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Egypt in Crisis January 28, 2011

Posted by Afflatus in Events, Politics, World Affairs.
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Protests in Egypt are larger and more intense than they’ve ever been before. “Unprecedented” is the word most frequently used to describe the current political events there. The size of the democratic revolt is unprecedented, as are the levels of repression and censorship. After videos like this Tiananmen square incident and this government shooting were posted to internet sites, the Egyptian government shut down Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, and other social networking sites. This extreme form of government repression and censorship reminds me of the Iranian protests after their June 2009 election was allegedly rigged. The main difference between these protests and those of the Green Movement in Iran is that the Egyptian regime is a staunch ally of the US, whereas the Iranian government is Americas top foe in the region. This fact makes for an extremely delicate challenge for the Obama administration. How should the U.S. respond when a democratic revolution threatens to topple a government that serves our interests?

In his State of the Union, the President spoke of the ideas our nation was founded upon. Perhaps the two most fundamental ideas of the American revolution was that all people have the rights to liberty and to govern their own affairs. The political repression in Egypt is on par with the harshest in the world. The economy has been horribly mismanaged for years. Egyptians don’t have certain inalienable rights. America’s fundamental values from which American exceptionalism is derived – liberty, democracy, and the pursuit of happiness – are in direct conflict with a state which protects our core vital interests i.e. counter-terrorism, cheap flow of oil through the Suez Canal, as well as mediation in regional issues such as Gaza, Lebanon, and Iran. Our values conflict with our realpolitik national interests. Historically, for the United States the later has nearly always trumped the former; our core vital interests as a state override our the values we profess to uphold.

But this is the wrong time to forsake our values. Not only is standing on the side of freedom and democracy the right thing to do, if the calculation of the United States’ core interests is made with a long-term view, it is also in the best interest of the United States. Mubarak is 84 years old and sick, the population is young, unemployed and restless, and inflation is off the charts. These protests may or may not topple the regime, but they have already made the US support for Mubarak more costly. Mubarak’s succession is imminent. One way or another he will be replaced soon. Rather than attempting to prop him (or his son) up indefinitely, the United States should support the people of Egypt, both in words and deeds by using its immense leverage with the Egyptian government to make serious, democratic reforms.

Like all revolutions, the one gathering steam in Egypt is multifarious. Thus, it is difficult to tell whether the next government of Egypt (whenever it comes) will be closer in political outlook to the Muslim Brotherhood or Mohammed El-Baraedi. The US would certainly prefer the later, but that is not a choice for the US to make. Instead it should distance itself from the Mubarak regime (something the Obama administration is already beginning to do). The US should also seek better relations with future power brokers in Egypt, so that when power changes hands the US will be more likely to find common ground with the new regime.

This should get very interesting!

The best Western-based coverage I’ve seen so far is a primary account in the NY Review of Books, however it’s author was a Cairo-based Egyptian journalist, Yasmine El Rashidi. Twitter has some good coverage as well: lots of links to primary coverage. One tweet read: “The entire nation of Egypt has no Internet access, and the top story on the NYT is the Chicago Mayor’s race? WTF??”

Roosevelt Island May 31, 2009

Posted by Afflatus in Events, Explorations.
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Today I went to Roosevelt Island, Theodore not Franklin. The island is the one in the Potomac between the Georgetown waterfront and Roslyn; you can see it from our balcony (if you can call it that). It was a fantastic trip on so many levels. The island has a memorial to Teddy that is really nice. It’s immersion in nature provides for serenity that is unmatched by any other monument or memorial that I have visited. There are paths: big and small, cleared and concealed. We kayaked over there, which some guidebooks say is the easiest way to get there. The only alternative to crossing the water by boat is taking the metro to Roslyn and then walking across a pedestrian bridge (I kayaked both ways so I don’t know anything more than this.)

The Island is pretty big, it took maybe an hour to walk leisurely around the perimeter. The natural environment there was beautiful. Lots of trees, swamps, flowers, shrubbery, and wildlife. Supposedly there are water snakes, beavers, possums, and I forget the rest, but we didn’t see any of these. Today was a beautiful day, so hikers, joggers, picnickers, and visitors were ubiquitous. As a result, the so-called wildlife was nowhere to be seen by my deteriorating vision. Though we did see (and hear) many birds, and butterflies.

