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Will the country benefit from the competition of interests and become more powerful, or will that competition turn into conflict, as happened during the American Civil War?
Reflections on American Politics
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Saudi Arabia
By Abdulnaam Al-Sa'eed
Translated By Hannah Ridge
19 February 2014
Edited by Tess Chadwick
Circumstances forced me to spend a long time in the U.S. recently. Since I had nothing to do, it became an opportunity for me to read and reflect on American political life and the hellish machines of men, resources and technology. Many have written about the deteriorating American situation, anticipating a moment in which the U.S. declines from its lofty heights as the only remaining superpower in the world. Whether the U.S. falls as a result of the waning elements of American power or because a new power emerges to displace or compete with the U.S., it will be years or decades before it happens. The difficulty in making sense of American politics — far from being due to a scarcity of information — lies in knowing how to sort through all of the available information and separate the wheat from the chaff. Added to this, there is a lot of noise surrounding it all, from the current debate over the health care law to the horrific weather coming from the north and east of the country, creating unprecedented low temperatures and enough snow to create the North Pole in the heart of America. In the midst of all of this, Congress is preparing for midterm elections, which will be held in November. Thus, the American people find themselves in a perpetual state of election: If not yet tired of the presidential elections, they find themselves approaching the midterm elections, and in between, there is always preparation for mayoral and state government elections. Some of these elections are no less exciting than the U.S. presidential elections, especially in cities like New York and in states like California.
This electoral system makes U.S. politics seem like a hierarchical escalation of democracy, rising from the lowest levels to the highest — like a mill that produces leaders and tests them; but in reality, it puts theories and opinions in the way of critical thought. In the Third World, especially in our Arab region where elections still mean tortuous conflict, and the federal and local governments remain separate from one another, we look in wonder at the democratic system of the U.S. When Alexis de Tocqueville went to America in the 19th century, he was surprised, just as Karl Marx, in the same century, was surprised by the persistence of U.S. capitalism. The question is whether America with its diversity of interests, will balance one way or the other. Will the country benefit from the competition of interests and become more powerful, or will that competition turn into conflict, as happened during the American Civil War? What will prevent the union from dividing (if it hasn’t already begun to happen)? To answer these questions, we need to consider the nature of the system. There is ruthless competition in politics, economics and society amongst individuals, businesses, institutions and organizations. The elite remain powerful because they seem to always be capable of generating the stability necessary for this violent competition. Technically, the elite are those who wrote the U.S. Constitution and who have maintained it through amendments and close monitoring of the Supreme Court.
But how did the political elite develop and how do they remain in power? The book “Duty” by Robert Gates, defense secretary in the second George W. Bush and first Barack Obama administrations, really struck me — not because it presented an autopsy of his work as defense secretary or explained how he managed an institution with a $700 billion budget or described how he had the capacity to destroy the world several times over, but because the story of his life is inspiring. He served under eight presidents, both Republicans and Democrats, from President Ford in the 1970s to President Obama. However, the interesting part was not the party affiliations of the presidents, but the people he worked with over the nearly four decades during which he held positions with the National Security Council, CIA and Department of Defense. When Gates came to the Department of Defense, he was already close to the American strategic elite because he had worked with most of them before. I went back to former Vice President Dick Cheney’s memoir “In My Time” and found that Donald Rumsfeld, whom Gates replaced as defense secretary, was Cheney’s boss during the Ford administration. Thus, if the top White House positions from the Ford administration to the George W. Bush administration were reviewed, one would find many interwoven links connecting one administration to another. It is much the same for the Democrats, which have links extending from the current Obama administration, through the Clinton era, and back to the Carter administration in the 1970s. The thread is always there, moving from president to president and Congress to Congress. This thread is also present in the commissions that the president tasks with researching various issues and which must be headed by two members, one representing each of the two major political parties.
The elite moves in and out of power. While in power, they influence thought through think tanks, big business and inquiry commissions. The system as it stands permits the American elite to survive and remain stable. However, at present there are two developments for which the extent of their impact is difficult to predict. The first of them is the rise in each camp — – Democrat and Republican —– of extremist groups: the tea party for the Republicans and the “progressive” group for the Democrats. The former are severely and radically conservative; the latter are extremely liberal. Both the very conservative and the very liberal attempt to pull their party and public opinion to their side, which has established a state of polarization that America has not known since perhaps the 1950s, when McCarthyism prevailed. If you add to that the horrible condition of the American media, which thrives under the drama of disagreement, conflict and tension, then the political elite begins to find itself in a marginal position that it has been trying to avoid for decades. Sometimes, this causes paralysis in the management of the government — for instance, when the Republicans and Democrats do not agree on how to deal with the budget deficit. However, it has been said American politics are like a pendulum moving between extremes but always returning, by necessity, to the middle. Perhaps this is true, but what will happen if the system is pushed past its extreme limit in pursuit of so-called ideological purity?
