Posts Tagged ‘elections’

Elections Don’t Justify Iraq War

March 18, 2010

By Amitabh Pal, The Progressive,  March 11, 2010

Years after the debate was seemingly settled on the folly of the Iraq War, some in the media are using the recent Iraqi parliamentary elections to excuse the invasion.

The Newsweek cover on the voting crows “Victory at Last.” Ex-Wall Street Journal alum (and, I’m embarrassed to admit, a fellow schoolmate of mine) Tunku Varadarajan asserts at the Daily Beast, “What Iraq has achieved in five years is a political wonder, and those who would deny that are being very, very dishonest.”

And the New York Times resident Middle East expert becomes all gooey on seeing a picture of an Iraqi mother having her son put her vote in the ballot box. “Former President George W. Bush’s gut instinct that this region craved and needed democracy was always right,” gushes Thomas Friedman. “Democracy was never going to have a virgin birth in a place like Iraq, which has never known any such thing.”

Continues >>

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Afghanistan: Further evidence of massive electoral fraud

September 10, 2009
By James Cogan, wsws.org,  September  8, 2009

Amid widespread evidence of fraud, the Afghan presidential election has become a political debacle for the US-led occupation. While President Hamid Karzai appears on the brink of officially achieving an absolute majority, the final results could take weeks as electoral officials deal with hundreds of complaints. Even if Karzai is finally declared the winner, the Obama administration may decide to dispense with his administration.

On Sunday, the Karzai-appointed head of the Independent Election Commission (IEC), Daud Ali Najafi, announced that just over five million votes were cast, meaning that no more than 30 to 35 percent of eligible voters took part. Of the 3.69 million votes counted, Karzai had won 48.6 percent, with his closest rival, Abdullah Abdullah, trailing on 31.7 percent. If Karzai gains over 50 percent, no second-round run-off will take place.

Continues >>

Notorious warlord returns to Afghanistan to help Karzai

August 17, 2009

By Jonathan S. Landay and Tom Lasseter | McClatchy Newspapers, Aug 16, 2009

KABUL — A notorious Afghan warlord accused of allowing the murder of hundreds, if not thousands, of prisoners and then destroying the evidence returned to Afghanistan Sunday night as part of what appears to be a political deal brokered with President Hamid Karzai.

Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum arrived from Turkey just four days before the Afghan presidential elections, in which his support could be key to Karzai’s chances of securing more than 50 percent of the vote – the threshold for avoiding a second round of elections.

Karzai has come under criticism for consolidating his position by striking deals with warlords like Dostum and those suspected of connections to the country’s opium trade.

Dostum comes with considerable baggage. There have been repeated allegations that his men were responsible for the deaths of up to 2,000 alleged Taliban and al Qaida prisoners in late-2001, a time when Dostum worked closely with U.S. special forces and intelligence teams in northern Afghanistan.

A McClatchy investigation last year uncovered information suggesting that Dostum later directed the removal of the remains of those slain prisoners, destroying the evidence of the original crime.

President Barack Obama recently said that he’s asked his national security team to collect as many facts as possible about the incident to determine whether to launch a full investigation.

Seamak Herawi, a spokesman for Karzai, told reporters that there was no reason why Dostum could not return home.

“There is no legal obstacle for Gen. Dostum’s return to Afghanistan,” he said.

Hundreds of jubilant members of Dostum’s Jumbish Party converged on Kabul International Airport to greet Dostum, an Uzbek former communist general who repeatedly switched sides in the devastating civil war that erupted between Islamic guerrilla groups after the Soviet occupation.

His head clad in a silver turban and his shoulders draped with a chapan, a traditional long green coat, Dostum rode into the city followed by his loyalists and rifle-toting members of his private militia in a caravan of honking cars and buses.

More supporters were awaiting him at his massive red three-story mansion in Sherpur, a neighborhood filled with “poppy palaces” allegedly built with opium profits.

Dostum’s name has been in the news recently – first in a McClatchy report last December that made public the fact that a gravesite in a north Afghanistan desert known as Dasht-e Leili had been dug up, and then again this July in The New York Times, which reported on the lack of U.S. investigation into the original incident.

Locals interviewed by McClatchy last year said that it was common knowledge that Dostum’s men were responsible for having removed the bones of the dead men with bulldozers or similar equipment.

Satellite imagery obtained by Physicians for Human Rights indicates that the digging took place as early as 2006. There appears to have also been subsequent excavation last year – a McClatchy reporter saw three smaller ditches that were apparently dug between June and November.

