Category Archives: Hegelian Dialectic

More support the US becoming Communist than approve of Congress

A dark cloud passes over the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Many lawmakers fear that Congress’ already low approval rating will sink even further after the failure of the supercommittee. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Even Lawmakers Ask: Does Anyone Like Congress?

NPR | Nov 25, 2011

by David Welna

It’s long been the case that only a minority of Americans approves of the job Congress is doing. But last month things hit a new low: For the first time ever, a CBS News-New York Times poll showed Congress’ approval rating had plunged to a single digit — 9 percent.

And following this week’s failure by the congressional supercommittee to agree on a deficit reduction plan, many lawmakers fear that number can only get worse.

One evening a couple of weeks ago, Colorado Democrat Michael Bennet rose to speak in a nearly empty Senate chamber. Clearly exasperated, he warned his absent colleagues that their 9 percent approval rating was fast approaching the margin of error for 0 percent approval.

“More people support the United States becoming communist — I don’t, for the record — at 11 percent, than approve of the job that we’re doing,” Bennet said. “I guess we can take some comfort that Fidel Castro is at 5 percent.”

‘What Is The Problem?’

The ranks of Congress haters would seem to be growing. But how do lawmakers themselves explain the low esteem they’re held in?

As Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., put it: “It’s not enough for people to say Washington is broken. It just is not enough.”

Just minutes after the bipartisan supercommittee that Kerry sat on admitted failing to reach an agreement, he told reporters the question that had to be asked was: “What is the problem?”

“And I will say to you after these three months [when the supercommittee was in existence] that it is clear to me that the problem is a huge ideological divide in our nation,” he said.

That’s Michigan Rep. Candice Miller’s take on the problem as well. Before heading home for the Thanksgiving break, the fifth-term Republican noted that voters did elect a divided government last year.

“We are really a reflection of the country, I think, right now, because you have about half the country that probably wants more government, more government spending, etc., more government regulation. You have the other half of the country that is saying, ‘no,'” she says.

But Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., doesn’t think those stark differences should necessarily lead to congressional paralysis.

“We’re approaching this, both sides, as though this is an ideological battle to be won, rather than a practical problem to be solved,” he says.

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., recently warned his colleagues from the Senate floor that their approval rating is fast approaching the margin of error for 0 percent approval.

Maine Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat who has been in Congress nearly three years, says she’s frustrated with many of her colleagues.

“I’m kind of embarrassed for us,” she says. “I mean, I feel like as a member of Congress, I do the right thing, and I’m on the side of right, but the fact is, if the entire institution can’t act and can’t move forward and can’t find a way to work with the president in such tough economic times, we deserve the blame heaped back on us.”

‘It’s Worse Than It Looks’

Historically, Congress has resolved its differences and gotten things done through compromise. But Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., says compromise is not what everyone wants.

“Every time I’m in the streets of my district, one person will grab me and say, ‘Don’t you think it’s about time you compromised?’ The next person will say, ‘I’m sick and tired of your compromising. What’s wrong with you? Can’t you stand on principle?'” Kingston says.

And that is what makes it so hard for Republican lawmakers like Kingston simply to split the difference, says Norm Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning Washington think tank. Ornstein has been watching Congress and writing about it for decades. He says not even members from solidly GOP districts can feel safe these days making deals.

“For Republicans in Congress right now, in the House especially, what they’re looking at is primaries ahead,” Ornstein says. “And we know a number of these Tea Party freshmen are much more worried about a challenge from the right in a primary — somebody saying he’s ‘gone Washington’ because he’s voted for something — than they are about what happens after that in the fall.”

Ornstein says he’s not surprised Congress has just gotten its lowest approval rating ever. His last book about that institution, published five years ago, was titled, The Broken Branch. The working title for his next book on the same subject is, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks.

Vladimir Putin wants Soviet-style power bloc to rival EU

Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin Photo: Reuters / Vostock-Photo

Vladimir Putin has said he wants to forge a “Eurasian Union” on the vast swath of territory that used to be the Soviet Union to compete with the European Union and the United States.