It’s fitting that the Teddy Roosevelt memorial would be on a largely undisturbed island as the president was a lifelong nature-lover. Roosevelt pioneered conservancy in this country at the Federal level: he began the National Park Service (among other efforts). Teddy was fascinated by Yellowstone and Yosemite, and he spent much time in Africa on safari-like adventures. Teddy was also a big game hunter and this was usually his activity of choice while in Africa — strange for a conservancy-minded man.

Quotes by Teddy found at memorial (all great, only some worthy of our quote board where some may appear later):

“Courage, hard work, self-mastery, and intelligent effort are all essential to a successful life. Alike for the nation and the individual, the one indispensable requisite is character.”

“Be practical as well as generous in your ideals. Keep your eyes on the stars but remember to keep your feet on the ground.”

“There is delight in the hardy life of the open. There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy and its charm.The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets, which it must turn over to the next generation. increased and not impaired in value.”

“Conservation means development as much as it does protection.”

And some photos:

Teddy was a very interesting man and President. Interesting, for one, because of his combination of machismo and nature-loving, a combination that is sadly considered eccentric in today’s culture. Enough for now, anybody know of a good biography of Roosevelt? Or, anybody want to go back? I’m down. And, PLEASE President Obama, now is the time to pass a comprehensive environmental protection plan. This is the only livable world our (meaning “human’s”) expert astronomers have been able to detect in an unfathomable amount of light years; let’s conserve AND improve the damn thing, as Teddy maybe would say.

Why We Fight May 27, 2009

Posted by Afflatus in Events, Explorations.
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Yesterday I went to the National Museum of American History. In general, it was a great museum. I saw cool historical artifacts such as a Woolworth’s counter where sit-in’s had taken place during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s. I also saw the actual flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write our national anthem following the successful defense of Baltimore Harbor in the war of 1812.

The exhibit I spent the most time in was one that covered the wars of the United States. This exhibit was entitled “The Price of Freedom.” I found this title interesting, though not surprising, and I also found it distasteful. Entitling the war exhibit in our nation’s main history museum “The Price of Freedom” implies that the we fought wars in order to defend or maintain our freedom, and this is blatantly untrue. This is hardly the case for any war we’ve fought in, with the possible exception of World War Two.

Granted, the sub-section inside about the war of 1898 (in which the US acquired Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines) was correctly labeled a war of expansion. I was happy to see this concession made by the historians employed by the Federal government to craft the history which the museum would teach.

All in all, the museum was great. It was well designed, with lots of cool interactive features, displays, sounds, and more. It is obviously worth visiting, and I hope to go back and spend more time there. Still, the title “The Price of Freedom” was disconcerting; the museums clear attempt to portray our war efforts by the singular goal of defending freedom irritated me. Am I just being picky, or does this seem wrong to any of you?

John Kerry and Foreign Aid May 25, 2009

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Last Thursday I attended a very interesting event at the Brookings Institute, a left-leaning think tank. The event was titled “Diplomacy and Development in the 21st Century: A conversation with Senator John Kerry.” Kerry was invited to come speak as chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee. He mainly spoke about a desperate need to balance the diplomatic and military aspects of our foreign policy strategy. He wants more funding for the state department, USAID, and other humanitarian efforts that lie within these agencies. He spoke extremely well, and showed he was highly knowledgeable about an huge range of foreign policy issues. My notes from the event follow. They are random, and sometimes unintelligible, but I hope you will gain more insight into what Kerry spoke about. Enjoy

Jason considered coming, but it was too late to RSVP. We wondered whether it would really be packed, “Wouldn’t it be in a large auditorium” I asked. Well, I’m here, and Jason wouldn’t have gotten in. Its packed, not enough seats for all. (I was just interrupted by a battle over a seat 3 seats down.) Jason, I wish you were here with me.

12:37 the doors close, people just outside of the entry squeeze forward, and with that, everyone’s in.

A man enters, stands behind the podium, looks at us, and then turns on the Teleprompters, probably for the next speaker.
• O, how teleprompters have changed politics! Each word is now carefully contemplated and practiced. There is no need for the speaker to remember his speech.
12:43 John Kerry and panel enter.