The site is still not being guarded by either Western or Afghan forces, according to Nathaniel Raymond, the lead investigator on the Dasht-e Leili case for Physicians for Human Rights.

“Though Dostum has returned to Kabul, he still should not be allowed to return to a position of power in the Afghan government until a full, transparent investigation of the Dasht-e Leili incident is complete,” Raymond said.

Interior Ministry spokesman Zemari Bashari said he could not discuss whether Dostum was under investigation for the alleged removal of the remains.

Dostum was put under house arrest in Afghanistan last year after he and his men were said to have dragged a rival leader out of his home, beaten him and his family and then held the man hostage. Then, after a meeting with Karzai in late-November, he left for Turkey.

Dostum at the time was stripped of his mostly honorary title of chief of staff to the commander in chief, but it was later reinstated.

Dostum has denied that the prisoners in 2001 died in large numbers, a position that he repeated in a statement last month, saying it was “confirmed by those who were responsible for accepting the surrender of these prisoners of war — including doctors and members of the military forces of the United States. In addition, it was reported to me that the U.S. Defense Department had also confirmed this.”

Some of the former prisoners, though, have said that they were stuffed into shipping containers in which hundreds of men suffocated to death or died from gunshots fired by Dostum’s men.

On Sunday, Dostum made a brief statement to thank Karzai for allowing him to return before retreating behind closed doors. The pair are expected to travel to Dostum’s hometown of Sheberghan, the capital of northern Jawzjan Province, on the final day of campaigning for Thursday’s presidential election.

Hundreds of his followers milled around the garden and glitzy reception hall of his mansion, whose inlaid floor of green, black and white stone, carved wooden columns and crystal chandeliers testified to Dostum’s immense wealth.

Haji Shah Mahmoud Nazari, a Jumbish candidate for the provincial council in northeastern Takhar Province, dismissed the allegations against Dostum as the “propaganda of Dostum’s enemies and the propaganda of the enemies of the Jumbish Party.”

“He came to participate in a very historical election which will determine the next five years of the country’s future,” he said. “He wants to be beside his people.”

Sayed Ahmad Sayed, a Jumbish official who is heading Karzai’s campaign in northern Fariab Province, said Dostum could deliver more than 1 million votes to the president’s re-election drive.

Malalai Joya: The big lie of Afghanistan

July 27, 2009

Inquiries into the 954 deaths in police custody since 1990 have all proved fruitless – and then this historic case comes along

In 2005, I was the youngest person elected to the new Afghan parliament. Women like me, running for office, were held up as an example of how the war in Afghanistan had liberated women. But this democracy was a facade, and the so-called liberation a big lie.

On behalf of the long-suffering people of my country, I offer my heartfelt condolences to all in the UK who have lost their loved ones on the soil of Afghanistan. We share the grief of the mothers, fathers, wives, sons and daughters of the fallen. It is my view that these British casualties, like the many thousands of Afghan civilian dead, are victims of the unjust policies that the Nato countries have pursued under the leadership of the US government.

Almost eight years after the Taliban regime was toppled, our hopes for a truly democratic and independent Afghanistan have been betrayed by the continued domination of fundamentalists and by a brutal occupation that ultimately serves only American strategic interests in the region.

You must understand that the government headed by Hamid Karzai is full of warlords and extremists who are brothers in creed of the Taliban. Many of these men committed terrible crimes against the Afghan people during the civil war of the 1990s.

For expressing my views I have been expelled from my seat in parliament, and I have survived numerous assassination attempts. The fact that I was kicked out of office while brutal warlords enjoyed immunity from prosecution for their crimes should tell you all you need to know about the “democracy” backed by Nato troops.

In the constitution it forbids those guilty of war crimes from running for high office. Yet Karzai has named two notorious warlords, Fahim and Khalili, as his running mates for the upcoming presidential election. Under the shadow of warlordism, corruption and occupation, this vote will have no legitimacy, and once again it seems the real choice will be made behind closed doors in the White House. As we say in Afghanistan, “the same donkey with a new saddle”.

So far, Obama has pursued the same policy as Bush in Afghanistan. Sending more troops and expanding the war into Pakistan will only add fuel to the fire. Like many other Afghans, I risked my life during the dark years of Taliban rule to teach at underground schools for girls. Today the situation of women is as bad as ever. Victims of abuse and rape find no justice because the judiciary is dominated by fundamentalists. A growing number of women, seeing no way out of the suffering in their lives, have taken to suicide by self-immolation.