Posted by unhappycamper | Mon Mar 10, 2014, 09:31 AM (2 replies)
The Pentagon's phony budget war
By Mattea Kramer
Mar 7, '14
Yet a careful look at budget figures for the US military - a bureaucratic juggernaut accounting for 57% of the federal discretionary budget and nearly 40% of all military spending on this planet - shows that such claims have been largely fictional. Despite cries of doom since the across-the-board cuts known as sequestration surfaced in Washington in 2011, the Pentagon has seen few actual reductions, and there is no indication that will change any time soon.
In the end, the Pentagon shaved about 5.7%, or $31 billion, from its 2013 budget. And just how painful did that turn out to be? Frank Kendall, who serves as the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, has acknowledged that the Pentagon "cried wolf." Those cuts caused no substantial damage, he admitted.
When it was time to write the Pentagon budget into law, appropriators in Congress wanted in on the fun. As Winslow Wheeler of the Project on Government Oversight discovered, lawmakers added a $10.8 billion slush fund to the war budget.
After two years of uproar over mostly phantom cuts, 2015 isn't likely to bring austerity to the Pentagon either. Last December's budget deal already reduced the cuts projected for 2015, and President Obama is now asking for something he's calling the "Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative." It would deliver an extra $26 billion to the Pentagon next year. And that still leaves the war budget for officials to use as a cash cow.
Posted by unhappycamper | Mon Mar 10, 2014, 09:24 AM (1 replies)
The real enemies of Islam
By Hossein Askari
Mar 10, '14
Muslims around the world have been deceived into believing that the West and Westerners are the enemies of Islam - modern-day Crusaders who vilify Islam and are on a mission to eradicate the faith and subjugate them. But the real enemies of Islam are those who misrepresent its teachings and hijack its mantle for their own gain - oppressive and corrupt Muslim rulers.
Some central teachings of Islam that are universally accepted include:
(i) rulers are to be selected by the community;
(ii) rulers must follow the rules laid down in the Koran and interpreted by the Prophet;
(iii) oppressive rulers and oppression must be confronted by all Muslims who are deemed as guilty as the oppressor if they do not do so;
(iv) Allah is the ultimate owner of all things and in particular natural resources (especially those that are depletable)
that He has given to humans in trust for the equitable benefit of all generations;
(v) poverty must be erased wherever it is found;
(vi) opulence is to be abhorred, especially if it exists alongside poverty; and
(vii) socio-economic justice (freedom, equitable opportunities, and provision of basic needs for all) is the moral compass of a thriving Muslim community.
Just cast a glance at the 57 Muslim states around the world and ask if the rulers meet any of these simple criteria? A few may come close on some, but it is altogether a sorry state of affairs that all Muslims must face - namely, their dismal predicament is primarily of their own making.
To put flesh on the skeleton, let's take a look at some Persian Gulf countries that have undoubtedly had the means (oil/natural gas) to do everything that Islam demands
Posted by unhappycamper | Mon Mar 10, 2014, 09:19 AM (1 replies)
'Yesterday Stalin, today Putin'
By Glenn Kates
Mar 10, '14
ISTANBUL - Serkan Sava's ancestors left Crimea in a mass exodus some 150 years ago, after the Ottoman Empire staved off Russian pressure in the Crimean War but could not reverse the slow tumble that would lead to its dissolution after World War I.
A century later, the 35-year-old IT consultant's grandparents, by then rooted in the post-Ottoman Turkish Republic, would hear of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's deportation of hundreds of thousands of Crimean Tatars to Central Asia, in 1944, that cost the lives of more than 100,000 people.
This week, Sava stood under a steady rain at a protest of about 250 people - mostly Turkish Crimean Tatars - outside the Russian consulate in Istanbul. Noting that Crimean Tatars "have bad memories" of life under Moscow's thumb, Sava argued that Turkey should use its influence to ensure that the Black Sea peninsula remains a part of Ukraine and is not annexed by Russia.
With Crimea now occupied by Russian forces, the peninsula's Russian-majority parliament clamoring to join the Russian Federation, and a referendum on the issue scheduled for March 16, Crimean Tatars are fearful of what another chapter of life under Russian rule could mean.
