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A few words on Juan Williams and a must see video for the weekend

October 22, 2010 Leave a comment

“I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.” – Former NPR correspondent Juan Williams on the O’Reilly Factor.

As I’m sure you have all heard by now, National Public Radio (NPR) national correspondent, Juan Williams, was fired Wednesday for comments made on the O’Reilly Factor. The aftermath of the firing has been predictably volatile. The right has been quick to certify the move as an attack on the First Amendment and to use it as an example of why NPR should lose Federal funding; which, of course, is a long harbored resentment in conservative circles. NPR clarified their decision with a weakly logical and ill-justified statement. So here we are, three days later, with a new hot-button issue for the right to slam Democrats with in the lead-up to November 2nd and a respected national service with egg on its face. Was it the correct call by NPR or a misguided attempt at political correctness? As much as I hate to admit it, NPR erred massively in the firing of Mr. Williams.

Let me first say that I do not agree with nor do I hold the same opinions expressed in Mr. Williams comments. That being said, they are not, unfortunately, far from accurate in how the vast majority of Americans feel when interacting with Muslims. Poll after poll after public opinion poll has concluded that Americans on whole are, at the very least, nervous with the idea of Muslims. For this reason alone, Mr. Williams should not have been fired. The conversation on Islam, Islamic extremists and the overall faith has, for WAY too long been perverted by those who wish ill upon an/or do not understand the word’s second most populous religion. The way I see it, the only way to reroute this discussion and clear up misconceptions/end bigotry is to OWN where we are, no matter how offensive it is to the palate, as Americans today. Undoubtedly, this is a hard perspective for Muslims to take. I don’t think I would be able to if I prayed towards Mecca. I do think, though, that saying what ignorant people are thinking is not a fireable offense, but rather a teaching moment.

On the other hand, Mr. Williams is by no means above reproach. In my opinion, Mr. Williams is guilty of two infractions of his NPR correspondent status. First, no matter the conservative screams of “Lefties at NPR!” or “Liberal media bias!,” NPR is civil service based on providing in-depth, unbiased news coverage. It is one of the few places within our catch-phrase society where persons can count on thought provoking analysis. This means that NPRs producers and contributors adhere to highest journalistic integrity. Mr. Williams, as a contributor to this mission, was at fault for betraying this integrity by pandering to an imbecile like Mr. O’Reilly. This leads me to my second charge and the real inappropriate action in this whole escapade. Mr. Williams should have never, ever had this conversation on a medium such as the O’Reilly Factor. Mr. O’Reilly, he of fear-mongering and bigoted fame, has attacked, again and again, Islam and its adherents. The most recent, high-profile example was his greatly publicized tiff with Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg on The View. It was derived, naturally, by Mr. O’Reilly claiming that all Muslims were responsible for 9/11. My point is this: while I do not believe Mr. Williams is a bigot in any way, by making these comments on the O’Reilly Factor, he lent credence to a demagogue and created a political moment.

Yes, Mr. Williams erred in judgment. No, he should not have been fired. This is a strike against NPR and could have a political impact as well as a social one if Sarah Palin’s “defund NPR” movement continues gaining momentum. All from a correspondent telling the damned, ugly truth. I can only hope that we thinkers can own this and use it as a national conciousness moment.

A Video You Must Watch

YOU MUST WATCH THIS VIDEO. PERIOD. A man and his son decided to take it upon themselves to make a homemade spaceship so the son could see what space looked like. This video is the result. The conversation and the implications of this experiment are vast, so we will save that for another day. But couple this will NASA’s discovery of arable soil on the Moon… maybe the future isn’t too far away.

Have a great weekend! The Week in Fodder will be back next week! Until then, enjoy the Fodder!

The Afghan-Pakistan Conundrum

October 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Pakistan: the regional powder keg.

