Shut down Guantanamo. Do not hesitate.

Stymied by political opposition and focused on competing priorities, the Obama administration has sidelined efforts to close the Guantánamo prison, making it unlikely that President Obama will fulfill his promise to close it before his term ends in 2013

This is deplorable. Guantanamo Bay is a symbol for everything that ‘cowboy diplomacy’ stood for; of Americans doing things on their own, without regard of the consequences of their actions. It still boggles my mind how the Bush administration got away with what they had going on at Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and Guantanamo …Bay.

And now the Obama administration is showing hesitation – at least not trying their hardest – in shutting down Guantanamo Bay. Keeping Guantanamo Bay open represents a continuation of the Bush administration’s foreign policy paradigm.

Maybe these guys need to watch “Taxi to the Dark Side” (again, if they’ve already seen it) to know what went on in those inhumane facilities.

Is the heroin / drug addiction problem an inevitable part of history?

global opium cultivation — which is used to make heroin — has dropped 13 percent overall, to 657 tons.

…heroin use remains solid in Europe. Consumption is particularly strong in Western countries such as the United Kingdom, Italy and France, and as demand for both heroin and cocaine has grown within those nations…

So a drop of 13 percent in opium cultivation only pulls the figure down to 657 tons. Well that’s a relief.

The statistic about the alarmingly high usage in (Western) Europe is particularly interesting. What does it mean? What are the implications of this figure? Does it have anything to do with the histories of these European countries? Does it have anything to do with the political makeup of these countries?

It has become my belief after studying history and political science in University that most countries, since the inception of countries (arguably in the 17th century, after the Peace of Westphalia), loosely follow a linear progress.  Generally speaking, most countries begin as dictatorships.  Some move quickly on to become monarchs and/or theocracies and / or empires.  Then, usually through a period of violent struggles, these countries become democracies.

If one were to attribute the birth of the nation state to Europe (most specifically, Western Europe), then one could argue that these European nations have been on this line of historical progress the longest.  As we can see, most of the Western European countries now have centuries-old democracies, some of which came as a result of the masses overthrowing monarchs (most notably Great Britain and France).  Other democracies were born after extended periods of often violent struggles, some involving the toppling of empires, others involving a battle of ideologies (ex. Italy and Russia, although Russia did not become a so-called democracy until the late 20th century).

(Note that this line of historical ‘progress’ that I’ve outlined does not refer to it being ‘good’ or ‘bad’, because that would stir up a whole other debate about how ‘great’ the countries are, and bring into question the merits of democracy.  The ‘progress’ in my context simply refers to the evolution countries undertake over time.)

With this in mind, let us look the non-European countries that are potentially ‘next in line’, or have already followed, this historical line of progress: India, China, Iran, and various African nations.  The article shows that these countries all have heroin consumption rates of 5-15%.

If these countries do follow the line of progress as those of Western Europe, does this mean that heroin use in these countries will increase in the future?

The key question here is: what is the correlation between the politics of a country and its population’s drug addiction problems? Britain, France, and other Western European countries now have functioning welfare-state style social democracies.  Some of these countries pride themselves on this fact.  It would be quite devastating if there is a relationship between the political structure of a country (more specifically, social democracy) and its drug problems.

But alas, it is nonetheless good news that opium production is down.  Now if only we can ameliorate the drug problems in some of the oldest democracies in the world…
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Republicans block tax extenders bill, with one bogus cause in mind

“The legislation, known as the “tax extenders” bill, would reauthorize extended unemployment benefits for people out of work for six months or longer, would protect doctors from a 21 percent pay cut for seeing Medicare patients, and would provide billions in aid to state Medicaid programs.

Come Friday, 1.2 million people will lose access to the extended unemployment benefits, a number that will grow by several hundred thousand every week after that…

…the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that dropping the $24 billion in aid to states will cause 900,000 public- and private-sector layoffs in 2011.”

Yep, the Republicans are unanimously blocking this bill.

A Republican filibuster for something that’s actually good for America. Surprised? Nope. But think of it this way, though. The Republicans are always arguing for deficit reduction, which is fine, but why cut spending in such important services such as medicare and unemployment? Why not cut, let’s see… military spending? or NASA? Because they are stubborn ideologues.

It also doesn’t make sense because America’s deficit is increasing no matter what. The US continues to borrow, owes China a huge some of money, and has to spend billions feeding its military endeavors. But of course, nobody in America wants to see their taxes raised, so the problem continues.

McChrystal, You’re Fired

President Barack Obama rebuked his Afghanistan war commander for “poor judgment” Tuesday and considered whether to fire him in the most extraordinary airing of military-civilian tensions since Harry Truman stripped Gen. Douglas MacArthur of his command a half century ago.

