Ben Buchwalter

300 Dead in Nigerian Riots…
November 30, 2008, 6:47 am
Filed under: Foreign Affairs | Tags: ,

And this article is buried low on the New York Times homepage. This weekend’s horrifying terrorist attacks in India received appropriate media coverage. Why is an Indian life more significant than a Nigerian life?

Here is a pretty good article with video on BBC.


Washington Post

More on this later this week.


Is Africa African?
November 28, 2008, 3:51 pm
Filed under: Random | Tags:

Ezra Klein asks whether we should refer to African countries as “African.” The basic arguments are as follows.

  1. It is ridiculous to refer to all countries on the continent as similar. The continent is infinitely larger than the United States, and we barely speak of people from California and Oregon as the same nationality. Referring to it all as “Africa” instead of the name of the specific country being discussed reinforces the idea of Africa as the Dark Continent, a large mass of indistinguishable land.
  2. There is a really powerful connection to be drawn between the African countries. Even though each has its own distinct history, countries as diverse as Ghana, South Africa, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have a similar post-colonial identity because of the shared legacy of European colonization. Speaking about “Africa” is useful to study this connection.

I see both sides. While living in Ghana for a semester, I saw that people definitely think of themselves first as their individual ethnic group – Ga, Ibo, Ewe – and second as Ghanaian or African. But there was still a certain pride in being African. My roommate Derek was thrilled by the success of Senegal’s Akon and the prospect of Kenya’s Obama being President of the United States. Their success showed that success for Africans in the United States was possible.

So I don’t think that we should unilaterally say that the “African” connection should be used or avoided. But I think that we need to be careful about how we talk about African countries on a cas-by-case basis.

Happy Thanksgiving!
November 27, 2008, 3:11 pm
Filed under: Random | Tags:

Sorry for the previous downer of a post. Really, I love Thanksgiving. Like many things American, its got a shady past, but thats what is so encouraging about all things American. We’ve still got a long way to go to live up to the potential for American greatness. And I sincerely hope that we will reach such greatness during my lifetime.

ThinkProgress has a pretty good list of things they are thankful for. Some of those are provided below.

We’re thankful we’ll soon have a president who will hit the ground running instead of a president who is running the country into the ground.

We’re thankful Sarah Palin has more time to watch over Russia and warn us in case Vladimir Putin ever “rears his head.”

We’re thankful that we’re moving closer towards a complete withdrawal from Iraq.

We’re thankful for the thousands of protesters who took to the streets across America to push for marriage equality.

We’re not thankful for neo-McCarthys, neo-Hoovers, neo-Nazis, and neocons.

We’re thankful for Tina Fey.

We’re thankful to be liberal hacks.

We’re thankful that our troops will be able to get the education they so richly deserve.

We’re thankful that reality still has a liberal bias.


We’re thankful that there are only 54 days left until the end of the George W. Bush presidency.

We’re thankful for the progressive mandate to govern.

What, to the Native American, is Thanksgiving?
November 27, 2008, 8:05 am
Filed under: Race, Random | Tags: , ,

In 1852, Frederick Douglas was asked to speak at a convention in Rochester, NY to commemorate the 4th of July. At this point, the ownership and mistreatment of slaves was still accepted throughout the United States.

Douglass’ speech, “What to the American Slave, is the 4th of July” was a brief but well-reasoned rebuke against the (lack of) logic of asking him to speak. Pointing out the hypocrisy of American independence day, Douglass said:

Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine.

I wonder if Native Americans feel the same way about Thanksgiving. The revisionist history of Thanksgiving is that we Europeans jumped off the boat and were graciously welcomed by America’s original inhabitants so everyone shared a massive feast to commemorate their great partnership in this great country.

We now know that this story is entirely false. In reality, Europeans stole their land, and massacred the vast majority of the Native American population. The discrimination of America’s native population was official government policy for the vast majority of our history, just as slavery and racial segregation was official U.S. policy for more than two hundred years. And we have yet to repent properly.

So what, to the Native American, is Thanksgiving? It is a farce that highlights the government’s selective amnesia in its darkest hours. It is a mockery of the beautiful and well-maintained land that was stolen in return for the dusty reservations that white people did not want.

Thanksgiving should make us think about what we are thankful for. But it should also make us think about our failings and how we can improve upon them. And I would like to see a more whole-hearted attempt by the United States government to apologize for its original sins of slavery and Native American relocation, even if this attempt is only in the form of words.

That would finally make days like the 4th of July and Thanksgiving fully inclusive holidays that represent national cohesion rather than ignore past oppression.

Gay Rights for the 21st Century
November 26, 2008, 4:55 pm
Filed under: Civil Rights | Tags:

Jonathan Rauch of The Advocate writes about the gay rights agenda in an Obama-Biden world, which is more accepting of minorities and oppressed populations than, well, the Bush-Cheney world.

He cites Hillary Clinton’s concession speech as an example of the United State’s new accepting stance towards gay rights. Each mention of extending equity to gays and lesbians was met with thunderous applause, and mostly from young people. The gay cause is now a rallying-cry for the Democratic Party’s liberal base, not an ashamed aside. And when my generation is in charge, the right wing’s homophobic agenda will be a fringe issue, not the norm for the Republican Party.

(Clearly we aren’t yet an entirely accepting nation, which is proven by the anti-gay marriage amendments passed this month in California, Arizona and Florida. But we are definitely moving that way.)