This week, US vice-president Joe Biden asserted that “more loss of life [is] inevitable” in Afghanistan, and that the ongoing occupation is in the “national interests” of both the US and the UK.

I have a different message to the people of Britain. I don’t believe it is in your interests to see more young people sent off to war, and to have more of your taxpayers’ money going to fund an occupation that keeps a gang of corrupt warlords and drug lords in power in Kabul.

What’s more, I don’t believe it is inevitable that this bloodshed continues forever. Some say that if foreign troops leave Afghanistan will descend into civil war. But what about the civil war and catastrophe of today? The longer this occupation continues, the worse the civil war will be.

The Afghan people want peace, and history teaches that we always reject occupation and foreign domination. We want a helping hand through international solidarity, but we know that values like human rights must be fought for and won by Afghans themselves.

I know there are millions of British people who want to see an end to this conflict as soon as possible. Together we can raise our voice for peace and justice.

Indian Rightist leader L. K. Advani

April 16, 2009

By Badri Raina | ZNet, Apri 16, 2009

Badri Raina’s ZSpace Page


I

India’s oldest political formation, the Indian National Congress, dates back formally to 1885, a fact that the gauche Narendra Modi has recently scoffed at in his typical lumpen oratory.

It would hardly help to remind him, bruisingly bratish as he is in his paunchy middle age, that he exists in a free India thanks to the fact first that the Congress did start as early as it did. After all, the RSS of which he is such a poster boy, happened only in 1924—and happened chiefly to stymie the freedom movement led by Gandhi and the Congress.

As to L.K.Advani, the 82 year old aspirant to prime ministership on behalf of the right-wing Hindu BJP, his blood-soaked career may be said to be only as young as some two decades, marked forever by the fascist putsch on Ayodhya, the demolition of a four-hundred year old mosque as he stood on site, and the pogroms that followed in Mumbai and Gujarat.

And by his inability, as the home minister and deputy prime minister (1999-2004) to prevent several terrorist strikes, even as the draconian POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) was in place, including the strike on the parliament of India; his acquiescence in the shameful decision of allowing three first order terrorists to be escorted in a plane to Kandahar by no less than the foreign minister of the day, and by his refusal to intervene in Gujarat as Modi’s henchmen hacked the Muslims there. If anything, Modi, to whose influence Advani owes his electoral prospects in the constituency of Gandhinagar in Gujarat, remains his hero.

Interestingly, while some Congressmen raise hackles of a media friendly to the BJP for their still unproven involvement in the Delhi Sikh killings of 1984, following Indira Gandhi’s gruesome murder, the fact is never highlighted that, unlike those people, Advani is actually chargesheeted under section 153-A of the Indian Penal Code, an offence that can carry a sentence of upto or more than seven years in the slammer.

And nobody who routinely complains here about the law’s delay seems to complain that the case against him remains mysteriously in limbo. Or that he should still be allowed to stand for office in the face of that chargesheet while others similarly charged are routinely hounded by the media and other high-minded sections of the Indian elite.

Incidentally, with respect to the Sikh killings in Delhi (1984) for which only the Congress party is held accountable, (that many of its satraps were involved in instigating the killings is not in doubt) it is instructive to read what Nanaji Deshmukh, that most respected of the Hindutva echelon, wrote in the Hindi Weekly, Pratipaksh, in its issue of November, 25, 1984—a Weekly then edited by no less than the redoubtable George Fernandes, defence minister of India under the NDA regime of 1999-2004.

It was his straightforward view that the killings of the Sikhs reflected a broad-based animus that India’s Hindus harboured against them. And, in his view, justly. No wonder that only the other day, Jagdish Tytler, one of the Congress leaders under suspicion, fairly or unfairly, pointed to the fact that some forty or more FIRs (first information reports with the police) still remain in place against individuals known to belong to the Hindutva camp, a feature of the 1984 killings almost never brought to public light.

II

Not heeding Modi’s diatribe against gerontocracy —just the other day he has said that the Congress Party is an 125 year old female hag and deserves to be dumped, a fine tribute to the Hindutva tradition of respect for elders and women especially that Hindus are everyday taught in RSS shakhas—Advani, even at 82 wishes to be India’s chief executive. A pathetic case of Barkis being more than willing.