3 points about Kerry – Kerry’s introduction
• 1. Knows about conflict and war, he is a veteran, if you can avoid it, the gift to humanity of being able to avoid it, is great. John Kerry with a huge nod.
• 2. Helps help treat diseases abroad. Kerry was a leader, he is committed to aid!
• 3. Enviornment issue. Constantly will be an issue from now on. League of Conservation voters considers Kerry really good. He has humanity dear to his heart.

Kerry begins to speak:
• 1 mistake: everyone in elected life needs an introduction

Thoughts are with Strom, who died from Brookings. But reading off Teleprompters, its weird. I am sitting exactly behind the teleprompter so I can see his eyes, it weird.

Begins by hearkening back to the Marshall plan.
65 years ago, George Marshall. Germ lost 90% of RR, 1 in 5 houses in France destroyed. No currencies, no food, totally horrible.

Huge praise of Marshall plan! Super successful he says. Marshall understood isolationism was over. Marshall had a vision, offered at a critical moment.

Developmental assistance born out of Marshall Plan
• Investment aid, east Asian economic miracle stemmed by US, helped with quakes and tsunamis,

USAID is a point of pride, and it should be for Americans

His family moved in 1955 to Berlin, Kerry was 12 and aware of reconstruction efforts, plaques saying Marshall Plan, the plaque stood for the US

Not so easy to just replicate it
• His true genius → he saw clearly the challenges at that particular moment, saw the world he wished to create, reached into govt then changed policy and invented institutions.

• Marshall matched his rhetoric absolutely.
• Today there is a gap btw rhetoric and actions on USAID
• We need a strategic vision 4 diplomacy and develop that will meet new challenges
o Ethnic sectarianism
o Religious extremists
o Far more complex than back then, but still urgent and necessary

Challenges are greater than anything we have ever faced” Kerry

Must summon the political will, and reach global effort to do it.
• Low carbon techs for all, the little people
• Fight disease with a multifaceted intl response.
o I helped do this, which Bush translated into PEPFAR?? Wiki
• Must embolster the efforts of aid organizations loosing men in conflict regions
• Ex. I was in ME with King Abdullah of Egypt
• Easy to see gap btw rhetoric in West and PA to actually build a stable PA.
• Globalization involves us more in crises in ME and around the world
o These challenges are growing, not diminishing, studies show this, ppl point this out

• we need a new global order going forward
o Must summon the will
• From leadership, and grassroots
• Summon it to deal with the challenges in this multipolar world
o Global warming is getting worst, coming at us faster.

.35% funds all state dept, all USAID, all humanitarian efforts, an insult to common sense

Last year the army added 7000 soldiers, which is more than the us Foreign Service. We need to increase diplomatic efforts at achieving US strategic interests. Nice call Kerry

• Met ppl on front lines in NW frontier province
o Fighting to win the hearts and minds
o She was definitely contributing to helping, but she could have done so much more.
o Must give foreign service more, NOW. Their potential is going untapped.!! Great point

o As a result, the military takes over, becomes over-deployed. Soldiers, microfinancing, being policemen, judges, cultural anthropology, hearts and minds winners. It’s a remarkable feat that they do accomplish it, but they need civilian helpers.
Bottom line: US could function more efficiently with a more balances carrot and stick.

Long Term
• More resources
Short term
• Diplomatically
o Rebuild in 3
• 1. More resources more personnel
Diplomats falling through the cracks is horrible. Under funding and understaffing. Loosing hundreds of thousands of jobs
Also hindered
• 1,500 new officers over the next 2 years.
• 2. Use embassies to improve our image abroad
• 3. Must give them freedom, unleash these creative ppl. Read Book: 3 cups of tea, youll see.

• He thinks its crazy more Americans don’t know a 2nd language. I need to master Spanish

Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan

• Must clarify policies and goals
• become more transparent. You cant prioritize everything, they nothing becomes a priority – true.
• Implement reforms to make USAID
• (60% goes to 10 countries for political military counter narcotics and HIVAIDS
The rest goes to way more countries
We need more balance, comprehensive development strategy. )
• 3. Must strengthen human resources. Agriculture experts to spark green revolution in Africa, scientists to deliver to places where they’ve never seen an America, to save climate,
• Must promote a results based culture of accountability and achieving goals.
• USAID should be a place of innovation and accomplishment
• 4. Must streamline outdated laws! Of course
o Last revision was year of his arrival, 1985.
• 5. USAID must screw Washington, needs to globalize USAID workers
o Like cutting off our nose to spite our face
We like how obama understands and is committed.

