Friday, August 28, 2009

Senator Feingold Calls for Timetable for U.S. Troop Withdrawal from Afghanistan

Very sensible points made by Sen. Feingold. Discussion of withdrawal from Afghanistan should not be taboo. The US needs to soberly assess what are its goals there and how can they be achieved.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

What sort of victory do elections in Afghanistan represent?

The article in the European Voice is ironically titled "A milestone for democracy?" Of course, that is how the election in the Afghanistan is being presented in the US press, but this conclusion requires a fairly tortured understanding of the word "democracy."

An AFP article presents some blunter assessments, including one analyst's opinion that the Taliban were successful in their effort to restrict the turnout for the election. Because the voter turnout was so low, it's questionable how much a mandate any winner can claim.
As the article makes clear, the main objective is to preserve what stability there is at the government, in order to allow the military to impose stability on the ground. To me, this appears to be one of those situation while there are surely individual heros on all sides, none of the forces can claim strong moral high ground.

While I am have not interviewed Taliban members, I have read enough interviews by journalists I respect to conclude that they are, in fact, brutal toward the Afghani population and their purported foes. The Americans have committed their share of atrocities, often through sheer stupidity and hubris. The Europeans have not assumed their share in finding a solution to a problem that has large implications for them, not just the Americans. The Russians are out of the current fight, but they committed innumerable war crimes in their last foray into Afghanistan. The current government of Afghanistan is thoroughly ridden with corruption, and the so-called "army" of Afghanistan has demonstrated little ability and less inclination to oppose the Taliban.

I doubt a military "victory" can be achieved here, not in the conventional sense. Even some American military experts and lawmakers have voiced this opinion. So what is the solution? What type of accommodation is possible with a foe so reviled, and that hold views so inimical to Western thought? On the other hand, is Afghanistan really where we should be fighting? We want to protect ourselves from Al Qaeda, but is Afghanistan the right place to accomplish this goal. And can total war be waged against a foe that is not clearly distinguishable from the supporting population? Do we have to destroy Afghanistan to save it?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Song in support of freedom in Azerbaijan

I really don't know about the situation in Azerbaijan now. This video is full of images of revolution, but real progress has seemed unlikely in that country. On the other hand, sometimes situations can change very quickly. And sometimes martyrs can play an important role in galvanizing movements.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Assessing hopes for change in USA

Here we are in the last week of August. President Obama is taking a vacation on Martha's Vineyard. Every day brings news about forces mobilizing against real health care legislation. Military leaders are talking about the need to further increase troops in Afghanistan. While signs point to economic recovery in the United States, this has been a discouraging summer for those of us who had hoped that the election of President Obama would mean more fundamental change in the United States. The reactionary forces in the United States are, in fact, quite strong and all the more bitter and dangerous because of their defeat last November.

Yesterday's column by Paul Krugman reflects this discouragement. The multiple myths that underpin the political thinking of the United States are apparently unassailable. The fact that the economic doctrines and approaches of Reagan and the neo-conservatives lack both supporting evidence and logic does not apparently detract from their political power. It's discouraging because I believe that the path to the future for America is to be found in an economic approach that is both more realistic and better designed to benefit all classes of people, not just the wealthy

I can hear the chant of conservatives first voiced more than four decades ago: "America. Love it or leave it!" But I refuse to believe that those of us who do not agree with conservatives are not American. We are citizens too, and America cannot be claimed as the possession of conservatives only. I'm not leaving. (Yet.)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Nationalism intrudes on the sphere of music

As an American, the whole Eurovision song contest phenomenon seemed quite odd when I lived in Azerbaijan last year. The Azerbaijan entrant to the contest that year was broadcast non-stop on the radio and television. (In all honesty, I thought the song and the performance was overwrought - but I'm not much of a pop music fan.) This year, the whole contest has gotten even weirder. First, Georgia's entry into the contest was an open slap at Russia. Now, the Azerbaijan authorities have harassed people who had the audacity to "vote" for the Armenian entry in the contest.

Of course, it was unrealistic to expect that nationalist politics would not invade such a contest. After all, chauvinistic nationalism pervades so much of society in the region. Global Voices has a nice update of the current controversy, with some interesting comments from readers.

One question comes to mind. If people cannot freely vote in a song contest, how can anyone think that last year's presidential election was fair. It's fine for the Azerbaijan authorities to lie, but no one should pretend that these lies have any relation to reality.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The writing is on the wall!

Journalist escapes prison in Azerbaijan

Radio Free Europe carried this brief article about Novruzali Mammadov, who died yesterday in prison at the age of 68. He is free now. He has left this world behind.

Mammadov was one of roughly half a dozen journalists imprisoned in Azerbaijan, which has ranked at or near the top for European countries imprisoning journalists. This spring, two journalists were released, leaving five behind bars.

Then, of course, Emin and Adnan were arrested earlier this summer. They continue to languish in prison on trumped up charges, despite the international outrage caused by their arrests.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Bombing provides rationale for harsher approach

The New York Times today reports another terrible example of violence in Russia. The bomb blast, which killed at least 20 people, occurred in Nazran, the capital of Ingushetia. The article portrays the bombing as another attack on the administration of Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, the president of the republic. Yevkurov's approach has contrasted sharply with the policies of Ramzan Kadyrov, president of neighboring Chechnya. Kadyrov has become notorious for the human rights abuses that have occurred during his administration.