Posted by unhappycamper | Mon Mar 10, 2014, 09:13 AM (0 replies)
Turkey walking a tightrope over Crimea
By Dorian Jones
Mar 10, '14
The Russian-Ukrainian crisis over Crimea is forcing Turkey into a delicate balancing act: Ankara feels a need to be seen as a protector of the peninsula's Tatar minority, yet it does not want to vex Russia's paramount leader Vladimir Putin in a way that complicates Turkish-Russian economic arrangements.
There are abundant reasons why Turkey is taking a close interest in Crimean developments. Crimea operated as a vassal khanate of Ottoman Empire from the 1470s until 1783. In addition, Turks are bound by a strong cultural connection to Crimean Tatars, an ethnic minority group that comprises roughly 15% of Crimea's population. The number of ethnic Tatars now living in Turkey - most of them descendants of those who left Crimea following its 1783 annexation by the Russian Empire - is estimated in the hundreds of thousands.
For all the historical and cultural factors in play, though, it may be domestic political considerations that are the primary factor in shaping the government's posture on the Tatar-Crimea issue. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been seriously wounded politically in recent weeks by allegations of large-scale corruption within his inner circle and family. He is now scrambling to reinforce his political base as he prepares for his first electoral test since the corruption scandal broke, local elections slated for March 30.
Since Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) draws significant grassroots support from nationalist elements, top government officials are playing up Ankara's role as a defender of Crimean Tatar interests amid Russia's armed occupation of the peninsula, which has belonged to Ukraine since 1954.
Posted by unhappycamper | Mon Mar 10, 2014, 09:11 AM (0 replies)
Lives at stake in TPP trade deal
By Martin Khor
Mar 10, '14
GENEVA - If you or some family members or friends suffer from cancer, hepatitis, AIDS, asthma or other serious ailments, it's worth your while to follow the negotiations on the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement and other similar bilateral trade agreements. It's really a matter of life and death. For the TPPA can cut off the potential supply of cheaper generic medicines that can save lives, especially when the original branded products are priced so sky-high that very few can afford them.
Recently, a cancer specialist in New Zealand (one of the TPPA counties) warned that the TPPA would prolong the high cost of treating breast cancer because of new rules to protect biotechnology-based cancer drugs from competition from generics. And this will affect the lives of cancer patients.
Some cancer medicines can cost a patient over US$100,000 for a year's treatment. But generic versions could be produced for a fraction, making it possible for patients to hope for a cure and a reprieve from death.
In India, local companies are leading the fight to make medicines more affordable to thousands of patients suffering from breast, kidney, liver and gastrointestinal cancer and chronic leukemia.
Posted by unhappycamper | Mon Mar 10, 2014, 09:08 AM (0 replies)
More sitcom than CENTCOM
Mar 10, '14
More sitcom than CENTCOM
American foreign policy is more sitcom than CENTCOM. That in a way is the good news. Our failures are comic while those of other nations are tragic. Americans do not understand the tragic impulses of other peoples because they are exceptional. The Europeans failed as nationalists, and are failing as post-nationalists.
Because Americans are not an ethnicity but a union of immigrants committed to a concept, our nationalism discloses a universal impulse. We blunder when we forget how exceptional we are, and ignore the tragic impulses that impinge on other peoples.
Only once in the past century have we read the world aright. We got it wrong when Woodrow Wilson proposed a utopian postwar vision in 1919, when the isolationists tried to stay out of the European conflict in the late 1930s, when Roosevelt and Truman let Stalin absorb Eastern Europe, when we overextended and then turned tail in Vietnam, and when we undertook to turn Iraq and Afghanistan into Western-style democracies. Ronald Reagan got it right when he decided that it was time to roll back communism - but he also understood that we would have to live with Russia as a nation.
We have stumbled into the world's troubles like incongruous clowns in a tragedy: we observe the anguished faces of the other characters and conclude that everyone else on stage is insane. That is how Americans view Russian President Vladimir Putin. As Time magazine reported last week:
Posted by unhappycamper | Mon Mar 10, 2014, 09:04 AM (0 replies)
A New Arab Cold War: Saudi Arabia Pressures Qatar on Muslim Brotherhood, American Think Tanks
By Juan Cole | Mar. 10, 2014 |
Saudi Arabia’s listing of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization and the withdrawal of the Saudi, Kuwaiti and Bahrain ambassadors from Qatar signal a big geopolitical realignment in the Middle East.
