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Posts Tagged ‘Media’

Extremism at the Gates

October 19, 2010 Leave a comment

The Hutaree Militia: faces of the new extremism.

This morning, the news that shots were fired at the Pentagon broke. I want to direct towards you to my immediate reaction: “Man, that is one step closer to a cataclysmic attack by right wing extremists. Nut jobs.” Then I stopped myself. Was that really my first reaction? WHEN did we get to a point in this country that my mind instantaneously went there? It is probably part fear-mongering media. Oh, and part political sensationalism. It is possible, though, that another part of it might actually be realistic fear? Disturbingly, I think that might just be the case.

Right-wing anger and fringe extremism began its resurgent crescendo during the lead-up to the 2008 election. President Obama received Secret Service protection earlier than anyone else in history during an election cycle. That was just the beginning. Then came threats against Democratic lawmakers during Healthcare reform. Then the Huturee Militia. Then James von Brunn and the Holocaust Museum shooting. So what’s next? A shooting at the Pentagon? It really does not seem so off-kilter when you put the last two years in context. It’s really shocking. This is not what America is about. Clearly, fringe elements are creeping closer and closer to the middle of society.

If we broaden our scope (to include nonviolent extremism), that point becomes even more pointedly clear. Look no further than the candidacies Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell. Sharron Angle, taking on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada, has suggested agitated Americans could take up arms against the government, told Hispanic students that they “look more Asian” and lambasted the idea of mandated maternity leave and care for autistic childern. Christine O’Donnell, running against Chris Coons in Delaware, has discussed her dabbling in witchcraft, faltered at naming one  (ONE!!!) Supreme Court decision she did not agree with in the past two years and, just today, questioned the validity of the separation of church and state.

Sharron Angle leads Sen. Reid 50%-47%. Christine O’Donnell (mercifully) now trails Mr. Coons 51%-40%.*

No matter where your political allegiances lie, I hope we can all admit that the mere contention of these candidates in Senate races signifies a shift to the more polarized ends of the political spectrum. It would not have even been conceivable 10 years ago. But these candidates, and their chances, are real. The anger that has propelled them to prominence is real. What does it all mean? I am not entirely sure. But I do know this: extremism, of all kinds, is closer to the gates of our society and political system than any other time in the past 50 years.

We should all, Democrats and Republicans, be on notice.

*It is important to note that Delaware is much more consistently a “blue” state than Nevada.

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.

Condoms on Commercial Street?

July 9, 2010 1 comment

What would he say about the controversy?

Here we are, introducing our second guest blogger: Kelly. With a personal stake in dethroning the Fodder’s Captain Adam as our most popular fresh voice, Kelly’s first piece takes on a controversial microcosm of the US’s sentiments on sexual education. Condoms in schools? Hot button issue. So through the scope of a native Cape Codder, we bring you “Condoms on Commercial Street?” Enjoy!

Aah, summer on Cape Cod. The sun, the surf, the…six year olds walking along Commercial Street with condoms?

The Provincetown (MA) School Committee approved a policy in late May, proposed by high school students, to make free condoms available in the school nurse’s office. But if you’ve been reading the headlines from media outlets across the country, you might expect that the longtime artist colony at the tip of the Cape is also home to a population of unusually sexually active elementary schoolers who will soon be offered contraception as part of their curriculum.

As a native Cape Codder now living “over the bridge,” and an avid reader of the Fodder, I was quite excited to explore this real-life nugget of conversation and hopefully provide some insight on the media debacle of what should have been a non-issue. I mean, let’s face it – tossing first graders and condoms into a headline is bound to garner attention and foster gossip, if not discussion; but how many people actually know what Provincetown’s new contraception distribution policy says?

“Condoms will be available, upon request, to Provincetown students.”

Whoa. Scandalous.

Or is it? According to the Cape Cod Times,

“The [Massachusetts] state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education first passed a policy on condom availability in August 1991, as an addendum to its 1990 policy on AIDS/HIV prevention education. Among its recommendations was that “every school committee, in consultation with superintendents, administrators, faculty, parents and students consider making condoms available in their secondary schools.”

Sounds to me like P-town is on the right track.

On a recent trip “down the Cape,” I was curious to hear local reactions to P-town’s decision. I can’t imagine Provincetown Superintendant Beth Singer thought a policy change affecting roughly 150 students would soon be a headline across the country: the Boston Globe, USA Today and the New York Times were all quick to stick Provincetown, condoms and elementary school children into their headlines.

And believe me, the Cape is not often home to front-page news. Sure we’ve had our fair share of murder mysteries and serial killers – what quaint cluster of fishing villages hasn’t? But our usual stories are more comparable to Rupert, the goat from Wellfleet who needed surgery after eating too many Cheerios. Seriously.

I noticed immediately that I was far more interested in this than anyone else in town. Perhaps because I was the one reading the over-hyped headlines, not the smaller pieces closer to the source. (Even now as I write, this topic is still front-page news on Boston.com, while CapeCodOnline.com is all atwitter over the upcoming lavender harvest.) Responses ranged from “Well, it’s P-town” to my 87 year-old neighbor, who didn’t appreciate that her tax dollars would be providing Provincetown students with an endless supply of water balloons. Bless you, Nan.*

Over drinks one night in Wellfleet, I asked my friend Liam what he thought:

“Considering the absurd amount of press this story has received, I can’t help but wonder if there’s an underlying homophobia and sex-negative bias fueling this fire. I have an inkling that if this were Orleans or another less infamous town on the Cape – or anywhere, for that matter – this story wouldn’t have ignited in the way it did. But this is happening in Provincetown, a frivolous, dangerously progressive town filled with gays and hippies who are pushing their hyper-sexualized homosexual agenda onto six year olds.”

Well said, Liam. Now you may have been able to pick up on the sarcasm in that last bit – just maybe – but many conservative voices feared exactly that. The New American claims this new policy “in many respects reflects the permissive gay culture that permeates the town.” And here I thought it reflected the proactive student body that brought the issue before the school committee after weighing the concerns of their peers.

It angers me that Provincetown’s progressive reputation ultimately led to such a negative spin on this story. Were we to assume that, because no specific age limit was set, and because it’s P-town, that the nurse would really, as Liam put it, be doling out condoms like free lollypops at the bank? Many public high schools in New York City already have similar policies to what Provincetown is proposing. Washington D.C. has had a publicly funded program to distribute free condoms since 2006, making condoms available in high schools, colleges, pediatrician’s offices and adolescent health groups. (Liquor stores and barber shops are also among the most popular distributors – is that a guy thing?) According to the Washington Post, D.C.’s health department distributed 3.2 million free condoms last year, including about 15,000 in schools. I don’t know, Ben Gibbard – you might not be getting any, but it doesn’t look like the rest of the District will be sleeping alone tonight.

I’ve felt a growing disconnect from my Cape Cod roots since moving to Boston. But as the provincialisms of my small-town beginnings peter out, I find that in my heart, the liberal sun-drenched philosophies of earlier days prevail. I know what it’s like to grow up in a town that sheds a few thousand residents after Labor Day; and for a town with a senior class of just 16 students – a town so small it may not even have its own high school next year – to recognize a growing need for safe and practical sex education practices for future generations, and successfully appeal for change through the proper administrative channels, is a tremendous accomplishment. These students should be praised for their mature and proactive approach to safe sex, and it is a shame that their efforts have been overshadowed, and quite possibly overturned, by media sensationalism.

I’m proud of the Provincetown students who brought forth these changes – and I’m sure their gay hippie parents are as well.

*Names changed to protect the locals.

For a full list of condom distribution centers in the DC area, please visit DCHealth.gov.