So Rauch presents the necessity to alter gay advocacy for our more accepting times. He writes, “the time has come to pivot away from the culturally defensive pariah agenda — the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, for instance — and toward the culturally transformative family agenda.” Andrew Sullivan calls this “Gay Rights 3.0”.

Moving towards a more culturally transformative approach is smart because we are going in that direction just by virtue of progress. So it makes sense for the gay rights movement to evolve to reflect those changes, as Rauch suggests.

True acceptance of homosexuals might take a little while, but it will happen. We just need to wait for people to grow up a little bit, both literally and symbolically.

Congo – Interview
November 25, 2008, 3:08 pm
Filed under: Foreign Affairs | Tags: ,

Speigel Online has published an interview with Vital Kamerhe, the president of the National Assembly for the Democratic Republic of the Congo. To me, the most poignant section is when he is asked about Luarent Nkunda’s mission of protecting the Tutsis. Kamerhe responds, “Today we have Tutsi generals in the Congolese army and Tutsi workers at state enterprises. Their best source of protection are the institutions of the Republic, not a rebel army.” Kamerhe also speaks of the need for talks between the government and the rebel army. Nkunda has refused repeated requests to meet with the DRC government. 

Unfortunately, it seems to me like the rebel army’s fight is not so much with the DRC government, but more with the Hutu genocide perpetrators who fled to the rural areas of the DRC after Rwanda’s genocide. So anything short of helping Nkunda’s army round up the alleged perpetrators might not appease the rebels.

Also, Sarah pointed out this story (with video and photos) on the front page of CNN yesterday.

Interview Transcript:


SPIEGEL: Why hasn’t your government succeeded in bringing peace to the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo? 

Vital Kamerhe: After the peace agreement of 2002 the rebel organizations were absorbed into the army. Because of this, our troops now consist of regular soldiers as well as former militia members. The army is fragile and frustrated, and it has been infiltrated. It makes it difficult to enforce peace.

SPIEGEL: The soldiers are attacking civilians, plundering, and raping.
Kamerhe: Anyone responsible for massacres belongs in front of an international court. Because of the war in the east, we have had no time to reform our security forces or justice system.

SPIEGEL: Rebel leader Laurent Nkunda, your main enemy, says he needs to protect the Tutsis in the eastern part of the country from the Hutu-killers who fled to Congo after the genocide in Rwanda in 1994.

Kamerhe: This is just a pretext. Today we have Tutsi generals in the Congolese army and Tutsi workers at state enterprises. Their best source of protection are the institutions of the Republic, not a rebel army.

SPIEGEL: Isn’t the war really a fight over natural resources?

Kamerhe: Our country is a special case geologically. We possess valuable minerals like coltan, gold and diamonds. Our natural resources are being exhausted by the Nkunda rebels, who conduct their sales through Rwanda. Big companies in China, Russia, Europe and the US are the recipients. They share the guilt for this exploitation. We prefer that the resources be used legally.

SPIEGEL: The UN Security Council wants to strengthen its 18,000 blue helmet force with 3,000 additional men. Is that enough?

Kamerhe: We need international troops to protect the populace. There also needs to be political talks with Nkunda and diplomatic efforts to restore the relationship between Congo and Rwanda. That will take time. To begin with we hope for an EU-contingent — 850 men can help stop a humanitarian catastrophe.

Come Together (Right Now!)
November 25, 2008, 2:13 pm
Filed under: 2008 Election, Congress | Tags: ,

Congressional Democrats: Stop acting like children. Martin Kady II of Politico reports today that there will be numerous divisions among the Democrats even if they win the filibuster-proof 60-seat majority. Most likely, after the Minnesota recount and Georgia runoff election, Dems will have 58 or 59 seats, but 60 is still possible.

Regardless, there is a chance that, enjoying a mandate to make a huge impact in the first two years, the Democrats will revert to infighting and squander their opportunity to change. From Politico:

Unless Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) can whip their caucuses into unity, numerous fault lines will be revealed: Southern Democrats vs. Northern liberals on labor law; California greens vs. Rust Belt Democrats on global warming; socialized medicine adherents vs. go-slow health care reformers; anti-war liberals vs. cautious centrists on national security. And don’t forget the anti-bailout crowd vs. the powerful Michigan Democrats in both chambers when it comes to money for Detroit.

I sincerely hope this is not what the next two years of Democratic control looks like. But I don’t quite trust members of congress to protect against that inevitability. Each Senator and Representative has his or her own constituency that they (understandably) need to look out for and will therefore continue to pursue pet issues.

So it is important for Democrat-in-Chief Barack Obama to lay out a clear Congressional agenda for Democrats to unite behind. That agenda should include:

1.) Passing a massive and efficient economic stimulus plan.
2.) Reforming the health care system with Universal Health Care as the ideal.
3.) Starting to bring troops home from Iraq. Remember Iraq?

I would also put broadening environmental policy on that list, but that could be a hard-fought battle within the Democratic Party between environmental champions like Henry Waxman and Barbara Boxer (both from California) and pro-labor, business-focused Democrats like Evan Bayh (Indiana), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), and Debbie Stabenow (Michigan). Though both sides are looking out for important goals, those objectives will directly clash in this case.

So in order to get something done and maintain the Democratic control of Washington in 2010 and 2012, Democrats need to stick to the basics and what they can agree on early: Economic stimulus, health care reform, and stopping the war in Iraq.