A man of little empathy and even less imagination, he now gives us clinching evidence as to why his success in achieving that goal (of which thankfully there is not even a minimal prospect as of this day) could spell the end of the secular Republic of India.

In a letter addressed to some 1000 religious leaders, the bulk of them belonging to the Hindu faith, Advani, would you believe it, has asked for their “support” and ended his letter to them with a “shastang namaskar” (to wit, a prostrated obeisance).

That this is much more than merely courting religious communalism and drafting it to electoral success, is underlined by what he says subsequently: “It will be my endeavour (as prime minister of a secular Republic, mind you) to seek on a regular basis the guidance of spiritual leaders . . .on major challenges and issues facing the nation. For this we shall evolve a suitable . . . consultative mechanism” (emphasis added).

Put simply, the BJP candidate for prime ministership promises to return the secular Republic to an era when India’s kings and queens—mainly kings—always had at their royal elbow the religious authority of the dharma guru, and whose counsel on matters of war and peace would be decisive.

A sort of holy Hindu empire, if you like, with Hindu versions of the Wolseys and the Cranmers ready at hand.

That Advani should have so blatantly sought this course must suggest something of the desperation with which he seeks the high office of prime minister, even if in doing so he kicks the fundamental principles and “basic features” of the Constitution of India down the communal cauldron.

Clearly, unable during the NDA regime led by the BJP (1999-2004) to conclude a successful communal review of the Constitution (for which a high-powered Commission was indeed set up), Advani has thought it best to obtain the same result as part of campaign strategy.

It is much to be hoped that the full significance of all this registers on those well-wishers of the Republic whose life-interests tend to make them lackadaisically certain that cunningly smirking faces do not harbour intentions of the most regressive consequence to India’s hard-earned secular democracy and secular citizenship, or to the sequestration of the state from allegiance to any religion or religion-based form of legislative or administrative culture. Or, in the final analysis, of the subservience of secular governance to religious diktat.

Given the continued supremacy of the RSS over the political/electoral career of the BJP, the letter in question must seem an ominous proof of what Advani intends under RSS tutelage, namely to reformulate the nation and the state along Hindutva-theocratic principles of belief and practice.

III

It is to be seen whether or not the Election Commission of India, charged with the task of ensuring that all provisions of electoral law as codified in the Representation of People’s Act, and under the primary injunctions of the Constitution, are observed by Parties and candidates at election time, will take notice of the magnitude of offence that the Advani letter comprises.

After all, one of the first injunctions of electoral law in India is that no appeal shall be made to religion or religious authority for electoral gain. That the Advani letter should in black and white give religious leaders the “assurance” that an institutionalized “consultative mechanism” shall be put in place by him as prime minister to conduct the governance of the state in deference to their advice surely must be seen by the Election Commission for what it is: namely, not only to alter and subvert electoral laws but the state itself.

Many in India will wait to see what public reaction the Advani move will elicit, and, more particularly, what implications this will or will not have first for his candidature and then for the nature of politics in India. And whether or not Public Interest Litigation, or other legal remedies will be sought.

It will also be instructive to see how the electronic media in India deal with this unprecedented departure from Constitutional sanctity and legitimacy.


POLITICS-INDIA: Separatists Battle Moderates in Kashmir Polls

November 24, 2008


By Athar Parvaiz |  Inter Press Service


SRINAGAR, Nov 23 (IPS) – India’s Jammu and Kashmir state votes Sunday for the second round of staggered, seven-phase, provincial elections that have pitted separatists against mainstream political parties.

The voting follows violence on Saturday in Baramulla town, 55 km north of Srinagar, where police shot dead two young men participating in demonstrations to promote a separatist-sponsored boycott of the polls.

Separatist political parties have been appealing for a boycott of any electoral exercise until there is a resolution of the Kashmir issue, whereas mainstream political parties are encouraging people to participate in the formation of a government that can negotiate a political settlement.

“More than the government formation these elections are seen as an open contest between the mainstream politicians and separatists who stand locked against each other over the issue of participation or nonparticipation,’’ noted political commentator Mohammad Sayeed Malik told IPS.

“These elections have two strands; one is the wider one involving politics surrounding the Kashmir issue, and the other involves a struggle for power wherein mainstream political parties are contesting for government formation,” he added.

Several separatist political leaders who were running anti-election campaigns have been detained by the government. These leaders include Shabir Shah, Yasin Malik, Nayeem Khan, Ghulam Nabi Sumji and others. Apex separatist leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Farooq were repeatedly put under house arrest and there have been frequent curfews to thwart anti-election programmes.