Telegraph | Oct 4, 2011

By Andrew Osborn, Moscow

Speaking six months before he reassumes the Russian presidency for the third time, Mr Putin said he wanted to create a global power bloc that would straddle one fifth of the earth’s surface and unite almost 300 million people.

“We have a great inheritance from the Soviet Union,” he wrote in an article extolling the idea in the daily Izvestia newspaper. “We inherited an infrastructure, specialised production facilities, and a common linguistic, scientific and cultural space. It is in our joint interests to use this resource for our development.”


Back to the USSR? Putin raises fears of return to Cold War days with plans for ‘Eurasian Union’ of former Soviet states

The Russian prime minister called the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century” and is known for revelling in Soviet nostalgia.

He denied his new plan was an attempt to resurrect the Russian-led superpower, insisting that the Eurasian Union would be freer than the Soviet Union and membership would be voluntary. “We are not talking about recreating the USSR,” Mr Putin claimed.

“It would be naive to try to restore or copy what was in the past. But time dictates that we should have closer integration based on values, politics and economics.”

The Soviet Union included 15 different republics which became independent countries after its chaotic collapse in 1991. Three of those countries – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – have since become members of the EU and it is unimaginable that they would sign up to the Eurasian Union.

Georgia, a country that lost 20 per cent of its territory in a war against Russia in 2008, would also be highly unlikely to acquiesce. But Mr Putin said an existing kernel of three countries – Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus – were already locked into a new common economic space with shared customs and other rules that would serve as the foundation for the Eurasian Union.

Mr Putin said he expected Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to sign up soon. “We are talking about a model of a powerful supranational union capable of becoming one of the poles in the modern world,” he said.

Andrei Okara, a political analyst, said: “Putin does not just see himself as a Russian leader but on a historical and global scale. He wants to make grandiose political moves that will leave their mark on history.”

US threat of military action unites Pakistan

People rally against the U.S. in Multan, Pakistan, Wednesday, Sept. 28 after Pakistan lashed out at the U.S. for accusing the country’s most powerful intelligence agency of supporting extremist attacks against American targets in Afghanistan. Khlaid Tanveer  /  AP

Accusations that the country is helping Afghan insurgents triggers backlash

NBC | Sep 29, 2011

ISLAMABAD — U.S. accusations that Pakistan is supporting Afghan insurgents have triggered a nationalist backlash and whipped up media fears of an American invasion, drowning out any discussion over the army’s long use of jihadi groups as deadly proxies in the region.

In the process, Adm. Mike Mullen’s allegations that Pakistan’s spy agency is effectively sponsoring terrorism across the border have led Pakistan, a country divided along political and regional lines, to unite against a common enemy: the United States.

The U.S.-Pakistani relationship, which officials on both sides had said less than a month ago was improving after strains caused by the unilateral U.S. raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound, has now dipped to a new all-time low.

Limited room to act

The reaction shows the problem facing the United States as it presses Pakistan for action: Strong statements in Washington provoke a negative public response that makes it more difficult for the army to act against the militants — even if it decided it was in the country’s interest to do so.

Pakistan’s mostly conservative populace is deeply suspicious of U.S. intentions a decade after Washington forged an alliance with Islamabad. Many people here believe the United States wants to break up Pakistan and take its arsenal of nuclear weapons, and America is very unpopular throughout the country.

By contrast, Pakistanis lack unity against Islamic militants. Politicians and media commentators are often ambiguous in their criticism of the Pakistani Taliban, despite its carrying out near weekly bombings in Pakistan over the past four years.

One small private television channel has aired an advertisement that features images of Mullen, America’s top military officer, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta along with scenes of the Pakistani army fighting and raising the country’s flag.

Each time the Americans appear, a shrill voice sings: “Enemies, you have challenged a nation which has a growing knowledge of the Quran and the support from Allah. Our task in this world is to eliminate the name of the killers!”