The White House summoned Gen. Stanley McChrystal to Washington to explain disparaging comments about his commander in chief and Obama’s top aides. The meeting set for Wednesday was a last-ditch moment for the general once considered the war’s brightest hope.

So McChrystal is being sacked for… being honest? No, he is being sacked for being disrespectful.

For example, the skilled French soccer striker Anelka was sent home from the World Cup after he got into an argument with his manager. NFL players are often benched by their coaches if they become a nuisance, in public or in the locker room.

In fact, I’d even venture a guess that McChrystal might have been under the influence of a certain substance when he made those remarks; he was being interviewed by Rolling Stone, after all. He had to have known the shitstorm he’d stir up as soon as he said those things. No military official in their right minds would be so offensive to top government officials like that.

Despite the perceived sadness and disappointment of some to see McChrystal go, it is mildly amusing that we bear witness to another figure whom we thought would bring hope and success to the government’s policies become a disappointment.  Not long ago, this happened with President Obama’s economic team, namely Tim Geithner and Larry Summers (and even Ben Bernanke); critics of the administration have called for them to resign, citing competence or other more biased reasons.  Yet, we never saw Geithner or Summers come out and criticize the President like McChrystal did, even if they believed, for example, that the bailout was not big enough.

That being said, if McChrystal is a good military commander, he should be given a second chance.  Perhaps he should not be taking high profile positions such as that of commander for the war in Afghanistan, but he remains a useful resource for the military.

Drill or no drill.

On the surface, it kind of makes sense.  But when you think about it, the ramifications of another rig exploding is too serious, hence the moratorium.  What do you think the backlash would be if the White House allows drilling again and there is another spill? The administration would get nothing done, other than PR damage control and containing the disaster.

Afghanistan’s minerals: no we can’t?

Kind of follows my previous post.  This piece provides more insight and better estimates as to what the discovery of vast sums of minerals in Afghanistan means.I tend to agree with McNeil’s comparison of Afghanistan to Congo: “[…] both are rugged and remote, far from coastlines and with few roads or railroads, making it hard to get minerals out and policing forces in.”  It is especially unsettling seeing as Congo has been the site of one of the most brutal civil war conflicts in human history.

The main point that McNeil wanted to get across in the first half of the article is that when natural resources are discovered in less-developed countries, imperial powers come in and exploit them.  But there comes a point when the cost of extracting those materials outweigh the profit from exploiting them, and Afghanistan might prove to be the case.

One of the most compelling estimates from this article is that it would take 5 to 15 years to go from where most of Afghanistan is now to an operating mine (costing anywhere from hundreds to billions of dollars), and another 5 to 15 years for the investment to turn a profit.  This means about 30 years worth of dangerous work put into a country ripe with violence, corruption, and ready to collapse at any moment.

Finally, the article mentions China’s ability to exploit materials that Western nations cannot because of its state-driven policies.  China already has heavy investment and influence in numerous African countries, and has brought with it its atrocious human rights reputation.  The thought of China surpassing the Western nations in its quest to become the world’s dominant power (arguably it already has) by doing what the Western nations did for hundreds of years (from the 15th to 19th centuries) makes me cringe.

So if even China thinks it’s too risky to invest in Afghanistan, then perhaps no one can, for now.

A break for Afghanistan?

Depending on your perspective, this might actually be a good thing…

Yes, from just one report, Afghanistan went from a place where just about nobody cares to mineral heaven. This of course means that countries in the West will undoubtedly try to take advantage of these materials. It’s what the West does, and has be…en doing it for a very long time. The most salient current example is probably the oil in Iraq, and that American companies like Haliburton are trying to make profit off of Iraq’s oil.

While it is obvious that no one likes to see their own country’s natural resources being exploited by foreigners, in the Afghans’ case, this might not be the worst idea, seeing as most parts of the county doesn’t even have roads. According to the article, companies that are eager to exploit the minerals would have to invest billions of dollars to basically build an infrastructure from scratch, everything from mines to roads (possibly railways). This could potentially mean jobs, and a way for Afghans to finally end their dependence on poppy farming.

It is certainly not the best approach to nation-building, and certainly contains an air of colonialism, but it might be the fastest way for Afghanistan to develop itself as a country.

I suspect that Secretary Gates and General Petreus would welcome this news, as recently they were being grilled on Capitol Hill by legislators who have grown impatient with the lack of progress in Afghanistan. The discovery of minerals perhaps would give the Pentagon, as well as the White House, a new cause to stay in the country.

On a side note, the article mentioned two mining / mining assessing companies situated in Canada (one in Toronto, one in Vancouver). It seems like our involvement with Afghanistan lies beyond our government policies. Perhaps it is not a bad thing.