While most separatist leaders favour independence from India, some advocate merger with Muslim Pakistan. Separatist politicians and militant groups are opposed to the polls because they believe that elections could strengthen India’s claim over the Muslim-majority territory.

Lying dormant for years, separatism received a shot in the arm about three months ago through a controversial land transfer by the government to a Hindu shrine, triggering regional and communal clashes in the state and revived the freedom movement in Kashmir.

In July, the state was put under direct central rule after the elected government collapsed over the land row amidst mass street demonstrations and clashes with security forces that left some 50 people dead.

Elections were announced in the immediate aftermath of this controversy, though after considerable dithering. Many voices cautioned against holding elections in the state at a time when it was reeling under regional clashes and a renewed freedom sentiment.

In the end, India’s Election Commission, which has a reputation for fairness, went ahead and announced a schedule for the Nov. 17 – Dec. 26 exercise.

It was expected that the polling percentage would be low given the complex setting in the state and the repeated calls for a boycott of the elections. However, the first phase on Nov. 17, covering the three constituencies of Bandipore, Sumbal and Gurez, showed an impressive 65 percent voter turnout.

“This is mainly because the space for mainstream political parties has been increasing ever since the 2002 assembly elections,” says Sayeed Malik. “Political discourse in Kashmir has changed after those elections. Presently there are many common points between the mainstream and separatist politics — both regard Kashmir as a dispute though they have their varied perspectives on it.”

The mainstream political parties in Kashmir are now openly advocating for the resolution of Kashmir issue and maintain that they are only participating in the elections for governance. “We are simply contesting elections for governance; Kashmir issue needs a resolution and the separatists are fighting for that,’’ says former chief minister of the state Farooq Abdullah.

Abdullah’s National Conference (NC), which has ruled the state for about three decades, has unveiled an exhaustive manifesto. “It is for the first time that the NC has come out with an elaborate election manifesto or vision document in which the party talks about the need for the resolution of Kashmir issue through its greater autonomy formulation,’’ says Gul Mohammad Wani who teaches political science in Kashmir University.

“However, in the vision document much space has been given to development and governance issues probably for separating conflict-resolution from governance.”

The other main political party in the state, People’s Democratic Party (PDP), has also come out with an election manifesto in which it has talked about issues ranging from self-rule to the concept of a loose sovereignty and the need for development in the state.

“Broadly speaking, the regional political parties have sharply positioned themselves on several important and critical issues facing the state ranging from good governance to conflict resolution,’’ says Wani.

According to him parties like the NC and PDP have enough stakes in these elections. “NC lost power to the PDP and Congress [combine] in the 2002 elections after ruling the state over decades. So it would be keen to get back to the seat of power. Should it fail to do so, it faces the danger of disintegration,” Wani told IPS.

“Similarly, the PDP, which is a nascent political party and fancies itself as a viable alternative to the NC, badly needs to perform better in these elections for its political survival,” Wani said.

Wani says that the stakes are even higher for the Congress which is a pan-India party. “Congress’s victory or defeat in Kashmir is likely to influence its performance in the parliamentary elections in India next year. So the party is fairly cautious and has, in its election manifesto, not gone beyond the need for decentralisation of power and overall development in the state.”

Smaller parties, apart from laying focus on a resolution of Kashmir issue, have emphasised the need for relaxation of the live border with Pakistani Kashmir, setting up of a commission for disappeared persons and building a consensus in India regarding the Kashmir issue.

The stakes for Kashmiri separatist leadership are also high. “More than anything else, the separatist leadership has its political legitimacy and reputation at stake. They badly need good response from people about their election boycott calls; should people ignore their appeals, it would be quite precarious and embarrassing for them,’’ says political analyst Noor Ahmad Baba who teaches in Kashmir University.

Till the other day, the equation was tilted in favour of the separatists, but after the good turnout of voters in the first phase it looks as if people may participate with enthusiasm in the remaining phases as well.

“It would not be fair to criticise the separatists if people come out to vote. After all, they were not allowed to campaign against the elections and most of them have been put behind bars under false pretences,’’ said human rights activist Showkat Sheikh.

Indian-controlled Kashmir:Kashmir votes as separatists protest, urge boycott

November 18, 2008

Protesters, police clash as polls open in Indian Kashmir amid separatist boycott call

AIJAZ HUSSAIN
AP News

Nov 17, 2008 12:26 EST

Large crowds voted in some towns in Indian Kashmir on Monday while protesters clashed with police in others as state elections began amid boycott calls by Muslim separatists.