Our armed forces and their NATO allies are now plodding into the tenth year of the War in Afghanistan. After a decade fighting in remote, inhospitable terrain against a foe that is constantly bolstered by widespread public discontent in the civilian government; a policy tipping point is fast approaching. Since June, the Obama Administration has publicly confirmed that it will tentatively begin the draw-down of troops in Afghanistan in the Summer of 2011. (I will quantify this by saying that 10 months is a long time; the Administration and the Department of Defense are not soothsayers and have no idea if the timeline will be adhered to.) But as that political line-in-the-sand creeps closer, constituents, policy wonks, talking heads and law makers will be scrutinizing the gains made in Afghanistan in the past ten years and the prospects of the war succeeding in its goals. The consensus will likely follow the views of the general public: that the war cannot succeed based on an opposition to American involvement and disillusionment with the mission.

A quick analysis of the War in Afghanistan will reveal a myriad of facts that will establish one truth: that Afghanistan is almost unwinnable because of truly impassable terrain, a civilian government racked by corruption, a continually active insurgency and a lugubrious economy. The facts leave little doubt in this conclusion. These seemingly insurmountable developmental challenges are inextricably linked by a common factor that has been, until last week, missing from the collective American consciousness: Pakistan.

Realistically, I cannot sit here and claim Pakistan is an actual “lost factor” in America’s discussion of the war. We have, for a year(s), heard about the Pakistani Taliban, cross-border drone strikes and the country’s shady, if obviously visible, links with Islamist extremism. However, these negative topics about our strategic ally have always been brought to light by independent organizations, pundits and policy groups. That is to say, US government officials are not usually the derivation of maligning conversations about Pakistan. This has been the case since the Bush Administration’s buddy-buddy relationship with ex-Pakistani strongman Pervez Musharraf (yes, strongman) to the Obama Administration’s working friendship with the venerable Benazir Bhutto‘s corrupt widower Asif Ali Zardari. That is, until last week.

Last Wednesday, the White House produced a report on Pakistan and delivered it to Congress. The game changing factor of the report comes in the frank language the Administration uses to describe the very real, lack of veracity that permeates the Pakistani Government’s attempts to tackle Islamist groups within its borders. This is the first time that a recent American administration has charged the Pakistani authorities with not actively combating extremist groups that it can, in most likely scenarios, handle. So why does Pakistan do this? Why has it not throttled the groups that are detrimental to Afghanistan’s and its own security? Ironically, it has nothing to do tacit religious complacency or desired influence in Afghanistan. It has everything to with its looming neighbor of 1.1 billion.

India, the unseen influence in Afghanistan.

Understanding this, I want to draw your attention to the one integral issue that will be the eternal hurdle to winning the War in Afghanistan: Pakistani-Indian relations, more specifically, Kashmir.

Now, you may ask, “how does that perpetual conflict affect the Taliban and Afghanistan?” Unfortunately, the two are much more closely linked than any official of the United States, Pakistan or India would likely admit. Pakistan, since the beginning of the decades long conflict, has been fighting a proxy war with the Indian administrators of Kashmir through the training of Kashmiri (doubling as Islamic) extremist groups. Pakistan’s secret police, the ISI, have been involved in the preparation of militants aligned with Lashkar-e-Taiba (which gained international notoriety for their attacks on Mumbai) and a myriad of other jihadi groups. Mr. Musharraf, just this past week, confirmed this oft debated fact. Because of the volatility of relations between the two regional powers, Pakistan decided that it would be in their best self-interest to promote these independent, violent actors (mostly in the Federally Administered Tribal Regions) in case any conflict were to combust. The result has been better than intended. Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore; all have experienced violence committed by groups linked to the lawless tribal regions. The infamous Wazirstans, the stronghold of every group from the Pakistani Taliban to al-Qaeda, are now in the grip of extremism that is dauntingly difficult to loosen. In bolstering supranational organizations, the Pakistani authorities unintentionally (maybe intentionally unintentionally?) created the forces successfully hindering NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Now this is all fairly rudimentary knowledge for any one who has studied the region; most have not, however. What I want to stress is that all of these policies were introduced and acted upon under the auspices of competing with India; it was unequivocally the motivating factor. THIS is the part of the Pakistan conversation that is missing in the American media though is integral in understanding Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan.