Firestorm over Mullen’s comments

Mullen’s comments on Capitol Hill last week set off the storm.

He said the Haqqani network, the most deadly and organized force fighting American troops in Afghanistan, was a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s premier spy agency, the strongest public statement yet by U.S. officials on Pakistan’s long suspected duplicity.

Calls from American lawmakers to cut or limit aid and to consider expanding U.S. military action inside Pakistan have further inflamed discussions and media frenzy in Pakistan, prompting headlines like “When will US attack?”

Pakistan’s Senate Standing Committee on Defense has said that any attack on Pakistan would be met with a “befitting response,” NBC News’ Amna Nawaz reported from Islamabad.

Most analysts view that scenario as highly unlikely because of the risks it entails for U.S. interests in the region. But that has not quelled tensions in Pakistan.

The head of Pakistan’s army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, dismissed Mullen’s comments as “very unfortunate and not based on facts.” Pakistan’s foreign minister accused Washington of making Pakistan its “scapegoat” for its own lack of success in Afghanistan.

Frantic U.S. effort

In recent days, the United States has launched a frantic diplomatic effort to calm the waters, withAmerican officials meeting with Pakistan’s military and government leaders.

U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador Marc Grossman, took to the airwaves Wednesday night to make his case to the Pakistani people.

In an interview with Pakistan’s Express News channel, Grossman stressed the need for the two countries to continue “work together” against the “common threat” of terrorism.

“This is not about ending relationships or moving away from relationships, rupturing relationships,” Grossman told Express News. “It’s about continued engagement in the relationship.”

On Thursday, the leaders of Pakistan’s feuding political parties will put aside their differences to sit under one roof to discuss the issue. In announcing the meeting, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said the lawmakers will discuss “the security situation in the wake of threats emanating from outside the country.”

The Sunni Ittehad Council, an organization representing the country’s Barelvi sect, often referred to as the most moderate among Pakistani Muslims, issued a statement saying it was obligatory on all Muslims to wage jihad against the United States if it attacked Pakistan.

“The Pakistani government and the armed forces should start preparing to counter any possible American attack as Islamic law suggests ‘keeping the horses ready’ to counter any sort of foreign aggression,” the statement said.

There have been a few small street protests since Mullen’s comments, but nothing major.

In some respects, the situation mirrors the atmosphere after the May 2 American helicopter raid on bin Laden, which was carried out without the knowledge of the Pakistani army. There was outrage then over the infringement of the country’s sovereignty by the United States, but little on how bin Laden had been living in the army town of Abbottabad for so long.

Now, the focus is on Pakistan’s public humiliation at the hands of a supposed ally — and the threat of American action.

Full Story

US playing the good cop, bad cop

Bad Cop Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen | Sep 30, 2011

Admiral Mullen’s allegations about Pakistani support for Islamist insurgents has caused tensions with Islamabad. The Obama administration is now cautiously distancing itself from the criticism made by Mullen.

Pakistani officials were outraged last week when Admiral Mike Mullen, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress that the Pakistani military’s spy agency were backing the Haqqani Network, an Islamist grouping which allegedly masterminded the attack on the US Embassy in Afghanistan in September.

These were the most serious allegations levied at Pakistan since the beginning of the Afghan war. They carried special weight because they came from Mullen, who is considered to be one of the Pakistani military’s closest allies in the US administration.

Bad cop Mullen

Mullen described the Haqqani Network as an arm of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, ISI. He said, that the ISI provided the Haqqani Network with funding, logistical support and a safe haven. Faced with Pakistan’s vehement denials, the White House, Pentagon and State Department carefully refused to endorse Mullen’s comments on Wednesday.

When asked by National Public Radio on Wednesday whether he would change anything he said last week, Mullen replied,”Not a word. I phrased it the way I wanted it to be phrased.”

