocking enough for The New York Times to report that it and other news organizations are now giving the White House and campaign sources from both parties quote approval – the ability to clean up, tighten up, tone down, rethink, and kill the embarrassing (and perhaps candid) bits from what they end up saying in print.

It’s worse that we’re learning of this only now, long after granting quote approval has clearly become standard operating procedure in what we used to call political journalism – but what a Mother Jones tweet relabeled stenography (or I’d say flackery).

This is not how I was brought up in journalism. I was taught never to give sources or subjects approval – or any detailed foreknowledge – of what we were to publish. To do so would have been a gross violation of professional ethics.

When I arrived at People magazine 30 years ago (and you may feel free to insert your own punchline here about that being the moment I left journalism … or about my age), I was shocked that the magazine gave photo approval and sometimes even reporter approval to the stars. But back then, even People refused demands for quote approval, even from the press agents for celebrities who had little to say anyway.

Now journalists give quote approval to the White House. Now politicians and their agents demand it and journalists cave. Quietly. Shamefully.

I realize there could be an argument in favor of checking quotes with sources: accuracy. But the modern technology of sound recording pretty much handles that. I have also witnessed the fact-checking regime in magazines, both as a writer and a source, and recognize that it provides an opportunity to try to backtrack on what has been said (though the good reporter will have a recording or good notes and a good reputation to fend off a source’s second thoughts). I’ve also been the beneficiary of the public radio show On the Media’s practice of editing out an interviewee’s verbal ticks and pauses, and I’m, um, well, y’know, like … grateful for that. It’s the substance that matters.

It’s also true that quote approval is given in other nations. I was gobsmacked the first time a German reporter offered to read back my quotes before publication. I later found it’s common practice there (but then, so is accepting journalist discounts for various goods and services).

The Times points to the wrenching choice journalists apparently face, having been quite rightly hammered for publishing quotes from anonymous sources. So isn’t taking doctored quotes from named sources the lesser of evil choices? No, it’s not.

When journalists give sources the opportunity to fix up what they’ve said, we become complicit in their spin. When we do so without revealing the practice, we become conspirators in a lie to the people we are supposed to serve: the public.

Besides, this is the age of 24-hour news and millisecond-reflex Twitter, when at the moment of an inane utterance, reaction is immediate. Some gaffes are just that – stupid mistakes, revealing little, and it’s our fault when we in media obsess on them or allow political opponents to do so. But some gaffes are not gaffes at all but revelations or attempts at spin that deserve to be exposed and not erased – witness campaign adviser Ed Gillespie’s attempt to argue on CNN Sunday that Mitt Romney had “retroactively retired” from Bain Capital. (I jumped on to Twitter immediately and gleefully with a #retroactiveromney hashtag.)

If TV, radio, and online become the media of spontaneity, without the option of retroactively rechoreographing a misstep, then what does that make printed news with its quotes now sanitized for sources’ protection? Propaganda?

In the end, I’m glad the Times has finally fessed up on behalf of my profession and revealed this sin of omission. I hope and assume the article is a tactic in winning back our publishing prerogative and pride.

Indeed, the Times article came on the very day that the paper appointed a new public editor (read: ombudsman), Margaret Sullivan, who served as editor of the Buffalo News for 12 years and worked there for 32. The Times had also considered some more digitally oriented candidates (including Dan Gillmor, who, true to transparent form, blogged his suggestions to the paper). I’ll hope it’s a good sign that there’s a traditional editor in the role who might just insist on returning to the long-held tradition of never giving sources quote approval.

 

Bullies on the Bus – NYTimes.com

In News, Politics on June 23, 2012 at 20:34

Bullies on the Bus– Bob Herbert NYT

Whether it is a Republican debate audience booing a gay soldier or Rush Limbaugh’s vicious attack on a female Georgetown law student or Newt Gingrich’s salvos at the poor, bullying has become boilerplate. Hiss and taunt. Tease and intimidate. Target your enemies and torture them mercilessly. Maintain primacy through predation.

Traditionally inferior identity roles are registered in a variety of ways. For Klein, she was elderly and female and not thin or rich. For others, it is skin color, country of origin, object of affection or some other accident of birth.

The country is changing, and that change is creating friction: between the traditional ruling classes and emerging ones; between traditional social structures and altered ones; between a long-held vision of an American ideal and growing reality that its time has passed.