We cannot discuss all the intricacies of Pakistani-Indian relations here; there is just too much to cover. We can say, however, that since partition, India and Pakistan have used one another for justification of dangerous land disputes (Kashmir), nuclear pursuits and regional power brokering. It has been 63 years. Religious tensions, power politics, bitter history and pure hate (for some, sadly) divide the two powerful nations. Until there is a normalization and warming between the two neighbors, the one-upsmanship and twisted reasoning for shady dealings will absolutely continue. We all have to hope that the day will come soon. If not, Afghanistan may be the least of the international community’s worries in South-East Asia.

Lieutenant General James Clapper, Good Luck Sir.

July 20, 2010 1 comment

DNI... just a dream?

When Dennis C. Blair resigned as the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) in May, the intelligence community, Congress and the rest of the federal government were left to wonder: “is the position of Director of National Intelligence feasible?” Since the creation of the position in 2006 – I will go into more detail about this in the following paragraphs – four men have held the post. For a Cabinet-level position, four different appointees is not a healthy turnover rate. So as we watch the newest nominee – Lieutenant General James Clapper – go through the nomination process today, it is time to start thinking about the hard questions revolving around the US intelligence community and the position that is entrusted to keep all the 16 individual agencies in line. Does the DNI have enough power to press people into following its lead? Can the CIA Chief live without being the end-all and be-all in the intelligence game? And finally, is General Clapper the answer?

Post-9/11, Americans were left to wonder “how did this happen on American soil without the intelligence community knowing?” Congress immediately went to work trying to find an answer to this question. Authorized by lawmakers, the 9/11 Commission produced a long, scathing report on the failures of the intelligence apparatus and recommendations on how to clean it up. Over and over again, the report speaks to the need for “cooperation and coordination” between the different intelligence arms. What resulted from the investigation was the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. The centerpiece of this legislation was the establishment of the DNI; someone who could take the reigns of the sprawling intelligence landscape and make sure that everyone got along and shared information. The DNI, for lack of a better metaphor, was to be the study hall proctor for the individual, petulant agencies. The only problem is, the position has not been able to get all of those agencies in their seats, let alone tell them what to do.

So what’s the problem here? Why can’t the DNI gain traction? Let’s go through the DNIs and why they each left office. It might shed some light on the problems. The inaugural DNI, John Negroponte, left the post in order to allow President Bush to change his strategy in Iraq. Although a seemingly benign rationale, there were already rumors of Mr. Negroponte having trouble getting the spy agencies in line. Next up was Vice Admiral John Michael McConnell. During his tenure as the DNI, Mr. McConnell repeatedly made detrimental mistakes to solidifying his power over the community. In 2007, Mr. McConnell granted an all access interview to the El Paso Times (over-sharing?) and then proceeded to threatened the reporter. In 2008, he directly contradicted Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ assessment of the Afghanistan War. He finally stepped down to return to the private sector in January, 2009 after losing respect in a myriad of difference agencies. Finally, we come to Dennis Blair; the quintessential case study in the failure of the Directorship of National Intelligence.

The Seal of the United States Intelligence Community: the DNI's worst nightmare.

Mr. Blair’s tenure was littered with controversy. Last year, Mr. Blair appointed John Deutch, a former CIA Director who was unceremoniously dismissed from the community for improperly storing top secret information, to a board of independent intelligence overseers; at best a careless oversight, at worst a disregard for protocol. Earlier this year, he told Congress that the Obama Administration did not consult him on the charges brought against Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab; inappropriately aired dirty laundry. Most importantly, Mr. Blair continually clashed over intelligence turf – drones in Pakistan, agency budgets, type of tea at meetings, etc. – with CIA Director Leon Panetta.

So what does this all mean? First, it means the DNI may be the hardest position in the Cabinet to hold. Whether it be controversy or territorial clashes, the DNI seems to be continually impeded by something. Second, something clearly needs to change in order for a person to step into this Directorship and get things done. No one has been able to succeed and these men have been more than qualified and competent. Third, and most importantly, the CIA must understand – for the good of the intelligence community – that it is no longer running the show. THIS will undoubtedly be the hardest sell.

As we watch this newest (and unluckiest?) man go through the nomination process for the DNI, we can only cross our fingers that he will be the study hall proctor we have been waiting for. In order to stop the extremists – who are, no matter your politics, out to hurt Americans – from attacking this country, we need a healthy and capable intelligence community. The DNI can only help this cause. So, Lieutenant General Clapper, good luck. I’ll be rooting for you.