Good cop Clinton

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters on Wednesday that,”I have no argument with anyone who says this is a very difficult and complex relationship because it is.” She went on to say that she believes strongly that both the US and Pakistan have to work together despite the difficulties.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Reza Gilani indicated on Thursday that his government was committed to work with the US but he made it clear that no military action against the Haqqani Network was on the cards. Gilani told political and military leaders meeting to formulate a response to Mullen’s allegations that,”Pakistan cannot be pressured to do more.”

As Associated Press reports, Daniel Markey, a Pakistan expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, said Mullen’s comments seems to reflect internal disagreements over how to deal with Pakistan’s alleged links to the Haqqani Network.

Shuja Nawaz, the director of the South Asia Center at the US based Atlantic Council, said he was worried about who was taking the lead on Pakistan in the Obama administration, given the paucity of experts on the country.

Pakistan has refused to target the Haqqani Network’s sanctuary in North Waziristan, saying its troops are stretched too thin by operations in other parts of the tribal region. Many analysts believe, however, that Islamabad doesn’t want to threaten its historical links with the group because it could be a useful ally in Afghanistan after foreign forces withdraw.

Markey said the Pakistanis are clearly upset by Mullen’s statements,”but they would not do anything constructive about it, so we will end up in a worse relationship with no positive benefits on the counterterrorism or counterinsurgency side.”

Norway police explore several Breivik links

Anders Breivik Templar Knight Commander | Aug 26, 2011

by Lyndsey Smith and Michael Sandelson

Anders Behring Breivik may have had an international network of people with the same ideals.

According to Breivik’s lawyer, Geir Lippestad, his client has already hinted there are “friends abroad that think the same way as him and that they will continue his work.”

Dagbladet reports this consists of the Norwegian defence league (NDL), the English Defence League (EDL) and the Stop Islamisation of Norway (SIAN). The groups contact each other via social networking sites like Facebook, where groups can be made private and only available for members to view the contents.

EDL blogger Paul Ray is in Norway this week being questioned by police over alleged mentoring connections. Ray has already admitted being a possible influence.

Breivik sent a message to members of the EDL before killing 77 people, saying, “In these dark times all of Europe are looking to you in search of inspiration, courage and even hope that we might turn this evil trend with Islamisation all across our continent.”

Investigators are also searching through Facebook for traces of links between Breivik, the EDL, NDL, and SIAN, and believe they have found a connection with a key member of this last organisation. The SIAN member has deleted his account, but there are suspicions they have been in contact a great deal.

Prosecutor Christian Hatlo says if this is true, “it will be necessary to bring in people from this community. There have already been some interviews, without us being able to go into further details.”

Heads of other European extremist organisations have been quick to deny association with Breivik when questioned. Leader of Stop Isamisation in Europe (SIOE) Dane Anders Gravers told Dagbladet Breivik was not a member and had been rejected as his views were too extreme.

Responding to reports by Danish blog site P77, allegedly supported by a screen dump showing the two were friends 13 months ago, Gravers says, “Breivik’s claims are lies. SIOE’s leaders have never been in contact with him, and we have never discussed a strategy, of course.”

Breivik has spoken to police about his connections with extremist organisations, however, openly discussing how he had talked of discussed a plan with members of SIOE and the EDL.

Meanwhile, the Norwegian Defence League (NDL), formed in 2010, has three different stories about its involvement with the 32-year-old mass murderer. NDL’s current leadership denies having any contact with Breivik.

Former leader Havard Krane claims that Breivik left after a few days as he found the organisation too mild. Successor Lena Andreassen has a contradictive story stating that he was a member but she kicked him out. Finally, the organisation’s present leader, Ronny Alte, says “he was a member here for a short period under the previous leadership, but chose to resign from the NDL himself.”

Radiation in Japanese children’s thyroids

A boy receives a radiation scan at a screening center in Koriyama in Fukushima prefecture in March (AFP, Go Takayama)

AFP | Aug 18, 2011

TOKYO — Forty-five percent of children tested in the region around Japan’s stricken nuclear plant were found to have traces of radioactive elements in their thyroid glands, an official said Thursday.