The elections — to be held in phases over more than a month in an attempt to avert violence — come after some of the worst protests against Indian rule in the country’s only Muslim-majority state and a crackdown on separatist leaders who oppose the polls.

“You can’t have free and fair elections in the presence of hundreds of thousands” of occupying forces, said Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, a key separatist leader who has been under house arrest for three days.

Separatists say the elections will only entrench New Delhi’s hold on the troubled Himalayan region.

Anti-India sentiment runs deep in Kashmir, where most people favor independence from India or a merger with Pakistan. The region is divided between the two countries and both claim it in its entirety.

Despite the calls for a boycott, long lines of voters stretched around polling booths in several towns north of the capital, Srinagar.

Overall, about 55 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots Monday, said B.R. Sharma, the state’s chief election officer.

But it varied from district to district. In many Muslim-dominated areas, turnout was so low that paramilitary soldiers and police outnumbered voters.

In Bandipore, a town 40 miles north of Srinagar, police fired tear gas at dozens of protesters, local police official Mohammed Yousuf said. Two people were detained and one was injured, he said.

More than 30 separatist leaders who called for an election boycott have been detained in recent days under a law that allows police to hold people for up to two years without trial.

The recent pro-independence demonstrations were the largest in Indian Kashmir in two decades. They were met with a tough crackdown by government forces, and at least 48 people were killed.

The elections are being staggered to allow the government to deploy thousands of security forces in each area.

Police said they feared more unrest, particularly from militant separatist groups, although insurgents have vowed not to use violence to enforce the boycott. Campaigning was mostly peaceful.

Militant separatist groups have been fighting since 1989 to end Indian rule. The uprising and subsequent Indian crackdown have killed about 68,000 people, most of them civilians.

Source: AP News

Don’t ignore Constitution during election season

October 23, 2008

by Kathleen Taylor | The Capital Times, Oct 22, 2008

America is in the midst of an election season, nearing an Election Day with what likely will be far-reaching consequences. Public interest is extraordinarily high, and candidates are debating many critical issues. Yet we have heard little or nothing about the Constitution and its Bill of Rights — the touchstone of our individual freedoms.

The most significant words of the U.S. Constitution may be the first three: “We the people.” Not “I the King,” not “I the Grand Religious Leader,” not even “I the elected President.” Our governing structure was created by the people, and ensuring that it works for the people is a continuing legal, moral and political journey.

All through the centuries, arguments about the Constitution’s meaning have persisted: What does it mean that only Congress can declare war (Article I)? What constitutes “high crimes and misdemeanors” (Article II)? Is taking an oath of office with your hand on the Bible a “religious test” (Article VI)? Under which conditions, if any, should explicit sexual language not be considered free speech (Amendment 1)? Is a urine test for drugs an “unreasonable search” (Amendment 4)?

The remarkable characteristic of the Constitution is that it offers bedrock principles — checks and balances, procedures, freedoms, responsibilities, protections — while at the same time responding to the needs of contemporary society. It’s not an accident; the founders wrote it that way on purpose. The Constitution is our civic compass. It points the way for courts, legislatures and executive administrations. It guides us in times of war and of peace, of boom and of bust, and of everything in between. It keeps us on the path of fair play, equal treatment, liberty and security.

Or it does if we’re constantly vigilant.

Over the last two centuries, through activism, dissent and dedication, citizens have expanded the scope and depth of our liberty. And today, more Americans enjoy the “blessings of liberty” than at any time in history.

Yet, in recent years, our federal government has grown more powerful and secretive, assuming powers it does not rightfully have. Our government has: spied on Americans without the approval of Congress or the courts; allowed the CIA to torture and abuse hundreds of people, including Americans, in secret prisons throughout the world; held prisoners indefinitely without charge; placed hundreds of thousands of Americans on terrorist watch lists without an explanation or opportunity to appeal; and restricted the free flow of scientific information and set up barriers to the use of scientific materials.

No matter who wins the election, we must remember that the Constitution applies to everyone. It applies to the least desirable among us and to those with whom we vehemently disagree on matters of politics, religion or ethics. That’s the tough part. We need to be vigilant for all people, not merely the ones whom society favors.