The Week In Fodder

June 25, 2010 Leave a comment

The end of another week.

The week in review. How many media outlets have such a section? A hundred? A thousand? I’m not sure I can even google that statistic. For that reason, you have to be asking, “why should we turn to the Fodder for our Week in Review?” I’m going to give you a couple reasons, hopefully compelling, as to why you should tune into Cocktail Fodder on Fridays. First, we’re going to bring you the most succinct but far reaching synopsis of international, national and under-the-radar news stories from the past week and those that will be on everyone’s mind come Monday. I bet you’ll engage in conversation about one of the topics we write about within 72 hours of reading our “Week in Fodder”. Second, this won’t be all news. You’ll get the song of the week, quote of the week, idiom of the week, well, anything we think might be of interest. It’s all fluid. Spontaneity will rule. So please enjoy this week’s review and we hope you come back for more Fodder on Monday.

World Views:

Coke Caught: Christopher “Dudus” Coke was, at long last, arrested in Jamaica. Coke, the alleged Caribbean drug lord, has been in international headlines since Jamaican special forces and police stormed the slum in which he was hiding. The operation led to the death of over 70 people. A tactical and human disaster, the Jamaican push for Dudus underestimated the alleged drug lord’s clout and support among the people. After his arrest, he was extradited to the U.S. where he will stand trial for his connections to the American drug trade.

Greek Turmoil: Late last night a bomb in Athens killed an aide to the Greek Counter-Terrorism Minister. This harrowing attack comes after months of protests over austerity measures passed by the Greek government. Unfortunately during that time radical elements have used the unrest to step up attacks and provocation of the administration. Keep an eye out for further developments.

Saddam’s Spies: The Iraqi police state under Saddam Hussien had the most extensive internal spy network this side of the East German Stasi. When the United States entered Iraq in 2003, they destroyed, shipped to America or locked up the files that showed what neighbor turned in who, how intelligence was gathered and shed light on the fates of those lost. This week, NPR ran an intensely interesting piece on the push to bring the files back to Iraq and open them to the public. Read it, see what you think and how it could effect the fragile stability Iraq has achieved.

Pakistani Terror Convictions: A Pakistani court convicted five Americans on terrorism charges. Claiming that they were only there to “help fellow Muslims,” the five traveled to Pakistan in December and were detained by Pakistani security forces. They were all sentenced to ten years. This is only the latest, and possibly most high profile, example of Americans seeking out their own jihadi future; a disturbing societal development.

Burundian Anxiety: After years of civil war, insurgency and general strife, the leader of Burundi’s biggest rebel group, the Forces for National Liberation (FNL), disarmed in 2009. Since then Agathon Rwasa has become the countries leading opposition voice. Ominously, Rwasa has not been seen since Wednesday stoking fears that he may once again be taking up arms. We’ll follow this story with a keen eye.

American Matters:

General Stanley A. McChrystal

McChrystal Fired: This is all over the news, I know, but this a MONUMENTAL story; one that we will probably write about next week. This week, General Stanley A. McChrystal was dismissed by President Obama over critical remarks he and his staff made in a Rolling Stone interview about his civilian commanders. He will be replaced by General David Petraeus. We’ll leave it at that for the moment. Read these articles if you can and come back for a Fodder op-ed on Tuesday!

Palin’s Illegality: After a formal ethics investigation, former VP nominee Sarah Palin’s legal defense fund was deemed illegal for misleading its donors and ordered to pay back close $400,000. While it seems that the improprieties were in good faith, there are outstanding ethics inquires into the former Governor. This will not be the last we hear of this story.

Ending the Moratorium: On Wednesday, Judge Martin Feldman struck down the Interior Department’s moratorium on deep water oil drilling implemented after the BP disaster. Citing lack of clear evidentiary support, the Judge ruled that drilling could continue and that the Obama Administration would have to make a more compelling case in any future action. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar moved to stay the decision but Judge Feldman denied the petition. A battle, between executive and judicial, as well as Democratic and Republican will inevitably enuse.