And that change is coming with an unrelenting swiftness.

Last month, the Census Bureau reported that for the first time in the country’s history, minority births outnumbered those of whites. And The New York Times recently highlighted a Brookings Institution demographer’s calculations that, “minorities accounted for 92 percent of the nation’s population growth in the decade that ended in 2010.”

Furthermore, there are now more women in college than men, and a Pew Research Center poll published in April found that, “in a reversal of traditional gender roles, young women now surpass young men in the importance they place on having a high-paying career or profession.”

A Gallup poll released Thursday found that a record number of people (54 percent) say that they would be willing to vote for an atheist for president, and a Gallup poll last month found that more people support same-sex marriage than oppose it.

These dramatic shifts are upending the majority-minority paradigm and are making many people uneasy.

The Republican-Democratic divide is increasingly becoming an all-white/multicultural divide, a male/female divide, and a more religious/less religious divide — the formers the traditional power classes, and the latters the emerging ones.

This has led to some increasingly unseemly attacks at traditionally marginalized groups, even as — and possibly particularly because — they grow more powerful.

Women are under attack. Hispanics are under attack. Minority voting rights are under attack. The poor are under attack. Unsurprisingly, those doing the attacking in every case are from the right.

Seldom is power freely passed and painlessly surrendered, particularly when the traditionally powerful see the realignment as an existential threat.

The bullying on that bus was awful, but so is the bullying in our politics. Those boys were trying to exert power over a person placed there to rein them in. But bullying is always about power — projecting more than you have in order to accrue more than your share.

Sounds like the frightened, insecure part of American society.

 

How Racist Are We? Ask Google – NYTimes.com

In Politics, Really?!? on June 11, 2012 at 15:02

How Racist Are We? Ask Google 

By SETH STEPHENS-DAVIDOWITZ

Barack Obama won 52.9 percent of the popular vote in 2008 and 365 electoral votes, 95 more than he needed. Many naturally concluded that prejudice was not a major factor against a black presidential candidate in modern America. My research, a comparison of Americans’ Google searches and their voting patterns, found otherwise. If my results are correct, racial animus cost Mr. Obama many more votes than we may have realized.

Quantifying the effects of racial prejudice on voting is notoriously problematic. Few people admit bias in surveys. So I used a new tool, Google Insights, which tells researchers how often words are searched in different parts of the United States.

Can we really quantify racial prejudice in different parts of the country based solely on how often certain words are used on Google? Not perfectly, but remarkably well. Google, aggregating information from billions of searches, has an uncanny ability to reveal meaningful social patterns. “God” is Googled more often in the Bible Belt, “Lakers” in Los Angeles.

The conditions under which people use Google — online, most likely alone, not participating in an official survey — are ideal for capturing what they are really thinking and feeling. You may have typed things into Google that you would hesitate to admit in polite company. I certainly have. The majority of Americans have as well: we Google the word “porn” more often than the word “weather.”

And many Americans use Google to find racially charged material. I performed the somewhat unpleasant task of ranking states and media markets in the United States based on the proportion of their Google searches that included the word “nigger(s).” This word was included in roughly the same number of Google searches as terms like “Lakers,” “Daily Show,” “migraine” and “economist.”

GRAPHIC

Racially Charged Web Searches and Voting

A huge proportion of the searches I looked at were for jokes about African-Americans. (I did not include searches that included the word “nigga” because these searches were mostly for rap lyrics.) I used data from 2004 to 2007 because I wanted a measure not directly influenced by feelings toward Mr. Obama. From 2008 onward, “Obama” is a prevalent term in racially charged searches.

The state with the highest racially charged search rate in the country was West Virginia. Other areas with high percentages included western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, upstate New York and southern Mississippi.

Once I figured out which parts of the country had the highest racially charged search rates, I could test whether Mr. Obama underperformed in these areas. I predicted how many votes Mr. Obama should have received based on how many votes John Kerry received in 2004 plus the average gain achieved by other 2008 Democratic Congressional candidates. The results were striking: The higher the racially charged search rate in an area, the worse Mr. Obama did.

Consider two media markets, Denver and Wheeling (which is a market evenly split between Ohio and West Virginia). Mr. Kerry received roughly 50 percent of the votes in both markets. Based on the large gains for Democrats in 2008, Mr. Obama should have received about 57 percent of votes in both Denver and Wheeling. Denver and Wheeling, though, exhibit different racial attitudes. Denver had the fourth lowest racially charged search rate in the country. Mr. Obama won 57 percent of the vote there, just as predicted. Wheeling had the seventh highest racially charged search rate in the country. Mr. Obama won less than 48 percent of the Wheeling vote.