This election season is an opportunity to think about what the Constitution has given us, as well as what we ourselves can do to make sure it survives — not just in letter, but in spirit. We can consider whether what’s been going on is consistent with the Constitution. We shouldn’t fall into the trap of “Well, it’s not me; it’s that awful other person who’s being tortured/spied upon/denied an attorney/discriminated against/harassed.” Any of us could be that person in the future.

Kathleen Taylor is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington state.

Empire and White Supremacy

October 22, 2008

The End of American Exceptionalism?

By COREY D.B. WALKER| Counterpunch, October 21, 2008

Now, when I say question the whole society, it means ultimately coming to see that the problem of racism, the problem of economic exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

So tell me why, can’t you understand
That there ain’t no such thing as a superman

Gil Scott-Heron

What happens to a nation once its most privileged symbols have been thoroughly discredited?  Where does a country turn to begin again?

After eight years of the Bush-Cheney regime, the United States confronts these questions in light of a deep and profound crisis of legitimacy. The current crisis is intimately shaped by the demands of 21st century American imperialism and is reflected in the (un)spoken language of white supremacy.

The financial crisis engulfing the global capitalist system has exposed the hollow core of the American Dream.  As thousands of individuals and families have their homes go into foreclosure, the symbolic center of the American Dream – the home – has turned into an economic nightmare from which no one can awaken.

The reckless financialization of global capitalism which accelerated over the course of the last decade has not only discredited free market fundamentalism, but has also severely compromised the economic and political standing of America’s unique brand of consumer capitalism.  The ideology of an infinite American prosperity is no longer tenable as capitalism unravels and more and more Americans face desperate economic times with equally desperate choices.

The trends that progressives have for years been highlighting – the consolidation of wealth among a coterie of the elite, the record gap between rich and poor, the downward decline of wages, and the ever increasing level of poverty – are now coming to the forefront of public conversation.

And in so doing, calling into question the foundational assumptions of American superiority.

While the veiled and coded language of American foreign policy has been deciphered and well understood by those on the receiving end of America’s imperial promises, the rogue and cynical exploits by the recent administration has taken the mask off of the imperialistic machinations of American power.  Average citizens have been forced to face the wide gulf between the rhetoric of politicians and the military actions pursued in the name of the American people.

As if the crisis of capitalism and the overreach of imperial America were not enough, Americans are now in the midst of a hotly contested presidential election dominated by the age old American pastime of the politics of race.  While racial politics have always been a prized weapon in the arsenal of both political parties, what makes the 2008 incarnation of this political ritual unique is that the appeals to white supremacy – not the amorphous language of “race” to which mainstream media commentators refer – while recognized and justly denounced in its most extreme expression, still resonates within the political landscape precisely because of the crisis of capitalism and the military exploits of the American Empire.

In times of economic crisis and national malaise, the old political standby of subtle and not so subtle appeals to white supremacy becomes logical.  Why?  Because so much of what constitutes the American nationalist imaginary joins all that is felt to be familiar, normal, secure, and safe with the attributes, disposition, and outlook of the quintessential white person.  And in moments of national anxiety and economic insecurity politicians must reassure the American people that all is right (and white) with America.

Thus, it should not come as a surprise that there has been a lack of critical commentary on the white supremacist dimensions lurking just beneath the surface of what is taken to be a legitimate political appeal to the middle class as represented in the language and image of “Joe Six-Pack” and “Joe the Plumber.”  So as the story goes, the dreaded “outsiders” of the White Republic are produced and reproduced – immigrants, terrorists, socialists, muslims, black nationalists, and the list goes on – in an effort to make sure that all that is solid for the United States of America does not melt into air.

On November 5, 2008, Americans will wake up to a new day.  And as with all new days there will be work left over from the previous day to do.  But for the United States of America, the work that is left over is from the beginning and has steadily increased over the course of centuries.

And, once again, we will begin the long arduous process of making a nation.  Perhaps, just perhaps, we will eschew the short sighted vision of power and might and just try to do what is just and right, both in America and throughout the world.

Corey D. B. Walker is an assistant professor of Africana studies at Brown University and the author of A Noble Fight:  African American Freemasons and the Struggle for Democracy in America.

Pakistan in Uncertain Times

August 27, 2008

The Military Waits in the Wings

By DEEPAK TRAPATHI | Counterpunch, August 23/24, 2008

Old enemies seldom make easy bedfellows. This is what we see in Pakistan today. Now that President Pervez Musharraf, once the military strongman, has been forced out, the shaky alliance of the two most powerful civilian politicians, Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, is unraveling. The euphoria over the defeat of Musharraf’s party in the February parliamentary elections has evaporated. The aim which had brought Zardari and Sharif together has been achieved. And their old hostilities are, once again, coming to the fore.