The American and the Russian: In his first official state visit to the United States, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and President Obama shared a hamburger and hailed a new era of amiable relations between the historic antagonists. Presumably the Presidents will not catch any flak for their choices of mustard or cheese and this will simply signify an important bond between the two influential lawmakers.

Mexico vs. Arizona: Yesterday, the Mexican foreign Ministry filed a court brief against the newly passed Arizona immigration law. The lawsuit is seeking to overturn the borderline-police state law. Follow this story as it picks up momentum. We may be looking at a future Supreme Court case.

Harboring toxic secrets.

Off the Beaten Path:

Unfortunate Whales: A report released yesterday, discussing the findings of marine researchers, has found that, almost universally, Sperm whales have dangerously elevated levels of lead, chromium, mercury, aluminum, cadmium and basically every other dangerous chemical you can think of. Using samples taken with a dart gun from over 1,000 whales, the study is extensive and compelling. You can rest assure that Paul Watson will have something to say about this.

Hacker-Croll: The Frenchman who hacked into President Obama’s Twitter account was given a suspended two year prison term yesterday. There are so many strange aspects to this story. One, is French President Nicolas Sarkozy so uninteresting at this point that one of his own citizens wouldn’t want to hack into HIS Twitter? Two, what does it say about today that our President has a precious Twitter account? Three, it’s TWITTER. Anyway, check it out.

British Obesity: You read that correctly, British obesity, NOT American obesity. Novel thought, I know. Researchers have found that British children are currently becoming obese at twice the rate of American children. Even with a government push to cut obesity levels, the rise in statistics has not been stymied. Not an encouraging sign.

$800? No Thank You: Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and….. wait there was a third Apple, Inc. cofounder?  Yes, there was. Ron Wayne. Given a 10% stake in Apple at it’s inception, he had early misgivings about the company and was bought out by Jobs and Wozniak for $800 (!!!!!!!!!!). That is not a typo. I won’t even ruin the surprise of how much that 10% stake would be worth today. You need to read the article for yourself. Make sure you’re sitting. So I say to Steve Jobs, no thank you, I’ll take that 10%. (I really am not trying to rag on the guy, hindsight is 20-20.)

Youtube and Marriage: Popular trend: marriage proposals on youtube. Actual proposals, proposal mishaps and everything in between. I guess this is the natural progression, like everything else in the tech age, of asking someone to marry you. I’m undecided on how I feel about this. Either way, here are some to initiate you.

Quotes of the Week:

Blago's future residence?

“It was a 10-minute photo op. Obama clearly didn’t know anything about him, who he was. Here’s the guy who’s going to run his fucking war, but he didn’t seem very engaged. The Boss was pretty disappointed.”

– An advisor and aide to Gen. McChrystal. That folks, will get someone fired.

“Patti Blagojevich: ‘… The best option is that you, oh, you know, appoint the African American woman that Obama wants and then you’re happy, the blacks are happy and he’s happy and then you get some nice appointment for that.’

Rod Blagojevich: ‘Right that’s what, that’s the, that’s exactly right. That’s, that would be the best, that would be one of the best scenarios.'”

– Quotes from audio tapes released yesterday by the Justice Department in the former Govenor’s ongoing corruption trial. That folks, will land someone in prison. (Find the whole, ludicrous transcript here.)

And Finally…. the Song of the Week:

Franco and Sam Mangwana- \”Cooperation\”

This week’s Song of the Week comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Franco is a legendary guitarist that few people have actually heard of. Franco and his T.P.O.K Jazz Band were fabled and revered African dance and musical artists for close to 30 years from the 1950s to the 1980s. Sam Mangwana is one of the big hitters of the Zairian Rumba (zoukous) vocalists. He performs to this day and continues to produce quality music. From the first chord of this song you will find it hard to stop listening to. I like to put this on in the morning when I have time to make my eggs and yogurt with granola. It’s a perfect way to start the day. I hope you think so too.

Enjoy!

…Well that’s it. That completes our first week at Cocktail Fodder. I hope you loved it and come back for more on Monday. Until then, keep talking, learning, loving life and remember to enjoy the fodder. Oh yeah, the cocktails too.