Add up the totals throughout the country, and racial animus cost Mr. Obama three to five percentage points of the popular vote. In other words, racial prejudice gave John McCain the equivalent of a home-state advantage nationally.

Yes, Mr. Obama also gained some votes because of his race. But in the general election this effect was comparatively minor. The vast majority of voters for whom Mr. Obama’s race was a positive were liberal, habitual voters who would have voted for any Democratic presidential candidate. Increased support and turnout from African-Americans added only about one percentage point to Mr. Obama’s totals.

If my findings are correct, race could very well prove decisive against Mr. Obama in 2012. Most modern presidential elections are close. Losing even two percentage points lowers the probability of a candidate’s winning the popular vote by a third. And prejudice could cost Mr. Obama crucial states like Ohio, Florida and even Pennsylvania.

There is the possibility, of course, that racial prejudice will play a smaller role in 2012 than it did in 2008, now that the country is familiar with a black president. Some recent events, though, suggest otherwise. I mentioned earlier that the rate of racially charged searches in West Virginia was No. 1 in the country and that the state showed a strong aversion to Mr. Obama in 2008. It recently held its Democratic presidential primary, in which Mr. Obama was challenged by a convicted felon. The felon, who is white, won 41 percent of the vote.

In 2008, Mr. Obama rode an unusually strong tail wind. The economy was collapsing. The Iraq war was unpopular. Republicans took most of the blame. He was able to overcome the major obstacle of continuing racial prejudice in the United States. In 2012, the tail wind is gone; the obstacle likely remains.

 

African leaders urge UN intervention in Mali – Al Jazeera English

In Politics on June 10, 2012 at 14:52

 

African leaders urge UN intervention in Mali

Another conflict that no one is paying attention to.

 African leaders have called on the United Nations to back military intervention in northern Mali, currently controlled by feuding armed groups.

Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, the head of the ECOWAS Commission, the body that represents nations in West Africa, said on Thursday: “ECOWAS is ready to send men for this mission which will be costly and difficult due to the hostile terrain. It counts on the contribution of the international community.

“In order to do this it will introduce with the support of the African union a request to the Security Council of the United Nations to vote on a resolution that will give a legal framework and international legitimacy to our action.”

Mali, once regarded as a fine example of African democracy, collapsed into chaos after soldiers toppled the president in March, leaving a power vacuum in the north that enabled Tuareg rebels to take control of nearly two-thirds of the country.

But the uprising also has involved a mix of local and foreign Islamists, who appear to be better armed and appear to have the upper hand in the rebel-occupied north with Western nations concerned about a real risk of the region slipping into a lawless no-man’s land.

‘Jihadi fighters’

Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou warned on Thursday that Jihadi fighters from Afghanistan and Pakistan are training Islamist groups in northern Mali.

“We have information on the presence of Afghans and Pakistanis in northern Mali… They are believed to be working as instructors,” he told the France 24 news channel.

“They are the ones who are training those who have been recruited across various west African countries,” said Issoufou, whose country shares a long and porous desert border with Mali.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has been active for years in northern Mali, where it has launched attacks against government army positions, kidnapped foreigners and allegedly benefited from drug running.

Issoufou said the Islamist groups are part of a global network spanning much of Africa and reaching all the way to Afghanistan.

“I think all these organisations co-operatamongst themselves, whether the Shabab in Somalia, Boko Haram in Nigeria, AQIM in Algeria and in the Sahel in general, all the way to Afghanistan,” he said. “Our concern is that the Sahel not become a new Afghanistan.”

ECOWAS has said for weeks it has men ready to be sent to Mali, but sources close to peacekeeping officials said the price tag of more than $200 million and confusion over the mission’s objectives mean deployment is still far off.

Participants at a meeting of officials from the African Union, the western African grouping ECOWAS and the United Nations agreed on the need for the AU to make “a formal request” for UN backing for intervention to re-establish Mali’s territorial integrity, according to the meeting’s final document.

The meeting in Abidjan “recognised the need to mobilise the appropriate means, including military,” to help the Malian state to restructure its army and restore its authority over the north of the country as soon as possible as well as to “combat terrorist groups.”