I have been an observer of Pakistan’s troubled and unhappy journey for over thirty years. And I must say that the sudden outbreak of hope after the victory for the democratic forces last February had not been seen for a long time in the country. The election result had clear messages from the electorate to those it sees as controlling the destiny of Pakistan. First, to the military, which has ruled the country for more than half of the period since independence in 1947; and which, under General Musharraf, subverted the judiciary above all. Second, to America, whose role in shaping Pakistan’s policies is seen by the electorate as unacceptable interference, exercised through the Bush administration’s proxy, Musharraf.

With Musharraf gone, Washington’s plans in the region are in disarray. Bush, in his final few months in the White House, seems to have decided to deal with Pakistan’s military chief, General Ashfaq Kiyani, on matters of collaboration in the ‘war on terror’. After ruling Pakistan from the front for almost a decade, the military has had enough and retreated into the background. However, it continues to be the real center of power behind the cover of a civilian government that survives from day to day.

Earlier, I referred to Zardari and Sharif being old adversaries. So I should give a brief explanation of what lies at the root of their antagonism and distrust. They belong to very different political clans. Sharif was a protégé of the military dictator, General Zia-ul Haq. Under his martial law administration, the Sharif family enjoyed a dramatic rise in its business and political fortunes. Zardari belongs to the Bhutto clan by marriage to Benazir, who was assassinated in December 2007. Sharif is from Punjab, the most populous and wealthy province, which dominates the military hierarchy of Pakistan; Zardari from Sindh, a province with about half the population of Punjab.

In the 1980s, Nawaz Sharif’s political fortunes rose dramatically, starting with his appointment as chief minister of Punjab with the blessings of General Zia. Sharif’s rise continued after Zia’s death in a plane crash in 1988 and, two years later, he rose to be the prime minister of Pakistan. Zia, during his military rule, deposed and then executed the head of the Bhutto clan, Zulfiqar Ali, the elected prime minister of the country. Before Sharif and General Musharraf fell out with each other and Sharif’s government was deposed in a coup in 1999, it was Sharif who was close to the military establishment. The Bhutto clan was the outcast and Benazir and her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, spent years in jail.

Memories of his overthrow, and subsequent exile to Saudi Arabia, by Musharraf have made Nawaz Sharif distrustful of the army. Zardari, acknowledging the army’s paramount role in the country’s politics, and encouraged by America, would like to work with it. The two are far more mature, suave and no longer as impetuous as they were in their youth. But that the political fortunes of one were made at the cost of the other remains a fact of history and difficult to forget.

Against that difficult-to-forget episode of history is the new reality of Pakistan today. The People’s Party led by the Bhutto clan, Benazir’s widower and their teenage son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, is the larger party in Parliament and its character is truly national. The main stronghold of the Muslim League faction of Nawaz Sharif is essentially Punjab, the most important province, but not the whole country. It matters at a time when rival forces are pulling the country apart. Some represent Islamic fundamentalism, others secularism; some support a strong center while others demand greater provincial autonomy. Pakistan is more volatile today than at the time of its breakup in 1971, when East Pakistan seceded to become Bangladesh.

As Zardari and Sharif maneuver to consolidate their positions after years in the wilderness, Pakistan struggles with the insurgency that grows day by day and the economic crisis worsen. New questions arise. As Zardari embarks on his quest to become the next president of Pakistan, will he turn the post into that of a constitutional figurehead? Or insist on keeping the powers to dismiss the government, dissolve the parliament and meddle with the judiciary? Will the next president side with the all powerful military and cooperate with the United States in the ‘war on terror’ that caused the downfall of Musharraf? Or work to reduce the role of the army in the running of the country? Will the judges who were dismissed by Musharraf by illegal means be reinstated? Or is the integrity of the judiciaryto remain in tatters? Above all, will the hopes, which the people of Pakistan pinned on the elected politicians, be realized? Or they will, once again, be disappointed. As these and other questions linger, the military will be waiting in the wings.

Deepak Tripathi, a former BBC journalist, is an author and a researcher, with reference to South and West Asia, terrorism and the US. His website is http://deepaktripathi.wordpress.com and he can be reached at DandATripathi@gmail.com.


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