Announcing foreign affairs authorization act, the foreign aid bill.
Neither will bring comprehensive reform all at once
• He said he wants comp reform, why not draft it dude?
• Has twice seemingly forgot the name of the bill. I decided to ignore it the first time.

• Reforming diplomatic cure, improve embassies esp. environmentally, will help move it forward,

No state dept. authorization bill since 2002. Lets end this, and take responsibility
• Will be crucial to revitalizing development agencies he spoke of earlier
• Must reform – cutting edge programs to end global poverty.
o Hes getting repetitive here.
• Hiring top talent, yup already said that

• JFK – founding of USAID – “we cant escape our moral obligations to be a moral leader, “to fail to meet those obligations now, would be disastrous and in the LR, more expensive. Then he was talking about communism (interesting). “Thus our own security would be endangered,” conflict is bred by our bad FP which lacks diplomatic efforts.

• This quote can easily be applied to USAID reform.
• Cutting poverty and hunger by half by 2015. Speaking of nice, lofty goals. Way to go.
• Universal effort for education. Must eliminate gender disparity.

• Blog about female genital mutilation, moral problem, and problem with mentioning it, taboo.

• What are your views on the role of democracy and human rights in USAID? Cites CFAP – excluding democ and human rights from our efforts.
• Kerry’s response:
• Tough and central question: avoided a little. Then goes
o Democ and human rights are in the American DNA. Should not take a backseat “as we engage with countries” always must be part of the discussion. He always raises human rights issue. Ex. Damascus 12.
o I always mention it, but there does have to be a balance. Can’t deal with everything all the time. Must be a balance.
• It would have been better to withhold the elections for longer, but this possibly violates human rights. Bush messed up, but he insisted on human rights. Great example Kerry and he drilled on bush

I thought he just gave a great answer. Must exercise wisdom, judgment, discretion, and judge on a case-by-case basis. Def True.

Afgh- Pak
• Must win the information war.
• Public Diplomacy
o Voice of America – going on about it, used to be a trustworthy news outlet, lost that, became overly politicizes. Now bbc, cnn,
o But in a lot of parts of the world we have no news going to Pakistan.
o In NW frontier region, over 50 FM channels. They rule through instilling fear, announced executions, announce that some1 must change something, or else will be executed tomorrow. Also, Taliban circulate videos of beheadings, you can buy 1 for 1 USD$.
o Interesting

oHow to approach the Muslim World?
• Conference with evangelicals US, clerics mufdis, elahs,
• Kerry addressed the commonality of the Semitic religions “Abrahamic”.
• The Muslim world must reclaim the legitimate religion, not the hijacked one by the extremists.
o The obvious problem is there no 1 universal figure like the Pope.
o Random ppl issuing fatwa’s
• Abdallah in Egypt and Jordanian King are leading an effort to make the moderate reforms.
o Tolerance, pluralism, coexistence,
o Our diplomacy must do this .
o He has heard thousands of times about how their lives were thrown topsy-turvy by US invasion of Iraq.
Resupports Obama
• Points out how the President is especially good with public diplomacy in the ME, and Muslim world.
o His speech in Egypt. Highlights
AID in US Soviet union, former
Get more specific Kerry…
• Institutional changes? Legislation within these institutions?
• All of the above. Pragmatically speaking: we don’t have unlimited resources.
• Not really answering her questions so far.
• We are doing it in numerous, multi-lateral ways, which is contradictory to his earlier “must not prioritize everything”, also still not being specific like she wanted him to be.
• Again, refers to 3 cups of tea book.
We need legislation that toes the line and does not create more beaurocracy in itself. TRUTH
2 part question: development is in LR, how do we reconcile with SR efforts?
• 2nd part; there are risks.
o Compares the field to Washington
• Don’t dictate from here; create incentives, like globalization, and capitalism, free-market incentive. The democracts should speak with words that show their capitalists, not socialists as the Right tries to say.
Empower ppl on the ground.

LR and SR?
• A matter of defining our national security properly.
• In recent administration; national security was erroneously defined too narrowly,
o Gen. MacKrystal has helped improve national security, empowering grassroots, using more diplomacy, Kerry clearly approves of Obamas new appointment. In conjunction with what I was just talking about” he says. Get people to take a stake in their community (he is now teetering on the edge of my capitalist-prose suggestion.) Making that last step in phrasal framing would benefit American politics, helping it slide to the left.