The official said that the iodine concentrations — found in tests that the government carried out about five months ago in Fukushima prefecture — were not considered alarming in terms of their health impact.

“The government’s official position is that none of the children showed radiation levels that would be problematic,” he told AFP.

The government’s nuclear accident taskforce tested 1,149 children aged up to 15 about two weeks after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami triggered meltdowns, blasts and fires at the Fukushima plant.

Radioactive iodine tends to gather in the thyroid glands of minors in particular, increasing the risk of developing cancer later in life.

Of the valid test results collected for 1,080 children, 482 or 44.6 percent were confirmed to have some level of radioactive contamination in their thyroid glands, the government official told AFP.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said none of the children suffered contamination beyond the equivalent of 0.2 microsieverts (mSv) per hour, the standard set by Japan’s Nuclear Safety Commission.

“Only one child showed a contamination level of 0.1 mSv per hour, the highest of the group,” the official said without giving the child’s sex or age.

The commission recommends that children, especially young ones, whose thyroid gland is contaminated beyond the 0.2 mSv limit undergo an in-depth physical checkup, citing international standards.

The commission is considering tightening its safety standard to 0.1 mSv.

The children tested came from three municipalities — Iwaki city, Kawamata town and Iitate village — where especially high levels of radiation had been estimated after the accident, the official said.

The Fukushima government plans to conduct life-time medical checks for the estimated 360,000 people aged 18 or younger who were in the prefecture at the time of the nuclear accident.

The taskforce medical team began sending test results to the families of the children last week and gave a briefing on Wednesday to a group of parents and guardians in Iwaki city.

Some participants complained that the team took months to inform them of the detailed results despite the gravity of the nuclear accident, the world’s worst since Chernobyl 25 years ago, the Asahi Shimbun daily reported.

The government official said the taskforce did not consider informing the families of the details results as a priority since no child had shown contamination levels beyond the safety limit.

Norway attacks intensify political resolve of many youths

Children stand at a makeshift memorial on the shore across from Utoya Island, where at least 68 people were shot to death in one of Friday’s twin terrorist attacks. (Fabrizio Bensch, Reuters / July 27, 2011)

The Norway massacre may shape the views of an entire generation. Already, youth parties, both liberal and conservative, are reporting membership surges.

Los Angeles Times | Jul 28, 2011

By Edmund Sanders

Reporting from Oslo — The sandy-haired young man runs his finger over an orange wristband with the word “Utoya,” a leftover ID bracelet from the Labor Party youth camp where 68 people, mostly teenage activists, were gunned down last week.

“I can’t take it off,” Vegard Groslie Wennesland says softly, seated at a cafe in central Oslo where broken glass was still being cleared from the separate car bombing that terrorism suspect Anders Behring Breivik also admits to committing.

Tragedy is transforming the lives of young Norwegians — and in many cases, such as that of the 27-year-old Workers’ Youth League member, strengthening their resolve.

A week ago, Wennesland’s biggest worry was completing a University of Oslo master’s thesis on Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and then, perhaps, taking a jaunt around the Middle East to practice his Arabic.

Now, after seeing friends shot point-blank in the head and hiding under a cabin bunk until the massacre was over, Wennesland has put his graduation plans on hold and spends his days consoling traumatized members of the youth league. He’s vice chairman of the Oslo chapter; the chairman is among the presumed dead.

Norway’s deadliest peace-time attack has traumatized the nation, but is taking a particular toll on the young, the primary targets and disproportionate victims of the attacks. Photo spreads of the dead being published in newspapers unintentionally evoke the look of high-school yearbooks — bright smiles, often accompanied by pimpled faces or spiked hairdos.

In the short-term, the violence appears to have motivated many young Norwegians. Youth parties, both liberal and conservative, are reporting membership surges. Even the Progress Party, which Breivik joined as a youth and later quit in frustration, reported that 30 new members have signed up since Friday.