At the Abidjan meeting, Daniel Kablan Duncan, Ivory Coast’s foreign minister, said a Chapter 7 mandate must be considered to reunite the country if talks with armed groups failed to resolve a crisis.

Tuareg and Islamists rebels have seized control in the north, but disagreements over the creation of a breakaway state persist, particularly over the implementation of Islamic law.

The rival groups, who seized the main cities in northern Mali after a March 22 coup in the southern capital Bamako, hold separate ideologies and objectives and the relationship has been an uneasy one.

The UN, AU and ECOWAS officials also called for the immediate dissolution of the ex-junta which came to power following the March coup by low-ranking officers, and for it to take no further part in the country’s transition.

The rebels have officially ceded power to interim authorities but remain omnipresent.

Mali’s transitional leaders have stressed their wish to restore the country’s territorial integrity but seem unable to guarantee their own safety, let alone mount a credible challenge against the north’s new masters.

Those meeting in the Ivory Coast capital also called on the Mali army to work exclusively “towards the preservation and defence of the unity and territorial integrity of Mali,” and only under the authority of the interim president and government.

The UN, African Union and ECOWAS officials in Abidjan stressed that they would provide financial and logistical support for the efforts at stabilising the country.

 

UK government moves to outlaw forced marriage- Al Jazeera English

In Politics on June 10, 2012 at 14:42

UK government moves to outlaw forced marriage –

Parents in England and Wales who force their children to marry will face jail time under newly proposed laws announced by the British government.

The plans to make forced marriage a criminal offence come after officials handled over 2,000 possible cases of people coerced into matrimony since January 2011, the home office said on Friday.

According to a home office consultation on forced marriages, more than half of cases in England and Wales involved women from Pakistan, while cases involving women from Bangladesh and India accounted for another 20 per cent of the total.

About 35 per cent of marriages involved girls under 18 years old, while 13.5 per cent involved girls who were 16 or under.

“Forced marriage is abhorrent and is little more than slavery,” said David Cameron, the British prime minister, said. “To force anyone into marriage against their will is simply wrong and that is why we have taken decisive action to make it illegal.”

The government hopes to introduce the legislation to parliament by 2014, the home office said. The scale of sentences that could be handed out will be detailed in the legislation.

The move came after the consultation which took views from the public, charities and victims. Theresa May, the UK home secretary, described forced marriage as an “appalling practice” in a statement.

Aneeta Prem, the founder of Freedom Charity, a UK-based organisation which campaigns against forced marriages, acknowledged that there might be difficulty in convincing women to come forward.

“But if you look at England, 30 years ago, we had the same argument about domestic violence,” she told Al Jazeera. “When we talk about forced marriage, we’re talking about abuse.”

 

Is This Maine Independent the Solution to Our Partisan Woes? – The Atlantic

In News, Politics on June 10, 2012 at 14:38

angusking.banner.AP.png

Is This Maine Independent the Solution to Our Partisan Woes? 

 Angus King is trying to turn back time in this state. I hope he can do the same across the country.

In a speech Saturday morning, the self-made millionaire turned independent politician deftly displayed the qualities that helped him serve as a popular two-term governor here from 1995 to 2003. The 68-year-old hailed Abraham Lincoln, Bill Bellichick, Sam Walton and his teenage son in a 30 minute talk that made the audience at the Maine Historical Society’s annual meeting howl with laughter. King was a self-deprecating, pragmatic and non-partisan everyman, a character type that flinty and fiercely independent Maine voters have sent to Washington for decades.

But as in the rest of the nation, politics in Maine have dramatically changed in recent years. The state’s dynamic new political force is Governor Paul LePage, a take-no-prisoners, Tea Party-backed conservative Republican. Since winning a three-way race for governor with 39 percent of the vote in 2010, LePage has assailed public employee unions, unleashed blistering attacks on his opponents and delighted his conservative Republican base. Like them or not, the Tea Party has out-organized its rivals and gained an out-sized voice.

King, a former Democrat who now rejects both Republican and Democratic dogma, is either an anachronism or a sign that some voters are tiring of partisanship. Keep in mind that a record number of Americans — 40 percent — identified themselves as independent in a January Gallup poll; 31 percent identified as Democrats and 27 percent as Republicans.

For now, King is the favorite to win the Senate race. And in one unlikely but possible scenario, he could bethe deciding vote in an evenly divided Senate.