The writer of the NYT article appears to assume that the blast was a crime of insurgents. Perhaps it was. But I have a deep distrust of Russian security forces. I am still not convinced that the FSB was not connected to the series of blasts in 1999. The bombings preceded the first election of President Putin, who was able to use the violence as a rationale for an increasingly autocratic and repressive regime.

So - this latest bombing in Ingushetia is already being used as a reason for increased repression there. Very convenient.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Robert McChesney explains the current crisis in newspapers

This is a nice explanation of how the newspaper business got in its current state. Corporate consolidation is directly related the problems that journalism and democracy face today.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


I had a flashback yesterday. No, it had nothing to do with use of LSD or any other hallucinogen. It concerned taking a course in negotiation at Syracuse University.

Off and on through the afternoon, I had been conducting an on-line “discussion” with a conservative distant relative. The discussion was centered around the health care legislation that is before the US Congress. I am in favor of very substantial changes in the system, even more substantial than that called for in the legislation. He thinks the system needs to be tweaked, at most.

The scope of our disagreement was clear before we started corresponding, but toward the end, perhaps from weariness, we found our area of agreement. He posited that he believes that government is simply too big, too powerful and too intrusive. I could agree with this in general, although we probably disagree about in which areas it’s too big and too intrusive. I posited that I also believe that private corporations are too big, too powerful, and too intrusive. And he agreed with that.

My flashback occurred when I realized that we unwittingly had followed instructions that I learned in a university classroom nearly a decade ago. First, find the areas of agreement. Then expand them. This approach is much more constructive than the demonizing and anger that is so seductive.

(One of the textbooks for the class, by the way, was Getting to Yes. I highly recommend it!)

As I was thinking this morning about the experience, however, I wondered what can we do when our negotiation partners do not cooperate in a constructive approach. This is a very real possibility, and I think we face that situation in the current debate over health care. (Two chapters of Getting to Yes, in fact, are entitled What If They Won’t Play and What If They Use Dirty Tricks.)

In the course of this on-line debate yesterday, for example, I visited Rush Limbaugh’s web page. I read the diatribes and distortions, and thought about their purpose and effect. I thought about motivations. I don’t think that Rush Limbaugh really cares much about anything ideologically. The main - and quite understandable - motivation is to make money. He makes money selling hate. And the people consuming his content get a rush from indulging in the hatred he sells. Years ago, I remember a young man trying to live without cocaine. He wasn’t doing cocaine, but he used his anger like a drug. Rush and others like him sell anger, just like Larry Flynt sells pornography. I don’t think either product is socially constructive, but anger may, in fact, be more destructive.

One of my favorite quotes came to mind when I was thinking about this:
“I let no man drag me down so low as to make me hate him.” - Booker T. Washington

This is good advice for contentious times. I must recognize hatred and anger for what they are, but I must also recognize that these are not entities that are separate from myself. I have that a capacity for anger and hatred too. It’s my choice whether I want to cultivate that capacity within myself or not.


On a completely different subject, I haven’t posted any random links here in awhile. No reason, really. Anyway, here are the sites of Dianne Hodack, a local painter; Matt McGuire, a local writer; and Seth Feinberg, who is an animator who is not local.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Innovative uses of the army

Ali writes in his blog today about the case of Agasif Shakiroglu, a young man who was first jailed for evading the draft. When this charge was rejected for its manifest absurdity, Agasif was simply inducted into the army. The mandatory service remains a real fear for many young men. I don't think it's that they are unpatriotic or opposed to serving their country. But the army in Azerbaijan - from what I have heard - still functions along the Soviet model. Abuse of soldiers is routine. At the very least, they are subjected to mind-numbing boredom. In some countries, mandatory service can be a time when soldiers receive a technical education. Perhaps this happens in Azerbaijan, but that's not what the men I talked to described.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Riding a bicycle to Baku

I remember seeing a guy riding a bike toward Baku, as we were nearing Ganca, the second largest city in Baku. We were finishing a long & extremely monotonous stretch of road in January. And there was this guy with his bulging panniers stuffed - riding alone down this very poor stretch of road.

My first impression was surprise. My second impulse was sympathy. But - I have to assume he did his research and knew what he was getting into.

The Telegraph is running a series of articles about the newspaper's correspondent, Douglas Whitehead, bicycling through Europe. One of his latest articles details his experience on the road to Baku. I've bicycled my share and I've traveled around Azerbaijan too. His impressions ring true to me. I easily can imagine the scenes he describes - the honesty of the people and the cultural differences about personal space and boundaries, the simultaneous hospitality and awkwardness.

Monday, August 3, 2009

ДДТ и Юрий Шевчук- Когда Закончится Нефть

Онень смешная песня. (Спасибо, Али!) Да, он прав. Когда закончится нефть, мир станет лучше. Я просто надеюсь что мы переживём до этой эпохи.

When the oil runs out, you will be with me again. When you gas runs out, you will return to me.

Yes, all these good things will happen - when the oil and gas run out. Until then.....

Funny and pointed little song. Such petrochemical wealth is a very mixed blessing. I think many people understand this instinctively. The mineral wealth most often fosters corruption, not sustainable development. And yet, to ignore these riches is impossible.

A video from jail

Adnan got this note out from jail, where he and Emin await trial on charges of hooliganism. His friends put it together as a video.