The interest marks an abrupt shift — in recent years political participation and voter turnout had waned among the young. Now many are expecting record voter turnout during the next nationwide youth election in September.

In Norway, student elections occur on high school and college campuses as they do in the U.S. But here, they are partisan contests in which the nation’s leading political parties compete for the youth vote. The polls are seen as an important breeding ground — as are political summer camps such as the one on Utoya — for the nation’s future political leaders.

Beyond the firsthand horror experienced by the nearly 700 youths at the camp — unprecedented political violence in a nation where crime-related gun deaths are rare — the massacre may shape the views of an entire generation, influencing politics, priorities and fears for decades to come.

“It’s something that will impact their world assumptions, their view of life, their feeling that the world is basically safe and that human beings are good,” said Tine Jensen, a child psychologist at the Norwegian Center for Violence and Traumatic Stress Studies. “They will never forget.”

Jensen points to the massive vigils, memorials and stories of ordinary heroes risking their lives to save others as positive lessons, strengthening the national unity of young Norwegians, who have responded with solidarity and defiance.

“You can’t change the event, but you can try to counteract it in the aftermath,” Jensen said. “When we see how Norway has responded, with flowers and people helping each other, it may actually end up enhancing the sense of cohesiveness and humanity.”

Jensen, whose center is drawing upon the experiences of the Sept. 11 attacks and on decades of gun violence in Los Angeles, said the trauma for Norway is particularly intense. That’s because young people here have so little direct experience with violence and because Breivik reportedly told police he intentionally targeted the left-leaning youth retreat, believing he could decimate the future leadership of the liberal Labor Party he despised.

Breivik, who police say has admitted to committing both attacks but has pleaded not guilty, made clear in his pre-rampage writings that he had Norway’s youth in his sights. His 1,500-page manifesto claimed the first phase of an anti-Islamic revolution would be the formation of “cultural conservative patriotic youth movements,” which would serve as the “backbone” of a right-wing resistance movement.

Wennesland said he’s committed to ensuring that Breivik’s intentions to crush the Labor Party are not fulfilled.

“Then he wins, and no one in Norway wants him to win,” he said. “Those of us left are going to be stronger. We will be tighter. The shared experience will tone down the differences that we’ve had inside the Labor Party for a considerable amount of time. So yes, this will affect us to a great extent, and I think it will mostly be positive.”

In an ultimate act of defiance, Wennesland vowed the youth group will return to Utoya next year for its annual retreat.

“The values and ideals that were attacked Friday will prevail,” he said.

Havard Narum, a political columnist for Norway’s Aftenposten newspaper, said he expects the Labor Party to enjoy a short-term boost as a gesture of sympathy. In recent years, the Labor Party — historically the dominant party among Norway’s young — has been losing support to right-leaning rivals, such as the Conservative Party and the Progress Party.

Breivik may have succeeded in drawing attention to his anti-immigration views, Narum said, but his tactics may have made the climate too sensitive for right-wing parties to even raise the issue in the foreseeable future.

The long-term political impact of the attacks remains unclear. “But one way or another, I believe this will have consequences for the whole political climate for quite a long time,” Narum said.

As the identities of more victims are released and funerals take place nationwide, parents are also grappling with how to answer their younger children’s questions and ease their fears.

“My son keeps asking me, ‘Why?'” said Anita Kleemp, 48, an unemployed mother, standing next to her 5-year-old boy in downtown Oslo. “But I really don’t know what to tell him.”

She said she thinks it’s nonetheless crucial to discuss the tragedy with her youngster. On Monday, she brought him to the downtown Oslo bombing site to observe a national moment of silence. Later, they stood in front of the courthouse and waited for a chance to see Breivik being driven to his initial closed-door judicial hearing.

“I wanted my son to see that [Breivik’s] in jail so he won’t be afraid,” Kleemp said. “But also I just thought we should be here. It’s part of the Norway experience. I want him to remember.”