A lawyer, businessman and 18-year-host of the Maine public television show “Maine Watch,” King’s long-shot campaign for governor in 1994 was the first time he had ever run for public office. Bitter partisanship between Democrats and Republicans and a Green Party candidate who drew 6 percent of the vote, helped King eke out a win with 35 percent of the vote. So did the $950,000 that King — whose alternative energy business boomed at the time — spent on the race.

In office, King supported abortion rights but opposed increasing the minimum wage. He oversaw the largest increase in conservation lands in Maine’s history but opposed regulations supported by environmental groups. And while cutting some taxes, he backed a program that gave every seventh and eighth grade student in the state a laptop computer.

Re-elected in a landslide in 1998, he supported George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential campaign — “I thought he was a compassionate conservative,” King told me in an interview after his Historical Society stemwinder — but backed John Kerry in 2004. “I didn’t like the direction that the Bush administration had taken,” he explained, “particularly in starting two wars and tax cuts that weren’t funded.”

As evidence of his bipartisanship, King’s campaign says the bills he proposed during his eight years in office had 891 Democratic sponsors or co-sponsors and 755 Republican sponsors or co-sponsors. His self-described political philosophy is “I call ’em as I see ’em.”

More than anything, King is an iconoclast. The day after he completed his second term in office, he, his wife and two youngest children set out on a five-month road trip across the United States. King, a self-described environmentalist, piloted a diesel-burning, 40-foot long RV with a car towed behind for 15,000 miles through 33 states. He also owns a Harley.

Olympia Snowe’s surprise February decision to not seek reelection prompted King to enter the race. Her complaint that partisanship had made it impossible to get anything done in Washington is King’s battle cry.

The independent argues that average Americans are turning less partisan, not more partisan. “I think we’re divided among the people who talk a lot,” he said.

As he campaigned, he says, he hears a clear message from 95 percent of voters. “Why can’t they talk to each other?,” he said, paraphrasing voter questions. “What happened to common sense? Why can’t they work together?”

King said he was “neither arrogant enough nor naïve enough” to think he can single-handedly ease Washington’s partisanship. But he believes there is a “nascent moderate caucus” of senators from both parties “who realize that things are not going right.” In a closely divided Senate, that group could be “very influential.”

King will not say which party he will caucus with, if elected, but in this year’s presidential election, he is backing Obama. He said Mitt Romney’s failure to support the bailout of the auto industry or the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan, as well as his hawkish foreign policy advisers, worry him.

At the same time, he opposes some of Obama’s signature decisions, including Dodd Frank financial industry regulations, the troop surge in Afghanistan and the president’s own failure to embrace Simpson-Bowles as a bipartisan compromise. King said he would have supported the 2009 stimulus and Obamacare as imperfect answers to dire problems.

On the economy, King accuses both parties of embracing false “silver bullets.” Liberal calls for increased stimulus spending and conservative calls for tax cuts are not panaceas. He says the government should spend heavily on infrastructure, research and development and education, but end its role there.

“We need the federal government to provide infrastructure and leadership on issues like education and research,” he said. “But in the long run the federal government cannot be the creator of jobs.”

As both parties become more partisan, according to King, they are driving “whole swathes” of voters to become independents.

“They have essentially purged or otherwise narrowed their bases,” he said. “But by doing that they’ve pushed a lot of people toward the center.”

King is leading in the polls and Maine political scientists say the race, for now, is his to lose. But with control of the Senate potentially at stake, both national parties — and so-called Super PACs — are expected to savage the Maine independent. King, meanwhile, promises to not run a single negative ad.

Ronald Schmidt, a political science professor at the University of Southern Maine, said that the state’s Tea-Party backed governor is creating a new style of politics in Maine. Governor LePage, who is also a deft politician, may be calculating that having a small but highly motivated base may be enough to again defeat a divided opposition. If a centrist like King is going to win Maine’s Senate race, Schmidt said, moderates need to be as motivated as Tea Party members.

“Can the moderate Republicans organize themselves that well?” Schmidt asked. “Can the moderate Democrats?”

This year pundits and the media will rightly focus on the presidential race. But elections like this one are hugely important as well. Whether an Obama or Romney administration takes office in January 2013, they will face a dysfunctional Congress unable to enact desperately needed reforms. Sending moderates like King to Washington and ending our poisonous, take-no-prisoners politics is vital.