Afghanistan identity
• Always local
• UK divides Pakistan and afghan arbitrarily. Kerry is explaining the conflict from a historical perspective. Speaking vaguely but truthfully, referencing Pashtun conflict with other ethnicities.
Summary: reconnect to ideas from Marshall plan, let that past inspire us. We rebuilt Japan, now one of our most reliable allies (despite the coercion). We rebuilt Germany, now they are one of the strongest economies in the world! Implies total credit to the Marshall plan.

Marco Rubio Event April 13, 2009

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So I head to the Marvin Center today to see a lecture and Q & A session with Marco Rubio. He was a Representative in the Florida legislature, and then became Speaker of the Florida House. He is a Cuban – American and a Conservative.

I knew basically none of this before attending the event, which I also learned upon arrival was being hosted by College Republicans and Students for a Free Cuba. At first I thought this was an interesting combo of sponsors.

My Mom LOVES Cuba, and she is liberal as hell. She wants to “Free Cuba” she deeply cares about the Cuban people. So I was at first confused by the two sponsors.

Today was a fitting day for the event in light of Obama’s announcement to ease restrictions on family travel, remittances, and gifts, as well as opening up telecommunications with the island. Read more here or here. I was pleased with Obama’s announcement, however it quickly became apparent that I was alone in my satisfaction over our President’s latest announcement. I was clearly the only liberal in the room.

Rubio is young and articulate. He spoke quickly, and detailed his views on policy towards Cuba:
– Absolutely do not lift our embargo, it is our last, best leverage point for creating a free Cuba (i.e. a politically free, non-repressive regime) During the Q & A, one of my fellow classmates posited the opinion that instead of maintaining the embargo and waiting for Raul Castro to die, we should get more proactive in our efforts to “free Cuba.” How exactly? “Why not blockade the Island?” (Exactly what JFK did in ’61, only because we were on the verge of a nuclear war) I expected laughter, but I observed nodding approvals in response to a quality question. Obviously, being a level-headed and pragmatic politician, Rubio was against the idea.
– He wants to export our founding fathers principles on government: democracy, freedom, inalienable rights, etc. (His speech began by quoting the declaration of independence) Despite his language sounding exactly like the rhetoric of Cold War presidents, he made absolutely clear that “this has nothing to do with the Cold War” a phrase he repeated frequently.

The most interesting aspect for me was to come to the realization that people on both sides of the political spectrum want to “free Cuba.” Liberals usually want to end an outdated embargo that is the main repressive agent of Cuban development. (Rubio did not address this viewpoint because “Only a minuscule minority of people actually believe this,” he said. I was one of them.) Conservatives want to wait out the Castro regime and maintain our leverage. He felt lifting the blockade would create a huge, and powerful, US business lobby in Congress that would lobby for maintaining the status quo regime in Cuba – a repressive, Marxist one. Lifting the embargo is a bad idea, according to Rubio, because all trade and money entering the country must first go through the Castro regime, and he believed it would be stolen by the corrupt regime.

Anywhooo, it was interesting, and I thought I would share some thoughts. Holla

Abraham is the Man April 5, 2009

Posted by Afflatus in Events.
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WHEN: Sunday, April 12th @ 3:00pm (FREE!!)
WHERE: The Lincoln Memorial
WHAT: Marian Anderson Tribute Concert

On April 12, 2009, the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission will be holding a tribute to Marian Anderson’s historic concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939.  In 1939, Miss Anderson was denied the right to sing at DAR Constitution Hall because of the color of her skin.  With the help of Eleanor Roosevelt and others, Miss Anderson performed at the Lincoln Memorial to a crowd of 75,000.

We hope to reach that same number of attendees for this concert as well!  Highlights include opera singer Denyce Graves, acclaimed a capella group Sweet Honey In The Rock, the Chicago Children’s Choir, a naturalization ceremony, THE US MARINE BAND, and former Secretary of State GENERAL COLIN POWELL (Ret.), who will deliever the keynote address.

For more information, please visit http://www.lincolnbicentennial.gov/calendar/lm-rededication-series-4-12-09.aspx.