Qatar is the Red Prince of the Middle East. Despite being fabulously wealthy because of its natural gas exports, its foreign policy has been populist, showing a special fondness for the Muslim Brotherhood and a dislike of the Middle East’s secular authoritarian dictators, including Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak. Qatar has used its ties to the Muslim Brotherhood as a form of soft power in places like Tunisia, Libya, Syria and Egypt. Its popular Aljazeera Arabic news channel cheered on the 2011 popular upheavals in the region.
Saudi Arabia’s octogenarian princes were furious about the fall of Mubarak in Egypt. Although the Saudi official religious ideology is the hard line Wahhabi sect, the Saudi state likes order and stability more than it likes political Islam. The Saudis have therefore often been entirely happy to back secular leaders, as long as they could help keep the masses quiet. Moreover, Wahhabis are often political quietists and those in Saudi Arabia fully support the monarchy. The Saudis view the Muslim Brotherhood, which took over Egypt for a year from June 30 2012 to July 3, 2013, as a political cult, as a set of secretive revolutionary cells attempting to take over one country after another, rather as Stalinist cells took over Hungary and Czechoslovakia after the end of WW II. I.e., the Saudi leadership now looks at the Brotherhood rather as the American Right wing looked at Communism in the McCarthy period. And it looks at Qatar as the patron of the Brotherhood.
Saudi Arabia has another big anxiety, which is Khomeinism or Shiite Political Islam, the ideology of the Iranian state. Some 12% of Saudis are Shiite and they live over the kingdom’s petroleum. The Saudis think Iran is behind the restiveness of Bahrain’s majority Shiites (it isn’t), and sent troops into Bahrain to shore up the Sunni monarchy. The Saudis are also upset that Iraq has now been taken over by pro-Iranian Shiites (the majority there). And they are disturbed by Bashar al-Assad’s alliance with Iran, as well as the role of Lebanon’s Hizbullah as foot soldiers for Iran in the Levant.
Posted by unhappycamper | Mon Mar 10, 2014, 08:47 AM (0 replies)
DoD’s $26B Budget Hail Mary ‘Not Going To Happen:’ Rep. McKeon
By Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. on March 07, 2014 at 12:01 PM
CAPITOL HILL: Despair, distrust, and sequestration dominated yesterday’s House Armed Services Committee hearing on the Pentagon’s 2015 budget request. Almost everyone on HASC hates the automatic budget cuts, and the president has proposed a way to bypass them, but comments from committee leaders and backbenchers alike showed how political gridlock makes any solution look far out of reach.
“We really have to live within right now something that I hate, and I’m sure you do and most of the members of the committee do, but it is the law and we’re stuck with it right now,” HASC chairman Buck McKeon told his high-level witnesses, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, and Pentagon comptroller Bob Hale. (Both McKeon and Hale are retiring soon).
Yes, the president’s budget adds $26 billion to defense as part of a budget gimmick called the “Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative.” Beyond 2015 it assumes Congress manages to roll back sequestration and authorize $115 billion above the current law over four years. “I’m not really paying much attention to the $115 and I’m not paying much attention to that ,” McKeon said bluntly, because that’s in the realm of, ‘that would be wonderful but it’s not going to happen.’”
In fact, the California congressman said, the administration’s budget gimmicks mask the severity of the problem and make it harder to mobilize the American people to solve it. For example, referring to the media outcry that the regular active-duty Army was shrinking to pre-World War II levels, McKeon said, “I saw stories that seemed to get peoples’ attention the Army going down to 440,000. I want them to know …. it really goes down to 420.”
Recently proposed military budget cuts represent a 5.9% budget decrease. IIRC sequestration was supposed to be a $50 billion dollar a year budget cut.
The only thing reduced in the military budget was the cut to the military budget.
Posted by unhappycamper | Mon Mar 10, 2014, 08:41 AM (0 replies)
Senators urge Energy Secretary Moniz to continue MOX construction
By Meg Mirshak
Friday, March 7, 2014 12:45 PM
Seven U.S. senators sent a letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz urging him to continue construction at the Savannah River Site’s mixed-oxide fuel fabrication facility until more is known about costs for alternative plutonium disposition methods.
Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, both South Carolina Republicans, and Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, both Georgia Republicans, were among the group that signed the letter Thursday. Other signatures came from Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Kay Hagan, D-N.C.
In its fiscal year 2015 budget Tuesday, the White House proposed $221 million to place the MOX facility on standby while assessing more cost-effective methods. The National Nuclear Security Administration began the process to shut down the construction site and protect and secure what has been completed.
Senators signing the letter criticized using fiscal 2014 funding to begin the process of placing the multibillion-dollar facility on “cold standby,” saying that funding was approved for construction only.
Posted by unhappycamper | Sun Mar 9, 2014, 09:25 AM (0 replies)